Title: A Better Man (The Men of Halfway House #1)
Author: Jaime Reese
Release: January 16, 2014
Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20544791-a-better-man
Matthew Doner is starting over. After a five-year prison term that alters every aspect of his life, he receives a bequest from his aunt with the stipulation that he use the money to make things right. Breaking free of the long-standing role he’s played and inspired by the few who support him, he decides to create a safe place where people like him can find purpose and start a new life.Julian Capeletti likes challenges. He is confident, brash, stubborn, and just what Matt needs. Desperate for work after a downturn of luck, he accepts the job to renovate Matt’s crumbling building.Over the course of a year, romance simmers between them as they restore the house. But there’s a bigger renovation that must take place in their hearts. To become better men, they need to learn to trust each other even with secrets and painful memories they fear may rip them apart.
Jaime Reese is the alter ego of an artist who loves the creative process of writing, just not about herself. Fiction is far more interesting. She has a weakness for broken, misunderstood heroes and feels everyone deserves a chance at love and life. An avid fan of a happy ending, she believes those endings acquired with a little difficulty are more cherished.
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“It’s going to be another hot one.”
This was the last thing the bubbly radio forecaster announced before Julian Capeletti switched off the radio. It was just too damn early in the morning for that much perkiness.
“Great,” he grumbled as he sat up in bed and tried to rub the sleep from his face.
He hated mornings. Some people heard birds chirping, appreciated sunrises, and saw everything through rainbow-colored glasses in the early morning hours, but that just wasn’t him.
Especially when he didn’t have work.
He just couldn’t muster the energy needed to be as functional as he was in the late hours—when he found his groove and could tackle even the most complex third plane mathematical equation anyone could throw at him. Mornings, well, it was a short list. Wake up, shower, drink coffee. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to get dressed somewhere in between. He didn’t need to have the perky announcer tell him about the weather, he could feel it firsthand as the sweat began to trickle down his chest.
“Fucking gross,” he moaned as he rose from bed and made his way to the bathroom.
He followed the same routine every morning. He stared at himself in the mirror, in search of…what, who knew. He splashed some water on his face and looked again. Maybe he should try holy water or some other miracle that would change what stared back at him. He saw the hint of dark circles under his eyes and he hated it.
Vanity wasn’t the issue, the dark circles were a reminder of the turn of bad luck that had plagued him for almost two years.
Like a series of snapshots, he always ran the images of that day through his mind. The one that marked the beginning of when it all started going to shit with no end in sight. Well, more than usual at least. The day his last steady foreman project ended because the owner faced trafficking charges and fled the country to avoid his impending capture. With assets frozen, the site was closed down and everyone was out of a job and a steady paycheck. He’d left work early to seek comfort in the arms of his partner, an eternal optimist, and found him busy giving comfort of a different type to another guy.
“Asshole,” he mumbled into the towel as he dried his face. Maybe a shower would work. Even if it didn’t wake him up, at least it would wash away the disgusting reminder of the South Florida blazing summer heat and humidity.
Freshly showered, Julian read the classifieds as he sipped his coffee. He closed his eyes and exhaled, enjoying the caffeine and sugar slowly bringing him to life. Finally. He skimmed the want ads searching for anything new that morning, something he hadn’t already called on that week. He grabbed the monthly community paper and spotted the listing with a large bold headline “Handyman Wanted for Repairs”. A long list of requirements followed, far beyond those for a traditional handyman. He exhaled sharply and frowned. He had seen this a lot lately, another potential employer taking advantage of the desperation in the workforce, wanting to hire someone for nothing. The laundry list of responsibilities read like the licensing exam for a contractor, not a handyman’s job description. Cheap bastard. “Contact Mr. Boner” it read toward the end, followed by an address and phone number. He couldn’t resist smiling at the play on words.
“No wonder Boner wants a handyman.” He chuckled.
A knock at the door interrupted his morning read through the ads.
“Hey, Jules, you in there?”
Julian cringed, not just at the nickname he hated so strongly, but at the voice he knew came to deliver bad news. He reluctantly rose to answer the knock.
“Hi, David,” he said as he slowly opened the door to greet the short, paunchy landlord.
“So, you got my rent this month?” David asked hopefully.
“I’ll have some money for you by the end of the week.” He rubbed his hands on his towel and looked away.
“That’s what you said last week.” David shifted to cross his arms in an attempt to intimidate.
Julian looked down at the short man and couldn’t blame him for trying. He knew David well enough to realize that he didn’t have a choice but to push at this point. He figured the guy was getting some unneeded pressure from the boss.
“I gave you some money last week.”
“That was to cover the rent from two months ago. What about last month or this one?”
Julian’s head began to hurt. This had been the ritual almost every day for the last month. He was a creature of habit, but there were some customs he wished would change.
“David, I told you I’d have some by the end of the week. I just need a little time.”
“That’s what they all say!” His landlord raised his arms in frustration.
“Look, I know I’m late, I’m not denying that, but at least when you come knocking, I don’t run and hide from you like your other tenants. I said I’ll have money for you at the end of the week and I will. I’ve never backed down on my word.”
“Yet, you’re late on your monthly payment.”
“And I told you I would be. Fuck, David, I said I was going to be late and you agreed it wasn’t a problem as long as I paid you something each week. I’m doing that.” He rubbed his shaved head roughly.
“How much? Will it be enough to cover the two months you owe me?” David pleaded.
“I don’t know. I’m guessing probably not by the end of the week.”
“Jules, I can’t keep doing this.”
“I know. I just need some time,” Julian said quietly, looking away as he rubbed his wrist cuff.
“Why don’t you sell your truck?”
Julian looked at him as if the burly man had sprouted another head. “Dude, I’m not selling my truck. I need it for work.”
“Please, Jules, I like you, but I can’t have you livin’ here for free. You know that. My bosses are pushing me for the rent. I need two months’ rent by the end of the week or they’re forcing me to kick you out of here.”
Julian could see both frustration and understanding in the man’s eyes. He’d known this day would come. Had dreaded it for the last few weeks. He rubbed his head and looked away. He tried to make an honest living, avoided trouble, and where did that leave him? Standing in his doorway with a towel around his waist trying to think of ways to scavenge up two months’ rent just to be back at square one again. He couldn’t think of anything to say so he simply nodded.
David looked at him and patted him on the shoulder. “Jules, you’re a hard worker and a smart cookie. I’m sure you’ll find a way.”
Ugh. First Jules now cookie. Seriously?
“Thanks, David,” he grumbled, hoping that would give the man the signal to turn and leave.
Mission accomplished. He closed the door and leaned his forehead against it. He blew out a deep breath, willing a new idea to blindside him. He thought of different quickie jobs and crossed each one off for different reasons. Well, he always had the option to sell his ass on Eighth Street, but who was he kidding? No one would give him two months’ rent for his bits. He laughed at himself. He had to. It was the only way he’d remain sane when life gave him the shit end of the stick. He turned to see the newspaper still sitting on the table. He walked over and grabbed his coffee and gulped the little bit of remaining java along with his pride.
If the guy needed a handyman, he was going to be the best damn handyman that cheap bastard had ever seen. If that didn’t work, well, Eighth Street was actually starting to sound pretty damn good.