When his dad becomes ill, he finally returns home for good, to take over the family business. He has to face the man that Jordan has become and the attraction between them that has never diminished.
Resentment and regret build, but when Addison Construction takes on a make or break renovation project, the two men are forced to work alongside each other to save the company.
Literary Nymph Reviews Back Home is another intense emotional story by author R.J. Scott that’s filled with drama, pain and what it means to be part of a family.
Night Owl Reviews What I loved about this book was how Ms. Scott took her time to flesh out each character, what made them tick, their internal struggles. With each action and reaction, I felt as if I was there, with the character, feeling their frustrations, nervousness, elation. The way Jordan and Kieran slowly danced around one another, slowly closing in, until finally the ice was broken and they expressed their feelings for each other was equisite pain/pleasure.
"J, are you coming?"
Jordan Salter jumped a little and glanced up from his work, refocusing tired eyes that had been intent on minute hand work on a three-by-three post of kiln-dried walnut. He widened them fractionally in the gathering evening gloom, blinking and attempting to make sense of the new focus of his concentration. The ache behind them was the icing on the cake--a by-product of the nagging headache that had tracked him all day and the need to concentrate on creating the intricate detail work that he was determined to finish. He closed his eyes briefly, gritty exhaustion in them, and he let out an almost incoherent, "Wha?"
"You said you were going to be finishing early today."
"Wha?" What was it with people interrupting his work? Whoever it was in the room with him flicked on the overhead light, courtesy of the electrical work that had been completed and signed off today. Jordan winced.
"It's past eight and you're still here?" Jordan blinked steadily; if it was eight o'clock then why the hell was Ben standing in the house? He should have gone home two hours ago. Come to think of it, why was Ben dressed to the nines in his Sunday jeans and a clean shirt? Jordan remembered last seeing his friend and colleague in overalls, working on wiring. Ben Craig was the only subcontractor they called on and then only in an emergency.
"You said to come back for you. To remind you about the party." Ben was clearly and deliberately speaking in words containing minimal syllables, and he spoke slowly enough so that Jordan could absorb the words. Tension stiffened the older man's stance, and his expression schooled itself into a frown. What was he supposed to remember? Suddenly, through the fatigue, the memory clicked into place. The party. Hayley's party. She was twenty-two today, and he'd been invited to join the Addisons and associated friends at The Olive Garden for dinner.
"In it, big time," Ben muttered, walking across the kitchen and, almost as if he couldn't help it, sliding the palm of his right hand over the unwaxed, still-dull brown wood that Jordan had chosen for the newel post. Fingertips barely touching the surface, Ben traced the grain and nodded. Jordan looked from the wood to Ben and back again, mind working feverishly to keep his focus on the fact that he'd promised to be at the party.
"She'll be pretty," Jordan offered, wondering if he was coming over as defensive even as he dismissed the thought and focused on the beauty of the wood.
"She'll polish up well," Ben agreed. "Walnut was a good choice."
"I just get..." Involved, he finished in his mind, and engrossed to the point that he felt no weariness until his attention was broken. From intricate carved details on newels to the hand-turning and intricate inlay work for chair backs, Jordan had always been mesmerized by the forms he could create. The patterns and the curves under his fingers had always been inside the wood, as far as he knew. Able to find the faintest of grains, he would sand and shape and polish, thinking of nothing except the beautiful wood beneath his touch. Once he saw the purpose of each piece of wood, and had paid attention to the shapes buried in each piece, he laid out the finished product in his head, then bent his attention on the raw potential in front of him, focused on having the wood's final shape match the completed mental image. He often didn't know where to start, but when he was in the zone, when each tiny cut made the beauty of the wood show in striations of pale brown and gold, he couldn't snap himself out of it.
Tonight wasn't the first time over the last few months that he'd forgotten something, nor would it be the last. Jordan was tired, and he felt years older than his twenty-nine. He commonly put in eighteen-hour days. First had come the hard physical work on the larger aspects of renovation, then the labor-intensive detailed finishing woodwork on Mistral House had consumed him.
Recession had hit the construction industry hard, and he was the sole remaining staff member of Addison Construction. AC had no choice; people had to be let go, and he was finishing this contract on his own, with just Ben in and out for things he couldn't do, electrical being one of them. When Jordan was working on the final touches in a renovation, he sank into the process, the carving and staining and completing his only reality. Intensely involved and completely cut off from the rest of the world, such things as birthday parties and promises to attend them didn't exist.
AC needed to flip Mistral House as soon as they could: the very existence of Phil Addison's company depended on the cash flow realized from the sale of the home. Added to the stress of the need to finish, he'd had little more than three hours sleep last night, and he was into his nineteenth hour today.
He glanced back down at the smooth wood, the texture of the newel satiny and solid beneath his fingertips, judging that he only had a quarter hour, maybe half, and this part of the detailed intricate work would be finished.
The kitchen cabinets, each custom made, were solid walnut, generations of growth in the sturdy wood. Jordan's elaborate detailing accentuated the highlights and luster of the wood's deep honey tones. Jordan had created a pedestal, circular-topped kitchen table and four chairs as well, and the chair rail complemented the other wood in the room. The kitchen was the crowning glory of the carpentry in this house renovation and a source of great pride to Jordan.
He had, after all, done most of the work single-handed, since Phil had become too ill to work alongside him. The kitchen was his baby, and he just needed to finish the detailing--tonight. Ben stood, waiting for an answer if his subtle shifting from foot to foot was anything to go by
"I'll be there before they cut the birthday cake," Jordan compromised softly. Softly because he half hoped that Ben wouldn't hear and, if Jordan seemed to ignore him, would just give up of his own accord and leave. Jordan didn't need the inevitable lecture as to why he should be with the Addisons, that it was important that he was there for Hayley, because he was all she really had left in the way of a brother.
Lady Luck however, was not smiling down on Jordan Salter. Ben heard him and started to work up a good head of steam.
"You go nowhere. You do nothing outside of working. You work all hours God sends us. Do you have a freaking death wish, son?" It was that single word--son--that broke through Jordan's barriers. There was affection in Ben's voice, affection and concern. Maybe he should stop working. Maybe Ben had a point.
"Ben..." He turned slightly, determined to talk, jerking to catch a hammer as he knocked it with his arm.
"God damn fool. You're an accident waiting to happen." Ben's eyes narrowed as he sized up Jordan from that new perspective. And he clearly didn't like what he saw.
"I'm not far off finishing." There was steel in his voice, even he could hear it, and he winced inwardly. Ben didn't deserve his disrespect. However tired he felt, he should at least try to be polite.
"You're not far off killing yourself." Ben's normally calm voice held something new. A level of panic had replaced a little of the anger. Jordan dealt with Ben the only way he knew how, by dismissing Ben's concerns out of hand, not giving the electrician any room to carry on the conversation.
"For God's sake, Ben, I'll be along in an hour."
"Half an hour," Ben snapped back at him. Temper coiled in Jordan, but how could he lose it with Ben, when the older man really did have reason to worry? And Jordan knew it.
He didn't think he'd ever felt so low on reserves, so damn drained, but Ben didn't know the full extent of the shit that Addison Construction was in. He wasn't aware of the debt that sat at the bank, the check that the Mistral estate was just about to cut for them only just covering the deficit. The timing had to be perfect. They were coming to inspect in two days, and he had so little to do to finish. Jordan let Ben keep talking, ignoring it mostly for his own sanity, until Ben reached his peak and then just as suddenly stopped.
Jordan frowned at the sudden silence. Silence with Ben was always a bad thing.
"Brad wouldn't want you working yourself to death just to get to see him sooner." Ben's words were weighted with sadness, and he said them so firmly, not backing off one inch from his opinion.
Guilt, anger, temper, all three churned in Jordan's gut and then came a sudden maelstrom of grief. The overwhelming feelings of grief that he felt when he thought about the man he had loved and lost were something he ruthlessly pushed down. He locked them away, behind walls of stone. Fuck. Exhaustion was letting the grief through. Ben should leave things well alone. Why did he even have to mention Brad, tonight of all nights? Couldn't he see that Jordan was busy trying to save the company from going bust?
Ben looked at him with such mute understanding in his lined and weathered face that Jordan felt the temper in him begin to dissipate. He banked the fire of his anger as much as he could, channeling it to fuel his stubbornness. He didn't have any response to Ben's statement. Really all he wanted to say was that, yes, maybe he did want to join Brad, that somehow dying would make everything easier. Maybe if something did happen to him it would be for the best. He was insured big time, and his will specified everything would go to his surrogate family, the Addisons, and that would clear all the debt and then some. He turned on the small jigsaw he'd been using earlier to do more shaping on the newel post. The high whine of the machinery made talking impossible, and it was the only way he could stop himself from giving in to anything other than the determination to finish this damn house. His throat was thick with emotion, and his thoughts writhed, tangled and tied in all manner of what-ifs in his head.
Ben should never be forced to bear the brunt of that horror. Deliberately, Jordan turned his back on Ben. In no uncertain terms, he declared the conversation over and returned to concentrating on the finishing work. He caught a glimpse of the worried expression on Ben's face, but he ignored it. And he heard the quiet "This is getting too dangerous" Ben muttered to himself as he left, but he ignored that too. Jordan only relaxed when he sensed that he was alone in the room and glanced over his shoulder to confirm that the door no longer framed his friend. Gone with him was the air of disappointment and growing concern that had surrounded the older man.
With a hefty exhalation of relief, he turned back to the work at hand, trying to find his balance, desperately attempting to connect to the skill that was inside him, not wanting to ruin everything now. Working with his hands, creating beauty out of the silky wood comforted him and centered him. Kieran had once called him an artist. Jesus. Where did that thought come from? First Brad and now Kieran? This was one hell of a night for ghosts and memories to choose to haunt him.
Trying to calm his anger and the roiling grief inside him, he was able to push through the complete exhaustion, the last, stuttering pulse of adrenaline forcing him towards the finish line. The bone-numbing, bone-deep tiredness verged on paralysis and was causing his eyes to half close. His muscles, operating with an overload of lactic acid, howled with pain. Jordan knew that he'd pay dearly for the abuse in the morning. At least the pain would be eased a bit by the satisfaction of creating the final invoice for the two hundred thousand they were owed.
Ben's words rattled in his head: Jordan was too far past exhaustion to be able to block them. Damn him for talking to Jordan now about Brad. Hayley's birthday meant that the anniversary of Brad's death was only days away, the dark anniversary of a nightmare that had yet to lift. His concentration slipped, and he caught himself just in time to stop the wickedly sharp blade from carving a hole in his hand. Through the fog of weariness, one lashing flicker of reality shot through. Jordan felt rather than heard his frustrated sigh.
That had been too close, much too close. He was being an ass. Insurance money or not, he wasn't suicidal and he would be no good to the Addisons or to himself if he managed to destroy his most important tools: his hands. It was way past time to stop.
Jordan stretched up and took a step backwards, his legs cramping, sore and tight from being in the same position for so long. The pain and a momentary weakness in his left leg caused him to stumble to the left. Attempting to catch himself, he somehow managed to tangle his foot with the cable to the saw, causing his hand to slide up against the thin blade. The pain was instant, and the power cut off just as quickly.
He'd managed to yank back as the blade touched his skin. But the damage had been done. The blade had sliced into his wrist and the fleshy part of his hand. The injury was so deep he could see bone. The first shock of pain was so intense it sent him stumbling backward until he crashed into the stool he'd been using.
Something in the back of his mind screamed, "Stop the bleeding! Get help!", but he didn't know how to do either. Shock rendered him mindless. Blindly he lurched to rest his forearm on the stool and tried desperately to get the gaping wound closed using his uninjured hand.
Blood surged between his fingers and down his forearm, slithered across the seat of the stool, and ran down the nearest leg before it combined with the sawdust on the floor into a horror of reddish wood paste. Jordan, head light with the deeper onset of shock, pain making it almost impossible to think, knew with absolute certainty that losing blood as fast as he was meant he could die. He released his hold on the wound, scrabbling for his cell phone, which he'd left lying on the side of the saw table. He cursed as it slithered away from his blood wet hand.
"Son of a bitch. Fuckin' son of a bitch," he muttered over and over, the smell of blood--his blood--making him nauseated. He grabbed again for the cell, managed to grab it and flipped it open.
His vision graying and his eyes closing, somehow, from somewhere, he remembered that he needed to put pressure on the injury. Hitting redial was all he managed before the cell dropped to the floor as red with blood as his hand. The floor rose to meet him in a haze of wood and gray, and he collapsed to the ground, his injured hand mashed into his shirt. He rolled, his arm under his body, and knew he would soon lose consciousness in a twisted maze of blood and wires. He knew it. He watched the scarlet spread more slowly but still relentlessly from under him as the blood, his life, saturated sanded wood floors and seeped between smooth bare floorboards.
In the swirling gray-black, Jordan's thought became dazed. Maybe this is okay. Maybe it doesn't matter.
It wasn't going to be long, and then, if he was lucky, he would have the chance to tell Brad how sorry he was. How sorry...
And the world disappeared into dark.