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Black Leather & Knuckle Tattoos (The Men of Canter's Handyman Book 1) by J.M. Dabney (1)

1

Don’t believe everything you hear or see, son; you’d be surprised at what you might get.

The words spoken in a gruff whisper played on repeat in his head. Troy’s slender hands shuffled papers on an impeccably kept desk for the hundredth time that day. His father’s cryptic advice plagued him.

His dad, Brent Canter slowly wasted away in a hospital bed for the past year. Brent wasn’t supposed to be there to give him advice, but his father fought through each treatment or procedure. Brent swore he was going to be around to see grandkids.

Troy grinned to himself. Brent fervently explained being gay wasn’t an excuse to not give him some beautiful babies to spoil in his old age.

He couldn’t bring himself to say goodbye to the man who’d raised him on his own. The product of a college relationship, his biological mother was unprepared to raise a child, so Brent stepped up to be a single parent. He carried no ill-will towards his mother. She hadn’t been a stranger in his life, but mostly contact was made through phone calls and the occasional visit. She was a well-respected heart surgeon and had married the woman of her dreams a decade ago.

Brent never seemed to have second-guessed any decision he’d ever made, but he knew that his dad regretted dropping out of pre-med. Brent may not have voiced it, yet he sensed it. When Brent spoke of his past, his dad was most animated when he told stories of medical school. His dad assured him time and time again that he was the proudest of things he’d accomplished.

When he’d come out to his dad over a quiet Sunday breakfast, Brent had only given him a strange smile in answer and went back to eating.

He’d expected more, an explosion of some sort, but like always, his dad just went with the flow. Troy couldn’t contain the heavy, weary sigh. For two years he’d lived in a constant state of worry, and even though his dad appeared to be on the mend, he didn’t want to get too content.

A knock rattled the door of his temporary office, and he looked up as the door cracked. Bright, azure eyes under the brim of a battered baseball cap appeared.

“Hey, boss man,” the too tempting man drawled.

Winston Sanchez, his father’s foreman and the bane of Troy’s existence since his teenage hormones went haywire. No one ever measured up to the perfection of Win. The man was a bit of a player, and Troy had marked him forever off-limits. That didn’t change the crush that had morphed into something else over the years. He didn’t want to name it; not even mentally.

“Hi, Win. Is everything okay?” he asked.

He pulled his thoughts away from years’ worth of fantasies as the man’s wide frame filled the open doorway.

“Yeah, just wanted to check on Brent. Can I come by later?” Win’s tone was filled with hesitation.

“Sure, you don’t have to ask to come by. He needs some company. His nurse is driving him crazy, and you or any of the other guys are welcome any time.”

“Thanks. How’s he doing?”

“Tired, but that’s normal. It’s going to take him a while to get his strength back.”

Finally, he was slowly starting to believe everything would work out. The last year of hell had ended. Although, Troy was still frightened to give in to the hope the cancer wouldn’t come back, and he knew it would always be at the back of his mind.

“It’s five, and everyone is headed out, we already scheduled all the crews for tomorrow. You ready to get back to your real world?”

He laughed. “Yes, I never want to see this much paperwork ever again.”

He’d taken over daily operations of Canter’s Handymen of all Trades. From construction to fixing a garbage disposal, really, whatever job needed to be done, they had the men to do it.

“You sound like Brent. He hates the paperwork too. I better get going.” The older man paused and made no move to leave the office.

“Have something on your mind, Win?” All the guys, at least the long-term ones, turned into family and friends. He’d observed them for so long—especially Win—that it was easy enough to read them.

“No, no, I’ll be by the house in an hour or two. Need to head home to shower and change. I’ll see you in a bit.”

That was all Win said before he disappeared out the door. He’d never seen the older man seem almost nervous. Maybe it was about seeing Brent. The guys never failed to ask about their boss, but rarely visited.

A strong Brent was a tall, imposing man who commanded the attention of the people around him. A natural leader and caretaker. It was hard to watch Brent lose muscle and the healthy glow that lit his weathered features. At only forty-nine, his dad was handsome. Women flocked to him and to see his handsomeness fade in the darkness of sickness was hard to take. No one wanted to see the strong man weaken, Troy hadn’t wanted to watch either, but it was just the two of them—he’d had no choice in watching over Brent.

He shoved aside the dark thoughts and separated files into two piles—completed and still needed work. Win handled the scheduling of jobs, which left Troy billing, payroll, and other mind-numbing tasks. Troy couldn’t wait to get back to teaching hyperactive kindergartners. He missed teaching and would resume his job in the fall.

It was time to head home, so he gathered up his bag and a thin jacket. Spring quickly approached with the temperatures starting to reach comfortable levels in Clifton, North Carolina. Slinging his messenger bag over his shoulder, he strode towards the office door. He checked to make sure the lights were all off before he exited through the front door. His sedan was the only vehicle in the parking lot, and he glanced up at a rumbling engine to catch sight of Win turning his Harley Fatboy left onto Monroe Avenue.

He smiled. Win didn’t even wait for spring thaw before he brought his baby out of storage. The smile fell, and he scrubbed his hands over his face.

At the age of sixteen, Troy had lost his mind over the classic biker bad-boy who interviewed with Brent for a job. Ten years had passed since he’d drooled over black leather and tattoos for the first time. The hopelessness hadn’t been lost on him even then. Win was the attention magnet for women that wanted a roll with tall, dark and handsome. The man was never without female fans, and Win wasn’t shy about accepting the offers.

Troy threw back his head and mentally chastised himself for the stupid crush. Thankfully it was Friday, and he didn’t have to be back in until Monday. Saturdays were short days and Sundays were for emergencies only. Win would take care of everything. He reached into his pocket and slipped the fob from his pocket, unlocking the door. He quickly got into his car to head home.

The drive was short, and as soon as he walked through the door, the pinched-faced nurse met him.

“Your father is impossible,” she hissed through clenched teeth and escaped without a goodbye.

Troy set his bag aside and chuckled as he made his way to the living room. Brent lay in his hospital bed with a smug grin on his pale, yet still handsome face.

“What did you do?” Troy asked.

“The woman has no sense of humor.” The laughter twinkled in his dad’s hazel eyes and eased Troy’s tension. The man was slowly getting back to his old self, twisted sense of humor and all.

“Of course, she doesn’t. Nurse Ratchet is a sweetheart compared to her,” Troy quipped. When he approached the bed, he bent over and kissed Brent’s cheek.

“I need a cute, agreeable nurse.”

“Not until you’re back to full strength,” he joked with a mock scowl.

“You’re no fun. Son, how was the office?” Brent asked.

“Same as always, but you’re going to have company. Win said he’d be by in a few hours after he goes home and changes.”

“It’ll be good to see him.”

“I figured. Did you get dinner before you drove away your nurse?”

“Yeah, but I want a steak with all the trimmings.”

“Soon, I promise.” He resisted the urge to ask how Brent felt, if he was in pain, nauseous or chilled because those inquiries were a guaranteed fight. It was going to be a hard habit to break. They’d been automatic, uttered by rote on nauseating repeat for too long.

“I need to get back to work.”

He’d known it was coming. It became a familiar request over the past month. Although Brent felt better, he wasn’t up to the long hours he’d try to pull if Brent was allowed back into his office. “I know. You have an appointment next week, and we’ll see if he’ll release you to at least go to the office.” Brent’s resigned sigh was too loud in the room. “Dad…” Troy’s voice broke, and a calloused hand covered his on the mattress.

“Son, I’m fine, I feel better already. I won’t push myself, but I miss my runs, the gym, and work. Work is one thing that I can do. The rest will have to wait.”

“I know, I do, I’ve just…” Troy couldn’t continue. His dad was the only family he had, Brent an only child of only children—there was only the two of them. His mother wasn’t really in the picture, Brenda was a nice woman, yet not really a Mom.

“There’s no shame in being scared. But the surgery, radiation, and chemo worked, I know it.”

Troy nodded because he didn’t trust his voice.

“Go get changed, son, relax a bit. Win can entertain me for the evening.”

He once more kissed his dad’s cool cheek and headed for the steps to go shower and change. The door flew open, and Miller stood in the entryway. The small statured man maniacally grinned.

“He’s looking at my ass, isn’t he?”

Troy was confused until he glanced behind his friend to find Win rolling his eyes. Win was still dressed in his work clothes with a bag slung over one muscled shoulder.

“Move it, half-pint,” Win growled and slipped around Miller to disappear into the living room.

“He wants me, always has.” Miller giggled and took off running.

“Miller,” Troy shouted and took off after his friend.

“Well, hello there, handsome.” Miller straddled Brent’s thighs and cooed at him.

“How is my favorite over-sexed munchkin?” Brent asked with a laugh and reached up to cup Miller’s face, pulling the man closer for a loud kiss on his cheek.

“If you weren’t so straight, I’d be doing good.”

Troy could practically picture the flirty grin and batting lashes.

“When has that stopped you?” Brent asked.

An indignant gasp turned to a squeak. “I’m hurt, Daddy, I’m truly hurt.”

“Don’t call my father Daddy, you little perv. What are you doing here?”

His best friend being in love with his father completely freaked him out. Miller compared every man to Brent. Thankfully Brent was oblivious. He and Miller were a sad pair—both wanted men they could never have.

Pathetic. Troy rolled his eyes.

“We’re going out.” Miller fell to the side and curled into the curve of Brent’s body, and his dad wrapped his arm around Miller.

“I can’t go out. I just wanted to be lazy tonight.” He knew his protests would be ignored by the stubborn set of his father’s and best friend’s jaws.

“No, son, I arranged it all. Win is hanging out with me for the night.”

Troy shot Win a look and found the other man turning away with a guilty expression.

“And Miller is taking you out. Find you a nice man, and I don’t expect you home tonight.”

“Dad, I don’t fuck on the first date,” Troy muttered and glared. His hope died that it would be the end when his dad cocked his head slightly and lifted a brow. The twinkle in the older man’s eyes made his stomach knot.

“Who said anything about a date?” Brent asked.

“I’m not talking about this with an audience.” What he meant was he didn’t want to talk about his lack of a love life in front of Win. Win shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Straight men didn’t want to hear about gay hook-ups, never mind the fact he hadn’t dated in over a year, on principle alone Troy needed some things to be private. Besides, he wasn’t the one-night stand type, and his sexual frustration didn’t need to be the forefront of conversation.

“Go out, have fun, you’ve spent every night home with me for the past year. It’s time we both start living again. Now, go, I’m not taking no for an answer. Miller, go make him get dressed.”

“I’m on it, Daddy,” Miller purred and jumped off the bed. Delicate fingers gripped his wrist and dragged him towards the stairs.

“Quit calling him Daddy.” Miller ignored his yell, and Troy jogged to stay in step with his annoying best friend.

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