What happens when a man who is always alone meets a man who never is?
Sergei is the leader within the Russian immigrant community in Raleigh and the head of his family. He is a successful businessman who has carefully cultivated his intimidating persona, not correcting people when they believe him to be the head of the area’s Russian mob. Everyone comes to him if they have a problem. His problem is that he doesn’t know how to tell them no, especially his sister.
Stuart spends a lot of time alone, working from home as a graphic and website designer. He doesn’t want to be alone, but it’s simply how things have worked out. Stuart was devastated when his mother let his stepfather kick him out of the house as soon as he graduated high school. Working two—and sometimes three—jobs to put himself through college didn’t leave him a lot of time to socialize. He has had to look out for himself for a long time now and finds it hard to let anyone in. Becoming friends with Lee Clark at Everyone’s Mechanic is one of the best things that has ever happened to him and it leads to him meeting Sergei.
Sergei has to break through Stuart’s protective shell and give him a home and family. Stuart needs to teach Sergei that it’s okay to have boundaries, even with loved ones.
Reader advisory: This book contains references to homophobia, domestic abuse, sexual teacher/student relationship not involving main characters, familial abandonment and drug use with its potential consequences. It is best read as part of a series.
General Release Date: 16th June 2020
Stuart Woods slammed the door to his car and made his way to the open bay door of the garage owned by his friend Kirk. Everyone’s Mechanic had become very popular, known for their quality work and high code of ethics. The Pride flag hanging outside the building was an indication that it was a safe place for all. Quality workmanship wasn’t why he was here, though. This time Stuart needed to speak to his friend, Lee Clark.
“Hey, Lee,” Stuart yelled through the open bay door and watched as Lee peeked his head out from under the hood of the bright orange Volkswagen bug he was working on.
“Stuart. What’s up, man?” Lee made his way over, wiping his hands on a rag from his pocket as he walked.
“I heard a rumor that you got engaged last week. Why am I the last to know?” Stuart crossed his arms and arched an eyebrow in a way he hoped portrayed his upset over this fact, but he was worried that it probably came across as ‘startled squirrel’. He had been practicing in the mirror. Lee’s smirk didn’t indicate that the practice had paid off, though.
“You told me two weeks ago that you had the website for some big landscaping company to design, so not to be offended if I didn’t hear from you for the next few weeks. I didn’t want to bother you when I knew you were busy,” Lee said.
“You never bother me,” Stuart countered. “I would have liked to have heard the news from you.”
“I’m sorry. You’re right. I should have called or stopped by, if for no other reason than to make sure you ate something.” Lee pulled Stuart into a hug and patted his back. “How did you find out, anyway?”
“I ran into your fiancé’s mama at the grocery store. She’s very excited that you and Saul are engaged. I just wish I’d made my move on you sooner.” Stuart laughed to show he was joking. It had stung for a while, but seeing Saul and Lee so perfect together showed him that they never would have worked. They did make kickass friends, though.
Lee chuckled. “Yeah. Man, excited isn’t the word for it. Even though Saul and I have told her we just want something simple, she keeps calling with all these ideas for the wedding. As for the other… You were way too subtle for me, dude. I didn’t even know you were hitting on me until Saul pointed it out.”
“I wasn’t one hundred percent sure you were gay. You’re a big dude. I didn’t want to get my ass kicked.”
“Like you’re that much smaller than me,” Lee scoffed.
“I barely hit five-eleven and you outweigh me by probably fifty pounds.”
“Whatever, dude.” Both men broke into laughter.
“Seriously, Lee, I’m very happy for you. You guys are great together.”
“Thanks. What about you?”
“What about me?”
“I saw you and Sergei talking at Kirk and Eric’s wedding. Any news on that front?”
Stuart winced. “Nope. The guy got a phone call that he said was important and jetted without asking me for my number. I figured he wasn’t really interested. I mean, why would he be? I found out who he really was after he left. The people around me were jealous that I even got to talk to him.”
“Don’t sell yourself short. It didn’t look like he was disinterested to me.”
Stuart shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. He’s out of my league anyway. I think the suit he was wearing cost more than my grocery budget for the year.”
“Yeah, probably.” Lee snort-laughed. “His loss.”
“Thanks for saying so.”
“It’s the truth. I do have some weird news for you, though.”
“Yeah? What’s that?”
“A guy brought his bike in for service earlier this week.”
“What’s weird about that? You service a lot of motorcycles here.”
“It was the motorcycle that I did the paintjob on for your brother’s fortieth birthday.”
“Really? You met my brother?” A big smile crossed Stuart’s face. He had mentioned the name of the garage to his brother when he’d dropped his motorcycle back off with the new custom paint job he had paid for as his brother’s birthday gift, but he didn’t think the guy had actually been listening.
“Nope. I met the guy your brother sold his bike to.”
The smile fell off Stuart’s face. “What?”
“Your brother sold his bike pretty much the day after you gave it back to him, from what I could figure out. I thought you should know.”
Stuart took a deep breath and released it slowly. “Thanks for telling me. I guess that’s the last time I try to do something nice for him. I’m not sure why I even made the effort.”
Stuart tried to shrug it off like it was no big deal, and he must have done a pretty effective acting job, because Lee looked like he’d bought it.
“Okay. As long as you’re good with it.”
“It was his gift to do with what he wanted. I’m not sure why he bugged me about mine, only to turn around and sell his once it was done, but whatever. I just wanted to stop by and tell you congratulations on your engagement, Lee. I’m very happy for you. Tell Saul I said congratulations too.”
“Thanks. I will. Hey, I’m off Saturday and Saul has a safety class he has to teach at the sporting goods store. Do you have time to do lunch or something on Saturday?”
“Lunch would be great. The weather is supposed to be nice. How about we get the motorcycles out and head to Wilmington?”
“Sounds like an awesome idea. It’s only a couple hours’ drive from Raleigh. How about we leave around ten?”
“Sounds great. I’ll meet you at your place at ten then.”
“Oh, Saul is going to be so jealous,” Lee said with a grin, clapping his hands together. “I can’t wait. I’ve got to get back to this service ticket. See you Saturday.” With a final wave, Lee turned and headed back into the garage.
“See you.” Stuart walked to his car, climbed in and fastened his seatbelt before starting it. He made sure to keep the smile plastered on his face, at least until he had turned out of the parking lot of the shop. He let the smile die once he was far enough away that none of his friends could see him. “That asshole!” Stuart yelled and slammed his hand down on the steering wheel. He didn’t know why he was surprised that his brother had sold the motorcycle. He’d tried to do something nice for Andy since it was a big birthday—not that anyone in Stuart’s family had given him a gift since he’d turned eighteen.
Stuart scoffed. “What family?” His father had died when he was six and his mother remarried when he was twelve. Stuart had been so excited. Not only would he get a dad, but he would get a brother too. Andy was ten years older and had seemed so cool to his preteen self. His stepfather had spent a lot of time with him prior to then and for about a year after the wedding.
Things had changed so slowly that Stuart hadn’t really noticed at first, until family vacations had excluded him. And the day he’d graduated and a month after his eighteenth birthday, his stepfather Charles had told him he had to move out, since he was now out of high school. Stuart had been shocked. What had hurt the most, though, was that his mom had gone along with it. She’d just agreed with everything Charles had said, that ‘a man needs to stand on his own two feet’, which was ironic since Andy was living in the apartment above the garage, rent free. In fact, still today he lived in the apartment above the garage.
He had gone to Andy to ask if he could stay with him until he left for college. Andy had laughed at him and thrown him out. His mama had helped him pack his few belongings into the used car he had scrimped and saved for during his freshman and sophomore years of high school. He had worked any odd job he could find, as well as a job at McDonald’s flipping burgers, as soon as he was old enough. Looking back, that should have been his first clue. Charles had bought his son a new car for his sixteenth birthday. Stuart was very thankful that he’d had the job when he’d gotten kicked out, though. His McDonald’s job had allowed him to go to school with a scholarship.
He had also been lucky enough that his biological father’s brother had let him live with him during breaks and holidays, as long as he contributed money toward groceries. He didn’t know what he would have done without Uncle Peter. He was Stuart’s only family, once he’d been cast aside. Unfortunately, the man had died the previous year of lung cancer caused by the pack-a-day smoking habit he had started as a teenager, leaving Stuart alone again.
Oh, his mother called once a month or so to check on him, but only when Charles wasn’t home. Charles didn’t want any other man in her life but him. Andy would also call him from time to time. In the beginning, it would be hidden with a request to hang out, which would morph into a request for money. During the last year or so, Andy hadn’t even bothered with the hanging out part, though. He would call and ask for cash without any of the faking of brotherly affection. The last time Andy had stopped by to hit him up for some cash, his step-brother had seen Stuart’s motorcycle with the custom paint job Lee had done on the gas tank. Andy had been so impressed with it that Stuart had offered to have something similar done on Andy’s motorcycle for his upcoming fortieth birthday.
“Sucker!” Stuart yelled again as he pulled his car into the garage and shut the door. He walked into his kitchen and pulled a bottle of soda out of the refrigerator then stomped to his office. He should eat something, but he was too angry.
The hits had just kept coming that day. First, he’d been upset to find out Lee hadn’t called to tell him about his vacation and engagement, then he’d received a phone call from his mom where she’d talked about the fantastic birthday party that Charles had thrown for Andy—which he, of course, wasn’t invited to—then to find out the gift he had given him had been immediately sold.
“No more,” Stuart promised himself. “Mom didn’t even remember to wish me happy birthday today. She just rambled on about Andy’s great party. I’m done. A lone wolf, that’s me. From now on, I don’t have or need family.”