Tribute Act (A Porthkennack novel)
Nathan Bridges hadn’t intended to settle down in his hometown of Porthkennack—he just ended up staying after saving the family business from ruin. The truth is, Nathan can’t stop himself from stepping in when problems arise. He’s a fixer, the man everyone turns to. But even fixers can’t solve everything.
When Nathan’s sister needs an organ transplant, it’s his stepbrother, Mack, who the family turns to as Rosie’s only potential living donor. Nathan’s curiosity about the stepbrother he’s never met turns to shock when he realises that Mack is his latest—and hottest ever—one-night stand.
Nathan and Mack agree to forget their single night together, but that’s easier said than done. When Mack moves in to Nathan’s place to recuperate after surgery, it’s not just the sexual tension between them that keeps growing. Against all the odds, and despite Mack’s wariness of intimacy, the two men grow close enough that Nathan begins to wonder what it would take to mend the rift that’s kept Mack and his father estranged for over a decade . . . and whether Mack might consider staying with Nathan in Porthkennack for good.
This title comes with no special warnings.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Essential Disc Notes Blog
"Christmas Stocking" by The Sandy Coves spent thirteen weeks in the top forty in 1989, with four consecutive weeks at number two. Written by lead vocalist and guitarist Derek "Dex" MacKenzie, it was the band's only top-twenty hit and remains a seasonal favourite. The single's success was helped along by a humorous video featuring Angie Ellis, a well-known soap star at the time, but the comic touches in the video together with the upbeat fast-tempo production mask a pretty simple tune with surprisingly melancholy lyrics. Rumour has it Dex wrote the song about his failing marriage to Karen French. However, despite writing a song in which he begged Karen to stay with him, it was Dex who left the marriage — and the band after almost a decade together — walking out in 1990 for second wife and fellow musician Tammy Ferguson. He launched an unremarkable solo album, Seashells, a year later, but when his first and second singles both failed to break the top one hundred, he was dropped by his record label.
Bonus fact: After divorcing Tammy, Dex moved to Cornwall, married again, and opened his own ice cream parlour. He never released another record.
Do you remember last December?
We were so in love last year
I didn't have to try to please you
You were mine; I kept you near
Thinking now, I don't know how
We got in such a state, dear
Now we fight most every night
And losing you's become my biggest fear . . .
— "Christmas Stocking" by The Sandy Coves, 1989
"I hope this doesn't make you late for your night out, Jonathan love," Mum said.
Always my full name from Mum, even though everyone else called me Nathan.
Her voice was tight with anxiety, and though I couldn't see her from where I lay with my head wedged into the tiny space under the kitchen sink in Dilly's, I could picture her wringing her hands as she watched me work.
I didn't bother answering her, instead continuing to wrestle with the uncooperative plastic waste pipe. The plastic fittings should have come apart easily but were holding firm, and there was something off about the whole arrangement. I peered it at it more closely.
"Has Derek been messing about under here recently?" I called out.
"Not for a while," Mum replied. "Though come to think of it, the sink did block a couple of months ago and he had to clear out the U-bend. He might've had some bother getting it back on." She paused, then added, "In fact, now you mention it, I'm sure he said something about having to glue it back on?"
Somehow, I managed to stop myself saying that aloud, though I couldn't suppress a long-suffering sigh.
I could see the problem now. Could see where Derek had forced the fitting too hard and broken it. The repair with…. Jesus, what had he used? Superglue?
Derek, my stepdad, was a great guy to go to the pub with but he wasn't exactly the most thorough handyman in the world. A lick and a promise, that was his style. Which usually meant that Yours Truly would end up having to sort out the mess at some point. In fact, when it came to dealing with those sorts of problems — whether at Dilly's or at home — Derek tended to go for the easy way out. It was a bit of a bone of contention between us.
And one of the many joys of combining family and work.
I squirmed out from under the sink and clambered to my feet, opening my mouth to deliver a rant about Derek and his slapdash repairs — only to close it again when I saw how exhausted Mum was. She generally favoured a glam look, but it had been a long day and her makeup had all worn off. She had dark circles under her eyes too and, worst of all, her roots needed touching up. I frowned to think she'd done a shift today with her roots showing — she wouldn't even answer the door like that normally.
But of course, nothing was normal right now.
I sighed inwardly, glancing at the clock. It was already after five. She'd be worried about Rosie and anxious to get home, though probably feeling guilty about leaving me with this mess.
Or rather, bloody Derek's mess.
"Why don't you head off?" I said gently. "You look exhausted. I'll sort this out and finish closing up. It won't take me long. And it's not far to Gav's."
Lies, lies, lies. It was going to take ages to deal with this and the drive was over an hour. I'd have to text Gav and warn him I'd be late for our first big Saturday night out in months.
"Are you sure?" The weary note of relief in her voice was unmistakable.
"Yeah," I said. "I'll be half an hour tops here. You go home and put your feet up."
She gave me a tired smile and kissed my cheek. "Okay. Thanks, love."
Once she was gone and I'd locked up behind her, I texted Gav.
Mini crisis at café. Will be late. N x
His answer arrived a minute later.
No bailing, Nathan. You promised to come with.
I sighed, heavy, then texted back.
Not bailing - will get there soonest. N
* * * * * * *
The pipework under the sink was utterly fucked. It looked as though, after snapping one of the fittings in half, Derek had somehow forced it back into place and fixed it there with a mix of mastic and superglue, half of which had leaked inside the tube — no wonder it had blocked again so soon. By the time I'd worked out the broken part wasn't salvageable, driven to the nearest home store to pick up a replacement, driven back, and fitted it properly, it was near enough eight.
I dragged myself out from under the sink, sweaty, tired, and spattered with mastic and grime, and turned on the tap. When the water flowed down the plug hole, I was ready to sob with relief.
"Back in business," I muttered. Thank Christ. The last thing we needed was to lose half our weekend trading to a plumbing crisis. And if I got a shift on, I just might make it to Plymouth for the long-awaited night out I'd been promising to my best friend for weeks now.
My stomach rumbled. A bacon buttie for breakfast had been my last proper meal, and I'd been too busy for anything else all day. I'd found a Snickers bar in the glove compartment of the car on my way to the home store and had scarfed it down in about five seconds. And that had been it for food today.
I turned to the fridge, stomach cramping with hunger, and examined the contents. There were ingredients for heaps of things, but I was too hungry to cook, or even assemble a half-decent sandwich, and anyway, the kitchen had been cleaned at the end of the shift. I didn't want to mess it up again. I scoured the shelves for something I could eat immediately. It was pretty much cake or nothing. Well, there was ice cream of course — Dilly's was, first and foremost an ice cream parlour — but in truth, you got a bit sick of ice cream when you worked with it every day. Instead, I reached for one of our best-sellers — the carrot cake.
Carrots were healthy, right? This would probably count as one of my five a day. Maybe even two if I had a big slice.
I thought about that, then served myself a double portion, added a sinful mound of whipped cream, and shovelled down the lot, eating so quickly I barely tasted it.
When I was done, I stared down at the empty plate unhappily. The cake sat in my stomach like a rock. I could practically feel my blood slowing in my veins, heavy with the fat and sugar I'd consumed.
When I'd lived in London, I'd had to work long hours, but I'd eaten better then than I did now. Which was shameful considering I worked in catering these days. London had so many healthy food places that it had been easy to follow a high-protein, low-carb diet, without having to plan much at all. Plus, having a gym in my office building had meant I'd been able to work out most days. When I'd moved back to Cornwall, I'd boasted to all my London friends about the relaxed and healthy lifestyle I'd be enjoying, but the truth was, I was more stressed now than I'd ever been and had put on, well, quite a few pounds.
Sighing, I packed up the rest of the cake and put it in the fridge, then took my plate to the now-unblocked sink and washed up. All I had to do before I left was stack the chairs on the tables and give the floor a quick once-over with the mop before setting the alarm, locking up, and heading out.
Dilly's had a great location. Porthkennack was one of those cute little Cornish seasidey places tourists love. The café was on a narrow side street just off the seafront. Even better, my place was only a few minutes' walk away, a second-floor flat in a cobbled lane up the hill with views of the sea.
My flat was small and cosy — though twice the size of my London place, with a spare bedroom for any friends who cared to visit — and I loved it. I loved living in the touristy part of town, despite how noisy it was, sometimes, on summer evenings. When I first came back to Porthkennack, it had been winter and almost unbearably quiet — I hadn't been able to sleep for the quiet after my years of living in London. It had been a relief when the first wave of tourists had arrived.
As I climbed the stairs to my flat, wearily rubbing at the aching back of my neck and yawning, I wondered if I could face a night out tonight. Maybe a movie on Netflix and an early bed would be a better bet?
But no. As tempting as that was, I'd promised Gav that I wouldn't let him down again tonight. Especially since this was his first proper looking-to-get-laid night out since the big breakup with Carrie. And of course, there was the possibility of picking someone up myself — when I considered how long it had been since I'd had sex, I wanted to weep.
My trouble was, I'd never been into one-night stands. Ever since I'd met my first boyfriend at seventeen, I'd bounced from steady relationship to steady relationship. Currently, I was in the longest dry spell I'd had since my teenage days, having broken up with my last boyfriend, Christian, shortly after moving back to Porthkennack. Preoccupied with sorting out the then-failing, now-recovering family business, I hadn't had the energy for a long-distance relationship with Christian on top of everything else.
Perhaps that had been a clue — that I'd felt like I needed energy to keep it going. But honestly, it fit the pattern of how most of my relationships went — drifting into pleasant coupledom with a guy I liked, only to decide a couple of years later that I didn't feel strongly enough about him to make a permanent commitment. Maybe it was just how I was built — maybe I wasn't capable of more? That was certainly what Christian had thought. He'd said he wanted to be loved "deeply and passionately" — and he was right when he'd said I couldn't give him that.
I did like being in a relationship, though. I liked companionship and sharing a life with someone. I liked having sex with someone who I knew inside out, and not having to wonder what that person thought of my body or whether they liked what I was doing. I liked being able to have unselfconscious, loud, joyful sex, and I wasn't the kind of guy who found it easy to let go in that way with a stranger.
Whatever my reservations on one-night stands, I still felt like I needed sex. Some of my relationships might have been emotionally lukewarm but they had all been physically successful. I loved sex and I was good at it. I was just atrocious at flirting. Too used to having a steady boyfriend and not having to make the effort to pull someone. It had made me complacent and awkward about the mating rituals of dating and hookups. The thought of approaching a hot guy in a club had me practically cringing. Well, at least until I imagined fucking said hot guy…. And that thought was exactly the motivation I needed to get me moving towards my wardrobe.
I reached inside and pulled out my oldest, favourite jeans — threadbare, skintight, and butter soft — and a fitted black shirt that I figured I could still squeeze into, even after two slices of carrot cake.
And then I headed for the shower.