Review: A Better Man by Jaime Reese (The Men of Halfway House #1)

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.

NOTE: 2nd edition is revised and expanded.
I first read this story back in November of 2012 and fell in love the main characters Matt and Julian. Sometimes you read about two guys who just fit together like perfect puzzle pieces and they fill the empty spaces, that’s what Matt and Julian are to each other. That impression really stuck with me and made this one of my favorite reads. When I found out the story had some revisions and was being re-released I contacted the author and shamelessly begged for a review copy. Hoo-RAY for me and being shameless because it was totally worth it and no here we are! *tips hat* Thank you Jaime.

Matt is fresh out of prison for a white collar crime and there is a WHOLE story behind all that that I’m not giving away. Matt comes from money but he did not grow up happy. His favorite aunt, the one who always accepted and supported him, has left him her estate and his only instructions are to do “something good” with what he now has. His goal is to build a halfway house for men like himself who have come out of prison with no support system and just need a solid foundation to rebuild their lives. This is no small undertaking and the dump of a house he has purchased needs a complete redo. No contractor will take the job, too much work, not enough budget, too little time. Enter Julian Capeletti, down on his luck handyman loner extraordinaire. Julian needs work and while he sees that this project is pretty overwhelming he’s not one to shy away from a challenge and a tenuous partnership is formed.

Matt and Julian are attracted to each other but there are a lot of reasonable things standing in the way of the two of them connecting. They are employer/employee, Matt is afraid that Julian will be completely turned off because of his past and of course there’s the whole, “is he even gay?” thing. There is an intense amount of back and forth, flirting and stepping back and dancing around all the issues in the year it takes to get the house ready for inspection and their first guest. I think that was one of the things I loved most about this story. Lordallmighty! I wanted these two to do SOMETHING, but it really wouldn’t have been right and the payoff? When these two finally connected? In ALL the ways? Was so worth the literary blue balls journey it took to get there. I totally believed the love between these guys, I was there through the whole struggle to get along, the tentative friendship, the real flirting (Julian says to Matt after he gets his hair cut short “Don’t cut your hair so short the next time. You should keep it at least grip length.” – HELLO!) and finally the honesty and true love.

Matt does have support outside of Julian in the form of Sam, whom he met while he was incarcerated. Sam is going to help Matt in any way he can to make sure the halfway house succeeds and he gets the right fit in the guests who will be living there. Julian didn’t know what the relationship meant between Matt and Sam (he didn’t know Matt’s background at that point) and seeing how jealous he was of Sam at first and the slow acceptance of each other was pretty cute. They’re both very protective of Matt in their own way.

You know what was awful and fun? Meeting and hating Matt’s mom. Good gravy that woman is a bitch. Not a good kind of bitch either, she’s a she devil of the highest order with absolutely NO redeeming qualities. No awful past to be able to explain away her awful, she’s pretty much the worst mother and just so very cruel to Matt. Ohhhh, and that gets Julian’s hackles up in the most alpha of ways. Sometimes it’s fun to have a character that fuels your hate fire and this is her. The only reason she is so awful is because she just is, so you can loathe her with impunity and love to hate this villain.

Matt and Julian’s backgrounds couldn’t be more different but they really had so much in common. Loneliness is loneliness, it doesn’t matter where it comes from and for once in both their lives they belonged somewhere. They had the house and they had the comfort of each other. Each man inspires the other to be a better man and it’s so sweet that they see the other as the best possible man already.

love when couples have a “thing” something that is just theirs. A running joke between them is Julian’s middle name, or the fact that Matt can’t figure out what it is, and Julian’s hatred of the nickname “Jules” that Matt’s friend Sam insists on using for him. Matt comes up with a compromise and decides to just call Julian “J”. Julian doesn’t really do nicknames in general, but Matt gave it to him and after that, he only wants to hear Matt say “J” to him. Plus it doesn’t matter which one says “I love you” the other will say “I love you more” – that’s just . . . just . . . . d’awwwwww! Because I saw the evolution of their relationship these little things are tender and important and not just irrelevant sweet talk.

I’m so excited to read the next installment of this series. I feel all kinds of invested in their relationship, the work they have put into the house and the goals they have set up for themselves there. The story of their first guest has me completely intrigued and I sense some seriously awesome angst heading my way when I read about him. Bring. It. On.

A copy of this story was begged for by the reviewer and provided by the author for an honest review.

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