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Dirty Thoughts

By:Megan Erickson


SO I HAVE to confess that I never intended to write this book. Or this series. But then readers began to ask questions about the Payton brothers after reading Make It Right. They wanted to see why Cal was so gruff, and they wanted someone to knock that smirk off of Brent’s face.

And so I started thinking. And thinking some more, and Cal began to shout his story in my head, and I thought, what the heck? Why not?

And thank God for my editor, Amanda Bergeron, because she loved this idea as much as I did. Her enthusiasm for it has been such a motivation to me to do these characters justice. Her edits throughout this process were amazing and thoughtful and made this book so much better. I learned so much during the editing of this book, and I’m really grateful.

As always, my agent, Marisa Corvisiero, was right by my side, as excited about this book as I was and championing it for me.

My critique partners were awesome as I was drafting, letting me share passages where Cal was swoon-y and where Brent was a loveable jerk. Thank you to Natalie Blitt, AJ Pine, and Lia Riley for being there for me. I love you guys. Lia—I owe you for this series title, because Mechanics of Love is genius, and that’s all you, baby!

I adore the team at Avon Impulse, I have to say. I love the authors. I love the editors and the publicists and the design team. You make Avon a wonderful place to be. You make it a family. And I’m proud to be a part of it.

Thank you to my husband and children who dealt with my crappy holiday cheer because I was in my head, writing this book in December but all the time wishing it was summer. Confession: this book takes place in the summer mainly because I was really hating on winter, and I was tired of being cold. Oh, and I wanted to write a sweaty, oil-streaked, shirtless Cal.

Thank you to the writing community, to Meg’s Mob for wanting this book (especially Jullie Anne) and, as always, Andi—you’ll never be one of the “little people.”

Chapter One

CAL PAYTON SIGHED and braced himself as the opening guitar riff of “Welcome to the Jungle” reverberated off the walls of the garage. Sure enough, several bars later, his brother, Brent, began his off-key rendition, which didn’t sound much different from his drunken karaoke version.

Which, yes, Cal had heard. More times than he wanted to.

He growled under his breath. Brent kept screeching Axl Rose, and if Cal wasn’t stuck on his back under this damn Subaru, he’d be flinging a wrench at Brent’s head. “Hey!” Cal yelled.

There was a blissful moment of silence. “What?” Brent’s voice came from somewhere behind him, probably in the bay next to him at the garage.

“Who sings this song?”

“Are you kidding me?” Brent’s voice was closer now. “It’s Guns N’ Roses. The legendary Axl Rose.”

“Yeah? Then how ’bout you let him sing it?”

There was a pause. “Fuck you.” His brother’s footsteps stomped away. Then the radio was turned up, and Brent started singing even louder.

Cal blew out a breath and tapped the socket wrench on his forehead, doing his best to tune out Brent’s increasingly loud voice. Cal vowed to buy earbuds and an iPod before he murdered his brother with a tire iron.

He turned his attention back to the exhaust shield he was fixing. The customer had complained of a loud rattle when his car idled. Sure enough, one of the heat shields covering the exhaust system under the car was loose. It was an easy fix. Cal used a gear clamp to wrap around the pipe of the exhaust system to prevent the shield from making noise.

It didn’t necessarily have to be done, but the Graingers were long-time customers at Payton and Sons Automotive. And they always sent those flavored popcorn buckets at Christmas. He and Brent fought over the caramel while their dad got the butter all to himself.

He finished tightening the hose clamp onto the pipe and then banged around the exhaust system with the side of his fist. No rattle.

He slid out from under the Subaru and patted it on the side. He squinted at the clock, seeing it was almost quitting time. Their dad, who owned half of the shop—Cal and Brent split ownership of the other 50 percent—had already gone home for the day.

Cal put away the tools he’d used, purposefully ignoring Brent as he launched into a Pearl Jam song. Cal rubbed his temple, wiping away the bead of sweat he could feel rolling down his face. The back room had a small table and a refrigerator, so Cal made his way there to get a water.

In the summer, they kept the large doors of the garage open, but the air was thick and humid today. The American flag outside hung like a limp rag in the still air.

Cal wore coveralls at work and usually kept them on to protect his skin from hot exhaust pipes and any number of sharp tools lying around. But as he walked back to the lunchroom, he stripped his upper body out of the coveralls so the torso and arms of the clothing hung loose around his legs. Underneath, he wore a tight white T-shirt that still managed to be marked with grease and black smudges from the work day.