“I love the smell of grease in the morning,” Phoenix called as he walked into the garage. I lifted my head out of the engine I was working on, a 1967 Chevrolet Impala. I’d damn near kissed the hood once I got that beauty in.
Keeping my hand on the hood, I grinned at Phoenix. “How many years do you think it’s going to be before you stop saying that and start with a simple ‘good morning’?”
He shrugged a shoulder and rolled up the heavy garage doors, indicating Lovett’s Auto Repair was officially open for business for the day. “When ‘good morning’ starts sounding like the better option, I’ll let you know, but that shit’s pedestrian, man. Mine’s better.”
Phoenix was a tall, hulking man with enough muscle to throw his heft around if needed. He was cocky and funny as hell with a tendency for pranks and mischief. He blamed the latter on his resemblance to Dennis the Menace. Freckle-faced with a blond cowlick, it was hard to disagree with him. He was also a damn hard worker and a solid friend, the kind of man who was good to his bones.
“Want to start this beauty for me really quick? I need to hear if she’s purring yet.” The owner of the Impala had brought her in with a distinctive clacking from the engine. The man told me he only wanted her back when she was running smooth and purring again.
Phoenix flashed a wide grin. “Hell yeah. I’ve been itching to get behind this wheel.”
“You’re only starting it and giving me a little bit of gas,” I warned, knowing he would just as easily take it around the block a few times given half the chance. “I want to hear the purr, not the sound of our profits on this repair disappearing if you get caught driving it around town.”
“Ha ha.” Phoenix lowered himself onto the worn leather driver’s seat, mumbling under his breath. “Like they would ever catch me.”
“I would catch you, bro,” I told him, smirking.
When it came to life, I’d discovered my sweet spot was in dealing with cars—or anything with an engine. It was simpler that way. Cars didn’t give a crap about history or gossip or notoriety. Nor did Phoenix, which was why he was my best friend and my right-hand man around the shop.
I tightened a few more bolts and wiped my hands before giving Phoenix a thumbs-up. With a turn of the key, the engine rumbled to life, the sound smooth.
“Running like a fucking dream,” he cheered when he cut the engine.
I nodded along with his assessment. “She’s definitely purring, all right. I’ll give Mr. Walter a call later and tell him she’ll be ready for pickup this afternoon.”
Phoenix eased out of the car, stepping back to admire her and wistfully shaking his head. “It’s a damn shame her stay with us is ending so soon. I loved smelling her grease in the morning more than any of the others.”
I laughed and rolled my eyes. “With the way you talk, people are going to think we’re running a prostitution ring in here.”
Phoenix brightened, a teasing glint entering his gaze. “Let’s do it.”
My brows jumped up. “Start a prostitution ring? Are you high?”
His hair bounced as he doubled over with laughter, his fair skin turning red. “Not start one, talk like we have. It’ll send the tongues of all the bored housewives in the county wagging for sure.”
The last thing I needed was for those tongues to be wagging about me or my family. Been there, done that. “It would’ve been fun, but no. We’re absolutely not doing that.”
“Come on, Lovett. Live a little. Your baby bro’s a cop. It’s not like anyone in the know is going to take it seriously. It’ll be for the entertainment value to see what kind of bullshit people will believe.”
Phoenix had moved to town a few years ago. He’d come to me with nothing but the clothes on his back, a funny demeanor, and the finely tuned skills of a mechanic. At the time, my business had been on shaky ground, but I’d known skill when I saw it and wasn’t about to let Phoenix work anywhere else. My garage nearly went out of business as a result of all the shit that went down with my father. The only thing that kept my doors open was the curiosity of people from far and wide to come face-to-face with a Lovett, to try and talk me into “telling them the truth” about what was happening behind the scenes of the biggest legal mess in the history of our small town.
With time, word spread that I didn’t talk about it, and eventually, the curious cats stopped coming. Legitimate business finally started streaming in again because my only competition in town was caught using shoddy parts and overcharging. Only then did people remember I was fucking good at my job and, despite what my family name might imply, a halfway decent person who charged reasonable rates and got the work done.
Phoenix had breezed into my life at just the right time. Things were busy, too busy. It wasn’t feasible for me to run the garage as a one-man shop anymore. I interviewed him for a whopping ten minutes before hiring him on the spot. I’d liked him instantly and only grown to like him more since then.
It was a blessing for me that he moved to town after my life had spun sideways because of my father’s legal troubles and after the Lovetts weren’t news anymore. I was committed to moving on with my life and didn’t need someone reminding me of the past every damn time they looked my way. Phoenix didn’t know about the past, and we’d become fast friends. By some miracle, he’d never mentioned it to me, so I figured he didn’t know the entire ugly mess. Although he wasn’t one for gossip and sure as hell didn’t go out looking for it.
On days like today when he came up with harebrained schemes, I wondered if it would’ve been better if he knew. Phoenix Baines was an upstanding citizen who, despite his banter, had never even gotten a parking ticket. He wouldn’t act on any of the crap he cooked up in his head for all the money in the world, but I was touchy about anything that could even vaguely be construed as being on the wrong side of the law—meaningless banter or otherwise.
I was all too well aware that if anyone so much as overheard our conversation, I would be right back on the radar of any reporter in town. The headlines practically wrote themselves. “Lovett’s at it again,” or “Lovett genes strong in Evan.”
Not to mention what a rumor like that would do to the business’s reputation. “I am living, Phoenix. I’m just doing it in my own little peaceful corner of the world. Don’t need those tongues wagging any more than they already have.”
Phoenix nodded thoughtfully. “I guess you’re right. We’ll have to get attention some other way.”
While he hadn’t known when he started working for me what my family history was, I didn’t doubt he’d have heard one or two stories about my family in the couple years he’d been in town. He’d never said a word to me, though, and that suited me fine.
“Why exactly are we looking for attention?” I asked, waving over one of the detailers who had arrived while we were talking. I wasn’t turning over the Impala’s keys until it was spotless and gleaming, nothing less than it deserved.
Phoenix lifted his hand to his forehead and sighed dramatically. “Because you and I are both single, red-blooded men, my friend. We need to get the ladies in town talking about us.”
Cocking my head to the side, I arched a brow. “You want them talking about us because we might, or might not, be running a prostitution ring?”
“Fair point,” he said, dropping his hand before winking at me. “We’re going to have to come up with a better plan to get their attention.”
“You get right on that,” I said with a shake of my head, pausing to explain what we needed on the car to the detailer. I was about to resume my conversation with Phoenix to tell him I was perfectly fine without any extra attention when my phone started buzzing in my back pocket.
Fishing it out, I saw the screen light up with a number I didn’t know. Thinking it could be a customer who had somehow gotten ahold of my personal cell number, I answered. “Lovett’s Auto Body and Repairs. This is Evan.”
“Evan Lovett?” a bored-sounding voice asked. The voice didn’t wait for me to confirm before continuing. “You have a collect call from the Cypress Creek Penitentiary. Do you accept the charges?”
Not a fucking chance. My blood cooled in my veins. There was only one person I knew in Cypress Creek Penitentiary, and I had no desire to speak to him. Dear old Dad ruined normal life for me and my brothers. I had nothing to say to him.
“No. I don’t accept the charges.” I jabbed my thumb down on the end call button more times than necessary and stuffed my phone back into my pocket.
Phoenix and the detailer both looked at me questioningly at the harshness of my tone, but before I could shrug it off or blame it on unsolicited telemarketing or something, a familiar truck pulled up outside the garage.
Beau, one of my two older brothers, hopped out of his shiny, brand new black truck looking like he’d been dressed by some kind of country living fashion magazine. I had four brothers in all. Two older, two younger. I was the lucky winner of being smack bang in the middle.
Out of all of us, Beau was the one we use to tease about being adopted when we were younger. He had a Californian surfer look going for him that none of the rest of us did. He even used to wear his blond hair long, hanging down to his shoulders. It was all clean-cut then, though.
He couldn’t have one of the best architects in the county running around looking like he was about to grab a board and head for the ocean to catch a wave. Yanking a rag out of my pocket to rub some of the grease off my hands, I watched him approach. I was surprised to see Beau at the shop that early—or at all. He wasn’t a regular visitor.
When he ducked underneath the rolled up garage doors and pushed his dark sunglasses onto his head, I walked forward to greet him.
“What’s up, bro? This is a surprise.”
Beau smiled warmly but almost apologetically. “I know. I’ve been meaning to stop by, but things at the office have been busy. You know how it goes.”
I nodded. Beau and I weren’t the closest brothers could be, but we both had busy lives. His was especially manic. When we did manage to get together, it was always good to see him. “Want some coffee?”
“I knew there was a reason I loved you,” he teased, nodding before he followed me to my office in the back.
He didn’t blink at the clutter, moving some sketches I was working on from the visitor’s chair while I fixed our drinks. “How’re our other brothers? I feel like I haven’t spoken to anyone in months.”
“Sonny and Jeremy are good,” I told him before giving him a quick update on our two younger brothers. “They’re both so fucking in love, it’s nauseating sometimes.”
“A good thing, no?”
“Being nauseated?” I deadpanned before laughing and handing him his coffee. “Them being so ridiculously happy and in love is good, yes. It’s great to see them both like that.”
“We should all have dinner together again sometime soon,” Beau suggested.
I nodded because I knew he meant it, but it was unlikely he’d manage to fit it in. “It would be nice to see everyone. Get to know those girls of theirs a little better,” he added.
Again, I nodded. Marie and Niki, Jeremy and Sonny’s “girls” would’ve loved to get to know Beau too. They often commented about how he was so often missing in action. With Beau being Beau, it wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon. Work would swamp him as soon as he walked out of here, and he would only reemerge once all these plans had long since fallen by the wayside.
Speaking of family, I was curious to know if I was the only one who had received that unwelcome collect call that morning. “Dad tried to call me from prison this morning.”
Beau stilled with his hands wrapped around his mug and his mouth in the middle of blowing onto the steaming surface. “Yeah? What did he want?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t accept the charges.” I shrugged. Beau and I were on the same page where Roy Lovett, father and criminal extraordinaire, was concerned. “I haven’t spoken to him in at least a year. I have no idea why he would be calling now.”
“Forget about it,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “Dad has nothing for us. It’s not worth thinking about. Tell me what’s been going on with you instead.”
I breathed through a slow nod. Beau was right. There was no point wondering what our father may have wanted or why he may have called. He had nothing for us, and frankly, I had nothing for him either.
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