Any Time, Any Place

By: Jennifer Probst

Band saws, circular saws, and panel saws were his livelihood. Over the years, he’d added to his collection of lathes, planers, sanders, jointers, and routers. His machines were top-of-the-line and lovingly cared for. An extension of his fingers, the right tool could make or break a job. A large multifunction worktable sat at the center of the room, with numerous drawers neatly labeled and tagged. He knew exactly how many drill bits lay within each compartment, and their sizes.

Cal had once “borrowed” a bit and forgotten to return it. After Dalton “mistakenly” shipped all the wood for a project to the wrong place in retaliation, his precious shed had never been touched again.

His favorite music was always at hand with his Amazon Echo; its digital voice assistant, Alexa, had lately become his favorite girlfriend of all time.

Dalton finished clearing his work space and glanced at his phone. He thought of his plans for the evening, which included picking up the new varnish for the Ryans and little else. Caleb and Morgan were going out. Tristan was away for a few days on a business trip. Maybe he’d call that pretty little blonde, Avery, and take her to dinner? His lackluster response told him it wouldn’t be a good move. On their last date, he’d noticed she’d gotten that moony look in her blue eyes and had casually mentioned her sister coming to visit. Like she wanted him to meet her.

He fought back a shudder. Meeting any type of family was a danger. Connections were made, and women got false ideas of where a couple of nights out could lead. Dalton hated hurting anyone, so he made sure the rules were laid out plainly for the women he dated so they knew where he stood. Unfortunately, too much time together equaled greater expectations.

That’s when it was time to move on.

His gut burned with a strange hollowness that had never been there before. What he needed was a project all for himself. Too often he was doing cabinetry and decks for the specific houses being built, but they weren’t his choices. Back in California, he’d been able to pick and choose the jobs he was passionate about. He was starting to feel like a factory worker rather than a woodworking artist. Sure, he knew it was part of being in the family business, and he prided himself on delivering pristine work. Though his brothers bitched about him not meeting his clients’ demands, they grudgingly admitted that 99 percent of the time, the clients agreed Dalton was right and loved the outcome.

Yes, that was it. He’d keep his attention cocked for a special project that really meant something to him. That would take care of the itch and soothe the restless beast within.

He grabbed his shirt, took one last look around, and shut the door behind him.

chapter two

Raven breathed hard, sweat pouring down her back, wet strands of hair falling in her eyes. She pushed it all down and focused, gritting her teeth against the pain of strained muscles and threatening exhaustion.

She bent down to connect with more power, then launched herself through the air.

Her foot hit the target dead center. Without losing her balance, she shifted her weight and delivered the crushing left hook, sending the dummy toppling to the ground.

“Nice work.” The voice was full of respect and the teasing edge that solidified Xavier’s status as her favorite trainer. “For a girl.”

She wiped her stinging eyes and began to unlace her boxing gloves. “Cute. How about you take me on and I show you how to scream like a girl?”

He flashed her a grin. White teeth blinded her, drawing a few more onlookers their way. With his rippling muscles and gorgeous coffee-bean skin, Xavier was not only one of the most sought-after trainers in the state but one of the most eligible bachelors in Harrington. He’d been training her for almost a year now, and they’d formed a solid connection as friends. Sure, they’d flirted with the idea of trying to be more, but it was obvious to both of them they didn’t experience the chemistry needed to take it to the next level. His past was still a bit of a mystery. He’d come on the scene as a contestant for American Ninja Warrior, gone viral by getting close to the end, then dropped out to train clients at the local gym.

Raven could tell there was more to the story, but she never asked. Raven had learned to respect people’s secrets. After all, he never probed for hers.

Xavier retrieved the toppled dummy and shook his head. “No, thanks. I’ve got enough women in my life kicking my ass. I don’t need a new one.”

She laughed and grabbed the water he handed her. “At least you’re smart.”

“Been trying to tell you, sugar. The fight is usually won in the first few moments. Keep your mind clear to see all angles of the situation. Then decide whether to attack or retreat. Neither one is the wrong choice.”

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