Any Time, Any Place

By: Jennifer Probst

“Yes, my enlightened one.” Her words teased him back, but Raven knew each piece of advice he gave her was crucial. Since she’d started training in boxing and karate, she’d learned to tap into parts of herself that could scare her.

Unconsciously, her fingers touched the tattoo on her shoulder in memory. The sword tipped with blood reminded her every day of her promise. But over the past year, she’d been tugged in a new direction, and she wasn’t sure which would finally win out. She wondered when she’d finally have to make the choice.

“I’ll see you Wednesday?” he asked.

She shook herself out of her trance. “Definitely. Hey, when are you going to swing by for a drink? I’ll mix up a specialty cocktail just for you.”

“They already have one named after me. It’s called the Orgasm.”

She rolled her eyes. “I’ll make you a better one. It’s called Overrated.”

His laughter followed her down the short hall toward the locker room. It was easy to banter with Xavier. She admired his male beauty but didn’t crave being in his bed. From her past, she’d learned sex could be a dangerous tool that destroyed relationships, even the ones that were the most precious. She had no intention of going down that bumpy road. No, when she was ready, she’d look for a man who was mature, loving, and kind. She was done with all the bad boys and serial bedders who had no interest in a real relationship.

Not anymore.

Raven showered and changed into her street clothes. The humidity hit her as she opened the door, wrapping its cloak around her head and trying to smother her. She’d heard people in Arizona called the heat dry, but here in Connecticut, it was a wretched, clogged invasion that drove people indoors to their beloved air conditioners. And it was only June.

Her designer sneakers were black and silver with a high wedge, but they were comfortable enough to accommodate her long legs and rapid pace without a hitch. She jumped into her Jeep and drove the short distance to the demanding lover in her life that greedily took all her time and energy.

My Place.

Her soul practically sighed with contentment when she pulled into the graveled lot. The restaurant was simple on the outside. Dark wood and a big front porch. The lighted sign was hitched a bit askew and slanted toward the right. Once she unlocked the main doors with the dead bolt, another set of old saloon-style doors came into view, giving the place a fun feel. She left the main doors ajar when the bar was open, but for now, she locked them again behind her and stepped into her pub.

An automatic smile curved her lips. The smells of lemony polish, lingering garlic and grease, and a hint of old wood and must rose to her nostrils in a symphony. Her gaze took in the high raftered ceilings with thick beams, noting the small circle of water damage that would eventually force her to replace the roof. She’d need to invest before winter. Scarred plank floors and large booths with red vinyl seating gave off a comfortable aura. She made sure there was plenty of activity for the regular bar crowd—two large television screens, a pool table, a dartboard, and a working jukebox screamed old school. Shelves held various knickknacks like bobbleheads, sports memorabilia, and the occasional antique mirror. Signs hung on the walls, shouting familiar catchphrases such as RULE NUMBER 1: THE BARTENDER IS ALWAYS RIGHT. RULE NUMBER 2: IF THE BARTENDER IS WRONG, GO BACK TO RULE NUMBER 1. Yosemite Sam held a smoking pistol with a MOST WANTED placard over his head. A vintage Cheers sign—WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME—was one of her favorites.

But the main feature was the bar.

It was another antique, and she bet in its heyday it had been a glorious piece of art. The dull mahogany wood set off the brick wall behind, along with her fully stocked collection of liquor bottles, the taps, and her cocktail-creating section. The length and width were massive, allowing her to seat over a dozen people.

Raven loved stuff. She might not know how to restore or decorate properly, and she couldn’t care less about frilly curtains or bedding or sofa pillows, but a good, solid antique spoke to her. She enjoyed spending some free time roaming at the local vintage store, the Barn, and seeing what else she could pick up.

Pride flowed rich in her veins. When she’d decided to buy the bar, it had been almost unsalvageable from a previous fire and was dirt cheap. After years of refusing to touch her father’s life insurance money, Raven decided it was the only way to buy the pub. After restoration, she was even able to reopen the restaurant. At first, she kept the menu simple but satisfying, featuring her famous sweet potato fries. But when she snagged her real live culinary chef, they decided to step it up and give the cornerstone restaurants in town competition. The burgers were gourmet, with specialized toppings the locals flocked in for. The steaks were oversize and thick, and the few vegetarian dishes offered were creative and satisfying, not the usual rabbit food most thought of. Her staff was well trained, well treated, and always backed up. But what kept the crowds booming was the best damn cocktails imaginable. She’d finally made a name for herself, and she intended to keep growing doing what she did best.

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