Any Time, Any Place

By: Jennifer Probst

How many times had she wanted to confront Dalton about the truth? Her father had called her Bella, and she doubted Dalton paid any attention to the remnants of destruction his family had wreaked on a young girl left behind. But each time she opened her mouth to tell him the truth, she stopped. She liked having the secret to herself. She liked being able to study him and his brothers as if they were a key to a puzzle she’d been trying to solve for years. The question still haunted her, no matter how hard she tried to forget.

Why had her father left with Diane Pierce?

Maybe the Pierce brothers knew the truth. If they did, she doubted Dalton would just tell her. No, they wanted to protect their mother, so they’d lie. It’d be easier to find out more if she got closer to them and encouraged them to trust her. Like any good bartender.

So she’d let them back into her bar. She paid attention to their conversations and kept her ears sharp in regard to any mention of their parents or the accident. Raven knew Dalton was her best shot at getting most of the information. He was constantly flirting, and she could easily lead him down the road she needed.

If only she weren’t attracted to him.

Dalton had been pushing harder these past few months, demanding more attention. He was flirty, charming, and regularly asked her out. In response, she’d been mean, rude, and regularly said no.

The real problem lay in the treacherous weakness of her body.

Somehow, some way, he lit her up from the inside out. She became more alive around him, whether she was insulting him, teasing him, or serving him drinks. She made up stupid excuses to check on him or hang near his seat. Over the past months, he’d begun to erode her stubbornness with an infinite charm and patience, until it became harder and harder to truly dislike him.

Raven really, really wanted to dislike him.

“I’m flattered to be the target of your attention, but I’m still waiting for my drink.”

His teasing, wicked words launched her out of her reverie and made her realize she’d been staring at him this whole time. Fighting a blush, she cocked her hip, narrowed her gaze, and studied him. Deliberately. He looked delighted to have her attention, whether or not it was negative.

“Tall and cool, huh?” She treated him to a dazzling smile, which made his mouth drop open a bit in pure surprise. It was rare that she was nice to him, and a smile was almost an extinct gesture from her. Satisfaction flashed at her ability to throw him off balance, but it was chased with a feminine breathiness she hated. Why did he have to be so damn good-looking? She was twenty-seven, for God’s sake. Way past weak-kneed ridiculousness, yet this man got her each time. “I have a better proposition for you. Something I just whipped up that’ll rock your world.”

“Sounds great. I’d love to try it.”

“You got it.” She grabbed a glass and went to the mini refrigerator where she kept samples of batches she’d been experimenting with. The giggling group of females taking up the far end of the bar was celebrating an engagement. She’d given them her latest creation and they’d already ordered a second round. Raven bet it would be perfect for the man across from her who was wreaking havoc on her concentration.

She quickly ground some mint, then added it along with simple syrup, a touch of aromatic bitters, and the bright pink mixture to a shaker filled with ice. After a few hard shakes, she strained the liquid into a glass, stuck a froufrou paper umbrella in it, and slid the drink across the bar.

He blinked. “Looks a bit feminine, doesn’t it?”

She knew he preferred IPAs, especially Raging Bitch, but she waited him out to see if he’d take the challenge. Already the large, obnoxious pink drink had snagged the attention of some college students, who grinned and snickered under their breath. Raven knew that what a man drank at a bar was sacred. A woman looked for a man who knew how to hold his whiskey, appreciate a good draft beer, and enjoy a cocktail now and then.

As long as it wasn’t pink.

“You’re secure in your manhood, right?”

She waited for a blustery agreement, but he was smarter than she’d originally thought. His lip twitched and he leaned over, snagging her with that wicked blue gaze, refusing to let go. She fought the urge to fidget under his hot stare, figuring he’d only last a second or two. Instead, he took his time, not afraid to find what he sought, holding his gaze in a patient way that gave her tummy a tug of arousal.

“Why don’t you like me?” he asked.

Her breath caught. She allowed him to win and dropped her stare. Bastard. Half of her wanted to scream the truth and let the accusations of pain and betrayal fly loose. The other half knew it was her turf, and she’d promised not to waste her time on regrets from the past. Of course, he knew nothing, and the flash of confusion in those blue eyes almost made her feel sympathy.

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