When she was a teen, Raven Bella Stratton’s father was killed in a horrible car crash. The bigger shock was the discovery of a woman with him—Diana Pierce—and their two fully packed suitcases with airline tickets to Paris. Devastated by her father’s betrayal, Raven went to live with her aunt, never truly overcoming the traumatic event. When she discovers that the mysterious woman had a family with a husband and three boys, Raven vows to leave the memory of her father behind.
Until Dalton Pierce visits one night and suddenly her past challenges her future...
Leaving his life in California behind to run Pierce Construction with his two older brothers, Dalton Pierce has enjoyed returning home and studying his passion of woodworking. But when he visits the local bar with his brothers one evening, he’s immediately drawn to the smart-mouthed, badass, sexy bartender who sets his body on fire. Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem as intrigued by him, and his multiple advances are met with rejection. When he offers to restore the bar back to its original glory, he begins to work with her on a daily basis, and falls harder. His plan of seduction slowly weaves a web around them both, until they are caught up in the spell. But Dalton doesn’t know the secret that can either destroy them both...or finally mend two broken hearts.
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Any Time, Any Place
Dalton looked at the table in front of him and frowned.
It was all wrong.
Frustration nipped at his nerves. Sweat dripped down his chest, and the familiar scents of varnish and sawdust rose to his nostrils. He rubbed his head, staring at the sharp curves and clawed feet of the dining room table he was restoring for the Ryans. The lines were right. His hands trailed lightly and lovingly over the top and down each leg, sensing the quality wasn’t the problem. Dropping to his knees, he crawled underneath to check further, but there were no skips and the grains were full and smooth. The shape was perfect. Then what was niggling at his gut that something was completely off?
He rolled to his feet, backed up, and looked at the table in the light.
Too dark. The Brazilian walnut finish blended into blackish tones.
The voice whispered from within, and as usual, he didn’t question where the answers came from. He just followed where they led. His clients had insisted on the darkest finish possible for their new antique find, and if he rebelled against those instructions he’d be taking some heat.
From both the Ryans and his brothers.
And as usual, he ignored the warning, choosing to follow his gut.
It needed a softer finish. Brazilian chestnut would work. The color was fuller, which would round out the angles to illuminate the gorgeous curves and elegant dignity of the antique. They’d chosen wrong, but if he did it the right way, they’d agree.
He pushed away the doubt, grabbing the towel to wipe his stained hands and guzzle some water. The low hum of the central air wrapped him in the perfect temperature. He didn’t mind the cloying humidity outside, since he was used to some sticky Northeast summers. But his precious wood needed care, and it did best under steady conditions. Humidity was known to warp grains. Sometimes he needed to protect the raw materials from Mother Nature’s occasional temper, and he had no problem embracing artificial environments.
His brothers would make fun of him for that thought, so he’d never shared it. Just like he’d be taking their shit when he called the Ryans to tack on an extra day to deliver the table. Too often they perceived him as flighty and irresponsible. The three of them might co-own Pierce Brothers Construction, but it was obvious Caleb and Tristan still didn’t believe Dalton could handle his part in the business. The past year had been rough, and they’d all grown much closer, yet Dalton noticed Cal and Tristan still treated him like an annoying younger brother. Sure, they respected his talent with woodworking, but they still refused to acknowledge his contribution to the bottom line.
They drove him batshit crazy.
He shook his head and trudged over to the workbench. He began cleaning up his tools, kicking up another cloud of sawdust. Dalton thought over the past year and how far they’d all come. When he’d first learned of his father’s death and the will that forced him to move back to Harrington, Connecticut, to run the family business with his two older brothers, he’d been pissed off and betrayed. He’d been happy in California, starting up his own business and free from his father’s brutal ways. Christian Pierce had ruled his family like an old Roman king—his way or no way at all. He’d refused to allow any changes in the business, and the only softness in the boys’ lives had been their beloved mother, who’d kept the family together.
Until the fatal car crash that not only took her life, but broke Dalton’s heart and shattered his hope that anything would ever be okay again.
Everything he’d believed in crumbled and left him in ruins. Diane Pierce had been the force that made them whole. Learning she’d run away with a strange man, leaving her family behind, crippled them all. The two one-way tickets to Paris confirmed the betrayal. The only way to get through it was to imagine she’d been conned by the man who’d burned in the car beside her. Of course, he’d never get the answers he sought. They had all died with her, as had everything good and gentle and pure in his life.
After that, a perfect storm of horrific events tore them all at the seams until there was nothing left but anger and pain between them. Dalton fled to California, Tristan settled in New York, and Caleb remained behind to work with their father.
He tightened his grip on his saw. Five years and they’d barely spoken. Once so close to them, Dalton had lived in a void, as if he didn’t have a family, until he got the news that Christian Pierce had died of a heart attack. When he’d returned for his father’s funeral, the will had made fools of them all. Christian’s will decreed all three of them needed to run Pierce Brothers at a profit for one year, or the business would be sold off. When Cal begged Dalton and Tristan to help, they reluctantly agreed, but it was a rough year, full of painful revelations and lingering resentment. They’d somehow managed to slowly rebuild until they’d become a family again.
When the year was up, Dalton made his choice to stay. His vision of running Pierce Brothers as a full partner filled him with pride and ambition. Now he was able to stand proudly next to Caleb and Tristan and call it a real family business. Caleb oversaw the new builds as the main contractor. Tristan dealt with real estate, design, and flipping houses. And Dalton was lucky enough to do what his life calling had always been: work with wood. Building pieces from scratch into treasured and beautiful objects soothed something within his soul. His hands were an extension of creativity and nurturing, and each piece was unique and special, as if he’d just stepped away from the wood to allow it to reveal the heart. The brothers had finally found their rhythm, and Pierce Brothers Construction had leapt to stellar status once again.
He just wished his brothers would stop shutting him out of the big decisions.
Dalton stored his tools carefully and straightened up his workshop. The large shedlike structure looked plain on the outside, but inside, it was his own personal paradise. Set back by the woods on the family mansion’s property, it was completely private, surrounded by thick brush like a hidden fairy-tale house no one could find. Shelves covered the walls and were filled with various tools and scrap pieces. Each piece told a particular story Dalton treasured. His saw collection was legendary, and if anyone got too close, he actually felt a growl rumble from his chest. He might not be possessive of women, but grubby fingers better stay the hell away from his power tools.
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.