Any Time, Any Place

By: Jennifer Probst



Maybe.

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.

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