All I Am is the second book in the A Farmers’ Market Story series and it released in February of 2016.
Everything she is. Everything he’s not…
Recovering from his time in Afghanistan, Wes Stone prefers the company of his dogs and himself. People, especially of the female variety, are…difficult. He appreciates that Cara Pruitt doesn’t treat him like an invalid, but hiring the party girl of New Benton to help out with his dog treat business is probably a mistake. And when her brightness and unexpected vulnerability somehow slip through his defenses, suddenly something terrifying is ignited inside him. Something thrilling. Something that could make Wes whole again…or consume him completely.
If Cara ever got engaged, the first thing she’d want to do would be get naked, not sell broccoli.
Her older sister did not seem to have that inclination.
Mia handed a bag of broccoli to an elderly gentleman, then once again admired her new ring.
Cara wrinkled her nose. “Ugh. Are you going to stare at that thing all day?”
“Hey, an hour ago you were jumping up and down and screeching.” Mia wiggled her fingers some more, the grin never leaving her face.
“Sorry. An hour is the limit for engagement-ring gazing while us poor single women sit around and feel our ovaries dry up and fall off.”
“Ovaries don’t fall off,” Anna chimed in, adding more curlicues to the sign she was painting for the new Pruitt Morning Sun Farms booth to hang over the table of produce offerings.
Cara scowled at her younger sister. “It’s an expression.” Being in the middle of these two was always a constant battle of reason versus…whatever she was.
“A dumb expression.”
“You’re a dumb expression,” Cara grumbled. She didn’t know why too-early Saturday morning after too-early Saturday morning, season after season, she agreed to help Mia with her farmer’s market stand. Cara didn’t get anything out of it except crap from her sisters and dirt on her clothes.
Now that Mia and Dell, her new fiancé, had merged their farms, which specialized in locally grown fruits and vegetables, Mia definitely had enough help. Cara was an unneeded volunteer.
Still, for the fourth year in a row, here Cara was. Tired and cranky—though, okay, maybe she enjoyed her sisters’ company a little bit. It had been fun to help Mia while she came into her own, taking over the parts of the family farm suitable for produce and then building a business.
Cara had been a part of that. Sure, she wasn’t a farmer, didn’t want to be a farmer, but it was nice to be involved. To feel useful.
Then the Naked Farmer had come along and swept Mia away, and now they sold their goods as one entity.
“Can you three not talk about ovaries while I’m around?” Dell asked in between customers.
“Hey, you’re outnumbered,” Cara returned. “Get used to it. Where’s Charlie, anyway?”
“Flat tire. Told him not to come. I think four people can handle one farm stand.” Dell turned to a new customer, who laughed at the word Taken painted across Dell’s chest. It was cold enough they let him keep his shirt on, but it remained unbuttoned.
“The Naked Farmer’s taken? What a pity.” The middle-aged woman sighed. A lot of his female customers would be disappointed he was off the market. Shirtlessness and flirtation had been his go-to business practices last season.
“Very much so.” Dell winked back at Mia, who grinned, all lovesick and gross.
Man, Mia had all the luck. Not that Cara wanted to be engaged, but having a hot guy drooling over her would be nice. Usually she knew how to get that kind of attention, but lately the New Benton dating scene had been…bleh.
“Okay. Sign’s finished.” Anna packed up her supplies. “I’ve gotta go meet Jen and Zack at the library. See you at Moonrise at one?”
“I’ll be there.”
Anna said her goodbyes, and Mia studied the new sign.
“Oh, my God.”
“What?” Cara asked in unison with Dell. She hated to admit it, but she missed the days when it was just her and Mia. This was less work, but Mia was a little preoccupied with her fiancé.
“No more lady parts talk, please.”
“No, look.” Mia pointed at the sign. “Pruitt Morning Sun Farms is PMS.”
Cara couldn’t swallow down a laugh at the way Anna had made the P, M and S of Pruitt Morning Sun big, blue and swirly.
“This is a disaster.”
“Aw, it’s all right, sugar. We’ll call it Morning Sun.”
Mia glared at Dell. “I am not giving up Pruitt. Maybe we can put it at the end.” Mia sighed, staring down at the sign again. “Morning Sun Pruitt Farms sounds terrible.” Mia was obviously distraught. Cara opened her mouth to say something reassuring, but Dell wrapped his arm around his fiancée and gave her a squeeze.
“Have Anna make the F really big. No one will think anything of PMSF—or don’t have the first letters stand out.” He kissed the top of her head, and she leaned into him.
Cara didn’t understand the clutching feeling that made her look away. It couldn’t be jealousy, because the thought of a relationship made her break out in hives. It couldn’t be dislike, because she liked Dell just fine, and she especially liked Dell for Mia.
But something about it—them—made her chest tight.
“You guys going to make out? If so, I’m going to get myself some breakfast.”
“Yeah.” Dell dug in his pocket and pulled some crumpled money out. “Here, take this five. My treat if you make yourself scarce.”
She snatched the bill from Dell’s hand. “Hard to sell broccoli with your tongues down each other’s throats.” Apparently neither of them cared. Figured.
Cara skirted the front table. They’d done pretty good with the broccoli, and even the greens were going okay, but the chard was all but untouched and—what did she care? What sold and what they grew was so not her problem. Cara certainly wasn’t going to start worrying about it now.
She walked toward King’s Bread and glanced around the market. The first day of the season was usually pretty slow, but because of the warmish temperatures and increased advertising this year, there were groups of people squeezing through the rows of tables.
She meandered through one row of booths. This wasn’t her scene—she’d much prefer shopping at the new outlet mall in Millertown, even if it was out of her price range—but there was something fun about tables of honey, jam, vegetables and all manner of homemade, home-picked, home-baked things.
The sound of a dog’s incessant barking stopped her in her tracks. A little white blob of fur stood at her feet, unleashed.
“Shoo, little doggy.” Apparently, the shooing motion she made was asking for a fight. The dog lunged at her. As she tried to sidestep it, she tripped and fell square on her butt.
The ball of fur latched on to her pant leg, growling and biting. Cara wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to kick the little booger, but then its jaw clamped down on her ankle. It had bitten her! Probably not hard enough to break the skin, but some strange dog seriously had bitten her.
“Ow, you little jerk!” She didn’t want to actually kick this tiny thing, but she did nudge it a little with her foot.
“Pipsqueak! Pipsqueak! Come here, right now!” The dog finally responded to its screeching owner and hopped into the middle-aged woman’s arms. “Oh, are you all right, sweetheart?”
Cara scowled at the woman. “Yeah, I’m peachy after getting bit by your little terror.”
The woman wrinkled her nose and clutched the demon dog to her chest. “I was talking to Pipsqueak. I don’t know what you did to provoke him.”
“Provoke him?” Cara started to push herself up, but someone stepped in.
“They’re supposed to be leashed,” a low, gravelly voice said.
Cara looked up at the man who’d intruded in the conversation, but all she saw were shadows against the bright sun.
“Pipsqueak has never hurt anyone in his life. He doesn’t need to be leashed. It’s inhumane. This woman must have done something to set him off.”
“It needs to be leashed. It’s the law,” the deep voice rumbled.
“Why, I never! If this is the way you treat a customer—”
Cara looked up from her spot on the ground and was surprised to find she recognized the man’s face. Wes Stone. She didn’t know him personally, only knew of him. He’d been at least five years older than her in school, but New Benton had made a big deal out of it when he went off to Afghanistan.
The town had made an even bigger deal when he came back severely injured after working with some bomb sniffing dogs or something. He didn’t look all that injured to her, but between all the hair and the flannel it was hard to tell anything. Except he was tall. And kinda scary as he scowled.
It took Cara a few seconds to realize that he’d held out his hand to her to help her up—that he was angry with this woman on her behalf.
Cara gathered her wits enough to take his hand and let him pull her up. She tried to remember what kind of injuries he’d suffered. Was it okay for him to be doing this? Of course, that’d been something like three or four years ago. Maybe he was all healed.
“You’ve lost a customer, mister.” The woman stalked off, kissing the evil little minion in her arms as she went.
“Your loss,” Wes muttered. His gaze didn’t meet Cara’s, and his question was mumbled. “You okay?”
She nodded. His dark blond hair was wavy and longish, his beard a touch on the side of grizzled rather than the trendily well-kept look. He was like a modern mountain man, one with piercing blue eyes.
Wait. Had she really just thought piercing in relation to eyes? “It bite you?”
She looked down at her ankle and lifted the cuff of her jeans to inspect the skin. “Tried. Didn’t break the skin. I’ll live.”
“People.” He stalked back to his booth.
She looked up at the sign. Organic Dog Treats. No description of what that meant. No colors. No pictures. Just black letters on a white background. His table was just as sparse. Buckets of treats with black-and-white labels saying what they were and how much they cost.
An interesting contrast to most of the other vendors with their colors and logos and fancy spreads.
“Well, thanks for yelling at her for me, Wes,” she offered, giving his table a little pat. “Sorry if I cost you a customer.”
He stopped and looked at her quizzically. “Do I know you?”
“Um, no. I mean, you might know of me. I grew up in New Benton, too.”
He grunted. Well. All the rumors about him seemed to be true. Came back from the army, bought a hermit cabin in the woods, shut everyone out.
Except his legion of dogs. Sitting at his feet. Unfazed by Pipsqueak’s earlier “attack.” They swished their tails, three of the four napping. The other one panted happily in the sun.
Weird. Weird guy. Weird booth. Weird day.
She gave Wes a little wave and headed for the King’s Bread booth. When she glanced back at him, he was staring after her.
Very weird day.