Mia Pruitt wishes Dell Wainwright would keep his shirt on. The Naked Farmer lures customers by stripping to his perfectly worn jeans while he and Mia sell vegetables from competing stands at the farmers' market. It's time for a showdown, and they're each in it to win.
Yet when both farms end up in jeopardy, Mia and Dell suddenly find themselves on the same team. If their rivalry was hot, their attraction is steaming, but they can't seem to agree on a plan. If they could only learn to grow together, they might reap the best harvest of all
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Mia Pruitt ran smack-dab into her sister's back, causing the pallet full of cabbages she was carrying to drop to the ground. Green spheres bounced against the concrete with a thud and rolled in every direction.
"Damn it, Cara." At least cabbage was one of the hardier vegetables Mia had for the early-spring market. The drop wouldn't really damage them.
"Sorry." But Cara didn't move. She stood frozen directly in the path between the truck bed and Mia's stand at the farmers' market, cabbage strewn about her feet.
Mia looked where Cara's gaze was transfixed and groaned. "Is he serious? It's not even fifty degrees. Can't he wait until July for that crap?"
"Who cares?" Cara fanned her face with her hand. "He can take his shirt off any day he wants. And if he gets cold, I will gladly step in to warm him up."
Dell Wainwright and his stupid shirtless antics had put a serious dent in their farmers' market profits last year. Cara didn't care, but this wasn't her full-time job. Mia was the one taking over the farm. Mia was the one making this stand into a living. She cared, and she was going to find a way to combat him this year.
Dell might look like a god among men shirtless behind his table full of spring vegetables, but she'd jump around naked in front of everyone before she let him put her out of business. This farmers' market was the best thing to happen to her share of Pruitt Farms and to her personally. In the past four years she'd been selling here, she had finally learned how to come out of her shell.
In its fifth year, the market had grown to fill up half a mall parking lot. Tables with awnings lined the outer lot. In early spring, there were only two rows, but by midsummer there'd be four. Each booth was made up of a variety of locally sourced items. From her and Dell's locally grown vegetables to people selling meat, eggs, local and homemade cheeses and honeys and breads, and a few craft and soap stands.
Each year they had more customers, and each year Dell's stand had directly competed with hers. She'd managed to build up her business to break even and was this close to making it profitable.
Yeah, Dell was not screwing that up. Six-pack abs or no six-pack abs. "Stop drooling and pick up the cabbage." She gave Cara a nudge with her boot. "He's the enemy, remember?"
"If the enemy looks like that, I'll gladly turn myself in. What kind of torture are we talking?"
"If you think that's gross, you need your eyes checked." Cara flipped her hair over her shoulder and bent down to pick up the cabbage at her feet. Her eyes never left Dell.
Mia set to unloading the early-spring haul onto the table under the Pruitt Farms tent. Meanwhile, Cara made no bones about watching Dell's every move.
Cara was always dating or talking about guys she wanted to date or pinning hot celebrity pictures to her Pinterest page. It wasn't that Mia didn't appreciate a hot guy. She just didn't understand obsessing over one.
Probably because twenty-six-year-old virgins didn't know what they were missing.
Mia set up the pallets, the price signs, made sure everything was just so, and maybe on occasion her gaze drifted to Dell and his broad, tanned shoulders as he hauled his own farm's offerings from truck to table.
He was still the enemy, but it didn't mean she couldn't look.
"So glad to see you girls back this year," Val greeted them, ever-present clipboard clutched to her chest. "You're going to stick with us all year, right?"
"Yes, ma'am. Couldn't kick us out if you wanted."
Val wasn't looking at her anymore, though. She was drooling over Dell, right along with Cara. Mia resisted the urge to hurl a cabbage across the aisle. Knowing Dell, he'd probably make a big show out of catching it.
"Uh-huh. Very good. See you next week." Val wandered off to Dell's table. In two seconds flat, Dell was making her giggle and blush.
"You can't stop staring, either."
"I'm picturing strangling him." If that picture included wondering what his skin might feel like under her hands it was curiosity, not interest. Or so she told herself, year after shirtless year.
"Hey, whatever floats your boat."
A group of women descended on Dell's table. Usually the first hour of the first week of the market was virtually empty, but today had a bit of a crowd. A mainly female crowd.
Not fair. What'd he do, advertise? Male stripper does Millertown Farmers' Market.
The group of women laughed and Dell made a big production of picking things up and putting things down and flexing andughhe really was despicable.
"I am not!" Damn it. She totally was. Well, she'd come too far to be flustered by a pair of perfectly toned forearms. She was not the little girl who hyperventilated in the bathroom between classes if a boy even said hi to her.
It had always been a joke anyway. Say hi to Mia Pruitt and watch her self-destruct into a blushing, babbling mess.
Dell wasn't saying hi to her, joke or no joke, and he most certainly wasn't a boy. He was an adult man and she was an adult woman. A confident, strong woman no longer the laughingstock of her tiny Missouri farming community.
Every time someone bought a head of broccoli or cabbage from him, they weren't buying it from her. So, essentially, he was stealing.
Nobody liked thieves no matter how white their teeth were or how charming their grin might be.
"You know what?" Mia dropped the cash box onto the ground next to her chair with a loud crash. "Two can play his little game." She was done just taking it. Maybe it was time to fight.
Cara laughed. "What does that mean? You going to take your shirt off?"
"Not exactly." Mia narrowed her eyes at Dell flirting with a young mom who carried a baby on her hip. Both mom and baby were charmed. Mom bought a bag full of vegetables. Probably wouldn't eat half of them before they went bad.
Mia might not have muscles and a five o'clock shadow women swooned over, but surely she could do something to undermine Dell's sex-sells philosophy.
If you couldn't beat 'em, join 'em. She wasn't sure how to join them yet, but she would damn well figure it out before next week. She was tired of being the passive taker-of-crap. She was going to act.
"Mia's boring holes through your skull with her eyes. Be afraid. Be very afraid."
Dell waved his brother off. "Please. Mia Pruitt is five foot three of all bark and no bite in a baggy sweatshirt."
"I don't know. She takes this farm stuff pretty seriously." Charlie stacked the last empty pallet on the truck bed. "Wouldn't want to get in her way. Besides, she's not bad without the glasses and the frizzy hair. Kind of cute, actually."
"I'm not worried about Mia." Dell pulled on a threadbare Mizzou sweatshirt. "I take my farm stuff pretty seriously, too." He spared her a glance. Cute was probably the right word for her. With her hair straight instead of a frizz of curls and the heavy-framed glasses gone, she no longer resembled Mia, Queen of the Geeks.
But in the baggy shirt and at-least-one-size-too-big jeans, even a sexy mouth and big green eyes couldn't push her beyond cute.
Charlie laughed. "Yeah, nothing says serious like taking off your shirt and flexing your muscles to sell a few extra cucumbers."
"Hey, a true businessman does what he has to do."
Charlie shook his head. "Whatever you tell yourself to sleep at night, man."
His VP of sales older brother could sneer at the farm and all that went with it as much as he liked, but with Dad making noises about selling instead of passing the farm on to Dell, Dell knew he had to kick ass this market season. That meant whatever tactics necessary, regardless of Charlie's approval.
If that meant taking off his shirt, so be it. A little harmless flirting and a few extra dollars in his pocket wouldn't hurt anyone, and it'd help him. Why did people have to assume that meant he was an idiot? He was raking it in.
"Can we hurry this up? I've got a lunch date with Emily downtown in, like, an hour."
Dell nodded and picked up the pace. Choosing a noisy, bustling dinner at a fancy restaurant downtown over the quiet ease of lunch at Moon-rise in New Benton was beyond him. But then, the things he didn't understand about his older brother were too many to count.
Dell folded the awning and was tying it together when a pair of greenish cowboy boots stepped into his vision. He looked up, quirked an eyebrow at Mia.
"Wainwright." She was almost a foot shorter than he, so she had to tilt her head back when he stood to his full height.
He nodded, tipped the brim of his ball cap.
"Pruitt." Maybe he should have worn a Stetson hat. This felt more like high noon than a friendly greeting.
"Still lowering yourself to stripping for attention?" She crossed her arms over her chest, narrowed her eyes at him. "I thought maybe you'd grown up a bit since last year."
She had a dusting of light brown freckles across her nose. Kind of weird to notice it now, but then again he'd never spent much time looking at Mia. The girl who'd been the champion of awkward moments in high school, then come back from college quiet and unassuming. Of course, she'd never gotten up in his face and accused him of stripping before.
Dell grinned. That meant she thought he was a threat to her tidy little business. He primed up the charm and the drawl. "Don't worry, darling. I'm sure there'll be enough customers to go around. Not everyone is swayed by good looks and charm. Just most people."
She didn't cower. She didn't walk away. She didn't even dissolve into the Queen of the Geeks she'd been in high school. No, Mia Pruitt grinned at himwhich had to be a first, even if she'd grown out of most of her awkwardness since she'd come back from college.
"Oh, I'm not worried. But you should be," she said. Then she sauntered away with enough confidence that Dell stared after her.
"Whoa." The saunter. The grin. Even with all her recent changes, he'd never seen that kind of attitude from Mia before. Was it his imagination, or was it kind of hot?
Charlie slapped him on the back. "Told you not to cross her. Mia isn't the girl hiding behind the pony at Kelsey's birthday party anymore, if you hadn't noticed."
Dell stared after Mia's swinging hips. Apparently he hadn't noticed that at all.