All I Want (A Farmers' Market Story)

BOOK: All I Want (A Farmers' Market Story)
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This couldn’t be happening...not to him!

For Charlie Wainwright, the only way to live is according to plan. But a corporate layoff and one hot night with Meg Carmichael has thrown him off course. He doesn’t know how to handle the pretty goat farmer, much less the news that they made more than conversation that night.

Suddenly Meg is pregnant, and Charlie wants to do the right thing. Meg and all she’s hiding don’t belong in his world, and his suits and ties don’t belong on a farm. But a promise to do what’s best for the baby might show them what matters most...

“So, um, I suppose this is awkward,” Meg began.

“I suppose,” Charlie returned, wondering if it would be less awkward if she weren’t quite so nervous. Or maybe drunk sex just always made things awkward afterward.

He sighed. At himself. At the situation. At...life. “You know—”

“I’m pregnant,” she whispered.

He leaned closer, sure he’d misheard or misunderstood. “I’m sorry. What?”

“I know you don’t have any reason to believe me. We don’t know each other well. It never should have happened, but the very fact of the matter is, the only person I’ve been in any potentially compromising positions with is...you...and my doctor confirmed a positive pregnancy test. So...”

He leaned back. Away from her and words that didn’t make sense. He was thirty-five. He was a vice president of... No, not anymore.

He was an unemployed thirty-five-year-old being told the drunken one-night-stand he hadn’t meant to ever let happen had resulted in...

“I didn’t mean to just drop it on you like that.” She skirted the table of her booth, and that felt like a purposeful distancing. He was on one side, and she was on the other.

Pregnant.

With his baby.

Dear Reader,

Four years ago, I decided to write a book about two farmers and a farmers’ market. When I wrote that first chapter, I was determined it would be a stand-alone book. So many people on Twitter were complaining about series, and I was going to write just
one book
.

But the heroine, Mia, had a really interesting sister in Cara. Okay, so maybe, given the chance, it’d be a two-book series. But
that
was it.

I very purposefully gave the hero, Dell, a brother whose name and temperament did not appeal to me at all. Or so I thought.

The funny thing about writing books with complicated family dynamics set in vibrant communities...you can’t help
wondering
about the people in the background.

I never meant to make Charlie a hero, but the more I wrote about Dell and his complicated relationship with his father in
All I Have
, the more I had to know what made Charlie Wainwright tick.

Much like Cara, the heroine of
All I Am
, it took me a few tries to find Charlie’s match. But when tattooed, goat-farming Meg popped into my brain, I knew no one better could help Charlie find exactly who he was meant to be.

I hope you enjoy this final trip to the farmers’ market!

Nicole Helm
www.NicoleHelm.Wordpress.com

NICOLE
HELM

All I Want

Nicole Helm
grew up with her nose in a book and the dream of one day becoming a writer. Luckily, after a few failed career choices, she gets to follow that dream—writing down-to-earth contemporary romance. From farmers to cowboys, Midwest to
the
West, Nicole writes stories about people finding themselves and finding love in the process. She lives in Missouri with her husband and two sons and dreams of someday owning a barn.

Books by Nicole Helm

HARLEQUIN SUPERROMANCE

A Farmers’ Market Story

All I Have
All I Am

Falling for the New Guy
Too Friendly to Date
Too Close to Resist

HARLEQUIN E

All I Have

Visit the Author Profile page at
Harlequin.com
.

Get rewarded every time you buy a Harlequin ebook!
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here
to Join Harlequin My Rewards
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To all the readers who’ve reached out to tell me how much they loved this series. It’s been a joy.

CHAPTER ONE

C
HARLIE
W
AINWRIGHT
STOOD
at the entrance to his brother’s vegetable barn, phone in hand, many, many curse words in his head.

He was about to send his third
where are you?
text in fifteen minutes but then saw Dell’s head appear, along with a much smaller, darker head leaning against his shoulder.

“You ask for my help and now you’re late? See if I help you again,” Charlie called, keeping the curse words in his head only for his niece’s benefit.

“Mia’s not feeling great. She was going to watch Lainey even so, but the terrible twos are alive and well.” Dell approached, and Charlie had to admit the guy looked exhausted.

“She isn’t two yet.”

“Close e-da...darn-nough.” Dell handed the little girl off to Charlie and then opened up the barn.

“Hey there, Sugar Snap,” Charlie greeted his niece. Maybe he said it quiet enough so Dell couldn’t hear, because
maybe
Lainey had climbed under every last tough-guy facade he’d ever had since the day she stopped spitting up breast milk.

“Chawie.” She slapped him on the face, her greeting of the moment.

“Lovely,” Charlie muttered, bouncing her till she giggled while Dell loaded up his market truck with vegetables for the day. “So, what’s Mia down with? Not flu season. Sure she’s not just sick of you?”

Dell grinned as he shoved the last pallets of vegetables onto his truck bed. “Nope. Not nearly sick of me.”

Charlie grimaced. His screwup younger brother’s happiness and business success over the past few years were a little salt on the wound right now. He could deal with being wifeless and childless, usually, but with the company he worked for being bought out and rumors that layoffs would happen next week, well, work and success were all Charlie had. The very real threat he could lose them was...terrifying.

But he wouldn’t lose. Couldn’t.
Didn’t.
He was the best man for the job, even if the company buyout meant cuts were coming. Most likely to people as high up as he was.

Not thinking about that today. Today was helping Dell at the farmers’ market. He’d worry about work at work.

Right, you’re so good at setting boundaries like that.

He flipped Lainey upside down and she screamed with delight. When he brought her back upright, Dell was grinning at him. “What?”

“Nothing. Just never expected you to be Mr. Doting Uncle. Good thing, though, as you’re going to be an uncle twice over soon enough.”

Charlie’s eyebrows shot up. Dell had been married for almost four years now, and his and Mia’s farm business was booming. It shouldn’t be a shock, but even with years to tell Charlie otherwise, he’d still been of the mind-set that he was better off than Dell.

Charlie had attended a challenging school, escaped their tiny farming community hometown. He was a vice president of National Accounts, the youngest one his company had ever had. He lived in an expensive apartment, drove a nice sports car and had a solid retirement plan. He had
investments
.

But for the first time, maybe because he knew his job and all that success he’d worked so hard for was on the line, he looked at Dell and realized his brother had come out on top.

“Blank stare all you got?”

“No.” Charlie forced himself to get over his own problems for a minute. “Man, congratulations. Really. Although Mia’s the one doing all the work. Don’t know why I should be congratulating you.” Gotta get a dig in, right?

“Same old Charlie,” Dell said, shaking his head as he took Lainey back into his arms. “I’m going to take her to Mom. You want to start up the truck and meet me out front?”

“Sure.” He took the keys Dell handed him. “Number two, huh?” Three years younger, many years wasted and Dell was way out in front.

Christ.

“We haven’t told the folks yet, but God knows Mia’s blabbed to Cara and Anna, so it’s my turn. Cara’s pregnant too.”

“No sh—” At Dell’s finger-to-neck motion, Charlie changed where he was going. “No way.” Mia and her sister pregnant at the same time. Every person he knew who hadn’t made much of himself until long after him, happy and procreating.

Dell rolled his eyes. “She said the F-word the other day,” he grumbled, ruffling Lainey’s feather-fine hair. “Clear as you please. Right in the middle of the grocery store. Needless to say, I was not hailed as a hero that night.”

“Right,” Charlie said, feeling uncharacteristically tongue-tied. “Well.”

“Babies everywhere, man. Watch out. It’s in the air and it might be catching.” Dell slapped him on the shoulder before heading up toward their parents’ house.

Charlie climbed into Dell’s truck and turned the key in the ignition. The feeling weighing down his arms, twisting in his chest, it was all very new. Something he’d never experienced before, so it was hard to pinpoint, hard to label.

His career was being threatened. He had no wife, no serious girlfriend, no chance for kids anytime soon. He had things, but the intangibles, success and love and contentment...well, if he lost his job, they would all be missing.

His chest squeezed tighter, arms feeling heavier. He had a bad feeling it all meant one thing.

Charlie Wainwright was a failure. And that was something he’d never been.

* * *

M
EG
C
ARMICHAEL
IGNORED
the heavy grief in her chest and set up her table at the Millertown Farmers’ Market. She chatted idly about the weather with the woman to her left, who had a table of colorful jellies and jams set out. She pulled out brochures, breathed in the scent of lavender and smiled despite the tears pricking her eyes.

Lavender had always been her grandmother’s favorite.

With a deep breath Meg plastered a smile on her face and looked at the display she’d put together. Baskets of soaps boasting different shapes and scents. The Hope Springs Farm name and an illustration of a poppy and a goat graced her signs, brochures and labels.

Look at all you’ve done.
It was Grandma’s voice, because that was the voice that had guided her since she ended her last stint in rehab. She’d been clean for eight years now, sober for six. She had a business, and a life she was proud of, to show for it.

And Grandma was gone. Meg had to keep telling herself that was okay,
that
was life. Getting high wouldn’t change the fact that her sole familial supporter was gone. Dead.

Nothing would change that, so what was the point in throwing away her life again? The pain wouldn’t go away. She’d have to be her own positive force. Her own support.

That wasn’t scary or overwhelming. It was
empowering
. Or something.

Meg repeated the word
empowered
over and over inside her head. Willing herself to believe it as the morning went on. She was
powerful
. She was
strong
. Breathe in. Breathe out. Smile. Charm. Sell.

The market was busy, which made it easier. Though her booth that boasted no food products wasn’t as popular as the vegetable stands and the honey and egg stands, she was having a pretty successful morning for herself.

Because she
was
successful, empowered, strong.

An older woman with a little white dog passed, ignoring her greeting on her way to the organic dog treat table a few spots down. Not to be deterred, Meg greeted the next passerby. “Mother’s Day is just around the corner!”

As she’d hoped, that caught the attention of a man who appeared to be in his thirties, alone and the type to be too busy to remember Mother’s Day. Meg had a knack for recognizing those types.

“We’ve got lots of scents and shapes. Owls, foxes, pretty designs. Perfect for any mother who likes nice, usable things.” She smiled broadly. He couldn’t be much older than her and was only an inch or two taller. Sandy-brown hair that looked carefully styled, the kind of five o’clock shadow that looked cultivated rather than accidental.

He was...actually kind of hot. Which was weird, because she wasn’t usually attracted to men who looked like they belonged in the world she’d grown up in. Except for the jeans. Her mother never would have approved of
jeans
.

“Owls, huh?” He stepped closer, squinting at her baskets of soaps.

“Owls are scented with lemon verbena. Very cute and fun,” she said, pointing to the appropriate basket. “Goat milk soap has great antiaging benefits—not that I’d mention it to the recipient.”

“No, I don’t suppose I would either.”

“You can buy by the soap for three fifty a piece or a gift basket of five is fifteen dollars.”

“Fifteen dollars for soap?”

He wasn’t the first person to balk at her prices, and he no doubt wouldn’t be the last. Still, her repeat customers didn’t seem to mind. “I promise the recipient will be a convert and won’t blink an eye at the price. Goat milk soap is
that
good.”

“Well, you’re quite the saleswoman.” He gave her a sideways glance, his expression changing as he took in her bright and colorful arm of tattoos. “I’ll give you that,” he added, looking away. But she read the expression all the same. Judgment.

Once upon a time, the judgment had bothered her, fueled her. She’d used that judgment to prove the world didn’t understand. She was above the world, its rules, everything. She sought out that judgment.

These days...well, she figured it didn’t really matter what some stranger thought of her choices.

“Mix-and-match gift basket?” he asked, running a long finger over the face of an owl.

“Yup. Name your five, and I’ll even package them up all pretty.” She went behind the table and pulled out one of her gift bags, complete with the Hope Springs logo on the front and a pretty red lace ribbon to tie it up with.

She waited for him to pick the soaps he wanted, but he just stared at her wrist. “Is that...”

“A goat?” She held out her arm to emphasize the tattoo at her wrist—the only one she’d gotten post-rehab. A little goat with a poppy, sitting beneath the cloud design that took up most of her forearm. Her fresh-start goat. “Yup, it’s a goat. I love them.”

“I see that.” Finally he shifted his gaze away from her arm and started looking through the soaps, picking out one of each kind and handing them to her so she could package them. He then pulled his wallet out of his pants—his very expensive-looking leather wallet.

“Don’t want anything for yourself?” she joked.

He glanced around her table of pastels and bows and flowers. Girly to the extreme. “Why not? Not getting any younger. Maybe I could use some antiaging soap. I’ll take the goat to remember you by.” He picked it up with a grin that said he knew he was charming. The kind of grin that usually made her roll her eyes and stick a finger down her mouth in a gagging motion.

His didn’t quite have that effect, though. His made her grin back.

He plopped the goat soap into her palm and she blinked for a second before remembering the routine. Wrap it up.
Get yourself together, because you are not sixteen.

“Well, I certainly appreciate your business.”

“I can’t resist a good saleswoman.”

A little flush crept into her cheeks, totally against her will. Oh, he was too charming and he knew it. Somehow, it didn’t dilute her reaction at all. “Keep me in mind for all your soap and lotion needs.” She plucked a card from her table and handed it to him, trying not to cringe at how ridiculous that sounded.

“My...” He cocked his head, gaze running from her table back to her.

His dark eyes met hers, and one side of his mouth quirked up. “I don’t have a lot of soap and lotion needs, but I’ll still keep you in mind.”

He was flirting with her and it had...been a while. Her life was pretty isolated these days. Not so much by design, but necessity. Running a goat farm all by herself was hard work, and she didn’t know a lot of fellow thirtysomethings as interested in cloven-hoofed creatures as she was, aside from the occasional satanist.

He pocketed her card and took the bag of soaps. “I’ll see you around.”

“I’m here every Saturday.” Oh, brother. That was just lame. But he smiled and nodded, and she let herself stare as he walked away.

Really nice butt.

Designer jeans.

Couldn’t win them all. The fact of the matter was, cute and flirting or not, he was the type of guy she’d known all too well growing up. The nice clothes and expensive watch, that serious business resting face.

He was a type—a type she had no interest in.

Oh well. It didn’t hurt to look, especially when the chances of him returning were slim to none. When her phone chimed in her pocket, she stiffened. The text from her mother wasn’t unexpected, but it felt cruel. Mom surely considered it efficient, but the timing, the brevity...

The funeral will be Thursday.

Grandma was gone. Meg hadn’t been allowed to be in the hospital for fear she might “upset people.” Even though Grandma had been the only one to stand by her. Even though Grandma had set her up with the farm after Meg got out of rehab, and even though Grandma had supported her through every setback.

As though that hadn’t been bad enough, every offer of help with arrangements had also been rebuffed. Because it was what
they
wanted. No one in the Carmichael clan was thinking about what Grandma wanted. Would have wanted. All they could think about was appearances. What people might
think
.

It had been drilled in them for generations, Meg figured. This strident need to show only perfection and success.

To them, Meg would always be a failure. Always be imperfect.

Meg blinked away tears and forced her lips to curve upward as two women passed. “Good morning! Goat milk soap has many skin benefits. Can I offer you a brochure?”

Suck it up. Smile. Pretend nothing is wrong.
Mom would be so proud.

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