She was wearing those cute denim shorts again. That was Jackson’s first observation when he stepped onto the stone patio. The fact that she was oblivious to his presence gave him ample opportunity to admire her petite body, and dang, he totally appreciated the view.
With a pair of earbuds popped in, Mia bobbed her head to the music as she raked the fresh layer of dirt in the empty flowerbeds lining the fence. When Jackson glanced around, he was impressed by how much she’d already accomplished today. The jungle-length grass was freshly mowed, all the monstrous weeds had been pulled out, and the beds around the perimeter were dug out and topped with new soil.
He took a step forward and cleared his throat, but Mia’s back stayed turned. Her arms and shoulders were bare, and her golden-brown tan shimmered in the sunlight. Lord, she was pretty. He couldn’t take his eyes off her.
A few more steps and his scuffed-up combat boots met the grass, but Mia still didn’t turn around.
Sighing, Jackson raised his voice and called out, “Afternoon, sugar.”
The rake clattered out of her hand, a loud shriek escaping her lips as she spun around in surprise. The movement was so quick that her sneaker-clad feet got tangled together, her arms windmilled and she went down like a stone.
Right on her ass.
“Oh my God! You scared the living crap out of me!” she yelled, her green eyes burning with annoyance. “Who sneaks up on people like that? Who?”
Despite himself, Jackson laughed, which only made those mesmerizing eyes burn brighter.
Mia yanked out her earbuds and shot to her feet, advancing on him like a predator. “Don’t do stuff like that! What if I had a heart condition? And what if—wait a sec. What are you doing here? Oh man. Did you follow me here?” Her breaths came out in pants. “I’m flabbergasted right now. Jackson, was it? I’m flabbergasted, Jackson.”
Another wave of laughter poured out of him. She looked so confused and upset and he knew he shouldn’t laugh. He really, really shouldn’t be laughing, but his attempt at reconnecting with this woman had failed so miserably it was impossible not to find it hilarious.
“And you’re laughing at me,” Mia said in disbelief. “Wow. Just. Wow.”
“I’m sorry,” he choked out. “I don’t mean to laugh, darlin’. But the look on your face right now…” He smothered another chuckle and tried to compose himself. “Shit. I really am sorry. Why don’t we start over? Afternoon, Mia. It’s good to see you again.”
She gaped at him.
“I’m not following you,” he added. “I’m friends with Seth and Miranda.”
“You’re friends with Seth and Miranda.”
“Yep. I caught a ride with Seth from the base—”
“You caught a ride with Seth from the base.”
“Yeah, we’re both SEALs. Anyway—”
“You’re both SEALs.”
“—he’s drivin’ me home soon, but I wanted to say hi to you before we—”
“You wanted to say hi.”
Jackson stopped. “Are you just gonna keep repeating everything I say?”
“Are you going to prove to me I’m not being stalked right now?” she shot back. “Because I’m not sold on that yet, bud.”
He swept his gaze over her indignation-flushed cheeks. “You’re dang pretty when you’re mad, sugar.”
Her jaw fell open again. “Flirting? You’re flirting with me? How about explaining yourself, sir!”
Amusement tickled his throat. “All righty. Here’s the thing, Mia. I’d really like to have dinner with you.”
“Oh, for the love of…”
“Unfortunately, you were mighty difficult the last time we spoke, so I figured we needed to try this again.”
Her mouth slammed shut. She looked around the backyard for a moment, and then understanding dawned in her eyes. “Wait a minute—you hired my company to work this yard so you could ask me out again? This job is a farce?”
His lips twitched. “The job is not a farce. This is my wedding present to Seth and Miranda. You saw the state of their yard—it definitely needed the work.”
“But you specifically requested me to do it.”
Mia shook her head in amazement. “You do realize that’s nuts, right?”
“Naah, it’s not nuts. Just persistent.”
“Persistent,” she echoed.
“Persistent,” he confirmed. When she didn’t speak, he slanted his head and searched her gaze. “So, about that dinner…”
This time her jaw opened so wide it almost hit the grass. “Seriously? After everything I just heard, sugar, what makes you think I’d go out with you?”
“Because you want to.”