What happens when the shy new girl in town and the antisocial goat farmer pretend to date?

Gabrielle Dempsey is the newest resident of Winter Falls. She’s excited to move to the eccentric small town and not only because her crush, Phoenix, lives there. No, she’s ready for a clean slate.

Too bad her ex-boyfriend doesn’t agree. When her ex starts looking for her, the town decides the best course of action is for Gabrielle and Phoenix to live together and pretend to date.

Is this a disaster in the making? Or will Gabrielle manage to convince the goat farmer to give the shy girl a chance?

Read the first chapter below!  

Chapter 1

Disaster – the meaning of my life

An elderly woman wearing a bright pink t-shirt with the words Gossip Gal Party Helper printed on itmarches my way and halts smack dab in front of me.

“You’re next,” she declares and the group of elderly ladies with her – all wearing matching bright pink t-shirts – nod at her declaration.  

Next? For what? She can’t possibly be talking to me. I have no idea who this woman is. I look behind me but no one’s there except my sisters, Cassandra and Elizabeth. None of the other attendees at this petting zoo engagement party – yep, you read those words correctly – are around. 

“E-e-excuse me?” I pause and take a deep breath to stop my stuttering. “Who are you?”

She gestures toward the group of women standing with her. “We’re the women who are going to make all your wishes come true.”

All my wishes? Can she rid me of my shyness? Can she erase all the mistakes I’ve made over the past two years? Trust me. I made some doozies.

“Are you a genie? I don’t see your bottle.” Elizabeth pretends to search the ground for a bottle.

“We’re not genies,” says another woman. “We’re the best dang matchmakers the town of Winter Falls has ever seen.”

Winter Falls put the Q in quirky. Its claim to fame is being the first carbon neutral town in the world, but it should be famous for being crazy pants. Don’t believe me? They had an honest to goodness pagan festival for Midsummer’s Day. If goats running around Main Street isn’t proof enough, there was a limbo contest, too. It was awesome.

I would love to live here, instead of being stuck in a house with two of my sisters who think bickering is a national sport. It’s not. What it is, is annoying. Sigh. Maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to move out on my own again.

“I have a list of possible matches here for Gabrielle.”

For me? I don’t know who this woman is. How could she possibly have a list for me? How does she even know my name?

“Matches?” Cassandra asks. “As in love?” She feigns gagging as if saying the word love is poisonous.

“What other kind of matches are there?” the woman asks.

“Better you than me,” Cassandra claims as she rubs her knuckles over my head. Ah, the time-honored tradition of the noogie. Don’t you just freaking hate it?

“Leave her alone.” Elizabeth shoves Cassandra off of me.

Sisters. Can’t live with them, not willing to do the prison time for their disappearance. And sister number three isn’t even here today.

“I wish Olivia was here,” I say.

Olivia is the ‘missing’ sister. She’s not missing as in no one knows where she is, although she is the queen of ‘hey, guess where I am?’-middle of the night phone calls. No, she’s missing as in she didn’t re-locate to Colorado from Saint Louis with Cassandra, Elizabeth, and me when we followed our brother, Beckett, here after he landed the CEO position at Clean Mountain Environment.  

Cassandra rolls her eyes. “Why, Gabrielle? So, she can ruin Beckett’s day?”

It’s technically not Beckett’s day. The petting zoo engagement party – yeah, I never thought I’d say those words either – is to celebrate a friend’s engagement, but my brother stole the show when he did this grand gesture to get his girlfriend Lilac back. It was super romantic.

I frown at Cassandra. She never has a nice word to say about Olivia. Does my oldest sister have problems? Yes, she does. But who doesn’t? They need to cut her some slack.  

“She doesn’t ruin things on purpose.”

Cassandra snorts. “And you’re not naïve,” she says before she pats the top of my head like I’m a child and walks off.

Elizabeth wraps her arm around my shoulder. “Don’t listen to her. She’s just jealous of Beckett and Lilac.”

She’s lying. Cassandra isn’t jealous of anyone or anything. Why would she be? She does what she wants, when she wants and has no interest in a long-term relationship.

No, Cassandra is doing what she always does – making me feel like an idiot because I’m the youngest sister and she knows I won’t call her out in public. Being shy sucks ninety-five percent of the time.

“The older sisters are going to be a challenge,” one of the elderly women says and I startle. I’d kind of forgotten they were standing here in front of us.

“Which is why we’re beginning with the young one,” another woman answers her. “Are you ready to listen to us, Gabrielle?”

Am I ready? Um, no. But I’m not the sort of person who can be assertive and walk away from people the way Cassandra did. I nod.

“First off, Phoenix.”

At the name Phoenix, my pulse quickens and my belly dips. The goat farmer is gorgeous with a capital G. He has thick brown hair I want to run my hands through to discover whether it’s as soft as it appears, light brown eyes always sparkling with humor, and a square jaw with two dimples on his right cheek. Dimples I want to explore with my tongue. Like I said – gorgeous.

But his looks aren’t the best thing about Phoenix. No, his best character trait is how gentle he is with his animals. Trust me, I know. One of his goats, Pan, decided to eat my skirt at the pagan festival, but Phoenix didn’t berate the animal. He gently but firmly removed the goat’s teeth from the material.

Afterwards, he grinned up at me with his dimples showing as he apologized for his goat’s behavior and – bam! – my crush was born. It’s possible I even did some research about goat farming, although you’ll never hear me admit to such out loud. No way.  

“Phoenix doesn’t want to be matched,” I tell the group.

I might have accidentally overheard his brother say Phoenix is terrified of being matched. What? Eavesdropping isn’t a crime. It’s not my fault people forget about the shy girl.

I didn’t understand the comment at the time. Matched? Who uses a matchmaker anymore? Apparently, I should have paid better attention. In my defense, who would think there’s an honest to goodness group of women running around matchmaking the people in their town?  

“Which is why we should match him first.”

“He should know better than to think he can tell us what to do.”

While the women bicker amongst themselves, Elizabeth pushes me behind her. “Go,” she whispers. “Escape. I’ll hold them off.” I don’t hesitate to rush off before the ladies realize I’m fleeing.

I glance at the different enclosures with various animals – including fennec foxes and llamas – but my feet carry me to the fenced in area where the goats are. I wonder if Pan is here, although I don’t know how I’d recognize her. All goats kind of look the same to me.  

I’m not fooling myself. I know I’m hoping to catch a glimpse of Phoenix while I’m here. There’s no harm in looking.

I open the gate and step into the grassy area. A goat immediately rushes to me and bleats before chomping down on my skirt. This has to be Pan. At least, I hope not all of Phoenix’s goats enjoy eating my skirts.

“And here I thought I wouldn’t recognize you. How are you, Pan?”

I pet her for a few seconds before I decide I better free my skirt or I’ll end up walking home in my panties. Gosh, no. I can embarrass myself just fine without walking around in my undies, thank you very much.

I tug on the fabric, but the goat isn’t relinquishing her hold.

“Come on, Pan. Let go. You don’t want me to go home naked, do you?”

Guessing by the way the goat continues to munch on my skirt, she isn’t moved by my pleas. I scan the enclosure for anyone who can help and spot Phoenix. I pause to watch as he stalks through the grass. He’s wearing a white t-shirt molded to his chest and a pair of faded jeans. His butt was made for wearing those jeans. It fills out the worn fabric to perfection.

Pan tugs on my skirt and I come out of my Phoenix-induced stupor. Oh right, I need help before a goat eats my skirt.

“Phoenix,” I holler, but he doesn’t hear me.

Shoot. I search the area but no one else is in the vicinity as most of the crowd has now migrated to the picnic tables near the barbeque. I contemplate my options. Stand here and wait until Pan has had her fill of my skirt or drag her across the field to Phoenix? Not much of a choice.   

“We’re going for a walk, Pan,” I say as I start across the field.

I hope the goat will let go of my skirt as we proceed, but she has no problem munching away on my skirt and walking at the same time. Figures.

“Hey,” I yell as I approach Phoenix, but he still doesn’t hear me as he rounds the pen out of my sight.

“Hi, Lyric,” Phoenix says, and I stop. I don’t want to intrude.

“Hey, little brother.”

I grunt. What is it with older siblings constantly reminding their younger siblings how they’re the oldest? We already know the birth order. We don’t need to be told we’re the baby constantly.  

“What’s up?”

“Not much. Have you seen Beckett’s sisters? They’re a pretty bunch.”

My eyes widen and I creep closer to make sure I don’t miss a word of what they’re saying. Yes, I’m officially eavesdropping. Although, in my defense, they’re standing outside, which technically makes it overhearing and not eavesdropping.  

“What are you? A member of the gossip gals matchmakers now?”

“Nah. But the youngest one, Gabrielle, seems to have a crush on you.”

I wince. How does Lyric know? I didn’t think I was being obvious.

“Gabrielle’s nice.” I cringe. Nice is a death knoll. No one wants a nice girl. “But I’m not interested in a relationship right now.”

Dang. I should have known. I finally meet a man who I’m interested in, and he doesn’t want a relationship. Figures.

“You need to get over her.” Her? Who’s her?

Phoenix growls. “I’m over her.”

“Which is why you’re running scared when a nice girl’s interested.”

“Gabrielle’s soft. She could never handle life on the farm anyway.”

I slam a hand over my mouth before anyone can hear me gasp. Soft? If nice is bad, soft is worse. Much worse.

“Your loss.”

Footsteps approach. Shoot. Shoot. What do I do? I try to flee, but Pan is still latched onto my skirt.

“Stop it!” I yank at my skirt. It rips, but I manage to pull it out of the goat’s maw.

I don’t pause to check how bad the tear is. In a contest between a ripped skirt and a man realizing I overheard him tell his brother I’m soft and nice, a ripped skirt wins every dang time. I bolt across the field as fast as my short legs will take me.  

“Gabrielle!” Phoenix cries my name.

Shoot. Shoot. Shoot. Does he know I was eavesdropping? I feel my face heat until it’s the color of an overripe tomato. There’s no way I’m turning around now. I’m such an idiot. Why would I think Phoenix could ever want me? I know better. I’m worthless as a girlfriend.

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