Cassie Alberta shoved her hands deep into the pockets of her winter coat as she climbed the steps to Tessa Watter’s front porch. She already regretted not pulling on her gloves before she left her house. Little Leaf Creek tended to have mild winters, but a recent cold snap had changed everything.
“Stop kicking me.” A sharp, familiar voice carried through the wooden door, followed by grunts and groans.
“Tessa?” Cassie grabbed the doorknob and twisted it, relieved to find it unlocked. As she swung the door open, she heard another shout from inside.
“Don’t be so ungrateful. If you bite me again, I am never giving you treats!”
Laughter bubbled past Cassie’s lips as her gaze settled on the scene in Tessa’s small living room. Two goats struggled to get away from Tessa’s grasp as she attempted to tie antlers onto the tops of their heads.
“Tessa, what are you doing?”
“What does it look like?” Tessa rolled her eyes as she struggled to hold onto the goat. “I’m making reindeer.”
“I don’t think Billy and Gerry appreciate that.” Cassie grinned as Billy thrust his head around in an attempt to shake off the antlers.
“Oh, they love it once the carrots start rolling in.” Tessa huffed. “Meryl was going to get real reindeer for the Christmas fair this year, but all of the local kids voted for my goats, instead. So, now I have to get them ready to go because Sebastian is going to be here any minute to pick us up in his truck.”
“Aw, you two are going to be so cute.” Cassie stroked Gerry’s nose.
Harry barked from the kitchen. The collie mix edged closer to the door but refused to step inside the living room.
“He’s scared of the antlers.” Tessa chuckled. “Big, tough dog isn’t so tough anymore.”
“Harry, it’s okay, they’re not real.” Cassie bent one of the soft antlers to show him.
Harry barked again and ran back into the kitchen.
Cassie laughed, a deep belly laugh that still surprised her when it escaped her. It wasn’t until she had moved to Little Leaf Creek that she laughed like that again. Her life for years before that was filled with appropriate behavior, and measured amusement. She could never be too happy, or too sad. She had to meet the standards of her then-husband’s business partners and their wives. Belly laughs weren’t included with the luxury lifestyle she had been brought into in her early twenties. But after her husband’s unexpected death, she had decided to take a chance on a fresh start, in a place as different as she could find from the life she had been living.
And now, she laughed again, from deep in her belly, as one of the goats knocked Tessa over on her rear end.
“Tessa, are you okay?” Cassie tried to help her up as she continued to laugh.
“Glad I could amuse you.” Tessa groaned as she managed to get to her feet. “Maybe you could help me instead of laughing at me?”
“Sure, absolutely.” Cassie grabbed Gerry’s collar and held him still. “There you go, buddy. You’re doing such a good job.”
Tessa finished fastening on the antlers, then sat back down on the floor and laughed as well.
Gerry tipped his head from side to side, then began to prance around the room, as if he was proud of his new hat.
“He loves it.” Cassie grinned.
“They just don’t like getting them on. Once they’re on, they think they’re going to a fancy ball.” Tessa stood up and brushed off the seat of her pants.
“It’s so nice of you to loan them out to the Christmas fair.” Cassie picked up a few things that had been knocked to the floor in the struggle. “I know Meryl will be so happy. It seems like the entire community is pitching in. I’m helping Mirabel distribute hot chocolate and pastries, and Beverly Hicks is giving away ice cream from her shop. The kids are going to have so much fun.”
“They deserve it.” Tessa leaned against the wall as she tried to catch her breath. “I made mini chocolate peppermint cupcakes for them to give away after the kids visit Santa.” Her eyes widened at the sound of an engine in front of the house. “That’ll be Sebastian here to pick up the goats. I would have taken them in my jeep, but he offered and his pickup truck is much easier.”
“Let me get their leashes.” Cassie grabbed two leashes from a basket by the back door and hooked one onto each of the goats’ collars. “All week at the diner I’ve been hearing about how upset Dora is about Meryl being elected to run the Christmas fair this year.” She shook her head. “I have no idea how people can be so cutthroat over such a little thing.”
“It’s not a little thing. At least not to them.” Tessa took Gerry’s leash and led him toward the door. “The Christmas fair is the biggest event of the year in Little Leaf Creek. Whoever runs it is also the president of the Special Events Committee for the town. To whatever you might call the upper crust around here, it’s one of the most important roles. I’m not surprised they were fighting so hard for the position. But I’m surprised Meryl got it. She has only been here for a few months, I’m surprised she’s so involved in the community already.” She shrugged. “But I guess she loves being on committees and helping with town events, given that she’s also on the town council as well.”
“At least the election for the Special Events Committee is over. We don’t have to worry about that chaos anymore.” Cassie led Billy to the door and stepped out behind Tessa onto the porch.
“Ready to go?” Sebastian Vail called out to them from the back of his truck as he opened the tailgate.
Cassie’s heart pounded at the sight of him. Their relationship had deepened over the past few months, but her heart fluttered each time she saw him. She recalled meeting him for the first time, and never imagining that someone like him could be interested in someone like her. In her dreams about starting a new life, none of them had included falling in love. Yet, there he was, with his usual baseball cap despite the chilly weather, and a smile that warmed her to the core no matter what season it happened to be.
“Thanks for picking us up, Sebastian.” Tessa guided Billy through the gate.
Sebastian helped the goat into the back of the truck.
As Cassie walked toward him with Gerry, their eyes met, and his smile spread even wider.
“Hey there, gorgeous.” Sebastian leaned in and kissed her cheek. “Cold.” He cringed and kissed it again. “Did that warm it up?”
“Absolutely.” Cassie grinned.
“I’ll grab their cages.” Tessa walked back through the gate.
“I’ll help you.” Cassie followed after her.
Sebastian caught the leash of one of the goats just before he could jump over the side of the truck.
“No way, not escaping this time.” He chuckled.
Cassie felt a buzz of excitement for the upcoming holiday. The fixer-upper house she had purchased when she first moved to town was now mostly fixed up, thanks to Sebastian’s help and expertise. She had a home, in a town that she loved, filled with friends that she didn’t expect. To top it all off she had someone she loved.
Sure, life as a small town waitress had its challenges, but in general, things had turned out very well.
She picked up one of the metal cages as Tessa hauled the other one toward the truck.
Harry barked from the front porch but didn’t dare to get any closer to the antler-wearing goats.
As they worked together to get the goats inside the cages, Cassie laughed at their antics.
“Alright, ready to go?” Sebastian closed the tailgate.
“Let’s get festive!” Tessa’s deadpan tone inspired a laugh from Cassie and Sebastian.
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