Perpetually in between jobs and relationships, Georgie Poppins contacts Impossible Dream—an Internet company designed to match people with their most avid desire. Willing to relocate, she applies for a nanny position with potential for marriage. In a world full of lonely people and single-parent homes, it shouldn’t be hard to grant her wish for an instant family. Four months later… Georgie’s still waiting.
“How do I look?”
“Not too flashy?
“You’re wearing a designer silk dress, Georgie.”
“Yes, but I bought it on eBay. Second hand. At a ridiculously low price.”
Angel, one of Georgie’s closest and most fashionable friends, smiled. “Everyone should be so resourceful and lucky.”
Georgie studied her reflection in the full-length mirror attached to her closet door. The red dress popped against her lily-white skin. It complimented her emerald eyes and sable hair. The wispy silk draped gracefully over her slender form. The hem stopped modestly at her knees. Yes, the V-neck plunged, but she was only a 32B so it wasn’t like there was any major spillage.
Objectively, she had to admit she looked darned close to spectacular. Certainly classy enough to attend the intimate wedding of her long ago unrequited flame and his present snooty fiancé. She just didn’t look like herself. Granted that had been her intent when she’d scoured the internet for a bargain dress that would personify sexy sophistication, but now she simply felt like a screaming fake.
“It came without an interior fabric tag,” she said. “It’s probably a knock-off Valentino.”
“So what if it is and since when do you care about designer labels?”
“Since I found out I’m on the verge of losing everything.” Georgie closed her eyes and groaned. The last thing she wanted ever, but especially today, was pity. “Forget I said anything.”
“You know I can’t do that.”
Her friend touched her shoulder and Georgie met her gentle gaze. Angel Drake was one of the kindest people Georgie had ever known. She was also one of the richest. Her second husband had left her a comfortable fortune. Even so, Angel worked full time. As the owner and lead stylist at Heavenly Hair, she was a creative dynamo and major contributor to the beautification—people and soul wise—of their hometown. She also championed local charities with selfless vengeance. She had a heart of gold. No way would she ignore anyone in need. Especially one of her oldest and dearest friends. Sidestepping Angel’s concern was futile so instead Georgie turned away from the mirror and threw herself in front of the proverbial bus.
“My landlord’s evicting me.”
“I’m behind in rent. Mr. Jones allowed me as much leeway as possible, but he’s struggling to keep his head above water like most everyone in the county. He decided to sell the property.”
Visibly stunned, Angel scrambled to absorb the severity of Georgie’s plight. “How much notice did Mr. Jones give you?”
“A month. But that was two weeks ago.” Georgie flushed, glancing around her bedroom and gesturing to the rest of the dinky modular cottage. “I know it’s not much, but at least this place is…was affordable. I shudder to think what’s available to me at this point. Forget forking over any kind of security or first and last month’s rent. I don’t have the cash or the credit. I’m overextended, up to my eyeballs in debt, Angel.”
“How is that possible? You’re so frugal.”
“I’m also perpetually in between jobs. What jobs I’ve had haven’t paid all that much. Factor in my constant car trouble and also,” she glanced away, “Mom needed a loan.”
“She always needs a loan,” Angel said. “Unbelievable. The woman moved to the Sunshine State and she still darkens your days. Why didn’t she ask one of her other children for money? Or one of her ex-husbands?”
“She probably did. Never mind about that,” Georgie said while stuffing away her own special brand of resentment. “It was just one of several contributing factors. The point is no matter how careful I was, no matter how frugal, once I got in so deep it snowballed. I’m a cliché. A poster child for a major faction of Nowhere—this side of destitute and a signature away from bankruptcy.”
“Oh, Georgie.” Angel hugged her now, somehow conveying empathy without pity. She smelled of herbal shampoo and earthy goodness—the perfect complement to her gypsy-chic maxi dress and fringed bohemian shawl. “Why didn’t you say something to one of us?”
Us meaning The Inseparables. Angel, Emma Sloan, Bella Mooney, Bella’s younger cousin, Chrissy Mooney, and their long-distance BFF, Sinjun Ashe. Friends since childhood. Soul sisters bound by a pact as well as ever-lasting affection.
Georgie returned the much needed hug, then eased away and perched carefully on her vanity chair, trying not to wrinkle her dress.
Angel settled on the second-hand trunk at the end of Georgie’s bed. Anticipating a forecasted thunderstorm, she’d arrived early to allow extra travel time to the chapel. Since Georgie’s car was presently suspended on a local auto repair lift—again—Angel had volunteered to be Georgie’s ride and date for Bryce Morgan’s wedding. A wedding that had taken Georgie and everyone else in Dawes County by surprise. Then again Bryce’s life had taken one surprising turn after another over the last several months. Sort of like Georgie’s. Only Bryce’s life was on the upswing.
Battling a whirlwind of emotions, Georgie fidgeted knowing Angel was waiting for her to elaborate regarding her misfortune. “Did I mention how pretty you look?”
Angel had arranged her vibrant red curls in a sassy up-do. Her makeup was daring, but tasteful. Her appearance epitomized a free spirit, yet Angel was fiercely grounded. Although financially sound at present, she’d grown up in a low-income household. She’d also been widowed twice and she was only thirty-one. Her life hadn’t been a bowl of cherries, yet she weathered every pit thrown her way with unflinching dignity.
Georgie, who had a habit of losing it big time—although always in private—aspired to such grace.
“You complemented my appearance as soon as I crossed the threshold,” Angel said. “Thank you…again. Now stop stalling, Georgie, and tell me why you didn’t reach out to us for help.”
Georgie sighed knowing they wouldn’t be going anywhere until she spilled the beans. As much as it pained her to see Bryce marry some big city snob, she didn’t want to miss the vows. If she didn’t witness it for herself, she worried her brain would keep dreaming the seemingly impossible—a future for her and Bryce. Mrs. Georgie Morgan.
“I didn’t say anything because I wanted to turn things around on my own,” she said. “I thought if I kept chipping away I’d eventually dig myself out of this mess.”
“I respect that,” Angel said, “but we could have at least offered moral support.”
“Except none of you would have stopped at that. Chrissy would’ve told Mason and he’d want to help me the way he helped Bryce and everyone at the Coyote Club. Mason’s a sweetheart, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking his money. I feel the same about your money, and Emma doesn’t have a dime to spare. Bella and Savage would have insisted on helping out by hiring me at Wonderland even though there’s no open position.”
“You’d already be working at Wonderland, earning a decent salary, I might add, if you hadn’t bailed on the position Savage offered you four months ago. And don’t bother telling me you weren’t right for the job,” Angel said with an arched brow. “We all know you stepped aside in deference to Bella.”
Georgie didn’t argue. Due to poor funding and dwindling patronage, the Nowhere Public Library had closed its doors leaving Bella, the children’s librarian and town’s cherished storyteller, unemployed. Wonderland—an indoor learning and amusement center for kids, had been the brainchild of her fiancé, Joe Savage, and was a stellar venue for Bella’s experience and talents. Georgie had never been perfect for that position, she’d just been in need of a job. So yeah, she’d bailed, but for good reason.
“The payroll could have accommodated you both,” Angel said as if reading her mind.
“Only because you would have finagled it,” Georgie pointed out kindly. Angel had a vested interest in Wonderland and therefore a small say in the distribution of funds. “Baxter left you a lot of money, but he didn’t leave you a bottomless bank account. I don’t want to be yours, or anyone else’s, charity case.”
“I don’t think of you like that and you know it.”
“I’d feel that way though.” Georgie had vowed long ago never to borrow or sponge off of anyone. Ever. The line had blurred when it came to credit cards, but ultimately she and she alone would pay. It might take years, but she would make good on her debts.
Unlike her mom.
Squirming at the thought of being compared to Erica Jones, Georgie glanced down at her self-manicured nails. She itched to paint them black to match her present mood—and the skies. Three days of turbulent weather had only intensified her gloomy mindset. Instead, she’d opted for radiant red. She’d pull off confident sophistication today if it killed her.
“Does your family know?” Angel asked.
Georgie snorted. Her family—assorted half and step sibs, a disinterested father, three step-dads, and an irresponsible mother—had scattered, most of them anyway, to various other counties or states. As if any of them—except for one—could or would help her. As if she’d even ask.
“What about Ryan?” Angel pried.
Ryan McClure, Georgie’s older half-brother, was the exception. He would move mountains to rescue her from a bad situation. Ryan, who served as Dawes County Sheriff, had a hero complex. He was also a super nice guy—newly divorced and in shared custody of a moody young daughter. “Ryan has his hands full.”
“Can we shelve this topic for today?” Desperate to shake the blues, Georgie forced a sunny smile. “I’ll come clean with you and the girls when we meet for dinner on Wednesday. I should have a plan by then or at least a better grip on specifics. Today I was hoping to party as if I don’t have a care in the world. Kind of a last hurrah. Once we get through the ceremony, we can cut loose at the reception. Now that I think of it, I’ll probably get all sweaty from dancing.” She ran her fingers through her long, silky hair. “I should have taken you up on your offer for an up-do.”
Angel twirled her finger. “Turn around. I’ll give you a ponytail.”
“A sophisticated ponytail?”
“What’s up with this sophistication kick?” Angel asked as she swept Georgie’s hair off her neck. “Part of the last hurrah? Or are you trying to impress someone?”
Busted. “Like who?”
Georgie grunted. “Get real.” Meanwhile her stomach fluttered with a zillion butterflies. Bryce—The Bullet—Morgan. Georgie’s first crush, not that anything had ever happened between them. Not even a kiss. Still. You never forget your first love and Georgie had never been able to shake the infatuation. Not that she ever talked about it. Pride and all that. “Bryce is getting married today. Hence our fancy duds, remember?”
“How could I forget? The mystery of the century. What does he see in that woman anyway?”
“You’re kidding, right? She’s beautiful and stylish and talented and successful and—”
“Shallow and bitchy.”
“We only met her that one time.”
“And she was on her worst behavior.”
“Or having a bad day.”
Angel frowned. “Why are you sticking up for her?”
“I’m not. I’m sticking up for Bryce.”
Former pro football player. Present co-owner of the Coyote Club. That homegrown man had experienced a string of bad luck that outshined Georgie’s, although things were turning around. If Kathryn Bellows, the producer of a popular cable sports show, could contribute to Bryce’s good fortune then Georgie was happy for him. Bryce was one of the nicest men in Nowhere. Never mind that he’d broken her younger self’s heart. Every man she’d ever cared about had broken Thumper. At least Bryce had been sweet about it.
“She’s wrong for him,” Angel said. “And she’s wrong for those kids.”
“I still can’t believe Marla’s gone. As in dead,” Georgie clarified. “And given she’d been estranged from the family for years, it’s downright incredible that she left her son and daughter in Bryce’s care. From uncle to father in the blink of an eye. From single to married within four months. An instant family. If I didn’t know better I’d think ID-dot-com screwed up and gifted Bryce with my dream.”
Angel froze and Georgie winced. She’d tripped up twice in less than thirty minutes, spewing without thinking. At this rate she’d bare her soul to anyone who would listen by the time the bride cut the cake.
Angel swung around and perched on the edge of the rickety vanity. “You applied to Impossible Dream?”
“Four months ago.”
“What did you apply for?”
“It doesn’t matter. I didn’t get it.”
“The company rejected your application?”
“They said it’s a work in progress. It’s been four months. I’m not holding my breath.”
Angel scrunched her brow. “You said Bryce got your dream. An instant family? You applied for an instant family?”
Georgie pushed to her feet and whirled away. “How hard can it be? A nanny position with potential for marriage. Or an amiable arranged marriage. There are a bazillion broken families in this country. Divorced men. Widowed men. Men with children and in need of a partner. Children in need of a mother.”
“Your heart’s desire is an arranged marriage?” Angel sounded incredulous. “What about love?”
“My heart’s desire is to have a family. A husband and kids. Children to nurture and cherish. I’m tired of waiting for Mr. Right, Angel, and I don’t want to go the single mother route and have a baby on my own. I want a partner. A family. A stable home and people to care for and laugh with and…”
Heart pumping, Georgie did a one-eighty, her modest hem-line brushing her knees, the ends of her ponytail swishing her bare upper arm. “I know. I sound like Suzy-freaking-Homemaker. A throwback to the 1950s. But what if being a wife and a mom… What if that’s my calling? What if everything I’ve done up until now was training for being the world’s most amazing homemaker? For making a positive, meaningful difference in some family’s life? Is that so wrong?”
Angel smiled—a big, brilliant smile that lit up the gloomy room. “Actually, it sounds pretty perfect. Any family would be lucky to have you, Georgie. You’re one-of-a-kind. Resourceful, resilient, loyal, kind-hearted, and fun. I could go on and on.” She angled her head. “Maybe that’s why Impossible Dream hasn’t come through for you yet. They’re not looking to match you up with any family. They’re looking for the perfect family. For you.”
Georgie’s heart kicked. “Ya think?”
“I’d lay Baxter’s money on it.” After squinting out the window, Angel prodded Georgie toward the door. “Let’s get a move on before those dark clouds burst. Don’t want to be late for the ceremony. Who knows? Maybe Bryce will take one look at you in that spectacular dress and give Miss Snooty-Pants the boot.”
Georgie smiled. “Nice try.”
Angel shrugged. “Stranger things have happened.”