Jimmy led Prince back into his stall for supper and smiled when he saw Joey slip into the barn to follow along as he did the evening chores. It was becoming a habit, this shadowing by the boy, and Jimmy loved it. They had a little game they played together. Jimmy called it “Did you know?”
Joey always started it off. “Did you know horse’s teeth never stop growing?”
“Like a beaver?”
“Yup. Did you know that horses have the biggest eyes of any animal?”
“Hmm,” Jimmy said. “They do seem bigger than a whale’s eyes, I’ll grant you that.”
When Joey had run out of the day’s newest horse facts, it was Jimmy’s turn. “Did you know that a horse’s whiskers are sensitive?”
Joey peered at him. “Are yours?”
Jimmy rubbed his chin, feeling the roughness of a five o’clock shadow. “Nope. But for a horse, those whiskers detect what eyes can’t see.”
Joey rubbed his chin too.
“Here’s another one for you. Did you know that a horse’s lips are loaded with nerve endings?”
The boy wiggled his lips, pondering that fact.
“Last one for the day. Did you know that a horse’s hooves are shock absorbers?”
Joey rocked back and forth on his heels. “So they can take the pounding?”
“Exactly that.” This boy, he was a smart one. “How old are you, Joey?”
“Four and a half.”
“Is that half year important?”
“How do you know all this stuff?”
“I read. I been reading since I was three.”
“No way. There is no possible way you’ve been reading since you were three years old.”
Joey drew himself up like an injured rooster. “Ask Mem if you don’t believe me. She’s the one who taught me to read. She said a boy with a mind as good as mine needed books to fill it up.” He narrowed his eyes at Jimmy. “Can you read?”
“Sure I can. But I didn’t start reading when I was three, I’ll tell you that much.”
“So how old are you?”
“How old do you think?”
“Fifteen. Maybe fifteen and a half.”
“Fifteen? Why, I’m a grown man! What makes you think I’m fifteen?”
He cast Jimmy a disdainful glance. “You live in your mom’s basement.”
“Oh, well, that . . .”
“And you don’t have your own horse and courting buggy. If you were sixteen, then you’d have your own horse and buggy. Your dad would get it for you on your sixteenth birthday.”
“My dad died when I was around your age.”
“Hank Lapp ain’t your daddy?”
“Whoa! No! No, he is most definitely not my father. My mother married him just a few years ago.”
“I don’t have a dad. I had Jake, but he died. And I have a grandpa, but he don’t like me. We had to move away from him when he kept calling me by the wrong name.”
“He called me Willie Jitmit.”
“Willie Jitmit? What kind of name is that?”
“I dunno. Mem said he called me that one time too many. She didn’t want me growing up with any name other than Joey.” He shrugged. “So that’s when we moved here.” He tipped his hat back. “You know who this Willie Jitmit is?”
“Never heard of the man.” Unless . . . unless it wasn’t a man, a person. Williejitmit. Williejitmit. A sigh breathed out of Jimmy.
The next morning, Sylvie was alone in the kitchen when dawn lit the sky. She listened for movement upstairs, signs that Joey was stirring. He’d always been a champion sleeper and sometimes needed a gentle poke or two to get up and get going. Coffee needed making, breakfast needed starting, but for the moment she was lost in the past, an avalanche of memories. She had grown used to the sounds of Joey, but how strange they were to her in those first few weeks. He had cried so much, as if he knew his world had turned upside down, and Sylvie cried right along with him. What was she going to do? She had nowhere to go but home to her father, and that turned out to be the worst place of all.
She went to the window to watch the apricot light bathe the farm before the sun crested the ridge. Behind the farm was darkness; in front of her, a soft light had begun to paint the sky. It seemed as if the whole world was holding its breath. Waiting. This was her favorite sight in all the world, bar none. The promise of a new day.
For the time being, Sylvie felt at peace. Blessed. The house and farm, all was tranquil. The worries of the day seemed years away.
Then the morning stillness was broken by Jimmy, waving cheerfully to her as he headed toward the new old barn to feed the horses. And this, too, was becoming a favorite sight to her. For the last few weeks she’d watched his comings and goings, half amused and half admiring.
She found she could hardly wait for the night to pass, just so that she could catch a glimpse of Jimmy as he crossed the creek and strolled past the house in the morning. It was the way he carried himself, not cocky but sure. She merely gave him a slight wave in return, biting her lip to hide a smile, averting her eyes.
As she watched him head down the path toward the barn, Sylvie regarded him, her hands on her hips. For all the chatter she’d heard about Jimmy Fisher—how he could charm the spots off a leopard, how he was a flirt, and how every woman in church was half in love with him, how his mother made decisions for him—Sylvie had no quarrel with how diligently he worked. He was always coming up with ways to improve Rising Star Farm—how to make a chore easier, or how to organize things in a better way.
Yesterday afternoon, he’d spent hours gathering wood from fallen branches after a windstorm that blew through. He split the wood, creating tidy stacks of hickory and oak kindling on the porch for her to use. It spoke to her heart in a way she couldn’t put into words. Wonder crept in. At long last, she had someone alongside her.
It was hard not to grow fond of that man—he was like a ray of sunshine breaking through the gray clouds. He had an easy way about him, always looking on the sunny side of things, always bringing that smile and those sparkling blue eyes along with him. Little wonder that Bethany Schrock had waited so long for him.
Waffles. She would make waffles for Jimmy today, as she knew he was partial to them. Last time she’d made them, she’d never seen a man look so delighted. As if a waffle was a wondrous thing. Making waffles would be a way to thank him for being kind to her. To Joey. How he had the patience for that boy’s endless questions as he trailed behind him for most of the day, she didn’t know.
She scooped a few tablespoons of coffee into the filter, then a few more because she knew Jimmy liked his coffee strong and black. Strange, the knowledge you collected about a person, without even being aware of it. No, that wasn’t entirely true. She was far too aware of Jimmy Fisher.
Be careful, Sylvie, she told herself. Guard your heart. This one, he’s not like Jake.
(C) Suzanne Woods Fisher, Revell 2020. Reprinted with permission of the publisher
Back and broke in Stoney Ridge, Jimmy Fisher has coasted as long as he could through life on charm, good looks, and deep-set dimples. They always worked just fine for him–until they didn’t. His smile has no effect on the violet-eyed beauty he met at the Bent N’ Dent, the one with that stunning horse. She’s offered him a job, but nothing else.
The last thing Sylvie Schrock King needs around Rising Star Farm is a grown boy working for her, especially her neighbor Edith’s son. The woman holds a serious grudge against Sylvie and her son, and hiring Jimmy Fisher will only fan the flames of Edith’s rancor. But Sylvie is desperate for help on the farm, and Jimmy understands horses like no one else.
While Jimmy’s lazy smile and teasing ways steal Sylvie’s heart, Edith is working on a way to claim her land. Has Sylvie made another terrible mistake? Or is it too late to outfox the fox? More importantly . . . just who is the fox?
Writing with both wit and warmth, Fisher delivers a supremely satisfying conclusion to the popular Deacon’s Family series.
About Suzanne Woods Fisher
Carol award winner Suzanne Woods Fisher writes stories that take you to places you’ve never visited—one with characters that seem like old friends. But most of all, her books give you something to think about long after you’ve finished reading it. With over one million copies of her books sold worldwide, Suzanne is the best-selling author of more than thirty books, ranging from non-fiction books, to children’s books, to novels. She lives with her very big family in northern California.