Enchanted by JojiChapter 1

Joji

After shifting my lifted pickup into park, I engaged the parking brake. The last thing I needed was my brand-new truck rolling away. I scrambled to the ground, then fished the key out of my pocket. The colorful goat key chain I’d purchased was a tad bulky, but it made the key easy to find.

I stuck the key in one way, but it wouldn’t turn. It didn’t help that my hands were shaking with excitement. I inserted the key the opposite way. Success. My new adventure was becoming a reality.

With the gate unlocked, I gave the rusty metal a shove, and it swung open, singing a shrill song as it went. After stuffing the key back into my pocket, I climbed—literally—back into my lifted truck.

I’d traveled the world long enough. It was time to put down roots. But alone and independently wealthy, I needed something to keep me busy, so I bought a goat farm.

Was I crazy for buying it? Probably. I knew absolutely nothing about goats . . . or any other kind of livestock, for that matter. I’d never owned any sort of a pet. Not even a goldfish.

Checking my mirrors to make sure I cleared the gate on both sides, I drove my brand-new pickup through the gate.

Clint Jackson, the guy who was going to teach me all I needed to know about goat farming, wasn’t supposed to meet me for another twenty minutes. That gave me time to look around again. I’d been here twice before and toured the place, but it somehow looked different now that it was mine.

That sounded silly. But it was true. Everything I could see was now mine.

The stone house was simple but spacious. Plenty big for one person. And the big front porch opened its arms in welcome. Detached from the house, the garage was large enough to house my classic Mustang, but not sized to hold my purple goddess. A few hundred feet from the house was a trailer home. I’d have to ask about that.

My main interest at the moment was the barn. It was huge. I couldn’t imagine filling it with goats. Or maybe the goats preferred living outside.

I had lots of questions. Luckily, someone was coming to answer them.

When I’d purchased the goat farm from Mr. Henry who owned the adjoining ranch, he offered for his ranch foreman to teach me what I needed to know to run the place. Free help wasn’t an offer I was going to turn down. That would save me hours of Googling.

I parked my purple goddess—because a truck like this needed a fabulous name—in front of the house, then swung open the door. The side step unfolded, making it possible to get out. Possible was not the same as easy. Gripping the steering wheel, I lowered myself to the step. Once there I sat down and dangled my feet off the side.

Why had I purchased a lifted truck? The roads back here on the ranch didn’t require such a high lift, but I was a bit infatuated with my new toy.

As soon as my feet hit the ground, I took off in search of the goats. Mr. Henry had mentioned that most had been sold, but there were a few still around. I could acquire more goats once I got the hang of things.

Those furry little creatures weren’t hard to find. One was making a huge ruckus, so I followed the noise.

In the barn, I peeked into a stall, and two little baby goats shouted at me. What was the noise a goat makes called? I knew the word. Why couldn’t I think of it?

“Hey there. You must be hungry. I’ll see what I can find for you. But Mr. Clint should be here soon, and he knows all about goats. Give me a second. I need to check and see who is making all the noise.”

I walked through the barn, peeking into each stall as I went. Just out the back door, I found the crier in the pen attached to the barn. From the looks of the goat, it was a mama. And she was ready to feed someone.

It was a good thing I’d shown up early. Those babies were hungry.

Who had put them in separate pens? That didn’t make any sense at all.

I ran back into the barn, swung open the stall door and patted my leg. Like well-trained dogs, the kids ran up to me, then followed me out of the barn.

Mama goat ran to the fence, clearly excited.

The gate took a second to figure out, but I managed. I stepped away to grab the babies who were running along the fence next to the mama goat. Catching them was difficult, and holding onto them was equally hard. They wriggled a lot. With an arm around each one, I turned just in time to see one of the other goats run out of the gate. She or he—I couldn’t tell without investigating—didn’t wander far, so I saw no harm in allowing a few minutes of freedom.

The babies ran to their mama, and I walked over to the other pen. One goat was standing on its hind legs eating leaves off a tree. Laughing, I watched the antics. After a minute, I caught motion on one of the higher branches.

How had a goat gotten up there? He must be stuck.

I let myself in the gate, found a barrel, and rolled it toward the tree. After shoving on it to make sure it felt strong enough to hold me, I climbed onto it, then jumped to catch hold of the tree limb. Graceful did not describe my climbing skills. It was a good thing no one was around to see this.

The goat bleated at me.

“I’m coming. How in the world did you get up so high?” Dangling from the limb, I inhaled before swinging my leg up. The first attempt didn’t end in success. But the second attempt was better. With one leg on the lowest limb, I scooched my body up. It took a bit of work, but once I was on the branch, I shifted toward the trunk and looked up.

The goat was another two limbs up.

I could do this.

With my arms wrapped around the trunk, I shinnied up even with the goat.

“I’m almost to you.” I wriggled my way out onto the limb. “Come over here, and I’ll help you down.”

That creature looked at me like I was made of bubbles. He hopped from one branch to another, and in no time, that goat was on the ground and running for the gate I’d failed to close.

I had a feeling Clint was not going to be pleased.

But that was the least of my worries. I was up in the stupid tree.

Working my way backward, I stopped when the branch creaked. I was a long way from the ground. But I couldn’t stay up in the tree. Moving slowly, I inched back. When I reached the trunk, I shinnied down to the limb below me.

After a short pause to get my bearings, I started down again. Just as I made it far enough down the tree to drop onto the barrel without killing myself, those blasted goats knocked it over.

“Hey! Put that back.” As if there was any chance of them doing it. “I won’t forget this!”

I hadn’t even counted to know how many goats I’d just let loose.

Without the barrel, there was no way I was getting out of this tree without turning an ankle or breaking a leg. I needed help.

Had it been twenty minutes yet?

I’d managed alone so far in life, and if I were going to run this place by myself, I needed to start acting like it now. I wrapped my arms around the large tree limb, interlocking my fingers on the top side. Then I let one leg slide off the branch. The other leg followed even though I wasn’t quite ready.

My arms scraped against the bark, and my fingers started to slip apart. This wasn’t good.

Hanging from the tree like a monkey, I focused on keeping my hands joined. Not falling was my goal. Forget trying to do everything on my own. I needed help.

A door slammed, and I hoped it was Clint . . . or anyone tall enough to get me out of the tree. Looking back over my shoulder, I spotted the goats ratting me out. They ran up to him, bragging about how they were out of their pens.

Barrel-chested, the man towered over me by about fifteen inches. He had a boyish face, but that was the only boyish thing about him. The rest of him was all man. Big, strong man.

Why was I thinking about that now? But gosh, those fifteen inches were going to come in handy.

Nearly fifty, I wasn’t in the market for a special someone. However, I could see. And he was pleasant on the eyes. It was easier to think about him than my predicament.

He rubbed the back of his neck. “How’d y’all get out? Never mind. I don’t think I want to know.” He glanced around. “Ms. Sparks?”

“It’s Miss Sparks. There isn’t and never was a Mr. Sparks. But better yet just call me Joji. That’s short for Georgia Jean. My mama called me that when I found trouble, or more often, when trouble found me.” Why was I saying all this? I should’ve been shouting for him to get me down.

He broke into a run. “Why are you in the tree?” His paced slowed as he entered the fenced area. “You goats, back in the pen.”

They obeyed.

Then he closed the gate. I’d have to remember that trick.

I smiled as he sauntered toward me. “I climbed up here to help a goat down. Turned out, he didn’t need my help, but then the fool goats knocked over the barrel.”

One side of his mouth lifted ever so slightly. “Well, Georgia Jean, seems to me you found trouble.”

“Are you going to laugh at me or help me down?”

“Both. Are you about to fall?”

“Who said anything about falling? I’m just hanging around.” It was hard to act indignant dangling from a tree limb.

“Aren’t you a funny one?” He stepped right below me. “Didn’t I say that if you arrived before I got here to just wait for me?” His tone was a little condescending.

“I am waiting. Is waiting up in a tree so strange?”

“Yes.” He grabbed my boots, then slid his hands up over his head until he had me just below the hips. Looking up, he stared at me. “All right, Trouble, this is what you’re going to do. Let go of that branch, and I’ll catch you.” He widened his stance.

“Did you just call me Trouble?”

He nodded. “If you can ease down, I’ll work you toward the ground.”

“Here goes.” I pried my fingers apart, hoping to keep hold of the branch and lower myself until he had a good hold. But as soon as my hands disconnected, my arms slid across the bark, and I plummeted.

He grabbed my legs.

I braced my hands on his shoulders, and slowly, he shifted me closer to the ground.

Did I mention his chest? If I hadn’t noticed it before, having my entire body slide down the front of him made that broad, manly chest very noticeable.

If I were feeling extra mischievous one day, I’d climb the tree again, just to have him help me down a second time. But first I needed to give the scratches on my arms time to heal.

Just before my face collided with his hat, I lifted it off his head.

His head jerked up, and I stopped sliding. Face to face, we stared at each other.

This was not how I expected my adventure to start.

“I’ve held kittens that weighed more than you do.” He glanced at his hat in my hand. “Be careful with my hat.”

“You holding a kitten. That is something I’d want to see.”

He turned when a goat bleated. “You let Lucy out.”

“Maybe.” I shrugged. “Which one is Lucy?”

Clint motioned to a goat that had another goat behind it, and he—I had no doubts about that one being a guy—um, looked happy to see Lucy.

“Looks like you might have new goats in about five months. Not exactly what I planned.” Still holding me, Clint shook his head.

“Is that a problem?”

“I hope not. That’s his sister.”

“Sorry, she got out when I was letting the baby goats into the pen with their mama.”

He shook his head. “If these two kids quit taking the bottle, I swear . . .”

“The bottle? But their mama . . .”

“For a small thing, you sure make a mess.” He didn’t seem like he was in a hurry to put me down.

Was this his quiet show of force, trying to show me who was in charge?

If he wanted to play games, I could have fun with this. I leaned closer until my nose almost touched his. “We aren’t going to get much done if you keep holding me like this.”

He put me down faster than shooting stars streak across the night sky. “Stay out of the tree.”

“I can’t promise anything.” I dusted off my jeans.

Please stay out of the tree.” He was a quick learner.

“Okay.” I made sure he didn’t’ see my fingers crossed under his hat as I handed it back.

“I’ve got to get those kids back into their own pen.” He marched away.

I watched the label on his jeans a second before chasing after him. Having him around would be quite fun.


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