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Authors: Terri Farley

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BOOK: Golden Ghost
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“It might, but you owe me. Big time,” Sam scolded.

“We'll think of something,” Jen promised.

“Oh no, I've already thought of something.”

“Anything,” Jen vowed, then waved as she turned back to her father.

“Get plenty of rest between now and the weekend,” Sam shouted after her, “'cause you're going to need your energy.”

If punishment came crashing down on her, as it probably would, Sam knew who would help her clean Blackbeard's Closet.

W
hen Sam reached River Bend Ranch, she expected to see Ace, saddled and trailing his reins, near the ten-acre pasture. Although the little gelding had taken more than his share of kicks in there, he liked to be near the other horses.

He wasn't there. Sam was saying thanks and good-bye to Jen's mom as she surveyed the ranch yard.

There was Jake's truck, and Jake standing impatiently, with arms folded tight, on the front porch.

“Yeah, yeah,” Sam muttered to herself. “I'm late for algebra tutoring.”

She didn't care. She had to find Ace.

“Have you seen Ace?” Sam called to Jake. “Did he come in riderless and you put him away or something?”

Jake shook his head, so Sam sprinted toward the barn.

“Dad?” her voice echoed. Her only answer was
the fluttering of pigeons in the rafters.

“Hey, I'm not waitin' all day,” Jake shouted, as she walked back in his direction.

“I need your help,” Sam said.

“That's why I'm here,” he said, with a slight bow. “To help the numerically challenged.”

Sam brushed his teasing aside.

“This is serious. Ace dumped me out there about forty min—”

“Again?”

“Jake, I need you to take me out in the truck to look for him.” Sam didn't try to hide the fear in her voice.

“He'll come home.”

“He should've been here by now. I'm worried. Brynna found out that mare died from arsenic poisoning and we don't know for sure where she picked it up.”

A flare of impatience showed on Jake's face.

“Never mind,” Sam said, sighing. “I'll see if Gram can take me.”

“Don't do that,” Jake moaned.

“Do what?”

“Act like I've disappointed you. I hate it.” Jake jammed his hand into his pocket to withdraw his keys.

Sam gave him a quick hug. “I'll have to remember that,” she chirped. Then, she leaned in the kitchen door and called to her grandmother. “Gram, we'll be
back in a little while. Jake's taking me to find Ace. He”—Sam gave Jake a glance that said he'd better not contradict her—“wandered off.”

Sam had stepped off the porch and headed for Jake's truck when Gram came to the door, wiping her hands on her apron.

“Not so fast, Samantha. It's algebra time.”

“I've got to go, really.”

“Sorry. I have my instructions,” Gram said, shrugging. “Get back in here. And bring him with you.”

“Do you know how much I want to go?” Sam knew she was going to be sorry if she said this, but she couldn't leave Ace out alone. It was nearly dark. “Tell Dad and Brynna I'll clean—” Sam swallowed. She really didn't want to say it. “Blackbeard's Closet this weekend.”

“You've got a deal, dear,” Gram said. And then she closed the door.

 

Using Jake's binoculars, it didn't take Sam long to spot Ace. Up on a side hill, pawing at the snow in the shade of a peak of the Calico Mountains, he looked quite content.

“I'll drive up as far as I can,” Jake said, “but then you're going to walk for it.”

Jake swerved off the road and drove the truck cross-country, over weeds and gulches and ruts studded with rock.

“Fine,” Sam said.

“Careful of my hat,” Jake cautioned. His hand hovered over his black Stetson that held the space between them on the old truck's bench seat.

“Oh, yeah. Wouldn't want to bump the hat,” Sam grumbled. “I was just trying to keep from banging my head against the door.”

In fact, she was glad Jake wanted her to hike after Ace alone. The gelding was right by the entrance to the tunnel to the Phantom's valley.

This couldn't have worked out better if she'd actually planned it, Sam thought. She and Strawberry had come in from the opposite end near Arroyo Azul. From here, the travel through darkness was much shorter.

If only Jake didn't watch her every move, she could dart inside and see if the snow had melted during the warm spell.

Please
. Her head snapped back as Jake scraped the edge of a boulder.
Please.
The truck slewed down a channel in the dirt, probably cut by a flash flood.
Please don't let him watch me
, she begged silently.

Suddenly, Jake pulled on the emergency brake. He reached under the front seat, withdrew a big silver flashlight, and placed it in her lap.

“You're hikin' from here, Brat,” he said.

Then he placed his Stetson on his head, leaned back, and pulled it down over his eyes.

Sam opened the truck door and climbed out. But
she knew better than to seem glad that she was going alone.

“Hope I don't break my ankle,” Sam said, slamming the truck door. “Hope no cougar eats me.”

“Can you suffer more quietly?” Jake grumbled. “I'm tryin' to catch a nap.”

Stars had pricked through the black sky overhead, but it was still light enough that Sam could see Ace's outline.

He raised his head and nickered in her direction, probably wondering why she didn't call him to her.

“No,” Sam hissed. She glanced back over her shoulder at the truck. “Stay there.”

Ace did as he was told, even moving a few steps higher on the hill.

Sam climbed steadily, fighting the uneven footing. She pulled the neck of her sweater up to cover her mouth and nose. The air felt icy as she breathed it.

She stopped for a minute, hands on hips, and stared skyward. It had been a long day, but she had to see if the Phantom's herd was safe. She really hoped Jake had fallen asleep.

When she turned back toward the deer path she'd been following, Ace was gone. Sam flicked on the flashlight and swept the beam across the hillside.

“Everything all right?” Jake's voice floated up from the truck.

“Fine,” Sam shouted back. “I can see him.”

She couldn't, but she knew where he had gone.
That was almost the same thing.

Before she reached the entrance to the tunnel, she heard movement. It had to be Ace. He'd once been a member of the Phantom's herd. He knew where he was going.

Sam hurried after him.

The tunnel was different on foot. She kept the flashlight beam trained down and she was even able to hurry. The rock floor slanted up and down, closed in and flared out, but it wasn't the tight squeeze it had been when she was mounted.

Something grated in the tunnel ahead of her. She stopped and listened. It had to be Ace.

Was he pawing the tunnel floor? He sounded close.

Sam raised the beam to light the tunnel ahead of her.

Ace's black tail was coming at her.

“Easy boy!” Sam called, putting a hand out in front of her.

Ace stopped backing and gave a confused snort at her patting hand.

“There, boy. It's okay, boy.” She clucked to her horse. Hands smoothing along his barrel, she moved past him.

He stood looking after Sam, as if her contortions were something worth watching. She had to be almost there.

If she didn't hurry, Jake would come up after her.
She couldn't let that happen.

Then, she saw what Ace had been doing. The tunnel still wore a collar of snow. It had been pawed away at the bottom, but icicles hung from the top like crystals.

Sam turned off the flashlight, held it close to her leg, and pressed against the side of the tunnel. She peered past the silver shafts of ice that framed her view of the snowy valley.

Most of the mares stood dozing. Their smooth black shapes huddled in cozy groups. She heard idle pawing, as a few horses searched for evening snacks. Here and there, she saw dark humps where mares slept with foals snuggled close to their sides. But she couldn't see the Phantom.

Sam didn't want to disturb the wild horses, but she had to know if the stallion was here.

She heard a low nicker, just as she clicked on the flashlight.

Silver and white as if he were sculpted from the snow and ice, the Phantom greeted her. Sam slid the flashlight switch off again.

Barely daring to breathe, she extended her hand.

“Zanzibar,” she whispered. “You made it home.”

First she felt his whiskers. Then his warm muzzle nudged her hand. Velvet-soft lips moved over the delicate skin on the back of her hand. Then he nibbled at her coat cuff.

Jake's voice came to her from the hillside.

“One more minute and I'm comin' up after you.”

She had to go.

For another second, Sam stood with her eyes closed, memorizing the stallion's touch. You couldn't always believe your eyes, but your heart wouldn't steer you wrong, she thought.

Suddenly, Sam gave in to an impulse. She darted forward to kiss the stallion between the eyes.

He was too quick for her, of course. In a scuffle of hooves and a dusting of snow, he stepped back, but not far.

Head tilted to one side, the stallion looked with amused eyes through his thick white forelock. His nicker was like a chuckle as she moved away from him.

“Next time I'll be quicker,” she promised. And when the stallion turned to go, so did she.

Sam made her way quickly through the tunnel, back to Ace and Jake.

As she did, she smiled. Part of her would always stay with the stallion, but she had two homes, two families. She was only leaving this one for a little while.

About the Author

Terri Farley
has always loved horses. She left Los Angeles for the cowgirl state of Nevada after earning degrees in English and Journalism. Now she rides the range researching books and magazine articles on the West's people and animals—especially Nevada's controversial wild horses. She lives in a one-hundred-year-old house with her husband, children, and way too many pets.

Visit www.phantomstallion.com

Visit www.AuthorTracker.com for exclusive information on your favorite HarperCollins author.

Read all the books in the
P
HANTOM
S
TALLION
series:

1
THE WILD ONE

2
MUSTANG MOON

3
DARK SUNSHINE

4
THE RENEGADE

5
FREE AGAIN

6
THE CHALLENGER

7
DESERT DANCER

8
GOLDEN GHOST

Cover art © 2003 by Greg Call

Cover © 2003 by HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

PHANTOM STALLION
#8:
GOLDEN GHOST
. Copyright © 2003 by Terri Sprenger-Farley. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.

Adobe Digital Edition February 2009 ISBN 978-0-06-188922-6

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

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United Kingdom

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http://www.harpercollinsebooks.co.uk

United States

HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

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New York, NY 10022

http://www.harpercollinsebooks.com

BOOK: Golden Ghost
2.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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