Authors: Terri Farley
Samantha Forster had made a huge discovery at school. Itâ¦
“Samantha!” Gram's exasperated tone said this wasn't the first timeâ¦
“We'd better get going,” Jen said, glancing toward the sun.
“Stop!” Sam shouted.
Copper chestnut and fine-boned as a Thoroughbred, Penny took carefulâ¦
Hurrying, Sam hung her saddle on its rack in theâ¦
Sam was finishing up washing the dinner dishes. For once,â¦
Sam felt dizzy.
How could a horse make her so happy? Penny wasn'tâ¦
The sheriff's office was tucked into a corner of aâ¦
“Whose land are the mustangs on? Caleb Sawyer's?” Sam demanded.
After dinner, Brynna helped Gram with the dishes while Dadâ¦
Sam didn't know whether it was excitement or fear thatâ¦
“This is rather exciting!”
Caleb Sawyer greeted Brynna as if he knew her, thenâ¦
Had she really heard him? Or had she wished soâ¦
Daybreak showed Sam a valley full of foals.
Sam's feet in their sloppy-fitting barn boots told her she'dâ¦
Sam's family stood statue still.
amantha Forster had made a huge discovery at school. It wasn't a good discovery, but it might benefit humankind to know a girl couldn't die from embarrassment. Otherwise, she'd be dead.
As Sam trudged into the kitchen at River Bend Ranch, she heard the vacuum cleaner sucking at the rugs in the rooms upstairs. Outside, only the horses had greeted her. Dad and the cowboys were out on the range. Her stepmother Brynna was at work, and Gram was vacuuming upstairs.
For a while, she was alone with her humiliation, and she was glad.
Sam slumped into a chair. She closed her eyes. Next, she buried her face in her hands. Nothing
helped. She could see the scene in Journalism class as if it were still happening.
Mr. Blair, her Journalism teacher, had ordered everyone who wanted to be an editor next year to apply for the position. Sam had sort of wanted to be photo editor and Rjay, the editor in chief, had urged her to apply. So she'd filled out the form. But that wasn't enough for Mr. Blair.
He'd insisted applicants explain to the class, aloud, why they should get the jobs.
Today, when Sam had gasped at the announcement, someone nearby had whispered, “It's not like he didn't
Sam hadn't turned to see who it was, because the British lilt in that voice meant it could only belong to Rachel Slocum. Wealthy, conceited, and unfairly pretty, Rachel loved seeing Sam suffer.
Sam tried not to give her that pleasure.
Besides, it wasn't like she was afraid to give a talk. Just a couple of weeks ago, Sam had overcome her fear of public speaking to make a presentation to the student council. This should be even easier. At least that's what she told herself.
True, she wasn't prepared, but all she had to do was think of three main points. It had worked before.
Easier still, she could just listen to what everyone else said, and do something similar.
Then Mr. Blair had called on her first.
Quickly, she'd flipped her fingers through her
auburn hair, and straightened her shoulders inside her teal-blue sweater.
She glimpsed Rjay giving her a thumbs-up signal across the room as she began.
“I want to be photo editor because I'm a visual person, a hard worker, andâ¦” She'd taken a deep breath and pictured herself at a football game on a gray, sleety afternoon. “And I don't mind being kept outside.”
outside? She'd bitten her lip.
“With the horses?” Rachel Slocum pretended to be confused.
Sam glared at her, but Rachel didn't notice. Dressed in a champagne-colored jumpsuit made of raw silk, Rachel should have looked like she was draped in a parachute. She didn't.
Head tossed back with her furry, mink-brown eyelashes half lowered, Rachel was soaking up the appreciative giggles of the rest of the class.
Eager to explain, Sam had blurted, “What I meanâis that I don't mind after-school photo shoes.”
That mistake had turned the giggles to outright laughter.
,” she'd said, raising her voice, nearly shouting, but by then even Mr. Blair and Rjay were chuckling. “Obviously, I'm better with pictures than words.”
Wasn't that just a little bit funny? Apparently not, because the laughter dwindled. As it did, Sam saw
Rjay pointing forcefully at a clipping tacked to the class bulletin board.
Rjay's support had helped erase a bit of her embarrassment. She'd smiled and opened her mouth to remind her classmates she'd not only had a photograph published in a real newspaper, but she'd won second prize in the Night Magic contest.
But before she pronounced a syllable, Rachel spoke up again.
“Quit laughing. She
kicked in the head by a horse, you know.” Rachel's words had oozed with false sympathy and the entire room had gone silent.
“Not funny, Slocum,” Mr. Blair snapped. “Let's go on to the next applicant.”
“That would be me,” Rachel said, smoothly. She walked to the front of the classroom instead of speaking from her seat. “I'm sure someone is bound to point out that I'm not an experienced photographer.” Rachel tilted her head Sam's way. “But working with advertising, I've developed a sense for how things look on the page.
“More importantly, I've got big plans for dispensing with that old-fashioned photo labâ¦” Rachel gestured toward the class darkroom.
Sam's spirits had fallen even more. The darkroom was old-fashioned, but it was a great place to escape for secret conversations.
“Next year, we're going all digital,” Rachel said,
as if she'd already won the position. “The school newspapers winning national prizes work that way and so should we.”
“We can't afford digital cameras,” RJay reminded her.
But Sam had known what was coming and her eyes had darted briefly to Mr. Blair's. His expression said he, too, knew how Rachel would answer.
“I'm sure something will turn up,” Rachel assured the class, then strode confidently back to her desk.
Mr. Blair had called up other students, one by one, but Sam hadn't really heard any of them. She could stand competing with Rachel. She could stand messing up in front of the class, too. Neither of those things was half as bad as all the faces that had turned the other way when she caught them staring.
Running against Rachel's money and an accusation of brain damage, how could she possibly win?
Sam glanced at the kitchen clock at the same time the vacuum cleaner sighed to silence upstairs. She only had forty-five minutes before she was supposed to meet Jen for their ride.
She hadn't told Jen about the episode in Journalism and she didn't want to tell Gram.
Gram was almost psychic when it came to Sam. If they spent five minutes together in this kitchen, she'd weasel the whole story out of her.
Sam shot to her feet, moving so quickly she accidentally stepped on Cougar's tail.
The brown-striped cat squalled.
“I'm sorry, kitty,” Sam apologized, but Cougar darted out of the kitchen.
Once your day started downhill, it was hard to push it back up. But Sam was determined to send it in a better direction.
She and her best friend Jennifer Kenworthy had talked all the way home on the hot, stuffy bus about riding out to Aspen Creek. There, they hoped to see a young black mustang she'd named New Moon.
Moon was the Phantom's son and last year, before winter set in, he'd managed to steal one red bay mare from his father's herd. There was no guarantee he still had the mare or that warmer weather had brought him back to the aspen grove, but they were willing to take a chance.
One thing could improve my luck
, Sam thought.
She felt silly and superstitious letting the possibility cross her mind, but what if she could find the braided horsehair bracelet she'd woven from strands of the Phantom's mane?
Not that it was magical. Not really. Somehow, though, it always improved her understanding of horses, especially wild ones.
The bracelet had been lost for months. And the way things were going, it wasn't likely to resurface today.
Sam was halfway up the stairs to her bedroom when the tension that had gripped her since Journalism suddenly relaxed its hold.
“I know where it is,” Sam muttered in amazement.
The revelation was like falling through a trapdoor. She'd hidden the bracelet. She knew exactly where it was.
Sam skipped over the last two stairs and nearly collided with her grandmother.
“Hello, dear,” Gram said, tucking a strand of gray hair back into the red bandanna tied over her head. “I didn't hear you come in.”
Sam kissed Gram's cheek.
“You must be having a good day,” Gram said, chuckling.
“Getting better every minute,” Sam said, and she meant it.
Cougar had taken refuge from her tail-tromping clumsiness in a sunbeam that was warming the patchwork star on her white quilt. He kept his eyes determinedly closed as Sam moved a stack of books balanced atop her dresser and dropped them onto the floor.
The books had served as a barricade in front of a dusty tin box.
“I found it!”
Her shout was too much, and the cat jumped down from his napping place.
“I don't feel a bit sorry for you,” Sam said as Cougar gave an insulted hiss and ran for the door. “It's your fault it was lost.”
From the first day her friend Jake Ely had given her Cougar, the cat had been curious and energetic. When he'd spotted the bracelet on her wrist, he'd pounced.
She'd tried to turn the kitten's attention to dangling yarn and Ping-Pong balls, but he refused to be distracted.
Gently, she'd tried to discourage him, by setting him in another room. Every time, Cougar had leaped for her wrist, batting and scratching, treating the bracelet like a live creature.
Finally, she'd decided the bracelet was too precious to be a cat toy.
Sam lifted the tin box and blew the dust from its top.
The hiding place she'd chosen was a button box that had once been her mom's. The round tin was a tarnished gold color.
Sam pried the lid off and set it aside. There, atop hundreds of multicolored buttons, sat the bracelet. She slipped it over her wrist.
It had been right here in her bedroom, all along.
Sam held her arm high. Late afternoon sunlight turned the scratchy circlet the same silver as the Phantom. It was hard to believe the wild stallion had actually allowed her to run her fingers through his mane.
Before she pressed the button box lid back into place, Sam let her fingertips trace its raised black-
and-gold pattern. The decoration showed a running black horse. He pulled a sleigh carrying a man and a woman. A child sat snuggled between them.
Sam sighed. She'd been almost five when her mother died. Now she was almost fourteen.
“And I'm over it,” Sam said aloud.
Still, she kept the button box on her lap a few minutes more. She shook the tinâGram said it had once held a Christmas fruitcakeâand watched the buttons shift around.
There were a few wooden spools of thread and stray sewing needles inside, along with hundreds of buttons in shades of brown, black, gray, green, white, and blue.
Sam spotted a tiny yellow button painted with violets. She'd bet it was from some outfit she'd worn as a baby.
She smiled at the idea of the bracelet hiding inside her mother's button box.
“Thanks, Mom,” she said, then slapped her hand over her mouth.
, Sam thought.
She couldn't believe she'd said it. She held her breath, listening for footsteps. What if Gram had heard her?
As the thought popped into her mind, she heard the phone ring and Gram answer it.
Sam took a deep breath. She should get downstairs and have a snack if she planned to have one. She had
to get moving if she was going to meet Jen on time.
There were a lot of things she should be doing, but she couldn't pry her fingers from this box that her mother had touched.
And then she knew why. Something pink and out of place was nestled among the sewing supplies.
Sam shook the box, then fished out a scrap of crumpled pink paper. It looked like stationery, folded into a small square.
Slowly, Sam unfolded it. It wasn't a letter, but a list.
Sam sucked in a breath. Her heartbeat echoed in her wrists and temples. The handwriting was her mother's.
Something like magnetism drew her eyes past the items on the list. Five words stood alone at the bottom edge of the paper.
There Sam read, in her mother's firm, scrolling handwriting,
No harm to the horses