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The Wild One
Table of Contents
About The Book
The beloved first book in the middle grade Phantom Stallion series about a girl, her horse, and the beauty of the American West returns with a brand-new, stunning cover and bonus material! Perfect for fans of Canterwood Crest and classic horse stories like Black Beauty and My Friend Flicka.
When thirteen-year-old Samantha returns home to her family’s cattle ranch in Nevada, she’s nervous. She moved away two years ago to recover from a bad fall off her beloved mustang, Blackie, and she’s still not sure she can get back in the saddle. She’s having trouble bonding with her new horse, Ace, the other ranchers treat her like the boss’s spoiled daughter, and Blackie has been missing since the day of Sam’s fateful accident.
But that’s just the beginning. On a moonlit night, a mustang comes to Sam. Is it Blackie grown up and gone wild—or the legendary phantom stallion? When Sam suddenly finds the fate of the horse resting in her hands, she has to be a real cowgirl, ready or not.
AT FIRST, SAM THOUGHT SHE was seeing things. The windshield of Dad’s truck was pitted by years of windblown dust. Maybe she’d been away from the ranch so long, the desert sun was playing tricks on her eyes.
Suddenly, she knew better.
Mustangs stampeded over the ridgetop. They ran down the steep hillside. As their hooves touched level ground, a helicopter bobbed up behind them.
It hovered like a giant dragonfly.
As she watched the herd, Sam saw one creamy mane flickering amid the dark necks of the other horses. She saw a black horse shining like glass and two roans running side by side. Here and there ran foals, nostrils wide with effort.
Sam wondered if the men hovering above could see each running horse, or only a flowing mass of animals.
The mustangs ran for the open range. Sam knew the horses would find little shade and less water ahead, but they seemed to think of nothing except outrunning the men and their machine.
The herd swung left. The helicopter swooped, ten feet off the sand, to block them.
The herd galloped right. With a whirring sound, the helicopter followed.
Then, from the back of the herd, a silver stallion raced forward. Sam never imagined a horse could be so beautiful, but there he was. He nipped and screamed, turning the mares in a wide U back under the helicopter’s belly, running to the hills and safety.
The helicopter pulled up. It banked into a turn and followed, but it was too late.
“Wow! Where did they go?” Sam’s thigh muscles tensed. She sat inside her dad’s truck, but her knees shook as if she’d been running with the wild horses.
“Mustangs have their secret getaway trails. They go places even a chopper can’t.” Dad took one hand off the steering wheel to pull his Stetson down to shade his eyes.
Sam cleared her throat and looked out the window at dull, brown Nevada. Could she have felt homesick for this?
Yes. Every day of the past two years, an ache had grown under her breastbone.
She just wished Dad would talk more. She wanted to hear about the ranch and the horses and Gram. But the nearer they got to the ranch, the more he acted like the dad she remembered. Relaxed and quiet, he was completely unlike the awkward man who’d come to visit in Aunt Sue’s polished San Francisco apartment.
Since he’d picked Sam up—literally off her feet in the middle of the airport—their conversation had bumped along just like this old truck. Slow, but sure.
“Shouldn’t use helicopters and trucks,” Dad muttered. “They just don’t savvy mustangs.”
Translated, that meant he had no respect for men who didn’t understand the wild horses they were capturing and taking off the range.
Dad really talked like a cowboy. And his first name was Wyatt, a cowboy name if she’d ever heard one. Plus, he walked with the stiff grace of a man who’d ridden all his life.
When he’d first sent her to the city, Sam had been so angry, she’d tried to forget Dad. For a while, it had been easy.
After her accident, the doctors had said Sam might suffer “complications.” When a girl fell from a galloping horse and her head was struck by a hoof, that was bad. When she lost consciousness as well, they explained, it was far worse.
Fear made Dad agree to send Sam away from the ranch to live with Aunt Sue. In San Francisco, she was only two minutes away from a hospital instead of two hours.
First Sam had begged to stay; then she’d turned stubborn and refused to go. But Dad was just as stubborn. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. Since she’d barely turned eleven, Dad had won.
After a few lonely weeks, she’d learned to love San Francisco. Aunt Sue’s willingness to take her everywhere and show her everything eased the pain of leaving home, but it couldn’t make her forget Blackie.
Blackie had been the first horse who was all her own. She’d raised him through a rocky colthood, gentled him to accept her as his rider, then made a terrible mistake that injured her and frightened him into escape.
Each time Dad called her in San Francisco, Sam asked for word of Blackie. But the swift two-year-old had vanished.
In time, Sam stopped asking. She and Blackie had hurt each other. She’d been unable to go after him and touch him and explain. So Blackie had followed his mustang heart back to the wild country.
Although Aunt Sue didn’t ride, she did share Sam’s passion for movies. Sam made friends at her middle school, too, and played basketball in a YMCA league. It wasn’t long before the months had added up to two years.
Still, movies and basketball couldn’t measure up to Sam’s memories of riding the range, fast and free. Sam never stopped loving horses and missing them. When Dad announced it was safe to come home, Sam had started packing.
Now Sam sneaked another look at Dad. In San Francisco, she’d been embarrassed by him. She’d worried that her city friends would hear his buckaroo slang, or take a good look at his face, all brown and lean as beef jerky. If they had, they would have known Dad for what he was: a cowboy.
But here in Nevada, he fit in, and it was easier for her to see she had a lot in common with him. They were both skinny, tanned, and stubborn.
“You really liked living in San Francisco?” Dad asked.
“After I got used to the fog and traffic, I loved it. I jogged in Golden Gate Park with Aunt Sue and we saw at least three movies every weekend.”
Dad glanced her way with eyes as cold as a Hollywood gunfighter’s. He hated the city.
Sam shrugged as if she didn’t care. If he’d left the ranch more often to visit her, this wouldn’t be so awkward. She and Dad might have a lot in common, but when he asked questions like that, hard-eyed and expecting a certain answer, Sam felt like a stranger.
She crossed one knee over the other and jiggled her foot. She ignored Dad’s frown, which said he was disappointed that his daughter had become such a city slicker.
“Not far to River Bend, now,” Dad said.
As if she didn’t know they were near the ranch. She couldn’t wait to see if it was the horse paradise she remembered. She only hoped she could still ride like she had before the accident.
She remembered so little of that moment. Falling. Breathing dust. Impact just over her right ear. The sound of Blackie’s hooves galloping away, fading, gone. The accident wouldn’t keep her from riding, because she wasn’t afraid. She wasn’t.
Sam fanned herself, wishing she hadn’t worn black jeans and a black T-shirt. What was fashionable in San Francisco might be considered weird in rural Nevada.
She blew her bangs out of her eyes. Using Aunt Sue’s sewing scissors, Sam had cut off her reddish-brown ponytail. She didn’t want to look like the child Dad had sent away.
She straightened to look at herself in the truck’s mirror. She’d accomplished her goal, all right. She didn’t look like a little kid; she looked like a teenager with a bad haircut.
Sam shifted against her seat belt, stared out the truck’s back window, and blinked.
Half-hidden in dust stood a horse. His powerful shoulders glittered in the sun, convincing her he was the silver stallion who’d turned the herd, but he had the dished face and flaring nostrils of an Arabian. She hadn’t seen a horse that perfect since—
“Sam?” Dad’s voice hit like a bucket of cold water. “What are you staring at, honey?”
Sam looked at Dad. Then, before she told him, Sam turned back around to make sure of what she’d seen.
“Uh, nothing,” she said. The horse had disappeared. Had it been a mirage?
Never mind. In minutes she’d be at River Bend and she’d have a horse of her own again.
Still, Sam couldn’t help glancing back over her shoulder one last time. The first place she’d ride would be here, wherever here was, to find that ghost horse.
Sam saw a metallic glint against the sky. The helicopter was still searching.
Sam worried about the mustangs. Even a city girl knew how some cattle ranchers accused mustangs of eating all the grass and drinking water holes dry. A newspaper article she’d taken to class for Current Events had told how wild horses roaming Nevada’s range were rounded up with government helicopters, then penned until they were adopted.
Sam remembered that half the girls in class had waved their hands over their heads, volunteering to take wild horses into their apartments or carports. Now here she was with wild horses practically in her front yard.
“I can’t wait to get you up on Ace.” Dad nodded, smiling. Apparently, he wasn’t holding a grudge because she liked San Francisco. “You two are a match for sure.”
Ace. Could there be a more perfect name for a cow pony? Sam had to smile. Dad said Ace “stuck to a calf like a burr on a sheep’s tail.” She supposed that meant Ace was a good cutting horse, able to separate the calves from the herd.
“I wish you had a picture of Ace.”
Dad laughed. “And have him get conceited around the other horses? That’d mean trouble for sure.”
Dad squinted through the windshield as a flashy tan Cadillac drove straight at them, honking.
“Speaking of trouble…” Dad shook his head and coasted to a stop.
“Who is it?” Sam tried to read Dad’s face. “Don’t you want to talk to him?”
“I’d rather take a shortcut over quicksand.”
The Cadillac’s window eased down, revealing the driver.
“Hey, Wyatt.” The driver had slick hair and a toothpaste-commercial grin. His cowboy hat was as big as one of Dad’s truck tires. “This must be Samantha. Welcome, little lady.”
No one called her Samantha—just Sam—but one thing Dad insisted upon was being courteous to adults. Sam smiled and wondered if she was supposed to recognize this guy.
“On your way to town?” Dad sounded neighborly, but his back looked stiff.
The man slumped back in his seat, all relaxed, and Sam nearly groaned. A horse of her own waited at the ranch. She wanted to see Ace, run her hands over his neck and smell the alfalfa sweetness of his soft nose. And this guy looked like he’d settled in for a long chat. When he lit a cigarette and threw his match on the desert floor, she knew she was right.
“Sam, this is Linc Slocum.” Dad sighed.
“I’m your new neighbor, Samantha.” The man nodded. “Even though we’ve never met, I’ve heard lots of stories about you and that one-man horse of yours that escaped.”
One-girl horse, Sam corrected silently. Blackie had bonded with her, because she’d used the Shoshone horse-taming tricks her pal Jake Ely had taught her. She’d breathed into the colt’s nostrils so he’d know her scent, she’d mounted him for the first time in water, and she’d called him by a secret name.
After the accident, lying in a hospital bed, Sam had worried that no one could call Blackie back. Her mind kept replaying the sound of his hooves galloping, then fading away, but she’d told no one the colt’s secret name.
How could a stranger know Blackie had been a one-girl horse?
Dad’s voice interrupted her memories. “Nice seein’ you, Linc, but we’d better head on.”
Even when Dad started to drive, Linc kept talking. That’s when Sam knew Linc Slocum was no cowboy. Real cowboys hardly talked, even when they had something to say.
“If it hadn’t been for that danged Jake—”
Confusion nipped at Sam’s memory. She’d let Jake down, failing to ride Blackie right, but it sounded like Mr. Slocum blamed Jake for the accident.
Clearly, Dad didn’t like Linc’s implication.
Dad bumped his Stetson up from his brow and faced Linc Slocum head-on. Sam couldn’t see Dad’s expression, but Slocum pulled back like a turtle jerking its head in.
“Old news,” Slocum said, but his smile slipped.
Sam shivered as if someone had sprinkled a handful of spiders down the neck of her shirt.
“Maybe he’ll come home,” Linc said.
Sam bit her lip. She knew better, but Dad’s words still hurt.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” Dad said. “The wild ones never come back.”
- Publisher: Aladdin (March 21, 2023)
- Length: 320 pages
- ISBN13: 9781665916318
- Grades: 3 - 7
- Ages: 8 - 12
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