AN: Ok, so this story is set during summer, a year after Sam has returned to River Bend. I haven't finished reading Blue Wings yet, so I won't be making any references towards it in this story. I'm horrible at remembering facts too, so if I mess something up, just ignore it. Read away. Also, I can't for the life of me remember when cows are like, supposed to have their babies, but I think it's near the end of summer, right? Well, for the sake of this story, let's pretend it is, ok? (I'm pretty sure that's how it was in the first book….)
Ace's ears flicked back towards Sam and he shook his head, snorting in what Sam could only assume was displeasure.
"I don't want to be here any more than you do, boy." Sam assured him in a low whisper, patting his neck and running her fingers absently through a few strands of his course mane. A few feet ahead of them, Rachel Slocum was ranting on about some girl…..who stole the last Red Passion lipstick they had at the mall? Or at least, that's what Sam thought she was saying, but she wasn't paying a whole lot of attention as she trained her eyes to the horizon, searching for any lonely calves, since that's what they were supposed to be doing.
A storm had blown through early yesterday morning and lasted well into the night and they were worried that some of the calves might have gotten separated from their mothers. Jed and Linc had ridden over to River Bend this morning, without Jen unfortunately, who was stuck in town with her mother after they had gone school shopping and gotten stuck in town when the roads flooded out. Splitting into pairs, the large group had headed out in several different directions. No one was quite sure why Rachel had decided to tag along, but one thing everyone knew was that they would not ride out with her. In the end, because she was a girl and close to Rachel's own age, Sam had been forced to ride out with the little princess. Rachel seemed to have wound down now and Sam tuned her out, intent on finding any little calves that might be missing their mama's.
They'd be riding for near an hour when they came upon a thin slice of trail that headed up the side of a steep shale cliff. Sam gulped at the height and was about to suggest they head back to the bottom, when Ace stopped dead at Rachel's loud shriek. A gust of wind had picked up and was blowing a cloud of dust towards them. Rachel sputtered and waved her hands about wildly.
"Rachel-" Sam started to tell her to stop waving like that or she would spook the horses, when Ace snorted in wide-eyed terror and reared up. Acting on pure instinct, Sam slammed her weight forward onto his neck, desperately trying to push him back to earth. For a moment, she thought it was working and they would be ok, but the wind had picked up again and Rachel's bright pink sequined cowboy hat blew off her head and fluttered right underneath Ace's nose.
On two legs, Ace tried to run backwards away from the flying object and Sam gasped as he stumbled and fought to catch his footing on the slick shale mountain side.
With a scream, Ace lurched sideways and began to slide backwards down the side of the cliff. Running on pure adrenaline now, Sam kicked both her feet free of the stirrups and tried to propel herself away from her falling horse, but he crashed to the earth, pinning her left leg beneath him as he continued to flail his legs, fighting to get his feet underneath him, but to no avail. Together, Sam and Ace slide down the muddy hillside. Faintly, Sam thought she heard more terrified shrieks coming from atop the hill, but she was focused on the slick, sweaty animal hide pinning her to the ground as they continued their head long rush to the bottom of the hill. Briefly, she thought maybe they would be ok, they would just slide to the bottom and get up and everything would be fine.
She had underestimated the height of the hill though, because just as she thought they should be reaching the bottom, they kept on sliding. Ace was still breathing heavily and screaming in equine terror as he kept fighting with everything in him. Sam had only a moment to be proud of her valiant little mustang when suddenly the hill became violently steeper and the pressure on her leg was released for no more than a moment as Ace's flailing legs flipped up and over his belly and he rolled right over Sam to land on his right side and keep sliding. Sam saw his bay coat coming closer and smelled the scent on his slick sweaty neck, before it crashed down on her and horse hair filled her mouth and nose and the world went black.
"What in the-" Brynna began, looking away from where Dallas was pointing to stare in the direction where sudden yells were coming from.
"SAM!" she screamed suddenly, watching in horror as a familiar bay mustang reared up and toppled off the trail and slid down the edge of the muddy hill. Without even realizing it, she whipped Penny's copper head around and kicked her into a fierce gallop, barely breathing as she watched Sam and Ace continue to slide down the hill. For a minute, it looked like they might just slide to the bottom and stop, but then she gasped in terror as Ace's scream rang out and he flipped right over, crushing Sam underneath him. She heard hooves thundering behind her and registered that Dallas must have been galloping after her.
By the time they reached the bottom of the hill, Ace had lurched to his feet and was hobbling around with his head flung in the air, eyes so wide the whites showed, the reins wrapped tightly around his neck and leg, which was sticking out at an odd angle below the knee.
Pale and motionless, Sam lay in a mangled heap below Ace's tottering feet. Brynna had flung herself from the saddle before Penny had even come to a complete stop and was kneeling over Sam, tears streaming down her face as she watched Sam's chest intently, praying it would rise. Shallowly, it did and Brynna breathed a small sigh of relief. Behind her, Dallas had grabbed hold of Ace's bridle and was trying to calm the mustang, whose anguished screams burned Brynna's ears.
"Brynna. Brynna. BRYNNA!" Dallas had to shout to tear her attention away from Sam's body, which had not moved.
"You need to ride and get help. Now." He demanded.
"What? I can't just leave Sam, I mean-" Brynna stopped herself, realizing how stupid she sounded. There was no way they could move Sam and the longer she delayed, the more precious seconds slipped away. She stumbled to her feet and heaved herself back into Penny's saddle, wheeling the mare away from the group and heading for River Bend at a dead gallop, praying to God she would get there in time.
"Where could they be?" Wyatt grumbled. Jake and Pepper, Jed and Linc and Ross and himself had arrived back at the ranch, but Dallas and Brynna and Sam and Rachel were still no where to be seen. Jen and her mother had made it back in from town and were in the kitchen helping Gram prepare sandwiches for the tired riders. His ears met the sound of thundering hooves suddenly and he turned to see Brynna heading right for them, alone. She jerked Penny to a stop and slid clumsily from the saddle in a haze of dust kicked up from Penny's heels.
"What in lands name is going on out here?" Gram came out of the house with Jen and her mother just as Brynna began trying to sob out brokenly what had happened.
"B. Calm down. What's going on?" At her next words, Wyatt's body dropped at least ten degrees and he shivered in a cold fear.
"Sam….Ace…They fell and- Sam she- call an ambulance." Brynna finally managed to choke out.
"Oh my god." Gram clutched at the door frame and Jen gasped and threw a hand up to cover her mouth as Pepper fought his way into the house to grab the phone.
It couldn't be happening again. Not again. Knuckles white he was gripping the steering wheel so tight, Jake sped his way down the road after the ambulance. It couldn't be happening all over again. He couldn't handle this again. He was supposed to protect her and now…. She didn't deserve this again. It wasn't fair. His rage flared up again as he remembered Rachel riding slowly into the yard, clutching her hat and sobbing into her father's shoulder that it wasn't her fault. Of course it was her fault! She was the one waving her arms like a god damned monster and wearing that stupid flaming hat! And now Sam might be dead because of it. The truck weaved sideways as Jake's hands loosened on the wheel. Oh god. What if Sam was dead? What would he do then? He'd nearly killed her the first time, but thank God she had survived….would she be so lucky again?