"Here," Jake gestured to the stall.

"Like I said, not too close," Darrell warned.

Sam ignored Darrell, throwing herself at the bars of the stall door. She peered in between them. The horse inside looked tiny, delicate. She looked the exact opposite of Jake. Witch's ears pricked forward the exact moment Sam gasped at the beauty of the creature in front of her. Witch slowly raised her head, eyes fixing on Sam. Her teeth bared and she lunged forward, snapping at the human. She retreated back just as quickly, her stance aggressive.

"Told you she was mean," Darrell clapped a hand on Sam's shoulder.

"I knew there was a reason I hated horses," Pam muttered under her breath. A second later she glanced at Darrell to see if her new arch enemy had heard, but he hadn't.

Jake opened the stall door a crack. Sam stepped back, now on Darrell's side of the Witch opinions. However, the moment Witch scented Jake, she turned into a different horse. Though still wary of the humans on the other side of the closed stall door (which Sam had wanted to protest; Witch seemed dangerous), she dropped her nose to nuzzle Jake's shoulder. Jake, in return, reached up to stroke her broad neck.

"Sam," he said softly, reaching out a hand toward the door.

"Don't do it, she's a killer," Darrell hissed.

Sam swallowed. She didn't want to be afraid. She opened the stall door, and left it that way. She put her hand on Jake's. Witch stepped away from her master, toward the back of the stall. She had not turned hostile again, but Sam was staying on the side of caution, not daring to get too close. Jake, though, had put his arm around her waist, bringing her closer to Witch. Sam leaned back against his arm, not for comfort, but trying to convey without words that she didn't think that this was such a good idea anymore.

"Palm flat," Jake's hand came up to correct her cupped hand, and to place a peppermint in it. "Give her a treat, let her sniff you."

Sam did as he said, with extreme nervousness. She held perfectly still as Witch stretched forward, wanting the treat but not wanting to get any closer to Sam then Sam wanted to get to her. Witch's velvet lips whispered over Sam's palm and Sam wanted to squeal. The sensation was one of the most unique, perfect, things she had ever felt. And it was so familiar. So, so familiar. As Witch took a step closer, sniffing up her arm Sam blurted, "Who's Ace?"

Her voice sent Witch prancing away from her again, but the horse was relaxed. Sam decided to end on a good note, and rejoined the others outside of the stall.

She fixed her eyes on Jake, and repeated her question. "Jake, who is Ace?"

Jake reached up to rub the back of his neck. "The pony you learned to ride on." Anticipating some of her other curiosities about the horse, Jake added, "Died when you were seven."

"Oh." Before Sam could inquire further, someone else called out for Jake.


Jake turned. "Slocum."

"I was wondering when you would arrive."

The boy in front of Sam was extremely attractive. Tall (though shorter then Jake), extremely slim with coffee brown hair and equally captivating eyes, he had an English accent that was absolutely hypnotizing. He was dressed in tan pants and a blue polo shirt, with a black riding helmet dangling from his left hand. His brown eyes flicked to Sam. "I don't believe we have met," he extended his right hand to her, "Ryan Slocum."

Sam took his hand, feeling slightly awkward. Who her age shook hands? "Sam Forster."

"Sam Forster?" Ryan cocked his head, looking at her as though she were a puzzle. "I know that name from somewhere, but you don't look familiar. Forgive me?"

"Oh, we've never met," Sam was quick to assure him, though she wasn't sure of it. Jake had said that Ryan just moved to Nevada … hadn't he?

"But your name," Ryan protested, "I am sure I know it."

"Ryan," Jake caught the Englishman's attention, "Jen's friend."

"Oh!" Ryan's face dawned with understanding. "You are the girl who was in the accident. I remember Jennifer telling me about that. I am terribly sorry about your father."

"Oh, um, thank-you." Sam accepted the sympathy.

"And I don't know you either." Ryan had turned his attention to Pam, who blushed.

No, Sam thought, seeing the unusual reaction in her best friend. Pam, who hadn't even been introduced to Ryan yet, already had a thing for him. Sam wanted to kick Pam. Darrell had even warned Pam that Ryan had a girlfriend. The thought that Darrell had predicted this ran across Sam's mind, and she wished that Darrell had been enough of a psychic so that this could be prevented. Because Pam didn't get into crushes easily. She relied on first impressions and was usually right about the good and bad guys.

"Pam O'Malley," Pam thrust her hand out. "Pleasure to meet you."

"Pleasure is mine," Ryan replied courteously, but not overly interested.

"Now that you've met Jake's hellion would you girls like to be introduced to a well-behaved horse?"

"Don' be braggin'," Jake warned Ryan.

Ryan waved his hand dismissively, already leading the group further into the barn. "Don't be so touchy. You and I both know that Witch as a fantastic horse. Is it so wrong, however, for me to take as much pride in my horse as you do in yours?"

Jake didn't reply. Ryan chose to take this as an agreement rather than pick a fight.

"This," Ryan gestured majestically to a stall, though this one only had a half-door, "is my Shy Boots."

Sam peered over the stall door, though not as eagerly as she had with Witch.

"He's beautiful!" Pam gasped.

Sam had to agree. Shy Boots was beautiful. He was brown, almost the same colour brown as Ryan's hair, with an unusual blanket of white on his rear end. His two front legs also had white going halfway up them. His ears seemed overly large, but it was cute. Shy Boots was a lot bigger than Witch and moved with less grace and more arrogance. Shy Boots was also a lot friendlier. The moment he saw two new faces, he was up trying to make friends.

"Hi there," Pam stuttered nervously. Shy Boots ear flopped forward toward her voice, making his ears look a lot larger than they actually were.

"Here," Ryan placed sugar cubes in each of their hands. "They are his favourites."

"Ry," Darrell was bouncing. "While they make friends, we need to talk."

"Ah, yes." Ryan nodded. "If you will excuse Darrell and I for a moment." The two men headed back toward Witch's stall, heads bent low together.

The moment Ryan was out of eyeshot, Pam dropped the sugar cube to the floor of the stall and bolted away from Boots. She couldn't believe she had stood there, next to a horse, for so freaking long.

Sam, on the other hand, offered her cube to Boots. Jake wrapped his arms around her middle while she hung off of the stall door, scratching Shy Boots on his neck. The horse relaxed into it, cocking up one of his back hooves, allowing his head and neck to droop.

"He's like a puppy," Sam observed to Jake. "Wanna know a secret?"

She felt Jake's nod on his shoulder.

"I prefer Witch. I dunno why. I mean, I like Boots here too, but there's something about Witch." Sam inhaled deeply. There was something about the scent of the barn that just made her feel. It brought up a sense of deep nostalgia and joy; feelings she wished she understood fully.

"Sam," Pam interrupted, "Mom will be worried if we don't get home soon."

"Oh, of course." Sam pushed off the stall door. "Jake, we need to get back to Pam's."

Jake nodded.


"Sorry about dragging you off like that earlier." It was nearing midnight and Pam and Sam were in the middle of their second movie.

"Don't worry about it." Pam dismissed. "If I had a boyfriend, I would want to spend time with him too."

"He hasn't asked yet," Sam was quick to remind her. She dug her toes into the cushions of Pam's couch. "Pam, I saw how you were looking at Ryan."

"Looking at Ryan?" Pam looked at her friend, disbelieving. "I wasn't looking at Ryan in any way."

"Hey, I'm not accusing you of anything," Sam was quick to assure Pam. "I just wanted to remind you that Darrell said that he had a girlfriend, remember?"

"I remember." Pam ducked her head. "It's stupid to like him, isn't it? God, I was in his presence for, like, three minutes. And it's not like I'm in love with him. It's a crush. I'm allowed to have those."

"I know," Sam said, "I just want to make sure, if you ever meet up with him again, not to get involved."

"I'm not stupid." Pam picked up a pillow, studying it for a moment, before throwing it at Sam with a grin, "what about you? You and Jake cuddling up all day, but he hasn't asked you out yet?"

Sam cuddled the pillow to her. "I don't think he has. But you noticed how he doesn't say anything? Maybe kissing me, taking me on a date, was his way of asking me out."

"Nothing is officially until he says the actual words." Pam was grinning. "I'm happy for you though. Looks like you bagged a good one."

Sam giggled. "I didn't bag him!"

"Girl, you went all cowgirl on his ass and hogtied him to hell," Pam put on a hick accent.

"I have no idea what you just said." Sam confessed.

Pam and Sam met each other's eyes and cracked up, without being entirely sure why.


"Hey, hon. How was Pam's?" Sue greeted Sam.

"Great." On an impulse, Sam wrapped Sue in a hug. "Thanks," she said, "I know that Mom and I have been nuts lately, but I know you're on my side."

Sue pursed her lips as Sam dug for a drink. "I don't want to think of it as sides," she said slowly. "But I believe that your mother is wrong on a few things."

"You don't have to sugar coat it," Sam, lemonade in hand, took a seat on the counter. "I'm old enough to know that adults make mistakes; that parents aren't perfect."

"I know you are," Sue gave a soft eye roll. "I just don't want you to lose complete faith in Louise. She is only trying to protect you, though she could have chosen a better way."

Sam stayed silent a moment, thinking. "I forgive her for hiding my past when I was a child, I think. I mean, if I was really as bad as she said I was, in the hospital, then I might have made the same decision she did. But, when she kept hiding it from me, when she's trying to forbid me to talk to Grace and discover myself, that's where my understanding stops."

Sue rested her hand against her niece's cheek. "I hear you, kiddo. Now, get your butt off the counter and help me make dinner."

"Sure." Sam slid down. "What are we having?"

"I was think mac and cheese. It's a hard meal to screw up, right?"

Sam nodded, laughing. Sue was notoriously bad in the kitchen. "Don't worry. I'll coach you."

Sue placed noodles on the counter. "Good, I think I'll need it."

Sam tied back her hair and reached for a pot to boil the water in.

"So, Sam," Sue started, "I hear there's a boy."

Sam blushed, feeling the heat on her cheeks. "There's a boy," she confirmed.

Sue squealed. "My little girl, all grown up! Tell me everything."

Sam bit her lip, looked her aunt in the eye, and started talking.

I'm looking for a beta reader for this story. So, if anyone wants to volunteer, or knows a good beta reader, will you please let me know? Thanks! For Boots, I described the picture on the cover of Kidnapped Colt, book number 15. I don't own Phantom Stallion.