Here we go! Another Rachel Barkley story. I may not be able to update tomorrow as it's my 15th birthday, but I'll do my best! :-)


Chapter 1 – Stockton

"Audra! Audra, hurry up!" Rachel was calling impatiently from the bottom of the stairs. She was clad in a black riding skirt with a white blouse, and she wore her long, wavy hair down, with a clip at one side, like Audra often did.

"I'm coming!" Audra replied, suddenly appearing from her room and swiftly descending the staircase whilst pulling on her riding gloves. She, too, was dressed in a riding skirt and blouse. She smiled at her younger sister as she saw the eagerness painted on her face. "Are you ready to go?"

"Of course I am," Rachel replied with mock indignation. "I have been for the past ten minutes!"

Audra smiled, "A lesson in patience, then," she said teasingly. "Come on, let's go."

The two sisters walked out of the house together and almost bumped right into Heath.

"Boy howdy!" he exclaimed. "What's this – a parade?"

"We're just going shopping in Stockton," Rachel replied. "After all, it is Saturday, so I haven't any studies."

"Have a nice time," Heath said, smiling. "And be sure to bring me back something," he added, grinning.

"Don't count on it!" Rachel said laughingly.

"Will you be back for lunch?" Heath asked.

"No, we've got lunch with us," Rachel said, producing her saddlebags. "We're going to eat at the Mokelumne River."

"Well, you two enjoy yourselves," Heath said as the two sisters went off to the barn to saddle their horses.

Rachel was desperate to ride her horse Blazing Star again. She had recently had an accident when riding a bronc mare that she never should have approached in the first place, and she had had a long break from riding, partly whilst she recovered and partly as comeuppance for her folly. This was her first time riding since that incident, which was why she was so impatient to be off at once!

Nick was in the barn. "Well, where are you two off to?" he asked.

"Stockton," Rachel said eagerly. "And then the river."

"Alright for some," Nick said smiling. "See you when you get back!"

Audra and Rachel led their horses out of the barn, and mounted up. They squeezed their horses on, and broke into a trot. Rachel sighed contentedly. Gummy, she had really missed her riding!

The ride was a long one, but they enjoyed every minute of it, sometimes stopping to watch a wild herd of mustangs, and occasionally pausing to take in the fresh air and beautiful scenery. They were in no hurry, so they allowed their horses to amble along at a comfortable speed, now and then breaking into a playful gallop to see who was the fastest.

When they finally rode into Stockton, they tied their horses up outside the general store, and made their way inside.

"I'd like a new dress for the barn-raising," Rachel said. "Mother said I could have one, you know. I thought I might as well look for one today."

They walked over to the clothing section of the store. There were many different dresses of all sorts of colours and styles, but a pale green dress with dark green sash and trimmings caught Rachel's eye at once. She picked it up.

"Oh, Audra!" she exclaimed, putting it against her so that she could imagine what she would look like in it. "What do you think? Does it suit me?"

"It's very pretty," Audra said. "Mother said if you found something you liked, then we could put it on the account."

Rachel's face lit up. "It is beautiful, isn't it? It would be perfect for the dancing at the barn-raising," she added, twirling around so that it swished and rustled against her riding skirt.

"Alright then," Audra said, with a nod of assent. "Let's get it."

They walked up to the counter.

"Good morning," the man said, smiling at them. "It's a fine day."

"Yes, it is," Rachel said. "We're going to spend it at the Mokelumne River as it's so hot."

"A fine idea," the storekeeper exclaimed. "I'd like nothing better than to get out myself. Well, what can I do for you two Barkley ladies today?"

A man who was browsing in a corner of the room suddenly looked up at the name of Barkley. Quickly pulling down the brim of his hat, he left the shop and rode away on his horse.

No one had taken any notice the stranger, however, so the storekeeper put down the dress on the Barkley's account, and after it had been wrapped in some brown paper, Audra and Rachel left.

"Now, was there anything else we had to do in town before we go on to the river?" Audra asked hesitantly.

"No, I don't think so," Rachel replied. "I do so wish that Jarrod wasn't in Frisco! Then we could visit him, and maybe even have had lunch with him in town!"

"Well, we'll just have to make do with each other. That won't be so very bad, now, will it?" Audra asked, squeezing Rachel's hand. "Besides, Jarrod will be home this evening!"

Rachel smiled, and the two sisters mounted their horses and rode out of town. They soon broke into a gallop, but as the weather was so hot, they soon slowed down their horses so as not to tire them too much. The two sisters rode along, talking merrily. The weather was glorious, and this was turning out to be a fine day! Rachel was delighted to be out riding again, and she was also thrilled with her new dress. Yes, this was certainly proving to be a grand day!

They finally arrived at the river, and let their horses go down to the water's brink to drink their full. As for themselves, they took off their boots and socks, and holding up their riding skirts so that they wouldn't get wet, waded into the river. The water was cooling, and just what they needed on such a hot day! They paddled and splashed, laughing as they grew wetter and wetter.

"You know, I think we'd better have lunch now," Audra said after a while.

"Oh, just a little bit longer, Audra?" Rachel pleaded.

"No, come on," Audra said. "Let's eat."

Rachel didn't argue, after all, she was beginning to feel hungry. So the two sisters, clothes damp and hair somehow dripping wet, climbed out of the water.

"How did we manage to get this wet?" Rachel asked, brushing down her clothes, and flicking her wet hair out of her eyes.

"You managed to get me so wet because you splashed so much!" Audra declared almost reproachfully.

"You splashed, too!" Rachel said, throwing her boot in Audra's direction. Audra smiled and handed it back to Rachel.

"Come on," she said. "Put your boots on, and then we can eat."

Audra walked over to the horses to get the food out of the saddlebags. It was at that moment that the distinct click of a rifle suddenly sounded behind them, making Audra stop dead in her tracks, and Rachel freeze where she was sat.

Instantaneously, a harsh, growling voice sounded from behind them. "Don't make any sudden moves!"

I know I'm awful for dishing out cliff hangers, but I really love to keep you on the edge of your seats. I'll try to update soon so as not to keep you waiting too long! :-)