Samantha discovers a plot to wipe out the wild horses near her family's ranch, but she can't convince anyone else that the Phantom's herd needs help.
When her insistence that the mustangs are in danger pits her against her family, her classmates, and the local sheriff, her only friend left is the Phantom Stallion. Can he help her solve the mustang mystery before her dad sends her out of harms way, back to San Francisco?
Samantha 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 tell us."
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, and . . ." 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."
Kept 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 mean—is that I don't mind after-school photo shoes." That mistake had turned the giggles to outright laughter.
"Photo shoots," 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 was 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 lab . . ." 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.