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Phantom Stallion: Wild Horse Island #6: Sea Shadow
How did horses put up with riding in dizzying Tilt-A-Whirl horse trailers?
Darby Carter clung to the partition between herself and Hoku as the truck and trailer made a sickening swoop around a pond-sized puddle.
At first, it had seemed like a good idea to ride in the trailer with Hoku, so she could see firsthand how it felt. And from inside the truck, she couldn't read her filly's eyes or ears. So Darby had chosen this short drive from 'Iolani Ranch to Sugar Sands Cove Resort to give it a try.
Gazing through the open-sided trailer into the tropical forest, Darby decided a better question than how horses put up with such treatment was why? They were bigger and stronger than the humans who asked them to go inside these wheeled torture chambers.
Hoku's neck wrinkled like sorrel satin as she turned to regard Darby. Blinking and chewing her hay, the filly looked puzzled by her human's staggering.
"I only have two legs to balance on," Darby explained to her mustang. "You can brace with all four."
Hoku swallowed. She kept her eyes on Darby's and her ears pricked forward for more conversation.
"Besides, horses must have a different sort of inner ear than humans. Otherwise, a rowdy girl like you would never get in a horse trailer for a second trip."
Hoku broke off their stare by nudging Darby's nose with her own.
Darby stumbled back, hit the far side of the trailer, and slid down to the floor. She rubbed her nose and considered the trailer from this new angle. It was a good thing she'd scrubbed every inch ofit clean before deciding to ride back here.
The truck and trailer made another swoop and this time the maneuver not only left her stomach someplace back down the road, it sprayed her with muddy water. Darby wiped her cheeks and tried to visualize Sugar Sands Cove.
The trip would be worth it. After a week of rain that had turned 'Iolani Ranch into a swamp, the warm white beach would be heavenly.
She was still amazed that her grandfather, Jonah, had allowed her to get up early and do this before school. Once they arrived, there wouldn't be time to do much except unload Hoku and head for the waves.
Darby sighed. She never would have been able to go swimming with a horse before school when she lived in Pacific Pinnacles, California. Only on Wild Horse Island did things like this happen!
She was imagining the sandy warmth against her bare feet and Hoku's hooves, when dirt scratched the tires, pebbles pinged under the trailer, and the truck came to a halt that slammed her teeth together.
"Cade!" Darby shrieked.
She'd been so eager to continue Hoku's sea schooling, she'd agreed to let the teenage cowboy drive.
"What are you doing?" she demanded when he didn't answer.
Jonah thought it was no big deal for Cade, who hadn't tested for his driver's license yet, to make short trips like this. Her grandfather often needed more help around the ranch than he had, so Cade did things like this all the time. Driving for agricultural purposes was even legal if he kept to the unpaved private roads belonging to 'Iolani Ranch.
Legal was one thing. Safe was another.
The truck door squeaked open. Why was Cade getting out of the truck?
Darby had opened her mouth to ask, when Cade's shadow blocked the sunlight streaming into the trailer.
"Stay down and stay quiet."
Hoku must have been as surprised as Darby, because the filly didn't flatten her ears or kick the tailgate.
Darby rarely obeyed orders without asking why, but this time she made an exception. Cade's grim whisper kept her seated and silent.
As Cade's boots moved away, Darby pictured the lanky guy with his blond paniolo braid tucked under his hat. She heard him striding around mud puddles, moving determinedly toward—what? An injured animal he didn't want her to see? A place where the road had washed out?
Darby calculated that they'd driven about halfway to Aunt Babe's resort. That meant they were passing near the taro fields.
Hoku's uneasy nicker muffled the sound of a second pair of feet.
"Good way to get run over, blocking the road like that," Cade said.
Who was he talking to?
Getting to her feet to peek out of the trailer was almost irresistible, but Darby managed to stay down. "What's in the trailer?"
The oily voice made Darby glad she hadn't moved. Cade's stepfather Manny was out there. He owned the taro fields, so it made sense that he'd be in the area.
Logic didn't stop Darby's goose bumps.
Kimo had said Manny reminded him of a pit bull and Megan had said Manny's head looked like a coconut—round with dark, stringy hair.
Darby's mind didn't pull up a clear picture of Manny, just the information that he hurt horses and children, and the feeling that he was the scariest man she'd ever met.
Why had he decided to block the road? And why should he care what was in the trailer?
"Horse I'm taking over to the tourist trap," Cade said, and Darby could tell he thought that if he could get Manny to poke fun at Babe's fancy resort, he'd stay away from the trailer.
It didn't work.
"Which horse?" Manny's voice moved closer. His shadow blocked the light.
Hoku drew back in surprise, but just for a second. Nostrils flaring, she lunged, colliding with the metal wall of the trailer.
"That filly from Nevada."
This time Cade's casual tone sounded strained. Was he afraid Manny had seen her? Had he?
So what? Darby asked herself. Manny was a small, mean man who stole ancient Hawaiian artifacts and sold them on the black market. Not a kidnapper.
"The one with the white . . ."
Darby didn't catch the rest of what Manny said, but her gaze lifted to the white star on Hoku's chest, the marking she'd named her for, and she wished Manny hadn't known that detail about her horse.Phantom Stallion: Wild Horse Island #6: Sea Shadow. Copyright © by Terri Farley. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.