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Phantom Stallion: Wild Horse Island #2: The Shining Stallion
The girl and horse stood nose to nose.
Trade winds swirled the scents of trees and cinnamon-red dirt around them. Truck tires crunched on the rough road to 'Iolani Ranch, a goat's bleat mixed with birdsong, and the harsh neigh of a stallion rang out from a distant pasture.
But the girl only noticed her horse's hay-sweet breath and the flick of her flattened ears. Darby smiled at Hoku's determination to win their stare-off.
She'd named the filly Hoku, the Hawaiian word for star, after the white marking on her chest, but Darby Carter couldn't help comparing the young horse to something else.
Nitroglycerine, Darby thought as she stepped toward her golden-red filly. One wrong move could make that chemical explode.
Darby scuffed her boots in the dirt. She couldn't move any closer without ramming into the filly, but Hoku didn't know that.
The sorrel braced her legs and tossed her mane. Her stare stabbed past strands of ivory forelock.
Friendship was one thing. Giving in to a halter was something else.
Hoku would never be truly tame. Darby knew that haltering her mustang was about as safe as playing with explosives.
"Hey, good girl, don't look so worried," Darby said.
Hoku vibrated with a silent nicker and her head rose an inch. For a second, Darby felt as if they were the only two creatures on the island, but then Hoku glanced over Darby's shoulder, through the corral rails, and glared at their audience.
Darby didn't turn at Cade's voice. Hiseyes tracked her moves, but he wasn't adding up her mistakes. He was keeping her under surveillance for her own good.
Not that Cade and everyone else on 'Iolani Ranch thought she was insane, but she'd understand if they did. To say she'd made a few big mistakes last week was an understatement. She'd given new meaning to the term horse crazy.
"But I've learned my lesson, haven't I, pretty girl," Darby said.
Hoku's eyes widened in curiosity as Darby sauntered around to the horse's left side.
Darby and Cade had been talking since dawn about how to halter the head-shy filly. Staying close, without doing anything Hoku found scary, was the first step.
Once, a man had tried to beat the filly's wild horse wariness out of her. It hadn't worked. Hoku's spirit matched her fiery gold coat. She hated men and she didn't like anyone, even Darby, touching her head.
"Exhale," Darby whispered to herself. Hoku shouldn't feel tension quaking off her.
After three quiet breaths, Darby leaned her shoulder against Hoku's.
The filly didn't shift away. Instead, she rearranged her front hooves to return the gentle pressure.
"Perfect." Darby barely breathed the word before raising her arms in a hug and rubbing the filly's poll.
At last Hoku relaxed. Her head drooped until her lips were even with Darby's knees.
Now came the hard part. Could she tie a soft rope halter on Hoku's lowered head?
"Stay close," Cade repeated.
Darby guessed she should have given some sign that she'd heard him the first time, but after all, shouldn't a horseman like Cade know she didn't want to set off Hoku by having a conversation with him? Cade had studied the way of Hawaii's cowboys, the paniolo, and he was apprenticed to her grandfather Jonah, a man known as the Hawaiian horse charmer.
"Hear me?" Cade asked.
Darby risked a tiny nod. That was all it took to detonate the filly's wildness.
Hoku bolted into a gallop. Strides meant to cross an endless range took her around and around the corral.
Darby kept herself from groaning, but her arm had a mind of its own. It flung the orange rope halter down in frustration.
Hoku's front legs lifted. Her hooves jounced down as if the halter was a snake and she wanted to pound the life out of it. Then, Hoku wheeled and raced in the opposite direction.
"Your temper just set you back an hour," Cade pointed out, but she still didn't look at him.
She knew what she'd see: brown eyes set in a sun-browned face beneath a brown luahala hat that hid the only spot of color about him, the tight blond braid of a paniolo.
Squinting her eyes against the dust swirling around her, Darby snatched up the halter. She sorted it back into shape by touch, without taking her eyes off Hoku.
Reversing her morning's progress, Darby backed toward the fence until she collided with it.
"Go away. Please."
"Jonah wants me to supervise—"
"And he's the boss," Cade finished.
Wishing she could communicate with Cade as well as she could with Hoku, Darby considered the hand-me-down boots she'd accepted from Megan Kato, the ranch manager's daughter. Scuffed through the reddish finish of the oxblood leather, they were real cowgirl boots and Darby loved them, but they didn't supply any ideas on how to convince Cade she needed to be alone with her horse.
"We'll be okay," Darby promised, and when Cade didn't contradict her, she slid her eyes around far enough to see that he was staring up at the pillowy gray clouds.
"Suppose it's this storm that's got Luna so spooky?" Cade asked her, and Darby heard the stallion neighing from the lower pastures again, though he was usually quiet during the day.
"It doesn't look like much," Darby said. She hadn't been in Hawaii long, but the clouds didn't look like they were holding a downpour that would send her scurrying inside to curl up on her bed with a book. "Maybe you should go check on him."
Cade's second silence had to mean a weakening in his resolve.
"Maybe I will," Cade said. "Something's got him stirred up." He pushed back from the fence so abruptly, the post joint creaked with a sound like a starter's gun. "Be right back."
Yes! Cade's retreat worked like magic. As the boy turned away, Hoku slowed to a jog, then a walk. Then she stopped, sneezing at the dust halo she'd raised.Phantom Stallion: Wild Horse Island #2: The Shining Stallion. Copyright � by Terri Farley. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.