A friend entices Kimberley West to Arizona to search for lost treasure. Someone in Sherry’s crew, however, resents Kim’s arrival. As Kim prepares to join the mule train into the mountains, she approaches her mount with trepidation.
“Hey, girl.” Kim stroked the mule’s forehead.
To her surprise, Betty Jo quivered, her front legs doing an odd tap dance.
“I guess she’s eager to get moving,” Sherry said, reaching for the reins.
To Kim, the mule’s wide eyes appeared more nervous than excited.
But she knew little about mules, so she’d just have to trust Sherry. Besides, the others were now watching.
Taking a deep breath, she shoved her left foot into the stirrup, grasped the saddle horn and swung on. Before she could slip her right foot into the other stirrup, however, Betty Jo’s ears flattened and she emitted a loud bray. Kim felt the muscles contracting beneath her and snagged Betty Jo’s mane just as the mule hunched her back, kicked her rear legs and bolted down the nearest trail.
Kim squeezed her knees together and clung to the mule like a monkey. The ground zipped by in a dizzying blur. To her right, the mountain jutted upward, its craggy sides too close to her dangling foot. To her left, just inches from Betty Jo’s pounding hooves, plunged a sheer cliff.
“Betty Jo, it’s okay, it’s okay girl, slow down.”
But the mule either couldn’t hear her soothing words or was too afraid to respond.
The thunder of hooves behind her was so loud that it took her a minute to register a man’s voice.
She risked a glance to her left. A second mule was sprinting close to Betty Jo. Jordan Crawford leaned over the mule’s neck.
“I’m coming along side,” he shouted.
“There’s no room!”
“I’ll make room!” he said.
Kim pulled her dangling foot as high as she could as the head of Jordan’s mule brushed Betty Jo’s left flank. Betty Jo moved closer to the mountain wall. If Kim’s leg had been in the stirrup, it would have been smashed between horse and mountain.
Jordan inched his mule closer.
“I need you to push off the saddle toward me,” he said. “Can you do it?”
Kim swallowed. The thought of releasing her hold on Betty Jo made her head spin. But what other choice did she have?
“On the count of three,” Jordan yelled. “One. . . Two. . . Three—”
Kim launched herself toward Jordan and his outstretched hand. Instead of grabbing her arm, however, he snagged the back waistband of her jeans and yanked her across his saddle.
She landed in front of him, on her stomach, legs dangling from one side of the mule, her head and torso from the other.
Jordan’s mule slowed, allowing Betty Jo to rush ahead.
Turning from the mountain edge, Jordan stopped his mule and gently slipped Kim to the ground.
She slid to her butt, pulled her knees to her chest and breathed deeply, fighting tears. More thundering hooves and a new mule ran past. But Kim paid no attention to the rider.
Jordan dismounted, knelt and pulled her into his arms. Kim burst into tears. Jordan rubbed her back, whispering nonsense.
“Is she okay?”
At the sound of Sherry’s voice, Kim pushed away from Jordan. Through her tear-stained glasses, she could see Sherry mounted on Bobbi Jo.
“I— I’m all right. Thanks to Jordan.”
The demolitions expert forced a smile. “Well, you gave us quite a scare.”
Every muscle in Jordan’s face and body quivered with tension. Kim squeezed his hand.
“Let’s get her back to camp,” Sherry said. “It’s a long walk.”
“She can ride with me.”
Jordan stood and offered Kim his hand. The thought of climbing back onto any animal made her want to throw up. But her spaghetti-like legs would never carry her back to camp.
She accepted Jordan’s assistance in mounting. He swung up behind her and, together, they plodded back to camp.
The three remaining men raced to them. Bruce helped Kim dismount. The camp doctor led her to a chair in the shade and pulled out his stethoscope. . .
The clip-clop of hooves drew Kim’s attention back to the trail. The veterinarian appeared, riding one mule while leading Betty Jo by the reins.
Swinging out of her saddle, Cara stomped toward the group, face flushed, lips clenched in fury.
“Are you okay?”
Cara whirled around to face the others.
“Which one of you idiots put a burr under Betty Jo’s saddle?”
Shoving her hand forward, Cara opened it to display a round, thorny ball.
“A burr?” Kim leaped to her feet. “Jordan and I were almost killed by a B-movie cliché?”