Millionaire's Shot

By: Bev Pettersen

His work had let her enjoy a dream childhood. They didn’t have the land or money of her wealthy neighbors but she always had a variety of horses to ride. Both she and Alex had relished her grandfather’s training insights.

Alex. Her grandfather hadn’t mentioned the Sutherland name yet. Nor had she. But if Gramps had been training polo ponies before his heart attack, he must have needed a place to gallop. “Do you still ride in that big field on the other side of your property?” she asked, keeping her voice casual.

“The south field? Of course. It’s big and flat, and the horses need a place to run.”

That big beautiful field was owned by the Sutherlands, and she was rather surprised Rachel still let her grandfather ride there. But Gramps said nothing more. He was peering over the dash, busy surveying the cramped lot of the polo club.

Clearly he’d forgotten her old relationship with Alex Sutherland. Or perhaps he’d never noticed the month that her friendship with Alex had shifted to something far different.

“Drive around to the field side,” Gramps said, jabbing his thumb to the left. “By the tailgaters. There are good people over there. And we can sit on the grass and be close to the action.”

She pulled her thoughts back to safer ground and swung his truck onto the road adjacent to the playing field. Thankfully they weren’t dressed for the clubhouse. Besides, it would hurt too much to set foot in there. She wouldn’t be here at all except her grandfather had insisted on watching his mare’s tryout game. And she wanted to spend every precious minute with him. Even though he was only sixty-eight, his heart attack last month emphasized that he wouldn’t be around forever.

But her throat thickened at the sight of the sprawling polo field. She’d cherished this place almost as much as she loved her grandfather’s little farm. She’d known every roll and dip of that field: how the ground was soft at the north end, the exact angle the ball would ricochet off the wooden boards…and how Alex always grinned and tapped her helmet when she made a good play.

Swallowing, she glanced across the field at the clubhouse. The Club had definitely prospered in her absence. A swanky deck and awning had been added, and white tablecloths and women wearing colorful sundresses gave an air of festivity. Everyone was smiling and holding champagne flutes, and a few people were even watching the game.

She jerked her head away, concentrating on navigating the narrow road that skirted the opposite side of the field. The playing area was the size of nine football fields —plenty of distance between her and the clubhouse. Even if he were here, it was unlikely she’d see him.

She squeezed the truck between a shiny pickup and a rusted sedan, breathing much easier on this side of the field. The brilliant canopy still gleamed beneath the sun but now all the clubhouse faces were an indistinguishable blur. Which meant nobody would be able to see her either. Perfect. The tightness in her shoulders eased and she turned off the engine.

“You’re going to be impressed by this mare,” her grandfather said, focused on his horse. He pushed open the door and scrambled to the ground before she could help. “Santiago has a six-goal handicap,” Gramps went on. “He’s a playing pro but is also advisor to the collegiate team. He’s the one who recommended they check out my horses. Everyone in Virginia listens to him.”

“I’m surprised he’s riding at our club,” she said. “At the Ponhook Club,” she corrected. This was no longer her club or her home. Nor did she want it to be. She was quite content living in California.

“He has a sweet deal,” Gramps said. “Rachel Sutherland assembled a dream team.” He paused, looking rather puzzled. “She must pay ungodly amounts for Santiago to put up with her.”

Cassie fought a swell of satisfaction. Rachel may have snared Alex but it seemed his money hadn’t made her any more likeable. As patron of a team, she could stack it with top players…and then insist on riding with them. But that meant Rachel and Alex were both here, and her throat thickened again.

“I’m hoping my mare will win Best Playing Pony,” her grandfather went on, oblivious to her turmoil. “That would cinch the college deal. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to show off a horse in a real game. Not since you left.”

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