Millionaire's Shot

By: Bev Pettersen

Not since you left. Those words always twisted a knife in her heart, and seemed to be the dividing point for everything in their lives. She reached behind the seat, fumbling for the blanket and binoculars, craving news of Alex—yet conversely dreading it.

Besides, this visit was all about helping Gramps prepare for retirement, and if he wanted to talk about the Sutherlands, she no longer intended to change the subject. That family had ruled supreme here for generations and had always been an integral part of the horse community. And Gramps didn’t only have Ginger to sell. He had three more polo ponies back in the barn that urgently needed buyers.

His heart attack proved it was time to slow down. Training and selling horses was stressful, especially when cash was a constant struggle. She’d been home less than a week and found his pallor frightening, so different from the tanned and youthful man who’d raised her. Of course, his decline had probably been gradual. She just hadn’t been around to notice.

She locked the truck and followed him to an empty space on the sidelines. She was home now, and able to help. Selling his four polo ponies would be a huge boost for his retirement. And if they needed the Sutherlands to make that sale happen, so be it.

She spread the blanket on the grass, checking the score while she waited for him to sit. The original board remained, along with the traditional way of keeping score by hand. But the familiar scoreboard was now shadowed by a massive digital display. Numbers showed not only the goals but the time remaining in the game as well as the temperature and humidity. Bold letters on the bottom proclaimed: ‘Sponsored by Rachel Sutherland.’

Cassie jerked her head away, determined to concentrate on her grandfather’s excited commentary. And maybe even enjoy the game.

“It’s the third chukka,” Gramps was saying. “So we’re here in plenty of time. Santiago said he’ll ride Ginger last.”

She nodded. Here, the polo matches were divided into six timed periods, each called a chukka. Riders generally used four to six horses, switching after each seven-minute chukka. It was a relief they didn’t have to watch the entire game. It would be fun to see her grandfather’s mare in action, but she didn’t want to be stuck watching Alex and Rachel pass the ball back and forth. Didn’t want to see their hand slaps, the team toast, their intimate hugs.

Even after nine years she felt edgy, the fluttery feeling in her stomach refusing to go away. She was no longer a local and this was Sutherland territory. The sooner she could help her grandfather sell his polo ponies and leave, the better it would be.

But this time she was determined to take Gramps with her. She couldn’t bear to leave him again. Besides, it wasn’t as if she were asking him to give up his life with horses. She understood and shared that passion. Her boss had already promised to find him a low-stress job, a spot where he could ride and train when his health allowed. It would all work out beautifully.

“Filming for that race series I told you about starts in a month,” she said, watching a chestnut mare whose nose was jammed in the air, despite the martingale. The mare was bold and quick, but so out-of-control she cut dangerously across the path of an opposing horse. A mounted umpire blew his whistle, instantly calling the foul.

“Have you thought any more about working with me,” she went on, “and helping train horses for the movie? It would be like a vacation except you’d get paid a consulting fee. Food and accommodations are free. Best of all, you never have to worry about the selling part. Don’t you think that would be fun?”

Riders shouted and hooves thudded in the background, but her grandfather didn’t answer. In fact, he was oddly quiet. The most noticeable sounds were the snickers of spectators beside them.

“Gramps?” She shifted on the blanket, alarmed by his silence.

He’d looked pale on the drive over, but now his face was parchment white. His mouth twisted and he struggled to breathe. Sweat dotted his forehead. Oh God, he was having another heart attack.

She fumbled for her phone, frantically trying to remember her CPR training and wondering how long it would take for an ambulance to arrive.

“I don’t believe it,” he mumbled, his voice so weak she could barely understand the words.

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