Millionaire's Shot

By: Bev Pettersen

And ultimately pushed them apart.

She steeled her shoulders, ignoring the fluttering in her chest, and stepped onto the grass on the other side of the canopy. It was halftime and the crowd was sparser here. Many spectators were out on the field, helping repair the torn turf by following the age-old tradition of stomping divots.

She forced her stride to remain confident, even though her legs felt leaden and she wished her grandfather hadn’t insisted on visiting Santiago today. A groom pushed past, carrying a replacement girth and hurrying toward a row of horses. Activity was always frenzied between chukkas, like a pit stop at a car track.

She walked toward the row of tethered animals, searching for her grandfather. Praying she wouldn’t see Alex. She’d vowed never to return to the Club, but sorting out what had happened with the mare was too important. Qualified buyers were scarce. Top players often owned a string of ten animals, an impossible investment for the casual rider, so selling four ponies to a collegiate team was huge for Gramps. Well worth swallowing her pride and facing the happy couple.

And their daughter.

Besides, Rachel probably wouldn’t even recognize her. Just because Cassie thought about them on occasion didn’t mean they wasted one moment of their privileged lives thinking about her.

I love you, Cass. But a baby changes everything. Alex’s words still haunted her, the torment on his face forever seared on her soul.

She jammed her hands in her pockets. She hadn’t come home to brood, only to support Gramps. Having Santiago show off the mare was critical. A top rider brought out the best in a horse while a bad rider made it appear rank and badly trained. Hopefully Santiago would agree to ride Ginger at the next match, and people would forget today’s poor impression.

She could hear Gramps’ voice now. Luckily it wasn’t too loud, so obviously he was doing his best to be diplomatic. He was speaking to a tall dark-haired man in white pants and a turquoise shirt. An attentive groom rushed up and passed the man a bottle of water.

Her grandfather shot her a relieved smile as she approached. “This is Santiago,” he said, making the introductions. “And this is my granddaughter, Cassie. She used to play polo. Now she trains riders and horses for the movies.”

“If you turn out horses as well as your grandfather,” Santiago said, flashing her a polite smile, “they are lucky to have you.” He took a swig of water and looked back at her grandfather. “I intended to ride your mare today but we had to shuffle some horses at the last minute.”

“But you’ll give Ginger a try in next week’s game?” Gramps asked.

“Yes,” Santiago said. “Rachel no longer wants to ride her so that won’t be a problem.”

“Good,” Gramps said, blowing out a sigh of relief. “Because we both know the mare is much better than what people saw today. It’s unfortunate she fell off.”

Santiago gave a diplomatic smile. His eyes cut beyond her grandfather and his teeth flashed even whiter. It was the type of dazzling smile that movie stars perfected. Cassie had developed a knack for assessing genuine emotion and she sensed right away this man was a master at turning on the charm. He was focused on impressing someone…but obviously not them.

She followed his gaze, looking past the muscled hindquarters of the line of polo ponies, past the smell of boot polish and horse sweat and saddle soap. The excited chatter faded away. And she could only stare.

Rachel Sutherland must have changed her clothes because despite her tumble to the grass, her white pants were immaculate. So was her face. Her figure. Her hair. She hadn’t turned fat or ugly. In fact, she looked exactly the same. If Ralph Lauren needed a glamorous female polo model, she definitely ticked all the boxes. No wonder Alex had chosen her.

Cassie jerked her head away. She didn’t see Alex. Nor did she want to. She just wanted to escape these beautiful people and go home with her grandfather and figure out the best way to help him retire. A way that would ensure they’d never have to live apart again.

Next week Santiago would ride their mare and Ginger would have a brilliant game and then the college would buy Gramps’ horses and he could finally shed his responsibility. He’d never been away from his barn for more than a weekend. Had never even had a real vacation.

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