Millionaire's Shot

By: Bev Pettersen

Second Chance Romance




CHAPTER ONE





Alex Sutherland despised polo almost as much as he despised his ex-wife. It hadn’t always been that way. Once, the crack of the mallet and the beat of pounding hooves had filled him with adrenaline. Now he was immune to the festive atmosphere, so weary of hiding his contempt for Rachel that his mouth seemed to have permanently tightened.

“Oh, no!” His daughter, Grace, tugged at his arm, her troubled eyes peering up at him. “Mom missed the ball again. She’s going to be so mad.”

He gave her a reassuring smile, subtly waving away a black-tied waiter who hovered with a tray of champagne. “No, she won’t, sweetie,” he said. “It’s just a game.”

“But she hates to lose,” Grace said. “And she just switched horses and it hasn’t made a bit of difference. She’s barely touched the ball.”

He glanced across the polo field. Rachel was chasing the rolling ball, legs and arms pumping as she spurred her bay mare. But she was also yanking on the reins, as if intimidated by the speed. The mare jammed her nose in the air, confused by the conflicting signals. However, she still tried to follow the ball, valiantly attempting to do her job. All Rachel’s polo ponies were well trained—his money made sure of that—but this mare was different from Rachel’s usual mounts. Faster, quicker, more spirited…and clearly accustomed to a higher caliber of rider.

“That’s a nice mare,” he said, hoping to switch the subject and ease Grace’s concern about Rachel’s truly volatile temper. He didn’t remember seeing any new horse invoices cross his desk, but his apathy toward his ex-wife had hit an all-time high. “Did your mother buy a new polo pony?”

He glanced back down. Grace adored all the animals and insisted on helping in the barn, as if that somehow might put her in Rachel’s good graces. Unfortunately, in nine years, that still hadn’t happened. Rachel had the mothering instincts of a hamster.

“She hasn’t bought the horse yet,” Grace said. “She’s trying her out. Santiago said the mare was brilliant so Mom wanted to ride her in the big game today.”

Alex suppressed a grimace. Naturally Rachel would insist on riding any pony Santiago liked. As patron of the team, she had that power. However, Argentina supplied the best horses and polo players in the world, and while the mare might perform beautifully for Santiago, she was clearly too explosive for an amateur. The mare simply exposed a poor rider’s faults, something Rachel would hate. Especially at an invitational match designed to flaunt her talented team.

A spectator behind him gasped, and he glanced back across the field. The agile mare had twisted after the ball, leaving Rachel clinging to the horse’s neck. Santiago reached out and tugged Rachel back into the saddle, hiding the rescue maneuver by giving his mallet a jaunty twirl.

Alex checked the scoreboard, just wishing this fiasco would end. The Sutherland team was well ahead on goals but Rachel was having a poor game. Her three teammates were clearly trying to set her up to score—she paid generous bonuses for that—but the mare she rode was anticipating the play long before Rachel was ready. And the result was ugly.

It was never good to be over-mounted, even if one could afford the best. But Santiago couldn’t control her. Rachel was always grasping, never satisfied unless she was the center of attention. Well, she’d certainly achieved that status today, judging by the snickers drifting from the sidelines. No one in the restricted clubhouse area would dare laugh, not in his presence, but the rowdy spectators in the tailgate section were much more blunt. And honest.

“That’s a wild horse,” the President of the Ponhook Polo Club announced, his voice deliberately loud. “Impossible for any rider when the mount is clearly unsuitable.” A cluster of Club members murmured agreement and soon everyone was blaming a badly trained pony for Rachel’s poor performance.

Alex’s mouth tightened. It wasn’t the horse’s fault. But he followed a strict policy of never criticizing Rachel in front of their daughter, or anyone else. Grace deserved two parents in her life. And she needed them to be civil, no matter how difficult.

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