Millionaire's Shot

By: Bev Pettersen







CHAPTER FOUR





The clubhouse swelled with applause as Rachel and Santiago cantered their fancy polo ponies back onto the field. A mounted umpire prepared to throw the ball out and start the second half.

“Let’s go home,” Cassie repeated.

She wasn’t interested in watching the rest of the game and couldn’t understand why Gramps still lingered by the terrace. Already club members gave them a wide berth, as if aware of the Sutherland black list and loath to fraternize with the enemy.

“No,” Gramps said, his stubborn gaze locked on the row of tethered horses. “I need to check Ginger before we leave. I couldn’t get close to her before. But she looked lathered so I want to make sure they’re cooling her out okay. After the throw-out, I can slip back and see her.”

“Okay. But we better not stay long.” She still had to drive her grandfather home, hook up his old trailer then hurry back and pick up Ginger before everyone left. She had the horrible suspicion Rachel was capable of deserting the mare at the polo field. And Ginger would hate being left alone. Any horse would.

She scanned the riders on the field. At least she hadn’t bumped into Alex. Odd he wasn’t playing today. A relief really. Still, she couldn’t control a flash of anger. While her grandfather had never moved in the same social circles as the Sutherlands, he knew them well.

Gramps had always welcomed Alex at his barn, and in his home. At one time he’d been Alex’s mentor, more like an uncle than a trainer. Yet when Gramps needed Alex’s support most, the man turned invisible.

“Where’s Alex?” she asked, struggling to keep her voice light. “Does he play on a different team?”

“I don’t know.” Gramps shrugged, his gaze still locked on the picketed ponies. “Haven’t seen him in years. I imagine he’s in the clubhouse.”

Cassie’s mouth lifted in a rueful smile. Her grandfather rarely worried about people. And he no longer seemed upset about how Rachel had trashed his mare and the repercussions that would create. He was only thinking about Ginger’s welfare and whether Rachel’s grooms were cooling her out properly.

He always worried about the horses first, emphasizing that if a rider was hot and thirsty, the horse probably was too. Alex hadn’t been spared the lectures. But unlike some people, he seemed to relish them, nodding and absorbing every word. Probably because his own parents had left him alone with a string of disinterested housekeepers, and he appreciated any sort of attention.

She jammed her hands in her back pockets, watching as the umpire threw the ball in to start the second half. Santiago quickly gained possession and lobbed Rachel a perfect pass. Rachel swung her mallet and the ball trickled between the goalposts. The clubhouse crowd cheered as if it had been a world-caliber shot.

“Look how she scores when riding a well-trained horse,” someone said.

“Yes,” a man in a dark blazer replied. “Her last mount stunk. The kind of horse that’s good for nothing but dog food.”

Gramps flinched and the horror on his kind face tugged at Cassie’s heart. “Let’s check Ginger now,” she said, sending the idiot in the blazer a withering glare.

They slipped past the ‘Players And Grooms Only’ sign and behind the row of horses. The visiting team had brought extra animals so there were over twenty polo ponies tethered in a line beneath a shaded roof. A few were blanketed with cotton coolers designed to keep their muscles from stiffening. Grooms scurried everywhere, lugging brushes, buckets and bandages. Most of the animals tugged contentedly at their hay nets, aware their time on the polo field was over and that soon they’d be loaded on the trailers and returned to their respective stables.

Then the color of the bandages and blankets changed to an imposing purple and gold. The Sutherland team colors. The horses in this section had a much more elaborate setup with open-air stalls and matching purple hay nets stuffed with alfalfa. Their long tails had been released from their polo knots and brushed out to a silky shine, and it was obvious they received the best of care.

But Gramps’ brow furrowed. “I don’t see Ginger,” he said. “I recognize these three horses from that last chukka. She should be tied with them. But where is she?”

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