Friday, March 11, 2016

Friday Countdown

For those of you who haven't heard of the Polo Series, I've decided to post exclusive excerpts each Friday in preparation for my upcoming release The Sixth Chukker. Hopefully, you'll like what you see, and maybe catch up before the April 8 release date, because the books have to be read in order to fully appreciate the family dynamics. I'll start off with Fire Horse which started the series. This story was inspired by two things I love. Polo and Chinese astrology. Check out this short snippet.

 San Antonio, Texas
I WAS ten years old when I met Konrad Schnell, Monica’s only brother. Konrad, with a K, had been fifteen at the time, and already someone to be reckoned with on the polo field. Taller than the tallest person I knew―my dad―Kon was everything I wanted to be and more. I’d never have his golden hair or meaty limbs; I wasn’t built like that, but I did have the blue eyes, although not quite as arresting as his. Konrad stood out in a crowd, so good-looking he practically sparkled, very much like my present-day Conrad.
The kids had dubbed him Big Foot because his size-fifteen riding boots had to be custom made by a specialty shop in Dallas. He was graceless on the ground but fluid and masterful on horseback. I’d met him the day he spied me losing my balance on the wooden practice pony and then tumbling headlong onto the dirt-packed floor. The sound of his throaty laugh had reverberated in the barn, and my first reaction had been to retaliate, but his size was so intimidating I didn’t think I stood a chance.
Amazingly, Konrad stopped laughing as soon as he saw my flushed face and clenched fists. What he did instead was stick his big hands under my armpits and lift me back up on the pony as if I were weightless.
“Try and grip with your knees this time, kiddo, and don’t bend over too far. If this was the real McCoy, you’d be sporting hoofprints.”
“I wish I could practice on a real pony.”
“Why don’t you?”
“My dad gets pissed every time I mention it.”
“Then why did he join this club?”
“My mother’s a big fan, so he signed up to keep the peace. As for me, he’d rather I learn how to rope and steer our cattle like a proper cowboy. He thinks polo is for rich guys who have nothing better to do than chase a ball across a field and flirt with the women in big hats.”
“It takes talent and guts to play the sport,” Konrad said heatedly. “He should try it sometime―maybe then he’d change his opinion.”
“He’d rather die than admit he’s wrong,” I said. “I don’t understand what my mom was thinking when she married him. He’s not right for her.”
Konrad hooted at my audacious statement. “What qualifies you as an authority on marriage?”
“I know when something isn’t working,” I said softly.
“You don’t know jack, kiddo. Talk to me when your balls drop and they’re covered with hair.”
My mouth sagged open. No one in my immediate vicinity ever talked about body parts, especially mine.
Konrad punched my arm playfully when he saw the expression on my face. “Come on, you little flea. Show me some moves.”
His challenge had started the ball rolling and marked the beginning of the most important relationship in my life. I became Konrad’s shadow, and he took on the role of mentor, friend, and most importantly, champion. I think he was flattered by my open admiration, and knowing I was risking punishment by escaping to the polo club whenever I had a chance had made every minute together count. I usually burst through the stable doors half an hour after school let out and his first question was always, “How much time do we have?”

Mom was our conspirator,managing the duplicity by concocting one excuse after another to keep Dad in the dark. She was still working on him to let me go to boarding school, but in the meantime, daily lessons by the local superstar would provide a good foundation for my future.
I was grateful Konrad bothered with me at all. He could have been out there carousing with his friends or warding off the beautiful women who hovered around him like gnats instead of futzing around with a snot-nosed kid who was too precocious for his own good. But we’d established a connection the afternoon he’d wiped the dirt off my breeches and plunked me back on Woody, the practice tool every aspiring polo player had to contend with. Some inexplicable thread had woven its way between the two of us and it grew tighter with each passing day.
He’d allowed me to hang out with him and his friends. The boys, all in their midteens, treated me like their mascot but used me like a stable boy, having me fetch and carry at will. It never felt degrading, though, only exciting. I knew I was being groomed by learning from the bottom up. Shoveling manure and laying fresh hay for the polo ponies was mixed in with impromptu tutorials on Woody’s back. The guys would point out my mistakes, and Konrad always stayed behind to make sure I didn’t dismount without correcting my blunders.
“It’s critical to your safety and everyone around you that you perfect this move, Flea.”
“I’m so bored,” I moaned and whined, complaining about the repetition.
“It’s a part of your training,” he’d say doggedly. “If you’re going to be a slacker, do it somewhere else.”
“Why can’t I practice on one of your ponies?”
“Not until I’m sure you won’t cause them any harm.”

Konrad treated his ponies like precious children. Later, I’d come to find out why. A polo player was only as good as his mount. The deep connection between rider and steed was never as apparent as it was in this fast and dangerous sport. They became extensions of each other, and a subtle press of knee or inadvertent pull on reins could mean the difference between making a goal and flubbing the entire match. The horses had to be as fearless as their riders, galloping headlong toward goal posts, while all around them players pushed and shoved them out of the way, screaming invectives, and doing everything in their power to prevent the opposing team from reaching the other side. Without the element of trust between horse and rider, there was no hope of excelling on the field.

Here's what some reviewers have said about Fire Horse. 

Fire Horse
“This story was Ms. Ashling at the top of her game.”
—Hearts on Fire

“I. Loved. This. Book. I was so engrossed and captivated in Preston’s story, I couldn’t even spare the time to update… I just had to get to the end!!”
—Sinfully Gay Romance Book Reviews

Fire Horse placed number 7 in the erotic romance category in the 2013 Rainbow Awards. You can purchase the novel here:

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