Happy Friday everyone! I'm back to share another excerpt of Fire Horse, the first book in my Polo Series. In this scene, thirteen year old Preston Fawkes starts boarding school in England and meets Ned Temple for the first time. Ned is a beloved secondary character who appears in all three books.
ETON was a new world, and one I wasn’t sure I’d ever like. I complained bitterly that first weekend I was able to go off campus to visit Mom. She’d rented a flat in London and was trying to rebuild her life after the soul-searching decision to file for divorce. I’d known this was coming, but the determination in her voice was devastating. I tried to imagine my father’s face when he received the news. He might not have been suited for her, but he loved her beyond anything else. Despite his misgivings, he’d allowed my departure to study in England because he wanted to show Mom how much he cared about her culture and her feelings, but it had backfired. Ensconced in familiar routines, which included visits from old friends, Mom had moved forward, ready to shed her rough-and-tumble existence back in San Antonio. She’d often lamented that trying to fit in with her neighbors had been like fitting a square peg into a round hole.
For once, I could relate. Turning me into a proper Etonian was like trying to train a donkey to play polo. Mom had waited too long, in my opinion. Most of my formative years were over, so learning how to eat, walk, and talk like a Brit was futile. I felt like an alien who’d materialized in this prim and proper world of good form and etiquette. Frankness and casual dress were frowned upon in most of the groups I’d tried to join, and my Texas accent was always the kiss of death. In a nation that prided itself on diversity, diction was the measure of a man’s education and breeding, and a slip of the tongue could push you back to the end of the queue before you could figure out what happened. The only people who seemed willing to bridge the gap between our cultures were the members of the equestrian club.
Belatedly, I’d found out there were no stables on campus. That upset me more than anything else. I’d always found a sense of peace in the daily routine of caring for Thunder, and knowing I’d have to be transported by bus or car to the closest stables was infuriating. Still, I’d been promised my horse, and I wasn’t going to be deterred by this minor inconvenience.
Thanks to Konrad’s training, my considerable knowledge of polo set me apart from all the new boys. It was the first time I commanded any respect from my peers, and it was sort of heady to see the look of admiration in their eyes whenever I scored a goal or outmaneuvered one of the upperclassmen. Ned Temple, one of the boys in the club, lived in the same house where I’d been assigned and had the room next to mine. He was fourteen, a year ahead of me, but wasn’t turned off by my age or lack of breeding―quite the opposite. He’d wandered into my room that first week, to introduce himself, and then stayed when he found out I was from Texas.
“Are you really a cowboy?” he asked that day, brimming with excitement.
“Yeah,” I said warily, fully expecting to see the pursed lip look of disapproval I’d come to recognize. “What about it?”
“Do you eat beans out of a can?”
I laughed at his naivety. “You must be into movies.”
“I’ve seen every single western ever made,” he boasted.
Disdainfully, I pointed out that he only starred in spaghetti westerns. “He’s no more a cowboy than you are.”
“But he’s dangerously handsome,” Ned said with a wicked grin.
He gave me a wary look. “Is that a problem?”
“I don’t give a shit,” I said.
“Thank goodness,” he sighed with relief. “I was positive you’d do something fiendishly western.”
“String me up by my trainers or something.”
Waving away my question with a graceful flip of his hand, he mumbled, “Never mind.”
“I think it’s pretty gutsy to blurt out you like cock.”
“I try to be up-front with boys I befriend,” Ned said. “It saves a lot of drama down the road.”
“Have you had much?” I asked curiously. I kept thinking of Konrad’s dilemma and his words of caution. “Drama, that is?”
“I’m beaten up on a fairly routine basis,” he said in a resigned tone. “Still, I find it easier to be myself than to pretend. There are a lot of gay kids at Eton, but I’m one of the few who’s up-front about it.”
“Commendable,” I muttered.
“Are you gay?” Ned asked hopefully.
“Do I look it?”
“Not at all, but that means nothing. We come in all sizes and shapes.”
“Then why ask?”
“Your nonchalance is telling.”
I shrugged. “Your love life is none of my business,” I said evenly, “and you can interpret my statement any way you want.” I was trying to be diplomatic without revealing anything. There’d be time enough in the future to exchange secrets. “Tell me about the equestrian club,” I said. “Do you ride?”
Did he ever. Ned was as obsessed with horses and polo as I was, which sealed our friendship then and there. He was also loaded and had several ponies he was willing to share. Dad planned to ship Thunder over but wanted to wait until I was settled. In the meantime, I’d have to accept Ned’s kindness and learn how to work with strange ponies.
“It’s almost time for midafternoon tea. Will you join me?” Ned asked.
“What else do they serve? I’m not crazy about tea, toast, or soft-boiled eggs.”
“What do you fancy?”“Pizza and soda.”
“You know, the fizzy drinks, Coke or Pepsi.”
“Right,” he said, nodding. “I’m sure we can get it sorted.”
What followed were weeks of learning how to survive in my new environment. Ned was great through the transition, taking on the role of Henry Higgins to my bumbling Eliza Doolittle. He instructed me on the hierarchy of the school, corrected me when I used the wrong words, and insisted that I dress up when necessary. In return, I taught him how to think like a cowboy on the polo field. He was tentative at first, but each victory gave him confidence, and we soon gained a reputation as the daring duo.
You can purchase Fire Horse, Ride-Off, and Pre-order The Sixth Chukker at my Amazon page or the Dreamspinner Store.