Friday, March 25, 2016

Friday Countdown

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.
     “Clint Eastwood.”
     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.
     “You’re gay?”
     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.”
     “Like what?”
     “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.



Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday Countdown

Happy Friday everyone! As promised, here's a short excerpt from the second book in the Polo Series. This novel picks up about two years after Fire Horse ends. What you're seeing is a conversation between Preston's son, Sasha, and his soon-to-be-boyfriend, Jeremy. They're both struggling artists on Broadway and dealing with the reality of being on their own. Jeremy's trying to talk Sasha into seducing his producer for a chance at a big part.

SASHA threw the last item of clothing into his overnighter and slammed it shut.
“I don’t know why you’re going home for Thanksgiving when you’re still so mad at your father,” Jeremy commented. He was huddled underneath an afghan on the sofa and eyeing him critically.
“My mother would be devastated if I stayed away.”
“Are you sure you can handle it on your own?”
“Handle what?”
“Your father and the rest of the Brady Bunch.”
“What a joke,” Sasha retorted bitterly. “I was an only child for years and now I have to wait in line for crumbs.”
Jeremy got off the sofa, dragging the afghan along like a giant shawl. “I told you I’d come with you,” he said. “I could use a break from this cold.”
“I don’t need a bodyguard.”
“Jesus… you really need to lighten up,” Jeremy said coldly. “You’ve been a total bitch for weeks.”
“You’d be an asshole too if you had to subsist on ramen noodles.”
“Didn’t you say Preston had paid the rent through January?”
“Yes, but I’m saving my measly paycheck for February and March.”
“I don’t understand why he’s become so militant about money all of a sudden.Sasha shrugged. “He says I’m coasting through life and need some kind of incentive. I suppose being homeless and starving will light a bomb under my lazy ass.”
“Sasha, you’re not lazy at all, and I promise you’ll neither be homeless nor starving with me around.”
“I’m not taking a cent from you.”
“Call it a loan if you must.”
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” Sasha said gravely.
“Dude, you did not just quote Shakespeare.”
“I was quoting my grandfather John.”
“And he was quoting Hamlet! If your grandfather was so damn worried about that, why didn’t he provide you with a trust fund? Didn’t you say you were his only grandchild?”
“Well, no, but Paloma was just a name to him. Since she lived in another country, and never visited, he didn’t know her or care enough to include her in his will.”
“That’s kind of cold. No matter how you shake it or play it, she’s a blood relative.”
“He didn’t like foreigners very much.”
“Didn’t you tell me that your grandmother on your dad’s side was English?”
“So he must have liked imported tail at one point.”
“It didn’t work out.”
“That’s still no reason to cut out Paloma.”
“His choice,” Sasha reasoned. “Anyway, I do have a trust fund, but I can’t touch it until I’m twenty-five.”
“Shit, that’s four years from now.”
“Three and a half,” Sasha corrected. “In the meantime, I’m reduced to groveling.”
“Unless we move forward with my plan.”
“Your plan stinks.”
“When was the last time you had some protein?”
“Does spunk count?”
Jeremy made a disgusted face. “Really, Sasha?”
“Just kidding.”
“Are you even dating?”
“Your network of spies would inform you before I even unzipped my pants.”
“That’s beside the point.”
“I’m not interested in anyone.”
“No one?”
Sasha looked away.
“Moving on,” Jeremy said breezily. “Jordan is quitting due to other commitments so his alternate is moving up. They’ll need someone new to cast for that spot. Enter Alexander Nell, stage left.”
“Just like that?” Sasha said incredulously.
“After we get done with Joe, you’ll be a shoo-in for the part.”
“Don’t be so clueless, Sash. I’ll handle the prep work; you just show up when I call.”
“I don’t know, Jem.”
“There’s nothing to think about. It’ll be over before you know it.”
“What about afterward?”
“Come on, hon. Joe’s been directing a long time and knows the score. He’s not going to press for anything more than what you’re offering.”
“Which isn’t much.”
“Don’t underestimate the power of blonds.”
“Miss Clairol has at least thirty shades that can turn the mousiest brunet into a blond bombshell.”
“You, my dearest friend, are the genuine article, as rare as a unicorn and just as elusive.”
“Yeah, you.”
“Being blond hasn’t really panned out, has it? Perhaps I should try the Goth look for a change.”
“Don’t you dare,” Jeremy said, hauling Sasha into his embrace. He lifted the stubborn chin with his forefinger and gazed into the striking blue eyes that looked at him curiously. “People pay hundreds of dollars to try and look like a California dream, and all you have to do is get out of bed and run your fingers through the tangles.”
“Bandi and Paloma are more striking than I’ll ever be.”
“Oh, puleeze!”
“You can’t possibly be immune to their looks.”
“I prefer blonds.”
“That’s because you’re a brunet.”
“Why are we having this stupid conversation?”
“For lack of anything better to do,” Sasha said with a grin. “I don’t have to be at Newark for three more hours.”
“We can always have sex and brush up on our skills.”
“Don’t look so horrified.”
“I’m not,” Sasha protested. Was Jem kidding or what?
“Come here,” Jeremy said, leading Sasha over to the sofa. He grabbed a few throw pillows and stacked them in the middle. “Let’s pretend the pillows are Joe.”
“No,” Sasha said, twisting out of reach. “This is ridiculous.”
“We have to rehearse or we’ll look like a pair of amateurs when we finally get Joe in a position to be seduced.”
“You’re really serious about this three-way, aren’t you?”
“I never joke about sex.”
“Neither do I,” Sasha said, throwing the pillows on the floor and sitting down. He crossed his legs and looked at his friend. “How come you’ve never asked me about my first time?”
“I don’t like to pry.”
“Don’t give me that shit. You’ve done nothing but cross-examine me about polo and my father since we met.”
“That’s different, Sasha.”
“I wanted a little glimpse into that rarefied world. All I’ve ever known about polo is that the cologne costs anywhere from thirty to ninety bucks a bottle, depending on the size. I knew nothing about the sport until you came along.”
“We have tons of samples at home. Want some?”
“You’re only offering now?”
Sasha giggled. “I’ll bring some back.”

I'll be back again next Friday with another excerpt of Fire Horse.

Both novels are available at the Dreamspinner Press store or on Amazon. Links provided.

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:

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Cover Reveal!

I'm thrilled to show you the beautiful cover designed by Anne Cain for my upcoming release The Sixth Chukker. This is the third book in the Polo Series and follows about three years after Ride-Off ended. The novel releases April 8 and you can pre-order a copy on the Dreamspinner Coming Soon page here:  Blog tour stops to be announced in a few weeks.

Retired polo players Preston Fawkes and Konrad Schnell have finally found the happiness that eluded them for years. Their stud farm is a big success, and their marriage couldn’t be healthier. Unfortunately, this idyllic life is disrupted by several unexpected sources.

Paloma, Preston’s twenty-one-year-old daughter, is determined to be a 10 goal player before she turns thirty. Bandi, Konrad’s son, dreams of starting a family with his husband, Ned Temple. Paloma offers to surrogate if her father and stepfather come out of retirement and team up with her for one season.

Preston and Konrad would do anything to make their children happy, but they’re confronted with a stumbling block. Trauma specialist Dr. Rayne Carlisle refuses to sign off on the necessary paperwork unless Preston agrees to be his submissive for one week.

Caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, Preston and Konrad deal with disgruntled former lovers, demanding children, and old enemies in this sequel to Ride-Off.