Today I'm very happy to be playing host to Mickie B. Ashling, who tempts me with a grown up story of of horses, but she also throws in another favorite element: two men, so different, yet with so much in common, navigating the rocky road to love. Will they fall in love and live happily ever after? (Dreamy sigh) Or are they destined to remain forever apart by fate and circumstances? And since barns usually figure into stories involving equines, are there any "hayloft" scenes, you ask? Well, you'll have to read the book and find out for yourself--I'll never tell!
Preston Fawkes is ten the first time he meets fifteen-year-old Konrad Schnell at the San Antonio Polo Club. Captivated by the mystique surrounding the sport of kings, Pres vows to learn the game at the hands of his newly acquired friend and mentor. The hero worship soon grows into something deeper, but the friends are separated when Preston goes off to boarding school in England.
The relationship that follows is riddled with challenges―their age gap, physical distance, and parental pressure taking precedence over feelings yet to be explored. Although their bond goes deep, they deal with the reality of their situation differently: Preston is open and fearless while Konrad is reticent and all too aware of the social implications of making a public stand.
Their paths intersect and twine, binding them as tightly as a cowboy’s lasso, but fate may alter their plans. How will love overcome the divots in the turf as they gallop toward the future—one where obstacles no longer stand in their way?
I stared out the window, paying little attention to the landscape which was miles and miles of steaming hot nada. August in Texas wasn’t exactly paradise, so there were no distractions from my melancholy thoughts. It never occurred to me that Konrad might change as well, but of course it was a very real possibility. I’d had his undivided attention for three years, and it would be over by the end of next week. Once we were let loose in the world, there’s was no telling what could happen.
I got a little preview of the future as soon as we drove past the great willow tree marking the entrance of the club. A small crowd of people gathered near the clubhouse, greeting players and their retinue. I assumed these were the big shots in charge of the tournament. I recognized a few faces from pictures I’d seen in polo magazines and was impressed anew. One of the greatest Texans to play the sport, Cecil Smith, now in his late seventies, was a part of the group, along with the owner of the club, Norman Brinker. They were meeting and greeting the arrivals, and when our turn came, Konrad was acknowledged with backslapping enthusiasm.
“So you’re the young man Cecil has been jawing about,” Mr. Brinker remarked. “Welcome to Willow Bend.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I’m glad you could make it, son,” Cecil added, joining in the conversation.
“Thank you for the opportunity, sir,” Konrad said, removing his hat respectfully and shaking the older man’s hand with the same reverence he’d have paid God. If Konrad idolized anyone it was Cecil Smith. The legendary wrangler-turned-polo- player had been instrumental in arranging for Kon’s invitation to play in this tournament.
In his prime, Cecil Smith had been a 10 goal player for twenty-six consecutive years, the highest ranking one could attain in the sport. He’d also been credited with taking polo out of the drawing room and into the bunkhouse. His glory days had marked the zenith of American Polo, and long after he’d retired in 1967, he had continued to ride and train polo ponies on his ranch out in Boerne, not too far from our San Antonio home. He was always on the lookout for homegrown talent, and Konrad had caught his eye a while back. It was always a great source of pride for Cecil whenever a local boy could stick it to the millionaires and upper-class stiffs. He had shown the world that one needn’t be a blue blood to succeed in polo. All you needed was talent, guts, and a love for the sport and the animals that were the true players. Without a good pony you were nothing.
“Go out there and make me proud, son.”
“Yes, sir…thank you, sir,” Konrad stammered, tripping over his words in embarrassment.
“And who’s this young man?” Cecil asked, finally acknowledging my presence.
“This here is Pres, Mr. Smith. He’s an upcoming rider and acting as my groom today.”
“A good groom is harder to come by than a wishing well in the middle of Hill Country,” he drawled. “Are you any good, boy?”
“I try to be, sir.”
“Tryin’ is only good in horseshoes, Pres. Grooms are the unsung heroes of polo and I would expect you to go the extra mile for your friend and his ponies. How many do you have?” he asked, turning back to Konrad.
“Just the two for now,” Kon admitted.
“You’re goin’ to need at least three more, son.”
“I understand, sir. I can’t afford them yet.”
“You show me what’s what this weekend and I’ll see what I can do about getting you another pony.”
Konrad’s mouth dropped open in shock. “I’ll do my best to make you proud, sir.”
“See that you do, boy…see that you do.” He doffed his Stetson at the two of us and walked off toward another group.
“Holy shit,” Konrad breathed.
“No pressure,” I said, grinning up at him.
He let out a whoop and dragged me off toward the stables. Kon’s parents and Monica had long since taken off to check into the motel rooms they’d booked for our stay. The clubhouse accommodations were allotted to the royals and other more famous players. We nobodies had to fend for ourselves.
I craned my head in all directions, trying to spy a world-renowned figure, and I wasn’t disappointed. There was a group of men leading horses covered in red blankets with the letter H embroidered in gold. I assumed these were the Harriott horses belonging to the brothers from Argentina, some of the best players of our time.
“Stop gawking,” Kon scolded.
“Can’t help it,” I said. “Isn’t that Prince Charles?” I whispered, pointing out the familiar face.
“Don’t point!” Kon barked. “People will think we’re a bunch of hillbillies.”
“We are,” I reminded him.
“Shut up, Flea,” he said, prodding me forward. We were approached by a stable hand who showed us our assigned stall and encouraged us to make use of whatever we needed. There were bales of hay and bins of feed for the taking. I stopped thinking about celebrities and got down to the business of making our horses comfortable. While I pitched hay and mixed feed, Kon went to get his pair of ponies. I imagined myself in the role of player instead of helper. One day I’d be a part of this world and people would be waiting on me instead of the reverse. I hoped that my friendship with Konrad would withstand our separation. It was the only damper on the horizon but one I tried to rationalize as necessary to my growth. Mom had promised to let me return home each summer but assured me with a knowing smile that I’d stop wanting to after a while. I doubted it. Leaving Konrad was the hardest thing I’d do in my short life. There was a part of me that wanted time to stand still, but I knew that change was inevitable.
Find Fire Horse at Dreamspinner Press:
Mickie B. Ashling is the alter-ego of a multifaceted woman raised by a single mother who preferred reading over other forms of entertainment. She found a kindred spirit in her oldest child and encouraged her with a steady supply of dog-eared paperbacks. Romance was the preferred genre, and historical romances topped her favorites list.
By the time Mickie discovered her own talent for writing, real life had intruded, and the business of earning a living and raising four sons took priority. With the advent of e-publishing and the inevitable emptying nest, dreams were resurrected, and the storyteller was reborn.
She stumbled into the world of men who love men in 2002 and continues to draw inspiration from their ongoing struggle to find equality and happiness in this oftentimes skewed and intolerant world. Her award-winning novels have been called "gut wrenching, daring, and thought provoking." She admits to being an angst queen and making her men work damn hard for their happy endings.
Mickie loves to travel and has lived in the Philippines, Spain, and the Middle East but currently resides in a suburb outside Chicago.
You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on her blog at http://mickiebashling.blogspot.com.
I don't know about y'all but the blurb and cover have reeled me right in!