Hi everyone! Today I am very excited to welcome author Mickie Ashling to the blog. Mickie is here to talk about her new release, Fire Horse, and has brought a great excerpt to share. Mickie is also giving away a copy of the book to one lucky reader at Joyfully Jay, so be sure to leave a comment to enter. Welcome Mickie!
San Antonio, Texas 1976
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.
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 tumbling headlong onto the dirt-packed floor. The sound of his throaty laugh had reverberated in the barn, and my first reaction was to retaliate, but his size was so intimidating I didn’t think I’d stand 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 as 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 hovering 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 mid-teens, 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 reigns could mean the difference between making a goal and flubbing the entire match. They had to be as fearless as their riders, galloping headlong toward goal posts while players all around them pushed and shoved them out of the way, screaming invectives, and did everything in their power to prevent them from reaching the other side. Without the element of trust between horse and rider, there was no hope of excelling on the field.
“The only way you can connect with your pony is through respect.”
“What do you mean?”
“Love them with all your heart but always be their master.”
“I’m not sure I understand you, Kon.”
“Feed them when they’re hungry, soothe them when they hurt, make sure they’re always warm and dry at night, but when you’re out on the playing field, whip them if necessary. By feeling your strength and positive energy, they’ll respond with equal enthusiasm. If you show fear or weakness, they’ll get skittish and back off.”
“Do I have to do anything special to show them I’m master?”
“Love them above anything else.”
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?
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.
Mickie is generously offering up a copy of Fire Horse to one lucky reader. Leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest closes on Saturday, April 13th at 11:59 pm EST.