ride offRating: 3.5 stars
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Length: Novel

Preston Fawkes and Konrad Schnell are finding it tougher than they had imagined to begin their new life together after their long separation. With families to combine as well as ranches, Preston and Kon are also dealing with the physical and emotional aftermath of Kon’s airplane crash, subsequent years of amnesia, and their desperate need for each other that is taking priority over everything and everyone else in their life, including their children.

Kon’s son, Bandi wants to play polo, but has entered the game with three disadvantages. One is that he is older than the other players and everyone suspects that it is his connection to his father, Preston, and his lover Ned that is getting him ahead and spots on the team instead of his talent. Sasha Fawkes has always been the only son, but now he not only has to share his dad with Kon, but with Bandi and the newly arrived Paloma as well. And Sasha is not happy at all. He is struggling with his career as a actor and the lack of a love life and a secret that he has kept hidden from his father for years. Then Paloma, his step sister, arrives from South America, demanding her father’s time, money, and expertise and the situation with all the children explodes into an emotional mess with reverberations for all. What a Thanksgiving the Fawkes-Schnell family is having, but there is more to come as an evil from the past invades their lives, shaking them to their very foundations of love and family.

Well, lets start off with the positive things about Ride-Off, the second in the Polo series by Mickie B. Ashling. I did like this story better than its precursor. With more family members included in the storyline, it achieved a more cohesive balance as far as characterizations and relationships than the previous book. In fact, the Prologue is the scene of a sexual attack on another member of the Fawkes family, although the identity of this person is not revealed until later in the story. Konrad and Preston’s relationship serves as a foundation, but not truly the only focus of Ride-Off. That job is left to their combined family of Bandi, Sasha, and Paloma and their significant others.

Each son is given his own portion of the story, including current drama and items from the past that are impinging upon his future. Conrad “Sasha” Fawkes is perhaps the most destabilized of all the children by their fathers’ intense and all consuming relationship. He is, by his own words, pouting and upset that he is no longer just the focus of his father’s admiration and attention. I suspect how you relate to Sasha will color how highly you will enjoy this book as this character and his actions take over the story. I found myself unable to relate to him at all in the beginning, but as new information about his past is revealed, this character becomes an object of our sympathies. And that change in outlook with help engage our affections for Sasha as the story unfolds. Side by side with Sasha is Jeremy, a flamboyant makeup artist with his own agenda. I adored Jeremy. His character almost made the story for me. His is a layered persona that just oozes charm along with a depth of character sometimes missing from the other “players” in the story.

Bandi, his older lover Ned, and Paloma the step sister who arrives to upset their relationship as well as everyone elses around her, become more like satellite characters, reduced to secondary status by the stories of Kon and Preston, and Sasha and Jeremy. In fact Ned leaves halfway through only to reappear at the end and tie up the loose threads of his and Bandi’s relationship. Only Paloma remains strong enough of a character to hold her own against those other couples and the author’s need to tell their stories. The fact that Paloma is such a great character that she grabs our attention in a small amount of time demonstrates Ashling’s ability to create characters that achieve instant popularity with their personas even if we may not always like their actions, something the author did with Preston Fawkes, Paloma’s father.

The sport of polo itself is reduced to a minor character here, although the people on whom the story is focused are almost constantly talking about it. People ride or practice the game in small asides, but the game itself is lost in this book. I don’t have an issue with this, just made note of it.

More problematic is the use of BDSM in Preston and Kon’s relationship. I do have issues with this element of the story and have done my best to research it in hopes to resolve the “red flags” that popped up for me in the way these activities are used. Instead of resolving my questions, it only served to further highlight them.

Here’s the deal. Kon’s son was attacked back in Russia and Kon has not dealt with that fact. So he is angry, along with having untreated PTSD issues from his injuries from his airplane crash. Kon won’t attend “normal” therapy sessions, so their friend, a doctor and Dom, suggests BDSM as a form of therapy, a way to work through his anger issues. And that raised the first flag for me. I searched throughout the internet and couldn’t find any known medically approved usage of BDSM as a therapy tool. Nor any doctor or group to proscribe its usage in this manner. Perhaps Ashling can point to another source I couldn’t locate, but I couldn’t find one. Now take that fact and add to it the following facts and perhaps you will see why I had a problem here. I will list them as they are mentioned in the story:

1. No safe word – Kon and Pres discarded the use of it because they only have these scenes “infrequently.” But that only makes a safe word more important, not less. If these BDSM scenes are used infrequently, then how are the partners to know each other’s typical physical responses to the these activities and gauge if things go too far? Familiarity is helpful in these situations so a partner can tell if it is getting out of control and stop the scene.

2. Intense physical fighting and rage with dry penetration, to the point one person has to be “snapped out of it” because he no longer recognizes his partner. The one person is attacking the other, substituting him for the man who sexually abused his son (another flag for me). The author has one partner “snap” the other one out of it by kissing and saying I love you.

3. The promotion of this as a type of therapy by a doctor friend, although I can’t find any mention of such anywhere on medical sites. or even dubious sites. Yes, the man is a Dom and their friend, but as he is also mentioned as the doctor they went to for help with Konrad’s mental and emotional issues, he is also acting as their physician.

I spoke to several people, one from the local BDSM dungeon and another familiar with the lifestyle, about the manner in which BDSM (resistance and bondage, even autoerotic asphyxiation) is used here. Both acknowledged that they found it not only “unusual” but in one person’s words “scary.”

It would take someone with more insight and knowledge of the BDSM lifestyle then myself to know whether the author has truly portrayed it accurately, but the aspects of its use as it pertains to Kon and Preston relationship that I have mentioned continue to bother me. So many readers take it to be “gospel” if it is in a book and from the information I did gather, in no way should any of the mentioned these elements in Ride Off be taken as gospel. Perhaps this won’t bother you as a reader, but you might want to conduct your own research and come to your own conclusions, just as I have.

Finally, there are a few other quibbles to mention. Another sexual attack on a minor that appears at the beginning of the story and then disappears until the author trots it out again towards the end to insert a certain amount of angst and drama seems contrived and unnecessary because there are so many other good things about Ride-Off to enjoy. I liked Sasha and Jeremy, I liked parts of Kon and Preston. I also enjoyed the heck out of Paloma. Weighing the finer points of this story against those issues raised by the author’s use of BDSM kept this book’s rating firmly in the middle of the scale. If those things don’t bother you, than you might consider this a 4-star story and enjoy it more throughly than I did.

I would recommend this book to those of you who loved Fire Horse (Polo #1) and the other offerings by this author. I would also recommend it with reservations to others looking for a story with multiple love relationships, including those with a kink, and a family saga to go along with it. But take heed and don’t take the BDSM at face value. Do your own research, make up your own mind. And then tell me what you thought about this story and that aspect of it. I can’t wait to hear what you thought about it all. Write me.

Cover art by Anne Cain is absolutely gorgeous and perfect for the series and novel within.

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