Mateo’s life is, more or less, where he wants it to be. While he’s no longer able to compete in show jumping or dressage in Grand Prixs or the Olympics, he’s still able to share his love of competition with the riders he trains at H&H Riding Academy. He’s respected in the community, proud of his accomplishments — and hey, he’s been to the Olympics. Four times. But Mateo’s life looks a little less perfect when Mr. Perfect himself, famous Hollywood actor and hometown hero, Christopher Wright II, comes home to Sweetspire. Not to film another movie or to visit. No, he’s here to stay.
With his father’s death, Christopher has inherited Wright Stables, a rival riding academy. With all of his name recognition, influence, and charm, Christopher might just be the man to knock Mateo off his high horse. It isn’t helped by Mateo’s helpless, childhood crush on Christopher, the only man able to make him work for his first place ribbons. But when given a chance, is it really only the ribbon Mateo wants? Or is it Christopher himself?
I found Mateo an entitled, unpleasant, and unhappy asshole. He’s a retired four-time Olympian with a chip on his shoulder the size of a sequoia. The book opens with Mateo, a 40-year-old man and riding instructor, cruelly insulting his teenage student with a very hurtful comment, publicly embarrassing her in front of her friends. This isn’t just Mateo having a bad day or feeling the ache in his knee, an ache caused by an accident that has forced his semi-retirement from riding. He’s just as thoughtless and cruel when speaking to everyone else, whether it’s sniping at his cousin, reminding her of her divorce, or mocking Douglas, a friend who works at the rival barn, asking only slightly in jest if he’s going to be replaced now that the golden child, the blood-related, Hollywood famous prodigal son has returned due to the death of his father.
Worse, Mateo’s gives insult after insult, heaping scorn and abuse upon another person — to their back, to their face, to their friends — but when someone finally strikes back, he’s aghast. Aghast at the rudeness, at the incivility! Mateo knows that he deserves admiration, accolades, and accomplishments. The fact that, in their youth, Christopher was a rival was due, surely, only to money. Even so, the retired actor who will now be running the rival barn only ever came in second to Mateo, because he’s just that good, despite coming from a less affluent family. Which is … odd, considering how easily Mateo spends money. He’s irate, on the one hand, at how much richer Christopher’s family is while spending thousands on name brand clothing, vodka, or tack.
Mateo has Christopher blocked on all social media, blocked from contacting him in any way — including blocking him from H&H Riding Academy accounts. This is not a recent event, and it speaks to Mateo’s honest and sincerely unhealthy relationship with Christopher. This isn’t a “you’re my rival and you’re hot” sort of vibe; this is a “leave me alone, stay out of my life” sort of vibe, all this while stalking Christopher on his social media accounts. And this has been going on for years. But when Christopher invites him to dinner, Mateo accepts.
Chris wants a new start, a chance to be a better person now than he was before, before when he had his father’s money and needed to live up to his father’s expectations. Now, with his father dead, Chris is able to live the way he wants to, to run things the way he wants to. And, aware of how touchy Mateo is about … well, everything, Chris wants to try being friends with the other man. Friendly competitions, friendly dinners. That sort of thing. Surely it isn’t too much to ask, right?
Mateo hates Christopher with a passion because, when they were in high school he realized Chris wasn’t gay. Everything he’s done has been to punish Chris for not being who Mateo wants him to be, but when Chris reveals he’s not straight, that he wants to open up a relationship between the two of them, all is forgiven. Mateo is suddenly a new person, having turned a complete corner and now everything’s A-okay. Chris’ motivations behind his interest in Mateo make sense — the boy who rebuffed him, who competed with him at everything, who pushed himself to beat Chris and, in turn, pushed Chris to be better. A man who, even now, will review every movie or show Chris has been in to give it the nastiest 1-star review, who, on being interviewed — because he grew up with Chris — for this soundbite or other, never hesitates to critique him harshly. Well, Chris finds the obsession kind of hot.
Then there’s the villain and his “plan” which is … well, it had absolutely zero chance of being undiscovered, even if it worked. It also stood a chance of actually killing one of the main characters and the horse they rode in on. It’s cartoon level crazy and when I hit that point, I honestly thought about just tossing the book aside. But, with less than 20% to go, I decided I might as well finish it. Fortunately it’s a quick read.
There are bits and pieces here and there that truly grated on my nerves, such as using “reign” as opposed to “rein” when referring to guiding a horse … in a book about someone who works with horses. Not just once, but several times. Words are used incorrectly, such as “his confusion morphed into intrigue,” or “Mateo’s obvious incense.” There are some other grammatical issues, including either missing or misplaced commas, and, on a personal note, as someone who spent their childhood (and much of their adulthood) devouring any and every book about horses they could get their hands on, a lot of this novella reads oddly. I was struck by unfamiliar expressions, such as grooming down a horse, or leading a horse to gallop, or having a horse go bug-eyed from a too tight cinch. It could be that these are regional sayings, but they stuck out to me and, combined with the other errors and the 180 degree change in Mateo’s personality, left me feeling very frustrated when reading this story.
I’m sorry, but I do not recommend this novella.