Ride-Off by Mickie B. Ashling
Polo: Book Two
Sequel to Fire Horse
Finally reunited, Preston Fawkes and Konrad Schnell put family and obligations aside, preferring to remain in seclusion on Ned’s estate to get reacquainted. Unfortunately, reality can only be held off for so long, and they return to Texas to reclaim the life they put on pause. Trying to strike the right balance between business, family, and romance requires ongoing effort, and the challenges begin shortly after they arrive.
At the top of the list is Bandi, Konrad’s son, and his desire to play polo. A close second is Conrad “Sasha” Fawkes, Preston’s actor son who’s struggling to succeed on Broadway. And last, but certainly not least, is Paloma, the fiery Argentinean beauty Preston sired after a passionate tango.
Blending the interests and needs of three grown children is difficult at best and almost impossible when agendas collide and old secrets are unearthed. The situation comes to a head when the family gathers in San Antonio for Thanksgiving, throwing Preston and Konrad into a maelstrom they must weather as best they can, or they’ll face a major ride-off that could throw the game before it even starts.
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A man dressed in a safari outfit, complete with pith helmet and goatee, held court over a group huddled in a tight circle near the buffet tables. “He’s outclassed and has no business in this league,” he opined in a ponderous voice, with a British accent quite similar to Ned’s.
Bandi hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, but he couldn’t help but overhear the derisive comment after he’d wandered away from his lover, who was on the other side of the large terrace, catching up with old friends he hadn’t seen since Preston’s accident almost two years ago. Bored to distraction while the group discussed the latest friend who’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer, high blood pressure, or death from a Viagra-induced heart attack, he’d muttered an excuse and headed toward the bar. He was far more interested in hearing some honest critique about his performance today, minus the usual buffering by the three men protecting him with such diligence.
Guessing that he was the topic of the conversation, Bandi ducked behind a white wooden trellis covered in fresh green vines and pink and red amaryllis. He grabbed a frosty drink from one of the passing waiters and took a long sip. The St. Regis in Greenwich, Connecticut, hosted a world-class polo tournament every September, and Preston had jumped at the opportunity to ease his protégé into the competitive world of East Coast high goal players. Patrons of the sport, along with their spouses, girlfriends, and requisite hangers-on, were attired in afternoon garden chic, rubbing elbows and gossiping about the events of the day. They all had tall drinks in their hands, enjoying one of the signature rituals of this particular site, the Bloody Mary cocktail. Bandi continued to sip his drink while eavesdropping.
The gossipy clutch he’d stumbled upon was comprised of strangers. It wasn’t unreasonable to expect an honest and fair evaluation of today’s performance, but what he hadn’t anticipated was the mean-spirited nature of the critique. He cringed when a second speaker voiced his own observations.
“The boy has raw talent but it needs to be honed with more playing time.”
“Indeed,” the Brit agreed. “Preston is thinking with his cock again.”
“Harry, the boy isn’t his lover.”
“Then who is he?”
“Some gypsy who wandered onto Ned Temple’s estate.”
“He’s Konrad Schnell’s son,” another man clarified.
“I believe he’s Preston’s new partner. He used to play polo years ago and then dropped off the face of the earth. From what I gathered, he was stuck in eastern Europe for years.”
“I’ve never heard of him.”
“He’s somewhat of a mystery, and must have an interesting past judging from those horrible scars,” Harry said cruelly. “I’d love to hear that story someday.”
“I never thought I’d live to see Preston Fawkes take a back seat to anyone, let alone somebody unknown.”
“Perhaps he’s finally come to his senses. I was there when he was thrown a couple of years ago,” the Brit recounted. “Everyone thought he was at death’s door or worse when he was carried off the field on a stretcher. Thank heavens he survived with minor injuries, but it must have been quite the wake-up call.” He pulled out the decorative stalk of celery hanging over his glass and took a crunchy bite. His left to right chewing motion brought back memories of his mother’s goats, and Bandi couldn’t help but be amused at the sudden vision of a helmeted billy goat.
“Back to the gypsy,” critic number two remarked. “He’s a decent player but unseasoned. He reminds me of a young Nacho Figueras.”
“Very young,” Harry replied.
“Gentlemen, give him time,” the fourth member of the group finally spoke up. His jeweled turban and gold-embroidered sherwani made him stand out, as did his melodic Indian accent. “I see a lot of potential in that player,” he observed kindly.
“Halim, this isn’t a training academy,” the pompous goat pointed out, following up the comment with a loud snort. The others joined in and guffawed at Bandi’s expense.
Hearing enough, Bandi abandoned his drink and headed toward the stables. The familiar sounds of ponies, mixed in with the odor of hay and manure, helped to lessen the sting of the conversation. He admitted he was totally out of his element, but when he’d voiced his desire to play polo, he didn’t know that vicious gossip was a part of the game. Having never been involved in professional sports, he was unaware that rumors and envy were right up there with talent and sheer luck. It bothered him tremendously that people assumed he was only around because of his connections. Granted, there was much to learn, and a lot of what he’d heard tonight was true, but it would have been easier to swallow if they hadn’t associated him with Preston Fawkes. He wanted to make it on his own merit.
Someone nuzzled him on the neck and he turned abruptly, heaving a sigh of relief when he saw that it was Ned. “What are you doing here?”
“I followed you,” Ned said honestly. “You looked upset.”
“I’m fine,” Bandi lied, attempting to move away.
Ned held him in place. “Don’t prevaricate.”
“Stop avoiding the issue. Talk to me, darling.”
Reluctantly, Bandi recounted the conversation he’d overheard.
“What bothers you the most?” Ned asked gently.
“Don’t sugarcoat for my benefit.”
“I’m tired of being associated with the Holy Trinity.”
“This isn’t the first time I’ve heard that I’m only here because of you and Preston. Add Papa to the mix, and it’s a bloody triumvirate of guardian angels.”
“Most people don’t even have one,” Ned replied, looking hurt and confused. “Pardon us for loving you.”
Bandi turned his back on him and leaned against one of the wooden pillars. “I know I sound like an ungrateful bastard,” he said gruffly, “but you asked for the truth.”
“We’re only trying to help,” Ned pointed out.
Something in Ned’s voice made Bandi turn, and he could see his lover’s warm brown eyes sparkling with emotion. It made him feel like a world-class asshole, but he had to make Ned understand what it felt like to be the new kid on the block. “It’s hard enough being the oldest rookie around, but I feel like such a loser when I’m treated like Preston’s boy toy. You should have heard those guys,” Bandi said bitterly. “They immediately assumed I was his lover and that’s the only reason I’m here.”
“People gossip all the time,” Ned explained patiently. “Preston has been the favorite topic of conversation for years. It was worse when he was younger; men and women were throwing themselves at his feet. Don’t let a few snide comments ruin this experience. Any other hopeful would jump at the chance to be mentored by a 10 goal player.”
“I’d like a chance to be judged on my own merit,” Bandi continued stubbornly. “I spent all of last year learning the ins and outs of the game. I’m grateful for everything Pres and Papa have done up to now, but it’s time I showed the world what I’m capable of doing without this cloud of doubt lingering in their minds. I don’t want the public to think I’m just some hot stud hanging onto Fawkes’ coattails.”
“Or mine,” Ned said softly.
About the Author
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.