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World-renowned polo player and global face of Ralph Lauren, Nacho Figueras dives into the world of scandal and seduction with a new fiction series set in the glamorous, treacherous world of high-stakes polo competition.
Georgia never wanted to be a jetsetter. A plain old country vet was fine for her. But one distress call from her best friend and the next thing she knows she’s neck deep in the world of polo’s most elite international players–complete with designer dresses, fine champagne and some of the most gorgeous thoroughbreds she’s ever seen. Some of the most gorgeous men too…
Alejandro Del Campo needs his team to win the season’s biggest polo tournament or else he’s not sure how much longer they’re going to be in business. What he doesn’t need is some sassy new vet telling him how to run his business–and distracting him at every turn. But as they come closer and closer to the championship match, it soon becomes clear that Alejandro wants to win Georgia just as much as the tourney trophy. But can he ever convince her his world is where she truly belongs?
I first learned to ride a horse when I was four years old and started playing the sport of polo by the time I was nine. Tango was the horse on which I learned to play, and Tango was my first love. I fell in love with the beauty of horses and idolized the strength and bravery of the best players. In my native Argentina, everyone has a chance to go to polo matches and see how thrilling they are. It has been my dream to share the game that I love, the game that has given me so much—as a person and athlete—with the rest of the world.
I think polo is very appealing. After all, there’s a reason Ralph Lauren chose it. There is something undeniably sexy about a man and a horse and the speed and the adrenaline.
It was at a polo match that I met my wife. I was in the stands and she was coming up the stairs, and I looked at her and she looked at me, and we looked at each other. I had to know more, so I asked her cousin Sofia to introduce us and she told me, “That’s funny; she just asked me the same thing.” So the cousin introduced us, and we talked for a little bit. It was the beginning of the summer, and we didn’t see each other for two or three months. After the holiday, we started dating, and we have been together ever since…
I am very excited to present the Polo Season series, which blends my favorite sport with a little bit of romance. Whether you’re already a polo fan or completely new to the game, I hope you will enjoy these characters and their stories.
No!” Georgia laughed. “I have exactly zero interest in polo.”
“Only because you haven’t seen it played,” said Billy. “It’s actually amazing. The way they fight it out on the field, all snarled together, slamming up against each other, a sweaty, dangerous tangle of heaving chests and pumping legs…”
Georgia shook her head at Billy’s handsome, teasing face on the Skype screen. “I can’t tell if you’re describing the ponies or the players.”
Billy quirked an eyebrow. “Well, both, actually. Anyway, Peaches, please. For me. One week in Wellington. It will be so much fun! We’ll do it right. And, okay, full disclosure, I’ve met someone, and I desperately need your opinion.”
“Of course you do,” said Georgia. Ever since they met at Cornell, there had been a never-ending series of inappropriate men Billy desperately needed her opinion on. “What’s his name?”
“I know. It’s a Virginia thing. He rides to hounds. Don’t you love how that sounds? I think he might be The One.”
She laughed. “Because he rides to hounds?”
“No, because he’s cute, and sweet, and a little bit rich, and he does this thing with his tongue that makes my—”
Georgia threw up her hands. “Okay, okay, spare me the details.”
“Honest, Georgie, this is not just about me. You’d love this place. It’s sunshine and high fashion, perfect beaches, gorgeous people, million-dollar ponies, oh, and the wildest and most decadent parties you can imagine!”
“Yes, well, I sunburn on sight,” she said, “and as for fashion, I believe that you once told me that I dress like last season’s bag lady. Even the idea of a Palm Beach party makes me break out in hives, and besides”—she glanced out the window at the snowy, moonlit, upstate New York farm—“I have horses that need me here.”
Since graduating with her degree in veterinary medicine, Georgia had been helping her dad on the farm and assisting in the village animal hospital. It wasn’t exactly a challenge—basically she was handing out tick medicine and checking for worms, with the occasional trip to a stable in the case of a colic false alarm—but she knew she was lucky to have found work that let her be where she was needed.
The farm consisted of a dilapidated stone cottage and a sagging barn set on ten acres of meadow at the edge of the Catskills. The place was so ancient that it was practically open to the elements, and cost a fortune to heat. Without her help, Georgia knew her dad would sell, and she couldn’t stand the idea of losing their home.
There were definitely days when Georgia wondered if she’d parked all her ambition the moment she had arrived back home, but her father had gone into debt to finance her education, and helping him now was payback. If she sometimes found herself daydreaming about missed opportunities and other, perhaps bigger, lives, she quickly shook it off. She loved the farm and she loved her father, and they both needed her. That was enough.
Billy rolled his dark brown eyes in frustration, visibly filtering a retort about what he obviously considered to be Georgia’s sad-ass life. “Georgia. All respect. But there are horses, and then there are horses. The team that Beau is down here with are, like, among the top ten polo players in the world.”
“Are there even ten people who play?”
Billy sighed in exasperation. “There are tens of thousands, probably. And you are absolutely missing the point. It’s a sexy, savage game, and I’m telling you, you will love it. Plus, it’s totally trending.”
“Right,” Georgia said. “Among the one percent.”
“Don’t be snarky just because you’re stuck in the snowy wasteland not getting any. Please, Peaches. I really like this guy. And I think he really likes me. But you know how bad I am at this. Every time I fall for someone, he ends up sleeping with my cousin, or emptying my bank account…”
“Or stealing your car,” snorted Georgia.
“Oh God, I can’t believe that actually happened twice,” he groaned, “but you see! That’s exactly what I’m talking about. I need your unbiased opinion. You’re the only one I can trust.”
“Billy, I’m sorry, I just can’t.”
“Georgia, who was there for you when you found out that skinny hipster you called a boyfriend was secretly banging that waitress with the uni-boob?”
Georgia rolled her eyes and sighed. “You were.”
“And who sat up with you all night drinking cheap wine and watching Downton Abbey until you felt better?”
She shifted reluctantly in her seat. “You did.”
“And so, who is going to get her narrow ass down to Florida and make sure her BFF isn’t making another colossal romantic mistake?”
Georgia gave a groan of defeat. “All right,” she said. “Four days. That’s it.”
“Yay!” Billy cheered. “You’re going to love it! Cocktails. Scandal. Strappy dresses. Trust me. It will be everything you need. I’ll text directions.”
Georgia snapped her laptop shut and fed the woodstove. As she climbed the stairs to bed, her shadow was animated by the flare of the fire.
She undressed, shivering at the window, staring up at the milky indigo sky and full moon. Slipping under the covers, she wrapped her arms around herself as she waited for her bed to warm. She started thinking about all she’d need to do before she left, what she’d need to pack…It was one of the hard parts about traveling—the way it made her so restless. The minute a plan was in place, everywhere her mind fell, there was something that needed to be done.
She closed her eyes, trying not to think, willing herself to relax while wondering why this little trip felt like something so much bigger, a kind of seismic shift. The bed slowly warmed but she couldn’t let go. She lay there in the dark, a thousand thoughts flickering through her mind like so many fireflies on an inky summer night, each one determined to keep her awake and unsettled.
The horse let out a whinny, and Alejandro swore softly in Spanish. The last thing he wanted to do was wake the entire barn. He slipped a halter on MacKenzie, the favorite in his current string of ponies, and led her out of the stables. The moon was bright in the sky as he swung onto the pony’s bare back. With a snort, she broke into a trot.
Approaching the gatehouse, Alejandro gave the guard a curt nod. He was determined not to seem furtive riding his own horse on his own time, but the guard’s professional discretion didn’t disguise his surprise that Alejandro was taking a pony out at night without a saddle. The Del Campo family team, La Victoria, had a match tomorrow, and with the odds already stacked against them, Alejandro knew he should be home in bed, not tiring out his best pony with a hard-riding midnight outing.
He couldn’t sleep, though. Not yet. It was one of those nights when the darkness weighed down and his mind raced on. He felt particularly caged in Wellington. Every last inch of the landscape was tamed. For all its luxury, he felt trapped by the gated community—his guards and staff and fleets of grooms—when what he needed was a solitary ride in the wilderness. That’s why he rode at night, willing to risk the hidden dangers on the dimly lit paths—the possibility of a shadowed dip in the earth where a hoof could catch, a nocturnal animal suddenly darting out in front of them and spooking his pony—in exchange for having the roads to himself. He needed to gallop, skin to skin, even if only for a short stretch, to lose himself in the strength and speed of his horse. To reach that soaring, unifying moment that felt less like riding and more like flying, when he and the horse joined together to become one seamless beast.
Alejandro turned onto the canal road, leaned forward, and tightened his thighs—clicking his tongue and murmuring in Spanish until the pony’s gait smoothed out into a fluid gallop.
MacKenzie picked up speed, responding to his movements as if she could read his mind. Alejandro smiled. This pony loved to run. She was one of the few horses who could sustain this kind of pace and still be in world-class form the next morning. MacKenzie was such a fighter that she seemed to gain more fire, more heart, with every step she took. He’d find a role for her in the match tomorrow. She needed the game as much as he did.
He pressed his legs harder, driving the horse faster, determined to calm his buzzing mind and push his body until he could collapse, exhausted. It was practically the only way he could get any sleep these days.
It didn’t use to be so hard, he thought, slowing to a canter. He’d always slept like a baby after they won a match, but Lord knows, those wins were few and far between these days. A few glasses of wine occasionally worked, but he’d stopped drinking as part of his training, knowing that even if the alcohol initially brought him relief, he’d be wide awake a few hours later, eyes on the ceiling, while ghosts and shadows chased through his brain…
He shook his head, wishing for other ways to exhaust himself.
A string of images flashed through his mind. The sweet, silken curve of an inner thigh. The beckoning swell between waist and hip. A flirtatious smile thrown over a naked shoulder, inviting him to take what he wanted…
He swore to himself and rode harder, violently shutting down this train of thought and replacing it with the simple conviction he had come to focus on since the death of his wife—he had to win. And in particular, he had to qualify for and win the biggest game of the season, the upcoming Carlos Del Campo Memorial Cup, named after his own late father.
In determined pursuit of this goal, Alejandro had turned to abstinence in this last year, in every sense of the word. He had given up most earthly pleasures—drinking, women, unnecessary socializing, anything that could distract him from the game—and channeled all his restless feelings of grief and anger directly into his training. Spending every spare moment in the saddle, mercilessly pushing his already hard and athletic body as close to perfection as he could get, riding until he could barely walk. And yet, despite his absolute focus on the field, La Victoria had already lost more games than they had won this season, making a mockery of their name.
Alejandro wanted to blame his other teammates. If only they would train harder, pay better attention, be willing to sacrifice more. His younger brother, Sebastian, for example, could barely bother to turn up for practice most days, much more interested in taking advantage of the endless parade of polo groupies that were at his beck and call. Rory, the other young pro on the field, was talented but suggestible, and only too eager to follow Seb’s party-happy lead. Lord Henderson, the patrón, had once been a formidable athlete, but a lifetime of hard playing had taken its toll on the older man, and these days, like many patróns, it was more his ability to bankroll half of the team’s expenses that secured his place on the field. Really, when Alejandro thought about it, it was a miracle they ever won a game.
Still, deep down, he knew that, as team captain, the responsibility for their losses ultimately lay upon his own shoulders. And that, despite his absolute personal focus and relentless pursuit of the cup, he was somehow failing them all.
Alejandro kicked his pony on, trying to shake loose his feelings of uncertainty and loss, to shed them like scales in his wake. The heavy sound of MacKenzie’s hoofbeats, the dull thump of his own heart pounding, all resounded as one. Behind them, motes of sand kicked up by MacKenzie’s hooves briefly danced in the moonlight and sparked a glimmering silver trail.
He rode until his body felt leaden, his muscles ached, and the sultry Florida air had soaked his shirt all the way through. Finally, turning for home, he felt the pull of his bed and knew that now he’d rest and get at least a few hours of sleep before he was up and ready to show the world his game face again.
The moon had stayed bright all night, disturbing Georgia’s every settled thought, until she finally fell into a shallow sleep. Too soon, she woke to the harsh scrape of the snow shovel and turned off the alarm before it rang.
Rolling out of bed in the dim gray light, she found she couldn’t even put on her clothes without worrying what in hell she was going to wear in Wellington. Georgia believed she’d been born missing the fashionista gene and normally didn’t care, but she knew, if she was to be seen with Billy, she’d have to raise her game. Her friend was always immaculately dressed and styled, and it wouldn’t do for Georgia to look like an escapee from the Old Navy bargain bin.
She went downstairs, throwing a couple of logs on the glowing embers in the woodstove as she passed by. At the door, she shrugged on her coat, unballed a pair of gloves, and wedged her feet into her boots. Melvin, a sweet-eyed, elderly Australian shepherd, sighed in protest before he stiffly tottered out of his bed by the woodstove and followed her outside.
The clouds had swallowed the hills and turned the farm’s normally stunning view of the Catskills into a white blob. The snow shovel stood by the porch door, abandoned, and there was no sign of her dad. Georgia slipped and skidded across the drive, scattering salt as she went, and stepped into the warmer air of the barn, where she was welcomed with a low nicker from an old Mustang named Ben. She ran her hand along the length of his nose and cupped his velvet mouth while he chomped on an apple from the bin. She tightened his blankets and, having smashed the disk of ice that had formed in the barrel overnight, topped up his water. Poor horses, Georgia thought. Too bad she couldn’t take them to Florida, too. They could all use some winter sun.
As she worked, Georgia considered the question of how to break Billy’s plan to Dad. Looking around the barn, she saw a thousand places where she could be putting the cost of a trip to Florida. In the fifteen years since her mother had left, it was like the whole place had slowly run out of gas. There was a big blue tarp on the roof like a badge of shame, a pile of rotting lumber under Tyvek that was supposed to be the new shed, and icicles the length of ladders from the corner of every cracked gutter.
In some ways, Georgia thought, winter did the place a favor, landscaping the ragged yard in blinding white and making the little stone cottage look like a gingerbread house framed in icing. But if you took a second look, the cheerful front porch was starting to sag, the flaking paint on the carved trim looked gray against the snow, and Georgia knew, if they didn’t get that woodwork touched up soon, it was going to start letting in the weather.
She started to clean out the stalls, shoveling muck into a wheelbarrow. Jenny, the one-eyed donkey, licked at her hair while a small parade of barn cats wound their way around her ankles, anxious to be fed.
She gently pressed back the cats with her leg while filling their bowls. She had never met a stray—dog, cat, horse, or otherwise—she could turn away, and after her mother left, her dad completely lost his ability to say no. Before they knew it, they had a ridiculously big menagerie of mouths to feed. Georgia was always amazed how love expanded to let every new animal in.
When her mother had been with them, the farm had supported itself; Susan Fellowes had family money, and savvy, and knew enough about breeding and training horses to keep things solvent. But as soon as she and her Thoroughbreds left, the cash slowed to a trickle and the family was never much more than poor. But Georgia’s dad, Joe, had done a great job of keeping that to himself. She’d managed to spend her teens blissfully oblivious to their money issues. She’d felt so comfortable in their scruffy little house growing up, but once she went away to college, she could see her home more clearly when she came back, and she realized just how tight things had become.
As she finished shoveling out the stall, she thought about how great a little vacation would be, although the whole point of living at home was to give her father the relief he’d been needing for years. Georgia couldn’t help feeling selfish for leaving him—even if it was only for four days.
She finished with Ben and the goats and chickens, grabbed an armful of logs for the stove and trudged back inside, Melvin at her heels. Her dad was on the phone about a job so she fed the stove and gestured with the kettle to ask if he wanted tea. He nodded yes.
Her phone chimed. There was a text from Billy about a prepaid plane ticket. Bring a bikini! Just for a second, his unexpected generosity made tears smart in Georgia’s eyes.
She handed her dad a cup of hot tea, tossed Melvin a biscuit, and then realizing her father wasn’t going to be off the phone anytime soon, headed upstairs to unearth some clothes for the trip.
Looking in her closet, Georgia ruefully concluded she had everything she could ever want to wear if she were painting a house. Most of her T-shirts were torn or stretched. All her favorite jeans were frayed at the heels. The sweaters had holes at the elbows. Practically everything was covered in horsehair.
She pulled out a pale gold bias-cut thing she’d worn to graduation, where it had gotten a drink splashed on it. Holding the dress to the light, Georgia confirmed that the stains were still there but barely. She shrugged. It was the one dress she had. She laid it on the bed.
She dug out a worn pair of flip-flops and ragged cutoffs and paused to consider a vintage string bikini. The thought of exposing skin in January was seriously scary—she didn’t even want to think how white she was under her long johns.
But screw it, along with the swimsuit, she retrieved tweezers, a razor, and an ancient bottle of nail polish from under the sink and flung them all onto the bed. Since she had to work the late shift at the rabies clinic tonight, Georgia figured she’d wait until she actually arrived in Florida before removing the layers and doing some damage control.
What to wear to watch polo? Georgia thought about Pretty Woman and all that fluttering silk while the crowd did whatever it was they did with divots at halftime. She shook her head. Was she remembering wrong or did Richard Gere actually deck Julia out in a hat and white gloves? What kind of weird throwback was that? Georgia felt herself getting annoyed. It was typical Billy, who always looked perfect in every way, to give her packing anxiety.
She looked skyward for inspiration and almost laughed when she actually found some. She remembered that the attic contained vacuum-packed plastic bags of her mom’s old clothes.
Susan Fellowes had been beautiful. Probably still was. When Georgia was little, her mother had seemed impossibly glamorous, switching from one elegant and appropriate outfit to the next with the thoughtless ease most people spent brushing their teeth. It wasn’t so much that everything was expensive (though it probably was, Georgia realized now), it was more that she somehow wore clothes better than other people. Georgia, on the other hand, was secretly grateful to have veterinarian scrubs as an alibi against what she thought of as her total lack of style.
As she headed up to the attic, it was hard not to be aware of the ways the house had deteriorated since her mother left. Old rain leaks stained the ceiling, damp had blistered the wallpaper, and the banisters had been patiently waiting to be fixed for years. Georgia pushed down a rising tide of anxiety, one that had fueled her through grad school. She had the education now, she reassured herself. She had the job. She had everything she needed now to give back to her dad and start getting the house and farm on track.
She picked through a dusty garment rack in the corner of the attic, choosing a particularly plump and promising bag. She opened the seal and watched the plastic gradually uncrinkle and expand as if it were alive. There were dresses and slips and wide-legged pants. Georgia even found the garter her mother must have worn to her wedding. Shaking out a creased red sundress, she was suddenly hit with the memory of her mom in this—her smooth, tan shoulders, long neck, and chic cap of hair. Susan had paired the dress with strappy high heels and an armful of gold bangles that chimed like bells whenever she moved.
The dress still smelled faintly of her mother’s scent, clove and roses, and the smell summoned an indelible memory of her mother’s cool lips kissing her cheek. That would have been the day after Georgia’s ninth birthday. Her mother was leaving again. That was when Georgia had realized birthday wishes don’t always come true.
Her mom had lived for show jumping, and if she wasn’t training, then she was leaving for a competitive circuit that seemed to expand to fill the year. She was always either about to leave or just back, looking exhilarated but talking about how exhausted she was. To her daughter, she had seemed like a glorious Thoroughbred on a lunge line, going in wider and wider circles until, one day shortly before Georgia turned fourteen, she disappeared from view for good.
Georgia tried to shake off the sadness and, summoning a defiant sense of entitlement, slipped the red dress on. She zipped it up and smoothed out her hair in front of the big mirror leaning against the attic wall. When people said that Georgia looked like her mother, it made her feel hot and claustrophobic. There was no denying some of the ingredients were the same—beach brown hair (though Georgia’s was usually tied back or clipped up on her head in a tangled pile while Susan’s was always blown out to perfection) and the same almond-shaped hazel eyes under dark winged brows. But Georgia had inherited her dad’s pale skin and dusting of freckles, and absolutely none of her mother’s effortless elegance, she thought ruefully. With her full breasts and curves—good child-bearing hips, an ex had once told her—Georgia felt like a sturdy little Shetland compared to the high-crested Arabian that her mother had been.
She tugged at the neckline, uncomfortable. She was like a little girl playing dress-up, she thought. And she’d never been that kind of little girl.
Georgia remembered one of her last moments with her mother, watching through the bars of the banister as Susan packed. Georgia hadn’t known yet that her mother was leaving for good, but she never much liked watching her prepare to go, and she’d been looking resentful and accusatory probably—judging her mother the way only a daughter can. Her mom had gazed back at her, meeting her eyes.
“You’re not so different from me, my girl. You’ll see.”
Her words felt like a curse to Georgia.
She shook her head at her reflection—ready to put the haunted red dress away—when the scuff of a sole made her jump and she saw that her dad had appeared beside her in the mirror, staring at her wearing the red dress with a world of hurt in his eyes. Before Georgia could explain, he turned and trudged heavily downstairs.
- "Your next summer beach read -- champagne, glamour and riding crops included."—People
- "Perfect book for the beach."—Library Journal
- On Sale
- May 31, 2016
- Page Count
- 368 pages