Raising the Bar (States of Love) by Leigh Dillon
Cover Artist: Brooke Albrecht
Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to host Leigh Dillion here today talkaing about her new novella Raising the Bar. Welcome, Leigh.
Hello, and thank you for stopping by to check out my new novella, Raising the Bar! This story started out as a story about horses and, oh yeah, a couple of guys. To my surprise, it quickly turned into a study of two men with completely opposite character traits. Every story I write becomes a meet-and-greet at some point, with characters who started out as vague concepts suddenly taking on personalities I never planned for them. In this case, what started out as a simple contrast of conservative character vs. outspoken character morphed into Irresistible Force vs. Immovable Object. Only this time, it turns out the irresistible force secretly longs to be stopped, and the immovable object needs a good boot to the rear to wake him up! Speaking truth is bad manners in some circles, but sometimes it’s good to clear the air and decorum be damned. Tonio Benedetto turned out to be quite the advocate of speaking one’s mind, as you can see in the excerpt. But do you think it was wise, or is it just one more way to blow up a promising love affair?
Destin Bellingham has inherited a problem. Thanks to his late playboy father, Destin faces putting a For Sale sign on his family’s historic horse farm. Getting his talented stallion, Black Sambuca, into the Grand Prix show ring would put Bellmeade back on the map—if only someone could make “Sam” behave like a show horse.
Disgraced top rider Tonio Benedetto has his own problems, but he can work magic with difficult jumpers, so Destin hires him despite his bad-boy reputation. The street-smart, openly gay loudmouth from Miami and the closeted, buttoned-down son of Old Dominion Virginia make a rocky pairing, but time is running out to save Bellmeade from bankruptcy.
Opposites attract, sparks of tension grow into flames of passion. But if Tonio fails to tame Sam, will true love become a lost cause too?
“Why so grim?” Tonio asked.
“Probably because I’m feeling pretty grim right now.”
“Uh-oh. Bad news?”
“Just the usual.” Destin shook his head. “If Sam doesn’t jump, this farm is going down the toilet. Not today, not tomorrow, but next year, if something doesn’t change, it’s going on the auction block.”
“Hey, I’m trying, okay?” Tonio wrinkled his forehead. “Whatever’s going on with Sam, it’s different than stuff I’ve dealt with before. I know I’ll crack him, but right now I just haven’t figured out what direction I need to come from.”
“I understand, and I’m not blaming you.” Destin paused, practicality battling with panic. “I know you’re trying. I appreciate what you’re doing more than I can put into words. It’s just that I’ve been thinking about things, and I’m starting to wonder—” He broke off, not sure he could trust his voice to stay calm.
Tonio’s face tightened, and he pressed his full lips into a razor-thin line. “Hey, I’m still fighting,” he said. “You gonna quit on me?”
“I don’t want to, but what am I going to do? It’s a mess. It’s all just a huge….” Destin raised his arms and dropped them again.
“So yeah, you’re giving up.” Tonio released the girth and jerked the saddle off, his disgusted expression deepening.
“I am not giving up! I just don’t know what to do anymore.”
Tonio stopped stripping Sam and glared at Destin over the horse’s sweaty back. “Well, you sure as hell aren’t going to listen to me, are you?” he snapped. “I thought I had some pretty good ideas, but I guess Miami answers don’t cut it for Virginia problems, do they?”
Destin rubbed his eyes. The barn floor felt like it was spinning under his feet. Everything was spinning—out of control.
“I need to think,” he said, his voice oddly faint in his own ears. “Just give me time to think.”
“You know what?” Tonio’s eyes burned in the shaded light of the aisle. “You think too fucking much. You wanna keep this farm? Stop thinking. Stop blaming your dad. Get real and do something.”
“I am doing something. That’s what I brought you here for.”
“Yeah, and you’re sinking because you put all your eggs in one stupid basket and did. Not. Listen. To. Me!” Tonio punctuated each word with a finger-jab in Destin’s direction. “You’re not going to fight to keep this farm. You’re not gonna fight to keep me, either. You’re so used to people handing you things, you’re gonna run out the clock on our contract and let all of it swirl down the shithole, and that’s a fucking shame because I love Bellmeade, I could really get used to being with you, and unlike some people, I don’t feel like dumping everything in the garbage and walking away.”
About the Author
Leigh Dillon is a native of horse-happy North Central Florida but has deep family roots in the Virginia and West Virginia areas. Coming of age in the dinosaur days of cable television, when fledgling channels filled their empty blocks of programming time by airing entire equestrian competitions, Leigh’s young brain became infected with a lifelong mania for show jumping, three-day eventing, and other exotic horse sports. Though tragically denied a pony of her own in childhood, Leigh has wreaked her revenge by including equine characters in almost everything she writes.
A bookbinder and librarian by trade, Leigh has also worked on local thoroughbred horse farms. Leigh’s short fiction has been featured twice in the Florida Writers Association annual story collection, and one of her book-length works received Book of the Year honors at the 2017 Royal Palm Literary Award.