No shirt, no shoes, no … problems?
Hemi Ranapia isn’t looking for love. Fun, yes. Love, not so much. But a summer fishing holiday to laid-back Russell could turn out to be more adventure than this good-time boy ever bargained for.
Reka Harata hasn’t forgotten the disastrously sexy rugby star she met a year ago, no matter how much she wishes she could. Too bad Hemi keeps refusing to be left in her past.
Sometimes, especially in New Zealand’s Maori Northland, it really does take a village. And sometimes it just takes a little faith.
NOTE: This 36,000-word (120-page) novella begins about six years before the events of Just This Once, and yes, it gets a little steamy at times, because Reka and Hemi are just that way. It can be read as a stand-alone book, even if this is your first escape to New Zealand.
Rosalind James, the bestselling author of the Escape to New Zealand and Kincaids series, is a former marketing executive who discovered her muse after several years of living and working in paradise–also known as Australia and New Zealand. Now, she spends her days writing about delicious rugby players, reality shows, corporate intrigue, and all sorts of other wonderful things, and having more fun doing it than should be legal.
She’d noticed him even while she’d been walking down the aisle in the wharenui, wearing the stupid strapless dress of blood-red satin that Victoria had chosen, a dress she was definitely not going to be wearing again, a dress that had “bridesmaid” written all over it. She’d been supposed to be paying attention to her pace, and instead she’d been looking at the man sitting at the end of the row, up there to her right. A man who was looking right back at her. A mate of the groom’s, she knew, because Victoria had told them all he was coming.
Hemi Ranapia, the starting No. 10 for the Auckland Blues, one of the year’s new caps for the All Blacks, and about the finest specimen of Maori manhood she’d ever seen. His dark, wavy hair cut short and neat, his brown eyes alive with interest as he watched her. A physique to die for, too, his shoulders broad in the black suit, his waistline trim, the size of his arms and thighs making it clear that the suit hadn’t come off any rack, because that had taken some extra material.
She’d stood in her neat row to one side of the bride throughout the service, had done her best to keep her attention on the event, and had felt his gaze on her as surely as if he’d been touching her. She’d had to will herself not to shiver, and the look he sent her way, unsmiling and intent, when she walked back up the aisle again told her she hadn’t been imagining his interest.
She’d still had what felt like hours of photo-taking to come. Standing around endlessly, smiling in the sunshine, arranging and rearranging herself according to the photographer’s instructions, being flirted with by one of the groomsmen, with Hemi in and out of her view all the while. His suit coat off now, his tie loosened, white shirt stretching across chest and shoulders. A beer in his hand and a smile on his face, having a chat with the other boys, being approached, at first shyly and then with enthusiasm, by the kids.
And by the girls, she saw with a twinge of jealousy that made no sense at all, as one after another of them smiled for him, touched her hair, touched his arm. It looked to her like every unattached woman at the wedding, and more than one of the partnered ones as well, was going out of her way to chat him up. And he wasn’t exactly resisting.
But he was looking at her all the same. Every now and then, she glanced across and his gaze caught hers, and she saw an expression on his face, an intensity and a heat that were making her burn. By the time the photography was done and she was released at last, the wedding party moving into the wharekai so the eating and drinking and dancing could begin, she was well and truly warmed up, and tingling more than a little in every single place she could imagine him touching with those clever hands, the hands she somehow knew would handle a woman as deftly as they handled a rugby ball.
The band began to play, the bride and groom stepped into their first dance, and she saw him edging his way around an animated group towards her, a glass in each hand. He reached her side, handed her the flute of champagne with the flash of a smile.
“Think you earned this,” he told her. She took it, and he touched his glass to hers.
“Cheers,” he said with another white smile, the heat in his gaze unmistakable at this range. He tipped his brown throat back and drank, and she mirrored his action, felt golden bubbles popping against her tongue, the cool liquid sliding down her own throat. Drinking together like that somehow felt as intimate as kissing him, and the tongues of flame were licking every secret spot now.
“Took your time, didn’t you?” she asked him with a cool she wasn’t even close to feeling.
He laughed. “Didn’t want to seem too eager. Doing my best to be smooth here, but it’s hard going.”
Another long drink, another long look as Victoria and Mason finished their dance and the band began another number, a fast one, and couples started filling the floor.
“Think I can get a dance?” he asked.
“Mmm, I think you could,” she said. “Maybe so.”