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.
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.”
Interview, August 2014
You’re a relative newcomer to Romance. When did you start writing?
I’m a newcomer because I really did just start. I worked in publishing for 20 years, but on the editorial and marketing sides. I never, ever thought of writing fiction myself, not even a short story. Then, a couple years ago, a story came into my head as usual, but for once I didn’t push it away. Instead, I started writing it, and then I couldn’t stop. Within six weeks, I’d finished “Just This Once” and quit my job. The best part was, I was living in New Zealand at the time, so I wrote a book about New Zealand rugby. Which was lucky!
Where do you find your inspiration?
Hmm. Google “All Blacks haka.” I’ll wait.
OK, well, that’s one reason. But seriously—why New Zealand?
Because I loved it so much. That’s the short answer, and the long answer. The longer you’re there, the more Kiwi culture seeps into your bones. The Maori influence, the geographical isolation (it’s just so FAR from everywhere), the sheer physical beauty of the place, they’re all part of it. You end up with this emphasis on family, the land (and the sea), hard work, and … well, I’d describe it as being a “regular person,” no matter who or what you are. Not being a jerk. Oh, and rugby.
All your heroes in that series are rugby players. Why rugby?
Umm … remember that “All Blacks haka” thing? Yeah. Tight jerseys, short shorts, full contact, big muscles, the “regular person” deal combined with the fact that the All Blacks (NZ’s national rugby team) are NZ’s version of movie stars—and the best team in the world. The pressure of that in a country of 4.5 million people, about 4 million of whom will recognize you walking down the street—and will come up to shake your hand, ask for an autograph or a picture, and you’ll be expected to smile and SAY YES. It’s life in a fishbowl, and good behavior is expected. Pretty different from the lives of athletes in other countries, and I just found it fascinating to think about what it would be like to be that person.
What type of relationship is your favorite to write?
Romantically, I try to write very different characters every time. I normally start with the guy and find him the right girl. But I also love writing about parents and children, sisters and brothers, friends, the love of country and place. Sometimes when we say “love,” we forget about all the different kinds of love that enrich our lives. Several of my books are very much about fatherhood and motherhood. Plus, kids are funny.
You’ve written some different types of books, though, besides the New Zealand ones.
Yes, I started out writing sports romance, and I love it, but I also like to challenge myself. A couple of my books have a suspense element, because I wanted to see if I could do it. My first U.S.-based book, “Welcome to Paradise,” although still a romance, had a more complex storyline than the others (the reality show deal). I’m really just trying to have fun, do something different each time, and write the book in my head.
What has the publishing process been like for you?
I started out doing the writing-to-agents thing, submitted to 38 different agents and publishers, got pretty discouraged. Three expressed interest, all ultimately said no. The problem seemed to be, “New Zealand rugby? Huh? Tough hook!” And I knew it was a GREAT hook! I KNEW it! Plus I had three books, and wanted to write another one.
So I put the three books I had up on Amazon, sold 2,000 ebooks the first month, 20,000 ebooks the fifth month, had a magical hour where I outranked Nora Roberts, published the paperbacks, started getting the audiobooks up, and it’s all still going great. Guess they were wrong … not that I’m gloating, LOL. Thank goodness for Amazon!
What are you working on now?
A brand-new romantic suspense series, set in Idaho! Can’t wait!
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