Jake led Sass around the tiny airport building to a shed where, in the gloom, she saw the other passengers sorting through the pile of luggage on a trolley.
"Which one's yours?" he asked. She pointed and he swung the large suitcase up easily. "Good, follow me."
"Wait. There's also that one and that bag too."
He didn't need to say anything; his expression said it all as he scooped up her other luggage. Well, she thought defensively, who knew how long she was going to be here. Also, not knowing what set-up she was coming to, she'd packed outfits to suit every occasion. He needn't look like that!
Her current outfit, however, didn't fit this occasion. Jake led her to an open-topped jeep where a large dog of indeterminate lineage presided in the front seat, tongue hanging out with the heat. Jake walked round to the back of the jeep, shifted a surfboard to one side and began throwing her suitcases in. Exhausted and bad-tempered as she was, Sass couldn't help noticing the easy athleticism with which he moved. In another situation she too might have found him attractive, sexy even, in a rumpled, outdoor man kinda way. But Sass never mixed business and pleasure. Besides, this guy was dangerous.
"I can move Gerty to the back seat if you like but she leaves a shocking mess of hairs behind her. You might not want to get them on your clothes. It's your call."
Again, there was nothing overtly hostile in his manner but Sass knew he resented her almost as much as she resented this whole damned country.
"No problem, I'll take the back seat."
It was a challenge. Sass pulled her tight skirt half way up her thighs to scramble in. She wished now that she hadn't changed in Auckland but it was her creed never to be seen tousled or crumpled. Her immaculate appearance was one of her strongest weapons - and defences.
Jake swung himself into the front seat and adjusted the rear mirror slightly. His eyes surveyed her; cool, green and unwavering, like a knight staring through the visor of his helmet. Yet there were laughter lines too. As she wriggled, trying to pull her skirt down to her knees, Sass wondered what he looked like when he smiled. The back seat was scorching and the seatbelt metal burned as she buckled herself in. Her eyes were scratchy from the long flight and she narrowed them against the glare. Damned sunglasses were in her other bag.
In silence Jake drove her down the contours of the harbor, threading through the myriad of bays, each rimmed by a horseshoe of modest homes and with a cluster of small yachts bobbing in the late afternoon tide. A seagull wheeled above with its hoarse, stuttering cry and his stomach clenched at the thought of developers coming in to ruin it all.
"Those are nice," Sass said, nodding at the huge, ancient trees that reached sprawling, gnarled branches out over the water's edge. Her accent was warm and made him think absurdly of honeysuckle and soft summer nights but he was quick to quash these associations.
"They're pohutukawa - we call them our Christmas tree because they have red flowers in December."
"They're really something. Mind if I smoke?" Her hand was half-way to her handbag.
"I do actually, if you don't mind. I hate the smell of smoke in the car."
Their eyes locked in the mirror. The wind was whipping her long hair about her head, the smell of dog punctuated the air. He knew she knew he was just being contrary.
"No problem," she said and sat back, breaking eye contact and looking back out over the water as though she didn't give a damn. It gave him a chance to examine her. Nobody should look that good after thirty hours flight. Her eyes were so blue, he wondered if she wore colored contact lenses. She had delicate bones, white blonde hair and a fair complexion.
"You'd better be careful," he said. "The sun here is fierce and you'll soon fry with that white skin of yours."
She met his eyes in the mirror. "Thanks for the warning but I've come prepared for things to be pretty hot down here."
He knew she wasn't only talking about the sun.
"Wise," he said. "Foreigners get burned very quickly."
Jake thought he saw her eyebrows arch slightly, a smile of challenge flitting across her face but it might only have been the effect of sun and shadow from the overhanging trees flashing past.
"Don't you worry about me, Mr. Finlayson. I can take care of myself."
Not surprisingly, I had enormous fun researching this book. I watched documentaries of crazy, death-defying big wave surfers and read books filled with the most glorious and photographs of Mavericks and Pipeline. It was also an excellent excuse to revisit the classics Point Break and Endless Summer (1 and 2) I love swimming but alas, I can only body-board because I have such bad knees. I'm delighted, however, that all my family are completely at home on the waves.
The plight of the fairy tern is sadly only all too real and you can read more about these lovely birds at www.doc.govt.nz
Whangarimu and Aroha Bay are not real places but are very typical of Northland towns and beaches.
Matai Bay, Northland, New Zealand
Sensuality Rating: Sensuous
Star Rating: 5 Stars
Tempting the Negotiator
Harlequin Superromance, March 2010
They both want to be on the board.
As soon as Sass Walker’s high-powered heels hit the New Zealand ground, she knows she’s out of her element. But cool and professional as any top New York lawyer should be, she’s determined to get the local tree-huggers onside with her company’s proposed resort. Win this, and the brass ring is hers. Lose it, and, well, that’s not an option with her board seat at stake.
But here, the best seats on the board are out on the surf. Nobody believes that more than freewheeling Jake Finlayson, champion surfer turned environmental hero…and leader of the opposition…and gorgeous. A dangerous and worthy opponent. To fight him and win, she’ll have to loosen a button or two. Get her hair mussed. Let go and ride the wave.