Publication date: November 12th 2021
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
First impressions are hard to shake…
Big-headed ex-rugby star, Daniel Dante, refuses to believe a word celebrated ceramicist Kanako Janssen says, though why her new landlord’s opinion bothers her so much is anyones’s guess. She has enough to worry about, with her soon to be ex-husband refusing to sign divorce papers, Daniel’s dog appearing regularly to freak her out, and an exhibition date looming.
Kanako is everything Daniel isn’t, and nothing he’s used to. Trust doesn’t come easily to a player who’s been burnt so publicly before, but if he can’t learn to lean on this fresh-faced, quirky artist, he could well lose her altogether.
Like the swallows, Kanako’s only in Otago for the season. But willing or not, the self-proclaimed introvert is being slowly absorbed into small town life on the lake, and she’s in grave danger of falling in love with it.
RUBY ISLAND is the second story in Stephanie Ruth’s Otago Waters series, set in the beautiful South Island of Aotearoa, New Zealand. Each book stands alone, but reading them in order provides a deeper experience. Intended for readers who enjoy their feel-good romance on the steamy side, and promising a happily ever after.
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“Imagine I hold in my hand a small, but very potent syringe of truth serum…” Holding his thumb and forefinger a little apart, Rugby twisted his hand from side to side as if shaking up invisible contents. “There’s just enough for two doses.” Flicking the veins of his inner elbow, he looked directly at Kana as he mimed the injection sliding into his vein. “Ahhh…” The grimace of mock pain made her smirk.
When he loosened up, he was almost likeable.
Rugby put down his half-biscuit on the paper bag and held out his hand.
“Don’t you want to play?” he spoke with deceptive softness, eyes challenging.
Kana blinked at him, unsure where this was going, or why Rugby was putting in the effort to hook her into his silly game. She slowly extended her arm towards him anyway.
Expecting him to mime the injection sliding into her inner elbow, like he’d done to himself, she faltered when he took her wrist again, trailing one large thumb across the faint blue of the sensitive skin. She had just enough time to wonder if he could feel her pulse skitter in reaction to the intimate touch, before he plunged the imaginary truth serum into her vein.
“It takes a moment for it to kick in.” Rugby continued with the pretence, releasing her arm as he leant back on his hands, out of her personal space but still holding her gaze. “Okay, here comes my truth. I find you very attractive. In fact, you’re stunning. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you. Not since that first time at the lake, when you took your sunglasses off and scowled down your nose at me.”
Kana stared at him.
Yup. Rugby appeared to be dead serious.
He’d been so much easier to deal with when he was wishing her off his property. This close-contact charm-offensive was much more focussed in its assault, and a lot more confusing.
“Ah, thank you, Mr Dante. Mr… ah, Daniel… D. Flattering, but—”
“Your serum should be taking effect about now,” Rugby interrupted, somewhat grim.
“Right.” Kana hugged her knees to herself again. No point in hanging back. If she were upfront and honest, it’d clear the air and perhaps get their landlord-tenant relationship back on an even playing field.
She looked sideways at him. “I don’t want to be attracted to you.”
The statement had the opposite effect to what she’d been expecting. Rugby broke into a slow and beatific grin.
“But… you are?”
“That’s not what I said,” Kana negated; realising belatedly it was exactly what she’d implied. And, to be honest, exactly how she felt.
“I’m just out of a long-term relationship, and not looking for any complications.”
“Who said I was aiming for complicated?”
“Just telling you where I stand.” She rose with purpose, grabbing her empty cup with her free hand. She hadn’t made it two steps when Rugby blocked her path. “What are you doing?” she snapped, agitation mounting.
“Did you know who I was when we first met?”
“No.” she shook her head to confirm. “There wasn’t any mention of a landlord on the application information.”
“On the application…?” Rugby shadowed her speech with a frown. “The artist in residence form?”
The confusion on Rugby’s forehead began to clear. “No, I meant did you know… You know what? It doesn’t matter. I think you just answered that. Why did you pretend to be a tourist?”
Kana drew a big, dramatic sigh. “I tried to explain this already. You made out like I was a tourist.”
“I did not. I asked you if you were lost. Polite-local-guy helps woman-with-open-map. Woman thinks, who is this hot guy?” Rugby grinned. “It was a very simple plan.”
“Well, I wasn’t lost,” Kana muttered, a little incensed he was finding this funny.
“But you did think I was hot?”
There he went with his big ego again. She moved to step around him.
“One more question. Did you take my Saturday newspaper?” The words were softer this time, like they meant more.
Kana hesitated only for a moment. “Yes. Sorry. I used it for clay without thinking.”
“You read it first, though.” It was a statement, not a question.
“No. I don’t read the paper. It’s too depressing. I needed it as stuffing for a hand-built piece.” Kana frowned, thinking back. “There is one bit I remember though. A headline. ‘Doctors Fail To…’ I don’t know what they failed to do, because I’d already ripped that piece out and used it. It’s been bugging me ever since.”
“Has it now?” Rugby considered her with an intent gleam.
“It has. Yes.”
“There’s something I’ve failed to do.” The corner of Rugby’s mouth tugged back up into a smile, and Kana was conscious of a faint warning bell in her head. There was something very unpredictable about this man. “One more minute of your time. I’ve been wanting to try something out…”
His hands moved to her shoulders and rested lightly, and Kana could’ve pulled away from him when she realised what he intended to do. Those hazel eyes told her exactly what he was up to. Instead she stood stock-still as Rugby’s head lowered, and his lips slid softly atop hers.
Award winning New Zealand contemporary romance novelist and short story writer, Stephanie Ruth lives in the South Island, Te Waipounamu, with her husband, three children, and an ever expanding array of animals. If it doesn’t have a happy ending in some form or other, Stephanie’s not writing it.