Home > Just One Look (Escape to New Zealand, #14)(7)

Just One Look (Escape to New Zealand, #14)(7)
Author: Rosalind James

“So are you going to do that, too, after you quit rugby?” Henry asked. “Since you’re getting old?”

That got a good laugh from Hugh, and some careful not-laughing from the Japanese press corps. “Mate,” Luka said, “I’m not that old.”

“Except that a No. 8 can’t usually play as long as other positions,” Henry said, “because you get knocked about too much. And you turned thirty-three on Christmas Eve, which makes you the oldest player on the team this season, and you’ve already had seven surgeries. Those are the ones I could find out about, anyway.”

“Good research,” Luka said. “That’s why I keep fit, though, so I don’t get injured, and so the coach doesn’t use me as an inspirational role model for the younger boys and then leave me at home when the plane lifts off. I focus on the moment I’m in, not on what may happen next. None of us knows what’ll happen next anyway.”

There. Sounded good.

Rhys said, “Time for one more question, Henry.”

The boy looked worried, like he had sixteen more of them on his notepad, which he probably did, and wasn’t going to get to ask them. He flipped a page, frowned at it intensely, looked up, and said, “Why aren’t you even married, when all the other players who are old like you have kids already?”

A little stir in the room, a murmur from the polite Japanese, and Luka said, “Why do I feel like I’m on a chat show? Never found the right girl, I reckon. It happens.”

“Except that forwards nearly always have kids,” Henry said, “or at least girlfriends that they met a long time ago. I did a graph on it for my maths project. Backs don’t always have kids, but forwards almost always do, especially when they’re old. My mum says it’s probably because forwards are more serious. She says maybe you don’t because you like to go out with lots of girls instead, and they’re too young to want to get married. Is that why? Because Hugh Latimer has four kids, and his wife is a famous actress, and Iain McCormick has a kid, and his wife is a famous model, and they’re both younger than you. And Marko Sendoa is going to have a kid, and his wife is …”

“Right,” Rhys said. Firmly, like a coach. “Good interview, Henry. Next question, somebody.”

Luka would get stick about this, he knew. Something about gray hair, he was sure. And, yeh, he might have a little frost at his temples and in the scruff at the sides of his jaw, but just because there was frost on the roof, that didn’t mean there wasn’t fire in the chimney.

Good thing he hadn’t said that to Henry. In fact, he’d better delete that from his repertoire entirely. Why had he even thought it? Cheesy pickup line all the way. Used by old fellas with gray hair.

Never mind. On to the next thing.

Fourteen hours later, before he’d even made it all the way home, he was in an MRI machine at Auckland City Hospital. He was familiar with the experience. Henry had undercounted the surgeries. He used the time to have a bit of a nap, then drove to the Ponsonby Countdown, bought a rotisserie chicken, some steak, and some veg, headed home, cooked and ate all of it, and went to sleep.

Henry, he thought, just before he drifted off, you cannot imagine how exciting my life truly is.

Still, he got to play rugby for a living. Until he got even older, anyway.



A chirp from his phone woke him. He fumbled for it and squinted. Text from Marko Sendoa. Meet me? Ponsonby. You can walk.

He checked the time. Eight-thirty on … Sunday morning. He’d been tired, he guessed. Also, the pain was shooting down his arm again, and when he dragged himself up to sitting and jarred his head, he nearly groaned. He was definitely going to have to do something about that, because he had pins and needles in his hand, too. That was nerve pain, his neck stirred up in some way. He was going to be getting a needle in there tomorrow, he was pretty sure, but that was fine. A needle was good, if it kept him playing.

He’d played every minute of every game for the All Blacks during the last international season, he’d done the same thing so far this season for the Blues, and he planned to keep on doing it. He didn’t want to give anyone a reason to take him off, not at fifty minutes, and not at sixty, either. He was a full eighty man all the way.

He texted back, Why aren’t you with your wife?

She’s trying to finish a painting, Marko texted back instantly, like he was sitting in the car trying to suss out where to go, because he couldn’t go home. Thought she’d be done before I got back. Says she needs 2 more days and I need to leave her alone this morning, because I change the energy or something.

Huh. Marko’s wife, Nyree, a little bundle of Maori life force, had a baby due in a few weeks. This didn’t seem like future-mum behavior. He texted back, Isn’t she meant to be nesting?

No nesting happening, Marko sent back. Not until the painting’s done. The bub had better not turn up early, because she’s a woman on a mission. I already went for a swim. Can’t think what else to do. Thinking about the toy store. Want to come?

The toy store? Luka squinted at the message, but it didn’t get any less surprising.

Oh. Maybe … All right, this was even odder, but best to be prepared, because—no. That was a no. He texted back, What kind of toys are we talking about?

A pause, then, Mate. Do me a favour. The baby kind.

Luka had been reliably informed—by Francesca, the single-name model he’d dated a while back—that Marko looked even scarier than he did himself. She’d said it in the kind of way that let you know she’d like to find out for herself. Francesca had clearly heard too many Henry-type speculations about rugby players. If Luka and Marko went into a toy store together, the owners was going to think they were robbing the place.

One way to find out. He sent back, If I get breakfast first. Dizengoff. And you buy it.

Done. See you in 20. And a link to, yes, a toy store.







Reboot, Take One



Auckland, New Zealand

It was a long, long way from Atlanta to Auckland. Twenty-three hours, in fact. Elizabeth spent it one row behind the bulkhead of the Economy section, so close and yet so far from the good seats. No leg room back here, and when you were five foot ten, you needed leg room.

She was still close enough, though, to hear the bulkhead row’s requisite two crying babies, and her own row consisted of her in the middle seat, Old Person Number One on the aisle, with cane and limited mobility, making Elizabeth extremely reluctant to ask him to get up and let her out, since she could tell his back hurt, and Old Person Number Two, Number One’s wife, who’d been in the window seat and had some extra … spreadability.

Never mind. Could’ve been worse. They both had New Zealand accents and were cheerful. A New Zealand accent was fine, and she was fine. She could sleep anywhere, babies or no, uncomfortable position or no, which was why she didn’t need to waste money on flight upgrades, and she also had much stronger bladder control than a normal person. If she could stand in surgery for seven hours without using the bathroom, while peering through magnifying glasses and teasing a tumor out from amongst brain tissue, she could sit on a plane and do nothing more taxing than read a medical journal. She was a little stiff when she trundled out to the curb with her single suitcase, blinking against the late-summer sunrise, and a little bleary-eyed, too, but she was also used to being tired. She’d been tired forever.

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