Sunsets in Cape Town: A British Lions romance

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The Independent Online

As the British and Irish Lions prepare for the third and final test against South Africa, having already lost the series, their bruised souls might need a little healing.

Earlier this year, Mills and Boon celebrated their Centenary year with, in part, an unlikely collaboration with the Rugby Football Union (RFU). Each title in Mills & Boon's limited-edition International Billionaires series features great rugby moments and brooding alpha-male sporting heroes, offering all the passion, romance and glamour you expect from Mills & Boon, plus a little added ruck and maul.

This story, by Carol Marinelli, is centred around the Lions tour - and is fictional. And besides, what goes on tour stays on tour.

SHE wasn't in a bad mood, as had been suggested.

Pensive was a far better description as to how she was feeling.

And a sightseeing trip to see Table Mountain and The Waterfront wasn't necessary - this was, after all, her home.

So instead she deliberately missed the meeting time and wandered along the beach that had been her playground while growing up. There had been many spectacular beaches on her travels, but Clifton Beach was the one she loved the most. As glorious as it was, though, she wanted more solitude than the busy foreshore offered today. It didn't matter that she only had a flimsy beach dress over her bikini; still she wandered on, past the seabaths, her sandals slipping on pools in the sandstone, smiling at the friendly locals, drinking in the view. It was a walk she had done so many times in the past and it felt right to take it alone.

She stopped at another favourite spot -a secluded cove that held many memories: childhood swimming lessons, teenage kisses, and that one time...

It wasn't just the sun reddening her cheeks as she recalled that risqué, lusty, passion-filled night-time stroll of yesteryear. Smiling at the vivid memory, she took off her beach dress and pulled out a sarong from her bag to sit on. Then she took a drink from a bottle of water that was turning warm, and although there was a trashy magazine begging to be read, instead she lay back and closed her eyes.

It was bliss to be back.

The sun was beating onto her closed eyelids and it was surely time to re-apply her sunblock, but she was in that lovely, tranquil, too comfortable to move place... Like listening to one of those self-hypnosis tapes where they tell you to imagine the sound of the ocean, the feel of the sand beneath your fingers, the sun warming you...

And the low rumble of a coach pulling up. The thud of feet as the Lions Rugby Team pound their way down the steps and onto the beach and, without pausing, dash into the ocean for a brisk swim as the coaches set up for a training session.

Yes, the Lions Rugby team were in town, and the whole of Cape Town was abuzz. They were everywhere - in the newspapers, on television, in the bars and beaches, at her hotel - and now, now when she craved peace, when she had walked in the heat to obtain it, they had arrived on their air-conditioned bus and just taken over.

It was so not what she needed today!



The sensible thing would have been to get up and go - except she wasn't feeling very sensible today. It was her beach, her home, her memories, her peace they'd just invaded... Well, they could just train around her - the beach was big enough.

Oh, she tried to ignore them - only they were too big, too male, too loud. And, rolling onto her stomach, she propped her chin on her forearms and watched as they ran and weaved their massive frames through cones like testosterone on ice. Watched as they dodged and ran and tackled - and then she caught his eye.

She pretended she hadn't, of course - pulled out her magazine and tried not to recall the lazy smile that had been aimed at her, tried instead to even out her breathing rather than think about broad shoulders and flat stomachs and things that were making her toes curl into the hot sand.

Hot everything!

Oh, she'd have loved to go for a swim now, but there was no way she was walking past that pack in a little red bikini. So she absolutely refused to look up - just turned the pages of her magazine.

Was there no escape?

There on page four were style tips and photos of the WAGs of the Lions Rugby Team, so sleek and groomed and with fantastic careers of their own. Just reading about them was enough to make her suck in her stomach.

He was back.

She could hear his teammates laughing - knew it was his doing as the ball landed a mere inch from her sarong in a blatant attempt to flirt.

'Sorry...'

He didn't look sorry, not in the slightest. In fact there was just a glint of challenge in his eyes, and he stood at enough distance to suggest he expected her to throw it back.

Well, there was no chance of that - instead she turned to her horoscope, which was no help at all.

With Venus entering Leo, it's time for some romantic fun! Act on those impulses - you know you want to!

'You're burning!'

Two toned muscular calves fell into her line of vision, and her nostrils filled with the ocean and maleness. It would have been rude not to look up, so she did - only rather more slowly than might be considered appropriate, because there were lovely hips to linger on, and there was sand stuck to gleaming skin, and a hard and flat stomach with a downward pointing arrow of black hair that merited a slow glance… Add to that a broad, muscular chest that was only slightly rising and falling from exertion, and suddenly she was the breathless one - especially as his sexy dark eyes took their own time to assess her pinkening skin.

'You need suncream...'

He bent over - not for the ball, but to the little tube by her bag. She snatched it up before he reached it. 'I'm fine!' she retorted sharply, stuffing her backpack, with her magazine and her warm water and melting sun cream, pulling on her beach dress as she stood. 'I'm just leaving...'

'Stay...?' Sexy Eyes suggested. 'We won't be long and then...' his eyes travelled the length of her body and she found hers doing the same to his '…we could go for a drink, some lunch...'

'No, thanks.'

She regretted her terse answer as she walked away - he'd been being nice; it wasn't his fault she was in a bad mood. No. Picking up pace, she corrected herself. She wasn't in a bad mood; she was pensive. That was all.

Up the cliffs she walked; past million dollar homes she wandered - with some of the most beautiful views in the world, perched on a cliff and gazing out to the ocean, which she also did for half an hour or more. And suddenly there it was: the reward for her efforts - a view that never ceased to amaze. The view of Table Mountain took her breath away, every time.

How nice it was to linger with a jug of iced water and a watermelon and mint smoothie, to watch the world from behind dark glasses, to sit on the pavement and watch the waves crash to shore.

To just be.

For a little while, at least.

The bleeping of her phone reminded her of the time, and she paid her bill in a hurry and asked the waiter to call her a taxi. There simply wasn't time to linger on a long walk back - and anyway she had to get ready for tonight.

She rang home as the taxi made light work of the miles she had walked, and blinked back a few tears at the sound of her mother's cheery, reassuring voice.

It took a moment for her eyes to adjust as she stepped into the cool foyer of the hotel - but she could hear their low laughter and British accents long before she saw them. They were filling the bar, their partners by their sides - along with a few who wanted to be. And there he was.

Freshly showered, in the Lions Rugby Team casual attire, with wet hair flopping over his brow. He stopped whatever he was saying mid-sentence as his eyes held hers.

'Drink?'

The eyes said it - he didn't. He just stood in open invitation and she actually hesitated for a moment - after all, if he didn't mind windswept hair and sand-dusted legs then why should she? Except she didn't want a drink in a bar and she didn't want chatter - just didn't want to be polite.

He didn't push it.

There was just a smudge of frown as she didn't acknowledge his unvoiced invitation and turned instead for the lifts.

The suite was heavenly - a blast of cool air greeting her, champagne cooling in a bucket, and hanging on the wardrobe a pale mint-green silk dress that would hopefully neutralise her rather rosy glow. She stood staring at the lavish view as the vast spa bath filled, gazing out at the clifftops she had walked along today, at the dots of surfers in the distance, patiently waiting for the next decent wave - it was God's own country and she belonged.

There was an hour till hair and make-up arrived. Peeling off her bikini, she dropped it to the floor, stepping down into oily fragrant water, closing her eyes as the salt and sand slipped from her skin. She could have stayed like this for ever, lying there, just concentrating on feeling weightless in the water - absolute bliss. She was too lazy even to reach out and unwrap from its paper the lovely little hotel soap, or massage some desperately needed conditioner into her hair.

'Still in a bad mood?'

She felt the squirt of cold conditioner splodge on her head and his thick fingers slowly massage it in as he asked the question.

'I told you - I'm not in a bad mood.'

She was, though - in a horrible, narky, premenstrual mood that floppy fringes and sexy eyes couldn't diminish.

'And I told you - you needed sunblock.'

He sat on the spa bath's edge, unwrapped that stupid bit of soap and massaged it into burnt shoulders that felt tender and didn't want the contact. Yet it felt kind of nice…

'They'll be fine.' He whispered in her right ear, before standing and peeling off his clothes. Gorgeous and naked and terribly erect, he poured two glasses of champagne. 'Did your ring your mum?'

'From the taxi.' She choked as he climbed into the spa bath and promptly sent water cascading over the edge. 'They're fine.'

They were fine, her mother had assured her - but it was her first weekend without the twins and she missed them. Oh, she knew they were fine - knew that they were safely tucked up in a travel cot just a few kilometres away, with their South African nanny and grandad happily babysitting while their mum joined their dad for a couple of days on the Cape Town leg of the South African tour.

And, it was very nice... just them.

Very nice to sip champagne and enjoy the view - and she wasn't looking out of the window!

So she gave him that smile and he resumed soap duty. Only now he massaged it into very pale skin that was somehow more tender than the burnt bits -and those little pale parts that never saw the sun really did want contact. This sort of slow, soapy thing, where skin got softer and nipples got longer. And it seemed rude - boring, even - not to soap up the lovely body that was too tempting to resist…

'My mother warned me about guys like you.' Beneath the surface his fingers met perpetually pink skin, and she was eternally grateful for not heeding those warnings.

Not that she'd give in quite yet!

'She said that I'd have to live out of a suitcase.'

'Designer suitcase!' he pointed out, wrapping her legs around his waist and carefully positioning her. 'And packed by a butler!'

Okay, she wasn't the thinnest or the prettiest, and she was still a year off completing her degree - which she was doing online now, thanks to two unexpected arrivals. In fact, privately she sometimes felt she didn't fit in - but there were compensations being married to a Lions rugby player.

Fabulous compensations, she thought as he slid her down where she belonged.

And it had nothing to do with designer dresses or butlers, or the fact that hair and make-up would be here in thirty minutes to get her ready for the Awards Dinner.

No, it was other things - like passion, endurance, stamina and persistence… And she wasn't even thinking about rugby!

Two years, almost to the day, and here she was.

She remembered the first night they had met, when he had walked into that wine bar where she'd been on a night out with friends, when she had let him get her a drink... In the days and nights that followed she had gone for dinner with him, and for long walks on beaches, and then, shy at first, she had attended her first ever rugby match.

Oh, she had listened to her family and friends when they had dutifully told her that it was probably just a whirlwind romance, that he was from England, that it could never, ever last...

...while keeping her own counsel.

She wasn't pensive now - wasn't thinking about anything other than his hands, his mouth, and the places that only they visited.

And she was glad, so glad, that she'd listened only to herself and followed her Lionheart.

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