Up Front by Emma Hart

100

Why Does Love Do This to Me?

Last week, Mills & Boon announced it was working with England's Rugby Football Union to produce a series of romance novels that would give the game "an air of sexiness, glitz and glamour".

She might have been assistant physio to the renowned All Black team for three months now, but it still sent a shiver down Megan's spine to watch them run out on to the field. There was something magic in the air, in the way the lights gleamed through the falling rain, making the rebuilt Eden Park shine in all its RMA-compliant magnificence.

Much as she'd fought it, much as she'd struggled for professionalism, her obsession showed no signs of sputtering out like a barbeque on the last dregs of the gas bottle. Even in the crowd and the noise, she knew exactly where he was. She could pick out his voice singing the National Anthem below all the others. Even from the sideline, she could make out every detail of the way the rain gathered on his storm-heavy brows and trickled off the end of nose.

Robert. He wasn't the most famous man on the team, or the best looking, but there was something about him that caught at her heart like a fishhook in a seagull's throat. Every time she was around him she found herself flushing and inarticulate, unable to stop herself imagining what it would be like to be crushed against that broadly-muscled chest, lost in his distinctive scent of sweat, liniment and Lynx.

A voice behind her said her name, and she turned to see the coach. He seemed grizzled and gruff, but she'd found he could be surprisingly tender and caring under the surface. Like Robert. Well, not just like Robert: the coach was too old to inspire the feelings Robert did. But she was sure Robert would be tender and caring under the surface if she could just get there…

Wait, he was saying something. "It’s nothing personal, Megan, he's just not going to notice. I'm pretty sure he plays for the other team."

She frowned. He must mean Canterbury. "Surely that doesn’t matter when he's playing for his country? Once he slithers into that tight black jersey, nobody cares what he does the rest of the time."

"Not in rugby, love. Not ever. It's our national passion. Can't let other feelings get in the way of that."

She just shook her head, distracted by the sight of Robert bringing up the back of the haka, displaying that passion, like his tongue, for everyone to see.

Five minutes into the game and he'd been caught in a ruck. Not his place, but one of the forwards had gone down. Someone had been needed, and he'd valiantly rushed in with no thought to his safety, or the effect of his lack of headgear on possible future underwear contracts.

The main physio had rushed to the aid of the fallen forward, and someone was making some kind of fuss about a stretcher or something, but Megan had eyes only for Robert. He got to his feet, hobbled a couple of steps and then fell, clutching his right leg. There was nobody else. It was down to her, and as she sprinted out onto the field, she could feel the hand of Destiny upon her.

She knelt beside her fallen warrior and passed him the water bottle. He obviously felt the heat between them just as much as she did: he could hardly meet her eyes. "Pulled a hammy, I think. Feels like."

"Let me look," she said softly, her firm strong fingers stroking his thigh, assessing his injury. She was trying so hard to keep it professional, but her heart was thumping like a punk drummer on P, and slow heat was spreading through her loins. She glanced up to see if he'd noticed, but he was spitting water onto the grass beside her. His thigh under her hands was hard and unyielding, like a bundle of pipes wrapped in hairy canvas.

She drew breath with difficulty. "I think it’s just a strain. If I give it a bit of a massage…"

She could feel his eyes on her now, even though she was staring at her work. His leg, his lovely firm legs and those beautifully-cut shorts…

His voice claimed her attention. "You look kind of familiar. Do I know you?"

"I'm Megan,” she said shakily. Oh god, he'd noticed her. "I've been with the team for a few months now."

"No, I've seen you somewhere else. Wait, weren't you outside my house? And you were there when we went to that club the other night. Your voice is familiar too. Are you the woman who's been ringing my house?”

She didn't know how to answer. He was staring at her, his dark eyes boring through into her soul.

Then they were interrupted, a flick on his shoulder from his captain. "Rob, you planning on joining us? Game's on and everything. Hey Megs."

She looked up, startled, into the bluest eyes she'd ever seen, like the blue squares from a paint-box, and a warm, dimpled smile. "Mark. Hi."

He grinned right at her, lips full and pouting over his mouth-guard, and she felt a fire in her heart. "I need my boy back, Megs, think we can do that?"

"What, Robert? Yeah, sure, okay, he'll be fine."

"That's your magic fingers. Keep 'em warm for me will you Megs? I'll see you after the game."

And as she ran back to the sideline across the rain-soaked grass, Megan just knew this was going to be the best night of her life.

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