I'm nervous before he arrives as his reputation precedes him. I see him striding across the car park and he's unmistakable in his Jackaroo hat with his cowboy boots peeking out of the bottom of well fitted jeans. He's gorgeous and at the same time, infinitely dangerous. I won't be allowed to mention his association with the Triads or other big Auckland players and I've already been told not to ask about his family. It's private and my editor has warned me in the pre-interview, if Logan Du Rose feels that I have overstepped the mark, he will walk away and the interview will never be printed.
He ducks slightly as he walks in the door of the low-key cafe, tucked away at the back of a shop that sells animal feed, saddlery gear and farming items. It's where he asked to meet and I stand up to shake his hand. He's well over six feet tall but is imposing in more ways than just his height. There's a latent power that comes off his broad shoulders in waves, the authority and bearing of geunine mana.
He orders coffee with a low, resonant voice that has the waitress fluttering her eyelashes and then he pays for mine as well. That's class. He hitches his hat back on his head a little but doesn't take it off. It acts as another barrier between him and me.
"How tall are you?" I ask him to start the ball rolling.
"Six feet four inches in my socks," he answers and smiles as I almost peer under the table, but manage to stop myself. When Logan Du Rose smiles, an ugly scar under his right eye crinkles and makes him look even sexier somehow. He doesn't smile often.
"Tell me about your hotel," I say. "It's just won a New Zealand Tourism award. What's it like to have created one of the North Island's top destinations?"
He sighs. "It's been a long road and taken a lot of planning to get everything in place. And it's not happened overnight." He pauses for a moment and fiddles with a sachet of sugar. "It started with the house really, making that into somewhere people might want to stay. It operated as a conference centre for about ten years before we converted the honeymoon suite and added other stuff. Then we started doing weddings and smaller events."
"You actually grew the business while you lived and worked in the UK," I say. "How hard was that to manage from a distance?"
He shrugs and looks around for his coffee before answering. "It worked fine. I had good managers and I came home periodically. I was no biggie."
He's so casual that I want to ask him about the other stuff, but I'm taking a risk because it's personal. "Your parents ran it for you, I understand. They obviously did a good job." I throw in the compliment in the hope that he won't just walk away. His gorgeous grey eyes narrow and flash but it could have been the sunlight.
"Yeah," he replies, a little wistfully. "My parents ran the bloodstock business and the homestead. But they always had good local help and it makes a difference. A business stands or falls by its employees and mine have always been quality."
I risk it. "I'm sorry about the death of your mother. That must have been tragic, especially before Christmas." It's like I've pressed the detonate button and he brings his feet square to the floor and puts his hands on his knees. One more personal question and he's going to follow through with his threat. He's going to leave. I daren't ask my next question now. I know that his father remarried the housekeeper within less than a year but I'm not going to push my luck and ask him how hard his mother was to replace in the business sense. He'll read into it.
"So tell me what your site has to offer tourists looking for a weekend break or a week long stay? Is it somewhere that I could take a family with a couple of children?"
He relaxes. "Totally. There's a camper van park on the side of the mountain that has electrical hook up facilities and on site bathrooms and cooking areas. There are kilometres of bush tracks which run through most of the property and you can arrange to have a picnic delivered to you just about anywhere. There's a lake and areas to fish or swim as long as you're happy to be out in the natural environment. We just finished putting in a thermal hot spa, so that's another option if you just want to chill out and relax. The hotel is fully catered or you can stay there and travel up to Auckland or out into the township. It's up to you and there are packages to suit just about everyone. No two people enjoy the same holiday."
"Would you go into the health and spa business?" I ask and he shakes his head.
"No." He doesn't offer a reason and I'm forced to accept his reply.
"I read in the appraisal of your facilities that the horse trekking is spectacular."
Logan Du Rose gives me one of his rare smiles. "Well, we've been in the business of horses for generations, so that figures. The mountain is beautiful and most of the stock were bred there. Visitors to the country want to see the real thing and that's the way to do it, on horseback. The property runs right across to the mountain range above Port Waikato." He grins. "Hell of a view of the Tasman Sea from up there."
"So I've heard," I say but he doesn't offer me a visit or a chance to see it. Pity. "Your Maori heritage is obviously very important to you." I point to the ta moko tattoo showing through his sleeve and realise too late that once again, I've touched on a raw spot. His face shuts down and he purses his full lips. It's clear that he's answered all the questions that he's going to but I trail him around the store as he looks at saddles and tack. His hands are gentle and slender as he touches the leather work on a bridle. They are covered in lots of scars and cuts and I know that hemophilia has gone through every generation of the Du Roses so far. I want to ask him about it, but can't.
"I heard that you play guitar," I say and he looks at me curiously.
"Yeah," is all he replies.
We look at some more saddles and bridles in the back of the store and he buys a pair of cute cowgirl boots. I give it a go, "Are those for your wife?"
He nods and smiles widely then. "Yeah, she looks good in this stuff. It's her red hair I reckon. She's pretty stunning."
"What's your favourite dinner?"
He laughs, "A good old boil-up."
"Does your wife make that?" I dare and he looks at me as though I'm straying on dangerous territory again.
"No, course not. She's English. It's a Maori dish."
"Does your daughter ride yet? Phoenix."
To my amazement, he nods his head enthusiastically. "Definitely. I put her up with me when she was six weeks old and you can't get her off now."
"Does she have her own horse?" I ask, foolishly as I know the child isn't two yet.
He nods and fingers the trim on an expensive saddle. "I've chosen a foal for her. A stock horse. They'll be ready to learn together. For now, she just rides with me or my wife but she can sit up there on her own, she just doesn't have much control."
I'm stunned. "You seem to have an affinity with the land. Is that nature or nurture? Did someone teach you how to respect it or is it something you always knew?"
"Both," he replies, for once candid. "If you respect it, it will respect you." He pays for the boots. "We done here?"
All I can do is nod and he offers me his hand to shake again. His handshake is strong and definite and makes me feel safe. Then he strides out of the store clutching his gift with obvious care and gets into his 4 x 4. I realise that I know nothing new about this enigmatic man from half an hour in his company, than I did before he walked in. He's been a teacher for more than twenty years, both in New Zealand and abroad, he's widely travelled and highly academic. He's a multi-millionaire and until last year, owned stocks all over the world and met his wife at the age of fourteen on a short trip overseas. They didn't meet again until twenty-six years later. I wanted desperately to ask him about his birth father, Reuben Du Rose - not the man who brought him up and I wanted to ask him about his daughter's namesake, Phoenix Du Rose, who crafted him into the man he now is and gave him his love of the whenua.
I know realistically that he had no intention of telling me any of that and at least I got him to talk about the hotel for a while. But I'm left with an impression of a powerful man who loves his family passionately and is both loyal and honest with his heritage. He's made a big impact on me and he did it with the smallest action. It wasn't the sense of threat when I strayed into topics he didn't want me to, or his short, clipped answers. It was the look on his face when he paid for the gift for his wife. Real, genuine, love.
Hana Du Rose is one lucky woman.