Enjoy this excerpt from my novel, House of Diamonds, a sweet, sparkling modern love tale about duelling jewelers. Will they ever work out what to do with an engagement ring?
I’m serializing it with a new chapter each week. Sign up here or below to receive new chapters and join my VIP newsletter. Find out about Amber Jakeman and the House of Jewels series. Happy reading!
|(Catch up on Chapter 1 here, then Chapter 2 here)|
She’d kept walking, past all the coffee shops, through all the streets of the CBD, down to Kings Park and down to the Swan River where a couple of black swans glided, serene. What had she done? She checked her watch without registering the time, felt the sun move overhead and then begin to set.
She sat as the rush hour traffic built and crawled and dissipated, as the chill of dusk descended.
Fury at Damian rose like poison. She replayed their every exchange; his special smiles and comments, the way he’d made her feel so needed.
She’d had her eye on him since she’d first won the job, always tried to please him. Had he really just used her, without returning her love, year after year after year? What kind of a fool had she been?
After that Christmas kiss, there’d been their first business trip to Paris, the first time he’d suggested adjoining rooms. He’d taken her to a beautiful old restaurant in the Latin quarter. He’d let his fingers brush hers as they explored the menu, and then encouraged her to drink from his glass as well as her own as he discussed French wines with such authority, and they’d laughed like school children as they headed back out into the cold, onto those famous streets on a wet night, with the lights reflecting back at them from the slick pavement and the Seine diaphanous and magical as they walked together. She’d been unsteady on her feet and his strength beside her comforting, then exhilarating as he’d offered her his arm, then nestled her up against his warmth beneath his big coat, and she’d become aware of him in a new way.
There was no denying it. It was pure exhilaration to be needed by someone so powerful. But when did all Damian’s desires merge into her own? When had she lost herself? No more. Selfish Damian? He was the past. Her investment in him had not been repaid. Never would be. There was no future for them. She no longer had the heart for it.
Well after dark, she let herself back into her apartment and saw her weary, miserable self in the mirror. Who was Stella Rhys anyway, if she wasn’t Damian Beaumont’s support system?
She’d gone to bed then, for days. When Rita from Human Resources contacted her, she told her she was unwell and had resigned.
“You should know Damian wants you back. He’s intimating there’s a payrise in it for you.”
“Damian’s good at intimating.” Stella liked Rita. Sensible Rita, in her forties. She’d been the first person she’d hired to build up human resources when she’d moved on to become Damain’s PA. Rita had been around the block.
“What would you like me to tell him?” She could tell Rita, couldn’t she? But what was the point? The whole office was probably talking about her anyway. What a fool she’d been, and the worst thing was that part of her was missing him, missing Damian.
“Tell him I’ll consider it,” she repeated, though she had no intention of doing so.
Why did the idea of returning to Exos not excite her? Hadn’t she been wanting an acknowledgement of her value to Damian for years? She just felt flat.
“Look. No. Tell him ‘no.’ Nothing personal towards you and the others, Rita. I’m going to miss you.”
“We’ll miss you, too. Big time. Get well soon.”
No sooner had she and Rita hung up than her mother rang. Christened Fiona, her red-headed mother renamed herself Flame as a teenager. Wild and free, she’d run off with a Swedish backpacker named Sven, had Jeannie, then moved in with a miner in Darwin when Sven returned to Sweden without her.
Flame was still running, to and from one new man after another. This call was about her latest love, Grady, up on the NSW north coast, a musician she’d met at a bar.
“Beautiful up here, Stella. Really. Come and see it.”
“I’ve resigned mum.”
“Have you, dear? Good. You can come up then. Any time. Come up now.”
“Damian. The boss. It’s over.”
“Yes, dear? Yes. Well. Damian. Never liked the sound of that one, to be honest, dear, though I never wanted to tell you so. That mining company? Raping the earth. So what do I say? Good. Move on, dear. That’s what I always say. Plenty of good men around, though you’re probably not ready to hear it yet. He was your first real love, wasn’t he?”
“Maybe.” Had she loved Damian? Stella had done everything in her power to make him love her back. She had wanted him to be her first and only love. She’d been seeking a different path to her mother, who was always on to another relationship.
“But now I want to do something with my life, mum.”
“Of course you do. Do what you love, dear. Be happy. Look. Can’t talk now. Grady’s back. But don’t you worry. Everything’ll work out just fine. Always does. Take it from me. Talk to you later.”
Jeannie had been more understanding. She didn’t even say she’d tried to tell her that Damian never sounded like marriage material.
“There are plenty of men like that out there, Stella. It’s all about their egos. And their dicks, I’m sorry to say. So, are you alright? Will you get another job?”
“What do you think Damian’s going to say on my reference, Jeannie? Besides. I’m done with office jobs. It’s never been what I wanted to do with my life.”
“Well, I did wonder. Someone creative like you, Stell. Not everyone’s got real talent like you.”
Had Stella underestimated Damian? Flowers arrived the next day, all white, as Damian preferred them, in keeping with the company branding. “Please phone Damian at your earliest convenience.”
No. She would not phone him. She had no interest in any of that. Not any more. Not with Damian.
Instead, she’d skyped Jeannie.
“I just don’t know how I could have been so blind, Jeannie! Somehow I just convinced myself that after the boardroom led to the bedroom he’d want to marry me. He never said as much. But he let me think it. I know he did.”
“Don’t beat yourself up, Stell. I’m so relieved you’ve finally seen what I’ve been trying to tell you. Love’s blind, they say. So. You’ve fallen out of love. What matters now is you think about the future.”
Thank goodness Jeannie understood; busy, faithful Jeannie, always there for her, and for her own girls, Stella’s lovable nieces with their chubby cheeks and non-stop curiosity. Jeannie was jollying a grumbly Sienna on her lap while stopping Lucy from careering into the keyboard.
“So good to see you, Jeannie. Yes. Hello Lucy. Hello! How are you?”
“Where’s your teddy, Lucy?” Lucy lurched away to search for it, giving the sisters a chance to chat.
Lucy came back into view, teddy aloft, chattering away in her own language.
“Hello, teddy. Yes. Hello! Lovely to see you.” Alarming brown fuzz took up half the screen, but Jeannie’s voice cut through.
“Ring me after seven, Stell. The girls will be in bed. Matt’s away again. He loves his new job. Such a great promotion. Australasia. But there’s so much travel!”
“Okay. Thanks, Jeannie. Bye bye, Lucy! Bye Sienna. She’s adorable, Jeannie. They both are. Speak tonight.”
Jeannie picked up the phone the moment Stella rang, on the dot of seven.
“Tell me, Stell. This crazy idea. What’s up?”
“What about it? I love it. Always have. All of it. You’ve always had real talent. I used to be jealous of you, but now I’m just plain proud.”
“Do you think I could make a go of it? Sell it?”
“Of course you could! It’s unique. It’s quality.”
“But a lot of it’s so easy.”
“That’s just not true. People love your jewelry. It’s stylish. It’s affordable. It’s fun. I’ve always loved your stuff. You were upcycling before anyone even invented the word. I still wear those spoon bangles you made me in primary school! And the girls play with the old toothbrush ones now. Remember the old orange one? Sienna’s been using it as a teether! Didn’t you say you’d been experimenting with coffee pods? Got anything new there? I love to see what you’re up to. Of course you could make a go of it.”
“But I’m scared.”
“You know, Jeannie. I never wanted to be like Flame, never quite making a go of it, drifting here and there with the scarves and tarot cards, jumping into one failing scheme after another with the next man. I’d hate that. I need certainty. I loved my regular wage, dammit. Damn Damian.”
“Listen to me, Stell. You’re not remotely like Flame. Unlike me, you don’t even look like her. Whatever you do, it will be done completely differently to the way mum does things. Come on. What’s your plan?”
“I’ve been working since I was sixteen, Jeannie. All those temp jobs, and then WestMine took me on and trained me up, and now four years with Exos, most of it starstruck by Mr Powerful, and I’ve done nothing else. Not really. No proper holidays. I ended up with no time to even make jewelry. I’m thirty and I backed the wrong horse. I feel futureless.”
“If anyone has a future, it’s you, Stell. You’re brilliant. Not only can you make jewelry, but you’ve got all those business skills as well. And you must have some savings by now.”
“Yeah, but they can’t last forever. I don’t want to be irresponsible.”
“What’s irresponsible about having a change, giving it a go? I’m excited for you! I know you don’t want to drift. Neither of us liked that way of life much. Flame’s way. That’s why I got my marketing degree, and I’m so lucky I met Matt, a steadier man than any of our step dads. But you don’t have to do markets. You could leave your stuff on consignment with other outlets or galleries, or …”
“You actually think I can do this?” Hope surged through Stella like wildfire. So many ideas crowded into her head, for new designs, ideas she’d been suppressing for years.
“I do. Totally. Make your plan, little sister.”
“A business plan. I can do that.”
Back came that buzz, that joy of anticipation, and the thrill of creation.
Stella’s sense of meaning returned as she filled her mind and hands with materials and tools, creating beauty. Days flew by.
Jeannie began ordering gifts for her friends, insisting Stella was doing her a favour. Soon Stella was busy dreaming up new designs and sourcing beads and wire and fastenings, and expanding her set of files and drills and other tools. Only the work in her hands mattered now, along with the vision in her mind and her will to transform the materials between her fingers into items of beauty.
Stella loved working with the coffee pods. They were light and came in all kinds of burnished, earthy hues with an attractive sheen. Squashed flat, they became small flowers. They practically made themselves into earrings, necklaces and bracelets.
She spent a whole day visiting businesses in the CBD office towers, collecting them. Being back in those elevators made her feel trapped. Not for one moment did she regret her decision to leave Exos. She barely thought of the place any more.
Instead, she visited craft stores and bought up the spools of silver in all gauges she’d once coveted, and three more sets of pliers with different noses, wondrous things that transformed the wire into something new – intricate rings featuring celtic knots, cages for pearls and other objects, coiled and twisted earrings, many with one special bead or rhinestone to catch the light.
Working till her fingers became calloused, she created shining objects of beauty, one after another, multiple rings of all sizes, and variations of all of her favourite motifs.
The joy of creation was so intense she didn’t want to think beyond the next item, but one day soon, she knew, she must.
The phone snapped her out of her reverie one evening.
“I hope you’ve enjoyed your little holiday, but it’s time you came back, Stella. We need you.”
Damian. Her heart leapt. Yes! No! She nearly hung up on him. He hadn’t even asked how she was.
She was speechless.
“So you can stop playing games. Did Rita tell you I’m offering a pay rise? Your pay was already generous, and I’m prepared to up it by $10k.”
She still had no idea what to say. If she’d been worth that much more money, why hadn’t he offered it sooner?
“We have nothing to say to each other, Damian Beaumont,” she said, keeping her voice steady. He’d always hated rejection. It was why he worked so hard at finding and keeping investors. She’d dented his pride by leaving. Tough. He’d get over it.
“Oh. But we do, though.” He’d dropped his voice into that seductive tone that used to set her blood racing. She’d never said no to him. Not until that day she’d walked out. She could picture him, suit coat off, sleeves rolled up at the end of the day, tie hanging loose each side of his neck, top button undone.
“Think about it.” He hung up before she could repeat her refusal.
It was upsetting. It was bullying. It was the Damian she’d refused to see. The MD who drove hard bargains. Well, she wasn’t for sale. Not any more.
As she worked at her kitchen bench, cutting and twisting and welding and threading, realisation dawned on her. She put her phone on speaker and worked it through with Jeannie who was cooking a huge batch of baby food to freeze for Sienna.
“He was so bloody confident. Arrogant. What is it about people like that, Jeannie? We watched them, you and me. At every school we ever went to. Remember them? The ones who were born to rule? They even had the teachers conned. I don’t know what gave them the right to walk all over everyone else and tell us what to do, but they got away with it, again and again. You tried to tell me, Damian was kind of absorbing me, using me only for his own ends. But I have to tell you this, what I know now. So much of his success was because of my work. Even the staff I hired for him. Good people. They joined because they liked me.”
“Exactly what I’ve been saying, Stell.”
“Well of course they were really there for the pay. And to be fair, Damian took the risks, investing in the right companies, and convinced more investors to back his decisions. But they liked me, too. I was the one who was nice to them on the phone, who asked them about their families and pets and illnesses, who remembered their dietary requirements. God, Stella. I was a total expert on all of them. And while I was at it, I forgot who I was.”
“So all you need is the confidence to support your own business. I know you can do this.”
“And I’ve stopped straightening my hair, the way Damian wanted it. Neat and tidy. Total waste of time, that, straightening it every morning. You should see it, Jeannie. Pretty wild. Back how it always was when we were kids.”
“Can’t wait to see you!”
Stella’s new plans made her feel more alive than ever, as if Exos was a life lived in limbo, and her real life only just beginning.
What would life be like without that injection of money into her account every two weeks without fail? Did she even have the guts to do this? Too bad. Too late. That’s what happened when you walked out.
Everything would change. Back to powdered milk and oatmeal for breakfast. No more restaurant meals. Not even fast food. Mince meat and spaghetti; a huge pot of it, to last all week. But no more fish fingers. Ever. Stella laughed. They were Flame’s “go to” meal. Cooked in the microwave. All lined up like yellow fence posts. Never again.
Stella seized the nail clippers. She studied them before she consigned them to history – those long painted nails Damian loved – so sophisticated, and so constricting. She needed full use of her fingers. Goodbye expensive nail salon.
Excitement became ambition. Hope became stock. Boxes of her creations became heavier.
Fear still gnawed at her. Childhood with Flame had taught Stella how to survive without much money – but it also taught her she never wanted to go back there. Poverty scarred her and scared her. How could she ever find enough faith in her skills to trust in a future solely of her own making?
In her years as an admin assistant and PA, perfecting business plans for the boss, she’d learned a lot about budgets and strategic planning, if not about matters of the heart. The affair with the big boss, Damian? Total fail. But at least she’d learned enough about profit and loss to create a plan for this new venture – her own business. She even had a name for it – Stellar.
Elation dipped to despair. Without an income, how could she hope to pay her rent, her phone bill, or a grocery bill? She’d be no different from Flame, eking it out all her life, living from one meal to the next, always shifting house, half a step ahead of eviction.
She burned through her savings, Damian’s offer circling her consciousness like a shark.
“Am I being irresponsible, Jeannie? Part of me thinks I should swallow my pride and go back to Damian and save up more money first, but …”
“Do not go back there!” Jeannie insisted. “Think of all the reasons you left. No. We can do this. Just take out your living costs. Come east! Come and live with Matt and me. I’m going insane home alone with the little ones, what with Matt travelling all the time. Power saving software. Everyone wants it! ‘Australasian manager’ sounds so fabulous and the money’s good. And it’s good for the planet. He loves it and I know he’s the right person for the job, but he’s almost always away! Do it. Come east. Go on. Please. Just give it a go. You’ve got nothing to lose. You keep telling me you’ll never sell enough to make a living. Well, how do you know? You keep wondering if people will actually buy your things. Well, find out! Get a stall like mum’s. Just run it while you work out what people want to buy. Call it the first step of your own business venture. You can hire stalls right near our place. Take a space in the Oxford Street mall. Think how much you’ll learn! Find out which designs sell best. Experiment with your pricing. See what happens, Stell. If you can make a go of it for six months, I’m sure you’ll be able to make a case at a bank to get funding to mass produce your designs or something. And if nothing else, you’ll enjoy a well-earned holiday and a bit of an adventure out east. And you’ll be keeping me company. Come on.”
It didn’t take much to convince her.
Bing! Here came a selfie of Jeannie and the girls at Bondi Beach.
Bing! Another of them heading across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the double stroller – glimpses of the city skyline, the parks and bays and beaches, and that great, big blue horizon out to sea. Why not?
How she wanted to hug those adorable nieces who were growing up so fast!
Yes. She would sell her jewels in Sydney, at least for the first six months. After that, the world! She’d progress from the stall, unlike Flame. She would show the world the beauty of her designs, sell them to other jewelers, and go on to design even more dazzling possibilities. Stella had big plans. She could do this.
Whole days disappeared as she refined her designs. She stockpiled creations and dreamt up new ones, bringing long-imagined designs into reality. If ever she thought of Damian, another stab of fury propelled her to work faster. He’d taken Stella’s innocence and wasted years of her life, but he would no longer take her future. She’d finally broken free, and she would never, ever allow herself to fall in love with someone like him again. Bosses? Forget them. Stella was her own boss now.
You could always buy the book! I work hard to keep my books affordable, under a few dollars.
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