Please join us for the House of Jewels series launch!
Can you believe I actually found a pink sparkling wine called “Love Story” for the launch of my House of Jewels series!
Here’s your reminder to please join author Pamela Hart and me for the Sydney launch of the House of Jewels series at Galaxy Bookshop, upstairs at Abbeys Bookshop at 131 York Street, across the road from the shopping wonderland of the heritage Queen Victoria Building (QVB) at 2pm on Saturday 8 October.
Pamela, who also teaches at the Australian Writers’ Centre, will interview me, and I’ll have the opportunity to thank everyone who contributed to the series in diverse ways as we celebrate the joy of reading.
You’ll be able to buy autographed copies of Pamela’s paperbacks as well as mine, in good time for Christmas!
The House of Jewels series follows the fortunes of the extended Huntley family of jewelers in Australia, France and the US.
In the meantime, if you haven’t already bought a copy, you might enjoy this taste of Full House, the recently released fifth book in my Huntley House of Jewels saga:
Your taster of Full House ...
Dread sparked somewhere deep inside Nicole as her brother James Huntley the Third, CEO of Huntleys House of Jewels, began to speak.
“I’ve called this meeting not only because of the rapid growth of our company to include Mum’s House of Clubs in France and Will’s House of Hearts in the US, but for another key reason I’ll go into shortly.”
Nobody moved. James cleared his throat. Forcing herself to breathe normally, Nicole took a swig of coffee. It burned her tongue.
“I know this is not an ideal way to conduct a meeting, with some of you videoing in and others here in person, but there isn’t time or spare operating cash to fly you all in,” James said. “I’ll do my best to ensure that those of you joining remotely will have equal input. Most importantly, this meeting will give you equal time to contemplate our options in the short timeframe we’ve been given.”
Four months earlier
Beside the old sink, in the tearoom on the second floor of the iconic Huntleys House of Diamonds jewelry store in the heart of Sydney’s Bondi Junction, Nicole Huntley frowned, rinsed out her coffee cup and tipped it upside down.
She adjusted the bow of her yellow blouse as she glanced out the window at the plaza’s smattering of shoppers and business people, their takeaway coffee cups in one hand like talismans. Bows were in and the color was cheerful, but the material of the blouse was scratchy, the bow still wouldn’t sit right and the color wasn’t a great match with her grey skirt. Today, though, her choice of clothing was the least of her troubles.
“What’s up?” said Stella as she rushed in, reached for her own mug, threw a teabag inside and switched on the kettle.
Nicole admired Stella. She worked hard, never ran out of ideas and was kind enough to ask about her life now and then without interfering.
“How are things downstairs?” Nicole asked.
“Okay,” said Stella. “We’ve got a couple of minutes to ourselves. There’s just that woman who comes in every week and browses for an hour but never buys anything, and Lorna’s keeping an eye out for her. Something on your mind?”
“My flatmate’s left,” said Nicole.
James strode in with his own coffee mug and placed a caring hand on Stella’s shoulder as they waited for the water to boil. Nicole smiled at the two of them, so glad her brother’s fiancée was no longer a business rival but a colleague, and soon to be family, if they’d ever set that wedding date.
“Was that the Italian one, Nic?” said James.
“Lucia, yes. Frankly, I’m relieved. Bit of a drama queen. She kept life interesting alright. Too interesting. Every moment was either a joy or a tragedy. It’s peaceful now, but I’ll really miss her rent! I need a new flatmate to help pay the mortgage and bills. Know anyone?”
Stella shook her head, poured the steaming water into her and James’s mugs, and reached across to the fridge to grab the milk.
“Lucia was perfect in her online application, but she never let up about my lack of style and the blandness of my cooking,” said Nicole. “She wasn’t wrong, and she did share a few useful cooking tips, but I could have done without all those temper tantrums about the bus home roaring past without her, or how she missed out on the last pair of Jimmy Choos in her size. And the parade of strangers she insisted on inviting home was the worst. If I never have to clean up another cigarette butt in my life I will never complain again.”
“Never complain again, Nicole?” said James, not too unkindly. Brothers.
“Nice,” said Stella.
“And she used every kitchen utensil every time and never cleaned them up!”
“She’s gone, Nicole,” said James, taking a sip of tea and striding back towards the office.
“Yes, well, the point is, I need a new flatmate. I’m not willing to risk putting up an ad again.”
James paused in the doorway. “Scottie’s on the move,” he said. “You know he and Beck broke up? He just needs somewhere short term. He’s heading off on some overseas trip; finally taking a holiday.”
“Oh!” said Nicole. “Did you say Scottie and Beck separated?” Why hadn’t James mentioned this sooner?
“Want me to let him know about your place?”
“Ah …” A thousand memories flickered. “Sure. Okay. You can tell Scottie. Sorry to hear about him and Beck.”
With James gone, Nicole turned to Stella. “Well,” she said. “I’m not sorry, really. To be honest, I never liked Beck. Scottie’s such a gentleman, and Beck was never his type.”
Stella smiled and nodded and rinsed her own cup.
“Sorry, Nicole. Gotta go help Lorna on the ground floor. Hope it all works out for you.”
Nicole headed down the stairs and out into the sunny plaza towards the printers to pick up the Huntleys’ sale catalogs. The idea of sharing with Scottie appealed to her, especially since it would only be for a few weeks. She’d sworn off living with men after both her previous male flatmates put the hard word on her after too many beers. She didn’t blame them, but it sure complicated daily life, and she could have done without their claims she had “issues” with men just because she wasn’t attracted to them.
But she’d known Scottie all her life. Scottie was practically part of Huntleys. Scott & Sons accountants and Huntleys went way back. James’s best friend since childhood, as well as the Huntleys’ financial consultant, Scottie knew how to take turns, how to lose with a sense of humor, and how to win with grace. At least she could be sure he’d clean up after himself.
The pedestrian lights turned red as she approached, and she paused. On the other hand … There’d been that brief period in high school when Scottie annoyed her, staring at her with puppy dog eyes every time she came near—but those days were well and truly gone. He’d behaved perfectly normally since they’d both grown up. Then he’d fallen head over heels with Beck, the fake blonde with puffy lips and an enhanced cleavage. If men went for types, then plain Nicole would be safe from any unexpected propositions from Scottie.
That evening, Nicole’s apartment was quieter than ever. She considered phoning her Mum, Cynthia, who’d turned her back on a quiet retirement in the Southern Highlands an hour and a half out of Sydney, flown to France on a one-way ticket and ended up staying.
But they’d only spoken a couple of days ago, and all was well in Provence. Besides, it wasn’t her mother Nicole needed to call right now.
She picked up the phone, then put it down. What did you say to someone whose marriage had ended? If she told Scottie she was glad, that she’d never thought Beck worthy of him, he might take offense—think she was accusing him of poor taste—but everyone made mistakes. Look at the long parade of no-hopers she’d dated.
Though Scottie often dropped in to talk to James about the company’s finances, the last time Nicole spent any time with him was last Christmas. Run off her feet, she’d sold Scottie something for his mother. He’d chosen a simple gold bangle with an elegant twist. Classy. It was a generous gift, even without the hefty discount she’d given him as a supplier.
She’d brought out tissue paper, finely watermarked with the classy Huntley’s H insignia, as she’d done a million times, then placed the boxed bangle in a paper gift bag, shiny black, with the gold H on two sides.
As she handed it across to him, he complimented her on the branding. It was a rare acknowledgement of her work, not just marketing all the stock, but building brand recognition and brand value—all that invisible weaving of meaning her father had understood; that their business was so much more than the sum of its parts. Before he died, Jim told her that “brand” consisted of every encounter with anyone who had anything to do with the place, and she’d grown up knowing you had to put the business before yourself, and do your best and be polite, even if customers were abusive.
Not that Scottie was ever a difficult customer. Anything but. He’d given her a warm, braces-free smile as he’d left that lifted her heart. It jumped straight over the awkward years and landed her back in the middle of their good times—how as children they’d splashed together in the shallows at the beach and made sand castles, ever more elaborate, with moats and tunnels and seaweed flags and sea glass decorations. They’d laughed as the summer sun seared their shoulders and groaned together as the waves washed away their handiwork.
They’d scramble along the rocks and throw themselves into the harbor pool at Watson’s Bay, or race along the beach. On wet days, they built card houses, or played ping pong or Monopoly. They’d push tiny red hotels onto their properties and haul in each other’s money with glee. Once, Scottie built a card house three storeys high, and she bumped it with her heel. For one silent moment she feared his reaction, but Scottie just shrugged, then laughed, and built it up again. Scottie was the best of company.
But then, after a family holiday at Pearl Beach, something changed. He’d stare at her, dumbstruck, tongue tied and useless. It made her uncomfortable.
Her old pal grew taller and increasingly awkward with her. They both wore braces on their teeth and sported a few too many spots, so it wasn’t that. It was just … She couldn’t explain it.
So she’d avoided him and spent her free time wandering around shopping malls with school friends instead. They teased her about him.
“Can’t you see the way he looks at you?” Thalia said.
“Don’t! I hate it.”
“Nic’s got a boyfriend; Nic’s got a boyfriend.”
Her friends eventually switched topics—dissecting the latest movie or boy band, or weighing in on whether cucumber face masks really worked, and she’d stop blushing.
Back then, Nicole avoided Scottie. He gave up on her, went on to university, and married Beck.
Nicole stared at her phone. Might as well get on with it.
“Nicole?” His voice was pleasantly deep, but she knew him well. He hadn’t hidden his surprise.
“Hey, Scottie.” Awkward silence. “Ah, James said you need somewhere to stay for a few weeks.”
“Yes. Five weeks.”
“Well, I’ve got a great spare room. It even has a bit of a view. It’s good to hear you’re taking a holiday,” said Nicole. She wouldn’t mention Beck at all. No big deal. She needed a flatmate and he needed a bed. Easy. She rushed on to fill the silence. “Europe. Lucky you! Want to come over tomorrow night and take a look, just to be sure? Seven o’clock? You can eat dinner with me and I’ll show you where you can leave your stuff while you’re away.”
Perfect. Now she could think ahead to the next sales catalog and social media marketing schedule.
Next evening, back at her apartment Nicole tidied up and threw together a quick spaghetti with basil and tomato, added a simple salad and laid it on the veranda table. Lucia hadn’t been all bad. She’d certainly taught her a few Italian cooking tricks, especially the one about adding pitted savory olives to the sauce to give the pasta extra bite.
It was a mild evening. Candle? No candle? It wasn’t like this was a date, when she’d have to angst over what music to play, and do the whole thing with champagne and five kinds of beer on offer. Scottie was just an old friend. Last time they’d eaten together, green cordial had been their drink of choice. She laughed in anticipation, just as the doorbell rang.
Not surprisingly for someone who’d just been through a rough breakup, Scottie looked a little older, but strangely, those new shadows under his eyes suited him, and his glance was full of warmth and light, as if he were genuinely pleased to see her.
She loved it that there was no other agenda here, no expectations that this was anything but a meal between friends to discuss a possible flat sharing arrangement. The dating game was exhausting, with all its pressure to get through the meal and juggle expectations about sex, when all she’d ever really wanted was good company.
Scottie had lost so much weight, Nicole commented.
“Didn’t James tell you about our runs on Bondi Beach and our push-up competition?” said Scottie. “I got a bit down after Beck left. It was James who suggested we work out instead of hitting the bottle. Too much drinking wasn’t helping. James is winning on the runs, but I’ve got the push-up record,” said Scottie, flexing his muscles and smiling sheepishly.
His pecs and abs were nicely defined under his casual deep grey t-shirt. He looked healthy in his soft blue jeans. What was wrong with Beck?
“Shoes off? Shoes on?”
“Not too many rules here, Scottie,” Nicole said. “You decide.” She took the paper bag he offered and hummed with approval. Ice cream; salted caramel with dark and white chocolate chips.
“Such good taste! You can stay.”
As he stooped to slip off his shoes she caught the slightest whiff of laundry detergent—such a comforting change from the aggressive aftershaves of the strangers of too many failed dates.
They padded through her spaces—the living area with its jumble of furniture from her grandmother’s house and items previous flatmates had left behind.
A pang of hunger hit her as she waved her arm at the kitchen on the way to showing him the bathroom, the laundry in a cupboard, the long corridor, the spare bedroom with its built-in wardrobe and view of the harbor, and then the kitchen. She took him out to the corner balcony with its own view across to Watsons Bay.
“Wow,” said Scottie.
“James, Will and I were so lucky Mum sold Jim and Eleanor’s old house on the harbor,” said Nicole. “We never could have afforded our places otherwise.”
“I was talking about the smell of dinner actually, but you’re right. This place is beautiful, Nicole.”
“I’m not much good with decorating. One of the reasons I need a flatmate is to help with the mortgage and eventually replace the furniture with something I really like, but it’s not urgent. I just love the fact my place is so close to the beach and the station, and to Huntleys of course, and the city. You could catch a bus or a train, or even walk it.”
Was she selling the arrangement to him? Yes. Scottie listened carefully. His comments were sensible, and a sense of humor lurked just under the surface, despite the shadows the breakup with Beck must have caused.
“It’s perfect, Nicole,” he said, his tone warm but not too warm. Not at all like a needy puppy dog. These days, Scottie was his own man. He kept his distance—didn’t even seem particularly keen. “Are you sure you don’t want to advertise it on the open market? I’d be happy to pay you for the weeks I’ll be away, but you might want a longer term tenant. I’m thinking about buying a place myself, though I haven’t done the homework yet, so I can probably promise you at least another two months after I get back. But with this place, you could ask a premium and know where you stand a year from now. Don’t feel obliged to offer me this, Nic. Think about it and come back to me. I’ve got another week before I move out. Give yourself room to make a decision that’s in your best interests, not just in mine.”
“How can I resist a tenant with such great taste in ice cream, Scottie? And you might want to think twice about whether you want your life in the hands of this cruel and evil landlady.”
As they forked up strands of spaghetti in the soft summer night, they laughed and entertained each other with tales of previous landlords and flatmates, of leaky shower recesses and nosy and noisy neighbors.
If Scottie’s knee brushed against hers, she barely noticed. It wasn’t as if anything beyond living arrangements was up for discussion.
It surprised her what good company grown-up Scottie could be. Why hadn’t she thought to invite him to share with her sooner?
Oh. Because he’d been married. Oops.
“Ice cream?” said Scottie. “Here, I’ll take these. Which cupboard are your bowls in?”
He helped stack the dishwasher before he left, far too soon. She would have liked him to stay and maybe watch some rubbish television, or listen to some music with her.
What was going on? Nicole shook her head. None of that. Scottie was recovering from the last woman who’d screwed him over. She wasn’t about to mess him up on the rebound. She liked him far too much for that. Old friends and flatmates. That’s what they would be to each other and nothing more. Besides, he was heading overseas. Anything could happen.
House of Diamonds has been included in this mix of “Perfect for summer sweet romances“.
You might enjoy browsing these Clean Romance Deals, which include my House of Hearts and House of Spades.
And I’m delighted that Full House has been included in this Clean Romance New Releases promotion, where you might find other books you’d enjoy.
A word of thanks
It’s never too late to leave a review. A reader from New Zealand recently wrote five-star reviews of House of Spades on Insta, Facebook and Twitter, while a US reader recently left a five-star review for House of Diamonds on BookBub.
It’s such a thrill to know that readers enjoy my work! Thank you.
Find my paperbacks
You can find my House of Jewels series paperbacks in Sydney at Galaxy Bookshop, upstairs at Abbeys Bookshop, 131 York Street in Sydney’s CBD, near the QVB.
Please note that Galaxy and Abbeys also offer this handy order Galaxy paperbacks online service.
Books 1 and 2 are available at Harry Hartog Macquarie Centre, North Ryde.
For paperbacks and e-books, please dial up Amazon in your own country and order online.