House of Diamonds
What? Move? Why would she move? She’d only just finished setting up. It had taken her months to prepare, and so much time just that morning, arranging her earrings and bracelets. What on earth could he mean?
“… just for a short time, thank you,” he said.
Her hackles rose. However handsome he might be, with that sun-kissed brown hair, and that way of smiling just on one side, as if life was a bit of joke as long as he was in control, he had no right to push her around.
“Actually, Mr …”
“Huntley. James Huntley.” He tipped his head back a little, indicating his connection with the three-storey building behind him, and she turned and read the ornate sign. Huntleys House of Diamonds.
Stella sighed. She didn’t reconfigure her whole life, resigning and moving here from Perth on the other side of the country, only to fall into the trap of obeying the next handsome man. No. She’d been there and done that. For too long. She’d been totally, pathetically, at the mercy of her boss Damian’s demands.
Obeying handsome men was a bad habit she’d finally kicked, hadn’t she?
This new Stella was strong and independent, she reminded herself. Stella now worked for herself, trusted only herself and obeyed only herself. She would no longer be told what to do by men who assumed she’d comply. So, whatever this man wanted, and however attractive he might be – and he was, quite attractive, every bit as good-looking as Damian, his hair more fair, and with a bit of a wave at the front, and those eyes – intense – she knew she had every right to stand her ground. And she would.
He waited expectantly, but she was only just ready to trade. With customers gathering, she needed to sell, sell, sell – and not waste another moment. Her licence to trade wasn’t a give away. It would take her months to pay back the loan she’d taken out to pay for it.
He lifted one hand up toward the side of her stack of display trays, as if to test his strength against its weight, to simply push her stall away. She could swear she saw his healthy bicep flex beneath that high quality pale grey woollen fabric.
How dare he! The flame of defiance inside her flashed fire. No. She would not be shoved away.
“Stella Rhys, Mr Huntley,” she answered, keeping her voice low and controlled, and extending her own hand to be shaken. His was smooth, the hand of a businessman, as cool as her own. It was a fine handshake, pleasant even.
Her mother would have fun reading this palm, she thought, smiling. It was a mistake. He must have interpreted her smile as acquiescence. Nodding and smiling in return, he held her hand just a moment longer than necessary.
“Thanks, so much, Stella. These stalls… There was nothing here for months, and suddenly you appear! Today of all days. It’s so good of you to move. Just for an hour or so.” He gave her the full blue gaze again and smiled.
For a moment Stella weakened, but she remembered the advice of Fritz, ther nearest stallholder, who’d welcomed her to the mall only that morning.
“I’ve been here nearly thirty years, young lady,” Fritz had said. “Seen a thing or two in my time. Seen stalls come and seen them go. Can be tough out here on the mall. Don’t you let anyone push you around.”
Stella knew the terms of her licence. Thursday to Saturday, 11am to 7pm. Right here. So she lifted her sunglasses and fired back a dose of her own dark eyes – bright, quick and determined.
“Actually, James,” she began, amiably enough, with a hint of steel. She gestured at the small crowd gathering to admire her unusual brooches, rings, earrings and pendants, all laid out so temptingly in the bright sunshine. Her excitement ratcheted up a notch. Behind James, two older women, sisters perhaps, were pulling out their purses. Her first customers! It was James who needed to move, so she could trade.
“Look. This is my business, James – ‘Stellar,’” she continued, polite yet firm, her voice steady. “And I’m not moving it. Not at all. I don’t mean to be unreasonable; nothing personal; but as I see it, the Huntleys property boundary begins at the edge of your doorway. The mall here is public space, and this patch is mine.”