A Touch of Confidence

Dedication

Jayne and Lorelei…anytime you wanna try another number, call me.

 

With special thanks to Dawn, Fedora and Kelly (yes, again).

Chapter One

Claire Jones pressed her face close to the shop window and peered inside. Someone had washed the glass, and with the Sydney sunshine streaming in behind her she could easily make out the large, empty expanse.

Perfect.

Location, size, shape… Everything they needed.

This place suited her and her two sisters to a T.
Li’L Books and Bits
would do brilliantly here. With a children’s shoe store next door, an art and craft shop down the road and a baby store around the corner, a specialist shop selling children’s clothes, books and toys was just what the neighborhood needed.

Claire flexed her fingers, stretching them to make sure they were in adequate working order to sign the lease. If her watch was right, Jack Wilson

the property manager

was due here in the next two minutes. Three days ago, they’d agreed to meet at the store to fill in the papers.

Soon the shop would belong to them. Well, for the next three years anyway. They could move in and start fixing the place up, add the necessary shelving and clothes racks, put in wooden floors, paint murals on the walls and get the place to look like a child’s

and mother’s

paradise.

Movement inside the shop startled her. Someone was there. A man. Although “man” would be an understatement. Giant was more like it.

He must surely tower above Claire, which at her five foot nine was no mean feat
.
His shoulders were massive, almost hiding the door from which he’d just stepped through, the one leading to the back rooms of the store.

What on earth was he doing there?

Just when Claire thought she couldn’t be more surprised, a second man followed him out. The giant turned to face him, the two men shook hands, and the smaller one took his leave, opening the front door and walking through it.

“Nice doing business with you, Jack,” he said. “Wilson Property Management has impressed me once again.”

The giant saluted, touching his finger to his forehead, and the smaller man walked away.

Claire’s heart lurched. Jack? Wilson Property Management? What on earth was going on?

She glanced around, looking up and down the road behind her, but there was no sign of Jack Wilson. The only Jack anywhere in sight was the man who stood inside the shop, slipping a file into his briefcase.

Claire took a deep breath and knocked on the door.

He looked up. “Can I help you?”

“Yes. I’m looking for Jack Wilson. I have an appointment with him.”

“I’m Jack.” He stepped closer, a question in his eyes.

Claire had to blink, startled by the stunning green shade of those eyes. This man might have the same name, but he was not the Jack Wilson she’d expected.

Her Mr. Wilson was not a day under eighty, had a stern but likeable way about him and a savvy business sense that made Claire trust him instinctively.

This Mr. Wilson could not be a day over thirty-five. His long, muscular legs seemed to go on forever, and his face…
Mm, mm, mm
. What a face. Chiseled chin, high cheek bones, a strong nose and those striking green eyes were all framed by thick and wavy light brown hair.

If she’d been forced to describe him, she’d have to invent a hot Avenger concoction. Like a mixture of Captain America, Thor, Bruce Banner and Tony Stark all rolled into one heart-stopping, sexy guy.

He was gorgeous. A giant who looked like he’d be more comfortable on an Aussie Rules football field, tossing a footy to other giants, than managing various property rentals.

She shook her head. “I’m looking for an older man.” Much older, much less potent. The eighty-year-old had never made Claire’s heart skip a beat, or made her think of long, hot nights and tangled sheets. “Grey hair, neat beard and moustache, glasses.”

“Right, yeah. That would be my grandfather. I’m sorry. He’s not here.”

Okay. That explained the names and the age difference. “I had a meeting with him scheduled for now.”

“Look, I’m sorry, Miss…?”

Much as she wanted to look into his exquisite eyes, her gaze seemed pinned to his mouth. To a pair of delicious-looking lips that just begged to be kissed. By her. “Jones. Claire Jones.” She stuck out her hand.

He shook it.

“I’m sorry, Miss Jones. My grandfather couldn’t make his appointments today. I’m taking his place. But…” He shrugged apologetically. “I have no record of any meeting with you.”

It took a good few seconds for Claire’s brain to process his words. It had kind of gotten stuck on his hand shake. On his warm skin that seemed to burn straight through hers.

“We made the appointment a few days ago,” she supplied
.
“Agreed to meet here at eleven. I guess if he can’t make it, I should be speaking to you?”

The G.G.

gorgeous giant

nodded with a smile. A very nice smile at that, sexy, with a dimple creasing his right cheek. The kind of dimple she’d like to spend time exploring…with her tongue. “I guess so. How can I help you?”

“I’ve come to sign the lease for the shop.” She gestured at the room around them. Her palm tingled now that he’d released it, and she feared she might be tempted to grab his hand again. “Your grandfather said he’d have the papers all ready to

” She broke off mid-sentence. “Uh, are you okay?”

He stared at her, slack jawed, not looking so okay.

Maybe he’d need mouth-to-mouth resuscitation?

“You’ve come to sign the lease for the shop?” He pointed to the floor. “
This
shop?”

She nodded, distracted by the idea of mouth-to-mouth with Jack Wilson Jr.

“And you set up the appointment when?”

“Three days ago. My sister and I viewed it last week, made an offer, and your grandfather accepted. Signing is the last step in the process, and the shop is ours for the next three years.” She grinned, getting excited and nervous all over again. Expanding their business was a big step. An expensive step, but a necessary one, if they hoped to make money from
Li’l Books and Bits.

“Oh, um…” The G.G.’s face paled just a bit. “You’ve discussed the contract with my grandfather?”

“In depth. A three-year agreement, paying eight fifty a week for the first year, with an annual increase of ten percent thereafter.”

Jack Wilson squeezed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, placed his briefcase on the floor and grimaced. “Perhaps you’d better come inside,” he invited. “We need to talk.”

Claire’s stomach twisted as he stepped aside to let her in. His discomfort gave her a bad feeling.

“There seems to have been a misunderstanding, Miss Jones. I had no idea you’d made an appointment with my grandfather, no idea you’d agreed to take the shop.” He crossed the floor to stand before her. “I’ve just rented it out. The lease was signed not five minutes ago.”

“Pardon me?” She did not just hear what she thought she heard.

“I’ve just leased the shop. The new tenant walked out of here a moment before you knocked.”

It was her turn to blanch. The blood drained from her cheeks. “Wait a minute. He signed the lease? You have his signature on the papers?”

Mr. Wilson Jr. leaned down and removed a file from his briefcase. He held it up. “Signed and sealed, I’m afraid.” His expression was troubled, as though he regretted causing her pain. But he didn’t offer to run after the other man and break the contract.

“That’s nice.” She pasted a saccharine-sweet smile on her face, trying to contain her emotions. Just beneath the surface, anger and disappointment boiled in equal measure. She, Maddie and Julia had searched for months before they’d found this shop. They’d researched their client database, carried out extensive market research and quite conclusively found that Rose Bay would be one of the best areas to open their new store. Finding an unoccupied shop in this market had proven almost impossible, until Maddie had stumbled across Wilson’s advert.

They’d offered to rent the property the same day.

Claire had no idea what she’d do if they lost it now. Cry? Rant and rave? Hit someone? Or give up on their dream of expansion because the idea of finding another shop was too overwhelming and too time consuming to contemplate?

Uh-uh. No way. She wasn’t going to lose this store. Not when the Jones sisters’ plans were nearing fruition. Didn’t matter how gorgeous this giant may be, how damn sexy and distracting

or how regretful he looked
,
he wasn’t going to rob her of the property. “Nice for
him
, I mean.” She pursed her lips. “Unfortunately for you, it means Wilson Property is in breach of contract.”

He froze, with the folder held in mid-air. “Breach of contract?”

“Your grandfather and I had an oral agreement. We settled on the terms and he promised the shop to me. That’s a legally binding contract. The question now is, how should we proceed?”

He didn’t answer, just looked from her to the contract and back again.

“You have to understand, Mr. Wilson, I’m not willing to give up on this shop. It took us too long to find, and we have neither the time nor the resources to find something else. This property was a done deal for us.”

“I understand that. Unfortunately, my hands are tied. I had no idea my grandfather had promised you the property. I proceeded as I saw fit, renting the shop to a different tenant. I’m sorry to disappoint you. Truly, I am, but there’s nothing I can do to change it at this point.”

“Nothing you can do?” Oh, no. She wasn’t giving up. Claire was too stubborn for that

too stubborn for her own good, as her sisters pointed out all too often
.
But damned if she wasn’t going to dig her heels in right now.

“Nothing. I’m sorry.”

She shook her head. “I see the matter differently. I’m thinking this can go one of two alternative ways.”

Interest flared in his eyes. “And those two ways are?”

“You could let the new tenant know what’s happened and convince him to break the lease.”

He frowned. “Or?”

She hesitated with the second option. If she brought up this alternative, things could turn sour fast. Much as she wanted the property, she didn’t believe he’d rented it out to someone else with malicious intent. He simply hadn’t known about her and her sisters. Still, the shop was now in someone else’s hands, which left the Jones women nowhere. “Or we could let our lawyers handle it from here.”

 

Jack stared at the Amazonian warrior standing before him. With her hazel eyes flashing, her mouth set in a serious expression and her honey-blond hair tumbling over her shoulders, he thought he’d never seen a more fascinating woman.

Not an appropriate factor to fixate on while she threatened legal action, but there you had it.

She was…enchanting, with a voluptuousness Mother Earth herself would envy. Her tall frame lent her the height that put her closer to eye level with him than he was used to with women.

“You don’t have anything to say in response?” she prompted.

Her voice hummed through his stomach. Low and a little raspy, it made her sound like she’d just woken up. Or just had great sex. It rumbled through his stomach and tugged on his balls, sending a jolt of awareness racing through his blood.

Concentrate.

He shook his head, clearing it of the sexual fog that threatened to swamp him. Wilson Property Management was apparently in breach of contract, and Miss Jones had just mentioned taking legal action.

Shit.
Three hours on the job, and already he’d made a monumental fuck up. His background had not prepared him for running this business, but he’d refused to let his pop down. Especially after last night. His grandfather, Big Jack, simply hadn’t needed any extra stress.

Still, he’d never met the woman, and he couldn’t be sure she had in fact been in contact with Big Jack. He’d found no evidence of it anywhere in his pop’s office

and Jack had searched the office.