Christmas with Her Millionaire Boss

By: Barbara Wallace

“I also saw that the biggest growth came from your online store. In fact, while it’s true retail sales have remained constant, your electronic sales have risen over fifteen percent annually.”

And were poised to take another leap this year. Noelle had heard the projections. E-retail was the wave of the future. Brick-and-mortar stores like Fryberg’s would soon be obsolete.

“Don’t get me wrong. I think your late husband did a fantastic job of capitalizing on people’s nostalgia,” he said to Belinda.

Noelle’s mother-in-law smiled. She always smiled when speaking about her late husband. “Ned used to say that Christmas was a universal experience.”

“Hammond’s has certainly done well by it.”

Well? Hammond’s had their entire business on the holiday, as had Fryberg’s. Nothing Says Christmas Like Hammond’s Toys. The company motto, repeated at the end of every ad, sang in Noelle’s head.

“That’s because everyone loves Christmas,” she replied.

“Hmm.” From the lack of enthusiasm in his response, she might as well have been talking about weather patterns. Then again, his emotional range didn’t seem to go beyond brusque and chilly, so maybe that was enthusiastic for him.

“I don’t care if they love the holiday or not. It’s their shopping patterns I’m interested in, and from the data I’ve been seeing, more and more people are doing part, if not most of their shopping over the internet. The retailers who survive will be the ones who shift their business models accordingly. I intend to make sure Hammond’s is one of those businesses.”

“Hammond’s,” Noelle couldn’t help noting. “Not Fryberg’s.”

“I’m hoping that by the end of the day, the two stores will be on the way to becoming one and the same,” he said.

“Wiping out sixty-five years of tradition just like that, are you?”

“Like I said, to survive, sometimes you have to embrace change.”

Except they weren’t embracing anything. Fryberg’s was being swallowed up and dismantled so that Hammond’s could change.

“I think what my daughter-in-law is trying to say is that the Fryberg name carries a great deal of value round these parts,” said Belinda. “People are very loyal to my late husband and what he worked to create here.”

“Loyalty’s a rare commodity these days. Especially in the business world.”

“It certainly is. Ned, my husband, had a way of inspiring it.”

“Impressive,” Hammond replied.

“It’s because the Frybergs—Ned and Belinda—have always believed in treating their employees like family,” Noelle told him. “And they were always on-site, visible to everyone.” Although things had changed over the last few years as Belinda had been spending more and more time in Palm Beach. “I’m not sure working for a faceless CEO in Boston will engender the same feelings.”

“What do you expect me to do? Move my office here?”

He looked at her. His gaze, sharp and direct, didn’t so much look through a person as cut into them. The flecks of brown in his irises darkened, transforming what had been soft hazel. Self-consciousness curled through Noelle’s midsection. She folded her arms tighter to keep the reaction from spreading.

“No. Just keep Fryberg’s as a separate entity,” she replied.

His brows lifted. “Really? You want me to keep one store separate when all the other properties under our umbrella carry the name Hammond?”

“Why not?” Noelle’s palms started to sweat. She was definitely overstepping her authority right now. Belinda had already accepted Hammond’s offer. Today’s meeting was a friendly dialogue between an outgoing owner and the new CEO, to ensure a successful transition. She couldn’t help it. With Belinda stepping down, someone had to protect what Ned had created. James Hammond certainly wasn’t. To hear him, Fryberg’s Christmas Castle was one step ahead of landlines in terms of obsolescence. She gave him two years tops before he decided “Hammond’s” Christmas Castle didn’t fit the corporate brand and started downsizing in the name of change. Bet he wouldn’t blink an eye doing it either.

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