Christmas with Her Millionaire Boss

By: Barbara Wallace

Oh, but she really, really, really disliked him. Thank goodness the corporate headquarters were in Boston. With luck, he’d go home after this visit and she’d never have to deal with him again.

“Our name recognition and reputation are important elements to our success,” she continued. “All those people who line up to see Hammond’s displays every Christmas? Would they still remember to make the pilgrimage if Hammond’s suddenly became Jones’s Toys?”

He chuckled. “Hammond’s is hardly the same as Jones.”

“Around here it might as well be.”

“She makes an interesting point,” Belinda said. Noelle felt her mother-in-law’s sideways gaze. When it came to giving a pointed look, Belinda Fryberg held her own. In fact, she could probably do it better than most since she always tossed in a dose of maternal reproach. “While you may think our physical store has a limited future, there’s no need to hasten its demise prematurely. Maybe it would make more sense for Fryberg’s to continue operating under its own name, at least for now.”

Leaning back in his chair, Hammond steepled his fingertips together and tapped them against his lips. “I’m not averse to discussing the idea,” he said finally.

I’m not averse... How big of him. Noelle bit her tongue.

Her mother-in-law, meanwhile, folded her hands and smiled. “Then why don’t we do just that over lunch? I made reservations at the Nutcracker Inn downtown.”

“I don’t usually have lunch...”

No surprise there. Noelle had read once that sharks only ate every few days.

“Perhaps you don’t,” Belinda replied, “but for a woman my age, skipping meals isn’t the best idea. Besides, I find business always goes smoother when accompanied by a bowl of gingerbread soup. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried it.”

Either Hammond’s cheek muscles twitched at the word gingerbread or else they weren’t used to smiling. “Very well,” he said. “I have some calls to make first though. Why don’t I meet you at the elevator in, say, fifteen minutes?”

“I’ll see you there.”

Returning Belinda’s nod, he unfolded his lanky self from the chair and strode from the room. If only he’d keep walking, Noelle thought as she watched his back slip through the door. Keep walking all the way back to Boston.

“Well, that was a surprise.” Belinda spoke the second the door shut behind him. “I hadn’t realized you’d joined the mergers and acquisitions team.”

“I’m sorry,” Noelle replied. “But the way he was sounded like he planned to wipe Fryberg’s off the map.”

“You know I would never allow that.”

She hung her head. “I know, and I’m sorry. On the plus side, he did say he would consider keeping the Fryberg’s name.”

“Even so, you can’t keep getting angry every time he says something that rubs you the wrong way. This is Hammond’s company now. You’re going to have to learn to bite your tongue.”

She’d better hope Noelle’s tongue was thick enough to survive the visit then, because there was going to be a lot of biting.

“I just...” Starting now. Gritting her teeth, she turned and looked out the window. Below her, a school tour was lining up in front of the reindeer petting zoo, the same as they did every year, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Later on, they would make wish lists for their parents and trek over to the Candy Cane Forest to meet Santa Claus.

Her attention zeroed in on a little girl wearing a grimy pink snow jacket, the dirt visible from yards away, and she smiled nostalgically at the girl’s obvious excitement. That excitement was what people like James Hammond didn’t understand. Fryberg’s was so much more than a toy store or tourist attraction. When you passed through that nutcracker-flanked gate, you entered a different world. A place where, for a few hours, little girls in charity bin hand-me-downs could trade their loneliness and stark reality for a little Christmas magic.

A warm hand settled on her shoulder. “I wish things could stay the same too,” Belinda said, “but time marches on no matter how hard we try to stop it. Ned’s gone, Kevin’s gone, and I just don’t have the energy to run this place by myself anymore.

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