Christmas with Her Millionaire Boss

By: Barbara Wallace

“Besides, a chain like Hammond’s can invest capital in this place that I don’t have.”

Capital, sure, but what about heart? Compassion was part of the Fryberg DNA. Noelle still remembered that day in sixth grade when Kevin invited her to his house and she felt the family’s infectious warmth for the very first time.

“I don’t fault you for wanting to retire,” she said, leaning ever so slightly into the older woman’s touch. “I just wish you hadn’t sold to such a Grinch.”

“He is serious, isn’t he?” Belinda chuckled. “Must be all that dour Yankee heritage.”

“Dour? Try frozen. The guy has about as much Christmas spirit as a block of ice.”

Her mother-in-law squeezed her shoulder. “Fortunately for us, you have enough Christmas spirit for a dozen people. You’ll keep the spirit alive. Unless you decide to move on, that is.”

Noelle tried for tongue biting again and failed. They’d had this conversation before. It was another one of the reasons Belinda sold the business instead of simply retiring. She insisted Noelle not be tied down by the family business. A reason Noelle found utterly silly.

“You know I have zero intention of ever leaving Fryberg,” she said.

“Oh, I know you think that now. But you’re young. You’re smart. There’s an entire world out there beyond Fryberg’s Toys.”

Noelle shook her head. Not for her there wasn’t. The store was too big a part of her.

It was all of her, really.

Her mother-in-law squeezed her shoulder again. “Kevin and Ned wouldn’t want you to shortchange your future any more than I do.”

At the mention of her late husband’s wishes, Noelle bit back a familiar swell of guilt.

“Besides,” Belinda continued, heading toward her desk. “Who knows? Maybe you’ll impress Mr. Hammond so much, he’ll promote you up the corporate ladder.”

“Him firing me is more likely,” Noelle replied. She recalled how sharp Hammond’s gaze had become when she dared to challenge him. Oh, yeah, she could picture him promoting her, all right.

“You never know” was all Belinda said. “I better go get ready for lunch. Don’t want to keep our Mr. Hammond waiting. Are you joining us?”

And continue bonding with Mr. Hammond over a bowl of gingerbread soup? Thanks, but no thanks. “I think Mr. Hammond and I have had enough contact for the day. Better I save my tongue and let you and Todd fill me in on the visit later.”

“That reminds me. On your way out, can you stop by Todd’s office and let his secretary know that if he calls in after the funeral, I’d like to talk with him?”

“Sure thing.”

Her answer was buried by the sound of the phone ringing.

“Oh, dear,” Belinda said upon answering. “This is Dick Greenwood. I’d better take it. Hopefully, he won’t chat my ear off. Will you do me another favor and give Mr. Hammond a tour of the floor while I’m tied up?”

So much for being done with the man. “Of course.” She’d donate a kidney if Belinda asked.

“And be nice.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The kidney would have been easier.

* * *

“You’re not going to have an insubordination problem, are you?”

On the other end of the line, Jackson Hammond’s voice sounded far away. James might have blamed the overseas connection except he knew better. Jackson Hammond always sounded distant.

Struggling to keep the phone tucked under his ear, he reached for the paper towels. “Problem?” he repeated. “Hardly.”

With her short black hair and red sweater dress, Noelle Fryberg was more of an attack elf. Too small and precious to do any real damage.

“Only reason she was in the meeting was because the new general manager had to attend a funeral, and she’s the assistant GM.” And because she was family. Apparently, the concept mattered to some people.

He shrugged and tossed his wadded towel into the basket. “Her objections were more entertaining than anything.”

He’d already come to the same conclusion regarding the Fryberg name, but it was fun seeing her try to stare him into capitulation. She had very large, very soulful eyes. Her glaring at him was like being glared at by a kitten. He had to admire the effort though. It was more than a lot of—hell, most—people.

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