Christmas with Her Millionaire Boss

By: Barbara Wallace

“All in all, the transition is going smooth as silk. I’m going to tour the warehouse this afternoon.” And then hightail it back to the airstrip as soon as possible. With any luck, he’d be in Boston by eight that evening. Noelle Fryberg’s verve might be entertaining, but not so much that he wanted to stick around Christmas Land a moment longer than necessary.

“Christmas is only four weeks away. You’re going to need that distribution center linked into ours as soon as possible.”

“It’ll get done,” James replied. The reassurance was automatic. James learned a long time ago that his father preferred his world run as smoothly as possible. Complications and problems were things you dealt with on your own.

“If you need anything from my end, talk with Carli. I’ve asked her to be my point person while I’m in Vienna.”

“Thank you.” But James wouldn’t need anything from his father’s end. He’d been running the corporation for several years now while his father concentrated on overseas and other pet projects—like his new protégé, Carli, for example.

Then again, he hadn’t needed his father since his parents’ divorce. About the time his father made it clear he didn’t want James underfoot. Not wanting their eldest son around was the one thing Jackson Hammond and his ex-wife had in common.

“How is the trip going?” James asked, turning to other, less bitter topics.

“Well enough. I’m meeting with Herr Burns in the morning...” There was a muffled sound in the background. “Someone’s knocking at the door. I have to go. We’ll talk tomorrow, when you’re back in the office.”

The line disconnected before James had a chance to remind him tomorrow was Thanksgiving. Not that it mattered. He’d still be in the office.

He was always in the office. Wasn’t like he had a family.

* * *

Belinda was nowhere in sight when James stepped into the hallway. Instead, he found the daughter-in-law waiting by the elevator, arms again hugging her chest. “Belinda had to take a call with Dick Greenwood,” she told him.

“I’m sorry” was his automatic reply. Greenwood was a great vendor, but he was notorious for his chattiness. James made a point of avoiding direct conversations if he could.

Apparently, the daughter-in-law knew what he meant, because the corners of her mouth twitched. About as close to a smile as he’d seen out of her. “She said she’ll join you as soon as she can. In the meantime, she thought you’d like a tour of the retail store.”

“She did, did she?” More likely, she thought it would distract him while she was stuck on the phone.

Noelle shrugged. “She thought it would give you an idea of the foot traffic we handle on a day-to-day basis.”

He’d seen the sales reports; he knew what kind of traffic they handled. Still, it couldn’t hurt to check out the store. Hammond’s was always on the lookout for new ways to engage their customers. “Are you going to be my guide?” he asked, reaching across to hit the elevator button.

“Yes, I am.” If she thought he missed the soft sigh she let out before speaking, she was mistaken.

All the more reason to take the tour.

The doors opened, and James motioned for her to step in first. Partly to be a gentleman, but mostly because holding back gave him an opportunity to steal a surreptitious look at her figure. The woman might be tiny, but she was perfectly proportioned. Make that normally proportioned, he amended. Too many of the women he met had try-hard figures. Worked out and enhanced to artificial perfection. Noelle looked fit, but she still carried a little more below than she did on top, which he appreciated.

“We bill ourselves as the country’s largest toy store,” Noelle said once the elevator doors shut. “The claim is based on square footage. We are the largest retail space in the continental US. This weekend alone we’ll attract thousands of customers.”

“Black Friday weekend. The retailers’ best friend,” he replied. Then, because he couldn’t resist poking the bee’s nest a little, he added, “That is, until Cyber Monday came along. These days we move almost as much inventory online. Pretty soon people won’t come out for Black Friday at all. They’ll do their shopping Thanksgiving afternoon while watching TV.”

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