Christmas with Her Millionaire Boss

By: Barbara Wallace

CHAPTER ONE

OH, WHAT FRESH hell was this?

A pair of ten-foot nutcrackers smiled down at him with giant white grins that looked capable of snapping an entire chestnut tree in half—let alone a single nut. Welcome to Fryberg’s Trains and Toys read the red-and-gold banner clutched in their wooden hands. Where It’s Christmas All Year Round.

James Hammond shuddered at the thought.

He was the only one though, as scores of children dragged their parents by the hand past the nutcracker guards and toward the Bavarian castle ahead, their shouts of delight echoing in the crisp Michigan air. One little girl, winter coat flapping in the wind, narrowly missed running into him, so distracted was she by the sight ahead of her.

“I see Santa’s Castle,” he heard her squeal.

Only if Santa lived in northern Germany and liked bratwurst. The towering stucco building, with its holly-draped ramparts and snow-covered turrets looked like something out of a Grimm’s fairy tale. No one would ever accuse Ned Fryberg of pedaling a false reality, that’s for sure. It was obvious that his fantasy was completely unattainable in real life. Unlike the nostalgic, homespun malarkey Hammond’s Toys sold to the public.

The popularity of both went to show that people loved their Christmas fantasies, and they were willing to shovel boatloads of money in order to keep them alive.

James didn’t understand it, but he was more than glad to help them part with their cash. He was good at it too. Some men gardened and grew vegetables. James grew his family’s net worth. And Fryberg’s Toys, and its awful Christmas village—a town so named for the Fryberg family—was going to help him grow it even larger.

“Excuse me, sir, but the line for Santa’s trolley starts back there.” A man wearing a red toy soldier’s jacket and black busby pointed behind James’s shoulder. In an attempt to control traffic flow, the store provided transportation around the grounds via a garishly colored “toy” train. “Trains leave every five minutes. You won’t have too long a wait.

“Or y-you could w-w-walk,” he added.

People always tended to stammer whenever James looked them in the eye. Didn’t matter if he was trying to be intimidating or not. They simply did. Maybe because, as his mother once told him, he had the same cold, dead eyes as his father. He’d spent much of his youth vainly trying to erase the similarity. Now that he was an adult, he’d grown not to accept his intimidating glower, but embrace it. Same way he embraced all his other unapproachable qualities.

“That depends,” he replied. “Which mode is more efficient?”

“Th-that would depend upon on how fast a walker you are. The car makes a couple of stops beforehand, so someone with...with long legs...” The soldier, or whatever he was supposed to be, let the sentence trail off.

“Then walking it is. Thank you.”

Adjusting his charcoal-gray scarf tighter around his neck, James turned and continued on his way, along the path to Fryberg’s Christmas Castle. The faster he got to his meeting with Belinda Fryberg, the sooner he could lock in his sale and fly back to Boston. At least there, he only had to deal with Christmas one day of the year.

* * *

“What did you say?”

“I said, your Christmas Castle has a few years of viability in it, at best.”

Noelle hated the new boss.

She’d decided he rubbed her the wrong way when he glided into Belinda’s office like a cashmere-wearing shark. She disliked him when he started picking apart their operations. And she loathed him now that he’d insulted the Christmas Castle.

“We all know the future of retail is online,” he continued. He uncrossed his long legs and shifted his weight. Uncharitable a thought as it might be, Noelle was glad he’d been forced to squeeze his long, lanky frame into Belinda’s office furniture. “The only reason your brick-and-mortar store has survived is because it’s basically a tourist attraction.”

“What’s wrong with being a tourist attraction?” she asked. Fryberg’s had done very well thanks to that tourist attraction. Over the years, what had been a small hobby shop had become a cottage industry unto itself with the entire town embracing the Bavarian atmosphere. “You saw our balance sheet. Those tourists are contributing a very healthy portion of our revenue.”

“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.

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