Love Finds You in North Pole, Alaska

By: Loree Lough

“So, how’d it go?” he asked, even before the shop’s door banged closed behind him.

Wearing her usual happy grin, Olive winked. “You’ll be happy to know we’ve got a brand-new full-time manager.”

“Full-time? I though we advertised for part-time.”

“Sam was able to work a full schedule, and I thought it best. Frees you up to spend as much time as possible in your shop.”

“Starting when?”

“Eight tomorrow morning.”

He heaved a deep sigh. “That’s a relief. Thanks for handling the interview. It’s been so long since I did any real work around here that I doubt I’d know what to tell—or ask—a job candidate.”

“Well, you’re not off the hook, nephew. Not by a long shot! You’re the owner of this establishment, and that means you’re the one who’ll have to check on h—”

“No problem. At least you’ve spared me the monotony of being here all day, every day.”

“You’ll get your freedom after you’ve opened the shop tomorrow and spent the day giving Sam the nickel tour.”

“No problem,” he said again, because how long could that take? An hour? Two at most before he could return to the garage and start sketching the plans for the highboy he intended to make.

He popped a kiss to Olive’s cheek. “Thanks, old girl. You’re the best.”

“Who’re you callin’ old?” she asked, feigning a frown.

Bryce headed up the stairs to his apartment, whistling the tune to “From the Halls of Montezuma.” Something told him that tonight, he’d get the best night’s sleep he’d had in ages.

Bryce woke half an hour before the alarm was set to chime, feeling refreshed and rested. Two cups of coffee and a bowl of cereal later, he decided to pass the time before Sam was scheduled to arrive by unpacking the shipment of Santa’s elf ornaments that had been delivered yesterday. As soon as he gave the guy a quick tour of the place, he’d head for the hardware store to make a copy of the keys to the front and rear doors. And from Bryce’s point of view, that couldn’t happen fast enough.

Half an hour and four unpacked boxes later, as the clocks lining Rudolph’s shelves chimed eight times in off-key succession, a young woman entered the shop. Whoa, is she ever easy on the eye, Bryce thought, watching as she shook the wind damage from her mass of ebony curls. He doubted she weighed a hundred pounds, even if she hopped onto the scale carrying that enormous leather purse. For a moment, he found himself picturing the tiny waist that was sure to go with her shapely legs. He watched her glance right, then left, and when she finally spotted him behind the counter, a smile lit up her face. “We’re not officially open for another hour yet,” he said. “Can I help you?”

When she moved closer, he marveled that she did it without sounding like a horse clip-clopping across the floor, despite the heels on her tiny red shoes.

Smiling, she glanced left and right then met his eyes. “What an absolutely adorable shop!”

The music of her voice sang into his ears like a gentle lullaby, and Bryce found himself hoping Sam Sinclair wouldn’t show up on time for work. Because right now, all he wanted to do was find out more about this beauty who hadn’t even seemed to notice his eye patch.

“I’m here to see Mr. Stone?”

Grinning stupidly, Bryce wondered how she knew his name, but before he could phrase the question, she plopped her bag onto the counter with a loud thud and folded creamy white hands, one atop the other, over its handles.

“I’m Sam. Samantha Sinclair? Ms. Stone told me to meet her nephew here at eight….”

Chapter Three

Bryce didn’t know how to feel. Part of him was furious with Olive for hiring a woman. If anybody knew how he felt about working so closely with a female, it should have been his aunt. Mostly, though, he was frustrated with himself, because if he’d taken time to open the attached résumé, as suggested in her cover letter, he might’ve known Sam was short for Samantha. But he’d been so eager to find somebody—anybody—to save him from working indoors that he hadn’t bothered.

Having stammered his way through an awkward introduction, Bryce was now trying his best to be polite to the ridiculously youthful-looking girl as he explained what her duties would be. But after casting a few furtive glances her way, Bryce’s appraisal confirmed his suspicions. Sam didn’t look nearly strong enough to heft cartons and boxes of Christmas stuff, let alone unpack them for display on the shelves. Even if she could handle the physical demands of the job, how much energy would she have left to deal with customers, order merchandise, and balance the books?

If she could balance the books!

Olive had made her choice, and he had little choice but to respect that.

For now.

But the very first time this…this elflike creature messed up, he’d be on her like white on rice. And Olive would have to respect that.

“So, aren’t you at all curious to know why someone with my background is interested in a job in sales?”

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