Love Finds You in North Pole, AlaskaBy: Loree Lough
“And here I thought I was the only person in America who ironed creases into her jeans. Better keep your distance, boss,” she teased, “’cause those pants of yours are sharp enough to draw blood!”
Chuckling, he leaned on the doorjamb as she continued her inspection. No doubt he’d rack up his share of frustration teaching her the ropes. Might even feel annoyance from time to time. But something told him that the one thing he wouldn’t feel while working with Samantha Sinclair was boredom.
After three hours of tossing and turning, Sam gave up trying to put her handsome boss out of her mind. Climbing out of bed, she wrapped herself in a thick pink robe and flicked on the lamp behind her driver’s seat. Plopping down at the tiny table, she tried to read her Bible. But not even her usual favorites from scripture could keep her from thinking about Bryce Stone.
All during his tour of Rudolph’s, she’d hoped he would explain why he wore the mysterious black patch over his left eye. His stance, close-cropped haircut, and occasional use of military terms told her he’d probably been a soldier. Plus, he reminded her of her youngest brother, who’d served a long harrowing year in Iraq. Bill hated talking about his time over there, unless, of course, he brought it up. So Sam hadn’t asked Bryce about the patch or the angry scar visible beneath it.
It hadn’t been easy, as he described North Pole’s weather and explained how daylight lasted twenty-one hours a day this time of year, to tamp down an overwhelming desire to comfort him…though she didn’t know from what. Bryce’s demeanor hinted at a past fraught with physical and emotional pain, and despite his polite smile, no joy glittered in his beautiful brown eye.
Was it her fault that something in her DNA made her want to fix things for people? Maybe she’d have been better off taking her mother’s advice to study nursing or become some sort of therapist. “Put all that empathy of yours to good and sensible use!” her dad had tacked on.
Suddenly, a weird thought crossed her mind, and it got her heart to beating double-time….
What if Bryce hadn’t been a soldier after all? What if he’d earned that stiff-backed posture in jail? She’d seen more than enough old black-and-white movies to know that marching around the exercise yard for hours on end wasn’t just a way for wardens and guards to keep control of wayward convicts. It was also how the cons built iron-strong muscles to defend themselves…from one another. So what if the injury had been the result of a prison yard battle?
Sam jumped up and checked the RV’s front and rear doors. Assured that both were securely locked, she returned to the table where her Bible lay open to the book of Psalms. Catching sight of her worried expression in the reflection of the window, she laughed out loud. Because really, what crime could a man like that have committed to earn a prison sentence? Besides, his aunt seemed like a really sweet woman. Surely she wouldn’t have exposed Sam to danger, even to protect her nephew.
“Oh, grow up, Sam,” she scolded herself. And yawning, she stretched and thanked the Lord for the sleepy feeling that finally began to settle over her. Lights out, she padded back to her narrow bedroom and climbed under the covers, smiling as she pictured the town. From the thatched roof of the log cabin Welcome Center to streets with names like Mistletoe Drive, Snowman Lane, and Kris Kringle Turnaround, there didn’t seem to be a single drawback to living in North Pole, Alaska!
So why, she wondered as drowsiness deepened and the image of Bryce Stone floated in her mind, did it seem that her new boss didn’t like his hometown?
Of all the days to oversleep, why this one? Sam wondered, rushing through her morning routine. The only upside to forgetting to set her alarm was that in her rush to meet Bryce at the shop at eight sharp, she’d all but forgotten why she’d had to take the job in the first place. Besides, it was impossible to dwell on negative stuff when at every turn, she was faced with colorful decorations reminiscent of Baltimore’s 33rd Street Christmas display. Candy canes, elves and reindeer, Santas and Mrs. Clauses adorned just about every free space in town, and the pleasant expressions of shopkeepers were matched only by the bright faces of tourists.
Wearing khaki pants and a long-sleeved white shirt, she scrunched her hair into a high ponytail and laced up her sneakers before setting out on the four-block walk from the hotel parking lot to Snowman Lane. In no time, she found herself at Rudolph’s Christmas Emporium.
Her joy at the prospect of working here was dampened by thoughts of what her father would think about her new job. “So let me get this straight,” he’d no doubt say, “I helped fund your degree in culinary arts so you could work in a Christmas gift shop?” She looked up at the huge reindeer overhead and grinned. “It’s okay, Rudolph. Dad doesn’t mean any disrespect.”
“Are you planning to stand out here and talk to that big ugly deer all day?”
She’d have recognized that voice anywhere. “Have you ever thought of becoming a DJ?” she asked, grabbing the silver handle on the big green door and looking over her shoulder to where Bryce stood on the sidewalk behind her.