Love Finds You in North Pole, Alaska

By: Loree Lough



Bryce frowned as her voice—which he’d found so musical and appealing just minutes before—interrupted his thoughts. “Your background?”

She raised one eyebrow. “You didn’t read my résumé?”

“Nope.”

“Your aunt warned me you probably hadn’t.” Then, “I came to town to run Silver Bells. My degree is in culinary arts.”

He watched as her smile faded, as her long-lashed eyes flashed with something akin to anger.

“Seems the owner decided to give the job to his nephew, despite the fact that his manager sent me a detailed letter confirming the job.” She shook her head. “I take it Mr. Stubborn-and-Powerful has a lot of control here in North Pole?”

“Only in his own mind,” Bryce said, picturing Dan Brooks, his rival for as long as he could remember. With Dan’s reputation as a womanizer, it was clear the man hadn’t interviewed Sam in person. One look at her, and no way he’d have given the job to his nephew. “How long did you say you’d been in town?”

“Day before yesterday. I can’t tell you what a relief it was when you responded to my email so quickly.” Sam rolled her eyes. “My brothers gave me a month before I ran back to pick up my former—to quote them—‘East Coast pampered lifestyle.’ ” Giggling, she added, “Can you imagine what they’d have said if I told them I couldn’t last even a day?”

Yeah, well, we’ll see if you last a week. Out loud he asked, “Where’s ‘home’?”

“Baltimore. Which you’d know if you’d read my résumé.”

Bryce didn’t quite know how to react to her teasing grin, so he pointed to the baseball cap hanging on the peg behind the door. “Orioles and Ravens, my two favorite teams.”

“Is that so.”

A statement, he noted, not a question. Did it mean she wasn’t a fan, or that she wasn’t interested in the fact that he was a fan? Not that it mattered. Bryce didn’t intend to spend any more time with this girl than was necessary. “Let me show you around before the customers start pouring in.”

“How many people come through here in a day?”

“Depends. A couple hundred during the height of the tourist season, a couple dozen when it isn’t, hardly a soul in the dead of winter.”

Sam brushed her hair back, exposing tiny ears, each with the faintest hit of a point on top. Maybe he’d suggest a uniform to attract more shoppers: green-and-white striped socks and pointy-toed shoes.

“So,” she said, “is there a formal job description that describes my duties as manager of Rudolph’s?”

“Nah. We don’t stand on formality around here.” Chief Elf, perhaps? he thought with a grin. That elf costume sure would look cute on her….

As a marine captain, Bryce had always taken the safety of the men and women under his charge very seriously, and he’d learned early on that the most efficient way to accomplish this was to separate the hard chargers from the jokers. When Sam stood toe to toe with the hard labor required to run the place, which category would she fall into?

As he tucked her purse under the counter with a quiet oomph, Bryce realized that if she could drag the thing around wherever she went, she just might be able to handle the rigors of the job! And he fervently hoped she would. Because the last thing he needed was to waste time introducing her to the stock and the store, only to have her turn tail and run when the going got tough…and at the height of tourist season, the going would get tough. The question was, did Sam have the courage to handle it? She had basically admitted that she didn’t have the guts to tell her family about the mix-up over her job at the hotel. Which made no sense, since Dan’s decision had nothing to do with her.

Or did it?

“So, why haven’t you told your family about your change of plans?” he asked, leading the way into the storeroom

When she breezed past, he caught a whiff of white orchids, his mother’s favorite scent. He hadn’t thought about that in—in—

“Because as the youngest of eight kids—and the only girl—they think I need protecting, like I’m some sort of empty-headed little weakling who’s made of spun glass.”

Were her brothers just being guys? he wondered. Or had her behavior inspired their attitude? Obviously, they’d never lifted that suitcase she called a purse.

Sam ran her fingertips along a shelf edge and then pulled a tissue from her jacket pocket and wiped dust from her fingertips. She looked around the room, nodding and muttering “Mmmhmm” and “Ah” as her gaze traveled the wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling shelves. “Soon as I get the lay of the land around here, I’ll get busy on this place. Whipping it into shape shouldn’t be all that different from organizing a professional kitchen.” And then, as if on cue, her stomach growled.

“Sorry,” she said, grinning as she patted it, “but I didn’t make time for breakfast this morning.”

Bryce was about to point out she’d skipped the most important meal of the day when she gave him a quick once-over, starting with his well-buffed loafers and ending at the collar of his polo shirt. He braced himself for the “poor baby” comment that would surely follow when those blue eyes of hers made their way to his patch.

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