Closed for Christmas by Elizabeth Coldwell
General Release Date: 20th December 2022
Word Count: 30,639
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
When Lori Lawrence arrives in the quaint town of Holiday Falls just before Christmas, her task is to assess whether the town’s underperforming bookstore deserves to be kept open. There’s no room for sentiment in the company she works for, yet she finds herself strangely drawn to the bookshop’s manager, the handsome and idiosyncratic Henry Cole. He doesn’t believe in loyalty schemes and hi-tech innovations, but he’s created an inviting space for everyone who loves books and reading.
This should be a straightforward job, but the heaviest snowfall in years leaves Lori stuck in town, and as the days go by and it seems like she’ll never be able to leave, she begins to see Henry’s way of running things with new eyes.
It’s not long before their feelings for one another deepen, but Henry has no idea of Lori’s true intentions. What will happen when he discovers the real reason why she’s in Holiday Falls?
“Holiday Falls?” Lori scrolled across the map on her laptop screen. She prided herself on knowing the location of every store in the Becker’s Books chain, and it irked her that she couldn’t immediately place this one. At last, she found it, right at the other end of the state from where she sat in her boss’ office looking out over Harvard Yard.
“It’s one of a handful of stores we’ve been keeping an eye on.” Simon Becker paused at the sound of a knock on his door. When he called out, “Come in,” his PA, Donna, entered carrying a tray. She placed a coffee cup in front of Lori, then handed another to Simon and set a plate of cookies shaped like snowflakes and decorated with white frosting in easy reach of them both. Just another reminder that Christmas was almost on top of them, and Lori still had so much to do before the company closed for its brief holiday break.
Simon reached for a cookie and offered the plate to Lori. When she made a polite refusal, he went back to what they’d been talking about before the interruption. “You’ve seen the physical sales figures across the company, and they’re holding up well despite more customers than ever choosing to buy their books online. But the stores in Madison and Little Rock are really struggling, and much as it hurts me to let good people go at this time of year, I’ve made the decision that when they close their doors on Christmas Eve, they won’t reopen.” He took a sip of his coffee, letting Lori digest the news. “And then there’s Holiday Falls.”
“What’s the problem there?” She leaned forward in her chair.
“Well, the town is such an important part of the whole Becker’s story…”
Lori knew as much as anyone who worked for the chain about its history. How Simon Becker’s grandfather, Daniel, had opened the original Becker’s Books here in Cambridge in 1973. It had mostly sold textbooks to the students at Harvard University, but it had done so well that within a year, Daniel Becker and his business partner, Anthony Hill, had opened a second store in nearby Boston, catering to a more general clientele.
“Anthony Hill’s mother lived in Holiday Falls. She loved to read, but she was always complaining there was nowhere in town she could go to buy books.” Simon helped himself to a second cookie as he spoke. “So, he and my grandfather took the decision to open a store there, too. It’s always had a special place in the Becker’s story—hell, it’s the reason we came up with the advertising slogan ‘books for the people you love’…”
Lori sensed there was a ‘but’ coming. “Sales there are slipping?” She called up the document with the figures from the last quarter in order to check, but Simon shook his head.
“No, they’re doing quite well, actually, considering the size of the town. But you know how we always send secret shoppers to our stores on a regular basis, to see how they treat awkward customers and find out if there’s anything they can do to make the place more inviting? Well, the report we got back from Holiday Falls…” Simon sighed. “According to our shopper, they couldn’t have been more helpful. No, they didn’t have the book she wanted, yes, they could order it for her, no, it wouldn’t be a problem to have it gift-wrapped… But they didn’t try to sign her up to the loyalty program, didn’t ask if she wanted to join our mailing list so we could keep her up to date with offers and promotions. She said the whole store felt like she’d gone back thirty years in time, as if it wasn’t even part of the Becker’s chain. Lori, we need to enforce company policy, and that’s where you come in.”
“What do you need me to do?”
“I want you to go there and check it out, then report back to me. If standards have slipped in Holiday Falls, I want to know why. The manager there is a”—he consulted his computer screen—“Henry Cole. You need to make him aware there’s a Becker’s way of doing things, and if he can’t comply with it, then I’m afraid we’ll have to replace him. If that doesn’t work out, then we’ll have no choice but to close the store. I’ll let him know you’ll be there tomorrow. Shall we say lunchtime?”
“Oh, I have that meeting with the regional manager in Boston at eleven. We’ve had to reschedule twice, and if I cancel on him now, I don’t see him being available again until the other side of Christmas.”
“No problem. Go over to Holiday Falls after the meeting ends, and I’ll get Donna to arrange for you to stay there for the night, rather than driving straight back. It’s the least I can do after dumping this on you at such short notice. But we can’t afford to keep carrying the lame duck stores.”
Lori nodded. She knew exactly why she’d been chosen to make this visit. She had a reputation within the company for being unsentimental, ruthless even, when it came to business decisions. She’d acquired the nickname of the Ice Maiden around the office, though no one had ever used it to her face. If anyone could make the decision to close a bookstore that clearly meant so much to Simon, it was her. “You can count on me to give the place a fair assessment. And I’ll get my report to you as soon as I’m back in the office. I know you want to make a quick decision on this.”
“Thanks, Lori.” Simon pushed the almost empty plate toward her as she rose to leave. “Now, are you sure you won’t have a cookie?”
About the Author
Elizabeth Coldwell is a multi-published author and editor whose stories have appeared in a number of best-selling anthologies. She has written novels in a variety of different genres, from paranormal to BDSM and contemporary romance. She is the former editor of the UK edition of Forum magazine and the proud winner of an International Leather Award. When she is not busy writing, she is an avid supporter of Rotherham United Football Club and can be regularly found on the terraces at weekends, cheering her boys to victory (hopefully!).
Find her online at The (Really) Naughty Corner, http://elizabethcoldwell.wordpress.com
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