The Billionaire of Gumdrop Valley
Available as an ebook:
Billionaire Cane Randolph hasn’t been home to Gumdrop Valley since he left years before, running from everything he’d lost. So, the last thing he expected was to find himself back in town visiting familiar places, participating in some Christmas activities, and falling again for the one girl who had always looked at him as though he’d strung the stars together with strands of twinkle lights.
Ginger Everly has been over that school girl crush she had on Cane Randolph when it was evident he never planned on returning to Gumdrop Valley. Never mind that he saved the town from disappearing into the memories of Christmas past when he bought it. Never mind that she stalked his social media and devoured everything the gossip sites printed about him. And definitely never mind that he was hot enough to melt a stick of peppermint candy.
So, when he checks into her inn for a few days, and her sparks of annoyance quickly transform into sparks of desire, Ginger might just have to face the fact that she still has a crush on Cane Randolph and if he’s going to melt anything with those blue eyes and that soft beard, her Christmas wish is that it’s her.
Read An Excerpt
Billionaire Buys Small Town
The latest news to come from Wall Street is that Billionaire Cane Randolph of Randolph Investments has bought his hometown of Gumdrop Valley.
Now, I don’t know how many of you have ever heard of Gumdrop Valley, but when I was a little girl, my parents would take our little family out to a Christmas tree farm and on the way back, we’d stop in Gumdrop Valley. They had the cutest Christmas festival and some of the most delightful shops. The houses were decorated and lit, and the town looked like one of those quaint holiday villages people set up on every available surface in their homes. So, when the town was facing bankruptcy and businesses were beginning to close, Mr. Randolph stepped in and purchased all the land in the county along with everything in it. He saved Gumdrop Valley and with the influx of money and influence, Cane Randolph’s investment looks like it will pay off by the holiday season. I might have to take some time and make a drive up there this Christmas. You should, too.
Ginger snorted and closed the phone app. A two-year-old news story. Why were people posting again? It wasn’t as though Cane had come back to Gumdrop Valley since he tossed a bunch of money into the town’s bank account. The story hadn’t been wrong when they first reported on it, and they weren’t wrong now. The venture had indeed proved to be a lucrative one. The town had made him richer by the day once businesses got back up off the ground. Between websites, mobile apps, and social media, even more businesses had opened up.
And everyone loved Cane Randolph.
They couldn’t stop talking about how wonderful and amazing he was for saving the town. In interviews, he said he’d done it because he loved the people and the town he grew up in, but he hadn’t shown up in said town since he left when he was eighteen.
Of course, Ginger’s feelings about Cane Randolph were a bit confusing. She knew him, yet she didn’t really know him. It was a crush-from-afar kinda thing that for some reason had held on and held over since high school, which was a million years ago.
Okay, not really a million.
Maybe a thousand.
A hundred and fifty, at least.
Did it matter how long it had been? Thanks to him, she still had a business and a town she loved. So, no, it didn’t. At the same time, it kinda did. He bought the town. He saved them from the edge of ruin. He poured money into them, and Gumdrop Valley was as much a heartbeat of the people who lived and worked in it as the heartbeats in each one of them.
The town would love to show their appreciation for all Cane had done.
What would she do if she saw him? Would she still get all those flutters she used to get when he walked through the halls in high school or when he hung out at their house with her brother, Frankie?
Ginger stared out the front windows. She could see straight down Main Street to the town square that wasn’t really a square at all. During the day she could see the small park with swings and rocking chairs, the storefronts. She could see City Hall and the clock tower and the diner on the opposite corner.
For now, though, at night during the holidays, all she could see were the lights that brightened up the dark night sky and that resembled gumdrops and peppermint sticks. The snow on the ground glistened and fell from the sky in large flakes.
The inn was completely booked and with the second week of the Christmas festival in full swing, shoveling the snow away from the front walk would be an hourly job. She didn’t want any accidents on her property and the extra snow would be good for the snow sculpting contest.
Which she intended to win. Again.
And even though she didn’t have a partner, her skills were top-notch. She could win with one arm tied behind her back. She could go it alone if they’d let her, but no… She needed a partner. Which she didn’t have.
Her ex was supposed to be the one in life and in contests, but he’d met someone else and…whatever. He was away for the holiday season and wouldn’t be back until January. She couldn’t have been more thrilled.
Her partner before that had been her friend Stacy, but she was partnering with her husband this year.
Two, almost three partners in five years. That wasn’t a good track record.
Her first partner all through their childhood and teen years had been her brother but he’d been preoccupied this year and said he couldn’t do it.
The inquiry was made as a mug appeared in front of her face, fogging the window and causing her senses to wake up. The smell of chocolate and cinnamon and that little dash of spice brought a smile to her face.
“No problem. I was fixing one for myself and figured you could use one, too. You’ve been busy taking care of everything around here all day. You need a break.”
“You know how it is. I want everything kept perfect for our guests.”
“Things are always perfect for our guests. You go above and beyond at Christmas as well as any given day.”
“I try. I love this inn so much.” It had always been her dream to run the inn. When her parents no longer wanted to keep the inn, Ginger threw her hat into the proverbial ring to take over.
Frankie hadn’t wanted it. He preferred running their grandfather’s hardware store and had bought the house he and Ginger had grown up in before their parents moved into the inn after their grandmother passed away.
There was so much history in Gumdrop Valley for her family and she couldn’t ever imagine wanting to give it up for anything.
Her parents were happy in Arizona, and she was happy in Gumdrop Valley. She had friends, Frankie, the inn. There wasn’t anything more she could ask for.
Except maybe someone to share it with, someone to share her nice, comfy bed with…
She wanted to ignore the voice in her head and in that moment, she chose to do just that, but it had become more insistent and annoying lately.
“And it shows, so, take a breath and enjoy your cocoa,” Pearl said, bringing Ginger back to their conversation. She’d have a stern talk with that voice later. Again.
She and Pearl clinked mugs and Ginger sipped until the warmth spread through her body. She really did love Christmas, especially Christmas at the inn.
“Are you busy on Wednesday?”
“Wednesday? Um…” She turned her wise, wide eyes on Ginger. “Oh no. No no no. You’re not roping me into the snow sculpting contest.”
“What?” Ginger hoped her shocked look appeared more genuine than what it felt like to her. She wasn’t exactly the greatest actor.
“Don’t you what me, young lady. I know how you get with that contest. You become a she-devil.”
She wasn’t young. And she wasn’t a she-devil.
But the look on Pearl’s face told a different story.
“I just like a little healthy competition.”
“You like to win. That one year you didn’t…” Pearl shuddered. “I can’t even think about it.”
“Oh stop. I’m not that bad.”
“Do you need witness statements? Signed affidavits?”
Ginger rolled her eyes and took a healthy sip of the cocoa. The spice hit her throat and filled her with a delicious warmth from head to toe. It had been her grandmother’s secret recipe and when she passed away, she’d left it to Ginger. Her mother didn’t even know what was in it.
The only person Ginger had shared it with outside the family, was Pearl.
“I need a partner, Pearl. They won’t let anyone participate without one. You won’t even have to do anything. I’ll do all the work.”
“I know, but it’s not going to be me. Besides, someone needs to stay here.”
“I don’t have anyone else to ask,” she said, sighing dramatically.
“I’m sure someone will turn up that you haven’t asked, yet.”
Ginger slanted the older woman a look. “You sound sure of that.”
“Christmas miracles happen all the time.”
“Uh huh.” Pearl had said the same thing just before Cane Randolph bought Gumdrop Valley. Maybe it was the perfect segue to the question that had been floating through her brain. She hadn’t wanted to acknowledge it, but there was no way she could deny it was there. “Do you think he’ll show up this year?”
“I don’t know.” It was Pearl who slanted the look this time. “Are you hoping he does?”
“No.” She took a breath, letting it out slowly. “I just… I…” It was something she kind of hoped for every year.
“You just? I think you are hoping.”
“Why would I care?”
“I don’t know, why would you? Still carrying a little crush on him?”
“Oh please, Pearl.” Thank all the saints and Santa Claus that her nose didn’t grow with every denial and outright lie she told. “That was years ago.”
Ginger glared but gave it up because there was no heat or animosity in the look. “Besides, every girl in Gumdrop Valley who went to high school while Cane Randolph was here had a crush on him. We all move on, though.”
“If you don’t still have a crush, why do you get so bent out of shape?”
“Because he bought a town he never visits. He goes on television stating how much he loves Gumdrop Valley and yet, he doesn’t even show up at our best time of year. He spends the holidays over in Gingerbread Hollow. There are people here who would like to thank him, who would like to talk to him, and show him what a difference he made in their lives.”
“That sounds reasonable. Is that all?” Pearl’s narrowed gaze told Ginger she’d revealed too much. “And how do you know where he spends the holidays?”
“I read it.”
“I don’t remember.” Ginger spun away from the window and marched down the hallway that had been polished to a mirrored gleam. She took a hard right into the dining room and straight back into the kitchen.
“Why are you running?”
“I’m not running. I’m going to put my mug in the sink.” She took a quick look over her shoulder and picked up the pace. “Why the third degree?”
“I read things, too, and he’s never said where he spends the holidays.”
“A television interview, then.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Frankie, then. Frankie must’ve mentioned it.”
To be honest, she couldn’t remember where she’d heard it or seen it, but the fact that Pearl hadn’t said Ginger was wrong…
“You’re keeping tabs on Cane Randolph,” Pearl lightheartedly accused, following close on Ginger’s heels. The older woman was pretty spry.
“I am not,” she denied. “I…” She what? Read every gossip site about him? Followed his social media accounts? It wasn’t like he was the only one she followed and read about. There were other celebrities in her sphere of interest. He just happened to be a local one and he should care about his own hometown rather than avoiding it. After all, he spent the money to buy it, invest in it, and make it a success the way he did everything he touched.
Then again, there were extenuating circumstances in his past. Maybe that was why he stayed away.
God, she had a silly, stupid little heart.
“Jolene Randolph is his only living relative to speak of. Could be he just wants to spend his holidays with her.”
“Maybe.” Ginger’s heart still ached when she thought about the accident that left cousins Jolene and Cane orphans. They grew from their high school years into adulthood with people who weren’t their families. Trustees oversaw everything according to wills and financial documents until they were of age.
Jolene had stayed in Gingerbread Hollow. Cane had left Gumdrop Valley.
Ginger hadn’t been lying when she said every girl in school had a crush on Cane, including her, but while her crush on him didn’t diminish after the accident, something was different about it. It was somehow deeper. She didn’t understand it. She only knew that look, tragic and beautiful in those deep blue eyes, had made her heart flip-flop hard every time she caught him looking at her afterward, or rather, through her. He never made eye contact with anyone. He never let anyone close other than Frankie. Cane came to school. He went home. He didn’t talk to anyone unless he had to.
Before the accident, he’d been the life of the party. The daredevil. He’d been everyone’s friend. He’d been the all-star pitcher on the baseball team. He’d been…everything.
He’d been Gumdrop Valley’s darling, but that boy disappeared overnight and only the physical body remained. He walked around, but never acknowledged anyone or anything.
And once he graduated, he was gone. He hadn’t come back, not even to visit.
Everyone loved him. She wasn’t sure if it was the Cane they used to know, the one who lost those who loved him, or the savior, but they loved him and they wanted him around.
Part of her thought he owed the people of Gumdrop Valley that, though another part of her thought he deserved to leave all the memories behind him if that’s what he really wanted to do.
The part of her who still had a crush on him… That part didn’t want to admit how much she wanted to see him again. That part didn’t want to admit that she still wondered what if all these years later.
“But he should definitely come back for Christmas,” Pearl added.”
Ginger turned a suspicious eye toward the woman who managed the inn with her, the woman who had once managed the Randolph household. “What do you know?”
“Nothing. I don’t know anything.”
“Now who’s telling fibs? What are you hiding?”
“Hiding? I’m… I… Do you want some more hot cocoa?”
“Don’t try to distract me with hot cocoa. Of course, I want more.”
“Excellent. I made a half batch, and you know it never tastes the same if it has to be reheated.”
“You’re not fooling me, lady.” Ginger wagged a finger under Pearl’s nose. “I know when you’re hiding something.”
“I have never hidden a single thing from you, dear girl.”
“Not a single thing? Not even the surprise birthday party my brother threw me last year?”
“Okay, well, I did hide that information from you, but that was different.”
“Was it? I don’t know. You have that same shifty look now that you had then.”
After a few minutes of silence save for the clinking of spoons in mugs and Pearl’s humming of Blue Christmas, she broke, dropping her head into her hands. She sighed before looking up at Ginger through splayed fingers. “He’s on his way.”
“What? He is?” Her heart gave a little flutter. “Then why have we been having this crazy conversation?”
“Because I wanted to gauge your reaction to the idea. You’re hot and cold when it comes to the subject of Cane.”
Ginger forced herself to refrain from rolling her eyes again. “Please, Pearl. I can be professional and gracious and kind if I see him.”
“Of course. What do you think I’ll do? Jump him? Plant a kiss on him? You know me better than that.”
“What I know is that you shouldn’t let your guests wander around your inn when they arrive. They may get lost in unfamiliar places.”
Ginger’s eyelids slammed shut in mortification, before popping open. She gave Pearl another glare, this one full of promised retribution, then turned to face said guest standing in the kitchen doorway.
Dressed in a brilliant blue suit, the man of her dreams was dashing. And in a few minutes, she’d be frustrated and irritated with him all over again, but for a second she was going to look her fill.
His once shaggy head of hair was styled to perfection now and he sported a well-groomed beard that she had wondered about the feel of more than once. And the glasses he wore gave him a sophisticated air, like he’d been born to the city and not their small town.
He was gorgeous, but then he always had been. It was just… Pictures online and in magazines didn’t do him justice now that he was grown and standing in front of her. How was she ever going to let go of her crush on him if he continued to melt different pieces and parts of her?
She sighed and mentally shook herself out of her admiration of Cane Randolph.
“Good evening. Welcome to the Gumdrop Valley Inn.”