The Man Must Marry

By: Janet Chapman



Sam repressed a shudder, imagining Willa on a ship full of ropes and pulleys and sails. He wondered how often she unexpectedly went swimming or how many guests she’d drowned. CaptainKent must have the patience of a saint or nerves of steel.

The dinner table returned to silence as everyone ate. Ben and Jesse seemed to be realizing the truth of Sam’s earlier warning that Willa was not an easy mark. She had a disarming answer for everything and refused to be trounced on. She wasn’t above hitting low, either. Had Bram realized that? Most likely.

Dinner was interrupted twice by acquaintances who stopped by the table to say hello. Willa always quietly looked on with interest, assessing all of them in that disconcerting way of hers. Finally, the waiter brought over the dessert cart.

Willa eyed the cart with enthusiasm. “Oh, boy!Black Forest cake. I was afraid they'd only have strange

desserts.”

Darcy and Paula looked askance when the waiter placed a huge, creamy, decadent piece of cake in front of Willa.

“You’re going to eat that?” Darcy blurted, only to blush at her own rudeness.

“I sure am. Desserts did me a huge favor once. I owe them.”

“What kind of favor?” Paula asked.

“They helped get me a divorce.”

Sam, who had just taken a sip of coffee, nearly spit it out. Jesse and Ben set their cups down with a clank.

“Dessert got you a divorce?” Jesse asked.

Willa turned unreadable eyes on him. “I tried for more than a year to talk my husband into a simple, amicable divorce, but he refused to go down without a fight. Finally, though, I got him to give me one.”

“How?” Paula asked, leaning over her plate and looking intrigued, not noticing that her scarf was trailing in her food.

“I got fat.”

“Fat!”

“David was a rather superficial man,” Willa explained. “I got so fat he couldn’t stand to be seen in public with me. Bingo. Divorce.”

Paula blinked. Several times. “How fat were you?”

“What I am now.”

“The man divorced you because of what you weigh now?” Darcy asked, darting a frantic look at Jesse. Jesse was too busy staring at Willa to notice. Ben had picked up his coffee again, and Sam figured that was to hide his smile behind it; Sam, however, was purely amazed. The partridge had been married?

“Oh, no. I’ve gotten food on my scarf!” Paula cried. She stood up. “I have to go to the powder room.”

“I’ll go with you.” Darcy offered, standing up.

The men looked at Willa. She stayed sitting.

As soon as the women left, Willa set down her fork. “I wish to clear the air, gentlemen,” she said, her smile not quite reaching her eyes. “You do realize your grandfather sent me here hoping one of you would capture my matrimonial eye? And that I might…interest one of you?” Her smile widened. “He was looking for a miracle, I’d say.”

Sam snorted before he could stop himself.

“I explained to Abram that I never intend to walk down a church aisle again. All three of you could crawl toMaine on your knees, your hearts in your hands, and I wouldn’t marry any one of you.”

“I don’t remember any of us asking,” Sam snapped.

“As long as we understand each other,” she returned simply, picking up her fork and returning to her cake.

“Then why in hell are you here?” Jesse asked sharply.

“Because your grandfather asked me to do this favor for him,” Willa said with tired patience.

“But why, if Bram knew you didn’t want to get married?”

She stared at her half-eaten dessert. Finally, she looked around the table. “Abram claims I have an inherent sense of character. He hoped that I could meet you, get to know each of you a little bit, and objectively choose.”

“Then choose!” Jesse growled.

“Tomorrow!” Willa growled back, stabbing her cake and making one of the cherries shoot off her plate. It landed on Jesse’s white shirt.

Chapter Three

Darcy and Paula wantedto go dancing next.

Would the evening never end?

Willa could dance about as well as she could walk in heels. And her date must have realized exactly how she felt about it, because Sam’s eyes lit up when everyone agreed they would go to a favorite nightspot. Well, she’d simply have another drink and watch from the table. She wasn’t about to step into his arms naively, because Sam Sinclair downright disconcerted her. He made her palms sweat. He made her arm tingle whenever he took hold of her elbow. And she had a hard time breathing properly whenever he looked directly at her with those impaling ice-blue eyes of his. He was a good head taller than she was, although that didn’t exactly make him a giant. His shoulders did that. But it was his broad, masculine chest that really made her want to throw herself into his arms. That was why she wouldn’t dance with him. She was afraid she’d get wrapped up in his arms, against that chest, and start to drool. He also smelled much too good. She wasn’t about to get close to a well-built, handsome, broad-chested, nice-smelling man. It had simply been too long for her. Since her divorce five years ago, Willa had persuaded her hormones to hibernate, but the damn things had woken up when Sam took her elbow to escort her to the boardroom. Now they were practically jumping up and down in anticipation.

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