The Man Must Marry

By: Janet Chapman



Dammit, he didn’t want to be soothed. He wanted to grab this woman and shake her until she rattled. She was a stranger. A twit. And she was saying things he didn’t want to hear.

“Tell me where he is,” Sam ground out, grabbing her by the shoulders. Her eyes widened, her sympathy turning to alarm. “I can’t. I promised.”

Sam glared at her. “I’ll find him, you know. There can’t be too many casket makers named Willamina Kent inMaine .”

“You’ll hurt him if you do.”

“He belongs at home.”

“He’ll come back.”

“In a box!”

“If that’s his choice,” she said, her chin rising but not her voice. “We don’t have any say in how we enter this world, Mr. Sinclair. But if we have the chance to leave it on our own terms, then we deserve to.”

Sam felt the blood drain from his face and tightened his grip on her shoulders. She winced but didn’t try to break free. Instead, she brought one small hand up to his chest. “It’s Abram’s choice, Sam.” Her eyes became beseeching. “Have you thought that maybe he wants your last memories of him to be of a strong man who sat at the helm of his empire? If Abram could have had his way, I think he would have died sitting at his desk.”

“Or standing on the deck of a cargo ship, watching the sun rise,” Sam whispered. He released her to slam his hand suddenly against the wall of the elevator. “Damn!” He spun back toward her. “He was a sea captain, did you know that? It’s how he started. Bram could tell just by the smell of the breeze what tomorrow’s weather would be. He loved being at sea, and he and Grammy often traveled on whichever cargo ship was heading where they wanted to go.”

“I didn’t know that.”

Sam closed his eyes against the pain tearing at his insides. He didn’t like it, but he understood. Oh, Christ, he really did understand Bram’s pilgrimage toMaine . If the old man knew he was dying, he would not want witnesses, especially his grandsons.

Sam took a deep breath. “Okay,” he said hoarsely. “Bram is likely coming back in a box.”

“I’m sorry.”

“The old wolf couldn’t live forever,” he said with painful resignation, rubbing his temple in an attempt to erase the realization that he would probably never see his grandfather again. She touched his sleeve, smiling sadly up at him. Just then, the elevator stopped, and the door pinged, and he watched her stiffen. Pushing down his anguish with an iron will, he held up her purse.

“Don’t worry, I’ll protect it with my life.”

She laughed, and the haunting weight of morbidity magically left the elevator. Every muscle in Sam’s body involuntarily reacted to the simple, pleasant sound of her gentle laughter.

“You think I’m bad with elevators?” she said, her smile crooked. “You should see me with escalators.”

Well, hell. A partridge with the laugh of an angel.

If there was one weakness in Abram Sinclair, it was women. The old man had always liked them plump, laughing, and warm, which was why he was forever preaching to his grandsons that breeding, beauty, and bank accounts didn’t matter. Full bosoms were nice, and backsides built to cradle a man were necessary.

Which explained exactly why Willamina Kent was there.

Sam escorted her to the car in the underground parking garage in silence, where Ronald was waiting. He gave his driver instructions to take them to the Marriott, and they rode throughManhattan in silence. Willamina spent the trip with her nose nearly pressed to the window, watching the city go by. Sam passed the time watching her.

Her shirttail was untucked again. And the suit, which looked as if it had been made in the late seventies, was wrinkled beyond repair. She’d unknowingly knocked over the heavy purse at her feet, and half the contents had spilled out.

Sam silently sighed. He couldn’t figure her out. For all of Miss Kent ’s artlessness, he definitely had seen intelligence in her eyes during the meeting.

A less astute person might only notice her appearance, but Bram always tried to see past the mask a person wore, just as he was always trying to see beyond the ocean’s horizon. Sam felt he’d inherited his grandfather’s talent, which was why he would bet there was a lot more to Willamina Kent than first impressions. Abram Sinclair never would have left the fate of Tidewater—or his grandsons—in the hands of a twit.

So, was she merely the dying whimsy of an old man? Bram wouldn’t be averse to shaking up his family or his business to achieve an end, which meant the old wolf had an ulterior motive for sending her here. Marriage, most likely. It wasn’t beyond Bram to have fallen in love with Willamina himself; and who

better, he would figure, for one of his grandsons to marry? Willamina seemed like a sympathetic creature, if a person could get past her antics.

Although her chosen profession was…weird.

Well, hell. He guessed somebody had to build caskets.

But Bram was building his own. Sam still couldn’t shake off that macabre vision.

“Do you need help checking in?” he asked when they pulled up to the Marriott.

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