The Man Must Marry

By: Janet Chapman



Thank God it came quickly. Willa took a large, throat-burning sip, then opened her menu. She didn’t recognize anything. She could see the words shrimp and chicken and beef , but there were other, more ominous words associated with them, which everyone pronounced competently as they placed their orders.

The dinner from hell, that’s what this was.

“Do you have plain lobster?” she asked the waiter when he looked at her. He nodded.

“What is today’s price?” she asked, knowing it was rude but too curious to care. He told her, and Willa’s eyes nearly crossed. “Shrimp, then. Just sauteed. With steamed rice.”

The waiter nodded and left, and Willa looked up to see everyone staring at her again. She gave them her most brilliant smile, no matter how painful it was for her. “I buy lobster off the boat nearly every week. Even during peak season, I don’t pay more than five dollars a pound.”

“Really?” Darcy commented.

“A hundred years ago inMaine , lobster was considered a poor man’s food.”

“You don’t say,” Darcy purred.

Willa sighed. A shallow dish, that one. She looked at Ben. “Abram tells me you all like to sail and that he owns a Sengatti sloop,” she offered conversationally.

“That’s right,” Ben guardedly returned.

“I sail,” she told him with waning brightness. “As a matter of fact, I grew up not far from the Sengatti Yacht Yard.”

“Have you sailed on one?” Ben asked, looking interested despite himself.

“Oh, sure. My dad was a sea captain. We owned a schooner and plied the tourist trade. Dad often took new owners out for lessons on the Sengatti they’d just purchased, and I went along.”

“Bram upgraded his sloop eight years ago,” Jesse interjected. “She’s forty-two feet long and fast. I believe she was the last boat Emmett Sengatti himself actually built.”

Willa smiled at his enthusiasm. “What’s her name?”

“Bram christened her the RoseWind , after Grammy Rose.” Ben’s face sobered. “Until Gram died five years ago, the two of them loved to go out sailing.”

“Tell us about your father’s schooner,” Sam interjected.

“She was named Cat’s Tail , because Dad said she sailed like a cat whose tail had just passed over a candle flame. She was two-masted and sixty-seven feet long. She slept ten, assuming a few couples didn’t mind cuddling. In the winter, we sailed her down to theCaribbean and hired out for weeklong charter tours.”

“What about school?” Jesse asked.

“Mom taught us.”

“Us?” Sam asked.

“My sister and me. We crewed for Dad. Mom cooked.”

“You must live fairly close to Prime Point, then,” Ben piped up, looking pleased. “That’s where Sengatti Yacht is located.”

“Not that close,” Willa shot back, shooting down his hopes of learning where his grandfather was. The food arrived, and while Willa eyed hers suspiciously, Darcy tried to continue the conversation.

“So you’re a sailor? Is that what you do for a living?”

“No,” Willa told her with anticipated relish. “I build caskets.”

Bingo. Both Darcy and Paula choked on their first bites of food. The men didn’t bat an eyelash, so Sam must have told them already.

“Caskets?” Paula squeaked, her eyes wide in horror.

“Yup, and we do a lot of custom orders. We use local wood and carve beautiful scenes into them.” She beamed at her stunned audience, who had set down their forks. “Our caskets hold the remains of some of the world’s most eccentric people. We ship all over the world. You’d be amazed at some of the requests we get.”

Nobody moved. Nobody spoke. Finally, Sam started to push his food around on his plate.

Okay. That had been a nasty shot, and she was a little ashamed of herself. But dammit, they all deserved it. They all had been looking down their noses at her.

“What do you do, Darcy?” Willa asked.

“Do?”

“For work?”

“Work?”

Willa sighed.

“I’m thinking of going back to school,” the woman offered.

“School’s important,” Willa confirmed, smiling at Jesse, who suddenly started eating.

“I do charity functions,” Paula piped up.

“That’s important, too,” Willa agreed.

Wow. And these intelligent Sinclair men were attracted to them?

“Shouldn’t we be discussing Tidewater?” Ben interjected. “That is the reason we’re here.”

“No, it’s not. We’re here so I can get to know each of you better.”

“We’re not biting, Ms.Kent ,” Sam said softly, leaning closer. “No matter what Bram told you, you’re trolling in barren water.” “Fine,” Willa shot back. “Then maybe I’ll just draw straws tomorrow.”

Sam snapped his brows together at Willa’s not-so-subtle reminder of his rudeness. If she was fishing, she wasn’t baiting her hook. She didn’t talk like a woman trying to snag a husband; she talked as if she couldn’t wait to be done with the entire lot of them.

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