The Man Must Marry

By: Janet Chapman


“Where’s your purse?” he asked when the car pulled to the curb to pick them up.

Willa looked him right in the eye. “On the floor in the restaurant.”

He heaved a mighty sigh and turned to go back in.

She grabbed his sleeve. “Leave it. It’s got three tissues and a comb in it.”

He looked at her, his blue eyes intent. Suddenly, he grinned and helped her into the car. Once again, Willa found herself sandwiched between Ben and Sam, across from Jesse, the two women on either side of him. And once again, the silence became awkward.

“What have you and Bram talked about these last six weeks?” Jesse asked.

“Everything,” she answered honestly. “About life. And death. About accepting both. He told me that he buried all three of his sons. And he says he misses Rose very much.”

“Our father was Bram’s middle son. His oldest son, Michael, died in a fire at the age of six. And Peter, his youngest, died at age twenty in a skiing accident,” Jesse explained. “Our father and mother died in a plane crash more than twenty years ago.”

“He told me Rose passed away five years ago.”

“Yes. Our home, Rosebriar, is named for her.”

“Bram also talked about you three. About how ‘damn proud’ he is of you,” Willa said with a sincere smile. “And about how stubborn you all are for not getting married,” she added, darting an apologetic smile at the two women across from her.

“We’ll marry in time,” Jesse said. “But on our terms—not Bram’s.”

“Abram told me he made the mistake of raising you all to be just like him.”

Jesse gave Willa a roguish grin. “That’s quite a compliment.”

“Not really. I think all of you, Abram included, should have been drowned at birth.”

Darcy and Paula gasped. Jesse’s grin broadened. Ben snorted. Sam’s shoulders shook, which shook her

.

“How long were you married?” Sam asked.

“Three long, long years,” she admitted with a sigh.

“And you’re sure it was your size that got you divorced?”

“I think, Mr. Sinclair, that ultimately it was the huge rottweiler David found in our bed.”

“You didn’t!” Jesse sputtered on a choked laugh.

“I was getting desperate. A friend owned a very sweet rottweiler who happened to dislike men. David

came home one night a little too late, a little too drunk, and a little too perfumey.” Willa smiled. “I think he still walks with a slight limp.”

Darcy and Paula looked incredulous, but both sides of Willa started shaking, until Ben and Sam couldn’t hold in their laughter any longer.

“A partridge.” Jesse snorted. “More like a falcon, Sam.”

Willa frowned. “What are you—”

The limo driver suddenly cursed as the car swerved hard to the right, throwing them off balance. More curses erupted from the men as it swerved again, and Willa was suddenly slammed up against a stone-hard chest. Bands of steel tightened around her as everyone was tossed like clothes in a washing machine, all three women screaming.

The wild ride stopped with unbelievable force, throwing Willa to the floor. A heavy weight landed on top of her. Though her head was protected by the large hand cupping it, her body felt as if a tank had just slammed into it. And she couldn’t breathe.

Old ghosts rose in Willa’s mind, filling her with terror. She shoved at Sam with all her might. “Out! We have to get out. It’s going to burn!” she cried, still shoving. “Everyone out!”

“Easy, Willamina. It’s okay. We’re not on fire,” Sam said close to her ear. Feet and arms and legs poked at her, as more cursing ensued. A back door opened.

Willa shoved at Sam again. “We have to get out! It could still burn. Get off me!”

“Easy, we’re getting out,” Sam said calmly, trying to quell her panic. “Are you hurt?”

“Just get me out of this car!” she shrieked, scrambling for the open door. Sam lifted her out, helping her stand as he visually inspected her. She broke free and whirled suddenly, looking at the limo on its side in the ditch. “Is everyone out? Is everyone out?” she shouted, trying to run back to the car.

Sam pulled her against him, walking them away from the limo. “We’re all out, Willamina. And the car’s not on fire. Take it easy.”

Ghost eyes met his; then she started looking around for the others. Ben had taken Paula a short distance away and was sitting with his date on his lap on the grass, cradling her against his shoulder. Jesse was trying to get Darcy to sit on the coat he’d thrown onto the ground for her, but she appeared too unsettled. Finally, he picked her up and simply sat down with her. Sam looked back at Willamina. She wasn’t panicked by just this accident. “Are you okay?” he asked, lifting her face so he could see her eyes.

She didn’t answer, shaking silently. Ronald came over with his jacket and put it on her shoulders. Sam wrapped it tightly around her and embraced her again, tucking her head under his chin. “What

happened?” he asked Ronald.