The Man Must Marry

By: Janet Chapman

She pulled to a stop and peeked inside. Conversations ceased, and all heads turned toward the door. Miss Kent took a step back. “If they’ve waited this long, they can wait another five minutes. Tell me where the powder room is, please,” she demanded, tugging on her elbow again. Sam turned back into the hall and directed her three doors down. “Five minutes, Miss Kent, and then we start without you,” he warned, finally releasing her.

She gave him a smug smile and walked to the bathroom. “Feel free. But you won’t be finishing without me,” she shot back, disappearing inside.

Sam scowled. Damn his grandfather. He held the reins to Tidewater; he should be there. Where was he?

InMaine ?

Bram had disappeared six weeks ago. He hadn’t told anyone he was leaving and had barely contacted anyone since. The eighty-five-year-old had simply up and vanished into thin air. Once a week for the last six weeks, messages had appeared on an office computer telling everyone that yes, he was still alive, not to worry.

Bram was a wily old wolf. He had complained loud and long about the computerization of his company, but he was not above using the technology to his advantage. Even Tidewater’s computer gurus hadn’t been able to trace the origin of his messages.

Sam could only guess why his grandfather had disappeared like a thief in the night. It couldn’t be easy to step down as head of the company he’d built from scratch with blood, sweat, brain, and guts. Bram obviously hated to relinquish control, though he likely hated growing old even more—a fact that had been resonating with all of them since Grammy Rose had died five years ago. Sam walked into the boardroom and stood at the head of the table and waited. The twenty or so members of the board quietly took their seats and also waited in silence. Ten minutes later, the large door opened, and Miss Kent walked in, still looking frumpy despite her obvious primping. Her light brown hair had been brushed out and was gathered in a clip to trail down her back in soft, wavy curls. Her face had been scrubbed clean and glowed with softly tanned freshness. Her shirt was tucked into her skirt, but she still looked more like a child playing dress-up than a woman about to alter the course of an international shipping conglomerate.

“Thank you all for being so patient,” she said, walking to the large table. She looked at Sam. “Where should I sit?”

He indicated a seat to his right. The man beside it pulled out her chair.

“Thank you,” she told him. As she sat down, she dropped her monstrous purse on the table and immediately started rummaging around in it.

With barely controlled patience, then with growing amazement, Sam watched, along with everyone else,

as Miss Kent pulled out the broken straps of her suitcase and set them on the table. Then came an overstuffed wallet, a ring of keys that could sink a cargo ship, three packets of airline peanuts, a packet of tissues, an address book, and a candy bar that was squished beyond recognition. She began to mutter softly, her words lost in the cavern of her purse.

Out came a personal radio and earphones. More tissues. A romance novel, the corners curled, the spine broken, with a pen acting as a bookmark. An eyeglasses case. Finally, a folded mess of papers appeared in her hand.

With a sheepish smile directed at no one in particular, Miss Kent unfolded the papers and pulled one page free, then pushed it toward Sam.

“My letter of proxy.” She glanced around the table, then stood up. “I should introduce myself. I’m Willamina Kent, a friend of Abram’s. He’s asked me to come here today to vote in his stead.” She smiled at everyone, then turned expectantly to Sam. “You may begin now,” she softly instructed as she took her seat and began stuffing everything back into her purse.

“Thank you,” he drawled, picking up the paper and scanning it. Bram had given Miss Kent his proxy, all right. His distinct signature sprawled boldly across the bottom of the notarized paper. Sam narrowed his eyes and read the handwritten note in the right margin: You boys be nice to the lady . Biting back a smile, Sam opened the meeting, telling the board members what they already knew: Abram Sinclair was tired and unable to run the business anymore. Hell, he should have stepped down ten years ago. Sheer stubbornness had gotten him this far, but age had finally caught up with Bram, and Tidewater needed a new CEO.

“Then where is Abram? Why isn’t he passing on the reins himself?” one of the members asked with a frown at Miss Kent .

Miss Kent raised her chin. “He’s still on vacation. I’m to vote in his place.”

“But where the hell is he?” Benjamin Sinclair demanded. Ben was the middle Sinclair brother, and he also wanted the CEO position. He’d been groomed for it, just as Sam had, as well as their younger brother, Jesse. All three were there today, each hoping to persuade the board that he was the best man for the job—even though Miss Kent would have the deciding vote.

Or, rather, Bram’s vote, with Miss Kent giving it.

“He’s inMaine ,” she told Ben.

“That certainly pins him down,” Ben drawled. “Where inMaine ?”

“He asked me not to say.”