The Man Must Marry

By: Janet Chapman

“How do we know Bram is even alive?” another board member asked, glaring at Willamina. Sam interceded before she could answer. “Bram sent a cable this morning, telling us Miss Kent would be coming in his place.”

“How do we know he sent the cable?”

“He did,” Sam assured him. “There’s no mistaking Bram’s voice in the words. Now, shall we begin?”

He turned to the partridge. “Miss Kent . There are three of us in contention for the CEO position. Myself, my brother Benjamin,” he offered, nodding to Ben, who nodded to her. “And our brother Jesse.”

She smiled at each of them.

“As Bram probably explained to you, the CEO position needs to be filled, at least temporarily until he can decide what he wants to do with Tidewater,” Sam explained. “I gather he’s taken this little vacation to think about just that. Meanwhile, Tidewater is without definitive leadership.”

She nodded, her expression intent.

“Jesse, you may begin. Ladies and gentlemen, you may ask questions as we go along,” Sam instructed, leaning back in his chair.

While Jesse spoke of his vision for the company, Sam quietly studied the board members. They were all intelligent people, with a lot at stake in the company’s future. Sam’s roving gaze narrowed on Miss Kent when he noticed she wasn’t scribbling notes as the others were doing. Nor was she paying much attention to what was being said. That’s when it hit him: the woman didn’t know a damn thing about this business. Those blue-gray eyes of hers, which were sharpened with thoughtful attention, watched Jesse with an intelligence that had nothing whatsoever to do with spread sheets, growth curves, or bottom lines.

Ben spoke next.

And again, Miss Kent studied him with the intensity of a woman attending an auction to buy a horse, not hiring a CEO.

Sam’s gut tightened. Their grandfather was at it again, only the old wolf was getting more devious. He had sent Willamina down to shop for a husband.

Sam was thirty-six years old, Ben thirty-four, Jesse thirty. Since they’d each turned twenty, Bram had been trying to get them married off and settled down. Their grandfather had paraded more women before his grandsons than Sam could even count, much less remember. And now the old man had found another fortune-hunting woman, this time inMaine .

Bram must be getting desperate to sic a gold-digging frump on them, a little brown twit with faerie hair and angelic eyes, possessing all the grace of a newborn filly on ice skates. And from what he’d seen so far, those appeared to be her good qualities.

But as long as she voted as instructed, who cared if she was husband hunting? The three of them had successfully escaped their grandfather’s campaigns for sixteen years; they’d send this one scurrying back toMaine two minutes after she voted.

Sam stood up and spoke last, explaining that he didn’t intend to make any major changes yet. But he did emphasize his own vision for the company’s future, reminding the members that he’d been making most of the daily decisions for the last five years.

Then he called for a vote.

Most of the members had been anticipating this day, and the speeches were more a formality than anything else. All three had their own members in their corners, and as the votes were orally given, each member backed his or her man. Eventually, it came down to Bram’s deciding vote, as everyone had known it would.

“Miss Kent ,” Sam said. “Please tell us what Bram wished.”

She looked up at him. “I—ah—I haven’t decided.”

“You don’t have to decide, Miss Kent ,” Sam told her, his shoulders stiffening. “You just have to give us Bram’s vote.”

“Um…Abram didn’t give me a specific vote.”

“What?” Ben said in surprise, jumping up from his seat across from her. “What do you mean?”

“He told me the decision was mine,” she told Ben, her chin rising defensively.

“Yours?” Jesse repeated, also standing up. “What in hell are you talking about?”

Willamina Kent stood up, though her insignificant height only mocked her attempt to look imposing. “Just what I said. Abram told me the decision was mine.”

“He can’t do that!”

“Well, he did.”

Willamina’s gaze moved from one grandson to the other, and she spread her arms wide. “Think about it, gentlemen,” she softly implored. “The man’s your grandfather, and he loves each of you very much. He couldn’t choose one of you over the others.”

“Love has nothing to do with this,” Sam said tightly. “He just had to name the man best qualified to be his successor.”

“He told me you were all equally qualified and that he wouldn’t worry about Tidewater if any one of you succeeded him.”

Whispered murmurs erupted around the table, along with an underlying tension.

“So what in hell are we suppose to do?” Jesse growled.

Everyone looked at Miss Kent .

She gave them a sheepish smile. “I guess the three of you will take me to dinner.”

“But what about the vote?” somebody asked harshly.