The Man Must Marry(3)

By: Janet Chapman

“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.”

“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?”