The Man Must Marry(4)

By: Janet Chapman

“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.

Miss Kent darted a wary glance at the table of hostile stares. “I understand the importance of my

decision. And frankly, I didn’t want to take on this obligation. But I have, and I need some time to decide.”

“Why are you doing this for Bram?” Sam asked.

“Because he asked me to.”

“But why?”

“Abram has been renting a cottage on my property for the last six weeks, and we’ve become friends. He needed this favor, and I couldn’t bring myself to refuse him. I tried all last week to talk him out of this, but he just got…”

“Stubborn as hell,” Sam finished for her.

“Miss Kent,” one of the board members interrupted. “This situation can’t go on any longer. Abram Sinclair is Tidewater. The business community knows he’s gone missing, and we have no leader with the power to make binding decisions. It’s imperative that a new CEO be chosen soon.”

“I’ll decide by tomorrow, after I have dinner with you three tonight,” she promised, looking at the three contenders. “But I simply can’t vote right now.”

“I have a date tonight,” Jesse told her.

“Then bring her,” she offered. “I just thought if I could get to know each of you a little better, it would help me decide.”

“You expect to gamble the future of a multibillion-dollar business over dinner?” Ben asked incredulously.

“I was told the company would be in good hands with any of you.”

“If this is a fishing expedition, Miss Kent , then beware,” Sam whispered tightly, leaning over the table, watching with satisfaction as her eyes went wide and wary. “The three of us are liable to sink your ship with you still in it.”

She blinked up at him. “Fishing expedition?”

“Dammit to hell!” Ben growled, slapping his briefcase shut and storming out of the boardroom. Sam took her by the elbow again, restraining himself from dragging her to her feet. They didn’t need this right now. Not after six weeks of worrying about their grandfather.

“Come on, Ms.Kent ,” he ground out.

He had to let go of her elbow while she scrambled under the table to retrieve the purse she’d dropped again. While she was there, she patted the floor, looking for her shoes. Sam looked up at the boardroom of equally incredulous people.

She dropped her purse again when she tried to sit down and put on her shoes. Sam picked it up, deciding he would hold on to it for sanity’s sake. Finally, he all but dragged her into the hall.

“I’ve booked a room at the Marriott,” she told him as she scrambled to keep up.

“You can stay at the penthouse tonight.”

“No. I prefer to stay at the hotel,” she said, looking up with unwavering eyes that were nearly the color of slate.

“If you insist.” He stopped at the reception desk. “Did you find Miss Kent ’s luggage?”

“Yes, Mr. Sinclair. It’s already in your car.”

“Thank you.” He started toward the elevator.

“I am quite capable of walking on my own,” she quietly told him, tugging on her elbow. He freed her, then watched with ill-concealed anger as she eyed the elevator doors as if they were going to open up and eat her.

“First time visitingNew York ?” he asked dryly, forcing his emotions under control. He also had to relax his shoulders forcibly, as they were bunched with the desire to throttle the little twit.