The Man Must Marry(5)

By: Janet Chapman


“Actually, it’s many firsts for me,” she answered, looking up with what Sam could only describe as excitement. “Including my first plane ride.”

“Really?”

“Yup. And I can tell you, I’m in no hurry to do it again.”

“What do you do for a living inMaine , Miss Kent ?”

“I’m a casket maker.”

Sam blinked. The elevator doors opened, and without thinking, he took her elbow again and ushered her inside. “Did you say casket maker ?”

She smiled up at him indulgently, as if she’d been expecting his reaction. “I own a small casket-manufacturing business. I have a few highly skilled craftsmen who do the woodwork and others who do the interiors.”

“I see.”

“Abram’s been working for me,” she said, pulling free. She touched Sam’s sleeve. “He’s been building his own casket.”

Sam swayed slightly, as if he’d just taken a blow to the gut.

“It’s been comforting for your grandfather,” she continued softly. “Abram says he feels good using his hands. And he’s proud of his final accomplishment.” She moved to stand directly in front of him, looking up with concern. “Your grandfather is dying, Mr. Sinclair,” she said gently. “He’s come to terms with it, and now you and your brothers have to, too.”

“Then he shouldn’t have run off!” he snapped. “He should be home with his family. We’re all he’s got left.”

“He’ll be back. I think.”

“You think ?”

She canted her head, her countenance calm before the growing storm she must have seen in his eyes. “In some cultures, the elderly go off by themselves into the wilderness to die. In a way, I think that’s what Abram has done. I suspect he didn’t want the fuss and bother of a deathbed scene,” she explained, her voice soothing.

Dammit, he didn’t want to be soothed. He wanted to grab this woman and shake her until she rattled. She was a stranger. A twit. And she was saying things he didn’t want to hear.

“Tell me where he is,” Sam ground out, grabbing her by the shoulders. Her eyes widened, her sympathy turning to alarm. “I can’t. I promised.”

Sam glared at her. “I’ll find him, you know. There can’t be too many casket makers named Willamina Kent inMaine .”

“You’ll hurt him if you do.”

“He belongs at home.”

“He’ll come back.”

“In a box!”

“If that’s his choice,” she said, her chin rising but not her voice. “We don’t have any say in how we enter this world, Mr. Sinclair. But if we have the chance to leave it on our own terms, then we deserve to.”

Sam felt the blood drain from his face and tightened his grip on her shoulders. She winced but didn’t try to break free. Instead, she brought one small hand up to his chest. “It’s Abram’s choice, Sam.” Her eyes became beseeching. “Have you thought that maybe he wants your last memories of him to be of a strong man who sat at the helm of his empire? If Abram could have had his way, I think he would have died sitting at his desk.”

“Or standing on the deck of a cargo ship, watching the sun rise,” Sam whispered. He released her to slam his hand suddenly against the wall of the elevator. “Damn!” He spun back toward her. “He was a sea captain, did you know that? It’s how he started. Bram could tell just by the smell of the breeze what tomorrow’s weather would be. He loved being at sea, and he and Grammy often traveled on whichever cargo ship was heading where they wanted to go.”

“I didn’t know that.”

Sam closed his eyes against the pain tearing at his insides. He didn’t like it, but he understood. Oh, Christ, he really did understand Bram’s pilgrimage toMaine . If the old man knew he was dying, he would not want witnesses, especially his grandsons.

Sam took a deep breath. “Okay,” he said hoarsely. “Bram is likely coming back in a box.”

“I’m sorry.”

“The old wolf couldn’t live forever,” he said with painful resignation, rubbing his temple in an attempt to erase the realization that he would probably never see his grandfather again. She touched his sleeve, smiling sadly up at him. Just then, the elevator stopped, and the door pinged, and he watched her stiffen. Pushing down his anguish with an iron will, he held up her purse.

“Don’t worry, I’ll protect it with my life.”

She laughed, and the haunting weight of morbidity magically left the elevator. Every muscle in Sam’s body involuntarily reacted to the simple, pleasant sound of her gentle laughter.