The Man Must Marry(8)

By: Janet Chapman


“Damn. I didn’t realize he was sick. I thought we had more time,” Jesse choked out, dropping his gaze to stare at his hands.

Ben wouldn’t let go of his anger. “Why in hell couldn’t he have just faxed us his vote? The woman obviously doesn’t know a spreadsheet from a bedsheet.”

Sam snorted. “Guess.”

Both brothers blinked at him, then started cursing.

“Bram is still trying to marry us off from his deathbed!” Jesse snapped, shaking his head in disgust.

“Yes,” Sam agreed. “That, and to prepare us.” Sam cocked his head. “I’d guess that Ms. Kent has

fallen in love with Bram. Why else would she be doing this for him?”

“To land a rich husband,” Ben spat out.

“That woman couldn’t land a goldfish, much less a rich husband,” Jesse said.

“Don’t underestimate her.” Sam looked at his brothers with haunted eyes. “She owns a casket-manufacturing business. And she told me Bram’s been building his own casket.”

“What?”

“She says it’s been comforting for him.”

“Then she’s as sick as he is!”

“No. She’s softhearted. And the bravest woman I’ve ever met,” Sam countered.

“Brave?” Ben repeated.

“It was obvious that Tidewater’s boardroom was the last place Ms.Kent wanted to be today. And I assure you, she is not looking forward to this evening. It takes a hell of a lot of courage to messenger the imminent death of a man to his family. I honestly can’t say that I could do what she’s doing.”

The car fell silent after that, until they stopped to pick up Jesse’s date for the evening. With legendary Sinclair willpower, the three men forced themselves to throw off their gloom and smile at Darcy as she sat next to Jesse.

Darcy was the epitome ofManhattan womanhood. Tonight she was dressed in elegant black and cultured coolness. She wore three-inch heels, which were necessary if she didn’t want to be dwarfed by her escort. Jesse and Darcy had been seeing each other for three months, which was about the limit of Jesse’s female attention span.

Sam guessed his brother would soon be moving on, which was probably just as well. For all of Darcy’s beauty, she didn’t have much depth of character. Traveling, shopping, and spending her trust fund were the extent of her interests.

They picked up Ben’s date next. Paula wasn’t a steady; Ben enjoyed the company of several different women. He’d been burned badly a couple of times already; first when he was nineteen and then again four years ago.

The last time had been close. Bram had thought he was finally going to get a granddaughter-in-law, and Jesse and Sam had thought they were going to get the pressure lifted from finding their own wives. But just when it had looked as if Ben might propose, he’d broken off the relationship, not telling anyone why. It would take a stalwart woman to marry a Sinclair. She would have to be intelligent, strong, and forgiving. She’d also have to be brave. The Sinclair men were not known for their patience. People generally treaded carefully around them, especially Bram. And he’d brought up his grandsons to be just as ruthless, just as relentless, just as driven.

Sam, Ben, and Jesse had been orphaned when Sam was twelve. Their parents had died in a plane crash returning from an overseas meeting that had doubled as a romantic vacation. His shoulders slumped in

defeat with the news that his third and last surviving son was dead, Bram had arrived with Grammy Rose at the boys’ home and collected them. A powerful bond had been formed that day between the three lost, confused children and their grieving grandparents. Deep, desperate love had blossomed, along with friendship and respect.

That was why Bram hadn’t been able to choose among them. He didn’t want to turn his business over to just one of his boys; they all owned shares in Tidewater, and they all were wealthy men in their own rights, thanks to the Sinclair drive. To pick one to head his company was clearly too hard for the old man.

The limo pulled up to the Marriott, where Willa was waiting in the lobby. She reminded Sam of an absentminded professor, whose body was having trouble keeping up with her brain. Willamina Kent ’s head was too far into the clouds to see the everyday details of life. And her heart, apparently, was her own worst enemy. Why else would she have come on this mission for a man she’d only known for six weeks?

As soon as she saw him get out of the car, she headed for the revolving door. She’d traded her saddlebag of a purse for a clutch with a long strap that dangled from her fist. Sam watched in stoic resignation as she pushed through the door, snagging her purse in the sweep of the door behind her. The strap snapped, and the purse landed on the ground, unceremoniously pushed along by the door behind her.