The Man Must Marry

By: Janet Chapman

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.

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.

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