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The Man Must Marry

By:Janet Chapman

The Man Must Marry
Janet Chapman

       Chapter One



Sam Sinclair stood besideTidewater International's reception desk,   waiting for the elevator to reach the thirtieth floor. The bell finally   pinged, and whatever expectations Sam had, the woman revealed by the   opening doors was … she was …

Good Lord, Abram had sent them a partridge!

Her hair, which had probably started out as a neat bun, was   disassembling around her face. Though she couldn't be a day older than   thirty, the shapeless brown suit she was wearing was more appropriate   for someone twice her age. Half of her blouse hung out below the jacket.   Both of her stockings had runs, the overnight bag at her feet the   likely culprit. The woman truly resembled a partridge, her plain brown   feathers rumpled and sadly outdated.

She looked exactly like a Willamina.

Frozen in shock, Sam watched as her monstrous purse fell into the lobby   when she bent down to pick up her yellow overnight bag. She scrambled   out of the elevator with a muttered curse, unsteady on two-inch heels,   and retrieved her purse just as the elevator doors closed. Her overnight   bag was still inside.

The straps to it, however, were in her hand.

Instead of the doors reopening as they should have, the elevator softly   pinged again, and the handles rose up along the crack in the doors.  They  stopped at the top, the woman frantically tugging on them. Sam  heard  the unmistakable sound of cloth ripping, and Willamina Kent fell  to the  floor with a yelp of surprise, the handles of her bag still in  her  hands.

Several people in the decidedly stunned audience finally rushed over to   help her, and the floor beneath Sam's feet shifted at the sight of the   warm, shy, sincere smile she bestowed on her rescuers. God help them,   they'd been invaded by an angelic frump.

This was not what they needed right now. The shareholders meeting today,   to decide the new CEO of Tidewater International, was going to be a   circus.

And it was all Bram's fault.

Abram Sinclair had sent a terse cable fromMaine that morning, stating   that he was sending Willamina Kent in his stead. Miss Kent held Bram's   proxy vote, which would decide who would be succeeding him as chief   executive officer.

His grandfather had entrusted the fate of a multibillion-dollar business   to a woman who couldn't even exit an elevator without causing an   uproar?

Several Tidewater employees were gathered around her as Miss Kent   zealously explained the absurd chain of events that had ended with the   bag-eating elevator. Sam edged closer.

"I flew in on one of those commuter prop planes. My seat was right   between those huge propellers," she explained, tugging her ear, "and now   my ears won't stop ringing. You'd think they would have put the  airport  closer to the city, too. The cab ride was nearly two hours!  Heck, I  could have rented a car for the fare I paid."

Ten to one, the cabbie also had found Willamina Kent a plump partridge   and had given her the scenic tour. What was usually a mere hour's drive   inmidday traffic could take nearly two hours if the victim didn't know   her way aroundManhattan .

"Miss Kent ," Sam said, moving forward and grasping her elbow. "The   meeting is ready to begin, if you are." He ignored her subtle tug for   freedom.

"But my luggage … "

"Someone will retrieve it for you," he promised, looking at one of the   men. "And have maintenance see why the elevator doors didn't reopen," he   added, then turned to lead her down the hall. Sam had to stop when she   stumbled. She looked up with intense, curious eyes of an indescribable   color. They looked gray at first glance, or maybe blue. They were   definitely arresting.

"Who are you?" she asked.

"Sam Sinclair." He dropped his gaze to frown at her shoes, which didn't   match her suit. Her skirt and jacket were brown. Her shoes were green.   And they looked too big for her feet.

"Abram's grandson," she said.

It wasn't a question. Sam forced a tight smile. "His oldest grandson."

"How do you know who I am?" she asked, giving him a pleased, expectant look.

"A lucky guess," he muttered, once again towing her toward the boardroom, though he did shorten his stride.

"The meeting's starting now? But I'm not … I need … "

Her voice trailed off as she gave her hair a useless pat, straightened   her shoulders, and took a deep breath. Sam hid an involuntary smile.   Miss Kent looked like a Christian preparing to enter the Colosseum-which   was probably exactly how she felt. The boardroom would be filled with   lions today, three of whom where vying for the CEO position. And Sam  was  one of them.

"We've already held the meeting back an hour," he told her as he pushed open the door to the inner sanctum of Tidewater.                       
       
           



       

"Oh. I'm sorry," she whispered, her cheeks flushing a warm pink. "The ride in from the airport was longer than I'd anticipated."

"Had you contacted us with your arrival time, we would have sent the helicopter for you."

"A helicopter," she repeated, sounding intrigued, then gave him a   brilliant smile. "I bet it wouldn't have taken me two hours to get   here."

He attempted to lead her into the boardroom again. "More like twenty minutes."

She pulled to a stop and peeked inside. Conversations ceased, and all   heads turned toward the door. Miss Kent took a step back. "If they've   waited this long, they can wait another five minutes. Tell me where the   powder room is, please," she demanded, tugging on her elbow again. Sam   turned back into the hall and directed her three doors down. "Five   minutes, Miss Kent, and then we start without you," he warned, finally   releasing her.

She gave him a smug smile and walked to the bathroom. "Feel free. But   you won't be finishing without me," she shot back, disappearing inside.

Sam scowled. Damn his grandfather. He held the reins to Tidewater; he should be there. Where was he?

InMaine ?

Bram had disappeared six weeks ago. He hadn't told anyone he was leaving   and had barely contacted anyone since. The eighty-five-year-old had   simply up and vanished into thin air. Once a week for the last six   weeks, messages had appeared on an office computer telling everyone that   yes, he was still alive, not to worry.

Bram was a wily old wolf. He had complained loud and long about the   computerization of his company, but he was not above using the   technology to his advantage. Even Tidewater's computer gurus hadn't been   able to trace the origin of his messages.

Sam could only guess why his grandfather had disappeared like a thief in   the night. It couldn't be easy to step down as head of the company  he'd  built from scratch with blood, sweat, brain, and guts. Bram  obviously  hated to relinquish control, though he likely hated growing  old even  more-a fact that had been resonating with all of them since  Grammy Rose  had died five years ago. Sam walked into the boardroom and  stood at the  head of the table and waited. The twenty or so members of  the board  quietly took their seats and also waited in silence. Ten  minutes later,  the large door opened, and Miss Kent walked in, still  looking frumpy  despite her obvious primping. Her light brown hair had  been brushed out  and was gathered in a clip to trail down her back in  soft, wavy curls.  Her face had been scrubbed clean and glowed with  softly tanned  freshness. Her shirt was tucked into her skirt, but she  still looked  more like a child playing dress-up than a woman about to  alter the  course of an international shipping conglomerate.

"Thank you all for being so patient," she said, walking to the large table. She looked at Sam. "Where should I sit?"

He indicated a seat to his right. The man beside it pulled out her chair.

"Thank you," she told him. As she sat down, she dropped her monstrous   purse on the table and immediately started rummaging around in it.

With barely controlled patience, then with growing amazement, Sam watched, along with everyone else,

as Miss Kent pulled out the broken straps of her suitcase and set them   on the table. Then came an overstuffed wallet, a ring of keys that could   sink a cargo ship, three packets of airline peanuts, a packet of   tissues, an address book, and a candy bar that was squished beyond   recognition. She began to mutter softly, her words lost in the cavern of   her purse.

Out came a personal radio and earphones. More tissues. A romance novel,   the corners curled, the spine broken, with a pen acting as a bookmark.   An eyeglasses case. Finally, a folded mess of papers appeared in her   hand.

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