The Man Must MarryBy: Janet Chapman
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 The woman truly resembled a partridge, her plain brown feathers rumpled and sadly outdated.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.”