“MACRAE IS AS ANGRY as a baited bear,” Luke Marsden warned as he entered the office. “If you’ve never been around a Scotsman in a temper, you’d better brace yourself for the language.”
Lady Merritt Sterling looked up from her desk with a faint smile. Her brother was a handsome sight, with his windblown dark hair and his complexion infused with color from the brisk autumn air. Like the rest of the Marsden brood, Luke had inherited their mother’s long, elegant lines. Merritt, on the other hand, was the only one out of the half-dozen siblings who’d ended up short and full-figured.
“I’ve spent nearly three years managing a shipping firm,” she pointed out. “After all the time I’ve spent around longshoremen, nothing could shock me now.”
“Maybe not,” Luke conceded. “But Scotsmen have a special gift for cursing. I had a friend at Cambridge who knew at least a dozen different words for testicles.”
Merritt grinned. One of the things she enjoyed most about Luke, the youngest of her three brothers, was that he never shielded her from vulgarity or treated her like a delicate flower. That, among other reasons, was why she’d asked him to take over the management of her late husband’s shipping company, once she’d taught him the ropes. He’d accepted the offer without hesitation. As the third son of an earl, his options had been limited, and as he’d remarked, a fellow couldn’t earn a living by sitting around looking picturesque.
“Before you show Mr. MacRae in,” Merritt said, “you might tell me why he’s angry.”
“To start with, the ship he chartered was supposed to deliver his cargo directly to our warehouse. But the dock authorities turned it away because all the berths were full. So it was just unloaded four miles inland, at Deptford Buoys.”
“That’s the usual procedure,” Merritt said.
“Yes, but this isn’t the usual cargo.”
She frowned. “It’s not the timber shipment?”
Luke shook his head. “Whisky. Twenty-five thousand gallons of extremely valuable single malt from Islay, still under bond. They’ve started the process of bringing it here in barges, but they say it will take three days for all of it to reach the warehouse.”
Merritt’s frown deepened. “Good Lord, all that bonded whisky can’t sit at Deptford Buoys for three days!”
“To make matters worse,” Luke continued, “there was an accident.”
Her eyes widened. “What kind of accident?”
“A cask of whisky slipped from the hoisting gear, broke on the roof of a transit shed, and poured all over MacRae. He’s ready to murder someone—which is why I brought him up here to you.”
Despite her concern, Merritt let out a snort of laughter. “Luke Marsden, are you planning to hide behind my skirts while I confront the big, mean Scotsman?”
“Absolutely,” he said without hesitation. “You like them big and mean.”
Her brows lifted. “What in heaven’s name are you talking about?”
“You love soothing difficult people. You’re the human equivalent of table syrup.”
Amused, Merritt leaned her chin on her hand. “Show him in, then, and I’ll start pouring.”
It wasn’t that she loved soothing difficult people. But she definitely liked to smooth things over when she could. As the oldest of six children, she’d always been the one to settle quarrels among her brothers and sisters, or come up with indoor games on rainy days. More than once, she’d orchestrated midnight raids on the kitchen pantry or told them stories when they’d sneaked to her room after bedtime.
She sorted through the neat stack of files on her desk and found the one labeled “MacRae Distillery.”
Not long before her husband, Joshua, had died, he’d struck a deal to provide warehousing for MacRae in England. He’d told her about his meeting with the Scotsman, who’d been visiting London for the first time.
“Oh, but you must ask him to dinner,” Merritt had exclaimed, unable to bear the thought of a stranger traveling alone in an unfamiliar place.
“I did,” Joshua had replied in his flat American accent. “He thanked me for the invitation but turned it down.”
“MacRae is somewhat rough-mannered. He was raised on a remote island off the west coast of Scotland. I suspect he finds the prospect of meeting the daughter of an earl overwhelming.”
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