“Yes, Mr. MacRae?” she managed to ask.
“Those clodpates of yours just spilled one hundred and nine gallons of whisky over the wharf, and a good portion over me in the bargain. Damned if I’ll be letting them bungle the rest of it.”
“Those weren’t our clodpates,” Luke protested. “They were lightermen from the barge.”
To Merritt, her brother’s voice sounded as if it were coming from another floor of the building. All she could focus on was the big, virile male in front of her.
Do your job, she told herself sternly, ripping her gaze from MacRae with an effort. She spoke to her brother in what she hoped was a professional tone. “Luke, from now on, no lightermen are to set foot on the hoisting crane platform.” She turned back to MacRae. “My employees are experienced at handling valuable cargo,” she assured him. “They’ll be the only ones allowed to load your whisky onto the crane and stock it in the warehouse. No more accidents—you have my word.”
“How can you be sure?” MacRae asked, one brow lifting in a mocking arch. “Will you be managing the operation yourself?”
The way he asked, sarcasm wrapped in silk, elicited an odd little pang of recognition, as if she’d heard him say something in just that tone before. Which made no sense, since they’d never met until this moment.
“No,” she said, “my brother will manage it from start to finish.”
Luke let out a sigh as he realized she’d just committed him to working through the night. “Oh, yes,” he said acidly. “I was just about to suggest that.”
Merritt looked at MacRae. “Does that meet with your approval?”
“Do I have a choice?” the Scotsman countered darkly, pushing back from the desk. He tugged at the damp, stained fabric of his shirt. “Let’s be about it, then.”
He was cold and uncomfortable, Merritt thought, and he reeked of cask-strength single malt. Before he returned to work, he needed the opportunity to tidy himself. “Mr. MacRae,” she asked gently, “where are you staying while you’re in London?”
“I was offered the use of the flat in the warehouse.”
“Of course.” A small, utilitarian set of rooms at their bonded warehouse had been installed for the convenience of vintners and distillers who wished to blend and bottle their products on the premises. “Has your luggage been taken there yet?”
“’Tis still on the docks,” MacRae replied curtly, clearly not wanting to be bothered with trivial issues when there was so much to be done.
“We’ll collect it right away, then, and have someone show you to the flat.”
“Later,” he said.
“But you’ll need to change your clothes,” Merritt said, perturbed.
“Milady, I’m going to work through the night beside longshoremen who won’t give a damn how I look or smell.”
Merritt should have let the matter go. She knew that. But she couldn’t resist saying, “The docks are very cold at night. You’ll need a coat.”
MacRae looked exasperated. “I have only the one, and ’tis drookit.”
Merritt gathered “drookit” meant thoroughly soaked. She told herself that Keir MacRae’s well-being was none of her concern, and there was urgent business requiring her attention. But … this man could use a bit of looking after. Having grown up with three brothers, she was well familiar with the surly, hollow-eyed look of a hungry male.
Luke was right, she thought wryly. I do like them big and mean.
“You can’t very well leave your luggage sitting out in public,” she said reasonably. “It will only take a few minutes for me to fetch a key and show you to the flat.” She slid a glance to her brother, who joined in obligingly.
“Besides, MacRae,” Luke added, “there’s nothing you can accomplish until I’ve had a chance to organize the men and hire extra barge crew.”
The Scotsman pinched the bridge of his nose and rubbed the corners of his eyes. “You can’t show me to the flat,” he told Merritt firmly. “No’ without a chaperone.”
“Oh, no need to worry about that, I’m a widow. I’m the one who chaperones others.”
MacRae gave Luke an expectant stare.
Luke wore a blank expression. “Are you expecting me to say something?”
“You will no’ forbid your sister to go off alone with a stranger?” MacRae asked him incredulously.
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