The last thing Mari expected when she and her sisters arrived in Aingeal City with a load of trade goods was to land squarely in the middle of a marriage alliance. But that was the only way to save her clan and the Dana clan from the Delbhana plot that threatened not just them, but the entire world.
Mixing fantasy with romance, author Meyari McFarland expertly crafts a sweet romance that defies categories and instantly charms.
By Meyari McFarland
6. Surprise Suitor
“Over there,” Gavin called as one of the sailors tried to dump a bale of Chinwenduese silk onto his files. “It doesn’t go here. Over there!”
“Fine,” the sailor grumbled as she shifted the load to a different table. “Don’t have to snap.”
“Fifth time someone’s tried it,” Gavin grumbled right back at her. “I’m too tired and sick to care about politeness right now.”
The unloading zone was absolute chaos. Well, not really. It certainly felt that way to Gavin but it was more because his head spun every time he moved too quickly than because people were running around wildly. In fact, there were two clear lines of women carrying goods and records from the Golden Finch into the warehouse, one for physical goods they’d sell or ship onwards to customers and the other with records for Gavin and the other men to record.
Mother was doing a lovely job directing women as they unloaded the Golden Finch. Her voice broke on a regular basis but she hadn’t had a single coughing fit since she arrived. Father had arrived at the same time with a half dozen cousins who’d mostly recuperated from the cold. He’d also brought a nice warm quilt for Gavin’s lap, a hot brick for his feet and several hefty paperweights so that the wind wouldn’t blow any paperwork away while Gavin wasn’t looking. That was quite appreciated as the wind only seemed to get worse the more items were off-loaded from the Golden Finch.
His table was covered with stacks of folios and log books but that was completely normal. The abnormal part was that Great-Uncle Jarmon wasn’t there directing the men. Gavin did his best not to quail every time one of his cousins, or the occasional sailor, looked to him for instructions on what to do next.
Gavin carefully took a deep breath of the cold air and let it out slowly. “I need all the log books compiled, Uncle Brom. Great-Uncle Jarmon always wants to know who kept log books of the trip. I doubt we have time to do a précis for them right away. That’ll have to wait until more people are back on their feet, but at least we can have the list and keep them in the crate for future work.”
“On it,” Uncle Brom said with a confident nod. “Shouldn’t take too long without the précis.”
“Donny,” Gavin continued as Uncle Brom marched off with his crate full of log books. It looked as though nearly every crew member had taken one on this voyage, which was unusual. Normally it was only the officers and Dana family members who bothered. “Donny!”
“What?” Donny asked with a start. “Did you say something, Gavin?”
“Ears?” Gavin asked, tapping his own ear questioningly.
“Yes,” Donny sighed. “As if my hearing wasn’t bad enough before.”
Gavin grinned and nodded. He held up the charts that Captain Padraigin had recorded over the course of the journey. “Please take these to Aunt Gail. She’s handling the journey taxes.”
“Gail,” Donny confirmed while staring at Gavin’s lips. “Right. Take those to Gail.”
“Yes,” Gavin agreed.
His cousins Girram and Shamus both laughed quietly once Donny left. Donny was an uncle by convention more than by close relation. He’d married into the family twenty years ago, becoming Great-Aunt Gail’s daughter Bridget’s husband with joy. Bridget had never had children, rather like Great-Uncle Jarmon and Great-Aunt Maeve, but it didn’t seem to matter to Donny. He’d lost the majority of his hearing to a terrible fever as a small child so perhaps it was better that they’d never received the Goddesses’ blessings.
Cousin Girram had his mother Guthrie’s pale blond hair only lightly touched by Dana red but it curled twice as fiercely as Gavin’s did. Unlike most everyone else in the clan, Girram usually pulled his puff of wiry curls back and then covered it with a wrapped scarf that enveloped his entire head. It looked odd at times but then Girram liked to choose the brightest, wildest colored scarves possible so that wasn’t too surprising.
Shamus put his hands on his hips as he stared at the stacks of receipts left. “What’s our task, Gavin?”
“I’m going to work on the Minoo reports,” Gavin sighed. “Can the two of you handle recording the receipts into the books for me? I need them recorded both in the book for the Golden Finch and in our internal receipt books.”
“Should be fine,” Shamus said. “Girram?”
“I’ll take the Golden Finch’s book,” Girram offered.
“Good deal,” Shamus said with a contented enough smile that Gavin felt better about letting them handle the receipts by themselves.
They settled on the opposite side of the table from Gavin with the receipts, sorting them into order before they began work. Hopefully they wouldn’t receive any more unexpected receipts, charts or log books. Gavin always hated it when things were recorded out of order. It made accounting so much more difficult.
The flow of goods from the Golden Finch had slowed dramatically. The warehouse entrance was still crowded but the women moving about had shifted from sailors carrying trade goods to sailors greeting their newly arrived husbands. Gavin smiled at that, nodding approvingly. It was always good to see family’s reunited. He’d just opened the first of his eighteen inch high stack of Minoo reports when Shamus looked behind Gavin and gave a little gasp.
“What?” Gavin asked.
He looked over his shoulder and made a noise that really should not ever come out of a human mouth. Gavin couldn’t help it. Mari stalked through the crowd of sailors, Andros sitting on her shoulder while waving his arms in delight at being so tall. Around them their aunts laughed at Andros’s glee, a couple reaching up to pat his back encouragingly.
Mari strode through the crowd, head clearly visible over everyone else’s. She looked as though she was at least ten feet tall. It was like watching the Goddess Ragna herself approach, especially as the crowd parted before Mari and those magnificent thighs made his groin react despite his cold and fever.
“Blessed Ragna!” Girram moaned. “Who is she?”
“Gavin!” Andros shouted over the hubbub around them. “Look at me! I’m tall! Affrica Mari made me tall!”
Mari laughed. Her grin was a thing of beauty, open and confident, her too-long hair blowing around her cheeks. Fortunately she had a solid grip on Andros’ legs because he was squirmed so much that Gavin would have dropped him on his head ages ago. She caught Adros around the waist and made him fly through the air until she sat him gently on the table next to Gavin.
“Again!” Andros laughed.
“Nope, things to hear, first,” Mari said, gently tapping one calloused finger against the tip of Andros’ snub nose.
“Oh, oh! Yes!” Andros said. “I want to hear!”
“Hear what?” Gavin asked, charmed and confused and desperately grateful for the heavy quilt over his legs. Between that and the petticoats and kilt Gavin’s erection wasn’t visible. Hopefully.
Mari sighed as she passed the folio of contracts back to Gavin. “First, we missed some signatures and initials. The Records Clerk Sean said that they needed to be completed before we could get the contract on file.”
“…What happened?” Gavin asked far more warily. “Sean never does that unless he wants to get someone out of the Records Office.”
Mari straightened up, frowning at Gavin. Both Girram and Shamus nodded their agreement with him. Even Andros did. They all had stories of Sean’s determined avoidance of conflict in his office by sending people away to fix things that didn’t need to be fixed. After a second, Mari chuckled and shook her head. Her smile was wry and admiring when she looked at the folio in Gavin’s hand.
“Well, that leads directly to the second thing,” Mari said. Her hands clenched into fists for a moment but her glance was back towards the formal entrance to the Clanhouse on the opposite side of the block. “A certain pasty little fop by the name of Delbhana Danica was there with a herd of friends.”
“Glue-haired!” Andros piped up.
“Andros!” Gavin scolded even as he laughed at the description. “You can’t call her that.”
“Even if it is accurate,” Shamus snickered on the other side of the table.
“She said it first,” Andros explained, pointing up at Mari who gave him a completely unrepentant grin that would have done Anwyn proud. “I think it’s just right. Her hair does look like she glued it in place.”
Gavin flapped a hand at him and then spared a glare for Girram and Shamus whose snickers turned into cackles of delight. By the end of the week everyone in town was likely to be calling Delbhana Danica ‘glue-haired’ or some variant of the description. He wasn’t sure whether or not to join the laughter and pass the term on or not. Great-Uncle Jarmon had told him that he was supposed to rise above the petty politics that went along with their rivalry with the Delbhana.
“Why would that matter?” Gavin asked. “Danica’s branch of the Delbhana has contracts to turn in, too.”
“When I said that I’d delivered the contract for you, she took objection to the fact that we’d even spoken.” Gavin stared as Mari’s face went uncharacteristically grim. She cleared her throat, glanced at Andros’ rapt expression and then waved one hand as if to say that was underplaying it. “She in fact, despite all sense and reason, attempted to order me never to speak to or interact with you. Several times. I ah, may have dropped into western Aingealese drawl and deliberately flirted with Sean to throw her off. Going to have to apologize to him for that. Not that I wanted to lead him on, y’know, just wanted t’throw her off the trail a bit, you see?”
Giggles pushed at Gavin’s control as Mari’s formal posture and phrasing degenerated into a thicker and thicker drawl. By the end she sounded like she’d never set food outside of the western mountains and looked as though she wanted the floor to swallow her whole. Her cheeks were nearly as red as Gavin’s hair as she wrung her hands and shifted from foot to foot as if she was a little girl caught getting into the cookie jar before dinner.
“Throwing Danica off of something sounds like a good idea,” Gavin finally said, laughter winning out as Mari grinned, relieved, at him. “The pier comes to mind.”
“Top of the house,” Andros offered with a huff and arms crossed over his chest as if he was Mother.
“Good thought,” Mari said, pointing at him and nodding approvingly. “Messy to clean up, though. Might not be worth it on the mess alone. She got a leg to stand on?”
“No,” Gavin said. He sighed, rubbing both hands over his face. “Goodness, I’ve spoken to her once at a party. It was stiff and formal. My aunts glared at her aunts and I thought they’d start a brawl.”
“It’s ridiculous,” Shamus said. He shrugged as Mari looked at him curiously. “Gavin’s already said he won’t marry outside of the Clan. Anyone who marries him will have to give up their clan and join the Dana.”
Mari’s eyes widened. She stared at Gavin until he nodded confirmation. Then she looked away, the blush fading until it was only the sunburn on her cheeks that gave her any color. As she stared back into the warehouse as if she was seeing something else entirely, one of Mari’s hands drifted up to run through that too-long hair. She tugged, hard, twice before turning back to him with one of the most blatantly false smiles Gavin had ever seen.
Across the table, Girram batted the back of his hand against Shamus’ shoulder. Shamus grinned and nodded. Andros stared up at Mari and started giggling. He turned and looked at both Girram and Shamus. They nodded and grinned too.
“I ah, wish you well with that, Dana Gavin,” Mari said. She sounded like someone had just told her that her favorite horse had a broken leg.
“You like me,” Gavin said and then cursed long and hard as he realized that he’d said it out loud.
He buried his face in his hands. Damn it, did she have to stand there on those thighs and be that damned sweet? There was no way that it would work. Obviously, Mari didn’t want to leave her Clan and there was no possibility of Gavin leaving his. Gavin sighed. It didn’t really matter. He could find Mari utterly fascinating. She could think he was as cute as she wished. They still couldn’t be together. Besides, that wasn’t the real problem.
“Was…” Gavin stopped and glared at Andros, Shamus and Girram as they cooed at the two of them. “Stop that. Delbhana plots are more important than you three matchmaking impossible matches.”
“I don’t know that it’s impossible,” Shamus said. He laughed as Mari stared at him. “You’re the second daughter, not the first. There’s nothing to say you couldn’t join the Dana Clan and work as the liaison between us.”
“Never you mind!” Gavin snapped at him. “Not now, you. Any of you. Mari, just how serious was Danica about the idea of me marrying her?”
“Um, completely,” Mari said with a strange look at Shamus. She crouched down, elbows on her knees. “Woulda sworn that she’d already proposed. Asked her, actually. She ah, said that your consent t’marriage wasn’t important. I mighta threatened to kill her if she ever spoke o’ any boy that way again. Don’t appreciate that sort of…” She stopped as Andros gasped and stared at her with entirely too rapt of an expression at the prospect of learning new profanity. “Stuff. That sort of stuff. That’s where the flirtin’ came in. Sean was ri’ there an’ he’s nice enough, I suppose.”
Gavin’s heart lurched at the thought of actually being forced to marry Danica or any other Delbhana. He smoothed the blanket over his lap, plucking at the stitches that secured the batting. This might be a problem. Danica didn’t have much power by herself but if she was that convinced that she’d get what she wanted, that Gavin would marry her, it meant that there was yet another plot against the Dana in play.
“We need to tell Mother,” Gavin finally said. He met Mari’s concerned eyes, grimacing as she put a hand very tentatively on his quilt-draped knee. “This could be a very big deal-breaker, Mari. Mother needs to know.”
Find This Book:
I love writing. I love sharing my writing. I hope that you love reading what I share. If you enjoyed the story but can’t afford to buy the book please consider leaving a donation. It will help me keep writing and sharing my stories with you for a long time to come. Thank you!