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
Gavin sighed as he settled back into the armchair. The whole apartment stank of garlic. It did seem to help his cough, to clear his head, but it was thick enough that he was surprised that his eyes weren’t watering. Caer stared towards the bedroom, slouched against the couch with her head lolling back. The bare feet didn’t bother Gavin as much as the expanse of lean, tanned stomach that Caer exposed.
She was thinner than Mari, shorter, too, with dark brown hair trimmed close to the skull. Her skin was as warm as Mari’s, as dark as the wood floor underneath their feet. Where Mari was built like the brick walls around the city, solid and unbreakable, Caer was more like a schooner, lean and quick with elegant lines to her long limbs and graceful throat.
“She really loves you,” Caer murmured.
“What?” Gavin asked, heart leaping into his throat.
“Mari,” Caer said. She sat up and stared right at him, solemn and completely serious. “She’s already three quarters in love with you. Not sure she realizes it but she is.”
Gavin slowly pulled his knees together, tucking his feet securely under his kilt. He smoothed the pleats down, heart beating faster by the second. Part of the reason he’d come to check on Mari, Banba and Caer was to get a sense of which of the sisters he’d be comfortable with.
Honestly, he already knew he enjoyed spending time with Mari. She was big and strong, protective but not oppressive about it. Unlike most of Gavin’s female relatives, Mari looked as likely to take care of someone as a man. The bath and plaster were examples of that. He liked the thought of a wife who helped with the children, who would take care of him instead of expecting him to do all the work with no responding attention.
“She… seems to like me, I suppose,” Gavin said without meeting Caer’s eyes.
“Lots more than like,” Caer chuckled. “Never seen her this particular about someone before. Good t’see, honestly. We all thought she’d live an’ die on the road.”
Gavin nodded. “She did say that she doesn’t want to live in the city.”
Caer nodded as well, slow and as serious as her expression. To Gavin it looked as though she was pondering the mysteries of the Tripartate Goddesses, not considering her sister marrying Gavin. He heard women’s voices outside the window, heavy boot heels impacting unevenly on the cobblestoned streets.
“She loves traveling,” Caer said. “We all do, o’ course, but Mari’d travel year round if she could. Personally, I’d rather have a home, a place t’come back to, but Mari… She likes bein’ away as much as bein’ home.”
“A lot of the Dana women are like that,” Gavin said, trying to imagine long, lean Caer in his bed instead of Mari.
She was a strong woman, obviously. A hard worker. He didn’t know if she was as caring as Mari. There hadn’t been enough exposure for him to tell. But she was attractive in a more conventional way. Gavin squirmed.
Caer stared at him and then chuckled, flapping a hand at him. The movement made her shirt gap open enough that he could see the underside of her breast, tight and high, as firm as only a woman who hadn’t had children could be. It made him uncomfortable even though he’d seen thousands of breasts during the summer when the women in the warehouse stripped to their pants to deal with the sweltering heat, not to mention the sailors on the voyages he’d taken.
“Just as smitten,” Caer said with the biggest grin he’d seen out of her.
“I am not!” Gavin protested automatically. “Besides, there’s no point to thinking about it when she doesn’t want to settle down.”
“Do you?” Caer asked.
Her face lost the smile as quickly as it had appeared Still, serious, Gavin could see her relationship to Mari. The noses were the same, broad and strong. Caer’s chin was finer but her jaw was just as broad as Mari’s. It was the cheekbones that made them look different. Where Mari had a round face with cheekbones barely sketched in by the Goddesses, Caer’s cheekbones were finely carved, high and strong.
“I…” Gavin sighed as he curled back into the chair, plucking at his kilt’s pleats. “I want a home. Of my own. A wife. Kids. But I won’t give up my work. I won’t leave the clan. I have to be practical about this, Caer. I’m not choosing just for me. I’m choosing what’s best for my Clan as well.”
“That’s rot,” Caer drawled. The ‘o’ in ‘rot’ stretched to several syllables. She shrugged when he glared at her. “The Clan’s not the one what’s got t’climb between a woman’s legs, Gavin. That’s you. Yes, y’need to think o’ the clan but y’need t’think o’ yourself, too. If you don’t like the woman the marriage isn’t goin’ t’work.”
Gavin whined. He hid his face in his hands because that was nearly the exact same thing both Mother and Father had told him. If he went by that criteria then yes, he knew exactly who he should marry: Mari. He hadn’t met a woman who interested him more since his eleven-year-old crush on Doctor Bernice. That still didn’t mean that it would work out, not if Mari didn’t want to settle down.
Gavin started and snatched his hands away from his face as Mari slipped out of the bedroom. His heart immediately picked up, staining his cheeks bright red as he noticed yet again that her shirt was wet enough to contour to her body. He could see every muscle of her stomach, the heavy curve of her breasts and every flutter of the fabric as she breathed.
“Sleeping,” Mari murmured as she tiptoed over to the couch.
“You can talk normally,” Gavin said just a little softer than normal. “The bedrooms are pretty well soundproofed.”
“Oh,” Mari said, blinking rapidly. “Didn’t notice that.”
“We try hard to keep the guest rooms as comfortable as possible,” Gavin said.
He started laughing as both Caer and Mari poked at the couch as if they couldn’t understand why it was there, then. Mari’s grin lit her up like a gas lamp flaring into life, as warm and comforting as coming home after a long rainy night on the docks. Caer’s grin was more like watching a ship climb a wave, smash through the crest and then charge down the other side, excitement equally mingled with fear.
Both of them were beautiful. Both of them were strong, smart, hard working. Gavin knew himself well enough to know that he could never settle for a wife who didn’t work hard. Laziness infuriated him. It always had. He had no idea what Danica did with her time but he’d never be able to live with her if she was lazy.
Still, given a choice between a potentially cool political match, something excitingly terrifying and the bone-deep comfort Mari offered, Gavin knew already which one he’d choose.
“Likes you,” Caer said, lightly nudging Mari’s knee with the back of one hand.
“Don’ be puttin’ words in his mouth!” Mari squawked.
“Don’ need to,” Caer countered. “Didn’t y’see his face when y’walked in?”
Mari looked away, her cheeks going redder and redder until she was blushing just as badly as Gavin. He ducked his head, smoothing his kilt’s pleats once more, not that they needed it. His heart fluttered so badly in his chest that he would have thought it had transformed into a baby gull that had just gotten its feathers and was testing its wings.
“Doesn’t mean anything,” Mari mumbled.
“Does too,” Caer countered, eyes narrowing as she glared up at Mari.
“Well, at least you know how to sit on the furniture,” Gavin said in hopes of averting a fight between the two of them. “Maybe you can teach my sisters.”
Mari spluttered and then laughed, her amusement loud and warm and as seductive as to Gavin as a flame was for a moth. Caer snickered as she wiggled her toes and shifted position on the floor. She looked completely unrepentant about it.
“Too soft,” Caer said, repeating Banba’s complaint.
“Really are too soft,” Mari agreed. “Prefer a good solid cart seat or the floor t’this thing.”
“Most of our guests aren’t quite so hard working.” Gavin chuckled as he ran his hands over his thighs, edges of the pleats of his kilt sliding along his palms. “They expect a certain level of comfort and luxury out of the Dana. We are rich, after all.”
Mari snorted. “If you say so. Looks t’me like you plow it all back into your business.”
Gavin nodded, inordinately pleased that she’d noticed. He couldn’t count how many acquaintances had assumed that Gavin had unlimited funds to buy whatever he wanted. None of them seemed to understand budgets and building ones’ personal wealth slowly over time. Even Caddie’s extravagant outfits served a purpose, advertising the Dana’s position in society. It wasn’t as though Gavin would ever wear that sort of frippery.
He shifted around in the chair so the he could look at Mari squarely instead of turning his head. Caer chuckled, wagging her eyebrows when Mari glared at her. Gavin sighed and shook his head at the both of them. Really, it was like dealing with his sisters. Sort of. In a way.
“Stop that,” Gavin said to Caer. “I don’t want to hurt my neck.”
“Mmm, but y’were sitting perfectly t’talk to me,” Caer half-sang as she grinned at him. “Don’t know why the two o’ you are denying this. Mari likes you. You like her. It’s good for the potential alliance and it keeps Delbhana Danica off o’ you for the foreseeable future. Why complain?”
“Not complaining,” Mari declared, arms crossed over her chest as she glared towards the bedroom.
“Just tired of being teased,” Gavin sighed. “It’s like having another whole set of relatives. You might as well be cousins, the way you three act.”
Caer laughed only to start coughing. She waved a hand at Gavin’s automatic offer of help, sucking in air between coughs. After three gasps she sneezed five times in a row, air exploding out of her so hard that her back slamming against the couch drove it back several inches. Mari supported Caer once the sneezes stopped, then tugged at her arm.
“Bed for you, too,” Mari said. “Both o’ you need more sleep. An’ the plaster. Didn’t mix that up for my own good.”
“I thought you mixed it up to clean everyone’s nostrils,” Gavin commented as Caer slowly stood, leaning on Mari’s shoulder. “I swear that its burning my nose and I’m not even using it.”
“Eh, that’s because y’all eat bland food in Aingeal City,” Mari said, her grin so wide that he could see her molars. “No life, no taste to your food. It’s sad.”
Caer nodded solemnly, breathing carefully. “It is sad. Sorry, Dana Gavin. I think I need t’abandon you to Mari’s tender mercies. Make sure she eats something. Never does eat when she’s worried.”
Gavin stiffened and glared at Mari. She took a deep breath only to whine when Caer glared, too. He didn’t get the chance to scold Mari for it. Before he could do more than draw in a breath Mari hurried Caer off into the bedroom, muttering something about plasters that Gavin knew was just an attempt to slip the line.
Once the door was shut he shook his head. He’d have to make sure that Mari ate. If she liked spicy food then there wouldn’t be anything acceptable in the house but across the street was a little restaurant run by a distant cousin that he was fairly certain would be more than acceptable. Just walking past it made his sinuses ache.
It would be good to get out of the house, too. Gavin was sure Mother would scold him for taking Mari across the street. He wasn’t completely well yet though he did feel much better now that the fever had broken. Honestly, he hadn’t even had a coughing fit worth noticing.
Gavin blinked, peering towards the bathroom. He hadn’t had a coughing fit since he came to this suite. There had been one on the stairs and another back home in the bunk room when he’d put his hair up properly. His lips twitched as Gavin chuckled quietly. Maybe Mari had a point about her garlic and mustard monstrosity of a plaster, after all.
He wasn’t about to try it personally, though, even if it would give her a chance to touch that Gavin wished desperately he could say yes to. Just the thought of allowing Mari to see his naked body had him shivering and pressing his hands against his groin. Gavin took a deep, garlic-scented, breath and considered Caer offering the same thing. His arousal level immediately dropped. Thinking of Danica doing anything like that made Gavin snicker helplessly.
He wheezed a laugh as Mari came out, face red and hands busy with the plaster bowl. She peered at him, a smile already blooming on her lips. Gavin’s eyes started to water from the power of the plaster so he stood and nodded towards Mari.
“If you’re hungry,” Gavin said, “there’s a little restaurant run by a distant cousin that you might like. I normally don’t eat there. They use far too much garlic for my comfort.”
Mari beamed and nodded. “I should eat. Haven’t what with all the worries ’bout Banba and Caer. Point me in the right direction?”
“I’ll do you one better,” Gavin said, hands automatically sliding over his hips to smooth his kilt. “I’ll take you there.”
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!