"No," she said firmly, "that will not happen." She went back behind the desk, took her chair, and sorted rapidly through a pile of authorizations, receipts, and excise forms. "Luke," she said, "the whisky must be transported here from Deptford Buoys as fast as possible. I'll persuade the excise officer to give us at least 'til noon tomorrow. Heaven knows he owes us that much, after the favors we've done him in the past."
"Will that be enough time?" Luke asked, looking skeptical.
"It will have to be. We'll need every barge and lighter vessel we can hire, and every able-bodied man—"
"No' so fast," MacRae said, slapping his palms firmly on the desk and leaning over it.
Merritt started at the sound and glanced up into the face so close to hers. His eyes were a piercing shade of ice blue, with faint whisks at the outer corners, etched by laughter and sun and sharp windy days.
"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.