“Carver, quit fidgeting and let the man mark the suit properly.”
He let out a disgusted huff but straightened his posture and tried to be still. “Bethy you know this is a waste of money. I’m going to wear this suit to Varric’s party and then never again. I don’t wear suits. I don’t NEED to wear suits.”
Bethany perused the dress shirts and ties. “Humor me. I’m buying it so why do you care? Besides.” She gave him a wicked grin. “You never know who you might meet there. Maybe you might have another occasion to wear a suit...maybe out to dinner at a fancy restaurant; or to a play.”
Carver groaned. “Bethy, tell me you haven’t arranged for me to meet someone at this thing. I knew I shouldn’t have agreed to this. I love Varric and all but you fixing me up with someone would ruin an otherwise mediocre evening. I could do without the sisterly matchmaking.”
The tailor helped Carver out of the suit coat and motioned for him to enter the dressing room to change back into his own clothes. As he walked into the dressing room Bethany called out “I haven’t set you up with anyone. But there is a friend of mine who I think you would really like. He’s very sweet, and handsome! I swear he’s perfect for you.”
Carver yelled “No! Don’t start Bethy, or so help me, I will back out of this now.”
Bethany handed a dress shirt and tie to the tailor and paid for the outfit. “Fine, Carver. But why is it so wrong for me to want my baby brother to find someone to make him happy?”
“You are only 5 minutes older than I am Bethany. That does not make me your baby brother.” He exited the dressing room and handed the suit pants to the tailor. Then he put his hands on Bethany’s shoulders and looked her in the eyes. “Bethany. Promise me that you will not attempt to fix me up with anyone at this event. I am going to support Varric and his new book. I am doing this because I love you both, even though you know how much I detest crowds.”
“Carver, let’s be real. You don’t detest crowds, you detest people.” She laughed and hip checked him into the aisle.
He scowled at her. “I don’t detest people. Well, not all of them anyway. I love you. And Varric. And Garrett. And I really like Anders and Fenris.”
Bethany squeezed him around his shoulders. “Awwww. You love Garrett. You said it! I’m so happy!”
Carver scowled. “What are you going on about? Obviously I love Garrett. He’s my brother!”
OK. In fairness they had not been very close when Carver was younger. Mostly because Carver had been such a shit. He hadn’t dealt very well with his father dying and it only got worse when their mother passed.
Carver wasn’t really a people person. He never had been. Garrett was to the very fiber of his being. Everyone loved Garrett, and fawned on him. He was nice, and looked out for his friends and thought of everyone else first. And Carver had wanted to be more like him but didn’t know how, and wasn’t any good at any of those things.
And then Garrett had to go and become a local celebrity by brokering a cessation of hostilities between Kirkwall’s two biggest rival gangs, The Sabrathan and The Coterie. That whole Champion of Kirkwall crap had really been too much.
Carver had been in college at the time and had thrown himself into his studies and the ROTC. He ended up in several fights over stupid shit and almost lost his scholarships. Garrett had tried help him but it had only made Carver lash out more.
It had actually been Thom who had finally talked some sense into him. “Talked” is a loose term. He'd really beat some sense into him. Thom Rainier had been an ROTC trainer and one of the few people Carver would listen to.
The night they met, Carver had been looking for a fight. Thankfully it had been Thom who found him. He’d volunteered to play punching bag if Carver could land anything. Instead it was Carver who ended up as the punching bag, as every missed blow was returned with one that Thom landed. After that they’d spent a very long time talking.
Over the next few months Thom helped Carver learn to deal with his hurt and anger at his parent’s deaths, and to stop blaming Garrett for trying to hold the family together by trying to take on the role of Mom and Dad. Carver had also begun to have some successes of his own, gaining recognition and additional scholarships for his architectural designs, and landing a job with a prestigious architectural firm before he’d even graduated.
And eventually Carver learned to lighten up about Garrett. And they’d started talking, and Carver started listening. And they actually became friends. They began having family dinners once a week, usually on Sundays, at Garrett’s house; well, Garrett, Fenris, and Anders’ house. They tended to be rowdy affairs. Bethany brought Varric, and Carver brought wine.
Which lead him back to thoughts of Bethany playing matchmaker. “Bethy, please don’t try to fix me up with anyone. Seriously. Just…don’t. OK?”
“OK. But I just want you to be happy, Carv. I want you to have your somebody too.” She leaned her head against his shoulder as they left the shop. They walk a few paces down the sidewalk to her car.
“I’m fine Bethany. And I appreciate your concern. But I’m really concentrating on work right now anyway. I wouldn’t have time for a relationship.” He hugged her and opened her car door.
“One more thing though, Carv. Get a haircut? And a shave? You’ve been hanging around Thom Rainier too much. His look is starting to rub off on you!”
He gave her an offended look. “I like my beard! It took me a long time to get it this nice and full! And what’s wrong with my hair?” He ran a hand through it.
“It’s too long; hair and beard. Get a real style, Carver? Spend some money and go to a real salon? For me? Please?”
“Fine. But I’m not shaving. I’m only getting a trim.”
She kissed him on the cheek. “That’s all I’m asking. And thank you.”
He kissed her back. “Drive safely. Tell Varric I said hey.”
Bethany got into her car, waiving as she backed out of the spot. Carver walked a few more feet down the sidewalk to his Harley and pulled on his helmet. He swung his leg over the seat and started the bike. He had a week to dodge any matchmaking bullets. He’d go to Varric’s book signing and then he could fade back into social obscurity where he liked it. He walked the bike back a few feet and sped out of the parking space towards home.
Felix exited the elevator, contracts clutched in his hand, and headed to his desk. He’d have the office assistant Elsa make the necessary copies, and file them. If he could spare the time, he’d go back upstairs to Inquisition Publishing and personally give Bethany her copy.
Bethany was his best female friend. Her company used Felix’s law firm to handle the major book contracts and other legal documents necessary when dealing with the printed word. Contracts were Felix’s specialty so they had lots of reasons to interact and had hit it off immediately.
They went to lunch a few times a week. Felix loved to hear the gossip from the publishing world and the stories about her crazy family, and Bethany loved to pick Felix’s brain for ideas that inevitably ended up in one of Varric’s novels.
Lost in his thoughts, Felix startled as a paperclip hit him in the temple.
“Psst! Felix! Meredith at two o’clock!” Jowan motioned with his head towards Felix’s desk.
Felix’s head snapped up and he almost tripped as he tried to stop his forward momentum. He quickly turned and started to walk back towards the elevators. He cringed when he heard the shrill call: “Felix!”.
He stopped and turned around. “Ms. Stannard. What might I do for you?”
While everyone called Mr. Theirin “Alistair” and Mr. Genitivi “Nando” at their requests, Meredith Stannard was always addressed as “Ms. Stannard”.
“Felix! You are coming to Varric Tethras’ book signing party this evening, aren’t you?”
Oh no! Not this again! “Yes Ms. Stannard. I will be there. Are you going?” Please say no. Please say no.
“Yes! And that mystery boyfriend of yours, will he be joining you this evening? I truly hope to meet him one of these days. But you know, if he can’t make it, my nephew Eric is available. I’d be happy to set you two up! You would be perfect together.”
Felix clamped down on a repulsed shudder. Anyone related to Meredith was to be avoided at all costs. Plus, he’d actually met Eric at a work picnic last summer. The man was a lump, and he spent most of the afternoon fawning over “Auntie Meredith”. Gross.
“Yes, the plan is for him to be at the party tonight. If he can get away from work. But he loves Varric’s books and is looking forward to seeing him again. So, thank you, but you’ll have to tell Eric I’m sorry, I’m already taken.”
Meredith looked annoyed at having her machinations blocked, but before she could continue he shot around her quickly and sat at his desk, burying his face in legal documents. Damn! When would the woman quit trying to set him up with her nephew? He wanted to make partner and was ready for that next step, but he had no intention of sleeping his way into the job. If that was the only way to move ahead here he’d rather remain an associate forever.
He looked at the clock. 6:15pm. It was late enough for him to leave without much backlash from Meredith. And he still needed to go home and get dressed for the book signing. Thankfully he lived downtown, only a few blocks away. Family money was good for some things at least. Like paying for a small but well-appointed flat in Kirkwall’s High Town Apartments.
He waited for Meredith to go back into her office before quickly shutting down his laptop and sliding it and the contracts into his bag. He made sure she hadn’t come back out and he silently moved towards the elevators. He stopped at Jowan’s desk briefly. “Hey, thanks for the attempted assist earlier. I wasn’t paying attention otherwise it would have helped.”
Jowan grinned. “No problem. We peons have to stick together.”
Felix smiled back. “See you Monday Jowan. Have a good weekend.”
“Have fun at the party! Hope your boyfriend can make it!”
Felix plastered a smile on his face and turned to the elevators, hoping Jowan hadn’t seen his blush. He hated lying to his friends at work, but how could he tell them this far in that his boyfriend was not real and he’d only created him so that Meredith would stop trying to set him up with her nephew?
The charade had been going on for six months. Initially everyone had believed him. When asked why he didn’t have any pictures of them together, Felix explained that the relationship was new and he didn’t want to jinx it. Later he’d say that his boyfriend didn’t like to have his picture taken. So far he’d been very lucky. Whenever anyone started asking for details he found a way to change the subject.
But Felix knew the story was starting to wear thin, especially with Meredith. She was asking some very pointed questions and started mentioning Eric a lot again. Oh, why does he get himself into these situations?
The elevator door opened and Mr. Theirin walked out. Felix froze. Shit! But Alistair motioned with his head towards the elevator, leaning in and whispered conspiratorially, “Get while the going is good! I’ll run interference for you. Keep Meredith distracted until you make it out of the building. See you later tonight?”
Felix grinned and nodded. “Thanks Alistair! And yes! I’ll see you at the party.”
“Good man. Will you be attending with your…special friend?
Felix’s smile faltered a bit. “Um, I hope he makes an appearance.”
“I hope so too.” Alistair winked. “See you later Felix. I’ll keep her here as long as I can.”
The elevator doors closed. Felix punched the button for the lobby and slumped against the wall. Now he really felt awful for lying to Alistair of all people. He really needed to stop the charade. Maybe he would come clean to him and Nando on Monday. Tell them what Meredith was trying to do.
The elevator doors opened and he pushed thoughts of that away as he mentally started going through his final wardrobe picks for the evening. He’d narrowed it down to three possible suit choices but still wasn’t sure what he’d end up wearing. He left the building and headed towards his apartment, mentally pairing shoes and ties with cufflinks and belts. If he had to spend the evening alone, and dodging Meredith’s nephew, he’d at least be the best dressed man there.
Fuck! He was running late. He’d been working on his designs and lost track of time. When he’d realized the hour he’d flung himself into the shower. Years of Bethany teasing him for being a stinky little brother had him slowing down to make sure he washed “all his cracks and crevices” before quickly rinsing off and wrapping a towel around his waist. He dried his hair with another towel and threw it across the back of the toilet.
As promised he’d had his hair cut and beard trimmed that morning and still had no idea how the woman had got his hair to do that. He was never going to be able to style it the same way on his own. He grabbed the hair paste that the stylist had insisted would help him achieve “the look”. He opened the jar and started at the waxy substance. Mysterious. He shrugged and dug his fingers in, scooping out a bit. He rubbed his hands together and scrubbed his fingers back and forth through his hair. The effect was a bit of a spiky tousled look that he could live with.
He shook a few drops of beard oil into his palm and quickly massaged it into his facial hair. It was the only concession to styling product that he’d used prior to today. Bethany had threatened to never hug him again because his beard would scratch her face. He knew it was either find something to soften the beard or lose it altogether. So he’d gone straight to the beard expert. Thom swore by Orzammar beard oil. He said that Josie loved the way it smelled and made his beard so soft and now she couldn’t keep her hands off of him. Carver had punched him for bragging but bought some soon after.
He quickly dressed, only briefly fighting with the dragon cuff links for the French Cuff shirt that Bethany had insisted he MUST wear. He looked at himself in the mirror and wasn’t disgusted with his appearance. He thought it looked fine but knew that Bethany would kill him if he didn’t add the tie. He’d put it on once he got to the party.
He looked at his watch. Shit! Shitshitshit! If he hit any traffic he was doomed. He had to get on the road right now. Bethany would kill him for not taking the car, but the motorcycle would get him there faster. He could weave in and out of any traffic. Yes, it was illegal. And yes it was dangerous. But so was his sister when she was angry, and he was more afraid of her than he was of a ticket…or death.
He buttoned the suit coat and rolled the tie up gently, tucking it into his pocket. He didn’t want to be hit in the face with it on the way.
In the garage, he swung onto the bike and flipped the door opener switch. He started the engine and backed the Harley out of the driveway, careful not to run over Mrs. Wynn’s flowers. She was a sweet little old lady and she baked him cookies. He needed to maintain his cookie connection.
Once safely past the begonias he opened the throttle and the Harley roared to life, shooting down the street towards the interstate.
Felix stepped out of the limo and straightened his jacket. He was headed for the stairs when he heard a voice that made him cringe. “Felix! Come say hello to my nephew Eric!”
Damn! How had they shown up at the same time? It was as though she’d been waiting for him! Was she stalking him?!
He plastered a fake smile on his face and slowly turned. “Ms. Stannard. You look lovely.” She didn’t. Her platinum blonde hair looked like a wig held together with hairspray and prayer, and her red dress was gaudy and more appropriate for a woman half her age. The infamous nephew was dressed in a grey rumpled off-the-rack suit and he had a faux-hipster beard that Felix immediately detested. Was it a beard? Or had a rodent died on his face? Somehow, he held out his hand without cringing. “Eric, nice to see you again.”
Meredith all but shoved Eric at him. “Eric dear, what do you say?”
Eric shuffled from side to side and “shook” Felix’s hand. “Nice to see you Felix.”
Ugh, he had that clammy, wimpy hand shake that screamed “I have no self-esteem!” Felix wanted to go wash his hands and started to excuse himself but Meredith interrupted.
“Felix, where is that boyfriend of yours? Is he here?” She looked around like perhaps his boyfriend was hiding behind a bush and she might be able to spot him.
Not missing a beat, he sighed, “No. He’s running late. As usual. But I’m sure he’ll be here. We are meeting inside near the bar. So you’ll excuse me if I just pop on in and wait. Eric, nice to see you.” He quickly turned around and started for the stairs when he heard Eric mutter “Is that the guy with the fake boyfriend you were talking about Auntie Meredith?”
He was jarred out of his panic by the unmistakable roar of a Harley Davidson motorcycle. He turned to watch as the bike came into view. The rider appeared to be well dressed, at least from across the parking lot. Felix updated his assessment as he rode closer. The man was very well dressed!
The guy turned off the bike and swung his leg over the seat before handing the keys to the valet. He pulled off his helmet and Felix felt his mouth go dry. OMG biker dude was gorgeous! He had dark spiky hair and a muscular build that couldn’t be hidden under his incredibly expensive custom suit. And that was what a beard was supposed to look like! He watched as the man reached into a pocket and extricated what appeared to be a lovely dark blue silk tie.
Before he could stop himself Felix was shouting “Oh there you are!” and flying across the parking lot like a demon was after him.
The man just stood there and stared at Felix like he had two heads. “Do I know…”
Felix cut him off and all but shouted “Oh here darling, let me help you with that. You aren’t any good at ties.” Felix gently took the length of silk from his hand, turning so his back was to Meredith and Eric. “I’m so glad you made it!”
He glanced at the man’s confused face and gave him a pleading look. In a quieter tone, “Hey, I’m really sorry about this. I know you think I’m some kind of a nut.” Felix lifted the collar of the man’s shirt and draped the tie around his neck, plaiting an Eldridge knot without even thinking about it. “Do you see that very tall blond woman over my shoulder?” The man looked behind him and nodded. He still hadn’t said anything. “That is one of my bosses. She keeps trying to set me up with that little lump beside her. It’s her nephew, Eric.”
The man just stared at him with such bright blue eyes that he almost forgot what he was saying.
“Um…I told her earlier that I was meeting my boyfriend here. She has insisted on meeting him.” He took a deep breath and gave what he hoped was a sincere and not creepy look. “The problem is I do not have a boyfriend. I’ve completely made him up. Long story short: she had me cornered, you showed up, I panicked.” He flipped the collar down and adjusted it around the tie before running his hands down the front of the suit. Very nice. Definitely bespoke. By the feel, it was a wool/terylene blend.
And Maker, he smelled of exotic spices! Felix inhaled deeply again, as though he were judging the bouquet of a fine wine: Frankincense and definitely Myrrh with a hint of coconut oil. It was a heavy scent but not cloying; very masculine and Felix wanted to bury his nose into the man’s neck.
Felix gave him another pleading look. “I know it’s presumptuous but I really could use your help. If you’ll just humor me, let me introduce you to her. We’ll go inside and you can disappear into the crowd and never have to deal with any of this again.”
Carver quirked a smile at him and took a moment to check the guy out: highly styled dark hair with a few strategically-placed light brown highlights, a burgundy three-piece silk suit with a white shirt, and a black skinny tie. The man practically screamed high-end hipster. Not normally his type, but definitely attractive. Thankfully he lacked the ridiculous hipster facial hair that tended to be something between a clean shave and a real beard. Carver was a firm believer in go full beard or go home.
The guy seemed to have a kind face and he was looking at him like a puppy who’d just been scolded. And Carver had never been able to resist a sad puppy. Especially an attractive sad puppy. With a really sexy mouth. He reached out and took the guy’s hand, noting that it was warm and his grip was firm.
What was it going to hurt? He’d do this nice thing, let the poor guy save face, and then go find Bethy and Varric.
“My name is Carver. What’s yours?”
“Felix.” His voice squeaked.
Carver smiled. This guy was just adorable. Strange that he didn’t have a boyfriend really. He was good looking and he obviously had some money if his clothing was any indication. He shouldn’t have any trouble getting dates. “Well Felix, are you going to introduce me to your boss and her nephew?”
Felix nodded vigorously and turned around to walk back towards Meredith, still holding Carver’s hand.
Carver watched as Felix plastered a phony smile on his face and stopped them a few paces away from his boss. “Ms. Stannard, may I introduce you to my boyfriend Carver?”
Carver couldn’t help but notice the glee in Felix’s voice. Meredith’s face twisted into a little ball of anger and disappointment as Felix continued with the introduction. “Carver, this is Meredith Stannard, one of the partners at my law firm.”
Carver released Felix’s hand reached for Meredith’s. Hmmmm, lawyer. Interesting. When Meredith extended her hand he folded her fingers over his and brought them to his lips, lightly kissing the knuckles. “So lovely to finally meet you Meredith.”
He caught Felix’s jerk of surprise and felt him tense. He looked at Meredith to see if he’d done something that had offended her.
Meredith let out a little giggle. She was blushing and gripped his hand firmly. “No, the pleasure is all mine I’m sure. Carver was it?” She tried to wrap her arm around his but Carver saw it coming and stepped back next to Felix taking his hand.
“We’d better go inside Fee. My sister’s waiting for us.” He turned back to Meredith. “Meredith, nice to have met you. I’ll be seeing you around I’m sure.”
Felix looked like he wanted to laugh out loud. When they were out of earshot Felix finally said “Oh Maker, you called her Meredith! No one calls her that and gets away with it! Except you it seems. And did you just give me a nickname?”
Carver looked at him, smirking. “Well, it seemed appropriate. If we were dating, I’d probably call you Fee. I thought it made things more believable.”
Carver held the door open for Felix and they walked inside.