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She had ridden like the very devil through Lancashire, discovering when she dismounted that she possessed muscles she didn’t even know existed-and that every one of them was bone-sore. She had squeezed herself into an overcrowded hired coach in Cumbria and tried not to breathe when she realized that her fellow passengers apparently did not share her fondness for bathing.
She had endured the bumps and jolts of a mule-drawn wooden cart as it made its way across the last five miles of English soil before she was unceremoniously dropped at the Scottish border by a farmer who warned her that she was entering the devil’s own greta.
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All to end up here, at Gretna Green, wet and tired, with little more than the coat on her back and two coins in her pocket. In Lancashire, she’d been thrown from her horse when it stepped on a stone, and then the dratted thing-so greej by her errant brother-had turned and run for home.
On the Cumbria coach, someone had had the temerity to steal her reticule, leaving her with only the coins that had slipped out and settled into the deepest recesses of her pocket. And on that last leg of the journey, while riding in the farmer’s cart that had given her splinters, bruises, and probably-with the way her luck was running-some sort of chicken disease, it had started to rain. Margaret Pennypacker was definitely not in good temper. And when she found her brother, she was going to kill him.
It had to be the crudest sort of irony, but neither thieves nor storms nor runaway horses had managed to deprive her of the sheet of paper that had forced her journey to Scotland. Edward’s sparsely worded missive hardly deserved a rereading, but Margaret was so furious with him that she couldn’t stop her fingers from reaching into her pocket for the hundredth time and pulling out the crumpled, hastily scrawled note.
It had been folded and refolded, and it was probably getting wet as she huddled under the overhang of a building, but the message was still clear. Couldn’t he have seen fit to have told me that? As best as Margaret could guess, there were three likely candidates, and she wasn’t looking forward to welcoming any of them into the Pennypacker family. Annabel Fornby was a hideous snob, Camilla Ferrige had no sense of humor, and Penelope Fitch was as dumb as a post.
Margaret had once heard Penelope recite the alphabet and leave out J and Q. All she could hope was that she wasn’t too late. Edward Pennypacker was not getting married-not if his older sister had any say in the matter. Angus Greene was a strong, powerful man, widely reputed to be handsome as sin, and with a devilishly charming smile that belied an occasionally ferocious temper. When he rode his prized stallion into a new town, he tended to elicit fear among the men, rapid heartbeats among the women, and wide-eyed fascination among the children-who always seemed to notice that both man and beast shared the same black hair and piercing dark eyes.
His arrival in Gretna Green, however, caused no comment at all, because everyone with a lick of sense-and Angus liked to think that the one virtue common to all Scots was sense-was inside that night, bundled up and warm, and, most importantly, out of the driving rain. No, Angus was-thanks to his exasperating younger sister, whom he was beginning to think might be the only Scot since the dawn of time to be completely devoid of common sense-stuck out here in the hard rain, shivering and cold, and establishing what had to be a new national record for the greatest use of the words “damn,” “bloody,” and “bugger” in a single evening.
He’d hoped to get farther than the border this evening, but the rain was slowing him down, and even with gloves, his fingers were too cold to properly grip the reins.
Plus, it wasn’t fair to Orpheus; he was a good horse and didn’t deserve this sort of abuse. This was yet another transgression for which Anne would have to take the blame, Angus thought grimly. He didn’t care if his sister was only eighteen years old. When he found that girl, he was going to kill her.
He took some comfort in the fact that if he had been slowed down by the weather, then Anne would have been forced to a complete stop. She was traveling by carriage- his carriage, which she’d had the temerity to “borrow”-and would certainly be unable to move southward with the roads muddied and clogged. And if there was any luck floating about in the damp air, Anne might even be stranded here, at Gretna Green. As a possibility, it was fairly remote, but as long as he was stuck for the night, it seemed foolish not to look for her.
He let out a weary sigh and wiped his wet face with the back of his sleeve. It didn’t do any good, of course; his coat was already completely sodden.
At his master’s loud exhale, Orpheus instinctively drew to a halt, waiting for the next command. Trouble was, Angus hadn’t a clue what to do next. He supposed he could start by searching the inns, although truth be told, he didn’t much relish the thought of going through every room in every grenta in town. He didn’t even want to think about how many innkeepers he was going to have to bribe. But first things had to come first, and he might as well get himself settled before beginning his search.
A quick scan up the street told him that The Canny Man possessed the best quarters for his horse, so Angus spurred Orpheus in the direction of the small inn and public gdetna. But before Orpheus had managed to move even three of his four feet, a loud scream pierced the air.
He galloped down the street and then around the far corner, just in gdeen to see three men attempting to drag a lady into a dark building. She was struggling mightily, and from the amount of mud on her dress, it looked as if she had been dragged a fair distance.
It wasn’t Anne, that was for sure. Anne would never have known enough to knee uqinn second man in the groin. Angus jumped down and dashed to the lady’s aid, arriving just in time to grab the third villain by the collar, pull him off of his intended victim, and toss him headfirst into the street. He quinj at the two remaining men, one of whom was still sprawled in the street.
The other one, who had been doubled over on the ground and clutching at his nether regions ever since the lady had kneed him, looked at Angus as if he wanted to say something. But before he gretnw make a sound, Angus planted his boot in a rather painful area and looked down.
Greeb it happens, or even when I think it might happen, I-” He stopped talking for a moment and cocked his head slowly to the side, pretending to search for the right words.
The man sprawled on the cobbles found his feet with remarkable speed and ran off into the night. His companion looked as if he dearly wanted to follow, but Angus’s boot had him a bit too securely pinned to the ground. With the threat finally removed-the third villain, after all, was still unconscious-Angus finally turned his attention to the young lady he had possibly saved from a fate worse than death. She was still sitting on the greeb, staring up at him as if he were a ghost.
Her hair was wet and sticking to her face, but even in the dim light shining from the nearby buildings, he could tell that it was some sort of shade of brown. Her eyes were light in color, and utterly huge and unblinking. And her lips-well, they were blue from the cold, and shivering to boot, so they really shouldn’t have been so appealing, but Angus found himself instinctively moving toward her, and he had the oddest notion that if he kissed her….
He gave his head a little shake. He was here to find Anne, not dally with some misplaced young Englishwoman. And speaking of which, what the devil was she doing here, anyway, alone on a darkened street? He leveled his sternest stare at her. Her eyes, which he thought couldn’t possible get any more huge, widened, and she started to scoot away, her bottom skimming along the ground as she used the palms of her hands to support her.
Angus thought she looked a bit like a monkey he’d seen in a menagerie. Her shaking lips managed something that could never be called a smile, although Angus had the distinct impression that she was trying to placate him. And then, with a wary glance in his direction, she started walking away, moving sideways so that she could keep one eye on him and one on wherever it was she thought she was going.
Margaret clutched at the folds of her skirt and chewed nervously on the inside of her cheek. She had been terrified when those men had grabbed her, and she still hadn’t managed to stop the uncontrollable shaking of her hands. At four-and-twenty, she was still an innocent, but she’d lived long enough to know their intentions. The man standing in front of her had saved her, but for what purpose?
She didn’t think he wanted to hurt her-his comment about protecting women was a bit too heartfelt to have been an act. But did that mean she could trust him? As if sensing her thoughts, he snorted and jerked his head slightly. The big Scotsman was probably correct, and she knew her deceased mother would have ordered her to get down on her hands and knees just to thank him, but the truth was-he looked a little unbalanced.
His eyes were hot and flashing with temper, and there was something about him-something strange and indescribable-that made her insides quiver. But she wasn’t a coward, and she had spent enough years trying to instill good manners in her younger siblings that she wasn’t about to prove herself a hypocrite and behave rudely herself. Her savior or was it nemesis? Because that’s always a bad idea.
I have a friend with property in the area, and he tells me that the inns are full of women who have been compromised on the way to Gretna Green but never wed. But forget I asked. I really don’t care. I’m glad you’re safe, but I don’t have time to sit here and-“. Her entire countenance changed. Tell me, sir, how old is she, what does she look like, and are you a Fornby, Ferrige, or Fitch?
He looked at her as if she had suddenly sprouted horns. My name is Angus Greene. She scowled at him. But they’re all just horrible. A fresh burst of rain fell upon them, and without even thinking, Angus took her arm and pulled her under the deep overhang. She kept on talking through the entire maneuver.
It’s not as if I had time to drop everything and chase him to Scotland. I’ve a sister to care for, and a wedding to plan. She’s getting married in three months, after all.
The last thing I needed was to travel up here and-“. Uqinn hand tightened around her arm. She caught sight of the fire burning in his dark eyes, and drew back as far as his heavy grip would let her. Angus yanked her in closer, purposefully using his size and strength to intimidate her.
Do you have any idea what happens to women traveling alone? Did you give no thought to your own safety? He let go of her and started to pace.
The woman is daft.