When Englishwoman Margaret Pennypacker learns that her brother has eloped to Gretna Greene, she chases him all the way to Scotland, determined to prevent him from making a terrible mistake.
When Scotsman Angus Greene learns that his sister has run away to London, he chases her all the way to England, determined to prevent her from making a terrible mistake. But when Margaret and Angus meet up at the border, their siblings are nowhere to be found, and this mismatched pair discovers that love often blossoms in the most unexpected places…
"And who the devil is he marrying?" Margaret muttered under her breath. "Couldn't he have seen fit to tell me that?" As best as she 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 dumb as a post. Margaret had once heard Penelope recite the alphabet and leave out the J and Q.
Inside the Story
- Gretna Greene came by its name because I've always been jealous of the mystery writers who get to use such fun puns in their titles. Unfortunately, the romance market doesn't really have much use for punny titles (The Flame and the Flour, anyone? It's a marvelous historical romance about two pastry chefs.). With a novella, however, the title of the story doesn't go on the cover of the book, so I can get as punny as I like. Which is why Gretna Green, the historical village on the border of Scotland and England, became Gretna Greene, in honor of my hero, Angus Greene.
- Margaret's last name, Pennypacker, may sound awfully goofy, but it's actually the name of my freshman dorm! My dad also lived in Pennypacker Hall, 27 years before I did (and three rooms down the hall.)
- To learn more about the other stories in the anthology, please visit the websites of the other authors: Christina Dodd, Stephanie Laurens, and Karen Ranney.
For Jason Weinstein, whose phone calls never fail to brighten my day.
And for Paul, even though he doesn't believe me when I insist we're not zoned for llamas.
Enjoy an Excerpt
Margaret Pennypacker had chased her brother halfway across a nation.
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 they made their 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 country.
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. Because—
In Lancashire, she’d been thrown from her horse when it stepped on a stone, and then the dratted thing —so well-trained 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 cruelest 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. Edward was eloping.
“Bloody idiot,” Margaret muttered under her breath. “And who the devil is he marrying, I’d like to know. 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 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.
But not Angus. 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 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 most 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 his reins. Plus, it just 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 eighteen years old. When he found that girl, he was going to kill her.
He took some comfort in the fact that if he was 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 his sister.
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 loud exhale, Orpheus instinctively drew to a halt, waiting to see just what it was his master planned for his next move. Trouble was, Angus hadn’t a clue. 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 inn 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, and so Angus spurred Orpheus in the direction of the small inn and public house.
But before Orpheus had managed to move even three of his four feet, a loud scream pierced the air.
A feminine scream.
Angus’s heart stopped beating. Anne? If anyone had touched so much as the hem of her dress…
He galloped down the street and then around the far corner, just in time 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.
“Let go of me, you cretin!” she yelled, elbowing one of them in the neck.
It wasn’t Anne, that was for sure. Anne would never have known to knee the 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.
“Back off, sod!” one of the men growled. “We found her first.”
“That is unfortunate,” Angus said calmly, then bashed his fist into his face. He stared at the two remaining conscious men, one of whom was still sprawled in the street. The other one, who had been doubled over and clutching at his nether regions ever since the lady had kneed him, looked at him as if he wanted to say something. But before he could make a sound, Angus planted his boot in a rather painful area and looked down.
“There is something you should know about me,” he said, his voice unnaturally soft. “I don’t like to see women hurt. When 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. “I go a wee bit mad.”
The man sprawled on the cobbles found his feet with remarkable speed and galloped 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.
Angus stroked his chin. “I think we understand each other.”
The man nodded frantically.
“Good. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what will happen should we ever again cross paths.”
Another pained nod.
Angus moved his foot and the men ran off, squealing all the way.
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 cobbles, 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. “Idiot,” he muttered. 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. “What the devil are you doing here?” he demanded, then added for good measure, “Alone on a darkened street?”
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.
“Don’t tell me you’re frightened of me,” he said incredulously.
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. “Not at all,” she quavered, her accent confirming his earlier supposition that she was English. “It’s just that I— Well, you must understand—” She stood so suddenly that her foot caught on the hem of her dress, and she nearly fell over. “I really have someplace I have to be,” she blurted out.
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.
“For the love of—” He cut himself off before he blasphemed in front of this chit, who was already looking at him as if she were trying to decide if he more resembled the devil or Attila the Hun. “I am not the villain in this piece,” he bit off.
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 three-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. “For the love of God, woman, I saved your bloody life.”
Margaret winced. 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 in him — something strange and indescribable — that made her insides quiver.
But she wasn’t a coward, and she had spent enough years trying instill good manners in her younger siblings that she wasn’t about to prove herself a hypocrite and behave rudely herself. “Thank you,” she said quickly, her racing heart causing her words to tumble from her mouth. “That was… uh… very well done of you, and I… thank you, and I believe I can speak for my family when I say that they also thank you, and I’m certain if I ever found myself wed, my husband would thank you as well.”
Her savior (or was it nemesis? — Margaret just wasn’t sure) smiled slowly and said, “Then you’re not married.”
She took a few steps back. “Uh, no, uh, I really must be going.”
His eyes narrowed. “You’re not here to elope, are you? 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.”
“I am certainly not eloping,” she said testily. “Do I really look that foolish?”
“No, you don’t, but do you know, forget I asked. I really don’t care.” He shook his head wearily. “I’ve ridden all day, I’m sore as hell, and I still haven’t found my sister. I’m glad you’re safe, but I really don’t have time to sit here and—”
Her entire countenance changed. “Your sister?” she repeated, charging forward. “You’re looking for your sister? 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. “What the devil are you talking about, woman? My name is Angus Greene.”
“Damn,” she muttered, surprising even herself with her use of profanity. “I had been hoping you might prove a useful ally.”
“If you’re not here to elope, what are you doing here?”
“My brother,” she grumbled. “The nitwit thinks he wants to marry, but his brides are completely unsuitable.”
“Brides, plural? Bigamy is still illegal in England, is it not?”
She scowled at him. “I don’t know which one he eloped with. He didn’t say. But they’re all just terrible.”
She shuddered, looking as if she had just swallowed an antidote. “Terrible.”
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.
“When I get my hands on Edward I’m going to bloody well kill him,” she was saying. “I was quite busy in Lancashire, you know. It’s not as if I had the time to drop everything and chase him to Scotland. I’ve three other siblings to watch besides him, and the last thing I needed was to travel up here and—”
His hand tightened around her arm. “Wait one moment,” he said in a tone that immediately shut her mouth. “Don’t tell me you traveled to Scotland by yourself.” His brows pulled together, and he looked as if he was in pain. “Do not tell me that.”
She caught sight of the fire burning in his dark eyes, and drew back as far as his heavy grip would let her. “I knew that you were crazy,” she said, looking from side to side as if searching for someone to save her from this lunatic.
Angus yanked her in closer, purposefully using his size and strength to intimidate her. “Did you or did you not embark upon a long-distance journey without an escort?”
“Yes?” she said, the single syllable coming out like a question.
“Good God, woman!” he exploded. “Are you insane? Do you have any idea what happens to women traveling alone? Did you give no thought to your own safety?”
Margaret’s mouth fell open.
He let go of her and started to pace. “When I think about what might have happened…” He gave his head a shuddering shake, muttering, “Jesus, whiskey, and Robert the Bruce. The woman is daft.”
Margaret blinked rapidly, trying to make sense of all this. “Sir,” she began cautiously, “you don’t even know me.”
He whirled around. “What the hell is your name?”
“Margaret Pennypacker,” she answered before it occurred to her that maybe he really was a lunatic, and maybe she shouldn’t have told him the truth.
“Fine,” he spat out. “Now I know you. And you’re a fool. On a fool’s errand.”
“Now just wait one moment!” she burst out, stepping forward and waving her arm at him. “I happen to be engaged in an extremely serious mission. My brother’s very happiness might be at stake. Who are you to judge me?”
“The man who saved you from rape.”
“Well!” Margaret responded, mostly because that was all she could think to say.
He raked his hand through his hair. “What are your plans for tonight?”
“That’s none of your business!”
“You became my business the minute I saw you being dragged off by—” Angus whipped his head around, realizing that he’d forgotten about the man he’d knocked unconscious. The fellow had woken up, and was slowly rising to his feet, obviously trying to move as silently as possible.
“Don’t move,” Angus snapped at Margaret. He was in front of the burly man in two steps, then grabbed his collar and hauled him up until his feet dangled in the air. “Do you have anything to say to this woman?” he growled.
The man shook his head.
“I think you do.”
“I certainly have nothing to say to him,” Margaret put in, trying to be helpful.
Angus ignored her. “An apology, perhaps? An abject apology with ample use of the phrase ‘I’m a miserable cur’ might lessen my temper and save your pathetic life.” The man started to shake.
“Really, Mr. Greene,” Margaret said quickly, “I think we’re quite finished. Perhaps you ought to let him go.”
“Do you want to hurt him?”
Margaret was so surprised she started to cough. “I beg your pardon,” she finally managed to get out. His voice was hard and strangely flat as he repeated his question.
“Do you want to hurt him? He would have dishonored you.”
Margaret blinked uncontrollably at the odd light in his eyes, and she had the most horrifying feeling that he would kill the man if she just gave the word. “I’m fine,” she choked out. “I believe I managed a few blows earlier in the evening. It quite satisfied my meager bloodlust.”
“Not this one,” Angus replied. “You hurt the other two.”
“I’m fine, really.”
“A woman has a right to her revenge.”
“There’s really no need, I assure you.” Margaret glanced quickly about, trying to assess her chances for escape. She was going to have to make a run for it soon. This Angus Greene fellow might have saved her life, but he was completely mad.
Angus dropped the man and pushed him forward. “Get out of here before I kill you.”
Margaret began to tiptoe in the opposite direction.
“You!” he boomed. “Don’t move.” She froze. She might not like this huge Scotsman, but she was no idiot. He was twice her size, after all.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
She decided not to answer that one.
He quickly closed the difference between them, crossed his arms, and glowered down at her.” I believe you were about to advise me of your plans for the evening.”
“I regret to inform you, sir, but my intentions were not following that particular line of—”
“Tell me!” he roared.
“I was going to look for my brother,” she blurted out, deciding that maybe she was a coward, after all. Cowardice, she decided, wasn’t really such a bad thing when faced with a mad Scot.
He shook his head. “You’re coming with me.”
“Oh, please,” she scoffed. “If you think—”
“Miss Pennypacker,” he interrupted, “I might as well inform you that when I make a decision, I rarely change my mind.”
“Mr. Greene,” she replied with equal resolve, “I am not your responsibility.”
“Perhaps, but I have never been the kind of man who could leave a lone woman to her own defenses. Therefore, you are coming with me, and we will decide what to do with you in the morning.”
“I thought you were looking for your sister,” she said, her irritation showing clearly her tone of voice.
“My sister certainly isn’t getting any farther away from me in this weather. I’m sure she’s tucked away in some inn, probably not even here at Gretna Green.”
“Shouldn’t you search the inns for her this eve?”
“Anne is not an early riser. If she is indeed here, she will not resume her journey any earlier than ten. I have no qualms about delaying my search for her until the morning. Anne, I’m sure, is safe this eve. You, on the other hand, I have my doubts about.”
Margaret nearly stamped her foot. “There is no need—”
“My advice, Miss Pennypacker, is for you to accept your fate. Once you think about it, you’ll realize it’s not such a bad one. A warm bed, a good meal — how can those be so very offensive?”
“Why are you doing this?” she asked suspiciously. “What is in it for you?”
“Nothing,” he admitted with a lopsided smile. “But have you ever studied Chinese philosophy?”
She shot him a wry look. As if English girls were ever actually allowed to study more than embroidery and the occasional history lesson — British history, of course.
“There’s a proverb,” he said, his eyes growing reminiscent. “I don’t remember how it goes precisely, but it is something about how once you save a life, you are responsible for it forever.”
Margaret choked on her breath. Good God, the man didn’t think to watch over her forever, did he?
Angus caught her expression and nearly doubled over in laughter. “Oh, do not worry, Miss Pennypacker,” he said. “I have no plans to install myself as your permanent protector. I’ll just see you through until daylight, make certain you’re settled and all that, and then you may go on your merry way.”
“Very well,” Margaret said grudgingly. It was difficult to argue with someone who had one’s best interests at heart. “I do appreciate your concern, and perhaps we might search for our errant siblings together. It should make the job a bit easier, one would think.
He touched her chin, startling her with his gentleness. “That’s the spirit. Now then, shall we be off?”
She nodded, thinking that perhaps she ought to make a peace offering of her own. After all, the man had saved her from a horrible fate, and she had responded by calling him a lunatic. “You have a scrape,” she said, touching his right temple. It had always been easier for her to show her gratitude through deeds, rather than words. “Why don’t you let me tend to that? It’s not very deep, but you ought to have it cleaned.”
He nodded and took her arm. “I would appreciate that.”
Margaret caught her breath, a bit surprised by how much larger he seemed when he was standing right next to her. “Have you secured a room yet?”
He shook his head. “Have you?”
“No, but I saw a vacancy sign at The Rose and Thistle.”
“The Canny Man is better. Cleaner, and the food is hot. We’ll see if they have room first.”
“Cleanliness is good,” she commented, more than happy to forgive his arrogance if it meant clean sheets.
“Do you have a bag?”
“Not anymore,” she said ruefully.
“You were robbed?”
“I’m afraid so.” At his darkening look, she added quickly, “But I didn’t bring anything of value.”
He sighed. “Well, there’s nothing to be done about it now. Come with me. We’ll discuss what to do about your brother and my sister once we’re warm and fed.”
And then he took her arm and led her down the street.