William MacKenzie has always been protective of his Scottish village. When Moraig’s economy falters, he has the perfect solution to lure wealthy Londoners to this tiny hamlet: resurrect the ancient Highland Games! But for this to work, William knows he needs a reporter to showcase the town in just the right light.
A female journalist might be a tolerated oddity in Brighton, but newly minted reporter Penelope Tolbertson is discovering that finding respect in London is a far more difficult prospect. After receiving an invitation to cover Moraig’s Highland Games, Penelope is determined to prove to her London editors just how valuable she can be.
Penelope instantly captures William’s heart, but she is none too impressed with the gruff, broody Highlander. However as she begins to understand his plans, Penelope discovers she may want more from him than just a story. She’s only got a few days…but maybe a few days is all they need.
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“You’re late.” William scowled. “Were there any problems fetching the chap from Inverness?” He was anxious to greet the reporter, get the man properly situated in the Blue Gander, and then go home to change into something less . . . Scottish. And, God, knew he could also use a pint or three, though preferably ones not raised at his expense.
Mr. Jeffers pushed the brim of his hat up an inch and scratched his head. “Well, see, here’s the thing. I dinna exactly fetch a chap, as it were.”
This time, William couldn’t suppress the growl that erupted from his throat. “Mr. Jeffers, don’t tell me you left him there!” It would be a nightmare if he had. The entire thing had been carefully orchestrated, down to a reservation for the best room the Blue Gander had to offer. The goal had been to install the reporter safely in Moraig and show him a taste of the town’s charms before the games commenced on Saturday.
“Well, I . . . that is . . .” Mr. Jeffers’s gaze swung between the brothers, and he finally shrugged. “Well, I suppose you’ll see well enough for yourself.”
He turned the handle and then swung the coach door open.
A gloved hand clasped Mr. Jeffers’s palm, and then a high, elegant boot flashed into sight.
“What in the blazes—” William choked on his surprise as a blond head tipped into view. A body soon followed, stepping down in a froth of blue skirts. She dropped Jeffers’s hand and looked around with bright interest.
“Your chap’s a lass,” explained a bemused Mr. Jeffers.
“A lass?” echoed William stupidly.
And not only a lass . . . a very pretty lass.
She smiled at the men, and it was like the sun cresting over the hills that rimmed Loch Moraig, warming all who were fortunate enough to fall in its path. William was suddenly and inexplicably consumed by the desire to recite poetry to the sound of twittering birds. That alone might have been manageable, but as her eyes met his, he was also consumed by an unfortunate jolt of lustful awareness that left every inch of him unscathed—and there were quite a few inches to cover.
“Miss Penelope Tolbertson,” she said, extending her gloved hand as though she were a man. “R-reporter for the London Times.”
He stared at her hand unsure of whether to shake it or kiss it. Her manners might be bold, but her voice was like butter, flowing over a body until it didn’t know which end was up. His tongue seemed wrapped in cotton, muffling even the merest hope for a proper greeting.
The reporter was female?
And not only female . . . a veritable goddess, with eyes the color of a fair Highland sky.
Dimly, he felt James’s elbow connect with his ribs. He knew he needed to say something. Preferably something that made the ripping first impression he’d planned.
He raised his eyes to meet hers, giving himself up to the sense of falling.
Or perhaps more aptly put, a sense of flailing.
“W-welcome to Moraig, Miss Tolbertson.”
Penelope fought to keep her expression neutral.
It wasn’t as though she hadn’t been teased for her stammer nearly every day of her life, the merciless jeers from Brighton’s summer visitors bending her but never quite breaking her.
Instead of delivering a witty retort—which experience foretold would only emphasize her infirmity—she forced herself to smile pleasantly at the man who had just delivered the insult.
Whoever he was, he looked very much like the penny-dreadful version of a Highland warrior, with his dark, windswept hair, bulging biceps, and endlessly looped plaid. Of course, the penny dreadfuls didn’t make her stomach contract in quite the same nervous fashion.
And impressive or no, she had little patience for a person who thought it fun to mock a lady’s stammer.
She tried to push away the stirrings of self-doubt such things always brought. Her sister, Caroline, who’d married Moraig’s magistrate last year, had always sought relief from her childhood demons by swimming. But Pen had retreated from her tormentors with words—books and poetry and newspapers. Eventually she had uncovered a talent for putting her words on paper, probably because they became so tangled on her tongue. With that discovery, the anxieties about her stammer had finally begun to subside.
She did not enjoy having them rekindled today.
She turned her attentions to the more familiar gentleman standing in wait. “It is good to see you again, Mr. MacKenzie.” She smiled at her sister’s handsome friend and pushed a damp strand of hair from her cheek. “I must say, it is much warmer than it was d-during my last visit.”
“You’ve visited Moraig before?” the rude Highlander interrupted.
“Yes,” Pen said patiently. It seemed he was bound to either repeat questions already answered or else struggle to keep up with the conversation. She framed a gentle smile to her lips, the kind that made people nearly always underestimate her. “As I just said.”
She would have liked to ignore him but suspected it would be a close to impossible task, given that he seemed nearly twice the size of most men. Her gaze scooted lower, to the thick, muscled calves peeking out from beneath the folds of fabric. She was used to her share of bare legs, growing up in Brighton as she had. But she wasn’t used to legs that looked like this.
She schooled her cheeks against the flush that wanted to claim them. She would not blush like an adolescent schoolgirl. After all, she was an independent, modern woman, even if her tongue sometimes became a bit tied. She had boldly negotiated this position with the London Times—the first woman reporter they had ever hired. She had a job to do here, and she needed to do it well. It did not matter what a brawny, belted Highlander thought of her.
It mattered only what she thought of Moraig and what she chose to write about it.
In contrast to the village idiot, James MacKenzie’s green eyes sparkled with mirth and intelligence. “Miss Tolbertson is David Cameron’s new sister-in-law. I was fortunate enough to take dinner with them when she visited over Christmas,” he explained to the befuddled giant. He cocked his head, studying her. “I must say, this is quite a surprise, Miss Tolbertson. Cameron told us to expect a reporter from London, but he didn’t say it would be you. Don’t you work for the Brighton Gazette?”
She nodded, pleased he had remembered. Then again, a female journalist was enough of a novelty she supposed it might be a difficult fact to forget. “I did. But I’ve just b-been awarded a position with the Times and moved to London.” It was the first job she’d ever applied for. Foughtfor. Though her initial work with the Brighton Gazette had been enjoyable, she couldn’t help but feel her experience didn’t quite count, not when it was the newspaper her father had once founded. “This is my first formal assignment,” she admitted. And even if her brother-in-law had helped procure it, she felt a driving need to make sure it went well.
“A decision we can only hope serves us both well, given our hopes for a positive outcome for Moraig.” James gestured to the man standing beside him. “May I present William MacKenzie. My brother, and occasional Highland warrior when the circumstances call for it.”