The Persephone Star
Love looks different from a thousand feet up.
Postmistress Penelope Moser has recently settled with her father in the Wild West town of Fortuna. Shocked by the violence around her and the depressing lives of the town’s women, she throws herself into her job. She’s determined to make the best of it before she has to marry the odious town sheriff.
But when the Persephone Star is spotted in the territory, danger literally hits close to home. Its captain—the famed outlaw Mirage Currier—is fresh out of prison and gunning for revenge on Penelope’s fiancé for locking her up and sentencing her sister to death. Penelope’s pleas to avoid violence are ignored, and a bloody showdown seems inevitable. That is, until Penelope is kidnapped and held hostage on the Star.
Shockingly, Penelope finds intrigue rather than danger in the air. Mirage’s reputation as a hardened criminal doesn’t fit with the Star’s vibrant young captain whose only goal is to save her sister from the gallows. With her sympathies shifting, Penelope must decide whether to remain loyal to her father and the man she promised to marry, or face an uncertain future with an enthralling outlaw.
(Note: This is a revised second edition, originally published elsewhere.)
Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:
Domestic violence (references)
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Themes: abduction/kidnapping/hostage (actual), angst, atonement, colonialism, commitment, domestic violence, duty, enemies to lovers, family, feminism, financial gap / class disparity, first love, found family, gender roles, homophobia / transphobia, misogyny, protection, romantic elements, self-confidence, self-discovery / self-reflection
The rumors had been flying for days. The ship had been spotted just over the town line, in Copper Creek. It hung heavy in the sky, a blot against the sun, and messages had been streaming into Fortuna’s Post Office, warnings and pleas alike.
Penelope took them down dutifully, listening to the clicks of the telegraph and writing the messages in careful, clear letters. She sorted them methodically, pretending that she was merely a conduit for the words that flew over the line, merely another cog in the machine, her pencil connected to the wire that snaked its way through the sky, all part of the great Line.
As postmistress, she knew everyone’s business—often before they did. Every family emergency, every business deal gone good or bad. Every love letter sent over the line arrived at its destination in her neat, careful handwriting and every Dear John letter came the same way.
Penelope had to pretend not to see, because she had to look the townspeople in the eye, had to smile at them in the general store, chat with them over coffee at church, dine with them at her father’s house. She had to be a townsperson like everyone else, as if she wasn’t so full of secrets she often felt liable to burst at the seams, nothing holding her together but the corset that bound her rib cage tight.
So she wrote down the messages from Copper Creek and pretended not to see them, pretended fear didn’t well up in her throat as she wrote the name Mirage Currier over and over again, and put them in a neat little pile to be delivered to the sheriff.
Tobias Combes came in at midday, looking spooked. He was a frail man, tall but so lean he looked like he’d fall over with a gentle breeze. He crossed his spindly arms on the high counter and bent forward, eyes wide. “A rider just arrived from Copper Creek.” He pitched his voice low, as if they weren’t the only two in the office.
“Oh?” Penelope said mildly. She knew what he wanted. People came by all the time, “just to chat,” knowing Penelope knew more than she let on, hoping she’d let something slip.
She took pride in her job and so kept her lips sealed tight. No one was going to say a woman couldn’t be trusted with the line while Penelope was in charge.
“A ship’s come into Copper Creek,” Tobias continued, his thin face more pinched than usual. “An outlaw ship.”
If she weren’t so unnerved herself, Penelope would have laughed. Everything sounded ridiculous coming from Tobias, a man who could be frightened by a black cat crossing his path.
“Is their sheriff doing anything about it?” Penelope asked. She’d been wondering all day. Surely the problem was Copper Creek’s—not theirs.
“They’re not causing any trouble, so the sheriff can’t do nothing.”
“Outlaws who don’t cause trouble?” Penelope arched a brow, reaching for the mail sack for something to do with her hands.
“Not in Copper Creek,” Tobias said darkly. He bent closer. “It’s the Persephone Star—Mirage Currier’s ship.”
Penelope had only been in town for nine months, since her father came to Fortuna to open the town’s first bank. But everyone in Fortuna knew the Persephone Star—it had become legend, along with its captain, Mirage Currier. Penelope was sure that the legend had spread far beyond their little town. She couldn’t believe they weren’t talking about it all the way back east. A woman bandit, leading a crew of female outlaws.
“I thought Currier was in jail,” Penelope said, forcing blandness into her voice.
“Got out, got her crew together, and came right here.”
“To Copper Creek,” Penelope corrected.
“For now.” Tobias’s brows lowered, and Penelope was glad she didn’t have to upset him more, to tell him what the messages that had been streaming in all day said: Currier was gathering supplies, trading for guns and ammunition with the worst Copper Creek had to offer. Gearing up to come to Fortuna.
“Don’t worry,” she said, trying to be kind. “The sheriff will handle it.”
“It’s him they’re coming for,” Tobias mumbled, and Penelope turned from the counter, pretending not to hear.
“You mind letting Mrs. Cranshaw know she’s got a letter here, Tobias? I know she’s been waiting.”
“Oh. Course, Miss Moser.” Tobias was too polite to stay when he’d been so clearly dismissed. He shuffled out of the office, rolling his narrow shoulders to avoid cracking his head on the doorframe.
Penelope picked up the stack of messages for the sheriff. Everyone knew why Currier was back in town: it was Fortuna’s sheriff who had put her away. The Star had been terrorizing the good God-fearing folks of the area for too long, and when Wiley got elected sheriff, he’d decided to do something about it. Currier hadn’t ever hit Fortuna, but Wiley got together with some of the other sheriffs in the territory and went after her—before she could come after Fortuna, he said.
And now she was back for revenge.
Penelope tucked the sheriff’s messages into her knapsack and set about tidying the office for the day. Mail and telegrams got sorted into neat slots under the desk, and the moneybox was kept under lock and key in a safe to be extra secure. Penelope wasn’t a fool, and she knew that the post office was the place most likely to be robbed if anyone looking for trouble came to Fortuna.
Once those chores were done, Penelope turned to her pride and joy: the library.
It was really just two shelves on the wall behind the counter, lined with volumes donated by townspeople. But each one had a slip pasted into the front, with neat little boxes to write a due date in.
Only, Penelope couldn’t get anyone to borrow them. She’d taken the position as postmistress for something to do, some way to pass the time in the tiny town fate had brought her to. The library was her pet project. She’d been to the public library in New York once, a massive building with stacks and stacks of books for anyone to read. Wandering through, running her childish fingers over the endless spines, Penelope had got it into her head that it was where she belonged. She looked at the women behind the big desks, helping people to find books, and decided then and there that that was what she was going to do when she grew up.
But her father kept them moving, farther and farther west, out of the country and into the territories, and then beyond, into Indian country and the true Wild West. He founded banks in town after town, none of them with libraries.
It was only here, in Fortuna, that Penelope decided to stop wishing and to make her dream happen. If she couldn’t move to a town with a library, she could damn well found a library in her town.
For now, there were a dozen books that no one but Penelope had ever bothered to read. She adjusted them on the shelf, lining up the spines neatly and brushing off any dust that had settled over the course of the day.
Turning the heavy key in the lock was her last task of the day, and Penelope smiled with pride at the tidy office before she turned down the street toward her father’s house. The summer sun still blazed high in the sky at this hour, making Penelope perspire under the layers of her cotton dress and heavy undergarments.
She ran a self-conscious hand over her face, hoping sweat wasn’t beading on her forehead. She offered a smile to the people she passed in the street, waving to the schoolteacher and nodding politely at the reverend as he passed on his way home from church.
Penelope paused outside the house she occupied with her father and straightened her clothes and hair, smoothing any unruly curls back into place in the knot at the back of her head. Taking a deep breath, she squared her shoulders and pasted on a cheerful smile.
Voices rose from within as she stepped through the front door. The girl who did the cleaning met her in the hall with her ever-present anxious smile.
“Anything I can get you, ma’am?”
“No, thank you, Sarah.”
Penelope didn’t like having servants, not even this teenager, but her father insisted since Penelope wasn’t willing to “do her duty” by keeping house for him. Penelope knew she’d be trapped in a man’s house soon enough; she didn’t want to start just yet.
“Your father and the sheriff are in the parlor,” Sarah said with a bobbing curtsy.
Penelope reinforced her smile, and walked down the hall. Her father lounged in his favorite chair, a cigar in his mouth and a whiskey in his hand. Across from him sat Wiley Barnett, his hat on the table in front of him and his sheriff’s badge gleaming proudly on his chest.
They both looked up as Penelope paused in the doorway, Wiley’s eyes sliding proprietarily over her. Penelope flushed under his gaze, dropping her eyes to hunt through her satchel. Wiley was a handsome man, with hair dark enough to belong to one of the surrounding tribes, and the kind of cocky smile that won people over instantly. He wore the heavy moustache of a military man.
“I brought your telegrams from the office,” she said, holding out the stack. Wiley’s fingers brushed hers as he took the papers, a lingering stroke over the back of her hand. She fought the urge to pull back, reminding herself that it was allowed. Expected even.
After all, he was her fiancé.
She perched on the sofa as Wiley sorted through the messages with a snort.
“Lot of telegrams,” Ashes observed. Her father had the bulk of a man of his station, the buttons of his waistcoat straining over his thick waist. He raised his eyebrows expectantly, waiting to be told all the secrets Wiley held in his hand.
Wiley raised his head, a hard, amused look in his light eyes. “All from Copper Creek. Probably funded their post office for a year with these.” He tossed the stack down on the table in front of him and picked up his drink in their stead.
There was never any glass of whiskey waiting for Penelope when she got home. Her lips curved up unbidden as she imagined her father’s face, or Wiley’s, if she asked for one, and ducked her head to hide the smile. God forbid a good little girl have a drink in the evenings. God forbid she ever relax, even in her own home. Instead, she was expected to perch daintily on the edge of the sofa, her hands folded neatly in her lap, listening expectantly to everything the men said—but never contributing.
“What do they want?” Ashes asked. He maintained the air of a benevolent leader, presiding over the small room, but Penelope knew he must have heard the rumors, same as anyone. The bank was as much a center of gossip as the post office and the general store.
Wiley shifted, his glance raking over the small pieces of paper in front of him. Penelope watched closely, wondering if his movement betrayed nerves she didn’t see on his face. But he looked as relaxed as he ever did when she spied him through the window of the saloon, his boots propped up on the bar.
“The Persephone Star has been seen in the area,” he said with relish, lingering on the name that caused so many others to quake.
Her father’s thick gray eyebrows rose, not in surprise but in barely suppressed interest. “With or without Mirage Currier at the helm?”
Wiley sneered. “Seems that trumped-up little jilt is out of prison. I testified that she should be hanged, but the bottle-head of a federal marshal only managed to pin her sister for the murder. And she still hasn’t swung yet.”
An involuntary gasp escaped Penelope. “They’re going to hang her sister?” It wasn’t completely unheard of for a woman to hang, but it certainly wasn’t common either. Penelope raised a hand to her throat, her fingers hovering uncertainly over the slender expanse of her neck. “But she’s just a girl.”
A cruel smirk twisted Wiley’s lips. “‘Just a girl’?” he parroted with delight. “From our own little postmistress?”
Penelope sank back against the cushions, away from the force of Wiley’s unkind amusement. “I—” she began, but he held up a hand, hushing her.
“I told you,” Wiley said, turning to her father. “These women activists want to play at being men when it suits them, but the second it doesn’t, they hide behind their petticoats.”
“I’m not an activist,” Penelope said quickly. She read the news, she knew about the women fighting for suffrage. She read the accounts of the Seneca Falls Convention with bated breaths as a young girl, the incendiary words lighting up something inside her. But those revolutionary words hadn’t actually started a revolution. Women still didn’t have the vote. “I just like to feel useful.”
“You’ll feel useful soon enough,” Wiley said, softening his tone. “When there are young ones to take up all the time you waste on your job and your little library.”
Penelope dropped her eyes. “It’s not a waste,” she muttered, twining her fingers tightly in her lap. “Reading is important.”
“Sure it is, peaches,” Ashes said benevolently. “And you’ll do plenty of reading to my grandbabies.”
Penelope bit her lip. Babies and housekeeping were the only things Wiley or her father seemed to talk to her about these days. She remembered when she was younger; her father had talked to her about business. In each new town, he’d tell her the competition to his bank, the people resisting, and ask her to figure out how he should go about taking over the finances of the place. He’d smile proudly every time she got the answer right, telling her she was nearly as good at business strategy as he was.
He didn’t talk to her about those things now. Not since she’d grown up, growing into a woman’s body. He’d stopped including her then, stopped acting like it was the two of them against the world. Instead he sent for tutors and governesses, trying to train Penelope into being a “proper” woman.
Ashes had been thrilled when Wiley had come to him a few weeks before, sheriff’s hat in hand, and asked for her hand in marriage. Now all he thought about was her ability to have babies.
Penelope swallowed down her retort, the words burning at the back of her throat. The library mattered to her, but it didn’t matter to her father or to the man she was going to marry.
“What I want to know is what’s taking them so long?” Ashes demanded. “That girl was convicted a year ago! Back in my day, a bandit would have been in the noose before the ink was dry on the execution order.”
Wiley’s lip curled up in a sneer. “They got them some sort of fancy New York lawyer. Been bombardin’ the judge with bullshit appeals since the day they sentenced her. ‘She’s just a girl,’” he parroted, slanting an unpleasant glance at Penelope, who shrank back. “‘She’s just a child.’ ‘Not enough witnesses.’ Codswallop like that. They still have one in the works, far as I know. Currier must know it’ll be rejected, or she wouldn’t be chasin’ after me.”
“And what are you going to do about her?” Ashes asked.
Wiley shrugged dismissively. “If Currier wants revenge, she knows where to find me.” He took a slow, deliberate sip of his whiskey. “I ain’t scared of no girl.”
“Course not,” Ashes agreed. “Bunch of girls running around playing at bandits. Maybe this time you’ll get to put them all away for good.”
“Get them all put in the ground, more like,” Wiley said with a deep chuckle. To Penelope’s horror, Ashes laughed along with him.
Penelope jerked up from her seat. “I’ll just go check on Sarah and dinner,” she said.
Ashes smiled encouragingly at her. “That’s my good girl.”
Penelope hurried out of the room before she had to hear anything further. She never felt more like an East Coast girl than when people talked about gunfights, bandits, and hangings. She knew Wiley thought she was uptight, but sometimes the Wild West was too wild for her. She didn’t believe in the death penalty, and she certainly didn’t believe that criminals should just be gunned down in the streets. The law said that people like Currier couldn’t rob and steal, but it also said that she was owed a fair trial with an impartial judge. And Wiley was no impartial judge. If Currier came to Fortuna, there would be blood in the streets, and yet nobody seemed willing to do anything to stop it.
As Wiley took his leave at the end of the evening, he leaned in close to Penelope. For a moment, she thought he was going to kiss her, and barely managed to keep from drawing back. But instead he pushed his angry face close to hers and pointed a stern finger in her face. Fear swooped in Penelope’s gut.
“You write back to that yellow-bellied sheriff over in Copper Creek and you tell him that as long as the Persephone Star is in his town, Currier is his problem. If he knows what’s good for him, he’ll arrest her, before he finds himself dealing with me.”
Seeing he expected an answer, Penelope let out a shaky “All right.”
Wiley stepped back, satisfied, and Penelope could breathe again. He tipped his hat up, staring down his nose at her. “Good girl,” he said, before sauntering out the door. Penelope’s stomach turned.
No crime has been committed in Copper Creek, and as long as it stays that way, Currier is free to do as she pleases.
Penelope looked down at the message in dismay. She had worded Wiley’s threats and taunts as politely as she could, but it hadn’t made any difference. The sheriff of Copper Creek wasn’t going to act.
And she had to tell Wiley.
She’d worry herself sick about his reaction if she waited until evening to give him the message, so she locked up the post office and went straight to the sheriff’s station.
Wiley was alone when she arrived. “What are you doing here?” he asked irritably.
Penelope tried not to take it personally. Wordlessly, she held out the telegram.
Wiley scanned it quickly and then dashed it to the desk with a thump of his fist. “I told you he was a coward.”
“If she’s committed no crime . . .” Penelope ventured.
“She’s a criminal!” Wiley exploded.
Penelope staggered back from the force of his anger.
“That goddamn fool is going to get good men killed,” Wiley ranted, shoving his chair back with a screech and lurching to his feet. “He’s a lily-livered coward who deserves to be drawn and quartered for this. He should be charged with conspiring with criminals.” He paced the room, muttering more to himself than Penelope. She frowned at the strength of his words, realization dawning upon her. Actions, crimes sent people to prison, not identities. Wiley couldn’t lock Currier up just because she was a criminal, not when the justice system had let her out. But justice wasn’t what Wiley was looking for.
“Am I the only real man in this goddamn territory?” Wiley demanded, wheeling on her. Penelope’s eyes widened. “Am I the only one willing to deal with this situation the way it needs to be dealt with?” He thumped his revolver down on the desk with a resounding clang.
“Well, that’s fine,” he snarled, ignoring her. “If no one else wants this fight, I’m happy to take it. Unlike those other milksops, I ain’t got no problem showing that little girl what a real man is like.” A nasty smile curled his lips. “You write back to that sniveling cur and you tell him that his townsfolk are lucky there’s a real man within riding distance to do his job for him. You tell him I don’t need him, because I got all I need right here.” He patted the gun and Penelope gulped.
“I’ll . . . write back,” she promised halfheartedly.
Wiley smiled her out of the station. “You do that.”
Outside, Penelope leaned against the wall and tried to steady her nerves. She thought the sheriff of Copper Creek had the right idea, staving off violence until it was an absolute necessity. But it was no surprise that Wiley didn’t agree. He wasn’t just willing to take on Currier; he wanted the fight. Penelope could tell he was practically salivating for it. But why?
It seemed Mirage Currier and the Persephone Star were all Fortuna could talk about. Messages continued to pour into the post office, and rumors sailed past on the wind.
“I hear she’s a maniac—escaped from an asylum back east. She shoots people thinking they’re demons.”
“I hear she went to Boston to buy a gun more powerful than anything we’ve got out here, one that can blast a man at a hundred paces and keep firing for hours.”
“I hear she didn’t get it in Boston. She flew all the way to Europe to buy what they’re using to fight the French.”
“My husband says she’s killed more people than you’ve laid eyes on in your life. Hundreds.”
“No, thousands. And she’s maimed more. She could fill up a hospital with how many people she’s left bleedin’ behind her.”
“My cousin in Colorado said she’s stolen millions of dollars. More money than any bank out here’s got. She hides it in the boards of her ship. It’s made of the stuff.”
“Well, I heard from someone who knows that she’s part Injun. Her mother was a Hopi, and she taught Mirage black spirit magic. She can kill a person just by looking at them.”
“She conjures them spirit animals—bears and eagles that can rip a person through and then just disappear.”
They burst through the tranquil bubble of the post office, a barrage of voices and rumors day in and day out. People trooped in with no business there at all, just to talk and talk and talk.
The people of Fortuna thought Penelope had inside information because she was the sheriff’s fiancée, but Penelope felt more in the dark than anyone. She hadn’t been in the territory during the Persephone Star’s reign of terror. She hadn’t been in town when everyone slept with a pistol under their pillow and their money tight in hand.
She didn’t even know what Currier looked like. The bandit could walk right by Penelope on the street, and she’d never know. She pictured the villains from the novels she read before bed: dark men with pointed beards and sinister eyes, heavy black cloaks and mysterious jagged scars. Brutish hands and teeth sharpened to vicious points.
It was hard to reconcile those images with the idea of a woman.
Of course, Penelope knew better than anyone that not all women were made the same—they weren’t all soft, or feminine, or content to do nothing but raise babies.
Still, the more people talked, the more her nerves began to sing. Fear was a contagious disease, and the townspeople had been breathing it on her all day. No matter how wild the rumors, the core of what people were saying remained the same. Currier was coming for Sheriff Wiley and the town of Fortuna.
Penelope stepped into the general store, a hive of buzzing voices fanning the flames of fear higher and higher.
“I’ve been sleeping with my shotgun in my hand and my children in the bed,” Elizabeth Mycock said, leaning insistently over the counter.
“What does Mirage Currier want with your children?” Marshal Amis scoffed from behind the flour.
“I’m protecting them!” Elizabeth said, scandalized.
“If you had a husband at home, instead of in the saloon, you wouldn’t need to,” Marshal muttered.
“Men don’t understand the maternal spirit,” Cathryn Houser sniffed, stepping up beside Elizabeth. “Two pounds of sugar, please,” she said to the girl behind the counter.
Penelope slipped further into the store, trying to avoid catching the women’s attention. The general store was always the center of the town activity; you could reckon on seeing at least half your neighbors every time you stepped inside.
“I remember the last time she was in the territory,” Cathryn continued with a sigh. “I feel like we all aged a decade just knowing she was near.”
“Ah, she ain’t no different than any other bandit,” Marshal insisted, pointing the spade he was examining at the two women. “We see murderers and bank robbers every day out here. It’s why them city folks from the east can’t hack it in the territories.”
“Oh, really?” Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “If Currier came charging into your house demanding all your money, you’d stand up to her?”
“Damn right. Like any man would.” Marshal drew himself up to his full height, his sunken chest proudly puffed. He was over seventy, his lined face in a perpetual frown.
“I’d like to see it,” Cathryn snorted. “Oh! Penelope!”
Penelope slunk out from behind the wall of children’s sweets. “Hello, Cathryn.”
“I don’t suppose you’ve heard?”
“Hmm?” Penelope reached out to inspect some checked muslin, feeling the fabric between her fingers.
“About Mirage Currier?”
She gave them her best blank look, one she had tested at length on Wiley and her father.
“Don’t bother the poor girl,” Elizabeth hissed. “She must be out of her mind with worry. If it was my John, I don’t know what I’d do.”
Marshal snorted ungraciously from the wall of seeds.
“Oh, she don’t have to worry,” Cathryn said wisely. “Sheriff Barnett can handle anything.” She gave a sigh more befitting a schoolgirl than a woman of her age.
“I’ll take some potatoes and flour,” Penelope said to the girl behind the counter. Her eyes strayed out the window and over the horizon, toward Copper Creek. The town was thirty miles north, over four hours on horseback. But the Persephone Star was much faster.
Penelope had seen the airships back east, moving steadily through the skies, their ponderous bulk casting shadows on the buildings below. Not many made it out west, but small ones bought on the black market had become the transport of choice for a certain kind of criminal—ones who imagined themselves to be pirates of the skies, built on the old model.
She didn’t doubt that Currier could have her ship in the air over Fortuna in an hour. And when she did raise anchor and sail their way, Penelope would be the first to hear about it. She would make sure that no matter what else happened, the sheriff of Copper Creek kept his eyes on the Star, and sent word the second the ship so much as drifted in the sky.
“Wiley knows what he’s doing,” she said mildly to the women. “It’s why you all elected him sheriff, after all.”
“Oh, of course he does,” Elizabeth said quickly. “He’s the best sheriff we ever had. And so handsome too.” She tipped a secretive smile at Penelope.
Penelope accepted her purchases without sparing a glance at Elizabeth.
“I’ll be seeing you all later,” she said, forcing a smile.
“You tell Sheriff Barnett we all support him!” Cathryn called after her earnestly as Penelope hurried out the door.
“I told you,” Wiley said that evening after dinner, a boastful grin on his face, “Currier’s not man enough to face me.” He laughed uproariously at his own joke.
The airship hadn’t moved since it first came to anchor in Copper Creek. For all the rumors, for all the townspeople’s certainty that Currier was after Wiley, the outlaw didn’t seem to be in a hurry to face Wiley gun-to-gun.
Penelope thought about the novels she read. “What if she’s just waiting for you to let your guard down?” A smart outlaw wouldn’t come charging in, guns blazing, not when she knew Wiley was waiting for her.
Wiley abruptly stopped laughing. “I’m the sheriff. My guard is never down.”
Penelope faltered under his sharp gaze. “I didn’t mean . . .”
“That I was neglecting my post?”
“No! I would never say that. You’re an excellent sheriff.” A wife was always loyal.
“Damn straight, I am,” he said gruffly, but his temper cooled. “Best in all the territories. Quickest draw, too.”
“Could hit a black cat in the dead of night,” Ashes agreed jovially. Her father was unruffled as always—unless it was his money on the line.
“Still,” Penelope said, biting her lip. She knew from the look on Wiley’s face that she should keep her mouth shut—let the men talk about men’s business, as they often reminded her—but Fortuna was her home too. People would get hurt if Wiley let the Star bring the fight to him. Law and order shouldn’t mean gunfights in the street. “Don’t you think you should call the federal marshal? Surely this is part of his job?”
“It’s part of my job,” Wiley said fiercely. “And I don’t appreciate my own woman doubting I can do it.”
“I didn’t mean that,” she said, dropping her eyes to the needlework in her lap. It was a mess; her hands weren’t made for the quick, dexterous work on the best of days, and that night her thoughts were far too scattered for neat, even stitches. Yet another way in which she was an embarrassment to her sex. “I’ve just heard a lot of rumors about Currier. They say she’s got an arsenal and she’s coming for you personally. I . . .” Penelope stumbled over the words, searching for the right ones to quell the anger on Wiley’s face. “I wouldn’t want you to get hurt.”