When Marcie Hartfield emerged from the sleeper at Pitlochry station there was no shortage of admirers willing to help carry her immaculate luggage to the waiting Land Rover. As she strolled across the footbridge like an old-world movie star in bespoke tweed, her bosom straining gently against her white shooting shirt, the locals outside the railway station pub felt as though all their Glorious Twelfths had come at once. “I’m here to shoot grouse,” she told them in her languid Texan drawl, as they were left gawping in her wake.
Alas, the glamorous investment banker did not have quite the same effect on the rest of her house party. As the only female guest at this exclusive – and eye-wateringly expensive – shooting weekend, she had come in the hope of securing a husband. It was a pragmatic move on Marcie’s part – she didn’t date her colleagues at work for professional reasons, and since she was never not at work, her matrimonial prospects were somewhat bleak.
Marcie had imagined that against a backdrop of heather she might find love, but instead, most of her fellow guests were furious that an American rookie would be so impertinent as to join such an illustrious occasion as the Glorious Twelfth. In fact, Marcie was only marginally more popular with the rest of the guests than Nathan the hedgefunder, who had arrived by helicopter at lunchtime but hadn’t yet spoken to anyone as he was in the middle of a significant deal and permanently on a conference call.
As the party took gin and tonics in the drawing room that evening, the men – an assortment of attractive but self-important fellow bankers, a Norwegian Olympian and a cluster of dedicated sportsmen with purple-veined maps of the Highlands etched across their cheeks – assiduously avoided engaging Marcie in conversation. Instead, they talked over one another about this year’s bird numbers and who’d seen who at Loulou’s last week. Luckily, there were enough portraits on the walls for Marcie to amuse herself playing “Kiss, Shag, Marry” with the lairds of Lethen until the salmon mousse was served. She took a particular shine to the sixth laird, who had lost his wife in a game of cards in 1763.
Dinner wasn’t a whole lot more promising in the husband-hunting stakes. On one side she had a purple-faced gentleman who kept spluttering the word “wife” through his starter to ward Marcie off, and on the other Nathan was threatening a colleague with a barbaric death. The rest of the table treated her like a rare orchid in a mushroom patch – an object of curiosity to be looked at but left well alone.
Not that Marcie minded: she was used to boys’ clubs, both at home in Texas, where she had grown up among cowboys, and in the City, where she worked among them. She decided to retire early, taking the opportunity to read Country Life in the bath and get some beauty sleep in preparation for tomorrow’s shoot.
The next morning, as the beaters brought up the first drive and the birds began to take flight, Marcie took aim at a bird’s feet, as she had read she should. But just as she was about to pull the trigger on her first grouse, Nathan’s ringtone blared out across the moor for the fourth time that day.
“Can’t you put that thing on silent at least?” the Norwegian muttered tersely.
“No,” replied Nathan – who was in the next butt to Marcie – as he shamelessly took the call at full volume. “OK Lester, then you tell them they do not have a deal without…”
But Lester in the APAC office never heard Nathan’s decree. Marcie – who’d had quite enough of both rude men and Nathan’s deal – wrestled the phone out of his hand, threw it 10ft in the air, cocked her gun and shot it to smithereens. As the rest of the shooting party spluttered in awe and a collective cheer rose from the heather, Marcie settled back into her butt and took aim – this time at a bird.
“I didn’t grow up in Texas for nothing,” she shrugged, as her 28-bore began to sing across the Highlands and her marriage prospects started looking up.