Of course Mahindar would come to find him. The man had made it his task in life to look after Elliot, ever since Elliot had taken Mahindar away from another planter who’d hired him as a valet then treated him little better than a slave. Elliot had visited the planter one day and found him beating Mahindar.
The planter had apologized—to Elliot—for Mahindar’s behavior, and had gone on about Mahindar’s shortcomings, until Elliot had said, “If you don’t like him, he can come to work for me.” The planter had been surprised then looked grateful. Sikhs, the planter had said, couldn’t be taught proper humility, and he’d been a fool to take one on.
Kindly Mahindar had looked upon Elliot as his savior forever after that.
Mahindar peered up at him now. “You are all right, sahib?”
“Better. How is the lad?”
“Oh, you scared the piss out of him, no mistake. But he will recover.”
“And Mrs. McBride?”
“Put to bed. My wife looked in on her before I came out, and she is sleeping, as you say, like a baby.”
“Good.” Elliot couldn’t forget the look on Juliana’s face when she’d walked into the kitchen and seen him with his knife at Hamish’s throat. Her bewilderment had turned into astonishment and then worry. But not fear. Juliana wasn’t afraid of him.
“Will you join her, sahib?” Mahindar asked.
He sounded eager. But then, Mahindar enjoyed weddings and marriages and the possibility of children. He and his wife had borne five sons, all of whom had married and now started families of their own. Mahindar liked to take care of people, which was why he’d brought his mother and Nandita, Channan’s young sister from her father’s second marriage, to Scotland with him. Mahindar had saved Elliot’s life and believed it his duty to make sure Elliot was well so that his effort hadn’t been in vain.
“You will have to share her bed in any case,” Mahindar said. “There is no other.”
Elliot jumped down from the big rock, helped Mahindar scramble down, and started along the path to the house.
When they reached Castle McGregor, all was silent within. Hamish and Mahindar’s family must have gone to their beds.
Mahindar stopped Elliot before he could make his way out of the kitchen. “You must not go to her like that, sahib. You must be presentable.”
He had a point. Elliot was dusted with soot from the train journey, and his climb in the woods had rendered him muddy. Mahindar pumped water into the kitchen sink—clean from a well—and instructed Elliot to strip to his kilt.
The water was freezing. Mahindar dunked Elliot’s head all the way in, using the cake of soap that he’d brought from Edinburgh to scrub Elliot’s hair and body clean. Mahindar had bought glycerin and rosewater soap, which had made Elliot’s brothers and sister laugh. At least it got him clean, if smelling a bit like a lady’s boudoir.
Mahindar brought out Elliot’s thick dressing gown and the Indian silk drawers in which Elliot usually slept. Elliot donned these and climbed the stairs, taking a candle himself, refusing Mahindar’s offer to light the way.
The candlelight wavered on the Gothic arches in the hall, making the place cavernous, decorative stone finials hanging like strange stalactites. As a boy, Elliot had felt a tingle of fear walking in this place, but it was peaceful to him now. This was nothing more than an old house, through which had passed its share of families—births, marriages, deaths, laughter, sorrow, lovemaking. No terror, horror, or fear so deadly it made a man wrap up in himself and weep.
Elliot pushed open the door of the bedchamber, at the same time blowing out the candle. Moonlight spilled through the unshuttered window, a beam spreading over the bed in the middle of the room.
Juliana lay on her back in the bed, the covers pulled up to her chin, but she wasn’t asleep. Elliot heard the quick breath that told him she was wide awake, never mind how tightly she’d closed her eyes.
He deposited the candlestick on the nearest table and went to the bed. Juliana lay like a princess in a storybook, waiting for the prince to waken her with a kiss.
Elliot thought of the heady taste of her lips when he’d kissed her at the altar. Her skin had been damp with warmth and agitation, the taste of her like honey on his tongue.
He rested his hand on the bedpost, leaned down, and brushed a soft kiss to the dimple at the corner of her mouth.
Juliana’s eyes flew open. She looked at him with no trace of sleep in her eyes. “Is young Hamish all right?”
Elliot straightened up, his hand still on the bedpost. “He will be.”
“I hope he wasn’t too frightened.”
“He’s recovered.” Elliot tried to move from his fixed stance and found he couldn’t.
Juliana’s color deepened, and she cleared her throat. “Are you coming to bed, Elliot?”
Her high-necked nightgown was prim, but this was the first time Elliot had seen her without the barricade of stays, bustles, skirts, and tightly buttoned bodices.
Elliot finally let go of the bedpost to untie his dressing gown and let it fall from him. He watched her gaze go to his bare torso, then drop to the silk drawers that rode low on his hips, a drawstring holding them closed. The underbreeches reached his calves, leaving the rest of his legs bare.
“An unusual garment,” she said, her voice soft.
“They’re Indian. I prefer them to English clothes.”
“Do you? Why?”
“Much more comfortable.” The cool air from the window touched his skin. “More practical in a hot climate.”