The Seduction Of Elliot McBride

Page 14

Elliot didn’t stir. Not to be surprised—yesterday had been excessive.

Juliana leaned down and pressed a kiss to the vine on his arm, then another, and another. Her hair tumbled forward, loosened from its braid, brushing Elliot’s back, and still he did not wake.

Juliana lifted her hair out of the way, leaned to Elliot’s cheek, and kissed it. Then his lips.

She wanted him to open his eyes, to smile, as he had when he’d come to Juliana’s debut ball and stolen a kiss from her on the terrace. That young Elliot had been laughing, teasing, a man with whom she’d talked and danced for hours.

This Elliot was quiet, his smiles gone, with a tattoo on his arm and knife scars on his face and back. She kissed the scars.

Elliot still didn’t move. Juliana sat up and looked at him.

The covers fell from her bare body. Elliot slept on, his breathing quiet and shallow, no snoring. All men snored, Gemma had assured her.

“Elliot?” Juliana gently shook him. His skin was hot, his body limp, and he didn’t wake.

“Elliot.” Her alarm grew. He might be a sound sleeper, yes, but she’d feel better if he opened his eyes and growled at her for waking him.

Her father had always done that when startled from his nap—he’d insist he hadn’t been asleep at all, never mind his head was thrown back on his office chair, his mouth open, his spectacles askew.

Elliot did nothing so amusing. His body moved with her shaking, but he never opened his eyes, never stirred.

Juliana kicked off the covers, found her nightgown and slid it on, buttoning it with shaking fingers. Channan had hung her thick dressing gown over the chair, and she slipped this on too and looked for a bellpull. Part of one did hang on the wall, but it had been chewed through by the mice, and Juliana couldn’t reach the attached half of it to ring for anyone.

First thing that was fixed tomorrow…no, today—the bellpulls.

Juliana went out into the hall to find the house deathly silent. She had no idea where Mahindar and his family had found to sleep, no idea whether Hamish lived in or trotted home to his mother every night. Shouting might only bring Mr. McGregor flying out of his room with his shotgun again.

She hurried down the hall toward the large staircase. The gallery was dark, the only light coming from windows in the hall below. The chandelier hung dark and empty. Second thing to repair—the lamps.

As Juliana started down the stairs, a door banged somewhere in the bottom of the house, and red-haired Hamish strode into the hall. He looked up the stairs, gave a startled yell, and dropped the armload of wood he’d been carrying. It clattered loudly to the floor, and his voice rose over it.

“Haunt! Banshee!”

“Hamish,” Juliana said sharply. “Don’t be silly. It’s me.”

Hamish pointed at her with a shaking finger. “How do I know you’re really the missus? Demons wile and beguile.”

“Do stop that. Where is Mahindar?”

Hamish gulped, but lowered his hand. “Downstairs. Are ye sure ye’re not a ghost, m’lady?”

“Quite certain. I will change my dressing gown from white to purple and red striped if it will make you feel better. Now, will you please fetch Mahindar? Tell him I’m sorry to disturb his rest, but Mr. McBride needs him.”

Hamish gave her a salute. “Right, m’lady.”

He charged off, jumping over the wood he’d scattered. Before Juliana could ascend again, Mahindar came rushing out of the back of the house, followed by his wife and mother.

A door banged above, and Mr. McGregor stomped out, sure enough, with his shotgun. “Can’t a man get peace in his own house? Hamish, lad, what ails ye?”

“It’s all right, Mr. McGregor,” Juliana called.

McGregor tramped his way to the gallery and peered over the railing. “Why is there a woodpile all over the floor? And who is that?” McGregor brought his shotgun down, aiming at Mahindar. “Good God, it’s savages from Khartoum.”

Mahindar put out his arms and stepped in front of the ladies, trying to protect them. Juliana rushed back to the top of the stairs.

“No, Mr. McGregor. They’re Mr. McBride’s servants. From India.”

“Even worse. Thuggees. I know about them. They strangle you when you’re not looking.”

Juliana walked swiftly down the landing to him. “They’re friends. Put away that gun.”

To her relief, McGregor lowered the butt of the gun to the railing, the barrel pointing upward, away from all human beings. “Don’t patronize me, lass. I’ve been handling a gun, man and boy, these nearly seventy years…”

The last of his words were lost in a bang and a roar. The shotgun blast hit the ceiling high above the gallery. Juliana screamed, as did Mahindar and family, and Hamish.

Plaster, dust, and mud slammed to the floor below, and the huge chandelier started to sway…

Chapter 6

Juliana held her breath as the chandelier went back and forth, back and forth, like the giant pendulum in the terrifying story by the American Mr. Poe. The others watched it with her, frozen in place as they tracked the chandelier’s path.

The chain groaned against the ceiling, but slowly, slowly, the giant chandelier eased back to its resting place.

Juliana let out her breath and heard McGregor’s loud exhale at the same time. She turned to him and held out her hand.

“Give me that gun, if you please, Mr. McGregor.”

McGregor, looking sheepish and defiant at the same time, eased his finger from the trigger and handed her the weapon. Juliana broke open the gun with the competence her father’s gillie had taught her and held it safely over her arm.

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