She opened her mouth to tell Mr. McGregor to dress himself, for heaven’s sake, when Mahindar’s mother came charging up the stairs, shouting before she hit the first step. Komal held her fluttering silks in one hand, and raised the other, not at Juliana, but at McGregor. She bore down on him, her raised hand moving back and forth like an angry bird while she railed at him in rapid speech.
McGregor retreated several steps, arms high in defense. “Don’t ye be screechin’ at me, woman. A man has a right to defend his own home.”
Komal continued to yell, her meaning clear even if Juliana didn’t understand her words—Get back to bed, you daft old man, before you shoot the house down.
McGregor turned and ran, Komal chasing him, her voice growing louder as she followed him down the hall. Mahindar called to her from below, but his voice was faint, nervous, and Komal didn’t pay the slightest attention.
“Mahindar,” Juliana said over the railing. “I can’t wake Mr. McBride. Can you help?”
Mahindar stopped pleading with his mother and came upstairs, Channan with him. Channan left him at the head of the stairs and went after her mother-in-law and Mr. McGregor, a determined look on her face.
Juliana led Mahindar back to the bedchamber. Surely they’d find Elliot on his feet, demanding to know what all the noise had been about. But when Juliana opened the door, Elliot still lay on his side, sleeping his deep sleep.
The look on Mahindar’s face renewed her alarm. “Mahindar, what is wrong with him?”
“I hoped, I so hoped…” Mahindar trailed off as he approached the bed. “Be careful, memsahib. Sometimes he does this, sleeps like a dead man for hours and hours. But when he comes awake, he can be violent. He doesn’t know where he is, and thinks I am his jailer.”
“But he’s safe now. He knows that.”
“Yes, yes, when he is awake and fine, he understands this.” Mahindar touched his forehead. “But inside his head, sometimes he is still confused. You must understand—he was left alone in the dark for a long, long time. Sometimes they fed him, sometimes they didn’t bother, sometimes they left him alone, sometimes they beat him for nothing.” Mahindar looked sad. “I know they must have done much more to him, but that is all he has told me.”
Juliana looked at Elliot, lying so quietly on the bed, his chest barely moving with his breath. His body was whole, only the scars on his back and face attesting to his ordeal. But perhaps healing outside and healing inside were two different things.
How did a man face such horrors and then return home to normal life? He’d never be the same, would he? How did he speak with people who’d never known his horror, people who’d lived in comfort and safety all their lives, who could never understand?
Such a man did what Elliot did. He kept to himself, bought a run-down house in a remote corner of the Highlands, and lost himself in the depths of sleep.
“What do I do?” Juliana’s question came out a whisper.
Mahindar, with his thickset body and intelligent eyes, gave her a look of vast sorrow. “I do not know, memsahib. I have tried everything to heal him. I hoped that when he came here to this country he loved so much, he would get better. Maybe now, that he is married to you, he will.”
Juliana drew her dressing gown more tightly about her and looked at her husband, her marriage one day old. “I barely know him, Mahindar. Not this Elliot.”
The Elliot of her youth, who’d helped her retrieve a kite from a tree, who’d smiled in triumph when she’d kissed his cheek, had vanished into the past. This Elliot was hard, marked with scars, and had been through more than any man should face. The world expected him to shrug it off, to keep a stiff upper lip, to ignore his pain, but how could he, in truth?
She’d have to get to know him all over again before she could even hope to understand him.
“I will help you, memsahib,” Mahindar said, with a quietness like a deep river. “You and I, we will bring him back together.”
“Ah, you are awake at last.” A voice swam out of the darkness to Elliot. “Thank all the gods. Your sister, she is here.”
Elliot peeled open his eyes to see a face hovering mere inches above him. He experienced a moment of panic—What now? What now? Couldn’t they leave him alone?
Then he realized that it was Mahindar’s kind and worried countenance studying him, thick brows drawn together under his white turban, the man’s beard tucked neatly inside his tunic.
“Damn it, Mahindar.”
Mahindar’s distress did not abate. “Lady Cameron has come to visit the memsahib. Your sister-in-law, she is here too, and she insists she see you.”
Rona and Ainsley. Elliot’s redoubtable sister-in-law and pretty, lively sister. Not what a man needed to face when he’d awakened feeling like he had a three-day hangover.
Elliot rubbed his face, finding it full of bristles. He must have been asleep for a long time. Another spell must have taken him, leaving him no idea how long he’d lain in darkness.
And where the hell was he? He squinted at the bedroom empty of drapes and filled with large, square furniture, the bed in the middle of the floor. “Is this McGregor’s place? How did we get here?” Only Great-uncle McGregor’s house could look solid and falling apart at the same time.
The last time Elliot had come here, to purchase the house, he’d bunked down in the warm kitchen—much more comfortable.
Mahindar looked troubled. “Do you not remember? Yesterday, you were married.”