Except that Juliana didn’t have the coldness of porcelain—she was warm flesh, breath, and life.
She watched him with blue eyes that reminded him of cornflowers, or maybe the sky in springtime. Only the women of Scotland had eyes that color. Juliana was of this place, Elliot’s home.
“Elliot,” Juliana said. Her sweet voice rushed at him. “Rona has come for the rings.”
Rings. Elliot looked at his left hand, which sported a thick gold band. He remembered pushing Juliana’s ring onto her hand, telling her he plighted her his troth. His truth, his fidelity.
As though he could conceive of touching any woman but her. Ever. For any reason.
“I presume,” Ainsley broke in, still speaking in that overly cheerful sickroom voice, “that you thought to order rings for yourself.”
He had. He now remembered telling Mahindar, before going into the church to wait for Juliana, to send to the family’s jewelers for rings to be made. Remembered Patrick, his kindhearted brother, pulling Elliot aside and closing into his hand two cool rings, which had not left the fingers of Patrick and Rona since their marriage thirty years ago.
“It’s taken care of,” Elliot said. He tugged the wedding band from his finger, went to Rona, dropped it into her hand, and pressed her fingers closed around it. “Thank you.”
Rona’s eyes shone with brief tears, then she tucked the ring into a little pouch. It clinked against another, and Elliot saw that Juliana’s finger was already bare.
“We thank you,” Juliana said, pouring out a fourth cup of tea. “It was kind of you.”
“Entirely logical,” Rona said, pretending the tears had never manifested. “Nothing else to be done. Elliot, what are you going to do with this awful house?”
Elliot watched Juliana pour his tea, her hands competently balancing the cup on the saucer, steadying it perfectly under the stream of hot liquid. She set the fat teapot back on the tray without wincing from its weight and lifted the dainty silver tongs from the sugar bowl.
Here she faltered—a woman ought to know what her husband took in his tea, but Juliana and Elliot had never had tea together. At least, not since they’d both been fourteen.
Rona leaned forward and whispered, “One lump, dear.”
“Actually, I prefer it with no sugar at all now.” Elliot reached for the cup in Juliana’s hand.
She held the saucer so daintily that his big fingers were in no danger of touching hers. He changed that by folding his hand over hers and slipping the cup and saucer out of her grasp.
Juliana’s lips parted, and heat swam in her eyes. It matched what was in his blood. The entirety of last night was returning with a vengeance.
Elliot needed to sit down—next to her. But Juliana was perched on the front edge of a narrow armchair, her bustle filling the rest of the seat. There was a perfectly good love seat in the room, but that was occupied by Rona and Ainsley, sitting side by side. Two more chairs and an ottoman completed the circle around the tea table, the rest of the furniture in the room covered with dust sheets.
Elliot hooked his leather-shod foot around the ottoman and dragged it close to Juliana’s chair. He sat down on it, settling his kilt, his knee firmly pressing Juliana’s, and balanced the delicate cup and saucer in his big hand.
Ainsley and Rona watched him intently, but Elliot was only aware of Juliana, her warmth, her nearness, the rightness of her.
“Where did you dig these up?” Elliot said, lifting his cup to study it. The porcelain was fine and almost paper-thin, the flowers painted on it with a skilled hand. These teacups had been turned out in some factory in England or Germany at great expense. “They were never in Uncle McGregor’s crockery cupboard.”
“A wedding gift,” Juliana said. “Lovely pieces, do you not think?”
Elliot took a sip of tea, which wasn’t bad, but it needed more whiskey. He turned his head so he could see Juliana, nothing else. “I thought you were returning the gifts.”
“She is,” Ainsley said. “But this is a wedding gift from me, so it’s entirely relevant. And you have no need to worry about the others, Juliana. Rona and I and your stepmama are taking care of sending back the gifts with necessary letters of explanation. No need for you to hie back to Edinburgh for that.”
“But I ought,” Juliana said. “It’s kind of you, but I should truly be there to help, not to mention pack the rest of my things. Gemma must be going mad with it all. If you stay the night here, I can take the train back with you tomorrow.”
“No.” The word was so loud that the three women froze, teacups raised, three pairs of feminine eyes widening at the masculine power of Elliot’s voice.
Elliot moved his hand to Juliana’s thigh, closing over it and clamping down before he could stop himself. “Juliana can’t leave.”
“What?” Ainsley asked, the lightness in her voice forced. “Never?”
Elliot tried to soften his grip on Juliana and couldn’t. “No,” he said.
Juliana’s gaze was for Elliot alone, but she didn’t look at him in fear. More in surprise, and with a sparkle in her eyes that might be defiance.
“Elliot has a point,” Juliana said to Ainsley. “There is much to be done in the house. I certainly wish to be here for the work, if you take my meaning.”
Both his sister and sister-in-law nodded, still watching Elliot, as though they reached for lines they’d rehearsed. “Quite understandable,” Rona said. “There must be someone with sense to organize it all.”