His breath heated her lips, and his hands, one still holding the towel, went to either side of her. His gaze swept downward, then he skimmed his lips from her forehead to her chin.
The light touches sent warm shudders through Juliana’s body, heat curling in her belly. She wanted to latch on to him and pull him close, despite her still-spinning thoughts, and rise to him for more of his kisses.
“Did you have a nice walk?” she babbled. “You and Priti? Besides falling into the river, I mean?”
Elliot didn’t answer. He skimmed kisses down her face once more then came to her lips, parting them with his. Juliana’s head went back to the wall, and Elliot slanted his mouth over hers, his heat and his body covering her.
He licked slowly into her mouth, coaxing her tongue over his in return. She tasted the water on his lips, the salt of his sweat, the excitement of him. The length of his hardness, firm through the wool of his kilt, unashamedly pressed her skirts.
Elliot eased the kiss to its close then touched his lips to the corner of her mouth and the tiny dimple there. Still saying nothing, he straightened up, hooked the towel around his neck, and walked away.
Juliana’s heart pounded, the heat between her legs incandescent. She clutched the wall, the only thing supporting her, while she watched his kilt swing against his bare legs as he strode back through the passage to the main house.
Juliana was still standing there when Channan came to her with a stiff brush, to clean the water and mud from the front of her frock.
Elliot came downstairs again fifteen minutes later, dry and fit, feeling better than he had in a long while. He’d put on one of his formal kilts and a jacket, and had jerked a comb through his damp hair.
Juliana emerged from a room below, every sleek hair in place, her gown none the worse for wear after his impromptu kiss. Stopping to taste her while she’d stood against the wall in the kitchen passage had been impossible to resist.
Elliot reached the bottom of the staircase and held his hand out to her. Juliana looked a bit strained about the eyes as she took it, her face too pale.
Next time Elliot went for a walk, he’d take her with him. Juliana would love the beauty here, and there was so much of it to show her. And if he had to struggle up a riverbank again, he couldn’t think of more enjoyment than getting muddy with her.
As Elliot started with Juliana toward the dining room, Hamish came barreling out of the kitchens. Something that looked like a dead bird dangled from under his arm, its legs swinging. Hamish pushed past Juliana and Elliot, ran up three of the stairs, whisked the dead bird out from under his arm, put one of its spindly legs to his lips, took a deep breath, and blew.
Elliot lunged for him. “Hamish, for God’s sake, no…”
But the lad had already filled the pipes’ bag with air, and it came out again, a groan and a squeal that filled the hall and tore at Elliot’s eardrums.
Juliana clapped her hands over her ears. Hamish went on blowing, his face red, his thick fingers finding the holes in some semblance of a pattern.
Elliot took Juliana’s arm and quickly propelled her down a long passage to the dining room. Hamish came behind them, piping the laird and his lady to their banquet feast.
As soon as they reached the dining room, Hamish threw down the pipes, which died with a squawk, and ran to hold out a giant wooden chair for Juliana.
Elliot made for the other end of the long wooden table, which had been scrubbed until it gleamed. At his place were pewter plates, scrupulously clean; a goblet and tumbler also of pewter; and thick glass decanters of water and whiskey.
Elliot waited until Juliana was seated, Hamish pushing in her chair enthusiastically, then he smoothed his full kilt and sat down on the carved wooden chair at the head of the table. The back of the chair rose well above Elliot’s head, the square cut of the seat hard against his backside.
Hamish retrieved the pipes, which emitted another squawk, and ran out of the room, the spindles of the pipes slapping his kilt. Mahindar came forth bearing a giant bowl, into which he dipped a giant spoon. He ladled food first onto Juliana’s plate then walked down the table to spoon it onto Elliot’s.
Only the two of them dined. Uncle McGregor had made it clear he preferred to eat in the comfort of his room, without the nonsense of formal service. Elliot was happy to let him—dining alone with Juliana was preferable.
Fragrant steam rose from the chicken and vegetables Mahindar put onto Elliot’s plate, which he covered with a piece of flat, teardrop-shaped bread called naan. Mahindar set a little crockery bowl next to Elliot’s plate, which was filled with what looked like oil and smelled like butter—ghee.
Juliana picked up her fork. She moved a small piece of chicken out from under her bread, eyed it suspiciously, and took a bite.
Elliot watched her face change as the spices filled her mouth. He’d approached his first Punjabi meal with the same suspicion, until the savory flavors had made him understand what true beauty was.
He hid his smile and scooped the chicken smothered in garam masala onto his fork, enjoyed a mouthful, then tore off a bit of bread and dipped it into the ghee.
Down the table, Juliana said, “This is wonderful, Mahindar. What is it?”
“We call it tikka, memsahib. It is made with chicken and spices.”
“And this?” She pointed to her crockery bowl.
“Ghee. It is butter that has been boiled down and the fat skimmed from the top. You put it on your bread.”
Juliana took another bite of the tikka. “It is most excellent.” She dabbed her lips. “Highly unusual.” She reached for her goblet of water and took a long drink. “And quite spicy. Elliot, you did not tell me you preferred native food,” she said a little breathlessly.