“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “We’ve found you.”
She put her arms all the way around him. Elliot sank down into her, shuddering, his body so cold, and he clung to her as though he’d never let go.
Juliana made her calls later that afternoon, without Elliot.
She thought she’d be going by herself, with Hamish to drive her in the dogcart, but at the last minute, Mr. McGregor came barreling down the stairs and out of the house declaring he’d accompany her.
McGregor’s kilt bounced above his bony knees, his coat collar half turned wrong. Komal came out after him, grabbed him by the arm, turned him around, and yanked his collar straight.
“Leave me be, interfering old woman.” McGregor trailed off into mutters as he stamped through the mud to the dogcart. Komal threw up her hands and disappeared back into the house.
They went first to the neighboring estate of the man called McPherson. McPherson’s house was a proper castle, dating to the fourteenth century, McGregor said, with all the drafts to prove it. The house stood on the edge of a loch between a fold of mountains, the road taking them to a drawbridge.
The drawbridge was up when they reached it. Hamish pulled the dogcart to a halt, and Juliana looked up at the round, squat castle. She’d been uneasy leaving Elliot behind, but Mahindar had promised to look after him, and Elliot himself had growled at her to go.
Shutting her out again, like the dark wooden drawbridge that now shut them out of Castle McPherson.
A man appeared on the battlements. He was large and bearlike, and wrapped in blue and red plaid. “Stop there, McGregor!” he bellowed. “I have twenty cannons trained on ye, unless ye can pay the ransom.”
Juliana glanced at Hamish, but the young man appeared to be in no way alarmed at this. McGregor stood up in the cart.
“Open up, McPherson, ye daft bastard. I have the new Mrs. McBride with me.”
McPherson peered down at them, shading his eyes. “Oh aye?” He looked down on his side of the wall. “Duncan! Wake up and lower the bridge!”
The drawbridge, which looked to be in good repair, cranked down on oiled chains. Hamish, without question, picked up the reins, and the dogcart rattled across the bridge.
On the inside, McPherson’s house proved to be up-to-date and pleasant. McPherson had renovated the castle into a comfortable, habitable abode, with plenty of paneling, glass windows, drapes, carpets, books, soft furniture, and a staff of about a dozen to look after it. The castle also had a long gallery full of ancient Scots weaponry, paintings of McPherson ancestors, and relics not only of Culloden, but from clan wars from the more distant past.
McPherson, who met them at the door and proceeded to show Juliana these wonders, was a giant of a man. Where McGregor was small and wiry, McPherson was tall and rotund, large with good meals and muscle. His red hair and beard were just going gray, and his face was northern Scots fair and freckled, tinged now with summer sunburn.
“I collect,” McPherson told Juliana as she admired the historic pieces. “Real Scottish history, not the tartans and fake claymores shopkeepers sell to English tourists. I have mostly McPherson relics here, but some McGregor and McBride as well.”
“He collects,” McGregor snorted. “That’s what he calls it. His clan were beggaring thieves is what he means. Raiders. Stole half of what the McGregors owned.”
“Aye,” McPherson said in a good-natured voice. “And the McGregors stole it back, and helped themselves to more.” He laughed heartily. “Always been at it, his family and mine, from way back. His men kept stealing our women, and we stole theirs back, so we’re probably related. Cousins eleven-ty times removed or something.”
“Half this loot is McGregor,” Mr. McGregor said. “That dirk, for instance.”
Juliana studied it in its glass case. “He’s keeping it well for you.”
McPherson roared with laughter again. “I like this lass. What would happen to all this in that tumbledown ruin of yours?”
“She’s going to renovate it.” McGregor sounded half proud of Juliana, half grudging. “She’ll have us eating off silver plates with snowy white napkins before we know it.”
“Bloody good thing too.” McPherson turned to Juliana as she finished studying the contents of the last case. “Tell your husband he’s welcome to come here for shooting anytime he wants. Saw him walking around with a gun yesterday, but I know he found nothing in McGregor’s hills. McGregor hasn’t had a gillie to keep his game in thirty years.”
“McBride will get his own gillie,” McGregor snapped, as though eager to defend Elliot.
“Aye, but until he does, he’s welcome to shoot on my land. My son moved to Edinburgh and has become a prissified city gent and won’t dirty his hands on the land here. But he has sons,” McPherson added with a twinkle in his eye. “I am corrupting my grandsons to love all the traditions of Highland Scotland. His father hates it.” He bellowed a laugh.
“Mr. McBride will be grateful for your generosity,” Juliana said. “He sends his apologies for not calling, but he has been under the weather.”
McPherson’s eyes lost their twinkle and sympathy took their place. He knew, drat him, exactly what had happened. News certainly traveled quickly.
McGregor broke in. “Aye, last night we spent a long time getting him acquainted with the McGregor malt.”
McPherson burst out laughing again. “Ye need a strong constitution for that. He’ll be all right, lass.” He glanced again at Juliana, as though he knew full well about Elliot’s breakdown but was willing to go along with McGregor’s explanation.