The Seduction Of Elliot McBride

Page 31

Later, as a plump maid brought tea into the drawing room, and Juliana poured out, McPherson said, “Speaking of the McGregor malt, I suppose you’ll be visiting the Terrells.”

“The English family?” Juliana asked. “Yes, I ought to.”

“They’re not bad sorts,” McPherson said. “They know they’re incomers and don’t try to be more Scottish than the Scots. But they have visitors, a lowland Scottish family of the stiff-necked variety, lately back from India. They say they know your husband. Or know friends of your husband, in any case.”

Would wild Elliot likely be acquainted with stiff-necked, dour people who’d probably refused beautiful meals such as the one Mahindar had served last night? Then again, Elliot had hidden depths. She couldn’t be certain of the sort of people Elliot would know.

“Sounds like we should bypass them today, eh, lass?” McGregor asked.

“No, indeed.” Juliana watched the stream of tea as she refilled her cup, giving McGregor and McPherson time to sneak nips of brandy into theirs from McPherson’s flask. “We will have to go and endure.”

“You see?” Mr. McGregor said to McPherson. “Prim and proper. She wants to have a midsummer fête and ball. Just like when Mrs. McGregor, God rest her soul, was with us.”

“In your house?” McPherson boomed. “She’ll need a bloody miracle then.”

“Not a miracle, Mr. McPherson,” Juliana said. “Careful planning. With organization, one can do anything.”

Juliana regretfully took her leave of Mr. McPherson soon after. The castle was a homey place in spite of its bulk, McPherson warm in spite of his.

After the maid helped Juliana into her light coat and gloves, McPherson, out of earshot of McGregor, said in a low voice, “I’m afraid you’ve got your work cut out for you, lass.”

“Castle McGregor?” Juliana asked, straightening her gloves. “Yes, but as I said, organizing will solve most of the problems.”

“I didn’t mean with th’ monstrosity he calls a house.” McPherson took on look of sympathy. “I meant with McBride. Now, don’t draw up all proud. He’s been to hell and back, and that touches a man. I’ve scraped through some tough places in Africa, and I know what ’tis like. There are some horrors no man should have to live through.” McPherson put a broad hand on her shoulder. “If it becomes too much for ye, or him, ye send him to me, and we’ll have a nice day’s fishing. Nothing calms the soul like a day on the river.”

“Thank you, Mr. McPherson. You are kind.”

“You’re a proud lass, I can see. Determined to take care of him. McBride’s a lucky man. But remember—he’s welcome here. Ye both are.”

“Thank you,” Juliana said again, and then McGregor was bellowing that they needed to get a move on.

They all worried about Elliot, Juliana thought as the dogcart bumped across the bridge and set off again toward the village.

The idea warmed her and at the same time bothered her a bit, because Elliot was not a pathetic creature of misery. He was stronger than all of them. The fact that after his ordeal he hadn’t turned into a drooling lunatic chained to a bed attested to that strength. He knew madness could take him anytime, and he was fighting it. She’d not let anyone forget that.

Juliana’s next call was to Mrs. Rossmoran’s cottage, which was set far back into the woods near Castle McGregor. The house of whitewashed stone with slate roof looked in good repair, and a neat garden with rows of cabbages, carrots, greens, and other vegetables ran alongside it. A patch of pansies bloomed defiantly among the rest of the practical garden.

Mrs. Rossmoran’s granddaughter Fiona—Hamish’s cousin, a pretty girl about Hamish’s age—told them that unfortunately Mrs. Rossmoran was laid up this morning, but would be happy to know they’d called. Fiona waved to Hamish, who returned the wave before he jerked the cart around and headed for the Terrells.

The Terrells occupied a much more modern house on a hill overlooking the village. The long, two-storied house was built of fine stone with a slate roof, black painted shutters, and square chimneys. Its garden was formal, with shrubberies, fountains, and summer flower beds in full bloom.

The drawing room was large, airy, and elegant, reminding Juliana of the one at her father’s estate near Stirling. Another tea tray, more pouring out, this time by Mrs. Terrell. The gentlemen drank whiskey rather than tea, but they lingered in the drawing room, talking about masculine pursuits.

Juliana did not like Mr. and Mrs. Dalrymple. She wasn’t certain where her dislike came from, because they were pleasant spoken and polite, despite McPherson’s description of them.

Mrs. Dalrymple wore a rather prim gray gown, its bustle so small as to be only a nod to the fashion. Her hair was brown going to gray, dressed in a simple coiffure, and she wore no earrings or brooches, her one piece of jewelry the thin wedding band on her finger. No frivolity for Mrs. Dalrymple, her ensemble proclaimed.

She also confirmed that, indeed, she and her husband had met Elliot in the Punjab.

“We did not mix much, of course,” Mrs. Dalrymple said. “Mr. McBride was a planter and a single man, while my husband had a position with the ICS.”

“Indian Civil Service,” Mrs. Terrell translated.

“We did not mingle much with the plantation owners,” Mrs. Dalrymple went on, rather haughtily. “One didn’t, you know. Planters were so apt to take Indian wives. Not that Mr. McBride ever exhibited that inclination,” she said quickly. “But our dear friend Mr. Stacy unfortunately succumbed.”

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