Elliot’s hand, still around hers, gripped harder. “I didn’t go to Edinburgh to attend your bloody wedding. I went to stop it.”
Juliana blinked. “To stop…?”
His gray gaze was so sharp it cut. “Of course to stop it, lass. Do you think I’d allow anyone but me to marry my Juliana?”
“But…” Juliana’s mouth went dry. His gaze was filled with hot determination, the Elliot who’d carved a place for himself in a faraway land and didn’t let nearly a year of imprisonment kill him. “If you didn’t want me to marry Grant, why wait until my wedding day to speak?”
“Because I knew I’d have the best chance to win you if I stood up in the church and told the world that I had reason not to let you be joined to Barclay.”
“What reason?” she asked, barely audible. A person could stop a wedding if they could prove that one party was already married to someone else, or that the two in question were too closely related, or that the marriage had been forced—none of which applied in the case of Juliana and Grant.
“I would have said that Juliana was my lass, had always been mine. That I wasn’t stepping aside for any other.”
He had more in his eyes than he ever said in words—raw pain behind the gray, the loneliness of a man who thought he’d be alone forever.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Juliana asked, voice still soft but thick with emotion. “Why didn’t you tell me when I was waiting to marry him, when I knew I couldn’t have you?”
Elliot dropped her hand and flashed his lantern around again. “Because what would you have seen if I’d come crawling to you when I came home from India? A broken man, one afraid of the dark and equally afraid of the light. I was nothing.” His voice was fierce. “You’ve seen what I still do. You wouldn’t have wanted a husband like me—or ye’d have married me out of pity, and I couldn’t have stood that. I wanted to have something to give ye. A house, a husband who could walk upright most days…”
Juliana stood still, unable to move. Her breath came sharply, cut off by the tight lacing of her corset. One thought stood out among the rest—she hadn’t known how Elliot had felt about her. All these years, when she’d thought of him, craved to be with him, knowing he was wandering the wide world, out of her reach—he’d been thinking of her.
“You ought to have told me,” she whispered.
Elliot didn’t change expression, but she saw the windows to his soul shutter to her again. “You know now.”
He turned away, moving off into the darkness.
Juliana hurried after him, her heart pounding. She moved back and forth between elation and anger, bewilderment and wild happiness. Elliot, handsome Elliot, the lad she’d loved from afar, had wanted her all this time. She’d watched him swarm up the tree to retrieve the kite, secretly admiring how athletically his limbs moved, while pretending no interest at all. The firmness of his cheek under her lips when she’d given him the rewarding kiss had been imprinted on her thoughts for weeks afterward. The kiss he’d stolen when they’d danced at her debut ball had lingered for years.
Her feet splashed in water, breaking her spinning thoughts. “Where are we now?” she asked, dragging up her damp skirts.
Elliot flashed his lantern around. “If I am right, a cave in the side of the hill between the McGregors and the Rossmorans.” He took her hand again, his fingers warm.
“Why is it wet?”
“The tunnel runs along the river. The river might even cut into it.”
Elliot led her along at a slower pace, lifting his lantern high and studying the ground before he allowed Juliana to move forward with him. The floor of the cavern sloped downward, the gleam of water trickling across the bottom.
He moved confidently, and Juliana realized she should worry that Elliot wouldn’t know the way back. But she didn’t worry. He’d studied the plans, he’d previously explored the tunnels, and people in India had hired him for this very sort of thing—to explore, to discover things, to find the way for others.
This Elliot exuded capable, quiet competence. The broken, wild-eyed man who’d looked at her a few moments ago and confessed he’d gone to Edinburgh to break up her wedding had gone.
Elliot led her across the smooth stone floor to the higher end of the slope, the sound of water to their left. The draft Juliana had felt before strengthened, the breath of air refreshing after the dank warmth of the tunnels.
Elliot walked her unerringly to a hole to the outside world. The opening, at Elliot’s head height, was covered with thick brush, bushes having grown right over it. Elliot blew out the candle in his lantern, handed the lantern to Juliana, and reached through the hole to break away branches.
He easily tore off many of the thinner pieces of the brush, but the trunks of two bushes had spread themselves across the hole. Climbing out this way would be possible but a scratchy, tight fit.
Elliot took both lanterns back from Juliana, blew out the candle in hers as well, and tossed the lanterns through the hole to the earth outside. He boosted himself a little way out of the hole then half climbed, half lifted himself over the remainder of the bushes. The spindly branches caught on his kilt and lifted it high over his hips as he worked his way through.
“Elliot,” Juliana said in a small voice. “You know you are wearing nothing under that.”
His taut thighs and strong bu**ocks worked to lift Elliot out of the hole before his entire body disappeared. Juliana stepped worriedly to the opening just as Elliot looked back inside at her, his smile full of sin.