It never came. Elliot drew her hand to his lips, turned it over, and pressed a long, burning kiss to her palm. Any disappointment dissolved in the heat that swept down her arm and the wicked fire that streaked through her body.
Elliot opened the chapel door, propelled Juliana out into the cool mist of the courtyard, and closed the door behind her. Juliana found herself facing the concerned Ainsley, the bulk of Lord Cameron, and her stepmother, Gemma, hurrying out to see what had become of them all.
That was how Juliana St. John came to be married an hour later to Elliot McBride, in the church in which she was to have married Mr. Barclay that same day.
The guests watched in either shock or great enjoyment as Elliot, in formal black coat and McBride kilt, stood ramrod straight at Juliana’s side and said his vows. When Juliana’s father put her hand into Elliot’s, Elliot closed his fingers over hers in a hard grip. It wasn’t letting go, that grip.
The service was brief and simple. Ainsley had retied the roses in Juliana’s hair, and Juliana’s wedding finery cascaded across the plain floor of the church. Her bouquet was still fresh, thanks to Ainsley and Gemma, with a sprig of heather tucked into it for luck.
Elliot continued to clamp down on Juliana’s hand as the vicar moved through the service, not releasing her even after he slid the wedding ring onto her finger. They’d had to borrow the rings from Elliot’s brother Patrick and his wife, Rona. Rona’s ring was a bit too big for Juliana, and she had to squeeze her fingers together to hold it in place.
Now the vicar was pronouncing them man and wife. Elliot turned Juliana to face him, tilted her head up, and kissed her.
It was possessive, that kiss. A Scottish laird of old might have kissed his won bride like this, and Elliot was not so many generations removed from those lairds of old.
He raised his head after the kiss and looked down at her, his hands firm on her arms, gray eyes filled with triumph. And Juliana was married.
Several hours later, during the wedding feast at the St. John town house—Gemma seeing no reason to let all the preparation go to waste—Juliana escaped the laughter-filled public rooms and the scrutiny of her friends with the excuse of having to use the necessary.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she stepped into an empty back hall. She was glad people were enjoying the banquet she and Gemma had meticulously organized, but the congratulations and the questions had begun to weigh on her. What she’d done would be a nine days’ wonder, and the first day of it was already wearying.
A strong hand landed on her shoulder, and Juliana bit back a startled cry. Elliot put his finger to his lips, leaned down, and kissed her cheek.
“Time to go,” he said.
She wanted to—restlessness gripped her like a fever—but Juliana mouthed the correct words. “That would be a bit rude, would it not? My stepmother has gone to all this trouble.”
Elliot ran his hand down her arm to lace his fingers with hers. “Do you want to go home, Juliana?”
Juliana closed her eyes, breathing in his warmth. “Yes.”
“Then we go.”
Without waiting for further argument, Elliot led her down the servants’ staircase and through the kitchen to the back door, where an Indian man in white clothes and turban waited with Juliana’s summer coat and two valises. The Indian man helped Juliana into her wraps without a word and just as silently opened the door and ushered them out of the house.
The ride to Juliana’s new home took a long time. They boarded a train that chugged slowly north and west, into the heart of the Highlands. In a private compartment, the wife of Elliot’s Indian servant helped Juliana change from her wedding gown into a traveling dress. Her valise proved to have been packed with sensible traveling clothes—Ainsley and Gemma looking after her to the end.
As they traveled, the day’s remaining clouds broke into tatters before a strong wind, the sun emerging to bathe the world in warmth and glittering raindrops. High summer was coming on, which meant, this far north, the sun would linger well into night.
At Stirling, they took another train toward the coast, heading north of Dundee toward Aberdeen, where they boarded yet another train on a smaller line. They finally disembarked at a tiny station in a village called Highforth, thirty miles north of Aberdeen, tucked between mountains and the sea. The late afternoon sun silhouetted hills to the west and reflected on the stretch of sea to the east and north.
The station was nothing but a small building on the side of the track, the platform so short that passengers had to disembark one train car at a time. Elliot and his party were the only ones who descended, in any case.
Elliot went in search of the stationmaster, leaving his manservant and manservant’s family clustered around Juliana like colorful butterflies. A highland wind blew across the empty platform, swirling the colorful silks of the Indian women’s clothing, the creamy brown skirts of Juliana’s traveling frock, and the bright blue and green plaid of Elliot’s kilt.
The manservant, Juliana had learned during the journey, was called Mahindar, and he had brought with him from India his wife, Channan, mother, sister-in-law, and a small child who seemed to belong to the sister-in-law.
Mahindar’s mother calmly tucked a fold of her silk head scarf around her neck, looking neither left nor right as they waited for Elliot. Mahindar’s wife, Channan, plump and cylindrical, her shape emphasized by the narrow skirt and silks that wrapped her body, looked around with more interest. Channan’s younger sister—her half sister, if Juliana understood aright—held the little girl’s hand and shrank into Channan’s side.