The Seduction Of Elliot McBride

Page 54

Elliot had left the door open. Out in the passage, Komal’s voice rose in Punjabi, and they heard McGregor’s shouts. “Bring those back, ye daft woman! A man’s got a right to have a bottle or two stashed under his bed. That’s single malt. Do ye understand me? Och, now ye’ve let that goat in.”

Bleating sounded, followed by the noise of hooves on the flagstones, accompanied by the ripe smell of frightened goat, and Priti’s laughing voice as she chased it down the hall.

“I was right,” Mrs. Dalrymple said. “This is a madhouse.”

Juliana rose to her feet. “Then the leaving of it will not pain you. Thank you for your warning, ladies. My husband and I will take it under consideration.”

“You’ll do a sight more than that.” Mrs. Dalrymple slammed down her teacup and jumped up, Mrs. Terrell rising more decorously. “Mr. Dalrymple will speak to you, Mr. McBride.”

Elliot nodded silently, as though he didn’t care one way or the other. McGregor burst into the room, a bottle of whiskey in each hand, Komal trying to wrest one from him.

“Lassie, tell this woman t’ leave a man be. Ah.” McGregor stopped, his lively eyes taking in the shocked faces of the two visiting ladies. “Mrs. Dull Pimple. Taking your leave, were you? Good day, then.”

As he bowed to them, Komal wrenched a bottle from McGregor’s hand and held it aloft in triumph. Then she pulled her scarf over her face, and turned and faced the wall as the lady callers walked past her.

“Come along, Prunella,” Mrs. Dalrymple said. “They’ve made their beds, and they must lie in them.” She looked at Komal’s colorful back. “You have to take a strap to them. It’s the only way they learn to behave.”

McGregor came alive with rage. “Ye even think about laying a finger on her, I’ll shoot you dead. I’m laird here, and don’t ye forget it.”

Juliana hurried past Mr. McGregor, who was waving the bottle dangerously. “You had better go quickly,” she said to Mrs. Terrell, half pushing the two women into the hall. “There’s no telling what he’ll do when he’s enraged.”

Mrs. Dalrymple scurried to the front door, narrowly missing two workmen who came in with a load of stone blocks. “Out of my way, if you please,” she shouted. “You should be using the back door. The back.”

She rushed out. There was bleating, and a scream, Priti’s voice admonishing.

Juliana hurried out, followed by worried Mrs. Terrell, to find Mrs. Dalrymple in a tug-of-war with the goat. The animal had snatched at the fringes of Mrs. Dalrymple’s silk shawl as she’d run by, and now the goat busily chewed as Mrs. Dalrymple struggled to pull the shawl out of the animal’s mouth.

“No, no,” Priti cried, shaking her finger at the goat. “Bad goat.”

“Heathen child.” Mrs. Dalrymple raised her hand at Priti, preparing to slap.

Rage flashed through Juliana, and she caught Mrs. Dalrymple’s wrist in a tight grip. “Do not dare to strike her. How can you even think such a thing?”

Mrs. Dalrymple tried to wrench herself away, but Juliana was too strong. The goat, whether in disgust, or for reasons of her own, spit out the shawl.

Juliana picked it up and thrust it at Mrs. Dalrymple. “Never, ever come to this house again.”

She expected Mrs. Dalrymple to exclaim that the shawl was ruined or demand the price of it, but the woman only gave Juliana another furious look and turned away. But the look held a flash of cunning, despite the woman’s anger and fear, as though Mrs. Dalrymple knew something Juliana didn’t.

Juliana didn’t like the look, but she was too angry to worry about it at the moment.

“Mrs. Terrell,” Juliana said, keeping her voice deliberately calm. “I am afraid that as long as Mrs. Dalrymple stays with you, I cannot receive you here.”

Mrs. Terrell remained cool. “I am sorry to hear that, Mrs. McBride.” She adjusted her gloves. “The ladies in this valley look to me for social leadership. I am afraid that they will follow my lead and not receive you. You’ve rather ruined yourself this day, I am pained to say.”

She turned on her heel—taking care not to let her summer shawl flap anywhere near the goat—and followed Mrs. Dalrymple down to the gate, where an open landau waited.

“Oh, really?” Juliana said to the air. “Well, we’ll see about that.” She looked down at the goat, still chewing on whatever piece of shawl it had managed to tear off. Juliana gave its head a pat. “Good goat,” she said, then took Priti’s hand and led her back into the house.

She found McGregor prancing through the wide hallway. He linked his arm through a smiling Komal’s and danced her around one way, then switched arms and went the other. She still had one of the whiskey bottles, and Mr. McGregor kept hold of the other, passing it from hand to hand as he danced.

Elliot was laughing.

“It is not funny,” Juliana said with grim determination. “That woman is odious. But Elliot, she said she was having someone investigate you. She wants you charged.”

“I can’t be charged for murdering someone still alive.”

“I do wish Mr. Stacy would make things easy on us and show himself. Rather obstinate of him not to.”

Elliot shrugged. “He does as he pleases. He might go back to wherever he came from without ever revealing himself.”

“Not very helpful.”

Elliot lifted his gaze from her to McGregor. McGregor had stopped dancing and was patting Komal on the shoulder.

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