The Seduction Of Elliot McBride

Page 6

Only Mahindar spoke English, though Channan, he’d said proudly to Juliana, was learning. Channan’s poor widowed sister spoke only a few words of English, and his mother, none at all.

Elliot, in his kilt, boots, and flyaway coat, was the only one of them who looked as if he belonged in this wild place. While he’d been in India, though, Juliana had heard stories about him going native, as people called it, staunch disapproval in their voices. Elliot had eaten Indian food, worn Indian clothing, and had even taken up with Indian women, it was rumored. He’d spent so much time in the sun that his skin was baked quite brown, and he’d hardly looked Scottish at all anymore.

Elliot turned and strode back to them, wind lifting the coat from his McBride tartan kilt. If Elliot had gone native in India, he’d certainly changed back to being fully Scots in his homeland.

“They have no transport,” he announced, no concern in his voice. “A cart is coming from the house to fetch us, but it won’t seat us all. Mahindar, you and your family will have to wait here for it to return.”

Mahindar nodded without worry. His mother didn’t look worried either as Mahindar translated, and she turned to study the mountains, the sky, and the cluster of buildings that made up the village.

Channan’s sister—Nandita—when she understood that they would be left behind for a time, chattered something in a terrified voice. She clung, trembling, to Channan, her dark eyes wide.

“She is afraid soldiers will come to arrest us if we stay here,” Mahindar said. “It is what happened to her husband.”

“Oh, the poor thing,” Juliana exclaimed. “Mahindar, please explain to her that such things do not happen in Scotland.”

“I have tried,” Mahindar said in a tone of long-suffering patience. “She does not understand. But we are strangers here, and she cannot know.”

Juliana held out her hand to Nandita. “She can come with us. We’ll squeeze. We’ll take the little girl too. Come along. I’ll take care of you.”

Mahindar rapidly translated. Nandita didn’t much like the arrangement of leaving her family behind either, and started to cry.

Mahindar’s mother snapped two words at her. Nandita dropped Channan’s hand and scuttled to Juliana, dragging the child with her, though silent tears continued to trickle down her face.

The child, a little girl of about three, seemed undaunted by any of this. She gave Juliana an adorable gap-toothed smile then watched with interest as the dogcart clopped into the yard.

The cart was driven by a thick-muscled lad with brilliant red hair and a face awash with freckles. He stared with unabashed curiosity at Juliana and Mahindar’s family as he pulled to a halt a foot away from Elliot.

Elliot helped Juliana and Nandita into the cart’s narrow seats then took the rear one, which would be the muddiest. Nandita had to let go of the little girl to adjust her wind-whipped veils with shaking hands, and Juliana reached for the child.

She happily climbed into Juliana’s lap, and Juliana closed her arms around her. The little girl had dark hair and brown eyes, and her body was warm as Juliana gathered her up.

“What’s her name?” Juliana asked Elliot.

Elliot closed the rear door of the dogcart. “Priti.”

“Priti.” Juliana tried out the name, and Priti looked up in delight. “Fitting, because she is pretty.”

“Yes, she is,” Elliot said in all seriousness.

The cart jerked forward. Mahindar lifted his hand in a wave while his wife and mother continued to look about at their new surroundings.

What must they think of this place? Juliana had seen photographs and paintings of India, and this isolated corner of Scotland must be vastly different for them—cold woods climbing up high hills, farmers’ fields between mountains and the sea. No slow rivers, elephants, tigers, or jungle.

Priti gazed around with much more interest than did Nandita. The child’s skin was not as dark as Nandita’s, and strands of brown laced her black hair. Juliana wondered whether the girl’s father had been European, and if that was why Nandita had agreed to leave India with her sister and Mahindar. If her European husband was dead, perhaps Nandita had no one to turn to except Channan.

But Mahindar had said that Nandita’s husband had been arrested by British soldiers. Puzzling. Juliana would have to pry out the entire story later.

The dogcart bounced up a steep road paved with broken stones. The road turned to hard earth as they climbed into the hills, the track lined with rocks, heather, and greenery. The sea stretched to the east, sun touched and breathtaking.

The red-haired lad, who said his name was Hamish McIver, talked at them over his shoulder as he drove.

“The village is down there, m’lady.” Hamish swiveled in his seat, gesturing with a long whip. “Not much to it, but it does for us. There’s a pub, of course, and a brewery that used to belong to old McGregor. He sold it a few years back to some English people, and Mr. McBride, of course, has bought the house. The McGregors have been in these parts six hundred years, but McGregor’s skint and everyone knows it.”

The cart listed into the mud on the side of the track, and Nandita made a noise of terror.

“Watch the road, lad,” Elliot said in a quiet voice.

Hamish made an adjustment to the reins without concern. “My great-aunt, old Mrs. Rossmoran, lives down there.” Hamish nodded at a gate that sagged, half open, between two trees. “Half out of her mind she is, with only my cousin, her granddaughter, to look after her. She’ll be expecting a visit from you, m’lady, now that she knows the new laird’s taken a wife.”

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