“No one out of the ordinary,” Hamish said as Elliot approached him. “No one I’ve never seen before.”
“Good lad. Keep watching.”
“Aye, sir. Mrs. McBride is looking for ye though. She’s a bit upset.”
Elliot handed Hamish his fishing pole and followed the lad’s pointing finger to Juliana. She did look harried, tendrils of her hair sliding from her coiffure, her skirts whirling as she turned this way and that to direct, point, explain, argue.
Elliot watched her a moment, enjoying the sight of her flushed cheeks and excited eyes. Hamish might say she was worried, but Elliot saw a woman doing what she loved best.
“There you are, Elliot.” Juliana swung to him as he approached. “I need you to man the jumble sale table. Mrs. Rossmoran is feeling ill.”
“Is she all right?” Elliot asked, concerned, then twitched his brows together. “You asked Mrs. Rossmoran to run the jumble sale table?”
Juliana’s look said that Elliot was a hopeless simpleton. “No, I was to look after it. But Fiona now must stay home and take care of her grandmother. Ill, my foot. Mrs. Rossmoran doesn’t like fêtes and didn’t want to be left on her own while Fiona came. Anyway, Fiona was to be the fortune-teller, and now I will have to do it, but I need someone to watch the table. Don’t worry. The jumble sale is very simple. Stand behind the table, put the money in the tin, and don’t let anyone walk off with the things.” Juliana started for the house, and threw over her shoulder, “And do try to sell things. The money is for the church roof. You are charming. Charm them.” And she was gone.
Standing at the jumble sale table gave Elliot a fine view of the grounds and all the people on them. Juliana and her recruits had transformed the flat space below the house to a fair of booths, awnings, tables, ponies, children, men, women, dogs, and one goat.
The table had been placed on a little rise at one end of the grounds, and from there, Elliot could keep watch over every person who strolled about, played games, bought tea and real Scottish scones, or darted into shadows between tents. He saw Hamish in one of these shadows, but the lad was pointing out things to Nandita, his voice loud, words slow while he explained the fête to her.
The fortune-teller’s tent, fully enclosed in bright red fabric, lay a few yards to the right of the jumble sale table. People lined up outside the tent, ducking in one at a time to have Juliana read their palms for a penny.
It was a fine idea, that tent. Elliot would like nothing better than to slip inside, pull the curtains closed against the world, and shut out all but himself and his beautiful wife.
Something cold and wet touched his palm. Elliot looked down at the red setter, who thumped her tail and grinned hopefully up at him.
“No scones here,” he said. “Sorry.”
He scratched her head. McPherson was generous to give him the dog, or at least let her live with them for the time. Elliot had decided to call her Rosie.
“How much is the pig?” a small voice asked.
Elliot looked down to see a girl child, her red hair as bright as Rosie’s, staring up, wide-eyed, at Elliot, who towered over her.
What must she see? A huge man with close-cropped light hair, a hard face, and eyes like winter ice. Couldn’t be a very pleasant thing for a child. Priti didn’t mind Elliot, but Priti was used to him, and his daughter was worryingly fearless.
Elliot came around the table and crouched down to put himself at the girl’s eye level. Giants weren’t as frightening face-to-face.
Elliot lifted the little porcelain pig from the table. “This one? For you, nothing. Consider it a gift from Mrs. McBride.”
The little girl shook her head decidedly. “No, me mum says I have to pay for it. It’s for the church roof.”
Elliot recognized Highland strength in her eyes—she was afraid of Elliot the tall McBride, but she would have her pig and contribute to the church roof, damn anything in her way.
“How much do you have?” Elliot asked her.
The girl opened a rather dirty palm with two coins on it. Elliot took one of them.
“A farthing for a pig. A perfect price.”
He deposited the pig into the girl’s hands. Satisfied, she gave him a big smile, turned around, and scurried back to her mother.
“Ye have the touch, ye do,” a male voice said.
Elliot rose to his feet and faced the grin of his sister’s stepson, Daniel Mackenzie.
Daniel was eighteen, broad and tall like his father, though he hadn’t quite grown into the massive man Lord Cameron was. Daniel’s body was still a little lanky, but in a few years’ time, the son would closely resemble the father.
“I used to have the touch,” Elliot corrected him. He rearranged a few things on the table to fill in the gap where the pig had been.
“I’d say ye still did. Ye’ve been recruited then?”
“Commanded. Got used to it in the army.”
“No general can compete with our ladies, though, can they?”
“I’ve never met one who could.”
Daniel’s grin widened. He resembled his father, yes, but he didn’t have the darkness in his whiskey-colored eyes that Cameron once had, a darkness that had been driven away by Ainsley. Elliot still saw the shadows in Cameron but not in Daniel.
But then, Daniel was young, and life hadn’t thrown tragedy at him yet. Elliot had been much the same at eighteen.
Daniel looked over the collection of knitted pen wipers, doilies, an odd assortment of porcelain figurines, a clock that had stopped working, books without spines, and whatever other things people had found in their attics and contributed to the cause.