“In danger.” Mahindar’s eyes widened. “In danger from who?”
“I don’t know, and it might be all right, but please tell them.”
“At once, memsahib.” Mahindar dropped the ball he’d been holding and ran across the grass to the little cluster.
Juliana lifted the scarves that trailed down her gown and hurried on to the house. She found Komal in the kitchen, chopping vegetables, pots on the stove boiling, the fire high under the clay oven.
“Where is Mr. McBride?”
Komal still didn’t speak much English, but she got the gist of Juliana’s question. She pointed with the knife to the garden door and said something in Punjabi. Juliana nodded and rushed out to the gardens and down the path.
When she reached the gate, she saw Elliot returning up the path, his rifle slung over his shoulder. Elliot paused when he saw Juliana, then he came on.
“I remember telling you to stay in the tent,” he said.
“Well, I could not, could I? What did you do to Mr. Stacy?”
“What I told you I’d do. Gave him provisions and money and sent him on his way.”
“Could we not help him more? He seemed truly sorry.”
“No.” The word was as harsh as it had been in the tent. “He’s let trouble follow him here. I will not let anything happen to you, or Priti, or Mahindar, or McGregor—anyone. If that means I throw Stacy to the wolves, then I throw him.”
“It might be too late already, you know. We’ve been insisting to the Dalrymples that Mr. Stacy is alive. While I cannot picture either Mr. or Mrs. Dalrymple as assassins, they might pass information to one.”
“Possibly. Inspector Fellows told me they’re using false names.”
“There. You see?”
“I will deal with the Dalrymples.”
“The point is, anyone looking for Mr. Stacy might already be here.”
“Then it’s a good thing I sent him on his way.” Elliot took his rifle from his shoulder as they entered the kitchen, and opened it to unload it. “Where is Priti?”
“I told Mahindar to have Daniel or Cameron stay with her.”
“Good.” Elliot gave her a look of approval. “She stays either with them or with me.” He put the rifle into its cupboard, locked it, and started out of the kitchen as though ready to return to the fête.
Juliana stepped in front of him. “Elliot.”
Elliot halted, impatient. “I’ve done what I’ve done, love. That’s an end to it.”
Behind him, Komal kept chopping vegetables, watching in her quiet way. Juliana gathered strength from the woman’s silent assessment and lifted her chin.
“I want you to tell me everything that happened to you, Elliot. When you were captured, what they did, and how you escaped. I need to know everything. Please.”
She could have no idea how beautiful she was with the indigo scarf wrapped around her red hair, the blue and gold silks trailing down her shoulders. The head scarf brought out the blue of her eyes, which were now large in her ashen face.
The words I don’t want to speak of it came so easily to Elliot’s lips. So easily did they quiet the well-meaning questions put forth by his family, his friends, even Mahindar.
But Juliana had already heard what he’d spat to Stacy, the festering anguish that had welled up inside him. He’d stopped himself before he’d let worse come out—how he’d been used as a pack animal, the various forms of torture they’d tried on him simply to observe the results.
Maybe he could hold back the very worst. Elliot didn’t want to watch Juliana’s eyes change when she realized the full horror of it all. He didn’t want to confirm that the lad she’d smiled upon at her debut ball was dead and gone. Juliana had asked to marry the young man who’d charmed her into the kiss, not the wreck of a man who’d dragged her to the altar.
But he would tell her a part of it. Juliana deserved to know something of the stranger she had married, and why he’d found it necessary to cast Stacy and his plea for help away.
Elliot gave Juliana a tight nod, took her hand, and led her up the stairs to their bedchamber, where he shut and locked the door behind them.
Elliot told her. He started with Jaya and the fact that at first it had been almost a ménage à trois—he and Stacy had been young and found being lovers to the same woman exciting. Jaya had preferred Stacy, and when Stacy was slow to acknowledge his feelings for her, she came to Elliot.
Stacy had returned from a business trip to find Jaya giving him an ultimatum—he marry her or she would stay with Elliot. Stacy, realizing that he loved the woman, had grown angry at Elliot, thinking he’d tried to steal Jaya, then Elliot stepped aside and let Jaya leave with him.
Elliot had thought that the end of the matter. He and Stacy had gone north to Rawalpindi then to the borders of Afghanistan to meet with a trader who ran on up into the Hindu Kush and beyond to Samarkand. Elliot related to Juliana the attack on the English families, the plan to get them to safety, and Stacy abandoning Elliot to his fate.
As Elliot spoke it came back to him, all the things he tried so hard to push away. The beatings, the night they’d clamped his hands to a table and calmly pulled out his fingernails, one by one. How they’d beat him with metal rods until he couldn’t stop the screams.
They’d sometimes take him out of his cell deep in the tunnels and talk to him. Elliot understood them a little—their dialect had been similar to those in the northern Punjab. They’d thought him a British spy, and asked when the soldiers would come marching. They hadn’t believed Elliot when he said he knew nothing, neither did he care.