Elliot’s voice went into mock broad Scots. “Och, lassie, do ye nae ken the language of your ancestors? ’Tis Gaelic.”
“Is it?” She’d only ever been taught English, had been sent to an English school, and had been thrown together with people who wouldn’t dream of speaking anything but English, the language of money and success.
Juliana traced his arm where it lay across his stomach, touching the tattoo. “How do you know it?”
“I know many languages. Gaelic, French, German, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi. I never knew what I’d need to be speaking.”
“What were you saying to me?”
Elliot kissed her temple, his lips warm and quiet with the intimacy of afterglow. “That ye were beautiful. And warmed me like nothing I’d ever felt. An toir thu dhomh pòg?”
Juliana smiled. “What does that mean?”
“Will ye kiss me?”
Her smile widened. “Yes.”
She turned on the pillow, liking how his eyes were half closed and relaxed, like an animal in repose. Elliot kissed her softly, his lips parted, again with the warm intimacy.
“Tha gaol agam ort,” he whispered.
She traced his cheek. “What is that one?”
Elliot closed his callused hand over hers, bringing her fingers to his lips. “Someday, I’ll tell you,” he said.
The midsummer ball went well until Mr. McGregor insisted he do a sword dance.
Juliana’s guests had come from as far away as Edinburgh, including the rest of the Mackenzie clan and Gemma, even the formidable Duke of Kilmorgan and his recent bride, Lady Eleanor. They were not all staying in the house, as only a few guest rooms were yet habitable, but McPherson had volunteered to put up most of them in his giant castle.
The ball was a full Highland party, with all the Scotsmen in great kilts. Pipers and fiddlers had come from Highforth and the next village; village men and women had volunteered to help Mahindar and his family with cooking and replenishing food and drink; and many of them joined in the dancing outside on the lawn in the long twilight.
Elliot looked much better when he at last came down. He’d donned his great kilt, the swath of plaid looped over his shoulder. Unlike the Mackenzie brothers, he wore no coat, and looked like a Highland barbarian of old.
The guests poured in, anxious to greet the McBrides, welcoming Elliot as part of McGregor’s family. It didn’t take long for the dancing to begin.
What always made Juliana’s heart swell about true Highland gatherings was that no one needed to be prodded to dance and have a good time. Partners were seized, circles formed, and dancing began.
As the newly married couple, Juliana and Elliot led the first reel. Juliana had only danced with Elliot once, at her debut in Edinburgh, where they’d done a stately waltz to the strains of Strauss. Now Elliot showed his true grace. He moved through the steps of the reel without missing a one, spinning Juliana and handing her off, and picking her up again without losing a measure.
The guests laughed and clapped, dancing around them. Daniel Mackenzie was the most enthusiastic, his youth letting him jump higher and swing ladies harder than his uncles, who were more absorbed in their wives. Only Ian Mackenzie didn’t dance, preferring to sit with his wife and his children or hold his son’s little hands when the boy wanted to dance to the music.
Mac Mackenzie joined his nephew Daniel in exuberance, his wife, Isabella, laughing at him, her color high and eyes sparkling. The duke, Hart, was quieter, but the look he gave Eleanor was so loving that Juliana’s eyes moistened.
She wanted to have with Elliot what the Mackenzie brothers and their wives had. They had full trust, confidence, love. They enjoyed being together and watching each other. Yet, they didn’t lose anything in each other, each of them having their own wants, their own enjoyments. But together, each couple seemed to be stronger than the sum of their parts.
Maybe, in time, she and Elliot could find that too.
The ballroom, still a bit barren with no drapes on the windows or pictures on the walls, resounded with energy. Music filled it with a wall of sound, the dancers’ laughter resonating over it. McPherson danced with all the ladies, matching Daniel for enthusiasm.
McGregor, well gone in whiskey, shouted, “Bring the swords!”
Hamish fetched them from who knew where, a traditional claymore and scabbard he set in a perfect cross in the cleared corner of the ballroom. Elliot broke from his two brothers and Gemma to move across the room to it. Before he could reach it, McGregor motioned for the pipers to play.
He started off well enough. Mr. McGregor knew the steps, if he couldn’t bounce very high, and touched his feet quickly and surely into the squares formed by the crossed blade and scabbard. But then the fiddlers sped up and the pipers followed suit, playing faster then faster.
McGregor roared as he tried to keep up, stamping to either side of the blade, jumping higher, the ribbon in his Scottish bonnet flapping. The guests applauded their approval.
Then his foot came down wrong, the sword skittered, McGregor’s legs split, and he fell flat on his back with a grunt.
Juliana ran to him, but Elliot was there in front of her. McGregor allowed himself to be helped to his feet, then he threw Elliot off. “Leave me be, nephew. I’m fine.”
But he did let Juliana lead him out of the ballroom, and when he reached the hallway, he began to limp. “Bloody sword. In my day, they were made so they didn’t move.”
Komal appeared out of the shadows to grab McGregor’s other arm. She started scolding right away in both Punjabi and the few words she’d learned in English.