“I am fairly resilient,” Juliana said. “Not a porcelain doll. My mother used to disparage me because I was such a robust child. A lady is meant to be fragile and frail, but that’s poppycock. I’d never get a lick of work done if I were frail.”
She’d hoped to make him smile, but Elliot’s eyes remained bleak. “You’re not that resilient, lass.” He ran his fingers up and down her throat, shaking his head again. “If I hurt you, it would kill me.”
“What were you thinking of—when you went after Mahindar, what were you thinking?”
“What the devil was he even doing in there?”
“I called him.” Juliana swallowed, his fingertips on her skin drawing fire. “When you sat back and went blank, I shouted for him. I was worried about you.” She put her hand on his, stilling his touch. “What were you thinking of?”
Elliot closed his fingers around hers then seemed to realize that she stood there soaking wet. He released her, slid off his coat, and draped it around Juliana’s shoulders. The trapped heat from his body embraced her, surrounding her with his warmth and scent.
“I was dreaming I was back in my cell, in the caves. Except that they made me say your name. I blurted out the secret of you. And they were going to take you from me.” Elliot gripped her shoulders through the loose coat. “They were taking you away from me. I can’t do this if they take you away from me.”
“I’m here.” Juliana looked up into Elliot’s anguished eyes, his brows drawn down as though all the fury in the world coursed through him. “I’m here, Elliot. I’ve always been here for you. And I always will be.”
Elliot gripped her shoulders even harder. His breath came faster, the fine rain dripping down his face.
“I’ll always be here,” Juliana repeated. “Always.”
“Why should you? He was right. I’m broken.”
Juliana didn’t know who he was, but she knew the answer. “Because I love you. I love you my dearest, darling Elliot. I’ve loved you since the day you put the frog in my pocket, and kissed me to distract me from it.” She turned her head and kissed the hand that rested on her shoulder. “I love you, Elliot McBride.”
When she looked up at him again she found his gaze burning into her. The wild look he’d had in the dining room was back, but she could see that he remained in the present, no flashing back to the past.
A hoarse cry escaped his throat. Elliot dragged Juliana to him, his arms coming around her to hold her—tight, tight. He shuddered, then shuddered again, sobs choking out of him.
Juliana clung to him, pressing her cheek to his. He rocked her in his arms, his tears mingling with the rain to wet her face.
“Don’t love me,” he said. “Don’t.”
“There is no do or don’t,” Juliana whispered. The mists dissolved and the rain came down faster. “I love you because I love you. I can’t help that.”
His embrace nearly crushed her, his strong body shaking. “Never stop. Never stop loving me, Juliana.”
“I never will.”
Elliot raised his head. Tears streaked his face, his eyes were red-rimmed, and his face twisted in pain and hope. “I love you so much,” he said brokenly.
Juliana’s own tears came. She brushed away his and kissed his lips.
Elliot crushed her up to him, taking her mouth in a brutal kiss. Their mouths fused, heat to heat, lips touching, parting, gliding together. Never stop loving me.
Never. Never. Gemma had said Juliana shouldn’t try to repair him. Juliana understood now.
She didn’t need to be Elliot’s caretaker; she needed to be his friend and guide, his lover. She would anchor him when he rode the storm of his fears, listen when he needed to speak, and provide a safe haven for him when his journey was done.
She loved him, and the kiss rode on the wings of their love together.
A dog barked. Rosie ran to them, her red body soaked, and shook herself out all over them. Juliana broke the kiss to laugh.
“No hope for this gown now,” she said over the rising wind.
Elliot was looking up and past her, and Juliana turned. Down the path came lanterns, points of light in the darkness. They were all coming—Hamish, Mahindar, Channan, Nandita, Komal, McGregor, and Priti in Nandita’s arms. Even the goat, who shook her head at the rain.
Their lanterns gleamed out in the darkness, falling on Juliana and Elliot in each other’s arms on the bridge.
Mr. McGregor stopped the procession, holding his lantern high. “Well now,” he shouted, his grin gleaming hugely from his bearded face. “It appears as though the lad’s all right.”
“Mahindar,” Elliot began. He drew a breath to say more, but he arrested it, let out the air he’d drawn, and simply looked at the man who had been with him through so much.
“Come back to the house, sahib,” Mahindar said, raising his lantern high. “Come back to the house with the memsahib. It is warm there.”
Juliana locked her hands behind Elliot’s neck and gave him another long kiss, her body warming at his hard kiss in response.
“Let’s go home,” she said.
The look Elliot gave her heated her to her toes. She snuggled into his coat, took his hand, and led him back toward the house, into its warmth and welcoming light.
“Say it again.” Elliot heard the savagery in his voice, and he couldn’t stop it. “Say it again.”