“Trickster,” Juliana said, but she was still laughing.
“Only in part. I’m trying to demonstrate that you can throw off your shackles and enjoy yourself once in a while. The world will not stop if you do.”
Juliana watched him spread out the blankets, her hands on her hips. “Oh, very well. I know I can be a bit zealous about organizing. But I like it.”
“I’m not demanding you give it up every day.” Elliot stretched out on the blanket. “Just every once in a while.”
Juliana carefully collapsed next to him, leaned down, and kissed his lips. “I think I don’t mind.” She looked at their bundle. “We have food. But nothing to drink.”
“We can take a drink from yon river,” Elliot said. When Juliana blinked, he grinned. “Or wait for Hamish to bring the jugs of water and wine as I asked him to.” He ran his hand down Juliana’s bodice to rest his palm over her abdomen. “I told him to give us an hour or so alone, first.”
Juliana’s cheeks went pink. “An excellent idea.”
“I brought something else.” Elliot reached into the pocket of his coat for the box that Mahindar had handed him this morning and opened it.
Inside, on a bed of velvet, lay two rings. One was a wide gold band; the other, a narrower band encrusted with sapphires.
Juliana took a quick breath. “Ours?”
“I told Mahindar what to order the day of our wedding. They’re finished, and here.” Elliot drew out the smaller ring, lifted Juliana’s left hand, and slid it onto her third finger. “With this ring, I thee wed.”
Juliana studied the ring, her smile happy. She took the man’s ring and slid it onto his finger.
“With this ring, I thee wed.”
Elliot couldn’t stop his smile. The cool band was heavy on his finger, clasping him just right, belonging there.
He took Juliana’s hand again and kissed it, right over the ring. Then he pressed their hands together on her belly.
“Is Mrs. Rossmoran right?” he asked. “Is there a wee one?”
Juliana went quiet, and for a moment, Elliot’s heart squeezed with worry. Then she smiled. “She is.”
“Dear God.” Elliot’s lungs ceased to work. He tried to say a few more things, such as, I’m going to be a father again. You’ve made me so happy, love. Do you think it will be a boy or girl?
All he could do was roll onto his back and stare up at the blue sky and sunshine.
Priti’s birth had occurred while Elliot had been imprisoned, her existence unknown to him until Mahindar had sprung it on him, releasing an ember of joy and wonder. This was the first time Elliot would be a father alongside the child’s mother, watching Juliana carry it, being there when the baby came into the world.
It was too much to take in.
Juliana blocked the sun from him, curls escaping her pins. “Elliot, are you all right?”
“I am.” Elliot sounded so calm. Inside him was a riot of noise, of joy, of beating drums and claxons, of all the sounds of India on a festival day. “I am fine. I never have been so fine.”
He tugged her down to him, wrapping his arms around her and rolling her gently to the blanket, taking care. “I am everything that is all right.”
Elliot kissed her beautiful smile, the dimple at the corner of her mouth, the tip of her tongue.
The darkness inside him, which had been reticent of late, reached for him with spidery fingers. Elliot moved his thoughts back to the little one nestled inside Juliana beneath him, and the darkness snapped away.
While Elliot had been imprisoned in the caves, thoughts of Juliana had given him the freedom he needed to keep himself alive. They hadn’t been able to reach that corner of his mind, and so hadn’t been able to imprison him entirely. Juliana had been his secret, his knowledge that no one could touch.
This child inside her was another knowledge that they could never take from him.
Elliot’s home, his wife, his family. All his, and all real.
The darkness died with a whimper, and Juliana welcomed Elliot, unhindered by pain and shadows, into her arms.