“What am I going to do?”
Cameron tucked the flask into his greatcoat. “We’ll take you home. I’ll have my carriage pull up in the passage at the end of this walk. None need to see you.”
They were kind, Ainsley and Cameron—they were being kind. Juliana didn’t want kindness. She wanted to kick and rage, not only at Grant, but at herself. She’d been so secure in her engagement, rather smug that she was in no danger of being left on the shelf. Not only that, she’d wanted the stability of a normal life, something she’d fought for all her life.
Her future had just crumbled to dust, her safe choice ripped from beneath her feet. Shock still rendered her numb, but she sensed regret coming hard on its heels.
Juliana rubbed her arms, suddenly chilled. “Not yet. Please, give me a moment. I need to be alone for just a moment.”
Ainsley glanced into the courtyard, into which people were now emerging from the church proper. “Not that way. There’s a chapel down here. We’ll keep them out.”
“Bless you, Ainsley.” Juliana could not unclench herself enough to give Ainsley the hug she deserved.
She let Ainsley guide her to the door of the chapel, which Cameron opened. Cameron and Ainsley stepped back, and Juliana went in alone, the door clicking closed.
The chapel was chilly but dim and peaceful. Juliana stood for a moment in front of the bare altar, looking up at the plain cross hanging above it, alone and unadorned.
Grant, married. To Mrs. Mackinnon.
Juliana now realized things she’d seen in the past few months but had paid no mind to at the time—Grant and Mrs. Mackinnon side by side at Grant’s mother’s piano, their exchanged smiles, the looks between them. Grant gazing pensively at Juliana as though he wanted to speak to her about something important, and then making some joke or inane remark instead.
She knew now what he meant to say. Miss St. John, I’ve fallen in love with my piano teacher and wish to marry her, not you.
Juliana balled her fists, wanting to shout at Providence for being so aggravating. But, even in her agitation, blasphemy in a chapel seemed wrong.
She settled for storming into a pew, her ivory skirts billowing around her. “Blast!” she said and slammed herself into the seat.
On top of something that moved. A man with long legs under a woolen kilt, a broad body that heaved up onto strong elbows. A man coming awake to find a hundred and twenty pounds of young woman in wedding garb sitting on his thighs.
“What the devil?” Gray eyes the same color as Ainsley’s flashed in a face that was too tanned to have been in Scotland long.
Elliot McBride obviously had no compunction about blaspheming in a church. Or sleeping in one.
Juliana swiftly rose, but she couldn’t move out of the pew. She stared down at Elliot as he levered himself partway up and leaned back into the corner of the pew, his booted feet still on the bench.
“Elliot?” Juliana asked, breathless. “What are you doing here?”
“Trying to find some quiet,” he said. “Too bloody many people about.”
“I mean, here in Scotland. I thought you were in India. Ainsley said you were in India.”
Elliot McBride was one of Ainsley’s many brothers, a man the girl Juliana had fallen madly in love with about a hundred years ago. He’d disappeared to India to make his fortune, and she hadn’t seen him since.
Elliot rubbed a hand over his stubbled face, though he smelled of soap and water, as though he’d recently bathed. “Decided to come home.”
Laconic, that was the way to describe Elliot, the untamed McBride. Also large and strong, with a presence that knocked the breath out of her. It had been so when she’d been a child and he’d been the wild brother of Ainsley, and again when she’d been a proud debutante and he’d attended her coming-out ball in his army regimentals.
Juliana sank to the pew again, at the end of it, beyond his feet. High in the tower of the main church, bells rang, striking the hour.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in there, lass?” Elliot asked. He removed a flask from his coat and sipped from it, but unlike Cameron, he didn’t offer her any. “Getting married to whatever his name is?”
“Grant Barclay. I was to have been Mrs. Grant Barclay.”
The flask stopped halfway to his mouth. “Was to have been? Did you jilt the whey-faced bastard, then?”
“No,” Juliana said. “Apparently, yesterday, he eloped with his piano teacher.”
It was all too much. Strange laughter welled up inside her and came pealing out of her mouth. Not quite hysterics, but a hearty laugh she couldn’t stop.
Elliot lay still, like an animal deciding whether to attack or run. Poor Elliot. What must he make of a woman who’d jolted him out of his sleep by plopping down on him and then laughing uncontrollably because her fiancé had abandoned her?
Juliana’s laughter eased off, and she wiped her eyes with her fingertips. Her dark red hair was tumbling down, one of the yellow roses Ainsley had tied into it falling to her lap. “Stupid flowers.”
Elliot sat frozen, his hand gripping the back of the pew so hard he was surprised the wood didn’t splinter. He watched as Juliana laughed, as her glorious hair fell to her bared shoulders. She smiled though her blue eyes were wet, and the hands that plucked the flower from her lap were long fingered and trembling.
Elliot wanted to put his arms around her and cradle her close. There now, he’d say. You’re better off without the idiot. An even stronger instinct made him want to go find Grant Barclay and shoot him for hurting her.