Easy to confess to the world, even to gentle and proper Juliana, that he’d sired a child on Jaya, who’d kept him warm when the cold winds came off the wall of mountains separating northern India from the world. Easy to admit he and Stacy had shared her between them at first.
That sin was so far removed from the terrible nightmare of being captured and displayed as a prize. So far removed from what the men of that fierce tribe had done to him, and had taught Elliot to do for them. He’d experienced slavery firsthand, when a human life was considered less important than an animal’s—when the whole of his history, from birth to present, meant nothing.
Elliot also couldn’t explain to Juliana that when he’d been their prisoner and slave, he’d forgotten all about Jaya. His time with the woman and Stacy, his years at the plantation, his friends there and in the army might have never existed. The only person he could hold on to, the only face he saw, was Juliana’s.
Juliana kept on chattering about the fête and jumble sales and conferring with the minister’s wife, but Elliot couldn’t hear her words. He was aware only of her voice, clear like a fall of rain.
He pushed aside the whiskey he drank too much of these days and rose from his chair. Juliana looked up at him in surprise, because of course a gentleman never left the table until the lady decided it was time for the women to retire to the drawing room.
Elliot reached the end of the table and pulled Juliana’s chair back. As she looked up at him in astonishment, he lifted her out of the ridiculous throne-like chair and set her down on a vast blank area of the table.
“Elliot, I don’t think…”
Elliot silenced her by kissing her. He drew his hands up under her heavy coil of hair, fingers loosening the silk of it.
In the dark cells he’d imagined this, remembering the soft of her hair when he’d touched it the night of her debut ball, before he’d shipped off the next day to join his regiment. He’d recalled he exact shape and touch of her lips from that brief kiss, the scent of her rose-soft breath.
She’d sustained him in the dark, and now he needed sustenance again.
Elliot drew his tongue across her lips, touching the moisture behind them when they parted. Juliana’s hands came up to cup his elbows, fingers sinking into his biceps through his coat.
He kissed across her lips, every inch of them, then moved to her cheek, kissing the skin he had the privilege to touch. In the darkness, in the pain, the memory of her kiss had wound comfort through the agony. She’d never know—he never would find the words to explain—how many times she’d saved his life.
I need you.
Elliot moved to the shell of her ear, brushing it with the tip of his tongue. Juliana made a soft noise in her throat as he closed his teeth on her earlobe.
He was seducing her again, but she’d seduced him every night of those months he’d been lost. He’d longed each day for the torture to cease, for his captors to ignore him for stretches of time, because then he could sink into a stupor and be with his visions of Juliana.
They never could make Elliot forget her, because they didn’t know about her. Her name had never crossed his lips. Juliana was his secret, his soul.
And now she was real.
He sucked her earlobe gently into his mouth, liking the way she shivered under his touch. He loved the scent of her, the taste of her, and he’d never be able to have enough.
Elliot kissed his way back to her mouth, one tiny kiss at a time, until he opened her lips and stroked across her tongue. He loved her tongue. He trapped it with his teeth, then he gently suckled it.
Juliana made another quiet noise of pleasure, and Elliot kept suckling, liking the friction, taste, and heat of her mouth. He let her go and reached for the whiskey decanter, pouring more into his goblet.
He touched the goblet to her lips until she took a little into her mouth, then he plunged his mouth across hers and scooped up the whiskey with his tongue.
Her eyes were soft when Elliot drew back. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Oh.” Her flush, the little word, made his body tighten.
Elliot touched the goblet to her lips again. This time Juliana sipped then closed her eyes as Elliot imbibed the whiskey from her.
Again and again he slid the best McGregor single malt into her mouth; again and again, he drank from her. He was a man dying of thirst, and Juliana was his vessel.
When the goblet was empty, Juliana smiled up at him, her blue eyes warm, her hair mussed. “You’re going to get me tipsy.”
Elliot kissed her one more time without answering. He skimmed his fingers down her throat, bare for evening, the creamy silk bodice hugging her shoulders and bosom. Female fashion had always baffled him—ladies were buttoned up to their chins during the day but décolletages might barely cover their ni**les at night.
All the better for him. Elliot unhooked her bodice in the back and took the half sleeves down her arms, revealing the bow at the top of her corset, the coy lace of chemise beneath that.
Juliana’s father was a wealthy man, and Juliana wore rich clothing, all the way down to her skin. The silk of the bodice he parted caught on the rough tips of Elliot’s fingers, the lawn of the corset cover smooth and embroidered with silk flowers.
Elliot loosened the corset’s laces and pulled them out, opening the cage and lifting it away. The chemise beneath billowed free, its lawn folds as soft as the gown’s silk.
Easy to untie the ribbon holding the chemise closed and slide it down, bunching the fabrics of chemise and bodice at her waist.