The Seduction Of Elliot McBride

Page 58

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“She’s not his daughter,” Elliot said calmly. “She’s mine.”

Dalrymple stared. “Is she? Well, good God, man, in that case, I think we had better come to some sort of agreement. If your wife and her family find out about this by-blow, not only will they be shocked and upset, they might bring suit against you, do you not think?”

“I’ve already told my wife about the lass.”

“Have you? Oh.”

Elliot went on fishing. Beside him Dalrymple cleared his throat, started to speak, broke off, and cleared his throat again.

“Let me return to my original purpose,” the man said after a time. “You murdered Mr. Stacy, and if you do not want to go to the gallows for it, you will make an arrangement with me.”

“Stacy isn’t dead.”

“Pardon?” More blinking.

“I said, Archie Stacy isn’t dead. He’s alive and well.”

Dalrymple actually smiled. “Ah, there we must differ. I have the death certificate.”

He pulled a piece of paper out of an inner pocket of his coat, unfolded it, and held it up so that Elliot could see the printing and official seal.

Bang! Birds exploded into flight from the surrounding trees. Warm blood sprayed over Elliot’s shirt, and he looked down in bewilderment at the filmy pattern of scarlet on linen. He felt no pain, and heard Dalrymple scream. The death certificate caught on the wind and fluttered gently into the river.

Elliot observed all this in one startled second, then he threw down his rod, stepped into deep shadow, and brought his rifle around.

Dalrymple remained in place, clutching his right hand and shrieking. McGregor and McPherson had disappeared into the shadows as well, only Dalrymple too far gone in pain to get himself out of the line of fire.

Elliot faded around the trees and moved swiftly and quietly in the direction of the shot. He ran up the hill, damp air forming droplets on his skin.

The scenario was eerily familiar, regardless of the tall Scottish trees that marched around him. He fought off his mind’s urge to take him back to the past, and ran on.

Elliot came out of the trees into a fairly flat clearing with an outcropping of bare rock. From the top of this rock, he had a perfect view of the river, the pool, and the exact spot where Dalrymple still stood.

Elliot pulled his rifle from his back and sighted down its scope. Dalrymple came into clear focus in the sunlight, his mouth moving as he swore in pain. Dalrymple had been facing Elliot, both of them in profile to this angle of the hill.

Stacy hadn’t hit Dalrymple by mistake. The man was a crack shot, one of the best. The wind was strong here, but Stacy would have adjusted for that.

He’d shot at Dalrymple, not Elliot. One shot. A spent cartridge lay shining at the base of the rock.

Elliot picked up the cartridge and dropped it into his sporran as he scanned the hill around him. Nowhere did he see a man running away, or brush and saplings moving to show his passage. The grass around the rock was matted and flat—all of it. Stacy must have trampled it before he’d taken the shot to cover the tracks of his retreat.

Elliot slung his rifle over his back again and cupped his hands around his mouth. “Stacy!”

The word rang from the hills. The men below looked up.

The echoes faded and silence came back to him. If Stacy had been there, he’d vanished into the faint mist creeping down from the highest peaks.

Elliot climbed down from the rock and went in search of him.

Juliana spent the morning busy with preparations for the midsummer fête and making certain that the men worked in the most important areas of the house.

Because Elliot was off fishing with McGregor when the workers arrived, Juliana kept a special eye on Priti. She noticed the instant the little girl rushed out of the house on her own to play with the goat, and hurried out after her, welcoming the morning sun on her face.

Juliana relaxed as soon as she found Priti in the kitchen garden—Priti was talking to the goat tethered out of reach of the runner beans, and feeding it oatcakes.

She enjoyed a moment of watching the child. Priti was sweet-tempered, and yet had the impish determination of her father. She’d taken the upheaval from her home in stride, liked exploring Castle McGregor, and enjoyed following Hamish about, tugging on the lad’s kilt when she wanted his attention.

The tranquil moment was disturbed when a man came out of the bracken at the foot of the garden. He was dressed the same as the workers—in kilt, boots, and shirtsleeves—his face covered with a rather tangled red-gold beard.

At the same time he didn’t look like the other men. Something about him, something Juliana couldn’t quite put her finger on, set him apart.

The man glanced briefly at Juliana, then his gaze went to Priti and stayed there.

Juliana stopped. A shout for Hamish worked its way up into her throat, but she bit it back, fearing what would happen if she startled the man. He did nothing, only looked at Priti.

Finally he turned slowly back to Juliana, met her gaze squarely, then turned and walked away.

Juliana started forward. “Mr. Stacy?”

The man didn’t respond. Juliana followed him, staying well behind him, as he walked steadily down the path to the foot of the garden. He went through the gate then stepped into the woods and vanished from her sight.

Juliana hurried out the gate to the spot where he’d disappeared, but as much as she looked around, she couldn’t tell which direction he’d gone.

She was still on the path when Mr. McGregor and Mr. McPherson came puffing up from the direction of the river, both men agitated and out of breath.

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