The Seduction Of Elliot McBride

Page 60

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Now his gray eyes sparkled with rage, and he stormed past his rescuers, took Juliana by the arm, dragged her into the dining room, and slammed the door on prying eyes. The setter, who’d been following him, scratched at the outside of the door and whined.

Elliot ejected the bullets from his rifle, unloading it in angry silence.

“I’m sorry,” Juliana said before he could speak. “I was worried about you. Mr. McGregor and Mr. McPherson said you’d rushed off into the hills after a man who apparently is not averse to shooting people.”

Elliot slammed the unloaded rifle to the table. “And every single one of the men you sent after me might have been killed. Hamish might have. McGregor might have. What if I’d shot one of them by mistake? Or Stacy had?”

“I assumed they’d all make so much noise they’d announce their presence long before you saw them. Mr. Stacy would run away, and you’d grow exasperated and come back home with them. Which you have.”

“Bloody hell, Juliana. What did you think I meant when I said Stacy was f**king dangerous? He could have shot any or all of the fools you sent after me, and they’d drop without knowing what hit them. He’s a trained sharpshooter. Hell, I trained him.”

Juliana lifted her chin. “I return to my theory that Mr. Stacy would find it more expedient to go back into hiding. And I was right.”

“But you might not have been right, love. McGregor insists it was a poacher with a stray shot. It wasn’t. No poacher around here uses bullets like this.” He reached into his sporran and dropped a bit of metal onto the table. “This is a cartridge for a custom rifle, like mine, not a common shotgun.”

Most bullet casings looked alike to Juliana, but she nodded at it. “Yes?”

“Your lackeys surrounded me and bade me come back with them like a pack of nursemaids.”

“I can’t help what they thought,” Juliana said, still studying the shell casing. “And I’m sorry. But I would rather see you walk home, angry at me, than be carried home on a litter, hurt, maybe dead.”

Elliot’s silence made her raise her head. He wore a bleak expression, his anger winding down into weariness. “Ye don’t believe me, do ye, lass? Ye think your husband’s a madman, like they do. McPherson is ready to throw me into a padded room.”

“No, I…”

His lips tightened. “Don’t pretend, Juliana.”

“I’m not pretending. I believe you. Now you need to believe me.”

Elliot stopped, his expression still grim.

“’Twas not an easy decision,” Juliana said. “You may believe me on that point too. But I weighed all the possibilities against what I had observed myself and drew the conclusion that you are not mad. Not about this anyway.”

His eyes glinted. “Did you make a list?”

“In my head. Yes, I did.”

“Not about this anyway?” he repeated.

“You know perfectly well what I mean. Whenever you talk to me of Mr. Stacy, you sound quite sane. Did he really shoot Mr. Dalrymple?”

“In the hand. It was a magnificent shot.” Elliot reached into his pocket. “But I think he was anxious to get rid of this.”

He dropped a piece of paper onto the table. The paper was damp, the ink blurred and illegible.

“What is that?”

“Death certificate. Dalrymple claims it is. It has to be a forgery, but it’s hard to tell now.”

Juliana touched it. “Mr. Dalrymple had this?”

“Mr. Dalrymple is a petty blackmailer. He wants money out of me to keep quiet that I killed Stacy. He’s gambling on me being so insane I don’t remember anything I do.”

“Well, it’s nonsense. Mr. Stacy is alive and here. I saw him.”

“What?”

“In the garden.” Juliana told him of the encounter, and her conclusion that the man had been in India.

“Damn it.”

“You can’t be everyplace at once,” Juliana said. “Besides, he did nothing. He looked at Priti, then looked at me, then ran off when I called him by name.”

“Damn it to hell,” Elliot said feelingly. He added a few more expletives that gentlemen should never use in front of ladies, and segued into languages she didn’t know.

“He did nothing. He looked at me most peculiarly, and at Priti, but did and said nothing.”

“Son of a…” More expletives. Elliot came to her. “Don’t go near him. Don’t leave the house. Give up your soiree until I’ve found him.”

“Midsummer’s Eve fête and ball,” Juliana corrected. “Which is next week. And no, I won’t give it up.”

“Until I’ve found him, I said.”

“Elliot,” Juliana said with patience, though his warmth close to her was most distracting. “The supplies are arriving. The house—at least the public spaces—will be ready. The invitations have been sent and replies received. The villagers are excited about the fête. I cannot possibly cancel everything now.”

“Postpone, I meant,” Elliot said, his jaw tight.

“It amounts to the same thing. I have only just now finished sending out all the letters to my wedding guests, explaining my change of circumstance and apologizing for saying I’d marry one man and marrying a different one on the same day. Therefore I refuse to let one mad Scotsman—I refer to Mr. Stacy, not you—make me send out more letters explaining that, I’m very sorry, but the first event I am hostessing at my new home must be postponed. I will not do it. I will not let Mr. Stacy force me to do it. I will not let you force me to do it.”

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