The Seduction Of Elliot McBride

Page 66

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“I don’t have a gun with me,” Elliot said, in a chill, dead voice Juliana had never heard from him before. “But I don’t need one.”

“No, they made you a savage, didn’t they?”

The two men looked at each other, Stacy not rising from his seat.

Stacy was as tall as Elliot, but his red gold hair touched his shoulders, and he wore a short beard, somewhat unruly from his life out of doors. His eyes were pale blue but not soft—they were cool, like Elliot’s. His nose had been broken once and so had the fingers on his left hand, all healed but a still little crooked.

Stacy locked his gaze on Elliot, and Elliot looked straight back.

“He has been telling me interesting things,” Juliana said.

“I didn’t come here to kill you,” Stacy said.

Elliot didn’t answer either of them. He stood rock still, his hands at his sides, his gaze on Stacy.

“I came here to talk to ye,” Stacy said.

Elliot finally spoke, his voice cold. “Talk, is it? Ye’ve made a damn good pretense of wanting to kill me.”

“No, I’ve been watching ye. Trying to decide how to approach ye. Because I knew the minute I showed myself to ye, you’d try to kill me.”

“Give me a reason I shouldn’t.”

“I don’t have one.”

Juliana watched, her hands twined together on the table. She wanted to intervene in some way, babble that all would all be well if they only sat down and talked things through. But she also sensed that these were two very dangerous men, and for this moment, silence was best. She needed to discover the lay of the land now, offer advice later.

“If you touch Priti…” Elliot growled.

“I haven’t come for the child. I know she’s yours.”

Stacy’s eyes took on a vast sadness. He’d hoped, Juliana realized, that Priti was his, but now he knew she wasn’t. When she’d caught him looking at Priti in the kitchen garden that day, he must have seen Elliot in her, and realized.

“Then what have you come for?” Elliot demanded.

“To reconcile,” Stacy said. “Or try to. And to ask ye—beg ye—for your help.”

Chapter 24

“Ye left me to die.” Elliot’s voice was soft but clear.

Stacy’s face colored behind the beard. “I know. I can never explain to you how much I regret that.”

“I cannae explain how much I regret it.”

Stacy went quiet. Juliana saw the fear and guilt in his eyes, but he closed his mouth, a thin line behind his beard.

“Mrs. McBride,” Elliot said. “Will ye tell this man his fortune?”

Juliana remained silent, Elliot’s rage pressing on her like a humid summer night. Outside the tent children shouted, men laughed, women called to one another, and dogs barked—ordinary life in all its aspects. Inside the tent was a bubble of anger, old and new, and fear.

Juliana had dressed as a stage Romany, with silk scarves borrowed from Channan, bangles from Nandita. She’d spread a colorful silk cloth across the rickety wooden table and laid a brass bowl, into which people had been dropping pennies, at her elbow.

Stacy glanced at her then back at Elliot. Elliot didn’t move. Still looking at Elliot, Stacy slowly stretched out his hand and put it, palm up, on the cloth.

“Tell him that he will die by the hand of one he wronged,” Elliot said.

“Elliot…” Juliana began.

“Tell him.”

Juliana got to her feet, her bangles jingling. “I think, Elliot, that you should listen to him.”

“He told me he’d get them to safety and come back to help me fight. Together, we could have gotten away. Alone, I had no chance.” Elliot pressed his finger to his temple. “Because of him, I live in darkness. It waits for me every day, not wanting to let me go. Because of him.”

“Believe me, I had no idea what they’d do to you,” Stacy said.

“You have no idea what they did do. When I was screaming in hunger, they cut off bits of my own flesh and tried to force me to eat them. They thought it was funny. They also thought it funny to shove me into a tiny hole for days and days and make me sleep on my own filth.”

“I’m sorry,” Mr. Stacy said in a hollow voice.

Elliot’s eyes glittered, but he kept his tone even. “You were reported dead in Lahore.”

“I know that. I was nearly beaten to death there. While I lay recovering in some back alley hole, I read in a newspaper that I’d been listed as one of the dead in the quake. I decided not to dispute it, and let it be official.”

Elliot raked his gaze down his old friend’s face, taking in the broken nose, the twisted fingers. “Who did that?”

“Jaya’s brothers.”

Jaya, Juliana said silently. Priti’s mother.

“And you were in Lahore to…?”

Stacy nodded. “Hide from Jaya’s brothers. They came to my plantation with hired ruffians after she died, wanting to kill the one who, in their opinion, defiled her. I fled, choosing Lahore because I had little reason to go to that city. But they found me there, and their ruffians did me over and left me for dead. I hoped that when I was reported dead in the newspaper, they’d assume my body had been found and lumped in with the other poor souls lost in the quake. When I recovered, I left the Punjab and never returned. Had to abandon everything I had.”

“Why are you here?” Elliot asked. “Wanting my help now?”

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