The assassin burst out of the boiler room and through the main cellars, up into the kitchen. Screams sounded, and Elliot’s throat closed up as he pounded after him. Mahindar’s family would be up there—with Priti.
Elliot was hard on the man’s heels. He had his pistol, but the assassin decided that using Channan then Nandita as shields was a good idea. Komal, on the other hand, picked up a long knife and went at him.
The man dropped Nandita, who, screaming, somehow found her way to Hamish as the lad barreled into the kitchen.
But the assassin was still running. He stormed into the main part of the house, where Juliana would be. Alone.
There she was, standing in the vestibule, looking down the hall at the approaching man with wide, frightened eyes. Priti was nowhere in sight, hadn’t been in the kitchens either. Safe?
The assassin ran into the staircase hall. Elliot stopped, lifted his pistol, and took aim.
“Mr. McGregor!” Juliana shouted. “Now!”
A deafening roar filled the hall as McGregor, on the landing above them, aimed his shotgun at the ceiling and fired both barrels. The shots struck the plaster and stone around the great chandelier, which swung, groaned, and tore out of the ceiling with a rush of rock, nails, and rusted metal.
The assassin screamed. Flinging down his pistol, he leapt, rolling, as the monstrous iron thing plunged to the floor below.
He couldn’t move quickly enough. The chandelier hit with a roar of broken metal. Juliana fled out the front door, shielding her face. The assassin managed to get his torso out of the way of the chandelier, but his legs were trapped. He struggled, then he fell, his face ashen. Defeated.
Elliot let out his breath. He kept his pistol trained on the man, made a wide berth around the wreckage, and knelt next to the assassin.
The assassin was an ordinary-looking man, with dark hair and brown eyes, a suit of such plainness that no one would have looked at him twice. He opened his mouth and spewed a string of invectives at Elliot, his accent pure Cockney.
Elliot unwrapped his hand from around the pistol—it hurt to open his fingers—and shoved it at Mahindar, who’d rushed into the hall followed by his family and Hamish. Elliot turned his back on them all and walked out of the dim wreckage of the house to the light, and to Juliana.
Juliana shook all over as Elliot came to her and took her into his arms. She held him close, smelling the acrid smoke of pistols and the dank air of the cellars on him. The tightening of his hold on her for a long moment was the only indication of what it had cost him to hunt for Mr. Stacy and his killers in the dark.
Elliot drew in a shuddering breath and let it out again. “I have to go back down,” he said. “Stacy’s hurt. Shot. Fellows is with him, but he won’t know how to get out.”
“Yes, of course. Go.”
Elliot touched his forehead to hers and drew another breath. Then he kissed her, released her, and strode away, calling for Mahindar and Hamish to help him.
Juliana watched him walk away with them, her knees weak with relief but her heart still beating hard. He was all right. He’d fought, and he’d won, against more than just the assassins.
But there was much to be done. Juliana hurried into the house. She had to prepare a bedchamber to receive the wounded Mr. Stacy, and they needed to send for a doctor or surgeon. And then there was the matter of an assassin lying in her hallway.
She entered the main staircase hall to the chandelier strewn across the floor, its giant wheel having gouged a small trench into the flagstone. Cameron and Daniel Mackenzie and some of the workers were trying to lift it off the poor man.
As soon as the ring of chandelier moved enough, Cameron grabbed the man under the arms and hauled him out. He was groaning, his legs bloody, his face wan.
“You’ll have to put him in the morning room,” Juliana directed, “to wait for Mr. Fellows. Stay in there, and don’t let Mrs. Dalrymple leave.”
“Right ye are, ma’am,” Daniel answered cheerfully.
Juliana skirted past the chandelier and the dangerous criminal and went on to the kitchen to enlist Channan and family to help fix a room for Mr. Stacy. Priti had been taken off to McPherson’s after Hamish’s bellowed announcement that Elliot was hunting assassins, to be watched by Gemma, and the ladies of the Mackenzie family.
Mr. McGregor was already in the kitchen. He was proudly showing the empty shotgun to Komal. “It was a hell of a shot, lass,” he said loudly. “Boom! Then that great eyesore comes crashing down. Smash!”
Komal listened, actually smiling. She took the gun from McGregor’s hands, checked that it was unloaded, then slapped him across the shoulder with her open hand. “Stupid old man,” she said clearly in English.
McGregor chuckled. “She likes me.”
Juliana recruited Channan and Nandita to go up the back stairs with her and make one of the rooms habitable. Not long after, Elliot came striding back, followed by Hamish and Mahindar carrying a large, flat board with Mr. Stacy on it, his torso stained with blood. Fellows, his face marked with dirt, broke off from the rescue party to enter the morning room and confront the assassin and Mrs. Dalrymple.
“Billy Wesley,” Fellows said, sounding the most jovial Juliana had heard him since he’d arrived. “I’ve been looking for you for a long time.”
Juliana left him to it and spent the next intense hours in Mr. Stacy’s sickroom. The village doctor, used to dealing with gunshot wounds in a country upon which people descended every autumn to shoot things, knew what to do. Elliot helped him, the two of them performing the grim business of digging the bullet from Mr. Stacy’s side and bandaging him up.