Elliot rose from his seat, walked down the table, and pulled the notebook out from under her hand. He snatched the pencil as well.
“Elliot, what are you doing?”
Elliot tossed book and pencil to the other side of the table. He decided to be kind at the last minute and not put them on the fire.
He pulled a chair to her corner of the table, opening his knees to make room for the table leg that butted in his way. Ignoring Juliana’s splutters of indignation about her notebook, Elliot took her hand, turned it up on the table, and lightly traced a line that creased her palm.
“I’m going to tell your fortune.”
He saw the shiver go through her, watched her gaze fix on his.
Elliot traced another line. “I see a young woman in a blue dress. I see her in a bedchamber, candles lit, the bed turned down.”
“Do you?” Juliana wet her lips. “How very interesting.”
“I see a man, kissing her.”
“This grows still more interesting. Who is this man?”
The sly look she tried to assume had Elliot instantly hard. “He’s a mad Scotsman, weather-beaten, has kicked around the world. He has shorn hair and colorless eyes, and he loves you.”
“Loves.” The word was breathless. “Your eyes aren’t colorless. They’re gray like stormy skies. They’re the best color I’ve ever seen. Loves?”
“Loves.” Elliot leaned closer, studying her red lips and the moisture behind them. Her mouth waited, a warm place of enchanting desire.
He touched one plump lip with his—
And the darkness took him. Just like that. One moment, he bent to kiss his wife in a place of warmth, beauty, and happiness, and the next, he was back in the caves in the craggy mountains, waking up from the dream.
He felt the cold darkness, the stone beneath him, his beard and hair scratching his face, his filthy clothes crawling with vermin.
“No!” Elliot stared at his hands in the faint light, saw the cracked, dry skin, the calluses so hard he could barely feel anything through his fingertips.
“No!” he shouted again.
He hugged himself, willing himself back into the dream. It was there on the edges of his vision, the candlelight on Juliana’s hair, her eyes so blue, the same color as her gown.
He couldn’t touch it. She wasn’t real, none of it had been. The darkness mocked him, laughed at him for thinking he was well.
“Juliana,” a voice said. He recognized it as belonging to one of his captors, the cruelest of all, who’d sometimes amused himself by stripping off bits of Elliot’s skin with a jagged-edged knife. “The woman you love.” He spoke in his rough Punjabi, in a dialect they both understood.
Not Juliana. They can never take Juliana.
“You love her,” the man said. His knife went to the inside of Elliot’s wrist. “Say it.”
“I love her,” Elliot whispered.
“Shout it. Tell everyone.”
No. She was his secret. If they knew about Juliana, they’d threaten her, mock her, defile her memory, take her away from him. Elliot knew she was safe in Scotland, in her father’s prim house in Edinburgh, with her family, her friends, her miles of lists, her laughter.
They’d force him to talk about her, to tell them every single little secret memory he had of her. They’d describe what they’d do to her, what they wanted to do to her, until any thought of her was mixed with something horrifying.
And then Elliot would have nothing. Nothing between himself and the darkness.
Juliana was light. He couldn’t let them extinguish the light.
“I love her!” Elliot dragged his hands from his face. “Don’t take her away from me. Don’t take her away from me.”
The man grinned, his teeth crooked and brown. “She will never love you. You are broken and ruined, dirt beneath my heel. We broke you. Juliana will never want that.”
The mocking voice, the knife, the smile, her name on his lips, drove Elliot into the frenzy. He’d be beaten for it, he knew, but he couldn’t stop.
“I’ll kill you!” Elliot wrenched himself from his crouch and launched himself at his captor. His hands closed around the man’s throat, fingers knowing what to do. He felt glee when the man scrabbled at his wrists, dark eyes opening wide.
“Sahib!” the man tried to gasp. “Sahib, it is Mahindar.”
Liar. Mahindar was all that was kindness and goodness, and this man was evil incarnate. Elliot would choke Juliana’s name from his throat, so he could never say it again.
Her voice came from his dream, which tapped at the back of his mind. The dream wanted him to relax into it, to slumber in its peace, to never wake again.
But Elliot had to stay awake. He had to escape. He had to get home. To her.
Other hands grabbed his, trying to break his grip. Strong hands, as large as his, the slimmer hands of a woman but just as strong, and then the soft touch he knew deep inside his heart.
“Elliot,” she said in her musical voice.
The darkness cracked. Light came rushing at him, spinning in dazzling points, and then faces and voices. The wide, scared blue eyes of a Scottish lad, the dark face of a woman determined, the eyes of the man who’d helped him at every turn, and the sky blue beauty of Juliana’s eyes. Juliana was the only one who didn’t try to loosen Elliot’s grip, who only touched, and asked.
The rest of the real world now crashed into him, and the spinning stopped. Elliot was standing in the dining room of his own house, his manservant Mahindar bent backward over the table, Elliot’s hands around his throat.