“No.” Elliot stepped in front of her, blocking her way. “No basket. We see what we find on the way. No planning. No organizing. No lists.”
Her lips parted. “Oh.”
“Turn around.” Elliot caught her shoulders and gently turned her in place. “Out the window. Pick a direction down the path. That is where we’ll go.”
She hesitated, ready to argue again. Elliot leaned down and bit the shell of her ear. “Go,” he said.
Juliana sped away to the windows. She stepped out of the longest one and hopped down to the path that ran around the house. There she paused, looking around, trying to decide which direction to go.
Elliot stepped out after her, took her arm, and tugged her with him down an overgrown path leading east. “This way.”
“I thought I was supposed to choose the direction.”
“You were debating which was the best way to go. Making lists of for and against in your head. Weren’t you?”
“This direction is random. We go.”
They couldn’t walk side by side down the narrow walk, but Elliot didn’t mind coming behind Juliana, where he could observe her small bustle swaying as she went.
The walkway led to the path that skirted the river and wended its way to the footbridge to Mrs. Rossmoran’s cottage.
As they rounded a bend, Elliot caught sight of movement in the brush. He hesitated, the wary hunter in him returning, but then he recognized the rough McIver kilt Hamish liked to wear, and the colorful silks of Nandita’s scarves. The two were standing in the shadows, very close together.
Elliot watched them for a moment, their innocence reminding him of when he and Juliana had shared their first dance, then he turned away and caught up to Juliana.
The river rushed beneath them as they walked over the footbridge together, as strongly as it had the night Elliot had stood on the larger bridge, looking over the water in black despair.
He hadn’t had any thought of ending his life that night—though he knew Mahindar still believed he had. Instead, the endless rush of sound had caught at him, making Elliot stare into the river’s depths while he fought his demons in the dark.
Mrs. Rossmoran and Fiona were both home. “Bannocks?” Fiona asked in answer to Elliot’s question. “Aye, baked this morning. And shortbread from yesterday.”
Fiona made them up a bundle in the kitchen, while Mrs. Rossmoran sat in her usual chair and regarded them all imperiously.
“So, you’ve decided to live, have you, young Elliot?”
Elliot slid his arm around Juliana’s waist. “I have.”
“Hamish says you look much better,” Mrs. Rossmoran said. “Act much better too. Haven’t tried to strangle anyone in a while. You’ve made a good choice in wife.” Mrs. Rossmoran gave Juliana an approving glance. “I said that from the start. And when you have a few babes in the nursery, ’twill be even better. But mind Hamish. He’s growing smitten with that young Indian girl who came with your manservant. He brought her to visit the other day. Sweet young lady, after she got over her shyness. Her English is improving as well. I gather she had an unhappy time of it in India, poor soul.” She sighed. “Why anyone wants to live any place but Scotland, I don’t know.”
Fiona brought them their package, giving Juliana a wink and a smile. “Off you go.”
Elliot took charge of the bannocks and shortbread and led Juliana away.
As they headed for the path that ran along the Rossmoran side of the river, Elliot heard Mrs. Rossmoran say to Fiona, “Do you think she is increasing? She had the look of it. Next spring, there’ll be a new McBride, you mark my words.”
Elliot took Juliana’s hand and led her on.
Elliot had lied when he’d said the picnic idea was completely spontaneous and unorganized. In truth, he had a goal in mind.
He’d found the place while exploring the land, looking for Stacy—who was still a guest of McPherson, though he was on the mend. Elliot and he had begun repairing things between them, talking of old times and new, Stacy planning what he’d do when he recovered. In London, Fellows had put in motion ways to keep Jaya’s brothers at bay. Fellows’s half-brother, the Duke of Kilmorgan, had much influence in politics, and ambassadors had talked to the ruling prince, who decided he didn’t like members of his extended family going after Britons. Jaya’s brothers had been called home, and there they stayed. Stacy could now live his life again, out of hiding. He would stay in Scotland, he said, and try to carve a place for himself.
Elliot found that talking to Stacy helped. He was learning how to remember the past without fighting it, without fearing it would destroy him. Perhaps one day, Elliot’s memories would be distant enough to no longer threaten. He knew it would take him a long time to reach such peace, but he had everything he needed to begin.
The place Elliot had found was a hidden meadow, surrounded by thick trees. The last few days had been rainless, so the grass was dry though still a deep green. Heather swayed across the meadow, rippling purple, interspersed with tiny white and gold flowers to make the place seem to sparkle.
When Elliot folded back the last branch to let Juliana through from the overgrown path, she gasped in delight.
“Beautiful.” She ran a few steps and spun around, laughing. “This was no arbitrary direction, Elliot McBride. You brought me here on purpose.”
“That is true.” Elliot walked unerringly to the base of a tree and fetched a bundle of blankets that he’d asked Hamish to leave there for him.