The Husband Hunt Chapter Sixteen

The sound of footsteps descending the wooden stairs made Lisa stiffen. She then sat up a little straighter when what she really wanted to do was shrink back into a corner and disappear. Findlay had said he would come down after he'd ordered his man to put her in here. She had no doubt it was he approaching now, and had absolutely no desire to see him. However, she would not cower. The heroines in the books she read did not survive trials like this by being weak and silly females. They were bold and brave, and fate rewarded them for it. She would be bold and brave too . . . if it killed her.

That last bit was a truly unfortunate thought, Lisa decided as it rang through her head. Really, she could have phrased it better. "Ah. I see you are settling in nicely."

Lisa glanced to the door at those words and raised her chin rebelliously when she saw Findlay peering in at her through the bars. He was eyeing her with interest, as if she were a caged animal on display.

"Come to gloat, my lord?" she asked coldly. "Really, it makes you very unattractive."

"Good. You've got fire," Charles said with amusement. "I knew you would."

"So happy to please you," Lisa sneered with disdain. "No you aren't," he said on a laugh. "But you will be." "I very much doubt that, my lord."

"Oh, you will," Charles assured her. "And I shall enjoy teaching you to be. I knew that from the first moment I laid eyes on you."

Lisa remained silent this time and merely peered at him with feigned indifference. He hadn't made a move to unlock the door and enter, which she could only think was a good thing. So she waited to see what he was about.

"It makes me wish I could start right away," he commented when she didn't respond. "Sadly, we shall have to refrain from enjoying each other for now. I must go to the Brewsters' ball tonight and act disappointed that you, my fiancee, have not made an appearance, and then shocked and horrified that you are missing. I may even shed a tear."

Lisa nearly sagged with relief at the news that he would leave her alone for now, but knew instinctively that it might be a bad idea to show her relief. It might move him to dally a bit before the ball, so she covered with a dry, "Do not strain yourself with the effort to squeeze that tear out, my lord. I doubt many shall be impressed by it anyway."

"Oh, I don't know. I can be a very good actor when I wish," he commented idly, looking amused.

"Yes, you can. After all you had me believing you were a gentleman," she said dryly. "And many others believing you are human."

"Oh, I do like your fire, Lisa. I can hardly wait to douse it," he crooned with a smile. "This night will seem to stretch on interminably until I can get back here to you."

"Don't rush on my account, my lord," she said sweetly. "Have fun, dance with all the pretty girls and drink a lot."

"Oh no, I shall remain clearheaded and save all my energy for you," he assured her with a laugh and then shook his head. "Did Langley realize what he had in you? Did he see the passion beneath  all that happy chatter and romantic drivel?" His smile died abruptly. "Did you show it to him?"

Lisa hesitated. There was something almost angry in the last words. A tone that was almost jealous and possessive. It seemed it did bother him after all that Robert had been there first. Unsure how to respond, she remained silent and after a moment, Findlay sighed.

"Well, I suppose I should head to the ball now. Those carriage lines can be very long and I would not wish to miss any of the excitement. Of course, I doubt your sisters and their husbands will be there. I am sure they are searching madly for you this very moment. I shall have to hear the news that you are missing through a third party and then make my way to Radnor in a tizzy." He took a moment to fuss and straighten himself, and then glanced back through the bars to say, "You should sleep. It will be better for you if you're well rested when I return."

Charles turned away and moved out of sight then. Lisa waited a heartbeat to be sure he would not return and then let her breath out and sank slowly back to lean against the wall as she listened to his fading footsteps. Things definitely weren't looking good at this point. She had checked the door carefully and saw no way to get it open from inside, and there wasn't a window or other escape route to be had where she was.

So, escaping was out. That left fighting, which she had every intention of doing, but a weapon would be helpful. Taking a deep breath to bolster herself, Lisa pushed herself to her feet and then turned in a slow circle, surveying every inch of the cell she was in. It wasn't very encouraging. The bed, the mattress, the dirt floor . . . Lisa hesitated for a moment and then returned her attention to the bed. It was a wood frame, cheap and rickety. She knelt in front of it and bent to look at it more closely. She then felt each leg, grasping it and giving a tug. Two of the legs were a bit loose, one more than the other.

Mouth tightening, Lisa set to work on the loosest of them and began to shift it slowly back and forth.

"There he goes," Richard murmured and Robert nodded as they watched the Findlay carriage ride out of the courtyard and head up the street.

"Smart," Daniel muttered. "Act natural, attend the night's ball and stick to his routine. Like you said, less likely to draw suspicion than his suddenly disappearing."

Robert nodded again, but didn't comment. He was using all his concentration to keep from leaping out of the hired hack they'd rented and charge the house shouting Lisa's name. "Well, Findlay is a clever man, I'll give him that."

This time Robert managed to tear his eyes from the house across the street and glance to the speaker. Mr. Smithe was at the open window in the door behind them.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Robert growled, leaning to open the door and urge the man inside. "You're supposed to be on your way to Gretna Green to be sure they weren't headed there."

"I sent two of my men instead. A wasted trip as it turns out, since Findlay is still here. No doubt the girl is too," Smithe said calmly as he closed the door and settled on the bench seat beside Richard. Robert himself was kneeling on the floor to look out the window, while Daniel sat on the bench opposite Richard.

Robert scowled, but didn't point out that it might have been otherwise.

"Besides, I was about to leave when I recalled a certain light skirt who caters to men of Findlay's ilk. She don't mind it rough. Knows how to handle herself and them," he explained. "I thought it might be helpful if I asked her a couple questions. Turns out it was a good instinct. I got some information that might be useful."

"Tell me," Robert ordered.

"She says not to bother with the upper floors if you go in looking for the girl. All is kept normal as any other Lord's house in London on the main floor and the one above. She says it's the basement where he'll have the girl if she's here."

"The basement," Robert muttered, glancing back to the house. "Yes, my lord," Mr. Smithe said solemnly. "It seems he has himself a right little torture chamber in his basement. Likes to lock the girls up in a room down there where they can see all his toys. She said he'd most likely leave her there and attend whatever ball or event was taking place tonight. As he obviously has," Smithe added dryly, glancing in the direction the carriage had taken. He turned back and added, "She says it allows the girls to get a real good scare growing in their belly at what's to come when he returns. And he likes them scared."

Robert's mouth tightened at the idea of Lisa being locked in somewhere, staring at Findlay's choice of torture tools, terrified and dreading what would come when the ball ended and he returned.

"She also said, don't expect no help from the servants or anyone else you encounter inside. They all know what's what and either turn a blind eye, or actively participate."

"Participate?" Robert asked sharply.

Smithe nodded. "Findlay lets some of his pet servants have a go at the girls on occasion. Either whipping them or . . . well, the other. Sometimes both."

A low growl slid from Robert's lips at this news and he turned a glowering look on the house. He would kill the bastard and his servants if any of them had laid a hand on her. Hell, he thought he would probably kill Findlay anyway on principle alone. The man was an animal.

"Did she say anything about what kind of locks we might encounter, or the best route to take to get to the basement?"

Richard asked into the silence.

"Back door, she said," Smithe answered. "Through the courtyard and around the house. The door to the basement is in the kitchens. But she said the kitchens are always busy. It won't be easy to slip in."

"We'll need a distraction then," Daniel said grimly.

"Yes we will, and I have an idea about that," Smithe responded. All three men turned to him at that comment. It was Robert who asked, "What idea is that?"

Smithe hesitated and then said, "Well, now, I'm thinking you men won't like it none. But I'm deuced sure it will work."

"What will work?" Robert asked impatiently.

Smithe pursed his lips and then said, "It seems to me the only thing that goes in and out of that basement is women."

"Women?" Daniel asked blankly.

"Yes sir. On a regular basis too. That gal I told you about said that Findlay not only sometimes shares women with his men, but that sometimes he surprises them with a couple just for them. Keeps them happy and less likely to go squawking to anyone about what Lord Findlay gets up to," Smithe said dryly. "And I'm thinking with a lady in there, he might send his men a couple of gals to keep them from getting any ideas about playing with his new toy before he does."

"Miss Madison is not a toy," Robert said with cold fury. "Beggin' your pardon, my lord. But she is to Findlay."

"Are you suggesting we hire a couple of prostitutes to distract Findlay's men so Robert, Daniel and I can slip in and get Lisa out?"

Richard asked slowly.

"We could do that," Smithe said. "But you risk one of them speaking up later and raising a scandal for Miss Madison and the rest of you. It might be easier and safer all around just to enlist the aid of your wives."

"Our wives could never play prostitutes," Richard said firmly. "Besides, we sent them on to the ball and said we would meet them there later. They do not even know that Lisa is missing. We told them she and Robert were out discussing their future."

"Hmm." Smithe nodded. "And yet there they sit in the Radnor carriage not two carriage lengths behind you, watching the house as steady and grim as you three."

"What?" Richard asked with shock.

"Didn't notice them, huh?" Smithe asked mildly. "Well, don't feel bad. You were no doubt focusing on the house. Besides I'm trained to notice the little things, like great huge coaches with noble crests."

Daniel cursed and was out of the hired coach in a heartbeat with Richard right behind him.

"May as well follow them," Smithe suggested easily to Robert. "Bigger coach anyway and we need the women's help."

Nodding, Robert followed the other two men with Smithe on his heels.

"What the devil are you doing here?" Richard was asking when Robert stepped up into the coach and claimed the bit of space remaining on the bench beside the couple.

"She is our sister, Richard," Christiana reminded him quietly. "Where else would we be?"

"But how did you even know - "

"How do you think we knew?" Suzette asked with exasperation from the opposite bench. "Bet was worried sick and listened at the door when Harry brought the hack driver back to the house. She heard everything and told us."

"Of course," Daniel muttered.

"Yes, of course. She is a loyal girl who doesn't try to keep secrets. So of course she told us what our husbands should have," Suzette stressed accusingly.

"It wasn't my secret to tell," Daniel said quickly, and Suzette's eyes narrowed.

"Now where have I heard that old song before?" she asked dryly.

"We didn't want to worry you," he amended. "We planned to get Lisa back and then tell you so you wouldn't fret."

"Or try to be involved," she guessed dryly.

"Well, as to that," Smithe put in, drawing everyone's eyes to where he had settled on the bench with Suzette and Daniel. "I was just saying to the men that we need your ladies' help to get Lisa out."

"Anything," Christiana said at once.

"They are not dressing up as light skirts and distracting the men," Richard said firmly. "We shall have to think of another distraction."

"Light skirts?" Christiana and Suzette asked together with interest.

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