Love's Misadventure (The Mason Siblings Series Book 1) (24 page)

Charles pinched the bridge of his nose, his eyes squeezed tightly shut. “I do not believe that she would submit to being abused if he were only threatening ruination, Lane.” He sighed. “None of this makes sense.” He paused. “This may sound terrible, but I hope it
is
Lord Boxton.”

Lane frowned at him. “Why the blazes would you hope for something like that?”

“Because I hate the man. Something about him gets under my skin and festers there. He is not right. He puts on an amiable front, and Anna seems to like him, so I’ve gone along with it. But damn it, if he’s abusing her…”

“On that, you and I are in accord,” Lane jerked his head in a nod.

“I shall have an inquiry made with regards to Lord Boxton’s behaviour toward women, and Annabel specifically.” He clenched a fist. “I will find the man who has abused her.”

“I am glad to hear it.” Lane hesitated, his curiosity getting the better of him. “How is she? What happened last night at the Merringtons’?”

Charles put his elbows on his knees and rested his face in his hands. “That question,” he said, his voice muffled, “brings me to the second, much worse, issue that we are currently facing.”

Lane’s stomach wound tighter as he waited for Charles to speak. “What could be worse than someone harming Anna?” Surely there was nothing.

Charles lifted his head and straightened, fisting his hands upon his knees. ‘The second issue has to do with the question that I posed at the beginning of this discussion.”

“About Annabel being alone with our kidnappers.”
Hell and blazes, would the man speak faster?
Lane could not stomach the suspense.

“You have confirmed that she had, in fact, been alone with your abductors
…”

“That is correct,” Lane snapped. “Please get to the point, Charles.”

The muscles in his jaw jumped as he ground his teeth. “She is with child, Lane.”

 

 

Chapter 28

 

 

Lane felt paralyzed; every part of his being stopped.

Anna is with child…
My
child!
Suddenly his breath came fast and hard, his heart following as fast as thunder would lightning.
Sweet blazes, I’m going to be a father!

His knees gave out, and he slumped on the settee, unable to regain control of his stunned senses.

“I can see from your expression that this has come as a shock.” Charles sat forward. “You are looking rather pale, in fact, perhaps you should have something to drink.”

Lane was unsure if he’d blinked in the past several moments. Perhaps he should. Yes, a blink was in order.

“No, no,” Lane said absently as he internally shook himself. “I am fine,” he lied.

He gulped air, and sweat began to bead on his forehead. Possessiveness swept him as he thought of what Anna carried in her womb. Regardless of whether or not Lord Boxton was guilty of abusing Anna, she would be
his
wife, not Boxton’s.

“When did she find out?” he found himself asking.

“Just last evening. Evidently she had gotten ill while in Lord Boxton’s company. He had retrieved Mama and I from the ballroom. We escorted her home. Lord—that is, Dr. Claridge, as he has requested we call him—was summoned immediately.

“Claridge? You mean Lord Simon Claridge, heir to the Earldom of Merrington?”

Charles nodded. “The very one. He is a trustworthy and highly praised doctor.”

Unwarranted jealousy rushed through Lane, quick and searing. “Was he not a suitor of Anna’s at one time?”

Charles shrugged one shoulder. “Yes.”

“But does that not make things uncomfortable for Anna?”

“Not in the least, I should imagine. In fact, she has requested that he continue to be her physician throughout the pregnancy and during labour.”

Lane tamped down on the inappropriate jealousy. He was to be a father, for God’s sake! But how much did Charles know?

“What of the father?” Nervousness clutched him as he awaited Charles’ answer. What would he do if he knew? Lane had best speak to Anna before he revealed anything, if the man didn’t know already.

Charles’ face grew mottled with anger. “She has refused to tell me who he is. Dr. Claridge has stated that she is approximately eight weeks into her pregnancy, which is quite early, but determines a timeline. I suspect it was one of your abductors.” He ran a hand through his tousled hair. “The bastard that took her virginity will be on the receiving end of my blade when I find him.”

Lane carefully avoided continuing the discussion on the babe’s father. “Is Anna about, or is she to bed for rest? We had an engagement for a midday stroll in the gardens.”

“When I left this morn, Anna was reading in the family parlour. She had eaten very little at the morning meal before secreting herself away. I’ve the feeling that she does not wish to see our parents, nor answer any questions. Mama and Papa are visiting those of their acquaintance; Anna should be pleased that she successfully evaded them.” He reclined against the back of the chair.

“I would like to speak with her.” Lane straightened his coat, anticipation ripening in him.

“Splendid notion.” Charles stood. “You are friends with her; you should be able to glean more information from her than I ever could.” He clapped Lane on the back, and they both quit the room.

They passed his butler in the hall, and Lane motioned him to follow. “I am glad you are here, Geoffrey. Please arrange to have Pegasus saddled; I aim to leave directly.”

“Of course, my lord.” Geoffrey bowed and sped off ahead of them.

They reached the foyer, and Lane began to pace. Charles leaned casually against the far wall, his stance one of ease, but his expression thunderous.

It was fortunate that Lane had dressed in preparation for a ride this morn. He patted his waistcoat pocket and felt the comforting bulge there. Since he had returned from his estate, he had carried it with him everywhere. One never knew when the moment would arise.

“Lane?” Bridget appeared at the top of the stairs.

He stopped his pacing as he turned to gaze up at her. “I apologize, Bridget, but I do not have time at this moment for a discussion. I am awaiting my horse and shall be on my way.”

She started down the stairs, watching him uneasily. “I heard shouting a few moments ago and thought I would see if everything was well.” His eyes widened, and he held up a placating hand. “I did not hear specifics, mind, but one could not help but hear you when you raise your voice.” She paused. “You have me quite concerned. Has something happened?”

His jaw tightened. “Yes, but I am not at liberty to discuss the details at the moment.”

She reached the bottom of the stairs.

“Nor should he.” Charles’ deep voice echoed off the walls of the foyer as he pushed off against the wall and strode forward into view.

Bridget visibly stiffened and turned her burning gaze on Charles. “Why are you here, Charles?” Her cheeks lost what little colour they’d had.

“I had business to discuss with Lane.”

Bridget looked between the two of them. “Is there something the matter with Anna?”

Lane winced. “It is complicated.”

She frowned, her delicate brow crinkling. “How is it complicated? She is either well or she is unwell.”

Charles stepped forward, his heavy footfall echoing off the walls, and grabbed her arm. “For God’s sake, keep out of it, Bridget!” he said gruffly.

Tears formed in Bridget’s eyes, and she roughly pulled her arm from Charles’ grip. Without a word, she retreated up the stairs.

“Oh, hell.” Lane bound up the stairs after, catching her arm to halt her.

She brought her tearful, questioning gaze to meet his, and he smiled tenderly at her. “I will speak with you once I have returned. Not to worry, things are not as dire as they may seem.” He tapped her under the chin with his crooked index finger.

Bridget pulled him into an abrupt hug.

“It will be all right, Bridget.” He tightened his hold on her shaking form.

“Thank you, Lane. I wish you luck today.”

He released her to press his lips lightly to her forehead. “Thank you, Bridget.” He turned and trotted down the stairs, eager to be on his way to Anna.

Charles’ watched his descent, his mien indecipherable.

“Bloody hell, Charles. You do have a way with women,” Lane murmured as he reached the other man.

“Do shut up.” Grimacing, Charles tugged on his riding gloves and preceded Lane out the front doors.

 

* * *

 

Annabel lowered her novel to her lap and looked out the window at her elbow. The leaves of the trees and garden plants flickered with the wind, birds hopped from one branch to another, and busy honey bees hovered over the flowers.

She tucked her feet further beneath her as her mind wandered. She could scarcely keep her attention on the pages of her book, her thoughts were so scattered. She should focus on devising a plan to release her from her promise to Lord Boxton, but she feared that she had run out of ideas.

Her stomach rumbled sickeningly, and she instantly regretted not having eaten more at the morning meal. Her head began to swim, and she dropped her book on the table beside her. She surged to her feet and rushed to the chamber pot that had kindly been left to one side of the room. She lowered to her knees just as her stomach lurched.

She heaved once more, but nothing came forth. Tears sprang to her eyes, and her face reddened as her stomach rebelled against her. Slowly, the wave of nausea passed, and Anna attempted to regain her breath.

She reached between her breasts in search of her handkerchief. “Oh, bother,” she grumbled. She felt the short sleeves of her day dress, but failed to find one there.

Abruptly, a clean, white kerchief appeared before her blurry eyes. “Oh! Thank you, Charles.” She accepted the offering and dabbed at the corners of her eyes. “I had not realized that you were home.” She wiped at her lips. “How was your morning?”

“I had an unexpected visitor disrupt my morning meal with some very interesting news.” Lane’s deep, rumbling voice sounded behind her.

Anna gasped, spinning quickly to face him. The quick motion made her head whirl and the parlour go blurry. Then the room went black.

 

 

 

Chapter 29

 

 

Lane’s heart plummeted as Anna fell. He swiftly moved forward, catching her in his arms before she hit the ground. He shifted his hold on her and brought her to the settee. He laid her down comfortably before rushing to the opened doorway.

“Tim!” he called, his head in the hallway. “Tim! We have need of your services!”

The butler of middling age shuffled down the corridor toward Lane. “You called, my lord?”

“Yes,” Lane said hurriedly. “Miss Bradley has fainted. We require a cool, damp cloth, and full tea service, if you would.”

“Right away, Lord Devon.” The butler bowed and strode quickly down the hall.

Lane returned directly to Anna’s motionless form on the settee, kneeling beside her. He leaned in close, pressing his lips to her ear. “Wake up, sweetheart. Wake up, my darling, and return to me.”

Several moments passed before a brusque set of footsteps approached from the hallway. Lane sat back on his heels just as a small maid, carrying a large tray laden with cakes, sandwiches, tea, and other covered dishes, entered the parlour. He stood to assist her in placing it on the low table.

‘Thank you.” He nodded at her. “That will be all.”

The maid left as Lane turned to his task. He withdrew a cool, moist cloth from a dish and placed it, folded, on Anna’s forehead.

“Anna? Anna, sweetheart, please wake up.” He ran his hand absently through her long locks.

Concern gripped his heart as he watched her. She breathed deeply and slowly, and her cheeks were naturally rouged, her skin taking on a lustrous quality, though one cheek sported a dark bruise.

Anger rushed through him at the sight of it, but he quickly pushed it back. Anna needed him.

Lord
how he’d missed her! Her clever mind, her unabashed sense of humour…and one could not deny, her stunning beauty.

He’d thought of her beauty every night they had been apart; he’d thought of the sway of her hips when she walked, her generous bosom, her flowing locks.

Now is not the time, Lane
.
For God’s sake, hold yourself together!

Anna’s eyelids fluttered and slowly opened. She looked dazedly at the ceiling, a hand rising to the cloth on her forehead.

“I would leave it there.” Lane put a hand to the cloth.

“Lane!” she breathed.

She moved to sit up, but Lane held her shoulders to the cushion. “For heaven’s sake, Anna. Do not make yourself faint again. Lie still for a few moments.”

She nodded, her half-fallen coiffure rubbing against the decorative material. “Why are you here, Lane? I appreciate the visit, but we were scheduled to meet at the blossom trees in,” she glanced at the mantle clock, “over two hours from now.”

“Your brother interrupted my morning meal with a matter of urgent business.”

Anna’s hands rose to cover her mouth.

“I heard some news,” Lane continued, “that quite took me by surprise.”

As Anna began to sit up, Lane stood and aided her into a seated position. She removed the cloth from her forehead, and he returned it to the bowl.

“I see,” she said carefully. “And what news would this be?”

Lane took the seat beside her on the settee, his stare locked with hers. “I heard two things this morning.” His gaze dropped briefly to her unchanged stomach, then returned to hers. “First, is it true that you are increasing?”

Her eyes watered, and she nodded, using the handkerchief that she still clutched in her fingers to dab at her eyes. “Yes,” she whispered.

Pride and excitement swelled in his chest, and he could not help but smile. “That is wonderful news, Anna!” He leaned forward and kissed her soundly on the lips. Despite the desire to deepen the kiss, Lane pulled away. “When is the baby due?”

Anna’s lips curved in a small, hesitant smile. “Simon has said that it will be late December or early January of next year.”

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