Love's Misadventure (The Mason Siblings Series Book 1) (7 page)

Her shoulders began to shake as she openly wept, letting out her fears, pain, and sadness in a cathartic release.

The adjoining door suddenly opened, and Anna swiped at her eyes and cheeks with the backs of her hands.

,” she whispered wetly as she stood, her arms outstretched.

He hedged a glance at her guard before he glided forward to pull her into his embrace.

“I was worried about you,” she murmured into his travel-worn riding coat.

?” He pulled back to search her face. “I was worried for
, Anna.” His astute gaze locked on hers. “You have been crying.” Anger burned in his gaze. “What have they done to you?”

She rolled her stinging eyes at him. “What an absurd question, Lane. We have been
.” She sniffled. “What
I to cry about? Anthony will no longer wish to seek my hand—”

“If Boxton cannot see past something that is not your fault, then he is not worth fretting over.”

“This is not merely about Anthony, Lane,” she said, her voice a heated whisper. “This is about
gentlemen. Don’t you see? I am ruined! Not only will I not marry, but I will also be shunned. Women will shield their daughters from the sight of me. I have no care for the state of my pride, but my heart desires a child to love. And Charles! Poor Charles will be in want of a wife in a matter of years, and having a pariah for a sister will render his efforts futile.

“Our current circumstance has me frightful that…” Her chin trembled and her eyes clouded over once more. “I would,” she squeaked, “I would hate for anything ill to happen to you, Lane.”

His arms came around her once more, and she sank into his warmth.

“Shh, shh. It will be all right, Anna. We will find a way to escape.”

She nodded against his shoulder.

“I…” His grave voice rumbled against her ear. “I have a confession.”

He pulled away from her once more and gestured for her to resume her seat on the mattress. She sat, watching him pace the floor for several moments before he sat beside her.

He was agitated and tense, his hair dishevelled from raking his fingers through it.

Anna dried her eyes and waited nervously for him to speak.

“I am not in debt,” he blurted.

Her brows drew together. “I beg your pardon?”

“I am not in debt,” he repeated. “I am, in fact, very wealthy.”

to me, Lane?” Hurt cut through her.

Lane ran his hands through his blonde hair. “Yes, I lied to you. But I had what I thought was a good reason. Though, in retrospect, it was a ridiculous plan.” He faced her, his expression pleading. “I arranged to have us kidnapped.”

Anger charged through her, quickly replacing all feelings of sadness and self-pity. She surged to her feet in indignation. “You did
?” she hissed.

He rose to his feet as well, his hands open in a pleading gesture. “Please allow me to explain, Anna.”

She crossed her arms beneath her breasts, her jaw clenched tight as she awaited his excuse. As little as she wished to hear him speak through the growing fury in her chest, he
her closest friend—or so she had thought—and deserved to be heard.

He sighed, as though in relief. “These are not the men that I hired.”

“Who are they?”

Lane shrugged helplessly. “I do not know, Anna. I truly do not know. But this is most certainly
what I had orchestrated.”

Anna chewed on her bottom lip as her anger began to ebb. She did not know what to think, what to feel. If these were not the men that he had hired, if this was not his scheme, then they were precisely where they were before his confession; kidnapped by blackguards with no knowledge of where they were headed and what was to happen to them.

Lane watched her uneasily for a reaction, his posture stiff.

She took a deep breath and released it slowly. She had no reason to be cross with Lane for their current circumstance.
Thank goodness

“What was your plan?” she couldn’t help but ask.

His gaze was wary, as though fearing a trap.

She clucked her tongue. “I believe you, Lane. I believe that you would never hire men to abuse us in such a way.”

He sighed gustily, relief written on his features.

“If you will not tell me what your plan was,” she murmured, “at least do me the courtesy of telling me why you arranged the deception.”

He held her gaze, though she could sense his great desire to look away.

“I wanted to give you an adventure, Anna.”

His admission took her aback.

“I knew you intended to accept a proposal of marriage from Lord Boxton, should he ask. I merely wished for you to first experience something grand. Something about which you might read in your books.”

Anna gazed at him in silence, her heart thundering in her chest.

He stepped toward her. “Annabel, there is something else I need to discuss with you.”

His neck and cheeks turned a ruddy rouge. Anna kept her jaw from dropping.
Is he blushing?

Suddenly, Billy snorted, falling in a heap to the floor with a winded
, he’d made the ground shake!

“Wha’? Whazzit?” He rose clumsily, blinking his eyes in the dimness of the room. “Oi!” he shouted at Lane, pulling a pistol from his pocket to aim it at them. “Back te yer own room! Y’ ain’t gonna plan no escape on my watch. Off! Go!”

With one last, enigmatic glance at Anna, Lane quit the room, closing the door behind him.

What was it that he had wished to discuss?

“Git some sleep, girl. The Boss ’spects us te be there on time. Ain’t no one crossed The Boss an lived te tell the tale.” He resumed his position in the chair blocking the door and closed his eyes.

Anna curled on her side, resting her head on her arm, unwilling to put her head directly on the mattress. Her thoughts were consumed with their circumstance. How were they to escape? Would they find an opportunity? What was it that Lane had originally planned for her
? Why had none of these men attempted to harm her? She was eternally grateful for their restraint, but what did that mean for their intent?

Was it wrong for her to feel flattered that Lane had thought to orchestrate an adventure for her? Did it mean anything more than a gesture of friendship?

Her thoughts wandered from one question to another until she finally drifted into a fitful sleep.




Chapter 9



Anthony Walstone, Viscount Boxton, leapt fluidly from his chestnut gelding and stalked up the front steps of the Bradley family town house. He had not received a single letter or note from Annabel over the past two days, and he was getting fed up with this entire charade. He would rather tup the plump wench, force her to wed him, and get his hands on her satisfyingly large dowry.

If it were not for the stipulation in his grandfather’s will that he marry a well-bred, untarnished female in order to receive the vast estate outside Bath, Anthony would continue to fuck his way through the ladies of London until his cock shrivelled to nothing. Unfortunately, there
a stipulation in his godforsaken grandfather’s will. And he needed Annabel’s dowry. It was the largest of all the unmarried ladies in London, and his father’s debts were great, indeed. Annabel was the female he required as his wife.

Anthony raised the door’s knocker and let it fall with a

He had come by the Bradleys’ home yesterday, but Major Bradley had said that Annabel had the headache and refused him entrance. He did not for a moment believe the bastard’s tale.

The front door opened, and the Bradleys’ butler, Tim, stood in the opened doorway.

“Good evening, my lord.”

“Good evening, Tim. I am come to inquire after Miss Bradley’s health.” He didn’t give a rot about the chit’s health.

“Miss Bradley is not at home, I’m afraid, your lordship.”

Anthony heaved a sigh as sharp annoyance jolted through him. “Might I inquire as to her whereabouts?”

“Miss Annabel has responded to an urgent letter from her grandmother in the country and left directly to her aid. The remainder of the family have gone to the Massingale ball this evening and are not expected to return for several hours.”

Rage began to burn its trail through him. “Thank you, Tim. Good evening.” He turned and mounted his gelding, Nightmare, and brought him into a gallop down the drive.

That fat
! How dare she leave town without so much as a word to him? He would not stand for this unruliness, just as he would not accept any disobedience or rebelliousness during their marriage. He would find out exactly where she went, and he would ensure that this did not happen again.


* * *


The hack jolted along the rutted dirt road, Lane, Anna, and their captors jostling with each roll of the wheels. The curtains had been pulled closed, creating muted light in the interior of the equipage.

Lane clasped his hands in his lap, fearing that if he moved them separately, their abductors would realize that they had forgotten to tie them again.

They swerved in a turn, and fear spiked in his gut. He’d thought on several occasions over the past few hours that they should reduce their speed, but despite his advice, Frenchie continued to hit the ceiling with his fist, demanding the red-haired, scarred driver increase his speed.

He had scarcely slept the night before, his thoughts warring with his need to sleep. It had pained him to see Anna so distraught, so fearful for her future. He had not realized how very much it meant to her, being regarded well in society. He should have, of course; it was a terrible oversight on his part. Naturally, being kidnapped, such as they were, would ruin her in the eyes of the

It was a quick decision he’d made last evening that he’d meant to discuss with her, but for Billy threatening him with a pistol. He could not see Anna hurt, could not witness her destruction by society’s hands. So while he may not be able to bed her, or father her children, he would most certainly give her the protection of his name.

Abruptly, the hack lurched as it sped in a turn, interrupting his thoughts. Lane pressed his feet to the seat opposite, pressing his shoulders deep into the squabs and wedging himself as securely as possible.

There was a strangled yell, several crude exclamations, and the frightened whinny of horses before the hack lurched again. He reached for Anna, wrapping his arms tightly around her, and prayed that she wouldn’t get hurt.

The horrifying
of wood and glass rent the air as the hack flipped.

Their three kidnappers were thrown across their seats in a mass of tangled limbs, but Lane pressed his shoulders deeper into the cushions and held Annabel tighter to resist the force of the roll, one arm across her shoulders and one around her hips.

Garbled shouts and dreadful curses were lanced through the air as the men tumbled about.

They rolled twice, the roof crunching and cracking before the hack made its last roll and settled on its side. Lane caught Anna’s gaze as they lay horizontally. She returned his stare with wide, crystal-blue eyes.

“Are you well?” He ran a hand down her sweetly curved cheek and delicately angled jaw.

“Yes, I believe so,” she murmured. “I will certainly have some bruises and perhaps a scrape or two, but I am relatively unscathed. How are you?”

Lane shifted and flexed his muscles. “I am experiencing some pain, but I do not believe I have any broken bones.”

He turned his gaze to their surroundings to assess the damage. Billy sat wailing miserably over the broken arm he cradled in his hand, but the other two, while abraded and bruised, appeared to be fine. Just their damned luck.

“Dammit, Billy, shut yer trap!” Toby barked. “Wha’ the bloody ’ell ’appened?

“We’ve had an accident,” Anna said softly.

Toby’s lip curled back in a snarl.

Lane unlatched the door above them and swung it flat against the side of the hack—which currently served as its roof—with a loud
. “Ladies first.” He grabbed Anna’s waist and lifted her through the doorway, ignoring the sharp pain in his shoulders and back.

He moved to lift himself from the hack, but Frenchie pushed him aside, glaring darkly at Lane. “You are not going to escape zat easily,” he uttered in a French accent, then pulled himself out.

Lane exited next, followed by Toby, who helped Billy climb out.

Clouds hung low in the sky, blocking the sun and threatening rain. They had rolled into a ravine next to a field of tall grass and a small copse of nearby trees. He wondered how far they could run without being caught.

Lane steadfastly ignored the trickle of sweat running down his spine and sidled closer to Anna. Perhaps this was the moment?

He scanned the area; the horses were nowhere nearby.
Oh hell.
There went the chance to ride away from these villains.

There was a shout in the shrubbery, before the red haired man struggled to his feet.

“We need to reach an inn and have a doctor summoned.” Anna wiped absently at her hands.

Abruptly concerned, Lane placed a hand on her arm. “What has happened?”

Her look was full of meaning. “I am fine, Lane, but Billy obviously requires tending from a doctor, while you, Toby, and Frenchie will likely wish to be examined, as well.” Her eyes widened before she winked. “Additionally, I presume we are unable to walk to our destination; therefore, another hack must be procured.”

“No,” Frenchie said in a fine, French accent.

“Surely you do not mean to—”

!” Frenchie cut his hand through the air. “We will not stop for doctors. We will reach ze next inn and find anozer carriage and will continue.” He started walking back the way they had come, but Anna reached a hand out to stop him.

“You cannot simply expect your men to—”

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