The Husband Hunt
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The sound of the door opening and a splash of light in the dark room startled Robert from sleep and had him blinking sleepily. "Oh, it's dark in here, Chrissy. Let me grab a candle from the hall," he heard Suzette say, and the words for some reason made him suddenly recall Lisa. Panic roaring through him, he glanced to the other side of the bed, but was unable to place her in the darkness and then Suzette reappeared with a candle revealing everything; she and Christiana still in their ball finery and the empty bed beside him.
Robert stared blankly at the spot where Lisa should have been and then back to Suzette and Christiana, who had paused halfway to the bed.
"Hi," he said weakly, but his mind was racing as he tried to sort out where Lisa was and when she'd left. He shouldn't have fallen asleep after. He should have made himself stay awake and talked to her. He had ruined her. They had to marry now. There was no choice.
"We just got back from the ball and thought we'd check on you," Christiana said after a pause.
"Yes," Suzette said, suddenly moving forward again. "How was your night?"
"Are you feeling well?" Christiana asked, casting Suzette a warning glance though he wasn't sure what she was warning her of. "I - yes," he said on a sigh and sagged back in the bed. He'd had one hell of a night and was definitely feeling . . . hell, he felt great . . . well other than a slight tenderness from his wound. He probably shouldn't have exerted himself this early after the injury, but Lisa in that damned gown of Morgan's had been irresistible. "Well . . . good," Suzette said finally, though she sounded annoyed more than anything and suddenly turned back toward the door, taking the candle with her.
Christiana bit her lip and glanced after her sister, then she began to back away, following the glow of the candlelight. "We shall let you sleep then. We just wanted to check on you."
Robert nodded, but as the women reached the door, asked, "What time is it?"
For some reason, the question made them both pause and exchange a glance and then Christiana said, "Not yet midnight."
"That's rather early," he commented. They usually went much later, sometimes to dawn and even beyond, but supposed Christiana's being with child had some effect on their usual patterns. "Yes, well, we are all a little tired and out of sorts after all the excitement lately. And then we were worried about you and Lisa so we decided to leave early," Christiana explained.
"Oh," he murmured, thinking it was good Lisa had woken and left. While marriage was inevitable now, he was glad she didn't have to suffer the humiliation of getting caught in his bed. "Good night then, Robert," Christiana said softly and then the door closed, leaving him in darkness again.
Sighing, he settled back in the bed, staring into the darkness above him as he contemplated all that would need to be done. He would have to talk to Lisa first thing and tell her of his decision to marry her. She would no doubt be grateful and weep a bit, and then he would tell her they should head to Gretna Green right away. He hadn't been careful, hadn't even thought of withdrawing or using any type of caution to prevent her getting pregnant. She could even now be carrying the Langley heir. A quick jaunt to Gretna Green would ensure there was no nasty little scandal. It would also mean he wouldn't have to wait to sink himself into her warm wet body again.
Damn, Lisa had been as responsive as a man could wish; writhing, moaning, whimpering, and crying out even as her body wept with pleasure at what he did to her. She might one day betray him with another, but their marriage bed would certainly be a pleasure until then. Well worth all the misery and betrayal later, Robert thought wryly. He just had to bear in mind that she would eventually betray him and writhe, moan, whimper and cry out for another, her body weeping its pleasure on another man. If he kept that in mind and simply enjoyed her while he could . . . well, perhaps it wouldn't be so bad when she betrayed him.
A soft shush of sound caught his ear, and Robert stiffened, trying to place where it was coming from and what it could be. It seemed to be coming from under the bed, he realized, and sat up to peer around.
Moonlight was pouring through the open curtain and his eyes had adjusted enough that he could make out shapes and shadows. But his eyes widened incredulously when a small shape suddenly popped up beside the bed. They widened further when that shape shifted to stand and he recognized that it was a woman.
"Lisa?" he whispered incredulously.
"Shhh. They will hear you and come back," she hissed, shifting something about in her hands. Her robe, he realized when she drew it on and belted it.
"What were you doing under the bed?" he asked with amazement.
"What do you think I was doing, Robert?" she asked with lowvoiced exasperation. "I heard Christiana and Suzette talking as they came up the hall, so slid under the bed to hide."
"Why?" he asked blankly.
"Why?" Lisa echoed with disbelief. "So I wouldn't be caught in your bed, of course. For heaven's sake, there would have been an uproar, and you would have been forced to marry me, and - Robert Langley, are you laughing?" she asked with disbelief. "Come here," he said between chuckles and caught her hand to draw her onto the bed. She dropped onto it, mostly because she lost her balance, but he ignored that and her stiffness and wrapped his arms around her, dragging her down to lie with him, "It was very sweet of you to try to protect me, Lisa. And I am glad you didn't have to suffer the humiliation of being caught in such a compromising situation, but it doesn't matter in the end anyway. We will have to marry now."
Lisa didn't squeal with joy or throw her arms around him with gratitude as he'd expected. In fact, much to his surprise, she seemed to go still and stiff in his arms.
"Lisa?" he said uncertainly and then frowned when she eased from his embrace and sat up.
"There is no need to marry me, Robert. No one knows we were together. We can just continue as if it never happened," she said coolly and stood.
"What?" he asked with disbelief and then lunged off the bed to stop her when her shadow moved around the bed and headed for the door. Catching her arm, he drew her to a halt and moved in front of her. "Just a minute, dammit. We have to talk about this."
"There is nothing to talk about. No one knows, and I am not making you marry me. Everything is as it was."
"The hell it is," Robert said grimly. "Lisa, you could be carrying my child even now. We have to marry."
"I am not marrying a man who doesn't want me and doesn't trust me and who will spend our entire lives together sure I will someday betray him," she said unhappily. "This was a mistake."
She tried to move around him then, but he caught her arm to stop her.
"Lisa," he began, but then paused, completely flummoxed as to what to say. While he could tell her that he definitely did want her, that wasn't what she meant. She meant he didn't want to marry her, and mostly that was true. He didn't want to marry anyone. And she was right, he would spend their entire lives together sure she would betray him and waiting for it to happen.
"Go to sleep, Robert," Lisa said and he frowned at the disappointment in her voice, suspecting she had been hoping he would deny what she'd said. That if he had, even if she hadn't fully believed it, she might have given in and married him. But even now he couldn't bring himself to lie to her.
"We will talk in the morning after we've both rested," she said quietly and this time when she moved around him, he let her. He just let her leave.
"What do you mean you were hiding under the bed?" Suzette snapped.
Lisa sighed at her sister's irritation and glanced at the other three people in the parlor: Christiana, Richard and Daniel. She had left Robert's room and slipped into her own to find Suzette and Christiana there questioning Bet, trying to figure out where she was. All three women had been relieved to see her. It seemed they'd begun to worry that something had gone amiss, that the suitor had somehow got his hands on her and taken her away. They had been about to start the hue and cry to get the men searching for her when she'd entered. Instead, they'd rushed forward blurting questions, and after Lisa had shushed them for fear of Robert overhearing, they had dragged her down to the parlor where the men had joined them to find out what had gone wrong with their grand plan. "Why the devil were you hiding?" Suzette asked now with disbelief. "That was the whole point of this business. You were supposed to get caught in his bed so he would have to marry you."
"Yes, well . . ." Lisa frowned and shook her head. "I decided that maybe that wouldn't work."
"Of course it would have worked. It - you did sleep with him?" Suzette asked with a frown. "Didn't you?"
Lisa's answer was a blush that she was sure covered her from head to toe.
"You did," Suzette said on a sigh and dropped back in her seat with a shake of the head. "I don't understand any of this. We had a plan in place. You were to sleep with him and we were to catch you. We stuck to our part of the plan. We left the ball hours ago and were just sitting in the carriages out front waiting for the candle to go out. Which took a hell of a long time and was a damned boring business, I might add," she pointed out irritably. "But it finally went out and we went up there all prepared to be shocked and horrified, only to find him in bed alone . . . and now you're saying you were there, hiding under the bed? What the devil are you thinking?"
Lisa hesitated, and then blurted, "I do not want a husband who is forced to marry me and will resent me for the rest of time because of it. And I do not want Robert if he will spend our entire married life doubting me and waiting for me to betray him with another. I could not bear it."
"Oh, Lisa," Christiana said sympathetically and left her own chair to move to the sofa where she sat to hug her. "We understand, dear."
"The hell we do," Suzette groused. "The idiots love each other. Anyone can see that. But they are never going to get together at this rate."
Daniel chuckled at her dissatisfied words and sank to sit on the arm of the chair she was in and slip his arm around her shoulders. "You are such a romantic, my love."
Lisa stared at them with disbelief as Daniel pressed a kiss to Suzette's forehead. What her sister had said hadn't sounded the least bit like the words of a romantic to her. What was the man thinking?
"What do you want to do?" Richard asked quietly, drawing her gaze to him as he followed Christiana to the sofa and settled on her other side.
"I do not know," she admitted wearily. "I wish he loved me."
"He does," Suzette said with exasperation.
"Love involves trust, Suzette," Lisa said solemnly. "And I don't think Robert can trust, or therefore love, anyone until he gets over his childhood."
"But - "
"Do you trust Daniel?" she asked quickly.
"Of course," Suzette answered with amazement.
Lisa nodded. "And does he trust you?"
"Yes," Suzette said without doubt and Daniel hugged her, murmuring, "With my life."
Lisa ignored Daniel and met Suzette's gaze. "Well, how happy would you be if Daniel was always watching you out of the corner of his eye, expecting you to betray him in some way?"
Suzette scowled at the very idea and then sank back in her seat with a sighed, "Right."
"Lisa," Christiana said tentatively, drawing her gaze. "I understand that you might not wish to marry him the way things stand. But you could be with child now. And surely that child deserves - "
"If I am with child I will marry," she said simply. "But until I know one way or the other . . ." She shrugged and stood up. "I am ever so weary. I think I shall go to bed. Good night."
The room was silent as she left, but she heard the murmur of their concerned voices begin as soon as she closed the door. They would fret over her now, but there was nothing she could do about that. She would not marry Robert. Tonight had been beautiful, an experience she would never forget. But she was not going to spend her life with a man who didn't trust her and resented her.
Lisa just wished she'd realized all this before tonight. She never would have slept with him and known what she would be giving up by marrying another if it came to that.
"Shall I read to you?" Charles asked. "Or will you read to me?"
Lisa dragged her eyes from where they'd wandered to Robert and smiled faintly at the question. "Why do we not take turns? You can begin and I shall take over after a couple of pages."
"Very well," Charles said agreeably and settled back with the book he'd brought for her. Opening to the first page, he began to read aloud and Lisa found her gaze drifting back to Robert again. He sat under a tree at the opposite side of the clearing, glaring at them coldly.
He'd been glaring at her ever since the start of this outing. It seemed he wasn't taking her refusal to marry him well. She supposed it wasn't what he'd expected after her years of adoration. Lisa suspected that if she'd given him the opportunity, he would have dragged her off to a corner this morning to try to demand she marry him. However, she hadn't given him the chance. She'd remained in her room all morning, taking breakfast there to avoid him, and had only come below when one of the maids had come to tell her that Lord Findlay had arrived to take her on their picnic. Charles had been waiting at the front door with a glaring Robert looming nearby when she'd descended the stairs. Lisa had ignored Robert, smiled at Lord Findlay and allowed him to usher her out to his carriage. She hadn't been at all surprised when Robert had followed them out and mounted his horse. The animal that had been waiting for him, saddled and ready for him to accompany them.
Lisa had done her best to ignore him since then, but it was difficult when she could feel his fury burning into the back of her head with every passing moment. He was angry that she'd refused his proposal, that she hadn't spoken to him today as promised, and no doubt that she was on this picnic with Findlay. But she didn't know what else to do. She could not marry him, would not marry him the way things stood, and talking to him about it would not change things. As for this picnic, she had agreed to it before the attack at Pembroke's outing and everything that had followed. It would have been rude to refuse at this late date.
"Perhaps you can carry on from here."
Lisa glanced back to Lord Findlay and accepted the book he was holding out, then glanced blankly over the two pages. She hadn't heard a word he'd said and wasn't sure where he'd left off or where she should begin.
"Here," Findlay murmured, pointing to the top of the right-hand page.
"Thank you," she murmured and began to read. Forced to concentrate on the words, she could not get distracted by Robert, and Lisa found herself relaxing and getting involved in the story. She was so wrapped up in the story line that it wasn't until Robert spoke that she realized the shadow cast over her wasn't merely a cloud blocking the sun, but him standing, looming over her.
"It's getting late."
She blinked and glanced up at those words and then frowned and glanced around, surprised to see that the sun was low in the sky. "Oh," she murmured. "Yes, of course."
Nodding, he turned and strode back to his tree where his horse was grazing, and Lisa smiled apologetically at Charles. "I suppose we should return, my lord. But thank you for a lovely time. The picnic was delicious and really, this is a wonderful story."
"Yes, it is," he agreed wryly, getting to his feet and offering her a hand to help her up. "I was quite enjoying your narration of it. You have a delightful way of giving personality to the characters."
"Oh, thank you," she murmured, blushing faintly.
"Do not thank me. It is little more than the truth. I hope you will save our spot and continue on with the story when we next meet. I do not think I would enjoy it as much without you reading it."
"Oh, that's very kind," she said, flattered. Lisa then glanced around, eyes widening with surprise when she saw that their picnic was already packed away and only the blanket was left to be folded and put away.
"I tidied up a bit while you were reading," he said with amusement, bending to pick up the blanket and fold it. "You were so involved in the story you did not even notice."
"Oh," she murmured and then laughed, and repeated, "Well, it is a good story."
"I cannot agree more, and it pleases me that we both appear to have the same taste in books," he commented, then laid the blanket over his arm and moved closer to take her hands in his. "It would be nice to have a wife read to me at night by the fire."
Lisa's eyes widened slightly and then she ducked her head, confusion rifling through her. "Well, that sounds pleasant." "Doesn't it?" he agreed. "Would you be that wi - "
"It's going to start raining," Robert interrupted briskly, suddenly appearing beside them and catching Lisa's arm to drag her toward his horse. "You will ride back with me. It is quicker than a carriage trying to move through the traffic."
Lisa cast an apologetic glance over her shoulder toward Lord Findlay, but didn't protest. She was pretty sure the question Robert had interrupted was "Would you be that wife?" and she didn't have a clue what to say to it. Lisa was actually relieved that Robert had interrupted and dragged her off. She needed time to think. To figure out what she wanted. She'd thought she had given up on Robert and was looking for a husband, and then she'd decided to try to make him love her, and then she'd fallen in with the plan to force him to marry her, only to decide she didn't want him that way. Now she simply didn't know what she wanted.
That wasn't entirely true, of course, Lisa acknowledged to herself as Robert mounted and then helped her onto the horse behind him. She knew she wanted Robert. She just didn't want him if he had to be forced into marriage and didn't trust her. And that appeared to be the only way she would get him. So if she couldn't have him, what would make her happiest? Living alone for the rest of her life, surviving on memories of her one night with Robert? Or marrying another and perhaps at least managing a warm, friendly marriage of reading by the fire at night, easy conversation and children to distract her?
"Put your arms around my waist," Robert ordered and waited for her to do so before urging his mount to move.
They were silent as they rode out of the clearing, through the park and headed for the townhouse. Lisa simply sat behind him, her arms around his waist, her breath matching his as they rode. But the feel of him and his smell reminded her of the night before. The faint scent of his aftershave had stayed with her all night, filling her dreams with his kisses and caresses. She had been sorry to wake and wash it away in her bath. But she'd also been relieved. His scent had made it impossible not to think of the man, and thinking of him was a sort of torture.
It started to rain as they turned up the road where Richard and Christiana resided, so she was surprised when Robert didn't stop at the front door to let her dismount and hurry inside. Instead, he continued on around to the back of the property and right inside the small stables there before stopping. They both hesitated, waiting for the stable master to come rushing up. When that didn't happen, Robert frowned and muttered, "Harry must not be here."
"It's all right," Lisa murmured, removing her arms from around his waist. "I can get down myself."
"Just sit tight," Robert said, reaching back to keep her from trying to get off. He then shifted the reins to one hand and swung a leg over the horse's head and slid quickly off. He landed with a small grunt, but before she could ask if he was all right, raised his arms to help her down.
"What about your wound?" Lisa asked with a frown. Really, he had put undo stress on it last night. And he shouldn't have been riding around today. But lifting her off the horse seemed to be pushing it just a bit far.
"Now you worry about my wound? You did not seem worried when you had me bouncing around on the back of a horse, chasing after you and Findlay," he said dryly and then gestured impatiently with his hands for her to disembark.
Lisa scowled at him for the dry comment, and allowed him to help her down, but once on the ground muttered, "I did not force you to come out today."
"Should I have left you to be dragged off and ravished then?" he muttered, turning to tend to his horse.
"That's ironic. You guarding me from being ravished," she snapped and then could have bitten off her own tongue. Damn, sometimes she wished she thought before she spoke. Noting how stiff and still Robert had gone, Lisa sighed unhappily and said, "I'm sorry. That was uncalled for. I was not unwilling."
Robert didn't respond. He simply finished removing his horse's saddle and tossed it aside before leading the animal into a stall. Lisa followed, saying, "I really am sorry, Robert."
His only response was to pick up a brush and begin to run it silently over the horse's back, brushing him with a brisk efficiency that told her he was mad as hell.
Rolling her eyes, she tried to think of a way to ease the situation, but nothing was coming to mind. Finally, she sighed and turned away, intending to go into the house. She had stepped out of the stall and was starting toward the doors when he said coldly, "You are not marrying Findlay."
Lisa paused and turned back with surprise. "He has not asked me."
"He was asking when I interrupted," he said tightly, setting the brush aside and coming out of the stall. "And you are not marrying him."
"Robert, you have no say in who I marry," she said gently. "The hell I don't. You could very well be carrying my child." Lisa bit her lip at the words, and then shook her head. "I doubt it. I'm sure one time wouldn't - "
"It only takes one time, Lisa," he said impatiently. Lisa shifted on her feet unhappily. "Then if he asks again, or manages to ask without being interrupted, I shall have to explain the situation and if he still wants to marry me - "
"He will," Robert interrupted harshly. "He wants you."
"You don't know that," she protested.
"Lisa, when you are not looking, his eyes are all over your body. He wants you. Trust me, I recognize the look. It's the same way I look at you."
When her eyes widened incredulously, he cursed and closed the small distance between them. He bore down on her like a wave, his arms sliding around her, his lips claiming hers and his body pressing into and forcing her back as he continued forward.
"Robert," she gasped when he broke their kiss to glance around, and then he changed direction, bearing her to the right and into an empty stall. "We can't - "
Her words ended on a gasp as he kicked the stall door closed and lowered her to the straw strewn floor. His mouth then covered hers again, smothering any protest, and pretty much pushing even the thought of protesting from her mind. His kisses were like wine, making her drunk with desire and Lisa gave up any attempt to be a good girl and stop him and clutched at his head, her mouth becoming demanding under his.
Robert groaned at the sudden change in her response, and then immediately began tugging at the top of her gown, managing to free her breasts with surprising speed. The moment they were free, he tore his mouth from hers to claim them.
Lisa moaned, her hands moving over his shoulders and tugging fretfully at his coat as he laved and nipped at one breast and then the other. She then gasped in surprise when one of his legs slid between hers and pressed against her core. The surprise passed quickly however, and she found herself shifting her hips to press into his thigh, enjoying the friction caused by both their bodies and their clothes. When she felt a hardness against her own thigh, she recognized it for what it was and rubbed her thigh from side to side, unsure but hoping he would enjoy it as much as she enjoyed what he was doing.
Lisa didn't know if Robert liked it, but he did suddenly give up on her breasts and rise up to claim her mouth again in a kiss that was almost violent in its need. She immediately began plucking at his clothes again, trying to remove them so that she could feel his skin against hers, but Robert suddenly caught her wrists and lifted them over her head, then held them there with one hand as his other reached down to drag up her skirts.
Lisa tore her mouth away on a gasp and tugged fretfully at her hands, her body writhing beneath his as he pushed her skirts up her legs. "Robert, please," she groaned, and then cried out as his hand suddenly slid between her legs.
"Christ, you're already wet," Robert muttered into her neck, nipping her there.
"Sorry," she muttered with embarrassment, which simply made him laugh. Lisa didn't understand what amused him, but in the next moment didn't care as he slid one finger into her, forcing an "Oh God," from her lips and making her buck into the caress. "Are you tender?" he growled with concern.
Lisa shook her head, incapable of speech as she shimmied under his touch.
"Thank God," he muttered, and released her hands to reach down between them without the necessity of having to stop caressing her.
Lisa immediately clasped his shoulders and held on as she bucked under his touch, but stilled briefly when his hand was suddenly withdrawn and something else pressed against her. She held her breath as he found the right angle, and then released a long groan as their bodies merged.
"Yes, please," she whispered, wrapping her legs around his hips. He claimed her lips again in a quick, hard kiss. Then he rose up, caught her ankles and lifted them to his shoulders so that he could hold her hips and pound into her.
Lisa stared up at him in amazement, shocked at this new position. She then closed her eyes and bit her lip on a moan as one of his hands reached for a breast. The other slid between them to caress her again even as he thrust himself in and out.
As fast and furious as it had started, it ended just as quickly. Within moments, Lisa was writhing in the straw and crying out as pleasure exploded over her. This time there was no delay and Robert joined her in that hazy explosion, his own cry joining hers. Lisa clutched desperately at his arms as they rode out their pleasure, and then clasped him tight to her when it ended and he lowered himself to lie on top of her. He stayed there only a moment though, his weight a pleasant caress, before he rolled onto his back in the straw, taking her with him.
Robert continued to hold her close and she felt him press several kisses to the top of her head before he relaxed. After a few minutes his breathing grew slow and steady and she knew he'd dozed off again, just as he had last night. Lisa had joined him in sleep then, but didn't now. They couldn't afford to be caught in the stables like this. Easing from his embrace, she sat up and glanced around, wondering where the naive, young, romantic Lisa had gone as she took in the setting they were in. She'd just had her skirts tossed up in a stable. Brilliant. The sad thing was, she couldn't find it in herself to regret it. It had felt too damned good.
Sighing, she pushed her skirts back down her legs, and then tucked her breasts away in her dress and eased to her feet. She had been telling the truth when he'd asked if she was tender. She hadn't been, but was a bit now and the realization brought a grimace to her face. But she supposed it was to be expected. Her body wasn't used to such activity.
Lisa quickly brushed down her skirts, removing the bits of straw stuck to her, then felt her hair and removed any stray strands there. She then glanced back to Robert uncertainly. She couldn't just leave him here like this, but on the other hand, she had no desire to talk to him at that moment. He would just say she couldn't marry Findlay, or insist she had to marry him now, or some such thing and she didn't wish to deal with it all now.
After a hesitation, she slid from the stall and moved to the open stable doors. Pausing there, Lisa glanced back, and then stepped out into the rain and slammed the door closed, making sure to make as much of a racket as she could. She then peered through a knothole, relaxing when Robert suddenly stood up, popping into view. The noise had done its job. He was awake.
Turning abruptly, Lisa raced for the house, heading for the French doors to Richard's office rather than risk running into anyone in the kitchens. What she hadn't counted on was finding Richard actually in, seated at his desk.
He glanced up with a start, eyes wide when she rushed inside and slammed the door, and Lisa paused briefly, her own eyes going wide. Then she rushed across the room with a muttered, "Sorry," and hurried out into the hall, headed upstairs to her own room.