The Husband Hunt


Chapter One

"How long do you think you will be?" Lisa asked, watching her older sister carefully set a small pillbox hat on the complicated hairstyle in which her maid had arranged her tresses.

"We could be out all afternoon, Lisa. I'm afraid Lady Witherly's teas tend to drag on a bit. She will insist on every one of her grandchildren entertaining us with a musical performance." Christiana scowled and then added dryly, "Whether they have any talent for it or not."

Lisa bit back her amusement at the vexation in her sister's words. "Perhaps they will have improved since you were last there."

"Hmm," Christiana muttered dubiously as she finished with her hat. Then frowning, she turned to peer at her. "I feel awful leaving you here by yourself when you don't feel well. Maybe we should send our apologies and - "

"Don't be silly. Suzette is probably already dressed and waiting for you to collect her," she protested at once. The mention of their sister, the middle of the three Madison girls, made Christiana's frown deepen, and Lisa continued, "Canceling at this late hour would be terribly rude. Besides, it's not like I'm deathly ill. I just have a bit of a headache and a stomach complaint. A little rest and I am sure I'll be fine for this evening's season-opening ball at the Landons'."

"Well, if you're sure," Christiana said uncertainly.

"Very sure," Lisa said, trying not to fidget impatiently or seem too eager to have her gone.

"Very well then." Christiana heaved out a little sigh, gave her a quick hug, admonishing her to rest and feel better, and then headed for the door.

Lisa held on to her smile until the door closed, and then rushed to the window to watch her older sister traverse the front walk to the Radnor carriage. The moment the slender blonde climbed inside and the carriage pulled away, Lisa immediately rushed out into the hall and upstairs.

As expected, she found her maid, Bet, preparing the gown Lisa would wear that night to the Landons' ball.

Forcing a grimace, Lisa placed a hand to her forehead and moved toward the bed with a little sigh. "You can finish that later, Bet. I have a bit of a headache and should like to rest awhile. Please be sure no one disturbs me."

Bet paused and stared at Lisa blankly. When her eyes narrowed suspiciously, Lisa feared she'd overplayed it, but much to her relief the maid merely nodded, laid out the gown to prevent wrinkling and headed for the door, saying, "I'll be downstairs if you need me."

Nodding, Lisa settled on the side of the bed to remove her slippers ... only to quickly slide them back on the moment the door close behind Bet. She then leapt up, suddenly all excited motion and activity. Bustling to her chest, she dug out the bag she'd hidden at the bottom, checked to ensure that the gift she'd so carefully wrapped for Mrs. Morgan was still inside, and then hurried to the door. She listened briefly and, hearing nothing, opened it to peer up the hall. Finding it empty, she immediately slid out of her room to scurry to the stairs.

Lisa held her breath until she got to the landing. She paused and exhaled slowly, ears straining. But when a steady silence was all that came from below, she took another deep breath and crept quickly down the steps. She was halfway to the parlor when the kitchen door at the end of the hall began to open. Panic rising in her, Lisa quickly ducked into the office to avoid discovery, praying no one saw her as she eased the door closed.

She listened at the door in hopes of hearing when it would be safe to continue on her way, but frowned when silence met her ear. Either whoever had opened the kitchen door had changed their mind and not come out after all, or someone was even now traversing the hall but the door she stood behind muffled the sound. The problem was, Lisa didn't know which would be the case.

Sighing, she shifted on her feet, impatient to be on her way, and then dropped to her knees and pressed her eye to the keyhole. Sadly, she couldn't see much of the hall through the little opening, certainly not enough to assure herself it was empty. But she knelt there long enough that she was sure anyone coming from the kitchens would have passed by now.

Getting back to her