Poole, the longtime butler at Winstead House, materialized as if from nowhere.
“Where is Miss Wynter?” Daniel demanded, struggling for breath. His landau had been staled in traffic, and he’d run the last few minutes of the journey, tearing through the streets like a madman. It was a wonder he had not been run down by a carriage.
His mother emerged from the sitting room, folowed by Honoria and Marcus. “What is going on?” she asked. “Daniel, what on earth—”
“Where is Miss Wynter?” he panted, still gasping for air.
“She went out,” his mother said.
“Out? She went out?” Why the devil would she do that? She knew that she was supposed to remain at Winstead House until he returned.
“Wel, that’s what I understand,” Lady Winstead looked over at the butler for help. “I wasn’t here.”
“Miss Wynter had a visitor,” Poole said. “Sir George Chervil. She left with him an hour ago. Perhaps two.” Daniel turned on him in horror. “What?”
“She did not seem to care for his company,” Poole began.
“Wel, then why on earth would she—”
“He was with Lady Frances.”
Daniel stopped breathing.
“Daniel?” his mother said with rising concern. “What is going on?”
“Lady Frances?” Daniel echoed, still staring at Poole.
“Who is Sir George Chervil?” Honoria asked. She looked at Marcus, but he shook his head.
“She was in his carriage,” Poole told Daniel.
Poole nodded. “Yes.”
“And Miss Wynter took his word on this?”
“I do not know, my lord,” the butler said. “She did not confide in me. But she walked out to the pavement with him, and then she entered the carriage. She appeared to do so of her own volition.”
“Bloody hel,” Daniel swore.
“Daniel,” Marcus said, his voice rock solid and steady in a room that was spinning. “What is going on?” Daniel had told his mother some of Anne’s past earlier that morning; now he told all of them the rest.
The blood drained from Lady Winstead’s face, and when she grabbed Daniel’s hand, it felt like a panicked claw. “We must go tell Charlotte,” she said, barely able to speak.
Daniel nodded slowly, trying to think. How had Chervil gotten to Frances? And where would he—
“Daniel!” his mother nearly screamed. “We must go tell Charlotte now! That madman has her daughter!” Daniel jerked to attention. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, at once.”
“I’m coming, too,” Marcus said. He turned to Honoria. “Will you stay? Someone needs to remain here in case Miss Wynter comes back.” Honoria nodded.
“Let’s go,” Daniel said. They raced out of the house, Lady Winstead not even bothering to don a coat. The carriage that Daniel had abandoned five minutes earlier had arrived, and so he put his mother inside with Marcus and took off running. It was only a quarter mile, and if the roads were still clogged with traffic, he could reach Pleinsworth House faster on foot.
He arrived moments ahead of the carriage, breathing hard as he raced up the steps to Pleinsworth House. He slammed the knocker down three times and was reaching for the fourth when Granby opened the door, stepping quickly aside as Daniel practicaly tumbled in.
reaching for the fourth when Granby opened the door, stepping quickly aside as Daniel practicaly tumbled in.
“Frances,” he gasped.
“She’s not here,” Granby told him.
“I know. Do you know where—”
“Charlotte!” his mother yeled, yanking her skirts up well over her ankles as she ran up the steps. She turned to Granby with wild eyes. “Where is Charlotte?” Granby motioned toward the back of the house. “I believe she is seeing to her correspondence. In the—”
“I’m right here,” Lady Pleinsworth said, hurrying out of a room. “My heavens, what is going on? Virginia, you look—”
“It’s Frances,” Daniel said grimly. “We think she may have been kidnapped.”
“What?” Lady Pleinsworth looked at him, and then at his mother, and then finaly at Marcus, who was standing silently by the door. “No, that can’t be,” she said, sounding far more confused than worried. “She was just—” She turned to Granby. “Wasn’t she out for a walk with Nanny Flanders?”
“They have not yet returned, my lady.”
“But surely they have not been gone so long as to cause concern. Nanny Flanders doesn’t move very quickly any longer, so it will take them some time to get
’round the park.”
Daniel exchanged a grim glance with Marcus before teling Granby, “Someone needs to go look for the nurse.” The butler nodded. “At once.”
“Aunt Charlotte,” Daniel began, and then he related the events of the afternoon. He gave her only a very brief account of Anne’s background; there would be time for that later. But it did not take long to tell her enough so that her face went ashen.
“This man . . .” she said, her voice shaking with terror. “This madman . . . You think he has Frances?”
“Anne would never have gone with him otherwise.”
“Oh, my heavens.” Lady Pleinsworth swayed and became unsteady on her feet. Daniel quickly helped her to a chair. “What will we do?” she asked him. “How can we find them?”
“I’ll go back to Chervil’s house,” he said. “It’s the only—”