Slave to Love

Chapter One

"Would you stop acting like a roo caught in a bear trap?" Exasperation was clear in Bobby's voice as he peered out behind the rim of his hat. He was checking to see if Leland's actions had begun to draw attention, but from what he could see, no one in the room was paying them any mind. He'd hoped as much, considering the scandal surrounding Myles and his family. Most likely, those who had noticed would just turn the other cheek and just pretend that they didn't know the former prestigious Lord.

"I can't help it," Myles grumbled as he shifted in his seat and pulled at the lapels of his jacket to smooth out a few invisible wrinkles. "This place is… unnerving." It was the only word he could use to describe it. A chill raised the hairs on the back of his neck as he glanced around at the other occupants of the room. Lords, all of them. High society and depravity all rolled into one. It sickened him to think he'd once considered himself a part of this… whatever it was.

Bobby sighed as he placed a steadying hand on his "master's" shoulder. "I know," he commented as the feeling of disgust rose in his belly. All of these so-called gentlemen were here for one reason and one reason only and it made him want to vomit. And they called the lower class filthy. "But we're here for a reason." Not recreation like the rest of the mass.

Like Myles could forget? He knew why they were there, but he also knew the men present and was pretty well acquainted with the organizer of this little shindig as well. Ruthless would only begin to describe the evening.

But even that didn't matter. They'd been led down so many wrong paths during their search that the only thing he could focus on was if this was just another dead end. "He's sure she's here this time?"

He didn't need to specify what he was referring to. Bobby knew. "He's sure. Fines might be a squirrelly little yabbo but he gives good information." In fact, the little yapper was beginning to grow on him. Bobby smiled. "Besides, he knows how important finding her is and he said that one of the girls matches her description to the letter."

Myles seemed satisfied by that bit of information. Sitting back in the finely upholstered wing back, he felt the edge melt away from his body. Still, there was still a slight bit of doubt. "Let's just hope he wasn't mistaken."

Bobby had nothing to say to that because he'd been thinking the exact same thing. Heaven forbid that Fines be wrong about this. They'd already invested too much time and emotion into the search. They couldn't afford, emotionally, to start from scratch all over again.

Bobby checked his watch as the last few stragglers were being led to their seats. The auction would start in a few minutes and then they would know for sure if they'd traveled all this way to Hayden Manor for nothing.

He felt more than saw Myles tense in his chair. A chill ran down his own spine as he slipped his pocket watch back into its proper place and watched as the last lord was led to his seat. Bobby inwardly cringed and his fingers clenched and unclenched on the back of the wingback.

"I thought he was still overseas," Myles questioned, but never once did he look at the man posing as his servant.

"Apparently not," Bobby snorted with indignation. "We have to tell Jack."

"He's not going to be happy." That was an understatement.

"He'll be even worse off when he comes home and finds out we didn't tell him in the first place."

Myles couldn't argue with that. The man had been trying to take over—that is buy—Hudson land for years with one sort of tactic or another. Jack would want to know that his arch rival was back in the country and probably hungry to get what he felt he was deserved.

But they would worry about the sorry excuse for a Lord later. Right now they had to focus. The doors at the rear of the room were closing and the distinct click they'd heard in the silence that followed told them that that they'd just been locked. Myles wasn't one to dislike enclosed spaces, but the room had no windows—light being created by the lanterns scattered about the room in various intervals—and one known set of doors. He pulled at the collar of his shirt and adjusted the knot at his throat. Uncomfortable didn't even begin to describe his feelings at the moment and they were only about to get worse.

A velvet curtain the color of the finest crimson roses parted along the front wall, unveiling a small dais where the day's "items" were going to be displayed once bidding commenced.

A the moment, a man stood there, his hands tucked behind his back as he glanced around the room, taking in the sight of all of the guests who'd accepted his invitation. He didn't see any of their faces, only the images of their pocketbooks as they practically threw money at him for what he was offering.

Lord Malcolm Hayden.

Bobby inwardly sneered at the poor excuse for a Lord.

"Good evening, gentlemen," he spoke loud enough for all of them to hear, though the room wasn't very big at all. "Before we begin, I would just like to thank you all for coming this evening and that I hope you enjoy what I have on display for you." His grin was toothy as he motioned to his left for the first item up for bid to be brought out.

A robed figured stepped out from the side of the small stage. Without hesitation, Lord Hayden reached around the figure's petite torso and pulled at the edges of the fabric until it slipped away, revealing what was underneath.

A woman. No. Not even a woman. She was just a girl, no older than sixteen, though neither Bobby nor Myles would have been surprised if she'd been younger.

Green eyes were lowered to the floor and her arms hung loosely at her sides. Her body was still young; signs of womanhood only just beginning to show. Dark hair framed a still child-like face. And only the two men who wanted no part of slavery—of any kind—could see it.

The others sat up straighter in their seats, murmurs of appreciation coming from all four corners of the room. Some even made lewd comments to the man sitting beside them. It was a disgusting sight.

And Hayden continued to grin like a child who'd just been visited by Father Christmas the morning of December 25th. Raising his arms, he brought silence back to the room and then moved around the girl trembling on the dais. "So, gentlemen, what am I bid for such a delectable beauty?"