(Excuse any errors, it's still very much in rough draft stage. The legal speak especially is going to need someone else to hammer it into shape.)
The Runaway Clause
In the event that either party fails to fulfill its obligations under this Agreement to Marry, the most immediate relatives of the reneging party shall be liable to the other for a suitable replacement betrothed. Suitable grounds for declaring a failure to fulfill obligations include, but are not limited to: failure to arrive at altar on day of Marriage, running away, marrying another while Agreement is still in place, lying about identity, situation, or motives for entering the Agreement. In the event that the most immediate relatives of the deserting party must seek out a viable alternative, they shall have six months from day of desertion to do so.
"If you drop that crate, I will take you to the roof and drop you from it," Max said as the worthless moving men made to do precisely that, as though the damned box was not very clearly marked 'fragile' in precisely eleven places.
They turned surly looks toward him, but changed their minds about whatever they'd been about to say and carefully set the box down on the spot he'd marked before fleeing the room. Cowards. Huffing, Max went over to inspect the crate, but it seemed undamaged and when he gave it a jostle nothing clinked or rattled in a way it shouldn't.
Satisfied, he returned to his spot in front of the desk, still draped in cloth, and crossed his arms over his chest as he watched the movers bring in the rest of the laboratory crates and chests. When that was at last accomplished, he said, "Now you may begin on the rest of the rooms. Work from the upstairs down, and you had better not break anything. Am I clear?"
"Yes, my lord," the group of half a dozen men mumbled before scurrying off to get it done.
Max removed his spectacles and pulled a cloth from his jacket to clean them, frowning as a stubborn speck refused to be immediately banished. Finally defeating it, he tucked the cloth away and restored the spectacles to his nose. He looked around the room that was to be his laboratory, making mental note of all the changes that would have to be made: shelves and cabinets added, the rugs removed, curtains and furniture removed, minus the desk, additional tables added—
Something came banging and crashing up the stairs, a hand slamming against the door, and a deep voice snarled, "Where the bloody hell is she?"
The door would definitely need to be replaced, and a lock added. Why the devil was the door missing, anyway? Max decided he was better off not knowing. Slowly turning around, he planted his hands on his hips—
And froze, lips slightly parted, words forgotten. Whatever he had expected, it was not for a bloody highwayman to come crashing into his laboratory. He looked precisely like all the absurd penny story images of a highwayman: dark, dashing, dangerous. He was tall, and the breadth of those shoulders was absolutely absurd. He should cut his bloody hair or at least tie it back, because it was unseemly that it looked so marvelous falling about the way it did. Max wanted to stroke the lines of his face, the sharp cut of those cheekbones and that mouth. Ridiculous. Who needed lips like that? Max wanted to bite them.
Damn it all, he hated distractions—especially good looking ones that were glaring hard enough Max was grateful the man did not carry a weapon. He strode over to the desk and retrieved his cane, brandishing it as he turned back to the man as he strode further into the room. "Who the bloody hell are you and what are you doing in my home?"
"I want to know where the hell my intended is and why she has decided to vanish without so much as a word to me," the man replied, biting out each word, and his eyes were the brown of good coffee, as irritatingly distracting as the rest of him.
He drew close enough to touch and Max decided that, distracting or not, he'd had enough. He swung the cane—and swore when the bastard caught it, jerked it from his fingers, and threw it blindly behind so it struck the door and bounced off into the hallway.
"Violence, sir, will accomplish nothing," Max said, lifting his chin.
"You tried to strike me first."
Max scoffed. "You came barging in here without so much as a by-your-leave. I would assume from your dress, if not your absent manners, that you do understand the concept of a calling card? I am not certain what you expected to accomplish crashing in here bellowing about a woman you've yet to name. Now, who the devil are you and why are you bothering me?"
The man scowled. "You look just like her! Where is she?"
"Oh, bloody hell," Max muttered as the pieces fell into place. Of course the delectable, if snarly, highwayman belonged to his sister. "You must be the fiancé."
"In theory, but it is hard to be half of an engaged couple when the other half has been missing for three weeks."
Max drew back, eyes widening, mouth opening, snapping shut, before he finally managed to get out, "What are you talking about? I got a letter from her a fortnight ago that seemed to indicate she was still right here!"
"She vanished three weeks ago, immediately after the Forte ball," the man bit out. What the bloody hell was his name? Something that did not provoke images of wind-tossed highwaymen, to be sure. "I have been attempting to find her, but all I get is vague reassurances from her friends that all is well."
That sounded alarmingly familiar. Damn that woman. Why did he have to be the twin brother of such a reckless ninny? He was going to choke her with her own hair ribbons when he found her, and this time it was not going to be an idle threat. "I am her brother, not her keeper, and she mentioned nothing to me of vanishing."
"I want to know where she is! Why she has abandoned me like this—is she safe? Is she running from something?"
Max almost posed she might be running from her affianced, but honestly the man did not seem dangerous, simply … dramatic. Much like his sister. "Sir, I wish I could provide you an answer but she made no mention to me of any untoward plans. I thought she was about in the city; indeed I planned to call on her tomorrow to take her to lunch. I've arrived a few days early and thought to surprise her. We look alike, sir, but that is where our similarities end."
"Yes, I can see that," the man replied.
The words should not sting, but in all his twenty-seven years Max had never deduced how to make them stop hurting. No, he was not his sister, but honestly wasn't one of her enough? Heaven knew one was enough for him. "You have overstayed the welcome you never had to begin with," Max said. "Show yourself out."
"I'm not going anywhere—"
Max reached into his jacket and pulled out his pistol. "You will depart."
To his astonishment, the man looked amused more than anything. Max wanted to shoot him for that alone. "I want to know where my fiancée is," the man replied. "I'll return in the morning and you will receive me."
"I sincerely doubt that," Max said, but for naught as the bastard had already departed as quickly as he had arrived.
He tucked the pistol back into his jacket and decided he had best go make certain the damned movers had not broken the china or put his books in the dining room or something. Running a hand through his light brown hair, he strode toward the door—and stopped just in time to avoid running into a man in blue and gold livery. "Who the devil are you and why are so many strangers just traipsing about my house?" he demanded.
"Beg pardon, my lord," the man said and dipped into the most elegant bow Max had ever witnessed. The few royals he'd endured had not bowed that well. "My name is Hugh, and Master Moore bid me remain here and assist you howsoever you require, in recompense for his behavior."
Well. That was unexpected. "I see. Go nail the front door shut, then, so I don't have to fret over who I am going to trip over next." He noticed belatedly that the man held out a salver, upon which was a calling card. Picking it up, he murmured an absent thanks as Hugh departed.
Master Kelcey Moore
113 Dogwood Row
Kelcey, that was the name. Max tapped the card against his lips. Definitely not a highwayman name. Pulling out his silver card holder, he tucked it away as he went to go yell at the movers, because he might be three floors up but he still knew a dropped crate when he heard it.
Three tedious hours later he washed up and pulled on clean clothes, pleased he managed a half-decent job on his neck cloth, and went in search of his errant sister. The most obvious starting point was her home, a townhouse at the end of Mistletoe Lane. He pounded on the door, completely uncaring the knocker had been removed. "Barrington, open this door at once or I will come through the kitchen!"
A couple of minutes later the door was opened by a flustered looking man with white hair and a flushed face. "Lord Maximilian!"
"Oh, Maximilian is it? Going to be that angry, am I?" He stepped inside and let Barrington take his coat, hat, and gloves. "Where is she?"
Barrington had never looked so close to bolting—and the poor man was kept in a constant state of anxiety because of his sister.
Max wondered if he had remembered to bring his headache powder. "I think I'm going to need a drink before I hear this."
"I just replenished the gin, my lord."
"Good man." Max strode off down the hall to his sister's study, wrinkling his nose at the overwhelming scent of tobacco and magnolias that filled it. The room was cool, and a fire had clearly not been lit in some times—if he had to guess, he would say three weeks—and the post had become a rather alarming pile swiftly overtaking her desk.
He turned slowly around the room seeking clues, and was distracted by a painting that had certainly not had choice place before—it was positioned over a work table covered in all the bits and bobs and tools that went into her model making. A portrait of them shortly before he had left to conclude his studies overseas. Unable to behave 'properly' for even a portrait, Mavis had sprawled in the armchair, one leg swung over an armrest, her right arm stretched up the back to hold his hand.
Defiant in his own quiet way, Max had retained the spectacles his parents hated and worn the purple jacket with angel and devil patterning his sister had bought for him. With her in bright red, they had made quite the study. The artist had seemed amused more than anything, their parents decidedly less so, but neither he nor Mavin had ever had much tolerance for the rigid life they had preferred.
He sighed softly and accepted the glass of gin that Barrington held out to him. "Where is she, Barrington?"
"I could not say, sir, though she promised that she left word for you to find."