Crazed or not, Aunt Patricia was family. No one was going to harm her.
It happened too quickly for anyone to react. Lyon heard the whistle of the knife seconds before the bandit's howl of pain. He'd seen the glint of metal fly by his right shoulder. He turned, trying to protect Christina from the new threat, but didn't see anyone standing behind her. Whoever had thrown the weapon had vanished out the doorway to the balcony, he concluded.
Poor Christina. She tried to look dignified. Her hands were demurely folded together, and she gave him only a curious look. She even looked behind her when Lyon did, yet she didn't seem to understand there might be jeopardy there, lurking in the shadows.
Lyon quickly pushed her into the corner so that the wall protected her back. When he was satisfied no one could get to her from behind, he turned back to face the bandits. His shoulders pressed Christina against the wall.
She didn't argue over the confinement. She knew what he was doing. Lyon was still protecting her and was making sure no one was going to come back in through the archway. A noble consideration, Christina thought.
There wasn't any need, of course, for there had never been anyone behind her. She couldn't very well tell Lyon that, however, and his concern for her safety did please her immensely.
The leader had disappeared out the front door. The other bandits threatened the guests by waving their knives in front of them as they backed out of the room.
Both pistol and knife lay on the floor.
Lyon turned to Christina. "Are you all right?" he demanded.
He sounded so concerned. Christina decided to look frightened. She nodded, and when Lyon placed his hands on her shoulders and pulled her toward him she could feel the anger in him.
"Are you angry with me?" she asked.
He was surprised by her question. "No," he announced. His voice was so harsh, he thought he might not have convinced her. "Of course I'm not angry with you, love."
Christina smiled over the forced gentleness in his tone. "Then you may quit squeezing my shoulders," she told him.
He immediately let go of her. "You're angry because you couldn't fight the mischief makers, aren't you, Lyon?"
"Mischief makers? My dear, their intent was a little more serious," Lyon said.
"But you did want to fight them, didn't you?"
"Yes," he admitted with a grin. "I was aching to get in the middle of it. Some habits die hard," he added.
"You'll always be a warrior, Lyon."
Oh dear, he was looking confused again. Christina hastened to say, "There are too many old people here. It wouldn't have been safe for you to interfere. Someone might have been hurt."
"Is your concern only for the old men and women?" he asked.
Lyon frowned over her answer. Then she realized he wanted her to be concerned for his safety, too. Didn't he realize it would have been an insult for her to show concern for him? Why, that would mean she didn't have enough faith in his ability! Still, he was English, she reminded herself. And they were a strange breed.
"I wouldn't worry for you, Lyon. You would have held your own."
"You have that much faith in me, do you?"
She smiled over the arrogance in his tone. "Oh, yes," she whispered, giving him the praise he seemed to need. She was about to add a bit more when a loud wail interrupted her.
"Our hostess is coming out of her swoon," Lyon announced. "Stay here, Christina. I'll be back in a minute."
She did as he ordered, though she kept her attention directed on him. Her heart started pounding when Lyon knelt down and picked up her knife. She took a deep breath, held it, and then sighed with relief when he put the knife on the table and turned his attention to the pistol.
The chaos surrounding her was confusing. Everyone was suddenly talking at the same time. Perhaps she should try to swoon after all, Christina considered. No, the settee was already taken, and the floor didn't look all that appealing. She settled on wringing her hands. It was the best she could do to look upset.
Two gentlemen were in deep discussion. One motioned Lyon over to join them. As soon as he moved toward the dining room Christina edged her way over to the table. She made certain no one was paying her any attention, then she cleaned and sheathed her knife.
She hurried over to stand beside her aunt. The Countess was administering blistering advice to the distressed woman draped on the settee.
"I believe we've had enough excitement for one evening," Christina told her guardian when she was finally able to catch her attention.
"Yes," the Countess answered. "We'd better be on our way."
Lyon was blocked in the dining room, listening to absurd suggestions as to how two ancient gentlemen thought to trap Jack and his band.
After ten minutes or so, he'd had his fill. His attention kept returning to the unusual dagger he'd held in his hands. He'd never seen the like before. The weapon was crudely made, yet toned to needle-point sharpness. The handle was flat. Whoever owned the knife certainly hadn't purchased it in England.
Lyon decided to take the weapon with him. He was highly curious and determined to find the man who'd thrown it.
"I'll leave you gentlemen to think your plans through," Lyon announced. "I believe I'll see Princess Christina and her guardian safely home. If you'll excuse me?"
He didn't give them time to start in again but turned and hurried back inside the drawing room. He remembered telling Christina to wait for him until he returned. He shouldn't have left her alone, assuming she was still frightened enough to need his comfort. He sincerely hoped she was, for the thought of offering her solace was very appealing.
Lyon was already planning how he'd get Christina away from her guardian. He just wanted to steal a few minutes so he could kiss her once more.
"Well, hell." Lyon muttered the obscenity when he realized Christina had vanished. He glanced over at the table where he'd left the knife, then let out another foul expletive.
The knife had vanished, too. Lyon's mood blackened. He considered questioning the guests, but they were all still occupied rehashing their reactions to the robbery. He decided not to bother.
Lyon turned to look again at the alcove where he and Christina had stood together during the robbery. A sudden revelation popped into his mind. No, he told himself. It wasn't possible.
Then he strolled over to the alcove and continued on until he was standing next to the balcony railing.
A good twenty feet separated the balcony from the sloping terrace below. Impossible to scale. The railing was shaky, too weak to hold rope and man.
His mind immediately jumped to a ludicrous conclusion.
Lyon shook his head. "Impossible," he muttered out loud. He decided to put that puzzle aside and concentrate on the real worry now.
Lyon left Baker's house in a black mood. He was too angry to speak just yet. He determined to wait until tomorrow.
Then he was going to have a long, hard talk with Rhone.
Edward always wore white. Colors displeased him. He preferred me to wear long, flowing Grecian-styled gowns of white also. The palace walls were whitewashed once a month, and all the furnishings were devoid of even a splash of color. While Edward's peculiarity amused me, I did comply with his wishes. He was so good to me. I could have anything I wanted and wasn't allowed to lift a finger in labor. He only bound me to one rule. Edward made me promise never to leave the pristine palace grounds, explaining it was for my protection.
I kept my promise for almost six months. Then I began to hear rumors about the conditions outside my walls. 1 believed Edward's enemies spread the rumors of brutality solely to cause unrest.
My maid and I changed into peasant clothing and set out on foot for the nearest village. I looked upon the outing as an adventure.
God help me, I walked into purgatory.
Journal entry August 15, 1795
The solicitors in care of the Earl of Acton's estate called upon Countess Patricia Cummings Tuesday morning at ten o'clock. Misters Henderson and Borton were prompt to the minute.
The Countess could barely contain her enthusiasm. She ushered both gray-haired gentlemen into her study, shut the door behind her, and took her place behind the scarred desk.
"You'll have to forgive such shabby furnishings," she said. She paused to give both men a brittle smile before continuing. "I was forced to use the last of my reserves to dress my niece, Christina, for the season ahead of us, and there just wasn't anything left over. Why, I've had to turn down many requests for visitations with my niece—too embarrassed, you understand, to let anyone see the way we're living. Christina has caused a sensation. I'll marry her well."
The Countess suddenly realized she was rambling. She gave a dainty little cough to cover her embarrassment. "Yes, well, I'm certain you both know this townhouse is only on loan to us for another month. You did receive the bid for purchase, did you not?"
Henderson and Borton nodded in unison. Borton turned to his associate and gave him an odd, uncomfortable look. He poked at his cravat. The Countess narrowed her eyes over the rudeness. "When will my money be transferred into my hands?" she demanded. "I can't go on much longer without proper funds."
"But it isn't your money, Countess," Borton announced after receiving a nod from his associate. "Surely you realize that fact."
Borton blanched over the horrid frown the Countess gave him. He couldn't continue to look at her. "Will you explain, Henderson?" he asked, staring at the floor.
"Certainly," Henderson said. "Countess, if we might have a word in privacy with your niece, I'm certain this misunderstanding will be cleared up."
Henderson obviously wasn't intimidated by the Countess's visible anger. His voice was as smooth as good gin. He continued to smile all through the foul woman's tantrum. Borton was impressed.
Patricia slammed her fists down on the desk. "What does Christina have to do with this meeting? I am her guardian, and therefore I control her funds. Isn't that the truth?" she screeched.
Before Henderson could answer, Patricia slapped the desk again. "I do control the money, don't I?"
"No, madam. You do not."
Christina heard her aunt's bellow all the way upstairs. She immediately left her bedroom and hurried down the steps to see what had caused the Countess such an upset. Christina had learned the difference between her aunt's screams long ago. This one resembled the protest of a trapped owl, telling Christina her Aunt Patricia wasn't frightened. Just furious.
She reached the library door before she realized she was barefoot. Lord, that would certainly push her aunt into a tither, Christina thought. She hurried back upstairs, found her impractical shoes, and quickly put them on.
Christina counted five more shrieks before she was once again downstairs. She didn't bother to knock on the library door, knowing her aunt's shouts would drown out the sound. She threw the door open and hurried inside.
"Is there something I can do to help, Aunt?" Christina asked.
"This is your niece?" Henderson asked as he hurried out of his chair.
"Christina, go back to your room. I'll deal with these scoundrels."
"We'll not speak to you of the conditions set down in writing by your father, Countess," Borton said. "It is you who must leave us alone with your niece. Those were your father's wishes as spelled out in his will."
"How could such a condition exist?" the Countess shouted. "My father didn't even know Jessica was carrying a child. He couldn't have known about her. I made certain."
"Your sister wrote to your father, madam, and told him about his grandchild. I believe she sent the letter when she was staying with you. And she'd also left a message for him. The Earl found it a year after her disappearance."
"Jessica couldn't have written to him," Patricia announced with an inelegant snort. "You're lying. I would have known. I looked through each letter."
"You mean you destroyed each letter, don't you, Countess?" Henderson asked, matching Patricia's glare. "You didn't want your father to know about his heir, did you?"
Aunt Patricia's face turned as red as fire. "You can't know that," she muttered.
Christina was concerned about her aunt's extreme anger. She walked over to her side and put her hand on the old woman's shoulder. "It doesn't matter how my grandfather learned about me. The past is behind us, gentlemen. Let it rest."
Both men hastily nodded. "A sensible request, my dear," Henderson commented. "Now, according to the conditions of the will, we must explain the finances to you in privacy."
Christina increased her grip on her aunt's shoulder when she saw she was about to object. "If I request that the Countess remain, will you agree?" she asked.
"Of course," Borton said after receiving another nod from his partner.
"Then kindly sit down and begin your explanation," Christina instructed. She felt the tension leave her Aunt Patricia and slowly let go of her.
"A man by name of Captain Hammershield delivered your mother's letter to the Earl of Acton," Henderson began. "We have the letter in our file, and the one Jessica left behind in our files, if you wish to challenge this, Countess," the solicitor added. "I need not go into the other details of the letters, for as you say, Princess Christina, the past is behind us. Your grandfather fashioned a new will immediately. He had turned his back on you, Countess, and was so infuriated with his other daughter's behavior that he decided to put his fortune in holding for his only grandchild."
Borton leaned forward to interject, "He didn't know if you were going to be a boy or girl. There are conditions in both events, of course, but we will only explain the conditions for a granddaughter, you see."
"What did my mother do to cause her father to change his mind about her? I thought they were very close to each other," Christina said.
"Yes, whatever did my sainted sister do to turn Father against her?" Patricia asked, a sneer in her voice.
"Jessica humiliated her father when she left her husband. Princess Christina, your grandfather was most upset. He liked his son-in-law and thought his daughter was acting… out of sorts," he ended with a shrug to cover his embarrassment.
"What you're sniffing around and refusing to say is that my father at last realized Jessica was crazy," the Countess announced.