"That is the sad truth," Borton said. He gave Christina a sympathetic look.
"So the money goes directly to Christina?" the Countess asked.
Henderson saw the shrewd look that came into the woman's eyes. He almost laughed. The Earl of Acton had been right about this daughter, the solicitor decided. Henderson decided to rush through the rest of the stipulations, concerned that the old woman would ruin his midday meal if he had to look at her much longer.
"The funds were placed in abeyance until your nineteenth birthday, Princess Christina. If you marry before that day, the funds will be given to your husband."
"That is less than two months away," the Countess remarked. "She will not marry so soon. And so, as guardian—"
"Please listen to the rest of the stipulations," Henderson requested in a hard voice. "While the Earl liked his son-in-law, he decided to proceed with caution, in the event that his daughter's accusations about her husband turned out to have a drop of credibility."
"Yes, yes," Borton eagerly interjected. "The Earl was a most cautious man. For that reason, he added further controls to the distribution of his vast fortune."
"Will you get on with it?" the Countess demanded. "Spell out the damned conditions before you make me as demented as Jessica was."
The Countess was getting all worked up again. Christina supported her demand, though in a much softer tone of voice. "I would also like to hear the rest of this, if you will please continue."
"Certainly," Henderson agreed. He deliberately avoided looking at the Princess now, certain he'd lose his train of thought if he paused to appreciate the lovely shade of her blue eyes. He found it amazing that the two women were actually related to each other. The Countess was an ugly old bitch, in looks and manners, yet the lovely young woman standing next to her was as pretty as an angel and seemed to be just as sweet-tempered.
Henderson focused his attention on the desktop and continued. "In the event you reach nineteen and are unmarried, your father will oversee your inheritance. Princess Christina, your father was informed of the conditions of the will before he left England in search of your mother. He understood he wouldn't have access to the money until—"
"He can't still be alive," the Countess exclaimed. "No one's heard of him in years."
"Oh, but he is alive," Borton said. "We received a missive from him just a week past. He's currently living in the north of France and plans to return to claim the money on the day of his daughter's nineteenth birthday."
"Does he know Christina is alive? That she's here, in London?" the Countess asked. Her voice shook with anger.
"No, and we didn't feel the need to so inform him," Henderson said. "Princess Christina's birthday is less than two months off now. Of course, if you wish us to try to notify your father, Princess, before—"
"No." Christina controlled her voice. She felt like shouting the denial, however, and could barely catch her breath over the tightness in her chest. "It will be a happy surprise for him, don't you agree, gentlemen?" she added with a smile.
Both men smiled back in agreement. "Gentlemen, we have tired my aunt," Christina announced. "As I understand this will, I can never control my own money. If I marry, my husband will direct the funds, and if I do not, then my father will have free hand with the inheritance."
"Yes," Borton answered. "Your grandfather would not allow a woman to have such power over his money."
"All this time I believed I would…" The Countess crumbled against her chair. "My father has won."
Christina thought her aunt might start weeping. She dismissed the two gentlemen a few minutes later. In a magnanimous gesture, Henderson told Christina he'd release a sum of money to tide her over until her father returned to gain guardianship.
Christina was humble in her gratitude. She saw the solicitors out the front door, then returned to the library to speak to her aunt.
The Countess didn't realize how upset her niece was. "I've lost everything," she wailed as soon as Christina rushed back into the room. "Damn my father's soul to hell," she shouted.
"Please don't get upset again," Christina said. "It cannot be at all good for your health."
"I've lost everything, and you dare to tell me not to get upset?" the Countess screeched. "You're going to have to plead on my behalf to your father, Christina. He'll give me money if you ask. Edward didn't like me. I should have been nicer to him, I suppose, but I was so jealous of Jessica's good fortune in capturing him I could barely be civil to the man. Why he chose her over me still doesn't make any sense. Jessica was such a mouse. I was far better-looking."
Christina didn't answer her aunt's mutterings. She started to pace in front of the desk, her mind filled with the problem ahead of her.
"Were you surprised to learn that your father is still alive?" the Countess asked.
"No," Christina answered. "I never believed he'd died."
"You're going to have to take care of me, Christina," the aunt whined. "Whatever will I do if your father doesn't support me? How will I get along? I shall be the laugh of the ton" she cried.
"I've promised to take care of you, Aunt," Christina said. "Remember how I gave you my word before we left Boston? I shall see my promise carried through."
"Your father might not agree with your noble intentions, Christina. He'll have control of my money, the bastard, and I'm sure he'll refuse to give me a single shilling."
Christina came to an abrupt halt in front of her aunt. "Giving my father control of the money does not suit my purposes," she announced. "I'll not let it happen."
Patricia Cummings had never seen her niece look so angry. She nodded, then smiled, for she assumed the stupid chit was infuriated on her behalf. "You're a dear girl to be so concerned about my welfare. Of course, your concern isn't misplaced. A grave injustice was done to me by my father, and I did use the last of my own accounts to see you properly attired. It was all for nought," the Countess added. "I should have stayed in the Godforsaken colonies."
Christina was irritated by the self-pity she heard in her aunt's voice. She took a deep breath, hoping to regain her patience, and said, "All is not lost. The solution to our problem is obvious to me. I will marry before my father returns to England."
Christina's calmly stated announcement gained her aunt's full attention. The old woman's eyes widened, and she actually straightened in her chair. "We don't know when Edward will arrive. He could walk into this very room as early as tomorrow," she said.
Christina shook her head. "No, I don't think so. Remember, he must surely believe I didn't survive. Everyone else seemed very surprised to see me. And I plan to marry as soon as possible."
"How could we make the arrangements in time? We don't even have a suitable man in mind."
"Make a list of those I must consider," Christina advised.
"This isn't at all proper," the Countess protested.
Christina was going to argue when she noticed the gleam settle in her aunt's gaze. She knew then that she was giving the idea consideration. Christina goaded her into complete agreement. "We must move quickly if we are to be successful."
"Why? Why would you sacrifice yourself this way?" Patricia gave her niece a suspicious look. "And why would you rather have the money in your husband's hands instead of your father's?"
"Aunt, as I said before, it doesn't suit my purposes to let my father have any money. Now, what other objections must you raise before you see the wisdom of my plan?"
"Your father might have gained a new fortune by now. He may not even want the money."
"You know better," Christina said. "I doubt that he's rich. Why would he keep in correspondence with the solicitors if he was so wealthy? Oh, he'll come back to England, Aunt Patricia."
"If you claim Edward will want the inheritance, I won't argue with you," the Countess said.
"Good," Christina said. "I think you are one of the most clever women I've ever known," she praised. "Surely you can come up with a plausible reason for my hasty marriage."
"Yes," the Countess agreed. "I am clever." Her shoulders straightened until her spine looked ready to snap. "Just how will your marriage help me?" she demanded.
"We will ask the man I marry to sign over a large amount to you. He must sign the papers before we are wed."
"Then it will have to be someone manageable," the Countess muttered. "There are plenty of that kind around. I'll have to think of a good reason for the rush. Leave me now, Christina, while I make a list of possible husbands for you. With your looks, we can get just about anyone to agree to my conditions."
"I would like the Marquess of Lyonwood placed at the top of your list," Christina announced, bracing herself for her aunt's displeasure.
"You can't be serious," the Countess stammered. "He's rich, doesn't need the money, and simply isn't the type to cooperate with my plans."
"If I can get him to sign your papers, then will it be all right for me to wed with him for the short time I'm in England?"
"To wed with him isn't proper English, Christina. Oh, very well, since you're willing to make this necessary sacrifice, I'll allow you to approach the disgusting man. He won't agree, of course, but you have my permission to try."
"Thank you," Christina said.
"You're still set on returning to those savages?"
"They are not savages," Christina whispered. "And I will return to my family. Once you have the money in your hands, it shouldn't matter to you."
"Well, you certainly shouldn't mention that fact to the man we choose to marry you. It would surely set him against you, Christina."
"Yes, Aunt," Christina answered.
"Get out of here and change that gown," the Countess snapped. "You look positively ugly in that color of yellow. Your hair needs tending, too. Do something about it at once."
Christina immediately left the library, ignoring the ridiculous criticisms of her appearance.
By the time she shut the bedroom door behind her she'd shed the pretense. Christina was visibly shaking. Her stomach felt as though it was twisted into knots, and her head was pounding.
Though it was difficult to admit, Christina was honest enough to realize she was really frightened. She didn't like the strange feeling at all.
She understood the reason. The jackal was returning to England. He'd try to kill her. Christina didn't doubt her father's determination. Jackals didn't change their nature over the years.
Christina was going to give Edward a second chance to murder her. God willing, she'd kill him first.
There really are demons living on this earth, Christina. I didn't know such evil men existed until 1 saw innocent children who'd been tortured, mutilated, destroyed, just to gain their parents' obedience. An army of enforcers slaughtered defenseless peasants. My husband was a dictator; anyone believed to have a subversive thought was murdered. The dead, the dying littered the alleys. Carts would come to collect the bodies every night. The stench that would make us close our doors in the palace each sunset wasn't due to excess garbage… no, no, the odor came from the burial fires.
The people were kept hungry so they would be too weak to rebel. Even the water was rationed. 1 was so sickened by the atrocities I couldn't think clearly. Mylala, my faithful maid, cautioned me against confronting Edward. She feared for my safety.
I should have listened to her, child. Yes, I acted the part of a naive fool, for 1 went to challenge my husband.
Learn from my mistakes, Christina. It's the only way you'll survive.
Journal entry October 12, 1795
Lyon was slouched behind his desk, a full goblet of brandy in his hand and a hot container of water balanced on his knee.
Odd, but the injury hadn't given him any notice until this evening. It was well past four o'clock in the morning now. The nagging pain—and the dreams, of course—had forced him back to his study to work on the problems of his estates. He wouldn't retire until dawn was well upon the city of London… when his mind was too fatigued to remember.
He was feeling out of sorts. An old warrior, he thought with a smile. Wasn't that what Christina had called him? Warrior, yes, he remembered her calling him that… old, no, he didn't recall that mention.
The past had caught up with the Marquess. His years working for his country had taken a toll. He was a man who was feared still—had become legend, in fact, in many disreputable circles of French society. Lyon had always been given the most difficult, delicate missions. He was never called until the atrocity had been done, the evidence judged. His duty was solitary, his reputation unblemished by failure. The Marquess of Lyonwood was considered to be the most dangerous man in England. Some claimed the world.
No matter where the traitor hid, Lyon could ferret him out and dispatch him with quiet, deadly efficiency.
He'd never failed in his duty. Never.
The results of his loyalty were twofold. Lyon was given knighthood for his courage, nightmares for his sins. It was an easy enough retirement to accept. Since he lived alone, no one ever knew his torment. When the nightmares visited, and he once again saw the faces of those he'd eliminated, no one was there to witness his agony.
Lyon rarely thought about James or Lettie anymore, though he continued to shake his head over the irony of it all. While he was abroad defending his homeland against betrayers, his brother was home in England betraying him.
No, he didn't think about James much, and since meeting Princess Christina his mind had been in such a turmoil he could barely think with much reason at all.
He was a man given to intrigue. A good puzzle held his attention until he'd resolved it. Christina, however, still proved too elusive to understand. He didn't know what her game was… yet. When she didn't openly flirt with him—or Rhone either, for that matter—his interest had picked up. Lyon kept mulling over the strange conversation he'd had with the lady, but after a while he gave up. He'd have to see her again, he told himself. She still hadn't given him enough clues to satisfy him.