"No, I don't believe in destiny."

"That's a pity."

She acted as though he'd just confessed a grave, unforgivable sin. "All right," he announced. "I know better than to ask, but God help me, I'm going to anyway. Why is it a pity?"

"Dare you laugh at me?" she asked when she saw his smile.

"Never," he lied.

"Well, I guess it really doesn't matter."

"That I laugh at you?"

"No, it doesn't matter if you believe in destiny," Christina answered.

"Why doesn't it matter?"

"Because what will happen will happen whether you believe or not. See how simple it is?"

"Ah," Lyon said, drawing the sound out. "You're a philosopher, I see."

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She stiffened in his arms and glared at him again. The change in her mood happened so swiftly that Lyon was thrown off center. "Did I just say something to upset you?" he asked.

"I'm not a flirt. How can you so easily slander me? Why, I've been honest with you all during this conversation. I came right out and said I liked looking at you, and that I'd like you to kiss me. A philosopher, indeed."

The woman was making him daft. "Christina, a philosopher is a man who devotes his mind to the study of various beliefs. It was not slander for me to call you such."

"Spell this word, please," she said, looking extremely suspicious.

Lyon did as she requested. "Oh, I see now," she said. "I believe I've confused philanderer with this man who studies. Yes, that's what I've done. Don't look so confused, Lyon. It was an easy mistake to make."

"Easy?" He told himself not to ask. Curiosity won out again. "Why is it easy?"

"Because the words are close in spelling," she answered.

She sounded as though she was instructing a simpleminded child. He took immediate exception to her manner. "That is without a doubt the most illogical explanation I've ever heard. Unless of course… you've only just learned to speak English, haven't you, Christina?"

Because he seemed so pleased by his conclusion, Christina really didn't have the heart to tell him no, she hadn't just learned English. She'd been speaking the difficult language for several years now.

"Yes, Lyon," she lied. "I speak many languages and sometimes confuse my words. I'm not at all a bluenose, though. And I only seem to forget the laws when I'm with you. I do prefer to speak French. It's a much easier language, you see."

It all fell into place in Lyon's head. He'd solved the puzzle. "No wonder I had difficulty understanding you, Christina. It's because you've just learned our language, isn't that so?"

He was so happy he'd reasoned it all out, he'd just repeated his statement.

Christina shook her head. "I don't think so, Lyon. No one else seems to have the least bit of trouble understanding me. Have you been speaking English long?"

He hugged her again and laughed over the outrageous way she'd just turned the tables on him. In the corner of his mind was the thought that he could be content standing in the center of her salon holding her for the rest of the morning.

"Lyon? Would it make you unhappy if I really was a bluestocking? Aunt says it's not at all fashionable to even admit to reading. For that reason I must also pretend to be uninformed."

"Must also pretend?" Lyon asked, homing in on that odd remark.

"I really do like to read," Christina confessed, ignoring his question. "My favorite is the story of your King Arthur. Have you read it, by chance?"

"Yes, love, I have. Sir Thomas Mallory wrote it," Lyon said. "Now I know where you get your fantasies. Knights, warriors—both are the same. You have a very romantic nature, Christina."

"I do?" Christina asked, smiling. "That's good to know," she added when Lyon nodded. "Being romantic is a nice quality for a gentle lady to have, isn't it, Lyon?"

"Yes, it is," he drawled.

"Of course, we mustn't let Aunt Patricia know of this inclination, for it would surely—"

"Let me guess," Lyon interrupted. "It would displease her, right?"

"Yes, I fear it would. You'd better go home now. When you remember what it was you wanted to speak to me about, you may call again."

Lyon wasn't going anywhere. He told himself he couldn't take much more of her conversation, though. He decided to kiss her just to gain a moment's peace. Then he'd have her submissive enough to answer a few pertinent questions, providing of course that he could remember what those questions were. He'd already gained quite a bit of information about her. Christina had obviously been raised in France, or in a French-speaking neighborhood. Now he wanted to find out why she guarded that simple truth so ferociously. Was she ashamed, embarrassed? Perhaps the war was the reason for her reticence.

Lyon caressed her back to distract her from dismissing him again. Then he leaned down and tenderly nuzzled her lips while his hands continued to stroke her, gentle her. Christina moved into his embrace again. Her hands slowly found their way up around his neck.

She obviously liked the distraction. When Lyon finally quit teasing her and claimed her mouth completely, she was leaning up on her tiptoes. Her fingers threaded through his hair, sending a shudder through him. Lyon lifted her off the floor, bringing her mouth level with his own.

It was a strange sensation to be held in such a way, though not nearly as strange as the way Lyon was affecting her senses. His scent drove her wild. It was so masculine, so earthy. Desire swept through her in waves of heat when Lyon's tongue slid inside her mouth to deepen the intimacy.

It didn't take Christina any time at all to become as bold as Lyon was. Her tongue mated with his, timidly at first, and then with growing ardor. She knew he liked her boldness, for his mouth slanted almost savagely over hers and she could hear his groan of pleasure.

Christina was the most responsive woman Lyon had ever encountered. Her wild enthusiasm stunned him. He was a man conditioned to the game of innocence most women played. Christina, however, was refreshingly honest with her desire. She aroused him quickly, too. Lyon was actually shaking when he dragged his mouth away. His breath was choppy, uneven.

She didn't want to let go of him. Christina wrapped her arms around his waist and gave him a suprisingly strong hug. "You do like kissing me, don't you, Lyon?"

How could she dare to sound timid now, after the way she'd just kissed him? Hell, her tongue had been wilder than his. "You know damn well I like kissing you," he growled against her ear. "Is this part of the charade, Christina? You needn't be coy with me. I honestly don't care how many men you've taken to your bed. I still want you."

Christina slowly lifted her gaze to stare into his eyes. She could see the passion there, the possessiveness. Her throat was suddenly so constricted she could barely speak. Lyon was being just as forceful as a warrior.

God help her, she could easily fall in love with the Englishman.

Lyon reacted to the fear in her eyes. He assumed she was frightened because he'd guessed the truth. He captured a handful of her hair, twisted it around his fist, and then pulled her back up against his chest until her br**sts were flattened against him. Then he gently forced her head further back. He leaned down, and when his mouth was just a breath away he said, "It doesn't matter to me. I give you this promise, Christina. When you're in my bed, you won't be thinking about anyone but me."

He kissed her again, sealing his vow. The kiss was unashamedly erotic. Ravenous. Entirely too short-lived. Just when she began to respond, Lyon pulled away.

His gaze immediately captured her full attention. "All I've been able to think about is how good we're going to be together. You've thought about it, too, haven't you, Christina?" Lyon asked, his voice husky with arousal.

He was already prepared for her denial. He was expecting the ordinary. That was his mistake, he realized, and certainly the reason he was so stunned when she answered him. "Oh, yes, I have thought about mating with you. It would be wonderful, wouldn't it?"

Before he could reply, Christina moved out of his arms.

She slowly walked across the room. Her stride was every bit as sassy as the smile she gave him over her shoulder when she tossed her hair behind her. When she'd opened the doors to the foyer, she turned back to him. "You have to go home now, Lyon. Good day."

It was happening again. Damn if she wasn't dismissing him. "Christina," Lyon growled, "come back here. I'm not finished with you yet. I want to ask you something."

"Ask me what?" Christina responded, edging out of the room.

"Quit looking so suspicious," Lyon muttered. He folded his arms across his chest and frowned at her. "First I would like to ask you if you'd like to go to the opera next—"

Christina stopped him by shaking her head. "The Countess would forbid your escort."

She had the audacity to smile over her denial. Lyon sighed in reaction.

"You're like a chameleon, do you know that? One second you're frowning and the next you're smiling. Do you think you'll ever make sense to me?" Lyon asked.

"I believe you've just insulted me."

"I have not insulted you," Lyon muttered, ignoring the amusement he heard in her voice. Lord, she was giving him such an innocent look now. It was enough to set his teeth grinding. "You're deliberately trying to make me daft, aren't you?"

"If you think calling me a lizard will win my affections, you're sadly mistaken."

He ignored that comment. "Will you go riding with me in the park tomorrow?"

"Oh, I don't ride."

"You don't?" he asked. "Have you never learned? I'd be happy to offer you instruction, Christina. With a gentle mount… now what have I said? You dare to laugh?"

Christina struggled to contain her amusement. "Oh, I'm not laughing at you," she lied. "I just don't like to ride."

"Why is that?" Lyon asked.

"The saddle is too much of a distraction," Christina confessed. She turned and hurried across the foyer. Lyon rushed after her, but Christina was already halfway up the steps before he'd reached the bannister.

"The saddle is a distraction?" he called after her, certain he hadn't heard her correctly.

"Yes, Lyon."

God's truth, he didn't have an easy argument for that ridiculous statement.

He gave up. Christina had just won this battle.

The war, however, was still to be decided.

Lyon stood there, shaking his head. He decided to be content watching the gentle sway of her hips, and it wasn't until she was out of sight that he suddenly realized what it was that had bothered him when he first saw her.

Princess Christina was barefoot.

The Countess Patricia was in high spirits when she returned home from her appointment. Calling upon a possible suitor for her niece had been an improper undertaking, yes, but the outcome had been so satisfying, the Countess snickered away any worry of being found out.

Emmett Splickler was everything the Countess had hoped he'd be. She'd prayed Emmett had inherited his father's nasty disposition. Patricia hadn't been disappointed. Emmett was a spineless halfwit, pint-sized in stature and greed. Very like his father, Emmett's crotch controlled his mind. His lust to bed Christina was soon obvious. Why, the man positively drooled when the Countess explained the reason for her visit. From the moment she'd mentioned marriage to Christina, the stupid man became jelly in her hands. He agreed to sign over anything and everything in order to get his prize.

The Countess knew Christina wasn't going to take to Emmett. The man was too much of a weakling. To placate her niece, Patricia had made a list of possible candidates. She'd even put the odious Marquess of Lyonwood at the top of the lines. It was all a farce, of course, but the Countess wanted Christina docile and unsuspecting for what was to come.

The Countess wasn't about to leave anything to chance.

Under no circumstances would she allow her niece to wed someone as honorable as Lyon.

The reason was very simple. Patricia didn't want just a substantial portion of her father's estate. She meant to have it all.

The plan she laid out for Splickler was shameful, even by a serpent's measure. Emmett had blanched when she calmly told him he'd have to kidnap her niece, haul her off to Gretna Green, and force her to marry him there. He could or could not rape the girl before or after the marriage certificate was signed. It made no matter to the Countess.

Emmett was more frightened of being found out than she was. When she told him to include two or three other men to help restrain Christina, the stupid man quit his complaining and grasped the plan wholeheartedly. She'd noticed the bulge grow between his legs, knew his mind had returned to the picture of bedding her niece, assumed then he'd be desperate enough to do what was required.

The worries exhausted the Countess. There was always the remote possibility that Emmett's cowardice was greater than his lust to bed Christina. The plan could fail if there was any interference.

For that reason, Patricia knew she was going to have to get rid of Christina's filthy Indian family. If her niece didn't marry Emmett, and she ended up with someone as strong-willed as Lyon, the union couldn't possibly last long. Christina's upbringing was bound to come out sooner or later. She wouldn't be able to hide her savage instincts forever. And what normal husband would put up with her disgusting ideas about love and honor? He'd be horrified by her true nature, of course. Though it wouldn't be possible for him to set her aside, for divorce was an unheard-of undertaking, he certainly would turn his back on her and turn to another woman for his needs.

Such rejection might well send Christina scurrying back to the savages who'd raised her. The stupid chit still insisted on returning home. The Countess couldn't let that happen. Christina had become her means of getting back into the ton. Even those who remembered her past indiscretions were so taken with Christina that they forced themselves to include the Countess again.

Last of all her worries was Edward. Christina's father wasn't going to take it kindly that she'd outwitted him. As goodnatured as she remembered him to be, Edward would probably still try to get his hands on a share of the fortune. Christina would certainly be able to control her father, the Countess believed.

Oh, yes, it was imperative that the little bitch remain in England until the Countess was finished with her. Imperative indeed.