Chapter Six

Edward kept his private quarters in a separate building adjacent to the main wing of the palace. I decided not to wait to tell him what his men were doing. You see, child, I couldn't believe my husband was responsible. 1 wanted to place the blame on his officers.

When I entered Edward's office by the side door, 1 was too stunned by what 1 saw to make my presence known. My husband was with his lover. They'd shed their clothes and were cavorting like animals on the floor. His mistress's name was Nicolle. She rode Edward like a stallion. My husband was shouting crude words of encouragement, his eyes tightly closed in ecstasy.

The woman must have sensed my presence. She suddenly turned her head to look at me. I was sure she'd cry out my presence to Edward. She didn't. No, Nicolle continued her obscene gyrations, but she was smiling at me all the while. I thought it was a smile of victory.

I don't remember how long I stood there. When I returned to my own rooms, I began to plan my escape.

Journal entry August 20, 1795

"Lyon, whatever is the matter with you? Why, you actually smiled at Matthews. Didn't I hear you ask after his mother, too? You aren't feeling well, are you?"

The questions were issued by Lyon's sister, Lady Diana, who was now chasing her brother up the stairs to the bedrooms.

Lyon paused to turn back to Diana. "You aren't happy when I'm frowning, and now you seem upset because I'm smiling. Make up your mind on the matter of my disposition and I shall try to accommodate you."

Diana's eyes widened over the teasing tone in her brother's voice. "You are sick, aren't you? Is your knee paining you again? Don't look at me as though I've grown another head. It isn't at all usual for you to smile, especially when you come to visit Mama. I know how tiring she can be. Remember, brother, I live with her. You only have to visit her once a week. I know Mama can't help the way she is, but there are times I wish you'd let me move into your town-house. Is that shameful of me to admit?"

"Being honest with your brother is not shameful. You've had a time of it since James died, haven't you?"

The sympathy in Lyon's voice made Diana's eyes fill with tears. Lyon hid his exasperation. His sister was such an emotional whirlwind when it came to matters of family. Lyon was quite the opposite. It was difficult for him to show outward affection. He briefly considered putting his arm around his sister's shoulders to offer her sympathy, then pushed the awkward notion aside. She'd probably be so astonished by the gesture she'd break down into full-blown weeping.

Lyon wasn't up to tears today. It was quite enough he was going to endure another god-awful visit with his mother.

"I really thought Mama was going to get better when you made her servants open her townhouse for my season, Lyon, but she hasn't left her room since the day we arrived in London."

He merely nodded, then continued toward his destination. "Mama isn't the least bit better," Diana whispered. She trailed behind her brother's shadow. "I try to talk to her about the parties I've attended. She doesn't listen, though. She only wants to talk about James."

"Go back downstairs and wait for me, Diana. There's something I wish to discuss with you. And quit looking so worried," he added with a wink. "I promise I won't upset our mother. I'll be on my best behavior."

"You will?" Diana's voice squeaked. "You aren't feeling well, are you?"

Lyon started laughing. "God, have I really been such an ogre?"

Before Diana could think of a tactful answer that wouldn't be an outright lie, Lyon opened the door to his mother's quarters. He used the heel of his boot to close the door, then proceeded across the dark, stuffy room.

The Marchioness was reclining on top of her black satin covers. She was, as usual, dressed in black, from the silk cap covering her gray hair to the cotton stockings covering her feet. Lyon wouldn't have been able to find her if it weren't for her pasty white complexion glaring out from the shroud of black.

It was a fact that the Marchioness mourned with true dedication. Lyon thought she took to the task with as much intensity as a spoiled child took to tantrums. God only knew the woman had done it long enough to have become a master.

It was enough to make a dead man sit up and take notice. James had been gone for over three years now, but his mother continued to act as though the freakish accident had just taken place the day before.

"Good afternoon, Mother." Lyon gave his standard greeting, then sat down in the chair adjacent to the bed.

"Good afternoon, Lyon."

The visit was now over. They wouldn't speak again until Lyon took his leave. The reason was simple. Lyon refused to talk about James, and his mother refused to talk about any other topic. The silence would be maintained during the half hour Lyon stayed. To pass the time, he struck light to the candles and read The Morning Herald.

The ritual never varied.

He was usually in a foul mood when the ordeal was over. Today, however, he wasn't too irritated by his mother's shameful behavior.

Diana was waiting in the foyer. When she saw the smile was still on her brother's face, her worry about his health intensified. Why, he was acting so strangely!

Her mind leapt from one horrid conclusion to another. "You're going to send Mama and me back to the country, aren't you, Lyon? Oh, please, do reconsider," Diana wailed. "I know Uncle Milton has been a disappointment, but he can't help being bedridden with his liver again. And I do so want to go to Creston's ball."

"Diana, I shall be honored to take you to Creston's bash. And I never considered sending you home, sweet. You've had your presentation, and you'll certainly have the rest of the season. Have I ever gone back on my word?"

"Well… no," Diana admitted. "But you've never smiled this much either. Oh, I don't know what to think. You're always in a terrible mood after you've seen Mama. Was she more agreeable today, Lyon?"

"No," Lyon said. "And that's what I wanted to discuss with you, Diana. You need someone here to show you the way to go around. Since Milton isn't able and his wife won't go anywhere without him, I've decided to send for Aunt Harriett. Does that meet with your—"

"Oh, yes, Lyon," Diana interrupted. She clasped her hands together. "You know how much I love Father's sister. She has such a wonderful sense of humor. Will she agree, Lyon?"

"Of course," Lyon answered. "I'll send for her immediately. Now then, I'd like a favor."

"Anything, Lyon. I'll—"

"Send a note to Princess Christina inviting her here for tea. Make it for the day after tomorrow."

Diana broke into giggles. "Now I understand your strange behavior. You're smitten with the Princess, aren't you?"

"Smitten? What a stupid word," Lyon answered. His voice sounded with irritation. "No, I'm not smitten."

"I shall be pleased to invite the Princess. I can't help but wonder why you don't just send a note requesting an audience, though."

"Christina's aunt doesn't find me suitable," Lyon announced.

"The Marquess of Lyonwood isn't suitable?" Diana looked horrified. "Lyon, you have more titles than most men in England. You can't be serious."

"By the way, don't tell Christina I'll be here. Let her think it will be just the two of you."

"What if she requests that I come to her home instead?"

"She won't," Lyon advised.

"You seem very certain."

"I don't think she has enough money to entertain," Lyon said. "Keep this a secret, Diana, but I believe the Princess is in dire financial straits. The townhouse is a bit shabby—so are the furnishings—and I've heard the Countess had denied everyone who has requested entrance."

"Oh, the poor dear," Diana announced, shaking her head. "But why don't you want her to know you'll be here?"

"Never mind."

"I see," Diana said.

Lyon could tell from her expression she didn't see at all.

"I do like the Princess," Diana gushed when Lyon glared at her.

"You didn't come away confused?"

"I don't understand," Diana said. "Whatever do you mean?"

"When you spoke to her," Lyon explained. "Did she make sense with her answers?"

"Well, of course she made sense."

Lyon hid his exasperation. It had been a foolish question to put to someone as scatterbrained as his little sister. Diana's disposition had always been as flighty as the wind. He loved her, yet knew he'd go to his grave without having any understanding of what went on inside her mind. "I imagine you two will become fast friends," Lyon predicted.

"Would that upset you?"

"Of course not," Lyon answered. He gave Diana a curt nod, then started out the door.

"Well, why are you frowning again?" Diana called after him.

Lyon didn't bother to answer his sister. He mounted his black steed and went riding in the countryside. The brisk exercise was just what he needed to clear his mind. He was usually able to dispatch all unnecessary information and target in on the pertinent facts. Once he'd thrown out the insignificant, he was certain he'd be able to figure out his attraction to the most unusual woman in all of England. He was going to use cold reason to come to terms with his unreasonable affliction.

And it was an affliction, Lyon decided. To let Christina affect his every thought, his every action, was simply unacceptable. Confusing, too.

As confusing as being told he made her as nervous as a buffalo.

And where in God's name had she seen buffaloes?

The Earl of Rhone paced the carpet in front of his desk. His library was in shambles, but Rhone wouldn't let any of the servants inside to clean. Since being wounded, he'd been in too much discomfort to think about such mundane matters as household chores.

The injury was healing. Rhone had poured hot water over the opening, then wrapped his wrist in clean white gauze. Even though he wore an oversized jacket from his father's closet so that he could conceal the bandage, he was determined to stay hidden inside his townhouse until the wound was completely healed. He wasn't about to take any chances of being found out. There was too much work still to be done.

Rhone's primary concern was Princess Christina. He thought she might have recognized him. The way she'd stared at him and the funny, surprised look on her face did suggest she had known who was behind the mask.

Did Lyon know? Rhone mulled over that worry a long while, then concluded his friend had been too occupied with protecting the little Princess to take a good look at him.

And just who in God's name had thrown the knife at him? Why, he'd been so surprised, he'd dropped his pistol. Whoever it was had a lousy aim, Rhone decided, and he'd thank God for that small blessing. Damn, he could have been killed.

He was going to have to be more careful. Rhone had no intention of quitting his activity. There were four names on his list, and every one of them was going to be tormented. It was the least he could do to ease his father's humiliation.

A servant's hesitant knock on the door broke Rhone's pacing. "Yes?" he bellowed, letting his irritation carry through the door. He had specifically ordered his staff not to interrupt him.

"The Marquess of Lyonwood is here to see you, my lord."

Rhone rushed over to take his seat behind the desk. He rested his good arm on a stack of papers, hid his injured hand in his lap, then called out in a surly voice, "Send him in."

Lyon strolled into the room with a bottle of brandy tucked under his arm. He placed the gift on the desk, then sat down in a leather chair in front of Rhone. After casually propping his feet on the desktop, he said, "You look like hell."

Rhone shrugged. "You never were a diplomat," he remarked. "What's the brandy for?"

"Our wager," Lyon reminded him.

"Oh, yes. Princess Christina," Rhone grinned. "She never did answer any of your questions, did she?"

"It doesn't matter. I've already found out quite enough about her. She was raised somewhere in France, or thereabouts," he stated. "There are a few little nagging inconsistences, but I'll have them worked out in short time."

"Why the interest, Lyon?"

"I'm not sure anymore. In the beginning I thought it was just curiosity, but now—"

"In the beginning. Lyon, you sound as though you'd known the woman for months."

Lyon shrugged. He reached over to the sideboard, extracted two glasses, and poured each of them a drink. Lyon waited until Rhone was in the process of swallowing a hefty portion before asking his question. "How's the hand, Jack?"

Needless to say, Lyon was immensely satisfied with his friend's reaction. Rhone started choking and coughing and trying to effect a denial all at the same time. It was laughable. Damning, too, Lyon thought with a sigh.

He waited until his friend had regained some control before speaking again. "Why didn't you tell me you were in such financial trouble? Why didn't you come to me?"

"Financial trouble? I don't know what you're talking about," Rhone protested. It was a weak lie. "Hell," he muttered. "It's always been impossible to lie to you."

"Have you lost your mind? Do you have a passion to live in Newgate prison, Rhone? You know it's only a matter of time before you're found out."

"Lyon, let me explain," Rhone stammered. "My father has lost everything. I've used my own estates, put them up as promise against the rest of the notes, but…"

"You and your father are free of debt as of yesterday eve," Lyon said. "Get angry and then get over it, Rhone," Lyon demanded, his voice edged with steel. "I paid off the moneylenders. In your name, by the way."

"How dare you involve—" Rhone bellowed. His face was flushed a bright red.

"Someone sure as hell had to intervene," Lyon announced. "Your father means as much to me as he does to you, Rhone. God only knows the number of times he put himself in front of my father to protect me when I was young."

Rhone nodded. Some of the fight went out of him. "I'll pay you back, Lyon, just as soon—"

"You will not pay me back," Lyon roared. He was suddenly furious with his friend. He took a deep, settling breath before continuing. "Do you remember what I was like when Lettie died?" he asked.