Rhone was surprised by the change in topic. He slowly nodded. "I remember."
"You stood by me then, Rhone. You're the only one who knows about James. Have I ever asked to pay you back for your friendship?"
"Of course not. I would have been insulted."
A long moment stretched between the two men. Then Rhone actually grinned. "May I at least tell my father that you—"
"No," Lyon interrupted, his voice soft. "I don't want him to realize I know what happened to him. Let him think his son is the only one who knows, that you came to his assistance."
"But Lyon, surely—"
"Let it rest, Rhone. Your father is a proud man. Don't take that away from him."
Rhone nodded again. "Tell me what you know about my father's problems."
"I recognized you at Baker's, of course," Lyon began, smiling over the start that statement gave his friend. "It was foolish of you to—"
"You weren't supposed to be there," Rhone muttered. "Why did you attend his party? You can't stand Baker any more than I can."
Lyon chuckled. "The most carefully laid plans," he drawled. "For all his good points, your father is still a little naive, isn't he, Rhone? Baker and his cohorts took advantage, of course. Baker would have been the one to set up the games. Let's see if I have this straight. He would have included Buckley, Stanton, and Wellingham in the farce, too. They're all bastards. Did I get all the names, Rhone?"
His friend was astonished. "How did you learn all this?"
"Do you honestly think I wouldn't know about their little club? Your father isn't the only one to fall victim to their scheme."
"Does everyone know?"
"No," Lyon answered. "There isn't a hint of a scandal about your father. I would have heard of it."
"You've been out of circulation, Lyon. How can you be so sure?"
Lyon gave Rhone a look of exasperation. "With my line of work, you can seriously ask me that question?"
Rhone grinned. "I thought you might have gotten a little rusty," he said. "Father is still hiding in his country home. He's so ashamed of his own gullibility he won't show his face. He'll be relieved to learn no one is the wiser."
"Yes, he can come out of hiding now. And you can give up this foolish plan of yours. You'll eventually get caught."
"You'd never turn me in." Rhone's voice was filled with conviction.
"No, I wouldn't," Lyon acknowledged. "How was it done, Rhone? Did Baker mark the cards?"
"Yes. They are all blatant cheats, which of course is all the more humiliating for my father. He's feeling duped."
"He was duped," Lyon said. "Will you give it up, Rhone?"
Rhone let out a harsh groan. "Damn it all, Lyon. I'm itching to get even."
Lyon took a drink of his brandy. "Ah," he drawled. "Now you've touched on my area of expertise. Perhaps, Rhone, a game of chance is what is needed."
Lyon grinned when Rhone finally caught his meaning. "You mean to give them a dose of their own medicine, to cheat the cheaters?"
"It would be easy enough to accomplish."
Rhone slapped his hand on the tabletop, then let out a groan. "I keep forgetting about this injury," he excused. "Count me in, Lyon. I'll leave the details to you. As you just admitted, you're better versed in trickery than I am."
Lyon laughed. "I'll take that as a compliment."
Another knock sounded at the door, interrupting their conversation. "Now what is it?" Rhone shouted.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, my lord, but Princess Christina is here to see you," the servant shouted back.
The announcement gave Rhone a start. Lyon didn't look too happy with the news either. He glared at Rhone. "Have you been after Christina, Rhone? Did you invite her here?"
"No," Rhone answered. "My charms must have impressed her after all, Lyon." He grinned when Lyon's scowl increased. "So it is as I guessed. You're more than mildly interested in our little Princess."
"She isn't our little Princess," Lyon snapped. "She belongs to me. Understood?"
Rhone nodded. "I was only jesting," he said with a sigh. "Send her in," he bellowed to his servant.
Lyon didn't move from his position. Christina hurried into the library as soon as the door was opened for her. She spotted Lyon immediately and came to an abrupt stop. "Oh, I didn't mean to interrupt your conference, sir. I shall come back later, Rhone."
Christina frowned at Lyon, turned, and started back out the door.
Lyon let out a long, controlled sigh. He carefully put his glass down on the desk, then stood up. Christina saw him out of the corner of her eye. She ignored Rhone's pleas for her to stay and continued to move toward the front door.
Lyon trapped her just as she reached for the handle. His hands settled on the door on either side of Christina's face. Her back touched his chest. Lyon smiled when he saw how rigid her shoulders became. "I really must insist you stay," he whispered against her ear.
A tremor of warmth shook Christina. She slowly edged around until she was facing Lyon. "And I really must insist upon leaving, sir," she whispered.
She pushed one hand against his chest, hoping to dislodge him.
He didn't budge. He gave her a rascal's grin, then leaned down and kissed her.
Rhone's deep chuckle interrupted his desire to continue.
Christina immediately blushed over the intimacy. Didn't the man realize he wasn't supposed to show affection in front of others? She guessed he didn't. Lyon winked at her before grabbing hold of her hand and dragging her back inside the library.
She was wearing a light blue gown. Lyon deliberately checked to see if she'd remembered to put her shoes on. He wasn't disappointed to see she had.
Rhone hurried back to his chair. He hid his bandaged arm in his lap.
Christina refused to sit down. She stood beside Lyon, trying to ignore him altogether. He put his booted feet back up on the edge of Rhone's desk and reached for his glass. She gave him a disgruntled look. If the man was any more relaxed, he'd fall asleep.
It soon became awkward. Rhone was looking at her expectantly. Christina clutched the blue receptacle in her left hand and kept trying to pull her other hand out of Lyon's hold. He'd forgotten to let go of her.
"Was there something in particular you wished to speak to me about?" Rhone prodded gently. He tried to put Christina at ease. The poor woman looked terribly worried.
"I'd hoped to find you alone," Christina announced. She gave Lyon a meaningful look. "Were you about to take your leave, Lyon?"
His abrupt answer was given in such a cheerful voice, Christina smiled. "I would like to speak to Rhone in private, if you don't mind."
"Ah, sweet, but I do mind," Lyon drawled out. He increased his grip on her hand, then suddenly jerked her off balance.
She landed right where he wanted her. Christina immediately started to struggle out of his lap. Lyon circled her waist with one arm, anchoring her to him.
Rhone was amazed. He'd never seen Lyon act in such a spontaneous manner. To show such open possessiveness was certainly out of character. "Princess Christina? You may speak freely in front of Lyon," Rhone advised.
"I may?" Christina asked. "Then he knows?"
When Christina hesitated, Rhone announced, "Lyon is privy to all my secrets, my dear. Now what is it you wanted to say to me?"
"Well, I was wondering, sir, how you're feeling."
Rhone blinked several times. "Why, I'm feeling very well," he replied awkwardly. "That is all you wanted to ask me?"
The two of them were dancing around the real issue, to Lyon's way of thinking. "Rhone, Christina wants to know how your injury is doing. Isn't that right, Christina?"
"Oh, then you do know?" Christina asked, turning to look at Lyon.
"You know?" Rhone's voice cracked.
"She knows," Lyon confirmed, chuckling over the flabbergasted look on Rhone's face.
"Well, hell, who doesn't know?"
"You sound pathetic," Lyon told his friend.
"It was the color of your eyes, Rhone," Christina explained, giving him her attention again. "They're an unusual shade of green, and very easy to remember." She paused to give him a sympathetic look. "And you did look right at me. I really didn't mean to recognize you. It just happened," she ended with a delicate shrug.
"Are we putting all our cards on the table?" Rhone asked, leaning forward to give Christina an intent look.
"I don't understand," Christina said. "I don't have any cards with me."
"Christina takes everything you say in its literal sense, Rhone. It's a trait guaranteed to make you daft. Believe me, I know."
"That is most uncharitable of you, Lyon," Christina announced, glaring at him. "I don't know what you mean when you say I'm literal. Is it yet another insult I should take exception to, perchance?"
"Rhone is asking you if he may speak freely," Lyon told Christina. "Hell, I feel like an interpreter."
"Of course you may speak freely to me," Christina announced. "No one's holding a knife to your neck, Rhone. I've some medicine with me. I'd like to tend your injury, Rhone. You probably haven't had proper care."
"I couldn't very well call upon my physician, now could I?" Rhone said.
"Oh, no, you'd be found out," Christina said. She scooted off Lyon's lap and went to Rhone's side. Rhone didn't protest when she began to unwrap his badly fashioned bandage.
Both men watched as Christina opened a small jar of horrid-smelling salve. "My God, what's in there? Dead leaves?"
"Yes," Christina answered. "Among other things."
"I was jesting," Rhone said.
"The smell will keep me hidden," Rhone muttered. "What else is in there?" he asked, taking another sniff of the foul medicine.
"You don't want to know," Christina answered.
"It's best not to ask Christina questions, Rhone. The answers will only confuse you."
Rhone took Lyon's advice. He watched Christina pat a large amount of the brown-colored salve on the cut, then rewrap the arm. "You have a nice scent, Rhone. Of course, the salve will soon remove it."
"I have a nice scent?" Rhone looked as though he'd just been handed England's crown. He thought he should return her compliment. "You smell like flowers," he told her, then promptly laughed over saying such a thing. It was the truth, but certainly ungentlemanly of him to comment upon. "You're the one with the unusual eyes, Christina. They're the most wonderful color of blue."
"That's quite enough," Lyon interjected. "Christina, hurry up and finish your task."
"Why?" Christina asked.
"He doesn't want you standing so close to me," Rhone explained.
"Give it up, Rhone." Lyon's voice had turned hard. "You aren't going to pursue Christina, so you can save your charms for someone else."
"Lady Diana would like your charms very much, Rhone," Christina interjected. She smiled at the reaction her comment caused in both men. Rhone looked perplexed. Lyon looked appalled. "Lyon, you don't own me. It is therefore unreasonable of you to dictate to other gentlemen. If I wanted Rhone's attention, I would let him know it."
"Why do you suggest Lyon's sister would like my attention?" Rhone asked. He was highly curious about her strange remark.
Christina replaced the jar in her receptacle before answering. "You English are so narrow-minded in your thinking sometimes. It's obvious Lady Diana is taken with you, Rhone. You only have to look at her to see the adoration in her eyes. And if you count the way you look after her, why, you'd realize you were meant for each other."
"Oh, God." It was Lyon who groaned out the words.
Both Christina and Rhone ignored him. "How can you be so certain?" Rhone asked. "You only met her once, and you couldn't have spent more than fifteen minutes with her. No, I think you're imagining this infatuation. Diana's just a child, Christina."
"Believe what you will," Christina answered. "What will happen will happen."
"I beg your pardon?"
Rhone looked confused again. Lyon shook his head. It was good to know he wasn't the only one dimwitted around Christina. "Destiny, Rhone," Lyon interjected.
"I really must leave now. Aunt Patricia believes I'm resting in my room," she confessed. "You will have to share my confidence, Rhone. Or should I call you Jack now?"
"I was only jesting, sir. Do not be so distressed," Christina said.
Rhone sighed. He reached out to take hold of Christina's hand, thinking to keep her by his side while he thanked her properly for tending his injury.
Christina moved so quickly Rhone was left reaching for air. Before he could blink, she was standing next to Lyon's chair again.
Lyon was just as surprised. He was arrogantly pleased, too, for even though Christina probably wasn't aware of what she'd done, she had instinctively moved back to him. There was some kind of little victory in that choice, wasn't there?
"Christina, if you recognized me, why didn't you tell Baker and the others?" Rhone asked.
She took exception to his question. "They'll have to find out on their own," she said. "I would never break a confidence, Rhone."
"But I didn't ask you to keep this confidence," Rhone stammered.
"Don't try to understand her, Rhone. It will be your undoing," Lyon advised with a grin.
"Then please answer me this," Rhone asked. "Did you see who threw the knife at me?"
"No, Rhone. In truth, I was too frightened to look behind me. If Lyon hadn't been there to protect me, I think I would have swooned."
Lyon patted her hand. "The pistol wasn't loaded," Rhone protested. "Did you think I'd actually hurt someone?"
Lyon prayed for patience. "I cannot believe you set out to rob Baker with an empty pistol."
"Why would you use an empty weapon?" Christina asked.