"I wanted to scare them, not kill them," Rhone muttered. "Will you two quit looking at me like that? The plan did work, I might remind you."

"You just did remind us," Christina announced.

"Lyon, will you be able to find out who injured me?" Rhone asked.

"Eventually."

Christina frowned. Lyon sounded too certain. "Why does it matter?"

"Lyon likes a good puzzle," Rhone announced. "As I recall, Baker's balcony is a good fifty feet from the terrace below. Whoever it was had to be—"

"Twenty feet, Rhone," Lyon interjected. "And the balcony couldn't be scaled. The railing was too weak."

"Then whoever it was must have been hiding behind you… somewhere," Rhone said with a shrug. "No, that doesn't make sense. Well, thank God he had a lousy aim."

"Why do you say that?" Christina asked.

"Because he didn't kill me."

"Oh, I think his aim was quite on target," she announced. "If he'd wanted to kill you, I think he might have. Perhaps he meant to make you drop your weapon."

Advertisement..

Christina suddenly realized she was sounding too sure of herself. Lyon was staring at her with a strange, intent expression on his face. "It was just a possibility I was giving you," she added quickly. "I could be wrong, of course. His aim could have been faulty."

"Why did you come over here to tend Rhone's injury?" Lyon asked.

"Yes, why did you?" Rhone asked also.

"Now I am insulted," Christina announced. "You were hurt, and I only thought to help you."

"That was your only motive?" Lyon asked.

"Well, there was another reason as well," Christina admitted. She walked over to the door before explaining. "Didn't you tell me you were Lyon's only friend?"

"I might have made that remark," Rhone admitted.

"You did," Christina said. "I never forget anything," she boasted. "And it seemed to me that Lyon is a man in need of friends. I shall continue to keep your secret, Rhone, and you must promise not to tell anyone I came to see you. The Countess would be upset."

"He doesn't suit either?" Lyon asked, sounding vastly amused.

"I don't suit?" Rhone asked. "Suit what?"

Christina ignored the question and started out the doorway.

"Christina."

Lyon's soft voice stopped her. "Yes, Lyon?"

"I didn't promise."

"You didn't?"

"No."

"Oh, but you'd never… you don't even like the Countess. You wouldn't bother to tell her…"

"I'm seeing you home, love."

"I'm not your love."

"Yes, you are."

"I really prefer to walk."

"Rhone, what do you think the Countess will say when I inform her that her niece is strolling around town, paying calls on—"

"You don't fight with an ounce of dignity, Lyon. It's a sorry trait."

"I've never fought fair."

Her sigh of defeat echoed throughout the library. "I shall wait for you in the hall, you despicable man." Christina slammed the door shut to emphasize her irritation.

"She isn't at all what she appears to be," Rhone remarked. "She called us English, Lyon, as if we were foreigners. Doesn't make sense, does it?"

"Nothing Christina says makes sense, unless you remember she wasn't raised here." He stood up, stretched to his full height, and started for the door. "Enjoy the brandy, Rhone, while I go back into battle."

"Battle? What are you talking about?"

"Not what, Rhone. Who. Christina, to be exact."

Rhone's laughter followed Lyon out the door. Christina was standing next to the front door. Her arms were folded across her chest. She wasn't trying to hide her irritation.

"Ready, Christina?"

"No. I hate carriages, Lyon. Please let me walk home. It's only a few short streets away from here."

"Of course you hate carriages," Lyon said. His voice was filled with amusement. "Now, why didn't I realize that sooner, I wonder?" he asked as he took hold of her elbow. He half led, half dragged Christina to his vehicle. Once they were seated across from each other, Lyon asked, "Are carriages as much a distraction as saddles, perchance?"

"Oh, no," Christina answered. "I don't like being confined like this. It's suffocating. You weren't going to tell the Countess I left without permission, were you, Lyon?"

"No," he admitted. "Are you afraid of the Countess, Christina?"

"I'm not afraid of her," Christina said. "It's just that she is my only family now, and I don't like to upset her."

"Were you born in France, Christina?" Lyon asked. He leaned forward to take hold of her hands.

His voice coached, his smile soothed. Christina wasn't fooled for a moment. She knew he thought to catch her off guard. "When your mind is set on finding something out, you really don't give up, do you, Lyon?"

"That's about right, my dear."

"You're shameful," Christina confessed. "Quit smiling. I've insulted you, haven't I?"

"Were you born in France?"

"Yes," she lied. "Now, are you satisfied? Will you quit your endless questions, please?"

"Why does it bother you to be questioned about your past?" Lyon asked.

"I merely try to protect my privacy," she answered.

"Did you live with your mother?"

He was like a dog after a meaty bone, Christina decided. And he wasn't going to let up. It was time to soothe his curiosity. "A very kind couple by the name of Summerton raised me. They were English but enjoyed traveling. I've been all over the world, Lyon. Mr. Summerton preferred to speak French, and I'm more comfortable with that language."

The tension slowly ebbed away from her shoulders. She could tell by Lyon's sympathetic expression that he believed her. "The Countess can be difficult, as you well know. She had a falling out with the Summertons and refuses to let me speak of them. She wants everyone to think I was raised by her, I suppose. Lying is very difficult for me," she added with a straight face. "Since Aunt Patricia won't let me tell the truth, and I'm not any good telling lies, I decided it would be best to say nothing at all about my past. There, are you satisfied?"

Lyon leaned back against the upholstery. He nodded, obviously satisfied with her confession. "How did you meet up with these Summertons?"

"They were dear friends of my mother," Christina said. She gave him another smile. "When I turned two years of age, my mother took ill. She gave me to the Summertons because she trusted them, you see. My mother didn't want her sister, the Countess, to become my guardian. And the Summertons weren't able to have children."

"Your mother was a shrewd woman," Lyon remarked. "The old bat would have ruined you, Christina."

"Oh, my, did Elbert call my aunt an old bat in front of you? I really must have another firm talk with him. He seems to have taken an extreme dislike to her."

"Love, everyone dislikes your aunt."

"Are you finished with your questions now?" Christina asked.

"Where did you hear the sound of lions, Christina, and where did you see buffaloes?"

The man had the memory of a child given the promise of candy. He didn't forget anything. "I did spend a good deal of time in France, because of Mr. Summerton's work, but he was very devoted to his wife—and to me, for he did think of me as his daughter. And so he took both of us with him when he went on his trips. Lyon, I really don't want to answer any more of your questions."

"Just one more, Christina. Will you let me escort you to Creston's ball on Saturday? It will be very proper. Diana will be with us."

"You know my aunt won't allow it," Christina protested.

The carriage came to a halt in front of Christina's home. Lyon opened the door, dismounted, and turned to lift Christina to the ground. He held her a bit longer than necessary, but Christina didn't take exception. "Simply tell your aunt that arrangements have already been made. I'll call for you at nine."

"I do suppose it will be all right. Aunt Patricia need never know. She's going to the country to visit a sick friend. If I don't mention the ball, I really won't have to lie. It isn't quite the same if the Countess believes I mean to stay home, is it? Or is it still a lie by deliberate silence, I wonder."

Lyon smiled. "You really do have trouble telling a lie, don't you, sweet? It is a noble trait," he added.

Heaven help her, she really mustn't laugh. Lyon would certainly grow suspicious then. "Yes, it is difficult for me," she confessed.

"You don't know how it pleases me to find a woman with such high standards, Christina."

"Thank you, Lyon. May I put a question to you now?"

Elbert opened the door just then. Christina became distracted. She smiled at the butler, then waved him inside. "I shall see the door closed, Elbert. Thank you."

Lyon patiently waited until Christina turned back to him. "Your question?" he gently prodded.

"Oh, yes," Christina said. "First of all, I would like to ask you if you will be attending Sir Hunt's party Thursday evening."

"Are you going?"

"Yes."

"Then I shall be there."

"There is one more question, please."

"Yes?" Lyon asked, smiling. Christina was acting terribly shy all of a sudden. A faint blush covered her cheeks, and she couldn't quite meet his gaze.

"Will you marry me, Lyon? For just a little while?"

"What?"

He really hadn't meant to shout, but the woman did say the damnedest things. He couldn't have heard her correctly. Marriage? For just a while? No, he had misunderstood. "What did you say?" he asked again, calming his voice.

"Will you marry me? Think about it, Lyon, and do let me know. Good day, sir."

The door closed before the Marquess of Lyonwood could summon a reaction.

Chapter Seven

It took over three weeks before Mylala was able to find a captain willing to take the risk of helping us escape. I don't know what I would have done without my loyal maid. She put her family and her friends in jeopardy to aid me. I listened to her advice, for she had been in my husband's household for several years and knew his ways.

I had to act as though nothing had changed. Yes, I played the loving wife, but every night I prayed for Edward's death. Mylala suggested that I not take any possessions with me. When the call came for me to go, I would simply walk away with only the clothes on my back.

Two nights before word came from the captain, I went to see Edward in his quarters. I entered by the side door again, very quietly, as a precaution against finding Nicolle with him again. Edward was alone. He was sitting at his desk, holding a large, sparkling sapphire in his hands. On the desk top were over twenty other gems. Edward was fondling them in much the same way he fondled Nicolle. I stood there, in the shadows, watching him. The madman actually spoke to the jewels. After another few minutes, he wrapped the gems in a cloth and put them back in a small black lacquered box.

There was a false panel built into the wall. Edward slid the box into the dark crevice.

I went back to my rooms and related what I'd seen to my maid. She told me she'd heard a rumor that the treasury was barren. We came to the conclusion that the revolution was closer to reality than we'd believed. My husband had converted the coins into jewels, for they would be much easier to carry with him when he left his country.

I vowed to steal the jewels. I wanted to hurt Edward in any way that I could. Mylala cautioned me against such a plan, but I was past caring. The jewels belonged to the people. I promised myself that one day I'd find a way to give the jewels back.

God, I was so noble, but so very, very naive. I really thought I would get away with it.

Journal entry September 1, 1795

The early morning hours belonged to Christina. It was a peaceful, quiet time of day, for the Countess rarely made an appearance or a demand before noon. Christina's aunt preferred to take her morning meal of biscuits and tea in bed, and only broke that ritual when an important visitation couldn't be rescheduled.

Christina was usually dressed and finished with her duties before the full light of dawn warmed the city. She and her aunt shared a lady's maid between them, but Beatrice had quite enough to do filling the Countess's orders. For that reason, Christina took care of her clothes and her bedroom. In truth, she was happy with the arrangement. She didn't have to keep up a pretense when she was alone in her room. Since Beatrice rarely interrupted her, Christina didn't have to wrinkle the covers on her bed every morning to give the appearance she'd actually slept there.

Once she bolted the door against intruders, she could let her defenses slide. Every night she carried her blanket across the room to sleep on the floor in front of the double windows.

She didn't have to be strong when she was alone. She could cry, just as long as she was quiet about it. It was a weakness to shed tears, yet since no one was there to witness her distress, Christina felt little shame.

The tiny garden hidden behind the kitchens was Christina's other private domain. She usually spent most of the morning hours there. She blocked out the noise of the city and the stench of discarded garbage, slipped off her shoes, and wiggled her toes in the rich brown dirt. When the droplets of dew had been snatched away by the sun, Christina would return to the erupting chaos inside the house.

The precious reunion with the sun helped her endure the rest of the day. She could usually worry through any perplexing problem in such a tranquil setting too. However, since meeting the Marquess of Lyonwood, Christina hadn't been able to concentrate on much of anything. Her every thought belonged to him.

She'd been attracted to him from the moment of their meeting. When Sir Reynolds had called him Lyon, she'd been nudged into awareness. Then she'd looked up into his eyes, and her heart had been captured. The vulnerability she'd seen there, in his dark gaze, had made her want to reach out to him.

He was a man in need of attention. Christina thought he might be just as lonely as she was. She didn't understand why she'd come away with that impression, however. Lyon was surrounded by his family, embraced by the ton, envied, and somewhat feared. Yes, the ton bowed to him because of his title and his wealth. They were superficial reasons, to Christina's way of viewing matters, but Lyon had been raised in such a fashion.