Lyon was going to get his good hand whether he wanted it or not.

The Marquess was shaking mad. He knew he'd calm down as soon as he saw Christina and knew she was all right. She was taking her sweet time opening the door for him. His nerves were at the snapping point. Lyon was about to break the lock with one of the special tools he always carried with him for just such an eventuality when he heard the sound of chain being slipped from the bar.

Though he'd held his temper in front of Rhone, the minute Christina opened the door he exploded with anger. "What in God's name do you think you're doing opening the door with just a robe on? Hell, you didn't even find out who it was, Christina!"

Christina clutched the lapels of her robe together and backed out of Lyon's way. The man literally charged into the foyer like a crazed stallion.

"What are you doing here?" she asked.

"Why didn't Elbert answer the door?" Lyon demanded. He stared at the top of her head, knowing full well that the sight of her dressed in such scanty attire, with her hair unbound in lovely disarray, would make him lose his train of thought.

"Elbert's visiting his mother," Christina explained. "Lyon, isn't it terribly late to be paying a call?"

"His what?" Lyon's anger suddenly evaporated.

"His mama. And just why is that so amusing, I wonder?" she asked. "You're the lizard, Lyon. You shout at me, then turn to laughing in the blink of an eye."

"Chameleon, Christina, not lizard," Lyon instructed. "Elbert has to be at least eighty if he's a day. How can his mother still be alive?"

"Oh, I've met her, Lyon. She's a dear woman. Looks just like Elbert, too. Well, are you going to tell me why you're here?"

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"Go upstairs and get dressed. I can't think with you strutting around like that."

"I'm not strutting," Christina protested. "I'm standing perfectly still."

"We're going to have company in a little while."

"We are?" Christina shook her head. "I didn't invite anyone. I'm really not in the mood to entertain, Lyon. I had only just begun to mourn you, and now here you are—"

"Mourn me?" Lyon repeated, matching her frown. "What the hell are you mourning me for?"

"Never mind," Christina said. "And quit losing your . temper. Who is coming to pay a call?"

Lyon had to take a deep breath to regain his control. He then explained all about Splickler and his men. He deliberately left out mention of the Countess's involvement, for he didn't want Christina too upset. He decided to wait, thinking to take care of one problem at a time.

"What is it you want me to do?" Christina asked. She bolted the front door and walked over to stand directly in front of him.

Lyon inhaled the scent of flowers. He reached out to take her into his arms. "You smell good," he told her.

His hands cupped the sides of her angelic face. Lord, she was staring up at him with such trust in her eyes.

"You must tell me what to do," Christina whispered again.

"Kiss me," Lyon commanded. He lowered his head to steal a quick kiss.

"I was talking about the mischief makers," Christina said when he'd pulled away. "You really can't hold a thought for more than a minute, can you, Lyon? Does the flaw run in your family?"

Lyon shook his head. "Of course I can hold a thought. I've been thinking about getting you into my arms since the moment you opened the door. You don't have anything on underneath this flimsy little robe, do you?"

She would have shaken her head if he hadn't been holding her so securely. "I just finished my bath," she explained, smiling over the fact that he'd just admitted wanting to touch her.

He was such an honest man. Christina leaned up on her tiptoes to give him what he wanted. She thought only to imitate the same quick kiss he'd given her. Lyon had other notions. His thumb nudged her chin down just enough for his tongue to thrust inside her mouth in search of hers.

Christina held onto the lapels of his jacket, fearing her knees were about to buckle. When she was certain she wouldn't disgrace herself by falling down, she returned his kiss with equal fervor.

The way she responded to him made him half-crazed. His mouth slanted over hers, powerfully, possessively. Christina wasn't able to hold back. That fact aroused Lyon almost as much as her whispered moans, her soft lips, her wild tongue.

Yes, he was thoroughly satisfied with her response. He was fast coming to the conclusion that it was the only time she was honest with him.

Lyon reluctantly pulled away from her. "You've made my hands tremble," Christina said. "I won't be much help to you if they knock on my door now."

"Too bad you aren't talented with a knife," Lyon remarked.

He waited for the lie, knowing full well she couldn't admit to such training.

"Yes, it is too bad," Christina answered. "But knives are for men. Women would harm themselves. I don't have a pistol, either. Perhaps you're disappointed I'm so poorly educated?"

He could tell by the way she'd asked the question she was hoping for agreement.

"Not at all, sweet," Lyon answered, his voice smooth. He draped his arm around her shoulder and started up the steps. "It's a man's duty to protect his little woman."

"Yes, that's the way in most cultures," Christina returned. Her voice turned hesitant, almost shy, when she added, "Still, you wouldn't take great exception if this same little woman did know how to defend herself. Would you? I mean to say, you wouldn't think it was unladylike… or would you?"

"Is this your room?" Lyon asked, deliberately evading her question. He pushed the door of the first bedroom open, took in the dark colors and the rank odor of old perfume, and knew before Christina answered him that he'd breached the Countess's quarters.

The room was dark enough to please a spider. Or an old bat, Lyon thought with a frown.

"This is my aunt's room," Christina said. She peeked inside. "It's awfully gloomy, isn't it?"

"You seem surprised. Haven't you ever been inside?"

"No."

Lyon was pulling the door closed when he saw the number of bolts and chains attached to the inside. "Your aunt must be an uneasy sleeper," he remarked. "Against whom does she lock her door, Christina?"

He knew the answer and was already getting angry. Lyon remembered the seaman's remark about the Countess being frightened of the pretty little miss.

The locks were on the wrong side of the door, as far as Lyon was concerned. Christina should be protecting herself against the Countess, and not the other way around.

What kind of life had Christina been forced to live since returning to her family and her homeland? She must surely be lonely. And what kind of woman would shun her only relative?

"My aunt doesn't like to be disturbed when she sleeps," Christina explained.

Lyon reacted to the sadness in her voice by hugging her close to him. "You haven't had an easy time of it since coming home, have you, love?"

He could feel her shrug against him. "My room is at the end of the hall. Is that what you're looking for?"

"Yes," he answered. "But I want to check all the windows, too."

"I have two windows in my room," Christina said. She pulled away from him, took hold of his hand, and hurried into her room.

Lyon took in everything in one quick glance. The bedroom was sparse by most women's standards, immensely appealing by his own. Trinkets didn't litter the two chest tops. No, there wasn't any clutter. A single chair, angled in the corner, a privacy screen behind it, a canopy bed with a bright white coverlet, and two small chests were the only pieces of furniture in the large square room.

Christina obviously liked order. The room was spotless, save for the single blanket someone had dropped on the floor by the window.

"The garden's right below my windows," Christina said. "The wall would be easy to scale. The greenery reaches the ledge. I think the vines are sturdy enough to hold a man."

"I'd rather they didn't come in through the windows," Lyon remarked, almost absentmindedly. He tested the frames, then looked down at the garden. He wished the moon wasn't so accommodating this evening. There was too much light.

Lyon glanced over at Christina. His expression and his attitude had changed. Drastically.

Christina felt like smiling. He really was a warrior. His face was just as impassive as a brave's. She couldn't tell what he was thinking now, and the rigidity of his bearing indicated to her he was preparing for battle.

"The drawing room only has two front windows, as I recall. Is there another entrance besides the one from the foyer?"

"No," Christina answered.

"Good. Get dressed, Christina. You can wait in there until this is over. I'll make it safe enough."

"How?"

"By blocking the windows and the doors," Lyon explained.

"No. I mean, I don't wish to be locked inside anywhere, Lyon."

The vehemence in her tone surprised him. Then he remembered how uncomfortable she'd been inside the closed carriage. His heart went out to her. "If I fashion a lock on the inside of the door so you'll know you could get out if you—"

"Oh, yes, that would do nicely," Christina interrupted with a brisk nod. She looked very relieved. "Thank you for understanding."

"Now why are you frowning?" Lyon asked, clearly exasperated.

"I've just realized you have another weapon to use against me if you become angry with me," she admitted. "I've just shown you a weakness," she added with a shrug.

"No, you've just insulted me," Lyon returned. "I don't know too many men, or women either, who would like to be locked in a room, Christina. Now quit trying to distract me. Get dressed."

She hurried to do his bidding. "I don't think I want to wait in the drawing room at all," she muttered to herself as she grabbed the first gown she could lay her hands on and moved behind the screen to change. She realized what a poor selection she'd made after she'd shed her robe and put the royal blue dress on.

"Lyon? The fastenings are in the back," she called out, "I can't do them up properly."

Lyon turned from the window to find Christina holding the front of her dress against her chest.

When she turned to give him her back, the first thing he noticed was her flawless skin. In the candlelight she looked too enticing for his peace of mind.

The second thing he took notice of was that she wasn't wearing a damn thing underneath. He wasn't unaffected either. His hands shook when he bent to the task of securing her gown, his fingers awkward because he wanted to caress her smooth skin.

"Where's your maid, Christina?" he asked, hoping conversation would pull him away from the ungentlemanly thought of carrying her over to the bed and seducing her.

"I'm alone for the week. I let Beatrice have the time away."

Her casually spoken comment irritated him. "For God's sake, no gentle lady stays all by herself," he muttered.

"I do well enough for myself. I'm most self-serving."

"Self-sufficient," Lyon said with a sigh. He was having difficulty catching the last button. Her silky hair kept getting in his way.

"I beg your pardon?"

Lyon lifted her hair and draped it over her shoulder. He smiled when he saw the goosebumps on her skin. "Self-sufficient, my sweet, not self-serving."

"There is a difference?" she asked, trying to turn around to look at him.

"Stand still," Lyon ordered. "Yes, there is a difference. Your aunt is self-serving. You're self-sufficient."

"Do you know I never make mistakes except when I'm with you, Lyon? It is therefore all your fault I get confused."

He didn't want to waste time arguing with her. "Come along," he ordered after he'd finished fastening her gown. He took hold of her hand and pulled her behind him.

Christina had to run to keep up with him. "I haven't braided my hair," she said quickly. "I really must, Lyon. It could be used against me. Surely you realize that."

He didn't realize, knew he shouldn't ask, but did anyway. "Why is your hair a weapon?"

"The men could catch hold of me if they grabbed my hair, unless of course I'm as quick as a panther, as fearless as a wolf, as cunning as a bear."

The woman was getting carried away. Lyon let her see his exasperation when they'd reached the drawing room.

"Will you be all right sitting in the dark?" Lyon asked. He walked over to the front windows, pulled the braided cord from one side of the drape, and handed it to Christina.

"I'm not afraid of the dark," she answered, looking disgruntled. "What a silly question to put to me."

"Tie this rope around the door handles, Christina. Make it good and tight. If anyone tries to break in, I'll hear the noise. All right?"

Lyon checked the windows. Age had sealed them tight. "Yes, Lyon, I'll not let you down," Christina said from behind him.

"Now listen well, my little warrior," Lyon said in a hard voice. He took hold of her shoulders to give her a squeeze. "You're going to wait inside this room until the danger is over. Do you understand me?"

His voice had been harsh, angry. It didn't seem to worry Christina, though. She was still smiling up at him. "I really would like to help you, Lyon. After all, I would remind you that they are my attackers. Surely you will allow me to do my part."

"Surely I will not," Lyon roared. "You'd just get in my way, Christina," he added in a softer voice.

"Very well," Christina said. She turned to the small oval mirror hanging on the wall adjacent to the windows and began the task of braiding her hair. She looked so graceful, so feminine. When she lifted her arms, her gown edged up above her ankles.

"You've forgotten to put your shoes on," Lyon said, a smile in his voice. "Again."

"Again? Whatever do you mean?" Christina asked, turning back to him.

He shook his head. "Never mind. You might as well leave your hair alone. You aren't going to get involved."

Her smile reeked of sincerity. Lyon was immediately suspicious. "Give me your word, Christina. Now."

"What word?" she asked, feigning innocence. She turned away from his glare and started braiding her hair again.