Lyon held his patience. The little innocent didn't realize he could see her reflection in the mirror. She wasn't looking sincere now, only very, very determined.

He would gain her promise, even if he had to shake it out of her. Her safety was his primary concern, of course. Lyon wasn't about to let anything happen to her. But there was another reason as well. Though it was insignificant in comparison with the first, it still worried him. In truth, he didn't want her to watch him. There was a real possibility Christina would become more frightened of him than of Splickler and his men by the time the night was over.

Lyon didn't fight fair, or honorably either. Christina couldn't have heard about his past. Now that he realized how much he cared about her, he wanted to protect her from the world in general, bastards like Splickler in particular… but protect her from knowing about his dark side, too. He didn't want to disillusion her. She believed he was simply the Marquess of Lyonwood, nothing more, nothing less. God help him, he meant to keep her innocent.

He thought he'd lose her if she knew the truth.

"I promise I won't interfere until you ask me to," Christina said, interrupting his dour thoughts. "Mrs. Smitherson did show me how to defend myself," she hastened to add when he gave her a dark look. "I would know what to do."

"Summerton," Lyon answered on a long, drawn-out sigh. "The people who raised you were called Summerton."

His mood was just like the wind, Christina decided. Completely unpredictable. He wasn't smiling now but looking as though he was contemplating murder.

"You act as though we have all the time in the world before our visitors arrive," Christina remarked. "Won't they be here soon?" she asked, hoping to turn his attention away from whatever sinister thought had him glaring so.

"Not for a while yet," Lyon answered. "Stay here while I have a look around."

Christina nodded. The minute he was out of sight she ran upstairs to fetch a ribbon for her hair. And her knife, of course. Lyon was going to get her help whether he wanted it or not.

She was back inside the drawing room, sitting demurely on the worn settee, her knife hidden under the cushion, when Lyon returned.

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"I've decided to make it easy for Splickler."

"How?"

"Left the back door unlatched."

"That was most accommodating of you."

Lyon smiled over the praise in her voice. He walked over to stand directly in front of her. His big hands rested on his hips, his legs were braced apart, and Christina was given the disadvantage of having to tilt her head back as far as she could just to see his face. Since he was smiling again, she assumed his mood had lightened. "If you're sure they'll come through the garden, why let them inside the house at all? Why not greet them outside?"

"Greet them?" Lyon shook his head. "Christina, they aren't coming here to speak to you. There might very well be a fight."

He hated to worry her but knew she needed to understand. "Well, of course there will be a fight," Christina answered. "That's the reason I prefer you to meet them outside, Lyon. I'm the one who'll have to clean up the mess, after all."

He hadn't thought of that. And when he realized she thoroughly understood what was going to happen, he was immensely relieved. "You're very brave," he told her. "The moon, however, gives too much light. I memorized every detail of the room they'll enter before I put out the candles. They'll have the disadvantage."

"They'll also have to come through one at a time," Christina interjected. "A very cunning idea, Lyon. But what if they climb the vines instead of trying the door?"

"They won't, sweetheart."

He seemed so certain, Christina decided not to worry about it. She watched him walk over to the doors. "Time to put out the candles, love. Tie the rope around the doorknobs first, all right? You aren't frightened, are you? I'll take care of you. I promise."

"I trust you, Lyon."

Her answer warmed him. "And I trust you to stay here."

"Lyon?"

"Yes, Christina?"

"Be careful."

"I will."

"Oh, and Lyon?"

"Yes?"

"You'll try not to make too much of a messr won't you?"

"I'll try."

He winked at her before closing the door behind him. Christina tied the rope around the two door handles, forming a tight double knot. She blew out the candles and settled down to wait.

The minutes dragged by at a turtle's pace. Christina kept straining to hear sounds from the back of the house. For that reason, she was quite unprepared to hear a scraping sound coming from the front windows.

They weren't suppose to come through the front of the house. Lyon was going to be disappointed. Christina felt like instructing the villains to go around back, then realized how foolish that suggestion would have been. She decided she'd just have to wait it out in hopes they'd give up trying to breach the windows and eventually try the back door.

"Christina?"

Her name was called out in a soft whisper, but she recognized the voice all the same. The Earl of Rhone was trying to get her attention.

She pulled the drape back and found Rhone hanging on the ledge, grinning up at her. The smile didn't stay long—nor did Rhone, for that matter. He suddenly lost his grip on the ledge and disappeared. A soft thud came next, followed by several indecent curses telling Christina the poor man hadn't landed on his feet.

She was going to have to fetch him out of the hedges, she decided. He was making such a commotion he was sure to alert the mischief makers.

Rhone met her at the front door. He looked a sight, for his jacket was ripped away from his sleeve, his cravat was soiled and undone, and he was favoring one leg.

He was such a clumsy man, she thought, yet her heart wanned to him all the same. Lyon must have confided in him. Christina believed he'd ventured out to give his friend assistance. It was the only answer for such an unexpected visit. "You look as though you've already lost one fight. Rhone, behind you!"

A crash echoing from the back of the house nearly drowned out her voice. Rhone caught her warning, however. He reacted with good speed, wasted little time by turning around to face the threat, and used his right shoulder to shove the door into the face of a wiry-looking man trying to barrel through the opening. His legs were buckled to the task, his face red with exertion.

When it became evident he wasn't going to get the door closed without her help, Christina added her own strength.

"Lyon!"

Rhone's shout made her ears ring. "Go and hide someplace," Rhone gasped out to Christina, his voice strained.

"Christina. Go back inside the salon."

Lyon's voice came from behind her. Christina thought only to glance over her shoulder to explain that her weight was needed to get the door closed, but the sight that met her pushed her explanation out of her mind.

She slowly turned around and took a tentative step forward. She was too dazed to move more quickly.

The transformation in the Marquess held her spellbound. He didn't even resemble an Englishman now. His jacket was gone, his shirt torn to the waist. Blood trickled down his chin from a cut on the side of his mouth. It wasn't a significant wound, and it didn't frighten her. Neither did the splatter of blood on his sleeve, for she instinctively knew the blood wasn't his… no, she wasn't frightened of his appearance.

The look in his eyes was another matter. He looked ready to kill. Lyon appeared to be quite calm. His arms were folded across his chest, and his expression was almost bored. It was all a lie, of course. The truth was there, in his eyes.

"Now!"

His bellow shook her from her daze. Christina didn't even spare a backward glance for Rhone as she ran toward the drawing room.

"Get out of the way, Rhone."

Rhone didn't hesitate to follow Lyon's order. As soon as he jumped back, three men the size of giants lunged inside. They fell, one atop another. Rhone stood in the corner, hoping Lyon would ask for his help.

Lyon stood in the center of the foyer patiently waiting for the three cutthroats to get back on their feet. Rhone thought that was just a bit too accommodating of his friend.

He was outnumbered, outweighed, outweaponed. The men now crouched in front of him all held knives in their hands. One of the bastards clutched a dagger in each hand.

Someone started to snicker. Rhone smiled. The poor fool obviously didn't realize Lyon still had the advantage.

The fat man in the center suddenly lashed out at Lyon with his blade. Lyon's boot caught him under his chin. The force of the blow lifted the man high enough in the air for Lyon to slam his fists into the man's groin. The attacker blacked out before he hit the floor.

The other two attacked in unison just as another man came charging up the front steps. Rhone heard him coming, reached out, and kicked the door shut. The howl of pain radiating through the door told Rhone his timing had been excellent.

Rhone never took his gaze off Lyon. Though he'd seen him in battles before, Lyon's strength continued to impress him. Lyon used his elbow to crack one man's jaw while he anchored the other man's arm away from him. He dealt with him next, and when Rhone heard the snap of bone he knew Lyon had broken the man's wrist.

Bodies littered the entrance when Lyon was done. "Open the door, Rhone."

"Hell, you're not even out of breath," Rhone muttered. He got the door open, then moved out of the way as Lyon, showing not the least amount of effort, lifted each man and threw him out into the street. "We work well together," Rhone commented. "We?"

"I watch, you work," Rhone explained. "I see."

"What happened to Splickler? Did he come in through the back door, or did he run away?"

Lyon grinned at Rhone, then nodded toward the pyramid of bodies at the bottom of the steps. "Splickler's on the bottom. I think you probably broke his nose when you slammed the door in his face."

"Then I did do my part," Rhone announced, puffing up like a cloud.

Lyon began to laugh. He whacked Rhone on the shoulder, then turned to find Christina standing in the center of the doorway.

She looked like she'd just seen a ghost. The color was gone from her cheeks, and her eyes were wide with fright. Lyon's heart lurched. God, she must have seen the fight. He took a step toward her but stopped when she took a step back.

He felt defeated. She was afraid of him. Lord, he'd meant to protect her, not terrify her.

Christina suddenly ran to him. She threw herself into his arms, very nearly knocking both of them to the floor. Lyon didn't understand what had caused the change in her attitude, yet he was thankful all the same. Relief washed the rigidity from his stance. He put his arms around her, rested his chin on the top of her head, and let out a long sigh. "I'm never going to understand you, am I?"

"I'm so happy you aren't angry with me."

Her voice was muffled against his chest, but he understood her. "Why would I be angry with you?"

"Because I broke my promise," Christina reminded him. "I left the salon to let Rhone in the front door."

Lyon looked over at his friend. "I specifically remember telling you to go home." He frowned at his friend, then suddenly noticed his appearance. "What happened to you? I don't recall you getting in the fight."

"A little mishap," Rhone said.

"He fell in the hedge," Christina explained, smiling over the embarrassment she could see in Rhone's face. Why, the man was actually blushing.

"The hedge?" Lyon sounded incredulous.

"I think I'll walk home. Your carriage is probably waiting in front of my townhouse, Lyon. I'll have your driver bring it along for you. Good evening, Princess Christina."

"No, you really mustn't walk. Lyon, you should—"

"Let him walk. It's only a short distance away," Lyon interjected.

Christina didn't argue further. Someone was going to have to fetch the carriage, and she preferred that Rhone took care of the matter so that she could spend a few minutes alone with Lyon.

"Thank you for your assistance, Rhone. Lyon, what are you going to do about those men cluttering my walkway? And am I mistaken, or are there one or two in the back of the house as well?"

"There are two," Lyon said. "I threw them out back."

"They'll wake up and crawl home," Rhone advised. "Unless, of course, you—"

"I didn't," Lyon said.

"Didn't what?" Christina asked.

"Kill them," Rhone said.

"Rhone, don't frighten her," Lyon said.

"Goodness, I hope not. Think of the mess." Christina sounded appalled, but for all the wrong reasons. Both Lyon and Rhone started laughing.

"Shouldn't you be crying or something?" Rhone asked.

"Should I?"

"No, Christina, you shouldn't," Lyon said. "Now quit frowning."

"You aren't wearing any shoes, Christina," Rhone suddenly blurted out.

"Do be careful walking home," Christina answered, ignoring his comment about her bare feet. "Don't let anyone see your bandage. They might begin to wonder."

As soon as the door was bolted shut, Christina turned back to Lyon, only to find that he was already halfway up the stairs, taking them two at a time. "Where are you going?"

"To wash," Lyon called back. "Wasn't there a pitcher of water in your room, Christina?"

He was out of sight before she could give him a proper answer. Christina hurried up the steps after him.

When she caught up with him she wished she'd waited below the stairs. Lyon had already stripped out of his shirt. He was bent over the basin, splashing water on his face and arms.

Christina was suddenly overwhelmed by his size. She could see the sinewy strength in his upper arms, his shoulders; a pelt of golden hair covered his chest, narrowed to a line above the flat of his stomach, then disappeared below the waistband of his pants. She'd never seen the like. She was fascinated and wondered what it would be like to be held in his arms now.

He reached for the cloth. Christina took the strip of linen from his hands and began to pat his face dry. "Your skin is so dark, Lyon. Have you been working in the sun without your shirt on?" she asked.

"When I was on my ship I used to," Lyon answered.

"You have a ship?" Christina answered, sounding quite pleased.