Diana continued her chatter, so Christina assumed she wasn't supposed to comment on that observation.
Lady Diana led her up the stairs and into the library. It was a bright, airy room, but that was all Christina noticed when she walked inside. Lyon captured her full attention. He was standing by the windows, his back to her. A surge of anger washed over her. Christina was suddenly infuriated with Lyon's high-handed manner in taking over her life. She knew she was going to shout at him. The urge was making her throat ache.
She kept her intention hidden from his sister, even managed a weak smile when she said, "Lady Diana? May I have a few minutes alone with your brother?"
"Oh, I really don't know if that's a good idea. Aunt Harriett says you can't be unchaperoned for a single minute. She'd heard the rumors, you see," Diana whispered to Christina. "Still, she's downstairs now, and if you give me your promise that it will only be for a few minutes, no one will—"
"Diana, close the door behind you."
Lyon had turned around. He was staring at Christina when he gave the order to his sister.
Christina held his gaze. She wasn't going to be intimidated by him. And she certainly wasn't going to take any time at all to notice how ruggedly handsome he looked today. He was wearing a dark blue riding jacket. The fit made his shoulders look bigger than she'd remembered them to be.
Christina suddenly realized he was frowning at her. Why, he was actually angry with her. The observation didn't sit well. Christina was at first so astonished she could barely speak. How dare he be angry? He was the one causing all the mischief.
"I understand you accepted Baron Thorp's request to accompany you to Westley's affair, Christina. Is that true?"
"How did you hear that?" Christina asked.
"Is it true?"
He hadn't raised his voice, but the harshness was there in his tone.
"Yes, Lyon, I did agree to the baron's request. He asked me last week. We're going to this Westley's lawn party, whatever in heaven's name that is, and I don't particularly care if you're angry or not. It would be rude of me to cancel his escort now. I did give my word."
"You aren't going anywhere unless you're by my side, Christina," Lyon said. He took a deep breath before continuing. "One does not accompany other men when one is about to be married. It's becoming obvious to me that you don't grasp the situation, love. We are getting married Saturday, and I'll be damned if you'll have another escort the day before."
Lyon had tried to hold his temper, but by the time he ended his comments he was shouting.
"I shall not marry you," Christina shouted, matching his tone. "No, we shouldn't get married. Can't you see I'm trying to protect you? You don't know anything about me. You want a princess, for God's sake."
"Christina, if you don't start making sense…"
Lyon suddenly moved and had her in his arms before she could take a step back. Christina didn't try to struggle. "If you weren't so stubborn, Lyon, you'd realize I was right. I should find someone else. If Thorp doesn't agree to my proposal, I could ask someone else, even Splickler."
He had to force himself to take another deep breath. "Listen carefully, Christina. No one's going to touch you but me. Splickler's not going to be able to walk for a month, and I forsee a long voyage coming Thorp's way. Believe me when I tell you that every man you settle on will meet with a few unpleasant surprises."
"You wouldn't dare. You're a Marquess. You can't just go around frightening people. Why can't Splickler walk?" she suddenly asked. "I remember quite specifically that Rhone shut the door on his nose. You're exaggerating. You wouldn't—"
"Oh, but I would."
"Dare you smile at me while you make such obscene remarks?"
"I dare to do whatever I want to do, Christina." He rubbed his thumb across her mouth. Christina felt like biting him.
Then her shoulders sagged in defeat. All the man had to do was touch her, and her rational thoughts went flying out the window. God help her, she could feel the shivers gathering in her stomach now.
She let him kiss her, even opened her mouth for his tongue, then let him coach all the anger out of her.
Lyon didn't let up on his tender assault until Christina was responding to him with equal ardor. He ended the intimacy only after she'd put her arms around his shoulders and was clinging to him.
"The only time you're honest with me is when you kiss me, Christina. For now, that's quite enough."
Christina rested her head against his chest. "I will not give my heart to you, Lyon. I will not love you."
He rubbed his chin against the top of her head. "Yes, you will, my sweet."
"You're very sure of yourself," she muttered.
"You gave yourself to me, Christina. Of course I'm sure."
A loud knock on the door interrupted them. "Lyon, unhand that maiden immediately. Do you hear me?"
The question was unnecessary. Aunt Harriett had shouted loud enough for the neighbors to hear.
"How did she know you were holding me, Lyon? Does she have the sight?" Christina asked, her voice filled with awe.
"The what?" Lyon asked.
"Open this door. Now."
"The sight," Christina whispered between Aunt Harriett's bellows. "She can see through the door, Lyon."
Lyon laughed. The booming sound made her ears tingle. "No, my love. My Aunt Harriett just knows me very well. She assumed I'd be holding you."
She looked disappointed. When Aunt Harriett shouted again, Christina turned to go to the door. "If you give me one or two promises, I'll wed you Saturday," she said.
Lyon shook his head. The little innocent still didn't understand. Promises or not, he was going to marry her.
"Well?" she asked.
Christina turned and found Lyon standing with his arms folded across his chest, waiting. His manner seemed condescending to her. "One, you must promise to let me go home when my task is done here. Two, you must promise not to fall in love with me."
"One, Christina, you aren't going anywhere. Marriage is forever. Get that little fact in your head. Two, I don't have the faintest idea why you wouldn't want me to love you, but I'll try to accommodate you."
"I knew you'd be difficult. I just knew it," Christina muttered.
The door suddenly opened behind her. "Well, why didn't you tell me it wasn't latched?" Aunt Harriett demanded. "Did you get this misunderstanding straightened out, Christina?" she asked.
"I have decided to marry Lyon for a little while."
"A long while," Lyon muttered.
The woman was as dense as fog. Lyon felt like shaking her.
"Good. Now come along with me, Christina, and I'll show you your room. It's next to my bedroom," she added, with a long, meaningful look in Lyon's direction. "There will be no private meetings during the night while I'm about."
"She'll be there in just a minute," Lyon said. "Christina, answer me one question before you leave."
"I shall wait right outside this door," Aunt Harriett announced before pulling the door closed.
"What is your question?" Christina asked.
"Are you going to change your mind before Saturday? Do I have to keep you guarded inside the townhouse until then?"
"You're smiling as though you'd like to do just that," Christina announced. "No, I won't change my mind. You're going to be very sorry, Lyon," she added in a sympathetic voice. "I'm not at all what you think I am."
"I know exactly what I'm getting," Lyon said, trying not to laugh. She was giving him a forlorn look, telling him without words that she felt sorry for him.
"You're marrying me because you realize how good it was when we slept together," he announced.
It was an arrogant statement, and he really didn't think she'd bother to answer him.
Christina opened the door, smiled at Aunt Harriett, then turned to give Lyon her full answer. "The full truth, Lyon?"
"That would be nice for a change," Lyon answered with a drawl.
"In front of your dear Aunt Harriett?" she qualified, giving the perplexed woman a quick smile.
Aunt Harriett let out a sigh, then pulled the door closed again. Christina could hear her muttering something about not needing her fan what with the door flapping back and forth in her face, but she didn't understand what the older lady meant.
"Answer me, Christina, with your full truth."
His sudden impatience irritated her. "Very well. I'm marrying you because of the way you fought the mischief makers."
"What does that have to do with marriage?" he asked.
"Christina, will you make sense for once in your life?" Lyon demanded.
She realized then she should simply have lied to him again. The truth was often more upsetting, more complex than a simple fabrication. Still, it was a little too late to fashion another lie now. Lyon looked as if he wanted to shout. "I'm trying to make sense, Lyon. You see, even though the battle wasn't much to boast about, you did fight like a warrior."
"Well, it's perfectly clear to me."
"Christina." His voice was low, angry.
"You aren't going to be an easy man to kill. There, now you have the full truth. Does it satisfy you?"
Lyon nodded, giving her the impression he understood what she was talking about. He knew in that moment that nothing the woman ever said to him in the future would confuse him. No, he'd just reached his limit. A man could only take so many surprises, he told himself.
Then he tried to concentrate on the new puzzle she'd handed him. "Are you telling me you'll try to kill me once we're wed, but because I can defend myself, you might not be able to accomplish the deed? And that is why you're marrying me?"
He had to shake his head when he'd finished his illogical conclusions.
"Of course not," Christina answered. "How shameful of you to think I'd want to harm you. You've a devious mind, Lyon."
"All right," he said, clasping his hands behind his back. "I apologize for jumping to such unsavory conclusions."
Christina looked suspicious. "Well, I would hope so," she muttered. "I shall accept your apology," she added grudgingly. "You look contrite enough to make me believe you're sincere."
Lyon vowed he wasn't going to lose his patience. He wasn't as certain about his mind, however. Christina was making mincemeat out of all his thoughts. God help him, he was going to get a clear answer out of her, no matter how long it took. "Christina," he began, keeping his voice soothing enough to lull an infant, "since you've decided I'm not an easy man to kill—and I do appreciate your faith in me, by the way—do you happen to know who's going to try?"
"To kill me."
The man really needed to learn how to control his temper. Christina had just opened the door again. She smiled at Aunt Harriett, saw the poor woman was about to speak, but shut the door in her face before she could get a word out. She didn't want the woman to overhear her answer.
"My father. He's coming back to England. He'll try to kill me. I promise to protect you, Lyon, for as long as I'm here. When I go away again, he'll leave you alone."
"Christina, if he's going to try to kill you, why do you think to protect me?"
"Oh, he'll have to kill you first. It's the only way he'll be able to get to me," she reasoned. "You're a very possessive man, Lyon. Yes, you are," she added when she thought he was about to protest. "You'll guard me."
Lyon was suddenly feeling extremely pleased but didn't have the faintest idea why. Had she just given him a compliment? He couldn't be sure.
He decided to make certain. "Then you trust me," he announced.
She looked astonished. "Trust a white man? Never."
Christina jerked the door open and set about smoothing the bluster out of Aunt Harriett. It was a difficult undertaking, for her mind was still occupied with Lyon's outrageous conclusion. Trust him? Where in God's name had he come by that ridiculous notion?
"It's about time, young lady. A woman could grow old waiting for you."
"Aunt Harriett, I appreciate your patience. And you were so right. A good talk with Lyon has resolved all my worries. Will you show me to my room now? I would like to help the maid unpack my gowns. Do you think there's enough room here for my aunt when she returns to London next week? The Countess will be displeased when she learns I've moved away."
Her ploy worked. Aunt Harriett immediately lost her puzzled expression. The urge to take charge overrode all other considerations. "Of course I was right. Now come along with me. Did you know Diana has invited several people over for the afternoon? Quite a number have already arrived. They're all very anxious to meet you, Christina."
The door clicked shut on Aunt Harriett's enthusiastic remarks.
Lyon walked back over to the windows. He saw the gathering in the garden below, then dismissed the guests from his mind.
The puzzle was taking shape. Lyon concentrated on the new item he believed to be true. Christina did think her father was going to come back to England.
To kill her.
The frightened look in her eyes, the way her voice had trembled, told him she was, for once, giving him the truth. She knew far more than she was telling, however. Lyon guessed the only reason she'd admitted that much to him was to put him on his guard.
She was trying to protect him. He didn't know if he should feel insulted or happy. She had taken on his duty. But she was right. He was possessive. Christina belonged to him, and he wasn't about to let anyone harm her. They'd have to kill him first in order to get to her.
How had she ever come by such conclusions about her father? Lyon remembered how emphatic Sir Reynolds had been when he told him Christina had never even met her father.
None of it made sense, unless Christina's mother had lived longer than anyone believed and had handed down her fears to her daughter… or possibly left the fears with someone else.
Who had raised Christina? It surely wasn't the
Summertons, Lyon thought with a smile. What a little liar she was. Though he should have been furious with her for deceiving him, he was actually amused. He sensed she'd fabricated the story just to placate him.