How simple it would be if only she'd tell him the whole truth. Christina wouldn't, of course, but at least now he understood her reason. She didn't trust him.

No, he corrected himself, she didn't trust white men.

She'd meant to say Englishmen… or had she?

The key to the riddle rested in the missionary's hands. Lyon knew he'd have to be patient. Bryan had sent him a note telling him that Mick had remembered the man's name. He was called Claude Deavenrue.

Lyon had immediately dispatched two of his loyal men in search of Deavenrue. Although he knew the missionary had told Mick he was going to stop in England on his way back from France to pay Christina a visit, Lyon wasn't about to put his faith in that possibility. There was always the chance Deavenrue might change his mind, or that Mick had been wrong in what he'd heard.

No, Lyon wasn't taking any risks. It had suddenly become imperative that he speak to the missionary as soon as possible. His reasons for finding out about Christina's past had changed, however. A feeling of unease had settled in his mind. She was in danger. He wasn't certain if her father was the true threat, but all his instincts were telling him to beware. The urge to protect Christina fairly overwhelmed him. Lyon had learned long ago to trust his instincts. The scar on his forehead had been the result of one of those foolish instances when he hadn't heeded their warning.

Lyon hoped the missionary would be able to shed some light on the mystery, to tell him enough about Christina's past to help him protect her. Lyon had already drawn his own conclusions. From all her comments, he decided she was probably raised by one of those courageous frontier families he'd heard about. He even pictured Christina inside a small log cabin somewhere in the wilderness beyond the colonies. That would explain the facts that she liked to go barefooted, loved the outdoors, had heard the sounds of mountain lions, and had possibly seen a buffalo or two.

Yes, that explanation made good sense to Lyon, but he wasn't going to hold firm to that easy conclusion until he had confirmation from Deavenrue.

Lyon let out a long, weary sigh. He was satisfied that he was doing all he could for the moment. Then his mind turned to another troubling thought. Christina kept insisting she was going to go home.

Lyon vowed to find a reason to make her want to stay.

A loud knock on the door interrupted Lyon's thoughts. "Have time for us, Lyon?" Rhone asked from the doorway. "Lord, you're scowling like a devil," he remarked in a cheerful voice. "Don't let it put you off, Andrew," he told the young man standing beside him. "Lyon is always in a foul mood. Had another recent conversation with Christina, perchance?" he asked, his voice as bland as the color of his beige jacket. When Lyon nodded, Rhone started chuckling. "Andrew has yet to meet your intended, Lyon. I thought you would like to do the introductions."

"Good to see you again, Andrew," Lyon said, trying to sound as if he meant it. He hadn't wanted to be interrupted; he didn't want to be civil, and he glared just that message to Rhone.

His friend was tugging on the sleeve of his jacket, probably trying to keep his bandage concealed, Lyon thought. The man had no business being out and about yet. Lyon would have pointed out that fact if they'd been alone. Then he decided Rhone had deliberately dragged Andrew with him up to the library to avoid an argument.

"The ladies are outside in the garden," Rhone said, ignoring the black look his friend was giving him. He strolled over to the windows where Lyon stood, then motioned for Andrew to follow.

Rhone's companion made a wide berth around Lyon to stand beside Rhone. His face was red, his manner timid. "Perhaps I should wait downstairs," Andrew remarked with a noticeable stammer. "We have intruded upon the Marquess," he ended in a whisper to Rhone.

"There's Christina, Andrew," Rhone announced, pretending he hadn't heard his complaint. "She's standing between two other ladies, in front of the hedges. I don't recognize the pretty one speaking to her now," Rhone continued. "Do you know who the other blonde is, Lyon?"

Lyon looked down at the flutter of activity below. His sister had obviously invited half the ton to her afternoon party, he decided.

He found Christina almost immediately. He thought she looked confused by all the attention she was getting. The women all appeared to be talking to her at the same time.

Then one of the gentlemen began to sing a ballad. Everyone immediately turned toward the sound. The doors to the music room had been opened, and someone was playing the spinet in the background.

Christina liked music. The fact was obvious to Lyon. The way her gown floated around her ankles indicated she was enjoying the song. Her h*ps were keeping gentle rhythm.

She was so enchanting. Her smile of pleasure made Lyon feel at peace again. Christina looked quite mesmerized. Lyon watched as she reached out and tore a leaf from the hedge, then began to twirl it between her fingers as she continued to sway to the music.

He thought she didn't even realize what she was doing. Her gaze was directed on the gentleman singing the song, her manner relaxed, unguarded.

Lyon knew she wasn't aware she was being watched, either. She wouldn't have eaten the leaf otherwise, or reached for another.

"Sir, which one is Princess Christina?" Andrew asked Lyon, just as Rhone started in choking on his laughter.

Rhone had obviously been watching Christina, too.

"Sir?"

"The blond-headed one," Lyon muttered, shaking his head. He watched in growing disbelief as Christina daintily popped another leaf into her mouth.

"Which blond-headed one?" Andrew persisted.

"The one eating the shrubs."

Chapter Ten

Father was overjoyed to see me. He thought Edward had approved of my visit, and 1 didn't tell him the truth for several days. I was too exhausted from my journey, and knew I had to regain my strength before explaining all that had happened to me.

Father was driving me mad. He'd come into my room, sit on the side of my bed, and talk of nothing but Edward. He seemed convinced that I didn't yet realize how fortunate I was to have married such a fine man.

When I could listen no more, I began to sob. The story poured out of me in incoherent snatches. I remember I screamed at my father, too. He thought I'd lost my mind to make up such lies about my husband.

I did try to speak to him again. But his mind was set in Edward's favor. Then I heard from one of the servants that he'd sent a message to my husband to come and fetch me home.

In desperation, I wrote the full story down on paper, including the fact that I was carrying his grandchild. I hid the letter in my father's winter chest, hoping he wouldn't find it until long months had passed.

Christina, he would have believed my delicate condition was the reason for what he referred to as my nervous disposition.

I began to make my plans to go to my sister, Patricia. She was living with her husband in the colonies. I didn't dare take the gems with me. Patricia was like a hound; she'd find them. She had such an inquisitive nature, for as long as I could remember, she'd read all my letters. No, I couldn't risk taking the jewels with me. They were too important. I'd taken them with the sole intent of seeing them returned to the poor in Edward's kingdom. He'd robbed them, and I was going to see justice done.

I hid the jewels in a box, then waited until the dead of night to go into the back garden. I buried the box in the flower bed, Christina.

Look for the blood roses. You'll find the box there.

Journal entry October 1, 1795

The bride was nervous throughout the long wedding ceremony. Lyon stood by her side, holding her hand in a grip that didn't allow for any movement—or escape.

He was smiling enough to make her think he'd lost his mind. Yes, he was thoroughly enjoying himself. If Christina had been gifted with a suspicious nature, she might have concluded that her frightened state was the true reason for his happiness.

His mood did darken when she refused to repeat the vow "until death do we part," however. When she realized the holy man with the pointed velvet cap on his head wasn't going to continue along until he'd had his way, and Lyon started squeezing her hand until she thought the bones were going to snap, she finally whispered the required words.

She let Lyon see her displeasure for having to lie to a holy man, but he didn't appear to be bothered by her frown. He gave her a slow wink and a lazy grin. No, he hadn't been bothered much at all.

The man was simply too busy gloating.

Warriors did like to get their way, Christina knew. This one more than most, of course. He was a lion, after all, and he had just captured his lioness.

When they left the church, Christina clung to his arm for support. She was worried about her wedding gown, concerned that any abrupt movement would tear the delicate lace sewn into the neckline and the sleeves. Aunt Harriett had supervised the making of the gown, standing over three maids to see the task done to her satisfaction.

It was a beautiful dress, yet impractical. Lady Diana had told Christina she would only wear the garment once and must then put it aside.

It seemed such a waste. When she remarked on that fact to her new husband, he laughed, gave her another good squeeze, and told her not to be concerned. He had enough coins to keep her in new dresses every day for the rest of her life.

"Why is everyone shouting at us?" Christina asked. She stood next to Lyon on the top step outside the chapel. They faced a large crowd of people she'd never seen before, and they were making such a commotion she could barely hear Lyon's answer.

"They're cheering, love, not shouting." He leaned down and kissed her on her forehead. The cheers immediately intensified. "They're happy for us."

Christina looked up at him, thinking to tell him that it made little sense to her that complete strangers would be happy for them, but the tender expression in his eyes made her forget all about her protest, the crowd, the noise. She instinctively leaned into his side. Lyon put his arm around her waist. He seemed to know how much she needed his touch at that moment.

She quit trembling.

"My, it was a splendid ceremony." Aunt Harriett made her announcement from directly behind Christina. "Lyon, get her into the carriage. Christina, do be sure to wave to all the well-wishers. Your wedding is going to be the talk of the season. Smile, Christina. You're the new Marchioness of Lyonwood."

Lyon reluctantly let go of his bride. Aunt Harriett had taken hold of Christina's arm and was trying to direct her down the steps. Lyon knew his aunt would have her way, even if it meant a tug of war.

Christina was looking bewildered again. Little wonder, Lyon thought. His aunt was fluttering around them like a rather large bird of prey. She was dressed like one, too, in bright canary yellow, and kept flapping her lemon-colored fan in Christina's face while she barked her orders.

Diana stood behind Christina trying to undo the long folds in the wedding gown. Christina glanced behind her, smiled at Lyon's little sister, and then turned back to the crowd.

Lyon took hold of her hand and led her to the open carriage. Christina remembered to do what Aunt Harriett had instructed. She waved at all the strangers lining the streets.

"It's a pity your mama couldn't attend the ceremony," she whispered to Lyon when they were on their way. "And my Aunt Patricia is going to be angry," she added. "We really should have waited for her return from the country, Lyon."

"Angry because she missed the wedding or angry because you married me?" Lyon asked, his voice laced with amusement.

"Both, I fear," Christina answered. "Lyon, I do hope you'll get along with her when she comes to live with us."

"Are you out of your mind? The Countess will not be living with us, Christina," he said. His tone had taken on a hard edge. He took a deep breath, then started again. "We'll discuss your aunt later. All right?"

"As you wish," Christina answered. She was confused by his abrupt change in disposition, yet didn't question him. Later would be soon enough.

The reception had been hastily planned, but the result was more than satisfactory. Candles blazed throughout the rooms, flowers lined the tables, and servants dressed in formal black scooted through the large crowd with silver trays laden with drinks. The guests spilled out into the gardens behind Lyon's mother's home, and the crush, as Aunt Harriett called it, proved that the party was a success.

Lyon took Christina upstairs to meet his mother. It wasn't a very pleasing first meeting. Lyon's mother didn't even look at her. She gave Lyon her blessing, then began to talk about her other son, James. Lyon dragged Christina out of the dark room during the middle of one of his mother's reminiscences. He was frowning, but once the door was shut behind them the smile slowly returned to his face.

Christina decided to speak to Lyon about his mama at the first possible opportunity. He'd been remiss in his duty, she thought, and then excused his conduct by telling herself he simply didn't understand what his duty was. Yes, she'd speak to him and set him straight.

"Don't frown so, Christina," Lyon said as they walked down the stairs again. "My mother is content."

"She'll be more content when she comes to live with us," Christina remarked. "I shall see to it."

"What?"

His incredulous shout drew several stares. Christina smiled up at her husband. "We shall speak of this matter later, Lyon," she instructed. "It is our wedding day, after all, and we really must be getting along. Oh, see how Rhone stands next to your sister? Do you notice the way he glares at the young men trying to get her attention?"

"You see only what you want to see," Lyon said. He pulled her up against his side when they reached the entrance, guarding her just like a warrior when they were once again surrounded by their guests.

"No, Lyon," Christina argued between introductions. "You're the one who sees only what you want to see," she explained. "You wanted to marry a princess, didn't you?"

Now what in heaven's name did she mean by that remark? Lyon thought to query her when her next question turned his attention. "Who is that shy man hovering in the doorway, Lyon? He can't seem to make up his mind if he should come inside or not."

Lyon turned to see Bryan, his friend. He caught his attention and motioned him over. "Bryan, I'm pleased you could make it. This is my wife, Christina," he added. "My dear, I'd like you to meet Bryan. He owns the Bleak Bryan tavern in another part of town."

Christina bowed, then reached out to take the timid man's hand. He offered her his left hand, thinking to save her embarrassment when she noticed his right hand was missing, but Christina clasped her hands around his scarred wrist and smiled so enchantingly that Bryan could barely get his breath. "I am honored to meet you, Bleak Bryan," she announced. "I've heard so much about you, sir. The tales of your boldness are quite wonderful."



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