Lyon was immediately puzzled. "My dear, I didn't speak of Bryan to you," he commented.
Bryan was blushing. He'd never had a lady of such quality pay him so much attention. He tugged his cravat, making a mess of the knot he had spent hours trying to perfect.
"I would certainly like to know where you've heard my name," he said.
"Oh, Rhone told me all about you," she answered with a smile. "He also said you would be giving your back room to Lyon next Friday eve for a game of chance."
Bryan nodded. Lyon frowned. "Rhone talks too much," he muttered.
"Is this the lady Mick told the story about, Lyon?" Bryan asked his friend. "No, she cannot be the same. Why, she doesn't look like she'd have the strength to throw a man…"
Bryan finally noticed Lyon was shaking his head.
"Who is Mick?" Christina asked.
"A shipmate who frequents my establishment," Bryan answered. His leathery face wrinkled into another smile. "He told the most remarkable story about—"
"Bryan, go and get something to eat," Lyon interjected.
"Ah, here comes Rhone now. Rhone? Take Bryan into the dining room."
Christina waited until she was once again alone with Lyon, then asked him why he'd suddenly become irritated. "Did I say something to upset you?"
Lyon shook his head. "I can't take much more of this crowd. Let's leave. I want to be alone with you."
"Now," he announced. To show her he meant exactly what he'd said, he took hold of her hand and started pulling her out the front doorway.
Aunt Harriett cut them off at the bottom step.
Christina had the good grace to look contrite. Lyon looked exasperated.
Aunt Harriett didn't budge from her position. She reminded Lyon of a centurion, for her hands were settled on her h*ps and her bosom was heaving forward like a solid plate of armor.
A smile suddenly softened her rigid stance. "I've put Christina's satchel inside your carriage, Lyon. You've lasted a good hour longer than I imagined you would."
Aunt Harriett wrapped Christina in a suffocatingly affectionate hug, then released her.
"Be gentle this night," she instructed Lyon.
It was Christina who gave the promise. Both Lyon and his aunt looked at her. "She means me, Christina," Lyon said dryly.
"You have only to remember that Lyon is your husband now, my dear," Aunt Harriett announced with a true blush. "Then all your fears will be put to rest."
Christina didn't have any idea what the woman was trying to tell her. She kept giving Christina knowing nods, and an intense hawklike stare as well.
Lyon suddenly swept her up into his arms and settled her on his lap inside the carriage. Christina wrapped her arms around her husband's neck, rested the side of her face against his shoulder, and sighed with pleasure.
He smiled against the top of her head.
Neither said a word for quite a while, content to hold each other and enjoy the blissful solitude.
Christina didn't know where he was taking her, and she didn't particularly care. They were finally alone, and that was all that mattered to her.
"Christina, you don't seem frightened of the closed quarters today," Lyon remarked. He trailed his chin across the top of her forehead in an affectionate caress. "Have you conquered this dislike?"
"I don't think I have," Christina answered. "But when you're holding me so close to you, and when I close my eyes, I do forget my worry."
It was because she trusted him, Lyon told himself. "I like it when you're honest with me, Christina," Lyon said. "And now that we're married, you must always tell me the truth," he added, thinking to ease into the topics of love and trust.
"Haven't I always told you the truth?" Christina asked. She leaned away from him to look up at his face. "Why are you looking so out of sorts? When have I ever lied to you?"
"The Summertons for one," Lyon drawled.
"Exactly," Lyon answered. "You told me the Summertons raised you, and we both know that was a lie."
"A fabrication," Christina corrected.
"There's a difference?"
"That's not an answer, Christina," Lyon said. "It's an evasion."
"Well, what?" Christina asked. She tickled the back of his neck with her fingertips, trying to turn his attention. It was their wedding night, and she really didn't want to have to lie to him again.
"Are you going to tell me the truth about your past now? Since the Summertons don't exist…"
"You really are persistent," Christina muttered. She softened her rebuke with a quick smile. "Very well, Lyon. Since I am your wife, I do suppose I should tell you the full truth."
"You're welcome, Lyon."
She settled herself against his shoulder again and closed her eyes. Lyon waited several long minutes before he realized she thought the discussion was over.
"Christina?" he asked, letting his exasperation show. "Who took care of you when you were a little girl?"
Christina ignored the impatience in his voice. Her mind raced for a new fabrication. "Sister Vivien and Sister Jennifer mostly," she said. "I lived in a convent, you see, in France. It was a very secluded area. I don't remember who took me there. I was very young. The sisters were like mothers to me, Lyon. Each night they'd tell me wonderful stories about the places they'd seen."
"Buffalo stories?" Lyon asked, smiling over the sincerity in her voice.
"Why, as a matter of fact, yes," Christina answered, warming to her story. She made the decision not to feel guilty about deceiving her husband. Her motives were pure enough. Lyon would only be upset by the truth.
He was English, after all.
"Sister Frances drew a picture of a buffalo for me. Have you ever seen one, Lyon?"
"No," he answered. "Now tell me more about this convent," Lyon persisted. His hands caressed her back in a soothing motion.
"Well, as I said, it was in a very isolated spot. A giant wall surrounded the buildings. I was allowed to run barefoot most of the time, for we never had visitors. I was terribly spoiled, but I was still a sweet-tempered child. Sister Mary told me she knew my mother, and that is why they took me in. I was the only child there, of course."
"How did you learn to defend yourself?" he asked, his voice mild.
"Sister Vivien believed that a woman should know how to protect herself. There weren't any men around to protect us. It was a reasonable decision."
Christina's explanation made good sense. She'd answered his question about her confusion with the English laws, the reason she preferred to go shoeless, and where she'd seen a buffalo. Oh, yes, the explanation tied up some of the dangling strings all right. It was convincing and logical.
He wasn't buying it for a minute.
Lyon leaned back against the upholstery and smiled. He accepted the fact that time was needed for Christina to learn to trust him with the truth. He'd probably know all there was to know about her before she finally got around to telling him, of course.
Lyon realized the irony. He was determined that Christina would never find out about his past activities. He meant to keep his sins from her, yet he persisted, like a hound after a meaty rabbit, in prodding her into telling him all about herself.
He wasn't, however, the one insisting he was going home. She was. And Lyon knew full well the mythical convent wasn't her real destination.
She wasn't going anywhere.
"Lyon, you're squeezing the breath right out of me," Christina protested.
He immediately softened his hold.
They arrived at their destination. Lyon carried her up the steps to his townhouse, through the empty foyer, and up the winding staircase. Christina barely opened her eyes to look around.
His bedroom had been made ready for them. Several candles burned with soft light on the bedside tables. The covers had been drawn back on the huge bed. A fire blazed in the hearth across the room, taking the chill out of the night air.
Lyon placed her on the bed and stood there smiling at her for the longest time. "I've sent my staff on ahead to open the country home, Christina. We're all alone," he explained as he knelt down and reached for her shoes.
"It's our wedding night," Christina said. "I must undress you first. It is the way it should be done, Lyon."
She flipped her shoes off, then stood beside her husband. After she'd untied the knot of his cravat, she stood back to help him with his jacket.
When his shirt had been removed and her fingers slipped into the waistband of his pants, Lyon couldn't stand still any longer. Christina smiled when she noticed how his stomach muscles reacted to her touch. She would have continued undressing him, but Lyon wrapped his arms around her waist, pulled her up against his chest, and claimed her mouth in a hot, sensual kiss.
For long sweet minutes they teased each other with their hands, their tongues, their whispered words of pleasure.
Lyon had vowed to go slowly this night, to give Christina pleasure first, and he knew that if he didn't pull away and help her get undressed soon he'd end up ripping another gown off her.
She was trembling when he dragged his mouth away from hers. Her voice had deserted her, and she had to nudge him toward the side of the bed. When he sat down, she pulled off his shoes and socks.
She stood on the platform between Lyon's legs and slowly worked the fastenings free on her sleeves. It was an awkward task because she couldn't seem to take her gaze away from Lyon to watch what she was doing.
"You'll have to help me with the back of my gown," she said, smiling because her voice sounded so strained to her.
When she turned around, Lyon pulled her down onto his lap. She fought the urge to lean against him, impatient now to get her scratchy gown out of the way. Her hands reached to her coronet, but she'd only pulled one pin free before Lyon pushed her hands away and took over the task. "Let me," he said, his voice husky.
The heavy curls unwound until the rich, sun-kissed locks fell to her waist. Christina sighed with pleasure. Lyon's fingers were making her shiver. He slowly lifted the mass to drape it over her shoulder, paused to kiss the back of her neck, and then began the arduous task of unhooking the tiny fastenings.
His heart was slamming against his chest. The scent of her was so appealing, so wonderfully feminine. He wanted to bury his face in her golden curls; he would have given in to his urge if she hadn't moved against his arousal so impatiently, so enticingly.
Lyon was finally able to get her gown open to her waist. She was wearing a white chemise, but the silk material easily tore free when he slipped his hands inside. He found her br**sts and cupped their fullness as he pulled her forcefully back against his chest.
Christina arched against him. His thumbs slid over her ni**les, making her breath catch in her throat. Her skin tingled when she rubbed her back against the warm pelt of hair on his chest.
"You feel so good, my love," Lyon whispered into her ear. He nuzzled her earlobe as he tugged on her gown, lifting her away from him only long enough to push the garment down over her hips.
Christina was too weak to help. Her h*ps moved against him. Lyon thought her motions were excruciatingly blissful. He kissed the side of her neck, then her shoulder. "Your skin is so smooth, so soft," he told her.
Christina tried to speak to him, to tell him how very much he pleased her, but his hand slid between her thighs, making her forget her own thoughts. His thumb teased her sensitive nub again and again until the sweet torture threatened to consume her. She called his name with a ragged moan when his fingers penetrated her, then tried to push his hand away. Lyon wouldn't cease his torment, and she was soon lost to the sensations coursing through her, unable to think much at all. She could only react to the incredible heat. "Lyon, I can't stop."
"Don't fight it, Christina," Lyon whispered. He increased his pressure until she found her release. Christina arched against him, called his name again.
He could feel the tremors flowing through her. Lyon didn't remember taking the rest of his clothes off, didn't know if he'd been gentle or rough when he moved her from his lap to the center of the bed.
Her hair fanned out on top of the pillows, shining almost silver in the candlelight. She was so beautiful. She was still wearing her white stockings. He might have smiled, but the surge of white-hot desire consumed him and he couldn't be sure.
He came to her then, settling himself between her thighs, wrapping his arms around her. He captured her mouth in a searing kiss and thrust into her tight, moist heat just as his tongue thrust inside her mouth to mate with hers.
Christina put her legs around him, pulling him deeper inside. She met each thrust completely, forcefully, arching with demand when he withdrew.
They both found their release at the same moment.
"I love you, Christina."
Christina couldn't answer him. The sweet ecstasy overwhelmed her. She felt like liquid in his strong arms, could only hold onto him until the storm had passed.
Reality was slow to return to Lyon. He wanted never to move. His breathing was harsh, erratic. "Am I crushing you, love?" he asked when she tried to move.
"No," Christina answered. "But the bed seems to be swallowing me up."
Lyon leaned up on his elbows to take most of his weight off her. His legs were tangled with hers, and he shifted his thighs to ease the pressure.
His gaze was tender. "Say the words, Christina. I want to hear them."
Because he fully expected to hear her tell him that she loved him, he wasn't at all prepared for her tears. "My sweet?" he asked, catching the first drops that fell from her thick lashes with his fingertips. "Are you going to cry every time we make love?"
"I cannot seem to help myself," Christina whispered between sobs. "You make me feel so wonderful."
Lyon kissed her again. "You sound like you're confessing a grave sin," he said. "Is it so terrible to feel wonderful?"
"I love you. In time you'll give me the words I want. You're very stubborn, do you know that?"
"You don't love me," Christina whispered. "You love—"