"Christina, I'll be back home by noon tomorrow," Lyon said, interrupting her thoughts. He tilted her chin up and kissed her soundly.

When he started down the steps, Christina hurried after him. "I still don't understand why I can't go with you. I would like to see your sister, and your mama, too, Lyon."

"Next time, sweetheart. Diana will be going to Martin's party tonight."

"Will Aunt Harriett also be going?"

"Probably," Lyon answered.

"I could go with them," Christina suggested.

"I thought you liked it here in the country," Lyon returned. "You do, don't you?"

"Yes, very much. But I'm your wife, Lyon. I should do my duty with your relatives. Do you know, it's rather odd of me to admit, but I did enjoy some of the parties. There were some very nice people I would like to see again."

"No."

His voice was so firm, Christina was immediately perplexed. "Why don't you want me to go with you? Have I done something to displease you?"

Lyon reacted to the worry in her voice. He paused to look down at her, then gave in to his sudden urge to kiss her again. "Nothing you could ever do would displease me. If you want to attend some of the parties, you'll wait until I can go with you."

"May I play cards with you and the mischief makers?" she asked. "I've never played before, but I'm certain it wouldn't be too difficult to master."

Lyon hid his amusement. His wife was obviously serious in her request. The sincerity in her voice said as much. "I'll teach you another time, Christina. If you wish, I'll wait while you write a note to Diana and Aunt Harriett."

Christina could tell by his manner that he wasn't going to give in to her plea to go along. "I've already written to everyone, even Elbert and my Aunt Patricia," she informed him. "Brown sent a messenger with my letters yesterday."

They walked on, hand in hand. When they reached his mount, he turned. "I have to leave now, my sweet."

"I know."

She hadn't meant to sound so pitiful. The fact that Lyon was leaving was distressing, yes, but not nearly as much as his casual, dismissive attitude. She didn't think he was going to mind the separation at all. She, on the other hand, minded very much.

It wasn't like her to be so clinging. She couldn't seem to let go of his hand. What in heaven's name was the matter with her? Lord, she felt like crying. He was only going to be away for one night, she told herself, not an eternity.

Lyon kissed her on her forehead. "Do you have anything you wish to say to me before I leave, Christina?"

His voice coaxed a response. Christina dropped his hand. "No."

Lyon let out a long sigh. He took hold of her hand again and dragged her off to the side of the path so that the stablemaster wouldn't overhear him. "I'll miss you," he said.

His voice wasn't coaxing now, but brisk.

Christina smiled.

"Damn it, wife, I want the soft words," he muttered. He immediately felt like a fool for making such a ridiculous confession.

"Damn it, Lyon, I want to go to London with you."

"Christina, you're staying here," Lyon bellowed. He drew a deep breath, then added in a furious whisper, "I love you, Christina. Now tell me you love me. I've waited all week to hear you admit it."

She gave him a disgruntled look. Lyon wasn't waylaid. "I'm waiting, Christina."

"Have a safe journey, Lyon."

Lyon hadn't realized how important it was for him to hear her tell him she loved him until his demand was so thoroughly ignored. He stood there feeling angry and defeated, his gaze brooding as he watched Christina walk away from him.

"Hell," he muttered to himself. He mounted his steed, accepted the reins from Wendell, yet seemed incapable of nudging his stallion into moving. He couldn't even tear his gaze off the stubborn woman strolling to the front door.

Christina couldn't dismiss him this time. Her hand shook when she took hold of the brass door handle. He was so horribly stubborn. He constantly prodded and nagged. He wouldn't let her shield her feelings from him. But he didn't understand the significance of what he was asking of her. Once she'd given him the words, there could be no going back.

No, she'd never be able to go home.

A half smile changed her expression. The truth was both painful and joyful. She'd never really been given a choice in the matter, had she? From the moment she'd met Lyon, her heart had known the truth. Why had it taken her mind so long to accept?

Christina looked over her shoulder. Tears clouded her vision. "Hurry home, Lyon. I will be waiting for you."

"Say the words, Christina." He'd shouted this time, and the look on his face showed his anger.

"I love you."

Several heartbeats passed before he acknowledged her admission. And then he gave her a curt nod. Oh, he was arrogant But his expression was tender, caring, so very loving.

It was quite enough. Christina hid her smile. A feeling of contentment and joy filled her. She suddenly felt as light as the wind.

The truth had set her free.

Christina opened the door and started to walk inside when her husband's bellow stopped her. "Wife?"

"Yes, husband?"

"Tell me you trust me as well."

She turned around again. Her hands settled on her hips. She hoped he could see her exasperation. "Don't push me, Lyon. Savor one victory at a time, like any noble warrior would."

Lyon shouted with laughter. "Yes, Christina, one victory at a time. I've got you now, haven't I?" he asked, his voice and his eyes filled with merriment.

The man was gloating again.

Christina strolled over to the top step. "Yes, Lyon, you've got me. And when you come home from London, you're going to find out just exactly what you've gotten. No more pretenses, husband. No more lies."

"I couldn't be happier," Lyon remarked.

"Enjoy the feeling, Lyon. I fear it will not last long."

She'd called the warning over her shoulder. The front door slammed shut before Lyon could question her further.

Lyon felt as though a weight had been lifted from his shoulders—and from his heart. She loved him. "The rest will come, wife," he whispered to himself. "I'll see to it."

He'd never felt so confident, so very, very peaceful.

The feeling wasn't going to last long.

Chapter Thirteen

You were only three months old when I bundled you up and set out on another adventure. I left in the dead of night so that Patricia wouldn't be able to stop me. I didn't leave a note for her, for 1 believed she'd send men after me.

You were such a precious infant. Upon reflection, I think the journey was far more difficult for me than for you. You'd just begun to smile, and you were such a sweet-tempered little one.

I had made arrangements to travel with Jacob and Emily Jackson. I'd met them through Sunday church, you see, and took to them at once. They were a newly wedded couple who had sold their wedding gifts so that they'd have enough coins to go in search of a new life. They were very appreciative of my contributions. Emily took to you, too, Christina. She'd sing to you and rock you to sleep while I saw to the night meals.

Jacob was a man bitten by wanderlust. Every evening he'd tell us the most wonderful stories about the courageous people living in the Black Hills. His brother had already taken his family there and had sent Jacob word that he was prospering as a gentleman farmer.

Jacob's fever was contagious. I soon became as excited as he was. Emily told me there were many unattached men working the raw land, that I would surely find a good man to marry. I led them to believe my husband had recently died, I admit to you, and I felt great shame for lying to them.

I told myself over and over that the lie didn't count. Edward would never find me in this vast wilderness.

We joined another wagon train when we reached what I believed was the end of the earth. I fought my exhaustion. Emily was always so cheerful. And then, on a bleak, rainy afternoon, we finally reached the valley below the most magnificent mountains I'd ever seen.

I remember that it was a bitterly cold day. It didn't matter, though. We were free, Christina. Free. No one could hurt us now.

Journal entry October 11, 1795

Lyon had been gone for over an hour when two letters arrived. Both were addressed to Christina, and both required her immediate attention.

After instructing Kathleen to take the messenger into the kitchens for refreshments, Christina took her letters into Lyon's study.

The first missive came from her Aunt Patricia. It was a hateful note, filled with defaming remarks about Lyon. The Countess told Christina she'd learned the truth about the Marquess and felt it was her duty to warn her niece that she was married to a murderer.

The Countess then demanded that Christina return to London immediately so that she could accompany her aunt to the various functions of the ton. She whined about the disgraceful fact that she hadn't received a single invitation since Christina's outrageous marriage.

Christina shook her head. It had been less than a month since the wedding, but her aunt was carrying on as though a full year had passed.

The Countess ended her list of complaints with the statement that she was sending along a letter she'd received from the missionary Deavenrue.

She hoped Christina didn't find ill news.

Christina was immediately suspicious. It wasn't like her aunt to offer such a good-hearted remark. She thought the Countess might be up to her usual tricks. She was familiar with her former teacher's handwriting, however, and the flourishing style of his script on the envelope indicated that he had in fact written the letter. The seal on the back of the envelope hadn't been tampered with, either.

Convinced that the letter was really from her dear friend, Christina finally opened it.

Brown was the first to react to the heart-wrenching scream coming from the library. He rushed into the room and nearly lost his composure altogether when he saw his mistress had collapsed on the floor.

He shouted orders over his shoulder as he knelt down beside the Marchioness. Kathleen, Christina's maid, came running next. When she saw her mistress, she gave a yell. "Did she swoon? What made her cry out, Brown? Is she hurt?"

"Cease your questions, woman," Brown snapped. He carefully lifted his mistress into his arms, then noticed that she clutched a letter in her hands. He decided that whatever news she'd just received had caused her to faint. "Go and prepare your lady's bed, Kathleen," he whispered. "She doesn't weigh more than a feather. God help us all if she's ill."

Most of the staff had assembled, and they trailed silently behind Brown as he carried Christina up the winding staircase. Kathleen had hurried on ahead to turn down the bed, but Brown walked right past Christina's bedroom and continued on into his master's quarters.

"She'll find comfort here when she wakes up," he whispered to the cook. "They are a very close couple. She sleeps in here every night."

"Do we send for the Marquess?" Kathleen asked between sobs.

"Get Sophie," Brown ordered. "She'll know what to do about the swoon. Is the messenger still here?"

When Kathleen nodded, Brown said, "I shall send a message to the Marquess with him. Lewis," he commanded the gardener, "go and delay him."

Christina opened her eyes just as Brown was awkwardly pulling the covers over her. "Do not make a fuss over me, Brown."

"Are you in pain, milady?" Brown asked, his voice ragged with worry. "I've sent for Sophie. She'll know what to do," he added, trying to force the tremor out of his voice.

Christina struggled to sit up just as a large gray-headed woman came rushing into the room. She grabbed two pillows and tucked them behind Christina's back.

"What do you think it is, Sophie?" Kathleen asked. "She let out a horrible scream and then fainted dead away."

"I heard her," Sophie announced. She slapped the back of her hand against Christina's forehead. Her manner was brisk, her frown intense. "Best send for Winters, Brown. She feels fevered to me. Winters is your husband's physician," Sophie explained to Christina.

"I'm not ill," Christina protested. She was surprised her voice sounded so weak to her. "Brown, do not send for a physician. I'm quite all right now. But I must go to London immediately. Please bring the carriage around front for me. Kathleen, would you see to packing a few of my gowns for me?"

"Milady, you cannot leave this bed. You are ill whether you know it or not," Sophie exclaimed. "You're as pale as a cloud. Yes, you are."

"I must go to my husband," Christina argued. "He will know what to do."

"It was the letter that caused your swoon, wasn't it?" Kathleen asked, wringing her hands.

Brown turned to glare at the maid. Kathleen was immediately contrite. "I'm sorry for prying, milady, but we are all so concerned. You gave us all a scare, and we've come to care about you."

Christina tried to smile. "And I care about all of you," she said. "Yes, Kathleen, it was the letter."

"Was it bad news?" Kathleen asked.

"Of course it was bad news, you silly chit," Brown muttered. "Anyone with half a mind can see that it was," he added. "Milady, is there anything I can do to ease your distress?"

"Yes, Brown," Christina answered. "Don't fight me when I tell you I must leave for London at once. Please help me, Brown. I beg of you."

"I would do anything for you," Brown blurted out in a fervent voice. He blushed and added, "The Marquess will be upset by this change in orders, but if you are truly set on going, I shall send four strong men to accompany you. Kathleen, hurry and do your lady's bidding."

"Will I be going with you?" Kathleen asked her mistress.

"You will," Brown announced before Christina could dissuade her eager maid.

"I would like a few minutes alone," Christina whispered. "I must grieve in privacy."

They understood then. Someone close to their mistress had passed away.

Brown immediately ushered the servants out of the bedroom. He hesitated after closing the door behind him, then stood there, feeling impotent and unworthy, as he listened to his mistress's tormented sobs.

He didn't know how to help her. Brown straightened his shoulders and hurried down the hall. The welfare of his mistress rested on his shoulders now. He wasn't going to take any chances. He decided to send six men along instead of four to protect the Marchioness.



----