And though it was highly unusual for a butler to leave his post as guardian of the household, Brown didn't care. He wasn't going to leave his mistress's side until she was safely in her husband's arms. Yes, he would go along with the assembly. And if he could remember how to hang onto a mount, he just might lead them.
Christina had no idea of the worry she was causing her staff. She huddled under the covers, hugging Lyon's pillow to her bosom, weeping softly.
When her tears were spent, she slowly climbed out of the bed and went in search of her scissors. She would cut her hair and begin the mourning ritual.
As of this moment, her Aunt Patricia was dead. Christina would never again acknowledge her existence.
The task of cutting several inches off the length of curls took little time. Kathleen rushed into the room with a pale green gown draped over her arm. Her eyes widened when she saw what her mistress had done to her hair, but she held her silence and assisted her mistress in changing her clothing.
"We will be ready to leave in ten minutes' time," Kathleen whispered to Christina before leaving her alone again.
Christina walked over to the windows to stare out at the land. She thought about her family. How Merry would love this country. Black Wolf would be impressed, too, though he'd never acknowledge it, of course. He was too arrogant to make such an admission. He'd be perplexed, too, if he knew that Lyon owned so much land.
White Eagle would be more impressed with Lyon's stables. The horses had been bred for strength and endurance, and the new foals, so feisty, so magnificent, were proof of Lyon's careful selection.
"They are not dead." Christina's voice was filled with anger.
She started to cry again. No, they weren't dead. The letter was a lie. She would have known, in her heart, if anything had harmed her family.
"I would have known," she whispered.
Yes, it was trickery. Christina didn't know how her aunt had accomplished the foul deed, but she was behind the deception. The evil woman wanted Christina to believe that her Indian family was dead.
Christina didn't understand the Countess's reasons.
Lyon would be able to explain. He was a cunning warrior who knew all the ways of the jackals in this world.
She felt a desperate need to get to her husband.
Christina would demand that he take her into his arms and tell her how much he loved her. And then she would make him kiss her. His touch would take the pain and the sorrow away.
She would demand and Lyon would give. It was his duty.
When Lyon arrived at his townhouse in London proper, Sir Fenton Richards was waiting on his doorstoop.
Richards wasn't smiling.
Lyon was immediately on his guard. "You've put on weight," he announced in lieu of a greeting.
"I have put on weight," Richards admitted with a grin. He patted his belly to emphasize just where the extra pounds had settled.
Lyon began to relax. His friend's manner told him all he needed to know. There had to be a problem, for Richards wouldn't have waited for him just to pay a social call. Yet his casual manner indicated it wasn't a terribly important problem.
Richards turned to bang on the door. It was immediately opened by a servant. Lyon motioned to his man to take the reins and see to his mount, then led his friend inside to the library.
Richards lumbered in behind him. He was a large man with a bushy beard and silver-tipped hair. He was softspoken, stoop-shouldered, and usually guarded in his expressions. Except when he was in Lyon's company. The older man could relax then, because his trust in his young friend was absolute.
"All hell has broken loose, and with a vengeance."
Lyon raised an eyebrow over the mildly given remark.
"Rhone is under house arrest," Richards announced. He settled himself in one of the two leather-backed chairs in front of Lyon's desk before adding, "I tried to intervene, but the charges had already been filed by Wellingham. It's up to you to take care of the matter now."
"How was he found out?" Lyon asked. He sat down behind his desk and began to sift through the stack of letters and invitations piled in the center.
Richards chuckled. "You're taking our friend's demise well," he remarked.
"As you said, it's up to me now. I'll take care of the matter. Tell me what happened. How—"
"Wellingham noticed the bandage on Rhone's wrist. One guess led to another after that. Rhone takes too many chances," Richards announced. "It seems he ran into Wellingham on his way home from your wedding. I was sorry I missed the celebration, by the way," he added. "Couldn't be helped. I just got back to London the day before yesterday."
"It was a small affair," Lyon said. "You'll have to come to Lyonwood to meet my Christina," he added. "How's Rhone taking the situation?" he asked, turning the subject back to the immediate problem.
"With his usual flair for nonsense," Richards commented dryly. "Since he can't get out, he's had a party at his townhouse every night. There's another one scheduled for this eve, as a matter of fact. I thought I'd drop in."
Richards paused to give Lyon a long, meaningful look.
Lyon grinned. "I'll be there," he told his friend. "Don't bring any valuables with you, Richards. You wouldn't want to be robbed by Jack, would you?"
"Ah, then Jack will be making an appearance?"
"You may wager on it."
"Won't Rhone be amused?" Richards commented. He straightened in his chair, his manner suddenly brisk. "Now that Rhone's problem is taken care of, I'll move on to my other reason for coming to see you. Your wife's father, to be exact."
Richards had just captured Lyon's full attention. He pushed the letters aside and leaned forward.
"Did you know your wife's father is on his way to London?"
Lyon shook his head. "How would you know him?" he asked.
"His name is Edward Stalinsky, but of course you would know that," Richards said.
Lyon nodded. He did know his father-in-law's full name, but only because he'd watched Christina sign the marriage certificate. "Yes, Baron Stalinsky," he said, urging Richards along.
"He did a favor for us a very long time ago. The Brisbane affair. Do you remember hearing about that mishap?"
Mishap? Lyon shook his head. "I remember you called the Battle of Waterloo Napoleon's mishap," he said. "Tell me about this Brisbane business. I have no memory of it in my mind."
"You were a young lad. Still, I thought you might have heard of the matter sooner or later," Richards said, his voice whisper-soft. "I forget I'm a good twenty years your senior. I suppose I should let the younger ones take charge," he added with a sigh.
"You've tried to resign several times since I've worked for you," Lyon answered.
He was eager to hear Richards recount the happening to him and learn all he could about Christina's father, but he knew his friend well enough to understand he would take his usual slow time getting to it.
"I'm like an old hound," Richards said. "The scent of trouble still captures my mind. Brisbane was an Englishman," he continued, finally getting to the heart of the matter. "You might say he was our Benedict Arnold. He turned traitor, sold a few secrets, then his family began to worry his conscience. He had a wife and four little girls. He came to us and confessed his transgressions. We, or rather my predecessors, worked a promise with the man. We were after bigger fish, you see. With Brisbane's full cooperation, we set a trap to catch his superiors. Baron Stalinsky acted as our intermediary. I don't remember how he got involved," he added with a shrug. "The baron did all he could—took every precaution, I'm told—but the plan failed miserably all the same."
"How?" Lyon asked.
"Brisbane's wife and children were murdered. Their throats were cut. The atrocity was made to look as if Brisbane had killed them and then turned the blade on himself."
"You don't believe that's what really happened, do you?" Lyon asked.
"No, of course not. I think one of Brisbane's superiors found out about the trap," Richards answered. "Either by chance or by payment."
"What about Baron Stalinsky? Did he continue to work with the government?"
"No. He married shortly after the Brisbane business and returned to his home. He was outraged by the horror he'd witnessed. He was the first to find the bodies, you see, and he refused to lend England a hand after that. Can't fault the man. I wasn't there, but I can imagine the nightmare Stalinsky walked into."
"Have you kept in touch with the Baron since that time?"
"None of us have," Richards said. "But several of his old friends have received notice from him that he'll be arriving in England soon."
"I wonder if he knows he has a daughter now."
"Good God. You mean to tell me he didn't know?" Richards asked.
"Father and daughter have never met. I believe the baron thought his wife and child had died years ago. For that matter, everyone I talked to thought the Baron had passed away, too. Sir Reynolds was one to make that speculation."
"Yes, there was surprise when the letters arrived," Richards said.
"I wonder what the baron has been up to all these years."
"I heard that a year or so later Stalinsky lost his kingdom. Then he vanished. We never had reason to keep track of the man," Richards added. A frown marred his expression. "Something's bothering you. What is it?"
"Do you have any reason at all to distrust the baron?"
"Ah, so that's the itch, is it?"
"Tell me everything you know about the man," Lyon ordered. "Everything you can remember. I realize it was a long time ago," he added.
"There's very little to tell. I was young and impressionable back then, but I do remember being in awe of the man. He wasn't much older than I was. He had a commanding presence. I envied him. Lyon, damn it all, you've got my guts churning. Now you tell me what you know about the baron," he ordered.
"I don't have any information to give you. I've never met him. Christina hasn't either, but she's afraid of him. When you meet my wife, you'll understand the full force of that comment. Christina isn't a woman who frightens easily."
"I already know that much about her," Richards said.
"She married you, didn't she?"
Lyon grinned. "Yes, she did," he said. "Not very willingly, but…"
Richards snorted with laughter. "Perhaps she's afraid of her father because of the unusual circumstances," he said after a moment's pause. "Not to know one's father and then finally to meet him…"
"No," Lyon said, shaking his head. "Her fear is based on something else. She called him a jackal. Keep your guard up when you're with the baron, Richards. My instincts and Christina's fears are enough to sway my mind."
"You're that uneasy?"
"Why hasn't Christina explained the real reasons for her fears, then?"
"She's very stubborn," Lyon announced with a smile that told Richards he thought that was a noble quality. "And she is just beginning to trust me. It's a fragile bond, Richards. For that reason, I'm not going to prod her. Christina will tell me when she's ready, and not a minute before."
"But you trust her judgment?" Richards asked. "You trust her?"
"I do." His answer was given without hesitation, his voice emphatic.
And then the full realization settled in his mind… and in his heart. He did trust her. Completely. "In all matters." Lyon acknowledged in a soft voice. "God only knows why, but I do," he told his friend before he started to laugh.
"And that's amusing?"
"Oh, yes. My little wife and I have been playing a game with each other," Lyon confessed. "It's amusing, you see, because neither one of us has realized it."
"I don't understand," Richards confessed.
"I'm only just beginning to understand," Lyon said. "Christina hides her past from me… just as I've been hiding my past from her. I think she believes I'll find her inferior in some way," he added. "I wouldn't, of course, but she needs to learn to trust me enough to believe it in her heart."
"I would be happy to investigate your wife's past for you," Richards volunteered.
"No. I sent men to France to make inquiries, but I'm going to call them home. I will not look into her past, and I don't want you to either, Richards. In time she'll tell me what she wants me to know."
"And will you tell her your secrets?" Richards asked. His voice was whisper-soft. "You have no cause to worry, Lyon. I've never been able to trust a man the way I trust you. Your loyalty to your country has always been absolute. That is why you were always given the most difficult assignments."
Lyon was surprised by the vehemence in his friend's voice. Richards wasn't a man given to compliments. In all their years working together, Lyon had never heard such praise.
"Now you've got me worried about Stalinsky," Richards continued. "I'll start looking into his affairs immediately. There's another problem, however," he added. He scratched his beard in an absentminded fashion. "The department had hopes that you'd give a reception honoring your father-in-law when he arrives. Heaven help us, there's already talk of knighthood. Some of the older gentlemen remember with exaggerated recall the noble deeds Baron Stalinsky accomplished for the good of England. I'm going to look into those deeds as well," he added with a brisk nod.
"A reception isn't going to sit well with Christina," Lyon said.
Richards gave a discreet cough, then said, "Lyon, I certainly don't want to be the one to tell you how to manage your marriage, but it would seem to me that you must simply question your wife about her father at the first opportunity. Order her to explain her fears to you. Make her answer your questions, son."
Question her? Lyon felt like laughing. Since the minute he'd met Christina he'd done nothing but question her. "There will be no questions. She'll tell me—"
"I know, I know," Richards interrupted with a long sigh. "In her own time."
"That's about it," Lyon answered. "Until then, it's my duty to keep her safe."