"Christina believes her father will try to kill her."
"Exactly. And you can see how offended we both would be if the baron is knighted."
"Lyon, I insist that you question your wife. If there is danger—"
"I will deal with it. I will not question her again."
Richards ignored the irritation in his friend's tone. "I'm not one to judge, but I believe you have a very unusual marriage."
"I have a very unusual wife. You'll like her, Richards."
A sudden noise coming from the foyer interrupted the conversation. Lyon glanced up just as the library doors were thrown open.
Brown, his loyal butler, came rushing into the room.
Lyon bounded out of his chair. His heart started slamming against his chest and he felt as though the breath was being squeezed out of him.
Something had happened to Christina. She'd been hurt… taken…
The feeling of panic slowly dissipated. When Christina came flying into the room, her golden hair floating around her shoulders, Lyon literally fell back into his chair.
She was all right. Oh, her eyes were clouded with unshed tears, and her expression showed how troubled she was. She was upset, yes, but she hadn't been injured.
He started breathing again.
"Lyon, you just tell me how it was done," Christina demanded. She rushed right past Richards, didn't even seem to notice that anyone else was in the room, reached her husband's side, and thrust two envelopes into his hands. "I recognized his handwriting, and at first I thought it might be true. But in my heart I didn't feel it was so. I would have known if something had happened to them. I would have known."
Lyon grabbed hold of Christina's hands. "Sweetheart, calm down and start at the beginning."
"Read this letter first," Christina said. She pulled her hand away and motioned to the Countess's envelope. "Then you'll understand why I know it's trickery."
"The Marchioness fainted dead away, my lord," Brown called out.
Lyon turned his attention to his butler. Brown was still standing in the doorway.
"She what?" Lyon roared.
"She swooned," Brown said, nodding vigorously.
"Then why did you bring her to London?"
Lyon was suddenly infuriated. He glared at his butler, then turned to Christina. "You should be home in bed," he shouted.
"Don't yell at me," Christina ordered. Her voice was every bit as loud as Lyon's had been. "Brown knew better than to argue with me. I was determined to come to you, Lyon. Please read the letters. I know it is all a lie."
Lyon forced himself to calm down. Christina had started crying. He decided to get to the matter of her health after he'd dealt with her problem.
Lyon read the Countess's letter first. By the time he was finished with it his hands were shaking.
God help him, she'd learned the truth about him. The Countess had found out about his past and had recounted several damning details in her letter to her niece.
Now Christina wanted his denial. She'd come all the way to London to confront him, to hear him tell her that they were lies.
He wasn't going to lie to her. But the truth could destroy her.
No more lies, no more pretenses… hadn't she given him that promise just this morning?
She deserved equal measure. "Christina," Lyon began. He slowly lifted his gaze to hers, "We do what we must do when there is a threat, and I…"
He couldn't seem to finish his explanation.
Christina could see his pain, his anguish. The need to comfort him overrode all other considerations. She instinctively reached out to him.
And then the confusion of it all hit her. Her hand stilled in the air between them. "What are you talking about?"
"Why are you looking at me like that?"
"I'm trying to explain," Lyon muttered. He turned to glare at Brown. The butler caught the message and immediately closed the door.
Lyon's gaze then settled on Richards. His friend rudely ignored the silent order and stayed right where he was.
"Lyon, answer me," Christina demanded.
"Christina, it's very difficult to explain with an audience listening," he said. He took a deep breath. "It's true. All of it. I did exactly what your aunt has told you. My motives were a hell of a lot cleaner, however, and I would…"
She finally understood. Christina closed her eyes and prayed for guidance. She knew she probably wasn't being a good wife now, that Lyon obviously felt the need to unburden himself of his secrets. He'd picked a strange time to share his worries with her, she thought. Although it was selfish of her to feel this way, she really wished he'd help her with her problem first.
When Christina closed her eyes, Lyon felt as though a knife had just been plunged into his heart. "My dear, I was a soldier. I did what I had to…"
She finally looked at him. Her gaze was direct and filled with tenderness.
He was too stunned to say another word.
"You are a warrior, Lyon. But you are also a gentle, loving man. You wouldn't have killed anyone who hadn't challenged you. No, you hunt only jackals."
He seemed to have trouble taking it all in. "Then why did you come to London to—"
"I knew you'd help me find the truth," Christina said.
"I'm trying to tell you the truth."
He was shouting again. Christina shook her head. "How can you tell me that when you haven't even read the other letter?"
"If you two will forgive an old man's interference," Richards interjected.
"What is it?" Lyon snapped.
"Who is that man?" Christina asked Lyon.
"Fenton Richards," Lyon said.
Christina recognized the name. She frowned at Lyon's guest and then said, "Lyon cannot come back to work for you. His leg still has not healed to my satisfaction. It may be long years before he mends completely," she added.
"Christina, how do you know about Richards?"
"Rhone," she answered. "And you do talk in your sleep some nights," she added. "I hadn't thought to mention that flaw to you in front of an outsider, but…"
"Oh, hell," Lyon muttered.
"Oh, my God," Richards whispered.
"Don't be concerned, sir," Christina told Richards. "I will keep his secrets safe."
Richards stared at her a long minute and then slowly nodded. "I believe you will," he acknowledged.
"How did you know about my leg?" Lyon asked, drawing Christina's attention again. "I haven't complained. It has healed, damn it. Did Rhone—"
"The first night I met you I could tell you were in pain. I could see it in your eyes. You kept leaning against the mantel, too. That was another sign. Later I did question Rhone, and he confessed that you'd injured your knee. And it hasn't healed," she added with a hasty glance in Richards's direction.
Richards hid his smile. Lyon's wife was a charmer. "The two of you seem to be at cross purposes," he remarked. "Lyon, I don't think your wife is upset about the news in her aunt's letter. It's something else, isn't it, my dear?"
"Yes," Christina answered. "The Countess enclosed a letter from my good friend. The writing on his envelope is by his hand, I'm certain of it, and the writing on the paper looks the same, but—"
"You don't think it is. That's the trickery you're referring to?" Lyon asked.
She nodded. "See how the Countess ends her letter, Lyon? She tells me she hopes my friend hasn't sent ill news."
Her eyes filled with tears again. Lyon quickly read the letter from Deavenrue. He then held the envelope up next to the paper to compare the writing style. Christina held her breath and waited.
It didn't take him long to see the differences. "It's similar, but it isn't the same. Richards, you want to have a look at this?" Lyon asked. "Another opinion would make Christina rest easy."
Richards leapt out of his chair, his curiosity nearly out of control, and snatched the envelope and the letter. He soon saw the discrepancies. "Oh, yes. The letter was written by another hand. It is a deception."
He then read the contents. His gaze was sympathetic when he looked at Christina again. "These people in the wilderness… they were like family to you?"
Christina nodded. "What is spotted fever?" she asked, frowning. "The letter says they died of—"
"God only knows," Lyon said.
"Who is responsible for this?" Richards asked. "What kind of monster would do such a thing?"
"Christina's aunt." Lyon's voice sounded his anger.
Richards dropped the letter on the desk. "Forgive me for saying this, Christina, but I believe your aunt is a—"
"Think it but don't say it," Lyon interrupted before Richards could finish his sentence.
Christina sagged against Lyon's chair. Lyon put his arm around her waist. "I still don't understand how it was done. The seal wasn't disturbed."
Richards was the one who explained how easy it was to use steam to open an envelope. "An expert would have been able to tell, my dear," he said.
Richards left minutes later. As soon as the door closed behind him, Christina burst into tears. Lyon pulled her onto his lap. He hugged her close to him.
He didn't try to quiet her. She had a good store of tears, and it was quite a while before her racking sobs slowed down.
"I've gotten your shirt all wet," Christina whispered between hiccups.
She obviously wasn't ready to do anything about it. Christina cuddled up against his chest, tucked her head under his chin, and let out a weary sigh.
She didn't move again for a long time. Lyon thought she might have fallen asleep. He didn't mind. He'd hold her close for the rest of the afternoon, if that was what she needed. In truth, he thought it might take him that long to rid himself of his anger.
Richards had meant to call the Countess a bitch, Lyon decided. The old bat was that, all right, and more.
Christina's mind must have been following the same path, for she suddenly whispered, "Do you know that I used to believe all the English were like my aunt?"
He didn't answer her. But his breath caught in his throat, and he prayed his silence would encourage her to tell him more.
His patience was rewarded minutes later.
"My father hated the whites. And when I lived with the Countess in Boston, my only friend was Mr. Deavenrue. He is the one who took me to my aunt, and he would come every day to tutor me. I wasn't permitted to go outdoors. The Countess kept telling me she was ashamed of me. I was very confused. I didn't understand why she believed I was so unworthy."
"You aren't, my love," Lyon said emphatically. "You are very, very worthy."
Christina nodded. "It is good of you to notice," she said.
He smiled over the sincerity in her voice.
And then he waited for her to tell him more.
It seemed an eternity had passed before she spoke again. "She used to lock me in my room at night. I tried not to hate her for that."
Lyon closed his eyes and drew a shaky breath. He could feel her anguish. It washed over him like hot lava until his eyes smarted with tears.
"I couldn't stand being locked in like that. I finally put a stop to it."
"I took the hinges off the door," Christina confessed. "The Countess started bolting her bedroom door then. She was afraid of me. I didn't mind that. She's old, Lyon, and for that reason I tried to respect her. It is what my mother would have wanted."
"No, I never knew Jessica."
Lyon couldn't stop himself from asking her another question. "And does she also hate the whites?"
"Oh, no, Merry doesn't hate anyone."
"But the man you call Father does?"
He didn't think she was going to answer him. The silence stretched between them for long minutes.
He shouldn't have prodded her, he told himself. Damn, he'd only just vowed never to ask her any more questions.
"Yes, he does," Christina whispered. "But not me, of course. My father loves me with all his heart."
Christina waited for his reaction. Her heart pounded furiously.
Lyon didn't say a word. Christina decided then that he hadn't understood.
"I have a brother."
Nothing. Not a word, not a sigh, not even a mutter. "His name is White Eagle."
A slow smile settled on Lyon's face.
"Do you understand what I'm telling you, Lyon?" she asked.
He kissed the top of her head. "I understand," he whispered. He cupped the sides of her face and gently forced her mouth upward. He kissed her tenderly.
And then he soothed her fears away. "I understand that I am the most fortunate man in all the world. I never believed I'd find anyone I could love the way I love you, Christina. I owe your family a great debt, sweetheart. They kept you safe for me."
"You don't know them, and yet you sound as if you care about them," Christina whispered. Her voice shook with emotion.
"Of course I care," Lyon said. "Your mother must be a gentle, loving woman, and your father…"
"A proud warrior," Christina supplied. "As proud as you, Lyon."
"I love you, Christina. Did you really believe that your background would make me think you were less than—"
"I have never felt unworthy. Never. I am a lioness. In truth, I thought the English were unworthy… until I met you."
Lyon smiled. "You have gained some of your father's arrogance," he noted. "That pleases me."
"It isn't going to be easy for you, Lyon. I have different habits. I don't want to have to pretend any longer. At least not when we are alone…"
"Good. I don't want you to pretend whatever it is you pretend either," Lyon announced. He laughed then, for he didn't have the faintest idea what he'd just said.
"I love you, Lyon," Christina whispered. Her fingers caressed the nape of his neck. "Lyon? I want…"
"I do too," Lyon growled. He kissed her again, hungrily this time. His tongue plunged inside to taste, to stroke. Christina curled her arms around his neck. She'd meant to tell him she wanted to go home to Lyonwood, but his kiss soon pushed that thought aside. His mouth slanted over hers, again and again, until her breath was little more that a soft pant.