Brown could hear his lord's laughter all the way down the hall.
Christina met the butler at the bottom of the steps. When he informed her that the Marquess was upstairs and wished an audience with her, she gave him a disgruntled look before giving in to his request.
When she walked into the bedroom, she came to a sudden stop.
"Close the door, sweetheart."
Christina did as he asked, but only because she wished privacy for their confrontation. "Did you enjoy your ride?" Lyon asked.
The mildness in his tone confused her. Christina was ready for a fight. Lyon didn't seem to be in an accommodating mood. "Lyon," she began, deliberately avoiding his gaze, "I don't think you realize what I've done."
"Of course I do, my dear," Lyon answered, in such a cheerful voice that Christina was more confused than ever. "You're going to have to start all over. You'll have to court me, though now that you are aware of my… unusual upbringing, I doubt you'll—"
Christina looked at him. "All right? That is all you have to say to me?" She shook her head, let out a long sigh, and then whispered, "You don't understand."
"Yes, I do. You've just cast me aside. Elbert explained."
"You aren't upset?"
"Well, why not? You told me you loved me," Christina said. She moved a step closer to Lyon. "Your words were false, weren't they? Now that you know—"
"They weren't false," Lyon answered. He leaned back and closed his eyes. "God, this feels good. I tell you, Christina, the ride from London gets longer every time."
She couldn't believe his casual attitude. Christina felt like weeping. "You cannot humiliate me and then act as though nothing has happened. A warrior would kill another for such an offense," she told him.
"Ah, but you aren't a warrior, Christina. You're my wife."
He didn't even open his eyes to look at her when he asked,
"Exactly what did I do?"
"You don't know?" She had to take a deep breath before she could go on. "You shouted at me in front of a witness. You shamed me. You disgraced me."
"Who was the witness?" Lyon asked, in such a soft voice that she had to move a bit closer to hear him.
"Bryan," Christina announced.
"Didn't I yell at you in front of Richards, too? I seem to remember—"
"That was different."
"You were shouting because I fainted. You weren't angry with me. Surely you can see the difference."
"I do now," Lyon admitted. "Do you wonder why I shouted at you in front of Bryan?"
Lyon opened his eyes. His irritation was obvious. "You scared the hell out of me," he announced. Each word was clipped, hard.
"Don't look so surprised, Christina. When I walked inside that tavern and found you sitting so peacefully in the midst of the worse scum in England, my mind could barely take it in. Then you had the gall to smile at me, as if you were happy to see me."
He had to stop talking. The memory was making him angry again.
"I was happy to see you. Did you doubt that I was?" she asked.
Her hands rested on her hips. She tossed her hair over her shoulder and continued to frown at him. "Well?" she demanded.
"Did you cut your hair again?"
"I did. It is all part of the ritual of mourning," Christina announced.
"Christina, if you cut your hair every time you're unhappy with me, you'll be bald in a month's time. I promise you."
Lyon drew a long breath, then said, "Let me get this straight inside my mind. I'm never to raise my voice to you in future? Christina, it won't work. There will be times when I shout at you."
"I don't care if you raise your voice to me," Christina muttered. "I shall also let my temper show on occasion." she admitted. "But I would never, ever let an outsider see my displeasure. That was the humiliation, Lyon."
"Oh? Then I should have dragged you into the back room to shout at you in privacy?" he asked.
"Yes, you should have," Christina agreed.
"You took a foolish risk, Christina. You were in danger, whether you realized it or not. I want your apology and your promise never to take such a risk again."
"I shall have to think about it," she said. Now that she was forced to consider what he was saying to her, she realized she had been in a bit of danger. There were too many men in Bryan's tavern for her to subdue… if they'd all decided to challenge her at the same time. She'd thought she'd gained the upper hand, though, after the single challenger had backed down… and after she'd mentioned her husband was the Marquess of Lyonwood. "Yes," she repeated, "I shall have to think about these promises you want from me."
She could tell from Lyon's ferocious expression that he didn't care for her honest answer. "I warned you that it wouldn't be easy for you," she whispered.
"That's what this is really all about, isn't it?"
"I've just said—"
"You're testing me, aren't you, Christina?"
She made the mistake of getting too close to the tub, realizing her error a second too late. Lyon grabbed her and pulled her down into his lap. Water sloshed over the sides of the tub.
"You've ruined my gown," Christina gasped.
"I've ruined others," Lyon told her when she quit struggling. He cupped the sides of her face and made her look at him. "I love you."
Her eyes filled with tears. "You humiliated me."
"I love you," Lyon repeated in a harsh whisper. "I'm sorry you felt humiliated," he added.
A single tear slid down her cheek. Lyon wiped it away with his thumb.
"I'm sorry I frightened you," she whispered. "I shall try not to do it again."
"Tell me you love me," Lyon demanded.
"I love you."
"Should I believe you?" he asked. His voice was husky, coaxing.
"Yes," Christina answered. She tried to push his hands away when she realized he was actually insulting her. "Of course you should believe me."
"But you don't believe me when I tell you I love you," Lyon said. "You have it in your head that it's only a temporary condition, don't you?" He kissed her slowly, tenderly, hoping to take the sting out of his gentle rebuke. "When you learn to trust me completely, you'll know I won't change my mind. My love is forever, Christina."
Lyon didn't give her time to argue over that fact. He kissed her again. His tongue flicked over her soft lips until they parted for him.
And then he began to ravage her mouth.
Christina tried to protest. "Lyon, I must—"
"Get your clothes off," Lyon interrupted. He was already pulling apart the fastenings on the back of her gown.
No, she hadn't meant to say that. But her thoughts got confused inside her mind. Lyon had pulled her gown down to her waist. His hands cupped her br**sts, his thumbs rubbed her ni**les, forced her response. His mouth had never seemed so warm, so inviting.
There was more water on the floor than in the tub. Lyon didn't seem to mind. He was determined, and he had Christina stripped out of her soggy clothes in little time.
Christina didn't want to struggle. She put her arms around his neck and let out a soft sigh. "The water isn't very hot," she whispered against his ear.
"Lyon? I want—"
"Me, inside you," Lyon whispered. His mouth feasted on the side of her neck. His warm breath sent shivers down her spine. "You want to feel me inside you," he rasped out. "Hard. Hot. I'll try to go slow, but you'll want me harder, faster, until I'm touching your womb and you're begging me for release."
Christina's head fell back so that Lyon could kiss more of her throat. His dark promise of what was to come made her throat tighten and her heartbeat quicken. "I'll stay inside you until I'm hard again, won't I, Christina? And then I'll pleasure you again."
His mouth settled on hers for another long, drugging kiss. "That's what you want, isn't it, my sweet?"
"Yes," Christina answered. She sighed against his mouth. "It's what I want."
"Then marry me. Now," Lyon demanded. He kissed her again as a precaution against any protest. "Hurry, Christina. I want to… Christina, don't move like that," Lyon ground out. "It's torture."
"You like it."
She whispered the truth against his shoulder, then nipped his skin with her teeth, her nails. She moved again to straddle his hips, rubbing her br**sts against his chest.
Yet when she tried to take Lyon inside her, he wouldn't allow it. His hands settled on the sides of her hips, holding her away from his arousal.
"Not yet, Christina," he groaned. "Are we still divorced inside your head?"
"Lyon, please," Christina begged.
He drew her up against him until her heat rested on the flat of his stomach. His fingers found her, slowly penetrated her. "Do you want me to stop?" he asked with a growl.
"No, don't stop."
"Are we married?"
Christina gave in. "Yes, Lyon. You were supposed to court me first." She moaned when he increased the pressure. She bit his bottom lip, then opened her mouth for him again.
"Compromise," Lyon whispered as he slowly pushed her downward and began to penetrate her.
She didn't understand what he was saying to her, thought to at least try to question him, but Lyon suddenly shifted.
His movement was forceful, deliberate. Christina couldn't speak, couldn't think. Lyon was pulling her into the sun. Soon, when she could bear the scorching heat no longer, he would give her sweet release. Christina clung to her warrior in blissful surrender.
"We should have gone downstairs for dinner. I don't want your mother to think she can hide in her bedroom. She must eat all her meals with us in future, husband."
Lyon ignored his wife's comments. He pulled her up against his side, draped the bed covers over her legs when he noticed she was trembling, then began to tickle her shoulder with his fingers.
"Christina? Didn't your father ever yell at you when you were a little girl?"
She turned and rested her chin on his chest before she answered him. "That's an odd question to put to me. Yes, Father did yell."
"But never in front of others?" Lyon asked.
"Well, there was one time when he lost his temper," she admitted. "I was too little to remember the incident, but my mother and the shaman liked to tell the story."
"Our holy man," Christina explained. "Like the one who married us. My shaman doesn't ever wear a cone on his head, though." She ended her comment with a dainty shrug.
"What was the reason for your father to lose his temper?" Lyon asked.
"You'll not laugh?"
"I won't laugh."
Christina turned her gaze to stare at his chest so that his golden eyes wouldn't break her concentration. "My brother carried home a beautiful snake. Father was very pleased."
"It was a fine snake, Lyon."
She could hear the smile in his voice but didn't take exception. "Mother was also pleased. I must have watched the way my brother held his prize, and the shaman said I was envious of the attention given my brother, too, for I went out to capture a snake of my own. No one could find me for several hours. I was very little and in constant mischief."
"Ah, so that is why your father lost his temper," Lyon announced. "Your disappearance must have—"
"No, that isn't the reason," Christina interjected. "Though of course he was unhappy that I'd left the safety of the village."
"Well, then?" Lyon prodded when she didn't immediately continue with her story.
"Everyone was frantically searching for me when I strutted back into the village. Mama said I always strutted because I tried to imitate my brother's swagger. White Eagle walked like a proud warrior, you see."
The memory of the story she'd heard so many times during her growing years made her smile. "And did you have a snake with you when you strutted back into the village?" Lyon asked.
"Oh, yes," she answered. "The shaman recounted that I held it just as my brother had held his snake. Father was standing on the far side of the fires. Mother stood beside him. Neither showed any outward reaction to my prize. They didn't want to frighten me into dropping the snake, I was told later. Anyway," she added with a sigh, "Father walked over to me. He took the snake out of my hand, killed it, and then began to shout at me. Mother knew I didn't understand. Father had praised my brother, you see, yet he was yelling at me."
"Why do you think that was?" Lyon asked, already dreading her answer.
"My brother's snake wasn't poisonous."
The tremble in her husband's voice made her laugh. "Father was soon over his anger. The shaman announced that the spirits had protected me. I was their lioness, you see. Mama said Father was also sorry for making me cry. He took me riding with him that afternoon and let me sit on his lap during the evening meal."
The parallel was too good to pass up. "Your father was frightened," Lyon announced. "He loved you, Christina—so much so that when he saw the danger you were in, his discipline deserted him. Just like my discipline deserted me when I saw the danger you were in yesterday."
He dragged her up on top of him so he could look into her eyes. "It was his duty to keep my lioness safe for me."
Christina slowly nodded. "I think you would like my father. You're very like him in many ways. You're just as arrogant. Oh, don't frown, Lyon. I give you a compliment when I say you're arrogant. You're full of bluster, too."
She sounded too sincere for Lyon to take insult. "What is your father's name?" he asked.
"Will he like me?"