White Eagle was her confidant. He didn't wish to break his sister's innocent determination, but he worried for her. He argued in favor of caution, for he knew, as well as everyone else in their isolated village, that Christina would one day return to the world of the whites.
And in his heart, the truth tormented him. He knew, with a certainty he couldn't deny, that there were no warriors like his father in this place called England.
None at all.
London, England, 1810
Lettie's screams were getting weaker.
Baron Winters, the physician in attendance to the Marchioness of Lyonwood, leaned over his patient and frantically tried to grab hold of her hands. The beautiful woman was writhing in agony. She was clearly out of her head now and seemed determined to tear the skin off her distended abdomen.
"There, there, Lettie," the physician whispered in what he hoped was a soothing tone. "It's going to be all right, my dear. Just a bit longer and you'll have a fine babe to give your husband."
The baron wasn't at all certain Lettie even understood what he was saying to her. Her emerald-green eyes were glazed with pain. She seemed to be staring right through him. "I helped bring your husband into this world. Did you know that, Lettie?"
Another piercing scream interrupted his attempt to calm his patient. Winters closed his eyes and prayed for guidance. His forehead was beaded with perspiration, and his hands were actually shaking. In all his years, he'd never seen such a difficult laboring. It had gone on much too long already. The Marchioness was growing too weak to help.
The door to the bedroom slammed open then, drawing the baron's attention. Alexander Michael Phillips, the Marquess of Lyonwood, filled the doorway. Winters sighed with relief. "Thank God you're home," he called out. "We were worried you wouldn't return in time."
Lyon rushed over to the bed. His face showed his concern. "For God's sake, Winters, it's too early for this to happen yet."
"The baby has decided otherwise," Winters replied.
"Can't you see she's in terrible pain?" he shouted. "Do something!"
"I'm doing everything I can," Winters yelled back before he could control his anger. Another spasm caught Lettie, and her scream turned Winter's attention back to her. The physician's shoulders heaved forward with his effort of restraining her. The Marchioness wasn't a small woman by any means. She was extremely tall and well rounded. She fought the physician's hold on her shoulders with a vengeance.
"She's out of her mind, Lyon. Help me tie her hands to the posts," Winters ordered.
"No," Lyon shouted, clearly appalled by such a command. "I'll hold her still. Just be done with it, Winters. She can't take much more. God, how long has she been this way?"
"Over twelve hours now," Winters confessed. "The midwife sent for me a few hours ago. She ran off in a panic when she realized the baby isn't in the proper position for birthing," he added in a whisper. "We're going to have to wait it out and pray the baby turns for us."
Lyon nodded as he took hold of his wife's hands. "I'm home now, Lettie. Just a little longer, my love. It will be over soon."
Lettie turned toward the familiar voice. Her eyes were dull, lifeless. Lyon continued to whisper encouragement to his wife. When she closed her eyes and he believed she was asleep, he spoke to Winters again. "Is it because the baby is almost two months early that Lettie is having so much difficulty?"
The physician didn't answer him. He turned his back on the Marquess to lift another cloth from the water basin. His motions were controlled, angry, but his touch was gentle when he finally placed the cool cloth on his patient's brow. "God help us if she gets the fever," he muttered to himself.
Lettie's eyes suddenly opened. She stared up at Baron Winters. "James? Is that you, James? Help me, please help me. Your baby is tearing me apart. It's God's punishment for our sins, isn't it, James? Kill the bastard if you have to, but rid me of it. Lyon will never know. Please, James, please."
The damning confession ended with a hysterical whimper.
"She doesn't know what she's saying," Winters blurted once he'd recovered his composure. He wiped the blood away from Lettie's lips before adding, "Your wife is delirious, Lyon. The pain rules her mind. Pay no heed to her rantings."
Baron Winters glanced over to look at the Marquess. When he saw the expression on Lyon's face, he knew his speech hadn't swayed the man. The truth had won out after all.
Winters cleared his throat and said, "Lyon, quit this room. I've work to do here. Go and wait in your study. I'll come for you when it's over."
The Marquess continued to stare at his wife. When he finally lifted his gaze and nodded to the physician, his eyes showed his torment. He shook his head then, a silent denial, perhaps, of what he'd just heard, and abruptly left the room.
His wife's screams for her lover followed him out the door.
It was finished three hours later. Winters found Lyon in the library. "I did everything I could, Lyon. God help me, I lost both of them."
The baron waited several minutes before speaking again. "Did you hear what I said, Lyon?"
"Was the baby two months early?" Lyon asked.
Winters didn't immediately answer. He was slow to recover from the flat, emotionless tone in Lyon's voice. "No, the baby wasn't early," he finally said. "You've been lied to enough, son. I'll not add to their sins."
The baron collapsed in the nearest chair. He watched Lyon calmly pour him a drink, then reached forward to accept the glass. "You've been like a son to me, Lyon. If there is anything I can do to help you through this tragedy, only tell me and I'll do it."
"You've given me the truth, old friend," Lyon answered. "That is enough."
Winters watched Lyon lift his goblet and down the contents in one long swallow.
"Take care of yourself, Lyon. I know how much you loved Lettie."
Lyon shook his head. "I'll recover," he said. "I always do, don't I, Winters?"
"Yes," Winters answered with a weary sigh. "The lessons of brotherhood have no doubt prepared you for any eventuality."
"There is one task I would give you," Lyon said. He reached for the inkwell and pen.
Long minutes passed while Lyon wrote on a sheet of paper. "I'll do anything," Winters said when he couldn't stand the silence any longer.
Lyon finished his note, folded the sheet, and handed it to the physician.
"Take the news to James, Winters. Tell my brother his mistress is dead."
Your father was such a handsome man, Christina. He could have chosen any woman in England. Yet he wanted me. Me! I couldn't believe my good fortune. I was only pretty enough to be passable by the ton's measure, terribly shy and naive, the complete opposite of your father. He was so sophisticated, so very polished, kind and loving, too. Everyone thought he was the most wonderful man.
But it was all a terrible lie.
Journal entry August 1, 1795
London, England, 1814
It was going to be a long night.
The Marquess of Lyonwood let out a controlled sigh and leaned against the mantel of Lord Carlson's receiving room. It wasn't a casual stance but one employed for necessity's sake. By shifting his considerable weight, Lyon was able to ease the throbbing in his leg. The injury was still a constant irritant, and the sharp pain radiating up through his kneecap did absolutely nothing to lighten his somber mood.
Lyon was attending the party under duress, having been successfully nagged into doing his duty by escorting his younger sister, Diana, to the event. Needless to say, he wasn't at all happy about his circumstances. He thought he should try to affect a pleasant expression on his face, yet couldn't quite manage that feat. Lyon was simply in too much pain to care if others noticed his sour disposition or not. He settled on a scowl instead, his usual expression these days, then folded his arms across his massive chest in a gesture of true resignation.
The Earl of Rhone, Lyon's good friend since Oxford pranks, stood beside him. Both were considered handsome men. Rhone was dark-haired, fair-skinned, and stood six feet in height. He was built on the lean side, always impeccable in dress and taste, and gifted with a lopsided smile that made the young ladies forget all about his crooked nose. They were simply too mesmerized by his enviable green eyes to notice.
Rhone was definitely a lady's man. Mothers fretted over his reputation, fathers worried about his intentions, while unseasoned daughters ignored their parents' cautions altogether, competing quite brazenly for his attention. Rhone drew women to his side in much the same way honey drew a hungry bear. He was a rascal, true, yet too irresistible to deny.
Lyon, on the other hand, had the dubious distinction of being able to send these same sweetly determined ladies screaming for cover. It was an undisputed fact that the Marquess of Lyonwood could clear a room with just one glacial stare.
Lyon was taller than Rhone by a good three inches. Because he was so muscular in chest, shoulders, and thighs, he gave the appearance of being even larger. His size alone wasn't enough to thoroughly intimidate the stronger-hearted ladies hoping to snatch a title, however. Neither were his features, if you could take them just one at a time. Lyon's hair was a dark golden color, given to curl. The length was left unfashionably longer than society liked. His profile mimicked the statues of Roman soldiers lining
Carlton House. His cheekbones were just as patrician, his nose just as classical, and his mouth just as perfectly sculptured.
The warm color of his hair was Lyon's only soft feature, however. His brown eyes mirrored cold cynicism. Disillusionment had molded his expression into a firm scowl. The scar didn't help matters much, either. A thin, jagged line slashed across his forehead, ending abruptly in the arch of his right eyebrow. The mark gave Lyon a piratical expression.
And so the gossip makers called Rhone a rake and Lyon a pirate, but never, of course, to either gentleman's face. These foolish women didn't realize how their insults would have pleased both men.
A servant approached the Marquess and said, "My lord? Here is the brandy you requested." The elderly man made the announcement with a formal bow as he balanced two large goblets on a silver tray.
Lyon grabbed both glasses, handed one to Rhone, and then surprised the servant by offering his gratitude. The servant bowed again before turning and leaving the gentlemen alone.
Lyon emptied his glass in one long swallow.
Rhone caught the action. "Is your leg bothering you?" he asked, frowning with concern. "Or is it your intention to get sotted?"
"I never get sotted," Lyon remarked. "The leg is healing," he added with a shrug, giving his friend a roundabout answer.
"You came away lucky this time, Lyon," Rhone said. "You're going to be out of commission for a good six months, maybe more. Thank God for that," he added. "Richards would have you back in jeopardy tomorrow if he could have his way. I do believe it was a blessing your ship was destroyed. You can't very well go anywhere until you build another."
"I knew the risks," Lyon answered. "You don't like Richards, do you, Rhone?"
"He never should have sent you on that last little errand, my friend."
"Richards places government business above personal concerns."
"Above our personal concerns, you mean to say," Rhone corrected. "You really should have gotten out when I did. If you weren't so vital to—"
"I've quit, Rhone."
His friend couldn't contain his astonishment. Lyon knew he should have waited to give him the news, for there was a real concern Rhone would let out a shout. "Don't look so stunned, Rhone. You've been after me to retire for a good while now."
Rhone shook his head. "I've been after you because I'm your friend and very likely the only one who cares what happens to you," he said. "Your special talents have kept you doing your duty longer than a normal man could stand. God's truth, I wouldn't have had the stomach for it. Do you really mean it? You've actually retired? Have you told Richards?"
Rhone was speaking in a furious whisper. He watched Lyon intently.
"Yes, Richards knows. He isn't too pleased."
"He'll have to get used to it," Rhone muttered. He raised his glass in salutation. "A toast, my friend, to a long life. May you find happiness and peace. You deserve a bit of both, Lyon."
Since Lyon's glass was empty, he didn't share in the toast. He doubted Rhone's fervent wish would come true anyway. Happiness—in sporadic doses, of course—was a true possibility. But peace… no, the past would never allow Lyon to find peace. Why, it was as impossible a goal as love. Lyon accepted his lot in life. He had done what he believed was necessary, and part of his mind harbored no guilt. It was only in the dark hours of the night, when he was alone and vulnerable, that the faces from the past came back to haunt him. No, he'd never find peace. The nightmares wouldn't let him.
"You're doing it again," Rhone announced, nudging Lyon's arm to gain his attention.
"Frowning all the ladies out of the room."
"It's good to know I've still got the ability," Lyon drawled.
Rhone shook his head. "Well, are you going to frown all night?"
"Your lack of enthusiasm is appalling. I'm in a wonderful mood. The new season always stirs my blood. Your sister must also be eager for all the adventures," he added. "Lord, it's difficult to believe the little brat has finally grown up."
"Diana is excited," Lyon admitted. "She's old enough to start looking for a husband."
"Is she still… spontaneous? It's been over a year now since I last saw her."
Lyon smiled over Rhone's inept description of his sister's conduct. "If you mean to ask me if she still charges into situations without showing the least amount of restraint, then yes, she's still spontaneous."
Rhone nodded. He looked around the room, then let out a sigh. "Just think of it. A fresh crop of beautiful ladies waiting to be sampled. In truth, I thought their mamas would have made them stay home, what with Jack and his band of robbers still on the prowl."
"I heard the thieves visited Wellingham last week," Lyon commented.