Rhone had to nudge Diana before she answered. "Oh, yes. It would be cruel to keep her tied up in the townhouse. Christina, did you have a puppy when you were a little girl? Were their dogs in your… town?"
"It was called a village, not a town," Christina answered, wishing Diana would stop staring at her so intently.
"But were there dogs there?" Diana persisted.
"Yes, there were dogs," Christina answered. She turned to wink at her husband when she felt his hand tense under hers, then turned back to look at her sister-in-law. "They weren't considered pets, though," she lied. "And, of course, they never stayed long."
"James always loved animals. He had a beautiful speckled dog he named Faithful."
"An inappropriate name, if you ask me," Lyon commented. "Wouldn't you agree, Christina?" he asked, duplicating her wink.
Brown appeared in the doorway at that moment and announced that Sir Fenton Richards had just arrived. Both Christina and Lyon stood up to take their leave.
"I'd like to ride along with you and Richards," Rhone called out.
Lyon glanced down at Christina, received her nod, then told Rhone he'd be glad for his help.
Christina was halfway across the dining room when Diana called out to her.
"Christina? Why didn't the dogs stay long?"
She was going to ignore that question until she realized Diana was still gaping at her. Lyon's sister was looking at her as though she'd just grown another head or two. "What happened to the dogs?"
"We ate them," Christina called out, trying to tell her lie without laughing.
Aunt Harriett dropped her fan. Diana let out a gasp. Lyon never even blinked until his mother's determined voice called out, "James never ate his dog. He… oh, God, what have I just said?"
Everyone joined in laughing. The elderly Marchioness even cracked a smile. It was a small one, but a smile all the same.
Christina thought it was a nice beginning. Lyon's hug told her he thought so, too.
"Diana, I was only jesting with you. We didn't eat our pets. You needn't worry about your pup. I won't have her for dinner. You have my word."
"She never breaks her word," Lyon advised his sister. "Unless, of course, she gets very hungry," he added before he pulled his, wife out of the room.
Richards was highly puzzled when Lyon and Christina came strolling into the library, smiling as though neither had a care in the world. Their manner was certainly at odds with the mysterious note he'd received the day before.
"Has your problem been resolved, then?" Richards asked Lyon in lieu of greeting.
"No, we still need your help," Lyon announced. He sobered quickly. "How tired are you, Richards? Feel up to taking another ride?"
"The Earl of Acton's former estate," Lyon answered.
"That's a good four hours' ride, isn't it?"
"From London," Lyon reminded him. "Only two from here."
"Who's living there now?"
"No one. My inquiries tell me the house is boarded up."
Richards turned to Christina. "I could use a spot of tea, my dear. I'm rather parched," he added. "I set out at dawn and didn't take time to breakfast."
"I shall see to serving you a full meal at once," Christina said. "You'll need your strength for the task ahead of you," she added before she hurried out of the library.
Richards shut the door, then turned to Lyon. "I sent your wife on a false errand, so I could speak to you in private."
"I don't have any secrets from Christina," Lyon returned.
"You misunderstand," Richards said. "It isn't a secret I'm about to tell you. But your wife will become upset. You might wish to wait until our return from this mysterious journey before telling her. Baron Stalinsky is back. He arrived yesterday. He wanted to come to meet his daughter immediately. When I heard his intent, I waylaid his plan with the lie that you and Christina were off visiting distant relatives in the North. I told him you would both be returning to London day after tomorrow. I hope that was the right thing to do, Lyon. It was a spur-of-the-moment fabrication."
"It was good thinking," Lyon answered. "Where is the Baron staying?"
"With the Porters. They are hosting a party for him Wednesday evening. The Baron expects to see his daughter there."
Lyon let out a long sigh. "It can't be put off," he muttered.
"Does Christina still believe her father will try to kill her?"
"She planned to bait him into trying," Lyon said.
"When are you going to explain it all to me?" Richards demanded.
"On the way to Acton's place," Lyon promised. "Rhone's coming with us. It should be quick work with the three of us at it," he added.
"What is this mission?" Richards asked.
"We're going to dig up the roses."
Lyon, Richards, and Rhone didn't return to Lyonwood until late afternoon. Their moods were as foul as the weather.
Christina had just walked inside the back of the house when the trio of soggy men rushed inside the front door.
They met in the hallway. Lyon was drenched to the skin. When he saw Christina in the same condition, he shook his head with displeasure. Droplets of rain flew from his hair.
"You look like a drowned cat," Lyon muttered to Christina. He was struggling to get out of his sodden jacket, glaring at his wife all the while. Her burgundy-colored gown was indecently molded to her body. Clumps of hair hung over her eyes.
Richards and Rhone were being ushered up the steps by Brown. Lyon blocked their view of his wife.
When his friends had disappeared upstairs, Lyon confronted his wife. "What in God's name were you doing outside?"
"You needn't yell at me," Christina shouted. "Did you find—"
"Do you have any idea how many damn rosebushes there were? No?" he bellowed when she shook her head. "Your grandfather must have had an obsession for the things. There were hundreds of them."
"Oh, dear," Christina cried. "Then you weren't successful? I told you I should have gone with you. I could have helped."
"Christina, you're shouting at me," Lyon announced. "I found the box. You can calm down."
"I'm not shouting at you," Christina said. She lifted her wet locks and threw them over her shoulder. "I can't be very sympathetic over the difficulty you had. I've lost the damned dog."
"I've lost the damned dog," Christina repeated. She forced herself to calm down. "It appears that both of us have had a pitiful day. Give me a kiss, Lyon. Then please put your jacket back on. You must help me look for Diana's puppy."
"Are you crazy? You're not going back outside in this downpour, and that's that."
Christina grabbed hold of Lyon's soggy shirt, kissed him on his hard mouth, then turned around and started walking toward the back of the house. "I have to find the dog. Diana's upstairs trying desperately to believe I didn't eat the stupid animal," she muttered.
Lyon's laughter stopped her. She turned around to glare at him.
"Sweetheart, she can't really believe you'd do such a thing."
"I never should have made that jest," Christina admitted. "I told her I was only teasing. I don't think she believes me, though. I was the last person seen with the pup. I heard her mention that sorry fact to Aunt Harriett several times. Lyon, I only wanted to let the puppy run for a while. The poor little thing looked miserable all tied up. Then she took off after a rabbit, and I've spent the rest of the day looking for her."
Rhone came sloshing down the stairs. His soft curses caught Christina's attention. Without pausing to speak to either Lyon or Christina, Rhone opened the front door and went outside.
They could hear him whistling for the dog through the door. "See? Rhone's helping to look for the pup," Christina stated.
"He has to," Lyon told his wife. "He wants to make Diana happy. And the only reason I'm going to give into your request is because I want to make you happy. Got that?" he muttered before slamming out the front door.
Christina didn't laugh until he'd left, knowing that if he heard her, his bluster would turn into real anger.
Her husband found the undisciplined puppy about an hour later. The dog was curled up under the overhang behind the stables.
Once Lyon was warm and dry again, his mood improved.
After a pleasant dinner he, Rhone, and Richards all retired to the library to share a bottle of brandy. Christina was thankful for the privacy. She wasn't feeling well. She'd been unable to keep down the rich meal she'd just eaten, and her stomach was still upset.
Lyon came upstairs around midnight. Christina was curled up in the center of their bed, waiting for him.
"I thought you'd be asleep," Lyon said. He began to strip out of his clothes.
Christina smiled at him. "And miss the chance to see my handsome husband disrobe? Never. Lyon, I don't think I shall ever get used to looking at you."
She could tell by his arrogant grin that he liked her praise. "I shall show you something even more handsome," Lyon teased. He walked over to the mantel, lifted a black lacquered box from the center, and carried it over to the bed. "I transferred the jewels from the old box to this one. It's more sound," he added.
Christina waited until Lyon was settled in bed beside her before she opened the box. A small square cloth covered the gems. She seemed hesitant to remove the covering and look at the jewels.
Lyon didn't understand her reticence. He took the cloth, unfolded it, and poured the assortment of precious jewels in the middle.
They were the colors of the rainbow, the sapphires and rubies and diamonds. They numbered twenty, and their value by anyone's standards would have kept a gluttonous man well fed for a very long while.
Lyon was puzzled, for Christina continued to show no outward reaction.
"Sweetheart, do you have any idea of the price these gems will bring?"
"Oh, yes, I understand, Lyon," Christina whispered. "The price was my mother's life. Please put them away now. I don't want to look at them. I think they're very ugly."
Lyon kissed her before he complied with her wish. When he got back into their bed he pulled her into his arms. He briefly considered telling her that Baron Stalinsky was in London, then decided that tomorrow would be soon enough to give her that ill news.
He knew Christina thought they had more time before setting their plan into motion. Her birthday had passed two weeks before, and she'd made up her mind that her father must have had other business to keep him away from England.
Lyon blew out the candles and closed his eyes. He couldn't remember when last he'd been this tired. He was just about to drift off to sleep when Christina nudged him.
"Lyon? Will you promise me something?"
"Never give me jewels."
He sighed over the vehemence in her voice. "I promise."
"Thank you, Lyon."
"Promise me you'll love me forever."
He caught the smile in her voice and suddenly realized he wasn't nearly as tired as he thought he was. "Tell me you love me," he commanded.
"My Lyon, I love you, and I shall continue to love you forever."
"A man can't ask for more than that," Lyon drawled as he nudged her around to face him.
He thought he'd make slow, sweet love to his wife, but in the end it was a wild, undisciplined mating, and thoroughly satisfying.
The blankets and pillows were on the floor. Christina fell asleep with Lyon as her cover. He was so content he didn't want to sleep just yet. He wanted to savor the moment, for in the back of his mind was the thought that this night could well be the calm before the storm.
Forgive me for not writing in this journal for such a length of time. I have been content and haven't wanted to remember the past. But we are now preparing to leave our safe haven. I shall not be able to speak to you again through this journal for long months, until we are both settled. My plan is to catch up with another wagon train. The way west is crowded with newcomers. The valley below is the only way the wagons can go to get into the mountains. Surely someone will take pity on us and offer us assistance.
Is it a fantasy for me to think that you and I might survive?
I will finish this entry with one request, Christina. I would beg a promise from you, dear child. If you do survive and one day chance upon this diary, have a kind thought for me.
And remember, Christina, always remember how very much I loved you.
Journal entry May 20, 1796
The time had come to face the jackal. Christina was nervous, though not nearly as nervous as her husband. Lyon's expression was grim. The ride from their London townhouse to Porter's home was silent. Yet once they'd reached their destination, Lyon seemed disinclined to let Christina out of the carriage.
"Sweetheart, you're sure you're all right?"
Christina smiled up at her husband. "I'm fine, really."
"God, I wish there had been a way to keep you out of this," he whispered. "You look pale to me."
"You should be complimenting me on my new gown, Lyon. You chose the fabric, remember?" she asked. Christina pushed open the door of the carriage.
"I've already told you how beautiful you look," Lyon murmured.
He finally got out of the carriage and turned to help his wife. He thought she looked quite beautiful. The royal blue velvet gown was modestly scoop-necked. Her hair was curled into a cluster with a thin blue velvet ribbon threaded through the silky mass.
Christina reached up to brush a speck of link off Lyon's black jacket. "You also look beautiful," she told him.
Lyon shook his head. He pulled her matched blue cloak over her shoulders. "You're doing this deliberately. Quit trying to ease my worry. It won't work."
"You like to worry, husband?" she asked.
Lyon didn't bother to answer her. "Give me your promise again," he demanded.
"I'll not leave your side." She repeated the vow she'd already given him at least a dozen times. "No matter what, I'll stand next to you."