Christina nodded. "Yes, but I don't think she really knew he was there with her. Terrance told me he actually spent most of his time protecting me from her. She was so crazed she didn't even remember she had a child. All she talked about was the sin she'd snatched out of some wall."
She paused again, watching for a reaction. The Baron only looked perplexed.
After a long minute he said, "That certainly doesn't make sense. A sin out of a wall?"
"It didn't make any sense to Terrance either. He told me he kept trying to get through to my mother, but all she would talk about was taking the sin and burying it. A tragic ending, wouldn't you agree?"
"Let's not talk about this any longer," Lyon interjected. "Tonight should be a happy reunion," he added.
"Yes, husband, you're right. Father, you must tell me all about the past years and what you've been—"
"Wait!" The Baron's voice had a sharp edge to it. He immediately softened his tone and gave Christina a wide smile. "My curiosity is still to be appeased," he explained. "Did your mother happen to tell Terrance where she buried this sin?"
"Under the blood roses of her father's country home," Christina answered with a deliberate shrug. "Blood roses, indeed. Poor woman. I pray for her soul every night, and I do hope she has found peace."
"I also pray for my Jessica," the Baron said.
"Terrance happened to see the man sneaking toward Jessica's wagon."
Lyon let the lie settle and waited for a reaction. It wasn't long in coming. "You mean the thief?" the Baron asked.
He hadn't blinked an eye. Christina was a little disappointed not to have rattled him. "Yes," she said. "He blames himself for thinking it was only one of the night watchmen. Terrance was late in joining the wagon and didn't know all the people yet. He vows he'll never forget the man's face." Christina quickly described the clothing the thief was wearing from the description in Jessica's diary.
And still there was no outward reaction from the Baron.
"Even though he knows my mother was crazed, there's always been a quiet fear in the back of his mind that it might have been you. And so you see what I mean when I tell you that once he has met you, his fears will be put to rest."
"Tomorrow you both can catch up on all of the past," Lyon said. He could feel Christina trembling and knew he had to get her away from the Baron soon.
Lord, he was proud of her. She had played her part well this night. She had faced the jackal without showing the least amount of fear.
"Shall we go and find some refreshments?" Lyon suggested.
"Yes," the Baron agreed.
Christina, flanked by her husband and her father, walked into the dining room. She sat between them at the long table, sipping from her glass of punch. She didn't want to eat anything, but her father was watching her closely, so she forced herself to swallow the food Lyon placed before her.
"Where did you receive your schooling, Christina? Your manners are impeccable," the Baron announced. "I cannot believe this Terrance MacFinley was responsible," he added with a teasing smile.
"Thank you for your compliment," Christina returned. She was smiling at her father, but her left hand was squeezing Lyon's thigh under the table.
"MacFinley and his close friend, Deavenrue, kept me until I was seven years of age. Then I was placed in a convent in the south of France. The sisters taught me my manners," she added.
"So there was a Deavenrue after all," the Baron said. "The Countess said he was a missionary who'd stayed with you in the village of the Indians."
"He was a missionary for a short while, and an excellent teacher as well. While I was in Boston Deavenrue came to my aunt's house quite often to see me. The Countess didn't like Deavenrue. Perhaps the rascal told my aunt I'd been with the savages just to provoke her," Christina added. She laughed. "It would be just like Deavenrue. He has the most bizarre sense of humor."
Lyon put his hand on top of Christina's. Her nails were digging into his thigh. His fingers laced with hers, and he gave her a squeeze of encouragement. He was anxious to get Christina out of Porter's house, yet he knew he had to wait until the last lie had been given.
Christina couldn't stand the pretense any longer. "Father, the excitement of the evening has exhausted me. I hope you won't be too disappointed if I go home now. Tomorrow I'll have Cook prepare a special meal just for the three of us. We'll have all afternoon to visit with each other. And, of course, MacFinley will be here in two, three days' time at the most. Then we must have another get-together."
"As soon as two days?" the Baron asked. He looked pleased with that possibility.
"Yes," Lyon answered for Christina. "Terrance lives just beyond the border," he explained. "He surely has Christina's request by now. Why, he is probably on his way to London even as we speak."
"Lyon, Terrance can't travel by night," Christina said. "Are you ready to take me home, husband? I'm terribly fatigued," she added with a flutter of her lashes.
They said their farewells moments later. Christina suffered through another embrace by the Baron.
Lyon pulled her onto his lap when they were once again inside his carriage. He was going to tell her how much he loved her, how very courageous she had been, but the carriage had barely rounded the corner when Christina bolted out of his lap and begged him to have the vehicle stopped.
Lyon didn't understand until Christina started to gag. He shouted to the driver, then got the door open just in the nick of time. He felt completely helpless as he held his wife by her shoulders. She threw up her meal, sobbing without control between her soul-wrenching heaves.
And when she had finished he wrapped her in his arms again. He held her close to him and tried to soothe her with soft words of love.
Lyon didn't speak of her father. Christina had been through enough torment for one evening. God help her, there was still more to come.
Baron Stalinsky left the Porter residence a few minutes before dawn. Lyon was informed of his departure less than fifteen minutes later. Richards had placed a watch on Porter's house, for he was just as convinced as Lyon was that the Baron wouldn't waste any time running to the Earl of Acton's country home to dig up his treasure.
Christina had told her lies well. Lyon was proud of her, though he laced his praise with the fervent hope that once this deception was over, she'd never have to lie again.
Baron Stalinsky was very good at his deadly game. Neither Christina nor Lyon had noticed any visible change in his expression when MacFinley was mentioned. And when Christina said that MacFinley had seen the man who'd killed Jessica's friends, the Baron hadn't even blinked.
There wasn't any MacFinley, of course, but the smooth way Christina had told the story, added to the sincerity in her voice, must have convinced the Baron. He believed the story all right, to the point of rushing out at dawn to regain the jewels.
The morning after the reception Lyon had sent a note to the Baron pleading to reschedule their luncheon for three days hence, explaining that Christina was indisposed. The Baron had sent his note back with Lyon's messenger, stating that he hoped his daughter would soon recover, and that he would be pleased to honor the later date.
That evening Richards called on Lyon to tell him that the Baron had booked passage on a seafaring vessel bound for the West Indies. His departure was in two days.
He had no intention of ever seeing his daughter again. So much for fatherly love, Lyon thought.
Lyon hurriedly dressed in the dark. He waited until the last possible minute before waking Christina.
When his leaving couldn't be put off any longer, he leaned over the side of the bed, let out a reluctant sigh, and then nudged his wife awake.
"Sweetheart, wake up and kiss me goodbye. I'm leaving now," he whispered between quick kisses on her brow.
Christina came awake with a start. "You must wait for me," she demanded, her voice husky with sleep.
She bolted up in bed, then fell back with a groan of distress. Nausea swept over her like a thick wave. She could feel the bile rising from her stomach. "Oh, God, I'm going to be sick again, Lyon."
"Roll over on your side, sweetheart. It helped last night," Lyon reminded her. His voice was filled with sympathy. "Take deep breaths," he instructed while he rubbed her shoulders.
"It's better now," Christina whispered a minute or two later.
Lyon sat down on the edge of the bed. "Exactly."
"Exactly what?" Christina asked. She didn't dare raise her voice above a whisper, fearing the effort would bring back her nausea.
"Exactly why you're staying here, Christina," Lyon announced. "Seeing your father has made you ill. You've been sick twice a day since the reception."
"It's this stupid bed that makes me sick," she lied.
Lyon stared at the ceiling in exasperation. "You told me the wooden slats made the mattress more accommodating," he reminded her. "You aren't going anywhere, my love, except back to sleep."
"You promised I could go with you," she cried.
"Lyon, I trusted you."
Lyon smiled over the way his wife wailed her confession. She sounded quite pitiful. "You still do trust me, wife. I'll get his confession, I promise you."
"My sore stomach is just an excuse you're using, isn't it, Lyon? You never meant for me to go along. Isn't that the truth of it?"
"Yes," he confessed. "I was never going to let you go along." His voice turned gruff when he added, "Do you think I would ever put you in such jeopardy? Christina, if anything every happened to you, my life would be over. You're the better half of me, sweetheart."
Christina turned her head so that he could see her frown. Lyon realized then that his soft words hadn't swayed her, knew he was going to have to take another tack. "Does a Dakota warrior take his mate along to help him fight his battles? Did Black Wolf take Merry with him?"
"Now you're lying," Lyon stated. He frowned to let her see his displeasure.
Christina smiled. "If the injury had been done to Merry's family, Black Wolf would have taken her with him to see justice done, husband. Lyon, I made a promise to my father and my mother."
"To Black Wolf and Merry?"
Christina nodded. She slowly sat up in bed and was pleased to find that her stomach was cooperating with the movement. Ignoring Lyon's protest, she swung her legs to the side and stood up.
"Damn it, Christina, you're my mate now. Your promises became mine the moment we were wed. You do belong to me, don't you?"
The challenge in his voice couldn't be ignored. Christina nodded. "You're beginning to sound a bit too much like a warrior for my liking," she muttered. "I would like you to bring me a cup of tea before you leave. It is the least you could do for me," she added.
Lyon smiled, believing he'd won. "I shall fix it myself," he announced.
Christina waited until he'd left the room. She dressed in record time, taking deep, gulping breaths to keep her stomach controlled.
When Lyon returned to their bedroom, he found his wife dressed in a black riding outfit. He let out a soft curse, then sighed with acceptance.
"I must do this for Jessica, Lyon. Please understand."
Lyon nodded. His expression was grim. "Will you do exactly what I tell you to do, when I tell you to do it?" he barked.
She ignored his muttering. "I'm taking my knife with me. It's under the pillow," she said as she walked back over to the bed.
"I know where it is," Lyon said with another drawn-out sigh. "I really wish you wouldn't insist on sleeping with it. The table's close enough."
"I'll think about your suggestion," Christina answered. "Now you must give me your word, Lyon. You won't take any chances, will you? Don't turn your back on him, not even for a second. Don't leave your fate in Richards's hands, either. I trust him, but I have far more faith in your instincts."
She would have continued her litany of demands if Lyon hadn't stopped her by pulling her into his arms and kissing her. "I love you, Christina."
"I love you, too, Lyon. Here, you carry this. It's fitting that you have it, for it was fashioned by a warrior whom I also love. My brother would want you to have it."
Lyon took the weapon and slipped it inside his right boot. Christina nodded with satisfaction, then started out the door. "Lyon?" she called over her shoulder.
"What now?" he grumbled.
"We must make him say the words."
"We will, Christina. We will."
Richards was waiting outside the front door for him. Lyon's friend was already mounted and holding the reins of Lyon's stallion. A few minutes were spent waiting for Christina's horse to be readied.
Lyon paced the walkway while he waited. "We have plenty of time," Richards announced when he took in Lyon's grim expression. "Remember, even if he took men along to help, there are still over a hundred of those prickly rose bushes to be dug up again."
Lyon forced a smile. "I don't think Stalinsky took anyone with him," he remarked as he helped Christina mount her steed. He then climbed atop his own horse with one fluid motion. "How many men do you have posted there?"
"Four of my best," Richards answered. "Benson is in charge. The Baron won't know they're there, and they won't interfere unless he tries to leave," he added. "My dear, are you sure you're up to this outing?"
Richards gave Christina a long look, then nodded. "Come along, children. Let's get this done. The captain of Percy's ship is waiting for his passengers."
"I've decided to go along. I promised your wife justice would be served. Though we're gaining it through the back door, so to speak, I'm going to be there to make certain. Do you understand my meaning?"
Lyon gave a brisk nod. "I do."
"I don't," Christina admitted.
"I'll explain it later, sweet."
They were the last words spoken until they reached their destination some four hours later. After they dismounted, Richards handed Lyon the moldy box they'd retrieved from the ground on their last visit to Acton's estate.