"I've replaced the real gems with glass replicas. Wait until I get into position before you confront him."
Lyon shook his head. He handed the box to Christina. "She's going to confront him," he told Richards.
One of Richards's men came over to lead their horses away. He spoke to his superior before pulling the mounts into the forest surrounding them. "You were right, Lyon. Stalinsky came alone."
They separated then. Richards went up the front path and turned to circle the right side of the house. Lyon and Christina moved to the left. He paused before rounding the corner, opened the box his wife held in her hands, and lifted two pieces of cut glass. At first glance they did look like the real thing. They were good enough to fool the Baron, Lyon decided, for the brief minute he wanted him fooled.
He then explained what Christina was going to do.
Baron Stalinsky was kneeling on the ground, his shoulders bent to his task. He was muttering obscenities as he struggled to pull the stem of one fat bush out of the ground. He wore black gloves to protect his hands and worked with determined speed. A narrow shovel rested on the ground beside him.
"Looking for something, Father?"
The Baron whirled around on his knees to confront Christina. Dirt streaked his sweaty forehead and angular cheeks.
He didn't look very commanding now. No, he was a jackal to be sure. The sneer on his face reminded Christina of an angry animal baring his teeth. The look sickened her, and she thought she wouldn't have been surprised if he'd started growling.
Christina faced her father alone. She stood a good twenty feet away from him. She had his full attention, of course, and when she thought he was just about to spring forward, she lifted the box and took out a handful of the fake gems. She casually tossed some of the jewels into the air. "Are these what you're looking for, Father?"
Baron Stalinsky slowly came to his feet. His eyes darted to the left and then to the right. She decided to answer his unspoken thought. "Lyon? I believe my father is looking for you."
Lyon walked over to stand next to Christina. He took the box from her, then motioned her to move away. Christina backed up several paces immediately.
"This fight is between the two of us, Baron."
"Fight? I'm an old man, Lyon. The odds wouldn't be fair. Besides, I have no quarrel with you or my daughter. Those jewels belong to me," he added with a wave of his hand toward the box. "Jessica stole them. In court I'll be able to prove they're mine."
Lyon didn't take his gaze off the Baron. "There isn't going to be a day in an English court, Baron. In fact, as soon as you've answered a single question for Christina and a few more for me, you can be on your way. It's going to be simple for you. I won't have my wife involved in a scandal," he lied.
"Scandal? I don't know what you're talking about," the Baron replied. His voice reeked with authority.
"The murder trial would be upsetting for Christina. I won't have her humiliated." Lyon paused in his explanation to throw a bright red ruby over his shoulder. "It will take you days to find all of these. I'll toss the rest into the creek behind the bluff, Baron, if you don't agree to answer my questions. The current's swift."
"No!" the Baron shouted. "Don't you realize what they're worth? You're holding a fortune in your hands!" His voice had turned coaxing, eager.
Lyon noticed that the Baron's right hand was slowly moving to his back. Reacting with incredible speed, he drew a pistol from his waistcoat, took aim, and fired just as Stalinsky was bringing the hidden pistol around to the front.
The shot lodged in the Baron's hand. His pistol fell to the ground. Lyon threw the box on the ground, retrieved Christina's knife from his boot, and had the Baron by his throat before he'd finished his first howl of pain.
"Christina wants you to speak the truth. She knows Jessica wasn't crazy and wants to hear you say it." Lyon increased his pressure around the Baron's neck as he threatened, then suddenly threw the Baron backwards. He stood over his prey and waited for him to look up. "After you've answered my questions you can pick up your precious gems and leave. You've booked passage for the West Indies, but I've convinced the captain to leave today. He's waiting for you and the next tide, Baron."
The Baron's eyes narrowed. He stared at the box for a long minute, then turned to Lyon. The tip of his tongue ran over his lower lip. "I don't have to answer your questions. Everyone knows Jessica was out of her mind. When I go to the authorities—"
"Lyon," Christina called out "I don't think he quite grasps the situation."
"Then let me make it simple for him," Lyon said. "Baron, if you don't tell me what I want to know, you won't be going anywhere. I'll slit your throat. A fitting end, wouldn't you agree, after all the throats you've cut?"
"What are you talking about?" the Baron asked, feigning confusion. He clasped his injured hand to his chest.
"Come now, Baron. You know what I'm talking about," Lyon answered. "You've gotten away with your murders all these years. Haven't you ever wanted to boast of your skill? You couldn't, of course, until now. Is your ego so inflated you haven't any need to admit something you know you'll never be hanged for?"
Stalinsky pretended to struggle to his feet. Lyon saw him reach into his boot and extract a small pistol of the sort a woman would carry. He lunged at Lyon as he pulled the pistol forward. Lyon kicked the weapon out of his hand, then lashed out again with the side of his boot to hit the Baron's injured hand.
The screech of pain echoed throughout the countryside. "This is your last chance, Baron. My patience has run out." He flipped the knife from one hand to the other. "Was Jessica crazy?"
"Christina," the Baron shouted. "How can you let him terrorize me this way? I'm your father, for God's sake. Have you no mercy? Do you really want him to slit my throat?"
"No, Father," Christina denied. "I don't want him to slit your throat. I'd rather he cut your heart out, but Lyon does have his preferences, and I must let him have his way."
The Baron glared at his daughter. He stood up. A gleam appeared in his eyes, and he actually started to laugh. "No, Jessica wasn't crazy." He laughed again, a grating sound that chilled Christina. "But it's too late to do anything now, Lyon."
"Terrance MacFinley would have recognized that it was you sneaking around the wagon train. Isn't that right?" Lyon challenged.
"Your deductions are most amazing," the Baron said with a chuckle. "Yes, Terrance would have noticed me."
Lyon pushed the box towards Stalinsky with the tip of his boot. "One last question and then you may leave. Were you behind the Brisbane murders?"
The Baron's eyes widened. "How did you—"
"You outsmarted our War Department, didn't you?" Lyon asked, trying to sound impressed and not sickened. He was deliberately playing upon the Baron's vanity, hoping the bastard would feel safe enough to admit the truth.
"I did outsmart them, didn't I? I lived off the money Brisbane had received for the secrets he'd sold, too. Oh, yes, Lyon, I was smarter than all of them."
"Was Porter involved in your scheme, or did you act alone?" Lyon asked.
"Porter? He was as stupid as the rest of them. I always acted alone, Lyon. It's the reason I've survived these many years, the reason I've been such a wealthy man."
Lyon didn't think he could stand to look at the man much longer. He motioned to the box, the backed up several paces. "Pick it up and get out of here. If I ever see you again, I'll kill you."
The baron scurried over to the box. He flipped it open, barely glanced at the contents, then slammed it shut with a snort of pleasure.
"Are you finished, Lyon?"
Richards, surrounded by his men, strolled out from their hiding places.
"Did you hear?"
"All of it," Richards announced. He touched Lyon's shoulder before walking over to the Baron.
"Damn your…" the Baron shouted. He stopped himself, then glared at Lyon. "I'll make certain your wife's humiliation is complete. I promise I'll say things in court about her mother that will—"
"Close your mouth," Richards bellowed. "We're taking you to the harbor, Baron. In fact, Benson and I shall be your travel companions on your trip back to your homeland. I believe you'll get a nice reception. The new government will undoubtedly be happy to let you stand trial."
Lyon didn't stay to listen to the Baron's demands to be given a trial in England. He took hold of Christina's hand without saying a word and started walking toward their mounts.
Richards was right. They were using the back door to gain justice. Baron Stalinsky would be returned to his homeland, where he would be judged by his former subjects. It would mean a death sentence. And if, by some chance, the new government proved to be just as corrupt, then Richards and Benson were prepared to take care of the Baron.
By the time he and Christina returned to their London townhouse, she was looking terribly pale.
He ignored her protests and carried her up to their bedroom. "You're going back to bed now," he told her as he helped her get out of her clothes.
"I will be better now," Christina told him. "It is finished."
"Yes, love. It is finished."
"I never believed Jessica was crazy," Christina told Lyon. She put on her silk robe, then wrapped her arms around her husband's waist. "I never believed that."
The sadness in her voice pulled at his heart. "I know you didn't," Lyon soothed. "Jessica can rest in peace now."
"Yes. In peace. I like to believe that her soul lingers with the Dakotas now. Maybe she waits for Merry to come and join her."
"I don't think Black Wolf would care for that hope of yours," Lyon said.
"Oh, he would join them, too, of course," Christina replied.
She sighed into his jacket, then kissed him on the base of his throat. "It's his destiny to meet Jessica in the Afterlife," she announced.
"Yes, destiny," Lyon said. "Now it's your destiny to quit being sick every morning and night, my love. You've kept your promise to your mother. The treasure is being returned to the rightful owners. Richards is going to see to the sale of the gems and the distribution of the money. We're going home to Lyonwood, and you'll get fat and sassy. I command it."
Christina really did try to comply with her husband's commands. The sickness eventually left her. She gained weight, too—so much, in fact, that she thought she waddled like a duck. She wasn't very sassy, however, for she spent most of her confinement trying to soothe her husband's worries.
She denied being with child until it became ludicrous. Poor Lyon was terrified of the birthing. Christina understood his fear. He'd watched Lettie go through terrible pain. She'd died a horrible death, with the babe trapped inside her.
Christina used denial and then reason. She told Lyon she was strong, that it was a very natural condition for a woman to be in, and that she was Dakota in her heart and knew exactly what to do to make the birthing easier. Dakota women rarely died in childbirth.
Lyon had a rebuttal for each of her arguments. He told her she was too small for such a mighty task, that it wasn't at all natural for such a gentle woman to have to go through such terrible agony, and that she was English, not Dakota, where it most counted—in her womb, for God's sake, not her heart.
Ironically, it was Lyon's mother who softened Lyon's fears somewhat. The elderly woman was slowly returning to her family. She reminded her son that she was just as small in stature as Christina was, and that she had given her husband three fine babies without making a single whimper.
Christina was thankful for her mother-in-law's help. She didn't have to threaten to drag her new confidante outside into the forest to choose a burial site any longer. Lyon's mother finally admitted she wasn't quite ready to die yet. The woman still liked to talk about James, but she interlaced her remarks with stories about Lyon and Diana, too.
Deavenrue came to visit Christina. He stayed a month's time, then left with six fine horses Lyon had chosen as gifts for the Dakotas. Three men eager for the adventure went along to help Deavenrue.
The missionary helped to ease Lyon's mind about Christina, but once he'd left, Lyon was back to scowling and snapping at everyone.
Baron Winters, the family's physician, moved into their house two weeks before Christina went into labor. She had no intention of letting the physician help her, of course, yet she had the good sense to keep that determination to herself. His presence calmed Lyon, and Christina was thankful for that.
The pains began after dinner, then continued into the night. Christina didn't wake her husband until the last possible minute. Lyon had time only to wake up and do as Christina instructed. He was holding his infant son in his arms minutes later.
Christina was too exhausted to weep, so Lyon wept for both of them while their magnificent little warrior bellowed his indignation.
He wanted to name his son Alexander Daniel.
She was having none of that. She wanted to name him Screaming Black Eagle.
Lyon was having none of that.
In the end, they compromised. The future Marquess of Lyonwood was christened Dakota Alexander.