Though he'd promised to curtail his questions, Lyon was too curious to drop the topic just yet "Did you know Christina's father then? A king, you say, yet I've never heard of him."
"I met him, but I never really got to know him well. His name was Edward," Reynolds remembered with a nod.
"Don't recall his last name. I liked him. Everyone did. He was most considerate. And he didn't hold with pomp. Instead of lording it over us, he insisted everyone call him baron instead of king. He'd lost his kingdom, you see."
Lyon nodded. "It's a riddle, isn't it?" he remarked. "This Jessica does intrigue me."
"Why is that?"
"She married a king and then ran away from him."
"Jessica's reasons went to the grave with her," Sir Reynolds said. "I believe she died shortly after Christina was born. No one knows more than what I've just related to you, Lyon. And after your rather one-sided conversation with the lovely Princess, it would seem evident to me she's going to keep her secrets."
"Only if I allow it," Lyon said, grinning over the arrogance in his remark.
"Ah, then you have taken an interest in the Princess?" Sir Reynolds asked.
"Mild curiosity," Lyon answered with a deliberate shrug.
"Is that the truth, Lyon, or are you giving me fancy fencing now?"
"It is the truth."
"I see," Reynolds said, smiling enough to make Lyon think he didn't really see at all.
"Do you happen to know where Christina and her guardian were going when they left here? I heard Christina tell you they had one more stop to make before finishing the evening."
"Lord Baker's house," Reynolds said. "Do you plan to drop in?" he asked, his voice bland.
"Reynolds, don't make more out of this than it really is," Lyon said. "I merely wish to find out more about the Princess. By morning my curiosity will be appeased."
The briskness in Lyon's voice suggested to Reynolds that he stop his questions. "I haven't greeted your sister yet. I believe I'll go and say hello to her."
"You'll have to be quick about it," Lyon announced. "Diana and I are going to be leaving in just a few minutes."
Lyon followed Reynolds over to the crush of guests. He allowed Diana several minutes to visit and then announced it was time to leave.
Diana's disappointment was obvious. "Don't look so sad," Sir Reynolds said. "I believe you aren't going home just yet." Sir Reynolds started chuckling.
Lyon wasn't the least amused. "Yes, well, Diana, I had thought to stop by Baker's place before taking you home."
"But Lyon, you declined that invitation," Diana argued. "You said he was such a bore."
"I've changed my mind."
"He isn't a bore?" Diana asked, looking completely bewildered.
"For God's sake, Diana," Lyon muttered, giving Reynolds a glance.
The harshness in Lyon's voice startled Diana. Her worried frown said as much.
"Come on, Diana. We don't want to be late," Lyon advised, softening his tone.
"Late? Lyon, Lord Baker doesn't even know we're going to attend his party. How can we be late?"
When her brother merely shrugged, Diana turned to Sir Reynolds. "Do you know what has come over my brother?" she asked.
"An attack of mild curiosity, my dear," Sir Reynolds answered. He turned to Lyon and said, "If you'll forgive an old man's interference, I would like to suggest that your sister stay here for a bit longer. I would be honored to see her home."
"Oh, yes, Lyon, please, may I stay?" Diana asked.
She sounded like an eager little girl. Lyon wouldn't have been surprised if she started clapping her hands. "Do you have a particular reason to stay?" he asked.
When his sister started blushing, Lyon had his answer. "What is this man's name?" he demanded.
"Lyon," Diana whispered, looking mortified. "Don't embarrass me in front of Sir Reynolds," she admonished.
Lyon sighed in exasperation. His sister had just repeated his opinion that Baker was a bore, and now she had the audacity to tell him he was embarrassing her. He gave her a good frown. "We're going to discuss this later, then," he announced. "Thank you, Reynolds, for keeping a close watch on Diana."
"Lyon, I don't need a keeper," Diana protested.
"You've yet to prove that," Lyon said before he nodded farewell to Sir Reynolds and left the room.
He was suddenly most eager to get to the bore's house.
We stayed in England longer than Edward really wished so that my father could join in my birthday celebration. Edward was so very thoughtful of my dear papa's feelings.
The day after I turned seventeen, we sailed for my husband's home. I wept, yet remember thinking I was being terribly selfish. I knew I was going to miss my father. My duty was to follow my husband, of course.
After the tears were spent, I became excited about my future. You see, Christina, I thought Edward was taking me to Camelot.
Journal entry August 10, 1795
Christina was feeling ill. She felt close to suffocating and kept telling herself her panic would dissipate just as soon as the horrible carriage ride was over.
How she hated the closeness inside the wobbly vehicle. The curtains were drawn, the doors bolted, the air dense and thick with her Aunt Patricia's heavy perfume. Christina's hands were fisted at her sides, hidden from her aunt's view by the folds of her gown. Her shoulders were pressed against the padded brown leather backrest.
The Countess didn't realize her niece was having any difficulty. As soon as the door was closed, she started in with her questions, never once allowing her niece time to give answers. The aunt laced each question with sharp, biting remarks about the guests they'd just left at Lord Carlson's townhouse. The Countess seemed to derive great pleasure in defaming others. Her face would twist into a sinister look, her thin lips would pucker, and her eyes would turn as gray as frostbite.
Christina believed the eyes reflected the thoughts of the soul. The Countess certainly proved that truth. She was such an angry, bitter, self-serving woman. Foolish, too, Christina thought, for she didn't even try to hide her flaws from her niece. Such stupidity amazed Christina. To show weakness was to give another power. Aunt Patricia didn't seem to understand that primitive law, however. She actually liked to talk about all the injustices done to her. Constantly.
Christina no longer paid any attention to her guardian's contrary disposition. She'd adopted a protective attitude toward the woman, too. The Countess was family, and while that probably should have been reason enough, there was another motive as well. Her aunt reminded Christina of Laughing Brook, the crazed old squaw who used to chase after all the children with her whipping stick. Laughing Brook couldn't help the way she was, and neither could the Countess.
"Didn't you hear me, Christina?" The Countess snapped, drawing Christina from her thoughts. "I asked you what made you want to leave Carlson's party so suddenly."
"I met a man," Christina said. "He wasn't at all like the others. They call him the Lion."
"You speak of the Marquess of Lyonwood," Patricia said, nodding her head. "And he frightened you, is that it? Well, do not let it bother you. He frightens everyone, even me. He's a rude, impossible man, but then his position does allow for insolence, I suppose. The ugly scar on his forehead gives him a sinister look."
"Oh, no, he didn't frighten me," Christina confessed. "Quite the contrary, Aunt. I was, of course, attracted to his mark, but when I heard Sir Reynolds call him Lion, I was immediately so homesick I could barely think what to say."
"How many times must I tell you those savages should mean nothing to you?" Patricia screeched. "After all I've sacrificed so that you can take your rightful place in society and claim my inheritance…"
The Countess caught her blunder. She gave her niece a piercing look to measure her reaction, then said, "You simply must not think about those people. The past must be forgotten."
"Why do they call him Lion?" Christina asked, smoothly changing the topic. She slowly moved her arm away from her aunt's painful grip. "I'm only curious," she explained, "for you did say the English didn't name themselves after animals or—"
"No, of course not, you stupid chit," Aunt Patricia muttered. "The Marquess isn't named after an animal. The spelling isn't the same." The Countess slowly spelled Lyon's name. Her voice lost some of its brittle edge when she continued, "It is in deference to his title that he's called Lyonwood. Closer friends are permitted to shorten the name, of course."
"He won't suit?" Christina asked, frowning.
"He most certainly will not," the Countess answered. "He's too shrewd, too rich. You'll have to stay away from him. Is that understood?"
The Countess nodded. "Why you would be attracted to him is beyond my comprehension. He wouldn't be the least manageable."
"I wasn't truly attracted to him," Christina answered. She lied, of course, but only because she didn't wish to goad her aunt into another burst of anger. And she really couldn't make her aunt understand anyway. How could she reason with a woman who believed a warrior's mark was a detraction? With that feeble mind-set, Christina's aunt would be appalled if she gave her the truth.
Oh, yes, the lion did appeal to her. The golden chips in his dark brown eyes pleased her. His powerful build was that of a warrior, and she was naturally drawn to his strength. There was an aura of authority surrounding him. He was aptly named, for he did remind her of a lion. Christina had noticed his lazy, almost bored attitude, yet she instinctively knew he could move with bold speed if given enough provocation.
Yes, he was attractive. Christina liked looking at him well enough.
But she loved his scent. And what would her aunt think of that admission, Christina wondered with a bit of a smile. Why, she'd probably install another chain on her bedroom door.
No, the Countess wouldn't understand her attraction. The old shaman from her village would understand, though. He'd be very pleased, too.
"We needn't worry that Lyon will show you the least interest," Aunt Patricia announced. "The man only escorts paramours. His latest attraction, according to the whispers I overheard, is a woman called Lady Cecille." The Countess let out an inelegant snort before continuing, "Lady indeed. Whore is the real name for the bitch. She married a man twice and half her age and no doubt began her affairs before the wedding was over."
"Doesn't this woman's husband mind that she—"
"The old goat died," her aunt said. "Not that long ago, I heard. Rumor has it Lady Cecille has her cap set for Lyon as her next husband."
"I don't think he'd marry a woman of ill repute," Christina said, shaking her head for emphasis. "But if she is called Lady, then she must not be a paramour. Isn't that right?" she asked, frowning over the confusion in her mind.
"She's accepted by the ton because of her title. Many of the married women do have affairs. All the husbands certainly keep mistresses," Aunt Patricia said. "The morals disgust me, but men will always follow their baser instincts, won't they?"
Her tone of voice didn't suggest she wanted Christina's opinion. "Yes, Aunt," she answered with a sigh.
"Lyon is rarely seen in public these days," the Countess continued. "Ever since his wife died he has set himself apart."
"Perhaps he still mourns his wife. He seemed vulnerable to me."
"Ha," the aunt sneered. "Lyon has been called many things, but never was the word vulnerable put to his name. I can't imagine any man mourning over the loss of a wife. Why, they're all too busy chasing after their own pleasures to care about anyone else."
The carriage came to a halt in front of the Bakers' residence, forcing an end to the conversation. Christina was acutely relieved when the door to the carriage was finally opened by the footman. She took several deep breaths as she followed her aunt up the steps to the brick-faced townhouse.
A soft, sultry breeze cooled her face. Christina wished she could pull all the pins out of her hair and let the heavy curls down. Her aunt wouldn't allow her to leave it unbound, however. Fashion ordered either short, cropped curls or intricately designed coronets. Since Christina refused to cut her unruly hair, she was forced to put up with the torture of the pins.
"I trust this won't be too much for you," the Countess sarcastically remarked before striking the door.
"I won't fail you," Christina replied, knowing those were the only words her aunt wanted to hear. "You really mustn't worry. I'm strong enough to face anyone, even a lion."
Her jest didn't take. The Countess puckered her lips while she gave her niece a thorough once-over. "Yes, you are strong. It's obvious you haven't inherited any of your mother's odious traits. Thank God for that blessing. Jessica was such a spineless woman."
It was difficult, but Christina held her anger. She couldn't let her aunt know how the foul words about Jessica upset her. Though she'd lived with her aunt for over a year now, she still found it difficult to believe that one sister could be so disloyal to another. The Countess wasn't aware her sister had kept a journal. Christina wasn't going to tell her about the diary—not just yet, anyway—but she wondered what her aunt's reaction would be if she was confronted with the truth. It wouldn't make any difference, Christina decided then. Her aunt's mind was too twisted to accept any changes in her opinions.
The pretense was becoming unbearable. Christina wasn't gifted with a patient nature. Both Merry and Black Wolf had cautioned her to keep a firm hold on her temper. They'd warned her about the whites, too. Her parents knew she'd have to walk the path alone. Black Wolf feared for her safety. Merry feared for her heart. Yet both ignored her pleas to stay with them. There was a promise to be kept, no matter how many lives were lost, no matter how many hearts were broken.
And if she survived, she could go home.
Christina realized she was frowning. She immediately regained her smile just as the door was opened by Lord Baker's butler. The smile stayed firmly in place throughout the lengthy introductions. There were only twenty guests in attendance, most of them elderly, and Christina was given hardly a moment's respite from the seemingly contagious topic of current illnesses until the call for refreshments was given.