His smile abruptly faded when she traced his lower lip with the tip of her tongue. Lyon reacted as though he'd just been hit by lightning. He dragged her up against him until her thighs were flattened against his own. He didn't care if his arousal frightened her or not. His arms circled her in a determined grip that didn't allow any leverage. Christina wasn't going to bolt until he let her.

She suddenly tried to turn her head away, and the tremor he felt rush through her made him think she might be having second thoughts. "Lyon, please, we will—"

His mouth found her, effectively silencing her protests. He teased and tantalized, coaching her to open her mouth for him. Christina responded to his gentle prodding. Her fingers slid into his hair as a passionate tremor coursed through his body. Lyon groaned into her mouth, then thrust his tongue deeply inside, demanding with his husky growl that she mate with him.

Christina forgot caution. Her hands clung to Lyon's shoulders. Her h*ps moved instinctively until she was cuddling his heat with her own. A whimper of pleasure escaped her when Lyon began to move against her hips. Christina used her tongue to explore the wonderful textures of Lyon's warm mouth, mimicking him.

A fire raged in his loins. Lyon's mouth slanted over hers once again in a hot, wild kiss that held nothing back. Christina's uninhibited response was a blissful torment he wanted never to end. The way she kissed him made him think she wasn't innocent of men after all. Lyon told himself he didn't care. The desire to bed her at the first possible moment overrode all other considerations.

Lyon had never experienced such raw desire. Christina made a soft moan deep in her throat. The sound nearly drove him beyond common sense. He knew he was about to lose all control and abruptly ended the kiss. "This isn't the time or the place, love," he told her in a ragged whisper.

He took a deep breath and tried desperately not to stare at her mouth. So soft, so exciting. She looked as though she'd just been thoroughly kissed, which of course she had, and Lyon could tell she was having as much difficulty regaining control as he was.

That fact pleased him immensely. He had to peel her hands away from his shoulders, too, for Christina didn't seem capable of doing more than staring up at him. Her eyes had turned a deep indigo blue. Passion's color, Lyon thought as he kissed her fingertips and then let go of her hands.

"I'm going to learn all of your secrets, Christina," Lyon whispered, thinking of the pleasure they could give each other in bed.

His promise penetrated with the swiftness of a dagger. Christina believed he'd just promised to find out about her past. "Leave me alone, Lyon," she whispered. She scooted around him, walked inside the archway, and then turned to look at him again. "Your curiosity could get you killed."

"Killed?"

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She shook her head to let him know she wasn't going to expound upon that comment. "We satisfied each other by sharing one kiss. It was enough."

"Enough?"

His bellow followed her inside the drawing room. Christina grimaced at the anger she'd heard in his voice. Her heart was pounding, and she thanked the gods that the guests were still in the dining room. There was an empty chair next to her aunt. Christina immediately sat down and tried to concentrate on the boring conversation the Countess was having with their host and hostess.

Minutes later Lyon appeared in the entrance. Lord Baker was beside himself with excitement. It was obvious that he and everyone else in the dining room believed the Marquess of Lyonwood had only just arrived.

Christina acknowledged Lyon with a curt nod, then turned her back on him. The rude gesture delighted the Countess. The old woman actually reached out to pat Christina's hand. It was the first show of affection she'd ever given her niece.

Lyon ignored Christina just as thoroughly. He was, of course, the center of attention, for his title and his wealth set him above the others. The men immediately surrounded him. Most of the women also left their chairs. They stood together like a covey of quail, bobbing their heads and eyelashes in unison whenever Lyon happened to glance their way.

When Christina couldn't stand the disgusting display any longer, she returned to the drawing room.

Lyon was trapped by their eager host into a discussion about crop rotation. He listened rather than advised, using the time to regain control of his temper. Though nothing showed on his face, inside he was shaking with fury.

Hell, she'd dismissed him again. Twice in one evening. Had to be some sort of record in that feat, he told himself. She was good, too. Why, she'd made him believe she was as hot as he was. Quite a little temptress, he decided.

Lyon was feeling as though he'd just been tossed into a snowbank. Christina was right, too. She had satisfied his curiosity. The problem, he grudgingly admitted, was the taste of her. Hot, wild honey. He hadn't gotten enough. And while Lord Baker enthusiastically spoke about the merits of barley, Lyon heard again the soft whimpers Christina had given him. It was all surely an act on her part, but the memory still made his blood run heavy.

Christina's aunt had followed her into the drawing room. The Countess stayed right by her niece's side, making snide remarks about the ill-tasting food of which she'd just eaten a horrendously large portion. Christina thought she was safe enough until Lyon happened to walk into the room at the very moment the Countess left to go upstairs to the washroom to repair her appearance.

Christina was suddenly vulnerable again. Lyon was striding toward her, and though he smiled at the other guests, she could certainly see the anger in his eyes. She immediately hurried over to Lord Baker and spoke to him, warily watching Lyon out of the corner of her eye.

"You have such a lovely home," Christina blurted out to the host.

"Thank you, my dear. It is comfortable for my needs," Lord Baker stated, his chest puffing out with new importance. He began to explain where he'd picked up various pieces of art littering the shelves in the room. Christina tried to pay attention to what he was telling her. She noticed Lyon hesitate, and she smiled over it.

"My wife actually made most of the selections. She has a keen eye for quality," Lord Baker commented.

"What?" Christina asked, puzzled by the way Lord Baker was staring at her. He did seem to expect some sort of answer. It was unfortunate, for she didn't have the faintest idea what they were talking about.

Lyon was getting closer. Christina blamed her lack of concentration solely on him, of course. She knew she'd make a fool of herself in front of her host if she didn't try to pay attention. She deliberately turned her back on Lyon and smiled again at her host. "Where did you find that lovely pink vase you've placed on your mantel?" she asked.

Lord Baker puffed up again. Christina thought he looked like a fat rabbit. "The most valuable piece in my collection," he announced. "And the only one I picked out on my own. Cost more than all my wife's jewels put together," he whispered with a nod. "Had to be firm with Martha, too. My wife declared it simply didn't work."

"Oh, I think it's very beautiful," Christina said.

"Baker, I'd like to speak to Princess Christina for a moment. In privacy, if you wouldn't mind." Lyon spoke right behind her. Christina knew if she took a step back she'd touch his chest. The thought was so unsettling she couldn't seem to come up with a quick denial.

"Certainly," Lord Baker announced. He gave Lyon a speculative look. Matching in his mind, Lyon decided. The rumor that he'd taken an interest in Christina would certainly be all over London by noon tomorrow. Odd, but that realization didn't bother Lyon too much. If it kept all the other dandies at bay, then perhaps the rumor would work to his advantage.

"Certainly not," Christina suddenly blurted out. She smiled at Lord Baker to soften her denial while she prayed he'd come to her rescue.

It was an empty prayer. Lord Baker looked startled and confused until Lyon interjected in a smooth, lying voice, "Christina does have the most wonderful sense of humor. When you get to know her better, I'm sure you'll agree, Baker."

Their host was fooled by Lyon's chuckle. Christina wasn't. Lyon's unbreakable hold on her hand told her he wasn't really amused at all.

He was determined to win. Christina thought he'd probably cause a scene if she tried to deny his request again. The man didn't seem to care what others thought of him. It was a trait she couldn't help but admire.

Lyon didn't have to use pretense, she reminded herself. His title assured compliance. Why, he was as arrogant and as confident as the chief of the Dakotas.

Christina tried to disengage herself from his hold when she turned to confront him. Lyon was smiling at Lord Baker, yet increasing the pressure in his grip at the same time. He was telling her without words not to argue, she supposed. Then he turned and started to pull her with him.

She didn't struggle but straightened her shoulders and followed him. Everyone was staring at them, and for that reason she forced herself to smile and to act as though it was nothing at all to be dragged across the room by a man she'd only just met. When she heard one woman whisper in a loud voice that she and the Marquess made a striking couple, she lost her smile. Yes, she did feel like hitting Lyon, but it was certainly uncomplimentary of the woman to make such a remark. She knew Lyon had also heard the comment. His arrogant grin said as much. Did that mean he wanted to strike her?

Lyon stopped when they reached the alcove. Christina was so relieved he hadn't dragged her outside, she began to relax. They were still in full view of the other guests—a blessing, because Christina knew Lyon wouldn't try to kiss her senseless with an audience watching his every move. No, tender embraces and soft words belonged to moments of privacy, when a man and woman were alone.

After nodding to several gentlemen, Lyon turned back to Christina. He stood close enough to touch if she took just one step forward. Though he'd let go of her hand, his head was inclined toward hers. Christina deliberately kept her head bowed, refusing to look up into his eyes. She thought she probably appeared to be very humble and submissive. It was an appearance she wished to give her audience, yet it irritated her all the same.

Another lie, another pretense. How her brother, White Eagle, would laugh if he could see her now. He knew, as well as everyone else back home, that there wasn't a submissive bone in Christina's body.

Lyon seemed patient enough to stare at her all evening. Christina decided he wasn't going to speak to her until she gave him her full attention. She captured her tranquil smile and finally looked up at him.

He was angry with her, all right. The gold chips were missing. "Your eyes have turned as black as a Crow's," she blurted out.

He didn't even blink over her bizarre comment. "Not this time, Christina," he said in a furious whisper. "Compliments won't get me off balance again, my little temptress. I swear to God, if you ever again dismiss me so casually, I'm going to—"

"Oh, it wasn't a compliment," Christina interrupted, letting him see her irritation. "How presumptuous of you to think that it was. The Crow is our enemy."

Heaven help her, she'd done it again. Lyon could so easily make her forget herself. Christina fought the urge to pick up her skirts and run for the front door. But she suddenly realized he couldn't possibly understand her comment. The confused look on his face told her she'd swayed his attention, too.

"Birds are your enemies?" he asked in a voice that sounded incredulous.

Christina smiled. "Whatever are you talking about?" she asked, feigning innocence. "Did you wish to speak to me about birds?"

"Christina." He'd growled her name. "You could make a saint lose his temper."

She thought he looked ready to pounce on her, so she took a protective step back and then said, "But you aren't a saint, are you, Lyon?"

A sudden shout drew Lyon's full attention. Christina also heard the sound, yet when she tried to turn around, Lyon grabbed hold of her and roughly pushed her behind his back. His strength amazed her. He'd moved so quickly Christina hadn't even guessed his intent until the deed was accomplished.

His broad shoulders blocked her view. Christina could tell by his rigid stance that there was danger. And if she hadn't known better, she would have thought he was trying to protect her.

She was highly curious. She hadn't sensed any threat, yet when she peeked out from Lyon's side she could see armed men standing in the entrance. Her eyes widened with surprise. The evening had certainly taken another bizarre twist. First she'd encountered a lion, and now it appeared that they were about to be robbed by bandits. Why, it was turning out to be an extremely interesting evening after all.

Christina wanted to get a better look at the mischief makers. Lyon, however, had other ideas. As soon as she moved to his side he pushed her behind him again.

He was protecting her. A warm feeling swept over Christina. She was pleased with his determination and actually smiled over it. She decided to let him have his way, then stood on her tiptoes, braced her hands against Lyon's back, and peeked over his shoulder so she could see what was going on.

There were five of them. Four held knives. Poor workmanship, Christina noted with a shake of her head. The fifth man held a pistol in his right hand. All wore masks that covered the lower portion of their faces. The man with the pistol—obviously the leader in Christina's judgment—shouted orders from the entrance. His voice was strained into a deep, guttural tone. Christina immediately assumed he was known by some of the guests. He wouldn't have disguised his voice unless he thought he'd be recognized. And while he was dressed like the others in peasant garb and an ill-fitting hat, his boots weren't the same at all. They were old and scruffy, like the boots the others wore, but the quality of the leather was apparent to Christina.

And then the leader turned and looked across the room. His eyes widened in surprise. Christina let out an involuntary gasp. Good Lord, she'd just met the man not an hour past.

Lyon heard her indrawn breath. The scowl increased on his face, for he immediately assumed Christina was terrified. He backed up a space, pushing Christina further into the shadows. His intent was to block her inside the alcove, and if the danger increased, he'd shove her out the doorway.

Lord Baker's wife swooned when one of the bandits demanded her diamond necklace. She conveniently landed on the settee. Christina was desperately trying not to laugh. Swooning was such a delightful pretense.

All of a sudden, Christina's aunt walked into the middle of the commotion. The Countess didn't seem to comprehend the fact that there was a robbery going on. When the leader turned and aimed his pistol in her direction, Christina immediately retaliated.