She was dressed in a long white robe. Her hair was tousled, her cheeks flushed. He could tell she was nervous. Christina held a tray in her hands. The glasses were clattering.
"I thought you might be hungry. I went—"
"Come here, Christina."
His voice was whisper-soft. Christina hurried to do his bidding. She put the tray down on the bed, then rushed over to stand in front of her husband.
"Did you read it?" she asked.
Lyon stood up before he answered her. His hands settled on her shoulders. "You wanted me to, didn't you?"
"Tell me why you wanted me to read it."
"Equal measure, Lyon. Your words, husband. You opened your heart to me when you told me about James and Lettie. I could do no less."
"Thank you, Christina." His voice shook with emotion.
Christina's eyes widened. "Why do you thank me?"
"For trusting me," Lyon answered. He kissed the wrinkle in her brow. "When you gave me your mother's diary, you were also giving me your trust."
Lyon smiled. "You were," he announced. He kissed her again, tenderly, then suggested that they share their midnight meal in front of the fire.
"And we will talk?" Christina asked. "I want to tell you so many things. There's so much we must decide upon, Lyon."
"Yes, love, we'll talk," Lyon promised.
As soon as she turned to fetch the tray, Lyon grabbed one of the blankets draped over the chair and unfolded it on the floor.
Christina knelt down and placed the tray in the center of the blanket. "Do you want me to get your robe for you?" she asked.
"No," Lyon answered, grinning. "Do you want me to take yours off?"
Lyon stretched out on his side, leaned up on one elbow, and reached for a piece of cheese. He tore off a portion and handed it to Christina.
"Do you think Jessica was crazy?" she asked.
"I don't either," Christina said. "Some of her entries are very confusing, aren't they? Could you feel her agony, Lyon, the way I did when I read her journal?"
"She was terrified," Lyon said. "And yes, I could feel her pain."
"I didn't want to read her thoughts at first. Merry made me take the book with me. She told me that in time I'd change my heart. She was right."
"She kept her promise to your mother," Lyon interjected. "She raised you, loved you as her own, and made you strong. Those were Jessica's wishes, weren't they?"
Christina nodded. "I'm not always strong, Lyon. Until tonight I was afraid of him."
"I don't like to call him my father," Christina whispered. "It makes me ill to think his blood is part of mine."
"Why aren't you afraid now?" He asked.
"Because now you know. I worried you'd think Jessica's mind was… weak."
"Christina, when you walked into the library and I was talking to Richards, we had just finished a discussion about your father. Richards told me about an incident called the Brisbane affair. Did you hear any of it?"
"No. I would never overlisten," Christina answered.
Lyon nodded. He quickly told her the sequence of events leading up to the murders of the Brisbane family.
"Those poor children," Christina whispered. "Who would kill innocent little ones?"
"You won't like the answer," Lyon said. "I wouldn't have related this story to you if it wasn't important. Brisbane's wife and children were all killed in the same way."
"Their throats were slashed."
"I don't want to picture it," Christina whispered.
"In Jessica's diary she talks about a couple she traveled with to the Black Hills. Do you remember?"
"Yes. Their names were Emily and Jacob. The jackal killed them."
"Their throats… oh, Lyon, their throats were slashed. Do you mean to say—"
"The same method," Lyon answered. "A coincidence, perhaps, but my instincts tell me the baron murdered the Brisbane family."
"Can't you challenge him?"
"Not in the way you'd like me to," Lyon answered. "We will force his hand, Christina. I give you my word. Will you leave the method to me?"
"Why what?" she hedged.
She was deliberately staring at the floor now, avoiding his gaze. Lyon reached over and tugged a strand of her hair. "I want to hear you say the words, wife."
Christina moved over to Lyon's side. Her hand slowly reached out to his. When her fingers were entwined with his, she answered his demand.
"I trust you, Lyon, with all my heart."
Merry and I made a promise to each other. She gave me her pledge to take care of you if anything happened to me, and I gave my word to find a way to get White Eagle back to his family if anything happened to her.
From that moment on, my fears were gone. Her promise gave me peace. She would keep you safe. You already had her love, Christina. I could see the way she'd hold you, cuddled up tenderly against her chest until you fell asleep.
She would be a better mother to you.
Journal entry November 3, 1795
Lyon was trying to keep his temper under control. He kept telling himself that breakfast would be over soon, that Richards should be arriving at any moment, and that he was pleasing his wife by being patient with his mother. The effort cost him his appetite, however, a fact everyone at the table seemed compelled to comment upon.
He was surrounded by family and considered that a most unfortunate circumstance. His Aunt Harriett had arrived the previous afternoon with Diana. The Earl of Rhone had just happened to show up an hour later.
The coincidence was forced, of course. Diana had pretended surprise when Rhone strolled into the house. His sister was as transparent as water. Lyon wasn't fooled for a minute. He had had the necessary talk with his friend last evening. Rhone had asked for Diana's hand. Lyon was happy to give him all of her. He kept that thought to himself, for Rhone was in the middle of his obviously prepared dissertation on the seriousness of his pledge to love and protect Diana. When Rhone finally slowed down, Lyon gave him his blessing. He didn't bother to advise his friend on the merits of fidelity, knowing that Rhone would honor his commitment once he'd spoken the vows.
Lyon was seated at the head of the table, with Rhone on his left and Christina on his right. His mother faced him from her position at the opposite end of the table. Aunt Harriett and Diana took turns trying to draw the elderly Marchioness into conversation. Their efforts were wasted, though. The only time Lyon's mother glanced up from her plate was when she wanted to make a comment about her James.
Lyon was soon clenching his jaw.
"For heaven's sake, Diana, unhand Rhone," Aunt Harriett blurted out. "The boy will starve to death if you don't let him at his food, child."
"James always had a very healthy appetite," Lyon's mother interjected.
"I'm certain he did, Mother," Christina said. "Do you like your room?" she asked, changing the topic.
"I do not like it at all. It's too bright. And while we're on the subject of my dislikes, please tell me why you insist that I not wear black. James preferred that color, you know."
"Mama, will you please stop talking about James?" Diana begged.
Christina shook her head at Diana. "Lyon?" she asked, turning to smile at him. "When do you think Richards will arrive? I'm eager to get started."
Lyon frowned at his wife. "You aren't going anywhere. We discussed this, Christina," he reminded her.
"James was always on the go," his mother commented.
Everyone but Christina turned to frown at the gray-haired woman.
"When are we going to discuss the marriage arrangements?" Aunt Harriett asked, trying to cover the awkward silence.
"I really don't wish to wait a long time," Diana said. She blushed before adding, "I want to be married right away, like Lyon and Christina."
"Our circumstances were different," Lyon said. He winked at Christina. "You aren't going to be as fortunate as I was. You'll wait and have a proper wedding."
"James wanted to marry. He simply couldn't find anyone worthy enough," Mama interjected.
Lyon scowled. Christina placed her hand on top of his fisted one. "You look very handsome this morning," she told him. "You must always wear blue."
Lyon looked into his wife's eyes and saw the sparkle there. He knew what she was doing. Yes, she was trying to take his mind off his mother. And even though he understood her intent, it still worked. He was suddenly smiling. "You always look beautiful," he told her. He leaned down to whisper, "I still prefer you without any clothes on, however."
Christina blushed with pleasure.
Rhone smiled at the happy couple, then turned to speak to Lyon's aunt. "Do you still believe Diana and I are mismatched? I would like your approval," he added.
Aunt Harriett picked up her fan. She waved it in front of her face while she considered her answer. "I will give you my approval, but I don't believe the two of you will be as compatible as Lyon and Christina. You can see how well they get along."
"Oh, we are also mismatched," Christina interjected. "Rhone and Diana are really much more suited to each other. They were raised in the same fashion," she explained.
Aunt Harriett gave Christina a piercing look. "Now that you're part of this family, would you mind telling me just where you were raised, child?"
"In the Black Hills," Christina answered. She turned to Lyon then. "The Countess will certainly tell, and I really should prepare your family, don't you think?"
"The Countess wouldn't say a word," Lyon answered. "As long as the money keeps pouring in, she'll keep your secrets safe until you're ready to tell them."
"Tell what secrets?" Diana asked, frowning.
"She's entitled to her privacy," Rhone interjected, winking at Christina.
Aunt Harriett let out an inelegant snort. "Nonsense. We're family. There shouldn't be any secrets, unless you've done something you're ashamed of, Christina, and I'm certain that isn't the case. You're a good-hearted child," she added. She paused to prove her point by tilting her head toward the elderly Marchioness.
"James was such a good-hearted man," she blurted out.
Everyone ignored that comment.
"Well?" Diana prodded Christina.
"I was raised by the Dakotas."
Christina really believed her statement would gain an immediate reaction. Everyone just stared at her with expectant looks on their faces. She turned to Lyon.
"I don't believe they understand, my sweet," he whispered.
"Who are the Dakotas?" Aunt Harriett asked. "I don't remember meeting anyone by that name. They must not be English," she concluded with another wave of her fan.
"No, they aren't English," Lyon said, smiling.
"A large family?" Aunt Harriett asked, trying to understand why Lyon was smiling and Christina was blushing.
"Very large," Lyon drawled.
"Well, why haven't I heard of them?" his aunt demanded.
"They're Indians." Christina made the announcement, then waited for a true reaction.
It wasn't long in coming. "No wonder I haven't heard… good Lord, do you mean savages?" she gasped.
Christina was about to explain that she didn't care for the word savages—the Countess had often preferred that description—and that the Dakotas were gentle, caring people, but Aunt Harriett's and Diana's bold laughter interrupted her bid to defend.
Aunt Harriett was the first to regain control. She'd noticed that Rhone, Lyon, and Christina hadn't joined in. "You aren't jesting with us, are you, Christina?" she asked. She felt lightheaded but kept her voice soft.
"No, I'm not jesting," Christina answered. "Rhone? You don't seem too surprised."
"I was better prepared for such news," Rhone explained.
"Are the Black Hills in France, then?" Diana asked, trying to sort it out in her mind.
Lyon chuckled over that question.
"James loved to go to France," the mother announced. "He had many friends there."
Aunt Harriett reached over to take hold of Christina's hand. "My dear, I'm so sorry I laughed. You must think me terribly undisciplined. It was such a surprise. I pray you do not believe I now think you inferior in any way."
Christina hadn't been upset with their reaction, but she assumed Aunt Harriett thought she had. She smiled at the dear woman, then said, "I pray you do not believe I think you are inferior in any way, Aunt Harriett. In truth, I have come to realize that my people are far more civilized than the English. It is a confession I'm very proud to make."
"James was always civil to everyone he met," the mother announced.
Aunt Harriett patted Christina's hand, then turned to glare at her relative.
"Millicent," she muttered, using the elderly Marchioness's given name, "will you let up, for God's sake? I'm trying to have a serious conversation with Christina here."
Aunt Harriett turned to smile at Christina again. "I eagerly await your stories about your childhood, Christina. Will you share them with me?"
"I would be happy to," Christina answered.
"Now, I would advise you not to tell anyone outside this family. Outsiders wouldn't understand. The ton is a shallow group of twits," she added with a vigorous nod. "And I'll not have you subjected to malicious gossip."
"Did you have strange habits when you lived with—"
"For God's sake, Diana," Lyon roared.
"It's all right," Christina interjected. "She is only curious."
"Let's change the topic for now," Rhone advised. He frowned at Diana, then contradicted his displeasure by taking hold of her hand.
Aunt Harriett didn't like the peculiar way Diana was staring at Christina. Her mouth was hanging open. The silly girl was looking quite fascinated.
Concerned about Christina's feelings, the aunt hastened to turn Diana's attention. "Lyon? Diana insisted on bringing that ill-disciplined pup Rhone gave her. She's tied up in the back," Aunt Harriett explained. "Diana was hoping you'd keep the dog while we're in London. Isn't that right, Diana?"