"Let's go upstairs, Lyon," she whispered between passionate kisses.
"There isn't time, Christina."
He tried to smile over the demand in her voice, but he was too occupied trying to hold onto his control. Christina was rubbing against his arousal, nipping his earlobe with her teeth, and stroking him wild with her hands.
He couldn't have made it up the stairs if his life had depended upon it.
He came during the night, while everyone was sleeping. The Jacksons had made their beds outside. It was bitterly cold, but Jacob wanted privacy, and for that reason he'd made a small tent.
I heard a strange sound, and when I looked outside the wagon I saw a man bent over Emily and Jacob. I called out to the man, still not realizing the danger. In my mind I thought it was Jacob's turn to take the watch.
The man stood and turned into the moonlight. The scream was trapped in my throat. Edward had come after me. He held a bloody knife in his hand.
I was so stunned and so terrified I could barely move. You were the one who forced me into action, Christina. Yes, for when you awakened and started to whimper, I came out of my stupor. I wasn't going to let Edward kill you.
I grabbed Jacob's hunting knife just as Edward climbed into the wagon. 1 screamed and thrust the blade in his face. Edward snarled in pain. The tip of the knife cut the edge of his eye. "Give me the jewels," he demanded as he knocked the weapon out of my hands.
The camp awakened to my screams. Edward heard the shouts of confusion behind him. He told me he'd come back to kill me. He looked over at the basket you slept in, Christina, then turned back to me. "I'll kill her first. You should have let Patricia have her," he added with a sneer before he slithered out of the wagon.
The Jacksons were dead. Their throats had been slashed. I told the wagonmaster I'd heard a sound and had seen a man leaning over Jacob and Emily.
A search was made of the camp. The light was poor, and Edward wasn't found.
Several hours later the camp again settled down. Three times the number of guards were posted as a precaution, and it had been decided that the burial for the Jacksons would take place at daybreak.
I waited, then bundled you up and calmly rode out of the camp. I didn't know where I was going, didn't care.
I had failed you, Christina. It was over. It was only a matter of time before Edward hunted us down.
Journal entry October 20, 1795
It was early afternoon when Lyon kissed Christina goodbye. She assumed he was going to meet Rhone for their scheduled card game. Lyon, in his haste to make the necessary arrangements for Jack's arrival at Rhone's house, didn't take the time to set his wife straight. He told her only that the card game had been delayed and that he had important business to see to.
Christina had just changed into a deep blue dress when Kathleen announced that Lady Diana was downstairs waiting to see her.
"She's terribly upset about something," Kathleen told her mistress. "The poor dear is crying."
Christina hurried down the winding staircase. When Diana saw her, she blurted out the news about Rhone.
Christina led her sister-in-law into the drawing room, then sat down beside her and patted her hand while she poured out the full story.
"The poor man is innocent," Diana sobbed. "He's trying to be so noble, too. Did you know he is even having parties every night? Oh, if only Lyon will come home soon so that I can tell him what has happened. He will know what to do."
"I'm sure he'll find out very soon," Christina said. "This is all my fault," she added.
"How can it be your fault?" Diana asked.
Christina didn't answer her. She felt responsible for Rhone's problem. She was the one who'd wounded him, after all, and the guilt belonged on her shoulders.
"I must think of a way to… Diana, did you say Rhone is having a party tonight?"
"Yes. Aunt Harriett won't let me attend," Diana said. "We are already promised to another affair, but I would much rather go to Rhone's."
Christina hid her smile. "Of course you would," she said, patting Diana's hand again. "It's all going to be over by tomorrow," she added in a mock whisper.
"How could that be?" Diana whispered back. "Do you know something you aren't telling me?" she asked.
"Yes," Christina answered. She deliberately paused, then cast a glance over her shoulder. When she turned back to Diana, she said, "I have it on good authority that the real Jack is going out hunting tonight."
Diana's gasp told Christina she believed her. "You mustn't say a word to anyone, Diana, else Jack might find out and decide against going out."
Diana clasped her hands together. "I won't tell, I promise you," she said. "But how did you learn—"
"There isn't time to go into the details," Christina announced. "And I have an important errand to see to. May I ride with you back to your home and then borrow your carriage for a short spell?"
"Yes, of course," Diana responded. "I could go with you on your errand," she volunteered.
Christina shook her head. "Hurry, Diana. There's much to be done."
"Never mind. Now dry your eyes and come along."
Christina pulled Lyon's sister behind her. She turned Diana's attention away from the matter of Jack by asking several questions about her family.
"Was Lyon close to his brother James?" she asked.
"For a time. They were very competitive," Diana said. "Lyon would always best James—in riding, sword fighting, and… well, even with women," she added with a shrug. "James seemed obsessed with winning. He took chances."
"How did he die?"
"Fell from his mount. He didn't linger. His death was quick. Baron Winters, our family physician, said it was painless. I think he might have said that to ease Mama's mind."
"About your mother," Christina began, her voice hesitant. "Diana, I know you must be very close to her, but I hope you won't argue with my plan."
"What plan?" Diana asked, frowning.
"I would like to take your mother with me tomorrow when I return to Lyonwood."
"Are you serious? Does Lyon know of this intention?"
"Quit looking so suspicious," Christina admonished with a small smile. "I do have your mama's best interests at heart. You have a season to see to, or I'd ask you to come along. I know the separation will be difficult for you. She is your mama, after all," she told her as she continued on.
Diana lowered her gaze to stare at her hands. She was ashamed of the acute relief she was feeling. Someone was finally going to take charge of her mama. "It is dreadful for me to admit this to you, but you are my sister now, and so I will confess I will not miss Mama at all."
Christina didn't know what to say. She opened the door of the carriage for her sister-in-law, then said, "Your mother has been a bit… difficult, then?"
"You've met her," Diana whispered. "All she wants to talk about is James. She doesn't care about me or Lyon.
James was her firstborn. Oh, I know you think less of me now. I shouldn't have told you that I—"
Christina reached out to take Diana's hands in hers. "You must always tell me the truth. It's the only way to go along, you see. Diana, I know you love your mama. You wouldn't be so angry with her if you didn't."
Diana's eyes widened. "I am angry," she announced.
"You must go inside now. I have to see to my errand," Christina said, changing the subject. "Please have the servants pack up your mother's things. I shall come and fetch her tomorrow morning."
Diana suddenly lunged at Christina, capturing her in an awkward hug. "I am so happy Lyon married you."
"I'm also happy that I married him," Christina told her.
Diana let go of Christina. She climbed out of the carriage, then turned to plead once more to go along on the mysterious errand. Christina again denied her request, then waited until she'd gone inside the townhouse before turning to the driver and giving him her destination.
"Do you know where the Bleak Bryan is located?" the driver responded. His eyes were bulging out of his face, and he swallowed several times.
"No, I don't know exactly where it's located. Do you, sir?"
"Well, yes, madam, I do," the driver stammered.
"Then that is all that matters, isn't it? Please take me there at once."
Christina got back inside the carriage and shut the door. The driver's pale face suddenly appeared at the open window. "You cannot be serious, madam. The Bleak Bryan is in the most unsavory part of London. Cutthroats and—"
"Bryan is a special friend of mine. I must go to him now, sir. What is your name?" she asked.
"Everet," the driver announced.
"Everet," Christina repeated. She gave him a smile meant to dazzle him, then said, "It is a very good name. Now then, Everet, I must tell you that I will be very unhappy if you don't do as I've requested. Yes, I will," she added in a firm voice.
Everet paused to scratch the bald spot on the top of his head before answering. "That's the rub of it, madam. You'll be unhappy if I don't take you to the Bleak Bryan tavern, but your husband, when he hears of it, will kill me. I'll be getting it no matter what I do. That's the rub, all right."
"Oh, I understand your hesitation now. You don't realize my husband has specifically requested that I make this visitation to Mr. Bryan. Put your fears aside, my good man. Lyon knows all about this."
Everet did look relieved. The Marchioness's sincerity was apparent to him. She was such an innocent little thing, Everet thought. Why, she wouldn't even know how to be devious.
The driver stammered out his apology, requested that Christina bolt her doors from the inside, and then hastened back up on his perch.
He drove the carriage at breakneck pace. Christina thought the man might be a little frightened.
Her conclusions were proven correct when they finally arrived at the tavern. When Everet helped her from the carriage, his hands were shaking. He kept glancing over his shoulder. "Please, madam, be quick with your business in there. I'll be waiting inside your carriage, if you don't mind," he whispered.
"Oh, you don't have to wait for me. I don't know how long my business will take. Go along home now, Everet. Mr. Bryan will see that I get home."
"But madam," Everet stammered out. "What if he ain't inside? What if he went on an errand of his own?"
"Then I shall have to wait for him," Christina announced. She started toward the door, calling her gratitude over her shoulder, and before Everet could get his wits about him to think what to do the Marchioness had disappeared inside the tavern.
She hadn't come unprepared. No, she wasn't as foolish as Everet's look suggested. Christina hid a small knife in her hand; her regular one was strapped above her ankle. She was far more comfortable with the larger knife, but she couldn't very well carry it in her hand. Why, she'd be giving the impression she wanted a confrontation.
From past experience, Christina had learned that most mischief makers were an ignorant breed. One had to be firm from the outset.
She stood inside the doorway for a long minute as she looked around the crowded area in search of the owner. There were at least twenty men sitting at the wooden tables and another few leaning against the warped bar that ran the length of the right side of the large room.
A man was standing behind the bar, staring gape-mouthed at her. Christina assumed the gentleman worked for the owner and immediately started over to him.
She didn't get more than halfway there before the first oaf tried to deter her. The man was rank with the smell of ale, his motion awkward when he tried to grab her.
Christina slapped his hand away with her blade. The man immediately let out a howl of pain. Everyone inside the tavern watched the big man lift his hand and stare at it in astonishment.
"You cut me!"
His bellow shook the rafters. "You cut me," he roared again as he started to lunge toward Christina.
Christina hadn't moved. She flashed the knife in front of his eyes. "Sit down or I shall have to hurt you again."
She really didn't have time for this, she told herself. There was so much to be seen to before Rhone's party.
"You cut me, you—"
"You tried to touch me," Christina answered. The tip of her knife rested against the befuddled man's throat. "And if you try again, you'll be drinking your ale from the hole I shall fashion in your neck."
She heard the snickers and turned her gaze to find the offender. "I have business to attend to with Mr. Bleak Bryan."
"Are you his lovey, then?" someone shouted out.
Christina let out a sigh of frustration. The mischief maker sitting next to her immediately thought to attack again.
She never even looked down at him as she pricked a narrow, shallow cut in his neck.
He howled again. Christina turned her gaze to the ceiling, praying for patience.
Yes, the mischief makers of the world were all the same. Ignorant.
"I'm the Marquess of Lyonwood's lovey," she told the group of men. "My husband's friend is the owner of this tavern. I have immediate business with the man, and my patience is wearing thin." She paused to scowl at the man holding his neck. "It is a paltry cut, sir, but if you do not cease this foolishness, I promise the next will be more painful."
Though Christina didn't realize it, the news that she was Lyon's wife had changed every man's opinion. "Leave her be, Arthur, if you want to live. She's the mistress of Lyonwood."
"Your name is Arthur?" Christina asked.
The man she'd just questioned was too terrified to answer her.
"Arthur is an appealing name, sir. Do you know the story of Camelot? No?" she asked when the man continued to stare at her stupidly. "Your mama must have read the tale then and named you after King Arthur," she decided for him.
Arthur wasn't listening to her. His mind was far away, captured by the nightmare of what the Marquess of Lyonwood was going to do to him when he heard of this foul incident. "I didn't mean nothing by trying to snatch you. I'm good as dead," he whined. "I didn't know—"
"That I was a married lady?" Christina asked. She let out a sigh. "Well, I suppose you couldn't have known I wasn't available, but it was rude of you to try to snatch a lady without gaining her permission first," she instructed. "But you're not going to die because of your ill manners, Arthur," she added in a gentle voice.