"After what?" Lyon asked, thoroughly puzzled by his wife's conduct.
"Mama told Christina she wanted to stay where she was. She had people coming to call, and she wanted to talk to them about James, of course," Diana said to Lyon.
"Yes, well, that's when Christina asked your mother if her heart had died."
"I don't understand," Lyon announced, shaking his head.
"I didn't either," Rhone answered. "Anyway, your mother said that since James had died, her heart was also dead… whatever in God's name that means."
Lyon smiled then. He couldn't help himself. "My mother is a professional mourner, Rhone. You know that well enough."
"Was," Rhone drawled out. "Christina had gotten your mother down into the entryway by this time. Your aunt, Diana, and I were standing there, watching the two ladies, wondering what was going on. Then Christina explained it all to us."
"She's going to kill Mama."
"Now, Diana, that isn't what she said," Rhone said. He patted her shoulder, then turned to grin at Lyon again.
"Rhone, will you get on with it?"
"Christina told your mother that where she came from—and God only knows where that is—an old warrior who was broken in spirit and in heart would go into the wilderness."
"What for?" Lyon asked.
"Why, to find a nice, secluded spot in which to die, of course. Needless to say, your mother didn't take kindly to being called an old warrior."
Lyon stared at the ceiling a long minute before daring to look at his friend again. He was dangerously close to laughing. "No, I don't suppose she would," he whispered.
"Well, part of it is Mama's own fault," Diana interjected. "If she hadn't agreed that her heart was broken, Christina wouldn't have insisted on taking her with her. She told Mama she'd help her find a lovely spot."
"That was good of her," Lyon said.
"Lyon, Mama hadn't had her chocolate yet. She hadn't had her maids pack any of her possessions, either. Christina told her it didn't matter. One didn't have to pack when one was going to die. Those were her very words."
"Your mother started shouting then," Rhone announced.
"Rhone wouldn't let me interfere," Diana whispered, "and Aunt Harriett was laughing."
"Not until your mother was inside the carriage," Rhone commented.
"Was she shouting James's name?" Lyon asked.
"Well… no, of course not," Diana muttered. "What has that got to do with anything?"
Neither Rhone nor Lyon could answer her. They were too busy laughing.
It took Lyon several minutes before he could speak again. "I guess I'd better get back to Lyonwood."
"What if Christina hides Mama somewhere in the countryside and won't tell you where?"
"Do you really believe Christina would harm your mama?" Rhone asked.
"No," Diana whispered. "But she sounded as though it was the most natural thing for… an old warrior to do." Diana let out a loud sigh. "Christina has some unusual notions, doesn't she?"
"She's bluffing, Diana. She's pretending to give our mother what she wants."
"Lyon, would you like me to ride along with you to Lyonwood?" Rhone asked.
Lyon could tell by the gleam in his friend's green eyes that he was up to mischief. "Why do you offer?" he asked.
"I could help you search the estate," Rhone drawled.
"Very amusing," Lyon snapped. "Now see what you've done? Diana's crying again. You deal with it, Rhone. I don't have time. Come down to Lyonwood this weekend with Aunt Harriett and Diana."
Lyon strolled over to the doorway, then called over his shoulder, "If I haven't found your mother by then, Diana, you can help search."
Rhone contained his smile. "He's only jesting, sweetheart. Now, now, let me hold you, love. You can cry on my shoulder."
Lyon closed the door on Rhone's soothing voice. He shook his head in vexation. He'd been so wrapped up in his own life, he hadn't realized Rhone was falling in love with Diana.
Rhone was a good friend… but a brother-in-law… Lyon would have to adjust to that possibility.
Christina wouldn't be surprised by the attraction. No, she'd been the one to instruct Rhone on his destiny, Lyon recalled with a smile.
Ah, destiny. He decided it was now his destiny to go home and kiss his wife.
The desire to take Christina into his arms, to make slow, sweet love to her, made the journey back to Lyonwood seem much longer than usual.
The sun was just setting when Lyon rode toward the circle drive in front of his house. He squinted against the sunlight, trying to make out the sight he thought he was seeing.
As he rode closer, he recognized the man dragging his shoes down the steps. It was Elbert. What was he doing there? And what in God's name was he doing with Lyon's boots? Lyon was close enough to see his dozens of shoes and boots lined up on the steps, the walkway.
Lyon dismounted, slapped his horse on the hindquarters as a signal to take to the stables, then called out to Christina's former butler. "Elbert? What are you doing with my shoes?"
"The madam's orders, my lord," Elbert answered. "Didn't know a man could own so many boots," he added. "Been at this task near an hour now. Up the stairs and down the stairs, then up—"
"Elbert? Give me the reason why," Lyon interrupted, his voice irritated. "And what are you doing at Lyonwood? Did Christina invite you to visit?"
"Hired me, sir," Elbert announced. "I'm to be Brown's assistant. Did you know how worried she was about me? She knew I wouldn't last with the old bat. Your misses has a good heart. I'll do my part, my lord. I won't be shirking me responsibilities to you."
Christina did have a good heart. His gentle wife knew Elbert wouldn't be able to find work with anyone else. He was simply too old, too feeble. "I'm sure you'll do fine, Elbert," Lyon said. "Glad to have you on staff."
"Thank you, my lord," Elbert returned.
Lyon noticed Brown standing in the open doorway then. His butler looked upset. "Good afternoon, my lord," Brown called out. "It is so very good to have you back," he added. His voice sounded strained to Lyon, relieved as well. "Did you see your shoes, sir?"
"I'm not blind, man. Of course I saw them. Would you care to explain what in thunderation is going on?"
"Your wife's orders," Brown announced.
"Past wife," Elbert interjected with a cackle.
Lyon took a deep breath. "What are you talking about?" He addressed his question to Brown, believing his young butler would make more sense than the old man snickering with laughter behind him.
"You're being divorced, my lord."
Brown's shoulders sagged. He knew his lord wasn't going to take the news well. "Divorced."
"Cast out, my lord, pushed aside, forgotten, dead in her heart—"
"I get your meaning, Elbert," Lyon muttered in exasperation. "I'm aware of what the word divorce means."
Lyon continued into the house. The old servant shuffled after him. "Those were her very words. My mistress is divorcing you the way her people do. She said it was quite all right to get rid of a husband. You have to find someplace else to live."
"I what?" Lyon asked, certain he hadn't heard correctly.
Brown's insistent nod indicated he had.
"You're cast out, pushed aside—"
"For God's sake, Elbert, cease your litany," Lyon demanded. He turned back to Brown. "What is the significance of the shoes?"
"They signify your departure, my lord," Brown said.
The butler tried not to stare at the incredulous look on his master's face. He was in jeopardy of losing his control. He stared at the floor instead.
"Let me get this straight in my mind," Lyon muttered. "My wife believes the house belongs to her?"
"And your mother, of course," Brown blurted out. "She's keeping her."
Brown was biting his lower lip. Lyon thought he might be trying not to laugh.
"Of course," Lyon drawled.
Elbert tried to be helpful once again. "It's the way her people do," he interjected, his voice gratingly cheerful.
"Where is my wife?" Lyon asked, ignoring Elbert's comments.
He didn't wait for his servants to answer him but took the steps two at a time to reach the bedrooms. A sudden thought made him pause. "Did she cut her hair?" he called out.
"She did," Elbert shouted before Brown could open his mouth. "It's the way of it," Elbert insisted. "Once the hair's cut—well, then you're as good as dead to her. You're set aside, cast—"
"I've gotten her message," Lyon shouted. "Brown, bring my shoes inside. Elbert, go sit somewhere."
"My lord?" Brown called out.
"Do the French really follow these laws?"
Lyon contained his smile. "Did my wife say it was the law?" he asked.
"Yes, my lord."
"And she told you she was from France?" he asked his butler.
"Then it must be true," Lyon announced. "I would like a bath, Brown. Leave the shoes until later," he added before turning back to his destination.
Lyon smiled. There were times when he forgot just how young and inexperienced Brown was. Of course, he'd been lied to by someone who radiated innocence and sincerity. Christina.
His wife wasn't waiting for him in their bedroom. He really hadn't expected her to be there. The sun still gave sufficient light for her to stay outdoors. Lyon doubted she'd return to the house until darkness forced her to do so.
Lyon walked over to the windows to look out at the setting sun. It was a magnificent sight, and one he'd never taken the time to notice until he'd married Christina. She had opened his eyes to the wonders of life.
And the wonder of love. Yes, he did love her, so ferociously it almost frightened him. If anything happened to her, Lyon didn't know how he'd be able to go on.
That odious thought wouldn't have intruded on his peace of mind if he hadn't been so concerned about Christina's reunion with her father. Lyon was more than uneasy.
She believed he'd try to kill her. Richards hadn't been able to tell Lyon much about Christina's father, but the fact that Stalinsky had been involved in the Brisbane affair, with such shameful results, worried Lyon.
How simple it would be if Christina would trust him, confide in him. Lord, he felt as if he was being asked to fence with an enemy with a blindfold tied around his eyes.
Equal measure. Wasn't that what he wanted from Christina?
The truth hit him like a blow. He'd demanded from his wife what he'd been unwilling to give her. Trust. Yes, he wanted her absolute trust, yet he hadn't let her know how much he trusted her. No, he told himself with a shake of his head, his sin was worse. He hadn't opened his heart to her.
Christina had only questioned him once about his past. When they were on their way to Lyonwood, she'd asked him to tell her about his first wife, Lettie.
His answers had been abrupt. He'd let her know the subject wasn't one he would discuss.
She hadn't asked him again.
Yes, he was getting equal measure.
The door opened behind him. Lyon glanced over his shoulder and saw the servants carrying the tub and pails of steaming water into the room.
He turned back to the landscape and was in the process of drawing off his jacket when he saw Christina.
His breath caught in his throat. The sight was more magnificent than the sunset. Christina was riding bareback. The gray stallion she'd chosen was racing across the grounds with such speed his legs were a blur.
She rode like the wind. Her golden hair flew out behind her. Her back was as straight as a lance, and when she directed her mount over the hedge that separated the wilderness from the immediate grounds, Lyon started breathing again.
Christina was far more skilled than he was. That fact became obvious as he continued to watch her. He was arrogantly pleased, as if her skill somehow reflected on him. "She's my lioness," he whispered, excusing his reaction.
She was so incredibly graceful… and he had offered to teach her how to ride.
Another incorrect assumption, Lyon realized. As incorrect as believing he would actually gain an apology from her for yesterday's folly.
Lyon was chuckling to himself as he stripped off his clothes. He ignored his servants' worried glances. He knew they weren't used to hearing him laugh. Then he stretched out in the long tub, his shoulders propped against the back. Brown was occupied getting fresh clothing ready for him.
"I'll take care of that," Lyon told his butler. "You may leave now."
Brown started for the door, then hesitated. When he turned around to look at his employer, his expression showed his concern.
"What is it?" Lyon asked.
"My lord, I would never presume to intrude upon your private affairs, but I was wondering if you'll be honoring your wife's decision."
Lyon had to remind himself that Brown was very young and hadn't been in his household long enough to know his lord's ways well. He'd never have asked such a ridiculous question otherwise. "Why, of course, Brown," Lyon drawled out.
"Then you'll let her divorce you?" Brown blurted out, clearly stunned.
"I believe she already did divorce me," Lyon answered with a grin.
The butler wasn't at all happy with that announcement. "I shall miss you, my lord."
"She's keeping you, too?" Lyon asked.
Brown nodded. He looked miserable. "My lady explained that we are part of her family now."
"She's keeping the full staff, my lord."
Lyon started laughing. "I really wish you'd stay," Brown blurted out.
"Quit worrying, Brown. I'm not going anywhere," Lyon announced. "As soon as my wife walks into the house, send her to me. If she can divorce me so easily, then there must be a quick way to remarry again. This little problem will be resolved by nightfall, I promise you."
"Thank God," Brown whispered. He hurried out of the room, closing the door behind him.