(Джулия Гарвуд - "Ангел-хранитель")
- прим. Lady Morgana
This one's for you, Elizabeth.
The hunter waited patiently for his prey.
It was a dangerous deception the Marquess of Cainewood was playing. The infamous Pagan of
Shallow's Wharf would certainly hear of his impersonator; he'd be forced out of hiding then, for his
pride, monstrous by all whispered accounts, wouldn't allow another to take credit for his own black deeds. The pirate would certainly try to extract his own form of revenge. Caine was counting on that possibility. Once Pagan showed himself, Caine would have him.
And then the legend would be destroyed.
The Marquess had run out of choices. The spider wouldn't leave his web. Bounty hadn't worked. No, there wasn't a Judas among the seamen, which was surprising given that most ordinary men would have sold their mamas into bondage for the amount of gold he'd offered. It was a miscalculation on Caine's part, too. Each seaman voiced loyalty to the legend as his own personal reason for refusing the coins. Caine, a cynic by nature and past sour experiences, guessed fear was the real motive. Fear and superstition.
Mystery surrounded the pirate like the wall of a confessional. No one had ever actually seen Pagan. His ship, the Emerald, had been observed countless times skimming the water like a pebble thrown by the hand of God, or so it was reported by those who'd boasted of seeing the ship. The sight of the black beauty sparked terror in the titled gentlemen of the ton with fat purses, snickers of glee from the downright mean-hearted, and prayers of humble thanksgiving from the deprived, for Pagan was
known to share his booty with the less fortunate.
Yet as often as the magical ship was sighted, no one could describe a single shipmate on board the
vessel. This only increased the speculation, admiration, and awe about the phantom pirate.
Pagan's thievery extended beyond the ocean, however, for he was a man who obviously enjoyed
variety. His land raids caused just as much consternation, perhaps even more. Pagan was discriminate
in robbing only from the members of the ton. It was apparent the pirate didn't want anyone else taking credit for his own midnight raids on the unsuspecting. He therefore left bis own personal calling card in the form of a single long-stemmed white rose. His victim usually awakened by morning light to find the flower on the pillow beside him. The mere sight of the rose was usually quite enough to send grown
men into a dead faint.
Needless to say, the poor idolized the legend. They believed Pagan was a man of style and romance.
The church was no less effusive in their adoration, for the pirate left trunks of gold and jewels next to
the collection plates in their vestibules, topped by a white rose, of course, so the leaders would know whose soul they were supposed to pray for. The bishop was hard put to condemn the pirate. He knew better than to saint him, though, for to do so would incur the wrath of some of the most influential members of society, and therefore settled on calling Pagan rogue instead.
The nickname, it was noted, was always said with a quick grin and a slow wink.
The War Department held no such reservations. They'd set their own bounty on the pirate's head.
Caine had doubled that amount. His reason for hunting down the bastard was a personal one, and he believed the end would justify whatever foul means he employed.
It was going to be an eye for an eye. He would kill the pirate.
Ironically, the two adversaries were equally matched. The Marquess was feared by ordinary men. His work for his government had earned him his own dark legend. If the circumstances had been different,
if Pagan hadn't dared to prod Caine's wrath, he might have continued to leave him alone. Pagan's mortal sin changed that determination, however; changed it with a vengeance.
Night after night Caine went to the tavern called the Ne'er Do Well, situated in the heart of London's slums. The tavern was frequented by the more seasoned dock workers. Caine always took the corner table, his broad back protected by the stone wall from sneak attack, and patiently waited for Pagan to come to him.
The Marquess moved in and out of such seedy circles with the ease befitting a man with a dark past. In this section of the city, a man's title meant nothing. His survival was dependent upon his size, his ability
to inflict pain while defending himself, and his indifference to the violence and crudity surrounding him.
Caine made the tavern his home in less than one night. He was a big man, with muscular shoulders and thighs. His size alone could intimidate most would-be challengers. Caine was dark haired, bronze skinned, and had eyes the color of a dark gray sky. There'd been a time when those eyes had had the power to spark a rush of flutters in the ladies of the ton. Now, however, those same ladies recoiled from the coldness lurking there, and the flat, emotionless expression. They whispered that the Marquess of Cainewood had been turned into stone by his hatred. Caine agreed.
Once he'd decided to play the role of Pagan, his pretense hadn't been difficult to maintain. The storytellers all agreed on the fanciful notion that Pagan was actually a titled gentleman who took to pirating as a means of keeping up with his lavish lifestyle. Caine simply used that bit of gossip to his advantage. When he first entered the tavern, he'd worn his most expensive clothing. He'd added his
own personal touch by pinning a small white rose to the lapel of his dinner jacket. It was an outrageous, silently boastful addition, of course, and gained him just the right amount of notice.
Immediately, he'd had to cut a few men with his sharp knife to secure his place in their group. Caine
was dressed like a gentleman, yes, but he fought without honor or dignity. The men loved him. In bare minutes, he'd earned their respect and their fear. His Herculean size and strength gained him immediate loyalty, too. One of the more fearless asked him in a stammer if the talk was true. Was he Pagan then? Caine didn't answer that question, but his quick grin told the seaman his question had pleased him. And when he remarked to the tavernkeeper that the seaman had a very cunning mind, he forced the inevitable conclusion. By week's end, the rumor of Pagan's nightly visitations to the Ne'er Do Well had spread like free gin.
Monk, the bald-headed Irishman who'd won the tavern in a crooked game of cards, usually sat beside Caine at the close of each evening. Monk was the only one who knew about the deception. He was in wholehearted agreement with Caine's plan, too, as he'd heard all about Pagan's atrocity to Caine's family. Just as significant, business had picked up considerably since the deception had begun. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to get a good look at the pirate, and Monk, a man who put profit above all other
matters, charged exorbitant prices for his watered-down ale.
The tavernkeeper had lost his hair years before, but his bright orange-colored eyebrows more than made up for any lack. They were thick, curly, and crept like determined vines of ivy halfway up his freckled forehead. Monk rubbed his brow now in true frustration for the Marquess. It was almost three o'clock in the morning, an hour past time to shut down the tavern for the evening. Only two paying customers were lingering over their drinks now. When they'd belched out their sleepy farewells and taken their leave, Monk turned to Caine.
"You've got more patience than a flea waiting on a mangy dog, coming here night after night. I'm praying you don't get too discouraged," he added. He paused to pour a full goblet of brandy for the Marquess, then swallowed a hefty portion directly from the bottle. "You'll flush him out, Caine. I'm sure of it. The way I see it, he'll send a couple of his men first to try to waylay you. That's why I'm always warning
you to protect your back when you leave each night."
Monk took another drink, and snickered. "Pagan's a mite protective of his reputation. Your pretense must be turning his hair gray. He'll show himself soon enough. Why, I'll wager that tomorrow will be the night."
Caine nodded agreement. Monk, his gaze piercing with promise, always ended his nightly speech with the prediction that tomorrow the prey would show himself.
"You'll pounce on him then, Caine, like a duck on a bug."
Caine swallowed a long drink, his first of the evening, then tilted his chair back so he could rest his shoulders against the wall. "I'll get him."
The harshness in Caine's tone sent a shiver down Monk's spine. He was about to give hasty agreement when the door suddenly flew open, drawing his attention. Monk half turned in his chair to call out that
the tavern was closed for the night, but the sight standing in the center of the doorway so stunned him,
he could only gape in astonishment. When he was finally able to regain his voice, he whispered, "Holy Mother of God, has an angel come calling on us?"
From his position against the wall, Caine faced the entrance and had a clear view. Though he didn't
move or show any outward reaction, in truth, his surprise was just as great as Monk's. His heart started slamming a wild beat and he couldn't seem to catch his breath.
She did look like an angel. Caine didn't want to blink, certain his vision would vanish into the night if he closed his eyes for just a second or two.
She was an incredibly beautiful woman. Her eyes captivated him. They were the most magnificent shade of green. The green of his valley, he thought to himself, on a clear, moonlit night.
She was staring at him. Caine stared back.
Several long minutes passed while they studied each other. Then she started walking toward him. As
soon as she moved, the hood of her black cape fell to her shoulders. Caine quit breathing. The muscles
in his chest constricted painfully. His vision was blessed with lush, auburn-colored hair. In the candlelight, the color was as brilliant as fire.
Caine noticed the pitiful condition of her clothing when she neared the table. The quality of her cloak indicated wealth, yet the expensive material had been shredded halfway up one side. It looked as though someone had taken a knife to it. Part of the green satin lining hung in tatters around her hem. Caine's curiosity intensified. He looked back up at her face, saw the faint bruises on her right cheekbone, the small cut below her full lower lip, and the splotch of dirt marring her forehead.
If his vision was an angel, she'd just been forced to pay purgatory a visit, Caine decided. Yet even
though she looked like she'd just lost the battle with Satan, she was still very appealing, too appealing
in fact for his peace of mind. He grew tense as he waited for her to speak.
She stopped when she reached the other side of the round table. Her gaze was now directed on the rose pinned to his lapel.
His angel was obviously frightened. Her hands were shaking. She clutched a small white bag to her
bodice and he noticed several faded scars on her fingers.
He didn't know what to make of her. Caine didn't want her to be afraid of him, though. That admission made his frown intensify.
"You're all alone?" he asked, his tone as brisk as the rising wind.
"At this time of night, in this section of the city?"
"Yes," she answered. "Are you Pagan?"
Her voice, he noticed, was husky, whisper soft.
"Look at me when you ask your questions."
She wouldn't comply with his command but stubbornly continued to stare at the rose. "Pray, answer me, sir," she returned. "Are you Pagan? I have need to speak with the pirate. It is a terribly important matter."
"I am Pagan," Caine said.
She nodded. "It's said that you'll do any task if the price be enough. Is that true, sir?"
"It is," Caine acknowledged. "What is it you want from me?"
In answer to his question, she dropped the bag onto the center of the table. The drawstring tore open
and several coins spilled out. Monk let out a low whistle.
"There are thirty pieces in all," she said, her gaze still downcast.
Caine raised an eyebrow in reaction to that statement. "Thirty pieces of silver?"
She timidly nodded. "Is that enough? It's all I have."
"Who is it you wish to betray?"
She looked startled by that assumption. "Oh, no, you misunderstand. I don't want to betray anyone.
I'm not a Judas, sir."
He thought she looked insulted by his comment. "It was an honest mistake to make."
Her frown indicated she didn't agree. Caine vowed he wasn't going to let her get his temper riled.
"Then what is it you ask from me?"
"I would like you to kill someone, please."
"Ah," he drawled out. His disappointment was almost painful. She looked so damned innocent, so
pitifully vulnerable, yet sweetly asked him to murder someone for her.
"And who is this victim? Your husband, perchance?" The cynicism in his voice was as grating as a nail scraping down a chalkboard.
She didn't seem to mind his biting tone. "No," she answered.
"No? You're not married then?"
"Does it matter?"
"Oh, yes," he countered in a whisper to match hers. "It matters."
"No, I'm not married."
"Then who is it you want killed? Your father? Your brother?"
She shook her head again.
Caine slowly leaned forward. His patience was wearing as thin as the ale Monk watered down. "I tire
of having to question you. Tell me."
He'd forced a belligerent tone, certain he'd intimidate her into blurting out her full explanation. He knew he'd failed in that endeavor, however, when he caught the mutinous expression on her face. If he hadn't been watching her so intently, he knew he would have missed the flash of anger. The frightened little kitten had a little spirit inside her, after all.
"I would like you to accept this task before I explain," she said.
"Task? You call hiring me to kill someone a task?" he asked, his voice incredulous.
"I do," she announced with a nod.
She still refused to look him in the eye. That fact irritated him. "All right," he lied. "I accept."
Her shoulders sagged in what Caine surmised was acute relief. "Tell me who my victim is," he
instructed once again.
She slowly lifted her gaze to look at him then. The torment Caine saw in her eyes made his chest ache. The urge to reach out, to take her into his arms, to offer her comfort very nearly overwhelmed him. He suddenly felt outraged on her behalf, then had to shake his head over such a ludicrous, fanciful notion.
Hell, the woman was contracting him to murder someone.
Their gazes held a long while before Caine asked again, "Well? Who is it you want killed?"
She took a deep breath before answering.
"Holy Mother of God," Monk whispered. "You cannot be serious, dear lady."
She didn't take her gaze away from Caine when she answered the tavernkeeper. "I'm very serious, my good man. Do you think I would have ventured out into this part of town in the middle of the night if
I weren't serious?"
Caine answered her question. "I think you've lost your mind."
"No," she replied. "It would be much easier if I had."
"I see," Caine said. He was trying to keep his temper controlled, but the urge to shout at her made his throat ache. "When would you like this… this…"
"Yes, task," Caine asked. "When would you like this task done?"
"If it's convenient, mi'lord."
"If it's convenient?"
"Oh, dear, I'm so sorry," she whispered. "I didn't mean to upset you."
"Why do you think you've upset me?"
"Because you're shouting at me."
He realized she was right. He had been shouting. Caine let out a long sigh. For the first time in a good long while, his composure was completely shattered. He excused his shameful condition by telling
himself that anyone with half a mind would have been caught off guard by such an outrageous request. She looked so sincere and appeared to be terribly fragile, too. Hell, the woman had freckles on the bridge of her nose, for God's sake. She should be home under lock and key with her loving family protecting her, not standing in this seedy tavern calmly discussing her own murder.
"I can see how distressed I've made you," she said. "I really do apologize, Pagan. Have you never killed
a woman before?" she asked. Her voice was filled with sympathy.
She looked as if she felt sorry for him now. "No, I've never killed a woman before," he grated out. "But there's always a first time for everything, now isn't there?"
He'd meant the comment to be sarcastic. She took it to heart. "That's the spirit," she rushed out. She actually smiled at him then. "It really shouldn't be too difficult for you. I'll help, of course."
He wanted to throw his head down on the table. "You're willing to help?" he strangled out.
"You have lost your mind."
"No, I haven't," she countered. "But I'm very desperate. This task must be done as soon as possible.
Do you think you could hurry and finish your drink?"
"Why must it be done so soon?" he asked.
"Because they're going to come for me sometime soon, perhaps even yet tonight. I'm going to die,
Pagan, by their hand or yours, and I'd really rather determine my own end. Surely you can understand that."
"Then why don't you just kill yourself?" Monk blurted out. "Wouldn't that be much easier than hiring someone else?"
"For God's sake, Monk, don't encourage her."
"I'm not trying to encourage her," Monk rushed out. "I'm just trying to understand why such a pretty would want to die."
"Oh, I could never kill myself," she explained. "It would be a sin. Someone else has to do it. Don't
Caine had taken about all he could handle for one evening. He bounded to his feet, upsetting the chair
in his haste, then planted the palms of his big hands on the tabletop. "No, I don't see, but I promise you I'm going to before this night is over. We're going to start at the beginning. First you'll begin by telling
me your name."
"It's a little rule I have," he snapped. "I don't kill anyone I don't know. Now tell me your name."
"It's a stupid rule."
"Damn it, I want your real name!" he commanded in a near roar.
"Damn it, that is my real name," she replied. She had a thoroughly disgruntled look on her face.
"You're serious, aren't you?"
"Of course, I'm serious. Jade is my name," she added with a shrug.
"Jade's an unusual name," he said. "Fitting, though. You're proving to be a rather unusual woman."
"Your opinion of me isn't at all relevant, sir. I hired you to complete an assignment and that is all. Is it customary for you to interview your victims before you do them in?"
He ignored her glare. "Tell me the rest of your name, or I may strangle you."
"No, you mustn't strangle me," she replied. "I don't want to die that way and I am the one doing the hiring, if you'll remember."
"What way did you have in mind?" he asked. "Oh, hell, never mind. I don't want to know."
"But you have to know," she argued. "How can you kill me if you don't know how I want it done?"
"Later," he interjected. "You may instruct me in the method you've chosen later. First things first, Jade. Are your parents waiting at home for you?"
"They're both dead."
He closed his eyes and counted to ten. "So you're all alone?"
It was her turn to sigh. "I have a brother. I'm not going to tell you anything more, Pagan. It's too much
of a risk, you see."
"Why is it a risk, miss?" Monk asked.
"The more he knows about me, the more difficult the task will become. I believe it would be very upsetting to kill someone you liked. Don't you, sir?"
"I ain't never had to kill someone I liked," Monk admitted. "As to that, I ain't never killed anyone.
Still, your theory makes sense to me."
It took all Caine had not to start bellowing. "Jade, I assure you that won't be a problem. At this moment,
I don't like you at all."
She took a step back. "Well, why not?" she asked. "I haven't been half as insulting as you have. Are you just a cranky person by nature, Pagan?"
"Don't call me Pagan."
"It's a danger, miss, if anyone overhears," Monk blurted out when he saw how infuriated Caine was becoming. The muscle in the side of his jaw had started flexing. Caine had a fierce temper and she was innocently shaking him into a real froth. Why if he let loose, he might very well give her her wish and frighten her to death.
"What should I call him then?" she asked the tavernkeeper.
"Caine," Monk answered with a nod. "You can call him Caine,"
She let out an inelegant snort. "And he thinks I have an unusual name?"
Caine reached out and grabbed hold of her chin. He forced her to look at him again. "What is your brother's name?"
"Where is Nathan now?"
"He's away on pressing business matters."
She slapped his hand away before answering. "Shipping business."
"When will he be back?"
Her glare could melt a lesser man. "Two weeks," she snapped. "There, I've answered all your
questions. Now will you please quit pestering me and get on with your assignment?"
"Where do you live, Jade?"
"Sir, your endless questions are giving me a pounding headache. I'm not at all used to having men
scream at me."
Caine glanced down at Monk and let him see his exasperation. "The daft woman wants me to kill her,
yet now complains about a headache."
She suddenly reached out, grabbed hold of his chin, and nudged him back to look at her. It was a deliberate imitation of his earlier action. Caine was so surprised by her boldness, he let her have her way.
"Now it's my turn," she announced. "I'll ask you my questions and you will answer them. I'm the one giving you the silver coins, sir. First, and most important, I want to know if you're really going to kill
me. Your hesitation alarms me. That and this endless inquisition."
"You're going to have to satisfy my curiosity before I decide," he told her.
"Then I won't kill you."
"You scoundrel!" she cried out. "You promised me before you knew who your victim was. You gave
me your word!"
Her gasp of outrage nearly knocked her over. "You are a real disappointment to me. A man of honor wouldn't so easily break his word. You should be ashamed of yourself."
"Jade," he answered. "I never said I was a man of honor."
"Nay, miss, he didn't," Monk interjected.
Her eyes turned the color of green fire. She was apparently furious with him. Her hands joined his on
the tabletop. She leaned forward and whispered, "I was told Pagan never, ever breaks his word."
"You were misinformed."
They were almost nose to nose now. Caine tried to concentrate on their conversation, but her wonderful scent, so clean, so fresh, so utterly feminine, kept getting in the way.
She was shaking her head at him now. Caine was literally at a loss for words. He'd never had a woman stand up to him before. No, the ladies of the ton usually cowered when he showed the least amount of displeasure. This one was different, however. She wasn't just standing up to him either. She was
actually matching him glare for glare. He suddenly felt like laughing and didn't have the faintest idea why.
Her insanity was obviously the catching kind.
"You really should be hanged," she said. "You certainly had me fooled. You don't look like the sort to
act so dastardly."
She tried to move away from the table but Caine's hands covered hers, trapping her. He leaned down again, until his mouth was just a scant kiss away. "I'm a pirate, madam. We're known to be dastardly."
He waited for another angry rebuttal. She burst into tears instead. Caine wasn't at all prepared for that emotional display.
While he reached for his handkerchief, Monk jumped to his feet and rushed over to comfort her. The barkeep awkwardly patted her on her shoulders. "There, there, miss, don't cry now."
"It's all his fault," she sobbed. "All I asked was a simple little favor. Just one quick task that wouldn't
take him any time at all; but, no, he couldn't be bothered. I even offered to wait until he'd finished his refreshment," she continued with a wail. "I was willing to pay good coins too."
By the time she'd finished her pitiful tirade, Monk was glaring at Caine. "You've upset the pretty," he
told the Marquess. "Why, you've broken her heart."
The tavernkeeper grabbed the handkerchief out of Caine's hand and began to awkwardly mop the tears away from her cheeks. "It will be all right, miss," he crooned.
"No, it won't," she argued. Her voice was muffled by the linen cloth Monk had shoved under her nose. "Do you know I've never asked anyone for anything in all my days? Yet the very first time I do ask,
I'm denied my request. No one wants to make an honest living anymore. No, they'd rather steal than
earn their way. It's a shame, isn't it, Monk?"
Caine was too incredulous to speak. He didn't know if he should take her into his arms and comfort her or grab her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her. One thing was certain, however. If Monk continued to frown at him, he was going to break his nose.
"Mi'Iady, it really ain't honest work to take coins from a lady and kill her," Monk argued. He patted
her shoulder in a bid to soften his gentle rebuke.
"Of course it's honest work," she replied. "As long as the lady wants the killing done."
Monk paused to rub his brow. "She's got a true point there, don't she?" he asked Caine.
"For the love of… now what are you doing?" Caine asked Jade when she began to collect her coins.
"I'm leaving," she announced. "I'm sorry I bothered you, Pagan, or Caine, or whatever your real name is," she whispered.
She tied the string into a knot, then tucked the bag in her pocket.
When she turned and started for the door, Caine called out. "Where do you think you're going?"
"That's none of your concern," she answered. "Still, I'm not half as insolent as you are and so I shall
tell you I'm going to find someone more cooperative. Have no fear, sir. I won't give up. Before this
black night is over, I'll find someone willing to kill me."
He caught her at the door. His hands settled on her shoulders and he slowly forced her around to look
The minute he touched her, she started crying again. Caine was exasperated, unsettled too. He gave in
to his overwhelming urge though, and roughly pulled her into his arms.
His bear hug seemed to be all the prodding she needed. She wept against his chest, whispering her apology for her unladylike behavior in between her loud sobs.
Caine was content to wait until she'd regained a bit of control. He couldn't possibly reason with her now. She was making so much noise she wouldn't have been able to hear a word he said anyway. And she
kept blaming her current condition on him too. She was, without a doubt, the most confusing woman
he'd ever encountered.
Lord, she was wonderfully soft. She fit him nicely too. He usually disliked women who cried, yet found he didn't want to let go of this one.
She was hiccupping just like a drunken peasant now, the aftermath of the quick storm.
It was high time he reasoned with her. "Jade, it can't possibly be as terrible as you now believe," he told her in a low, husky voice. "Surely, come morning, you'll be thankful I didn't give in to your request."
"I'll be dead come morning," she wailed.
"No, you won't," he replied. He gave her an affectionate squeeze. "I won't let anything happen to you.
I promise. You can't really want to die just yet."
"My brother's bound to be disappointed if I die," she said.
"I would imagine so," he answered dryly.
"Still, I'm not strong enough to fight them. They're very mean-hearted men. I fear they'll use me before they kill me. I don't want to die that way. There's no dignity in it."
"Death with dignity?" he asked. "You speak like a soldier preparing for the battlefield."
"I don't want to be remembered as a coward."
"Will your brother be able to take care of your problem once he returns?"
"Oh, yes," she answered. She rested her cheek against his chest. "Nathan wouldn't let anything happen
to me. Since our papa died, he's become my protector. My brother's a very strong man."
"Then I'll keep you safe until your brother returns. I give you my word."
A long, silent minute passed before she showed any reaction to that promise. Caine thought she might
be too overcome with gratitude to speak. Then she moved away from him and looked up into his eyes. He realized she wasn't overcome at all. Hell, she looked downright irritated. "You've already broken
your word to me, sir. You promised you'd kill me and then changed your mind."
"This is different," he argued.
"You really mean what you say?"
"Yes, I mean what I say," he answered. "You just explained that you'll be safe once your brother
returns in two weeks. It is two weeks, isn't it?"
Her expression was solemn. "Perhaps even sooner. But you're a pirate. You cannot be taking such chances keeping me safe for two long weeks. There's a bounty on your head. I won't be responsible
for getting you killed."
"You don't have much faith in my ability."
"I don't have any faith in your ability," she qualified. "Why should I? You've just admitted that the rumors about you aren't at all reliable. You probably don't even leave a white rose on your victim's pillow, do you?"
Caine was exasperated with her again. "You don't have to sound so damned disappointed in me."
"But I am disappointed!" she cried out. "You aren't even honorable. That's the real pity. Besides, you don't look at all strong enough to take on my enemies. You'd be an easy target, Caine. You're such a… big man. No, I'm sorry. I'm afraid you simply won't do."
He wanted to throttle her.
She turned her back on him again and tried to leave. Caine was so astonished by her attitude he almost
let her get away. Almost. He caught her just as she reached the walkway outside the door.
His hold wouldn't allow her any freedom as his arm was anchored around her shoulders. He tucked her into his side with as much care as he'd give an old blanket, then turned to speak to Monk. "I don't want you telling anyone what happened here tonight. Give me your word, Monk."
"Why should he give you his word when you so freely break yours? A gentleman only asks as much as
he can give in return, sir. Didn't your mama teach you any manners?" she asked.
"Ah, Jade," he said. "That's the rub." He looked down at her and slowly stroked the side of her cheek with his fingertips. "I'm not a gentleman. I'm a pirate, remember? There's a distinct difference."
She went completely still the second he touched her. Caine thought she looked quite stunned. He didn't know what to make of that odd reaction. When his hand dropped away, she came out of her stupor and shoved against him.
"Yes, there is a difference," she muttered. "Tell me this, Caine. If I make you angry enough, will you
kill me in vexation?"
"The idea's beginning to have merit," he answered.
"Let go of me. You must never touch me."
"No. I don't like to be touched."
"Then how in God's name was I suppose to kill you?"
She obviously hadn't realized he was jesting. "You were going to use a pistol," she told him. She paused to give him a suspicious look. "You do own one, don't you?"
"I do," he answered. "And where was I suppose to…"
"One clean shot, directly through my heart," she explained. "You'd have to be accurate, of course.
I wouldn't want to linger."
"No," he agreed. "Lingering would definitely be out of the question."
"How can you find this amusing? We happen to be discussing my death!" she cried out.
"I'm not amused," he argued. "Fact is, I'm getting downright angry again. Tell me, do I get to ravage
She took a deep breath before answering. "You certainly do not."
"That's a pity," he replied, completely ignoring her outraged expression.
"Sir, do your parents happen to be first cousins? You're acting like a complete simpleton. You're either
an idiot or the most cold-hearted man I've ever met. I find your conduct disgraceful."
Her eyes were flashing with indignation. Caine had never seen such a dramatic shade of green before. It was as though the purity and the sparkle of a thousand emeralds had all been squeezed dry of their color and given to her.
"I'm not at all convinced you're in any real danger, Jade," he announced. "This could very well just be
a product of your overactive imagination."
"I dislike you intensely," she whispered. "And as for your ignorant opinions, well I…"
"Jade, save the bluster for later. I'm not in the mood. Now, I don't want to hear another word about killing you. And if you continue to glare up at me so prettily, I swear I'm going to kiss you just to take your mind off your foolish worries."
"Kiss me?" She looked stunned. "Why in God's name would you want to kiss me?"
"I haven't the faintest idea," he admitted.
"You'd kiss someone you disliked?"
"I guess I would," he replied with a grin.
"You are arrogant, overbearing…"
"You're sputtering, my sweet."
She didn't have a quick comeback. Caine continued to stare down at her when he spoke to Monk again. "Well, Monk, do you give me your word?"
"I do. I won't be telling anyone about this night, Caine, but we both know your friend, Lyon, will surely find out before the sun sets again. He'll wring the truth out of me. I'm giving you warning ahead of time."
Caine nodded. The Marquess of Lyonwood was a good friend. Caine trusted him completely. The two had worked on several missions together for their government. "Yes, he will find out," he predicted.
"But his new wife and son keep him occupied. Besides, when he learns what I'm up to, he'll keep it
to himself. If he inquires, you may speak freely to him. No one else though, not even Rhone," Caine added, referring to Lyon's closest friend. "For all his merits, Rhone does talk too much."
Monk nodded. "I'm begging you, Caine, to let me know how it all ends up with the little lady."
"Monk?" Jade asked, drawing both men's attention. "You wouldn't happen to own a pistol, would you?"
She sounded too damned eager to him. Caine knew what she was thinking. His angel was as easy to
read as a Latin text. "He doesn't and he won't," he announced.
"I don't and I won't what?" Monk asked.
"You don't own a pistol and you won't kill her," Caine answered in a clipped tone of voice.
"No, no, of course not," Monk agreed. "Caine, you aren't forgetting your trap, are you?" he asked,
when he was finally able to pull his gaze away from the beautiful woman.
"No, I'm not forgetting," Caine answered. He turned to Jade and asked, "Is your carriage returning for you?"
Her exasperation was obvious. "I hired a hack," she told him. "I didn't think I'd be returning to my lodgings tonight." She pushed away from his hold and picked up the large gray satchel from the walkway. ''All I own is in here. I came directly from the country," she added, almost as an afterthought.
"You left your possessions on the street for anyone to snatch?"
"It was my intention to have my things stolen," she answered. She sounded like a tutor instructing a deliberately obtuse student. "I was hoping my clothing could benefit some poor soul. I wasn't supposed
to have further need once you…"
"Enough!" he nearly growled. "You aren't going to mention murder again. Have you got that?"
She didn't answer him quickly enough. Caine tugged on her hair. She let out a shrill cry just as he
noticed the large swelling above her ear. "Good God, Jade, when did you get that?"
"Don't touch it," she demanded when he tried to prod the edges of the bump. "It still stings."
"I would think so," he said. His hand dropped back to his side. "Tell me what happened."
"I caught the heel of my boot on the carpet loop in my brother's house and tumbled down the stairs," she explained. "I hit the side of my head on the banister knob. It fairly knocked the wind out of my sails."
The wind out of her sails? Caine thought that was a rather odd remark to make, but he didn't take time
to reflect upon it. "You could have killed yourself," he stated. "Are you always so awkward?"
"No, I'm never awkward," she countered. "I'm usually very ladylike. Lord, you're rude," she ended with
"What happened after you fell?" Monk asked.
She shrugged. "I went for a walk to try to clear my head. Then they started in chasing after me, of course."
"Of course?" Monk asked.
"They?" Caine said at the very same time.
She paused to give both men a frown. "The men I saw kill the finely dressed gentleman," she explained. "For heaven's sake, do pay attention. I'm certain I mentioned that fact earlier."
Monk shook his head. "I'm just as certain you didn't, miss," he confessed. "I'm sure I would have remembered."
"You witnessed a murder? No, Jade, you sure as hell didn't mention that fact."
"Well, I meant to mention it," she muttered. She folded her arms across her chest and looked disgruntled again. "I would have explained it all to you if you hadn't turned my attention by arguing with me. So you see, this is your fault because I lost my train of thought. Yes, you're to blame."
"Did you witness the murder before or after you hit yourself in the head?" Caine asked.
"Do you suppose it was a titled gentleman she saw murdered?" Monk asked Caine.
"I did not hit myself," Jade snapped. "And it was before… no, it was after. At least I think it was after
I fell down. Oh, I don't remember now. My head's pounding again. Do quit your questions, sir."
Caine turned back to the tavernkeeper. "Now I'm beginning to understand," he said. He looked at Jade again. "Were you wearing your cloak at the time of this mishap?"
"Yes," she answered. She looked perplexed. "But what does that…"
"You tore your cloak and bruised your face when you fell down, didn't you?"
His tone was a little too condescending for her liking. "Tell me exactly what it is you think you're beginning to understand."
"It's really very simple," he answered. "Your head suffered a trauma, Jade. You aren't thinking logically now, though I must admit that most women aren't ever logical. Still, with plenty of rest and care, in a
few days you'll realize your mind was just playing tricks on you. You'll be worrying about what gown
to wear to your next ball then."
"My mind isn't playing tricks on me," she cried out.
"I am not confused!"
"Quit shouting," Caine ordered. "If you'll only think about what I'm…"
He gave up when she shook her head at him. "You're too addled to be reasoned with now. We'll wait until you're feeling better."
"He's right, miss," Monk whispered. "If you'd seen a titled gentleman murdered, the news would have
hit this section of town right off. The men who'd done the deed would have boasted of their cunning. Listen to Caine now. He knows what's best."
"But if you believe I'm just imagining I'm in danger, then you don't need to protect me, do you?"
"Oh, yes, I do," he replied. "Only now I know who I'm protecting you against."
Before she could ask another question, he continued. "Like it or not, you're a menace until you've recovered. In all good conscience, I can't leave you on your own." His smile was gentle when he added, "I guess you could say I'm protecting you from yourself, Jade. Now give me your satchel. I'll carry it for you."
She tried to lift the bag before Caine could and ended up in a tug of war. Caine won. "What in God's name do you have in here?" he asked. "This thing weighs more than you do."
"Everything I own," she answered. "If it's too much for you, I'll be happy to carry it."
Caine shook his head. He took hold of her hand. "Come along. My carriage is waiting two blocks over. You should be home in bed."
She drew to an abrupt stop. "Whose bed, Caine?"
His sigh was loud enough to wake the drunks littering the alleys. "Your very own bed," he snapped. "Your virtue's safe. I never take virgins to my bed and I sure as certain don't want you."
He thought she would be relieved by his vehement promise not to bother her. It was only a half lie, of course. He did want to kiss her, yet he wasn't sure if it was merely out of the need to have a few minutes of blissful silence.
"Is that a little rule of yours?" she asked. "Not to bed a virgin?"
She looked highly insulted. Caine didn't know what to make of that reaction. "It is," he answered. "I also don't bed daft women I don't particularly like, sweet, so you're safe enough with me."
He dared to grin at her when he made those shameful remarks. "I do believe I'm beginning to hate you," she muttered. "Well, you're bloody safe with me, too, Caine. I would never let you touch me, either."
"Yes, good," she replied, determined to have the last word. "If you don't quit dragging me, I'm going
to scream your name over and over again until the authorities come and take you away, Pagan."
"I'm not Pagan."
She almost fell down. Caine grabbed her. "I said, I'm not Pagan."
"Just who in thunder are you then?"
They'd reached his carriage but she refused to let him assist her inside until he'd answered her question. She kept slapping his hands away.
Caine gave in. He tossed her satchel up to the driver, then turned back to her. "My name really is Caine. I'm the Marquess of Cainewood. Now will you get inside? This is neither the time nor the place for a lengthy discussion. When we're on our way, I'll explain everything to you."
"I promise," he answered with a low growl.
She didn't look like she believed him. Jade folded her arms across her chest. "Shame on you, Caine. You've been pretending to be the noble pirate all this time…"
"That bastard's a lot of things, Jade, but he sure as hell isn't noble."
"How can you know if you speak truth or fancy?" she demanded. "I'll wager you never even met the man. Is your own life so unhappy that you must pretend to…"
The look on his face turned as stinging as his hard grip on her arm, interrupting her speech. While she watched, he tore the flower from his lapel and tossed it on the ground. He wasn't at all gentle when he half lifted, half tossed Jade inside the vehicle.
Once the carriage started moving, the interior was thrown into darkness. She couldn't see his scowl and was most relieved.
He couldn't see her smile either.
They rode in silence a short while. Jade used the time to regain her composure. Caine used the time to calm his frustration.
"Why were you pretending to be Pagan?"
"To hunt him down," Caine answered.
"Later," he snapped. "I'll tell you all about it later, all right?"
He was sure his hard tone of voice would discourage her from asking any more questions. He was mistaken.
"You're angry because I made you quit your hunt, aren't you?"
His sigh indicated his impatience. "You didn't make me quit my hunt. I might have failed thus far, but when we've taken care of your problem, I'll go back to my hunt. Don't worry, Jade. I won't fail."
She wasn't at all worried, but she couldn't very well tell him that. Caine hadn't failed at all. No, he'd
gone into the tavern to draw Pagan out.
And that's exactly what he'd done.
She'd done her task well. Her brother was going to be pleased.
The tears had been a nice touch. Jade had been almost as surprised as Caine appeared to be by the spontaneous show of emotion. It hadn't been in her plans to use such a weak ploy to get him out of the tavern. Yet once she saw how upsetting it was for him to see a woman in such a pathetic condition,
she'd cried all the more, of course. Caine had looked so helpless. Jade had no idea she had such a talent. Wailing on command took concentration, however, but she quickly adapted herself to the problem, and thought she'd conquered it rather quickly, too. Why, she could probably burst into a full fit of tears
before a gentleman could drop his hat if she really put her mind to it.
She didn't feel at all ashamed of her conduct. Desperate times always called for desperate measures. At least that's what Black Harry liked to say. Her adopted uncle would have a good laugh too. In all their years together, he had never seen her cry, not even when his enemy, McKindry, had used a whip on
her back. The lash had hurt like fire, but she hadn't let out a single whimper. McKindry only got in
one good lash before Harry tossed him over the side. Her uncle had been in such a spitting rage, he'd jumped overboard to finish the bloke. McKindry was a much stronger swimmer, however, and was
last seen backstroking his way to France.
Of course, Black Harry would be in another good rage if be knew what she was up to now. He'd have
her hide, he would. Yet it hadn't been possible to explain her plan to him. No, there simply hadn't been enough time to sail all the way to their island to inform him of her decision. And time was of the essence. Caine's life was at stake.
Jade knew all about the Marquess of Cainewood. He was a bit of a contradiction, too. Caine was an earthy, downright lusty man, but he was also honorable. She'd read his file through from start to finish, and every bit of it was memorized in her mind. She had the uncanny knack for recording everything in her mind the first time she read it. Although she thought that was a rather odd ability, she had to admit that the gift had certainly come in handy upon occasion.
Obtaining Caine's impressive record from the War Department had been tricky, but not impossible. The information had of course been sealed and locked away. It was a point of pride with Jade that she could undo any lock ever fashioned. She'd succeeded in getting Caine's file on her third attempt.
It was a shame that none of the information in his records mentioned the disturbing fact that he was
such a handsome devil. The term "ruthless" had been sprinkled liberally throughout each account of
his activities, yet never was "compelling" or "appealing" put to his name. The file didn't mention what
a big man he was either.
Jade remembered how uneasy she'd felt when she read his operative name. He was called Hunter by
his superiors. After reading the file in full, she understood why he'd been given that name. Caine never gave up. In one incident, when the odds had been overwhelmingly against him, he continued to stalk his adversary with the patience and the tenacity of an ancient warrior. And in the end, he had succeeded.
Caine had quit his duties the day he'd been informed of the death of his brother Colin. According to the last entry made by his senior advisor, a man by the name of Sir Michael Richards, the resignation had Caine's father's full support. The Duke of Williamshire had just lost one son to his country and wasn't about to lose another. It was also noted by Richards that until that day, Caine had had no idea his
younger brother also worked for the government.
Both Colin and Caine came from a large family. Caine was their eldest child. In all there were six
children: two sons and four daughters.
The children were all very protective of each other and of their parents. The one fact that kept repeating itself in his file was that Caine was a protector by nature. Whether he considered that fact a flaw or a virtue wasn't significant to Jade. She simply used it to get what she wanted.
She'd been prepared to like Caine, of course. He was Colin's brother, after all, and she was very fond of Colin, since the moment she'd fished him out of the ocean and he told her to save her own brother first. Yes, she'd been prepared to like Caine, but she hadn't been at all prepared to find herself so physically drawn to him. It was a first for her, a worry too, for she knew he could overwhelm her if she gave him the opportunity.
She protected herself by pretending to be everything she thought he disliked. When she wasn't crying like an infant, she tried to remember to complain. Most men hated ill-disciplined women, didn't they? Jade certainly hoped so. She would be forced by circumstances to stay by Caine's side for the next two
weeks, and then it would be over. She'd return to her way of life and he'd probably return to his womanizing.
It was imperative for him to think he was protecting her. It was the only way she could keep him safe. His views on the inferiority of women, no doubt enhanced by four little sisters, made her plan much easier. Yet Caine was also a very perceptive man. His past training had polished his predatory instincts. For that reason, Jade had ordered her men to wait for her at Caine's country home. They were going to hide in the woods that surrounded his house. When she arrived, they would take over the task of watching Caine's backside.
The letters were at the heart of this treachery, of course, and she wished to God she'd never found the things now. What was done was done, she reminded herself. It certainly wouldn't do her any good to have regrets. It would be wasted effort and Jade never, ever wasted anything. It was all very clear-cut to her. When she'd shown her brother, Nathan, their father's letters, she'd started this mess, and she would now be the one to mop it up.
Jade forced her worries aside. She'd inadvertently just given Caine quite a little time to think. Silence,
she decided, could very well be her enemy now. She had to keep Caine off guard… and occupied. "Caine? What do you…"
"Hush, sweet," Caine ordered. "Do you hear…"
"That odd squeak? I was just about to mention it," she replied.
"It's more like a persistent grinding noise… Miller," Caine shouted out the window. "Stop the carriage."
The vehicle came to an abrupt stop just as the left rear wheel snapped. Jade would have been tossed to the floor if Caine hadn't caught her in his arms. He held her tightly for a long minute, then whispered. "Damned bad timing, wouldn't you say?"
"I'd say it's probably trickery," she whispered.
Caine didn't comment on that remark. "Stay inside, Jade, while I see what can be done."
"Do be careful," she cautioned. "They could be waiting for you."
She heard his sigh when he opened the door. "I'll be careful," he promised.
As soon as he'd shut the door behind him, Jade opened it and climbed out. The driver came to stand beside his employer. "I can't fathom it, mi'lord. I'm always checking the wheels to make certain they're sound."
"I'm not faulting you, Miller," Caine returned. "We're far enough on the side of the street to leave it
here for the night. Unleash the horse, Miller. I'll…"
Caine stopped when he noticed Jade. She was clutching a wicked-looking dagger in her hand. He
almost laughed. "Put that away, Jade. You'll hurt yourself."
She slipped the knife back into the seam pocket of her gown. "We're fair targets, Caine, standing out
here for anyone to grab."
"Then get back inside," he suggested.
She pretended she hadn't heard him. "Miller? Was the wheel tampered with, do you suppose?"
The driver squatted down next to the axle. "I'd say it was," he whispered. "Mi'lord, it was tampered
with! Have a look here, at the cuts made in the side bar."
"What are we going to do now?" Jade asked Caine.
"We'll ride the horse," he announced.
"But what about poor Miller? They might do him in when we leave."
"I'll be all right, miss," the driver interjected. "I got me a big flask of brandy to keep me warm. I'll sit inside the carriage until Broley comes to fetch me."
"Who is Broley?" Jade asked.
"One of the tigers," Miller returned.
Jade didn't know what he was talking about. "You have a friend who is an animal?"
Caine did smile then. "Broley works for me," he explained. "I'll explain it all to you later."
"We should just hire a hack," she announced then. She folded her arms across her chest. "Then we
could all ride together and I wouldn't have to worry about Miller."
"At this time of night? It's doubtful we'd find a hack."
"What about Monk's lovely tavern?" she asked. "Couldn't we go back there and wait until light?"
"No," Caine answered. "Monk has certainly locked up and gone home by now."
"We're a fair distance away from the Ne'er Do Well now, mi'lady," Miller interjected.
When the driver moved to unstrap the horse, Jade grabbed hold of Caine's hand and moved closer to
his side. "Caine?" she whispered.
"I think I know what happened to your fine carriage wheel. It was probably the very same men who…"
"Hush now," he whispered back. "It's going to be all right."
"How can you know it's going to be all right?"
She sounded so frightened. Caine wanted to comfort her. "My instincts," he boasted. "Sweet, don't let your imagination get out of hand. It's…"
"Too late," she countered. "Oh, Lord, my imagination's at it again."
The pistol shot rang out just as she threw herself into his side, knocking him off balance.
The shot flew past the side of his head, narrowly missing him. He could hear the whistle in his ear. Though he was certain it wasn't intentional, Jade had actually just saved his life.
Caine tightened his hold on Jade's hand, shouted a warning to Miller as he pushed her in front of him,
and then started running. He forced her to stay directly in front of him so he could shield her with his broad back.
Several more pistol shots rang out. Jade could hear the thundering of men chasing them. It sounded like
a herd of wild horses were about to trample them down.
Jade soon lost all track of where they were. Caine seemed to know his way around the area well enough. He pulled her through a maze of alleys and back streets, until she had a horrid stitch in her side and couldn't catch her breath. When she stumbled against him, he lifted her into his arms without breaking
He continued the grueling pace long after the sounds of pursuit had stopped. When they reached the center of the old bridge spanning the Thames, he finally paused to rest.
Caine leaned against the rickety railing, holding her close against him. "That was close. Damn, my instincts were off tonight. I never saw it coming."
He hadn't sounded a bit winded when he made that remark. She was amazed by his stamina. Why, her heart was still pounding from the exertion. "Do you do quite a lot of running through alleys, Caine?" she asked.
He thought that was an odd question. "No, why do you ask?"
"You aren't at all out of breath," she answered. "And we never once ran into a dead end," she added. "You do know your way around the city, don't you?"
"I guess I do," he answered with a shrug that almost sent her flying over the railing. She threw her arms around his neck and held on. Then she realized he was still holding her in his arms.
"You may put me down now," she announced. "I'm certain we lost them."
"I'm not," Caine drawled out.
"I've already explained that I don't like being touched, sir. Put me down." She paused to give him a hard look, then asked, "You aren't going to blame me for your instincts tailing you, are you?"
"No, I'm not going to blame you. Jade, you ask the damnedest questions."
"I'm not in the mood to argue with you. Just apologize and I shall forgive you."
"Apologize?" He sounded incredulous. "What for?"
"For thinking I have an overactive imagination," she explained. "For telling me I'm confused, and most
of all, for being terribly rude when you said those insulting things to me."
He didn't apologize, but he did smile at her. She noticed the wonderful dimple in the side of his left cheek then. Her heart took notice and started pounding in a wild beat again.
"We're standing on a bridge in the middle of London's most disreputable section with a band of cutthroats chasing us, and all you can think about is gaining my apology? You, sweet, really are mad."
"I always remember to apologize when I've done something wrong," she remarked.
He looked downright exasperated with her now. She couldn't help but smile at him. Lord, he was a handsome rascal. The moonlight softened his harsh features, and she barely minded his frown now.
In truth, she wanted him to smile at her again.
"Jade? Can you swim?"
She was staring intently at his mouth, thinking to herself that he had the most beautiful white teeth she'd ever seen.
He shook her. "Can you swim?" he asked. There was a little more urgency in his tone now.
"Yes," she answered with an unladylike yawn. "I can swim. Why do you ask?"
In answer to that question, he tossed her over his right shoulder and started climbing the rail.
Her long hair brushed the back of his boots. The wind was knocked out of her when he slammed her against his shoulder, but she soon recovered. "What in bloody hell are you doing?" she cried out. She clutched the back of his jacket. "Put me down."
"They've got the exits blocked, Jade. Take a deep breath, sweet. I'll be right behind you."
She only had enough time to shout her denial at him. Then she let out a bellow of outrage. The sound echoed off into the inky blackness when he threw her away from the railing.
She was suddenly flying like a disc into the biting wind. Jade kept right on screaming until her backside
hit the water. She remembered to close her mouth just as the frigid water closed over her head. She
came up sputtering, but immediately closed her mouth again when she got a good whiff of the stench surrounding her.
Jade vowed she wouldn't let herself drown in this filth. No, she was going to stay alive until she found
her new protector and drowned him first.
Then she felt something brush against her leg. She became absolutely terrified. In her confused mind,
she was certain the sharks had come for her.
Caine suddenly appeared at her side. He wrapped his arm around her waist, then let the swift current
drag them under the bridge and away from the enemy stalking them.
She kept trying to climb up on his shoulders. "Hold still," he ordered.
Jade wrapped her arms around his neck. "The sharks, Caine," she whispered. "They're going to get us."
The terror in her voice and her grip told him she was close to losing all control. "There aren't any sharks," he told her. "Nothing could live in this water long enough."
"I'm certain," he returned. "Just hold on a little longer, sweet. We'll be out of this muck in no time at all."
His soothing voice did calm her a little. She was still trying to strangle him, but her grip had lessened. It was only a halfhearted attempt now.
They floated at least a good mile down the winding river before he finally pulled her out of the water and onto the grassy slope. Jade was too cold, too miserable, to blister him with her opinion of his conduct.
She couldn't even get in a decent whimper. Her teeth were chattering too much. "I smell like dead fish," she stammered out in a pitiful wail.
"Yes, you do," Caine agreed. He sounded amused.
"So do you, you… pretender."
"Pretender?" he repeated while he tore his jacket off and tossed it on the ground behind him. "What do you mean by that?"
Jade was trying to wring the water out of the hem of her gown. Her hair covered most of her face. She paused to toss the clumps out of her vision. "You needn't act so innocent with me," she muttered.
She gave up her task and accepted the pitiful fact that her gown now outweighed her, then wrapped her arms around her waist and tried to hug some warmth back into her bones. Her voice took on her shivers when she added, "Pretending to be the pirate, Pagan. He would never throw a gentle lady in the Thames."
"Jade, I did what I thought was best under the circumstances," he defended.
"I lost my cloak." That announcement came out in a loud gasp.
"I'll buy you another one."
"But my silver coins were in that cloak," she said. "Well?"
"Go fetch it."
"Go fetch it," she ordered again. "I'll wait here."
"You can't be serious."
"I'm perfectly serious," she countered. "We only drifted a mile or so, Caine. It shouldn't take you any time at all."
"I'd never find it," he returned. "It's probably at the bottom of the river by now."
She mopped at the corners of her eyes with the backs of her hands. "Now I'm a pauper and it's all your fault."
"Don't start," he commanded. He knew she was on the verge of tears again. "Now isn't the time for hysterics or complaints, even though they seem to be the only two things you're any good at," he continued. He caught her gasp and smiled. She was getting her temper back. "Do you still have your shoes on or do I have to carry you?"
"How would I know?" she asked. "I've lost all the feeling in my feet."
"Look, damn it."
"Yes, damn it," she muttered when she'd done as he ordered. "I'm still wearing them. Well?" she added. "Are you going to apologize or not?"
"No," he answered in a clipped voice. "I'm not going to apologize. And lower your voice, Jade. Do you want every cutthroat in London after us?"
"No," she whispered. She moved close to his side. "Caine? What would you have done if I didn't know how to swim?"
"The same thing," he answered. "But we would have jumped together."
"I didn't jump," she argued. "Oh, never mind. I'm cold, Caine. What are we going to do now?"
He took hold of her hand and started up the bank. "We're going to walk over to my friend's town house. It's closer than mine."
"Caine, you're forgetting your jacket," she reminded him.
Before he could tell her to leave it, she rushed back, lifted the jacket, rung as much of the water out of it as she could manage with her numb fingers, and then hurried back to his side. She tossed the hair out of her eyes again, just as he put his arm around her shoulders. "I look terrible, don't I?"
"You smell worse," he told her quite cheerfully. He gave her an affectionate squeeze, then remarked,
"I'd say it's more like rotten meat than dead fish though."
She started to gag. Caine slapped his hand over her mouth. "If you lose your supper, I'll become very angry with you. I have enough to contend with now. Don't you dare complicate matters by getting sick."
She bit his hand, gaining both her freedom and another blasphemy from him. "I didn't have any supper," she announced. "I wanted to die on an empty stomach."
"You still might," he muttered. "Now quit talking and let me think. Why the hell did you want to die on
an empty stomach?" he couldn't help but ask.
"Some people become ill when they're frightened. I thought I might, you see, right before you… oh, never mind. I just didn't want to go to my Maker in a messy gown, that's all."
"I knew I shouldn't have asked," he replied. "Look, when we get to Lyon's place, you can have a hot bath. You'll feel better then."
"Is Lyon the interfering friend Monk mentioned?" "Lyon isn't interfering."
"Monk said he'd find out what happened to you this black night," Jade replied. "Those were his very words. That certainly sounds interfering to me." "You'll like Lyon."
"If he's your friend, I have my doubts," she returned. "Still, I will try to like him."
They lapsed into silence for several blocks. Caine was on his guard now and Jade wasn't nearly as worried as she pretended to be.
"Caine? After we've had our baths, what will we do?"
"You're going to sit down and tell me everything that happened to you."
"I've already told you what happened to me. You didn't believe me though, did you?"
"No," he admitted. "I didn't."
"Besides, your mind is already set against me, Caine. You won't believe anything else I tell you. Why should I make the effort?"
"My mind isn't set against you," he answered. His irritation was obvious in his tone.
She let out a rather inelegant snort. Caine vowed he wouldn't let her draw him into another argument.
He led her through another maze of back streets. She was so exhausted by the time they'd reached the steps to the impressive, redbrick town house, she wanted to weep real tears.
A giant of a man with a rather sinister-looking scar creasing his forehead opened the door on Caine's insistent pounding. The man had obviously been asleep. He wasn't happy about being awakened, either. Jade took one look at the stranger's dark scowl, and edged closer to Caine.
The man she assumed was Lyon wore only a pair of black britches. The frightening scowl quickly turned to a look of true astonishment as soon as he saw who his visitor was. "Caine? What in God's name… come inside," he rushed out. He moved forward with the intent of clasping Caine's hand, then abruptly changed his mind. He'd obviously just gotten a good whiff of the two of them.
Jade was horribly embarrassed. She turned to glare at Caine, a silent message that she still believed her foul condition was all his fault, then walked into the black and white tiled foyer. She saw a beautiful woman hurrying down the winding staircase then. The woman's long, silvery blond hair flew out behind her. She was so lovely, Jade felt all the worse.
Caine made hasty introductions while Jade stared at the floor. "This is Lyon, Jade, and his wife, Christina."
"What happened to you two?" Lyon asked.
Jade whirled around, raining drops of sour water ki a wide circle. She lifted her hair out of her eyes and then announced, "He threw me in the Thames."
"He what?" Lyon asked, a hint of a smile in his expression now, for he'd only just noticed what looked very like a chicken bone dangling from her hair.
"Caine threw me in the Thames," she repeated.
"He did?" Christina asked. Lyon's wife sounded astonished.
Jade turned to her. "He truly did," she announced yet again. "He didn't apologize afterward either."
After making that remark, she burst into tears. "This is all his fault," she sobbed. "First he lost his
carriage wheel and then he lost his instincts. My plan was really so much better. He's just too stubborn
to admit it."
"Don't start on that again," Caine warned.
"Why did you throw this poor dear in the Thames?" Christina asked again. She hurried over to Jade,
her arms outstretched. "You must be chilled to the bone," she said in sympathy. Christina came to a
quick stop when she got close to Jade, then backed up a space.
"It was necessary," Caine answered. He was trying to ignore Jade's glare.
"I believe I hate him," Jade told Christina. "I don't care if he's your friend or not," she added on another sob. "The man's a scoundrel."
"Yes, he can be a scoundrel," Christina agreed. "But he does have other nice qualities."
"I've yet to see them," Jade whispered.
Christina wrinkled her nose, took a deep breath, and then put her arm around Jade's waist. "Come with me, Jade. We'll have you cleaned up in no time. I think the kitchen will serve us better this night. Lyon? You best wake up the staff. We'll need help heating the water. My, you do have an unusual name," she told Jade then. "It's very pretty."
"He ridiculed my name," Jade whispered, though loud enough for Caine to overhear.
Caine closed his eyes in vexation. "I did not ridicule your name!" he shouted. "I swear to God, Lyon,
that woman's done nothing but complain and weep since the moment I met her."
Jade let out a loud gasp, then allowed Christina to prod her along toward the back of the house. Both Caine and Lyon watched the pair depart.
"Do you see how insulting he is, Lady Christina?" Jade asked. "All I asked was one little favor from
"And he refused?" Christina asked. "That certainly doesn't sound like Caine. He's usually very accommodating."
"I even offered to pay him silver coins," Jade announced. "I'm a pauper now. Caine threw my cloak in the Thames, too. The coins were in the pocket."
Christina shook her head. She paused at the corner to look back at Caine so he could see her displeasure. "That was terribly ungallant of him, wasn't it?"
They rounded the corner on Jade's fervent agreement.
"What was the favor she asked of you?" Lyon asked.
"Nothing much," Caine drawled out. He bent over to pull off his water-soaked boots. "She just wanted me to kill her, that's all."
Lyon let out a shout of laughter, but stopped when he realized Caine wasn't jesting.
"She wanted it done before morning," Caine said.
"She was willing to let me finish my brandy first."
"That was thoughtful of her."
The two men shared a grin. "Now your wife thinks I'm an ogre because I've disappointed the woman."
Lyon laughed again. "Christina doesn't know what the favor was, friend."
Caine dropped his boots in the center of the hall, then added his socks to the pile. "I could still change
my mind and accommodate the little woman, I suppose," he remarked dryly. "Damn, my favorite boots are ruined."
Lyon leaned against the archway, his arms folded across his chest, while he watched Caine pull off his shirt. "No, you couldn't kill her," he replied. His tone was mild when he added, "She wasn't really
serious, was she? She seems quite timid. I can't imagine…"
"She witnessed a murder," Caine interjected. "Now she has several unsavory men chasing after her, obviously intent on silencing her. That's all I know, Lyon, but as soon as possible, I'm going to find out every detail. The sooner I can solve her problem, the sooner I'll be rid of her."
Since Caine was glaring so ferociously, Lyon tried to hide his smile. "She really has you rattled, doesn't she?" he asked.
"The hell she does," Caine muttered. "Why would you think a mere woman could get me rattled?"
"You just took your britches off in the middle of my foyer, Caine," he replied. "That's why I think
"I need some brandy," Caine countered. He grabbed his pants and started to put them back on again.
Christina strolled past him, smiled at her husband, and then continued on up the stairs. She didn't
mention his near naked condition, and neither did he.
Lyon thoroughly enjoyed Caine's embarrassment. He'd never seen his friend in such a state. "Why
don't you go inside the library. The brandy's on the side bar. Help yourself and I'll see about your bath. God, you do smell rank."
Caine did as Lyon suggested. The brandy warmed him a little and the fire he started in the hearth took
the rest of his chills away.
* * *
Christina left Jade alone once the tub had been filled with steaming hot water. She'd already helped her wash her hair in the bucket of warm, rose-scented water.
Jade quickly stripped out of her soggy clothing. Her fingers were numb from cold, but she took the time to remove her dagger from the hidden pocket in the lining. She put the weapon on the chair beside the
tub as a precautionary measure in case someone tried to sneak up behind her, then climbed into the hot water and let out a long sigh of pleasure.
She scrubbed every inch of her body twice before she felt clean again. Christina came back into the kitchen just as Jade was standing up. Since her back was to her, Christina immediately noticed the long, jagged scar along the base of her spine. She let out a gasp of surprise.
Jade grabbed the blanket from the back of the chair, wrapped it around herself, and then stepped out of the tub to face Christina. "Is something the matter?" she asked, daring her to mention the scar she knew she'd seen.
Christina shook her head. She saw the knife on the chair then and walked over to have a closer look at it. Jade could feel herself blush with embarrassment. She tried to think of a logical explanation to give her hostess as to why a gentle lady would be carrying such a weapon, but she was simply too weary to come up with a believable lie.
"Mine's much sharper."
"I beg your pardon?" Jade asked, certain she hadn't heard correctly.
"My blade is much sharper," Christina explained. "I use a special stone. Shall I fix yours for you?"
"Do you sleep with this by your side or under your pillow?" Christina asked very matter-of-factly.
"Under my pillow."
"So did I," Christina said. "It's much easier to grasp that way, isn't it?"
"Yes, but why did you…"
"I'll take your knife upstairs and put it under your pillow," Christina promised. "And in the morning,
I'll sharpen it for you."
"That's very kind of you," Jade whispered. "I didn't realize other ladies carried knives."
"Most don't," Christina replied with a dainty shrug. She handed Jade a pristine white nightgown and matching wrapper, then helped her dress. "I don't sleep with a dagger under my pillow any longer.
Lyon protects me. In time, I think you'll give up your dagger, too. Yes, I do believe you will."
"You do?" Jade asked. She was desperately trying to make sense out of the woman's remarks.
"Why is that?"
"Destiny," Christina whispered. "Of course, you'll have to learn to trust Caine first."
"Impossible," Jade blurted out. "I don't trust anyone."
From Christina's wide-eyed expression, Jade assumed she'd been too vehement in her reply. "Lady Christina, I'm not at all certain I know what you're talking about. I barely know Caine. Why would
I have to learn to trust him?"
"Please, you needn't call me Lady Christina," she countered. "Now come and sit by the fire while I
brush the crinkles out of your hair."
She dragged the chair across the room, then gently pushed Jade down into the seat. "I don't have many friends in England."
"It's my fault," Christina explained. "I don't have enough patience: The ladies are very pretentious here. You're different, though."
"How can you know that?" Jade asked.
"Because you carry a knife," Christina explained. "Will you be my friend?"
Jade hesitated a long minute before answering. "For as long as you wish me to be your friend, Christina," she whispered.
Christina stared down at the lovely woman. "You believe that once I know all about you, I'll change my inclination, don't you?"
Her new friend shrugged. Christina noticed her hands were tightly clenched in her lap.
"I haven't had time for friends," Jade blurted out.
"I noticed the scar on your back," Christina whispered. "I won't tell Caine about it, of course, but he'll notice when he takes you to his bed. You carry a mark of honor, Jade."
Jade would have bounded out of the chair if Christina hadn't grabbed her shoulders and held her down.
"I meant no insult," she rushed out. "You shouldn't be ashamed of…"
"Caine isn't going to take me to his bed," Jade countered. "Christina, I don't even like the man."
Christina smiled. "We are friends now, aren't we?"
"Then you cannot lie to me. You do like Caine. I could see it in your eyes when you looked at him. Oh, you were frowning, but it was all bluster, wasn't it? At least admit that you think he's handsome. All the ladies find him very appealing."
"He is that," Jade answered with a sigh. "He's a womanizer, isn't he?"
"Lyon and I have never seen him with the same woman twice," Christina admitted. "So I do suppose
you could call him a womanizer. Aren't most until they're ready to settle down?"
"I don't know," Jade replied. "I haven't had many men friends either. There just wasn't time."
Christina finally picked up the brush and began to give order to Jade's lustrous curls. "I've never seen such beautiful hair before. There are threads of red fire shining through it."
"Oh, you have beautiful hair, not me," Jade protested. "Men have a preference for golden-haired ladies, Christina."
"Destiny," Christina countered, completely changing the topic. "I have a feeling you've just met yours, Jade."
She didn't have the heart to argue with her. Christina sounded so sincere. "If you say so," she agreed.
Christina noticed the swelling on the side of her head then. Jade explained what had happened to her.
She felt guilty because she was deceiving the woman, for she was telling the same lie she'd told Caine earlier, but her motives were pure, she reminded herself. The truth would only upset her new friend.
"You've had to be a warrior, haven't you, Jade?" Christina asked, her voice filled with sympathy.
"A warrior," Christina repeated. She was trying to braid Jade's hair, then decided it was still too damp. She put the brush down and waited for her friend to answer.
"You've been alone in this world for a long time, haven't you?" Christina asked. "That's why you don't trust anyone."
Jade lifted her shoulders in a shrug. "Perhaps," she whispered.
"We should go and find our men now."
"Lyon is your man, but Caine isn't mine," Jade protested. "I'd rather just go to bed, if you please."
Christina shook her head. "Caine will have had his bath by now and must feel refreshed again. I know both men will want to ask you some questions before they let you rest. Men can be very stubborn,
Jade. It's better to let them have their way every now and again. They're so much easier to manage
that way. Do trust me. I know what I'm talking about."
Jade tightened her sash on her wrapper and followed Christina. She tried to clear her mind for the inevitable sparring ahead of her. As soon as she walked into the library, she saw Caine. He was leaning against the edge of Lyon's desk, frowning at her. She frowned back.
She really wished he wasn't so handsome. He had bathed and was now dressed in clothes Lyon had
given him. The fit was true, the fawn-colored britches indecently snug. A white cotton shirt covered
his wide shoulders.
Jade sat down in the center of the gold-colored settee. Christina handed her a full goblet of brandy.
"Drink this," she ordered. "It will warm your insides."
Jade took a few dainty sips until she became accustomed to the burning sensation, then emptied the glass.
Christina nodded with satisfaction. Jade felt immensely better, sleepy, too. She leaned back against the cushions and closed her eyes.
"Don't you dare fall asleep," Caine ordered. "I have some questions to put to you."
She didn't bother to open her eyes when she answered him. "I won't fall asleep, but when I keep my
eyes closed, I don't have to see your mean frowns, Caine. It's much more peaceful this way. Why
were you pretending to be Pagan?"
She'd slipped in that question so smoothly, no one reacted for a full minute.
"He was what?" Lyon finally asked.
"He was pretending to be Pagan," Jade repeated. "I don't know how many other famous people he's pretended to be in the past," she added with a nod. "Still, it seems to me that your friend has an
affliction of sorts."
Caine looked as if he wanted to throttle her. Christina held her smile. "Lyon? I don't believe I've ever seen our friend this upset."
"Neither have I," Lyon returned.
Caine successfully glared him into quitting his comments. "This isn't a usual circumstance," he muttered.
"I doubt he's ever pretended to be Napoleon though," Jade interjected. "He's too tall to pull it off. Besides, everyone knows what Napoleon looks like."
"Enough," Caine bellowed. He took a deep breath, then continued in a softer tone. "I'll explain why I
was pretending to be Pagan after you've told me everything that led up to this black night."
"You make it sound as though everything is my fault!" she cried out.
He closed his eyes. "I do not fault you."
"Oh, yes, you do," she argued. "You're the most exasperating man. I've been through a terrible time
and you've shown me as much compassion as a jackal."
Caine had to count to ten before he could trust himself not to shout at her.
"Why don't you just start at the beginning?" Lyon suggested.
Jade didn't pay any attention to Lyon's request. Her full attention was centered on Caine. He was still a little too controlled for her liking. "If you don't start giving me a little sympathy and understanding, I'm going to start shouting."
"You're already shouting," he told her with a grin.
That statement gave her pause. She took a deep breath, then decided to take a different tack. "Those terrible men ruined everything," she announced. "My brother had just finished renovating his lovely
home and they ruined it. I cannot tell you how disappointed Nathan is going to be when he finds out.
Oh, quit staring at me like that, Caine. I don't care if you believe me or not."
"Don't talk to me."
"You seem to have lost control of the conversation," Lyon pointed out to Caine.
"I was never in control," Caine answered. "Jade, we're going to have to talk to each other," he announced then. "Yes," he added when he thought she was about to interrupt. "You have been through a trying time. I'll give you that much."
He thought his tone had been filled with understanding. He wanted to appease her, yet knew he'd failed when she continued to frown at him. "You're the most galling man. Why do you have to sound so superior all the time?"
Caine turned to Lyon. "Did I sound superior?"
Lyon shrugged. Christina nodded. "If Jade thinks you sounded superior," she said. "Then perhaps you did, just a little."
"You treat me like an imbecile," Jade said. "Doesn't he, Christina?"
"Since you are my friend, I will of course agree with you," Christina answered.
"Thank you," Jade replied before turning her attention back to Caine. "I'm not a child."
His slow grin infuriated her. She could feel herself losing ground in her bid to keep him off balance.
"Do you know what the very worst of it was? They actually torched my brother's beautiful carriage.
Yes, they did," she added with a vehement nod.
"And that was the worst?" Caine asked.
"Sir, I happened to be inside at the time!" she cried out.
He shook his head. "You actually want me to believe you were inside the carriage when it caught fire?"
"Caught fire?" She bounded out of her seat and stood there with her hands on her hips, glaring at him. "Not bloody likely. It was torched."
She remembered her audience and whirled around to face them. Clutching the top of her wrapper against her neck, she lowered her head and said, "Pray forgive me for losing my temper, please. I don't usually sound like a shrew."
She resumed her seat then and closed her eyes. "I don't care what he believes. I can't talk about this tonight. I'm too distraught. Caine, you're going to have to wait until morning to question me."
He gave up. The woman was certainly given to drama. She put the back of her hand up against her forehead and let out a forlorn sigh. He knew he wasn't going to be able to reason with her now.
Caine sat down on the settee beside her. He was still frowning when he put his arm around her
shoulders and hauled her up against his side.
"I specifically remember telling you that I cannot abide being touched," she muttered as she snuggled
up against him.
Christina turned to her husband and let him see her smile. "Destiny," she whispered. "I think we should leave them alone," she added. "Jade, your bedroom is the first on the left at the top of the steps. Caine, you're next door."
Christina tugged her reluctant husband to his feet. "Sweetheart," Lyon said, "I want to know what happened to Jade. I'll just stay down here a few more minutes."
"Tomorrow will be soon enough for you to satisfy your curiosity," Christina promised. "Dakota will be waking us in just a few more hours. You need your rest."
"Who is Dakota?" Jade asked, smiling over the affectionate way the happy couple looked at each other. There was such love in their expressions. A surge of raw envy rushed through her, but she quickly
pushed the feeling away. It was pointless to wish for things she could never have.
"Dakota is our son," Lyon answered. "He's almost six months old now. You'll meet our little warrior in the morning."
The door closed softly on that promise and she and Caine were once again all alone. Jade immediately tried to move away from him. He tightened his hold.
"Jade? I never meant to sound like I was ridiculing you," he whispered. "I'm just trying to be logical
about this situation of yours. You have to admit that tonight has been… difficult. I feel like I'm
spinning around in circles. I'm not used to ladies asking me so sweetly if I could kill them."
She turned to smile up at him. "Was I sweet?" she asked.
He slowly nodded. Her mouth was so close, so appealing. Before he could stop himself, he leaned down. His mouth rubbed against hers in a gentle, undemanding kiss.
It was over and done with before she could gather her wits and offer a protest.
"Why did you do that?" she asked in a strained whisper.
"I felt like it," he answered. His grin made her smile. He pushed her back down on his shoulder so he wouldn't give in to the urge to kiss her again, then said, "You've been through hell, haven't you? We'll wait until tomorrow to talk. When you've had a proper rest, we'll work on this problem together."
"That is most considerate of you," she replied. She sounded acutely relieved. "Now will you please tell
me why you were pretending to be Pagan? You said earlier that you wanted to draw him out, but I don't understand how…"
"I was trying to prick his pride," he explained. "And make him angry enough to come after me. I know that if someone was pretending to be me, I'd… oh, hell," he muttered. "It sounds foolish now." His fingers were slowly threading through her soft curls in an absentminded fashion. "I tried everything else. Bounty didn't work."
"But why? Did you want to meet him?"
"I want to kill him."
Her indrawn breath told him he'd stunned her with his bluntness. "And if he sent someone else in his place to challenge you, would you kill that man too?"
"Is your work killing people then? Is that how you make your way in this world?"
She was staring into the fire but he could see the tears in her eyes. "No, I don't kill for a living."
"But you've killed before?"
She'd turned to look at him when she asked that question, letting him see her fear. "Only when it was necessary," he answered.
"I've never killed anyone."
His smile was gentle. "I never thought you had."
"Yet you really believe it's necessary to kill this pirate?"
"I do." His voice had turned hard, a deliberate choice that, for he hoped to get her to quit her questions. "I'll kill every one of his damned followers, too, if it's the only way I can get to him."
"Oh, Caine, I really wish you wouldn't kill anyone."
She was on the verge of tears again. Caine leaned back against the cushions, closed his eyes, and said, "You're a gentle lady, Jade. You can't possibly understand."
"Help me understand," she implored. "Pagan's done so many wonderful things. It seems a sin that you…"
"He has?" Caine interrupted.
"Surely you know that the pirate gives most of his booty to the less fortunate," she explained. "Why,
our church has a new steeple, thanks to his generous donation."
"Donation?" Caine shook his head over her ludicrous choice of words. "The man is nothing but a common thief. He robs from the rich…"
"Well, of course he robs from the rich."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"He takes from the rich because they have so much, they won't miss the paltry amount he steals. And
it wouldn't do him any good at all to take from the poor. They don't have anything worth stealing."
"You seem to know quite a lot about this pirate."
"Everyone keeps up with Pagan's adventures. He's such a romantic figure."
"You sound as if you think he should be knighted."
"Perhaps he should," she answered. She rubbed her cheek against his shoulder. "Some say Pagan's
never harmed anyone. It doesn't seem right for you to hunt him down."
"If you believe he hasn't ever killed anyone, why did you come looking for him? You wanted him to
kill you, remember?"
"I remember," she answered. "If I explain my true plan, will you promise not to laugh?"
"I promise," he answered, wondering over her sudden shyness.
"I was hoping… that is, if he didn't want to kill me, well then, perhaps he might consider taking me
away on his magical ship and keeping me safe until my brother came home."
"Heaven help you if you'd gotten that wish," Caine said. "You've obviously been listening to too many fanciful stories. You're wrong, too. That bastard pirate has killed before."
"Who has he killed?"
He didn't speak for a long minute but stared into the fire. When he finally answered her, there was ice
in his voice. "Pagan killed my brother, Colin."
"Oh, Caine. I'm so sorry," she whispered. "You must miss him terribly. Was Colin older or younger
"Did he die very long ago?"
"Just a few months," Caine answered.
"Your family must be having a difficult time of it," she whispered. "Are both your parents still living?"
"Yes, though of the two, my father's having a much more difficult time accepting Colin's death. He's all but given up on life."
"I don't understand," she countered.
"Father used to be very active in politics. He was known as the champion of the poor, Jade, and he was able to force through many substantial measures that eased their burdens."
She'd taken hold of his hand and was holding it against her waist. Caine didn't think she was aware of
her action. It was just an instinctive attempt to give him comfort, he guessed, and he found he didn't dislike the touch or her motive.
"You were explaining how your papa helped the poor," she reminded him.
"Yes," Caine returned. "He was responsible for defeating the tax increase, for one example."
"But he quit these important duties?"
"He quit everything," Caine said. "His politics, his family, his friends, his clubs. He doesn't even read
the dailies now. He just stays locked inside his study and broods. I believe, once Pagan has been punished, that my father might… hell, I don't know. He's such a defeated man now."
"Are you like your father? Are you also a champion of the poor? I believe you must be a protector by nature."
"Why do you say that?"
She couldn't very well tell him she'd read his file. "Because of the way you took me under your wing," she answered. "And I think you would have offered your help to any defenseless, poor person. Of
course, I wasn't poor when I met you."
"Are you going to start in about the silver coins again?"
Because he was smiling at her, she knew he wasn't irritated with her. "No, I'm not going to start in, whatever that's suppose to mean. I was just reminding you. You are like your father then, aren't you?"
"I suppose we share that trait."
"Yet your father retreated from the world while you immediately went after vengeance. Your reactions were just the opposite, weren't they?"
"I understand why your father gave up."
"It's because fathers aren't supposed to lose their sons, Caine."
"No," Caine agreed. "They should die first."
"After a long, happy life, of course," she added.
She sounded so sincere, he didn't want to argue with her. "Of course."
"And you're absolutely certain it was Pagan who killed Colin?"
"I am. I have it on high authority."
"How did Pagan kill him?"
"For God's sake, Jade," he muttered. "I don't want to talk about this. I've already told you more than
"I'm sorry if I've upset you," she replied. She leaned away from him and looked into Ms eyes.
The worry in her expression made him feel guilty for his biting tone. "Colin was killed at sea."
"Yet someone was thoughtful enough to bring him home for burial?"
"No? Then how can you know if he's really dead? He could have washed up on a deserted island,
"Proof was sent."
"What proof? And who sent it?"
He couldn't understand her interest in this topic and determined to end the conversation. "Proof came from the War Department. Now will you quit your questions?"
"Yes, of course," she whispered. "Please accept my apology for intruding upon such a personal matter."
She let out a yawn, then begged his forgiveness for that unladylike action.
"Caine? We can't stay here long. I fear we would be putting your friends in danger."
"I agree," he answered. "We'll only stay one night."
He stared into the fire while he formulated his plans. Jade snuggled up against him and fell asleep. He
told himself he was thankful for the blessed quiet. Yet he resisted the urge to go up to bed, for he liked holding the impossible woman in his arms too much to move.
He kissed her brow just for the hell of it, then kissed her once again.
Only when the fire had burned down to glowing embers and a decided chill settled in the room did he finally get up.
She came awake with a start. Jade jumped to her feet, but was so disoriented, she started walking in the wrong direction. She would have walked right into the hearth if he hadn't stopped her. He tried to lift her into his arms. She pushed his hands away. He let out a sigh, then put his ami around her shoulders and guided her up the stairs. He kept trying not to think about how lovely she looked now. Her hair was almost dry and had regained its enchanting curls. He also tried not to think about the fact that she was wearing only a thin nightgown and wrapper.
He opened the bedroom door for her, then turned to find his own.
"Caine?" she called out, her voice a sleepy whisper. "You won't leave me, will you?"
He turned back to face her. The question was insulting, yet the fearful look in her eyes softened his
initial reaction. "No, I won't leave you."
She nodded, looked like she was about to say something more, and then abruptly shut the door in his face.
* * *
Christina had prepared the adjoining bedroom for Caine. The bed covers on the large bed had been
turned back, and a full fire blazed in the hearth.
As inviting as the bed was, sleep still eluded Caine. He tossed and turned in the giant bed for almost an hour, all the while damning himself for his own lack of discipline. Yet no matter how valiantly he tried,
he couldn't get the red-haired, green-eyed enchantress out of his mind.
He couldn't understand his own reaction to her. Hell, he wanted her with an intensity that made him burn. That didn't make any sense at all to him. He disliked bad-tempered, illogical, cry-at-the-sight-of-a-frown young ladies, didn't he?
He was simply too exhausted to think straight now. He wasn't used to being restrained either. Caine was
a man who took what he wanted when he wanted it. He'd gone soft over the last few years, though. He didn't have to bother with the chase any longer. The women always came to him. They gave themselves freely. Caine took what each offered without feeling a qualm of remorse. He was always honest with his women, and he never, ever spent a full night with any of them. Mornings, he knew, would bring false hopes and foolish demands.
Yet he wanted Jade. Lord, he wasn't making any sense. Jade's sneeze echoed in the distance then. Caine immediately got out of bed. He put on his pants but didn't bother with the buttons. He now had an excuse to go into her room. She probably needed another blanket, he told himself. The night air had a chill to it. There was also the possibility of a fire, for the light coming from beneath the door indicated she'd fallen asleep with the candles burning.
He wasn't at all prepared for the sight he came upon. Jade was sleeping on her stomach. Her glorious hair was spread like a shawl on her back. Her face was turned toward him. Her eyes were closed, and her deep, even breathing indicated she was fast asleep.
His enchantress was stark naked. She'd taken off her nightgown and placed it on the chair beside the bed. She'd also kicked the covers off the bed.
The little lady had a decidedly sensual streak hidden inside her, if she preferred sleeping in the nude, as
She looked like a golden goddess to him. Her legs were long, beautifully shaped. He suddenly pictured those silky legs wrapped around him and almost groaned in reaction.
He was fully aroused and aching by the time he walked over to the side of the bed. He noticed the long thin scar across her spine then. Caine immediately recognized the mark, as he had a similar one on the back of his thigh. There was only one weapon that could inflict such a jagged line. It was the thick lash from a whip.
Someone had used a whip on her. Caine was stunned, outraged too. The scar was old, by at least five years or so, judging from the faded edges, and that fact made the atrocity all the more repugnant. Jade had been a child when she'd been so mistreated.
He suddenly wanted to wake her up and demand the name of the bastard who'd done this to her.
She started moaning in her sleep. The restlessness in which she moved made him think she was in the throes of an unpleasant dream. She sneezed again, then let out another whimper of distress.
With a sigh of acute frustration, he grabbed the nightgown and turned back to the angel he'd been foolish enough to promise he'd protect. He tried to see the humor in this bleak situation. For the first time in his life, he was actually going to put a nightgown back on a woman.
Caine was just leaning over her when he saw the flash of steel out of the corner of his eye. His reaction was instinctive. He moved to block her attack with a forceful sweep of his left arm. She was already stopping herself when his arm slammed into her wrist. The dagger went flying across the room and
landed with a loud clatter on the base of the hearth.
She'd turned into a hellion. Jade was on her knees now, facing him. Her breathing was harsh, her anger apparent in her dark expression. "Don't you ever sneak up on me like that again," she shouted up at him. "Good God, man, I could have killed you."
Caine was just as furious with her. "Don't you ever try to use your knife on me," he roared. "Or good God, woman, I will kill you!"
She didn't appear to be the least intimidated by that threat. Caine decided she just didn't understand her own peril, or she certainly would have tried to act a little contrite. She'd also forgotten she wasn't wearing any clothes, either.
He hadn't forgotten. Her full, round breasts were only partially concealed by her long dark curls. Her nipples were pink, hard. Her anger made her pant, forcing her slender ribcage to rise and fall in a rhythm he found hypnotic.
He felt like a cad for noticing until she started prodding his temper again.
"You're not going to kill me," she announced. "We've already had this discussion, remember?"
He was staring down at her with the most astonished look on Ms face. "You aren't at all afraid of me,
She shook her head. Her long hair swayed gracefully over her shoulders.
"Why would I be afraid of you?" she asked. "You're my protector, sir."
Her irritated tone of voice was the last provocation he was going to take. Caine grabbed hold of her hands and roughly shoved her back against the mattress. He followed her down, spreading her thighs with one of his knees wedged between so she couldn't lash out at him with her legs and do real damage. He wouldn't put it past her to try to make a eunuch out of him if she had the opportunity. "I think it's high time you understood a few basic rules," he grated out.
She let out a loud gasp when his bare chest touched her breasts. Caine guessed she'd finally realized she wasn't wearing a nightgown. "Exactly," he said on a low groan.
Damn, but she was soft, wonderfully so. He wanted to bury his face in the crook of her neck and make slow, sweet love to her. He would have her, he vowed, but she'd be hot and begging for him, not muttering unladylike obscenities against his ear as she was now doing.
"Where in God's name did you learn those blasphemies?" he asked when she threatened to do him in, in the most amazing way.
"From you," she lied. "Will you get off me, you… wart from hell."
She was full of bravado. Yet there was a tremor of fear in her voice, too. Caine immediately reacted to
it. It took extreme discipline, but he slowly moved away from her. His jaw was clenched tight and a fine sweat covered his brow. Her nipples rubbed against his chest when he moved. Caine groaned low in his throat. Her breasts were ready for him, even if the rest of her wasn't. Ready for him to take into his mouth, to kiss, to suck, to…
He propped himself up on his elbows so he could see her expression. He immediately wished he hadn't bothered. Her intense frown was already making him angry again.
She was filled with the most conflicting emotions. She knew she should feel outraged, but the opposite was really the full truth. The dark hair on his chest, so crisp, so warm, tickled her breasts into responding. He was so warm all over, so exciting. And hard, she added to herself. The sleek bulge of muscle in his upper arms made her breath catch in her throat. She knew better than to let him know how much he was affecting her. Outrage, she remembered. I must be outraged, and frightened, too,
"Is this how you plan to protect me?" she asked, affecting just the right amount of fear in her voice.
"No, this isn't how I plan to protect you," he answered in a husky voice.
"You look like you want to kiss me. Do you?"
"Yes," he admitted. "I do."
She started shaking her head, but he stopped that action by cupping the sides of her face and holding her still.
"But you don't even like me much." Her voice was a breathless whisper. "You said so, remember? Have you changed your mind, then?"
He found himself smiling over the bewildered look on her face. "No," he answered, just to goad her temper.
"Then why would you want to kiss me?"
"I can't explain it," he said. "Perhaps it's because you're stark naked, and I can feel your soft skin beneath me. Perhaps…"
"Only once then."
He didn't understand what she meant, but the blush that covered her cheeks indicated her embarrassment. "Only once what, Jade?" he asked.
"You may kiss me, Caine," she explained. "But only once. Then you must get off me and leave my room."
"Jade? Do you want me to kiss you?"
His voice had turned so tender, she felt as though he'd just caressed her. She stared at his mouth, wondering what it would feel like to be properly kissed by him. Would his mouth be as hard as the rest
Curiosity overruled caution. "Yes," she whispered. "I do want you to kiss me, Caine."
The kiss was one of absolute possession. His mouth was hard, demanding. His tongue thrust inside and rubbed against hers. She had no idea that men kissed women in such a manner, yet found she liked the stroke of his tongue very much. It was thoroughly arousing. Only when her tongue timidly imitated his bold action did he gentle the kiss. It was shameful the way he used his tongue in the erotic mating ritual, but she didn't care. She could feel his hard arousal against the junction of her thighs. He pushed against her each time his tongue slid deep into her mouth. A slow heat began to burn inside her belly.
She couldn't seem to stop touching him. His mouth made her wild. His tongue slid in and out, again and again, until she was shivering for more. Caine had wrapped her hair around his fist to hold her still, but that action wasn't really necessary. She was clinging to him now.
It was time to stop. Caine knew he was at risk of losing all control. Jade tried to bring him back to her
by digging her nails into his shoulders. Caine resisted the unspoken invitation. He stared down into her eyes a long minute. He liked what he saw there, didn't even try to hide his grin of male satisfaction.
"You taste like sugar and honey."
He brushed his mouth over hers once again. "Oh, yes, you do," he said. "Brandy too."
She moved restlessly against him. "Don't push your hips up like that," he ordered. His jaw was clenched tight against the innocent provocation.
"Only twice," she whispered. "All right?"
He understood. She was giving him permission to kiss her again. He couldn't resist. He kissed her again,
a long, hard, wet, tongue-thrusting kiss, and when he next looked into her eyes, he was thoroughly pleased. She looked completely dazed. He'd done that to her, he knew. The passion inside her more
than matched his own.
"No more, Jade," he growled.
"You didn't like it?" she asked, her worry obvious in her gaze.
"I liked it all right," he replied.
Her hands were caressing his shoulders and it was becoming an agony to maintain his discipline. "I can't promise you I'll stop if I kiss you again, Jade. Are you willing to take the risk?"
Before she could answer him, he started to ease away from her. "That wasn't a fair question to ask in your present state."
The passion began to clear her mind. "What present state?"
He let out a deep sigh. "I think I'm going to make love to you eventually, Jade," he whispered. "But you'll make the decision before passion clouds your mind." His expression darkened when she started struggling against him. The movement reminded him of her soft breasts waiting for his touch. "If you don't quit wiggling against me like that," he grated out. "I swear it's going to happen now. I'm not made of iron, sweet."
She went completely still.
Though he was reluctant to leave her, he even assisted her in putting her nightgown back on. He refused to let her have her dagger back, even when she fervently promised him she wouldn't try to use it on him again.
"I was sound asleep," she reasoned. "And you were sneaking up on me like a thief. I had to protect myself."
Caine took hold of her hand and dragged her toward his bedroom. "You were having a nightmare,
"I might have been," she replied. "I don't remember now. Why are you tugging at me?"
"You're going to sleep with me. Then you won't have to worry about anyone sneaking up on you."
"Out of the boat and into the ocean, is that it?" she asked. "I really believe I'm much safer on my own, thank you."
"Can't trust yourself to keep your hands off me?" he asked.
"Yes, that's true," she admitted with a feigned sigh. "I'll have to restrain myself, though, or I'll surely be sent to the gallows. Murder's still frowned on in this part of the world, isn't it?"
Caine laughed. "You won't be thinking about murdering me when I'm touching you," he predicted.
She let out a low groan of frustration. "You really aren't going to do. A protector shouldn't be lusting
after his charge."
"And what about you?" he asked. "Do you lust after your protector?"
He turned around to wait for her answer. "I don't know,"
she said. "I find you terribly appealing, Caine, yet I've never gone to bed with a man and I don't know if
I want you that much. Still, this attraction is becoming too much of a distraction. You aren't going to do at all, sir. Come morning, I'm going to have to find someone else to protect me… someone less appealing."
She tried to pull away from him then. Caine caught her before she'd taken a step back toward her own bed. In one quick motion, he tossed her over his shoulder and carried her through the connecting doorway.
"How dare you treat me like this? I'm not a bag of feed. Put me down this minute, you bastard rake."
"Bastard rake? Sweet, you've got quite a vocabulary for a lady.".
He dropped her into the center of his bed. Since he fully expected her to bounce right back out and try
to escape, he was pleasantly surprised when she began to settle the blankets around herself. After she'd scooted to the far side of the bed, she fluffed the feather pillow behind her head and draped her hair
over her shoulder. The alluring blaze of red curls against the pristine white nightgown looked incredibly beautiful to him. The woman who had just called him bastard was now looking like an angel again.
Caine's sigh blew out the candles.
"I am a lady," she muttered when he'd settled himself beside her. "But you've riled my temper, Caine, and that's the reason for my…"
"Colorful vocabulary?" he asked when she didn't finish her thought.
"Yes," she replied. She sounded forlorn when she added, "Must I apologize?"
He kept his laughter contained. "I fear you wouldn't mean it," he answered. He rolled to his side and
tried to take her into his arms. When she pushed his hands away, he moved onto his back again, stacked his hands behind his head, and stared into the darkness above while he thought about the warm body next to him. She was certainly the most unusual woman he'd ever met. Why, she could have him laughing one second and shouting the next. He couldn't explain his reactions to her, for he didn't understand himself. Only one thing was certain in his mind. He knew she desired him. Her kiss had shown him that much.
His husky voice sent a shiver down her arms. "Yes?"
"It's damned odd, isn't it?"
"What's damned odd?" she asked.
He could hear the smile in her voice. "You and me sharing this bed without touching each other. You do feel comfortable with me, don't you?"
"Yes," she answered. "Caine?"
"Is making love painful?"
"No," he answered. "It's painful when you want to and can't."
"Oh. Then I must not want you very much, Caine, because I'm not hurting at all." She made that statement of fact in a gratingly cheerful tone of voice.
"Go to sleep."
She felt him turn toward her and immediately tensed in anticipation of another kiss. After waiting a long while, she realized he wasn't going to kiss her again. She was horribly disappointed.
Caine propped himself up on his elbow and stared down at her. Jade forced a serene expression in case
he had cat's eyes and could see in the dark.
"Jade? How did you get that whiplash on your back?"
"From a whip," she answered. She rolled to her side and resisted the urge to scoot up against his warmth.
"How do you know it was a whiplash?"
"I have an identical mark on the back of my thigh."
"You do? How did you get yours?"
"Are you going to answer my every question with a question of your own?"
"It worked quite nicely for Socrates."
"Tell me how you got your whiplash," he asked once again.
"It's a personal matter," she explained. "It's almost dawn, Caine. I've had a rather trying day."
"All right," he conceded. "You can tell me all about this personal matter in the morning."
Before she could fend him off, he threw his arm around her waist and hauled her up against him. His
chin rested on the top of her head. The junction of his hard thighs was nestled against her backside.
"Are you warm enough?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered. "Are you?"
"You will behave, won't you?" she teased.
"Probably," he replied. "Jade?" he asked, his tone much more serious now.
"I would never do anything you didn't want me to do."
"But what if you thought I wanted you to… and I didn't really want…"
"Unless you gave me your approval, your wholehearted approval, I wouldn't touch you. I promise."
She thought that was the nicest promise she'd ever been given. He sounded so sincere, and she knew he really meant what he said.
"Caine? Do you know what I've just discovered? You really are a gentleman, and an honorable one at that."
He'd already fallen asleep hugging her. Jade decided to do the same. She rolled over in his arms, slipped her arms around his waist, and promptly fell asleep.
Caine woke up a bare hour later when Jade cried out in her sleep. She muttered something he couldn't decipher, then let out a terrified scream. He shook her awake. When he brushed her hair away from her face, he felt the wetness on her cheeks. She'd been weeping in her sleep.
"Sweetheart, you're having a bad dream. It's all right now," he soothed. "You're safe with me."
He rubbed her shoulders and her back, too, until the tension eased out of her. "What were you dreaming about?" he asked, when her breathing had calmed down.
"Sharks." The word came out in a whisper filled with anguish.
"Sharks?" he asked, uncertain if he'd heard correctly.
She tucked her head under his chin. "I'm so tired," she whispered. "I don't remember the nightmare now. Hold me, Caine. I want to go back to sleep."
Her voice still trembled. Caine knew she was lying. She remembered every bit of her nightmare. He wasn't going to prod her into telling him about it, however.
He kissed the top of her head, then complied with her order and pulled her close.
Jade knew the minute he fell asleep again. She slowly eased herself away from him and moved to the
side of the bed. Her heart was still slamming inside her chest. He thought she'd only had a nightmare. Was reliving an actual event the same? And would she ever be able to forget the horror?
God help her, would she ever be able to go willingly back in the water again?
She felt like crying. It took all her discipline not to give into her urge and hold on to him now. Caine
was such an easy man to trust. She could get used to depending on him, she knew. Yes, he was the dependable type, but he could also break her heart.
She was thoroughly confused by her reaction to him. In her heart, she trusted him completely.
Why then didn't his own brother?
Caine woke up ravenous… for her. Jade's nightgown was tangled up around her thighs. She had cuddled up against his side and had thrown her right leg over his thighs sometime during the short night. Her knee now covered his throbbing arousal. Out of deference to her feelings, he'd slept with his pants on. The clothing proved to be a paltry barrier against her softness, though, and Caine could feel the scorch of her body branding him with hot desire.
The side of her face rested on his bare chest. Her lips were softly parted, her breathing deep, even. She had long, black-as-night eyelashes and a healthy sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her nose. The woman was utterly feminine. Caine continued to stare at her lovely face until he was so hard, so hurting, he was clenching his teeth.
It was a battle to move away from her. When he tried to ease her onto her back, he realized she was holding his hand. She didn't seem inclined to let go, either.
He had to pry her fingers loose. Then he remembered she'd called him a bastard rake the night before. Yet she was clinging to him now. Caine was certain she'd be wary of him once again when she was
wide awake. She couldn't hide her vulnerability from him when she was sleeping, however, and that fact pleased him considerably.
A fierce wave of possessiveness consumed him. In that moment, while he stared down at his angel, he vowed he would never let anything happen to her, he would protect her with his life.
For as long as he was her guardian… or did he want her to stay with him much, much longer… Nathan would be home in two short weeks to take up the task of keeping his sister safe. Would Caine be able to let her go then?
He didn't have any ready answers; he knew only that the thought of giving her up made his heart lurch and his stomach tighten up.
It was all he was prepared to admit to himself, all he was willing to give.
It certainly wasn't possible to be logical with a half-naked beauty draped over him. Yes, he thought as he leaned down and kissed her brow, he would wait until later to sort it all out in his mind.
He washed and dressed in clothes that belonged to Lyon, then woke Jade. She tried to hit him when he nudged her awake. "It's all right, Jade," he whispered. "It's time to get up."
She was blushing by the time she'd sat up in bed. Caine watched her pull the coverlet all the way up to her chin. The act of modesty really wasn't necessary considering her state of undress the night before, but he decided against mentioning that to her now.
"Please excuse my behavior," she whispered in a husky, sleep-filled voice. "'Tis the truth I'm not at all accustomed to being awakened by a man."
"I would hope not," he replied.
She looked bewildered. "Why would you hope that?"
"You're not awake enough to play Socrates with me," he told her, his voice gentle.
Jade stared rather stupidly up at him. Caine leaned down and kissed her then, a hard, quick kiss that was over and done with before she could summon a reaction… or make a fist.
She had the most astonished look on her face when he pulled away from her. "Why did you do that?"
"Because I wanted to," he answered.
He started for the door, but she called out to him. "Where are you going?"
"Downstairs," he replied. "I'll meet you in the dining room. I imagine Christina left some clothes for you in the other room, sweet."
"Oh my God… she must think that we… that is…"
The door closed on her horrified whispers.
She could hear Caine whistling as he made his way down the corridor. Jade fell back against the pillows. The brief kiss he'd given her had left her shaken. That, and the fact that his friends now thought she was wanton.
And just what did she care what they thought? When this deception was over, she wouldn't ever see
them again. Still, Christina wanted to be her friend. Jade now felt as though she'd just betrayed her in some way.
"I'll simply explain that nothing happened," she whispered to herself. She's going to understand. A true friend would, wouldn't she?
Since Jade hadn't had any true friends in the past, she couldn't be certain what rules applied.
She got out of her bed and rushed back into her own room. Caine had been correct, for Christina had
left a pretty dark blue riding outfit. Dark brown boots with nary a mark on them were on the floor
beside the chair. Jade prayed they were close to her size.
She couldn't quit thinking about Caine while she dressed. The man was going to be a challenge to her peace of mind. He was so dangerously attractive. The damned dimple made her want to swoon. Lyon had loaned him a pair of indeeently snug deerskin-colored britches. The pants accentuated the sleek
bulge of muscles in his thighs… and his crotch. Black Harry would throttle her if he knew she'd taken the time to notice a man's body. Caine's sexuality, so raw, so appealing, made her notice, though. She might be innocent of men, but she certainly wasn't blind.
* * *
A scant fifteen minutes later, she was ready to go downstairs. The white silk blouse was a bit too tight
in the bosom, but the jacket hid that fact. The boots scrunched her toes, too, but only just a little.
She'd tried to braid her hair, but it was a disaster. She gave up the task when she saw the lopsided mess she was making. Jade had little patience and absolutely no expertise in the area of hair styling. That fact had never bothered her before, yet now it worried her. She was a gentle lady of the ton until this masquerade was finished, and it wasn't like her to let any little detail slip her notice.
The dining room doors were wide open. Caine was sitting at the head of a long, mahogany table. A servant was pouring dark tea into a cup from a beautiful silver pot. Caine wasn't paying any attention to the man, however. He seemed to be engrossed in the newspaper he was reading.
She wasn't certain if she was supposed to curtsy or not, then decided it really didn't matter since he wasn't paying any notice. She was mistaken in that belief, however, for as soon as she reached the chair adjacent to his, he stood up and offered her his assistance.
No one had ever held out a chair for her, not even Nathan. She couldn't make up her mind if she liked
the fuss or not.
Caine continued to read his paper while she ate her breakfast. When he'd finished with what she decided was probably a daily ritual, he leaned back in his chair, folded the newspaper, and finally gave her his complete attention.
"Well?" she asked as soon as he looked at her.
"Well, what?" he asked, smiling over the eagerness in his expression.
"Was there mention of a finely dressed gentleman being murdered?" She pointed to the newspaper.
"No, there wasn't."
She let out a gasp of dismay. "I'll wager they tossed him in the Thames. Do you know, Caine, now that
I reflect upon it, I did feel something slither against my legs. And you did say nothing could live for long
in the Thames, didn't you? It must have been that poor…"
"Jade, you're letting your imagination get the better of you," he interjected. "Not only was there no mention of your finely dressed gentleman, there wasn't any mention of anyone being murdered."
"Then they haven't found him yet."
"If he's a member of the ton, someone would have noticed his disappearance by now. It's been two days, hasn't it, since you saw…"
"It has been two days, exactly," she interrupted.
Caine thought that if she became any more enthusiastic, she might jump out of her chair.
"Which leads me to my first question," he announced. "Exactly what did you see?"
She leaned back against her chair. "Where are Lyon and Christina, do you suppose?"
"Are you avoiding my question?"
She shook her head. "I just don't want to have to tell it twice," she explained. Even as she gave that lie her mind was racing for another plausible story.
"Lyon went out for a bit," he answered. "And Christina is tending to Dakota. Answer me, please."
Her eyes widened.
"Now what's the matter?"
"You just said please," she whispered. She sounded awestruck. "If you're not careful, you'll soon be giving me the apologies you owe me."
He knew better than to ask her why he should apologize, guessing she had her list of his faults memorized. Besides, the smile she just gave him was so dazzling, he could barely hold his concentration.
"They pitched him from the roof."
Caine was jarred back to their topic when she made that announcement. "You were on a roof?" he asked her, trying to imagine what in God's name she'd been up to.
"Of course not," she replied. "Why would I be on a roof?"
"Yes?" she asked, looking expectant again.
"You weren't on a roof but you saw "them" throw this man…"
"He was a finely dressed gentleman," she interrupted.
"All right," he began again. "You weren't on the roof but you saw several men throw this finely dressed gentleman from the roof? Is that it?"
"There were three of them."
She nodded. "I was frightened, Caine, but I could still count."
"Where were you when this happened?"
"On the ground."
"I gathered that much," he muttered. "If you weren't on the roof, I did assume…"
"I could have been inside another building, or perhaps riding Nathan's fine horse, or even…"
"Jade, stop rambling," he demanded. "Just tell me where you were and what you saw."
"What I heard is just as significant, Caine."
"Are you deliberately trying to make me angry?"
She gave him a disgruntled look. "I was just about to walk into the church when I heard all the commotion. They weren't actually on top of the church. No, they were dragging this poor man across
the rectory's roof. It's a bit lower. From my position, I could see the gentleman was trying to get away from them. He was struggling and shouting for help. That's how I knew, Caine. I wasn't just imagining it."
"And?" he prodded when she suddenly quit her explanation.
"They tossed him over. If I'd been just a foot to the left, well sir, you wouldn't be having to protect me now. I'd be as dead as the poor gentleman is."
"Where is this church?"
"In Nathan's parish."
"And where is that?" he asked.
"Three hours north of here," she answered.
"Am I interrupting?" Christina asked from the doorway.
Jade turned to smile at her.
"Of course not," Jade answered. "Thank you for the lovely breakfast, and for loaning me your beautiful riding clothes. I shall take good care of them," she added.
Lyon came up behind his wife and put his arms around her. While Caine and Jade watched, Christina's husband nuzzled the top of his wife's head.
"Miss me?" he asked.
"Of course," Christina answered. She smiled up at her husband, then turned back to Jade. "I went into your room…"
"Nothing happened," Jade rushed out. "It's all his fault, really. But nothing happened, Christina. I tried to use my knife on him. That's all. He took exception, of course," she added as she waved her hand in Caine's direction. "He was so bloody furious, he dragged me into his room. Oh Lord, I'm making a muddle out of this, aren't I?"
She turned to Caine. "Will you say something, please? My new friend is going to think I'm…"
She quit her explanation when she noticed Caine's astonished expression. He wasn't going to be any help at all, she realized. He was back to thinking she was daft.
She could feel herself burning with embarrassment.
"I went into your room to fetch your knife," Christina explained. "You actually tried to cut him with that dull blade?"
Jade wanted to find a place to hide. "No," she answered with a sigh.
"But you just said…"
"At first, I did try to cut him," she explained. "He woke me up trying to put my nightgown back on…"
"You did?" Lyon asked Caine. His grin was downright shameful.
"Lyon, stay out of this," Caine ordered.
"Well, as soon as I realized who it was, I quit trying to stab him. He gave me a startle. I thought he was
Lyon looked like he was dying to say something more. Caine glared him into keeping silent.
"Did you find out anything?" Caine called out.
Lyon nodded. He started into the room. "Christina? Take Jade into the drawing room, would you?"
"She'll have to go in there on her own," Christina answered. "I promised to sharpen her knife for her. Jade? I couldn't find it under your pillow. That's what I've been trying to explain."
"He took it," Jade answered with a wave in Caine's direction. "I believe I saw him put it on the mantle, though I'm not absolutely certain. Would you like me to help you look for it?"
"No, I'll find it. You go and keep Dakota company. He's playing on his blanket inside. I'll join you in
just a few minutes."
Jade hurriedly followed Christina out of the room. She paused at the drawing room doors when she
heard Lyon's booming laughter. She smiled then, guessing Caine had just told his friend what an imbecile he thought she was.
She was feeling quite smug now. It took a certain concentration to be able to ramble on and on so convincingly, and she thought she'd pulled it off quite nicely. She had no idea she was so talented. Still, she was honest enough to admit to herself that there had been a moment when she hadn't really been pretending. Jade straightened her shoulders. Pretense or not, rambling was definitely a plus when dealing with Caine.
She went inside the room then and closed the door behind her. She spotted the quilted blanket in front
of the settee right away. Christina's son, however, was quite another matter. She couldn't find him anywhere.
She was about to shout an alarm when she noticed a tiny foot protruding from the back of the settee.
She hurried over and knelt down, briefly thought about pulling him out by his one foot, and then decided she'd better find the rest of him first. With her backside in the air, she leaned down until the side of her face rested on the carpet.
The most magnificent blue eyes she'd ever seen were just inches away from her now. Dakota. Jade thought she might have startled him by her sudden appearance. His eyes did widen. He didn't cry,
though. No, he stared at her a long, drooling moment, and then gave her a wide, toothless grin.
She thought he was the most amazing infant. Once he'd finished smiling at her, he went back to his main interest. He seemed determined to gum his way through the ornately carved wooden leg of the settee.
"Oh, that can't be at all good for you, little boy," Jade announced.
He didn't spare her a glance as he continued to chew on the wood. "Stop that now, Dakota," she commanded. "Your mama will be unhappy if she sees you eating the furniture. Come out here, please."
It was obvious that she had no experience handling children. It was also a fact that she didn't realize
she had an audience watching her either.
Both Caine and Lyon leaned against opposite door frames observing the pair. They were both trying
not to laugh.
"You aren't going to cooperate, are you, Dakota?" Jade asked.
The baby gurgled happily in answer to that remark.
"She's innovative, I'll give her that," Lyon whispered to Caine when Jade lifted the edge of the settee
and moved it to the side.
She then sat down on the floor next to the little one. He immediately wiggled his way toward her. She wasn't at all certain how to lift a baby. She'd heard that their little necks weren't strong enough to hold their heads up until they were at least a year or so. Dakota, however, had lifted his chest off the carpet and seemed to be strong enough on his own.
He made the most delightful sounds. He was such a happy little boy. She couldn't resist touching him. She gingerly patted the top of his head, then eased her hands under his arms and slowly dragged him
up onto her lap.
She wanted to cuddle him against her bosom.
He wanted something else. Dakota grabbed hold of a clump of her hair, pulled on it, hard, while he tried to find his supper.
It didn't take her any time at all to realize what he was trying to do.
"No, no, Dakota," she whispered when he arched up against her and started to fret. "Your mama's going to have to feed you. Shall we go and find her, love?"
Jade slowly gained her feet, keeping the baby close against her. His grip on her hair stung, but she didn't mind.
The baby smelled so wonderful. He was beautiful, too. He had his mother's blue eyes, but his dark curls came from his father. Jade stroked the baby's back and softly crooned to him. She was in awe of him.
She turned and noticed the men then. Jade could feel herself blush. "You have a fine son," she told Lyon in a stammer.
Caine stayed by the door while Lyon went to claim Dakota. He had to pry his son's hands away from Jade's hair. She stared at Caine, wondering over the odd expression on his face now. There was tenderness there, but something else as well. She didn't have any idea what he was thinking.
"He's the first baby I've ever held," she told Lyon after he'd lifted his son into his arms.
"I'd say that you are a natural," Lyon replied. "Wouldn't you agree, Dakota?" he asked. He held the
baby up until they were eye level. Dakota immediately grinned.
Christina breezed into the room, drawing Jade's attention. She hurried over and handed her friend the sharpened knife. The dagger was inside a soft leather carrier. "It's sharp enough now," she told Jade.
"I made the pouch so you wouldn't accidentally prick yourself."
"Thank you," Jade replied.
"You aren't going to need a knife," Caine announced. He moved away from his lazy repose and walked over to Jade's side. "Let me keep it for you, sweet. You'll hurt yourself."
"I will not give it to you," she announced. "It was a gift from my uncle and I promised him I'd always have it with me."
He gave in when she backed away from him. "We have to get going," he told her then. "Lyon, you'll…"
"I will," Lyon returned. "Just as soon as I've…"
"Right," Caine interrupted.
"They seem to be speaking in a different language, don't they?" Christina said to Jade.
"They don't want me to worry," Jade explained.
"Then you understood what they were saying?"
"Of course. Lyon is suppose to start his investigation. Caine's obviously given him a few suggestions.
As soon as he's found out anything of consequence, he'll get in touch with Caine."
Lyon and Caine were staring intently at her. "You deducted all that from…"
She interrupted Caine with a nod. Then she turned to Lyon. "You're going to try to find out if there's anyone gone missing of late, aren't you?"
"Yes," Lyon admitted.
"You'll need a description, won't you? Of course, the poor man's nose was a bit scrunched from the fall. Still, I could tell he was quite old, almost forty, I would guess. He had gray hair, bushy eyebrows, and cold brown eyes. He didn't look at all peaceful in death, either. He'd gone to fat, too, around the middle. That's yet another reason to suppose he was a member of the ton."
"Why is that?" Caine asked.
"Because he had more than enough to eat for one," she countered. "There weren't any callouses on his hands, either. No, he certainly wasn't a working man. I can tell you that much."
"Come and sit down," Lyon suggested. "We'd like to have descriptions of the other men as well."
"I fear there isn't much to tell," she said. "I barely saw them. I don't know if they were tall or short, fat
or thin…" She stopped to sigh. "There were three of them and that's all I had time to notice."
She looked distressed. Caine thought she was still frightened of the ordeal she'd gone through. She had seen a man fall to his death, after all, and she was such a gentle woman, she couldn't be used to such horrors.
Jade was upset, yes, and when Caine put his arm around her shoulders, she felt all the more guilty. For the first time in her life, she actually disliked lying. She kept trying to tell herself that her motives were pure. The reminder didn't help at all, though. She was deceiving three very nice people.
"We have to leave," she blurted out. "The longer we stay, the more danger we put this family in, Caine. Yes, we must leave now."
She didn't give anyone time to argue with her but rushed over to the entrance.
"Caine? Do you have a home in the country somewhere?" she asked, knowing full well that he did.
"I think we should go there. You can keep me safe away from London."
"We aren't going to Harwythe, Jade."
"The name of my country estate," he answered. "I'm taking you to my parents' home. Their property borders mine. You might not be concerned about your reputation, but I am. I'll come and see you every day to make certain you're doing all right. I'll place guards around… now why are you shaking your
head at me?"
"You'll come and visit me? Caine, you're already breaking your word to me," she cried out. "We are not going to involve your parents in this. You promised me you'd keep me safe and by God, you aren't going to leave my side until it's over."
"She sounds determined, Caine," Lyon interjected.
"I am in wholehearted agreement with Jade," Christina interjected.
"Why?" Both Caine and Lyon asked at the same time.
Christina shrugged. "Because she's my friend. I must agree with her, mustn't I?"
Neither man had a valid argument for that explanation. Jade was pleased. "Thank you, Christina. I will always agree with you, as well," she added.
Caine shook his head. "Jade," he began, thinking to draw her back to their original topic. "I am thinking about your safety when I suggest you stay with my parents."
"Do you honestly believe you'll be safe with me?"
She took exception to his incredulous tone of voice. "I most certainly do."
"Sweet, I'm not going to be able to keep my hands off you for two long weeks. I'm trying to be noble about this, damn it."
In the blink of an eye, her face turned crimson. "Caine," she whispered. "You shouldn't be saying such things in front of our guests."
"They aren't our guests," he countered in a near shout of obvious frustration. "We're their guests."
"The man's always using blasphemies around me," she told Christina. "He won't apologize either."
"Jade!" Caine roared. "Quit trying to change the topic."
"I don't believe you should shout at her, Caine," Christina advised.
"He can't help himself," Jade explained. "It's because of his cranky nature,"
"I'm not cranky," Caine announced in a much lower tone of voice. "I'm just being honest. I don't mean
to embarrass you."
"It's too late," Jade countered. "You've already embarrassed me."
Both Christina and Lyon looked absolutely mesmerized by the conversation. Caine turned to his friend. "Don't you have someplace to go?"
"Leave anyway," Caine ordered.
Lyon raised an eyebrow, then gave in. "Come along, wife. We can wait in the dining room. Caine?
You're going to have to let her explain a few more facts before you leave if you want me to…"
"Later," Caine announced.
Christina followed her husband and son out of the room. She paused to squeeze Jade's hand on her way past her. "It's best not to fight it," she whispered. "Your fate has already been determined."
Jade didn't pay any attention to that remark. She nodded just to please Christina, then shut the door and whirled around to confront Caine again. Her hands settled on her hips. "It's absolutely ridiculous to worry about keeping your hands off me. You won't take advantage of me unless I let you. I trust you," she added with a vehement nod. Her hands flew to her bodice. "With all my heart," she added quite dramatically.
The harshness in his tone startled her. She quickly recovered. "Too late, Caine. I already do trust you. You'll keep me safe and I won't let you touch me. We have an easy pact, sir. Don't you try to muddy
the waters now with last-minute worries. It will all work out. I promise you."
A commotion in the entryway drew their attention. Caine recognized the voice.
One of his grooms was stammering out his need to find his employer.
"That's Perry," Caine told Jade. "He's one of my grooms. You stay inside this room while I see what he wants."
She didn't obey that command, of course, but followed behind him.
When she saw Lyon's dark expression, she knew something foul had happened. Then her attention turned to the servant. The young man had wide hazel eyes and dark crinkly hair that stood up on end. He couldn't seem to catch his breath but kept making a circle with the hat he clutched in his hands.
"Everything be lost, mi'lord," Perry blurted out. "Merlin said to tell you it were a miracle the whole block wasn't set afire. The Earl of Haselet's town house was just a bit scorched. There be smoke damage we would imagine, but the outside walls are still intact."
"Perry, what are you…"
"Your town house caught fire, Caine," Lyon interjected. "Isn't that what you're trying to tell us, Perry?"
The servant quickly nodded. "It weren't carelessness," he defended. "We don't know how it started, mi'lord, but there weren't any candles burning, no fire unattended in the hearths. God be my witness, it weren't carelessness."
"No one is blaming you," Caine said. He kept his voice contained, his anger hidden. What the hell else could go wrong? he wondered. "Accidents happen."
"It wasn't an accident."
Everyone in the foyer turned to look at Jade. She was staring at the floor, her hands clenched together. She seemed to be so distressed, some of Caine's anger dissipated. "It's all right, Jade," he soothed.
"What 1 lost can easily be replaced." He turned back to Perry and asked, "No one was hurt?"
Lyon watched Jade while the servant stammered out the news that all the servants had gotten out in time.
Caine was relieved. He was about to give fresh orders to his groom when Lyon interrupted him. "Let me handle the authorities and the servants," he suggested. "You need to get Jade out of London, Caine."
"Yes," Caine answered. He was trying not to alarm Jade but he'd already guessed the fire had something to do with the men chasing after her.
"Perry, go to the kitchen and get something to drink," Lyon ordered. "There's always ale and brandy on the counter."
The servant hurried to comply with that suggestion,
Lyon and Caine both stared at Jade now, waiting for her to say something. She stared at the floor. She was wringing her hands together…
"Jade?" Caine asked when she continued to hold her silence. "Why don't you believe it was an accident?"
She let out a long sigh before answering. "Because it isn't the first fire, Caine. It's the third they've set. They do seem, partial to fires."
She lifted her gaze to look at him. He could see the tears in her eyes then. "They'll try again, and again, until they finally catch you… and me," she hastily added. "Inside."
"Are you saying they mean to kill you by…?" Lyon asked.
Jade shook her head. "They don't just mean to kill me now," she whispered. She looked at Caine and started to cry. "They mean to kill him, too."
Jade wiped the tears away from her face with the backs of her hands. "They must have somehow learned your true identity," she whispered. "When I went into the tavern, I thought you were Pagan… but they must have known all along, Caine. Why else would they burn your town house?"
Caine went to her and put his arm around her shoulders. He led her back into the drawing room. "Monk wouldn't have told them," he announced. "I don't know how they could have… never mind. Jade, no more half explanations," he ordered. "I have to know everything."
"I'll tell you anything you want to know," she said.
Lyon followed the pair inside the salon. He shut the doors behind him and then took his seat across from the settee. Caine gently forced Jade to sit down beside him.
Jade looked at Lyon. "I think we lost them last night when we jumped into the Thames. Perhaps, if you told Perry to pretend to continue his search looking for Caine, whoever is watching will assume you
didn't know where we were."
Lyon thought that was an excellent plan. He immediately agreed and went in search of the servant.
As soon as he left the room, Jade turned to Caine. "I can't stay with you. I understand that now. They'll kill you trying to get to me. I've tried not to like you, sir, but I've failed in that endeavor. It would upset me if you were hurt."
She tried to leave after making that explanation but Caine wouldn't let her move. He tightened his hold around her and hauled her up close to his side. "I have also tried not to like you," he whispered. He
kissed the top of her head before continuing. "But I've also failed in that endeavor. We seem to be stuck with each other, sweet."
They stared at each other a long while. Jade broke the silence. "Isn't it peculiar, Caine?"
"What's that?" he countered in a whisper to match hers.
"You've just lost your town house, we're both in terrible danger now, and all I want is for you to kiss
me. Isn't that peculiar?"
He shook his head. His hand moved to cup her chin. "No," he answered. "I want to kiss you, too."
"You do?" Her eyes widened. "Well, isn't that the…"
"Damnedest thing?" he whispered as he leaned down.
"Yes," she sighed against his mouth. "It is the damnedest thing."
His mouth took possession of hers then, ending their conversation. Jade immediately wrapped her arms around his neck. Caine nudged her mouth open by applying subtle pressure on her chin, and when she'd done as he wanted, his tongue swept inside.
He meant only to take a quick taste, but the kiss quickly got out of control. His mouth slanted over hers with hard insistence.
He couldn't get enough of her.
"For the love of… Caine, now isn't the time to…"
Lyon had made those half statements from the doorway, then strolled back over to his chair. Caine, he noticed, was reluctant to stop kissing Jade. She didn't have such reservations, however, and shoved herself away from her partner with amazing speed.
She was beet red when she glanced over at Lyon. Since he was grinning at her, she turned her attention
to her lap. She realized then that she was clutching Caine's hand against her bosom, and immediately tossed it aside.
"You forget yourself, sir," she announced.
He decided not to remind her that she'd been the one to bring up the topic of kissing in the first place.
"I think it's high time we heard her explanation," Lyon ordered. "Jade?" he asked, though in a much
softer tone when he saw the startle his booming voice had caused. Lord, she was timid. "Why don't
you tell us about the first fire?"
"I will try," she answered, her gaze still downcast. "But the memory still gives me the shivers. Please don't think me a weak woman." She turned to look up at Caine. "I'm really not weak at all."
Lyon nodded. "Then can we begin?" he asked.
"Jade, before you tell us about the fires, why don't you give us a little background?" Lyon asked.
"My father was the Earl of Wakerfields. Nathan, my brother, has that title now, along with numerous others, of course. Father died when I was eight years old. I remember he was on his way to London to see another man. I was in the garden when he came to say goodbye."
"If you were so young, how can you remember?" Caine asked.
"Papa was very upset," she answered. "He frightened me and I think that must be the reason I remember it all so clearly. He kept pacing back and forth along the path with his hands clasped behind his back and he kept telling me that if anything happened to him, Nathan and I were to go to his friend, Harry. He was so insistent I pay attention to what he was telling me that he grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me.
I was more interested in the trinkets I wanted him to bring home for me." Her voice took on a wistful quality when she added, "I was very young."
"You're still young," Caine interjected.
"I don't feel young," she admitted. She straightened her shoulders and continued. "My mother died
when I was just an infant, so I don't have any memory of her."
"What happened to your father?" Caine asked.
"He died in a carriage mishap."
"He had a premonition, then?" Lyon asked.
"No; he had an enemy."
"And you believe your father's enemy is now after you? Is that the reason for your fears?" Lyon asked.
She shook her head. "No, no," she blurted out. "I saw someone murdered. The men who killed him did get a good look at me. The only reason I told you about my father was because you asked me to explain to you my… background. Yes, Lyon, that was your very word."
"Sorry," Lyon said again. "I didn't mean to jump to conclusions."
"What happened after your father died?" Caine asked. He was suddenly feeling immensely superior to his good friend, as Lyon now looked thoroughly confused and bewildered. It was nice to know he wasn't the only one muddled around Jade. Damned nice.
"After the burial service, Harry came to get us. When the summer was over, he sent Nathan back to school. He knew our father would have wanted my brother to finish his education. I stayed with my uncle. He isn't really my uncle,,, he's actually more like a father to me now. Anyway, he took me to his island where it's always warm and peaceful. Uncle Harry was very good to me. He'd never married, you see, and I was just like his very own daughter. We got along well together. Still, I missed my brother. Nathan was only able to come and visit us once in all those years."
When she paused and gave Caine such an expectant look, he gently prodded her into continuing.
"And then what happened?"
"I came back to England so I could see Nathan, of course. I also wanted to see my father's house again. Nathan had made several changes."
"And?" Lyon asked when she paused again.
"Nathan met me in London. We went directly to his country home and spent a wonderful week together catching up. Then he was called away on an important personal matter."
"Do you know what this matter was?" Caine asked.
She shook her head. "Not all of it. A messenger arrived with a letter for Nathan. My brother became very upset when he read it. He told me he had to return to London and that he would be back in two weeks. His good friend was in trouble. That's all he would tell me, Caine. Nathan's an honorable man. He would never turn his back on a friend in need, and I would never ask him to."
"So you were left alone?" Lyon asked.
"Oh, heavens no. Nathan had a complete staff in residence. Lady Briars… she was a good friend of my father's… well, she'd hired the staff and even helped Nathan with his renovation plans. She wanted to raise us, you see, and was going to petition the court for guardianship. Then Harry took us away, and she never could find us. I will have to go and see her as soon as this has been settled. I dared not go before, of course. They'll probably burn her house to the ground if they…"
"Jade, you're digressing," Caine interjected.
"I'm sorry. Now where was I?"
"Nathan left for London," Lyon reminded her.
"Yes," she replied. "I now realize I did do something foolish. On my island, I could come and go as I wished. I never had to worry about an escort. I'd forgotten that England isn't at all the same. Here, everyone must lock their doors. Anyway, I was in such a hurry to get outside, I wasn't looking down,
you see, and the heel of my boot got caught up in the carpet loop on the way down the stairs. I took
quite a tumble," she added. "And hit my head on the knob of the banister."
She paused, waiting to hear their remarks of sympathy. When both men just continued to look at her so expectantly, she decided neither was going to say anything. She gave them both a disgruntled look for being so insensitive, then continued. "About an hour later, after my head quit pounding from my fall, I
set out on my own for a brisk walk. I soon forgot all about my aches and pains, and because it was such
a glorious day, I forgot the time. I was just about to look inside the pretty church when I heard all the commotion, and that's when I saw the poor man being pitched to the ground."
She took a deep breath. "I shouted and went running," she explained. "I had lost my direction though,
and I ended up on the rise directly above my parents' graves. That's when I saw the men again."
"The same men?" Lyon asked. He was leaning forward in his chair, his elbows braced on his knees.
"Yes, the very same men," Jade answered. She sounded bewildered. "They must have decided it wasn't worth their effort to chase after me, and they were very… occupied."
"What were they doing?" Caine asked.
She didn't immediately answer him. A feeling of foreboding settled around his heart. Her hands were clinging to his now. Caine doubted she was aware of that telling action.
"The digging," she finally answered.
"They were digging up the graves?" Lyon asked, his voice incredulous.
Caine didn't show any outward reaction. Lyon looked as though he didn't believe her. She thought it
odd indeed that she could tell a lie and both men easily accepted it, yet now when she was telling them
the full truth, it was quite another story.
"It's really true," she told Lyon. "I know it sounds bizarre, but I know what I saw."
"All right," Caine answered. "What happened next?"
"I started shouting again," she answered. "Oh, I realize I shouldn't have made a sound, for now I'd drawn their notice again. But I was so outraged I wasn't thinking properly. All three men turned to look up at me. The fancy dressed man held a pistol. Odd, but I couldn't seem to move until the shot rang out. I ran like lightning then. Hudson, Nathan's butler, was working inside the library. I told him what happened, but by the time he'd calmed me down and gained the full story, it was too dark to go looking for the men. We had to wait until the following morning."
"Were the authorities notified?"
She shook her head. "This is where it becomes a little confusing," she admitted. "The next morning, Hudson, with several strong men, went to find the body I'd seen pitched from the rooftop. Hudson wouldn't let me tag along. I was still very upset.1'
"Of course you were," Caine agreed.
"Yes," she replied with a sigh. "When Hudson and the men returned, they were trying to be as kind as you are now ibeing, Caine, but they had to tell me the truth."
"They couldn't find any t»ody. The graves hadn't been touched either."
"'So they believed you were just…"
"Imagining, Lyon?" she interrupted. "Yes, I'm certain they did. Because they were in Nathan's employ, they didn't dare tell me they thought I was… addled, but their expressions spoke for them. I immediately went back to the grave to see for myself. The wind and rain had been fierce the night before, yet even so, it didn't look as though the ground had been touched by a shovel."
"Perhaps they'd only just begun to dig when you interrupted them," Caine suggested.
"Yes, they had only just begun," she admitted, "I'll never forget their faces."
"Tell us the rest of this," Caine suggested.
"I spent the rest of the day trying to understand what their motives were. Then I went to Hudson and told him not to bother Nathan with this problem. I lied to the butler and told him I was certain it was just the setting sun playing tricks on me. I must tell you Hudson looked very relieved. He was still worried, of course, since I'd taken that fall down the stairs and bumped my head."
"Jade, couldn't this be your…"
"Imagination?" Caine asked. He shook his head. "There were at least five men chasing us last night. No, it isn't her imagination."
She gave Lyon a suspicious look. "You don't believe me, do you?"
"I do now," Lyon replied. "If there were men after you, then you did see something. What happened next?"
"I refused to give up," she told him. She tried to fold her hands in her lap and only then realized she was clinging to Caine's hand again. She pushed it away. "I can be a very stubborn woman. And so, the next morning, I once again set out to find proof."
Lyon smiled at Caine. "I would have done the same," he admitted.
"What morning was this?" Caine asked.
"Yesterday morning," she explained. "I set out on horseback. I didn't make it to my parents' graves, though. They shot my horse out from under me."
"They what?" Caine asked in a near shout.
She was pleased with his stunned reaction. "They killed Nathan's fine horse," she repeated with a nod.
"I cannot tell you how upset my brother's going to be when he finds out his favorite steed is dead. It's going to break his heart."
Caine reached for his linen handkerchief when he thought she was about to cry again. "And then what happened?" he asked.
"1 went flying to the ground, of course. I was very fortunate because I didn't break my neck. I only sustained minor injuries. Surely you noticed the bruises on my shoulders and arms when you snuck into my bedroom last night."
She turned to look at Caine and waited for his reply. "I didn't notice," he whispered. "And I didn't sneak into your room."
"How could you not have noticed my bruises?"
"I wasn't looking at your shoulders."
She could feel herself blushing again. "Well, you should have been looking at my shoulders," she stammered. "A gentleman would have noticed my injuries right away."
Caine lost his patience. "Jade, not even a eunuch would have…"
"Do you want to hear the rest of this or not?"
"Yes," he answered.
"After they shot my horse, I ran all the way back to the main house. I don't know if they chased after
me or not. I was very upset. This sort of thing has never happened to me before. I've led a very
She seemed to want agreement. "I'm sure you have," Caine supplied.
"I found Hudson again and told him what happened. I could tell right away he was having trouble believing me. The man kept trying to force a cup of tea down me. This time, however, I had proof."
"Proof?" Caine asked.
"The dead horse, man," she cried out. "Pay attention, please."
"Of course," he returned. "The dead horse. And did Hudson apologize to you when you showed him this dead horse?"
She chewed on her lower lip a long minute while she stared up at him. "Not exactly," she finally answered.
"What do you mean by not exactly?"
Lyon had asked that question. Jade turned to look at him. "I know you're going to find this difficult to believe, but when we reached the spot where the horse had gone down… well, he'd vanished."
"No, I don't find that difficult to believe," Lyon drawled out. He leaned back against the chair again.
"Do you, Caine?"
Caine smiled. "It makes as much sense as everything else she's told us."
"Hudson insisted on returning to the stables," she continued. "He was convinced we'd find the horse had found its way back home on its own."
"And was he correct in that assumption?" Caine asked.
"No, he wasn't. The men searched the grounds for the rest of the morning but they couldn't find him. There were fresh wagon tracks along the south trail, though. Do you know what I think happened, Caine? I think they put the horse in the wagon and carried him away. What do you think of that possibility?"
She sounded so eager he was a little sorry to have to disappoint her. "You obviously don't have any idea how much a fully grown horse weighs, Jade. You can take my word it would require more than three men to lift it."
"Difficult," Lyon interjected. "But not impossible."
"Perhaps the animal only had a flesh wound and wandered off," said Caine.
"A flesh wound between his eyes? I doubt that." She let out a groan of frustration. "Nathan's going to be so upset when he finds out about his house and his carriage, too."
"His house? What the hell happened to his house?" Caine muttered. "Damn, I wish you'd tell this in sequence, Jade."
"I believe she has finally gotten to the fires," Lyon said.
"Why, it burned to the ground," Jade returned.
"When did the house burn down?" Caine asked with another weary sigh. "Before or after the horse was killed?"
"Almost directly after," she explained. "Hudson had ordered Nathan's carriage made ready for me. I had decided to return to London and find Nathan. I was good and sick of the way his servants were acting. They kept a wide berth around me, and kept giving me odd looks. I knew Nathan would help me solve this riddle."
She didn't realize she'd raised her voice until Caine patted her hand and said, "Just calm down, sweet,
and finish this."
"You're looking at me the very same way Hudson… oh, all right then, I'll finish. I was on my way back to London when the footman shouted that Nathan's house was on fire. He could see the smoke coming over the hilltops. We immediately turned around, of course, but by the time we arrived back at the house… well, it was too late. I ordered the servants to go to Nathan's London town house."
"And then you set out for London again?" Caine asked. He was absentmindedly rubbing the back of her neck. It felt too good for Jade to ask him to stop.
"We stayed on the main road, but when we turned a curve, they were waiting for us. The driver was so frightened,-he ran off."
Lyon had made that remark. Caine nodded agreement.
"I don't fault the man," Jade defended. "He was frightened. People do… peculiar things when they're afraid."
"Some do," Caine allowed.
"Tell us what happened then, Jade?" Lyon asked.
"They blocked the doors and set the carriage on fire," she answered. "I was able to wiggle out through the ill-framed window. Nathan spent good coins on that vehicle, but it wasn't at all sturdy. I was able to kick the hinges away from the branches easily enough. I don't believe I'll mention that fact to my brother, though, for it would only upset him… unless, of course, he thinks to hire the same company."
"You're digressing yet again," Caine said.
Lyon smiled. "She reminds me of Christina," he admitted. "Jade, why don't you go and find my wife for me? She was going to pack a satchel for you to take with you."
Jade felt as though she'd just been given a reprieve. Her stomach was in a quiver of knots. She felt as though she'd just had to relive the terror.
She didn't waste any time at all leaving the room.
"Well, Caine?" Lyon asked when they were alone. "What do you think?"
"There were men chasing us last night," Caine reminded his friend.
"Do you believe her story?"
"She saw something."
"That isn't what I asked you."
Caine slowly shook his head. "Not a damned word," he admitted. "And you?"
Lyon shook his head. "It's the most illogical story I've ever heard. But damn, if she's telling the truth, we've got to help her."
"And if she's not?" Caine asked, already guessing the answer.
"You damned well better watch your back."
"Lyon, you don't think…"
Lyon wouldn't let him finish. "I'll tell you what I do know," he interrupted. "One, you're not being objective. I can't fault you, Caine. I reacted to Christina in much the same way you're reacting to Jade. Two, she is in danger and has put you in danger, too. Those are the only facts we can take as true."
Caine knew he was right. He leaned back against the settee. "Now tell me what your gut reaction is."
"Perhaps this has something to do with her father," Lyon suggested with a shrug. "I'll start looking into
the Earl of Wakerfield's history. Richards will be able to help."
Caine started to disagree and then changed his mind. "It couldn't hurt," he said. "Still, I'm beginning to wonder if her brother might not be behind all this. Remember, Lyon. Nathan went to London to help a friend in trouble. That's when all this started."
"If we accept the story she told us."
"Yes," Caine answered.
Lyon let out a long sigh. "I only have one question to put to you, Caine." His voice was low, insistent. "Do you trust her?"
Caine stared at his friend a long minute. "If we apply logic to this bizarre situation…"
Lyon shook his head. "I value your instincts, friend. Answer me."
"Yes," Caine said. He grinned then. For the first time in his life, he pushed reason aside. "I trust her
with my life but I couldn't give you one valid reason why. How's that for logic, Lyon?"
His friend smiled. "I trust her, too. You don't have the faintest idea why you trust her, though, do you, Caine?"
Lyon sounded downright condescending. Caine raised an eyebrow in reaction. "What are you getting at?"
"I trust her only because you do," Lyon explained. "Your instincts are never wrong. You've saved my backside more than once because I listened to you."
"You still haven't explained what your point is," Caine reminded him.
"I trusted Christina," Lyon said. "Almost from the very beginning. I swear to you it was blind faith on
my part. She led me a merry chase, too. Now I must side with my wife. Christina, as you know, has some rather unusual opinions. She's on the mark this time, though."
"And how is that?" Caine asked.
*'I believe, good friend, that you've just met your destiny." He let out a soft chuckle and shook his head. "God help you now, Caine, for your chase is just about to begin."
The ladies were waiting in the foyer for Caine and Lyon. A large gray and white speckled satchel was
on the floor between them.
Caine tried to lift it, then shook his head. "For God's sake, Jade, no horse is going to be able to carry
this load. The weight will be too much for the animal."
He knelt on one knee, flipped open the catch on the satchel and looked inside. Then he let out a low whistle. "There's a bloody arsenal in here," he told Lyon. "Who packed this thing?"
"I did," Christina answered. "There are just a few weapons I thought Jade might need to protect the
two of you."
"Weapons Jade might need to protect me?" He looked incredulous. "Lyon, did your wife just insult me?"
Lyon smiled while he nodded. "She certainly did, Caine. You might as well apologize now and get it
"Why in God's name would I apologize?"
"It will save time," Lyon explained. He was trying not to laugh. Caine looked thoroughly bewildered.
"Marriage has made you soft," Caine muttered.
"As soft as milk toast," Lyon announced with a grin.
Caine turned his attention back to stripping the unnecessary items from the bag.
While both ladies gasped in dismay, Caine tossed several long knives to the floor, two pistols, and one mean-looking link of chain. "You aren't going to need all of this, Jade. Besides, you're far too timid to
use any of them."
She was already gathering up the weapons. "Leave them there, my little warrior."
"Oh, have it your way," she muttered. "And quit using endearments on me, sir. Save them for the other women in your life. I'm neither your sweetheart, nor your love, and I'm certainly not your warrior. Oh, don't look so innocently perplexed, Caine. Christina told me all about the other women."
He was still trying to make sense out of her earlier comment. "Calling you a warrior is an endearment in your befuddled mind?"
"It most certainly is, you rude man," she replied. "I won't make you apologize for calling me befuddled, but only because you're probably still cranky over the news that your town house was burned down."
Caine felt like growling in frustration. He finished stripping the bag of unnecessary weapons, then clipped the lock shut. "Thank you for going to all the trouble, Christina, but you may need your weapons to keep Lyon safe. Come along, Jade," he ordered. He took the bag in one hand and Jade's hand in the other. His grip stung.
She didn't mind. She was too pleased at how well she had told her stories-how she had at once convinced Caine and confused him. The set of Caine's jaw indicated he wasn't in a reasonable mood.
She let him drag her to the back door. Lyon's groom had readied two mounts for them. Just as Jade was passing through the doorway, Christina threw her arms around her and hugged her tight. "God speed,"
Caine tied the satchel to his mount, then tossed Jade on top of the other horse. She waved farewell as
she followed Caine through the back gate.
Jade glanced back again to look at Lyon and Christina. She tried to memorize Christina's smile, Lyon's frown, too, for she was certain she wouldn't ever see them again.
Christina had mentioned destiny more than once to her. She believed Caine was going to become Jade's lifelong mate. But Christina didn't understand the full situation. And when Christina learned the truth,
Jade feared her new friend would never acknowledge her again.
It was too painful to think about. Jade forced herself to think only of the one reason she was there. Her duty was to protect Caine until Nathan came home.
And that was that. Her destiny had been determined years ago.
"Stay closer to me, Jade," Caine ordered from over his shoulder.
Jade immediately nudged her mount closer.
Caine certainly took a roundabout way out of London. He circled the outskirts of the city, then backtracked to make certain they weren't being followed.
He refused to take the north road until they were an hour away from the city.
The ride should have taken them approximately three hours. Yet because of his cautious nature, they were only halfway to their destination before he took to the main road.
Jade recognized the area. "If they haven't moved it, Nathan's carriage is just a little ahead of us," she told Caine.
It was further away then she remembered. Jade decided the vehicle had been dragged off when they'd ridden another half hour or so and still not spotted it.
Then they turned yet another crooked bend in the road and saw it on the side of the narrow ravine.
Caine never said a word. His expression was grim, however, when they rode past the carriage.
"Well?" she asked.
"It was gutted, all right," he answered.
She heard the anger in his voice and began to worry that he was blaming her for the destruction. "Is that all you have to say?" she asked. She nudged her mount to his side so she could see his expression. "You didn't believe me, did you? That's why you're angry."
"I believe you now," he countered.
She waited a long minute before she realized he wasn't going to say any more.
"And?" she asked, thinking to gain his apology.
"And haven't you anything else to say?" she demanded.
"I could say that as soon as I find the bastards who did this I'm going to kill them," he replied in a mild, thoroughly chilling voice. "And after they are dead, I'll probably want to set their bodies on fire just for the hell of it. Yes, I could say that, but it would only upset you, wouldn't it, Jade?"
Her eyes had widened during his recitation. There wasn't any doubt in her mind that he meant to do
what he said. A shiver passed through her.
"Yes, Caine, it would upset me to hear such plans. You can't go around killing people, no matter how angry you are with them."
He pulled his mount to an abrupt stop next to hers. Then he reached out and grabbed the back of her neck. She was so startled, she didn't try to move away.
"I protect what is mine."
She wasn't about to give him argument. He looked as if he might throttle her if she did. Jade simply
stared at him and waited for him to let go of her.
"Do you understand what I'm telling you?" he demanded.
"Yes," she answered. "You will protect what belongs to you. I understand."
Caine shook his head. The little innocent was actually trying to placate him. He suddenly jerked her to
the side of her saddle, leaned down, and kissed her. Hard. Possessively.
She was more bewildered than ever. Caine pulled back and stared into her eyes. "It's time you
understood that you're going to belong to me, Jade."
She shook her head. "I'll belong to no man, Caine, and it's time you understood that."
He looked furious with her. Then, in the flash of a moment, his expression softened. Her sweet
protector was back in evidence. Jade almost sighed with relief.
"It's time we left the main road again," he said, deliberately changing the topic.
"Caine, I want you to realize…"
"Don't argue," he interrupted.
She nodded and was about to nudge her horse down the slope when Caine took the reins from her
hands and lifted her into his lap.
"Why am I riding with you?" she asked.
"You could tell?"
For the first time in a long while, he smiled. "I could tell."
"I am weary," she admitted. "Caine, will Lyon's horse follow us? Your friend will be upset if his mount gets lost."
"She'll follow us," he answered.
"Good," she answered. She wrapped her arms around his waist and rested the side of her face against
his chest. "You smell so nice," she whispered.
"So do you," he told her.
He sounded terribly preoccupied to her. He also seemed determined to take the most challenging route through the forest. Jade put up with the inconvenience for a good ten minutes, then finally asked,
"Why are you making this journey so difficult?"
Caine blocked another low-hanging branch with his arm before answering her. "We're being followed."
That statement, given so matter-of-factly, stunned her as much as a pinch in the backside would if given by a stranger. She was immediately outraged. "We're not," she cried out. "I would have noticed."
She tried to pull away from him so she could look over his shoulder to see for herself. Caine wouldn't
let her move. "It's all right," he said. "They're still a distance behind us."
"How do you know?" she asked. "Have they been following us since we left London? No, of course
they haven't. I really would have noticed. How many do you suppose they are? Caine? Are you absolutely certain?"
He squeezed her into quitting her questions. "I'm certain," he answered. "They've been following us for about three, maybe four miles now. More specifically, since we reached my property line. I believe their number is six or seven."
"I spotted them the last time I backtracked," he patiently explained.
"I backtracked with you, if you'll remember," she countered. "And I didn't see anyone."
She sounded incensed. Caine didn't know what to make of that reaction.
"Are we very far from your house?"
"About fifteen minutes away," Caine answered.
They broke through a clearing a short while later. Jade felt as though she'd just entered a wonderland. "It's beautiful here," she whispered.
The grassy clearing was circled on two sides by a narrow stream that trailed down a lazy slope adjacent
to a small cabin. Sunlight filtered through the branches bordering the paradise.
"Perhaps the gamekeeper is inside the cabin," she said. "He might be willing to help us trap the villains."
"The cabin's deserted."
"Then we'll just have to trap them on our own. Did you leave all the pistols behind?"
He didn't answer her. "Caine? Aren't we going to stop?"
"No," he said. "We're just taking a shortcut."
"Have you chosen another spot to wait for them?"
"I'm taking you home first, Jade. I'm not about to take any risks with you along. Now tuck your head
and close your mouth. It's going to get rough."
Since he was back to sounding surly again, she did as he ordered. She could feel his chin on the top of
her head as she squeezed her face against the base of his throat.
"Someday I want to come back to this spot," she whispered.
He didn't remark on that hope. He hadn't been exaggerating either when he said it was going to get rough. As soon as they reached the open fields, Caine pushed his mount into a full gallop. Jade felt like she was flying through the air again. It wasn't at all the same feeling as being pitched into the Thames, though, for now she had Caine to hold onto.
Whoever was behind this treachery had sent men to Caine's estate to wait for him. Jade worried about the possibility of an ambush when they neared the main grounds. She prayed her men would be there to take up the battle.
* * *
They were just about to reach the crest and the cover of the trees again when the sound of pistol shots rang out. Jade didn't know how to protect Caine's back now. She tried to twist in his arms to see where the threat was coming from, even as she instinctively splayed her hands wide up his shoulders to cover
as much of him as she could.
The shots were coming from the southeast. Jade jostled herself over onto his left thigh, just as another shot echoed in the wind.
"Hold still," Caine ordered against her ear at the same second she felt a mild sting in her right side. She
let out a soft gasp of surprise and tried to look at her waist. It felt as though a lion had just swatted her with his claws extended. Just as quickly, however, the ache began to dissipate. A rather irritating burning sensation radiated up her side, and Jade decided one of the branches they'd just broken through had cut into her side.
Numbness set in and she put the matter of her paltry scratch aside.
"We're almost home," Caine told her.
In her worry, she forgot to act afraid. "Watch your back when we get near the house," she ordered.
Caine didn't answer that command. He took the back road up to the stables. His men must have heard
the commotion, for at least ten hands were rushing toward the forest, their weapons at the ready.
Caine shouted to the stablemaster to open the doors, then rode inside. Jade's mount galloped behind. The stablemaster grabbed the reins and had the mare slapped inside the first stall before Caine had lifted Jade to the ground.
His grip on her waist made the ache in her side start nagging again. She bit her lower lip to keep herself from shouting at him.
"Kelley!" Caine shouted.
A yellow-haired, middle-aged man with a stocky frame and a full beard rushed over. "Yes, mi'lord?"
"Stay here with Jade," he ordered. "Keep the doors closed until I get back."
Caine tried to remount his steed then, but Jade grabbed hold of the back of his jacket and gave it a fierce jerk. "Are you demented? You can't go back outside."
"Let go, sweetheart," he said. "I'll be right back."
He pulled her hands away and gently pushed her back against the stall. Jade wasn't about to give up, however. She dug into his lapels and held on.
"But Caine," she wailed while he was peeling her hands away. "They mean to kill you."
"I know, love."
"I mean to kill them first."
He realized he shouldn't have shared that truth with her when she threw her arms around his waist and squeezed him in a grip that was surprisingly strong.
They both heard two more shots ring out while he pulled her arms away.
Caine assumed his men had taken up the fight. Jade prayed her men had already intervened and chased the villains away.
"Shut the doors after me, Kelley!" Caine shouted as he swiftly remounted and goaded his stallion around.
Another shot sounded just a minute or two after Caine had left. Jade rushed past the stablemaster and looked out the small square window. Caine's body wasn't sprawled out in a pool of blood in the field.
She started breathing again.
"There's absolutely nothing to be worried about," she muttered.
"You best get away from the window," Kelley whispered from behind.
Jade ignored that suggestion until he started tugging on her arm. "Mi'lady, please wait for the Marquess
in a safer spot. Come and sit over here," he continued. "The Marquess will be back soon."
She couldn't sit down. Jade couldn't stop herself from pacing or fretting, either. She prayed that both Matthew and Jimbo had taken care of the intruders. They were two of her most loyal men. Both were well trained in trickery, too, for Black Harry had personally seen to their education.
This was all Caine's fault, she decided. She certainly wouldn't be in such a state of nerves if he'd turned out to be anything like the man she'd read about in the file. He seemed to have two completely different personalities, however. Oh, she knew the file told the truth. His superiors had referred to him as a cold, methodical man when the task at hand needed his special consideration.
Yet the man she'd encountered wasn't at all cold or unfeeling. She'd played on Caine's protector instincts, but she believed he was going to be very difficult all the same. He hadn't turned out to be difficult at all, though. He was a caring man who'd already taken her under his wing.
The problem, of course, was the contradiction. Jade didn't like inconsistencies. It made Caine unpredictable. And unpredictable meant dangerous.
The doors suddenly flew open. Caine stood there, his mount still in a lathered pant behind him.
She was so relieved to see he was safe, her knees went weak on her. Every muscle in her body began to ache. She had to sit down in the chair Kelley provided before she could speak.
"You're all right, then?" she managed to ask.
Caine thought she looked as if she were about to burst into tears. He gave her a smile to reassure her, then led his horse inside. After handing the reins to the stablemaster, and waving the men who were following him back outside, he casually leaned against the wall next to her. He was deliberately trying to make her believe nothing much out of the ordinary had happened.
"The fight was over and done with by the time 1 got to the forest."
"The fight was over? How could it be over?" she asked. "I don't understand."
"They must have changed their minds," he said.
"You don't have to lie to me," she cried out. "And you can quit acting as though we're discussing the crops, too. Now tell me what happened."
He let out a long sigh. "Most of the fight was over and done with by the time I got there."
"Caine, no more lies," she demanded.
"I'm not lying," he countered.
"Then make sense," she ordered. "You're supposed to be logical, remember?"
He'd never heard that tone of voice from her before. God's truth, she sounded like a commander now. Caine grinned. "It was the damnedest thing I ever saw," he admitted. "I got two of them, then turned to the area I thought hid the rest, but when I got there, they were gone."
"They ran away?"
He shook his head. "There was evidence that a fight had taken place."
"Then your men…"
"Were with me," he interjected.
Jade folded her hands in her lap, her gaze downcast so he wouldn't be able to see her expression. She feared she wouldn't be able to hide her relief or her pleasure. Matthew and Jimbo had done their jobs well. "No, that doesn't make any sense," she agreed.
"There was evidence of a fight," he said, watching her closely.
"Evidence?" she asked, her voice whisper soft. "Such as?"
"Footprints… blood on a leaf," he returned. "Other signs as well, but not a body in sight."
"Do you think they might have had an argument among themselves?"
"Without making a sound?" he asked, sounding incredulous.
"You didn't hear any noise?"
"No." Caine continued to lean against the wall. He stared at Jade.
She stared back. She thought he might be filtering through the information he'd gained over the past hours, yet the strange expression on his face worried her. She was suddenly reminded of a story Black Harry liked to tell about the wonderful, unpredictable grizzly bears who roamed the wilderness of the Americas. The animal was such a cunning breed. Harry said the bear was actually much smarter than
his human trackers. Often he would deliberately lead his victims into a trap or circle back to attack. The poor unsuspecting hunter usually died before realizing he'd actually become the hunted.
Was Caine as cunning as the grizzly? That possibility was too chilling to think about. "Caine? You
frighten me when you look at me that way," she whispered. "I hate it when you frown."
She underlined that lie by wringing her hands together. "You're sorry you got involved in this mess,
aren't you? I can't fault you, sir," she added in a melodramatic tone of voice. "You're going to get
yourself killed if you stay with me. I'm very like a cat," she continued with a nod. "I bring people terrible luck. Just leave me here in your barn and go on home. When darkness falls, I'll walk back to London."
"I believe you've just insulted me again," he drawled out. "Haven't I already explained that no one
touches what belongs to me?"
"I don't happen to belong to you," she snapped, somewhat irritated he hadn't been impressed with her theatrics. The man should be trying to comfort her now, shouldn't he? "You can't just decide that I…
oh, never mind. You're shamefully possessive, aren't you?"
He nodded. "I am possessive by nature, Jade, and you will belong to me."
He sounded downright mean now. Jade valiantly held his stare. "You're not only in error, sir, but you're horribly stubborn, too. I'd wager you never shared your toys when you were a child, did you?"
She didn't give him time to answer that allegation. "Still, I didn't mean to insult you."
Caine pulled her to her feet. He put his arm around her shoulders and started toward the doors.
"You can't continue to protect me."
"And why is that, love?"
"A father shouldn't have to lose two sons."
The woman certainly didn't put much store in his ability, he thought to himself. Still, she sounded so frightened, he decided not to take exception. "No, he shouldn't," he replied. "Your brother shouldn't
have to lose his only sister, either. Now listen to me. I'm not sorry I got involved, and I'm not going to leave you. I'm your protector, remember?"
Her expression was solemn. "No, you're more than just my protector," she said. "You've become my guardian angel."
Before he could answer her, she leaned up on tiptoe and kissed him.
"I shouldn't have done that," she said then, feeling herself blush. "I don't usually show much affection, but when I'm with you… well, I find I like it when you put your arm around me or hug me. I do wonder about this sudden change in me. Do you think I might be wanton?"
He didn't laugh. She seemed too sincere and he didn't want to hurt her feelings. "I'm pleased you like it when I touch you," he said. He paused just inside the door and leaned down to kiss her. "I find I love touching you." His mouth captured hers then. The kiss was long, hard, lingering. His tongue rubbed against her soft lips until they opened for him, then slid inside with lazy insistence. When he pulled
back, she had a most bemused look on her face again.
"You tried your damnedest to become my shield on that horse, didn't you, love?"
She was so surprised by that question, her mind emptied of all plausible explanations.
"What did I do?"
"You tried to become my shield," he answered. "When you realized the shots were coming from…"
"I didn't," she interrupted.
"And the other night, when you threw yourself into me and knocked me off center, you actually saved my life," he continued as though she hadn't interrupted him.
"I didn't mean to," she interjected. "I was afraid."
She couldn't discern from his expression what he was thinking. "If there is a next time, I promise not to get in your way," she rushed out. "Please forgive me for not being very logical, Caine. You see, I've never been chased after before, or shot at, or… do you know, I don't believe I feel very well now. Yes,
I feel sick. I really do."
It took him a moment to make the switch in topics.
"Is it your head, sweet? We should have asked Christina for something to put on that bump."
She nodded. "It is my head and my stomach and my side, too," she told him as they walked toward the front of the main house.
She was weak with relief, for her aches and pains had waylaid his attention. Jade glanced around her, realizing for the first time how beautiful the landscape was. When they turned the corner, she came to
an abrupt stop.
The drive seemed to be unending. It was lined with a multitude of trees, most at least a hundred years old by Jade's estimation. The branches arched high across the gravel drive, providing an enchanting canopy.
The redbrick house was three stories high. White pillars lined the front, adding a regal touch. Each of the oblong windows was draped in white cloth and each was identically held in place with black tiebacks.
The front door had been painted black as well, and even from the drive, the attention to detail was very apparent.
"You didn't tell me you were so wealthy," she announced.
She sounded irritated to him. "I live a comfortable life," he answered, a shrug in his voice.
"Comfortable? This rivals Carlton House," she said.
She suddenly felt as out of place as a fish on the beach.
Jade pushed his arm away from her shoulders and continued on.
"I don't like wealthy men," she announced.
"Too bad," he replied, laughing.
"Why is it too bad?" she asked.
Caine was trying to get her to move again. She'd stopped at the bottom of the steps and was now staring up at the house as though it was somehow a threat to her. He could see the fear in her eyes.
"It's going to be all right, Jade," he said. "Don't be afraid."
She reacted as though he'd just defamed her family. "I'm not afraid," she stated in her most haughty
tone and with a glare to match.
It had been instinctive, giving him that setdown for daring to suggest such a sin, but she soon realized her blunder. Damn, she was suppose to be afraid. And now Caine was looking at her with that unreadable expression on his face again.
She never would have made that error if she hadn't been in such sorry shape. Lord, she ached.
"You insult yourself by saying I'm afraid," she explained.
"Caine, if I am still afraid, then it would mean I don't have any faith in you, wouldn't it?"
Her sudden smile diverted his attention. "As to that," she continued, "I've already counted eleven men with their weapons at the ready. I assumed they were in your employ, since they aren't trying to shoot us. The fact that you'd already seen to such nice precautions set my mind to rest."
Her smile widened when she guessed he was thinking she was daft again. Then she stumbled. It wasn't another ploy to turn his attention, but a real stumble that would have felled her to the ground if he hadn't caught her.
"My knees are weak," she hastily explained. "I'm not accustomed to riding. Do let go of my waist, Caine. It aches a bit."
"What doesn't ache, love?" he asked. His tone was filled with amusement, yet there was tenderness in
She tried to act disgruntled. "I'm a woman, remember? And you did say all women were weak. Is that
the reason you're looking so smug now, sir? Because I've just given your outrageous opinion substance?"
"When you look at me like that, I seem to Forget all about Slow confusing you are. You have the most beautiful eyes, love. I think I know what green fire looks like now."
She knew he was trying to embarrass her. His slow, sexy wink said as much. The man could be a tease all right. When tie leaned down and kissed the top of her forehead, she had to catch herself from letting out a telling sigh of pleasure. She forgot all about her aches and pains.
The front door opened then, drawing Caine's attention. With his gentle prodding, she also turned, just as
a tall, elderly man appeared in the entrance.
He looked just like a gargoyle. Jade assumed the man was Caine's butler. He was dressed all in black, save for his white cravat, of course, and his austere manner more than matched his formal attire. The servant looked as though he had been dunked in a vat of starch and left out to dry.
"That's my man, Sterns," Caine explained. "Don't let him frighten you, Jade," he added when she moved a step closer to his side. "He can be as intimidating as a king when the mood comes over him."
The thread of affection in Caine's voice told her he wasn't at all intimidated. "If Sterns takes a liking to you, and I'm sure he will, then he'll defend you to the death. He's as loyal as they come."
The man under discussion advanced down the steps with a dignified stride. When he faced his employer, he made a stiff bow. Jade noticed the wings of silver hair on the sides of his temples and guessed his age to be in the middle to late fifties. Both the salt and pepper hair and his grossly unattractive face reminded her of her Uncle Harry.
She liked him already.
"Good day, mi'lord," Sterns stated before he turned to look at Jade. "Did your hunt go well?"
"I wasn't hunting," Caine answered.
"Then the pistol shots I heard were just for sport?"
The servant hadn't bothered to look at his employer when he made that remark but continued to give
Jade his full scrutiny.
Caine smiled. He was vastly amused by Sterns' behavior. His man wasn't one to rattle easily. He was certainly rattled now, and Caine knew he was fighting quite a battle to maintain his rigid composure.
"I was after men, not game," Caine explained.
"And were you successful?" Sterns inquired in a voice that suggested he wasn't the least interested.
"No," Caine answered. He let out a sigh over his butler's lack of attention. Still, he couldn't very well
fault the man for falling under Jade's spell. He'd already done the same. "Yes, Sterns, she is very beautiful, isn't she?"
The butler gave an abrupt nod, then forced himself to turn back to his lord.
"That she is, mi'lord," he agreed. "Her character, however, is still to be discerned." He clasped his hands behind his back and gave his lord a quick nod.
"You'll find that her character is just as beautiful," Caine replied.
"You've never brought a lady home before, mi'lord."
"No, I haven't."
"And she is our guest?"
"She is," Caine answered.
"Am I making more of this than I should, perchance?"
Caine shook his head. "No, you're not, Sterns."
The butler raised an eyebrow, then nodded again. "It's about time, mi'lord," Sterns said. "Do you require one of the guest chambers made ready or will the lady be occupying your rooms?"
Because the sinful question had been asked in such a matter-of-fact fashion, and because she was still stinging from their rudeness in talking about her as though she wasn't even there, she was a little slow to take insult. Only when the fullness of what Sterns was suggesting settled in her mind did she react. She moved away from Caine's side and took a step toward the butler. "This lady will require a room of her own, my good man. A room with a sturdy lock on the door. Do I make myself clear?"
Sterns straightened himself to his full height. "I understand perfectly well, mi'lady," he announced. Although the man's tone was dignified, there was a noticeable sparkle in his brown eyes. It was a look only Caine had been privy to before. "I shall check the bolt myself," he added with a meaningful glance
in his employer's direction.
"Thank you so much, Sterns," Jade replied. "I have many enemies chasing after me, you see, and I won't rest properly if I have to worry about certain gentlemen sneaking into my room at night to put my nightgown back on me. You can understand that, can't you?" "Jade, don't start…" Caine began. "Caine suggested I stay with his mama and papa, but I couldn't do that, Sterns," she continued, ignoring Caine's rude interruption. "1 don't want to drag his dear parents into this sorry affair. When one is being hunted down like a mad dog, one simply doesn't have time to worry about one's reputation. Don't you agree, sir?"
Sterns had blinked several times during Jade's explanation, then nodded when she gave him such a
sweet, expectant look.
A clap of thunder echoed in the distance. "We're going to get soaked if we stand out here much longer," Caine said.
"Sterns, I want you to send Parks for the physician before the storm breaks."
"Caine, is that really necessary?" Jade asked.
"You're ill, mi'lord?" Sterns inquired, his concern apparent in his gaze.
"No," Caine answered. "I want Winters to have a look at Jade. She's been in a mishap."
"A mishap?" Sterns asked, turning back to Jade.
"He threw me in the Thames," she explained.
Sterns raised an eyebrow in reaction to that statement. Jade nodded, pleased with his obvious interest.
"That isn't the mishap I was referring to," Caine muttered. "Jade has a rather nasty bump on her head.
It's made her a little light-headed."
"Oh, that," Jade countered. "It doesn't sting nearly as much as the stitch in my side," she added. "I don't want your physician prodding at me. I won't have it."
"You will have it," Caine replied. "I promise you that he won't prod. I won't let him."
"I'm afraid it isn't possible to fetch Winters for your lady," Stems interjected. "He's gone missing."
"Winters is missing?"
"Over a month now," Sterns explained. "Should I send for another physician? Your mother turned to
Sir Harwick when she couldn't locate Winters. I understand she was pleased with his services."
"Who required Sir Harwick's attention?" Caine asked.
"Your father, though he protested most vehemently," Sterns said. "His loss of weight has your mother and your sisters very concerned."
"He grieves for Colin," Caine said, his tone abrupt, weary, too. "I hope to God he pulls out of this soon. AH right, Sterns, send Parks for Harwick."
"Do not send Parks for Harwick," Jade commanded.
"Jade, now isn't the time to be difficult."
"Mi'lady, what happened to you in this unfortunate mishap? Did someone hit you on your head?"
"No," she answered shyly. She lowered her gaze to the I ground. "I fell. Please don't become upset on
my behalf, Sterns," she added when she peeked up and caught his Sympathetic expression. "It's only a little, insignificant bump. Would you like to see it?" she asked as she lifted her hair away from her temple.
The movement made her side start nagging her again. She couldn't quite block the pain this time.
Sterns couldn't have been more interested in her injury, or more compassionate. While Caine watched,
his butler turned into a lady's maid. He stammered out all sorts of condolences, and when Jade accepted his arm and the two of them started up the steps together, Caine was left to stare after them.
"We must put you to bed immediately, dear lady," Sterns announced. "How did you take your fall, mi'lady, if I may be so bold as to inquire?"
"I lost my balance and fell down a full flight of steps," she answered. "It was very clumsy of me."
"Oh, no, I'm certain you aren't at all clumsy," Sterns rushed out.
"It is kind of you to say so, Sterns. Do you know, the pain is not nearly as awful now, but my side… well, sir, I don't wish to alarm you, nor do I wish you to think I'm a complainer… Caine believes I do nothing but complain and cry. Those were his very words, sir. Yes, they were…"
Caine came up behind her and grabbed hold of her shoulders. "Let's have a look at your side. Take
your jacket off."
"No," she answered as she walked into the foyer. "You'll only prod at it, Caine."
A line of servants waited to greet their employer. Jade breezed past them while she held on to Sterns' arm. "Sir, is my room in the front of the house? I do hope so. I would love to have a window facing the lovely view of the drive and the forest beyond."
Because of her cheerful tone of voice, Caine decided she'd been exaggerating about her aches. "Sterns, take her upstairs and get her settled while I take care of a few matters."
He didn't wait for a reply but turned and walked out the front door again.
"Have Parks fetch the physician," Sterns called down from the top of the steps. The butler turned to
Jade. "Don't argue with us, mi'lady. You look terribly pale to me. I cannot help but notice that your
hands feel like ice."
Jade hastily removed her hand from his. She hadn't realized she'd held onto him as she climbed the steps. Sterns had noticed, of course. The poor dear was obviously worn out. Why, she was actually trembling.
"The sun will be setting soon. You'll have your dinner in bed," he added. "Did mi'lord really throw you
in the Thames?" he asked when he thought she was about to argue with his decisions.
She smiled. "He did," she answered. "And he has yet to apologize. He threw away my satchel, too. I'm
a pauper now," she added, sounding cheerful again. "Lady Christina did give me some of her lovely clothes, though, and I thank God for that."
"You don't seem very saddened by your current predicament," Sterns remarked. He opened the door to her room, then stepped back so she could pass through.
"Oh, I don't believe in being sad," she answered. "Why, Sterns, what a lovely bedroom. Gold is my
very favorite color. Is the coverlet made of silk?"
"Satin," Sterns answered, smiling over the enthusiasm in her voice. "May I assist you in removing your jacket, mi'lady?"
Jade nodded. "Would you open the window first? It's a bit stuffy in here." She walked over to look outside, judging the distance to the cover of trees. Matthew and Jimbo would be waiting for her signal come darkness. They'd be watching the windows for the lighted candle, the sign they'd decided upon,
to indicate that all was well.
Jade turned when Sterns began to tug on her jacket. "I shall have this cleaned for you, mi'lady."
"Yes, please," she answered. "I believe there's a small tear in the side too, Sterns. Could you have someone patch it up, too?"
Sterns didn't answer her. Jade looked up at his face. "Have you gone ill, sir?" she asked. The servant
was suddenly looking quite green in the complexion to her. "Sterns, do sit down. Don't take insult, but
I believe you might be in jeopardy of a swoon,"
He shook his head when she shoved him into the chair adjacent to the window. The butler finally found his voice. He shouted in a true roar for his lord to present himself.
* * *
Caine was just starting up the stairs when he heard Sterns' bellow. "Now what has she done?" he muttered to himself. He rushed through the foyer where the servants were again lined up, passed a wave in their general direction, and then raced up the staircase.
He came to an abrupt stop when he reached the doorway, for the sight he came upon did surprise him. Sterns was struggling to get out of the wingback chair. Jade held him down with one hand on his shoulder. She was fanning him with a thin book she held in her other hand.
"What in God's name… Sterns? Are you ill?"
"He's gone faint," Jade announced. "Help me get him to the bed, Caine."
"Her side, mi'lord," Sterns protested. "Dear lady, do quit waving that book in my face. Caine, have a
look at her side."
Caine understood before Jade did. He hurried over to Jade, turned her around, and when he got a good look at the god-awful blood soaking her white blouse, he wanted to sit down, too.
"Dear God," he whispered. "Oh, sweetheart, what happened to you?"
Jade let out a loud gasp when she saw the damage. She would have staggered backward if he hadn't
been holding her. "Love, didn't you know you were bleeding?"
She looked dumbfounded. "I didn't know. I thought it was a scratch from one of the branches."
Sterns stood on her other side. "She's lost a fair amount of blood, mi'lord," he whispered.
"Yes, she has," Caine answered, trying his best not to sound overly concerned. He didn't want her to become any more frightened.
His hands shook when he gently lifted the garment away from her waistband. She noticed. "It's bad,
isn't it?" she whispered.
"Don't look at it, sweetheart," he said. "Does it hurt?"
"The minute I saw all the blood, it started hurting like the devil."
Jade noticed the tear in Christina's garment then. "They ruined my friend's lovely top," she cried out. "They bloody well shot right through it. Just look at that hole, Caine. It's the size of a… of a…"
"Pistol shot?" Sterns suggested.
Caine had worked the top away and was now using his knife on her chemise.
"She's getting dotty on us," Sterns whispered. "You'd best put her on the bed before she swoons."
"I'll not swoon, Sterns, and you should apologize for thinking I would. Caine, please let go of me. It isn't decent to cut my clothes away. I'll take care of this injury by myself."
Jade was suddenly desperate to get both men out of her room. Since the moment she'd seen the injury, her stomach had been in an uproar. She felt light-headed now and her knees were starting to buckle up
"Well, Sterns?" she asked. "Do I get my apology or not?"
Before the butler was given a chance to answer, Jade said, "Bloody hell. I am going to swoon after all."
Jade came awake with a start. She was surprised to find herself in bed, for she didn't have the faintest idea how she'd gotten there. After a long moment, the truth settled in. Good God, she really had fainted.
She was trying to come to terms with this humiliation when she realized the breeze coming in through
the open window was cooling her bare skin.
She opened her eyes to find Sterns leaning over her from one side of the bed and Caine bending over
her from the opposite side. Their deep scowls were almost enough to send her into another faint.
"The shot went clear through," Caine muttered.
"Thank the Lord for that," Sterns whispered.
"Which one of you scoundrels removed my clothing when I wasn't looking?" she asked, her tone of
voice as crisp as new frost.
Sterns visibly jumped. Caine merely smiled. "You're feeling better, mi'lady?" the butleT inquired after he'd regained his composure.
"Yes, thank you. Sterns? Why are you holding my hand?" she asked.
"To keep you still, mi'lady," he answered.
"You may let go of me now. I won't interfere with Caine's task."
After he'd complied with that request, she immediately tried to push Caine's hands away from her side. "You're prodding, Caine," she whispered.
"I'm almost finished, Jade."
His voice sounded terribly surly to her, yet he was being incredibly gentle, too. It was a contradiction. "Are you angry with me, Caine?"
He didn't even bother to glance up when he gave his curt answer. "No."
"You could sound a little more convincing," she countered. "You are angry," she added with a nod.
"I don't understand why…" She paused to let out a gasp.
Caine assumed the bandage he was applying to her injury had caused her discomfort. "Is it too tight?"
he asked, his gaze filled with concern.
"You think this is all my fault, don't you?" she stammered out. "You think I deliberately…"
"Oh, no, mi'lady," Sterns interrupted. "The Marquess doesn't blame you. You didn't mean to get
yourself shot. Mi'lord always gets a bit…"
"Cranky?" she supplied.
The butler nodded. "Yes, he gets cranky when he's worried."
She turned her attention back to Caine. "I'm sorry if I worried you," she said then. "Are you still worried?"
"Then the injury isn't as terrible as it looked?"
Caine nodded. He put the finishing touches on his handiwork before giving her his full attention.
"A mere flesh wound, Jade," he said. "You should be up and about in no time."
He really looked as if he meant what he said. Jade was immediately relieved.
"Cover my legs, Sterns, and don't look while you're doing it," she ordered. Her voice had regained some of its bite, warming a smile out of the dour-faced man.
Jade was wearing only her chemise now. One side of the lace-bordered garment had been torn wide to expose her injury. She understood the necessity of having her clothes removed, but now that she knew she wasn't in jeopardy of dying, appearances needed to be maintained.
The butler did as she requested, then left to fetch a tray of supper for her. She and Caine were all alone. "I don't care if it's only a paltry flesh wound," she said. "I've decided I'm going to linger, Caine."
He sat down on the side of the bed, took hold of her hand, and gave her a heart-stopping smile. "Why
do I get the feeling there's more to this announcement?"
"How astute of you, sir," she countered. "There is more. While I'm lingering, you're going to stay by my sick bed. This is, after all, probably all your fault," she added with a nod.
She had to bite her lower lip to keep herself from laughing. Caine looked thoroughly confused.
"Oh?" he asked when she stared at him expectantly. "How have you come to the conclusion that it's my fault?"
She shrugged. "I haven't quite figured it out yet, but I will. Now give me your word, Caine. I won't rest easy until I know you won't leave my side."
"All right, love," he answered. His wink was slow, devilish. "I won't leave your side day or night."
The significance in that statement wasn't lost on her. "You may take to your own bed at night," she replied.
"May I?" he asked dryly.
Jade decided not to goad him any further, guessing he'd get downright cranky if she persisted with her orders. Besides, she'd won this round, hadn't she?
The inconvenience of getting shot was going to be turned into a nice advantage. She now had a perfectly good reason to keep him at her side. Why, she just might linger until Nathan came to fetch her.
She hadn't realized how exhausted she was. She fell asleep right after dinner, the tray still perched on her lap, and only awakened once during the night. Twin candles were burning a soft light on the night stand. Jade remembered the signal she needed to give to Jimbo and Matthew to let them know all was well, and immediately pushed the covers away.
She spotted Caine then. He was sprawled out in the wingback chair adjacent to the bed, his bare feet propped up on the bed, his white shirt opened to the waist, and was sound asleep.
Jade didn't know how long she watched him. She told herself she was just making certain he was really sound asleep. Lord, he was so appealing to her. He had quickly become far more, however, than merely handsome. He was like a safe haven from the storm, and the urge to lean on him, to let him take care of her, nearly overwhelmed her.
Her guardian angel began to snore, pulling her out of her trance. She eased out of the bed, picked up
one of the candles, and went to stand in front of the window.
Light rain cascaded down upon the landscape. Jade felt a bit guilty that her men were getting a good soaking. If she'd given her signal earlier, they could have found dry shelter sooner.
"What are you doing?"
Jade almost dropped the candle, so startled was she by Caine's booming voice.
She turned around and found him just a scant foot away. "I was just looking out the window," she whispered. "I didn't mean to wake you."
His hair was tousled and he seemed to be more asleep than awake yet. A lock of his hair had fallen on
his forehead, giving him the appearance of being a bit vulnerable to her. Without a thought as to what
she was doing, she brushed his hair back in place.
"You may look out the window tomorrow," he returned, his voice husky from slumber.
After making that statement, he took the candle away from her, put it back on the table, and then arrogantly motioned for her to get back in bed.
"Does your side hurt?" he asked.
She didn't think he was overly concerned about her injury because he'd yawned when he'd asked the question.
Jade started to tell him no, that it didn't pain her much at all, then reconsidered. "Yes," she said. "It
stings, but only just a little," she added when he looked a bit too concerned. "Why were you sleeping
in the chair?"
He pulled his shirt off before answering her. "You were taking up most of the bed," he explained.
"I didn't want to move you."
"Move me? Why would you want to move me?"
Caine blew out the candles, pulled the covers back, and stretched out next to her. Then he gave her a roundabout answer. "I'll just stay with you until you fall asleep again."
"But Caine, it isn't at all proper…"
"Go to sleep, love. You need your rest."
She stiffened when he put his arm around her. His hand rested between her breasts. When she tried to ease it away, he captured her hand and held on.
"This really isn't at all…" She quit protesting in mid-sentence, realizing it was wasted effort. Caine was already snoring again and certainly wouldn't hear a word she said.
She decided there was little harm in letting him sleep with her for a short while. She had, after all, run
the man ragged and he surely needed his rest. She'd already noticed how cranky he became when he
was weary. Odd, but she found that flaw a bit endearing.
Jade snuggled up against him and closed her eyes. She instinctively knew he would behave himself. He was a gentleman, and he'd given her his word that he'd never take advantage of her.
She was obviously just as exhausted as he appeared to be, for she fell asleep with the most confusing thought rambling through her mind.
She was beginning to wish he wasn't such a gentleman after all.
* * *
The physician, Sir Hanvick, couldn't be located for two full days and nights. Caine sent messengers to
his London home and to his country estate. Harwick was finally located at the residence of Lady McWilliams, attending to a birthing. He sent a missive back to Caine explaining that as soon as his duty there was completed, he would immediately ride over to Caine's estate.
Caine ranted about that inconvenience until Jade reminded him that her condition wasn't life threatening,
a fact, she added, that the messenger had related to the physician, and that she was beginning to feel much better anyway and didn't need or want anyone poking at her.
Lingering soon became torture for Jade. She couldn't stand the confinement.
The weather mimicked her mood too. Since the moment she'd arrived at Caine's home, it hadn't quit raining.
Caine's mood was just as sour as her own. He reminded her of a caged animal. Every time he came into her room to speak to her, he paced back and forth, his hands clasped behind his back, while he grilled
her about her past, her brother, and all the events leading up to the murder she'd witnessed. Caine
always ended each dueling session with the remark that he didn't have enough information yet to draw any substantial conclusions.
His frustration was almost visible. Jade found fencing with him just as nerve grating. She was careful
not to give him too many true facts or too many lies, either, but Lord, it was exhausting work.
They spent quite a lot of time shouting at each other. Jade accused him of being sorry he ever became involved in her problems. He was, of course, insulted by such an accusation. Still, he didn't come right out and deny it.
In her heart, she thought he didn't find her appealing any longer. Why, he didn't even try to kiss her anymore, or sleep next to her, and by the third day, he was barely speaking a civil word to her.
* * *
On the fourth night of her confinement, Jade's control snapped. She tore off the fresh bandage that
Sterns had changed for her just a few hours' earlier, ordered a bath for herself, and then announced
that she was fully recovered.
By the time she finished washing her hair, her frame of mind had improved considerably. Sterns helped her dry the long curls, then sat her in front of the hearth where a full fire blazed.
After Sterns directed the servants in changing the bedding and removing the tub, he nagged Jade back
As soon as darkness fell, Jade gave the signal to her men, then returned to her bed. She opened one of
the books she'd borrowed from Caine's library, and settled down to read to the sound of thunder rumbling in the distance.
The storm proved to be more than just bluster, however. A giant tree, as tall as Caine's three-story house, was felled to the ground by a bolt of lightning that was so powerful, the exposed roots glowed an eerie red for a good long while. The clap of thunder shook the house, and the aftermath, a sizzling, crackling sound of wood burning, snapped and popped in the night air like meat roasting over an open fire.
All the extra hands were needed in the stables to soothe the frightened horses. The scent of fire was in their nostrils, or so Kelley, the head stablemaster, professed. Caine was called when his stallion wouldn't settle down. As soon as he entered the stables, however, his mount immediately quit his tantrum.
* * *
It was well after midnight when Caine returned to the main house. Though it was only a short distance from the stables, he was still soaked through. He left his boots, socks, jacket, and shirt in the entryway and went upstairs. Another booming clap of thunder shook the house just as Caine was about to enter
Jade must be terrified, he told himself as he changed direction. He would just look in on her to make certain she was all right. If she was sound asleep, he'd leave her alone. If, however, she was still awake… well then, perhaps they could have another shouting debate about the ills of the world and the inferiority of women. That thought made Caine smile in anticipation. Jade was turning out to be anything but inferior. She was making a mockery out of his beliefs, too. He'd go to his grave before admitting that fact to her, though, for it was simply too much fun watching her try to cover her own reactions to his opinions.
It was actually a little stunning when he realized he really wanted to talk to her. Granted, there were several other things he wanted to do as well, but he forced himself to squelch those thoughts.
He did pause to knock on her door. He didn't, however, give her time to tell him to go away, or time either, if she was sleeping, to wake up. No, he had the door opened before she could react.
He was pleased to see she wasn't sleeping. Caine leaned against the door frame and stared at her a long minute. A warm feeling of contentment filled him. In the last few days he had begun to accept that he liked having her in his house, and even when she frowned at him, he felt he'd arrived in heaven. He
really must be daft, he thought then, for he was beginning to love her disgruntled expressions. The fact that he could so easily get her riled indicated that she cared, if only just a little.
The woman bewitched him. Caine didn't like admitting that truth… yet she was so beautiful, so soft, so feminine. A man could only take so much before surrendering. God help him, he knew he was nearing that point.
It was becoming a torment not to touch her. His mood reflected the struggle he was going through. He
felt tied up in knots inside, and every time he saw her, he wanted to take her into his arms and make
wild passionate love to her.
And yet he couldn't seem to stay away from her. Hour after hour he kept coming into her room to check on her. God, he was even watching her sleep.
She couldn't possibly know the torment he was going through. She wouldn't look so damned serene if
she had any idea of the fantasies he was considering.
She really was an innocent. She was sitting up in bed with her back propped up by a mound of pillows, looking so pure and virginal as she shook her head at him.
Two candles burned on the side table and she held a book in her hands. While he continued to stare at her, she slowly closed the book, her gaze directed on him all the while, and then let out a long sigh.
"I knew I should have bolted the door," she announced. "Caine, I'm simply not up to another inquisition tonight."
His easy agreement obviously surprised her. She looked suspicious. "Do you mean it, sir? You won't badger me?"
"I mean it," he answered with a grin.
"You still shouldn't be here," she told him in that husky, sensual voice he found so arousing.
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't be here."
"My reputation and your near nakedness," she answered.
"Those are two reasons," he drawled out.
"What can you be thinking of?" she asked when he shut the door behind him. "Your servants will know you're here."
"I thought you didn't care about your reputation, Jade. Have you changed your mind, then?"
She shook her head again. The light from the candles shimmered in her hair with the movement. He was mesmerized. "I didn't care about my reputation when I thought you were going to kill me, but now that you've given me hope for continued good health, I've changed my mind."
"Jade, Sterns knows I slept in here the first night when…"
"That was different," she interjected. "I was ill, injured, and you were concerned. Yes, that was definitely different. Now I've recovered. The servants will surely tell your mama, Caine."
"My mama?" He burst into laughter. "You needn't worry about the servants, Jade. They're all sleeping. Besides, my motives aren't lascivious."
She tried not to let him see her disappointment. "I know," she said with another mock sigh. "But if you're not up to mischief, why are you here at this hour?"
"Don't give me that suspicious look," he replied. "I thought you might be frightened by the storm, that's all." He paused to frown at her, and then added, "Most women would be frightened. You're not, though, are you?"
"No," she answered. "I'm sorry."
"Why are you sorry?"
"Because you look so disappointed. Did you wish to comfort me?"
"That thought did cross my mind," he admitted dryly. His frown intensified when he realized she was trying not to laugh at him. He pulled away from the door and walked over to the side of her bed. Jade moved her legs out of the way just a second before he sat down.
She tried desperately not to stare at his bare chest. The mat of dark, curly hair tapered to a line that
ended in the middle of his flat stomach. She wanted to run her fingers through the crisp hair, to feel his heat against her breasts, to…
"Hell, Jade, most women would have been afraid."
His voice pulled her from her erotic thoughts. "I'm not most women," she replied. "You'd best understand that now, Caine."
He was having trouble understanding much of anything now. He stared at the buttons on the top of her white nightgown, thinking about the silky skin hidden beneath.
His sigh was ragged. Now that he knew she wasn't worried about the storm, he really should leave. His pants, wet from the storm, were probably soaking the covers.
He knew he should leave, but he couldn't seem to move.
"I'm not at all like most of the women you know," she announced, just to fill the sudden awkward silence. Drops of water clung to his muscular shoulders and upper arms. In the candlelight, the moisture made his bronzed skin glisten. She turned her attention to his lap. That was a mistake, she realized. The bulge between his thighs was very evident… and arousing. She could feel herself blush in reaction.
"You're soaking wet," she blurted out. "Have you been walking in the storm, you daft man?"
"I had to go to the stables to help quiet the horses."
"Your hair turns to curl when it's wet," she added. "You must have hated that when you were a child."
"I hated it so much I wouldn't share my toys," he drawled out.
His gaze turned to her chest. He noticed her hardened nipples brushing against the thin fabric of her gown. It took a supreme act of discipline not to touch her. His control was close to snapping, and even a simple goodnight kiss would make him forget his good intentions.
Another bolt of lightning lit up the room, followed by an ear-piercing explosion of thunder. Caine was off the bed and standing by the window before Jade had kicked the covers away.
"That surely hit something," Caine announced. "I don't think I've ever seen a storm as fierce as this one."
He peered into the darkness, looking for signs of a budding fire. Then he felt Jade take hold of his hand. He hid his concern when he turned to look down at her.
"It will wear out very soon," she promised. She nodded when he looked so surprised, squeezed his hand to reassure him, and added, "You'll see."
He couldn't believe she was actually trying to comfort him. Since she looked so sincere, he didn't dare laugh. He didn't want to hurt her tender feelings, and if she felt the need to soothe him, he'd let her.
"Uncle use to tell me the angels were brawling whenever there was a thunderstorm," she said. "He made it sound as if they were having quite a party."
"And did you believe your uncle?" he asked, a smile in his voice.
He did laugh then, a full booming sound that reminded her of thunder.
"I have grown to appreciate your honesty, Jade. I find it most appealing."
She didn't look as though she wanted to hear that opinion. She let go of his hand and shook her head again. "Everything's always black and white to you, isn't it? There's never any room for deviations, is there? I tried to believe my uncle, but I knew he was lying to soothe my fear. Sometimes, Caine, a lie is all for the good. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
He stared down at her for a long minute. "Give me another example, Jade." His voice was whisper soft. "Have you ever lied to me?"
She slowly nodded.
Several heartbeats later, Caine asked, "And what was this lie?"
She didn't answer him soon enough to please him. His hands were suddenly on her shoulders and he forcefully turned her to face him. Then he nudged her chin up, demanding she look at him. "Explain this lie!" he demanded.
The look in his eyes chilled her. She couldn't find any warmth there. The color had turned the gray of winter mornings.
"You cannot abide a lie then, no matter what the reason?"
"Tell me what the lie was," he instructed again.
"I don't really dislike you."
"What?" he asked, looking incredulous.
"I said, I don't really dislike you."
"That's it? That's the lie you…"
She could feel the tension ebb from his grasp. "Well, hell, Jade, I thought it was something serious."
"like what?" she demanded in a raised voice.
"Like perhaps you were married," he answered in a near shout of his own. "I already know you don't dislike me," he added in a softer tone of voice.
"You're impossible," she cried out. "Unbending, too. If I had other lies, I certainly wouldn't admit them
to you now. You get too cranky."
"What other lies?"
"I thought about telling you I was married," she said then. "But I'm not any good at fabrications and
I didn't think you'd believe me."
"Why would you want me to believe you were married?"
He was rubbing her shoulders now in an absentminded fashion. "Because," she rushed out. "In the
tavern, well, you were looking at me very like a tiger planning his next meal, and I thought that if you believed I was married… or recently widowed, then I'd gain your compassion."
"So you wanted my compassion and not my lust?"
She nodded. "You must admit that we are attracted to each other. I've never wanted a man to touch
me the way I want you to… touch me."
"That's nice to know, my love."
"Oh, you already know it," she whispered. "Quit looking so pleased with yourself. It was bound to
happen sooner or later."
"What was bound to happen?"
"I was bound to find someone I wanted to get a little closer to," she explained.
"I'm glad it happened with me," he admitted.
He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her up against him. "Jade, do you want me to touch you now?"
She struggled out of his arms and took a step back. "It doesn't matter if I want you to touch me or not, Caine. You're my protector. You have to leave me alone."
She suddenly found herself pulled back up against his chest, his thighs, his hard arousal. Her flimsy nightgown proved scanty protection against his body, his incredible heat. "It doesn't work that way,
"I want you."
The huskiness in his voice was her undoing. She knew she should be appalled by her own reaction to him. Yet she actually wanted to melt in his arms. The urge to let him touch her was such a sweet torment. Lord, she was confused. She'd never, ever permitted anyone to get this close to her. She'd always protected herself against involvements of any kind, having learned early in life that loving someone caused more pain than joy. Even Nathan had deserted her. She'd become so vulnerable then. Yes, only a fool would let a man like Caine close… only a fool.
Thunder rumbled in the distance. Neither Jade nor Caine was aware of the weather now. They were too consumed by the heat flowing between them.
They stared into each other's eyes for what seemed an eternity.
And in the end, it was inevitable. When Caine slowly lowered his head toward her, she leaned up to meet him halfway.
His mouth took absolute possession. He was as ravenous for her as she was for him. She welcomed his tongue, rubbed against it with her own. Her whimper of longing and acceptance blended with his raw growl of need.
The kiss was openly carnal. Caine was a lusty man whose hunger wouldn't be easily appeased. He wouldn't let her retreat or give half measure. Jade didn't want to draw back. She wrapped her arms around his neck, threaded her fingers through his soft curly hair, and clung to him. She never wanted to let go.
When he finally pulled away, she felt as though he'd taken her heart. She cuddled up against him quite brazenly, resting the side of her face against his warm chest. The mat of hair tickled her nose but she liked the sensation too much to move away. His scent, so wonderfully masculine, reminded her of
heather and musk. The earthy fragrance clung to his skin.
Caine's voice was ragged when he asked, "Jade? Are there other lies you want to tell me about?"
He smiled over the shyness in her voice, then said, "No, there aren't any other lies, or no, you don't
want to tell me about them?"
She rubbed her cheek against his chest to try to distract him, then said, "Yes, there are other lies." She
felt him tense against her, then hastily added, "But they're so insignificant I can't even remember them now. When I do, I promise to tell you."
He immediately relaxed again. Lying, she decided, was on the top of his list of atrocities.. "Jade?"
"Do you want me?"
He didn't give her time to answer. "Damn it, be honest v with me now. No more lies, Jade. I have to know," he grated out. "Now."
"Yes, Caine, I want you. Very much."
She sounded as though she'd just confessed a dark sin. "Jade, there should be joy in wanting each other, not despair."
"There is both," she answered. She shivered inside over the knowledge of what she was about to do.
She was eager… and terribly uncertain. I will not fall in love with him, she promised herself, and knew the lie was a mockery when her eyes filled with tears. Caine had already found his way into her heart.
When she moved back into his arms, he felt her tremble. He tightened his hold around her. "I'll take care of you, Jade," he whispered. "Love, what are you thinking?"
"That I'll survive," she answered.
He didn't understand what she meant, but the fear in her voice made his heart ache. "We don't have to…"
"I want you," she interrupted. "But you have to promise me something first."
"What?" he asked.
"You mustn't fall in love with me:"
The seriousness in her voice told him she wasn't jesting. Caine was immediately infuriated with her. She was such a confusion to him. He decided he'd demand an explanation for her ridiculous request, but then she started caressing his skin into a fever. She placed hot, wet kisses on his chest, and when her tongue brushed against one of his nipples, his body began to burn for her.
She teased a path up the side of his neck with her sweet mouth, urging him without words to respond. Caine's control disappeared. He'd never had a woman respond to him with such innocence, such honesty. For the first time in his life, he felt cherished… and loved.
A low growl escaped him even as he told himself to be gentle with her. He wanted to savor each touch, each caress, to make this night with her last forever. Yet he contradicted his own command when she began to make those erotic little whimpers in the back of her throat. She drove him wild. He roughly pulled on her hair until he'd made a fist of her silky curls, then jerked her head back so he could once again claim her mouth for another searing kiss.
His passion consumed her. His mouth ate at her lips, and his tongue… dear God, his tongue made her shake with raw desire. Jade's nails dug into the bulge of muscle in his upper arms. She gave herself over into his care. A deep ache began to spread like wildfire through her stomach, then lower, until it became an excruciating sweet torture.
Caine's hands moved to her buttocks. He pulled her up against his arousal. Jade instinctively cuddled his hardness between her thighs and began to rub against him.
The ache intensified.
When his mouth moved to the side of her neck, when his tongue began to flick her sensitive earlobe, she barely had enough strength left to stand up. He whispered dark, forbidden promises of all the erotic things he wanted to do to her. Some she understood, others she didn't, but she wanted to experience all of them.
"There's no turning back now, Jade," he whispered. "You're going to belong to me."
"Yes," she answered. "I want to belong to you tonight, Caine."
"No," he grated out. He kissed her long, lingeringly. "Not for just one night, love. Forever."
"Yes, Caine," she sighed, barely aware of what she was promising. "Tell me what you want me to do.
I want to please you."
He answered her by taking her hand and moving it to the waistband of his pants. "Hold me, sweetheart," he instructed in a husky voice. "Touch me. Squeeze me. Hard."
His size frightened her but his reaction to her touch overrode her initial shyness. His groans of pleasure made her bolder. He made her feel powerful and weak at the same time. Jade sagged against him, smiling when she heard his whispered instructions again, for his voice actually shook. As to that, so did her hand. Her fingers brushed against his flat stomach, then slipped inside the wastband of his pants. Caine inhaled sharply, telling her without words how pleased he was with her aggression. She grew bolder then and slowly began to unbutton the opening of his trousers. She was awkward, yet determined until all the buttons were undone. She hesitated then. Caine took over the task for her. He forced her hand inside the opening. Her fingers splayed downward, into the springy hair, and then lower still, until she was touching the very heat of him. He was so incredibly hot, hard, but Jade had barely caressed him when he pulled her hand away.
"It will be over for me before we've started," he grated out when she tried to touch him again.
"Caine, I want…"
"I know," he groaned. He was pulling her nightgown up when he made that gruff statement. Jade was suddenly embarrassed and tried to push her gown back down over her hips. "Can't I have it on?"
"Caine, don't," she stammered. "Don't…"
And then he was touching her there, in her most private place. The palm of his hand cupped her boldly and then his fingers began to weave their magic. He knew just where to stroke and fondle, just how
much pressure to exert.
Her nightgown was quickly discarded, his pants as well. His big hands cupped her full breasts. His thumbs rubbed her distended nipples until she was straining against him.
Another bolt of lightning lit the room. When Caine saw the passion in her eyes, he lifted her into his arms and carried her over to the bed. He followed her down on the sheets. One of his knees wedged between her thighs, forcing her to open for him, and when she complied, he pushed his arousal against her moist softness.
"Oh, God, you feel good," he whispered. He propped himself up on his elbows so he wouldn't suffocate her with his weight, then lowered his head to the valley between her breasts. He kissed her there, the undersides of her breasts next, and then slowly circled one of her nipples with the tip of his tongue.
She felt as though she'd just been hit by lightning. She moved against him restlessly. When he finally took her nipple into his mouth and began to suckle, her nails dug into his shoulders. His low grunt was one of pain and pleasure.
"Do you like that, love?" he asked before he turned to take the other nipple into his mouth.
She wanted to tell him how much she liked what he was doing to her, but desire made speech impossible. His mouth captured hers again and his hands gently moved her thighs further apart. His fingers were relentless in their quest to make her ready for him. "Put your legs around me, Jade," he suddenly ordered in a harsh voice. "I can't wait any longer, baby. I have to be inside you."
She felt the moist tip of his sex, then his hands were holding her hips, lifting them. His mouth covered hers and his tongue thrust inside just as he drove inside her. The stabbing pain broke through her sexual haze. She cried out and tried to move away. Caine felt the resistance pushing against his arousal. He hesitated for the briefest of seconds. The look in his eyes when he tilted his head back to look at her showed his determination. And then he drove into her again, until he'd broken through the maidenhead and filled her completely. Jade cried out again and squeezed her eyes shut against his invasion.
He went completely still, trying to give her time to adjust to him, trying, too, to give himself time to gain control.
"You have to stop now," she cried out. "I don't want to do this any longer."
Tears streamed down her cheeks. She opened her eyes to look at him. "Stop now," she pleaded.
His expression showed his concern. A fine sheen of perspiration covered his brow. His jaw was clenched tight. She thought he must be in as much pain as she was.
And then he shook his head at her. "I can't stop now," he grated out. "Just hold me, Jade. Don't move like that… it makes me want to…"
Caine's forehead dropped to rest on top of hers. He closed his eyes against the sweet torment. "Are you
in pain, too?" she asked on a near sob.
"No, love," he whispered. "I'm not in pain."
"I'm not a virgin any longer, am I? We're done now, aren't we?"
She was overwhelmed by the confusing emotions warring inside her. The pain was insistent. She wanted Caine to leave her alone… and yet, she wanted him to hold her, too.
"No, baby, you aren't a virgin any longer," he finally answered. "You're mine now. And we sure as hell aren't finished."
He sounded like he'd just run a great distance. The grim expression on his face when he looked at her again actually frightened her.
It was apparent he hated this as much as she did.
She felt devastated by her failure. "I knew I wouldn't be any good at this," she cried out. "Please get
off me. You're hurting me."
Caine shuddered for control. "Baby, I can't stop," he said again. He tried to kiss her, but she turned
her face away and began to struggle again.
"If you don't stop, I'm going to start crying," she pleaded. "I hate to cry," she added with a sob against
He didn't mention the fact that she was already crying. Hell, she made him feel as low as a snake. He wanted to comfort her, yet the fact that he was fully imbedded inside her tight, hot sheath made his discipline all but desert him. "Love, the pain won't last long," he promised. He hoped to God he was right.
His hands roughly cupped the sides of her face, and his mouth ended their conversation.
His tongue swept inside to mate with hers, and when he felt her resistance begin to fade, he moved his hand down, between their joined bodies, to stroke the sensitive bud into arousal again.
Jade didn't forget about the pain, but it didn't seem to matter now. The restlessness came back with building insistence. Caine forced himself to stay completely still until she'd adjusted to him. When she slowly arched up against him, he partially withdrew, then drove back into her again.
Her ragged moan forced him to stop again. "Am I still hurting you?" he asked, all the while praying he wasn't causing her more pain. His body was screaming for release, and he knew, even if she begged
him, he wouldn't be able to stop now. "Is it better now?"
"A little," she answered against his neck. Her voice sounded shy, uncertain. "It's a little better."
He continued to hesitate until she bit his earlobe and pushed against him again. It was all the encouragement he needed. His body took over. Though he vowed to be gentle with her, his thrusts became more powerful, more out of control.
Her thighs clenched him tight. Her toes arched against the backs of his legs. Her nails dug into his shoulder blades.
Caine was relentless now in his quest to push her beyond control. He drove into her and then slowly withdrew, again and again. He knew he should withdraw before he reached his own climax, for neither
of them had taken any precautions against pregnancy, but she was so hot, so tight, that noble thought became untenable. And somewhere, in the dark recesses of his mind was the honest admission that he wanted to give her his child.
The mating rhythm took over. The bed squeaked with each hard thrust. Thunder blended with their low moans of pleasure, his whispered words of love. Caine wouldn't let her give half measure. Wave after wave of intense pleasure began to spiral through her body until she was shaking with her need for fulfillment. He made her burn for completion. Jade was suddenly terrified of what was happening to her. It was as though he was trying to steal her soul. "Caine, I can't…"
He hushed her fear with another long, drugging kiss. "Let it happen, Jade. Hold on to me. I'll keep you safe."
Safe. He would keep her safe. Jade's instinctive trust in him pushed her fear and her vulnerability away. She let the storm capture her until she became one with the wind. And then she felt as though she was splintering through the air toward the sun. Her body squeezed him tight. She cried out his name, with joy, with release, and with love.
Caine buried his seed inside her at the very same moment. His head fell to her shoulder and he let out a low grunt of satisfaction.
His own climax made him shudder in wonder. Never had he felt such blissful surrender. He felt drained… and renewed.
He was never going to let her go. That sudden thought hammered through his mind with the same force of his wild heartbeat. He neither fought the truth nor tried to move.
He was content.
Jade was exhausted.
Only when her arms began to ache did she realize she was still clinging to him. She slowly released her hold, then let her arms fall to her sides. She was too astonished by what had just happened to her to speak yet. No one had ever told her it would be like this. Dear heaven, she'd completely lost control. She'd given herself to him completely, body and soul, trusting him absolutely to keep her safe.
No one had ever had such power over her. No one.
Jade closed her eyes to keep her tears hidden. Caine, she decided, was a far more cunning thief than she was. The man had dared to steal her heart. Worse, she had allowed it.
Even when he felt her tense beneath him, he couldn't find the strength or the will to move away from her.
"I think you should leave now," she whispered. Her voice trembled.
Caine sighed against her neck. He wrapped his arms around her and rolled to his side. Jade couldn't resist the urge to cuddle up against his chest for just a minute. Though she didn't understand why, she actually wanted to hear a few words of praise from him before she sent him away… just a few little lies about iove and honor, that she could pull out and savor in the future on those cold nights when she was all alone. Yes, they would be lies, but she wanted to hear them anyway.
That, of course, didn't make any sense to her. She could feel herself becoming angry with him. This was all his fault because he'd turned her into a blithering simpleton who couldn't make up her mind if she wanted to weep or shout.
"Sweet, are you already having regrets?"
She couldn't detect a shred of regret in his tone. In truth, he sounded downright amused.
When she didn't answer his question, he tugged on her hair, forcing her to look up at him.
He was thoroughly pleased by what he saw. Her face was flushed from their lovemaking, her mouth swollen from his kisses, and her eyes were still cloudy with passion.
Caine felt as though he'd left his brand on her. A wave of raw possessiveness filled him, and he arrogantly nodded. He decided to ignore her disgruntled expression, guessing it was all bluster for his benefit.
He couldn't resist kissing her again. When he slowly leaned down to claim her mouth, she tried to turn away. Caine simply tightened his hold on her hair to keep her still.
The kiss was meant to melt away her glare. As soon as his mouth covered hers, his tongue sank inside
her sweet, intoxicating heat. The erotic love play coaxed her response. It was a long, intense kiss and
she was clinging to him when he finally lifted his head to look at her again.
"You wanted me as much as I wanted you, Jade," he said. "You made the choice, love, and now you're going to have to live with it."
The man was a cad. Her eyes filled with fresh tears. His attitude was as callous as a hardened blister.
And did he have to smile at her after making such a painful statement?
She vowed he'd never know how much his words hurt her. "Yes, Caine, I did make the choice to give you my virginity, and I will live with the consequences of my actions. Now, if you don't mind, I'm really sleepy and I would like…"
"That isn't what I'm talking about," he interrupted. His voice was as ragged as lightning. "The choice you made was to belong to me, Jade. We're going to get married, sweet."
"You heard me," he replied, his voice softer now. "Don't look so appalled, my love. It isn't as bad as all that."
"Caine, I never made any such choice," she stammered out.
He wasn't in the mood to listen to her denial. He wanted her acceptance. By God, he wasn't going to leave her bed until he had it. He rolled her onto her back, then roughly pushed her thighs apart with one of his knees. His hands held hers captive above her head. He deliberately ground his pelvis against her. "Look at me," he commanded. When she obeyed that order, he said, "What we have just shared can't be undone. You're all mine now. Accept it, Jade, and it will go a hell of a lot easier for you."
"Why should I accept?" she asked. "Caine, you don't know what you're asking."
"I'm a very possessive man," he countered. His voice had taken on a hard edge.
"I noticed," she muttered. "It's a sin, that."
"I won't share what belongs to me, Jade. Understand?"
"No, I don't understand," she whispered. The look in his eyes chilled her. "Is it because I was a virgin
and you feel guilty? Is that the reason you want to marry me?"
"No, I don't feel guilty," he answered. "You are going to marry me, though. I'll speak to your brother
just as soon as he returns to…"
"You are the most arrogant, unbending man I've ever had the displeasure to meet."
A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "But you like arrogant, unbending men, love. You wouldn't have let me touch you otherwise."
Odd, but she couldn't fault that argument. "Please get off me. I can't breathe."
He immediately rolled to his side. Then he propped his head up with his elbow so he could watch her expressions. Jade pulled the sheet up over the two of them, folded her hands across her breasts, and stared intently at the ceiling.
"Did I hurt you?"
She wouldn't look at him. Caine tugged on her hair to emphasize his impatience. "Answer me."
"Yes, you hurt me," she whispered. She could feel herself blush.
"I'm sorry, Jade."
She shivered over the tenderness in his voice, then realized she needed to get control of her emotions.
She felt like weeping and couldn't understand why. "No, you're not sorry," she announced. "Or you would have stopped when I asked you to."
"I couldn't stop."
"You couldn't?" She turned to look at him.
"No, I couldn't."
She was almost undone by the tenderness she could see in his eyes. There was a definite sparkle there, too, indicating his amusement. She didn't know what to make of him now. "Well, it's a good thing you don't feel guilty because you have nothing to feel guilty about."
"And why is that?" he drawled out.
"Why? Because you didn't make me do anything I didn't want to do. This was all my doing."
"Was I even here?" he asked. "I seem to remember being an active participant."
She ignored the laughter in his voice. "Yes, of course you were here. But I allowed you to be… active."
If she hadn't looked so damned sincere, if she hadn't been wringing her hands together, he would have shouted with laughter. Her feelings were at issue, however, and for that reason he controlled himself.
"All right," he agreed. "You were more active than I was. Happy now?"
"Yes," she answered. "Thank you."
"You're most welcome," he returned. "Now tell me why you wanted me to make love to you."
She looked back up at the ceiling before she answered him. Caine was fascinated by the blush that covered her face. His little innocent was embarrassed again. She'd been wild just minutes before when they'd been making love. His shoulders still stung from her nails. Her passionate nature more than matched his own, but it had also been the first time for her, and he assumed she was still shy and confused by what had happened.
"Because I wanted to," she answered. "You see, I've always known I would never marry and I wanted
to… Oh, you aren't going to understand. I wager that soon, after I've gone away, you won't even remember me."
She turned to judge his reaction to that statement, certain she'd made him angry.
He started laughing. "You're being very rude," she announced before returning her gaze back to the ceiling. "I do wish you'd go away."
His fingers trailed a shiver down the side of her neck. "Jade? It was inevitable."
She shook her head. "It wasn't."
He slowly pulled the sheet down until her breasts were uncovered. "It was," he whispered. "God, I wanted you for so long,"
He tugged the sheet lower until her stomach was in view. "You know what, love?"
"What?" she asked. She sounded breathless.
"I want you again."
He leaned down and kissed her before she could argue with him. Jade let him have his way until his mouth became more insistent. Then she nudged him away. She rolled with him, and when they were facing each other, she kept her gaze directed on his chest. "Caine?" Her fingers toyed with the crisp hair while she tried to find the courage to ask him her question.
"Yes?" he asked, wondering why she was acting shy again.
"Was it all right then?"
He tilted her chin up with his thumb. "Oh, yes, it was all right."
"You weren't disappointed?"
He was touched by her vulnerability. "No, I wasn't disappointed."
His expression had turned so somber, she decided he was telling the truth.
"I wasn't disappointed either."
"I know," he answered with that arrogant grin back in evidence.
"How do you know?"
"By the way you reacted to my touch, the way you found your own fulfillment, the way you shouted
my name then."
His smile melted away the rest of her worry. "It was a little shattering, wasn't it, Jade?"
She nodded. "I had no idea it would be so… splendid."
He kissed the top of her head. "I can smell my scent on you," he said. "I like that."
"It makes me hard."
"I should wash."
"I'll do it for you," he offered.
She rolled away from him and was out of the bed before he could reach for her. "You'll do no such thing," she said before she gave him her back and struggled into her robe.
Her smile was dazzling but it faded quickly when she noticed the spots of blood on the sheets.
"You made me bleed." That accusation came out in a stammer.
"Love, it was your first time."
"I know that," she returned.
"You were supposed to bleed."
She looked taken aback by that statement. "You're serious?"
"But only the first time, Caine? Not that there's ever going to be a second time," she rushed on. "Still,
"Only the first time," he answered. He decided to ignore her protest about not making love again and asked instead, "Jade? Didn't anyone ever explain these facts to you?"
"Well, of course they did," she replied, feeling like a complete fool now.
He didn't believe her. "Who? Your parents died before you were old enough to understand. Was it your brother? Did Nathan explain?"
"Nathan left me." She really hadn't meant to blurt out that truth. "I mean to say, he was away at school
all the time and I rarely saw him."
Caine noticed how agitated she was becoming. She was twisting the tie of her robe into knots. "When
did Nathan leave you?"
"He was away at school," she said again.
"For how long?"
"Why are you asking me these questions?" she asked. "My Uncle Harry took over my education while Nathan was away. He did a fine job, Caine."
"He obviously left out a few pertinent facts," Caine remarked.
"Uncle is a very reserved man."
"Weren't there any women around who…"
He quit his question when she shook her head at him. "There were women but I would never discuss such a personal matter with any of them, Caine. It wouldn't have been proper."
She moved behind the screen before he could question her further. Jade washed with the slivers of rose-scented soap and water from the basin. She only then realized how sore she was. She was thoroughly irritated with him and with herself by the time she returned to her bed.
Caine looked like he was settled in for the night. The pillows were now propped up behind his head. He looked extremely comfortable. She tightened the belt on her robe and frowned at him. "Caine, you really have to understand something," she began in a firm voice.
"What's that, sweet?" he asked.
She hated it when he smiled at her so innocently. It made her heart start pounding and her mind empty
of every thought. She had to stare at the floor in order to continue. "This can't happen again. Not ever.
It won't do you any good to argue with me, Caine. My mind's set. Now it's time for you to leave."
In answer to her fervent order, Caine lifted the covers and motioned her over with the crook of his finger. "Come to bed, Jade. You need your rest."
She let out a loud groan. "Are you going to be difficult?"
"I'm afraid so, love."
"Please be serious," she demanded when he winked at her.
"I am being serious," he countered. "But realistic, too."
"Realistic?" She moved closer to the side of the bed, nibbling on her lower lip while she thought about
the best ploy to get him moving.
Her mistake was in getting too close, she realized a little too late. Caine easily captured her. She suddenly found herself flat on her back next to him. His warm, heavy thigh locked her legs in place and one of his hands held her high around her waist. Jade realized that even in the forceful action, he'd been careful not to touch her injury. He was such an incredibly gentle man. Arrogant, too. She was good and trapped, and he had the audacity to smile over it.
"Now then," he said. "I'm realistic because I know this has only just begun," he explained. "Jade, quit pinching me. You can't honestly believe I won't ever touch you again, can you? Married couples…"
"Don't you dare mention marriage to me again," she interjected.
"All right," he agreed. "Since it seems to be so upsetting to you, I'll wait awhile before bringing up that topic. Still, you agree that you'll be staying here for approximately two weeks, right?"
He was back to being logical. Jade actually found that flaw quite comforting now. "Yes, though it surely won't be two weeks now. I've already been here more than half a week."
"Fine," he returned. "Now then, do you think in all the time we have left that I'm going to live like a monk?"
"It isn't possible," he countered. "I'm already hurting."
"I am," he muttered. "Damn it, Jade, I want you again. Now."
"Damn it, Caine, you have to behave yourself."
Her voice sounded hoarse to her, but it was all his doing, she told herself. He was deliberately provocative. He stared down into her eyes as he slowly untied the belt to her robe. Then his fingers grazed the tips of her breasts. While he continued to hold her gaze, he slowly stroked a path down her belly. His fingers moved lower into the soft curls at the junction of her thighs.
He kissed the valley between her breasts while his fingers slowly stoked the fire in her. Jade closed her eyes and instinctively moved against his hand. His tongue made her nipples hard and when he eased his fingers inside her, she let out a groan of half pleasure, half pain.
He moved upward to kiss her mouth, demanding her response. His tongue wet her lips. When he'd
gained her cooperation, he leaned back. "You're already getting hot for me, aren't you, love?"
"Caine," She whispered his name as she tried to pull his hand away. He wouldn't be deterred. She could barely think. "You must stop this torment. You have to fight this attraction. Oh God, don't do that."
"I don't want to fight it," he returned. He nijjbled on her earlobe. "I like the attraction, Jade."
He was incorrigible. She let out a ragged sigh, then let him kiss her senseless again. She barely protested at all when he took her robe off and settled himself between her thighs. The hair on his legs tickled her toes and she was suddenly quite overwhelmed by all the wonderful differences in their bodies. He was so hard, so firm all over. Her toes rubbed against the backs of his legs and her nipples strained for more of his touch.
"Caine? Will you promise me something?"
"Anything," he answered, his voice ragged.
"We can have this time together, but when Nathan returns, then it has to be over. We…"
"I won't make promises I won't keep," he interrupted.
He sounded angry. "You'll change your mind," she whispered.
"You sound damn certain. Why? What is it you're hiding from me?"
"I know you'll get bored with me," she rushed out. She wrapped her arms around him. "Kiss me, please."
There was a frantic edge to her voice. Caine responded in kind. The kiss was like wildfire, and soon completely out of control.
His full attention was centered on pleasing her. He took his time building the tension by slowly driving
her mad. He kissed each and every goose bump on her breasts, suckled both nipples until she was whimpering for release.
And then he slowly moved down her body. His tongue teased her flat stomach, and when he moved lower still, her moans became gasps of raw pleasure.
His teeth deliberately scraped against the soft curls. His tongue stroked the silky petals until they were sleek with moisture. And all the while his fingers caressed her with erotic deliberation.
He couldn't get enough of her. His tongue repeatedly stabbed against her as his fingers slid in and out.
Her hands tore at the sheets. The pleasure he forced on her stunned her. She had no idea a man made love in such a way. It was obvious Caine knew what he was doing. He made her wild with her need for him.
When she felt the first rush of ecstasy, when she instinctively tightened in pleasure and agony around him, he moved up and over her. She couldn't stop the splendor from consuming her. Caine drove inside her, hard, hot, full, just as she found her own release. She squeezed him tight and clung to him in joyful surrender.
He tried to hold back, yet found himself powerless to stop.
She made him desperate for his own release. His seed poured into her in a blazing orgasm that made
him forget to breathe.
Until this night, he'd never given himself so completely. A part of him had always held back. He'd always been able to maintain his own rigid control. Yet he hadn't been able to withhold anything from this special woman. Odd, but he didn't look at his acceptance as surrender. In truth, it was a victory of sorts, for in his heart he knew she hadn't been able to hold back either.
He felt cleansed in body and soul. This incredible gift they'd just shared filled him with contentment.
It took all his strength to roll to his side. He was pleased when she followed him and snuggled up against him. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight.
"I can still taste you."
"Oh, God." She sounded mortified.
He laughed. "I like the taste of you. You're all honey and female, love. It's a sexy combination. A man could become addicted."
"Yes," he growled. "But I'm the only one who's ever going to taste you. Isn't that right?"
He pinched her bottom to gain his answer. "Yes, Caine," she agreed.
"Did I hurt you again?"
"A little," she answered.
"I'm not sorry."
She feigned a sigh. "I know."
"I couldn't have stopped."
She tucked her face under his chin. Long minutes elapsed before she spoke again. "I shall never, ever forget you, Caine."
She knew he hadn't heard her. His deep, even breathing indicated he'd already fallen asleep.
She knew she should wake him and demand that he go back to his own room. Sterns was bound to be disappointed when he found them together.
He tightened his hold on her when she tried to roll away from him. Even in sleep, the man was as possessive as ever.
Jade didn't have the heart to wake him. She closed her eyes and let her thoughts scatter like the wind.
She fell asleep minutes later.
He dreamed of angels.
She dreamed of sharks.
The following morning the physician, Sir Harwick, arrived to have a look at Jade. He was an elderly man with dark gray hair and blue eyes that sparkled like the ocean on a calm day. He was impeccable in both his dress and manners. Jade thought he looked like a wily raccoon, for the hair on the sides of his face had been coached into sweeping curves that ended just a scant inch or so away from the edges of his severely pointed nose.
Just as she'd predicted to Caine, Sir Harwick did poke and prod at her. Caine stood at the foot of the bed, his hands clasped behind his back, acting like a sentinel guarding his treasure. When the physician finished his examination, he decreed that rest was the best ticket for her condition. Since Jade didn't believe she was in any special condition, she ignored all his suggestions.
Caine looked as if he were memorizing every dictate. He was determined to make an invalid out of her, she decided. When Harwick suggested a cold compress for the fading bump on the side of her temple, Caine immediately went to fetch it.
Jade was thankful she had the physician all to herself. "I understand you were called upon to examine Caine's father," she began. "I was sorry to hear he wasn't feeling well. Is he better now?"
The physician shook his head. "There's little anyone can do for him," he announced. "It's a pity. He's given up on life since Colin was taken from him. Why, Colin was his favorite son, you understand, and the loss has broken him." "Why do you say that Colin was his favorite?" she asked. "He's the firstborn from the second wife," Harwick explained. "Caine's mother died when he was just a youngster. The boy couldn't have been more than five or six."
It was apparent that Sir Harwick enjoyed a good gossip session. He pulled up a chair next to the side of the bed, took his time settling in, and then said in an enthusiastic whisper, "The first marriage was forced, you see, and from what I understand, it was a most unhappy union. Henry certainly tried to make a go
"Caine's father," Harwick instructed. "Henry hadn't become the Duke of Williamshire yet as his own father was still living. For that reason, he had more time to devote to his marriage. It didn't wash, though. Caine's mother was a shrew. She made life a living hell for both her husband and her son. Why, she tried to turn him against his own father, if you can believe such blasphemy. When she died, no one mourned her long." "Did you ever meet this woman?" "I did," he answered. "She was attractive, but her beauty hid a black heart."
"And is the Duke's second marriage happy?"
"Oh my, yes," Harwick answered. He made a sweeping gesture with his hand. "Gweneth's a fine woman. She set the ton on its ear, she did, when she first started attending their functions with her husband.
Why, the elite follow her lead almost as fervently as they follow Brummel's dress and manners. I must say that Gweneth has been a good wife and mother. The children are all very close to each other-the proof, you see, that she did her job well."
"Do you include Caine, Sir Harwick, when you speak of the children?"
"I do," Harwick replied. "The others look up to Caine, for he is the eldest, but he tends to separate himself from the family. Unless someone tries to harm one of his brothers or sisters, of course. Then Caine involves himself." He paused to lean forward in his chair, then whispered in a conspiratorial
voice, "Some say with a vengeance." He wobbled his eyebrows to emphasize that remark.
"Why do they say with a vengeance?" she asked. Her voice sounded worried to her but Harwick didn't seem to notice. Jade didn't want him to quit the conversation just yet. She schooled her expression to show only mild interest and even managed a smile. "You've made me most curious, sir," she added.
Harwick looked pleased by her interest. "My dear, Caine's made it well known he's hunting Pagan. Why, he had his men post the reward notice all over town. The gamblers have given odds. Ten to one favor Caine, of course. He'll get the pirate," he predicted. "And when he does, God have mercy."
"Yes, God have mercy," she agreed. "But Caine's father is ill, you mentioned?" she asked again, trying
to pull him back to their initial topic. "Just how ill is he?"
"Gravely so," Harwick announced.
"Is there nothing that can be done?"
Harwick shook his head. "Gweneth's nearly out of her mind worrying about Henry. The man doesn't
eat or sleep. He can't go on this way. No, I fear he'll be the next one to die if he doesn't come to terms with Colin's death."
"Perhaps he needs a little assistance," Jade said.
"Who needs assistance?" Caine asked from the doorway.
"Your papa," Jade called out. She turned back to Sir Harwick then. "What is this I heard about a friend
of yours disappearing?"
"Oh, yes, poor Sir Winters," Harwick answered. "A fine physician he was, too," he added with a nod.
When he gave her such an expectant look, Jade said, "You speak as though he's dead."
"I'm certain he is," Sir Harwick stated.
Caine stood on the other side of Jade's bed, trying without much success to force the cold compress on her injury. Jade was far more interested in hearing the physician's opinions than bothering about her
puny bump. She kept waving the cloth away. Caine kept pushing it back.
Harwick observed the silent struggle a long minute, trying all the while not to smile. These two were certainly a pair, all right.
Jade's next question pulled him back to their topic. "Why do you think Winters is dead?"
"Has to be," Harwick countered. "His cook was the last to see him alive," he explained. "Winters was strolling through his back gardens. He turned the corner and simply vanished."
"How long ago was this?" Caine asked.
"Near to three months now," the physician answered. "Of course we all know what happened to him."
"We do?" Jade asked, startled by the abruptness in Harwick's tone. "And what is that?"
"I shouldn't be discussing it," Harwick answered. The look on his face indicated just the opposite was really the truth. The man appeared as eager as a little boy about to open birthday gifts.
Sir Harwick leaned forward in his chair. In a dramatic whisper, he said, "White slavers."
She was certain she hadn't heard correctly. "I beg your pardon?"
"White slavers," Harwick repeated. He nodded to emphasize his announcement, then leaned back in his chair.
Jade had to bite on her lower lip to keep herself from laughing. She didn't dare look up at Caine, knowing full well that if he showed the least amount of amusement, she wouldn't be able to control herself.
"I didn't realize," she whispered.
Harwick looked as though he was savoring her reaction. "Of course you didn't realize," he rushed out. "You're a gentle lady and certainly wouldn't have heard about such unsavory elements. Pagan's behind the treachery, too. He's the one who snatched Winters and sold him to the slavers."
Jade wasn't amused now. She could feel herself turning red. "Why is it that Pagan is blamed for every
sin in England?" she asked before she could stop herself.
"Now, now, don't get yourself upset," Sir Harwick whispered. He patted her hand then and said, "I shouldn't have told you the current speculation."
"I'm not upset," Jade lied. "I just think it's galling the way everyone uses Pagan as a convenient scapegoat. I'm not worried about your friend either, Sir Harwick, for in my heart I know Winters will
turn up safe and sound one day soon."
The physician squeezed her hand with affection. "You have such a tender heart."
"Does Caine's father have a strong heart?"
It was Caine who answered her question. "He does."
Jade was surprised by the anger in his voice. She turned to look up at him. "That is good to know," she said. "Why are you frowning? Is it because I asked about your father or js it because he does have a strong heart?"
"Neither," Caine answered. His attention turned to the physician. "My father will begin to feel better
when Pagan's been taken care of. Revenge will be his healing balm."
"No, Caine," Jade answered. "Justice will be his salvation."
"In this instance, they are the same," Caine argued.
The rigid set of his jaw indicated his displeasure. His stubbornness, too.
She wanted to shout at him. She thanked him instead. "It was kind of you to bring me this compress." She slapped the cold cloth against her temple. Then she turned to Sir Harwick. "And thank you, sir, for tending to me. I feel ever so much better now."
"It was my pleasure," Sir Harwick replied. He stood, clasped her hand again, and added, "As soon as you're feeling better, you must move in with the Duke and Duchess. I'm certain Caine's parents would
be more than happy to have you as their guest until you've fully recovered."
His gaze turned to Caine. "I shall, of course, keep this confidence. There won't be any unsavory gossip attached to this lovely lady."
"What secret?" Jade asked, thoroughly puzzled. Sir Harwick was giving Caine such a piercing stare. It was unsettling.
"He's concerned about your reputation," Caine said.
"Oh, that." She let out a long sigh.
"She isn't overly concerned," Caine said dryly.
Sir Harwick looked startled. "Why, my dear, it simply isn't done. You shouldn't be all alone here with
an unattached man."
"Yes, I suppose it isn't done," she agreed.
"But you've been ill, my dear, and certainly haven't been able to think clearly. I don't fault you or Caine," he added with a nod toward the Marquess. "Your host has acted in good faith."
"He has?" Jade asked.
"Most certainly," Sir Harwick replied. "There's a full staff in residence here. Still, the gossipers would have a holiday with this bit of news. Too many people would be hurt by the rumors. Caine's mother…"
"My stepmother," Caine interjected.
"Yes, of course, your stepmother," Harwick continued. "She'd be hurt. As to that, his intended would
also be quite crushed."
She really hadn't meant to raise her voice but Sir Harwick's casually given remark stunned her. She suddenly felt sick. The color all but drained from her face. "Did you say Caine's intended?" she asked
in a scratchy whisper.
"Jade," Caine began. "I believe Sir Harwick is referring to Lady Aisely."
"I see," she replied. She forced a smile for the physician's benefit. "Now I remember. Lady Aisely, the woman you're going to marry." Her voice had risen to a near shrill by the time she'd finished.
She didn't even know this Aisely woman, but she already despised her. The longer she had to mull it over, the more infuriated she was with Caine. God's truth, she hated him, too.