"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 a thief."

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.

"Yes."

"I think we should go there. You can keep me safe away from London."

"We aren't going to Harwythe, Jade."

"Harwythe?"

"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."

"No."

"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?"

"No."

"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.

"Don't."

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."



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