"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."