"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."

"His what?"

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.

"Lady Aisely wouldn't take the news of your visitation here lightly," Sir Harwick predicted.

"She isn't my intended," Caine interjected. "She's my stepmother's intention for me," he qualified. He couldn't keep the laughter out of his voice. Her reaction to hearing about Lady Aisely couldn't have been more revealing. It told him she cared.

"But your dear stepmother is . . ."

"She's hell-bent on getting Lady Aisely and me together," he interrupted. "It isn't going to happen, Harwick."

Jade could feel Caine's stare. She desperately tried to feign disinterest. She realized she was wringing

the compress in her hands and immediately stopped that telling action. "Who you marry doesn't concern me," she announced.

"It should."

She shook her head. "I just wish you'd mentioned your engagement before last night."

"I'm not engaged," he snapped. "And last night would have. . ."

"Caine!" She shouted his name, then lowered her voice when she added, "We have a guest, if you'll remember."

Harwick let out a rich chuckle. He walked by Caine's side over to the door. "I have a feeling about you two. Am I right?"

"Depends upon what the feeling is," Caine answered.

"She's your intended, isn't she?"

"She is," Caine replied. "She just hasn't accepted it yet."

The two men shared a grin. "I can tell she's going to be difficult, my boy."

"Difficult or not," Caine countered, in a voice loud enough to wake the dead, "she will be my wife."

The door slammed shut on her shout of denial. Jade threw the compress across the room and collapsed against the pillows. She gritted her teeth in frustration.

Why did she care who he married? As soon as Nathan returned, she was never going to see Caine again. And why in thunder did everything have to be so complicated? Lord only knew that protecting Caine

was work enough. Now she had to add Caine's father to her list.

Was Lady Aisely pretty?

Jade pushed that black thought aside. She really was going to have to do something about the Duke of Williamshire. Colin was certain to be upset when he returned home and found his papa had died from grief.

Had Caine taken Lady Aisely to bed?

I cannot think about her now, Jade decided. There are too many other problems to worry about.

She was going to have to do something about Colin's father. A note, she decided, wouldn't be good enough. She'd have to confront the man and have a firm talk with him.

Had Caine's stepmother already made the arrangements for Caine's wedding? Oh God, she hoped Caine had been telling her the truth. She hoped he didn't want Lady Aisely.

"This is ridiculous," she muttered to herself. Of course Caine would marry. And of course it would be

to someone other than her. When he found out the truth about her background, he wouldn't want her anymore.

With a growl of frustration, Jade gave up trying to formulate any plans. Her emotions were like the masts on the Emerald, blowing strong in a high wind. It was pointless to try to concentrate now. Caine's papa would just have to despair a little longer.

She avoided Caine for most of the day. They ate a quiet dinner together. Sterns surprised Jade when he pulled out a chair and sat down with them. The butler ate his meal with them, too. He kept his attention on Caine most of the time, but when he did look at her, his expression was kind, affectionate.

She decided he hadn't found out that she slept with Caine, after all. Jade was relieved. She'd already noticed that Sterns' relationship with Caine was far more than employer and employee. They were very like family, and she didn't want a man who Caine cared about to think she was a trollop.

She kept giving Sterns fretful glances until he reached over and patted her hand.

Caine did most of the talking during the meal. The conversation centered on the problems of running such a large estate. Jade was extremely interested. Surprised as well, for Caine showed he had a true concern for the members of his parish. He actually felt responsible for their well-being.

"Do you aid those who need help?" she asked.

"Of course."

"By giving them money?"

"When it's the only answer," he explained. "Jade, a man's pride is as important as his hunger. Once the stomach's been filled, a way to better himself is the next step."

She thought about that statement a long while, then said, "Yes, a man's self-worth is important. So is a woman's," she added.

"If you take that self-worth away, there's a good chance that he ... or she will give up altogether. A man can't be made to feel he's been manipulated or made to feel a failure."

"There's a difference between manipulation and failure," she argued.

"Not really," Caine replied. "A man's a fool if he allows either, isn't he, Sterns?"

"He most certainly is," Sterns agreed. The butler reached for the teapot before continuing. "A man's pride is most important. It should matter above all else."

"But surely you two will agree that there are times when pride must be set aside," she interjected.

"Such as?" Caine asked.

"A man's life is one excellent example," she answered.

"But a man's life isn't as important as his self-worth," Sterns said. "Don't you agree, mi'lord?"

Caine didn't answer. He was looking at Jade with that unreadable expression on his face again. Jade didn't have any idea what he was thinking now. She smiled at him just to cover her own unease, then pleaded fatigue and returned to her bedroom.

Sterns had ordered a bath made ready for her. A fire burned in the hearth, toasting the air. Jade lingered in the tub, then went to bed. She tossed and turned for almost an hour before falling into a fitful sleep.

Caine came to her bed sometime after midnight. He stripped out of his clothes, smothered out the candles, and eased into bed beside her. She was sleeping on her side, her nightgown bunched up around her thighs. Caine slowly eased the gown high, then pulled her silky bottom up against him.

She sighed in her sleep. The sound was like a fever to him. God, she was so warm, so sweet. His hand moved beneath her gown. He stroked her skin, her breasts, rubbing her ni**les into hard buds. She moved against him restlessly, moaning in her sleep.

She probably thought she was in the throes of an erotic dream, Caine thought. He nibbled on her neck, teased her earlobe with his tongue, and when her backside pushed up against him more insistently, his hand slid down into the heat between her thighs.

He stoked the fire in her until she was hot, wet, ready for him. His other arm held her around the waist. She tried to turn toward him, but he wouldn't let her move. "Open up for me, Jade," he whispered. "Let me come to you."

His knee nudged the back of her thighs until he was wedged between them.

"Tell me you want me," he demanded.

She could feel the velvet tip of his sex. She bit on her lower lip to keep herself from shouting at him to quit his torment. "Yes, I want you," she whispered. "Please, Caine. Now."

It was all the surrender he needed. He gently pushed her onto her stomach, his hand splayed wide across her pelvis, and surged inside her with one powerful thrust. Her tight sheath gloved him, squeezed him. He almost spilled his seed then and there. Caine stilled his movements and took a deep breath. "Easy love," he whispered on a groan when she pushed up against him.

Her hands were making knots out of the sheets. Caine's hands joined hers. His head fell forward to rest

in the fragrant hollow between her neck and shoulder.

"Caine, I want..."

"I know," he answered. He was determined to go slow this time, to prolong the sweet agony, but her insistent pleas drove him beyond control. He drove into her again and again, until he was mindless of everything but finding fulfillment for both of them. When he knew he was about to pour his seed into

her, his hand moved down her stomach. He stroked her into finding her own release.

Their cl**ax was glorious. Caine collapsed on top of her. He was exhausted, and completely at peace. "Love, are you still breathing?" he asked when his heart quit hammering in his ears.

He was teasing her, yet when she didn't answer him, he immediately moved away from her. "Jade?"

She rolled over and looked at him. "You made me beg "

"I what?"

"You made me beg."

"Yes, I did, didn't I?" he answered with a wide grin.

"You aren't the least contrite," she announced. Her fingertips caressed his warm chest. "You're a rake, all right. I don't understand why I find you so appealing."

The dreamy, passionate look was still in her eyes. Caine kissed her forehead, the tip of her freckled nose, and then claimed her mouth for a long, wet, tongue-thrusting kiss. "Do you want more, love?"

He didn't give her time to answer. "I do," he whispered in a low growl.

A long while later, the two lovers fell asleep wrapped in each other's arms.

Chapter Ten

The following eight days were magical for Jade. Caine was such a gentle, loving man. He was so considerate of her feelings, too, and had the uncanny knack of understanding her moods quicker than