She scooted past the disgruntled-looking servant and shut the door on his protests. In little time at all, she'd changed into a dark green gown and hurried downstairs by way of the main staircase.
Sterns was now guarding the front door. The set of his jaw told her he was going to be difficult.
"You may not go outside," he announced in a voice that would have chilled a polar bear.
She wasn't at all intimidated. She gave him a wide smile. "I can and I will," she answered.
"My lord is most insistent that you remain inside."
"I'm just as insistent that I go outside."
In answer to that challenge, Sterns leaned against the door and slowly shook his head.
Jade decided to turn his attention. "Sterns? How many servants are there in residence here?"
He looked surprised by her question. "We're only half staffed now," he answered. "There are five of us in all."
"Where are the others?"
"In London," he answered. "They're helping to clean the town house."
"But I thought it was destroyed in the fire," she said.
"It wasn't as bad as all that," he said. "The side's been boarded up and now there's only the smoke damage to be righted. While the workers repair the structure, the servants are cleaning the inside."
"I'm wondering, Sterns, if the servants here can be trusted."
He rose to his full height before answering. "Mi'lady, all the servants are trustworthy. They are all loyal to their employer."
He took a step away from the door. "Why are you so interested in . . ."
"You'll be having two guests in the next few days, Sterns, but no one must tell that they're here. Your staff must keep silent."
"The Marquess hasn't mentioned any guests to me," he argued, seeming mildly injured.
Jade rushed past him and threw the door wide. "Caine doesn't know about the visitors just yet," she said. "That's the reason he hasn't told you. It's going to be a surprise, you see."
She could tell from his befuddled expression that he didn't see. "I just thought you'd like to be forewarned so you could have the guest chambers made ready," she explained. She picked up her skirts and started down the steps. "Now quit frowning, Sterns. I shall tell Caine you tried to keep me inside."
"And I shall inform mi'lord that you weren't in your room," he called out.
Jade found Caine going through the remains of what had been his stables. Only smoldering embers remained. The destruction was absolute.
The horses, she noticed, were now housed in a large rectangular corral the men had just put together.
Caine's white shirt was covered with soot. "Have you collected all your horses?" she asked when she reached his side.
He slowly turned to look at her. The scowl on his face could very well start a fresh fire. His tone, however, was deceptively mild when he said, "All but the one you borrowed."
"Borrowed?" she asked, feigning innocence.
"Go and wait for me in the drawing room," he commanded.
"But Caine, I want to help."
"Help?" He almost lost his temper then and there. "You and your men have helped enough." Several deep breaths later, he said, "Go back inside. Now."
His roar accomplished his goal. Jade immediately turned around and hurried back to the house. She could feel Caine's stare on her back and wouldn't have been surprised if her gown had caught fire.
The man was spitting-embers angry.
It would be pointless to try to reason with him now. She'd have to wait until his anger had dissipated just a little.
When she reached the bottom step, she turned back to him. "Caine? If you must stay outside, don't be such a bloody easy target."
Sterns rushed down the stairs, grabbed hold of her elbow, and whispered, "Do as he orders, Lady Jade. You don't want to prod his temper now. Come along inside now," he added as he assisted her up the stairs. "I don't believe I've ever seen mi'lord in such a rage."
"Yes, he is in a rage," Jade whispered, irritated by the tremor in her voice. "Sterns, do you think I might have a cup of tea? This day seems to have gone completely sour," she added. "And it's not even half done."
"Of course I shall fix you some tea," Sterns rushed out. "Mi'lady, I'm certain the Marquess didn't mean to raise his voice to you. Once he gets over his anger, I'm certain he'll apologize."
"He might not ever get over his anger," she muttered.
Sterns opened the front door for her, then followed her inside. "The stables weren't even a month old," he said.
Jade tried to pay attention to what Sterns was saying, but Caine's words kept echoing through her mind. You and your men have helped enough. Yes, those were his very words. He knew about Matthew and Jimbo. But how? she wondered, and more importantly, what else did he know?
While Sterns went to see about her tea, Jade paced the confines of the large drawing room. She opened the pair of French doors at the end of the room to let in the fresh spring air. It was a precautionary measure as well, for if Caine was bent on killing her, she'd have a possible escape.
"Nonsense," she muttered as she resumed her pacing. Caine would never raise his hand against her, no matter how angry he became. Besides, he couldn't possibly know the full truth.
The front door suddenly bounded open. It banged against the interior wall twice before it was slammed shut. Caine had arrived.
Jade rushed over to the gold brocade settee, sat down, and folded her hands in her lap. She forced a serene smile on her face. He wasn't going to know she was shaking. No, she'd go to her grave before she'd let him know he had her worried. The doors to the drawing room flew open next. Caine filled the entrance. Jade couldn't hold her smile once she saw his expression. He looked ready to kill. Why, he was so furious, he was actually trembling.
"Where did you go this morning?" he roared.
"Don't take that tone of voice with me, sir. You'll make me deaf."
She glared at him because he'd ignored her order and had shouted once again, then said, "I went to visit your dear papa."
That announcement took a little of the bluster out of him. Then he shook his head. "I don't believe you."
"I'm telling you the truth," she stated.
Caine walked into the room and didn't stop until he towered over her. The tips of his boots touched the hem of her gown. He loomed over her like an avenging god. Jade felt trapped. In the back of her mind she knew that he wanted her to feel that way. "I'm sorry you don't believe me, Caine, but I did go to see your father. I was very concerned about him, you see. Sir Harwick mentioned he wasn't feeling well and I thought a nice chat would lighten his mood."
She stared down at her hands while she made that confession.
"When did you set the fire. Jade?"
She looked up at his face then. "I didn't set any fires," she announced.
"The hell you didn't," he roared. He turned away from her and walked over to the hearth. He was so furious, he didn't trust himself to stand close to her.
She stood up, folded her hands in front of her, and said, "I didn't set your stables on fire, Caine."
"Then you ordered one of your men to do it. Now I want to know why."
"The two bastards who've been hanging around here since the day we arrived," he answered.
He waited to hear her denial. She had given him nothing but lies since the moment they met. He realized that now.
"Oh, those two men," she answered. She lifted her shoulders in a delicate shrug. "You must mean Matthew and Jimbo. You've met them, have you?"
His anguish was almost unbearable now. "Yes, I've met them. They were two more lies, weren't they?"
She couldn't look at him now. God help her, she was finally seeing the man she'd read about in the file. Cold. Methodical. Deadly. The descriptive words hadn't been exaggerated after all.
"Matthew and Jimbo are fine men," she whispered.
"Then you don't deny . . ."
"I won't deny anything," she answered. "You're putting me in an impossible position. I have given my word and I can't break it. You'll just have to trust me a while longer."
"Trust you?" He roared the words like blasphemies. "I will never trust you again. You must think I'm
a fool if you believe I would."
She was terrified of him now. She took a deep breath, then said, "My problem is very delicate."
"I don't give a damn how delicate your problem is," he roared. "What in God's name is your game?
Why are you here?"
He was back to shouting at her. Jade shook her head at him. "I will tell you only that I'm here because
"Very well," she whispered. "I'm here to protect you."
She might as well have told him she'd come from the heavens for all the attention he gave that statement of fact. "I want the real reason, damn it."
"That is the real reason. I'm protecting you."
Sterns appeared at the opened doorway with a silver tray in his hands. He took one look at his employer's face and immediately turned around.
"Shut the doors behind you, Sterns," Caine ordered.
"Don't you raise your voice to Sterns," Jade demanded in a near shout of her own. "He has nothing to do with this and you shouldn't take your anger out on him."
"Sit down, Jade." His voice was much softer now, far more threatening, too. It took all Jade's determination not to do as he ordered.
"You probably kick puppies when you're in a foul mood, don't you?"
She glanced over to the doorway, judging the distance to safety, but Caine's next words changed her mind. "You wouldn't make it."
Jade turned back to Caine. "You aren't going to be at all reasonable about this, are you?"
"No," he answered. "I'm not going to be reasonable."
"I was hoping that we could have a quiet discussion after you've calmed down and . . ."
"Now," he countered. "We're going to have our discussion now, Jade." He wanted to grab hold of her, shake her into answering all his questions, but he knew if he touched her, he might kill her.
His heart felt as though it had just been torn in half. "Pagan sent you, didn't he?"
"Yes," he answered. "My God, the bastard sent a woman to do his work for him. Who is he, Jade?
She shook her head and backed away from him. "Caine, please try to listen . .."
He started after her, then forced himself to stop. "All of it... lies, isn't that right, Jade? You weren't in any danger."
"Not all of it lies," she answered. "But you were the primary target."
He shook his head. She knew then he wasn't going to believe anything she told him. She could see the pain, the raw agony in his eyes.
"He sent a woman," he repeated. "Your brother's a coward. He's going to die. It will be fitting justice, won't it? An eye for an eye, or in this instance, a brother for a brother."
"Caine, you must listen to me," she cried out. She wanted to weep because of the torment she was causing him. "You have to understand. In the beginning, I didn't know what kind of a man you were . . . Oh, God, I'm so sorry . . ."
"Sorry?" he asked, his voice flat, devoid of all emotion.
"Yes," she whispered. "If you'll only listen . . ."
"Do you think I'm going to believe anything you tell me now?"
Jade didn't answer him. Caine seemed to be staring through her. He didn't say anything for a long time. She could almost see the fury building inside of him.
She closed her eyes against his dark expression, his anger, his hatred.
"Did you let me make love to you because Pagan ordered you to?" he asked.
She reacted as though he'd just struck her. "That would make me a whore, Caine, and I don't whore for anyone, not even my brother."
He didn't agree with her soon enough to placate her. Her eyes filled with tears. "I am not a whore," she shouted.
The sudden roar that came from the French doors turned both Caine's and Jade's attention. The bone-chilling sound was like a battle cry.
Jade recognized the sound. Nathan had arrived. The deception was finally over.
"Did you just call my sister a whore?"
The walls shook from the venom in Nathan's deep voice. Jade had never seen her brother so angry.
She took a step toward her brother, but suddenly found herself hauled up against Caine's side.
"Don't get in my way," he ordered, his voice mild, horribly calm.
"In the way of what?" she asked. "You aren't going to hurt my brother, Caine. I won't let you."
"Get your hands off her," Nathan roared. "Or I'll kill you."
"Nathan," Jade cried out. "Caine doesn't understand." She tried to push Caine's hands away from her shoulders. It proved impossible. His grip was as tenacious as seaweed.
She didn't know who looked more furious. Nathan's scowl was just as ugly as Caine's was, just as threatening. They were equally matched, these two giant adversaries. They were bound to kill each
other if given the chance.
Nathan looked like a pirate, too. His long, dark brown hair fell way past his broad shoulders. He was dressed in snug black britches and wore his white shirt opened almost to the waist. Nathan wasn't quite
as tall as Caine was, but he was certainly just as muscular.
Yes, they would kill each other. Jade frantically tried to think of a way to ease the situation while the two men took each other's measure.
"I asked you a question, you bastard," Nathan shouted again. He took a threatening step forward.
"Did you call my sister a whore?"
"He didn't call me a whore," Jade shouted when Nathan reached for the knife in his waistband.
"He doesn't know about Colin. I kept my word not to tell him."
Nathan hesitated. Jade pressed her advantage. "He thinks you killed Colin. He has it all figured out, Nathan."