Caine had started out of his chair when Harry made his first threat, but Colin motioned to him to sit
down again. "Bluster," he'd whispered to his brother.
"Get me a chair, men," Harry shouted. He continued to squint at Caine as he walked over to the hearth. Both Colin and Nathan got their feet and the stool out of his way just in the nick of time. While Jade helped resettle Colin, Harry stood in front of the hearth, his hands clasped behind his back.
"You don't look anything like Dolphin," he remarked. He grinned, displaying his lovely tooth again, then added, "You and your puny-arsed brother are both homely as sin. Only family resemblance I can see."
Caine didn't think the man could see much of anything, but he kept that opinion to himself. He looked over at Colin to see how he was responding to that insult. Though Colin's eyes were once again closed, he was smiling. Caine concluded Harry's thunder was all for his benefit.
One of his men carried a big chair over to the hearth, and when Harry was settled, Jade walked over to stand behind him. She put her hand on Harry's shoulder.
"You wear spectacles, me boy?" Harry asked Caine.
Caine shook his head. "Anyone here wear them? One of your servants perchance?"
"No," Caine answered.
"Uncle, do you know where you lost your last pair?" she asked:
"Now, lovely, you know I don't remember," he answered. "If I did, I wouldn't have lost them, now
Harry turned back to Caine then. "There be a village close by?"
Colin started laughing. Even Nathan broke into a grin. Caine didn't have the faintest idea why they were so amused.
"There is a village close by," Colin said.
"No one was asking you, you twit. Go back to sleep, Dolphin. It's all you're good for," he added with a wink.
Harry turned to his cohorts and bellowed, "Men, you know what to do."
The two unsavory-looking men lounging by the terrace doors both nodded. Just as they turned to leave, Jade prodded Harry's shoulder. "Oh, all right, girl," he muttered. "No pillaging, men," he shouted then. "We're too close to home."
"Aye, Black Harry," one of the men called out.
"Did they jump to do my bidding?" Harry asked Jade in a whisper.
"They did," she answered. "As quick as lightning."
Harry nodded. He clasped his knees with his hands and leaned forward. "Now then, I was hearing talk
of mutiny when I came inside. You'd think this was a time for rejoicing, but I ain't hearing any cheering. You hearing any cheering, girl?"
"Could it be that the Dolphin's such a bother, you ain't glad to have him back?" he asked Caine. "Can't say I blame you. The boy can't even play a decent game of chess."
"I was half out of my mind when we last played," Colin reminded him.
Harry snorted. "You only got half a mind, twit."
Colin grinned. "Caine? Do you know why this sorry piece of flesh is called Black Harry?"
"I'll be telling it," Harry announced. "It's because I got me a black heart."
He made that statement as a boast, then waited a full minute for Caine to appreciate his explanation.
"I gave myself that nickname. It's fitting, ain't it, girl?"
"Yes, Uncle, it's very fitting. Your heart's as black as night."
"It's good of you to say so," Harry replied. He reached up and patted her hand. "As soon as me men get back from their errand, I'm leaving for the Wharf. I could use a spot of supper to hold me over."
"I shall see to it at once," Jade said. She immediately moved toward the doors, deliberately making a wide path of Caine's chair. When she reached the entrance to the foyer, she turned back to her uncle. "Please don't let Nathan and Caine fight while I'm gone, Harry."
"I wouldn't be caring," Harry called out.
"But I would care," she returned. "Please, Harry?"
"All right then, I won't let them fight."
As soon as the door shut behind Jade, Harry whispered, "She's a piece of work, that one. I should have cut her face years ago. She's too pretty for her own safety. 'Tis the reason I had to leave her behind so many times. Couldn't trust me men when my back was turned."
"She's so pretty," Nathan snapped, "that some dishonorable men would take advantage."
"Let it go for now, Nathan," Colin interjected. He opened his eyes and looked at Caine. "My brother's an honorable man."
"Like hell," Nathan growled.
Caine wasn't paying any attention to the conversation now. He'd homed in on Harry's casually stated comment that he'd left Jade behind. Where did he leave her? Who watched over her when he was away? There sure as hell hadn't been a woman there, or she would have known a little more about the facts of life.
"What's all this talk about?" Harry demanded, drawing Caine's attention again.
"Although it isn't in your nature, I'm asking you to be patient, Harry," Colin requested. "There's been a little misunderstanding, that's all."
"Clear it up quick then," Harry ordered. "Damn it, Colin, I know all I need to know," Nathan said.
"Your brother's a bastard . . ."
"You were born out of wedlock, son?" Harry interrupted. He looked absolutely thrilled by that possibility.
Caine sighed. "No, I wasn't born out of wedlock."
Harry didn't even try to hide his disappointment, another fact that made absolutely no sense to Caine.
"Then you can't be going by that nickname," he instructed. "Only those born with the stigma can boast
of it. A man's only as good as his nickname," he added with a nod.
"Or a woman," Colin interjected.
Caine looked incredulous. Colin tried not to laugh. "Harry? Tell him about Bastard Bull," he suggested.
"Colin, for God's sake," Caine began.
"In time, Caine," his brother whispered. "I need a little more time to gather my thoughts."
Caine nodded. "All right," he said. He turned to Harry then. "Tell me about Bastard Bull."
"He weren't a bastard after all," Harry stated with a scowl. "He just said he was so he could sign on with us. He knew the store I put in nicknames. When we found out he'd lied, we tossed him overboard with the garbage."
"They happened to be in the middle of the ocean at the time," Colin drawled out. "Pagan wouldn't let
him drown, though."
"How very considerate of you," Caine muttered to Nathan.
"Now there was this other bloke, a good, strong man . . ."
Caine let out a long sigh. He leaned back in the chair, closed his eyes, and decided he was going to have to wait until all this ridiculous talk about nicknames was finished. Colin seemed to be enjoying the conversation and he had asked for time. His brother looked half asleep now ... and so damned pale.
For a good ten minutes or more Harry continued with his dissertation. When he finally finished, Nathan said, "Jade has a special nickname, too."
"I'll be telling it," Harry stated. "I'm the one who came up with the special name, after all."
Nathan nodded. "All right, Harry, you tell it."
Everyone was watching Caine now. If he'd bothered to open his eyes, he would have seen their smiles.
Caine was having difficulty holding onto his patience. "And what is her special nickname, Harry?" he finally asked, his tone weary.
"Well now, me boy," Harry drawled out. "We like to call her Pagan."
He didn't take the news at all well. For the longest time, he simply refused to believe Jade could possibly be Pagan. Only a man could get away with such daring feats, only a man.
Colin, Harry, and Nathan were all watching him closely. When he shook his head in denial, they nodded in unison.
"I can see you're having trouble accepting this," Colin said. His expression was sympathetic. "But it is true, Caine. Harry gave her that nickname years ago because . .."
"I'll be telling it," Harry interrupted. "It was the color of her hair, son. As red as hell's fire it was when
she was a youngster."
It was apparent from the look on Caine's face that he still didn't accept. Harry thought he didn't understand the reason for her special nickname. "She was as wild as the devil back then, too," he explained. "Just like a pagan baby, she was."
Caine's expression slowly turned from disbelief to fury. Both Colin and Harry became uneasy. Only Nathan seemed to be enjoying the moment. "Would a man be apt to leave a rose behind, Caine?" he asked, hoping to rub salt in his wounds. "That's the work of a woman. It's amazing to me that no one's figured it out by now. Don't you agree, Colin?"
"Yes," Colin answered, his gaze directed on his brother. "Amazing."
It was the last remark anyone made for a long while. Harry and Nathan waited for Caine to come to terms with the truth.
Colin knew his brother far better than his friends did. He patiently waited for the explosion.
Jade was in the dining room helping Sterns set the table. As soon as the butler took one look at her face, he knew something was wrong. She looked as pale as the linen tablecloth.
She wouldn't tell him anything but explained that her uncle had arrived and that he and his four men would require supper before they left. She also insisted upon using the finest crystal. Sterns went into
the kitchens to order the meal, throwing both the cook and her assistant, Bernice, into a frenzy, and then returned to the dining room.
He found Jade examining a large oval silver platter. "Uncle would like this," she remarked. "The design is quite magnificent."
Sterns nodded. "A gift from the King," he explained. "When the Marquess was knighted, Colin threw quite a bash in his honor. The King showed up and gave him that platter. If you turn it over, you'll see the inscription."
Jade shook her head. She thrust the platter into Sterns' hands. "Hide it."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Hide it, Sterns," she repeated. She looked around the room, then asked, "Are there any other special things Caine would rather keep?"
"The silver tea set on the side bar," he said. "I do believe it has special meaning to mi'lord."
"Did the King give him that, too?"
"No, the set came from his grandmother."
"Hide it as well, Sterns. Put the things under Caine's bed. They'll be safe there."
"Mi'lady?" Sterns asked. "Are you feeling ill?"
"You look ill," Sterns announced. "And you're walking around as though you're in a trance. I know something's wrong. . ."
Jade walked over to the door, then turned back to Sterns. "You have been very kind to me, sir. I will always remember that."
Sterns looked startled. Jade was about to close the door behind her when Caine's command reached her.
The bellow made the crystal goblets rattle. Jade showed no reaction to the summons, but Sterns jumped
"I believe your employer has just heard some distressing news," she said. "I had hoped that my uncle would wait . . . it doesn't matter."
Sterns followed her into the entrance. When she started up the stairs, he called out to her. "I believe mi'lord would like you to go to him, Lady Jade."
She continued up the stairs. "I would be happy to stand by your side," he promised. "I know his temper can be frightening at times."
Sterns waited until she was out of sight, then rushed inside the drawing room.
The butler had difficulty maintaining his steely composure when he spotted Colin. "My God, is that you, Colin?" he stammered out.
"Hello, Sterns," Colin said. "It's good to see you again. Are you still ordering your lord around?"
Sterns was slow to recover. "I give it my best," he whispered.
"Is this one a servant, Caine?" Harry asked.
"He's a dictator, not a servant," Colin announced with a grin.
Sterns turned to the older man with the obvious poor eyesight. He tried not to gape.
"Is me supper ready yet?" Harry bellowed.
Sterns decided this one had to be Jade's uncle. The stranger sitting next to Colin was too young. "It is almost ready," he told him before finally turning to Caine. "I must speak to you at once in the foyer, mi'lord. It is a most important matter."
"Not now, Sterns," Caine said, his tone weary. "Talk to me later."
"Perhaps you didn't hear me," Sterns countered. "There is a problem that must be resolved immediately. It concerns Lady Jade."
Caine wasn't at all surprised. "What's she burning now? The kitchens?"
"Mi'lord, this isn't the time for jests," the butler snapped.
"Do I look like I'm jesting, Sterns?"
The butler folded his arms across his chest. "Lady Jade isn't burning anything at the moment," he said. "She's leaving."
That announcement got just the reaction Sterns was hoping for. He moved out of his lord's way when
he bounded to his feet, and nodded with satisfaction when Caine roared, "The hell she is!"
The butler waited until his employer had left the room, then turned back to Jade's uncle. "Dinner will
be served in just a moment," he announced, his haughty tone of voice fully restored.
Caine took the stairs two at a time. His heart was pounding. The thought of her leaving him was untenable. For the first time in his life, he was in a panic. He didn't like the feeling at all.
As soon as he threw the door open to her bedroom, he saw her. The panic left in a rush. He slammed
the door shut behind him and leaned against it.
He took a deep breath to try to calm himself. She was pretending he wasn't there. She stood by the side of the bed, folding a gold-colored gown. Her satchel was open and nearly filled to the top.
"You might as well quit packing," he said, amazed that his voice sounded so forceful. "You aren't going anywhere."
Jade turned to confront him. She was determined to give him a piece of her mind before taking her leave, but when she caught his expression, her heart fell to her stomach and she couldn't remember any of the words she wanted to say to him.