"Yes and no," Jade answered. "Yes, I do believe they thought I might have hidden the letters behind the leather, and no, Nathan, I didn't just open the door. Both sides were blocked shut with more branches.
I squeezed through the window. Thank heavens the frame wasn't as durable as you believed. Actually, Nathan, now that I have time to reflect upon it, I think you paid entirely too much for that vehicle. The hinges weren't at all sturdy and . . ."
"Caine, don't raise your voice to me," Jade instructed.
"That was a close call," Colin interjected.
"I was very frightened," Jade whispered. She turned to look at Caine. "There isn't any shame in admitting I was afraid."
Caine nodded. Her tone of voice suggested she was challenging him to disagree with her. "No, there isn't any shame in being afraid."
She looked relieved. Did she need his approval, then? Caine wondered about that possibility a long minute, then remarked, "Now I know how you got those bruises on your shoulders. It was when you squeezed through that window, wasn't it?"
"How the hell do you know if she has bruises on her shoulders or not?" Nathan roared his question, for he'd only just realized the significance of Caine's remark.
"I saw them."
Nathan would have gone for Caine's throat if Colin hadn't thrown his arm in front of his chest. "Later, Nathan," he stated. "You and Caine can settle your dispute later. It looks like we're going to be guests
for a long while."
Nathan looked like he'd just been told he had to swim with the sharks again.
"You'll put yourself and Colin in danger if you leave," Jade said. "It would be too dangerous."
"We have to stay together," Colin added.
Nathan reluctantly nodded agreement.
"Caine?" Colin asked. "When you went after Pagan, you put yourself in danger. The remaining members of the Tribunal couldn't risk the chance of you finding the pirate."
"There was the possibility that Pagan would be able to convince you that she didn't have anything to do with your brother's death. Yes, it was too much of a risk to take."
"And so you sent Jade to me," Caine interjected.
Nathan shook his head. "We didn't send her. It was her plan from start to finish and we were informed after she'd left. We weren't given a say in the matter."
"How are we going to get the hounds away from you?"
Colin asked. "You can't help us find the culprits as long as you're being hunted." He let out a long sigh, then muttered, "Hell, it's such a mess. How in God's name are we going to find the bastards? We have absolutely nothing to go on."
"You're wrong, Colin," Caine said. "We have quite a bit of information to start with. We know that Hammond, the Tribunal's director, was a legitimate department head. The three men he recruited were Ice, Fox, and Prince. Now only one or two are still living, correct? And one or both are Willburn's directors. Willburn, by the way, has to be leading a duel life. He must be working for our government
as well as for the Tribunal."
"How do you figure that?" Nathan asked.
"When we received word of your deaths, my father and I were sent files filed with minor though heroic deeds you two had allegedly fulfilled for England. Willburn was protecting his backside, Colin, and neither file had any substantial information that could be checked out. Security was given as the reason, of course. By the way, you both were given medals for valor."
"Why did they bother?" Colin asked.
"To appease," Caine answered. "Our father's a duke, Colin. Willburn couldn't just let you disappear.
Too many questions would be asked."
"What about Nathan?" Colin asked. "Why did they bother honoring him after his death? His father was already dead and there weren't any other Wakerfields with a title. Did they want Jade to be appeased?"
Caine shook his head. "You're forgetting Nathan's other numerous titles," Caine said. "He's also the Marquess of St. James, remember? The Tribunal must have considered all the ramifications if they
made that barbaric faction suspicious."
"I did forget about the St. James men," Colin announced. He turned to grin at Nathan. "You don't talk much about that side of your family, Nathan."
"Would you?" Nathan replied dryly.
Colin laughed. "This isn't the time for levity," Jade muttered. "Besides, I'm certain all those stories about the St. James men are pure exaggeration. Why, underneath all that grufFness, they're really very kind men. Aren't they, Nathan?"
Now it was Nathan's turn to laugh. "In a pig's eye," he drawled out.
Jade gave him a good frown for being so honest. Then she turned her attention back to Caine. "Did you go to the ceremony honoring Colin and Nathan?" she asked. "Was it lovely? Were there flowers? Was it
a sizable group . . . ?"
"No, I didn't attend the ceremony," Caine interrupted.
"Shame on you," she announced. "You missed your own brother's . . ."
"Jade, I was too angry," Caine interrupted again. "I didn't want to listen to speeches or accept any medals on Colin's behalf. I let my father have that duty. I wanted . . ."
"Revenge," Colin interjected. "Just like the time you went after the Bradley brothers."
After making that remark, Colin turned to explain the incident to Nathan. Jade grew impatient again. "I would like to get back to our original topic," she announced. "Have you come up with any solutions yet, Caine?"
He nodded. "I think I have a sound plan to take the jackals off my trail. It's worth a try, anyway, but that's only one threat. We still have to worry about Jade."
"What do you mean?" Colin asked.
"Colin, we're dealing with two separate issues here. I'm one target, yes. We must assume they know I won't give up looking for Pagan, their convenient scapegoat."
"But what does that have to do with Jade?" Colin asked. "They can't possibly know she's Pagan."
Caine let out a sigh before answering. "Let's start at the beginning. It's obvious that the other two members of the Tribunal knew Fox had saved the letters. Since they couldn't locate them, they did the next best thing. They used their man, Willburn, to recruit you, Nathan. What better way to keep an eye on Fox's son."
He didn't wait for Nathan to respond to that statement, but continued on. "I imagine your rooms at Oxford were searched more than once, weren't they?"
Nathan nodded. "They had to be pretty certain you had the letters. For a time, you were the only logical candidate. Your sister was too young, and Harry had already taken her away. Now then," he added with a nod. "No one could believe that Fox would have trusted Harry with the letters. His appearance alone would lead anyone to that decision. They couldn't know Fox had known Harry for some time either."
Jade felt like sighing with relief. Caine was being so logical now. She felt as though he'd just taken the burden away from all of them. From the look on his brother's face, she concluded that Colin was feeling much the same relief.
"And?" Nathan prodded when Caine remained silent.
"They waited," Caine answered. "They knew eventually the letters would surface. And that's exactly
what happened. Harry gave the letters to Jade. She showed them to Nathan and he shared the information with you, Colin."
"We know all this," Nathan snapped.
"Hush, Nathan," Jade whispered. "Caine's being methodical now. We mustn't interfere with his concentration."
"When Colin told Willburn about the letters, he went to the Tribunal, of course."
"And so we were sanctioned," Colin said. "I trusted the wrong man."
"Yes, you trusted the wrong man."
"They're still after the letters," Nathan said.
Caine's nod was quick. "Exactly."
Colin sat up a little straighten "Now that they think we're dead, Nathan, there can only be one other person who could have the damning evidence."
He turned to look at Jade. "They know you have them."
"They can't be certain," Jade argued. "Or they would have killed me," she added. "That's why they're
still searching, why your lovely house was destroyed, Nathan, the reason your fine carriage was shredded too . . ."
"Jade, they don't have anywhere else to search. There's only one avenue open to them now," Nathan interjected.
"They'll try to take her," Colin predicted.
"Yes," Nathan agreed.
"I'm not going to let anyone near her," Caine announced then. "But I'm not convinced they're certain
she has the letters. Either one of you could have hidden them before you were taken. It must be making them crazed, though, waiting for the letters to surface again. They're getting desperate, 1 would imagine."
"So what do we do?" Colin asked.
"First things first," Caine said. He turned to look at Jade. "Do you remember what you asked of me when you came into the tavern that night?"
She slowly nodded. "I asked you to kill me."
"You what?" Nathan roared his question.
"She asked me to kill her," Caine repeated, though he never took his gaze off Jade.
"But he declined my request," Jade explained. "I knew he would, of course. And just what does that
have to do with your plan?"
The dimple was back in evidence when he grinned at her. "It's really very simple, love. I've changed my mind. I've decided to accommodate you."
"Pagan has to die," Caine said, his voice low, emphatic. "It's the only way." He stared at Nathan when
he made that statement. Jade's brother was quick to nod agreement.
Jade bounded out of her chair. "I don't want to die," she cried out. "I won't have it, Caine."
"Now, Jade . . ." Nathan began.
"He's talking about the pirate," Colin explained. "He isn't really going to kill you, love."
Jade glared at Colin. "I know exactly what he's talking about," she snapped. "And I still won't have it.
Do you have any idea how many years it's taken to build my reputation? When I think . . ."
The men were ignoring her now. Nathan and Colin were actually smiling. Jade gave up. She sat down again and turned to frown at Caine. "If you hadn't started your hunt to capture Pagan, none of this
would be necessary now. This is all your fault, Caine."
"Jade, it's the only way," Nathan argued. "If Pagan dies, or rather, if the world believes the pirate is dead, then Caine would have to give up his hunt, wouldn't he? The Tribunal knows he fully believes Pagan is responsible for killing his brother, remember?"
She reluctantly nodded. "Then they'd leave Caine alone, wouldn't they? He'd be safe again?"
Nathan smiled. He turned to Caine. "This plan of yours solves more than one problem," he remarked
with a telling glance in his sister's direction.
Caine nodded. "Jade, you're going to have to change a few of your ways. When Pagan dies, you aren't going to be able to . . ."
"It's my work," she cried out. "It's what I do best."
Caine closed his eyes. "Exactly what is it that you do so well?"
Nathan answered him. "Harry did the pirating," he explained. "Jade was always on board, but he was
the leader back then. She took care of the land raids. She does have a special talent, Caine. There isn't
a safe she can't open, a latch she can't trick loose."
"In other words, she was an adequate petty thief," Caine drawled out. He was frowning at Jade when
he made that statement.
She took immediate exception to both his manner and his opinion. "I don't care what you think of me, Caine. The deception's over now and you'll never see me again, so it really doesn't matter to me . . ."
Jade stopped her tirade when Harry's bellow reached her. A woman's shrill scream came next. Jade assumed one of the servants was being terrorized. "If you'll excuse me for a moment?" she asked.
She didn't bother to wait for permission, but rushed out of the room. As soon as the door closed behind her, Caine turned to Nathan. "She'll figure it all out very soon," he announced. "But hopefully by then
we will have staged Pagan's death and it will be too late."
Colin nodded. "Yes, she's bound to realize they know she's with you and that killing Pagan isn't going
to make any difference now. You're both still in danger. Odd, but Jade's usually much quicker," he added. "How long do you think it will take for her to sort it all out?"
It was Nathan who answered. "She already has, Colin. Didn't you see the look of relief in her eyes. It
was fleeting, but there all the same. Deep down, I think she wants it to be over."
"Wouldn't you?" Caine asked Colin. "How could any of you want to go back on the ocean again? Jade isn't capable of being very logical right now. She thinks she has to resume her former. . . duties," he whispered. "It's a way of proving herself, perhaps. Still, it doesn't matter what her motives are now.
She needs someone to take the possibility away from her, to demand she quit."
"And that's you, Caine?" Colin asked.
Jade walked back into the salon then. Nathan turned to her. "Jade? I don't think you should leave with Jimbo and Matthew just yet. Wait until we've settled this problem."
"Do you mean wait until you've found the Tribunal?" She sounded appalled. "I can't stay here, not
after . . ."
Caine glared her into forgetting her protest. Jade walked over to the side of his chair and stood there.
Her hands were folded in front of her.
"What about Harry?" Caine asked Nathan. "Will he give us any problems?"
"Why would he?" Colin asked with another yawn. "He's retired now. Surely you've noticed there
haven't been any ships pirated in a long while."