to me. Since our papa died, he's become my protector. My brother's a very strong man."

"Then I'll keep you safe until your brother returns. I give you my word."

A long, silent minute passed before she showed any reaction to that promise. Caine thought she might

be too overcome with gratitude to speak. Then she moved away from him and looked up into his eyes. He realized she wasn't overcome at all. Hell, she looked downright irritated. "You've already broken

your word to me, sir. You promised you'd kill me and then changed your mind."

"This is different," he argued.

"You really mean what you say?"

"Yes, I mean what I say," he answered. "You just explained that you'll be safe once your brother

returns in two weeks. It is two weeks, isn't it?"

Her expression was solemn. "Perhaps even sooner. But you're a pirate. You cannot be taking such chances keeping me safe for two long weeks. There's a bounty on your head. I won't be responsible

for getting you killed."

"You don't have much faith in my ability."

"I don't have any faith in your ability," she qualified. "Why should I? You've just admitted that the rumors about you aren't at all reliable. You probably don't even leave a white rose on your victim's pillow, do you?"

Caine was exasperated with her again. "You don't have to sound so damned disappointed in me."

"But I am disappointed!" she cried out. "You aren't even honorable. That's the real pity. Besides, you don't look at all strong enough to take on my enemies. You'd be an easy target, Caine. You're such a ... big man. No, I'm sorry. I'm afraid you simply won't do."

He wanted to throttle her.

She turned her back on him again and tried to leave. Caine was so astonished by her attitude he almost let her get away. Almost. He caught her just as she reached the walkway outside the door.

His hold wouldn't allow her any freedom as his arm was anchored around her shoulders. He tucked her into his side with as much care as he'd give an old blanket, then turned to speak to Monk. "I don't want you telling anyone what happened here tonight. Give me your word, Monk."

"Why should he give you his word when you so freely break yours? A gentleman only asks as much as he can give in return, sir. Didn't your mama teach you any manners?" she asked.

"Ah, Jade," he said. "That's the rub." He looked down at her and slowly stroked the side of her cheek with his fingertips. "I'm not a gentleman. I'm a pirate, remember? There's a distinct difference."

She went completely still the second he touched her. Caine thought she looked quite stunned. He didn't know what to make of that odd reaction. When his hand dropped away, she came out of her stupor and shoved against him.

"Yes, there is a difference," she muttered. "Tell me this, Caine. If I make you angry enough, will you kill me in vexation?"

"The idea's beginning to have merit," he answered.

"Let go of me. You must never touch me."

"I mustn't?"

"No. I don't like to be touched."

"Then how in God's name was I suppose to kill you?"

She obviously hadn't realized he was jesting. "You were going to use a pistol," she told him. She paused to give him a suspicious look. "You do own one, don't you?"

"I do," he answered. "And where was I suppose to . .."

"One clean shot, directly through my heart," she explained. "You'd have to be accurate, of course.

I wouldn't want to linger."

"No," he agreed. "Lingering would definitely be out of the question."

"How can you find this amusing? We happen to be discussing my death!" she cried out.

"I'm not amused," he argued. "Fact is, I'm getting downright angry again. Tell me, do I get to ravage

you first?"

She took a deep breath before answering. "You certainly do not."

"That's a pity," he replied, completely ignoring her outraged expression.

"Sir, do your parents happen to be first cousins? You're acting like a complete simpleton. You're either

an idiot or the most cold-hearted man I've ever met. I find your conduct disgraceful."

Her eyes were flashing with indignation. Caine had never seen such a dramatic shade of green before. It was as though the purity and the sparkle of a thousand emeralds had all been squeezed dry of their color and given to her.

"I'm not at all convinced you're in any real danger, Jade," he announced. "This could very well just be

a product of your overactive imagination."

"I dislike you intensely," she whispered. "And as for your ignorant opinions, well I..."

"Jade, save the bluster for later. I'm not in the mood. Now, I don't want to hear another word about killing you. And if you continue to glare up at me so prettily, I swear I'm going to kiss you just to take your mind off your foolish worries."

"Kiss me?" She looked stunned. "Why in God's name would you want to kiss me?"

"I haven't the faintest idea," he admitted.

"You'd kiss someone you disliked?"

"I guess I would," he replied with a grin.

"You are arrogant, overbearing ..."

"You're sputtering, my sweet."

She didn't have a quick comeback. Caine continued to stare down at her when he spoke to Monk again. "Well, Monk, do you give me your word?"

"I do. I won't be telling anyone about this night, Caine, but we both know your friend, Lyon, will surely find out before the sun sets again. He'll wring the truth out of me. I'm giving you warning ahead of time."

Caine nodded. The Marquess of Lyonwood was a good friend. Caine trusted him completely. The two had worked on several missions together for their government. "Yes, he will find out," he predicted.

"But his new wife and son keep him occupied. Besides, when he learns what I'm up to, he'll keep it

to himself. If he inquires, you may speak freely to him. No one else though, not even Rhone," Caine added, referring to Lyon's closest friend. "For all his merits, Rhone does talk too much."

Monk nodded. "I'm begging you, Caine, to let me know how it all ends up with the little lady."

"Monk?" Jade asked, drawing both men's attention. "You wouldn't happen to own a pistol, would you?"

She sounded too damned eager to him. Caine knew what she was thinking. His angel was as easy to read as a Latin text. "He doesn't and he won't," he announced.

"I don't and I won't what?" Monk asked.

"You don't own a pistol and you won't kill her," Caine answered in a clipped tone of voice.

"No, no, of course not," Monk agreed. "Caine, you aren't forgetting your trap, are you?" he asked, when he was finally able to pull his gaze away from the beautiful woman.

"No, I'm not forgetting," Caine answered. He turned to Jade and asked, "Is your carriage returning for you?"

Her exasperation was obvious. "I hired a hack," she told him. "I didn't think I'd be returning to my lodgings tonight." She pushed away from his hold and picked up the large gray satchel from the walkway. ''All I own is in here. I came directly from the country," she added, almost as an afterthought.

"You left your possessions on the street for anyone to snatch?"

"It was my intention to have my things stolen," she answered. She sounded like a tutor instructing a deliberately obtuse student. "I was hoping my clothing could benefit some poor soul. I wasn't supposed

to have further need once you ..."

"Enough!" he nearly growled. "You aren't going to mention murder again. Have you got that?"

She didn't answer him quickly enough. Caine tugged on her hair. She let out a shrill cry just as he noticed the large swelling above her ear. "Good God, Jade, when did you get that?"

"Don't touch it," she demanded when he tried to prod the edges of the bump. "It still stings."

"I would think so," he said. His hand dropped back to his side. "Tell me what happened."

"I caught the heel of my boot on the carpet loop in my brother's house and tumbled down the stairs," she explained. "I hit the side of my head on the banister knob. It fairly knocked the wind out of my sails."

The wind out of her sails? Caine thought that was a rather odd remark to make, but he didn't take time to reflect upon it. "You could have killed yourself," he stated. "Are you always so awkward?"

"No, I'm never awkward," she countered. "I'm usually very ladylike. Lord, you're rude," she ended with

a mutter.

"What happened after you fell?" Monk asked.

She shrugged. "I went for a walk to try to clear my head. Then they started in chasing after me, of course."

"Of course?" Monk asked.

"They?" Caine said at the very same time.

She paused to give both men a frown. "The men I saw kill the finely dressed gentleman," she explained. "For heaven's sake, do pay attention. I'm certain I mentioned that fact earlier."

Monk shook his head. "I'm just as certain you didn't, miss," he confessed. "I'm sure I would have remembered."

"You witnessed a murder? No, Jade, you sure as hell didn't mention that fact."

"Well, I meant to mention it," she muttered. She folded her arms across her chest and looked disgruntled again. "I would have explained it all to you if you hadn't turned my attention by arguing with me. So you see, this is your fault because I lost my train of thought. Yes, you're to blame."

"Did you witness the murder before or after you hit yourself in the head?" Caine asked.

"Do you suppose it was a titled gentleman she saw murdered?" Monk asked Caine.

"I did not hit myself," Jade snapped. "And it was before ... no, it was after. At least I think it was after

I fell down. Oh, I don't remember now. My head's pounding again. Do quit your questions, sir."

Caine turned back to the tavernkeeper. "Now I'm beginning to understand," he said. He looked at Jade again. "Were you wearing your cloak at the time of this mishap?"

"Yes," she answered. She looked perplexed. "But what does that.. ."

"You tore your cloak and bruised your face when you fell down, didn't you?"

His tone was a little too condescending for her liking. "Tell me exactly what it is you think you're beginning to understand."

"It's really very simple," he answered. "Your head suffered a trauma, Jade. You aren't thinking logically now, though I must admit that most women aren't ever logical. Still, with plenty of rest and care, in a few days you'll realize your mind was just playing tricks on you. You'll be worrying about what gown

to wear to your next ball then."

"My mind isn't playing tricks on me," she cried out.

"You're confused."

"I am not confused!"

"Quit shouting," Caine ordered. "If you'll only think about what I'm . . ."

He gave up when she shook her head at him. "You're too addled to be reasoned with now. We'll wait until you're feeling better."

"He's right, miss," Monk whispered. "If you'd seen a titled gentleman murdered, the news would have hit this section of town right off. The men who'd done the deed would have boasted of their cunning. Listen to Caine now. He knows what's best."

"But if you believe I'm just imagining I'm in danger, then you don't need to protect me, do you?"

"Oh, yes, I do," he replied. "Only now I know who I'm protecting you against."

Before she could ask another question, he continued. "Like it or not, you're a menace until you've recovered. In all good conscience, I can't leave you on your own." His smile was gentle when he added, "I guess you could say I'm protecting you from yourself, Jade. Now give me your satchel. I'll carry it for you."

She tried to lift the bag before Caine could and ended up in a tug of war. Caine won. "What in God's name do you have in here?" he asked. "This thing weighs more than you do."

"Everything I own," she answered. "If it's too much for you, I'll be happy to carry it."

Caine shook his head. He took hold of her hand. "Come along. My carriage is waiting two blocks over. You should be home in bed."

She drew to an abrupt stop. "Whose bed, Caine?"

His sigh was loud enough to wake the drunks littering the alleys. "Your very own bed," he snapped. "Your virtue's safe. I never take virgins to my bed and I sure as certain don't want you."

He thought she would be relieved by his vehement promise not to bother her. It was only a half lie, of course. He did want to kiss her, yet he wasn't sure if it was merely out of the need to have a few minutes of blissful silence.

"Is that a little rule of yours?" she asked. "Not to bed a virgin?"

She looked highly insulted. Caine didn't know what to make of that reaction. "It is," he answered. "I also don't bed daft women I don't particularly like, sweet, so you're safe enough with me."

He dared to grin at her when he made those shameful remarks. "I do believe I'm beginning to hate you," she muttered. "Well, you're bloody safe with me, too, Caine. I would never let you touch me, either."

"Good."

"Yes, good," she replied, determined to have the last word. "If you don't quit dragging me, I'm going

to scream your name over and over again until the authorities come and take you away, Pagan."

"I'm not Pagan."

"What?"

She almost fell down. Caine grabbed her. "I said, I'm not Pagan."

"Just who in thunder are you then?"

They'd reached his carriage but she refused to let him assist her inside until he'd answered her question. She kept slapping his hands away.

Caine gave in. He tossed her satchel up to the driver, then turned back to her. "My name really is Caine. I'm the Marquess of Cainewood. Now will you get inside? This is neither the time nor the place for a lengthy discussion. When we're on our way, I'll explain everything to you."



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