"I noticed," Caine returned. "Still, he might take exception to having his ship burned."

"No!"

Jade was so appalled by that suggestion, she had to sit down. She moved back to the chair and collapsed.

Nathan was sympathetic. "The Emerald has been home for Jade," he said. "Perhaps we could find another ship, paint it to look like the Emerald, and set fire to it. Harry would keep the real one safely hidden."

Caine nodded. "Can he see to this chore? There have to be witnesses to the ship's sinking, witnesses who'll testify they saw Pagan die."

"If it's all spelled out for him, yes," Nathan agreed.

"If he's wearing his spectacles," Colin interjected with a grin.

"I'll go and speak to him now," Caine announced.

Nathan stood up before Caine did. "It's time for you to get some rest, Colin."

Before Caine or his brother realized Nathan's intent, he'd lifted Colin into his arms. Nathan staggered under the weight, righted himself, and then started out of the room. Colin immediately started protesting.

"For God's sake, Nathan, put me down. I'm not an infant."

"Could have fooled me," Nathan returned.

Jade watched the two friends disappear around the corner, then whispered, "Nathan has taken good

care of your brother, Caine."

Caine turned to look at Jade. She was staring at her lap. "So have you, Jade," he replied.

She didn't acknowledge that compliment. "He's very gentle, my brother. He hides behind his angry expression most of the time. His back is scarred from the beatings he's taken, Caine. He wasn't always away at school. He won't talk about that long time he was missing, won't tell me where he was. I only know that there was a woman involved in his torment. He must have loved her very much, I think, and she must have betrayed him, because now he tries to be so cold and cynical all the time. Colin was able

to touch Nathan's heart, though. Your brother gives his friendship without restrictions. He saved Nathan more than once, too. My brother doesn't trust many people, but Colin is the exception."

"Does your brother trust you?"

The question startled her. "Oh, yes," she rushed out. She glanced up to look at him, saw the tenderness

in his eyes, and wondered what had caused that reaction. "Colin could never have managed all those stairs. Nathan knew that. My brother didn't give him time to let his pride become dented."

"It might still be dented just a little," Caine drawled out. They could both still hear Colin shouting his objections.

Jade's smile was hesitant. She stood up, then clasped her hands behind her back while she stared at Caine. "Since I cannot leave England just yet, I believe I shall send a note to Lady Briars and request

an invitation to stay with her." "No."

"No? Why not?"

"Jade, I'm really getting tired of repeating myself. You're staying with me."

"Lady Briars would welcome me into her home, it would be much easier for you if I left."

"Why?"

"Because you're going to think this all through in that logical mind of yours and then you're going to decide you can never forgive me. That's why."

"Do you want me to forgive you?"

"Not particularly."

"You're lying again."

"Does it matter?"

"Yes, it matters. Jade, I told you I loved you. Doesn't that matter?"

"It matters," she whispered. When he took a step toward her, she moved away from the chair and started backing toward the doors. The look on Caine's face worried her. Retreat seemed the logical choice now. "Why are you looking at me like that?" she asked.

"You've deceived me, manipulated me, run me in circles, but all that's going to change now, isn't it?"

"So it's finally settling in, is it?" She backed up another space. "When you apply your logic, I'm sure you'll understand that everything I did was to protect you and your brother. First you have to get past your anger . . . and your pride."

"Is that right?"

"Caine, someday soon, I believe you'll actually thank me for this deception. Besides, it's over now, finished."

He slowly shook his head. He smiled too. Jade didn't know what to make of that reaction. Because she didn't dare take her gaze away from him, she didn't look behind her and suddenly found herself backed up against the corner of the wall. She'd misjudged the distance to the entrance by several feet.

She was trapped. His smile widened, indicating he was well aware of her predicament and was thoroughly enjoying it.

"It's done," she stammered out.

"No, it has only just begun, sweet." His hands slammed against the wall on either side of her face.

"You're referring to this hunt for the Tribunal, aren't you?"

He slowly leaned down. "No, I'm referring to you and me. Did you let me touch you because you were protecting me?"

"What a ridiculous question," she muttered.

"Answer me."

"No, of course not," she whispered. She stared at his chest while she admitted that fact.

"Was it out of guilt for deceiving me?"

"No," she cried out. She realized she sounded frightened and immediately changed her tone. "I never

feel guilty about lying. I do it very well. I'm proud of my talent, not ashamed."

Caine closed his eyes and said a quick prayer for patience. "Then why did you let me touch you?"

he demanded.

"You know why."

"Tell me."

"Because 1 wanted you to touch me," she whispered.

"Why?"

She shook her head, then tried to push his hand away. He didn't budge.

"You aren't leaving this room until you've given me the full truth. No more lies, Jade."

She stared at his chin now. "You ask too much of me."

"I ask only what I can give in return," he countered. "And we're going to stand here all day until. . ."

"Oh, all right," she replied. "I wanted you to touch me because you were such a kind, gentle man and I realized how much I ... cared for you."

She looked up into his eyes then, for she needed to know if he was going to laugh or not. If he showed even a hint of amusement, she swore she'd use her fist on him.

He wasn't laughing. He did look pleased with her admission, arrogantly so, but she decided he was entitled to that much. "Caine, you weren't anything like the man I read about in your file. Even your director doesn't know the real you."

"You read my file?"

She decided she shouldn't have mentioned that fact when he grabbed hold of her shoulders and began to squeeze fresh bruises on her skin. "Yes, I read your file," she announced. "It took most of the night. You have quite a history."

He shook his head. He was more astonished than angry. "Jade, the file should have been sealed . . . locked away, the name wiped clean."

"Oh, it was, Caine. Yes, the security was actually quite good. No faulty latches on all the doors, sturdy locks on each cabinet. . ."

"Obviously the security wasn't good enough," he muttered. "You were able to get inside. You found and read my file. My God, I haven't even read it."

"Why would you want to read it?" she asked. "You lived each event. The file only related assignments you'd handled. There wasn't much about your personal life. Why, the incident with the Kelly brothers wasn't even mentioned."

"Caine, why are you so upset?" she asked. She thought he might be trying to crush her bones now.

"You read everything? You know everything I've done?" She slowly nodded. "You're hurting me, Caine. Please let go"

He put his hands back on the wall, blocking her exit again. "And yet, knowing all this . . . you still came looking for me. You weren't afraid?"

"I was a little afraid," she confessed. "Your history is most. . . colorful. And I was worried, yes, but

after we met, I found myself doubting the accuracy . . ."

"Don't," he interrupted. "There wasn't any exaggeration."

She shivered over the briskness in his voice. "You did what you had to do," she whispered.

Caine still wasn't absolutely certain he believed her. "What was my operative name?"

"Hunter."

"Hell."

"Caine, do try to understand my position. It was necessary for me to find out everything I could about you."

"Why was it necessary?"

"You were in danger."

"Did it not occur to you that I could take care of any threats that came my way?"

"Yes," she answered. "It occurred to me. Still, I had made a promise to your brother and I was honor bound to keep you safe."

"Your word is very important to you, isn't it, Jade?"

"Well, of course it is," she countered.

"I still don't understand why you thought you needed to read my file."

"I needed to find your . . . vulnerability. Don't look at me like that. Everyone has an Achilles' heel, Caine, even you."

"And what did you find? What's my flaw?"

"Like your father, you have a reputation for being a champion of the weak. That isn't necessarily a flaw, but I used that part of your character to my advantage."

"By pretending to be in danger? Jade, you were in danger. Those events did take place. You . . ."

"I could have taken care of the threat on my own," she boasted. "Once I got away from Nathan's carriage, I went to Shallow's Wharf. Jimbo and Matthew were there, waiting for me. The three of us could have taken care of the problem."

"Perhaps," Caine said.

Since he was being so agreeable, and looking so distracted, she tried to duck under his arm. Caine simply moved closer to stop her. "You believed I was weaker and you therefore became my champion, my guardian angel," she finished.

"As it turns out, you were my guardian angel, too," he said.

"Does that injure your pride?"

"No," he answered. "Being manipulated has already done quite enough damage to my pride."

"You have enough arrogance to suffer this paltry blow," she whispered, a wisp of a smile in her voice. "You would have given your life to keep me safe. I heard you whisper that promise to me when you thought I was asleep."

"Damn it, Jade, was there ever a moment when you weren't deceiving me?"

She didn't answer him.

"Jade, I gave you my protection. Do you know what you gave me?"

"Lies," she answered.

"Yes, lies, but something else as well." He could tell by her blush that she understood what he was

saying. "What else did you give me?"

"Well, there was . . . that," she whispered. "I was a virgin . . ."

"You gave me your love, Jade," She shook her head.

He nodded.

"I didn't, Caine."

"You did," he replied. "Do you remember what I told you that first night we made love?"

She remembered every word. "No," she said.

"You're lying again, Jade. You have a knack for remembering everything you read or hear."

"Just everything I've read," she whispered. She started struggling to get away from him. She was

suddenly filled with panic.

Caine moved closer, until his thighs were touching hers. "Then let me remind you, my little deceiver," he whispered. "I told you that you were going to belong to me. Now and forever, Jade."

"You didn't mean it," she cried out. "I won't hold you to such a foolish promise, Caine." She closed her eyes against the memory of their lovemaking. "Now is not the time to ... Caine, stop that," she rushed

on when he leaned down and kissed her forehead. "I tricked you, lied to you. Besides," she added.

"You didn't know I was Pagan. Anything you said that night must be forgotten."

"I don't want to forget," he said.

"Caine, I can't possibly stay with you. You don't even like me. I'm a thief, remember?"

"No, my love, you used to be a thief," he said. "But all that's finished. There's going to be some changes, Jade."

"Impossible. You'd never be able to make so many changes, Caine. You're too rigid."

"I was referring to you!" he shouted. "You're going to be making these changes."

"I won't."

"You will. You're giving it all up, Jade."

"Why?"

"Because I won't have it, that's why."

She didn't want to understand. "What I do is of no concern to you," she argued. "My men depend on me, Caine. I won't let them down."

"They'll have to depend upon someone else then," he bellowed. "Your thieving days are over."

Her ears were ringing, but she was suddenly too angry and too frightened to worry about that. "Once I leave here, you'll never see me again. Don't worry, I won't come back to rob you." She decided she was finished with this conversation. She shoved away from Caine, then saw Nathan and Black Harry standing in the entrance, watching her. She assumed they'd heard most of the conversation. She had

been shouting, she realized, almost as loudly as Caine had. And this was all Caine's doing anyway.

He'd turned her into a raving shrew. "Why do you care what she does?" Nathan asked.

For Jade's benefit, Caine kept his expression mild, contained. "Nathan, 1 believe it's time you and I had our little chat. Jade, wait in the dining room with Harry. Sterns?" Caine added when the butler joined the group. "See that we aren't interrupted."

Black Harry seemed to be the only one who fully understood what was about to happen. "Just a moment, me boy," he said to Caine as he made his way past Nathan. He rushed through the drawing room, snatched the silver bowl from the top of the mantle, then hurried back to the entrance. "It would be a shame to have this ruined, now wouldn't it? I'll be taking it with me," he added when Jade started to protest. "Caine would want me to have it, girl, so quit your frowns." Nathan had moved into the drawing room. With a whispered nod of good luck, Sterns dragged Jade out of the room and shut the doors.



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