"What do they have to talk about?" Jade asked Black Harry. "They don't even know each other."

The crash cleared up her confusion. "My God, they're going to kill each other," she cried out. "Harry, do something."

Jade gave that command while she tried to push Sterns out of her way. Harry rushed over and put his arm around her shoulders. "Now, girl, they've been itching to get at each other since the moment they met. Let them alone. Come along with me back to the dining room. Cook's about to do us with dessert."

"Harry, please!"

"Come along," Harry soothed. "Me men are waiting on me."

Her uncle gave up trying to persuade her to join him when she started in shouting. The sound didn't bother him much at all, considering all the noise coming from the drawing room. "You always were a mite stubborn, girl," he muttered as he moved back to the dining room. The cherished silver bowl was tucked under his arm.

A pounding began at the front door just as the dining room doors shut behind Harry. Sterns was immediately torn between duties.

"Will mi'lady please see who's come calling," he shouted; so she could hear him above the noise.

Sterns' arms were folded across his chest. His back rested against the doors. Jade moved to stand

beside him, then imitated his stance. "Mi'lady will guard these doors while you go see who it is."

The butler shook his head. "You cannot trick me, Lady Jade. You're wanting to get inside with the Marquess."

"Of course I want to go inside," she argued. "Caine's fighting with my brother. One's bound to kill the other."

Another loud crash shook the walls. Sterns decided one of the two men had thrown the settee against

the wall. He mentioned that possibility to Jade. She shook her head. "Sounds more like a body hitting

the wall, Sterns. Oh, please . . ."

She didn't bother to continue pleading with him when he shook his head.

The front door suddenly opened. Both Jade and Sterns turned their attention to the two guests who just walked inside.

"It's the Duke and Duchess of Williamshire," Sterns whispered, appalled.

Jade's manner immediately changed. "Don't you dare move away from these doors, Sterns."

She rushed across the foyer and made a curtsy in front of Caine's parents. The Duke of Williamshire smiled at her. The Duchess was barely paying her any notice, for her attention was centered on the entrance to the drawing room. Another loud blasphemy radiated through the doors. Caine's stepmother

let out a small gasp.

"You took her innocence, you bastard."

Nathan's bellowed accusation echoed throughout the foyer. Jade felt like screaming. She suddenly hoped Caine would kill her brother.

Then she remembered their guests. "Good day," she blurted out. She had to shout so the Duke and Duchess would hear her. She felt like a simpleton.

"What is going on here?" the Duchess demanded. "Sterns, who is this lady?"

"My name is Lady Jade," she blurted out. "My brother and I are friends of Caine's," she added.

"But what is going on inside the drawing room?" the Duchess asked.

"A little dispute," she said. "Caine and Nathan, my brother, you see, are having a rather spirited debate about. . ."

She looked over at Sterns for help while she frantically tried to think of a plausible explanation. "Crops," Sterns shouted.

"Crops?" The Duke of Williamshire asked, looking thoroughly puzzled.

"That's ridiculous," the Duchess announced. Her short blond curls bobbed when she shook her head.

"Yes, crops," Jade stated. "Caine believes the barley and wheat should be planted only every other year. Nathan, on the other hand, doesn't believe a field should go fallow. Isn't that right, Sterns?"

"Yes, mi'lady," Sterns shouted. He grimaced when the sound of glass shattering pierced the air, then said, "My lord feels quite strongly about this issue."

"Yes," Jade agreed. "Quite strongly." The Duke and Duchess were staring at her with incredulous expressions. They thought she was crazed. Her shoulders slumped in defeat. "Upstairs, if you please."

"I beg your pardon?" the Duchess asked.

"Please come upstairs," Jade repeated.

"You want us to go upstairs?" the Duchess asked.

"Yes," Jade answered. "There's someone waiting to see you. I believe he's in the second room on the right, though I can't be certain."

She had to shout the end of her explanation as the noise had once again risen to ear-piercing dimensions.

The Duke of Williamshire came out of his stupor. He clasped Jade's hands. "Bless you, my dear," he said. "It's so good to see you again," he added. "You kept your word. I never doubted," he added. He realized he was rambling and immediately forced himself to calm down. "Come along, Gweneth. Jade wants us to go upstairs now."

"You know this woman, Henry?"

"Oh, dear, have I given myself away?" Henry asked Jade.

She shook her head. "I've already told Caine I came to see you," she said.

Henry nodded, then turned back to his wife. "I met this lovely young lady early this morning."

"Where?" Gweneth asked, refusing to let him tug her toward the steps. "I'll hear your explanation now, Henry."

"She came to see me in my study," Henry said. "You were still sleeping. Now come along, sweet.

You'll understand after you've . . ."

"Henry, she has red hair!"

"Yes, dear," Henry agreed as he prodded her up the stairs.

Gweneth started to laugh. "And green eyes, Henry," she shouted in order for her husband to hear her.

"I noticed her green eyes right off, Henry."

"How very astute of you, Gweneth."

Jade stared after Caine's parents until they'd reached the hallway above the stairs. "The fat's in the fire now, isn't it, Sterns?"

"I do believe that is a most accurate evaluation, mi'lady," Sterns agreed. "But have you noticed the blessed lack of noise?"

"I have," she replied. "They've killed each other."

Sterns shook his head. "My employer would not kill your brother," he said. "I believe I shall fetch the decanter of brandy for the two gentlemen. I imagine they're quite parched by now."

"Not parched," Jade wailed. "Dead, Sterns. They're both dead."

"Now, mi'lady, one must always look on the bright side."

"That is the bright side," she muttered. "Oh, go and fetch the brandy then. I'll guard the doors."

"I trust you to keep your word," he announced.

She didn't want to go inside now. She was furious with Caine and her brother, and so humiliated because the Duke and Duchess of Williamshire had strolled right into the middle of the brawl, she wanted to weep.

And just what did she care what Caine's parents thought about her? She was leaving, and that was that. She would have gone upstairs to pack her satchel then and there but she didn't want to take the chance

of running into the Duchess again.

When Sterns returned with the crystal decanter and two glasses, Jade opened the door for him. Both she and the butler stopped when they saw the destruction. The lovely room was in shambles. Jade didn't

think there was a single piece of furniture left intact.

Sterns found the two men before Jade did. His initial surprise wore off much faster, too. The butler straightened his shoulders and proceeded over to the far wall, where Caine and Nathan were seated

on the floor, side by side, their backs propped up by the wall.

Jade stumbled after the butler. Her hands flew to cover her mouth when she looked at the two warriors. Neither looked victorious. Caine had a jagged cut on his forehead, just above his right eyebrow. Blood trickled down the side of his face, but he seemed to be oblivious to his injury. God's truth, he was grinning like a banshee.

Nathan looked just as defeated. There was a deep cut in the corner of his mouth. He held a handkerchief against the injury, and damned if he wasn't grinning, too. The area around his left eye was already beginning to swell.

Jade was so relieved to see that neither Caine nor Nathan appeared to be near death's door, she started trembling. Then, in a flash of a second, that surge of relief turned to raw anger. She became absolutely furious.

"Have you two gentlemen resolved your dispute?" Sterns inquired.

"We have," Caine answered. He turned to look at Nathan, then slammed his fist into his jaw. "Haven't we, Nathan?"

Nathan hit him back before answering. "Yes, we have." His voice was gratingly cheerful.

"You children should be sent to your rooms," Jade snapped. Her voice shook.

Both men looked up at her, then turned to look at each other. They obviously thought her insult was highly amusing because they both burst into laughter.

"Your brother sure hits like a child," Caine drawled out when he could control himself.

"Like hell I do," Nathan countered. "Hand me the brandy, Sterns."

The butler knelt down on one knee and handed each man a glass. He then filled each goblet with a full portion of the rich liquid.

"Sterns, are you thinking to get them drunk?" Jade asked.

"It would be a marked improvement, mi'lady," Sterns replied dryly.

The butler stood up, bowed, and then slowly scanned the ruins. "I believe I was correct, Lady Jade.

It was the settee that hit the wall."

Jade stared silently at the remains of what used to be a tea cart.

"Sterns, leave the bottle," Caine instructed.

"As you wish, mi'lord. Would you like me to assist you to your feet before I leave?"

"Is he always this proper?" Nathan asked.

Caine laughed. "Proper? Never, not Sterns. If I'm a minute late for supper, he eats my portion."

"Promptness is a quality I've still to teach you, mi'lord," Sterns said.

"You'd best help him to his feet," Nathan said. "He's as weak as a ... child."

The two men started laughing again. "You'd best assist him, Sterns," Caine said. "He suffered more

blows than I did."

"You never give up, do you, Caine?" Nathan asked. "You know good and well I won this fight."

"Like hell," Caine argued, using Nathan's favorite expression. "You barely scratched me."

Jade had heard enough. She whirled around, determined to get as far away from the two imbeciles as possible. Caine reached out and grabbed the hem of her gown. "Sit down, Jade."

"Where?" she cried out. "You've destroyed every chair in this room."

"Jade, you and I are going to have a little talk. Nathan and I have come to an agreement." Caine turned

to Nathan. "She's going to be difficult."

Nathan nodded. "She always was."

Caine put his goblet down on the floor, then slowly stood up. "Nathan?" he said as he stared at the woman glaring so prettily up at him. "Think you can crawl out of here and give us a few minutes' privacy?"

"Crawl, my arse," Nathan growled as he stumbled to his feet.

"I don't want to be alone with you," Jade interjected.

"Too bad," Caine countered.

"Your parents are upstairs," she said when he tried to take her into his arms.

She waited for that statement to get a proper reaction and was unhappy to see that Caine didn't seem the least bit bothered. "They heard all the noise," she said then. "Sterns told them you were disputing the issue of crops."

"The issue of crops?" Caine asked Sterns.

The butler nodded, then turned to walk out of the room with Nathan at his side. "The rotation of crops, to be more specific, mi'lord. It was the best I could think of given the circumstances."

"They didn't believe him," Jade whispered, sounding as though she were confessing a grave sin.

"I would imagine they wouldn't," Caine answered dryly. He noticed that she suddenly looked close to tears.

"And that upset you, Jade?"

"No, that doesn't upset me," she cried out. She was so angry with him she couldn't even come up with

a suitable insult. "I'm going up to my room," she whispered. "I need a few minutes of privacy."

She didn't mention she was going to pack her belongings, certain Caine or Nathan would try to waylay her. She simply wasn't up to another confrontation.

Without a hint of a farewell, Jade turned and hurried out of the room. Lord, how she wanted to weep. She couldn't, of course, until after she'd had a long talk with her uncle. Harry needed to understand.

She didn't want him to worry about her.

She found Harry in the dining room, carefully examining the silver collection. He tucked a fork in his

sash when she called out to him, then turned to smile at her. "I'm taking all the silver with me, girl.

Caine would want me to have it for my collection."

"Yes," she answered. "I'm certain he would want you to have it. Uncle? I need to speak to you alone, please."

The men immediately filed out into the hallway. Jade sat down next to her uncle, took hold of his hand, and quietly told him what she was going to do. She also told him about the last two weeks, though she deliberately left out mention of her nightmares and her intimacy with Caine. Both of those facts would only upset Harry. Besides, he couldn't do anything about either now. No, he couldn't ward off her nightmares, and he couldn't make her quit caring about Caine.

Her uncle grunted several times during her explanation, but finally agreed. He didn't have any doubts in his mind that she'd be able to take care of herself. She was his protegee, after all, and as good as the best of them.

"I'll be waiting for you at the cottage," he promised. He pulled her over to kiss her cheek, then said, "Watch your backside, girl. Vermin like to sneak up on a person. Remember McKindry."

She nodded. Harry was referring to the pirate who'd marked her back with his whip. He had been vermin and he had snuck up behind her. Her uncle liked to use that memory as a lesson. "I'll remember," she promised.

Jade left her uncle taking inventory of Caine's possessions and went upstairs to pack. She passed Colin's room on her way to her own. The door was closed, but she could hear the Duke's booming laughter interspersed with his wife's loud, inelegant sobs. Colin's mama was obviously overcome with emotion



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