"You promise?"

"I promise," he answered with a low growl.

She didn't look like she believed him. Jade folded her arms across her chest. "Shame on you, Caine. You've been pretending to be the noble pirate all this time . . ."

"That bastard's a lot of things, Jade, but he sure as hell isn't noble."

"How can you know if you speak truth or fancy?" she demanded. "I'll wager you never even met the man. Is your own life so unhappy that you must pretend to . . ."

The look on his face turned as stinging as his hard grip on her arm, interrupting her speech. While she watched, he tore the flower from his lapel and tossed it on the ground. He wasn't at all gentle when he half lifted, half tossed Jade inside the vehicle.

Once the carriage started moving, the interior was thrown into darkness. She couldn't see his scowl and was most relieved.

He couldn't see her smile either.

They rode in silence a short while. Jade used the time to regain her composure. Caine used the time to calm his frustration.

"Why were you pretending to be Pagan?"

"To hunt him down," Caine answered.

"But why?"

"Later," he snapped. "I'll tell you all about it later, all right?"

He was sure his hard tone of voice would discourage her from asking any more questions. He was mistaken.

"You're angry because I made you quit your hunt, aren't you?"

His sigh indicated his impatience. "You didn't make me quit my hunt. I might have failed thus far, but when we've taken care of your problem, I'll go back to my hunt. Don't worry, Jade. I won't fail."

She wasn't at all worried, but she couldn't very well tell him that. Caine hadn't failed at all. No, he'd gone into the tavern to draw Pagan out.

And that's exactly what he'd done.

She'd done her task well. Her brother was going to be pleased.

Chapter Three

The tears had been a nice touch. Jade had been almost as surprised as Caine appeared to be by the spontaneous show of emotion. It hadn't been in her plans to use such a weak ploy to get him out of the tavern. Yet once she saw how upsetting it was for him to see a woman in such a pathetic condition, she'd cried all the more, of course. Caine had looked so helpless. Jade had no idea she had such a talent. Wailing on command took concentration, however, but she quickly adapted herself to the problem, and thought she'd conquered it rather quickly, too. Why, she could probably burst into a full fit of tears

before a gentleman could drop his hat if she really put her mind to it.

She didn't feel at all ashamed of her conduct. Desperate times always called for desperate measures. At least that's what Black Harry liked to say. Her adopted uncle would have a good laugh too. In all their years together, he had never seen her cry, not even when his enemy, McKindry, had used a whip on

her back. The lash had hurt like fire, but she hadn't let out a single whimper. McKindry only got in one good lash before Harry tossed him over the side. Her uncle had been in such a spitting rage, he'd jumped overboard to finish the bloke. McKindry was a much stronger swimmer, however, and was

last seen backstroking his way to France.

Of course, Black Harry would be in another good rage if be knew what she was up to now. He'd have her hide, he would. Yet it hadn't been possible to explain her plan to him. No, there simply hadn't been enough time to sail all the way to their island to inform him of her decision. And time was of the essence. Caine's life was at stake.

Jade knew all about the Marquess of Cainewood. He was a bit of a contradiction, too. Caine was an earthy, downright lusty man, but he was also honorable. She'd read his file through from start to finish, and every bit of it was memorized in her mind. She had the uncanny knack for recording everything in her mind the first time she read it. Although she thought that was a rather odd ability, she had to admit that the gift had certainly come in handy upon occasion.

Obtaining Caine's impressive record from the War Department had been tricky, but not impossible. The information had of course been sealed and locked away. It was a point of pride with Jade that she could undo any lock ever fashioned. She'd succeeded in getting Caine's file on her third attempt.

It was a shame that none of the information in his records mentioned the disturbing fact that he was such a handsome devil. The term "ruthless" had been sprinkled liberally throughout each account of his activities, yet never was "compelling" or "appealing" put to his name. The file didn't mention what a big man he was either.

Jade remembered how uneasy she'd felt when she read his operative name. He was called Hunter by his superiors. After reading the file in full, she understood why he'd been given that name. Caine never gave up. In one incident, when the odds had been overwhelmingly against him, he continued to stalk his adversary with the patience and the tenacity of an ancient warrior. And in the end, he had succeeded.

Caine had quit his duties the day he'd been informed of the death of his brother Colin. According to the last entry made by his senior advisor, a man by the name of Sir Michael Richards, the resignation had Caine's father's full support. The Duke of Williamshire had just lost one son to his country and wasn't about to lose another. It was also noted by Richards that until that day, Caine had had no idea his younger brother also worked for the government.

Both Colin and Caine came from a large family. Caine was their eldest child. In all there were six children: two sons and four daughters.

The children were all very protective of each other and of their parents. The one fact that kept repeating itself in his file was that Caine was a protector by nature. Whether he considered that fact a flaw or a virtue wasn't significant to Jade. She simply used it to get what she wanted.

She'd been prepared to like Caine, of course. He was Colin's brother, after all, and she was very fond of Colin, since the moment she'd fished him out of the ocean and he told her to save her own brother first. Yes, she'd been prepared to like Caine, but she hadn't been at all prepared to find herself so physically drawn to him. It was a first for her, a worry too, for she knew he could overwhelm her if she gave him the opportunity.

She protected herself by pretending to be everything she thought he disliked. When she wasn't crying like an infant, she tried to remember to complain. Most men hated ill-disciplined women, didn't they? Jade certainly hoped so. She would be forced by circumstances to stay by Caine's side for the next two

weeks, and then it would be over. She'd return to her way of life and he'd probably return to his womanizing.

It was imperative for him to think he was protecting her. It was the only way she could keep him safe. His views on the inferiority of women, no doubt enhanced by four little sisters, made her plan much easier. Yet Caine was also a very perceptive man. His past training had polished his predatory instincts. For that reason, Jade had ordered her men to wait for her at Caine's country home. They were going to hide in the woods that surrounded his house. When she arrived, they would take over the task of watching Caine's backside.

The letters were at the heart of this treachery, of course, and she wished to God she'd never found the things now. What was done was done, she reminded herself. It certainly wouldn't do her any good to have regrets. It would be wasted effort and Jade never, ever wasted anything. It was all very clear-cut to her. When she'd shown her brother, Nathan, their father's letters, she'd started this mess, and she would now be the one to mop it up.

Jade forced her worries aside. She'd inadvertently just given Caine quite a little time to think. Silence, she decided, could very well be her enemy now. She had to keep Caine off guard ... and occupied. "Caine? What do you ..."

"Hush, sweet," Caine ordered. "Do you hear ..."

"That odd squeak? I was just about to mention it," she replied.

"It's more like a persistent grinding noise. . . Miller," Caine shouted out the window. "Stop the carriage."

The vehicle came to an abrupt stop just as the left rear wheel snapped. Jade would have been tossed to the floor if Caine hadn't caught her in his arms. He held her tightly for a long minute, then whispered. "Damned bad timing, wouldn't you say?"

"I'd say it's probably trickery," she whispered.

Caine didn't comment on that remark. "Stay inside, Jade, while I see what can be done."

"Do be careful," she cautioned. "They could be waiting for you."

She heard his sigh when he opened the door. "I'll be careful," he promised.

As soon as he'd shut the door behind him, Jade opened it and climbed out. The driver came to stand beside his employer. "I can't fathom it, mi'lord. I'm always checking the wheels to make certain they're sound."

"I'm not faulting you, Miller," Caine returned. "We're far enough on the side of the street to leave it here for the night. Unleash the horse, Miller. I'll..."

Caine stopped when he noticed Jade. She was clutching a wicked-looking dagger in her hand. He almost laughed. "Put that away, Jade. You'll hurt yourself."

She slipped the knife back into the seam pocket of her gown. "We're fair targets, Caine, standing out here for anyone to grab."

"Then get back inside," he suggested.

She pretended she hadn't heard him. "Miller? Was the wheel tampered with, do you suppose?"

The driver squatted down next to the axle. "I'd say it was," he whispered. "Mi'lord, it was tampered with! Have a look here, at the cuts made in the side bar."

"What are we going to do now?" Jade asked Caine.

"We'll ride the horse," he announced.

"But what about poor Miller? They might do him in when we leave."

"I'll be all right, miss," the driver interjected. "I got me a big flask of brandy to keep me warm. I'll sit inside the carriage until Broley comes to fetch me."

"Who is Broley?" Jade asked.

"One of the tigers," Miller returned.

Jade didn't know what he was talking about. "You have a friend who is an animal?"

Caine did smile then. "Broley works for me," he explained. "I'll explain it all to you later."

"We should just hire a hack," she announced then. She folded her arms across her chest. "Then we

could all ride together and I wouldn't have to worry about Miller."

"At this time of night? It's doubtful we'd find a hack."

"What about Monk's lovely tavern?" she asked. "Couldn't we go back there and wait until light?"

"No," Caine answered. "Monk has certainly locked up and gone home by now."

"We're a fair distance away from the Ne'er Do Well now, mi'lady," Miller interjected.

When the driver moved to unstrap the horse, Jade grabbed hold of Caine's hand and moved closer to his side. "Caine?" she whispered.

"Yes?"

"I think I know what happened to your fine carriage wheel. It was probably the very same men who .. ."

"Hush now," he whispered back. "It's going to be all right."

"How can you know it's going to be all right?"

She sounded so frightened. Caine wanted to comfort her. "My instincts," he boasted. "Sweet, don't let your imagination get out of hand. It's . . ."

"Too late," she countered. "Oh, Lord, my imagination's at it again."

The pistol shot rang out just as she threw herself into his side, knocking him off balance.

The shot flew past the side of his head, narrowly missing him. He could hear the whistle in his ear. Though he was certain it wasn't intentional, Jade had actually just saved his life.

Caine tightened his hold on Jade's hand, shouted a warning to Miller as he pushed her in front of him, and then started running. He forced her to stay directly in front of him so he could shield her with his broad back.

Several more pistol shots rang out. Jade could hear the thundering of men chasing them. It sounded like

a herd of wild horses were about to trample them down.

Jade soon lost all track of where they were. Caine seemed to know his way around the area well enough. He pulled her through a maze of alleys and back streets, until she had a horrid stitch in her side and couldn't catch her breath. When she stumbled against him, he lifted her into his arms without breaking

his stride.

He continued the grueling pace long after the sounds of pursuit had stopped. When they reached the center of the old bridge spanning the Thames, he finally paused to rest.

Caine leaned against the rickety railing, holding her close against him. "That was close. Damn, my instincts were off tonight. I never saw it coming."

He hadn't sounded a bit winded when he made that remark. She was amazed by his stamina. Why, her heart was still pounding from the exertion. "Do you do quite a lot of running through alleys, Caine?" she asked.

He thought that was an odd question. "No, why do you ask?"

"You aren't at all out of breath," she answered. "And we never once ran into a dead end," she added. "You do know your way around the city, don't you?"

"I guess I do," he answered with a shrug that almost sent her flying over the railing. She threw her arms around his neck and held on. Then she realized he was still holding her in his arms.

"You may put me down now," she announced. "I'm certain we lost them."

"I'm not," Caine drawled out.

"I've already explained that I don't like being touched, sir. Put me down." She paused to give him a hard look, then asked, "You aren't going to blame me for your instincts tailing you, are you?"

"No, I'm not going to blame you. Jade, you ask the damnedest questions."

"I'm not in the mood to argue with you. Just apologize and I shall forgive you."

"Apologize?" He sounded incredulous. "What for?"

"For thinking I have an overactive imagination," she explained. "For telling me I'm confused, and most

of all, for being terribly rude when you said those insulting things to me."

He didn't apologize, but he did smile at her. She noticed the wonderful dimple in the side of his left cheek then. Her heart took notice and started pounding in a wild beat again.

"We're standing on a bridge in the middle of London's most disreputable section with a band of cutthroats chasing us, and all you can think about is gaining my apology? You, sweet, really are mad."



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