"I am never taking either one of you on another raid again," she muttered. "I wouldn't be surprised if the authorities were waiting for us outside."

Neither Caine nor Lyon paid any attention to her ramblings. She soon became too weary to lecture them anyway.

Sir Richards was waiting for them in the alley. "There's a hack waiting four blocks over," he announced before he turned and took the lead.

Jade stumbled when they rounded the corner. Lyon grabbed her, lifted her into his arms. She thought he might have felt the folders when he transferred her into Caine's arms, then decided he hadn't noticed after all when he grinned down at her and turned to take up the rear guard. She fell asleep in the vehicle with the cloak clutched to her breasts. It was such a comfort to realize she didn't have to worry. As long as Caine was nearby, she felt safe, protected. For the first time in a good long while, she didn't have to remember McKindry. Caine would keep his guard up for both of them. He'd never make a proper thief, of course, but he certainly wouldn't let the evil McKindrys of the world sneak up behind them, either.

She found herself in Caine's bed when she woke up. He was trying to pry her cloak away from her.

"Are they waiting for you downstairs?" she asked in a sleepy whisper.

"Yes, they are. Sweetheart, let me help you . . ."

"I can undress myself," she said. "Do you need me . . ."

She was going to ask him if he needed her to go downstairs with him, but he interrupted her. "I'll always need you, Jade. I love you."

He leaned down and kissed her. "Go to sleep, sweetheart. I'll join you as soon as we've finished."

"I don't want to need you."

She blurted out that confession in a voice filled with panic. Caine's smile was almost sympathetic.

"I know, love, but you do need me. Now go to sleep."

She didn't understand why, yet found she was comforted by his contradiction. He was so sure of himself, so confident. It was a trait she couldn't help but admire.

Jade let out a loud sigh. She was simply too tired to think about the future now. She hid the files, took her clothes off, and fell back into bed. She thought she very well might have the horrid nightmare again, then realized she wasn't dreading it as much as before.

She fell asleep hugging the promise Caine had given her. She would never have to go near the ocean again.

Caine didn't come to bed until after seven in the morning. Jade opened her eyes just long enough to watch him pull back the covers and stretch out beside her. He hauled her up against his side, his arm wrapped tightly around her waist, and was snoring like a drunk before she got settled again.

She went downstairs around noon, introduced herself to Caine's London staff, and then went into the dining room to have breakfast.

Caine suddenly appeared at the doorway, dressed only in a pair of light-colored britches. He looked exhausted, angry, too, and when he crooked his finger at her she decided not to argue.

"Come here, Jade."

"Did you get up on the wrong side of the bed, Caine?" she asked as she walked over to face him.

"Or are you always this surly when you first wake up?"

"I thought you'd left."

Her eyes widened over that confession, but she wasn't given time to think about it too much. Caine lifted her into his arms and carried her back upstairs. She realized just how furious he was when she noticed the muscle in the side of his jaw was flexing. "Caine, I didn't leave you," she whispered, stating the obvious. She reached up to caress his cheek, smiling over the stubble there. "You need a shave, husband."

"That's right, I am your husband," he grated out. He tossed her onto the bed, took his pants off, and stretched out beside her, facedown, with his arm anchored around her waist. She was fully clothed; he was stark naked.

She would have laughed over the absurdity of her circumstances if the fullness of what he'd just implied hadn't settled in her mind. How dare he not trust her? She was furious. She would have given him a good piece of her mind, too, if he hadn't looked so damned peaceful. She didn't have the heart to wake him up.

The lecture would have to wait until later. She closed her eyes, selected a book from her memory, and reread it in her mind while she patiently waited for Caine to get the rest he needed.

He didn't move until almost two that afternoon. He was in a much better frame of mind, too. He smiled at her. She glared at him.

"Why don't you trust me?" she demanded.

Caine rolled onto his back, stacked his hands behind his head, and let out a loud yawn. "Take your clothes off, sweetheart," he whispered. "Then we'll discuss this."

Her gaze moved down his body to his obvious arousal. She blushed in reaction. "I think we should discuss it now, Caine," she stammered out.

He pulled her on top of him, kissed her passionately, and then ordered her to take her clothes off again. Odd, but she didn't mind obeying his command now. He was such a persuasive man. Demanding, too. She cl**axed twice before he finally filled her with his seed.

She could barely move when he finally moved away from her. "Now what was it you wanted to discuss?"

She couldn't remember. It took them another hour to get dressed, for they kept stopping to kiss each other. It wasn't until they were on their way downstairs that Jade remembered what it was she wanted to lecture him about.

"Haven't I proven myself to you?" she asked. "You should trust me with all your heart."

"You don't trust me," he countered. "It works both ways, Jade, or not at all. You've made it clear you'll leave me at the first opportunity. Isn't that right, love?"

He paused on the bottom step and turned around to look at her. They were eye to eye now. Hers, he noticed, were cloudy with tears.

"I don't wish to talk about this now," she announced, struggling to maintain her composure. "I'm hungry and I..."

"It gives you the edge, doesn't it, wife?"

"I don't understand what you mean," she returned. Her voice shook. "What edge?"

"In the back of that illogical mind of yours lurks the possibility that I'll eventually leave you," he explained. "Just like Nathan and Harry did. You're still afraid."

"I'm afraid?" she stammered out.

He nodded. "You're afraid of me."

He thought she'd argue over that statement of fact. She surprised him by nodding. "Yes, you make me very afraid," she admitted. And I can tell you, sir, I don't like that feeling one little bit. It makes me . . ."

"Vulnerable?"

She nodded again. He let out a patient sigh. "All right, then. How long do you suppose it's going to take you to become unafraid?" His voice was so gentle, his expression so serious.

"How long before you get tired of me?" she asked, her fear apparent.

"Are you deliberately misunderstanding?"

"No."

"Then in answer to your absurd question, I will never get tired of you. Now tell me how long it will take you before you trust me?" he ordered again. His voice wasn't at all gentle now. It was as hard, as determined as his expression.

"I told you I loved you," she whispered.

"Yes, you did."

"I repeated the vows before you and God." Her voice had risen an octave. He could also see her panic, her insecurity.

"Well? What more do you want from me?"

She was shouting now, wringing her hands together. Caine decided she still wasn't ready to surrender wholeheartedly.

He felt like an ogre for upsetting her. "Jade . .."

"Caine, I don't want to leave you," she blurted out. "I do trust you. Yes, I do. I know you'll keep me safe. I know you love me, but there's a part of me that still .. ." She stopped her explanation and lowered her gaze. Her shoulders slumped in dejection. "Sometimes the feelings locked inside me since I was a little girl do get in the way of being logical," she admitted a long minute later. "I suppose you're right. I'm not at all logical about this, am I?"

He pulled her into his arms and held her close. The hug was more for his benefit than hers. In truth, he couldn't stand to see the torment in her eyes.

"I want to tell you something, sweetheart. The first time you tried to leave me ... when Harry told me you'd left, it threw me into a panic. I've never had such a god-awful feeling before, and I sure as hell hated it. Now I'm beginning to realize that you've lived with that feeling a long time, haven't you?"

She mopped her tears away with his shirt before she answered. "Perhaps."

"And so you learned how to make it completely on your own," he continued. "You've been teaching yourself not to depend on anyone else. I'm right, aren't I?"

She shrugged against him. "I don't like talking about this," she whispered, trying to sound disgruntled and not terrified. "I love you with all my heart," she added when he squeezed her. "And I know you love me now, Caine. Yes, I'm sure of that."

Neither said a word for a long while after she'd made that statement. Jade used the time to calm her racing heart. He used the silence to think of a logical way to ease her illogical fears.

"What if we make this a short period?" he suddenly blurted out.

"What?" She pulled away from him so she could see his expression. Surely he was jesting with her.

The look on his face indicated he was quite serious. "You want to make our marriage a short union?

But you just told me you loved me. How can you . .."

"No, no," he argued. "If we just make this commitment to each other for six months' time, if you can just promise me you'll stay with me for that length of time, won't some of your panic ease away?"

He sounded so enthusiastic, looked so arrogantly pleased with himself. She realized then he was quite sincere in this absurdity. "You already said you'd never leave me. Now you're telling me six months . . ."

"I won't ever leave you," he snapped, obviously irritated she wasn't embracing his plan wholeheartedly. "But you don't believe I mean what I say. Therefore, you have only to promise to give me six months, Jade."

"And what about you, husband? Does this promise hold for you as well?"

"Of course."

She threw herself back into his arms so he couldn't see her smile. She didn't want him to think she was laughing at him. Odd, too, but she suddenly felt as though a weight had been lifted from her chest. She could breathe again. The panic was gone.

"Give me your word, wife."

The command was given in a low growl. "I give it," she replied.

"No," he muttered. "It won't work. It's too short a time," he added. "Hell, if I ever forgot, you'd be gone before I ... I want a full year, Jade. We'll start from the day we were married. I won't ever forget our anniversary."

He squeezed her shoulders when she didn't answer him quickly enough. "Well? Do you promise not to leave me for a full year?"

"I promise."

Caine was so relieved, he wanted to shout. He'd finally come up with a way to keep her happy; He'd just given her the edge he was certain she needed. "Say the words, wife," he ordered, his voice gruff.

"I don't want any misunderstandings."

The man really should have become a barrister, she decided. He was so logical, so clever, too. "I'll stay with you for one year. Now you must promise me, husband."

"I won't leave you for one full year," he announced.

He tilted her chin up with his thumb. "You do believe me, don't you?" he asked.

"Yes, I do."

"And you're relieved, aren't you?"

She didn't answer him for a long minute. The truth wasn't at all slow in coming, either. It hit her like a warm bolt of sunshine, filling her heart and her illogical mind all at once. He would never leave her . . . and she could never leave him. The vulnerable childlike feelings hidden inside her for so many years of loneliness evaporated.

"Sweetheart? You are relieved, aren't you?"

"I trust you with all my heart," she whispered.

"You aren't in a panic now?"

She shook her head. "Caine, I want to tell. . ."

"I took the panic away, didn't I?"

Because he looked so supremely pleased with himself, she didn't want to lessen his arrogant satisfaction. A man had to have his pride intact, she remembered. "You have made me sort this all out in my mind," she whispered. "And yes, you have taken my panic away. Thank you, Caine."

They shared a long sweet kiss. Jade was shaking when Caine lifted his head away. He thought his kiss had caused that reaction.

"Do you want to go back upstairs, love?" he asked.

She nodded. "After you've fed me, Caine. I'm starving."

He took hold of her hand and started for the dining room.

"Do you know, husband, I have the oddest feeling now."

"And what is that?" he asked.

"I feel . . . free. Do you understand, Caine? It's as though I've just been let out of a locked room. That's ridiculous, of course."

Caine held out the chair at the table for her, then took his own. "Why is it ridiculous?"

She immediately looked disgruntled. "Because there isn't a locked room I can't get out of," she explained.

Caine ordered their breakfast, and when Anna, the servant, had left the room, he asked Jade to tell him about some of the adventures she'd had. "I want to know everything there is to know," he announced.

"You'll only get angry," she predicted.

"No, no," he argued. "I promise I won't get angry, no matter what you tell me."

"Well, I don't mean to boast," she began. "But I do seem to have a natural ability for getting in and out of tight spots. Uncle Harry says I'm a born thief and liar," she added.

"Now, sweetheart, I'm sure he didn't mean to criticize you," Caine replied.

"Well, of course not," she returned in exasperation. "Those were compliments, husband. Uncle's praise meant all the more to me because he doesn't usually give compliments to anyone. He says it isn't in his nature," she added with a smile. "Harry worries that others will find out the truth about him."



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