"And what might that truth be?" Caine asked. "That he's actually a little civilized after all?" "How did you guess?"
"From the way you turned out," he explained. "If he was such a barbarian, you wouldn't have become such a lady." She beamed with pleasure. "It is good of you to notice," she whispered. "Uncle is very intelligent." "He's the one who taught you how to read, isn't he?" She nodded. "It proved fortunate, too, for his eyes started failing him. At night I would read to him." "From memory?"
"Only when there weren't any books available. Harry stole as many as he could get his hands on."
"The way he speaks," Caine interjected. "That's all part of his deception, too, isn't it?"
"Yes," she admitted. "Appearances, after all. He doesn't even use proper grammar when we're alone, fearing he'll slip up in front of his men, you see."
Caine rolled his eyes. "Your uncle became a bit of a fanatic about his position as leader, didn't he?"
"No," she argued. "You misunderstand. He enjoys the deception, Caine." She continued to talk about her uncle for another few minutes, then turned the topic to some of her most memorable escapades. Because he'd promised not to get angry, Caine hid his reaction. His hands were shaking, though, with
the true need to wring good old Uncle Harry's neck, by the time she'd finished telling him about one particularly harrowing incident.
He decided he didn't want to know all about her past after all. "I think I'd better hear these stories one at a time."
"That's what I'm doing," she countered. She paused to smile at the servant when the woman placed a tray of crusty rolls in front of her, then turned back to Caine. "I am telling them one at a time."
Caine shook his head. "I mean I want you to tell me one every other month or so. A man can only take so much. I promise you I'll be thinking about the story you just told me a good long while. Hell, Jade, I can feel my hair turning gray. You could have been killed. You could have . . ."
"But you aren't getting angry," she interjected with a smile. "You did promise."
Caine leaned back in his chair. "I think we'd better change the subject. Tell me when you realized you love me," he commanded. "Did I force you?"
She started to laugh. "You can't force someone to love you," she said. "I believe, however, that when
I read your file, I was already falling in love with you."
She smiled over the astonished look on his face. "It's true," she whispered.
"Jade, I'm not very proud of some of the things I had to do," he said. "You did read the entire file, didn't you?"
"I did," she answered. "You were determined, methodical too, but you weren't inhuman about it. In every accounting, you were always so ... reliable. People depended upon you and you never let them down. I admired that quality, of course. And then I met you," she ended. "You were a little like McKindry, because you snuck up behind me and stole my heart before I even realized what was happening. Now you must tell me when you realized you loved me."
"It was during one of our many heated debates," he said.
It was her turn to look astonished. "We never debated," she said. "We shouted at each other. Those were arguments."
"Debates," he repeated. "Loud ones but debates all the same."
"Are you telling me you fell in love with my mind first?"
She laughed, delighted by his honesty. "Shouldn't your man be here with us? It might look suspicious if he stays in the country, Caine."
"Sterns never comes to London with me," he explained. "Everyone knows that. Sterns hates London, says it's too cluttered."
"I miss him," she admitted. "He reminds me of you. Sterns is most opinionated鈥攁rrogant, too."
"No one understands why I put up with him," Caine said. "But if the truth were out, I don't understand why he puts up with me. He's been like a shield to me, especially when I was a lad. I did get into quite a bit of mischief. Sterns softened the telling, though. He pulled me out of certain death several times, too."
Caine told her a story about the time he almost drowned in a boating incident and how Sterns had saved him only to toss him right back in the waters to learn the proper way to swim. Both of them were laughing by the time Caine ended the tale, for the picture of the sour-faced butler in full clothing swimming alongside his small charge was quite amusing.
Jade was the first to grow somber. "Caine, did you and your friends come to any conclusions last night after I went to bed?"
"The man Richards followed home was Willburn. Do you remember Colin told us that Willburn was his director and how he confided in him?"
"Yes, I remember," she replied. "Nathan said he never trusted Willburn. Still, my brother doesn't trust anyone but Harry and Colin, and me, of course."
"Colin was wrong, Jade. Willburn did work for the Tribunal. He's now employed by the one remaining member."
Before she could interrupt him, he continued. "We're pretty certain William Terrance was the second man. Since he's dead, and your father too, that only leaves the third. Richards is convinced Terrance was called Prince. That leaves Ice unaccounted for."
"How will we ever find Ice? We really don't have much to go on. The letters were very sparse with personal information, Caine."
"Sure we do, sweetheart," he replied. "In one of the letters, there was mention that Ice didn't attend Oxford. Also, both Fox and Prince were surprised when they met Ice."
"How did you gather that bit of information?"
"From one of the remarks made by your father to Prince in the third ... no, the fourth letter."
"I remember," she countered. "I just didn't think it significant."
"Richards believes Ice could very well be a foreigner."
"And you?" she asked.
"I'm not convinced. There are other important clues in those letters, Jade. I just need a little more time to put them all together."
She had complete faith in his ability to sort it all out. Once Caine put his mind to a problem, he would be able to solve it.
"Richards put a watch on Willburn. He thinks he might lead us to Ice. It's a start, but I'm not putting my money on it. We have other options, too. Now, sweetheart, I don't want you to leave this town house, no matter what the reason, all right?"
"You can't leave either," she returned. "Agreed?"
"Whatever will we do to keep ourselves occupied?" she asked with as much innocence in her tone as she could manage.
"We could do a lot of reading, I suppose," he drawled out.
She stood up and went to stand behind his back. "Yes, we could read," she whispered as she wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders. Her fingers slipped inside the top of his shirt. "I could learn how to embroider," she added. "I've always wanted to learn that task." She leaned down and nibbled on his earlobe. "But do you know what I want to do most of all, husband?"
"I'm getting a fair idea," he answered, his voice husky with arousal.
"You know? Then you'll teach me?"
"Everything I know, sweetheart," he promised.
He stood up and took her into his arms. "What will we do for music?" she asked.
If he thought that an odd question, he didn't say so. "We'll make our own music," he promised. He dragged her by the hand into the foyer and started up the steps.
"How?" she asked, laughing.
"I'll hum every time you moan," he explained.
"Don't you think the drawing room will be better?" she asked.
"The bed would be more comfortable," he answered. "But if you're determined to . . ."
"Learn how to dance," she interjected. "That is what this discussion is all about, isn't it?"
She smiled ever so sweetly up at him after telling that lie, waiting for his reaction. She thought she'd bested him with her trickery. Caine, however, proved to be far more cunning than she was, more creative, too. He followed her into the drawing room, locked the doors behind him, and then proceeded to teach her how to dance.
It was a pity, but she was never going to be able to show off her new skill in public, for Caine and she would scandalize the ton with the erotic, absolutely sinful way he taught her how to dance. And though he was thoroughly logical in his explanation, she still refused to believe the ladies and gentlemen of the ton took their clothes off before they did the waltz.
Caine kept her entertained the rest of the day, but as soon as darkness fell, they had their first argument.
"What do you mean, you're leaving?" she cried when he put his jacket on. "We agreed that we wouldn't leave this town house . . ."
"I'll be careful," Caine interrupted. He kissed her on her forehead. "Lyon and Richards are waiting for me, sweet. I'm going to have to go out every night, I'm afraid, until we finish this. Now quit worrying and tell me you won't wait up for me."
"I will wait up for you," she stammered out.
"I know," he answered with a sigh. "But tell me you won't anyway."
She let him see her exasperation. "Caine, if anything happens to you, I'm going to be very angry."
"I'll be careful," he answered.
Jade chased after him to the back door. "You'll remember McKindry?"
He turned, his hand on the doorknob. "That's your lesson, sweetheart."
"Well, you can damned well learn from it, too," she muttered.
"All right," he answered, trying to placate her. "I'll remember McKindry." He turned and opened the door. "Jade?"
"You will be here when I come home, won't you?"
She was amazed by his question, insulted, too, and she would have blistered him with a piece of her mind if he hadn't sounded so vulnerable. "Have I made you so insecure, then?" she asked instead.
"Answer me," he commanded.
"I'll be here when you come home."
Those parting words became their ritual. Each night, just as he was leaving, he would tell her he would remember McKindry, and she would tell him she would be waiting for him.
During the dark hours of the night, while she waited for her husband to come home to her, she thought about his vulnerability. At first, she believed she was the cause. After all, she'd let him see her own insecurity often enough. But she sensed, too, that Caine's background was another reason for his own vulnerability. She couldn't imagine what his early life must have been like. Sir Harwick had called Caine's mother a shrew. She remembered he'd also said that the woman had tried to turn her son against his father. It couldn't have been a peaceful time for Caine.
The more she thought about it, the more convinced she became that Caine actually needed her just as much as she needed him.
That realization was a comfort.
Lady Briars sent several notes inviting Jade to visit. Caine wouldn't let her leave the town house, however, and sent word back that his wife was indisposed.
In the end, her father's dear friend came to see her. Jade's memory of the woman was hazy at best, but she felt horribly guilty about pretending to be ill when she saw how old and frail the woman was. She was still beautiful, though, with clear blue eyes and silvery gray hair. Her intellect appeared to be quite sharp, too.
Jade served tea in the drawing room, then took her place next to Caine on the settee. He seemed quite determined to participate in the women's conversation.
Both husband and wife listened to Lady Briars extend her condolences over Nathan's tragic death. Jade played the role of grieving sister well, but she hated the deception, for Lady Briars was so sincere in her sympathy.
"When I read about the tragedy in the papers, I was stunned," Lady Briars said. "I had no idea Nathan worked for the government doing such secretive work. Caine, I must tell you how sorry I was to hear your brother was also killed by that horrid pirate. I didn't know the lad, of course, but I'm certain he must have had a heart of gold."
"I never met Colin either," Jade interjected. "But Caine has told me all about him. He was a good man, Lady Briars, and he died for his country."
"How did Pagan become involved in this?" Lady Briars asked. "I'm still hazy on the details, child."
Caine answered her question. "From what the War Department was able to piece together, Nathan and Colin were waylaid when en route to investigate a highly secretive matter."
"Isn't it rather ironic that you two ended up together?" Lady Briars asked. There was a smile in her voice now.
"Not really," Caine answered. "Both of us missed the ceremony honoring our brothers," he explained. "Jade came to see me. She wanted to talk about Nathan and I guess I needed to talk about Colin. We were immediately drawn to each other."
He paused to wink at Jade, then continued, "I believe it was love at first sight."
"I can see why," Lady Briars said. "Jade, you've turned into a beautiful woman." She shook her head and let out a little sigh. "I never understood why your father's friend snatched you away so quickly after your father's funeral. I will admit I was going to petition the Crown for guardianship. I'd always wanted a daughter. I also believed you would have fared much better with me. Now, after visiting with you, well, I must concede that you were properly raised."
"Uncle Harry insisted we leave right away," Jade explained. "He wasn't our legal guardian and he knew you'd fight for Nathan and me."
"Yes," Lady Briars agreed. "Do you know, I feel in part responsible for Nathan's death. Yes, I do. If he'd come to live with me, I certainly wouldn't have allowed him to go off on those sea voyages. It was too dangerous."
"Nathan was a fully grown man when he made his decision to work for England," Caine interjected.
"I doubt you could have kept him home, Lady Briars."
"Still," she countered. "I still don't understand why your father didn't consider me for guardianship . . ."
"I believe I understand," Jade said. "Harry told me that Father had turned his heart against England."