"I cannot imagine why," Lady Briars returned. "He seemed very content to me."
Jade shrugged. "We probably will never know his reasons. Harry believed Father was being chased by demons who lived in his head."
"Perhaps so," Lady Briars agreed. "Now enough about your father, Jade. Tell me all about your early life. We have so much catching up to do. What was it like living on this tiny island? Did you learn to read and write? How did you keep yourself occupied, child? Were there many functions to attend?"
Jade laughed. "The people on the island weren't part of society, Lady Briars. Most didn't even bother to wear shoes. I never managed to read or write because Harry couldn't find anyone who could teach me."
Jade told that lie because Caine had insisted no one know she'd conquered those skills. Every little edge would give them an added advantage, he'd explained. If everyone believed she hadn't learned how to read, then she couldn't have read the letters.
She thought that reasoning was filled with flaws, but she didn't argue with her husband. She concentrated on making up several amusing childhood stories to satisfy Lady Briars' curiosity. She ended her remarks with the admission that although it had certainly been a peaceful time, it had also been a little boring.
The topic returned to the issue of their recent marriage. Caine answered all of the woman's questions. Jade was amazed by the easy way he told his lies. He obviously had a natural talent, too.
Her father's old friend appeared to be genuinely interested. Jade thought she was a terribly sweet woman.
"Why is it you never married?" Jade asked. "I know that's a bold question, but you're such a beautiful woman, Lady Briars. I'm certain you must have set the young men scurrying around for your attention."
Lady Briars was obviously pleased by Jade's comments. She actually blushed. She paused to pat her hair before answering. Jade noticed the tremor in the elderly woman's hand then. The ravages of age, she decided as she waited for her to answer.
"I had my hopes set on your father for a long time, my dear. Thorton was such a dashing man. That special spark was missing, though. We ended up good friends, of course. I still think about him every once in a while, and I sometimes bring out some of the precious little gifts he gave me. I get quite maudlin," she admitted. "Do you have any special mementos to remember your father by, Jade?"
"No," Jade answered. "Everything that belonged to my father burned in the fire."
"This is going to disappoint you, Lady Briars, but the lovely house you helped Nathan renovate caught fire. Everything was destroyed."
"Oh, my poor dear," Lady Briars whispered. "It has been a difficult time for you, hasn't it?"
Jade nodded agreement. "Caine has been a comfort, of course. I doubt I would have gotten through this last month without him at my side."
"Yes, that is fortunate," Lady Briars announced. She put her teacup down on the table. "So you say you don't have anything at all to remember your father by? Nothing at all? Not even a family bible or a time piece or a letter?"
Jade shook her head. Caine took hold of her hand and squeezed it. "Sweetheart, you're forgetting the trunk," he interjected smoothly.
She turned to look at Caine, wondering what his game was. Not a hint of her confusion appeared in her expression however. "Oh, yes, the trunk," she agreed.
"Then you do have something to remember your father by, after all," Lady Briars announced. She nodded in apparent satisfaction. "I was going to rush right home and go through my things to find something for you. A daughter must have a trinket or two from her father. Now, I remember a lovely porcelain statue your father gave me as a birthday gift when I turned sixteen . . ."
"Oh, I couldn't take that from you," she interjected.
"No, she couldn't," Caine said. "Besides, she has the trunk. Of course, we haven't had a chance to look inside yet. Jade's been so ill these past weeks with the worrisome fever."
He turned to smile at Jade. "My dear, what say we go over to Nathan's town house next week? If you're feeling up to the outing," he added. "We still have to settle her brother's affairs," he told Lady Briars.
Jade thought Caine had lost his mind. She smiled, just to cover her unease, while she waited for his next surprise.
It wasn't long in coming. "Perhaps you'd like to accompany us over to Nathan's place and have a look at the trunk with us," Caine suggested.
Lady Briars declined the invitation. She insisted that Jade come to see her soon, then took her leave. Caine assisted the frail woman into her carriage.
Jade paced the drawing room until he returned. "And just what was that all about?" she demanded as soon as he walked inside again.
He shut the doors before answering her. She noticed his grin then. Caine looked thoroughly pleased with himself.
"I didn't like lying to that dear woman one bit, Caine," she cried out. "Besides, I'm the accomplished liar in this family, not you. Why did you tell her there was a trunk, for heaven's sake? Were you thinking to make her feel better so she wouldn't have to give up any of her cherished possessions? Do you know, now that I reflect upon this, I don't like hearing you lie at all. Well?" she demanded when she needed to pause for breath. "What have you got to say for yourself?"
"The lie was necessary," Caine began.
She wouldn't let him get any further. '"No lie is ever necessary,'" she quoted from memory. "You told me that days ago. Remember?"
"Love, you're really upset because I lied?" he asked. He looked astonished.
"1 most certainly am upset," she returned. "I've come to depend upon your honesty, Caine. Yet if you tell me the lie was reaily necessary, then I must assume you have a plan. Do you think Lady Briars might mention this imaginary trunk to someone? Is that it?"
She thought she had it all figured out. "No," he answered, smiling over the frown his denial caused.
"No? Then you should be ashamed of yourself for lying to that old woman."
"If you'll let me explain . . ."
She folded her arms across her chest. "This had better be good, sir, or I just might blister you."
He thought she sounded like her Uncle Harry now. She was certainly blustering enough to make him draw that conclusion. He laughed and took his disgruntled looking wife into his arms.
"Well?" she muttered against his jacket. "Explain, if you please, why you lied to a dear family friend."
"She isn't a dear family friend," Caine told her, his exasperation apparent in his tone of voice.
"Of course she is," Jade protested. "You heard her, husband. She has kept all the little presents my father gave her. She loved him!"
"She killed him."
Jade didn't react to that statement for a long, silent minute. Then she slowly lifted her gaze to stare into his eyes. She shook her head.
Her knees went weak on her. Caine had to hold her up when she slumped against him. "Are you trying to tell me," she began, her voice a mere thread. "Do you mean to say that Lady Briars is . .."
"Ice?" She shook her head again. "She can't be Ice," she cried out. "For God's sake, Caine. She's a woman."
"And women can't be killers?"
"No," she returned. "I mean to say yes, I do suppose . . ."
He took mercy on her confused state. "All the clues fit, Jade. Now sit down and let me explain it to you," he suggested.
She was simply too stunned to move. Caine led her over to the settee, gently pushed her down on the cushions, and then settled himself next to her. "It's really very logical," he began as he put his arm around her shoulders.
A small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. She was recovering from her initial surprise. "I knew it would be logical."
"I was suspicious when I reread the letters, of course. And I never make the same mistake twice, love, remember?"
"I remember that you like to make that boast whenever possible, husband, dear. Now explain to me what this mistake is that you didn't repeat."
"I thought Pagan was a man. I never once considered that he could be a she. I didn't make that same error when I was hunting Ice."
"You are really convinced Lady Briars is Ice? How did you come to that conclusion?" she asked.
He wasn't about to let the topic completely turn just yet. "Jade? Did you ever consider that Ice could be a woman? Tell me the truth," he commanded in that arrogant tone she liked so much.
She let out a sigh. "You're going to gloat."
"Yes, I'm sure I will."
They shared a smile. "No, I never once considered that possibility. There, are you happy?"
"Immensely," he drawled out.
"Caine, you still have to convince me," she reminded him. "Lord, I'm still having difficulty believing this. Ice killed people and threatened to kill Nathan and me. Remember that one letter, where he told my father that if the letters weren't returned, he would kill us?"
"Not he, love," Caine replied. "She." He let out a long sigh, then added, "Jade, some women do kill."
"Oh, I know," she countered. "Still, it isn't at all ladylike."
"Do you remember in one of the earlier letters, when they were given their operative names, that Ice admitted to being furious over that name? That comment made me curious. Not too many men would care one way or the other. A woman would mind, though, wouldn't she?"
"There are more substantial clues, of course. Briars hired the full staff for Nathan's country home. They were her men, loyal to her. The fact that the house was pillaged told me they were searching. And guess where Hudson, Nathan's butler, turned up?"
"He's staying at Nathan's town house, isn't he? He's guarding it until we close it up."
"No, he's currently in Lady Briars' residence. I imagine we'll find that your brother's town house has been turned upside down by now."
She ignored his smile. "I never trusted Hudson," she announced. "The man kept trying to force tea down me. I'll wager it was poisoned."
"Now, Jade, don't let your imagination get the better of you. By the way, all those confusing incidents were Hudson's doing. They did dig up your father's grave on the off chance that the letters had been hidden there. They cleaned up the mess, too."
"Did Hudson shoot Nathan's fine horse?"
"No, Willburn did," Caine explained.
"I'm telling Nathan."
Caine nodded. "Hudson had the cleanup detail. You were right, by the way, a cart was used to carry the horse away. It must have taken seven strong men to lift the steed."
"How did you learn all this?"
"You're impressed with me, aren't you?"
He nudged her into answering. "Yes, Caine, I'm impressed. Now tell me the rest."
"My men have been ferreting out the facts for me so I can't take all the credit. The horse was found in a ravine almost two miles away from the main road."
"Just wait until I tell Nathan," Jade muttered again.
Caine patted her shoulder. "You can explain it all to him after this is finished, all right?"
She nodded. "Is there more to tell me, Caine?"
"Well, once I decided that Briars was certainly the most logical candidate, I looked into her background. On the surface, everything appeared to be above board, but the deeper I looked, the more the little oddities showed up."
"She did a hell of a lot of traveling for a woman," he remarked. "For instance," he added before Jade could interrupt, "she went back and forth to France at least seven times that I know of, and ..."
"And you thought that odd? Perhaps she has relatives. . ."
"No," he countered. "Besides, Jade, she did most of her traveling during war time. There were other telling clues."
"I do believe I'm married to the most intelligent man in all the world," she praised. "Caine, it's only just beginning to make sense to me. What do Sir Richards and Lyon have to say about your discovery?"
"I haven't told them yet," he answered. "I wanted to be absolutely certain. After listening to Briars' questions, I don't have any doubts left. I'll tell them tonight when I meet them at White's."
"What question did she ask that made you suspicious?"
"She asked you right away if you could read, remember? Considering the fact that most well-bred ladies in England have acquired that skill, I thought it was a telling question."
"But she knew I'd been raised on an island," Jade argued. "That's why she asked, Caine. She was trying to find out if I'd been raised properly without coming right out and . . ."
"She was also a little too interested in finding out what your father had left you," he interrupted.
Jade's shoulders slumped. "I thought she was sincere," "We'll have to tighten the net around Nathan's town house," Caine remarked. "I only have two men guarding it now." He paused to smile at Jade. "Your poor brother will probably have his town house burned to the ground before this is over."
"You needn't look so cheerful over that possibility," she said. "Besides, Hudson has had ample time to find out there isn't any trunk." She let out a small gasp. "I have another disappointment for you, Caine. Lady Briars knows I was lying when I said I couldn't read. I believe she asked that question to find out if we might be on to her. Oh, yes, I do believe we've mucked it up this time," Caine lost his smile. "What are you talking about? Why do you think Briars knows you were lying?"
"Hudson saw me reading almost every night," she rushed out. "After dinner, I'd go into Nathan's lovely study and read until I became sleepy. There were so many wonderful books I hadn't memorized yet. Hudson would light the fire in the hearth for me. I'm certain he told Lady Briars."
She patted his hand to soften his disappointment. "Now, what will you do?" she asked, certain he'd come up with an alternate plan of action in no time at all. Caine was simply too logical not to have covered every possibility.