"Eventually we'll be able to compare the handwriting, once we get the letters from the Emerald."
"We have a sample here," Jade said. "Lady Briars sent two notes requesting I call on her. I hate to disappoint you, but the handwriting didn't look at all familiar."
"I doubt she wrote those notes," Caine returned. "She's old, Jade, but she hasn't gotten careless yet.
No, she probably had one of her assistants pen the letters."
"Would you like for me to steal . . ."
"I'd like you to stay here day and night," he stated. The suggestion was given as a command. "This is going to get sticky before it's finished. Everything I've gathered is actually circumstantial evidence in a court, Jade. I've still got some work to do. Now promise me you won't leave."
"I promise," she answered. "Have a little faith in me, husband. You know that once I give my word, I'll keep it. Please tell me what you have planned."
"Lyon's been itching to put a little pressure on Willburn. I think it's time he had his way. Willburn hasn't been at all accommodating thus far. We hoped he'd lead us to Ice, but he stays hidden behind his drapes all day. Yes, it's time we had a talk with him."
"I don't like the idea of you leaving every night, Caine. Until the ship is burned and the rumor of Pagan's death hits London, I think you should stay home. I'll tell you this, sir, if the people in this town celebrate my death, I'm going to be very disappointed."
Caine's smile was gentle. "They would mourn," he promised. "Anyway, we'll never know. It isn't necessary to burn the ship now."
"Because I know who Ice is," he explained. "And she isn't going to quit coming after me, either. She knows we're on to her."
"Yes," Jade countered. "If you hadn't made me lie about not knowing how to read, she wouldn't be on
to us, husband. See? That lie wasn't all for the good."
"Don't sound so smug, my love."
"Harry's going to be happy he doesn't have to burn a ship," she announced, ignoring his remark. "You
will send someone to tell him, won't you?"
"Yes, I'll send someone to Shallow's Wharf," he replied. "You're going to have to tell me exactly where that is, Jade. It's an operative name for somewhere else, isn't it?"
Jade cuddled up against her husband. "You are so clever," she whispered. "You will be careful when you go out, won't you? She's on to us, all right. I don't want you turning your back on anyone, Caine. I have come to rely on you."
"And I have come to rely on you," he answered. His grin was telling. "This is sounding damned equal to me."
"It is equal," she said. "But you can pretend it isn't if it will make you feel better."
He ignored that comment and tickled the side of her neck instead. Jade shivered in reaction. "Do you feel like another dance lesson now?"
"Will I be on my knees again?"
"Didn't you like it, love? You acted like you did. Your mouth was so sweet, so . . ."
"I liked it," she admitted in a rush.
"Oh, yes." Her voice was breathless.
"Upstairs or here?"
"Upstairs," she whispered. She stood up and tugged on his hand. "But this time, Caine, I want to lead."
They spent the rest of the day in each others' arms. It was a blissful time that ended all too soon. Before she knew it, she was reminding him to remember McKindry and he was demanding her promise to stay put until he returned.
Jade was so exhausted, she slept quite soundly until an hour or so before dawn. She awakened with a start, then rolled on her side to take Caine into her arms.
He wasn't there. Jade rushed downstairs to check inside the library. Caine hadn't come back to her yet. Since he'd never taken this long before, she started worrying.
She'd worked herself into a frenzy when another hour passed and he still hadn't returned.
Her instincts were screaming a warning. Something was terribly wrong. The familiar ache had settled in her stomach just like in the old days when a plan would go amiss.
She had to be ready. Jade dressed in quick time, added a dagger to her pocket, the special clip to her hair, then resumed pacing again.
Caine had left two guards for her protection. One stood in the shadows outside the front door and the other guarded the back entrance.
Jade decided to talk to Cyril, the man guarding the front entrance. Perhaps he'd know what they should do. She opened the door just in time to see a man hand Cyril a piece of paper and then run away.
Cyril bounded up the steps two at a time. "It's a letter for you," he said. "At this hour of the night," he added in a near growl. "It can't be good news, mi'lady."
"I hope it's from Caine," she blurted out. "Come inside, Cyril. Bolt the door behind you. Something's wrong," she added as she tore the seal from the envelope. "Caine has never taken this long before."
Cyril grumbled his agreement. "Aye," he said. "I feel it in my gut."
"Me, too," Jade whispered.
As soon as Jade unfolded the sheet of paper, she paled. She recognized the script immediately. The note came from Ice.
"What is it, mi'lady?" Cyril asked. He spoke in a hushed tone, an oddity, that, for Cyril was a big man with a booming voice to match.
"Caine's in trouble," Jade whispered. "I have one hour to go to a building on Lathrop Street. Do you know where that is?"
"It's a warehouse if it's on Lathrop," Cyril answered. "I don't like this," he added. "I'm sniffing a trap. What happens if we don't go?"
"They'll kill my husband."
"I'll go fetch Alden," Cyril announced. He started toward the back door but stopped when Jade called out to him.
"I'm not going."
"I can't leave. I have to stay here, Cyril. This could be a trick and I gave my word to Caine. No, I have to stay here. Do you know how late White's stays open?"
"It's closed for certain by now."
"Caine might have gone to have a talk with a man named Willburn. Do you know where he lives?"
"I do," the guard answered. "He's just six, perhaps seven blocks oven"
"Send Alden over there now. Lyon and Caine might be having a visitation with the infidel."
"And if they aren't?"
"While Alden goes to Willburn's house, I want you to run over to Lyon's residence. Now then, if Lyon isn't home, then go on to Sir Richards' town house. Do you know where those two men live?"
"Yes," Cyril said. "But who will guard you while we're tracking Caine down? You'll be all alone."
"I'll bolt the doors," she promised. "Please hurry, Cyril. We need to find Caine before the hour is up.
If we can't find him, then I have to assume the note wasn't trickery."
"We'll hurry," Cyril promised on his way toward the back of the house.
Jade clutched the letter in her hands and stood in the center of the foyer a long while. She then went upstairs to her bedroom. She bolted the door behind her.
The pounding started on the front door just a few minutes later. She knew it wasn't Caine. He had a key, of course. The sound of glass shattering came next.
Had she inadvertently played right into their hands? Were they so certain she'd send the guards to look for Caine? Jade found solace in that possibility, for it meant Caine hadn't been taken captive after all.
She prayed she was right, prayed, too, that God wouldn't get angry with her. She was probably going to have to kill someone, and very soon, judging from the sounds of men lumbering up the steps.
Jade grabbed the pistol from the drawer of the nightstand on Caine's side of the bed, backed herself into a corner, and took aim. She decided she would wait until they'd broken the latch, then shoot the first man who entered the room. Her hand was steady. A deadly calm came over her, too. And then the door was kicked open. A dark form filled the entrance. And still she waited, for she wanted to be absolutely certain it was her enemy and not one of Caine's hired men arriving to save her.
"Light a candle," the voice shouted. "I can't see the bitch."
Jade squeezed the trigger. She must have caught the man somewhere in the middle, for he let out a loud scream of pain as he doubled over. He fell to the floor with a loud thud.
She won that round, she told herself, though the battle went to Ice. Jade was surrounded by three men. When the first reached for her, she cut his hand with her knife. The second villain grabbed her weapon just as the third slammed his fist into the side of her jaw. The blow felled her to the floor in a dead faint.
Jade didn't wake up again until she was being carried inside a dark, damp building. There were only a few candles lighting the area but quite enough for Jade to see the crates stacked up along the stone walls. At the end of the long corridor stood a woman dressed in white. Lady Briars was there, waiting for her.
The man carrying her dropped her when he'd reached his leader. Jade staggered to her feet. She rubbed the sting in her jaw while she stared at her adversary.
The look in those eyes was chilling. "I understand now why you were given the name Ice," she heard herself say. "You don't have a soul, do you, Lady Briars?"
Jade was rewarded by a sound slap across her face. "Where are the letters?" Briars demanded.
"Safe," Jade answered. "Do you really believe stealing the letters back is going to save you? Too many people know what you've done. Too many . . ."
"You fool!" Briars shouted. There was such strength, such cruelty in her voice that Jade suddenly felt as though she were facing the devil. She resisted the urge to cross herself. "I will have those letters, Jade. They are my proof to the world of all the glorious feats I've accomplished. No one's going to deny me now. No one. In years to come, the world will realize what my Tribunal was able to accomplish. We could have ruled England, if I had chosen to continue with my work. Oh yes, I will have the letters back. They will be kept in a safe place until the time is right to reveal my genius."
She was mad. Jade could feel the goose bumps on her arms. She tried desperately to think of a way to reason with the woman before she finally came to the conclusion that the crazed woman was beyond any kind of reason. "If I give you the letters back, will you leave Caine alone?" she asked.
Lady Briars let out a high-pitched snicker. "If? Don't you have any idea who I am? You can't possibly deny me, Jade."
"Oh, I know who you are," Jade replied. "You're the woman who killed my father. You're the woman who betrayed her country. You're the foul creature who was born from the devil. You're the demented . .."
She quit her tirade when Briars hit her again. Jade backed up a space, then straightened her shoulders. "Let Caine go, Briars, and I will get you the letters."
In answer to that promise, Briars turned to one of her cohorts. "Lock our guest in the back room," she ordered. She turned to Jade then. "You're going to be the bait, my dear, to get Caine here. He has to die," she added in a singsong voice. "But only after he's given me the letters, of course. Then I shall kill you, too, little Jade. Your father was the true traitor, for he turned his back against me. Me! Oh, how I wished I could have been there when his son died. You will have to make up for that regret, dear, dear child, by dying slowly by my hand . . . Get her out of here!" Briars ended in a near shout.
Jade felt like weeping with relief. They hadn't taken Caine after all. He would come for her, she knew, and there was still danger . . . but he was safe for the moment.
She actually smiled to herself when they led her to her temporary prison. They believed they had her now. They mustn't tie her hands, she thought to herself. Jade started whimpering so that her captors would believe she was frightened. As soon as they opened the door, she rushed inside, then collapsed on the floor in the center of the room, and began to cry.
The door slammed shut behind her. She kept up her wailing until the sound of footsteps faded. Then she took inventory. Moonlight filtered in through the gray filmed window. The opening was a good fifteen feet up. There was only one piece of furniture, an old scarred desk with only three legs, and they certainly knew she wouldn't be able to reach the window even if she stood on top of the desk.
Yes, they thought they had secured her inside. Jade let out a little sigh of pleasure.
She pulled the special clip from her hair that she used for just such an occasion, and went to work on the lock.
Because she was in such a desperate hurry to get to Caine before Briars' men did, she wasn't as quick as she would have been under calmer circumstances. It took her a little over ten minutes to work the lock free.
It was pitch black inside the warehouse proper. Even though Jade was certain Briars had taken all her men with her, she still made her exit as quietly as possible. Jade was completely disoriented when she reached the street. She ran in one direction for two long blocks before she got her bearings and realized she'd taken the wrong way.
Jade was in absolute terror now. She knew it was going to take her another fifteen minutes to reach home. While she ran, she made several fervent promises to her Maker. She gave him her word that she would never lie or steal again, if he would only keep Caine safe. "I know you gave me those special talents, Lord, and you know that once I give my word, I won't break it. I won't follow in my father's path, either. Just let me live long enough to prove myself. Please, God? Caine needs me."
She had to stop when the stitch in her side intensified. "If you'll only give me a little added strength, Lord, I won't use blasphemies either."
Odd, but the stitch in her side faded. She was able to catch her breath, too. That last promise must have been the one her Maker was waiting to hear, she decided.
"Thank you," she whispered as she picked up her skirts again and started running.
Jade didn't stop again until she reached the street their town house was located on. She kept to the shadows as she made her way toward the steps. When she spotted three men littering her stoop, she started running again. The men weren't in any condition to waylay her. They looked restful too, in their forced slumber.