"Tomorrow will be soon enough for you to satisfy your curiosity," Christina promised. "Dakota will be waking us in just a few more hours. You need your rest."

"Who is Dakota?" Jade asked, smiling over the affectionate way the happy couple looked at each other. There was such love in their expressions. A surge of raw envy rushed through her, but she quickly

pushed the feeling away. It was pointless to wish for things she could never have.

"Dakota is our son," Lyon answered. "He's almost six months old now. You'll meet our little warrior in the morning."

The door closed softly on that promise and she and Caine were once again all alone. Jade immediately tried to move away from him. He tightened his hold.

"Jade? I never meant to sound like I was ridiculing you," he whispered. "I'm just trying to be logical

about this situation of yours. You have to admit that tonight has been . . . difficult. I feel like I'm

spinning around in circles. I'm not used to ladies asking me so sweetly if I could kill them."

She turned to smile up at him. "Was I sweet?" she asked.

He slowly nodded. Her mouth was so close, so appealing. Before he could stop himself, he leaned down. His mouth rubbed against hers in a gentle, undemanding kiss.

It was over and done with before she could gather her wits and offer a protest.

"Why did you do that?" she asked in a strained whisper.

"I felt like it," he answered. His grin made her smile. He pushed her back down on his shoulder so he wouldn't give in to the urge to kiss her again, then said, "You've been through hell, haven't you? We'll wait until tomorrow to talk. When you've had a proper rest, we'll work on this problem together."

"That is most considerate of you," she replied. She sounded acutely relieved. "Now will you please tell

me why you were pretending to be Pagan? You said earlier that you wanted to draw him out, but I don't understand how . . ."

"I was trying to prick his pride," he explained. "And make him angry enough to come after me. I know that if someone was pretending to be me, I'd ... oh, hell," he muttered. "It sounds foolish now." His fingers were slowly threading through her soft curls in an absentminded fashion. "I tried everything else. Bounty didn't work."

"But why? Did you want to meet him?"

"I want to kill him."

Her indrawn breath told him he'd stunned her with his bluntness. "And if he sent someone else in his place to challenge you, would you kill that man too?"

"I would."

"Is your work killing people then? Is that how you make your way in this world?"

She was staring into the fire but he could see the tears in her eyes. "No, I don't kill for a living."

"But you've killed before?"

She'd turned to look at him when she asked that question, letting him see her fear. "Only when it was necessary," he answered.

"I've never killed anyone."

His smile was gentle. "I never thought you had."

"Yet you really believe it's necessary to kill this pirate?"

"I do." His voice had turned hard, a deliberate choice that, for he hoped to get her to quit her questions. "I'll kill every one of his damned followers, too, if it's the only way I can get to him."

"Oh, Caine, I really wish you wouldn't kill anyone."

She was on the verge of tears again. Caine leaned back against the cushions, closed his eyes, and said, "You're a gentle lady, Jade. You can't possibly understand."

"Help me understand," she implored. "Pagan's done so many wonderful things. It seems a sin that you ..."

"He has?" Caine interrupted.

"Surely you know that the pirate gives most of his booty to the less fortunate," she explained. "Why, our church has a new steeple, thanks to his generous donation."

"Donation?" Caine shook his head over her ludicrous choice of words. "The man is nothing but a common thief. He robs from the rich . . ."

"Well, of course he robs from the rich."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"He takes from the rich because they have so much, they won't miss the paltry amount he steals. And it wouldn't do him any good at all to take from the poor. They don't have anything worth stealing."

"You seem to know quite a lot about this pirate."

"Everyone keeps up with Pagan's adventures. He's such a romantic figure."

"You sound as if you think he should be knighted."

"Perhaps he should," she answered. She rubbed her cheek against his shoulder. "Some say Pagan's never harmed anyone. It doesn't seem right for you to hunt him down."

"If you believe he hasn't ever killed anyone, why did you come looking for him? You wanted him to kill you, remember?"

"I remember," she answered. "If I explain my true plan, will you promise not to laugh?"

"I promise," he answered, wondering over her sudden shyness.

"I was hoping . .. that is, if he didn't want to kill me, well then, perhaps he might consider taking me away on his magical ship and keeping me safe until my brother came home."

"Heaven help you if you'd gotten that wish," Caine said. "You've obviously been listening to too many fanciful stories. You're wrong, too. That bastard pirate has killed before."

"Who has he killed?"

He didn't speak for a long minute but stared into the fire. When he finally answered her, there was ice

in his voice. "Pagan killed my brother, Colin."

Chapter Four

"Oh, Caine. I'm so sorry," she whispered. "You must miss him terribly. Was Colin older or younger

than you?"

"Younger."

"Did he die very long ago?"

"Just a few months," Caine answered.

"Your family must be having a difficult time of it," she whispered. "Are both your parents still living?"

"Yes, though of the two, my father's having a much more difficult time accepting Colin's death. He's all but given up on life."

"I don't understand," she countered.

"Father used to be very active in politics. He was known as the champion of the poor, Jade, and he was able to force through many substantial measures that eased their burdens."

"Such as?"

She'd taken hold of his hand and was holding it against her waist. Caine didn't think she was aware of her action. It was just an instinctive attempt to give him comfort, he guessed, and he found he didn't dislike the touch or her motive.

"You were explaining how your papa helped the poor," she reminded him.

"Yes," Caine returned. "He was responsible for defeating the tax increase, for one example."

"But he quit these important duties?"

"He quit everything," Caine said. "His politics, his family, his friends, his clubs. He doesn't even read the dailies now. He just stays locked inside his study and broods. I believe, once Pagan has been punished, that my father might. . . hell, I don't know. He's such a defeated man now."

"Are you like your father? Are you also a champion of the poor? I believe you must be a protector by nature."

"Why do you say that?"

She couldn't very well tell him she'd read his file. "Because of the way you took me under your wing," she answered. "And I think you would have offered your help to any defenseless, poor person. Of course, I wasn't poor when I met you."

"Are you going to start in about the silver coins again?"

Because he was smiling at her, she knew he wasn't irritated with her. "No, I'm not going to start in, whatever that's suppose to mean. I was just reminding you. You are like your father then, aren't you?"

"I suppose we share that trait."

"Yet your father retreated from the world while you immediately went after vengeance. Your reactions were just the opposite, weren't they?"

"Yes."

"I understand why your father gave up."

"You do?"

"It's because fathers aren't supposed to lose their sons, Caine."

"No," Caine agreed. "They should die first."

"After a long, happy life, of course," she added.

She sounded so sincere, he didn't want to argue with her. "Of course."

"And you're absolutely certain it was Pagan who killed Colin?"

"I am. I have it on high authority."

"How?"

"How, what?"

"How did Pagan kill him?"

"For God's sake, Jade," he muttered. "I don't want to talk about this. I've already told you more than

I intended."

"I'm sorry if I've upset you," she replied. She leaned away from him and looked into Ms eyes.

The worry in her expression made him feel guilty for his biting tone. "Colin was killed at sea."

"Yet someone was thoughtful enough to bring him home for burial?"

"No."

"No? Then how can you know if he's really dead? He could have washed up on a deserted island, or possibly ..," "Proof was sent."

"What proof? And who sent it?"

He couldn't understand her interest in this topic and determined to end the conversation. "Proof came from the War Department. Now will you quit your questions?"

"Yes, of course," she whispered. "Please accept my apology for intruding upon such a personal matter."

She let out a yawn, then begged his forgiveness for that unladylike action.

"Caine? We can't stay here long. I fear we would be putting your friends in danger."

"I agree," he answered. "We'll only stay one night."

He stared into the fire while he formulated his plans. Jade snuggled up against him and fell asleep. He told himself he was thankful for the blessed quiet. Yet he resisted the urge to go up to bed, for he liked holding the impossible woman in his arms too much to move.

He kissed her brow just for the hell of it, then kissed her once again.

Only when the fire had burned down to glowing embers and a decided chill settled in the room did he finally get up.

She came awake with a start. Jade jumped to her feet, but was so disoriented, she started walking in the wrong direction. She would have walked right into the hearth if he hadn't stopped her. He tried to lift her into his arms. She pushed his hands away. He let out a sigh, then put his ami around her shoulders and guided her up the stairs. He kept trying not to think about how lovely she looked now. Her hair was almost dry and had regained its enchanting curls. He also tried not to think about the fact that she was wearing only a thin nightgown and wrapper.

He opened the bedroom door for her, then turned to find his own.

"Caine?" she called out, her voice a sleepy whisper. "You won't leave me, will you?"

He turned back to face her. The question was insulting, yet the fearful look in her eyes softened his

initial reaction. "No, I won't leave you."

She nodded, looked like she was about to say something more, and then abruptly shut the door in his face.

Christina had prepared the adjoining bedroom for Caine. The bed covers on the large bed had been

turned back, and a full fire blazed in the hearth.

As inviting as the bed was, sleep still eluded Caine. He tossed and turned in the giant bed for almost an hour, all the while damning himself for his own lack of discipline. Yet no matter how valiantly he tried, he couldn't get the red-haired, green-eyed enchantress out of his mind.

He couldn't understand his own reaction to her. Hell, he wanted her with an intensity that made him burn. That didn't make any sense at all to him. He disliked bad-tempered, illogical, cry-at-the-sight-of-a-frown young ladies, didn't he?

He was simply too exhausted to think straight now. He wasn't used to being restrained either. Caine was

a man who took what he wanted when he wanted it. He'd gone soft over the last few years, though. He didn't have to bother with the chase any longer. The women always came to him. They gave themselves freely. Caine took what each offered without feeling a qualm of remorse. He was always honest with his women, and he never, ever spent a full night with any of them. Mornings, he knew, would bring false hopes and foolish demands.

Yet he wanted Jade. Lord, he wasn't making any sense. Jade's sneeze echoed in the distance then. Caine immediately got out of bed. He put on his pants but didn't bother with the buttons. He now had an excuse to go into her room. She probably needed another blanket, he told himself. The night air had a chill to it. There was also the possibility of a fire, for the light coming from beneath the door indicated she'd fallen asleep with the candles burning.

He wasn't at all prepared for the sight he came upon. Jade was sleeping on her stomach. Her glorious hair was spread like a shawl on her back. Her face was turned toward him. Her eyes were closed, and her deep, even breathing indicated she was fast asleep.

His enchantress was stark naked. She'd taken off her nightgown and placed it on the chair beside the bed. She'd also kicked the covers off the bed.

The little lady had a decidedly sensual streak hidden inside her, if she preferred sleeping in the nude, as he did.

She looked like a golden goddess to him. Her legs were long, beautifully shaped. He suddenly pictured those silky legs wrapped around him and almost groaned in reaction.

He was fully aroused and aching by the time he walked over to the side of the bed. He noticed the long thin scar across her spine then. Caine immediately recognized the mark, as he had a similar one on the back of his thigh. There was only one weapon that could inflict such a jagged line. It was the thick lash from a whip.

Someone had used a whip on her. Caine was stunned, outraged too. The scar was old, by at least five years or so, judging from the faded edges, and that fact made the atrocity all the more repugnant. Jade had been a child when she'd been so mistreated.

He suddenly wanted to wake her up and demand the name of the bastard who'd done this to her.

She started moaning in her sleep. The restlessness in which she moved made him think she was in the throes of an unpleasant dream. She sneezed again, then let out another whimper of distress.

With a sigh of acute frustration, he grabbed the nightgown and turned back to the angel he'd been foolish enough to promise he'd protect. He tried to see the humor in this bleak situation. For the first time in his life, he was actually going to put a nightgown back on a woman.



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