Caine was just leaning over her when he saw the flash of steel out of the corner of his eye. His reaction was instinctive. He moved to block her attack with a forceful sweep of his left arm. She was already stopping herself when his arm slammed into her wrist. The dagger went flying across the room and landed with a loud clatter on the base of the hearth.

She'd turned into a hellion. Jade was on her knees now, facing him. Her breathing was harsh, her anger apparent in her dark expression. "Don't you ever sneak up on me like that again," she shouted up at him. "Good God, man, I could have killed you."

Caine was just as furious with her. "Don't you ever try to use your knife on me," he roared. "Or good God, woman, I will kill you!"

She didn't appear to be the least intimidated by that threat. Caine decided she just didn't understand her own peril, or she certainly would have tried to act a little contrite. She'd also forgotten she wasn't wearing any clothes, either.

He hadn't forgotten. Her full, round br**sts were only partially concealed by her long dark curls. Her ni**les were pink, hard. Her anger made her pant, forcing her slender ribcage to rise and fall in a rhythm he found hypnotic.

He felt like a cad for noticing until she started prodding his temper again.

"You're not going to kill me," she announced. "We've already had this discussion, remember?"

He was staring down at her with the most astonished look on Ms face. "You aren't at all afraid of me, are you?"

She shook her head. Her long hair swayed gracefully over her shoulders.

"Why would I be afraid of you?" she asked. "You're my protector, sir."

Her irritated tone of voice was the last provocation he was going to take. Caine grabbed hold of her hands and roughly shoved her back against the mattress. He followed her down, spreading her thighs with one of his knees wedged between so she couldn't lash out at him with her legs and do real damage. He wouldn't put it past her to try to make a eunuch out of him if she had the opportunity. "I think it's high time you understood a few basic rules," he grated out.

She let out a loud gasp when his bare chest touched her breasts. Caine guessed she'd finally realized she wasn't wearing a nightgown. "Exactly," he said on a low groan.

Damn, but she was soft, wonderfully so. He wanted to bury his face in the crook of her neck and make slow, sweet love to her. He would have her, he vowed, but she'd be hot and begging for him, not muttering unladylike obscenities against his ear as she was now doing.

"Where in God's name did you learn those blasphemies?" he asked when she threatened to do him in, in the most amazing way.

"From you," she lied. "Will you get off me, you . .. wart from hell."

She was full of bravado. Yet there was a tremor of fear in her voice, too. Caine immediately reacted to it. It took extreme discipline, but he slowly moved away from her. His jaw was clenched tight and a fine sweat covered his brow. Her ni**les rubbed against his chest when he moved. Caine groaned low in his throat. Her br**sts were ready for him, even if the rest of her wasn't. Ready for him to take into his mouth, to kiss, to suck, to ...

"Caine?"

He propped himself up on his elbows so he could see her expression. He immediately wished he hadn't bothered. Her intense frown was already making him angry again.

She was filled with the most conflicting emotions. She knew she should feel outraged, but the opposite was really the full truth. The dark hair on his chest, so crisp, so warm, tickled her br**sts into responding. He was so warm all over, so exciting. And hard, she added to herself. The sleek bulge of muscle in his upper arms made her breath catch in her throat. She knew better than to let him know how much he was affecting her. Outrage, she remembered. I must be outraged, and frightened, too, "Is this how you plan to protect me?" she asked, affecting just the right amount of fear in her voice.

"No, this isn't how I plan to protect you," he answered in a husky voice.

"Caine?"

"Yes?"

"You look like you want to kiss me. Do you?"

"Yes," he admitted. "I do."

She started shaking her head, but he stopped that action by cupping the sides of her face and holding her still.

"But you don't even like me much." Her voice was a breathless whisper. "You said so, remember? Have you changed your mind, then?"

He found himself smiling over the bewildered look on her face. "No," he answered, just to goad her temper.

"Then why would you want to kiss me?"

"I can't explain it," he said. "Perhaps it's because you're stark naked, and I can feel your soft skin beneath me. Perhaps ..."

"Only once then."

He didn't understand what she meant, but the blush that covered her cheeks indicated her embarrassment. "Only once what, Jade?" he asked.

"You may kiss me, Caine," she explained. "But only once. Then you must get off me and leave my room."

"Jade? Do you want me to kiss you?"

His voice had turned so tender, she felt as though he'd just caressed her. She stared at his mouth, wondering what it would feel like to be properly kissed by him. Would his mouth be as hard as the rest

of him?

Curiosity overruled caution. "Yes," she whispered. "I do want you to kiss me, Caine."

The kiss was one of absolute possession. His mouth was hard, demanding. His tongue thrust inside and rubbed against hers. She had no idea that men kissed women in such a manner, yet found she liked the stroke of his tongue very much. It was thoroughly arousing. Only when her tongue timidly imitated his bold action did he gentle the kiss. It was shameful the way he used his tongue in the erotic mating ritual, but she didn't care. She could feel his hard arousal against the junction of her thighs. He pushed against her each time his tongue slid deep into her mouth. A slow heat began to burn inside her belly.

She couldn't seem to stop touching him. His mouth made her wild. His tongue slid in and out, again and again, until she was shivering for more. Caine had wrapped her hair around his fist to hold her still, but that action wasn't really necessary. She was clinging to him now.

It was time to stop. Caine knew he was at risk of losing all control. Jade tried to bring him back to her by digging her nails into his shoulders. Caine resisted the unspoken invitation. He stared down into her eyes a long minute. He liked what he saw there, didn't even try to hide his grin of male satisfaction.

"You taste like sugar and honey."

"I do?"

He brushed his mouth over hers once again. "Oh, yes, you do," he said. "Brandy too."

She moved restlessly against him. "Don't push your h*ps up like that," he ordered. His jaw was clenched tight against the innocent provocation.

"Caine?"

"Yes?"

"Only twice," she whispered. "All right?"

He understood. She was giving him permission to kiss her again. He couldn't resist. He kissed her again, a long, hard, wet, tongue-thrusting kiss, and when he next looked into her eyes, he was thoroughly pleased. She looked completely dazed. He'd done that to her, he knew. The passion inside her more

than matched his own.

"Caine?"

"No more, Jade," he growled.

"You didn't like it?" she asked, her worry obvious in her gaze.

"I liked it all right," he replied.

"Then why .. ."

Her hands were caressing his shoulders and it was becoming an agony to maintain his discipline. "I can't promise you I'll stop if I kiss you again, Jade. Are you willing to take the risk?"

Before she could answer him, he started to ease away from her. "That wasn't a fair question to ask in your present state."

The passion began to clear her mind. "What present state?"

He let out a deep sigh. "I think I'm going to make love to you eventually, Jade," he whispered. "But you'll make the decision before passion clouds your mind." His expression darkened when she started struggling against him. The movement reminded him of her soft br**sts waiting for his touch. "If you don't quit wiggling against me like that," he grated out. "I swear it's going to happen now. I'm not made of iron, sweet."

She went completely still.

Though he was reluctant to leave her, he even assisted her in putting her nightgown back on. He refused to let her have her dagger back, even when she fervently promised him she wouldn't try to use it on him again.

"I was sound asleep," she reasoned. "And you were sneaking up on me like a thief. I had to protect myself."

Caine took hold of her hand and dragged her toward his bedroom. "You were having a nightmare, weren't you?"

"I might have been," she replied. "I don't remember now. Why are you tugging at me?"

"You're going to sleep with me. Then you won't have to worry about anyone sneaking up on you."

"Out of the boat and into the ocean, is that it?" she asked. "I really believe I'm much safer on my own, thank you."

"Can't trust yourself to keep your hands off me?" he asked.

"Yes, that's true," she admitted with a feigned sigh. "I'll have to restrain myself, though, or I'll surely be sent to the gallows. Murder's still frowned on in this part of the world, isn't it?"

Caine laughed. "You won't be thinking about murdering me when I'm touching you," he predicted.

She let out a low groan of frustration. "You really aren't going to do. A protector shouldn't be lusting

after his charge."

"And what about you?" he asked. "Do you lust after your protector?"

He turned around to wait for her answer. "I don't know," she said. "I find you terribly appealing, Caine, yet I've never gone to bed with a man and I don't know if

I want you that much. Still, this attraction is becoming too much of a distraction. You aren't going to do at all, sir. Come morning, I'm going to have to find someone else to protect me ... someone less appealing."

She tried to pull away from him then. Caine caught her before she'd taken a step back toward her own bed. In one quick motion, he tossed her over his shoulder and carried her through the connecting doorway.

"How dare you treat me like this? I'm not a bag of feed. Put me down this minute, you bastard rake."

"Bastard rake? Sweet, you've got quite a vocabulary for a lady." .

He dropped her into the center of his bed. Since he fully expected her to bounce right back out and try

to escape, he was pleasantly surprised when she began to settle the blankets around herself. After she'd scooted to the far side of the bed, she fluffed the feather pillow behind her head and draped her hair

over her shoulder. The alluring blaze of red curls against the pristine white nightgown looked incredibly beautiful to him. The woman who had just called him bastard was now looking like an angel again.

Caine's sigh blew out the candles.

"I am a lady," she muttered when he'd settled himself beside her. "But you've riled my temper, Caine, and that's the reason for my ..."

"Colorful vocabulary?" he asked when she didn't finish her thought.

"Yes," she replied. She sounded forlorn when she added, "Must I apologize?"

He kept his laughter contained. "I fear you wouldn't mean it," he answered. He rolled to his side and tried to take her into his arms. When she pushed his hands away, he moved onto his back again, stacked his hands behind his head, and stared into the darkness above while he thought about the warm body next to him. She was certainly the most unusual woman he'd ever met. Why, she could have him laughing one second and shouting the next. He couldn't explain his reactions to her, for he didn't understand himself. Only one thing was certain in his mind. He knew she desired him. Her kiss had shown him that much.

"Jade?"

His husky voice sent a shiver down her arms. "Yes?"

"It's damned odd, isn't it?"

"What's damned odd?" she asked.

He could hear the smile in her voice. "You and me sharing this bed without touching each other. You do feel comfortable with me, don't you?"

"Yes," she answered. "Caine?"

"Yes?"

"Is making love painful?"

"No," he answered. "It's painful when you want to and can't."

"Oh. Then I must not want you very much, Caine, because I'm not hurting at all." She made that statement of fact in a gratingly cheerful tone of voice.

"Jade?"

"Yes?"

"Go to sleep."

She felt him turn toward her and immediately tensed in anticipation of another kiss. After waiting a long while, she realized he wasn't going to kiss her again. She was horribly disappointed.

Caine propped himself up on his elbow and stared down at her. Jade forced a serene expression in case

he had cat's eyes and could see in the dark.

"Jade? How did you get that whiplash on your back?"

"From a whip," she answered. She rolled to her side and resisted the urge to scoot up against his warmth.

"Answer me."

"How do you know it was a whiplash?"

"I have an identical mark on the back of my thigh."

"You do? How did you get yours?"

"Are you going to answer my every question with a question of your own?"

"It worked quite nicely for Socrates."

"Tell me how you got your whiplash," he asked once again.

"It's a personal matter," she explained. "It's almost dawn, Caine. I've had a rather trying day."

"All right," he conceded. "You can tell me all about this personal matter in the morning."

Before she could fend him off, he threw his arm around her waist and hauled her up against him. His

chin rested on the top of her head. The junction of his hard thighs was nestled against her backside.

"Are you warm enough?" he asked.

"Yes," she answered. "Are you?"

"Oh, yes."

"You will behave, won't you?" she teased.

"Probably," he replied. "Jade?" he asked, his tone much more serious now.

"Yes?"

"I would never do anything you didn't want me to do."



----