He was so furious, the muscle in the side of his jaw flexed. She stared at it in fascination while she tried

to find her courage again.


"I'm never going to let you leave me, Jade," he said. "Never. Do you hear me?"

She thought everyone in the village was hearing him. Her ear rang from his roar. It took all her strength

to stand up to him. She slowly shook her head. "You called me a whore," she whispered.

The anguish in her voice got through to him. Some of his anger eased away. "No, I did not call you a whore."

"You thought it," she countered. "You were about to shout it to the world."

"I wasn't," he returned. "Jade, we have more important issues to discuss now."

She let out a gasp. "More important than calling me a whore?"

He moved away from the door and started toward her. She immediately backed up a space. "Don't

come near me. I never want you to touch me again."

-- Advertisement --

"Then you're going to be damned miserable for the rest of your days, Jade. I'm going to be touching

you all the time."

"You don't really want me," she shouted. "You want the vulnerable, weak woman I pretended to be, Caine. You don't know the real me. No, you don't," she continued when he shook his head at her. "I'm really very strong, determined, too. I just pretended to need you, you daft man, so that you would feel honor bound to stay by my side. I used all the ploys a weak woman would use, too. Yes, I did! I complained at every opportunity, and I wept whenever I needed to get my way."

He grabbed hold of her and jerked her up against him. "I'm leaving," she cried out. "Can't you get that through your thick . . ."

"You're staying."

"I hate you," she whispered before she burst into tears.

He rested his chin on the top of her head. "No, you don't hate me," he whispered.

"I hate everything about you," she wailed between racking sobs. "But most of all I hate the way you contradict me."



"Are your tears a pretense now?"

She couldn't quit crying long enough to give him a clear answer. "They most certainly are," she stammered out. "I never, ever cry," she added a moment later. "Only weak women cry."

"But you're not weak, are you, love?" he asked. His smile was gentle, his voice as well, but his grip continued to be as strong as iron, even after she quit her struggle to get away from him.

He wanted to hold her in his arms for the rest of his days. "Jade?"

"What now?"

"I love you."

She didn't respond to his vow, but started trembling. He knew he was terrifying her. "You're the most confusing woman," he whispered on a sigh. "God help me, I do love you, though."

"I won't love you," she stammered out. "I don't even like you. I won't trust you either." She ended her list of what she wouldn't do with a loud hiccup.

Caine wasn't the least upset by her denials. "I love you," he said again. "Now and forever."

He was content to hold her while she wept. Lord, she did have a store of tears locked inside her.

They must have stood there a full ten minutes before she was able to regain her composure.

She wiped her cheeks on the lapels of his jacket, then pulled away from him. "You'd better go back downstairs," she whispered.

"Not without you," he countered.

"No," she replied. "Nathan and Harry would know I'd been crying. I'm staying here."

"Jade, you can't put off. . ." He stopped in midsentence, then asked, "Why does it matter if they know you've been crying or not?"

"I wouldn't be what they expect me to be if I cried," she answered.

"Try to explain what you meant by that remark?" he asked gently.

She gave him a disgruntled look. "Appearances have to be kept up, Caine."

She walked over to the bed and sat down. "I don't want to talk about this." She let out a sigh, then

added, "Oh, very well. I'll meet you downstairs . . ."

He was shaking his head at her. "I'll wait for you."

"You don't trust me?"


He waited for her temper to explode. She surprised him, however, when she merely shrugged. "Good," she said. "Don't trust me, Caine. I'm going to leave at the first opportunity. I won't stay here and wait

for you to leave me. I'm not a fool."

He finally understood. She couldn't hide her fear or her vulnerability from him now. "And you're absolutely certain I would leave you, aren't you, Jade?"

"Of course."

She replied with such candor that he wasn't certain how to proceed. "Even though I've just told you that

I love you, you still. . ."

"Nathan and Harry love me, too," she interjected.

Caine gave up trying to reason with her now, guessing it would do his cause little good. He decided he'd have to wait and find another way around her shields.

Caine suddenly wanted to go downstairs and kill both Nathan and Harry. He sighed instead. He couldn't undo the past for her. No, he could only give her a secure, safe future.

"I would never abandon . . ." he stopped himself, then said, "Very well, Jade. You may leave me whenever you want."

Her eyes widened over that announcement. She looked like she was going to start weeping again, too. Caine felt like an ogre. "Any time you want to leave, do so."

She turned her gaze to her lap. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," he drawled out. He walked over to her, pulled her to her feet, then tilted her head up. "Just one other little detail," he added.


"Every time you leave, I'm going to come after you. There isn't any place you can hide, Jade. I'll find you and drag you back here. This is where you belong."

She tried to push his hand away from her chin. "You'd never find me," she whispered.

He could hear the panic in her voice. Caine leaned down and kissed her. He missed her mouth completely when she jerked away from him, then captured her soft lips by cupping the sides of her face and holding her still.

His tongue took possession then. He growled low in his throat when she pinched him, then deepened the kiss. Her tongue finally rubbed against his own, her resistance spent. She wrapped her arms around his waist and melted against him.

"I love you," he told her again after he'd lifted his head away from her.

She promptly burst into tears again. "Are you going to do that every damned time I tell you I love you?" he demanded.

He was more amused than exasperated with her. She shook her head. "You don't understand yet," she whispered. "It hasn't settled in, Caine."

"What don't I understand?" he asked, his voice filled with tenderness.

"You don't understand what I am," she cried.

Caine let out another sigh. He took hold of her hand and dragged her out of the room. They were halfway down the stairs to the foyer when he finally answered her. "I understand, all right. You're mine."

"I hate your possessiveness, too," she told his back.

Caine paused at the door to the drawing room, then let go of her hand. "If you try to move away from

me while we're in there, I swear to God I'll embarrass the hell out of you. Got that?"

She nodded. When he started to open the door, he noticed the change that came over her. Gone was the vulnerable woman he'd just held in his arms. Jade looked quite serene. Caine was so astonished by the change in her, he had to shake his head.

"I'm ready now," she announced. "But if you tell Harry we slept together . .."

"I won't," he interjected before she could get herself all worked up again. "Unless you leave my side, of course."

She gave him a quick glare, then forced a smile on her face and strolled into the room.

The talk stopped as soon as she and Caine entered. Jade sat on the arm of the chair adjacent to the hearth and motioned for him to take the seat.

"Is my supper near to ready?" Harry asked her.

"In just another minute or two," Jade answered. "I insisted on the best for you, Uncle. It takes a little longer."

Harry beamed at her. "I'm the lucky one, having you to take care of me, Pagan," he crooned.

"Don't call her Pagan."

That command came out in a harsh whisper. Jade shivered over the anger in Caine's voice.

Nathan grinned while Harry squinted at Caine. "Why the hell not? That's her name," he argued.

"No, her name is Jade," Caine snapped out.

"My name is Pagan."

Her voice had turned as hard as ice. "I'm sorry you don't like it, Caine, but that's . . ."

She quit her explanation when he took hold of her hand and started squeezing.

"He still doesn't believe it," Harry said.

Jade didn't answer her uncle, but she secretly believed he was right. Caine certainly wouldn't be holding her hand if it had all settled in. "He believes all women are weak, Uncle," she whispered.

Harry snorted. He was about to launch into several of his favorite stories about his Pagan's special

abilities when the men he'd sent to the village returned from their errand.

The men lumbered over to Harry's side.

"Well? What have you got for me, men?"

"Eleven pair," the shorter of the two seamen announced.

While Caine watched in growing astonishment, spectacles of every size and shape were dropped into Harry's lap. The old man tried on the first pair, squinted at Caine, then took the spectacles off and tossed them over his shoulder.

"Won't do," he muttered.

The ritual was repeated again and again, until he tried on the eighth pair. Then he let out a happy sigh. "These do," he announced.

"Uncle, try the others on," Jade suggested. "There might be another pair that will do just as well."

Harry did as she suggested, then tucked another pair in his pocket.

"You did your task well, men. I'm proud of you."

Caine's head dropped forward. The picture of how Harry's men had come by the spectacles forced a reluctant smile.

"Half of England will be squinting before Harry goes home," Colin predicted with a deep chuckle.

"You being insulting, boy?" Harry asked.

"No, just honest," Colin answered.

Sterns opened the doors then and announced that dinner was now ready to be served.

Harry bounded out of his chair. Nathan and Colin moved out of his way just as he kicked the footstool out of his path. "Are you coming with me, girl?" Harry asked as he charged past Jade.

Caine increased his grip on her hand. "No, Uncle, I'm staying here," Jade called out. "I have a little explaining to do. Enjoy your meal with your men."

As soon as Harry left the room, Jade motioned for the men to follow. Jimbo looked like he wanted to argue with that command. His expression bordered on hostility. His target was Caine.

Jade simply stared at Jimbo. The silent message got through and the big man hurried out of the room.

"Shut the doors behind you," she called out.

"I might not be able to hear you if you call out," Jimbo argued.

"You'll hear me," Jade promised.

"You'll hear me too," Nathan drawled out. "I can take care of my sister, Jimbo."

"That's still to be proven," Jimbo muttered loud enough for everyone to hear. He gave Caine one last glare, then shut the doors.

"Are you rested enough to explain this problem to Caine? I really would like to get this over with, Colin, so I can leave."

Caine gave her hand another good squeeze.

"Yes, I'm rested enough," Colin said. He turned to Nathan, received his nod, then turned his attention back to Caine. "When I was in my last year at Oxford, a man by the name of Willburn approached me. He was from the War Office and he was recruiting men to do some undercover work for England. Our country wasn't officially at war with France yet, but everyone knew it was coming. Anyway, Willburn knew you worked for Richards. I was still sworn to secrecy. I should have wondered at the time why I couldn't discuss my duties with you, Caine, but I didn't. You never talked about your work, and I figured that was the way it was supposed to be. In all honesty, I think I was enamored with this spy business." His expression became sheepish when he added, "I saw myself as England's savior for a while, anyway."

"How did you meet Nathan?" Caine asked.

"Almost a year after I'd started working for Willburn. We were paired together then. He was recruited in much the same way I was. Eventually Nathan and I became good friends." He paused to smile at his friend. "Nathan's a hard man to like."

"I've noticed," Caine said.

"Get on with it, Colin," Nathan ordered.

"It took a long time to win Nathan's trust, almost another full year working together as a matter of fact. He didn't confide in me in all that time. Then, on a trip back from France, he told me about the letters Pagan had found."

Colin shifted positions, grimacing in pain. Nathan caught the expression before anyone else did and immediately righted the stool for his friend. With a gentleness surprising in such a large man, he lifted Colin's injured leg, slipped a cushion under the heel, then asked, "It's better now?"

"Yes, thank you," Colin answered. "Now where was I?"

Caine was watching Nathan. He could still see the concern in Nathan's eyes. He suddenly realized he couldn't hate the man after all.

That revelation was one hell of a disappointment. Caine wanted to hate him. The bastard had deserted

his own sister, left her on her own to fend for herself. He was the reason Jade had so many shields guarding her heart, the reason she had had so much pain.

Yet Colin was alive.

"Caine?" Colin asked, drawing his brother back to the discussion. "Do you believe it's possible for a government to operate within a government?"

"Anything is possible," Caine answered.

"Have you ever heard of the Tribunal?" Colin asked. His voice had dropped to a whisper.

Both Colin and Nathan exchanged a nod. They were prepared to hear Caine's denial. Then they were going to knock the breath out of him with the facts they'd uncovered.

-- Advertisement --