"I do," Caine whispered when Jade turned back to him. "And now the last," Caine directed the minister.
"This is highly irregular," the minister whispered. He turned to address Jade. "And do you promise to tell your husband you love him before this day is out?"
Her smile was radiant. "I do," she promised.
"You may kiss the bride," the minister announced.
Caine happily obliged. When he lifted his head, he said, "You're mine now."
He pulled her into his arms and hugged her tight. "I never make the same mistake twice, sweetheart," he whispered.
"I don't understand, Caine," she replied. She was still on the verge of tears and was desperately trying to maintain her composure. "Then why didn't you have the minister make me promise not to leave you? Don't you believe I'd honor my vows?"
"Once you give your word, I know you won't break it," he answered her. "But you have to give it freely. When you're ready, you'll tell me."
He wasn't given any more time to talk to her, for the crowd of well-wishers moved in on them to offer their congratulations.
Harry stood in the corner with his men, dabbing at his eyes with the edge of his sash. Caine's mother seemed genuinely happy to have Jade in the family. Of course she didn't know her new daughter-in-law was a common thief, Jade reminded herself.
"Will your uncle be visiting you often?" Gweneth asked after giving Harry a quick glance.
"He lives a fair distance from England," Jade explained. "He'll probably come just once a year."
Caine heard the last of Jade's explanation, saw his mother's quick relief, and started to laugh.
"My mother's a little nervous around your uncle," he said.
"Oh, you shouldn't be," Jade countered. "Harry is really a very kind man. Perhaps if you got to know him better . . ."
Caine's mother looked absolutely appalled by that suggestion. Jade didn't know what to make of that. "That was Harry's idea a while back," Caine explained. "He wanted to get to know my mother a whole lot better."
Since Jade hadn't witnessed Harry trying to drag the Duchess out the front door, she didn't understand why his mother was looking so horrified. She didn't understand Caine's amusement, either.
"Now, son, this isn't the time . . ."
"You called him son," Jade blurted out. "And you called her mother, didn't you?"
"He is my son," Gweneth announced. "What else would I call him, dear? I have his permission."
Jade was so pleased, she couldn't quit smiling. "Oh, I misunderstood," she whispered. "I thought he only called you madam, and that you never, ever called him son. I wanted him to belong . . . yes, I was mistaken."
Neither Caine nor his mother set her straight. They smiled at each other.
"Where's Henry?" Gweneth suddenly asked. "Harry's coming over here."
The Duchess picked up her skirts and went running toward her husband before Caine or Jade could stop her.
"You were worried I didn't belong?" he whispered.
She looked embarrassed. "Everyone should belong to someone, Caine, even you."
Harry shoved the bouquet of roses in her hands. "These will be the last roses Jimbo's going to fetch for you, girl, so you might as well enjoy them." He thought his announcement might have sounded surly, so he gave her a kiss on her forehead. Then he turned to Caine. "I need to give you the telling about the fire we got planned for the ship," he said. "The painting should be done by tomorrow."
"If you'll excuse me, I want to talk to Nathan," Jade said. She noticed her brother standing all alone on the terrace.
Caine listened to Harry as he outlined his plans, but he kept his gaze directed on his bride all the while. Jade faced her brother and spoke to him a long time. Nathan nodded several times. His expression was serious. He looked startled, too, when Jade pulled one of the roses from her cluster and held it out to him.
He shook his head. She nodded.
And then he smiled at his sister, accepted the rose, and pulled her into his arms.
For the first time since Caine had met Nathan, he was seeing the real man. He was completely unguarded now. The look on his face as he held his sister close was filled with love.
Caine didn't intrude. He waited until Jade moved away from Nathan and walked back to his side.
Harry and his men were all watching Nathan now. When Jade's brother lifted the rose in the air, a resounding cheer went up. The men immediately went to Nathan. Both Jimbo and Matthew pounded him on his back.
"What is that all about?" Caine asked Jade. He put his arm around her and pulled her into his side.
"I gave Nathan a wedding present," she told him.
Her eyes sparkled with merriment. He was sidetracked by the sudden desire to kiss her. "Well?" she asked when he just stared down at her so intently. "Don't you want to know what I gave him?"
"A rose," he whispered. He leaned down and kissed her brow. "Love, let's go upstairs for a few minutes."
The urgency in his voice, added to the look on his face, left her breathless. "We can't," she whispered. "We have guests. And we have to go to London," she added with a nod.
Caine let out a long sigh. "Then quit looking at me like that."
"Like you want to go upstairs, too," he growled.
She smiled. "But I do want to go upstairs."
He kissed her then, just the way he wanted to, using his tongue in erotic love play, pretending for just a moment that they were really all alone.
She was as limp as lettuce when he lifted his head back. Lord, how he loved the way she responded to him.
He remembered the promise she'd given the minister then. "Jade, wasn't there something you wanted to say to me?" he gently prodded when her glazed expression began to fade.
"Yes," she whispered. "I wanted to tell you I gave Nathan a white rose."
She looked so sincere, he knew she wasn't jesting with him. He decided then he'd have to wait until they were alone before nagging her into admitting she loved him. Damn, he needed to hear her say the words.
"Do you understand the significance, Caine?"
He shook his head. "1 gave him my name," she explained.
He still didn't understand. "He's going to look damned silly answering to your name, sweetheart."
She nodded when he looked as if he wanted to argue with her. "Nathan's going to be Pagan now. It was my gift to him."
She looked so pleased with herself, he felt guilty for arguing. "Jade, Pagan has to die, remember?"
"Just for a little while," she replied. "The men have a new leader, Caine, Nathan wants the Emerald. He has business to take care of."
"He has to fetch his bride."
That statement did get a reaction. Caine was stunned. "Nathan's married?"
"Since he was fourteen," she returned. "By the King's command."
"Where's his wife?" Caine asked.
She laughed, delighted by his astonishment. "That's the business he has to attend to, Caine."
He started to laugh. "Do you mean to tell me Nathan lost his wife?"
"Not exactly," she answered. "She ran away from him. Now can you understand why he's so cranky?"
Caine nodded. "Sweetheart, how many other secrets have you still to share with me?"
She wasn't given time to mull that question over. Sir Richards interrupted with the reminder that it was time they left for London.
"Jade, you'd better change into your riding garments," Caine instructed. "We won't be taking the carriage."
She nodded, quickly said her farewells, and went upstairs to change. Sterns carried her satchel downstairs to give to the stablemaster so he could secure it on the back of her horse.
Caine was just putting his jacket on when she walked into his room. He'd already changed into snug-fitting fawn-colored britches and dark brown Hessian boots. He wore the same white shirt but had removed the cravat.
"I'm ready," she called out from the doorway to get his attention.
"It's a hell of a way to begin our marriage," Caine muttered.
"We could have waited," she replied.
He shook his head. "No, we couldn't have waited."
"Caine? Why couldn't we have taken the carriage?"
"We're taking the back way, through the woods, starting out in the opposite direction, of course, and then circling. We're going to sneak up on London, sweet."
She smiled. "Just like McKindry," she announced.
Caine slipped the long knife into one boot, his attention turned to his task, and asked, "Who's McKindry?"
"The man who used the whip on me," Jade answered. "Don't forget your pistol, Caine."
"I won't," he answered. He turned to look at her. "McKindry's the bastard who marked you?" he demanded.
"Don't look so angry, Caine, it was a long time ago."
"How long ago?"
"Oh, I was eight, perhaps nine years old at the time. Harry took care of McKindry. And it was a very good lesson for me," she added when his expression turned murderous.
"McKindry sneaked up behind me," she explained. "After that, every time Harry left me, his very last words were, always, remember McKindry. It was a reminder, you see, that I must always be on my guard."
What the hell kind of a childhood was that? he asked himself. Caine kept his anger hidden. "And how often did Harry leave you?" he asked, his tone mild. He even turned toward the wardrobe so she wouldn't see his expression.
"Oh, all the time," she answered. "Until I was old enough to help, of course. Then I went with him. Caine, you'd really better hurry. Sir Richards will be pacing. I'll go downstairs .. ."
"Come here, Jade."
His voice was a hoarse whisper, his expression solemn. Jade was thoroughly confused by his behavior. She walked over to stand in front of him.
"Yes, Caine?" she asked.
"I want you to remember something else besides McKindry," he said.
"I love you."
"I could never forget you love me." She reached up and gently brushed her fingertips down his cheek.
She tried to kiss him then, but he shook his head. "I also want you to remember something else," he whispered. "Remember your promise to me that you're never, ever going on the ocean again."
Her eyes widened. "But I didn't promise you . .."
"Promise me now, then," he ordered.
She was looking quite stunned. Caine was satisfied by that reaction. "I'll tell Harry he'll have to come to England if he wants to see you. We won't be going to him. I'll also tell him I made you promise me. He won't argue over that."
"How long have you known, Caine?" she asked.
"That you're afraid of the water?"
She timidly nodded. "Since the first nightmare," he explained. He took her back into his arms. "You've been worried, haven't you?"
"A little," she whispered. Then she shook her head. "No, Caine, I wasn't just a little worried. I was terrified. Harry wouldn't understand."
A long ponderous moment passed before she whispered, "Caine, do you think me a coward for being afraid of the water?"
"Do you have to ask me that question?" he replied. "Don't you already know the answer, Jade?"
She smiled then. "No, you don't believe I'm a coward. I'm sorry for insulting you by asking. I'm just not use to admitting. .."
"Sweetheart, Poseidon wouldn't go back in the water if he'd been through your terror."
She started to laugh and cry at the same time. She was so relieved he'd just taken her burden away, she felt positively light-headed. "Nathan's stronger than 1 am," she said then. "He's going on the waters again."
"Nathan isn't human, love, so he doesn't count," Caine replied.
"Oh, he's human, all right. If I tell you a secret, will you keep it? You won't torment my brother with . .."
"Nathan gets seasick."
Caine laughed. "He's going to make a hell of a pirate then," he drawled out.
"I love you."
She'd blurted out her confession, her face hidden in the lapels of his jacket.
He quit laughing. "Did you say something?" he asked, pretending he hadn't heard her. He nudged her chin up and stared down into her eyes.
It took her a long time to get the words out again, and every ounce of courage she possessed. Her throat tightened up, her heart hammered a wild beat, and her stomach felt like it was tying itself in knots.
She wouldn't have been able to tell him if he hadn't helped. The look on his face was so filled with love, it made some of the panic ebb away. The dimple did the rest. "I love you."
He felt relieved, until she burst into tears again. "Was that so difficult? To tell me you loved me?"
"It was," she whispered while he kissed her tears away. "I'm not at all used to telling what's in my heart.
I don't believe I like it at all."
He would have laughed if she hadn't sounded so damned vulnerable. He kissed her instead.
"You didn't like making love the first time, either," he reminded her before kissing her sweet mouth once again.
Both of them were shaking when they drew apart. He would have dragged her over to the bed if Sir Richards' bellow hadn't interrupted them.
They sighed in unison. "Come along, sweetheart. It's time to go."
He started out the doorway, tugging her by her hand.
Lyons and Richards were waiting for them in the foyer. The time for gaiety was quickly put aside. They walked in silence through the backwoods where Matthew and Jimbo waited with their horses.
Caine took the lead. Jade was next in line, with Lyon responsible for protecting her back. Sir Richards trailed last.
Caine was cautious to the point of fanaticism. The only time they stopped to rest was when he backtracked on his own to make certain they weren't being followed. Still, Jade didn't mind the inconvenience. She was comforted by his precautions.