"The hell she does," Caine muttered. "Why would you think a mere woman could get me rattled?"
"You just took your britches off in the middle of my foyer, Caine," he replied. "That's why I think
"I need some brandy," Caine countered. He grabbed his pants and started to put them back on again.
Christina strolled past him, smiled at her husband, and then continued on up the stairs. She didn't
mention his near na*ed condition, and neither did he.
Lyon thoroughly enjoyed Caine's embarrassment. He'd never seen his friend in such a state. "Why
don't you go inside the library. The brandy's on the side bar. Help yourself and I'll see about your bath. God, you do smell rank."
Caine did as Lyon suggested. The brandy warmed him a little and the fire he started in the hearth took
the rest of his chills away.
Christina left Jade alone once the tub had been filled with steaming hot water. She'd already helped her wash her hair in the bucket of warm, rose-scented water.
Jade quickly stripped out of her soggy clothing. Her fingers were numb from cold, but she took the time to remove her dagger from the hidden pocket in the lining. She put the weapon on the chair beside the tub as a precautionary measure in case someone tried to sneak up behind her, then climbed into the hot water and let out a long sigh of pleasure.
She scrubbed every inch of her body twice before she felt clean again. Christina came back into the kitchen just as Jade was standing up. Since her back was to her, Christina immediately noticed the long, jagged scar along the base of her spine. She let out a gasp of surprise.
Jade grabbed the blanket from the back of the chair, wrapped it around herself, and then stepped out of the tub to face Christina. "Is something the matter?" she asked, daring her to mention the scar she knew she'd seen.
Christina shook her head. She saw the knife on the chair then and walked over to have a closer look at it. Jade could feel herself blush with embarrassment. She tried to think of a logical explanation to give her hostess as to why a gentle lady would be carrying such a weapon, but she was simply too weary to come up with a believable lie.
"Mine's much sharper."
"I beg your pardon?" Jade asked, certain she hadn't heard correctly.
"My blade is much sharper," Christina explained. "I use a special stone. Shall I fix yours for you?"
"Do you sleep with this by your side or under your pillow?" Christina asked very matter-of-factly.
"Under my pillow."
"So did I," Christina said. "It's much easier to grasp that way, isn't it?"
"Yes, but why did you ..."
"I'll take your knife upstairs and put it under your pillow," Christina promised. "And in the morning, I'll sharpen it for you."
"That's very kind of you," Jade whispered. "I didn't realize other ladies carried knives."
"Most don't," Christina replied with a dainty shrug. She handed Jade a pristine white nightgown and matching wrapper, then helped her dress. "I don't sleep with a dagger under my pillow any longer.
Lyon protects me. In time, I think you'll give up your dagger, too. Yes, I do believe you will."
"You do?" Jade asked. She was desperately trying to make sense out of the woman's remarks.
"Why is that?"
"Destiny," Christina whispered. "Of course, you'll have to learn to trust Caine first."
"Impossible," Jade blurted out. "I don't trust anyone."
From Christina's wide-eyed expression, Jade assumed she'd been too vehement in her reply. "Lady Christina, I'm not at all certain I know what you're talking about. I barely know Caine. Why would
I have to learn to trust him?"
"Please, you needn't call me Lady Christina," she countered. "Now come and sit by the fire while I
brush the crinkles out of your hair."
She dragged the chair across the room, then gently pushed Jade down into the seat. "I don't have many friends in England."
"It's my fault," Christina explained. "I don't have enough patience: The ladies are very pretentious here. You're different, though."
"How can you know that?" Jade asked.
"Because you carry a knife," Christina explained. "Will you be my friend?"
Jade hesitated a long minute before answering. "For as long as you wish me to be your friend, Christina," she whispered.
Christina stared down at the lovely woman. "You believe that once I know all about you, I'll change my inclination, don't you?"
Her new friend shrugged. Christina noticed her hands were tightly clenched in her lap.
"I haven't had time for friends," Jade blurted out.
"I noticed the scar on your back," Christina whispered. "I won't tell Caine about it, of course, but he'll notice when he takes you to his bed. You carry a mark of honor, Jade."
Jade would have bounded out of the chair if Christina hadn't grabbed her shoulders and held her down.
"I meant no insult," she rushed out. "You shouldn't be ashamed of..."
"Caine isn't going to take me to his bed," Jade countered. "Christina, I don't even like the man."
Christina smiled. "We are friends now, aren't we?"
"Then you cannot lie to me. You do like Caine. I could see it in your eyes when you looked at him. Oh, you were frowning, but it was all bluster, wasn't it? At least admit that you think he's handsome. All the ladies find him very appealing."
"He is that," Jade answered with a sigh. "He's a womanizer, isn't he?"
"Lyon and I have never seen him with the same woman twice," Christina admitted. "So I do suppose
you could call him a womanizer. Aren't most until they're ready to settle down?"
"I don't know," Jade replied. "I haven't had many men friends either. There just wasn't time."
Christina finally picked up the brush and began to give order to Jade's lustrous curls. "I've never seen such beautiful hair before. There are threads of red fire shining through it."
"Oh, you have beautiful hair, not me," Jade protested. "Men have a preference for golden-haired ladies, Christina."
"Destiny," Christina countered, completely changing the topic. "I have a feeling you've just met yours, Jade."
She didn't have the heart to argue with her. Christina sounded so sincere. "If you say so," she agreed.
Christina noticed the swelling on the side of her head then. Jade explained what had happened to her.
She felt guilty because she was deceiving the woman, for she was telling the same lie she'd told Caine earlier, but her motives were pure, she reminded herself. The truth would only upset her new friend.
"You've had to be a warrior, haven't you, Jade?" Christina asked, her voice filled with sympathy.
"A warrior," Christina repeated. She was trying to braid Jade's hair, then decided it was still too damp. She put the brush down and waited for her friend to answer.
"You've been alone in this world for a long time, haven't you?" Christina asked. "That's why you don't trust anyone."
Jade lifted her shoulders in a shrug. "Perhaps," she whispered.
"We should go and find our men now."
"Lyon is your man, but Caine isn't mine," Jade protested. "I'd rather just go to bed, if you please."
Christina shook her head. "Caine will have had his bath by now and must feel refreshed again. I know both men will want to ask you some questions before they let you rest. Men can be very stubborn, Jade. It's better to let them have their way every now and again. They're so much easier to manage that way. Do trust me. I know what I'm talking about."
Jade tightened her sash on her wrapper and followed Christina. She tried to clear her mind for the inevitable sparring ahead of her. As soon as she walked into the library, she saw Caine. He was leaning against the edge of Lyon's desk, frowning at her. She frowned back.
She really wished he wasn't so handsome. He had bathed and was now dressed in clothes Lyon had given him. The fit was true, the fawn-colored britches indecently snug. A white cotton shirt covered his wide shoulders.
Jade sat down in the center of the gold-colored settee. Christina handed her a full goblet of brandy.
"Drink this," she ordered. "It will warm your insides."
Jade took a few dainty sips until she became accustomed to the burning sensation, then emptied the glass.
Christina nodded with satisfaction. Jade felt immensely better, sleepy, too. She leaned back against the cushions and closed her eyes.
"Don't you dare fall asleep," Caine ordered. "I have some questions to put to you."
She didn't bother to open her eyes when she answered him. "I won't fall asleep, but when I keep my eyes closed, I don't have to see your mean frowns, Caine. It's much more peaceful this way. Why were you pretending to be Pagan?"
She'd slipped in that question so smoothly, no one reacted for a full minute.
"He was what?" Lyon finally asked.
"He was pretending to be Pagan," Jade repeated. "I don't know how many other famous people he's pretended to be in the past," she added with a nod. "Still, it seems to me that your friend has an
affliction of sorts."
Caine looked as if he wanted to throttle her. Christina held her smile. "Lyon? I don't believe I've ever seen our friend this upset."
"Neither have I," Lyon returned.
Caine successfully glared him into quitting his comments. "This isn't a usual circumstance," he muttered.
"I doubt he's ever pretended to be Napoleon though," Jade interjected. "He's too tall to pull it off. Besides, everyone knows what Napoleon looks like."
"Enough," Caine bellowed. He took a deep breath, then continued in a softer tone. "I'll explain why I
was pretending to be Pagan after you've told me everything that led up to this black night."
"You make it sound as though everything is my fault!" she cried out.
He closed his eyes. "I do not fault you."
"Oh, yes, you do," she argued. "You're the most exasperating man. I've been through a terrible time and you've shown me as much compassion as a jackal."
Caine had to count to ten before he could trust himself not to shout at her.
"Why don't you just start at the beginning?" Lyon suggested.
Jade didn't pay any attention to Lyon's request. Her full attention was centered on Caine. He was still a little too controlled for her liking. "If you don't start giving me a little sympathy and understanding, I'm going to start shouting."
"You're already shouting," he told her with a grin.
That statement gave her pause. She took a deep breath, then decided to take a different tack. "Those terrible men ruined everything," she announced. "My brother had just finished renovating his lovely
home and they ruined it. I cannot tell you how disappointed Nathan is going to be when he finds out.
Oh, quit staring at me like that, Caine. I don't care if you believe me or not."
"Now, Jade ..."
"Don't talk to me."
"You seem to have lost control of the conversation," Lyon pointed out to Caine.
"I was never in control," Caine answered. "Jade, we're going to have to talk to each other," he announced then. "Yes," he added when he thought she was about to interrupt. "You have been through a trying time. I'll give you that much."
He thought his tone had been filled with understanding. He wanted to appease her, yet knew he'd failed when she continued to frown at him. "You're the most galling man. Why do you have to sound so superior all the time?"
Caine turned to Lyon. "Did I sound superior?"
Lyon shrugged. Christina nodded. "If Jade thinks you sounded superior," she said. "Then perhaps you did, just a little."
"You treat me like an imbecile," Jade said. "Doesn't he, Christina?"
"Since you are my friend, I will of course agree with you," Christina answered.
"Thank you," Jade replied before turning her attention back to Caine. "I'm not a child."
His slow grin infuriated her. She could feel herself losing ground in her bid to keep him off balance.
"Do you know what the very worst of it was? They actually torched my brother's beautiful carriage.
Yes, they did," she added with a vehement nod.
"And that was the worst?" Caine asked.
"Sir, I happened to be inside at the time!" she cried out.
He shook his head. "You actually want me to believe you were inside the carriage when it caught fire?"
"Caught fire?" She bounded out of her seat and stood there with her hands on her hips, glaring at him. "Not bloody likely. It was torched."
She remembered her audience and whirled around to face them. Clutching the top of her wrapper against her neck, she lowered her head and said, "Pray forgive me for losing my temper, please. I don't usually sound like a shrew."
She resumed her seat then and closed her eyes. "I don't care what he believes. I can't talk about this tonight. I'm too distraught. Caine, you're going to have to wait until morning to question me."
He gave up. The woman was certainly given to drama. She put the back of her hand up against her forehead and let out a forlorn sigh. He knew he wasn't going to be able to reason with her now.
Caine sat down on the settee beside her. He was still frowning when he put his arm around her shoulders and hauled her up against his side.
"I specifically remember telling you that I cannot abide being touched," she muttered as she snuggled
up against him.
Christina turned to her husband and let him see her smile. "Destiny," she whispered. "I think we should leave them alone," she added. "Jade, your bedroom is the first on the left at the top of the steps. Caine, you're next door."
Christina tugged her reluctant husband to his feet. "Sweetheart," Lyon said, "I want to know what happened to Jade. I'll just stay down here a few more minutes."