"Jade, couldn't this be your ..."
"Imagination?" Caine asked. He shook his head. "There were at least five men chasing us last night. No, it isn't her imagination."
She gave Lyon a suspicious look. "You don't believe me, do you?"
"I do now," Lyon replied. "If there were men after you, then you did see something. What happened next?"
"I refused to give up," she told him. She tried to fold her hands in her lap and only then realized she was clinging to Caine's hand again. She pushed it away. "I can be a very stubborn woman. And so, the next morning, I once again set out to find proof."
Lyon smiled at Caine. "I would have done the same," he admitted.
"What morning was this?" Caine asked.
"Yesterday morning," she explained. "I set out on horseback. I didn't make it to my parents' graves, though. They shot my horse out from under me."
"They what?" Caine asked in a near shout.
She was pleased with his stunned reaction. "They killed Nathan's fine horse," she repeated with a nod.
"I cannot tell you how upset my brother's going to be when he finds out his favorite steed is dead. It's going to break his heart."
Caine reached for his linen handkerchief when he thought she was about to cry again. "And then what happened?" he asked.
"1 went flying to the ground, of course. I was very fortunate because I didn't break my neck. I only sustained minor injuries. Surely you noticed the bruises on my shoulders and arms when you snuck into my bedroom last night."
She turned to look at Caine and waited for his reply. "I didn't notice," he whispered. "And I didn't sneak into your room."
"How could you not have noticed my bruises?"
"I wasn't looking at your shoulders."
She could feel herself blushing again. "Well, you should have been looking at my shoulders," she stammered. "A gentleman would have noticed my injuries right away."
Caine lost his patience. "Jade, not even a eunuch would have..."
"Do you want to hear the rest of this or not?"
"Yes," he answered.
"After they shot my horse, I ran all the way back to the main house. I don't know if they chased after
me or not. I was very upset. This sort of thing has never happened to me before. I've led a very
She seemed to want agreement. "I'm sure you have," Caine supplied.
"I found Hudson again and told him what happened. I could tell right away he was having trouble believing me. The man kept trying to force a cup of tea down me. This time, however, I had proof."
"Proof?" Caine asked.
"The dead horse, man," she cried out. "Pay attention, please."
"Of course," he returned. "The dead horse. And did Hudson apologize to you when you showed him this dead horse?"
She chewed on her lower lip a long minute while she stared up at him. "Not exactly," she finally answered.
"What do you mean by not exactly?"
Lyon had asked that question. Jade turned to look at him. "I know you're going to find this difficult to believe, but when we reached the spot where the horse had gone down .. . well, he'd vanished."
"No, I don't find that difficult to believe," Lyon drawled out. He leaned back against the chair again.
"Do you, Caine?"
Caine smiled. "It makes as much sense as everything else she's told us."
"Hudson insisted on returning to the stables," she continued. "He was convinced we'd find the horse had found its way back home on its own."
"And was he correct in that assumption?" Caine asked.
"No, he wasn't. The men searched the grounds for the rest of the morning but they couldn't find him. There were fresh wagon tracks along the south trail, though. Do you know what I think happened, Caine? I think they put the horse in the wagon and carried him away. What do you think of that possibility?"
She sounded so eager he was a little sorry to have to disappoint her. "You obviously don't have any idea how much a fully grown horse weighs, Jade. You can take my word it would require more than three men to lift it."
"Difficult," Lyon interjected. "But not impossible."
"Perhaps the animal only had a flesh wound and wandered off," said Caine.
"A flesh wound between his eyes? I doubt that." She let out a groan of frustration. "Nathan's going to be so upset when he finds out about his house and his carriage, too."
"His house? What the hell happened to his house?" Caine muttered. "Damn, I wish you'd tell this in sequence, Jade."
"I believe she has finally gotten to the fires," Lyon said.
"Why, it burned to the ground," Jade returned.
"When did the house burn down?" Caine asked with another weary sigh. "Before or after the horse was killed?"
"Almost directly after," she explained. "Hudson had ordered Nathan's carriage made ready for me. I had decided to return to London and find Nathan. I was good and sick of the way his servants were acting. They kept a wide berth around me, and kept giving me odd looks. I knew Nathan would help me solve this riddle."
She didn't realize she'd raised her voice until Caine patted her hand and said, "Just calm down, sweet, and finish this."
"You're looking at me the very same way Hudson ... oh, all right then, I'll finish. I was on my way back to London when the footman shouted that Nathan's house was on fire. He could see the smoke coming over the hilltops. We immediately turned around, of course, but by the time we arrived back at the house ... well, it was too late. I ordered the servants to go to Nathan's London town house."
"And then you set out for London again?" Caine asked. He was absentmindedly rubbing the back of her neck. It felt too good for Jade to ask him to stop.
"We stayed on the main road, but when we turned a curve, they were waiting for us. The driver was so frightened,-he ran off."
Lyon had made that remark. Caine nodded agreement.
"I don't fault the man," Jade defended. "He was frightened. People do ... peculiar things when they're afraid."
"Some do," Caine allowed.
"Tell us what happened then, Jade?" Lyon asked.
"They blocked the doors and set the carriage on fire," she answered. "I was able to wiggle out through the ill-framed window. Nathan spent good coins on that vehicle, but it wasn't at all sturdy. I was able to kick the hinges away from the branches easily enough. I don't believe I'll mention that fact to my brother, though, for it would only upset him ... unless, of course, he thinks to hire the same company."
"You're digressing yet again," Caine said.
Lyon smiled. "She reminds me of Christina," he admitted. "Jade, why don't you go and find my wife for me? She was going to pack a satchel for you to take with you."
Jade felt as though she'd just been given a reprieve. Her stomach was in a quiver of knots. She felt as though she'd just had to relive the terror.
She didn't waste any time at all leaving the room.
"Well, Caine?" Lyon asked when they were alone. "What do you think?"
"There were men chasing us last night," Caine reminded his friend.
"Do you believe her story?"
"She saw something."
"That isn't what I asked you."
Caine slowly shook his head. "Not a damned word," he admitted. "And you?"
Lyon shook his head. "It's the most illogical story I've ever heard. But damn, if she's telling the truth, we've got to help her."
"And if she's not?" Caine asked, already guessing the answer.
"You damned well better watch your back."
"Lyon, you don't think ..."
Lyon wouldn't let him finish. "I'll tell you what I do know," he interrupted. "One, you're not being objective. I can't fault you, Caine. I reacted to Christina in much the same way you're reacting to Jade. Two, she is in danger and has put you in danger, too. Those are the only facts we can take as true."
Caine knew he was right. He leaned back against the settee. "Now tell me what your gut reaction is."
"Perhaps this has something to do with her father," Lyon suggested with a shrug. "I'll start looking into
the Earl of Wakerfield's history. Richards will be able to help."
Caine started to disagree and then changed his mind. "It couldn't hurt," he said. "Still, I'm beginning to wonder if her brother might not be behind all this. Remember, Lyon. Nathan went to London to help a friend in trouble. That's when all this started."
"If we accept the story she told us."
"Yes," Caine answered.
Lyon let out a long sigh. "I only have one question to put to you, Caine." His voice was low, insistent. "Do you trust her?"
Caine stared at his friend a long minute. "If we apply logic to this bizarre situation . .."
Lyon shook his head. "I value your instincts, friend. Answer me."
"Yes," Caine said. He grinned then. For the first time in his life, he pushed reason aside. "I trust her with my life but I couldn't give you one valid reason why. How's that for logic, Lyon?"
His friend smiled. "I trust her, too. You don't have the faintest idea why you trust her, though, do you, Caine?"
Lyon sounded downright condescending. Caine raised an eyebrow in reaction. "What are you getting at?"
"I trust her only because you do," Lyon explained. "Your instincts are never wrong. You've saved my backside more than once because I listened to you."
"You still haven't explained what your point is," Caine reminded him.
"I trusted Christina," Lyon said. "Almost from the very beginning. I swear to you it was blind faith on
my part. She led me a merry chase, too. Now I must side with my wife. Christina, as you know, has some rather unusual opinions. She's on the mark this time, though."
"And how is that?" Caine asked.
*'I believe, good friend, that you've just met your destiny." He let out a soft chuckle and shook his head. "God help you now, Caine, for your chase is just about to begin."
The ladies were waiting in the foyer for Caine and Lyon. A large gray and white speckled satchel was
on the floor between them.
Caine tried to lift it, then shook his head. "For God's sake, Jade, no horse is going to be able to carry
this load. The weight will be too much for the animal."
He knelt on one knee, flipped open the catch on the satchel and looked inside. Then he let out a low whistle. "There's a bloody arsenal in here," he told Lyon. "Who packed this thing?"
"I did," Christina answered. "There are just a few weapons I thought Jade might need to protect the two of you."
"Weapons Jade might need to protect me?" He looked incredulous. "Lyon, did your wife just insult me?"
Lyon smiled while he nodded. "She certainly did, Caine. You might as well apologize now and get it
"Why in God's name would I apologize?"
"It will save time," Lyon explained. He was trying not to laugh. Caine looked thoroughly bewildered.
"Marriage has made you soft," Caine muttered.
"As soft as milk toast," Lyon announced with a grin.
Caine turned his attention back to stripping the unnecessary items from the bag.
While both ladies gasped in dismay, Caine tossed several long knives to the floor, two pistols, and one mean-looking link of chain. "You aren't going to need all of this, Jade. Besides, you're far too timid to use any of them."
She was already gathering up the weapons. "Leave them there, my little warrior."
"Oh, have it your way," she muttered. "And quit using endearments on me, sir. Save them for the other women in your life. I'm neither your sweetheart, nor your love, and I'm certainly not your warrior. Oh, don't look so innocently perplexed, Caine. Christina told me all about the other women."
He was still trying to make sense out of her earlier comment. "Calling you a warrior is an endearment in your befuddled mind?"
"It most certainly is, you rude man," she replied. "I won't make you apologize for calling me befuddled, but only because you're probably still cranky over the news that your town house was burned down."
Caine felt like growling in frustration. He finished stripping the bag of unnecessary weapons, then clipped the lock shut. "Thank you for going to all the trouble, Christina, but you may need your weapons to keep Lyon safe. Come along, Jade," he ordered. He took the bag in one hand and Jade's hand in the other. His grip stung.
She didn't mind. She was too pleased at how well she had told her stories鈥攈ow she had at once convinced Caine and confused him. The set of Caine's jaw indicated he wasn't in a reasonable mood.
She let him drag her to the back door. Lyon's groom had readied two mounts for them. Just as Jade was passing through the doorway, Christina threw her arms around her and hugged her tight. "God speed," she whispered.
Caine tied the satchel to his mount, then tossed Jade on top of the other horse. She waved farewell as she followed Caine through the back gate.
Jade glanced back again to look at Lyon and Christina. She tried to memorize Christina's smile, Lyon's frown, too, for she was certain she wouldn't ever see them again.
Christina had mentioned destiny more than once to her. She believed Caine was going to become Jade's lifelong mate. But Christina didn't understand the full situation. And when Christina learned the truth, Jade feared her new friend would never acknowledge her again.
It was too painful to think about. Jade forced herself to think only of the one reason she was there. Her duty was to protect Caine until Nathan came home.
And that was that. Her destiny had been determined years ago.
"Stay closer to me, Jade," Caine ordered from over his shoulder.
Jade immediately nudged her mount closer.
Caine certainly took a roundabout way out of London. He circled the outskirts of the city, then backtracked to make certain they weren't being followed.