"I always remember to apologize when I've done something wrong," she remarked.
He looked downright exasperated with her now. She couldn't help but smile at him. Lord, he was a handsome rascal. The moonlight softened his harsh features, and she barely minded his frown now.
In truth, she wanted him to smile at her again.
"Jade? Can you swim?"
She was staring intently at his mouth, thinking to herself that he had the most beautiful white teeth she'd ever seen.
He shook her. "Can you swim?" he asked. There was a little more urgency in his tone now.
"Yes," she answered with an unladylike yawn. "I can swim. Why do you ask?"
In answer to that question, he tossed her over his right shoulder and started climbing the rail.
Her long hair brushed the back of his boots. The wind was knocked out of her when he slammed her against his shoulder, but she soon recovered. "What in bloody hell are you doing?" she cried out. She clutched the back of his jacket. "Put me down."
"They've got the exits blocked, Jade. Take a deep breath, sweet. I'll be right behind you."
She only had enough time to shout her denial at him. Then she let out a bellow of outrage. The sound echoed off into the inky blackness when he threw her away from the railing.
She was suddenly flying like a disc into the biting wind. Jade kept right on screaming until her backside hit the water. She remembered to close her mouth just as the frigid water closed over her head. She came up sputtering, but immediately closed her mouth again when she got a good whiff of the stench surrounding her.
Jade vowed she wouldn't let herself drown in this filth. No, she was going to stay alive until she found her new protector and drowned him first.
Then she felt something brush against her leg. She became absolutely terrified. In her confused mind, she was certain the sharks had come for her.
Caine suddenly appeared at her side. He wrapped his arm around her waist, then let the swift current drag them under the bridge and away from the enemy stalking them.
She kept trying to climb up on his shoulders. "Hold still," he ordered.
Jade wrapped her arms around his neck. "The sharks, Caine," she whispered. "They're going to get us."
The terror in her voice and her grip told him she was close to losing all control. "There aren't any sharks," he told her. "Nothing could live in this water long enough."
"I'm certain," he returned. "Just hold on a little longer, sweet. We'll be out of this muck in no time at all."
His soothing voice did calm her a little. She was still trying to strangle him, but her grip had lessened. It was only a halfhearted attempt now.
They floated at least a good mile down the winding river before he finally pulled her out of the water and onto the grassy slope. Jade was too cold, too miserable, to blister him with her opinion of his conduct.
She couldn't even get in a decent whimper. Her teeth were chattering too much. "I smell like dead fish," she stammered out in a pitiful wail.
"Yes, you do," Caine agreed. He sounded amused.
"So do you, you . . . pretender."
"Pretender?" he repeated while he tore his jacket off and tossed it on the ground behind him. "What do you mean by that?"
Jade was trying to wring the water out of the hem of her gown. Her hair covered most of her face. She paused to toss the clumps out of her vision. "You needn't act so innocent with me," she muttered.
She gave up her task and accepted the pitiful fact that her gown now outweighed her, then wrapped her arms around her waist and tried to hug some warmth back into her bones. Her voice took on her shivers when she added, "Pretending to be the pirate, Pagan. He would never throw a gentle lady in the Thames."
"Jade, I did what I thought was best under the circumstances," he defended.
"I lost my cloak." That announcement came out in a loud gasp.
"I'll buy you another one."
"But my silver coins were in that cloak," she said. "Well?"
"Go fetch it."
"Go fetch it," she ordered again. "I'll wait here."
"You can't be serious."
"I'm perfectly serious," she countered. "We only drifted a mile or so, Caine. It shouldn't take you any time at all."
"I'd never find it," he returned. "It's probably at the bottom of the river by now."
She mopped at the corners of her eyes with the backs of her hands. "Now I'm a pauper and it's all your fault."
"Don't start," he commanded. He knew she was on the verge of tears again. "Now isn't the time for hysterics or complaints, even though they seem to be the only two things you're any good at," he continued. He caught her gasp and smiled. She was getting her temper back. "Do you still have your shoes on or do I have to carry you?"
"How would I know?" she asked. "I've lost all the feeling in my feet."
"Look, damn it."
"Yes, damn it," she muttered when she'd done as he ordered. "I'm still wearing them. Well?" she added. "Are you going to apologize or not?"
"No," he answered in a clipped voice. "I'm not going to apologize. And lower your voice, Jade. Do you want every cutthroat in London after us?"
"No," she whispered. She moved close to his side. "Caine? What would you have done if I didn't know how to swim?"
"The same thing," he answered. "But we would have jumped together."
"I didn't jump," she argued. "Oh, never mind. I'm cold, Caine. What are we going to do now?"
He took hold of her hand and started up the bank. "We're going to walk over to my friend's town house. It's closer than mine."
"Caine, you're forgetting your jacket," she reminded him.
Before he could tell her to leave it, she rushed back, lifted the jacket, rung as much of the water out of it as she could manage with her numb fingers, and then hurried back to his side. She tossed the hair out of her eyes again, just as he put his arm around her shoulders. "I look terrible, don't I?"
"You smell worse," he told her quite cheerfully. He gave her an affectionate squeeze, then remarked, "I'd say it's more like rotten meat than dead fish though."
She started to gag. Caine slapped his hand over her mouth. "If you lose your supper, I'll become very angry with you. I have enough to contend with now. Don't you dare complicate matters by getting sick."
She bit his hand, gaining both her freedom and another blasphemy from him. "I didn't have any supper," she announced. "I wanted to die on an empty stomach."
"You still might," he muttered. "Now quit talking and let me think. Why the hell did you want to die on
an empty stomach?" he couldn't help but ask.
"Some people become ill when they're frightened. I thought I might, you see, right before you ... oh, never mind. I just didn't want to go to my Maker in a messy gown, that's all."
"I knew I shouldn't have asked," he replied. "Look, when we get to Lyon's place, you can have a hot bath. You'll feel better then."
"Is Lyon the interfering friend Monk mentioned?" "Lyon isn't interfering."
"Monk said he'd find out what happened to you this black night," Jade replied. "Those were his very words. That certainly sounds interfering to me." "You'll like Lyon."
"If he's your friend, I have my doubts," she returned. "Still, I will try to like him."
They lapsed into silence for several blocks. Caine was on his guard now and Jade wasn't nearly as worried as she pretended to be.
"Caine? After we've had our baths, what will we do?"
"You're going to sit down and tell me everything that happened to you."
"I've already told you what happened to me. You didn't believe me though, did you?"
"No," he admitted. "I didn't."
"Besides, your mind is already set against me, Caine. You won't believe anything else I tell you. Why should I make the effort?"
"My mind isn't set against you," he answered. His irritation was obvious in his tone.
She let out a rather inelegant snort. Caine vowed he wouldn't let her draw him into another argument.
He led her through another maze of back streets. She was so exhausted by the time they'd reached the steps to the impressive, redbrick town house, she wanted to weep real tears.
A giant of a man with a rather sinister-looking scar creasing his forehead opened the door on Caine's insistent pounding. The man had obviously been asleep. He wasn't happy about being awakened, either. Jade took one look at the stranger's dark scowl, and edged closer to Caine.
The man she assumed was Lyon wore only a pair of black britches. The frightening scowl quickly turned to a look of true astonishment as soon as he saw who his visitor was. "Caine? What in God's name . . . come inside," he rushed out. He moved forward with the intent of clasping Caine's hand, then abruptly changed his mind. He'd obviously just gotten a good whiff of the two of them.
Jade was horribly embarrassed. She turned to glare at Caine, a silent message that she still believed her foul condition was all his fault, then walked into the black and white tiled foyer. She saw a beautiful woman hurrying down the winding staircase then. The woman's long, silvery blond hair flew out behind her. She was so lovely, Jade felt all the worse.
Caine made hasty introductions while Jade stared at the floor. "This is Lyon, Jade, and his wife, Christina."
"What happened to you two?" Lyon asked.
Jade whirled around, raining drops of sour water ki a wide circle. She lifted her hair out of her eyes and then announced, "He threw me in the Thames."
"He what?" Lyon asked, a hint of a smile in his expression now, for he'd only just noticed what looked very like a chicken bone dangling from her hair.
"Caine threw me in the Thames," she repeated.
"He did?" Christina asked. Lyon's wife sounded astonished.
Jade turned to her. "He truly did," she announced yet again. "He didn't apologize afterward either."
After making that remark, she burst into tears. "This is all his fault," she sobbed. "First he lost his
carriage wheel and then he lost his instincts. My plan was really so much better. He's just too stubborn
to admit it."
"Don't start on that again," Caine warned.
"Why did you throw this poor dear in the Thames?" Christina asked again. She hurried over to Jade, her arms outstretched. "You must be chilled to the bone," she said in sympathy. Christina came to a quick stop when she got close to Jade, then backed up a space.
"It was necessary," Caine answered. He was trying to ignore Jade's glare.
"I believe I hate him," Jade told Christina. "I don't care if he's your friend or not," she added on another sob. "The man's a scoundrel."
"Yes, he can be a scoundrel," Christina agreed. "But he does have other nice qualities."
"I've yet to see them," Jade whispered.
Christina wrinkled her nose, took a deep breath, and then put her arm around Jade's waist. "Come with me, Jade. We'll have you cleaned up in no time. I think the kitchen will serve us better this night. Lyon? You best wake up the staff. We'll need help heating the water. My, you do have an unusual name," she told Jade then. "It's very pretty."
"He ridiculed my name," Jade whispered, though loud enough for Caine to overhear.
Caine closed his eyes in vexation. "I did not ridicule your name!" he shouted. "I swear to God, Lyon, that woman's done nothing but complain and weep since the moment I met her."
Jade let out a loud gasp, then allowed Christina to prod her along toward the back of the house. Both Caine and Lyon watched the pair depart.
"Do you see how insulting he is, Lady Christina?" Jade asked. "All I asked was one little favor from
"And he refused?" Christina asked. "That certainly doesn't sound like Caine. He's usually very accommodating."
"I even offered to pay him silver coins," Jade announced. "I'm a pauper now. Caine threw my cloak in the Thames, too. The coins were in the pocket."
Christina shook her head. She paused at the corner to look back at Caine so he could see her displeasure. "That was terribly ungallant of him, wasn't it?"
They rounded the corner on Jade's fervent agreement.
"What was the favor she asked of you?" Lyon asked.
"Nothing much," Caine drawled out. He bent over to pull off his water-soaked boots. "She just wanted me to kill her, that's all."
Lyon let out a shout of laughter, but stopped when he realized Caine wasn't jesting.
"She wanted it done before morning," Caine said.
"She was willing to let me finish my brandy first."
"That was thoughtful of her."
The two men shared a grin. "Now your wife thinks I'm an ogre because I've disappointed the woman."
Lyon laughed again. "Christina doesn't know what the favor was, friend."
Caine dropped his boots in the center of the hall, then added his socks to the pile. "I could still change
my mind and accommodate the little woman, I suppose," he remarked dryly. "Damn, my favorite boots are ruined."
Lyon leaned against the archway, his arms folded across his chest, while he watched Caine pull off his shirt. "No, you couldn't kill her," he replied. His tone was mild when he added, "She wasn't really
serious, was she? She seems quite timid. I can't imagine . .."
"She witnessed a murder," Caine interjected. "Now she has several unsavory men chasing after her, obviously intent on silencing her. That's all I know, Lyon, but as soon as possible, I'm going to find out every detail. The sooner I can solve her problem, the sooner I'll be rid of her."
Since Caine was glaring so ferociously, Lyon tried to hide his smile. "She really has you rattled, doesn't she?" he asked.