"But what if you thought I wanted you to ... and I didn't really want..."
"Unless you gave me your approval, your wholehearted approval, I wouldn't touch you. I promise."
She thought that was the nicest promise she'd ever been given. He sounded so sincere, and she knew he really meant what he said.
"Caine? Do you know what I've just discovered? You really are a gentleman, and an honorable one at that."
He'd already fallen asleep hugging her. Jade decided to do the same. She rolled over in his arms, slipped her arms around his waist, and promptly fell asleep.
Caine woke up a bare hour later when Jade cried out in her sleep. She muttered something he couldn't decipher, then let out a terrified scream. He shook her awake. When he brushed her hair away from her face, he felt the wetness on her cheeks. She'd been weeping in her sleep.
"Sweetheart, you're having a bad dream. It's all right now," he soothed. "You're safe with me."
He rubbed her shoulders and her back, too, until the tension eased out of her. "What were you dreaming about?" he asked, when her breathing had calmed down.
"Sharks." The word came out in a whisper filled with anguish.
"Sharks?" he asked, uncertain if he'd heard correctly.
She tucked her head under his chin. "I'm so tired," she whispered. "I don't remember the nightmare now. Hold me, Caine. I want to go back to sleep."
Her voice still trembled. Caine knew she was lying. She remembered every bit of her nightmare. He wasn't going to prod her into telling him about it, however.
He kissed the top of her head, then complied with her order and pulled her close.
Jade knew the minute he fell asleep again. She slowly eased herself away from him and moved to the side of the bed. Her heart was still slamming inside her chest. He thought she'd only had a nightmare. Was reliving an actual event the same? And would she ever be able to forget the horror?
God help her, would she ever be able to go willingly back in the water again?
She felt like crying. It took all her discipline not to give into her urge and hold on to him now. Caine
was such an easy man to trust. She could get used to depending on him, she knew. Yes, he was the dependable type, but he could also break her heart.
She was thoroughly confused by her reaction to him. In her heart, she trusted him completely.
Why then didn't his own brother?
Caine woke up ravenous ... for her. Jade's nightgown was tangled up around her thighs. She had cuddled up against his side and had thrown her right leg over his thighs sometime during the short night. Her knee now covered his throbbing arousal. Out of deference to her feelings, he'd slept with his pants on. The clothing proved to be a paltry barrier against her softness, though, and Caine could feel the scorch of her body branding him with hot desire.
The side of her face rested on his bare chest. Her lips were softly parted, her breathing deep, even. She had long, black-as-night eyelashes and a healthy sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her nose. The woman was utterly feminine. Caine continued to stare at her lovely face until he was so hard, so hurting, he was clenching his teeth.
It was a battle to move away from her. When he tried to ease her onto her back, he realized she was holding his hand. She didn't seem inclined to let go, either.
He had to pry her fingers loose. Then he remembered she'd called him a bastard rake the night before. Yet she was clinging to him now. Caine was certain she'd be wary of him once again when she was
wide awake. She couldn't hide her vulnerability from him when she was sleeping, however, and that fact pleased him considerably.
A fierce wave of possessiveness consumed him. In that moment, while he stared down at his angel, he vowed he would never let anything happen to her, he would protect her with his life.
For as long as he was her guardian ... or did he want her to stay with him much, much longer . . . Nathan would be home in two short weeks to take up the task of keeping his sister safe. Would Caine be able to let her go then?
He didn't have any ready answers; he knew only that the thought of giving her up made his heart lurch and his stomach tighten up.
It was all he was prepared to admit to himself, all he was willing to give.
It certainly wasn't possible to be logical with a half-naked beauty draped over him. Yes, he thought as he leaned down and kissed her brow, he would wait until later to sort it all out in his mind.
He washed and dressed in clothes that belonged to Lyon, then woke Jade. She tried to hit him when he nudged her awake. "It's all right, Jade," he whispered. "It's time to get up."
She was blushing by the time she'd sat up in bed. Caine watched her pull the coverlet all the way up to her chin. The act of modesty really wasn't necessary considering her state of undress the night before, but he decided against mentioning that to her now.
"Please excuse my behavior," she whispered in a husky, sleep-filled voice. "'Tis the truth I'm not at all accustomed to being awakened by a man."
"I would hope not," he replied.
She looked bewildered. "Why would you hope that?"
"You're not awake enough to play Socrates with me," he told her, his voice gentle.
Jade stared rather stupidly up at him. Caine leaned down and kissed her then, a hard, quick kiss that was over and done with before she could summon a reaction . . . or make a fist.
She had the most astonished look on her face when he pulled away from her. "Why did you do that?"
"Because I wanted to," he answered.
He started for the door, but she called out to him. "Where are you going?"
"Downstairs," he replied. "I'll meet you in the dining room. I imagine Christina left some clothes for you in the other room, sweet."
"Oh my God ... she must think that we ... that is . . ."
The door closed on her horrified whispers.
She could hear Caine whistling as he made his way down the corridor. Jade fell back against the pillows. The brief kiss he'd given her had left her shaken. That, and the fact that his friends now thought she was wanton.
And just what did she care what they thought? When this deception was over, she wouldn't ever see
them again. Still, Christina wanted to be her friend. Jade now felt as though she'd just betrayed her in some way.
"I'll simply explain that nothing happened," she whispered to herself. She's going to understand. A true friend would, wouldn't she?
Since Jade hadn't had any true friends in the past, she couldn't be certain what rules applied.
She got out of her bed and rushed back into her own room. Caine had been correct, for Christina had
left a pretty dark blue riding outfit. Dark brown boots with nary a mark on them were on the floor
beside the chair. Jade prayed they were close to her size.
She couldn't quit thinking about Caine while she dressed. The man was going to be a challenge to her peace of mind. He was so dangerously attractive. The damned dimple made her want to swoon. Lyon had loaned him a pair of indeeently snug deerskin-colored britches. The pants accentuated the sleek
bulge of muscles in his thighs .. . and his crotch. Black Harry would throttle her if he knew she'd taken the time to notice a man's body. Caine's sexuality, so raw, so appealing, made her notice, though. She might be innocent of men, but she certainly wasn't blind.
A scant fifteen minutes later, she was ready to go downstairs. The white silk blouse was a bit too tight
in the bosom, but the jacket hid that fact. The boots scrunched her toes, too, but only just a little.
She'd tried to braid her hair, but it was a disaster. She gave up the task when she saw the lopsided mess she was making. Jade had little patience and absolutely no expertise in the area of hair styling. That fact had never bothered her before, yet now it worried her. She was a gentle lady of the ton until this masquerade was finished, and it wasn't like her to let any little detail slip her notice.
The dining room doors were wide open. Caine was sitting at the head of a long, mahogany table. A servant was pouring dark tea into a cup from a beautiful silver pot. Caine wasn't paying any attention to the man, however. He seemed to be engrossed in the newspaper he was reading.
She wasn't certain if she was supposed to curtsy or not, then decided it really didn't matter since he wasn't paying any notice. She was mistaken in that belief, however, for as soon as she reached the chair adjacent to his, he stood up and offered her his assistance.
No one had ever held out a chair for her, not even Nathan. She couldn't make up her mind if she liked
the fuss or not.
Caine continued to read his paper while she ate her breakfast. When he'd finished with what she decided was probably a daily ritual, he leaned back in his chair, folded the newspaper, and finally gave her his complete attention.
"Well?" she asked as soon as he looked at her.
"Well, what?" he asked, smiling over the eagerness in his expression.
"Was there mention of a finely dressed gentleman being murdered?" She pointed to the newspaper.
"No, there wasn't."
She let out a gasp of dismay. "I'll wager they tossed him in the Thames. Do you know, Caine, now that
I reflect upon it, I did feel something slither against my legs. And you did say nothing could live for long
in the Thames, didn't you? It must have been that poor..."
"Jade, you're letting your imagination get the better of you," he interjected. "Not only was there no mention of your finely dressed gentleman, there wasn't any mention of anyone being murdered."
"Then they haven't found him yet."
"If he's a member of the ton, someone would have noticed his disappearance by now. It's been two days, hasn't it, since you saw . . ."
"It has been two days, exactly," she interrupted.
Caine thought that if she became any more enthusiastic, she might jump out of her chair.
"Which leads me to my first question," he announced. "Exactly what did you see?"
She leaned back against her chair. "Where are Lyon and Christina, do you suppose?"
"Are you avoiding my question?"
She shook her head. "I just don't want to have to tell it twice," she explained. Even as she gave that lie her mind was racing for another plausible story.
"Lyon went out for a bit," he answered. "And Christina is tending to Dakota. Answer me, please."
Her eyes widened.
"Now what's the matter?"
"You just said please," she whispered. She sounded awestruck. "If you're not careful, you'll soon be giving me the apologies you owe me."
He knew better than to ask her why he should apologize, guessing she had her list of his faults memorized. Besides, the smile she just gave him was so dazzling, he could barely hold his concentration.
"They pitched him from the roof."
Caine was jarred back to their topic when she made that announcement. "You were on a roof?" he asked her, trying to imagine what in God's name she'd been up to.
"Of course not," she replied. "Why would I be on a roof?"
"Yes?" she asked, looking expectant again.
"You weren't on a roof but you saw "them" throw this man ..."
"He was a finely dressed gentleman," she interrupted.
"All right," he began again. "You weren't on the roof but you saw several men throw this finely dressed gentleman from the roof? Is that it?"
"There were three of them."
She nodded. "I was frightened, Caine, but I could still count."
"Where were you when this happened?"
"On the ground."
"I gathered that much," he muttered. "If you weren't on the roof, I did assume ..."
"I could have been inside another building, or perhaps riding Nathan's fine horse, or even ..."
"Jade, stop rambling," he demanded. "Just tell me where you were and what you saw."
"What I heard is just as significant, Caine."
"Are you deliberately trying to make me angry?"
She gave him a disgruntled look. "I was just about to walk into the church when I heard all the commotion. They weren't actually on top of the church. No, they were dragging this poor man across
the rectory's roof. It's a bit lower. From my position, I could see the gentleman was trying to get away from them. He was struggling and shouting for help. That's how I knew, Caine. I wasn't just imagining it."
"And?" he prodded when she suddenly quit her explanation.
"They tossed him over. If I'd been just a foot to the left, well sir, you wouldn't be having to protect me now. I'd be as dead as the poor gentleman is."
"Where is this church?"
"In Nathan's parish."
"And where is that?" he asked.
"Three hours north of here," she answered.
"Am I interrupting?" Christina asked from the doorway.
Jade turned to smile at her.
"Of course not," Jade answered. "Thank you for the lovely breakfast, and for loaning me your beautiful riding clothes. I shall take good care of them," she added.
Lyon came up behind his wife and put his arms around her. While Caine and Jade watched, Christina's husband nuzzled the top of his wife's head.
"Miss me?" he asked.
"Of course," Christina answered. She smiled up at her husband, then turned back to Jade. "I went into your room . . ."
"Nothing happened," Jade rushed out. "It's all his fault, really. But nothing happened, Christina. I tried to use my knife on him. That's all. He took exception, of course," she added as she waved her hand in Caine's direction. "He was so bloody furious, he dragged me into his room. Oh Lord, I'm making a muddle out of this, aren't I?"
She turned to Caine. "Will you say something, please? My new friend is going to think I'm . .."
She quit her explanation when she noticed Caine's astonished expression. He wasn't going to be any help at all, she realized. He was back to thinking she was daft.
She could feel herself burning with embarrassment.
"I went into your room to fetch your knife," Christina explained. "You actually tried to cut him with that dull blade?"
Jade wanted to find a place to hide. "No," she answered with a sigh.