She stared back. She thought he might be filtering through the information he'd gained over the past hours, yet the strange expression on his face worried her. She was suddenly reminded of a story Black Harry liked to tell about the wonderful, unpredictable grizzly bears who roamed the wilderness of the Americas. The animal was such a cunning breed. Harry said the bear was actually much smarter than
his human trackers. Often he would deliberately lead his victims into a trap or circle back to attack. The poor unsuspecting hunter usually died before realizing he'd actually become the hunted.
Was Caine as cunning as the grizzly? That possibility was too chilling to think about. "Caine? You frighten me when you look at me that way," she whispered. "I hate it when you frown."
She underlined that lie by wringing her hands together. "You're sorry you got involved in this mess, aren't you? I can't fault you, sir," she added in a melodramatic tone of voice. "You're going to get
yourself killed if you stay with me. I'm very like a cat," she continued with a nod. "I bring people terrible luck. Just leave me here in your barn and go on home. When darkness falls, I'll walk back to London."
"I believe you've just insulted me again," he drawled out. "Haven't I already explained that no one touches what belongs to me?"
"I don't happen to belong to you," she snapped, somewhat irritated he hadn't been impressed with her theatrics. The man should be trying to comfort her now, shouldn't he? "You can't just decide that I ...
oh, never mind. You're shamefully possessive, aren't you?"
He nodded. "I am possessive by nature, Jade, and you will belong to me."
He sounded downright mean now. Jade valiantly held his stare. "You're not only in error, sir, but you're horribly stubborn, too. I'd wager you never shared your toys when you were a child, did you?"
She didn't give him time to answer that allegation. "Still, I didn't mean to insult you."
Caine pulled her to her feet. He put his arm around her shoulders and started toward the doors.
"You can't continue to protect me."
"And why is that, love?"
"A father shouldn't have to lose two sons."
The woman certainly didn't put much store in his ability, he thought to himself. Still, she sounded so frightened, he decided not to take exception. "No, he shouldn't," he replied. "Your brother shouldn't
have to lose his only sister, either. Now listen to me. I'm not sorry I got involved, and I'm not going to leave you. I'm your protector, remember?"
Her expression was solemn. "No, you're more than just my protector," she said. "You've become my guardian angel."
Before he could answer her, she leaned up on tiptoe and kissed him.
"I shouldn't have done that," she said then, feeling herself blush. "I don't usually show much affection, but when I'm with you . . . well, I find I like it when you put your arm around me or hug me. I do wonder about this sudden change in me. Do you think I might be wanton?"
He didn't laugh. She seemed too sincere and he didn't want to hurt her feelings. "I'm pleased you like it when I touch you," he said. He paused just inside the door and leaned down to kiss her. "I find I love touching you." His mouth captured hers then. The kiss was long, hard, lingering. His tongue rubbed against her soft lips until they opened for him, then slid inside with lazy insistence. When he pulled
back, she had a most bemused look on her face again.
"You tried your damnedest to become my shield on that horse, didn't you, love?"
She was so surprised by that question, her mind emptied of all plausible explanations.
"What did I do?"
"You tried to become my shield," he answered. "When you realized the shots were coming from . . ."
"I didn't," she interrupted.
"And the other night, when you threw yourself into me and knocked me off center, you actually saved my life," he continued as though she hadn't interrupted him.
"I didn't mean to," she interjected. "I was afraid."
She couldn't discern from his expression what he was thinking. "If there is a next time, I promise not to get in your way," she rushed out. "Please forgive me for not being very logical, Caine. You see, I've never been chased after before, or shot at, or ... do you know, I don't believe I feel very well now. Yes, I feel sick. I really do."
It took him a moment to make the switch in topics.
"Is it your head, sweet? We should have asked Christina for something to put on that bump."
She nodded. "It is my head and my stomach and my side, too," she told him as they walked toward the front of the main house.
She was weak with relief, for her aches and pains had waylaid his attention. Jade glanced around her, realizing for the first time how beautiful the landscape was. When they turned the corner, she came to an abrupt stop.
The drive seemed to be unending. It was lined with a multitude of trees, most at least a hundred years old by Jade's estimation. The branches arched high across the gravel drive, providing an enchanting canopy.
The redbrick house was three stories high. White pillars lined the front, adding a regal touch. Each of the oblong windows was draped in white cloth and each was identically held in place with black tiebacks.
The front door had been painted black as well, and even from the drive, the attention to detail was very apparent.
"You didn't tell me you were so wealthy," she announced.
She sounded irritated to him. "I live a comfortable life," he answered, a shrug in his voice.
"Comfortable? This rivals Carlton House," she said.
She suddenly felt as out of place as a fish on the beach.
Jade pushed his arm away from her shoulders and continued on.
"I don't like wealthy men," she announced.
"Too bad," he replied, laughing.
"Why is it too bad?" she asked.
Caine was trying to get her to move again. She'd stopped at the bottom of the steps and was now staring up at the house as though it was somehow a threat to her. He could see the fear in her eyes.
"It's going to be all right, Jade," he said. "Don't be afraid."
She reacted as though he'd just defamed her family. "I'm not afraid," she stated in her most haughty
tone and with a glare to match.
It had been instinctive, giving him that setdown for daring to suggest such a sin, but she soon realized her blunder. Damn, she was suppose to be afraid. And now Caine was looking at her with that unreadable expression on his face again.
She never would have made that error if she hadn't been in such sorry shape. Lord, she ached.
"You insult yourself by saying I'm afraid," she explained.
"Caine, if I am still afraid, then it would mean I don't have any faith in you, wouldn't it?"
Her sudden smile diverted his attention. "As to that," she continued, "I've already counted eleven men with their weapons at the ready. I assumed they were in your employ, since they aren't trying to shoot us. The fact that you'd already seen to such nice precautions set my mind to rest."
Her smile widened when she guessed he was thinking she was daft again. Then she stumbled. It wasn't another ploy to turn his attention, but a real stumble that would have felled her to the ground if he hadn't caught her.
"My knees are weak," she hastily explained. "I'm not accustomed to riding. Do let go of my waist, Caine. It aches a bit."
"What doesn't ache, love?" he asked. His tone was filled with amusement, yet there was tenderness in his eyes.
She tried to act disgruntled. "I'm a woman, remember? And you did say all women were weak. Is that
the reason you're looking so smug now, sir? Because I've just given your outrageous opinion substance?"
"When you look at me like that, I seem to Forget all about Slow confusing you are. You have the most beautiful eyes, love. I think I know what green fire looks like now."
She knew he was trying to embarrass her. His slow, sexy wink said as much. The man could be a tease all right. When tie leaned down and kissed the top of her forehead, she had to catch herself from letting out a telling sigh of pleasure. She forgot all about her aches and pains.
The front door opened then, drawing Caine's attention. With his gentle prodding, she also turned, just as a tall, elderly man appeared in the entrance.
He looked just like a gargoyle. Jade assumed the man was Caine's butler. He was dressed all in black, save for his white cravat, of course, and his austere manner more than matched his formal attire. The servant looked as though he had been dunked in a vat of starch and left out to dry.
"That's my man, Sterns," Caine explained. "Don't let him frighten you, Jade," he added when she moved a step closer to his side. "He can be as intimidating as a king when the mood comes over him."
The thread of affection in Caine's voice told her he wasn't at all intimidated. "If Sterns takes a liking to you, and I'm sure he will, then he'll defend you to the death. He's as loyal as they come."
The man under discussion advanced down the steps with a dignified stride. When he faced his employer, he made a stiff bow. Jade noticed the wings of silver hair on the sides of his temples and guessed his age to be in the middle to late fifties. Both the salt and pepper hair and his grossly unattractive face reminded her of her Uncle Harry.
She liked him already.
"Good day, mi'lord," Sterns stated before he turned to look at Jade. "Did your hunt go well?"
"I wasn't hunting," Caine answered.
"Then the pistol shots I heard were just for sport?"
The servant hadn't bothered to look at his employer when he made that remark but continued to give
Jade his full scrutiny.
Caine smiled. He was vastly amused by Sterns' behavior. His man wasn't one to rattle easily. He was certainly rattled now, and Caine knew he was fighting quite a battle to maintain his rigid composure.
"I was after men, not game," Caine explained.
"And were you successful?" Sterns inquired in a voice that suggested he wasn't the least interested.
"No," Caine answered. He let out a sigh over his butler's lack of attention. Still, he couldn't very well
fault the man for falling under Jade's spell. He'd already done the same. "Yes, Sterns, she is very beautiful, isn't she?"
The butler gave an abrupt nod, then forced himself to turn back to his lord.
"That she is, mi'lord," he agreed. "Her character, however, is still to be discerned." He clasped his hands behind his back and gave his lord a quick nod.
"You'll find that her character is just as beautiful," Caine replied.
"You've never brought a lady home before, mi'lord."
"No, I haven't."
"And she is our guest?"
"She is," Caine answered.
"Am I making more of this than I should, perchance?"
Caine shook his head. "No, you're not, Sterns."
The butler raised an eyebrow, then nodded again. "It's about time, mi'lord," Sterns said. "Do you require one of the guest chambers made ready or will the lady be occupying your rooms?"
Because the sinful question had been asked in such a matter-of-fact fashion, and because she was still stinging from their rudeness in talking about her as though she wasn't even there, she was a little slow to take insult. Only when the fullness of what Sterns was suggesting settled in her mind did she react. She moved away from Caine's side and took a step toward the butler. "This lady will require a room of her own, my good man. A room with a sturdy lock on the door. Do I make myself clear?"
Sterns straightened himself to his full height. "I understand perfectly well, mi'lady," he announced. Although the man's tone was dignified, there was a noticeable sparkle in his brown eyes. It was a look only Caine had been privy to before. "I shall check the bolt myself," he added with a meaningful glance
in his employer's direction.
"Thank you so much, Sterns," Jade replied. "I have many enemies chasing after me, you see, and I won't rest properly if I have to worry about certain gentlemen sneaking into my room at night to put my nightgown back on me. You can understand that, can't you?" "Jade, don't start. . ." Caine began. "Caine suggested I stay with his mama and papa, but I couldn't do that, Sterns," she continued, ignoring Caine's rude interruption. "1 don't want to drag his dear parents into this sorry affair. When one is being hunted down like a mad dog, one simply doesn't have time to worry about one's reputation. Don't you agree, sir?"
Sterns had blinked several times during Jade's explanation, then nodded when she gave him such a sweet, expectant look.
A clap of thunder echoed in the distance. "We're going to get soaked if we stand out here much longer," Caine said.
"Sterns, I want you to send Parks for the physician before the storm breaks."
"Caine, is that really necessary?" Jade asked.
"You're ill, mi'lord?" Sterns inquired, his concern apparent in his gaze.
"No," Caine answered. "I want Winters to have a look at Jade. She's been in a mishap."
"A mishap?" Sterns asked, turning back to Jade.
"He threw me in the Thames," she explained.
Sterns raised an eyebrow in reaction to that statement. Jade nodded, pleased with his obvious interest.
"That isn't the mishap I was referring to," Caine muttered. "Jade has a rather nasty bump on her head.
It's made her a little light-headed."
"Oh, that," Jade countered. "It doesn't sting nearly as much as the stitch in my side," she added. "I don't want your physician prodding at me. I won't have it."
"You will have it," Caine replied. "I promise you that he won't prod. I won't let him."
"I'm afraid it isn't possible to fetch Winters for your lady," Stems interjected. "He's gone missing."
"Winters is missing?"
"Over a month now," Sterns explained. "Should I send for another physician? Your mother turned to Sir Harwick when she couldn't locate Winters. I understand she was pleased with his services."