she did. She liked their evenings most of all. Sterns would light a fire in the hearth in Caine's study, and the three of them would read in companionable silence.
Over the years, Sterns had actually become Caine's substitute father. Jade learned that the servant had been with Caine's family from the time of Caine's birth. When Caine established his own residence, Sterns had followed.
Sterns did let her know he was aware of the new sleeping arrangements. While she blushed with mortification, he announced that he certainly wasn't judgmental. He also added that he hadn't seen
Caine so carefree in a good long while. Jade, he decreed, had lightened the Marquess's mood.
A messenger arrived from Caine's mother, requesting his aid in pulling his father out of his present dire circumstances.
Caine immediately went to visit his father, but when he returned some two hours later, he was in a foul mood. His talk with his father had come to little good.
That night, after Caine had fallen asleep, Jade met with Matthew and Jimbo to give them new orders.
Matthew was waiting for her just a few feet behind the cover of the trees. The seaman was tall, reed thin, and had skin as dark as a panther's. He had the personality to match the magnificent beast, but only when he was riled. He also had an easy smile that could be quite dazzling when he was in the mood to give it.
Matthew wasn't smiling now. He had his arms crossed in front of his chest and was scowling at her just like a man who'd found a thief rummaging through his drawers.
"Why are you frowning so, Matthew?" she asked in a bare whisper.
"I saw Him standing at the window with you the other night, girl," Matthew grumbled. "Has that dandy been touching you?"
Jade didn't want to lie, but she wasn't about to share the truth with her trusted friend, either. "I was injured," she replied. "Now don't give me that look, Matthew. I took a pistol shot in my side. It was a paltry wound. Caine was . . . concerned and he stayed in my chambers that night, watching out for me."
"Black Harry's going to feed my arse to the sharks when he hears ..."
"Matthew, you aren't going to tell Harry anything," she interjected.
The seaman wasn't at all intimidated by her angry tone. "You got yourself a sassy mouth," he replied.
"I seen the fancy man put his arm around you when you were walking to the front door that first day, and I will be telling Harry. That's a fact you can start cringing over now. Jimbo wanted to put a knife in his back. Only reason he didn't is because he knew you'd be put out with him."
"Yes, 1 would be put out," she answered. "No one's going to touch a hair on Caine's head or he'll answer to me. Now quit frowning, Matthew. We have an important issue to discuss."
Matthew didn't want to let go of their topic. "But is he giving you real trouble?"
"No, he isn't giving me any trouble," she replied. "Matthew, you know I can take care of myself. Please have more faith in me."
Matthew was immediately contrite. He didn't want his mistress to be disappointed in him. "Of course I know you can take care of yourself," he rushed out. "But you don't know your own appeal. You're too pretty for your own good. I'm thinking now Jimbo and Harry were right. We should have cut your face when you was a youngster."
She knew from the sparkle in his handsome brown eyes that he was jesting with her. "None of you would have dared to harm me," she countered. "We're family, Matthew, and you love me as much as I love you."
"You're nothing but a puny brat," came another deep voice. Jade turned toward the sound and watched her friend, Jimbo, silently move to stand directly in front of her. Jimbo's frown matched his giant's size. Like Matthew, he was also dressed in drab brown peasant garb, for brighter colors could easily be
spotted through the branches.
In the moonlight, Jimbo's frown looked fierce. "Matthew told me the dandy touched you. I could kill
him, just for that. No one's . . ."
"You're both underestimating Caine if you think he'll easily let you put your knives in him," she interjected.
"I'm betting he's as puny as Colin," Jimbo argued.
Jade let him see how exasperated she was with him. "You haven't seen Colin in quite some time and he was half out of his mind because of his injuries then. He's probably as fit as ever now. Besides, you've made a serious miscalculation if you believe either brother is weak. Remember, Jimbo, I was the one who read Caine's file. I know what I'm talking about."
"If the man's got blood, he can bleed," Matthew pronounced.
Neither seaman seemed affected by her frown. Jade let out a sigh of frustration.
She turned to Matthew and said, "I must go and have a little chat with Caine's father. You must keep Caine occupied with a diversion while I'm away."
"I don't see any need for you to talk to Caine's father," Matthew protested. "Colin and Nathan are bound to show up any time now."
"The way they're dawdling? No, I dare not wait any longer. Caine's father might very well be on his death bed now. He isn't eating or sleeping. I can't let him die."
"I can see you got your mind set," Matthew muttered. "What kind of a diversion are you thinking of?"
"I'll leave that in your capable hands," Jade countered.
"When you want it done?" Jimbo asked.
"Tomorrow," she answered. "As early as possible."
Jade finally went back to her bed, content with the knowledge that Matthew and Jimbo wouldn't let her down.
The diversion began just bare minutes before dawn the following morning.
She realized then that she should have been more specific with her instructions. And when this was over, she was going to have Matthew's hide. His capable hands, indeed. The man had set the stables on fire. Fortunately, he'd had enough sense to let the horses out first.
Caine was occupied, she'd give Matthew that much credit. The horses were running wild. Three were about ready to drop their foals, and every hand was needed to squelch the spreading fire and chase the animals down.
She pretended to be asleep until Caine left the room.
Then she dressed in quick time and slipped out the back way. Caine had posted guards around the perimeter, but in the chaos, she was easily able to sneak past.
"Jimbo just left for Shallow's Wharf," Matthew told Jade as he assisted her onto the mount he'd chosen for her. "He should be back by sunset tomorrow with word for us. If the winds are strong, don't you suppose Nathan will be here soon? And are you certain you don't want me riding along with you?"
"I'm certain I want you to keep your guard on Caine's back," she replied. "He's the one in danger. I'll be back in an hour. And Matthew? Don't set anything else on fire while I'm gone."
Matthew gave her a wide grin. "It did the trick, didn't it now?"
"Aye, Matthew," she answered, not wishing to injure his pride. "It did do the trick."
She left Matthew smiling after her and arrived at her destination a half hour later. After leaving her horse in the woods adjacent to the property line, she quickly made her way to the front door. The house was monstrous, but the lock was puny by any thief's standards. Jade had it unlatched in bare minutes. There was enough light filtering through the windows for her to make her way up the winding staircase. Sounds radiated from the back of the house, indicating that the kitchen staff was already at work.
Jade was as quiet as a cat as she looked into each of the numerous bedrooms. The Duke of Williamshire couldn't be found in any of them, however. She had assumed he'd be occupying the largest bedchamber, but that giant's room was empty. A blond-headed, rather attractive elderly woman who snored like a sailor occupied the adjacent bedchamber. Jade guessed the woman was the Duchess.
At the end of the long corridor in the south wing, she found the library. It was an out-of-the-way, unusual place to house the study. Caine's father was inside. He was sound asleep in his chair behind the mahogany desk.
After locking the door against intruders, Jade studied the handsome man for a long while. He was very distinguished looking with silver-tipped hair, high, patrician cheekbones, and an angular face very similar to Caine's. There were deep circles under his eyes. The color of his skin was sallow. Even in sleep he looked as though he was in torment.
Jade couldn't decide if she should blister him with a stern lecture or apologize for causing him such needless pain.
Her heart went out to him, though. He reminded her of Caine, of course, though the father certainly wasn't as muscular. He certainly had the height, however. When she touched his shoulder, he came awake with a start and bounded out of his chair with a quickness that surprised her.
"Please don't be alarmed, sir," she whispered. "I didn't mean to startle you."
"You didn't?" he asked, imitating her low tone of voice.
The Duke of Williamshire slowly regained his composure. He ran his fingers through his hair, then shook his head in an attempt to clear his mind.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"It doesn't matter who I am, sir," she answered. "Please sit down, for I have important information to share with you."
She patiently waited until he'd obeyed her request, then leaned against the edge of the desktop close to his side. "This grieving must stop. You've made yourself ill."
He still looked confused to her. She noticed, too, that the color of his eyes was the exact shade of gray as Caine's. His frown was similar as well.
"I said that you must stop grieving," she stated again. "Sir Harwick thinks you might well be dying. If you don't stop this nonsense . . ."
"Now see here, young lady .. ."
"Do not raise your voice to me," she interjected.
"Who in God's name are you? And how did you get into . .."
The bluster went out of him and he slowly shook his head.
Jade thought he seemed more incredulous than angry. She decided that was a good beginning.
"Sir, I simply don't have time for a lengthy discussion. First, you must give me your promise that you'll never tell anyone about our conversation. Do you give me your word?"
"You have it," he replied.
"Good. Now, I believe I must apologize to you, though in truth I'm no good at it. I hate apologizing to anyone." She shrugged, then added, "I'm sorry I didn't come to you sooner. You've been caused needless grief, and I really could have spared you. Do you forgive me?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about, but if it will make you happy, I shall forgive you. Now tell me what it is you want from me."
"Your bark, sir, is just as irritating as your son's."
"And which son is that?" he asked, a hint of a smile coming into his eyes.
"Is this visitation concerning Caine? Has he done something to offend you? You might as well know
now that Caine's his own man. I won't interfere unless there's real cause."
"No," Jade answered. "This isn't about Caine, though I'm happy to know you have such faith in your eldest son's ability to make his own decisions. By not interfering, you show your pride in your son."
"Then who is it you wish to discuss?" he asked.
"I'm a friend of Colin's."
"You knew him?"
She nodded. "I know him, yes. You see, he's . .."
"Dead," he interjected, his tone harsh. "Pagan killed him."
Jade reached out and put her hand on his shoulder. "Look at me, please," she commanded in a soft whisper when he turned his gaze toward the windows.
When Caine's father did as she ordered, she nodded. "What I am about to tell you will be difficult for you to believe. First, understand this. I have proof."
She nodded again. "Pagan didn't kill Colin."
"I'm sick of hearing about Pagan's sins," she muttered. "Colin . . ."
"Did Pagan send you to me?"
"Please lower your voice," she returned. "Pagan didn't kill your son," she repeated. "He saved him. Colin's very much alive."
A long minute elapsed before the Duke reacted. His face slowly turned a blotchy shade of red while he stared at her. His eyes turned so cold, she thought he might cause frostbite.
Before he could shout at her again, she said, "I told you I had proof. Are you willing to listen to me or
is your mind so set . . ."
"I will listen," he returned. "Though if this be some sort of cruel jest, I swear I'll hunt Pagan down
myself and kill him with my bare hands."
"That is a fair exchange for such cruelty," she agreed. "Do you remember the time when Colin had climbed up a giant tree and couldn't get down? He was four or five years old then. Because he was
crying and feeling very cowardly, you promised him you'd never tell anyone. You also convinced him
that it was quite all right to be afraid, that fear was not a sin, that. . ."
"I remember," the Duke whispered. "I never did te' anyone. How did you . . ."
"As I just said, Colin told me that story. Many others, too."
"He could have told you these stories before he was killed," the Duke stated.
"Yes, he could have, but he didn't. Pagan fished Colin out of the ocean. Your son was in sorry shape.
Do you know the physician, Sir Winters?"
"He's my personal physician," the Duke muttered.
"Don't you think it odd that he disappeared?"
The anger was slowly easing away from the elderly man's expression. "I do think that odd," he admitted.
"We took him," Jade explained. "He was needed to tend to Colin. I thought it important that your son have his family physician. He was in terrible pain, sir, and I wanted him to have as many familiar comforts as possible."
Jade nibbled on her lower lip while she contemplated another way to convince him. He still looked disbelieving to her. "Colin has a birthmark on his backside," she suddenly blurted out. "I know because
I took care of him until Jimbo and Matthew could take Winters captive. There! Is that proof enough for you?"
In answer to that question, the Duke slowly leaned back in his chair. "Proof was sent of Colin's death."