"The War Office."
"I don't understand."
"I shall explain after Colin comes home," Jade answered. "Will you explain something to me before I continue to try and convince you?"
"What is it?" he asked, his tone weary.
"Do you happen to know why Colin would make me promise not to tell Caine he was alive? I've learned to trust your eldest son, and I don't understand the reason behind this promise. Colin was half out of his mind at the time, however, and perhaps his mumbling about the Bradley brothers wasn't. . ."
Caine's father bounded out of his chair again. "Colin is alive."
"Please lower your voice," she ordered. "No one must know."
"Why? I want to shout it to the heavens. My boy is alive."
"I see I've finally convinced you," she countered with a smile. "Please sit down, sir. You look faint to me."
She waited until he'd resumed his seat, then asked, "What was it that made you realize I was telling the truth?"
"When you said that Colin didn't want Caine to know . . ." He stammered to a stop, then whispered. "Lord, the Bradley brothers. I'd forgotten that incident."
Now it was her turn to look confused. "Why?" she asked, unable to keep the worry out of her voice. "Doesn't he trust his own brother?"
"Oh, no, you misunderstand," he replied. "Colin idolized Caine. I mean to say, he idolizes him. My God, this is difficult to take in."
"But if he idolizes Caine, why would he make me promise not to tell him? You've still to explain. And who, pray tell, are the Bradley brothers?"
The Duke of Williamshire let out a deep chuckle. "When Colin was just eight or nine years old, he came running home with a bloody nose and cut lip. Caine happened to be home. He demanded to know who'd done the damage, and as soon as Colin said that the Bradley brothers were responsible, Caine went charging out the door. Colin tried to stop him, of course. He hadn't told him the number of brothers, you see. A half hour later, Caine came home as bloody as his brother."
"How many brothers were there?" Jade asked.
"Good heavens, do you mean to say all eight brothers attacked Colin and . . ."
"No, only one went after Colin, a boy named Samuel if I remember correctly. Anyway, Samuel must have known Caine would retaliate, and he raced home to get his own reinforcements."
"Caine could have been killed," she whispered.
"Actually, my dear, your sympathy should be for the Bradley brothers. Caine was only going to put the fear of God into the boy who'd hurt Colin, but when they came at him in force, he gave them what for! My boy gave equal measure."
Jade shook her head. She didn't find the horrid story the least bit amusing. Yet Caine's father was smiling like a proud papa.
"And so you see, my dear, it isn't out of mistrust that Colin made you give your promise. It's just that Colin knows Caine very well. Colin must be thinking to protect Caine until he can explain the full situation to him. He doesn't want him charging into another group of Bradleys again. Of the two, Colin's always been the more cautious. Caine didn't know Colin was working for our government," he added. "As to that, I didn't know either. I never would have allowed it, especially when I learned that Sir Richards wasn't his superior."
"Richards," she whispered. "Yes, he was Caine's director, wasn't he?"
Caine's father looked surprised over that statement. "You've gathered quite a bit of pertinent information, haven't you? I cannot help but wonder how you came by it. Will you tell me who gave you such secrets?"
She was a little insulted by that question. "No one gave me anything," she said. "I found out on my own. I'm most resourceful, sir. My brother, Nathan, was helping Colin sort out a rather complex problem for the government. Someone didn't want them to succeed, however. A trap was set. The only reason
they're both still alive is that . . . Pagan became suspicious. The pirate was able to intervene in time."
"Does Colin know who is behind this treachery?"
She shook her head. "We only know that it's someone high up in the War Office. Nathan and Colin are safe only as long as they are believed dead. I cannot tell you anything more. When Colin returns . . ."
"Will you take me to see him?"
"He should be home in just a few more days, sir. He cannot stay here, of course, unless you've cleaned your house of the servants . . . the details will have to be worked out." She paused to smile at him. "I wonder if you'll recognize your son. His hair has grown way past his shoulders. Both he and Nathan
look like true pirates now."
"That must please Pagan."
"Oh, it pleases Pagan very much."
"Were their injuries severe?" he asked.
"They had been bound and gagged, then shot and tossed into the waters. Their enemies knew they weren't dead yet."
"They left them to drown."
"No, they left them for the sharks. The waters were infested with the predators and the fresh blood . . . drew their notice."
"My God . . ."
"The sharks didn't get them, though I will admit there were several close minutes. Pagan lost a good
man in the rescue."
"Pagan went into those waters with this other man?"
"Yes," she answered. "Pagan is the strongest swimmer. Besides, the pirate would never ask others what ... he could not do himself."
Jade started for the door, but was stopped by his next question. "Are you in love with my Colin?"
"Oh, heaven's no," she answered. She unlocked the door, then turned back to her new confidant.
"When we next meet, you must pretend not to know me. I'm keeping Caine occupied for the present.
As you know, he's determined to track down Pagan. The hunt has put him at risk, but that soon will be resolved."
"But Pagan wouldn't. .."
"Pagan's protecting Caine," she said. "The pirate has been blamed for killing Nathan and Colin. Your government put a price on his head. Caine, as you probably know, has doubled that amount. Now consider what would happen if Caine were able to find Pagan and talked to him before he . .."
"Pagan might be able to convince Caine he didn't kill Colin."
"Exactly," she replied. "Do you see? Whoever is behind this treachery wants to make certain Pagan isn't found."
"Or have Caine killed before he hunts down the truth."
"My God, Caine is at risk. I must. . ."
"Do nothing, sir," Jade announced. "As I've explained, Pagan is watching out for Caine."
"Good Lord, Pagan isn't our enemy," the Duke whispered. "I owe the man a debt I shall never be able
to repay. Dear lady, is there nothing I can do for you?"
"I must take care of Caine for now," she answered. "He's a very stubborn man, but a protector by
nature. He's occupied by thinking he's taking care of my problems now. When Colin comes home, then the three of you can decide what's to be done."
"Pagan sent you to Caine then?"
"Yes," she replied with a smile.
"Caine won't give up," he interjected. "I pray Colin returns soon."
"Don't worry so," Jade said. "If you tell Caine to quit his hunt, he'll only try harder to succeed. He's too determined to stop now."
"Then you must confide in him." "I cannot, sir. I have given my word to Colin. Besides, we've only a few more days before the truth is revealed."
"What if your brother and Colin are delayed?"
"Then we'll have to form a new plan," she announced with a nod.
"But what specifically . .."
"We'll have to find a way to take the prey away from the hunter. Caine will be furious, but he'll be alive.
I must consider this carefully," she added as she opened the door.
"When will I see you again? You mentioned that I must pretend not to know you, but. . ."
"Oh, I'm certain you'll see me again," she answered. "And there is one little thing you could do to repay me," she added. "You did say you would do anything," she reminded him.
"Caine is your eldest son and if there must be a favorite, then he should be the one."
The Duke was clearly astonished by her remarks. "I love all my children. 1 wasn't aware that I favored one above the others."
"Sir Harwick believes Colin is your favorite," she said. "He also said that Caine keeps himself separate from the family. Don't allow this to continue, sir. Caine needs your love. See that he gets it."
The door closed.
The Duke of Williamshire sat at his desk a long while before his legs felt strong enough to hold his weight. Tears of joy streamed down his cheeks. He said a prayer of thanksgiving for this miracle he'd just been given.
His Colin was alive.
Henry was suddenly ravenous. He went in search of breakfast. It was going to be difficult, for the Duke wasn't a man given to trickery, but he would have to control his smiles. None of his staff must suspect
the true reason for his recovery.
He felt reborn. It was as though someone had reached down into his lonely black abyss of despair and lifted him all the way up to the stars.
The young lady he now considered his savior had the most unusual green eyes. Pagan must have named his ship after the beautiful woman. The Emerald. Yes, he decided with a nod. He was also certain he now knew the pirate's true identity, but he vowed he'd go to his death before revealing that truth to anyone.
He wondered, though, what Caine would say when he found out that the woman he was sheltering was actually Pagan's little sister?
There'd be fireworks aplenty, and his only prayer now was that he'd be there to protect his savior when Caine's temper exploded.
The Duke of Williamshire was certain he had it all figured out.
He was filling his plate with a second helping of eggs and kidneys when his wife, Gweneth, came rushing into the dining room. "Cook told me you were eating," she stammered out.
The Duke turned to his wife, a soft smile on his face. Poor Gweneth looked rattled. Her short blond hair was in complete disarray and she couldn't seem to get the sash to her robe tied. "Why, Henry?" she asked, staring at him so intently.
"It's the usual custom each morning," he answered. "And I was hungry."
Her brown eyes filled with tears. "You were hungry?" she whispered.
Henry put his plate down on the side bar and walked over to his wife. He took her into his arms and kissed the top of her head. "I've given you quite a worry lately, haven't I, love?"
"But you're feeling better now?" she asked.
"I've been advised not to languish any longer," he stated.
"My conscience," he lied. "In time, Gweneth, I shall explain this sudden turnabout to you. For now, however, I can only say I'm sorry for all the worry I've caused you and the children. I've grieved long enough."
"It's a miracle," she whispered.
Yes, he thought to himself, a miracle with bewitching green eyes. "Come and have a bite to eat, my dear. You look a bit peaked to me."
"I looked peaked?" Her laughter was shaky. "You, my love, look like death."
He kissed her tenderly, then led her over to the table. "After I've cleaned up, I believe I'll ride over to Caine's place."
"He'll be stunned by your recovery," Gweneth announced. "Oh, Henry, it's so good to have you back with us."
"Would you like to ride over to see Caine with me?"
"Oh, yes, I'd like that," she answered. A determined gleam entered her eyes. "It isn't proper to have guests but I believe I'll invite Lady Aisely and her dear mother down for a long weekend. You must tell Caine we expect him to ... why are you shaking your head at me?"
"You might as well save yourself the effort, Gweneth. Give it up. Caine won't be marrying Lady Aisely."
"It's a sound match, Henry," she argued. "Give me two good reasons why I cannot encourage this union?"
"Very well," he answered. "One, she doesn't have red hair."
"Well, of course she doesn't have red hair. She has beautiful blond hair. You know that well enough."
"And two," he continued, ignoring her befuddled look. "She doesn't have green eyes."
"Henry, you aren't feeling altogether well yet, are you?"
Henry's laughter echoed throughout the dining room. "Caine needs an enchantress. You'll have to accept it, my dear."
"Accept what?" she asked.
His slow wink left her more puzzled than ever. "I believe, Gweneth, that your breakfast will have to wait a while longer. You must go back to bed at once."
"I must?" she asked. "Why?"
The Duke leaned forward and whispered into his wife's ear. When he was finished with his explanation, his wife blushed.
"Oh, Henry," she whispered. "You really are feeling better."
Jade returned to Caine's home a short time later. After handing the reins to Matthew, she rushed up the back steps to her bedroom. When she rounded the corner, she found Sterns standing like a centurian outside her bedroom door.
He did a double take when he spotted her. Then he folded his arms across his chest. "You're suppose
to be inside your bedroom, mi'lady."
She decided to take the offensive. She'd make him do the explaining. "And what are you suppose to be doing?"
"I'm guarding the door."
"So you won't leave."
"But I already left," she countered with a soft smile. "Sterns, I do believe your time is too valuable to be guarding an empty room."
"But mi'lady, I didn't know it was empty," he protested.
She patted him on his arm. "You may explain this to me later, sir. Now please move out of my way.
I really must change out of this riding garment and go help Caine."