and was probably weeping all over her son.

Colin's safety wasn't her concern any longer. She'd finished her task, she told herself. It was over now, finished.

Jimbo and Matthew were waiting for her in the hallway. Jimbo handed her the farewell gift she'd asked Harry to have him fetch.

"We'll be going with you, won't we?" Matthew asked, his voice a low whisper.

Jade nodded. "I'll meet you out back."

"I'll get Caine's horses ready for the ride," Jimbo whispered.

"A man can get himself hung for stealing a horse," Matthew interjected. His wide grin indicated he thought that was quite all right.

"Caine won't tell anyone," Jimbo argued. He took hold of Jade's satchel and started after his friend.

"It's a shame, that. How we ever going to keep up appearances if no one . . ."

His sentence faded away as he turned the corner. Jade immediately went to Caine's bedroom. She placed the long-stemmed white rose on his coverlet. "I am Pagan," she whispered.

It was done. She turned to leave, then spotted Caine's black robe draped over the back of a chair near

the window. On impulse she folded the garment and tucked it under her arm. His scent was on the robe, faint, but there still, and she wanted something to hold during the nights ahead, during the dark nightmares, to comfort her.

It was time to leave.

Both Caine and Nathan thought Jade was resting in her room. Caine had wanted to chase after her, but Nathan convinced him that his sister needed time alone to calm her temper.

"You might not have noticed yet, Caine, but Jade isn't one to take orders easily," Nathan explained.

Since Caine had more than noticed this, he didn't bother to comment.

The talk then turned to the problems at hand. Harry was dragged away from his inventory to add his suggestions. Jade's uncle had a quick mind. Caine watched him closely and came to a remarkable conclusion. Harry was civilized. He naturally kept that discovery to himself, for he guessed Harry

would take grave exception to being confronted with the truth.

Uncle Harry did grumble about the fact that he was going to have to burn a ship. "It's a waste of good timber," he muttered. "Still, it could be worse. I might have to be burning my lovely Emerald," he added. "Aye, it could be worse. I'd just as soon put a stake through me heart than damage my baby's ship. The Emerald's been home to Jade and me all these many years."

Before Caine could comment on Harry's remarks, the uncle surprised him by adding that he was in full agreement that his baby get out of her present line of work.

A good two hours passed before their plans were set to everyone's satisfaction. Harry strolled back into the dining room.

"He's bent on eating you out of house and home," Nathan drawled out. "He'll steal you blind, too," he added with a grin. "Harry likes to keep up appearances."

"He can have whatever he wants," Caine returned. "Jade's had quite enough time to calm her temper, Nathan. It's high time your sister and I had our talk."

"If you lecture her, you'll only . . ."

"I'm not going to lecture her," Caine replied. "I'm simply going to tell her what my expectations are."

"Sounds like a lecture to me," Nathan drawled out.

Both Nathan and Caine walked into the foyer just as the Duchess was coming down the winding staircase. Both men stopped to watch her. Caine's stepmother was smiling, but also dabbing at the corners of her eyes with her lace handkerchief. She'd obviously had quite a good cry.

Gweneth almost lost her balance when she spotted Nathan. She grasped the banister and let out a soft gasp of surprise. She quickly regained her composure, however, and continued down the steps. When

she reached the foyer, she moved to Caine's side. "Is he the pirate friend of Colin's?" she whispered.

Nathan heard her. "I'm not the pirate, Pagan, madam, but I am a friend of your son's."

Nathan assumed his voice had been a little too harsh for her liking when she grabbed hold of Caine's arm and moved closer to his side. Her dark brown eyes widened, too, but she valiantly held her smile.

"You look very like a pirate," she announced. She adjusted the folds of her pink gown as she waited for his reply.

"Have you seen many, madam?" Caine asked.

"No, I've never seen a pirate," she confessed. "Though this gentleman certainly fits the picture of one in my mind. I believe it's because of the length of his hair," she explained after turning back to look at Nathan. "And the scar on your arm, of course."

"He's also covered with blood," Caine drawled out.

"That, too," his stepmother admitted.

He'd meant the remark as a jest, but her expression had become so solemn, he knew she didn't understand he was teasing her. "Pirates do like to brawl," she added with a nod.

"Madam, didn't Colin explain that. . ." Caine began.

"My son insists upon keeping Pagan's true identity a secret," she interrupted. "Still, I'm not completely obtuse," she added with a meaningful glance in Nathan's direction. "I've been around the corner once or twice. I know who Pagan is," she added with a nod. "Henry also knows."

"Henry?" Nathan asked. "My father," Caine explained. "Henry's never wrong, dear."

She'd made that statement to Nathan. He found himself nodding in agreement. "Then I must be Pagan," he announced with a grin. "If Henry's never wrong."

She smiled over his easy acceptance. "Do not worry, sir, for I shall guard your secret. Now where is that lovely young lady I was so horribly rude to, Caine?"

"You're never rude, madam," Caine interjected. "I didn't properly introduce myself," she argued. "Now where is she?"

"Upstairs, resting," Nathan answered. "Why do you ask?"

"You know perfectly well why," she answered. Her exasperation was obvious. "I do?" Nathan asked.

"I must apologize for my behavior, of course, but also I must thank her for all she's done for this family." "Nathan is Jade's brother," Caine said. "I knew that," she answered. "His green eyes gave him away, of course."

The Duchess walked over to the man she believed was the infamous pirate. "Lean down, dear boy. I must give you a kiss for being such a loyal friend."

Nathan was a bit disconcerted. Caine's stepmother had sounded like a commander when she gave her order. He suddenly felt as awkward as a schoolboy and didn't have the faintest idea why. He did, however, do as she asked. The Duchess kissed Nathan on both cheekbones. "You need to wash that blood away, my dear. Then Henry will give you a proper welcome into the family."

"Will he kiss him, too, madam?" Caine drawled out. He was thoroughly enjoying Nathan's obvious discomfort. "Of course not," his stepmother answered.

"Why would he want to welcome me into the family?" Nathan asked.

The Duchess smiled, yet didn't bother to explain herself. She turned back to Caine. "I should have realized Lady Aisely wasn't going to do."

"Who is Lady Aisely?" Nathan asked, trying to catch the drift of this conversation.

"A ball of fluff," Caine answered.

The Duchess ignored that insult. "Henry realized right off. The green eyes, you see. And the red hair, of course." She patted her blond curls and looked over her shoulder at Nathan. "Henry's never wrong."

Nathan found himself agreeing once again with the woman. He still didn't have a clue as to what she was babbling about, but he found her loyalty to her husband quite honorable.

"Henry's infallible." Caine said what Nathan was thinking.

"My baby's terribly weak," the Duchess remarked. "And as thin as a reed." She started toward the dining room. "I'm going to find Sterns. Colin needs a good hot meal."

Because Caine was in a hurry to get to Jade, he forgot all about Harry and his men. Nathan was more astute. He thought about warning Caine, or mentioning the guests to his mother, then decided he'd just wait and see what happened. Besides, Caine was already halfway up the stairs, and the Duchess had already turned the corner.

Nathan started counting. He'd only reached the number five when a shrill scream filled the air.

The noise stopped Caine. He turned around and found Nathan lounging against the door frame again, grinning broadly.

"What the . . ." Caine began.

"Harry," Nathan drawled out.

"Hell," Caine returned as he started back down the stairs. "Harry."

The Duchess was screaming like a wild woman now. "Damn it, Nathan," Caine roared. "You could have reminded me."

"Yes," Nathan replied. "I could have."

Just as Caine reached the bottom step, his father appeared at the top. "What in God's name is going on?" he shouted. "Who is making all that noise?"

Nathan answered before Caine could. "Your wife, sir."

Caine paused to glare at Nathan, then turned to his father again. He was torn between going to his stepmother's assistance, and preventing his father from doing murder.

The chilling look in his father's eyes convinced him to handle him first. There was also the fact that even though Harry was probably scaring the Duchess out of her wits, Caine knew he wouldn't really hurt her.

Caine grabbed hold of his father's arm when he reached him. "Father, it's quite all right, really."

Henry didn't look at all convinced. "Your wife has just met Black Harry," Nathan interjected.

Caine's father pulled away from his son's grasp just as the dining room doors bounded open. Everyone turned to watch the unsavory-looking men filing past.

Black Harry was the last in the procession. He was dragging the Duchess in his wake.

Nathan started laughing. Caine shook his head. The Duke's full attention, however, was centered on the giant of a man with the gleaming gold tooth who was now swaggering toward the front door. A large

silver bowl was tucked under the man's arm.

Henry let out a roar and started forward. Both Nathan and Caine blocked his path. "Father, let me take care of this, please," Caine asked.

"Then tell him to unhand my wife!" his father bellowed. "Henry, do something," Gweneth cried out. "This . . . man believes I'm going with him."

Nathan took a step forward. "Now, Harry, you can't be taking . . ."

"Get out of my way, son," Caine's father snapped.

"Father, Harry's a friend," Caine countered. "He's Jade's uncle. You owe this man a debt for helping

with Colin."

Henry paused to give his son an incredulous look. "And Gweneth is payment for this debt?"

"Let me handle this matter," Caine demanded once again.

Before his father could argue with him, Caine turned. "Harry," he called out.

Black Harry whirled around and hauled the Duchess up against his side. Caine noticed his grim expression, of course, but also the definite sparkle in his eyes. Appearances, he thought to himself.

And pride. Both needed to be upheld.

"I'll be taking her with me," Harry announced to his audience. His men nodded their agreement.

"Caine would want me to have her."

"No," Caine replied. "I don't want you to have her."

"You being inhospitable, boy?"

"Harry, it isn't possible for you to take her."

"It's a fair exchange," Harry stated. "You're determined to have my girl, now aren't you?"

Caine nodded. "I am."

"Then I'm taking this one," Harry countered.

"Harry, she's already taken," Caine argued. He turned to his stepmother then and said, "Madam, please quit shouting. It's difficult enough to negotiate with this stubborn pirate. Nathan? If you don't quit laughing, I'm going to bloody your nose again."

"What's this woman to you, Caine?" Harry asked. "You just called her madam. Now what the hell does that mean?"

"She's my father's wife."

"But she ain't your mama?"

"She's my stepmother," Caine qualified. "Then it shouldn't matter to you if I take her or not." Caine wondered what Harry's real game was. "She has been like a mother to me," he said.

Harry frowned, then turned to his pretty captive. "Do you call him son?"

The Duchess lost her outraged expression and slowly shook her head. "I didn't believe he would wish

me to call him son," she answered.

"He ain't your favorite," Harry announced.

The Duke of Williamshire quit trying to get past Caine. His stance became relaxed. A hint of a smile turned his expression. He understood at last what this was all about, for he remembered Jade's instructions about loving his children equally. She must have mentioned her concern to Harry.

"I don't have a favorite child," Gweneth cried out. "I love all my children."

"But he ain't yours."

"Well, of course he's mine," she snapped.

The Duchess didn't look frightened now, only furious. "How dare you suggest..."

"Well now, if you'd call him son," Harry drawled out, "and if he called you mother, then I couldn't be taking you with me."

"For heaven's sake, Gweneth, call Caine son!" Henry roared, trying to pretend outrage. He was so pleased inside over this surprising development, he wanted to laugh.

"Son," Gweneth blurted out.

"Yes, Mother?" Caine answered. He was looking at Harry, waiting for his next rebuttal.

Harry let go of his hostage. His chuckle was deep as he turned and walked out the doorway.

While Gweneth threw herself into her husband's arms, Caine followed Harry outside. "All right, Harry, what was that all about?"

"My reputation," Harry drawled out after his men had taken their leave. "I'm a pirate, if you'll remember."

"What else?" Caine asked, sensing there was more to tell.

"My girl worried about Colin being the favorite," Harry finally admitted.

Caine was astonished by that statement. "Where did she get that idea?"

Harry shrugged. "Don't matter where she got it," he replied. "I don't want her worrying, no matter what the niggly reason be. You're going to have to ask me for her, you know. You'll have to do it proper, too, in front of me men. It's the only way you're going to be getting her, son." He paused to grin at Caine, then added, "Course you're going to have to find her first."