"I'll get dressed and . . ."
"This will do," Caine announced. "Lyon, Jade's going to give us the files on the Williams."
"Do I have to repeat every word, Caine?" she asked. "It will take days."
"Start with just the pertinent facts," Richards suggested. "Lyon and I are going back to London tomorrow. We'll read the files from start to finish then."
Jade shrugged. "I'll start with Terrance then," she announced. "The dead one."
"Yes, the dead one," Lyon agreed. He leaned against the mantel and smiled encouragement.
Jade leaned back against the pillows and began her recitation.
Lyon and Richards were duly impressed. When they got over their initial astonishment, they took turns interrupting her to ask specific details on certain missions William Terrance was involved in.
She didn't finish with the file until two in the morning. She couldn't quit yawning either, a hint of the exhaustion she was feeling.
"It's time we all took to our beds," Sir Richards announced. "We'll start in again come morning."
The director was following Lyon and Nathan out of the room when Jade called out to him.
"Sir Richards? What if the William you're looking for isn't one of the three in the files?"
Richards turned back to her. "It's just a starting place, my dear," he explained. "Then we begin the cross-check, read through each and every file the superiors in every department kept. It will take time, yes, but we will persevere until we get to the bottom of this."
"There couldn't be a chance they're both dead now?" Jade asked.
She looked so hopeful, Richards hated to disappoint her. "I'm afraid not," he said. "Someone wants those letters, dear. At least one of the two remaining members of the Tribunal is still very much alive."
Jade was relieved to be alone with Caine again. She was exhausted, worried, too, and all she wanted was for him to take her into his arms and hold her close. She pulled back the covers for Caine, then patted the sheet.
"Goodnight, Jade," Caine said. He walked over to the bed, leaned down, and gave her a horribly chaste kiss, then blew out the candles on his way to the door. "Pleasant dreams, sweetheart."
The door closed. She was astonished he'd left her. He didn't want her any longer. The thought was so repugnant to her, she pushed it aside. He was just angry with her still because he'd had to chase after her again, she told herself... he was tired, too, she added with a nod. It had been a long, exhausting day.
Damn it, the man was suppose to be reliable.
She didn't have pleasant dreams. She was drowning in the blackness, could feel the monsters circling
her as she went down, down, down . . .
Her own whimpers awakened her. She instinctively turned to Caine, knowing he'd soothe away her terror.
He wasn't there. She was wide awake by the time she'd made that determination, and shaking so much she could barely get the covers out of her way.
She couldn't stay in bed, but went to the window and stared out at the starless night while she contemplated her bleak situation.
She didn't know how long she stood there, worrying and fretting, before she finally gave in. She was going to have to go to him.
Caine woke up as soon as the door opened. Since it was dark, he didn't have to hide his smile. "I don't know how to dance, Caine," she announced.
She slammed the door shut after making that statement, then walked over to his side of the bed. "You might as well know that right off. I can't do needlework, either."
He was resting on his back with his eyes closed. Jade stared at him a long minute, then prodded his shoulder. "Well?" she demanded.
Caine answered her by pulling the covers back. Jade pulled off her nightgown and fell into bed beside him. He immediately took her into his arms.
The shivers vanished. She felt safe again. Jade fell asleep waiting for Caine to answer her.
He woke her up a little past dawn to make love to her, and when he was done having his way with her and she having her way with him, she was too sleepy to talk to him. She fell asleep listening to him tell her how much he loved her.
The next time she was nudged awake, it was almost noon.
Caine was doing the nudging. He was fully dressed and sweetly demanding she open her eyes and wake up.
She refused to open her eyes, but tried to kick the covers away and make him come back to bed. Caine insisted on holding the covers up to her chin. She didn't understand why he was being so contrary until she finally opened her eyes and saw Sterns standing at the foot of her bed.
She took over the task of shielding her nakedness then. Jade could feel her face turning crimson. It
would be pointless to try to bluster her way through this embarrassment. "Oh, Sterns, now you're ashamed of me, aren't you?"
The question came out in a wail. Sterns immediately shook his head. "Of course not, mi'lady," he announced. "I'm certain my employer dragged you into his bed," he added with a nod in Caine's direction.
"By her hair, Sterns?" Caine asked dryly.
"I wouldn't put it past you, mi'lord."
"He did," Jade announced, deciding to let Caine take all the blame. "You mustn't tell anyone," she added.
Sterns' smile was gentle. "I'm afraid there isn't -anyone left to tell."
"Do you mean Sir Richards and Lyon know?"
When Sterns nodded, she turned to glare up at Caine. "You told them, didn't you? Why don't you just post that in the dailies too?"
"I didn't tell," Caine countered, his exasperation obvious. "You didn't shut your door when you . . ." He paused to look at Sterns, then said, "When I dragged you in here. They noticed the empty bed on their way downstairs."
She wanted to hide under the covers for the rest of the day.
"Jade? Why is my silver under my bed?"
"Ask Sterns," she said. "He put it there."
"It seemed an appropriate place, mi'lord," Sterns announced. "One of your guests, the big man with the gold tooth, certainly would have taken a liking to the silver. Mi'lady suggested a safe haven for the pieces once I'd explained their special meaning to you."
She thought he might thank her for saving his treasures. He laughed instead. "Come downstairs as soon
as you're dressed, Jade. Richards wants to start questioning you again."
Sterns didn't leave the room with his employer. "The Duchess has sent over several gowns belonging to one of her daughters. I believe the fit will be close, mi'lady."
"Why would she . . ."
"I requested the clothing," Sterns announced. "When I was unpacking your belongings, I couldn't help
but notice there were only two gowns."
She looked as though she were going to protest, but Sterns didn't give her time. "The selection is hanging in the wardrobe. Cook will act as your lady's maid. I shall go and fetch her immediately."
It wouldn't do her any good to argue with him. Sterns had turned from butler to commander. He selected the garment she'd wear, too鈥攁 deep, ivory-colored gown with lace-embroidered cuffs. The gown was so elegant looking, Jade couldn't resist.
There were undergarments as well. Though Sterns didn't make mention of them, he put the silk treasures on the foot of her bed, next to the thin-as-air stockings and matching ivory-colored shoes.
Jade was washed and dressed in the finery a scant fifteen minutes later. She sat in a straight-backed chair while Cook pulled on her hair. The elderly woman was tall and rotund. Her salt and pepper hair had been clipped into short, bobbing curls. She attacked Jade's hair as if it were a side of beef. Still, Jade would have put up with the mild discomfort for the rest of the day if it would put off having to face Lyon and Sir Richards again.
The meeting couldn't be avoided, however. "You're a looker, you are," the servant announced when she'd finished her task. She held up a hand mirror and gave it to Jade. "It's a simple braid, but those little wisps of curls along the sides of your face soften the look. I would have put it up in clusters atop your head, mi'lady, but I fear the weight would have toppled you over."
"Thank you so much," Jade replied. "You've done a splendid job."
Cook nodded, then hurried back downstairs. The meeting couldn't be avoided any longer. Caine would only come and fetch her if she stayed closeted in his room. When Jade opened the door, she was surprised and irritated to find two guards in the hallway. Both men looked a little undone by the sight of her. Then one stammered out what a fair picture she was. The other blurted out that she looked just like
Both guards followed her downstairs. The dining room doors were closed. The bigger of the two men rushed ahead to see them opened for her. Jade thanked the man for his consideration, then straightened her shoulders and walked inside.
Everyone was seated at the long table, including Sterns. And everyone, including the rascal butler, was staring at her.
All but Colin stood up when she entered the room. Jade kept her gaze on Caine. When he moved to pull out the chair adjacent to his, she slowly walked over to his side.
He leaned down and kissed her brow. Nathan broke the horrid silence. "Get your hands off her, Caine."
"My hands aren't on her, Nathan," Caine drawled out. "My mouth is." He kissed Jade again just to goad her brother. Jade fell into the chair with a sigh.
Sterns saw to her breakfast while the men continued their discussion. Sir Richards sat at one end of the long table, Caine at the other. When her plate had been taken away, Sir Richards called everyone to attention. She realized then that they had all been waiting for her. "My dear, we've decided that you must come to London with us," Sir Richards announced. "We'll keep the security tight," he added with
a glance in Caine's direction.
Richards then pulled the pen and ink well close. "I'd like to make a few notes while I question you," he explained.
"Sir? Why must I come to London?" Jade asked.
The director looked a little sheepish now. Lyon, Jade noticed, was grinning.
"Well, now," Richards began. "We need to get in the file room. If I request the keys during working hours, my name will have to go into the entry book."
"They want to go during the night," Colin interjected. "Without keys."
"You did say you'd broken into the building once and read the files," Richards reminded her.
"Three times," Jade interjected.
Sir Richards looked as if he wanted to cry. "Is our security so puny then?" he asked Lyon.
"Apparently," Lyon returned.
"Oh, no," Jade said. "The security is very good."
"Then how . . ." Richards began.
Caine answered. "She's better than good, Richards."
Jade blushed over the compliment. "Sir Richards, I understand your need for secrecy. You don't want
the Tribunal knowing you're hunting them, but I believe they probably know already. They've sent men here. Surely they saw you and Lyon arrive and reported back . . ."
"No one who was sent by the Tribunal has returned to report to anyone," Lyon explained.
"But how . . ."
"Caine took care of them."
Jade's eyes widened over Lyon's statement. He sounded so certain. She turned to look at Caine. "How did you take care of them?"
Caine shook his head at Lyon when he thought his friend might explain. "You don't need to know," he told Jade.
"You didn't kill them, did you?" she whispered.
She looked frightened.
Jade nodded, then turned to look at Lyon again. She noticed his exasperated expression but decided to ignore it. "He didn't kill them," she announced. "Caine doesn't do that sort of thing any longer. He's retired."
She seemed to want Lyon's agreement. He nodded, then knew his guess had been correct when she smiled at him.
"Jade?" Colin asked, drawing her attention. "You can stay with Christina and Lyon when you reach London. Caine will stay in his town house, of course . . ."
"No," Caine interrupted. "She stays with me."
"Think of the scandal," Colin argued.
"It's almost summer, Colin," Caine countered. "Most of the ton is away from London now."
"It only takes one witness," Colin muttered.
"I've said no, Colin. She stays with me."
His hard voice didn't suggest his brother continue the argument. Colin sighed, then reluctantly nodded agreement.
Jade wasn't certain she understood. "What did you mean by one witness?"
Colin explained. Jade looked appalled by the time he'd finished telling her the damage that could be done by one malicious gossiper. Sterns sat down next to Jade, patted her hand, and said, "Do look on the bright side, mi'lady. Mi'lord won't have to post it in the dailies now."
She turned to glare him into silence. Sterns couldn't be intimidated, though. He squeezed her hand.
"Do not fret, dear lady. It has all been arranged."
She didn't know what he was talking about but his grin suggested he was up to something. Sterns turned her attention, however, by arrogantly motioning to his empty tea cup. She immediately went to fetch a fresh urn.
As soon as she'd left the room, Sterns turned to Caine. "Your guests should be arriving in half an hour's time."
"Guests? We can't be having any bloody guests," Colin bellowed.
Nathan nodded. "Damned right we can't. Caine, are you out of your mind to invite
Caine was staring at Sterns. "I didn't invite anyone," he said. A hint of a smile turned his expression. "Why don't you tell us who these guests are, Sterns?"
Everyone was staring at the elderly man as though he'd just grown another head. "I have taken the liberty of inviting your parents, Jade's uncle and cohorts, and one additional guest."
"What the hell for?" Nathan demanded.
Sterns turned to smile at him. "The ceremony, of course."
Everyone turned to look at Caine. His expression didn't tell them anything.
"The license, Sterns?" Caine asked in a blase tone of voice.
"Secured the day after you signed the request," Sterns answered.
"Isn't this man your butler, Caine?" Sir Richards asked.