Nathan shrugged. "It isn't important how the truth was found out."
"The hell it isn't," Caine interjected.
"Do you believe Sara told her family?"
"She probably did," Nathan said.
"Why?" Jade asked.
"Why did she tell or why do I believe she told?" Nathan asked.
"Why do you believe she told?" Jade qualified. "And quit fencing with me, Nathan. I can see you're uncomfortable with this topic. I'm not going to let it go, so you might as well answer directly."
"Sara's a woman," Nathan said.
He realized the foolishness in that statement almost as soon as his sister did.
"I'm a woman," Jade said. "What does that have to do with the issue under discussion?"
"Yes, of course you're a woman," Nathan answered. "But you're different, Jade. You don't behave like one."
She didn't know if she'd just been insulted or complimented. She looked at her husband to judge his reaction.
Caine's expression showed his exasperation. "Nathan, haven't you learned anything about women in all the time you spent with Sara?"
"Caine, I don't condemn her," Nathan argued. "I'm still a little angry with her, but only because she wouldn't admit to me that she had told them. She shouldn't have lied to me. Still," he added, "she probably—"
"Let me guess," Caine interrupted. "She probably couldn't help herself."
"Your views about women are appalling," Jade said. "I had no idea you'd become so misdirected." She realized she'd raised her voice and forced herself to calm down when she asked, "Is it because she's a Winchester that you have so little faith in her?"
Caine let out a snort. "Isn't that a little like the pot calling the kettle black? If Nathan doesn't have any faith in his wife because of her background, she sure as hell shouldn't have any faith in him."
Nathan was becoming more uncomfortable with each question. His family was forcing him to reevaluate beliefs he'd held for years.
"Of course Sara has faith in me," he muttered. "As I said before, I don't condemn her."
"If you say again that she probably couldn't help herself, I do believe I will try to strangle you, Nathan," Jade announced.
Nathan shook his head. "These questions are pointless."
Nathan started to stand up, but Caine's next question stopped him. "What if she's innocent? Nathan, don't you realize what that means?"
It was more the tone of voice than the question itself that caught Nathan's attention. "What are you suggesting?" he asked.
"I'm suggesting that if you happen to be wrong about Sara, then someone else got hold of your father's file. And that means that someone got into the War Department, breached the inner sanctuary, and got into the vault. We could damn well be dealing with another traitor. England's most carefully guarded secrets are kept inside that safe. Nathan, your file's there, and so are Colin's and mine. We're all at risk."
"You're jumping to conclusions," Nathan announced.
"No, brother, you've jumped to conclusions," Jade whispered. "Caine, you must find out the truth as soon as possible."
"Damned right I will," Caine announced. He looked at Nathan again. "Sara told us she was going home. It was a contradiction, though. She said she wanted to see her mother, and then she was going home."
"She also told us that she'd disowned her family. I got the feeling that you were included in that remark, Nathan," Jade said.
Her brother was already striding toward the foyer. "If I have to tear apart the Winchester's townhouse from rafter to cellar, by God I will," he bellowed.
"I'm coming with you," Caine announced. "There might be more than one Winchester waiting to greet you."
"I don't need your help," Nathan replied.
"I don't care if you need it or not," Caine argued. "You're getting it."
"Damn it, I don't need anyone to fight my battles."
Caine wasn't deterred. "I'll let you fight the bigger battle all on your own, brother, but I'm going with you to the Winchesters'."
Sterns had just started down the stairs when Nathan bellowed, "What the hell are you talking about, Caine?"
The infant's wail of distress echoed throughout the foyer. Without breaking his stride Sterns turned around again and started back up the stairs.
"What's the bigger battle?" Nathan demanded to know as he opened the front door and started out.
Caine was right on his heels. "The battle to win Sara back," he answered.
A tremor of worry nagged Nathan. He pushed the feeling aside immediately. "Damn it, Caine, lower your voice. You're upsetting my godchild."
Caine suddenly wanted to throttle his brother-in-law. "Nathan, I hope Sara makes you suffer. If there's any justice in this world, she'll bring you to your knees before she ever forgives you."
Nathan didn't tear down the rafters of the Winchester residence, but he did break through a couple of locked doors. While Caine kept watch from the foyer Nathan quite methodically searched every room from top to bottom. Luck was on his side. Both the earl and his daughter Belinda were away from the townhouse, no doubt searching for Sara, Nathan surmised, and at least he didn't have to put up with their interference. It wouldn't have stopped him, of course, but it might have slowed him down a little.
Sara's mother stayed out of his path, too. The fragile-looking gray-haired woman hovered next to the fireplace inside the drawing room and simply waited until the marquess had finished his task.
Lady Victoria Winchester could have saved Nathan considerable time by simply telling him that Sara had paid a brief visit and had already left, but the marquess of St. James overwhelmed the timid woman, and she couldn't seem to find her courage or her voice.
Caine and Nathan were leaving when Sara's mother called out to them. "Sara was here, but she left a good twenty minutes ago."
Nathan had forgotten the woman was in the drawing room. He walked toward her but stopped in the center of the room when she cringed away from him. "Did she tell you where she was going?" he asked softly. He took another step forward, then stopped again. "Madam, I'm not going to harm you. I'm worried about Sara, and I would like to find her as soon as possible."
His gentle voice helped her regain her composure. "Why do you want to find her? She told me you don't care for her, sir."
"She's been telling me these past weeks that I do," he countered.
Sara's mother slowly shook her head. The sadness in her eyes was apparent. Superficially, she looked like her sister Nora, but Nora had a zest for life, while Sara's mother looked like a frightened, defeated woman.
"Why do you want to find Sara?"
"Why? Because she's my wife," Nathan replied.
"Is it true you only want Sara back so that you can have the king's gift? My Sara's determined to find a way for you to have both the land and the treasure, sir. But she doesn't want anything from you."
Tears filled the elderly woman's eyes. "You've destroyed her innocence, m'lord. She had such faith in you all these years. We have both wronged my Sara."
"Sara has always had kind words for you, madam," Nathan said. "She doesn't believe you've ever wronged her."
"I used to call her my little peacemaker," she said. "When she was older she often took up my battles for me. It was so much easier, you see."
"I don't understand," Nathan said. "What battles?"
"Just family squabbles," she answered. "My husband Winston often dragged his brother Henry into our personal disagreements. Sara put herself in front of me to weight the odds more equally."
Nathan shook his head. He decided that Sara's mother had a little spirit left inside her when she suddenly straightened her shoulders and frowned at him. "Sara deserves to find peace and joy for herself. She won't settle the way I did. She won't be coming back here, either. She's very disappointed in all of us."
"Madam, I have to find her."
His anguish got through to her. "You are worried about her, then? You do care, if only just a little?"
Nathan nodded. "Of course I'm worried. Sara needs me."
Lady Victoria actually smiled. "Perhaps you also need her," she remarked. "She told me she was going home," she added. "I assumed she meant she was returning to you. She said there were several details she needed to see to before she left London again."
"She isn't leaving London." Nathan made that statement in a hard voice.
Caine walked forward. "Could Sara have gone to your townhouse?" he asked his brother-in-law.
Nathan frowned at him. "I don't have a townhouse, remember? It was burned to the ground by a few of my father's associates."
Caine nodded. "Hell, Nathan, where else could she have gone? Where is your home?"
Nathan turned back to Sara's mother. "Thank you for giving me your help. I'll send word to you as soon as I've found Sara."
The woman got teary-eyed again. She reminded Nathan of Sara, and he smiled at her. He knew where his wife had inherited her trait for weeping at the slightest provocation.
She put her hand on Nathan's arm and walked by his side to the front door. "Since my Sara was a little girl she's loved you. Oh, she would only admit it to me, of course. The rest of the family would have ridiculed her. She was always given to fantasy. You were her knight in shining armor."
"He's getting more tarnished by the minute," Caine said.
Nathan ignored that insult. "Thank you again, Lady Winchester."
Caine was astonished by the tenderness in Nathan's voice. When he bowed formally to the elderly woman Caine did the same.
They were both out the door and halfway down the steps when Sara's mother whispered from behind, "His name is Grant. Luther Grant."
Both Caine and Nathan turned around. "What did you say?" Nathan asked.
"The man who found out about your father," Sara's mother explained. "His name is Luther Grant. He works as a guard, and my husband paid him handsomely to look into the files. That's all I chanced to overhear," she added. "Will it help you?"
Nathan was speechless. Caine nodded. "Thank you. It saves considerable time, I assure you."
"Why did you tell us?" Nathan asked.
"Because it was wrong. Winston went too far this time. My husband gets caught up in his greed, and he doesn't consider what his plans will do to others. I cannot let Sara be his scapegoat again. Please don't let anyone know I told you. It would be difficult for me."
Sara's mother closed the door before either man could give her his promise.
"She's terrified of her husband," Caine whispered. "It sickens me to see such sadness in her eyes. No woman should have to live her life in fear."
Nathan nodded. His mind wasn't on Sara's mother, though, and when he turned to Caine he couldn't hide his fear. "Where do I look for her now, Caine? Where could she have gone? My God, if anything happens to her, I don't know what I'll do. I've grown accustomed to having her around."
It was as close as Nathan was going to come to admitting the truth, Caine realized. He wondered then if his stubborn-headed brother-in-law knew he loved Sara.
"We'll find her, Nathan," he promised. "I think we should go back to the wharf first. Colin might have some news for us. One of the men might have spotted her."
Nathan grabbed at that thread of hope. He didn't say another word until he and Caine had reached their destination. His fear was tearing at his nerves. He couldn't seem to think straight.
It was sunset when they reached the waterfront. The streets were cast in orange shadows. Candles burned bright inside the Emerald Shipping office. As soon as Nathan and Caine walked inside Colin bounded to his feet so quickly that shooting pains radiated up his injured leg.
"Did anyone find Sara yet?" Caine asked his brother.
Colin nodded. "She found us," he said. His forehead was beaded with perspiration, and he was taking deep breaths in an attempt to ease the pain. Neither Caine nor Nathan remarked upon his obvious distress, for they both knew their sympathy would only irritate the proud man.
Nathan waited until Colin lost some of his grimace, then asked, "What do you mean, she found us?"
"Sara came back here."
"Then where the hell is she now?" Caine asked.
"She demanded to be taken home. Jimbo and Matthew escorted her. Sara's back on board the Seahawk."
Caine's sigh of relief filled the room. "So she considers the Seahawk her home, does she?"
The tightness inside Nathan's chest began to loosen up. He was so relieved to know that Sara was safe, he literally broke out in a cold sweat. He snatched the linen handkerchief Colin had pulled from his vest pocket and wiped his brow. "It's the only home we've shared," Nathan muttered in a low, gruff voice.
"I guess that means Sara isn't holding a grudge," Caine said. He leaned against the edge of the desk and grinned at his brother. "Pity, that. I was really looking forward to watching Nathan practice."
"Practice what?" Colin asked.
"Getting down on his knees."
Nathan couldn't stand the idle chitchat long. He had to get to Sara. He needed to see for himself that she was all right. It was the only way he would be able to calm his racing heartbeat. He had to know she was safe.
Without a word of farewell he left Colin and Caine and rowed out to the Seahawk. He was surprised to find that most of the crew had already boarded. The men traditionally spent the first night back in port getting drunk enough to fight anything that moved.
A portion of the crew stood guard on the three decks while the others took up their positions in the wardroom area. Some of the men had strung their hammocks up between the hooks in the ceiling and slept with their knives on their chests for the sake of readiness.
The hammocks were used only in foul weather or when it was too cold to sleep on deck. It was warm that day—exceedingly so, as a matter of fact—and Nathan knew the men were there solely for protective purposes. They were watching over their mistress.