From Chapter One
"Holy Mother of God," Monk whispered. "You cannot be serious, dear lady."
She didn't take her gaze away from Caine when she answered the tavernkeeper. "I'm very serious, my good man. Do you think I would have ventured out into this part of town in the middle of the night if I weren't serious?"
Caine answered her question. "I think you've lost your mind."
"No," she replied. "It would be much easier if I had."
"I see," Caine said. He was trying to keep his temper controlled, but the urge to shout at her made his throat ache. "When would you like this...this...?"
"Yes, task," Caine asked. "When would you like this task done?"
"If it's convenient, mi'lord."
"If it's convenient?"
"Oh, dear, I'm so sorry," she whispered. "I didn't mean to upset you."
"Why do you think you've upset me?"
"Because you're shouting at me."
He realized she was right. He had been shouting. Caine let out a long sigh. For the first time in a good long while, his composure was completely shattered. He excused his shameful condition by telling himself that anyone with half a mind would have been caught off guard by such an outrageous request. She looked so sincere and appeared to be terribly fragile, too. Hell, the woman had freckles on the bridge of her nose, for God's sake. She should be home under lock and key with her loving family protecting her, not standing in this seedy tavern calmly discussing her own murder.
"I can see how distressed I've made you," she said. "I really do apologize, Pagan. Have you never killed a woman before?" she asked. Her voice was filled with sympathy.
She looked as if she felt sorry for him now. "No, I've never killed a woman before," he grated out. "But there's always a first time for everything, now isn't there?"
He'd meant the comment to be sarcastic. She took it to heart. "That's the spirit," she rushed out. She actually smiled at him then. "It really shouldn't be too difficult for you. I'll help, of course."
He wanted to throw his head down on the table. "You're willing to help?" he strangled out.
"You have lost your mind."
"No, I haven't," she countered. "But I'm very desperate. This task must be done as soon as possible. Do you think you could hurry and finish your drink?"
"Why must it be done so soon?" he asked.
"Because they're going to come for me sometime soon, perhaps even yet tonight. I'm going to die, Pagan, by their hand or yours, and I'd really rather determine my own end. Surely you can understand that."
"Then why don't you just kill yourself?" Monk blurted out. "Wouldn't that be much easier than hiring someone else?"
"For God's sake, Monk, don't encourage her."
"I'm not trying to encourage her," Monk rushed out. "I'm just trying to understand why such a pretty would want to die."
"Oh, I could never kill myself," she explained. "It would be a sin. Someone else has to do it. Don't you see?"
Caine had taken about all he could handle for one evening. He bounded to his feet, upsetting the chair in his haste, then planted the palms of his big hands on the tabletop. "No, I don't see, but I promise you I'm going to before this night is over. We're going to start at the beginning. First you'll begin by telling me your name."
"It's a little rule I have," he snapped. "I don't kill anyone I don't know. Now tell me your name."
"It's a stupid rule."
"Damn it, I want your real name!" he commanded in a near roar.
"Damn it, that is my real name," she replied. She had a thoroughly disgruntled look on her face.
"You're serious, aren't you?"
"Of course, I'm serious. Jade is my name," she added with a shrug.
"Jade's an unusual name," he said. "Fitting, though. You're proving to be a rather unusual woman."
"Your opinion of me isn't at all relevant, sir. I hired you to complete an assignment and that is all. Is it customary for you to interview your victims before you do them in?"
He ignored her glare. "Tell me the rest of your name, or I may strangle you."
"No, you mustn't strangle me," she replied. "I don't want to die that way and I am the one doing the hiring, if you'll remember."
"What way did you have in mind?" he asked. "Oh, hell, never mind. I don't want to know."
"But you have to know," she argued. "How can you kill me if you don't know how I want it done?"
"Later," he interjected. "You may instruct me in the method you've chosen later. First things first, Jade. Are your parents waiting at home for you?"
"They're both dead."
He closed his eyes and counted to ten. "So you're all alone?"
It was her turn to sigh. "I have a brother. I'm not going to tell you anything more, Pagan. It's too much of a risk, you see."
"Why is it a risk, miss?" Monk asked.
"The more he knows about me, the more difficult the task will become. I believe it would be very upsetting to kill someone you liked. Don't you, sir?"
"I ain't never had to kill someone I liked," Monk admitted. "As to that, I ain't never killed anyone. Still, your theory makes sense to me."
It took all Caine had not to start bellowing. "lade, I assure you that won't be a problem. At this moment, I don't like you at all."
She took a step back. "Well, why not?" she asked. "I haven't been half as insulting as you have. Are you just a cranky person by nature, Pagan?"
Copyright © 1990 by Julie Garwood