Verity gnawed thoughtfully on her lower lip. "Do you really think so?"
"Tell you what. If she doesn't like what she sees on your list of specials, I'll run into town and get her a hamburger."
"Sometimes your sense of humor leaves a lot to be desired, Jonas."
* * *
At five minutes after seven that evening, Jonas found himself seating Rick and Laura Griswald and their guest, Caitlin Evanger. He had met Rick on Monday and liked him. Griswald was about Jonas's age, with thinning hair and an easygoing smile, although tonight the smile seemed a bit forced. He kept himself in good shape and had the kind of outgoing personality that resort managers need. It was obvious that both he and his wife were very proud to be escorting their important client this evening, but it was equally obvious that they were finding the honor somewhat wearing.
Jonas had to admit that Caitlin Evanger was impressive. Definitely not the kind of woman who would be overlooked in a crowd. There was a sense of drama about her that made itself felt instantly.
She was tall, almost as tall as Jonas, with short, silvery blond hair that she wore slicked straight back from her high forehead. Physically, she appeared to be about thirty, but there was something in her face, a hard, weary cynicism, that gave Jonas the impression she was a lot older in some ways.
Her features would have been riveting at any age. Her stark hairstyle focused attention on her high, aristocratic cheekbones and small, perfectly shaped mouth. Jonas wondered idly if that mouth had ever been shaped into a genuine smile. He seriously doubted it.
He didn't notice the jagged scar that marred her left cheek until she turned her head. The contrast between her beautifully classic profile and the savage line of ruined flesh was startling, but not nearly as startling as the cold gray stare that met his polite glance.
It was the kind of look that chilled a man straight to the bone. Caitlin Evanger's gaze took in everything around her and made it clear that she would never be impressed by anything the world had to offer, let alone what a mere male could provide.
This was one cold lady, Jonas decided. Not the kind of woman a man imagined curling up with on a winter's night. Verity had a few thorns on which a man could cut himself, and she also had a sharp tongue and a certain feminine arrogance, but there was no doubt about the fire inside. Caitlin Evanger was a glacier right to the core.
The artist wore a steel brace on one leg, which showed beneath the hem of her severe black silk shift.
She used an ebony cane to make her way toward the table Verity had carefully chosen earlier. It was the one nearest the fireplace. Her movements were slow and deliberate because of the brace and the cane, but there was a regal quality about them. Everyone around her instinctively slowed down to match her stately pace.
"I'll tell Verity you're here," Jonas said as he finished seating the Griswalds and their guest.
Laura smiled gratefully, her eyes tense. "Thanks, Jonas."
Jonas walked into the kitchen, aware that Caitlin Evanger was watching him the whole distance. He could feel those icy gray eyes on his back. It was enough to make him shiver from the chill.
He found Verity looking disheveled and flushed from the heat of the stove. The sight of her warmed him instantly. A few curling tendrils had come loose from the knot at the back of her head. She was concentrating intently as she arranged a picture-perfect salad of endive, blue cheese, and roasted walnuts. He smiled at the image she made.
"Your star guest has arrived," he announced.
Verity's head came up quickly, her eyes sparkling with excitement. "She's here? Where did you put her?"
"At that little table near the hall that leads to the rest-rooms," Jonas said carelessly,
"Relax. I put her and Rick and Laura exactly where you told me to—near the fireplace."
"Thank God. This is not a joking matter, you know," she lectured severely. "I can't wait to meet her.
What's she like?"
"You can't miss her. She's the one who looks like she should be wearing a brass brassiere and carrying a spear."
Verity glowered at him and shoved the salad plate into his hands. "Very funny. Here, take this out to table number three. I'm going to say hello to our new guests."
"Sure, boss lady."
She ignored that, brushing past him into the dining room. Jonas shook his head in amusement and strolled out to table number three with the salad. One cold greeting from Caitlin Evanger would no doubt wash that silly excited sparkle out of Verity's eyes. It never paid to get thrilled by a visiting celebrity.
From the expressions on the Griswalds' faces, Rick and Laura had already discovered as much.
To Jonas's complete astonishment, however, it was soon apparent that Verity and her celebrity artist had hit it off quite well together. The Griswalds were obviously relieved to have someone take the burden of conversation off their shoulders, and Verity clearly had plenty to discuss with Caitlin Evanger. That didn't surprise Jonas as much as the fact that Evanger seemed quite content to talk with Verity.
Jonas found himself keeping a speculative eye on the two women as he served the other tables. Strange.
He'd never thought of Verity as the hero-worshipping type. Or should that be heroine-worshipping type? he wondered vaguely.
Verity had to keep dashing back and forth to the kitchen throughout the rest of the evening but at every free moment she returned to Caitlin Evanger's table. It was obvious that she was fascinated with her guest.
Jonas's indulgent amusement over Verity's bright-eyed enthusiasm started turning into outright annoyance somewhere around nine o'clock. It occurred to him that Caitlin Evanger was getting a lot more attention from Verity than either he or the cafe was getting. Jonas was left to keep the dining room running. It was just fortunate for everyone concerned that Tuesday evenings were quiet, he told himself grimly. If Verity ran the place like this on a regular basis, the No Bull Cafe would have gone broke a long time ago.
By ten o'clock the restaurant was empty except for the Griswalds and Caitlin Evanger. Verity sat down at their table once again and this time she stayed there, leaving Jonas to finish cleaning up the kitchen alone.
That did it. Enough was enough. Jonas tossed aside the pan Verity had used to mix a dish of fettuccini and peapods and stalked out to the dining room. Verity's crystal laughter greeted him. She turned around in her seat as he approached.
"Jonas, you'll never believe this. Caitlin knows you."
A sudden, cold alertness washed through Jonas. He glanced speculatively at the other woman. "Is that right?" he asked calmly. He was dead certain he had never met Caitlin Evanger before. No man would ever forget this chunk of ice.