Caitlin lifted her wineglass to her lips, her eyes on him. When she spoke her voice was as cool as the rest of her. "Vincent College. About five years ago. You gave an undergraduate history lecture on Renaissance warfare techniques and equipment. You used slides of several Renaissance paintings to illustrate your points. I was taking some art-history classes there at the time and I dropped into the hall to hear what you had to say. I had heard about you."
Jonas hesitated a beat before answering. His stomach tightened as if someone had just put a sixteenth century blade in his hand and told him he might have to use it. This was the last thing he needed right now. How much did this strange woman know about him? he wondered. How much had she heard, and why was she here tonight? Something felt very wrong. Dangerously wrong.
"You have an excellent memory, Ms. Evanger."
The gilded blond head nodded once in satisfaction. "I thought you looked familiar. When Verity mentioned your background in Renaissance history I began to put it all together." Her gray eyes pinned him. "How on earth did you wind up here? You were making quite a name for yourself in academic and museum circles, as I recall."
Before Jonas could find a way to deflect the pointed question, Verity interrupted. Her gaze was on Jonas's face. "What sort of name was he making for himself, Caitlin?"
"At the time I took the classes at Vincent, Mr. Quarrel was well known on campus. In addition to his growing list of publications, he had recently exposed a fraudulent necklace that was supposed to have dated from the sixteenth century. It had actually been made in 1955. He saved a well-known museum a fortune. Apparently there had been other such instances in which he exposed similar frauds. Your Mr. Quarrel was gaining a reputation for being able to authenticate museum-quality artifacts. Your specialty was armor and weapons, though, as I recall, not jewelry. Isn't that right, Mr. Quarrel?"
Jonas watched Verity as he answered. "Times change, Ms. Evanger. My specialty today is dishwashing.
Mind if I finish clearing the table?"
"Oh, don't worry about the dishes, Jonas," Verity said quickly. "Why don't you sit down and join us? Caitlin has been telling us all sorts of juicy gossip about the art world. It's fascinating."
"It's late. I'd rather finish up, if you don't mind. I wouldn't want to give you any reason to complain about the quality of my work. I need this job." He scooped up plates and silverware and went back to the kitchen. No doubt about it, he didn't like that cold fish of an artist. He liked her excellent memory even less.
Jonas was willing to bet that he wouldn't like Caitlin Evanger's art, either.
Jonas allowed his memory to shift back to the end of his career at Vincent College. Images of himself dressed as a Renaissance nobleman, a sword in his hand, flashed through his mind. So did the image of a man lying on the floor at his feet. Blood stained the pristine white lab coat the wounded man was wearing. It also stained the tip of the sword Jonas was holding.
With grim effort Jonas shoved the pictures out of his head. He had learned to live with the old nightmare.
Most of the time he could keep it buried in his mind. But Caitlin Evanger had brought it to the surface again. The sense of wrongness he felt about the woman increased.
Twenty minutes later, when the little group in the dining room finally broke up for the evening, Jonas knew he was in trouble. Verity was more than a little annoyed with him.
That didn't bother Jonas. He was spoiling for a fight, himself. Everyone smiled politely as good-nights were said, but the moment the door closed behind the Griswalds and Caitlin Evanger, Verity turned on Jonas. Hands on her hips, she confronted him as he lounged in the kitchen doorway, wiping his fingers on a dish towel.
"I hope you're satisfied with yourself, Jonas," she began without preamble. "Are you always that rude to people like Caitlin Evanger, or did you single her out for some reason? Whatever the answer, I'd like you to know that I was thoroughly embarrassed."
"Sorry about that." Jonas tossed aside the dish towel. "Ready to go home?"
She stared at him. "You're not sorry at all. What on earth is the matter with you tonight?"
"Nothing's the matter. It's late and I'd like to get to bed."
"Don't look at me—I'm not stopping you," she snapped.
"Fine," he growled. "Let's go." He headed toward her, turning out lights as he went. When he reached the door he took her arm in a forceful grip and steered her outside. She stood stiffly while he locked up for the night.
"Would you mind telling me why you're acting this way?" Verity hissed softly as he again took her arm and prodded her in the direction of her cabin. "You're behaving like a spoiled little boy who's throwing a tantrum because things aren't being done his way."
"That's better than acting like a silly, fluff-brained art groupie."
"Art groupie!" She yanked her arm free of his grasp. "That's a stupid thing to say. Just because I like Caitlin Evanger and her art is no reason to call me names."
"You were hanging on that woman's every word tonight. Talk about fawning. I never would have thought of you as having a fan mentality, Verity. You made a fool out of yourself. 'I was stunned when I first saw Branded, Caitlin,'" he mocked, remembering one of the conversations he had overheard while clearing tables. '"I couldn't get it out of my head for days, Caitlin. Such a vivid commentary on the relationship between women and men in this society, Caitlin. Such artistic insight, Caitlin.'"
Verity moved before he could stop her. She yanked herself free of his grasp, whirled to face him, and came to a halt on the path in front of him. Jonas eyed her warily.
"I know what your problem is, Jonas Quarrel. Your feathers are ruffled tonight because you got an unwanted glimpse back into your own past, didn't you? Caitlin Evanger reminded you of the time you were making a success out of your own life. She reminded you of the days when you were on the verge of making it big in the academic world. You had your act together back then and you were going to be someone. People were already paying attention to you. And then you got lazy and blew it."
Jonas felt a tremor of real anger go through him. Up until now he had been merely irritated. But now he knew cold fury. Caitlin Evanger had reminded him of his past, all right, but the memories were laced with violence and blood, not the synthetic perils of academic success. He kept his voice even, but he could hear the edge in it and knew Verity must have heard it also.
"You don't know what you're talking about, Verity," he said. "I suggest you keep your mouth shut. My past is my business."