"I'll bet there's more to it than just being reminded of it," she went on recklessly. "I'll bet you're jealous."

"Jealous! Of Caitlin Evanger? Give me one good reason."

"She prevailed against all odds. She made it. She had ability and she honed and refined that ability, even though she was crippled for life. She worked hard to get where she is. She's not a success just because she had talent or because she got lucky. She worked for that success. Look at the difference between the two of you. You should take a lesson from her, Jonas. She's enjoying the fruits of her labors and going on to bigger and better things, while you're washing dishes."

"That's enough, Verity."

"You're just like my father. Both of you are too damn easygoing and too self-indulgent to work at achieving what you're capable of achieving. You don't even want to settle down, do you? You'd rather fritter away your whole life jumping from one place on the globe to another instead of staying put long enough to build something worthwhile of your life. You're irresponsible, that's what you are. A little boy who doesn't want to be bothered with growing up and assuming control of his life and his abilities. Here today, gone tomorrow."

"I said that's enough, Verity." He was knotted with tension as he received the lash of her tongue, but she seemed oblivious to the precarious state of his temper.

"Oh, shut up and go to bed. I don't want to hear anything more out of you tonight. The least you could have done was to show some respect toward someone who's made something of herself and her talent.

Laura was right. I have been on the verge of going crazy, but I've seen the light in time. I'll start paying more attention to her stressed-out lawyers and stockbrokers and doctors." She whipped around and started up the path toward her cabin.

"Dammit, just who the hell do you think you are?" Jonas had her before she'd gone a yard, his hand closing forcefully around her shoulder. He yanked her back around to face him. He knew his words were dangerously soft but he doubted if she realized the significance of that. She had never seen him lose his temper.

"Let me go, Jonas."

He ignored the imperious command. "So you think I've got a few problems, lady? Well, let me tell you something, I'm not the only one. Take a good look at yourself. You're turning into a shrewish little spinster because you won't look twice at any male who doesn't live up to your high standards of sober, respectable, responsible manhood. No wonder you haven't got a lover, let alone a husband. What man in his right mind would want to get slashed to ribbons by that sharp tongue of yours? What man who wasn't a complete wimp would want to listen to you tell him how to run his life? Who gave you the right to sit in judgment on the male of the species? You know next to nothing about me and yet you've got the nerve to stand there and lecture me on what I've done with my life. Who gave you that right?"

He felt her flinch under the onslaught of his anger. Her eyes were huge and wary in the shadows. Jonas could feel her straining to escape the grip of his hand.

"Let me go, Jonas."

With a muttered oath, Jonas released her. Verity turned and fled to her cottage.

Jonas stood watching her, his hands clenched at his sides. He was almost shaking with the force of the anger and frustration sweeping through him. This woman was going to drive him over the edge.

He sensed the soft vibrations of the earring in his pocket and instinctively reached for it. The instant his ringers closed around the gold circlet he began to calm down.

When he had set out on the quest to find Verity he had not expected to find himself at the mercy of this sharp-tongued wench.

And he hadn't expected to run into an ice-blooded artist who knew something about his past, either.

Life was full of surprises.

Chapter Four

THE faint rasp of metal on metal brought Jonas out of a light sleep two hours later.

He came fully awake in the darkness, not moving while he focused on the sound. He had heard similar sounds before. Five years of surviving waterfront dives, back alleys, and lodgings that frequently fell short of Hilton standards had taught him exactly what that slight, scraping noise was.

Someone was trying the lock on the front door of the cabin.

Jonas flashed briefly on the remote possibility that the red-haired tyrant next door had come to apologize for abusing him earlier that evening. But the fantasy did not last long. Jonas had not survived the past few years by being anything other than extremely pragmatic.

The slight rasping sound came again. Jonas gathered himself quietly in the darkness and rolled out from under the old wool blankets. He stifled a groan of protest as his feet silently hit the cold floor. He really was going to have to do something about the heating system one of these days.

As the doorknob stopped twisting, Jonas forgot about the cabin's heating problems. He heard the scrape of a shoe on the front step and then silence. Whoever was trying to get into the cabin had obviously given up on the door and was probably searching for an open window.

Jonas reached into the worn duffel bag that had contained all his worldly possessions the day he arrived in Sequence Springs. The bag was empty now except for the sheathed knife that resided in its inside pocket. Jonas's hand closed around the handle of the blade just as the window made a squeak of protest.

Jonas made another note to fix the broken lock on that window. A handyperson's job was never done.

The intruder was not going out of his way to maintain silence. Either he was very inept or he thought the cabin was empty.

Jonas padded softly to the wall beside the window. He was in position as the wooden frame began to squeak slowly upward. The large outline of a man, his face invisible in the darkness, hovered outside for a moment.

When the window was fully raised, the intruder threw one leg over the sill and grunted. He was in the awkward position of straddling the window frame when Jonas moved.

"Next time try knocking," Jonas advised as he wrapped an arm around the man's throat and yanked him through the window. Jonas could feel the hair of his beard brushing his arm. This man was large. When he hit the floor there was a solid thump.

"Shit! What the hell...?"

Whatever his next comment would have been, it was cut off by a muffled groan as Jonas pinned his late-night visitor to the cold wooden floor. The other man floundered briefly and furiously, showing a surprising amount of skilled strength until Jonas put the tip of the knife to his unguarded throat. Instantly his victim went still.

"That's it," Jonas said approvingly. "I think we understand each other. Don't move."

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