He blinked, his dark lashes concealing the look in his eyes. "No kidding? Hold on while I switch on a tape-recorder. I want to make sure I get this down for the benefit of future historians. Tyrants almost never apologize."

"Look, if you're unable to be civilized about this, I'll just skip the whole thing and go back to bed."

He stepped back and held open the door. "Better come in and say hello to your father, first. We were just about to flip a coin to see who gets the bed."

Verity nearly tripped over the threshold. "My father! He's here?"

"In the flesh, Red." Emerson Ames appeared behind Jonas, a lot of teeth showing between his mustache and beard. He held open his arms. "How's business, kid?"

"Dad, for crying out loud. I thought you were in Brazil." Verity laughed and stepped into her father's bear hug of an embrace. "Where have you been? I went down to Mexico two months ago to spend some time with you and no one knew where you were. I searched for you for three days, you big idiot, before someone finally said he thought you had gone to Rio. Why did you invite me to Puerto Valletta if you had plans to leave town before I got there?"

"Something came up, Red. A trifling misunderstanding concerning money. You know how it is. I had to make an unscheduled departure in the middle of the night. I figured you knew me well enough not to worry."

"I knew you well enough to figure out there wasn't much I could do except turn around and come back home." Verity withdrew herself from his grasp, shaking her head wryly.

"May I take your coat?" Jonas offered with mocking gallantry.

"No, you may not," Verity said, aware of her nightgown underneath the coat. She turned to her father.

"I wasted three days of what was supposed to be a vacation searching for you. I thought I'd gotten the address wrong or something. I hit just about every bar in town trying to find you. I knew you wouldn't be in the tourist joints, so I tried the local spots."

Emerson winced. "Christ, Red, don't you have any more sense than to go cantina hopping in Mexico?

What the hell did you think you were doing?"

"I told you," Verity retorted tartly. "I was looking for you. I know the kind of places you frequent. I should.

You've taken me into enough of them."

Emerson raised his eyes toward the ceiling. "It's different when you're with me and you damn well know it. You little idiot. You could have gotten into big trouble."

Verity grinned without any remorse. "I'm a big girl now."

It was Jonas who spoke up. "That only means you can get into bigger trouble in places like a Mexican cantina."

Verity gave him a speaking glance. "You're an authority on the subject?" she asked sweetly.

"Honey, the man's right," Emerson muttered. "You had no business trying to track me down. As soon as you realized I wasn't at the address I'd given you, you should have come straight back here."

"Well, I didn't. I went out asking polite questions of several bartenders. And you're absolutely right.

I got into trouble."

Emerson stared at her, brilliant eyes suddenly diamond-hard. "What kind of trouble?" he asked in a dangerous voice.

"Very big trouble," Verity admitted dryly. "I almost lost my purse, my, uh, virtue, and possibly my life.

Believe me, you don't want to hear the details."

"The hell I don't," Emerson roared. "I know those places down there. I swear to God I'll go back and break heads until I find the piece of filth who put his hands on you. What happened, Verity?"

"Nothing," she said smoothly, successfully concealing the memory of shock and fear that she had brought back with her from her jaunt to Mexico.

"What do you mean 'nothing.' You just said you were attacked."

"I was saved at the last minute. It was all very exciting, I assure you." She was beginning to enjoy this.

She had the full attention of both men. "I took a wrong turn down some alley. Stepped into a little cantina that catered to the local riffraff. Before I could step back out again, someone grabbed me." She shuddered in spite of herself, as the scene replayed once again her mind. Then she turned a bright smile on Jonas, who was following the tale with a riveted expression. "Got any more of that cheap vodka you and my father are drinking?"

Jonas nodded once, almost absently, as if the last thing he was interested in at the moment was getting her a glass of vodka. But he obediently headed for the kitchen and a moment later Verity heard the clink of glass on glass.

"Here you go," he said as he returned and shoved the glass into her hand. "What happened?"

"Yeah, Red, let's have the rest of the story. The suspense is killing me." Emerson took a huge swallow of his drink and flopped down onto a chair. "Fatherhood has its drawbacks. A man could go crazy from the stress."

"Stress is one thing you'll never have to worry about, Dad. I doubt if you know the meaning of the word.

Your lifestyle is not conducive to stress."

"That's what you think."

Verity sat on the chair near the desk and arranged her coat discreetly over her knees. Jonas just stood where he was, watching her every move. "To make a long story short, I got away from a rather large, odoriferous man named Pedro who grabbed me as I was trying to beat a hasty retreat from the cantina."

"You know how to give your old man nightmares, don't you? Jesus, Red. How did you get away?" her father demanded.

Verity lifted one shoulder, trying for a negligent air. Heaven knew she had been anything but casual about things that night. It had been a real skin-of-the-teeth experience. She had never been so frightened in her life. "Someone else came into the alley, I didn't get a good look at him. He was tall. Taller than Pedro, at any rate. That's about all I know. It was pitch black and I wasn't in the mood to make detailed observations. I just wanted out of there. I suppose the second man was some tavern patron who apparently thought good old Pedro didn't deserve to have me all to himself. There was a fight and in the confusion I got away. The only thing I lost was an earring." She held up her glass of vodka in a small salute. "So you see? Luck follows the virtuous." She took a swallow of her drink and coughed as the raw liquor hit her throat. Her father's taste in liquor was appalling.

"Luck follows idiocy, you mean," Emerson corrected gloomily. He scowled at Jonas. "Think twice before you decide to have daughters, Quarrel. They'll drive you crazy."

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