When Jonas had picked up the tiny local newspaper he'd been pleased to find the ad for the position at the No Bull Cafe. It had seemed like fate. Working for someone was one hell of a good way to learn her secrets. And he badly needed to explore the mysteries of Verity Ames. His future was tied up with those mysteries.
Jonas stood at the edge of the lake, his fingers moving absently on the earring, and wondered what it would be like to work for this flame-haired woman.
One thing was certain, he decided: she was bound to be an easier proposition than some of his past employers. After all, she was small, female, and not yet thirty. How much trouble could she give him?
Dishwashing at the No Bull Cafe was going to be a piece of cake.
* * *
Verity Ames groaned in frustration when she heard the demanding knock on the locked front door of the No Bull. She put down the bottle of extra virgin olive oil she had been about to uncork and stalked out of the kitchen into the small dining area.
"Too bad they don't teach tourists to read signs," she muttered, wiping her hands on her apron. "The American educational system is obviously failing somewhere."
Ever mindful of future business, however, Verity managed a polite smile as she unlocked the front door of the restaurant. She began speaking before she had the door more than halfway open.
"I'm sorry," she said in a cheery tone, "we don't open until five-thirty this evening. We stopped serving lunch at two. If you want to make reservations for tonight, you're welcome to call. I should warn you, however, that we're almost booked. The only time open is after nine o'clock."
"I'm not here for a meal," said a male voice that was astonishingly dark and soft and faintly amused.
"My name is Jonas Quarrel and I'm here for a job."
Verity had the door fully opened now and was already regretting her impulsiveness. She should have peeked through the window first.
She found herself looking up at a tall, lean man with hair the color of midnight. His surprisingly broad shoulders were covered with a well-worn blue denim work shirt. The sleeves had been rolled up, revealing sinewy forearms sprinkled with dark hair. The man was wearing a pair of jeans that were at least as old and almost as faded as the shirt. The scarred leather belt that wrapped his narrow waist looked as if it had been run over by a truck at some point in its existence. It went well with the low, scuffed boots that clearly hadn't been exposed to a jar of shoe polish in years.
But the faded, worn garments were only minor disturbances compared to the hard-edged planes and angles of a face that had obviously seen more wear and tear than the clothes. He was not a handsome man by anyone's standards, but Verity was curiously aware of the quiet power she sensed in him. She did not recall ever having met a man who had impressed her in quite this way before. For some reason she found herself thinking of legends, and her dark red brows drew together in a small frown.
As Verity met his eyes, she discovered gold. Not new, shiny, jeweler's gold, but rich, ancient gold. It was the gold of history, of pirate treasures and Florentine coins. It was the first time in her life that she had seen eyes that color and she was shocked at the impact they had on her senses. There were ghosts in that gaze, she thought with unaccustomed whimsy. This man knew what it was to live with wraiths and shades and phantoms.
The realization that she was staring open-mouthed at the stranger on her doorstep brought Verity back to herself. Common sense took over, as it always did. Verity prided herself on her abundance of level-headed, practical common sense.
And common sense told her that men such as this did not wash dishes for a living.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Quarrel," she said briskly, "the only position I have open is that of dishwasher-waiter, and I doubt you'd be interested in that sort of work." She started to shut the door.
Jonas Quarrel shoved one booted foot across the threshold and effectively halted the advance of the door. He smiled faintly. It was not a reassuring expression.
"The dishwashing job is the one I'm after." He dug a scrap of newspaper out of his pocket and glanced down at the tiny print. "Dishwasher, waiter, and handyman."
"Handyperson," Verity corrected absently as she automatically leaned forward to peer at the newsprint.
"I'm an equal opportunity employer."
Quarrel's smile widened slightly as he watched her reread her own ad. "You're in luck," he murmured. "I'm an equal opportunity employee. I'm even willing to work for a woman as long as she signs my paycheck on time."
Verity pulled her gaze away from the ad and eyed her visitor with wary speculation. She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this man did not belong behind a sink full of dirty dishes. She couldn't begin to imagine what had brought him here in response to her ad but she was certain she wouldn't like the answers if she were to ask. No doubt about it, the safest course of action was to get rid of him.
"You really don't look the type to be content with the sort of job I'm offering," she said with polite firmness.
"Let me worry about how content I'll be. I've washed dishes before and I can do it again."
"I'm only offering minimum wage."
"I'll make up the difference in tips," he replied with a nonchalant shrug.
"I need someone who will be around for a while," Verity said, clutching at straws. "My summer staff just left to go back to college, and I require someone who will be here through the winter and spring.
I don't want to be bothered training an employee who will be leaving in a month or two."
Jonas pushed the newspaper ad back into his pocket and nodded. "I can give you a fairly firm guarantee that I'll be around for a while."
Verity was getting nervous. "Look, Mr. Quarrel, you're not quite what I had in mind. I had intended to hire a local person."
"I thought you said you were an equal opportunity employer."
"Well, I am, but I..."
"Seems to me a newcomer to the community has as much right to apply for this job as someone who lives nearby."
Verity narrowed her eyes as she glared up at him. "Are you a newcomer to Sequence Springs, Mr. Quarrel? Or just passing through?"
"Don't worry, I told you I'll be around for a while."
"But you just got into town?" she persisted.
"A few days ago."
"Then I'm sure you'll want to study the job ads for a couple of weeks before you make up your mind about employment. I have a feeling something lots more interesting than an opportunity as a dishwasher will come along soon. You might try one of the wineries up in the hills. You look like you might enjoy outdoor work."