"Don't run from me. You belong to me. Don't run."
The words echoed in her mind, part command and part plea. She thought she should be able to recognize that voice. It was rough, male, and full of power. And it only made her want to flee faster through the corridor. She had to get out of there.
Then, without any warning, the curving walls and the sense of being pursued disintegrated. Verity was abruptly, violently aware of Jonas, who stood perfectly still beside her. He was no longer holding one of the pistols. He had returned it to the case. But he was looking at her with his strange golden eyes. There was a raw, unleashed hunger in that gaze. It was both undeniably sexual and much more, indefinable and dangerous and compelling.
The room around Verity looked exactly as it had a moment ago. Nothing had changed, although she was dazed. Something felt terribly, horribly different. In a way she couldn't explain, she sensed that her world would never be quite the same again.
"The gun is genuine," Jonas said in a voice that sounded unnaturally calm. "As Verity told you, my field is the Renaissance, but I know enough about old weapons to tell you that you've got a very valuable set of pistols there. Take care of them, Emerson. They're worth a great deal of money."
"I guess my daughter was right," Emerson said cheerfully. "Luck follows the virtuous. Now all I have to do is figure out how to turn these pistols into cash. Well, it's been a long day. What do you say we all hit the sack? I could use a night's sleep, and Verity here looks a little washed out. What's the matter, Red?
Haven't you been getting enough sleep lately?"
"She works too hard and she doesn't eat properly," Jonas said. His eyes never left her face. "Come on, Verity, I'll walk you back to your cabin."
She wanted to refuse. The panic attack, or whatever it was, seemed to have vanished with as little warning as that with which it had materialized, but a lingering uneasiness remained.
Some part of her was almost certain that Jonas Quarrel was the source of her uneasiness. Yet, when he took her hand and led her outside into the night, Verity followed without protest.
"ARE you all right?" Jonas asked quietly. His fingers closed around Verity's hand as he guided her through the trees along the barely visible path that led to her cabin.
"Of course," Verity mumbled, taking deep breaths of the crisp night air. Jonas's grip felt strong and reassuring. He seemed to be communicating some of his quiet strength to her. Verity tried to drink it into herself without being too obvious about it. "Why shouldn't I be all right?" She concentrated on the familiar sights and sounds of the night around her.
Everything was utterly normal here at Sequence Springs. The wind rustled in the trees. Scattered lights gleamed along the shoreline. The glow from her cabin window was warm and welcoming. Now and then the distant sound of an automobile engine rumbled briefly, then faded.
Everything was normal. She was normal. She was just fine.
"Your father was right," Jonas said slowly. "You looked a little washed out back there in the cabin. Sure you're okay?"
"I told you, I'm fine. Just a little tired, that's all. Having Dad show up out of the blue is always a bit disconcerting."
She felt defensive. Damned if she was going to admit to this man that she had suffered a momentary hallucination tonight.
"Take it easy," Jonas said soothingly. He released her hand and put his arm around her shoulders.
Verity found herself nestled closely against his side. The warm, heavy, oddly comforting weight of his arm around her sparked mixed emotions. On one hand, she was still aware of an inexplicable uneasiness. A part of her insisted on irrationally associating Jonas with the fear she had known a few minutes ago.
But another, equally primitive and very feminine part of her was convinced that the masculine power in Jonas offered safety from those same terrors. In desperation, she tried to make normal conversation.
"It figures my father's only here because he's in trouble. If it isn't one thing, it's another. Now he's got a loan shark after him. Are you sure about those dueling pistols?" she asked.
"Sure about them being genuine? Yes, I'm sure."
She glanced up at him, curious and perplexed. "How can you be certain without doing some sort of tests?"
Jonas shrugged, the action somehow pulling her more tightly against him. "I've seen a lot of old guns. I know what old steel looks like. I know what old craftsmanship looks like. And I know what a dueling pistol feels like."
"What it feels like? What do you mean?"
He was staring straight ahead at the light in her cabin. "It's hard to explain. A good dueler feels right in the hand. The aim is true. Point it and it's aimed. You can sense it. In a real duel there's no time to line up the target in the gun's sights. All you can do is point the weapon in the general direction of the target.
Dueling pistols are usually fairly heavy, too. They're designed so that in the grip of a very nervous man the aim is less likely to be affected by a jerky trigger finger."
Verity shivered. "Makes sense. I can imagine how nervous I would be if I were standing on a so-called field of honor at dawn waiting for someone to give the signal to fire."
Moonlight glinted briefly off Jonas's bleak smile. "The feeling goes beyond nervous, believe me. It's similar to the sensation you get when you hold a rapier with an unblunted tip and face a man who's holding another one just like it. Talk about life on the edge."
"You really were an expert on old weapons at one time, weren't you?"
"Yes. Feel better now?"
"I told you, I feel just fine. Perfect. Peachy keen," she retorted, irritated by the concern in his voice, even as she longed to indulge herself in his unexpected solicitude. "Why do you keep harping on how I feel?"
He stopped in the middle of the path and tugged her around to face him. His hands slid under the lapels of her coat. The moonlight and the night washed away the gold in his eyes, leaving colorless, gleaming gems that seemed to see past all her defenses into the depths of her soul. A faint echo of the panic she had experienced earlier shot through Verity. She caught her breath, half-preparing to run.
Jonas's hands tightened on the lapels and he held her still. "Relax," he ordered quietly. "It's over for now."
"What's over?" she whispered, searching his moonlit gaze for answers to questions she did not know how to ask.
"Nothing. Never mind." He groaned and pulled her closer. "Verity, you're safe with me. I swear you're safe. Please don't run from me. I'll take care of you. I swear it."