"Christ. The young Elizabeth the First."
"You've got it," Emerson said smoothly, "Watch out you don't follow in the Earl of Essex's shoes."
Jonas remembered how England's great Renaissance queen had sent Essex, a former court favorite, to the headsman. "It's not my head I worry about when I'm around your daughter," he told Emerson bluntly.
Ames chuckled. "I know. It's your balls you've got to protect. A word of advice, pal. Old Liz the First could take care of herself. If nothing else, I like to think I've taught my daughter to do the same."
"You did a good job," Jonas grumbled. "Maybe too good a job."
"Had to. When she's doing her Elizabeth the First routine, she's damn near invincible. But when she smiles..."
"I see what you mean," Jonas said quietly. He folded his hands behind his head and stared up into the darkness. Verity's smile was a double-edged sword. It could bring out a man's latent gallant instincts, if he had any. It could make him long to prove himself worthy of her. But it could also tempt another kind of man to reach out and vandalize the alluring promise of sweet chastity and integrity. Verity's smile made her vulnerable in ways she didn't even dream.
"Good night, Quarrel. Whoever gets up first makes the coffee."
Emerson rolled over and went back to sleep. Jonas stayed awake for a long time. When he finally fell asleep, his dreams were far from pleasant. He spent most of the night trying to catch Verity as she ran ahead of him down an endless corridor.
* * *
Verity woke very early the next morning and found it impossible to go back to sleep. It was going to be a long day.
When she slid slowly out of bed she discovered that all the small aches she had noticed after Jonas's lovemaking had intensified during the night. Her inner thighs felt as if she had been riding a horse. The thought amused her briefly as she made her way into the shower.
The idea of putting a saddle and bridle on Jonas Quarrel was more than mildly humorous; it was downright interesting.
She felt better after the shower, but still not up to her normal morning standards. A glance at the clock told her that she had plenty of time before she had to go to work. Verity decided to head for the spa. What she really needed was a good, long soak in one of the hot mineral baths. She also needed some time to think. At this hour of the morning the baths would be nearly empty. Laura and Rick wouldn't mind her using the facilities.
Verity dressed in her jeans and an old shirt, snagged her terry robe out of the closet, and headed for the Sequence Springs Spa.
The morning was cool and crisp and invigorating. By noon Sequence Springs would be pleasantly warm.
In the distance the white-walled resort building gleamed in the bright sunlight. The lake was as still and reflective as a mirror. Here and there a small boat dented the perfect surface. A surreptitious glance toward the other cabin revealed no signs of life.
Typical of a man to be able to have no trouble sleeping after a night spent making love to a woman and then traumatizing her with wild tales of lost earrings.
Verity's mouth tightened as she replayed the night's events. She still felt dazed. Last night she had known a sense of certainty when she gave herself to Jonas. This morning she did not understand where that certainty had sprung from but she still felt it. She could not figure out why she was sure he was the man she had been waiting for all these years. The man had undoubtedly lied to her from the moment he appeared on her doorstep. Jonas's tale was simply too crazy to be believed.
On the other hand, it was impossible to accept the conclusion that she had waited all this time to give herself to a man she could not trust. She had always prided herself on having a reliable sense of intuition.
She could not have been that wrong about Jonas Quarrel.
Once again she reviewed his story. Men in this day and age didn't set out on such quixotic quests, she told herself for the thousandth time. But she couldn't think of any other explanation for Jonas's actions, unless she had been right when she suspected some link with her father's gambling debt. That possibility was frightening. She grappled with it the rest of the way to the spa.
The blue and white tiled bathing room that housed the women's spa was, as Verity had expected, almost empty. Caitlin Evanger was lounging naked in one of the bubbling pools. Another woman hovered near the edge with a stack of towels.
"Hello," Caitlin said pleasantly. "Another early riser, I see. Come and join me, Verity. We have the place to ourselves. I don't believe you've met Tavi Monahan." Caitlin's sleek, gilded head turned slightly as she smiled briefly at the other woman. "Tavi is my friend and companion. She takes excellent care of me. I don't know what I'd do without her. Tavi, this is Verity Ames, the owner of the restaurant I told you about."
Verity smiled. "Nice to meet you, Tavi."
Tavi nodded politely in greeting. "Miss Ames." Her voice was gentle and calm, her eyes oddly serene.
Tavi's hair was dark brown with the faintest hint of silver at the temples. She wore it parted in the middle and pulled back into a simple, classic twist. There was a quiet elegance about her, Verity thought. She wore a pair of brown well-cut slacks and a cream-colored pullover that went well with her olive complexion and dark, veiled eyes. Those eyes, Verity decided, were eyes of a woman who could hold an infinite number of secrets.
"What got you out of bed so early, Verity?" Caitlin inquired politely. "Or do you always get up at the crack of dawn as I do?"
"I'm an early riser but generally not this early." Verity smiled again as she started toward one of the changing rooms. She wondered if Caitlin noticed any outward change in her, then chastised herself for the juvenile notion.
Halfway to the slatted booth she remembered she had forgotten to bring her bathing suit. She stopped.
"Something wrong?" Caitlin asked.
Verity cleared her throat. "No. I'll be right back." She went determinedly toward the booth. Considering what had happened last night, it was probably high time she learned to lead a more daring lifestyle. The thought made her grin. She stepped into the booth, took off all her clothes, and returned to the pool wearing only a towel and a smile.
She tried to appear nonchalant as she walked back to the pool. This sense of awkwardness about displaying herself was the price she paid for never having attended high school gym classes, Verity decided ruefully. But she was determined to get over it.
She dropped her towel at the edge of the pool and stepped into the warm, foaming water. The mineral scent filled her nostrils. It felt very therapeutic. Just what she needed. Verity sighed and lounged back on the underwater seat.