"It won't matter. The only thing that matters is sending Damon Kincaid into hell in a fitting style. I will compose his exit from this earth as I would compose a painting." Caitlin's smile was without pity.

"Quarrel is the man who can carry out the task for me. He will be my mercenary executioner. He will be the man who makes the punishment fit the crime."

"What if he finds out he's been used?"

"It won't matter. Nothing will matter after Kincaid is dead. Ah, Tavi, it's all working out so beautifully.

Kincaid fancies himself a modern-day Borgia. He thinks he has hidden his old lusts well beneath a slick, sophisticated surface, but I know all about them and I can exploit them. Soon he will learn what it is to be the victim. Do you know something, Tavi? That conversation I had with Verity about Renaissance mercenaries was prophetic. Jonas Quarrel is going to play the role of condottiere for me."

"The most important thing to a condottiere was getting paid."

Caitlin laughed. It was a low, harsh sound that made Tavi close her eyes. "He'll get Verity. That will have to be enough for him."

Chapter Seven

VERITY was in her office going through a pile of receipts when she heard footsteps in the hallway that led to the kitchen. She recognized them instantly.

"Hello, Dad. Had breakfast?"

Emerson Ames appeared in the doorway. "In a manner of speaking. Quarrel puts together a mean cup of coffee. Went great with the three-day-old doughnuts he had in the cupboard."

Verity made a face. "That man has made no effort to learn anything about good nutrition even though I have given him one lecture after another on the subject."

Emerson grinned widely behind his graying red beard. "I'll just bet you have. You always were damn good at giving lectures and advice even when you were a little kid."

"We all have our talents," Verity retorted dryly. "The real burden I have to bear is knowing I'm so good at giving lectures and advice and having so few people pay attention to me."

"Meaning people like me and Quarrel. Don't worry, Red. We pay attention. It's just that we don't always do as we're told."

"It can be extremely frustrating," Verity said with a rueful smile.

"Think of it as a challenge. What are you working on there?"

"I was just doing a little bookkeeping. I was about to take a break and make myself some tea. Want some?"

"Sounds good. I need something to wash away the sludge Quarrel fixed for me. I think I'm getting older, Red. Coffee like that wouldn't even have made me blink ten years ago."

"It's not a question of getting older," Verity said brusquely, "it's a matter of finally gaining some common sense."

"I shall resist common sense with my last breath," Emerson declared in ringing tones.

Verity glanced at him in quick assessment. Her father appeared as hale and hearty as ever. The thought of him losing any of his vitality and zest for life was a disturbing one. She was mature enough to recognize the inevitable processes of life, but another part of her resisted the idea that they should apply to Emerson Ames.

There were times when her father's blithe, here-today, gone-tomorrow attitude drove her nuts, but she had instinctively relied on his strength for years. Perhaps it was inevitable that fathers defined masculinity for their daughters. Verity knew only that she had never met another man who had that same inner core of male energy and power as her father had.

Except Jonas Quarrel.

She pushed aside that unsettling thought and strode out of the office. Emerson ambled after her as she walked into the kitchen of the No Bull Cafe.

"Where's Jonas?" Verity asked, not looking up from her tea preparations.

"When I left the cabin a while ago he was reading. Machiavelli, I think. The man has interesting tastes."

Emerson opened a cupboard door experimentally. "Got anything edible in here?"

"There are some sesame seed crackers in that carton in the corner and some dried prunes, too, I think."

Verity poured out hot water. "He's due here at work in forty-five minutes."

"Who? Machiavelli?"

"Very funny. I meant Jonas."

"I'm sure he'll show up on time." Emerson munched a cracker. His eyes gleamed. "He wouldn't dare be late to work. I get the feeling this job is important to him."

"Washing dishes is quite a comedown for a man who was once headed for the top of his profession,"

Verity grumbled.

"Depends on your point of view. Where did you find him, Verity?"

"I didn't find him. He found me. Didn't he tell you?" Verity demanded grimly. "I finally got the whole story last night. He was the other man in the alley down in Mexico. The one who pulled that damned Pedro off of me. I didn't hang around to say thanks. Jonas claims he tracked me down so that my little oversight could be corrected. I left one of my earrings behind in that alley. Jonas returned it last night."

"I see."

"Well, I'm glad you do, because I don't." Verity peered at her father as she sipped her tea. Emerson might be an irresponsible rogue who had turned his back on his literary talent in favor of indulging himself in the wilder side of life, but no one had ever said he was stupid. "Dad, tell me something. Do you really believe any man would follow a woman two thousand miles just to return an earring?"

One bushy red-gray brow climbed. "Correct me if I'm wrong, Red, but I got the feeling Quarrel did more than return an earring last night."

Verity flushed, in spite of herself. "Don't look at me with so much prurient interest. We both know I'm not the type to bore you with girlish confessions. Tell me what you really think about Jonas."

"So you value your old man's opinion on some things, after all, hmmm?"

"You know very well I value your opinion on a lot of things," Verity said tartly. "I'll say one thing for the lifestyle you chose, you've picked up some useful pointers on human nature and motivations."

"Praise at last from my prudish, conservative, disapproving daughter. You astonish me, Red."

"I asked a straightforward question."

Emerson grinned. "I've hardly had a chance to get to know the man, but I'll tell you one thing. If he succeeds in helping me sell those dueling pistols for enough cash to get Yarington off my back, your Jonas is going to be my best buddy for life."

Verity frowned. "Jonas is going to help you sell them?"

"Claims he knows some private collectors who will gladly pay top dollar and not ask too many questions about where those pistols came from. Says he met a few during the days he was holding down a respectable job as a college professor. Seems he was asked to authenticate certain items being considered for purchase by people who didn't care where the items came from as long as they were genuine."

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