"What an interesting room," Verity said with forced enthusiasm.
A quick, sardonically amused glance from Jonas reminded her for some reason that interesting was the way she had described his lovemaking. She knew from the expression in his eyes that he was remembering the word and the previous context in which she had used it. Verity was annoyed to feel herself turning pink.
Tavi spoke up. "You have the room at the end of the hall, Mr. Quarrel. I will show you to it. Caitlin will be waiting for both of you downstairs."
"Just a minute," Jonas said as he caught sight of an old rapier hanging on the wall near the bed. He walked a few steps closer to the blade and stood studying it silently. He made no move to touch it.
Verity followed his glance and saw the long, delicately tapered sword mounted on a metal plaque. The thin, sharply pointed weapon had an elaborately gilded hilt with what appeared to be small, finger-sized rings built onto it.
"Is that an antique sword?" she asked curiously, aware of his sudden fascination with the weapon.
"A rapier. Mid-eighteen hundreds, I'd say. Or a hell of a good reproduction." Jonas swung around to confront Tavi. "Does your boss collect or is this just for decoration?"
Tavi glanced at the blade without much interest. "The rapier was here when Caitlin bought the house a few years ago. There is another one in your bedroom. The former owner was apparently a collector.
When he died, the place was sold as is by the heirs. They had little interest in the house or anything in it.
As far as I know, the rapiers are genuine, not reproductions, but I can't be certain. There's one in every bedroom. Caitlin has never had them appraised."
Jonas nodded and looked at Verity. "I'll drop my bag in my room and meet you back here in a few minutes." He spoke with authority.
"Yes, Jonas," she said with mocking obedience. "Anything you say." Two could play at the sarcasm game, she decided.
* * *
Caitlin was waiting for them on the first floor in a long rain-colored room that faced the ocean. She had been standing at the window, staring out to sea. As they walked into the room she turned, her ebony cane in hand. Her eyes went first to Jonas but it was Verity she greeted.
"Thank you for coming, Verity."
There was more than simple graciousness in the words. There was a hint of relief, as if Caitlin had been more than a little anxious about their arrival. A wave of sympathy went through Verity. She went forward with a warm smile and gave her hostess a quick, friendly, woman-to-woman hug.
"Thanks for having us, Caitlin. What a fabulous view. You seem to have this entire stretch of coast to yourself."
"I prefer to work without distractions. This house, ugly as it is, serves my purpose." Caitlin gestured her guests to a low, padded bench covered in gray silk. "Please have a seat. Tavi is getting lunch ready. I have instructed her to prepare a vegetarian menu while you're here."
Verity chuckled. "That was thoughtful of you. I hope it won't mean a lot of extra work for her. I'm very good at making a meal off all the goodies that usually get served around a slab of beef. I'm not a fussy eater, believe me."
"Just don't try to import hamburgers and french fries from a local fast food joint," Jonas advised. "You'll never hear the end of it." He didn't take the seat Caitlin had indicated. Instead he walked to the window to examine the view.
Verity glared at his back but he seemed unaware of the censuring look. "Jonas has a peculiar sense of humor," she warned Caitlin.
"I'll remember that," Caitlin said. "Perhaps after lunch you and Jonas would like to take a walk along the cliffs. There's a storm heading our way. It should be here by tonight. The cliff views are quite spectacular when a storm is moving inland from the sea. You must exercise caution, however. The former owner had a fence installed but it's since collapsed in a few places. I haven't had it repaired. There's a path down to the beach at the far end of the cliffs."
"I'd like a walk later," Verity said, thinking she could use the opportunity to tell Jonas once again to behave himself. For all the good it would do. "Where is your studio, Caitlin?"
"On the top floor. I'll take you upstairs and show you while we wait for Tavi to prepare lunch. That is, if you'd like to see it?"
"Very much. I've never seen the studio of a working artist."
"Come with me, then."
Caitlin climbed the stairs with a slow, stately tread, using her cane to steady her braced leg. As she made the ascent to the top floor of the house, she explained that she had bought her home three years earlier.
"When it came on the market the heirs were not exactly swamped with offers," she explained. "The views are great, but most of the people who could afford this kind of location and this size house were put off by the architecture."
"It is unusual," Verity noted cautiously.
"No need to be polite. It's cold and ugly," Caitlin said calmly. "I understand the former owner suited it perfectly."
It was Jonas who picked up on that. He was climbing the stairs behind Verity. "Who was the former owner?"
Caitlin paused, one hand on the steel banister. She glanced back over her shoulder. "I'm told his name was Sandquist. From all accounts he was a very successful businessman who kept this place for a weekend retreat. He died here one weekend and it was several days before anyone thought to come looking. They found the body on the beach. He had apparently fallen from the top of the cliffs. The circumstances of his death were the kind they call suspicious in detective novels. At least, the locals liked to call them suspicious. There was some talk about murder but nothing ever came of it. The real estate agent assured me the authorities never pursued the investigation very far. Apparently they were satisfied."
"Who started the rumors of murder?" Jonas asked curiously.
"A few of the people in that little town down the road. The real estate saleswoman who showed me the place said that the villagers liked to think this house had been the scene of wild orgies and sadistic rituals.
Sandquist used to throw parties here for his friends, apparently. None of the locals was ever invited, so of course they invented a lot of tales about what went on at the gatherings. When Sandquist died, it was no great surprise that the villagers assumed some of the festivities had gotten a little too wild. Who knows? Maybe it's the truth. It doesn't matter now."
Verity grinned. "No ghosts hanging around?"
Caitlin started up the next flight of stairs. "We all have a few ghosts cluttering up our lives, Verity. Some of us have more than others. But I've never seen the ghost of the former owner here in this house."