The murder had been declared an accident brought on by an overdose of drugs. Very tragic. Who would have thought Sandquist had a drug problem? But then, drugs were so prevalent these days at every level of society.

Kincaid had walked out of the cliff house that night certain that he had seen the last of the place.

He hadn't even been aware that the house had been sold until recently, when he heard the rumors in the art world that Caitlin Evanger was making plans to put her self-declared final painting up for sale.

Kincaid already owned three Evanger pictures, although he hadn't bought them just as an investment.

Something about the repressed violence in them and the artist's grim, surreal view of reality appealed to him. It matched his own in some indefinable way.

Word of a final Evanger painting had spread like wildfire among collectors. When the rumors had reached Kincaid, he paid attention. He wanted that painting. Dispassionately he wondered if Evanger had flaked out and decided to set the scene for an elaborate, headline-grabbing suicide.

Damon didn't particularly care if the woman killed herself after selling her last work. In fact, it would be better if she did. It would ensure that she didn't change her mind and start to paint again.

Evanger's suicide would go a long way toward protecting Kincaid's investment in her art. He smiled faintly at the thought. One way or another, when this was all over and he owned Bloodlust, he would have to make sure Caitlin Evanger did indeed kill herself.

But the first priority was to make certain he was on the guest list for what promised to be a most exclusive auction.

Once again Damon Kincaid would be entering the ugly house above the sea.

Maybe this time when he finished his business there he would see that the place was destroyed. It had appeared too many times already in his life. He could do without a fourth time.

Kincaid swung back to his desk and touched a button on a small console. His secretary's cultured voice answered at once.

"Yes, Mr. Kincaid?"

"Get Hatch."

"Yes, Mr. Kincaid."

Hatch answered at once. "Yes, Mr. Kincaid?"

"When you've finished getting me on the Evanger bidders' list, I want you to get in touch with that investigation agency again. I want them to run a background check on that restaurant owner and her lover with the dishpan hands. Find out whatever you can and get back to me as soon as possible."

"Yes, Mr. Kincaid."

Kincaid sat back in his chair with a sense of satisfaction. Unlike some executives, he liked to employ "yes"

men and women. It made no sense to hire people who might think too much for themselves.

* * *

Verity finished off the yogurt dipping sauce with a touch of curry and put the glass bowl containing the mixture into the refrigerator next to the beer her father and Jonas had stored there. The flavors in the sauce would be perfectly blended by tonight when it was brought out to be served with fresh vegetables at the evening meal.

Verity had been in a flurry of activity all day, ever since she and Jonas returned from Caitlin's. They had arrived home at ten, just in time for the mad rush to get ready for lunch. There had been no letup for her since then.

She wiped her hands and glanced around the kitchen. The restaurant had been closed since two o'clock and she had been working steadily and alone for nearly two hours. It was now almost four and she decided she deserved a break. Everyone else in the vicinity seemed already to have taken one. She hadn't seen anything of her father or Jonas since shortly after two. They had departed together with one of the six-packs from the refrigerator.

Neither man had bothered to ask Verity whether she minded them storing their beer in her commercial-sized refrigerator. She had simply opened the door and found the six-packs piled inside. It was very annoying but she decided it wasn't worth orchestrating a battle over the matter. She had other things on her mind.

Verity stepped out onto the back porch of the little restaurant and stretched luxuriously. The afternoon sun was warm on her shoulders as she considered her options. She could grab a can of fruit juice and walk down to the lake, or she could go visit Laura, who would be enjoying the lull before check-in time.

Or she could go hunt up Jonas and see if he really meant what he'd said about trying to test the bizarre psychic power he claimed to have.

She shoved her hands into the back pockets of her jeans and started up the path to the small cabin that her father and Jonas were sharing. As she walked through the trees she spotted both men lounging in the sun on the steps of the deck that lined the front of the cottage. They each held a can of beer, and the remainder of a six-pack was chilling in a bucket of ice between them. An open bag of potato chips was sitting upright on the step. Verity shook her head in mild disgust as she approached.

"It's obvious neither one of you will ever have a big problem adjusting to retirement," she remarked as she reached them. "Some men can't handle it, you know. They die or go crazy when they no longer have a regular nine-to-five job. The shock of being without work for the first time in their lives is too much for them. It's good to know you two won't ever get too dependent on that kind of routine."

Jonas leaned back against a railing post, one jeaned leg resting on the step below the one on which he sat. His other leg was stretched indolently out along the redwood boards. He ate a chip, tipped the beer can to his mouth, and emptied it with obvious pleasure before he spoke.

"Practice, practice, practice. Right, Emerson?"

"Damn right," Emerson agreed from the opposite side of the steps. He smiled blandly at his daughter.

"Sit down, Red. If you promise not to lecture us on the virtues of employment, we might let you have a can of beer and a handful of chips."

Verity raised her eyes briefly toward the heavens and surrendered. "It's a deal. I'm too tired to try whipping either of you into shape today."

Jonas patted the step below him. "That's good news. Have a seat. I'll even open the beer for you."

"Always the gentleman." But she accepted the cold, wet can with some gratitude. For some reason, she didn't have the energy to lecture today.

Jonas leaned back against the post again and looked at Emerson. "Where the hell did she get such a heavy dose of the old-fashioned work ethic, anyway?"

"Don't look at me," Emerson said. "It didn't come from my side of the family."

Verity wrinkled her nose at both men, choosing to ignore the deliberate provocation. Sometimes a woman had to rise above the generally primitive sense of humor frequently favored by the male of the species.

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