"I can believe it." Verity's fingers tightened comfortingly through his. "My God, I can believe it."
Jonas felt the gentle warmth in her touch and smiled to himself. He was supposed to be the one doing the comforting tonight. Underneath all those prickly thorns there was a decidedly soft, empathic streak in his flame-haired tyrant. Knowing that made him feel more protective and possessive than ever. No wonder Emerson had felt obliged to give her as many self-defense mechanisms as possible. She would never admit it, but Verity needed protection in this hard, cold world.
"That first time I found you in the corridor with me I reached for you and you ran," Jonas explained slowly.
"I dropped the pistol and that was the end of it. I still wasn't sure what it meant, but I knew I had to find out."
"And the next time you found me there?" she prompted.
"When it happened last night at Evanger's house, things were a lot more serious."
"Because that rapier was from the era you're so attuned to?"
He nodded. "It's a much more dangerous time zone for me and I was really caught up in it last night. I made a mistake. I took a chance and I paid for it. I knew I had to get to you before I was completely overwhelmed by the forces that were attached to the rapier."
"So you came traipsing down the hall to my room."
"I went after you because I sensed you could keep me from being swamped. I was right. At first you ran, but at the last moment you stopped and turned around and came to me. Once you were with me I was back in command of myself. It was close but we got through it together. Last night I had my proof.
Tonight was a controlled exploratory trip. Now I'm convinced. With you around, I can learn to control my trips into the corridor. Do you have any idea what that means to me, Verity?"
"I'm not sure I want to know," she retorted gloomily..
He ignored that. "The rapier I had last night, or anything else from that era, is not a good test object because it's too powerful. The pistols were much easier to experiment with. They're infinitely more manageable."
"Hah. Manageable my foot. Two men were getting ready to kill each other in that corridor. I couldn't see very well, the image was all broken up like an Impressionist painting, but I got the overall picture."
"I've never seen such a clear image in that corridor," Jonas mused. "But then I've never had the luxury of taking my time and studying what was going on around me. Every other time I've gone in, I've been moving fast, trying to avoid too much contact with those twisting streamer things. It was interesting to be able to stop for once and look around."
"What would have happened if that other man had fired?"
Jonas shrugged. "Nothing. What could have happened? It's like watching a movie. The images never last more than a few seconds."
"I'm not so sure that the images are harmless. I got the impression you were somehow being drawn into one of the men holding a gun. Does that make sense?"
"In a way, I guess. I was feeling what he was feeling. I knew things he knew, such as why he was fighting the duel. But there was no danger. I wasn't him. He wasn't me."
"I was frightened, Jonas. I thought that if the other man fired, you might actually be killed."
Jonas stopped short in the middle of the path. "What the hell are you saying?"
"I can't explain it. I just had this fleeting feeling that you were in as much danger as the man who was holding the pistol in that image. That's why I started yelling about getting out of the corridor. You called me Amanda and dropped the pistol and the next thing I knew we were out of there." She shivered. "You shouldn't have touched that golden ribbon."
Jonas felt a prickle of cold sweat. He banished the queasy feeling at once. "Verity, your imagination got away with you. Perfectly understandable. After all, that was the first time you were ever caught up in one of those corridor situations. You don't realize how easily corridor reality gets mixed up with present-time reality. Don't worry about it. We were both safe."
"I'm not so sure about that."
"Trust me," he said. "I've had a lot more experience in that corridor than you've had. It can be dangerous. In the past I've worried about being swamped by the lingering emotions of someone who lived in the past, but tonight I felt totally in control. Damn, it felt good." A joyous relief that could no longer be suppressed made him laugh out loud. "It was a fantastic sensation, Verity. Incredible. For the first time I was in command in that corridor. I knew I didn't have to worry about fighting off any garbage from the past. I was stronger than anything the residue off that pistol could throw at me.
Dammit to hell, what a feeling of freedom. After all these years, I finally feel free, and I owe it all to you, lady."
"If you want to pay your debt, take me to bed," she said fiercely.
Jonas was so startled that for an instant he could only stare down at her in amazement. "What?" he finally got out.
Her eyes were deep, mysterious pools in the shadows as she looked up at him. "Take me to bed. Now.
Right this minute."
"Wouldn't you rather talk some more? You had a hell of an experience tonight. Maybe you'd rather we discussed it. I can answer some of your questions. Not all of them, but a few. You must have thousands, considering what you've been through."
"You're not listening to me. The questions can wait. I want to make love first. Right away."
"Uh, sure. You bet. My pleasure. I've been thinking along those lines myself. I mean, I've been wondering if you would be willing, but I thought I ought to give you a little time to..." He broke off, certain he had turned into a gibbering idiot. "Lady, sometimes you really take me by surprise."
She put her arms around his neck and pressed close. He could feel the firm roundness of her small br**sts against him as she rose onto her toes and forcefully pulled his head down to hers. He could feel her ni**les hardening beneath the pullover she wore.
"When did you stop wearing a bra?" he demanded.
"Never mind that. Kiss me," she urged passionately.
Jonas caught his breath, aware of the hot rush of blood in his veins. "Your wish is my command," he tried to say with a small, mockingly gallant smile, but he never finished the sentence.
Verity was assaulting his mouth while she pressed her body against him. Her lips were hot and demanding on his. When she thrust her small tongue between his teeth, Jonas's already aroused body kicked into high gear. He was suddenly throbbing with desire, as frantic for Verity as she was for him. The knowledge that she wanted him with such demanding urgency had much the same effect as pouring gasoline on open flames. Jonas nearly exploded.