"I have a hunch that what your father and I have in common is a mutual decision to live in the real world instead of pretending we actually enjoy the academic and literary establishments."

"It looks to me as if you both got lazy and took the easy way out," Verity retorted in an upbraiding tone.

All traces of humor vanished from Jonas's face. When he spoke, his voice was dangerously edged, just like the knife in his hand. "Lady, you don't know what you're talking about. Not all taient is a blessing.

Sometimes a thing like talent can kill you. Or it can drive you crazy. Maybe in your father's case, it simply bored him to death. You've got no right to sit in judgment."

Verity shivered. She didn't doubt that Jonas knew what he was talking about. Instinctively she sought refuge in a change of subject. "This is a stupid argument. You'd better get busy on those onions," she said briskly. "When you're finished with those, you can start chopping the carrots. I want them done julienne style. Do you know what that is?"

"Sure, boss lady. Whatever you say. I've got a question, though."

Verity eyed him warily. "What's that?"

"I've never worked in a gourmet vegetarian kitchen." He smiled a little too innocently. "What do you use the extra virgin olive oil for?"

"Salad dressings, among other things," she explained tartly. "And please spare me your sophomoric jokes. Extra virgin refers to the fact that the oil is of very high quality from the first pressing of the olives."

"Oh. I thought maybe it meant oil that had been aging on the shelf for a long time. Like some poor spinster who has never had a lover."

Verity could not halt the fierce rush of blood into her cheeks. He was just making a crude joke. He could not possibly be aware of her sexual status.

"That's a typically chauvinistic remark. I hate to break this to your male ego, but there are worse things in life than never having had a lover," she declared rashly.

Jonas's mouth curved faintly at the corner. "Such as?"

"Such as discovering you just hired someone who doesn't know the first thing about something as basic to a good kitchen as olive oil!"

"Don't worry, boss. I'm a fast learner."

Chapter Two

LIFE in the gourmet vegetarian lane wasn't half bad, Jonas decided on Sunday night as he finished off the last of the dishes and prepared to help Verity close the restaurant. He'd worked in worse places.

The clientele at the No Bull Cafe was trendy but harmless. They tended to be clean, chic, well behaved, and definitely upwardly mobile. And they tipped weil. A man could do worse.

On several occasions in his life, Jonas reflected, he had done worse. Much worse.

The crowd had been light that evening, but Verity ran out of broccoli bisque around nine nonetheless, and that had caused her to fret somewhat. Jonas had experienced an almost overpowering compulsion to cuddle her a bit and kiss the tip of her lightly freckled nose and tell her not to worry about the miscalculation on the soup. He had resisted the temptation. He was no fool.

Kissing the boss would no doubt be a good way to get himself flayed alive. The lady had a cutting edge on her tongue that made the knife in his duffel bag appear dull in comparison. Verity had a temper and she had no compunction about delivering an admonishing scold when she felt it was required. There was, in fact, Jonas had decided after due consideration, a side to Verity's nature that brought the word shrew vividly to mind.

It was not a scolding Jonas wanted to elicit from her. What he wanted was to be allowed to overdose on her smile.

Verity had a smile that dazzled the senses. He was fascinated by it; captivated by it. When it appeared—brilliant, warm, sensual, and genuine—he found himself staring at her in bemused wonder. There was a sweet, feminine honesty in that smile that drew a man the way honey drew bees. A man could be excused for thinking he was the most important male in the universe when Verity smiled at him. That smile drew Jonas more compellingly than even the dangerous secrets of his past.

That smile declared Verity to be a woman who would give herself to a man completely. At the same time, it proclaimed her to be a woman a man could trust with his life, his passion, and his honor. Verity's smile was a temptation to believe that chastity could walk hand in hand with an earthy sensuality. It was a smile of indescribable innocence and a haunting vow of total surrender. That smile promised everything and furthermore promised to deliver it with such innocent, passionate generosity that a man could not be blamed if he committed a few small murders to possess the owner of that smile.

But that smile left Jonas wondering why there weren't men standing ten deep around the No Bull Cafe begging for the chance to commit murder. It was hard to believe that every available male in the vicinity was so afraid of the shrew that they had given up trying to possess the sensual angel. But that appeared to be the case. Jonas didn't understand it; after all, what were a few thorns when you were hunting a real treasure? But he was grateful he didn't have to worry about a lot of competition.

Jonas figured the reason he had the field to himself probably involved more than Verity's shrewish tongue. It was probably that part of her basic nature that hinted at a certain fastidiousness. A man sensed instinctively that this was a woman who would never be promiscuous. In the short time he had been working for Verity, Jonas had clearly noticed that she had a remarkably prim and proper and unadventurous lifestyle. What was more, she seemed quite content with that lifestyle.

The weekend rush was over and Jonas felt he had acquitted himself well. At least his lady boss was not complaining too loudly.

He knew enough about her by now to realize that she certainly would complain if he didn't fulfill his duties to her satisfaction. She ran the little kitchen like the redheaded tyrant she was and she did not tolerate any laxity in cleanliness.

"The last thing I need is to have some of my customers get sick because the kitchen help failed to properly reheat the soup," she had told Jonas as she instructed him in soup preparation. "Everything has to be either chilled or hot. I don't want to see any food left sitting around at room temperature, and neither do the health authorities. They have a habit of paying unannounced visits, you know."

"We didn't worry too much about the health authorities down in Mexico," Jonas had remarked as he obediently stirred the soup.

"I'll bet you didn't worry about them in most of the places you've worked."

"True. A reasonable bribe usually took care of awkward health regulations."

"Things are different here," Verity had explained loftily.

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