"May I help you?" the receptionist asked politely, her dark eyes on Jonas.

"Jonas Quarrel and Verity Ames. We're here to see Mr. Kincaid," Jonas said easily. "We have an appointment."

"Of course, Mr. Quarrel." The woman's voice was warm honey. "You may go right in. Mr. Kincaid is expecting you. His secretary will show you the way."

Another sleek-looking woman, this one a blonde, walked into the room. She greeted the visitors in a finishing-school accent. Verity surreptitiously examined the designer suits both the receptionist and Kincaid's secretary wore and decided that pink-coliar work must pay better than restaurant work.

She'd better be careful or Jonas might decide to try office work. It was a cinch either of the women in Kincaid's office would be happy to welcome him into their ranks. They'd probably welcome him into a few other places, too.

It occurred to Verity that she might be jealous. The knowledge made her feel extremely fluff-brained.

She remembered the smile that went with the image just as Kincaid's secretary showed them through a heavy paneled door.

"Miss Ames and Mr. Quarrel, sir." The secretary excused herself with a polite nod at Jonas.

Verity noticed two things very quickly about Kincaid's office. One was the stuffed dummy suspended from the ceiling, which looked like a dead body; the second was the Caitlin Evanger painting on the wall. It was one of Caitlin's most violent works, a picture of a woman struggling to swim through a bloody sea. Verity stifled a small shiver. The pain in Caitlin's work never failed to touch her.

Then she turned her smile on the astonishingly good-looking man who rose to greet them. He appeared to be about Jonas's age—somewhere in his late thirties—and he was built along similar lines. There was the same lean, vital quality captured in a tall, strong-shouldered, narrow-hipped frame.

But the similarities ended there. Not only was Damon Kincaid technically better-looking than Jonas, but he radiated the kind of power associated with great financial success. His burnished blond hair was cut with the precision achieved only by stylists who charged the equivalent of a meal at a Union Square restaurant. Kincaid's silvery gray suit was Italian, cut to emphasize his sleek build. His shoes were handmade, and the scrap of blood-red cloth in his breast pocket was silk. It was embroidered with a tiny K.

"Miss Ames." Kincaid inclined his head with a gallant grace that somehow conveyed masculine admiration without in any way suggesting a come-on. He stared down into her smiling face for a few seconds longer than necessary, as if intrigued by something he saw there. Then he turned to Jonas.

"Mr. Quarrel. Thank you very much for making the trip here today. I was very sorry to put you to the trouble, but when my assistant, Hatch, informed me that you were planning to come into the city to see other potential buyers, I couldn't resist the request that you stop by my office."

"No problem," Jonas said, casually laying his package down on the one piece of furniture in the room, Kincaid's desk. "My client wishes to make the best possible deal, and your man Hatch implied you could afford what we've got to offer."

"Money is not an issue," Kincaid said coolly. "Authenticity and condition are, however."

"The pistols are in excellent condition," Jonas assured him, beginning to unwrap the package.

"Windham and Smyth flintlocks. Original case. Probably 1795 or so. Definitely a pair of duelers.

You'll know as soon as you hold one." Jonas paused just a fraction of a second as he lifted the lid of the mahogany case. "If you know dueling pistols, that is."

"As you can see from what's on my wall, my chief area of interest is swords, but I also have some duelers at home and I'm familiar with them." Kincaid examined the contents of the case and then reached inside to lift out one of the guns. "Excellent grip. Good, heavy pistols." His gaze slid from the gun to Jonas. "You're certain of their authenticity?"

"Absolutely."

"What can you offer as proof?"

"I'm not at liberty to discuss the collector who owned them last, but I can tell you that the pistols belonged to a prestigious British family for a hundred and seventy-five years before they came into the hands of the last collector. They were carried to the scene of a duel between a member of that family and another man shortly before 1800."

Verity shuddered and went to stand by the window.

Kincaid appeared more interested. "An actual duel? What was the outcome?" He gazed down at the steel barrel of the pistol he was holding as if it were made of diamonds.

Jonas glanced at Verity's profile as he answered the question. "No shots were fired. The duel was halted when the cause of the challenge interrupted the affair and put a stop to it."

For some reason Verity happened to turn her head at that moment and caught the expression on Kincaid's face. She could have sworn he looked disappointed.

"You say the cause of the duel interrupted things?" Kincaid murmured. "A woman, I presume?"

"Her name was Amanda," Jonas said calmly.

"I see." Kincaid picked up the second pistol. "Well, the fact that they've never been fired reduces their value to me. I prefer arms that have been used as they were intended to be used. A personal quirk, I'm afraid."

"I understand." Jonas held out the case so that Kincaid could replace the pistol.

Kincaid's brows came together over his aristocratic nose, but he surrendered the weapon. "That doesn't mean I don't intend to make an offer. I would like to have them properly appraised."

Jonas smiled blandly. "As 1 said, you're welcome to have your own expert examine them, but I can't make another trip here to your office. I intend to close a deal as soon as possible and I have three other potential buyers to see today. The other three are experts themselves and won't have to waste time hiring someone to check out the pistols. I'm sure you understand. However, if I don't reach an agreement with one of those three today, feel free to contact me again and set up a time to have your man look over the guns."

The subtle insult had its effect. Kincaid clearly did not like the implication that he was not enough of an expert to reach his own decision. But he covered his reaction with cool poise. "I'll consider that. Keep me informed about the outcome of your negotiations today." He deliberately turned away from Jonas and walked over to stand beside Verity at the window. "Lovely view, isn't it, Miss Ames?"

"Very." She practiced her smile and noticed that Damon Kincaid seemed quite fascinated by it. Maybe she ought to use it on more men more often. "You're lucky to have this office, Mr. Kincaid. If I had it, I don't think I'd get much work done. The view is too much of a distraction."

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