"You get accustomed to it," he assured her with a smile. "It's easy to become accustomed to beauty. Too easy, perhaps. Eventually one finds that a superficially beautiful view or pistol or woman needs more than simple attractiveness to hold a man's attention."

Verity looked up at him. "The pistols are beautiful in their own way, but because they've never been used for their intended purpose, they lack a certain element of interest for you."

Kincaid smiled approvingly. "You are very perceptive, Miss Ames. That is exactly the case." He indicated the swords and rapiers on the walls. "These weapons all have histories. I do not collect ceremonial or dress swords, only those that I have reason to believe were used by the men who carried them." He glanced at Jonas. "Do you know anything about swords, Mr. Quarrel, or is your expertise limited to pistols?"

Jonas's eyes were cold and unreadable as he took in the sight of Damon Kincaid standing very close to Verity. "I know a little about swords." He flicked a glance toward a long, tapered rapier on the wall nearest him. "Enough to know that the dagger hanging next to that Italian rapier is a reproduction."

"A reproduction!" Kincaid's suave poise was momentarily shattered. He recovered quickly, however. "You must be mistaken. I bought that dagger from a very reliable source. It's late sixteenth century."

Jonas raised his brows and strolled over to take a closer look. "Mind if I handle it?"

GIFT OF GOLD 237

Kincaid hesitated, then shrugged. "Go ahead."

Verity realized she was holding her breath. She wondered if Jonas was going to test himself again. She knew he was eager to explore his new command of his talent, but this wasn't the time or place for such experiments. However, she couldn't think of any way to stop him. She braced herself for the impact of finding herself in the long corridor.

Then she remembered that he had claimed the dagger was a fake. If it was a reproduction, she told herself in relief, it shouldn't have any effect on him. She relaxed again.

Jonas took the dagger down from the wall. Verity trembled as a flickering image of the psychic tunnel slithered in and out of her mind. It didn't take a firm, solid shape the way it had the last time she had seen it. It was as if this part of the corridor were not as completely constructed; as if it were somehow newer.

There was a brief impression of Jonas's presence but she couldn't see him. She was turning around to look at him when a hazy image appeared in the corridor behind her. Thinking it might be Jonas, she hurried toward it. She did not like being alone in this psychic tunnel.

She was almost on top of the image before it crystallized briefly into a scene of an old-fashioned, formal dining room. There was a man seated in an ornate armchair at the far end of an inlaid table. He was clutching at his heart, a stricken expression on his aging, florid face. He seemed to be staring past her toward someone who was not present.

Heart attack, Verity thought, instinctively moving forward. But even as she watched the man pitched forward, the upper half of his body sprawling across a plate of what appeared to be lingumi with prawns.

It was then that Verity saw the blood. It welled from the man's chest, mingling with the linguini and turning the white cream sauce a sickly shade of red.

Verity halted in shock. No one bled like that from a heart attack. Her mind whirled as fear and a terrible sensation of violence swirled around her. Writhing tendrils of emotion leaped from the image and dived toward her.

Verity turned to run and collided with Jonas. He grabbed her wrist, his eyes narrow and grim as he looked at the flickering, fading scene behind her.

"It's okay," he said roughly. "It's okay, honey. I'm releasing the dagger. We're out of here."

An instant later the half-formed corridor and the dying man at the dinner table popped out of existence in Verity's mind. She opened her eyes and nearly lost her balance. Automatically she reached out to steady herself and found herself grabbing Damon Kincaid's arm.

"I beg your pardon?" Kincaid, who had been watching Jonas with close attention, glanced down at Verity's hand on his arm. "Something wrong, Miss Ames?"

"No, nothing." She took a deep breath and tried another of the smiles Jonas had instructed her to apply.

"I just felt a bit dizzy for a moment. I haven't eaten today. Time for lunch." She let go of Kincaid's expensive jacket sleeve. Across the room, Jonas had restored the dagger to the wall. He was watching her with a furious glint in his eyes as she freed their host's arm.

Kincaid glanced at the thin gold and steel watch on his wrist. "You're right," he said jovially. "It is almost lunch-time. I would be pleased if the two of you would allow me to take you out to a meal as a thank-you for bringing the duelers here to my office." He looked at Verity, not Jonas, for an acceptance of his invitation.

Verity, still reorienting herself, looked at Jonas for guidance. She didn't want to kill a potential deal by making the wrong choice here.

Jonas took immediate command of the situation.

"No, thanks," he said coldly. "Verity and I have to be on our way. We've got a lot to do today. Are you ready, Verity?"

"Yes, Jonas," she said meekly, trying out the sweet smile again. She was curious to see if it had any direct effect on him the way it seemed to have had on Kincaid.

"Let's go." He closed the mahogany pistol case and started for the door. He appeared to be totally unaware of Verity's fluff-brained smile.

"Just a moment," Kincaid said as they reached the door. "You didn't give me your final verdict on the dagger. Still think it's a phony now that you've had a chance to handle it?"

"It's not sixteenth century," Jonas said from the doorway. "More like 1955. Excellent work, but definitely a reproduction."

Kincaid's mouth hardened. "You must be mistaken."

Jonas shrugged. "Suit yourself." He started to close the door and then paused one last time. "If I were you, though, I'd be careful about dealing with whoever sold that dagger to you."

"Why do you say that?"

"For one thing, he sold you a reproduction. For another, I get the feeling his acquisition technique is a little crude."

"What the devil are you talking about?" Kincaid looked furious.

"Forget it. Probably just some minor professional jealousy on my part. After all, he got a fortune out of you for a fake and I couldn't even sell you a genuine set of pistols. Goodbye, Mr. Kincaid."

Kincaid stared at the door as it closed. He was torn between rage and a deep sense of danger. He stabbed the intercom on his desk.

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