"That's good advice for someone like you who's lived by that principle for years. But I'm different, Jonas."

"I know," he said wryly. "You're going to spend an enormous amount of time and energy dissecting our relationship, examining it inside and out, and generally working yourself up about something that should just be taken one day at a time. It's your nature to try to label and organize things."

"You're right," she agreed. "Maybe we'd better change the subject. When's Dad going to pay off that shark?"

"Reginald C. Yarington? In a couple of days. As soon as Haggerty's check clears, I imagine."

"I hope Dad doesn't get so excited by the prospect of having all that money in his hands that he rushes out and places a few bets at the track instead of paying off the shark," Verity said worriedly.

"Don't worry, I'm certain Emerson will pay off his loan. He really does think of a gambling debt as a debt of honor, you know. He also assures me that Yarington is not a man to be trifled with. Emerson doesn't want to have to spend the next few years looking over his shoulder."

Verity shuddered. "Dad and I owe you for this, Jonas," she said very seriously. "You helped us a lot by handling the sale of those pistols. Neither of us would have known how to go about contacting big-time private collectors and we wouldn't have been sure of what to ask for the guns."

His hand tightened abruptly on her bare shoulder. "Let's get something straight, Verity. Your dad may feel he owes me a favor or two, but you don't owe me anything. Got that?"

She was startled by the harshness of his voice and the fierceness of his grip. "But, Jonas, we do owe you, and even though you think I'm a shrew, I want you to know that I always pay my debts."

"Shut up, Verity," he said gently. "There is no debt between us, and if you bring up the matter one more time I may do something rash. And for the record, I don't mind taming the occasional shrew. A man needs a challenge once in a while. Ouch! " He doubled over, clutching at his ribs as Verity landed a quick punch.

"Just how many shrews have you tamed?" she asked a little too sweetly.

"You're the first," he admitted, still holding his ribs. "And at this rate, you may be the last. One shrew per lifetime may be the limit for any man."

Satisfied, Verity settled back against his arm. Her mood had suddenly lightened, she discovered. On to other topics of conversation. "What are you going to do now that you've started exploring your talent again, Jonas? Go back to teaching history? Or work for a museum?"

"I don't want to go back to teaching. I've been away from it too long. One thing I discovered during the past five years is that I don't miss grading exams or lecturing to a classroom full of students who're more concerned with the development of their sex lives than with the contrast between Renaissance humanism and Renaissance military philosophy. To put it simply, teaching sucks. But it has crossed my mind that I could go back to making a few bucks doing consulting work. It pays well, doesn't demand a lot of time, and it's interesting."

"You said something earlier today about getting stronger," Verity said slowly. "Do you think you'll get to the point where one of these days you won't need me to anchor you when you enter that corridor?"

Jonas sighed. "I don't know. I just don't know, Verity. I've got as many questions as you have about what happens between us when we enter that corridor."

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Verity turned Jonas's words over in her mind. He was right, she was dwelling on the relationship far too much. Verity wondered if Caitlin Evanger had ever found herself involved with a man to the point where she spent a gTeat deal of time and energy fretting about the relationship.

"What are you thinking about?" Jonas asked whimsically.

"I was thinking about Caitlin; wondering if she ever had a great love in her life."

"I'doubt it," Jonas said with flat certainty. "I can't see her loving anything but her art, and she's apparently planning to abandon that."

"I think there's a lot more to her than you can see," Verity said earnestly. "I wouldn't be surprised if she went through some great trauma at some point in the past. Something other than the car accident, I mean. Perhaps she was badly hurt emotionally. No one withdraws from the world the way she has without a good reason."

"Some people are born cold-blooded, Verity. Take my word for it. I've met men who can kill with as little concern as they apply to eating breakfast." He paused. "Kincaid's cold."

Verity glanced at him in astonishment. "What makes you say that?"

"Something in his eyes when he looked at you. Don't tell me: you found him warm, charming, and attractive, right?"

She thought about it. "To tell you the truth, I didn't know quite how to take him."

"He'd take you in a hot second if he thought he could get you into bed."

Verity nearly choked. " What? Are you serious, Jonas?" She was shocked. "I'm not his type at all."

"Yes, you are," Jonas said thoughtfully. "A man like Kincaid has a lot of types, and one of them would be the bright-eyed, fresh, wholesome type. Just the type to cleanse the palate after a surfeit of sophistication and glamour. You don't know how perpetually innocent you look, honey. There's a genuineness about you that makes a man think you'd hold nothing back if he could just get you into bed. If I hadn't been around, I have a hunch Kincaid might have tried to seduce you. If you were still a virgin and he had known it, I would probably have had to use that dagger on him to keep him away from you. Not because he had fallen for one Verity Ames on sight, but because he's the kind of creep who gets off on the idea of seducing virgins. Hell, the main reason I pulled that stunt with the dagger was that I wanted to get his attention off you. I knew that for him, the idea that he might have been conned would be a whole lot more important than any woman."

Verity was stunned. She stared at Jonas, open-mouthed in astonishment. "Do you really believe that Damon was attracted to me?"

"Don't look so dumbfounded. I'm a man. Give me some credit for being able to judge the members of my own species. And like I said, it wasn't you, the person, that attracted him; it was you, the sweetly smiling innocent, he wanted."

"Dammit, I am not an innocent!" She frowned fiercely and touched the tip of her nose. "Maybe it's the freckles that give people that impression."

Jonas chuckled indulgently, bent his head, and kissed her parted lips with quick, hard possessiveness.

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