"I'm learning."

And he was, Jonas thought on Sunday evening as he watched Verity walk up the path to her small cabin in the trees. No doubt about it. He was learning a lot about Ms. Verity Ames, skilled chef, small-time tyrant, and savvy businesswoman.

One of the things Jonas had learned was that he wanted her. Badly. He had sensed it first down in Mexico, but ever since he had arrived on her doorstep. Friday afternoon, the need had been growing within him. He had told himself at first that it had nothing to do with sex. The need within him was all tied up with the mystery of the earring and the strange compulsion that had made him follow Verity out of Mexico.

But by Sunday night Jonas knew better. He wanted her in some way that was both sexual and psychic.

He was beginning to wonder if taking Verity to bed might solve some of the mystery she held for him.

A quote flickered in his mind—a short passage from Castiglione's Book of the Courtier. Something about whoever possesses a woman's body also wins the fortress of her mind and soul.

It had been a while since Jonas had studied the sixteenth century Renaissance guide to gentlemanly behavior. He seemed to recall there had been a counterargument made in response to that particular statement about dealing with women, but he couldn't remember exactly what it was. At the moment he didn't care. The old words suddenly seemed to make excellent sense to Jonas.

Jonas sat on the steps that led up to the deck of his small cottage and fingered the earring in his pocket.

He listened to the soft sigh of the breeze in the dark pines. He was waiting to see if Verity would follow her usual nightly routine.

This was the third night he had watched her walk back to her cabin alone. The first night, he had offered to escort her but she had just laughed and told him to get some sleep. She was quite accustomed to seeing herself home.

She was telling the truth, Jonas knew. It was becoming more and more obvious that Verity did not have a lover. Nor did she seem to care about the lack of a love life.

He had discovered her nightly routine on Friday when he had glanced out the window of his cabin after turning off the lights. Verity didn't turn off her own lights as quickly as he had expected. He had stood at the window and watched and after a few minutes he had been rewarded with the sight of his new boss coming back out of her cabin.

She had changed into a bathing suit and terrycloth robe and she made her way briskly along the unlit path toward the resort.

Jonas's first thought was that his boss lady had a midnight swimming rendezvous with a man. The idea had made him strangely restless. He had been unable to resist the impulse to follow her.

He had discovered, to his secret, overwhelming relief, that Verity was not meeting a man. She was using the resort's spa pools after hours. The bathing rooms were distinctly marked with a "closed for the night"

sign, but Verity had let herself in through a back door and had walked right into the women's section.

Jonas had been fascinated as he stood out of sight and watched Verity ease into a steaming, bubbling pool. It had amused him that she wore a swimsuit into the spa bath, even though she had the place to herself.

It was a very prim and proper little bathing suit. It was cut high across her small, rounded br**sts and it even had a modest ruffled skirt around the hips. It made Jonas think of the bottle of extra virgin olive oil that occupied a shelf in Verity's kitchen.

Tonight he had decided to join the tyrant in her after-hours relaxation program. Jonas figured he deserved it after the way she had lectured him earlier that afternoon about the evils of fast food. It had been his own fault, of course. He should have been more discreet with the greasy hamburger he had brought back from the chain restaurant in town.

The problem was that there were occasions when he couldn't resist deliberately provoking the little tyrant.

He was rapidly learning just what sort of provocation it took to get a rise out of Verity. A part of him had guessed that the sight of the hamburger would do it and he had blandly let her see him eating it.

Jonas was perceptive enough to realize that provoking the lady was a poor substitute for what he really ached to do with her. He wondered if she would fire him on the spot if she realized that while he scrubbed her pots and pans he was fantasizing about taking her on the kitchen floor.

Once again Jonas wondered if he really could get faster answers to the mystery of Verity Ames if he did get her into bed. He was turning that over in his mind when he saw her cabin door open. Right on schedule. He pulled himself out of his reverie and watched her as she stood silhouetted for a moment in the light that shone through the open doorway.

She was dressed in her usual discreet bathing suit and robe, her red hair caught up in a loose cluster of curls on top of her head. As Jonas watched she closed the door behind her, not bothering to lock it, and started down the path to the lodge.

Jonas gave her a few minutes and then got to his feet. He reached down to pick up the two cans of beer he had put on the step earlier and then he set out after her.

As he paced down the path behind her, Jonas studied the sweet, unconsciously seductive sway that characterized Verity's stride. No doubt about it, the lady had one hell of a sexy tail. There was a gentle glide to her movements that appealed to him on a visceral level. It made him wonder how she would feel moving beneath him in passion. He could visualize those nicely curved legs wrapped around his waist, and he had no trouble at all imagining the lush globes of her bu**ocks filling his hands. Now he wanted to know the reality of what it would be like to make love to Verity Ames.

Jonas had tried to be realistic during the past three days. He had told himself that, objectively speaking, Verity was not a great beauty, not by a long shot. She could have been a little taller, for one thing.

Furthermore, she was a bit small on top, and overall she was much too thin, although Jonas didn't fault her tiny waist. Verity's sienderness was a direct result of the fact that she worked too hard, in his opinion.

Her features were delicate but not classic. Her aqua-green eyes tilted up at the corners like those of a playful cat, and her nose was a bit sharp. There was a stubborn, feminine strength in the line of her jaw and firm little chin. It was a face that reflected intelligence and energy and a unique kind of sensuality.

Jonas's fingers tightened around the cold cans of beer and he quickened his step as Verity disappeared through a door at the back of the resort's main building.

* * *

Verity eased herself into the hot, bubbling water of the spa pool, sank down onto the bench seat, and leaned back against the white tile. She closed her eyes and exhaled slowly, a long, satisfied sigh of relief.

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