"No shit?" Emerson sat up, fully alert. "Where?"

Jonas explained, keeping his voice low. "If he's going to invite himself inside, he'll probably use a window. If he's already checked the place out, he'll know this one has a broken lock."

Emerson rolled out of bed wearing only his briefs. "Should be simple enough. There's two of us and one of him." He went to stand in the shadows to the left of the window, moving with surprising quiet for a man his size.

Jonas went over to his duffel bag, unzipped it, and slipped his knife out of its sheath. He was heading toward the opposite side of the window when the front door slammed open without any preliminary scratching at the lock. The intruder must have tested it earlier and found it unlocked.

Almost simultaneously light splashed the room from the overhead bulb as the man in the doorway hit the switch. He crouched there in a gunman's stance. He was dressed in a camouflage shirt and dark pants. There was a death's-head grin on his all-American farmboy face.

The .357 magnum in his hand did not look like it had come off the farm. It looked very big-city. It also appeared that its owner knew how to use it. The gun was pointed at Emerson, who did not so much as blink an eye. As if he suddenly realized that there were two people in the cabin, the intruder started to jerk the barrel around toward Jonas.

But Jonas's knife was already in the air, sailing toward its target with the eagerness of a lover. The gunman's finger spasmed on the trigger as the blade hit home.

Chapter Fifteen

THE sound of the gunshot brought Verity awake with an adrenaline rush. She sat up in bed as if she had been struck and listened to the awful silence that followed the shot.

Perhaps she had dreamed the crack of the gun. There were other explanations. A car might have backfired.

But Verity was a woman with a well-rounded education. She had heard the brutal roar of a gun before.

She scrambled out of bed and raced to the window, wishing Jonas had spent the night with her. A sickening thought followed on the heels of that vain wish. The shot could easily have come from the cottage. She realized with a start that the lights were on in the other cabin.

Verity grabbed her jeans and yanked them on, stuffed her feet into a pair of loafers, and reached for a blouse as she passed the closet. By the time she opened the front door she was almost dressed.

Fastening buttons frantically, she raced out into the night, heading toward the cottage at a dead run.

Jonas and her father, the two most important people in the world to her, were in that cabin and something was terribly wrong.

Verity rushed along the path, the crisp night air stinging her cheeks. As she neared the cabin she saw that the front door stood wide open, A triangle of light poured out into the darkness, revealing the crouched figure of a man. He was bending over a man who was lying crumpled and unmoving on the threshold.

"Jonas!"

Jonas glanced up and in the glare of the cabin's overhead bulb his face was a cold, dangerous mask carved in stone. The man on the floor groaned but did not open his eyes. The plain, frighteningly utilitarian handle of a knife protruded from the folds of his camouflage shirt. A dark, slowly spreading stain circled the area around the point where the blade had entered his body just below the left shoulder.

"It's all right, Verity," Jonas said in what was probably supposed to be a soothing voice. "Emerson is fine."

Emerson stepped into the light and said reassuringly, "All in one piece, thanks to Jonas here. This is one very handy dishwasher you've hired, Red. Maybe you ought to give him a raise."

Verity flicked a glance at her father, assuring herself that he was telling the truth about his condition.

Then her attention went back to Jonas. She eyed him searchingly. "What about you?"

He appeared mildly surprised by her inquiry. "I'm fine. But it's time to call the law and an ambulance.

Since there's no phone in this cabin, Verity, you're elected to run back to your place and make the call."

"What about him?" Verity swallowed silently and stared down at the man on the floor. He appeared to be about her age. His light brown hair was cut so short that it looked almost a parody of a military cut. The camouflage shirt, heavy boots, and web belt could have been a costume if it weren't for the blood and the gun lying on the floor in the corner.

"The bleeding's under control as long as I leave the knife where it is. I'll let the medics remove it."

Jonas's narrowed eyes went over the man's ashen face. He leaned across and put two fingers against the carotid artery. "He's going into shock. Better get moving, Verity, or we'll lose him, and if we lose him we won't ever get any answers out of him."

Verity closed her eyes and sucked in a deep, steadying breath. "I'll be right back." She whirled and started to run back the way she had come.

"Verity?"

She paused, turning back. "What is it, Jonas?"

"Right now, all we know is that this joker tried to break in to the cabin. Probably thought it was an empty tourist cottage. When he found it occupied, he panicked and used his gun. Don't volunteer any more information than that to whoever takes the call."

"What other information is there?" she demanded with asperity.

Emerson chuckled. "That's the ticket, Red. Just play innocent. You're good at that."

"For God's sake, what are you two talking about? What's going on here?"

"We'll discuss it later," Jonas promised.

Verity longed to dig in her heels until she had some answers but somehow she didn't think the tactic would work. For the moment Jonas was in charge and Emerson was backing him. A stranger was slowly bleeding to death on the floor. That left her without a lot of options. The situation confirmed her long-held opinion that it was never a good idea to put men in charge of anything.

* * *

It seemed a very long while before things settled back to a state resembling normal. By the time the sheriff's men had left and the unconscious man had been taken away on a stretcher, Verity had finally figured out what Jonas and Emerson had concluded earlier.

Scowling, she paced the small cabin, her arms folded under her br**sts. Jonas and Emerson lounged at the table. There was a glass of straight vodka in front of each of them. Both tracked Verity's restless progress with hooded expressions. They looked as if they half-expected her to go up in flames in front of them at any moment.

"Let me get this straight," Verity said coldly. "You think the man who broke in here tonight was sent by that loan shark you're dealing with, Dad?"

"There's a distinct possibility Yarington sent him," Emerson said blandly.

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