Jonas thoughtfully tapped one finger on the scarred wooden table. "Except for one thing: sharks don't normally kill the client who's just a little late in paying. What's the point? You can't collect from a dead man."

Emerson shrugged. "He probably wasn't sent to kill me. He probably had orders to impress me with a display of mayhem."

"Why the gun?" Verity snapped.

"A man who makes his living as a collection agent for a loan shark doesn't run around unarmed," Jonas pointed out dryly. "The gun was probably for effect. But when he realized there were two people in the cabin he panicked. He didn't know what he was up against, so he decided to shoot first and ask questions later."

Verity shook her head despairingly. "Why didn't you say something about this to the deputies? Why let them think the man was just some unknown thief? What will happen when the guy wakes up and starts talking?"

Jonas rubbed the back of his neck with a weary gesture. "Probably not much. Why should he say anything? His boss has undoubtedly issued standing orders to his collection agents about what to do if they get picked up, and those orders probably cover such issues as keeping their mouths shut until a lawyer arrives to take over."

Verity glared at her father. "And I suppose you don't want to say anything because it will open up a can of worms. You'll have to explain about the gambling debt, the man who gave you the pistols, the deal that was made for the pistols, which, it just occurs to me, did not include California State sales tax, and heaven knows what else."

Emerson sighed. "Like you said, Red, a can of worms. I can handle it if it's necessary, but I'd just as soon not go into all the fine nuances of the thing if it can be avoided."

Verity came to a halt and confronted both men with her hands planted on her hips. "This is an inexcusable debacle. You both realize that, don't you? It's crazy and it's stupid and it's dangerous. Not to mention shady to the point of being illegal. And none of it would have happened, Dad, if you'd had the common sense to avoid a piece of lowlife like that damn loan shark Yarington."

"I know, Red." Emerson gave her a woeful-eyed spaniel look that didn't fool Verity for a minute.

She swung her attention to Jonas. "As for you, do you have any idea what could have happened here tonight? You and my father might both have been killed. Instead, you nearly killed a man, and there you sit, calm as can be, drinking vodka and acting as if nothing out of the ordinary has occurred."

Jonas shifted uneasily in his chair. "Now take it easy, honey. I know you're a little upset about all this...."

"A little upset? You and my father nearly get blown away by some hit man who works for a mobster, I find you with your knife stuck in a man's chest, you make me a party to the deception you're perpetrating on the authorities, and then you have the nerve to tell me not to get upset? Are you out of your mind, Jonas, or just totally insensitive?"

"Now, Red," Emerson began soothingly.

"Don't you 'now, Red' me," Verity hissed. "I've had as much as I can take for one evening. While the two of you celebrate your machismo, I'm going home to see if I can get any sleep at all before morning.

Unlike certain members of the assembled company, I have a legitimate business to run and I need my rest. The two of you go right ahead and enjoy your vodka. I'm sure you have a lot to hash over. You've certainly got enough in common to keep a conversation going for the rest of the night." She spun around and slammed the cabin door behind her.

There was a long silence in the small cottage after Verity's noisy departure. Jonas stared broodingly at the closed door, his fingers locked around the small glass of vodka. On the other side of the table Emerson sighed again and took a healthy swallow of his drink, draining the glass in the process. He reached for the bottle.

"She always did have a bit of a temper," Emerson said apologetically. "Tends to be assertive."

"I've noticed."

"My fault. I raised her to speak her mind." He brightened. "Don't worry about it," he advised more cheerfully. "She'll calm down and come around. She always does. You'll see."

"Wishful thinking," Jonas said. "Did you see the look on her face when she saw my knife in that jerk's chest? She looked like she'd seen a ghost."

"Verity doesn't approve of violence," Emerson explained carefully. "Maybe I accidentally exposed her to a little too much of the rough side of life while she was growing up. I tried to protect her from the really bad stuff, but you know how it is in some of the more interesting places around the world. And besides, I didn't want to be overprotective. She witnessed her share of barroom brawls and once or twice a knifing."

"She says I'm like you," Jonas said.

"Well, hell, that's a dumb comparison. I don't even have a master's degree, let alone a Ph.D."

"I don't think that's quite what she meant."

Emerson nodded gloomily. "I was afraid of that. She thinks you've got the same wanderlust I've got, doesn't she?"

"Among other things," Jonas agreed dryly. "She also thinks I'm irresponsible, unreliable, and incapable of long-term commitment. She thinks the only reason I'm here is because I want to explore the effect she has on my psychic abilities."

"So why does she let you hang around her cabin until three in the morning?" Emerson demanded shrewdly, obviously striving to make a point in spite of the vodka.

Jonas tipped his glass and poured the last of his drink down his throat. "Damned if I can figure it out. I guess she thinks I'm hell on wheels in bed. We have to face the possibility that your sweet, innocent, puritanical, prissy little daughter is using me for cheap thrills, Emerson."

"I don't have to face that possibility," Emerson corrected. "You do. Good luck. In the meantime, I guess I'd better get cracking on getting that money wired to Mr. Reginald C. Yanngton before he does anything else rash."

Jonas shook off his gloom and tried to focus on more practical matters. "Just how late are you on that tab, Emerson?"

"Not more than a few weeks. Hell, Yanngton knows I'm good for it eventually. Wasn't any need to send some knee-crusher after me."

"Wonder how he found you."

"The crusher?" Emerson considered that. "Good question. I must have left more of a trail than I thought.

Not inconceivable that someone who knows me and who also knows Yarington told him about my daughter, and he may have tracked her down to see if I was hiding out with her."