The lights in her father's cottage were still on, she noticed as she neared her place. The chess game must be a nightlong marathon.

For a long moment she stood on the path, trying to make up her mind. Going over to the other cottage would probably look like an act of feminine weakness on her part. Men such as Emerson and Jonas would be quick to pounce on any sign of weakness.

But she had nearly lost both of them last night and the knowledge would send chills through her for a long time to come.

Verity made up her mind. Flinging her damp towel over her shoulder, she strode up the path to the cottage. Her brusque knock was met with a slurred response.

"Enter at your own risk," Emerson called.

Verity winced. Her father sounded as if he'd had one too many vodkas. When she opened the door and stepped hesitantly inside, she saw that she was right. Nor was her father the only one who had made inroads into the new bottle of vodka that Emerson must have purchased that afternoon. Jonas was sprawled on a chair, his legs stretched out in front of him, his dark hair falling forward over one eye.

The remains of an unfinished chess game sat on a table.

Jonas's golden eyes glittered at her between narrowed lids as she entered. He lifted his glass in mocking salute.

"Behold, my lady doth appear,

a noble goddess, fair and wise.

She doth fill the room with beauty

and a warmth which lasts until

You see the shrew who looks at you

from the depths of blue-green eyes."

"What are you two celebrating?" Verity asked mildly.

"Got the money wired to Yarington this afternoon," Emerson announced. "We're celebrating the fact that no one else is going to show up on our front door step with a mini-howitzer this evening."

"That's a reassuring piece of news." Verity peered at Jonas. "Are you very drunk?"

"If I'm not, I will be soon. I'm working hard on the project. You should be proud of me, little tyrant. You're always giving me lectures telling me how I should apply myself and stick with something until I'm successful. I've decided to take your advice. Tonight I am applying myself. I'm going to get successfully drunk and prove to you that I have what it takes to reach a worthy goal." He tipped the vodka bottle over his glass and replenished his drink. "Emerson, being the good buddy that he is, has promised to help and encourage me in my endeavor."

"Least I could do," Emerson said with a modest shrug. "You being the guy who saved my ass and all."

"To the fine art of saving asses." Jonas raised his glass in another salute. "A potential career path for me."

Verity smiled wryly at him. "I think you've had enough, Jonas." Her tone was gentle.

He glared at her. "What makes you any kind of judge? I'll bet you've never been thoroughly drunk in your entire prudish life. I'll bet it sickens and disgusts you to see a man drinking like this, doesn't it?

I'll bet you just can't wait to slam that door on this whole nauseating scene and scurry back to your own little bed where I'll bet no man has ever spent an entire night. Hell, I know no man has ever spent an entire night there. I'm the world's leading authority on your sex life, aren't I?"

"If you say so." Verity walked across the room to stand in front of him. A smile flirted at the edges of her mouth. "I really do think you've had enough, Jonas."

"Yeah?" He gave her a belligerent look. "Shows how much you know. I haven't even started."

She reached down and took the glass from him. She'd expected a struggle and was surprised when he released it at once. Without a word she set the glass down on the table and took hold of his hand.

"Come with me," Verity said softly.

Jonas blinked owlishly and obediently got to his feet. He was remarkably steady, considering the amount of vodka he had imbibed. "Where are we going, boss?"

"Home to my place." She kissed her father's cheek. "Good night, Dad. I'll see you in the morning. Be sure to lock the front door tonight."

"I'll do that. Make sure Slick, there, has his key. I don't want to have to get out of bed at three in the morning to let him into the cabin." Emerson's eyes twinkled.

"Don't worry," Verity said. "He won't be needing his key tonight."

"I won't?" A slow, remarkably cheerful grin curved Jonas's hard mouth.

"No," Verity confirmed steadily. "You won't. You're undoubtedly going to pass out when I get you home and you probably won't wake up until morning."

"Your faith in my ability to hold my liquor does wonders for my ego," Jonas managed dryly.

"If you don't like what I do to your ego, you're free to stay here. I can always go home alone."

His fingers, which had been lying docilely within hers, abruptly moved to clamp around her wrist like a manacle. "I'm ready to go when you are. Night, Emerson."

Emerson raised his glass. "Good night, Jonas. Been a pleasure drinking with you."

Verity wasn't quite certain who led whom back to her cabin. There was no doubt, however, that Jonas was more than willing. When she got him inside the warm cottage and closed the door, he exhaled in deep satisfaction and began unbuttoning his shirt.

"Let's go to bed, honey," he said, starting down the hall.

"I'll be right there," Verity promised as she moved around the room turning out lights.

When she finally went down the hall to her room she was not altogether surprised to find Jonas naked under the quilt. He was sound asleep.

He stirred slightly when she slipped into bed beside him but he didn't awaken. His arm went around her in a possessive manner and his breath was slow and steady in her hair.

Verity thought she would be awake for a long while thinking about Jonas and herself and their unresolved relationship. It was certainly a subject that provided a good basis for insomnia.

But instead she fell asleep within minutes.

* * *

Jonas awoke around three in the morning with the vague notion that he was supposed to get up and go somewhere. He had gotten into the habit lately of going someplace at three in the morning. It took him a minute to remember where that place was.

Then he felt Verity stir beside him and recalled that tonight he could stay right where he was. Verity had brought him home and Jonas distinctly remembered her telling her father that he would be passed out for the night.

Jonas was not fool enough to wake Verity in order to find out if she'd meant what she'd implied. He had learned long ago not to question the bits and pieces of occasional good luck that sometimes fell into his path. He took what he could get in that line and gave thanks.

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