"True," Jonas agreed neutrally.

"But now I wonder."


Neither of them said anything else for a long time.

* * *

Verity could not get either the rape scene or Tavi's demands out of her mind after lunch. Caitlin seemed not to notice her guest's uneasiness. Throughout the midday meal, which was served by a grimly silent Tavi, the artist talked incessantly about her plans for the evening and about the auction she intended to hold the next day.

Lunch was served in an alcove off the kitchen because the rest of the bottom floor of the house had been taken over by caterers and decorators. Caitlin was sparing no expense to recreate her Renaissance salon scene in the huge room that fronted the house on the ground floor.

Verity covertly studied her friend's too-brilliant eyes while she ate. As she listened to the unrelenting excitement in Caitlin's voice, she wondered for the first time if Jonas might have been right when he implied that the woman was into drugs. Verity had never seen Caitlin like this. She was simmering with a barely restrained tension. Her movements were too quick at times and she radiated a strange, hungry sense of anticipation.

Verity sliced into a ripe, red tomato on her plate, watched the juice run, and thought of vampires preparing to feed.

"I have specifically told all the guests to arrive after seven this evening," Caitlin was saying. "No one will be admitted without an authentic-looking costume. The six people who will bid on the painting are the only exception. They will be staying the night in the house and they have been given permission to arrive a bit earlier, if they wish. The bedrooms have all been prepared. One thing this ugly old house has is plenty of bedrooms. Sandquist must have had an active social life."

"I'll be glad to help Tavi with the buffet," Verity said quickly. The silent woman gave her a sharp glance but said nothing.

"That's very kind of you, but Tavi and the caterers can manage things," Caitlin said, dismissing the matter.

"By seven you will be in your costume, Verity, playing the part of a lady of the court. I wouldn't want to see you spill mustard down the front of your gown. Did you have any trouble finding something suitable?"

Verity shook her head. "Jonas helped me choose a gown. Nothing like having an expert to call on."

Caitlin looked at Jonas who, as usual, was not participating wholeheartedly in the conversation. "Yes, I imagine his advice would have been invaluable. For all their fine brocades and velvets and satins, though, the women of the Renaissance had very little freedom, did they, Jonas? They were still, by and large, victims. The best they could hope for was a marriage based on business or political ties, or perhaps a place in a convent. If they lacked the protection of a strong family, they were vulnerable to any man who wanted to use them. Not a good era for women, but then, what time period has been good for us? All women are potentially victims and all men are potentially dangerous to us. Some men are more superficially civilized about it than others, but sooner or later they find ways to use us, don't they, Verity?"

The uncomfortable thought that Jones had sought her out with the sole purpose of using her to anchor his psychic talent flickered through Verity's mind. Her head came up and she saw Jonas looking at her, his gold eyes blazing with anger. Neither of them was telepathic but Verity knew they didn't need any psychic ability to communicate silently in that moment. Jonas knew what she was thinking and she was equally aware of his frustrated fury. She turned to Caitlin.

"I have a hunch that women use men just as much as men use women," Verity said calmly.

"Ah, but there is a distinct difference in that women, even women who are good at using men, seldom resort to violence, do they?"

It was then that Verity decided she wanted an advance peek at Bloodlust. Something was happening here in this ugly house, something that was going to culminate in the sale of the painting tomorrow. She was suddenly consumed with curiosity about Caitlin's last work.

She waited until after Tavi had cleared away the luncheon plates before saying politely, "I hope no one minds if I take a nap? I'd like to rest up for this evening."

"By all means." Caitlin nodded. "I think I will do the same. Jonas, will you be able to amuse yourself for a few hours?"

Jonas's eyes were on Verity and again she knew what he was thinking even though she couldn't read his mind. He was wondering how the hell she was going to nap in that terrible bed.

"I have a phone call to make. After that I think I'll take another walk on the beach. I'll see you both later," he said.

In the end, it was easy to sneak upstairs to the white-on-white studio. Verity simply waited until Caitlin had retired to her own room, ascertained that Tavi was busy in the kitchen, and made sure Jonas was on the phone in his bedroom. Then she hurried up the steel staircase.

The door to the white room was unlocked. Verity slipped inside and shut it behind her. She stood for a moment, surveying the stacked canvases, easels, and odds and ends that comprised an artist's working materials, and then she walked purposefully to the large shrouded canvas on the other side of the room.

At the last moment she hesitated, her hand on the sheet. She was uncomfortably aware that she had no right to do what she was about to do. But too many disturbing nuances were in the air, and Caitlin's whole future seemed to be linked to whatever was on this canvas.

Verity's mouth tightened as she made up her mind and yanked aside the white sheet.

A dark nightmare of intense, violent colors met her shocked gaze. The picture was a fiercely abstract version of the rape scene Verity had glimpsed that morning in Jonas's psychic corridor. There was one horrifying difference. In Caitlin's painting the ra**st was still present. He stood over his victim, his body that of a demon, his eyes windows into hell. There was a rapier in his hand.

Verity shuddered and grasped the edge of the steel frame more tightly in order to steady herself. She recognized the woman on the bed now. The features were highly abstract and the hair was a different color, but the still-bleeding scar on the cheek was all too familiar. Verity knew it was a younger version of Caitlin Evanger.

The man with the grotesque body and the view into hell was Damon Marcus Kincaid.

"So you've discovered my little secret," Caitlin said behind her. "Not a pretty picture, is it?" she added mockingly. "I like to think that good art is not pretty."

Verity swung around to face her. Caitlin's eyes were still too bright and her expression too intense but she didn't look quite as hyper as she had earlier. Slowly Verity redraped the canvas, buying time in which to compose herself.

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