But the price was far too high and now I will have some of it paid back." Caitlin swung her cane fiercely, crashing it against the stainless steel window frame.

"Are you sure you know what you're doing, Caitlin? Kincaid sounds like a very dangerous man."

"Everything is planned down to the last detail," Caitlin said, regaining her control immediately.

"He'll recognize you. As soon as he walks into this house, he'll know who you are."

"No. After the accident the surgeons were forced to make several small changes to my face in order to repair the damage that had been done. A lot of little things got altered, the shape of my eyes and nose, for instance. Those changes, combined with the aging effect of the intervening years and a change in hair color, are enough. I don't resemble my old self very much. Even if I did, I doubt that Kincaid would recognize me. I was just another victim to him. The doctors wanted to get rid of the scar, too, but I refused. I made them leave it so that every time I looked in a mirror I thought about vengeance."

"Caitlin, this is crazy."

She turned around. "Now that you know the full truth, will you be leaving, Verity? Or will you stay here with me and lend me the shield of your friendship?"

Verity knew she had no option. "I'll stay. But I must tell Jonas what's going on. He has a right to know."

"Do what you think is best." Caitlin hesitated. "Thank you, Verity. I won't forget this, I promise you." Her eyes went to the painting and she stood looking at it as if mesmerized by her own creation.

Verity sighed. "I doubt if any of us will forget this." Leaving Caitlin staring at Bloodlust, she turned around and walked out the door into the gray hall.

And nearly collided with Jonas.

He clamped a palm over her mouth before she could say anything and motioned swiftly for her to be silent. Verity frowned at him over the edge of his hand but nodded her head in understanding. He released her, caught her wrist, and led her quickly toward the staircase.

Neither of them said a word until they were in his room. Then Jonas let go of her, shoved his hands into his back pockets, and stalked grimly across the room.

"What the hell was that all about?" he snapped.

"How much did you hear?" Verity countered.

"Enough. She's plotting some crazy revenge against Kincaid, isn't she?"

"She's the woman we saw on the bed, Jonas. She says Kincaid and Sandquist raped her. Sandquist is dead but she's determined to make Kincaid pay. She's going to do it by first denying him the painting he covets and then letting that same painting proclaim his guilt to the entire art world. Not bad, as vengeance goes. A little bizarre, but not bad."

Jonas swung around, his golden eyes harsh and dangerous. "That goddamned bitch is using you. I knew it. I damned well knew it. I just didn't know how until now."

"She wants some friends around when the big moment arrives. Surely you can understand that, Jonas."

"I'm not going to waste any time trying to understand that creepy female. I've got my hands full trying to understand you."

"Is that right?" Verity was becoming annoyed. Jonas's lack of charity toward Caitlin irked her. Couldn't he see the poor woman needed friendship?

"Damned right." He massaged the back of his neck. "What's more, I just talked to Emerson and we've all got something else to try to understand."

"You called Dad? I didn't realize you were going to talk to him."

"I wanted to see if he'd found out anything more about the man who attacked us. We do have a few other priorities in our lives besides crazy Caitlin."

"Don't call her that."

"Why not? She is crazy."

"There's nothing crazy about wanting revenge, especially for something as brutal as rape. Oh, never mind. What did Dad have to say?"

Jonas's eyes narrowed as he watched her. "The most important thing Emerson learned is that whoever that guy was who attacked us with the cannon, he wasn't sent by Reginald C. Yarington."

Verity's eyes widened. "You mean he wasn't a... a collection agent for Yarington?"

"No. Emerson checked and Yarington flatly denies it. Your father believes him."

"Then he really was just a thief or a vagrant looking for a place to spend the night?"

"It's possible. But things are getting a little too messy around here, Verity. I don't like it. I got your father to persuade the Sequence Springs cops to run a quick check on Caitlin."

"On Caitlin!"

"Yeah. They couldn't turn up a damn thing on her prior to the moment when she hit the art scene in a big way. It's as if she didn't exist before that."

"The accident changed everything for her," Verity murmured. "She changed her own identity and the surgeons changed the way she looked. She was very afraid of Kin-caid."

"The kind of disappearing trick she pulled with her past takes planning and money and paperwork. It isn't just a matter of changing your name and your face. It's as if she didn't exist at all before she became Caitlin Evanger, eccentric artist. There's too much violence in the air, past and present, Verity.

In addition to the lack of Caitlin's past, I don't like the fact that Kincaid showed up in our lives last week, right after we got involved with Evanger, who, we now discover, is planning to publicly humiliate him. At moments such as this, casual coincidences and flukish circumstances become highly suspect."

"What do you suggest we do?"

"Leave. Right now."

Verity closed her eyes and sank wearily onto the bed. "You know I can't do that, Jonas. Too much has happened. We have to see this through."

"We?" The single, mocking word hung in the air between them.

Verity opened her eyes, shocked and stunned that he would leave her alone at this juncture. "I guess I was assuming too much, wasn't I? Go ahead and take the car, Jonas. I'm sure I can find my own way home when this is all over."

He groaned and reached down to yank her to her feet. His face was harsh and each word was a knife slash. "Don't be any more of a fool than you already are. You know damned good and well I'd never leave you alone here in this house."

She sagged against him in relief and her arms stole around his waist. "Thank you, Jonas," she said simply. "I'll make it up to you later, I promise."

"You can say that again," he vowed.

Chapter Seventeen

CAITHLIN had spared no expense recreating the scene she had chosen for the evening's festivities. The lilting strains of a dance that had originally been written for the lute swirled through the glittering salon.

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