Jonas tightened his grasp on the edge of the cloak and swung around in a small, stumbling circle that could have been mistaken for an attempt at scrambling to evade the piece of wood.
It took Tresslar a couple of seconds to realize that Jonas hadn't flinched backward but had only turned around. By then it was too late. The cloak was swinging in a wide arc at the end of Jonas's arm. The heavy, wet length of it struck Tresslar's hand just as the broken length of wood thudded against Jonas's shoulder.
For an instant Jonas saw the psychic corridor in his mind and he wanted to scream in rage. The last thing he needed now was that kind of distraction. An image started to materialize, the picture of a man falling to his death over the cliffs. He was reaching desperately for the fence post and it was breaking free in his grasp. A frozen scream shaped the man's mouth.
Jonas saw no one else in the quick, strobelike image, but he knew instinctively that the victim had been pushed. He could feel the murderous intent that permeated the scene even before the ribbon of darkness started to snake toward him.
Then the old fence post bounced off Jonas's shoulder and fell to the muddy ground. During the brief, disorienting instant, Jonas's hand had never paused. He had continued the lashing motion of the cloak.
He knew a kind of numb gratitude that he was able to continue functioning even through the distraction caused by the image. He was definitely getting stronger. This time a part of his awareness stayed in the present.
The swipe of the cloak wasn't strong enough to force Tresslar to drop the weapon but it deflected his aim for a crucial instant. Jonas was on him before Tresslar realized what had happened. Jonas concentrated on the gun.
Tresslar yelped in fury, twisting powerfully in the mud. Jonas hung on, using every trick he had picked up in five years of surviving in port towns and backwater villages.
Tresslar heaved, slamming his free fist into the side of Jonas's face. Jonas absorbed the blow and barely avoided the knee to the groin that followed. He gritted his teeth and set about breaking Tresslar's gun arm.
Tresslar screamed, the sound muffled by the sound of the sea and the storm. He bucked upward again, partially dislodging Jonas. The two men rolled in the mud, coming up against another fence post. This one mercifully did not give off the vibrations the other one had.
The post gave beneath the impact. The softened earth around it was not enough support to hold it in place.
Jonas felt the wood tilting in the mud and sensed what was about to happen. He released his grip on Tresslar and flung himself back out of the way.
The softened ground around the post gave way. The post toppled over the edge of the cliff as Tresslar's weight proved its undoing. More earth crumbled. Tresslar screamed again as the world collapsed beneath him and then he was gone, the gun still clutched in his fist. The flashlight vanished from view simultaneously.
Jonas gulped air and crawled forward on his hands and knees to peer over the edge of the cliff. He didn't dare get too close.
There was nothing to be seen. The insatiable black sea foamed far below, eager for another victim.
Jonas backed carefully away from the edge and jumped to his feet.
It was as he pounded heavily toward the house through the mud that he remembered to check the knife he had shoved under his sleeve.
It was gone. He paused and glanced back over his shoulder. One look was enough to make him give up any idea of trying to find the knife in the dark without a flashlight.
He turned back toward the house and saw a familiar figure appear in the doorway.
"Quarrel! Thank God, I've been looking for you."
"Tavi! Where's Kincaid?"
"That's why I've been trying to find you. He disappeared a few minutes ago and so did Verity. Caitlin hasn't realized it yet. But I was watching him. I knew things were going wrong. I knew it. When I couldn't find you, I was terrified that something had already happened. ..." She broke off and flipped on the porch light. She stared at Jonas, taking in the mud and the blood. Her somber face assumed a stricken expression. "What happened?"
"Later." He leaped up the steps and pushed past her into the house. "Did Kincaid leave in his car?"
"I don't know for certain. There are so many cars parked in the driveway. It will take ages to figure out if one of them is gone. But he must have taken her away in the car. It's the logical thing to do, isn't it?"
Jonas shook his head impatiently. "Not necessarily. Why would he want to call attention to himself? It's just as likely he's taken Verity away to stash her somewhere temporarily. He'll probably be returning to the party as soon as he's got her under control. Go tell Caitlin what's happened. Get everyone out of the salon and have them start searching the house and the grounds. We haven't got any time to lose. Hurry, goddammit!"
Tavi gasped and fled down the hall toward the main salon.
Jonas leaped up the back stairs, flinging open doors as he raced down the hall on the second floor. The odds were against Kincaid having tried to leave with Verity through the front door. Someone would have been sure to see him, and Verity would have been struggling. Jonas knew the man hadn't left through the back door, because he would have spotted him. That meant Verity had to be somewhere in the big house.
THE instant she spotted Kincaid slipping out of the crowded salon, Verity made her decision. She had no option but to follow him. There was every possibility that he had realized Jonas had left a short time earlier. She couldn't let Jonas be caught unawares.
A few people milled around in the downstairs hall but no one paid any attention to Verity as she walked swiftly toward the back of the house. In a matter of seconds she was out of sight of everyone, hurrying along the corridor that would bring her to the back stairs. She had to get to the third floor and warn Jonas that Kincaid might be searching for him.
Verity swung around the steel newel post, lifted her velvet skirts, and started up the stairs. She had raced up three steps when she heard Kincaid's voice in the hall behind her. A chill went through her as she realized he had just come in from outside.
"What a fortunate coincidence, Verity. I was just coming to look for you."
Verity stilled on the third step and turned to look at him. She forced herself to think clearly. Chances were that Jonas was still in Caitlin's third-fioor room. The best thing Verity could do now was to keep Kincaid occupied.
"I was just going upstairs to my room to freshen up," she said with a bright smile. "Have you been outside? It sounds like it's pouring out there."
"It is. A very treacherous night." He walked toward her, a pale-haired demon moving through shadow.