"With a little help from some stage props." Caitlin gestured wearily around at the shambles of the Renaissance ball. "You know, at first I thought it was merely a coincidence that you had fallen for exactly the type of woman I knew I could use to lure Kincaid. But now I'm not so sure. You and Kincaid were opposites in many ways. It's as if you, Jonas, represent the positive side of much that is considered masculine, while Kincaid represented the darkest elements in the male soul."

Tavi spoke up. "It makes a strange kind of sense that they would both be attracted to Verity. Jonas would instinctively want to protect her and Kincaid would instinctively want to defile her."

"What if I hadn't been the kind of woman you thought you could use to manipulate Kincaid?" Verity demanded.

"I would have had to find another way to throw Kincaid into battle with Jonas," Caitlin said quietly.

"I was willing to wait until I had the perfect scenario."

"Since you did have me," Verity persisted grimly, "how did you plan to use me?"

Caitlin explained patiently. "It was only necessary that Jonas find you and Kincaid in a compromising position sometime during the evening. That was easy to plan. The bedroom you're in, the one in which I was tortured and raped, has a door that connects to the room Kincaid was assigned. He would remember that, of course. And I knew that he would not be able to resist trying the lock, knowing you were on the other side. He would have found it unlocked. It was alarmed so that I would know the instant it had been opened. Tavi would then have fetched Jonas and told him she was worried about you."

"And I was just going to lie there in bed and blithely invite Kincaid into my room?" Verity asked with asperity.

"I'm afraid," Caitiin said uneasily, "that you would have been extremely sleepy and unaware of what was going on by then. You probably would have thought it was Jonas coming into the room. Kincaid would have assumed you were groggy from too much alcohol. He would have been delighted with the opportunity your condition would have offered him. The idea of taking you while you were too dazed to protest or even remember much about it would have appealed to his perverse nature. He would have known you could hardly complain in the morning. What excuse could you have offered for your condition? That you were too drunk to fight him off? No, you would have kept silent. Rape victims usually do."

"But I wouldn't have gotten that drunk," Verity exclaimed, shocked.

"Don't you understand, Verity?" Jonas asked harshly. "Your good friend Caitiin was going to poison you. A real Renaissance touch, that."

"No," Tavi protested earnestly. "She was only going to be given a strong sedative, that's all. Just enough to make her woozy. We never wanted to hurt her."

"I ought to kill you both," Jonas said quietly, too quietly.

"Me, perhaps," Caitlin agreed wearily. "But not Tavi. Tavi tried to stop me all along. I can only assure you that I never meant to put Verity into any real danger. It was all arranged for you to show up in the nick of time, Quarrel. The right rapier would be at hand and you would have been predisposed to use it. The setting was perfect."

"Not quite," Jonas said dryly. "You made one major miscalculation. Verity was going to sleep with me tonight. She wasn't going to be alone in that damned bedroom. If Kincaid hadn't taken matters into his own hands, there would have been no confrontation between the two of us."

Caitlin lifted startled eyes to his. "But I had assigned that room to Verity and she knew that there were a half-dozen guests in the house. She wouldn't have risked the embarrassment of being seen sneaking down the hall to your room. Nor would she have allowed you to sneak into hers. You forget how much I've learned about her. She has a strong sense of the proprieties. For God's sake, she wasn't even comfortable bathing nude in a women-only spa!"

"Why is it so hard for everyone to understand that I'm not pure as the newdriven snow?" Verity demanded between set teeth. "Nor am I a prude. Not anymore, at any rate. Jonas is right, Caitlin.

I had planned to spend the night in his room. Your whole plan would have gone awry if Kincaid hadn't taken the initiative tonight."

Caitlin stared at her for a very long time. "Then perhaps the whole thing was fate, after all," she finally whispered.

"The whole thing," Jonas announced grimly, "was a disaster. You put Verity's life in danger and you nearly got me killed. All to satisfy your need for vengeance. I've got no objection to vengeance, Caitlin, but you had no right to involve Verity or me. The only reason you and Tavi are still walking around in a healthy condition is because I know Verity would be furious with me if I took a little vengeance of my own.

I give you fair warning, however. Don't come near her again, either of you, or I'll take matters into my own hands. Clear?"

"Yes," Caitlin said in a dreary, defeated voice. "Perfectly clear. Verity, I want you to know that the true casualty tonight is our friendship. I will regret losing it for the rest of my life. I had no idea when I first met you how important your friendship would become to me."

Jonas saw the spasm of sympathy that crossed Verity's face before she narrowed her eyes and asked coldly, "Tell me one thing, Caitlin. Did you know Kincaid was a fencing expert?"

"I knew. There is very little I didn't know about Damon Kincaid."

"Then you knew just how dangerous the whole thing was going to be for Jonas." Verity concluded tightly.

"There were risks involved. I realized that," Caitlin agreed. "But I didn't expect Kincaid to be armed."

"Your original plan wouldn't have worked," Jonas announced before Verity could lose her temper. His own anger was barely under control. "I wouldn't have let Verity out of my sight long enough for her to get into that kind of trouble."

Caitlin switched her gaze to his. "You let her out of your sight long enough for her to nearly get killed tonight. If my plan had prevailed she would never have been in any real danger."

Jonas's stomach tightened into a block of ice as he silently acknowledged the truth of that statement. He used his grip in Verity's hair to give her head a slight, exasperated shake. "Remind me to beat you later, Verity, for walking out of that party this evening. I gave you orders not to leave the crowd, remember?"

"I had to follow Kincaid when I saw him leave shortly after you did," she explained. "I thought he was after you."

"No, you did not have to follow him. You deliberately disobeyed instructions. But we'll get into that later."

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