"Burn it."

Tavi nodded and quickly knelt to pick up the picees of the destroyed painting. She scooped up everything and hurried out of the room.

"Goddammit," the man called Rossander said fiercely. "Goddammit to hell. You just destroyed a fortune, lady. A fortune. I ought to—"

"That's enough," Jonas said from the doorway. Rossander, who had started to take a step toward Verity, came to a sputtering halt.

Verity ignored both of them. She was watching Caitlin. " Bloodlust is not going to be the last Caitlin Evanger painting after all, is it, Caitlin? The past is behind you. Now you can start living your present and your future."

Caitlin's masklike face slowly began to crumble. A silvery moisture appeared in her eyes. Verity stepped forward and took Caitlin into her arms, holding the tall woman while the tears streamed down her face.

And then Verity, too, was crying. No one moved. A few minutes later, Tavi reappeared in the doorway.

She went to where Verity and Caitlin stood, put her arms around both of them, and cried, too. She touched Verity gently. Verity looked at her and saw that Tavi was smiling a little through the dampness.

"Thank you," Tavi said softly. "I think it's going to be all right now."

Verity nodded her understanding.

"Auction's over," Jonas quietly told the five confounded and irate bidders. "It's time to leave."

Nobody argued with him.

* * *

Three days later Verity left her kitchen in search of Jonas. She had really had it this time. The man had disappeared with a six-pack out of the No Bull's refrigerator right after he'd finished washing the noon dishes. He knew perfectly well she expected him to give her a hand cleaning out the cupboards this afternoon. She had distinctly told him so this morning. He was supposed to be a handyperson in addition to being a dishwasher.

Verity made her way up the path toward her father's cabin with steely determination. She knew exactly where to find both men.

She was not disappointed. They were lounging on the porch, drinking beer and reading. Her father was immersed in a fishing magazine and Jonas, bare to the waist, was scanning Sequence Springs's one daily newspaper. Neither man looked up as Verity came to a halt at the bottom of the steps, her hands on her jeaned hips and fire in her eyes.

"Well, well, well, what have we here?" she demanded. "Practicing for early retirement, are we? I've got jobs for both of you and you know it. Dad, you said you'd clean out the freezer this week. So far you haven't gotten close enough to risk frostbite. And as for you, Jonas, you were supposed to help me clean out cupboards this afternoon."

Jonas didn't look up from his newspaper. "I forgot;"

Verity was outraged. "The hell you did. Just like you forgot to send out those letters to the museums, the ones I distinctly remember telling you to write yesterday?"

"I'll get to them one of these days," he assured her, turning the page. "I'm in no hurry. I've already got a good job. Why should I want to leave it to go do consulting work for some museum?"

"How about for the very good reason that consulting work would be in your field of expertise?" she snapped. "Not to mention the additional fact that it pays a heck of a lot better."

"Dishwashing is my field of expertise and I can live on what I'm making now."

"Don't be ridiculous."

This was not the first time they'd had this argument. In fact, they'd had a lot of arguments since returning from Caitlin Evanger's house three days ago. Verity knew in her heart that she had been responsible for starting every one of those arguments.

She couldn't help it. She was pushing Jonas and she knew it. But she had to do it. She had to find out how soon he was going to leave. It was easier to force the issue than to wait in cold dread for him suddenly to announce one day that he was departing. Verity had never been the type to wait for fate to overtake her.

"Leave the man alone, Verity," Emerson advised blandly. "He's still healing. That was a nasty gouge he took from that rapier."

Verity bit her lip, instantly contrite. "Does your arm hurt very much today, Jonas?"

"Let's just say I'm in excruciating pain but bearing up admirably." He casually turned another page of the newspaper with his injured arm.

"See? What did I tell you?" Emerson said.

"If you're in so much pain," Verity said, "then you'd better make an appointment with the doctor."

"I've already got an appointment to have the stitches removed tomorrow. Don't fret about it, Verity." Jonas swallowed beer, frowning over a story on the back page of the paper.

"If you're in pain, you can make another appointment right now. Use the phone in my office. I pay workmen's comp for this sort of thing, you know."

"Somehow, I don't think workmen's comp is going to cover a rapier wound in the arm," Emerson remarked. "Jonas didn't even get the injury while working at the No Bull."

"Well, if it's not bad enough to see a doctor about, then Jonas can darn well help me with those cupboards," Verity said loftily. "And after he's finished, he can get started on those letters I told him to write. There's plenty of work to be done around here and I intend to see that it gets done, or else."

"Or else what?" Jonas asked from behind the paper.

His total lack of concern was the straw that broke the camel's back. Already seething with anxiety, frustration, and anger, Verity went up in flames.

"Or else I'll fire you and get someone else who knows how to do the job," she vowed, taking fierce satisfaction from having had the last word. She spun around on her heel and strode briskly toward her own cabin.

"That does it."

Something in the inflection of Jonas's too-quiet words brought Verity to a halt. She glanced over her shoulder in time to see him crumple the beer can in his hand and toss it aside. The newspaper followed, landing in a heap on the porch as Jonas got deliberately to his feet.

Verity felt the first trickle of doubt. "That does what?" she demanded aggressively.

Jonas stood on the top step, his thumbs hooked into the waistband of his jeans. His bare chest and smoothly muscled shoulders looked very broad and strong and male in the warm afternoon sunlight.

"Threatening to fire me is going too far, Verity, even for you. With a woman like you a man has to draw the line somewhere." He started slowly down the steps. "I've put up with a lot from you, boss lady. I've tolerated your scolding and your lectures and a lot of bullshit about proper eating habits. I let you talk me into a situation that nearly got both of us killed. All in all, I think I've been very indulgent with you. Don't you think I've been indulgent with her, Emerson?"

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