"Too right," Emerson muttered sympathetically. "Very indulgent."

"But enough is enough," Jonas continued, his eyes gleaming with righteous indignation. "I've had enough of your nagging and your shrewish behavior. Most of the time, being the gentle, easygoing soul that I am, I try to rise above it. But for the past three days you've been impossible to be around. The only time you shut up is when we're in bed. Unfortunately I can't keep you in bed twenty-four hours a day. I'm beginning to see why it used to be a man's goal to keep his woman barefoot and pregnant."

"Jonas!" Verity swung her astounded gaze to her father. "Are you going to let him talk to me like that?"

"Don't look at me." Emerson spread hs hands wide. "I'm just an innocent bystander."

Jonas went intently toward her. "You've gone too far when you start threatening me with my job. I've always given you a day's work for a day's pay and you've got no legitimate complaints, lady."

Verity took a couple of quick steps backward as she realized belatedly that Jonas was dangerous in this mood. "Jonas, don't you dare touch me. You work for me. You'd do well to remember that. You take orders from me. I'm giving you an order right now and you'd better follow it or I'll... I'll..."

He never paused, just kept striding toward her with a relentless expression on his face.

For possibly the first time in her entire life, Verity's nerve broke. She whirled and ran for the safety of her own cabin. She had never seen Jonas in this mood, and age-old feminine instinct warned her that the only safety lay in flight. She would give him a piece of her mind later when he'd had a chance to calm down. She'd chew him up one side and down the other later. She would read him the riot act for his behavior.

Later.

When it was safe to go near him again.

He caught her before she reached the front steps of her cabin. He came up behind her, moving silently, and clamped a hand on one of her shoulders. He spun her around so quickly she lost her balance.

Before she could regain it, the world turned upside down and she found herself hanging over a broad male shoulder. She pounded on his back.

"Jonas, you bastard, I'll strangle you for this."

"One of the first things a would-be tyrant ought to learn is not to make threats she can't back up," he advised, striding through the front door of her cabin. "Machiavelli was very clear on that point."

He set her on her feet, sat down on the nearest chair, and yanked her over his knee.

"Jonas, don't you dare!"

Verity couldn't believe it when the flat of his palm landed heavily on her bottom. The tight jeans she wore provided no protection whatsoever.

She yelled in outrage and pain, and when the second blow came she tried digging her fingers into his thigh and kicking her legs wildly. He was impervious to her struggles and her angry cries.

"Damn you. Damn you, damn you, damn you."

"Tell me why you've been on my case for the past three days," Jonas ordered between blows. "Tell me what the hell I did to deserve the kind of abuse I've been getting around here lately."

"You're going to leave," she accused furiously. "I know you're going to leave. It's just a matter of time."

"So what are you trying to do? Speed up my departure?" He smacked her again.

"Yes." Verity lost her temper completely and dug her fingernails fiercely into his leg. Enough was enough.

Jonas yelped. "Ouch! Dammit, you little..." The blows stopped abruptly. "You're trying to get rid of me?"

"I just want to know where I stand. I want you to make some kind of decision. I can'fh'andle not knowing what's going to happen."

"Why all the concern about my leaving? You worried about having to "advertise for more kitchen help?"

"No," She shrieked furiously. "It's not that. I just want to know how much time I have left with you. I love you, you big, dumb, condottiere bastard."

"Repeat that," he ordered thickly.

"I said I love you." Verity wriggled off his thighs and wound up kneeling in front of him on the floor. She shoved her disordered hair out of her eyes and glared at him as she got to her feet. "I realize that fact doesn't speak well for my intelligence, but that's the way it is. I can't seem to help myself. But I have to know when you'll leave me. I refuse to live in fear from day to day. Can't you understand that? Maybe I have been pushing you for the past three days. I suppose I was spoiling for a fight. Anything to clear the air."

"Did it ever occur to you to just ask me flat out what my plans were?" he roared as he massaged his leg where she had left the imprint of her sharp nails.

She blinked uncertainly. "No," she admitted softly. "I guess I didn't know how to phrase the question. I haven't had a lot of experience with handling the beginnings and endings of affairs. It's a hard question to ask, Jonas. Maybe I didn't want to hear the answer."

"For a supposedly intelligent woman, you show an amazing amount of stupidity at times. I'm not going anywhere. I happen to like it here in Sequence Springs, Verity Ames. God knows why, given my present conditions of employment, which include everything from low wages to a difficult boss. But we'll go into that later. Right now we have somethisg else to clear up. You said you loved me?"

Verity cleared her throat. "Well, yes." That had sort of tumbled out accidentally in the heat of the moment, she decided. She hadn't meant to spell it out so plainly. It made her terribly vulnerable and Verity discovered she did not like being vulnerable. Especially not to this man. But she didn't have much choice.

Jonas was eyeing her assessingly. "What is this? You no longer consider me irresponsible, unreliable, and unacceptable?"

Verity flushed, her palm going surreptitiously to her stinging rear. "I know you a lot better now than I did when I first said that. I'd trust you with my life," she said simply. "In fact I already have trusted you with it.

It's true you do irritate me from time to time. You're far too casual about certain matters, including your career. But I know now that if you make a commitment, you'll fulfill it. If you said you were going to do something, you'd do it."

"And if I said I intended to stay here in Sequence Springs with you, you'd believe me?" he asked, his voice gentling.

She nodded warily, afraid to acknowledge the hope that was building in her heart. "But I was afraid to ask you for fear you'd tell me you had to leave. If not right away, then soon. I didn't want to hear it.

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