"There was a lot of concern for harmonic proportions in architecture at the time this villa was built. That makes certain features very predictable, which in turn makes my job easier."
Preston Yarwood and Oliver Crump wandered into the kitchen just as Jonas launched into a fine monologue on the differences between the architecture of Milan and Florence in the sixteenth century.
"The great Florentine palazzos became models for the other city-states," Jonas continued as everyone nodded knowledgeably. "Everybody who was anybody wanted a big house just like the Palazzo Medici or the Palazzo Rucellai. You can see the influence even in this old pile."
Verity studied her lover discreetly as she sipped coffee. No doubt about it, it was getting hard to tell where the bull stopped and the scholar stepped in. Jonas was really getting into this, she thought.
But her own enthusiasm was rapidly waning. She remembered Digby Hazelhurst's body hidden in the stone passage and shuddered. At first, hunting for the treasure had seemed like a nice sideline to the consulting assignment. But now she was not so sure. The only positive aspect of the situation that she could see this morning was that Jonas was genuinely interested in the project—and anything that gave Jonas a long-range career interest was not to be discarded lightly.
Slade Spencer did not show up until midway through breakfast. When he did appear, he looked so terrible that no one said a word. He ate very little and retired to the salon before the meal was over.
Verity took his wretched silence as a hopeful sign. Perhaps he wasn't planning to sue, after all.
"I'm afraid our friend Slade really tied one on last night," Preston remarked. "Pity. The man can't hold his liquor, apparently. I'm not at all sure we should have invited him along, Elyssa."
Elyssa smiled gently. "He'll be fine."
Oliver Crump said nothing, but his eyes were narrowed as he watched Spencer leave the room.
Jonas, Preston Yarwood, and the Warwicks got up to begin exploring the west wing as soon as Maggie cleared the dishes.
"Aren't you going to come with us?" Jonas asked in surprise when Verity announced she was going to read instead.
"I don't think so." She held up her cane. "I think I'd better stay off my ankle. It's not feeling so hot today."
Crump pushed his wire-rimmed glasses more firmly up on his nose and peered at her ankle. Then, without a word, he got up and left the room.
Elyssa shook her head at his departing figure. "He's not much of a conversationalist, I'm afraid."
"Well, then, let's be on our way," Doug said. He took charge of the small party and led them out of the room.
Verity wandered into the salon with a book she had brought along on the trip and found Slade Spencer standing near the liquor cabinet. From the doorway she watched him tap two tablets out of a bottle he carried in his shirt pocket. He popped the pills into his mouth and chased them down with a long gulp of whiskey.
He looked up as she came into the room, but his eyes didn't quite meet hers. His hands shook a little as he replaced the pill bottle in his shirt pocket.
"Sorry about last night," he said. "Guess I made a real ass of myself, huh?"
"Let's forget it, shall we?" Verity said quickly. "You'd just had a bit too much to drink, and Jonas is not the most understanding of men."
"Be glad to forget the whole damn night." Spencer rubbed his jaw. "Don't remember much about it anyway, except that Quarrel's got a mean right hook. But I gotta admit I deserved it. I completely misread the situation, and I apologize. If it's any consolation to you, I feel like shit this morning. Worst damn hangover I ever had in my life, and I've had some humdingers. Too bad I didn't stay in the fountain.
Drowning in the rain would have been more pleasant than waking up this morning." He flopped down in a tatty armchair and picked up a year-old magazine that was lying nearby."
Verity took a seat near the window, curling her good leg beneath her. Silence descended on the salon.
She tried to concentrate on her book, but she found herself gazing out into the overgrown, weed-tangled garden. Her thoughts drifted to the secret within her body. One of these days she was going to have to face facts—she couldn't live in this self-imposed limbo forever. Her body would get tough any day now and force her to admit that it meant business.
But a part of her preferred not knowing the truth just yet.
Half an hour later Verity heard a sound in the doorway. She looked up and smiled at Oliver Crump, who was standing there with an armful of greenery. He was also carrying a pot of steaming water, a bucket, and some towels. He started toward Verity.
"Hello, Oliver. What have you got there?"
"I think I can make that ankle feel a lot better," he announced briskly, kneeling in front of her. "Let me see it."
Verity hesitated and then told herself that there was no harm in letting him look at her throbbing ankle.
"Are you going to make a poultice for it?"
Crump nodded, carefully removing her shoe and sock. His fingers were amazingly gentle.
"If you two will excuse me," Slade announced, "I'm going to go hit Maggie up for another cup of coffee."
He left the room.
Crump glanced over his shoulder. "That man is not well," he observed softly. "But I don't think he would accept help of any kind."
Verity nodded. "I get the same feeling."
Oliver took a large lemon-colored shard of crystal out of his pocket and handed it to her. "Here. Hold this."
"Are you really into crystal therapy?" Verity asked, examining the shard with interest.
"Sometimes it helps. Sometimes it doesn't. Depends."
"I see." She didn't, but she felt obliged to say something. "I understand that a lot of people these days use crystals for various purposes. I don't know much about them myself."
"No one does," Oliver Crump said brusquely. "There are plenty like Elyssa who think they do, but the fact is, very few people have ever figured out how to use crystals and gemstones. Folks have been working with them for thousands of years though, because it's easy to sense that there's some power in them. The trick is figuring out how to use that power."
"Do different kinds of crystals have different powers?"
"Theoretically. But like I said, no one really knows too much about them. They have to be properly tuned, or programmed, as they say in the computer business. Sometimes I think I can almost sense how to align the forces inside a crystal, but other times… " He shrugged and dismissed the subject.