Jonas's peace vanished in an instant. Rage roared through him. It was the kind of fury that had its roots in a very primitive fear, a fear that had been nibbling at him for the past couple of weeks, a fear he had refused to acknowledge.

It was the fear that Verity might be growing dissatisfied with her live-in lover.

Chapter Two

"Vacation!" Jonas jackknifed upright in bed. "What the hell do you mean?" Verity lay back on the pillows, staring thoughtfully up into the darkness. Jonas's violent reaction had startled her. "I think I need one. You've told me yourself that I'm working too hard," she pointed out reasonably. "Well, now is a perfect time to slow down for a while. It's the middle of winter. Business is slow. There's just a handful of tourists and a few people from the spa at the cafe in the evenings. Nobody's going to mind if I close up for a week. Hawaii would be perfect this time of year."

"You think nobody's going to mind if you take off by yourself for a week of sun and fun in the islands?"

Jonas was outraged. He loomed over Verity, caging her face between his hands. "I've got news for you.

I'll mind. A lot. If you think I'm going to let you go off by yourself to wiggle around in a bikini in front of a flock of beachboys for a week, you can think again."

Verity began to feel annoyed. "It's okay for you to fly off to Mexico for a week of sun and fun, but I don't have the same right, is that it?"

"Christ almighty." Jonas's voice was raw with exasperation. "You know damn well I'm not going to Mexico for fun and games. Don't you dare try to pretend it's a vacation."

"I could fly down with you. Maybe wait for you and Dad in Acapulco," she suggested, considering the possibilities.

"Not a chance. I don't want you anywhere near Mexico. How do you expect me to keep my mind on business if I'm wondering what you're up to in Acapulco? Forget it, Verity. You're going to stay right here, where I don't have to worry about you. If you're serious about a vacation, we'll take one when I get back. You can spend this week thinking about a place for us to go. Make the plans."

"How can I make plans for a trip when I don't know when you and Dad will return?"

"We'll probably be back within a week. How long can it take to arrange a ransom payoff? Ten days at the outside. Make the plans for two weeks from today. That should be safe enough. Or make them for next month. Hell, use some common sense." Jonas spoke with clenched teeth, clearly working hard to hang on to his temper.

Verity put her arms around his neck and felt the tension there and in the muscles of his broad shoulders.

"You'll be very careful in Mexico, won't you?"

"I'm always careful. Verity, about this stupid idea of a vacation. I don't want you going anywhere until I get back. Do you hear me?"

"I hear you." She tugged gently at his neck, aware of his resistance. She tried a seductive smile. "I'm going to miss you, Jonas."

He hesitated a moment and then slowly relaxed, lowering himself alongside her. He gathered her into his arms. "I'm going to miss you, too, little tyrant. You behave yourself while I'm gone."

"Take care of yourself, Jonas. Take care of Dad, too. He's not as young as he once was."

"Your old man can still whip most guys half his age. Whatever Emerson is losing to the years, he's more than making up for with an increasingly devious mind." He bent down and brushed her lips with his. "But don't worry about him, honey. I'll keep an eye on him for you."

"Keep an eye on yourself, too. Good dishwashers are hard to find."

"Always nice to be appreciated. Just don't start interviewing any replacements for my job while I'm gone."

"Yes, Jonas." She slid her hands down to his firm, muscular bu**ocks and squeezed.

"You're insatiable." He kissed her breast, his tongue warm and damp.

"Lucky for me you always rise to the occasion."

"Luck has nothing to do with it." He slid one knee between her legs. "The hell with it," he muttered against her throat. "I can sleep on the plane."

Emerson glanced out the window of the Jeep and waved at his daughter standing in the doorway of the No Bull Cafe. Verity waved back and blew a kiss.

"Looks like you did a good job of sweet-talking her last night," Emerson remarked. "Verity seemed downright cheerful this morning. I expected a lot of last-minute lectures on the subject of brainless male machismo."

Jonas turned the Jeep onto the road leading out of Sequence Springs. It was still dark, and the sleepy little town slumbered peacefully beside the lake. "Things weren't so cheerful for a while there last night.

You should have heard her, Emerson. She started talking about taking a vacation. A vacation all by herself. Can you beat that? Something about going to Hawaii while we're in Mexico. If she hadn't left claw marks in my leg the last time I tried it, I would have turned her over my knee and paddled some sense into her. She was planning to take off for the islands the minute my back was turned."

Emerson's lips twitched briefly. He studied the road ahead with a thoughtful expression. "You talk her out of it?"

"Damn right. Told her that if she really wanted to go on vacation, we'd go when I got back from Mexico.

She can spend the next week planning the trip. It'll give her something constructive to do."

"I think she needs a vacation," Emerson remarked slowly. "There's something different about Verity lately. You noticed?"

Jonas was silent for a long moment. "I've noticed," he said finally. He would have given a great deal to know exactly what was going on in her feminine brain. More than once he'd caught her in a strange mood of self-absorption, as if she was looking inward and thinking about making some changes in her life.

The thought filled Jonas with a strong feeling of uneasiness, and an even stronger feeling of possessiveness. His hands tightened around the steering wheel. If Verity was thinking of changing lovers, she could damn well forget it. She had waited twenty-eight years for him—twenty-eight years for her first sexual experience. And she had taken to his lovemaking like a dolphin to water. Jonas didn't like the thought that she might be wondering now if she'd waited for the wrong man.

"You sure you talked her out of going off alone to Hawaii?" Emerson asked.

Jonas set his jaw, remembering belatedly that Verity had changed the subject last night, without giving him any promises. "She wouldn't dare. She knows there'd be hell to pay."

"Ah, the comforts of 'brainless male machismo.' No wonder we men cultivate it so carefully. Gives us a nice, pleasant, totally false sense of security when we need it most." Emerson laughed wryly.