Jonas laughed softly and pulled her close. "I haven't been free since the day I met you, little tyrant. And I wouldn't have missed this torture session for the world."
He kissed her deeply and thoroughly as he listened to the cheap aluminum manacles clatter against the stone wall.
They just didn't make dungeon implements the way they used to.
Lunch was a somewhat strained affair. Maggie Frampton served the meatless lasagne and minestrone Verity had helped her prepare, but she didn't even bother to make barbed remarks about the lack of animal! protein. She seemed distracted, Verity thought.
Elyssa was not very talkative either. Privately, Verity did not consider that a great social loss. Verity did notice, however, that Elyssa took special pains to ignore Yarwood, Jonas, and herself. When she spoke, it was to discuss crystals with Oliver Crump or to snap at Maggie for being slow. A lot of the sweetness and light had gone out of Little Miss Sunshine. Slade Spencer was his customary morose, nervous self.
Doug Warwick and Jonas, apparently oblivious to the awkward atmosphere, talked intently at the far end of the table, discussing Jonas's observations and the overall outline of the report.
"We can hardly claim that the villa is a shining example of Renaissance purity of line," Jonas said. "So we'll have to emphasize the historical significance of the place. Don't worry, it's all going to sound impressive enough, especially when you consider the fact that you haven't got much in the way of competition. If this were Italy, you'd have a tough time convincing anyone that this was an historical treasure, but genuine Renaissance villas are scarce in North America. I think I can turn out something that will wow your potential buyers."
"Good," Warwick said, sounding relieved. "I want to get this deal going."
Spencer spoke up, his mouth twisted in derision. "Turning out this report is a hell of a job for a guy with a Ph.D., huh, Quarrel? Sort of like getting paid to write a flashy ad for a big real estate deal. Not exactly pure and noble scholarship."
Verity scowled, instinctively opening her mouth to leap to Jonas's defense. But Jonas forestalled her by responding first.
"Pure and noble scholarship and fifty cents won't even buy a cup of coffee these days," Jonas said with surprising mildness. "I was never all that taken with purity and nobility when it comes to scholarship, anyway. What about you?"
"Me?" Spencer shrugged. His coffee cup rattled in the saucer as he picked it up with fingers that trembled slightly. "I agree with you. Screw pure and noble scholarship. It won't buy shit."
"True," Jonas remarked with a pointed glance at Spencer's fragrant pipe. "But then, not all of us are in the market for shit."
Verity shot Jonas a withering glance. Spencer turned a dull red and everyone else at the table suddenly became very busy with their food. Jonas's comment had been an all too obvious reference to Spencer's drug problems.
"You think that degree after your name entitles you to make cracks like that?" Spencer asked hoarsely.
"No, I'd probably make the same kind of cracks even without the degree."
It was Doug Warwick who stepped in to save what was left of the conversation. "As I was saying, I'd like to have that report for my buyers as soon as possible. Now that we know the villa is authentic, they'll move on the deal."
Maggie Frampton overheard the remark as she emerged from the kitchen. She heaved a sad sigh. "The last thing old Digby would have wanted was to see this place turned over to a bunch of real estate developers," she muttered. "He said that only a real scholar could ever appreciate this villa. Don't rightly think he would have thought of developers as scholars."
Warwick smiled soothingly. "I know how you feel. But the fact is, Maggie, no one but a consortium of developers could ever afford this place."
"Digby and me got by."
"You wouldn't have for much longer. By the time I inherited it there was a year's worth of back taxes to be paid, and that was just the beginning. No, the only solution is to sell it."
Elyssa spoke up. "Honestly, Maggie, you'd think this was your ancestral home, the way you carry on. I can't imagine why anyone would feel such an attachment to this old pile of rocks."
Maggie glowered at her. "Maybe you can't imagine it because you ain't had much experience staying attached to anything for longer than a couple of nights."
A second shocked silence struck the table. Yarwood looked furious, and this time it was Elyssa who turned red with anger. Doug Warwick spoke up again.
"That's enough, Maggie," he said bluntly. "We're ready for dessert."
Elyssa turned on her brother as Maggie stalked out of the room. "We should never have allowed her to stay here all this time. You were far too kind to her. Her type doesn't appreciate kindness and generosity."
"What was I supposed to do, Elyssa?" Doug asked wearily. "We've needed someone here to look after the place. I can't imagine anyone else being willing to take the job, can you?"
"I'll be glad when this place is finally sold and she gets kicked out on her ear," Elyssa muttered.
Verity arched her brows at Jonas in silent comment. He gave her a fleeting grin of acknowledgment.
Little Miss Sunshine did not take well to being denied mating privileges with her chosen psychic stud. The cracks were starting to show in the mask of her gracious, smiling serenity.
Elyssa seemed to realize she was ruining her image. She stood up abruptly. "If you'll excuse me, I feel the need of some fresh air. I'm going to take a walk."
"I'll come with you," Preston Yarwood said grimly.
"I'd rather you didn't," Elyssa replied stiffly.
"I want to talk to you."
"Are you both nuts?" Doug asked. "It's cold out there. And it's going to start raining again soon."
Elyssa ignored him and left the room. Yarwood followed hard on her heels. Verity was not unhappy to see them go.
The atmosphere in the room lightened as soon as Elyssa and Yarwood had gone. Verity glanced at Doug Warwick. "I almost forgot to mention that I saw a small boat in one of the little coves this morning."
"Probably a fisherman or a tourist," Doug said without much interest. "There are hundreds of islands in these waters, and a lot of boaters enjoy exploring them. Uncle Digby never minded people putting in here for a while, as long as they didn't bother him."
Verity nodded and looked at Jonas. "Are you going back to work after lunch?"