Maggie Frampton served the meal of leftovers in stony silence. Verity had a hunch her headache had returned. Slade Spencer made his appearance after having apparently served himself several drinks in the salon. He handled his knife and fork with exaggerated care. Anyone who drank the way Slade did had some serious ghosts, Verity decided.
Preston Yarwood was sunk deep in a painful, angry silence that Verity noticed immediately. There was a lot of pain in the room, she realized, but she didn't know how to relieve it. She found herself eating quickly, wanting to escape. Jonas didn't seem inclined to linger over the meal either.
As soon as possible, Verity put her crumpled napkin on the table and gave Jonas a quick, questioning glance. He nodded briefly and finished the last of his sandwich.
Preston Yarwood chose to break his self-imposed silence just as Verity started to push back her chair.
He raised his head and pinned Jonas with a look of dark, anguished rage.
"She thought you were for real, you know," Yarwood said in a strained voice. "She thought you were a genuine, grade A, goddamned real psychic."
Verity tensed and shot Jonas an anxious glance. He ignored her. Putting both elbows on the table, he regarded Yarwood with quiet challenge. "Is that right?" he asked softly. "I wonder where in hell she got that idea."
"Cut the crap, Quarrel. You know damn well where Elyssa got that idea. I know all about you. You were at Vincent College."
"A lot of people were at Vincent College."
"You were tested in their Department of Paranormal Research," Yarwood said belligerently.
"So what? I heard you were tested there too. But they didn't find any trace of psychic talent in you, did they, Yarwood? What makes you think they found any in me?"
"Oh, they thought they had found something, all right."
Yarwood picked up his glass and took a large swallow of the martini he'd been nursing through dinner.
"I know all about those damn lab technicians and their bloody stupid research techniques. They found something. It was supposed to be a big secret. You were their prize guinea pig and no one wanted to lose you to a major-league research institution. So they kept it quiet. But there were rumors, lots of rumors. All those museums and private collectors who wanted you to check out their acquisitions believed you were for real—just like Elyssa did."
"But you know better, right, Yarwood?"
"Why are you playing these f**king games with me?" Preston demanded furiously. "I know about you. I know just how for-real you are. You're so goddamned real, you tried to kill a man in that damned lab!
And maybe you tried to kill Elyssa, too." Yarwood leaped to his feet.
"Why would I want to kill Elyssa?" Jonas asked softly. His eyes held a savage gleam.
"How the hell should I know? Maybe because you didn't like the fact that she knew too much about you. Maybe you want to keep your damn talent a secret, so you can use it to rip off people like Doug Warwick. All I know is, Elyssa almost died out there on those cliffs, and I don't believe she fell accidentally. The only one around who's got a track record when it comes to attempted murder is you, you f**king psychic bastard." Yarwood stomped out of the room.
Slade Spencer had watched the small scene with bleary eyes. He said nothing. Jonas's fingers flexed as he toyed with the handle of his dinner knife.
Verity sat frozen, staring at the empty doorway. She was so furious that for an instant she couldn't even move. Then she found her tongue. "How dare he accuse you!" She leaped to her feet.
"Sit down, Verity."
"I will not sit down. That man made a terrible accusation. I'm going to set him straight." She started to move past his chair to get to the door.
Jonas reached out and snagged her wrist, yanking her to a halt. "I said, sit down." His face was set in hard, uncompromising lines.
"But, Jonas, we can't let him think… "
"Who knows what he thinks? All we heard was what he said. Sit." He used his grip on her wrist to force her back down into her chair.
"You're right," Slade Spencer said, finally speaking. His voice was slurred. "We heard what he said. Is it true? You kill some dude in a lab?"
"No, he did not kill anyone in any lab," Verity retorted hotly. "Yarwood was lying."
"That's enough, Verity," Jonas said.
Spencer scratched his nose and made a production out of lighting his fragrant pipe. The heavy scent filled the room. "I guess he didn't actually say you killed someone, did he, Quarrel? He said you tried to kill someone. I take it something interesting did happen at Vincent College?"
"Nothing that concerns you, Spencer."
"Hey, man, I gotta right to know if I'm staying in the same house as a f**king murderer."
Maggie Frampton appeared in the kitchen doorway, frowning darkly as she wiped her hands on a towel.
"What's this about murder?"
" He's not a murderer," Verity shouted.
Jonas got to his feet and tugged Verity up beside him. "Come on, honey. Let's get out of here."
She dug in her heels. "But, Jonas, I want to explain. I don't want these people thinking you're a murderer."
Jonas shot her a cool glance as he pulled her toward the door. "Leave it, Verity."
"Just because you're too damn proud to make explanations," she said angrily, "doesn't mean I can't."
"There's nothing to explain." He had her through the door now, and led her down the hall to the stone staircase. "Yarwood is right."
"About what happened at Vincent? But Jonas, there were mitigating circumstances." Verity was incensed at the injustice of it all.
"I'm sure anyone who ever sank an ice pick into someone else would claim there were mitigating circumstances. If Yarwood tried to kill Elyssa, you can bet he's busy telling himself he had cause."
"Jonas, you did not kill that lab tech."
He shrugged. "I tried."
"It was an accident," Verity raged. "A lab accident. People were playing with forces they didn't understand, and someone got hurt."
Jonas stared at her for an instant. "Verity, even if you can argue that point, you can't forget what happened a few months ago at Caitlin Evanger's. Even Yarwood doesn't know how good a case he's got when it comes to accusing me of pushing Elyssa into the water."
"What happened at Caitlin's was pure self-defense," Verity declared. Her eyes were blazing with righteous indignation. "You were attacked by a professional killer, for heaven's sake."