"Doug put it up for sale immediately," Elyssa explained. "Who can afford the taxes and upkeep on a thing like Hazelhurst's Horror? It costs a fortune to maintain. A group of businessmen want to turn it into a resort. They're very interested in the place, but they want proof that the villa is authentic before they pay what Doug is asking. So, Doug has decided to hire someone with a respectable academic reputation to look the place over and write a report for the buyers."
Doug set down his empty espresso cup. "In all fairness, you should know at the outset, Verity, that my sister has ulterior motives. She wants Mr, Quarrel to do a little treasure hunting while he's checking out the villa."
"Buried treasure?" Verity was enthralled.
Doug shrugged expressively. "Probably just a wild goose chase, but my uncle left enough evidence to whet the appetite. The treasure is supposedly buried somewhere in the villa."
"And I definitely think we should look for it before we sell the place," Elyssa declared stoutly.
Verity frowned. "If there was any treasure, wouldn't it have been discovered when the place was taken apart for shipping?"
It was Doug who answered. "That was my first thought, too. But apparently the villa was not literally taken apart stone by stone. Huge chunks of it were left intact. The workmen simply built a protective crate around the big pieces and put them on the boat. A lot of furniture and some artwork were also shipped over, but almost all of that is gone now. Poor Uncle Digby had to sell it off in order to keep the place going."
"Uncle Digby was convinced the treasure existed and that it was still somewhere in the villa. He spent years looking for it," Elyssa explained. "It only makes sense to take a shot at it ourselves before we give up the place."
Doug smiled indulgently as he glanced at his sister. "If Mr. Quarrel is willing to take on both jobs at once, I'd like to hire him for a week."
It was time to do business. Verity smiled in a professional way. She hoped she didn't look too eager.
"You do understand that Jonas's time is very valuable, and the sort of project you're describing, a stone-by-stone examination of the villa, would be quite expensive."
"Oh," said Elyssa, "we're prepared to pay his going rate, whatever that is for a full week. Perhaps longer if necessary. Do you think Mr. Quarrel might be interested in the job?"
"I think," Verity said thoughtfully, "that Mr. Quarrel would be very interested." Visions of an island vacation in a Renaissance villa swam in her mind. The Puget Sound was not the South Pacific, but sometimes you had to take what you could get. "I generally accompany him on consulting trips within the continental U.S.," she said delicately.
"We'd love to have you come along with him," Elyssa said quickly. "We'd pay all expenses, naturally."
"Naturally," Verity said smoothly, feeling very businesslike. "Can I offer you another cup of espresso while we work out the details?"
By the time Verity had finished explaining the whole thing to Laura as they soaked in a spa pool that night, she was convinced that she had heretofore undiscovered talents as a business manager.
"This could open up a real career for Jonas," she told Laura enthusiastically. "It's perfect."
"The part about the treasure hunt sounds like a waste of time," Laura stated.
"So what? At the very least Doug will get a proper academic report detailing the age and design of the villa. That should take care of impressing his potential buyers. If Jonas locates a treasure along the way, that'll just be icing on the cake."
"Think Jonas is going to go for the idea of a treasure hunt?"
"Why not? It's just the type of thing that might really appeal to him."
"And you get a week's vacation out of it," Laura concluded with a nod. "You know, it's not such a bad idea at all. A little unusual, but it has possibilities. Maybe Jonas really will go for it."
Verity leaned her head back against the tile. "Jonas doesn't have much choice in the matter," she admitted. "I've already accepted the job on his behalf. The Warwicks left a five-hundred-dollar retainer fee with me."
Laura's eyes crinkled at the corners. "Be interesting to see what Jonas thinks about his new consulting business."
Verity wondered about that herself. She had been pondering the problem since the Warwicks had left.
She was still mulling over the right approach for telling Jonas about his new consulting assignment as she hurried back along the dark path that led from the resort to her cabin.
The path was treacherous. Crusts of ice were already forming. Verity plunged her hands deep into the pockets of her down parka, hunching her shoulders against the chill.
The steps leading up to her deck were icy and she used the rail to steady herself. The porch light was out. She frowned, certain that she had left it on earlier. Perhaps the bulb had burned out. Replacing bulbs was one of those little things Jonas was good at doing.
Verity had her hand on the doorknob when she heard a faint scraping sound within the cabin. A rush of excitement surged through her. Jonas was home!
"Jonas? When did you get in?" She pushed open the door and started to reach for the light switch. "Why didn't you turn on the lights?"
A dark body exploded through the doorway, shoving Verity violently to one side. She staggered wildly backward, her shoes slipping and sliding across the ice patches.
The dark figure bounded down the steps at a dead run. Rage raced through Verity. She started after the intruder, only to have her feet slip out from under her as she went down the steps.
She felt her balance going, and felt a sharp pain in her right ankle. Suddenly all she could think about was protecting the child she might be carrying.
She must not fall!
She grabbed frantically for the railing, catching it just as her injured ankle collapsed beneath her. She was barely in time.
Her breath coming in short, steamy little gasps, she lowered herself slowly to the icy step and watched helplessly as the intruder vanished into the trees.
"Damn, damn, damn." She was shaking like a leaf.
After a moment, she picked herself up, realized she couldn't put any weight on her ankle, and limped painfully into the cabin to call Laura.
Her friend arrived a short time later, the Warwicks in tow.
"They happened to be at the front desk when you called," Laura explained as she fussed over Verity.
"Rick was busy handling a crisis in the bar."
"We'd better get you to a doctor," Doug Warwick said, examining Verity's rapidly swelling ankle. "I'll carry you to the car."