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Page 72

"I'm telling you, there is no treasure, Yarwood."

Yarwood's eyes flared angrily. "Don't give me that. I know you've found something important. I heard enough in the lab at Vincent College to know you're capable of it. That's why I had you hired. You're going to show me where the treasure is, goddammit. And you're going to hurry up about it, too. Crump and Warwick will be back as soon as this storm passes. Come here, Verity."

Jonas tensed, knowing what was going to happen next. "Leave her alone, Yarwood. I'll cooperate. But I'm warning you, there's nothing to find."

"There's something here. And you know where it is. You're going to show me. Come here, Verity. Get over here now or I'll start putting large holes in your bedmate."

Verity took a reluctant step forward.

"Don't get near him, Verity." Jonas spoke quietly. "He wants to use you as a hostage."

Yarwood smiled faintly. "You're so right, Quarrel. And if she doesn't get over here this instant, I'm going to put the first bullet through your arm. You'll still be capable of leading me to the treasure without the use of one arm. You could do it without the use of either arm, in fact." He raised the pistol.

"Stop it," Verity snapped. She walked stiffly to stand in front of Yarwood.

"Dammit, Verity." But it was too late and Jonas knew it. He watched in impotent fury as Yarwood grabbed Verity's arm and pulled her close against his side. "Let her go, Yarwood. I told you, I'll cooperate. I'll show you what we've found, but I'm warning you, it isn't much. Just an empty chest in a hidden room. Spencer was here ahead of us, Yarwood. Hell, there was probably someone else ahead of him. Maybe someone a century or two ago back in Italy. The treasure's gone."

"I don't believe you. There's the crystal," Yarwood snapped, his gaze going hungrily to Verity's hand.

"It's still here. I read enough of Hazelhurst's diary to know that no one gets anything without the crystal.

And you've got it, don't you? Open your hand, Verity. Show it to me."

Verity opened her palm and displayed the green crystal. "It won't do you any good, Preston. You don't know how to use it. None of us do."

"We'll find out, won't we? Show me this hidden room you've found, Quarrel."

"I've told you, there's nothing in it, you stupid bastard."

"Show me, or I'll start putting bullets in the little lady." Yarwood pushed the barrel of the gun against Verity's throat.

" No. Don't hurt her, damn you. If you want to see the room, I'll show it to you. But it won't do you any good, there's nothing in it." Jonas wanted to kill Yarwood more than he'd wanted anything in his life.

Verity said nothing. She just looked at Jonas with a calm trust that was shattering.

"Let's go see this hidden room." Yarwood yanked Verity a little closer.

Jonas thought about the stiletto lying amid the tangle of bones just inside the bedroom entrance. "This way," he said quietly, leading the way toward the bedroom he had shared with Verity.

Yarwood followed, hustling Verity ahead of him. The end of the gun never wavered from her throat.

When Jonas pushed open the bedroom door, the gaping hole that marked the entrance to the hidden corridor was immediately evident. Yarwood stared at it in fascination.

"A hidden passage," Yarwood whispered. "Where does it lead?"

"To the empty treasure room." Jonas hooked a thumb in his belt. "Got any problems with claustrophobia, Yarwood? Because the passage is as narrow as virtue and darker than sin. It's a long walk to the treasure room."

"Don't try to scare me, Quarrel." There was a feverish excitement in Yarwood's gaze now. "Just be sure you don't try anything clever once we're inside. I can kill Verity before you can do anything to me."

Verity spoke up, her voice soft. "There's a body inside, Preston."

That jolted him slightly. "Whose?" he demanded.

"Hazelhurst's, we think," she said. "In the end he decided the treasure was cursed. Slade Spencer came to agree with him, I think. Maybe they were right. Neither one of them ever got to enjoy any of it."

"Show me the room," Yarwood ordered as he pushed her roughly toward the hole in the wall. "You first, Quarrel."

Jonas obediently moved toward the entrance. He picked up the flashlight and his new jacket en route.

He wasn't going to have much time to scoop up the stiletto and hide it in his deep jacket pocket. He needed a distraction. "Let me kick Hazelhurst's body out of the way, first. It makes Verity queasy." He could only hope the prospect of having to step over a pile of old bones was making Yarwood queasy, too.

"Go ahead," Yarwood said quickly. "Get it out of the way. Jesus. Did the old bastard really die in there?"

"Yeah. Hell of a place to croak, huh?" Jonas stepped into the entrance. He kept the flashlight aimed at the opposite corridor wall. The floor was in darkness except for the wedge of light that filtered in from the bedroom. He could just barely make out the tip of the stiletto among the scattered bones. Behind him Verity started talking rapidly, her voice tremulous. She had guessed what he was trying to do and was doing her part to distract Yarwood.

"It's awful in there, Preston," she said. "Hazelhurst's bones are lying all over the floor. You can see the skull and everything. It's easy to imagine how he must have been struggling to find the exit mechanism when he died. It's enough to give you nightmares. I think he was right. I think he found the treasure and died from the curse that was put on it."

"Shut up, you silly woman," Yarwood said impatiently. But he stayed back with Verity while Jonas crouched down on the floor of the corridor. "Hurry up, Quarrel."

"I'm hurrying, but it's a mess in here." Jonas silently thanked Verity for being willing to play the frightened, weak-kneed female. She was giving Yarwood a few second thoughts about rushing into the endless darkness of the corridor. Jonas decided he might as well add a few subtle suggestions of his own.

"Got to be careful this door doesn't close on us while we're inside. Wouldn't want to end up the same way Digby did. You want to grab that chair to prop it open, Yarwood?"

"Get the chair," Yarwood said to Verity. "Go on, get it. Hurry."

Verity made a production out of dragging the heaviest chair in the room across the floor. That was all the distraction Jonas needed. He reached down and rattled a few bones in the darkness. "Sorry, Digby, old pal," he muttered. "You never did get much respect from the academic community, did you?" He palmed the stiletto and slipped it up under his sleeve.

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