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Page 79

"You found a way to use the red crystals to pull me out of the grip of the ribbons, didn't you?" Jonas searched her face. "Those damn snakes really had a hold on me this time, Verity. They were stronger than anything I've come up against in that corridor. I grabbed them because for a while there I actually believed the whole thing was real; I believed you were going to be killed. I picked up on the emotions and skills that Matteo had used, and suddenly I was Matteo."

"I believe you did save us, somehow. That battle was for real, Jonas. I'm convinced we were actually in that image. But when it was over, you couldn't get rid of the ribbons."

"They were too powerful, probably because the vision itself was so damn powerful. I would have become a walking ghost of Matteo. Not the whole man, just the part of him that had been left behind in the corridor. The part that was enraged, the part that could think of nothing but vengeance and killing. I was afraid I would turn on you next, the way Matteo probably turned on Isabella. Giovanni Marino would have had the ultimate revenge."

"Matteo murdered his wife after he killed Marino?" Verity's expression was one of outrage.

"I don't know what actually happened," Jonas said soothingly. "For us the story ends with the creep's death. I just got the impression from the residual emotions Matteo left behind that he was as furious with his wife as he was with her seducer."

Verity sat back. "I don't think he killed her," she declared after a moment. "I think that after he'd killed Marino, he came to his senses and realized his wife was just an innocent victim. I bet they both locked the door of that chamber, went back home, and lived happily ever after."

Jonas eyed her indulgently. "Sounds like a nice, cheerful ending."

"But probably not the real ending, right, Quarrel?" Crump spoke from the doorway. "People back in the Renaissance had some nasty notions of vengeance, didn't they?"

Jonas snapped his head around, setting off the dull, throbbing ache again. "I didn't hear you come in," he said, annoyed. "How long have you been standing there?"

"Long enough." Oliver smiled reassuringly. "But don't worry. I won't try to explain any of this to Warwick or anyone else. I'm not sure I understand it myself." He came toward the bed and extended his palm to reveal two white tablets. "Here. Take these and call me in the morning."

Jonas eyed the tablets with suspicion. "What are they? Some mumbo-jumbo herb treatment?"

"You could say that. They're aspirin." He handed Jonas a glass of water with his other hand.

Jonas sat up cautiously, took the glass, and swallowed the pills. "I'd appreciate it if you would keep your mouth shut about the psychic stuff."

"I will," Oliver promised calmly. "Who would believe me, except another psychic? And there aren't too many real ones running around. You're the only one I've ever met." Then he smiled faintly. "So Elyssa and Yarwood were right after all, hmmm? You really do have a talent for psychometry?"

"Something like that," Jonas said unencouragingly.

"It's a very unusual ability," Verity interjected with enthusiasm. "He can pick up on certain images from the past when he touches an object associated with those images. Unfortunately, he's a bit limited in some respects. He can only tune in to scenes of violence."

Jonas groaned. "Verity, I think that's enough."

"However," Verity continued, "the talent makes it possible for him to authenticate all kinds of objects from the past, even when they aren't associated with violence. He can't actually see an image of a chair or a piece of jewelry, the way he can with weapons, but he can feel the age of the object. Enough to know whether or not it's a reproduction."

"Verity, I doubt if Crump is really interested in all this."

"I've been telling Jonas that he should use his ability to set up a consulting business. That's why I had him take this job. Don't you think it's a marvelous idea, Oliver?"

"Not if it gets both of you killed," Oliver said bluntly.

Jonas exchanged a significant look with the other man. "Thank you for those words of wisdom. I agree completely."

Verity turned on him. "Now, just a minute. What happened on this job was bad luck, that's all. Think of it as an industrial accident. The odds of this sort of thing occurring again must be zillions to one."

"Something tells me that your math might be shaky," Jonas retorted.

"So we'll be a little more careful next time," Verity said briskly. "Actually, this assignment was completed quite satisfactorily. Doug will get the written evaluation of the villa that he wanted, and Elyssa will get a few answers about the legendary treasure. We can show everyone the secret passage and the room and the chest. That should satisfy all parties concerned." Then her eyes narrowed in disappointment. "I wish we'd found more than just an empty treasure chest, though. Finding a pile of Florentine coins would have been a nice professional touch. Great publicity."

"I think I'll live without the advertising," Jonas drawled as he sat up on the edge of the bed.

"In fact, you might live a lot longer without it," Crump said. He was smiling one of his rare smiles.

"Now that I'm going to be a father, I have to think twice about taking undue risks," Jonas agreed complacently.

Verity glared at both of them. "Why do I get the feeling that another career option for Jonas is going down the drain?"

"Face it, honey. I was born to wash dishes for you. Besides, in a few months I'll be learning a new profession. I'm going to be a hell of a daddy."

Verity's mouth curved at the corners and her eyes softened. "Think so?"

"I have a talent for it, just like I have a talent for being a husband. I can feel it in my bones."

"I think maybe I will invest in a wedding dress," Verity said thoughtfully. "Might as well do this right."

"We'll have to hurry up and get you to the altar," Jonas said blandly, his eyes roving her still-slender figure. "It won't be long before you'll be too round for a wedding gown."

She threw a pillow at him.

Verity lay quietly in the shadows of the canopied bed and listened to Jonas toss and turn beside her.

She knew he hadn't slept at all since they had climbed into bed two hours ago. He had made love to her with a gentle urgency, as if he needed to assure himself that everything was really back to normal. But afterward he had not fallen asleep.

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