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Page 8

"A vacation, hm? You know something? I think that might be a good idea."

Doug and Elyssa Warwick walked into the No Bull Cafe at two o'clock the following day. Verity saw at once that Laura's brief descriptions had been right on target. Doug Warwick was a good-looking young professional, with expensively trimmed sandy brown hair and a salon tan. His shirt was Ralph Lauren's version of outdoor wear, and his khaki slacks had pleats in them.

Verity was impressed with the pleats. She had tried to persuade Jonas to buy a pair of pleated trousers the last time they had gone to San Francisco. It had turned into one of those all-too-frequent occasions when Jonas had, as Laura bluntly put it, put his foot down. They had come home with a new pair of Levi's that hadn't even been prewashed for the fashionable broken-in look. Clothes were not one of Jonas's passions.

Elyssa Warwick was a surprise. Thanks to Laura's description, Verity had been prepared for the wide, luminous eyes and serene smile. What she hadn't expected were the undeniably attractive face, the lushly rounded figure, and the silvery blond hair worn in a sleek, shoulder-length bob.

Elyssa was dressed all in white—a white silk shirt that was open one button lower than necessary for fashion, a white wool trumpet skirt, and white ballet shoes.

The unrelieved white made a perfect backdrop for the glittering jewelry that adorned every limb, finger, and ear. Huge, sculpted pieces of metal hung from her ears; several rows of colorful necklaces swung over her full br**sts; her bracelets were wide cuffs that extended almost to her elbows; bands of gold adorned with small bells circled her ankles. She tinkled and chimed whenever she moved.

"You must be Verity," Elyssa said warmly as she extended an elegantly shaped hand. Each graceful finger wore a ring, and her long nails were painted in a variety of glittering colors. "Laura Griswald told us all about you. She said we mustn't miss your cooking while we're here in Sequence Springs."

Verity escorted her guests to a table. "Please sit down. I'll be able to talk to you in a few minutes. I just have to finish up some things in the kitchen. Did you want something to eat?"

Doug Warwick spied the gleaming copper espresso machine in the corner and smiled. "Maybe a cup of espresso, or a café au lait. We ate lunch in the spa dining room."

Verity nodded. She'd had an espresso machine installed two months earlier. Actually, Jonas had installed it. He'd had the huge, complex machine up and running within two hours of its arrival. He really was quite handy to have around.

Verity made two small cups of potent espresso and carried them to the Warwicks' table. Doug and Elyssa smiled gratefully. A few minutes later the last lunch customer left, and Verity made herself a cup of tea.

"I understand you're looking for Jonas," she said as she sat down at the Warwicks' table. "I'm afraid he's out of town at the moment. Business, you know. He's doing some consulting work for a client in Mexico."

Elyssa stirred her espresso and looked seriously impressed. "I imagine his work takes him all over the world."

Verity coughed slightly. "His sort of work is international in scope, naturally. He certainly has done a great deal of traveling. I'm expecting him back any day now, however. In his absence I handle certain business matters for him. May I inquire how you heard about him? For the past few years he's been working out of the country a great deal. He's only recently made Sequence Springs his business headquarters." She wondered if she was laying it on too heavily. If Jonas could hear her he would be looking around for something to clean his boots.

But if Doug and Elyssa were concerned by the fact that the "consultant" they wanted to hire had based his world-wide headquarters in a small-town vegetarian restaurant, they were too polite to show it.

"Jonas was recommended to us by a friend," Elyssa said. "A close acquaintance of mine who has the most extraordinary intuition. I explained to him the sort of expert we needed, and he asked around for us.

Preston has a wide variety of contacts."

"Preston Yarwood," Doug Warwick put in dryly, "makes a hell of a good living running psychic self-development seminars in the Bay Area. Elyssa's been a faithful student for the past six months. He's into crap like channeling and metaphysical massage. He also drives a Porsche and wears hand-tailored suits. I suppose the guy must be doing something right."

"Now, Doug, this is no time to make fun of Preston," Elyssa scolded in a gentle, sisterly tone. "He's a very talented, highly intuitive man. A wonderful teacher. He's actually got precognitive abilities, although he's too modest to admit it."

"Bull," Doug said cheerfully. "He never loses an opportunity to remind people of his so-called visions."

"You can't deny that he found Mr. Quarrel for us."

Verity eyed the Warwicks closely. "Just how did this Preston locate Jonas?"

Elyssa's smile was radiant. "He contacted the editor of a small journal that specializes in Renaissance studies. You see, we need an expert in that particular era of history. The journal editor said he'd just published an article by a Mr. Quarrel, who was quite knowledgeable about the Renaissance and might be just the man we needed. He told Preston that Jonas Quarrel once had quite a reputation for being able to authenticate almost anything. Apparently Mr. Quarrel did an article on fencing techniques for the journal?"

Verity smiled complacently. "You've read it?"

"I'm afraid not, although I'd certainly like to," Elyssa said with great charm.

"I just happen to have an extra copy," Verity told her smoothly. "I'll let you have it. I'm sure you'll find it very interesting. It's a brilliant piece."

"I'm sure it is."

"What exactly did you want Jonas to authenticate?" Verity looked at Doug Warwick.

"A sixteenth-century villa," he replied promptly.

Verity stared at him. "A villa? In Italy?" Visions of a vacation in the Italian countryside danced through her head. This might be even better than a trip to Hawaii.

Doug gave her a level look over the rim of his tiny espresso cup. "I wish it were that simple. If Hazelhurst's Horror were in Italy, I wouldn't have the problem of trying to assure my buyers that it's genuine. But since it's located on an island up in the Pacific Northwest, things get complicated."

"Good grief," Verity exclaimed. "How did a sixteenth-century Renaissance villa get to an island in the Northwest?"

"It was taken apart in Italy before the turn of the century, shipped here to the States, and reconstructed by an eccentric relative of our late uncle, Eustis Hazelhurst. Our uncle Digby, who was just as nutty as his relative, inherited the place when Eustis died. Then, two years ago, our uncle died and I inherited the monstrosity."

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