Authors: Jayne Ann Krentz
GIFT OF FIRE
Copyright © 1989 by Jayne Ann Krentz
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used ficticiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Cover design by Purple Papaya LLC
Excerpt from MIDNIGHT JEWELS Copyright © 1987 by Jayne Ann Krentz
“This entire plan,” Verity Ames announced, “is a really stupid idea. When it came to giving out common sense, the good Lord obviously overlooked you two. Or maybe he just overlooked men in general.”
She glared across the table at the two men who sat opposite her. One was her lover and one was her father. She loved them both but right now she could cheerfully have strangled them. That she could be so fond of a pair of chauvinistic, bullheaded rogues probably indicated a serious character flaw in her.
“Now, Red, just calm down. I’ve told you there’s absolutely no reason to worry. It’s gonna be a cakewalk. No sweat.” Her father’s teeth flashed from the depths of his bushy, graying red beard, and his aquamarine eyes sparkled with enthusiasm. Emerson Ames, part-time author and full-time adventurer, was a big man with a huge appetite for life in the dangerous lane.
Verity had gotten her flaming hair and curiously striking blue eyes from him. Emerson had raised her single-handedly after her mother’s death, and he’d seen to it that his only child grew up with a thorough, if eclectic, education, and the ability to take care of herself. One of the things Emerson had not managed to instill in her, however, was his unquenchable desire to wander the far corners of the earth. Verity valued home and hearth.
“Don’t try to reassure me, Dad. I’ve listened to the whole scheme and I still think it’s stupid and risky. Samuel Lehigh got himself into this mess. Let him get himself out of it. There’s no need for you and Jonas to get involved.”
“Lehigh’s in real trouble this time, Verity. He needs help. He needs someone he can trust,” Jonas said. He extended one arm with unconscious grace and picked up the glass of vodka in front of him. That smooth, masculine grace was an intrinsic part of Jonas Quarrel, a manifestation of the quiet power within him. Verity imagined it was the kind of power one might have seen in a sixteenth-century Renaissance nobleman—a civilized savagery.
Although he had the grace and power of a Medici, Quarrel certainly did not dress like one. Tonight he wore his usual attire—blue denim work shirt, jeans, and scuffed boots. The leather belt around his waist was supple from years of wear. While he did not dress like a Renaissance aristocrat, Quarrel did possess the unique talents of a Medici or a Borgia. He was, in other words, equally capable of quoting poetry or wielding a dagger.
He was definitely overqualified for his present job, Verity thought wryly. Jonas Quarrel was one of the few dishwashers around with the right to put Ph.D. after his name. His field of expertise was Renaissance history; specifically, the weapons and strategies of that era.
He was not a handsome man, but men of power and grace have never needed to depend on anything as superficial as masculine beauty. Whenever she looked into the depths of his eyes—eyes the color of Florentine gold coins, filled with intelligence and the shadows of ghosts—the last thing on Verity’s mind was how Quarrel rated on a scale of one to ten. He could seduce her with a touch or a look. She was deeply, passionately in love with him.
And now he was getting ready to leave her.
“Lehigh wouldn’t have asked for help if he didn’t need it,” Jonas continued reasonably in his rich, dark voice. “He made it clear on the phone that Emerson is the only one he can trust to handle the ransom payoff. Emerson has no choice. He has to go down to
Mexico to deal with the kidnappers. Do you really want your father to go alone?”
Verity had realized hours ago that she had lost the battle, but she struggled on hopelessly. “The Mexican police can deal with the situation.”
Emerson shook his head. “Come on, Red, I raised you smarter than that. The last thing Lehigh can afford is to have the cops brought in, even if he could trust ‘em not to take the ransom and run. And let’s face it, when you’re dealing with the upholders of law and order in Mexico, you’re playing with a stacked deck. No, old Sam knows this has to be handled privately.”
“And there’s absolutely no one old Sam can call on to handle the payoff besides you?” Verity asked suspiciously.
Emerson gave a huge shrug. “No one he can trust.”
“That certainly says a lot about old Sam’s lifestyle and choice of friends, doesn’t it?” Verity muttered. “Imagine living to the ripe old age of eighty and not having another person on the face of the earth he can call on in an emergency.”
“How do you think he got to the ripe old age of eighty?” Emerson drawled. “Not by trusting the wrong people, that’s for damn sure.”
Verity gazed at Jonas for a long moment. He sipped his vodka quietly and looked back at her, his eyes steady and intent. She knew there was no point in arguing any further. She had been trying to talk them out of the venture since Lehigh’s call on the restaurant phone yesterday morning.
It wasn’t so difficult to accept her father’s decision. Verity was accustomed to Emerson’s restless, adventuring ways. But when she thought about Jonas going away, she could feel a knife twisting deep inside.
“What about your writing, Dad?” she tried, knowing it was a futile attempt. “You said you had a deadline for that first futuristic western. You’ll miss it if you go chasing off to Mexico.”
I can probably get an extension,” Emerson replied easily. “But if the editor doesn’t want to give me one, he can shove it.”
Verity winced and turned to Jonas. “You were just starting to make some real progress in learning how to cook. I had great hopes for your lentil stew. The customers love it.”
Jonas’s mouth crooked slightly at one corner. “When I get back you can finish giving me cooking lessons.”
Verity put both palms flat on the table. “So,” she said, accepting the inevitable with bad grace, “when will you be leaving?”
Jonas studied her for a moment. “Tomorrow morning. Early.”
Verity nodded. “Well, good luck. Tell Sam Lehigh I said hello.” She pushed herself to her feet abruptly. She was dazed at the implications of having lost this battle. If this was not the end, it was surely the beginning of the end.
Perhaps it would be better if Jonas made the break a clean one. Then again, maybe it would be infinitely harder. The thought of never seeing him again filled Verity with despair, but the idea of having him drift in and out of her life over the next fifty or sixty years was equally hard to accept. The vision of a lifetime filled with uncertain farewells and greetings almost overwhelmed her.
m getting maudlin,
Verity thought as she swept a couple of glasses off a nearby table. She walked through the empty restaurant and into the kitchen of the No Bull Cafe, angrily blinking back the tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks.
This wasn’t like her, she never cried. She was irritated by her unusually emotional reaction. What was the matter with her? She had known that sooner or later it would come to this, that one day Jonas would succumb again to the restless spirit that had driven him for years before he had met her.
Verity had tried to prepare herself for this day, but now that it had arrived she realized she had done a poor job of protecting herself. She was shockingly vulnerable. She had surrendered far too completely during the past few months, given too much of herself to Jonas. He had taken everything she was able to give, and now he was casually walking out.
Granted, he would probably return. But she couldn’t be sure it would be because of a bond of love. She wouldn’t have even that much satisfaction. If and when Jonas came back, it would be because of the psychic bond they shared. He needed her for a unique reason. Lately Verity had begun to wonder how much longer he would need her even for that.
Jonas Quarrel was rapidly taming his strange talent for psychometry, which had once threatened to turn him into a killer or at the very least drive him insane. In Verity he had discovered a way to control his trips into a dimension where violent moments from the past were frozen forever in a mysterious time corridor.
Yes, she thought as she placed the glasses into the sink, Jonas would drift back to her as long as he needed her help to understand his dark, powerful ability. But if he ever got to the point where he could control it by himself, he might take off and never return.
Or the end might be far more final, Verity reflected as she turned off the kitchen lights. Jonas might simply wander off on an adventure one day and get himself killed.
Either way, she could look forward to a lot of time alone.
Well, maybe not completely alone, she thought uneasily. She touched her stomach lightly. There was no need to panic. Lots of women skipped periods occasionally. Stress and anxiety could play strange tricks on a woman’s body.
Verity picked up her favorite leather bomber jacket and opened the back door of the cafe. The February night was bitterly cold. There were patches of ice on the path that led from the cafe to the two cabins nestled in the trees a short distance away. She picked her way carefully toward the cozy little cottage she’d been sharing with Jonas since shortly after his arrival last fall.
It was going to be a long, cold winter.
A heavy silence descended on the two men left sitting at the table in the empty restaurant. Jonas listened to the door close behind Verity and wondered how long that hollow sound would haunt him. Then he reached for the nearly empty bottle of vodka.
“She’ll be here when you get back,” Emerson said. “Verity’s not going anywhere. She’ll be right here waiting for you.”
“Christ. I didn’t think she’d take it this hard,” Jonas muttered. “I expected a few fireworks at first, but I thought she’d simmer down eventually and be reasonable. Dammit, you’d think we were leaving for a year instead of a few days.”
Emerson eyed his companion thoughtfully. “If you want out, just say the word. I should be able to handle this on my own.”
“Don’t be an ass. It would be pretty stupid for you to go up against three men alone when you’ve got backup help available. You know damn well it isn’t going to be a simple matter of handing over the ransom the way you told Verity. They’ll kill Lehigh if they can get away with it. Much simpler and neater for them that way.”
“Yeah. I’m sure Lehigh considered that when he chose me to pick up the cash and deliver it.”
“At least he managed to convince the kidnappers that you were the only guy on the planet who could be trusted to handle the exchange.”
“Old Sam is one smart bastard. And he’s right, if he asked anyone else to handle this, he’d probably be playing pinochle with the kidnappers until doomsday waiting for the payoff. I regret to say it, but most of his so-called friends, once they got their hands on the goodies, would forget all about the bonds of friendship.”
“Pays to have one or two close friends in this world,” Jonas observed.
“True. Speaking of which, I appreciate your offer to tag along, Jonas. But I don’t want to be the cause of you and my daughter splitting up.”
“Verity and I are not going to split up over a little thing like this,” Jonas assured him quickly, his voice hard. “She’ll come around. She’s just mad because she’s used to getting her own way. That’s your fault, you know. You’re the one who brought her up to be a world-class brat.”
Emerson sighed. “I don’t know, Jonas. I’ve never seen her quite the way she was tonight. At the end there, it was like she just sort of gave up. Not like Verity to give up on anything. I raised her to fight for what she wants.”
A cold fist gripped Jonas’s insides. The thought of Verity giving up on their relationship hit him with stunning force. He hadn’t considered that possibility. He was accustomed to the way she surrendered completely in bed, the way she fussed about his career, or lack thereof, the way she lectured him to reform his casual attitude toward work. He had been reveling in her attention for the past few months, he realized, taking for granted that she was in love with him.
Worse, he had complacently assumed that the psychic bond they shared was inviolate and unbreakable. It underlay everything else in their relationship, and it would always be there between them.
Jonas forced himself to relax. That bond was his high card. Verity couldn’t deny it. It bound them together, a more certain glue than love, or sex, or business.
t deny it.
But he had learned over the past few months that Verity had the strength and determination to do just about anything she set out to do.
Jonas knew that if she planned to write him off as a lost cause, he was in big trouble.
He finished his vodka. The glass made a sharp sound as he set it down on the table. He rose to his feet. “I’d better go back to the cabin and pack.”