THE hunt was over. He'd been chasing her for two months and two thousand miles and he was finally closing in on his quarry. For the first time since the whole thing had started, Jonas Quarrel allowed himself the temporary pleasure of triumph mingled with anticipation.
The Jeep ground its way along the rutted, unpaved road until it reached the edge of the lake. Jonas halted the dusty vehicle near a cluster of tall, swaying pines, switched off the engine, and sat for a moment behind the wheel. Then he opened the door and climbed out.
He walked slowly to the water's edge and stood gazing thoughtfully out over the expanse of Sequence Lake, the visual focal point of the little Northern California town of Sequence Springs. Jonas had been in the vicinity for a few days getting the feel of the place and planning his next move. Somewhat to his surprise, he had discovered he liked Sequence Springs and its lake.
Ripples on the blue-green surface in front of him shimmered in the waning sun of a warm fall afternoon.
The lake was ringed with a thick fringe of pine and fir. Most of what constituted Sequence Springs was on the opposite shore, a cheerful jumble of small shops, old gas stations, and aging houses. Here and there around the perimeter of the lake Jonas could see cabins hidden in the dark shelter of the trees.
The whole place had a subtle air of being undiscovered and picturesque, Jonas decided. It wasn't quite what he had been expecting, but then, he hadn't really known what to expect two months ago when he'd begun his hunt for Verity Ames.
At the far end of the lake an impressive, neoclassical structure painted a stark white caught the last rays of sunlight and reflected them back with almost blinding intensity. The building was unlike any other on the lake. Even from here it was obvious it had been designed to impress the viewer. The architect had clearly been given a free hand and he'd used it to create a self-consciously elegant facade that stressed arched doorways, colonnades, and courtyards. The Sequence Springs Spa Resort was as imposing and luxurious as any Renaissance villa.
Almost lost in the trees not far from the resort stood two weatherbeaten cabins and a small building that housed a restaurant. The three structures presented a blithely irreverent contrast to the neighboring spa.
From where he stood Jonas could see a couple of cars winding their way around the far side of the lake toward the gleaming white resort. The cars, Jonas knew, would be of the Porsche or BMW or Mercedes persuasion.
It was Friday afternoon and the weekend crowd of stressed-out, upwardly mobile types from the San Francisco Bay Area were arriving for their fashionable fix of mud baths, mineral soaks, workouts, and massages.
And after they had been through the spa's luxurious torture program, they would be in the mood for expensive wine and gourmet food that could be eaten with a reasonably clear conscience. The resort offered carefully controlled, reasonably stylish cuisine. But a number of resort guests who were in me know would head for the cozy little restaurant located a short distance from the main resort facilities.
The No Bull Cafe did a landslide business on the weekends serving elegant and expensive vegetarian cuisine.
The No Bull was Jonas's goal this afternoon. He had made his decision on how to close in on his quarry.
She owned the cafe and had been advertising in the local paper for a combination dishwasher, waiter, and handyman.
Jonas was presently unemployed and happened to be an expert in the field of dishwashing. Hell, he thought, he could have gotten his Ph.D. in the art if such a degree were offered. It would have been far more useful than the Ph.D. he had gotten in Renaissance history a few years back.
He had never been certain if pursuing the kind of career the history degree had established for him would have killed him outright or just driven him insane. A sense of self-preservation had kept him from experimenting.
Once upon a time, he had come very close to becoming a murderer because of his talent. He had decided then that the fascination of history was better left to those who had less affinity for it than he had.
So he'd washed a lot of dishes in the last few years, mostly bar glasses. He'd also served a lot of liquor, which should have given him the skills of a waiter. And there was no doubt that he'd picked up a few skills as a handyman. He thought of the knife packed away in his duffel bag in the back of the Jeep....
He was a real Renaissance man, he thought wryly. All the benefits of a classical education coupled with a lot of experience in the real world. What more could a potential employer ask? Four hundred years ago he wouldn't have had any trouble at all getting work.
His mouth was edged with a hint of laconic amusement as he reached into the pocket of his jeans and curled his long, lean fingers around a small circlet of gold. As soon as he touched it the earring seemed to warm his hand and a faint, tantalizing sensation that was both peaceful and pleasant and oddly anticipatory tingled deep within him.
Jonas had discovered that the earring was as effective as a shot of tequila or a couple of bottles of beer when it came time to soften the rough edges of a hard day. He withdrew the tiny piece of feminine jewelry and examined it as it lay innocently in his palm.
It wasn't the first time he had looked at that earring and tried to fathom its compelling mystery. The truth was, he hadn't let it get out of his reach in the two months he'd had it. Jonas felt distinctly possessive and protective toward the earring.
The odd thing was that the possessive feeling extended to the woman who owned it, even though he had never met her. Somehow, in a way he couldn't yet explain, she was part of his future. And it was now time to meet her.
The compulsion to locate the owner of the golden earring had brought Jonas a couple of thousand miles from a Mexican waterfront bar to Sequence Springs. The distance he had traveled meant little to him.
He would have come from the other side of the world to find the woman who owned it.
He had gotten only a few brief glimpses of her the night she had lost the piece of jewelry, but he remembered well the copper fire of wild curls that framed huge eyes and a finely boned face. He recalled, too, her soft, slender, feminine shape in the golden light spilling through the open door of the cantina.
She had never seen his face. Verity Ames had been too busy fleeing back to the safety of her hotel.
He could still hear the echo of her high-heeled sandals disappearing into the darkness.
It had taken Jonas a week to find out the name of the earring's owner. In true Mexican tradition, money had crossed palms just to get that elemental piece of information. That had been the easy part. It had taken nearly two months to track her down to Sequence Springs, California. All the while the earring had burned in his pocket.