He couldn’t think.

A rapid burn rushed through his veins as he kissed her. She was skilled, with experience and confidence in every touch of her tongue and lips. Truman was no virgin, but the headiness that overtook his brain made him feel as if he was on the cusp of something brand new. Pressure mounted and he pressed his hips against her thigh, triggering another low laugh that vibrated against his lips. Pleasure blazed a path to his head, better than any alcohol-induced buzz.

He slid his hand under her tank top and she arced, pressing her full breast into his hand.

No bra.

Her skin was as silken as her tongue. I need to see.

He pulled away from her mouth and pulled down her top, exposing one breast. He caught his breath at the sight of a tattoo near her nipple. “Did that hurt?”

“Hurt like the devil himself carved it.” She stared up at him, her dark eyes challenging.

“What does it mean?” It was three flower petal shapes with their points meeting in the center, overlapped by a circle.

“It’s my protection.”

“Protection from what?”

Her sultry gaze ran from his eyes down to his waist, her meaning clear.

Like she needs protection from me.

He lowered his head and slowly ran his tongue over the tattoo, and she gasped. She tasted lightly of salt and smelled of an earthy perfume gently blended with hops and wheat. Her hips pressed up and her head tilted back, her mouth open, her lips glistening in the firelight. He moved back to that mouth and she touched his belt.

Yes!

“Wait a second.”

He pulled back at her words. She moved her top into place and reached for the tiny purse she’d set by her beer. She dug inside. “Let me up for a minute.”

He unlaced his legs from hers and sat back on the lounger, his gaze locked on her bag, expecting a condom. Instead she pulled out a small vial and moved to the fire pit. She glanced back at him, her eyes invisible in the dark. “Come stand beside me.”

He obeyed, his excitement still racing full speed ahead.

She opened the vial, closed her eyes, and softly chanted, her words indistinguishable. With a flick of her wrist she flung a powder from the vial into the fire. The flames flared up in the dark with sharp cracks and slowly died back down as an exotic scent filled Truman’s nose and turned his legs into rubber.

A trickle of fear shot down his spine.

“What was that?” he asked.

The air around them grew thick with the rich odor as she turned, eyes flashing in anticipation.

“What were you reciting?” Dread crept into his hormone-driven brain.

She didn’t answer either of his questions, and his arousal started to fade.

“Have you ever tasted the blood of another person?” she asked, a challenge in her low tone.

He swallowed hard as his arousal evaporated completely. “No.”

The night air grew oppressive as the heat of the day continued to radiate up from the concrete deck. More heat drifted from the fire and from her skin, and sweat trickled down his back.

Then he saw the blade in her hand. It was small and delicate, perfect for her feminine grip, and the firelight glinted off the sharpened edge. She quickly ran it across her wrist and blood tricked down her palm. “It enhances the arousal,” she told him.

He had no arousal left to enhance.

Truman couldn’t look away from the blade. The heavy scent clogged his brain, and he struggled to make his muscles obey.

She took his hand and held it palm up between them, laying the blade against the skin of his wrist. He stared at his hand, willing to move. It wouldn’t. “Trust me,” she whispered.

“Fuck no.” With a herculean effort he jerked his hand out of her grip, and his fingertip stung from a cut. “What are you doing?”

“Trust me,” she repeated, reaching for his hand again.

Truman stepped back, his heart thumping in his chest, and the burn of his cut cleared his head. “Are you nuts?”

Anger sparked in her eyes as she froze. “Scared?”

“Hell no, but I’m not dumb enough to swap blood with you. I don’t need some freaking disease.”

“I should have known you were too young.” The blade vanished into her purse.

His pride twinged but not enough for him to give back his wrist. “Mike said you were a witch.”

Her smile spread slowly across her face as she tipped her head and looked at him through thick lashes. The allure of a siren. “That didn’t stop you from following me.”

“Are you?”

The tantalizing smile again. “What do you believe?” She glided closer, placing her hand in the center of his chest. “A little danger can be a lot of fun.”

Truman backed up another step. “I believe we’re done.”

She halted, and Truman swore relief flashed in her eyes a split second before the temptress returned. “It could have been the best night of your life,” she whispered. “You’ll never know what you missed.” Her tongue touched the center of her upper lip.

Lust briefly blazed, but he stamped it out. Fuck no. “That’s okay with me.” He turned his back on her and strode back to the party. At the door he glanced back; she watched him. He couldn’t see her eyes, but he felt their pull. The fire framed her body, and the luscious silhouette tempted him again.

Danger.

He yanked open the door and welcomed the blast of air-conditioning on his hot face.

I just avoided a nasty mistake.

The old memory made Truman’s skin crawl as he approached the church. I was young and dumb. Thankfully his drunken hormones hadn’t overridden his common sense.

What would have happened?

He hurled the thought out of his brain. Don’t go there.

Inside the church he experienced déjà vu as he strode toward David’s office. Second time here this week. Ahead a man stepped into the hallway, his cowboy hat in his hand. He turned to shake hands with someone Truman couldn’t see. “Thank you, David. I’ll see you for dinner next week.” He turned toward Truman.

Karl Kilpatrick. Mercy’s father.

Also for the second time in a week. Truman greeted Karl and shook his hand and then David’s. Curiosity shone from both men’s eyes. There was an awkward moment where Karl waited, watching him expectantly, and Truman knew he hoped to hear the purpose of his visit. “Tell Deborah thanks again for the pie the last night.”

“We’ll have to do it again,” Karl politely replied. He got the message and moved past Truman toward the door.

“Next time I’ll make certain Mercy joins us,” Truman said to Karl’s back.

Karl’s step faltered, but he didn’t stop. He simply raised a hand in acknowledgment.

I tried. He turned and found David closely watching him.

“Still problems between those two?” asked David.

“No crack in the ice yet. She’s trying. I do what I can.”

“One of these days they’ll come together. Karl Kilpatrick is one of the most stubborn men I know, but I think he’s proud of Mercy . . . even if he has an issue with her profession.”

“It goes deeper than that, David. There’s a bitter history between them. She’s angry that he cut her out of the family when she was eighteen, and he’s angry that she wouldn’t follow the life path he’d chosen for her.” That was the CliffsNotes version. Their fifteen-year estrangement had been born out of distrust, betrayal, and Mercy’s broken heart.

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