“You kissed me!”

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“It was an accident!” I cried.

“There’s no such thing as accidents, only things you mean to do and put off until a moment of panic.”

“That’s awfully philosophical,” I mused.

“No, I’m not talkin’ about all mankind, just you in particular.”

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I stared at him, long and hard. I watched as the smug little grin faded from his expression. And he was just a man, looking at a woman, as if he wanted her desperately. I don’t think anyone had ever looked at me that way.

I was not drunk. The beer we’d had was barely enough to give me a pleasant buzz. I was making a decision without thinking, for the first time in a very long time. It felt really good, but in the morning, I was probably going to regret it. At the moment, I did not care. I wish I could blame it on the drink or being tired or homesick or under the influence of some bizarre magical ritual. But I just wanted him. His skin was warm and smooth under mine. He was solid and strong, and he was looking at me as if I hung the moon and stars. I wanted to feel his skin against mine, to have him drag that stubble across my collarbone and bite at my throat.

“Oh, hell.” I sighed, shoving him against the door and attacking his mouth. I didn’t even care when our teeth clacked together. His tongue slipped past my lips, tangled with mine. Hands that had hesitated with uncertainty at my sides now curled around my back.

I hitched my leg over his hip, rising against him. Once again, his hands found purchase under my rear as he lifted me. He pushed into my room and whipped me around, pushing me against the door. He yanked my shirt over my head. I pushed him back onto the bed and unbuttoned his shirt, grinding down on the growing bulge of his lap. He moaned.

“Are you sure about this?” he asked, lightly pulling at the ends of my hair. “You’re not drunk, are you?”

I laughed. “No! On that beer? Don’t be silly!” I kissed him again. “No, I’m not sure about it. But I’m going to do it anyway. It’s a new thing for me.”

He chuckled. “Well, thank you for experimentin’ on me.”

“You’re so pretty!” I exclaimed as I pulled his shirt away. “It’s just not fair. I mean, really. You’re just . . . so damned pretty! Do you get that a lot?”

“Not nearly enough,” he said, shaking his head. He pushed my hair from my face and grinned up at me. “And you’re pretty, too.” He kissed the tip of my chin, nuzzling my neck. “The first time I saw you, I couldn’t look away from your face.”

I slipped my fingertips up the length of his spine, twisting them into his hair and pulling his head back, so we were eye-to-eye. “You mean, when I was naked?”

He grinned wickedly. I jiggled my hand slightly, forcing him to nod. “Yes.”

I bit my lip, keeping my head tilted even as he turned and lowered me to the mattress. “I don’t know whether it’s a compliment that you could only look at my face when I was naked.”

“I will stare at your breasts right now if it will make you happy.”

I considered it for a long moment. “I think it would.”

He helped me unclasp my bra and threw it over his shoulder. He sat back on his heels, pursing his lips and squinting as if he was considering my nipples very carefully. After a few moments of this, I became uncomfortable and tried to cross my arms. He caught my wrists, shaking his head. He dipped his head to mine as he pressed my wrists to the mattress.

“I still like your face,” he muttered, making me laugh as he nuzzled my cheek.

“Can I ask you something?”

“I don’t think I could stop you if I tried.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry,” I said, kissing him again. “I’m not going to talk myself out of this. I am going to have sex with you. Like the dirty, nasty, make-the-priest-drop-his-Bible-during-confession sort of sex. I am very bendy. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but . . . very bendy. And if I start talking again, I will talk until you lose interest or I start snoring. And if I start snoring, you definitely won’t have sex with me.”

“You snore?”

“Rumor has it.”

He unzipped my jeans and tugged them down my hips. “I like snoring.” Suddenly, he was back at face level and drawing his cheek along the width of my collarbone as my panties seemed to disappear into thin air. “Love it.” I wrapped my legs around his hips, and he planted a kiss on the hollow of my throat. “Think it’s the sexiest thing ever.”

As I was laughing, he closed his lips around mine and slowly, but surely, slid between my thighs. I could feel him smiling against my mouth as he rolled his hips. I giggled shamelessly, nuzzling against his neck until he ducked away.

“Ticklish,” he murmured.

Every nerve, every cell in my body seemed to sizzle to life. I could feel everything—skin, lips, hands, warmth, comfort, home. This was right where I should be. I could feel it in my bones, the magic working its way loose from my marrow and warming me down to my toes. It wound around the two of us, like a golden ribbon only I could see.

That was new.

Our legs wound together under the rough sheets as we moved. An aurora of sunny light drifted around the bed while I was trying to concentrate on the slow, steady pace Jed was setting. It was a bit of a distraction, taking on a life of its own, flashing and moving as we did, sharing Jed’s playful energy as he nibbled at my jawline. But somehow we managed to slide along until Jed’s chest was heaving and my skin felt too hot and tight.

Every part of me pulsed, and the light pulsed with me. Jed moaned over me, tilting his head against mine. Just before I closed my eyes, Jed’s skin changed in my light, rippling into scales, golden oval scales like you’d see in medieval illustrations of dragons. I blinked rapidly, eyes wide, running my hand down his shoulder. And with that, it was his normal, smooth skin again.

Jed chuckled and rolled to his side, dragging me with him. The golden ribbon faded from sight as I slumped against his ribs, slightly boggled.

Clearly, mind-blowing sex combined with hash brown casserole had hallucinogenic properties.

We lay there in the dark, wrapped around each other, Jed’s chin resting on my shoulder. I was so relaxed and content that I was drifting on that line between sleep and waking. And Jed suddenly nudged my cheek with his nose and said, “What were you going to ask me?”

I yawned. “Before you so rudely interrupted me with sex?”

“Yep.”

I turned over to face him, balancing on my elbows as my hair fell back over my shoulders. “Why are you so weird around me?”

He frowned and paused midnuzzle. “What do you mean?”

“You’re nice one minute, and then the next, you’re running into your house like your arse is on fire to avoid me. When we do talk, you’re funny and charming and sweet, but then I haven’t been able to talk to you that often over the last few weeks, because you hide out in your side of the house.”

“I thought you were going to ask me if they looked real,” he said, nodding toward my chest. “Which they do.”

“And when I ask you anything the least bit personal, you deflect with a dirty joke.”

“Force of habit.”

“Well, cut it out.”

“I’m used to having my family living on all sides. I’ve never had a hot neighbor before. I don’t know how to act when I like someone and she’s living so close. I figured if I was always at your door, asking you over for dinner, I would come across like a crazy stalker.” His face was suddenly so serious, little worry lines forming around his mouth in an expression like regret. “I like you, so much more than I expected, and it’s made things more difficult than they should be.”

“So you like me too much?” I asked, skeptical.

“I think so,” he said, his tone surprised, as if he hadn’t thought about this until now.

Well, it was a reason. It wasn’t a good reason, but I would accept it.

He shifted on the mattress, running a hand down the length of my side to curve over my hip. He ran the tips of his fingers over the small of my back, stroking the base of my spine. “Now I have a question for you.”

“Is it about my snoring?” I asked.

“No.”

“Then go ahead.”

“Why the hell are you here?” he asked. “Why would a girl move from the big city to Middle-of-Nowhere, Kentucky? And don’t tell me change of scenery. Because no scenery could be that bad that you’d move to the Hollow.”

I’m a witch on the hunt for magical artifacts that will guarantee our continued magical domination over an evil former branch of our family.

Well, I should probably phrase it some other way.

I looked up at him, tracing the contours of his cheekbones with my fingertips. I’d omitted or outright lied to him about so many things. Lying to Jed weighed on me more than I’d expected. I wanted to tell him the truth for once, about this one little thing. I didn’t have to tell him about witchcraft or where I was really from, but I could give him this tiny bit of truth.

“I have family in the Hollow,” I said, carefully lacing my fingers through his. “I only found out about them a few months ago. My mother never knew her dad. It was always this big family secret we were never even supposed to ask about. My grandmother died recently, and right before she passed, she shared his name with me. Have you heard of Gilbert Wainwright, the man who owned the house before Dick?”

Jed’s eyebrows rose. “Really?”

I nodded. “It turns out my grandfather died a while ago but left behind other relatives. Aunts and uncles and cousins,” I said, thinking of my vampire friends and the more trustworthy branch of the Lavelle clan. “And I wanted to get to know that side of my family.”

“So you never knew this whole section of your family existed, and bam, instant aunts and uncles?” he asked, propping his head against a pillow. “What’s that like?”

“Bizarre,” I admitted with a sniffle. He was quiet for a long moment, staring at me and running his fingertips down the length of my cheek.

“Family can be that way. Bizarre, I mean. Have I ever told you about the time my brother Jim threw a dart at my head and put me in an eye patch for two months?” he asked, rolling me onto my side and pulling my back against his chest.

“How would you have possibly told me about that?” I chuckled.

“Don’t laugh. I made that eye patch look good,” he grumbled, jostling me. “Had to wear the damn thing on school picture day. So this is the story of how Jed learned when Jim says, ‘Duck,’ to take him seriously.”

“Are you telling me an absurd, painful story about your childhood to make me feel less awkward about this postcoital confessional?” I sniffed.

“Yes.”

“All right, then,” I said, turning and nestling my forehead against his collarbone.

I didn’t remember falling asleep. I remembered Jed telling his eye patch story (I found out later this was one of several incidents involving his brother that ended in Jed wearing an eye patch), and then I was walking along a fern-choked trail in a jungle with a figure in front of me, chopping through vegetation with a machete. The air was sticky and hot, smelling of rotting plants. And in the distance, I could hear church bells over the din of a thousand squawking tropical birds.

“Hi there,” Mr. Wainwright called over his khaki-clad shoulder.

“Aw, hell, again?” I sighed. “Do you know how off-putting it is to fall asleep in the arms of a naked man and wake up on a field trip with your grandfather?”

“Oh, come on, dear,” he admonished, leaning against a tree for a breather. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”

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