look away from his gleaming gaze. He reached out and slowly, deliberately stroked her cheek. "Once certain initial steps are taken, it's very difficult to control either force. A new Circle is begun." With a shuddering effort of will, Mercy regained a measure of poise. "Well, then," she announced as she turned back to the stove, "we shall just have to make certain the initial steps aren't taken, won't we?"
---- Chapter THREE
By the time dinner was over, Mercy felt as if the leopard painted on the screen in the living room had come to life and padded silently into her kitchen. He was there, a visitor from another reality. There was danger, she realized, but her overwhelming feeling was simply of being enthralled by this new and fascinating creature. The fact that he was aware of her fascination and willing to let her pursue it both troubled and excited her. Croft Falconer was a man she would very much like to know better. Part of the attraction was physical. Mercy was too realistic to try and deny something so powerful. He had touched her senses in a variety of ways, stirring everything from the fine hair on the nape of her neck to the adrenaline in her blood. Admittedly, she had not been physically involved with a man for a long time. There had been no one since the fiasco of her engagement. Aaron Sanders, her fiancé, had provided her first and only experience with sex. The few times she had been to bed with him had left her frankly wondering what all the fuss was about. But the two years of being without a lover didn't account for her intense feelings this evening. She had certainly met enough men on casual dates during the past few months. None of those dates had ended in bed, nor had Mercy wished they had. Sex had never been an overwhelming force in her life, never been anything she couldn't easily control. It was true she had had a rather old-fashioned upbringing, but that didn't account entirely for her limited experience. The truth was, she had been quite comfortable for the past two years, just as she had been comfortable, if curious, during the years before she had met Aaron. There had been no sense of desperation or compulsive need to find a mate. In fact, Mercy bad begun to wonder if perhaps she simply wasn't endowed with all the hormones that seemed to drive other people in her age group. For the first time she no longer doubted that she had received the full complement of female hormones and instincts. The sensual attraction was thick in the atmosphere around the glass topped dinner table. It was disconcerting and she was very much afraid Croft had been right when he claimed that this kind of thing might have something in common with violence. Both could prove uncontrollable. It was a revelation for Mercy. Still, she was a strong-wilted woman who had been through a lot since the day she had discovered the appalling manner in which Aaron Sanders had tried to use her. Mercy had enough self-confidence to know she could handle a strong physical attraction, even if it was something new and fascinating in her life. It should have been possible to view Croft as she would an exotic piece of arc Compelling, tantalizing, intriguing, but definitely out of reach in terms of price. She could admire such art, even desire it, but she could walk away from it with a sigh and a shrug. Unfortunately, her feelings for Croft Falconer were not merely a question of attraction. The very remoteness of the man drew her to him in a way she couldn't explain. The self-contained quality about him spoke of a unique kind of aloneness. She wondered if that state of isolation ever slipped over the border into a state of genuine loneliness. Surely at the edges the line between those two states was very thin. Or perhaps, like the leopard on the screen or a ghost from another dimension, Croft Falconer did not need or want to share his world with anyone else. Mercy sensed the strength and pride and power that made up Croft's nature and