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(Avery et sa soeur Sofia)

-Tu ne fais pas de jogging.

-Parce que je n'ai pas de chien !

-Maintenant si.

-Je ne peux pas courir avec un chihuahua ! Il va tomber raide mort au bout de vingt mètres.

-Comme toi. J'ai vu comment tu cours.

-Bon, très bien ! jeta Sofia, furieuse. Je sors et je vais m'acheter un chien, moi aussi. Un vrai !

-D'accord, vas y. Ramène-en un, ou dix, si ça te fait plaisir.

-Et pourquoi pas ? siffla-t-elle, avant de demander brusquement : pourquoi sa langue pendouille-t-elle comme ça ?

-Elle n'a plus de dents.

Nous nous affrontâmes du regard dans un silence électrique.

Je continuai :

-Du coup sa langue sort en permanence de sa gueule et se dessèche. La vendeuse de l'animalerie m'a conseillé de la lui masser le soir avec de l'huile de noix de coco bio et de l'hydrater avec un brumisateur pendant la journée. Quoi ? Je ne vois pas ce qu'il y a de drôle.

Sofia était en train de s'étouffer de rire. Elle n'arrivait même plus à parler et hoquetait, voir hennissait.

-Avery ! Toi qui ne tolères que ce qu'il y a de mieux, que les choses sublimes, de bon goût...

Ce chien ! Il est tellement moche! Oh, dios mio, qu'elle est affreuse!

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-Tu sais ce que j'ai retiré de cette pénible expérience?

Je secouai la tête, hypnotisée par son regard dans lequel les reflets du soleil couchant semblaient faire danser de petites chandelles.

-Qu'il ne faut jamais perdre une seule précieuse minute de vie. Et chercher le bonheur chaque fois que c'est possible. Ne pas se retenir en pensant qu'on aura toujours le temps plus tard. Personne ne peut avoir de telles certitudes.

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Joe me fixait d'un regard intense. Il frôla mon visage et sa main cueillit ma joue. Je tremblais. Il ne pouvait pas ne pas le sentir.

-Dois-je partir? chuchota-t-il.

-Non.

Sans réfléchir, j'agrippai son poignet.

L'instant d'avant, je cherchais désespérément le moyen de le repousser. Mais à présent je n'avais plus qu'une idée en tête : le retenir, à tout prix.

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It seemed the air had turned into champagne, every breath filled with effervescent, free-floating giddiness.

My glasses slipped again, and I began to adjust them.

"Avery," he said gently, "let me hold those for you. I'll keep them in my pocket until we're done."

"I won't be able to see where we're going."

"But I will." Carefully he drew the glasses from my face, folded them, and slipped them into the breast pocket of his tux. The room turned into a blur of glitter and shadow. I didn't understand myself, why I had surrendered control to him so easily. I stood there blind and exposed, my heart beating like a hummingbird's wings.

Joe's arms went around me. He took me in the same hold as before, except now we were closer, our steps intimately constrained. This time he no longer followed the orchestra rhythm, only settled into a slow, relaxed pace.

I breathed in the scent of him, burnished with sun and salt, and I was confounded by the yearning to press my mouth against his neck, taste him.

"You're nearsighted," I heard him say on a questioning note.

I nodded. "You're the only thing I can see."

He looked down at me, our noses nearly touching. "Good." The word was scratchy-soft, like a cat's tongue.

My breath caught. I turned my face away deliberately. I had to break the spell, or I was going to do something I would regret.

"Get ready," I heard him say. "I'm going to dip you."

I clutched at him. "Don't, you'll drop me."

"I'm not going to drop you." He sounded amused.

I stiffened as I felt his hand slide to the center of my back. "I'm serious. Joe—"

"Trust me."

"I don't think—"

"Here we go." He lowered me backward, supporting me securely. My head tipped back, my vision filled with the twinkling firefly-lights entwined in the tree branches. I gasped as he pulled me upright with astonishing ease.

"Oh! You're strong."

"It has nothing to do with strength. It's knowing how to do it." Joe caught me against him, closer than before. Now we were matched front to front. The moment was charged with something I'd never felt before, a soft voltaic heat. I was quiet, unable to make a sound if my life had depended on it. I closed my eyes. My senses were busy gathering him in, the hard strength of his body, the caress of his breath against my ear.

All too soon, the song ended with a bittersweet flourish. Joe's arms tightened. "Not yet," he murmured. "One more."

"I shouldn't."

"Yes, you should." He kept me against him.

Another song started, the notes flaring softly. "What A Wonderful World" was a wedding staple. I'd heard it about a thousand times, interpreted every way imaginable. But every now and then an old song could pierce through your heart as if you were hearing it for the first time.

As we danced, I tried to gather every passing second for safekeeping, like pennies in a Mason jar. But soon I lost track, and it was only the two of us, wrapped in music and dream-colored darkness. Joe's hand covered mine, and he pulled my arm around his neck. When I didn't resist, he reached for my other wrist and pulled that one up too.

I had no idea what song played next. We stood locked in a subtle sway with my arms linked around his neck. I let my fingers drift over the nape of his neck, where the thick hair was tapered in close layers. A feeling of unreality swept over me, and my imagination kept veering in the wrong directions . . . I wondered what he would be like in intimacy, the ways he might move and breathe and tremble.

His head lowered until his jaw grazed my cheek, the touch of shaven bristle delicious.

"I have to work," I managed to say. "What . . . what time is it?"

I felt him lift his arm behind me, but apparently it was too dark to read his watch. "Must be close to midnight," he said.

"I have to set up the after-party."

"Where?"

"The swimming pool patio."

"I'll go with you."

"No, you'll distract me." Realizing my arms were still linked around his neck, I began to pull free.

"Probably."

He caught one of my wrists and turned his mouth to the inside of my wrist. A shock of sweetness went through me as I felt his lips touch the thin, tender skin, grazing the frantic thrum of a pulse. Reaching into his pocket, Joe withdrew my glasses and gave them back to me.

I couldn't stop staring at him. There was a crescent mark on the left side of his jaw, a thin white line amid the shadow of shaven bristle. And another mark near the outward corner of his left eye, a subtle parenthetical scar. Somehow the tiny imperfections made him even sexier.

I wanted to touch the marks with my fingertips. I wanted to kiss them. But the desire was hemmed by instinctive knowledge that this wasn't a man I could ever be casual about. When you fell for a man like this, it would be an all-consuming bonfire. And afterward, your heart would resemble the contents of an ashtray.

"I'll meet you when you finish setting up," Joe told me.

"It may take a long time. I don't want you to wait."

"I've got all night." His voice was soft. "And you're how I want to spend it."

Desperately I tried not to feel so flattered and overwhelmed. And I hurried away with the sense that I was running through a minefield.

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