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Glynis aida Sorcha à se préparer pour aller au lit, puis Alex s'assit par terre près de la paillasse de sa fille. Passant avec aisance du français au gaélique, il lui raconta une longue histoire. Glynis la connaissait déjà du seannachie de son père, mais jamais elle ne lui avait paru aussi passionnante.

-on dirait un petit ange, fit remarquer Glynis quand Sorcha se fut endormie.

- il est encore tôt, dit Alex avec une lueur dans les yeux qui la rendit nerveuse.

- Bessie va monter dans un instant.

Alex secoua la tete.

- Je crois que ta servante s'est trouvé un homme.

- Bessie? demanda Glynis. Tu plaisantes?

- tu peux me croire, je sais reconnaître ces choses-là, dit Alex en s'avançant vers elle. Nous ne la verrons pas revenir avant au moins deux ou trois heures.

Glynis recula jusqu'à ce que son talon heurte la porte en bois avec un bruit sourd.

-malgré tout, poursuivit Alex en glissant le bras derrière elle pour barrer la porte, meixu vaut nous assurer que nous n'allons pas être interrompus.

- ta fille est endormie sur le sol!

- c'est pour cela qu'il y a des tentures de lit, répliqu-t-il. Allez, Glynis, laisse-moi te ontrer à quel point tu m'as manqué.

- Catherine ne t'attend-elle pas? demanda-t-elle.

-ainsi tu es jalouse. (il émit un petit rire guttural). J'ai le sentiment que Catherine et ses frères vont vouloir surveiller Shaggy pendant encore un moment.

- je vois. Tu as donc un peu de temps à tuer, n'est-ce pas?

- tu es la seule femme à qui j'aie jamais demandé de devenir ma femme, affirma-t-il.

Elle ferma les yeux quand il pencha la tete vers elle et pressa ses lèvres chaudes sur son cou.

- c'est toi que je veux, Glynis MacNeil, murmura-t-il tout contre sa peau. Ne m'oblige pas à chercher une autre épouse.

- je ne peux pas faire ça, dit-elle en le repoussant. Nous ne sommes pas encore mariés, et tu as une autre femme qui t'attend plus tard.

- mais je n'en veux pas, rétorqua-t-il. C'est toi que je veux.

Il avait l'air si sincère qu'il serait facile de le croire. Malgré tout, il n'avait pas nié le fait que Catherine l'attendait.

- combien de temps ton désir pour moi va-t-il encore durer? demanda-t-elle. Une semaine? Un mois? Cela ne me suffira pas.

- et si je te faisait la promesse que je n'aurai pas d'aventures. dit-il d'un air affligé. Est-ce que tu m'accepterais comme époux? Sorcha et moi avons besoin de toi.

- comment pourrais-je te faire confiance? Demanda-t-elle, bien que les caresses d'Alex soient sur le point de lui faire perdre tout bon sens. Tu m'as dit toi meme que tu ne savais pas si tu parviendrais à etre fidèle.

- quand je donne ma parole, dit-il durement, je la tiens.

Elle voulait qu'il lui soit fidèle parce qu'il n'avait envie de personne d'autre, et pas par obligation. Quelle folie que d'exiger l'impossible d'Alexander Ban MacDonald. S'il l'aimait, peut être aurait-elle fait taire ses inquiètudes et espéré. Mais Alex n'avait en tete que le bien de sa fille.

- je t'en prie, Glynis, supplia-t-il d'une voix douce qui lui fit l'effet d'une caresse sur sa peau. Dis-moi que tu vas m'épouser, et viens sur le lit avec moi.

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Alex suivit la direction de son regard et faillit s'étouffer à son tour dans sa bière en voyant la jeune femme qui venait d'entrer. La pauvre fille avait été frappée par le pire cas de variole qu'il ait jamais vu. Tête basse, la malheureuse traversa la pièce à vive allure et vint s'asseoir au bout de la table, à côté d'Alex, qui dut s'écarter pour lui faire de la place. Elle était assez plantureuse, mais ses rondeurs n'étaient pas séduisantes.

Se tournant vers elle pour la saluer, Alex s'efforça de ne pas regarder fixement son visage grêlé. Mais il ne parvenait pas à en détacher ses yeux, d'autant que les cicatrices n'étaient pas vieilles : les pustules étaient encore purulentes ! La vue du sang ne l'avait évidemment jamais dérangé, mais celle de ces plaies suintantes lui donna presque la nausée.

— On m'appelle Alexander Bàn.

« Alexandre le Blond », en gaélique. Il afficha un grand sourire et attendit. Mais elle demeura silencieuse, le regard rivé sur la table.

— Et vous êtes ? finit-il par lui demander.

— Glynis.

Comme elle refusait de lever les yeux vers lui, Alex put l'examiner à loisir. Plus il l'observait, plus il était certain que les traces de variole n'étaient pas en train de suinter, mais de fondre. Amusé, il ne put réprimer un sourire.

— Je vous avoue être très intrigué, lui murmura-t-il à l'oreille. Qu'est-ce qui peut bien pousser une jeune femme à se couvrir délibérément le visage de cicatrices ?

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— Généralement, je ne deviens ami avec une femme qu'après avoir partagé son lit. Mais, je peux faire une exception pour vous.

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Elle se sentit coupable d'avoir été si sèche avec lui alors qu'il n'avait fait que la taquiner, aussi lui demanda-t-elle :

— Voulez-vous que je vous montre mon endroit préféré ?

— Ce serait plus amusant si je le découvrais par moi-même, répliqua-t-il.

Le souffle coupé, elle resta quelques instants silencieuse tandis qu'Alex l'examinait de la tête aux pieds.

— Je voulais dire sur la plage ! (Elle donna un coup sur son bras, qui lui sembla aussi dur que du fer). Vous êtes le pire fripon que j'aie jamais rencontré.

Il éclata de rire et lui prit la main.

— Conduisez-moi où bon vous semble, ma belle dame.

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« Qui vient sans être invité s'assiéra sans en être prié. »

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En quelques instants, Duncan et lui furent encerclés par un groupe de guerriers McNeil lourdement armés, qui les escortèrent jusqu'au donjon.

— Nous leur avons fait peur, murmura Alex à Duncan.

— Nous pourrions avoir le dessus, grommela celui-ci.

— Tu n'as pas remarqué qu'ils étaient douze ?

— Je n'ai pas dit que ce serait facile

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- On m'a dit que tu t'appelais Claire, lui dit-il en français.

Elle hocha la tête. Elle était peut être muette, mais en tout cas pas sourde.

- Sais-tu ce que ton nom signifie? demande-t-il.

Elle secoua la tête presque imperceptiblement.

- Lumineuse et brillante. Radieuse, dit-il en lui caressant la joue. (Pour une fois, il fut reconnaissant d'avoir été forcé d'apprendre le latin à l'université.)

En gaélique, la langue de l'endroit d'où je viens, nous disons Sorcha.

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Chan ann leis a'chiad bhuille thuiteas a'chraobh.

L'arbre ne tombe pas au premier coup de hache.

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2 extraits offerts par Margaret Mallory

(Source : http://www.margaretmallory.com)

1er extrait :

"What were ye thinking, asking me to meet ye at this hour?" Alex said as he rammed the torch into the sconce on the wall.

"I'm glad ye came," Glynis said.

"Ye gave me no choice," he said. "I couldn't have ye wandering around a castle full of warriors—half of them drunk— looking for me in the dark."

Alex took a deep breath. He had wanted to say good–bye to her—and to explain about what she'd seen when she walked in on him and Catherine—but he didn't have a lot of time.

"Why did ye want to see me?" he asked.

"When I talked with your friend Duncan this afternoon, he told me you're going to Edinburgh."

How had she'd gotten closemouthed Duncan to share their business with her?

"I want ye to take me with ye," she said.

Alex could not have been more stunned if she'd sprouted fairy wings and flown over the pots and bags of grain in the storeroom. Just what was Glynis suggesting? His heart gave a big lurch as he considered the possibility that she might actually want to run off with him.

But it seemed so unlikely that he had to ask. "Why?"

"I've decided to live with my mother's family in Edinburgh," she said.

Alex waited for the relief he should feel upon learning that her request had nothing to do with him, but it didn't come. A bad sign.

"Ye know verra well that I can't just run off with ye across Scotland," Alex said.

"Ye must," she said, clenching her fists. "My da wants to marry me to Alain."

Alex wanted to hit something. He didn't have time for this, but he wanted to help her if he could. "Do ye know where your father is? I'll speak with him."

"Does my father strike ye as the sort of man who takes advice well?"

She had a point, but he said, "I can be verra persuasive."

"So I've heard," Glynis said with more than a touch of sarcasm. "But it will do no good. My father is too stubborn by half."

As was his daughter. "Have ye considered a compromise with your father? Is there no man ye are willing to wed?"

Glynis gave her head a firm shake and folded her arms. "Ye said ye would be my friend."

"Stealing a lass away from her father is no being a friend," he said, though his words felt hollow. Her mother's family could hardly do worse by her.

"Take me, Alexander Bàn MacDonald," she said, her gray eyes turning to hard flint. "Or I'll go tell the Maclean chieftain right now that I saw ye swiving his wife."

"That wasn't what it looked like!" Alex was so used to having committed whatever offense he was accused of that he hardly knew how to defend himself. "My clan needs ties to the Campbells, so I couldn't offend her."

"Ye sacrificed yourself for the sake of your clan, did ye?"

"I didn't do what ye think," Alex protested. "Though it wasn't easy, mind ye."

Judging from the grim line of her mouth, Glynis was not impressed with his forbearance.

"Catherine is close to her brothers," he explained. "If you've forgotten, they are the Earl of Argyll and the Thane of Cawdor, so I had to be verra careful about how I told her nay."

"It looked like 'aye' to me—your being naked and all."

Ach, she was full of sarcasm tonight. Glynis took a step closer and tapped her finger against his chest. Despite the anger in her eyes, the point of her finger sent heat radiating through his body.

"How about I tell Shaggy Maclean what I saw and let him sort it out?" she asked.

God preserve him. If she went running to Shaggy with this tale now, none of the MacDonalds would escape tonight. Alex ran his hand through his hair. He could tie her up and leave her in the storeroom. But he didn't like the idea of leaving Glynis helpless, not knowing how long she might lie here—or who might find her.

"If ye tell Shaggy, he'll kill me," Alex said, attempting to reason with her.

"It wouldn't be my fault," she said. "A man should pay for his sins."

"Ye wouldn't be that heartless," he said, though Glynis was looking as if she damned well would. "And I'm telling ye, I didn't sin with Catherine."

Not this time, anyway.

"I'll do what I must," Glynis said with that stubborn look in her eyes. "There are hundreds of men here. My father won't know it was you I left with, if that's your concern."

"The truth has a way of coming out." Alex folded his arms across his chest. "Have ye thought of what your father will do if he finds out I'm the one who stole ye away? Angry as he would be, he'd demand a wedding."

For the first time, Glynis looked uncertain. It grated on Alex that the possibility of being forced to wed him was the only part of her ridiculous plan that gave her pause.

"I'll have to take the risk," she said in a hard voice. "Now, do I go bang on Shaggy's bedchamber door, or will ye take me?"

2ème extrait :

"Glynis."

She sucked in her breath at the sound of Alex's voice in her ear.

"I can't be responsible if ye keep moving against me like that," he said. "I'm begging ye to stop."

The devil made her press against him.

"Ahh, ye feel so good," he said, and she sighed with him as he ran his hand all the way down her side to her thigh and back up again.

She willed him to do it again. When he did not, she rolled onto her back to look at him. He propped himself up on his elbow and leaned over her with his face so close that she could feel his breath.

"We can't do this, Glynis."

"Why not?"

Alex gave her that smile that always made her stomach leap. "Ye know the reasons."

Glynis had been responsible all her life—putting her clan first, taking care of her sisters and brother, offering guidance to her father, whether he took it or not—and what had it got her? Magnus Clanranald was what. Doing as she ought had bought her a foul husband who shamed her—and who would murder her now if he could.

"Ye kissed me before. What's the harm in doing it again?" She ran her tongue over her top lip, remembering the taste of his mouth on hers. "Kiss me, Alex."

His eyes went dark, and he clenched his jaw for a long, long moment. When he finally gave in and leaned down, her stomach tightened in anticipation. The moment his lips touched hers, fire spread beneath her skin. She pulled him down into a deep, openmouthed kiss. Aye, this was what she wanted.

The heat from his body sizzled through hers. Her breasts ached, her head spun, and she felt as if she were falling backward, though she was flat on the ground. When he cupped her breast, she moaned into his mouth. Their legs became entangled as their kisses grew deeper, more frantic. She wanted to feel his weight on her, to feel his bare skin beneath her fingers.

But Alex broke away. His gaze was smoldering and his breathing harsh.

"'Tis is a dangerous game you're playing." His fingers shook as he brushed her hair back from her face. "One thing is bound to lead to another."

"I'm hoping it will." Glynis wasn't sure when she had decided that she wanted it all, but she had.

Magnus had been such an oaf. He had claimed it was her fault that she didn't warm to his touch, but she understood now that Magnus hadn't the slightest notion how to touch her. She wanted to know what it was like to feel passion in the night, and she would never have another chance.

Or a better man to show her.

"Ye may think this is what ye want," Alex said, "but ye don't really."

"I do." Her fingers still gripped the front of his shirt, and she wasn't letting go.

"Perhaps ye do right at this moment, but ye would regret it later." He sighed as he traced the side of her face with his finger. "I don't want to be a regret."

She shook her head vehemently from side to side. "I won't regret it. I promise."

Alex gave her a faint smile. "Then I will. Ye are precisely the sort of woman I avoid bedding."

Her stomach clutched, and she turned her face to the side.

"What's wrong with me?" she asked, her voice coming out high and thin.

"Ach, 'tis not that I don't want to," Alex said, grazing his knuckles against her cheek. "I've never wanted a woman this much."

No doubt he was stretching the truth, but there was such longing in his voice that she did believe he wanted her.

"Then why not?" she asked.

"Ye would expect more of me than I am able to give," he said in a soft voice. "Ye would want me to be there tomorrow and the next day—and a year from now. I can't make a woman happy for that long."

"You're wrong about what I want," she said. "I don't want a husband—but I do want this." He made a low sound in the back of his throat that sent a thrill vibrating through her....

"You're not the sort to have affairs," Alex said.

"How can ye say I'm not the sort when I'm the one asking?"

"Because ye couldn't take it as just a bit of fun," he said, twisting a strand of her hair around his finger. "Ye don't have a frivolous bone in your body, Glynis MacNeil."

"I won't have this chance again," she said. "I'm always watched over—I'm never free."

Her family criticized her for being too serious—minded. Now that she'd decided to do something wholly irresponsible and wicked, she was determined to succeed. She was never one to do things by halves.

"I won't wed again. Before I spend my life alone, I want to be with a man." She sensed Alex was weakening and ran her hands up his chest. "I want to be with you."

Lightning cracked and flashed through the gap in the hanging blanket. For an instant, its white light shone on Alex, making him look like the fairy king himself come to work his magic on her. Every young lass in the Western Isles was warned that the fairy king could not be resisted without a special protective charm.

If Glynis had such a charm, she would toss it away.

She let her gaze drop to Alex's mouth and whispered, "Show me your magic."

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La tempête qui faisait rage dehors n'était rien à côté de celle qui l'agitait intérieurement. après toutes ces femmes qui s'étaient offertes à lui, ce minuscule abri avait tout l'air d'un purgatoire, piégé qu'il était avec cette femme qu'il ne pouvait pas avoir.

Peut-être que Dieu était une femme après tout.

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