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by Paula Quinn

Genre: England, Scotland, Historical Romance

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“There now,” he spoke softly as they stepped into the cool afternoon. His hand was warm and much bigger than hers when it slipped down her forearm and closed around her fingers. His touch was intimate and bold at the same time, heating Isobel’s blood and her temper. “Is this no’ better than bein’ bunched within four walls with a dozen faces ye dinna’ know?” 

“Ye seem to enjoy a crowd,” she said rigidly, pulling her hand away and keeping carefully hidden the effect that being alone with him was having on her nerves. 

“No’ always.”

Oh, aye, and that trace of vulnerability that sometimes rose to the surface of his voice as unexpectedly as a summer downpour… was it all part of his spell? 

Isobel forbade herself to look at him. “If ye dare try to kiss me again, I shall set ye on yer knees.”

“I’ve nae doubt about that.” His deep laughter fanned a swarm of dragonflies in her belly. “The taste of yer mouth nearly dropped me to the ground the first time. But ye have my word that I only wish to speak with ye.”

A proposal already proven to be just as perilous. 

“I am not as easily swayed as yer last two adversaries, MacGregor.”

“Thank God fer that,” he murmured under his breath and picked up his steps. When she didn’t immediately follow, he stopped and turned to her, his smile soft and mesmerizing in the sunlight. “Come on with ye now, lass. Sit with me by the gate, fer I dinna’ take a seat soon, I may break my nose again when I fall to my face in a drunken stupor.”

When she still didn’t move either toward him or back to the stairs, he headed for the bench without her, calling out as he went. “I know ye’re afraid of my kin, but ye have nothin’ to fear from me.”

She hiked up her skirts and as she marched past him, muttered, “I do not fear any MacGregor.”  When she reached the bench, she spun on her heel and dropped her rump down hard on the stone. She stared at his less passionate approach and then looked away when he slid down beside her.

“And to clarify,” she told him stiffly and a bit short of breath, “my brother Patrick would never hack families to pieces in their sleep. That was a terrible thing to say.”

“Fer men like John Douglas and his friend,” he said, resting his head back against the gate behind them, “fear earns respect.” 

“Well, Patrick is nothing like ye portrayed him.” She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “He is kind and serious, and deeply devoted to our family. He works our land day and night and has kept us alive fer ten years.”

“He sounds much like my brother Rob.” He looked about to say more but went a little green. “The clouds are spinnin’.”

“Mayhap it would help if ye were not staring up at them.”

He dipped his head forward and offered her a thankful smile.

Isobel shifted her gaze. “What kind of Highlander cannot hold his drink?”

“The kind who prefers to keep his wits sharp.”

“And yet,” she turned to cast him her own rapier smile, just to remind him that he sat with no swooning half-wit, “here ye sit as dull as a wilted petal.”

“That should count fer something, aye?” He closed his eyes and leaned his head back once again. “Fer ye alone would I sacrifice my good senses.”