The perfect wife, p.12
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       The Perfect Wife, p.12
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           Lynsay Sands
Page 12

 

  Avelyn considered matters-forthe few brief moments it tookfor the horsetoslow toa stop. If, as she beganto think,her husband was attemptingto saveher life, she didn't thinkhewould appreciatelooking the fool if sheexplained she hadn'tbeen drowning. Therewas also thefact that she was presently starknaked, butt-up onher husband'shorse. A most humiliating situation to findoneself in. Truly, Avelyn began to wish shehadbeen drowning. Shewas still trying to decide what todo when the horse cameto a complete halt and Paenmanagedto lift and shift her onto her back in hislap,nodoubt further damaging his poor hands ashe did so.

  Avelyn kept her eyes closed. She did, however, manage to drape one arm strategically across her naked breasts whilethe otherdroppeddown to allowher fingers to flop overthe patch of curlyhairat the apex of her thighs.

  "Avelyn?"

  For a moment,she wastorn astowhattodo, and then shedecidedtogowith the nearly-drowned pretense, or at least notto deny it. She blinked her eyesopenand then let them drop closed, trying for a weak-nearly-drowned-and-oblivious-to-the-fact-that-I-am-naked attitude. She was rather hoping that if shepretended she wasn't naked, he might notnotice.

  "Avelyn?"

  "Paen?" Avelyn opened one eye, rather proud ofthetremble sheput in her voice.

  Itmade her soundweak and nearlydrowned.

  "Thank God," she heard him breathe. Sheopened both eyes to seethat despite her hopes, now thatthe crisis was over he was apparently becoming aware ofher naked state. Avelyn cringed inwardly as his gaze drifted over herexposed body. She could feel the heated blush following in the wake of his eyes and shifted uncomfortably, trying to manage afetalposition on his lap.

  Her action seemedtomakehimawareof her distress,andPaen suddenly dragged hiseyesback to her face. He cleared his throat and sat up a little straighter,then suddenly dismounted, taking her with him. Avelyn found herself set gently in the grass and tookamomentto hopetherewere no bugs or worms under her bare bottom as shedrew herkneesup and clasped them toher chest in aneffort tohide as much ofherself as possible. She glancedup to find Paen removing his tunic,and felta thrill of alarmring through her. Surely he didn't plan to consummate the marriage here? Had the very sight ofher nakednessimpassioned himsothat hehad tohave her now?

  That thrilling possibility died in her as he finished removing his tunic andslid it over her head. He was merely trying to cover her up, Avelyn realized, oddly disappointed. She should have expected as much, of course. She just wasn't the sort to impassionanyone, Avelynthought as he dropped to his haunchesto drawher hands into the arms of his tunic, dressing her likethe veriestchild.

  "How do youfeel?" he asked anxiouslyonce she was covered.

  "Er. . . fine. . . thank you," she murmured,then becameaware that his gazehad dropped and an odd expression coveredhis face.

  Avelyn glanceddown to seethathis tunic was inworse shapethan she'd realized.

  Paen had hadlittlechoice in wearing the tunic andbraes they'd used to put out the fire. The smoky, holey tunic was allhe'd hadto wear, butAvelyn had notnoticed until now just how damaged his clotheshad been. The tunic smelled ofsmokeand had several holes where the fire hadburned through. One of themjust happenedto be placed such that it allowed her breast to poke through.

  Oh, dear God, Avelyn thought, blushingwhenPaen reachedout and attemptedto push her breast backinside the hole with one bandagedhand. Handicapped as he was, it was an impossible effort.

  Brushinghis hands away, she took over the task herself. Avelynslipped her breastback inside the tunic, thenshifted the cloth so that thehole wasn't in quite such a dismayingspot. She then kept her head lowered, tooembarrassedto raise it andmeethis gaze.

  Her downward glanceleft her staring athis bandaged hands, and Avelyn sucked in a startled breath as she actually looked at them. As thick as the bandages were, there was bloodshowing through thecloth on both hands. It looked fresh.

  This little rescue attempt had apparently not been good for him.

  "My lord!" She snatchedat his hands, only to releasethemabruptly when he drew in ahissing breath. Avelynraised her eyes to his and shook herhead slowly, amazed that he hadbeen able to carry her through his pain. "We must get you back andtend to them. "

  Paen'sanswer was a dismissivegrunt, but hedidstand. When he offeredone bandaged stubto assisther, Avelyngrasped hisarm above the wristand got up as well,no longer caringhow she must look standing therein naught buthistunic,her damphair falling in snaky tendrils downher back. Now she was wholly concerned with her husband's well-being. Taking his elbow,sheurged him back tothe horse, thenhesitated and facedhim.

  "Shall I help you mount?" sheaskedwithconcern.

  Paen snorted at thepossibilityand merelycaught herunder the arms with his bandaged hands, neatly tossing her up ontohis horse. The action was quick, but not so quick that she did not catch the pained grimace that briefly tightened his expression. Biting hertongue to keep fromberating him forhis prideful behavior, Avelyn sat quietly as he mounted behind her and grabbed up the reins toturn the mountback toward camp.

  Lordand Lady Gervillecame rushing forwardas soon as theyre-entered camp, but Paen did notstophismount bythe other horses. Instead, herode straightto their tent. Relieved that she wouldn't need to crossthe campsite inherskimpy attire, Avelyn quickly slidoffthehorse. Out ofthecorner ofher eye, shespotted Lord and Lady Gerville rushing forwardand heardtheirconcerned questions as toher well-being. Noteager to standaround any longer than necessary in her holey tunic, she left Paen to answerandduckedinto thetent.

  "Oh, my lady!" Runilda rushed forwardthe momentAvelyn entered, anxietyon herfaceas she grabbed her arms and looked her over. "Are you all right?"

  "I am fine, Runilda. Truly,"she assured her whenthe maid's concern did not ease.

  "Oh, thank the good Lord!" she said at last, relaxing. "I near todied when Lady Gervillesaid youhad drowned. Thank God Lord Paen was able to bring ye back around. " She wasbustlingAvelyn across the small tent tothe makeshift bed they'd built offurs andlinens. Themaid had beenbusy, Avelyn saw; the tentwasnow as comfortable as it could be. There waseven a flickering candle set on the chest, adding light asevening darkened the sky.

  "Now you get out ofthatwet tunic. Wemust getye warmand bundled upelse ye maycome down with thelungcomplaint," Runilda ordered.

  "I will not get the lung complaint," Avelyn assured her, but quickly stripped Paen's tunicoffas the maid movedthe candleto the floor so that she could open anddigthrough the chest. When the maid then held outa strip oflinenforher to dry off with,Avelyn waved it away. Her ride on the horse had seen to drying her. Other than her hair she was no longer damp. She was, however, eager to get dressed before Paen returned.

  "Find the bagofherbs andfresh linenswe packed away to tend the injured, Runilda," Avelyn instructed as shepulled onafresh shift and then accepted the black gown the girl handed her.

  "Wereyou injured?"Runildaasked withconcern as she started hunting for the required items.

  "Nay, but my lord husband did hishands little good with all this carting me about andsuch. "

  "Oh. Aye. Sely,Lady Gerville's maid, said that hishands were mightilyburnt," the girl murmured, herhead deep in one of the chests. "She thinks 'twill be a couple weeks erehe heals, and that is only does he not do them more harm with this journey. "

  Avelyn frowned. Shehadn't beenfullyaware of how injured he was, but had suspected it wasn't good when his mother hadbeen so concernedabout his riding onthe journey backtoGerville. Shewould be glad to get thechance to see the depth of theinjury to hishands when he returned to thetent.

  Avelynhad a longwait. She was just beginning tothinkshe would have togo after him when the tent flap waspulled aside.

  Relieved thathehad finally arrived,Avelyn stood, a bright,welcoming smileon herfacethatfaded when she saw that it was Paen'smother and not Paen himself.

  "Oh. " Aware that her smile was fading, she tried to rescueit, and then explained apologetically,"I was expecting Pae
n. His bandagesneedrepair. "

  "Ialready took care of that," Lady Gervilleassured heras she straightenedinside the tent. "He sufferedlittle damage,thankgoodness, and does he givethem the chance to recover, shall beback to himself in a couple of weeks. "

  "Oh. " Avelyn sagged somewhat, disappointment surging through her. She was feeling ratherredundant asa wife. She didn't appear to be needed for anything that a wife normally did. She'd beenwedded, but hadyet to bebedded. She'd not even seen her home yet, so hadn't taken on any wifely tasks there,and seriously doubted she would beallowed to since his motherwas stillalive and welland no doubtfirmly in charge at Gerville. And now shewasn't even allowed to tend tohisinjuries as a goodwifeshould. Itbegan to look asif she wasn't really needed at all.

  "Iam sorry,Avelyn," Lady Gerville said. "'Tis yourplacetotend him now. I fear it shalltake sometimefor me to get used tothefact that myson now has awife for suchthings. "

  " 'Tis all right, mylady," Avelynsighed, dropping to sit on the furs: "I fearI am something of a failure as a wife. "

  "Oh, nay,child. " Lady Gerville moved forward, dismayon herface. "You are a lovely wife, and perfect for Paen. "

  "Ibelieveyou may mean perfect for pain,'" Avelynsaiddryly. "Sofar I have set my parents' castle on fire, gettingPaen burnt as hetried toput it out,and increased the injury by making him thinkI was drowningso that he had to - "

  "Making him think?" Lady Gerville interruptedona gasp. "You were pretending?"

  "Nay, of course not, buthe misunderstood. Iwas just floatingon my back. Then Paen was suddenly draggingme outof thewater and lugging me around nakedas the dayI was born. "

  LadyGerville gapedin horror. "Whydid you not say something?"

  "I. . . well, at first I was too startled, and then I thought perhaps wewere being attacked. He wasshoutingsomething aboutdrowning anddevils, and I was notsure what washappening. I thought perhaps someone hadattackedand drowned you or Lord Gervilleor. . . "She shrugged helplessly. "By the time I realizedwhat wasreally amiss; I wasbare-bottomup on thebackofthe horse. "Sheshook her head. "I couldhardlyembarrass him byletting him know he had erred, soI let him think he had saved me. " She fell silent, positive that Lady Gerville would be horrified byher stupidity. The woman did gape at her in a rather horrified manner for several moments.

  Ducking herhead in embarrassment, Avelyn was grateful that Runilda had gone outto join Sely by the fire and so wasn't there to witness this most humiliating confession. As far as she was concerned, it was just another failure on her part. She stiffened, then raised her head at a muffledsound fromtheolderwoman, then stared at hermother-in-lawwith disbelief as it came again. A soundvery like a gigglehad slipped muffled frombehindthehand Lady Gerville had raisedto her mouth. In the next moment, the womangave up theobvious struggleshe was waging and burst into gales oflaughter.

  Avelyn smiled uncertainlyandwaited forheramusementtofade.

  "Oh, Avelyn," Lady Gerville sighed at last. Easing down to sit beside her on the furs,she put anarm aroundAvelyn's shouldersand briefly hugged herclose. "You poor dear, 'tisnot youIamlaughing at,'tisall of us. The last few days havebeen onecalamity afteranother. Firstthere wasyourfaintingat the wedding, then the fire, now thisdrowning that was not a drowning. "

  "Aye. Iappear to be something ofa clumsy oaf. "

  "You? Nay. Not you, child. Yourmother told me 'twas her ideato bind you for thegown for the wedding. Asforthefire,you may have knocked the candle over, but Paen was the one whotriedto put it outwith his hands. Wereit not for you running belowto fetchhelp, his pride probablywould have seen himexpireinthat fire. Then today, the man misconstrued the situation, mistook your floating for drowningand carted youabout like amadman. None of that was really your fault.

  'Twas. . . well. . . fate, I suppose. But fate does seem to be working againstyou at the moment. "

  "Against me?" Avelyn glancedat herwith surprise. "I am not the one getting injured by these incidents. Paen is. "

  "Aye. But. . . " Lady Gervillehesitated, and thenadmittedruefully, "I spent the entire time Iwas bandaging Paen'shands listening to him fretover the possibilitythat his bride may not be what he'd hoped. That you appear fragile, unskilled and accident prone. "

  Avelyn frowned over this news. She was anything but fragile. She was also well trainedand terribly efficient. . . usually. Asforbeing accident prone,she didn'tused tobe. "What do I do?"

  "Well. . . " Lady Gervillebrieflyponderedthematter. "I suppose we could tellhim thathe wasmistaken inthinking youhaddrowned,"she offered, sounding doubtful.

  Avelyn shook her head. "Then he would feel a fool fortrying to rescueme. Nay, I could notdo that. Awifeshould protect her husband's pride. "

  "Aye. Well. . . " Lady Gervillethought for another moment. "I suppose you could admit that you really doknow how to ridehorses. "

  "You knew I could?"Avelyn asked with surprise.

  "The night of the feast, your mother was telling me of your accomplishments.

  Ridingwasamong them. I knewatonce that youwere claiming an inabilityat the skill to prevent Paen's takingthe reins and damaging his hands further. "

  Avelyn nodded. "Aye, and if I admit to that skill nowhe shall insist on taking the reins for therest of the journey," she mutteredunhappily. "And he shall do them more damage. "

  "Aye. He may do. Menaresofoolish intheir pride. " Lady Gerville sighedagain.

  "Well, then, perhaps the only thing todoisto letthingsgo and show with your future behavior thatyou are capable. AndIshall helpby not stepping in and taking over yourduties in future," she assured Avelyn apologetically. " Tis just thatI am usedtotending such things. If I forget infuture, pray tell meandI shall step aside. "
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