The perfect wife, p.13
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       The Perfect Wife, p.13
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           Lynsay Sands
Page 13


  Avelyn noddedsolemnly,thoughshe knew sheprobablywouldn't say anything. It was enough for her toknow thather mother-in-law wasn't deliberatelysetting outto undermine her place inher husband's life. She had no wish tonagtheolder woman should she forget and act like amother to her own son. "I know you areembarrassed at having been seen unclothedby everyone, but when you are sufficiently recovered, come join us by the fire. Dinner should be ready soon. " LadyGerville patted her shoulder affectionately, and then slipped from the tent.

  Chapter Eight

  Avelynhad just built upher courageto the pointwhereshe was willing tojoin everyone around the fire for the evening meal when there was a sudden throat-clearing outside the tent and a tentative, "Avelyn?"

  "Aye?"She glanced curiously toward the flap as it lifted and Diamanda peered in uncertainly.

  "May I comein?" the younger girl asked.

  "Of course. " Avelyn smiledather in welcome,her curious gaze moving to the meatthe girl held on abed of leaves.

  "Themen roasted somerabbits they snared, and whenyou did not come outto join us, I realized you must be too embarrassed after the spectacle earlier, so I thought you mightlike me to bringyou some. "

  Avelyn blinked at the meat shethrust forward,andthenlifted hergaze tothegirl's face. Diamandawaspink-cheeked withembarrassment,and Avelyn knewher own facewas sportinga blush after the girl's blurted speech. She'dbeen so embarrassed at the men seeing her, she hadn't even thought of Diamanda's and the maids' reaction. Burning humiliation now coursed through her at the thought of the undignified picture she must have made.

  Realizing that she was being rude, Avelyn forceda smile and accepted the food.

  "Thankyou, Diamanda. It wasthoughtfulof you to think ofme. "

  Diamanda smiled widely. "I just know that I would havedied ifithad been me carriedthrough campas bare as the day I was born for everyoneto see,and I'm not evenas big asyou. "She smiled reassuringly. "I know yourcousinswere meanto you about it, butyou will be happier at Gerville. Paen and Lord and Lady Gerville will never make funof howyou look, like your cousinsdid. The Gervilles aresuch wonderfulpeople and accept everyone, no matter how big or ugly they are. "

  Diamanda blinked as she heard her ownwords, then saidquickly, "Not that you are ugly. I just meant that if you were, theywould. . . or would not. . . " Obviously confused andembarrassed at the mess she'd made of what she'dmeantto be a reassurance, Diamandacluckedand turned quickly away to open the flap. "I should get backtothe fireere Lady Gervillewonders where I got to. "

  She wasgone before Avelyn could sayanything,thoughshe wasn'tsure what she wouldhavesaid. Part of herfelt as if she should haveagain said thank youfor the girl's thoughtfulness,but her attemptsto reassureher had managed to make Avelyn feel even worseabout herself.

  Sighing dispiritedly, she settledontothemakeshift bed of furs and contemplated the meat the girlhad left. it was a full leg and smelleddelicious, but in truth, Avelyn wasn'tvery hungry. Not that she had been before Diamanda's visit. After the beating her stomach had takenon the back of the horse, the lastthing she'd beeninterested in waseating. But Avelynknew sheshouldeat. It had been a long dayin the saddle and would no doubtbe again tomorrow,and after learning that Paen was worried thatshe wasn't the strong and competentwifehe had hoped for, she was determined tokeepherstrengthup.

  Grimacing,Avelyn pickedupa bit of meat and took a small bite, managing tobite hertongue asshe did. Mutteringunderher breath, she spat the meat out and rubbed her tongue overthetop of her mouth, trying tosoothe it. She hadn't thoughtshe'd bitten down that hard,but her tongue was tingling. Shaking her headat hersuddenly clumsytendencies, she sighed and forced herself to take anotherbite of the meat, but foundno pleasurein it. Hertonguewas tingling,and herstomach began to roil themoment the first mouthful hit it. It was not pleased with the beating it hadtaken thatdayandwas infullrevolt at her daringtotry to put anything in it.

  Avelyn gave upon the food after just acoupleof bitesand set it aside,then lay back on the furs. Sheclosed her eyes andtried torelax, hoping herstomach would settle given the chance,but onceshe lay quietand still, there was nothing todistract herfrom her body's complaints and Avelynwas simplymore aware ofthetingling of her tongue and her upset stomach. Shealso started tofeel abit crawly, as if ants wereracing acrossherexposedskin.

  Frowning, she rubbed her hands up her arms and over her face, then sat up abruptlyas her stomach went intofull revolt. Covering her mouthwith one hand, Avelyn pushedherself toher feet and hurried out of the tent, rushing around behind itand dropping to her knees just in time for whatshe'd eaten to come catapulting out. There wasnoheaving, little warning, justa suddenviolent expulsion of the food.

  Gasping for aironce she was done,Avelyn sat back onher knees and pressed onehand to her stomach, reluctant togetup until she wassure her ordeal was over.

  Fortunately, shehadn't eaten much, andthemoment it wasout, herstomach mostly settled down, pleasedto be emptyagain. Itseemed she wasn't going to beeating tonight.

  Avelyn ran her fingers slowly overherstomach, pressingsoftly and wincing at the tenderness there fromthe bruising ride. Atingling tongue and tendertummy - she was a mess. The fates did seem to haveit out for her atthe moment.

  Shaking her head at her own fanciful thoughts, Avelyn stood cautiously and waited another momentto be sure she wouldn'tbe sick again,then made her way back around tothe front of thetent,her gazeslidingover the people around the camp-fireas she did. No one appeared to have noticed her suddenrun from the tent.

  Nor did theynotice herslipping back inside, thank goodness. Thelast thing she neededwasfor her husband to know she'd thrownup. It would justreinforce his concerns regarding her hardiness.

  Thesight of the food restingbeside the bed made her grimaceand herstomach rumble threateningly, as if warning herof what it would do if she again tried to eat.

  Avelyn had no intention of doing so, but neitherdid she want her husband comingto bed and seeing thatshehadn'teaten. Pickingup the meat, she movedback to the tentflap, made sure no one was looking, then slipped out around behind the tentand tossed the food into the woods.

  Back inside the tent,Avelyn picked upPaen's discarded tunic. Runilda normally wouldhave picked upany clothes lying about, butAvelyn supposed she wouldn't know what to do with the scrap of cloth. it was Paen's, and goodforlittlebut arag anymore, thoughshe doubted herhusband would agree with thatsinceit was all he had to wear. He was outthere nowwithout even it tocover him. Not that it would havebeen much use in keeping himwarm, she thought, examining the holes in the item.

  Turningthe cloth over in her hands, she glanced towardherchestagainst one wall of thetent. There was cloth in therethat her motherhad sent with her,cloth tomake new dressestoreplace the twothat had been destroyed onher wedding day. Surely she could make her new husband newclothes? He certainlyneeded them, and it would be something she coulddo to pleasehim.

  Avelyn dropped the tunic on theend of the fur bed and movedto the chest.

  Setting the candle carefullyon the floor beside it, she openedthe chest and peered in,then frowned. There werethree different colors of cloth - ared that was deeper and lovelierthan the red gown she'd lostin the fire, an ivory cloth, and ababyblue very similarto the cloththey'd usedin her wedding gown. Avelyn dropped the red andbaby blue, butset the ivoryaside and picked up ablack gown similar totheone she waswearing.

  Avelyn peered from the dress to the ivorycloth, an image rising inhermind ofher husband in black braesand a white tunic. Once the image took hold, she couldn't seem to let it go. Itwouldmean tearingout the seams oftheblack gown, Of course, but there was plenty of cloth there forher to make Paen a pair of braes from it.

  Besides,she alreadyhadoneblack dress. Who needed two?

  Decisionmade, she moved tothebed to begin work on rippingopenthe seams of theblack gown.

  Once shehadthe stitchesout, Avelyn spread the cloth of the skirt out on the furs and began to cut it. She had se
wnalot of clothesfor bothher brother andher father. Byher guess, her husbandwas more herbrother'ssize than her father's, but still bigger. She cut accordingly, then beganto sew, happy to finallyfind something she could do to please her husband.

  Avelyn worked until the candle beganto gutter inits wooden holder on the chest.

  Frowning, she rubbed her sore eyes and glanced toward thecandlejust before it wentout. She should have been left in completedarkness,but wasn't. Gray light was filteringin throughthe open flap of the tent.

  Setting the unfinishedbraes aside, she gotto her feet, groaninglow in herthroat as her body complained at the movement after sitting so long in one position.

  Rubbing her aching back,Avelyn moved tothetent flap and peeredout,dismayed tofind herselfpeering outat the palegray predawn. She'd worked through thenight.

  Avelyn hadbarely acknowledgedthat when she realizedthat her husband had never come to bed.

  Peering outtoward the center of camp, she glanced over thedarkshapes of the sleeping men andknew that her husbandwas oneof them. Hehad sleptout on the hard earth rather than join her intheir tent.

  Swallowing the lump that had suddenlylodged itself in her throat,she turnedand eyedthefurs in the cornerof the tent. She knew thatifshe lay down now, not only would she cry herself to sleep, she would just feel worse when she woke up.

  Everyone else would be stirring soon, and the bit of sleep she would manage wouldn't beenough. Infact, shesuspectedit would justmakeherfeel worse.

  Sighing, shemovedtothe chest instead. Avelyn shifted thedead candleasideand fetched a strip oflinenand her browndress fromthechest, then slipped out of the tent. She moved silently out ofcamp, finding and following the pathto the riverwith ease. Paen's madrampagethrough itthe nightbefore had left a trail.

  Atthe water'sedge, Avelyn pausedandinhaled deeply asshe peered around. The air was fresh with early morning smells, and the woods werejustbeginning to stir. It was a quietandpeaceful time. Smilingfaintly, she slidout of her gown and madeher way intothe water.

  The river water wascold, and Avelyn was quick about her bathing. She was quickerstill about drying and dressingherself in the brown dress. Shepickedup the black dress she'd slept inandstarted to make her way back tocamp whenshe spied a quail at the edge of the clearing. Avelyn paused.

  Imaginingher husband's surprised pleasurewhen shepresentedhim with fresh eggs cooked in the embers of the night's fire, she dropped her black dress and moved afterthebird, following it asitwaddled along the trail. Shehadn'tgone far when she spied the nest justoff the trail. Herlips curved at thesight of the eggs nestled there. Avelynshooedthe bird away, then dropped to herkneesto get closer, uncaring thatshewastanglingher hairhorribly in thebranches and muddyingher gown. Shecould repair that later. Shewanted those eggs for her husband.

  Paen rolled onto his back, grimacing atthe stiffnessin his bones. He'd never enjoyed sleepingout in the openonthe hard ground,but last night it had seemed the lesserof twoevils. His gaze slid to the tentwhere he'd beenexpected to sleep,and he scowled. After spending the evening unable to stop recalling her naked body cuddled against his,the idea of joining hispretty young wife in their nest of furshad beenappealing. Too appealing. Paen had easilybeen able to imagineher warm, soft, naked body cuddling into his in the darkness, herbottompressinginto his shaft,her breastsrestingagainst the arm he would wrap around her. Just the idea of ithad stirredhim, and the knowledge thathe wouldn't be able to doa damned thing about thatstirringhadkept him away.

  Paen pushed away the fur he'd wrapped aroundhimself andshivered at the cool morning air. It reminded-him thathe was still bare-chested. Even with its holesand thestench ofsmoke thatclung to it, his ruinedtunic had affordedsome protection from theelements. But he hadn't wishedto risk slippingintothe tent tofetch the tunic, not with the memoryof Avelyn's naked breast still dancing inhis head.

  Good Lord! Paen had neverconsidered himself a terriblylusty fellow. Hehad the usual urgesandhad, in the past, dealt with themas they'd arisen,but he'd neverbeen one to wallowin carnal pursuits. But withhis wife'simage burned onhis brain as it was,he was temptedto wallow. He'd liketo run his handsand lips over every part of her soft,rounded body and - Killing his thoughts there, Paen gave upany idea of fetching his tunic untilhe'd hada nicecold dip in theriver. A nicelong cold dip. Really long.

  Sighing, Paen stumbled sleepily across camp to thetrail leading to theriver. An energizing dipwas just thething, he assuredhimself,and rubbedsleepily athis face, trying to wake himselfupas he moved alongthe trail.

  Paen wasn'tgood inthe morning. He usually needed a good head-soaking to thoroughly wakeup.

  Stifling a yawn with one hand, Paen tried to planhis morning. He needed to drain thedragon and take a dipinthe river, thenstart waking the othersup toget under way. Hehoped to reach Hargrove today to greet his new squire. The boy was Hargrove's son. The manhad approached him abouttaking theboyon whenhe'd heard thatPaen's last lad had been lost, but not untilheknew thatPaen was giving upthe battletrail.

  Paen'seyesaliton a berry bush, and his feet slowed as heapproachedit. The berries werefull and ripeand juicy-looking,and heimmediately felt his mouth water in anticipationof eating them. Paen was more ofa meat,cheeseand bread man, but his refusal to allowanyone tohelp him eat meant it had beentoolong sincehehad eaten properly. Fasting wasn't sobad. Hehad done itbefore, andit wasn'treally affecting him after onlyone day. Fortunately, he wasableto hold a goblet between his two bandagedhands sowas still able to drink,but he washungry enough that in that moment,theberrieslooked as goodto him as wholelegsof lamb roastedand hung from the branches.

  Pausing beside the bush ofberries, Paen glanced backthe way he'd come. No onewas followinghimdown the trail. Licking his lips, he turned his attention backto the fruit, then slid to hiskneesbefore the bushand leaned forward tocatch one ripe berry between his lips. Paen tuggeditfromthe bush, almostmoaning as the fruit burst in his mouth,sprayingits sweetnessover his tongue and the top ofhis mouth.
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