The perfect wife, p.19
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       The Perfect Wife, p.19
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           Lynsay Sands
Page 19

 

  Avelyn felt safer sewing new clothesfor Paen instead. Fortunately, Paen's brother Adam hadbeen the same size andPaen was now wearing a pair ofthe deadman's braes as wellas one of histunics. Avelyn still felt he should have clothes of his own, soshe was pleasedto make themforhim. At least sheknew she was competent at that. And it was very pleasantspendingthe day chatting with Dia-manda, Lady Helen and Lady Gerville whileshesewed. Lady Gerville and Helenwere very kind,and Diamanda was bright and seemed tohave appointedherself the task of tryingto cheer Avelyn.

  Avelyn's only discontent came from her husband's apparent rejection of her.

  What elsecouldit be? The man avoidedher atall times,and had yetto bed her. It was dishearteningafter the high hopesshe'd had on herwedding night,when hehad touched and caressed her with seemingenthusiasm.

  Avelyn'smusingscame toanabrupt end asshefoundshe'd reached the room nexttothe one she was supposed to share with her husband.

  Taking a deep breath, she put her earto the door, tryingto anticipate whatto expect, butthere was nothing to hear,not evena murmurof voices. Straighteningher shoulders, Avelyn raised herhandto knock, then recalled that Lady Gervillehad instructed her not to knock.

  Loweringherhand, shehesitated a momentmore,thenopenedthe door.

  Davidhad just slippeda spoonfulof stewinto his mouth whenPaenheard the door open. He turned toward it, expecting to see his father, then nearly chokedas he spied his wifestandingthere. He stared. The surprise on Avelyn's face told him she hadn't expectedhim to behere,orperhaps she'd knownhe was here but hadn't expectedhimtobe eating.

  Paen'sgazeslid backto his squire. He'd been most relievedto finally have the boy at hisside. Thefirst fewdays afterthefire had beenthemost frustratingof his life. The injurytohis hands had madeit difficult to manage the simplestof chores - feeding himself, dressing,bathing. Even relievinghimself became something of an exercise in humiliation. He couldusethe stumps topush his braes down over his hips, buthad difficulty gettingthem back up. His father hadhelpedas much as he could,but it had been humiliating for Paen.

  Aye, the day they'd reached Hargrove had been a bright one for Paen. He'dthen hadthe boy to help him with such things, butPaen wastoo proud to alloweveryone else to realizehow helpless he was, no matter how temporary thathelplessness might be. So, every mealtime since they had collected the lad, he'd hadDavidbring his meal to him away fromeveryone else. The boy fedhim ina clearing by the river the first night oftheir journey. Thesecond night, they'd arrived at Gerville, and Paenhad askedDavid to bringhis meal up here to Adam'sold room. Then the lad had helped himstrip for his bath, though that was wherehe drewthe line. The lad had offered - rather reluctantly - to help with scrubbing up, but Paensimply couldn'tsubject either himself or the boytothatembarrassment, so he madedo with soaking in thewater.

  They'd followed the same pattern each night since. Every morning, David helped him dress,then followedhim around,doing his squire's duties untilthe nooning meal, when they returned to the keep and Paen came up to waitwhile the boy collected hismealfrom the kitchen and brought it up to feed him. He didthe same for the evening meal. Then atnight, the boy helped him prepare for bed before taking tohis own pallet in thecorner.

  " Tis fine,David. I amdone. Youcan take that back to the kitchens. "

  The squire hesitated briefly, clearly doubtful that Paen was done with his half-eaten food,but he noddedand moved past Avelyn andout of the room. Paen thenturnedhis attention to hiswife, who washesitating in the door. Finally she drew her shoulders up, stepped into the room and closed the door behind her. Paen waited warily for her to speak, but when she finally did,herwordswereunexpected.

  "So youdo not stay awayfrom thetableat mealtimestoavoid me ?"

  Paen felt hismouthdrop open in shock,thenhe quickly closed it and said, "Why would youthink that?"

  Avelynlether breath out onaslow sigh. "Becauseyouseem to constantly be avoidingme. You leave aroom shortly after I enter it, as you did today whenIcame below. You have notsat at table withme since arrivinghere. And while you joined me in our roomatHargrove, youwould notshare our tent, nor have you slept in your ownbed sincearriving hereatGerville. " Shesaid the last part in a rush,her faceflaming.

  Paen blinked inconfusion. "I leftthe hall when you enteredtonight because I knewit wastimefor the sup and - as you now know - I have been eating up here. "

  "Aye, I understand that now," she said quietly, but ducked her head and mumbled, "However, thatdoesnotexplainyour reluctance toshare ourmarriage bed. . . I understand if you do notwantme. I know Iam notthe most attractive - "

  Paen snorted,andshe glanceduptofrown at him.

  "There is noneed tobe rude about it, my lord husband. I am awarethat I am overlarge and - "

  Anothersnort slid from Paen'slips and he shookhis head. "You are beautiful, wife. "

  He saw theanger in her eyes and wondered if she really didnot know how lovely shewasto him. But then, he realizedsuddenly, of course shedidn't. Her cousins had spent years doingwhat they couldto convince her that she wasn't. He just wished he had realizedthis while hewas still at Straughton. He wouldhave done more than threaten them.

  "Oh, aye," Avelyn said wryly. "I am so beautiful you have yet to consummate our marriage, and 'tis more than a week afterit wasdone. "

  Paen gaspedin disbelief, thenheld up his bandaged hands. "Tis abit difficultto bed you just at the moment,wife. "

  "Hugo said 'twas not your hands that were im-portant, and that ifyou could ride a horse, you could ride me," Avelyn snapped, then realized what she'd said and blushed at repeating thecrude words.

  "Hugo,"Paen saidwithdisgust. "Whywould youbelievehim?"

  "Because heis aman and more versed atsuch things,"Avelyn said quiedy,then tilted her head and asked, "Is it nottrue, then? Was Hugo wrong?"

  "Aye, he was wro - " Paen came to a sudden halt as he realized he would be lying. He could consummate the marriagewith her, Of course. Itwould be difficult but not impossible. While his hands wereuseless,his manhood was notand had let himknow itseveraltimessince the fire. He couldn't sit on a horsebehind herwithout ending upas stiff as a sword, andwhen he'd had totakeher to bathein the river. . . Dear God, he hadn'teven had to see her, just the sounds of her disrobing and splashing inthe waterwereenough to have him erect asa post.

  Paenhad avoidedsleeping next to her at nightbecausethe ideaofbeingclose enough to smell her and reach out and touch her, but still unable to, had been unpalatable. He'd had no choice the night they'd stayedat Hargrove - Paen would never have humiliatedher by asking for hisownroom - but other thanthat,he'd slept as far away from herashe could and had intendedto do so untilhe was recovered enough to finally doall thethings he'd been fantasizingabout.

  Apparently, that decision hadled his wife to believe he couldn't bear to benear her. He'd merely added to the poor image her cousins had worked so hardto instill in her.

  Sighing, he tried to explain. "Without my hands to help, it would be uncomfortable for you, but aye,itwould be possible to consummate the marriage.

  We could not doit inthenormal way, Of course. You would have toperhaps siton the window ledge,or bend over something. . . "

  Paen's words slowed as his mind was immediately filled with images of the possibilities. Avelynsitting on the windowledge, him urging herlegsapartwith his body, then movingbetween them, his body brushing againsthers as he kissed her, then drovehimselfinto her. This picturewasquickly followed by an image ofher bendingover the ledge as hedroveinto her from behind.

  "Are you saying you have neglected to consummate our marriage out of consideration formydiscomfort?"

  Avelyn's voice drewhim from his imaginings and Paen scowled at her. Muchto his annoyance, shedidn'tsound asif she believed him. "Well, aye, of course,and 'tis whyIhavenot been joining youin our bed. Did youreally thinkI preferredthe hard-packed earth to the softwarm fursin ourtent?"

  "Nay, of course not," she said, and her voice too was becoming imp
atient.

  "Which is why I assumedyou prefer the hard-packed earthtomycompany. "

  Paen opened his mouth, then closed it again. He could understand that her cousins had affected her confidence, but he thought his desire for her on their weddingnight had been pretty obvious. He'd been asstiff asa sword andeager as a lad his first time out. How could she have missed that?

  Paen pursed hislips ashe considered one reason she might have missed it. "Were you sottedonour wedding night?"

  "No!" Avelynsaid,appearing shocked at the question.

  "Well, then surely you noticed my" - Paen paused, seeking an alternate term for the crude one that came to mindtodescribehis erection - "eagerness. "

  WhenAvelyn juststaredathim, Paen heaved his breath out on an exasperated sigh. "Trust me, wife,if my hands werenot injuredI would be consummating our marriageevery chance I could. ButI will not cause you unneeded pain. "

  Avelyn bither lowerlip and paused a moment before responding. "Well, my mother did warn me of what to expect, and shesaid that the first time could be quite uncomfortable and evenpainful. I appreciateyour concern, but if you wish to - "

  "Avelyn," Paeninterrupted. "You donot know what youare asking. The firsttime is notalwayspleasant for the woman,but without my hands it could bedownright unpleasant. "

  "I see," Avelyn murmured,then jumped at a knock onthe door. Turning, she openedit to findDavid standingthere, looking uncertain.

  The boy glanced fromher toPaen. "Did you still want yourbath,my lord? Or shall I - ?".

  "Iwill leaveyou to yourbath," Avelyn murmuredandslipped outof theroom.

  With a sinkingheart,Paen watchedher go. He was sure he'd seen the sheen of tearsin her eyesbefore she'd turned away, and knew hehadn't managed toconvince herof thetruth. Nor did he know what to doabout it.

  Realizing David was still standing in thedoor,hewaved him in. Paen hadbeen overseeingthe practice fieldtoday and hadtaken a tumble whenone of the menhad bumped into him. The fieldhad been muddyafter last night's rain,and while David had used arag to wipe the worst of the mudawayat the time, he needed a bathto removeall of it. However, Paen hadn't been willing to trouble the kitchen staff to heat upwater forhim, sohaddecidedtowait until after thesup.

  Paen pondered the problem of what to do about his wife as his bath was prepared. He found himselfonlyhalf listening to thelad's chatterasthe tub was carried inand filled for his bath. Hehad alreadynoticed the boyhad a great deal in common with his wife. Aside from showing a propensity to clumsiness, the lad could carry on whole conversations without anyone else contributingtoit.

  Oddly enough,Paen found this tendency soothing. WithDavid,the chatter was generally about battles, weapons and horses. Of course, the firstnight he had served as Paen's squire, David had asked if his handshadbeenburned during a battle with a dragon. He'dseemed mightily disappointedto learn that it wasn'ta dragon thathad wounded his master,then had gone on tolecture Paen about the dangerous and dastardly nature ofdragons.

  He'd explained quite authoritatively that they had the very worst case of bad breath ever,andtended to eat ladiesandmakethem cry.

  Thetub was full, the room empty. David helped Paen to disrobe before he said anything that actuallyrequired a response. "What do you dowhenyou bed a lady?"

  Paen gaped at the lad, his mouth open for a moment before he gasped with amazement,"Why wouldyou ask about bedding?"

  "Well, I heard Lady Helen telling one of the maids thatLady Avelynthinks you aredispleased with her becauseyou havenot yetbedded her," he explained,"Are you not tucking her in ofa night?"

  "DearGod, the whole castle knows," Paen muttered as he stepped out of his braes and into the tub, then realized thatheshould have expectedas much. It was impossible to keepsecrets in a castle. He suggestedthe boy go below and ask the cook for a sweet treat to enjoywhile he waited for Paen to finish soaking.

  Once the boywas gone, Paen sankintothe water and closed his eyes as he pondered what to do about hiswife. It seemed obvious he couldn'tleavethings as theywere, but hedidn't know what to do. He was rather sure he wouldn'tbeableto convince her with simple verbalarguments. Paen had neverconsideredhimself very good at such things. He was more comfortable with taking action than merely discussingmatters. Hehadn't a clue whathecould say to convince Avelynthat he reallydid find her attractiveand wished tobed her. Paen suspected he could say so untilhe wasbluein the face and she would not believe him. Probably theonly wayto convince her was to actuallybed her. He was mightily temptedto do so. However, she wouldn't thankhimfor it afterward, despite what she said.

  Avelynhad no cluewhat shewas askingfor, and Paen couldnotprepareher properly without his hands tocaress and hold her. Without his hands, he had only his mouth to work with - Paensatup abruptly in the tub, sendingwatersplashing every which way as a wave of images andthoughtsassaultedhis mind. Avelyn naked before him. Him kissingandcaressing her with hismouthuntil shecried out with pleasure. Him rising upanddrivinghimself into her. . . "Damn, why did I not think ofthat before?" hemuttered, then shoutedfor his squire.

  Chapter Twelve

  Avelyn returnedtoherroom to find a tub half full of water andRunilda stoking a fireto life in thefireplace. She was surprised the servants had managed to heat enoughwater for twobaths, andalmostwished they hadn't goneto all the trouble.

  All shereallywanted wastogotobed.

  Avelyn was discouraged after her talk with Paen, though not as depressed as she'd been before it. She didn't believe his claim that he was refraining from consummating themarriageout of consideration for her. Even he had admitted that it was possible todo so despite the injuryto his hands, which, she supposed, meant he wasn't consummating it because hecouldn't bebothered. However, it was a relief toknow that hewasn'tso repulsed by her that he was avoiding the table atsup.
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