Avelynturned herattention toher ablutions, using therose-scented water and a smallstrip of linen to wash herself. Sheheard Runilda open the door again minutes later, but continuedtowash,lifting one footto rest on the chestas she ran the cloth overher leg. When hands closed over her shoulders, she jumped in surprise,then whirled to find herself facing Paen.
"Oh, husband, you startled me," she said breathlessly, then realized she was standing therenaked before him. Sheraised her little linen between them, tryingto coverherself withthe bit of cloth. It was afutile effort,worsethan useless, really, andPaen gaveit the attention it deserved. None. Ignoring the damp cloth, he caught herbythe upper armsanddrew her forward. Hethen lowered his head and covered hermouthwithhis.
At first,Avelynstood still, too flustered to respond, but Paen soonmadeher forget her embarrassment. When his tongue slipped out to tease her lips, she automatically let them drift open and breathed a small sigh into his mouth as his tongue slid in. A familiarheat immediately began to pool inside her. Avelyn soon forgot her linenand let it drop so she could slipher hands aroundhisneck. Paen was fully clothed, andthecloth of his tunicand braes felt rough against her tender flesh, as he cupped her behind andurged her againsthim. The cloth of his tunic rubbed acrossthe sensitive tips ofherbreasts, sending a shiver alongherback.
When Paen broke the kissandhis lips trailed to herneck, Avelynlet herhead fall back,her fingers knotting in his hair. She had thought his mouth wouldcontinue downto herbreastsas it had when they’d finally consummated theirmarriage, but instead, he pulled hislipsaway. She gave a little startas he cupped onebreastand squeezed gently. Thenhe caught the nipple betweenthumb and forefinger, teasing it untilit washard and aching. Only then did hefinally drop hismouthtolave it.
"Oh," Avelyn breathed as he caught her nipple between his teeth and nipped lightly. She gasped and roseup ontiptoes as thehandthat had been holdingher breast suddenly swept down betweenherlegs.
He cuppedherthere briefly, pressing firmly upward; then his fingers slid between the foldsand Avelynfound herself clutching desperately at his shoulders as his fingers danced overhermost tender flesh.
"Husband?" Avelyngasped uncertainly as she felt herbody begin totightenwith familiar excitement.
Raisinghis head, Paen claimed her mouthagain, hiskiss more aggressive this time, his tongue thrusting into heralmost forcefully. Asit did, she felt his finger slip inside her, and Avelyn cried out intohismouth, her h*ps bucking instinctively into thecaress, and doing so again as hisfinger slid out and then backinmore deeply.
She couldfeel her nails digginginto his skin, butcouldn’t seemtohelp herselfas she rode the pleasurehe wasgiving her.
Had Hugo reallysaid aman’s hands were not needed for thebedding? Perhaps they weren’t – certainly her husband had proven that the first time they’d consummated thewedding – but,dear God, they could addsomuch pleasure. Paen droveheroff the edge with just his touch until shecried out and saggedagainsthim.
She wasnothingbut asenseless,trembling mass whenPaen scooped her up into his arms and carried herto the furs. Avelyn did not evenmindthat she was nak*d, fullyexposed as helaid her out onthe bed. Her eyes were drowsy and she felt almost druggedas shewatchedhim stripoffhis tunic and shed his braes. Thistime Avelyn felt no fear atthesize ofhim, butcouldenjoy the beauty of his physique as he straightened, then knelt on thefurs by her feet.
Watchingher face, Paen caught her by one ankle and liftedit to rest on his shoulder, then caughtthe other andraised it as well. Avelyn blinked, unsure what he was doing,then heslidhis hands under her h*ps and pulled her forward across the furs untilhis manhood pressedagainst her. Shestaredathim withconfusion. This was something elsehermother hadn’t mentioned. Then he slid intoher, and Avelyn’s back bowed, a surprised moan slipping from her lips as he filled her.
With Paen outof her reach, she found herselfclutching atthebed linens on either sideof her headas he withdrew andthen drove intoher again. He reached between them to caress thesensitive center of her as he thrust again. Avelyncriedout,her headtwisting on the linen-covered fursas her sensitive body immediately responded.
Her heelsdug intohis shoulders, her legs flexing asone footslid off his shoulder.
Rather thancatch it and pull it backup, Paenmoved her other ankle off andleaned over her, holding his weight off of her with hisarms as hecontinued to drive intoher untiltheyboth cried out with pleasure.
Avelyn was aslimp asa wetlinen asPaen shiftedoff ofher. He settled himself beside her,then drewher into his arms, moving her head to wherehewantediton his chest. She smiled faintly at the action, finding it adorable, for some reason.
Avelyn was suddenly too tired to botherto try tosort it out. She simply let her eyes driftclosed and allowedherhusband’sheartbeattolull her into sleep.
It was nearly noon the next time Avelyn woke up, andher husband had again alreadyleft the bed. She didn’t mind, though; itallowed herprivacy to washand dress. Avelyn couldn’t even seemto mind thatonce againshe’d sleptthe morning away. She smiledas she descended the stairs… untilshe spotted the activityby the fireplacein the great hall.
Avelynpausedon the stairs, gripped the newrail the menhad put on the night before and stared in disbelief. The sow had returned. Runildaand Diamandawere trying to get the beast on her feet and out of the keep, but the sow appearedto have a stubborn streak. Shewas ignoring alltheir efforts to rouse her.
Shakingher head, Avelyn hurried down the stairs and crossedthe hallto join Lady Helen, whowas standing to theside,wringingherhands as Diamanda poked at the pig,trying to get ittoits feet: "Oh, do be careful, Diamanda,"her auntsaid with concern. "Canyou not fetch oneof thementoscareit out ofhere?"
"Paen usedan apple to lure it out yesterday,"Avelyn saidas she paused beside Lady Helen.
"Oh, Avelyn, dear. How are you feeling? Has the rest helped your head? I know you were in terrible painyesterday. " Lady Helen forgother worry for a momentto offer Avelyn a smile.
"Iam much better, thank you,"Avelyn murmured.
"I did try an apple, but she doesn’t appear to be interested," Diamanda announced. Pullingan apple from her skirt, she held it before the pig, but the trick wasn’tworking thistime.
"Oh, well, perhaps…"Avelyn paused. She had startedto walk around the animal, but had onlytaken a couple of steps before she sawwhat the trouble was. "Oh, dear. "
"What is it?" Diamandaasked, moving curiously toward her.
"Iam afraid weare notmovingherfor awhile. "
"What? Why?" the petite blondeasked, then reached Avelyn’s side, peered at the animalandbreathed, "Oh. "
"What? What isit?" Lady Helen did not come closer, and Avelyn wasstartingto realize the woman was afraid of the sow.
"She is birthing!" Runilda said with delighted surprise as she moved to join Diamanda and Avelyn.
"Oh, no!" Lady Helen cried with horror. "She must notdo that inside,not here.
Avelyn turned toward the door as Paen’s squire rushed into the hall, nearly stumbling over his feet in his hurry. Managing to reachherside withoutfalling, David gasped, "Lord Paensent me totellyou that Lord Gervilleand hiswife are riding through the gates. "
Avelyn’s eyebrows rose at this news. Paen had said last night that his father was sending servants, but had madeno mention ofhisparents returning with them. She supposed sheshould have expected as much.
Avelyn went outside to greet them,andmoments later, Paen’s mother was making a fuss over her headwound and telling hernot to worry; she intended to stay for a couple of days andwould tend to everything untilAvelynfelt better. The words brought aresigned sigh from Lord Gerville beforehe left to findhis son.
"Now, youshould go lie down and rest. "Lady Gerville ushered Avelyn up the steps intothe keep. "I will set the servants tounloading things andsetting – Oh!"
She stopped abrupdy and staredaround thegreat hall. "You have madea good start of it despite yourinjury. " Her gaze slidacross the freshrushes spread over the clean floor, then to the newly repaired stairs. "Why, it looks ever somuch better already. "
"Paenordered his men to fix thestairs andthe flooraboveafterAvelyn’sfall,"
Diamanda informed her.
"Aye," LadyHelen agreed. "And he orderedthe men to clean while heheaded out in search of servants. We directed them untilAvelyn felt well enough to move about. "
"I see. "LadyGerville’s gaze slid again to Avelyn’s forehead witha frown. "You should go rest,dear. Head wounds are such trickythings, and – " She stopped again as her gaze slid around the hallandlanded on the sow in the back corner. "Oh, dear, I seeshe is back. "
"I am afraid so. She seemsto see the open doors as an invitation to enter. "
Avelyn followed asPaen’s mother moved toward the animal. "The doors are inneed of repairand will not close. I had meant toorder a couple of men to repair them today, but I was notquick enough. Unfortunately,she is inlabor, so I fear we shall not gethermovedfor abit," she added as Lady Gervillestarted towardthe backend of thesow.
"Oh,my, sosheis,"Lady Gerville agreed, thenheaved a sigh. "Well, we shall have to let her befor now, Isuppose. " She turned her attention backtoward Avelyn.
"Now,why do younot go rest? We have several servants with us,and more are ridingwith the carts andshouldbearriving soon. I am afraid I wastoo impatientto ride as slow as the wagonstravel. "
Avelyn resisted the lady’s urgings toward the stairs. Really,she hadalreadyslept most of the day away and hadthings she wantedto get done. "I have just awoken,"
sheadmitted as Lady Gerville began tofrown at her resistance. "And itissuch a lovely, rare sunnyday, Ithought Imight just takea smallstroll… to clear my head. "
"Oh. " Lady Gerville smiled. "That may be just thething foryou,dear. Why do you not take Diamandawith you in case you have any problems? AsI say,head woundscan be tricky. "
Avelyn hesitated, reluctant to agree to thegirl’spresence. She liked Diamanda well enough,but had been hoping to sneakdown to the village and – "That would benice. I’d be happy to come with you," Diamandasaid brightly, obviouslyeager toavoidall thecleaning that was about tohappen. Thegreat-hall walls stillneeded whitewashing, therewerestill the two smaller roomsabove stairsto be tendedto,and the kitchens as well, not to mention the herb garden. Avelyn couldn’t blame the girl forherrelief in avoiding thosechores.
Supposing there wasno help for it, Avelynnoddedand agreed, "Thatwould be nice. "
"Off you go, then,and take Runilda with youto keepyou out of trouble. Lady Helen and Ishallsee to thingshere; you have a nice walk," Lady Gervilleshooed them out of the keep.
Runilda and Diamanda fell into step on either side of her as Avelyn headed across the bailey.
"Wherearewe walking to?" the petite blonde asked when she ledthem past the menstanding guard atthe gates.
Avelyn bit her lip and tried to decide what to tell her.
"Avy?" Diamanda asked, her steps slowing asAvelyn ledthem toward the path through the woods.
Sighing, she paused and glanced back the way they’d come, relieved to notethat theywereout of earshot of the guards. "Ithought to go to thevillage. "
"What?" Diamanda looked horrified. "But, wecannot – "
"It is not that far," Avelyn soothed. "We passedit on the ride here yesterday,and it is notfar at all. "
"But Paen said this morningwhile we were breaking fast that the villagers are angry about Lord Gerville’s neglecting them and resent our presence here. We should not – "
"Ihope to make a startat repairing the rift," Avelyn admitted.
"Well, we have not gota lickof furniturein the keep, Diamanda. "
"Aye, Idid notice,"the girl said dryly. "There is no place to sit or eator – "
"Just so. " Avelyn nodded. "Ithought perhaps we could tend tothat and mend some ill feelings at thesame time if wehired villagers to build them. "
When the blonde looked uncertain, Avelyn added, "I thought we might also purchasesome foodstuffs, baked goods if there isa baker, and ale from the alewife.
We cannot produce anyof thesethings yetourselves. "
"Ale and bread?" Diamanda said, moving her hand to her stomach. "Tis noon. "
"Aye, and you have not yet broken your fast, my lady," Runilda pointed out.
"Justso. " Avelyn smiled atthem. "Ibrought coinswith me. We can sample the foods and buy some for the keep, as well aspossibly see about furniture and other things. If the village is as pooras Paen claims, they may be happy forthe trade. "
"Or they may not haveanything to trade," Diamanda argued.
"We can but find outone way or the other,"Avelyn said with a sigh, then raised hereyebrows. "Are you willing to come with me?"
Diamandaglanced back toward the keep, then nodded slowly. "Aye. I fear it will be afailure, butwe may as well go see. "
Nodding,Avelyn struckout on thepath again. It was a warm, sunny day, and she would have enjoyed thewalk if shewerenot soworried about thecomingvisitto the village. Paen had saidthe villagers resented them,soshe could not hopefora warm welcome,but she was hoping her coins would help.
"Mayhap weshould have ridden on horseback. "
Diamanda’svoice drew Avelynfrom her thoughts, and she glanced around. While the village hadseemed only moments away onhorseback, it wasabit furtheron foot. Still, not a great distance, but Avelyn got the idea that Diamanda had led something ofa pampered existenceat Gerville, withservants constantly at her beck andcall.
"It cannotbe much further,Diamanda. I am sure ’tisjust aroundthis bend. "
Diamanda grunted with disbelief, then breathed a small "oh"of surprise asthey cameout of the bend and foundthemselves walking intothe village.
It was smalland not very prosperous, but Avelyn had expected as much. She simplyhadn’texpected such miserableconditions. Thevillage and its peoplehad truly suffered under Legere’s leadership. She suspected herproject was goingto be more difficult than she’d expected.