Trailing Home Ch. 03byharemgirl©
A deep masculine voice answered her with a chuckle. "Oh, it's nothing really ma'am. I'm just glad I could help you out. So, did you say you would be getting off at Independence?"
"That's right, what about you?" she asked sweetly.
"Yeah, I'll be leaving from there too, so it's quite possible that we will see each other again sometime on the trail, ma'am."
"Well, I'll be sure to keep an eye out for you," Selena gave him a throaty laugh, "but I insist that you call me Selena."
His deep rumbling laugh answered her, and Liam could just imagine what the man must be thinking and how he was ogling her. Liam was briefly surprised by the possessive jealousy that he felt, but he didn't have time just then to examine his emotions.
"Alright, Selena. Meeting a pretty lady like you has brightened my morning. I'll look forward to seeing you again. You take care now."
Liam heard Selena's heels clicking as she walked toward the door, and he pressed himself back into the shadows. He waited until she had walked past him to reach out from behind and snatch her back against his chest. He clamped one hand over her mouth.
"Eeek!" She struggled only a moment before realizing it was him, then she raised her brows at him, giving a haughty indication that he should release her at once. "What in blue blazes are you doing, trying to scare the wits out of me?"
Liam grabbed her by the elbow and led her to their cabin, waiting until they were inside with the door closed before he answered her. "Never mind what I was doing, what were you doing flirting with that man?"
"Flirting? What are you talking about?" She looked genuinely bemused.
Liam wasn't buying it. "You know perfectly well what I am talking about . . . Hank!" He ran a hand through his hair and went to look out the window. It irked him that she could so easily stir his jealousy. "You give me the cold shoulder but have no shame about throwing yourself at another man."
Selena kept her features carefully blank. She could have informed him that Hank was at least seventy years old if he was a day, but she thought it best to let him stew in his own juices for a while. Instead, Selena assumed a casual air.
"I just wanted some fresh air, and I decided to go for a walk."
"Well it didn't sound like you were looking for fresh air. If you care at all about your reputation, you'll stay away from Hank. It won't look very good if you are flirting with other men just days after your marriage, now will it?"
"Don't try to order me around Liam McKenzie! I'm your wife in name only, and I have no intention of being cooped up in this room for the next several days. I'll go wherever I like and talk with whomever I like."
She crossed her arms and presented her back to him. The nerve of the man! Especially after she had seen him flirting with Natasha!
Liam grabbed her elbow and swung her around to face him. The muscles in his cheek were twitching with his irritation, but his voice was low, almost smooth.
"We may have a marriage in name only, but as my wife, your behavior reflects on me. I expect you to behave with proper decorum, and that doesn't include gallivanting around and batting your eyes at every man this side of the Mississippi!"
"Don't you dare try to instruct me on proper behavior," she spat, her eyes violet pools of flashing anger. "You have the manners of a boorish oaf, and if I were to spend my time on this trip doing nothing else but trying to improve your conduct, I fear the best I could accomplish would be getting you to keep your hands to yourself!"
As she said the words, she yanked her arm free from his grasp. She smoothed her skirts and squared her shoulders before giving him a narrow-eyed glare.
"Now, I'm hungry, since I missed dinner because of you. I'm going to eat breakfast." She snatched open the door and strode down the hall without a backward glance.
Liam gave an ominous snarl and set out in her wake. His longer strides quickly caught up to her, and he would have stopped her again. However, just as she emerged onto the deck, she nearly bumped into the Captain.
"Oh!" she squeaked, quickly recovering enough to give the man a smile. "Good morning, Captain Harris."
He touched his fingers to the brim of his cap and returned her smile. "Good morning to you, Mrs. McKenzie." His gaze went past her to Liam and his smile broadened. "Mr. McKenzie."
Liam forced himself to smile, though his anger was still seething. "Captain," he nodded, "we were just going in search of breakfast."
"I won't keep you then," the Captain nodded once again. "Enjoy your day." He walked away, completely unaware of the tension between the newly wedded couple.
Liam waited until the man had rounded the corner before he grasped her elbow once more and leaned down to growl in her ear. "I wasn't finished talking with you."
"Oh, was that your idea of talking?" she inquired sweetly, giving him an exaggerated look of surprise. "It felt more like you were manhandling me, and I won't stand for that. Now kindly release my arm or I will be forced to scream." Her eyes conveyed her intent to follow through with the threat, and Liam promptly let go of her arm but remained scowling down at her.
"I can't believe I let myself be saddled with such a stubborn, senseless little twit," he snarled.
Selena gave him a spiteful smile before turning away. As she walked briskly toward the dining room, she flung a parting shot back over her shoulder. "Well, make sure you keep your hands off me from now on so you won't be saddled with me permanently."
The dining room was empty, and they settled at a table and ordered their food before lapsing into a stony silence. Selena refused to meet Liam's eye, though she was keenly aware of his brooding gaze on her. She raised her chin to a lofty angle and looked around as if she were unaware of his presence. She was looking toward the door, when the Boyd family entered the room.
Natasha's eye immediately settled on Liam, and she plastered on a glowing smile. "Oh, Mr. McKenzie, this is a pleasant surprise!" She hurried toward them, her family trailing behind her. "This must be your wife," she cooed, not really needing a confirmation. Her eyes chilled as she took in Selena's appearance. Natasha was disappointed to note her beautiful face and trim figure. She had been so hopeful that his wife would be a homely woman, but Natasha brightened somewhat when she saw Selena's dress. She knew that her chemise alone cost more than Selena's entire outfit, and she secretly gloated.
Liam politely rose from his chair and nodded a greeting to the other members of the Boyd family before making the introductions. He and Selena gave every appearance of being a happy couple.
Marcia Boyd gave Selena a warm smile and clutched her hand in greeting. "I'm so pleased to meet you, Mrs. McKenzie. I understand that we will be neighbors once we reach Oregon."
Selena returned her smile but didn't correct her. She had no choice but to maintain the charade as a happily married woman until the end of their trip when she and Liam could part ways. "The pleasure is mine, Mrs. Boyd." With a wave of her hand, Selena indicated the empty chairs at their table. "Won't you join us?"
As they accepted her offer, Selena noticed that Natasha opted to take the seat next to Liam. Selena surreptitiously took note of the other woman's appearance. She was wearing another stunning dress, this time of royal blue silk. The bodice was tailored to fit her curvaceous form sublimely and had a square neckline trimmed with exquisite white lace that provided the perfect showcase for Natasha's bountiful bosom. More lace had been used to adorn the multiple ruffles on the skirt and the dainty cuffs above her elbows. Selena felt dowdy and plain in her pink dress that she had worn the day before, but there was nothing to be done about it. Her wardrobe consisted of just four outfits, and one of those was homespun wool that she wore when she was doing chores. She couldn't hope to compete with the style of the other woman, so she might as well not dwell on the fact.
The meal was passed in cheerful companionship, and Selena was pleased to find that the Boyd family, with the exception of Natasha, was warm and friendly. Selena instantly liked them, and she and Marcia were soon on a first name basis and chatting like old friends. She learned that they were moving out west from Chicago, where Gerald had owned a very profitable manufacturing business.
"So, have you given up your business then, Mr. Boyd?" Selena inquired.
"No, luckily our son Charles is now running the company," Gerald smiled with obvious pride. "He's young and keen, and he has a very good head for business. I decided that I have had enough of city life. As a younger man, I enjoyed farming, and I've always missed working the land." He reached over to pat his wife's hand lovingly. "When my brother kept writing to us about how much opportunity there was in Oregon, Marcia was kind enough to agree to the move."
Selena's heart constricted as she watched the other couple. When their eyes met, they glowed with genuine affection, and Selena wished that she had that kind of relationship with Liam. Glancing in his direction, she stiffened as she noticed that Natasha had placed a hand on his arm and was laughing gaily at something he had said. Natasha must have sensed her regard, for she looked at Selena and gave her a superior smile.
"Mrs. McKenzie, your husband was telling us that he met you when you were working as a waitress."
Selena's smile was stiff as she managed to give a small nod. She was hurt that Liam would have told them. She wasn't proud of having worked in a bar, but she hadn't had any choice in the matter.
"Yes," she said evenly. "Liam came into the pub where I worked, and I waited on him."
Clear astonishment was written on Natasha's lovely features. "A pub? Do you mean to say that you were a common barmaid servicing the needs of the male customers?" As she voiced the question, her eyes raked dispassionately over Selena as if she were a repugnant creature.
"Natasha, that's enough!" Marcia gasped in outrage. She gave Selena a nervous smile of apology. "I'm sorry, Selena. My daughter obviously forgot her manners."
Liam placed a hand protectively over Selena's and gave her a brief smile before facing Natasha. "As a matter of fact, there was nothing the least bit common about my wife, Miss Boyd. The only things she served to the men were food and drink. If they desired anything else, she let them know in no uncertain terms that they would have to look elsewhere for that." He turned his gaze to Gerald and Marcia and smiled somewhat sheepishly. "It was her uncommon beauty that captured my attention. When I found out she wanted to go to Oregon, it just seemed to make sense for us to get married." He looked at Selena and grinned. "Isn't that right, sweetheart?"
Selena returned his smile, though there was no warmth in her eyes. It seemed to her that he was making fun of her, since they both knew she had looked her very worst when she first met him. She felt like scratching his eyes out. He was only trying to protect his own reputation, not hers, and she decided to do a little taunting of her own. Her voice took on a simpering sweetness.
"Now sugarplum, you know it was the other way around." She turned a bright smile toward Marcia, ignoring Liam's warning squeeze on her hand. "I must admit, my husband literally swept me off my feet. Why, I'd never seen such gallantry and charm. He was such a gentleman." Her eyes taunted Liam with the reminder of the pass he had made at her the first night they met. "Why, before I knew it, I was begging for him to let me come along."
Susan gave a dreamy sigh. "That's so lovely! It sounds like it was love at first sight!"
Natasha was quick to correct her younger sister. "Don't be ridiculous, Susan. There's no such thing." She ignored her father's warning glare and plunged on. "Why from what you're saying, it sounds as if the two of you haven't known each other for very long. Your marriage sounds more like a partnership than a love match. Is that right Mrs. McKenzie?"
"What's gotten into you, girl?" Gerald berated his daughter. "Apologize for your impertinence."
Selena was taken aback by the nerve of the other woman, but she managed a tight smile. "No, that's quite alright, sir. I'm sure your daughter is just curious, right Miss Boyd?" Without waiting for her reply, Selena went on. "I wouldn't describe our relationship as a mere partnership." Turning toward Liam, she flashed him a coquettish glance from beneath her lashes. "Why the two of us can hardly be in the same room together without sparks flying, isn't that right honey?"
Even though he knew Selena was flirting with him merely for the sake of their observant audience, Liam felt his cock beginning to grow. He could give as good as he got, and he reached up to cup her cheek, rubbing a thumb suggestively over her bottom lip. He was gratified to see a tiny shiver go through his wife. The simplicity of the caress made it appear even more intimate. "That's right, angel. I can honestly say that I've hardly gotten any sleep since we got married."
Gerald cleared his throat nervously, and ran a finger inside his collar is if it suddenly felt too tight. "Well, I'm relieved to hear that. I really must apologize for my daughter's behavior. Sometimes she lets her curiosity outpace her common sense." As he spoke, Gerald rose with an anxious smile and pulled his wife's chair out from the table. "We really must get along now. It was a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. McKenzie."
"And you as well, Mr. Boyd," Selena replied with a smile, before she shook hands with Marcia. "I will look forward to seeing you again."
Marcia's smile was genuine and her eyes twinkled as she clasped Selena's hand. "I certainly will too." She murmured for Selena's ears alone, "That's the most fun I've had in a long time." As she straightened, she gave Selena a conspiratorial wink. "Come along girls." Marcia turned without another word and led her family from the room. For once, Natasha remained silent and followed her mother's direction, but the pinched look around her mouth gave evidence of her displeasure.
When they were once more alone at their table, Selena jerked her hand free as she hissed at her husband. "Did you have to make such a crude remark? You made it sound as if you've done nothing but bed me since we got married. You embarrassed poor Mr. Boyd."
"You started it, Selena. Let that be a lesson to you. I'm not some stripling lad that you can manipulate with your fluttering eyelashes and coy little smiles."
Selena gave him a narrow-eyed glare. "And I'm not some little strumpet to be fondled in front of others. Once more, I feel the need to remind you to keep your hands to yourself." She rose stiffly and exited the room.
Liam sat for a long time sipping his coffee and staring into space. He was completely at a loss about how to deal with his wife. He had never had a problem getting women to do what he wanted, but Selena was proving to be an enigma. His smile was wry as he rose from the table. At least the trip was promising not to be boring.
Selena and Liam managed to avoid each other for most of the day. She ate her lunch alone in their cabin, having fetched a tray for herself. There was very little to keep her occupied, but she managed to while away the hours by taking in the passing scenery, laundering her blue dress and napping for a while. She wasn't used to inactivity, and the hours seemed to drag by. Late in the afternoon, she was standing by the rail and looking out over the river when Marcia Boyd joined her.
"We're having fine weather so far, aren't we?" Marcia asked.
Selena gave her a warm smile of welcome. "Yes, but I fear we can't expect it to continue much longer. I'm not looking forward to being rained on while traveling in a covered wagon."
"Me neither." There was a moment of silence before Marcia continued. "Selena, I wanted to apologize for my daughter's behavior. I fear that growing up having everything her heart desires has made her quite spoiled. I had a stern talk with her after we left you this morning. I hope she gave some heed to my words and will stop flirting with your husband."
Selena placed an arm around the other woman and gave her a small hug. "Thank you, but there's really no need to apologize." Selena looked away, unable to meet Marcia's eye. Her instincts were telling her that Marcia could be trusted, and Selena decided to confide in her. "The truth of the matter is that Liam and I really don't have much of a marriage. Natasha had it right when she assumed that we have more of a...friendship." She gave a rueful laugh. "It's not even friendship, really. It's more like a business arrangement, and I can't really say what's to happen when we get to Oregon."
Marcia's laugh startled her, and Selena faced her with a questioning look. Marcia placed a comforting hand over hers. "My dear, you are young, so you still have a lot to learn about men and how they think. I saw the way your husband looks at you when you aren't watching, and the way he was quick to come to your defense bodes well for your future."
"But you don't understand," Selena frowned. "He hates me. We can barely exchange two words without getting into an argument."
Marcia nodded as her eyes took on a faraway look. "It was much the same with Gerald and me when we first married. He thought he would just lay down the law and I would agree to whatever he said, man of the house and all that nonsense." She laughed and raised a brow. "It took me almost a year to make him understand that I wasn't some spineless twit. Now, we've been happily married for twenty four years. You just have to stick to your guns and trust that everything will work out alright."
Selena was unconvinced, but she didn't want to argue. "Thank you, Marcia. That is very kind of you to say."
"Trust an old woman," she smiled as she turned to walk away. "Have a pleasant evening."
"You too." Selena watched her disappear around the corner, then she turned back to the rail. "I just wish you were right," she muttered.
That evening, she and Liam dined in solitude, seeing no sign of the Boyd family. They sat in silence, speaking only when absolutely necessary, and trying not to look at each other. Selena was vastly relieved when the meal was completed, and she excused herself to return to the cabin. She was surprised when Liam followed close on her heels, and when they reached their cabin door, she turned to him with an impatient brow raised.
"If you don't mind, I thought I would make an early night of it. I'm quite tired."
"I don't mind at all," Liam said, brushing past her to enter the cabin. "I had the same thought myself."
Selena crossed her arms over her bosom and glared at him as she remained in the doorway. "Well? Do you mind? I would like some privacy to change clothes."
Liam grasped her elbow and drew her into the cabin, as he shut the door and threw the bolt in place. When he faced her, he bore a scowl, but his voice held exaggerated patience, as if he were addressing a child.
"Selena, you'd better understand from now that you aren't going to have a whole lot of privacy on this trip. The two of us are going to be stuck in a tiny little tent in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes, there aren't even any woods around to give you privacy, so you'll have to get used to changing clothes with me in the room." He turned away and started to unbutton his shirt, but when Selena plopped down on the side of the bed and made no move to undress, he turned back toward her. "What?"
She lifted her chin to a lofty angle and refused to meet his questioning stare. "I will not dress and undress in your presence. I'm not some hussy available for your viewing pleasure."