Trailing Home Ch. 10byharemgirl©
"There's one more thing," Selena said. Color flooded her cheeks, but she met their gazes steadily. "I intend to do whatever it takes to shake Liam up enough that he starts standing on his own two feet again." Selena looked at Peter and bit her lip. "But in order to do that, I might need your help."
Peter's brow furrowed in confusion, but he nodded. "Alright, but what can I do?"
Selena colored even more and fumbled for words. "Let's just say that Liam has always been rather . . . well, he never likes it when other men . . . that is to say. . ."
Gerald chuckled as he looked at Peter. "What she's trying to say is that Liam is possessive to the extreme when it comes to Selena. He gets jealous if she even looks at another man."
"Precisely," Selena said, relieved that Gerald had stated it so clearly. "It might be necessary for me to play on that to get him inspired. If so, could I count on you to play along?"
Peter and Gerald exchanged wary glances, and then Peter cleared his throat nervously. "What exactly did you have in mind?"
Selena gave them both an exasperated frown. "Nothing improper, if that's what you're thinking! In fact, you don't really have to do anything except play along, if the time comes. I just want you to know that if I happen to flirt with you, it's only in an effort to drag Liam out of his shell. I don't mean anything by it."
There was a long pause when the two men just stared at Selena, unable to believe what she had just said. Then, Gerald began to laugh, starting with a small series of snickers that erupted into full belly laughs. Selena and Peter both stood watching him, Selena with a bit of impatience and Peter with more than a little uncertainty.
When his mirth finally subsided, Gerald put an arm around Selena's shoulders and grinned down at her. "My dear, I never really knew that you women could be so devious."
Selena blushed even hotter than before and looked down at her shoes. "Well, I'm not usually devious, but this is an emergency. I don't know what else to do."
Gerald waited until she looked back up and then gave her a wink. "I know, I know. You have Liam's very best interests at heart. Don't you worry about a thing. I'm sure Peter will be willing to help out, right Peter?"
Seeing that Gerald didn't disapprove, Peter shrugged. "Sure, why not. Just don't do anything that's going to make Susan mad at me, alright?"
"That's a deal," Selena said. "Where is Susan, anyway? I want her to ride with me today. I need some company."
Selena found Susan, and the two of them returned to Selena's and Liam's wagon and climbed up onto the bench. Susan turned to Liam with a sunny smile. "Good morning, Liam."
"Mmmm," he grunted in response, not even bothering to open his eyes.
"Never mind him," Selena laughed, patting Susan's hand. "He's as grumpy as a hungry bear these days, but don't take it personally."
Selena continued to chat with Susan, and they seemed to have forgotten his presence. Liam glowered at Selena's back. He didn't like being ignored, and he didn't like being talked about as if he weren't there. His mood got progressively worse as the morning aged, and the two women droned on and on.
Susan was speaking with animated enthusiasm. ". . . so Papa and Mama said that Peter could have their permission to court me. Isn't that wonderful?"
"Oh Susan, I'm so happy for both of you. Peter is a fine young man and would be very lucky if he eventually gets to have you as his wife," Selena said with a smile.
"And isn't he just the most handsome man you've ever seen?" Susan asked with a dreamy sigh.
Selena thought Liam was much more handsome, but of course, she didn't say that. Instead, she nodded her head. "Peter is quite a handsome man. If I weren't a married woman, I might give you a run for your money." She looked at Susan and winked, and the two of them shared a giggle.
Liam's face took on a ruddy hue as he fumed. Selena pretended not to notice, as she kept up a steady stream of conversation with Susan. They eventually stopped for lunch, and Susan went to join her family, leaving Selena and Liam alone once more.
Selena didn't even acknowledge his presence as she took out some cold beans and bread for their lunch. She helped herself to a plate and sat down, leaning against a nearby tree. Liam managed to climb down on his own. He gripped the edge of the wagon to catch his breath and glared at Selena for a brief moment, but she was eating her lunch and didn't look up. When his legs steadied beneath him, he made his way behind some bushes to relieve himself, and by the time he returned, Selena was finished eating.
"Aren't you even going to offer me any lunch?" he growled, leaning a shoulder against the same tree she was sitting under.
Selena tilted her head back and shaded her eyes as she looked up at him. "You know where everything is. Help yourself." She closed her eyes and leaned back against the tree, obviously dismissing him from her thoughts as she relaxed for a few minutes.
Liam was surprised that he actually felt hunger pangs, but it was obvious that Selena didn't care about his needs. He helped himself to a plate of food as he brooded about her callousness. Apparently, she had lost all feeling for him. Well, it was no matter. He knew it was just the first sign that her interest was waning, and he might as well get used to it. He sat and ate, as he brooded about how unjust this whole situation was. It wasn't his fault that he had gotten sick, but there was nothing he could do about it now. He would just have to live with it.
Selena watched him from beneath her lowered eyelids. She suppressed a grin, pretending that she was napping. Her plan was actually working better than she had anticipated. Liam had been so preoccupied with the changes in the way she treated him, that he was now polishing off the second hearty meal of the day. With all her coaxing and hovering, she hadn't been able to get him to eat properly for weeks, and now he was. It was a small victory, but she knew the worst was still to come.
She still had to get him to climb out of his slump, and getting Liam to do anything against his will was nearly impossible. He was more stubborn than that mule of Marcia's, and Selena knew he didn't like to be manipulated, so she would have to proceed with caution. She was going to have to make it seem as if everything was his own idea, and that wouldn't be easy. However, his performance today gave her cause to take heart. Physically, Liam was strong enough to resume some of his normal activities. She just had to make him want to do so.
Seeing that the others were finished with their meals, Selena stood up. She didn't spare a glance for Liam as she walked toward where Peter sat nearby. "I'll be right back," she said over her shoulder, leaving Liam to scowl at her swaying hips.
Selena sat down next to Peter, a little closer than propriety dictated. She laughed and talked with him, giving him coy smiles and sidelong glances from beneath her lashes. Every so often as they talked, Selena laid a hand on Peter's arm, and her fingers caressed him fondly as she continued to chat. Peter was so young and inexperienced with women, that even though he knew her game, he couldn't suppress a blush from her forwardness. He glanced toward where Susan sat, a short distance away.
"Don't worry," Selena whispered in his ear. "I told Susan what was going on, and she won't be mad, I promise."
Peter relaxed and flashed Selena a broad grin. The two of them sat laughing and talking until it was time to move out once again. When Selena returned to her wagon, Liam had already climbed onto his pallet, without anyone's assistance. Selena hid her grin and climbed onto the seat.
Susan had stayed with Gerald for the afternoon, so once again, Selena was alone on the seat as they drove along. However, her mood was considerably lighter than before. She made no attempt to draw Liam into conversation. Instead, she rode along, humming to herself and enjoying the day. She was aware of Liam's steady regard. She could sense his unwavering stare focused between her shoulder blades, but she ignored him, as she busily plotted her next move.
They stopped to make camp in a lovely meadow, where the grass was lush and green. Selena purposefully pulled their wagon a little farther away from the others than usual to give them more privacy. She knew that Liam's anger was building, and if they were going to have an argument, she didn't want everyone else to overhear every word.
Selena left Liam to make his own way down from the wagon, and she went about unhitching the team. Liam found a comfortable spot under a tree and sat down, leaning back against it as he watched her. His displeasure was evident in every line of his face, but she blithely went about the business of setting up camp. It would be up to him to express his feelings. She wasn't going to probe and question anymore.
She carefully chose a spot and started erecting the tent, but found that the ground was fairly hard and rocky. Selena made quite a show of trying to get the stakes driven into the ground, but finally, she sat back on her heels and sighed.
"I'll just have to get Peter to help me," she said to herself, but loud enough for Liam to overhear. "He's so strong, I'm sure he'll have no trouble getting these stakes into the ground."
Selena stood up and smoothed her skirt, taking her time to pat her hair neatly into place before she turned to walk toward where Peter and his family were camped nearby. It was no accident that she had to pass by where Liam sat to get there. Liam reached up and grabbed her wrist in an iron grip, surprising a gasp from her as he stood up.
"I'll do it," he growled. Barely leashed fury shone in his eyes as he stalked toward the tent.
Selena smothered a grin, instead striving to look mildly disappointed. "Oh, well if you can, that would be good. But it's really no trouble for me to ask Peter. I'm sure he wouldn't mind."
Liam paused to glare at her over his shoulder. "I'm sure he wouldn't, but I said I'll do it." He turned away again, intent on his task.
Selena watched him and wondered whether it was just a trick of her imagination. He seemed to be walking with more confidence, his shoulders once more square and proud, as they had always been in the past. His body was leaner than before, but otherwise, he was starting to look much like his former self, and pangs of desire started in the pit of Selena's belly as she took in the sight of him.
She turned away and busied herself making the fire and starting supper, but she continued to watch Liam from beneath her lashes. Sure enough, he had no trouble getting the stakes driven into the hard ground, and grunting in satisfaction, he finished setting up the tent on his own. When he was done, he returned to his spot by the tree and sat down again, watching her as she worked.
When Selena had their pot of beans warming over the fire, and a pan of cornbread cooking, she stood up and sighed. She placed both hands on the back of her waist and stretched to ease her tired muscles. She was aware of the picture she presented to Liam, with her breasts stretching the fabric taut across her bodice as she arched her spine, but she pretended to give him no notice. Instead, she turned and looked toward where Peter was camped and gave another long sigh.
"I wonder if Hank would bring out his fiddle tonight," she said softly, almost to herself. "I wouldn't mind some dancing."
Liam gave an angry snort but refused to rise to the bait. His wife knew good and well that he wasn't up to dancing, so that could only mean she wanted to dance with the other men. Selena pretended not to notice his displeasure, instead humming a lively tune that she had heard Hank play before. She puttered around, casting frequent glances toward where Peter was working in the distance. Turning back to Liam, she bit her lip in apparent indecision.
"Oh, but you probably don't feel up to any socializing do you?" Without waiting for his response, she looked back toward Peter and sighed. "Oh well."
Liam lost his grip on the last thread that had been holding his temper in check. "Go ahead, Selena. Go throw yourself at Peter. I'm sure he would be more than happy to catch you."
Selena raised a haughty brow as she faced him, crossing her arms over her chest. "I am not throwing myself at Peter. I just want someone to talk to, that's all."
Liam snorted again, "Oh is that what you call it, talking?"
"Yes, exactly," Selena retorted, lifting her chin to a lofty angle. "You certainly haven't made any effort to keep me company lately."
Liam looked away, grinding his teeth in frustrated anger. How could he tell her that even if he wanted to keep her company, he wasn't physically capable? It was too humiliating.
"You know better than anyone that I have been sick," he muttered bitterly. "I haven't exactly felt like keeping you company."
"Well that's fine, Liam. If you want to wallow around in self-pity, feeling sorry for yourself morning, noon and night, then go right ahead. I for one would rather not join you."
"I haven't been feeling sorry for myself," he growled.
Selena met his heated glare, and she was secretly glad to see so much emotion roiling around in his hazel eyes. "You could have fooled me. You refuse to eat, you don't want to work at getting better, and lately, you've refused to even talk to me. It's like you have just given up on living. You've completely shut me out and made it clear that you don't want me as your wife anymore. How did you expect me to react?"
"Dammit, you know that's not true!" he roared. "It's just that..." Liam stopped himself and looked away. His throat worked convulsively as he struggled with his emotions, and he finally took a deep, steadying breath before looking at her once more. His eyes were tormented, and she had to struggle to hear his next words, they were spoken so softly. "It's not that I don't want you as my wife. I'm just not sure I can be a husband to you anymore. You don't need some cripple like me."
Selena's breath caught in her throat, as she saw the raw pain in his eyes. She went to kneel beside him and gripped one of his large hands in both of hers. "What do you mean, Liam? Of course I need you, and you're not a cripple. If you would just realize it, you've become much stronger. You're almost fully recovered from your illness."
Liam grimaced, shaking his head. "I've recovered in some ways, but not in others." He stared at her for a long time and could tell she didn't understand his meaning. He looked away, feeling humiliated and small as he muttered, "I don't know if I will ever be able to make love to you again. Maybe we should get our marriage dissolved. You're better off being with someone else."
Selena gasped as understanding flooded her brain. Her shock was quickly replaced by fury, and before she even thought about what she was doing, she drew her arm back and slapped Liam hard across the face.
"How dare you!" she cried, suppressed rage making her voice quiver. "You think so little of me that you assume I would just dump you because you can't make love to me anymore? Do you honestly think I'm like that? The vows we spoke said 'for better or worse, in sickness and in health,' remember?"
"No buts, Liam McKenzie! After all we've been through together. To think that you believe that I'm so shallow that I would want out of our marriage just amazes me." Selena rose and paced back and forth in front of him as she raged on. "Remember when I told you about my stepfather's abuse? I was afraid to tell you, afraid you would think I was damaged goods, like so many other men would have. But you were so tender and loving, never once letting that stand between us, never believing that I had done anything to deserve being attacked. Do you have any idea how unusual that was? Most men assume it's always the woman's fault if a man attacks her. She must have been wearing clothes that were too revealing or her actions must have indicated that she secretly wanted the man's attentions. Even I was always ashamed, secretly wondering if I could have done something to prevent the attack. But you put an end to all that. You let me know that I wasn't at fault. And then when I lost the baby." Her voice cracked, but she went on. "You never once blamed me for it, even though I felt so guilty. You stood by me, letting me know by your every action that you forgave me and still wanted me."
"Of course I still wanted you, dammit! I love you," Liam yelled, feeling his own anger rise again. "There was nothing to forgive."
"Oh I see," Selena said, placing her hands on her hips as she glared down at him. "You love me. So of course you would be able to stand by me, no matter what." She stamped her foot in frustrated anger. "Why is it so hard for you to understand that I love you the same way?"
Liam emitted a low growl, getting to his feet to glare down at her. "Because this is different! I don't know if I'll ever be able to be a husband to you again."
Seeing the hurt beneath his anger, much of Selena's fury dissipated, and she released her breath on a sigh. "Liam, I don't care about that. I love you and want nothing more than to be your wife."
"That's why you've been throwing yourself at Peter," Liam ground out.
Selena's cheeks flushed a guilty red, but the corners of her mouth twitched with suppressed humor. "Well, actually no. I've been throwing myself at Peter just to get your attention." She noticed Liam's narrowed eyes, but she went on. "I don't have the slightest interest in Peter or any other man, for that matter. Peter's so smitten with Susan, he wouldn't normally have given me a second glance. The truth of the matter is that I asked him to play along so that I could make you jealous. I knew if I made you angry enough, your temper might just boil over and then we could see what was left in the bottom of the pot. It was the only way I could think of to get you to open up to me."
There was a long pause, during which Selena held her breath. She watched the muscles working in the side of Liam's cheek, as he struggled with his turbulent emotions. Anger, relief, confusion and self-doubt all flickered across his handsome features as he plumbed the depths of her eyes.
"So, you've been up to your sneaky tricks again," Liam said softly.
Selena put her arms around his waist and pushed him gently backward until they were leaning against the tree. When she looked up at him, her eyes were soft and full of love.
"I was willing to do whatever it takes to reach you, Liam. By hook or by crook, I was determined to get through that thick skull of yours." She reached up to cup his face in her palms. "Don't you understand that I love you, no matter what? I can't imagine my life without you in it. Before I met you, I was existing, nothing more. I was a shell, not a whole person. You came into my life and made me whole. I can't go back to the way I was before. I need you."
Liam pulled her against him, but although her words touched his heart, his body remained stubbornly unresponsive. "But Selena, you deserve children and..."
She cut off whatever he had been about to say by stretching up to kiss him. Her lips were warm and moist on his, calling to his soul as she conveyed all her own pent up longings. When she finally drew back from the kiss, her eyes were shining.
"Liam, you have to have faith. Give yourself time. You've only just begun to get your strength back. You're so much better than you were a few weeks ago. Your body just needs more time. I believe that everything else will work out as well, but just know this. Even if it doesn't, it will be enough for me to know that you love me and you haven't shut me out. I need you as surely as I need air to breathe and food to eat. I don't want anyone else but you, and I never will. I love you."