tagNovels and NovellasTrailing Home Ch. 05

Trailing Home Ch. 05


The next morning, Liam woke up first and quietly dressed before slipping out of the tent. When Selena woke up, she lay for several minutes, remembering what she had told him the previous night. She moaned and squeezed her eyes tightly shut, thinking of how she had clung to him and let him hold her so intimately on his lap. How humiliating! She could only hope he wouldn't think badly of her, and she dreaded having to face him.

Most men in her experience assumed when a girl was attacked or raped that she had done something by her actions or her style of dress to invite the unwanted attention. The last thing Selena wanted was for Liam to think she was a woman of loose morals. She was having a hard enough time winning his respect without him thinking she was 'easy'. Of course, the fact that she had nearly slept with him already would only add to that image. In addition, she wondered if Liam would now consider her to be 'damaged goods'.

Selena heaved a deep sigh and rose from her pallet, realizing that she had slept in her clothes once again. She had no idea whether there was time to change, so she did her best to smooth out her skirts and tidied her hair before emerging from the tent.

Selena could see Liam nearby, tending to the animals, and she hurried to splash water over her face and wash her hands. By the time she had the fire going and the coffee boiling, Liam was finished with his chores. Selena was busy making biscuits and frying bacon when Liam brought her four eggs and a large bucket of milk. She reluctantly faced him, relieved to find no trace of judgment or mockery in his expression. Liam gave her a boyish grin, indicating the bucket he held.

"What did I tell you? She's a dandy cow."

Selena was astonished when she saw not only the quantity of milk but the thick layer of cream rising to the top of the bucket, and she looked up at him with wonder. "How did you know?"

Liam lifted his broad shoulders in a casual shrug. "I can't explain it, I just did." He scanned her face, honest concern showing in the hazel depths of his eyes. He could still see the effects of her crying in her slightly swollen and reddened eyes. "Are you alright this morning?"

Selena turned away, not wanting to face him. "Yes, thank you. I'm...sorry about last night. I don't know what got into me, but I shouldn't have gone on like I did."

Liam grasped her shoulders and turned her gently around to face him. He lifted her chin until she looked at him, and his smile was tender and sincere. "Selena, you don't have anything to feel ashamed about, not about what happened to you or about telling me. I'm glad you confided in me."

As Selena stared up at him, she realized that she felt a tremendous relief. It was as if a burden had been lifted off her shoulders. "Thank you," she whispered, unable to look away from his compelling gaze.

Liam rubbed his thumb along her cheek, noticing how her skin turned a pretty shade of pink beneath his touch. He couldn't resist sampling the lushness of her lips, and he nibbled at the corners until she turned her head slightly to meet his kiss full on. He pulled her against him, feeling her arms steal around his waist as he bent her slightly over one arm and deepened the kiss.

Without thinking, he cupped her buttock in his palm and kneaded the soft flesh, eliciting a soft moan from Selena. Her eager response sent the blood pounding through his loins, and he was hard-pressed to end the embrace, but he realized the necessity of doing so. There were too many people nearby to have any degree of privacy in full daylight, and he reluctantly eased his hold on her and drew back from the kiss. Liam cleared his throat, but when he spoke his voice was still husky.

"You'd better finish making breakfast."

Selena jumped as she remembered the food, and quickly wriggled free to check on their breakfast. The bacon was nearly black, and the biscuits had burned a bit on the outside by the time she took them out of the pan. She let out a low moan of despair, but when Liam started to laugh, she turned on him with a glare.

"It's not funny, Liam. It's your fault that everything is burned."

"I'm sorry, my sweet. I had no idea my kisses would distract you so completely." His twinkling eyes and roguish grin only served to annoy her more.

Selena's cheeks burned and she felt tears threatening. She turned back to the fire so he wouldn't see. The familiarity with which he had handled her seemed to confirm her earlier fears. He probably thought she was fair game for his attentions, even though he hadn't made any kind of commitment to her. She maintained her silence as she finished making breakfast, but she quietly fumed. She was just as angry with herself as she was with him. What had happened to her strength of will? Every time Liam touched her, she felt her resistance melt away. It was no wonder that he had developed an unfavorable impression of her when she acted like some weak kneed schoolgirl.

She hardened her resolve, and by the time she served him breakfast, she had determined to remain aloof from his advances until she won the respect and loyalty she deserved. He was going to have to learn to treat her like a lady, not some strumpet that was available for his amusement whenever he felt an urge.

Once again, they ate in silence, but this time it was strained. Liam didn't understand what had caused Selena's mood to change so abruptly, and he was at a loss as to how to ease her irritation.

When they finished, Selena rose and started clearing away the dishes as she spoke to him over her shoulder. "If you will please give me your laundry, I'm going to go down to the creek and do the wash."

"Alright, just give me a minute." Liam retrieved a small bundle of his dirty clothes from the wagon and brought it back to her. "This is all I have that needs cleaning. There's a good spot down through there," he said, indicating a trail through the woods. "It's nice and private, so you could even bathe if you want to. You should have the place to yourself."

Selena nodded her head but refused to answer or meet his eye. Liam stood watching her for several moments before walking away. He was beginning to wonder if he would ever understand the woman he had married.

Selena finished cleaning up the dishes, and put on a pot of beans to simmer while she was gone. She gathered her own clothes along with Liam's, fetched the washboard, towel and soap out of the wagon and set off through the woods.

It took her a few minutes to reach the creek, and she set her bundles down near the bank. As she rolled up her sleeves, she took in the scenery around her. The small clearing was surrounded on all sides by dense forest, and just as Liam had said, there was no one around. The creek was narrow, but the water was clear and clean. The shallow water spilled over rocks and logs, making a pleasant burbling noise that soothed her anger. There was a shallow pool that had been formed by an outcropping of large boulders, and Selena chose that spot to wash the clothes.

All of her clothes were dirty except for her best blue dress, and she refused to spoil it by wearing it to do chores. However, she wanted to wash everything before they left on their trip, since she wasn't sure how long it might be before she had another chance to do laundry. She looked around once more to ensure that she was entirely alone and then removed her homespun skirt and blouse and her cotton stockings.

Dressed only in her chemise and pantalets, Selena set to work. She washed the skirt and blouse and wrung as much water out as she could before spreading them out on one of the boulders to dry in the sun. She did the same with Liam's shirts and breeches, carefully cleaning out all the grime and laying them over nearby rocks or bushes to dry. Her anger completely dissipated as she worked, and Selena began to enjoy the serenity of the secluded clearing. She worked diligently on the clothes, paying no heed to the time, and a pair of hours had passed by the time that she shook out her last dress that needed washing.

As she worked on the dress, Selena's thoughts returned to Liam and she released a deep sigh. She wasn't normally so moody, but he made her feel unsure of herself and that made her irritable. Perhaps she had been too quick to judge him. After all, he had been tender and compassionate when she confessed what had happened with Jeb. She bit her lip as she remembered the way Liam had looked at her this morning. His eyes had been full of concern before he kissed her. Maybe he did care about her after all?

Selena closed her eyes and remembered how it felt to be wrapped securely in his arms. The warmth that suffused her body could not be explained solely by the weak spring sunshine, and she sighed again. Without conscious direction, her mind conjured an image of Liam when she had seen him remove his breeches. Her wicked imagination was quick to fill in the details of his naked form, and her cheeks flamed from the wantonness of her thoughts. Still, she was reluctant to abandon the image, and she sat back on her heels for several moments replaying it in her mind. The perfection of his body more than surpassed her girlish fantasies, and with the curiosity of a mature woman, she longed to examine it more thoroughly. As was quickly becoming her habit since that night, she wondered what it might feel like to have him make love to her. If his kisses were any indication, she was inclined to think that she wouldn't mind fulfilling her wifely duties if the time ever came when she and Liam grew closer.

Selena was so caught up in her musings that she didn't hear Liam approaching from the woods, even though he made no effort to be quiet. By the time he spoke, he was standing directly behind her.

"How is it going?" he inquired.

Selena jumped up with a startled gasp, and took a step backward. Her foot caught on the washboard, and she toppled headlong into the pool. She surfaced, gasping for breath and from the shock of the cold water, still frigid from the spring thaw. She sputtered and pushed her dripping hair back from her face, ignoring the rivulets of water that streamed down her cheeks while she glared up at Liam through wet spiky lashes. He was standing on the bank, doubled over at the waist and laughing as if he had never seen anything so funny in his life.

Selena had never felt more humiliated, and when Liam sobered enough to offer her his hand to help her out of the creek, she coldly refused it, choosing instead to make her own way. However, just as she was almost to the bank, her foot slipped on a mossy rock, and her arms thrashed wildly in the air before she fell on her bottom again, sending up a geyser of water around her. Liam howled even louder, and Selena felt cold rage well up inside her.

"You braying ass! Don't you have anything better to do than to stand there laughing at me?"

As she said the words, Selena struggled to her feet and managed to scramble out of the creek. She was so incensed that she didn't think about her severely strained modesty as she faced him. Liam abruptly stopped laughing as he took in her appearance.

The wet chemise clung to her like a transparent veil, holding nothing from his regard. Her nipples were clearly visible standing proudly erect from the cold water. One of the lacy straps had fallen off her creamy shoulder, and he held his breath in anticipation of the garment loosing its tenuous hold on her curved form. The soaked pantalets were even more provocative, as they hugged her slender hips and buttocks. Liam couldn't help but notice the triangular patch of black hair that was visible at the juncture of her thighs. He swallowed against the sudden dryness in his throat as he fully appreciated the sights.

Selena stalked up to him and put her hands on her hips as she berated him. "What is the matter with you that you have to scare the living daylights out of me? I thought you had work to do, so why aren't you doing it?"

Liam gave a helpless shrug, "I just thought I would check on you and see if you needed anything."

"I was perfectly fine before you showed up. I'm more than capable of doing the laundry without any help from you!"

Selena's anger was out of all proportion to the incident, but it was fueled by her frustration over all the other incidents that had preceded it. Liam had a way of making her feel self-conscious and inadequate and she was tired of it.

"I'd be able to cook breakfast without burning it if you would just leave me alone! You must think I really am some brainless idiot who always needs you to tell me what to do and how to do it. Well for your information, I don't need you to pay for my candy and clothes or tell me where to sleep or who I can talk to!" She stamped her foot to emphasize the words and her breasts nearly bounced free of the sagging chemise.

Liam was so distracted by the sight of her perky breasts that he was having a hard time meeting her eyes. All at once, Selena noticed where his gaze was directed and she looked down in horror at her near nakedness. She whirled away from him, crossing her arms over her bosom and screeching in outrage, oblivious to the fact that she was presenting him with a perfectly delectable view of her well-formed backside.

Liam groped for a way to cool her anger, and he approached her from behind, wrapping his arms around her waist. "I'm sorry, Selena. I honestly didn't mean to scare you."

Selena was in no mood to listen. The feeling of his muscular chest against her back was already affecting her senses, and she shrugged free of his embrace before her treacherous body could respond to his touch.

"Don't touch me! Just go away and leave me alone!"

Liam's own anger was starting to flare. "Selena, stop acting like a child and calm down."

"No I will not calm down!" She blinked back tears of humiliation and rage and refused to face him. "I'm tired of you bossing me around. Go away!"

"Fine," he growled, turning on his heel to stalk back through the woods.

Selena stole a glance at his retreating back, and her tears overflowed. When he disappeared from view, she collapsed on the grass and buried her face in her hands. What was the matter with her? She always ended up looking foolish one way or another with him. In the ten days she had known him, she had managed to get accosted by a gang of men, get drunk, be accused of flirting with Hank, confess her most private secret, burn not one but two meals, and fall into a creek. As if that weren't bad enough, she had allowed Liam to see her naked or nearly naked twice!

It was no wonder that he felt free to fondle her whenever he took a notion and thought she was a helpless ninny. How was she ever going to win his admiration if she kept playing the part of some incompetent idiot whenever she was with him?

After a long time, Selena rose and took another look around to make sure she was alone before she stripped off her soaked undergarments. She quickly washed them and hung them up to dry, giving furtive glances over her shoulder to make sure Liam hadn't returned. She took the soap and waded into the pool to have a bath and wash her hair. She was shivering from the cold water, but at least she felt refreshed. Selena dried off quickly with the towel and dressed in fresh clothes that were only slightly damp. She gathered up the clean laundry and trudged her way back to camp, dreading the need to face Liam.

He ignored her completely, giving no indication that he even noticed her return. Selena checked on the beans and found that they were nearly ready. She prepared a pan of cornbread and hung the iron pot over the fire to cook. While she was waiting, she brushed out her long hair and braided it neatly before wrapping the long braids into an intricate knot on top of her head. Satisfied that she looked presentable, she set out the dishes for lunch before approaching Liam. He was lying on his back beneath the wagon, and she had to bend over to see his face.

"Lunch is ready," she said quietly.

"I can't come right now," he said without looking at her. He continued to work as if she weren't there.

She knew he was angry with her, but she couldn't bring herself to apologize. "Do you want me to make a plate for you for when you finish?"

He shot her a brief glare but went back to greasing the axle. "I wouldn't presume to tell you what to do. I don't want to be accused of bossing you around."

"Liam, I didn't mean . . ."

"Save it, Selena. I'm not in the mood for another pointless argument." The coldness in his voice put a definite end to the conversation.

Selena stalked back to the camp fire and fixed herself a plate of beans and cornbread. She sat down with her back to Liam and started to eat, but the food tasted like sawdust in her mouth, and she set the dish aside. Apparently, their truce had come to an end.

Selena occupied herself with small tasks for a while, but eventually ran out of things to do. She stole frequent glances at Liam, but he was paying her no heed whatsoever. She felt miserable. Finally, she decided to check on Marcia to see how she was faring.

Marcia was busy organizing the wagon, much as Selena had done the previous day. However, without Liam's knowledgeable guidance, she was at a loss as to where everything should go. Selena pitched in, along with Susan, and within a short time, the three of them had the wagon packed so that everything was accessible and protected. Selena was amazed to find that two huge chests contained nothing but clothing for Natasha, while the rest of the family's garments were all contained in a third, smaller chest. Selena thought it was fortunate that the clothes could be hauled in the buggy, or else there wouldn't have been enough room in the wagon for their food and supplies. Realizing that she hadn't seen Natasha anywhere that afternoon, Selena turned to Marcia with raised brows.

"Where's Natasha?" she inquired.

Marcia and Susan exchanged a long-suffering glance before Marcia responded. "She said she had a headache from the heat. I swear, every time there's some work to be done, that girl develops a headache." She heaved a deep sigh and sat down on a stump, brushing her hair back off her sweaty brow. "Thank you so much for helping, Selena. We would have been lost without your help."

Selena colored briefly and fiddled with her hands as she sat down beside her. She was thinking that it had really been Liam's guidance that had been used, since he was the one who knew how to organize the wagons. Selena bit her lip, feeling guilty, and she blinked back tears.

Marcia noticed her discomfort and asked Susan to go and see whether she could help her father. When her daughter was out of earshot, she turned back to Selena. "What's the matter, Selena?"

Selena gave a small shrug. "It's just that I can't seem to do anything right. Liam and I had a fight, and I yelled at him and told him to just leave me alone. I accused him of always bossing me around, but I know that he only means to help. It's just that he makes me so nervous that I usually end up embarrassing myself in front of him and looking totally incompetent. Now, he's not even speaking to me."

Marcia startled her when she started to chuckle, and she reached over to pat Selena's hand. "Oh, my dear, don't worry. Liam only makes you nervous because he is constantly watching you, and he only does that because he's completely fascinated by you. You should take heart, knowing that you have his full and undivided attention."

Selena gave her a puzzled frown. "Marcia, I know you mean well, but Liam isn't fascinated by me. He thinks I'm a . . . to use his words, 'brainless twit'. He watches me because he thinks I'm incapable of doing anything for myself, and he's afraid I'll mess something up."

Marcia laughed at the thought and put a comforting arm around Selena's shoulders. "Selena, it's not concern that lights up his eyes whenever they turn in your direction. The poor man is totally infatuated with you."

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