Reissue
April 26, 2011
Avon
ISBN-10: 0062019775
ISBN-13: 9780062019776



First Edition
September 2005
Dorchester
ISBN 084395499X
Buy at Amazon.com
Buy at Amazon.co.uk

It was to be hoped that her groom was partial to cherries. For Avelyn feared she would very much resemble one at their wedding feast. Too round, to red in the scarlet gown that was all she could fit into…and perhaps too tart for his taste? No doubt he longed for a sweet, biddable bride, one who was as tiny and trim as she was trying to appear.

Paen Gerville longed for a lively, well-rounded woman, one whose plump breast would cushion his head after the lonely, harsh life of a solitary fighting knight. At first his wife-to-be promised no such delights—her form was unbending, her health apparently fragile as she fainted into his arms as their first kiss. But one split bridal gown later, her assets were eye-poppingly apparent and Paen could only grin as he anticipated the surprises yet to come on his wedding night with… THE PERFECT WIFE


This is a reissue of the book that was first released in 2005 under my old publisher Dorchester.

Have you ever noticed that heroines are always svelte, beautiful creatures, perfect at everything? If we went by the romance books, us less perfect girls may as well just give up on ever finding that special someone to love and to love us because we don't seem to have a chance. Well, nuts to that! Avelyn isn't perfect. In fact, she's plump and about as happy about it as the rest of us are with our flaws. In other words, she isn't. Fortunately for her, Paen is a true hero, and thinks she's perfect just the way she is. Don't you just love him already?


Prologue

“Oh.”

That soft breath of sound made Avelyn turn where she stood on the trestle table. Lady Straughton - her mother - had murmured the sound and now paused in descending the stairs to watch with watery eyes as Runilda fiddled with the hem of Avelyn’s gown.

Lady Margeria Straughton had been teary-eyed a lot lately. Ever since they had received notice that Paen de Gerville had finally returned from the crusades and wished to claim his betrothed. Avelyn’s mother was not taking the upcoming nuptials well. More to the point, she was not reacting well to the fact that Avelyn would be moving to Gerville soon after the nuptials were finished. Avelyn knew her mother was happy to see her married and starting on grandbabies. It was the moving away part that Lady Straughton did not care for. She seemed to see it as “losing her babe”. But then Avelyn and her mother were very close. So close that rather than be sent away while young, Avelyn had trained at her mother’s knee, taught with patience and love.

“Oh,” Lady Margeria Straughton breathed again as she crossed the great hall, her maid on her heels. Avelyn shared a smile with Runilda, then shook her head at her mother and said with fond exasperation, “Do I look so hideous that it would see you in tears, mother?”

“Nay!” Lady Straughton gasped in horror. “You look lovely, my dear. Very lovely. The blue of the gown brings out the blue of your eyes. ‘Tis very flattering.”

“Then why do you appear so tragic?” she asked gently.

“Oh. ‘Tis just that you look so...so much a lady. Oh, Gunnora! My babe is a grown woman now,” she bemoaned to the servant at her side.

“Aye, milady.” Gunnora smiled patiently at the words her lady had been sighing ever since the notice from Lord Gerville had arrived. “And so she is. ‘Tis time she married and left this home to build her own.”

Rather than soothe Lady Straughton, this saw the tears begin to pool in her eyes at an accelerated rate. They were threatening to well over her lashes and pour down her face when Lord Willham Straughton -- who had been seated quietly in a chair by the fire -- stood with a squeaking of leather and the jangle of mail.

“No tears, my love,” he chided as he moved to join the women by the trestle table. “This is a joyous occasion. Besides, we had our Avelyn longer than I had hoped. Were it not for Richard and his crusades, we most like would have lost our girl at fourteen or shortly thereafter.”

“Aye.” Looking sad, Lady Straughton moved to lean against her husband’s side as he peered approvingly up at his daughter. “And I am ever grateful that we were allowed to keep her to twenty. Howbeit I am going to miss her so.”

“As will I,” Lord Straughton agreed gruffly. He encircled his wife with one arm and told Avelyn, “You look beautiful, child. Just like your mother on the day we were wed. Paen is a lucky man. You do us proud.”

For a moment, Avelyn was startled to see her father’s eyes go glassy as if he too might cry, then he cleared his throat and managed a crooked smile for his wife. “We shall just have to distract ourselves as much as possible from our loss.”

“I can think of nothing that will distract me from losing our daughter,” Lady Straughton said dismally.

“Nay?” A naughty look entered Willham Straughton’s eyes and Avelyn was amused to see his hand drop from her mother’s waist to cup her bottom through her skirts. “I may be able to come up with a thing or two,” he said suggestively, then urged her away from the table and in the general direction of the stairs. “Let us to our room so we might discuss these ideas.”

“Oh,” Lady Straughton sounded breathy and her next words, while a protest, were somewhat weak. “But Gunnora and I were going to count stores and see what-”

“You can do that later. Gunnora may go rest herself for a bit in the meantime,” Lord Straughton announced and the maid grinned, then slipped out of the room even as her lady protested, “But what of Avelyn? I should like to-”

“Avelyn shall be here when we return below,” he said as he urged her up the stairs. “She is not leaving yet.”

“If she leaves at all.”

Avelyn jerked in surprise at that softly spoken chuckle from behind her. She managed to keep her perch on the trestle table only thanks to her maid’s quick action in straightening and grabbing her arm to steady her.

Avelyn murmured her thanks to the girl and turned carefully to face the speaker.

Eunice.

Her cousin looked as mean-tempered as ever. Her narrow face was pinched and there was mocking amusement in the eyes that raked over Avelyn in her new gown. “What do you think, Staci?”

Avelyn’s gaze moved to the two young men accompanying the woman. Twin brothers to Eunice, Hugo and Stacius had matching pug-like faces that -- at the moment -- bore cruel smiles. The three of them must have entered while she had been distracted by her parents’ leaving.

Grand, she thought unhappily. If Avelyn had been blessed in having loving parents, fate had made up for that kindness by cursing her with three of the most horrid cousins in existence. The trio seemed to live to make her miserable. They enjoyed nothing more than a chance to point out her flaws. They had done so ever since their arrival at Straughton some ten years earlier when their castle on the border of Scotland had been overrun and their father killed. With nowhere else to turn, their mother had brought her children to Straughton where they had become the bane of Avelyn’s young existence.

“I think,” Staci’s thick nose turned up as he dropped onto the bench and tipped his head back to peer over Avelyn in her gown. “Once Gerville gets a look at what a bovine his betrothed has grown into, he will break the contract and flee for his very life.”

“I fear Staci is correct, Avy,” Eunice said with mock sympathy as Avelyn flinched under his words. “You look like a great huge blueberry in that gown. Mind you, I do not suppose the color is at fault, for in red you look like a great cherry and in brown a great lump of-”

“I believe I get the point, Eunice,” Avelyn said quietly as Eunice and Hugo joined their brother on the bench seat. She then tried to ignore their presence as the warm glow that had bloomed under her parent’s compliments died an abrupt death. She suddenly didn’t feel lovely anymore. She felt frumpy and fat. Which she was. Only when her parents were around with their unconditional love and acceptance did she briefly forget that fact, but then Eunice, Hugo and Stacius were always there to remind her.

“I have ever found blueberries lovely and luscious myself.”

Avelyn turned toward the door at those sharp words to find her brother, Warin, closing the door. She wasn’t sure how long ago he had entered, but the way he glared at their cousins made her think it had been a while. She wasn’t sorry when Eunice, Hugo and Stacius scrambled back to their feet and made a beeline for the door to the kitchens.

Warin glared after them until they were gone, then turned to his deflated sister. “Do not let them get to you, Avy. You do not look like a blueberry. You look beautiful. Like a princess.”

Avelyn forced a smile as he reached up to squeeze her hand, but merely said a quiet, “Thank you, Warin.”

His expression was troubled and Avelyn knew he didn’t believe he had convinced her. For a moment, she thought he would insist she was lovely as a good brother would, but then he seemed to let it go on a resigned sigh and instead asked, “Do you know where father is?”

“He went above stairs with mother,” Avelyn told him, then some of the twinkle returned to her eyes and she added, “To discuss methods of distracting her from moping over my leave-taking.”

Warin’s eyebrows shot up, then he grinned and turned toward the doors again. “Well, if they come down anytime soon, please tell father I need a word with him. I shall be down at the practice field.”

“Aye.” Avelyn watched him leave, then glanced down as her maid tugged at the material of her gown, pulling it this way, then that as she tested its fit. “What think you, Runilda?”

“I think we might take it in another little bit in the shoulders, my lady. ‘Tis a tad loose there.”

Avelyn tucked her neck in and tried to peer at herself. Her view of her shoulders was too close and fuzzy to tell how they looked. She had a better view of her overgenerous breasts, gently rounded belly and the hips that she considered to be too wide in the blue gown. A blueberry, Eunice had said and suddenly the cloth Avelyn had chosen with such care and found such pleasure in lost its beauty in her eyes. She imagined herself a great round blueberry, her head sticking out like a stem.

Avelyn fingered the material unhappily. It was lovely material. But even the loveliest material could not make a silly old round chicken into a swan.

“Milady? Shall I take in the shoulders?” Runilda asked.

“Aye.” Avelyn let the material drop from her fingers and straightened her shoulders determinedly. “And the waist as well. And cut away the excess.”

The maid’s eyes widened. “The waist? But the waistline fits perfectly.”

“It does now,” Avelyn agreed. “But it shall not by the wedding, for I vow here and now that I shall lose at least a stone - hopefully two - ere the wedding day.”

“Oh, my lady,” Runilda began with concern, “I do not think ‘tis a good idea to-”

“I do,” Avelyn said firmly. Smiling with determination, she stepped down from the table to the bench, then onto the floor. “I will lose two stone ere the wedding and that is that. For once in my life I will be pretty and slender and...graceful. Paen de Gerville shall be proud to claim me.”

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