Edith Layton

Edith Layton by To Wed a Stranger

Book: Edith Layton by To Wed a Stranger Read Free Book Online
Authors: To Wed a Stranger
want, my lady,” Annabelle’s maid had promised.
    There was a fantastic choice, the colors and textures of hair as varied as the people who had worn them. Annabelle selected three whose color almost exactly matched her own. When her maid had finished with them, and shown the wonders she’d done with scissors and brush, Annabelle’s eyes had lit up, the look of delight on her thin face momentarily reminding Miles of the woman she’d been.
    But wearing them proved impossible. The pressure and weight of even the lightest of them hurt Annabelle’s head. When she tried again after a few more days when her headaches began to subside, the prickling of the newborn hair on her tender scalp made wearing a heavy wig more thanburdensome; it made the itching exquisite, she said. So she decided to wear lacy caps as she waited for her hair to grow back, and pretended that nothing would suit her better.
    She looked quaint in her frilly caps, nothing like the beautiful Lady Annabelle, but rather like a starved little Pilgrim. It hardly mattered to Miles. He’d gotten used to this pale stranger. Her terrible sorrow was hard for him to bear, especially since he was sure she never complained about what really hurt her. She grumbled about the hardness of chairs and the coldness of rooms, but seldom about important things, and never about her appearance. He didn’t have to hide all the looking glasses in the house. After that first incident, she avoided them entirely now.
    “Freckles?” she said crossly now. “Wouldn’t that be better than pallor? I won’t stay long in any case.” Her voice grew softer. “It’s just that I so want to feel the sunlight on my skin. Odd, isn’t it? The sun is a fashionable lady’s worst enemy, but now I yearn for it…I suppose because I’m not fashionable anymore. Oh! Enough of my self-pity, put me down before your arms start aching. And in the sunshine, please!”
    He almost smiled at her comment about him getting tired of holding her, but it was too sad. He carried her out each day because he couldn’t bear to give the task to a footman. It was as physically easy for him as it was emotionally difficult to holdhis fragile wife in his arms. Her weight was so insignificant now he could bear her all day with the ease of carrying a handkerchief. She reminded him of a little spider monkey, and felt like one in his arms, making him think of the one his onetime mistress in Spain used to carry on her shoulder. In fact, when he picked Annabelle up the similarity of the sensations that came to him was immediate, striking, uncomfortable, and impossible to forget.
    Annabelle had been a tiny woman made larger by her personality and those incredible good looks. Now she was merely a small woman. Her hair was the least of what had changed. Her bones were prominent—he’d never realized how small-boned she was, he’d been too busy noting her breasts and hips and rump, he supposed. That embarrassed him now.
    She’d said that she’d had nothing to lose but her looks. He’d been appalled for both of them when she’d said it. One thing was sure: little of her beauty remained. She’d had fine features but now the gauntness of her face overwhelmed them. Her figure had vanished. So what did she have left?
    She’d been so bitter and morose those first days of her convalescence he’d thought she’d lost her personality too. Now she was mending and grew less irritable every day. So it well might be that she’d recover everything illness had taken from her. Even if that were so, Miles wondered about their future together. If she regained her looks itmight be enough for her, but would it ever be enough for him again? Her illness had more than transformed her, it had made him think about the meaning of marriage.
    Now he looked around the garden for a place to set her down, a place sunny enough to suit her whim, shady enough to ease his qualms. Being in England, sun was at a premium even in the summer so the

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