When Miss Lydia Bennet and Mr George Wickham find themselves quite by accident meeting at a Brighton ball, dancing is the last thing on their minds…
Lydia has been dreaming about this ball for a long while, and quite sadly, she is due to return to Longbourn within the week. Our dear girl’s sentiments are engaged, but after tonight, she may not have an opportunity to see her lieutenant again.
-Catherine Curzon and Nicole Clarkston
Lydia lifted her eyes to the veritable bower that pervaded the vestibule as she entered this, her final ball in Brighton. The hosts had out-done themselves, with starry candles winking all round, lush flowers filling her senses with the fragrance of gardenia and rose, and an expanded complement of violinists plying the guests with sweet melodies. She nodded to a few young ladies she had met in the colonel’s home, but her eyes skipped lightly past them, beyond their companions, and sought only one figure in the whole of the room.
He would be there, she knew – she hoped – the man who occupied her thoughts from the moment she woke until the drowsy tides of sleep claimed her. Not George Wickham any longer, but her George Wickham, her soldier in his blazing red, as bright as the smile that he would bestow on her, and her alone.
And he would be here.
Lydia closed her eyes to breathe in the delicious aroma of perfumes and wine, her frame filling with peace. There. Amid the current of sensations, one drew her above all the rest. Was it his unique cologne? The sound of his steps which thrilled through her? A word, a hint of his voice, spoken from somewhere else in the room—unconsciously heard but consciously acknowledged? Whatever it was, she need not even open her eyes before she turned and knew that he would be there, waiting with his arm crooked—inviting.
“Miss Bennet,” and there it was, his voice alive with mischief even if his words were entirely innocent, nothing improper in the greeting at all. “Good evening.”
Lydia dipped a graceful curtsey in response. “Good evening, Mr Wickham. I did not expect to find you here this evening.” She spoke with a sparkle in her eye, a jest shared between them. It would not do for anyone to believe that he had been her sole reason for coming this evening, nor for them to think that he was the cause for her special care in selecting her gown, her shoe roses, or the particular arrangement of white flowers in her hair. No, it would not do at all for even her closest friend, Mrs Forster, to suspect that Lydia’s heart had been utterly stolen by the dashing, vulnerable, charming, and entirely delectable George Wickham.
“I did not expect to be here,” was his reply as he inclined his head into a neat bow. “Yet there was, I think, a certain something in the air. A melody, if you will, and it drew me to the dance.”
He shifted his glance just for a moment towards Mrs Forster before it settled on Lydia once more. “How thankful I am that it did.”
“Indeed, sir, that is my good fortune, for I have still one dance unclaimed.” Lydia arched a brow, her lips curving slyly. “Of course, I do not accept any partners at all for the last set of the evening, as I tend to prefer to sit out that dance.”
“One should never sit out a dance, Miss Bennet.” His brow furrowed, though that spark of mischief remained, as bright as ever. “For when one is old, and blanketed by snow, and one looks back at all of those missed dances, what regrets one might have for the road not taken.”
“I do not intend to leave any roads unexplored, sir,” she smiled pertly. “Rather, I find that sacrificing that one, final dance of the evening permits me to adventure far afield. I believe, sir, that you must have found the same to be true in your own experiences.”
“Yet might this be a wasted opportunity?” He asked politely. “Perhaps we might indulge in sharing the last set together, or would that keep you from your adventures?”
“I should think it would,” she replied airily. “Dancing is certainly one of my favourite activities, but I have, of late, become rather inordinately fond of a private stroll about the garden. I particularly enjoy a few moments of privacy before I am required to rejoin the throng.”
“Perhaps you might permit me to escort you on your stroll this evening, if my presence shall not disturb your meditations?”
“A lady ought never to stroll unprotected, of course,” she conceded, with a flutter to her lashes. She would not blush—no! Not before him. She did, however, struggle for only a heartbeat to fully meet his eyes once more. Yes, she desired him for a protector, a strong arm, and a warm, sultry voice in her ears. No other could ever approach the masculine aura, the gentle charm, or the companionable ease she felt in his presence.
“No harm shall come to you, Miss Bennet.” He held her gaze with his own, those sparkling eyes dancing before her. “On that you have my word.”
“I have complete faith in you, sir,” she dipped her head, and accepted the arm he offered.
Their one dance fulfilled every girlish romantic fantasy. Their hands touched in passing, their eyes met each time they could afford to spare a glance, and when they were partnered with others, he took care to stand up with his partner within easy vicinity of her. The evening—he—was all a fresh, innocent maiden could dream of. The trouble was, she was no longer interested in those childish delights. He had awakened a hunger in her, a craving for more, and she quivered in anticipation of what their evening stroll might bring.
Her last partner—what was that fellow’s name?—escorted her once more to the edge of the floor, and left her with a bow. Lydia smiled gaily to her friends as their hands were claimed for the final set of the evening, but no bothersome, clumsy officers came to her side. She was conscious at every moment of where he was in the room, though she never once looked in his direction. Nor was he looking at her, of that she was certain.
As the couples filed onto the floor, Lydia discreetly drew back. A fresh drink, a feigned interest in a particular bouquet, a glance out the window at the night sky, and her escape was effected. None had seen her go, save the one in the whole room whose attention she desired. Lydia strolled casually to the railing overlooking the garden and sighed, a dreamy smile upon her lips. She had only to wait.
To be continued…