Lydia Bennet and George Wickham have reached the safety of their lodgings for the night, but in what condition? Our dear Wickham is somewhat the worse for wear, but Lydia is ready and willing to see that he is well cared for. How will our oft-maligned couple spend their night?
“Darling George,” Lydia whispered seductively against his lips. “Will you permit me to see to your… every need tonight? We have had a most vexing day. Though it is over now and we have settled into our lodgings for the night, I find my heart still all a flutter! Surely a little comfort is in order.”
“I think that tonight I will succumb to your kindly ministrations,” Wickham decided. “And brandy.”
“I have never tasted brandy,” she confessed. “Papa thought I was too young to try it. You would not mind terribly if I sipped from your glass, would you?”
Wickham turned the key in the lock and placed it on the dresser. Then he looked around the room at their surroundings, a room rented under a name that wasn’t his. A Mr and Mrs, no less, the veil of respectability their shelter. Lydia watched him as he threw his coat into the chair beside the fireplace and decided, “I think brandy is a must tonight, Miss Lydia, for both of us.”
“And afterward, I shall see to it, sir, that you rest most comfortably. We are, after all, Mr and Mrs Blackberry… or was it Buxtonberry? We must not disappoint our neighbours, who no doubt expect some sport by lodging next to a pair of newlyweds.”
“A pair of ripe berries indeed!” Wickham set the brandy bottle and glasses down beside the bed then bounced onto the mattress. He extended his hand to Lydia. “Mrs Something-or-other-berry, will you join me?”
“Indeed, I shall!” she squealed in delight. “I shall see what manner of wine you shall make.” An instant later, the bed felt the full force of an exuberant sixteen-year-old girl as she flung all her passions toward the man she desired. Unfortunately, it was not only the bed which groaned in protest.
“Bloody hell!” Wickham exclaimed, clutching his hand to his stomach. He doubled over, giving a low moan of pain. “A moment, my love, if you would.”
Tender patience had never been one of Lydia’s virtues, and she was not at all inclined to it now. “George, whatever it is that—” she tore his shirt up, ripping the garment from his fingers even as he clasped it to his stomach. She gasped. “Why, I think they broke your ribs! Lie back at once. There, does that hurt?”
His stomach was bruised purple, a black shadow on Wickham’s ribs visible for a moment before he clamped his palm over it.
“A twinge, nothing more!”
“ A twinge! Either you have had too much brandy already, or you are a miserable liar. What of this?“ She probed a little higher, up toward his chest, and he yelped in pain. “George Wickham, you are not fit to travel, and I think we must give over any amourous notions we may have held for tonight. You can scarcely draw breath as it is, and what will you do when I—”
“But I am a robust sort of fellow, a mere bruise will not–” he gasped again and closed his eyes for a moment. “That damned villain, waving his fists around!”
“It looks as though he did a good deal more than wave them. He meant to kill you, not merey steal your purse. From the looks of things, he nearly succeeded.“
“Without your labours he might have!” Wickham laughed at his own joke then winced again and sank down into the pillows. “Really, my love, you are all the medicine I might require.”
“And you shall have that medicine, in good measure and strongest potency. But before I administer that delightful cure, I think I will see what might ease your pain. George, you lie back and I will go below stairs to see what the innkeeper might have on hand.”
Wickham pouted. Then he took Lydia’s hand in his own and pressed it gently to his stomach, tensing the muscles that were beneath her palm.
“Will you not stay?”
“Stay! Why, naturally. Where should I go? But you will find my presence far more comfortable if the innkeeper has some stronger brandy. Rest easy, my love, I will not be five minutes.”
Lydia was true to her word, announcing her return with a jubilant, “Look what he had!“ In the next breath, however, her pleasure turned to astonishment when she discovered her love not clothed and resting on the edge of the bed as she had left him, but settled beneath the coverlet, with his bare chest on display. In that instant, something occurred which had never before happened in sixteen years. Lydia was speechless.
“You,” he said in a low voice, “Have been gone far too long, Mrs Blackberry. Now how about you come here and nurse your brave boy?”
“I…” She tried to swallow. His breeches were on the floor by the bed, so she had no need to wonder whether he wore anything but the bedclothes. She felt herself flush, an intoxicating anticipation washing over her body and causing the same sensations he aroused when he kissed her. “Why, my love, I think…” she drew a hasty breath, in a vain effort to control her impulses. “I think we may have had different notions of ‘nursing.’ Had we not better care for your poor bruised ribs?”
“Is that your final word on the matter?”
She drew near, holding the brandy aloft with a smile which, on a gentleman, could have been described as disreputable, and on a rake as positively lecherous. Her steps were slow and seductive, accompanied by a pronounced sway of her hips and a teasing little pout as she came close enough to touch. “What do you think, my love?”
He watched her through smouldering eyes, a slight smile on his lips and a jet black bruise on his ribs that couldn’t possibly be comfortable. “I think you are the most beautiful sight I have ever seen.”
She plucked at her gown with a distasteful frown. “In this old thing? Why, it is barely fashionable. Wait, my dear sir, until you see me in my finer feathers.”
“What you wear matters not.” He patted the bed. “Come now, brandy?”
She complied, sliding next to him with a pleased, albeit rosy countenance. She looked up and down his torso suggestively. “Do you intend to share the blanket with me?“
“I intend to share everything with you.”
“Then what need have we for separate glasses?” Lydia worked free the stopper on the bottle and held it to him. “Drink up, my love. Once you are in less pain, I shall see what other ministrations you might find your benefit.”
As he accepted the bottle with a murmur of thanks and a twinkle in his eye, Lydia slid her hand under the coverlet. “My poor darling!” she crooned. “Have you any pain in your shoulders? Allow me to soothe you somewhat.”
“I am pained everywhere, my darling, a kiss would certainly help!”
“Ah, but for a moment, my lips shall be more agreeably engaged,” she teased, and wrested the bottle from his fingers. Laughing at the mock hurt in his eyes, she tipped back the bottle and drew a long guzzle… or she attempted to. Halfway through her first swallow, she coughed, sputtered the strong liquid, and giggled. “Oh, my!”
“Isn’t it good?” He quirked his eyebrows, then kissed her shoulder. “Will you slip beneath the covers with your soldier?”
Giggling again, she dared another long swallow of the brandy, then handed it back to him. She shivered, smiled, and allowed him to fluff the covers over her. A moment later, she was flushed from more than the brandy and the covers, as she was pressed close to his very warm and decidedly naked body. “Am I hurting you?” she whispered.
“On the contrary,” Wickham told Lydia before he took a swig from the bottle. “I wouldn’t be here if not for your quick thinking. Good Lord, however did you come by such a scheme?”
She giggled, and he realised belatedly that she had taken back the brandy bottle. “I was always the sister to invent the best schemes. Once I had Mama convinced that Cook was suffering such a case of gout that she needed me to tend her. Naturally, I went to town as soon as I had permission to go.”
Wickham chuckled and snuggled down further beneath the covers. He might try to hide his discomfort but Lydia saw the wince that disturbed his smile as soon as the soft blankets touched his bruised torso, not to mention the very careful manner in which he arranged those blankets over his body. He blinked up at her, all innocence, and said, “Just another twinge.”
She plied him with the bottle once more. “Be comfortable, George.” Her soft lips then caressed his ear, one of the few uninjured parts of his body. “I shall help you to rest.”
Wordlessly, he turned onto his side and put his arm around Lydia, snuggling against her. She felt a deep sigh run through him as he buried his face against her shoulder, holding her for a long moment. Then, in a voice so soft it was barely even a whisper, Wickham told her, “I shall keep you safe. I swear it.”
Her breast swelled, and her body seemed to relax in his embrace. Her breathing steadied, then deepened into a yawn. She burrowed her head closer, content in his strong arms and mellow from fatigue and the brandy. Her hand strayed to his, and she laced their fingers together. “I love you, George.”
“I love you, Lydia Bennet,” he murmured gently. “And I promise to not always be so bloody bruised.”
“Hmm,” she mumbled into his shoulder.
Perhaps it was the brandy. Perhaps it was the trauma of their day, combined with the relative peace of that quiet little inn. Or, perhaps it was something else entirely. The simple truth was that rather than the seduction both would claim they had planned for that evening, they succumbed not to dizzying passion, but to sweet, innocent slumber.
To be continued…