Welcome back to the most scandalous story of the season! George Wickham and Lydia Bennet have fallen head over heels for one another, but a proper marriage is out of the question. What, then, is a young couple to do? Will hearts on fire chart their course, or will cooler heads prevail? Find out the truth behind this typically vilified romance, and stay along for the ride to see how Lady Fortune delivers our star-crossed lovers.
~Catherine Curzon and Nicole Clarkston
Lydia Bennet backed slowly away from the end table near the door of the Forster’s house. The note she had written for her friend was staged prominently by a bouquet, sure to be found the next morning by the maids.
Her writing was probably insensible, for her spirits were all a flutter and her thoughts far from orderly when she had set pen to paper. It had been a deal to ask of her flighty heart to even remain seated long enough to write it, but others deserved to know where she was going, after all. They deserved to know her happiness, and she was determined that none should ever speak ill of George, assuming that he had swept her way against her will.
From somewhere just outside the door, she heard a muffled jingling of harness and a hushed remonstration to keep the beasts quiet. That was her signal! It was all she could do not to squeal with elation. Her George had come for her! All her future now lay before her, and she would not shrink from it. She slipped quietly through the door, and there, in the darkness, stood her destiny.George Wickham stepped from the shadows, clad not in that dashing redcoat in which Lydia always pictured him but a dark, well-tailored suit. It was clearly chosen so so that it might be smart enough to escort a lady, but not so bright as to catch the eye of anyone glancing from a window. It also, Lydia could not fail to notice, hinted at a certain wealth in the wearer. Of course, such things were hardly of interest to a woman like Lydia Bennet, and she barely noticed shine on his boots nor the silk of her beloved’s cravat.
Barely. Just a little, perhaps.
“My darling girl!” Wickham caught Lydia’s hand and drew her into his embrace, placing a soft kiss on her cheek. “Speak, bright angel, tell me you would still be mine!”
“Until the stars should fall from the sky!” she promised, allowing him to lift her from her feet into a jubilant twirl. He set her gently before the carriage then bowed gallantly as he collected the light traveling bag which had tumbled, forgotten to the ground.
There was a particular light in his eye tonight, obvious even in the pale street lanterns. The promise of forbidden pleasures twinkled in his smile, but the touch of his hand was everything reassuring and gentle. He was just what a man ought to be: noble and gentlemanly, but also so madly in love that he was prepared to sacrifice everything. For her.
He waited patiently, one hand extended toward the carriage. Lydia raised her eyes to him. He would not speak, nor would he touch her again until she had made this final decision for herself. With a cry of unrestrained joy, she wrapped her arms around his neck and swung them both, in a giggling, frantic knot of passion, into the waiting carriage.
The door closed with a pleasingly solid clunk and with that sound, Lydia heard the end of her frustrating captivity, of her girlish days, of that childhood that she had seemed forced to accept when surely all around her could see that she was a girl no longer? Why, she was a creature of learning and taste, of good sense and beauty and wit and– and adventure.
Above all, adventure.
And what could be more of an adventure than love, especially with her protector, her very own dashing redcoat?
“There cannot be a happier man in all of England tonight,” Wickham told her softly as the carriage began to roll away, carrying them into whatever future awaited.“There will be, by tomorrow,” she grinned. She pulled him close and revelled in his masculine fragrance. For the first time, she indulged the craving to burrow her face in his neck, relishing the sensation of his rough cheek against her smooth forehead.
“How far are we bound tonight?” she asked into his throat. “Not that it signifies one jot, but I would know how long I must wait before I become entirely yours, my George!”
“We have rooms awaiting us,” he murmured gently, raising her hand to his lips for the most tender kiss. “We will be there within the hour, and when the sun rises, it will find us on the road once more.”
“Not long at all! That is well, for I find myself more impatient than I have ever been. Tell me you can relieve this burning through my entire being!”
“Oh, my love.” Wickham’s voice was a velvet purr. He brushed his fingertips gently down Lydia’s face and told her, “I can certainly relieve it, though I confess the thought of doing so makes me burn brighter still.”
“Oh! How eager you make me to stoke your fires! I do love being provoking. Tell me, my George, how does a lady please her man in that way?”
“Miss Lydia Bennet.” He quirked one eyebrow, an impish smile playing over his lips. “Would you have this redcoat tell you how to stoke a gentleman’s fire? I declare, my darling, that you intend to seduce me!”
“Naturally! I do not suppose you to be an utter innocent, my love, but so much the better if you are. I assure you, I intend to become a great proficient. Tell me, what happens when I touch you just so?”
“Your father has an apoplexy,” he teased, widening his mischievous dark eyes. “And I will hurry us on to Gretna all the quicker, you minx!”
“Step up the horses, for if we must wait for Gretna, I shall become a pile of cinders. Oh!” She laughed, sliding her hand over his leg. “What of a lady’s maid? How shall I dress myself? I am afraid I must ask your assistance, but as you are determined to make it to Gretna before making me your own, then I shall be forced to sleep in my traveling attire. Will you not at least help me out of my stays?”
“I will help you out of them.” He kissed her cheek, letting his lips linger. “And into them, and torture myself with your presence. You shall be a fine claret before a man who dare not drink. An exquisite book to a man who has sworn not to read. You shall tempt me, Miss Bennet, but I shall not allow you to steal my honour, you red-blooded roguish girl!”
“Your honour? What a useless bore! I suppose in the morning I shall be grateful enough for it, but just now it seems a dreadful pall over my fun. But you would not leave me in any case, would you? Even before we made it to Gretna, I have confidence that you will be to me the most faithful of lovers. Must we wait, Love?”
He replied with a fluttering kiss to Lydia’s lips and she gave a little squeal of delight as she felt her love’s hands on her waist, lifting her up into his lap. This didn’t seem terribly decent, nor particularly innocent, but it certainly was fun.
“And now,” she declared, “you shall teach me how a woman who is not a lady kisses a man.”
“Oh, Miss Bennet, there has been a most dreadful misunderstanding!” Wickham blinked, all innocence despite the way his hands had lingered on her waist. “I am afraid that I am not a woman!”
“Silly tease!” she laughed. She cupped his face in her hands, then, pressing her lips to his, she opened her mouth and ran her tongue along his lower lip. She continued flicking her tongue over his mouth for several seconds, but he determinedly pressed his lips closed. Lydia drew back within affected petulance, and found his chest shaking in restrained laughter.
“I do not understand what is so funny, sir! I kiss you as any man should die to be kissed, and you mock me?”
“Miss Bennet, you kiss me most adorably,” Wickham chuckled. “Why, I once had a spaniel who would welcome me home in just such a fashion, yet I had no wish to marry him. Your little licks are enchanting, my love, but I find I cannot help but laugh!”
She pouted and he, cheerily, mimicked the expression, jutting out his lower lip. Then he tickled the fingers of one hand against her waist and asked, “Let me see that radiant smile?”
“You deserve nothing, sir, least of all my pleasure. When the gentleman is so discerning that he is a knowing judge between an expert and inexpert kisser, then I want no part in the cad. You may as well turn the coach around right now, for any man of innocent experience and noble intentions would have seen and enjoyed my charms for what they were—a lady’s attempts to please a man. I find, sir, that you are not worth pleasing.”
“Miss Lydia Bennet, my bright angel, my Juliet, my light in the darkness, forgive me or I am undone!” Wickham took Lydia’s face in his hands, his palms gentle against her cheeks, and the puckish devilry in his expression faded into a warmth that sent a thrill of joy through her blood. Then he put his lips to hers and kissed her with such a heat that there could be no mistaking him for a man of inexperience, let alone innocence.
“And when we reach Gretna and are wed,” he murmured against her lips, “It will be my pleasure to please you, my angel.”