Lydia Bennet has spent a whole night beside a very naked George Wickham. Sadly for both, brandy and Wickham’s bruises put paid to any less than noble intentions and what should have been an evening of scandal has instead been an evening of slumber. Now it is the morning after, and London is within their reach. Before they get there, however, something else is within Lydia’s reach!
George Wickham was not the sort of man who liked to see a lady disappointed. Indeed, it was fair to say that he prided himself on never letting a member of the fairer sex down. Perhaps that was why, ten hours earlier, he had opportunely shed not just his shirt but every stitch he wore, revealing not only the subject of many of Lydia Bennet’s dreams, but also a colourful mosaic of bruises courtesy of the bandit who had apprehended them on the road. The evening that had been intended to be passed in amorous pursuits was instead spent in rather careful cuddles, fuelled by the finest brandy the house could provide. Lydia, meanwhile, might have slept with her soldier, but slept was all she had done. Still mostly clothed, the taste of brandy on her lips and her head resting lightly on Wickham’s shoulder, she remained, for now at least, the same fair maiden she had been when their elopement began.
In fact it was a sleep that was welcome. The bed was cosy, his embrace was warm and as she had tended his bruises on the previous evening, Lydia knew what it was to be useful. Not that being flippant and silly wasn’t fun, it was, but being useful was curiously satisfying. She had been being useful when she slipped beneath the covers and took Wickham into her arms, wonderfully aware of his nakedness beside her. What thoughts she had entertained as she swigged at the bottle of booze until, without even realising that it had happened, Lydia slipped into sleep and those plans became dreams.
Very nice dreams.
Lydia stirred carefully, still groggy and pained from the abundance of fine drink. If this, she decided, was the purchase price of such a disappointment as her immediate slumber of last evening, she would expend a little less liberally next time. “Oh, George,” she mumbled, “do not rock the bed so, I beg you!”
At his strained chuckle, she risked opening one eye. It was not George rocking the bed, after all, for he lay quite still, and, indeed, likely afraid to move. The bed, too, remained firmly in its place, but Lydia continued to experience the sickening sensation of floating. “Oh!” she lamented again. “I do hope you are recovering, for I am no fit nurse at present.”
“Could you–” He shifted very slightly, the comfy shoulder where she rested her head tensing momentarily. When Wickham spoke again, there was a hint of discomfort in his tone, jocular though it remained. “If you might just lift your head a little, my shoulder feels rather bruised.”
“Oh!” Lydia started, contrite now, considering all the discomfort he must yet suffer. “Pardon me, my l– oh!” She had raised to an upright posture, but far too rapidly for her aching head’s tastes, for a stab of blinding light seemed to pierce her skull. She groaned, losing her equilibrium, and her hand instinctively sought some purchase to help her orient herself.
As it happened, that hand fell just above George’s thigh. It was several seconds before Lydia quite realised what she had done– her hand was, after all, beneath the blankets and decidedly out of view– but she did not long remain innocent of what he kept beneath the blanket.
She gasped, jerking her hand away as if scalded.
“Lord, I’m stiff,” Wickham groaned at the precise moment her hand landed. It was the worst possible timing and as she snatched back her fingers he laughed, clutching his bruised stomach even as mirth seized him.
Lydia, suffering only from the pain in her head, had by now begun to squeal with laughter. “You should see your face, my love! One would think a woman had never touched you! Are you truly so innocent, after all?”
“As pure as fresh-fallen snow,” he said, batting his eyelashes. “Why, Miss Bennet, that is why I am naked – innocence is my family name!”
“Hah! You cannot fool me,George, though you do so well with others. Perhaps that is what I like best about you, that you are completely unrepentant and enjoy every moment of your misdeeds. The question now is what shall I do with this very innocent and naked man I find in my bed? Shall I force him to share his secrets with me?”
“You shall winkle nothing out of me, no matter what bawdy, tempting, womanly wiles you employ.” Fine words, though rather hopeful given the obvious discomfort his beaten body was suffering. The spirit might be willing, but the bruises were certainly not helping the flesh follow suit. “Do your worst, Lydia, for I suspect I shall enjoy it!”
Her hand hovered over his nether regions as she grinned wickedly. His prominence could still be seen beneath the blankets, and her fingers were so temptingly close, but she drew them back. “No, I think I shall tease you a little longer. When I do decide to do my worst, as you say, you shall wish you were fit for the exercise.”
“As a soldier, do I not deserve credit for making no reference to standing to attention?” He pouted. “I think that should earn me a kiss at least.”
“Your commanding officer salutes you,” she giggled, and bestowed the favour he sought. “Pray, tell me you shall be feeling much better by this evening! I shall pad the coach most comfortably for you. Perhaps you did not know it, but I have a fondness for pillows, and though I have but a handful in my modest little bag, I do believe I have acquired enough other sundries on this trip to make a passable sort of cushion.”
Wickham shifted again. He nodded then ran his hand back through his hair, his eyes narrowed as he considered something. Finally he said, “I believe we have earned a short rest – these bruises of mine would certainly thank us for it! Would London appeal to madam?”
“London! Oh, we simply must, for that brute from yesterday has spoilt my good ribbons. I shall not be content until I have found some more.”
“Then my girl must have new ribbons and all the things her heart desires.” Very gingerly he lifted his arm and encircled her shoulders. “I have a friend who shall help us; a true romantic, dedicated only to the preservation of a love like ours.”
“Is he handsome?” she batted her lashes.
“She is most respectable.” He kissed her nose. “And you are beautiful.”
“If you continue to speak so, sir, you may ask me to befriend Jezebel herself, and I shall kiss her hand for your sake. What is her name?”
“Not quite Jezebel.” Wickham kissed her shoulder and murmured, “Merely Mrs Younge.”
To be continued…