After their previous lodgings were discovered, George Wickham and Lydia Bennet appealed to the protective wing of the army for better accommodations and a modest quantity of coin. Wickham has been tasked by his superiors to make himself visible to those trying to hunt him, drawing the villains out in the open, but that sort of thing requires a bit of style. Fortunately, his lady knows a thing or two about that.
Catherine Curzon and Nicole Clarkston
Catch up on previous adventures here! One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen, Seventeen, Eighteen, Nineteen, Twenty, Twenty One, Twenty-Two
“Oh, George,” Lydia sighed luxuriantly against his shoulder. “You were right. This is far too exquisite for any maiden to experience!” He slid his hand suggestively up her thigh, smiling that roguish smile of his, but she pushed him away. “Not that, silly! Although I am certain I will rather enjoy that as well. I speak of this…” she swirled the contents of her glass, “…what did you say this sinful concoction was called?”
“Expensive,” George Wickham purred with a suggestive quirk from one eyebrow. “And what can be better than that?”
“I quite agree. Your major general or whomever he was has certainly set us up in comforts since yesterday! I knew you could persuade him, my love. Do you think he might be induced to forward us just a bit more capital for a new gown or two?”
“If we are to stand out and lure the villain into the light, then you must shimmer, my love.” He kissed her cheek. “He shall, like all of us mere men, be a moth to your irresistible flame.”
“I like the sound of that, very much indeed. I shall require jewelry then, for some of it disappeared while staying in that fearful Mrs Younge’s house. And the use of a carriage, of course, for we must still travel on to Gretna Green… Oh! George, what if we had him purchase us a special license here in London? Why, it is the perfect solution! You can remain to testify as needed, and the army will have saved my reputation.” She arched her brow coyly and bestowed a naughty smile upon her enraptured listener.
“Good Lord, not only beautiful but a genius too!” He kissed her again, chancing a little closer to her freshly rouged lips. “And let Mrs Younge keep whatever she managed to purloin, for it is payment enough for her hospitality! And people will tell you that gamblers never prosper, why look at us now, and all from my victory at the card table. Had I not won, I would have had no cause to clear my head and I would not have chanced upon the villainous lieutenant doing Bonaparte’s bidding. What a fortune it is to be George Wickham!”
“Mmm,” Lydia agreed through the final swallows of her decadent spirits. She coughed faintly as she drained the last of her glass, then set it aside to wrap her arm about his neck. “How much, precisely, did that army man give us for living expenses?”
“Let us not talk of such things as money when we have love!” He nuzzled against her throat. “And what can be better than money and love?”
“More of both?” she suggested innocently. “After all, I think a fine wedding rather necessary, after our precipitous flight from Brighton. I can only imagine what folks will be thinking! My papa and mama doubtless think us already wed and are gathering their friends to wish us well.”
“London is ours to command, my love, and we have the finest our paymasters can provide watching out for our safety,” Wickham observed, though Lydia had not noticed any of those charged with their protection who were supposedly close by at all times. Perhaps that was the point. “With our marvelous new lodgings, the world is at our feet – what would you have us do this evening?”
She poked out her sweet little lips, and tilted her head in deep thought. “Besides what we have been doing?” she mused. “Oh, I have a brilliant thought. Will you teach me the rules for the card games they play in the taverns, George? I know Hearts, but it is a silly game for old maids and dowdy mamas. I want to know a scandalous game like the officers play.”
“There are many card games that I can teach you, though not all are suitable for a lady.” He winked. “I could still teach you, and perhaps we might enjoy the occasional diversion after other diversions.”
She agreed to his terms with a brief and highly disappointing kiss to the cheek, then hopped merrily from the bed. “Will you teach me some of the tricks to Whist, my love? I have heard it is all the rage! But perhaps it is not quite as scandalous as you had feared I would request. Are there any of higher stakes? What do the women play at the ale houses?”
“With the affections of innocent men like me!” Wickham fell back against the pillows and looked around the room, a far cry from the mean lodgings that they had been reduced to. “I must say, had I known that the government men were so biddable, I might have thought of this scheme to lure the villain out sooner. Let us hope he doesn’t show himself too soon though, we want to have a few nights of fun first and when finally we are wed, the fun shall certainly double!”
He pillowed his arms behind his head and looked up into the opulent canopy of the bed, not a care in the world as far as anyone might guess.
“So, our gentleman in Whitehall has provided us with enough capital to live very well – such is the reward given to those who risk their lives to serve King and country – would that I had the nerve to double or triple his investment but–” He frowned, clearly considering the matter. Moments passed and Wickham chewed at his lip, then eventually gave a firm shake of his head. “No. Even George Wickham knows when he must keep his coin close and I might gamble with my money and even someone else’s money, but I cannot gamble with this money. It sort of belongs to His Majesty, after all, in a way. If one loses, it might be treason and that would put an end to all our plans!”
Lydia shrugged. “Oh, well, if you are so intent on being responsible. At least take me out, if we are not to play at any of the card tables. Surely you must know of a place we can visit where we might be seen by your scoundrel? That would be doing your duty, would it not? I am afraid my last gown is not entirely suitable for evening wear, though. Perhaps the house mistress has one I may alter for an evening out, and then I can stop at the modiste tomorrow.”
“Isn’t it fortunate, my love, that you and I have no aversion to being the centre of attention!” Wickham sat up and met her gaze with his own, impish light dancing in his eyes. “Imagine the horror if one was to lure a villain out of hiding and one was retiring and bashful. How would justice ever be done?”
The card tables that evening were a bustling, raucous place. Men pressed against one another, women gracing the arms of the winners, and the losers consoling themselves with drink. Lydia’s keen interest took in the whole of the scene, not overlooking the poor souls passed out in the corners of the rooms or the disgraced players who could not pay. She had never known such a thrilling environ in all her sixteen years.
“My love!” she tugged at his shoulder and hissed into Wickham’s ear. “That table there! The man dealing has just won four hands, but I think all his opponents have been the worse for drink. Watch how he plays with his ear each time he has a good hand. If you sit down with him, I think you can best him.”
“I cannot, Lydia,” Wickham laughed, catching his arm around her waist. “We are to be loud and noticeable, but let us keep hold of our coin and spend it in town tomorrow? Better a few new gowns than having to answer to our paymasters if we lose!”
“Oh, very well,” she pouted, but only briefly. “I do excel at being loud and noticeable.” She wrapped her arms about his neck, pressing her breast scandalously close to him, and gestured behind his head. Before he could see what she was about, she had procured a drink from the tap and pushed him into a chair, where her scantily attired cleavage hovered enticingly close to his mouth.
“I say,” she declared loudly, to all and sundry, “you must all congratulate us! This handsome soldier has just asked me to wed. I have agreed, but only if he treats me to a dance. Is there not someone here who can play us a jig? My love will be happy to oblige with a round of drinks!”
“A jig…” Wickham murmured, his gaze lifting no higher than that bosom, so desired and still, after all they had shared, denied to him. The magnificent Bennet bosom, kept under wraps until the vows were read.
The call was taken up, but there was no instrument to be had in that establishment. Lydia was not one to be deterred, so she lifted her skirt just enough to display her heeled shoes and commenced a lively stomping rhythm. Two or three half-intoxicated fellows drew near, their eyes as full as Wickham’s of the glorious, bouncing delicacies, and they encouraged her with bawdy voices and clapping. A ribald drinking song took shape, and soon two of the bar maids were lifting their skirts as well.
Lydia beamed, still stomping her foot, and set down her glass to hold her hands out to him. “Dance with me, my love!”
A moment passed and he finally lifted his gaze from his beloved’s bosom and took her hand, letting her draw him to his feet. Of course he would dance with her, because what was more attractive to Lydia Bennet and George Wickham than this, the centre of the floor, the centre of attention, and each as scandalous as the other!
Few girls could rival Lydia Bennet for endurance on the dance floor, but even she at last tired after well over an hour of constant hopping and spinning. She had flung away the last of her handkerchiefs to her obliging musicians, even kissing the most devoted of them on the cheek when he had caught her for a twirl about the floor. Wickham had not permitted that for long, and quickly reclaimed her hand.
Lydia patted her breast, drawing his eye there again, and wheezed faintly. “Oh, my love, I cannot dance another step! I think we have been almost loud enough for one night, do not you?”
“I think we may be on our way to it,” he laughed, dropping his head to her shoulder for a moment. “You have such stamina, my love!”
“You knew that already, you cad,” she laughed, her cheeks bright with the lusty exertion and her eyes sparkling in merriment. “But I fear if you do not wish to carry me back to our lodgings, I must retire. Just help me on with my wrap.”
“Your cad, Miss Bennet,” he cooed, kissing her cheek. Lydia’s wrap was rather more luxurious than any she had brought with her and he made great play or enfolding her in the fabric, making sure that everyone who was still sober or at least awake noticed the Wickham and Bennet show as it passed through their club.
“Ta, my fellows!” she waved her hand airily as he escorted her to the door. “You must all come to the wedding!” Cheers and laughter greeted this announcement as they walked forward, Wickham glancing about as she bestowed air kisses upon her bevy of admirers.
Eventually, Lydia felt her beloved’s arm through hers, leading her away from her adoring public towards the door. The porter nodded his head and pulled back the bolt, but paused before opening the door for the couple.
“A gent has been making inquiries about you sir, madam,” he told them in a low voice. “A most wild-looking fellow. I’m not one to gossip but– We like to look after our finer clientele.”
“And we are obliged to you for it.” Wickham inclined his head. “You shall see us again, no doubt and if that gent comes calling again, there might be a little coin if you keep us well-informed.” Lydia emphasised his promise with a batting of her lashes and a very low curtsey, during which a part of her wrap fell from her shoulders.
The porter gave a nod and opened the door. “Good evening sir, madam.”
“I can see you shall keep me on my toes,” Wickham chuckled, easing her wrap higher as they left the club and stepped out into the night.
To Be Continued….