George Wickham and Lydia Bennet’s luck has taken a turn for the better. They are now in the pay of the Crown and the protection of the government, who are determined to arrest the spy who has infiltrated British ranks.
With Wickham and Lydia charged with drawing as much attention to themselves as possible, raucous nights and splashing the cash is order of the day. Yet fate holds another surprise in store for our flamboyant twosome.
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,Twenty Three
There was something to be said for a good night’s sleep. There was even more to be said for having Lydia Bennet in one’s arms as one enjoyed that sleep, her body warm beneath her nightgown, her breath soft and peaceful as she drifted off into dreams. It felt like a long time since George Wickham had been able to rest content, having endured batterings and bruises along the road, not to mention having that constant sense of something on the edge of his vision, someone lurking ready to create havoc.
How wonderful it was to just dream, safe in the knowledge that the massed forces of the government were ranked behind them, that the desperate character who sought revenge against George Wickham and those he cared for would soon be in custody. All that was left for Wickham and Lydia was to sleep, eased into slumber by the dancing and drinking of the night before.
The sun was rising when Wickham awoke from a dream of Lydia in a rather more diaphanous nightgown than she was currently wearing, one that revealed a good deal of that creamy bosom. He was vaguely aware even in the dream that he should probably have drunk a little less and that, if he had, the night might have been even more fun, but that night would come.
And many such nights would certainly follow.
Wickham yawned and reached across the bed to embrace his love, needing her warmth to lull him into the land of the living. Yet his hand found only the soft sheets, his fingers sliding up to the cold pillow.
It was then that George Wickham left his dreams behind and sat bolt upright, a knot already tightening in his gut. The opulent bedroom was empty, pale fingers of dawn reaching across the floor and outside, the sounds of the day beginning.
And inside, the sound of nothing but silence.
“Lydia?” He threw back the bedclothes and left the bed, all dreams forgotten when there was no reply from their suit of rooms. Again he called her name, again there came no reply and Wickham pulled open the doors, becoming more frantic with each empty chamber.
She’s downstairs, he decided, hurrying onto the landing. She would be with the lady who owned the house discussing ribbons and lace and they would laugh about this but–
“Lydia!” Wickham shouted over the banister. “Miss Bennet!”
His voice echoed with an aching stillness in that spare little apartment. The only noises to be heard were distant footsteps clambering up the stairs. The maids, perhaps, for it sounded as if it were the back entrance. He called her name once more, hope beginning to spiral into panic, but then she answered.
“Well! You are already awake!” The door flew open to reveal Lydia, flushed and exuberant in all her morning glory. “You make me very cross, for I had dearly hoped to surprise you when you awakened. Look!”
She tipped low over a table and poured a handful of gold coins from her bosom. Two or three more pouches came from the folds of her bodice, and then she raised her boot to the chair to pull another purse from the garter of her stockings. “I have had a very productive night!”
“A productive–” He blinked and looked at the money, barely even noticing her garter for once. “Where the devil have you been? Where did all this come from?”
Lydia rolled her eyes. “Why, the card tables, of course! I am rather shockingly good at Whist, did you know that? Or rather, I think everyone else expects me to be very bad, for they think my brains are down here.” She pointed to those glorious Bennet breasts and giggled. “I have more than doubled our portion… nay, I should say I tripled it tonight!”
“You have been out?” His voice was quiet, his gaze settling on Lydia’s face. When he spoke again, each word was steady with anger. “You have been out of this house? Alone?”
“Alone? Why, if I had been alone, with whom would I have been playing at Whist? Whose money have I poured on the table?”
“What of the men protecting us?” Were there any such men at all, he suddenly wondered, a horrible possibility presenting itself. Were he and Lydia abandoned, after all, with a vengeful blackguard after their scalps? “Did they not apprehend you?”
“Oh, those men. Of course they did! What good would they be if they did not see me? I went out just as if I did not know they were there, and they stopped me. I did not speak to them until I knew which ones I should speak to. Was that not clever of me?” she interrupted herself to bat her eyelashes at the hapless Wickham.
And what eyelashes they were.
“Anyway, I told the taller of the two that we had particular instructions for me to appear to be alone. He was to escort me back to that same alehouse we attended earlier this evening. I left him outside so he did not know of all my activities. If anyone were to ask him, he would report that it was all government business. What outlandish bids they gave me! They really ought not to drink so much. I think I should go back to that house again tonight. What do you think, my love? Is this not an excellent plan I have discovered?”
“You might’ve been killed or worse!” Wickham’s voice was no longer low, but a furious shout, the terror that he had felt at her absence washing over him afresh at the thought of it. “What were you thinking, woman?”
Her face fell from proud accomplishment to wounded sensibility. “I was only trying to help. Did I not do well? What other girl could do half so much? I did not go without protection, and is it not better that you were here safely asleep and knowing nothing of it?”
“But I do know because I woke up and you–” He raked his hand through his hair and closed his eyes, dismissing the more horrendous thoughts even as a pang of guilt lanced through Wickham’s breast at the expression in Lydia’s eyes.
She should never look so sad, he realised.
“I thought some harm had come to you.” He reached out and took her hand. “My love, I thought– You did tremendously well, no girl could ever do better than you.”
The pleased smile returned to her face. “I did not mean to frighten you my love. I had dearly hoped to be returning before you woke. I do not think I shall forgive you for that! May we go to the lace shop and the modiste today? I think I should like to spend some of my new winnings. We did agree that I needed to look positively dazzling, did we not?”
Had George Wickham been asked a month ago how he would react were he confronted with the side of a Lydia Bennet pouring money from her garters and bosom, he would have thought his every prayer had been answered yet now, faced with that bounteous reality, he found himself in possession of a very different feeling indeed. Now, again, came the fear of what might have happened, of all that he might have lost simply to gain some coin, and it sent a chill through his marrow.
“Promise me, my love, that you will not do this again?” He kissed Lydia’s hand, then drew her into his embrace. “We have more than we can possibly need for now, no more risks?”
She pouted, sighing in resignation. “Very well, I shall agree for now. But it is such a thrill! You cannot know what it is to be a lady pulling the wool over all those men’s eyes! Truly, may we go spend some of my winnings on a new wardrobe? Ought we not to shimmer, as you said?”
“How can I refuse you?” Another thought occurred then, and he frowned. “And how can we explain our new found wealth to those gentlemen in Whitehall whose money we are spending?”
Lydia pursed her lips, casting those fine eyes of hers to the ceiling. “Why that is simple enough. Everyone knows that my sisters have caught the eyes of wealthy men. My papa and mama would not have sent me anywhere without sufficient pin money to attire myself properly. It was merely a gift from my papa, to celebrate my sisters’ good fortune. I have no doubt we shall have more weddings to attend this fall.”
Wickham smiled, seeing once again that they really were ideally suited to one another. “You are as wise as you are wonderful, and I cannot be annoyed at you.”
“What? Why, my love, I am disappointed in you. You do not even ask the identities of your future brothers? It is decided fact, you know.”
“Then tell me, which prince is it?”
“Why surely you were not deaf and blind when we were in Meryton… Although, perhaps since you were distracted by my own beauty, and you did not notice. Mr Bingley will never find a lady in London he likes half so well as Jane. He’s a silly, milquetoast sort, but he will do nicely for her. He will be back by fall, you shall see. Think what a scene my mama will make when she figures it all out! Everyone will know then why I needed such lavish clothing.”
“I saw none but you,” Wickham teased, simply to see that magnificent Bennet pout. He sank into a chair, drawing her onto his lap. “Can you blame me?”
“It was all just as I had intended, my love. Now, as for Lizzy, she has been traveling, you see, and she is bound to encounter her gentleman at his home. My aunt will set it all up nicely, for I whispered a secret I overheard to her, and she has promised to be certain that Lizzy is in just the right place. I expect an announcement as soon as we return to Longbourn ourselves.” She blithely examined her fingernails, smiling a little mysteriously.
Wickham wanted to know, of course he did, but the prospect of not asking was even more delicious than doing the opposite. A little tease, just for a few more moments.
“Good, good.” He kissed her shoulder. “Then I shall find out when the announcement is made!”
She poked his ribs, just in the tender part where she knew he still nursed a bruise. “Oh, how can you be so tiresome? You must simply be dying to know!”
He flinched and told her, “I am not your sister, Miss Bennet.”
“Quite right! Allow me to kiss it better and promise I shall never behave so impishly again. We are to be rather posh society, you and I, and I shall take care to amend my ways.” She caressed the spot and leaned near, those tempting bosoms pressing to him as a soothing balm. She kissed his lips lightly, teasingly, and many times before whispering, “Am I forgiven?”
“Don’t ever be cruel, Lydia,” he asked gently. “And I will never give you cause to be.”
“I have never liked behaving as lady, so I pray you will forgive me when I do not always do so, but you make it easy to try. I promise, I will be ever kind to you, my love. Now, did you not want to know my great secret?”
“Never ever be a lady on my account,” he grinned. “But never prod my bruises either!”
She kissed him tenderly, a kiss full of promise and sweetness and contrition. “Never, my love.”
“Now, you minx, tell me your secret!”
“What secret?” she murmured against his lips. “Oh! The reason our display of wealth will not shock anyone? You wish to know his name? Why, I am surprised you have not already guessed it.”
“If I guess and I guess right, what might my reward be?”
“You will have to guess that as well, but it will be delightful.”
As he was preparing a dramatic expression, all the better to deliver his stunning proclamation, thundering footsteps came from outside their door. Neither were terribly alarmed, for were they not under the government’s protection? However, both paused for just a moment when a fist pounded and then the door opened with no further ceremony.
A tall gentleman stood there, glancing between the two of them.
Lydia smiled confidently and pointed to the man, just has Wickham began to do the same. “Him,” she announced, her voice mingling with Wickham’s as he made his own guess at the name of the suitor in question.
“My old friend, Darcy!” Wickham blinked as he realised who had just walked into the room, as though his words had summoned the gentleman into their presence. Then he said brightly, “Why, sir, are you here to ask the blessing of your future brother? I give it, Darcy, heartily!”
To Be Continued….