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To Captain Alan Lewrie’s lights, no place was better on such a cold day than to be snug in a warm, soft bed with a toasty-warm woman. A well-stoked fireplace ablaze with a heap of sea-coal, and a brass reflector plate at the back to radiate its heat outward, a brace of candles aglow on the night-stand to create an intimate amber aura, a pot of tea atop a candle-warming stand, and a squat bottle of brandy near to hand, well … all those were fine in their own way, but they ran a poor second-best to snuggling close in the after-glow of feverish lovemaking!
Lewrie shifted a bit, digging his shoulder deeper into a pile of pillows and tugged the blankets, thick feather quilt, and coverlet up to his ears, then let out a very pleased “Mmmm!” He lay facing the lone window in the suite of rooms, and the sight of the rime of frost on the inside of the panes, the swirling flakes of snow, stark white against the low, grey clouds outside, brought forth a shiver in spite of the bed’s warmth. Early January winds now and then moaned round the corners of the venerable George Inn, almost whistled cross the fireplace chimney. Like a badly made clock, there even came the irregular tick! of tiny, hard bits of sleet against the glass.
“Who’d be a sailor on such a day?” he whispered.
“I do imagine the smart ones find a warm inn,” Lydia told him with a wee chuckle, and a grin that scrunched her nose. Rather cutely, Lewrie thought.
Lydia Stangbourne might not possess the bowed and bee-stung mouth that Society preferred, nor the high brow or the plumpness of form that made gentlemen turn their heads in silent admiration. But Lewrie had thought her oddly fetching from their first encounter at St. James’s Palace, the day he’d been knighted, and had grown even more entranced since.
She was willow slim and wiry, with dark emerald green eyes and hair the colour of old honey, hair which she allowed to curl naturally, and scoffed impatiently at the idea of elegant coiffures or wigs. That nose … full-on it seemed too wide and large, though in profile, it looked much shorter, almost pug-Irish. And, she was dis-armingly strong for a daughter of the aristocracy, and a sister of a Viscount. That came from vigourous daily rides, fox hunting in season, steeplechasing when not, from brisk walks, hunting with her brother Percy on their estates with her own rifled musket or fowling piece—not when Lord Percy’s male compatriots were there, though!—even dabbling at swordplay, she’d gleefully admitted, hiring a swordmaster in for very private lessons when at their main country house near Henley-on-Thames. Her slim upper arms bore more lean muscle than any lady of her age or class might sport! All of that suppleness and strength sheathed in smooth and blemishless flesh as soft, and fragrant, as talc, the feel of which quite made Lewrie’s head swim!
“Such good timing,” Lydia cooed as she pressed closer to him. “Had I come before Christmas, as we’d planned, you’d have been off with that Popham fellow, but now! I pray most earnestly that the weather stays like this for the next fortnight.”
“And I thought I was shot of those damned catamaran torpedoes,” Lewrie replied with a groan.
God made women just hellish-fine! he thought; Sleepin’ or just layin’ close like this, they’re better than a warmin’ pan!
The summer before, his frigate, HMS Reliant, had been tasked to experiment with a variety of infernal engines designed to drift in on the tides and blow up some of the thousands of French invasion craft. There had been a real attack with them against the port of Boulogne, but the results had been extremely disappointing. Lewrie had thought that would be an end to them, but no … Captain Sir Home Riggs Popham, the clever fellow who had invented the Navy’s new flag code, had staged an assault on Fort Rouge, a pile-built battery outside the port of Calais, and since Lewrie knew so much about torpedoes, he had been roped in, despite what he thought of them. Sure enough, of the two launched, one went far off course and blew up harmlessly, and the second did a disappearing act. The lone fire-ship sent in exploded too soon, too, and the whole thing had been a dead bust. After that, Admiralty had given up on torpedoes in general, and since the middle of December, Lewrie, and Reliant, had been anchored here in Portsmouth awaiting new orders, and the foul weather had penned them in, fresh orders or no.
For which he was, this moment, damned thankful! This was simply a splendid way to welcome in the new year of 1805!
When wakened at 4 A.M. at Eight Bells in his great-cabins aboard ship, anchored far out in St. Helen’s Road, it had taken a long look and a hard try to leave his hanging bed-cot. All his blankets and his coverlet, a quilt or two, and the furs he’d bought to brave the cold of the Baltic before the Battle of Copenhagen, and he had still been cold! His cats, Toulon and Chalky, had found it too nippy for them, too, and had burrowed under, for a rare once, and would not be turfed out, either. And the long, gusty sail to fetch alongside the King’s Stairs in a whistled-up bum-boat had left him chilled to the bone, with his teeth chattering halfway through breakfast and a whole pot of scalding hot coffee!
“Comfortable?” he asked her.
“Blissfully,” Lydia murmured back.
“Delightfully so,” she assured him, then lifted her lips to his for a soft and gentle kiss. He stroked the length of her back and her flanks; her thigh thrown over his slid higher, but …
“Except for your feet, it seems,” Lewrie said, grimacing.
“I could say the same of yours,” Lydia replied, giggling as she slid her foot down next to his, wriggling her toes as if to grasp, or play at toe-wrestling. “Alan, I hate to ask, but … might you mind pouring me a cup of tea, with a dollop of brandy?”
He let out a theatrical groan and a weary “Well, if I must.”
Outside the bed covers, the room was merely cool, not frozen solid, but Lewrie made a quick chore of it, pouring tea, adding sugar and a splash of spirits.
“You are a dear,” Lydia vowed quite prettily as he handed her the cup and saucer, and hopped back into bed. She slid up to prop herself against the thick piilows, and drew the blankets up to her neck.
“Damned right I am, and I’ll thankee t’remember it!” Lewrie hooted, which brought forth a laugh. That was another point in her favour, in Lewrie’s books at least, that in private she allowed herself to be raw, open, and genuine, and to laugh out loud when amused.
In public, well … that was another matter, as Lewrie had seen early on in London. As late as breakfast here at the George Inn not two hours before, the difference between the private Lydia and the one which wore her Publick Face was as stark as night from day.
She’d been homely as a child, and still thought herself so. In her late teens, her first exposure to the “marriage market” of a London Season had been cruelly disappointing, even for a Viscount’s daughter with a dowry of £500 per annum, and a future beau’s access to more land and property than most people had hot dinners. The beautiful, the giddy, and silly who’d only fetch £100 had ruled the rounds of all the balls, salons, routs, and drums. Years later, at her lovely mother’s harsh insistence, she’d been placed on the block again, this time with £2,000 for her “dot”, and Lydia had been knee-deep in slavering swains … most with the twinkle of golden guineas in their eyes, which had disgusted her to the point that she had treated them all most rudely, which only made the greediest declare her “modern” and delightfully “outspoken”!
And when she’d finally wed, quite late, her choice had been a man most vile, so secretly depraved that she’d run for her life, and had pressed her brother, now the third Viscount Stangbourne, to seek a Bill of Divorcement in the House of Commons. Two years or more of charge and counter-charge, made a scarlet hussy and a scandal in the papers before winning her suit, and she was still pointed out as that “Stangbourne mort”. No wonder Lydia was so guarded, so icily aloof and imperious in Publick, and preferred the safety of the country, and a very small circle of friends, where she could shed her armour.
She was now thirty-two, ten years younger than Lewrie, and most firmly determined never to place herself under another man’s control, definitely not as a wife—what man could she trust no matter his promises—or, so Lewrie suspected, allow her heart to be won by a lover’s blandishments. Once bitten, twice shy, she was. Yet …
Lydia found Lewrie’s company enjoyable, right from the first. He was a widower since 1802, his two sons were “on their own bottoms”, and his daughter, Charlotte, was with his former in-laws in the village of Anglesgreen, in Surrey. Lewrie also suspected that the reason that Lydia found him acceptable was the fact that he was in the Navy, and unless the war with Napoleon Bonaparte and France ended suddenly, he would be gone and far away for a year or more between rencontres.
Or, maybe it’s ’cause I’m nigh as scandalous as she is, Lewrie wryly told himself as he watched her sip her tea with a grin on his face. His father’s family, the Willoughbys, had always ridden their own way, roughshod, headstrong, and “damn the Devil.” His father, Sir Hugo St. George Willoughby, had been a charter member of the Hell-Fire Club, for God’s sake, and Lewrie was his bastard. Like the old adage “acorns don’t fall far from the oak tree”, he could boast of two by-blows of his own.… Did one dare boast of such things?
His nickname, gained early in his Lieutenancy, was “the Ram-Cat”, and that was not for his choice of shipboard pets!
“What?” Lydia asked of a sudden, peering at him.
“I was just enjoying watching you enjoying your tea,” Lewrie told her. “A little thing, but a nice’un.”
“I am pleased that you are pleased,” she said with a chuckle and a fond smile. “Though it’s no great skill or social art. What if I slurped or smacked my lips? Might you find that enjoyable?”
“I might draw the line did you belch,” Lewrie japed, “but, did you, I’m certain you’d do it … kittenish.” He leaned over to kiss the point of her bared shoulder.
“Oh, kittenish!” Lydia laughed again. “Like a proper lady’s sneeze? With a wee mew in punctuation? You are easily pleased.”
“Well, damme … yes I am,” Lewrie told her with a laugh and a grope under the covers. She finished her tea, handed it to him so he could set it on the night-stand, then slid back down into his embrace once more, giving out a long, pleased sigh. After several long and lingering kisses, Lydia settled down with her head under his chin.
“I suppose it’s too cold to even think of going out to that inn you told me of,” she murmured.
“Wouldn’t wish that on a hound,” Lewrie assured her. “Dinner at the George, here, will more than do, when you feel famished.”
“All those senior captains and admirals, and their wives,” she hesitantly replied, making a moue in distaste. “As dear as I wish the pleasure of your company, I’m surely bad for your repute in the Navy.”
“Didn’t know I had one,” Lewrie quipped, “and if I do, it’s as bad as it’s goin’ t’get. Personal repute, anyways. There’s none that can fault me when it comes to fighting, and that’s what counts.”
He sat up to look down at her.
“Your reputation’s more at risk for bein’ seen with me than I for bein’ with you,” he told her. “And I don’t give a damn for others’ opinions on that head. Bugger ’em. Feed ’em thin, cold gruel.”
She drew him down close, pleased by his statement.
Lewrie feared, though, that Lydia didn’t much care for how the other diners would stare, point with their chins, cut their eyes, and whisper behind their hands and napkins; the matronly proper wives’d be the worst. They were respectable, she was not, and they would find a way to make that tacitly clear.
“We could order in,” Lewrie suggested.
“And give the inn servants gossip to pass on?” Lydia said with a sour grimace, and an impatient shrug. “They probably have ties to the London papers!”
The many daily publications in London all had one or two snoops to gather spice for their reportage of Court doings, or the appearances of the famous and infamous. The morning after Lydia had dined out with him, there’d been a snarky item about them in several papers. No names were printed, but anyone who had kept up with Society reporting could make an educated guess about “… a recently divorced lady often featured in our pages the last two years running…” and the distinguished Naval Person she’d been seen with, ending with a smirky “… will the lady in question teach her Sea-Dog new tricks, or has our Jason found himself a fresh Sheet-Anchor?”
“‘Which infamous divorcee was seen dining, clad in nothing but her shift, with a dashing naval hero, similarly sans his small clothes at an inn in Portsmouth,’ d’ye mean?” Lewrie scoffed.
“Exactly so!” Lydia snapped.
“Then we’ll dress, and dine publicly,” Lewrie decided. “Much as I’d admire t’see you gnaw a chicken leg, nude.” He drew her back into a snug embrace and stroked her hair to mollify her.
“Do I live to eighty, they’ll still find something delicious to write about me,” Lydia groused in a small voice.
“Nonsense!” Lewrie hooted. “They’ve Nelson and Emma Hamilton t’write about, or the doings of all those damned Bohemian poets.”
Lewrie yawned and slowly stretched against her.
“Lady Caroline Lamb,” he added. “There’s a road smash, and good for daily scandals.” He yawned again, louder and longer.
“Now you’ll get me started,” Lydia said, covering her mouth as she snuggled closer, and lower down the bed.
“Let’s try something novel,” Lewrie suggested. “Ye know, we’ve never…”
She stiffened and slid away from him a few inches, bracing herself on an elbow. “Something novel? Something un-natural? Bind me to the headboard posts? Just what perversion do you desire, sir? Do you drop your pretense, at last, like the beast I foolishly wed?”
“Lydia … Lydia, I mean nothing at all like that!” he gently insisted. “Reliant’s in Channel Fleet, and no officer is allowed to sleep out of his ship. We’ve never had the time before to just cuddle up, nod off, and sleep together. Take a long, snuggly nap?”
Rumour had it that her ex-husband had been driven by scandal to his country estates, wore a bell round his neck like a leper to warn off objects of his beastly desires, and would bugger ducks, geese, and stray sheep if he couldn’t run down anything bipedal, male or female, young or old.
“Just … sleep?” Lydia mused with her head cocked over, and a wry look on her face. She screwed her lips to one side as if biting her cheek for a moment. Then, with a rush, she was back close beside him, snuggling under the heavy covers. “I’m sorry I mistook…”
“After that bastard, you’d be right t’suspect,” Lewrie allowed. “Said it yourself, though … I’m so easily pleased,” he japed.
It’ll be like bein’ married to a parson’s daughter, he thought with a well-stifled groan; and goodbye to fellatio forever!
For all the innuendos and charges laid during Lydia’s two years of waiting for Parliament to grant her divorce, and what a scandalous bawd she’d been painted, she was surprisingly shy and “conventional”. He could only caress, stroke, and kiss so low down her belly, then no further. She might slide atop him and “ride St. George’s lance” now and again, but anything more outré was right out.
It was not that Lewrie was a devotee of the outré, but now and then some rare variety, some surprise, was pleasing, he’d found.
That’s why men keep mistresses, or go to brothels, he thought with a secret grin.
“Yes, let’s … what do sailors call a nap?” Lydia agreed.
“They ‘caulk off’, take a ‘caulk’,” Lewrie softly whispered. “Do two sailors board a coach, one’ll ask the other does he prefer to ‘caulk or yarn’: nap or trade stories.”
“Caulk or yarn, sir?” Lydia asked with an impish tone.
“Caulk,” Lewrie said with a chuckle.
Dodged another bullet, Lewrie congratulated himself after some minutes, when her breath against his chest became slow and regular, right at the edge of sleep himself; Ye cheated death, again!
Copyright © 2011 by Dewey Lambdin