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Playing Around in Derbyshire - 11 & 12

September 07, 2018 01:00PM
Chapter 11



Jess shied away from his kiss, twisting her head to break the cringing contact with his lips. Before her brain could register the soft thud of footsteps on grass, his confining hands were torn away as suddenly as they'd appeared. She opened her eyes and looked around.

The counterfeit Fitzwilliam Darcy—leather patches and all—was now sprawled in the grass, quaking before the terrifying form of an angry Mr. Bingley.

They say that clothes maketh the man, and it was quite remarkable how the formal Regency costume—particularly his boots, Jessica thought—could turn a teddy-bear like Gareth, into a man who looked like he could happily commit murder.

Bingley held the tip of his cane up to the man's throat like a rapier, his soft green eyes now blazing with furious fire. "What the hell do you think you are doing?"

The man's eyes grew wide, as his jaw flexed. "I...I..."

Although never once stepping out of his Regency mindset, Gareth was playing Bingley in a way Miss Austen had never shown in her book; as the true Master of Netherfield. "You, sir, are no gentleman, to be man-handling a lady in that disgusting fashion."

"But...I..."

"There are no words that would excuse such boorish behaviour. Apologise to Miss Bennet. Now."

"Yes, yes, of course." The parody of Mr. Darcy scrambled to his knees before turning in abject misery to abase himself in front of Jessica. "I am dreadfully sorry, Miss Bennet. I do not know what came over me."

"No harm has been done," she said in a calming tone, as much for Bingley's benefit as the man he now threatened.

"You are too generous," the fruitcake grovelled, as he stood, brushing at the soil and dust now clinging to his trousers. Jess thought it the least he deserved.

Gareth, however, was not so easily appeased. Although he'd withdrawn his cane, he still held the thin rod in an aggressive grip. "Now you've done that, I would recommend you leave my sight, quickly." His words were quiet, but no one hearing them could ignore his determination as the tip of his cane flicked towards the path. "And if I set eyes on you again I guarantee that we will be meeting tomorrow morning. Early tomorrow morning."

Straightening his thick glasses, the man who called himself Fitzwilliam Darcy made a jerky bow before scooting away between the shrubs.

Jess wanted to laugh―more from relief than seeing any humour in the situation―but one glance at Gareth's face was enough to douse her smile. "Thank you for coming to my assistance, Mr. Bingley."

He offered a bow. "You are more than welcome, Miss Bennet." He paused then, looking around to make sure there were no guests in sight before his shoulders sagged. "Seriously though, Jessica, did he hurt you?"

She rubbed her arms under the velvet spencer jacket. They were a little sore where the psycho fan had clamped his fingers, but she didn't want to make a fuss. "No, not really. A few bruises, maybe, but nothing serious. I never imagined he would grab me like that." Jess lifted a shaking hand, to brush back the wisps of hair that had fallen from beneath her bonnet.

"You've had a shock." Gareth's voice was almost back to its calm self, as he took her hand, resting it on his arm as though they were going for a stroll. "Let's find Mandy. She needs to know what just happened, and I don't like to think of you being on your own out here when there are people like that about."

"I'm okay, honestly. I'm amazed I managed to stay in character."

"It might have been better if you'd dropped the Regency act and told him to sod off."

"Yes, I should have, but he took me by surprise. One minute we were talking about Elizabeth's relationship with Mr. Darcy, and the next he'd...he..." She took a calming breath as the memory made her heart race. "I don't think the man was quite sane. He'd changed his name to Fitzwilliam Darcy, you know."

Gareth snorted. "If only it were so easy." He frowned, searching the gardens again. "Talking of the devil, where is Sebastian? Why is he not with you?"

"I don't know. He wasn't at lunch. I came out to see if I could find him, but I met the scary guy instead."

They walked a few moments longer in silence before Jessica's curiosity got the better of her. "What did you mean when you spoke about meeting him in the morning?"

A brief smile curled the corners of his mouth. "Ah...well, as many of the fans are enamoured of all things Georgian, I was telling him that I would be prepared to challenge him to a duel for your honour. I thought it was a threat he might understand."

"You'd do that for me?"

He shrugged, his gaze fixed on the path. "Why not? We're friends, aren't we? I don't like to see any man taking advantage of a friend. I've had some training with a pistol."

"Firing blanks, I presume?"

"Yeah, of course. They didn't let me near live ammunition, but I know the basics. I've done some sword work too. Enough to put on a decent show anyway."

Jessica nodded, but she had stopped listening to him; her imagination drifting to a vision of Mr. Darcy, in shirtsleeves and breeches, bringing his sword up to salute an opponent. She wondered whether Sebastian could fence. If he'd been at the RSC, even as an understudy, the chances were good that he knew the basics too.

Gareth cleared his throat. "Jess, while we're alone, there's something I—"

Jessica waved as she spotted the real Darcy striding across the lawn to meet them. Bingley sighed, then rested his hands on top of his cane as he waited for Sebastian.

"Miss Bennet." He bowed before nodding towards Bingley. "What is he doing here?"

Jess grabbed Darcy's arm. "He saved me from a psycho fan."

Sebastian dropped out of character instantly, his eyes darkening as his gloved fingers curled into a fist. "You can't be serious."

"Does she look like she's joking? Jess was terrified."

Ignoring Bingley, he swung around to check on Jessica. "My God! Are you alright?"

"She might not have been. The lunatic had already grabbed her when I arrived." Gareth stabbed his cane into the turf. "Where the hell were you?"

"Oh, don't ask! Mandy sewed me up good and proper with Mrs Rivers-Whatever. I would have wangled my way out of the old bag's invitation if she hadn't poked her nose in."

Jess looked up. "What invitation? Is that why you didn't come in for lunch?"

"Yes. I was forced to drink tea and eat cucumber sandwiches in her private kitchen. In return, she wittered on about how she's always thought the character of Darcy was wonderful, and how I'm just perfect for the role, while I pretended to give a damn."

"Well, that shouldn't have caused you any problems," Bingley said. "It's not like you can't act the part when necessary."

Darcy threw him a sharp glance. "Don't you have somewhere you need to be? Doesn't your angel Jane need some of your attention too? Practice does make perfect, after all. I've got things covered here now, thanks. We won't keep you."

Bingley held his position for a few seconds. The scene reminded Jess of two tomcats having a staring contest, and she was surprised when Darcy turned away first. She smiled at Gareth, hoping to diffuse some of the tension between the two men. "I know I'm repeating myself, but thank you. I really am very grateful that you found me when you did."

"Any time, Jessica. I suppose you're in safe enough hands for now, so I'll see you later." Bingley swung his cane, lashing out at an ornamental grass as he strode away.

Darcy yanked the cuffs of his shirt down. "I thought he'd never leave."

"Why are you so angry with Gareth?"

He waved a deprecating hand. "Oh, it's old news. Jones and I studied together for a time. Let's just say we didn't always see eye to eye."

"He seems so easy going. I can't imagine why you two wouldn't be friends."

Sebastian shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe I'm too much competition for him. He isn't quite as angelic as he makes out, you know." He scooped up her gloved hand, pressing a kiss to the back of her fingers. "Let's not talk about him. I'm far more interested to hear how you managed to attract such enthusiastic yet unwanted attention."

"Well, it was all your fault, really."

"How was it my fault when I wasn't even here?"

She described how lonely she'd felt when he hadn't turned up for lunch. "After checking all the usual places I was heading towards that old gazebo we saw last night, thinking you might have escaped there. That's when the lunatic waylaid me."

"Ah, I see. Mea culpa! If it helps any, I would have much rather been eating lunch with you. Alas, I too was ensnared by a crazy fan of my very own. It must be something in this Derbyshire air that turns everyone into book-obsessed zombies.


~~~~~~



"Mr. Darcy. My sentiments on this occasion are so...so very different from your previous declaration that I imagine you must think me quite fickle. My feelings have altered, to such a startling degree, that it is almost impossible for me to sufficiently express my gratitude of your happy assurances."

As Darcy's arms wrapped around her, and his lips found hers, Jess felt as though she was floating in a sea of happiness. No stage kiss had ever felt like the kisses she shared with Sebastian.

As their final scene ended, applause erupted from the crowd as phones and cameras bloomed like poppy heads over the audience, blinding Jess momentarily with the flashlights. "You do realise that this could be all over the internet by teatime," Darcy whispered.

"I noticed one woman filming the kiss. Do you think we'll end up on YouTube?" Jessica giggled at the thought of her big break coming from such an unlikely source.

He graciously accepted the standing ovation their performance had won. "How did you see her?"

"Over your shoulder."

He was smiling at the audience as he hissed through his teeth: "Damn. If you had enough wits about you to do that, I must be losing my touch."

"Don't worry, there's no risk of that happening."

They left the stage and headed back towards the house, making their way down the basement stairs. It was time to shed the cocoons of their characters and become themselves once more. Having deposited her gown, spencer and bonnet with wardrobe, she took the stairs two at a time to reach her bedroom. She didn't want to be late for her date.

In the corridor she found Jane leaning against the wall, chatting to Bingley, who stood in the doorway of his room. They stopped talking as soon as they heard her coming, which rankled slightly. It wasn't as though she cared what they were talking about. "Sorry to interrupt your tête à tête. Darcy's taking me to Lambley tonight for dinner. I need to get ready."

Gareth frowned. "You mean Sebastian."

"Of course."

"You and he seem to be growing close," Jane said.

Blushing, Jess agreed. "When he first came into the green room I never dreamed he would be interested in me. It just shows how your perceptions of people can be all wrong, doesn't it?"

"Don't be so quick to put yourself down," Gareth said. "Sometimes trusting your first instincts isn't a bad thing."

"Just because you and Sebastian don't get on, it doesn't give you the right to question his motives."

Jane excused herself, returning to her room and closing the door. Jessica began to do the same, but Bingley's hand on her arm made her pause. "Do you have a few minutes to talk?"

She shook her head. "I don't even have a minute. We have a table booked for seven, and I don't have a clue what I'm going to wear yet."

Gareth stood on the threshold of her bedroom, leaning against the door frame. "Jessica, please, it's important."

She had no idea what the real issue was between Bingley and Darcy, but she didn't want to get involved with any of it. "I'm sorry. I really don't have time to talk now."

"Maybe we can catch up tomorrow then."

Jessica's thoughts had already galloped ahead as she reviewed the small selection of clothes hanging on the hooks, and she barely caught what he'd said. "Yeah, I'll see you in the morning."



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Chapter 12


A little after half past six, Jess met Sebastian at the bottom of the main staircase. He offered her a gentlemanly bow before taking her hand and escorting her to the Exley Hall staff car park. "Your carriage awaits, my lady."

Sebastian's 'carriage' was an old two-seat sports car, which he laughingly described as white with a hint of rust. Jess didn't know a lot about cars but knew enough to recognise the Alfa Romeo badge on the front. It was almost old enough to be called a classic, but Jess thought the vehicle suited its owner as they bowled along the narrow lanes towards Lambley. The Alfa was sporty enough to turn heads, yet she felt safe and comfortable as they sped between the hedgerows

It took less than ten minutes to reach the Green Man, a traditional country pub built from weathered grey stone, with a dark slate roof and small, square windows. When he escorted her into the bar he had to duck beneath a low beam before steering her to a small table in a cosy nook. Once they'd dealt with the business of ordering their food, Sebastian sat back in his chair, his long legs crossed at the ankles. "Well, here we are."

Jess knew exactly what he meant. A romantic meal for two, while tucked in an intimate corner of a nice restaurant, was a different experience for both of them. It felt nothing like two work colleagues eating together. Yet they'd spent so much time swapping stories, either in the green room or while walking around the gardens, that Jess wasn't sure what else they would find to talk about.

"This reminds me of an old pub we used to visit when I worked in Stratford," he said. "Have you ever been there?"

"No, I've I never had the chance, but I'd love to see it."

"The theatre is incredible. Right by the river...a beautiful location. If we'd been working there this week I would have taken you for a walk along the riverside. It's almost as serene as the Exley Hall gardens, or it would be if there weren't quite so many tourists. They have ghost walks as well, although I don't think it would be quite the same in daylight. You need a dark autumn evening to really appreciate the spooky atmosphere." He reached over to take her hand in his. "Although that's not to say we won't get the chance to see it later in the year."

Was he really talking about them being together in three or four months? Or longer? Jess hadn't allowed herself the luxury of thinking too far ahead. She was happy to live in the here and now and see where life took them. As they ate, Sebastian offered anecdotes about the older, more experienced actors he'd worked with at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and how seriously they'd taken their work.

"Not that I wouldn't have been serious if I'd been on stage with them. It's hard to be an understudy and watch everyone else perform, night after night. I thought they might give me one or two matinees, but someone enjoyed their job too much to take a day off, and they were never ill. It reminded me of being back in stage school, where certain kids always ended up drawing the short straw."

"You mean the back half of a pantomime cow?"

He laughed. "Yeah, that's the one. I enjoyed my time there, don't get me wrong, but there's always somebody there who seems to get out more than they put in." He sighed. "Gareth Jones was one of those people."

"I had no idea that you two knew each other until you mentioned it this afternoon."

"You could say we have a mutual antipathy. I try to pretend he doesn't exist, and he does the same with me. Jones and I were studying at the same time, although we never socialised and rarely shared classes together."

"Gareth has always seemed so friendly. Why don't you like him?"

He dropped his fork onto his plate. "We're very different people. I worked really hard to earn my place, and a lot of equally hard working people weren't so lucky. So you could say I have a problem with anyone who can walk into a spot on a very popular performing arts course just because he knows the right people."

"Gareth did that?"

"Yeah. I'm not even sure he went through the full audition process. They just opened the doors for him and he sauntered right in, while better guys were overlooked. Acceptance should be based on talent, rather than who you know. One of the directors of the school was his godfather, or so I heard."

Jessica thought back to her own studies. Her personal circumstances were well known and there was no doubt her family connections had helped. She'd been thankful for it at the time. "I can imagine that would be irritating."

"That's not the worst of it. Our saintly Mr. Bingley used to act like some arbiter of morality, holding himself as a perfect example of manners and honesty, and criticising anyone he thought didn't come up to his exalted standards. Then he almost gets himself thrown out, all over some girl who ended up pregnant."

"You're not serious."

Sebastian sighed. "I swear I'm not making this up. Favours were called in, promises made, and he clung onto his place by the skin of his teeth. Anyone else would have been kicked off the course. That sort of favouritism sticks in my throat."

"Well, I can see why you didn't get on with him then, but Gareth seems nice enough now. Maybe he's changed? People often do, as they get older."

He reached out, taking her hand in his. "I neither know nor care. My attention has been more agreeably entertained since I arrived in Derbyshire."

Accepting the hint, she turned the conversation to other things while they lingered over dessert and coffee. At the end of the meal, Sebastian insisted on paying for the whole thing, even though Jess was more than willing to split the bill.

As they left the pub, wishing the regulars a friendly "good night" on their way out of the door, his grip on her hand remained firm. The sun had almost set, and the crescent outline of a translucent moon hung in the lilac sky. The last rays of light from below the horizon limned the undersides of the grey clouds building from the west; the kind of dramatic background more suited to a Shakespearean drama than a comfortable romance.

Jess stopped by the car, looking out across the undulating countryside. A few sheep were cropping grass on the other side of an old stone wall. She moved closer to watch them, their dark eyes meeting hers with only the mildest of interest. "You would think I'd be bored of this rural idyll by now, but I still can't get over how quiet and beautiful it all is."

Sebastian stood behind her, his arms snaking around her waist as he whispered in her ear. "Why, Miss Bennet, you have stolen the words from my mouth. I was thinking inside that I have rarely encountered such beauty." His fingers trailed through her hair, which she'd worn loose for her date. He brushed it back, away from her face, and then ran a finger down her exposed cheek. "I very much enjoyed being with you tonight."

"Me too. It was a lovely meal. Thank you for inviting me."

He turned her around until he had her full attention. Although his eyes were in shadow, she could still sense him staring down at her. Bending slightly, he kissed the tip of her nose. "It was entirely"—he kissed her again—"my"—and again—"pleasure." With that, he bent lower, capturing her mouth in a way that stirred her senses. When they finally broke apart, both were breathing heavily.

"I've been wanting to kiss you all evening," he said. "You probably didn't realise, but when you were eating your pudding, there was a little smudge of ice cream clinging to your mouth, just here." He kissed her again, concentrating on the bottom edge of her lower lip.

When he reluctantly released her, Jess smiled up at him. "We really ought to be getting back. We—" She covered her mouth as a yawn overwhelmed her words.

"Because some of us have an early start in the morning?" He grinned. "Come on, then."

The ride home was almost silent, but filled with ponderous looks on both sides, neither wanting to say anything that might spoil the mood. When his hand wasn't needed to change gears, it was more often on her thigh than the steering wheel, his thumb unconsciously stroking back and forth. By the time they arrived at the Hall, it was almost full dark. He parked the car, then leaned over to steal a final lingering kiss before they went inside, through the basement.

As they paused outside the green room, they could hear Trevor and Mr. Gardiner laughing. "Did you want to stay downstairs with the others for a bit?" Sebastian asked.

She wasn't really in the mood to socialise with anyone else, not after having Sebastian to herself all evening. Besides, it was getting late. "No, I'm fine." She checked her watch. "I think I'll turn in if that's okay."

"No problem." They climbed the stairs, hand in hand, until they reached the top floor. He paused, leaning against the door to his room. "I can't tempt you with a glass of something before bedtime?" He pulled her closer, his lips skating down her cheek until he reached a spot just beneath her ear.

Jess sighed. "I really shouldn't."

"Just for a few minutes," he whispered against her neck. "One drink. I promise I'll have you back home before curfew."

She shook her head. "Not tonight. Maybe another time."

Sebastian straightened, although he returned her smile with a sheepish grin of his own. "You can't blame me for wanting to spend every minute I can with you. Especially when you're so enticing."

As he escorted her down the narrow hallway, Jessica was very aware of the lateness of the hour, and knew that some of the group would already be in bed. The last thing she wanted was to wake anyone up, or advertise what time they'd come back. She stopped outside her own door and smiled up at him. "I had a good time tonight."

He trailed a fingertip across the slender arch of her eyebrow and down the side of her face. "So did I." The kiss that followed was a gentle caress rather than a full-on seduction. "I only wish—"

The door behind them opened, and a sleepy Gareth checked his step as he saw them standing there. "Don't mind me. Just carry on with whatever you were doing. I didn't see a thing."

As he walked away towards the bathroom, Jess felt a twinge of guilt, then stopped herself. Why should she feel bad? It wasn't as though either of them were doing anything wrong. They were both adults after all, and it shouldn't matter what anyone else thought.

But it did matter to Jessica. She'd met Darcy—Sebastian, she reminded herself—less than a week earlier. She wasn't the sort of person who fell into bed with every handsome man she met.

Sebastian sighed as he watched Gareth's retreating back. He lifted his hand and stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers, before tilting her chin up, pressing his lips softly to hers. "I'd better say goodnight now, before he comes back, otherwise I'll be in for a lecture." He ran a hand through his hair. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

His second kiss was bolder, hinting at a tightly reined passion, until the sound of a flushing toilet echoed down the spartan hallway, breaking the spell between them. Sebastian stepped away and wished her a good night.

Jess whispered, "Good night," before watching him walk back down the corridor to his own room. She was still leaning against her door frame when Gareth returned.

"You okay?" It was hard to tell whether his frown grew from disapproval or concern.

Considering he had no right to feel either emotion, Jessica's reply came out sharper than she intended. "Of course. There's no reason why I shouldn't be."

His weary sigh seemed amplified in the now empty corridor. "Good night, Jessica. Sleep well."

She turned her back on him, closing the door behind her, before sinking onto the bed in her dark bedroom. The bulb was still lit outside, but the thin sliver of golden light that shone through the gap under her door was broken. She heard a scrape of a shoe on the wooden floor; then another, and she knew that Gareth was still standing outside, right in front of her door. The mercurial band of light shifted as he paced up and down outside.

Gareth Jones was acting like a mother bear, shielding a feeble cub, but she had no idea why he should feel so protective of her. Her relationship with Sebastian was no concern of his, regardless of what had happened between them in the past.

A minute later she heard a door open and close, and the presence was gone.



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SubjectAuthorPosted

Playing Around in Derbyshire - 11 & 12

Heather FSeptember 07, 2018 01:00PM

Re: Playing Around in Derbyshire - 11 & 12

CateSeptember 17, 2018 03:18AM

Re: Playing Around in Derbyshire - 11 & 12

Heather FSeptember 21, 2018 06:06PM



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