Chapter 1: One
The wind, whispering enticingly in the high trees of Hyde Park that April morning, reminded Wendy of Neverland.
She glanced up and slowed her pace while pushing the perambulator, allowing the light spring breeze to prance over her skin. Her eyes closed, Wendy allowed herself a nostalgic smile. It was all so long ago now, yet every day would indulge her with a little memory. Only a little one, but it was enough.
Peter had not been back for many years. She hoped his need for her had diminished. It had seemed to. As she had grown older, she noticed his interest waning, his visits becoming less frequent. It sat happily with her.
She was, after all, a respectable lady now, a wife and mother of three: two boys (currently hopping excitedly around her) and a girl (currently surveying her older brothers quizzically from the elevated safety of her pram).
'May we go down to sail our boats, Mama?' inquired her elder boy as they turned into a broader expanse of green stretching down to a pond.
'Of course, Peter, and take your brother. But always stay within sight of me.' She watched fondly as the boys scampered down the slope with their toy yachts, presents from their Uncle John. Her eldest boy was nothing like as flighty or hot-headed as his namesake, and he was already growing up with a maturity far beyond his seven years. Wendy was not sure she was entirely pleased by this, but the boy's father certainly was. Jeremy Montgomery was, after all, mature beyond his years.
She had met Jeremy through her brother, Michael, who worked with him at Coutts & Co. Michael had thrown a midsummer party and Jeremy had attended. Wendy sensed his interest in her immediately. Many men showed interest in her, she noticed, but this one was rather more beguiling than the others. Then, at least. In the dappled light of a summer evening, after two glasses of champagne, his easy smile and twinkling eyes had reminded her of times past, of people long gone. He stood, tall and elegant, his dark blond hair sleek. They had danced several times, and Wendy found herself enjoying it more than she had since a time buried deep in her drawer of dreams.
After that he wooed her, and their courtship followed all the convention it properly and rather ponderously should. Tea at the Ritz, walks after the 11 o'clock service, escorted home from the opera. Wendy felt, perhaps for the first time, a normality and predictability to her life which she always assumed she should pursue. Others pursued it, did they not? Presumably, she should too. And Jeremy Montgomery seemed the person to provide her with normality and predictability. Her parents, after all, were shining examples of how to thrive under such a scheme. And she loved and respected her parents.
She and Jeremy had become betrothed after four months and one week, and Wendy was married by twenty.
It was only after their wedding night that she realised Jeremy's eyes did not twinkle quite how she remembered from their first meeting. He still smiled, he still treated her with love and devotion, but now that she was ensconced in their fine house in Belgravia, her husband did not quite seem the man she had taken him to be. But he was a good man and provided for her material needs in ways she had not even experienced in her own privileged upbringing. He worked too hard, that was her explanation. But that was a good thing, was it not?
It was true. He was rarely seen during the week, and even on Sundays was often distracted by paperwork and exhaustion.
But soon enough their first son came along. The eyes of her boy twinkled enough to outshine the stars themselves. And Wendy was happy. A second boy followed eighteen months later and, eventually, a little girl, Jane, five years after that.
Today she had managed to sneak her children out alone, a rare treat. Families of her kind rarely left the home without Nanny. Wendy glanced down to the pond as she walked along, seeing the two boys growing progressively muddier. Nanny would not be pleased; her heart sank at the thought of another ticking off from Miss Stockton.
There came a tinkling crack followed by a whimper. Jane had thrown her rattle from her pram once again. Instead of leaning precariously out for it as the boys had tended to do, she simply stared up at her mother with a look approaching disdain, expecting her to bend down and retrieve it instantly.
'Oh, Janey, you do test me sometimes. If you insist on throwing your toys out of the pram, at least have the decency to do so when there is a gentleman around to assist me in picking them up.'
Wendy sighed and moved to pick up the silver object. She had lost track of how often she had done so on this walk, and her infernal corset dug into her ribs each and every time she attempted it. Tutting loudly, she gave at the knee, but just as she reached out for the rattle it was removed from before her. A large, olive-skinned hand held it in long fingers before it was whisked up out of her sight as the person stood.
Wendy remained kneeling, but her eyes moved upwards, following long legs clad in dark trousers, up, to a coat and dark red waistcoat out of which glinted a yellow gold watch chain, up further past a neat collar and tie, up past a smattering of beard and moustache, up to eyes of the deepest blue. Eyes of the blue of the forget-me-not.
The man brought up the hand clutching the rattle and touched the smooth bowler perched on his head. 'Permit me.'
Dark red lips twitched into a brief smile and the strong fingers held the rattle out to Wendy.
But she could not take it. She was in turmoil. She had been grabbed, shaken and dragged brutally back through time and space. Her world was upended and spun around in one instant. She stared into those eyes, her breath dragging painfully through her lungs.
Wendy searched his features hard, looking to his hair which appeared from the front to be as neat as any other gentleman she knew, but it was dark, she could see that, dark and smooth, like black candle wax.
Jane emitted a fretful sob, and her hand came out, grabbing for the rattle. 'Mama, give! Give rattle!' At last Wendy came to her senses and took the toy. As she did her fingers brushed briefly against those of the man. Warm. Real.
'Thank you, sir,' she muttered, her head down. Gripping the pram handle so fiercely her knuckles blanched, she hurried on, determined, denying what her eyes and soul had thrown at her.
That voice. She had heard those exact words all those years ago spoken in that same rich baritone. Not now. Not again.
She had not intended to stop. If she kept going she could pretend it hadn't happened, that she hadn't seen him, that he wasn't real, no more real than before.
But her feet no longer moved. She paused on the path, holding onto the pram as her only means of support. If she let go she feared she would tumble to the ground.
She heard footsteps behind her, slow, yet at the same time ominously heavy and determined, walking ever closer.
'Do you not know me ... Wendy Darling?' The voice was almost slipped into her ear, it was so close. She inhaled sharply and closed her eyes.
'Wendy ... I asked: do you not know me?'
'You are mistaken, sir.'
'No, I am not, madam.'
'My name is not Wendy Darling.'
'Ah. A slight legal anomaly due to ... changing circumstances, I surmise. Fifteen years ago, when you first came to me, you were Wendy Darling.'
She could no longer ignore him. Turning her head, she met once again with those piercing blue eyes.
Wendy instinctively glanced down to his left hand. It was not what she was expecting, and at first she thought perhaps this was a trick, this wasn't who she had thought, but some imposter who had heard her stories and was deceiving her. But on closer inspection she noticed the hand was rigid, unmoving, concealed in a black glove.
The man followed her stare and brought it up. The fingers did not flex or bend in anyway, simply remained in their fixed position. 'Yes, Wendy. An appendage for every occasion. After all, I would not want to frighten the good folk of Kensington, would I?' And reaching up, he grabbed the hand in his other and pulled sharply. It twisted around and he unscrewed it. Soon it came away completely, and, after a wry grin across to her, he held it up and inspected it with considered aplomb. 'Useful this one. Allows me to ... blend in.'
Wendy's breathing was still rapid and deep. She stared into him, almost surprised to hear her own voice functioning. 'Hook.'
'The very same.'
For a moment they simply stood, eyes fixed into the other, and all at once there came to Wendy that same whispering, tickling, pulling excitement that had flown her to Neverland all those years ago. But now it came to her as an adult, as a woman, fully grown and full of life and responsibility. She clenched her eyes tightly closed, fighting it, shutting out this relic of her past.
'You are dead.'
'You are dead, you are dead. I saw you die.'
'Do you allow your eyes to fool your mind? What did you see? Tell me what you saw.'
Still she tried to fight it, not to permit herself to admit what she could scarcely believe, but she spoke nonetheless. 'I saw you falling into the jaws of that beast.'
'But what purpose is a claw of steel on the end of one's arm if you are not prepared to use it? I cut myself out and left the beast dead.'
She glanced at him again before forcing herself to look away. He smirked. 'Your eyes do not deceive you now, do they?'
Just then her younger son ran screaming in front of their path, brandishing a large stick and chasing after his older brother. 'Peter, don't let your brother chase you so!"
The man cocked an eyebrow. 'Are they your children?'
'An uninspired name.'
Wendy turned on him venomously, 'You are not to pass judgment on my choices.'
'And when did Pan last come back for you, Wendy Darling?'
'Do not call me that. Montgomery. That is my name. I am Wendy Montgomery.'
The man grimaced. 'I prefer Darling.'
'I must go.'
'You have not asked me why I am here.'
'I do not wish to nor do I care. You are not real to me. You are dead to me. Leave me. Return and leave me. I have a new life. I have a good life. Leave me.'
She turned and started to pace away from him, pushing the pram hard. The steady footsteps kept a discreet pace behind her. Wendy tutted, realising her boys were far off.
'Peter! Come back now. We must go home. Cook will be fretting over supper. Tell your brother to come immediately.'
'Yes, Mama!' called her son. She carried on pushing but had to slow to wait for the boys. She was aware of the man still close by.
Her older boy panted up the hill. 'He will not come, Mama. I have tried but he won't listen to me.'
'Oh, really, we must go!' She looked to see her second son leaning across the muddy bank to retrieve his boat from the pond. She called out to him, her voice sharp and insistent, 'James!'
Instantly she wished she could pull the word back into her mouth. She glanced over her shoulder. The man was still there. The blue of his eyes was alight, burning with revelation and delight.
She could say nothing. His mouth curled up at the corners.
All at once both her boys were upon her, clamouring for attention, protesting their hunger. She barely registered it.
Before backing off and at last leaving her, Hook touched his hat and inclined his head. 'Good day, Wendy Darling. Until we meet again.'
Chapter 2: Two
'And whatever sort of time do you call this, little Montgomerys?'
If Wendy was shaken from her encounter in the park, her mind was forced into focus by the forthright tone of her children's nanny who was bearing down on them as soon as the front door was opened.
'I do apologise, Miss Stockton. We were having such an excitable time, it was simply too difficult to tear ourselves away.'
When Peter and James scampered past their mother into the hallway, leaving a trail of muddy footprints in their wake, the rising indignation of their nanny was further inflamed.
'And look at the state of them! I told you it was foolish to take them out alone. Always use a professional, Mrs Montgomery. They would never have ended up like this if I'd been there.'
Wendy's shocked confusion over the meeting now combined with dismay at Miss Stockton's lack of confidence in her. 'They were simply enjoying themselves, Miss Stockton. And I am their mother. You need not fear; I am more than capable of taking my own children on a walk.' Wendy failed to sound as assertive as she wished.
'Hm. There's a time and a place for mess, but Sunday evening before lessons the next day is not one of them.' Miss Stockton, her strong, stocky arms primed, reached across and took a squirming Jane from Wendy's arms. 'And how's my bonny Jane? Didn't get as muddy as your brothers, did you? Well, you're a girl; you wouldn't be silly enough to do that, would you? Come along then, let's get you all ready for supper, even though it'll be ruined by now. Cook's been in a right state.'
Rounding up the children, Miss Stockton, all bristling determination, bustled them up the stairs. Wendy stared after them with a dejected feeling of inadequacy. She may not see eye-to-eye on all her tactics, but she couldn't ignore the fact that her children adored their nanny. The phrase 'firm but fair' seemed to be invented for her, and the approach worked with the Montgomery brood. The children were happy around Wendy, but chaotic. They were happy with Miss Stockton too, yet calm and ordered. They lavished love on their mother, of course they did, but she sometimes wished she could have them all to herself to indulge just the way she wanted. She'd thought of dismissing the portly, forthright Yorkshire woman and bringing them up entirely on her own. Wendy, after all, had been brought up largely by a dog, and things had worked out well enough for her … hadn't they?
But her husband had rejected the idea at every turn. Children had nannies. And wives played bridge and attended upon their husbands in the evenings and at business events and society dinners. Especially wives as radiant as Wendy Montgomery née Darling. Jeremy Montgomery loved showing off his wife, of that there was no doubt.
As the children disappeared up the stairs, the trim and restrained figure of Pearson, the housekeeper, strode across to Wendy. 'We wondered when you would be back, Mrs Montgomery. Your husband sent a message to say he will be delayed. The American clients are causing trouble, as usual. He won't be back until ten at the earliest.'
Frustration with her husband rose in Wendy. Now, more than usual, she craved his calm predictability. 'Oh, but it's Sunday. I went out in the hope that he would be back by now. Really, Pearson, don't you think it is just too much?'
'A shame, I know, ma'am, but Mr Montgomery works hard for you and the family to keep you all in fine clothes and a fine house.'
'Sometimes I'd settle for a far less grand house if I could see a little more of my husband.'
'I'm sorry, ma'am. I'm sure when he arrives he'll make it up to you.' There was a hint of a tease in her housekeeper's voice, but when Wendy darted her eyes to read her expression, Pearson kept her head firmly lowered and her mouth set straight.
'Was Mrs Pargeter most annoyed about supper?'
'Oh, you know what Cook's like - she can't pass a minute without having a little whinge about something. But it's cold ham and the like anyway. Nothing's spoiled. I hope nothing troublesome delayed you, ma'am?'
Wendy felt her face flushing. 'No, not at all. The boys were simply in high spirits, that is all. I must go and see how they are getting on.'
She hurried past, leaving her housekeeper looking after her.
As it was, the cold supper proved lovely. She ate with the children in the dining room, something she insisted on doing on Sundays, and, after they were bathed, came up to the nursery to tuck them into bed and regale them with a little story.
'Tell us about Peter again, Mama!'
'Well – there he is sitting straight up in bed!' she laughed, pointing at her eldest.
'Not that Peter – the boy you used to know. The boy in the Neverland.'
'Oh dear, can't we have something different tonight? I have exhausted all my stories of dear Peter Pan.'
'Tell us about Hook then!' exclaimed James. 'Hook with his eyes that glow red when he is angered, and his hair like dripping black candles.'
Wendy shut her eyes instinctively, picturing once again the man before her in the park, hair black, eyes blue, his dark lips rising at the corners … She swayed and reached out to grip the bed head for support. 'I'll tell you rhymes tonight. I am a little too weary for long tales.'
Her boys threw themselves down on their beds in a sulk.
'Now look, you two, Jane is already asleep, you really should be dozing off yourselves. Lessons start bright and early tomorrow.'
After a quick poem or two, she kissed them all warmly, nestled the blankets around them and bid them good night, ensuring the window to the nursery was firmly shut.
The mention of Hook had sent a chill through her blood. Was it a chill? She seemed in fact terribly heated, and glancing in her bedroom mirror she noticed her cheeks flushed and her eyes bright. Even she could not deny what had precipitated this emotional turmoil. Domestic routine had subverted excessive preoccupation with the business in the park, but now that she was once again alone and still, her mind raged.
Was it really him? She knew it was, there was no doubt, although he seemed little aged since she had last seen him. Why was he here? She had thought him dead, and even if he had survived, she had supposed it impossible for him to escape the Neverland. She had grown used to seeing Peter over the years, and was hardly in denial of her extraordinary childhood adventures, but the sudden appearance of this man had thrown her into such disarray. And how had he come upon her so easily? It was as if he had been tracking her, seeking her out.
Time may have lessened her longing for it, but it had not dulled her memories of Neverland, of Peter, nor of Hook. If truth be told, as she matured, Wendy Montgomery née Darling found herself thinking of the pirate captain more and more.
When it came time to name her second son, James was the prime choice. She had always liked the name James; she had a distant uncle called James, as did her husband. It was a good name, a sensible name, so she told herself. But in the dark of night, when lying so often alone, her heart told of another reason, a reason forced to mind by dark curls and shining eyes, the same eyes which had held her gaze in Hyde Park today.
But now, for her own peace of mind, she convinced herself that the encounter today was not going to be repeated. He may have returned to England, but she was not going to see James Hook ever again.
Well after ten o'clock, just as she was readying herself for bed, Wendy heard the front door shut with a dull thud. Her husband was home at last and her mind eased. Never had she needed his steadying presence so much. He came into the bedroom, his tall form sagging, but still carefully removed his jacket and sleeve holders, placing them neatly in their rightful places. Only then did he sit down on the bed beside her, still fully clothed.
Wendy pushed herself up and took his hand. 'Half past ten, Jeremy. It is so late.'
'I'm sorry, my dear. We had a damnable nuisance with the New York accounts. The clients are threatening to jump ship. I simply couldn't get away.'
'We missed you.'
He leaned over and kissed her cheek. 'I missed you too. What have you all been up to?'
'Nothing? Pearson said you went to the park with the children alone.'
Why did she suddenly feel so guilty? 'Well, yes, I did for a little, just to pass the time, you know.'
'It's alright, my love, you are entitled to go to the park. I do not expect you to wait in for me all the time,' he chuckled.
'I had hoped you would be back sooner. And now I am so tired.'
'I won't be a moment. Give me time to wash and I will be all yours,' he smiled, stroking her hair from her face. But Wendy didn't want all of him, she just wanted his company, the reminder of her marriage. Jeremy went to wash and ready himself for bed. As usual, he took forever, fussing over his toiletries and night clothes. By the time he placed himself in bed beside her, she was almost asleep.
She yawned, trying to stifle it. 'Oh dear. I should have been asleep an age ago.'
He turned to her with a smile. 'Even with a yawn, you still look lovely.' Jeremy's hand was stroking along her arm, circling around it to move to her belly, then higher, cupping the soft mound of her breasts concealed in the cotton of her nightdress.
'Are you very tired?' He pulled her in close to him.
'Hmm,' she hummed, trying to sound as somnolent as possible. She knew what was expected. And as much as she had wanted her husband to be home, it was hardly for this reason. Neither her body nor her mind was quite in the mood.
But her husband clearly was, despite his fatigue. He edged towards her and began his usual routine of seduction – what he considered seduction, anyway. He would nuzzle her neck, fondle her breasts rather more fervently than was necessary, then guide her hand over to feel his hardening manhood, to impress her and heighten her own ardour, Wendy supposed, not that it often had that effect. Not having experienced any other man, Wendy was not sure if his manhood was impressive or not. The whole business was rather tiresome and messy as far as she was concerned – no wonder Miss Stockton remained a staunch spinster.
But tonight Jeremy was already beyond the point of no return. Wendy shuffled down the bed with a sigh and allowed her husband to partake of his nuptial rights. She did enjoy it a little, admittedly. She always seemed to enjoy the expectation of it, at least; there were moments when ripples of delicious anticipation would pass through her, promising so much, but never quite attaining it. She even liked it when he became assertive and forceful, moving along her powerfully, making those visceral noises that evoked in her a wildness she hadn't felt since Neverland, not since …
Tonight those feelings were being stirred again, always hopeful, always with promise. But Wendy was generally disappointed; for what, she wasn't sure, but it usually ended abruptly, leaving only a sense of being thwarted.
But now Jeremy was grazing down her body, over her collar bones. She liked that. She arched up to him, her body suddenly awakening. He had pulled her nightdress down, exposing her breasts. Her eyes closed and her mind blurred; she bared them wantonly and for once felt no shame. And she was rewarded. Lips closed around a nipple, and he sucked avidly. Wendy heard a mewl and realised with surprise it had come from her. Was it bad to feel this way? Was it wrong? But the sense of shame only heightened her delight. Oh, she did like that. He had done it before, but only rarely. Now she wanted more and more. Pushing her breasts up to him she compelled her husband to latch onto her ever more fervently. For a time she thought it had worked, that he would remain there for some time, nuzzling and sucking, sending those sweet shards of pleasure charging through her to end at the hot, heavy place between her legs.
All too soon Jeremy abandoned her breast to raise himself up and fumble at his pyjama trousers. That familiar meander of disappointment curled its way through Wendy as she realised that he would be inside her, grinding and ploughing his way to a finish all too soon. Again.
Jeremy pushed her legs apart and he squeezed inside her quickly with his long, thin length (it always seemed thin to Wendy anyway, but perhaps all men were like that).
She liked him inside her, or at least she liked the idea of him inside her. But she never felt as she imagined she would, never as she felt in her dreams. Perhaps if they moved into another position – was that permitted? Jeremy never tried it, so presumably it wasn't.
Her husband sank his body down onto hers and began his predictable, rhythmic thrusting along her, each move forward accompanied by that low unchanging groan which intrigued but bored her equally. Did all men sound that way, so regular? Should she moan? Should she cry out? She never did. She lay quite silently all the time; it seemed the proper thing to do.
But tonight, she surprisingly found herself more ardent than usual. Tonight, she liked the noises of man within her. She dared curl her legs up around his waist and run her hands along his back, drawing him in deeper. Jeremy looked up, startled but clearly encouraged. With a sharp intake of breath he went at her ever more ardently. Wendy too was pleased. Raising her legs had changed the angle of his thrusts to one which sent little shimmers of nice things darting through her.
She clasped his head against her and closed her eyes, focusing on this new gleaming of her body. Perhaps tonight.
Her fingers tangled in his blond hair, feeling it smooth and damp with exertion. Did all men's hair feel like this? Did black hair feel like this?
She squeezed her eyes tight shut as flesh moved through her, enjoying it, enjoying all of it. Black hair, blue eyes, black hair, blue eyes …
And then her husband shuddered, groaned and slumped.
It was over.
As quickly as he had entered her, he pulled out, leaving that messy trail of seed dripping from her like he always did. 'Thank you, my darling. Dash it, but you are beautiful. So beautiful.'
And Wendy was left again, sticky and still wanting.
Jeremy got up to clean himself. 'Are the staff happy with the arrangements for Wednesday when we're out?'
She glanced over, bewildered. 'What about Wednesday?'
He tutted. 'The partners. Big evening do, darling. When the bosses hold a party, we have to dance attendance. It's even more important this year as there are potential clients attending from all over the world. I need you there. You always give me quite a shine.' He smirked at his wife.
Wendy closed her eyes despairingly. She had completely forgotten. If it was up to her, she would spend every evening at home with the children, reading stories, playing games or simply snuggling together by the fire. The thought of getting dressed up in finery and having to be at her most charming filled her with abject dread. Her parents had always hated going out, her father especially. She had inherited their dislike of socialising.
'I had forgotten. Must we?'
'Yes, we must. You know how important this is. It was arranged months ago. I thought you'd informed Pearson and Miss Stockton that the children will be in their sole care.'
'I have, don't worry, a long while ago. I had simply forgotten about it since. I'm sure Pearson has everything in hand.'
'You can wear that midnight blue silk gown. You look mesmerising in it.'
'Oh, Jeremy, I regret ever buying it. I feel like a Parisian dancer when I wear it – it is barely respectable. It is cut so very low, and the French lace is – exotic – on the arms.'
He smiled. 'Wear it. I love it. And so does every man who sees you in it.'
'But not every woman.'
'There are no women seeking our financial services.'
'And why not?'
He crawled up to tap the tip of her nose with his finger. 'Tut tut tut, little wife. Have I not curbed those silly ideas of yours yet?'
'No, and neither shall you.'
'You haven't been corresponding with Mrs Pankhurst again, have you?'
'That is between me and my note paper,' she answered with coquettish but fierce assurance.
'You know I love you for your independent spirit, don't you, my darling?'
'So you say.'
'I am so proud of you. You will look magnificent on Wednesday.'
'I am capable of more than simply looking magnificent, Jeremy.'
'I know, my darling, I know ...' He was yawning. 'I must get some sleep. Thank you again for ...' He nestled down, yawned again, and let out a soft snore.
Wendy, her flesh tingling rather more than it usually did, tried to do the same.
But sleep eluded her, and the night hounded her with memories long distant and feelings that had lain dormant for so long. As she finally drifted off to sleep, her dreams were consumed once again by stormy seas and pirate kings.
Wednesday arrived all too quickly. Wendy had aired the blue silk dress, almost ashamed to look on it. The neckline was far too low, both for decency and the fashion of the day, and the dark sensuous lace reminiscent of the heady boudoir of a lady of dubious virtue. And despite the more columned shaping of the times, this dress was fitted broadly around the waist and clung rather precariously to places it had no right to cling to. She knew it drew appreciative glances from gentlemen, but surely she should be wearing something more tasteful for this evening.
Still, she poured herself into it when the time came, and set off on her husband's arm. He could barely take his eyes off her as they walked through the broad streets of Kensington. She already felt herself flushing – what would the others say?
Indeed, on her arrival she noticed stares of appreciation from the gentlemen and glares of indignation from the ladies, but luckily the large Park Lane mansion was full, teeming, and Wendy was able to lose herself among the myriad of assembled guests.
She eventually relaxed and enjoyed a glass of champagne. Her natural conversation came easily soon enough and her warm and infectious laugh bubbled from her, charming all who heard it. Despite her tendency towards a quiet home-life, Wendy knew she held an audience well, she always had. She had a way with words, and now she used it to great effect, not only to enchant her husband's prospective clients but to relieve her own boredom.
Jeremy sauntered over as the evening progressed, proffering her another glass of champagne. 'So many people have complimented me on your appearance, my love. You are my greatest asset.'
She sighed. Is that all he thought of her? She glanced sidelong at her husband while sipping from her glass. He still stood handsome and refined, but his once thick blond hair was now receding and his under-eyes were rarely free from shadows and creases of tiredness. His naturally informed and intellectual conversation was these days mostly limited to business and domestic necessity. She had fallen for a far more energised and dynamic man; had time robbed him of his radiance so quickly?
Jeremy took her by the elbow and guided her into a smaller room. 'Come over here - there's someone I want you to meet, a potential client from overseas. Made his money in trade, spent a lot of time at sea. Interesting fellow - not sure about his hair though. He wants a safe place to keep his considerable fortune. You'll like him, and I'm sure he'll like you. He's not sure whether to go with us or Lloyds. You may just tip the balance.'
'Really, Jeremy, you can't use me as bait for your clients.'
'Please, darling. You are, quite simply, the belle of the ball,' he smirked. 'There he is.'
Jeremy was guiding her over to a group of men standing talking in the corner, their tail coats providing an elegant black fringe to the circle of conversation. One, with his back to her, had long black hair tied behind him in a velvet ruby ribbon. That tickling inside began again.
'Gentlemen, most of you know my wife, Wendy. Captain, you haven't yet had the pleasure.'
The man turned, and Wendy was met, for the second time in four days, with eyes of forget-me-not blue.
'Wendy, may I introduce to you Captain James Hook?'
Chapter 3: Three
'Mrs Montgomery ... Wendy ... a great pleasure.' James Hook, not breaking eye-contact, took her hand and brushed his lips over the top. Wendy was too shocked to pull away, and he made no effort to release her fingers from his hold.
No. Not here.
Anger. That was it: rare in Wendy but so powerful when it came. A hot rage surged through her. She at last tugged her hand from his and clenched her fists hard, driving her nails to dig into the soft skin of her palms. She wasn't ready. She wasn't prepared.
Wendy turned her eyes blankly on the other men, managing to murmur, 'Good evening, gentlemen.'
'Captain Hook joins us from the southern oceans. He has lived most of his life on remote islands and exotic tropical paradises.'
She gave no response.
'Isn't that fascinating, my dear?' prompted Jeremy.
Wendy's lips were pursed and her words tighter yet. 'So, why return to England now ... Captain?' She could barely bring herself to address him by the title.
'There comes a time in one's life when the call of home grows strong again. I am an Englishman, born and bred. I found myself wishing to return to the cosseting arms of my mother country.'
'And what if you find things are not as they were? That those arms reject you rather than embrace you?'
'I am optimistic that shall not be the case.'
'It depends, I suppose, on what you mean to give back to your country when here. And how you intend to conduct yourself. The people of this nation can be suspicious of those who have chosen to forsake its shores for so long. And their suspicion is often well-founded.'
'Indeed, you may be right. We all have aspects of our past best left firmly in that past, do we not? But we are all, equally, entitled to a fresh start, surely.'
The man's expression remained so calm. His composure in the face of her seething indignation infuriated her. 'Again, it depends what those past transgressions comprise. Some faults are greater than others and not easily forgiven, Captain Hook, as I'm sure you know.'
Whether the men present registered the adversarial but curious connection that surged between Mrs Montgomery and the sea captain in the tense silence that followed is uncertain.
Jeremy Montgomery suddenly coughed out a laugh of embarrassment. 'Wendy, my dear, the captain is not here to have his integrity examined. Please forgive my wife, Captain, she has a certain forthright manner which I sometimes find unable to control.'
'No need to apologise, Montgomery. Conversation is never so delightful as when laced with a bold wit and a sharp tongue.' Despite addressing him, Hook did not turn his gaze from the man's wife to look at Jeremy.
'A sharp mind, rather, Captain,' corrected Wendy through ever faster breaths.
'Undoubtedly so,' concurred Hook. And Wendy realised that, throughout her fury, she had been looking nowhere but at him. Now, she ripped her gaze away.
'Mrs Montgomery,' cut in William Boyd, Jeremy's short, oily colleague, who regularly tried to grease his way into her affections, 'may I say how ravishing you look tonight?'
Jeremy sniffed in with pride.
'Thank you,' came her curt reply.
'Indeed,' repeated the rest of the assembled group, whose eyes, in a curious choreographed display, dropped as one to the prominent swell of her breasts rising from the dark silk of her gown. Oh, how she wished she had not worn the infernal thing. The breath-stealing shock of seeing Hook again had prompted her corset to constrict her more cruelly than ever and she knew she was dragging in air desperately, making the twin objects of their attentions heave before them, as if putting on a show for their benefit.
Her face was scarlet; she could feel it red and hot. Wendy darted her eyes to her left where once again they fell into those of the pirate. Inescapable. He, alone in the company, was not looking at her breasts, but still held her gaze with that elusive smile which sent her crashing back to the heady days of Neverland. His attention was stifling. She could stand it no longer.
'Excuse me.' Turning her back, she hurried from the room.
She barely registered her husband calling after her. Wendy craved solitude and space, unequivocally and desperately. But the house was busy and she struggled to find an unoccupied room. At last, down a long corridor, she opened a door into what was clearly a study or small library; it was empty, dark and silent, providing relief from the swirl of people, pretentions, and pirates. Rushing inside, she crossed to a desk and leaned heavily against it, her deep inhalations turning to sobs.
'Silly girl!' she scolded herself. 'Silly, silly girl. Why let him get to you so? But how dare he come here? How dare he stir it all up again? Why him? Why him?'
She stood tall, dabbing her dampening eyes, trying to grab onto her errant pride and sense.
Wendy took great gulps of breath, feeling air rushing back into her lungs, settling her raging mind slowly. She would not let this affect her. She would find a way to send him back. That was best. That was right. He had no business coming here and throwing her world into torment.
Yet why was she reacting like this at all? Peter used to come to her – that had never caused such turmoil. But then, Peter hadn't tried to make her walk the plank.
Wendy let an incredulous laugh escape her, casting her mind back to the wild adventures with pirates and fairies. It had been fun, had it not? It had been the best time of her life. And Hook had been part of that; she had willed him there from the start, dreamt him, created him. And now he was back.
The best time of her life.
Was this no more than her own desires speaking again? Had she brought this on herself? And, admittedly, Captain James Hook had behaved impeccably so far. In fact, she could even go so far as to say she had been undeservedly rude to him. He had acted with decency and propriety, far more so, in fact, than the lascivious leeches who hung around her husband to be near her, devouring her with their eyes to assuage their frustrated desires.
Perhaps he was indeed here simply to open an account and make amends, to start afresh. Could she, so admired for her fairness and compassion, really deny him forgiveness?
Just as she was set to return to the fray and approach James Hook with cool politeness should the need arise, footsteps sounded behind her. Wendy knew the footsteps, not only from the day in the park, but from time past: on a ship - heavy, boot-clad feet pacing the decks of his magnificent vessel.
'Wendy Darling, you ran from me just when I was beginning to enjoy our little chat.'
She daren't turn around. She daren't speak. Once again this man denied her free will, held her captive. The footsteps drew closer.
'You did not give me a chance to add my own compliments. What a transformation from the gauche little girl of years gone by. You are, quite simply ... exquisite.' His last word fell like a drop of claret into a crystal glass. She could sense the burn of his gaze over her body despite having her back to him.
'I will not let you get to me, Hook.'
He chuckled. Her skin shivered helplessly. 'Oh, but you may find that life is more interesting if you do let me get to you, my dear.'
'I am not your dear. I am the girl you tried to murder all those years ago.'
He tutted lightly with mocking disdain, the tip of his tongue catching the roof of his mouth. 'It wasn't you, my beauty. It was him. You, I am afraid, were simply in the way. I doubt even I would have allowed your pretty little head to bob under the water for too long. After all, I still wanted a story teller to regale my crew ... and me. Wendy Darling - story teller to Jas. Hook.' Still he came closer. Closer, until she felt the warm fall of breath moving her hair, and smelt the sweet, musky aroma of cigar smoke.
She squeezed her eyes tight shut to deny the effect he was invoking in her. 'How do you dare use that name here? You are notorious the world over.'
The voice continued to drift into her, as low and rich as the plucking of a bass. 'Amongst my fellows, perhaps, and in far flung parts of this globe. But not here. Here, I find that my name, unknown, carries a certain gravitas, granting me dignity and earning me respect.'
'I could set people right on that matter in a moment. I told you in the park to leave me alone. You are not to impose yourself on my family in this way.' Why did her voice sound so hollow, almost dispossessed?
'I seek a banker for my finances, plain and simple. Can I help it if your husband happens to be the person recommended me?'
'I do not believe you. You have come here for ...'
'For what, Wendy Darling?' The hot breath was caressing her neck now. She spun around to find him mere inches away, his eyes holding her again. Wendy backed away but the desk prevented her escape. She spoke the truth as she realised it.
'You have come here for ... me.'
She was robbed of air, robbed of the passage of time. All that mattered were his eyes and his smile, that wicked smile which danced elusively over his lips. He was casting over her face, occasionally letting his gaze drop to take in the rest of her body, but never enough to cause the disgust the other men stirred in her. When Hook looked on her breasts, it was with such an elegant regard she felt instead a swell of pride and was aware they rose up towards him almost wilfully.
'For you? Have I indeed?' His smirk deepened, but then the dark eyebrows furrowed, and he adopted an expression of concentrated thought. Searching over her face with those brilliant eyes, his right hand rose up as if he would caress her. She should push him away. She did not.
The back of his hand was perilously close to touching the soft skin of her left cheek, which she knew to be pinked with emotion. His lips were slightly parted and he looked almost confused, focusing on the place he was so close to stroking. But always he kept precious space between them, ghosting over her, never fully touching.
'But what do I intend to do with you, Wendy? There is a question. Here you are before me: beautiful, entrancing, grown-up Wendy.' His words had dropped to a whisper, as if his thoughts were escaping his mind unbidden. 'My Wendy.'
There was a churning so deep inside Wendy she could not escape it. Her belly had surely been replaced by molten lava. She knew the feeling; she had felt it occasionally with her husband, but never like this, never as now, as if it would wrench control fully from her grasp. Her hand came up, wavering, hesitating, wanting to ... He was so close and so, so handsome. Was that the word? It seemed grossly inadequate. The feelings he was stirring in her went far beyond his being merely handsome, she knew that, but her vocabulary with regard to such matters was limited, or at least subverted.
But somewhere down the corridor, a door shut with a reverberant bang, and with it the drawer of Wendy's dreams, for tonight, was also slammed shut.
With a lightness reminiscent of her youth, she darted out from his proximity and strode purposefully to the door. Her mind was steeled and she stopped in the doorway, looking back on him with heightened determination. 'You will deal with my husband only for your business matters. You are not to come near me again.'
Before she left, his mouth twisted into a smile of wry disbelief. But then Wendy walked away, leaving him in the gloom, his eyes two bright blue reminders of the flame still burning her inside.
She returned to find Jeremy searching for her. 'Wendy, where have you been? You left so abruptly. Are you unwell?'
'Yes, actually, I am a little. Please let us return home.'
He huffed. 'Wendy, please, I need a little more time. I am not sure I have secured the captain's custom yet. This account is too valuable to lose. Can you not sit and rest quietly a while?'
Wendy was sure there had never been any question in Hook's mind as to with whom he would bank. She was now certain he had come to England with the sole aim of finding her. The fact that her husband was a banker and Hook needed a place to keep his vast, ill-gotten fortune was merely a fortunate coincidence for him.
But she could not appear to belittle her husband's ambitions now, certainly not in the house of one of the senior partners.
'Very well,' she sighed, 'but do be quick about it. I have such a headache.'
With a peck on her cheek, which she resisted, Jeremy rushed off, presumably to find Hook.
He returned a short time later with a beaming smile. 'I've done it. He's joining us and he wants me to manage his account. Isn't that splendid? I've seen his asset sheets; they are impressive, Wendy, to say the least. The partners will be delighted with me. I must tell them now. Just one more moment, my darling.'
Her husband was elated, thinking he had won the client due to his impressive banking acumen. Wendy let her head droop. Jeremy arrived back with her coat, still bouncing like a puppy. 'This is the best account I've acquired in years, Wendy. It should justify a rise in my salary, I daresay. We may even be able to purchase an automobile. It's all rather exciting.'
She managed a weary smile up to her exultant husband and patted his coat. 'Well done, dear. May we go home now?'
He nodded with a smile and, after bidding farewell to their hosts, they set off on the walk home. She had not seen Hook again before they left.
'Thank you for bearing with me. It's partially down to you, you know. Your radiance and charm rub off.' Jeremy patted her hand as it nestled in the crook of his arm.
'But I was very rude to James Hook.'
'Well, he clearly didn't mind.' Jeremy laughed. 'I must say, I was rather concerned when you started holding forth. There is a time and a place, you know.'
'I was simply inquiring about him. You don't know anything about him, after all.'
'I know he has money.'
'But from where, Jeremy? Have you thought about his circumstances at all?'
'How do you mean?'
She rolled her eyes at her husband's lack of insight. 'I mean – a captain of an independent vessel, a private vessel, working in the southern seas, making his money in a non-specific 'trade'. It all seems a little odd to me.'
'He said he used to be in the merchant navy, hence his title.'
'And you believe him?'
'I have no reason not to. He seemed the perfect gentleman.'
The perfect gentleman. Hook's well-honed bluff. It had fooled her once.
'Did you notice his left hand?'
'No. What about it?'
'He doesn't have one.'
'Really?' Jeremy's voice rose with surprised amazement.
'The one he had is fake. Really, Jeremy, you are so unobservant. It is completely stiff, made of wood or some such.'
'By Jove, I had no idea. You are a clever little thing. Poor fellow. I wonder how one manages to lose a hand?' Her husband's concern was touching, his naivety maddening.
'I wonder indeed,' sighed Wendy, her mind conjuring images of gargantuan crocodiles. 'But doesn't it all sound rather suspicious to you? Do you really think it is wise to have such a man on your books?'
'He brings in too much money, Wendy. I couldn't possibly turn him down. As long as he keeps his account healthy, we will serve him and ask no questions.'
'I see. There it is then. But Jeremy ...' She stopped, turning to him in grave seriousness. 'You will be careful, won't you?'
'Of course, darling. But he's a client, that is all. What is there to be worried about?'
It was hopeless. There was no going back. As much as she should be rid of James Hook, it was clear that Wendy was going to be seeing considerably more of him.
When they arrived home, Jeremy approached the door to open it while she hung back on the pavement. Turning her face up to the night sky, she breathed in deeply, letting the cool, crisp air cleanse her lungs. Her body was alive, a remnant of her feelings in the study. Even with the glow of night-time London she could see the stars clearly. As she stared, one darted across her line of vision, leaving a trail behind which vanished as quickly as it had appeared. She pictured herself on a similar night, many years ago, blazing her own trail across the sky.
Perhaps, indeed, it was all rather exciting.
Chapter 4: Four
Wendy slept remarkably well after the party. It was the last thing she was expecting, but the confusion of the last few days, and thoughts of the man who had precipitated it, seemed to have been reconciled in her mind.
She awoke refreshed, and happily recalled a luncheon invitation. Elizabeth Forbes – Lizzie – was a childhood friend, although a few years younger than Wendy and never privy to her wilder adventures. Their parents had known each other for years, and Wendy always looked forward to visits to the bubbly and carefree Lizzie. Her friend remained, as yet, unmarried, and hence her perception of men and their potential was still relatively idealistic, so it seemed to Wendy.
Today, they were left to a quiet lunch alone as Lizzie’s parents were in Surrey visiting a maiden aunt. Maiden aunts in Surrey always provided a good reason to escape a busy London spring day.
So, left to their own devices, Wendy soon found herself bombarded with Lizzie’s questions, directed in her friend’s usual ebullient manner.
‘So, Wendy, do tell me about your evening.’
‘It was tolerable, I suppose.’ She would not go into detail.
‘Was William Bartlett there?’
‘Umm ... possibly.’ Wendy raised a mystified eyebrow. She had no idea who William Bartlett was.
‘Oh, I believe Mama is inviting the Bartletts to tea Sunday next. He is sure to come; he can barely keep his hands, let alone his eyes, off me when he is here. William is interesting enough, I have decided. I may just have to entertain a little flirtation,’ Lizzie smirked wickedly.
‘I thought Major Young was topping the current list of flirtations, my dear irrepressible Lizzie?’
‘Oh, but he is in Egypt until August, so I need another distraction,’ she mused, her mind clearly totting up the list of possible distractions. ‘What gown did you wear last night, Wendy?’
‘The blue one.’
‘The pale blue chiffon? How sweet you look in it.’
‘No. The other blue one. Darker. Silk.’
‘Oh,’ Lizzie grinned with realisation. ‘That one.’
‘Yes. That one.’
The younger woman clapped her hands gleefully. ‘Oh, I do wish I had been there. I should imagine you had them practically crawling after you! How I envy you. And did Jeremy manage to secure the client?’
‘And what is he like?’
Wendy focused on cutting her ham. ‘A sailor.’
‘A sailor? Oh, perhaps you had him dance a hornpipe for you! Do tell more.’
‘He made his money at sea. And he titles himself Captain.’
Lizzie’s eyes lit up. ‘A captain no less? How glorious. Is he married?’
‘Is he ...?’ Lizzie waited for Wendy to raise her head and meet her bright inquiring gaze.
She may as well answer. ‘Yes.’
The face of James Hook suddenly and completely invaded her mind, rather taking her aback and robbing her of circumspection. ‘Terribly handsome.’
The truth. Terrible and handsome.
Lizzie let out a strange squawk, halfway between a squeal and a huff. ‘A handsome unmarried sea captain! How I wish indeed I had been there. I had such a dull evening, Wendy. Mama had one of her turns and I spent the whole time pestering cook for more lemon water. And you were out gallivanting with handsome sea captains!’
Gallivanting with James Hook. That would be interesting. Wendy took a sip of lemonade.
‘When we have finished, shall we take a stroll to the park?’ suggested Lizzie. ‘The rain has steadied; it is so boring being inside all day.’
Wendy agreed quickly and gladly. She liked her friend’s merry glee; it was always infectious. Combined with the previous night, Wendy found herself in a very good mood indeed.
After lunch, despite being under a heavy sky, they walked through Kensington Gardens, arm in arm.
‘So tell me more about the handsome sailor.’
‘I don’t know very much.’ She would certainly lie now.
‘Does he have his own ship?’
‘I believe so.’
‘And what about ... proportions?’ Lizzie let out a titter and her hand tightened on Wendy’s arm.
‘Of the ship?’
‘No! Of ... him.’
‘Oh, Lizzie,’ tutted Wendy.
‘Come along, Wendy, do tell. We used to have such laughs comparing all the boys in church. I am unmarried, after all. Unlike you, I am not in the privileged position of having a man’s arms to ease my turbulent thoughts. I can only dream.’
‘Fervent dreams can sometimes lead to thwarted reality,’ warned Wendy.
‘Oh, don’t be such a spoilsport. Jeremy is most pleasant on the eye. You were the envy of all when you married him. In any case, you said this captain was terribly handsome.’
‘He is. He has ...’
‘What? You see ... I still await the proportions.’ Lizzie smiled with wicked intent and sat swiftly on a bench, patting the wood next to her for Wendy to join her.
Wendy couldn’t stop from laughing aloud and sitting down, a current of girly giddiness swirling through her. It made her suddenly effusive about the man so ingrained in her mind.
‘Well, he has a very strong jaw with a devilish set of whiskers – not thick, just enough to give him an air of mystery. And he is tall and broad, slendering down to the belly ... and has long, strong legs.’
Lizzie sighed rapturously. ‘Hair? What of his hair?’
‘Oh, his hair is quite outrageous. Dark, black and thick, and long, very long, like a Spanish desperado. And although he had it tamed back in a ribbon yesterday, I suspect it curls when he allows it.’ She didn’t suspect; she knew. Many years ago she had seen him in his dressing robe with his hair tumbling full and luscious around him. ‘And then ...’
‘What? What?’ Lizzie was perched desperately on the edge of the bench, her voice at such a pitch of excitement she could barely contain herself.
‘His eyes – blue and so, so radiant. He has ...’ Wendy stared into the distance, suddenly solemn. Lizzie was forgotten, the rain which had started to patter around them once again was ignored. ‘He has the most bewitching eyes I have ever seen.’
‘Oh, Wendy ... I must meet him.’
Wendy turned to her pretty young friend, feeling all at once as if she had been asked to share a special toy. She would spoil it a little. ‘He only has one hand.’
Lizzie’s face fell. ‘Oh.’
But as was Lizzie’s wont, her dismay didn’t last. ‘But never mind! As long as every other part of him is intact.’ She burst into giggles again. Wendy flushed pink. The combination of Lizzie’s exuberance and the sudden vision of every other part of James Hook sent her into quite a spin. She thought it best to leave. ‘Come along. The rain is starting again.’ Taking her friend’s hand, she pulled them both to their feet. ‘And I must be getting back to the children.’
‘Oh, my sweet, must we go already? It has been such fun, hasn’t it?’
‘It has, but I have to get home, I’m afraid. Oh deary me, it’s beginning to pour.’ And holding hands, the two friends, their hobble skirts forcing them to scamper like little dogs along the pavements, rushed giggling back to the house. As soon as they arrived, Wendy readied herself to return home.
‘Bye bye, Lizzie.’ She leaned into her friend and kissed her on both cheeks, noticing with a certain displeasure how soft and pretty her skin was. ‘You must come to us soon enough.’
Jeremy arrived home in relatively good time for once. He greeted Wendy warmly but she found herself resisting his embrace a little. ‘How was your day, my darling?’ he inquired, not seeming to notice her disregard.
‘I lunched with Lizzie.’
‘Oh, I’ve just been thinking of her. How was she? As giddy as ever?’
‘She is simply high-spirited, Jeremy. I like her. And how was the office?’
‘Very good. Captain Hook came to open his account. The man is worth a penny or two, I can tell you.’
‘How lovely for him,’ she stated dryly.
‘You are growing terribly cynical in your old age, my darling wife.’ Leaning across, Jeremy kissed her with a smile. Again, she pulled back. ‘Everyone was saying how splendid you were last night. And whatever you think of him, Hook was certainly taken with you. Even he complimented me on you.’
Her senses were suddenly primed. ‘Oh?’
‘He said how much your gown suited you and what a beguiling person you were.’
Her tongue dampened her lips distractedly. ‘Beguiling? Did he use that word?’
‘That exact word.’
An undeniable twist of pleasure ran through Wendy and she turned away, masking her face from her husband and keeping her voice as level as possible. ‘He is simply trying to remain on good terms with you.’
‘Perhaps. But thank you anyway. You certainly played your part last night.’
Jeremy’s words sent a curl of distaste through Wendy’s stomach, but the compliment from Hook remained to spread a glow and dissipate it.
Her husband crossed to the drinks table to pour himself a brandy. ‘I have invited him to dinner on Saturday.’
‘What?’ And, as in the park that first time, she was upended again.
‘You know I am obliged to entertain important clients.’
‘Yes, but ... so soon?’
‘But of course. It is always this way. What is it with this man, Wendy? You seem to have taken a peculiar dislike to him.’
‘I don’t trust him. I told you that.’ Her breath was coming short and fast.
‘Well, you will simply have to pretend on Saturday. I spoke to Pearson earlier - it is already arranged. And I have asked Lizzie Forbes and her parents also - you could have mentioned it today if I’d known you were seeing her. It is high time she settled down. Hook may be just the person to tame her.’
‘Oh, but he is far too old for her. That is ludicrous!’ The unpleasant sensation she had felt when Lizzie expressed an interest in meeting Hook now reasserted itself strongly. The thought of the pirate being here with her friend was peculiarly disturbing.
‘Well, I have sent a note to the Forbes house. It is done.’
Wendy stood, arms folded, her annoyance evident in her voice. ‘Jeremy, I wish you had consulted me first. This is ridiculous. I doubt they will get on at all. He is not at all right for her.’
‘Well, I think the opposite. He is my client, Wendy. I shall do as I see fit. Sometimes I –‘
‘What, Jeremy?’ She took a step into him, anger rushing through her and fuelling her husband’s own.
‘Sometimes I wish you would keep your rather forceful opinions inside that head of yours. It may have appealed to Hook, but you embarrassed me last night with your headstrong approach. It is not your place to ask those things.’
‘And what is it my place to do, Jeremy? To stand there and simper and look attractive so all your colleagues and clients can gaze on me and forget their own minds? Is that all you want from a wife?’
‘No! Don’t put it like that.’
‘That is what it comes down to, it would seem to me.’ Her voice was at a peak.
‘Keep your voice down, my darling, the staff will hear.’
‘Oh, and we must avoid that at all costs, mustn’t we? Heaven forbid we are actually allowed to speak our minds in our own house.’
Jeremy’s face was tense, his brows furrowed. He looked older. ‘Few women speak their minds the way you do, Wendy.’
‘You told me you loved me for that.’
‘Yes, but –‘
‘But what? You knew what I was like when you married me, Jeremy.’
Jeremy took a step into her, his fists clenched by his sides. ‘I did and sometimes I –‘
‘What? You wish you had not married me?’
He turned away, his head dropping. ‘I didn’t say that.’
Wendy stood tall, still bristling. ‘You, personally, are to arrange everything for Saturday with Pearson and Mrs Pargeter. This is nothing to do with me. I shall be sleeping in the Blue Room tonight.’
‘Wendy! That is most unnecessary.’
‘No, Jeremy. I need to clear my head. You will grant me leave to do that.’
Silence. He stood looking at her, his face showing aggrieved acceptance. ‘Very well.’
The Blue Room looked out over the back garden. The Montgomerys were lucky in that they had one of the largest gardens in the area. A broad lawn stretched down to a large grove of trees at the bottom: Wendy’s secret wood, the place she had battled her husband to keep when he had wanted to replace it with a tennis court.
She came to this room when she needed that solitude she sometimes craved, when her head threw so many confused thoughts and emotions at her that she could only deal with them alone. The quarrel with Jeremy would have dissipated by the morning, but there were other things which remained.
Saturday. He would be here, in her own home. Her skin prickled as it had when he had been so close at the party.
Wendy crossed to the window and gazed down over the garden. She always told the children fairies lived in the wood at the bottom, but in fact even she had never seen any. But tonight something glinted. Something. She stared, her eyes wide. Something, silver, shining, had caught the moonlight and shot a beam fast up to flash in her eyes. And surely something else? A booted foot moving behind a tree.
Wendy stood stock still as if her silence would draw the thing out again, but saw no more. She dropped her gaze and noticed her right hand was clasped flat against her belly, which was sheathed only in the thin cotton of her nightgown. She brought it up, up over the swell of her breasts, so that the palm grazed a nipple, hardening it, awakening it. Her breath hitched.
Saturday was only two days away.
Chapter 5: Five
This chapter refers to a beautiful, haunting lullaby I have recently fallen in love with. It is so perfect for what I wanted to convey, although it does not imply that Hook is the father of any of Wendy's children, I will add.
The link on youtube to a gorgeous version is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNZFYyFyD3U
Wendy wore the pale blue chiffon dress the evening Hook was coming to dinner, the one she looked sweet in, according to Lizzie Forbes.
The Forbes family, all three of them, arrived in good time. Hubert Forbes clasped her in a fatherly hug. 'Good evening, my dearest Wendy. How well you are looking. I'm sorry we missed you the other day.'
'It was a shame, Hubert, but at least you could come tonight.'
'Hullo, Wendy, sweet.' Imogen Forbes, Hubert's wife, lacked the beauty Wendy's own mother had carried, but still held a grace about her which was a comforting reminder of Mrs Darling. Wendy hugged the woman tight in greeting.
'Come through to the drawing room.'
As Jeremy guided the elder Forbes through, Lizzie caught Wendy quickly, pulling her to a corner of the hall. 'Can you believe being invited just after our conversation? Is he here yet?'
'Who?' She may as well feign ignorance.
'The sea captain. Captain Hook, isn't that his name? A curious name, I will admit.'
'He's a curious person.'
'But still handsome.'
The doorbell chimed. Pearson went to open the door. Lizzie was on tiptoes, craning for a first glimpse.
'Good evening. My name is James Hook. I am expected.'
Wendy's heart did a peculiar little dance when she heard the voice. Pearson held the door wide and James Hook walked straight and tall into her house. He was wearing a black woollen coat over his tails, and his hair was tied back as before. A silk hat sat on his head, but he quickly took it off, offering it to Pearson with the coat he had shrugged off elegantly.
With a sly smile, he paced across to the ladies. 'Mrs Montgomery. A veritable delight, once again.'
And he kissed her hand. And she was in no hurry to pull it away. But then Hook's eyes turned to Lizzie, who was standing with a smile as broad as a cat over the cream.
His smirk deepened. Wendy's stomach churned as it used to at Sunday school when Henry Brooks chose to talk to Emily Gregson, all ringlets and dimples, and not her.
'I have not yet had the pleasure …' purred Hook.
Lizzie had practically flung her hand at him before he had a chance to reach for it.
Wendy's words almost stuck in her throat. 'Captain Hook. May I introduce Miss Elizabeth Forbes?'
'Lizzie,' corrected her friend quickly. 'I cannot remember the last time I met a sea captain, sir.'
'Miss Forbes … I hope I will not disappoint.' He kissed her hand, his eyes turned up tantalisingly. Wendy didn't think he lingered over it quite as much as he had on hers. 'What charming friends you have, Mrs Montgomery.'
'Shall we go through? You will need a drink, no doubt, Captain.' Curling her hand around Lizzie's arm, she tugged her friend away, knowing her head was still turned towards the pirate.
The chat over dinner was affable and easy enough. Jeremy and she had forgotten their quarrel, and he had made arrangements for the evening carefully, she noted. Hook and Lizzie seemed to be getting on, albeit in a rather giddy, unfocused way on her part, and a sly murmuring one on his. Wendy tried to ignore it. It did not please her.
The two of them were seated together, on the opposite side of the table to their hostess. He would frequently lean louchely across to Lizzie and lower his voice so only she could hear. Lizzie would let out a little giggle and turn to fix him with her eyes, more dopey than Wendy had ever seen them. Wendy tried to keep her head down or engage Hubert in conversation, but she found her gaze constantly drawn across to try to read their interaction, and when she did, Hook would break away from Lizzie and send a wry smirk or a flash of bright eyes her way.
Damn him. Damn all he was.
If Jeremy Montgomery was worried his wife would embarrass him again in front of his new client, he need not have feared. She seemed curiously devoid of conversation tonight.
At last, it came time for the Forbes to leave. Once again, Lizzie managed a quick moment with Wendy.
'Oh, my darling, that man! He is …' She couldn't finish but stood gazing at That Man with her hand clasped over her tremulous bosom. Wendy had to avert her gaze. 'I think he's smitten, don't you? Cannot take his eyes off me.' Hook was certainly looking across at them now, although Wendy thought perhaps his gaze was directed more towards her.
'What about William Bartlett?' she asked of Lizzie tersely.
Imogen came over to interrupt. 'Elizabeth, we must be going. Thank you so very much, my dearest Wendy. A delightful evening, as always.'
Jeremy was holding the door open for them. 'What a beautiful night it is. I quite fancy accompanying you all home. What do you say, Wendy? Shall we all take a stroll along the river?'
Hook had not yet put his coat on. Wendy hung back. 'Oh, I think not tonight. I am quite weary now. You go, by all means.'
'Would you mind? It is such a marvellous evening. I could use some fresh air to clear my head after all that brandy,' he chortled. 'Are you coming, Captain?'
Hook held his coat, making a show as if to put it on. 'I am, alas, heading in the other direction.'
'Oh, bother. Never mind, old chap. You're in the bank on Tuesday, aren't you? I shall sort those tax issues with you then.'
Hook inclined his head. 'Thank you for a wonderful evening. And how delightful to meet you all, Mr and Mrs Forbes and … Miss Forbes.' He kissed Lizzie's hand again, holding her eyes for far longer than Wendy thought necessary. Lizzie smiled, not her usual dippy beam of girlish glee, but a far deeper and meaningful smile, it seemed. Wendy had a strange urge to push her over.
And her husband led them out onto the pavement, shutting the door absent-mindedly behind him. Hook was left inside with his wife. He may have looked as if he was about to put on his coat, but he hadn't. Pearson was busying herself tidying the dining room. The pirate and his former captive stood alone in the hallway.
Wendy held herself tensely, wringing her hands distractedly. 'You and Lizzie seemed to enjoy each other's company.'
'A charming girl.'
'And most desperately pretty.' He eyed her with steely intent.
'You know she is.'
'Well, I must say, you were certainly conversing with her a lot.'
'And why should I not?'
'If she knew who you really were, she would not go near you.'
'Of course not.'
'You know who I really am, and yet you are near me.'
She dared raise her eyes to him. Her insides awakened instantly, that curious prancing, leaping sensation which wouldn't shift whenever he was around. 'I want you to leave her alone. You are not to see her again.'
'You are very quick to order me about, Wendy Darling. I tend not to listen to orders. And, anyway, why exactly do you wish me to stay away from delicious little Lizzie Forbes?'
Wendy swallowed hard. 'I don't want her getting hurt. You are the last person on earth she should think suitable.'
'Oh, is that the reason? You are protecting her from me?' He adopted a pouting expression of concern.
'No other reason?'
'What other reason could there be?'
Hook's lips now moved from pout to smirk and he took two slow steps towards her. She waited.
Just then there was a sobbing from the top of the stairs. Wendy looked up to see Jane standing there, tears seeping down her face. Her little girl was tottering down the staircase towards them.
'Oh, Janey! Whatever is the matter? Where is Nanny? Has she not realised you are distressed?' She rushed to pick up her daughter and held her tight, stroking her damp, night-fevered brow. 'Did you have a nightmare, my darling? Oh, I should call Miss Stockton.'
'The child does not want her nurse. She wants her mother.'
Wendy turned with stark amazement to Hook, scarce able to believe the words had come from him. She should be affronted that he would deliver parenting advice to her, but no riposte came. He nodded his head towards the drawing room. 'Take her, comfort her. She will settle soon enough.'
How dare he turn from devilish seducer to sensitive nurturer so quickly? Her instincts were thrown into confusion.
'Thank you, Captain Hook. I know full well how to look after my own children.'
He smiled, a soft, knowing smile, and a surprising rush of warm nostalgia seeped through her. She had been mother to a great many children, big and small, in the Neverland; they both knew it.
Wendy carried a still sobbing Jane through into the drawing room and settled her down in her arms on the sofa. She was aware of Hook following. He sat in a chair opposite, watching in quiet stillness. The fire was dimming and the room glowed with an amber contentment. Wendy rocked her daughter, stroking her brow and kissing the top of her little round head. It seemed to do little to comfort her.
'When I was distressed, my mother would sing to me.' Hook's deep voice fitted seamlessly into the thick, dim warmth of the room. She had rarely heard it so fluid and mellifluous. So suited to the situation.
Wendy glanced at him. She had never thought of him as even having a mother. Looking on him now, she saw a wistful melancholy in his eyes. It pained her almost as much as the weeping infant in her arms.
'I do sing to them, often.'
'Sing now then. She would like that. And so would I.' Gone was the Machiavellian intent, the sinister edge of villainy. He spoke with such aching sincerity she almost felt ashamed of ever fearing him.
And so, taking a deep breath, clinging to her infant with as much need as the child clung to her, Wendy prepared. She sang this lullaby often; its beautiful, slow, bittersweet melody always drifted her children to sleep.
Her eyes fixed on the ground beyond her daughter's head, and finding comfort in the soft hair atop it which stroked her cheeks, the words rose with husky sweetness from her:
'Hush my babe, my little one, Thy father sails the deep, But warm thy bed is, pretty one, Lie still, my dear, and sleep.
Cold the wind is blowing, Angry is the sea, Guard, ye saints, his going, And bring him back to me.
Hush my babe, my little one, Thy father sails the deep, But warm thy bed is, pretty one, Lie still, my dear, and sleep.
When the morn shall break again, Over hill and lea, Then my love shall wake again, And dance on daddy's knee.
Hush my babe, my little one, Thy father sails the deep, But warm thy bed is, pretty one, Lie still, my dear, and sleep.'
All was silent when she finished. Jane was asleep. Wendy had barely realised it, but she had been staring at James since the second verse. And when the song ended and the silence came, she continued to stare at him. Holding her sleeping child whilst looking into this man, a sense of such overwhelming tranquillity came over her that she felt almost rooted there, that time had come to a gradual and easy halt, that they would remain like that, the three of them, until it all ended. 'Bring him back to me ...' she murmured, unaware.
Jane stirred, still asleep but lying awkwardly; she needed to be taken to her bed. Reluctantly but necessarily, Wendy tried to stand with the sleeping child in her arms, but the weight of an 18-month-old infant was too great and she found herself sinking back down before she had even straightened up. She allowed herself a smile at the silly sight it must have been. He had crossed to her in an instant.
'Allow me.' James leant down, extending his arms, inviting her to place her daughter in them.
She tightened her grip instinctively on Jane. How could she hand her daughter over to this man? She recalled how he had treated her as a girl, how he had edged her forward on the plank. But how he had also longed for her imagination, her devotion and her nurture – the best of a woman – and she had spurned him. Would it have been so wrong? Would it have been so ghastly to join him at sea and tell him stories and sing him songs and …?
James waited, his eyes still locked with hers. And Wendy handed him her daughter. He took the child in his arms gently and carefully and Wendy knew then she could trust him. Jane turned into the man's warm strength and she was safe. Tenderly and softly, James Hook carried the sleeping girl from the room, heading for the staircase with Wendy following behind.
They turned to find Jeremy Montgomery standing in the front doorway of his house, still holding open the door he had just entered by. His eyes darted between his wife, his client and his sleeping daughter held in the man's arms.
Wendy's belly lurched and she hurried towards him with an over-effusive smile, making a show of kissing him on both cheeks. 'Jane had some night terrors, that is all. She must have climbed from her crib, for she came down all by herself. The captain kindly offered to carry her for me; you know how heavy she is when asleep.'
'Right. I thought you left when we did, Hook. I'll take her then, shall I?' And, moving faster than Wendy had ever seen him, Jeremy paced across to James and practically prized Jane from his arms. His daughter opened her eyes in rude awakening and let out a sob of shocked despair. Wendy rushed to him with a tut but managed quickly to soothe her child back to sleep, shooting her husband a furious glare.
'Don't you dare wake her again. Take her up quickly now – she must get to sleep properly.'
Jeremy's face was serious. 'Very well. Hook, I imagine you'll be wanting to leave. It's late. Pearson will see you out. Good evening. I will see you in the office next week.'
Hook managed a sly smirk at the abrupt dismissal. 'Montgomery.' He turned to Wendy. 'Thank you for such an enchanting evening, Mrs Montgomery. And little Jane,' he whispered to the child, his right hand stroking her hair briefly, 'dream of distant lands and fairy kingdoms ... and pirates.' His eyes lifted to Wendy once more before he turned and swept out.
A while later, as Wendy settled Jane in her cot, reassured that the child was now peaceful and perfectly asleep, she glanced out towards her wood at the bottom of the garden.
And just before she pulled the curtains tight shut, she saw a flash of light glinting in the dimness once again.
Chapter 6: Six
Wendy sat at her correspondence desk on Monday morning, her hand poised over the letter to Mrs Runciman-Piggins of the Mothers' Union. She had been asked to run the chutney stand at the forthcoming church fete, but today she was finding it somewhat hard to concentrate on whether apple or tomato was more likely to appeal to the discerning palates of Belgravia.
She had been sitting stock still for several minutes, eyes staring blankly, pen clutched so hard her fingers were blanching, although she had no awareness of this. It took the sudden interruption of Pearson to rouse her.
'Mrs Montgomery, Cook would like to know if you will be wanting the eggs for the children to decorate. I believe you had an idea about it a while back.'
'Umm.' Wendy stared hard at her housekeeper, trying to tune into the question. But her mind provided only the image of James Hook sitting in her living room while she held her child, his face so perfectly shaped, his mouth a slight, knowing smile, his eyes seeing into her very soul, evoking more deep within her than she had ever before imagined. And at this moment now, she was hurting. It was like the hurt from her youth when Peter used to leave her, like the hurt when she left the children for two weeks to visit her ailing mother.
She missed him.
'Mrs Montgomery? The eggs?' Pearson tried again.
'Sorry? What about the eggs?'
Pearson, ever the height of deference and dignity, would not have gone so far as to let out an audible tut, but the pursing of her lips and furrowing of her brow expressed her increasing frustration with the lady of the house. 'Would you like Cook to keep the eggs back for the children to decorate? Or else she'll make a mousse with them.'
'Oh, yes, yes, I'll ... we'll keep them and decorate ... of course. A wonderful idea.'
'Very well, ma'am.' Pearson turned to leave but stopped herself and looked back, her face now etched with real concern. 'Are you feeling quite well, ma'am?'
'Well? Yes, very well, Pearson. Thank you.'
The housekeeper sniffed with mild suspicion but turned for the door. 'Good morning, ma'am. Ring should you need me.'
'I will, Pearson.' When the housekeeper had gone, Wendy threw down her pen and stood abruptly, gasping in a rush of air and pulling her hands through her hair, which suddenly seemed to be hot and heavy and excessive.
She was desperate for a distraction; the house was stifling her today, both body and mind. She paid a visit to the children in the nursery, but was met with clear annoyance from Miss Stockton and the boys, who were in the middle of a particularly graphic lesson on the Battle of Culloden. She played with Jane for a while, but her daughter only reminded her of the evening with Hook.
Just after 3 o'clock the doorbell rang and she herself went to answer it. Outside stood a breathless Lizzie Forbes.
'Oh, Wendy, you'll never guess who came to call this morning!'
Lizzie pushed straight past Wendy into the house. For once, the visit was far from welcome, especially as Wendy had guessed immediately who it was calling on Lizzie that morning.
'Lizzie, I'm a little busy with –'
'Captain Hook! Or rather, James ...' She sighed out his name. 'I told you he was smitten. Luckily mama was in, or perhaps unluckily ... heaven forbid what would have happened if she had not been there!'
Lizzie handed over her coat to Pearson, who had appeared with her usual silent efficiency, and rushed through to the drawing room. Wendy had to follow, a feeling of such leaden dismay sinking into her she could barely stand.
Lizzie was exultant and clearly more than smitten herself. Wendy usually revelled in her friend's latest passions, but not this time. Now she stood looking at the woman's swirling euphoria with a sensation bordering on hatred. Hook could have visited here if he'd wanted. She had been polite enough to him recently, hadn't she? And after the incident with Jane she had thought ...
'The way he looks at me, Wendy! Oh, it gives me the most wonderful tingles from my fingers to my toes. It is as much as I can do not to let him ravish me right there!'
'Lizzie! You can't say that!' It was not with shock at the idea that Wendy spoke, but rather resentment that it was being expressed so openly by someone who wasn't her.
'Oh, but I will. I cannot describe how it feels. He is so much ... a man. How else to put it? When he stands near me, his eyes – those glorious eyes – it is as if he can see straight through all the layers of clothes to my bare skin!' She released her rapture in a long sigh again. 'I just want him to –'
'What did your mother have to say?' interrupted Wendy tersely.
'Mama? I wish she had been gone! Of course nothing could happen with her there. And he is such a gentleman.' Wendy cocked a cynical eyebrow, unseen by Lizzie. 'He was talking to her of all the different countries he has visited. I daresay she is rather charmed by him too.'
'Did he go into details about his time at sea?'
'He said he had been most successful in trade, and that people respected his wishes due simply to his tremendous reputation.'
'Is that right? And what else did you speak of?' She had a burning need to know every detail.
'Well, he spoke at length of last Saturday night and how he enjoyed coming to your house.'
'Yes. He was most generous in his praise of you. After all, he knows you are my friend - he will want to appear kind towards my friends in order to please me. He was, in fact, most inquisitive about you, asking me how long I had known you and how I valued your friendship. How sweet of him, so concerned about my happiness.'
The wretched moroseness Wendy had felt earlier now shifted to that increasingly familiar ache which sat in her stomach and would not shift. Surely Lizzie would notice her flushed cheeks?
'Not that I recall. He had to leave after a half hour or so. It was far too short a time. I wish we could have had some time alone, although I am not sure I could have been trusted with him!' She grabbed Wendy's hand and laughed aloud. Her giddy happiness did not transmit into Wendy as it normally did.
'How did he leave it? Do you think he will call again?'
'Oh, I should hope so. We didn't set a time, but when he left he said 'until next time' and gave me one of those delicious smiles of his.'
Wendy wanted one of those delicious smiles for herself right now.
She stood up. 'Lizzie. I'm most terribly sorry but I promised to attend to the children this afternoon. I have no time to spend with you now.'
'Perhaps later in the week. I will send you a note.'
'Oh, Wendy, that is too bad,' she sulked. 'You are always free on a Monday afternoon. Now I shall have to go shopping and spend an awful lot of money instead.'
Wendy managed a smile. 'Well, I'm sure that will ease your disappointment.'
Lizzie followed her to the door, her annoyance with Wendy clearly tempered by the memory of Hook and the prospect of throwing her father's money around the boutiques of Kensington. 'Goodbye then. I'll let you know what happens with regard to my glorious captain. Hopefully, I have him, hook, line and sinker!' She waved goodbye, and her laughter rang in Wendy's ears as she shut the door on her friend forcefully.
Wendy had to lean back against the closed door to steady herself. She knew Hook's ploy. And it was working rather spectacularly. She wasn't sure if she was more upset by the jealousy he was engendering in her or the fact that he was managing to achieve it so easily.
And she missed him more than ever.
Jeremy set off for work early the next day; he had a meeting.
Wendy was agitated, busying herself around the house distractedly, moving fretfully from room to room. She found herself in Jeremy's study and noticed some papers on his desk. Had he forgotten them? They could well be important papers for the meeting. She chose to ignore the details at the top indicating that they were in fact for a meeting in several weeks' time.
But perhaps he would need them anyway. And it was a nice day. A visit to the Strand would not go amiss.
It was rare, if unheard of, for wives to visit their husbands' place of work, but Wendy Montgomery was no ordinary wife. The clerks did no more than elevate disapproving eyebrows as she breezed into the lobby and straight up the marble staircase to Jeremy's office. She didn't even knock; she would normally, but today she was in a particular hurry.
And as she opened the door, she found the reason for her haste sitting in a chair across from her husband.
James Hook stood first, a look of self-satisfied pleasure quickly capturing his face.
'Wendy! What the devil are you doing here?' Jeremy leapt to his feet in alarm.
Once she had torn her eyes away from the pirate, she turned to her husband and remembered to proffer the few documents she had brought along. 'You left these behind. I came to give them to you.'
Jeremy walked across to her, his face creased with bewildered annoyance. 'Oh. These are unimportant. I don't need them until next week. I left them at home deliberately to work on later. Why ever did you bother?'
'I thought perhaps they were significant.' She turned once again to Hook, her words a little breathless. 'Good morning, Captain Hook. How are you?'
'Very well, indeed … Wendy. And even better now that our admittedly tedious discussion of taxation law has been interrupted by such a beautiful visitor.'
Jeremy cleared his throat.
Wendy was looking at Hook. 'Jeremy, I am very thirsty. Could you find me a cup of tea, please?'
Her husband tutted. 'You can't stay long, my dear, I'm a very busy man. You should be getting home.'
'I will, but I must have a drink first. And a biscuit if you could.'
'My secretary is busy. I shall have to do it myself.' Jeremy didn't quite know where to begin.
'I'm sure you can rustle something together.'
With a huff, Jeremy left the room, slamming the door behind him.
Wendy managed to hold James in her own cool, appraising gaze.
'What a coincidence finding you here, Captain.'
'A coincidence? I recall your husband saying in your presence that I was coming into the bank today.'
'You know he did.'
'You went to see Lizzie Forbes.'
He was smirking. She wasn't sure if she loved or hated his smirks.
He pouted with insouciance. 'A social call to a new acquaintance to pass time in the morning. I suggested she may like to pay you a visit in the afternoon. I was sure her best friend would love to hear of her day.'
'Still playing the game, Hook?'
'How is that?' He cocked an eyebrow. She wanted to stroke it.
'You're trying to make me jealous.'
'Jealousy? How exciting! Nothing stirs the blood more, I find. And I should know.' He snarled, just a little, but enough to remind Wendy of the bitter envy which had eaten away at his hopes and dreams. A prick of empathetic pain poked her. But Hook's face soon recovered and he took a step towards her, his lips sliding back into a smirk. 'In any case ... I appear to be succeeding.'
'I am more concerned for her well-being.'
'No, you are not. You want me all to yourself.'
She hated the truth of it.
'Stop that! I am a married woman and you are still a villain, Hook. You are still the vile, evil, miserable wretch you always were, manipulating and using anyone in your path!'
The smile wavered, but only to be replaced by a searing intensity. He stepped in again. He was so close now, just like in the study that night at the party. Her breath was held; his eyes almost burned her; his voice poured its way down like dark honey. 'That's right, Wendy. Let your anger feed you. Let it lead you and you will glory in it. You love my villainy. You wanted me then in all my wickedness and you know now that you want my iniquitous passion again, for you know what it will bring you – bring you what you long to be, what you need to be. I am not interested in your mewling, shallow china doll of a friend. I will flatter her and flirt with her and let my eyes take their fill of her pretty little body whilst there is no one else around, but I will use her only to get to you and I will have you and take you. Yes, I am villain. I am your villain, Wendy, your creation. I am the man you always craved, the man you desired and longed for and never had. And now I am here, Wendy. I waited and I have come back for you.'
She was pressed against the wall and he was there, right there, hard and hot and man. And she -
Jeremy walked in with a tray of tea, pushing the door open to mask them behind it for a moment. Wendy stepped nimbly away from Hook before her husband noticed. (He never noticed as his mind was too full of bills and debit sheets and loans, and on this occasion tea and biscuits and where exactly to place the tray.) Hook stepped out into the room, setting himself with renewed elegance and frightful distinction.
'Thank you, Jeremy,' she muttered, 'but I must go. I remembered Peter has a visit to the dentist. I'd like to accompany him. Good bye.'
And she was gone, leaving her husband standing in his office with a tray of tea and biscuits.
'Macaroons?' crooned Hook, reaching across for one and taking a voracious bite. 'My favourite.'
It was a hot night. Jeremy was sleeping soundly. Wendy was not. She was barely aware of his presence, except to incur her frustration with his regular soft snoring. The moon shone brightly outside, the blue glow pervading her room, despite the curtains only being open a chink.
She had gone to the bank because she knew James would be there, she could not deny it. She had longed to see him, had needed to see him, and the things he had said to her, as much as she wanted to decry them, were the truth. With a silent sob, released into the heavy, stagnant air around her, she acknowledged it.
Wendy had to get out, she could scarcely draw breath. And so, neglecting to put on slippers or robe, she hurried silently from the room, leaving her husband sleeping alone. Her feet carried her down the stairs, and before she knew it she had opened the door from the music room and stepped out into the garden.
The evening dew dampened her feet, seeping up between her toes to cushion and embalm them. She padded on through the dimness of soft hued night, down across the dusky lawn, towards the trees which formed that wild land she so loved, land her husband had wished to tame, land she had pleaded with him not to. Each footfall took her back, each inhalation of evening air, infused with honeysuckle and moonlight, carried her towards a past so heady, so vivid that she began to run, to hasten towards it, her nightgown becoming wet as the longer blades caught at it.
She was there at last, in the small grove of trees. The moon shone blue bright and, even through the dense leaves, cast a silver shimmer across the bluebells carpeting the ground. Wendy lifted her head, staring up, catching the glimpse of stars through the canopy. If she could be back in Neverland now she would; she wanted it, she wanted it again, now and forever. A breath of remorse shuddered into her.
There came the sudden snap of a twig behind her. She darted around, eyes wide and searching and hopeful. 'Who's there?'
Her eyes flitted wildly about, discerning everything and nothing. The silver birches looked unworldly in the moonlight, their pale trunks dappled, camouflaged, almost transparent. But she could see nothing beyond them. A thrush flew up, causing her to step back, alert, heart pounding and expectant.
The voice came from behind her. This time she did not react with shocked reflex, but slowly, stretching the anticipation out deliberately, she turned to face him.
James Hook stepped out from behind a trunk, his hair loose, his jacket and waistcoat absent. Affixed to his left hand was the familiar gleaming curl of an iron hook. He stood still at first, staring upon her softly, his mouth fixed in a gentle line. She looked back, no longer surprised, not fearful, and inquired steadily, 'Why are you here?'
'There is no other place I could be.'
'Are you here often?'
'Every night. You know I am.'
'You are trespassing.'
'I shall summon the police.'
'I doubt it.'
'I shall. This is private property.'
He simply looked at her. She did not move.
And then she let her shoulders drop and her head with them. A soft sigh, conveying so much with such little effort, left her. Wendy walked beyond him, deeper into the wood, and stood in a patch where the moonlight flooded in, free from the restraint of overhanging branches. Raising her head, she stretched her neck up as if it was paining her. Her eyes closed, and she let the pale light play over her eyelids.
'It reminds me ...' she murmured.
'You know what.'
He was moving closer to her. 'You never came back.'
She laughed. 'Go back there? Look at me now, Hook. Look at what I am. That life is long gone.' Her voice was not as assured as she had intended. She smiled ruefully.
He did not take his eyes from her, and now she did not shy from it, but took from it. The ice-blue of his gaze penetrated deep into her being, nourishing her both with memory and anticipation. And it felt good.
'I saw you once in the forest.' He was speaking of Neverland.
She smirked. 'You saw me often in the forest. You took me captive in the forest.' A prickle ran through her at that memory of exhilarated danger.
'No. The first time. The first time I ever saw you. You were unaware.'
Wendy waited for him to continue, eager. The thought of James Hook spying on her was not an unpleasant one.
'You were dancing.'
'Yes. With him.'
'Do you not recall it?'
Oh, yes, of course she did. 'Amidst the trees.'
'That is right. It was a most unsettling sight.'
'Because you were both so happy with each other.'
A pang of guilt, shame even – was Pan more worthy of experiencing happiness than another? She tried to offset it onto Hook. 'And you cannot stand people to be happy.'
'More than that.'
'He was no longer alone. He had somebody. And I -' The man sucked in a breath. '- did not. Not only was I reminded of my own solitude, but I feared that if he found somebody he would change … that he would no longer wish to play.'
'Play? I do not call trying to kill somebody playing.'
'Oh, I do. And so does he.'
She eyed him with the weary eyes of a grown woman. 'You are just as much a boy as him in many ways.'
'In some ways perhaps, but not all. You know that.'
'You hate him for not growing up when you must.'
'It is not that alone ... you know me better than that.' Yes, there was more, and she knew it.
'I had to grow up.' She spoke with more regret than she intended.
'Of course. You're a woman.'
And that is why she was back here now, in her fine house with her fine husband and children. But Wendy was not thinking of that. All she could envisage was a time when the wind whipped in her hair and sea spray sprang over the rocks, salty and sharp. 'You say you saw me without me realising that first time. It was the same for me. The first time I saw you properly, you were unaware of it, of my being there.'
'At the Black Castle. I was on the ramparts, hiding behind a rock. You came out searching for Pan and I saw you.'
His eyes creased in the effort of revisiting the past. 'I remember that. I remember something ... a noise ...'
'It was me. I was sure you would see me and ...' Her voice trailed off.
Wendy turned her head to the night sky again, her eyes now wide open, welcoming it in. 'It was a night like tonight – still and expectant, as if every creature was awaiting something. The moon shone just as it does now. It shone so brightly on yo- '
She could have been back there – bathed in moonlight, the man's dark, beautiful danger fast approaching to discover her. 'You were wearing a dark blue coat with gold trim. Your hair was wild in the wind and your eyes ...'
'Were you scared?'
'Scared?' She thought hard, and when she had found the answer deep in her soul, turned to look at him, as real before her now as he had been then. 'Perhaps ... but not of you.'
Hook cocked an eyebrow, inviting more.
'I was scared of the strange feelings within me, unknown emotions. Something stirred inside me, something I had never felt before ... something that excited and terrified me equally. I was entranced.'
Hook stepped towards her, his body as alive and primed as hers. 'You know now what it was, don't you?'
She looked darkly at him, her face solemn and tight, and then turned back towards the house. But Hook caught her by the arm and held her back; she did not resist him. He stepped in again, whispering down. 'Thou knowest now, dost thou not ... Wendy? Because thou art searching for it still.' She took no further steps away. His body stood tall and heated beside her, his presence eradicating all else. 'If you were in Neverland and you came across me in the forest now ... if we found each other ... would you dance with me, Wendy?
She turned, looking full into him.
'Wendy ... would you dance with me?'
And, slowly, Wendy nodded. 'Yes, I would dance with you. But we're not in Neverland, James Hook.'
His eyes were bright and his smile showed only optimism. 'We could pretend, Wendy. Make believe, Wendy. Make believe.' And with that he placed his right hand, warm and strong, on her waist, and held up his left arm for her. And, her eyes fixed on her own hand as if watching it move unbidden, Wendy slowly lifted it and placed her fingers around his wrist, just where the hook was attached. 'Dance with me, Wendy Darling.'
He began to move her. And she let him. Right there in the little wood at the bottom of her garden, their own little Neverland, dappled in the pale blue glow of night, James waltzed her slowly and carefully, never taking his eyes from hers, always holding fast. They moved silently through the trees, over the damp earth beneath their feet, barely noticing, seeing only each other.
And then he slowed. And stopped. But he did not let her go and she did not pull away. His right hand moved to clasp into the small of her back and Wendy was pulled hard against him. There she stayed, her breath pressing her slender body against him with each pull in. She felt his chest rising and falling too, tight and hot.
His eyes searched her face until he found what he was looking for, there, in the corner of her mouth, still there, clear and obvious. Wendy Darling had guarded her kiss fiercely all her life, only bestowing it to those worthy few. Until now there had only been two, one called Boy and one called Husband. But there was always another. And now he was here.
Hook bent his head, closer, drawing ever closer. Wendy did not move, did not take her eyes from his, those same eyes which had entranced her on the ramparts of the Black Castle.
And as he drew nearer, Wendy saw something she did not recall on those other two kiss-thieves. James Hook too had a kiss. On the corner of his mouth, tucked away behind his whiskers, there it was. For her. She had given her kiss away before, but never had she received one back.
And so their lips touched and they kissed. Soft at first, gentle, the most exquisite blessing of acceptance.
It was Wendy who moved. Not away. No. For Wendy knew at last that this was how it was supposed to feel. That this was what the kiss she kept so guarded was meant to launch and receive back. As soon as his lips touched hers, those soft dark lips which had curled up in compliment, in tease, in spite and in remorse, as soon as those lips touched hers, she knew. That coil in her belly, dormant for so long, at times awakening but never unravelling, now started to untwist and assert its presence, demanding attention, demanding more. And so she curled her arms around his neck, stroking the warm dip at the nape, feeling his hair fresh and loose, enjoying the muscles stretching tight and hard across his shoulders. She held him close and kissed him back, growing bolder and surer as she did.
And he responded. The hand on her back now pulled hard, pressing her firm and flush against him, holding her against his greedy body. He broke away only to drag his mouth down her neck. Wendy gasped in air, still holding him against her, concentrating on every sensation, every inch of contact over their bodies. And there, pressing into her lower abdomen, she felt that rock-hard nudge of man. She was familiar enough with male arousal, but this time she welcomed it as if for the first time. Hook was murmuring: kissing and nuzzling and murmuring as he went.
'Wendy, my Wendy, my own ... always ... come back to me ... come back ...'
Yes, yes, I'm here. I'm here. I'm yours. But she kept her response in silent secret thoughts.
And their mouths met again, open now and hungry, desperate and needy. His tongue sought entry and she granted it, not questioning. This sensation of tongue in her mouth was new, but with him she didn't stop to ponder, with him all was right. James' hand had risen to hold her head as tight to him as he could; she pressed the rest of her body against him, her own hands gripping the small of his back, holding him fast.
His lips were now bruising, devouring, and still she wanted more, as if she had not known man until now, had never felt desire.
And they were falling, tumbling to the ground. Man was on her and holding her and he was reaching up, hot fingers grazing her thigh, coming closer. Yes, oh please, yes.
The scent of crushed bluebells swept strongly into her and a light was switched on in the house. And Wendy panicked.
'Oh, but no!'
James pulled back briefly - 'What?' - and tried to find her mouth again.
She turned her head away, glancing frantically up to the house. 'No, no ... no, I can't, I can't. Not here.' And Wendy pushed on his shoulders, holding him back.
Hook stilled, breathing hard, swallowing back his lust. He did not force himself: he did not pin her down. Tonight, he sat back and let her decide. And tonight she decided to stop.
'This is madness, James, madness. Not here, not now.'
As much as his manhood demanded her, it was enough to hear her call him by his name. And so, for now, the man stood and held out a hand for her.
She looked up, startled as much at his gesture as the situation she found herself in. Taking his hand, she let him pull her to her feet.
'I have to go back now,' Wendy said softly.
He smiled, the same smile he had given her the night she had sung for them.
Wendy started up to the house but then turned back and smiled too, the sweetest gift, before padding softly away.
It had not been tonight, but it would not be long.
Chapter 7: Seven
Why had she stopped him in the garden? She had panicked. In her own garden, as close to Neverland as she could make it, yet closer still to her husband and home, she had panicked. A lady in Wendy's position was allowed a moment of misgiving, after all.
But she could not forget his kiss.
The tingle in her lips remained all through the night, as did that heated twist deeper in her body, in the core of her being. She crept silently back into bed beside Jeremy and waited for the guilt to come.
But lying in the darkness, with her husband asleep and her own thoughts and feelings for sole company, there was only revelation: dancing in the moonlight with a pirate king; the tickle of his moustache at that first kiss; the way it grazed her later, a curious roughness she longed for again; the hardness of him wanting her, wishing for her as she did for him; sinking to the ground with him atop her; his fingers under her skirts ...
She pressed her legs together, longing for his touch there, right there.
Jeremy snorted and rolled over towards her. Wendy turned away quickly and shut her eyes tight.
They sat at breakfast the next day, barely speaking. Jeremy's eyes were trained on The Times.
'You surprised me at work yesterday.' His words were clipped, his annoyance still palpable.
'I thought I was doing a good deed.'
'Do you have any plans for the day?' he queried tersely, flicking to the financial pages.
'There is a lunchtime recital at the Bechstein Hall. I may go.'
'Hmm ... arumph.' Jeremy emitted a thick cough. His kedgeree didn't seem to be agreeing with him. Wendy privately recoiled with distaste.
'Have you and Captain Hook come to a satisfactory agreement regarding his account?'
Jeremy glanced up. 'We seem to have.'
'I suppose he will be buying a house if he intends to stay.'
'I don't know his long-term intentions. He tells me little.'
'Well, he needs somewhere to live while he's here. Where is he staying at the moment?' She kept her head down but felt her husband's eyes on her again. She feared he would not answer.
'Claridge's, I believe.'
'How nice for him.'
They finished their breakfast in silence, apart from the one occasion Jeremy asked for the salt.
It began raining. Wendy was upstairs when Jeremy left for work. She didn't hear him go. The children had just started their lessons and would be ensconced in the nursery with Miss Stockton and the tutor until five o'clock.
Wendy came downstairs in her coat and went to retrieve her umbrella.
'Going out, Mrs Montgomery?' inquired Pearson, who had a remarkable knack of appearing at opportune (and inopportune) moments. 'It's raining quite fearfully out there. Are you sure?'
'I thought I would go to the recital at the Bechstein Hall and perhaps pay some social calls first. I may be a while. I shall take luncheon out. Please inform Mrs Pargeter.'
She gave her housekeeper a brief smile before opening the door and leaving her house, her step determined.
People hurried across the grey streets of London that Monday morning in clear haste, eager to escape the heavy drizzle so typical of an English spring. The elegant lady with her umbrella rushing along the well-heeled streets of Mayfair was equally keen to reach her destination, but it wasn't rain making Wendy's feet scamper down Brook Street.
The doorman of Claridge's cast a dubious eye over her sodden skirt as she reached the door of the hotel, but opened it for her nonetheless, relieving her of her umbrella quickly. Wendy glanced surreptitiously around the elegant reception hall with its gilding and grand pillars, and when she noticed the drips falling from the hem of her skirt onto the chequer board flooring she shifted uncomfortably. But the pitter patter from her clothes was nothing compared to the drumming of her heart and coiling of her belly. Nearer yet.
Head high, she made her way to the reception desk. 'Good morning. I have an appointment with Captain James Hook. In my confusion with the rain I have forgotten the room number. Could you please remind me?'
The concierge eyed her with a glint of undeniable suspicion, but it was not his place to query the intentions of an anonymously beautiful lady and an extravagantly wealthy sea captain with a fake left hand. 'Certainly, ma'am. Captain Hook is in the Royal Suite, Third Floor.'
'Thank you.' Her beaming smile reflected the leap of her heart. Wendy turned for the stairs and hurried up them. Her legs were damp from the rain but she neither noticed nor cared. She reached the third floor with unseemly haste and soon found the Royal Suite.
And with only a quick smooth down of her weather-ruffled hair, she knocked.
Was he in? Would he answer? There was silence initially and the seconds seemed to drag out interminably. Wendy bit her lip distractedly, a habit she had abandoned in childhood.
But then she heard them again, those steady, heavy footsteps drawing close. Their approach had always made her pulse race and her breath catch, but it was with excitement and anticipation now, not dread.
The handle turned and the door opened.
James Hook's face did not register surprise. It did not register anything apart from a calm and deep certainty. His hand was resting high up on the door and he wore a loose white shirt which appeared to be a relic of his wardrobe from Neverland. The braces of his trousers hung down around his legs which ended in knee high leather boots. Wendy glanced to the end of his other arm and saw once again the shine of curved metal. Altogether, in her mind now, he was perfect. Her right foot had to shift to steady her balance.
Hook splayed his palm on the outside of the door and pushed, opening it wide. Then, taking slow steps backward, he retreated into the room and waited.
Wendy was not entirely sure her legs would work. But she was fortified by resolve and a clarity borne of desire. She walked into the room and closed the door behind her.
Hook had moved against a desk near the window and leaned back on it, arms folded, eyes trained as if appraising her, studying her. She stood in the middle of the room and met his eyes. There it was again, that prancing, uncontrollable need which uncurled itself within her, ignited so readily by the bright blue of his gaze, the gaze which had first bewitched her all those years ago.
He at last uncrossed his arms and pushed himself to stand straight up. She noticed again his boots. Black and supple and smooth.
And then he began to walk towards her. And try as she might to appear controlled, she knew she was failing. Her breath was coming fast and the tightness in her chest was heightened by the desperate pressure in her belly, extending down, hot and urgent, to that place between her legs.
James Hook was now nearly at her, but still examining her as if she was a specimen brought for his approval. He stopped two feet away. His eyes absorbed every inch of her body, and she stood for him, allowing him his scrutiny. He spoke not a word and the silent atmosphere was so primed that she dared not break it, even fearing that her audible breathing would spoil things. When his eyes returned to her face she noticed his expression more clearly; it was not one of examination, but of devotion. His mouth was parted slightly, his brows angled down into a V of deep contemplation. He was ingraining the sight of her into himself.
'Take off your coat.'
She did as she was asked quickly, although her fingers almost defied her in their agitation. At last, her coat fell to the floor in a damp puddle.
Hook tilted his head to one side, his mouth turning up the merest amount at the corners. He pointed a long forefinger upwards towards her and flexed it three times, beckoning her to step forward and causing her insides to leap like an untamed colt. She moved closer to him, away from the pool of wet coat beneath her.
And James raised his hand, as he had done that time at the party, and moved the back of it to her cheek. But when before he had stopped, not allowing touch, this time his fingers made contact with her cheek and stroked, gently, a tickle almost, and Wendy could only squeeze her eyes shut to try to stem the rise of tears.
And then his hand dropped, not leaving her skin but grazing down under her chin, down along the smooth line of her throat. At this point the hand turned, and he ran the tips of his warm, sure fingers over her collarbones then down, smoothing over the rise of her left breast, running under the dip. Wendy sucked in sharply. But he didn't stop. Down he continued, letting his hand slide into the curve of her waist, out over her hip. But instead of continuing down her leg he brought it in, towards that place, that place so alive and heated and crying out for him. He pressed in the slightest amount through her layers of clothing, but even that pressure caused her to emit a strange noise akin to the mewl of a kitten.
It was at this that he raised his other arm, the one with the hook on the end, and, using it like a single finger, brought the sharp tipped edge to his lips, pursing them and emitting a soft but sharp 'Shh' in warning.
Now his fingers were reaching further down, bunching up her skirts as he went, reaching underneath, closer, ever closer.
Wendy willed him towards her, wanting his hand higher and deeper, wanting it right there, right in her most secret place which now was his only, his entirely.
And there were his fingertips grazing over the heated cotton of her drawers. She gasped aloud, surprised to hear it. But this time his fingers didn't stop, travelling up to the top of her drawers only to slip instantly down inside, tickling through the hairs only one other man had touched. Her eyes widened, but – oh – this was right and wanted and now.
And then touch. Back to his gaze, her own wide and pleading. More, more, more. James' eyes were distant with concentration, narrowed as he slid down to find her wet and ready.
Oh, touch. There, there, my darling. One long finger, middle finger, sliding down through her, the middle of her, grazing over that place, that sweet, sweet place she'd never quite identified. There, oh there again, please, please. And he was there again. She clung suddenly onto his shoulders, hard flesh and muscle, as it was meant to be. The fingers were under her now and then – another sharp cry – inside, up inside her, two at least, and, oh, she wanted that. Pushing down, enveloping them inside, they were filling and feeling her. And then out and over that place which made her so, so happy, and in again, deep, long fingers.
Looking into his eyes – oh, angel man - rubbing over her now, not stopping, still staring into her, brows creased, mouth open, both together.
'Come, come, my Wendy, come ...'
Come where? Come with you anywhere, my darling, my love.
Nimble fingers circling, rubbing, stroking, plucking, so sure. And that lava melting down, so dangerous and high and tight and then -
Oh, truth! Oh perfect, soaring life ...
Afterwards Wendy dropped, but he caught her. He held her up on the hand still clasping her elated, wet womanhood.
To another, the extraordinary feelings may have evoked fear, so new and strange were they, but Wendy knew. Wendy knew that this was what it was supposed to be, what it should have been for so long. She kissed him amidst her tears; she kissed him with gratitude pulled from so deep that it was Hook's turn to be amazed.
They stood for many long minutes, their lips meeting, their bodies pressed together. His fingers remained within her, not wanting to leave her, as if his hand had affixed itself permanently under her skirts, visible only from the elbow up, conjoined to her.
Wendy could barely smile. She rested her head upon his forehead and murmured, almost ashamed, amazed at her own ignorance. 'I had never before -'
'But, it was ... I ... thank you -' He cut her off, kissing her words away, and, finally taking his hand from her sex, began to undress her. He was remarkably adept, and her clothes fell to the floor in layer upon layer with speedy efficiency until soon all that remained were undergarments, not insubstantial in themselves, and not unappreciated by the man responsible for their exposure.
With a slight smirk at the corset constraining her slender waist, James moved behind her. She expected it to take long and moved her hands round to assist him, but with a sudden release it came free. Wendy gasped as air surged back into her and glanced down to see her corset lying slain on the floor, its lacings sliced clean through. Now all that remained were her camisole and drawers and, after pushing her drawers down, he raised her arms up and pulled the cotton top off. Wendy was naked.
She didn't even let Jeremy see her naked. Her body was something she kept as her own private sanctuary. Yes, her husband entered her, but she wore her nightdress at all times. She always knew it was wrong, that she should reveal herself completely to him, but he had never seemed to need it and she had never wanted it. She would stand sometimes and look at herself in the solitude of her room, running her hands over her breasts and watching the nipples harden as she caressed them. She noted her slim legs running down from the dark V of hairs below her belly. Someone was worthy of it. And she waited.
Now she need wait no longer.
James Hook stared. His eyes were bright and damp, she saw that, his face misted with wonder. Wendy stilled. Neither shame nor disgust came. She was his. And she was all he wanted.
And James was upon her again, her head clasped in his hand, and he was kissing her, open and hungry. His lips pushed hers apart and she welcomed the assault of his tongue. His fingers tangled in her hair and tightened. It hurt, yes, it hurt, but caused her only to open wider for him and grip onto his shirt, pulling him close so that his body heat mingled with hers. Teeth grazed, and amidst the sweet wet heat of kiss, she tasted blood, hers perhaps, she did not care. His breath was ragged and gasping; he was so intent on possessing her mouth that he scarcely had time to draw breath, and when it came it rattled through his lust soaked body before he fed from her open mouth again. This was desire. This was passion and life. And deep within, stronger than ever, she was throbbing with an agonised hollowness, ferocious and demanding, as if she would die if he didn't fill her. But Hook was attuned to her.
His hand came to her waist and James edged her back until she could go no further and she fell upon the bed. There was only one way to address the unbearable emptiness, of expected fulfilment. Through desperate speed, Hook set about ridding himself of clothing. His shirt was tugged swiftly over his head and cast aside. His trousers were released and pushed down and he too was naked. He had no need for underwear. Wendy gaped.
To say she was awestruck would be permissible; her desire was, if truth be told, knocked off course for a moment by the sheer magnitude of what she beheld. Her doubts about Jeremy's endowments were confirmed. Not all men were as lacking in girth as her husband. What rose up before her now was – how to put it – considerable. That was the word for it, concluded Wendy, before her body throbbed its need once again, reinforced by the object in question.
Please, please be inside me now. Come inside me. Her thoughts pounded through her head but emerged only as a faint muttering. 'James ... James ...'
Hook was quickly above her, leaning over her, his eyes alight and that dance of a smile waltzing over his mouth again.
'Wendy Darling, I have you.'
He dipped his body suddenly and kissed her again hard, forcing her mouth open with insistent lips and teeth and taking her surprise with his tongue.
Never had Wendy wanted the moment of joining so much. That part of her felt electrified, aching for the fullness of man. She bucked and writhed, aware of her actions but helpless to stop them, unwilling to stop them. 'Please, please ...'
With a final smirk, James pushed her left leg to the side and positioned himself. And he was squeezing inside her. And it was different and new and exactly as it should be and she knew it now. Further in, so thick and hard and long and she could feel it, she could feel it all, stretching her, filling her, so good, so good. At last her anticipation was met by reality. It was him, it was all him and he was inside her.
She cried out and was not ashamed. It was right to cry out, it was right to let him know how glorious it felt, how glorious he felt. She arched towards him, like some animal perhaps, but it worked, he pushed deeper yet into her and she was full. Now he groaned, a sharp groan forced out by the sudden pleasure of it. Oh, that was a wonderful sound. She bucked again and he moved again and he could go no further. Another groan, longer this time, complete happiness. She was filled with him, filled with hard, solid man, filled with James Hook.
James stopped moving, just for a moment, and gazed down at her, his face creased in adoration and wonder. 'I have waited so long and you are everything. You are everything.'
'Please ... let me feel you, James. Please move in me.'
He pulled out, just a little, then pushed hard up with a grunt of urgency, almost brutal. And then again. Each time Wendy released a little cry and each time she was full again.
But then he pulled up and grabbed quickly for several pillows and cushions. And before Wendy could protest at the loss of him, he was pushing them under her. 'Lift your hips.' She did and he placed the pillows beneath her so that her hips were pushed up. Then, with a swiftness borne from certainty and skill, James lifted her legs and placed one on each shoulder before sinking swiftly down into her again. Wendy's eyes widened and her breath caught. At this angle his length – his cock – pressed down on her in such a way that her eyes sparked and delicious unimaginables darted and curled through her. It was her turn to moan. James' smirk worked her as well as his manhood.
'Oh yes. I can teach you to live, my beloved girl. I can teach you beyond reckoning things you could not fathom. Now let me have at you deep and hard.' And kneeling up, moving so that her hips were up and braced against his chest, he held her fast with his right hand and went at her, plunging his cock down into her time and again, each time finding that sweet place never before discovered. His left arm was extended to the side, at a safe distance, but moved in a lyrical way, as if he was conducting and the hook was his baton. It had dictated much of his life, after all, and now it dictated his passion.
She barely noticed his thumb move to that other place he had entranced with his fingers earlier, that little bundle of flesh which had awakened her. With each thrust into her, his thumb now rubbed and pressed, edging her over again, making that glorious tightening come faster and faster.
And she was flying again and this time he was inside her and she was clinging to his hardness and feeding off it. On it raged, beyond reckoning, wild and glorious. Her back buckled and her head was thrown back and she cried out forcefully with the release of pleasure.
When her body stilled, James dismissed her legs from his shoulders and moved over her again, still deep, still completing.
He was close, his head mere inches away. 'Look. Look at me,' he hissed, dangerous but never so perfect. She opened her bleary eyes and met his. They were bluer than ever, but right in the middle, where the forget-me-not bled into the black of his pupils, she saw the spread of red, bright and blooming. And she loved him for it.
He moved ever more urgently, his right hand tangled in her hair, tugging it hard. Once more it hurt, but she wanted to feel it as much as to feel him within her. From the corner of her eye she could see the glint of metal, so close but never quite touching.
'Wendy ... Wendy ...' James' words faded into a heaving groan and his face contorted as if in agony. He released into her hard and long; she imagined she could feel each burst of his seed as it fell thick and hot into her.
James slackened and slumped onto her, his body heavy. She brought up a hand and held him there, running her fingers over a firm back and long-formed scars. His breathing was deep, each intake pushing his strong body harder yet onto her, skin to skin.
Her eyes closed, and she slept.
Chapter 8: Eight
Wendy awoke with a start. Confusion warped her understanding. She looked furtively around the elegant room, bewildered, her heart pulsing fast. Then her eyes fell on the figure beside her in the bed. He was lying on his back, his mass of dark curls tumbling like cooling lava over the mountain of pillows.
And instead of further confusion there was clarity.
James Hook. Here, beside her. A great joy welled up and she bent to stroke his back, clearing away the hair before planting the softest of kisses over the scars which criss-crossed his firm, hardened flesh.
The man stirred and rolled over with a deep breath. Wendy continued to kiss over his torso, now enraptured of the swelling muscle, so different to the pale, feeble skin of her husband. These new urges, these previously unknown desires, all so clear and natural now.
'Wendy Darling … Darling Wendy …' His voice danced with amused delight, still groggy from sleep.
She continued to kiss, smiling as she went. 'I love you calling me that.'
'You chided me for it that first time in the park.'
'I was obliged to. And I was in shock.'
'I am glad to hear it. I strive to shock.' And before she knew it, he had spun her over, pinned her with his body, and plunged into her. Air hurtled into her with the sudden wonder and thrill of it and once again she was complete.
James Hook moved in her slowly and carefully, savouring each encompassing push, each slow and succulent pull from her devoted flesh. He was attentive and assiduous, wanting her pleasure more than his own (a rare need in him, it must be noted). But when her release came and he heard it as strongly as he felt it, her cry of wonder as sure and sudden as it had been before, he spilled into her with a force he could remember only from his youth, pleasure taking and spinning him.
Wendy smiled up and stroked his face. 'You have made me so happy. I can't fathom it. You, who were all things evil.'
'Oh, storyteller, you know not to underestimate the imagination. It will inform your needs better than the expectation of society. And your imagination, my Wendy, is true and good.'
'I have seen you kill men.'
'Needs do as needs must,' he pouted impenitently.
'I need you, villain.' Wendy arched to kiss him again and he returned it with such aching adoration she felt tears behind her lids. Hook slipped down her body and nestled at her breasts, taking the right nipple between his lips and sucking on it. Wendy stared above her, trying to tie up the threads of her mind. 'Have I been so wrong about my life? I think perhaps I have. I am not living the life I was designed for. I have lost that wonder, lost that magic which I so cherished. How could I not see it? I always knew; I always suspected. But even Peter was unable to shake me from the path I was treading.'
'You were not ready then, and he was scared of what you were becoming. It was an unknown to him. But you have done your growing up now, Wendy. And so have I. It is only now that you are able to see things without the mist of ideals.'
'Are you not my ideal?'
He smirked before plucking at the nipple again and rolling it on his tongue. 'No. I am your reality.'
He was still inside her, his manhood still palpable despite his prior release. 'I don't want you to come out of me.' She held him tight. 'But I have to go home. My children are waiting.'
'Aye. And a mother must not nor will not keep her children waiting.' And with that James lifted himself from her breast, kissed her again and gently pulled out.
Wendy washed and dressed as slowly as she could, but time conspired against her and soon enough she had to hurry away. 'When shall I see you again?' The question blurted out before she could stop.
He smiled, his thrill at her need reflected in a spark in the eyes. 'Soon. Very soon.'
Parting caused her physical pain, but with a final kiss she turned away after whispering, 'Goodbye, James,' against his lips.
But his hand caught her and held her back and he whispered with fierce need, 'Call me that again. Say it again. My name. Say it.'
With a sigh of devotion, she showered kisses over him. 'James. James … James … my darling James, my beautiful darling man …' And her kisses and words swept like a healing haze over him, casting away years of regret and resentment in a few moments.
'Go now.' And while they still had the sense, she hurried from the room and he shut the door.
Thus proceeded the conversation at dinner in the Montgomery house that night:
'How was the recital?'
'Did you go alone?'
'Are the children well?'
'Have you not seen them?'
'They were asleep when I arrived back.'
'Busy day at work?'
'The fish is good, isn't it?'
'I found a bone.'
Wendy noted that it was more frustration than shame which haunted her over the next day. Was she not supposed to be wracked with guilt over her infidelity?
Jeremy lay beside her, tossing and turning. It simply annoyed her. He was the wrong man.
But Hook had promised he would see her soon, and as Wendy knew, villain he may be, but Jas. Hook was a champion of good form. He kept to his word.
Her husband was back from work early the next day, and he brought with him a guest.
'Captain Hook was in the office and accompanied me home. He says he fancies a drop of tea. Can you inform Mrs Pearson?' Jeremy turned and smiled tightly at the man following him into his house. He was clearly acting from duty rather than hospitality.
Wendy's face broke into an elated smile as the pirate captain walked through her door.
'Good afternoon, Wendy. How delightful to see you again.'
James took her hand and kissed it. She remembered that mouth on her elsewhere.
He was dressed like any gentleman, but in her mind she pictured him as naked as she had left him the day before.
Forcing her mind back to the present, she practically ran, joyous, to find the housekeeper to quickly arrange tea.
The three of them sat in the drawing room. Wendy was bemused that she could sit so normally to tea with both husband and lover present. Perhaps that was what deception did to you: forced your mind to accept the unacceptable.
'Wendy was wondering if you were thinking of buying a house, Captain?' asked Jeremy, forcing interest into his voice.
'I am not yet sure what to do. I am considering various options at present.'
Her husband did not seem as predisposed towards Hook as she recalled, Wendy thought. But, still, he was an important client and needed to be looked after.
Miss Stockton appeared at the door. 'Mr Montgomery, I am sorry to disturb you, but Peter was wondering if you could spare a minute. His little train set is all set up and he would so like you to see it.'
Jeremy's brows wrinkled. 'Tell him I will come later. I'm busy.'
Wendy gave him short shrift. 'Oh, Jeremy, he has been so longing to show you. And it will be time for bed soon. Do go and see.'
Jeremy rose with a sigh. 'Captain, excuse me, I shall be back soon.'
'No matter, Montgomery. Nothing should come between a father and his son.' Jeremy shot his client an indignantly quizzical look before leaving the room.
Wendy stood and walked across to the doorway to watch her husband mounting the stairs. And as soon as his footsteps died away, the door was shut upon her and she was pressed back against it.
Hook was kissing her. Between devouring each other in a frantic meeting of tongues and lips and teeth, she slurred, 'Oh, I missed you. I dreamed of you and longed for you.'
Hook broke away only to flash the blue of his eyes in warning and hold up a finger to her lips to silence her. He had replaced his hook with the wooden hand and now used it to brace against the door while his other reached down to hoist up her skirts. He pulled her leg up, bending it at the knee, then moved his hand to his trousers.
Wendy glanced down, terrified and excited beyond reckoning. What? Here? Here in her own drawing room? Standing up against the door? Something far distant was screaming at her to stop. Jeremy was upstairs, the children were upstairs, the staff were along the corridor and here she was, skirts above her hips while this man released his –
She saw it. And the distant screaming stopped. In its place was a needing and wanting, urging her on, exhorting her.
'Oh yes, my darling, please, please, yes.' Again his eyes flashed and now his hand clamped over her mouth. He had done that before, many years before, and it had wrought strange feelings in her then. It did so again, stronger than ever. Instead of fear, she relished it and dragged in air through her nose, delighting in the feel of his power pressing down to restrict her vocal joy.
But how was he to do this? Was it even possible?
Hook bent slightly at the knee, pulled on her leg to raise her onto her tiptoes, and Wendy found – her mouth open in amazed delight - that, yes, it was possible. His cock squeezed inside her and she lowered herself instinctively down onto it. She wanted to smile but his hand prevented it. She wanted to laugh with sheer discovery. Oh, she was full of him again. Her eyes fluttered shut to concentrate on that fabulous feeling. He started to move, carefully but surely, never enough to fall from her. With her pinned by his body against the wall, Hook moved in her, right there against the door of her own drawing room.
His hand dropped to hold her up under her thigh. And, when she felt it, allowing her own instinct and desire to guide her, Wendy lifted her other leg so that both were now curled around him and she was held entirely on him against the door. Her arms curled around his neck and she felt herself rocked along by the thick length of him. He was catching that bud between her legs with each push forward and it did not take long for Wendy to find herself teetering on the coherent side of pleasure.
He pushed in hard again, allowing a groan of his own to escape him quietly, and she came. Fixing him with her eyes, her face crumpled, silently, no sound. Her mouth was open and her eyes creased in bewildered bliss. She was pulsing on him so hard that he could do nothing more than follow her immediately, bursting into her with three shots of pure rapture.
Hook was panting hard, the position and exertion required clearly taxing him. He rested his forehead on hers before planting a kiss on her and carefully pulling out and giving her his handkerchief. She dabbed it between her legs where his seed insisted on leaking from her and pulled her clothes back into place quickly. James had already returned to sit elegantly on the sofa. Footsteps sounded outside the door and it was opened just as Wendy stepped away from it. Jeremy stepped in, his face stern.
'Why is the door shut?'
'There was a fearful draught. It has been so miserable recently, I couldn't bear the chill. What did you think of Peter's train set?' She impressed herself with her smooth deception.
'Hmm. He's done a fine job of it. He has the makings of an engineer.' Wendy was pleased to see her husband's face lighten, and even more pleased that he had moved on from his apparent suspicions about the door being shut.
Jeremy came across to Hook. When he noticed his client's full cup of tea he pursed his lips and sat with a clearing of his throat. 'How is life in Claridge's, Captain?'
'Most comfortable, thank you. You must both join me for dinner there soon.'
'Oh, we don't dine in hote –'
'Thank you, Captain, that would be most pleasant,' interrupted Wendy. Her husband flashed her a glare.
'I hear you called on Lizzie Forbes the other day?' asked Jeremy quickly.
On hearing the name, Wendy found she didn't react with her previous green mist of jealousy but merely with curiosity as to how James would respond.
'I did indeed.'
'A very pretty girl, isn't she? And quite delightful.' Optimistic coaxing laced Jeremy's voice.
'A real catch, some would say. I doubt she will remain unmarried for long.'
'If you say so.'
'Well, I don't say, I simply mean …' Jeremy was confused by Hook's response. Wendy stifled a smirk.
'Is dinner in hand, Wendy?' Her husband glanced at his watch. 'I'm afraid we are not in a position to invite you to dine with us tonight, Captain.'
'Oh?' chipped in Wendy. 'Aren't we?'
Jeremy stuttered. 'No. We are running low on certain provisions, Mrs Pargeter told me only this morning.'
'Is that so? But there was a delivery at eleven o'clock. I saw the cart arrive myself.'
'Yes, but, we have to allow for the other … things … my dear … things that …'
'You know …' He looked with wide-eyed desperation at her, compelling her to take the hint and help him.
Hook looked from one to the other with increasing amusement but then stood smoothly. 'It is no matter. I am meeting an old school friend for dinner so I would have to decline an invitation in any case.'
Jeremy rose quickly, clearly relieved to be released from his desperate wrigglings. 'Where did you attend school, Captain?'
Jeremy pursed his lips again.
Hook continued, 'You?'
'Oh. Bad luck.'
Jeremy bristled. 'It was a jolly good school.'
'Practically in the middle of nowhere, what? Little opportunity for any … out of school activities.'
'I didn't engage in out of school activities. I was an ardent scholar.'
'I'm sure you were. How very admirable of you.'
Wendy watched this little exchange with a curious mix of emotion. On the one hand, she delighted in Hook's witty taunting of Jeremy's humbler schooling, but she had, after all, been married to this man for several years, and her amusement was tempered by pity and embarrassment. And it was time to see her children.
'Captain Hook. I am so glad you could join us for tea. I'm sure we shall be seeing you again soon.'
'I am sure you shall. Thank you for a most pleasant time.' There was something about the way he let the word 'pleasant' roll around his tongue which curled her insides instantly. Oh, let him return to her soon.
Dinner – of which, incidentally, there was plenty – began with a similar uncomfortable tension to the previous night. Did Jeremy suspect something? Even if he did, Wendy realised she was not particularly concerned. She presumed the guilt would come at some point, but so far it had not.
They drank their soup in silence and it wasn't until the chicken was served that Jeremy spoke.
'I think perhaps you were right about Hook.'
She glanced up. 'How do you mean?'
'Oh? Do you have particular reason to say this now?'
'Nothing tangible from his account, but I am finding I do not enjoy his company as I did at first.'
Wendy thought it best not to say anything. She pushed some potato onto her fork.
'And I don't like the way he looks at you.'
Her stomach heaved slightly. The stirrings of guilt?
'Don't be silly. He doesn't look at me in any particular way.'
'Of course he does.'
'In what way? I don't understand what you mean.'
He glared at her and his knife sliced back and forth through a tough piece of breast meat as if he was singlehandedly slaughtering the bird again. 'Of course you do. He looks at you in that way. As if he wants to …'
'Wants to what?' In a perverse way, she was starting to enjoy this.
'Wants to … oh, you know … finds you attractive, wants you for himself … in his bed.'
She laughed aloud and rather conveniently. Her laugh was utterly spontaneous and natural but had emerged due to the ridiculous manner her husband expressed himself. Fortunately, Jeremy took it as disbelief and amusement. His face pinked with embarrassment but subsequently softened a little.
Wendy thought it best to diffuse the situation. 'I don't notice him looking at me any differently to any of your other colleagues and friends. I thought you liked me to look beautiful for your clients?'
Jeremy managed a slight smile. 'Yes, I do and I am very proud of you, but … I have also noticed … you looking …' He sighed.
The ache returned to Wendy's gut. 'What?'
'Sometimes I think you look at him in that way too,' he said rapidly, his head still down.
And with an ease and instinctive skill which surprised even her, Wendy resorted to outright lying. 'Don't be ridiculous, Jeremy. He is a one-handed cad with the most dubious credentials and past. How could I possibly be interested in someone like James Hook?'
Jeremy looked up at her, his face still anxious. She smiled warmly. He smiled back, his expression relaxing, and took a long drink of wine. They moved onto talking about his mother, a far more established topic of conversation.
Her husband was appeased.
The following night, just after midnight, Wendy was stirred from her bed, leaving Jeremy asleep. She looked from her window and saw the spark in the darkness. Hurrying down to the bottom of the garden, there she found him, and on the soft dewy grass amidst the trees of her little wood, James Hook made love to her until the first watery grey of dawn pushed back the night.
Chapter 9: Nine
‘And my new gown from Paris arrived and it needs so many alterations it is too tedious for words. How the seamstress still finds herself in employment, I do not know.’
Lizzie chattered on vapidly over tea. Wendy eyed her blankly.
‘Anyway, it should be ready in time for the Simmonds’ party. I do so hope it will be, as it is the gown I know will impress. You remember the one, don’t you, Wendy, darling? I recall you thought it a little unseemly.’
‘Hmm?’ Wendy’s mind had wandered. She had a scratch on her back which was niggling. She brought her hand around to rub over it distractedly. ‘Your gown? Still in Paris?’
‘Oh, really, Wendy. Have you not listened to a word I have said? You seem so distracted.’
‘I’m sorry, Lizzie. I couldn’t sleep last night. I’m rather tired.’ It was true; she had slept very little the night before. She rubbed the scratch again.
Lizzie tutted. ‘And is there something the matter with your corset? You keep touching your back.’
There was nothing wrong with the corset, as such, but it was indeed aggravating the scratch. Wendy rather liked the feeling; it reminded her of how she had acquired the scratch the night before: standing, nearly naked, her clothes pooled at her feet, while James took her against the hornbeam. The curious blend of pleasure against the sharpness of the bark had rendered her climax more intense than ever. She smiled softly.
‘Don’t smile, Wendy. I daresay you are somewhat irritating today.’ Lizzie crossed her arms in vexation. Lizzie was one of those people who became irritated quickly and frequently despite having less cause than most to do so at all. ‘Anyway, as I was saying, the gown should be ready for the Simmonds’ party. As it is a Coutts function I am assuming James will be there.’
‘James?’ Wendy focused on the name.
‘Captain Hook, of course. Do try to remember! He is clearly trying to appear restrained so as not to put undue pressure on me; I haven’t seen him for a while, but I shouldn’t think it will be long now.’
‘Has he not called on you since that first time?’
‘Well … he is a busy man and I have been out many days. And mama is always at home. I rather think he wishes to see me when she is not there. I believe he is biding his time until he can catch me alone. That will be most perfect.’
‘So he hasn’t called again?’
Lizzie exhaled tersely. ‘Not as such, no.’
Wendy knew the real reason her friend had not received another call from the captain. James Hook had, in fact, been occupied rather exclusively elsewhere, as Wendy could testify to: in his bed at Claridge’s, on the floor of his suite at Claridge’s, across the divan in his suite in Claridge’s, against the aforementioned hornbeam in her garden, leaning on the elm, braced hard against the second silver birch on the right, and on that rather opportune little hillock neatly hidden behind the honeysuckle-clad wood shed.
She decided against mentioning this to Lizzie.
Was she dependent on James for her pleasure? Wendy was not one to rely on a man for her happiness, and a woman of her modern – some would say aggressively headstrong and unnecessarily impertinent – sensibilities would perhaps have thought twice about letting any male dictate her every move, but this was different.
Never had she felt so liberated, so at ease with her sex, both in body and mind. More than any political pamphlet or rousing speech, Wendy felt stronger as a woman due to James Hook’s freeing of her body than ever before. The current social climate certainly bred curiosity, but it was with her new found sexual emancipation in mind that she strode off to the Kensington and Chelsea WSPU ‘Lecture for Women’ the following Tuesday.
She had no intention of participating in anything militant, despite following the Suffragette cause carefully over the years. She had written to Mrs Pankhurst expressing her support and agreement, but little more. This was the first gathering she had actually attended, and now she was here due to curiosity as much as anything. The title of the lecture was ‘The March of the Women’, based, Wendy knew, on the lyrics of the Suffragettes’ song, which today’s speaker, Cicely Hamilton, had penned.
Wendy was a little late and slipped in quietly to sit at the back. The woman speaking had a remarkably gentle face and struck her as being excessively feminine and pretty. Did that surprise her? Had she expected all Suffragettes to be brutish both of spirit and visage? But despite her delicate outward appearance, the woman spoke with passion and conviction, her strong voice rising over the assembled listeners stridently.
Wendy could not help but admire her. Could she imagine herself doing such a thing? In all honesty, probably not. Not because she did not believe in the cause, but because she found her passions channelled elsewhere where they were satisfied immeasurably. It struck her that if Cicely Hamilton was receiving the same attention from a man like James Hook that she was, she may have less time or inclination for ventures such as this. Perhaps that was James’ own way of keeping women down – through frequent and unbridled pleasure to the point of exhaustion for any other pursuits.
‘Isn’t she wonderful.’
The query, or rather assertion, had come from the woman sitting beside her. Wendy turned to her. The young woman’s well-crafted face was framed with thick dark hair. She was beautiful and could have been no more than twenty. Her large brown eyes were fixed forward on Cicely Hamilton and her soft skin glowed with admiration for all she was witnessing.
‘She’s a very strong speaker,’ said Wendy, not wishing to dim the woman’s appreciation.
‘She’s a writer, you know. And an actress. You can tell, can’t you? Such command of the language, such joyous authority of each word!’ The woman was radiant and keenly focused and proud, so different to the frivolous narcissism of Lizzie. Wendy liked her immediately.
They listened on, and Wendy could not help but be enthused by the dedication and ardour, not only of Cicely Hamilton, but of the girl next to her, whose trim body remained in a state of constant alert tension throughout the entire lecture. At the end she stood up instantly and applauded so hard Wendy feared she would chafe her hands.
The girl turned to her triumphantly after the applause had died down and Wendy fed off her glow of exhilarated joy. The girl held out her hand strongly. ‘I’m Lillie. Lillie Lenton. You?’
Wendy extended her own hand and Lillie shook it with the forcefulness of a Bermondsey blacksmith.
‘Wendy … Darling.’
‘Did you go to Emmeline’s rally the other day?’
‘Umm … no.’
‘Oh, you should have - utterly inspiring. Some of us made a name for ourselves afterwards, I daresay.’
‘Made a name for yourselves?’
‘Yes - a little run in with the police.’
‘Really? Whatever did you do?’
‘I smashed a shop window. Large emporium in Knightsbridge. Had to be done. The manager is a vile man who insists on his girls working twice the hours of any man he employs.’
‘Goodness.’ It was all Wendy could think of to say. Lillie gave her a quizzical look.
‘You haven’t done this sort of thing before, have you?’
‘Not a member of the Union then?’
She was referring to the Women’s Social and Political Union, the organisation founded by Mrs Pankhurst. Wendy had considered joining but had not wished to upset Jeremy unduly, which she knew she would. ‘Well, I have followed you all carefully, and I wrote to Mrs Pankhurst expressing my support. But, no … I’ve never done anything like this.’
‘You should do more. It’s the most marvellous feeling in the world.’
Wendy thought the way James’ tongue rippled over her sex as two of his fingers tapped at that perfect place inside was the most marvellous feeling in the world. In fact, she knew it was. She smiled at Lillie. ‘I must be getting back.’
‘Back where? To a husband and children, no doubt. That shouldn’t stop you from joining us.’ Lillie kept pace with her and linked her arm through Wendy’s. ‘My friend and I have a little idea.’
Wendy couldn’t help but be intrigued, and the confident girl on her arm exuded a mercurial charm which was hard to resist.
‘Do you know the tea room at Kew?’
‘In the gardens?’
‘We intend to conduct a little event there.’
‘What? A march with placards?’
Lillie gave her a little smirk. ‘Something like that. Would you be interested in coming?’
‘Not particularly. I’m very happy to lend my support, but really don’t think I can afford the time or …’
‘Well, yes, I suppose.’
‘But sitting back and nodding sweetly when Emmeline says something you agree with will achieve nothing, Wendy. Deeds, not words, Wendy, that’s what we’re about. We need to be out there making those ghastly men sit up and take note. And we won’t stop. We need women like you – fine, elegant women whom men respect and listen to. When women like you make a stand - women they always thought could be relied on to stay at home and be good little wives – then we will really start to get somewhere.’
Wendy frowned. Is that what she was – a good little wife? She hardly thought running off to Claridge’s without her husband knowing and spending the afternoon in the arms of a pirate who had killed innumerable men qualified her as a good little wife. She doubted even Lillie would think that. Would it shock her if she told her? Would she consider her to be just as much in the clutches of the evils of men as a poor exploited serving girl?
Lillie took out a card and scribbled an address on it. ‘Look. I can see something in your eyes, Wendy. You’re one of us. Do come and see us.’ She gave Wendy’s hand a squeeze and hurried away.
Wendy glanced at the card. It was an address in Highgate. She tucked it into her glove and went home.
She didn’t mention her attendance at the meeting to Jeremy. She told him instead she had attended a lecture on the exotic butterfly collection at the Natural History Museum. He seemed satisfied. The following day she went to Claridge’s.
The most wonderful feeling in the world … the words of Lillie Lenton ran through her mind as James’ head buried itself between her legs and his tongue caused immediate pleasure to cascade through her. As he raised himself back up afterwards with the most roguish grin imaginable she couldn’t help a giggle of joy bubbling out of her. ‘You are a wicked, wicked man,’ she laughed, pulling him towards her and kissing him hard, tasting the curious saltiness of her own pleasure on his lips.
‘Aye, that I will not dispute,’ he demurred.
Her body sagged indulgently from the pleasure he’d given her with his mouth. ‘Do other people do that?’ she asked.
‘Hmm … although not nearly as many as ought to. If more women were satisfied in that way, the world would be a far merrier place all round.’
She laughed again. ‘How strange. I was thinking just that only yesterday.’
‘For any particular reason?’
‘I went to a Suffragette meeting.’
James cocked an eyebrow. ‘Did you indeed? I have read about these women - a curious lot.’
‘Do you not agree with women’s suffrage?’
‘I have never had cause to give it much thought. Neverland is not governed by what one would term a democracy. In fact, it isn’t governed at all. And long may it continue.’
She smiled and planted a kiss on his right nipple which was perched teasingly under her chin. ‘I agree with women’s suffrage wholeheartedly.’
‘I would expect no less.’
‘So, what are your views on the rights of women, James?’ She sat up, raising a challenging eyebrow.
‘I don’t know that I have a view. I tend to treat everybody with equal disparagement, regardless of sex.’
‘You don’t treat me with disparagement.’
‘Your husband may disagree.’
She had curled her leg around him and came across the hard length of his rigid cock. She glanced down and took it in her palm, thinking back to what he had done to her. Her thumb swept over the firm flesh of the head, causing him to suck in a breath.
‘If what you did to me is often done … is it possible to … return the favour?’ She studied the drip of clear fluid which had leaked from the tip and her tongue skittered briefly along her lower lip.
At first he simply held in a breath, as if her suggestion had wrought great anticipation in him. He stroked her hair. ‘And you ask about the equality of men and women, Wendy Darling … If you do that for a man, he will be as dough in the palm of your hand – malleable, compliant, warm and willing. He will be yours forever. Therein, you perfect creature, lies power over man.’
‘Well then …’ she mused, sliding down the bed, ‘I shall exert my dominion.’
James fell curiously silent. His breathing slowed and he lay quite still. Wendy drew level with the compelling object and studied it intently. It seemed to have a life of its own, and yet she adored it because it was all him. Glancing up, she met his eyes. His gaze was focused but bright with wonder. She allowed her tongue to touch the very tip. He tensed expectantly. This time she ran the flat of her tongue full over the head and caused him to jerk up suddenly.
‘Steady,’ she purred, mimicking his own tone.
The length of flesh became, quite suddenly it seemed, the most delicious, desired thing imaginable. A hunger engulfed her, a longing which could only be assuaged by encompassing it fully in her mouth. Wendy did not think about it - she could not, her body dismissed any analysis - it wished only to satisfy itself. And so, opening her mouth, she closed her lips over the smooth head and sucked.
He groaned often when with her, but this was a different groan. It was, she decided, the most exquisite sound she had ever heard. It caused as much pleasure to curl through her as any touch he bestowed.
She sucked in her cheeks, relishing the way the flesh, as hard as it was, still gave in her mouth, just a little. It had a curious texture all of its own. A light salty moisture was mingling with the heightened wetness of her own mouth, giving her an indefinable thrill. As she sucked, her tongue flitted along the slit, teasing and tickling. There was that groan again. Almost without realising, it prompted her to redouble her efforts.
‘Hellfire engulf me! Are you sure this is – unngh! – the first time you’ve done this?’
‘Yeb.’ It was the closest she could manage to an affirmative response considering her mouth was full of the glory of man.
James’ hand reached down and closed around her wrist, pulling it up. ‘Take hold of it further down and grip. Pump it while you carry on doing – THAT! Sweet sea sirens!’ He arched his back as her tongue slid hard around the head. Wendy was triumphant.
She did as was suggested and found her ardour mounting yet again. Her lips now dragged over the head before relinquishing him with a plump ‘pop’. She would force him to endure the cooling of his cock for a few seconds before enclosing him once again in the warm wet joy of her mouth. ‘You are a fairy. You must be. Such torments could not be devised by a human.’
‘No fairy, James, just woman.’
This time she set about sucking without pause. She was not gentle; she could tell gentility at this juncture was neither desirable nor necessary. She found herself sinking further and further onto him and came to enjoy the slight constriction of air as the head of his cock pressed deeper into her mouth. She knew what would happen soon enough. Not once did it cross her mind to pull back. She had tasted his growing pleasure, and she would taste his release.
Wendy now went at him with concerted determination, as lost to him as he was to her. But James, ever the gentleman, mustered a final awareness. He may have no qualms about spilling a man’s blood on his deck without asking, but he would never spill his seed into a woman’s mouth without her consent. Hands held her head and tried to pull her off.
‘Please, please … move off. I shall … I shall …’ Hook was struggling. ‘Wendy … I shall … fuck!’
The word - albeit said inadvertently as pleasure slayed all decorum - jolted Wendy up. She did not recall ever hearing it spoken aloud before, although she knew of its existence. It had, after all, topped the list of ‘Dare Words To Use Before The End of Third Year’ in school. No one, however, had ever dared.
Her brief moment of surprise allowed James to ask rather more clearly: ‘Wendy. Just use your hand now or I’ll spill into your mouth.’
‘But I want you to.’
‘Are you su-?’ It was too late. She was back at him, her tongue and lips and cheeks pulling rapture from him a final time. With a cataclysmic grunt and buck, James released brutally into her, coming so hard his seed hit the roof of her mouth in four violent shots. She was in no hurry to pull off and let it sit there until she released his slackening cock from her mouth.
It was curious: warm and slippery and salty. But it was him, and she rather adored it. It was swallowed into her before she had a moment to question herself.
He laid back, his hair splayed chaotically around him, his eyes closed, silent save for his gasps. She had never seen him so overwhelmed. James Hook, as dough in the palm of her hand. What would Lillie Lenton think of her now?
‘You didn’t have to do that,’ he mumbled after he had recovered somewhat. ‘You didn’t have to do any of it, least of all the last bit. That takes a special woman indeed.’
‘Didn’t you like it, James Hook?’
‘Oh yes, I liked it. I liked it very much.’
She came up beside him and nestled in.
‘I wonder what Mrs Pankhurst would have to say about that?’ she grinned.
‘The leader of the Suffragette movement.’
‘I –’ He spun over suddenly, pinning her beneath him. ‘- do not care what Mrs Pankhurst would have to say about that. Just promise me you will do it again and again and again.’
‘Only when I so choose, my good captain.’
‘I am not your good captain. But I am your very, very bad captain.’
She reached up for a kiss. ‘Promise me you’ll never stop being my very bad captain.’
‘Oh …’ His face lost some of its humour. ‘… I can and I will. Wendy, I promise you that with all that I am.’
And he slipped down and once again buried his head between her legs.
Like dough in the palm of his hand.
Chapter 10: Chapter Ten
Wendy stood outside the address in Highgate, not entirely sure why she was there. Curiosity, boredom, perhaps. James, she knew, was busy with money matters that morning, the children were in lessons or at play, and she found herself at a loose end. So she had extracted the card given to her by Lillie Lenton and decided to investigate the address.
As she had walked she had pondered her intentions in drawing closer to the Suffragette cause. Did she truly have a desire to become more actively involved?
She would like to meet Mrs Pankhurst, certainly. She was curious to see what someone of such remarkable strength and spirit would look like and sound like. She wanted to know if she would recognise anything of herself in her.
But once Wendy reached the house, she stood quietly outside with her eyes closed in denial. What was she trying to achieve? Did James not give her enough? Was all of this – James, the Suffragettes – an attempt to regain that glorious sense of freedom she had had when in Neverland? Was her life so empty otherwise? Surely not.
She turned to leave. This was unnecessary and destabilising.
'Wendy! It is Wendy, isn't it?'
Instinctively, she looked back. The door to the house had opened and there, her mouth wide with the most beaming smile, stood Lillie, the girl from the lecture. Wendy's heart sank. She could not turn away now. Lillie was rushing down the front steps towards her. 'You came! Oh, Wendy, I thought I recognised you. Come in, come in, we shall find you something to drink and eat.'
Wendy found herself being dragged up the stairs and into the house. It was an imposing house, but seemed cloistered and gloomy inside and had a strange smell she could not identify; not an unpleasant one, on the contrary, it made her want to stay and inhale more - sweet, rather intoxicating. She was motioned into the front drawing room. The curtains were heavy and drawn across nearly entirely. It was unnaturally dark for the time of day and Wendy strained to adjust her eyes. The room was dressed with dark reds and greens with gold ornamentation. Velvet and silks seemed to adorn every surface, draping luxuriantly and rather decadently across divans and chairs. It reminded her of a room she had been in on a ship many years before.
A woman, roughly the same age as Wendy, was sitting with her left leg raised onto a divan, smoking from a long cigarette holder. Lillie stood behind Wendy, nudging her forward to the other woman, as if presenting her for sacrifice.
'Olive, this is Wendy, Wendy Darling. Remember? I told you I had met someone at the lecture. She came. I told you she would. Wendy, meet my dearest friend, Olive Wharry.'
Olive Wharry. The name was familiar. Wendy was sure she recognised the name; she had read it in the papers, she was certain. The smell of cigarette smoke, stronger than James' pipe, caught in her throat and she had to banish it with a sharp and sudden cough.
'Wendy Darling? What a delightful name,' smirked Olive. She had a low voice, almost masculine. 'Are you a darling, Wendy?' she drawled with a rather intimidating smirk. Wendy managed a gentle smile back but had the strongest urge to leave. 'Lillie, my love!' called Olive to Lillie, who had vanished into another room. 'I thought you were going out?' She didn't once take her eyes off Wendy. It made her feel as if her clothes had come undone and were revealing more than they should.
'I was,' said Lillie, returning with biscuits and lemonade. 'But now Wendy is here there is no rush.'
Olive sat up, uncoiling each limb with slow, sinewy movements akin to a dancer's. She reached for a small glass of green liquid.
'So, Wendy, sit down.' She did, reluctantly. 'You're going to help us with our little venture at Kew, are you?'
Wendy grew even more uncomfortable. 'Well, I'm not entirely sure I can.'
'Oh, do. It will be such fun.' Olive glanced at Lillie and they exchanged a smile which seemed to convey secrets unspoken.
'What exactly is it you intend to do?'
Olive's shoulders rose up casually. 'Just a little disruption, that is all.'
'Well … I suppose we will have to walk there, yes.'
'I don't know if it is such a good idea me being there.'
Olive flashed her a look of such ferocious determination that Wendy felt as if she was back at school. Gone was the unctuous charm. Olive's voice was suddenly cold and bitterly certain.
'We need women like you, Wendy. We need men to sit up and listen. Nothing will be achieved otherwise. It can only be done by driving right into the heart of what people care about, of what is dear to them.'
Wendy could voice her own opinions too. She cocked an eyebrow. 'And is Kew Gardens what people care about?'
Olive stared at her flatly for a moment before smiling loosely and dragging long on her cigarette. 'You're married, Wendy?'
'What does your husband do?'
'He's a banker.'
Wendy glared at Olive. Her smirk deepened. She reminded Wendy somewhat of James, but only of the things she had disliked about James when she was a child; James, the bully; James, the manipulator. She wanted to leave this place.
'My husband is happy in his work.'
'One of those, eh?'
'Are you married, Olive?' asked Wendy forcefully.
'No. I do not intend to be subjected to the will of any man.'
'It doesn't have to be that way. There are many men who understand and agree with the cause of women's suffrage. Some men do indeed treat women as their equals.' She knew she wasn't referring to Jeremy. Is that how she saw James? She almost laughed aloud at the revelation, that it was the buccaneer, the great pirate captain, slayer of men, with whom she knew she was most at one, who respected her, and whom she respected.
'Your husband treats you as his equal, does he?' queried Olive.
'Not my husband,' she muttered, still reeling from her realisation.
'Oh?' Olive leaned in, stubbing out her cigarette and smiling attentively. 'Not your husband?'
Wendy was silent.
'But there is another man who treats you as his equal, is there?'
She could not look up. Her cheeks burned red.
'My my,' continued Olive, her voice oily with intent. 'Are you a naughty girl, Wendy?'
'Whatever do you mean?'
'We all have different ways of seeking emancipation. If your husband does not provide you with freedom, perhaps another does. An inamorato, a paramour … a lover?'
She did not reply. Her silence merely provided Olive with confirmation.
'And what does he do, your lover? Is he a banker too? I doubt it somehow.'
'I have to go.' Wendy stood up suddenly. This woman was seeing too much, forcing Wendy to think too painfully. 'Thank you for your hospitality, Miss Wharry.'
She rushed to the door.
'Wendy! Don't go.' Lillie rushed down the hallway after her. 'Oh, don't mind Olive. She can be rather forceful at times, but we need people like her. And like you. Look, we're meeting at the Tea Room at Kew at ten o'clock next Wednesday. Do be there.'
'Ten o'clock in the morning? I'm not sure I will be able to-'
'No, not in the morning! Ten of the evening. Tell your husband you are attending a lecture or concert or some such or that you have a poorly maiden aunt on whom to attend.'
'Lillie, I really don't think …'
Lillie took Wendy suddenly and hugged her tightly before giving her a sweet kiss, full on her lips. It took Wendy so much by shock, but was so tender and gentle that it did not occur to her to pull away. It was like being bombarded with Tinker Bell all over again. And it was rather charming.
'For me, Wendy Darling, darling Wendy, for me. Oh, do it for me.'
Wendy pressed Lillie's hand hard and turned down the steps with a gentle smile.
'Ten o'clock next Wednesday!' called Lillie.
'But Kew is not open at ten o'clock, surely?' But Lillie had already disappeared back into the house.
Now Wendy certainly wished she had not gone to Highgate. She returned home the long way, the way she often returned these days, via Claridge's. By the time she got there it was two o'clock. James may well have finished his business by now. She burned to see him; she needed to see him, to cleanse her from her experience at the house.
She knocked on the door of his suite and waited. There was no answer. She wanted to cry; the force of her disappointment startled her. She turned to go, willing her feet to drag her away, but just as she moved up the corridor, the door was opened. She looked back. A face appeared, surrounded by thick dark curls, curls that were unruly and unkempt. James stood there in his dark red gown, the same one he had been wearing that day she had been brought to his cabin. Despite being as devastatingly handsome as ever, he looked a frightful sight. He was bleary and disoriented, like a little boy awoken from a dream. But Wendy had never been so pleased to see anyone. She practically ran back along to him, her face breaking into a beaming smile of joy and relief.
James rubbed his eyes slowly, trying to erase the sleep which had overcome him. His other arm was without hook. 'I wasn't expecting you. I fear I am not terribly well-arranged.' He ran the stub of his arm through his hair, making it bloom into an even more chaotic mess.
She couldn't help but giggle. 'James … I'm sorry … I had no intention of disturbing you. Do you wish me to go?'
His hand came out and grabbed her wrist ferociously hard. 'No. I most certainly do not wish you to go. Don't you dare go, my Wendy.'
And he pulled her into the room, slammed the door behind her and tossed her onto the bed.
He was quickly undoing her clothes. 'You see, my dear … If one is to be a successful pirate captain, one must learn to rouse oneself swiftly when the need arises.'
'Have I roused you, James Hook?' She reached to push down his undergarments. They both glanced between his legs and Hook looked back to her with a wry cock of his eyebrow.
'It would appear so.' And he pushed fully inside her.
'I was kissed by a girl today.'
She didn't see the slight flare in James' eyes. He managed to keep his voice remarkably even. 'Were you indeed?'
'By a Suffragette. She and her friend want me to go on a protest of some kind with them next week.'
'What sort of a kiss?'
'Quite a pleasant one. Not long, don't worry, but it was on the lips. It reminded me of Neverland. Of doing things I've never done before.'
'If you wish for things you have never done before, I can be most obliging.'
She smiled and kissed him. 'I know. Oh, I know, my darling. The house they were in, these two … it made me think of your cabin.'
'I like my cabin.' It was said rather wistfully, she thought.
'I like it too. But then … surely you have a new one now. You must have a new ship.'
'I do, as you and your chums kindly relieved me of the Jolly Roger.' It was said with the faintest snarl.
'You weren't at the time.'
'How did you come by your new ship?'
'It was acquired from a very wealthy cloth merchant who had lost himself in the Neverland. Wealthy, but exceedingly dim-witted and sluggish. Embarkation and annihilation took all of fifteen minutes.'
Wendy went quiet.
'What?' asked Hook.
'I didn't say anything.'
She released the slightest sigh. 'Sometimes I forget about the – annihilation – aspect of your … profession.'
He looked down at her. 'You know who I am better than anyone, Wendy.'
'We've never talked about it.' She had traced a line down his arm and now caressed the stump with accepting tenderness.
'Do you wish to?' he murmured, overcome with her integrity.
She glanced up, meeting the forget-me-not blue of his eyes with the deep, knowing chestnut of hers. 'Not now. Just kiss me.'
He smirked and cocked an eyebrow. 'I'm not a girl.'
'Thank goodness for that.'
So he kissed her, all hair, beard, moustache and brutal, bruising lips. And she liked it very much.
'Will you go on this protest?' he asked as his mouth explored every warm dip and indent of her upper body.
'I doubt it. No … I shouldn't think so. Although poor Lillie is so keen for me to go. But the other woman unnerved me. I don't particularly want to see her again.'
'Why did she unnerve you?'
She reminded me of you. She thought that, but she didn't say it.
'She could tell I had a lover.'
'Just the one?'
'Oh, stop it.'
A clock struck the hour.
'Goodness, is that three? I must go home. The children will be finishing lessons.' She nudged James from his place nuzzling at her breast and tore herself from his bed reluctantly. Wendy rose and dressed quickly, leaving him sprawled across the bed, his hair even more dishevelled than before. It made her giggle.
'What?' he drawled.
'You look a little in need of grooming.'
'Grooming is all well and good when one is dining with one's housemaster or engaging in negotiations with a fellow privateer, but at moments such as this … I can think of better uses for my time,' he smirked.
'Negotiations? I can't imagine you ever negotiating, James.'
'A gentleman always parleys first, if possible. Hast thou not heard of the pirate code, my beauty?'
She grinned again. 'Not really, but if you tell me about it in that deliciously archaic voice of yours, I promise I will sit and listen attentively … however, not now. I must go, James.'
He pouted. She came around to him and leant down to kiss him deeply. 'Do you miss it?'
'Not when I have you in my bed.'
'But at other times?'
'A little. I'm not used to - this.' He smacked the bed next to him. 'It's so damned … unyielding. A little rise and fall is always preferable … I'm sure you agree.'
She smiled. 'I have to go, my darling. I cannot come to you tomorrow, and then at the weekend Jeremy will be home. I'm sorry.'
'I promise you that next time I will be better groomed.'
'Oh, I think I rather like you like this.'
'Do you indeed?' He reached up to kiss her again. She let him. How could she not? But when his hands started to work their way over her body yet again, she pulled back and nimbly evaded his grasp.
'I must not allow myself to be distracted, James!'
'Why ever not? Apart from me, I believe everyone should allow themselves to be nothing but distracted.'
She blew him a kiss. 'Farewell, my love.'
'Your what?' His words almost stuck. He stared, his eyes misting in revelation.
Wendy's heart was so full she feared it would falter. She smiled across with aching sincerity. 'You heard me … my love,' and she slipped away.
Chapter 11: Eleven
At last! I think I may be focused on how to go with this story now (I always knew, but I needed to get over this bit first - weird the way the muse does or doesn't work). So, here is a full chapter for you - discussions, dilemmas and daring do. Although Wendy has a confused and ambivalent attitude towards the direct actions of Lillie and Olive, she wholeheartedly supports their cause. This chapter is dedicated to the women who struggled and in some cases died to give women in Britain and beyond the vote. They were remarkable and brave and fearless and we owe them so much. Never squander your right to vote democratically - it must never be taken for granted and is still a right denied to so many.
The more Wendy thought about the event at Kew Gardens, the more she wanted to be there, as much from curiosity as anything. Why they were meeting at ten o'clock at night, she did not know. Perhaps it was a question of tying some placards to the railings in time to start the march early the next day. Perhaps they were to plan the route they would take without rousing suspicion during daylight hours.
Many women went on protest marches. That was allowed, after all. She wasn't going to do anything illegal – she was allowed a voice. There would be no militant statement such as chaining herself to Parliament's railings or throwing eggs at the Chancellor, heaven forbid. Her husband may drive her to distraction, but she did not wish to embarrass Jeremy. She owed him that. She had slipped unknown from his bed into that of another; she could at least ensure he retained his social dignity. Indeed, she hoped he would be proud to know his wife had such spirit. She would march and hold her head high and that would be it.
She continued to see Hook in the days leading up to Wednesday, of course she did. She could not imagine a day without him. She was so used to him now that he was simply a part of her life. She had settled into a smooth routine of deception, comfortable and familiar; she could almost pretend it was acceptable. He never mentioned returning to Neverland and she never questioned him on it; she daren't. She feared the answer too much.
'I'm going on a protest with some Suffragettes tomorrow,' she told him as he rested the soft curls of his head upon her left breast on Tuesday afternoon.
'How marvellous.' She detected the sarcastic undertone.
'It will be the first time. Just a quick march, I believe, or putting up posters possibly.'
'Ah well … like all first times, it is best to have it done with quickly.'
She glanced at him. 'You didn't have that privilege with me.'
'My first time.'
'No … how I wish I had,' he grinned.
'Would you have had it done with quickly?'
'Not the build-up, oh no. I would have prepared you slowly and carefully and most terribly well, but the final thrust – yes – fast and urgent. There is no point in prolonging the pain.'
'I thought you liked inflicting pain.'
His mouth turned down in a little moue of corroboration. 'On certain individuals, yes. But not a woman. And certainly not my Wendy. You must remember, my dear, I remain a gentleman.'
She laughed aloud.
'Why do you laugh?'
'Pan may disagree.'
'Oh no. He knows that more than anyone. That is why he torments me so – he is jealous of my mature distinction, knowing he will never attain it. He can merely play at mock civility and the pretence of domesticity.'
'Whereas you can merely play at innocence and the freedom of youth.'
He pushed himself up, frowning down at her. But she had not upset him; he stroked her face softly. 'Why must you always speak the truth, Wendy? That is your one failing … you insist on reminding me of my mortality.'
She reached up to kiss his lips briefly. 'And mine.'
'Will you join me in it?'
'If you will have me.'
He held her gaze, smiling gently. 'Where is this march of yours?'
'Kew … I used to go there with my mother.'
'And your father?'
His expression grew distant. 'No, not with my father. That would have been a most curious spectacle for all to behold.'
'Why is that?'
'My father was a man of … significance.'
'It would have defied the conventions of society for him to take a turn in public en famille.'
'Why ever not? Were your parents not married?'
'Oh, they were married, yes. But not to each other. My mother was married to Mr Frank Strimpole, draper, of 74 Brick Lane, and my father was married to …' He smiled. 'There, I'm afraid, I must censor my little tale. I fear the truth would put you in a position of considerable difficulty. The circumstances of my upbringing were curious, but that does not mean my father did not provide for my mother and me. After all, he had the means. It was a strange affair – he clearly felt an obligation. I saw him from time to time, although I knew not who he was in relation to me. But it was largely acknowledged, apparently, that I was not Strimpole's son and that the wealth my mother and I achieved did not come from the good fortune of the draper's shop. They say my father loved my mother very much. That is not hard to believe. I loved my mother very much. She was a perfect woman.'
'Did Mr Strimpole accept all this?'
'He was a weak man and not immune to marital indiscretions himself. He enjoyed the money given to my mother and was grateful that I, the bastard boy, was packed off to Eton. But his tolerance of the situation was offset by the beatings he delighted in bestowing upon me on my return from school.'
'James!' she gasped.
'Come now. All things considered, that should not surprise you.'
'How did your mother cope?'
'She was a woman. Women cope.'
'James … I am so terribly sorry. But … how did she meet your real father?'
'My mother was a great beauty and a renowned actress. She married Strimpole when she was young but the marriage soon turned sour. He hated her profession and had a strong hand, but even this did not deter her from following her passion for the stage. And Strimpole did not refuse the money she earned. There was always a string of men outside the stage door, some of them wealthy and influential, all of them trying to get her into their beds. My father, rich, renowned, gently spoken, succeeded in seducing her, and she believed herself to be in love with him. He too declared his love for her, it must be said, I know that much, and his patronage of us never faltered.'
'Why is your name Hook if your mother's married name was different?'
'Well, it could hardly be Strimpole, could it? That had neither the corroboration of paternity nor the sharpness I desired. I chose the name as I wished to – how to put it – make a point. I insisted on using it, and I found early on that when I insisted on something, people generally complied. I seem to be most persuasive when the mood takes me. That advantage has served me in good stead since.'
'But then you must have chosen the name Hook before you acquired …'
'I did. A curious thing that, isn't it? Entirely coincidental. In a way, Pan simply made it all terribly convenient.'
'My darling … you are the most fascinating man, what a history you have. Thank you for being so frank with me.'
'Who else am I to be frank with? I find myself realising that it can be quite liberating. These are things I have not thought about for many, many years.'
She smiled gently. 'It is always our childhood which determines who we become.'
'You too had one or two interesting incidents in your childhood, as I recall.' He cocked an eyebrow and smirked.
'Indeed I did. Most interesting.' Hook kissed her again then broke away to nuzzle at her collarbone. She stroked his back.
'One day I shall tell you more.'
'I would like that. Anyway … I shall go to Kew tomorrow night and take another step along my own path.'
'Why at night?'
'I'm not sure. I suppose there are certain things to discuss out of the glare of daylight.'
'It seems rather strange. But I am not one to stop stratagems and schemes. Tread carefully though, my Wendy.'
'I'm sure it will be perfectly fine.'
'Jolly good. Now –' He pushed himself up and threw his leg over her. '– We have done far too much talking. I do believe some fucking is in order.'
How did he make even the naughtiest of language sound so delightful? She'd think about it later; for now, actions spoke louder than words.
Wendy contrived a visit to her aunt the following night. Jeremy accepted it. He was so increasingly preoccupied in himself that he questioned little these days.
She put on her strong walking boots, her long warm coat, a broad hat and gloves, kissed her children good night with tender adoration, and made her way out. She needed a taxi to take her all the way to Kew at this time of night, but if the driver gave her a few curious glances, he did not openly question her. She was dropped off outside the main entrance. The lamp light was dim and intermittent, casting crepuscular shadows over the silent streets and accentuating dark corners. The gates to the gardens were locked. There was no sign of either Lillie or Olive. Her nerves wavered. This really was a rather odd time to be on a protest.
She waited, rubbing her hands together distractedly, watching her breath misting before her in the chill night air. She wanted adventure, but this was unnerving. Where were they? Perhaps she would go. But just as she decided on returning to her warm Kensington home, there were sharp footsteps behind her. She turned. It was Lillie. She was pacing towards Wendy, her face set straight. Wendy smiled and started towards her.
'Turn around, you fool. What the devil do you think you're doing?'
Lillie caught hold of Wendy's arm, turned and carried on walking them rapidly up the street.
'I was waiting …'
'Not here! You will be seen. We thought at least you'd have the sense to come to the side gate where it is far more secluded.'
'But I …'
'Oh, never mind. At least you're here. Come along. Olive had given up on you. She's ready.'
Lillie was carrying a large portmanteau, and Wendy noted that she was struggling under the weight.
'Are the posters in your bag?'
Lillie laughed and carried on walking.
'Aren't we going to put posters up on the gates for tomorrow?'
'Tomorrow? We're not going to be anywhere near here tomorrow, Wendy, I can assure you of that. We will hopefully be as far away as possible tomorrow.'
'Surely the march is tomorrow.'
'Oh, Wendy, how little you know.'
She walked her around the far perimeter of the wall, glancing behind her at every stage. There, with her hair tied back and a dark coat concealing much of her figure, was Olive. She was also carrying a portmanteau along with a canister of some kind.
'She came then,' said Olive coolly, barely glancing at Wendy.
'I told you she would.' Lillie squeezed Wendy's arm.
'We have little time. Come along.' With that, Olive slipped in between two dense bushes. She turned back to Wendy and demanded, 'In here.'
This was wrong. She should not be here. But she could not fight it – Wendy was back again; she was in Neverland, exhilarated and eager for excitement. Perhaps Olive and Lillie were mermaids or Indians … or pirates. Her heart, yearning once again for that time of exotic innocence, defied her head, and she followed.
Squeezing through the bushes, she found there was a gap in the high fence beyond that had been clawed away by foxes or badgers. Olive was forcing herself through it and into Kew. Wendy, with a little nudge from Lillie, followed too.
'What are we doing here?' she asked in a whisper. 'This is trespassing, surely.'
'Shh. You'll see.'
The two women began scampering across the lawns and along the paths of Kew, keeping to the shadows where possible. Wendy instinctively did the same. They were heading for the tea pavilion. Wendy had come here with the children only a few weeks earlier. They'd had lovely scones.
The tea room had large windows. A good place to plaster the posters. That would certainly make a statement. Wendy imagined the entire building covered in WSPU slogans and propaganda. It seemed a bit excessive but would make a strong point. Lillie and Olive were whispering together, pointing at various parts of the building. She approached them.
'What can I do to help?'
Olive glanced at her, her eyes gleaming in the moonlight. 'Hold this.' She handed Wendy a bundle of tow.
Wendy's heart juddered. 'What is this?'
'What do you think, Wendy … Darling?' Olive asked with a cutting laugh. Wendy stood, frozen, as Olive reached into the portmanteau and extracted another canister. And then, in front of Wendy, she undid the lid and walked across to the tea room. Wendy could only watch, aghast, as Olive began to pour out a liquid around the base of the building. Lillie had her own canister and did the same.
Olive came back to Wendy, barely looking at her, and opened another canister. 'Hold it up for me.' Wendy was unsure at first. With a tut of annoyance, Olive grabbed the tow from her and dowsed it in the liquid. A strong smell surged into Wendy's nostrils, causing her to gag and cough.
'You'll need more stomach than that if you want to become one of us, Wendy.' Olive carried on regardless. 'Lillie, use the hammer!'
Lillie took something out of her bag and rushed to the building where she proceeded to smash a window with odd little jabs, as if she was fearful of making too much noise.
Wendy stood, staring as the extent of what was happening slowly dawned. How had she been so stupidly trusting? Olive came across and reached into her pocket for something. It was a box of matches.
'What are you doing?'
'Making them sit up and take notice.'
'No! You can't.'
'Oh, I can. Just you watch.' Olive smiled at Wendy before striking a match deliberately and setting light to the paraffin-soaked tow.
She ran across to the smashed window and threw the flaming tow through it. The inside of the tea pavilion instantly gave off an eerie amber glow.
Wendy gathered up her skirts and sprinted over. 'No! Are you mad? Think of the damage!'
'That is exactly what I'm thinking of. Shock and sensation. Nothing else works.'
'But what if there is someone inside?'
'How can you be certain?'
Wendy rushed up to peer in the windows. The flames were already taking hold inside. There did not seem to be anyone there, but panic was setting in. This was not why she was here. 'This will simply put the cause in jeopardy!' she exclaimed to Olive.
'No, Wendy, it's glorious!' Lillie now struck a match and tossed it at the base of the building where the paraffin ignited. Soon there was a considerable blaze both inside and along the exterior. There had been little rain and the wooden tracery was dry. The flames grew quickly, lapping and curling their way over the building with a spiteful crackle.
Lillie ran back to her with a laugh of delight and slipped her hand into Wendy's. 'Oh, I am so glad you are with us, Wendy. Look how magnificent it is.'
'Magnificent? This is someone's livelihood going up in smoke.'
'One cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs.'
The comment struck Wendy as being oddly domestic for someone like Lillie. Wendy recalled all the times her hands had dripped with raw egg when cooking with the children. Lillie had no children to cook with.
'This isn't right. I had no idea you would do this.'
'Then how naïve and foolish you are, Wendy. What did you expect? That we would sit down and help ourselves to tea and have a cosy chat?'
Olive stepped back, the triumph in her face fierce as it reflected the flames. The heat now assailed Wendy. The fire had taken hold unstoppably and the inferno engulfed the tea room.
'Oy! Stop right there!'
Wendy turned, frozen. Olive and Lillie immediately ran fast into the darkness, scampering on nimble feet in opposite directions. Wendy should run too but her guilt and confusion seemed to have planted her feet to the ground.
'Run, Wendy, run!' screamed Lillie as she escaped. But hands had grabbed Wendy hard before she had time to react.
'I've got you, my girl,' said the constable, pulling her arms fast behind her back. She did not struggle. She was too dumbstruck to react.
The only thought that went through her head was, 'This would make a rather splendid story for the children.'
The man tightened his grip on her wrists and twisted. She winced in pain.
'No getting away for you,' sneered the thick-set constable.
She could see Olive and Lillie running. They threw their portmanteaus into the bushes as they went but two more policemen were hard on their heels. There seemed little chance of them escaping.
Wendy still stared at the burning building. To be so close to such a huge fire was quite an extraordinary thing, like flying through the stars, or sailing on a pirate ship on stormy seas. Time seemed to stand still, or least slip her back to years past; Wendy was not quite aware of what exactly was happening to her, but memories were conjured up. This wasn't so new after all. She had been held in the grip of men before, after all: tied up, restrained, imprisoned. But that was so long ago …
There was more commotion now as a fire truck arrived. The men jumped out with hoses and placed the ends in a nearby pond. Water was pumped over the building, but it would take a lot to douse the raging flames. The building would be razed to the ground. Oddly, as much as Wendy deplored the actions of Olive and Lillie, she felt a swell of satisfaction that the women had clearly achieved their aim.
'Think you're clever, do you? Think setting fire to private property's going to make people sit up and take notice of a mad bitch like you?' The stale breath of the constable made her turn her head away. She was pulled and marched backwards. Bundling her roughly, the man pushed her into the back of a police carriage, shoving her onto the ground and locking the door hard behind her.
She pushed herself to her feet and sat on one of the benches running along the side. Wendy was engulfed in rancid darkness. It smelt vile – of blood and sweat and urine – and caused her to retch. The gloomy awareness of reality began to set in. Oh dear Lord, what had she done? Jeremy would never forgive her. What an embarrassment she was.
The constables were talking outside the carriage. She listened intently. How long would they be here? Where would they take her? What had happened to the others? Would she be locked in a cell? She supposed she would. Oh, what of her children? She was suddenly consumed with a wretched sense of isolation.
There was a kerfuffle outside and the door to the carriage was opened. First Lillie and then Olive were pushed in to join her. They had been apprehended, after all, but now sat opposite her, as calm as ever. She looked at Lillie; she had a smile on her face. At that moment, it infuriated Wendy. What had she been thinking? This girl had no family dependent on her. To her, this was a game, no different to the games Peter played in the Neverland. For Wendy, as for Hook, the consequences of such games had deeper repercussions.
'Well done, Wendy. And welcome,' smiled Lillie.
She frowned, shaking her head. 'I didn't do anything.' It wasn't a denial – she really hadn't done anything. What was there to congratulate her on? This whole ghastly venture had been a great messy mistake. And welcome to what? She was in a police carriage, on her way to a cell. It was not a welcome she wanted.
The men outside could be heard talking, their South London voices remarkably chirpy. It riled Wendy. How dare they remain so happy when she was in misery? But then another voice was heard, distinguished and smooth against the grating Clapham barks. She stood up quickly, stooping against the low roof of the carriage.
It was his voice, certainly. She moved to the end of the carriage and instinctively tried to open the door. It was locked, of course. 'James!' she cried out again, banging on the unyielding wood.
'Wendy? I'm here.'
Oh, the sound of him was like the warmest blanket of reassurance wrapped about her. 'Oh, James, get me out of here, please. I want to see you. I want you so much.'
'Sit down and shut it, woman, unless you want to make things worse fer yerself!' It was one of the constables' voices. Wendy heard Hook speaking to them again but could not distinguish his words. She listened intently. Then her lover spoke to her, clearly pressing himself right up against the door as his words were audible and close. She leaned against the door, pushing herself into it, trying to absorb his presence through it.
'Wendy, listen to me. You will endure tonight, and tomorrow the magistrate will see you and we shall ensure you are freed.'
Her soul heaved. 'Tomorrow! I can't! What about my children? What about Jeremy?'
'I shall see him. Do not fear. I shall make sure your children are not alarmed at all. You will be back to them very soon.'
'James … James …' He was so close, just on the other side of the door. But just then the wheels started rolling and she was pulled away.
She sat down, her insides twisting with such despair it caused her agony.
'So … James and Jeremy. One husband, one lover, but which is which? That one must be the lover, while the husband stays tucked up in bed, ignorant and trusting.'
Wendy looked up solemnly. Olive was smiling at her, her eyes twinkling. She seemed far more concerned with Wendy's adulterous life than the fact that she had just been arrested.
'My question is – what is he doing here? My my, Wendy Darling. You have yourself a little puppy dog who follows you wherever you go.'
Lillie tutted. 'Do be quiet for once, Olive. Wendy is not used to this as we are. It's all too much for her, can't you see?'
The carriage lurched, causing Wendy to sit down with a jolt. Lillie moved beside her, placing her arm around her shoulder and soothing her. But it was the idea of James Hook standing outside with the carriage speeding away from him that caused her tears at last to tumble profusely. She closed her eyes, rested her head on Lillie's shoulder, and wept openly.
Chapter 12: Twelve
The journey to the police station seemed interminable, although it couldn't have been more than a few miles. Wendy was bundled out of the carriage along with Olive and Lillie as roughly as she had been put in. The building rose up oppressively before her, austere red brick of recent build, and she was led inside and across to a counter behind which sat a morose sergeant. He glanced up wearily, his large handlebar moustache twitching and bristling, independent of his stagnant face. Lillie and Olive were brought to stand next to her.
'Not more whores, Jimmy,' he wheezed. 'We're full up with 'em tonight! Parliament must be out – members need to find something else to shaft!' With that the sergeant let out a rasping laugh ending in a thick cough.
Wendy's stomach heaved.
The constable who'd brought her in leaned on the counter. 'Not whores, these. Suffra-fuckin-gettes, ain't they? Burned down the tea room at Kew, stupid cunts.'
Wendy squeezed her eyes shut at the putrid words. Surely they were owed some respect?
The man behind the desk looked them over, his eyes heavy with licentious hunger. 'Whatchoo fuckin' think you'll achieve by that, my lovelies? Waste of bloody time. If you spent as much time on yer backs with legs spread welcomin' a man as you do welcomin' a spell in prison, we'd all be a lot happier.'
'You offerin' Jimmy?' laughed the constable.
'Could do.' The sergeant looked full on at Wendy, his eyes lingering on her breasts as his tongue emerged between gaps in teeth to dampen his lips. 'Wouldn't mind a go at this one. Don't recognise you, sweetheart. New are ya? Fresh meat. Very tasty.'
'I am sure you are not permitted to address me like that,' Wendy said, unable to contain her disgust.
'Don't speak, Wendy. Give them nothing,' Olive said suddenly. Wendy turned to her in surprise. Olive, reassuring and sympathetic for the first time, met her eyes.
The constable sneered and dropped his head to his paperwork. 'Right. Best get on with it. I'll do you first. I know these two, although I'm sure we'll have to go through the rigmarole of a new name again, won't we Lilian, my sweet? Or are we calling ourselves May again today?' He shot Lillie a twisted grin before looking back to Wendy.
Her throat tightened. Was she really giving her name to a police sergeant? She would have to be honest. She was in enough trouble as it was.
'Wendy … Montgomery.'
Olive glanced at her. Wendy had not mentioned her married name to the other women before.
'Miss or Mrs?'
'24 Campden Hill Gardens, Kensington.' She could feel shame rising hot and fast through her.
The sergeant glanced up. 'Ooh, we have ourselves a proper little lady. Husband's name?'
'Must you know that?'
His eyes hardened. 'Oh yes … I must.'
'Jeremy Montgomery.' Her betrayal was complete.
'Arson,' stated the arresting constable. 'Deliberate destruction of private property, namely the tea pavilion at Kew Gardens.'
Olive's voice resounded clearly. 'Wendy had nothing to do with it. She did not even realise what was going on.'
Wendy looked to her gratefully.
'You should release her now. She is entirely innocent.' Lillie added to Wendy's defence.
The sergeant was unmoved. 'That'll be for the magistrate to decide on tomorrow. For now, you were there, that's all that matters to us. Cell Two. The others can go in One – keep 'em apart.'
Wendy was grabbed by the arms again and pushed along a narrow corridor into a larger room with what could only be described as two cages. Each cage had a latrine, open and exposed. Both cages contained other women. She was put in a cage with two others. The metal bars and clank of the keys as the door was locked made Wendy shiver with despair. She moved into the corner and turned her head away. Could she sink any lower?
''ello, my pretty. You've got some fancy clothes on yer.'
Wendy glanced around. The two women were leering across at her, their painted faces ghoulish in the lamplight. One wore a low cut crimson dress, the other a purple one. Their mottled, puckered breasts bubbled out of dirty lace and their skirts were higher than convention dictated, revealing ankles and tight little boots. The smell of cheap perfume reached Wendy and made her gag.
'Ooh, Marge, seems she don't like the look of us. And there I was thinkin' I may get some custom. I'm not fussy, me. Like a bit of cunny, I do. Gives me jaw a rest after suckin' cock all day. And your cunny, my dear, would be sweet and juicy, I can tell. Whatchoo reckon? Half a crown to tip yer velvet?'
A wave of nausea swept over Wendy. 'Please, leave me in peace.'
She sank down to the floor and felt her eyes grow hot and prickling. Curling her arms tight around her, she cried silent tears, trying to shut out the cackles of the two women sharing the cell.
Time passed with torpid malice. More prisoners were brought in as the hours crawled by, two prostitutes and one drunk, reeking of stale gin. She studied them when her shame permitted her. The women, she noticed, seemed to spend the time in good humour, laughing together, sharing a few crumbs of food they had upon them. At one point the one called Marge sauntered over, hand on hip, and held down a crust of bread for Wendy.
''Ungry? Go on. It'll do ya good.' She smiled and Wendy found herself grateful for it.
Was she any different to these women? Any better? They smiled through adversity. They faced their horrors with kindness and wit while she sat miserable and alone.
She reached out for the bread and managed a smile back. 'Thank you.'
Marge slid down the bars to sit beside Wendy.
'You must be proper posh with clothes like that. Married, are ya?'
Wendy nodded and hung her head.
'Don't worry, darlin'. Morning'll come soon enough and you'll have yer husband to get you bail. Can't remember the last time someone stood me bail. Yer a brave one. Takes a man's bollocks to do what you did and no mistake. One day, the likes of you and that Mrs Pankhurst will get through to 'em. Dunno how it'll change things for the likes of me though, just that I might've voted for the cock I'm ridin', that's all! Ha!' She threw her head back and cackled gleefully.
Now Wendy's nausea came for a different reason. Not only was she ashamed, but she was also inadequate and hopelessly weak. Perhaps she shouldn't have simply stood by while Olive and Lillie fanned the flames. What had happened to the brave little girl who had stood up to the pirates … who had looked the fearsome pirate captain in the eye and won? What would he think of her now?
'I didn't do anything,' she murmured. 'I just stood there.'
'Never mind all that now. You got kiddies?'
She nodded again.
'Me too. Three, I've got.'
'So do I.'
'They live with me ma. But I sees 'em regular like. It's Elsie's birthday soon. Eight, she'll be. Had her when I were barely out of childhood meself. Love her with all I am. That's the only reason I were workin' tonight. I were savin' up fer a doll she'd set her heart on. Still, should think they'll let me out in a day or so. The sergeant's partial to a bit up the back alley, if you catch me drift. Normally does the trick, and he lets me out on the wink.' Perfectly content with the scheme, she grinned at Wendy.
'Do you allow him to do that?' Wendy stared in disbelief. Hook had introduced her to all manner of intimacy, but the idea of this woman offering such an act for her freedom jarred.
'Course I do. It's me job, after all. Keep 'em 'appy and life ticks along that bit more merrily. No different from a fine lady like you. You keep yer husband happy, I warrant, don'tcha?'
Wendy turned away with a frown. 'I'm not sure that I do. Not anymore.'
'You would if he pleased you. Don't he? Not much goin' on down below, eh?'
Wendy chose not to answer.
'Aw, you should let our Bets go down on yer, sweetheart. She'd teach you a thing or two and then you could tell yer husband how to manage things. Make life a lot happier all round.'
But it wasn't like that, was it? She pictured James kissing her, felt him inside her, imagined him drawing pleasure out as he did, time and time again. The camaraderie of female company resonated suddenly and she felt an urge to share her situation.
'Actually … I'm more than looked after in that respect.'
'What d'yer mean then?'
'I have … someone else.'
'Ooh, bless my soul … you got yerself a fancy man, have you?'
Wendy turned and looked her full in the eye. 'Yes. I do.'
'Good on yer, my darlin'! Treat yer well, does he?'
'Ah well, no wonder you weren't interested in Betsy's nimble tongue – and nimble it is, I can tell you. What does he do, this fancy man of yours – bit o' rough, I reckon – shake it up a bit, does he?'
'He's a …'
'He's a … pirate.'
Marge fell silent, and Wendy looked up to find her eyes wide and staring in abject shock. Then the woman threw her head back, opened her mouth, and let out the longest and shrillest shrieks of laughter Wendy had ever heard.
'And I'm the fuckin' Queen of Sheba, my darlin'! D'you hear that Bets? This one's shaftin' a bloody pirate!' The laughter continued unabated for some time. Wendy's heart sank again.
'Ah well, nothin' like a right jolly rogerin' from time to time!' Betsy joined in and soon all the women in the room were laughing hysterically.
Eventually, Marge wiped the tears of mirth from her eyes, patted Wendy hard but affectionately on the shoulder and stood up. 'We all need our little fantasies. I'll tell you mine some time. Pirates, eh? I wish! Saints preserve us. I'm lucky if I nab me a syphilitic cabin boy from Portsmouth!'
Wendy shut her eyes and ears from it all and willed time away. It seemed a year had passed before the thin light of dawn crept through the narrow slits of barred windows on the far side of the room. And then there was yet more waiting as the sun slowly took hold in the sky. At roughly seven o'clock, a small bowl of gruel was passed through the bars to each of them.
Wendy had to use the latrine. She was excruciatingly embarrassed, but the other women had gone regularly through the night with no self-awareness whatsoever. Why should she not too? She had held it in all night and when at last she managed to go she questioned why she had been so coy. Desperate times called for desperate measures; she had learned that many years ago in a far off land.
A while later the sergeant finally entered the cell.
'Wendy Montgomery!' he called. She stood up quickly.
'Is my husband here?' she asked. He must have found out by now. He would be on his way with bail money, wouldn't he?
'Yer husband? No man called Montgomery round here. Although there has been some bloke hangin' around all night. Right flash he was. Hair like me Aunt Mildred staggerin' out o' the Rose and Crown. Didn't like him one bit. He came in and asked after you again this mornin'. Bit too insistent. Nothin' we couldn' sort out though. He can see you in the court like everyone else.' The sergeant came up to her and gave her the same skin-crawling look he had the night before.
'Is he still here?'
'Couldn' shake him off. May still be hangin' around fer all I know. But if he comes back in the station, he'll get more of the same.'
'Did you hurt him?' Her tone was increasingly panicked.
The sergeant narrowed his eyes and grinned. 'Well well. We've touched a nerve there, haven't we? Give it out easy do yer, Missus Montgomery?'
She turned her head and was led out of the room.
'We'll be seein' ya, my dear!' called Marge from the cell.
Wendy turned and smiled. 'Goodbye, Marge, Betsy. God bless you.'
'Ah, best not to rely on Him, my darlin'. I'll bless meself, that's wha'!' And Wendy left with Marge's cackle ringing in her ears.
Wendy kept her eyes peeled as she was led outside but could see little. Perhaps a flash of burgundy, perhaps a glint of metal around a corner, but her transfer into the police van was so swift that even if James had been able to make his presence known she would have had only a split second.
The police carriage started off again. Olive and Lillie were nowhere in sight. It took little time to arrive at the magistrate's court. She was led through a back entrance and was grateful for the lack of onlookers. Once inside, she was taken into a galleried chamber and stood before a raised plinth. She glanced about. Apart from a few clerks there was nobody around. No James. No magistrate. And no Jeremy. She thought at least he would be here. He had the authority, after all. Her heart pattered and her chest pained.
Soon enough the court was asked to stand and the magistrate entered. He was a lean man of about sixty, but his face was gentle and contemplative, Wendy noted gladly.
Following some court protocol, the magistrate addressed her. 'Mrs Wendy Montgomery, you are before the court today charged with wilful intent to cause damage to private property by arson. This is not a trial, mind, merely a preliminary hearing until a trial can be arranged. What have you to say?'
'I witnessed the incident, your honour, but for the sake of my children, I declare my innocence of any involvement. I had no knowledge of what my companions were about to do. When I realised I tried to stop them.'
'No knowledge, you say. And yet you were in Kew Gardens on the night of the 19th, were you not?'
'Kew Gardens is not open to the public at night, Mrs Montgomery. People generally feel a little daylight is needed in order to fully appreciate the rhododendrons.' He chuckled at his own joke, prompting the others to chuckle along with him. 'Therefore, you were trespassing.'
'I admit that, but I had no idea what was to happen when inside. I thought perhaps we would affix posters to the walls, that is all.'
'Posters. What sort of posters?'
'Posters advocating women's Suffrage.'
'You are part of the Suffrage movement, are you?'
'I support the right for women to have the vote, yes.'
'And you are militant in your actions?'
'No. This was the first time I had ever …' Her voice trailed off. She felt so terribly alone. She glanced around the gallery again. There was nobody there.
'The first time you had ever what?'
'Ever thought to be a part of it. I simply wanted my voice to be heard, to be counted amongst the increasing numbers.'
'And you feel burning down a tea room is the way to do that?' The magistrate cocked a disapproving eyebrow.
'Like I said, I had no idea that was the intention. I do not support wilful damage to property.'
'Yet you were found with two other women. At least one of you started the fire.' He turned to a police constable whom Wendy recognised as the man who had first seized her. 'Was Mrs Montgomery holding any fire starting device or paraffin container when you found her?'
'I can't be sure, your Worship.'
'I wasn't, I swear it.'
'I am not addressing you at this time, Mrs Montgomery.' The magistrate glared before turning back to the policeman.
'Perhaps not. I'm not certain,' stuttered the constable.
'When searched, was she in possession of anything which could have damaged property?'
'No, your Worship.'
'Have we any other witnesses?'
'Only the two women arrested with Mrs Montgomery.'
'Ah, Miss Lenton and Miss Wharry. They are known to us, are they not?'
'Many times over, your Worship.'
'Are they here?'
'Not at this moment, your Worship.'
'How did Mrs Montgomery behave when you approached?'
'She remained still.'
'She did not flee?'
'She did not.'
'And the other women?'
'They ran off, throwing items away from them as they went.'
'Hmm.' The magistrate turned again to Wendy, a thin line forming his mouth. 'I must say, I am inclined to believe your account, Mrs Montgomery. You have an unblemished record and nothing to indicate any ill intent on your part. You may not believe it, but I have some sympathy with the Suffragette cause, as does my wife, and I know better than to argue with her. I do, however, wish these things would be conducted in a more civilised fashion.' The magistrate let out a weary sigh and gave a terse shake of the head. 'I need to question Miss Lenton and Miss Wharry. I cannot release you fully until then, I have to tell you. You are fined £50 for trespassing, and I will fix bail at £200. I presume your husband is here to meet that?'
Wendy pulled in a sharp breath. She shook her head.
'No husband present? He has been informed, has he not?' he turned and asked the clerk, who nodded his head.
'Well, I …' He was clearly flummoxed. 'If bail cannot be paid then I am afraid, Mrs Montgomery, that you must remain in remand until the trial is arranged. Constable, will you please escort Mrs Mont-'
'I will stand bail,' called a low voice from the gallery above her.
Wendy darted her head up. There was James. His chest rose and fell rapidly; he had clearly rushed to the court.
He stood, tall and strong, his hair loose around him. To Wendy, he may as well have been on the prow of his ship, guiding it safely across the seas. Such adoration for him surged through her that it was all she could do not to climb into the gallery and kiss him passionately in front of the assembled court.
The magistrate stared up at Hook with an expression of befuddled amazement. He was clearly taken aback by the exotic appearance of the man now standing in his court. 'You, sir? Is … this your husband, Mrs Montgomery?'
'No … he's … he's a friend.'
'Your name, sir?'
'I am Captain James Hook, your Worship.'
'A naval captain?'
'Something like that. I certainly carry merchandise.'
'And how are you acquainted with Mrs Montgomery?'
Part of her wanted him to come out with it, to declare to the world that they were lovers and that he would take her away from all this madness and live with her in a land far away for the rest of their days. James glanced down at her and opened his mouth. He would say it. He would speak what they both thought, what they both wanted. But he hesitated and blinked before looking back to the magistrate.
'I am a client of Mr Montgomery and am acquainted with the family through my financial dealings.'
'It is not simply a question of the £200 bail. Mrs Montgomery's fine of £50 for trespassing also needs to be paid.'
Hook reached into his inside pocket and produced a cheque book which he flourished before him. 'To whom do I write it out, your Worship?'
The magistrate narrowed his eyes and looked back at Wendy. He cleared his throat and studied her. 'Very well. It seems, Mrs Montgomery, that you are most fortunate in your husband's choice of business associates. Once the captain has settled the bill with the clerk you are free to go until further notice. I shall be speaking with Miss Wharry and Miss Lenton and shall ascertain the true nature of the events of the thirteenth, and you will report to your local police station every day until then. In the meantime, I advise you to exercise caution in your affairs and in the company you keep. I notice your husband is not present in court. No doubt some contrite explanation to him of your actions will be needed. You may not find him as lenient as me. You may step down.'
'Thank you, your Worship.' Wendy looked up to Hook. He smiled down as she was led out.
After settling the bill, he rushed over to her in the lobby. She had to physically restrain herself from launching into his arms. His eyes were bright; his mouth twitched with delight. 'Are you well?'
She nodded. 'Thank you, oh, thank you.' He glanced about and Wendy followed his eyes. There were clerks and policemen standing close by, watching them intently.
'Come. I have a cab waiting.' James extended his arm and motioned her to the door.
Once inside the cab, with the door safely shut and the wheels pulling them away from the court, he pulled her into him and kissed her hard and long. Now the tears fell – tears of relief and joy at having him upon her again. 'Oh, my darling, my James, my love, thank you, thank you.'
'I came as soon as I could. I couldn't cut through the traffic like your police escort.' Hook pulled her into him but when she squeezed him tight, he sucked in a breath of clear pain.
'Are you hurt?' she asked in alarm.
'The local constabulary were not partial to me keeping watch outside the station last night.'
'The sergeant mentioned something. What did they do?'
'Nothing much, do not fear. I rather impressed myself with my restraint. Slaying several local police constables would not have helped in your quest for freedom. In any case, I had forgotten something vital.' He held up his ravaged arm. On it was affixed the wooden hand, not his hook. He smirked at Wendy who pulled him in for another kiss.
'I'm so sorry, James. What a fool I am. What an utter, pathetic fool.'
'Fool? No, Wendy. You are remarkable. My brilliant, brave girl. The incarceration must have been tedious, I daresay. But then … you have known worse, have you not? At least no scoundrel made you walk the plank.'
She laughed through her tears. 'I coped, I suppose, but it was horrible, I confess. Ghastly. The men treated us abysmally.'
'I met some other women. If you think I am brave, these women live a hell every day of their lives and still they laugh.'
'What is their crime?'
'They are … women of the night.'
'Oh, James, do not use that word. They must live. What choice does our society give them? It is for women like them that I wish I could do more. Shall we never have freedom?'
'I can give you freedom. I can take you away from all this and let you live.'
She looked into him. The blue of his eyes consumed her. James dropped his voice to a whisper of intimacy and stroked her face. 'Come back with me, Wendy … come back with me.'
'You can. So easily.'
'The children …'
'I cannot abandon their father. I cannot abandon my husband.'
He sneered; his face twisting. 'Husband? He cannot even bring himself to turn up to court. How dare he call himself husband?'
A lead weight settled in Wendy's stomach. Where was Jeremy? Was he so disgusted by her?
'Did you inform him of my situation?'
'I did. Last night.'
James looked out of the window, his expression tight with disdain. 'He expressed … extreme disappointment in your actions. He was confused, dismayed … he mumbled about the shame to the family.'
'Oh, don't.' Wendy hung her head. 'I cannot bear it.'
Hook took hold of her head and guided it round to face him. 'Yes, you can. If he sees you only as a mirror for his own success then you can and you must bear this. How can he not see what he has? How can he not wish to nurture it and laud it to the world? Fool! Weakling! He cannot even show his face to support you and bring you home. I have run men through for half the yellow-bellied cowardice he displays.'
'He's my husband.' She spoke the words with no sense of foundation.
'No. Not he. He is not worthy of you.'
She juddered in a sobbing breath. 'Did he give you reason for not coming to court?'
'He said he needed to remain with the children. He said he would send word to the magistrate when he could.'
'The children have their nanny; they don't need him. He sees them so rarely anyway, they hardly know him.'
'Oh, James … what have I done, what have I done?' She brought up a trembling hand to worry her lip and her eyes misted as the houses passed her by.
Again he pulled her round to him. 'You have come to your senses, my perfect girl. You have done what I expected of you, what I came back for. I came to claim my Wendy Darling and I have found her.'
'But I am not Wendy Darling, I am Wendy Mont – 'Hook silenced her with his mouth. They remained thus, their lips joined, their souls clamouring together, desperately trying to absorb all the other was into themselves until they arrived back at Campden Hill Gardens.
'I can't stop kissing you,' she sobbed with a half laugh.
Wendy pulled away desperately and glanced behind her to her front door. 'I have to go. I must.' She turned to him with a soft smile. 'Thank you for bailing me.'
'Don't thank me for that, Wendy.'
She dropped her gaze. 'I will send word.'
'No. Send yourself.'
Wendy gave no more. She climbed from the cab.
Nobody came to greet her at the door. She stood in the street, horrifically alone once again. Glancing behind her, she looked at James' beautiful face through the cab window. 'James … what am I to do?'
The cab pulled off before he could answer.
Wendy turned, walked up her own front steps and rang the bell on her own front door.
Chapter 13: 13
She waited. It was a while before the door opened. Pearson stood behind it, her expression flitting through relief, embarrassment and concern.
'Mrs Montgomery! Are you alright? Mr Montgomery said you'd …' She let her voice and her gaze drop.
Wendy sagged, happy to see a welcoming face. 'I'm well, thank you, Pearson … but I would quite like a cup of tea.'
Pearson opened the door wide and Wendy went inside cautiously, feeling somewhat like an intruder in her own home.
'Are the children in lessons?'
'I would so love to see them, but I think I'd better have that tea first.' Slowly, she took off her coat and hat. Her shoulders pained and she sucked in sharply as her muscles protested. The toll of leaning against iron bars in a police cell all night was telling. Pearson helped her with the coat and gave a sympathetic tut.
'Allow me to help you, ma'am.'
'How much do you know about my little predicament last night, Pearson?'
Pearson guided her through to the kitchen. 'Let's get you sitting down first, Mrs Montgomery. Cook's out getting provisions. I'll put the kettle on.'
'I wasn't visiting my aunt last night, Pearson.'
'I'm aware of that, ma'am.' Pearson busied herself at the stove.
Wendy sank back into a kitchen chair. Why keep it in now? 'I went on a Suffragette protest to Kew Gardens where my companions set fire to the tea room and burnt it to the ground. We were arrested and I spent the night in police custody.'
'I gathered as much from Mr Montgomery.' There followed a silence aside from the clanking of the kettle.
'Do you think I'm terrible?'
Pearson turned, her face straight and harsh. Wendy's shame surged back through her. Her housekeeper pulled out a chair and moved it close to her mistress, then reached across and took both of Wendy's hands in hers. She looked her directly in the eyes.
'I think you are the bravest woman and the most marvellous, ma'am. And my only regret is that I wasn't there with you.'
Wendy broke out into a laugh of astonished delight. 'Really?'
'I didn't know they were going to do that. I only thought it would be posters or a march or something. I had no idea they were thinking of arson.'
Pearson tilted her head and leaned in. 'They've done it before, ma'am.'
'Yes. Vandalism, arson. It's been in the papers.'
'Then how foolish I am. I've been a little distracted recently.'
'We all knew you wouldn't have done something like that deliberately, but the thought of you spending a night in a cell filled us with horror. Cook was all for marching down there and demanding they let you go!'
'What were the children told?'
'That you were simply still with your aunt. They have no idea.'
'And Jeremy? What was his reaction?'
Mrs Pearson poured the tea carefully before answering. 'Mr Montgomery reacted with some concern over the situation generally.'
'He was furious then.'
'I don't wish to lie to you, ma'am.'
'Where is he now?'
'I believe he has gone to the bank.'
'But … I was in court. I needed him.'
'I know, ma'am.' Pearson's shoulders heaved.
'Did he not give any indication that he would come to me?'
'He said he would when he had dealt with some matters at the bank. I feel he …' She gave a deep sigh.
'He couldn't quite cope with the magnitude of the situation.'
'Magnitude? I was the one behind bars! I was the one locked up with drunkards! And now I am out. There are worse things, Pearson, believe me. For me that hell is over, but for many it is simply everyday routine. Having to walk the streets in order to buy your daughter a birthday present. Having to defile your body in unspeakable ways in order for your basic needs to be met! He has no idea what life is like for many people in this city. And he cannot even deign to come to court to see his wife released.'
Pearson's grasp tightened. 'I'm so sorry, ma'am.'
'Do you know, I wish I had the courage to burn down Parliament and the High Court and any other place where men hold sway. And his bank! I would see that burned to the ground in an instant! But I won't, Pearson. For the sake of my children, I can't and I won't.'
'You are still very, very brave, Mrs Montgomery – an inspiration to us all. But, if I may ask, if your husband didn't meet your bail … who did?'
Wendy barely hesitated in telling her. 'Captain Hook.'
'The long-haired gentleman?'
'I see.' Mrs Pearson sat up, adjusting her composure.
'What? You seem concerned.'
'I don't think Mr Montgomery is too fond of him at the moment.'
'No, I don't suppose he is.'
'I think he has some concerns about the nature of the relationship between Captain Hook and … yourself.'
Wendy swallowed some tea. It was too hot.
'I am sure Mr Montgomery has no justification for his concerns,' continued Pearson, keeping her voice deliberately steady. Wendy looked into her housekeeper's eyes. A deep respect and trust had always existed between the two women.
'Captain Hook has made me very happy since he has returned to England, Pearson.' Wendy spoke with complete straightness.
'Happier than you've been for some time, Mrs Montgomery?'
'Far, far happier.'
Pearson gave her a gentle smile and squeezed her hand. 'Then I am glad for him being here.'
'He rushed to court to pay my bail.'
'He is a true gentleman.'
Wendy exhaled a slight laugh. That term again. She pictured his hook slicing into a surly member of his crew. She sighed out loud. 'Yes, well … I'm not married to Captain Hook. I will go and see the children now. I don't suppose Miss Stockton will take too kindly to me interrupting her lessons, however.'
'Oh, Miss Stockton can take a running jump into the Serpentine. She will also be very pleased to see you though, Mrs Montgomery. We were all concerned about you.'
Wendy held tight to the hand of her housekeeper for dear life and smiled with appreciative tenderness. 'Thank you, Pearson … for everything.'
After finishing her tea and easing her fractious emotions, Wendy mounted the stairs to the schoolroom and knocked carefully before opening the door.
Peter and James beamed warmly at her. She glanced at Miss Stockton who stood and smiled too. 'I'm sorry to interrupt, but I'd rather like a hug or two. May I?'
'By all means, Mrs Montgomery. Peter, James … what are you waiting for?'
With that the boys rushed out of their chairs and came across to clasp her hard. She held their firm little bodies tight upon her and felt again the onset of tears.
'Mama! We missed you! Papa was in the foulest of tempers this morning. I could do nothing right,' pouted Peter.
'Don't worry, my darling. I'm here now. Your father has a lot on his mind. I'm sure he will be in a better mood soon.'
'You're here, Mama, that's all that matters,' smiled James. She reached down and gave his dimpled cheek a kiss.
'We will go to the park later. I must pop and see Jane now. You'd best carry on with your arithmetic.'
She kissed them again and closed the door as they continued their lessons. Jane was playing happily in the nursery but toddled over when she approached, arms outstretched for a hug. Wendy picked her up and clasped her. 'Oh, how I missed the smell of you, Janey, my most precious girl.' She imagined Marge with her children and hoped she would be able to give them a hug soon.
The rest of the day went quickly. She enjoyed a happy afternoon with the children in the park in the afternoon and returned them for tea in good time.
It wasn't until they were settling themselves for bed that she heard the front door open then shut and footsteps in the hall downstairs. Her throat ran dry and her stomach heaved.
'I shall be back in a while to tell a story.' She kissed the boys on the tops of their heads and made her way to the stairs.
She stood at the top as her husband removed his coat and hat in the hall below. He raised his head and registered her, but almost immediately lowered it again.
Wendy walked down.
He didn't speak until she was on his level and it could be put off no longer. Still he did not look her in the eye. 'When did they release you?'
'Just after eleven.'
'I presume you have to return?'
'Yes, I am to report to a police station until the magistrate has spoken to the others.'
He smirked tightly and bitterly. 'Your partners in crime.'
'They weren't my partners, Jeremy. I didn't do anything.'
'You were with them, weren't you?' He was holding his hat, running it around and around in his hands, his feet planted, still not looking at her.
'I am allowed to protest, Jeremy. I had no intention of doing anything criminal.'
'Trespassing? That's criminal.'
'I'm surprised you know the details.'
'I read the details in the Standard.' He brandished the evening newspaper at her, at last throwing a cutting glare in her direction.
'Why weren't you there, Jeremy?'
He turned away and rubbed his forehead.
'I … It was too difficult for me.'
'And how was I supposed to be freed?'
'Well, you clearly were.'
'How? Do you know?'
'James Hook,' she said, almost surprised at her own audacity.
Jeremy didn't at first respond, but she then heard the mutter. 'Damn that bloody man.'
'If it wasn't for that "bloody man" I would still be behind bars.'
'I was on my way. I didn't think things would move so swiftly … and there is such trouble at the bank at the moment.' His voice had dropped to a mumble at the end.
'Oh well, Jeremy. I'm sorry to disturb your work with the inconvenience of spending a night in a cell.'
He spun round, his once angelic face hard with anger. 'Yes. Yes, you should be sorry. You disgraced me.'
The words rattled through her. Her resolve faltered. Jeremy sensed it and took advantage, moving into her and raising himself tall. 'Yes. You disgraced me and you disgraced our children.'
She shook her head. 'Don't you dare.'
'Dare what? To speak the truth?'
'Bring the children into it. They know nothing about this and they don't need to.'
'You think no one will tell them? You think they will not hear whisperings of it? How shameful for them.'
'Do you know what I think, Jeremy? I think they would be proud of me. I think they would be proud that their mother stands up for what she believes and endures hardship because of it. That is the example I wish to set them. If I can teach them that then I will be doing something right.'
He shook his head, his eyes narrowed in dismay. 'You say such silly, silly things, Wendy.' He may as well have been scolding a small child.
'Silly? Is that what you think? They would be proud of me, I know it. And so should you be.'
His bottom lip twisted downwards. 'Proud? Proud? How can I be anything but appalled by you? Trespassing. Consorting with arsonists. Time in a cell. You are a disgrace to our name, Wendy.'
The tears threatened malevolently, but she kept them at bay and set her jaw firmly. 'I recall a time when you said you were proud of my independent spirit.'
'Yes, well, it has become a little too independent.' He turned away, his fury bristling. 'I don't recognise you anymore. You are not the person I married.'
She closed her eyes. There was silence save for the occasional shuffle of Jeremy's feet. 'I shall sleep in another room. You may keep the bed.'
He moved off rapidly and she heard a distant door slam. She stood in the hall, isolation coiling its way around her once again.
Wendy took comfort in telling her children a story and holding them in her arms. She managed some soup for supper, which she ate with Pearson in the kitchen, and then took herself to bed. Where were Marge and Betsy tonight? Where were Lillie and Olive? There was a strange ache inside her as if she missed them. She hoped they were safe. She hoped they were warm.
She heard Jeremy's footsteps along the corridor as he retreated to another room. It was usually now that she took herself off to the Blue Room to see if Hook was keeping his vigil in the garden. Not tonight.
This was her home, wasn't it? And her children's? Yet why did she feel so far away? She glanced over at the wedding photograph on her dressing table. Two young people smiled out, beaming in happiness, their joyful futures ahead of them. She recalled the vows she had made that day, the sacrament of them, the intense devotion she had felt when speaking them. Now she barely recognised the two of them as herself and Jeremy. The entire house seemed alien to her.
Yet this was her children's home. They belonged here, didn't they?
Responsibility. That word again. It resonated through her mind like some great, looming brute, threatening and oppressive. But it had been drummed into her all her life. Even when in Neverland she had not escaped it. Isn't that why she had come back? To be responsible?
And now, with her children sleeping contentedly along the corridor, it weighed on her more than ever.
Where had she gone wrong?
She did not have the answer, but she knew it was her duty to put it right.
Jeremy and Wendy ate breakfast silently the following morning. The children joined them and provided welcome warmth amidst the icy atmosphere. Jeremy neglected to bid her goodbye and almost left without even saying farewell to the children. Wendy noticed Peter glaring after his father as they watched him go in the hallway.
'Why is Papa always in a hurry?'
'Your father works hard so that you can have nice things.'
'But we only want to be out doing things,' added James. 'I don't want lots of things. I've got my wooden sword. A man doesn't need anything else.' He said, brandishing his hand above him and adopting what he presumably considered a manly stance, his face stern, his little legs braced.
She laughed and ran her hands over James' head. 'Is that so?'
At half past ten Wendy reported to Kensington Police Station. Lillie and Olive were being seen later that day and therefore there should be news on the case tomorrow. Should she be more worried? If the two women spoke against her she would face a proper trial and all the continuing shame and stress that that would bring upon them. Wendy wasn't sure she could do that to anyone.
She returned home wearily; she had slept minimally the night before.
Shortly after lunch the doorbell rang. Pearson answered. Wendy, although expectant, stayed in the drawing room.
Pearson opened the door to inform her of the visitor. But on this occasion there was a touch of significance in her voice. 'Captain Hook, ma'am.'
A sudden shiver swept through her, disarming her. His presence was not unexpected and certainly not unwelcome, but today she needed some time to herself. Her mind was too full. 'Thank you, Pearson,' she stated, rising and crossing to the window.
James swept into the room, quickly shutting the door behind him. He strode over to stand behind her and drew his hands along her arms. It would have been so easy, so natural to let her head fall back and melt into him as she always did.
'How I have missed you,' he murmured, dropping his lips to her neck.
'James …' There was a tightness in her throat.
'Hmm?' he hummed against her skin, his kisses soothing the tickle of his whiskers.
'I … please … not now.'
He paused, his eyes lifting in query.
'It has been such a confusing and unsettling time. I … don't think I'm in the mood.'
He turned her gently and caressed her face, studying it with exaggerated tenderness, as if belittling her concerns. 'That is why I am here … to put you in the mood. You know I can … you know I will.' He smirked and let his thumb rub teasingly over her lower lip. On any other occasion, that would have been all the seduction she needed, but today she resisted.
'No, James, really.' Wendy pulled out of his hold and retreated to the fireplace. She daren't look at him. There was a momentary silence.
'What did he say to you?' His voice came coldly.
'You know who. Him. Montgomery.'
'So why are you affected?'
She glared at him. 'Because … I am an adult, with emotions and a conscience.'
Hook scowled, his lips curling. 'How inconvenient.'
'What?' His flippancy infuriated her.
'Nothing,' he responded with exaggerated lightness.
'You're an adult too, may I remind you. And as such we have to deal with the consequences of our actions.'
He huffed and looked away. He had no answer to that, this Manchild. She felt a ripple of satisfied superiority. It disagreed with her but gave her the emotional distance to continue.
'I have a responsibility to the well-being of my family. I am making Jeremy very unhappy. I don't like that.'
'Don't be ridiculous.' Hook reached her in three paces. 'He is making you unhappy. He is wrong for you, wrong and weak and lifeless. You talk of consequences and responsibility. What of your responsibility to yourself?'
She couldn't bear it now and brought her hands up to her head in despair. 'Stop it.'
'No. I will not stop it.' Hook took hold of her hard and pulled her round into him. She looked up, held once again in the assaulting blue of his gaze. His mouth crashed down to hers and he gripped her so hard it hurt. She wanted to fight him, she wanted to resist, but, as if on some predestined course, her lips parted and she pressed against him, so grateful for his physical presence, so adoring of the reality of him.
His hand was down, stroking firmly over the dip of her waist, curling around to cup the rise of her backside. He brought his hook between them and held it poised to slice through the ribbons at the swell of her breasts.
The carriage clock on the mantelpiece chimed two. Wendy was brought crashing back to the domestic reality of her life. Duty crushed passion. She pulled her head back and clenched her hands into fists to push against his shoulders. She met resistance. 'Not now, James. Please stop.'
Wendy pushed harder but he seemed only to grow stronger. Now she was struggling, pushing against him, turning her head away, holding him off. She couldn't. Panic spiked. His breath came hot and fast, his open mouth devoured her skin, his teeth grazed. His fingers clenched on her backside and his hook prepared to slice …
'Stop … stop it! James, stop it!' Her hands flailed against him, dangerously close to sharp, bright metal. She could feel his arousal propelled into her, his grip ever tighter. 'Let me go! James! You're scaring me!'
And, suddenly, as if a flood had doused the inferno, he slackened. Hook's arms fell by his sides and he took an unsteady step back with heavy, dragging breaths. She met his eyes. There, in the very centre, a burn of crimson faded away. Wendy retreated and turned away from him, steadying her breathing, recovering her reason.
'I think you had better leave now.'
She daren't look at him. She could hear the remorseful dulling of his voice.
'My Wendy … I am sorry. There are times when I cannot help myself. You know that. You know me. Better than anyone.'
'You shouldn't have done that.'
'Barely. You reminded me ...'
'Of a time past?' He came up behind her and, although this time he did not touch her, he was so close she could feel his breath, so hot, sweeping the hairs of her neck.
'And that is why you need me. That is why I am here. Your villain, Wendy.'
'Don't say those things.'
'You say I scare you. It is not me who scares you, but your own feelings. You do not fear me, you never have. You told me – I entrance you, I still do. You adore the danger of me, you adore the paradox of me just as you did then, only now you understand it completely. And that is why you are terrified, as you know you cannot live without it.'
'You went too far.'
'My desire for you takes strong hold sometimes. My devotion, my adoration is so complete that I lose myself. But I stopped, Wendy. I stopped. You have the power to do that. You alone.'
'Then it is you who needs me.'
He was so close. His words coiled around and into her. 'Yes. I do need you. I need you as I need air and water. What is wrong in admitting that?'
She shook her head against him. 'Nothing. But you manipulate for your own purposes by telling me that it is I who need you.'
'You do. Oh, how you do. We live through each other, can't you see that?'
She took a step, putting distance between them. 'Oh, stop this nonsense. Nobody speaks like that in the real world, in this world.'
'This is my world too.'
'No, it isn't. Your world is one of fantasy and dreams. One where nothing matters, no responsibility, no consequences, I said that before.'
'Don't fool yourself. How am I here now if I am only a fantasy? How can you see and hear and smell and touch me? How can you feel me moving inside you as powerfully as your own life force and think that? How can you want me now more than you want your own sanity?'
She closed her eyes, shutting him out, shutting down her longing.
'I asked you to leave.'
There was silence, although she could still sense him as tangibly as her own skin, which was burning under her fingertips as she dug into it.
'Aye. I will … for now. Sometimes there is a time to be silent.'
She listened, her senses primed, as he retreated to the door, and at last felt strong enough to turn to him. 'Go home, James. Go home before it is all ruined.' A tear tumbled from her eye. She hadn't even realised she was crying.
He looked at her, his face as real and grave as she had ever seen it. And then he left.
Chapter 14: 14
The next day, Wendy should have been thinking about her visit to the police station. She should have been thinking about her husband's continued disdainful froideur.
However, she was in fact thinking about her dismissal of James Hook. She stood, more desolate than any prison cell could have rendered her, staring out as a light rain fell against the panes of the drawing room. Where was he? She pictured him in the suite of Claridge's – their suite – their sanctuary. Was he expecting her? Her heart felt constricted, as if not able to beat full and free. She ached for him. All of her ached for him. But through the ache she tightened her resolve. She must do this and she would.
And yet it hurt so much she could barely breathe.
Wendy started at the interruption of Pearson.
'I'm sorry, ma'am, but it's nearly half past ten. Time to be going. Such dismal weather. I'm afraid an umbrella is necessary.'
Wendy managed a slight smile and crossed to the housekeeper. 'I don't suppose a little rain will do much harm.'
'No, ma'am, I don't suppose it shall.' Pearson returned the smile and deepened it. Wendy took the umbrella and walked out to the hall. She put on her coat and did it up carefully, as if each button must be studied and appreciated. Then, with a sudden sigh of apprehension, she turned for the door.
'Good luck, ma'am. I'm sure all will be well.'
'Thank you, Pearson.' Wendy opened the door. The rain had grown heavier. It did nothing to help her mood or her optimism. Wendy looked back. 'Pearson? I don't suppose you would consider accompanying me?'
Her housekeeper smiled. 'Of course, ma'am, it would be a pleasure. I'll just fetch my coat.'
A while later, the two women, huddled together under the one umbrella, manoeuvred their way through the streets of Kensington to the police station. Wendy shook the water off the umbrella and entered, her sense of purpose gladly taking hold at last.
She approached the sergeant behind the desk. 'Wendy Montgomery. I am here to report according to the conditions of my bail and also – '
'One thing at a time, thank you, madam,' interrupted the man, not looking up.
Wendy's heart was certainly beating fast now. The sergeant slowly sifted through papers and looked under documents. He furrowed his brows and read down endless lists and missives before speaking again. Pearson tutted loudly.
'What was the name again?' muttered the policeman.
'Montgomery … Wendy … Mrs.'
'Modson, Molsey, Molton, Montgomery … Mrs … W …' He finally deigned to look at her, his cold eyes assessing how a lady such as Wendy could be under bail for suspected arson. His face grew ugly with a sneer. 'Do you have your papers?'
Wendy reached into her bag and withdrew the necessary documents. The sergeant took them swiftly, as if any lingering contact between him and Wendy could be damaging, before looking them over them with a snide expression of disinterest. 'Hmm. Bail conditions met. That'll be all.' He put the papers aside and lowered his head again.
He glanced up heavily. 'What?'
'I was told that there would be news today regarding a possible trial,' Wendy said. Was this to be dragged out interminably?
The policeman stared at her but said nothing.
She tried again. 'I was to be told whether I would be standing trial or was free.'
He sighed excessively, as if he'd been asked to perform a task of hard labour, and once again began sifting through his papers.
Wendy grew increasingly anxious. Her lips were dry and she licked them distractedly, making them worse.
'Montgomery … Kew … trespassing … arson …' He scanned a document, clearly the right one, picking out the most salacious words and speaking them with a satisfied edge of scandal. Wendy quaked.
After what seemed an age, the sergeant tossed the paper aside and took a slurping drink from a mug.
'Well?' It was Pearson who said it, sharp and impatient. She received a ferocious glare in return.
'That's it. You don't need to come back.'
'You mean … there is to be no trial?'
'Apparently not. Apart from the fine for trespassing – which will remain in our documents, Mrs Montgomery, be aware – you have been exonerated of any wrongdoing with regard to arson, criminal damage or intent to inflict the same. Charges dropped.'
It was such monumental news that Wendy could not fully process it. 'So … no trial?'
The sergeant rolled his eyes and exhaled loudly, as if she were testing him severely.
'No trial. You can go home.'
'I don't need to report back again?'
'I think I've made myself clear. Go.' His tone told her not to ask any more. The sergeant handed over some papers abruptly and indicated the door.
She turned to Pearson and her housekeeper broke into a beaming smile of joyous relief which Wendy found mirrored in the swell of euphoria racing through her. Without hesitation, she clasped Pearson tightly against her and the two women stood and wept in relief.
The sergeant coughed loudly. 'Kindly continue your celebrations outside.'
Smiling at each other, they did not delay, but hurried from the station and home swiftly, not even noticing the continuing rain.
Once again she interrupted her children's studies. Peter and James were this time a little mystified as to why their mother was in such an ebullient mood, and why Miss Stockton seemed equally happy to have her lesson on the Battle of Syracuse disrupted.
She wanted to tell James Hook. She wanted him to know more than anyone. The urge to scurry off to Claridge's was overwhelming, but she managed to resist it. Her elation also gave her a surprising sense of resolve.
Instead, perhaps as a form of self-punishment, she called on Lizzie Forbes. She was only too pleased to witter on about Wendy's brush with the law.
'Oh, Wendy, a real life Suffragette! And you have been arrested! How too, too sinful!'
Wendy didn't think it was sinful at all. The only sin was the ridiculous presumption and arrogance of men.
'Was it ghastly in the cell?'
'It was not pleasant.'
'Were you alone?'
'No. There were other women. Prostitutes, mainly.'
Lizzie gasped dramatically. 'Prosti … really?' She couldn't bring herself to say the whole word. 'Were they … vile?'
Wendy shot her a vile glance in reply. 'No. Not at all. They were women trying to support their families and loved ones. I rather liked them.'
'Oh.' Lizzie looked away quickly, her brows angling together in pique.
Silence descended between them. Wendy realised that she had very little to say to Lizzie these days.
'I haven't seen much of James lately,' declared Lizzie after a while, her voice rising to prompt a response.
'James who?' dared Wendy, although she knew full well which James.
'The sea captain. Hook. He has proved somewhat erratic. If he does not wish to dispense his favours in my direction then I will not wait around for him.' She sounded remarkably poised; she did, after all, have plenty of other catches to fry on her griddle. Wendy chose not to comment, but Lizzie had broached the subject with intent. She fixed her eyes on Wendy, who suddenly disliked Lizzie intensely. Wendy focused on the cup of tea in her lap.
Lizzie continued. 'But then, one does hear that he is busy dispensing his favours … elsewhere.' There was a note of pressure in her voice.
Wendy did not respond.
'Does Captain Hook visit the house often, Wendy?'
'He is a business client of Jeremy's.'
'But there is no particular reason for him to visit your home.'
'But he has, on several occasions. Often during the day when Jeremy is at the bank, I am told.'
Wendy took a sip of tea, concentrating hard. 'Oh? And who tells you?'
'The captain has visited on occasion. He has few friends in London. Jeremy and I are happy to entertain him.'
'I have heard that that is more true of you, Wendy, than of Jeremy.'
'That you especially are happy to – entertain – Captain Hook.'
Wendy forced her countenance into a portrait of indifference.
'He is resident at Claridge's at the moment, isn't he?' continued Lizzie, annoyingly persistent.
'I believe so.'
'You have also been seen at Claridge's several times, Wendy.'
'There are many reasons to visit Claridge's. They have such wonderful Lapsang Souchong, don't you think?'
Lizzie's eyebrows rose towards her hairline; her lips pursed into a bee sting. 'There are some who say that you have one reason in particular, a reason other than Lapsang Souchong.'
She had endured so much in the last few days, that the buzzing of busy bee Lizzie was now a mere irritation. 'And what do you say, Lizzie?'
Lizzie looked at her, her eyes colder and older than Wendy had ever seen. But then Lizzie's full bottom lip trembled, then quivered, then drooped, and she sobbed. 'Any fool could see that the man adored you! He only showed the slightest bit of interest in me to get to you! I hoped for him, but it was so blatantly obvious that my hopes were in vain from early on.'
Wendy closed her eyes with the faintest sigh, unable to stomach any of it.
'Oh, Wendy! Have you been terribly bad?'
She shrugged. She didn't know. Had she? Was seeking happiness bad? She supposed it must be. She had made her husband sad and for that she was remorseful. But then, had he ever truly worked at making her happy? At even making himself happy?
Lizzie moved in closer and took hold of Wendy's hand. Hers was remarkably cold, not like the warm, reassuring clasp of Pearson the day before. Wendy wanted to pull away. 'Oh, do tell me, Wendy. Have you …?'
She looked Lizzie straight in the eye, daring her to ask what she wanted. 'What? Have I what, Lizzie?'
'Well … you know … been …?'
'Yes?' Again she prompted. Lizzie looked distinctly uncomfortable but could not bear to let it drop.
'Been … unfaithful? With … James Hook?'
'Unfaithful to what?'
Surely one could only be unfaithful if one had faith in something to begin with. Wendy wasn't sure she believed in her own marriage.
'Unfaithful to Jeremy?'
She paused briefly, but something about the wide-eyed dopeyness of Lizzie infuriated her. She wanted to shake her. So she just said it.
'Are you asking me if I have had sexual intercourse with Captain Hook?'
Wendy wished she had one of those camera devices. She wanted to capture the look on Lizzie's face so that she could take the image out occasionally and laugh until it hurt. Lizzie was so dumbfounded, so struck mute by Wendy's question, that she was frozen, mouth open as wide as a haddock, eyes blank and staring, cheeks growing steadily more crimson. Wendy waited impassively for a response.
'Well … I … couldn't possibly put it like …'
'But I presume that is what you mean? You wish to know whether he has kissed me and touched me and given me great pleasure? And whether I have done the same to him? Has Captain Hook penetrated me? Has he placed his erect phallus inside my vagina?'
Lizzie was so genuinely shocked by Wendy's sudden directness that for a time there was a pregnant silence between them. Wendy enjoyed the moment. But then Lizzie shuddered in a breath, as if she remembered that she had to play the fluttering ingenue yet again. 'Wendy! What are you saying? This is too, too much!'
'No. That is what happens when a woman has a relationship with a man. One day, Lizzie – hopefully soon, so that you can discuss these matters with at least some awareness and sense – you will experience it for yourself. I know you want to, and, I have to admit, if you find the right man, it can be a most wonderful experience. Perfectly glorious, in fact. A word of advice, however; do find the right man. In fact, try out a few. You would not buy a dress without several fittings first, would you? All the more reason, if you are to live with a man for the remainder of your days, that you try him out first. And if, before any exchange of promises, he doesn't fit … reject him.'
With that, she got up and saw herself out.
She walked quickly back home, her mind full of her conversation with Lizzie. She had meant every word, she now realised. The thing was, she had made the exchange of promises. More fool her. What an utter fool. By the time she reached her home, tears were pouring down her pinked cheeks.
James Hook fitted. But she'd exchanged her promises with another.
Jeremy greeted the news of his wife's freedom with a terse nod, but Wendy could sense his relief. His mood lightened, not that he showed it in his approach to Wendy, which was still cool, minimal and abrupt, but he smiled at the staff for the first time in weeks and was clearly relieved that his wife would not be putting him through the ignominy of a public trial. His children still saw little of him as his work seemed to occupy more and more of his time.
The days passed. Wendy's determination to be the good wife seemed to be holding. They did not sleep together, but she and Jeremy were able to exist around each other in a fragile cage of tolerance.
There were no gentlemen calling at the house – in fact, Wendy noticed fewer callers generally – and she caught no glimpses of claret velvet or flashes of steel in the garden. Wendy told herself this was as it should be, and her strength and determination, for now, vanquished the creeping sense of isolation which toyed with her. Occasionally she weakened and asked herself where he was. Was he missing her? Was he still in London? Was he waiting? Expecting her to go to him?
But then Jane would clamour for a hug or Peter would race up with a picture in a book, and the fog of regret in her mind would be dissipated by the brightness of her children. She dreaded the nights; those were the times when the fingers of regret would poke at her again. But now, Wendy ensured she kept the drawer containing her dreams firmly shut.
Dinner time was a solemn affair, but it was on these occasions that if any marital conversation was to take place, it would.
Several weeks after the Kew incident, Wendy and her husband sat together at the table. Conversation was minimal but polite.
'I soon have to go to New York for a month,' Jeremy said as the meat course arrived.
She glanced up. 'Do you?'
'Yes. I've told you – the New York clients have been causing us problems for a while. They want me to go and deal with it.'
'It seems an awfully long way to go for what will presumably amount to two weeks work. Why you?' She was in fact glad to hear of Jeremy's trip, but considering she was supposed to be making an effort with him, she thought she would at least feign interest.
'My workload has eased up recently, especially since my most important client closed his account.'
'Oh? Who was that?'
'Don't you know?' Something about his tone, sharp and satisfied in equal measure, made her uneasy. Jeremy had a calculating half-smile on his face. He took a sip of wine before answering, ensuring she was looking at him first. 'Hook.'
Her gut twisted. She felt her face reddening and applied herself to clasping her glass so tightly her knuckles blanched. 'Really? Closed his account?'
She took a long drink, trying to steady her racing anxiety. She could feel Jeremy's eyes burning into her. She couldn't stop herself.
'Did he give a reason why?'
'No. And I didn't ask. Couldn't wait to be rid of him. Bloody man. I presume he's going back to sea. Good riddance to the bastard.'
'What?' he spat, suddenly and brutally, throwing down his cutlery with a furious clatter and leaning into her, every sinew strained. 'What, Wendy?'
'I won't have you speaking of him like that.'
'Why not? What does he matter to you, Wendy? Why do you care exactly?'
'He has been very good to m– to us. He paid my bail, after all.'
'And how else – Wendy – has he been good to you? Hm?'
She stood, unable to abide his presence and biting words any longer. As she swept past him he called out, 'That time in the cells must have felt quite like home, Wendy. You were with your own kind – all whores together.'
She turned back, picked up his glass of wine and threw the contents in his face. Jeremy only registered shock for a moment before his expression twisted into outright fury. Wendy left before she did something which would see her back in prison.
She raced up the stairs, her long skirt frustrating her in her need to escape Jeremy. Wendy slammed her bedroom door shut, threw herself onto the bed and cried great sobbing tears of desolation and despair.
She should be weeping for her husband's upset, she should be weeping for her own temper, but all she was weeping for was the possibility that Hook had in fact done what she had told him to do. Had he gone? Had he really gone? She had needed him to, she had willed him to, but she had never actually wanted him to. And now, having subverted her needs and her despair for weeks, her loneliness without him made her shake violently. Nausea overwhelmed her and, rushing into her washroom, she vomited her supper into the toilet bowl.
She couldn't move. She remained there, slumped on the marble floor, shivering with nerves and the purging of her stomach. What else had she purged? What else was left?
Eventually, she managed to clean herself and crawl into bed. She spent a fitful night; sleep took her for mere minutes at a time, and those moments were fragile with turbulent dreams of rolling seas and pitching boats, and searching, always searching.
She needed to know. If she knew, at least, her mind would rest, surely?
She had to go there the next day. She forgot what Lizzie had said about her presence at Claridge's being noted. In any case, what did it matter now? Jeremy knew, everyone knew, it seemed. She rushed in and up to his suite and knocked quickly on the door. It took only a moment for it to be opened. She beamed up, exultant.
Wendy was met with the sight of a grey-haired man, clad only in a night robe, his whiskers broader than his face. His eyes sparked gleefully at the sight of the beautiful woman standing before him.
'I …' she stuttered.
'Hello, my dear,' he said, his teeth bared in a feral smile. 'You're a little early, not that I'm complaining.'
'Where is Captain Hook?' she blurted out.
'No one of that name here. There seems to have been a slight mix-up. I did in fact ask for a redhead, but I can't say I'm disappointed.' He looked her up and down with a lascivious smirk.
She stared through him and beyond to the room – their room – their bed. 'He's not here.'
The man's eyes were searing over her body, lingering on her breasts. 'Captain, did you say? I'm a Colonel, my beauty … will that do?' He stepped up to her and took her hand, trying to pull her into the room.
She glanced down at where he held onto her, frowning in bewilderment. 'What are you doing?'
'Enjoying my purchase,' he grinned. 'Come in. The bed is most comfortable, I can assure you. But then, as you know, I can afford the best and I've heard your skills are the best. Jolly good – I have quite exacting requirements.'
'No. I'm not …'
'Oh, do come along.' He tugged harder. 'I intend to get my money's worth.'
She wrenched herself free from his grasp. 'No! I was looking for someone else. I'm not … that sort of woman.'
The man sneered and looked down at the hand he had been holding. 'Really? Turning up at a man's hotel room looking for a 'captain'? And yet you have a wedding ring on, I see. Not that sort of woman? Are you so sure, my dear?'
His oily lips curled malevolently and he took a step towards her again.
Wendy turned and fled.
She ran, she wasn't sure where. Heads turned as she hurried through the streets, but Wendy neither noticed nor cared. Her face was wet with tears yet again. She raced on, across the traffic of Park Lane, until she found herself in Hyde Park. At last she slowed and stopped. It had started raining again and Wendy turned her head up and let the now relentless downpour fall heavily onto her. Others raced for shelter under the trees, but she stood in the open as her hair and clothes were drenched.
He was gone. That was all there was. Gone. She had told him to go and he had.
There was a groaning emptiness taking hold of her, a sense of something missing, some part of her cut off, like an amputation. Now, in the abyss of loss, she felt it acutely.
Rain poured down, soaking and bone-chilling. She didn't care. She wanted it to punish her, punish her for choosing him, for not choosing him, for having him and letting him go.
And what now? Here she was, alone and bereft. For what had she been fighting? Is this all there was for a woman? Tied into marriage or branded a whore? It hadn't been like this in Neverland. There, she had been a mother, a sister, a fighter, a friend, a foe, a storyteller, a fairy, an adventurer … a pirate. There, she had been free. She had been who she truly was.
But here she remained, and her only means of regaining that freedom had gone at her own bidding. She had made her bed, and Wendy Montgomery had no choice but to lie in it.
Chapter 15: 15
Wendy and Jeremy existed with each other rather than lived with each other.
Neither of them mentioned the incident at dinner again. Jeremy Montgomery, it seemed, would rather live with a whore than be divorced, and both of them knew it. His rival had gone and therefore it could be imagined that Hook never had been.
For the next few weeks an odd harmony played between husband and wife, one which threatened to modulate into discord at any moment, but, somehow, held its tone. And the children were there to keep Wendy sane.
Her longing for James, however, grew stronger. And now, intermingled with the dull thudding of emptiness, came also an anger and resentment. He had promised her so much; he had returned for her, had he not? And now, to abandon her after one tiff? After all, it was the job of the woman to say one thing and mean another, and the job of the man to see through the tempestuous words and ascertain the woman's true meaning. She may have asked him to leave but, damn it, she hadn't actually meant it! How dare he actually do as she asked?
Her resentment of James Hook kept her going, for the time being. She was almost determined to make a go of her marriage again simply to annoy Hook, if he had been around to annoy, that is. Where was he? When walking in London, she noted every flash of metal, every velvet jacket. She would walk to the river frequently and stare out as the ships sailed past, trying to absorb something of him. Dear God, it hurt. It hurt so badly.
She had not been intimate with Jeremy for as long as she could remember. He had not slept in her room since the night she had returned from the police station.
He was due to leave for New York in early April, and as March slipped over into the following month, the truce between them still held. Wendy was looking forward to his month away, she could only admit, but also dreaded having that time to herself and not being with Hook. She was empty without him. She wanted his corded muscle, his taut, smooth skin … his cock. At night she thought of little else. Was there something wrong with her that she was so obsessed with a single male body part? She lay there, a week before Jeremy was due to leave, in the quiet of her room, trying to remember what he had felt like. It was not difficult. He had imprinted himself on every part of her.
Her fingers slid down her body, grazing over her nipples, enjoying the swell of her breasts, imagining how he used to cup and tease and nibble them. Her left hand remained there while the other sought lower. She touched herself regularly now and brought herself to pleasure, and tonight her fingers curled right around and into her, two, then three. She arched her back, propelling the fingers as deep inside as possible. It hurt her arm to do so, but she wanted to feel what he felt, wanted to prove to herself what he was missing. Her soft, dewy skin gripped her fingers. Did her body resent this intrusion, resent the fact that it wasn't him? She withdrew them then pushed hard back in again, wishing it was him, hoping for …
There was a soft knock at the door. Wendy started, wide eyed, interrupted. She fell silent, barely breathing, lying absolutely still.
There was the knock again. And a voice. 'Wendy?'
It was Jeremy.
She could pretend to be asleep, but he would see her light on, and her mind and body were at a peak of alertness.
'What is it?'
'May I come in?'
Her fingers were buried within her. Her need was remarkably strong tonight. And she could punish Hook.
Oh, James, come back to me. Her palm grazed her clitoris. Pleasure spiked through her.
The door handle turned and there stood her husband. His blond hair fell over one eye and his mouth was turned down in a strange half-pout. He looked like a little boy seeking acceptance after a misdeed. His night shirt hung out for a change and his robe was untied about him.
'Come in then,' she said, sounding remarkably like Miss Stockton, she thought. He padded in on bare feet and shut the door. Jeremy sat on the side of the bed, not able to look at her.
Wendy sat up and pulled the covers up over her at first, but then, determinedly, she pushed them back down to her waist. Her night dress was undone and revealed the pale skin beneath. Jeremy turned bashfully towards her but his gaze fell immediately on the valley of her breasts.
'Are you unwell, Jeremy?' she asked coolly.
'No, not unwell.'
'So why are you here?'
'You know why.'
'I have missed you, Wendy.'
'You. Being with you.'
'Is that why you are here now? Tonight?'
He nodded a little, a quick jerky nod curtailed by embarrassment. She studied him for a time, making him endure her silence, but then she pushed down the covers and crawled over towards him. She stopped close beside him and drew her legs under her so that she was kneeling on her haunches, her hair hanging loose and full around her.
'Look at me, Jeremy.'
He turned, slowly, and lifted his eyes to hers. His face was excruciatingly masked with self-consciousness.
She undid her night dress further and it loosened enough to fall from her shoulders, revealing her upper body fully. Wendy cupped her breasts and began to play with the nipples before him, rubbing her thumbs over them and flicking them back and forth. Jeremy could not help but stare, his mouth hanging open and his eyes wide.
'Tell me, Jeremy. Tell me what you want to do.'
'I want … you.'
'Tell me more.'
She moved in closer so that the long strands of her hair fell across his shoulders. She raised her hands to take hold of his head. 'More, Jeremy, say it.'
He dropped his gaze but murmured his wishes. 'I want to make love to you like I used to.'
'That's not enough.'
His face creased. 'It's all I have.'
She pulled his head down – he let her guide him – and attached him to a nipple, almost as she would a child. His lips parted hesitantly but then he latched onto the tight bud.
She felt him tense but clasped his head and held him there. His tongue flitted over the nipple and she felt him start to suck cautiously.
'Harder,' she said. He deepened his drags on the nub.
'Harder still,' she demanded. It worked to a point. He seemed to be enjoying it and Wendy, so desperate for touch, so desperate to shake her husband into some sort of realisation, allowed her mind to blur and pleasure to build. She reached down and found Jeremy hard and ready. Pushing down the cotton of his night trousers, she released his cock and closed her hand about it. He sucked in in surprise, but when she spat on her hand and returned to grip his erection firmly, he groaned rapturously. 'Do you like that?' she asked.
'Oh … I …' He couldn't speak.
'I asked if you like that?' she repeated, working his cock dextrously, plying, stroking, pulling on the hard flesh with a little upward twist each time.
'Yes, yes. I adore it! You know I do.'
Instantly, she spun around and knelt before her husband, naked and wanton. Wendy wiggled her backside for him, sinking her shoulders down into the pillows and waiting, expectant and open, like a feral cat.
'Then fuck me.'
Jeremy Montgomery was clearly so shocked at his wife's language that he did not initially move. Wendy craned her head around to look back at him, annoyed at his hesitation.
'Go on then, Jeremy. Tell me. What are you going to do?'
He moved, instinctively rather than deliberately, to take up position behind her. 'I …'
'Say it!' Her tone was unequivocal.
'I … I'm going to … fuck you.' He spoke in a half tone, as if his housemaster was lurking outside the door to catch him and cane him soundly.
'Do it then. Fuck me. Fuck me harder than you ever have before.'
Jeremy may have been a banker, but he was still a man, and it would take an extraordinary and somewhat curious man to decline the prospect on offer, especially considering that he was married to it. So, in good manly fashion, he took hold of her hips, fumbled a little to position himself accurately, then thrust forward with a strange high grunt. Wendy thought the sound quite comical, but the action did have some impact as it sent her lurching forward. She had to push back to steady herself. She had forgotten how slender her husband's cock was, but it wasn't lacking in length, and in this position it jolted right up against her cervix. That, at least, was something. There was no denying she had a man in her.
He seemed to have found a new confidence and started to thrust quite vigorously. Jeremy was surpassing himself, she knew that, not that it would take much to surpass what had come before. But for him, he was certainly driven. She decided to reward his efforts by making appreciative sounds. Hook had taught her much, and she knew she could almost guarantee coming in this position, especially if she reached underneath and touched herself. She did this now and released the surge of pleasure with a low moan. Jeremy went at her harder yet and managed to propel himself along that sweet place inside.
'Wendy …' he moaned. 'Oh Wendy … missed you, missed you …'
'Keep going, keep going …' she implored. Oh, please give her an orgasm. She wanted it so much tonight, she needed it, just to blot out a little of the misery.
He was pounding her now. Wendy rubbed her clitoris hard, willing herself to come. Jeremy was lost, so lost in fact that he kept falling out. Every time he had to position himself and push back in, she remembered that he was not Hook, that he was not the right man. She stared ahead of her and let her hand drop. Instead of deeper pleasure, resentment started to take hold. And instead of starting to climax, she started to cry.
'Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes,' slurred her husband. He came, obviously and uninspiringly, and stopped moving abruptly. Jeremy pulled out, sliding sloppily from her to lie panting on her bed.
Wendy moved swiftly to lie with her back to him, managing to keep the tears at bay.
'That was lovely … lovely, lovely. You were wonderful.'
He didn't mind her being a whore when it suited him.
'I didn't climax,' she said.
He opened his eyes a fraction. 'What?'
'I didn't have an orgasm.' She looked over her shoulder at him. 'You did. I didn't.'
Jeremy closed his eyes again and concentrated on his breathing. He clearly didn't know how to respond.
Wendy turned onto her back, still looking at him, and reached between her legs, ignoring his stickiness. She began to work her fingers along herself; she would not let him deny her. Jeremy stared at his wife masturbating before him through half-drooped lids. Wendy held his gaze defiantly, her teeth biting into her bottom lip. She worked quickly, rubbing her clitoris hard, rocking along her hand, tugging at her nipple with her left hand.
Her orgasm was not profound, but it bucked her body and forced out a low groan. Jeremy stared but said nothing.
Afterwards she turned her back on him again and lay quite silently.
'I'd rather you didn't stay here tonight,' she said after a while.
He didn't move. She didn't feel she could insist again, but remained turned away from him. Silence descended. At length, Jeremy broke it.
'Did you sleep with Hook?'
She stared ahead of her at her dressing table, noting a slight misalignment of her perfume bottles.
Silence again. Jeremy did not move.
'But I do not any longer.'
She waited for his anger, but it didn't come. Instead, he spoke tenderly and honestly. It surprised and humbled her and made shame raise its head.
'I do love you, you know, Wendy. And I thought you loved me. You used to.'
There was a pause as she thought. 'I love you, Jeremy. You are the man I married. You are a good man. And you are the father of my children. I will always love you.' She pulled the eiderdown higher over her. 'But I am no longer in love with you.'
'Is there a difference? Loving someone and being in love with them – is there a difference?'
Of course. Did he really not know?
'Is that necessary, being in love?'
'Yes, I think it is.'
'He left because you ended it, didn't he? Why did you stop seeing him?'
She couldn't answer. She had no answer. She didn't know it herself.
'I'm sorry, Wendy. I'm sorry we are like this.'
'I'm sorry too.' Still she couldn't turn to him.
'I'm sorry I can't be the man you want. I don't suppose I'll ever understand what it is you want. You are quite unfathomable. Strangely, that's what I like about you. I like it but I cannot reconcile it.'
They lay quietly for a while again. Wendy began to feel almost content.
Jeremy at last stirred beside her. 'I'll go now, to my room, but thank you for tonight. It's right, isn't it – this? For the children if nothing else. It's right.'
She supposed it must be. Everyone told her it was. But she couldn't bring herself to concur. 'Goodnight, Jeremy. I'll see you in the morning.'
Quietly, he slipped from the bed and left the room.
Wendy lay for some time before rising and washing. Before she slid into bed again, she went to a drawer, a drawer she did not often visit these days, and pulled it open. She daren't look too deeply inside, not tonight, just a little glimpse, but when she pushed it back in, she neglected to shut it all the way.
Wendy fell asleep fast.
She dreamed, vivid, luminous dreams which sang through her mind and danced on her soul. And at the centre of her dream were eyes so blue they made her tumble through distance and time. 'Wait for me,' he says. 'Wait for me. I'm coming back.' 'Where are you?' she calls. 'I've lost you and I need you.' 'I'm coming back, my darling, my love, I'm coming back. Hold on, hold on.' She reached out but couldn't touch. So near, so close, yet untouchable.
In the morning, Wendy remembered nothing.
The next day was Saturday. Jeremy was due to sail for New York on the Wednesday and was taking the train to Southampton, the ship's port of departure, on Tuesday. As it was the last time the children would see their father for a month, Wendy suggested they visit the Natural History Museum. Jeremy was at first reluctant – he had intended finalising work in the office – but for once Wendy prevailed. There followed a pleasant day and, although Jeremy did not have the wherewithal to be a particularly dynamic father, it gave Wendy a comforting contentment to see him engaging with his children for a change.
She was not happy, but her family's smiles meant that she was not unhappy and, although she suspected that would change when she lay silently in the dark of night, alone and empty, for now, it was better than the deceit and guilt that had wracked her before.
The next two days passed calmly, and when it at last came time to bid Jeremy goodbye on Tuesday morning, complete with trunks and cases galore, she presented herself as the perfect dutiful wife.
Jeremy hugged his children tightly, urging them to be good, kissing and holding them warmly. It filled Wendy with a searing emotion. Why now? Why had he not done more before? Peter and James smiled meekly at their father and assured him they would be the perfect little men. Jane gave her father a beaming smile and Wendy detected a misting of her husband's normally dry eyes.
He turned to her. 'Well then … goodbye, Wendy.'
'Goodbye.' She smiled, looking him full in the eyes. With that he reached in and held her tight, clasping her against him, his fingers splayed on her back. He clung to her as if she were a buoy at sea, and she could not help but bring her hands around him and hold him back. Husband. She recalled her father's dependence on her mother.
'Will you be alright?' she asked, suddenly fearful for him, her lost boy. No matter what, she had always been there for him to come home to.
He shuddered in a sigh and it almost broke her. The taxi driver gave a loud cough.
'I have to go.' He pulled back at last.
She smiled as brightly as she could. 'I'm here, Jeremy. Don't worry.'
'I know. You'll do the right thing, Wendy, won't you? That's all I want. Do the right thing.'
She nodded. 'Of course. What else can one do?'
Jeremy reached in and kissed her on the cheek. His lips were warm. He smelt as he had on their wedding day.
'Bye bye then, family,' he smiled, then hurried into the taxi. Jeremy put his hand out of the window and waved it as the carriage pulled away. They all waved until the taxi turned a corner and was gone from their sight.
Wendy stood for a time on the step, staring down the road after him. The children were taken back inside by Miss Stockton, but Wendy found herself unable to move. She was utterly alone. No Jeremy. No Hook. She should hate it, shouldn't she? But what scared her most was that she didn't at all. There was a despondency, yes, a hollowness which seemed more expansive than ever, but under it all was the faintest itch of excitement.
Eventually, she returned inside. Wendy distracted herself from her whirling emotions by spending the next day or so finding out how Olive and Lillie were. They had not fared well. Unlike her, they had not escaped prison, and it was rumoured they had suffered greatly on hunger strike and then through force-feeding. Wendy was desperate to see them and arranged to visit Lillie in Holloway on Monday.
She woke up early, exhilarated at the prospect of seeing Lillie that morning and offering her some hope and encouragement. It was a fine April day, and the birds outside sang of a new spring. Wendy dressed rapidly and busied herself with conviction, putting on her brightest clothes and prettying her hair. She applied some rouge to her cheeks and even a little colour to her lips. She smiled at herself in the mirror. Yes. This would bring some cheer, both to Lillie and her.
There was a knock at the door.
'Come in,' she called brightly.
Pearson entered. Wendy spied her in the mirror as she put the final touches to her hair. Her housekeeper looked pale and brutally serious.
'Pearson? Are you alright? You look unwell. Should you be working today?' Wendy smiled gently across in the mirror.
Pearson clasped her hands together tightly. 'Mrs Montgomery …'
Something in her housekeeper's tone made Wendy's skin creep with cold. She turned around to face her directly.
'Ma'am …' said Pearson. 'There's news. The most awful news.'
James. Something's happened to James. Her heart beat its way out of her chest. 'What? Tell me. Tell me quickly.'
Pearson could barely look at her. Tears were already brimming in her eyes. 'Oh, Mrs Montgomery, I am so dreadfully sorry. There's been a terrible accident at sea. A terrible, terrible accident.'
Chapter 16: 16
Wendy wasn't even aware of slumping to the floor. Her legs lost all the strength to support her.
She listened to what Pearson told her – scant details of what had happened – but the words seemed destined for another, not her: ice berg; no ship in the immediate vicinity; sank quickly; women and children rescued, but not all; few men saved; survivors on the Carpathia; the rest, over one and a half thousand, dead.
She knew he was gone. He would not have put himself above women and children in need. What is more, she could feel he was gone. Never before had she had such a profound sense of herself, alone.
The ship had been called unsinkable. Wendy had not questioned its integrity or safety for an instant. There had been considerable talk about Titanic's luxury, but both she and Jeremy were not interested in that. He was on it to get to New York. But he hadn't reached New York and he wouldn't be coming back.
Her children had lost their father.
Wendy threw her head back and wailed, the longest, shrillest cry of anguish and confusion. Oh, Jeremy, poor, lost Jeremy. So cold and so deep.
Pearson held her, and they remained there on the floor as time ticked away, rocking each other. It did no good. Wendy was immediately consumed with such guilt and remorse that she was certain she could never recover. In her mind, she had sent Jeremy to his death through her own betrayal. Someone removed from the turmoil of her emotions would have told her that it was the bank that had sent him to New York, that he would have gone no matter what was happening at home, that he was purely on a business trip and that circumstance and fortune simply conspired against him that dreadful day. But it did no good. Wendy was plunged to the depths of shameful despair.
Pearson attempted a moment's respite. 'We don't know for certain yet, ma'am. He may have been one of the lucky ones.'
Wendy shook her head. 'If there were others before him, he would have let them on the lifeboats. Do the right thing. Good form.' The two men in her life had that in common, at least. And peril at sea. If anyone should die at sea, it should be Hook, should it not? More reason for guilt to eat away at her.
'The White Star Line offices will have more information as soon as possible. They are compiling a list of survivors,' added Pearson.
'Those poor people. Those poor, poor people.' Wendy could not stop crying, not only for her husband but for all the souls on that ship. She squeezed her eyes tight shut but could only hear screams and picture terrified faces as the freezing dark of the ocean swallowed them up.
'What do I tell the children? What do I say to them?' She started to panic, her voice rising hysterically.
'Shh, ma'am, shh. They are in lessons now, leave them until you are in a fit state to speak calmly.'
'I treated him so badly, Pearson. I treated him so horribly. I told him everything. I told him about James. I told him I wasn't in love with him, my own husband, anymore. Do you think that's what he was thinking? Do you think that's the last thing he remembers of me?'
'No, ma'am, no. You parted well, ma'am, I know that. You had good days before he left, didn't you?'
Wendy nodded vigorously, as if by doing so she could make it true.
'This would have happened no matter what, ma'am. There are so many families affected, so many. It is a terrible, terrible day.'
Wendy wasn't sure how she could raise herself from the floor, but eventually she did. She felt as if she was walking through soup, the world was thick and sluggish around her. She moved through the house, uncertain what to do next. Everywhere was a reminder of Jeremy. She couldn't bear being in it but neither could she face going out where she knew every newspaper seller would be proclaiming the news, every couple on the omnibus or the park would be talking of nothing else. There was no escape. Her grief and guilt knew no bounds, not only due to his loss but the manner of it.
Wendy ate nothing. At midday Pearson persuaded her to take a little tea, but she let it grow cold when only half drunk.
At around two o'clock there was a ring at the door. Pearson answered it. It was a reporter from the Daily Mirror, who had found out about Jeremy's sailing on the ship. He clamoured to come in and speak to Wendy, but Pearson gave him short shrift and sent him on his way.
Telling the children was nigh on impossible, but in the late afternoon, Wendy summoned up the little strength she had in reserve and sat with them on the sofa. They were silent, even Jane, intimidated by the grave portent which had descended upon their mother. She told them, calmly, tenderly and straightforwardly. Only at the end did her voice quake. Peter and James met the news with no obvious response, but their little arms clung tighter about her. For a time they sat together in silence, clasped tight and rocking slowly. Peter looked up at her then and smiled, a small smile through damp eyes. 'Don't worry, mama, we'll look after you. We're your little men.'
She cried suddenly and loudly, sobbing out her remorse. 'I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry, my darlings.'
The next few days passed through a fog. Wendy barely slept, but was forced on a path of tedious normality due to the bureaucracy of death. It provided a strange comfort. She visited the White Star Line offices along with thousands of others, all hoping that their loved ones' names would be on the list of survivors. Jeremy's name was not amongst them. She had known it would not be. They were told that there was no chance of any further survivors. A few bodies had been recovered; Jeremy's was not one of them. His grave would be the vast waters of the North Atlantic.
As the days passed, Wendy found people flocking to see her, keen to offer support and to express their condolences. These were the same people who had fed off the gossip of her supposed liaison with Hook and had avoided her before. The Titanic disaster brought out a ghoulish curiosity in people, a need to rejoice in their own survival yet at the same time rub up against those genuinely affected by the tragedy. She soon had to limit the number of visitors, many of whom were true friends and gave real help, but most of whom simply wished to quiz her on the details she may have been given by the White Star Line. Did she have any ticket information remaining? Any correspondence related to the Titanic? Had Jeremy been given any items for the sailing which he had left behind? Did she need them any longer?
Their mawkish curiosity turned her stomach. At every stage she could picture only the murky depths into which her husband, along with all those others, had been consumed. She soon learned to say no when people came calling. Eventually she learned to sleep again, although her dreams were now warped and spiky, always at sea, always lost. Looking … looking. She would wake, terrified and alone, and long for the day.
The Bank supported her well. Jeremy's finances, naturally, were all in order, and she would be a very wealthy widow. Jeremy had many savings, more than she had realised, and now she could do with them as she saw fit. Somehow this only added to her guilt.
A memorial service was held two weeks after the sinking, private, attended by close family and friends. Then there was the large service in St Paul's, in which she sat, surrounded by so many thousands of other people affected by the tragedy. Everyone attending sat in a sort of stupor, still not able to fathom fully what had transpired. She could not bear it and almost left before the service even began, but respect for the others compelled her to sit through it.
There was much blame and recrimination, rightly perhaps, for the White Star Line, the captain, the officers, but Wendy steered clear of such emotions. It had happened. As the weeks then months passed, her remorse lessened somewhat. It was indeed true that Jeremy would have sailed on the ship whether or not she had been unfaithful or not. In the muddied desolation of her mind, the two had somehow become linked, but time managed to separate reality from guilt. And she took comfort from the days before he had sailed. They had at least been pleasant together.
In many ways, she became a more dutiful wife after his death than before. The whirlwind of financial and legal matters which needed attending to buried Hook's absence ever deeper for a time. She began to take ownership of her life again, reigniting her interest in lectures and concerts and supporting the Suffragettes once again, albeit from the safety of her correspondence desk this time. However, when Wendy read of Lillie and Olive's frequent trips to prison and of the hunger strikes they endured, courage and camaraderie surged through her again. With new found conviction, Wendy visited them regularly. On each visit the women looked increasingly frail.
'Must you put yourself through this any longer?' Wendy asked of Lillie on one such occasion. They sat across from each other on either side of a small wooden table. A surly guard eyed them coldly. Lillie was back behind bars for smashing a shop front.
'As long as it takes.'
'But why the hunger strike?'
Lillie shrugged. 'It gets me out quicker.'
'Only to be caught again.'
'Cat and mouse, Wendy. I assure you, I am a very nimble mouse.'
'But not a very plump one.' Wendy sighed. 'Oh, Lillie, you look so thin.'
Lillie sniffed in derisively. 'Have no fear, Wendy. They insist on keeping my weight up by force-feeding me.'
Wendy's skin crawled. 'You can die that way.'
'I know. Olive developed pleurisy, did you not hear? She nearly died.'
'I know. I visited her in hospital. She is remarkable. The whole business of your treatment is disgraceful, but the politicians are at last seeing sense.'
'Are they? It doesn't seem that way to me.'
'You are very brave, Lillie.'
Lillie smirked. 'But stupid?'
'I didn't say that.'
'But you think it.' There was silence for a time. Wendy shifted in her seat. The prison officer stared across at her morosely.
'I am sorry, Wendy. I forget sometimes what you have lost. How is widowhood?'
Wendy almost laughed. Dear Lillie. Tact and sensitivity sat uneasily with her. 'Oh, I am continuing. I suppose in some ways I am achieving more than I ever did before.'
'Of course you are. You can be your own woman again. Don't you adore it?'
Wendy pursed her lips. 'Lillie, I lost my husband, and my children lost their father. It is not a matter of regaining independence.'
'But that is precisely what you have done. You should enjoy it.'
The thought of being happy again had not seemed permissible. She wasn't sure what to say. 'Well … I … am … I suppose.'
'And what of your lover?'
'Your lover? The man at Kew. James, wasn't it?'
'Oh, come now, Wendy. You weren't so coy before. I hear he even stood your bail. A useful fellow. Some men, after all, are worth holding onto, even I'll admit that.'
'Really?' Lillie frowned in surprise. 'What a damnable nuisance. However did that happen?'
'I … I asked him to leave. It was wrong and it had to end.'
'What? And he did leave?'
'Yes.' A dull pain started in Wendy's stomach.
'Surely not? He was utterly devoted, anyone could tell.'
'Well, that's all there is to it. I don't know where he is.'
'Well call him back, for goodness sake! What are you waiting for? You are no longer married, you have no excuse. Do not deny yourself out of guilt, Wendy. We all need a little indulgence, oh, don't I know. He'll be wanting back, trust me.' Her voice became wistful. 'I've known men like that.'
'I'm not sure.'
'I am. Did he make you happy?'
'Yes. When I was with him.'
'Well, there's your answer. It's hard enough to find pleasure in life, Wendy. When it comes knocking, you'd best let it in.'
Wendy smiled. 'You're terribly wise for someone so young. You remind me of …'
'Well, me, I suppose. I was terribly wise when I was young. I seem to have lost my head somewhat since growing up. It's not supposed to be that way round, is it?'
'Oh, of course it is. We see things most clearly when young. But it's not a question of becoming less wise, simply less open. We forget, that is all. But we can always remember again. Strive to remember, Wendy.'
'I knew someone else like you, Lillie.' Wendy smiled. 'She was a fairy.'
Lillie barely blinked. 'Did she have wings?'
'Yes. Very lovely wings. And, like you, she was imprisoned from time to time for her wilfulness.'
'Ah well. You see, it's always the way. But I will survive. I have faith.'
'And others do too, Lillie. Just like Tinkerbell. She survived because other people believed in her.'
'Always believe, Wendy.' Lillie reached across and grasped her hands. 'He'll come back to you, Wendy. Always believe.'
'Oy! No touching! Visiting's over.' The guard strode across and stood intimidatingly close.
Wendy gave Lillie's hand a squeeze. 'Goodbye, Lillie. And thank you.'
Lillie smiled but said nothing, and Wendy was ushered out by the guard, leaving the young woman alone once again.
Wendy thought over the conversation with Lillie constantly, but could do little about it, even if she had wanted. Hook was not here. She channelled her energies instead into campaigning – entirely peacefully now – for the Suffragette cause. Wendy fought her corner from the safety of the drawing room, but her letters and articles in support of suffrage gained recognition and praise from many quarters. She could not say she was enjoying life again, but she was certainly engaging in it.
The children were a comfort, and she was one to them. She spent more time with them than ever before, and although they often had times of tears, and nights spent held together in the nursery, they coped remarkably well with the new situation in the household.
She had never quite closed the drawer again, and every night she dreamed. At first the dreams were fogged and faint, shadows of a time past, reaching out to something but never attaining it. But gradually the nebulous images solidified and through it all shone two bright points of piercing blue. He was there, in her soul, and he would not leave her. She would awake in the morning, knowing she had dreamt him, thinking perhaps he lingered in her room and she would look around, half expecting to see him standing there, but the room was always empty.
Her body became almost alien to her. It would taunt her, crying out for touch, begging to be indulged, but denying her by the lingering shame and reproach she still felt. Men flirted and tried to court her but she ignored their approaches. There was only one man, and he had gone from her.
The months stretched on. The summer passed quickly amidst the heavy grief still pervading them. Autumn too dropped soon into winter. Wendy still wore black. It was the black of guilt, of the death of her marriage, the marriage she had killed.
It was the staff day off. The children were with their aunt in Suffolk for a few days while Wendy finalised Jeremy's estate. It was raining – a cold, dank February rain which encouraged people to light innumerable fires and do little but bolt themselves up in their houses and shut out the elements.
Wendy sat at her desk, trying to formulate the words to yet another solicitor. She stared at the paper, her mind numb. The carriage clock ticked relentlessly on the mantelpiece. It jarred with her and she got up to remove it. Taking it in her hands, she stared down at the gilded hands as they moved relentlessly onwards. Its tick seemed to grow louder still. She marched across and opened the drawer of her bureau, putting the clock inside and closing it with a bang.
Wendy started. What was that?
There again. It was a knock at the door, loud and insistent. Why not use the bell? She was alone in the house and tempted not to answer.
She made her way cautiously across the hallway. The rain still poured down outside.
Her heart thumped as loudly as the pummelling on the door. Whoever could it be? A delivery boy, lost perhaps and with no manners. There could be news of the children. She must answer.
Unlocking the bolts, she drew the door back a fraction and looked outside.
James Hook was standing on her doorstep.
Chapter 17: 17
She was going to faint, she knew it. She clung to the door and squeezed her eyes shut. When she opened them he would be gone, surely. Just a dream, a vision, a relic of the past. Wendy breathed deep and recovered her poise. She opened her eyes again. He stood there still, staring at her, his eyes as blue as they ever had been. He was thinner, his cheekbones hollower, the lines under his eyes deeper, but it was him.
Rain water poured from him; his long hair hung sodden and heavy down, clinging to his face. He wore a dark coat with many buttons and drops ran relentlessly off it, cascading from the ends of the sleeves. His legs ended in knee high black leather boots.
Wendy stumbled backwards and the door opened with her. At first he made no further move, as if perhaps there was some hidden barrier preventing him from entering. But then the pirate stepped in – one, two, three steps – and he was inside her house again. He leaned back against the door, not deliberately, but as if he needed the relief, and it shut behind him. Wendy retreated, stopping in the middle of the hall, thinking that the vision would disappear at any moment, that, if she got away from it, it would show itself to be like the images in her dreams, ephemeral and fleeting, and he would vanish again.
But he didn't. In fact, he was so real that he was dripping on the floor. She cast her eyes down to where a puddle formed around him then looked back into his face.
Would he speak? She certainly couldn't. And neither, it seemed, could he. Wendy stepped up to him, stronger now, and searched his face, studied every whisker and scar and pore of him. It was him. Despite the new angular darkness, it was him, and he was still beautiful.
Why? Why any of it? Why have her and take her and leave her and return to her? Why then? Why now?
Her arm seemed to move of its own accord. She raised it up with the swiftness of a pouncing panther and hit him. She slapped him hard around the face so much so that his head was flung back and he flinched in reflexive shock.
It was all she could say, all that was needed.
He turned back to look at her, his face hooded, his eyes burning. 'I came back.'
It wasn't an answer.
'You said that before. And then you left.'
'You asked me to leave.'
'Barely. And it's not like you to quit, Hook,' she taunted.
'I have been … delayed.'
'For a year?'
'Not a year.'
'As good as.'
'Ten months, two weeks and four days.'
Her throat ran dry at his precision, but she hadn't finished her deconstruction of his triumphant return. 'Delayed? Was she good, this delay?'
He let his mouth curl. It sat uneasily with her but the churning in her stomach turned to that familiar curl of lust when his gaze then moved over her figure.
'Why do you wear black?'
She stood tall. 'It suits me, don't you think?'
'Everything suits you. But there is only one reason to wear black in society.'
She ignored him. She would not give him the satisfaction. 'You look terrible.' He didn't, but he had certainly suffered since she had last seen him. It made her want him yet more, but she daren't admit it.
'How kind,' he crooned with liltingly light sarcasm.
'You have aged.' She knew it would hurt. She wanted it to hurt. She wanted to hurt him the way he had hurt her.
'So have you,' came the response.
She summoned her indignation.
He continued before she could retort. 'And you are all the more beautiful for it.'
James was back. And suddenly nothing else mattered. None of it. The pain of the last months, his absence, her life here – none of it. He was back.
She glanced down at the ever-growing puddle on the floor. 'You're making a mess on my floor.'
'So I am.'
She stepped up, coming close to him. Through the dampness she could still smell him: wine and cigars and rope and tar. He smelt of Hook.
'Your clothes are soaking.'
She studied the long coat he wore, dark and brass-buttoned, reaching almost to the floor. It must be heavy. It must be weighing him down. She brought up her hands and her fingers touched the lapels. His chest stopped rising and falling before her for the merest fraction of time. Wendy slowly pushed the material back from his shoulders. The breadth of his bone and muscle resisted. She pushed harder and the material edged back and finally tumbled, slipping off his arms to fall with a thick, dull thud onto the floor.
Wendy stood before him and kept her eyes deliberately downcast, but her hands could not resist. She touched him again and there it was – that hard solidity, that warm ungiving muscle, that quintessence of man, that reminder of her own existence. She pressed each fingertip onto his chest and edged her palm down to rest against him. There, as steady and irrefutable as ever, the thud thud thudding of his heart – all hers.
But the hardness quivered, just a little. Because of her, she knew. She raised her eyes, slowly, and met his: those same eyes which had pierced the gloom all those years ago, searching her out, then an unknown, now understood. Then contemplated, now deconstructed. This man had done that, he had deconstructed her, had torn down her barriers, torn down the pious principles inflicted on her by society and expectation.
And now he was back for her, and she would peel him back, layer by layer.
'Still beating, James Hook,' she said.
His mouth quirked, but he couldn't manage a full smirk. His eyes were shining, his nostrils flared as she pressed harder yet upon him. Hook was overcome.
'It beats for you. You know it.'
She loosened the ties on his shirt and the lacing came undone. With aching sensuality, Wendy slid her warm fingers under the silk and felt the flesh she had so craved. She felt again those dark hairs she longed to lose her fingers in; she rubbed over the rise of his chest – it lacked the swell it had exhibited before, but was now tighter and leaner, as if hardened against the onslaught of the world. Her fingers quested on and grazed over a nipple. He sucked in. She flicked it and his breath caught.
Hook, showing remarkable restraint, did not move. He did not move to hold her or capture her or claim her. He needn't claim her. She was his, yes, of that there was no doubt, but now she would claim him.
Wendy drew her hand out – reluctantly removing it from the masculine heat – but she moved to grip the sides of his shirt and, with a slowness which she forced upon herself, she pulled it up. He raised his arms but did nothing more to aid her. This was her command. Wendy stared as the remembered flesh was revealed to her: the little knot of his belly button, the mouldings of muscles at his stomach, the line of hairs rising up between his ribs. There was a scar, new, long, starting just below his right lower rib and reaching around towards his back. It had been a deep wound, she saw that, and was still raised and prominent. She ran her thumb over it and lifted her eyes to him. His expression darkened and he narrowed his gaze. She pulled the shirt up more and tugged it over his head and off his arms, before tossing it aside, now useless.
Here was her sacrament. Here. And suddenly the pain and desolation melted to nothing.
Wendy moved in and placed her head against his chest, closing her eyes and absorbing his reality. Thud thud thud. His heartbeat resonated through and into her. She stood with her head resting on him until the beat matched hers in rhythm and regularity. She turned into him and kissed above the drumming confirmation. Her lips moved a little and pressed against him again, then again. Then more kisses, preceded by a touch, lightly with the tips of her fingers, then reinforced by the soft pliancy of her lips. She covered him in her affirmation, both with mouth and hands, remembering him and absorbing him once again. And he stood and let her. It was only now she noticed he wore leather breeches, just as he so often did on ship. Boots, breeches and silk shirt. Had he come straight from sea?
She wanted to release him, and a quick glance down alerted her that he wished to be released, but she resisted. She wanted more to kiss him. Her hands moved to his arms and ran up and along them, over his shoulders, along his neck until she was cupping his face. Her fingers hushed over the roughness of his beard before she drew him down towards her. Just before their lips met, Wendy paused and scanned his eyes. The last time she had seen him they had flared red. She searched for it again. It was entirely absent now, although she did not fear it. Did she want it? It didn't matter. For instead his eyes were blurred. Under her fingertips she felt the muscle of his jaw working fast to stem his emotion and need. But she would draw it from him.
Wendy drew him down to meet her lips and pressed gently up against them. He tasted as he always had and it was like slipping back to a long lost memory. But she pulled away almost immediately, just a little, and looked at him. His eyes had closed but when he lost her touch he opened them. She stared hard into him and smiled, slight, but enough. The blue orbs misted. She wouldn't make him wait any longer and drew him in again, this time kissing him with all she was.
He let her at first, as if he was young and new and discovering again, but then his need reasserted itself with mature dominion and his hand came to her head. Hook held her and opened her mouth with his. His tongue took ownership and she adored him for it. When at last he broke off to smother her face and neck with kisses she murmured her thoughts.
'I missed you. I missed you so much. I'm empty without you. I'm nothing.'
'Then be everything, Wendy. Be everything.'
They were near the stairs where the bannister curled around at the bottom, and there he moved her quickly and nestled her into the wooden curve. Hook's hand scrabbled to lift her skirts. When he came to her underwear he pulled it out with quick fingers then sliced through with his hook. Grabbing her backside in his hand, he lifted her so that she was braced against the wooden rail. His hook slammed down into the bannister and with the strength this caused, he jerked her up, enabling her to curl her legs around his hips. Wendy extended her arms to the sides and clung to the wood behind her, her knuckles blanching as she gripped. But he had her. She was braced enough in the crook of the stairs and around his waist to be pinned there by him. He let go of her rump momentarily to undo the laces on the front of his breeches. Wendy looked down. Oh, she'd missed it. At this precise moment she didn't think she'd ever missed anything as much. She pushed herself up, willed herself open for him, felt him nudging at her.
'Oh, yes!' she cried.
Hook smirked. Then he pushed up into her. She relaxed her hold on the bannisters at that moment, sinking down, and their bodies met with remarkable force. He filled her suddenly and completely. The air was forced from her with the shock and wonder of it. Combined with the groan from Hook, the sound of their joining left no doubt of the perfection of it.
He didn't pause long. His hand held her under the buttocks again and, with her grip on the bannister restored, they started to move. Relentlessly, determinedly, as if making up for months of absence, they worked each other. His cock seemed harder, more frantic, more potently male than ever. With it inside her anew she felt it as never before. She started to whine, unknowingly; she started to moan and sob out the joy of it.
'Yes, my girl. Let it out. Let me hear you. By God, you are all that there is. Christ alive, I have missed the way you fuck.'
His language triggered yet more. She threw a hand around him and gripped his back tight, aware she was practically clawing him. He moaned rapturously. 'You hurt me, witch? You dare? You want to punish me? Do you? Do it then. Harder. Hurt me. Give me your pain.'
She held tighter, digging her nails into his back and scraping them viciously along him. He sucked in but went at her with pounding ferocity. Now he was hurting, but beyond the hurt came the shimmer of rising bliss. With him, now, the two were as one.
'Oh, fuck me hard! I'd forgotten it. Make me remember, James! Don't let me ever forget again! Come on, come on, please, please, please!' She bucked on him and he ploughed deep furrows through her, plunging through her flesh with rapid desperation.
'You feel that? You feel that power? Tell me!' His fingers dug in and his cock pressed hard up into her, causing a pang each time. She was wedged tight against the bannister, bruising her back, but nothing mattered. Her body was his again and she was going to come so that she was bound only to him.
He ploughed on, never stopping, filling then retreating, plunging hard with a growl of possession each time. Wendy became a medium only for pleasure. Every scratch, every jolt, every pounding thrust merely added to the unstoppable rise of ecstasy. And she wanted it all, she wanted more and more. Was there such a thing as pain? It was only feeding her, making her live.
'Mine, Wendy,' Hook grunted, ploughing up through her again. 'Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine. Your body, your soul, your cunt, your mind, your heart, your skin, your mouth, your flesh. Mine. Say it. Say it!'
She was almost incoherent, both of thought and word, but through the sobs of pleasure, Wendy confirmed it. 'Yours. Yours. All yours. Always yours. My man. My man.'
He buried his head in her neck and stifled his own groan, but his cock didn't tire and went at her ever more.
Pleasure took her. She was spinning. She and he were flying, surely, rising up into the heights of her hallway. She felt teeth on her shoulder. He had bitten down. She knew sensation as never before. Surely she was no longer merely human? She came so profoundly that the world stopped, silent and still. Pleasure raged through her, so intense she couldn't breathe.
Her hand on his back flexed, driving her nails hard into him while her other found his hair and gripped, pulling it tight.
He cried out with sweet agony, and then he was coming, she knew that. That sound of him coming, coming harder than ever, bound him to her. As her own pleasure finally died away she clung to him and knew his cock was releasing deep inside her over and over, filling her, pouring into her.
He stopped afterwards, his breathing heavy and ragged, his brow damp with sweat. James seemed surprised, quite overcome by it. She could not help but kiss him, deep and affirming.
'You waited for me.'
Wendy wasn't sure she had heard right. Holding his head, she guided it to look at him. 'What?'
He rested his brow against hers. 'Thank you. Thank you for waiting for me.'
Chapter 18: 18
She took him to bed. Her bed. In her own house.
She held his hand and led him up the stairs. And he lay down beside her and slept.
Wendy didn't sleep. She lay on her side and stared at him. If she fell asleep he may vanish from her again.
James Hook woke up before dawn and smiled. Wendy reached over and stroked his hair back from his face.
'Me or you?' he asked.
'Both.' They kissed and she let him move over her. His hair – the same hair as always – tumbled over her face, tickling her, reminding her of his reality yet again.
She barely noticed him slip inside her. Not that she couldn't feel him – that would never be possible – but he was so much a part of her that it was simply a return to what was right.
He stayed right on top of her, moving with slow but certain strokes, his eyes fixed into hers, holding her face still for him. She came swiftly with a soft gasp and he followed.
When he lay down atop her again, she remembered and adored the feel of him, but once again she noticed his thinness. His ribs were prominent, and her fingers could trace each vertebra of his spine. They let silence settle for a while before he finally broke it.
'I want to tell you why I was away.'
'You don't have to. You're back. That's what matters.' She clung to him. But it did matter. Something tickled inside her, needing to know. He seemed to sense the urgency.
'No, Wendy. I want to tell you. I need to tell you.'
He pulled out slowly and turned to lie back, staring above him.
'When I last saw you …' He paused almost immediately.
Wendy knew exactly when he had last seen her. She had dismissed him, sent him away. The last time she'd seen him the guilt had been inescapable. Her heart thudded shamefully within her.
'When I last saw you, you were in need of time to yourself. So I granted you that time. I stayed in London and I avoided you.'
'I never saw you.'
'No. I was very careful. My profession demands a certain elusiveness. I am skilled in such matters. I avoided – yes – or rather, allowed you to think I was avoiding you. But I was there, Wendy, watching … waiting.'
'Waiting for what?'
'For you to be ready for me to return.'
But I was always ready! she wanted to cry.
'But one morning, only a week or so after that day, I received a message. It was from Smee. You see, when I returned to England all those months ago, I sent him and the ship to the seas off Spain to … continue our work, shall we say, while I came here to you, abandoning my crew. And there they met an old adversary of mine, a man called Rex Tremayne. He and I had some old scores to settle. We had worked together at one stage, when we were both young and headstrong, and had done well out of it. But after one venture, we had a disagreement over the division of spoils. It turned nasty and when I got the upper hand, he pursued me bitterly. His betrayal disappointed me; he had always seemed reliable. It was partly this which prompted me to leave here and explore the Neverland.
'But Tremayne did not forget me. And as soon as I was back here, he pounced. I, of course, was absent, being here in London, so all he found was my crew. If I had been there he would have been defeated in no time, but in my absence, he managed to overrun my ship and capture my men. Smee managed to send word from his dungeon to alert me. On hearing of this … louse … this … puny flea ridden rat scuttling all over my ship, I was enraged.
'I had no intention of leaving you, but given that you had just vowed never to see me again, I thought perhaps it was a favourable time to grant you a few weeks' grace. I was decided – I would go and rescue my crew and return in no time for you.
'And yet … perhaps I am losing my touch in my old age. Or perhaps my head and my heart were simply elsewhere, but … I found the fight hard. He caught wind of my approach, and I was surprised. I was nearly taken. Luckily, at length, my friend proved effective as ever.'
'The one which usually resides on the stump of my arm. I escaped, but not without loss. I lost many of my crew, and – despite loathing the sight of them under normal circumstances – that hit me hard. And he had taken something else – a map. Many years before, when we were allies, we had hidden one of our more lucrative business acquisitions on an island, a miserable speck of a place, known only to us. I had kept a map of where this place was, which only I had ever seen, not even Tremayne, although he knew of its existence. It stayed with me always. Even when you sailed off with my ship, the map stayed with me. But when I came back to you, I had left it behind. It was unimportant then. And on this occasion Tremayne got the better of me and took it. It incensed me like nothing else as I had always been so careful and he had exposed a failing. I couldn't let him have it. I was set for revenge, that old tormentor. I had forgotten it when with you – it seemed so entirely unimportant. But when away from you, that old red flame took hold again. I pursued him, once again thinking it would be quick.
'We raced for the island. I thought I was in the clear. My memory served me well, despite not having the map, and I reached the island. The treasure was a hoard acquired from a man of dubious repute, who made his wealth through whoring and flogging liquors and powders good only for strange visions and fantasies, but which leave you a shadow of a man. I had seen many men laid low, ruined by this person and his wares. In the strength of our young days, Tremayne and I acquired it easily and the world was a better place rid of that maggot. Anyway, this treasure – enough to keep a man in silks and sails for three lifetimes – we kept safe on the island, deep in a cave. I knew Tremayne would follow the map and find it. I reached the island and rushed to the cave. There was no sign of him anywhere. I was triumphant. I was sure I had reached it first. There it was. I saw the great gleaming hoard and I thought immediately of you. How the diamonds would suit you, how the gold would glisten against your skin. I pictured only you and I missed you. I missed you so dreadfully that I fell to my knees and wept.
'My guard was down. I forgot the risks. The next moment I was surrounded. Fool that I am.
'He had got there first and moored on the other side of the island. My arms were pulled behind me and a dagger placed at my throat. He was convinced I had taken some already and imprisoned me, right there in the cave. He … pressed me to confess, shall we say, by various means. Even if I had wanted to, I could not. I had nothing to confess to. If some of the hoard had been taken it was by his own men, not mine.
'All the while I thought only of you. Through the pain, I was merely frantic with worry. You would be wondering. You would be waiting. Or not. Perhaps you had moved on. Perhaps your husband had impressed your duty upon you? Without me, why should you not?'
'No, James, no.'
'So I sat there in the dark and cold, day after day, with only whelks to eat and a meagre amount of fresh water. My crew were imprisoned too, and Tremayne, he had become cleverer, it seemed. Every idea I had, every scheme, he had thought of and pre-empted me, preventing my escape. He removed my hook and placed it near enough for me to see it. There it hung, taunting and tormenting me, reminding me of my failings but teasing me with the hope of escape. If I tried I was beaten, thrashed. He had become bitter over time, and used our old vendetta against me. It empowered him and he went at me time and again.'
Wendy was in agony hearing of his suffering and clung harder to him. 'Is that how you got those new scars?'
'Yes. He did not hold back. But the worst scar of all was the one left by the absence of you. I could take all his torture as the pain without you eclipsed it all.'
'But how did you get away?'
'A new boy came with my water one day. Young, naïve. I pretended to befriend him, to trust him and confide in him, and he in turn confided in me. I told him of the Neverland, opened his mind to its possibility. I told him that if he released me, I would take him back there with me.'
'Recruiting Lost Boys now, James?'
'It would seem so. It took some coaxing, but one night he did. It was all I needed. I got away in the dead of night, taking as many of my crew with me as I could. I managed to take ownership of a small vessel which I sailed to Lisbon. From there I came straight here.'
'What happened to the boy who released you?'
'He came with me. I made him a promise, after all. He is currently in a boarding house in Cheapside.'
'Is he safe?'
'Aye, for now.'
'Oh, James, I can't bear to think of your suffering.' She buried her face, damp with tears, in his chest. 'Thank God you're back safe. You're so thin. Where is he now, this Tremayne?'
'Coming after me, I should think. He won't stop.' He looked down at her. 'Did you think I'd forgotten you?'
'I didn't know. I tried not to think anything. And then there was the guilt of Jeremy's death.'
'That wasn't your fault. I read about it. The captain steered into an ice field. There were more ice bergs in the region last year. I knew that. I have acquaintances who know these things. If that was a ship of mine, it would not have happened. He was a foolish man. Ploughing at full speed through those waters. Fool.'
'Don't say that. I'm sure poor Captain Smith did the best he could.'
'Still so compassionate, Wendy?'
'What more can I be?'
'You can be mine.'
'I am yours.'
He leaned down to kiss her and she kissed him back. It was Wendy who moved on top of him and took him deep up into her. Slowly and carefully she rode him, rocking along him, leaning so that they both gained maximum pleasure.
'My Wendy, how I missed you. Every day, every hour.' He moaned as she clamped upon him.
'I'm here now … I'm here.'
'Don't stop, don't ever stop.' His eyes were closed, his head back, neck strained, and he came with a choking cry, harsher than she'd heard him before, pouring himself into her. She came quickly after him and then lay still, listening to his heartbeat.
At length he started to chuckle. She glanced up. 'What is it?'
He looked around. 'This. Here I am. James Hook. In your bed. In your home. How easy it is now.'
Wendy didn't answer. That old niggle of shame crept along her again.
'We could stay like this forever,' he mused. 'Or else … we could do other things.'
'What other things?'
'Anything. Anywhere. Wendy, haven't you stopped to think?' He grinned down at her. 'You are free.'
Chapter 19: Nineteen
For a moment she didn't quite know what he meant.
Wendy rolled over and stared above her. Freedom. That was what she'd been searching for. All her life. She had glimpsed it in the Neverland. Peter had offered it to her, hadn't he? And what had she done? Rejected it. Tossed it back in his face.
But then, would Peter's freedom truly have been real? It might not have been tied to marriage and society, but she would have been tied to him. Mother. That's what he wanted from her. There was no escape.
Hook leaned over her and stroked away a strand of hair. 'My Wendy.'
And now there was another claiming her. This man. This man who had awakened her to life and now spoke to her of freedom. She had repeated it over and over again, unthinking and affirming, when he had returned to her, but when tied to the concept of freedom, it jarred.
'Am I?' she asked.
'Of course. I shall adore you forever.' It sounded so good and so perfect when he spoke, but as she thought about it now, was it any different to the rest?
'I don't ask you to,' she said quite simply.
His brows met for a moment. 'But I will.'
She turned away. 'Then you are wrong. I am not free.'
Hook's voice sharpened. 'What has got into you?'
'I am not free because I am a woman. And it seems I am destined to be defined by men … or boys … there is no difference.'
He pulled her over, hard, and when she looked into his eyes she thought she could see a faint glimmer of crimson at the very centre.
'There is quite some difference, as I believe I have proved to you many times.' His fingers dug possessively into her arm. She tugged it away.
'No. Because you are all the same. You need us. You claim us. Through our devotion you justify your identity and superiority.'
His face twisted in grievance. 'I do not claim to be superior to you.'
'I will never truly be free if I am tied to a man.'
'I do not ask you to be tied to me, Wendy. I ask you to share with me.'
She shifted her eyes away from him. 'I could be free now. I could stay here and start again. I could rise high in the WSPU. I could organise rallies and influence Parliament. I could write, tell stories, work for a newspaper. I could do anything.'
Hook pushed himself up, his taut muscles straining. 'What? You will scurry off to those friends of yours who nearly landed you in jail? And you think they do not need you and rely on you and claim you? They are no different to the men you say tie you down. They could not wait to have you in their clutches to feed off. There are always those who will want you, Wendy, not because they are men or boys, but because they are human, and because you are someone who makes them feel, who makes them live. Who makes us all remember to live – through each and every day – to carry on breathing, to carry on putting one foot in front of the other, even if it eventually carries us to our graves. Because if we have you beside us we will know at least that the journey has been something wondrous.'
His words were inescapable. Tears burst from her eyes so suddenly it hurt.
James still looked down at her, and she read only acceptance and love. 'I cannot grant you your freedom, Wendy, as it is not mine to give. It was always yours. But I ask that you allow me to be a part of it. Come away with me.'
Why was she in such turmoil? 'But my house is here and my children are here.'
'Leave it. Your children will go wherever you go. There is no finer life for a child than an itinerant one.'
'But this is their home.'
'Their home is wherever you are, Wendy.'
'You expect me to leave all I have here?' She needed to say these things, didn't she? It was the right thing to do.
'I ask it. Nay, for you, Wendy … I suggest it. And I hope for it.'
'But what will become of my house?'
'It will remain here, and it will wait for you, as I waited for you.'
'But Peter is to go to Eton soon.'
'Eton? You would send a son of yours there?' He practically snarled.
'Don't you approve? You yourself attended Eton.'
'Aye. And I had a fine time there in many respects. But that was because I had little else. Boys like yours … they need their mother.'
'They needed a father too.'
'Or someone they can regard as a father.'
She eyed him evenly. 'You are not their father, James Hook.'
'No … nor shall I pretend to be. But I shall be a man to them. Don't you recall, Wendy, what a wonderful man I am to young eyes? Did you not seek it? Did you not find it in me? Man?'
'Your arrogance is undiminished, I see.'
'Then I pretend well, for you know what a wreck of self-doubt and weakness I truly am.'
'You are the bravest man I know.' Her eyes were still hot with the tears of turmoil.
'Bravery alone is not a virtue.'
'It is when combined with perspicacity. And it depends what you wish to achieve with your bravery.'
Hook stared into her. 'I wish to achieve you.'
She fell silent.
'Tell me I have you,' he said.
Wendy could not look at him. Inside she was a rolling ball of confusion.
'Wendy. Tell me I have you.'
'Have you not listened to me, James?'
'Alright,' he groaned. 'Tell me you have me then. Take me. Possess me. Use me. I am yours. Forget the other. Let me be yours.'
'Again … need.'
'Women!' He threw himself out of the bed and paced to the centre of the room, throwing his arms up in frustration. 'Wendy, I love you. I want you. I cannot imagine my life without you. It is a simple human concept. Humans are attracted to companionship and communion. I have searched for it all my life. I have crossed oceans for it. And I have found it in you. I offer it willingly and openly. Take it if you will.' He stood before her, naked, his arms stretched out, his scars livid like his passion.
It took her breath away and she spoke as she saw. 'You are so magnificent when you are enraged.'
'This is not enraged. This is frustrated.' He pointed towards her with a jabbing finger. 'You have seen me enraged, Wendy. You know what it looks like.'
Wendy knelt up, that elemental longing rising in her again, that same tingling searching feeling she had always had. She knelt on the bed, and urged him into her. 'Show me now.'
But James merely stood and shook his head a little. 'I do not understand you.'
'Hook … take me now.' Desire made sense. It always had.
'On your terms?'
It almost hurt to breathe. She bared her body for him, sliding her hands down her legs and parting them. Wendy was burning with need. Her mind may have been confused, but once again her body knew what it wanted. And it wanted him. Always.
With a growl, he threw himself over her and pinned her in his arms.
'You are a witch. For you possess and bewitch me. You torment me and toy with me and yet always I crave you and burn for you. How can you say you are held in the power of men? Not you, Wendy. You have rendered me powerless without you. You control me like I never thought anyone could.'
'Do I? Do I, James Hook?' She wriggled out from under him suddenly and grabbed for his hook which he had buried under his clothes. Wendy held it out to him triumphantly. 'Put it on.'
'I won't wear it in bed with you.'
'I want you to. I want it on. It is you. You can't escape it.'
He frowned in dismay. 'Do you try to hurt me?'
'No. I try to make you face the truth. Oh, hurry and put it on.'
'It's dangerous,' he hissed.
'Yes! Give me that danger!' She brandished it at him.
At last he snatched it from her and scrabbled to put it on, placing the brace over his broad shoulder, adjusting the buckles tightly. Wendy watched, enrapt, then took hold of his wrist and pulled the hook towards her, studying it, her eyes glued to the gleamingly sharp metal. She felt the tug backwards as he resisted.
She pulled hard, bringing it closer to her, and placed the very tip at her neck. Raising her large dark eyes, she stared into him. His face was creased in bewildered adoration. 'You tried to kill me once.'
He shook his head. 'No. Never. Not you.'
'I would not have ultimately allowed it.'
'Do you trust yourself so much, Hook? There is such a fine line between pleasure, passion and pain. We tread it at our peril but for the ultimate reward. True freedom. You have taught me that.'
She pulled the hook down so that it rested at her sternum, just at the rise of one of her breasts. And then, with the faintest gasp, she pressed down on it so that the point dug in the merest amount, just enough to draw the scarlet stain of blood to the surface – the faintest pin prick.
Hook stared, his brows furrowed, his mouth slack.
Wendy drew the point across her breast and a thin red line followed it, not deep, not enough to scar, but enough to bleed.
'What more do you need, Hook? What more do you need to confirm my love for you? My devotion to you? But do not force it on me. I will choose.'
With that he tore his hook away and took hold of her, pulling her from the bed and pushing her towards the door. She thudded against it hard, the breath forced from her. He grabbed her leg and pulled it around him and hurled his hook into the door above her. With that, he placed himself and thrust up, hard, deep, impaling himself into her. His hand moved to the wound marking her breast and he smeared the blood across it and over his hand, then he gripped under her thigh, marking it with red, and pushed up into her again.
Wendy gasped. It hurt. He was strong. She looked into his eyes. There was the red again, seeping out from the pupil now.
'Yes, yes,' she implored. 'Don't stop that. Hard, hard. Hurt me, Hook, hurt me. Don't let me forget.'
He powered through her, forcing her up the door through the sheer determination of his cock alone. Her blood smeared against his own chest, scoring it with a deep red.
'Is that what you want?' he hissed through harsh breaths, powering high into her time and again. 'Huh? Is that what you want? To hurt? I know about hurt, Wendy. I know it all too well.'
She shook her head through the force of his plunges and murmured, 'Sometimes I'm confused. Sometimes I don't know what I want.'
'Yes, you do. Yes – you – do!' He came just before she did. He came roaring and she came silently.
For a while they remained there, joined and taking deep recovering breaths.
'I want time to stop,' she said quietly. 'Can it stop? Can it just stop and can it just be us here, forever, like this?'
'I regret to say that, from my own experience – no.'
Gently he withdrew and moved back from her. He ran his hand, stained with her blood, through his wild hair.
'If there is one thing I know about time, Wendy, it is that it must not be squandered.'
Wendy glanced down at her breast. The wound had stopped bleeding but her body was painted with her own blood. She crossed slowly to a chair and pulled on a robe which lay upon it, tucking it over her stained breasts. 'The children are back tomorrow.' Reality seemed to engulf her suddenly, sucking itself in around her.
'I should like to see them.'
She darted a glance at him, a look of alarm clear on her face.
'You look fearful. Why?' he asked.
'I don't associate you with my children.'
'I am a pirate, my dear. Children like pirates. They naturally gravitate towards them.' Hook smiled with self-satisfied smugness.
She shot him what was most definitely a glare.
'Don't look at me in that way. You know that. You wanted that yourself as a child. You wanted pirates and you got them.'
'I wanted adventure.'
'You still do.'
Wendy sighed. 'It hurts to think too much on it.'
'A moment ago you were asking for pain.' He lay down on her bed. 'You know exactly what you want, but you daren't admit it. You think too much, Wendy. Trust your heart. Trust your instincts.'
Wendy stared across at him, lying there in her bed. She almost resented him for it. She almost wanted him to leave. But at the same time it was the most perfect vision imaginable.
James Hook held out his good hand to her and smiled. 'Come, Wendy. Come and sleep beside me. Come and sleep with me.'
And undeniable happiness soared inside her, and she padded across and crept into bed beside him. Curled in his arms, she fell asleep, and for now her mind was doubt free.
The children returned the next day. Wendy considered sending Hook out, or hiding him upstairs until they were in bed, but James insisted, and anyway, it was all rather exciting.
James waited in the drawing room. When the children came in, she hugged them tight then knelt down to her sons.
'Peter, James, there is someone I would like to introduce to you. A friend of mine. He is a man of the sea. He has his own ship and he is the captain.'
The boys' eyes widened. 'Peter and James,' She turned behind her and the pirate emerged from the drawing room. 'This is Captain James Hook.'
He held himself at his most tall and damnably dashing. How could anyone not adore him? He had put on his best boots and paced across to the boys. Wendy sucked in a gasp. Adorning his right arm was his hook, which she could tell had been specially polished for the occasion.
'Master Peter and Master James.' Hook extended his good hand. 'What an honour and a pleasure it is to make your acquaintances.'
The boys stared in wonder and shook hands in turn with the pirate captain. Wendy hovered, her stomach churning.
'You've got a metal hook on your arm instead of a hand,' said James matter-of-factly, pointing at the gleaming curve of steel.
'James!' Wendy hissed. 'You are not to comment on personal features.'
'But he does,' continued her younger son. 'It's curious.'
Hook knelt down and smiled at the boy. Carefully, ensuring he did not scare him, he held up his hook and studied it. 'What do you make of it?'
'I like it. Can I have one?'
'You are the proud possessor of two hands, Master James. Be glad of them and use them wisely.'
'Have you always only had one hand?' piped up Peter.
'No. For most of my life I had two, just like you.'
'Somebody … cut it off … and fed it to a crocodile.'
The boys gasped and took a step closer into Hook.
'Who did that?'
'A boy … a boy named Peter.'
Peter frowned. 'I would never do a thing such as that!'
Hook allowed himself a wry grin. 'No. Another Peter. In another time and place.'
'Why did he do that?'
'For play. For sport.'
'You must hate him.'
'Aye, I do. Awfully.'
'Then you must take your revenge.'
'Well … one does try, but I find the need for revenge lessens with time and … circumstance.' He looked up at Wendy who smiled down warmly.
Just then, Hook turned behind him. Something was tugging at his hair. Fingers had buried themselves in the long black curls. 'Now now … what's this? You approach silently from behind, little one – a true pirate in the making, methinks!' Little Jane, who had just come tottering across, giggled and stumbled into his arm which he wound protectively around her.
'Are you a pirate?' asked Peter, wide-eyed.
'Would you like it if I were?' Hook stood up with Jane in his arms, carefully avoiding placing his hook anywhere near her. She was still twirling his hair through her fingers.
'Yes!' chorused the boys, jumping up in excitement.
'Well then it's your lucky day!'
'Hurrah!' they shouted and started racing around the hall like demons.
'Peter! James! Do calm down,' insisted their mother.
Hook laughed. 'Why ever should they?'
'Because it is …' Wendy huffed and crossed her arms. 'Oh, you're as bad as him!'
'Pe –' She stopped.
There was that glint of red in his eyes again. Something inside Wendy throbbed. Hook was at her in one stride, his face fierce and laced with a hint of manic glee. 'Not worse?'
Wendy searched him before coming to her conclusion. 'Far, far worse.'
Hook's mouth jigged a fraction and then broke into a beaming smile. 'Outstanding! That is my lifelong intention.'
'Mama, can Captain Hook stay for dinner?' James was practically leaping up before her.
'Captain Hook … can stay as long as he wishes. Now … let's get you all sorted, shall we?' She smiled and led the children up to their rooms. Hook remained in the hall staring after them, his face still bright with his smile. But as they went from him up the stairs, Wendy didn't see the smile fade and his eyes become dim with a grave emptiness.
It continued for days, then weeks. Long, happy days where they would take the children to the park, to gardens and to the zoo. They met acquaintances of Wendy's, people who had heard the rumours and recognised the man. She would smile sweetly and introduce James Hook as a friend. Eyes would narrow and hands come out tentatively to shake the outstretched hand of the man with the dark black hair, but Hook, Old Etonian and master of good form, would charm any intrigue away, at least until they were out of ear shot. The staff in the house asked little, and proved to be accepting and discreet. Pearson was Wendy's greatest ally in dispelling the queries and twitterings of neighbours and friends.
And at night, when the house fell silent, nobody asked why the blue-eyed man didn't leave the house, and nobody questioned why the maids were never told to make up a guest room for him.
One morning, as they sat at breakfast, the post was brought into Wendy. It was the usual letters of solicitation, requesting her to patronise such and such a worthy cause, which was of course much more worthy than any other worthy cause. She sighed and shuffled through the envelopes.
'Oh.' She was diverted by the last one. 'This is for you.' She handed the envelope – ragged and written with a large, fluid hand, addressed simply to 'Hook, London' – to James. 'How on earth did it find its way here?'
Hook grabbed the letter, his brows furrowed, an intense gravity coming over him. He ripped open the envelope with the tip of his hook and pulled the letter out, casting his eyes rapidly over it.
He was silent as he read, and Wendy waited, her breath held.
Hook lifted his head. 'I have to go.'
Her heart dropped from her. 'What?'
He stood up and threw his napkin down on the table. 'I have to go. Smee is in danger. So are the rest. He has recaptured my ship.'
'But … how do you know … who sent that?'
'Smee. He got it to the fairy.'
'Fairy? Which fairy?'
'That little buzzing thing with the ridiculous name.'
'But she was loyal to Peter. Why would she help you?'
'She is loyal to the Neverland. And she had no quarrel with Smee. It was she who got this to London.'
Hook strode over to the door.
'But … you've only just come back.'
He looked across at her. 'I'm not leaving you. I'm leaving England.'
Wendy was robbed of thought and reason. 'But … I don't understand.'
'It's simple. It is time to leave and you must come with me. You and your children.'
'Don't be ridiculous. I can't.'
'Yes, you can, and you must.'
Wendy stood, dumbfounded. She could scarcely draw breath as panicked rushed headlong through her. 'But … the house … my life.'
Hook held himself tall and looked evenly at her. 'What life? What is life if we are not together?'
'But … there are schools to organise and … letters to write …' Wendy was rubbing her hands together, her face drained of colour.
'Oh, we have been through all this and put it to rest, Wendy!' He was palpably annoyed and dismissive. In the midst of her turmoil, she felt like an old nag and hated it.
James stood, staring down at the note in his hands again. 'I will be leaving in the morning, Wendy. I have things to arrange now. I must go out.' He turned for the door.
'James … I don't want to lose you again.'
He looked back before pacing out. 'Then don't.'
Chapter 20: Twenty
Wendy spent the day as if she was wrapped in some sort of gauze. Everything she touched felt different, sounds warped around her. She watched the children silently in lessons and in the nursery, studying their every move and gesture.
Hook was out. The house had grown used to him and accepted him. Nothing was right when he wasn't there.
Wendy ate with the children and put them to bed. It was already dark. She sat waiting in the drawing room, longing for his return.
When he at last came in, however, she resisted jumping up to greet him. His booted feet paced in slowly. She glanced up. He looked exhausted, but still held himself tall.
'Did you achieve everything you wished to?' she asked steadily.
'Aye. With some persuasion.' The corner of his mouth jigged with that familiar note of self-satisfied amusement.
'And you are still set on leaving?'
'I have no choice. I am needed.'
'Tomorrow morning?' Had it come so soon?
'I take a train from Waterloo to Portsmouth at ten o'clock.'
'I have reserved four seats.'
She stared up at him. They said nothing. Silence gleamed.
Hook glanced about, as if suddenly unfamiliar with the place. 'I'll … fetch myself some food.'
'You'll have to. Cook has finished for the night.'
'I said I would, didn't I?' he said tersely. He stood for a while longer then turned for the door. But before leaving he rounded on her again, his brows furrowed. 'Am I to travel alone, Wendy?'
Hook sneered. 'What does that mean? You give me no answer?'
'Can't what? Can't come with me?'
'I can't give you an answer.'
He gave a little sigh of acceptance. 'Well, I shall take comfort from that.' She shot him a glare. He cocked his brows. 'What? Should I not?'
'Look around you, Hook.'
He did, then back to her. The eyebrows were still up, feigning ignorance.
'How can I?' she added.
'How can you what?'
'Leave.' She could barely see him through her brimming tears, which she tried not to acknowledge by refusing to blink and let them tumble.
'It is simple: You gather some things. Only a few; I can provide. You bid farewell to your staff, explain that you are going away, perhaps write one or two letters, gather your children, and walk out of the door.'
'You really don't exist in this world, do you?'
'I try not to. You don't need to either.'
She turned from him, the tears no longer contained. 'Go. You must sleep before tomorrow.'
He waited. The clock chimed quarter past the hour.
'Will you lie with me tonight?'
'I don't know.' She hung her head and turned away.
She felt him pace across. His hair tickled her face, his aroma surrounded her. She squeezed her eyes tight shut.
'I will always be with you, Wendy. Always. I am inescapable.'
Then his footsteps retreated from the room.
Wendy sat for a while as the dark seeped in about her. Isolation seemed to impose itself on her almost wilfully, despite the familiar surroundings. She sat in the dark of her own house, weeping out her tears.
She did, at length, go up to bed. James lay silently, apparently asleep. She crept in next to him and considered reaching out. Her hand hovered over his naked torso, rising and falling slowly, but she withdrew it and lay down, turning her back on him. A moment later she heard and felt him turn towards her, but when she remained still, he said nothing. Neither did she.
She slept barely at all until the early hours of dawn, and shortly after at last drifting into some dream-laden exhaustion, she was dragged awake by the carriages and automobiles outside. Her head was thick, but she darted up in panic. The side of the bed beside her was empty. She placed her hand on it; the sheet was still warm. James returned from the bathroom a moment later, buttoning his shirt.
'I leave in under an hour,' he said. 'The train departs at ten from Waterloo.'
'You told me that yesterday.'
'I thought perhaps you had forgotten, as …'
He sighed. 'As you make no effort to prepare for it.'
'I have nothing to prepare for.'
James rubbed his forehead wearily. His eyes closed and his face bore an expression of undiluted agony. 'Wendy,' he whispered, 'why do you punish me so?'
'What?' Her voice caught.
'Is it for that time so long ago? Has it still not been reconciled?'
'What?' she repeated, shaking her head. 'No … James, don't say those things. How can you think that? The past has only ever informed what I do now. I simply cannot leave. You know I cannot.'
'You can,' he said, his voice insistent, his eyes flaring. 'You can.'
She stood, put on her dressing robe and made to go past him. His hand dashed out to stop her, holding her tight on the arm. 'Let me go. I must go and see the children.'
'Don't do this to me, my love.'
Her lip quivered. It was too painful. 'It is you doing it to me. We have established our life here and it is good and it works. You are the one leaving, James Hook.'
He held her fast but his eyes misted slightly. 'I do not belong here.'
'And I do not belong where you are going.'
She yanked her arm from his grasp and paced to the door.
'We both know that is a lie,' he called after her.
She ignored it and swept away to her children.
Half an hour later, she was in the hallway, as was Hook, carrying his single travelling bag.
'I must bid you farewell then, it seems,' he said, his face as dark as ever.
She crossed her arms tight and looked at the floor, her jaw clenched tight. She could bring herself to say nothing.
He stepped in suddenly, looming above her. She could hear the fast breath dragged in through his nose. She looked up, as hard as him. 'Go then. Go, Hook.'
He stared at her, his eyes damp. 'Do you have nothing for me? No kiss even?'
Just then, the children raced into the hall. 'Captain! Captain! Will you take us to the park today? It is a day for swords and piracy!' laughed James, her younger boy. Peter jumped and whirled around him. Jane toddled over and attached herself to his legs, as was her wont of late.
Hook tore his eyes from Wendy and knelt to the children, curling an arm around Jane and taking hold of James' hand. 'I am afraid, children, I must leave you. I have some business to attend to elsewhere.'
The faces of the children drained of colour. 'You're leaving?' asked Peter, staring in disbelief.
'But what are we to do?' James queried, clear shock in his voice.
'Carry on being the brave boys you are.'
'But you will be back?'
The pirate could no longer look at them. He gave them no answer. He squeezed Jane tight, stroked James and Peter's heads, then stood. For a moment she thought he would leave with nothing more, but suddenly, with the children still clinging to him, Hook pulled Wendy towards him and kissed her deep and full.
She could drown in him. Perhaps she should. Perhaps this should be the end. Right now.
After too brief a time, he pulled back, his face damp with salty tears. 'Goodbye, Wendy Darling.'
Then, with the protestations of the children ringing after him, he walked out of the door.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
It didn't stop. Time. It never stopped. Never slowed. Could she not stop it, just for once, simply to think, to work it out? That was all she wanted. It taunted her, time. It controlled her and she hated it for that.
She had sent the children to their lessons and retreated to the drawing room, but the clocks carried on ticking, everywhere, always.
Wendy paced to the mantelpiece, took hold of the carriage clock and hurled it hard against the far wall.
Power coursed through her limbs and into her mind. She stood, and suddenly, it did what she wanted. Time stood still. Just for a split second, but it was enough. She knew.
'Mrs Montgomery! I heard a commotion! Is everything alright?' Pearson hurried in, her face white with anxiety.
Wendy turned to her housekeeper.
'Yes, Pearson, everything is more than alright. Everything is perfect.' And she meant it.
There are many platforms at Waterloo Station. It can be a confusing place, especially on a Thursday morning at quarter to ten. At times, it is a mad dash to find your platform and catch the train on time.
For the person trying to find Platform 8 that morning, they rushed with an urgency few others needed. Tickets were only just purchased in time, and the guard nearly closed the gate. Women tutted as the person dashed along, pulling others behind.
Steam billowed from the train as it prepared to set off. But one man stood on the platform, still not boarding, his head turned as he stared fixedly down the platform. A guard approached him, insisting he board. The man hesitated again, then moved slowly towards the train door held open by the guard.
The man turned.
'James! I'm here! Hold the train! Wait! Wait for us!'
Wendy Darling, clutching her daughter in one arm, a bulging bag in the other, with her two sons running frantically along beside her, careened down the platform towards the man with the long, black hair.
'We're coming! We're coming with you!'
Wendy rushed against Hook so hard, he almost stumbled, but, as ever, the Pirate Captain stood firm. His arms enclosed about her and he took her and kissed her.
The guard coughed. 'Far be it from me to interrupt the course of true love, but I do have a train to send on its way. So … if you don't mind …'
Wendy broke away and turned a smile of overwhelming charm on the guard. 'I do apologise. It has been quite a chaotic morning. We'll board now. All of us.'
And with that, she bustled her children onto the train. She looked behind at the one person still left on the platform and, throwing him a challenging grin, declared, 'Well, come along then, James Hook. What are you waiting for?'
Never had a journey to Portsmouth gone so quickly.
When she arrived, Wendy realised she couldn't actually recall any of it.
There are some lovely views as you traverse the South Downs, but Wendy didn't look out of the window once. There was only one view she wanted, and that was the face of James Hook opposite her. She could not take her eyes off him, and he, for his part, was only too happy to be stared at. Little Jane settled into a comfortable position on his lap where she soon fell asleep, and the boys were thrilled to be bumping along on a train rushing them headlong towards a new life.
And with them was a new addition: Finn, the boy whom James had rescued from Tremayne. He was a bright, blue-eyed lad with a mop of blond hair, no more than eleven or twelve, who beamed at Wendy when introduced and from then on kept touching her clothing or hand, as if reassuring himself of her presence. Another Lost Boy. Before, in the Neverland, motherhood was only play acting, and it had sat uneasily with her. But now that motherhood was a reality for Wendy, as all mothers do, she would not refuse him comfort.
It was only when she got off the train that she realised she had barely anything with her.
When the impulse to run after James had taken hold, she had managed to hug Pearson, Mrs Pargeter and Miss Stockton and promise that she would write and explain; she had even managed to scribble a note to Lizzie, apologising for being a hopeless friend and stealing her future husband, and to Lily and Olive, telling them that it was they who had given her the sense and confidence to do what she was now doing; but she had failed abysmally to pack sensibly. She had thrown a few items of clothing, mainly for the children, into a bag more suitable for weekend visits to maiden aunts in Godalming, and gone.
As they stood on the platform while the train puffed out of sight, she turned to James. 'I haven't a thing with me. I've left it all behind.'
He approached her, took her head in his hand and planted a kiss on her ever-willing lips. 'I will provide you with riches and silks and laces. You will want for nothing.'
'I don't want anything except you.'
He cocked an eyebrow. 'How abstemious, but you must allow yourself the occasional indulgence.'
'Perhaps … occasionally.'
He leant in for another kiss, but little James' insistent voice called them back. 'Mother, when are we going to get on the boat?'
Hook answered him. 'We sail on the tide for Cadiz. I have only a small boat at the moment, but I will soon recover my ship, and then you will know the thrill of life at sea, boys.'
'Is Tremayne in Cadiz?' Wendy asked warily.
'The last I heard he was.' Hook's face darkened. 'But I believe he sailed from there to intercept ships leaving Spain for the Americas.'
She took hold of his hand. 'Don't worry, James. All will be well.'
For a moment he did not respond and stared off into the middle distance, but then his eyes flittered to hers and he gave a cock-eyed grin. 'Of course it will. I have you. Come, we must go to the docks.'
They took a cab to the quay where James' had moored his two-masted schooner. When they arrived it was late afternoon and James was keen to catch the tide before it grew late.
He hurried them down to the ship. She was not, as he had described, a small boat, but she wasn't the magnificent brig he'd had before. Nevertheless, Wendy was impressed.
'What a pretty ship!'
James lifted the children onto the boat then held out for Wendy as she stepped aboard. 'She'll do until we can recover the Last Star.'
'My brig. The one I had after you stole the Jolly Roger.'
'Well, that's what you get for being such a villain. What happened to the Roger? Peter went off in her again.'
'Aye, and lost her to a band of sea dogs who managed to sink her, from what I hear.'
Guilt washed through Wendy. 'I'm sorry.'
Hook sneered. 'But we move on. The Last Star is a fine ship and I have made her mine. You will love her … when I get her back.'
'How much did she cost you?'
Hook gave her a sidelong glance. 'Cost?'
'Yes.' He didn't answer, but his lips curled up a little. Realisation dawned. 'She didn't cost you anything, did she?'
'I find it best to avoid paying for things if at all possible. Monetary transactions … so fiddly and time consuming …' He pouted in distaste.
Wendy stood on the deck and gave the deepest sigh. 'I don't wish to know details.'
'Then don't ask.' There was a brief silence. 'You know who I am, Wendy.'
'Yes. And I wouldn't be here if I didn't.' The look that passed between them needed no further words on the matter. 'Does Tremayne have your crew?' she continued.
'Some of them, including Smee. He threatened to kill him and the others if I did not come for him.'
Two men emerged from below decks. Wendy recognised them as two of Hook's pirates from all that time ago. They exchanged words with James and then turned their stares to Wendy.
'Jago, Solomon, you may remember this lady.'
The two men approached Wendy, their eyes widening as they dragged up a memory from deep in their sun and rum addled minds. One, with brown sturdy curls which stuck out from his head like an abused scrubbing brush, eventually spoke in a breathy whisper of awed recollection. 'The story teller!'
'Aye. The story teller.'
'Wendy,' said the other.
She gave a soft smile. 'I can't believe you remember.'
'Of course they remember. You were the most memorable thing that ever happened to Neverland, to all of us. Nobody ever forgot you, Wendy Darling.'
Hook stepped up, drawing himself to his full height near his men, who seemed to cower in his shadow. Wendy had nearly forgotten how impressive he was in the presence of others.
'Now … you will provide for Wendy and her family in every conceivable way known to man. She will be listened to, she will be obeyed, she will be honoured. If not, you will find yourself keel-hauled within an inch of your life, and only then to make you especially appealing and succulent to the sharks … do you understand?' He finished with an exaggerated grin. The men nodded rapidly and smiled sweetly at Wendy.
'Good, now prepare sail. We leave on the turn of the tide.'
The children had already scampered off over the ship. Wendy suddenly recalled her responsibilities. 'Where are the children? Jane? The boys?'
'There is no need to worry. The deck is carefully enclosed. Let them explore. Finn will take care of them. Children are curious yet imbued with a natural caution. You remember, eh?' He smirked.
It was all coming back. Wendy inhaled deeply and smelt the rope and tar of a ship again. And here she was, standing before Captain James Hook just as she had all those years before. Only now that time had given her the privilege of risk and the temptation of return, she could do exactly as she wanted. And she wanted him. She stepped up to him, her eyes dark with desire, her hands sliding gracefully up over his hardened torso to curl around his neck and pull him down to her.
He was focused on her mouth, which she parted invitingly, but just as those teasing lips promised to meet hers, he stopped short, and instead they curled into a smile. 'As much as you are drawing the most excitingly sinful intentions from me, I unfortunately have a ship to sail. Life moves a little differently on water, Wendy. You will have to accustom yourself to it, I'm afraid. Have no fear. I shall ensure I see to you in good time.'
She crossed her arms and gave him a reprimanding grin. 'Promise?'
'But of course.' He extended his arms to the sides and bowed a little in mock deference, then spun from her elegantly and bellowed to Jago, who was halfway up a mast, 'Is she ready for casting off?'
'Aye, Captain! It's a fair wind. We'll make rapid progress.'
'Good! I want to be halfway to France by nightfall!'
Wendy watched as her captain paced away to ensure the good running of his ship. She stood aside and observed him carefully. She had forgotten what a magnificent commander he was, how his men never swerved in their loyalty to him. This was his home. This was where he belonged. A strange ripple ran through her, unnerving her. It was almost like guilt, guilt that she had denied him his rightful place in command of a ship for so long, and apprehension that now that he was back at sea, he would lose interest in her.
Wendy shook herself. What was she thinking? She was at sea too, and she would make him value her for all she had to offer.
She strode across to him as he leant on the rail looking out over the horizon. 'What can I do to help?'
Hook cocked an eyebrow, clearly not understanding her at first. 'Help?'
'To sail her? What needs to be done? Something, surely? Shall I hoist a sail or lash a rope or scrub the deck?'
His mouth twitched in amusement. 'As much as I would love to see your delightful backside high in the air as you kneel before me, we'll save the deck scrubbing for another time. No, Wendy, go below if you wish. See the children are happy. I have no need for you up here.' He turned from her.
She stood her ground, not moving. Slowly, Hook turned back and noted her curiously.
'I said,' she repeated, 'what can I do to help?'
Hook appraised her with the same intensity that she was confronting him. 'Wendy Darling … as determined at sea as you are on land.'
'But of course, Captain. You seem to forget I spent a night in prison for my determination. I didn't come here to be kept safely below deck.'
His eyes narrowed as he considered the situation. 'No, you certainly did not. Very well. Take the wheel. She needs a steady hand. You are more than qualified in that respect. You see that rock on the horizon?' He pointed ahead to a grey shape which looked to Wendy like a crouching cat.
'Point her about fifteen degrees to the right of that. And keep your eyes peeled for anything up ahead. I haven't got a man aloft.'
'Aye, Captain,' she declared.
A momentary look of surprise passed across his face but then he leant in and kissed her before pulling back with a smile. 'Now get to work.'
Wendy, with a rush of excitement, skipped up to the wheel and took it in both hands. Hook looked on, his feet planted firmly apart, his hair blowing in the breeze. Her children chased each other nimbly round the deck, joined by Finn. The sails took and the schooner moved out to sea. Happiness so expansive bubbled up in her that she felt like crying it out for all to hear.
They sailed on until dusk, then made anchor. The ship creaked and jingled as it was rocked gently on the calm water.
'We will put the children to sleep in my cabin,' James suggested. 'When I have the Last Star, they can have their own cabins. There is enough room for you to squeeze in there too. I will sleep in a hammock with the others.'
'Is there room for me in your hammock?'
He grinned. 'Always.'
Wendy went to prepare the children for sleep. It was a tight fit, but eventually they were all nodding off: Peter and James on the bed, and Jane on sacking and blankets piled high on the floor. Exhaustion overcame them quickly and they were soon fast asleep. Wendy kissed them and left them, closing the cabin door quietly behind her. She passed Jago and Solomon intent on a game of cards below decks and heard the heavy breathing of an exhausted Finn coming from his hammock as she headed up again.
'All settled?' asked Hook as he stood staring out at the setting sun.
'Yes. I haven't known them go to sleep so easily for a while. It must be the sea air.'
As she stood beside him he took her hand in his.
'Am I really here?' she asked.
'Was this your plan? Your plan from the start? From the first time I saw you in Hyde Park?'
'I admit … the thought did cross my mind.'
He turned and took her head in his hand, tilting it up and studying her carefully. 'And now I shall see my plan through fully, Wendy Darling.'
He kissed her, his mouth gentle but certain, nuzzling and opening hers to slip inside and inhabit her again. It was enough for Wendy in some ways, standing on deck being kissed divinely by her pirate captain, but soon she felt her clothes loosening and being pushed off. Before she knew it she was left in only her underwear.
'What if the others come up?'
He held her chin and seemed to want to memorise every detail of her as his gaze pored over her. With anyone else, she would have pulled away, but with Hook, she knew the reassurance he derived from her closeness. 'Wendy … how I have longed for this moment, how I dreamed of it. To have you on my ship, to take you here, between the sky and the sea.'
He kissed down her neck, nuzzling and absorbing her into him as he went. Wendy turned her head up to the sky, where the stars were just starting to poke out of its inky wash.
'Do you remember I told you I did not want to belong to you?'
He did not respond but continued to graze over her skin.
'When you came back last time.'
Hook paused, and his voice, rougher than usual, hummed against her breast. 'I remember very well.'
'How is this different?'
He lifted himself from her and looked her straight in the eyes, the blue of his own burning. 'Because here you are free.'
'Free?' She did not let go of him, but she needed to reconcile the last of the niggling doubts.
'Who chose this, Wendy?'
'Aye. This is your choice. This is your will. And you know it.' He returned to his caresses.
Instinctively, her hands held him tighter, as if she may be returned to her life in London if she didn't. She stared up again. The stars were growing brighter and clearer by the minute.
'Yes. My will. My life.'
Wendy drew back but only to take his head in her hands and pull him into her. She kissed him now, hard and forcefully, opening wide for him and letting his tongue in, relishing the probing need of them both.
But soon enough she spun around to lean over the railing, her arms splayed out across it, her stance, bent over, inviting and beckoning.
'Now … Take me, Hook.'
She didn't see the slight tick at the corner of his left eye, or the way his lip jigged a fraction. With uncertainty? Doubt? I will tell you. James Hook's hesitation was borne only out of a need to confirm what he had heard, to replay her words in his mind. She had done it: crossed over to him, and he would never let her go again.
He pulled open his trousers, tore down her drawers with his hook and pushed her legs apart, harder than he realised; she would bruise.
He was inside her before she could next draw breath.
It had been only a few days since he had last entered her, but this was new. Here she was, in his world, the way it was intended, the way it was meant for them both. He would make it theirs. Hook was in to the hilt, and released his groan of satisfaction triumphantly.
Wendy's fingers clenched white on the wooden rail and her eyes fluttered shut as she focused on the man inside her.
'Yes, my Wendy. Yes.'
He had taken her, transported her out of her time and world. He moved slowly, but it would never be slow enough. Could she make it last forever? She stared ahead, as the last remnants of the dying sun turned the sea a dark purple like spilt Claret.
He pulled out so that it was only resolution that kept him in, then pushed forward again, slowly, stretching and filling. She exhaled as she felt her body absorbing him.
His hand was on her clitoris, fingers flittering and rubbing, circling and coaxing. She could feel a cold hardness through the thin cotton of her chemise against her back. His hook. Always so close. If he turned it a fraction it would cut her. She almost wanted it to. But he was too good. It was too perfect. She could not stop the inexorable rise of pleasure.
Hook knew it. He moved faster, insistent groaning plunges deep into her. She clenched upon him, causing him to hiss out as his cock was squeezed by her flesh. 'Yes, do it!' he groaned. 'Take from me. Take all of me!'
She bucked around him again and he thrust, and with that she came. She came so hard the stars above her flew into her mind and swam there, leaving their own trails as pleasure heaved through her, billowing out as far as the horizon.
Then Hook stilled. He went so quiet for a time that, if Wendy had not been delirious with ecstasy, she would have feared for him. But then, from the very core of him, it erupted. With the release of his seed, he let out such a moan of rapture that it seemed to stretch out across the ocean. Hook strained into her, every sinew and muscle thick with pleasure. She could feel the pulse and spasm of his cock, filling her with white hot bliss.
He didn't pull out for an age. Neither did they speak. They simply stood there, Wendy leaning over the rail, Hook embedded within her, staring out into the darkness of the night sea.
Chapter 22: Twenty Two
The next few days were spent in a haze of sea spray and crystal clear skies. As they journeyed south, the air grew warmer and muggier. Wendy loved nothing better than leaning out over the water as they skimmed across it, feeling the hot air buffeting her hair, hair that she now wore free and loose. Hook and the men had taught her the rudiments of sailing and she had taken to it quickly, so quickly that they soon trusted her to do more. She was particularly skilled at knots, apparently. Wendy accepted their compliments with a wry grin – she had always been able to tie men around her fingers.
On the third day, she asked to climb the rigging and help with the sail. Hook declined her offer and turned away. She stripped off her skirts there and then and stood on his deck, her legs clad in pantaloons. He looked back, his eyes glinting in amusement, but he was impressed.
'Get up with you then. Just remember, don't look down.'
'And if I do …'
'Then don't let go.'
'And if by some misadventure I should do that … will you catch me, James Hook?'
'In one hand? The other, it is said, prickles.'
'One hand that knows what it's doing is good enough for me.'
'The other – such as it is – knows what it's doing too.' He grinned.
'Prickles and all?'
She sashayed up to him, hands on hips. 'I'll hold on tight, but if anyone can catch me when I'm falling, it will be you.'
He leaned in for a kiss, but she spun away from him with a laugh and started up the rigging.
Going up was easy. Jago accompanied her and soon she had reached the top of the mast. She laughed exultantly, but her voice was snatched by the breeze. Wendy looked down.
She shouldn't have done that. Hook was right. Atop the thin pole of the mast, she felt more exposed and precarious than she actually was. Her head spun and she closed her eyes, clinging onto the mast for dear life.
'Wendy Darling!' came a shout from the deck. She peeked open her eyes and dared glance down. Below her, standing with his feet apart and hands on hips, was James, grinning up like a cat about to devour its prey. 'I did warn you.'
But his eyes shone even from there and that stopped the world from spinning. Her breathing steadied and her nerves settled. She turned her attention back to the sail and unfurled it, relishing the swoosh of the material as it cascaded down. After ensuring she had finished her task perfectly Wendy made her way down carefully. Hook stood waiting at the bottom.
'There,' she stated, dusting off her clothing. 'All done.'
He allowed himself the slightest smirk. 'You're quite the sailor.'
'Will I do, Captain?'
'Why do you think I came back for you?' He grinned then turned and left her. A feeling of such happiness grew in her she thought she'd burst. Wendy stared up at the sail as it billowed out. The boat started to skid quickly across the water and she moved to the port side and looked over at the white crests of the waves as they rushed by.
All she'd fought for, all Olive and Lillie were still fighting for, here, she had it, she had it already. Some would say she was beholden to Hook, that she'd run off from one sort of life to be tied to another, to be tied to a man, but she knew that he knew her, he knew what she was seeking. He – the epitome of all things male – knew about the freedom of life more than anyone. He had revealed it to her.
They arrived in Cadiz after a few days. At the proximity of dry land, a strange urge to conform overtook Wendy again briefly. On ship, she had stopped wearing her corset, but as they got ready to disembark she reached for it.
'What are you doing?' asked James.
'Not in that. You need never wear that again … Unless you're in my bedchamber and you're not wearing anything else.' He cocked his eyebrow suggestively. Wendy blushed at the notion but left her corset lying on the chair.
The dockside at Cadiz was a maelstrom of spices, sounds and sights. Voices were hurled across the muggy air at each other in languages Wendy could only guess at. The quay was laden with boxes and baskets of silks and powders. Exotic animals peered at her from inside cages. She had left the children on board with Jago and Solomon and was glad of it. The examples of humanity crowding her now were not ones she wanted her children to grow familiar with. But then, they were bound to come across all manner of men and women on their travels. Perhaps she was being overly cautious, but it was already late, and the bars and taverns were open. Warm glows emanated from open doorways and raucous laughter filled the air.
But Hook strode on, ignoring the inviting hostelries. Wendy noticed that where he walked the crowded pathways would open up, people would seemingly melt to the sides, as if he were Moses commanding the parting of the Red Sea. She looked at him. He barely noticed the creatures and characters around him, but fixed his gaze ahead and walked on. When they had moved beyond the frenetic throngs of the main dockside, he turned down a side street. It was quieter here, but no less intense. The dark silence and dank air gave Wendy more of a sense of danger than before. Hook walked on purposefully. Wendy stayed close.
Soon they came to an inn of sorts. Hook opened the low door and stepped in. The tables were filled, murmuring voices hung limply in the air, but the atmosphere was subdued. It lacked the rowdy bawdiness of the bars near the quay. When James entered, silence descended like a fog. Dark, piercing eyes fixed on the tall man with the long black hair, before turning their backs on him and returning to their pipes and their wine. Hook approached the bar. The barman didn't look at him but they exchanged words which Wendy could not hear. He nodded to a table in a dark corner.
Hook turned to the corner where a man sat with his back to the room. After tossing a coin at the barman, he returned to Wendy with a glass of red wine and handed it to her. 'I have some business to attend to. You sit here and wait a while. I shan't be long.' His smile couldn't conceal the fact that he was distracted. There was a tension about him she had not witnessed for some time.
'Can't I come with you?' Wendy asked.
'No. Sit here.' His tone left no room for argument. Under the circumstances, Wendy did not feel like questioning him. She sat at a little table near the window and watched as he went across to the table. Hook sat without being invited and at this Wendy saw the man reach to his side – for a pistol or dagger? Her breath caught and she prepared to leap up and go to them, but James was by then leaning into the man. His arm was right up against him and his hook was hidden from Wendy. She didn't need to see; she knew it would be felt. Hook was staring at him and talking, his lips terse but moving fast and persuasively.
Wendy's heartbeat quickened. This was the reality of the man she had chosen. But instead of being repulsed, she only adored him more. His blue eyes bore into the man. Surely he needed no further persuasion when faced with such brutal magnificence? But Wendy knew he was getting more. He had turned a little so that she could see his face, which was twisted in what was clearly pain. Wendy stared, transfixed, as her lover exacted his demands.
After about five minutes, Hook stood suddenly and downed his glass of wine rapidly. Then he reached down and clapped the man hard on his shoulder in what would normally be interpreted as a friendly farewell. But the agonised grimace on the man's face told Wendy a different story. When Hook paced away, the man clutched his hand to his stomach and bent double.
'Come. We are done here,' declared her lover.
Before she had even stood up, Hook had left the bar and was walking determinedly up the alley.
'What was that all about?' she asked, rushing after him.
'You need not know.'
'Perhaps not, but I'd like to.'
Hook stopped and turned to her, his lips pursed. She stood her ground and searched his face, waiting for an answer. At length he gave it. 'I have the information I require. Tremayne is on the Last Star sailing for Barbados. I will follow. He only has a day's sailing on me. They have a sluggish crew, it is said. I will catch him.'
'Did you hurt that man?'
'I suppose that depends on his tolerance of pain,' he sneered.
'So you did. Was that necessary?'
He fixed her with his eyes. 'I got what I needed from it.' His eyes darkened and he took a sudden step into her. She gasped at his impetuous movement. He stood a mere breath from her, his body tall and all-consuming. In the dark heat of the alleyway, he was more terrifying than she could ever recall. 'You may climb my rigging and steer my ship, Wendy Darling. You can share my bed and my worldly goods, but when it comes to matters of – how to put it? – business – remember this – I am the captain.'
She swallowed hard but could find no words for a retort. There was none.
Hook stepped in closer yet, his breath deep and heavy. He reached up his hand and cupped her face, moving his thumb over her cheekbone with a force that almost hurt. But her desire shushed from her in a little sigh and he took it, leaning down and capturing her mouth with his. She was pressed hard against the wall as he kissed her. She could not move, she could not push him back. He was on her and around her. His mouth forced hers open and his tongue sought entry as he kissed her with brutal domination.
Would he take her right here? His strength was indisputable. She desired him still, even now, but this show of violence took her by surprise and her skin prickled in agitation. She did not like to have control snatched from her. And at this moment, Hook had taken. But just when she feared her world was upending, just when his body threatened to claim all she was, he pulled off and stepped back, turning away from her. He stood, breathing heavily, then glanced back over his shoulder at her.
She frowned in bewilderment.
'Yes, Wendy, I could.' He answered the question which flew through her mind. 'But I will not. But you doubted for a moment, didn't you?'
She nodded. His eyes flashed.
'Good. That is how I operate. Nobody who knows me must ever believe me incapable of the worst. Even you.'
'I do know that. I accept that.'
He moved close in again but she did not fear him. His face was full of tender adoration. 'And that is why I am yours.' Hook turned his head up and closed his eyes as if trying to steady his thoughts. After a time he took in a deep nourishing breath and turned his focus back to the direction of the docks. 'Come. We must sail on the tide. I have a crew to rescue and a ship awaiting me.'
He took hold of her hand and pulled her after him.
They made ready through the night. Hook had a new focus about him Wendy only recalled from Neverland. His knowledge of the seas was extraordinary. She knew nothing of the charts and instruments he seemed so at one with. As they left the harbour just after dawn and let the wind pull them along swiftly, she came up to him and looped her arm through his. 'Will you teach me all this one day?'
'If you wish, but it is best learned through experience. You should let time be your instructor.'
'I have time.'
He turned and smiled. 'Aye.'
'When we come up to his ship, how are we going to surprise him?'
'It's not his ship, it's mine. But in answer to your question, he won't know this boat, but he may be diverted by her.'
'Do you mean board us?'
'Aye. I doubt he will waste his time on what he sees as small fry, but he will be curious if we get too close. He won't be expecting it. I must stay hidden from him – disguised, at least – until the last moment. Then … subterfuge and deception … they have served me well in the past.' He gave her a smirk and she reached up and kissed him.
'I love you.'
Hook's blue eyes shifted to hers. 'I apologise for before.'
'What?' She had almost forgotten. 'In the alley?'
'You don't need to apologise. You shouldn't.'
'I will never hurt you, but I need you to know that I have the capacity to hurt. And you must be comfortable with that.'
'James Hook, I am here. That is all the answer you need. Now come along, the wind is picking up, let's take advantage.'
With that she was scampering up the rigging again and setting the sail with new found dexterity. She glanced down with a smile. Hook could only look on, his face bright with admiration.
They sailed on for two days. As time wore on, James would stand at the prow, leaning over as if his presence alone would propel them faster through the ocean. Wendy knew to leave him to his search. If she intruded on him now, she would get nowhere.
In the early afternoon of the second day there was a sudden cry from Hook. 'There!'
Wendy's eyes narrowed against the sun and she squinted to follow the direction of his pointing hand. Far on the horizon was what looked like a black dot, the tiniest blemish on a near perfect blue sea.
'Are you sure?'
'Yes. It's the Last Star. We'll be on him by morning.'
Wendy reached for his arm and stroked him. 'Let me know if there is anything I can do. For now, I must see to the children.' She glanced up at him but his eyes were fixed on the horizon. She rubbed his arm then left him to his intentions.
She turned to find him looking back at her.
James gave a soft smile and, before looking back to sea, said, 'And I love you.'
Chapter 23: Twenty Three
This chapter and the next deals partly with pirates doing piratey things, some of them unpleasant. Thought I should mention it.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Hook did not sleep that night.
Wendy tried, but only managed vague snatches which were interrupted and tormented by dreams and imaginings. She slept nestled with her son James and Jane in Hook's bed, and she took comfort from their closeness and warmth. But not once did she think of home. She thought of tomorrow, but she did not regret and she did not look back.
Early in the morning, when the grey light of dawn worked its way through the portholes, James approached her quietly and touched her arm. She turned to him.
'It is time,' he whispered. 'The children must remain here. I have instructed Finn to guard them. He must not be seen either.'
A sudden anxiety took hold of her. 'I know we must do this, James, but I cannot put my children in danger.'
'I shall keep them safe, I promise you. Do you have reason to doubt my word?'
She looked up into the blue of his eyes and saw only certainty. She shook her head. He bent and kissed her. 'Now come. We must act swiftly.'
She rose and he took her outside onto the deck, which was still swathed in gloom. He held out one of her gowns, not her finest, but a pretty one nonetheless. 'Put this on.'
'Why this one?'
'I need you.'
His words sent a shiver through her. 'James … What do you want from me?'
'I want your cunning … but I can use your beauty. It is the way of these people.' He spoke almost dispassionately.
'You're going to use me as bait?' she whispered with an edge of anger but continued to put on the dress.
'Aye. What better bait for a whore mongering demon like Tremayne?' he sneered.
She stepped up to him. 'And how far exactly do you expect Tremayne to bite?'
He turned to her with a smirk, almost as if the thought appealed to him. He took her chin in his hand and stroked her cheek with his thumb. 'Only a little nibble, my sweet. But you are, after all, so very delicious.' And he reached down suddenly and tore the bodice of her dress so that it exposed her breasts almost to the nipples.
Indignation assaulted Wendy. Her hand flew up to hit him but he caught her wrist tight and chuckled. 'Now, now, Wendy, you know me better than that. This must be done, but I will ensure it does not go far. My jealousy knows no bounds. If I thought he would do too much I would not be considering this.'
She hissed at him, 'You seem to delight in proving your wickedness at the moment, Hook.'
He moved closer, his breath hot and heavy against her. Oh, how it confused her. She should be wishing him away but her belly writhed with desire. 'Aye, perhaps I am,' he murmured, so low and sensual that her very core melted. 'But I must be firm in my resolve and I must make my own luck. On this occasion, as on many others, you are that luck. You are with me, are you not?'
'Then do as I say. Remember, when it comes to business … I am the captain.' He loomed over her, as he had so many times in her dreams. 'Trust me.'
'I …' Her words were snatched away by lust. Here, at sea with him, her desire seemed uncontainable. 'I want you. I can't stop wanting you.'
He stared into her eyes and his own flashed with adoration and conviction. Hook reached in and kissed her, forcing his tongue in possessively to consume all she was. He broke away to drag down her neck, his kisses hot and possessive.
She bared herself for him. 'Take me here, Hook. Take me now.'
He pulled off briefly, a slight frown on his face – there was work to do, after all – but they needed that desperation, that certainty which bound them together.
Pressing her back against some sacks, he tugged at his breeches rapidly and his cock lurched out. Hook threw her skirts up and pushed her leg roughly to the side. She hadn't yet had time to put on underwear and was ready for him. His hand gripped her shoulder, and with a sudden dictating grunt, he was inside her, all of him, filling her hard and long.
She cried out to meet his groan, a sharp united sound. There was no time for attention or care. He went at her brutally in long, pile-driving strokes. Her pleasure would come this time from his possession of her, they both knew it.
She held his gaze the whole time, unblinkingly. Hook grunted with each thrust, needing to finish, wanting to come hard and fast. Wendy reached up and clung to him, meeting each push forward, loving the near pain of his violent strokes. His body was taught, his muscles rigid. His cock tore through her without pause. Hook came quickly, releasing into her, his neck thrown back in ecstasy, his eyes squeezed tight shut as pleasure took him. He let his come jerk its way fully out, but then, as suddenly as he'd impaled himself on her, he pulled out, making her gasp with the roughness of it.
He turned to her again, his breath heavy, his eyes sliding down to where his seed trickled from between her legs. 'Know me,' was all he said.
Wendy nodded, her core still twitching with the surprise of their coupling.
'Now,' he said, tucking himself away, 'get ready.'
When she had dressed fully, he took her hand and pulled her over to the port side. The Last Star, his magnificent brig, rose up only a few feet beyond them. 'We are upon him. They have not seen us yet as they are slack and useless, but in a few moments, as the sun rises, they shall, and this is what we will do.'
Her children were safe below deck with Finn. Hook was nowhere to be seen, neither were Solomon nor Jago. Wendy was, to all intents and purposes, alone on deck.
As the light of day grew stronger and the groggy sailors on the Last Star roused themselves (their watchman had clearly been preoccupied during the night), there came shouts from the brig. Wendy settled the pattering of her heart and leaned over towards it.
'Thank goodness! I never thought help would arrive. Please … please …'
She stood on the deck, her hair ragged, her dress torn.
Some of the pirates came over and stared down at her. One, shaven-headed and with tattoos covering his face and neck, said with a smirk, 'Damsel in distress, a sight for sore eyes, men. Better tell the captain.'
Another, with lank greasy hair and toothless gums, whined, 'Do we have to? He's still sleepin'. He'd never know.'
The one who'd spoken first gave him a hard clout around the head. 'Of course he'll find out, you cock jiggler, unless you find a way to keep her quiet.'
'I could do that,' sneered a third, who had a scar running the length of his ragged, exposed abdomen.
Wendy swallowed hard but held her nerve, pretending not to have heard. 'Please can you help me? I have lost my crew. They were all washed overboard in a storm. I am the sole survivor. You're all I've got. I beg of you.'
'Hear that, lads? She's beggin'? I like a whore who begs.' The bald one scoffed. 'Get the captain, hurry. And put the gang plank down.'
Soon enough, a plank was placed between the two ships and the scarred pirate was sent across it. He came right up, leaned into her and sniffed loudly. She tried not to recoil in horror.
'You smell lovely,' he wheezed, then came closer still, wiggling his tongue at her. 'Do you taste lovely too?'
She stepped back, unable to hide her revulsion. 'Please. May I see your captain?'
He held out his hand to the gangplank. 'Ladies first, of course,' he sneered. 'I'm stayin' 'ere. I've got orders to search your boat.'
Wendy resisted looking back at him, wondering what or who he'd find first. She held up her skirts and walked up the plank to the Last Star. As soon as she boarded the tattooed man grabbed her and pushed her down onto the deck. She resisted the urge to fight back. 'Stay put. Captain's on his way.'
She remained in her position slumped on the deck. The entire crew seemed to have gathered round to stare at her. Soon enough they parted to allow someone through.
The man approaching was dressed extravagantly but chaotically in a blue silk waistcoat with a linen shirt beneath. He had on leather breeches which he was still doing up. Her eyes rose to his face. The first thing she noticed was the scar. It cut straight down across where his left eye should have been but was now sealed shut, the eye socket empty. His face was haggard and careworn but had a directness which hinted at intelligence and determination. He had dark blond hair which hung in unkempt strands down to his shoulders. Once, many years ago or perhaps only a few, he must have been handsome, she realised, but his good looks had been eaten away by a ravaged life. The one eye he had was a brilliant green and was now staring straight at her.
'Well, well, a woman. You had better be worth getting me out of bed at this ungodly hour.'
His voice surprised her. It was articulate and well-bred like Hook's. She recalled that they had once known each other as friends and associates. Perhaps Tremayne was, like James, a product of Eton.
'I'm sorry, sir. I didn't know what else to do. Who do I have the pleasure of addressing?'
He let out a chuckle which became a full guffaw. 'You have no pleasure, my dear. The pleasure between us, such as may be, will be mine. My name is Tremayne, Captain. Since you ask so nicely, I will repay you the courtesy. What is your name?'
'Wendy. And a surname?'
'Montgomery. Wendy Montgomery.'
He began to pace around her but made no attempt to get her up. 'So … I am wondering, Wendy, in what wondrous weird way you have found yourself – just like that – right up next to my ship.'
It's not your ship, she wanted to scream, but merely sat there as doe-eyed as she could. 'I set out from Plymouth with a crew of four. We were bound for Spain, but we drifted off course and a few days ago we encountered a small pocket of freak weather. My crew was lost. I managed to cling on and I have been sailing anywhere ever since – with my scant knowledge – in the hope of rescue.'
'When did this happen, this freak weather, which, oddly, we, on this ship, did not encounter.'
'About a week ago. I have lost track of days. I believe we were many miles from here when the storm struck.'
He glanced over at the smaller ship. 'Your boat appears remarkably unscathed by this ordeal.'
'I know, it's extraordinary, but luckily it was not damaged.'
He came and stood before her. 'Get up.' His tone gave her little choice.
Wendy scrambled to her feet and looked at him, an irrepressible anger rising in her, but she swallowed it back. He seemed almost to read her mind as his eye darkened for a moment and then he smirked. 'All alone, hey, Wendy Frobisher? You're not alone anymore, let me assure you. My men are your companions now. Are you glad of their company?'
She glanced about. The men were staring at her, their eyes fixed on her body. A sense of violation overcame her and she reeled with nausea, staggering slightly. Tremayne caught her in his arms and laughed. 'You will be, let me tell you. When I've finished with you, they'll seem like puppies in comparison,' he whispered into her ear.
'Please …' she said, closing her eyes. She was not pleading with him, but with Hook. She had done all he asked. Now it was his turn. Where was he? She felt Tremayne's hands slide up her waist towards her breasts. Only one pirate captain was allowed to touch those. She could stand no more and took the initiative. Wendy deftly reached for the dagger concealed in her skirts. With a twist, she pulled out of his arms and held the point to his throat.
Tremayne was taken by surprise and she took the opportunity to grab the pistol from her knickers and turn it on his crew.
'Not another step. Where are they, Tremayne, the men you're holding?'
His eye flared, his breathing came heavily. 'All alone, hey? You didn't fool me for one minute, bitch. Where is he, your pimp, your procurer, the man with no hand?'
'Above you, Tremayne!'
Tremayne and his men looked aloft and immediately Hook, Solomon and Jago started firing at them from their lofty positions. They had boarded the ship silently and climbed as high as they dared, masked behind the sails while Tremayne and his crew were pre-occupied with Wendy. One by one, they started to pick off the pirates, who fell down dead, still unarmed in the dawn light. Hook darted across the rigging like a spider before jumping to the deck and pacing towards Tremayne. Such was their surprise that not a single man tried to stop him.
'Ah,' said the blond captain, reverting to an air of polite respectability. 'James Hook. What a pleasure to see my old friend once again. You left most suddenly last time. I didn't have a chance to say goodbye. I should have known sooner you would be behind this little ruse.'
'Tremayne … it has been too long.' Hook's voice lacked the fake warmth of his enemy.
'And you've found yourself a whore,' continued Tremayne. 'How charming. We were just getting to know each other, weren't we, Wendy?'
'There is as much chance of that as of your crew being able to keep watch over their own ship.'
Tremayne's expression lost its false conviviality. 'Briggs!' he yelled.
'Captain?' answered the shaved man with the tattoos.
'Did you not send someone to search the boat?'
'Aye, captain, I sent Ellis.'
'And what did he find?'
'He … err … he hasn't come back, captain.'
'Ah, yes,' said Hook. 'I should have mentioned that. Should you wish him back, you'll find him at the bottom of the ocean with his throat slit. Once a fool, always a fool, Tremayne. Now … where are my crew?'
'Your crew? Oh, the two still alive, you mean?' He gave a sick grin of pretend apprehension. 'Not a pretty sight, Hook. You don't want to see.'
Without taking his eyes off Tremayne, Hook held out his gun to the side and shot the man beside him in the head. 'Actually, I do want to see.'
Tremayne sneered and turned to a dark-haired pirate. 'Emilio, fetch the prisoners.'
'I am not sure they can walk, captain.'
'Then drag them up, you fool.'
'Solomon!' called Hook to his own man. 'Go with him.'
'Aye, captain.' Solomon scurried off, following close behind Emilio.
Wendy moved back from Tremayne, still pointing her pistol between his eyes. She was acutely aware that although Hook had picked off several of the crew already, they were still outnumbered, and it would not take much for the pirates to scramble for their weapons and overrun them. Neither did Tremayne's expression reassure her. He stood with a slight smile on his face, tall and confident. For now, the three of them, Hook, Jago and her, were containing them, but her heart was hammering at the prospect of danger.
The man who'd been sent below decks returned, and with him was what Wendy thought to be a bundle of rags. It was only on closer inspection that she realised that what he was dragging with him was a human, and behind him another. Wendy stared at the first person. His face was gaunt and sunken. His skin hung off a skeletal frame, and he could barely shuffle along. When the pirate released him he fell to the deck, his limbs barely functional. Perched on the end of his nose was a pair of spectacles, the glass gone from one frame and cracked in the other. Wendy's stomach heaved and her mouth ran dry. She knew this man, although the last time she had seen him he had cut a full figure, ready with a smile and a twinkle in his eyes. It was Smee.
She glanced at Hook. He had not taken his eyes off Tremayne and his crew. Her instincts overrode all else; she rushed over to Smee and dropped to her knees before him. His head hung down and he drew in dry rasping breaths, so shallow she wondered if each would be his last. The other man, who was barely conscious, she recognised as Hook's first mate, Starkey.
'Wendy!' called Hook, cautioning her against leaving her position.
'Not only a whore, but a caring one at that, Hook,' laughed Tremayne. 'I'll look forward to fucking that out of her.'
There was another pistol shot. Hook had disposed of another of his crew.
'Come now, James, there's no need for dramatics. This silly charade of advantage has nearly run its course, you know. And for each of my men you kill, you know full well I can get ten more.'
'Not out here, Tremayne.'
Wendy tried to ignore them. Smee's head hung down and she took his chin gently in her hands and guided his face up to look at her. She gasped. He had only one eye. Where his left should have been the socket was empty and hollow and still scarred and sore. 'Mr Smee,' she whispered. 'What have they done to you?'
He turned his good eye to her and frowned slightly. She smiled. 'Mr Smee, we're here. We're here to take you back. The Captain and Solomon and Jago … and me.'
'I … I know you. Do I … do I know you?' His voice was barely audible, but it contained the same gentle lilt it always had, the most human and tender, despite his occupation. It was Mr Smee's kindness which had helped convince Wendy of the humanity of his master.
She nodded, tears filling her eyes.
'Many years ago, so many … the story teller!' he said in revelation.
'Yes, Mr Smee, it's me, Wendy.'
'Wendy … yes. Such wonderful stories … always with a happy ending.'
'I'm here to give this one a happy ending, Mr Smee.'
'I fear …' he stuttered, 'you may be too late for that.'
Wendy's rage exploded and she stood with a roar, rushing over to Tremayne with her knife before her. This time, with a nod of his head, his men moved, and she was held back.
'Wendy!' called Hook. With a cry of determination, Tremayne's pirates set upon them, not caring if they were unarmed. Wendy cried out but was held fast as she watched Hook slashing and firing. He still had the advantage but he was now having to fight for it, as were Solomon and Jago. The crew rushed about, quickly arming themselves.
'Get the others!' yelled Tremayne to his men. 'Leave Hook to me.' He turned towards Wendy again, that feral grin on his face.
'What have you done to Smee?' she spat at him, struggling against the two men holding her tight.
He pouted, pacing towards her. 'Oh, I'm a religious man, Wendy. I was simply doing what the Bible tells me – an eye for an eye. Hook took mine, I took his man's.'
'Hook did that to you?'
'Yes, one of the many gifts he bestowed upon me over the years. Perhaps he omitted to tell you those details.'
He let his gaze fall over Wendy's body. 'Now, Wendy Montgomery, I think it's time you and I became better acquainted.'
She reacted instinctively, rearing back her head and spitting full into his face. He merely chuckled and wiped off the spittle with his hand. 'Good girl. You can bring this spirit into my bed. I grew tired of sharing James' dull sluts, but in your case, I think I'll make an exception.'
His words made her gag and she swallowed back the rising bile in her throat. He had done it to goad her, she knew, but it still hurt. Tremayne reached up and touched her face, stroking her cheek slowly. She turned her head away in disgust but his hot breath followed her.
'Hook always did prefer the finer ladies. He could charm the birds off the trees, I'll give him that. They'd flock to him, wives of port officials, governors' daughters, their silks and their pearls all given freely in exchange for his cock and his promises of endless devotion. He'd use them for a while, then when he grew bored, hand them on to me. And he always did grow bored of them, especially when he'd fucked the life out of them. I resented it – his hand me downs, all dead eyes and slack cunts. But you, Wendy … you've still got plenty of life left in you. And this time I'm not going to wait and I'm not going to share. I'm just going to take.'
She tried to shut out his words as tightly as she shut her eyes. She felt his hand on her breast and his fingers rub the nipple through her dress. She suppressed the urge to retch and remembered her purpose. Summoning the last of her resolve, she opened her eyes. 'Not here,' she said as evenly as possible.
His brows creased. 'What?'
She forced herself to look straight at him and let him stroke her nipple some more. Her breath came fast from the peril of what was happening, but she allowed him to think it was with increasing pleasure. She made her lips curl up a little. 'I like that. I like new hands on me. But not out here. Take me to your cabin.' She drew in a fast breath, faking sensual expectation.
Tremayne rubbed harder and slurred down to her, 'No wonder he's kept you. It seems you've got a greedy cunt.'
'What do you expect? Why do you think I'm with him? I like someone who can keep me on edge. But he's not the only one to get bored. It's my turn to move onto something new.'
He smirked and moved in. She was still held by the two men, but not as forcefully any longer. Tremayne lowered himself to her. He pressed against her and started to kiss and lick her neck. She forced herself to concentrate on something, anything else.
Her gaze fell over to where Starkey lay crumpled beside Smee.
'I like a man with purpose, a man who does what's needed to get what he wants. Tell me, Captain Tremayne, what exactly have you done to his men?'
'Men? Well, perhaps once. That one,' He broke away to nod over at Starkey, 'can't exactly be called a man any longer. I cut off his manhood and fed the lot of it to the sharks. Rather enjoyable, emasculation. I'll give them the rest of him next – there's no point in keeping him if I can't play with him any longer.'
Revulsion so extreme surged through her that she couldn't pretend any longer, no matter what James expected of her. Pure rage gave her strength and she tore her arm out of the pirate's hold and threw it up. The back of her hand hit Tremayne square across the face and her rings cut into him, causing two deep wounds. The force of her assault surprised her captors and she let her anger out, turning on them with fists and elbows and sending them flailing to the deck. Grabbing a dagger, she turned and pointed it straight at Tremayne.
Her breath came furiously but she declared her words with fearsome conviction.
'James Hook is all the man I will ever want or desire. I will never grow bored of him, and he will never grow bored of me. I don't care about his life before he knew me, suffice to say that I know it helped make him who he is now, and I do not care what the future holds because as long as we have each other, we will be stronger than anything the sea, the land or men can throw at us. You are not worthy to be a flea on his ship's cat, Tremayne. He is more man than you could ever be, no matter how you try to twist and destroy the lives of others. He is my man and I love him.'
Tremayne looked at her, but his grimace turned to a twisted grin. 'He may be your man, but he is finding things rather difficult at the moment. Turn, Wendy Montgomery, and look on your lover.'
She spun around. In the middle of the deck, Hook was fighting off about five men single-handedly. But he was tiring, she could see, and he was wounded. Blood seeped through his shirt and dripped from another wound on his head. 'James!' she cried, uselessly. He twisted and thrust, his hook still blazing, but he had lost his pistol and when a pirate grabbed his right hand, he was caught unawares. Wendy, stared, helpless, as her pirate captain struggled with every ounce of his diminishing strength against insurmountable odds. Soon enough, he could do no more. James Hook was taken.
There will be one more chapter and then an epilogue. Thanks for your support throughout this story which I have enjoyed writing so much.
'No!' screamed Wendy and started to run to Hook, but Tremayne pulled her back hard against him, twisted the dagger out of her hand and held it to her throat.
'Don't touch him!' He yelled across to his men. 'He's mine! Hook! See what you have bestowed upon me now!'
Her pirate captain, his arms held stretched to the sides, stopped struggling and raised his head. Wendy and James stared at each other, their eyes locked, the fight gone from them both for once.
Tremayne pushed her towards Hook forcibly.
'Here you are, lovebirds, time for a farewell kiss,' he hissed, his fingers twisting painfully in her hair as he pushed her closer to James. But just as she thought she would touch her lover, Tremayne turned her head forcefully and plunged his own mouth down on hers, a mere inch away from James. He forced open her mouth with his teeth and invaded her with his tongue.
Wendy bit down hard on it.
Tremayne cried out and recoiled, blood pouring from his mouth. 'Bitch! You've taught her well, Hook.' He was panting and holding his hand to his mouth, but soon enough he sniffed out a smile of intent. 'I think she needs some of that life drained out of her. I can't have them too feisty, after all. But how to do it? Physically … or mentally? Hmm?'
Hook simply stared at him, his eyes sharp with venomous hatred.
'Both, perhaps,' mused Tremayne, as if he was contemplating a cake to accompany his tea.
He grabbed Wendy's right arm and held it up, exposing the underside, letting his finger trail along it softly. 'So pretty, so pale.' With that, his expression shifted to one of cold determination and he pressed the point of his blade into her near the elbow and drew it along nearly all the way to the wrist. Wendy gasped as the sharpest pain ran along her arm and watched as a deep red line appeared. Blood leeched from it instantly and incessantly.
Hook roared in rage and shook against his captors, but the five of them were too strong for him.
'That's better,' crooned Tremayne. 'Not enough to finish you off, but enough to weaken you … enough for me to take you. You mentioned fucking me in my cabin – oh, she did, James, yes – but I think out here will do, don't you? It's a lovely day and my crew deserve a little entertainment, after all.' He grabbed her breast, finding the nipple even through her dress and pinching hard. She cried out in pain. He smirked but then seemed to lose interest and pushed her into two pirates who once again held her fast. Tremayne turned his attention to Hook.
'But one mustn't rush these things. First things first … and that would be … you, James.' He paced over to Hook and cocked his head as if pondering something. 'Now let's see … you've lost one hand … shall we even things up? After all, you manage so well with that hook of yours that you clearly don't need hands at all. Or something else? Perhaps you'd like to know what it feels like, hmm?' He held his blade up to Hook's left eye, right up so that the point nearly touched the pupil. One jab and it would be done. Wendy writhed in horror but couldn't escape the clasp of the pirates.
'Or something else entirely?' He moved the blade down along Hook's throat towards his abdomen. 'I was explaining to your lovely lady here earlier when we were having our little chat about how I unmanned one of your crew. It was rather fun. He started off roaring like a baritone and ended up squealing like a soprano. I could show you, Hook. It would appeal to your sense of depravity. But I've done that one, I feel like being rather more inventive. Let's see … They say you can survive without a spleen, or even a kidney. Shall we try it? I have no anaesthetic, of course, but you were always a hardened old chap. You'll just have to grin and bear it. Yes, that's a splendid idea! What fun. You recall from our days at school, how I used to enjoy the biological sciences. You shall be my latest experiment, James. It will be just like the old days at Eton, sharing in experiments together. I shall be testing the theory that a man can remain alive while several of his vital organs are cut out before him. It will be most interesting to see what the final outcome will be, won't it? Do you remember Mr Purdew's biology lessons, James, how we used to cause him all kinds of torment by stealing his materials and hiding his papers? Ah, those were the days! But enough chat. That was my downfall at school too, wasn't it, you remember, James? I must focus, they would always tell me. So, focus I shall, and so on with the experiment. We need a table of sorts. Here will suffice. Bring the captain over here.'
They dragged Hook over to a wooden block in the centre of the deck and proceeded to hold him down on it. Wendy had listened to Tremayne's discourse, delivered in his smooth, well-rounded tones. His manner, with its hint of past civility and respectability, had almost fooled her into a denial of what he was actually intending to do. But as she watched James being held down, the full horrific reality of what was happening sank in. Half a dozen men were pinning his arms to his sides and holding hard to his feet and head. She stared in abject horror, tears pouring from her eyes, her mind reeling, her world out of orbit.
She writhed and twisted but her captors held her too tight. She tried kicking, biting, but could gain no purchase on them. 'No, slut,' hissed Tremayne, giving her a sudden slap on the face, 'you stay still. You will watch while I dissect your lover.'
Hook was breathing hard through his nose. Wendy stared into him. Resistance still raged through him, she could see, but it seemed futile. She could see no way out of this. She let her mind empty, let all else disappear, so it was only her and him. He stared back at her, his dark hair spread out around him, his eyes as blue as ever. 'I love you,' she mouthed.
Tremayne brought over a wooden box, which he opened with great ceremony. From inside he took out a long knife with a gleaming steel blade and ornately carved wooden handle. Hook saw it and his face clouded with sudden horror. 'You bastard piece of rotting filth,' he said, his voice thick with disgust.
'Ah, you do remember it then,' said Tremayne. 'The reason the captain is so enraged now, Wendy, is because I robbed him of this blade many years ago. It belonged to your mother, didn't it, James? It was a kitchen knife, no more, but a very fine one. Little James would sit on a stool and watch mummy dearest preparing some fine meals with it, he told me. It was one of your most treasured possessions, wasn't it? Mine now, of course. How fitting though, that you should be robbed of life – however long it may take – by the very knife that once belonged to the person who gave you life. Your mother, despite being a whore, would find it most touching.'
Hook roared, but Wendy reacted, his own uncontainable anger channelled through her. Her arms may have been constrained, but her legs were not. Powered by superhuman rage, she cried out and hurled her legs up in a scissor-like kick, landing her foot with the greatest force between Tremayne's legs. For a moment there was silence, and then, with his features contorted, he let out a rising wail of inhuman agony.
He bent double, and for a moment Wendy thought he would succeed in staying on his feet, but she had kicked him with such force that he lost all sense of himself. His men stared, their attention diverted. Tremayne staggered backwards, twisted and collapsed straight onto James.
And with that she heard him give a faint huff, as if expelling air, almost inaudible, but with the huff she heard another sound, that of steel penetrating flesh.
He had fallen belly first onto the upturned point of James' hook.
His men couldn't move. They stared as their captain lay impaled on the steel appendage of his greatest foe.
In their confusion, they let go of Hook, who took hold of Tremayne's shoulder and pushed him up slightly, ensuring his hook was still embedded.
Hook sneered and said into his nemesis' face, 'Most touching indeed.' And then he twisted his hook.
Tremayne gave a grunt of surprised agony as the curve of steel ripped through him, then as Hook pushed him away, he fell to the deck, dead.
For a time there was silence. All around simply stared at the motionless body of Tremayne as blood seeped from him and spread out on the deck.
Then, with a sniff, James Hook pushed himself to his feet and stepped contemptuously over the body, standing commandingly in the centre of the deck.
'Men – and lady – this is my ship and I am once again its captain and yours. I gladly accept you as crew, but if anyone wishes to dispute that, please take up your quarrel with this.' He held up his hook slowly. It still dripped with the blood of his enemy.
Now, pirates will always throw their allegiance at the man whom they fear the most. It took only a moment. Hook had won himself a loyal new crew within a few seconds.
He took out a handkerchief and wiped down his hook carefully, then stood, feet apart, and said, 'Men, declare your loyalty.'
Wendy, watched, riveted, as the entire crew formed a line and, one by one, hats off, stepped forward to first shake his hand and then bend forward and kiss the metal blade of his hook.
It took some time. Without Hook noticing, Wendy put herself at the end of the line. Each pirate in turn swore his allegiance to the new captain. The line grew shorter until only one man remained in front of her. He performed the ritual and she was the last remaining. Hook raised his eyes to her and narrowed them, as if considering refusing her show of loyalty.
She looked him in the eyes. 'In matters of business, you are my captain.' The corner of his mouth jigged up a fraction and he stood tall, slowly extending his hand to her.
She reached out and let him clasp hers, then leaned across, giving him a sly glance before she did so, and kissed the gleaming blade of his hook. She then stepped nimbly away and went immediately to tend to Smee and Starkey.
'Men!' bellowed Hook. 'Clean up this mess, toss this scum overboard, and prepare to sail. Tie my boat on. You will find on board a cabin boy you may remember and three children. These children will entrance and enthral you and they are to be treated as you would treat me. If a hair on their heads is harmed, you will find yourself split open and hanging from the yard arm, do I make myself clear?'
'Aye, captain!' chorused the crew in unison.
'Very good. Now … get to work!'
The deck became a hive of activity. Tremayne's body was soon disposed of and the blood cleaned up. James came over to where Wendy was giving Smee some water.
'Captain,' murmured the older man. 'You came back for me.'
'Did you doubt that I would, Mr Smee?'
'It was a long time, captain, but no, never. Felt like keeping you company, see. We've both got somethin' missing now.'
'That's right, Mr Smee. And as you know, I cope very well as I am, and so shall you.'
Hook smiled at Smee, then pulled Wendy aside slightly, his face now serious, and asked, 'How are they?'
She looked up at him and whispered, 'Smee's very weak, but I think I may be able to get him through. Starkey … there's no hope, James. He's lost so much blood. All I can do is try to keep the pain to a minimum until he goes.'
'We must get to land as soon as possible and get them the best medicines available.'
She reached out and gently touched his arm. 'I thought I'd lost you.'
He smirked. 'Me? Oh no. Haven't you learnt yet? I'm rather hard to shake off.'
She curled her arms about him and he winced. 'James? You're hurt.' She pulled up his shirt. He had a gash across his rib cage. 'That's terrible! I need to see to that. And your head.'
'I've had worse, trust me.' Hook held up her wounded arm. 'I'm not the only one bloodied.'
She looked down at the angry cut. 'I'd almost forgotten about it. He only did it to scare me. It's not as bad as it looks.'
'No, he wouldn't have hurt you too much then … he had plans for you,' sneered Hook.
'He's gone, James. He's gone forever.'
He smiled softly and bent his head to kiss her, but at that moment there was the sound of feet scurrying over the deck. She looked up to see her children running towards her, followed by a smiling and clearly relieved Finn.
'Mama! Mama! Look at this incredible ship! Have you ever seen anything like it?' gabbled little James.
'And these men – they're pirates, aren't they? They're actually pirates!' said Peter.
Wendy smiled and hugged her boys. 'Yes, and this is your new home, boys. This is our new life.'
They stared at her, wide-eyed with disbelief. 'Really?'
'Yes … Is that … alright?' A sudden panic took hold. Perhaps they wouldn't want it.
The boys looked at each other, and then, with a cry of sheer delight, started racing around the deck in uncontainable joy.
'I think that's a yes,' laughed Hook. He glanced down. Something – someone – had coiled its way around his legs. The pirate captain knelt down and placed his arm around the little person. 'Jane, you're going to be a fine pirate lass. Will you help me sail my ship?'
The little girl nodded shyly and nestled into his black curls. Wendy had never been happier. Hook's eyes darted out to sea suddenly. 'Look, Janey, dolphins!' With a suppressed exhalation of discomfort, he stood with the girl in his arms and took her across to the side, pointing out with his hook at the cresting fins of a pod of dolphins that was swimming beside the ship.
'Dawpins,' said Jane, pointing after him.
He laughed. 'Close enough, my sweet girl. And there will be plenty more treasures and mysteries of the sea to show you.'
Wendy approached him and slid her arm through his. 'Will you show me too?'
He smiled at her. 'I will show you all that there is and all that I am, Wendy Darling.' And still holding Jane, he leaned across and gave Wendy the softest, tenderest kiss there was.
There will be one more chapter, an epilogue, after this. x
Chapter 25: Epilogue
The epilogue - three years later.
Thank you for sharing in this tale, not about growing up, but, ultimately, about being content to grow old. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. LL x
Three years later
Wendy hung back for a time. The image was so perfect, so confirming of all she had longed for, that she wanted to fix it in her mind.
The evening sun shone down on the slow, silver ripples of the ocean, a ribbon of light reaching from the ship to the far horizon. The rigging tapped regularly against the masts, and the timbers of the Last Star creaked a slow good evening to her, that settling and adjusting of the bones of the ship that Wendy had grown to love and understand.
He stood on the prow, silhouetted by the red of the sun behind him. His hair fell about him in those same thick silken curls she had first distinguished him by. In this light, the edges glowed, as sacred and radiant as an archangel's. Tomorrow, they were sailing for Colombo. He had supplies there due to him from long ago, treasures discovered and long stored. The sea and the ships that crossed it still provided for them, but they now made gains through business acumen and discussion rather than fear and intimidation. It had been many months since they had used force to gain their ends, and for that Wendy was glad. There had been one or two moments, and there would always be, Hook was a pirate after all, and a proud one at that. He would not revoke his calling and Wendy had no desire for him to. The unpredictability of the sea meant that it sometimes threw up men so wicked and twisted meant that Wendy had no compunction in allowing James to deal with them as he saw fit. But such moments were increasingly rare. Perhaps it was her influence. She allowed herself the occasional indulgent twinge of pride.
Her pirate was preoccupied tonight, as he usually was at this time. The ocean provided the backdrop, but his world was in his arms, and his silhouette swayed slightly as he gazed down at what he held. Wendy approached gently, reluctant to interrupt. She touched his arm softly.
'Bathtime,' she whispered, knowing how he hated to hand over his daughter. James turned to Wendy while cradling his baby girl in his arms. Lillie was snuggled against him, her eyes drooping. Wendy recalled a time, long ago, when she had found her own father holding John while he stood framed against the window in the nursery. James had that same look on his face now, a look that was at once both perfectly peaceful and ferociously protective. Something inside her tugged. She stroked his arm. 'She's nearly asleep already, James. I'd better hurry with her bath.'
'Can she not miss it for one night? She is so content here. It is quite magnificent tonight, don't you think?' He indicated the setting sun.
She reached up and kissed him. 'Always. We'll be quick and then you can carry on with the story you started last night. You had her giggling stupidly with that silly voice you put on.' James had become quite the story teller since becoming a father. He smirked in satisfaction at Wendy's approval.
It was three years since Wendy had left London. There had been not one moment of doubt or regret. Her boys took to the ocean like old sea dogs, and Hook declared that they would one day make fine captains. Jane was now five, and when Papa Hook, as she called him, was busy, was quite capable of commanding the Last Star all by herself, thank you very much. She would stand on the deck, feet apart, hands on hips, bellowing orders at the crew, who were far too enrapt of the ferocious little lady to argue.
They had returned to Neverland briefly, and Wendy had even seen Peter. It was a strange encounter, wonderful in that she could thank him for helping her realise who she truly was. For if it hadn't been for him all those years ago, she would never have known otherwise, would never have dared the unthinkable. She would have stayed in London, married another banker, and simply continued.
She had found him in a forest clearing. He had not changed at all. He had stood while she spoke to him, asking him how he had been. It had not been a long meeting. He had been distracted, eager to get on, she could tell. She had bent to Peter and kissed him on the forehead. He had smiled because he felt he ought to, waited for her to leave with as much patience as he could, then run off into the forest after the fairies.
Wendy could tell he could not remember her at all. And it was right that way.
As for Hook, he found his quarrel with Peter had evaporated. And so the lure of the Neverland was severed. They stayed only a month or so before sailing far, far away, back to the other world and a life where the passage of time allowed for change: wondrous, rousing, revelatory change.
Two years after sailing away together, life and time brought them a daughter.
When Wendy told James of her pregnancy, it was as if his life suddenly made sense to him, as if all he had been fighting for was for this moment. The years had brought out some grey in the waxy black of his hair, but when he learned Wendy was to have his baby, James Hook took back those years. He was newly rejuvenated, and even the lines which had been etched onto his face in his darkest times – which Wendy would love no matter what, it must be noted – were smoothed back.
If possible, he was more attentive and devoted while the baby was growing inside her than ever before. No task was too great, and his first question each morning was for her needs. Wendy almost grew tired of it, her ferocious independence was being tested, but for nine months she indulged him and herself. She kept herself as busy as ever around the ship, although did concede that climbing the rigging would have to be put on hold until after the birth. His crew too showed unstinting devotion. Hook had acquired them through force, but he kept them through respect. He, with Wendy by his side, ran a fair ship where all men were valued and their individual skills utilized.
The birth had been an easy one, fortunately. They were moored off Kingston in case of the need for aid, but the delivery of Wendy's fourth child was the easiest one yet (as much as the birth of a baby can ever be easy). Hook stayed with her, wiping her brow, offering a hand to cling to. (She later noticed nail marks so deep he'd bled.) But it was Solomon who proved a surprising but efficient midwife. He was the eldest of twelve, he said, and had helped his mother in the births of the last six. He was as calming and encouraging as the best Harley Street practice could offer. Lillie made a loud entrance into the world, announcing herself in shrill tones. As Wendy lay exhausted but elated below decks, the noise of new life was joined by the muffled shouts of celebration from the crew on deck when they heard her baby's first cries.
They named her after Lillie Lenton, another who had opened Wendy's eyes to what being Woman truly meant. Wendy often thought of her and Olive and hoped that life would eventually be as good to them as it had been to her. The world was changing. Europe was at war, they knew, but their business kept them far from the fighting. Hook had wanted to sign up, and she could see him at the helm of a Royal Navy war ship, but he was too old, apparently, and the regulations of war would most likely have frustrated him all too soon. So they continued in a different world, where ships still had sails, and balmy waters sparkled sapphire clear.
After Lillie's birth, Wendy had the immediate support of the widest family, that of the ship's family. There was always someone keen to clean or dress or amuse or watch over her daughter. The help was greatly appreciated, but she sometimes had to snatch Lillie back from eager hands to ensure time alone with her baby.
As she approached James now, she tried to take Lillie, but the child whined and clung to her father. 'Come on, Lillie Lou,' she crooned, lifting her as gently as she could.
The girl started to sob and reached out for her father. 'Papa papa …' she murmured, the only word she spoke as of yet.
'Bath's ready!' called a familiar voice behind them. Wendy turned with a smile. Here was someone who could coax Lillie away. After her father, Mr Smee made the little girl beam like no one else. He puffed over to them and bestowed her with the broadest smile.
'Who's ready for a splash, eh? Come on, Lillie lumps, time to get all that tar off you. I've put extra bubbles in tonight.'
Lillie's eyes widened at the prospect of bubbles and she reached out for Smee. 'You take her, Mr Smee. I'll be along in a moment. She's far happier to go with you than me,' laughed Wendy.
'Come along then, you, Mummy's on her way. Show her what a good girl you can be.' Smee tickled her tummy and her rippling laugh rose up delightedly.
Wendy smiled after them. They had nearly lost Smee, but with tender care and a lot of soup, he had been nursed back to health and was now the same rotund, jolly pirate she remembered. Starkey had not been so lucky. They had got him to land but his injuries were so extreme that sedation was the only option, and he had died during his first night in hospital. His captain had sat by his side until he passed.
Wendy kissed James softly and went to bathe her daughter. Afterwards, James arrived and continued his story of the sea dragon, not a ferocious one, but a silly one who wanted no more than to play with ships and their crew because he was lonely and needed a friend.
By the time it came to laying her in her crib, the little girl was asleep already. Her parents kissed her tenderly and stood gazing down on her for some time, their happiness illimitable.
Sleeping arrangements on ship were complicated with three children and a baby, but the men had put their considerable carpentry skills to good use and devised a new cabin layout below decks. Peter and little James (not so little anymore) tended to sleep in hammocks with the others, but Jane had her own cabin, and after six months, so did Lillie. Wendy and Hook had the captain's cabin to themselves again, for which they were most grateful.
James Hook took her hand now and led her to their cabin, shutting the door carefully behind him.
He held her head and studied her carefully. 'So much beauty,' he murmured.
She reached up and stroked his face, smoothing over the new grey hairs in his beard. They gave him an even more pronounced air of distinction. The man had much fight left in him, but growing old with him would be the greatest privilege and pleasure.
Pleasure. Had she forsaken all else in her quest for pleasure? As James began to remove her clothes now, she wondered. But her time with him was not all pleasure. There had been pain, there had been anxiety and danger. And that is how it should be. Her life in London had been a repetitive ritual of avoiding that, of smoothing over the cracks, of ignoring the rot which set in. Here, the bad was embraced and accepted and, if possible, defeated, and if that was not possible, then you found a way to live in harmony with it.
She reached up and pulled him down in a kiss, kissing him harder than usual. He groaned into her mouth in surprise, but he responded, of course he did. As she ground her hips against him, she felt him harden and swell quickly.
His groan became a growl, and her belly rolled over in expectant delight. Her clothes fell away – he had sliced through them with his hook.
'Impatient tonight, my Wendy?' Hook asked, cocking an eyebrow.
'So it would seem,' she slurred, tearing at his shirt, pulling it off his shoulders and dropping her head to kiss and lick over his torso, as magnificent as she had always known it. He normally took off the brace holding his hook at this point, but not tonight. Tonight, she needed him in all his raw purity, and he knew it.
He was soon at a breast, tugging on the nipple, rolling his tongue around it so that it tightened as hard as a hazelnut in his mouth. He continued, nipping the taut flesh between his teeth, and squeezing the other between his fingers so that it grew as red and tight as its twin. It started to hurt, but they both knew that was what she sought. She gasped as the underlying throb began to pulse out of her, making her body radiate heat which prickled down to her core.
'Does that make you wet?' he asked, breaking away from his torment to ask her. He knew the answer, but he knew also that she loved when he spoke his filthy words to her.
'Yes,' she moaned, instinctively pressing her legs together and feeling the dampness between them. 'So wet for you.'
'Tell me how, tell me what you want me to do.'
'Want you to touch me, please touch me, want to feel your fingers on me and in me.'
He reached down and grazed lightly over her soaking folds. 'Like that?' he crooned.
'More,' she whined. 'Harder, fuller.'
'Always hard and full, Wendy. How insatiable you are.'
'Only for you.'
'But of course.'
His fingers were rougher now, more concerted. With a groan of his own, he pushed two up into her, while his thumb circled her swollen, ready nub.
For a time, she let that haze of pleasure enfold her, but soon it was not enough and she raised her hands to his shoulders and pushed so that he walked backwards to the bed. Hook fell back onto it and Wendy crawled up towards him. His mouth curled into a grin but he lay back and let her take the lead. She needed this, at least as a starter, needed to see him there under her, feel him inside her as deep as possible.
She drew her leg over him as he reared up high and hard, placed her hands on his chest, waited until he gave a little grunt of frustration, then, holding him carefully between her legs, lowered herself slowly – excruciatingly slowly – onto him.
Joined. He was rooted to her. There was no other way. Despite the roll of the ocean beneath them, he grounded her. With him, all was as it should be.
Wendy took a moment to sit there astride him, feeling him stretch her and press up into her. She ground her hips, needing that achingly sweet pain until it was nearly too much.
She leaned down over him and his cock was pressed hard against her inside, causing her to gasp with the sweet bliss of it. His eyes flared.
He was lying with his arms up behind him, one hand clasping a strut of the bed, his hook curled around another. She started to move, rolling her body on him, knowing this way he could feel her on him, warm and enclosed. His brows creased and his mouth opened, but she knew he could keep this up for an age. They could pace their love-making so instinctively that words were unnecessary.
She reached along his arm and pulled his hook closer. Wendy drew herself upright again, still moving on him, still working his cock sublimely inside her. He was moaning now, low but present.
Sitting up on him, she guided his arm to her neck. She arched it, exposing the pale skin. She placed the curved upper blade of his hook under her chin and started to draw it down. It would not cut her, not unless there was sudden movement, but she loved the brilliant, clean rasp of it, loved the threat of it, the threat of him, loved reminding herself of the fragility of life. She would not squander one moment of it.
As the blade scraped down her throat, she felt an orgasm approaching fast. She looked down at him. He stared up at her, entranced, but did not pull his hook away. She drew it up again and this time brought it to her mouth. She kissed it often, like she had that time she swore her allegiance, but now she let her tongue touch its shining brightness. With his cock hard inside her, she licked along the steel.
'Wendy …' he muttered, mesmerised. 'Wendy …'
Her other hand reached between her legs, and she soon reached a blinding climax.
She panted it out, the hook still close to her mouth, her warm, rapturous breath clouding on its cold metal.
As she slackened, he moved, pulling her off him and kneeling. He turned her onto her belly and instinctively she knelt for him. He was inside her again before she could miss him.
He worked himself along her for a while, concentrating hard, holding her tight, thrusting, long, deep thrusts, a grunting moan with each. He hit that perfect place, and she immediately felt pleasure, deep pleasure now, building again.
'Feel me,' he said, his voice gruff and low. 'I live to fuck you, Wendy, I live to fuck you.'
She whined and turned her head to the side, pushing back to meet each brutal thrust of his engorged cock. He had been inside her for an age now but had held himself back, not letting himself come. He must have been so ready, so swollen and hard that his seed screamed for release.
With a grunt, he reached under her and pulled her suddenly up so that her back was pressed in tight to his chest.
He groaned against her ear and she turned to meet his searching mouth, opening it wide to be claimed by him. Their tongues danced as he rocked her body on his.
'Live to fuck you … live to fuck you …' he muttered over and over. Then it changed, morphing into another mantra, one that bound her to him. 'Live to love you … live to love you …'
His left arm clasped her around the belly, holding her tight against him, while his good hand moved between her legs and played with her bud, teasing pleasure from her again.
'Come for me again, Wendy,' he murmured hot against her ear, not demanding, not asking, but knowing. 'Come for me always.'
She reached down, holding the base of his hook, gripping his arm so that she was pinned with almost painful force against him. His cock was deep in her, completing her, filling her, still fucking her perfectly, still awakening her personal truth.
'Love me, Hook, love me, fuck me and love me … for I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you …'
With that he came explosively. Hook grunted in wonder as his seed burst suddenly out of him and into her, binding them again as their couplings would, over and over, for as long as time allowed. He bucked three, four times, muffling his final moans against her neck. But it was not finished. He moved in her with more desperation after his own pleasure diminished, eking out hers until it broke spectacularly. Her orgasm came upon her with such sudden force that she gasped and her fingers tightened so hard on his arm he hissed. Still he powered his cock into her. Her body was rigid now, rigid with the shock of such extreme ecstasy. It took her so hard that she was motionless, still as a statue as it coursed through her, paralysing her limbs with its force. Her eyes stared wide, her mouth gaped. To anyone looking, they would have thought her near death. But then, when the pleasure billowed to its peak, it broke out of her in a heaving groan of utter freedom. Her body then melted around him as ebbing pleasure left her in slow, soft billows.
They stayed there, kneeling, still joined, not speaking. Their panting breaths eventually settled and he rested his head on her shoulder. Wendy reached behind and stroked him, her eyes closed.
Slowly, he guided her to lie down. She turned to face him and together they lay, staring into each other's eyes.
'Thank you for coming back for me,' she said. 'Thank you for not forgetting me.'
'How could I forget you? You, who reminded me what life could be without fear.'
'Without fear of what?'
'Time has given us each other. Time has given us Lillie.'
'Aye. And that is why I no longer fear it.'
She stared into him again, her eyes dancing.
His brows creased. 'What? Is my moustache out of sorts?'
She let out a giggle. 'No!' Wendy restrained her laughter but still smiled at him gently. 'I'm looking for him.'
He frowned. 'Who?'
'Can you not see him?'
'Oh yes, I can always see him. He's never far.'
'How wonderful!' he exclaimed. 'I have not lost my touch.'
'Oh no, Hook, I won't let that happen. For that is what you have made me see – how life is neither right nor wrong, how we should accept and rejoice in ambiguity. How we should strive for meaning in complexity, but never want to solve it completely.'
'You are a curious creature, Wendy Darling.'
She smiled at him and bit her lip. 'You still call me that. My full name. My old name.'
'That is who you are to me. There are many Wendys in this world, but there is only one Wendy Darling, and a most fitting name it is too, my darling Wendy. It seems we each have a surname to suit our circumstances.'
She reached over and kissed him again. 'I suppose we should get up. It is only early evening and we said we'd eat with the men tonight.'
'Aye, Smee has prepared a fine bouillabaisse, he tells me.'
'I asked Briggs to lay up on deck. It's too fine a night to be below.'
'I will open the Petrus.'
'Are you sure? Perhaps save it for a special occasion.'
He pouted. 'I have plenty more, taken from a French privateer ten years ago or so. Those French pirates, best avoided generally, but if they're carrying wine, worth a diversion. Aye, it was a lucrative enterprise on that occasion. He himself had intercepted it from a ship on route to the governor's residence in Montreal.'
He lay back and sighed deeply.
'What?' asked Wendy.
'A sunset and a story with my Lillie, immeasurable pleasure with you, a fine meal with my crew and a bottle of Petrus. I have had worse evenings. You missed something out in your discourse on life … the quest for happiness. It had eluded me, no matter how hard I sought it. I filled in the gaps with schemes and feuds. But I am happy. Thanks to you, I am, I believe, the happiest man alive.' He looked down at her. 'Are you happy, Wendy?'
She smiled softly, tears pricking at her eyes. She held them back and cupped his face. 'Yes. I am so happy I could fly. You have done that, you alone.'
'And that, I declare,' he said, bending once more to kiss her, 'is very good form indeed.'