Phryne swore. Loudly. This was not going the way she had intended, at all.
“Are you sure you don’t want some help, Miss?” Mr. Butler asked, watching her with just a hint of worry on his face, whether for her or his kitchen wasn’t entirely clear to her.
“Quite sure, thank you, Mr. Butler,” she said, trying her damnedest to keep the frustration out of her voice. None of this was his fault, after all.
“I’ll just be going then,” he said, very nearly a question.
“Yes,” she agreed, turning to glance at him, managing an apologetic smile. “I think you’d better.”
He nodded his goodbyes with a smile in return and - was that a twinkle in his eye? Was he laughing at her?!
Phryne huffed, then looked down her front. Her once so beautiful midnight blue trouser suit was covered in flour and, oh dear god, was that butter on her thigh? How on Earth did she even do that without realising?
In fairness to Mr. Butler, if this had happened to anyone else she’d probably be laughing openly, not excusing herself to do it in private.
She turned back to the recipe, once written down so neatly by Dot, now covered in stains of butter and oats. (What was going on with this butter? Was it a living thing, capable of moving on its own? How did it manage to get everywhere?) This really could just as well have been written in Greek - except if it were she might have understood it. She was quite certain her Greek was better than her baking.
Which had been useful in 1924 when she met Thanos and spent a wonderful few days on his yacht not seeing much of the Greek Isles at all, but rather less so at the moment.
Perhaps she should just invite Jack to come to Greece with her? It’d be a damned sight less trouble than this. And a lot more fun.
Except Jack being Jack he’d probably prefer the bloody Anzac biscuits. Shame, really, she wouldn’t mind another look at him in his bathing suit. Preferably a longer look, with no murders that needed to be solved getting in the way.
She sighed deeply, forcing the gust of air upwards to blow her sticky fringe out of her eyes. Perhaps choosing what would likely be the first proper warm day of the Summer for this wasn’t the brightest idea she’d ever had?
But she didn’t know it would be last night when she decided to do this - ‘this’ in her mind vaguely going somewhere along the lines of “bake amazing biscuits and actually impress the pants off Jack Robinson” - and by this morning her mind was made up and it’s not as if she’d let a bit of sunshine get in the way of a plan like that, however farfetched it might seem in the light of day.
(How dare he laugh at her, standing in the middle of that bakery, insinuating that she, Phryne Fisher, would not be up to the task of baking something as simple as biscuits? She would have pointed out that she once seduced a very handsome young pastry chef in Paris, who had delighted her with some extremely explicit creations and who was now head baker at the Stohrer Patisserie, but she had been briefly distracted by first the cut of Jack’s trousers - new, unless she was mistaken, which rarely happened - and then the discovery of a piece of evidence under the stove, and once it occurred to her again, the moment had really rather passed, so proving her point with actions had seemed a much better retort.)
A drop of sweat made its way down her back, annoyingly not at all reminiscent of a gentle caress.
Perhaps she should have let sunshine get in the way. Or at least let it delay her slightly, except delays seemed to be all they’d had lately, and she was growing rather sick of it.
Giving the recipe one final glare she shook her head - this really was too much trouble over something that had always looked so simple when it was Dot or Mr. Butler in charge - and just poured all the ingredients into a bowl in no particular order and mixed.
Well, it was sticky, at least, surely that was a good sign?
So, now what? How were you meant to get from ‘sticky, not at all enticing mass in a bowl’ to delicious biscuits?
Via the oven, presumably, but… Phryne looked at the recipe again, wiping at a smudge covering what was probably rather crucial information on this subject with her finger, which only seemed to make things worse. Right, it’d just have to be a guess, then. She turned on the oven and set the temperature to what she hoped would turn out to be high enough but not too high.
Bringing the baking tray with her to the counter she lined it with wax paper, feeling rather clever for thinking of that, and began distributing dollops of dough onto it. The first few she tried to shape, making them look Anzac biscuit shaped, but frankly that was entirely too sticky work, and she had a vague recollection (or perhaps it was merely wishful thinking) that she had once seen Dot not bother doing that.
Right, done. Now, how to tell if the oven was warm enough? She opened it and felt the air inside with her hand; it felt warm, but that was hardly accurate as a measurement.
Perhaps she’d just continue the trend of ‘doing and hoping for the best’? It was an approach that tended to work well for her in crime-solving, after all, so why not in baking?
She placed the tray in the oven and closed the door, looking at it thoughtfully. How long would this take, then? Long enough for a bath? No, surely not. Dot could get through the whole process - and the cleaning up - faster than that, so the actual baking part couldn’t take too long.
Oh god, the cleaning up. Phryne looked at the mess she’d created and sighed dramatically. Was there any way she could bring herself to just leave it for Mr. Butler?
She stood for a while contemplating things, attempting to come up with a plan of attack. There was a nice smell of baking spreading in the kitchen and she smiled. Another point for the Dumb Luck Disguised As Confidence approach. Oh, how she’d love to point that out to Jack, except it’d be a shame if he found out it was mainly luck that made these biscuits (and solved half her murder cases).
Just then she heard a knock on the door; Jack’s usually impeccable timing just slightly off this evening (Having him turn up just as she had sorted out the killer was so much nicer than having him turn up… well, when everything looked like this). She glanced at the mess she still hadn’t managed to make disappear on its own and then turned her back on it.
“Jack,” she said enthusiastically, opening the door wide to let him in and hide behind it at the same time. She felt rather like a schoolgirl waiting to get full marks on her homework - if slightly less impeccably dressed. Which, of course, she’d be happy for him to help her remedy.
He smiled back warmly, clearly pleased but surprised by her greeting, and she felt something in her stomach tighten.
It really was disgusting how much she enjoyed seeing him smile. Nearly as disgusting as the fact that she didn’t mind enjoying it so much.
“Mr. Butler busy in the kitchen?” he asked, hanging his coat and hat in their usual spot. (That any man should have a ‘usual spot’, and that she should think of it as such. Disgusting.
And yet, Jack did, and she didn’t mind it.)
“No,” she said, trying not to look too smug. “Mr. Butler went out for the evening.”
He frowned. “But Miss Williams is at the pictures with Hugh…?”
And then he looked at her properly, the door now closed and her outfit exposed. Not just her face, but all of her.
Really, the shock in his voice would’ve been insulting if it hadn’t been so completely reasonable. “Yes.”
He nodded, wisely leaving his response at a thoughtful frown.
She pulled a face, childish and mock-offended, and he grinned, walking towards the kitchen.
He stopped in the doorway, so abruptly she nearly walked into him. Well, she did walk into him, but she had seen him stop and just decided to pretend she hadn’t. She felt only moderately guilty when the stains from her suit were transferred to the back of his.
He stepped aside with an apologetic murmur and she smiled at him as she passed, in a way she hoped would make it abundantly clear that she didn’t mind at all. The effect was rather lost, however, when set against the background of the kitchen.
“Impressive work, Miss Fisher,” he said drily.
“I was going to clean up, but there wasn’t time,” she replied, only slightly petulant.
He nodded, clearly utterly unconvinced. Then he sniffed the air again. “I think whatever you’re baking might be done.”
She breathed in through her nose. Damn. Rushing to the oven she threw open the door and a gust of smoke blew out. She coughed, waving a hand in front of her face in a vain attempt to clear the air.
Jack was beside her in an instant, hand wrapped protectively in a dishcloth, and pulling out the tray of burnt biscuits, the wax paper smoking profusely. “Delicious,” he said, and she felt an overwhelming urge to punch him.
Almost as if he could sense danger, he stepped aside. He went to the backdoor, opened it and deposited the still smoking tray on the tiles. Then he came back in, closing the door and tossing the dishcloth on the table.
Phryne was peaking out the window, trying to catch a glimpse of smoke, but it seemed the biscuits were cooling down - or the wind carried the smoke in a different direction. She turned around, leaning against the counter and looking at Jack.
He was watching her expectantly, a small smile playing on his lips, and there was something in his eyes that somehow made her feel slightly less bad about this failure.
“I was going to make you Anzac biscuits,” she said, sounding rather more like a disappointed child than she would’ve liked. She would remind him of his slanderous comments yesterday, but it seemed likely that would only highlight the childishness - and there was of course the possibility that he wouldn’t even remember the exchange. “Exchange” being perhaps too strong a word for his offhand comment and her glare at his thigh in response, but however unbeknownst to him, it had riled her competitive streak.
His smile grew and he moved closer. “I’m sure you did make me Anzac biscuits, just not…”
“Very well?” she suggested when he seemed determined to leave it at that.
“But still a very nice gesture,” he insisted.
‘Very nice gesture’ was not exactly what she’d been going for, but considering the biscuits were a pile of ashes on her garden path at this point perhaps she shouldn’t complain.
And really, ‘very nice gesture’ wasn’t so bad at all, she decided, when he reached out and carefully brushed her cheek with his thumb. “You had a bit of flour,” he explained, his hand still hovering somewhere near her hair.
She wanted desperately to shift, just take a small step to the left, and make him touch her more. She looked down herself and then back up at him, eyes wide and inviting. She did have rather more than a bit of flour, and she was not at all averse to the idea of him taking care of all of it.
His eyes mimicked the path hers had taken and seemed to darken slightly at the unspoken suggestion. Then his hand was on her face again, his thumb trailing the same gentle path it had already gone once, and she wondered briefly if he was just doing a very thorough job of it indeed, but then the hand moved to the back of her head, his fingers burying themselves in her hair.
She smiled, pushing herself out from the table slightly, to get her body closer to his, and somehow, miraculously, he seemed to take the hint, moving closer as well, until they were mere inches apart. She tilted her head up to be able to still look at him, and licked her lips.
The movement made his gaze shift from her eyes to her lips and he swallowed, tongue darting out to lick his own lips as well.
This really was entirely too much to have to withstand, she thought to herself, wanting desperately to just close the distance between them and crush her lips against his, but somehow she couldn’t bring herself to do it.
This was Jack, and his fingers might be tracing delicious circles on the back of her head just now, his pupils might be so dilated his eyes seemed practically black, his breath might be coming in short huffs, but there was still a very real possibility that if she moved at all he’d clear his throat and make some remark about playing draughts, and then she’d have to sit across that bloody table from him for an hour or two before he excused himself and went home, leaving her to take care of her frustrations on her own, as he had done so often in the past.
The disappointment would be too much to bear, so she remained frozen, watching him for any hint of… anything.
The seconds seemed to drag on until the tension became unbearable. “Jack,” she sighed, ready for this wasted opportunity to be over so she could move on from it.
It was as if the sound of his name broke him out of his reverie and he looked her in the eye with an intensity that knocked all the air out of her. His eyebrows went up, a silent question she didn’t want to understand but somehow felt the answer to would be ‘yes’, anyway, and she smiled.
And then his lips were on hers, finally, soft only for an instant and then firm and demanding, his tongue working its way into her mouth. Both his hands in her hair and then on her shoulders, her arms, her waist, holding her in place, their grip tight.
As if she’d want to get away, she thought, kissing him back with the same fervour, her own hands trying to find their way through the layers of his suit. She had waited entirely too long for this, and she was going to make the most of the opportunity.
She had gotten a taste of Jack last year, of course, quite literally, but at the time she hadn’t necessarily been in a frame of mind to properly appreciate the experience. Nor had it occurred to her, then, that she’d have to wait this long for a repeat performance.
He tugged on her lower lip with his teeth, his tongue darting out to lick a path along it, and a soft moan escaped her. Instantly, his lips moved against hers once more, a groan of his own vibrating its way into her mouth, the two sounds muffled, mingling.
Perhaps it was merely the excruciatingly long wait that had her on sensory overload; or perhaps it was the way he seemed determined to all but devour her; or the fact that he really was surprisingly adept with his tongue, but she wondered if this kiss hadn’t actually been worth the wait after all.
When she went for the buttons of his waistcoat he pulled back, and a litany of curses went through her mind. Please don’t change you mind now, Jack.
He rested his forehead against hers, his shallow breaths hitting her face. His hands on her waist pulled her in, his body pressed into hers in a way that promised all sorts of delicious fun, if she could only manage to make him stay.
“Upstairs,” she said, the word coming out in a breathless whisper. If it had been anyone else there with her she’d be appalled by how desperate she sounded.
He nodded, his nose brushing against hers, his fingers gripping the fabric of her blouse tightly, as if he were steadying himself for a second, before he released her and let her lead the way.
Oh, how she hoped the walk up the stairs wasn’t long enough for him to change his mind.
When Dot returned from the pictures an hour later, she found the inspector’s hat and coat still in the hallway and the kitchen a complete mess.
She smiled to herself, tidied the kitchen and went upstairs to bed as quietly as she could.