The office was stifling in the summer heat, silent save for the muffled sound of traffic from outside and the lazy buzzing of an unseen fly that had gotten in through the window, cracked open in desperate hope of catching a stray breeze. Strike leaned back in his chair, staring absently at the smoke curling up from his lit cigarette and reflecting glumly on the social obligations that lay before him: a long, tedious evening, in-laws and screaming children and hours of grinding, forced civility. He sighed and checked his watch. He still had some time, and at least between now and then there was-
He grinned to himself, considering the cheap rocks glass in his hand, amber liquid sloshing against the sides. He sipped the whiskey, chasing its burn with a deep drag of his smoke, and closed his eyes, savouring the warmth of the liquor spreading down his throat and through his chest.
His contemplation was interrupted by a sudden sharp and insistent rapping at his office door. “We’re closed,” he shouted, and the knocking stopped; he breathed a sigh into the silence.
“Then perhaps you should have locked your door.”
His eyes snapped open as he jerked upright, the chair’s mechanism screeching in protest, a little of the whiskey splashing out of the glass onto his hand. A woman stood in the open doorway of his inner office, leaning against the frame as if deliberately posed to allow the light of the afternoon sun slanting through the blinds to catch and glimmer on the smooth waves of her strawberry blonde hair where it fell over her shoulders. Gaping, Strike took in her pouting lips painted blood red and curled in the hint of a smirk; the beige trench coat, tightly cinched and belted over generous, sweeping curves; and emerging from the bottom of the coat, a pair of long, shapely legs in heels just a little too high for a Sunday afternoon.
He had opened his mouth to protest the intrusion, to order her to shut his damn door and come back tomorrow. Instead he stood, putting his glass down and bracing his arms against the desk.
“Can I help you?” he asked gruffly. She pushed herself upright and sauntered – practically slinked - towards him. He surreptitiously wiped the hand that the scotch had spilled over on the back of his pants, then proffered it for her to shake; she ignored it.
“Mrs. Elliot,” she said, insinuating herself into one of the armchairs facing the desk. “Robin Elliot.” Strike, caught off guard, sat back down in his own chair, a beat behind. With one hand he pulled open the drawer beside him, rummaging for a notebook and pen; with the other, he drained the rest of his whiskey. This done, he tapped a fresh cigarette out of its carton – nearly empty, he noticed with chagrin – and lit it carefully and slowly, cupping the flickering match in his large, hairy hands and taking a deep, satisfying drag. It was only then that he looked back across the desk at the beautiful woman.
“How can I help you, Mrs. Elliot?”
She had watched his little performance in silence, her hands folded demurely in her lap and her legs tightly crossed. But her eyes were sharp, and the smile that was playing across her lips was anything but demure as she answered him.
“I need a divorce.”
“Seems like a divorce lawyer would be a better place to start,” he said dryly, leaning over to tap the ash off his cigarette. She glanced away from him, flicking her eyes to take in the shabbiness of the walls, the clutter on top of his cabinets. She bit her bottom lip, a tiny flash of white against red, and his stomach lurched with a surge of desire. He felt a sudden urge to kiss away that bright lipstick, to run his hands through those perfect blonde waves, to tousle, to lay bare, to mark as his own. As though she could read his thoughts, Mrs. Elliot’s eyes snapped back to his, her lips curved slowly up into a deliberate smirk, and he could feel a muscle twitch in his jaw as he struggled to keep his face neutral and set in its habitual scowl.
“Is it your habit, Mr. Strike,” she said, abruptly shifting gears, “not to offer your client a drink?”
Strike resisted the urge to retort that she wasn’t his client, at least not yet, and jerked his head in a nod towards the half-empty bottle of whiskey and collection of mismatched glasses on the side table at the other end of the office.
“Help yourself,” he said curtly. She appeared to be refraining – barely – from rolling her eyes at him as she pushed herself up out of the chair, and he couldn’t help but watch the exaggerated sway of her hips as she walked over to his makeshift bar. The heat of the room was making the air feel thick in his lungs, and he could feel the sweat dripping down the back of his neck. He tugged at his tie, loosening it, and flicked open the top button of his collar, desperate for relief. Mrs. Elliot had poured herself what sounded like a healthy measure of his whiskey before she spoke again.
“I believe my husband has been unfaithful,” she said, her back to him as she fiddled with the cap of the bottle. “There have been certain signs – late nights, mysterious phone calls. I’m sure you’ve seen such things a hundred times.” She had turned to face him, two glasses of whiskey in her hands, and appeared to be waiting for a response. He gave a noncommittal shrug, and she sighed.
“I need you to find proof of his infidelity.”
Strike smiled wryly. “So,” he said, “you don’t just need a divorce. You need a profitable divorce.”
Her lips tightened, but she did not respond to the needling as he’d hoped she would, remaining silent as she moved back towards him, crossing the office in only a few long strides. She ignored the chair that she had just vacated; instead, she circled around to his side of the desk and lifted herself up to sit on its edge. She passed him the second glass that she had poured, and he accepted it, a little startled. As she crossed her legs, trench coat riding up over her knee, he caught a glimpse of her creamy pale thigh. This close, he could smell her perfume—a heady floral scent, a hint of spice.
“I was told that you were one of the best,” she said, her voice low and throaty. “Are you going to give me what I need?” She took a sip of her whiskey, looking at him appraisingly over the rim of the glass.
“I am one of the best,” he said, grinding out his cigarette and leaning back in his chair. “Which is how I know that you’re full of shit, Mrs. Elliot.”
“That wedding ring is new,” he nodded towards her left hand, where the glinting golden band sat. “You keep fiddling with it.” She dropped her right hand from where she had indeed been twisting the ring around her finger.
Strike took a sip of his whiskey before continuing. “It’s not real gold, either. Your skin has turned a little green, just there. Which means it’s a prop. Disposable.” She stared at him, motionless, her eyes wide, but she didn’t look afraid, or offended. Strike flicked his gaze over her, taking in the rise and fall of her chest, her breaths rapid and shallow; her pink cheeks; the darkening of her eyes as her pupils dilated.
He stood up slowly, moving to stand in front of her, leaning forward to brace his arms on the desk, caging her in. Her full, red lips parted slightly as she exhaled a shaky breath.
“And a married woman, even if she was looking for a divorce,” he murmured into her ear, close enough brush her golden hair with his lips, as he grasped the end of the belt cinching her trench coat and continued, “would not have come into my office-” he tugged the belt, undoing the knot, “-dressed like this.”
He pushed the edges of her coat apart, rough fingers brushing against smooth skin, revealing her to his gaze. She held herself stock still as he took in the swell of her breasts, rising from a crimson lace bra. A garter belt crossed the smooth, pale expanse of her stomach, made of the same rich red lace, its straps holding up the silk stockings that encased her long legs. She wore nothing else beneath the coat, nothing to cover her bare thighs or the thatch of golden curls that he could see nestled at their apex.
“Tell me, Robin Elliot,” he breathed, meeting her eyes with his. He was sure that she could see the desire burning in them; her tongue flicked out, almost unconsciously, to moisten her lips. “What is it that you really need?”
She lifted a hand to rest against his chest, her touch light, her nails, he noticed, painted the same bright red as her lips. He took her hand in one of his, and then, with a nimble speed that belied his size, dropped his other hand to the pocket of her trench coat. She jerked back, but he held her wrist firm as he rummaged in the pocket and pulled out a mobile phone. Only then did he release her, swiping at the screen of the mobile with one thick finger to reveal the application, still running, that was recording every word they said.
“Blackmail, is it?” He scowled at her, hitting the stop button, then tossed the mobile onto his desk. “What a piss-poor plan. All this effort to – what? Get a recording of me fucking a client? Big effing deal.”
She cocked one well-groomed eyebrow at him. She seemed more amused than upset, sitting there on his desk, barely dressed, her plan as exposed as she was. How could she look so cool, so collected, Strike wondered, as he felt his shirt stick to the sweat collecting on his back.
“Well, that’s a shame,” she said with a little half-shrug. “I was rather looking forward to this assignment.” With that, she moved as if to slide off his desk.
“Not so fast,” he growled, as he dropped a hand to her waist, holding her in place, his fingers digging into her soft skin. She stilled.
“I’m afraid whoever’s paying you is going to be disappointed,” he said, reaching his other hand up to run through those golden waves of hair, pushing them away from her neck before leaning down to breathe in the scent of her skin under that perfume, pressing his massive body against hers.
“But there’s no reason for you to be,” he whispered into the joining of her neck and shoulder, his lips just brushing against her skin. “I’m going to give you exactly what you need, Mrs. Elliott.” He bit down, gently, and felt rather than heard her sigh as her head fell back, exposing the long line of her throat to him.
Her breathy little moans, the shiver of her skin against his lips, the goosebumps he could feel rising on her arm as he dragged his fingers along it: these were the rewards for the slow path of his mouth across her collarbone, the touch of his lips and tongue kept deliberately light, grazing where he desperately wanted to devour.
Her fingers were tangled in his dense curls, her grip tight as she arched into him. He smoothed one hand down over the skin of her stomach, along one of those soft pale thighs, until he reached her knee where he pushed gently, urging her legs apart. They fell open easily, without resistance, and he pulled back to look at her.
Her eyes were dark with arousal, her chest heaving. His own breathing sounded ragged and harsh in the silence of the office as he slid his hand down to cup the muscles of her calf.
“Do you need me to touch you?” he asked, voice hoarse with desire. He was moving both of his hands over her legs now, stroking her through the silk of her stockings, along the bare skin of her thighs, almost as soft.
“Yes,” she breathed, dropping her hand from his head to run along his arm and take his hand to guide it, but he pulled back just before his fingers brushed against those glistening golden curls.
“Show me,” he managed to rasp. Her eyes widened, but she nodded and leaned back, just a little. She lifted a hand to cup her breast, squeezing gently and dragging her thumb across the bump of her nipple, clearly visible through the lace. Strike watched intently, his mouth dry, as her other hand, with those bright red nails, slid down, coming to rest between her thighs, her fingers moving to trace along her slick folds, circling and pressing against her clit. His eyes wandered over her, drinking in every movement of her hands, the bright red flush spreading across her chest and up her neck, her white teeth biting down on her bottom lip, the flickering excitement in her eyes as she watched him watching her.
The musky scent of her arousal, the slick sound of her fingers, the sheen of sweat glistening on her chest, were driving Strike to distraction. The ache of his erection, rock hard and straining against the fabric of his trousers, was becoming tortuous; almost unconsciously, he dropped one hand to squeeze and stroke himself through the fabric of his trousers, seeking some measure of relief.
Her eyes had slid shut, and he could feel the trembling in her thigh under his hand, the slight rock of her hips as her fingers quickened, the rhythm of her strokes faltering, and as her lips parted in a moan, the thin thread of his self-control snapped completely.
He moved his hands to her hips, his fingers digging into her flesh, and dragged her to the edge of the desk where he could grind into her heat. He bent down to capture her mouth in his, a bruising, crushing kiss, swallowing her startled gasp. She kissed him back, fiercely, her mouth hot and demanding, her tongue tasting of whiskey. He felt her wrap her legs around him, the spikes of her heels digging into his arse as she tilted her hips up, pressing insistently against him.
Strike wasn’t sure how his belt and trousers came undone, or even who had undone them; but Robin’s hand was wrapped around his cock and he was groaning into her neck and then he was sinking into her, burying himself inside of her, her teeth digging into his shoulder and his hands clenched on her arse.
He held still for a breathless moment, her wet heat wrapped around him, the pulse of her muscles caressing him. He dropped his head, trailing biting kisses down her chest and over the creamy pale flesh of her breast, taking her nipple into his mouth, his tongue dragging over the rough lace, the damp friction making her whimper. She slid a hand between them, but he pushed it away, rubbing circles over her clit with his own thumb as he began to move, thrusting deeply into her.
She brought her hands up to his chest instead, tugging at the end of his tie, pulling at his shirt, ripping it open to reveal his mass of dark chest hair- he heard the ping of buttons flying, and started to protest, but was cut short by her mouth returning to his, her teeth nipping at his lips, her hands slipping under his collar to scratch down his chest, across his back
She was everywhere, all around him, he was drowning in the smell and taste and feel of her. He pushed her back onto the desk as the pace of his hips sped up, frantic and pounding, setting a punishing rhythm. She dropped her face to his shoulder and swore incoherently, a bit of Yorkshire drawing out her vowels. He cradled her head in one big hand, twining it through her rose gold hair, tugging it back so that he could kiss her again, deeply, his tongue mimicking the motion of his hips; and then he felt her fall apart, clenching around him as he swallowed her keening cry, felt the sharp pain of her fingernails digging into his back, the quivering of her thighs where they were pressed into him.
A few strokes more, as she peppered soft, lazy kisses along his neck, and the slow heat was building in the base of his spine, rippling fire pulsing and throbbing through him; an incoherent shout and he was jerking, spilling inside of her, his head buried in her sweet-smelling hair.
One brief moment of floating ecstasy, and then he was back on earth: his knee a bit sore, his skin slick with sweat and sticking to hers where they were pressed together, the stifling heat pressing down on him as he struggled to draw breath. He felt her shift against him, but she was only moving her hand, bringing it around to stroke against his chest -
"What?" He pulled back to look at her, and somehow, before his eyes, she became Robin Ellacott again, his Robin—her smile gentler, broader; her eyes brighter; an easier set to her shoulders.
"I was an assassin the whole time," she said, and then she winked at him, holding up her hand, her thumb and index finger held in the "L" shape, the universal playground gesture for a gun.
He stared, uncomprehending.
"I just shot you," she explained, grinning widely at his confusion. "You know, it's not actually a smart idea to sleep with strange half-naked women who just wander into your office."
"Where the hell would you have been hiding a gun?"
"Let a lady have some secrets," she said, primly.
He collapsed back into his chair, disheveled and dumbfounded and laughing.
"Well, there are worse ways to go, I suppose," he said, when he had gotten himself under control. Robin hummed in agreement, watching him from her perch on the desk.
Strike sighed, closing his eyes and leaning back. His limbs felt like they had been filled with lead, heavy and satisfied. He couldn’t bring himself to muster the energy to get up.
He was considering an attempt to wheel himself out to the stairwell when Robin’s soft voice broke the silence.
"Thank you, Cormoran."
He cracked open one eye to look at her; her smile had faded, leaving her pensive and serious.
"For this. I know it's a bit..." she shrugged.
"Actually, it was better than I thought it would be," he said, slowly. She had been hesitant when she’d brought up this game to him. He imagined that Matthew would have had too much dignity to indulge, to risk looking silly in order to bring her pleasure. "It was…" Intense.Thrilling. Mind-blowing. "...good."
She grinned at him, blushing a little.
"Well, it would have been even better if you'd worn the hat,” she said, nodding her head pointedly at the grey fedora that she had purchased, and that he had deliberately shoved behind a rack of files in the corner of the office, out of his line of sight.
"Absolutely not," he said flatly.
"But it makes you look so dashing, so mysterious." She seemed to be struggling against a fit of giggles, and he rolled his eyes at her.
"It makes me look like a tit."
"Have it your way, then," she shrugged. "I've got to go clean up, we need to be at your sister's for six."
He groaned heavily. He had almost managed to forget about what the rest of the evening held. "Let's skip it. We can order takeaway and spend the evening in bed. We can watch that baking show you like."
"Tempting.” She was shrugging back into her trench coat now, to Strike’s disappointment. “But I did promise Lucy that I'd get you there, so you're out of luck. Unless..." she paused, a slow, sly smile spreading across her face. "I might be persuaded to come up with a reason to leave early."
"Yeah? How?" he asked, suspicious.
She glanced meaningfully at the fedora, then back at him, her eyes sparkling with mischief.
"No. There is no way in hell," he said, glaring at her.
"I’m off to shower, then," she said brightly, ignoring his scowl as she bent over to kiss his forehead.
"I'm not bloody wearing it!" he shouted after the sound of her laughter as it trailed up the stairs.
"Cormoran, what on earth is on your head?"
"Robin picked it out," he said, handing Lucy the bottle of wine they had purchased on their way to Bromley. She accepted it automatically, still staring as she moved aside to let them into the foyer.
"Oh," she said, clearly taken aback. She tilted her head to the side, looking him up and down. "Well, you know, now that I get a good look, I think it quite suits you.”
Strike grinned. It was exactly the reaction he had expected from his sister, in whose eyes Robin could seem to do no wrong.
"It makes you look very dashing," she concluded firmly, patting him reassuringly on the arm as Robin coughed into her hand, not quite succeeding in covering her startled laughter.
Strike followed as Lucy led Robin into the sitting room, asking concernedly if she needed a glass of water. As he passed the large mirror that Lucy had hung on the wall, though, he paused, contemplating his reflection.
On second consideration, he thought that perhaps the fedora wasn’t actually all that bad. It matched the colour of his nicest suit perfectly - Robin had chosen well - and at least it covered most of his hair, which he had never liked. He pushed the tip of the hat down a little, tilting it at a rakish angle. He thought, perhaps, that he might be able to get used to it. And even if he did look like a bit of an idiot, well, at least he was Robin’s idiot.