Raffles did not waste a moment to empty the content of the bag all over the coffee table. It was near morning, and we were back in the safety of the Albany; successful, and a great deal richer than mere hours before. I stood watching from the door as Raffles explored and examined: shimmering silver running through his fingers, water-like; glittering diamonds, glistening sapphires; rubies burning in the electric light.
It was all too bright.
“I’m sorry, A.J.,” said I hastily, not quite sure I wanted to bring the matter up, but certain I would not be able to rest until it was sorted.
Could he look up, at least? I fingered on the collar of my jacket, drew a deep breath.
“I am sorry about before,” I clarified, desperately pushing past the tremble in my voice. “I didn’t mean to—it was a mere impulse, you know… I had been drinking. I’m sorry.”
At last he raised his gaze, but it was a puzzled face that looked on mine.
“What on earth are you talking about, Bunny?”
Moonlight, the scent of mock orange, the lights from the house shining softly through the night. Was it really such a trivial matter to him? He had been standing so blissfully close, attentively listening to the darkness, a smile on his lips; and it had seen, to my intoxicated mind, the most natural thing to bestow a gentle kiss on those lips when he whispered it was time. After all, it had not been the first: twice in his rooms at Albany, once in my own rooms; and once on a deserted country road, between a waltz and the last train to Victoria. Each one had been reciprocated, met with tenderness, and even a hint of passion; but tonight he had pushed me away, annoyed, and told me to be serious—and now it seemed he had forgotten the whole thing! I did not know which was worse.
“I’m sorry if I have made you uncomfortable,” I clarified, as steady as I could manage, “and if I have overstepped… the boundaries of our friendship, I don’t want to—” I took a deep breath, then continued hastily, “—I don’t wish to do anything to jeopardise our relationship, and if it makes you uncomfortable, if it bothers you, I will stop, and I’m sorry, I’m really sorry.”
By the end of this rambling apology I was looking at my trembling hands, for his face had finally lit up in understanding. For a few dreadful moments all was silent. Then came an exasperated laugh, and I looked up. Raffles was shaking his dark head at me in disbelief, his eyes a silver-blue mix of annoyance and affection.
“You are an impossible little rabbit,” said he. “It was not the time; that was all.”
Meeting the warm gleam in his eye, it was as if the storm had instantly turned into a gentle breeze.
“You mean… you don’t mind?” said I.
“Did I appear to mind the last time?” he smiled. “You hurt me—I thought I made myself quite clear.”
I must have blushed terribly, for the smile immediately became an impish grin.
“Well, I’m not a mind reader,” I said with some heat. “And then you push me away—”
“Is that so strange,” he retorted in the same tone, “at such a critical moment? Besides,” he added, “I never drink on the job, which you perfectly well know.”
Now that was unfair, I thought—had it not been he who had prompted another one on me, making certain my nerves stayed in check for the night? I was about to protest—when the intent of his remark dawned on me, and I was left staring with my mouth half open.
The man was never touched by anything—surely he could not mean it. But to my surprise (and delight), his cheeks turned a darker shade under my gaze, as his quickly sought a ruby gold chain on the table. I watched him turn it over in his hands for a few moments as I revelled in this new discovery.
“I did not realise,” I said at last.
He looked up, and for some moments regarded me in silent frustration.
“Wine cannot compare, I’m afraid,” said he at last.
I could not help but grin foolishly, and he shook his head with another little laugh.
“Will you come here,” he pleaded then, reaching out his hand, and I gladly obliged.
He smelled of the summer night air when I joined him on the sofa. Putting his arm around me, he dragged me closer, until his glittering eyes were but all that was visible to me. I placed a hand gently on his neck, sensing a slight tremble; I let my fingers wander up the nape to touch his soft curls, and he closed his eyes.
“You’re not taking the stuff to your fence this morning then?” I said, remembering how eager he had been only minutes earlier.
“Hm? Oh, it can wait a day… or ten,” he murmured with a smile. “Will you kiss me already?”
So I did, and it was a sweeter sensation than ever before.