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It was eighteen minutes to eight in the evening. I had been watching the clock on the wall of the dining room like my existence depended on it; and interchanging it with looking at my own pocket watch, as if it would make a difference. It was only twelve minutes past our decided time, and Bunny was often late; yet my fingers would not cease to make the table into a war drum, and the wine glass remained untouched. I changed in my seat again, pulling out another Sullivan and lighting it. He would come. (I inhaled.) He was only late. (A perfect ring floated towards the ceiling.)

The next moment I sat up straight. He had entered, and was looking around with the usual look of apprehension on his face. In another second he had spotted me, and promptly made his way to our table.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” he said, and sat down without ceremony.

I waved off his apology.

“Don’t be. I took the liberty to order the wine—a fine Merlot, seemed too good to pass up—but the rest of the menu is yet to be decided. I think we are due for a celebration, though; and I saw a thing or two that should make for one.”

“Sounds good,” he said, with an attempted smile. “I take it you already… then?”

“First thing this morning.”

“Satisfactory?”

“No more, but no less.”

“Well done.”

I smiled and raised my glass, and he compliantly clinked his own against it. The look on his face I had hoped not to see today was nevertheless there.

“How did you sleep?” I asked, in a lower voice.

He stiffened, but did not avert his gaze from mine. I met it with a half-smile and raised eyebrows; he relaxed, and gave a short laugh.

“Well, I suppose. You?”

I nodded. For a few moments we sipped our wine in silence; then the waiter came, and we placed an order for a smaller meal than I had had in mind, but one which would nevertheless do nicely. We had our meal; we went to the club; we walked back to the Albany; and no more did we say about the events that had transpired the night before, nor of the theft of the Melrose necklace, until we reached Burlington Gardens. Bunny’s arm had naturally slipped under mine as we had left the club. It was a still night, a warm night, with stars twinkling brightly in a sky of dark marine—not a night for wearing gloves. As we stopped in front of the Albany entrance, I released his arm and took his hand for the first time that evening; it burned like fire in mine. His eyes met mine, suddenly alight like the skies above, and I stepped in closer.

“I won’t ask you to come up if you don’t want to,” I said quietly.

He took a deep breath, holding my gaze.

“I do want to,” he whispered. “But I think not, tonight.”

A most irrational stone sunk in my chest while I smiled and pressed his hand. We said our good-byes, and I watched him walk away down the empty street. It was not the first time his conscience got the better of him, after all; and it would not be the last. He always did come back around.

Only this time, the stakes were different, and the reward perhaps not sufficient. I took one last look at the sky. Then I turned around, and went up to my rooms alone.