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Welcome Homes and Wagging Tails

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Phryne sat in her garden, sipping a glass of Mr. Butler’s lemonade, the afternoon sun warming her skin even as it illuminated the pile of unopened letters in front of her. It was a Sunday at the height of summer. After experiencing the first half of a London winter, the heat had been pleasant when she’d returned to Melbourne earlier in the week. Jack had come for dinner almost every night since her return; they hadn’t yet made it to her boudoir, but their kisses and caresses had grown increasingly more heated. When she had come solely from his kisses and his hands fondling her breasts, her thighs around his waist causing her core to rub intimately against his erection, she thought she finally had him. But he had turned her down, citing an early shift as his reason not to accompany her upstairs.

 

She had called him again this morning, hoping to continue their streak of romantic evenings, but he hadn’t picked up and Phryne had decided to catch up on her finances and letters that had piled up during her absence. Mr. Butler was happy to provide refreshments, and the scent of fresh baking drifting out from the kitchen told her that Dot’s chocolate and walnut biscuits would be ready soon.

 

Jack’s mysterious disappearance had a silver lining, though. Jane had been requesting to catch up with her and she hadn’t yet had the time. Her daughter had spent the night at Mac’s, though she should be home soon—with her arms laden with books, if Mac’s accounts of her past visits were anything to go by. Just as the thought crossed her mind, Phryne heard footsteps snaking down the path winding around the side of the house, followed by the small wooden gate being pushed open and Jane dragging through her bicycle.

 

“Hello, I’m back!”

 

Phryne smiled down at her half-finished letter. The sound of Jane’s voice was music to her ears and it reminded her how good it was to be home.

 

“Did you have a good day at Mac’s? Did you come home with half her library again?” Sliding her round sunglasses down her nose, Phryne glared at Jane in mock suspicion as she stepped into view, pushing her bicycle towards the small gardening shed.

 

Jane’s return to Melbourne had unfortunately coincided with Phryne leaving for London, but her chosen family had gone out of their way to ease the sting as best they could. Appealing to her studious side, Mac’s extensive library kept her busy during the weekends, and Jack and Mr. Butler had conspired to buy her her own bicycle. Watching Jane’s eyes twinkling down at her, Phryne felt a rush of affection for her family, and for Jane in particular.

 

“It was wonderful, but no—I couldn’t carry all of the books I wanted on my bicycle,” Jane explained, the undisguised longing in her voice making Phryne chuckle. “We thought it safer to make a list, so you could take them in the Hispano the next time we visit her.”

 

“Well, perhaps I should stay behind. My presence in the car might take up space that could otherwise be used for books.” Phryne raised an amused eyebrow, though inwardly she was delighted that Jane felt comfortable enough to make such a request without a second thought.

 

Phryne was so caught up in her own happiness, it never occurred to her that she hadn’t heard the door close, that a second person as important to her as her daughter could have entered her little paradise.

 

“Just tell me the date—I'll have Collins come and pick you up in the police car. Good afternoon, Miss Fisher. I do hope I’m not interrupting,” Jack said, his voice a physical caress she could feel down to her center.

 

“Jack?” Her eyes fell on the cream-colored labrador that had somehow found its way into her carefully maintained garden. “And that’s a dog.”

 

While the man standing in her garden was most definitely Jack, he was unlike any version of him she had previously encountered. His arms were almost completely bare, and if it wasn’t for Jane, she didn’t think she could have stopped herself from pressing her tongue first to his pulse, then following the veins up his muscular arms to where they disappeared under his delightfully revealing biker’s shirt.

 

His proudly uncovered thighs were the real highlight of this ensemble, conjuring memories of their excursion to Queenscliff. His dip in the water had been the starting point of many delightful fantasies in which she either joined him or their respective assistants were mysteriously absent when he emerged wet and glistening. Though his biking shorts were longer than his bathing suit had been, they left less to the imagination and his thighs were even more muscular than she’d remembered them. It was a good thing they were heading towards something—if this was another Queenscliff situation, her fantasies over the next few days would be particularly torturous. But they were past that now, and she added scraping her nails down his thighs while she pleasured him with her mouth to her list of things to do as soon as she got him naked.

 

Swallowing hard, she averted her gaze from his beautiful legs. If she squinted past him, she could just make out his bicycle—it was so much faster-looking than Jane’s, and her inquisitive mind was quick to supply her with images of him riding it—leaning against the wall. That left the dog as the only remaining mystery.

 

Perhaps it was a stray, though its leash and Jack’s hand resting casually atop its head bespoke a shocking degree of familiarity, far more than was reasonable if he’d acquired the dog during her relatively brief absence.

 

Phryne blinked, forcing herself to look away from the creature’s eyes, which were brighter and more understanding than many of the people she encountered in her line of work. It was rather disconcerting, but while the tenderness in them could rival most humans, they fell short of the heady cocktail of amusement and adoration she saw twinkling in Jack’s gaze.

 

“It is indeed a dog—a very good observation.” The quirk of his lips told her she was being entirely too obvious.

 

She grinned back at him, her heart fluttering lightly, and she reveled in the freedom of revealing the full scope of her surprise to him. “Well, I am a detective.”

 

Jane spoke up then, bouncing up and down excitedly and reminding them that she was there. “I decided to take the long way home and take a detour along the beach, and I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the lovely weather.”

 

“Jane was most insistent that I join you for biscuits and lemonade,” Jack added, his eyes never leaving Phryne’s despite the unfortunate interruption. She could picture the scene well—an overly excited Jane practically running circles around him until he finally acquiesced.

 

“Please, can they stay?”

 

Phryne turned to smirk at Jane, who was looking at her expectantly. “I’m not the one you should be asking,” she said.

 

“Will you stay?” Jane’s attention snapped to Jack, who responded with a twitch of his lips and a corresponding—and quite frankly adorable—tilt of his head.

 

“I could never turn down such a heartfelt invitation,” he promised her, his tone utterly sincere but his eyes doing little to hide his amusement.

 

Phryne was no longer the only one capable of reading his subtle moods and expressions—that much became clear when Jane stuck her tongue out at him before declaring, “Excellent! I’ll go ask Mr. Butler for some chicken scraps.”

 

Watching her go, Phryne thought that the sun suddenly felt a little bit brighter, her lemonade sweeter than it had been before her family entered the scene. Improving matters further, Jack used Jane’s momentary absence to press a kiss to Phryne’s cheek while she was still reeling from the casual intimacy of the whole display.

 

“Hello, Phryne.” He indulged in the use of her first name, nibbling on her earlobe before regretfully retreating to the other side of her little table. His velvety smooth voice still lingered in her ear when he unbuckled the dog’s leash from its collar and it took off. It circled her garden once, then barreled off in the direction Jane had left.

 

Before long, Mr. Butler appeared with a second glass for Jack and a large plate of Dot's biscuits, Jane and the dog following on his heels. She raised scrap after scrap of chicken over her head, shrieking with laughter at the dog’s attempts to snatch them from her, its tongue lolling and paws pounding excitedly against the grass.

 

“If you’re not careful, she’ll come home with a stray soon and you’ll be adding a new member to the Fisher household,” Jack warned, neither of them taking their eyes off the scene. Phryne had to admit it was rather sweet, but having a canine companion full-time didn’t appeal to her in the slightest.

 

“Ugh, I’d rather not if I can help it. I rather enjoy having clean furniture.”

 

“But you don’t mind him being here?” He asked between sips of his lemonade, brows knitting together below his beautiful ruffled curls. Phryne caught her breath; his genuine concern that his companion might be unwelcome made her fall for him all over again.

 

Making any move on him was off the table as long as Jane and Mr. Butler were bustling around the garden, but her hands ached to run through the hair falling over his forehead, to stroke the soft skin of his cheek or breathe in greedy gulps of his clean sweat. She could see the physical evidence of his exertion in his glowing cheeks, and she thought that his scent must be stronger than ever now.

 

“You could have shown up with ten of them, and I would still be more interested in finding out more about your incredibly dashing outfit.”

 

He smiled softly, and Phryne knew that for all her simpering, he could see straight through the facade and glimpse the heart that beat faster whenever she uncovered a new aspect of his personal life.

 

“Jane told you everything there is to know, really. We ran into each other at the foreshore and she took the dog from me and led us here. I just barely managed to keep up with her,” he told her dryly.

 

Watching her daughter now, Phryne didn’t doubt that for a moment. “Can you shake my hand?” Jane was asking the dog. She held out her palm, which it promptly ignored in favor of stealing the chicken out of her other hand.

 

“Hermann, give paw,” Jack commanded, his casual confidence rolling hotly over Phryne’s skin, even as her mind latched on to a different detail with a greedy enthusiasm not unlike the dog’s.

 

“Hermann?” She moved her mouth from side to side to keep from laughing, willing to at least listen to the full story before she teased him about it mercilessly.

 

“He’s my parents’ dog.“ Jack shrugged, though she suspected his cheeks were red from far more than his exertion now. ”Or, well, my parents adopted him after their younger and significantly more athletic neighbor had to move. They rather enjoy taking him for long walks—it keeps them active—but I do my best to provide more strenuous exercise where I can and let them enjoy their weekends in solitude.”

 

“And do you enjoy it?”

 

He didn’t talk much about his family, but the topic of his parents had come up once or twice and she loved the idea that he had two families who loved him. Although it surprised her, affection for Hermann suffused his every word. There was also the matter of Jack’s introverted nature. Truly, a dog seemed the perfect companion for a quiet and thoughtful, yet exercise-loving man with an intense personality like her Jack.

 

“I enjoy the exercise and the ability to let loose. I’ve had more considerate cycling partners in my life, but he’s impossible to tire out and I have never felt more fit.”

 

“And do you always end up in this area?” she asked, feeling rather like a dog begging for scraps but unable to let the matter of his personal life rest.

 

“I try to take him to the foreshore a couple of times a month. I get ice cream and a break out of it, and he is incredibly popular with the children and they keep him entertained. It’s a win-win situation for everyone,” he explained the arrangement to her with a small smile. “If you ever wanted to join us, we’d be happy to take you for ice cream.”

 

Just then Hermann came running toward them, intent on finding out whether Jane’s exhausted supply of chicken would magically refill itself if he went away for a bit. Jack used the opportunity to scratch the soft flesh underneath Hermann’s chin. The effect was instantaneous; he melted against Jack’s leg, drawing a stab of jealousy from Phryne when he pressed his head intimately against his thigh muscles, which were still on full display and glinting mockingly in the sunlight. Phryne raised her own hand warily, stroking along the dog’s warm and surprisingly muscular back. Hermann barely acknowledged her, but Jack’s surprised eyes told her that she’d done the right thing. She wanted access to every facet of his life he was willing to share, and this dog was clearly part of it so she was happy to make an effort.

 

Placing her heart in his waiting hands, she countered his proposal with a bolder one of her own. “How about we go right now?”

 

He stroked his fingers down Hermann’s back to brush delicately against her hand, and when she looked down, the backdrop of creamy yellow fur caused her to chuckle at the absurdity of the situation. Her world was slowly rearranging itself to include this new version of Jack, and her heart stuttered at the realization that the day might still end with them in one of their beds.

 

“No vendor would sell me anything looking like this. I desperately need a shower before I’m fit to rejoin society,” he declined her offer regretfully. Her eyes on his exposed skin were equal parts greedy and tender. She wanted him physically, Jack knew, but she also cherished every minute spent together and the small, steady hints of how much she loved him were an impossible dream come true.

 

“You could do that here. I’ll even let you use my personal bathroom,” she purred. Images of him naked flooded her in a wave, but beyond that, she wanted the domesticity of inviting him into her personal space.

 

Jack squinted at her suspiciously, noticing the newly mischievous glint in her eyes and recognizing a trap when he saw one. “Does that bathroom come with you in it?”

 

She paused for a moment before answering him. “Perhaps.”

 

“Another time,” he growled. Phryne deflated slightly, but she could tell that he was serious. He had another surprise up his sleeve, though, and he delighted in her utter shock upon delivering the second half of his line. “But, if you really want to go, we could go to my house. I’ll take that shower, and we’ll be out and about again in an hour.”

 

“Really?” It was her turn to look incredulous. “You feel no need to go in alone and Phryne-proof the place first?” she asked, unable to believe that he would grant her access to his dog and his home on the same day. She’d spent a great deal of time fantasizing about his living arrangements. Wardlow lent itself to late-night dinner dates when he was working and unable to pinpoint what time he would be available, but she ached to put herself into his shoes, to call his partner’s house her second home and find her place in his little universe.

 

A small, secret smile playing around the corners of his mouth, he said, “No. I want you to feel at home since I’m sure I’ll be seeing a lot more of you in the future.”

 

***

 

Jane was greatly disappointed by their sudden decision to leave. She’d seen enough of Phryne and Jack’s relationship—one night she had come downstairs to refill her cup of tea, only to pause on the landing when she saw them embracing quietly by the front door—to know her presence was unwelcome, but she didn’t let them go until Jack promised that she could join them the following weekend. They agreed that he would take her cycling, and they would meet Phryne at the foreshore for ice cream and perhaps even a swim. Jane and Jack’s blossoming friendship hinted at another facet of her partner that Phryne couldn’t wait to explore.

 

His question of whether she could take Hermann was met with shock—Jack had his bicycle to carry, but that didn’t make his trust in her feel any less like a revelation. The walk to his small bungalow was fairly short; she knew immediately where they were heading once the bright little house at the far end of the street came into view, the front garden far bigger and more vibrant than any of its neighbors. The clack of her low heels as Hermann dragged her up the front walk was punctuated by Jack’s quiet laughter, and he quickly pushed his bicycle into the back garden before unlocking the door to let in his overly enthusiastic dog and equally delighted partner.

 

Once they were all inside, Phryne simply let go of Hermann’s leash and stood frozen in the foyer as if admiring a museum display, unwilling to touch anything lest it disintegrate under her hands. The hallway was short and narrow. A door at its end stood open, the brightly illuminated bookcase adorning the far wall of Jack’s living room piquing her curiosity. With a final glance at Jack, she finally moved in deeper.

 

“It’s lovely in here, Jack. I can see little hints of you wherever I look,” she murmured, running her hand along the back of one of the leather armchairs that took up the majority of the comfortable living room. 

 

“Now you know how I feel whenever I am at Wardlow.” Jack gave her a smile of surprised delight; the light streaming through the glass door leading out into the main garden highlighted his wide mouth beautifully. Standing on the rug that spanned the distance between the two chairs, his scent filling her nostrils with every indrawn breath, she could imagine him sitting here, his face open and vulnerable as he focused on whatever book had most recently caught his attention. Her eyes pricked with tears at the beauty of that mental image.

 

Now that Hermann was off doing whatever dogs did when they were left unsupervised, there was no one here to stop her from wrapping her arms around his waist, her cheek finding its place in the center of his chest where it belonged. If he was surprised, he didn’t show it. He squeezed her hips and hummed in pleasure when she pressed a feathery kiss to the exposed side of his throat.

 

“How do you manage not to open every door and peek into every cupboard?” she asked, angling her head so she could search his face without stepping out of the circle of his arms.

 

He shrugged. “Everything I care about is usually in the room with me.”

 

“Jack.” His name was a worshipful whisper as she molded her body to his.

 

Her desire was a tangible force stroking over her skin, and the hands moving lower to knead her buttocks left her in no doubt that he was just as affected by the situation. She pressed her small breasts more firmly against his chest; he licked his lips at feeling her tight nipples pressed against him, and the sight of his glistening pink tongue set her mind alight with possibilities.

 

When Jack pulled back at the same moment that Hermann strolled into the room, she marveled at how in sync they were before ruefully meeting his gaze.

 

“Is it alright if I just go so we can leave as soon as possible and I can make good on my promise to buy you ice cream? This sweaty hug must feel horrendous to you.”

 

“It didn’t, but do what you must. I’ll have a thorough look around, because you’re right—I plan to spend many more afternoons here in the future.” She frowned briefly in consideration, revising her statement before continuing. “And evenings. And nights. And I know where to find you if I need anything else,” she added, stroking his barely clothed body—and particularly the large bulge visible underneath his biking shorts—with her eyes.

 

His mouth opened slightly, and she imagined she could see fantasies delicious enough to rival her own playing out beneath his strong exterior.

 

“I believe that is my line,” he scolded her for her cheek. “The living room should provide enough material for snooping to keep you busy while I’m gone, but the kitchen is through there if you want something to eat or drink. I’ll leave the garden door open—just let him out if he gets restless.”

 

He pointed down the hall to indicate the kitchen, then moved to open the garden door while her eyes moved inexorably to his arse. It was covered by a layer of fabric that was so thin she was surprised it was considered proper, and that was far less substantial than some of her most revealing lingerie.

 

“Jack? One more thing.”

 

He paused when he felt her hand brush lightly against his wrist. The feeling of her fingertips was like tiny electric shocks flitting over his skin, but her mouth crash-landing on his soon took priority over any other sensations. Her desperate moans tasted like sweetness against his tongue as they found their home in each other’s lips. When their kiss ended, her eyes were slow to flutter open. Her look of lovestruck astonishment in the aftermath of their kisses had been stamped on his memory since he’d seen her off at the airfield. Seeing it again had been one of his highlights of the past week.

 

“I didn’t get to greet you properly,” she excused her behavior—as if he ever needed an explanation and his heart didn’t stutter at the mere notion that she genuinely enjoyed kissing him. “And now hurry,” she grinned.

 

***

 

Phryne took her time exploring every nook and cranny of Jack’s living room, trying her hardest to ignore the sound of running water and all that it implied. She sat experimentally in his armchair—for one of the two chairs was significantly more worn—and then the other, to get an idea of where she would be sitting on evenings spent quietly reading as they drew new strength from each other’s company. This line of thought should have shocked her, but she meant what she said earlier and she could see him in every book scattered around the place, every placement of every piece of furniture.

 

His taste was still on her tongue and her every nerve hummed from his undeniable desire. She had just pulled a linen blanket out of its basket and was fighting the urge to lift it to her nose when Hermann sprinted past her and out into the garden at a break-neck speed. She squeaked, dropping the blanket back into its basket, before trailing the sound of loud barking into the garden.

 

It was beautiful. Her mind took note of the high wooden fences—high enough to contain a dog—before registering the vast array of flowers and vegetable plots turning the space into a little world unto its own. Standing amidst patches of lilies, Hermann was barking at… a tree branch? She followed his line of sight up several small forks, to where the branch merged with the trunk and she saw a sleek black cat with lemon drops for eyes, tail flicking with the judgment of a goddess addressing commoners.

 

Upon closer inspection, Phryne noticed that Hermann was wagging his tail and tapping his paws excitedly between barks. She relaxed slightly—there was no immediate threat—though she still didn’t know what to do. She didn’t think she could just grab the giant beast and carry him back inside.

 

Before she could do something stupid and embarrass herself in front of the cat, Jack’s voice came from behind her.

 

“Miss Fisher? Are the two of you alright?”

 

Phryne nodded. “I think so. The cat must have done something to alert him to its presence.” She’d angled her body to make room in the shadow underneath the tree, but it wasn’t until she tilted her chin up to indicate their intruder that her eyes landed on Jack.

 

Her Jack, who had run outside at the first sign of a commotion, whose fierce love and instinct dictated that he look after her even though she could bloody well save herself. He had come outside. Without getting fully dressed.

 

Jack had donned his suit trousers, which were far less revealing than their cycling-appropriate counterpart. He wasn’t wearing shoes, and the vulnerability of his bare feet sent a little jolt of love through her, but it was the sight of his very bare, very muscular chest that undid her. Droplets of water spilled down his shoulders, licking at his flat nipples and tracing the dips of his muscles in little rivulets. His chest hair was the same mouth-watering golden brown as the thick, damp curls atop his head. While his skin here was lighter than his arms, it was still tan, as if he worked shirtless in the garden on a regular basis.

 

She would need to ask him about that at the next possible opportunity, though it suddenly occurred to her that he’d begun speaking while she was busy admiring him.

 

“That is my neighbor’s cat, Daisy. Hermann is in love with her, though as you can see, it is obviously one-sided. I’m sorry if they startled you,” he said, his intense eyes boring into her. The expression was a perfect match for how she thought he might gaze down at her while pushing himself into her body.

 

She could feel her knickers dampening; his eyes were so full of love, and the distance between them was beginning to feel unbearable. She wanted nothing more than to join their bodies, to show him how much this meant to her as they moved together as one.

 

“Don’t worry about it,” she said, willing him to understand, to match her desire with an admission of his own and signal to her that he was ready.

 

Her heart both leapt up and threatened to break when his expression only grew more concerned.

 

“I’d better take him inside.” He gestured vaguely towards Hermann, who had drifted closer to the tree while neither of them was looking.

 

“Of course.”

 

Phryne and Hermann followed him into the kitchen, the relative darkness draping itself over her like a veil. She watched his back in fascination as he moved deeper into the room, itching to touch the smooth skin stretching from his shoulders to his waistband and beyond. It would erupt in goosebumps under her fingertips, she knew.

 

“I have a bone around here somewhere—he can amuse himself with that while I finish getting dressed.” When he finally found it, he dropped it to the floor and Hermann seized it and disappeared. “If he stages another escape, just scream and I’ll be right there.”

 

She felt a small stab of anger at his obliviousness. Phryne Fisher didn’t pine for any man, not even if the man in question was a half-dressed Jack Robinson whose trousers looked like they might fall off if she so much as looked at them wrong. In the back of her mind, she wondered how he would react if she slipped her fingers underneath his waistband. Dismissing the thought for the moment, she took a deep, shaky breath.

 

“Jack? How long will this keep him busy?”

 

“At least half an hour. Why?”

 

“I have it on good authority that the ice cream man will still be there in half an hour.”

 

“What do you…?” The genuine confusion in his eyes made her want to scream, or call Hermann back so she could borrow his bone and hurl it across the room at him. She glared at him—the man was too beautiful for his own good—and if her eyes snagged on his sculpted upper arms, well, that was only to be expected. The tips of his ears tinting red, he followed her gaze and visibly blanched, as if noticing his bare chest for the first time.

 

“Oh,” he said softly. The realization that he’d genuinely dropped everything only to come to her rescue shouldn’t be as sweet as it was.

 

When she finally kissed him, it wasn’t the sweet dance they’d perfected over the past week, no more maybes in the slide of their lips and tongues so as not to take too much, too quickly. Wherever she touched she encountered vulnerable bare flesh. She confirmed her earlier suspicions by scraping her nails down his back, grinning when he moaned and she felt goosebumps rise to meet her. He tilted his head at her even as their kiss continued, and Phryne felt herself become impossibly more aroused. When his eyes opened halfway, she could see the smugness in them and she instantly knew that this was going to be good.

 

To her surprise, his own hands explored the unknown territory of her legs and arse while she set to work toying with his nipples until he shuddered and groaned. Although she loved to wear trousers, today she was glad to have chosen a skirt. He methodically rucked it up, swallowing her gasps when he reached the top and his knuckles brushed against the skin of her outer thighs. His hands usually stayed on her hips or stroked her back, the dual layers of her blouse and camisole ensuring that they kept up their walls. They had no such protection now, and with her skirt out of the way, his fingers slid easily into the leg hole of her knickers.

 

“You’re incredible,” he grunted, his breath hot and damp against her ear, right as he found her curls and swirled his fingers in her ample moisture.

 

Somewhere in the distance, she could hear the faint tap of paws walking on hardwood, Hermann’s leash clinking as he drifted around the house. Even Jack’s insistence to spend what little free time he had looking after his parents’ dog added to her arousal. He pulled his fingers out of her underwear, and for a brief moment, she thought this was the end. But then he brought his fingers to his nose whilst holding her eyes, and she could see traces of herself glistening on his skin in the low light of the kitchen.

 

One moment, he was breathing her in, and the next, her hands grasped his wrist and lifted his fingers to her mouth. As he watched, her tongue traced every dip and callous, and her lips sucking strongly on his fingers told him just what to do if he wanted to taste her.

 

“Bed?” he asked, his eyes telling her that he understood.

 

Phryne nearly sobbed in relief as she used the hand she was still holding to drag him bodily down the hall. “Yes, darling, yes.”

 

***

 

Jack lay atop Phryne, his head on her shoulder, his hand alternately drawing aimless patterns on her small breast and caressing the soft crease between it and her ribcage. The late afternoon sun skated lazily over their naked bodies, two figures on the edge of sleep. At first, Phryne had blushed when she threaded her leg through his. Her need to keep him close seemed ridiculous after everything they’d just done, but they were both glad of the additional point of contact.

 

She smiled up at the ceiling as he traced the soft underside of her breast once more. He’d called it one of his new favorite parts of her body as she rose and fell above him and he spread his thumbs and forefingers under her breasts, their width spanning her torso. She hoped he would find many more favorites as their relationship progressed. When her gaze drifted back to earth, she found him watching her with twinkling eyes.

 

“You look content.”

 

“I can’t feel my legs,” she told him dreamily, and he chuckled softly at her definition of a compliment.

 

“We should do this again sometime.”

 

Her arms around him tightened—one hand resting on his hip, the other playing with the soft hair at the nape of his neck—and her heart tumbled at the sign that he had confidence in their relationship. Happiness and satisfaction suited him, and she hoped to see a lot more of this soft, relaxed version of him in the future.

 

Just as she considered several more ways she could get him into this state, the reason she’d been introduced to this Jack in the first place appeared in the doorway with a small huff.

 

“Jack, watch out.”

 

“Huh?” he murmured, but by that point it was too late. Phryne thought she might cry with laughter as, the mattress rippling underneath them, Hermann flopped down on the bed and rested his wet nose against the outside of Jack’s upper thigh.

 

He froze, staring down their bodies in complete shock.

 

“Oh my god, he has still got his leash on.”

 

Jack dropped his face between Phryne’s breasts in utter mortification. Though he would never admit it, he rather enjoyed the feeling of her soft flesh trembling against his cheeks as she laughed herself into oblivion.

 

***

 

“How do you feel about… about what happened today?” Jack asked, glancing down at Phryne’s beautiful profile as they strolled arm in arm down the now fully deserted foreshore. Her makeup hadn’t survived the combined onslaught of their lovemaking and the heat of the day, and her bare face looked stunning in the orange glow that came right before total sunset.

 

They hadn’t actually made it outside as soon as Hermann interrupted them. After a quick walk around the block, they had settled in for a longer nap and hadn’t reached the beach until it was nearly dark out. The downtime had done them good. Unsecured by his leash, Hermann was walking up ahead to allow his humans ample privacy. The dog would need a bath, and that was certain to be unpleasant, so he’d made the diplomatic decision not to tell her about it until he absolutely had to. 

 

For now, he was too busy gazing at her as she tilted her head to look up at him with a smile. “Ah, seeing you with a dog has been a lot to wrap my head around.”

 

Jack chuckled. “Phryne…”

 

She took a lick of one of the ice cream cones they had procured mere minutes before closing time. They’d interrupted the vendor in the middle of packing up. While a sunny smile and a tip from Phryne took care of the man’s disdain, it was still the end of the day and the range of available flavors was limited.

 

With a small grimace, she pressed the lemon-flavored cone into his hand, then took a much more satisfying lick of Jack’s chocolate chip cookie ice cream.

 

“I was actually hoping that we’d end up here today,” she confessed. Her voice sounded slightly shaky, but she hoped he could hear the sincerity in it. “I called you this morning, a couple of hours before you turned up, hoping you’d be available.”

 

“I’m sorry about that. A certain someone demanded that we leave immediately after waking up.” He gestured toward Hermann, and Phryne was almost relieved to have found the one aspect of his weekend routine that wasn’t absolutely perfect.

 

“Ugh, that sounds utterly miserable,” she complained. Still, the part of her that was already planning out their future thrilled at the idea of him pressing a kiss to her forehead before slipping out early to walk the dog.

 

“But you still found me in the end, didn’t you?”

 

With that, the rational part of her brain evaporated entirely.

 

“Yes, I did.”

 

“Was it the cycling gear that undid you today?” His tone sounded teasing, but Phryne could tell that he was genuinely curious.

 

She understood the impulse. The past week had been an exercise in patience. After everything they’d been through, their minds were two steps behind their bodies, unable to believe their luck. She leaned slightly into him, reveling in the feel of his arm tightening around her waist, the sand under their bare feet, his warm breath gusting over the top of her head as they stopped, gazing out at the black ocean.

 

“That was certainly part of it,” she began quietly, “as was your conversation with Jane and you letting me into your home. All of you undid me, Jack. Thank you for letting me in.”

 

He shot her a slightly wobbly smile. “I’m just happy to be able to return the favor.”

 

In a flash, she remembered their earlier conversation about finally understanding his experience being at Wardlow. She leaned in and kissed him as the water lapped at their feet and the sun disappeared below the horizon. The dreadful tang of lemon on his tongue gave way to his unique flavor, which was slowly coming to mean home to her.