Chapter 1: Aftermath
The room was stark and bare; white walls brightly lit by a large standing lamp. There was a small sitting area where their effects had been placed, and an uncomfortable looking double bed at the other end of the room.
“Well,” said Jack, more than a little tersely, once they were alone. “Was this what you had in mind when you declared yourself my fiancé?”
Phryne moved to the couch and sat in a cloud of fabric. “Not exactly,” she said mulishly. The seat was lumpy, too. All in all, the hospitality of the town was rather lacking.
“I'm sure you thought you were being terribly clever,” he continued mercilessly, pacing back and forth in front of her.
“It was a perfectly reasonable cover story.” Ignoring his movements, she opened her purse and began to sort through it. “What was your explanation for why an unmarried man and woman would be travelling together?”
“Perhaps,” he said, “that one of them was a police officer, and that the other was a meddling-”
“Oh, come on, Jack”
“Well, it's done now.” She gave a mirthless little laugh.
“Yes. It's done.” He crossed to the window and flicked the curtains shut. “Do you think they're waiting outside for...”
“Confirmation?” she suggested.
“I was going to say to prevent our escape. We were just marched down the aisle at gunpoint by the psychotic locals.”
“Still. Damn, they took my lipstick as well as my pistol. Savages.” Jack shot her an amused look. “What? A husband should understand his wife's need to look her best at all times.” She looked in her compact and smoothed back her hair. In the reflection, she saw Jack loosen his tie and start to remove his jacket. “Jack!”
He paused and turned in response to her delighted exclamation. “Well, there's nothing more we can do until Collins gets here with the evidence in the morning. Since this is exactly where we want to be, it seems pointless to go to all the effort of escaping.”
Phryne slipped her lock pick out of its hiding place and waved it forlornly at him. “And you know that I'm always so disappointed when I don't get to utilise all of my talents.” She pouted.
He gazed at her for a moment, eyes dark with an emotion she couldn't identify. “Well, perhaps you'll get to exercise some different ones tonight,” he said in a husky voice, and moved towards the bed.
She sat up very straight, eyes wide. “Such as?” she purred, anticipation thrilling through her.
“Well, Miss Fisher-” he paused. “Mrs Robinson?”
Phryne shuddered. “I think you'll find that during our imaginary engagement we decided that I would keep my name.”
He smiled at that, and undid his cuffs. “Quite right, too. Well, I shall be over here,” he sat on the bed, “sleeping, so that you may practice the art of silence. I know how you enjoy a challenge.” He swung his legs up onto the bed, and Phryne realised that he'd already taken off his shoes at some point.
She contemplated his position on the bed for a moment.
“You know,” she said seriously, “there were enough irregularities in the paperwork that it will be easy enough to fix this.”
He didn't say anything for a long time. She put down her purse and slid off her hair ornaments and other jewellery. Slipped off her shoes. As she stood he murmured sleepily, “I know.”
She eyed him for a moment. He seemed worn out, though whether by the day's events or by the situation they now found themselves in she wasn't sure. Still, she was generous enough not to push at the moment, even though it was her natural inclination. With that in mind, she shimmied out of her beaded dress and stole his jacket from the back of the chair to cover her slip and knickers. It was still warm from his body, and smelled like him. She found she quite enjoyed wearing it, even if it scratched the bare skin of her arms a little.
Cautiously, waiting for him to object, she went to perch on the other side of the bed. As it shifted under her weight he crossed his arms over his chest and grumbled slightly, but didn't open his eyes. She switched on the bedside lamp, and then got up to turn off the main one by the door. Lying down next to him, she stared up at the ceiling. She didn't feel tired at all. It had been a somewhat eventful day, and Jack wasn't entirely wrong that she may have precipitated the situation they found themselves in.
She could afford to hire the best lawyers in Australia, and she wasn't lying when she said there were irregularities in the proceedings. If nothing else, she had made certain to misspell her name and change her signature. And if they could confiscate it before it was ever filed... Of course, that was merely the purely legal side. There might be other after effects. Phryne knew that Jack took marriage very seriously, and he would not have found it easy speaking those vows again.
“Jack?” She turned onto her side, facing him, and pillowed her face on one hand. It was a small bed, and there were scant few inches between them. He made a small noise of acknowledgement. “Jack?”
“I am still awake,” he said, voice slightly raspy. “So you needn't poke at me, Miss Fisher.” She guiltily withdrew her outstretched hand from halfway between them, wondering how he had known. He didn't open his eyes, but his expressive mouth turned up slightly at the corner. She gazed at his lips for a moment, strangely fascinated. It was unusual to see him so unguarded, and to be able to watch without him knowing.
She rolled onto her back again, and blew her hair away from her face. “What do you think of, when you think of marriage,” she asked idly.
“What does it mean to you,” she clarified, curious.
“Commitment,” he answered slowly, drowsily. “Love. Fidelity. Loyalty.” He started to sound a little more awake. “It was having someone to wake up to every morning, to look at and know that you had chosen each other. Wanted to be with each other. At least,” he sighed, “that was how it was once.”
“I'm sorry, Jack,” she said sincerely.
“Rosie and I-” He stopped. “I suppose that I've come to value honesty and communication a lot more.” She heard a rustle as he turned his head. “What about you? What would you want in a marriage?”
Her instinctive reaction was of course to say she would never get married, and that answer lay heavily on the tip of her tongue. It would be too ironic in their current situation, however, and leave her open to endless teasing. And his honestly made her think about her answer. What would she want, hypothetically?
“I suppose I've always just looked at it as being trapped,” she mused quietly. “I'm not sure what I'd want.”
She breathed in, and out, and traced patterns on the strip of covers between them with her fingers. Her legs were cold, in just her stockings. She hadn't considered the possibility of any long term relationship, or what she'd look for in one, for a very long time. Lin, dear man, had been the only lover she'd cared for at all in the last year or two, and she had been unwilling to commit to anything deeper there. She had been surprisingly sanguine at his loss.
“Trust,” she said softly, when she thought Jack might be asleep. “Freedom. Love. And friendship.” She felt slightly unsure of herself even as she said the words, as though answering at all was betraying too much.
His fingers gently bumped against hers, and she drifted to sleep.
Chapter 2: Her Move
Phryne had no intention of being known as, or remaining, married. Hugh and Dot, when they arrived, were merely told that Jack and Phryne had been locked in a room to keep them out of trouble the previous night (and she assured Dot that he had been a perfect gentleman). Phryne had taken the opportunity, while Jack and Hugh had been arresting half the village, to sneak into the church office and slip the marriage certificate into her purse. She could only find the one copy though, even after thoroughly searching the morning's outgoing post, which suggested that the other had already been sent away the day before.
Jack had tilted his head and raised an eyebrow at her when she returned, and she had smiled and said she would take care of any remaining matters.
So she found herself in possession of one marriage certificate, declaring that a Phryne Fischer had married Jack Robinson. She wasn't quite sure whether that made them married or not.
Once she was alone that evening, she took it out of her purse, and looked at it. The official copy wouldn't have been filed by the government yet, and, depending how fast her solicitors moved, possibly never would be. She would have to telephone them first thing in the morning.
It was an odd feeling - to be not quite, but maybe, but soon to be definitely not, married. And to Jack Robinson. Jack, whom her thoughts had bent towards far more often than they ought, until she had given up on restraining them entirely. Jack, who, despite his soft looks and more and more frequent smiles, showed no signs of actually entering into anything with her. She'd thought after he had severed contact with her after Gerty Haynes' motor vehicle accident, after he had given her up and she had pushed her way back in, that they might talk then. Perhaps she had even been ready to. She'd tried to open matters up by discussing their partnership, by commenting that a good waltz was 'slow and close,' but she had sensed such a reluctance from him to discuss it further that she had left it alone. Which was unlike her.
Things had been stewing ever since.
She sighed, and tapped the document against her lips. She couldn't marry him of course, although Jack was the marrying kind. But she had thought they were starting to make their way towards some sort of middle ground. The night that they had toasted Dot and Hugh's engagement, Jack had stayed late into the night playing the piano for her. She joined in the songs occasionally, but mostly she had just listened, watching his fine fingers draw beautiful music out of the keys, feeling the richness of his voice echo through her. His thigh had pressed warm and strong against hers on the piano stool, and endless possibilities had flitted through her mind. And then when he had said to her, after they had arrested Sanderson and Fletcher, that he didn't always do the noble thing, she had thought that finally, finally...
It was her move now, perhaps. That was quite possibly as close to a declaration as he would get without some further sign from her. She just had to work out the best way of giving it to him, since her customary flirting wasn't doing the trick.
Chapter 3: Playing Without Thinking
The next day the solicitors had been called, her social calendar was disturbingly clear, breakfast had been suitably devastated, and Phryne found herself at a bit of a loose end. She arranged to go for a drive in the countryside with Dot later (her companion put on a long suffering but suitably brave face) and then made her way to the police station.
“Good morning, Miss Fisher,” Hugh said as she came in. She placed a package on the desk for him, and he didn't even attempt to stop her going into the inspector's office. He was well trained now, that one.
“Jack,” she greeted cheerfully as she swung through the door.
Jack was leaning back in his chair, eyes scanning a report. He very deliberately didn't look up at her entrance for several moments before he lowered his paperwork and his lips twitched in a small smile.
“Miss Fisher,” he said, mock sternly. “There is a small custom called knocking, which all of my officers seem to have mastered.”
“I'm not one of your officers, Jack.”
“No, and yet no one else should be entering here without permission.” He leaned slowly to one side to see around her, and got a clear view of his constable enjoying the goodies she had brought. Phryne didn't have to look behind her to imagine Hugh freezing like a startled animal.
She carefully drew the door shut behind her, cutting off Jack's line of sight, and his attention snapped back to her. It was a very heady feeling, having Jack's full attention.
“And what can I do for you this morning?” Jack said, slightly warily, leaning forward in his chair.
“I just wanted to drop by and see how you were doing.” She smiled innocently at him. His expression didn't change. “And to bring you some scones that Dot made.” He glanced at her empty hands. “Which I left outside with Hugh.”
“I see,” Jack said drily. “Mission accomplished then. Good day, Miss-” He broke off mid sentence as she came around behind his desk and leaned her hip against it, well into his personal space. In fact, his eye line was exactly level with her chest. He stared at the neckline of her dress for a moment before valiantly looking up at her face “-Fisher.”
“What fascinating cases are you working on today?” she asked, as though he hadn't spoken.
“No new murders, if that's what you're asking.” Jack laced his fingers together on the desk. When she stayed unmoving, he added, “Actually I'm writing up the account of what happened over the last two days.”
“That must make for interesting reading,” she said, and arched an eyebrow.
He looked slightly uncomfortable. “Well, there are some matters which are superfluous to the outcome and the arrests, and therefore haven't been included in the report.”
“I see.” She smirked, and reached across to play with a pen on his desk. Her hand deliberately brushed over his on the way. “I wanted to clear up some particulars relating to that last case.”
“Yes?” he asked, voice perfectly steady. It was rather difficult to get a rise out of him today. “Was there anything unresolved?”
“Well, certain things are currently at the whim of the postal service and my very excellent lawyers,” she said confidentially, “but that's not what I'm worried about.”
His eyes darted up to meet hers. “What are you worried about?” he asked slightly nervously.
“I know you didn't have much time to prepare, and there was a lot of pressure, but I always thought you'd be the sort of man to do things right.” His look of puzzlement was priceless. “Where's my ring, Jack?” she asked laughingly, and was gone before the stunned look left his face.
He called her bluff and bought her one, of course. Not anything that would be identified as a wedding ring, or an engagement ring, but a slender, simple, silver band. It was nothing she would normally wear, but she instantly adored it.
The day after she had seen Jack, Mr Butler had handed her a thick envelope when she returned from lunch with a friend. Opening it, she had found several sheets of newspaper concealing a hard, circular shape between them at the bottom. She had excused herself to open it in private, and had to admit to feeling a certain amount of girlish glee at drawing out the ring; at finding it fit exactly.
There was a long silver chain in her jewellery collection which was perfect. When she threaded the ring onto it and put it on, the ring nestled comfortably between her breasts. She could wear it all the time, depending on how daring her outfit, and no one would ever know. She was getting a ridiculous amount of entertainment out of being secretly (and not properly at all) married to Jack.
When her lawyers called with an update, they told her that they had tracked everything and should be able to obtain and deal with the relevant documents immediately once they received her confirmation. Except that Phryne found herself suddenly reluctant. She told them that she would call them back.
She didn't quite understand her own reaction. The certificate wouldn't stand up to any legal scrutiny. Though they had been through the church ceremony together, Phryne hadn't had to sign over all her possessions to Jack, wasn't dependant on him, wasn't married to him as far as she was concerned. And yet, somewhere a document existed that suggested that they were more than acquaintances, more than friends. And she rather liked that – having the suggestion without any of the attendant downsides of actual marriage.
Just owning the certificate provided her with that, of course. Having another one floating out there, being disturbingly close to becoming official, wasn't helping. So an hour later she contacted her lawyers, and said that they should go ahead with cancelling all official documentation.
The matter stayed on her mind, however, and over the next few days she found herself playing with the ring absently without thinking – drawing it out from under her clothing to turn it over and over in her fingers. Dot nearly caught her twice, and Mr Butler did catch her several times, although of course he said nothing about it. Still, she was behaving very foolishly, and admonished herself firmly to leave it alone or stop wearing it. She told herself that she just needed to hear back finally that this whole thing was done, and then she could put this whimsy behind her.
She wondered sometimes, in quiet moments, if Jack wished that they were really married; that they hadn't been forced into it, that she hadn't misspelled her name, that she hadn't gone ahead and 'fixed' everything.
Chapter 4: What the Doctor Said
“You what?” laughed Mac, clearly not taking Phryne seriously for a second.
“Not willingly, I assure you,” said Phryne with a sly smile and a sip of her martini. “But there was a church and an altar and everything. I could feel myself turning in my grave, and I'm not even dead yet!”
Mac gave her a brief reproving look. “I still don't believe you. What happened?”
“We were in this frightful little town carrying out some honest snooping when we got caught red handed in the church, looking into the priest's paperwork.”
“The priest was a murderer?” Mac looked as though this wouldn't surprise her at all. She had about as much faith in men of the cloth as Phryne did.
“Actually no, though it turned out he was covering for one. And, unfortunately, was completely insane. I came up with the cunning cover story that we were engaged, and looking to get married away from our Parish in order to – do you know, I can't even remember what I said?” Mac coughed, and made some comment about the things that came out of Phryne's mouth. “Mac! Anyway, like I said, completely insane, swore he'd seen us partaking in sinful touching, and-”
“What? No.” Phryne paused and sighed in disappointment. “Alas. Anyway, the local councillor accompanying him – not, not the murderer either – had a very impressive rifle, we were relieved of all our possessions, and after he and the...” She noticed Mac's eyes glazing over. “Anyway, it ended up with us standing in the church, both of us with weapons pointed at us, and however we tried to reason with them the priest just kept right on with the ceremony. And we couldn't say we weren't really engaged at that point, because they would have just shot us to cover up the murder. There were only a couple of people there not in it up to their eyeballs”
“So you're... married.” Mac tried the word out slowly, like an exotic dish one was a bit dubious about but obliged to sample.
“Not really,” Phryne said breezily. “I mean, I signed my name wrong and added an extra letter, so I don't think it counts. It should all be sorted out quietly in the next day or two. I haven't told anyone else.”
“So, not married?”
“No,” Phryne said definitely. “Though this will give me material to tease Jack with about for a good long time. Look, he even got me a ring.” She drew it out of her clothing, and showed it to her friend.
“He got you a ring.” Mac stated flatly, and she stared at Phryne as though Phryne was being particularly dim-witted.
“Well, yes! But it was a joke. He only did it after I asked for one!” Phryne said defensively. She closed her hand around the ring and held it tightly in her fist.
“After you asked for one,” Mac repeated. “I see.” She leaned back in her seat and downed her drink. “After you asked for one!” And then she began to laugh hysterically.
“What? Mac?” Phryne gave her friend a cross look for finding this so hilarious, then shrugged philosophically and finished her own drink as well. She'd barely opened her mouth to call for him when Mr Butler delivered a fresh tray. “Hmm.”
Taking one of the new glasses, Mac calmed down. She finished that one in two gulps as well, while Phryne watched. Then she rubbed her forehead with thumb and forefinger, and said, sounding completely sober. “Phryne, does Jack think you're married?”
Phryne blinked, taken aback. “No, I told you, I misspelled-”
“I'm not asking if there was a problem with the paperwork. I'm not asking if you can legally stop it. I'm asking if Jack Robinson thinks you two are currently married?”
“Of course not,” Phryne said immediately. Then, with a sinking feeling in her stomach, “Why, do you think he might?”
“Well, you were 'married in the sight of God,' and all that. How seriously does he take it?”
Phryne didn't know. She'd worried that this might bring up issues for him, might have repercussions for any future relationship between them, yes. But it hadn't occurred to her that he might actually think...
“We haven't actually talked about it at all,” she admitted.
Unfortunately it turned out her lawyers ran into similar problems. When one of the witnesses listed (the only one not in jail) was contacted routinely before the matter was dismissed, they testified that Miss Phryne Fisher had married Mr Jack Robinson on the specified date. If she had accidentally misspelled her name, or got her signature wrong, well, people made those mistakes all the time. Women were silly creatures, after all, easily distracted. Soon enough fixed with a new certificate, registered with witnesses to formalise the legal side of things. Her lawyers were pursuing the angle that they had been forced into it, but even then they had technically said the vows.
It all came down to how strong an argument 'in the sight of God' was, versus the fact that currently there wasn't the correct supporting paperwork. If she'd asked Dot, Phryne knew which side her companion would come down on. This was all becoming more of a headache than Phryne had hoped it would be.
And in the midst of all of this, she invited Jack for dinner.
Chapter 5: The Invitation
One line sentences have started turning into whole chapters. This one should have read: Phryne visited the station, and invited Jack for dinner.
Phryne didn't say, 'Come around and we'll discuss the case, maybe around 8? I'll ask Mr Butler to prepare something.'
Nor, 'Stop by on your way home from the station tonight,' and 'Oh, we're just about to have dinner, why don't you join us?'
No, though those methods had proved very effective at luring Jack into staying for the evening before, Phryne felt that this time some clarity of intention was warranted.
Dot frequently took lunch to Hugh at the station, and it wasn't unusual for Phryne to join her. Sometimes Jack would come out of his office, and they would make a merry party stood around the front desk for a while. Other times, as today, Phryne would excuse herself to give the couple some privacy, and find her way into Jack's office.
This time, he wasn't there. Poking her head back around the door, she looked enquiringly at Hugh. “Ah, he's talking to someone in the cells, miss, he'll be back in a minute.”
Well, she thought, closing the door behind her, the mind boggled at the opportunities which presented themselves. There was his desk, his filing cabinets, his personal belongings...
She moved to the filing cabinets and drew out the file on herself. She'd looked before of course, but it never hurt to check if there had been any additions. At one point, there had been the splendid photographs which Hugh had taken when they had almost arrested her, but those had disappeared since. She supposed they weren't official enough. Anyway, there was nothing new. She replaced the file and moved away from the cabinet; Jack would probably be back at any moment, and it was always better not to be caught rifling through police business.
When he came through the door, she was sitting in his chair with her feet up on the desk, wearing his hat. He stopped dead in the doorway. She gave him her most rakish grin.
“What can I do for you this afternoon, Inspector?” she asked, acting for all the world like this was her office and he the interloper.
“What can you do for me?” He stared at her for a moment, and the corner of his mouth quirked up before he smothered it and assumed a more serious expression. He closed the door behind him and advanced slowly across the room, casting the file he was holding onto the desk, and came to stand beside her. She had to tip her head back quite far to still see him from beneath the brim of the hat, but she refused to be intimidated. “I can think of so many things, Miss Fisher,” he said solemnly.
Very deliberately, he reached out and took hold of her legs, just above her ankles where they were crossed on his desk. His hands were warm, and his grip firm. She cursed the fact that she was wearing trousers. Then he lifted her legs up, and her balance became precarious as the chair tipped back. She let out a slightly undignified noise and gripped the chair arms tightly.
“But you can start,” he said, pulling her legs towards him and causing the chair to swivel, holding them against his side for a moment once they were clear of the desk, “by removing yourself from my chair.”
And he let go. Her feet fell downwards rapidly, but she drew on all of her tumbling training and salvaged her dignity by converting the movement and springing to her feet with the grace of a cat. He didn't look impressed, which she rather thought he ought to have, and she scowled at him for a moment.
“Very well, Jack,” she said, straightening her clothing, “Since you are prepared to resort to manhandling a lady to get it, the chair is all yours.” And she perched instead on his desk, shuffling back a bit until she was sitting comfortably with her legs dangling over the edge.
In the very centre of his desk.
Then she reached up, and pointedly adjusted the hat.
“Give me that,” he half-growled, though he was smiling, and snatched it off her head. He flipped it onto a cabinet behind him without looking, and flung himself into his chair.
His knees knocked against her calves, his legs right between her own spread ones. Her breath caught. One of his hands brushed against her leg for a moment. He met her gaze boldly; her Jack, never shy when she expected him to be. He moved the chair forward a few inches, and he was sat much closer now; his legs under the desk, her knees almost touching his chest.
He smiled up at her, and it was fondness and challenge all in one. Phryne smiled involuntarily in response, and without stopping to think she reached out to cup his cheek in her hand. His eyes closed at the contact, the lines on his face smoothing out, and she felt him lean into her palm.
“Phryne,” he said huskily, and his voice was a mixture of exasperation and longing.
He sighed, his breath tickling her wrist, and dropped his head so that she could no longer see his face. Feeling oddly meditative, she stared at the top of his head. Her fingers skimmed upwards, to trace the curve of his ear, to stroke once over his hair. His hands came up to rest at the top of her calves, fingers curving gently around them to tickle the backs of her knees, palms large and warm against her legs through her trousers. He held her as though he wasn't sure whether he was about to push her away or draw her closer.
Mac's words whispered through her head. Did Jack consider them married? Hot on the heels of that - if he did consider them married, would he permit certain liberties? This was already much closer than he had ever allowed her before.
Her hand left his head and dropped to rest on her knee, and he raised his eyes to meet hers. For a minute, they just looked at each other, and Phryne found all words had fled from her. His eyes searched hers, full of intensity, and her heart beat a little faster.
He opened his mouth, and instinctively she reached out and placed a finger across his lips, wanting to keep the moment a little longer. Almost immediately she regretted it though, wondering what he might have said. Perhaps fearing it in equal measure. Still, she was never one to shy away from things that should have scared her.
“What were you going to say?” She wanted to make her voice light and teasing, but the words came out hushed and grave. His grip tightened for a moment on her legs, and then he let go and reached up to bat her hand away from his mouth. She leaned back on his desk, supporting herself with a hand, and regarded him with interest.
“Nothing, Miss Fisher.” His voice was gravelly and low, and made her stomach tighten with desire. She thought that if she pushed him, if she pushed him now...
“I'm here to invite you to dinner,” she said instead, her voice a little unsteady at the thoughts running through her head. It was important to do things properly with Jack, though. “On Saturday evening, if that would suit you?”
He considered her for a long moment, then pushed the chair back and stood. “Dinner?” he asked, and moved a few steps away, turning his back to her. From behind, she watched him run a hand through his hair, tug at his waistcoat, put his hands in his pockets and stare at a chart on the wall.
“Yes, I thought that it might be fun,” she said inanely. “You, me, something fancy Mr Butler will make which will require the invention of a whole new type of fork.” She paused, but he didn't make any reply. She wasn't quite sure what reaction she had been expecting but this wasn't it. “Or we could eat with our fingers. Picnic on the rug in front of the fire. Excellent wine, even better company. It would give you a chance to investigate what sort of contraband items Cec and Burt are smuggling in and convincing me are completely legal. I could-”
“Phryne,” Jack interrupted as he turned back to her. His hands were still in his pockets, pulling his trousers taut. Her mouth went dry. “Yes, I'll come for dinner. Although,” his voice turned dry and mischievous, “now I shall have to insist on a thorough exploration of the property.” She raised an eyebrow. He raised one back. “So that I can examine it for any misbehaviour.”
“How delightful!” she said happily, the tension between them dissipating. “I'm sure that can be arranged.”
Chapter 6: The Dinner
Well, this got unexpectedly long and steamy. It's like a runaway train of teasing and stuff. Especially the stuff.
Jack arrived promptly on the night, wearing a smart dinner jacket and looking entirely edible. Phryne had thought, on more than one occasion throughout their acquaintance, that she didn't get enough credit for the heroic amounts of self restraint she showed towards Jack Robinson.
Now, however, she stepped in close to him in the hallway once Mr Butler had taken his coat, and brushed some imaginary dirt from his shoulder. Her hand lingered on his jacket, and she smiled up at him in honest pleasure at his company. His eyes crinkled up at the corners as he smiled in return.
“Miss Fisher,” he greeted her.
She shook her head, however. “Phryne,” she said seriously. “Unless you wish me to call you Inspector all evening?”
He stood relaxed before her, apparently completely at ease with the thought that this was an evening with just the two of them. It was a marked contrast to his uncertainty and excuses earlier in their acquaintance; even in comparison to his hesitation in accepting the invitation.
His quiet surety was strangely intoxicating.
She turned and walked away from him into the parlour, adding a sway to her hips and inviting him to follow with a coy glance over her shoulder. Her calf-length dress of green silk whispered against itself as she moved, providing the sensual confidence that well made clothes always did, and she felt the weight of the ring around her neck. She knew he wouldn't see it unless he undressed her, and the thought made her feel rather smug.
When Mr Butler came to serve pre-dinner drinks, she caught his eye. This time she would rely on his uncanny ability to know exactly what she needed before she asked. Now that she was reassured that Jack wouldn't be easily scared off tonight, she wanted Mr Butler to provide a certain ambiance at the table. He nodded in silent acknowledgement. Jack looked at her enquiringly, but she just smiled at him mysteriously over the rim of her glass.
Once dinner was announced, Jack escorted her into the dining room with a hand at the small of her back. The fabric of her dress suddenly felt very thin, and she could feel his fingers flex against her back as he ushered her through the door. Her skin tingled in response.
All of the candles on the table were lit, and the overhead lights were off. She glanced sideways up at Jack from under her lashes, but he didn't baulk.
He drew out her chair, and she was extremely aware of his presence behind her as she sat down. His hands whispered over the skin of her upper arms, coming to rest lightly on her shoulders. She held her breath for a moment as his thumb brushed her neck.
He leaned forward and murmured in her ear. “Are you quite comfortable?”
“Oh yes,” she said, voice gone unconsciously deep and alluring. She loved it when he surprised her and upped the stakes. “Very.”
As he seated himself he gave her a small, devilish smile, and she felt a tug at her heart. He really was the most magnificent man.
Dinner was excellent, of course, the incomparable Mr Butler shining once again. The face of pure pleasure Jack made when he took his first bite rather undid Phryne, but luckily he rallied and carried out enough conversation that she didn't feel the need to have her way with him at the dinner table.
As they moved on to dessert, he told her a little more about his family, and cautiously asked after hers.
“Oh,” she said, “my mother wrote in her last letter that she is hosting yet another great dinner – the kind that the cook has to be warned about weeks in advance. There's apparently a scandal involving our closest neighbour which is causing her enormous delight, though she would never admit it. And one of the dogs is having puppies. I think she's well enough, my mother, that is, not the dog; she sounds happier than she did in her last letter.” Phryne paused to take a bite of food, and they ate in silence for a moment. Reluctantly she began, “And my father...”
This time, the silence went on for rather longer. One of the things she liked about talking to Jack was that he was very good at listening, but rarely pried.
She heard him draw breath, likely to change the subject, when she declared, “I'm sure they'd be delighted at the thought of me marrying,” and all of the air went out of him in a whoosh. “You would think they'd have quite given up by now, but Mother persists in believing that if she continues to push eligible, by which she means rich and titled, men at me, eventually I shall be converted into a good society wife and settle down to have babies.”
Jack disguised a laugh by coughing into his napkin. “No croquet?” he asked.
She made a small moue of displeasure. “Unless it's a beautiful day and I'm sitting with a drink watching handsome young men do all the work, I don't much care for it. I suppose the fortune teller was wrong on all counts, after all.”
“Perhaps not all counts,” Jack said, and his piercing look made her feel more than a little flustered.
Which had brought them around to the point quite neatly. Except that she found it impossible to discern if he was just teasing her, giving her a taste of her own medicine, or suggesting that the farcical church ceremony had in fact joined them as man and wife. His eyes were warm and intent, and offered no clues.
He obviously knew her well enough to know that she didn't consider them married, and that she was actively un-marrying him before further steps such as divorce were necessary (and God knows she wouldn't want to put him through that again). In fact, he knew her very well, and had once said that he would never ask her to change. It was entirely possible he would never tell her what he was thinking, since he undoubtedly considered it would have little effect on the outcome. Which it wouldn't, if she was honest with herself.
She rolled the last of the wine in her glass, and decided that over thinking it would only complicate matters further.
“Shall we go through to the parlour?” she suggested, and rose from the table.
He offered his arm, even though it was such a short distance, and did not release her when they arrived. Diverted from her thoughts, Phryne looked up at him with a wicked grin, daring him to make the next move. He'd been surprising again of late. Which she admitted was one of the things she so enjoyed about him.
In the background, she heard Mr Butler pour two glasses, cap the decanter, and discreetly leave. Jack's eyes stayed locked with hers the whole time.
She could kiss him. It was very tempting. Her eyes fell to his lips, his exquisite lips, and she wondered what they would feel like against hers. What they would feel like against her throat, her breasts, gliding over her skin. In all the time she'd known him, she'd put a lot of thought into it.
She could kiss him right now, and she didn't think he'd resist.
His lips curved in a smile, and she looked up to find him watching her, clearly guessing her thoughts. She arched an eyebrow at him; she wasn't ashamed at being so obviously caught.
“Can I get you anything?” he asked.
“Oh yes,” she said with a small sigh, as she glanced again at his mouth.
“A whisky, perhaps?” And he let go of her arm to move towards the side table. She let out a short breath of frustration. Teasing man. “And then I believe you promised me a tour of the house.”
That was far more promising.
“I believe I did,” she murmured, and her expression turned predatory.
They sat beside each other on the couch, she slipping off her shoes so that she could curl her legs up beside her. Her skirt slipped up her legs revealingly.
“And how are you enjoying your evening?” she asked.
“So far it's surpassed all of my expectations,” he said, then, after a beat, “The food was incomparable. And I have great anticipation of future pleasure,” he lifted his glass to his lips, and his eyes were dark and smouldering as he toasted her, “in your very excellent whisky.”
“You're easily satisfied then,” she said archly, leaning back into the couch. “And I always knew you for a sybarite, Jack.”
“I think you'll find you are speaking of yourself there, Miss Fisher.” She didn't castigate him for calling her Miss Fisher this time – she suspected it was an ingrained response by now. She finished her whisky swiftly, and waited for him to catch up.
“Shall we go exploring then?” she suggested. “The whisky will still be here on our return. Actually, the whisky may need investigating itself.” She frowned slightly as she tried to think which bottle this would have come from.
“An onerous task indeed,” he said.
His hand appeared in front of her, and he helped her to her feet. Trying to find men with the right balance of gallantry and respect was difficult, she found. One wanted a man to open doors, to offer his arm, but at the same time for the man to understand that she was perfectly capable; not some weak and fragile creature. Jack actually struck the balance rather well, she thought; he'd long given up trying to restrict her from anything (most of which had been because she was a civilian), and yet treated her like a lady.
“I would have thought any illegally obtained vittles would be in the pantry,” Jack said blandly from beside her as she hesitated by the stairs. “Perhaps we should start in the kitchen.”
Mr Butler was just finishing drying the dishes on the table. He eyed the two of them for a minute, then put down his cloth. “I'll finish this in the morning, if you don't mind, miss. I think I'll retire early for the night. Dorothy's already gone up to bed.” Phryne nodded.
Jack waited until Mr Butler was out of the room, then said, “Now, what awaits us in this den of iniquity, I wonder?”
He sauntered around the room, looking at everyday objects with apparent suspicion. She couldn't hold back a laugh, and he only managed to maintain his grim demeanour for a few more moments before smiling himself. It was unusual to see him so openly playful, but she liked it.
“What about this?” He picked up a small tub from beside the spice rack and shook it gently. “Lethal poison perhaps? Illegal stimulants?” He examined it more closely. “This could definitely be cocaine,” he announced in an offhand tone.
“Jack,” she reached for it laughingly, and took the container from his hands. “Clearly your detective skills are rusty. This exotic powder is more commonly known as salt.” The salt safely restored to the counter, she stood close beside him, their arms touching.
“Ah, yes,” he said gravely, “I see you are correct. Which I believe makes you the only suspect thing in this room, Miss Fisher.” She looked askance at him. “You have been brought into the station multiple times, and I see here,” he consulted an invisible notebook, licking his finger to turn the page, “That you have been previously arrested. Twice in the last year and a half. What have you to say for yourself?”
“Indeed, Inspector, I have no defence,” she said playfully. Turning so that they were face to face, she stepped a little closer. “I plead guilty to the terrible crime of salt possession, and throw myself on your mercy.”
Leaning his weight on the counter, Jack looked at her measuringly for a moment. “What if I am not inclined to be merciful, Miss Fisher?” he said in a low voice, and the atmosphere changed completely.
“Then do with me as you choose,” she said softly, and his hands came up to capture her shoulders as he kissed her with the barely restrained ardour of a man denied far too long.
Her whole world narrowed to the feel of his lips moving on hers, the feel of his hands sliding around to her back, the press of his body as he pushed her against the counter and was suddenly flush against her. Her hands had instinctively gripped his lapels, pulling him greedily closer as she kissed him back passionately. She thought of better uses for them though, and slid one down to palm the length of his hardening cock through his trousers. She let out a quiet, happy noise at the feel of him against her hand, which was echoed by his stifled groan of pleasure.
“Phryne,” he whispered against her lips, “Phryne,” and he ducked to loop an arm under her thighs and lift her bodily on to the counter. It was cold beneath her, such a contrast to the heat of his body. Still, she delighted in the new position, reaching down to hike up her skirts so that she could tug him to stand between her spread legs.
She pulled his head back to her with a hand in his hair and bit lightly at his lower lip. She felt him smile against her, so nipped his lip again, and when he made to kiss her she moved her head away ever so slightly. Just enough that he couldn't make contact. He paused, surprised, and she came in again to tease her lips over his, to brush against the corner of his mouth, to-
He tried to deepen the kiss again, and once again she danced back. A frustrated rumble emerged from his throat, and he clasped his arms around her back and pulled her tightly to him, claiming her mouth. This time she reciprocated enthusiastically and wrapped her legs around his waist, shifting against him to try and get more pressure between her thighs.
The kiss ended abruptly at her movement, and his breath was hot on her cheek as he leaned his forehead against hers.
“Was there something you wanted, Miss Fisher?” he said in a rough voice. His hand smoothed over her hip, felt suddenly shocking on her bare thigh as he traced the edge of her stocking, and then moved upwards until he pressed his thumb hard against the seam of her knickers. She jolted at the feel of it.
“Jack,” she choked out, and pushed forward restlessly against his hand. He lightened the pressure, and began drawing small expanding circles with his thumb.
Delightful as teasing could be, she felt as though she was about to burst out of her skin. She reached down and grabbed his hand, pulling it firmly against her, sighing in relief and pleasure as she ground forward against him. He huffed a laugh, and leaned in to kiss her again, gently this time, slowly. He obligingly kept his hand steady under hers, and pressed his fingers firmly against her so that as she rolled her hips there was the most delicious friction against her clitoris. And again, and again. He swallowed her small gasps of pleasure as they fell from her lips.
She released his hand and fumbled downwards; found the fastening of his trousers and made a frustrated noise when it refused to oblige her. He made no move to help her, instead drifting his own fingers to catch against her entrance, pushing hard against the wet silk of her knickers so that his fingertips were just inside her, and she bucked fiercely against him and let out a frustrated moan.
“Please,” she whispered breathlessly against his mouth.
He let out a long, shaky breath, and she allowed herself to feel incredibly pleased with herself for the two seconds it took before he had her flat on her back on the counter, dragging her hips forward until she could feel his cock hard against her. Leaning over her, he stared into her eyes as he deliberately rocked his hips forwards. The pressure of him rubbing intimately against her made her close her eyes in delight, turn her head to the side, and sigh with pleasure. “Jack,” she murmured.
A simple, gentle touch against her cheek brought her eyes open again, and she met his burning gaze. “I want you, Phryne,” he rasped, “More than anything.” She arched up underneath him in response, seeking as much contact as possible. His eyes stayed locked with hers. “What do you want?”
Everything, she thought. Too many things to think of. “Your mouth,” she said seductively, instead. “Your hands. I just want you, Jack.” She wriggled teasingly under him, and saw his jaw clench as he fought to stay still. “I just want you.”
He looked at her a few moments more, and then leant back so that he was standing upright, bringing her up to sit again with a strong arm behind her. He brushed back her hair from her face, and ran his thumb over her parted lips. She slipped her hands under his jacket, and stroked them down his sides.
“Phryne,” he started quietly, but her hands had reached his behind, and she cupped his very fine arse and squeezed gently. He exhaled on a moan, and didn't finish what he had been going to say. He thrust gently against her instead, and then again in time with her flexing her fingers on his bottom. And again. She tucked her face into his neck, and they held each other as he kept an easy rhythm against her. She could feel the texture his woolen trousers through her knickers. It was just enough to bring a dull thrill of pleasure every time he moved without ever quite satisfying her. Jack's breathing grew gradually rougher, though he never attempted to quicken his pace from her guidance, and eventually, with reluctance, she stilled her hands.
“My Jack,” she said tenderly as she pulled back to look at him. His hair was dishevelled, his eyes wide, his tie half undone. She seemed to have driven him beyond words, as he reached out and tipped her head back, mouthing and kissing down her neck. When he reached the edge of her dress, he tugged it off her left shoulder. Squirming slightly, she managed to pull her arm through the sleeve, and he peeled back the front of her dress to expose her brassiere. She hadn't actually been expecting any such activities tonight – too many encounters with Jack ended with him pulling away - but had worn some exquisite underwear just in case.
His fingers glided, feather-light, over the underside of her breasts. Her breathing quickened further, and she watched his eyes take in their rise and fall. “Phryne,” he whispered reverently, and then he stroked the back of his hand down the centre of her chest, his knuckles slightly rough against her skin. They caught on her necklace. Two of his fingers slipped curiously under her brassiere to fish out the ring.
They both stilled. The ring shone dully in Jack's fingers at the end of its chain, and he rubbed it thoughtfully with his thumb. Phryne, with her skirts up around her hips and the top of her dress only attached by one shoulder, felt suddenly exposed.
To counteract the feeling, she reached up and took hold of his tie, tugging lightly until he looked back up at her face. “Like what you see?” she asked silkily.
“Yes,” he said, exhaling shakily. There was such raw honesty in his answer. Did he like seeing her half naked and pressed against him? Did he like seeing her wear his ring? Why had he become responsive to her seductions tonight, instigated them even, when he never had before?
“Jack,” she said softly, playing with his tie. “Are you only allowing yourself this because a stupid priest-” He kissed her, halting her words quite effectively for a minute. She pushed on his chest, however, and he yielded. “Because you know that for me it's not -”
“Phryne.” He stopped her mouth with a kiss once more, and this time she got distracted for a long while at the deft touch of his fingers before escaping.
“What happened to communication?” she said quickly, placing her fingers over his lips to prevent any further moves on his part. His lips brushed over the pads of her fingers, but he stayed quiet this time, watching her intently.
Of course, now that Phryne had his attention she wasn't quite sure what to say.
“I went ahead and tried to arrange matters because being married wasn't what I wanted,” she said slowly. “And I didn't feel like we were actually married.” He shifted against her, and his hands came to rest at her waist. “But I never stopped to ask if you did. I should have talked to you,” she admitted painfully.
She took her hand from his lips and kissed him lightly. “And if you will only make love to me now because you believe-” She cut herself off. Oh, and she couldn't believe she was going to say this. “I just wouldn't want you to do anything that you'll regret,” she said in a hushed voice. A long moment passed, and she drew back from him slightly to search his face for a response.
“Phryne, this has nothing to do with being married or otherwise.” He seemed surprised, and maybe slightly exasperated. “I assumed you'd already - where on earth did you get the idea-” His eyes dropped to her necklace, and his voice deepened. “I cannot deny that the idea of you having my ring, the idea of something between us-
“I was under the impression,” he continued finally, carefully, “that you asked me for dinner with serious romantic intent.” She nodded mutely. She was slightly concerned about the exact ramifications of the word serious in that sentence, but, compared to the married state they were possibly already in, it seemed rather petty to dispute it. “So I therefore came here with serious romantic intent.”
And attempted to seduce her. Damn Mac for a fool, anyway. Jack didn't seem to be concerned about their marital status at all, and now Phryne had gone and raised issues that were non-existent in the first place. And quite ruined the mood.
“Then you don't care about-” she started.
“I don't care about that.” He stroked a hand up her side, and it skated over bare skin where her dress had fallen. Her body shivered in response, suddenly reminded of his proximity.
“In that case I should inform you that we may actually be considered married,” she said bluntly. “My lawyers are having some difficulties.”
He stared at her, and his wandering hand paused at her collarbones. “So after all this...”
“After all this,” she agreed gravely.
“Perhaps we should go and investigate that whisky now,” he suggested wryly, and the loss she felt when he pulled away from her was stunning.
Chapter 7: Interlude and murder
In which there's a murder case but, since I'm steadfastly refusing murder plots in this one, we won't go into it. Assume that it is deep, fascinating, and has an amazing twist in it, none of which you will ever get to see.
It had been almost a week since she'd seen Jack. A week since they'd drunk whisky together in slightly uncomfortable silence, a week since he'd hesitated at the door but left before she could say anything. A week of frustrated, lonely nights in her bed, admittedly with some very pleasant imaginings.
There was a difference, now, in the way Phryne viewed Jack Robinson. Always, before, it had been a case of if. No matter how close they came, no matter the look in his eyes, there had never been any surety that their separate orbits would collide.
Now, she thought, it was a case of when.
Serious romantic intent, Jack had called it, and actually that summed things up rather perfectly. She had, in hindsight, asked him for dinner with serious romantic intent. Certainly she did not regard him as a plaything, fit to warm her bed for a night or two before being tossed aside. Nor could she consider him a casual lover as she had Lin, because Jack was in her life all the time, and she liked him there.
Jack was already her friend, her partner. If he was her lover as well, well, there wasn't really much left of her life that he wouldn't be part of.
The thought should have terrified her. The fact that it didn't was mildly concerning.
It brought back something she had said to him on the night they were trapped in a room together, talking about marriage. Because on her list of trust, freedom, love and friendship, Jack was the only man she'd known since the war who met all of her criteria. She hadn't let anyone else get as close to her in years, which said something in itself, and they hadn't even gone to bed yet!
One thing which the other night had revealed (amongst so many other glorious things) was that Jack had merely been waiting for an invitation. That he was definitely ready and willing.
At least, that was what she had thought it revealed.
Jack was more than capable of coming up with an excuse to drop by, and yet he hadn't. In fact, she hadn't heard from him at all. When she'd decided to take matters in to her own hands yesterday, and gone to the police station, Jack had been out and the sergeant on duty couldn't tell her when he would return. And nothing since then.
It was enough to make even Phryne Fisher doubt herself slightly.
“Nothing from the Inspector recently, miss?” asked Dot, uncannily reading her mind.
“No,” Phryne said, and bit into her piece of toast with fierce aggravation.
Dot was silent for a minute as she spread some marmalade on her own toast, then she put down her knife and looked cautiously at Phryne. “Hugh says that things have been a bit odd at the station recently,” she said in an offhand manner.
“Oh?” Phryne pretended disinterest. The newspaper was laid out at the side of her place setting; she always made certain to keep up with current affairs. She flipped to the next page, and waited Dot out.
“Apparently the Inspector's been... distracted.”
“Distracted?” she inquired. She scanned the page, and turned to the next.
Phryne could think of many things which might be distracting Jack, and most of them concerned herself. In fact, she was somewhat consoled by the idea that he might have been suffering from frustrated lust as much as she had. A small smirk graced her face, and she knew Dot took note of it. “Dear me,” Phryne continued in a tone of slight concern, “I hope it's nothing serious.”
“You saw him last week, didn't you, miss?” Dot asked artlessly. “When he came for dinner?” Phryne glanced sharply at her companion, but Dot didn't look up from industriously cutting her bacon.
“Yes,” Phryne said blandly. “I did. He seemed in good spirits at the time.”
“Maybe he just needs to talk over whatever's troubling him, then.” Dot smiled innocently at her, and Phryne's eyes narrowed. “And he always talks to you, miss.”
“Are you meddling, Dot?”
“I'm sure I don't know what you mean, miss,” Dot said, and Phryne smiled proudly at her.
The conversation had decided one thing for her though, she had had enough of waiting around. Especially if it was affecting her mood enough for Dot to feel the need to lend a helping hand.
There was no chance for her to do more than contemplate a vague plan of action to see Jack before events that afternoon rendered it unnecessary.
“The Inspector for you, on the telephone,” said Mr Butler as he walked into her private sitting room.
Phryne brightened. “Excellent, Mr B.”
One quick trip down the stairs later, and she picked up the receiver with anticipation. “Hello, Jack.”
“Miss Fisher.” His voice was grave, which did not bode well for the more fanciful reasons she had imagined for his call. “There's been a death at the house of a Mr and Mrs Lewell.” He paused for a moment, and she could read exasperation in his silence. “Your presence has been requested. Apparently they are friends of Mrs Stanley.”
Phryne took a moment to reflect how wonderful it was to have connections. Although, until a year or two ago she would never have imagined them getting her invited to murder investigations.
“Of course. What's the address?” She noted it down as he spoke. “Dot and I will head there immediately.”
“I'll be there in half an hour.”
Phryne hung up and strode through to the kitchen where Dot was helping to prepare dinner.
“Get ready to go out,” she said cheerfully, “There's been a murder!”
Jack was just getting out of his car when she arrived. Phryne wasn't sure what she'd been expecting, but what she got was a brisk, “Miss Fisher,” and a small, private smile.
Intriguing. On the ride over, she'd conjured up several scenarios. She'd thought he might ignore her, or be uncomfortable, or look at her with uncontrollable lust... Well, maybe that last one was her imagination stirring again. It seemed, however, that they were going with professionalism mixed with a slight acknowledgement that he had recently had intimate knowledge of her lingerie.
She smiled mischievously back at him. “Fancy seeing you here, Jack.”
He cleared his throat, and gestured her towards the house.
The man who answered the door was fit, trim, and incredibly handsome. Phryne raised an appreciative eyebrow, and practically felt Jack sigh next to her. He was not, as it turned out, the owner of the house, but his brother.
“William Lewell,” he introduced himself. “Please, come through to the parlour.”
His eyes lingered on Phryne as she passed, and she felt a tangible spark of attraction between them. It was always like this for her - a warm tingle over her skin. She smiled a little to herself as she imagined his eyes following her from behind; it was always nice to know that one was desired.
Luckily for her, she was behind Jack, which meant she got to follow him with her eyes. She had to say he wore a three piece exceedingly well, and she couldn't help but remember the exact feel of his behind in her hands. Which led to remembering the feel of him thrusting against her, and oh, she was more than sympathetic with the distraction Jack had apparently been suffering from.
With Jack, the attraction had changed from a tingle to a slow, delicious burn long ago. She tore her eyes away from him, and forced herself to catalogue the house instead.
The gathering in the parlour was almost ten-strong, and Jack met Phryne's eyes with a weary acknowledgement that this meant far too many potential suspects and people lying about their alibis. She smiled angelically back at him – from her point of view the more people involved the more complex and interesting the cases were.
Jack had Hugh take everyone's details, and Phryne indicated with her eyes that Dot should stay with him. Meanwhile, Jack and Phryne were directed towards the body.
If she only remembered one moment of that whole day, it would be the moment when Jack stopped her from lifting up the sheet over the body. His hand caught her wrist, holding it firmly.
“Just this once,” he said dryly, “ we could try to follow police procedure. After all, you aren't wearing gloves.”
“Of course.” She tried to look meek, and went to withdraw her hand. He held on to it though, and lifted the sheet with his other hand.
They made their various observations about the body, each adding to each other as they pointed things out. Completely normal. Except for his thumb stroking over the pulse point on her wrist, over and over. She remained absolutely focused on the task at hand. Absolutely, except for the small part of her which had split off and was revelling in the feel of his touching her so casually. The slightly illicit thrill of it happening at a crime scene. The wonderful rush of knowing that he wanted her.
Oh yes, that would be the moment that she remembered.
The next day there was the autopsy report and several of the household came down to the station to help with inquiries. Jack let her lead the questioning, and gave her an amused look every time she managed to catch whomever they were interrogating in a lie.
She loved that look.
And then, at around noon, came the handsome William.
He had dressed with far too much care for a short trip to the police station. His eyes singled her out the moment she exited the interview room to fetch the next person for questioning, and his smile was very inviting.
The air around her seemed to heat up a little, as she pictured him in her bed. He would be fiery, but willing to let her lead if she pushed. Perhaps too interested in his own pleasure, but fun nonetheless. And he would come to her so easily.
She smiled back.
There was a slight movement behind her, and then Jack was a solid presence at her shoulder, gesturing William in.
He flirted with her. Subtly; he wasn't overbearing. That would have put her off. Just enough innuendo, just enough lingering looks. This one knew how to play the game.
And she loved playing the game.
So she flirted back. She let her eyes make promises, she lowered her voice, she allowed herself to get lost in the clever wordplay which was so often a prelude to other kinds of play.
But he was still a suspect. And so when she queried him on a statement which contradicted a witness they'd heard earlier, she persisted past his deflecting charm. It seemed there was nothing more sinister behind it than concealing an affair with a maid, but still, he bore watching.
He kissed her hand when he left, and his lips were warm on her skin.
She stared out after him for a moment, mind pleasantly wandering, and then Jack closed the door.
The sound was loud in the small room, and she almost jumped. Phryne put her hand on her hip, gathered herself, and glanced at him.
Fond amusement was written all over his face. She didn't know whether to laugh or be indignant. It was very convenient that he wasn't jealous, of course, that wouldn't have worked at all. He wouldn't be so sanguine if she invited the other fellow to her bed tonight though, she was sure, and she could have done in a heartbeat. She wouldn't, but she could have.
Was she annoyed that he seemed so sure of himself? Or so sure of her? Either way, she was definitely piqued, however unreasonably so.
The only possible punishment seemed to be to kiss him.
Phryne cornered him against the wall, but he didn't push her away. Instead his arms welcomed her, gathering her in and wrapping loosely around her. Her fingers wound through his hair, deliberately ruffling it, as she teased his lips open with her own. The corner of his mouth stayed curled up in a half smile no matter what she did to distract him. His own hands rested comfortably in the small of her back, holding her lightly to him, but did not move to touch her further.
She drew back with a small pout, and yes, he was still smiling at her with his eyes. They were deep, and dark, and she found herself standing there just looking into them for the longest time.
“Jack,” she said finally, and her voice was husky.
“Phryne.” He reached up and cupped her face in both hands. Then he tilted her head slightly, and kissed her gently on the cheek, just catching the corner of her mouth. “I believe we have more suspects waiting.” He tugged her closer for a moment, so that she could bury her face in his collar. The close contact eased something inside her which she hadn't even known was wound tight, and she feathered her fingers down his neck to rest against his chest. She didn't want to let go, but she felt him shift slightly and took her cue.
Pulling back, she grinned at the sight of him.
An unruly lock of hair fell forward, almost into his eyes. He had her very red lipstick all over his mouth. And, as she wiped it clean, the look in his eyes was not at all that of her staid detective inspector.
“Do you feel like a game of draughts tonight?” she asked boldly. “Or perhaps... backgammon.” She lowered her voice for the last, and managed to make it sound quite indecent. She looked up at him provocatively through her eyelashes, and saw his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed. Her mouth was dry with anticipation and hope.
Chapter 8: A game of...
So this has been written for days, but was originally also meant to have the next scene in it. Since I seem to be avoiding the next scene however, this chapter has declared itself complete.
The afternoon was clear and warm, so they sat outside for a cup of tea and discussed the case when Jack arrived after work. It was like any other evening he had come to visit, as though nothing had gone before. At the moment, Phryne felt like every time they met they were doing an odd little dance and starting from scratch. Things were often like that with a new lover of course, slightly jarring until they settled, but this was Jack. She wasn't used to feeling uncertain of herself with Jack – if anything she was normally the one revelling in throwing him off balance. It was frustrating.
She felt a little at a loss as to how to bring up any of the topics she thought warranted resolution. In fact, given her disastrous attempt at doing so when he'd come for dinner, she thought talking wasn't the way to go here at all. All she needed to do was steer him firmly in the direction of her boudoir, and the rest would take care of itself.
Still, they weren't quite at that stage in the evening yet.
“My aunt's having a card party on Saturday, and I can't escape it.” Phryne sighed. “I despise playing cards.”
“Really?” Jack said, “I would have thought you would view them as a challenge.”
“Well,” she drawled, “the cheating is fun, admittedly, but that's so frowned upon in polite society.”
“Thus the challenge.” Jack sipped his tea, and smiled at her. She was struck by a thought.
“You should come.” Now that she'd said it, the idea became more and more attractive. Jack was always diverting. “You could attempt to make me behave.”
“What makes you think I would ever want that?” His smile grew a little softer. “Anyway, I haven't been invited by your aunt.”
“Oh, Aunt P won't mind,” Phryne said blithely, although she could already picture her aunt's disapproving glare. “You could come as my date!”
She grinned at him cheekily. Jack gave an aborted cough, and did not look suitably enthused.
“And cause a scandal?” he asked, tugging at his collar.
“Well, you know how I enjoy causing a scandal,” she said flirtatiously. “Besides, technically, this might be the least scandalous I've ever been.” Seeing the bemusement on his face she added, “Showing up with my husband in tow.”
Phryne wondered why she seemed incapable of leaving the matter alone while he avoided it utterly. She changed the subject.
They moved inside to set up the board. Jack was on fine form, and trounced her in their first game of draughts. After a hard won second game, she triumphantly raised her arms in the air.
Jack watched her indulgently. The look on his face said, 'I'm happy that you're happy, I'm desperately fond of you, I enjoy spending all my time with you.'
Phryne's hands dropped slowly to rest on the table, and she stared at Jack.
“No, really,” she found herself saying, resuming her earlier thread of conversation. “You must come to the party with me on Saturday.” It suddenly seemed very important that he be there with her. That he should know he would be welcome.
The look of thinly veiled discomfort returned. “Alas, I have some very important reports to file on Saturday.”
“Jack,” she said reproachfully.
“Well,” he replied with some asperity, “Perhaps card parties aren't really my scene either.”
“But you wouldn't be going for the card party. You'd be going to entertain me!”
“You can see why that's an offer which is impossible to refuse,” he said dryly.
“Why don't you want to go?” She pouted slightly.
“Phryne-” Jack leaned back in his chair and sighed. “What possible reason would you give to your aunt as to why I'm accompanying you?”
“The truth,” she said lightly, “I already told you that.”
“Are you sure you're ready for that?” Jack asked, voice low and serious.
“I-” The flippant reply on her tongue died. He seemed very concerned about appearances here. Was he asking if she was ready to reveal a relationship between them? Was he reluctant to do so himself, or merely assuming that she would be. “I don't do anything by halves, Jack,” she said slowly, meeting his eyes.
The idea of having Jack Robinson as her secret lover was an appealing one, and certainly she hadn't particularly been longing to immediately go and inform either her aunt or Melbourne society of any understanding between them. But the nature of things between she and Jack meant that any such secret would be unsustainable. While she trusted her household absolutely, were he to stay the night on a regular basis word was bound to get out.
“No, no, you certainly don't.” Jack said
A sudden restlessness came over her, a feeling as though her clothes were too tight and she couldn't sit still without snapping. Getting to her feet, she crossed her arms over her chest and regarded Jack for a moment. He'd been startled by her abrupt rise, and sat with an arm half outstretched towards his glass, waiting to see what she would do next.
She paced to the window. Turned. Paced back.
There was still almost an hour until dinner. A moment ago she still hadn't decided whether or not to ask him to stay for it.
“Phryne?” And hearing her name in his voice suddenly made up her mind. Too early in the evening be damned.
“Come upstairs with me?” she asked forthrightly, her voice sincere rather than seductive.
Jack stood unhurriedly, and put his hands in his pockets. There was a long moment of silence. Phryne traced the lines of his waistcoat with her eyes, and thought about undoing all of the buttons.
“What?” he asked, and he sounded as though he wanted her to repeat it. As though he would have said yes, if he could trust what he'd heard.
“Come upstairs with me,” she whispered, and moved closer to him. His posture was stiff and straight, but his eyes searched hers intensely. Reaching out, she laid her hand on his wrist and slid her hand down into his pocket. Her fingers intertwined with his.
A small smile curved his lips as she retrieved his hand from his pocket and gently pulled it towards her. She laid it flat on her chest, above her heart.
“Come upstairs,” she said again, and this time it wasn't a question but a command.
He followed her silently as she led the way, fingers laced together with his. The house was quiet; Dot was out and Mr Butler in the kitchen.
“I'm going upstairs, Mr B. I'm not to be disturbed,” Phryne called when the reached the hallway. There was a sound of acknowledgement from the direction of the kitchen.
They reached the door to her bedroom with no further contact between them other than their hands. It seemed strange, because most of the times she had imagined this it had involved them kissing frantically the whole way up the stairs and along the corridor; his tie would have been lost after the first few steps, her knickers by the time they reached the landing.
Instead it had felt almost like the few times she had been to church as a girl, the measured steps, the forced hush. Slightly like being in a dream.
She locked the door once they were inside, and then they stood there side by side. For a long moment she felt nothing but a muted exhilaration that they were actually here, that Jack Robinson stood willingly in her boudoir for reasons unrelated to a case. Then he squeezed her hand, and she turned to him with a smile.
Chapter 9: A Phone Call
Okay, I'm afraid it's an unresolved cliffhanger, since it was a sex scene which refused to be written. You can have teasers of it here though ;)
“And if I can just confirm that the marriage has not been consummated?” her solicitor asked in a bored tone.
“What? No, of course not,” Phryne said, voice slightly high pitched. An image of Jack spread out naked on her bed the previous evening fixed itself prominently in her mind's eye.
“Well then, I believe we will be able to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion after all. It will be considered an annulment without you having to go through any of the proceedings, due to the circumstances involved. It has been concluded that since neither of your said your vows with intent, but under fear of your lives, to which there is a witness who saw the weapons, and showed this by falsifying your name and signature, there are sufficient grounds for the marriage to be dismissed.”
Dismissed. Phryne gave an audible sigh of relief.
“And will there be any paper trail?”
“No, Miss Fisher, we were able to keep it tied up for long enough that the documents were never filed. And we will be very... persuasive, when it comes to resolving the matter.”
“Excellent,” Phryne said, mouth on autopilot. “Good job, thank you, Jones.”
“Our pleasure, Miss Fisher.”
Well, that was that.
“Oh, one moment!”
“When will this all be... concluded?”
“Tomorrow or the day after that. We will telephone to confirm.”
“Thank you. Goodbye.”
Phryne hung up, missing the hook for the receiver twice through inattention. So, two more days of her current state of being not-quite married, and then it would all be done and she would be free again.
It was funny, she hadn't really felt as though she were not-free in the last couple of weeks. The only thing that had changed was her heightened awareness of Jack. But then, she supposed neither of them had really considered themselves married.
Phryne wondered what Jack would be like if they were really married. What he had been like with Rosie.
Someone to wake up with, he had said. Someone you had chosen, and who had chosen you back.
But what about the day to day squabbling? The 'you drive too recklessly' magnified a thousand-fold; him getting angry with her, her getting frustrated with him. And all stuck together in a house so that neither of you could escape the other. Jack would probably want children, which was a thought she could not contemplate with equanimity, regardless of her love for Jane. He would become bitter that Phryne hadn't changed. She would be furious that he had expected her to. One or both of them would start drinking too much.
It would be something akin to her parent's marriage, except with the roles reversed.
And God, even the mere thought that she could be anything like her father was more than enough to make her reconsider her life choices. And ask Mr Butler for a drink.
She allowed herself to dwell on pleasanter thoughts.
Jack had been an incredible lover. They'd gone slower this time, starting with gentle caresses and kisses. Once they'd removed her clothes, layer by layer, he'd touched her everywhere, his eyes intent and focused. Stroked and teased, his mouth murmuring beautiful compliments against her neck, before the ache grew too deep and she dragged his hand between her thighs.
Then the pleasure of having him, still fully dressed, in her bed; taking off his tie with lingering hands, unbuttoning his waistcoat and shirt and rucking up his undershirt to taste and bite at his stomach and chest. Undoing his trousers, her eyes fixed on his as she drew him out and he panted at the feel of her hand on his cock.
Oh, oh, and he had felt delightful.
Phryne hadn't let him take off more clothes than that, straddling him and sinking down onto the length of him with a feeling of absolute bliss. She hadn't realised the feel of his trousers against her bare bottom, the tease of his shirt against her breasts as she leaned down to kiss him, would be so thoroughly arousing.
There was a kind of satisfaction to be found, in that first moment of taking a man inside her, which Phryne had never felt anywhere else. A feeling of rightness, of completion, of power. It was exquisite with Jack; she murmured to him how full and wonderful she felt, and his hands tightened desperately on her hips. He had made every effort to stay still at first, dear man, presumably for her comfort. Of course, her comfort was better served in other ways, so she had grinned at him with wild abandon and moved upon him until he lost his control and bucked up beneath her.
She had let him roll her onto her back then, let him lift her leg and tuck it against his chest so that he could get deeper, could thrust at the most delicious angle...
Yes, Jack had been an incredible lover indeed.
And she had every intention of repeating the experience. Of waking up next to him. Of thinking of the path that had led them here; that she had chosen him, and he her.
Just without the messy marital parts, without the power plays. And so that, should she happen to tire of him, as she had of others she had thought herself in love with before, she could let him go without breaking his heart even further.
She didn't think he would survive another divorce.
Chapter 10: Congratulations
This one's decided it's done guys. Thanks for all of the lovely encouragement and reviews!
Jack came to pick her up on the Saturday evening, upon her instructions. Phryne still wasn't entirely sure what had convinced him to attend the party with her. Though to be sure, she was exceedingly charming. And she had lured Jack into her bed again the previous night.
Phryne was even more charming in bed.
“Phryne,” Jack said, as she opened the door. And it gave her a warm feeling that he no longer needed to be reminded to call her by her first name.
“Jack! Please, come in.”
Jack took off his hat and followed her inside. Phryne led him to the parlour, and handed him a glass of champagne. Looking slightly bemused, he placed the hat on a table and tipped the glass in query.
“I wished to congratulate you,” Phryne said. “As of today, you are a happily unmarried man.”
Jack's smile faltered for the briefest of moments, but he recovered quickly. “Congratulations,” he murmured to her, and toasted the air. “To not feeling trapped.”
And Phryne experienced somewhat of a paradigm shift, like a lens sliding into place and bringing the past few weeks into focus.
After his huffiness the night of the church ceremony, Jack had let the whole thing go. He hadn't brought up the marriage, he hadn't made jokes, he hadn't been annoyed. He hadn't attempted to have any deeper discussion about their feelings or relationship at all, not when he came for dinner believing she was asking for more (and with the intent to start it), nor when he came to her bed.
After her conversation with Mac, Phryne had thought that it was because he felt deeply about it, and she needed to be more careful with his feelings. However, it had suddenly struck her that something else had been going on.
As much as Phryne had been concerned about Jack's feelings after their 'marriage,' he must have been even more so about hers. After all, she was very open about her lack of interest in marriage, and what he'd seen of her lifestyle didn't suggest she was likely to commit. If Jack had been pursuing her, however quietly, with that in mind, he must have thought that she might react very badly to being forcibly trapped in a marriage.
Phryne had gone with denial instead, and Jack had facilitated that. He'd been trying to manage her, to come out of this whole situation with whatever was between them intact; to prevent her panicking and running from the whole thing.
There was a great deal of irony in that she'd been trying to do the same thing with him from a different angle.
“To not being trapped,” Phryne said softly, and looked Jack in the eye. They both sipped their champagne. “Here, I have something for you.”
She dug in her bag for a moment, and her fingers closed upon thick paper. It was the other copy of the marriage certificate – her solicitors had delivered it personally yesterday. At first she hadn't been sure whether giving it to Jack was a good idea – she still wasn't.
“I thought you might like one too,” Phryne said, and drew it out. Jack took it, and stared at it for a moment. Then his eyes came up and met hers searchingly. “As a... souvenir.”
“A souvenir?” Jack asked roughly. Phryne could feel him start to withdraw, though he didn't move physically, and wished she'd phrased that differently. She reached out and placed both her hands over his nearest one, wrapping her fingers around his tightly clenched ones.
When he saw the ring, she felt the change in him instantly, and cautious warmth rekindled in his eyes. Jack brought his other hand up to touch the sliver band on her middle finger curiously.
“A souvenir of what?” he asked more calmly.
“Of the time you almost got me into wedlock,” Phryne said teasingly. “A feat more impossible than Hercules' Labours. And, of course, only accomplished by extensive trickery on your part.” She grinned at him.
“My part!” Jack objected. “I think you're forgetting who it was who was so quick to announce us as an engaged couple. Clearly this was all a ploy on your part.”
“To get you into my bed?” Phryne asked mock-innocently, batting her eyelashes, and ran her fingertips lightly up his arm. Jack spluttered, but his pupils dilated, and she smiled in satisfaction.
“Surely we should be going,” he said hastily.
“So soon?” Phryne murmured.
Jack swallowed. “Or I fear we will not go at all,” he rasped.
“Well, then. Take me where you will, Jack, I'm yours.”