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Hon. Miss Phryne Fisher
14 White Horse St
Mayfair London

 

HAVE RECEIVED NOTICE OF SAFE ARRIVAL -(STOP)- CANNOT REMEMBER HOW SURVIVED AUS WITHOUT YOUR INFLUENCE -(STOP)- MORGUE PEACEFUL THOUGH -(STOP)- HURRY HOME
-MAC

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October 23rd, 1929

Dear Miss Fisher,

I reckon you'll be home soon enough, but Alice insisted I write to let you know we've set a date for the wedding. March 22nd. She hopes you'll be back in Melbourne in time; wouldn't seem right without you there.

We are all well, though I reckon Bert's about to die from the boredom of running the taxi without your side work. He'll deny it, but he's Bert.

Your friend,

Cec

 

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November 13th, 1929

 Dear Miss Phryne,

I was so pleased to receive your letter from London. I did not get to spend as much time as I would have liked there during my trip. I do hope that doesn't sound ungrateful--your kindness in providing my tour was so far above and beyond my wildest dreams that I find I cannot help but reach even higher. But I loved to hear about your time there, almost as much as I loved your stories about the flight. You will forgive me, I hope, for saying that your father sounds like an odious flight companion. Perhaps next time you will bring me instead!

As for Melbourne, there's not much to say. Dot and Constable Collins ("Senior constable" Dot will remind me, as if I could forget!) are very happy staying at Wardlow until you are home again. Married life certainly seems to suit them, even if I do enjoy making Dot blush a little too much when I visit. The school year is almost over. I am not entirely certain that I wish to remain boarding next year; there are so many restrictions that are unfair. It's supposed to be about keeping us safe, but I think it's because it makes the teachers' jobs simpler. Would you mind terribly? Perhaps I should send a telegraph once I have made up my mind. Yes, I think that would be best. Then you can write back to grant your permission or not, and I will have the fun of a telegraph just for me!

Love and kisses,

Jane

 

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November 22nd, 1929

Dear Miss Fisher,

Dorothy said that she intended to write to you, so I thought it best to include an update from Wardlow. All is running smoothly in your absence, though (if you will pardon the liberty) it is keenly felt by all who live here and our regular visitors. Miss Jane is returning to spend the summer holidays soon, so the house will be almost full again.

The only small matter has been in the garden; your rose bushes were showing signs of damage and  I could not identify the cause myself. I thought a professional might be required, but thankfully Inspector Robinson stopped by to speak to Constable Collins; one Saturday later the matter was sorted, and it gave me an excuse to feed him a proper meal as you requested.

Your servant,

Tobias Butler

 

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November 23rd, 1929

 Dear Miss Phryne,

I hope that England sees you well. Hugh and I loved your latest letter, though we had hoped to hear about your expected return. I know it cannot be for awhile yet, but we do hope.

I know it is not your inclination, but I must admit that I am finding married life to be a pleasure and I am so certain that you would be happy for me! Your guidance before the wedding was so helpful and kind. If you were here for me to go on investigations with it would be absolutely perfect, but I suppose one cannot have everything. And if I did, I wouldn't have a clue what to do with it!

We are hoping to host Christmas dinner at Wardlow this year, if you do not object. We plan to invite everyone: Bert, Cec and Alice, Doctor MacMillan, Inspector Robinson, even your Aunt Prudence. We will feel like you are with us then, even though you are so far away. You are missed, Miss Phryne. We are a family of sorts now, and we never would have found each other if it weren't for you. And I feel this most strongly this year--my mother has still not forgiven us for the elopement and Hugh's mother has not forgiven his conversion, so we would be alone if it weren't for your influence.

If you will forgive a little overstep, I do have one grave concern. Hugh has said that the inspector has been in a very cheerful mood lately. It seems to correspond with a decline in his visits to the house, and I cannot help but worry. It is probably pure silliness on my part, seeing signs of love everywhere because I'm so happy myself, but I am reminded of that pretty Italian woman we met. The one who worked at that restaurant? I would never be so bold or presumptuous, except that everybody and their Aunt Mary can see that you and Inspector Robinson have a connection and I thought... well, it hardly matters what I thought. Do with this information what you will, but I could not in good conscience keep my suspicions to myself.

 Love and miss you,

Mrs. Dorothy Collins (Dot)

 

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Hon. Miss Phryne Fisher
14 White Horse St
Mayfair London

 

YOUR STAFF HOLDING CHRISTMAS DINNER AT WARDLOW -(STOP)- RIDICULOUS -(STOP)- WILL ATTEND TO ENSURE ORDER MAINTAINED -(STOP)- DO MISS YOU PHRYNE

-PRUDENCE

 


 

It was early evening on Christmas Eve, and Jack was putting the finishing touches on his decorating. There was Christmas music on the wireless, his mother's shortbreads in the oven and wine mulling on the stove, the artificial tree was lit with electric lights for the first time, and he'd hung stockings on the mantel. It had been several years since he had put out the effort--he had worked most holidays since Rosie had moved in with her sister--but he had no excuse this year and a surprising (or perhaps, given the events of the past year, an unsurprising) amount of Christmas spirit.

He was just settling down to read when there was a knock at the door.

He stood, laid his book carefully on the side, took a deep breath, and headed to the hallway. Another knock came, firmer this time, and he opened the door.

"Miss Fisher,” he scolded, feeling remarkably calm given the circumstances. “Patience is a virtue."

"But not one of mine. And if you're still calling me Miss Fisher after those photographs I sent you, there really is no hope," she laughed, picking up the small bag by her feet and stepping inside.

The moment the door was shut, she kissed him. No preamble, just leaned up and pressed her lips against his as if she had done in a hundred times before and would do it a hundred times more. He had no such luxury of confidence, and drew her closer to kiss her deeply as if to bridge the distance between that moment and when he had seen her last. Her eyes fluttered closed, and she absent-mindedly laid one hand on his chest when it was done.

"I take it you like my decorations?" he teased, eyeing the mistletoe hung above the entrance.

"Didn't even notice. Hemiparasitic greenery is not enough to compel kisses from me, Jack."

"So you've said. Thought it was worth a punt."

She kissed him again, slow and deep, making a moan of appreciation that caused the blood to rush from his head.

"On second thought, I might just make an exception for tonight," she said as she pulled away. "Since I am a guest and you went through all that trouble."

There was no response but to kiss her again. He could quite happily kiss her all night, but seeing as how she'd just flown to London and back in a plane that gave him nightmares, he decided that being a considerate host was more important.

"I was about to make dinner," he said. "Feel free to freshen up; there are towels laid out in the guest room, and the bath is just down the hall."

"Guest room?" she asked.

"Miss Fisher, you've spent most of the last four months either flying or preparing to fly. I was not presuming anything."

She looked at him quizzically, then smiled. "I had almost forgotten how very chivalrous you can be."

Then she kissed his cheek, picked up her bag, and sashayed down the hall.

 

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He was dishing up the meal, his back to the door, when she came into the kitchen. He turned, almost dropping the plate he was holding when he saw her: she had found his robe and had put it--possibly only it, judging from the way it fit and the lack of make-up--on after her bath. Phryne Fisher. In his house. In his clothes. There were such things as Christmas miracles, even if he had been privy to the planning.

"I thought you might not make it after all," he said, trying to sound casual.

"Almost didn't," she admitted, towelling her hair dry. The movement gave a glimpse of skin; almost certainly naked. She might just kill him at this rate. "But I had a compelling reason to push through and land tonight instead of tomorrow. Is my arrival still a secret?"

"It is," he confirmed. "Although it was a near thing. Mrs. Collins has been too well-trained; I practically had to run from every encounter before she realised something was up, and I think all it did was give her the distinct impression of my infidelity."

"Infidelity?" she asked with a smirk. "Did you give the game away? You should have told her you were bringing a guest to Christmas dinner."

He’d thought about it, if only to give Mr. Butler an accurate number for seating, but the timing of her arrival was more last minute optimism than surety.

"Mrs. Collins is fiercely loyal, and rather under the impression that I should pine for you during your absence."

"Dot said that?"

"Not in so many words. But if I overheard one more pointed conversation with Hugh about how Miss Phryne would be home soon and how she would be so happy that everything was just as it was when she left, I might have just given in and told her the truth."

"You wouldn't!" she laughed. "After I went through all that trouble to keep it a surprise."

Jack shook his head; when Phryne had written to him to tell him that she had plans to fly back and not tell her household, he had thought she was joking. When it became clear that he was the only one who had been informed, he had struggled with the idea of keeping it from them. It was ultimately her choice and he'd abided, worrying in silence between each telegram, "Wish you were here" and "Engine issue delays flight. Saw an elephant" and "Thinking of you" all sent from far-flung locales he'd never visit himself.

Each slip of paper had been treasured, but none so much as her first letter. By the timing of its arrival he could only assume that it had crossed paths with his own letter, characteristically explaining the practical reasons he could not follow her and uncharacteristically explaining how very much he wanted to; hers told him in no uncertain terms to stay in Melbourne, as she was flying home as soon as feasibly possible and she expected him to be there. Then there had been the words and photos that made her intentions abundantly clear and made him question whether it was possible to arrest himself for possession of lewd materials.  

He put two plates on the table.

"Hungry?"

"Starving," she confirmed, and tucked in.

 

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After dinner they headed to his parlour, glasses of mulled wine in hand. He sat in an armchair; she sat on his lap.

"What?" she asked innocently. "You can hardly expect me to hear you all the way in that other chair. It's practically across the room!"

"I believe most people would move the other chair closer in the highly unlikely event that there was a problem, Miss Fisher."

"Yes, but this way I can kiss you whenever--and wherever--the notion strikes me."

She pecked his cheek as if to demonstrate. He put his glass down and snaked his arms around her waist, then placed a kiss of his own against her neck.

"You," he murmured, kissing her again. "Are a very, very clever woman."

They talked and drank and laughed for hours, stealing kisses in the quiet minutes in between. At some point darkness had fallen; neither one of them had wanted to move to turn on lamps, so the only illumination came from the lights on the tree. It created a cozy and almost ethereal ambiance, and Jack felt as if he were dreaming.

During a lull in the conversation, Phryne spotted the presents beneath the tree.

"I don't suppose any of those are for me?" she asked.

From the grin on her face, Jack suspected that she had already scoped out the entire pile. He had no intention of making it that easy for her.

"One or two."

"Can I open them?"

"No. Presents are for Christmas day."

"It's after midnight," she pouted playfully. "It is Christmas day."

He glanced at the grandfather clock in the corner; almost one in the morning.

"So it is," he conceded. "But I still won't be moved. House rules. Presents are opened in the morning, after bed."

He saw the problem with his statement a second too late. She leapt from his lap.

"That, Jack, is an absolutely marvelous idea."

She held out her hand and he took it, allowing her to pull him up. They were both slightly tipsy, he realised, and they giggled as they made their way to his bedroom.

"What do you think?" she asked when they entered, throwing her arms wide.

He paused, then started to laugh. She'd taken the mistletoe from the front door and hung it over the headboard, presumably while he'd been cooking dinner.

"I didn't have time to go shopping," she said, moving towards the bed. She sat on the edge of the mattress teasing the belt of her robe. His robe, strictly speaking. "So come unwrap your gift. Unless, of course, house rules are stopping you."

Her raised eyebrow and smirk were a clear challenge; he should have known that would come back to bite him.

"My house, my rules," he said, surprised by how gravelly his voice had become. "I suppose I could make an exception for a guest, since you went through all that trouble."

"Believe me, it was no trouble at all."

Phryne moved slightly, and the robe fell open. Any attempts at further banter fled his mind. She laughed at his appreciative gaze.

"Merry Christmas, Jack."

Her words pushed him into motion; when else but Christmas would she come to him, after all? She did appreciate making an impression. He sat beside her, slipping his hand beneath the robe to the skin of her hip. Lightly, as if she might disappear in a cloud of smoke; but she was real and solid beneath him, and it made him bold.

He kissed her, for once not worried about anything at all.

"Merry Christmas, Phryne."