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Portraits of Interludes

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Troy knew she would never have any trouble bringing to mind the first time she thought of Rory and felt at home with the warmth of wanting him.

It hadn't been their first encounter, certainly. The tight spike of anxiety and embarrassment had overwhelmed near everything after irritation fled in the disaster on the ship deck. And she'd known she hadn't come off as anything but an ill-mannered oaf when asking to paint him, although he'd been gracious enough without making her feel like he was granting her the pleasure of his time—an altogether too common impression given by men as grand as he had looked.

Anxiety was the least of the feelings that had swamped her during the...investigation into Sonia, Garcia, Valmai... Looking back, it was hard to separate anything from the fog of disbelief and fear, yes, fear of the knowledge that someone within one of the circles she had created in her world had it in them to do away with another being.

Rory had been a sharp blade, scything through everything she had thought she'd known in focused sweeps that only confused and frightened her further. Yet it wasn't until he shone a glaring light on the pair of them, alone, that Troy had all but physically thrown up her hands and stumbled away, pathetically grateful that he had let her.

The ever-lasting memory of their next coming together, over the dreadful business of Bunchy's death, should have been the moment that she confessed her love. But the seed planted during that time that she held close was the quiet afternoon in Rory's flat with tea and caviare and him at her feet. That even with how they had stood at the time—her often wanting to take two steps back for every one he ventured forward—he could allow himself to be so open in her presence was humbling. Even more eye-opening was her own unexpected, welling need to be there and to help him be at rest.

She was honest enough with herself to know that she almost fled again after the kiss. He had kissed her and spouted that ridiculous line, and she had been filled with an overwhelming desire. She had given in to one part of it, and he had rushed off to fetch her a taxi and left her looking at the footstool where he had sat and—with his own heart on full display—cracked open her life.

Katti had called her worse than a fool when she found Troy staring at a blank canvas the following day and prised a jumble of words out of her. Troy hadn't been able to disagree, because her friend had, as always, dug to the core of it and exposed the familiarity of that feeling: contentment with the idea that something she had done was creating a wonderful new thing in the world.

Every time she stood back from a canvas, there was a release. The bubble of colors and lines and curves and light burst and left her drained, some times more than others. Only a handful of paintings, though, had brought on a sense of peace. There was nothing similar between them—no particular moment of enlightenment or brush used, shadow cast, highlight added to create something greater that she thought possible of herself—but it was unmistakable. And stepping back in her mind from the look that she had caught more than once on Rory's face, the one that had begun to thrill, she had admitted something to herself that shifted everything.

Troy had been skulking on the edges of polite society enough to hear the young bucks talk of becoming better men through the love of a good woman. After that moment in that quietly masculine flat, she'd rather believed they had gotten things, once again, not right on the nose. No, she couldn't and wouldn't be anyone different from herself. She set out to try herself against the concept and reality of being with Rory, because she supposed the truth of the matter was finding the person who brought out the best of what was already in you.

By the time of the Ancred affair, she could only hope that still held true. Three years without him. Almost half the length of their marriage.

There were plenty who had been apart longer, Tory knew. Those who had far more to fear and who scanned the papers every day with one hand over their heart. She had gone on with her life—perhaps spending more time in her studio, but not forgoing evenings with friends as all of England learned to live with the price of the war.

The letters had filled a certain amount of the hole with his voice, as clear and precise as ever. They shared the world and his thoughts in such detail as only Rory could accomplish. The hills of the antipodes were verdant and lush in her mind through him, making her itch. No one could put blame on the small nothings that were always pushed away into corners should Katti come to set her easel alongside Troy's.

By the end, his thoughts were fully on her, and if she were the type, she'd have been wringing her hands at the conflict that created. She wanted nothing more than the promised fortnight, but she did not know, entirely, whether they would be able to fill the time suddenly afforded them. Both frustration and a certain relief came over her when it became clear that time was not to be. All too often during those years she had found herself wishing for him to be there at night across the table, before the short-lived fires, to see his face as they shared the daily silliness and wonder that she instead shoved into her own letters. But very few things were as extraordinary as the week at Ancreton, and the queer little happenings that could fill so much space on a sheet of paper, would they become incorporeal nothings once voiced in person?

And what of the rest? She had lived so much longer without him than with, and no matter how expanse did its best some nights to taunt, she hadn't let herself miss him in their bed.

So when she stood on the wharf and watched the rhythm of the waves being thrown into chaos by the ship making its way toward them, she had her hands deep in her coat pockets as she squinted into the wind. The chill of the day, she told herself, even as her hands clenched when she did not see him right off.

Then there Rory stood. A tall figure with strong lines that extended through his fingers as his hand came up. But it was his eyes. They met hers, the look in them so familiar and dear that they warmed a core she hadn't realized was furled protectively within her. The smile emerged without thought, a response she could no more help than she could stop wanting to capture the light that burnished his dark hair when he finally stood before her.

The flashing images and chattering din of the wharf dimmed in the moment his arms came around her, and Troy put her cheek against his coat and closed her eyes and breathed him in.