“Hello, Miss Fisher,” grinned Tony Blake. “I did so hope you’d join us this evening.”
Phryne took a breath, trying to keep her hand from flying to her pistol; beside her Cec and Bert moved slightly, preparing for a fight.
“Uh-uh,” Tony scolded, pulling out a handgun. She should have known this was too easy. She had known this was too easy. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
Oh, a monologuer. Exploitable, though obnoxious. She glanced around the room, looking for other men. There was nowhere for them to easily hide that would provide a good vantage point to shoot, and she’d see them coming if they leapt into the melee. It was likely only the three of them. A confession and a distraction then.
Phryne crossed her arms in front of her chest—it put her pistol in closer reach, though it merely looked defensive—and stared at him.
“I want in,” she said.
“What’s a pretty thing like you dirtying your hands for?”
She shrugged. “With the financial crash, I lost most of my money. I have a lifestyle to maintain, and this will do it.”
Scoffing, Tony moved closer. The cabbies shifted forward, and Phryne raised one hand to call them off.
“Enough, boys,” she declared, waving her hand slightly. “Mr. Blake and I are discussing business.”
Eyes narrowed, Tony stepped even closer. Not ideal, but manageable. She caught a hint of spice and alcohol from him; something cheap, from the burn in her nostrils.
“I’m supposed to believe you just stumbled upon my little import business?”
“You can believe anything you like. I’m not stupid, Mr. Blake; when I knew I was returning to Melbourne I made enquiries.”
He looked her up and down, circling around her; the cabbies bristled but stayed still.
“I’m not certain I believe you, Miss Fisher,” he said dryly when he’d completed his examination. “What about that policeman you keep in your pocket?”
“The inspector?” Phryne scoffed. “Not a concern. He led me to you, and now he’s served his purpose.”
“And what purpose was this?” Tony asked lecherously. “You certainly seemed friendly with him in the back of that police car last night.”
Shit. Phryne changed course and leant forward, looking at Tony flirtatiously. It was revolting, but the mention of Jack....
“Did you enjoy watching?” she purred. “I liked you watching, you know. It’s such a shame that Esme Pierson interrupted the show.”
“Perhaps a repeat performance?” replied Tony huskily.
“Oh, yes. But not with the inspector, I think. He was so dull,” Phryne pouted; she could almost reach her gun and aim it before Tony could react, just a bit closer.
She reached up, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear and looking at Tony intently.
“I think we could reach an agreement for both business and pleasure.”
Tony leant forward as if to kiss her, then pulled back. Phryne heard his gun cock.
“You, Miss Fisher, are a lying—”
A crash from behind Phryne. The door.
“Police! Stay where you are!”
She was too close to Tony; the man grabbed her before she could move away, spun her around to use her as a shield. The bodyguards moved in but were waylaid by Bert and Cec. Phryne could see the men coming through the door, led by Jack; felt the gun against her throat. She struggled, couldn’t get the leverage to escape.
“Tony Blake, you’re under arrest!” Jack boomed, striding closer with his gun aimed steadily. He wouldn’t take the shot, even if he should have.
Around them the police swarmed the building, arresting the guards—there was a third lurking behind a crate after all—and securing the scene. There was a strange bubble around Tony, Phryne and Jack though, or that’s how it felt to Phryne as she watched it play out.
“Stop! Or she gets it,” Tony said desperately.
Jack continued forward, slow and steady, and Tony moved uncertainly, his gun wavering towards Jack then back at Phryne. It was enough.
The next time the gun moved away Phryne struck, hitting the same leg she’d injured two nights before, wrenched herself free, knocked the gun from his hand and got her own pistol trained straight at Tony’s chest as he collapsed to his knees.
“Don’t move,” Phryne warned him.
Jack tucked his gun away—the waistband of his trousers, again, the man was going to hurt himself one of these days—and pulled out his darbies instead. After securing Tony, he looked up at her.
“Miss Fisher,” he said with a nod of his head.
“Took you long enough,” Phryne replied, breathing heavily. “Though conveniently arriving just in time to be the hero of the day. I do so hope you appreciated my damsel in distress act.”
“Not particularly, no.”
It had, admittedly, been the most dangerous part of the plan, but utterly necessary.
“It worked,” she said.
“It did,” he agreed, hauling Tony Blake to his feet. “I presume you’ll meet me at the station?”
“Naturally. Is Will here?” Phryne asked, glancing around at the men. “I wanted to thank him for pushing through the warrants.”
“I believe his words were ‘I’m not going within a hundred yards of that woman when she’s wielding a gun’.”
Phryne laughed, mostly out of relief, and tucked said gun back into her coat pocket.
“I must admit that I’m liking him more and more.”
Jack stood in the interview room, talking with Tony Blake. It had been ingenious really, hiding in plain sight as a low-level crim; it kept suspicion off of him and gave him insight into business on the ground. It was also making this interview a headache. He jerked his head towards one of his constables to watch the man; he’d get a cup of tea and regroup. He had no idea where Phryne had disappeared to.
He found her in his office, sitting on his desk, eating a biscuit, and talking to Will.
“Jack!” she said brightly. “Food?”
“No, thank you,” he said. “Will, mate, what are you doing here?”
“Came to see how the raid went,” Will said with a smile. “Miss Fisher was just filling me in on all the daring feats.”
“I’m fairly certain any and all daring feats have been grossly exaggerated. It was a straightforward operation.”
“Well, we don’t usually allow civilians to call the shots, Jack. Quite daring in itself.”
Jack gave a strained smile, remembering the agonising wait for Phryne’s signal. When Tony Blake had come out of the shadows—Jack had to give him credit for style—he'd very nearly called the men in then, and damn the confession.
“Miss Fisher was in the best position,” he said. “Would either of you like a cup of tea?”
“Not for me, thank you,” Will said, standing. “I really do have to head back to Russell Street. And don’t worry about going after Tony for Roy’s death. I received a telephone call from Adelaide half an hour ago; when he heard Johnny had turned up dead he scarpered—fled the state.”
“That’s something, I suppose,” Jack said. “Miss Fisher?”
“No, thank you. I’ll join you in a moment?” she asked, giving him a small smile. “I need to speak with Hugh first—he and Dot have taken Winnie to stay with Dot’s mother this week, for reasons that sounds an awful lot like a convenient excuse, and they will be moving into their cottage next week. We need to arrange a time for them to collect their belongings. It will be nice to have my house back,” she confessed, “but never say a word to Dot about it.”
“My lips are sealed, Miss Fisher,” Jack said, smiling.
She tilted her head as she looked at him, then held out a biscuit.
“Go on then,” she coaxed. “You've got that look.”
Jack took it, ignoring Will’s look of amusement from the doorway as he did so. He made a hand gesture in WIll's direction, and Will laughed and shook his head as he left. Then Jack turned back to Phryne with a tiny smile.
“Five minutes, then the interview is continuing whether or not you’re there.”
She nodded and headed out to speak with Hugh; Jack made tea and returned to the interview room. Phryne was there dead-on five minutes, and together they extracted a confession from Tony Blake—names, dates, the police and customs officers bribed to look the other way, everything he could give up to save his own skin. It was a brilliant operation, but the man behind it was a coward. Three hours later and still discovering new charges to press, Jack decided to return Tony to the cells for a few hours while he completed other tasks. By the time he came back up the stairs, Phryne had gone, leaving a message with his constable that she had some matters to attend to at home and would not be back that evening.
He wasn’t entirely certain how to interpret this information, so he shook his head and moved into his office to start the raid report.
The rain was pounding so loudly that Phryne almost missed the knock at the door; before she could stand, Mr. Butler was opening it and moving aside. Phryne watched impatiently while the guest stepped into view, feeling a knot unravel in her chest when they did. The phrasing of her invitation had been so bungled that she wasn’t entirely certain he’d realise what it was.
“Jack,” she said, rising and heading towards the parlour door. “I wasn’t… I had hoped you would come for a nightcap. I thought the weather might deter you.”
“It would be a shame to let a little rain keep us from celebrating your first case since returning,” he said, passing his coat and hat to Mr. Butler with a quiet thanks and stepping into the room. “What kind of precedent would that set?”
“Not one I’d enjoy,” Phryne said with a smile, her eyes never leaving his.
“Excuse me, miss,” said her butler, “but would you and the inspector care for a hot toddy? With the weather what it is, it seems preferable.”
Phryne spared a brief glance at her butler, then turned back to Jack with the question in her eyes; they’d shared many drinks, but not that in particular. Something new. He nodded.
“That would be marvelous, Mr. B,” she said. “And Jack, take off your shoes. I can hear the sloshing from here.”
“It’s not as dire as all that,” he said, but he slipped them from his feet.
“Socks too,” she ordered. “Put them before the fire so they have a chance to dry.”
Jack complied, then came to sit beside her in front of the fireplace. In an instant the years and distance between them seemed smaller. They spoke in low tones, first about the case and then about things of little importance, until the fire began to go out. Jack stood when he noticed.
“Must you?” Phryne asked, standing up beside him.
“It is,” she said quietly, reaching out to stroke his lapel. “And it’s still pouring down rain, and my home is warm and dry.”
He smiled slightly at that. “So what do you propose?”
“Well…” she drawled out, “I cannot be held responsible for the drowning of Melbourne’s second best detective.”
“Who would you harangue if I did, after all?” smirked Jack in reply.
She moved even closer, the stroking hand coming to grasp his suit jacket firmly. She looked up at him, willing him to respond; there was a hitch in his breath, and in the dim lighting his eyes were dark with desire.
“And I do have a guest bedroom,” she purred, “so really it’s practically charity.”
His hand slid against her waist, the other coming up to cup her face.
“Phryne…” he began, but she pressed her lips to his before he could finish the thought.
It was a soft, questioning sort of kiss, the kind Phryne usually avoided. When he went to pull away—to regain his equilibrium, perhaps, but certainly not to leave—she twisted the fabric of his jacket tighter and dragged him back with a low, needy groan.
The noise emboldened him, the kiss shifting deeper, more confident; she responded in kind, slipped her tongue into his mouth to taste him properly. Her senses were filled with honey and whiskey and spices, a familiarity beneath it all. Eventually, she pulled away.
He didn’t hesitate before nodding.
“If you want me to,” he replied; his gaze was steady as he searched her face.
She pulled him towards her for another kiss in answer. It was languid, one of her hands reaching up to rest against the nape of his neck and caress the soft hair there. When it was over she laughed softly.
“Upstairs?” she whispered; with anyone else it wouldn’t have been in question.
“I do believe that is where the bedrooms are,” he said wryly, a tender smile on his face.
She stepped back, waiting for him to gather his socks and shoes from in front of the fireplace, then moved towards the door. He didn’t follow, so she tossed a coy look over her shoulder—he looked stunned, standing in her parlour with socks in one hand and still damp shoes in the other. His pomade had not withstood the long day and rain, and a stray lock of hair tumbled across his forehead.
“Come after me,” she said spontaneously.
It was a gamble, bringing up that past, but it seemed to jolt him from his reverie; the resulting smile caused sharp desire to spike and pulse through her. She sashayed from the room with deliberation, sensing him following her; the pulsing gained a delicious edge of anticipation.
Their ascent of the stairs was slow. Deliberate. She turned to watch him as she crossed the threshold of her boudoir, catching the way his breathing grew tighter at the mere idea; he expelled it quite suddenly when he followed suit.
“See?” she said with a light laugh. “It’s really quite simple.”
“Nothing about you is simple,” he replied, then gave a wry smile. “I have no idea how to unfasten your trousers, for example.”
She glanced down; wishing for but not expecting his presence, she was in trousers and a blouse and not even exceptionally divine undergarments. It was not an outfit intended to seduce, but from the look he gave her, he really didn’t mind.
“There are buttons,” she purred. “Which I am certain your clever fingers could find easily enough, if they looked.”
His hands snaked out to pull her close, one finger running along the waistband until he found the small buttons; he made short work of them, but didn’t attempt to remove the garment. Gliding his palm upward, against her side and avoiding her breasts—a fact that made her groan in disappointment—he hooked his finger beneath the cowl of her blouse, the digit calloused yet tender against her skin. Her head lolled back at the barely-there sensation and he lowered his mouth to her neck.
“Your necklines,” he murmured between kisses, “drive me mad. The scarves, the knots, the asymmetrical ones that look like you’ve been thoroughly ravished and remain disheveled, the little details that I can’t stop remembering. They haunt me, Miss Fisher.”
Phryne laughed, felt his own chuckle against her throat, pressed her body flush against him. Between them his cock twitched and the reality of the situation struck her; she was home, in her bedroom, with Jack Robinson ravishing her neck. But he was still wearing his suit; it was intolerable.
She slid her hands between their bodies, unbuttoning his waistcoat from the bottom up, then sliding his silk tie out of its knot. The shirt came undone next, hastily yanked from his trousers, and she pushed the whole thing—jacket, waistcoat, shirt, braces and tie—off in one motion. Before he could resume his hold she dropped to her knees, removing his trousers and smalls and giving his thighs a short and appreciative glance, and his cock a much more thorough one. Then she pressed a kiss against its smooth skin, relishing the quiet groan she’d never heard but often imagined. Then she stood to shed her own trousers with a teasing shimmy and moved to recline on the bed.
“You’re still dressed,” he rumbled; at his side his hands clenched and unclenched as if he was resisting the urge to touch.
“In which case, Jack, perhaps you ought to remove the offending items.”
He strode to the bed, slid his hands beneath the hem of her blouse, and lifted it up and off in one move. Her lingerie came next with barely a glance spared for the silk creation, then he paused and swallowed hard. For a terrifying moment she thought he might retreat, but he traced his fingers along her collarbone.
“Protection,” he said, as much to himself as to her, then looked up to meet her eyes. “I didn’t want to presume, but I brought—”
“Jack,” she said, smiling softly. “You don’t need to explain.”
“Ah, yes, I’ll just…”
“I presume you’re… healthy?”
It was a delicate conversation, and she regretted her phrasing immediately. Thankfully he merely looked at her with fond exasperation, as if to point out that he would have said if he wasn’t.
“Good,” she said. “Stay.”
She twisted, fumbling in her bedside table until she found a familiar Bakelite case and removed her diaphragm from it. She turned back, holding it up with a grin.
“This will do.”
“You don’t want to—”
“Double up on the family planning?” she finished. “This is really all we need on that front. Wonderfully effective. I want to feel you, Jack.”
He nodded, then watched as she quickly inserted the device. She laughed at his quiet groan as her fingers disappeared into herself, and the way he stroked his cock when she removed them. She trailed the hand up, planning to raise the fingers to her lips to tease him; he was on the bed and sucking them himself before they’d reached her breasts. Then he was kissing her, pressing her further against her pillows as he moved between her legs and rose over her.
“Alright?” he asked quietly, his hands braced either side of her head. “Not too heavy?”
“Not at all,” she said, appreciating the solid weight.
Her hands moved to hold onto him, one resting on his bicep and one against his back; as he slid into her she felt the muscles tense, flex. She canted her hips towards him, willing him deeper—he fit so well, and when he began to move… exquisite. Wrapping her legs above his waist, she rose to meet him; after a few false starts they found a rhythm, the thrusts countering with kisses against her skin wherever he could reach.
“Jack, darling,” she panted, her eyes closing to better luxuriate in the sensations. “Talk to me.”
He gave an inquisitive hum, too distracted by the hollow at the base of her neck.
“Talk, Jack,” she said again, running her fingers through his hair.
The man’s voice was sinful at the best of times, but hoarse with lust it was practically pornographic.
“Anything,” she said, shifting her legs slightly higher around him; the subtle change in angle made her gasp, her climax building rapidly now. He redoubled his efforts, and she moaned. “What you’re thinking right now. Crime statistics for Melbourne. The—oh—the price of tea in China. Just talk. I want to hear your voice. ”
He laughed, dipping his head to tongue her nipple until her fingernails scratched against his skin, then began a litany of endearments and commentary and sarcastic little asides that had her on the precipice of orgasm. He was everywhere; around her and inside her, every steady thrust, every word reassuring her that this was him.
So this was what it was like to make love to Jack Robinson, she thought as her climax hit her.
When they were both spent and had cleaned themselves, Jack lay in Phryne’s bed and waited. For what, he was not entirely certain. A sign how to progress perhaps. Eventually he could wait no longer.
“That went… well?” he asked, watching her.
Phryne laughed in response, rolling over to press a kiss to his cheek before softly tracing the line of his jaw with her lips. “I thought so.”
He reached up to smooth her bob into submission, trying to ignore the constriction of his heart as he did so; he might never be in a position to do so again. But if one night was all they would have, he intended to have no regrets.
“What are we now?” he asked.
“I don’t know," Phryne confessed. "At a beginning, I think, but….”
“It’s been a long time.”
“Yes. For better or worse, where we were before… I don’t think we can go back to that.”
“No,” Jack agreed.
“But we can move forward,” she offered tentatively. “We can solve cases together when they overlap, and be friends, and see what happens if we...”
“Court? Step out for dinner once a week, take a stroll along the foreshore?” he suggested, half joking, and she nodded slightly.
“If you’d like.”
“That’s not an enthusiastic yes, Miss Fisher,” he said dryly.
“I don’t usually court, Jack. I flirt, I fuck, I have a marvelous time. But the idea that I would leave this unattempted because of it..." she sighed, lacing her fingers through his; he didn't think she even noticed. “It feels like I’d be choosing my pride over my potential happiness, and I’ve done that once.”
Her pride had kept her from seeking help, but it wasn’t what had kept her away. That was her kindness, her loyalty, her sense of duty. She was the most remarkable woman he had ever known.
“Courting sounds perfect.”
She relaxed, coming to rest against him. “You’ll stay though? Tonight, I mean.”
“Unless you prefer I leave.”
“Stay,” she said firmly.
He ran his hand down her arm, appreciating the gooseflesh that rose in its wake. Pressed a kiss to her hair. Allowed himself to love being with her, to love her, just for the moment. The future was uncertain, but they were at a beginning. There was just one final detail…
“Does taking it slow include…”
“Oh, I plan to have you in my bed whenever the mood strikes,” she laughed. “But only if that works for both of us. If that means… abstaining while we figure it out, so be it. But I’ve wanted you for so long that I hope not. Patience is not my strong suit.”
“I’m sure we’ll manage,” Jack said, affection for this maddening woman making his voice tight.
“We always do,” she agreed, then gave a small laugh. “Eventually.”
Jack ducked his head towards her to brush a kiss against her lips.
“Eventually,” he agreed with a quiet smirk. “What time do you wake up in the morning?”
“Late. I have a lunch with Mac at one, but otherwise I don’t plan to stir from my bed.”
“I won’t be here when you wake up then,” he said, wishing desperately that he could be. “I have to be at the station by nine, to interview Tony Blake again.”
“Thank you. For telling me. I would hate to think I’d scared you off.”
“Never,” he said. “And say hello to Mac for me.”
“She likes you, you know,” Phryne said sleepily.
“Well, I must admit I had some idea. There’s not many other advantages to having a weekly drink with a copper for two years.”
Phryne laugh was quiet. “Maybe we’ll find a body at the restaurant. We’ll make sure to call you in if we do.”
“Please let me complete the paperwork from the first murder before discovering another. ”
“Spoilsport,” she huffed, nestling closer.
Jack hummed in acknowledgment, then caressed her arm again.
“Welcome home, Miss Fisher,” he said quietly.
Half asleep, she merely held him all the tighter.