Chapter 1: 1-5
1. After Hours (Iris Jordan/Nerine, Hugh Anderson)
Iris closed the backroom door, muffling the sound of Hugh's saxophone still tracing a melody on the darkened stage. The others had disappeared into the night to find an eatery that was still - or already - open. Iris packed her bass, then smelled the cigarette. She spun around.
"Don't fret, honey," said Nerine's rich voice from the corner of the room. "It's just little old me."
"Those things will destroy your voice."
"You need a little destruction to sing the blues right," said Nerine, Iris could see she was tipsy.
"Come on, goose, I'll get you home."
Bass over one shoulder, Nerine on the other, Iris made it to the street and hailed a cab. "You're so good," Nerine murmured into her neck. The cab driver nearly hit a lamppost trying not to watch. Iris fixed her eyes dead ahead.
Nerine wasn't like her, and besides, she was trouble.
Then they were up the narrow staircase and into Nerine's apartment. Nerine folded into a queen-size bed, kicking off her shoes. "Well," she said gruffly, "you coming to bed?"
Iris, who couldn't speak and look at her at the same time, nodded faintly, and set her bass gently by the door.
2. Alone At Last (Elli de Lisse/Phryne Fisher/Sasha de Lisse)
Phryne had known perfectly well what she was doing when she'd invited both Sasha and Elli to dinner at the Windsor. What could she say? That pair of kisses at the Russians' lodgings had convinced her, despite everything that had followed.
Now she lay gloriously sated in the middle of her bed, the beautiful Sasha on one side and the glowing Elli on the other, and felt glad she'd given Dot the night off. They had made rather more noise than any pair of earplugs could muffle. Elli liked to talk while she made love, too, a staccato of whispered filth and adoration.
Sasha slipped out of bed. Phryne caught the brief smirk he gave his sister as he headed for the bathroom. Elli slid up in her arms. Phryne, who had expected this, too, found she didn't resent being set up enough to kick the gorgeous girl with the warm clever hands out of her bed.
"I will show you we don't need him, eh?" Elli said. Poor girl, thought Phryne. It must not be easy to prefer women when men are so much eas--
Phryne's thought - and breath - was cut short, for Elli's hands really were frightfully clever.
3. Anything Goes (Iris Jordan/Madame Breda)
Iris first met Madame Breda at the Ladies' Physical Culture Fair at the community house, and it seemed amazing they'd never made their acquaintance before. They attended the same events and ordered from some of the same manufacturers, though Breda's need exceeded Iris's, who relied on exercise, massage and healthy diet more than supplements or oils. They both favoured a holistic approach to health and valued the importance of prevention, though where Iris strove to make an individual stronger, Breda aimed to make them comfortable. Worthy goals, both.
On the subject of sexual health, they agreed that hysteria and wandering wombs were all stuff and nonsense. Sexuality was by all accounts individual and, whether it was happily celibate or voracious, as with a sinew or muscle, the worst thing you could do to it was force it into a position that was unnatural to it.
It wasn't the sort of theory one aired, except among trusted colleagues or girls one looked to seduce. By the time Iris was lying gasping in Breda's arms in a hot scented bath, the dolphin-shaped dildo still snug inside her and Breda's fingers splayed across her mons, she had stopped trying to figure out which Breda was.
4. The Best Laid Schemes (Lydia Andrews/OFC)
Lydia had it all figured out and every little thing was in its place. Of course there was still her husband, but the bastard would get his soon enough. The thought of being a wronged wife of a convict or the widow of an executed murderer rather appealed to her. It had a romance to it. But independence she had to have.
She relied on her men to take care of practical matters most of the time, but she had to stay on top of her game, and not allow herself to get squeamish, which is why she attended that deplorable bathhouse on occasion. Oh yes, she knew what went on in there. It sickened her. It was indecent, having girls and perverted men servicing male clients. At least they never offered her a male bather. There was nothing wrong with it if it was a woman, of course. A chaste massage was good for you. That was an established fact.
She sighed and lay back in the bath, allowing the girl Juliette to rub her down. She caught the girl's hand and guided it between her legs.
That was standard for a massage, wasn't it? Inducing a hysterical paroxysm? Surely.
5. The Bitter Love (Elli de Lisse/Phryne Fisher, Phryne Fisher/Sasha de Lisse)
Elli stood on the docks in between the corner of the harbour building and a stack of shipping containers, blocking the view so that Sasha could say goodbye to Miss Fisher without the two of them making too much of a display of themselves.
To put it another way, she stood with her back to her brother necking with the woman she was in love with.
Elli had been in love a dozen times before. She found herself falling head over heels for just about every exquisite female who looked her way, but it never got any easier to watch them go back to their husbands or girlfriends or daddies, or, damn it all to hell, straight into Sasha's arms.
She'd thought better of Phryne. The Honourable Miss Fisher had certainly never made any bones about which sibling she preferred, but she had been kind to Elli and she was clever. Didn't she realize what this felt like?
There was a tap on her shoulder. It was Sasha, collar undone and a smug look on his face. A white slim arm shot out from behind him and pulled Elli into the shadows.
"Your turn," said Phryne, grinning through smudged lipstick.
Chapter 2: 6-10
6. Come Again (Dulcie/Lynn Bevan)
Chastity came easier to Dulcie than most of the other girls. Naturally, the circus knew. It takes all sorts, the circus figured, and Dulcie knew her place.
She was running towards the women's tent with an armful of costumes when Lynn Bevan stuck her capped and sparkling head out of the flyers' caravan. "I need a rubdown," she commanded, and Dulcie climbed in.
She'd never been inside any of the Bevans' caravans before. It had two beds at the back and nothing but circus posters by way of decoration. Dulcie set the costumes on the table and Lynn lay down on a bed.
She must know about me, Dulcie thought as her hands worked on Lynn's sleek muscled body, massaging her back, thighs and calves. It didn't seem to matter, though Dulcie felt excitement bubble in the pit of her belly. Lynn wasn't just strong and beautiful, she was circus royalty, as out of reach here as on the trapeze.
So it should have been just Dulcie's imagination when Lynn turned around, smiled sensuously, and reached for her, but here were Lynn's hands on the back of her neck.
Dulcie's belly danced a little jig and she closed her eyes.
7. The Dangerous Games (Phryne Fisher/Bunji Ross, G)
It was a morning when life just hadn't its usual charm for Phryne. An excellent breakfast had passed unnoticed. She missed adversity and a cold wind on her face to sting away the rouge.
That gave her an idea. She rung up Bunji Ross, then took the Hispano-Suiza to the flight school hangar where Bunji housed her Fokker.
The day was clear and the winds manageable. Phryne swung the propeller and jumped on the co-pilot's seat just as Bunji sped for take-off. The plane escaped gravity's pull and they were free. The glittering sea filled the horizon.
“Hold on!” Bunji shouted over the wind. Phryne held on just as the Fokker skimmed into a mad whirl towards the sun, upside down and the air tearing at the wings in a stunt Phryne could never attempt herself. Phryne found herself whooping with joy.
“Well, can I show a girl a good time, or what?” said Bunji, grinning from ear to ear as the plane kissed ground.
Phryne twisted in her seat and answered with a deep and involved kiss, scandalizing a student gliding by on a Gipsy Moth. Bunji laughed and kissed her back. This definitely called for a dinner invitation.
8. Deadly Desire (Amelia Parkes/Lizard Elsie, 250 words)
It turned out infamy had its benefits. Amelia's release hadn't been in the papers for two days before she began to receive invitations to audition for every crime drama being put up in Melbourne.
She wasn't as nervous as she had been, now that she knew she could face a gaol and come out again, so she brushed herself down and went. They snapped her up, and the press had a field day with the on-stage, real-life murderess, ensuring success for Mrs English's Legacy.
In reverse correlation to Amelia's fortunes, Lizard Elsie's spiraled down. Even pretty and clean, she was no spring chicken, and Melbourne wasn't short of girls for sailors. "Joost'll fucking have me, when he's in town," said Elsie, but Joost wasn't in town. Mrs Witherspoon was getting impatient.
Amelia was dropped off late one night, tired and smelling of greasepaint and sweat. Upstairs, she could hear drunken singing coming from Elsie's room. She tried the door and it swung open.
Amelia was on her knees in seconds and the bottle of ruby port flying out the window.
"It weren't empty," Elsie protested.
"What else y'want me t'do?" Elsie grumbled. "Ain't no more sailors for l'il Else."
"You stay with me," said Amelia, and kissed Elsie's moist brow. "I'll be your sailor."
Elsie chuckled and buried her head into Amelia's lap. "That'd be fucking different." Then she fell asleep.
Amelia cradled her until sunrise, feeling guilty but happy, and wondered when she had fallen in love.
9. The Delicate Vice (Dot Williams/Phryne Fisher)
Dot had never cared what she dressed in, so long as it was decent, clean and well enough mended, and didn't draw any untoward attention. There was nothing objectionable about plain cotton stockings, low hemlines and bulky sweaters, nor with long plaited hair and a clean-washed face.
But that was what was all right for plain old Dot Williams.
Back in school, all the girls had been mad for the sight of a real lady and the whiff of forbidden perfume. Dot, otherwise so conscientious, had hidden a coloured photograph of a woman in beads and feathers under her bed, folded and tacked into the headboard, and it had made her the envy of the dormitory.
Clothes were different when they were on somebody else. Somebody elegant.
She put all her extensive darning experience to work mending Miss Phryne's stockings, her exquisite velvet hems, and her slippery silk unmentionables. She held the fabric up against her face and smelled Miss Phryne's scents, perfume and sex and cigarettes.
Dot was a good girl. She'd never do anything improper. There was no sin in liking pretty things. No matter how much.
Sin is what you do, not what you feel.
10. Detour (Elizabeth Macmillan/Bunji Ross)
"Small world," said Dr Macmillan, surveying Bunji with laughter in her eyes as she put down her bag.
Bunji would rather have had sympathy. Her leg hurt like the dickens. It had been varying between a dull ache and convulsions that left her breathless. "Glad to see you, Doc. Do excuse me if I don't get up."
The room was dark and cool, though the sun beat down on the rolling mountainside outside. Bunji had been charting the Blue Mountains when a gust had caught her plane and dipped her into a conifer. She'd thought she'd got away with bruises until this rummy leg business had started. The locals had brought her to a rest clinic which Dr Macmillan happened to be visiting.
"It's a muscle knot," Mac declared after a while. "You'll need calcium and magnesium, a warm compress, and some gentle massage."
"It's not broken?"
"Not even close."
Mac started to stand, and Bunji grabbed her arm. "Will you stay and look after me?"
Mac snorted. "I have other patients."
"Well, now it's my heart that's broken." Bunji grinned.
"Cheek," said Mac, but cracked a smile that lifted Bunji's spirits. There could be a bright side after all.
Chapter 3: 11-15 (the crossover chapter)
11. Either Is Love (Elli de Lisse/Irene Adler, Sherlock Holmes crossover)
Sasha was as besotted with his bride as he was with her money. The wedding had been a small affair, an affected modesty belied by the ostentatious honeymoon they then departed on, leaving the house in the hands of an elderly aunt and, as an afterthought, Elli.
The aunt arrived only days after the wedding. Elli had prepared herself to obey her every order. It would not do to upset the family that was the source of her new wealth and (she hoped) independence before she could escape into the city.
Nothing could have prepared her for Mrs Irene Norton, who met her in the sitting room, the road's dust still clinging to her coat. Grey-haired and sharp-eyed, Mrs Norton was 65 if she was a day, with the carriage of a young queen. No trite remark about her once having been a great beauty would do. She was a great beauty, and always would be.
They shook hands, at the end of which Elli was sure Mrs Norton had her perfectly figured out.
It was completely unsuitable, of course, not to mention absurd, but life was absurd, and Elli never had been able to stop herself falling in love.
12. Encore (Bunji Ross/Madeline Bassett, Jeeves & Wooster crossover)
There was a time when Bunji Ross had been an ordinary girl attending a perfectly respectable academy in the south of England. Then at some point other girls had learned modesty, composure, and the art of subtlety, while little Bunji learned cricket, swearing, and airmanship. She had never looked back.
It seemed incredible now, but as schoolgirls there hadn't been little difference between her and Madeline Bassett. Bunji regarded the prim little thing across the dinner table the only way she knew how, which prompted her Aunt Betty to declare she should close her mouth and stop goggling before her eyeballs fell out.
Aunt Betty had missed the subtlety class, too.
Bunji spent the following week, while her Fokker was being repaired, listening to her old school chum simper and sigh and talk about roses, and yet it came as a complete surprise when Madeline finally cornered her in Aunt Betty's balcony and pressed her teary face against Bunji's.
It turned out sweet little Madeline had a thing for sporty girls who smelled like sweat and cigarettes. By Jove, Bunji swore, you never knew a girl until you'd got to know her twice.
13. Fair Game (Phryne Fisher/Cissy Meldrum, You Rang M'Lord crossover)
Phryne never drank too much. She simply didn't go for it. A glass of wine at dinner was always pleasant, but to drink until you couldn't stand and spend the morning vomiting and miserable had always seemed to her an illogical approach to pleasure.
So why on earth was her head pounding, and why did the white light peeking through the heavy curtains make her feel as if her brain was being stabbed with icicles?
She groaned and rolled on her side, and her thigh struck warm flesh. That, at least, was no surprise. A blond head in an Eton cut peeked out from under the blankets.
Then she remembered. "Cissy?" she groaned. "Oh, why didn't you stop me?"
Cissy grunted. "If I did, you might have stopped me. Couldn't risk it, with a whole evening of Reverend Albright ahead of us."
"So the intelligent thing to do was drink ourselves silly and hop naked into your bed? What will Lord Meldrum say?"
Cissy turned and grinned blearily between the covers. "Trust me, they wouldn't notice if we did it in the sitting room at high tea."
"Fair enough," said Phryne and kissed her. "I never did like sneaking."
14. Good Girl, Bad Girl (Phryne Fisher/Daisy Dalrymple, Daisy Dalrympe Mysteries crossover. Note: based only on the first two DD novels.)
It was 1922, and Phryne Fisher was bored, despite a morning spent agreeably chasing a golf ball. The joy of improving her handicap had popped like a bubble and she was just gloomily observing that the opulence of the golf club so soon after the Great War seemed frankly indecent, when a familiar "what ho" drew her attention to Phillip Petrie. He was trailing an apple-cheeked long-haired girl that he introduced as Daisy Dalrymple.
Phryne prepared herself for a round of the meaningless polite banter, but then Phillip brought up, quite casually, the subject of murder. It turned out Daisy had done a neat bit of detecting at a friend's house, though neither of them divulged names or details.
Daisy did not look like a sleuth. She did not even look like an Honourable - all sweet honest helpfulness. Tasteless as it was, Phryne found she wanted to shock her, and invited her over to dinner.
When neither cigarettes nor talk of lovers did the trick, Phryne asked Daisy up to her boudoir.
Somewhere between moves, they ended up in a tangle on Phryne's sheets, wet mouths and hands clawing at each other's clothes. Phryne had never been more pleasantly surprised.
15. Into the Fire (Phryne Fisher/Bob, Blackadder Goes Forth crossover)
Phryne caught a boy hiding in the balcony outside the soldiers' ball, only to find that he wasn't a boy at all. Or perhaps heit was. Phryne did not venture to presume. Bob or Kate, the soldier said, either is fine. Phryne offered her a gasper.
Bob had soft golden hair and an eagerness that Phryne found momentarily intoxicating, there under the stars. She hadn't yet decided not to get involved with soldiers. She was still very young.
Years later, Phryne flew over the trenches.
The sky was empty. She was late. The frontline had moved. Here and there orderlies with stretchers were running from corpse to corpse, looking for survivors.
Phryne was guided down to a road by a large old house commandeered by the British army. She dropped off the despatches and found a washtub and some suspect mutton.
As she tottered towards bed, exhausted by the long flight and the nearness of death, she heard a voice singing in the hospital ward, and followed it.
Bob was singing by the window. Phryne's smile died when she saw the bandaged stub.
She went to her anyway and embraced her. Bob stopped and smiled, and the years fell away.
Chapter 4: 16-20
16. A Labor of Love (Amelia McNaughton/Isola/Leila Esperance)
Amelia turned a fresh page in her sketchbook and licked her brush. On the bed, Leila glanced over her shoulder with a wicked grin, before turning back to Isola, her face disappearing under a cloud of hair.
Amelia sketched Isola's limbs spread out on the bed, the lines of her hands as they gripped the headboard, the curve of her belly, and her hair, in bold black strokes. She was all soft lines and inviting curves and Leila above her was fleshless and delicate by comparison (lighter pressure, thin dashes), but still beautiful - so very beautiful, like a china doll. Yet there was nothing delicate with the way she pushed Isola's legs up and grabbed her thighs, sinking her face into Isola's crotch with a delighted little growl. Isola cursed in Italian and bucked up, animalistic and immediate. Amelia's brush flew over the paper.
They moved like the tide against the land. Amelia was sure she'd heard that comparison before and had thought little of it at the time. That was a long time ago, before she'd seen it, felt it - waves lapping, pulling, pushing, engulfing.
Her breath was coming in faster, in time with the squeaking of the bedsprings.
17. Love in the Shadows (Dulcie/Doreen (Blood and Circuses), Dulcie/Lynn Bevan)
You can't keep an affair secret in a circus, so Lynn and Dulcie didn't have an affair. They fucked sometimes, under the guise of a private rub-down, careful not to make it too often. Discretion, even when futile, was necessary.
Sometimes Dulcie lay awake at night so hot with memory she'd see the sun rise before she slept. You can't have a juggler who can't sleep and can't concentrate, so she started sneaking into the carnie camp.
Nobody ever talked about what went on in the carnie camp.
Pretty Doreen lit a fire in Dulcie just as hot as Lynn did, and unlike Lynn she'd nod to Dulcie in public if Dulcie nodded first. It didn't hurt.
Doreen was like Salome or one of them Egyptian princesses, Dulcie fancied, dancing with her snake in her little outfit, scaly muscle sliding over naked flesh, and it was all Dulcie could do to keep breathing.
Doreen had her own caravan, filled to the brim with knicknacks and perfumes and cloth, as different from the Bevans' as could be, and she'd whisper foul little nothings while Dulcie found her wet cunt with her fingers, nails against that powerful belly, curling in sweaty hair.
18. Obsession (Leila Esperance/Cynthia Medenham)
Of course Cynthia knew what kind of a woman Leila Esperance was. She wrote about her kind of woman all the time, only at the end of the book Leila would either die nobly or learn to love one woman. Man, on the re-write. All of Cynthia's books, like her life, got a re-write to make them presentable, with new pronouns, costumes and names.
Beautiful Leila played games, made fun and remained out of reach, making a sport of watching ardent lovers jump through hoops. There was no reason to think that Cynthia's fate would be any different. And yet Cynthia did. She couldn't help but expect the great finale, where Leila's gay pretense fell away and her delicate center was revealed, vulnerable like anyone else's. Cynthia pictured a little house, some gambit to explain their situation, and long afternoons and nights with Leila all to herself, whispering words of love against her skin.
Her breath was so hot, her little hands so sharp on Cynthia's hips, the smell of greasepaint and perfume overwhelming. Cynthia felt her chest open up, beyond pretty metaphors, raw and squishy and human. She couldn't leave. Sense had nothing to do with it. She couldn't.
19. One Way Trip (Jo Binet/Anne Purvis)
When Jo first met Anne, she – Anne – had just come down to Melbourne on horseback, a tent and a sleeping bag slung over the back of the mare and both of them road-dusty and nut-brown, though what hair stuck out from under Anne's hat was bleached blond in the sun. This was back before automobiles were as commonplace, and anyway Anne said she'd enjoyed the ride. Jo, who had been sitting on a bench outside the post office contemplating poetry and death, thought she'd never seen anyone prettier than Anne was right then with her aura of sweat and manure and sunshine.
“G'day,” Anne said and nodded to her, which alone would have told Jo she was country. When Anne came out again, having left Janet the mare to be watered and rubbed down, Jo stopped her and offered a cup of tea in the teahouse across the road.
“And that was it?” asked Miss Phryne Fisher years later, over another cup of tea.
“It was Bohemia falling in love with Talbotville,” Jo said. “I was sick of smoke and oil, and Jo took me up where I could breathe again. I don't regret a thing.”
20. The Other Side of Love (Doreen (Urn Burial)/Lina Wright)
"It'll be all right," Lina said for the sixth time. Doreen nuzzled in the crook of her arm, as unconvinced as she had been the first five times. "Think of the nice things we'll have. He ain't half thick, Ronnie. You'll be my lady's maid, and we'll be together and rich and out of this bush forever, you'll see, love."
"Being rich would be nice," Doreen said. How could she not agree? Lina was the one with all the drive, and Doreen had a feeling she'd marry Mr Ronald whether Doreen approved of it or not. Only he was no good. He was head over heels for Lina for some reason but he had a killer's eyes, did Mr Ronnie. No woman should marry a man who laughed while he beat a stable boy half to death.
Then it was 1928, and Doreen's hands trembled as she placed the marble and gilt urn on the mantelpiece in Miss Fisher's room.
There weren't no justice in the world. Some people got their way no matter what and others never had a chance. But then again, the Major would be ashes some day, too. In the end they were all just ashes.
Chapter 5: 21-25
21. The Passion Game (Alice/Eliza)
Eliza's cheeks were flushed with excitement. She made a gorgeous picture, with her pink-and-grey ensemble offsetting her rosy looks.
Alice wondered how she always ended up in these infatuations. Eliza was a pupil, a comrade, a sister-in-arms. If only she was in her arms! Someday, Alice thought, she would learn to despise the torture of denial, and walk away from temptation. Some other day.
Eliza leaned in. Her breath was warm on Alice's cheek. Alice nearly lost her head. Were these signs? Or was she deluding herself again? How long could she go on playing this game?
22. The Restless Beds
Isabella remembered the names of all her worshipers, but not without an effort. She felt she had done more than her part in that, as she detested all effort. When the sweet smoke was in her lungs, she preferred to forget, and name them all darling or kind angel or pretty child.
So kind angel caressed and kissed her feet, while pretty child offered her breasts for Isabella to lie on, and darling kissed her pussy with soft slow languor, just like Isabella liked it: gentle hills and gentle orgasms, while she lay unspoiled and serene in her crowded bed.
23. Sinful Desires (Isola/Phryne)
Phryne was a most accomplished woman and fully admitted this herself. To know oneself fully one must acknowledge one's weaknesses as well as one's strengths. Phryne went one further and celebrated them.
"And yet you keep telling everyone you're heterosexual," said Isola, breaking into a throaty laugh as Phryne's naked body slipped against hers on the dining table of Isola's tiny apartment. Her foot hit a plate. It clattered onto the floor with a silvery 'ting'.
"I am, dear," said Phryne, as composed as one could be post-coitum and covered in chocolate, "but one should never waste good Parisian-recipe mousse."
24. The Sisterhood (abortive Phryne/Camellia)
"Why not?" Camellia asks, though she already knows.
"Much too awkward, my dear. Besides--"
"You don't want me."
"Not particularly, no," says Phryne. Camellia has never seen her apologetic, but she does look genuinely sorry.
"I appreciate your candour," says Camellia, and she does. She picks her robes off the floor and wraps them back around herself. Rejection is like a fist squeezing her lungs.
Phryne stands up from the sofa and helps Camellia with her hooks. "Has Lin made any restriction?"
Phryne smiles. "There are some wonderful ladies I could introduce you to."
Camellia forces a smile.
25. Strange Embrace (Isola/Karla, OMC)
Karla was Alasdair Phipps's latest inspiration, and Isola had to admit it was working out well. Alasfair excelled in the faintly shocking, paintings that had nothing particularly offensive about them that you could point at, but that sent silent alarm bells going at the back of your head. Karla was practically a walking Phipps painting.
Isola had been pacing Allie's studio ever since she popped in at noon and found him sketching Karla perched on an ageing wine barrel. "No, I cannot believe it!" Isola said for the third time. "You, passing for a child? Never! The body, maybe. The eyes, never!" Karla just watched her, her mouth twisted in a mocking little grin. Allie sketched like his life depended on it.
Later Karla cornered Isola in the kitchen while Alasdair contemplated his sketches. Isola, surprised, gasped rather too loudly as Karla shoved her against the sink and bit down on her shoulder. It was obscene and terrible, like Karla herself, and Isola was delighted. She kicked the kitchen door closed, pushed herself up on the counter and wrapped her legs around Karla, and grabbed a handful of her short hair.
Karla's teeth were small and sharp and merciless.