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The Kerkylas Society

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Phryne drained the last of her martini and twisted to stare at the sideboard where potential refills awaited. It was a warm night, she had no cases waiting and no suitors likely to call. Perhaps a long bath and a thoroughly unimproving novel would be the best use of the rest of the evening…

The doorbell chose that moment to ring; the faintly urgent prolonged jangle of a visitor with something on their mind. Phryne perked up and listened as Mr Butler’s measured step went to answer.

‘Doctor MacMillan, Miss,’ Mr Butler announced, standing aside to let Mac stomp into the room. ‘Shall I prepare a light supper?’

Phryne raised her eyebrows at Mac, but the good doctor shook her head and headed straight for the scotch instead.

‘Thank you, Mr Butler,’ Phryne said, swinging her legs down from where they’d been hooked over the arm of her chair. ‘I think we’ll be fine if you want to retire.’

‘As you say,’ Mr Butler smiled and wafted out of the room.

‘Not a social call, I take it, Mac?’ Phryne said after Mac had drained one large measure of scotch and poured herself another. ‘Whatever’s the matter?’

Mac sighed and stared into her glass, tweed suit rather the worse for the day’s wear. ‘Blackmail. Violence. Possibly even murder, though I’m inclined to think it was suicide. She was driven to it, though, so perhaps “murder” is the correct diagnosis after all.’

‘Mac!’ Phryne leapt to her feet and took a hold of Mac’s shoulders. ‘Not someone you care about?’

Mac’s lips tightened and she swallowed a good portion of the scotch in her glass. ‘Not a lover, no. Hardly a friend, but a woman I had… much fellow-feeling for, Phryne. There’s a club; it’s quite new but rapidly becoming popular in certain circles.’

Phryne, seeing the signs of shock, chivvied Mac to the settee and settled beside her. ‘A place for like-minded women to gather, I take it?’

Mac smiled, but it was joyless. ‘It’s nothing so sordid as the type men form. We’re not subject to the Criminal Code, but the world isn’t exactly welcoming. The Kerkylas Society is for the most part nothing more than an oasis away from society’s pressures.’

‘Kerkylas?’ Phryne frowned for a moment, then couldn’t stop a laugh. ‘Sappho’s purported husband? From Man Island?’

A little of the usual humour returned to Mac’s face. ‘Quite. I’ve been a member for over a year now, but tonight…’

‘Tonight someone died.’

Mac breathed out sharply through her nose and she settled her mostly-empty glass on her knee. ‘Yes, Phryne. Emma Abelard. She wasn’t found until tonight, but she’d been dead since this morning.’

‘Morning’s an unusual time for a suicide,’ Phryne observed, topping Mac’s drink up and fetching one of her own. ‘She wasn’t at the club, I take it?’

‘At home,’ Mac closed her eyes, voice cracking. ‘Alone. Her mother found her hanging from a rafter in the shed when she didn’t show up for dinner.’

Phryne wrapped a hand over Mac’s free knee and squeezed. ‘Oh, Mac.’

Mac opened her eyes and gave Phryne a sad smile. ‘It wouldn’t be the first time someone felt tortured past endurance by conflicting desires and obligations, but Abelard wasn’t the sort. I mean, you can never tell for certain, but she was a brick. I don’t believe she cracked unassisted.’

‘I trust your judgement, Mac,’ Phryne said, squeezing Mac’s knee again. ‘You said something about blackmail and violence before you threw the ace onto the table?’

‘Yes,’ Mac drew the word out like a long sigh and took a sip of her whisky. ‘Several of the members, myself excepted so far, have been targeted by a blackmailer in the past few weeks. Small sums, mostly, easier to pay than not.’

‘“Mostly”?’ Phryne knocked her ankle against Mac’s.

‘There are a few members from your stratum of society,’ Mac’s smile twisted wryly. ‘I suppose any good blackmailer knows to scale their prices by their target’s purse. There was more grumbling from the honourables, but they paid like the rest.’

Phryne tapped a nail against the bohemian crystal in her hand. ‘And the violence? If everyone paid-’

‘The brother of one of the members found out about his sister’s preferences and beat her into my professional care,’ Mac’s knuckles whitened against her glass. ‘It’s possible that he found out some other way, but it seems too great a coincidence to me.’

‘I quite agree,’ Phryne studied the tense line of Mac’s shoulders, feeling an overwhelming urge as ever to fix Mac’s problems and return the wry smile to her face. ‘So. I presume you’re up for signing me in. Tomorrow night? What’s the dress code? Any members or staff I should watch out for, codes to be aware of?’

‘It’s not Collins Street,’ Mac said, a sharp note in her voice. ‘No one’s stopping anyone from… making connections, but it’s not the point.’

‘Sorry,’ Phryne put her drink down and reached out to lay a hand on Mac’s forearm. ‘It’s been a few years since my last foray into a salon of this sort. I just remember there being… a shared dialect. But it might be best if I present myself as an ingenue. As an excuse to ask questions, if nothing else.’

‘Yes,’ Mac’s shoulders drooped as she sighed. ‘I’ll meet you there at seven-thirty?’

‘Of course,’ Phryne gave Mac’s forearm a squeeze. ‘And you’ll stay here tonight. It’s far too late to cross town and you’ll need one of Mr Butler’s breakfasts to set you up for the day.’

Mac gave a half-hearted glare, but let Phryne call Dot to make up the spare room.

****

The Kerkylas Society, when Phryne had Bert and Cec drop her off, turned out to be in an unassuming Edwardian terrace in Fitzroy. A brass plaque beside the door was the only thing which marked it as anything other than a private residence.

Mac was waiting at the wrought iron gate, pocket watch in hand and fedora at the usual jaunty angle. She was doing an admirable job of appearing unconcerned, but, Phryne supposed, Mac was well-practised at acting cool.

Phryne took a moment to assume her ingenue persona before hurrying up to Mac to link their arms; it was best to get in character as early as possible, she’d found, as one never knew who might be watching.

Mac shot her a barely-there smile and led the way inside.

The entry was dimly-lit; a carpeted staircase on the left, two glossy oak doors facing each other to the left and right, another door barely visible to the rear of the hallway and a lectern with a gamine in suit tails behind it beside the lowest step.

‘Good evening, Dr MacMillan,’ she smiled, then looked at Phryne. ‘Good evening, Miss.’

‘Jenny,’ Mac handed her hat and coat over. ‘Miss Doreen Leeds is visiting from Bendigo.’

‘Welcome to Melbourne, Miss,’ Jenny grinned at Phryne’s affected embarrassment and produced a ledger with a well-oiled cover. ‘If you’ll just sign the guest book.’

Phryne scrawled her nom de enquête in the appropriate column, then passed the pen to Mac so she could sign her in.

‘Club rules state that you must remain with a member at all times, Miss Leeds,’ Jenny said as Phryne passed her own coat over. ‘Please enjoy your stay.’

‘Thank you, Jenny,’ Mac jerked her head at Phryne and took the stairs up to the first floor two at a time.

Phryne gave Jenny a calculatedly-harried smile and followed at a more sedate pace, pausing at the landing to listen for any unusual activity. She heard Jenny blotting the guest book and returning it to the lectern, then a door opening; presumably to place the coats in the closet. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Mac met her at the top of the stairs with a raised eyebrow, to which Phryne shook her head.

‘The Lounge is through here,’ Mac gestured at a doorway leading to the rear of the house, through which Phryne could hear the murmured sounds of conversations and a faint strain of scratchy jazz. Mac gestured at the closed door to Phryne’s left. ‘The office is there, gaming room is in the attic, next to the office is a storeroom for the lounge, and the library’s downstairs opposite the cloakroom. Under the office rather than the lounge, for obvious reasons.’

‘Right,’ Phryne glanced around, taking in the understated furnishings and approving. ‘Is anyone likely to be in the office?’

‘I think we’d better start in the lounge,’ Mac said. ‘I’ll introduce you around before you go snooping.’

‘You are no fun at all,’ Phryne grinned and let Mac lead her into the snug Lounge.

The lounge ran the entire length of the house; it looked as though two or three rooms had been opened up to form a space large enough for the Society’s purposes. A scuffed bar ran along the long side of the room, and an assortment of armchairs and chaises lay scattered around the dimly-lit remainder.

Mac strode directly to the bar, so Phryne followed with as much submissive awe as she could muster. The barmaid raised watery eyes as they approached and was already placing an old fashioned on the bar top before Mac had even managed her greeting.

‘Evening, Mildred,’ Mac gave the girl a warm smile. ‘The same again for Miss Leeds if you don’t mind.’

Mildred darted a look at Phryne and slammed another glass beside Mac’s with what seemed unintentional nervous force.

‘What have you volunteered me for, Doctor?’ Phryne giggled, raising a hand to cover her mouth in an affectation of delighted shock she’d hated in one of her classmates back before everything. ‘You know I have no head for spirits!’

Mac shot her an amused glare. ‘Nothing traumatic. Take it slowly and it goes down smooth as silk.’

Phryne raised an eyebrow at the unintentional innuendo, but kept herself quiet for their audience’s benefit. Mildred poured two generous portions of Laphroaig, still a little shaky and nervous to Phryne’s expert eye. That was definitely a lead worth pursuing after she’d done some leg work, Phryne decided.

‘Well, Doctor,’ Phryne gave a nervous giggle and raised her glass. ‘I suppose I’ll have to trust you.’

Mac shot her one of her driest, most-amused-but-trying-to-hide-it stares and knocked her whisky back before holding it out for Mildred to refill. Phryne held her glass up to her lips and gave a theatrical sniff-and-sip, then she coughed.

‘Oh my,’ she fanned her face with her free hand. ‘This will go straight to my head!’

Mac gave Mildred a smug look and slipper her arm through Phryne’s to steer her away from the bar. Phryne twisted to raise her glass at Mildred, but the barmaid was already busying herself with something beneath the bar.

‘Good evening, West,’ Mac said, just loudly enough to make Phryne pull herself back around. ‘Might I introduce Miss Leeds?’

West was a portly woman of approximately forty, good humour and resilience in every line of her weathered face. Phryne extended a hand, and Mac lowered her voice.

‘I suppose you paid up?’

Phryne’s eyes widened as West’s expression twisted into something bitter.

‘What other choice did I have?’ West gave Phryne’s hand a perfunctory squeeze, then she sank into her chair. ‘Just you two make sure and never write each other notes. A paper trail is a trail straight to bedlam if there’s a single man in your life who’d like the chance to tear you down.’

‘The blackmailer?’ Phryne dropped her voice and glanced around. ‘Mac was telling me, it sounds horrible.’

West shook her head. ‘It’s getting so I’m not sure it’s worth staying here. I paid once, but I shan’t a second time. Not after Abelard.’

Mac dropped her gaze to the floor for a moment, and Phryne shifted a little closer to her. Blackmail was in some ways uglier than murder; the destruction of faith in loved ones as the victim wondered who had decided their money was more desirable than their happiness. Murder at least was usually the result of misapplied passion; blackmail was sordid and venal and never happened for any reason but avarice. It ruined lives in a way even death couldn’t.

Mac shook herself and chivvied Phryne around to the other patrons, drifting from one woman to another to allow Phryne to carefully interrogate them. After a couple of hours and more than a couple of refills, Phryne judged the crowd as a whole both unlikely to contain the blackmailer and unlikely to notice her brief absence. She touched Mac on the elbow and slipped out onto the landing.

It felt cool away from the crush of the lounge; ladies had been trickling steadily in all evening until the crowd was quite respectable. Phryne took a deep breath of the calm air and grinned as Mac closed the door behind herself.

Without speaking Phryne slipped over to the office door, Mac a reassuring warm presence at her back. There was no light from beneath the door and no sounds audible, so Phryne tried the handle. Locked, but that was hardly an obstacle. Two destroyed hairpins and thirty seconds later, they were in.

‘How many people have access?’ Phryne asked Mac, already shuffling through papers left on the desk. There didn’t seem to be anything incriminating, but even in a locked room a blackmailer was likely to want to maintain the security of their materiel.

‘Just the owners, as far as I know,’ Mac said, checking the prints hanging on the wall for concealed safes. ‘Lindy Kirkland and Fran LeQuesne. They’ve both been up in arms about the blackmailer, swearing bloody vengeance, but I suppose it could always be a performance.’

There was a soft sound just outside the door; someone about to surprise them. Phryne took a quick step over to Mac, cupped her hand around the nape of Mac’s neck and brought their mouths together just as the door slipped open. Mac made a muffled noise and parted her lips, teeth sinking gently into Phryne’s lower lip in a move calculated to set any red-blooded woman entirely alight. Phryne shivered at the sensation, the unfamiliar position of being the taller partner adding another level of interest to something deep inside. She curled her nails into the wispy hair at the base of Mac’s skull and pressed close as Mac’s hands settled on her lower back. Never having seen much point in resisting temptation, Phryne raised a knee to curl her foot around the back of Mac’s leg before breaking the kiss with a gasp to stare wide-eyed at the new arrival.

‘Oh,’ Phryne blinked, nails digging a little deeper into Mac’s neck at the unexpected face. ‘Hello Mildred. The Doctor and I were just-’

‘I’m so sorry, Miss Fisher!’ Mildred burst out, fingers twisted together so hard her hands were turning white. ‘I swear I didn’t mean to kill anyone!’

Phryne felt her mouth drop open, but she managed to keep a firm hold of Mac to stop her rounding on the barmaid. This did not seem like the confession of a hardened criminal to her expert ear, but Mac was tense as a bow string under her hands and Phryne was concerned the doctor might do something rash in the heat of the moment. She certainly felt poised to leap at something, and Phryne had more than enough points of contact to feel her evaluation was sound.

Dragging her attention away from the hot points where their bodies were joined, Phryne raised her eyebrows at Mildred. ‘You recognised me?’

‘Yes,’ Mildred blinked a few times. ‘I saw you with that policeman in Carlton Gardens once. Someone had been kil-’

Mildred choked on the word, turning half away and stuffing her palm into her mouth to stifle the sound.

Mac elbowed out of Phryne’s grip and grabbed Mildred by the arms to guide her into the chair behind the desk. Mildred let out a few sobs as Mac checked her vitals; physician first, as always, Phryne noted with a smile. Whatever tension had been tying Mac up a moment ago, she was fully focussed on her patient now.

Phryne slipped back into the lounge and ducked behind the bar to fetch a large serve of brandy. When she returned to the office, Mildred was blotchy and teary, but much calmer. She took the brandy and sipped at it tentatively before putting it down with a grimace.

Mac retreated to the wall beside the door and folded her arms, one leg cocked up in an insouciant, manly pose. Phryne settled herself on the desk in the same pose that always drove Jack to distraction.

‘What did you mean, Mildred?’ Phryne frowned down at her. ‘Tell me everything.’

Mildred took a shuddering breath, then looked up to meet Phryne’s eyes.

‘It’s my father,’ her fingers twisted in her apron, bleak helplessness suddenly etched into her face. ‘He’s always been a drinker, but ever since my brother went North, he’s been getting worse. I just needed to get out, Miss!’

Phryne glanced at Mac to find her stone-faced in the way she went when unable to help her patients because of society’s restrictive mores. It made Phryne ache to fix all the many, many injustices in the world. It made her want to banish everyone who disappointed Mac to Antarctica.

‘And you decided preying on the women here was your exit?’ Phryne said, her tone sharper than she’d meant.

Mildred flinched, but met Phryne’s eyes again. ‘It was wrong, I know, but I couldn’t think of any other way to get the ready, Miss. I never meant to harm anyone.’

‘And yet Abelard died,’ Mac said, voice low and rough as bitumen. Mildred drooped forward in a picture of despairing guilt.

‘Tell us what happened,’ Phryne said, shifting a little to block Mac’s view of Mildred a little. ‘From start to finish.’

Starting slowly, but gaining speed as she continued, Mildred explained.

Mildred’s father had been beating her for years, taking her wages and generally being the worst sort of pig. She seemed resigned to that much, to Phryne and Mac’s shared ire, but since her brother’s departure the violence had spiraled from a weekly thumping to daily thrashings. Something in the man had broken and it hadn’t taken long for even a resigned victim like Mildred to baulk. Desperate to escape, and fearful of her father’s retribution if she stayed anywhere he might be able to find her, she had decided to blackmail the members of the Society to gather enough funds to make it to England. The girl whose brother had beaten her into the hospital had found out some other way, she swore, and Mildred had panicked. Rather than ask for help, she had redoubled her demands to the remaining ladies.

‘I would never have revealed them,’ Mildred said, watery eyes momentarily fierce. ‘I just needed them to think I would.’

‘You stupid girl,’ Mac said, voice low. ‘You could’ve asked anyone here to help. What do you think the point is of a place like this if not to protect women from men?’

Phryne watched Mildred fold in on herself, shame and fear and despair conspiring to keep Mildred paralysed. She could not condone Mildred’s choices, but she found herself sympathizing with the girl. She’d been acting from a misguided premise, and at least two other women had paid the price, but she wasn’t evil.

‘What about Abelard?’

Mildred made a noise like a trapped animal and threw her hands up to cover her face. ‘Good God, I never thought I could drive someone to that!’

‘But you did,’ Phryne said, keeping her tone firm.

Mildred shuddered and let her hands drop into her lap. ‘I can’t bear it, Miss. I’ll come quietly. At least Da won’t be able to get me in Pentridge. Do you think I’ll hang?’

Phryne turned to Mac and tilted her head towards the door, slipping off the desk. Mac nodded and followed her into the corridor.

‘I don’t want to involve the police,’ Phryne murmured, half-closing to door. She frowned at Mac. ‘Obviously I’ll let you decide, but it strikes me that wouldn’t be the best outcome.’

Mac closed her eyes and breathed deeply for a while, then she met Phryne’s eyes. ‘What would we charge her with? Even if I wanted to see her rot away - which I don’t, Phryne - involving your inspector would mean the Society being made public knowledge anyway. Abelard died, but Mildred didn’t kill her. Not by any real measure.’

Phryne smiled. ‘Exactly my thoughts. So what do you want to do?’

‘What do I want?’ Mac sagged against the door frame. ‘I want the Society free from blackmail. I want Mildred safe from her father. And I want to never see her again. I just don’t think I could stand it.’

Phryne nodded, understanding entirely the pull between mercy and anger. ‘I’ll put her on the next boat to England with a glowing reference.’

‘Good,’ Mac said, suddenly exhausted. ‘I’m going to go find Lindy or Fran. They should decide what to tell the members.’

Phryne stepped back into the office as Mac vanished into the lounge. Mildred hadn’t moved, though she did seem to be half-heartedly praying, fingers rubbing an imaginary rosary.

‘You wanted to go to England?’ Phryne cocked her head. ‘I think that’s a fine plan. There’s a ship leaving in a few days, so I shall put you up in a hotel until then. I don’t believe you ought to go home at all, but I’ll leave that up to you.’

‘You…’ Mildred stared up at Phryne, disbelieving. ‘You’re letting me go?’

Phryne let an eyebrow quirk up. ‘Sending you away, perhaps.’

Mildred burst into tears just in time for Mac to return with a pair of stylishly-dressed ladies of about her own age.

Mildred,’ one of them said, censorious and horrified. The other was scowling at Phryne.

‘Phryne Fisher,’ Phryne extended her hand with a bright smile. ‘A lovely establishment you have here.’

‘To which you gained illicit access,’ the scowling one noted before taking Phryne’s hand. ‘Lindy Kirkland. And Fran LeQuesne.’

Fran gave Phryne a distracted nod and returned to her disappointed staring at Mildred, who was shaking like a leaf.

‘We’re doubtless much obliged to you, Miss Fisher,’ Lindy said. ‘But I think I must ask you, the Doctor and Mildred to leave. We take the Society’s rules and members’ privacy seriously, and I imagine the council will be reviewing your membership after this incident.’

Mac’s lips tightened and she stalked out of the office towards the stairs.

Mildred scrambled to her feet and shuffled past Phryne to follow. Phryne gave Lindy a tight smile and swept out without a word. Tempers were high, but if Lindy tried to punish Mac after sleeping on the issue, Phryne was going to make a stink.

Mac had managed to flag a cab down when Phryne stepped out into the cool night. Mildred stood beside her, head bowed.

‘Right,’ Phryne gave the driver directions to modest hotel by the docks. She left Mac in the cab while she settled Mildred in with instructions not to leave her room until Phryne returned with her ticket of passage. Mildred nodded meekly along, her hysterics of earlier entirely faded into exhaustion.

Phryne paid the manager for Mildred’s room until the end of the week and gave her instructions to call Phryne if anything unusual happened, before climbing back into the cab. One look at Mac, slumped and staring at nothing decided her.

‘The Esplanade, St Kilda,’ Phryne said, settling a hand on Mac’s knee. ‘You’re staying the night again, Mac.’

Mac huffed a wry laugh and nodded.

****

Settled back in her parlour with another pair of stiff drinks, Phryne studied Mac. She still looked tired, but the ragged edge she’d had immediately after leaving the Society seemed to have faded.

‘I’m sorry,’ Phryne said, settling beside Mac on the settee. ‘If you need me to make a nuisance of myself at Lindy I absolutely shall.’

Mac rolled her eyes. ‘I can fight my own battles, Phryne.’

‘I know,’ Phryne said with her own eye roll. ‘But sometimes it’s nice not to need to.’

Mac hummed, thoughtfully, rolling the half-drunk glass on her knee. ‘There is something you could do. If you were so inclined.’

There was a note in her voice, a familiar testing of the waters of romance. A little surprised, Phryne found herself responding in kind, shifting her posture closer. ‘Yes, Mac?’

Mac turned to meet Phryne’s eyes. ‘Take me to bed.’

Phryne felt her mouth dry under Mac’s intense gaze. She licked her lips, smiling helplessly as Mac’s focus shifted to her lips for a moment. ‘You’re sure?’

Mac’s free hand drifted up to brush Phryne’s fringe away, fingers trailing down to curl around the back of Phryne’s neck as she leaned in. ‘Very.’

Phryne grinned into the kiss, swinging herself into Mac’s lap and hitching her skirts up. She trailed her fingers along Mac’s collarbone, smoothing her thumb over the divot in the middle before easing back.

Mac’s lips twisted in a wry smile and she shifted her hands to Phryne’s waist. ‘I think it’s best if we move to your bedroom, don’t you? I don’t want to scandalise Dot if she gets up for a glass of water.’

Phryne smirked and slid to her feet, pulling Mac up as she went. Mac’s hands tightened on Phryne’s waist for a moment, then she gave her a gentle shove towards the stairs. Phryne let out a delighted laugh, though she kept it quiet. It really wouldn’t do to wake the household.

It took them three times as long to reach Phryne’s room as usual, since Phryne couldn’t help stopping every few steps to thumb a few more buttons open on Mac’s waistcoat or press her lips to the tendon standing out on Mac’s throat. Mac was breathing hard and delightfully déshabillé by the time Phryne kicked the door closed behind them. The light from the street lamp wasn’t anywhere near enough to see by, and Phryne wanted to see. She turned on one of the bedside lamps; enough to see by, but dim enough not to rouse anyone else.

‘Phryne,’ Mac said, voice wrecked. She’d kicked her shoes off but frozen, staring with her waistcoat and shirt both hanging open.

Phryne turned to present her back to Mac and inclined her head. ‘Could you help me with the fastenings?’

Mac’s clever fingers made quick work of the line of buttons holding Phryne’s dress up, and Phryne shrugged out of it, leaving the satin to pool at her feet before turning to face Mac. Mac’s eyes drifted down the naked line of Phryne’s torso; she hadn’t worn a camisole tonight. Mac placed her hands feather-light on Phryne’s shoulders, before skimming her palms slowly down over the rise of Phryne’s breasts, thumbs a little rougher on the nipples. Phryne shuddered and pressed forward into Mac’s hands, a throbbing pulse picking up between her thighs. The caress drifted down over Phryne’s waist and Mac curled her fingertips into the band of her silk knickers, raising her eyes to check for permission.

Phryne shivered and curled her fingers around Mac’s, dragging her knickers down to join the dress.

Mac took a half step back and studied Phryne, eyes flatteringly focused and lips parting as her gaze swept over Phryne’s nakedness. She breathed deep through her nose and smiled; a warm, wide, entirely happy expression that Phryne was helpless to resist. She stepped out of her discarded clothes and shoved at Mac’s open shirt, pressing herself breast to bare breast before kissing Mac’s smiling mouth. She curled her nails into the taught line of Mac’s back and stepped backwards, pulling Mac towards the bed.

Mac shook her way fully out of her shirt and dug her fingers into Phryne’s hip, a low moan building in her chest. Phryne felt the backs of her thighs hit the mattress and she groped at the fastenings of Mac’s trousers, undoing the flies and slipping her hand in to curl against the damp heat of Mac’s sex.

‘God,’ Mac gasped, hips twitching as she ground into Phryne’s hand, fingers digging into Phryne’s arms. Phryne leaned forward to bite at Mac’s collarbone and let her fingers stroke deeper until Mac was shaking, sweat starting to pearl between her breasts. She was slick as oil now, musky scent making Phryne’s mouth water.

‘Trousers off,’ Phryne murmured, pulling her hand free. ‘I want to see you.’

Mac gasped, hips canting forward to chase Phryne’s fingers before she got a hold of herself and stripped properly naked. Phryne gave Mac her own once-over, grinning, then she took ahold of Mac’s shoulders and twisted to throw her into the pillows. Mac snorted a laugh that shifted back to gasping as Phryne settled between her knees, hands gentle yet firm on the insides of Mac’s thighs to hold her open.

Phryne paused for a moment, drinking in the sight of Mac eager and waiting for her; chest rising rabbit-fast and a healthy flush staining her pale skin. She might be mostly attracted to men, but there was something undeniably perfect about a beautiful woman spread out below her. The fact that it was Mac, so very loved and loving, Phryne’s oldest, dearest friend…

‘Please,’ Mac said, propped up on her elbows, thighs trembling under Phryne’s hands. ‘Phryne, please.’

Phryne scraped her nails down Mac’s thighs and shifted forward to press her face into the crease where Mac’s thigh met her hip. She pressed an open-mouthed kiss to the soft skin there, then turned to lick a shameless greedy stripe along the length of Mac’s gash. She heard the sharp intake of Mac trying not to swear and the sound of the sheets crumpling under Mac’s sudden grip and grinned again. A second swipe of her tongue loosened the curses from Mac’s throat, and the third had Mac’s hips rising off the bed to chase the sensation.

‘God,’ Mac said as Phryne licked again, catlike short flicks of her tongue this time. ‘Just like that!’

Phryne stroked a hand along Mac’s tense calf and closed her lips around Mac’s clitoris, careful teeth and tongue and suction unrelenting until Mac choked out her release. Phryne pulled back a few inches to give Mac the room to come down, then slid two fingers into Mac’s slick channel, curling strokes as Mac shivered through the aftershocks, trying to coax a second crisis out. She pressed her other hand against herself, sweet pressure only enough to increase her fervour, not enough to provide relief.

Mac gave a gasping sigh, fluttering around Phryne’s fingers in a gentler second orgasm and grabbed clumsily at Phryne’s shoulders to urge her back up the bed. Phryne crawled up, trailing kisses along Mac’s belly, nipping at her breasts until Mac growled and flipped them over.

Phryne arched into Mac, legs spreading as Mac’s weight settled on her. She gasped, every nerve taught and eager. Mac laughed and set her lips against Phryne’s throat, unerringly hitting the spot which always made Phryne feel boneless with lust. Mac shifted against her, leg pressing just right and Phryne tumbled over the edge with a happy sigh.

‘Ooh,’ Phryne smiled at the ceiling and slid her fingers into Mac’s hair to scratch at her scalp. ‘Marvellous.’

Mac snorted and pressed a final kiss to Phryne’s throat before rolling to the side and flipping the sheet up over their legs. ‘Would not object to a repeat show, no.’

Pausing in her lazy stretch, Phryne half sat up and bit her lip, staring down at Mac’s closed eyes and satisfied smile.

‘You know I love you,’ she started, already dreading the hurt that was bound to follow. ‘But-’

‘Phryne,’ Mac said, one eye slitting open to give her a knowing look. ‘How long have I known you? You don’t have to say it. I love you too, and I love you as you are, trouble and stress and all. Now, it’s been a hell of a day. I’d like to get some sleep.’

Phryne let out her breath, tension flowing out of her like water. She pressed her lips to Mac’s and settled into her pillows, throwing an arm over Mac’s waist to hold her close before drifting into a satisfied sleep.