Phryne Fisher leaned back against the marble railing of the manor house and took a sip of a very cool, crisp champagne. The party inside swirled in a riot of color: traditional reds and greens, of course, but also silvers and golds and purples and one very daring matron wearing a beaded black shift that glittered like obsidian beneath the gas lamps. Phryne herself had elected to wear a peacock-blue satin sheath, simple in its style but hemmed with feathers, and a small matching fascinator with the tiniest peacock tail feather she'd ever seen. She'd had on a white shawl when she'd come in, but it really wasn't very cold out, for all that it was Christmas in London.
She missed Australia, though she didn't regret coming back to England. She took another sip of champagne and sighed. She wondered how Dot and Mr. Butler had decorated the house for Christmas this year; how Dot and Hugh were managing; and whether Aunt Prudence was throwing her annual Christmas Ball.
A wave of laughter spread through the room; Phryne smiled but didn't join in. She watched couples pause in their waltzes beneath the mistletoe for soft kisses on the cheek or more scandalous kisses on the lips and resolutely did not wonder what Jack was doing on this Christmas Eve.
The quartet began playing something much more upbeat.
"Miss Fisher. May I have this dance?"
She nodded automatically, set down her glass, and smiled at the young man in front of her. He was handsome enough, with dark curly hair and pale grey-green eyes.
"Of course, your Lordship," she said, and let him whirl her into the warm mass of spinning bodies. He was, of course, an excellent dancer, as well as the son of her host. And on another night, she might have let herself be swept away by his tempting hand on her hip, the long, knobbly fingers sliding down a bit further than strictly proper. She had heard lovely rumors about the young man's skills in the boudoir.
And she had never cared about propriety. Still didn't. But her heart lay below the equator and so she neither encouraged nor discouraged her partner, but restricted him to a kiss on the corner of her mouth when they passed beneath the mistletoe. He smiled at her, and his hand returned to her waist.
"I had not realized the lovely Miss Fisher was pining," he said softly, matching another change in the music.
"I'm not," she started, but there was something warm and knowing in his eyes, and she gave him a small, rueful smile in exchange. "Perhaps I am. I think it's a bit more likely I'm merely homesick."
"And here I thought London was your home," he said, pausing to spin her in a swirl of beads and skirt. She laughed.
"Once upon a time, perhaps. Things change."
"Indeed they do," he said, pulling her close again. "Although I have heard it said that the more things change, the more they stay the same."
She shook her head, brought their joined hands closer so she could kiss his knuckles. A chuckle rumbled through him, and he shifted their weight for another spin.
She felt herself change hands in the middle of the maneuver, when her back was turned to her partner, and while she should have been offended she recognized the grip and spun back gladly, pulling herself up short against a very familiar chest and looking into a very familiar pair of brown eyes.
"Hello, Miss Fisher," he said, all propriety even though his eyes danced with amusement. As if this were another case they'd encountered each other on, with all the formality required. She smiled back at him, took subtle control of their direction while letting him lead.
"You found me," she said, delighted.
"As you asked," he agreed.
The music stopped; she stepped back and gave him a little bow and a mischievous wink. He followed her gaze to the mistletoe above their heads.
"My dear Miss Fisher," he said, voice deeper with bemusement and desire. She stepped closer and rose up on her toes; he bent his head to join their lips, his hands tightening on her waist to help support her.
Not long after found them walking in the garden; despite the light dusting of snow Phryne was carrying her shoes in one hand, well aware she was ruining her stockings. She held Jack's hand with the other. They could still hear, faintly, the quartet playing and the low murmuring of the party crowd. Jack had insisted on retrieving their coats, though they barely needed them.
"How did you know?" she asked. "I did tell you there was a whole wide world out there, Jack."
"You did," he said, his small smile playing about reddened lips. "But you are not the only detective in this relationship."
"This is true," she agreed, tugging him around one last hedge. "Here."
She had brought them to a lovely little marble structure, too open to be a gazebo, with a bench at its center. They sat close to each other, and Phryne rested her head on Jack's shoulder. She gestured with one gloved hand at their surroundings.
"Aunt Prudence got a letter from Mother about this place," she said. "We're sitting inside a sort of astrolabe, I suppose you could call it. It's very cleverly constructed so that the bench turns ever so slightly every day to make it easy to find Polaris. Even when one can't see the Dippers."
"Fascinating," he said, though she could feel his warm gaze quickly return to her face. "You've answered your own question, Miss Fisher."
"I have?" She lifted her head, looked up at him. "Which one?"
"How I found you," he answered, leaning in so his lips brushed hers as he finished speaking.
"You are my North Star."
Phryne closed the minute distance between them, acknowledging Jack's meaning and her own response in the silent but fluent language of the heart.