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Deliberate Provocation

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Jack turned his gaze towards the ceiling and heaved out a sigh that was as long-suffering as it was heart-felt while Phryne fussed with his tie. "I understand your thoughts on the matter, Miss Fisher, but that still doesn't mean I think this is a good idea. At the very least, it's ill-advised. At worst, it's—"

"Deliberate provocation?" Phryne said. He didn't have to see her face to know that she was smiling. She finished arranging the tie to her satisfaction, and then gave him a rather proprietary pat on the chest before taking a step back. "Yes, I was rather hoping for that."

"I was going to say rank stupidity," Jack said. "Because walking in there as—"

"I do enjoy being provoking," Phryne continued, as if she hadn't heard a word he'd said. "There's something rather soothing in it, you know, if you do it right."

"It won't be very soothing if we're caught," Jack said. "And this gang is made up of people as smart as they are vicious. One hint that we're not actually the Delameres—"

"Nonsense," Phryne said, pivoting so she could see the two of them in the full-length mirror. "We look every inch the provincial bank manager and his wife. Highly respectable, pillars of the community, and thoroughly, crashingly dull. I've been practicing both my bridge-playing and my thoughts on crocheting in preparation."

Jack sighed. His outfit wasn't that different from what he usually wore—Mr Butler had provided a collar laundered with more than Jack's usual amount of starch, and Jack had rummaged in the back of a dresser drawer to find an ornate gold watch chain and fob which had once belonged to his grandfather—but then a detective inspector and a bank manager mightn't be expected to look that dissimilar. Phryne, on the other hand… "I just don't think that Gladys Delamere is the kind of woman to wear sequins or feathers, even to a mayoral reception."

Phryne preened a little, pirouetting so that the decorations on her dress caught and flared in the light. The outfit was definitely sober in comparison with what she usually wore, but that wasn't saying much. Jack had once seen her put on a Russian sable to go to the post office. "Don't be silly, Jack. I've never met a woman yet who didn't love a good sequin."

Jack raised an eyebrow at her. "I think Doctor Macmillan would have something to say to that. And Dot."

Phryne huffed and rolled her eyes in that way she always did when he'd made a logical point which she had no intention of acknowledging. "At any rate, I don't think anyone will find it out of the ordinary that Mrs Delamere has decided to live a little on her yearly trip to Melbourne."

"Once you restrict it to that, I suppose," Jack said. He checked his watch; another twenty minutes before they had to leave. "If you can be trusted to do that."

"Inspector Robinson," Phryne said archly, "I can be trusted to do anything."

"That's what I was afraid of." Although if he was to be honest with himself, what Jack feared far more was the way his eyes were continuously being drawn back to their reflection in the mirror, Phryne standing close to him and both of them pretending to be something they might be, could be.

"Flatterer," she said, and dimpled at him. "Now come on, Mr and Mrs Delamere need one final touch." She rummaged in her tiny bag and produced a box, opening it to reveal two plain gold bands. Jack stared at it for a long moment, until Phryne waggled it in his face. "For verisimilitude's sake."

"Yes," Jack said, surprised to find that his voice cracked.

"Jack dear…" Phryne said, leaning in towards him. She seemed on the verge of saying something, doing something, and Jack found his gaze drawn to that scarlet bow of a mouth, when the sound of a car horn came from outside. Jack resolutely did not jump. "That will be Cec and Bert here to pick us up. We should probably be on our way."

"Yes," Jack said again and took a step back, and then another before he turned to leave the room. The sudden loss of her body heat was a shock. He cleared his throat. "I'll just get my coat. I'll be right out."

"Jack dear."

He stopped and turned to look at her. "Yes?"

"I do enjoy provocation at times," Phryne said, her hands clasped in front of her in an unusual gesture of uncertainty. "But it's not that I mean to… it doesn't mean I won't be in earnest some day."

And maybe it was difficult to picture Phryne as a stolid banker's wife visiting the big city from Ararat, but when Jack glanced over at the mirror now he saw a couple facing one another only two steps apart. It wasn't so difficult to picture her taking those last few steps, not anymore. Jack smiled.