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Just a Little Light Crime

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Mother!” Phryne Fisher made her tone sound appalled, with a tinge of hurt. She’d had plenty of practice—which just made her inability to lie convincingly to Jack more frustrating. “I cannot believe you’d ask me such a thing. Do you really think that I’d jeopardize your standing in society with such behavior?”

Margaret Fisher’s voice warmed perceptibly, even across the many miles of the overseas phone call. “Well, the rumor did rather strain credulity, darling,” she soothed, and Phryne could hear the laughter in her voice. “Really, the idea that you broke Neville Fellowes’ famously ugly lamp during some sort of… assignation in his study! And during a ball attended by most of society? It beggars belief.”

“It truly does,” Phryne agreed. Which is part of the reason she’d been able to convince Jack that no one would know. “I thought Nevvy hated that lamp anyway?”

“Oh, he does, but his grandmother adored it—apparently it was a wedding present she received from some Ottoman prince, to hear her tell it.” Margaret’s voice was dismissive. “Really, whoever broke it did Neville a favor, but Ida doesn’t seem to agree.”

She clucked her tongue and let out a sigh. “The only reason that you and Jack were brought up in connection to it is that your inspector friend is still such a topic of conversation here. He did come to stay for quite a while, and you did leave for Melbourne together.”

“Well, of course he stayed for a while!” Phryne scoffed as she pulled the notepad beside the telephone closer and picked up a pen. “He spent two months on a boat to get to London. It was hardly his fault that his friend’s flat was being remodelled.”

It had been rather a brilliant excuse, she thought, and because he was her friend, Jack had been given the room that connected to hers via a shared bath. His fictional friend had had all manner of dreadful problems with his remodel; she and Jack had amused themselves with inventing disasters. Jack’s dry delivery had convinced even her father, who was much better at spotting a lie than her mother, of his need to stay. Not that he’d asked to—Margaret had insisted.

Phryne smiled slightly at the memory as she doodled tiny flowers on the notepad, crossing her legs and resting an elbow on the small telephone table. “And the fact that we left for Melbourne together is hardly proof of a torrid affair. There are only so many ships to the Antipodes, mother, and it’s not as if we shared a cabin.” Truth. They hadn’t shared a cabin, they’d shared a suite, but that wasn’t something her mother’s friends would be able to find out.

“I know, I know.” Margaret sighed. “I’ve tried to tell them that you’re only friends, but no one will listen.” She chuckled a little. “I think that Pansy Bridgerton is just upset because he is quite handsome, and she was unable to catch his attention.”

“Pansy Bridgerton has no brains to speak of, though she’s very pretty,” Phryne said dismissively. “Jack would have been bored to tears by her company.”

“Oh, I’m not sure that she was aiming to talk to him, darling,” came Margaret’s dry rejoinder, and Phryne laughed softly. “At any rate, if you and Inspector Robinson weren’t the ones who broke Neville’s grandmother’s lamp, then who? He swore that you and the inspector had disappeared from the company—his implication was that you’d snuck off for an intimate tête-à-tête—and he discovered that the lamp was broken when everyone had gone.”

As her mother spoke, Phryne looked up at the soft tread of bare feet descending the stairs, and she smiled as Jack, dressed comfortably in a navy-blue dressing gown and dark gray pajamas, caught her eyes. His eyes smiled at her, his mouth following only slightly, and he moved around the newel post to stand beside her, his hand sliding beneath the collar of her robe to rest at the base of her neck. Phryne leaned into him, her hand sliding around his leg to pull him close, and she felt him kiss the top of her head.

“I’m sure I have no idea, mother,” she said into the phone, arching her neck as Jack’s clever fingers stroked her skin. “Jack and I did retreat into Nevvy’s study—you remember the telegram he received that morning? It was asking him for advice about an ongoing case, and he needed to talk through the evidence.”

The telegram had been real, though it had only been a reminder from the chief commissioner’s office that his leave was nearing its end. It had precipitated their travel plans, and the fact that they’d be leaving London so soon had played into convincing Jack that shagging in Neville Fellowes’ study during the biggest party of the year would be a grand adventure.

“As you said, nearly everyone in society was at that ball!” It was all Phryne could do not to purr as Jack ran his hands through her hair, and she felt her body responding to his nearness. “If it had been me who broke that lamp, you can be sure that I’d own up to it—after all, my reputation for being fast is well known. But I won’t have Jack’s name sullied!” She felt Jack’s laughter rippling through his abdomen, and she glanced up at him, lifting a finger to her lips.

“All right, darling,” her mother said, “I believe you—and you’re absolutely right. I’ve never known you to worry about gossip.” She sighed a little. “To be honest, I was rather hoping that the rumor was true. I rather like your inspector; he has a steadying influence on you. You could do far worse.”

“Thank you, mother,” Phryne said dryly, more amused than offended. “I’m sure that Jack will appreciate that endorsement, though I doubt he’s seen any evidence of me settling down.”

Jack’s shoulders shook with silent laughter, and she slid her arm back around him to pinch his backside. Unfortunately, that only made him laugh more; Phryne narrowed her eyes up at him in warning, though she adored seeing him so happy.

“All right, Phryne darling, we should probably end this call; it’s very late. Love from your father!” Her mother sang the last words, and Phryne rolled her eyes slightly. Her father only sent his love when he wanted to be paid.

“All right, mother—thank you for calling,” she replied sweetly. “I’m sorry that the rumors distressed you, even for a moment.”

“It’s all right, darling. Say hello to Jane for me, and Jack, when you see him.”

“I will. Take care! Goodbye!”

Phryne hung up the phone with a sigh and collapsed against Jack, exhaling a huge sigh.

“My mother says hello.” She spoke against his belly, breathing in his scent.

“I take it there are rumors in London that concern me?” He stroked her hair, and she could hear the humor in his voice.

“They shouldn’t concern you at all, Jack,” she shot back, looking up at him with a smile. “But there is a rumor that you and I broke Neville Fellowes’ ugly lamp during a passionate encounter in his study.”

“Well, those rumors would be correct, wouldn’t they? And that lamp was truly horrid.”

“It really was, wasn’t it?” Phryne grinned, glad that he was seeing the humor of the situation. “But this is why I rarely deny rumors, Jack,” she stood, wrapping her arms around his neck and leaning close. “Because then when I do, it’s more powerful.”

Jack’s arms slid around her waist, and he leaned in to press a soft kiss to her mouth. “It is fortunate for the world that you use your remarkable brain for good most of the time,” he murmured, and she laughed.

“Now, my mother,” she pulled one hand down his chest to toy with the buttons on his pajamas, “called at a ridiculously early hour, and I, for one, had intended to spend the day in bed.” She looked up at him under her lashes and pressed her hips close to his. She could feel his body responding to her proximity. “Can I convince you to join me?”

“Mmm,” Jack said, leaning in to kiss her again, his hand at her waist dropping to her backside to pull her closer still. “I think you could, at that.”

“If you’ll accompany me upstairs, I’m sure I can come up with a very satisfying argument for it,” Phryne purred.

“You’ll find me willing to be persuaded, Miss Fisher,” Jack replied, and he squeezed her bottom for emphasis.

“Come along then, Jack, keep up,” she said with a smile. Grasping his hand, she tugged him up the stairs, where she demonstrated her plan for the day very ably, to the satisfaction of them both.