AN: Inspired by a tumblr post by whatsabriard and the film Thomas Crown Affair (1999). This story still takes place in Ballarat in the early 60s, I've changed several things to make it work within the realm of Doctor Blake, but this is decidedly AU. I normally don't write AU stories preferring to stick with canon, but I couldn't get this out of my head, so I hope this experiment goes well.
The Doctor Blake Affair
Lucien looked at his watch, it was midday and he felt like a walk. Traffic was never horrible in Ballarat, but today it seemed like the fruit cart overturned and the cows escaped onto the highway. He gave a pat to the front seat and informed his driver that he was hopping out. Grabbing his briefcase he set out across the street and towards the art museum. It was one of the few places in town he could feel truly at home. Some days he'd stroll up the stairs and into the small wing reserved for local artists and stare at one of his mother's paintings that hung on the wall. He owned several of her other works and loaned them out to other Australia museum's wanting to share what she created with the rest of the world.
Today his sights were set on another work, one that beguiled and haunted him. It would seem that this painting was a siren calling him into the rocks. He need to have it, to have her. He waved hello to the docents and made small talk as he head to the second floor, post Great War French art. He found his bench and sat staring at the painting of this beautifully naked woman stretched out on the couch. One arm was cocked behind her head, her eyes bore into ones soul. Her auburn hair and stormy grey green eyes glowed against her pale skin. It was considered a lesser work by a lesser artist, but it didn't stop Lucien from obsessing over Pierre Sarcelle's mystery woman. Most people were more interested in Rene DuBois' work, partly due to the scandal of his life thought Lucien. His brush strokes were wild and frenzied, lacking the graceful control of Pierre Sarcelle's work.
He took a scone out from his briefcase before setting it onto the floor next to him. It wasn't allowed, but he was rich and frankly knew the docents well enough that no one was ever going to object to Doctor Blake. The man wasn't a real doctor, but people called him that anyway. Lucien used to mind, his father was the real doctor in the family, he was just a researcher. When he left university he took the money he earned from his inheritance and started his own research lab, he wasn't involved in day-to-day operations any more, things ran smoothly enough without him. At this point in his life he didn't care to kill himself over work, it had killed his family — in part at least. Now he flew across Australia and the rest of the Eastern Pacific giving lectures, looking at art, and admiring the women who enjoyed his company.
He continued to stare at the woman in the painting wondering who she was when Bobby came up behind him.
"Admiring her again," he asked.
"Never let her go on tour Bobby," he replied.
"Oh, I'll lay down the law," he stated shaking his head at this man who spent many hours staring at this one painting, "You're an odd duck. Everyone else goes right for the DuBois."
"Well it is very nice," he said honestly.
"Nice?" Bobby rose his eyebrows in shock, "Do you know what it's worth?"
"I just like her Bobby," Lucien smiled at the painting losing himself in every stroke.
School children began to run and shout through the museum, marking the end of Lucien's quiet reprieve with his lady friend. The heat was rising in the building as the A/C kicked off, it was the middle of January and the weather was already stifling. He tugged at his collar, despite expecting this he still found the rising temperatures uncomfortable. He picked up his briefcase and left the gallery, allowing the men to get to work. He watched as the paid actors dressed as docents ushered children and other visitors from the impressionist gallery. Bobby predictably returned to the gallery curious about all the activity and noticed the the man pull out something from his pocket. Before Bobby or anyone else had a chance to react the pretender through a smoke grenade. People began running away from the exhibit, docents shouting and the would be thieves while Lucien folded his paper and walked back into the gallery through the smoke undetected.
He wedged his specially fabricated briefcase beneath the steel bars lurching down to block the exits. Lucien rolled onto his back beneath the bars and hurried over to the DuBois and yanked it off the wall. He removed the painting from its frame and quickly rolled the canvas and dropped it into a tube he pulled from his slacks. He rolled back under the door and slid the plastic tube containing the canvas back into his trousers and calmly strode out of the museum and back onto the street.
Once he arrived home he retired to his study and pulled the tube out from its hiding place setting it on the desk. He poured himself a glass of whiskey then clicked a button beneath his desk causing a painting that hung over his mantle to move up revealing an exposed shelf. He took a sip of whiskey before taking the canvas out of the tube and rolling it out. He carried it over to the hidden compartment and carefully tacked it to the wall. He admired it for a second before returning to his desk and drinking his whiskey as he lounged in his leather chair, smiling.
The phone rang, it was late or rather very early in the morning in Auckland. Jean grumbled a hello into the phone and listened. Her jet lag would have to wait. She pulled herself out of bed and got dressed. When she arrived at the museum, or rather crime scene it was nearly dark. She hung back in the shadows following the detectives around as the inspected and theorized the robbery. It was clear they thought it was amateur hour, but she knew better even before she saw the briefcase.
When the tech popped open the case for the detective and they saw that it was lined with some form of strong, but lightweight steel she seized the opportunity.
Her black heels echoed on the marble floors, her foot stopping just short of the briefcase causing the detective to look up her black stocking covered legs, attached at a garter that was purposefully visible from a long slit in her skirt.
"Seems like there might be a couple holes in your theory," she let the words hang in the room as all the men turned and stared at her.
"They shut off the air to drive everyone out, but then they escort them out anyway?" She smiled as the handsome young detective rose to his feet, "Then they close the gates to keep everybody out, but block one of them open while they prepare to abscond with dozens of pieces of art. You figure you'll wrap this one up by Monday do you, Sergeant?" She finished, finally taking her black sunglasses off, meeting his eyes.
"Detective," he replied annoyed at the assumption of his rank, "And you know I'm a little fuzzy about who you are?"
She put her hand out, "Oh, I'm Jean Beasley."
"Of?" He asked still confused.
"Zurich underwriters, requested," she paused and smiled again, "well actually—"
He cut her off, "Insurance."
"Let's say there are a couple of Swiss gentleman who would rather not write a couple hundred thousand dollar check," she said not wanting to give away too much about her business or rather clients.
"So I'm stuck with you on my back," the detective said annoyed at the knowledge that he'd have to drag her along in this investigation.
"Oh, come on Sergeant," she cooed using the wrong rank this time on purpose, "who knows you might enjoy it."
AN: Miss Fisher's fans might have caught a few easter eggs in this chapter, I didn't want to use famous painters and artwork nor did I want to make anything up, so I borrowed from another favorite Aussie show.
It was a beautiful morning, Lucien thought as he walked down the fairway looking for his ball. He decided to take in a round of golf with his sometimes friend, sometimes business competitor Patrick Tyneman.
"I think you'll find that it went in the dunes," Patrick smiled ruefully.
"Naturally," Lucien smirked, he wasn't as great at golf as Patrick was and often found himself in some hazard. Personally he found it fitting and enjoyed the challenge of getting himself out of a complicated situation.
He pulled his wedge from his bag and climbed down into the bunker. Digging his feet in for a firm plant he took one practice swing before carefully chipping the ball up onto the green. It was perfectly done, the ball rolled to a stop five feet from the hole.
Patrick eyed him with a suspicious look, unconvinced that the same man that just hit the ball into the bunker would have also hit it into a perfect spot to save par. If he hadn't actually seen it with his own eyes he wouldn't have believed it, "I bet you couldn't do that again."
Lucien was always in for a gamble. He quickly calculated the odds, "I accept. What shall we wager? Say 100 quid?"
Patrick knew there was no chance of him repeating the shot, "Why not."
Lucien took a spare ball from his pocked and dropped it into the sand, pressing it down with his foot in the same location as the one he just hit. Once more he planted his feet and took a practice swing before chipping it, this time up and into the trees on the far side of the green.
Patrick laughed heartily, "Guess that's a 100 quid to me then."
Lucien wasn't finished, "10-1."
"Are you mad? That's a 1,000 pounds," Patrick replied wanting his friend to rethink this bet.
"Patrick, it's a beautiful day, we are out playing golf, what else do we have to do? Now 10-1?" Lucien said dropping another ball into the sand.
Jean walked into the surveillance room at the museum, scarf still wrapped around her head and sunglasses firmly affixed to her face. Jet lag was a painful mistress, well that and some misplaced gin and tonics. She was in no mood to deal with the cheerful demeanor of Charlie Davis and his would be sidekick Danny Parks. It was clear that moments before she walked in that they were talking about her, she wasn't surprised that they ran some background information on her, she'd done the same thing. No doubt they would be shocked to learn that she came from the humble roots of a farmers. When the depression hit her dad worked with a pal of his doing some side jobs, looking for guys who skipped town mostly. It helped pay the bills and after her mother died, she tagged along and found out she was rather good at finding people or things that didn't want to be found.
"Good morning, how are you" Charlie rang cheerfully.
Jean tossed her glasses aside and lifted a large glass jar from a brown paperback, intent on ignoring the detectives until she joined the land of the living.
"Uh, I said how are you," Charlie wasn't the type to let good manners fall by the wayside.
"Jet lagged," she grumbled.
She took a long, deep swallow of the healthy green liquid trying to freeze her face from showing how nasty it tasted. Yanking her scarf off her head she spun around in the chair and waved her hand in the air, wanting them to get on with the case, while she continued to drink her jet lag remedy.
"We thought we'd start with the security tapes," Charlie stated knowing the technology was still relatively new and everyone was still trying to wrap their heads around the black and white grainy images produced by these cameras. He, however, couldn't ignore the nasty drink in front of him, it smelled like seaweed, "What is that?"
"You don't want to know," Jean replied just wanting to get on with the case. She gestured to the tech who flipped the switch to playback the video from last night's robbery.
"Okay, here we have the gallery. Now unfortunately we don't have the ability to zoom in or enhance the image, but hopefully it'll give you something to go from," the museum guard stated.
"So there's the DuBois," Jean said pointing to its location on the monitor.
"Yes," the guard confirmed.
"Let's skip forward to the time of the robbery," Jean requested. It took several minutes for the tech to fast forward the tape, stopping periodically to check the time stamp on the film, when he reached 4:30 he pushed play again.
"Whoa, there's nothing there" Jean noted as the screen went to black.
"Is the camera still working?" Charlie asked the museum officer.
"We double-checked it this morning, the unit is intact, but we did find this," he held up a piece of black film, "placed over the lens."
"Doesn't someone monitor the camera feed at all times," Danny inquired surprised no one noticed a monitor go black.
"We try to yes, but the technology is still new and we have some guards that are still a bit resistant to using it — preferring to walk the corridors instead," the man replied sheepishly knowing that this was an issue of grave concern.
"We'll need to know which officers were on duty," Charlie said turning towards Danny sharing a knowing look of concern.
There wasn't much else to be learned from the video tapes, except that five minutes prior to the robbery that the screen suddenly went black. Jean and Charlie went back to the gallery, staring at the room Charlie could see Jean's mind running, "What is it?"
"I bet you that if you go take a look at the vents in this room you'll find that they were intentionally blocked," she said staring up at the ceiling.
"Why is that?" Charlie asked not following her train of thought.
"To drive everyone out of this room, they made it stiflingly hot. Once everyone cleared the area they blocked the camera and went to work," she spun around the room taking the space in as she spoke.
He continued to watch her stare at the wall where the DuBois once hung, "How long have you been doing this?"
"Awhile," she muttered purposefully keeping her responses curt.
"Where? Asia?" He still wanted to know who he was dealing with.
"There and elsewhere," she walked towards the bench in front of the missing painting.
"You don't like to talk much do you," he sighed frustrated that she wasn't giving him an inch, "Give me a for instance."
She looked around the room once more trying to decide what to share with the detective, "Your techs won't find any fingerprints. These were professionals. They probably came in here the night before and blocked the vents," she said pointing to the ceiling, "Then they waited until the hottest part of the day to come back to the museum and usher people out of the exhibit. Once it was cleared they slid against the wall, below the cameras," she pointed to the obvious blindspot, "and put the piece of film up. These guys knew what they were doing."
Charlie knew she was right, this wasn't your typical smash and grab kind of job which meant the likelihood of catching the real culprits was much slimmer. There wasn't much left to do at the museum, the techs would collect what they could and begin processing it. He held his arm out gesturing for Jean to step out of the gallery first, he checked his watch, "Hey you hungry?"
Jean looked at him curiously, but didn't respond.
"We could go to this Italian place around the corner they make wonderful pasta," Charlie continued.
She shook her head, he meant well but she definitely wasn't interested, "I'm still on Auckland time."
"Right," he replied kicking himself for not remembering that detail, "So coffee then?"
Jean knew when a man was flirting with her and she had no doubt that Charlie was doing just that, but she had a rule of not getting involved with a man while working a case, "What's the matter Sergeant, did she leave you for a banker?"
Charlie's jaw dropped at the unexpected interrogation he found himself in, and more concerning was how close she'd been to the truth, "It's Detective first grade, and it was a dentist."
She smiled, pleased that she still had it. He felt the temperature of the room rising, as quickly as he'd been interested in spending time with this woman he suddenly wanted to flee, "Is there somewhere I could give you a lift to? A hotel, perhaps?"
"One, I can drive myself," she pointed to the car parked across the street, "And two I have a room at my sister's place. But more to the point, I'm following you to your offices, I have a case to investigate."
He nodded and watched her walk down the museum steps and into her two-tone car, she was trouble but he couldn't help but feel drawn to her.
When he arrived back at the station he found his partner Danny sitting at his desk making small talk with Jean, she clearly wasn't joking when she said she'd meet him back at the station. He let out a sigh wondering if this day could go any slower.
Danny spotted his partner walk in and gave his pardons to Jean as he went to brief him, "We have our witness down the hall, he's ready to make an ID on our would-be robbers," he said gesturing to the man in a well-dressed suit, "Oh and those guys aren't from around here can't be sure but I think they might be Latvian."
"Latvian? How on earth did they end up in Ballarat?" Charlie said incredulously.
Danny merely shrugged, it was one in a long line of strange things about this case. Despite sitting across the room Jean managed to get the gist of their conversation, her ears perked up at the mention of Latvians, that certainly made things interesting.
"Come on," Charlie waved to her, "Time for the line-up."
Charlie, Danny, and Jean walked down the hallway behind the man in the nice suit as they made their way into the interview room. They had several men lined up against a wall, "Now please don't worry Mr. Blake, these gentleman won't know who is on the other side of the glass," Danny said trying to reassure their witness, "Just take your time and give them a good look before responding."
"Number four," Lucien responded after just a moment of starring at the men.
"You're sure?" Danny asked.
He didn't need more time to look at them, he knew them well enough when he hired them, anonymously of course to do the job, "I'm sure," he said confidently turning to face Charlie.
"Okay," Charlie was surprised by the sureness and quickness of his response, "Would you mind signing your name to this document affirming your response?"
"Of course," Lucien took the pen and scratched his name hastily across the page.
Jean stood in the back of the darkened room watching Lucien, studying his exchange with Charlie. There was something about him that she couldn't put her finger on just yet, but couldn't help the tug at her gut that something else was going on with their Mr. Blake.
"Mr. Blake, we have to inform you that people like this are often dangerous. They may want to retaliate against you for coming forward. Now we can do what we can to offer you some protection," Danny stated as he took the paperwork from Charlie.
"Yes, well I understand gentleman," Lucien said before making his way towards the door, "I guess I'll just take my chances."
"Don't worry we'll get these guys," Charlie gave the man a reassuring clap on the back.
"I can't imagine someone thinking they could get away with a thing like this," Lucien said to the group before spotting Jean in the corner, giving her a wink. He didn't wait for a reply before pushing his way through the door and heading out of the station.
Jean left the officers to do their jobs, interrogate the men — she knew it would be a waste of time anyway, they'd never give up anything and even if they did they wouldn't know anything substantial that would give up their employer. She had to admit whoever planned this had thoroughly thought it through, not a detail left to chance. Jean walked down the hall way sipping on her coffee, never having acquired the taste for tea, and watched as Lucien Blake jogged down the street towards his expensive dark green Jaguar. There was something there, she knew it.
AN: Interesting fact, two-way mirrors were invented in 1903, so I think it's fair to say they would have made it into police stations by the early 1960s. Also the use of CCTV came into practice during WWII, so I think that museums would have started using them to keep an eye on priceless artwork by then as well.
From behind the glass Jean could feel the eyes of the policeman staring at her, jaws open she imagined. Not for a second would they have assumed she could speak Latvian. Well she didn't speak it that well, her grammar was appalling but they didn't need to know that. She spoke it well enough that the suspect was intrigued eying her in his own way, torn between suspicion and wanting to fuck her. She smirked at them, she didn't care as long as she garnered just enough information to figure out her next move. She let the words flow from her mouth as seductively as the harshness of the language would allow. Slowly she moved around the room, pretending to read the file before leaning against the table, placing her hip close to his hands but just far enough out of his reach. The man remained silent but was clearly listening to her intently. Deciding to change her tactic after several minutes of getting no response she slid off the table and move around him, her head coming so close to his face that her soft brown curls feel against his cheek. Her breath would have felt warm against his breath, in that moment she knew he'd relaxed his animal brain had switched over and was no longer paying attention to the words she was saying. In one swift move she put her hands behind his head and gave a twist to his neck, not hard or serious enough to break it of course — just enough for him to get the point.
"They do speak English," she exclaimed proudly to Charlie, "It was a pre-packaged robbery." He gave her a strange look, but she continued on anyway, "He picked them up in Little Lonsdale near the bath house. They were given time tables, floor plans—"
Charlie cut her off, "Wait, who is he?"
She sat down in the chair in front of his desk, "They don't know of course, that's the point. Complete anonymity. There were go-betweens. They never saw his face, never heard his voice."
Charlie seemed to finally be catching on, "So this was just a one-time job then, but they failed."
Jean gave him a smug smile, "What makes you think that they failed?"
"Because they got caught of course," he replied as if it was clear as day.
"Maybe it was a successful robbery, maybe they were set up to fail, to get caught," she countered placing her heels up on his desk.
He threw his pen down, growing ever confused by this case, "Why?"
Jean tried hard not to laugh at him, it wasn't his fault really she worked cases like this all the time, well not just like this. She understood art thieves and this type of criminal mind better than he ever could covering the beat in a sleepy old mining town like Ballarat. She paused before laying it all out for him, "Diversion," she smiled and leaned forward, "make a lot of noise over there, so over here in this room you take a five hundred thousand dollar painting off the wall. Oh that's good!"
Jean's brain went into overdrive running the scenario over and over again in her head that she almost missed Charlie's reply, "It doesn't matter, because as soon as he tries to sell it we've got 'em."
Once again Jean tried not laugh at the poor clueless detective, but couldn't help but let a chuckle escape. She removed her heels from the desk and gave him a coy smile before leaving the office. She knew better and he didn't that would work well in her favor. Her job was to recover the painting to her employer, not catch an art thief. She nearly bumped into his colleague, Simmons something, on the steps down the police station when she heard Charlie shout, "Wait up."
She waved her hand up, giving herself a second to contemplate how much to share with the detectives. "He's not going to sell," she paused waiting to see if that would suffice.
"He's not, why wouldn't he?" Charlie asked still puzzled.
"No, this was an elegant crime done by an elegant person, most likely a man. This certainly was not about the money," she turned to start down the stairs again.
"So if it wasn't about the money, then what was it?" Simmons asked.
Before she could reply Charlie waved his hand at Simmons and added, "Who is going to risk going to prison just to steal a DuBois and then not sell it?"
She smiled at his adorable ineptitude, "A DuBois lover," she replied simply. She could sense that they were still struggling to follow her line of thinking, so she decided to throw them a bone. "Pull up the records from every art auction in the last, say, 5 years and see who just can't help but bid on DuBois works."
Simmons pulled out his notebook and started writing her instructions feverishly, "Just in Victoria?"
She smiled, "No, the whole of Australia and I would suggest Europe as well since he is so well known."
Simmons eyes grew wide at her response, she gave a little chuckle it was an enormous amount of leg work that she'd otherwise be doing on her own and she wasn't disappointed at all that she'd figured out an angle to have the police do all the heavy lifting.
It took several days for Charlie, Simmons, and Jean to pull together the records of every art auction in the last five years that had a Sarcelle listed and then to find the names of potential bidders. Not every auction house kept track of those that attended and placed a bid, unless it was the winning one, and others prized themselves on anonymity. She knew this could be bit of a fool's errand as many wealthy patrons used a third-party to bid on their behalf, but it was the closest thing they had to a lead.
They managed to find only four auctions over the course of five years that had one of his paintings on the block. Those auctions led them to a short list of potential names, twelve dozen to be exact, mostly buyers. She quickly scanned the document that Ned had typed up for her. Most of the names she expected to recognize the art world wasn't that big, but one jumped out at her.
She bit down on her thumb as she walked into Charlie's office, unable to hide her grin, "See anyone we know," she asked him as she handed him Simmons list.
Charlie took a few seconds to scan the list of names, muttering each one aloud to himself. Jean tried not to roll her eyes at him as he did. Finally he stopped at the sixteenth name on the list and looked up at her with doubt, "Really? A big day for him is a round of golf at the country club. He's a doctor, a lab geek."
Jean was beginning to have her own doubts, doubts about what they really knew about the man called Lucien Blake. "Is he?" She countered. She was certain that the lab geek and doctor bit were true, in her brief read up on the man it was clear what his education and professional experience was, but that didn't mean a man didn't have other hobbies or interests.
Lucien took only a brief second too look back at the disappearing coastline, the skyscrapers of Melbourne slipping down the curve of the earth as the monohulled racing yacht got further away. They weren't making the full trip to Hobart, today was just another training day for he and his crew. The seas were only slightly choppy, perfect conditions as it meant the wind was blowing just right to push The Queen Fisher into her racing line. Ahead he could see his sometimes friend, sometimes competitor Matthew shifting the sails of his boat trying to eek out every last ounce of speed he could. Lucien hollered out into the salt spray, gleeful, he would catch up to Matthew and then he'd pass him as he did almost nearly every time they raced out beyond the bay. He pulled the lines and ran along the deck with his crew, tilting the boat nearly to the point of capsize before pulling her back around. The sails whipped as they billowed and filled with air, coming up quickly to Matthew's boat.
Off in the distance, Jean sat aboard a whale watching boat hugging along the coast. Her eyes were glued to her binoculars as she watched this white and blue boat quickly approach another yellow yacht. The way they turned and pushed the seas was an elegant dance of both precision and power. This man that she was watching was nothing like the man Charlie spoke of, this man, Lucien, was fierce and she found herself drawn to him. She felt a strange pang of concern for him when she saw the boat tilt again dipping him into the water. It continued to tilt to the point that the crew was unable to stop her from capsizing. When he popped up, bobbing along the cold water waiting for the other boat to pull him out, she could tell he was fine, he was laughing.
When her whale watching cruise was over she walked to the nearest phone booth and placed a call to Ballarat police station.
"Lieutenant Davis?" He answered.
"It's Jean," she paused before diving into her discovery, "I saw him wreck a fifty thousand dollar yacht today, just because he liked the splash."
"Do you have any idea how many lawyers this guy has at his disposal? Not to mention political connections?"
Jean chuckled, "I'll be back in Ballarat in the morning," she replied before hanging up the phone. As she made her way to her hotel in Melbourne she couldn't help but notice the fluttering in her stomach, this was turning into a very interesting case, and the fact that her main suspect was a wealthy, attractive and immensely intriguing man didn't hurt either.
Jean stood on the steps of this grand house, mansion really, and watched couples move up the marble steps and inside. She pulled her shawl tighter against her skin before taking a deep breath and walking in with all the poise and since of belonging she could muster. It was one aspect of her job that she still struggled with. She was well off in her own right, art recovery paid well, but spending time with socialites and "old money" was always uncomfortable. Pulling a smile across her face, she masked any nerves and displayed a calm stance as she strolled through the house.
"Mr. Lucien Blake has very generously loaned us a Davies painting, until our own DuBois is returned," declared Mr. Barry Johnstone the museum curator.
Jean stood in the back of the crowd, not wanting to draw any attention to herself - yet - as the room filled with applause and flash bulbs as Lucien stood somewhat uncomfortably in the spotlight adjacent to his painting and Mr. Johnstone. It was the right thing to do, but he didn't like all the fuss that came with it. He took a polite bow and then stepped into the crowd.
Her eyes followed his movement as he shook hands and gave polite smiles to fellow donors. Not wanting to miss her opportunity she slipped by several couples unnoticed until she stood just behind an older woman that seemed intent on carrying on a conversation with Mr. Blake. Jean could immediately read him, he wanted out of this room. None of this was comfortable to him either, she could tell he wore a good mask, but he wanted to be anywhere else.
"I knew him you know," an older woman stated as he politely shook her hand, "Davies, in the 20s and 30s in Sydney —"
"It's very impressive," Jean said as she pushed herself forward and in between the pair.
Lucien stared at her, he couldn't help it. Her hair was pulled back into a neat bun, eyes smoky with brown shadow and the brightest red lips.
Jean's eyes smiled at him as she watched his eyes run over her body. She wore a tight fitting black dress, tea-length because in a place like Ballarat she knew propriety was king.
Shrugging he gave a nonchalantly reply, "Well it seemed the right size for the space." He turned his back away from her trying to refocus his attention on the crowd, and not on the stunning woman beside him. Jean kept the space between them close as thought about his reply, the wording seemed an odd choice. Playing on a hunch she threw out a veiled remark, "Or maybe you were just bored with it," she added a chuckle to soften the tone. Her voice was low, but still the words were loud enough for others to hear, she study him as he gave a quick look around the room to see if anyone was paying them any mind.
Lucien knew it was meant as a jab, and threw a glance back at her wondering what caused her to suggest something as bold as that. She was beautiful, nothing like any woman he'd encountered before, certainly not in Ballarat. She couldn't be a local, but the way she spoke made him feel as though they must be acquaintances. He felt uneasy around her, "Do we know each other?"
"No, not yet," she said turning to face him and offering her hand, "I'm Jean Beasley."
"Lucien Blake," he quickly took her hand and shook it, admiring her firm grasp. She definitely wasn't like any woman he'd met before, she exuded confidence and wit that only served to make him more drawn to her.
He gestured towards the bar and Jean gladly followed, any opportunity to learn more about this man was time well-spent. "Vodka on the rocks, with a twist," she asked the barkeep before turning towards Lucien sizing him up. She paused for a moment then decided, "And ah, scotch neat," she gestured towards Lucien.
He gave her a surprised look, most people assumed he was one that appreciated a nice pint, "How did you know that?"
"I've been reading about you," she said coyly as she took the glass tumbler off the cherry wood counter and brought the cool liquid to her lips.
Lucien couldn't help the cheeky smile that came to his face, "Where on earth did you read about me?"
Choosing her words carefully she replied, "In a file" then calmly placed the drink back down and looked in his eyes gauging his reaction.
A file? A fleeting moment of panic coursed through his veins. His eyes flitted back and forth for a split second, brow pushing together before his expression schooled, "Who do you work for?"
Jean fought back the victorious smile she felt as she caught a twitch of his eyes and knew she had unnerved him. "I'm in the art world," she picked her glass up again and brought it to his giving it a clink.
"Really?" He asked, is brain running a mile a minute trying to place her name or even face from one of the many art events he might have attended. Buying time for his brain to catch up he took a deep breath of the rich oaky scotch before letting the velvety taste fill his mouth.
"Gallery owner?" He'd like that, it was always helpful to know someone in that line of work.
"No," she paused before adding "something closer to insurance," her eyes just peaking over her glass still studying him. Most people had one of two reactions when they heard she was involved in insurance either an assumption that she handled boring paperwork or concern because they had something to hide. She suspected that he would have the latter response.
"I'm covered," he replied cheekily taking another sip of his scotch and surveying the rest of the room.
She smiled, it wasn't quite what she expected him to say. Jean leaned her hip against the side of the bar waiting for his eyes to return to her before she decided to up the game and challenge him, "Not for this," she paused, "The painting. The DuBois. You didn't think they'd simply cut a check for several hundred thousand dollars, did you?"
The corners of his lips twitched as he tried to suppress the smile at this game she was playing. His brows furrowed as he took a second to contemplate the best response, "So you—"
"Get them things," she cut off him, "When there's this much money involved it usually means I get them, someone's head."
"And whose head are you after?" He found this woman to be a dangerously inviting creature. For the first time he felt as though he was meeting an equal, someone who could match him thrust for thrust.
"Yours, of course," she took a final sip of her vodka and stepped past him, "Good evening Mr. Blake."
Lucien gnawed on his lower lip for a second before turning, unable to help himself from watching her walk away. The way her hips swayed the tight fitting dress seared into his mind.
"Are you trying to, uh " he hurried after her as she entered the foyer of the grand estate, "trying to imply that I had something to do with the painting?
Jean couldn't help but smile as she heard him walking quickly up behind her. She pulled her shawl out and began wrapping herself in it, letting him sweat as she thought about whether to say anything in return, "Trying?"
Jean was a bit surprised when he moved to help her with the shawl, the man was definitely schooled in the ways of being a gentleman, Thank you. No. I wouldn't call it an attempt."
For the first time in his life, he was baffled by his inability to get a read on someone — especially a woman, "What's in it for you?"
"5% of whatever the value recovered," she replied matter-of-factly assuming that he meant finances of course. There were other things of course that made it worth her time, this for instance was extremely pleasurable and not many could say that about their line of work.
"Bounty hunter, then?" He couldn't figure out who else to put it, she was being paid a reward to recover something that went missing. A fleeting thought crossed his mind, how he was keeping an exquisite woman like her in business with his extra-curricular activities made him even more drawn to her.
"If you like," she hated the term, it seemed so banal but it wasn't entirely inaccurate.
"Always get your man?" He let the double entendre hanging in the air.
"Mmm hmm," she hummed continuing to move towards the exit letting him follow beside her.
He couldn't help the feeling of excitement build up within, "So you'll get me then?"
She stared at his lips, watching him closely, "Oh I hope so." Then turned and walked away, knowing that he would follow her, he was mesmerized by her.
He looked back into the house and then back towards Jean walking down the steps and chased after her, desperate to spend just a few more minutes with her. "Can I drop you off somewhere?"
"I have a car here, thank you," she said stepping off the curb towards the sedan that pulled up.
Ever the gentleman, he pulled open the door and held it open for her as she moved towards the opening. Again he tried to come up with a way to not lose out on an opportunity to be in her orbit, "Then, uh, tomorrow? Us dinner?"
"You're on," she slid onto the black leather seat of the car and looked up at him.
"Let's make it early. I have a stop to make first." He tapped the roof of the car letting the driver know he could pull away, he turned and watched the black sedan head down the dark street. She was dangerous indeed.
"What happened?" Alice asked as she continued scratching her pen across sheets of paper on her large dark oak desk.
"Happened?" He turned, clearly distracted. His mind was anywhere, but in the office of his sometimes friend, sometimes life coach. He wasn't exactly what to call Alice anymore, she wasn't like anyone else he knew and that's partly what drew him to her. Not in any sexual way, but in a mentally engaging way. Whenever he was out of sorts, he knew coming to see Alice would help set him right.
Alice set down the large ball point pen she was writing with and looked directly at him, "Whenever I talk and you're tuning out whatever I'm saying, the corners of your mouth go up. You're enjoying something, and it's not me, so what is it?"
"An entertainment," he tried to hide the smirk from his face, but he knew it didn't matter Alice could and would always be able to see right through him. She was the only one in his life that could get inside his head, well until recently when he met Jean.
He regretted the remark as soon as he caught the look in Alice's eyes, she was too happy about whatever it was she was thinking, that he was thinking about. She smiled at him, giving him her full attention now, "Very little entertains you, so I can easily guess," removes glasses, "a worthy adversary."
He didn't respond, and neither did she, but they both pursed their lips as they carried on a silent conversation.
"Hmm," she hums knowing she's onto something based on his cheeky expression and the fact that he keeps adverting his eyes from hers. "Did someone swindle you?"
He chuckled, but left the question in the air. He couldn't exactly say swindled, but Jean was most certainly doing something to him.
She sensed his annoyance at her before he said anything. Jean wasn't surprised, she was used to stepping on the toes of law enforcement during her own parallel investigations, she didn't care of course she was here to do a job same as them. Leaving her sunglasses on, she swung her coat over her left shoulder and slowed her pace as she strolled up to meet the obviously irritated detectives.
He glared at her, and couldn't wait any longer to vent his frustrations at her,"You waltzed in there without even a head's up, without one word to me or anyone else in our department for that matter."
"I uh," Jean starts to say as she removes her dark glasses to get a better look at her riled up temporary police partner Charlie, "I had a little chat with him yes."
He audibly scoffs at her, "You had a little chat with him. You told him flat out that he was a suspect," he gritted his teeth and looked around in the hallway, not wanting to cause a scene despite needing to lay into her.
"I cut through the rubbish alright?" Jean crossed her arms sternly, she wasn't about to back down or explain her techniques to the cops.
Charlie threw up his arms and walked away from her clearly annoyed with her, that she wasn't "getting" his point at all. Jean was hot on his heels, looking for a fight now, "How long was it going to take you, Charlie? Weeks of surveillance, if you had the man power to do it. I found out in ten minutes that he did it. The smug bastard did it," she ignored the raised eyebrow she received for her less than lady-like conversation and leaned against the door frame as if to punctuate her point - her sensuality was a tool and she was going to use it.
He didn't look up at her haphazardly shuffling papers on his desk, "You compromised the investigation."
"No, I jumped started it," she threw back at him taking several steps toward the desk.
"Oh really," he snapped back dropping the papers, "what do you have to show for it? I don't see any evidence that we can use to take him to court? All I see is that you got yourself a date, maybe that's all you were after," his suggestion hit squarely just as it was intended.
She halted her steps immediately,"I beg your pardon." It wasn't that she hadn't heard the nasty remarks cops had for her. Some they said to her face, others to her back. Charlie's words were hurtful not because they were worse than past accusations, in fact his words were tame by comparison, but she had thought better of him. Until that moment she had taken him for an upstanding gentleman, well-mannered and a mild temperament. She took a mental pause and stayed focus on the case, "The man likes the high-wire, I'm going to play with him for awhile."
Charlie picked up a manila file folder, but she didn't think there was anything in it. His behavior had been annoyed and flustered since she arrived. Perhaps she had gotten under his skin.
He stepped away from his desk,"I think there's still some questions as to whose playing whom," and walked away.
She turned and followed him out, "You saying I should go?" Even if that was what he was implying it didn't matter. Her employers wanted her on this, wanted the painting recovered and no cop not even Charlie was going to get in her way.
"Don't mess with the department Jean, we're on this," he hollered back barely glancing over his shoulder to give her a second look as he pretended to walk with purpose down the hall.
"Afternoon ma'am. This is a warrant, we are here to search the premises," Charlie pushed his way into the house past the housekeeper and continued to bark orders, "I want two men to take that room, you guys search downstairs, Danny you're with me."
"Move, move," Danny said to the rest of the team coming up the steps to Lucien's house.
The housekeeper took the slip of paper that Charlie handed her and scurried down the hallway towards the kitchen,"Mr. Blake?" She calls as she disappears out of view from Charlie.
Danny and Charlie watched as the men fanned out across the large estate, lifting up paintings and moving seat cushions trying to locate where the DuBois might be hidden. He wasn't sure if it would really be here in the house, but they weren't able to secure a warrant to check his office. It seemed a more likely place, the building was fairly secured—
He was jarred out of his thoughts as the Doctor stepped out of the kitchen with a towel thrown over his shoulder, "Excuse me? Why are you in my house?"
Charlie stepped forward, "I'm sure it's still a mystery to you, but your lawyer will be able to explain it all to you," he finished smugly.
Lucien shouted over his shoulder, "Wallace!"
Charlie tried to keep his surprise when he saw an older gentleman come through the kitchen, he wasn't sure who he was but he didn't have a good feeling. Lucien kept his eyes fixed on this invader sizing him up in a new lens. He spoke to him at the station of course, but he had no doubt that Jean tipped the local police of her suspicions. Oddly, he didn't blame her for this invasion of privacy, no this lacked the brains and sophistication, this was all the bumbling constables down the road. When he felt Wallace beside him he flicked his wrist and handed him the search warrant. He tried to hold back the smirk, but he didn't see the point of denying himself the satisfaction, "This gentleman happens to be my lawyer."
It didn't take Wallace very long to read the search warrant and see right through it. When he saw the judges' signature on the bottom of the warrant he laughed and walked back into the entry and placed a call.
"Judge Richwood and I are golf buddies, should have asked for a different judge boys," Wallace said as he strolled back to up to where Charlie and Lucien stood, "I think that'll be all." He handed the warrant back to Charlie who had to accept bitter defeat. The smile that came across Lucien's face stung, but not as much as what he knew would be waiting for him in the car.
Danny looked at Charlie waiting for him to respond, or holler a command but he was silent. Danny poked him and then shouted loudly through the house, "Alright, that's it guys we gotta get out."
Lucien could hear the cops stop in their tracks and make their way back towards the front of the house. He took the opportunity to take a few steps forward and raise his arms outward to usher everyone out of his house, "Next time," he paused when they reached the door, opening it and holding it wide, "do you homework."
Once every last officer was out of his house he stood on his porched and watched as they loaded up in their cars and began to pull away from the house. He could hear Charlie murmuring something to someone in the car, he figured it was Jean which only made the eviction that much sweeter. Any opportunity to have her at his chess board filled him with unadulterated pleasure.
Jean looked up as Charlie opened the door and saw Lucien watching them. She tried to hold back the smile, but it was impossible, so she opted to let the wide grin splash her face and forgo the implied I told you so that was on the tip of her tongue. The remark was two-fold, she knew they'd never get anywhere with that silly warrant, and even if they did the man didn't have it out on display. No Lucien would have creatively hid it somewhere a place where only he could look and know it was there. The other was that she had been right all along, and Charlie was only just now seeing how right she'd been. Of course he stole the painting.
Charlie slid into the seat murmuring, "Oh keep your knickers on. I'll get into his house." He started the car and started to seethe as Lucien waved at him from the porch.
Jean slid her sunglasses back up the bridge of her nose and continued grinning. Charlie could sweep that house for days and he'd never find that painting. She turned and looked out the window as they headed down the long drive, but she would of that she had no doubt.
Jean feels a dozen pairs of eyes on her as she walks out of the station, down the stairs and towards the black Jaguar parked across the street. Feeling extra playful tonight she adds a little extra sashay to her walk, benefiting both sides she's having to cater to for this case. A driver steps aside as she approaches that car and opens the door for her.
"You look wonderful," Lucien says as she slides into the backseat of his jaguar.
"How are you?" She asks, knowing it's only been a day since they last spoke, and only a few hours since they shared a look as the police left his house.
He looks out the window towards the police station, "Popular."
Jean threw back her head and gave a light chuckle to his response, he was continuing to surprise her with his wit and sensibility. Lucien Blake was proof that one couldn't trust what they read alone, he was the reason she would always be employed — there was always more beneath the dossier that pencil pushers put together.
After a few minutes Lucien looked over his shoulder through the back window of the car, Jean's eyes followed, both silently acknowledging the very visible tail following them to dinner. For his part he merely shrugged as if it was a common occurrence to have police officers following his every move.
"This isn't the restaurant," Jean gave him a curious look as she peered out the window as the car came to a stop.
"Observant," he paused to make sure she was looking at him, "I firmly believe that if you're going to take a lovely lady to dinner, you must show her a good time." He walked around to the other side of the car and held the door open for her, offering his hand to her as she shimmed out, "Besides," he leaned in close, "this may be my only opportunity to spend an evening with you and I wanted to maximize my time."
Jean ducked her head as she attempted to hide the blush that filled her cheeks. He is good. She muttered to herself as they walked up the marble steps.
"Charlie, you're not going to believe this," Danny says over the radio, "You know where he's taking her? To the museum."
"He's taking her to the bloody museum?" He shouted back through the radio.
"It's kinda sweet you know, for a first date, " he laughs at the hilarity of it all. If it weren't for the missing painting it would be a fitting scene in one of those Cary Grant films.
Taking a moment to enjoy what she missed on her first walk through the museum, she stared up at the lovely glass ceilings and winged staircases that flanked the end of the hall. Jean noticed the light touch of a hand on the small of her back, and shoved down the attraction she felt welling up.
"Hey, I didn't know your portrait was here," she remarks as she sees a replica of the man with the bowler hat painting, grateful for an opportunity to redirect things from the romantic to investigatory, "The faceless businessman in a bowler hat. Everything but the briefcase. Did you have to sit long for the artist?"
There was nothing she wasn't willing to say he realized and found her boldness refreshing. "Actually, I do own a copy of that," giving a smile as he continued to guide her through the halls, with intent.
She lets out a hearty laugh that only causes Lucien to smile more, "Oh, of course you do."
The art here was nice Jean thought, it had a lovely sense of ordinary and every day that she found refreshing. Most of the exhibits represented work by Australian artists, but as they strolled through the exhibits she noticed nice samplings of European work. "And where might you be taking me?" She already knew the answer of course, but was curious what he was playing at, it seemed like it was fire.
"Come, come," he encouraged stepping in front of her and gesturing towards the next room, the room that arguably brought them together.
"Good evening sir," a young female docent said as she made her way through the halls, "The museum is closing in 15 minutes." She must have been new Jean thought because she sensed that Lucien came here often, and was well acquainted with all the docents and no doubt the hours.
"Thank you," he replied with a polite nod, ushering Jean once more.
She quickly recognized the painting for the previous night, "Ah, your loaner," she say turning slightly to face him wondering once more why he was going through all these motions when he had essentially gotten away with stealing a priceless piece of art — loaning this made him more of a target in her mind.
"It's the least I could do," he gave a shrug staring for a moment at the piece.
"Oh, I see they put the air back on," she shivers partly for show, partly to see how gentlemanly he would be, "I shouldn't have checked my coat." They needed him to get close enough to her, so she could pocket the keys.
Seconds later Lucien is taking off his coat, causing Jean to smile. In certain ways the man was the epitome of predictability and in others a walking contradiction. He puzzled her and she found the more time she spent around him, the harder it was getting to stay completely focused on the task at hand.
"Oh, thank you," she says pretending to be surprised by his gentlemanly gesture as he drapes it over her bare shoulders. Jean is immediately hit by his scent surrounding her and she finds herself growing warmer for far different reasons that just the wool coat.
Desperate to not fall into her desire she once more put space between them, pushing the topic that had them here together in the first place, "You know if I could have my pick in this room, I wouldn't have taken the DuBois." It was true, it was a nice painting, but not one she had to have.
"No?" Lucien turned to her with a quizzical look, unsure of where she was going with this new line of seductive interrogation.
"No," she repeated firmly staring at the other paintings hanging on the wall.
"What would you take?"
"For my personal choice?" She scans the room, as if she didn't know from the minute she walked in. "Um," feels for the keys in his coat pocket, "that one." She points towards a beautiful painting of river boats heading beneath a bridge in the early morning. It's positioned on the other side of the wall from the Sarcelle, the contrasting tones seem to clash except for the delicate strokes. Jean partly likes the image because it's painted by a woman, one of the few who were able to make a name for themselves—and not under their husbands. Berthe Morisot's The Seine below the Pont d'Lena may not be as stunning as Manet's similar works, but this she could stare at every day if it hung on one of her walls. She'd never grow tired of it. The detail, the story, the colors were all perfect to her.
Lucien was surprised by her selection, he had unjustly assumed that she'd want the most valuable painting, or perhaps the most well-known artist. Not a minor work, from a somewhat unknown artist. He stepped beside her to take a closer look at a painting, he admittedly didn't spend much time observing, "You?"
She shook herself back into the job, annoyed with herself for once again falling into distraction. At least this time it wasn't because of Lucien, at least no directly. She felt him near here, "Uh huh," she murmured keeping her eyes fixated on the painting.
"You'd like to have that?" He posed tantalizing, hoping she took the bait.
She nods, "Why? Would you get it for me?" Her eyes shown with excitement.
"Anything is attainable." He says strolling into the next exhibit, leaving her breathless at his implication.
"Ok, I'll bite," she follows after him, daring him to play this game with her. "What would you do to get it?"
He turned sideways, his shoes squeaking on the polished floors as he looked up at her, waiting to catch her eyes before he replied, "Buy a nice little reprint in the gift shop downstairs."
Jean couldn't help but let out a snort laugh at his comment. As was the case with him, he never ceased to surprise her with his turn of phrase. It wasn't that she expected him to flat out say he'd steal it for her, but she had expected something a bit more risqué than she got. It didn't matter in the end, she wasn't after that painting she was after the DuBois. She continued to chuckle, using the sound to cover up any noise made as she dropped the set of keys from his pocked onto the base of a marble sculpture for Ned to retrieve.
"Shall we?" He asked offering her an arm once she caught up to him, "Our table is waiting."
"Lead on," she replied taking his arm from beneath his large wool coat still covering her shoulders.
Danny followed the Jag as it pulled up to the curb of a restaurant on the outskirts of town. He let out a chuckle as he parked his car across the street, and picked up his radio, "It looks like they're going to Cafe Replique."
The radio crackled with silence before Charlie answered, "Wait a minute, I thought they were supposed to go to Cafe Voltaire! She said they were going to Voltaire."
He shook his head as he imagined the red face of his partner at the news, "I'm watching them walk into Cafe Replique, and with no reservation."
"Call the guys, get them over to the right place. What a mess!" He shouted back into the radio, "Out."
Inside the restaurant, Jean couldn't help but admire the detailing, she really felt like she was in a cafe in Paris. Even the smell of the onion soup felt familiar. It'd been years since she last made the trip, her work keeping her mostly in Asia recently, a fact she didn't doubt Lucien to have uncovered.
The waiter stood by waiting for her to get settled into her seat before asking for their drinks. Lucien knew that he should probably have wine at a French restaurant, but it somehow didn't feel appropriate, opting instead for his usual tell, "Scotch neat for me, and I guess the lady would like—"
"What?" She dared, curious as to his selection. Would it be vodka as she'd ordered the night before, or something more daring. She put her hands beneath her chin and looked at him, challenging him to divine it from her eyes.
"Well, that actually, the lady likes, champagne," He gave her a cheeky smile as he noticed her fleeting moment of surprise.
The waiter nods, "We have Bollinger 1958 Grande Anee."
"That sounds wonderful actually," Jean was well acquainted with the brand. It was from one of the finest Champagne houses in all of France. In fact one of the few that was still owned and run by the family. She lifted the white napkin from the table and draped it across her lap, "You've been busy."
He smiles proudly, "I'm sure your files are thicker than mine."
"Well the thing that impressed me most," she starts to say as he leans in closer to her, "Was getting from Ballarat to Edinburgh on a boxing scholarship."
"Well, that was easy, rich kids can't box," he said trying to hide the trace of class inequity from his voice.
She laughs, it feels easy, too easy.
"The hard part was learning to walk, the walk of the socialites," he pauses, "but you know all about that. The matador. The Russian anarchist. The footballer's son,"
"He was cute," she smirked lifting her shoulder at an attempt to suggest her innocence in the matter.
Lucien wasn't fooled, he'd read all about it already, "He was 17."
"Oh, yes he was," Jean thought back on that memory for a moment. It wasn't the best romp she'd ever had, but it was certainly full of excitement.
He watched as her eyes twinkled and went to a far away place, he liked her like this, slightly disarmed. He gave her the moment before continuing on his quest, the real reason he brought up the parade of men in her life, "I must admit, that's a fair litany from a young girl from Collingwood. But the part I didn't get, I mean it's obvious that you like men, but you never keep them around very long either."
Jean hid any of her reaction to his jab at her sexual history by focusing on the real issue, "Oh, well, that, men make women messy," she looks around and notices with disappointment that her champagne hasn't arrived. Reluctantly she reaches for the water and takes a sip keeping her eyes on him the entire time, watching as he studies her, looking for any weakness. Before either could remark further the missing alcohol arrived.
"Thank you," she says to the waiter grateful to swap the water for the wonderfully dry taste of the "Bolli".
"Here's to the fear of being trapped," he said raising his glass not missing her attempt to sidestep the questioning glances.
Charlie stood impatiently with Ned at the locksmith's shop waiting for the key to be cut. The fact that they were even doing this blurred the lines of what was allowed by the law, but he did have the warrant allowing him in the house. They'd discussed the plan, they'd wait until he was away for business, his schedule suggested he had business in Sydney at the end of the week, then they'd go looking for the painting. Uninterrupted he hoped they'd get further, but he was still uncertain that the painting was even there. Maybe, it was at the office, his gut just couldn't pin anything down with this case.
Ned gave him a look and he realized that his leg was shaking the entire desk. He stopped and tried to stifle the anxiety he was feeling, they were running out of time to get the key back to the restaurant in time.
"Here's the fish for the lady," the waiter presented Jean with a white plate of pan-seared mullet with a lemon garlic sauce, "And the lamb chops for the gentleman." Jean caught the look of near-salivation in Lucien's eyes as he looked at the mint jelly and pecan-crusted lamb. She almost ordered the same thing, thoroughly enjoying lamb herself, but wanted to keep things light not knowing exactly where this evening was going to end.
The waiter paused a moment to make sure both were satisfied with their dishes. Lucien gave Jean a look and turned towards the waiter, "And we'd like to pre-order soufflés, and I would like to send a bottle of Burgundy to those two gentleman over there,"
"Of course sir," he nodded politely and then disappeared into the restaurant.
Jean looked over her shoulder and caught Charlie's men. She almost expected to see Charlie sitting at the table, it wasn't part of the plan of course for him to show up, but she wouldn't put it past him. He didn't seem to want to let her out of his sight and she couldn't pin the real motivation there. She turned around and noted the look of smugness on Lucien's face, it felt out of place.
He gave them a nod at the pair with his glass raised, pretending to smile at the officers, "At least they look like uptown boys. The one's yesterday looked like flashers."
"Well we do our best," she said with a shrug, some how feeling a kinship with these officers she'd been around for the last several days.
"Have another glass," he lifted the bottle from the ice bucket beside the table and poured out another glass, impressed that she'd managed to drink half the bottle on her own. She seemed to be able to hold her liquor. "Soon you'll know everything about me," he added with a wink.
"There are things we don't know," she left the innuendo of his remark to sit aside for the moment, wanting to keep things professional at least for now.
"Like what?" He asks coyly as he takes a bite of his lamb.
"Why?" She takes a sip of her champagne, "Were you bored." He gives her quizzical look not following her jump back into business, so she continued, "Acquisitions and mergers looking a little stodgy? Is it more fun getting it than keeping it?" She couldn't help but add the innuendo, because it seemed fitting for the situation, for the man.
He took a sip of water, waiting a moment to chose his words, "Is this the fun part for you?"
"How do you mean?" It's her turn to be coy.
"It isn't about the money," he throws her a crumb for all her efforts, because it's true none of it is about the money, but she already knows this about him. He takes a final bite of his meal and looks at her, "You like the chase. Not many women get the chase. It's like poker. We don't let you in the game."
"You're right, my brother said I didn't have the mind for it," there was no point hiding the annoyance in her voice. Her brother never let her play along when they were kids, and when they were older it might have been because she kissed his best friend.
"Another one of the Collingwood Plumbers," he said leaning back in his chair, settling in with the last of his scotch waiting for their desserts to arrive.
"Ah, but you already knew that," she mirrored his actions with her own glass of champagne, impressed that he had managed to dig up as much as he did in just a day.
"Is it almost ready?" Charlie asked for what felt like the hundredth time. He couldn't stop clock watching, checking his watch and the clock on the wall in 30 second intervals. It didn't change anything, it would take the craftsman the time it took to finish the job. This wasn't automated, all done by hand, and it was a time staking process. He knew Bill was the best in town, not that they had many choices in Ballarat, but Bill's family had been in the business for three generations, he trusted the quality of the craftsmanship.
"Nearly, there," Bill let out with a proud sigh as he did one final pass over the copy.
"Can I ply you with anything else?" He enjoyed her company more than he imagined when he initially asked her out. He was attracted to her last night, intrigued by her but now he found himself a bit beguiled. He took a sip from his cup of tea, waiting for her answer.
"No I'm good thank you," she let out a genuine smile, and pulled it back immediately not wanting to let on too much.
He catches the smile, and wants her to say yes even more now, anything to extend the pleasant evening he is having, "Are you sure? Cheese tray? Would you like a—"
She cuts him off, "Would you like a deal?" She watches as he raises an eyebrow at her, clearly wondering if she is talking about more than just the painting. She shakes her head, "Make it easy on yourself. We'll just get more warrants for more searches. It'll really mess up those oriental rugs," She wasn't sure if Charlie's men would be back with the keys yet, and felt concerned that she might need to find a way to drag things out.
"May I?" He leaned forward, "May I ask you a very personal question?"
"Why not?" She's adept at lying if necessary, although with him she assumes that he'd read her immediately, so she braces herself for the question.
He paused, dragging the moment out, "Would you like another cup of tea?"
Her eyes search his face, trying to figure out the question, or the question behind the question.
"Would you, like, another cup of tea?" He repeated, taking pleasure in the fact that he caught her off guard.
"That's the personal question?" She asked, still wondering what he was playing at.
"Yes, that's the very personal question." He stifles his laughter as he continues to enjoy watching her reaction.
It's her turn as she realizes what the tea was code for, not that she needed much of a guidebook to sort it out, "Hmm, oh, may I ask you a very personal question?"
"Oh sure, by all means," he crosses his left leg over the right and stares at her daring her to be so bold.
"Do you really think I'm going to sleep with the man I'm investigating?" She smiles at him, looking around the room, knowing there are cops in more places than just the table behind her.
He smiles back, "Is that the question?"
"Yes, that's it," she leans back again and waits for his response.
"Now, why should I answer your question, when you didn't seriously commit to my tea?" He feigns feeling hurt that she rejected his invitation for tea, which garners him with another brightly lit smile as she begins to laugh. Truly, that's what he was after, anything more would be splendid of course, but her smile drew him to the rocks.
"Okay, I'll seriously consider committing to your tea," she replies getting up from the table. It's time to get the keys and finish what they came here to achieve, "I'll be right back," she gestures towards the ladies room and walks through the crowded restaurant. Instead of going into the restroom she ducks into a hallway near the kitchen and waits. She checks her watch, he was supposed to be here by now. She isn't sure if she can wait much longer without Lucien growing suspicious. Just as she begins to think they'll need to come up with a new plan for getting the keys, one that might even involve her inviting him up Ned finally bursts through the kitchen door. He practically throws the keys at her and she puts them into her purse and quickly heads back to the table.
Jean can see that he was beginning to where she went, as she catches him checking her watch as she steps up, "I'm back."
She stays standing waiting for him. He takes a moment to drink the last sip of his scotch before getting up and following her to the coat check in the lobby of the restaurant.
"I thought you might have done a runner on me," he suggests as they wait for their coats.
"Me? Never," he helps her on with her coat, "When I commit to something I go all the way," she lets the words hang as they walk towards his car.
The ride to her place is mostly quiet, they'd said so much to each other already there wasn't much left to say. Their legs bumped each other's occasionally as the car drove down the uneven streets of town making the quick five minute drive. Each time they touched she felt a spark between them, but kept her eyes focused outside the window, taking in the evening lights of Ballarat. She thought she heard him whisper beautiful at one point, but couldn't be sure and decided not to turn and ask. She wasn't sure whether the remark was directed at her or the sights in general, given the tingling of desire she was feeling building up from within it was best to leave that unknown for the time being.
Despite looking out the window for the drive, she was startled when the car came to a stop. Lucien slid out beside her and walked around the car opening her door as he had the previous night. His gentlemanly ways were growing on her, and she happily took his hand and pulled herself from the car.
"I'd let you in, but the whole world is watching," she says taking a step up and away from him. He looked up at her now that she was slightly taller than him, "Yes they are."
"And besides, you've got no furniture," he dropped in, holding himself back from nuzzling her face.
"Oh that's good, that's very good," she replied, unknowingly repeating her own turn of phrase.
Jean then leans forward and gives him a polite, chaste kiss on the cheek allowing her the right angle to drop the keys back into his pocket. As she pulls back she looks into his eyes and whispers, "Goodnight."
"Goodnight," he waits and watches her go inside, before stepping down the stairs and waiting as the light goes on in her room before getting back into his Jag.
Rated Explicit, NSFW
Jean sat camped outside Lucien's house waiting for everyone in the house to depart. She knew from their conversation last night that he would be at a board meeting most of the day, then attending a charity event later in the evening. She'd kept tabs on the housekeeper, the woman kept a regular schedule going to the market every morning around 10. She checked her watch it was five minutes til, as she looked up she saw the woman step out of the house. Right on time. Waiting until she was sure the housekeeper was all the way down the street and unlikely to return she stepped out of her car and gestured to a van parked two blocks away. The van lurched out of its parking space and pulled up in front of the house. The men jumped out of it in painter jumpsuits. Giving the area another cursory look she put the key made last night into the lock. For a second she was concerned when the key wouldn't turn. She pulled it out and inspected it running her gloved hand down the sides and then shoved it back into the locket giving it a jiggle and then turning to the right. The dead bolt clicked and she pushed open the door. The place was empty, making it feel even more expansive then when she was here the other day. She pushed the door all the way open and stepped aside allowing the men she'd hired from Melbourne to get to work. These two weren't part of her usual crew, but the company ensured her that they'd have the utmost discretion and ability to get the job done. The men made quick work of splitting up and searching reach room of the house. Jean closed the door behind her, looking up at the ceiling as she listened to the echoing sound her riding boots made as they clicked against the marble flooring. She twirled the key around in her black leather gloves as she strolled through the house trying to put herself into Lucien's mind. Where would I hide the painting. "Check the basement first," she hollers as she admires all his collections trying to ascertain where the painting might be hidden.
She knew that he wouldn't be so bold as to hide it out in any of these common areas, it would be too bold even for a man like Lucien. Then she thought of the most private place in the house and leapt up the grand staircase to the second floor, stepping into each bedroom until she found his. It seemed trite to say that a bathroom was the most private room in the house, and how could anyone hang a near priceless painting in a wash room, but sadly she'd seen it on more than one occasion. She ran her hands down the white marble sinks and down the walls. Nothing was out of place. She flipped over a few paintings that did hang in the space, but again there was nothing out of the ordinary. Groaning to herself she went back into his bedroom and flipped up the mattress, checking under the bed. She opened drawers and doors, with no luck. Collapsing against his bed she ran her gloved hand over her forehead wracking her brain. Where did you hide it Lucien? I know it's here.
She jumped up and ran down the hall, entering his office. To a man like Lucien, his office would be the most private place in the entire house. It would make sense that if he was keeping it here it would be in this room. She couldn't help but laugh as she turned and spotted the painting she'd commented on last night hanging on the wall. It was the print of the man in bowler hat. She felt along the edges of the painting and pulled her switchblade from her trench coat pocket. Flipping it open she ran the knife's edge along the frame. It looked like the frame was blocking or hiding something. It's gotta be under here. She stared at it and felt it staring back at her. There must be a trigger to open it or move it out of the way. She folds her knife and looks around the room. Trying to think like Lucien, the witty and clever way he does everything. Her hands ran along the edge of the desk freezing when they feel a switch. She flips it into the opposite position and the door behind the bowler hat painting opens. Jean can hardly believe her eyes when the door is fully opened. It's the painting. It's the DuBois.
Carefully she took the painting down and set it on the desk. She flipped the switch again closing the secret door before gently picking up the painting and bringing it downstairs. Hollering to the boys she brought with her they come running up the stairs.
"Help me get this wrapped up and put into the car," she continues to hold it by the wood frame as the crew opens the door.
"Clean up, then lock up," she orders.
"What about the key?" The bearded man questioned.
"It's in my pocket," she felt herself becoming more annoyed, her usual crew would have already taken care of all of this and she hated having to explain her orders. The man gave her a strange look. "Well put your hand in there and take it out," she threw her hip to the side and gestured her head towards her right pocket, "I'm not setting this painting on the front stoop to get the bloody key out for you!"
The man jumped at her words and delicately dipped his hand into her pocket. She shook her head and as soon as his hand came out she walked briskly down the steps to her car. The other man followed her and helped her slip the painting into a canvas bag.
Her steps were fast and yet measured as she strode through the busy police station, shouting "Excuse me," to all that were blocking her safe path to the evidence room.
Carefully holding the painting on either side, still wrapped in canvas, she smiled at everyone who knew exactly what she'd managed to do - it was what they had not which made the taste of success all the more gratifying. She saved the largest grin for Charlie who she saw leaning against the doorway, "You got it?" His mouth dropping as he spoke.
"I got it," she replied unable to hide the smugness from her voice.
The three other officers working the case followed her, as though it were a parade and she was the Grand Marshall of a New Year's Day parade. Everyone was clapping and cheering over the prize that she brought home, the prize she won.
Danny gave her a large grin and held the door open wide for her, saving a playful wink for her, "Let's see what you got." It would be cute if she didn't think he reminded her of her sister's son. He was fine if she were a sixteen year old girl with nothing to worry about, but he was also too smooth for her taste. Lucien. He was her taste.
"This is George Wallace our head of Forensics and Dr. Jane Fisher of the University of New South Wales," she wasn't sure who spoke, but it shook her out of her lustful thoughts and back to the task at hand. She set the painting down and put her gloved hand out, "How do you do?"
The woman looked to be just a few years older than Jean, her blondish hair just starting to show signs of greying at the temples. Her dress surprised her the most, wearing a smart blue suit wasn't something you'd expect to find in these parts, in these times, "Hello," Jane replied taking her hand and giving it a firm shake. Jean felt that given the time the two women could easily find some common ground to become fast friends, she smiled "Go to work Doctor."
Jean held back her desire to hover over the doctor's shoulder as she went to work. Not only did she find it fascinating on its own accord, but this she was invested with, well that and she wanted to pull one over on Lucien. She felt her self smile again before she caught Charlie's displeased expression, "Don't glare at me Charlie."
He folded his arms in a manner that only someone that felt they had the higher moral ground could do, "So, are the laws of Australia complete foreign to you? Or is it because you've been living in Hanoi —"
"Hong Kong," she crossed her own arms and corrected.
He ignored her, wanting to continue berating her with his legal ties that kept his hands bound, "Hangzhou, it's illegal entry, trespass, theft —"
She closed the space between them, getting nearly to his face, "I'm not a cop, the same rules don't apply."
Charlie dropped his arms, as if he were preparing for a tantrum of the rules, "So you're not a cop, because if you were you'd know that this won't hold up in the court of law. Don't you want a conviction?" His voice wavered with frustration.
Keeping her arms crossed, at the upper hand in this conversation, Jean gave her right shoulder a shrug, "My job is to find and recover the painting—" She was about to add and get paid, but she was cut off by the good Doctor. Jean spun around dropping her arms and any annoyance she might have been feeling and gave her full and undivided attention to Jane.
The woman had an amazing poker face, so when she said "You've got a ghost here," Jean couldn't have expected her response.
Charlie interrupted, stepping forward to the station that the doctor had set-up to review the evidence, "What?" She shook her head at the degree of neophyte she was dealing with at this station. Jane jumped in to explain before Jean had a chance to provide a sarcastic answer, "It's another painting underneath the one would can see on top."
Jean ignored Charlie and quickly interjected lest they got mired in sixth grade level art history. She was used to the response, it was a common issue in her line of work, "DuBois reused his canvases, like a lot of artists of the time."
Jane brought her latex gloved hand to her lips to stifle a small laugh that was threatening to come out. She knew immediately that this was a bad sign, "What?" She muttered cautiously.
"Well," the doctor started in the sweetest tone possible, "I don't think DuBois was known for this particular work of art. Unless he ran out of canvases and pulled this one off the wall." Then gestured for Jean to pick up the magnifying glass at look at the x-rays hanging in the light box.
Stepping forward she hesitantly took the glass and brought it up to the light box, fearing what she was about to see. Dammit. It was clearly a forgery, DuBois never painted Dogs Playing Poker. While an earlier and far lesser work it was highly unlikely that he would have reused this piece of canvas for his masterpiece. No, this was Lucien laughing at her and she cursed herself for falling into his trap.
She was seething, barely setting the magnifying glass down without breaking it, "Where's the bastard?" Her whole body shaking as she shouted, "Where is he right now?"
A large full piece brass band stood on the stage playing the most wondrous Jazz music Jean had heard in years. If she wasn't pissed off she thought she could actually enjoy sitting back, having a glass of champagne and listening to the melodic trance-like tones. But she didn't have time for that this evening, she was out for revenge in whatever form she could get. If it happened that she took extra pleasure out of this evening's torture then so be it. Throngs of people were dancing. The men were in smart black tuxes and the women all in long black gowns. Her eyes searched out for his form in the crowd. It didn't take long to spot him, she'd recognized his broad shoulders for ten paces. She didn't however recognize the short, young, brunette that was dancing with him. Her eyes boring holes at Jean when Lucien spun the woman around to face her.
There was no denying the woman's spite that Jean was standing behind Lucien tapping on his shoulder. She didn't give him an opportunity to respond to the gesture, "Excuse me?" Her voice dripping with an irrational and perhaps premature hatred.
Jean smiled. Being a mature woman had on occasion certain advantages and this was one. She didn't give a shit that this younger woman was annoyed with her showing up and trying to poach her man. She was here for work and not even this perky breasted woman was going to stop her cause, "I'm cutting in." While there was no one singing, Jean recognized the melody as the song started to come to and end. Jean gave a small smirk at the fitting selection, Lady is A Tramp.
Lucien sensed the potential for a cat fight and while there was a certain fantasy that he could envision playing out now was neither the time nor the place. He also was entirely sure he wanted to share Jean with anyone else. He hummed, keeping an eye on Jean and placed a kiss to her cheek, "It's alright Joy. I'll see you soon."
Jean watched as Joy leaned into the kiss, keeping her eyes fixed on her, daggers in her eyes. She gave it another moment before moving closer to Lucien, without touching either the intent was clear she was pushing Joy aside. Reluctantly the woman dropped her hands from Lucien's shoulders and step aside. Jean stopped paying attention to her as she disappeared into the crowd of people.
Lucien let his eyes linger over her form, admiring the tight fitting black dress, wondering if she had to be sewn into it. His Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed down his lust, fighting back the response her body was having on him, "It's a black and white ball." He gestured at her outfit.
"Oh," she looked at the red shawl she grabbed on her way out, "Sorry. I wasn't invited anyway."
His smile grew at her boldness, her sheer confidence. It was as attractive as the way her hips fit into the dress. He wanted to feel her near him. As the song switched over to another jazz ballad he held out his hands urging her to come to him dance.
Jean hesitated for a second, not because she didn't want to dance with him, she did. In fact she wanted it too much. She needed to give herself the pause, and make him doubt her motivations. Let him think that she might contemplating turning him down. She took his hands before they could drop and he pulled her to a close, but mostly respectable distance. At this distance she could clearly smell the mix of cologne and heady sweat coming off his body. It was intoxicating. His hands held her with such power and gentleness she was nearly caught off guard. With the next down beat she jumped right into her interrogation, "You left yourself wide open."
He ignored the real meaning of her statement, choosing instead to focus on the more sexual interpretation, the one he saw written in her gray eyes as she stared up at him, "You're all flushed." He spun her again and then dipped her, taking the moment to stare at her languid form hanging in his arms.
Jean firmly grasped his biceps as he lifted her back up. It was dizzying. She took a steeling breath to refocus her brain, "How many people can forge a DuBois? 7 maybe 8?" It bothered her, he had to know that she would look into every forger in Australasia and beyond if it required to find the one that could have done this work. It was too perfect.
He let out a hearty laugh, with a little pout that she wasn't finding any of this funny. He wanted to see the lighter side of Jean, "Oh come now, I can't be arrested for a joke now can I?"
She leaned in close to his ear and whispered, "Ah, but this one was just a little too good." As she pulled back he gave her a stoney expression that despite her struggle to read him, he gave nothing away. Instead he pulled her closer and returned the favor whispering close to her jaw, "You're just inches away." Before Jean could respond Lucien spun her out quickly.
She glared at him as she quickly spun back, slamming into his back, pressing herself up against him, making sure he could feel her breasts and hip bones through the thick wool tux, "I am inches away." She let her hands slide down the front of his chest as she remained clinging to his back, "You seem to think that I'm going to be satisfied with pecking at the crumbs you leave behind. But you underestimate me, I can smell blood on my own."
He laughed, the funny thing was if there was one thing he knew already about Jean was that she wasn't easily satisfied. It was one of the many things that he found drawing him to her. He also knew better that to underestimate her, he didn't doubt the damage she could inflict if she wanted to. If she truly wanted him he'd be in prison by now, but he knew there was something else behind all of this. The chase. She got it, and he loved her all the more for it. He reached up and took her hands spinning them both around and then apart.
Jean saw the change in his eyes, knew that he'd gotten a read on her and she cursed herself for dropping her guard. Her usual tactics weren't working with Lucien and it frustrated her to no end, she knew and he knew it. She gritted her teeth and gave him a final glare, "You smug bastard." He may have won this battle, but she'd get the next, of that she was sure.
A man in the corner of the stage started to tap, tap, tap away on a small set of drums held between his legs. It was an exotic sound, not something Jean expected to hear at a charity event in these parts. It was however, an opportunity for her to gain back the upper hand. She slid her long black satin gloves down the sides of her form fitting dress, highlighting every curve of her body. She threw her head side to side with the slow tapping of the drum beat. As the rest of the band began to join in playing the rich salsa music she swayed her hips, lifting them up and down, left then right at the rhythm of the unfamiliar song. When she finally lifted her head, after momentarily getting lost in herself, she saw the hungry piercing blue eyes of Lucien staring at her as though not a soul was in the room with them.
Lucien couldn't peel his eyes off her, to see her this relaxed, this sensual made him want to drag her home with him and rip off all her clothes. For now, he decided to settle on bringing her closer to him. He reached out and grabbed the bright red throw she'd brought with her that was still wrapped around her waist and gave a strong tug on it, pulling her up against him. His hands ripped away the sash throwing it somewhere behind him, his hands replacing the void on the small of her back.
Jean bit down on her lower lip as she felt his sturdy body pressed against her front as she continued to move and shake. The pair step forward and back and then forward again, dancing as if the music was all the more familiar than it truly was. The depth of intent in his eyes was becoming to real to Jean so she spun around as the trumpets blared and gave a flick of her hips before moving backwards into him. He raises his arms, not entirely sure where where to put him as he feels her hips swaying back and forth until she reaches her target, or he assumed so. Jean pushed her ass firmly against his crotch, smiling as she could feel him hardening beneath her bum.
The feel of her against him caused an immediate reaction that he couldn't hold back, nor did he want to stifle. He couldn't take it any longer, he had to touch her bare skin. The paleness seemed to glow an iridescent pearl beneath to hall lights, no doubt small drops of sweat beading up in the warm air intensified the vision. Lucien brought his hands down running them alongside her before lifting them in the air like they're on fire. Never had touching the skin of a beautiful woman elicited such a primal feeling in him, he let out the low growl he'd been holding in.
As soon as she heard the sounds coming from Lucien she knew she'd gotten the upper hand, he was completely entranced by her. Jean brought her hands into her hair shaking the auburn curls before shimming down against him and then back up.
He couldn't take it. Spinning her back around, he needed to see her face, needed to see her eyes to gauge what was happening. Was this just a game, or perhaps was she feeling the same thing he was — this deep, raw need to be connected. He pulled her close and decided he needed to regain some control, try to throw her off guard to get an honest reaction for him to read.
He stared deeply into her eyes, his hands drawing down her arms once more, continuing to step forward and back in rhythm to the rich latin sounds, "Want to dance?" He asks "Or do you want to dance?"
The question was a bold one and she was torn. She'd never met a man like Lucien before, someone that challenged her, met her step for step - as he was doing now on the dance floor. She brought her hands up to his neck, wishing she wasn't wearing gloves, but also glad she couldn't feel his skin. Yet. She pulled herself up to him. Looking at his lips and then eyes and back again. It's was a calculated risk. She kissed him, before she could rethink it. She wasn't entirely sure what her motives were when she did, but as the music faded away and the other people dancing disappeared she found that she didn't care.
Her red stiletto heels clicked across the marble flooring. She wasn't sure how they got back to his place. Her memory was blurred by the pawing and nipping they'd engaged in on the drive. Time seemed to be simultaneously flying at light speed and standing still. She decided to revel in the moment. Despite not having a drop of alcohol this evening, she still feels the high. Twirling sensually in the entryway she turned to face him letting him watch her as she let's the straps of her dress fall down her shoulders. The dress hung to her breasts until she let the breath she'd been holding in, chest dropping letting the dress fall completely down onto the marble floor.
As he walked towards her removing his coat, his eyes remain glued to her every move. The moonlight filtering in through the grand windows illuminated her skin. To Lucien she was flawless. Her breasts threatening to spill out of their lace prison were supple and round. Her stomach taut. Her legs toned and went on for miles. There was so much to look at, to study, and yet he wanted to focus on the entirety of her not sure if he'd get another chance. Jean spread her legs wide stepping out of the dress one red heel at a time.
When Lucien reached her nearly nude form she snaked her hands up his chest to strip off his white bow tie and kiss him. It was searing. Their lips remained connected as she ripped off his shirt. Their hands tangling as he removed her bra. Bare flesh touching bare flesh. Jean ran her hands down his back, dragging her nails until she reached the waistband of his trousers. Bringing them around to the front she unlatched his belt, slowly unzipping his trousers and then dipping her hands along his hips, pushing them off his sides. His hands mirrored hers as his hands cupped her round ass sliding up the high-cut lace bikini panties. Jean let out a pleasurable and frustrated growl at the new sensation, quickly grabbing a hold of his boxers and tugging them hard until they too dropped into a growing heap on the floor.
Finally. They were completely bare. Nothing to hide behind.
He lifted her, pushing her up against the wall. The feeling naked skin was intoxicating. It's too much and not enough.
Lucien spun her back around and laid her onto the cold marble floor. Jean's skin was already tingling from the sensation of feeling Lucien's warm body against her that the coolness caused a shudder to travel down her spine, hardening her nipples into firm peaks. Lucien leaned back and marveled at her beauty before grasping firmly onto on peak, swirling his tongue around it. His other hand reached up squeezed the other breast, not wanting to leave anything ignored. His cock was twitching, vibrating with pleasure. It flicked against her folds, finding them wet and swollen. Jean moaned and the brief contact. Lucien leaned forward slightly and positioned himself before driving in hard, causing them to her to scream out.
Lucien paused, but she dug the heels she was still wearing into his backside encouraging him to continue. Thrusting fast and hard, he shifted his body weight over the top of her. His arms flexing as he positioned them just above the sides of her head.
Jean felt her body slide slightly with each thrust against the marble floor. He was reading her every sound, every movement as if he was in her mind and knew exactly what she needed. Her body craved his attention, and she felt her orgasm beginning to build.
Lucien took a deep breath and tilting his hips ever so slightly and thrust hard up into the soft spot behind her clit. Stars. Lightening. Her head writhed side to side as a boiling heat poured out her veins and down her body. Her entire body shaking as her orgasm rang out. He wanted nothing more than to watch her release all the tension she carried, could see it flowing out of her. He could come later, right now he wanted to bring Jean this mythical creature he couldn't fathom into existence as much pleasure as he could wring out from his body.
As soon as she opened her eyes he slid out of her, still hard and throbbing. Her heels dropping to the side clattering onto the floor. She rubbed her bare feet along his ass in a quiet moment of appreciation and thanks. Before she could catch her breath he lifted her off the floor. Automatically her legs wrapped around his waist, her sticky fluids covering his stomach. Their lips once again attacked each other with more fervor than earlier, if it was even possible to find more passion. They nibbled and touched each other as they slowly made their way up the stairs, pausing to lean against the wall and bite one another's shoulders. Marking each other.
As soon as they reach the top of the landing he turned down the hall. Jean knew exactly where he was going. Lucien nodded, he wanted to her know. He was bringing her to his private space, and it brought a new level of intimacy to the evening they were sharing together. Jean didn't imagine he fucked many people in his office, and yet as he pushed the papers aside and set her bare ass down on the mahogany desk that's exactly what she intended to do.
She was tempted to get off and turn around, wanting him to hold her hips and slam into her, but she can't get enough of his eyes. Blue. As deep as the pacific ocean. She was drowning in them and yet being saved by them at the same time. She needed to see him.
He stood back for a moment, staring at her. Her chest was still flushed from her orgasm speckled with red marks where his teeth had latched onto her delicate skin. It looked like a modern painting, brush strokes seemingly thrown across her pale canvas and yet as he looked at each one he knew what he felt and why he chose to do it there.
She felt heat rising up as he continued to stare at her. It wasn't self-consciousness, she felt but rather adoration. It all suddenly felt too intimate for the moment and she reached out to him pulling him back into her. He stood standing between her open legs. Her red nails dragging down his chest, stopping at his cock giving it a few strokes causing him to jerk forward into her palm.
He knelt down before her kissing up her leg and then down the other, causing her to shudder. Her entire body pulsating with pleasure. Another night she'd want him to lick her, suck her to orgasm, but now she needed him to fill her completely. She stood up from her perch on the desk. Pressing her foot to his chest she gave him a light push onto his back. As he lies down on the rich green rug covering the hardwood floors he pulls her down on top of him. Her legs slid down onto either side of his, letting her clit graze against the tip of his cock. Lucien's hips jerked forward, the touch nearly too much he'd never been this hard for this long.
Jean sensing his frustration plunged down onto his cock, spearing herself. The relief was instant. He filled her completely, causing parts of her to stretch and shift to even accommodate his size in this position. His hands went straight to her hips, gripping them tightly as he encouraged her to roll her hips against his as if she was riding a bull. She put one hand into her hair and placed the other one down to his chest and slowly began to rock. The pace picked up quickly as she felt the heat rising again. Lucien loved watching the way her face changed as she got closer to the edge. The way her eyes would close, her jaw would clench and release with each ooo and ah she let escape. He let go of one of her hips and shoved his thumb between them, pushing it hard against her clit. Her response was immediate thrusting erratically against him, screaming out as she came hard against him. Her ass slapping against his thighs until the waves of orgasm caused her to collapse down on him.
Their bodies were covered in sweat as Jean leaned back and pulled herself off of him and up into the leather chair, enjoying the feeling of her bare ass on the soft cool material. She laughed, not knowing what else to do, "Oh I don't know if I can take anymore."
He rolled off his back onto his stomach, perching himself on his haunches admiring her. The way her tousled hair framed her face. "You are the most remarkable woman," he panted crawling towards her.
Jean watched him move towards her, admiring the way his body flexed and relaxed its muscles. The way his body seemed to bow down to her, wanting nothing but to bring her to the alter of pleasure. It was beyond anything she'd ever experienced with any other partner. She wasn't joking when she said she wasn't sure whether she'd be able to keep going, but she sure as hell wanted to give it ago. He was drug, her body couldn't get enough of him. Her hand dug around the table next to her and plucked up a glass. She waved it at him silently demanding replenishments.
It was his turn to laugh. He pulled himself off the floor and walked over to an adjoining room filling a pitcher and returning. She held out the glass looking at him intently as he poured it full, nearly to the brim. She took several deep sips of the cool fluid, closing her eyes and then reopening them, finally addressing his earlier statement, "You don't think we're finished do you?" She laughed again and drank some more water, feeling the immediate effects of the hydrate give her confidence that she could continue her conquest into the wee hours of the night.
Lucien didn't doubt that she was almost ready to go a third time, to be fair he was as well. His body needed the release, his cock was now throbbing nearly to the point of pain. He watched her as she took another sip and then planned his attack accordingly. Lunging forward he caused her to spill her water down her breasts and onto the leather chair. He paid no mind to the potential damaging impact of the liquid on the fine Italian hide and picked her up by her hips then flung her over his shoulder.
The move caught her by surprise and it was an entirely a Lucien thing to do, she was learning. She let out a deep laugh as she stared down at her new view, enjoying the Michelangelo level of crafting that was his perfect ass. She slapped it several times as he brought her to his library. The long wooden table was covered with books, some of them she imagined were first editions, but it didn't matter as she clung to his hips as he used one hand to push and shover them all onto the floor. He kissed her neck as he set her down on the edge, allowing himself to kiss down her entire body.
Jean remained at the edge of the table, legs still tightly wrapped around Lucien as he stood between them. Her arms wrapped around his neck while his head bowed down nipping at her collar bones. Using her legs she pulled him closer to her until his cock was pressed on her lower abdomen. Lucien brought her closer to the edge and tilted her hips upwards. He moved his own hips back and forth dragging his pulsating erection ever closer to her entrance. Each pass he got closer and closer, making Jean writhe beneath him. She gave him a piercing look that let him know that she was done being teased with, so he lowered his hips and thrust up into the now familiar place.
Jean's walls squeezed against him intent on bringing him over the edge with her this time. She brought her hands behind her back to prop herself up, allowing Lucien to move freely above her. His hands instantly began roaming her body. He massaged her breasts and pinched her nipples making her groan again at the pleasurable pain he was creating. He felt the rising orgasm well up from within, and couldn't hold back any longer. His eyes caught Jean's and held them as her breasts jiggled at the erratic pace he was setting. She wasn't entirely sure if she'd be able to come again in this position. Her body was tired, but as she watched him move she caught something in his eyes that made her body respond. The all too familiar tingling pressure returned and as she watched him lose control she felt herself spiraling once more.
Lucien's hips banged against the edge of the table as he thrust hard and deep inside Jean's swollen lips. She was dripping onto the rug, he felt it running down his balls and it made him go insane. She covered him completely. With one more thrust he felt himself exploded into her. His low growls built into a loud bellow as his body gave over to the ecstasy that she brought him.
Jean watched him intently, how he finally let go of control. It was the most attractive thing she'd seen him do. As he continued to thrust coming down from his high she let herself spill over a final time. Despite being less intense than the others the orgasm was still as satisfying. She threw her head back and relinquished herself to him.
As their breathing returned to normally the leaned into one another. The battle was a draw.
"Good morning," the housekeeper says as she presents a glass of nasty green juice, juice that exactly resembles what she was drinking a few days ago in the police station. She eyed it closely, there was no way that he could have seen her drinking it. She smirked, he clearly did his homework as well as she did, and she found herself pleased with the caliber of his dedication.
She reached for the glass after it was set down and cordially greeted the woman, "Good morning," Jean replied resting back in a white bath robe while reading the newspaper on his balcony as if it was the most natural thing she could be doing at the moment. It seemed that the housekeeper was nonplus about the fact that a strange woman was lounging here with her employer.
"Morning Patricia," Lucien offered up without looking up from his paper and using his freehand to take a sip from the hot tea she'd brought up along with his toast and fresh fruit. He wasn't one to eat much in the morning, usually opting to have a cup of coffee and a slice of toast as he headed into the office. Admittedly, he'd worked up quite the appetite after last nights activities and he was grateful to spot the hardboiled egg left on the corner of the tray.
Patricia took a step back placing her hands to her sides, "Can I get you anything else?"
"Not a thing." "Thank you." They replied on top of one another's words now pretending to pay attention to their sections of The Courier when both knew that their minds were less interested in the cricket score or the stolen produce that blazed across the headlines.
Once Patricia left the balcony Jean decided to address the green elephant in the room, she raised an eyebrow, "I suppose she didn't just run out for that." Not that she'd mentioned that she wanted it for breakfast.
"No," he smiled as he took a bite of his marmalade covered toast. She watched his mouth as his teeth tore into the bread, it was primal and she couldn't stop staring, wanting his teeth on her. She smiled and muttered, "No," lowly under her breath.
She stirred her drink aimlessly, eyes still stuck on his mouth as he knowingly ate finally breaking the silence, "Damn I hate being a forgone conclusion."
He chanced a look up at her as she sipped her odd green concoction. He hazard to guess what was in it, but was pleased that she was both surprised and content with something familiar. He found himself wanting her to be comfortable, wanting to be happy with him. It was a strange stirring building from inside, one that was unfamiliar and putting him keenly off balance.
He studied her as she studied him in return. She broke the silence again, "You live very well."
"Thank you," he smiled at her obvious statement, curious about where she was going with that line of unspoken inquiry.
"It would be a shame to lose it all," she shrugged, the comment almost blew by him untouched until her eyes caught his.
And there it was. He set the paper down in front of him, folding it and turning his full attention to Jean, "That depends on a very large presumption."
She leaned forward across the table, "Yes it does, I won't back off you know. Not even for a minute." She slipped her fork across to his bowl of fruit and plucked out a ripe, plump strawberry.
This time he couldn't keep his eyes off of her as she seductively bit into the berry, watching the red juice slid down the corner of her lip, "I would be hugely disappointed if you did," his finger swiped across her face catching the juice. Their eyes remained locked on one another as he sucked his thumb and let out a small hum of delight at this game the two were playing.
"How do porcupines mate?" Blake asked his sometimes friend, sometimes psychiatrist Dr. Alice Harvey.
"Old joke. Very carefully," she replied staring at him quizzically knowing that something was up.
"Or unsuccessfully. Don't see many porcupines," he stated matter-of-factly while staring out the window.
Alice was intrigued by this round-about conversation, knowing that it was revealing a lot more than he probably intended, "Creatures with highly evolved defense systems—" she started to say before he interrupted, "Like porcupines."
She shook her head, he was intent on sticking to the analogy, "Like 42 year old, successful, self-involved loners." She watched him closely, reading his reaction to her bluntly bold statement. He bowed his head but kept his vigil at the window.
Alice continued, "If you've found a female mirror image, and think you're going to form a rewarding relationship —"
"Think again," he interrupted again this time because he didn't want the answer, he already knew it. Lucien was crazy to think there was any possibility of a future between he and Jean, by design they were the same but also enemies of the other. Without wanting to they could inflict enormous hurt on the other professionally, and without a doubt personally. Porcupines.
She couldn't help but let out spontaneous and unfiltered laughter. "Oh he's got a problem."
Alice looked at her friend and felt sorry for him as she often did. He was a playboy by trade, but certainly not from need. It wasn't something he spoke of often, but she knew of the pain he'd experienced years ago, the heartache. He wasn't interested in opening himself up to that again, which is how she knew that if he found someone else that was equally closed off it'd spell certain disaster. He turned towards her and nodded, there was nothing left to say.
Jean walked, arguably she sashed still feeling that tingling feeling in her lower abdomen as her mind drifted back to last night. She held in a lustful sigh as she strode confidentially through the station, until she reached Danny. He was standing across from Charlie's desk flipping through a stack of photos. Jean didn't have to look over his shoulder to guess what they were ogling over. She also didn't need more than one guess to figure out what bee had flown into Charlie's bonnet. His jaw was clenched tightly as his eyed narrowed on her.
Jean opened to take the high road, and gave a cheery "Morning," to the two detectives.
"Nice dress," Charlie spat out unable to hid his displeasure. Jean also thought there was a touch of jealousy behind his expression.
The air was thick with an impending argument, and it didn't take long for Danny to get the hint and set the photos back down on Charlie's desk. He paused next to Jean, "It looked like it was a great party," Danny whispered to her on his way out. She liked Danny and took the joking the way it was intended and gave a sisterly hum back and he chuckled as he quickly left the office.
As soon as Jean felt the room empty she turned her attention to Charlie, no longer desiring to take the high road the moment she saw his smug smile, "Are you going to be a cliche?" She remained standing, wanting to loom over him, maintaining some of her power. Men seemed to think that the minute a woman used her sexuality to gain an advantage it meant she was a stupid whore, she was neither and wanted him to know it.
Charlie took the bait waiving in his face, his chair jumping up as he leaned forwarded in annoyance, "Did you even think twice?" His anger was no longer thinly veiled now that they were alone.
"No," she kept her stance in front of his desk, she wasn't interested in being lectured by someone acting like she'd been sent to the principal's office for sneaking out of class.
Charlie glared at her, completely confused by her. It was like she was doing this all on purpose and he couldn't figure it out. "You knew what you were doing?" It was said both as a question and as a sarcastic realization.
She nodded, proudly with her head held high. There was nothing for her to be ashamed about and she wasn't about to let some backwater mid-level policeman upset the balance of her world by thinking otherwise. She leaned forward, "My job. He likes me," she added a shrug,
"He'll keep liking me and it keeps me right next to him." The fact that he wasn't bad looking and a pretty good lay didn't hurt either.
Charlie ran his hands through his dark brown locks and shook his head still puzzled by what she was saying, "And you're okay with that? Do you even care what that makes you?" It came out harsher than he intended.
Taking a deep breath to calm herself from ringing his neck she avoided the low blow. If he wanted to think she was a whore then fine, his opinion of her didn't recover the painting, didn't pay her. She looked down at him, "I know what I'm doing." Her voice was low and dangerous, urging Charlie to shut his mouth before he made the situation even worse. She didn't have to work with law enforcement to do her job, but she always tried to — mutually beneficial she thought most days but today she was questioning her methods. Just not the methods that Charlie was.
He couldn't believe what she was saying, it was all beyond him and even though he seemed to get that she was about to throttle him he couldn't stop the words of judgment from spilling from his mouth. He wasn't sure why he cared so much about her or what she was doing, but he did, "Do you really?"
She took the photos and walked towards the door of his office. There was no reason for him to keep these, they weren't evidence of anything. No crime was committed and while she knew what she was doing it didn't mean that every man with a pulse did. She turned to face him a final time, "This is just about money Charlie." She was aware that her words seemed to suggest the very thing he was driving home — that she was being loose and getting paid for it. But Jean thought there was something deeper in all his boastfulness, some air of protector and perhaps he was still interested in her. This wasn't about love, she needed him to know that. It was sex, just business and nothing more. She didn't wait for his response before stepping out into the hall.
Jean flipped through the black and white surveillance photos taken of her and Lucien last night. She knew the cops were annoyed, but she didn't care. It wasn't her job to care. She went last night because she had a job to do, if it meant that she needed to sleep with a handsome man to do it then so be it. Jean knew she was lying to herself, but for now she was fine with it. Her brain went fuzzy as she thought back to the sounds of the trumpet and bongos playing, the way her body felt as they did the rumba together. It was perfect, too perfect. Who was she kidding, looking at these photos she knew she was already in too deep. Her fingers touched her lips, almost feeling him on her now. She felt the stares from the detectives and the all to familiar pounding returned to her head.
When Lucien called her and said to put on something warm and meet her at the airfield, this hadn't been what she expected. He stood at the other end of the runway poised next to his stearman biplane waiting for her. She chuckled as she approached him, he was wearing a classic brown leather aviation jacket with the matching cap and goggles. When he held out a pair for her though she shook her head, she had no desire to get up in this rust bucket of a plane with him. Jean loved to fly, but she wasn't sure whether she trusted Lucien after all she'd seen what he'd done to his yacht only days earlier.
He wrapped a cream silk scarf around her neck and whispered, "Trust me."
She merely nodded at the deep rumble of his voice. Although she'd been in an open cockpit plane before it had been several years. Lucien gave her a leg up to the front seat and let her get settled in as he stood next to the propeller. He gave her a wink and then shouted, "Contact" before giving the silver blades a hard yank. The engine roared to life making Jean shriek in surprise. Lucien returned to her side and waited for her eyes, covered now by plastic glass goggles, met his, "Trust me." He yelled. Jean nodded and watched him climb in behind her.
Moments later the plane began to move and then roll down the runway, picking up speed as Lucien pushed down on the stick until all at once the plane lifted off the tarmac and into the air. The sensation caused Jean's stomach to drop, she felt like a kid again it felt the same as dropping down one of the rollercoasters in Luna Park. This time she couldn't help but let out a child-like laugh, filled with glee and memory.
Lucien listened to the sound as it floated back and a wide grin spread across his face. Even though he'd done his homework and knew this was a safe bet, one could never be entirely sure about taking a date flying.
After what felt like hours soaring through the sky Jean finally shouted, "I could get used to this!" While she meant more than just flying around the skies of Australia she chose to ignore those thoughts tugging at her heart, after all she'd told Charlie love was not part of the job. She raised her arms out of the cock pit feeling the air whistle by around them, it was intoxicating.
Lucien was delighted, but the surprises weren't over just yet, "You just hold on now."
"Hold on why?" She immediately gripped the inside of her seat worried he was going to start getting fancy and show off by doing barrel rolls or something.
Lucien flipped a switch from the cockpit, "Okay," he yelled back to her, "Take the stick!"
"NO!" She panicked, hoping he hadn't actually let go yet. She'd pretended to fly as a kid, but was ill-prepared to start doing it for real right now.
Despite him having to shout to be heard over the sound of the wind blowing at 12,000 feet his voice sounded calm and even, "Take the stick."
She was tempted by his voice to do it, but as she looked down at her trembling hands she couldn't, "Oh no," she shook her head, "I'm not taking the stick." Her voice as firm as she could manage.
Lucien kept a hand on the controls, but knew she needed to do this. Jean was a woman that loved being in control that like him needed it, practically craved it. In a way he was surprised and touched somewhere deep that he didn't want to acknowledge that she would relinquish it so willingly to him, "Take it." If not for the wind the words would have been a whisper to her ear, buoying her with confidence. He needed her to experience this.
While she was still nervous his urging finally broke through. She put her hand on the stick and she felt it jerk forward, "Oh!" She cried out in surprise as her slight touch moved the plane to the right.
He wasn't sure he would get her to do it, but as he felt the stick moving by its own accord beneath his hands he knew she had, "That's great!" He kept his hands near the controls just in case, but otherwise just looked on wishing he could see her face right now. Jean pushed the controls to the left and the plane soared into a small turn, "You're getting it!" His voice was filled with an unexplained pride, feeling more excited by her doing this than any of his own attempts to push thrills to the edge. He looked over the side of the plane and saw a plane in the distance further to the left. Raising his hand he tapped on her shoulder, "Head for the hill over there," then pointed towards the direction he wanted her to go.
Jean nodded her head, gaining more confidence by the second she carefully pushed on the stick once more pointing the plane into the direction Lucien wanted to go. As he felt the plane moved he quickly praised her, "Yes that's great!"
The blood in her veins was filled with adrenaline, more than she'd ever experienced before. Her heart pounded as she continued to push the plane in the direction of the hill. "Oh my god!" She shouted realizing what she was actually doing.
Lucien tapped on the stick, "Don't lose it, there you go" he reminded her as he noticed her drifting off line a bit. Jean felt the stick move on his control and nodded as though she understood his correction.
The pride continued to swell up inside him, "You're doing it Jean! You're flying!" This exceed every board presentation, every yacht race, every experience he'd had to date, for once he truly felt alive.
Jean took a moment to finally look out at the vast expanse in front of her. From this height you could just see the gentle curve of the earth. The quilt like pattern of farm land below. "This is wild," she shouted but mostly to herself.
"Feel the wind?" Lucien tugged off his leather cap letting the cool air blow through his hair.
"I do," she lifted her chin and for a brief moment closed her eyes allowing her other senses to remember this moment.
He let her continue to "drive" the plane for another few minutes before realizing that they needed to set down soon. They'd gone further away from the airfield than he intended and didn't have enough fuel to return. He surveyed the ground below and found a long dirt road, it was probably a private farm road, but he could pay the farmer to let his plane stay there for a little while until someone could fly it back. Jean looked below and shook her head, suddenly concerned about where Lucien was going, "Uh I don't think this is a runway!"
"It is today," he said as the wings twitched up and down as he began his descent. With practiced ease he brought the plane down to the dirt road, bouncing the wheels a few times as it settled back into gravity. It idled as it coasted for another several hundred feet until it slowed to a complete stop. It wasn't until the propeller had still that Jean realized just how noisy the ride had been, and how quiet things were now. She turned back towards him and then looked around. The sun was beginning to lower on the horizon, it would be dark soon and there was nothing around except, "Cows."
He nodded at her obvious remark. "It is a farm Jean," He jumped down to the ground.
She unhooked her harness and lifted off the goggles then climbed out to Lucien's waiting hand, "Oh well, that's fine," she said enjoying the comfort of his gloved touch as she reacquainted herself with terra firma, "We're only about two towns over from your car," she added realizing that she had no clue where they were or how they'd even get back to Ballarat.
Lucien merely winked, not in the least bit disappointed that they were so far away from where they were supposed to be.
AN: The Alice scene was the very first thing I wrote for this story. Once I rewatched the film I couldn't help but see anyone else in that chair across from Lucien acting like a therapist besides our ever-honest Alice.
When she boarded his Gulf Stream she hadn't intended on falling asleep, but truth be told she was exhausted. She'd be working this case non-stop and was getting close to running on fumes. There hadn't been much a break between this case and the last and it was catching up to Jean. A patch of turbulence jostled her awake and she realized that they'd been in the air for quite sometime.
Jean looked out the window, "Lucien," he turned to look at her pleased that she was awake, "that island is not Tasmania."
"It's not?" He replied innocently as he flipped a page of the newspaper, barely sparing her a glance.
"No," she replied looking down at an unfamiliar island and then back up at him, "I have appointments." They weren't too important and she doubted they'd break the case open, but it was a matter of principle he seemed to think he could just whisk her away on his whim and she'd just go along with it.
"Want to keep them?" He folded the newspaper onto his lap and smiled.
It was getting harder and harder for her to resist that smile. He had a certain charm about him that drew her in, and despite her better judgement and earlier notion of appointments she merely looked back out the window. The clouds continued to part for them as they descended. A small airport, that looked like it was newly paved, came into view. Jean scanned the island for some clue in its shape and size as to where they were as it seemed Lucien wasn't keen to let her in on their destination. She noticed another island nearby and figured they were somewhere off the coast of Eastern Australia. She didn't think they'd gone as far as Tahiti and it certainly did look like New Zealand.
The plane circled in a downward trajectory until it finally lined up with the runway. She leaned back in her chair and put on her seat belt, bracing herself. Landing was never her favorite thing.
Lucien meanwhile sat back and studied this woman across from him, it seemed as though some of her defenses were down. Not the ones about being in a plane going to an unknown island, but the ones where he was the suspect and she was the investigator. He liked seeing her like this, hoped he might see more during this little getaway. He hadn't expected her to sleep so much, but it afforded him what he assumed was a rare opportunity to see her in a quite vulnerable state.
The plane bumped several times as the back wheels and then the front touched down on the runway. The wings tilting and the throttle going in reverse as the plane began to slow to a stop. It only took a few minutes to taxi to a little hanger that was nearby where men where waiting with Jeeps.
The moment the engines powered down the co-pilot got to work opening the doors, while the men outside go to work with the cargo beneath the plane. As Jean stepped out of the plane, the pleasant smell of tropical plants hit her nose. A small painted sign on the hangar finally gave away their location — New Caledonia.
Lucien watched as Jean practically bounded across the tarmac towards the hanger, eager to stretch her legs after their four hour flight. He tore his eyes away from her for a moment to keep an eye on the cargo being unloaded.
There wasn't much to this airport, in fact it was more of a strip of land with a few outbuildings. Next to the hanger Jean spotted a coke machine and suddenly felt parched from the long flight. She fished a few coins from her pocket and popped it into the machine, not sure what Lucien liked she got him a coke as well. She turned back towards the plane as she popped the caps off the glass bottles and noticed a wooden crate come out from beneath the plane, it was the right size. It could be her canvas. Then she realized this whole trip could just be an excuse for Lucien to take it out of the country.
Jean was so fixated on the potential canvas crate being loaded into an old white Jeep she didn't even realize that Lucien had pulled up in a Jeep of their own. He pushed his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose and smiled at her. She wanted to laugh at the sight of the leather driving gloves he was wearing, but managed to stifle it. Handing him the soda she tried to open the door but it wouldn't budge. She knocked on the side to get his attention, "The door's welded. Throw your leg over."
She hands him her drink so she can use both hands to climb in, "Throw my leg over?"
Pulling herself up and in she settled into her seat before turning back around acting as though she's tossing her bag in the back, but really she just wanted to get an eye on the Jeep behind them that was carrying the pine box that was most likely her canvas.
As the cars pulled away from the airstrip she couldn't help but stand up as they drove through the small town, it was beautiful, more than she was expecting. The old walls when it was a British Territory and then a French contrasted the jungle threatening to overgrow everything if just given the chance. They continued driving up a windy road full of switchbacks. The tree branches hung low and she was able to swipe a passion fruit from one and giddily bring it back to her seat. He smiled at her as she took a bite, surprised by the amount of juice that came running out and down her chin.
After nearly forty minutes of windy roads they finally reached a white plantation style house perched at the very top of a private drive. Aside from the driveway the space was filled with trees. She could barely see the house tucked in, but could make out a big porch and a balcony just off what must be second floor bedroom.
"Ah, this must go over," she began as she walked up to the house. It's dark green shutter doors and windows were open already.
"With whom?" He asked.
"With whomever you bring here," her eyes gazed out at the view of the ocean from behind the front porch.
"I never bring anyone here," he said walking past here and into the open-air kitchen.
His comment surprised her and she wasn't sure if it was just a line or the truth, the lines always seemed a bit blurred around him. She didn't reply and instead followed him as he made his way up the narrow stairs and into the bedroom.
"Voila," he said opening the closet doors for her, showcasing a wide selection of beautiful garments.
She laughed there was no way anything in there would fit her, nor did she particularly want to where some other conquests clothes that were left behind. "I bet they're all my size huh?" She played along.
"Could be," he looked into the closet recalling his quoted measurements to his assistant, "might be a little off here and there, but uh I think they'll make do. I'll go make dinner."
She watched him walk away, still in doubt about the clothes, but happy to spend a few minutes alone in this private space of his. She looked up and spotted a pewter frame with a black and white photo in it, she guessed based on the likeness that it must be his mother. Next to it was an old child's toy — a wooden train. She couldn't help herself, she picked it up and immediately felt a connection to it, it was most certainly his.
She wandered over to the closet and pushed around the hangers surprised to see tags on everything. These were all new clothes, recently purchased. As she checked the labels she noticed that by and large everything was also in her size. She didn't doubt that he could size her up as it were, but the fact that she had a brand new wardrobe of expensive "not off the rack" clothes in a closet of a man she just met was a surprise.
It seemed like he was one surprise after another, he was having too much fun and was pulling ahead of her in this game of theres. She grabbed the swim bottoms she saw and a beautifully colored wrap around and changed, opting to forgo the top. It wouldn't be a huge shock, but still she wanted to see the look on his face when she stepped into the kitchen as he prepared dinner.
She jogged down the steps sighing which she had to stifle from turning into a groan when she noticed that he too had gone topless. He was bent over the counter, biceps flexed just slightly, she could envision take of her wrap and tugging his jeans down and letting him have her right then and there on the counter.
Instead she slapped him on the ass before he could see her outfit of choice, "C'mon," and she sprinted outside.
"Want some wine?" He hollered out to her as he felt his ass still tingling from her touch.
"Yes!" She called back as she stepped up onto the wooden deck that had a 180 degree view of the ocean and cliffs below. "Oh it's beautiful." The sun was just beginning to set and the sky light up in beautiful shades of pink and purple. She'd traveled to many places over the years but this may go down as one of the most striking places she'd been. She felt swept up in everything until her gaze turnaround towards the kitchen where Lucien was emerging — beside him was the wooden crate, the canvas she was most likely after and it hit her she was here on a job and she couldn't forget that.
He followed her eyes down to the box and bent over making eye contact with her, "Wanna see it?"
She shook her head, "No." It was true she didn't want to know what was in the box. She did but not yet not right now. If she saw what was in it now the trip would be over, this fairytale she was playing in would end. She wanted at least one night here in paradise with him first.
"Are you sure?" He asked pouring the bottle of white wine into one of the glasses he was holding.
"I'm sure," her voice a bit more confident this time.
"Have a splash?" It wasn't so much a question of yes or no, but more of a quantity. She intended to get drunk tonight, "Come here" she said as she took the towel from around her neck and threw it around his pulling him close into her.
There make-out session lasted until the timer in the kitchen dinged. They pulled apart breathless, lips swollen to notice that it was completely dark now. The staff lit the citronella torches that were evenly distributed across the porch and made a small fire in the fire pit, all without them noticing.
The food was delicious, she couldn't remember the last time a man cooked for her, if ever. It was also coincidentally one of the best meals she'd ever had, had she'd dined at some of the finest restaurants in Europe. Despite the exquisite meal and wine, and of course the wonderfully handsome eye-candy that was Lucien she couldn't help but feel like the the canvas was boring a whole through her back as the box leaned against the shutter door by the kitchen. It sat there taunting her.
Lucien's eyes twinkled and he knew she was fixated on it, that's why he had it placed there. He wanted to dare her, see what she'd do when the potential object of her desire was perhaps so close at hand.
"Wanna see it?" He finally asked, following her eyes to the painting once more.
She glanced at it and turned back around, "No" she knew the game he was playing and wasn't about to be the first to give in.
He nodded pleased, but still pressed, "Are you sure?"
She continued prying open a piece of fruit trying to ignore the canvas, "You think I'd believe that you'd leave your hard stolen painting just laying around your island getaway?
"What if I did?" He dared her, for the first time potentially acknowledging his involvement in the theft.
She caught the slip, "And that you'd tell me?"
He shrugged his shoulders, "Well if I trusted you—" his voice trailed. He was beginning to think he did trust this woman, a lot.
"No, you can't," she said it with a half smile, but there was no jest intended. He needed to know that at the end of the day she still had a job to do.
"You don't believe it's possible that you'd ever trust me do you?" He pushed, needing to know if she was beginning to feel things that he was too.
"Do you know how likely that is?" In her line of work it didn't pay to trust anyone least of all the suspected thief she was chasing. Thieves were all the same they'd lie their way through a con even if it involved their mother. She took the last bite of the fruit she'd been working through during this last tet-a-tet studying him as he took another swig of wine. Then a thought crossed her mind, a way to truly test his theory of trust, she smiled widely at him and got up, tugging the ends of his white shirt across her bum and picked up the wooden crate, "Excuse me," she said as she gripped tightly at the top hoping that she didn't drop it on her toes. It was heavier than she expected. She strode the few steps from their table to the fire pit before tossing it into the fire, brushing her hands and walking back over to him, studying every twitch on his face for a tell. The fact he didn't immediately get up and yank the crate out of the fire surprised her but she kept her face neutral. She sat down and cleared her throat.
"So should I open another bottle?" He asked surprised by her bold move, not that he had an issue with it, but wasn't entirely sure where they went from here.
"Hmm," she said pulling herself out of her thoughts, not expecting that response from him, "Yes."
"I think so," he said turning slightly away from the fire, not wanting to watch the painting burn.
"I think so," she echoed still memorized by the flames nearby. The pine was starting to char and break apart showing that there was indeed a painting inside.
"The 45 wasn't very good," he muttered not sure what to say in this situation.
"No, no it wasn't," she twirled at the end of her hair studying the painting as the oils caught fire. She could barely make out the shape of a man, it looked like a Renaissance period work, certainly not her painting.
"A truce would be good," he finally said looking back at he fire seeing the painting he'd just won at auction melt into the fire pit. He was utterly perplexed by her, she claimed to be a lover of art, a savior in fact for insurance companies at least and here to prove a point she set fire to nice piece of work.
"Yeah that would be good," she'd pushed this game a bit too far she realized, thinking he'd call her bluff when she walked the painting to the fire pit but he didn't. Jean studied the fire and the canvas slowly disappearing and wondered what on earth she'd done, what had possessed her.
"What was it?" She finally couldn't hold it in any longer, she needed to know what she'd just set alight.
""A nice little Renoir," he said in dismay, turning away from the fire once and for all.
"Oh, Renoir," she said quietly and glanced over to him, "a nice little copy?" She hoped it was, the Art Gods might strike her down for such an act of sacrilege.
He took another large sip of wine, "We'll never know will we?" To be fair he was mostly certain that it was a forgery, but the borders hadn't been fully vetted.
"Okay! She screamed and threw a toothpick that she'd been worrying over, "I give up!"
He laughed, it was about all he could do, getting her to crack had been harder and potentially more expensive than he'd thought, but he'd done it.
"Easy, easy," he said before getting up, "Maybe I'll go get that bottle now."
"Yeah, that would be good," she said before bursting out into laughter. She'd had a bit more wine than she'd originally planned on drinking, coupled with the smoldering ash of what may have been a painting by one of the greatest artists of all time and the fact that Lucien had won was more than she knew what to do with. "You're not boring, I'll give you that."
AN: New Caledonia is roughly same flying time as NYC to Caribbean, so it stays consistent with the film. Also, while very expensive Gruman Gulfstream Air 1 - came out 1958 so it is reasonable in this AU story that Lucien being uber wealthy would have bought one for his personal use.
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
She didn't recall much of the night after that. Her pounding head told her it had involved at least another bottle of wine. The morning breeze wafting in from the open window, cooled her face. She felt more than saw the mosquito netting that doubled as curtains on the 4 post bed blowing around in the breeze. The headache aside, she could easily loose herself to a morning like this, with the ocean churning just within ear shot. The birds chirping made her pull herself up in search for some Bex. As she sat up she heard Lucien outside talking, and she remembered not for the first time that she was here to do a job. She threw her hungover body out of the bed and wrapped her waist as she headed for the balcony, her ears straining to hear, willing her brain to make out the French he was speaking — impeccably, without a trace of an accent. As she reached the balcony she realized that he wasn't on the phone, there was someone else here. She tucked herself behind the tropical vines that wove their way through the lattice up to the second floor. The man was too far for her to recognize, but she put to memory immediate details — balding, dark hair, shorter and more stout that Lucien, less fit, maybe a little older. She couldn't be entirely sure. Her French was good, but not nearly good enough to keep up with two fluent speakers. She retreated into the bedroom and rummaged the well-stocked closet for a hat and swim bottoms. Throwing a magazine under her arm and a chair in the other hand she made her way down the back staircase where she met up with one of the staff. After getting the directions she hopped in one of the jeeps and took herself down to the beach. She knew he'd come find her and that was fine with her, she needed him to be chasing her not the other way around. She'd be there ready and waiting when he did arrive.
She heard him approaching from behind her, the beach she was at was completely empty despite it being a beautiful day. She flipped a page in the magazine she wasn't actually reading, "You compliment me."
"How?" He flipped off his sandals, a little thrown by her greeting.
"They were bankers," she couldn't get a lot from the conversation, but it was enough to know it involved money.
"Who?" He tried playing dumb.
"Who," she chuckled leaning back in her beach chair placing one hand on her hat to keep it from blowing away while lowering her magazine, so he could get a view of her bare breasts, "the suits. You're transferring assets." She grinned both from the sight of him in a hip slung black sarong that highlighted his physic and out of hope that she was on the right track, and that he'd give her a bit more information in his response, or lack of one. "You're getting ready to run."
He held onto a gold watch, his father's, not sure why he brought it down to the beach it was likely to get sand in it and ruin the mechanism. It'd been on him when he'd met with Francois about the account he held, in his mother's name as she'd been the one to set it up, in France.
He walked past her looking out at the horizon, "Suppose I did run, then what would you have? Another painting? Another $1 million fee, not me" he slipped the watch onto his wrist and turned around to face her.
She put her magazine down and looked up at him studying, surprised, "yes."
He smiled at her response before schooling his face and turning away. A comfortable silence left room for the waves to be heard. After a few minutes of staring off into the distance, he turned back to face her. His eyes drilling into hers, he wasn't trying to ignore her beautiful body, but this was too important to let his base desires distract him, "Suppose I gave you 5?"
She laughed. It was a sound that he was coming to enjoy hearing from her it was a pleasant, albeit quirky laugh that was a bit more loud and boisterous than you might think from a buttoned-up lady such as herself, but there was something giddy about it that he couldn't help but love.
"To fail," she continued laughing at the ridiculousness of his proposition. Certainly, he wasn't the first thief who tried to bribe her, but when she looked at his face she could tell there was far more than just a bribe going on. The two remained quiet for a moment. She raised her arms above her head, her red hat folding around her, "How would I hide," she asked as the thought flitted through her mind.
He was only partially surprised by her response. He knew she'd be curious, but something else told him there was also interest, "I'd teach you."
Another pause. She looked down at the beach and leaned back placing both arms behind her head. She couldn't believe that a part of her was seriously considering his offer. It'd never work, but she had to admit that for a moment it was entertaining to think about. "You really think there's happily ever after for people like us?"
Jean moved her hand into the open space of his shirt, feeling the warmth of his tan skin. She found herself leaning into him, maybe it was the wine, maybe it was desire. If she was honest it was probably both. Lucien wrapped his arms around her, kissing behind her ear making her toss her head further back to give him access. He walked backward pulling her into her bedroom from the balcony. Tugging at her sarong letting it drop to the floor, he smirked unsurprised by her lack of undergarments. Jean unbuttoned what was left of his shirt, pushing it over his shoulders briefly breaking their contact with one another. Their hands began moving feverishly over one another.
Once the back of his legs hit the mattress Jean pushed him down, watching him fall through the veil of mosquito netting. The sun was almost completely gone from the sky, despite the faint light she could still make out all his features, he was solid in every respect of the word. Muscular, but not overly defined. Just solid man. He tugged at her bringing her crashing down on to him, "I prefer to enjoy my art," he growled into her ear causing her to laugh a sound that only served to amp him up further.
He allowed Jean to pull herself onto his chest, straddling him as his hands lightly caressed down her back and came to rest at her hips. It seemed a slow pace given the evident attraction and pent-up desire, but it also felt frenzied and right. As she moved faster and faster he felt his own body tensing in response to her, watching her breasts and body move - it was a vision. Their breathing became hard and fast. Their skin shining in the moonlight as they shook into oblivion, falling over the edge.
As their breathing slowed and their hearts calmed, a stillness filled the air under the sounds of the insects coming to life. They laid as they had finished before needing to adjust body parts and positions.
Eventually Jean comes to rest on her stomach. Lucien draped across her back, kissing and caressing her spine. She picks up his beer from the nightstand and takes a drink. She's not much into beer and isn't interested in the alcohol, at the moment she wants to be clear-headed, but she's also far too comfortable to get up and get a glass of water to cure her thirst.
"So just how big of a thief are you?" They hadn't said anything else about his proposal at the beach for the rest of the afternoon. They laid in the sand, the staff brought down lunch before they returned the house just before dark. Just because they hadn't talked about it didn't mean her brain hadn't been chasing down every thought and possibility. She figured Lucien knew that's what she'd do and was giving her the space to process it all.
"Well if you count Wall Street, pretty big," he took the beer from her and took a turn before emptying it and setting it on the floor below.
"If you mean art," he paused debating what to give away, the investing is in itself thievery and she'd wouldn't be surprised to hear that from a businessman, but art was different, "I'm just an amateur."
"Beginner's luck, huh?" She knew it was farther from the truth, the elaborate plot the scapegoats were too well-played for a first-timer, "Gentleman jockey wins the derby."
"Something like that," he breathed into her neck.
"Well you got your hand caught in the cookie jar now," she replied trying to keep her body from responding to his gentle caress of her ear, "how are you going to get out of it?"
"It's just a game love, it's just a game," he whispered.
She rolled over, switching their positions. She needed to see his eyes. She knew the term of endearment wasn't quite as deep, but in this moment of intimacy she felt herself slipping deeper into him and it frightened her.
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
Her long weekend getaway was over, and it felt like a lifetime ago already. As she attempted to make herself a half-decent cup of tea with the poor selections available at the station, her thoughts wandered back to the beach where she and Lucien had languidly talked, not talked, and relaxed. It felt like a vacation, one she hadn't had for many months, but it was all for work she kept trying to chant to herself. It didn't feel like work, no matter how hard she tried to tell herself otherwise. Spending time with Lucien couldn't ever feel like work. She barely noticed the sound of footsteps approaching as her mind remained filled with the sounds of the sea.
"Nice tan," Charlie
"Thanks, I went to the beach for a few days," she replied ignoring his jealous sarcasm as she sipped her hot, but awful cup of tea.
"On the job?" Charlie dropped a manila envelope in front of her.
"That's right," she wondered what he was getting at.
"And did you pick anything up?"
"Well, he's got an ornament worn by King George the VI at his coronation in 1937," she took offense to him trying to pump her for information.
"Really," he nodded, "stolen?"
She smiled and shook her head, "No."
"So that's it then, after two days and two nights,"
"That was it," she was not about to let Charlie make her feel guilty
"Would you like to know where he was the night before he left? Or after he left you last night?" She could sense where this was going, Charlie wanted to get her angry or jealous and back on his side.
"Not really," it wasn't germane to the case, and she certainly didn't want Charlie to be the one to tell her anything about Lucien and his activities with other women, he was getting far too much pleasure out of it.
"Ok, suit yourself," he said picking up the envelope and starting to walk away.
"Charlie, give them to me," she said knowing that he was just playing a cruel game with her anyway. She had a job to do and whoever he was with might be helpful to the case even if it hurt her to see them.
She smirked, it was the young woman from the night at the benefit. "She's um, striking."
"He seems to think so, three dates in six days," he said flatly.
She tried to stuff the pictures back in the envelope, she'd seen enough. But they wouldn't go in and in a fit of frustration, she threw them back at Charlie.
"Well, where does he find the time?" She said to no one in particular, before packing up her things into her purse and walking away.
"You ok," Charlie called out.
"Yeah," she replied before pushing open the doors and throwing her sunglasses back on at the assaulting Ballarat sunlight.
She wandered around town for a while, losing herself in her thoughts. Feeling torn, she found a quiet bench near a duck pond and sat. After some much needed self talk she resigned herself to focusing on the job at hand. Lucien was a great lay, and she'd enjoyed this chase more than most, but that's all it was ever going to be. As she crossed through the park she heard the honking of Charlie's police car. She hadn't told him where she was storming off to when she left the station, and she wondered if Charlie was having her tailed. If he was a smart cop then yes, she thought. Then again Ballarat was a small town, where was she going to disappear to for some space to be alone with her thoughts.
"Following me, Charlie?" She asked as she leaned down and poked her head into the open passenger window.
"Never," he replied with a smile. "Get in."
She waited a moment debating whether she wanted to face Charlie and Danny or continue wallowing. Before Charlie could ask again.
Charlie pulled away from the curb and drove towards Jean's lodging, "You know I was alright once too. My girlfriend got drunk stayed out all night. Came back in the morning married."
She smiled at him, he really was like a lost puppy who'd been kicked one too many times.
"Yeah," he replied, "I told people I didn't care. I slept with three women in five days. Beat up a suspect. Got suspended. Was a right mess."
Jean wasn't entirely sure why Charlie was giving up all this information. There wasn't a need for this bonding moment or whatever this conversation was turning into, "Is there a point to this?" The words came out a bit harsher than she intended, but Charlie seemed to take the hint. For the remainder of the short ride, the car was quiet.
"Thanks for the lift," Jean said as she climbed out of the sedan. She opened her handbag and pulled out an envelope and tossed it to Charlie.
"What's this?" He asked catching the manila package.
"The borders," she replied closing the car door.
"What," he asked not understanding.
"Those are the photos of the borders of the DuBois. Before insurers indemnify a painting they remove it from the frame and photograph the borders. Borders are never seen in galleries or auctions, so if a picture is stolen and someone tries to pass off a forgery the borders won't match." She couldn't believe she had to explain this all to Charlie, it was making her even more annoyed than she already felt. All the relaxation she'd gotten from the island getaway had disappeared in a few short hours.
Charlie opened the envelope and pulled out the negatives holding them up to the light, "And if the borders do happen to match?"
"Then forger was in the presence of the original painting," she replied thinking all this obvious.
"If Crown's prank DuBois happens to be too good," he turned looking at Jean who was still standing in the doorway not looking at either him or Danny.
"Well, then we find the forger and nail the bastard," she said finally turning to him.
"How long have you had these?" He asked not being able to help, but thinking she'd only given them to him because of the photos he'd shown her this morning.
"Five days," she said turning and walking away.
He had suspected that she was holding something back from him, but this was major, "And you didn't think to open them?"
"Yeah well they're open now," she said walking away from Charlie's car.
She met Lucien meet for dinner at a very nice restaurant, but despite all her efforts to smile and be as she was before Charlie's ambush this morning she couldn't, and she knew Lucien could sense it.
She'd picked and poked at her dinner, barely sipped on her wine. Now that the evening tea had been brought out all she could hope for was that the meal would end so she could get back to her tiny flat and for the first time today be by herself.
Lucien studied her throughout the evening, knowing something about her was off. He'd hoped the gift he'd brought her would cheer her up. He watched as her fingers ran around the diamond and sapphire encrusted silver necklace, but there was nothing. She smiled but he knew it didn't meet her eyes.
"It's beautiful Lucien," she said because it was entirely the truth.
"You're not going to tell me 'I couldn't possibly' are you?"
She smirked, "No, I wouldn't say anything that boring." There were too many other things she'd like to say instead. She closed the lid on the velvet box and motioned for her purse. He merely nodded and stood up before helping her out of her chair. The pair walked to the front of the restaurant in silence, waited for their coats, and then valet to bring the car without speaking a word. After several minutes of this deafening quiet Lucien couldn't bear it any longer, he couldn't tell if she was just trying to play hard to get or if she really was this mercurial. He hadn't thought he'd misjudged her character though.
He started to ramble about his day and plans for tomorrow, anything to stop the silence, "She's an old friend, but it'll be like having dinner at the morgue."
She continued to stare out the window not trusting herself with anything more.
"You know," he turned, "it occurred to me that I might be able to bear it if you came with me."
She heard his words but had trouble saying anything, finally, she choked out, "Tomorrow? So soon."
"I sense hesitation," he studied her, trying to read her face, but she had one hell of a poker face.
"No, no," she needed to pull herself together after all she needed to keep working with him to find the painting. Perhaps meeting his friends would give her another lead.
"Do you find my company monotonous?" He asked, not thinking that was the real issue.
He was pleased when he heard her laugh for the first time since they'd gotten back from their trip. He'd missed that sound.
"No." She said adamantly.
"Because I'd hate to think that you did," he leaned towards her.
She finally turned to face him, "But do I bore you. Require a little variety?"
His face distorted by her barbed accusation, "You're referring to Joy." He sat back in his seat. He started laughing and Jean turned away, not expecting him to be so cruel.
"They photographed me with Joy," he said with a grin as if that explained everything.
"You know that's your prerogative," she turned away from him as she spoke, trying to disguise her true feelings about the revelation.
Lucien gave a light chuckle, "I hoped they would. I let it happen. Do you want to know why?"
She faced the window again, "No, no I don't."
"I want to tell you why," he replied.
"I don't want to know," that wasn't entirely true she did want to know.
"I want to tell you why," he pressed.
"You know, I really don't want to know why," suddenly the spacious back seat felt small, "Jimmy, I'd like to get out."
He waved his hand toward the driver, "Jimmy keep driving."
"Jimmy could you stop?" She shouted.
Jimmy pulled the car over, the road was dark and poorly lit as they headed back to Ballarat from Bendigo. The car barely stopped before Jean opened the door and began climbing out.
Lucien reached out and put a hand on her shoulder, "Just let me tell—"
His voice was cut off by Jean, turning towards him and shouting again, "I don't want to know why!" She needed to get out of the car, the world was shrinking around her and she felt a rare panic attack seeping in.
"Ah sh—" he started to say as he watched her get out of the car and race off into the dark park. "Wait here," he told Jimmy as he jumped out to chase after her.
"Now ask me why!" He shouted at her as he rounded behind the car.
"I don't want to know," she shouted for what felt like the hundredth time.
"You're upset about it," he ran after her, closing the distance quickly as her heels were slowing her down as they sunk into the wet grass.
"Yeah I'm upset, because that's what you wanted me to be," it was all true and she was loathe to admit it. Lucien had hurt her. She had allowed herself to get into this situation, to feel the things she was feeling towards him.
"I needed you to be upset," his voice strong and steady, once more as if those words cleared everything up.
She laughed at him, what could be more crazy, "He's sadistic. Who knew."
"Did it ever occur to you that I need to know," his voice softened an octave from vulnerability.
"Know what?" She continued marching off into the dark, despite the fact that he was closing in on her.
"To know whether all it was to you was the painting," he watched as she stopped in her tracks.
She hated to admit that there was a small piece of her that had wondered that, whether this was another one of his games. It's why when she told Charlie that they'd get the bastard she hadn't clarified whether she meant the forger or Lucien.
The park grew quiet except for the sounds of a trickling stream and insects chirping into the night. They could hear each other breathing, panting into the chill night air.
He moved closer to her, willing her to understand why. "How else could I know?"
She knew he was right. They weren't the type of people that could merely talk about this kind of thing, there would always be some doubt about trust and loyalties. It didn't make it hurt any less, and it didn't lessen her frustration in herself for not completely seeing this coming, trusting her own gut.
She stole a glance over her shoulder, "What about you?"
"I can leave here tomorrow," he replied frankly pausing before adding, "So can you."
She finally turned to face him, eyes glistening in the moonlight. Lucien felt bad when he finally saw her, but he didn't know any other way, and now he knew for certain, it was all over her face.
"We'd be fugitives," she shook her head, it was asking a lot.
"Fugitives with means, all the difference in the world," he replied watching as she shook her head in concern.
"I don't know," he knew he was asking a lot of her, and while she realized that she was falling in love with this man she wasn't sure she could walk away from her life, forever, for Lucien. "I don't know." She repeated.
He watched as a stray tear went down her cheek. He closed the distance between them and pulled her into him. It could wait, she needed time to process he'd learned that about her and so he'd give it to her. He waited for her to collect herself before the pair walked back with Jean tucked under his arm back to the car.
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
"Oh dear, Peter Pan decides to grow up and finds there's no place to land. The only sad part is if she's anything like you she won't know what's she's lost until it's gone," Alice says with a cackle.
Lucien rubbed his brow, regretting his decision to seek advice from Alice. After last night's impromptu walk in a field beside the road with Jean, he needed to confide in someone. There weren't many people in his life whose opinion he held in higher esteem than Alice, but at the moment he wasn't sure he wanted to hear it.
"It's serious then," Alice asked as she studied Lucien's quiet form standing at the window of her office. He merely looked back at her, his eyes bowing to the ground. It was answer enough.
As Jean is opening the door to the station she bumps into Charlie racing out, practically knocking her to the floor.
"Hey! Let's go," Charlie he waves at her to turn around and go back out.
"Go? Where?" Jean asks entirely confused.
Danny catches up to the pair, "The paintings borders match perfectly."
"But then again I'm sure you knew that, didn't you. C'mon, let's go meet some forgers." Charlie was clearly throwing a jab at her, but she didn't take the bait. Danny just smiled at her, clearly enjoying the scene playing out before him.
If Jean had known in advance that Charlie was going to drive to Melbourne like a granny she would have driven herself. To be fair she would have driven herself, preferring to be alone then with the brooding Charlie and the goofy smiling Danny. She didn't have high hopes for this line of inquiry, a forger was never going to give Charlie all the details, he wasn't part of their inner world. Needless to say, she tagged along anyway, playing her role, for now.
The car pulled up in front of a flat belonging to Martin Katz. He was as good a candidate as any she supposed.
"Ready?" Charlie turned to ask both Jean and Danny before knocking on the door. They merely nodded in reply.
"Yes," a man answered as he opened the door minutes later.
"Katz? Martin Katz?" Charlie asked.
"Yes," he replied.
"Ballarat Police. We're here to talk to you about a painting, may we come in?" Charlie asked flashing his badge and identification card.
The man nodded and stepped aside as he opened the door wider for the three to enter. Jean's nose picked up on the smell of paint immediately. As they went up the stairs into Katz's apartment she quickly saw evidence of his current line of projects. Seeing that this was Charlie's chase for the moment she let him lead the questioning, half-listening as she walked around the space.
"I was never a Dubois style painter," he shrugged, "anyway I pay taxes now," Katz said adamantly. Jean knew that to be less than truthful, but she let it go it wasn't her remit and this wasn't their man.
"Doing what?" Charlie pressed, making it clear to Jean that he would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a Dubois and a Manet. He waved he is hand around the studio, "Inserting the rich into famous paintings."
The artist looked around at his works and shrugged as Jean threw a shrew smile at the men, "The wife's face onto the Mona Lisa." She couldn't imagine anything else in more poor taste, but to each his own.
"Ballarat to Sydney in one generation, you've gotta have the paintings to match," Katz replied.
Charlie looked closer at the painting on the suspected Forger's easel and saw what Jean was getting at, "So who did it?"
"The Swede," he replies quickly.
"Lundqvist?" Jean asks raising an eyebrow. "Art's a small world" she adds as Charlie gives her an odd look.
Jean leaned up against the cold concrete wall and wonders how much longer Charlie is going to continue with this line of inquiry. Clearly, the painting was forged by someone good, and yes there are only four or five painters capable of pulling off the quality required, but only two were in Australia for them to even question. Not to mention all the forgers no one really knows about because they haven't been caught…yet. The sound of the door buzzing pulls her back. A spry sixty-year-old man walked through the door, escorted by a guard. She watched as Charlie's leg bounced up and down impatiently, waiting for Lundqvist to take a seat.
Charlie hardly waited a moment once the inmate picked up the other end of the receiver before asking, "So who do you think did this?" He held the forgery up for him to see.
Lundqvist slowly takes his glasses out of his pocket and puts them on, studying the photos closely, admiring the work, "Katz, Martin Katz."
"Funny because he said you did it," Charlie could hardly hold back to the acid from his voice. To him, it seemed that all these guys thought this was just one big game, but to him there was an injustice done, a crime was broken and someone needed to pay. In his eyes multiple someones but for now, he'd settled for the forger.
Lundqvist laughed, "So you think I just ask for paints and canvas and the guards will bring it and just think it's therapy while I madly copy a DuBois in my cell from an original? Then I coordinate with them to smuggle it out of the prison?"
Jean put her hand to her lips to keep her from laughing at Charlie. She knew that Lundqvist didn't do it, but she knew that he most likely knew who did. She watched the man as he glanced back at the painting, with appreciation. "What?"
He pursed his lips and shook his head. She wasn't going to get anything from him, certainly not with Charlie sitting beside her. Perhaps she could come back on her own. Charlie waved his hands to the guard, the interview was clearly over.
As they walked through the maze of the prison, back to the front to collect their things she couldn't help but think back to his reaction at the end of the interview. Something was eating at her, Lundqvist knew something of that she was certain. The door buzzed again, pulling her back to the present and allowing them to make their way back to Charlie's car. With no more suspects to interview she wasn't entirely sure where that left the criminal side, Charlie's side, of the investigation. For her the forger didn't matter, all her employers cared about was that the original was returned and an insurance settlement was avoided. Nevertheless, she wasn't one to walk away from a mystery and this one nagged at her.
"What?" Charlie asked noticing she was distractedly still staring at the prison.
"Nothing," she shook her head not ready to share.
"What?" He pressed.
She opened the car door, "I was just wondering about what he wouldn't say."
"Give," he could tell she was working on some theory, and he wanted to know even if it was totally off the wall. He would be the first to admit art was not his world.
"There's nothing there," she replied trying to get to let it go, she needed to gnaw on this for a while.
Growing frustrated, "You know what life is full of shitty conflicts. Give."
She turned her head towards him somewhat taken aback by his abrasiveness, "I just wondered if there was a connection between them, that's all."
"Between Blake and that old man?"
She nodded, "Yeah."
Chapter 13: Chapter 13
The pair kept up appearances making sure that they’d be photographed by Charlie’s tail. It wasn’t just about the case anymore, she was enjoying spending time with Lucien. The last week while Charlie and Danny worked to dig up a connection, one that she already uncovered, was one of the greatest she’d had possibly ever. She and Lucien dined in and out. They’d gone to the opera in Melbourne. She knew he was showing her a life that she could have if this all worked out. She hoped with every fiber of her being that it did because now she knew that she wasn’t just falling in love with Lucien, but was actually in love with the man.
When he’d come to her with the scheme to make things right, she’d put all her trust into another human being for the first time since she was a child. As she walked up to the station a knot in her gut tugged at her, wondering if she wasn’t making a huge mistake. She worked and seduced men like Lucien her entire professional career, she knew the type. Rich, wants what they can’t have, and gets what they want. As genuine as Lucien seemed, and she had a stellar BS meter there was nevertheless doubt.
Charlie practically plowed into her as she stepped past the desks of busy officers, “You’re spooky, you know that? Really spooky.” He moved her away from the big conference table where Danny was standing, peering over photos of her and Lucien together. She held back a smile, Charlie was sweet but too predictable. Some of the pictures were actually quite good, and she wouldn’t mind having one or two for herself.
Danny picked up a piece of paper from his desk and handed to her, “You were right. They opened a gallery together, Blake and Lundqvist. Hamburg 1925. Paris 1929.”
She snatched the paper from Danny’s hand, pointing “Notice the one-man show in 1955,” she said noticing the anomaly. “The artist says Lundqvist.”
She held back a deep sigh of annoyance, shaking the paper at him, “Look at the first name.”
“Johan Lundqvist.” The light bulb went off in Charlie’s eyes as he started to understand what she was saying. “Yeah, we spoke to a Henrik.”
“You know what it was,” finally revealing a piece of the puzzle the boys weren’t seeing, “the way he smiled at the painting? Pride. Paternal pride. I bet you it’s his son.”
“Son of a great forger who paints as well as dad,” Charlie sat down at the conference room chair as he began to work it all out.
“Just hasn’t been caught yet,” Danny added.
“Well I suppose if you look you’ll find that Johan Lundqvist lives in Melbourne,” Jean wasn’t sure it would be that easy to locate J Lundqvist, but the boys needed a starting place.
Charlie gave Danny the nod confirming they needed to get on tracking down their new lead. “You know what, I uh,” Charlie stammers as he gets up from his desk and walks towards her, “I owe you an apology. I didn’t think you had the chops to see this through.”
“You don’t know me,” she smirked knowing she was playing both sides of this game. Charlie was a good guy. She had developed a little bit of soft spot for him, like one of her brothers. She would make sure he got just enough information to keep his job.
“But I should. I bet you’d stand at the pearly gates and kick St. Peter right in the teeth he tried to play you,” he said before walking away.
Once she was sure they were gone she let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding in. She really hoped that this plan worked, they were both taking a big risk. She looked at the clock on the wall, Hong Kong was still open. Now that she had the room to herself she picked up the phone and contacted her advisor, “Harold listen carefully and please don’t interrupt. if I needed to be gone, and I mean seriously gone in about 8 hours how much could I take with me?”
“Are you alright Jean?” His voice filled with concern.
“Harold?” Jean said sternly.
“You’d be taking an enormous loss if you liquidate,” he didn’t have an idea how bad, but he certainly wanted his client to reconsider.
“I understand that but it can’t be helped. What could I leave with?” Jean had always appreciated Harold’s conservative nature when it came to financial matters, but this wasn’t the time.
“Let me find Thomas. Call me back in an hour and I’ll have a figure for you,” he shook his head sometimes his clients drove him mad, but he doubted Jean wasn’t taking this decision lightly.
“Okay, one hour Harold.” She hung up and looked around the room. The stack of photos remained on the conference room table, she was still tempted to take one but figured Charlie had cataloged each in his mind. He would notice one missing. It could blow the whole thing up if he suspected what was actually going on. Instead, she turned her attention to the busy work of papers she’d be carrying around in her bag.
She knew it wouldn’t take Danny long to find out through Births, Deaths, and Marriages that Lundqvist did have a child, and work out the details of the clue she’d provided them. She just hoped she could get her assets pulled together in time.
“Leaving us?” Charlie asked as he came back into the squad room to find Jean clearing up file folders.
“No, you’re not that lucky,” she played, “I’m organizing. This place could use it.”
“No Lundqvist’s have ever been to see the old man,” Clever Charlie had checked the visitor’s log while they waited on Melbourne to get back to them. “But there was a Lund three times last month though. You think that’s a coincidence?”
“Could be,” she couldn’t give it all away for them. She needed time for Harold and Thomas to sort through her assets. She paused, “Isn’t Lund a Norwegian name?”
“Right,” Charlie nodded not having thought about the surname in any great detail before coming to check up on her.
“Anything else?” She prodded wanting to have as much information as she possibly could in her back pocket.
“No,” he paused looking out the window, “No, not yet.”
“Okay,” she replied. It seemed enough to prompt him to leave her be and return to his own desk.
Again Jean checked the clock, 48 minutes until she needed to ring Harold back. Thumbing her fingers on the desk for another minute she realized she needed to see him. She needed to look into Lucien’s eyes once more before pulling the trigger on her assets. Quickly, she gathered her things and walked out, “I’m going to get some lunch,” she told Danny as she bumped into him on her way out.
She leisurely strolled away from the station and towards Main street until she spotted a cab. She hailed it and quickly got in giving the driver 50 quid to floor it, “Just go, go.” Looking at her watch 41 more minutes.
“Is he here?” She asked barging into Lucien’s house not able to wait another moment. The housekeeper tried to stop her, by suggesting she wait in the living room, but she immediately sensed that something was up.
“I’ll get him,” he told her.
She turned around and noticed the bags packed by the bottom of the staircase. It wouldn’t be a shock that he had bags ready, but those didn’t look like a man’s set of suitcases.
“Ma’am wait,” he called after her but didn’t bother chasing her up the stairs.
She took them two at a time until she reached the landing before turning the corner and walking the familiar steps to his bedroom. She could hear Lucien speaking to someone from behind his closed door. She didn’t knock or call out before swinging it open. She found Joy dressed in her usual edgy wardrobe sitting on his bed as clothes were strewn throughout the room. Lucien was talking from the bathroom. Jean knew about Joy of course, but still seeing her here in his room made her question everything. Everything he ever said about their relationship.
Lucien walked into the room holding hangers of shirts asking Joy to fetch something from downstairs when he noticed Jean standing at the doorway. Joy remained on the bed looking between the pair before getting the hint. She slowly got her coat and made her way into his private study and then out the side door then down the stairs.
“Well we seem to have backtracked,” she said looking at the clothes and suitcases.
“No,” he put the shirts into one hand and put the other one up for emphasis.
“No,” she turned and began to leave. Lucien threw the shirts onto the bed and ran after her, grabbing her before she could go any further.
“Take your hands off me!” She spat as she turned around to shake him loose. She didn’t have to though, he dropped his hands to his side immediately at her request.
“C’mon what do you have that’s fresh this time? Like why she’s here in your room?” Her voice quivered from anger.
“She works for me, you know that.” Lucien could see the wild in Jean’s eyes and tried to keep his voice calm and even.
She scoffed at him, “You never thought I was a fool before.”
Lucien realized he needed to explain, “She’s here because I owe her money and I wanted to pay her before we go.”
Jean laughed, “Oh really, and what else did she do to leave you in her debt?”
“You already know what she’s done,” He cautiously took a step to approach her, trying to remind her of their conversation the other night.
“Right, no other business huh. You’re going away together!” Jean knew what he was talking about it, but couldn’t see a way to reason past the bags and clothes to believe him.
“No! I’m going with you,” he pleaded with her, his eyes searching hers.
“Of all the things in the world to take a leap of faith. How could I possibly trust you?” She shook her head. She felt beyond foolish, falling like a schoolgirl for this thief.
“I’m not going to ask that. I’m going to trust you. Is that what you wanted? My trust?” Lucien realized he needed to put all his cards on the table for Jean to believe him, “Tomorrow afternoon I’m putting the DuBois back, and then you’ll meet me at 4 pm at the airstrip and we will leave together. Or you can have them at the museum waiting for me. I’m trusting you.”
The room stilled as Jean listened to his proposal. Her mascara ran down her cheeks as she considered his willingness to trust her, to give her the power of the next move.
“Hey,” he pulled her close to him and kissed her gently. Another gentle kiss turned deeper and more passionate. The pair chasing that feeling that only moments ago seemed forgotten.
“I, I” she stammered and pulled away from him, “I can’t do this!” She struggled in his embrace, but he won’t let go of her. Lucien knows had a lot longer to come to terms with all this than she has, so he waits. He knew from the minute they met that he wanted to be with her.
Before Lucien can say anything Jean bolts down the stairs, only to collapse near the bottom in tears. Her mind is swimming, torn about what she should do. Her hour was up, she had to call Harold back, but she didn’t have an answer, not anymore.
Lucien comes down the stairs and spots her stepping out onto the now rainy streets of Ballarat. The cold rain stings on her face as she makes her way down the steps of Lucien’s grand home and onto the sidewalk. As she walks away she realizes she forgot her umbrella and is fully soaked to the bone, but doesn’t feel the dampness. She wanders the streets for a while until she finds herself at the boarding house Charlie lives. She walks up the steps into the welcome shelter from the rain and rings the bell.
“Hey,” he answers as if he was about to step out.
“Hey,” she replies still a bit upset, “I need to talk to you.”