Lizzie knew better than to expect anything else by now, but somehow she still did.
Bent over a desk, bent over the couch. Her bitter words in the betting shop had hid the fact that since Grace died, she’d just as often been the one who initiated things, but it didn’t seem to matter. Sometimes Tommy shifted away from her touch and sometimes he leaned into it, and she never knew which response she’d get but she kept at it like a child too stubborn to stop grabbing a skillet hot off the stove with her bare hand. It always ended this way with him, even when she was the one to start it; she took what she could get and that right there was the part that made her bitter, that she’d settle, that she knew she’d always bloody settle.
So she’d thought this time would be the usual, quick and impersonal like she was a mechanic and he an engine that needed a tune up, and it had started that way, sure. He’d gotten his trousers undone and hitched her skirt up and she’d stepped out of her underthings and then he’d stopped, one hand on her hip and the other braced on the desk in front of her, and she’d felt his forehead rest briefly on the curve of her shoulder where it met her neck and a puff of warm air on the exposed skin there, and then there was empty space behind her where he’d been. When she turned he’d stepped a good foot back from her and put himself away, his trousers still gaping open and his face lined and tired, his eyes gone opaque.
“Tommy--” she started, reaching for him, her body reeling from the sudden loss of contact. He was soft under her hands. He just stood there and let her touch him through the thin fabric of his shorts and nothing happened.
Then he dropped into the chair behind him, staring up at her mutely, and she didn’t know what was happening any longer, what to do. The office was silent save for the faint ticking of the clock. Everyone had gone home hours ago; Tommy might have little shame about what they did here but he’d never touched her when anyone might walk in on them.
“Do you want me to go?” she asked finally.
He didn’t seem to have an answer for that.
“Tom,” she said, and reached down to touch his hand where it lay on the armrest. His eyes closed and his throat moved with a swallow and all at once the air in the room was heavy, like the shift in the weather right before the rain hit. His hand turned in hers and their fingers intertwined and then he tugged her forward until her knees were touching his. He’d tilted his head to rest against the back of the chair as he watched her, and he had the set to his jaw he got when he was hiding a headache but before it got bad enough he started drinking to dull it so he could keep working.
All these little things she knew about him, but she didn’t know what he wanted, now. What she wanted was still warm between her legs, so she hitched her skirt up again and straddled him in the chair. It was awkward and she had to kneel on either side of his hips to do it, but he made a soft sound when her weight settled on his thighs and his hands came around to the small of her back and rested there, hot through the fabric of her dress. Things between them didn’t usually last long enough for her to do much touching of her own. She ran a hand up his chest and started loosening his tie and his breathing hitched but he didn’t stop her. Once the tie was loose she unfastened his collar. One of his hands moved down to cup her arse but he didn’t otherwise make a move.
The wool of his trousers was pleasantly rough on her exposed skin. She moved against him, tender and warming, and undid the first two buttons of his shirt, then reached down between them to pull him free of his pants again, but he was still only half hard. She loosened another few buttons and slid her hands between the fabric of his shirt and his skin and up to his neck and he reacted finally, something coming back into his eyes as if rising through deep water. His own hands came up and enveloped hers, holding her where they rested under his shirts against his skin. Then he guided them upwards and his lips parted as he curled her hands around his throat, until her thumbs rested on either side of his adam’s apple, the heels of her hands just above the place where his collar bones met.
“Tommy…” she hesitated. His hips shifted and his dick was finally showing an interest in the proceedings. She wanted him inside her so when his hands tightened over hers she pressed down, just a little, and he sighed, something going loose in him where she hadn’t realized how tense he’d been. This time when he squeezed her hands she increased the pressure. His hands fell away and he lifted her arse enough that she could take him in and God he filled her up and then his hands were back on hers where she’d relaxed them against his throat.
She knew what he wanted by now but Jesus. Jesus Christ.
He moved his hips and slid deeper inside of her as she rocked against him. This time when she pressed down on his throat his eyelids fluttered shut and he let out a strained sound and fuck. Fuck. It felt… good, it felt wrong, and when her hands tightened again it felt like power. He arched against her, his hands squeezing hers again and this time she used the heels of her palms and felt something give slightly under them. The sound he made was definitely choking that time and a bone-deep terror flared through her. She yanked her hands away from him and he came, hard and soundless, fingers still loosely circling her wrists.
“Fuck, Tommy,” she breathed. He was going soft inside her and his eyes were glassy, almost absent, but he automatically reached between them to touch her. As much as she wanted him to bring her to a finish she also wanted to be far away from this room, from him. “Don’t,” she said finally.
He pulled his hand away. She pushed herself off of him and stepped back until her skirt fell around her knees and just stood there a moment. His trousers were wrecked, his shirt wrinkled, his head still cradled against the back of the chair. He looked drained and ill, pale with the mottled flush high on each cheek he’d had at the hospital when he’d been out of his head with pain and fever after the surgery that put his skull back together.
The whole thing had left her feeling like she’d been shoved over the side of a ship and had yet to hit the water.
“Don’t ask me to do that again,” she said, though he hadn’t actually asked her anything, had he.
He didn’t have anything to say to that. He just watched her find her underwear and slip them back on and then she walked out of the room without looking back.
In the hospital in London he’d called her another name, been confused. He’d been confused a lot before he was stable enough to be moved to Birmingham, and it had been strange to see in a man usually so certain of his own control over himself. When she’d asked Polly about the name, Polly’s face had gone still and her eyes narrowed and she’d seemed to come to some sort of conclusion, like a long running mystery had become unexpectedly clear to her. “I suppose I see the resemblance,” she’d said, and refused to explain further.
She’d thought things had been bad after Grace but after his accident it got worse. Sometimes he couldn’t manage it, sometimes it seemed like he was using her to punish himself, sometimes it was like he wasn’t there at all. Then this last time, when it had been all three at once.
He didn’t ask her to do it again. He very carefully stayed a good arm’s length away from her when he could help it. She’d thought that’s what she’d wanted but it got to her, eventually.
Other than business his family mostly steered clear of him, and she was the one left alone with him when everything pressed so close to the surface it felt contagious, like she could catch it from him, like the grief would pull her under and drown her too. Like they were on a boat that had capsized and he was grabbing her legs to pull himself to air. Except after that last time, he didn’t come close to even touching her, so it was all in her head, wasn’t it. The feeling of drowning.
He’d been almost entirely silent for the past week and it felt like he was punishing her, only he didn’t talk to anybody else that she’d seen, either, so that was in her head too. Michael of all people had noticed and asked her about it and she’d caught Pol watching him when he wasn’t looking, which wasn’t hard to do, because he’d mostly stopped making eye contact with anyone as well. When he did speak his attention would settle just to the left of your ear, slightly unfocused.
“Someone should talk to him,” Lizzie had said. By someone, she’d meant Polly.
“There’s a lot going on,” was all Polly would say about it.
Another few days and she’d had enough. Navigating the office was like trying to cross one of the canals when it had iced over, brittle and liable to send you plunging into icy water with the first wrong step. Tommy was short with everyone without ever quite losing his temper, reigned in so hard his jaw barely seemed to move when he spoke, which he only did when he needed something he couldn’t do himself. If you knew where to look there were cracks around the edges of him, moments when his expression would slide into something bleak before snapping back into controlled blankness. She almost wished he’d yell, just once, but he never raised his voice.
She waited until the office emptied and he was sitting behind his desk, staring down at a spread newspaper with the look that meant he wasn’t really reading it. Closed the inner door behind her and locked it. Crossed to the desk and stood next to his chair, waiting for him to acknowledge her, but of course he didn’t, not until she ran a hand down the curve of his skull, feather-light, coming to a rest above the stiff fabric of his collar. The air shuddered out of him, his eyelids slipping shut. He turned and let her brush a thumb along his cheekbone and then carefully reached up and pulled her hand away from his face.
“Tom--” she started.
He swallowed. Dropped his hand from hers. “Don’t,” he said.
“It’s okay,” she said softly. “Let me--”
“Don’t,” he repeated. He took two more even breaths, then: “Please.”
It was the please that stopped her from trying again.
The next morning he didn’t come into the office. There was nothing in his diary but Polly would only say he had business. Lizzie was certain it was a lie but she didn’t push the matter; instead she took a long lunch break and wandered her way back to the old neighborhood until she came across Sally Mahoney, just coming from the bathhouse.
“Well fuck me, look who it is,” Sally said, her tone caught somewhere between accusing and wistful.
All at once it felt like she’d been caught out, had nicked her fine wool coat and elegant cloche hat from the shop and thought she could get away before anyone noticed they’d gone missing.
Lizzie lifted her chin.
Sally smiled. “C’mon then. Was just about to make myself some tea.”
And easy as that, it was like no time at all had passed. Lizzie followed Sally back to her room and tried to ignore the stares from the men on the street. Even recognized a few, from the old days.
She took off her hat and coat and Sally hung them on a coat stand reverently, running her hand over the fashionable cut of the collar. Sally’s own cotton dress was clean and pressed but faded, the lace collar a little yellowed. Lizzie would have thought it pretty just a few years ago. Now it just made her wish she’d worn something plain, but coming here had been spur of the moment and she hadn’t thought things through.
Sally pulled a chair out for her at the little table by the stove. “Don’t see much of you round the neighborhood these days,” she said, as she poured the tea.
Lizzie didn’t know what to say. Since she’d moved flats there’d been nothing to tie her to this place and she hadn’t thought about the girls she’d left behind at all.
“Been busy,” she said finally. “Long hours.”
“Hmm.” Sally sat down and took a sip from her teacup. “Secretary, right? To that Shelby boy who used to come round, the one with all them kids?”
“Secretary, yes,” Lizzie said. “But not for John.”
Sally smiled. “Right, there was two of them fancied you, I forgot.”
At first she hadn’t known they were brothers at all, John and Tommy, because they hadn’t looked anything alike and for a long time Tommy hadn’t even told her his name. She’d no idea who he was until one of the other girls pointed him out in the street. You be careful, Lizzie, he’s one of them Peaky Blinders devils.
“Tommy,” Lizzie said.
“Yeah, Tommy Shelby. The one who never said nothing.”
Tommy’s silences weren’t so new, she supposed. At the time it hadn’t been remarkable. A lot of the men had felt shame about seeing her or preferred not to get attached, and after the war many of them seemed to have lost the knack for small talk altogether. Tommy wasn’t much different from the others, except for the fact that he only ever came to her, to the point where the other girls had noticed and commented.
“All us girls was jealous, you know. Rather have a quiet one than the fuckers who never shut their mouths the whole bloody time. But he never wanted nobody else.”
He’d always paid well and never tried anything dodgy and hadn’t expected much from her but a quick fuck. That had been a relief at first, not having to pretend he was there for anything other than a transaction. Some men had wanted the fantasy of love from her, sweet words and wifely caresses. Not Tommy. The first year after the war Tommy didn’t talk to her at all and preferred she didn’t talk to him, either. That had shifted, slowly, after he’d taken out Billy Kimber, but he’d never been one for chatting.
“He still fucking you, now he’s got you doing his paperwork?” Sally leaned forward at something in her face. “He is, isn’t he. Got the fuck for free now he pays you for something else?”
“It’s not like that,” Lizzie said. It wasn’t.
“Ah, Lizzie. You always did have a soft spot for him, didn’t you. He must at least be paying you decent for you to be dressing the way you are these days.”
“He’s--” Lizzie broke off. “Look, Sally, you got to keep this to yourself, you hear me?”
“What, the fucking? Every big man like him fucks his secretary, that’s not--”
“No.” Lizzie set her cup down on its saucer and folded her hands in her lap. “Look, I just… need to ask you something, okay?”
Sally frowned, perplexed. “I was only teasing, no need for all that. We’re proud of you, Lizzie. You know that, right?”
She hadn’t, and suddenly she wanted to disappear. She didn’t want them proud of her. It made her feel she owed them something, something they’d never take from her.
“What is it, then? What d’you want to know?”
Lizzie fiddled with her cup, running a finger over the faded flowers printed along the handle.
“You ever… you ever have one who wanted you to…” She faltered. For all the things men had wanted from her over her years of work, she’d never run into this, she didn’t know how to speak of it. Sally waited her out. “You know.” Lizzie put her hands on her own throat.
Sally’s face went dark. “Fuck, Lizzie, get out of there, you hear me? No fine coat and hat is worth that. You come and stay with me if you need to. We’ll get you out of Birmingham and even Tommy Shelby won’t know where you’ve gone.”
Lizzie sat back in her chair, thrown by Sally’s intensity, before she realized. “Oh-- No, he’s not. It’s not ... He’s not putting his hands on me . Not like that.”
Sally blinked, and then smiled a little in obvious relief. “Jesus. You had me worried. The ones who do that don’t have nothing good in mind. So…”
“He wants me to do it to him,” Lizzie finished.
“Ah, so you’ve got yourself a gasper.” Sally seemed almost amused, now she knew Tommy wasn’t trying to kill Lizzie with anything but his silences.
“A gasper?” She’d never heard the word.
Sally got up and found a tin of biscuits, set out a few on a plate and brought it to the table.
“It feels good for them, I suppose. I had one once. A Captain, even, back before the armistice. Wanted me to do it with his belt.”
“And did you… with his belt? Isn’t that--”
Sally shook her head. “Only the one time. Told him I didn’t do that kind of thing, but there’s other girls will, you pay them enough. It’s risky. Fuck up and you’ve got yourself a stiff on your hands, and it’s not like the coppers will believe they asked for it.”
“Why… why do they like it?”
“Hell, Lizzie, why do they like anything they want us to do? It gets their dicks hard, don’t it. Some of ‘em are scrambled in the head, is all. Some worse than others. I can give you names, you want to pass him off to someone knows what she’s doing.”
Fuck. “Alright,” Lizzie said. “Yeah, thank you.”
Sally found a scrap of paper and a pencil on her bureau and scrawled out a couple of names and addresses. “Scarves are easier than your hands, I hear,” she continued, handing Lizzie the list. “But be careful if you do it yourself, yeah? A bloke had a heart attack on Molly Brown. Young one, even. He lived, but Jesus, I dunno how much money I’d need for it to be worth all that, eh?”
Lizzie nodded, gone a little numb.
“Have a biscuit, love.” Sally put a hand on hers and squeezed. “There’s other jobs, now you’ve worked in an office this long. Won’t have to come back to all this if he lets you go, will you.”
“He wouldn’t… it’s not like that,” Lizzie said, weakly. He didn’t seem to want her to touch him at all right now. She nibbled at one of the biscuits, but it was sawdust in her mouth. “Do the girls who… do they like it? Doing this to a man?”
“I suppose the money’s worth it to some,” Sally said. “But it’s like the men who want you to take a crop to ‘em. You always know who’s really in charge, don’t you? The one with all the cash.”
She stayed a little longer after that, asked Sally about her sisters and their children, and some of the awkwardness faded until they were laughing together like they used to do when Lizzie had rented the room across the hall and they’d looked out for one another. But once she put her coat and hat back on the divide returned, and she quickly took her leave, heading back for the office and familiar ground.
Tommy was back from wherever he’d gone off to that morning, sitting at his desk behind a haze of cigarette smoke. He actually looked up this time when she brought him a stack of contracts to review, and though the lines of strain had deepened between his brows and around his mouth, he met her eyes straight on and thanked her.
Lizzie folded the slip of paper Sally had given her and buried it in a drawer of her desk.
He reached for her the next night. It was the first time he had in weeks, and Lizzie hated that she felt grateful to be bent over his desk again, but she did. She did. And it was like the old days after the war, the only sound he made the quickening pace of his breathing behind her. He didn’t hold her braced away from him the way he used to back then. Instead he reached around to toy with her where she was wet until she was pressing against him, gasping, her head falling back onto his shoulder. She knew his rhythm well enough to judge when he was close by the deepening of his pants for air, and his fingers curled and rubbed against her until she clenched around him and a high sound escaped her. Then his thrusts stuttered and his breath caught and he let out a long sigh, his lips grazing the back of her neck before he pulled away. She fell forward a little, catching herself with a grip on the desk, and by the time she turned around he’d already buttoned his trousers.
The color in his face only highlighted how washed out he’d been, and even that was quickly fading as his breathing quieted. Another moment and it was like nothing had happened at all. His tie was still in place, even.
“I have to go to London tomorrow,” he said, his voice only a little roughened. “Can you reschedule with Perkins?”
Lizzie straightened her dress. She was still hot and pulsing with aftershocks and she could feel him running down the inside of her thigh.
“Yes, reschedule with Perkins,” she echoed, and if it wasn’t as crisp as she’d have liked, at least it was steady.
He nodded. “Good.” It was a dismissal.
She pulled herself together and straightened her underwear and walked out of the office. By the time she collected her coat and hat and purse he was sitting behind the desk again, smoking, immersed in paperwork.
So things went back to infrequent and mostly detached, even if he always took care to get her off too these days, like it made up for not paying her for it directly. Tommy buried himself in work and whatever it was that occupied what little time he spent outside the office that had he and Polly’s heads bent together, straightening whenever she came into the room. She didn’t ask either of them about it. Knew at best the question would be ignored, at worse she’d be put in her place, told it was none of her business, in equally cold tones no matter which of them she’d asked. And it wasn’t her business, she knew that. Didn’t stop her from wondering, though, did it, the knowing. She’d always been curious. Curious as a cat, but with only one life, so watch what paths the curiosity takes you down, her nan used to chide.
But eventually something built up in her like steam in a kettle. Until she wanted to get at him, wanted to pull some emotion from him, something real. The next time the office emptied and he moved to touch her, Lizzie turned to face him, linking her fingers in his, pulling his hand away from her thigh. Stillness fell over him like a veil as he waited to see what she’d do. So she ran her other hand down his chest, unbuttoning his waistcoat until the full length of his tie was exposed. Expensive, as always; even when he’d lived without plumbing in Small Heath he’d worn suits as rich as he could afford. Wouldn’t have put it past him to go without food if it meant a better cut of suit.
She slid the silk tie through her fingers, a deep burgundy to match the square in the pocket of his grey suit jacket, then let go of his hand to unfasten the gold tie bar and set it aside on the desk. Plucked at the tight knot at his collar and he took a quick breath, expression smoothing out until it reminded her of one of the marble statues in the city museum, pale and sphinxlike, but he didn’t make a move to stop her. Just stood there and let her loosen his tie and peel the starched collar away from his neck, dropping it to the desk as well.
Pulling the tie free, she looped the length of it around her hands and then lifted her eyes to his, giving him plenty of time to stop her. He didn’t. He backed up a step and sank into his chair and stared up at her, chin tilted, almost a challenge, his eyes hooded and wary. Lizzie draped the tie around her own neck and left it there as she lifted her skirt and slipped out of her panties and found her thighs already damp in anticipation, sliding together as she moved. Tommy’s hands were lax on the arms of his chair and he just watched as she climbed into his lap to straddle him, the way she had that first time, and reached for the buttons of his trousers.
“Lizzie--” Ragged, like someone had already choked him.
Sliding the tie from around her neck, she looped it back around his, leagues away from a wife getting him ready for the day but similar enough to be strange, just for a moment. She paused, then, the ends of the tie gathered loosely in one hand. A flush had crept up his neck and ears to paint his cheekbones, eyes gone wide and unblinking, some emotion she couldn’t identify trying to break through.
“Do you want me to stop?” she asked.
He shook his head. “No.”
And it was easier this time. To tighten the silk around his throat, easier than using her hands alone had been. She didn’t tie a knot, too afraid of going too far, just kept the ends of the silk in one hand and slid her fist up until it brushed against the base of his throat. Then twisted her wrist, just a little, so the silk pulled tighter but he could still breathe around the constriction.
Eyelids slipping closed, lips parted, he shuddered when she pulled his cock free of his shorts, firming in her hand. He tried to swallow again and managed, just, a quiet sound escaping him when she pulled the length of silk tighter with one hand while stroking his cock with the other. His hips twitched towards her, his head dropping back to rest against the chair, and she moved with him, twisting the tie another turn, winding it around the back of her hand. This time the sound he made cut off, but she could still hear him breathing, edged with a hiss. His cock jumped when she curved her fingers around the head, smoothing the foreskin back, and then he jerked in the chair as she clenched her fist around the tie until he could make no sound at all, guiding his cock into her as she did, her own breath leaving her in a long sigh.
He kicked out this time as if struggling, but his hands never came up to stop her. Instead they brushed along her thighs and up under her skirt to grip her hips. She moved against him, his cock hot and hard in her, sliding out a little and then thrusting deeper as she bent over him, cinching the tie further. His mouth fell open like he was trying to take a gulp of air, like he was trying to scream, his chest working uselessly as his hips pumped up into her, all his control gone.
All control in the hand that had robbed him of breath and voice. Her hand.
And she didn’t know how far she could take it, how long she should go. How long he could go. He bucked upwards and she moaned and fluttered around him, nearly letting the tie slip from her grasp. Bracing herself with one hand on his shoulder, fingers digging into the muscle, she pulled the other fist to keep it tight and jammed her knees into his hips like she would a rearing horse. Until he collapsed, falling limp in the chair so suddenly she nearly tumbled off. In reaction she yanked the tie like a reign, gasping as he pulsed inside of her. Coming even as the rest of his body had gone slack, taking her with him, pleasure flooding her in warm waves that closed her eyes through the aftershocks.
Panting, she sat back, but he just lay there, his mouth still hanging open, face tilted toward the ceiling. His hands had dropped away from her, curled on either side of her thighs, and he wasn’t moving.
He wasn’t moving. Fuck.
Fuck. Had she killed him?
Jesus. The silk tie was damp and twisted in her hand and she could see it digging into the flesh of his throat and her brain reengaged enough to let go, to tear the thing away from him and drop it to the floor.
“Tommy? Fuck. Tom?”
Finally, finally, he took a too-weak sip of air then coughed, a whistling in his throat like she’d snapped something inside him. For a long time he just lay there in the chair, wheezing unevenly as she unbuttoned his shirt collar and stroked the hair back from his face. After awhile the awful sound that edged each inhale faded and he stopped working so hard for air, then he blinked up at her, emptily and without recognition.
“Jesus, Tom. Are you alright?”
He closed his eyes more deliberately this time, and when he lifted his head and opened them again, focusing on her, there was pain there so raw it terrified her into silence.
All the air in the room had fled, and it was like he’d cinched something around her throat, but he wasn’t touching her at all except for where she was touching him. She climbed out of his lap, her body confused, pussy still wet and clenching even as her stomach went acid, her chest in a vice.
His eyes were closed, head dropped back against the chair again like it was too heavy to hold up. He hadn’t made a move to put himself away, his shorts damp, his costly clothes rumpled, his hands limp on his thighs.
He was breathing, she told herself. He was breathing and his heart hadn’t stopped and this was what he’d wanted. This was what he’d fucking wanted. What she’d wanted. Wasn’t it?
“It’s alright, Lizzie,” he said finally, voice scoured thin. “It’s alright.”
He still hadn’t opened his eyes. When she touched his hand it jerked like a spasming muscle until she closed her fingers around it and held on. He didn’t squeeze back. After a long time he took a deeper breath, swallowed gingerly, and lifted his head. Eyes open, all dark pupil. Not really seeing her. Not seeing anything at all.
She let his hand go.
The next morning his voice was nearly gone and there was an ugly bruise, wide and purpling and unmistakable, above his collar. He hadn’t tried to hide it and that scared her more than when he’d gone limp in the chair. As fucking usual no one asked him a thing about it, but she caught Arthur in a worried scowl when he stopped by to pry Tommy away for a drink at the Garrison.
“Alright Tom,” Arthur said softly when Tommy declined. “You get some rest, yeah?”
Whatever Arthur thought had happened, he only shot her a commiserating glance, as if unable to imagine she’d had a thing to do with it. Some part of her wanted him to ask her if she knew, even if she’d no idea what she’d have fucking said. Certainly not the bloody truth.
It took Polly two more days to corner her, and by then Tommy’s voice was only a little hoarse, the bruise yellow-brown and on its way to fading. “Whatever it is you’re doing with him, be careful,” was all she said. The warning seemed more about disrupting whatever secret business she and Tommy’d been up to than for her nephew’s sake or Lizzie’s own, and that sparked an old resentment deep in Lizzie’s chest, edged with something newly defiant, so she didn’t respond, even in denial. Polly gave her a last searching look and didn’t say anything more about it.
A fortnight later the skin of his neck was unmarked again and it was as if nothing had happened at all. Like a scene she’d read in some torrid novel, the kind the girls had passed back and forth between tricks, giggling at the flourished inaccuracy of it all. They’d slotted back into boss and secretary, she and Tommy, strictly business, as if they’d never even fucked, let alone... what she’d done to him. Anytime her mind circled around to that night, to the feeling of the silk in her hand and Tommy kicking underneath her, she flushed hot all over and her mind blanked out and she couldn’t tell if she was turned on or wanted to scream. But Tommy wasn’t the only one able to cover over his reactions, was he. She’d had years of practice hiding her fucking thoughts from men.
He’d left early to get home to Warwickshire before Charlie was put to bed and she was digging through his desk looking for a file of invoices he hadn’t returned to her before he’d gone and there it was: the tie, burgundy silk still crumpled, coiled loosely in his drawer.
Panic shot through her, paralyzing, like she’d stumbled on a snake.
She’d done this thing. Her. Throttled Tommy Shelby while getting them both off, his life in her hands. She could have killed him if she’d wanted. Fuck, she could have killed him by accident; for a moment she’d thought she had. God knew she’d been angry at him in the past, fantasized about finding some way to hurt him until that unruffled, inscrutable nothing on his face cracked open, but when it had happened for real she’d found she never wanted to see it again.
She could take the tie, burn it, keep it for herself even, but that felt like more of an acknowledgment than she wanted to make. And besides, he might ask where it had gone. So she left it where it was and went home for the night and filled up her time with distractions and didn’t sleep a wink. The fucking tie lodged itself in her mind until it was all she could do to get through the next day with him, and it was her turn to fail to quite meet his eyes. He didn’t say anything about it, though she caught him studying her sidelong when he thought she wouldn’t notice.
She wanted to feel it again, the pull of him rearing back, mouth open as he fucked up into her, command of himself utterly lost to her. But she couldn’t shake the look that had been in his eyes after he’d come, like he thought maybe he’d died and was disappointed to learn he’d been wrong. Knew the two were woven together like silk, that she could spend years trying to unravel it and never get far enough to separate one from the other. And right now, where his head was at, he might just let her inexperience kill him.
Two days more of driving herself mad and she took out the folded paper Sally Mahoney had given her, what felt like forever ago. After Tommy left for the night, she opened his desk drawer again. The tie was still there. It slid free of the drawer and through her fingers, smoother than anything she’d ever touched just a handful of years before. Probably cost the same as her dress, the burgundy shot through with dark blue, too subtle to notice until you held it close.
Lizzie laid the paper with the names in the bottom of the drawer and placed the tie on top, folded neatly, some of the wrinkles pressed away, then closed the drawer and walked out of the room. Went home to her pretty, spacious flat with its sitting room and full kitchen and private bathroom and made herself a cup of tea, dumped a shot of rum in it, and put all thoughts of the feel of the fucking tie wrapped around her fist, of the bruises, of Tommy Shelby the gasper, out of her mind.
The next time she checked the drawer it was empty. Tommy went on treating her precisely as he always had, and if he made use of the slip of paper she’d left for him, it didn’t show above his collar.
But then, Sally would only have given her the names of professionals.