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Five by Five

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When Phryne comes, she sinks into the deep, dark well of him. The waves that break so tamely on the foreshore can swallow ships into their maw. Beneath their frothy veil, they shelter sirens and leviathans. She’d stood at the rail of an ocean liner, the stubs of land men cling to receding into dreams, and felt herself encircled by that inky underworld. It’s this infinity that crashes through her with her climax, cracks her open like a hull upon the rocks. Rapture overflows the chalice of her hips, rushes up between her ribs in a deluge, and she’s drowning.

Sure as the sea knows the rain, Jack knows before she does that tears are rising behind her sternum. When she can breathe again, when the first sob bursts free, he’s already stretched beside her and has her pillowed on his chest. The cry is its own release, a window thrown open on a dead and shadowed room, letting sunlight beam inside her body. Jack’s breath billows under her cheek. He ruffles her hair and murmurs indistinct sweetness to her forehead, the sibilant ghost of a kiss. She clutches him closer, twines a leg over his hip, and floats back up to the surface of her happiness.

Eventually, she quiets, and her hand starts to wander: his earlobe, his collarbone, his nipple. He catches her before she can arrive at the ticklish downsweep of his side. “Being the only lover who brings you to tears seems a dubious distinction,” he says.

Phryne laughs, and then she can’t stop laughing. The sound is a current arcing between them, displacing their misty stillness with its flow. Jack’s answering laugh – nearly a giggle – vibrates against her as she straddles him.

“I adore your dubiousness,” she says. She leans over until her breasts just touch him and kisses the turned up corner of his mouth. “I so relish the prospect of convincing you.”

Jack sails his hands up her thighs to tuck into the crook of her hips, an unconscious nudge toward his cock. Arching, she reaches behind her to take him in hand. “Ready to be convinced, Jack?”

His gasp, when she strokes him, is a transformation. He tenses beneath her, muscles leaden with expectation, but his arms lengthen buoyantly above his head. His eyes snap closed, all gossamer lashes, and then open onto black pools of yearning. He’s never so beautiful as in this placid pause, stripped to the bare expanse of his need and waiting there for her to cover him.

He hasn’t come – Phryne has never known a man so at war with his own pleasure. In these moments, when he’s fucked her to oblivion and left himself hard and desperate, she wonders if his orgasm in their coupling is the same yawning abyss as hers. She grips his cock, still slick from her body, and twists her hand slower than he likes it. “Jack,” she says, “I asked you a question.”

He makes a choked sound that throbs in her belly. She feels him holding himself motionless – not thrusting, not lifting his clasped fists. He takes a breath. He says, “I’m ready.”

“For the last time, Miss Fisher: No,” he said. It was no different – the way she blithely flaunted custom, the way she dazzled the constabulary, the way she breezed into his office to alight on the corner of the desk. Their professional relationship, wholly contingent and never more than tenuously licit, had felt like the proverbial apple cart. He realized, after the fact, that his workplace associates had assumed they were (as good as) lovers all along – in the sense of tacit acceptance and not of malicious rumor. For him, the room’s contours warped around her like a funhouse, with all its vertiginous wonder – but not an apple tumbled down.

Although she was, Jack noted, rather bolder with her hands (and it’s not as if she was restrained before). He trapped her fingers before they could complete a pathway from his jawbone to his collar. “I am not going to skive off the City South card game tonight,” he said.

Phryne huffed. “I’ll just have to make my own entertainment then, won’t I?” Her tone softened when he kissed the inside of her wrist. “You will come by after, Jack?” Phryne, waiting at home while he was out with the lads – well, that was a turnabout he would savor.

On her stoop, he was greeted by peals of laughter from the parlor. He found Phryne with Dot and Mac, Bert and Cec, gathered around gameboards. Having received him, Mr. Butler returned to a post as scorekeeper and, apparently, master of a vase of paper scraps.

Jack leaned on the doorjamb. “Gambling, are we? I can hardly stand for such flagrant lawlessness.”

Dot blushed a little. Bert said, “Oi, you’re one to talk, long arm of the state out front and larking at five hundred in the back room.”

“How much did you lose?” Mac asked him, raising one debonair eyebrow.

Jack drew himself into a pose of dignified righteousness. “The stakes, I’ll have you know, are taken in beer.”

Phryne had risen and skipped over to kiss him. “We’re certainly the wickeder ones, then,” she said. “We’re playing for biscuits.” She popped one into his mouth – he’d never had the moral high ground when it came to Dot’s baking.

The biscuits, the whiskey, the camaraderie are still purring in his gut when he pushes Phryne up against the wall of her bedroom (he refuses to call it the boudoir). She falls away before him sometimes like a mist, impossible to grasp and melting quickly into scintillating sun. Here, she turns solid, concrete, fleshly in his arms – her breast pillowy under his palm, her thigh hooking around his so she can drive against him. The tangibility of her need makes a startling contrast to the brazen coquetry he once knew. Her sensual assuredness is there, familiar and unnerving, but colored by a bright wash of desperation. He gets drunk on the way she trembles and keens, requiring him with a clarity unique to these unspoken times and places.

She gasps when he mouths her throat. Her skin here is delicate and taut over tendons – more sensitive, perhaps, than in the suppleness of youth. Jack sucks hard, giving her the edges of his teeth, just to hear her moan. His excitement evades his own self-knowledge (is it that he doesn’t care for the moment if he marks her, or that he actually wants to leave her with a bruise?). He understands only that he craves fistfuls of her materiality.

Phryne licks at his ear. “It’s past your bedtime, Jack.”

He flexes his hands around the swell of her arse, indulging the urge to rub his stiffening cock along her cleft. “I’ll lie in with you tomorrow.”

“Well, such decadence,” she says – rather breathlessly. “I’ll reform you yet.”

He lifts her, none too gently, and with a whimper her legs encircle his waist. “Here, Jack,” she pants. “I’m aching for you.”

When she’s fog, or flame, or flashes of wit and weapons, he has no hope of containing her. When she’s a body in his hands, though, slight and pliable to his strength, he can move or restrain her as he likes. Something else interests him, tonight, than a rut against the wall. He carries her to the bed and scatters her across the pillows.

“Undress,” Jack says. For an instant, her eyes are wide, and then they spark salaciously. She’s deft with a few fastenings, and in barely a blink the gown is over her head. He can never catch his breath, still, at the sight of Phryne in lingerie – even a simple sheath of camiknickers (silk shimmering like a second skin, peekaboo panels of lace that show her nipples, her hipbones). He watches as she unhooks the suspenders and shrugs off the straps, sliding the garment down with practiced grace. The stockings she leaves draped around her parted thighs.

His clothes are more intricate, suddenly a maze of buttons. As he wrestles out of them (jacket and waistcoat, braces and trousers, shirt and tie, socks and garters, singlet and shorts), her eyes are rapt and her fingers busy in her folds. He falls upon her, finally, pinning her wrists and pushing both knees to one side, nuzzling his face along the contrasting textures of her breasts, her stomach, her mons – a perfect vee of hair framed by her closed legs.

Phryne fights against his hold – partly, he suspects, because he likes it. (If she knows it, he should too: he likes it.) “Damn you, Jack,” she says. “Fuck me.” (He likes that as well.)

Standing, he grasps her hips and yanks her to the edge of the bed. He’s next to the nightstand – discarded jewelry, books in a stack, an arsenal of ointments and elixirs (some, he’s learned, of unexpected relevance to his pleasure), and the clamshell case to her pessary (open, empty). The elegant lamp, rendered rather comical by the ornamentation of a necktie dangling from its spire. Flung there in the heat of an especially frenzied coupling, Phryne had refused to let him reclaim it. (“How very fetching,” she’d said afterwards. “I insist that my lamp-Jack stays to console me when you’re not here.” Cheekily, she’d plucked out the rubber cap, rinsed it at the tub, and set it atop the finial like a hat.)

Jack tries not to think of her lovers – particularly not, as now, when he’s himself poised to enter her. He has only to ask, and she’ll satisfy his every curiosity with guileless candor. For the most part, he prefers not to ask. He has exacted no promises, staked no claim to their separate evenings and engagements. His tie, though, can’t be innocent – another man could hardly take kindly to finding it hung prominently at her bedside. It’s Phryne’s way, perhaps, of speaking to him of compacts he can’t articulate or request: whatever her dalliances elsewhere, her room will be his. Theirs, he thinks, as he thrusts.

She recalls her lovers photographically, a habit she’s long cultivated. The one who tore his own shirt in his fervor; the one who was completely shaved; the one who begged lyrically to be punished; the one who bit her, growling, as he came; the one whose breasts swayed as they disported, quim to quim; the one who knelt in front of her, sighed sweetly, and took her whole hand in his arse; the one (or really two) who wanted her to watch their recreation; and one (or more) for every instrument in her valise. It’s a practice of observation, a collection for her boudoir, a map to navigate far-flung networks of encounters, alternately amorous and censorious, as she travels always three steps ahead of the world.

The faces and impressions she’s kept fresh, but the haptic records – the precise sensations of the different ways they touched her – vanish like a memory on Freud’s mystic writing pad, leaving only their unconscious trace. Each time, it’s as if she’s new again, every tingle a surprise. And Jack’s electric pull perhaps the most surprising of them all. If Phryne ever was alight like this before – transistorized and in communication – it’s lost to her. Jack makes her skin, her fingertips, her lips, her beating pulse, and most especially her cunt feel like a foreign country to explore.

She’d thought she’d have to teach him – he was green in the bedroom arts, it’s true. At first, she’d used his ties, her scarves, his hair, her hands like reins to steer him toward the finish. And then, to crack his silent concentration, she’d weaved words that specified in searing detail how exactly he could bring her satisfaction. But once, at The Green Mill, having been relentlessly provoked into taking her in the lav, Jack had covered her mouth (letting her bite his palm as he captured her voice, her moans) and simply told her with his eyes precisely how he’d make her scream. She’d initiated men before, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Yet this, Phryne thinks – as Jack slides into her so slowly, every inch a kaleidoscoping landscape of delight – this experience is quite unprecedented.

“Allow me to me assist,” she says, in a flimsy show of composure. The bed is too low for him to fuck her standing up for long. His hands balance on the outsides of her knees, leaving her no purchase to shift the angle or position. She reaches for a sturdy pillow. “It helps to use the right tool for the job, Inspector.”

“That all depends on your perspective, Miss Fisher.” He wraps one arm across her thighs and lifts her hips to hover at his height. “Sometimes old fashioned muscle works as well as a contrivance.”

Phryne squirms in his grip – her legs flush to his chest, both her feet on one shoulder. He turns his head to mouth the bones of her stockinged ankle and lick the ticklish arch. She’s tight like this, with her nether parts furrowed round his length, but she can’t stretch herself to make the circuit surge and amplify at just that spot. Still, his cock ignites her, the knob hooked behind a node inside and thrumming there.

He has her at his mercy, and what’s more, the scoundrel knows it. She’s inclined to curse his precocity, but his resolute pleasure in the game is too delicious. “Always so obstinate, Jack,” she chides him. Her voracious urgency (fists grappling in the bedclothes for a way to grind herself closer) gives the lie to her high and mightiness.

“Always so impatient.” It’s gratifying that he sounds equally undone, his voice a coarse canto. “Phryne.”

Even when they were courting – and only Jack would embroil her in that ridiculous turn of phrase – he Miss Fishered her with unrelenting regularity. So that was her first little gambit: deducing the optimal methodologies to make him slip. Further schemes in her analysis succeeded this initial phase, until she was forced to accept the premise that it’s purely Jack who captivates her – his every facet, mood, and organ, but above all the modulations of his desire. Surrender isn’t her modus operandi, but to give in to Jack is hardly a forfeit or a peril. How he knows infallibly when she capitulates, well, that’s a puzzle she’ll still have to solve. Just as she decides to drop her importunities and cede herself to his pace, he moves the pillow into position and settles her hips upon it.

“I love your stockings,” he says. His hands carry the silk in their wake as they skate from her hipbones to her heels. When she’s bare, they return to clutch her knees together, recalibrating the hinge between their centers.

“I know.” She’s waiting with sublime frustration for him to resume – he fills her impeccably, and her walls clasp around him. “Let me open my legs.”

“No,” he says. She mewls when he slides out of her, but it’s only to thrust between her thighs, his cock slick along the yielding flesh, his shaft rubbing back and forth against her pearl.

“Jack,” she gasps. And then he’s back inside with a grunt, pistoning deep.

The first time he fucked her, determined and reverent, Phryne almost couldn’t breathe for the sight of him: curls shaking loose as his eyebrows and cheekbones and lips tightened with abandon, undulations of his arms and chest and shoulders as he rocked above her. His utter absorption is elemental to the way he sunders her – unerring now in ringing every bell garlanded through her muscles with his strokes.

She bites her own fist, pinches her own nipples, scratches her own stomach and moans as she looks at him – arresting. His eyes are squeezed shut in that peculiar interfusion of anguish, glory, and service to her wants. So often, with a lover, she sequences the act with the predictability of celluloid (a melodrama, a swashbuckler, a comedy) – so rarely does the film catch fire. Jack is unscripted (although she’ll make a talkie of him yet), unmooring her familiar axes and coordinates. It’s an intoxicating aether to be adrift in, with only the hum along the filament between them to orient her.

Phryne grabs at his wrists, finally, and says, “please.”

Jack tucks up her legs, holding them to her torso with long fingers around the backs of both knees. He glances down to watch himself entering her body – her folds a cradle for his turgid shaft – and groans. That alone – well that, and how he’s fucking her, hard and slow – nearly tips her over. And then he introduces his hand between them, skimming the curve of her arse to where they join, fingers spread around his cock and sliding up between her lips to touch her.

It’s vulnerable, this position: legs bent back, hips tilted up, Jack in control of every operation. The space is shortened and he’s bumping a ceiling inside her: a hidden cord of pleasure, an enigmatic nexus, the rim of her diaphragm, a vortex.

“God, Jack.” She’s close to wailing. “Stop. Never stop.”

His thumb presses on the crux of her. “Never,” he rumbles. “And always, if you ask.”

Jack has never known an ecstasy like Phryne above him. Not the elaboration of her fiendish teasing, the hours spent with his head between her thighs; not the first blush of eager love with Rosie or the fleeting thrills that (for a night) erased the war; not her soft silks and stockinged feet around his cock, even the exhilaration of unbinding his desire to ravish her – none equals the exquisite agony of how she moves on top of him. How she fucks him (there’s no other word).

Her palms dig into his pectorals where she’s braced for leverage. The weight anchors him, holds him in the naked phosphorescence of their mutual gaze. She’s a naiad – hair tangled, skin flushed, eyes hungry – making sounds of ascending bliss that would inflame Artemis herself. Jack keeps still and silent, letting her render him helpless (a promise he’s made every day since they met). Her artful hips draw spirals that caress him, taking him in and out of her by merest inches that feel like miles along his length.

“Breathe,” she tells him. When he obeys, the exhale is a moan, low and raw and terribly truthful. How appropriate that it’s her voice that does it, even more than the voluptuous action of her body.

He clings to his silence, for reasons of practicality as well as temperament. They’re rarely alone in the house, at hers, and while Phryne’s unconcerned with her staff (her family) overhearing her depravities, he certainly is not. Even with Dot at the furthest corner of the hall he has no doubt the screams could reach her room – Phryne isn’t one to be demure. He tried protesting once, and she replied, “Dot’s made of stronger stuff than you may think,” and waved her hand dismissively to add, “besides, she’s heard it all before.” What could he do but growl, “not all of it,” and proceed to prove his point.

Her sinful mouth, though, far surpasses him at commanding and conducting a chorale of sordid sounds. And not just when she uses it to lick or suck or bite until he cries out in the throes. No, it’s her profane oratory during that truly does him in:

“I missed you when you were playing cards,” she says. She’s riding him faster now, grounded where she’s holding down his upper arms. “I imagined you in the lounge with all those handsome constables, and got to wondering: how might your silly game become rather more diverting?” She tilts to take him deeper, and his voice shapes a rough vowel. “Those uniforms would make an interesting wager, so many shiny buttons to undo. And once all you blokes had gambled away your underthings, whatever would happen then?”

Phryne sits up, her muscles undulant against him. “It would be a shame to let that sturdy office table go untested.” So long she spun a siren song for him, and so long he couldn’t touch her. His wrists feel trapped and heavy, sure as if his darbys locked around them. Bucking sinuously over him, there’s a query in her eyes (they both know an answer is beyond him – for the present). “Since it’s my fantasy, I’ll have you on it, someone’s cock in your mouth and someone’s in your…” His hips give an involuntary jerk, burying him to the balls and angling him forward, and she finishes, “Oh!” Swiftly, she reaches for his nipple in a vicious twist, and there it is: his sharp bay of exultation, his body’s damned collusion with her wiles. She bends to lave the smarting bud with her tongue. Jack tells himself he’s writhing underneath her to escape the scorching sensitivity, but he only manages to bring more flesh in range of her rapacious teeth.

“Nothing to elaborate about your evening out, Jack?” Her mocking lilt is laced with florid, spicy lust. “If only I could put your pretty mouth to some more befitting purpose.” She splays a hand across his breastbone, fingertips just hinting at a circle round his throat, and lifts the other one to map his lips: the slippery inner margin, the rampart of his teeth, the darting tongue behind. He sucks her in, humming atonally along her digits, letting her explore almost far enough to gag him. She hooks his jaw from inside as she dismantles him, one serpentine stroke after another.

“Jack,” she sighs, tipping back her head to sketch a graceful arc from her ears to the shadow between her breasts. He loves her fluency in showing how she glories in him utterly (it’s that above all else that makes him want to howl for her). “That mouth,” she says, fixing him again with her predatory gaze. “How I wish there were two of me, so I could use all of you at once.” She pulls her fingers out to tease his lips in concert with her reverie. “I’d sit right here, split around your face from nose to chin, and coat your cheeks with creamy wet.” She makes a gesture in the air above his head, as if to trace a woman’s body, cants her shoulders as if they would lean in to kiss. Jack is groaning now, an eruption of the heat pooled underneath his sternum. Phryne lays herself flush along his torso, tangling her hands with his outstretched, clutches his hips between her calves and fucks him with short, quick swirls. Her panting breaths brush his neck, and it’s like she’s corkscrewing all the secret dark within him right up to the tip of his cock.

He’d have thought this sort of talk would feel debased – and if it doesn’t (or does mainly in the most delightful way), it casts their years of sparring in a different light. In retrospect, their innuendo seems perfectly indecent, if this explicit bedroom banter differs only in degree and not in kind. Perhaps it’s a similar story with her suitors: a less favored facet of the many she glints toward him, but they never really threatened to displace him from her life. Most days (when he’s not mired in a brooding undertow) he can see that liability waning bit by bit (he can see how she adores him). Still, it’s easier for him to hear about the women, as he’s sure she’s well aware. It’s illogical and retrograde, he knows – of all the distinctions amongst her paramours, sex is hardly the most salient – but the old-fashioned sensibility is his to bear. He lets himself envision her scenario – Phryne and Phryne, tumbled together in his bed – and tenses in a shudder.

The filth she plies him with is stimulus enough, but when multiplied by the physical it inevitably spells his downfall. Phryne grips his jaw in one hand, hard, pressing him into the pillow as she kisses him – a perilous and penetrating kiss. “Look at me,” she says, and stills her hips, pulling at him only with the throbbing, rippling sorcery inside her. Her mouth forms an O as she aligns his cock with some cartographic beacon, and then lifts up until the swollen ring around her opening is barely keeping hold (those two most tender parts of them in contact: the underlip of his anatomy, her arcane substratum of nerves). She drops, gravity sizzling her down his length, and for a blazing moment he thinks he might let go without her say.

Jack’s restraint has its footing sunk in the bedrock of his fundamental habits: years of ritual proficiency at denying himself Phryne, and (on behalf of Rosie) others (out of his own complicated web of fear and honor) – going back as far as wartime, when prolonging a stolen taste of pleasure could stave off crushing devastation. At first, Phryne crowned herself queen of his erection, imperious in her demands and stratagems to make him wait. Although he was a willing subject, it didn’t take her long to glean that waiting isn’t his particular challenge. With the equation overturned, and her considerable genius put unwaveringly to the task of shredding his control, their dance got far more dangerous for him (and more profound).

He’s lost the separate contours of their limbs and parts and voices, his senses all one roiling, ambrosial brew. She’s a typhoon to him, a thundering, effervescent roar that immobilizes him in the serenity at its eye.

Jack can wait for the word, but he knows that when she says it, he’ll be gone.

Phryne wakes in Jack’s arms, nested crescents lying parallel like the shoreline holds the bay. Port Phillip is just such a sheltered arch, becalmed in the embrace of Melbourne’s suburbs, and today, present as a salt-breeze that wafts the curtains. To the aboriginals it’s Neerim – a spear – as if a weapon had pierced the coast to make a harbor. The symbolism is appealing, and she wiggles her backside tighter to Jack’s hips.

He stirs and stretches, lax limbs going long and taut as he shifts onto his back. Phryne rolls to follow, propped up on an elbow to look at him. He blinks at her, drowsily, and murmurs a good morning. Her hand falls across her belly, brushing away the dried crust of his climax – she fell asleep without a wash, and in truth, she meant to.

She loves to make him suffer – his cock an instrument she plays with virtuosity – and also to luxuriate (a less comfortable mode for Jack). She’d love to make him beg, but thus far he has a greater tolerance than she does for his anguish. When her eagerness to see him shatter overtook her fascination with his straining arms, his heaving chest, his desperate moans as she rode him, she told him: “Come.” Jack flipped them to thrust once, twice, and then pull out to spill across her stomach.

It’s new, this fixation on watching himself spend, painting her with the milky tincture of his hard-won consummation. Entranced, he’d spread his essence on her skin. When he looked at her, adoring, and rubbed the evidence along her lips, she’d licked his thumb (and taste) before he kissed her.

Initiating boys – their ardent fumblings, their reverent gazes, their willing pliability, the amazed Os of their awakening. Phryne does enjoy the enterprise of guiding them, but ultimately it’s her enjoyment at the forefront. Jack is no boy, primed for her sybaritic corruption. Jack is searching his way back to his body (dispossessed of it by war, by heartbreak, by society) – unfurling into his own pleasure. It’s the first time she’s been captivated by another’s sex in quite this sense, beyond the satisfaction they can give her if they’re brought in sync. She finds herself in tune with frequencies and waves that run below the surface of conscious legibility. Jack is on an odyssey, a voyage home traversing hazards and frontiers, descending into maelstroms and crossing borders drawn to keep men from the open sea. Phryne wants to travel with him into unplumbed depths.

Remembering his face as she fucked him, and as he fucked her, she dips her fingertips between her legs. One flick, two, and she’s wet enough to raise her hand to Jack’s chest and ink him with her slickness. Angles and loops.

“Phryne,” he says, amused and gruff with sleep, “what are you writing?”

“You have to guess,” she answers, enticingly. She goes back for more of her transparent stain (and why not linger for a stroke along the velvet tissues) and starts the words again.

“‘Let’s play’?” He chuckles at her devilish nod, and takes her wrist to bring her fingers to his mouth. When he’s sucked them clean, all lush heat and clever tongue, he seems to fumble back toward waking life. “Where did you unearth that game you hosted last night, anyway? Why a lottery?”

“It’s a carnival contest, Jack, to remind us of the faire.” She traces a figure eight from one nipple to the other. “I have an American friend who writes to me about the latest styles and trends. She drew this one for me in a letter – people are playing at home, it seems, under the name of Bingo.”

“How absurd,” Jack says. His hand is roaming down the hillock of her hip, the promontory of her arse, and up the seam to plot the knobs and hollows stacked at the foundation of her spine.

“Mmm,” she says, “is it?”

Phryne kisses him and rises from the bed, padding naked to the trunk beside her vanity. The valise opens from the top and sides to reveal a complement of pockets, holsters, and compartments. She remembers, with combined remorse and merriment, the day Dot came in to tidy and found the hinge ajar – she crouched before Phryne could divert her and gave a yelp, scrunching shut her eyes against the sight (cryptic, perhaps, but unmistakable as lewd devices). “It’s common hospitality, Dot,” she said, unable to resist a hint of wickedness. “I must be equipped to cater to all conceivable preferences of my overnight guests.” After that, Dot left the case alone, and Phryne tried to keep it latched. Jack, well, he’d never inquired, despite his probing nature. Too much in the boudoir that was sensual, bewildering, and simply her to occupy the lion’s share of his attention, surely. On several notable occasions she’d placed a selection by the bed, and he had yet to protest her experiments. But she’s been hiding something in there, just for him, and it’s high time for him to glimpse the armory in store.

She folds herself cross-legged on the rug and waves him a come hither. More modestly, he dons a robe – the men’s variety, although she loves him in her silk kimonos – before he settles on the floor beside her. She cracks the lid and watches as his face goes slack when he discerns the contents (shafts of every contour; leather straps to facilitate or restrain; implements to strike or scratch or squeeze; apparatuses metal or electrical – all tucked away below the small utensils in the tray on top). What she wants is slotted at the side – a flat, square board, innocuous compared to all the rest.

“Are you trying to scandalize me, Phryne Fisher?” Jack says – he regains his footing quickly, bless him. He pulls the doors apart to get a better peek.

“Oh, not yet,” she answers, in a honey voice. “I have a present for you, though.”

Jack lifts an eyebrow, and she passes him the card: fully custom-made, leather-backed on wood and letterpressed paper for the front. A grid, five by five, squares printed with words instead of numbers.

Jack’s fingers rub the slightly textured lettering, and he blushes.

“Play Bingo with me, Jack?” she says, leaning back and insinuating her toes underneath his dressing gown.

He looks at her, a portrait of lust warring with uncertainty. He swallows hard, and clears his throat. “Very few of these exploits, as you’re aware, fall within my past experience. And plenty exceed my powers of imagination.”

Phryne’s heart is beating fast, and she forges on with breathless gentleness. “Expanding that experience – and imagination – has been a triumph thus far, don’t you think? And I have ample research material on hand to edify you, never fear.” Her foot teases higher up his thigh, and he doesn’t move to stop her. “You don’t have to try them all, you see – the challenge is to complete a line of five.”

Jack bends to hoist her closer, right onto his lap. His palm follows her shoulder down to cup her breast – she feels an erection stir beneath her, and she knows gleefully that she has him. “And if I accept this challenge,” he asks, “to commit these unspeakable acts with you, what’s my prize in this arrangement?”

Phryne kisses him – she can’t help it, when his eyes make promises like that. Slow and deep and ripe with every word she’ll share with him in their unfolding future, when he’s thoroughly prepared to hear it.

She breaks away to gaze at him, thumbs cradling his jaw and fingers fondling the hair and bone and muscle at his nape. She smiles. “Well, in addition to the myriad pleasures I’m quite certain you’ll endure, there’s gentleman’s choice for you in the center.” Jack shifts her slightly, and she reaches for his cock. “And I’m no stranger to these proclivities, you know – I can pledge that every square comes with a story."

graphical rendition of the bingo card - see the companion post with challenge info for a text table