Phryne took his hand gently. “I see a very careful man, who professes to be cynical in the face of mysteries he can't explain, and claims to have no passions, in spite of a heart that runs as deep as the Pacific Ocean.”
He looked up, intending to make a joke, and found her staring at him with the most naked expression of longing he had ever seen. It unnerved him. “That's strange,” he replied, quietly deadpan, going ahead with his joke for lack of anything more appropriate to say. “All I can see is another martini.”
It was that second martini that had done it, Jack recalled. It was a three-hour drive to Queenscliff, and he had a lot of time on his hands to think. By rights, he ought to have been considering the business of this new body and the potential coin robbers, as well as the ongoing problem of who had really been behind the attempt to frame Deputy Commissioner Sanderson, and the pile of paperwork he had left on his desk without a backward glance, in his hurry to run home and grab a clean shirt and a change of underwear. But it was not business that occupied his thoughts.
He didn’t believe he had purposely been avoiding Miss Fisher, since the séance murders. It was damn near impossible to intentionally avoid Phryne Fisher, unless he up and left the country, and even then, Jack was convinced that if he was set adrift in a rowboat in the middle of the Indian Ocean, within a day, Miss Fisher would arrive on a yacht, sitting debonairly in the bow and brandishing a bottle of champagne and a smile. So no, he hadn’t been avoiding her.
But their paths had crossed with a little less frequency since that night.
“And what of your heart, Miss Fisher?” he asked, after Mr. Butler had delivered their fresh drinks and retired for the night. “Does it run as deep as an ocean? Or are there only rapids and rocks to be contended with?”
One thin black eyebrow quirked in amusement. “Are you suggesting that I’m shallow, Inspector?”
“I would never suggest such a thing,” said Jack, softly.
“…As deep. Possibly deeper.”
“You don’t know?”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve looked.” Her smile tugged at her crimson lips, but left her eyes untouched. “There are monsters there, Jack.”
Strange that it had never occurred to Jack before that precise moment that the reason Phryne Fisher preferred flings with good-looking, relatively harmless young men (and the occasional older one, if he seemed dangerous but not too dangerous) was because the last time she had been involved in anything permanent, she had been wounded, badly.
She hadn’t spoken of René Dubois since she had watched him die in the kitchen of Café Réplique, but Jack had seen her terror, and her courage, and what both had cost her. In the decade since the war, he had worked a lot of domestic violence and homicide cases, and he knew the signs when he saw them.
Jack eyed the sky with a certain dubiousness. It was getting dark, and he doubted he would make it to Queenscliff in time for dinner. Still, Miss Fisher had said her hostess had a room for him, and Mr. Butler was coming down to take charge of the household, so at least he wouldn’t have to scramble to find lodgings, and Mr. Butler would make sure he had a meal. Jack rather liked Mr. Butler.
“We all have our monsters. Our demons.” Jack sipped his drink automatically, beginning to feel the familiar heavy weight settling on his shoulders. “I find it’s better not to subject other people to them.”
“That’s very generous of you. Whereas I’ve always felt that it’s safer not to encumber myself with the demons of others. I have enough to do with being afraid of my own.” There was the barest of hesitations, and then Phryne slid her slim, manicured hand up Jack’s thigh. Her touch was light but her intention was plain, as plain as the longing that remained in her pale eyes. “Perhaps we’re both mistaken,” she said, her voice soft and steady. “Perhaps what we need is to be afraid together.”
Jack almost wished he could say he didn’t remember what happened, after that. It would have made seeing Phryne in Queenscliff a little less... fraught. But he did. He remembered with the crystalline clarity of the not-quite-drunk.
The half-full martini somehow made it back onto the coffee table, and a miraculous thing that was, because Jack’s hands were suddenly full of Phryne. His hands, his lap, his mouth, his nose and lungs overflowed with the sweet dark scent and taste of her.
Her lips were on his upper jaw, her fingers knotted in his hair. “Jack,” she purred against his earlobe, “darling Jack.”
How long had they stayed like that, locked together and trembling, bodies humming against one another? He wasn’t sure. He only knew that at some point, Phryne had murmured her desire to go upstairs. “I... should go home.”
“...Are you sure?”
“Yes.” The muscles of his jaw and neck were painfully tense. “I’m not ready for this, Phryne.”
She gripped his hand firmly, comfortingly, and then laid her cheek against his knuckles.
He still wasn’t sure if he was ready. But Phryne had summoned him to Queenscliff, and Jack found himself obeying. Not without a second thought. He’d had second, third, fourth and fifth thoughts. But in the end, he went, because she tended to be right about murders and suchlike.
The McNaster house wasn’t hard to find, being one of the biggest private residences in town, a big open airy place, right on the water. And thankfully, he was not too late for dinner.
“Miss Fisher asks me to tell you,” said Mr. Butler, taking Jack’s small bag prior to bringing it to the guest room set aside for him, “that should you require liquid refreshment, there is a basket of Veuve Clicquot in the boot of the Hispano that you are welcome to partake of.”
As a man who was often unsure when he’d have the time to eat again, Jack normally considered the acquisition of food and drink to be important focal points of his day, but he sat down to dinner completely unaware of what food he was served or what non-alcoholic libations he was being plied with. He was conscious of only two things: the facts of the case as they stood, which Gerald McNaster was relaying to him (with rather more focus on the theft and rather less focus on the disappearance of the two servants than Jack would have expected), and Miss Fisher, who was seated directly across from Jack and who was supplementing Gerald’s blustering with more pertinent facts, while sending Jack lingering glances with her pale green gaze.
Although Gerald offered to take Jack into his study to go into the case further, Jack declined. It had been a long drive for him and a trying day for everyone else, he explained, in the most officially soothing tone of voice he could muster. Far better that they should all try and get a good night’s sleep and approach the problem in the morning, with fresh eyes.
Privately, Jack anticipated getting very little sleep at all, if Phryne’s eyes were anything to go by...
“Shall I show you to your room, sir?”
“Uh...” But Phryne was saying good night to her aunt. “I think I’ll just step outside for a few minutes, Mr. Butler. Get a bit of air before bed.”
Mr. Butler nodded politely. Jack was almost sure he saw a conspiratory gleam in the old servant’s eye.
He used those few minutes to liberate a bottle of champagne from the boot of Miss Fisher’s car. His jacket didn’t exactly hide the tell-tale shape of the bottle, but it was enough to smuggle it into the house and up the stairs to the bedroom where Mr. Butler had put his small overnight case. “And should you require her, sir,” Mr. Butler added, gesturing to the door next to his, which had a light showing beneath it, “Miss Fisher’s room is just there.”
Jack swallowed. “Thank you, Mr. Butler.”
“No trouble at all, sir. Good night.”
He watched Mr. Butler depart back down the stairs, leaving him alone in the corridor.
The sane thing to do, he reflected, was to go into his room, lock the door, and drink himself to sleep. A bottle of insanely expensive champagne all to himself ought to more than do the trick...
Instead, he found himself straightening his tie and smoothing his hair, and trying to tug the front of his trousers into some semblance of decency. Either desire or sheer nerves was giving him the erection of his life... not the first time Phryne Fisher had induced that reaction, he realized. The thought drained away most of his apprehension, and it was with an almost sly smile that he was able to knock on Phryne’s door.
He met her appearance with raised eyebrows and raised bottle of champagne. “I assume this is the price needed to gain access to your boudoir?”
Phryne grinned with deep pleasure. “Normally I wouldn’t charge admission, but in a dry household…” She took firm possession of his tie and dragged him into her bedroom. “I take it you’re ready, this time?” At least, that was what Jack assumed she started to say, but he let her get no further than ‘you’re’ – instead, he caught her by the arm and pulled her against his chest, then cradled her head in his big hand as he had done once before and kissed her soundly.
Phryne seemed to come to life under his hands, to more than life. She pressed against him eagerly, opening her mouth to his explorations and knotting his fingers into his hair, pulling him even closer, as though she was trying to devour him. “Still hungry?” he gasped.
Her lips spread into an utterly indecent smile. “Of course. You’re my dessert.” She slipped her index finger beneath his tie and slowly pulled it free of his gray flannel waistcoat, rubbing the silk thoughtfully between her fingers as though she was examining its quality. There was certainly an appraising look in the eyes that peered at him from behind the curtain of her eyelashes, eyes as green and calculating as a cat’s.
“Second thoughts, Miss Fisher?” Jack asked lightly, even as his heart dropped to his shoes.
“Not on your life, Detective Inspector Jack Robinson,” she returned, saying each word with care and precision, as she had the first time she had spoken his name. Then as now, it sent a flood of heat to his groin... although now he could actually admit to himself that she was exquisite and that he wanted her. “I’m merely deciding how to proceed with this evening’s investigations.”
His heart somehow dropped even lower. “...Ah. Yes, the case. Well—”
“Jack.” Her hand on his tie went straight up to the knot, and she had him very effectively by the throat. “Not the investigation I was referring to.”
“Ah,” he breathed, feeling the blood coming back to his face.
Phryne’s teeth nibbled her lower lip. She was clearly amused by his predicament, but there was a curious sort of... restraint, Jack decided, in her manner as well. She smoothed her hands over his shoulders and arms, and took the bottle of champagne to set it carefully on a little table next to the room’s chaise lounge. “To tell the plain truth... I wasn’t entirely sure you would come.”
“When have I ever ignored a summons from you, Miss Fisher?” he asked, with his customary sideways smile, comprised of equal parts fondness and philosophical annoyance. “Especially when you ask for my help with a case. It does such wonders for my poor policeman’s pride.”
“Oh, I knew you’d come to help with the case. I always know you’ll come, when I call for help.” Her eyes softened uncertainly, and something in Jack’s middle twisted. “But I wasn’t entirely sure if you would come to me tonight.”
Jack looked at her for a moment or two, his neck and jaw tense with all the things he couldn’t say, his eyes desperate and longing and full of all the things he wanted so badly to tell her. At last, he reached for her. “How could I stay away?”