Chapter 1: Pencil Full of Lead
"Best of all, I've got my baby,
She's mighty fine and says she's all mine,
And nothing's going to bring me down."
- Pencil Full of Lead, Paolo Nutini
The nib of the pencil scratched over the surface of the paper, leaving behind a trail of flowing script. The pencil paused, lifted, then set down and continued its path across the page.
Paul Temple was writing again.
Steve couldn't help but watch her new husband as he wrote. She'd never seen him in the middle of a novel, and she found it fascinating. In her line of work, the copy of the story would be typed and sent off to the editor as soon as it was finished. Time was of the essence and she was so used to the hustle-bustle of the Evening Post offices and London that she was still adjusting to the peace and tranquillity of Bramley Lodge, her new home.
Temple's process was as laid back as life in the country; jotting notes down in a little book or nearest piece of paper, maybe dictate a chapter or two, or even (especially recently) use her typewriter to get things down in hard copy.
It was all very civilised.
So fascinated was she that it took a while for her to realise that her husband was stopping his writing every so often to study her, then would start scribbling again. She blinked, focused on him, and frowned. "What are you doing?"
Temple gave her a mysterious smile. "Writing, of course."
"A novel, I hope." The smile turned smug, and she was baffled.
"Why do you keep looking at me then?"
Now the smile turned into a full-blown grin. "Oh, I'm thinking of including a heroine in this one."
"Really?" She was intrigued, and marked her place in the book she was reading to give him her full attention. "You're not going to start writing romances, are you?" She hoped not. In her opinion it was only women who could really write romances.
"Good Lord, no. I don't have a romantic bone in my body."
Privately, Steve thought he'd proved that wrong the night before, but she kept that quiet. "So what's it about?"
"It has jewel thieves, old English inns, mysterious old ladies and pigeons," he winked, eliciting a delighted laugh from her. "I'm thinking the heroine is an intrepid journalist from Fleet Street, who appeals to the hero for help."
Now she was amused, and she could see Temple was thoroughly enjoying teasing her. Setting her book down and uncurling her legs from under her, she stood and moved over to where he was sitting in an overstuffed armchair. He reached out and swiftly tugged her down onto his lap and she obligingly snuggled into him.
"Mmm, I like the sound of this one. Do tell me more about this heroine..."
He chuckled. "Well..." he pretended to think hard, wrapping his arm around her waist. "She's headstrong, impetuous, stubborn, won't take no for an answer, always getting herself into trouble and needs to be rescued more than once..."
"Beast!" she slapped the back of her hand lightly against his chest. "Sounds like your hero has his hands full..."
"Oh, he does, but he doesn't mind. She's beautiful too, so that more than makes up for her character."
She rolled her eyes, earning a light tug on her hair. "Tell me, does the girl get the hero in the end?"
"Hmm...I'm not sure yet."
"Surely they get married?"
"Well, I suppose they could. But of course she'd be the one to propose. She's very forward!"
Tucking her head under his chin, Steve laughed again. "Well of course she would – they'd never get anywhere if she left it up to him!"
"True." He set his notebook down, noting absently he'd need to sharpen his pencil from all the notes he'd been taking. It would be more of a novel based on true events than one of his own creations this time; he found this case had been intriguing and wanted to share it with his readers.
"Well, why don't you introduce them and see what happens?"
He glanced down at her and smiled. "Why don't I?"
Pryce tapped lightly on the door of the sitting room, standing silently until he was summoned.
"What is it, Pryce?"
He leaned towards the door so his master would hear him, understanding he'd have been called in if Temple wanted him to enter. "It's your publisher, sir. Are you available to take a call from him?"
There was a pause, then, "Not now, Pryce. I'm about to introduce Paul Temple to Steve Trent."
Pryce bowed and moved away down the passage to the soft sounds of feminine laughter.
Chapter 2: Et Alia
Gingerly, he went round to the front and opened the bonnet. A series of wires surrounded a piece of machinery and even if he couldn't identify the type he knew exactly what it was.
Author's Note: Just addressing something I've always wondered about. 'Et alia' is the Latin for 'and others' without a specific subject gender (neutral as opposed to the masculine 'et alii' or feminine 'et aliae'). Thanks to my Dad for taking one look at Steve's car in the film 'Send For Paul Temple' and identifying it instantly!
Steve's MG made its way smoothly down the narrow lanes towards Evesham, Paul Temple at the wheel. Steve herself was sat in the passenger seat, enjoying the early evening breeze playing through her hair. Summer was on its way and the evenings were warm enough to keep the roof down.
Temple was silent, watching the road and Steve knew he was mulling over the recent information he'd been given by Sir Graham, pertaining to the case they were knee-deep in. There were two murderers on the loose and while the net was closing in on one, the other had completely eluded Scotland Yard's attempts to unmask them. Steve and Temple were heading back down to Bramley as Temple had some reference material there he'd need.
As the sky darkened, Steve allowed her mind to wander. Temple suddenly blinked rapidly, coming out of his thoughtful trance, and turned to her.
"What was that, darling?"
Steve laughed and shook her head. "Did I say that out loud? I was just thinking."
He smiled, keeping his eyes on the road. They were only a few miles out now, and he was looking forward to getting some rest before heading back up to London again the next day. "Well?"
She shrugged lightly. "Just wondering why we've never had children."
Temple paused for a moment, then imitated her shrug. "We've never really thought about it before, or had the time." He turned a curious gaze on her. "Why?"
She touched her hand to his arm reassuringly. "It was just a thought that occurred; nothing serious."
He chuckled, covering her hand briefly with his, then resting it back on the steering wheel. "You do pick your moments, darling, don't you!"
Smiling, she leaned over and kissed his cheek. "You know me." Pulling back, she turned to watch the trees lining the lane as they passed and the two of them slipped back into a comfortable silence.
Before long they reached the little bridge at the end of the long drive up to Bramley Lodge. There was a car parked up a short distance from it, and Temple frowned. "Hello, what's this?" He slowed the car down, and Steve took the opportunity to check the number plate.
"Paul, it's that car that followed us from Lewisham back to the apartment the other day!"
"Well then, we'd best have a chat with the driver." He pulled the MG over and noted it was a Triumph Gloria – a couple of years old with some dents in the front. There was a dark figure in the driver's seat, and as he switched the engine off and stepped out of the car, Temple realised they didn't move.
"Stay there, Steve. Something's not right." In all fairness the figure may just have been sitting quietly but he didn't want to risk Steve as well as himself if there was something wrong.
"Be careful, Paul." Nodding, he approached the driver's door and opened it slowly, eyes on the figure the whole time. As he did, the figure slumped forward and he could see the gunshot wound, blood spreading across the back of the jacket. A glance at the face told him everything he needed to know.
"Good grief, it's Sergeant Townsend! He must have been trying to warn us – he told me he wanted to meet me when we got back to London!"
Steve was itching to join him, and carefully stepped out of the MG and over to his side. "That must have been why he was following us that evening – either he knew something and was put off coming in when he saw Doctor Fields was there, or there was someone else on our tail."
Temple looked over at her. "Good thinking, Steve – I did notice a tail that night but then you said you saw this car and I assumed it was just this one." Before she could say anything else, something caught his attention. She opened her mouth and he cut her off. "Shh, listen."
She tilted her head to one side and heard it; the faint sound of ticking. "Paul...that doesn't sound good."
Gingerly, he went round to the front and opened the bonnet. A series of wires surrounded a piece of machinery and even if he couldn't identify the type he knew exactly what it was.
He grabbed her hand and they made a dash for it, heading away from the two cars and bridge. The latch on the bonnet had triggered the short timer and just when they were far enough away, the explosion went off and they went down in a heap, Temple moving to cover his wife with his body. The sound echoed around like thunder, and the heat washed over them causing his lightweight coat started to smoke. He rolled off Steve, checking she was all right, and sitting up to pat at the patches of fabric.
Steve sat up next to him, looking out over the chaos in dismay. There was nothing left of the Triumph, and her MG was reduced to a mere lump of charred fabric and metal. Twisted metal from the Triumph was scattered in a circle radiating out from its original position. The grass was on fire to one side of the bridge. "My car..." she murmured.
Temple put his arm around her and tucked her into his side. "That, my darling, is why we've never had children."
Chapter 3: Epaulettes
Had she taken the time to glance back down after everyone had left the graveside, she would have seen her marigold was completely buried under the elegant flowers, with just a small gold petal glinting hopefully up at her.
Author's Note: I wanted to address the fact we don't know much about Steve's family (or Temple's, for that matter) and played with the fact she never actually goes back to her original name, Louise Harvey, after Max Lorraine dies.
The day had dawned overcast and chilly, and by eleven o'clock it hadn't improved much. The churchyard was gloomy on a good day, but Louise Harvey (she'd decided to think of Steve Trent as her future and today was definitely about her past) found that it was decidedly unnerving; the tall thick pine trees casting areas of dark shadows where they clumped together, the gravestones looming ominously between them.
She was used to death – as a crime journalist she'd been present any a fair few murders – but today was different. It was Gerald Harvey, her brother, being laid to rest in the deep grave before her, and for once the death was so personal it was inescapable.
The service had been completed in the church and now the mourners gathered out in the graveyard, surrounding the neat hole with the coffin balanced over it. The vicar stood at one end, droning the final few words of blessing, but she hardly heard any of it. Paul Temple stood to her right and slightly behind her, his solid presence and warm hand at the small of her back steadying and comforting her.
The rest of her and Gerald's family stood around her. To any other observer the group was close and supportive, but the way they cast disapproving glances her way and the small yet telling distance between the way they huddled amongst themselves and left Temple and herself in the open spoke volumes of the attitudes towards her. In their traditionalist minds, Gerald had been a hero gunned down in the line of duty (never mind it had been off duty in a small out of the way inn by a rather disgraceful little fellow) and Louise was partly at fault. Her choice of career path was a bone of contention in her family; one that had only been fully supported by Gerald himself.
A gentle nudge brought Louise's mind back to the present, and she realised the vicar had stopped talking and the coffin was slowly being lowered into the hole. She turned her head to cast a grateful glance at Temple but caught the red-rimmed glare of her mother instead. Unconsciously she took a step back and found herself closer to Temple. His hand slid round her waist until his arm was completely around her and he squeezed lightly, letting her know he'd seen the exchange.
She'd warned him about the animosity in her family; her father had died when she was very young and Gerald had taken on the man-of-the-house duties. Louise herself had been expected to marry into a fairly wealthy family to support her own, and her decision to move to London and work on the Evening Post was one met with a great amount of disappointment. Temple had assured her that since he didn't have much family – his parents dead, no siblings – the opinions of her own family didn't change the way he felt about her. She hadn't had the courage to ask him exactly how he felt about her, despite the flirty banter and time spent together since the Max Lorraine case had been closed.
Clutching the small marigold she held in her lightly shaking hand, Louise stepped forward to the edge of the grave. The coffin lay silently at the bottom, and for a fleeting moment she expected the lid to fly open and her brother to jump out shouting, "Surprise!" But the hardwood lid stayed closed and unmoving, the only sound being the marigold hitting the surface as she let it fall from her fingers. Her mother had complained when she'd seen it ("marigolds have no place at a funeral") but Gerald had always likened her sunny disposition to the cheerful flowers and she knew he would have appreciated the personal touch.
When she stepped back to the other mourners drop their flowers, willing away the tears that were threatening, she saw the long-stemmed roses and large white lilies. Had she taken the time to glance back down after everyone had left the graveside, she would have seen her marigold was completely buried under the elegant flowers, with just a small gold petal glinting hopefully up at her. But by then she was greeting the crowd of well-wishers, Temple firmly at her side. Childhood friends, most of Scotland Yard and the few friends Gerald had made since moving into an apartment building in the more popular area of London all stopped to give her, her mother and the rest of the family their condolences, and again she found herself fighting tears. She would not cry in front of them.
Temple's hand found its way to the small of her back again, and combined with the gentle smile he sent her way, she found the press of tears eased a bit and her strength renewed.
The wake was being held at Bramley Lodge at Temple's insistence, as it wasn't too far away from the church and her family home. There were hotels and inns close by (although, unsurprisingly, the Little General was not on the recommended list provided by Temple) for those that needed somewhere to stay, and everyone else were able to make the trip back up to London in good time.
Cars had been organised by Sir Graham, and Pryce's catering skills had been put to the test to provide enough buffet food for the masses. When Louise had spoken to him quietly and said if he'd needed an extra pair of hands she'd happily hire a caterer to take the pressure off him, he'd told her in no uncertain terms he wouldn't hear of it and had proceeded to chase her out of his kitchen.
After the toasts had been toasted and people had started to move towards the long trestle tables set up in the dining room, Louise stepped outside. Breathing in the fresh air, she moved over to the table and set of chairs and sat down, allowing her mind to wander. She knew she only had to get through the rest of the day and wouldn't have to worry about facing her family for a long time. The church service had been organised by her mother and aunt, but Temple had offered to host the wake for them and the two women had been unable to resist his charms, knowing he'd been an acquaintance of Gerald's. Once his connection to Louise had come to light, it had been too late and now Temple was just regarded with a mix of suspicion and awe.
Two of Louise's girl-friends from her school days stepped out and approached her, settling themselves down in the seats opposite her. One had briefly been courted by Gerald, but now both were happily married; one to a banker and one to a salesman.
"Louise, darling, we wondered where you disappeared to!" one drawled.
She tilted her head up and gave them a small smile. "I just needed some air. It was getting rather stuffy in there. How are you both?"
"Oh, we're terribly shocked by all this, naturally." The brunette, one Lucy Gable, patted lightly at her hair. Her companion, Nancy West, nodded in agreement.
"Your mother wrote to us and told us what happened. You never expect these things to happen to someone you know," she added.
"Of course," Lucy continued, "police work is such a terribly dangerous business. My Jonathan would never put himself in such a position!"
"Just think of all the family!" Nancy agreed. "There's so much hassle in all the formal arrangements after death. Daniel says it generates so much paperwork, and that's just in the bank for the finances!"
That was what Louise was dreading. She'd have to go to London for the reading of the will, and although she'd managed to book a later appointment with the solicitor who'd happily go through the salient points with her without the rest of the family present, she still dreaded the backlash that would inevitable arise after they found out how much Gerald had left her. He'd sat her down when they were deep in the Max Lorraine case and informed her that he'd filed his will just in case something happened to him, and he intended to make sure his younger sister was well-cared for.
That 'something' had happened.
"Now, Louise, do tell us what you are up to these days. We haven't heard from you in such a long time, and you mother only writes on occasions such as these." Nancy's voice broke into her thoughts, and she caught the enquiring looks of the two women. She wondered how sincere they were.
"I write for the Evening Post."
"A newspaper?" It was said with disdain, and she regretted not just standing up and wandering back into the house. At least Temple was in there.
"Yes. I write book reviews and crime reports." Her adventurous nature had discovered a thirst for more challenging stories when she had started on the paper, and the crime reports appealed to her love of problem-solving.
"Crime?" Lucy's tone was almost identical to Nancy's and Louise began to wonder if they could actually manage anything other than superiority and disdain. "Journalism is such a pushy job."
"I thought only men were proper journalists," Nancy pondered. "Obviously women are the 'agony aunts', as men can't write about love or anything."
And the two women descended into chatter about husbands and love and their homes, reminding Louise exactly why she lost contact with them. She no longer shared their shallow ambitions of handsome husbands, perfect children and neat show-homes, and they would never understand her need for something more in life. Tiring of them, she looked back at the house hoping to catch Temple's eye and convey her need for rescue, but to her surprise she saw Sir Graham Forbes heading her way. His presence caught the attention of Nancy and Lucy, and they stared up at him in awe.
"Ladies." He nodded respectfully at them and they fluttered. "I wonder if I could have a chat with Steve for a moment?"
For all their dizziness, they realised that was a subtle request for them to leave, and they stood, mouthing "Steve?" at each other. They could be heard as they moved into the house murmuring to each other.
"Why did he call her 'Steve'?"
"It's such an ugly name, don't you think?"
"It's a man's name!"
Louise – no, Steve – turned to Sir Graham and smiled gratefully at him. "Thank you, you may have just saved me from a night of endless boredom."
He chuckled. "I saw you out here and thought you might need rescuing. Temple was all set to jump on his white steed and charge out here but I wanted to talk to you anyway."
Steve felt something unidentifiable run through her at the thought of Paul Temple astride a white steed and it was not without a small amount of difficulty that she focused back on Sir Graham's words.
"What can I do for you, Sir Graham?"
"Actually, Steve, I wanted to give you something." He reached into his uniform pocket and pulled out a small, neatly wrapped package. "No, don't open it now," he said as she moved to tug at the tape. "Later, in private. I know Superintendent Harvey would want you to have it. His personal effects were released today and his mother has most of them," here he gave a slight grimace, "at her most insistent requests. This I saved for you." He stood, patting her hand affectionately, and as she looked up into his warm, smiling eyes, she realised that she had made another friend.
"Come inside soon, Steve, don't catch a cold."
She took a minute to gather herself as she watched him retreat back into the warmth of the house, tucked the package into her jacket pocket, and stood. Temple was at her side almost immediately she stepped through the door, offering her a drink.
"Are you all right, Steve?"
"I'm fine, Paul. I just needed a moment and it was hijacked."
He chuckled, his hand moving to its customary place at the small of her back, and she found herself relaxing a little. She liked his tendency to touch her whenever possible; a brush of his hand against hers, a light squeeze of her arm, and the gentle guidance of his palm against her back. Her observations of him with other women revealed he hardly ever came into contact with them, and she felt a small thrill at the implication. "If Sir Graham hadn't said he'd check on you, I'd have been out there like a shot."
"I know, he said." She found herself smiling softly again. "My hero."
He gave her a searching look, then smiled suddenly. "Stick with me. I'll protect you from the hordes."
And as she turned with him to face the throng of people wanting to talk about how wonderful Gerald had been, she laughed lightly.
It was a sound she hadn't heard for a while.
It was dark when the last well-wisher left. The family had felt it their duty to stay 'til the end and there was an uncomfortable moment when it had been her and Temple facing her mother, aunt, uncle, and few cousins she had. Her uncle had stepped forward.
"Louise, you'd best get in the car. We have dinner reservations at the inn."
She'd bit her tongue to stop the biting remark that wanted to escape. Temple had answered for her at her lack of reply, calmly stating that she was staying with him, there at Bramley Lodge.
"Now look here, Temple. We're grateful that you hosted the wake for us but Louise is family and you can't just make decisions for her without consulting us –"
This time, Steve couldn't stop the sharp retort. "Stop. You don't make decisions for me any more. Paul asked me if I'd like to stay a while ago and I said yes. None of you really consider my family any more so there's no point pretending. My relationship – whatever nature – with Paul is none of your business." She sniffed, fighting back the tears that were once again threatening. "We tolerated one another for today, and now it's over. You won't have to worry about seeing me again."
She was unaware that during her short speech Temple had moved closer to her and jumped slightly when he put his arm around her and tugged her against his side. She settled into him, resting her head on his shoulder, leaving the family (and Steve herself) in no doubt as to the exact nature of her relationship with Paul Temple.
"I think you'd better leave now," Temple stated in a calm, smooth tone that left no room for argument. They went, not a word more to Steve as they left, and Pryce watched them carefully through the grille-covered window in the front door once it was shut firmly behind them.
Steve breathed a sigh of relief and slumped against Temple, allowing the fatigue of the day to overtake her. Temple merely turned her in his arms and held her for a moment, burying his nose in her hair and breathing in her scent.
"What are you doing for the two weeks you have off?"
The Evening Post proprietor had given her two weeks' leave and Temple knew she'd be at a loose end without her work to bury herself in.
"I haven't really thought about it yet..."
She tilted her head up. "Are you sure?"
"Yes. I want to spend more time with you, and you need a break." He dropped a light kiss onto the crown of her head and she smiled. "Come on, Steve, let's get you to bed."
Pryce stepped into the room and bowed respectfully. "Shall I make up the spare room, sir?"
When Steve pulled back slightly to look at him as he hesitated, he studied her briefly and then shook his head decisively. "No, Pryce. She'll be staying with me tonight."
It wasn't until later, when she was curled up next to the warm body of Temple, that she remembered the package Sir Graham had given her earlier that day. She retrieved it and slid back under the covers, Temple moving to look at her.
"What's that?" he asked, sleepily.
"Sir Graham gave it to me. He said Gerald would have wanted me to have it." She unwrapped it slowly, and when something slipped out and fell into her hand, she let out a soft "oh!" of surprise.
Two dark epaulettes sat staring up at her, bearing the red and silver crown insignia of Superintendent Gerald Harvey's rank.
It was then, safely cocooned in Paul Temple's arms and away from prying eyes that Louise Harvey – from then on, Steve Trent – allowed herself to grieve properly for her brother, and let the tears fall.
Chapter 4: No Good
When Paul Temple bought Steve Trent a dozen long-stemmed red roses, she thought he was up to no good.
When Paul Temple bought Steve Trent a dozen long-stemmed red roses, she thought he was up to no good.
When he bought her a new evening dress, shoes and accessories and told her to wear them that night as he'd booked a table at one of the most exclusive restaurants in London, she thought he was up to no good.
When he bought a bottle of vintage champagne, told the waiter they were celebrating (and then refused to say what) and wined and dined her over a beautifully decorated table complete with elegant, lit candles, she thought he was up to no good.
When he led her out onto the dance floor, held her close and swayed with her to the soft strains of romantic music until the early hours of the morning, she thought he was up to no good.
And when he took her home, ignored all her attempts to find out exactly what they were celebrating (and why, all of a sudden, had he developed a romantic streak) and proceeded to make passionate love to her until she almost forgot her own name, she thought he was up to no good.
But when, the next morning, he brought her breakfast in bed and made some reference to the fact she'd jokingly proposed to him and he'd not said no; and when she cracked open her egg to a beautiful ring nestled in some cotton wool and he'd just looked at her and said, "Every proposal needs a ring," that's when she knew he was up to no good.
And she liked it.
Chapter 5: At It Again
They were at it again.
They were at it again.
As Charlie washed and stacked the dishes, he could hear through the kitchen door Steve Temple telling her husband – in no uncertain terms – to put her down that instant, or...
"Or what?" Paul Temple's voice was amused, and the 40-year-old Cockney manservant could imagine the smirk that adorned his master's features as Steve wriggled uselessly in his strong arms.
The draining board was quite near to the door, and in two strides Charlie was next to the doorway, holding a tea towel in one hand and a glass in the other.
"Or, Mr. Paul Temple, novelist and criminologist extraordinaire; you'll be sleeping on the settee tonight."
Charlie muffled a laugh as he leant closer to the crack between the slightly open door and the frame, absently drying the glass tumbler in his hands.
"You wouldn't," was Paul's uncertain reply.
She would. She had done it before. Mind you, it had been when Paul had crawled back in from another book launch party his publisher had thrown (Steve had deigned not to attend) that went on until the early hours of the morning. He had unfortunately woken her up, and when she smelt the whisky on him – even though she knew her husband was a careful drinker and he wasn't totally drunk, just rather merry – she had banished him to the settee. But still, it all came to the same thing. Even Sir Graham Forbes, the Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Force at Scotland Yard, would follow orders without question when Steve was in this type of mood. No one argued with her.
"Paul..." came her warning tone, but any reply was drowned out by a sudden loud crash as the glass Charlie had been holding slid out of his grasp and hit the floor, shattering on impact. Guiltily, Charlie leapt back from the door as it swung open to reveal a stunned and exasperated Paul Temple.
"Really, Charlie, that's the second glass you've dropped this week," he said, amidst his wife's laughter from behind.
"Darling, you shouldn't complain; Charlie's just saved you from a night on the settee," Steve told Paul.
And suddenly Charlie found himself under the suspicious scrutiny of his master, while over Paul's shoulder Steve's eyes twinkled with amusement.
"Have you been listening at the doors again, Charlie?"
Chapter 6: Strength
He was almost at the end of the passage and was close to the door of the bedroom when he felt a blast and heard ahead of him a loud explosion. Steve's scream reached him against a background of crashing china and breaking glass.
Author's Note: Set in the middle of the Margo Mystery, using the book as reference for the first section.
Paul Temple checked his watch before he put his key into the lock of the front door. It was ten to one and the apartment building was eerily silent.
"I expect Charlie's in bed," Steve whispered from behind him as the door swung open, revealing the hall light.
"No I'm not, Mrs Temple," said their manservant, emerging from the kitchen with a self-righteous air. The 40-year-old was loyal and a good friend, and Temple enjoyed the way Charlie and his wife were constantly teasing each other. "The phone's been ringing off the hook for the last hour but every time I answer it they ring off. I was just making myself a nice cup of tea. Would you like a cup, sir?"
"No, thank you, Charlie. I'm more in the mood for a whisky and soda. What about you, Steve?"
But Steve was more interested in the patterned box tied up with ribbon which was standing on the hall table. "What's this box, Charlie?" Then her face lit up with anticipation. "Oh, it's my dress – the one from Daphne Drake's!" She ran her fingers over the ribbon. "I'm going to try it on."
"At this hour of the morning?" Temple raised his eyebrows. Steve sent him a mischievous look.
"I'm not at all tired. You might want to pour yourself a stiff one, darling. You'll need it when I tell you how much I paid for the dress." And clutching the box, she disappeared down the passage that led to the master bedroom and two dressing rooms.
Amused and mildly worried, Temple glanced at Charlie in time to catch him as he cast his eyes to heaven at the unpredictability of women. Chuckling, Temple sauntered into the sitting room to pour his whisky and soda, then changed his mind and picked up the brandy. He'd probably need something stronger when Steve told him the price.
He was in the middle of pouring it when the phone rang, startling him. He jerked slightly, spilling some of the liquid over the side of the glass. Cursing softly (Steve would scold him if she heard), he set the bottle down.
"You want me to get that, Mr Temple?" Charlie's voice floated through from the kitchen.
"No, it's all right, I have it." Frowning as he checked his watch – nearly one in the morning! – Temple picked up the receiver. His first thought was that they had the wrong number, as the bleeps and clinks told him they were calling from a payphone.
"Hello – is that Mr Temple?" asked a woman's voice – one he knew he had heard before.
"Speaking. Who is this?"
"Margo?" Temple repeated. He had identified the voice now; he was sure it was Mrs Fletcher, the owner of the garage at Westerton.
"Mr Temple," she said urgently, but still trying to disguise her voice. "Don't let your wife open that box–"
"Which box? Do you mean the one from the dress shop?"
"Yes! Don't let her touch it, Mr Temple – whatever you do, don't let her open it!"
Temple did not wait to hear any more. He banged the receiver down and dashed for the door. As he reached the hall he was already shouting at the top of his voice.
"Steve! Don't open the box–"
He was almost at the end of the passage and was close to the door of the bedroom when he felt a blast and heard ahead of him a loud explosion. Steve's scream reached him against a background of crashing china and breaking glass.
The blast had slammed the door shut but Temple shoved it open again, desperate to get into the bedroom. Charlie was hot on his heels, and took a moment to survey the room – which was in chaos – before he spotted what his master was looking for.
Temple turned his head and caught sight of pale flesh against the carpet. Rounding the bed in two strides he found his unconscious wife, half clothed, sprawled on the floor by the doorway to her dressing room. "Steve? Steve!"
Panic and anger warred inside him, and he gently moved her to check her over. There were bruises and scratches marring her creamy skin where raining debris had caught her, and there was a thin cut on her forehead. A quick glance told him it was just a light scratch and wouldn't need stitches.
"Charlie, call Sir Graham. Tell him we need an officer here, now. And get a doctor sent over too!" he ordered. Charlie was out the door before he had even finished his first sentence but he knew the manservant would do exactly what was needed. He was almost as protective of Steve Temple as her husband.
Temple turned his attention back to his wife. Running his hands over her to ensure there were no broken bones or other injuries he may have missed, he stood and fetched a robe from his dressing room, knowing hers would most likely be in pieces. Gathering her gently in his arms, he slipped in on her and covered her up, then picked her limp form up and carried her over to the bed.
"Steve? Wake up, darling, I need to know you're all right."
She didn't respond and he frowned, hoping she hadn't taken a serious hit to the head.
"Sir Graham's on his way. He's bringing two officers and a doctor with him, sir." Charlie's voice came from the doorway. Temple looked up to meet his concerned gaze. "Is she all right?"
Before he could reply, Steve stirred, and all his attention was focused on her. "Steve?"
"Paul?" her voice was weak, and her eyes fluttered open, taking a moment to focus properly. She tried to sit up, and found herself suddenly enveloped in a pair of strong, familiar arms.
"Easy, darling, you've had a shock." His voice was steadier now, and to Steve the comforting tone was calming.
"Paul, what happened?" She rested her head against his chest, closing her eyes against the pounding in her head.
"What do you remember?" he asked softly, taking the cloth Charlie offered and using it to gently clean the cut on her forehead. She winced at the cold touch.
"I – I don't know. I took the box into the dressing room, and started to change. I had just lifted the lid when I heard you shouting, and – oh, god –" she stopped suddenly, sitting up properly with a start to take in the scene before flinching and pressing her hand to her head.
"Careful, Steve, you've been hit by something." Temple reached for her to pull her back against him again, and she went willingly. From her vantage-point she could see her devastated dressing room. The box had disappeared completely, and a circle of destruction radiated outwards from the dressing table where it had sat. Charlie offered her a glass of water and she took it gratefully. "I remember it felt like someone was pushing me from behind – I started to fall...and then I don't remember anything else." She started to shiver and Temple held her tighter in concern – a sure sign she was going into shock.
It didn't take Sir Graham Forbes long to arrive; at that time in the morning there was hardly any traffic on the roads, but he had taken the extra precaution of turning the lights and sirens on. Charlie hadn't mentioned much in his phone call – just that there had been an accident and Mrs Temple was hurt – but it was enough to warrant breaking the speed limits.
Charlie answered the door and ushered them inside, but one of the officers remained outside to field questions from curious neighbours woken up by the explosion, and to reassure them everything was under control.
The first thing Sir Graham saw was the destruction in the master bedroom. The window was shattered, letting a chilly draught in, and there were chunks of wood from the doors of cupboards scattered everywhere. Steve's clothes were in tatters and strewn across the floor amidst shards of glass and remnants of china figurines.
Charlie was now hovering by the bedside table, watching his master and mistress with concerned eyes, and Temple himself was sitting on the bed with his arms protectively around his wife, his face tense. Steve was bundled in a dressing gown that looked far too large for her – most likely Temple's, he deduced – and was shivering.
The doctor immediately stepped past him and went to Steve's side, and Temple reluctantly moved away to let him tend to her. He stood by Sir Graham as the second officer took out his notebook and started recording the scene.
"Is Steve all right, Temple?" Sir Graham spoke first, studying the novelist.
"I think so. She gave me a fright when I found her lying on the floor but I think she was far enough away when the explosion occurred to gave got away with minor cuts and bruises."
Sir Graham nodded, waiting for the doctor to finish his check-up and report. He was fond of Steve Temple; having known her from the day she and Paul had met, and knew they were good team.
When the doctor stood and declared Steve was just suffering from mild shock and that her abrasions would heal quickly, Sir Graham saw Temple relax ever so slightly, and nodded. "Thank you, Doctor. Temple, why don't we take this into the sitting room? It'll be more comfortable and get away from this awful draught." He inclined his head at Temple's grateful glance; neither of them wanted Steve to stay in the bedroom any longer than necessary, as it would just distress her more. "Are you up to answering some questions, Steve?"
She nodded and gave him a small smile, accepting her husband's help to stand. "Let's get this over with, and then we can all go back to our beds."
The sky was just beginning to lighten outside when Steve and Temple finally got to bed. After reassuring Charlie they were fine and the manservant had conducted a quick sweep of the spare bedroom and declared it safe, they had dismissed him and then slid between the cool sheets.
Temple pulled Steve into his embrace, feeling the need to keep her close after her narrow escape, and she snuggled thankfully into his warm body.
"Why do you think Mrs Fletcher tried to disguise her voice when she warned you?" she asked after a moment of contemplative silence. She had heard his side of the story when he detailed everything to Sir Graham and the officer earlier, and was running it through in her mind in an effort to distract herself from the events in the bedroom.
"I don't know. Perhaps she wanted to warn me but not let on she herself was involved in this."
Steve closed her eyes and let out a breath, letting Temple's steady heartbeat lull her into sleep as the shock and adrenaline wore off.
Temple allowed himself to study his wife's face as her breathing slowed, her expression marred by a slight frown. He let his hand trail over her cheek, soothing her and reminding himself that she was safe and well. He'd had a moment of utter terror earlier when he'd seen her unmoving form on the floor, and it had reminded him of the episode a few days previous when she had been kidnapped. He couldn't imagine his life without her now – hadn't been able to after solving their first mystery together and the cheeky, intelligent blonde had wormed her way into his heart and life.
He knew that recently she'd been tiring of the mysteries sent his way by Sir Graham, especially as they seemed to be more and more dangerous each time, but hadn't said anything as she knew how much it was a part of him. This particular one had him worried, however, as this was the second time these people had targeted Steve, and if he didn't solve it soon there was no knowing what they'd do next. And next time she may not be so lucky.
She shifted against him and he stroked a hand down her silky blonde hair, breathing in her scent. She was stronger than most people he knew, not complaining about the two attempts on her life; merely moving on quietly and supporting him in his investigations. He dropped a feather-light kiss on her forehead and closed his eyes. "I'll get them, Steve, I promise. And make them pay."
"I know," she mumbled sleepily, not moving. "Now go to sleep, I can hear you thinking." His lips turned up in a small smile, and he resisted the urge to chuckle. He'd let her get some sleep otherwise she'd make him pay in the morning.
And Paul Temple fell asleep as the dawn broke, his wife in his arms and his resolve to solve the mystery strengthened.
Chapter 7: Trust Too Far
Movement in the corner of the room caught her eye and as her eyes adjusted to the dim room in the half-light of the dull morning, she saw Temple slumped in the bedroom chair, watching her.
Author's Note: This particular plotbunny has been a long time coming. Originally an expanded scene from the Madison Case, I've been wrestling with it for a few years; it's both the bane of my existence and my favourite piece due to its darker nature.
In the Madison Case, Temple decides to drug Steve's drink to keep her out of the way and safe (supposedly) when he faces the murderer. She figures him out and doesn't drink it, telling him off afterwards.
But what if she HAD finished her drink?
"Darling, I feel a little queer..."
Paul Temple looked over his newspaper at his wife and saw that she did indeed look pale and drawn. It wasn't too late, but they had had a very busy day and she was most likely feeling the effects. "You do look tired, Steve. Why don't you head to bed? I won't be long."
She nodded, pushing herself out of her chair and reached for her empty glass. He'd set his paper down and stood with her, and noticed with some satisfaction she'd finished the drink he'd made her earlier in the evening, hoping it was to her taste. "No, darling, I'll get Charlie to tidy up. You just go to bed."
"Mmm, I am tired," she agreed, letting her body sway against his as he crossed the room to take her gently into his arms. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head, taking in the scent of the flowery shampoo she used to keep her blonde curls soft and shiny, and chuckled.
"You've had too much excitement, that's what it is. Getting too much for you?" he joked, laughing when she swatted him half-heartedly.
"Be quiet, you," she admonished, reluctantly pulling away from his warm embrace and looking up at him. "Goodnight, Paul."
"Sweet dreams, Steve." He pressed another kiss to her forehead and watched as she moved to the door and down the hallway. He sighed, dragging a tired hand over his face and turned to sit in his seat again. "Be safe," he murmured, and settled down to wait.
Perhaps this life was getting a little much, Temple reflected as he stared down the barrel of a rather desperately aimed gun, if only for the fact that whenever someone was cornered they tended to be very predictable. The case he'd been involved in had been a rather unusual one, but still when it came down to it the end result was the same. Murder, highly charged showdown, then capture of the criminal. He'd invited Green over to reveal his suspicions, capture Green's confession on tape and then turn him over to the police, conveniently waiting outside (having called Sir Graham earlier he knew there were at least three undercover men alongside two uniforms, waiting in the wings). Of course, Green had pulled the gun on him, realising he'd been recorded.
"Don't move, Temple, or I'll shoot!"
"I wasn't going to," he said with some measure of patience, wondering if this was the time that the trigger would be pulled and the bullet would actually hit him. He'd been lucky so far, with only a couple of bullet wounds to show for his efforts, but one never knew and he didn't particularly want to push his luck.
"I'm getting out of here and you're not going to stop me!"
"I wouldn't do that," he intoned, mentally wincing at the words that added to the cliché of the situation. He breathed a sigh of relief when Green backed out the door and slammed it shut, and he lunged to it to open it and run after him when he realised Green had locked it. Temple started hammering on it and yelling for Charlie whilst mentally noting they really should keep a key in the room for situations like this.
A few seconds ticked by before the door was yanked open and Charlie appeared, bleeding from a cut on his forehead. "He clouted me one then ran for it," he managed, pointing out the front door, which was standing ajar. "He's gone up the lift; you should be able to get him if you use the stairs."
Temple was out the front door almost before Charlie had finished, yelling for two of the inspectors to follow him. He took the stairs two at a time, hearing the noise outside and realising that the others had taken the fire escape in an effort to cut Green off on the roof, but Temple knew the top few rungs were missing and it would be an effort for the burly policemen to heft themselves up and over the small brick lip of the roof.
No one spoke as they rounded the corner and took the next set of stairs. His flat wasn't too far from the roof and he knew they wouldn't tire before they reached the top but he could hear the measured breathing behind him as the officers kept pace with him. The door at the top was shut – possibly jammed, as Temple found the handle only rattled and didn't do anything. He turned to the two men but found there was no need to speak; they merely nodded and squared their shoulders, slamming their powerful arms against the wood and grunting with the impact. A couple of attempts proved successful when the wood splintered in protest at the treatment and the door swung open.
The roof was in darkness, and the wind had picked up since Temple had been out earlier in the evening. It whistled eerily past, making it difficult for him to see or hear anyone or know if they were friend or foe. He saw movement out of the corner of his eye, but realised it was the first of the policemen who'd used the fire escape, pulling himself up and over the brickwork. He turned to the two men with him and reached for the gun he'd grabbed from the bureau earlier and tucked in his pocket. "Split up – we should be able to corner him when the others are here," he shouted over the wind noise.
"All right, sir, we'll get him!"
He nodded with grim satisfaction, wishing he'd left it all to the police as the first spots of cold rain started, quickly turning into a driving wall of water as they searched for Green. He'd much prefer to be in his warm bed with his wife than out there, but it was a trait of his that ensured he had to see everything through to the end.
"GREEN!" he bellowed, moving along the side of a low wall, keeping his eyes focused for movement. The shout appeared to have an effect when a bullet whizzed past him and buried itself in a nearby pole, and he looked in the direction the bullet had come. There was a hunched figure, just visible in the distorted reflection of the water pooling near the roof slant Green was crouched next to, and Temple ducked down and moved stealthily across to come up behind him, hearing the shouts of the other officers as they responded to the bullet shot.
He was close enough to touch Green when the other man started and turned his head, his wild eyes even more desperate in the driving rain and wind, his hair plastered to his head and his coat flapping about him. Temple froze for a moment, wondering if this was it, but Green had apparently forgotten about the gun in his hand and made a last ditch attempt to escape by standing up and dashing across the concrete. Temple, however, knew what that led to; a long drop to the street below.
He was off at a sprint, and he heard shouts and footsteps behind him as the others followed suit. But none of them were quick enough to catch Green, and even Temple himself was still at least two feet behind the murderer when Green went over the edge, his startled yell caught by the wind and whipped away before it was cut short when his body hit the pavement far below.
Temple skidded to a halt and peered over the edge, his arms windmilling slightly to steady his balance. He felt a strong hand grip the back of his shirt and turned to face one of the men who'd helped him earlier. "Careful, sir. Don't want you to fall too."
Temple nodded, panting at the sudden exertion in the cold, then turned and cast one more glance down at the broken, lifeless body of the man who'd murdered Sam Portland as the wind buffeted him from behind. Then he stepped back and slid his gun back into a pocket. "Tell Sir Graham I'm sorry. I have the evidence on tape for him."
"It's not your fault sir," the officer assured him. "We all heard you try to stop him."
Temple gave him a mirthless smile. "That doesn't help the situation much, but I appreciate it." He walked away, leaving the officer to stare down and wonder at the amount of paperwork he was about to face as the first sirens filled the night.
The apartment was silent when Steve opened her eyes the next morning. She felt groggy and slightly ill, and it took her a moment before she realised when she'd felt like this before; the many times she'd been drugged by someone hell-bent on warning her husband off a case.
But that didn't make sense when she hadn't been drugged.
She closed her eyes for a moment to try and shake the feeling off when her mind started filtering through the events of the previous night. Her husband had been acting rather tense, as if he were expecting something – or someone. And he'd made her a drink, which in itself wasn't unusual, but she'd noticed him watching her carefully as she drank it. She'd started to feel rather queer after she finished it, but had put that down to the busy day and tiring weekend they'd had earlier.
As she pieced it together, she sat up with a gasp. Movement in the corner of the room caught her eye and as her eyes adjusted to the dim room in the half-light of the dull morning, she saw Temple slumped in the bedroom chair, watching her. Neither spoke for a moment, and tears pricked her eyes as she understood – reluctantly – what had happened.
"You – you...drugged me..." her whispered accusation had the same effect as a shout, and he flinched as if he'd been slapped.
"Steve..." he started, but she shook her head, the tears starting to spill over and run down her cheeks.
"No! No, don't talk to me!" She pulled the covers around her as she tried to process the reasons why.
"Please, Steve..." he tried again, leaning forward with a pleading look in his eyes, but she shook her head again.
"Please don't...just..." she replied in a broken whisper, and he understood what she wanted. He stood and moved over to the door, hesitating before exiting to the sounds of his wife sobbing.
It was late that evening by the time Temple returned. He'd escaped the apartment to do some soul-searching in a run-down bar he'd found down an alley. It wasn't one of his usual haunts but he'd wanted somewhere he could sit and think without being recognised – or at least be left alone if he was recognised. He'd spent the morning just walking, then turned to the bar late afternoon and into the night. He knew both he and Steve needed time alone to think over the consequences of what he'd done, and he'd wanted to make sure she'd have time to go to bed and sleep before he returned. He'd sleep on the settee that night, and then hopefully she would feel like talking to him tomorrow.
He had some explaining to do.
As he unlocked the door, he saw Charlie step into the hall from the kitchen, a glass in one hand and a towel in the other. He wore a disapproving expression but wisely said nothing.
"Is she in bed?" Temple asked, feeling as if he were a naughty child about to be scolded by his parent, and understanding to a certain extent that it was rightly so. Charlie knew Temple was his employer but that didn't stop him from being rather protective of Steve.
"She's in the study, Mr Temple." Temple knew Charlie was aware of the whole situation and showing his feelings by the way he addressed him. He usually called them "Mr and Mrs T" – a habit Temple was forever trying to discourage. The fact he was addressing him with his full title in a stiff, formal way was a sure sign the Cockney manservant was not happy.
"How is she?"
"She's spent the whole day in there. She hasn't eaten anything and only had two cups of tea. Sir Graham, your publisher and a couple of reporters have called but I've taken messages and said you'll call back."
Temple nodded wearily, the guilt returning full force as he worried about her. He was torn between going to see her and cleaning up but he decided to take a shower first – he didn't want to exacerbate the situation by letting her see him in the dishevelled state he was, smelling of alcohol. He let Charlie know what he was thinking and the Cockney agreed to make something light for him to take in to Steve when he'd cleaned up.
He was in and out of the shower in record time, feeling a lot more clear-headed, and dressed in some comfortable clothes before heading back to the kitchen to fetch the tea and toast Charlie had prepared for the two of them.
He pushed open the door to the study and immediately noticed the warmth emanating from the crackling fire in the hearth. He scanned the room and saw the small figure of his wife curled up in one of the large comfy chairs facing the fire, a blanket draped round her. She looked as pale and drawn as she had the night before, and he hated that he was the reason. He set the tray down and approached her, thinking she was asleep, but she opened her eyes immediately she felt his presence and looked up at him through her lashes. Even through her reddened eyes and tearstained cheeks, he was struck by her beauty and was reminded of when they met. He'd married her because he loved her for who she was, and he'd sworn to protect her. Now he'd given her a reason to be afraid of him, and had hurt her by his actions. He was the one that she should be protected against, something that really hit him hard. If she couldn't trust her husband, then whom could she trust?
"Steve, I'm so sorry..." he murmured as he crouched down by the chair.
She shook her head and reached out to him, her hand resting lightly on his. "I thought you'd left me."
"No, darling, I'd never...I just thought you wouldn't want to see me."
"No one knew where you were – you could have been lying hurt somewhere and no one would have been able to help you..." Tears were filling her eyes again and he marvelled at how she was able to worry so much about him when he'd hurt her. Rather than sit across from her, he settled himself on the floor next to the chair, facing her. She hadn't shown any sign that she didn't want him anywhere near her and he felt the need to be close to her; to reassure himself that he hadn't done irreparable damage to their relationship (although he suspected it would take a long time for her to be able to trust him again).
Steve stayed silent for a while and Temple just sat there, happy just to be in her presence and understanding there would be some time needed for both of them to come to terms with his actions. He was almost surprised when she spoke.
There didn't seem to be much accusation in her tone; more curiosity than anything. Steve had gone through the anger, the denial and hurt, and was now well into resignation. She just wanted to understand.
Temple hesitated and she knew that it wasn't because he was wondering what to say; for a well-respected novelist with a string of titles to his name he struggled to articulate his own feelings. He wasn't someone who wore their heart on their sleeve, and it had taken a while before he'd felt comfortable expressing terms of endearment and words of love to Steve.
"I wanted you safe." He didn't elaborate, and she knew he didn't need to. In that moment it had seemed the only way of protecting her and he hadn't thought of the consequences, caught up in the action as he was. She nodded, and they both subsided into silence again, but she reached over to touch his hair and the action of her fingers tunnelling along his scalp was both soothing and reassuring.
"You've kept me safe before," she replied, the words 'without drugging me' passing unspoken between them in mutual understanding. He dragged a hand over his face, and she saw a fleeting glimpse of what he was afraid of; an old, haggard man, alone because his wife had been taken from him due to his own actions. They'd not concerned themselves with those thoughts before but she could see the fear that had pushed him to protect her at any cost, and she realised that he was starting to come to terms with his own mortality, and by extension hers. His lack of response didn't worry her; she knew he was wrestling with his own demons, and as she paused in her ministrations he grasped her hand and pressed her fingers to his lips.
"Charlie says you haven't eaten anything today," he murmured, lifting his steady gaze to hers, and she could see the determination to start afresh and make amends in his eyes. He knew he'd done wrong, and he wanted to make up for it. She offered him a small smile, and saw his expression relax in response.
"Not really," she lifted a shoulder in a light shrug, knowing Charlie would have been watching over her and reported everything to Temple in an effort to ensure between them they could get some food into her. The toast sat on the tray Temple had brought in with him and although she knew it was cooling quickly, she felt the first pangs of hunger as she saw him reach for the plate and bring it to her. The tea sat on a side table between them as he took a seat on the sofa opposite her, his gaze never leaving her. They ate in silence, although the tension had dissipated and the atmosphere was now tentatively companionable. Steve realised that even though she had ordered him away, the one thing that had been missing was him. He'd been with her through everything and even though his actions had caused her hurt she still wanted him there. She'd spent the day probably doing as much soul-searching as he, and came to the conclusion that whilst she may not like the actions and their consequences she knew why he'd done it.
She took a sip of tea, noting absently that Temple never took his gaze off her, almost as if he never wanted to let her out of his sight again. To the casual observer, he was tense, but as his wife she knew his body language was screaming that he wanted to be closer to her, and suddenly she felt confident enough to take the initiative. He may have got it completely wrong in his approach to keeping her safe but it was a mistake he would never make again. "Where did you go?" she asked him, setting her empty plate on the tray as she wrapped the blanket further round her shoulders and stepped over to him. In response, he moved his plate aside and reached for her.
"Out," he answered, something crossing his features that hinted at a less-than-respectable destination. His hands moved over her until he had her curled on his lap, his arms a protective circle around her, her head tucked in the crook of his neck and his nose buried in the soft curls of her hair. She clutched his collar, rubbing the material between her finger and thumb thoughtfully.
"Tell me, Mr Temple, do you always drug your women?" Her tone was light, but she still felt him tense infinitesimally before relaxing again. He pressed a kiss to her forehead and she lifted her head to press her lips against his, pouring indescribable feelings into the kiss. When they paused for air, he huffed out a sigh and nuzzled her cheek; rare romantic occurrences that she knew she would be treated to over the next few days as he tried to show how sorry he was.
"Only those I really care about," his response fell a little flat, but as Steve snuggled into his warm embrace she thought there was hope for them yet.
Chapter 8: Eye For an Eye
Steve heard a distant commotion but it seemed too far away, and by the time she finally hit the floor she heard a crack and felt a searing pain in her arm before the world went black.
Author's Note: Please excuse the liberties I've taken with Scotland Yard and 1940s medicine.
It all happened so fast.
Steve Temple was always at a loss when her husband went away, and this time was no exception. His leaving England for a book tour coincided with her returning home from a trip to visit an ill aunt, and Paul Temple had reassured Steve that he didn't mind going to New York on his own. He knew she was worried about her aunt and if something (God forbid) went wrong, she could catch a train and be there sooner than if she had to cross an entire ocean.
So two weeks into the five without Temple, she was beginning to feel a little stir-crazy. There was only so much cleaning one could do, especially when they were paying their manservant, Charlie, to do most of it, and despite Temple's frequent jibes she didn't actually enjoy shopping that much.
She was beginning to miss the many cases her husband got caught up in, if only for the exciting action that usually followed.
It was a cheerful afternoon, late in the summer, and she'd made an appointment to have tea with Sir Graham Forbes of Scotland Yard. She liked keeping track of the current cases and breakthroughs in crime solving, a latent interest from her journalist days. Sir Graham kept Temple up to date, but he'd confessed to appreciating Steve's input and thoughts which sometimes differed from her husband's. Women's views were often overlooked, she mused.
Being married to Paul Temple meant that she was frequent visitor to Scotland Yard, and as such she was greeted by most of the officers and staff as she came in out of the sunshine and made her way past the maze of corridors. A large sweeping staircase would take her up to Sir Graham's office, and as she climbed she moved to one side to allow an officer past with a rather unruly-looking man cuffed to one wrist. The officer smiled in recognition, pausing briefly.
"Hello Mrs Temple, how are you?"
Steve had barely opened her mouth to reply when the other man stiffened and suddenly threw himself at her. She didn't have time to think or even make a sound of exclamation before she lost her balance and tumbled down the stairs, trying to gain purchase. She heard a distant commotion but it seemed too far away, and by the time she finally hit the floor she heard a crack and felt a searing pain in her arm before the world went black.
Some time later, Steve woke to a haze of pain; feeling bruises and bumps where she was sure there had been none before. A strong aroma of antiseptic and cleaning fluid assaulted her senses, and she slowly opened her eyes to be greeted with the sight of whitewashed walls. She tried to sit up but found one of her arms pinned down, and the resulting shock of pain through her system kept her lying in the same position for a while whilst she tried to fight the rising sense of nausea, dizziness and panic.
"Mrs T!" came a very familiar voice, and she turned her head to find Charlie hurrying towards her with a nurse in tow. "Mrs T, you're all right!"
"What happened?" she managed to say, if a little slurred, and she wondered why she felt so tired and out of it. Charlie seemed to understand however, as he gave her a reassuring smile.
"You fell down the stairs when that crook jumped at you. The doctors say you have a concussion and bruised ribs, and you've got a broken wrist. They gave you some sedatives for the pain. You won't be here for much longer, then you can come home."
Steve closed her eyes against the throbbing pain in her head that was starting to build up in earnest, and submitted to the doctor who was checking her over before he administered another dose of painkillers, which soon dulled the pain and made her sleepy.
"I'm just off to call Mr T, and when the doctors say, I'll take you home," Charlie added, but Steve reached out to him with her good arm.
"Charlie – don't call Paul."
"I don't want him to let anyone down. Don't make him worry." Judging by the look on Charlie's face, he didn't like it but he reluctantly agreed and she allowed herself to slip back into pain-free unconsciousness.
"Higgs! You're wanted in the Commissioner's office!"
Bert Higgs looked up from the corner of the cell he'd been thrown in yesterday morning, and met the steely gaze of the officer who'd come to fetch him. He knew he'd be facing more charges now he'd pulled that scene on the stairs with Temple's wife, but as he was going away anyway it was worth the extra years. He'd considered himself a fairly mild mannered man before a particular job involving his specialism - fraud - had gone sour and a set-up from Temple ended with a shoot out between Scotland Yard and his brother. Bert himself had been captured, but his older brother, Eddie, had been caught in the crossfire and killed. The officer leading him to his cell that morning had said the word 'Temple' and Bert had seen red and a small opportunity for some well-deserved retribution.
"Get a move on, Higgs!"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm coming." He stood up and moved over to the cell door so the officer could cuff him, then stepped out and allowed himself to be pulled along the corridors and up the sweeping stairs towards the plush offices of the Commissioner and his staff. The looks he received from various staff members and officers on the way would have made a lesser man quail in his boots, but Higgs just sneered in response. It appeared Mrs Temple was quite popular with them and it made his revenge seem that little more justified and effective.
The Commissioner was seated behind his desk, pen in hand as he made notes on some paperwork in front of him, and he glanced up as the officer stepped into the open doorway, Higgs behind him. "Ah, Jefferson. Bring him in and close the door behind you." Jefferson met the Commissioner's hard gaze and nodded in understanding, turning to pull Higgs further into the room. Higgs was too busy wondering why the Commissioner himself was interested in a low-grade criminal such as himself to see the look that passed between the officer and Sir Graham before the door was closed firmly, or notice the figure in the dimly lit corner of the room, his tall frame folded into an armchair.
Sir Graham Forbes waited for the firm click of the closed door before setting his pen down and regarding the man in front of him. "Sit down, Mr Higgs." He waved at the spindly chair in front of his desk; one that looked so out of place in the office that Higgs had to wonder if it had been brought in especially to add to the uncomfortable atmosphere. He'd assumed the Commissioner was a large man, with visions of a pasty-white figure, soft from years of sitting behind desks, but was faced with the reality of man who had spent years in the military and still went out with his officers on fieldwork if he could. Hardened eyes glared out at him from under groomed eyebrows, and the voice that issued from thin lips was deceptively mild. "So what do we have here, Mr Higgs?"
Higgs remained silent, a moment of intelligence alerting him to the fact it was a rhetorical question. Sir Graham opened a file and scanned the documents within. "An early life of petty theft, graduation into fraud, assault on some of my officers, and an unprovoked attack on a member of the public." He raised his eyes to meet Higgs, who shrugged it off, wisely saying nothing. "A member of the public whom is also very dear to me and my staff. Do you have anything to say?"
Higgs shook his head, suddenly noticing movement out of the corner of his eye and seeing Paul Temple unfold himself from the armchair and stand. "Well, in that case," Sir Graham continued, "I'm sure Mr Temple has some questions for you."
Higgs twitched. Sir Graham ignored him, addressing Temple as the other man approached the desk and leant against the edge. "My secretary requires my attention, Temple. I will be away from my office for approximately five minutes." Temple's mouth turned up in a wry grin, nodding at Sir Graham as the older man rose from his chair and moved towards the door.
"I'm sure that will be plenty of time for Higgs to answer my questions, Sir Graham."
"If you require...assistance...I'm sure Jefferson is nearby."
"Oh, I doubt I will, Sir Graham, but I will hold that in mind." Temple turned his attention to Higgs who sat on his chair feeling for all the world like a naughty school child, and subsequently missed the soft sound of the key locking the door behind Sir Graham. "This is an unusual situation for me, Higgs," Temple started, shrugging off his jacket. "You see, usually I am on the receiving end of threats against my wife, and I in return make threats against them if they dare harm a hair on her head. But you seem to have skipped that altogether, and my wife is currently in hospital with broken and bruised bones."
Higgs hadn't known the amount of damage he'd inflicted as he'd been hauled off immediately, but a small part of him was gratified he'd caused even a fraction of the pain he could imagine his brother had gone through before he died. "You killed my brother!" he forced out, starting to rise to his feet, but was stopped by a hand gripping his shoulder and pushing him back down. Temple started rolling his sleeves up, slowly and deliberately.
"Your brother killed a police officer and injured two more in the midst of a fight - a fight instigated by the rest of the gang you were involved in during your little fraud operation." Temple's voice lowered dangerously and Higgs suddenly realised he wasn't getting out of the office without bodily damage. Another assumption he'd made was that Temple was as mild mannered as he appeared but Higgs was now learning the problem with assumptions. Temple stood before him looking like a jaguar eyeing its prey. "You attacked my wife for no reason except a misguided attempt at revenge, which, by the way, only makes things worse for you. No one hurts my wife."
Higgs tried to let out a shout for help but was cut short.
Sir Graham was leaning against his secretary's desk, perusing through some paperwork, when she lifted her head and looked towards his office. "Did you hear that, Sir Graham?"
"Hear what, Doris?" He questioned, not taking his attention off the papers.
"That..." A loud crash interrupted her, followed by a short sharp yelp, and she indicated with her hand. "That, Sir."
"That? That's nothing to worry about, Doris. But you might want to call the doctor and have him make his way up to my office. In his own time."
Steve sat on the comfy chair in the study, trying to read one of her husband's books as she fought the drowsiness and waves of pain from her broken wrist and bruised ribs. She'd been released from the hospital complete with cast, swathes of bandages and what seemed to be a mountain of painkillers. At her request, Charlie had installed her in the study with a warm fire, blanket, drinks and the required dosage of medication, and she tried to fight the urge to just sleep when she wanted to get back into a routine otherwise she knew she'd be awake all night. As her head nodded and she struggled to keep her eyes open, Charlie stuck his head round the door and smiled at her.
"All right, Mrs T? I'm just popping out to get some groceries; did you need anything?"
"No thank you, Charlie. I'm debating whether or not to take a quick nap - these pills make me feel so tired."
He shook his head, waving his hand towards them. "But at least they're helping you heal."
"True," she acceded, glancing at the window to see what the weather was doing. The sky was beginning to darken, rain clouds heavy with moisture looming over the previous cloudless expanse. "Take care, Charlie, it looks like it may rain."
"Don't worry, Mrs T, I'll take the umbrella. See you in a bit!" He disappeared from the doorway and she heard the door shut as he went off on his errands. Or so she thought, until the telling rattle of keys in the door sounded and she laughed.
"Forgot your umbrella after all, Charlie?"
"I didn't have one in the first place," came the deep response, and she looked up as her husband came through the door.
"Paul!" She tried to get up but in two strides he was in front of her and pressing his lips gently against her own, as if afraid his kiss would hurt her. "You're supposed to be in New York...I told Charlie not to call you..."
"No, darling, it wasn't Charlie," he crouched in front of her, taking her good hand in his own and squeezing lightly. "Sir Graham rang me, told me what happened. I flew back immediately - my schedule has been rearranged so I have the rest of the week free, and I go back at the weekend. I want to take you with me if you feel up to it; I want to know you're safe."
Steve smiled tiredly at him, relieved he was there. "I'm sure I'll be up to it; they sent me home with enough medication to down an elephant." Her joke fell on deaf ears, however, as she found herself under the scrutiny of her husband's sharp gaze, checking her over and taking in her bruised appearance.
"Darling Steve, you look terrible." He stroked her cheek gently and pressed another kiss to her lips.
"Why thank you, Mr Temple, you certainly know how to make a lady feel beautiful!" As he smiled wryly at her and lifted his other hand, she caught sight of the knuckles and caught it in her grasp, taking in the bruises and scrapes. "What did you do?"
His gaze darkened slightly, but he shrugged it off, kissing her forehead as he stood. "Just bumped into some rubbish, nothing to worry about."
Chapter 9: Epaulettes II
A soft noise drew Temple's attention back to Steve and he saw a glisten on her eyelashes that concerned yet didn't surprise him.
Author's Note: A follow-on from my piece 'Epaulettes' a few chapters back. Not necessary for this but it might help if you read that first :)
The house was quiet as Steve lay in the warm embrace of Temple, unable to sleep. She had hoped that the events of the day - her brother's funeral; his wake; dealing with the family who wanted to disown her - would wear her out and help her slip into a deep sleep, but after a brief moment where she had broken down upon receiving Gerald's epaulettes, her mind had simply refused to shut down. Temple had drifted off not long after her tears had ended, his breathing evening out to steady in- and exhalations and calming her, but still she lay there staring at the patterns of light created by the moonlight over the top of the curtains.
Glancing over at Temple's profile, she started to ease out from under his arms and after a few moments stood up, successful in her attempt to keep from waking him. Her silk robe lay over the chair in the corner and she slipped it on over her nightgown, moving barefoot out into the hallway and softly shutting the door behind her before making her way towards the kitchen. She really wanted a warm drink but didn't know where anything was, nor did she want to disturb the other occupants of the house. The kitchen was very much Pryce's domain, so she limited herself to opening a few cupboards until she located a glass and poured herself some water, taking a seat at the kitchen table and looking out into the little kitchen garden that was Pryce's pride and joy.
"Is there anything I can get you?" came a voice, and Steve started.
"Pryce, you scared me!"
The manservant smiled apologetically, and she was amused to see how well put-together he was even in his dressing gown and pyjamas. "I'm sorry, Miss Trent. I heard movement and since the footsteps were much lighter than Mr Temple's usual gait I surmised it might be you."
Steve smiled. "Is he a regular night wanderer?"
"Only when he's having particular difficulty with a novel. I think the absolute quiet helps him think. Can I make you a hot drink?" Pryce started to move over to the stove but she stopped him with a shake of the head.
"No, thank you Pryce. I'll just finish this water and maybe see if I can get to sleep." She gave him a small smile, and he nodded knowingly.
"I believe you may want to take a seat in the conservatory for a while. It's most conducive for thoughts and the view is much better." He bowed his head and disappeared through the door almost as quickly and quietly as he'd arrived. His initial reaction to her had been less than enthusiastic when she'd first appeared at the house to talk to Temple, but apparently he'd changed his mind as he got to know her, and was now appreciative of a female presence in the house.
Picking up her glass, Steve moved through the house and let herself into the conservatory as he'd suggested. It was very chilly, the warmth from the sun on the glass long gone, but there was a blanket folded on a chair in the corner, and she settled onto the rather worn but extremely comfy settee with it wrapped around her shoulders. The blanket was obviously an accessory for Temple's late night wanders - Pryce's hint led her to believe this was one of Temple's favourite places to come when he needed to think or couldn't sleep, and she could certainly see why. Bramley Lodge sat on a hill, with the land one side sheltered by forest and the other, the side the conservatory was built, facing over a small valley with dense foliage. The late moonrise meant that the landscape before her was bathed in a silver glow, highlighting enough for her to almost see each individual leaf on bushes halfway down the slope. Nothing moved in the stillness of the night, not even a breath of wind stirring the trees.
Steve didn't know whether she had been sitting there for fifteen or fifty minutes, absorbing the peaceful surroundings and allowing her mind to ease, when the soft sound of footsteps interrupted her thoughts and she turned to watch as Temple stepped into the conservatory, his demeanour and appearance as unruffled as ever.
"Are you all right, Steve? I woke up and you weren't there."
She nodded, smiling at his concern. "I couldn't sleep and didn't want to disturb you with my tossing and turning."
"You wouldn't disturb me," he chuckled. "May I join you?"
"Of course!" She lifted the edge of the blanket and he took a seat beside her, putting one arm around her and tucking her into his side as he arranged the warmed material over himself until they were both surrounded. "I can see why you like to spend time in here when you can't sleep. The view is beautiful."
"Each room has a lovely view but this is very special," Temple agreed. "The sun rises directly over the valley." He tilted his head to look down at her, his eyes crinkled with interest. "But how did you know I like to spend sleepless hours in here?"
"Pryce told me earlier. He heard me in the kitchen and offered to make me a drink."
"Ah, good old Pryce. I've not managed to catch him out yet. He seems to know whenever I'm awake."
Steve laughed softly, and Temple allowed himself a moment to appreciate the way she felt pressed against him, her soft curves warm and inviting. She laid her cheek against his shoulder, the soft cotton of his dressing gown which he'd hurriedly thrown on to cover his bare chest cushioning her as she let her gaze drift down and they subsided into companionable silence for a while. The moon drifted inch by inch above them, creating new patterns in the shadows as new surfaces were touched by the light and others left in darkness. The chill in the air was becoming more pronounced as the night wore on but Temple and Steve were protected by the little cocoon they had created.
A soft noise drew Temple's attention back to Steve and he saw a glisten on her eyelashes that concerned yet didn't surprise him. "Hey."
She lifted her head reluctantly, and he saw the trace of tears down her cheek. He reached for her hand under the blanket and she willingly twined her fingers with his, his thumb stroking across the soft skin.
"You miss him." It was a redundant statement, but still she nodded.
"Just when I think I'm coming to terms with it, I remember that I can't speak to him, share something with him, or ask his advice. I wanted to talk to him about you - us - but..." she looked back down at the blanket, seemingly lost.
Temple pulled her even more tightly against him and rested his cheek against her head in a move reminiscent of earlier that evening. "What do you think he would have said about us?"
"I suspect he would have made a fuss but be extremely pleased. He liked you. When he spoke of you it was with respect. Despite what most of Scotland Yard think of 'outsiders', he appreciated your views and a lot of times I'd hear him muttering about what you would do."
Temple let out a delighted laugh and Steve nudged him affectionately. "I won't let it go to my head," he promised, and she shook her head in amusement. They subsided into silence again, their comfortable companionship enough whilst they watched the nature around them, and Steve was able to reflect. She still wasn't quite sleepy, but she felt more content with herself and where she was. The scene with her family had unsettled her and even Temple's reassurance hadn't quite done enough - the one person who she had wanted to talk to was no longer with them and she longed for one more chance to talk to Gerald, if only to say goodbye. The last time they had spoken she'd been busy and he had been on his way down to Evesham, so neither had had a proper conversation and had merely waved each other on with an affectionate, 'See you later'.
Temple had obviously been mulling over his own thoughts and he spoke again, addressing their earlier words. It was obvious he wasn't a man who often spoke his feelings and she could feel him tense a little. "What do you think about us?"
Sensing he needed a little enlightenment, she nudged him. "I proposed, didn't I?" He relaxed instantly, and she could feel another chuckle rumble through him.
"That you did." He tilted his head down and she looked up to meet his steady gaze. "When I asked you to stay earlier, I really meant for longer than just your time off." Steve didn't respond, and he cleared his throat gently before continuing, "What I mean to say is-"
"I know what you mean." She squeezed his hand and smiled brightly at him as he touched his forehead to hers in relief at not having to continue his fumbling attempts to articulate his feelings.
"Well then, perhaps we should seal your proposal with a kiss."
And before she could respond, his lips were against hers, feather light and soothing, the room disappearing around them and everything forgotten but them, the way they fit and the way their lips danced, fingers clasped and bodies close. Time slipped away and only the pressing need for air split them apart, but Temple seized the opportunity to move out from under the blanket and lift her easily into his arms, finding his way back through the house to his room where it was so much darker behind the lined curtains than in the bright moonlit conservatory.
Temple paused, almost uncertainly, as the door closed behind them and they were left standing by the foot of the bed with his hands resting gently on her waist, so she sought him out, fingers tunnelling through his hair as he grasped her to pull her flush against him again, the kiss this time with more than just comfort behind it. Steve felt something inside her ease then inflame as his lips moved from hers to her cheek, her jaw, her throat, her collarbone and down, soft touches and caresses that were later repeated with hands on bare skin as he lay entwined with her, gentle sighs mingling with short breaths and names exhaled in awe.
Hours later, as the dawning sun shone golden rays into the room replacing the earlier moonbeams, she realised that although the hurt and loss would never go completely, she now had someone new to love her, nurture her, and support her when she needed. Gerald would always be a part of both of them - not least for bringing them together - but that chapter of her life was closing and they were starting a fresh page of theirs.