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Jack stretched out, leaning on his elbows as he stared out over the waves. He appreciated the invitation to the day before Christmas get together at the beach but something was missing. He'd been restless for months now, bordering on snappish. Hugh and Dot had tried to step in to fill the void but they were newlyweds, and he hadn't wanted to intrude on too much of their time.
Police work went on as it did in cities the size of Melbourne but the missing element was a certain lady detective to infuriate him, to challenge him to be better, to steal his heart even before it had been free to give to her. Now that it was, she was gone back home to England.
In his nightmares, he saw Phryne soaring away with her father in that little plane. It crashed. It disappeared never to be heard of again. It returned empty, piloted by ghosts. It was absurd. He knew full well Phryne had made it to England and deposited her feckless father where he belonged. She was spending time with her mother at the moment, and he felt like a cad for being jealous of the time she spent there.
Jack reckoned that part of it was there was always a new reason she hadn't returned to Australia. She was weeks overdue, and he had begun to wonder if she would ever be back. He knew he wasn't alone in this. Dot worried, and he didn't blame her. She had had a taste of Phryne’s unconventional, exciting life and was in no hurry to enter the relatively tame world of being a housewife. Even Mac seemed to miss her friend now more than she had in beginning, now that Phryne was so overdue.
He'd been grateful when Mac had invited him and the Collinses to the beach for a picnic. The hamper of food still awaited them. For the moment, they were all content to lounge under the big beach umbrella, hiding from the afternoon sun, which was particularly hot today. He had only had a cold Christmas in the war, and oddly he found he missed it. At least he - and Hugh who apparently had purchased the exact same swim suit - no longer had to deal with wool swim gear in this heat. The new Jersey materials were fantastic. Dot, predictably, wore a more modest swim dress in navy as did Mac, though hers was a buttery yellow. Her friend, Angelique a former dancer turned dance instructor, sat next to Mac in a pretty pink suit. Jack suspected they were lovers but decided it was none of his business. It might have bothered him once but he was a changed man, yet again. The war had made him worse but Phryne had made him better.
"Doesn’t this look cozy?"
The amused voice almost propelled him to his feet like a schoolboy seeing his gifts under the tree. He peeked around the edge of the umbrella and looked way up her long legs. No modest swim dress for Phryne Fisher. She wore a kicky number in purple with gold trim, elegant but flashy just like her.
He grinned, happy he hadn't made a complete fool of himself because he truly wanted to leap to his feet and sweep her up in his arms. "Miss Fisher! Now this is a surprise." Jack realized Mac had set him up. Phryne couldn't have just appeared out of nowhere on this beach but he couldn't care less about the deception. Judging by the way Dot scrambled to her feet to cling to Phryne, Jack assumed Mac hadn't let her in on it either.
"Did you fly yourself all the way back?" Dot was babbling. "I can't believe you could stand that devilish plane."
"Oh, it's a thrill, Dot," Phryne said, detaching herself from her friend and assistant. "You're looking well. Marriage agrees with you."
"Very much so, Miss Fisher." Dot said, collecting herself.
Jack calmly got to his feet, his beach shoes filling with sand as he stepped off the towel. "You look well, Miss Fisher."
She smiled, beautiful, so beautiful. "And you as well, Jack." The smile turned coy. She kicked some sand his way. "Race you to the shoreline."
She took off, her purple beach boots flying. Jack threw propriety to the winds and chased her, ignoring the sand grinding against his skin. Phryne beelined to the surf, and then ran along it far enough that they would be out of easy eyesight of their friends before stopping.
Her chest heaved as she tried to catch her breath. "I missed you so much, Jack."
"I was beginning to think you weren't coming home," he said. "I missed you every day."
"Mother needed help," she said in way of apology. "But I'm back where I belong now." Phryne caught hold of his swim shirt, drawing him closer.
"I'm glad you are," he said, his voice a bare whisper.
Phryne smiled, wrapping an arm around his shoulder and kissed him. The months she had been gone fell away and all there was was this moment. It was the best Christmas gift he could have asked for.