“Jack?” Phryne tucked her head around the doorway and smiled when no one answered. “Ja-ack?” She sang out once more before sneaking in and shutting the door behind her.
“Hello?” A woman’s voice came from the kitchen and Phryne froze as an older woman appeared in the parlor. “May I help you?”
“Oh, um, yes. I was hoping to surprise Jack by leaving some birthday cake for him to discover.” Phryne held up the box. “But I can tell by the smell that I’ve arrived too late,” she smiled kindly as the scent of warm pastry filled the small home.
“He’s working right now, but you’re welcome to leave the cake, Miss...” The woman was eyeing her sharply, trying to assess Phryne’s peculiar presence.
“Phryne Fisher, I’m a colleague of Jack’s.”
“A female colleague?” She questioned with an eerily familiar tilt to her head. “Are you the private detective?”
“Yes,” Phryne was quick to confirm, feeling relieved and slightly disconcerted that the woman knew of her. Normally, she loved when her reputation preceded her but in this case, it wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
“Yes, Jack has mentioned you in his letters from time to time,” she explained. “Anna Robinson, I’m his mother,” she finally presented herself and reached out to shake her hand.
“It’s an honor to meet you, Mrs. Robinson,” Phryne smiled.
“I was just making a pot of tea, Miss Fisher. Would you care to join me?”
Phryne debated for a second, unsure how Jack would feel about the situation, before she nodded. It was the polite thing to do.
“I would like that very much. Thank you.” Phryne followed her to the kitchen and set the ribboned box on the counter next to an assortment of desserts that Phryne assumed had taken all day to bake.
“It smells heavenly in here,” Phryne commented. “Jack is a lucky man.”
“I may have done too much but I don’t get to travel down as often as I like. I have to make it count when I can. Please,” she gestured kindly to the kitchen table.
“Where are you living at the moment, Mrs. Robinson? I’m afraid Jack’s never said.”
“Oh, call me Anna. I’m living in Bendigo now. I moved to be with my sister after her husband died. Jack comes to visit when he can but I do miss him.” Anna set the tea tray down on the table before going back for a tray of cream puffs. “How do you take your tea, dear?” She asked.
“Black, please,” Phryne smiled as she accepted a cup gratefully. “Thank you.”
“You know, when Jack wrote to me about you, he forgot to mention your beauty but now that I’ve met you, I think he may have done that intentionally.”
No one would believe it but Phryne Fisher actually blushed a little and fell silent, choosing to take a sip of her tea rather than respond to the comment. She wondered just what information about her he would share with someone that he held so dear.
“I pride myself on being able to recognize a curious mind, Miss Fisher and I can practically see yours bursting at the seams,” she cracked that crooked, sly smile that Jack had inherited. “But you forget that I survived a young Jack Robinson; questions do not scare me,” she said proudly as she set her tea cup down. “Ask me whatever you’d like to know.”
“What was Jack like as a child?” Phryne asked, trying to picture him in his youth.
“He was a typical young boy, so much energy. He was adventurous and curious,” she smiled. “His first steps came because he crossed the room to open a cabinet that I had closed. He just had to see inside for himself.”
“Always an inspector then?” Phryne chuckled.
“Always, God bless him. He couldn’t help it,” Anna chuckled. “He wanted to know everything about everything, see everything there was to see, inside and out. Oh, the things he put me through,” she smiled widely but it slowly faded as her thoughts changed. “The war eventually settled him. I think that he realized for the first time that it was possible to see too much.”
Phryne’s heart clenched as his furrowed brow appeared in her mind’s eye, the one that he gave her whenever he thought that she was being too reckless.
“Now, he is more like his father. John was a man of few words, but when he used them, he used them exquisitely. I always loved poetry and although he didn’t intend to, John always managed to speak like a poet,” she smiled.
“What did he do?” Phryne asked quietly.
“He was a mechanic. He worked on ships down at the pier. Before we met, he sailed on ships all over the world and he could have continued on that way but the stubborn man took one step off the dock for a day’s leave and saw me standing in front of a general store in my best dress and he vowed never to leave Australian soil ever again.”
“And he kept his promise,” Phryne smiled, a knowing twinkle in her eye.
“To the last. The poor man is buried in it now,” she replied with a sigh. “What about you, Miss Fisher? Are you from Melbourne?” Anna asked, changing the subject.
“Yes, I suppose I am. I was born here and lived here as a child. But my sister was killed and the war began, so we moved to England to be with my father’s family. I spent the war years in France driving ambulances. I traveled some but eventually, the pull to come back to Australia was too strong to ignore and I returned six months ago.”
“And when did you start working with Jack?”
Phryne grinned to herself as she recalled the day privately.
“About four hours after I landed on shore,” she chuckled. “My welcome home luncheon turned into his crime scene and I began conducting my own unofficial investigation.” She smiled at the memory of Jack’s cross face. “He reluctantly gave in to my charms once he realized how beneficial working together could be.”
Just then, the kitchen door opened and Jack took a step inside before he realized he was face to face with both his mother and his partner.
“Hello,” Phryne grinned at his frozen stature.
“Hello,” he replied automatically.
“Cream puff?” She offered, blinking her eyes innocently.
It broke the spell and he rolled his eyes before finally hanging up his hat and running his hands through his hair nervously.
“Miss Fisher brought you a birthday present, dear.”
“Is that so?” He looked to her for confirmation.
“I commissioned it from Mr. Butler. Black Forest.” She nodded towards the box and he went over to peek at it. His glee was apparent as he rubbed his hands together eagerly. “Although, if I had known your mother was here, I would have told him to save it for another time.”
“Never,” Jack scolded, unable to even consider going without a Mr. Butler masterpiece when the offer was on the table. "Besides, she's going to bring most of this to the station."
“Get yourself a cup, darling and join us,” his mother instructed and Jack, as obedient as ever, did as he was told, sitting diplomatically and precisely halfway between them at the head of the table.
“You were at the station?” Phryne asked him once he was settled.
“Yes. Nothing murder related, I’m afraid. Meeting with Russell Street about new training procedures.”
“Oh.” She settled back into her chair, suddenly uninterested and he smiled at her disappointed face.
“Phryne was just telling me about the day that you two met,” Anna explained. “She had just stepped off the boat from Europe and somehow landed in the middle of one of your crime scenes?” She asked less than innocently.
Jack knew immediately what his mother was referencing and glared at her for her cheek but Anna, bless her, looked unapologetic for making the connection to her own love story. Phryne was going to like knowing Anna Robinson, she decided.
“Yes, well, that happens more frequently than you’d expect,” Jack scoffed, playing off their first interaction as if it were just another day as he helped himself to the plate of goodies on the table. “Miss Fisher has an uncanny ability to attract trouble.” He licked some stray cream from his thumb.
“You shouldn’t complain; it keeps us in business,” Phryne defended.
He shrugged, unable to argue that point as Phryne glanced down at her watch.
“Oh, speaking of trouble, I’m going to be late,” she tsked herself. “I have an appointment with a client regarding a stolen necklace. How long are you staying in Melbourne?” She asked.
“Only for a few days,” Anna replied.
“I don’t want to interrupt your time together or any plans that you may have, but I’d love to have you both over for a meal while you’re in town. If you’re interested, of course,” she added.
“I’d take her up on it, Mum. Mr. Butler is a world-class chef. Second only to you,” he praised and she patted his hand for the compliment.
“That would be lovely,” she accepted.
“Wonderful. Jack, call and let Mr. B know when to expect you? He’ll do the rest. Mrs. Robinson...”
“Anna,” she corrected as Phryne stood up.
“Anna, it was so lovely to meet you. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to make your stay here more enjoyable. I am extremely well-connected.” She grinned at Jack.
“Oh, that’s unnecessary,” she shook her head.
“Nonsense. Any woman who can produce a man like Jack Robinson deserves anything she wants.” She turned to the man in question. “Try and convince her to be a little spoiled while she’s here?” She requested.
“I’ll try. Your client is waiting.” He showed her towards the front door, relieving his mother of the pressure to accept anything against her will, navigating their interaction like the true gentleman that he was. Phryne felt her affection for him grow yet again.
“I’ll make up the loss,” she followed him confidently, putting her gloves on with practiced ease.
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” he fretted under his breath and she grinned.
“I’ll wait until I’m around the corner. You won’t be complicit in my crimes,” she patted his chest gently. “Happy birthday,” she whispered as she brushed her cheek with his, avoiding smearing her lipstick.
“I’ll see you soon.”
He watched her get into her car and he waved from the doorway as she drove away.
When Jack turned around again, his mother was standing in the kitchen doorway, wearing a smirk that he hadn’t seen in a very long time.
“What?” He asked.
“What do you mean, what?” She asked back, gesturing towards the front door. “A beautiful woman shows up unannounced on your doorstep with a birthday cake and nothing but lovely things to say about you and you want me to believe that it’s nothing?” She huffed at the thought.
“Mum, no,” he rolled his eyes, not wanting to discuss it.
“And why not?”
“Because it’s more complicated than that.”
“What is complicated? You two appear to be more in sync after a year than you and Rosie were after ten.”
Jack gave her a warning look before heading back into his bedroom to change.
“I’m just saying, you’re a fool if you think a woman like that is going to wait around for you forever. Women want to know that they’re wanted,” she maintained, patiently holding court in the parlor.
“Phryne is a modern woman and more than capable of going after whatever or whomever she pleases,” he yelled through the closed bedroom door.
“And you're not modern? A divorced man living in his own house with not even a housekeeper to take care of him,” she clucked in disapproval.
Jack groaned under his breath in frustration and fought the urge to bang his head against the nearest wall. He would never shake that sin in her eyes. It was one of the rare fissures in her pride for him.
When he reappeared in the parlor, freshly dressed for the rest of their afternoon, he found her staring down at the gold locket around her neck. It had been a gift from his father and a talisman of sorts that she rubbed whenever she was thinking of him. Jack’s will to argue against his own happiness suddenly left him and he joined her on the sofa, taking her free hand in silent understanding.
“I never thought I’d live to see the day when I’d say this, but you don’t have enough of your father in you.” She sounded regretful, as if they could have done better with him if given another chance. “When he wanted something, he knew it, and he’d do anything in the world to get it. I know you’ve seen terrible things, Jackie, things no one could possibly imagine, and you’ve learned how to be brave in the face of those things. But sometimes, facing the good requires even more bravery than facing the bad.” She squeezed his hand. “And there is so much good in the world. You just have to reach out and take it.”
“Alright, Mum,” he agreed, unable to argue when she so sincerely meant well. “Don’t worry.” He patted the top of her hand.
“A battle lost long ago,” she sighed as she placed her head on his shoulder and he smiled.
Phryne cursed the prompt knock on the door.
She was running more than a little behind. Dot finished dressing her as she had fixed her own makeup and hair. Between the two, they had barely managed to make her presentable but it would have to do.
“Go, Miss.” Dot encouraged and Phryne tried to look nonchalant.
“Welcome!” Phryne made her way into the parlor just as Mr. Butler was leading Jack and his mother inside. “Please, please, come in, I’m so sorry, I’ve only just gotten back from my case,” she excused her lack of breath as she placed a hand on her stomach. “Anna, this is my assistant Miss Dorothy Williams and you’ve already met Mr. Butler of course,” she introduced the pair just as Cec and Bert came wandering in casually from the kitchen, clearly oblivious to the goings on.
“And Mr. Albert Johnson and Mr. Cecil Yates. Gentlemen, this is Jack’s mother, Mrs. Anna Robinson.” Phryne smiled at the poorly hidden surprise on their faces.
“Good evening,” Anna smiled at the crowd gathered in the doorway.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Robinson,” Cec smiled as he shook her hand warmly, kind as ever.
“Hello,” Bert followed suit before stepping back and giving Phryne a knowing look.
“Please make yourselves comfortable in the parlor. Jack, you know where the refreshments are if you're so inclined. I’ll be just a moment longer.”
Phryne saw Jack’s breath visibly relax as she escorted the men back into the kitchen. He appeared to be more than a little nervous about this evening and having the red raggers meet his mother was not going to help matters.
“Didn't ever think of the Inspector as having a mum,” Bert smiled to Cec as he peeked around the corner once more before disappearing into the kitchen.
“Don't lose focus now, men. You're still on the clock,” she reminded them. “Details about the gambling ring and how Harold Drake managed to skip town by tomorrow evening.” She slipped them enough cash to keep them busy and drinking until then. “I’m going to be indisposed for the foreseeable future.”
“Go get ‘em, Miss,” Cec teased.
She took another deep breath in preparation and headed back into the fray where she found Jane and Dot chatting with the Inspector and his mother on their way out the door for their own night on the town.
“I must apologize. Tonight, our home has unexpectedly become Flinders Street,” she smiled as she tugged on the back of Jane’s hair playfully, “but dinner is ready.”
“We’ll leave you to it.” Dot nudged for Jane to follow her.
“Have fun.” Phryne kissed the top of her ward’s head. “Be safe.”
“We will,” Jane nodded. “It was nice meeting you, Mrs. Robinson.”
“You as well, dear.” Anna looked incredibly charmed by Jane as she watched her leave. “What a sweet child,” she praised.
“We’re fond of her,” Phryne smiled. “She’s another one of your son’s heroic stories,” she gave Jack the credit as they began to move into the dining room.
“How so?” Anna turned to await Jack’s explanation as he pulled out a chair for her across from Phryne.
“When I took Jane in, he spoke to the necessary officials to allow her to reside here instead of going back into state custody,” Phryne explained as she sat down. “He saved her life.”
“And avoided having to file kidnapping charges on you when you stole her out from under my protection,” Jack teased, pushing in his mother’s chair before sitting in his usual spot at the head of the table.
Mr. Butler came in and poured wine for everyone and Phryne just smiled at Jack knowingly. All the self-deprecating humor in the world could never hide his noble acts.
“Before we begin, a toast to the man of the hour,” Phryne picked up her glass.
“Oh, please don’t,” he begged as his mother shushed him and put her hand on his arm.
“And just for that interruption, you get the long version,” she smiled, watching him squirm. She cleared her throat to exacerbate his discomfort before raising her glass. She looked at him, sitting beside his mother, and felt a rush of honest emotion hit her. “I don’t think I’ve ever told you this, but I consider myself very fortunate to have met you, Jack Robinson.” She smiled and he looked up at her in surprise. “You’d never notice yourself but I’ve spent the last few months watching you leave a quiet but indelible mark on the world. Even the criminals begrudgingly respect you,” she teased. “I know that I wouldn’t be standing here today without you, nor would many of our friends.” She let that thought sink in as he lowered his head. “You are a remarkably unique man, Jack and you deserve nothing but the very best that life has to offer. Happy birthday,” she raised her glass.
His mother clinked glasses with him before patting his hand.
“Thank you,” he murmured sincerely, the tips of his ears flushing at her words.
Phryne simply nodded and returned to her chair as Mr. Butler served the food.
After dinner, Phryne escorted everyone back to the parlor.
“Do you play, Miss Fisher?” Anna asked as she glanced over the piano.
“No,” she chuckled, “I never had the patience to sit still long enough to learn. Do you?”
“Oh yes,” she smiled, “we learned to play in church. My father was a reverend. It’s why we came to Australia.”
“Well, please, help yourself. Someone should get some use out of it,” she encouraged.
Anna glanced at the piano for a moment before walking over to it and running a finger over it.
“Jack, come,” she commanded as she pulled out the stool and Phryne’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Careful, Miss Fisher, they’ll fall out of your head,” he whispered under his breath as he passed her.
Phryne watched in amazement as Jack and his mother consulted for a minute and sat down side by side on the piano bench.
Anna began to play and Jack joined in after a few beats, the bass line of the happy duet.
When it had finished, Phryne clapped wildly from her spot on the sofa.
Anna stood up and put her hands on Jack’s shoulders, rubbing them encouragingly.
“Jack, you play something for us now.”
“She says something,” he gave a small smirk towards Phryne as she made room for Anna on the sofa, “what she really means is….”
He began to play a song Phryne didn’t recognize but what sounded like an old ballad or possibly a hymn.
“I sang this to him when he was young.” Anna squeezed Phryne’s arm playfully.
Phryne watched as Jack played the song perfectly and she wondered if he would ever stop surprising her. She turned when she felt Anna's careful eyes on her. The knowing smile she flashed as she turned back to her son told Phryne that she had revealed too much in her gaze. Then again, Anna seemed to approve.
When Jack finished, he excused himself from the parlor and Phryne sighed.
“All of those nights sitting here and he never once told me that he could play the piano.” Phryne folded her arms. “Anna, I’m quite glad that you arrived or who knows what untold skills I might have missed.”
“You take good care of my son,” Anna set her hand on her knee. “I can tell.”
“I try my best.” Phryne smiled. “He was like a stray animal at first. I had to bribe him with food until he trusted me enough to come inside on his own.”
Anna laughed and shook her head.
“How is he really doing? Now that Rosie is gone?” She asked with a glance towards the hall.
Phryne paused, suddenly getting a sick feeling in her stomach.
“I’m sorry, I don’t... was Rosie his wife?” She clarified, both ashamed that she didn’t know his wife’s name and secretly hoping there wasn’t someone else that had never been mentioned.
“Yes. I don’t suppose you’ve met,” Anna realized, shaking her head. “He’s never spoken of her?”
“Jack doesn’t share his personal life, at least, not with me.” Phryne could tell Anna seemed worried by that and Phryne reached out for her hand. “But you don’t need to worry about him. I meant what I said tonight. He’s quite beloved by those around him. We may not know his secrets, but we know the man, and that’s enough.”
And Phryne almost let herself believe it.
“Miss Fisher’s toast was lovely tonight,” Anna spoke as Jack drove quietly home in the dark.
“It was very kind,” he agreed, turning onto his street. What more could he say regarding the speech that had caught him so off-guard? He never expected her to speak so highly of him.
“Is it always that busy there? People coming and going?”
“Busier, I presume. I’m usually there after dinner when it’s quieter.”
“Jane is lovely. And Miss Williams, she is the one seeing your Constable Collins?”
“You’ve never mentioned them before,” she pointed out. “Not even in passing.”
“I guess I didn’t think to,” he replied honestly, surprised by the accusation.
“I wish you would have.”
Jack put the car in park and turned to look at her.
“And why is that?” He asked earnestly.
“Because I was wrong,” she confessed before getting out of the car.
Jack had never heard those words leave his mother’s mouth and he literally frowned in confusion, unable to leave the car as he tried to process her statement and what it meant. When his curiosity finally overwhelmed his frozen state, he got out of the car and hurried up the walk behind her.
“Mum, what do you mean? Wrong about what?”
“When Rosie left, I didn’t know what would become of you,” she explained as he unlocked the door and opened it for her. “No church, no family, just you and your work taking up all of your life.” She touched the lines in his face. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s important work, but without balance…”
She didn’t have to finish; Jack understood.
“But you’re not alone,” she told him. “They’re kind people who care about you. Now I know that you’re being looked after.”
“Well, I’ll be sure to include more about them in my future letters,” Jack appeased. “A report of Miss Fisher’s latest additions to her criminal record, what Dot brought us for lunch, Jane’s test scores, and Mr. Butler’s recipe for pot roast. Perhaps I’ll include a postscript on my own life for good measure if you’re still interested by the end,” he teased and she pinched his ear as she passed by.
“Don’t get smart with your mother,” she warned as Jack rubbed his ear with a pout. "I can be dangerous. I know everything about you."
A few days later, Jack pulled up to his crime scene only to find Phryne instructing both Collins and Miss Williams in rigor mortis. She was halfway through lividity patterns when he interrupted her.
“Thank you for your help, Miss Fisher, but I believe the professionals can take it from here,” he said as he walked up behind her.
“No need, Inspector. I’ve solved the case already,” she sighed. “Harold Drake, thought to have skipped town nine days ago after informing on a gambling ring led by Frederick Rhodes.”
“I’m familiar with Rhodes,” Jack nodded. “Not one to get his hands dirty.”
“No, but judging by the style, I’m going to cast a vote for Billy the Fish, real name William Fisher, no relation. He runs a shipping boat off the docks and is Rhodes’ muscle.”
“May I at least try for cause of death?” Jack questioned.
“If you’d like,” she allowed as Jack began to kneel beside the body. “But the hole in his back is going to give it away.”
He paused dramatically before standing back up.
“Is your mother still in town?” She asked before he could start a fight.
“No, she left yesterday,” Jack revealed. “But you’ll be happy to know that she found you incredibly charming.”
“Well I am,” Phryne agreed. “And I loved meeting her as well.”
“I’ll be sure to pass that along,” he said, clearly hoping to change the subject.
“No need, she left me her address. We’re going to write to each other.”
Jack’s jaw clenched and she knew that he had reached his limit of teasing for the day. Any more and he would be a cross, pouting mess. He really could be dramatic that way.
“If you need help tracking down Billy, I believe you’ll find him at the pub around the corner come midnight. Cec and Bert will be waiting outside for you in the cab should you need reinforcements. Good luck, Inspector.” She headed back for the Hispano.
“Wait,” Jack stopped her dead in her tracks and she turned around to look at him innocently. “My evidence,” he beckoned for her to hand it over.
She rolled her eyes and opened her pocketbook dramatically to show him that it was empty.
“Don’t make me pat you down in public, Miss Fisher.”
“I’d settle for private but you always seem to refuse my advances.” She held out her arms, willing to let him have his way with her, no matter the setting. “What are you patting me down for precisely?” She asked curiously.
“His pockets were clearly ransacked and you never could keep your hands off of a body.”
She was about to raise her eyebrows when he beat her to it, arching his own and daring her to deny it. Unable to win the verbal sparring, she closed the distance between them again, always just a touch too close for their environment.
“There’s no need to bicker, Jack. We’re all friends here. What was taken and from where?” She asked quietly and she could have sworn she saw Jack’s skin prickle in response.
“If I knew that, I wouldn’t be asking you. See how the linings of his pockets are bunched?”
Damn, she had missed it entirely.
“Whatever it was, it must have been small enough to be concealed in a trouser pocket. Wallet? Keys? Notebook?” Jack asked Hugh.
"Or a necklace." Phryne considered and Jack looked up knowingly.
“His wallet was in his suit jacket pocket,” Hugh chimed in from across the body. “It was how they identified him.”
“It would appear that you left some work for me after all, Miss Fisher,” Jack stood up.
It was Jack’s turn to show up unannounced when he appeared in the kitchen window at Wardlow.
“Jack?” Phryne frowned as he made it to the kitchen door. She waved him inside and he quietly entered.
“I saw the light on from the street. The rest of the house looked dark so I thought I would take the liberty of cutting right to the chase.”
“Come in and have some tea.” She gestured towards the table. “Dot made biscuits this afternoon.”
“Thank you, but after the amount of treats left in my mother’s wake, I think I’m off sweets for a bit.” Jack touched his stomach.
Phryne rolled her eyes, knowing better, and poured him a cup of tea.
"What brings you to my door?”
“We brought in William Fisher this evening. He was right where you said he’d be. We have enough to hold him.”
“Good.” She set the pot back down and joined him at the table. “My client will be pleased.”
“I thought that you were on the hunt for a stolen necklace?” He frowned. "What led you to this case?"
“The necklace was stolen by her husband to pay off his gambling debts to Rhodes,” she said simply. “You can see why she didn't want to go to the police. I can't help it if a missing piece of jewelry happens to close a massive gambling ring," she shrugged and took a sip of her tea.
“Investigating can be tricky that way,” Jack commented passively, marveling at her capacity to stumble into trouble. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a photograph. He slid it across the table towards her.
“You found it?”
“When Drake didn't turn over the necklace to Rhodes, he told Fisher where to find it in exchange for Drake's murder."
"In his pockets." Phryne sighed.
"I’m afraid it’s evidence for the foreseeable future, but I’ll be sure to get it back to your client as soon as we’re done with it.”
“Jack, I believe you just hijacked your first case from me,” she beamed. “How does it feel being on the other side?"
“I have quite enough work on my own desk before joining in on yours,” he pointed out. "I can't help it if the cases overlapped."
“I'm going to remember that line," she warned and it made him smile.
"Then I had better get some rest," he announced as he started to stand up."Something tells me that I'll need it."
She smiled to herself as he made his way towards the kitchen door.
"Lock this behind me," he reminded her and she nodded at the concern. They had annoyed some very powerful people in the last week. “Goodnight.”
"Goodnight," she said as she watched him go.
Phryne looked down at his half-cup of tea and was surprised to find that she was disappointed. She had wanted him to stay.
She pushed the thought aside and stood up to clean the dishes.
Jack was not the sort of man who slept in unmarried women's beds and she was not the sort of woman who allowed men to sleep in hers.
They were simply friends; that would be enough.
Chapter 4: Epilogue
One Year Later....
Jack awoke to the familiar sensation of Phryne's hands sliding down his chest.
"Happy birthday," she leaned down to whisper in his ear as he stirred under her.
“Thank you," he mumbled from his shady place in his garden where he had been napping the afternoon away in his new hammock. It was his second favorite souvenir that he’d brought home from their travels. The first was nibbling on his ear behind him.
"I brought you a present from Mr. Butler,” she teased.
“An edible present?” He sounded hopeful.
“Black forest, your favorite.”
“He didn’t have to do that,” Jack stated, touched by the kind action.
“Are you kidding? He’d leave me without a second thought if you asked him nicely."
“I’d certainly be less trouble,” he replied.
“Come inside, I’ll cut you a piece,” she offered as she steadied the hammock long enough for him to slip out of it.
He followed her into the house and sat down at the kitchen table. She fussed over something on the counter before turning around and setting a slice of cake in front of him with a candle on top.
“I thought that we could allow ourselves a single candle,” she winked at him as she lit it.
Jack felt his heart overflow as he realized how far they had come since their first dinner together.
“Thank you,” he murmured and he cupped the back of her thigh lovingly as she stood beside him, her arm draped over his shoulders.
“Make a wish,” she encouraged.
“I don’t have many left to make,” he confessed and to his delight, Phryne swooned a bit over the sentiment.
“You’ll just have to get creative then,” she advised.
He thought about it carefully before leaning in and blowing out his candle.
She looked at him for silent confirmation that he had made a wish and he nodded.
“Good.” She sat down beside him as he took the first bite of cake.
“Oh, god.” Jack groaned in happiness. “That man deserves a bonus,” he informed her as he took another bite and held it out towards her. She took the bite and hummed in appreciation.
He watched her chew, content to stare at her for as long as he could.
"What?" She asked as she covered her mouth.
"Nothing, just admiring you," he confessed.
"You were out in the heat too long," she teased.
Jack kept his thoughts to himself, knowing that he felt more for her than she did for him. She was new to this and he didn't want to frighten her anymore than she already was.
Phryne seemed to notice his silence and she picked up his fork and cut another bite. She held it out towards him but pulled it back when he moved forward.
He gave her a pout.
"Cake for your thoughts," she negotiated.
"Are you holding my birthday cake hostage?" He inquired.
"I certainly can't break through those walls on my own. I've tried." She ate the bite herself, speeding up his processing time considerably.
He stole the plate out of her hands, just to be safe.
"I was thinking that I love you," he revealed casually.
She suddenly grew more serious.
“But you didn’t want to tell me?” She tilted her head.
“I wasn’t sure how you felt about the matter,” he replied honestly. “It wasn’t so long ago that you married another man simply to avoid any potential advances from me.”
"Jack, I told you that I gave you my heart long before you asked for it. I meant that."
"There is a difference between someone having your heart and wanting them to have it," he said pointedly and she silently relented to that truth. The conundrum had plagued them for the majority of their relationship.
She stood up and made room for herself on his lap by straddling his waist. When she was as close as she could be, she kissed him gently, nuzzled his nose with hers and sighed.
"I love you," she looked him square in the eye. "And you are the only man who has ever had the pleasure of hearing me say those words so you'd better believe me when I say them."
"I do," he promised. He let a small smile tug at the corner of his mouth and she was too close to his face to not notice.
“What?” She asked, her fingertips brushing over the corner of his mouth.
“You were my wish,” he stated simply.
He caught the brief trace of her smile before she kissed him happily.
“Do you want to know my wish?” She asked as she seductively moved backwards until she was sitting on the table behind her.
“Not until I move my cake,” he said seriously as he took the plate away and set it on the nearest counter.
"Jack!" She protested in disbelief as she watched him go but she was laughing when he crawled over top of her again, slowly pressing her down into the table with sinful intentions.
"I never said you were my only wish..." he grinned against her lips before she kissed him heartily, silencing him for good.