Chapter 1: The Cracking Walls
The thrill of the chase was over, and this one had led to a less than satisfying end. Though they had saved the girls, Phryne couldn’t help but think of all the girls that had come before, and it left her sick to her stomach. She knew that the world was full of vile people who did unspeakable thingsーshe had witnessed enough of themーbut to find that Sidney Fletcher and George Sanderson were in the middle of it weighed heavily on her heart.
Phryne could tell that Jack was struggling with the revelation as well. He had looked up to this man for so many yearsーhad called him his father-in-law for most of them. Seeing him like this only added to her pain, because as much as the whole situation was bothering her, it had affected Jack on a deeper level. He hid it well behind his dour expression, but she could see it in the clenched fist and extra deep creases in his brow. She had spent a lot of time looking at that face, and all she wanted to do was ease some of that tension.
As tired and eager as Phryne was to get home, she hesitated to leave. As she contemplated her decision, her eyes were drawn to the woman behind the desk. Despite Rosie’s obvious disapproval of Jack’s relationship with her, Phryne wouldn’t wish this upon anyone. As if sensing her presence, Rosie turned, the betrayal clearly etched across her face, body shaking from angerーher only defense against the shock. Huffing, she turned away again. Of course, the last person she wanted to see was Phryne. A stranger to witness her shame. Rosie wouldn’t know that Phryne could relate to having a father who tried to justify poor decisions and deny involvementーto have the one person in your life who you should be able to rely on leave you unprotected. George Sanderson had gone beyond that, though. He had knowingly allowed his daughter to build a new life with someone she thought she could trust, and now this whole world was crumbling down around her.
With respect to the other woman’s feelings, Phryne decided to leave, but the sound of George Sanderson’s voice stopped her. She caught Jack’s glance and was torn. Maybe it was the rush of adrenaline subsiding and the reality of what had just happened finally sinking in, but she just wanted to be near him. It had crossed her mind at one pointーtied up in that holdーthat she might have gotten herself into a situation she could not get out of. She also couldn’t forget the sound of him yelling her name; it played over and over in her head stirring something within herーtugging at her heart in a way that was happening more and more frequently.
Since his divorce, Jack had been different, and the changes had not gone unnoticed by Phryne. They had sparked unfamiliar feelings within her; however, instead of exploring them, she had pushed them awayーhidden them behind a wall. But in recent weeks, that wall had started to crack without her even realizing it. And now, all those things she had refused to acknowledgeーthe butterflies in her stomach as they walked arm in arm, the desire to spend evenings playing draughts, her eagerness to include him (and be included) in cases, the flickers of jealousyーwere suddenly seeping through and a picture was beginning to form.
Taking a deep breath, she shook away those thoughts. She wasn’t quite ready to deal with what that picture was, but it seemed that it was not to be that simple, because as she watched Jack’s gaze shift to Rosie, something else filled her mindーdoubt. It wasn’t often that Phryne doubted herself, but as Jack made his way over to Rosie, she doubted her decision to build a wall around her heartーto not take anything seriously. She wondered if it had taken her too long to see what could be.
Standing frozen in place at the door, her eyes locked on Jack as his arms wrapped around his former wife. As she watched him comfort her, his hands stroking her hair, she suddenly found it impossible to breathe, her eyes glued to the couple. Their familiarity caused a tightening in her chestーand that flicker of jealousy was back.
She felt no animosity toward Rosie, for she herself had been alone and desperate in the pastーabandoned by those she had called her friends. It would have made all the difference if she had had someone to turn to for support. Though it had made her stronger, she wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone.
The woman had held herself together for as long as she could, and the sobs could not be contained any longer. Rosie resisted his embrace at first, pushing him away, but Jack’s soothing words and open arms were impossible to resist, and she finally collapsed into him. Who better to turn to than gentle, steadfast Jack? Phryne knew just how soothing his presence could. And he was there for Rosie, because that was the kind of man he was. Jack and Rosie’s history was long, and Phryne couldn’t fault him for wanting to comfort the woman who had been his wifeーwhom he had loved for over a decade.
She turned to leave. They didn’t need an audience.
Fingers gripped at his jacket and sobs vibrated through his body. Cradling Rosie's head with his hand, Jack pulled her closer. Unfortunately, the man who should be here to comfort her was the one who had betrayed her. Jack was the only safe spot she currently had, which was ironic since he had hardly been the husband she needed. He had known his marriage was over years before he finally decided to go through with the divorce. He still loved her and probably always would, but he was a different person nowーhe had been a different person after the war and their marriage had just never recovered. It had been hard to accept that he had failedーfailed her. It was hard not to think that he might have saved her from all of this if he had just tried harder. But deep down he knew that wasn’t true. It was never meant to be, and in the end the decision had been mutual. She deserved the chance to be happy.
The familiar smell of her perfume filled his nostrils, but instead of it bringing back fond memories, it only made him think of someone else’s perfume. Phryne. The fear that had gripped his heart when he realized she was on the ship came crashing back. He hadn’t had a chance to talk to her or even ask if she was alright. His eyes did a sweep of the room and realized that she had left. Of course she had. She didn’t have any reason to stay.
As much as he wanted her to, he had been fairly certain she wouldn’t stay home, and his suspicions had been proven correct. That was one of the things that made him want to throw her in a cell. He sighed. Yes, he would like to make her understand how dangerous her actions were, but it also made him want to kiss her. God help him. She was so infuriating. And besides, he couldn’t be too upset with her since he also had ignored orders to stand down. But the moment he had realized that she was on the ship, his heart had plummeted. The situation was more dire than he had anticipated and she had found herself in the middle of it. It had brought back the memory of the last time he thought he had lost her. He had done what he thought he needed to do at that pointーhe had pulled awayーpushed her to give him some space. In the end, it hadn’t worked. Looking back, he wasn’t surprised. There was this connection between them that made it impossible to stay away.
She made him feel alive in a way that he hadn’t felt in a very long timeーor ever really. He had never considered himself an interesting man, but a year later she was still invading his personal space and inviting him over for drinks. He had been given the chance to see past the stylish haircut and fancy clothesーto see past the troublemaker ーand see the woman who would risk her life to save five girls locked away on a ship in the middle of the night. She had captured his heart with all her little looks and in all the ways she found to frustrate him. But something had been holding him back. He had been waiting for some kind of sign from her that she felt the same way. And maybe that was what she had been doingーshowing that she did careーin her way. Now something else had gripped his heart and he needed to see her.
Rosie shifted in his arms creating space between them as she wiped away the tears. There was a twinge of guilt in the pit of his stomach for thinking about another woman while Rosie was sobbing in his arms. So, right now he needed to focus on her. She deserved that much.
Chapter 2: Not Always, Miss Fisher
A combination of exhaustion and sorrow pulled at her limbs as she made her way up the walk to the front door. She wanted to sink into a warm bath and then curl up in bedーface the harsh reality of the day another time. However, upon entering Wardlow, she was taken aback by the gathering in her parlour. Dot and Aunt P were cooing over a sleeping babyーdefinitely not how Phryne wanted to spend her evening. She quickly made her escape to the sanctuary of her bedroom, leaving the baby and its mother in the others’ capable hands.
Closing the door behind her, she leaned against it, a sigh escaping her lips. The dark quiet of the room enveloped her and she again felt the tightening in her chest. It was just the stress of the day. She had after all been tied up, put in a hold, and been shot atーof course she would be feeling tired and a little overwhelmed. She was still trying to push away the feelings that had bubbled up as she watched Jack and Rosie. She had established years ago that she didn’t want a relationshipーshe wanted to be in control of her own life and not be dependent on anyone else. She still stood by that, so she would be fine if Jack decided to go back with Rosie, but in the back of her mind she knew that it would not be as easy as that.
Pushing herself away from the door she pulled off her coat and threw it over a chair. A nice hot bath could cure a multitude of ailments.
Not wanting to bother Dot, who was probably still consumed with the new baby in the parlour, Phryne started the bath water herself and slowly managed to peel off the layers from her tired body. The shedding of clothes did not help lighten the weight that she was feeling however. Though she didn’t regret her decision to go down to the docks, she could probably have been more careful. How often had Jack told her that one of these days her luck was going to run out. Fortunately, it had all worked out in the end and the girls had been rescued. All because of Jack. She wasn’t sure that she would have gotten off the ship without him.
The faint sound of the baby crying brought back the vision of Rosie crying in Jack’s arms and the nagging feeling that it was more than just the life threatening events of the day that were tugging at her heart. Though she tried to ignore it, she knew that having Jack in her life made her happy. And the sadness that was creeping through those cracks in her carefully built wall was entirely due to the fact that Jack was currently with his ex-wife. She now wondered if she had been foolish in her attempt to push him away. Did she miss out on something wonderful? She may never know.
Sinking into the steaming water, the wave of emotion was far more overwhelming than she had anticipated. A sob wracked her body and she wrapped her arms around her legsーthe aromas of the oils in the water surrounding her. It did nothing to ease the tension that had built in her body. She couldn’t deny it any longer. There were feelings. She had of course been lying to herself thinking that this was no different than any other friendship. She had known Jack was differentーknew he mattered. To her.
Memories from a few days ago floated through her mind. The beating of her heart as she stood between his legs, the smell of his soap filling her nostrils intensifying the seemingly innocent act of helping him with his tie until it became incredibly intimate. She had stood close to him before but this had been different. He had invited her into his spaceーgiven her a reason to stand so very close. His hands resting on his thighs, mere inches away from her hips, and she could have sworn she had felt the electric charge between them. Her heart had been beating so fast.
Leaning back into the now lukewarm water she let the idea sink in. She could try and lie to herself, that it was just the events of the day, but too much had already been brought out into the light and it would be impossible to push it all back in. She wasn’t used to being unsure of herself, and not knowing what Jack’s feelings were left an uncomfortable question mark in her mind. Things had seemed so much more complicated between them since their brief separation. She certainly wasn’t going to chase after him, and if he chose Rosie, she wouldn’t blame him.
It was true that she didn’t want a relationship, but Jack hadn’t tried to change her, but instead, he had learned to understand her. He had accepted her as she was. She had lived a full lifeーexperienced so many things and met so many people. Yet at this moment nothing in the world mattered as much as Jack Robinson. She had let him get close and it had been worth it. Was she about to get her heart broken? She ran her wet hands over her face to mask the tears that had escaped. If so, she was just going to have to deal with the wreckage.
He didn’t know how long he had been sitting outsideーso many different thoughts racing through his head. This move could change everything. It could end thingsーor it could give them a future together. Was he willing to risk that? Because, he could drive home right now. She would show up at the station tomorrow and they could carry on as they had been for the past eleven months. And if all he had to look forward to was an evening cocktail in her parlour to celebrate the closure of a case, the sound of her heels clicking on the pavement behind him as they arrived at a crime scene, and invitations to her family parties, he would be a happy man.
If he walked into that house right now, he risked losing even those little things that made his world a better place. It was a big chance to take. One that he kept battling with himself over, which was why he was still sitting in his car.
His fingers drummed the top of the steering wheel as he gazed up at the house. It wasn’t like he had received a sign that this was the time to make a decision, but this case had settled some things in his mind. She had ignored his request to stay away from the docks, had nearly gotten herself killed, and somehow had come away from it unscathed. At least as far as he knew. Which was another reason he wanted to see her. Everything had happened so quickly on the docks and at the stationーhe knew she was alive and walking around, but he needed to talk to her. But what had finally made him decide to drive his car over was that he had just seen Rosie lose everything she held dear, and he was suddenly so grateful for what Phryne had brought into his life. Despite all the ups and downs, it was too precious and it could all be taken away so quickly. He was happy with what they had now, but he felt the chance for something more was worth the risk. Now, he just had to decide what he was going to do about it.
But he knew Phryne, and she didn't want a relationshipーthat was too serious. What did she want? It had always been unclear to him exactly where he stood with her or what she wanted out of this relationship or what it meant to herーhow seriously she took their friendship. But now that he had come to the realization himself, he had to know. He couldn’t keep going along playing this gameーas fun as it had been. He needed to know.
Spending the evening with Rosie had shown him just how much he had changed. He couldn’t go back to herーhe wasn’t that person anymoreーdidn’t want to be. He knew what he wanted. He wanted Phryneーanyway that he could have her. He wasn’t asking for marriageーhe knew that she wasn’t the marrying kindーand he wasn’t even asking for more than what they had right now, but he needed her to know that she mattered to him.
His eyes shifted to the window where the glow of a light could be seen. She was still up. Still unsure how she would respond, scared that he could shatter the delicate facade they had in place, he walked up to the front door.
Wrapped in her favorite satin kimono, she had gone downstairs to check on her guestsーbeing sure to avoid the sleeping babyーthoughts of the day still running through her head. Though she had come to terms with the fact that whatever happened she could deal with it, part of her still hoped that Jack would come by. Would their quiet evenings of drinks and draughts go to the wayside if he and Rosie got back together? She paused at the bottom of the stairs. That thought hadn’t crossed her mind until now. It was those small things that she hadn’t ever really considered missing until now. But she could always find something else to keep herself occupied.
Making her way back up the stairs, she heard the hesitant knock on the window. She held her breath. She wasn’t altogether sure she hadn’t imagined it. Another quiet knock reached her ears and her heart started beating just a little bit faster. With cautious footsteps, she walked to the door. She certainly hadn’t expected him to come by, but who else could be at this time of night?
As he walked in, not even needing an invitation, the only thing she could read on his face was exhaustion. It had been a very long day for all of them.
She hadn’t quite realized what it would feel to see him now that she was aware of her feelings. The pressure in her chest was building. “I thought you were with Rosie.” Saying her name, Phryne felt as if her heart was being wrung out.
The exhaustion masked any other emotion he might be feeling, so she was finding it incredibly hard to read him.
“Is it too late?”
“Never.” He hadn’t questioned his late arrivals for some time, so she wondered what he was putting off saying. How had they gotten to this point? She walked over to stand with himーneeding to be near him.
“I've never seen her like that before. She was in shock. She... just needed some company.”
She didn’t want to push him awayーtowards Rosieーbut she needed him to know she understoodーshe understood if he needed to go back to her.
“She needed you , Jack Robinson. The man who always does the right thing. The noble thing.” As much as it hurt to say, it was the truth, and it was the least she could do to ease his mind. She carefully watched his face as he took in what she had said, and she saw something she hadn’t dared to hope for. He chose me. She hadn’t realized how much she had still been pushing behind that wall of protection until she saw that look in his eyes. She could barely contain the joy that welled up inside her chest.
“Not always, Miss Fisher.”
He stepped closer and her heart skipped a beat. She was lost in his eyes and desperate for his kiss. A real kiss. Because even though he had accused her of kissing him back in the cafe, she honestly couldn’t rememberーwhich might have been one of her greatest regrets. His fingers were mere inches away from hers and she could feel the charge between them.
The intrusion by Aunt P was like a cold bucket of water.
Phryne couldn’t help but groan inside as Jack dropped his hand and took a step back. The loss of the connection was immediately missed, and she wished at that moment that Jack wasn’t such a gentleman and that he had instead made a scene by kissing her in front of Aunt P. But that wasn’t going to happen, though his embarrassmentーevidenced by his red earsーand slightly awkward recovery only endeared him to her more and eased the disappointment. They could revisit this at a later timeーin a less public setting.
Still not quite ready to come out and put words to what she was feeling, she hid behind the guise of seeing him at their next murder investigation, but he didn’t seem to mind and played along. Just knowing that he felt the same wayーthere was no denying it by the grin on his faceーwarmed her heart as she closed the door behind him. Leaning against the door, she didn’t know what to do next. There were so many feelings bubbling up inside of her that it was overwhelming. She hadn’t remembered ever feeling this way. It went beyond happinessーshe felt contentment like she hadn’t realized you could feel. She knew that he was hers.
Barely able to keep himself calm, he listened as the door closed behind him and paused to pull himself together. He could not have imagined that going any betterーunless of course he had been able to kiss her. Mrs. Stanley’s untimely interruption had prevented him that one pleasure.
When he first walked in, he had tried to read herーstill trying to determine if he should go ahead with this idea. But as with most things, she was very good at hiding thingsーuntil she wasn’t. The pain behind her eyes was faint, but he saw it as she basically gave him permission to go back to Rosie. If he hadn’t already admitted to himself that he was in love with her, that offer would have confirmed it. She was such a caring person who poured out love to everyone and always seemed willing to put her own life on the line to save someone else. He had no doubt that she would be fine if he did go back to Rosie, she was strong.
As he stepped forward, “Miss Fisher” rolling off his tongue, her eyes lit upーit was all the verification that he needed. Unfortunately, the kiss was not meant to be, but he wouldn’t let the disapproving look from her aunt dissuade him from trying again at another time. He was going to be able to fall asleep tonight knowing that she knew.