Jack squinted his eyes open as the ringing telephone roused him from a comfortable sleep in his library. A book lay facedown on his chest, and he set it beside the glass that held the last few drops of the scotch he had drunk earlier. Rubbing his eyes between thumb and forefinger, he padded to the telephone.
"Jack Robinson," he answered. He heard the hoarseness of his voice and quickly covered the mouthpiece to clear his throat.
"Mmm, the one and only," replied a beloved female voice.
"Phryne," he said for the simple pleasure of hearing it. "It's late... isn't it? Everything all right?"
"Oh, yes. I suspect I disturbed your much-needed sleep, Jack. I am sorry."
"No, no. What is it?"
He heard a soft sigh and waited through a short pause. "There will be company joining me tonight," she said.
"Someone I know?" he asked lightly, his heart sinking as he tried to convince himself that this call wasn't the conversation he had been dreading since he and Phryne had become lovers a few blissful months ago.
"I don't think so..." After a beat, she murmured, "Jack..."
He swallowed what felt like a rock in his throat. "I see." He wouldn't force her to say it, and he didn't especially want to hear it. He cleared his throat again.
"Jack, I know that it's one thing to accept something in theory and then to have it realized. If you--"
"No," he interrupted. "No, I gave you my word, and I meant it." He sighed and waited for her to say something. When she didn't, he continued, "I meant it, Phryne. I would never try to change who you are. I knew..." Another damned lump in his throat. "I knew that this would be part of our arrangement, and I agreed to it."
He had agreed to it, but he had hoped... he had deluded himself into thinking that if he could only be enough for her, if he could satisfy her in every way, she wouldn't want to invite any other man to her bed. He could safely agree to something that would never happen. It was self-centered, arrogant, and foolish. He knew that. And yet.
"I would never hurt you for the world, Jack," she said. "I called only because I promised to tell you."
He shoved aside his bitterness and focused on the compliment of her trust in him and in what they had together. The compliment of her honesty. Trusting her in return was the only appropriate way to repay her.
"You did, and I thank you for that. I trust you, and I want you to enjoy your evening without another thought wasted on me."
"No thought of you is ever wasted, Jack Robinson. Does your invitation to dinner tomorrow night still stand?"
"I look forward to it. Good night, dearest man."
"Good night. Be careful."
She arrived the following evening in a dress that she must have remembered was a favorite of his. Her pale skin seemed to glow against the midnight blue, and her eyes looked like sapphires. She was, as always, the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
Gripping his lapels in both hands, she kissed him soundly, muffling his surprised laugh.
"I missed you," she said as they stole a moment to breathe. Her lips traced the line of his jaw, and he tightened his arm around her waist. "I want you. I want that delicious-smelling food first." She grinned and nipped his bottom lip between her teeth. "Then I want you. More than once. In so many ways." She loosened his tie, tossed it aside, and made fast work of his top two buttons. "I want you to eat dinner like this. Your throat inspires me."
"So informal, Miss Fisher?" he smiled.
Her eyes were nothing short of predatory, and that answered his question.
Jack lit the candles in the center of his small table and served Phryne and himself. They ate quietly for some time until Phryne set down her fork and reached over to lay her hand over his.
"I want to talk to you," she said. She stroked the back of his hand with her thumb. "About last night. About such nights in the future."
Such nights in the future. How could he ever make peace with this? He had spent the previous night unable to fall asleep, too preoccupied with images of another man's hands and lips on Phryne's body. Another man watching her face as she came undone in his arms. No, he would never try to change her, but Jack didn't know if he could ever change himself enough to accept what it meant to love her. And why should he be the one to change? Why--
He felt her hand squeeze his. "Jack? Come back to me."
"I can't talk about this," he said, pulling away from her. "Perhaps another time. Certainly another time. But I'm not a perfect person, Phryne, and I can't talk about this so soon."
"You are a perfect person. A perfect person with perfectly deep feelings." Though her eyes shone, she smiled at him a little. "I love you, Jack Robinson."
She had never said those words to him, and he had never said them to her. She must have known how he loved her - and long before he first felt her naked body pressed to his - but he hadn't dared to imagine that she could feel so strongly for him, much less tell him so. He felt his breath catch in his lungs.
"A lover brings a few hours of pleasure and enjoyment. You are so much more than that, Jack. You are my partner in everything. I love working with you, talking with you, drinking with you, eating with you, making love with you... everything, Jack. And you mustn't think..." Her voice broke a little, surprising him. "You must never think that I spend time with any other man because you fail me in some way. I don't take lovers because I'm not satisfied. It's because I learn new things about myself. I need that feeling of being newly discovered, of knowing myself a little better. I know that you are different, but can you understand at all?"
Words failed him; he could only nod.
Phryne left her chair and slid herself into his lap. "You know John Donne," she said, stroking the curls of hair at his brow, "when he compares his love to a compass? I am the foot who must obliquely run." She kissed his exposed throat. "'Thy firmness makes my circle just, and makes me end where I begun.'"
"But this isn't a valediction," he said. He ran a hand over her thigh and could feel her garter under the thin material of her dress.
"What did you learn last night?" he mumbled between kisses.
She tilted her head to the side as his lips wandered down. "That you love me."
"You must have known that already, Miss Fisher."
"That you love me the way I love you." Her fingers splayed under his open collar, holding him to her. "Honestly and completely."
"Yes, of course," she laughed. "That I did already know."