Phryne and Jack both stared into the other's eyes, searching for acceptance, truth, and the spark that made them one, two halves of a whole. Neither was disappointed as dark gray eyes, so deep they might have been brown met stunning blue ones. Jack's swept over the face of the woman he adored, his fingertips suddenly feeling the need to touch her. A strong hand reached to cup her face, the caress as delicate as an angel's wing. A thumb played lightly over her lips, devoid of the usual scarlet smear of lipstick and now just a glorious, lush peach tone that begged to be kissed.
As if reading his mind, Phryne said, "You know, Inspector, I believe that this would be an appropriate moment for a…kiss, perhaps?" She licked her lips lightly, as if in invitation and watched as he swallowed again as he contemplated her words.
He tilted his head a bit to the side and gave her the slightly lop-sided grin she adored. "A kiss, Miss Fisher? That's what you would demand of me now?" he teased.
"Well, it seems a simple enough goal, Inspector. We can go on from there," she suggested, the warmth of her breath teasing his ear.
Something briefly flickered in his eyes, something she couldn't quite decipher. He drew in a deep breath and looked down for a moment as if afraid of all she might read on his face.
The truth was, loving Phryne was easy, admitting it harder; the rest of it scared him senseless. Phryne's past brought lurid images of broken hearts strewn along behind her and he knew that he couldn't survive being one of them. Phryne was a shooting star amongst the heavens; he was Jack, a man whose feet were firmly planted in the earth.
Phryne moved to sit on his lap and he let out a shaky breath he hadn't been aware of holding. All thought left him as her head bent to him, her eyes searching his one last time, as their lips were poised only an inch apart. He was conscious of their mingled breaths, warm and moist between them and he knew his fate was sealed. His hand gently pulled her head down until their lips met, softly, almost tentatively blending together.
A shiver went through Phryne at the contact and for a moment confusion made her pause at this unexpected reaction to a kiss; to Jack's kiss. His lips were warm and tender, moving slowly, enticingly over hers before they deepened the kiss and she felt her lips part in response.
Jack drank her in, her sweetness, her desire. He stifled a groan as his tongue traced the outline of her lips and then dipped into the warmth of her mouth. He felt an almost electric charge go through him as her tongue met his, stroking with increased fervor until he finally broke apart from her, almost panting as he tried to catch his breath, to steady himself.
"Jack?" she questioned, clearly confused by his withdrawal. Her eyes searched his with concern. Had she done something wrong?
"Phryne, we…this…," he stumbled, seeking the right words. "I don't want to go too fast," he finally told her, his words all but a mumble.
"Too fast?" He detected a slight snicker in her tone. "Jack, we've had two years of foreplay for heaven's sake; there's nothing fast about this."
She pinned him with a determined look that told him clearly that she was resolved to win this battle. She smiled a deliciously seductive smile and bent her head to again capture his lips with the promise of more passion to come.
He let himself be carried away by the kiss, like a parched man at an oasis drinking his fill. The truth was that he would never get enough; not enough of her or her dizzying kisses that made him ache for her all the more. For a few minutes he let his fear absent itself and reveled in the exquisiteness that was Phryne Fisher.
When he realized that his body as well as his heart were reacting to her he abruptly stopped the kiss, pulling his mouth from hers all the while his body was screaming that it was madness to stop what they both wanted so badly.
"Phryne, enough!" he pleaded only to have her seek his mouth again. "Miss Fisher! We have to discuss this before things go any farther."
Phryne arched an exquisite eyebrow to gaze upon him. "What is there to discuss, Jack? You want me, I want you; it's very simple."
"No, Miss Fisher, it is not simple at all!"
Her eyes narrowed as she let out an indignant huff of air. What was this about she wondered.
It was 3 in the morning when Hiram Matlock heard the telephone ring downstairs. A call at such an hour could only mean bad news and so he sat up in bed and reached for his robe, slipping it into place.
"What on earth are you doing, Hiram?" Sylvia Matlock inquired as she focused on her husband who was sitting on the edge of the bed.
"The phone is ringing; I'm sure I'll be needed," he began, only to be interrupted by a quiet knock on the door.
Hiram slipped his feet into his slippers and made his way around the bed to answer the door.
Simmons, their butler looked apologetic before speaking. "I'm sorry to disturb you sir, but you have a telephone call from City Gaol. They stated that it was urgent."
"Perfectly alright, Simmons. I'll take it. Please, go back to bed man, sorry you were disturbed."
Simmons nodded and shuffled sleepily down the stairs as Hiram followed. In the hallway he picked up the receiver and spoke into the phone and then listened intently.
"This is Senior Constable Morrison, sir. I'm sorry to wake you but there's been a bit of a problem here; George Sanderson has collapsed and has had to be taken to hospital. We don't know what is wrong, however he appeared to be unconscious."
Hiram rang a tired hand over his face and sighed. What next he wondered? "Thank you for calling. I'll go to hospital myself to see what is happening. Did you provide him with an armed escort, Morrison?"
"Certainly, sir. Four men accompanied him."
"Good. That will be all then. Goodnight," Hiram said as he settled the receiver into the cradle.
He stood up and headed back upstairs to dress. He longed to crawl back into his bed but duty called and Hiram Matlock always did his duty.
Phryne shifted off of Jack's lap and tucked her knees up against her chest as she settled next to him. She wrapped her arms around her legs and fixed him with a curious stare. The move struck him as a curiously vulnerable pose.
"Would you care to tell me what is wrong, Jack?" Her words were spoken softly but Jack heard the tight control that made them sound almost brittle. He admired her restraint for a moment; he wasn't sure how to keep his own emotions in check.
He let his fingers play against the satiny fabric that covered the sofa and refused to meet her gaze. He felt as if his air was being choked off and he suddenly took a huge gulp of air and tried to clear his head.
"Jack, are you trying to tell me that there isn't any 'us'? That…that all of this meant nothing?"
"Of course not! Phryne, I love you. I accept you for who you are; but that is part of the problem you see."
Phryne thought back to another similar conversation between the two of them and her heart sunk, dropping down to her stomach. "So, once again you're giving me up?" she asked, incapable of hiding her fear as her teeth worried her lower lip.
"No, Phryne, no. You…we, it's just, we go about things differently. You've led a, busy, life shall we say? I've kept to myself mostly, so for me to enter into a situation such as this is a big step. Do you understand that?"
She nodded, gazing into his eyes and suddenly she did begin to understand what he was trying so hard not to say; the string of lovers that she'd had, always moving on after a dalliance or two. He was afraid of the same thing happening to him; it made sense. A year ago that might well have happened, but no longer. She hadn't had any true interest in other men for months. Jack wasn't only in her heart but her soul as well.
She took his hand, the one that was still rubbing absentmindedly along the back of the sofa and brought it to her lips, kissing his palm tenderly, a mere wisp of a kiss like the flutter of a butterfly wing. "Jack, you are the only man I desire to share my life or my bed with. To speak plainly, there will not be any others."
He looked up at her words and saw a glimmer of tears in her eyes and felt his own eyes sting a bit too. "I'm well aware you don't want a commitment, Phryne."
"That doesn't mean that I can't be faithful to you, Jack. Frankly, this is all new to me, this feeling of loving you. I'm quite sure I've never experienced it before and it makes me a bit, shall we say, insecure where you are concerned?"
Jack looked at her, puzzled by her last words. Phryne never seemed insecure about anything. He'd never known anyone more sure of themselves than this impossible, amazing woman. "How do I make you feel insecure?"
"Jack, you completely and utterly intoxicate me with your mere presence; I don't always think straight when I'm with you.
Jack gazed at her, surprise coloring his face and he cleared his throat in an effort to think for a moment. For Phryne to admit to being so vulnerable cast a whole new light on their situation and a spark of true optimism brought a gentle smile to his face. Had he had any doubts as to her feelings, this would have made them perfectly clear. He had believed her avowal of love, but understanding the depth of the emotion she felt finally started to help untwist the knots in his stomach.
He reached for her, pulling her back onto his lap as he claimed a kiss, it being all the sweeter because he knew now that they were at the beginning of something that would change them both and it felt right. For the first time in so many years it felt good to open himself to another person; the fact that she'd also been through so much made it even better. She understood him and allowed him those moments, those times when he just didn't have words.
Phryne begun to work on his tie, trying to quickly unknot it so she could get it off. She tugged it finally and had it loose as she straddled him on his lap, deepening the kiss until they both felt breathless. Her body was pressed tightly to his and felt as if she couldn't get enough of him. She breathed in the scent that was pure Jack; something that reminded her of sunshine and freshly cut wood. Her lips swept down his exposed neck, planting kisses that made him almost delirious with desire.
After a few minutes he pulled back and said, "Phryne, this isn't how I want this to happen."
She chuckled and bent to kiss him again. "This is the way it usually happens, Jack."
He wanted to break the kiss, to move her off of his lap and yet he felt intoxicated by her, the way their lips fit together perfectly, the way her small body fit next to his, her breasts pressed fully against his chest. He could feel her nipples through the thin silk of her robe and he fought himself to keep from surrendering to the desire, the need. He finally managed to pull his mouth away from hers with a comingled moan.
"Jack?" she questioned, clearly confused by his actions.
"Phryne, I'm so tired; so are you. This isn't the time. We both need some rest."
"Well, Inspector, I'm thinking we can rest…afterwards…" she told him with a saucy grin.
"I'm serious, Phryne. I'm just not up for this right now." A lie. He'd just lied to her.
She looked down at the evidence she was pressing against. He shook his head and sighed. "Yes, you have aroused me;, I want you more than you could possibly know, Phryne but when I make love to you, I want you to remember it for the right reasons."
"What would those be, Jack?" she murmured against his neck.
He moved his lips to hers and whispered, "When I make love you, Phryne, you won't forget it. It's going to last…all…night…" He punctuated that statement with a searing kiss that left them both breathless.
"I do believe you will," she murmured, licking her lips.
"But for now, I need to go home, to sleep. I have a meeting with the Chief Commissioner at 9 in the morning."
"That's only a few hours away! How can they expect you to be there after this past nights events?" It didn't seem fair to her.
"Phryne, you know that the call of duty isn't always convenient. Commissioner Matlock and I have much to discuss about all this, as you well know," he said, referring to the problem of his ex wife.
She nodded, still not happy but willing to surrender this battle. "Alright, I understand that. But please don't leave, Jack. Stay here, with me."
"Phryne," he began, preparing for another battle.
"I'll behave, I promise." She stifled a yawn, whether real or counterfeit he wasn't quite sure. "I just don't want you to go; I want to have you next to me, Jack. Please?"
He knew he was in for a night of pure torture; how could it be anything but, lying next to her all night and not touching? How many nights had he lain at home in his solitary bed, wanting her, needing her? To have her next to him seemed an impossible dream and now he was placing restrictions on it as well. He was convinced that he had surely lost his mind when he agreed.
She left her robe on when she crawled into her bed and tried to give him a bit of privacy as he took off his shirt to uncover his singlet and his trousers, shoes and socks. That was a far as he dared let himself go but it felt like no safeguard at all, mostly because he needed protection from himself more than her. He was tempted to lie on top of the covers but since there was a definite chill out he climbed into the bed next to her, his body a study in tension and rigidity. A few deep breaths brought a bit of relaxation and finally he succumbed to the luxury of the bed itself, far more comfortable than any he'd ever lain in.
"Jack?" she asked, her voice so quiet he has to strain just to hear it.
"Thank you," she said and he was positive he heard a catch in her breath. It melted him. He rolled over and pulled her close to him, feeling how perfectly her body spooned against his.
She made no move to further the contact and soon he relaxed. Right before he drifted off to sleep he heard a soft snore and knew she was sleeping as well.
Hiram Matlock arrived at the hospital a few minutes after Rosie and Annabelle did. Rosie cast a malevolent look at him and raised her chin a bit as he offered his hand to her.
He spoke to Annabelle, a thoroughly sensible young woman who had the good grace to meet his inquiry their father.
"They aren't quite sure yet what is wrong. They are still examining him."
Hiram nodded and looked down the hall to where his 4 constables stood at attention, knowing their presence was purely superfluous. Hiram spoke to them and told them to wait in the foyer, that he'd let them know when they were needed again.
The women had seated themselves in what surely had to be the most uncomfortable chairs imaginable. Hiram couldn't understand why the hospital wasn't a bit more accommodating for people who had to wait endlessly for news of their loved ones. He stood looking out a window at the still dark streets below. An occasional automobile drove past but at this predawn hour it was mostly quiet on the streets of Melbourne.
A half an hour passed, during which time the ladies had shifted uncomfortably several times. Both of them looked wan and after the events of the night he couldn't find fault with that. Annabelle dabbed at her eyes several times with a handkerchief but was otherwise quiet. Finally a doctor came to speak to them, seeming surprised that the constables were no longer in the hallway.
"I'm afraid your father is suffering from apoplexy, an occlusion of a blood vessel in his brain."
"What does that mean, exactly? Will he recover successfully?" Annabelle asked.
"At this point we simply aren't sure. If he does recover he could lose a part of his brain function; the brain is still a bit of a mystery to us I'm afraid, but the kinds of issues associated with this are impaired motor functions, speech impediments, that sort of thing. Until he is conscious and we can test his abilities I cannot give you more information."
"But he will regain consciousness?" Annabelle asked hopefully.
The doctor met her steady gaze reluctantly and finally said, "I am not positive of that, no. He apparently was unconscious for a good deal of time before he was brought in to hospital. Be assured that we are doing everything we possibly can. It would be best if you went home; he'll certainly rest for a few hours more, at the very least."
Annabelle nodded; this was not good news at all but given what her father had done would he prefer this? She was startled from her thoughts when Rosie let out a shriek and ran towards Hiram Matlock, resentment and blame branding her face.
"Your fault! All your fault. You'll pay for this you bastard," she spit at him, her body shaking until it collapsed, with Hiram catching her before she hit the floor. "Let go of me, don't touch me," she screamed, as Annabelle led her to a chair.
"Do you have something to help calm her?" Hiram asked the doctor, who looked on with compassion in his eyes.
"Yes, certainly. I'll be back in soon."
Annabelle looked at Hiram and the look almost broke his heart. Here was a woman, who was actually made of very stern stuff and she looked devastated. How could she not be?
"Mrs. Barrington, what can I do to help you?"
Annabelle saw the sincerity in his eyes but she knew that this was an issue she had to deal with all on her own. "Nothing, thank you Commissioner Matlock. I'll just get her home. Perhaps you could send one of your constables to bring my driver? That would help." She gave him a weak smile and he nodded.
The doctor returned with a small bottle of laudanum and the instructions to give her a spoon of it when they were home and a promise to call as soon as any change occurred. Annabelle smiled and thanked him as their driver came to collect them. Annabelle decided that after she got Rosie home and into bed she would return to the hospital to be here with her father. It didn't feel right to let him be alone at this time.
Hiram and the doctor watched solemnly as they walked down the hall. Hiram cleared his throat and said, "I'll just leave one constable here at this time; you understand that he is a prisoner, so it is unavoidable?"
"Yes, I do understand. Please have him stay in the room and out of the way of the nurses as they check on the patient. We don't want others to be alarmed at the presence of a constable in the hospital."
"Of course, he'll be very unobtrusive, I assure you. You'll notify me of any changes in his condition?" At the doctors nod of agreement Hiram walked down to the foyer and spoke the men who waited there. "Meyer's, you'll stay for now. I'll send an officer to relieve you soon. The rest of you are released to return to your duties. Thank you."
The men dispersed and Hiram Matlock made his way back into the hospital, to set at the bedside of his old friend; a friend who had been highly valued and he couldn't help but wonder what on earth had happened to him.
To be continued…
*NOTE* Apoplexy is what strokes were called at that time. The term 'stroke' became more commonly used later on.