Jack reached for the small box, trying unsuccessfully to take it from Phryne's fingers that held it tightly. "Phryne, it's not what you think."
"Well then, what exactly is it?"
He swallowed, hard and then cleared his throat in an effort to stall for a moment as he tried desperately to think of what to say to her. The ring was a symbol to him, of his love for her. Could he explain it without her being panicked by what she would surely deem a commitment? He had to try, he knew.
"It was my grandmother's ring actually. Before she died she gave it to me and told me to give it to my true love."
"And that wasn't Rosie?"
"No; my grandmother knew that all along actually. So I've carried it for the past year or so, Phryne. It's…it's a symbol of what I feel for you."
"Yes, true love. It's reassuring to me that I've found it."
"So you keep it hidden away in your pocket as if it were some lucky charm?" she asked, clearly puzzled by it all.
"Yes, exactly that. It makes me feel closer to you, I suppose. When I thought you were killed in the accident, it kept me from losing my mind on the drive to the scene. I know it's silly, Phryne, but it's the truth."
She pursed her lips as she examined the ring more closely. It was truly exquisite; a large oval cut emerald surrounded by diamonds in 24 ct gold she noted. "Your grandfather had excellent taste," she murmured with a small smile that somehow made her look angelic, an attribute he rarely ascribed to Miss Fisher.
"Yes," he stated simply, still wanting to tuck the ring away. It was humiliating in a way; she'd discovered a secret that he'd not been ready to share. Since he knew that she didn't believe in marriage he accepted that she'd never wear the ring. "He did," he agreed, reaching for the ring box again.
"A symbol, you say?"
"Yes. Now Miss Fisher, you've had your fun. May I have it back?"
"Not so quickly, Inspector," she said, again using his title since he'd had the impertinence to call her Miss Fisher again. She pulled the ring out of the velvet box and held it up to look at it a bit more closely. It really was stunning, in an old fashioned way, charming actually. And clearly, Jack placed a great deal of value to it, and not the monetary kind she knew.
She slid the rind onto her finger and looked at him, a daring look with a raised eyebrow. "I do believe I like this symbol, Jack," she said, watching his face carefully.
"Phryne, please," he said, believing that she was toying with him.
"Jack, if you were to offer this ring to me as a…symbol, I would be delighted to wear it." As he started to protest she continued, "I'm not being irreverent about the ring, Jack. Symbols have great meaning and power and I do believe in them. I don't know how I'll feel about marriage in the future, Jack but I'd be lucky and happy to wear this as a symbol of our love and growing relationship now."
His breath caught in his throat for a moment; he wasn't sure he'd heard her say what he thought she'd said. She wanted to wear the ring? She wanted to wear the ring now?
"I, um, I don't believe I heard you correctly. You would like to wear the ring?"
"Will it offend you if I do?"
"Then I'd like to - very much."
"Phryne, some people won't look at it the same way we do, you know."
The thought had occurred to her. There would be those who considered them engaged because of the ring. That might be a good thing in certain circles she knew, with Aunt Prudence and his position within the Victorian Constabulary as well.
"I know that, Jack, I accept that. We know the truth of it. I know that even though you are a very modern man in many ways, Jack, that underneath all that you still have definite ideas about relationships between men and women. But I need more time to come around to that. Can you give me that time?"
"Of course, yes," he told her and meant it. "All the time you need, Phryne." He looked serious and he was but his heart was filled with joy at the thought of her wearing his ring. He picked up her hand and kissed her palm and then turned her hand over and kissed the ring finger, trying to show her his feelings about it all. When he looked up into her face he saw tears glistening in her eyes. He probably had them too. That's what happens when dreams come true.
She held out her arm and admired the ring. "It really is beautiful, Jack. I will wear it proudly. But now, Detective Inspector, I believe it is time for you to sleep. You look worn out and we have plans for this evening."
He smirked, knowing what those plans were and delighted in the anticipation he felt.
"Not those plans, Jack!" she said, not bothering to hold back a merry laugh. "Well, those too, later, much later." She explained about the family dinner and he felt almost giddy; they would all notice the ring and that made him feel happier still.
Maybe he wasn't quite as much the enlightened man as he wanted to be he thought with a grin.
"What is making you smile so cleverly, Jack?"
"Not a thing. Um, happiness I guess. Now, I do believe I need to be tucked into bed, don't you agree, Miss Fisher?" He laughed at her indignant huff. Still, she slid off of his lap and held out a hand, leading him up the stairs to the bedroom.
If she teased him a bit, taking a good deal of time and 'accidental' brushes against him when she helped to undress him she figured that he deserved it.
Miss Fisher, indeed!
It was a few minutes before 2 o'clock when Dot and Phryne sat in the dining room, talking about ideas for Dot and Hugh's wedding. Phryne was insistent on paying for the dress and the wedding celebration following.
"Oh, Miss, that's too much. And Hugh and I don't want anything fancy," she insisted, hoping that her Miss would accept that.
"Nonsense, Dot. It isn't too much at all, no matter how simple or fancy you chose it to be. I just want it to be a day you'll remember with love and pride. It will only happen once you know!"
Talk swerved back to the wedding dress; Phryne was determined that they visit Salon Fleuri so that Dot could have her dress designed. Dot was not in favor of the idea, although she was reluctant to tell Miss Fisher exactly why, she found herself fumbling for words to say what was on her mind and not offend her Miss.
"Alright, Dottie, I can tell that something is bothering you a great deal. Tell me, now!" Phryne stated, her fingers tapping on the table top as she waited for the reply.
"Miss, please, I…" Dot foundered, clearly uncomfortable with the subject. Finally she took a deep breath and decided to just tell Miss Fisher the truth. "It's Madame Fleuri, Miss. She said I should know my style and that my style is a suit. She said I could be married or buried in a suit."
"And clearly you don't want to be married in a suit?" Phryne said, feeling relieved that Dot had finally told her what was wrong. As Dot vigorously nodded her head Phryne added, "So then you shall have the most beautiful dress of your dreams, Madame Fleuri be damned! Whatever you like, Dot. Perhaps the younger Miss Fleuri would be more helpful for your tastes?"
"Do you think that would be okay, Miss Fisher? Last time Miss Fleuri tried to help me but Madame Fleuri wouldn't let her."
"I shall make sure that you get exactly what you want, I promise," Phryne said, laying a reassuring hand on Dots, an encouraging smile on her face.
They both looked up started for a moment when they heard a knock at the front door. Mr. Butler hurried from the kitchen to answer it and Phryne and Dot both heard female voices, speaking quietly to Mr. Butler before he came back into the dining room to speak to Miss Fisher.
"Miss, there is a Mrs. Robinson and a Mrs. Markham here to speak with you and the Inspector. Shall I wake him?"
Phryne felt a bit perplexed for a moment; Mrs. Robinson? Surely that could only be Jack's mother. Goodness, news travels fast she decided as she stole a glance at the ring on her finger. Mr. Butler and Dot had both taken it in stride, neither asking anything about it but she'd caught them both smiling broadly. Most likely they believed that tonight was a celebration of an engagement, which of course wasn't true at all
Mr. Butler stood waiting expectantly for an answer and Phryne frowned for a moment, taking a deep breath before she answered. "No, not yet. Let him sleep a bit more. Did you show our guests to the parlor?" She knew the answer to the question already; Mr. Butler's impeccable manner's precluded any other action. At his nod she added, "Thank you, Mr. Butler. Would you please bring tea to the parlor while I greet our visitors?"
"Certainly, Miss. I won't be but a few minutes; the kettle is already on."
Phryne smiled, knowing that the kettle was always on it seemed. She stood, and smoothed down the dove gray slacks she wore today, wishing she had on a dress instead. Still the silk georgette blouse in varying shades of blue brought out the brightest blue in her eyes and made her look appealing, or so Jack had told her this morning. She rose and headed into the parlor, feeling a bit anxious, a feeling that was foreign to her. She laughed to herself that she'd never before had the occasion to meet prospective family before; she hoped that poise and intellect would stand her in good stead.
She entered the parlor and went to the women, offering her hand to the elder one first. "Hello, I'm Phryne Fisher. Welcome to my home." After she shook first one hand and then the other they each offered their names and as they all smiled, Phryne indicated they should sit down.
"Mr. Butler will serve us tea in a few minutes, so please make yourselves comfortable."
When they were seated, Phryne smiled at them both, noting their apparent ease with a bit of surprise. Both were dressed in well-tailored clothing, following the current fashion trends. The younger one, Mrs. Markham had her hair cut into a short bob, much like Phryne's but the color was closer to Jack's and she noted the waves in it as well. So that must run in the family. She could see a bit of Jack in his sister but she could see more in his mother.
"Jack is sleeping right now; he had a very late night with our case and then was called to see Commissioner Matlock this morning before 7 am. I can have Mr. Butler wake him if it is important." Phryne thought that an incredibly foolish thing to say; why else would they be here if it were not important? For that matter, how did everyone seem to know that he was here?
Mrs. Robinson was very impressed with the young woman before her. She was beautiful, but then Jack had told her that already so it was expected. Suddenly the emerald on Miss Fisher's finger caught her eye and she couldn't resist the smile that spread across her face.
Jack awoke slowly, a smile on his face as he stretched in the bed. The sheets were the softest he'd ever felt and the bed itself was truly amazing. He kept his eyes closed for a moment longer, inhaling the sweet scent of Phryne that clung to the bed covers and wished that she was here with him. His imagination ran away with him for a few minutes as he plotted all the delightful things he planned to do with Miss Phryne Fisher and realized some of those thoughts might well get him arrested in some places.
Reluctantly he opened his eyes and saw that the draperies were still pulled closed, but that a pale light shown through the cracks where they didn't quite meet. A glance at the bedside clock told him it was 2 in the afternoon and he decided it was time to get out of the bed because there was a great deal to accomplish today. As he swung his legs over the side of the bed he thought of Phryne, wearing his ring and an excited ripple flowed through his body. Tonight, all the 'family' would see it and he couldn't feel happier about that.
Someone, whether it was Phryne or Mr. Butler had straightened and smoothed all the wrinkles out of his clothing that he had hastily tossed aside earlier as he did his best to entice Phryne to come lay in the bed with him. He knew that he had needed rest and so did she, but his body also knew what it wanted and it definitely wanted the delectable Miss Fisher. Two years was more than long enough to wait and a few more hours shouldn't make that much difference and yet somehow it felt as if it did. He stared down ruefully at that evidence right now and tried to change his thoughts to something a bit less erotic.
Once he felt himself in control, he hurriedly dressed and headed down the stairs. At the bottom stairs he saw Mr. Butler leaving the parlor and greeted him.
"I have just served the ladies tea, Inspector. Would you care for some as well?"
Jack nodded yes and inquired, "Ladies?"
Jack heard a voice he recognized and a brief moment of panic made his flatten himself against the wall next to the doorway. In a mere whisper he asked, "Is that my mother?"
Mr. Butler checked his smile as he affirmed, "It is, Inspector and your sister as well."
Jack tightly shut his eyes and let out a long breath. How did everyone find him here? "Thank you, Mr. Butler. I'll join the ladies." He wondered how long they had been there and how Phryne was handling the situation.
With great aplomb he saw if the smiles were anything to go by as he stepped through the door. She looked up, a radiant smile on her face as he entered the room and said, "Jack! I hope we didn't wake you? I've just been getting to know your mother and sister. You didn't tell me that they were both so beautiful!"
Jack smiled and bent to kiss first his mother and then his sister on the cheek, before sitting next to Phryne on the loveseat. He took her hand and if she felt a bit of a tremble in it she didn't acknowledge it.
"Mother, Amanda, what brings you here?" The unasked question, how did you know I was here hung in the air.
"We heard about George of course and we wanted to check on you, Jackie," Elise Robinson said.
Phryne couldn't help but notice the slight pink flush that spread up his neck and face. She had to bite her tongue to keep from smiling; it was rare that Jack got so flustered.
"We know you thought a great deal of him, so we were worried about you. The papers said you are the one who arrested him." His sister smiled kindly at him, concern written on her face.
"I must admit that the whole thing has left me shocked and discouraged. I have looked up to him for so many years and I have a hard time believing he could be bought by Sidney Fletcher so easily. The proof however was irrefutable."
Both women nodded in sympathy as Mr. Butler entered the room again with another tray, this one carrying a cup and saucer for the tea and a small plate of sandwiches.
"Inspector, I took the liberty of providing you with some sandwiches; I thought you might be a bit peckish."
"Thank you, Mr. Butler, I am." He picked up one of the small triangles and observed, "My favorite, thank you again," he added with a smile before realizing that another bit of evidence that he was a regular in this household had just been revealed.
"Ham, cheese, mustard, pickle?"?Amanda teased. "You never could get enough of them, Jackie!"
Jack grinned, and finally shrugged his shoulders; so everyone knew, he couldn't help that. He decided to just enjoy his repast while the ladies continued to chat.
"Phryne, your trousers are positively divine, are the couture?" Amanda asked.
"No, prêt à porté actually," she said with a smile. "But don't tell Madame Fleuri, I'm afraid she might not make any more gowns for me." Both Robinson women laughed at that comment.
"We've never visited the sisters Fleuri; we heard that Simone Fleuri can be a bit haughty," Amanda added and then apologized for her rudeness.
"No, I'm not offended in the slightest. Simone can indeed be a bit arrogant but her sister Renee is very forward thinking and modern. Amanda, you should visit her sometime; tell her I sent you. Better yet, my companion Dot and I will be visiting soon to see about wedding dresses, why don't you join us?"
"Wedding dresses," the elder Mrs. Robinson asked, staring again at the ring and then at her son who practically choked on his sandwich.
"I'm sorry - wedding dresses for Dot, my companion; she is engaged to Jack's constable, Hugh Collins. The gown is my gift to her."
"Oh - I see," Elise finally said.
"Jack and I haven't talked about that yet," Phryne said, hoping to smooth over the situation but knowing it would be difficult now due to her careless slip. "It's all fairly new to us."
"We just, um, this morning, Mother. Give us time," Jack told her gently. Both he and Phryne were studiously avoiding the word marriage, a fact that was noted by both women.
Jack had told them in the past of his fears concerning Phryne's inability to form a strong commitment to men; he'd shared what he knew of her father and Rene Dubois. In truth, Jack had shared a great deal about his Miss Fisher and his family knew that he loved her dearly. She had brought life back to him and for that they were prepared to love her dearly. Now she was wearing his grandmother's ring; surely that must mean something?
"Take all the time you need, darlings. You'll know when the time is right," Elise offered. "And Phryne, we'd love to visit Salon Fleuri with you. Will you call us and let us know when you plan to visit?"
"Certainly I will. Dot is going to make a reservation for us, Elise."
Jack noted that they were already on a given-name basis; just how much had he missed before he came downstairs.
"Well, Amanda my dear, we must rush off. We have an afternoon meeting with the Women's Political Association. Have you ever been, Phryne?"
"No, but I've heard a great deal about it. I would enjoy taking in a meeting sometime."
"Wonderful, we'll let you know the schedule when we go to the salon. Oh, Jackie, your brother is coming for the weekend. Can you believe the twins are going to be sixteen? We're celebrating their birthdays. Dinner on Sunday? And you as well, Phryne. You're family now, darling."
Before Jack could speak up Phryne said, "Of course, I'll be looking forward to it. What time?"
"Shall we say noon? James, Jack's father likes to have his dinner at 1 o'clock and then Jamie and his family will need to catch the train back to Sidney later in the afternoon. That should give us time to chat and get to know each other a bit more. James is looking forward to this immensely. He knows your aunt, Prudence Stanley."
"Oh dear! Please don't hold that against me," she told them with a laugh. "She really is a dear."
The echoing laugh told her that they got the joke, which made Phryne feel ever so much better.
"Until Sunday, then?" Amanda asked, giving her brother a hug and another one for Phryne, which was followed by one from Elise. Phryne and Jack waved from the door as the women walked to the car that sat at the curb. Amanda climbed into the driver's seat and waved as the car pulled away.
"Your sister drives?" she asked, somewhat surprised.
"Yes, both of them and my mother as well. Father taught them all." Jack tried hard not to laugh at her shocked expression.
"So the Robinson men are somewhat enlightened?" Jack was of course, but she was a bit surprised that a Supreme Court justice would be so open-minded. Perhaps it was because of the job she mused.
"We are indeed, Miss Fisher," he told her, pulling her into his arms and pressing his lips against hers in the most delightful manner. She leaned into him, thrilling to the feel of his body against hers as anticipation washed over her, making her feel quite heady with desire. "I must admit however that the Robinson women do not drive with the reckless abandon of another woman I know," he teased.
She gave a small laugh that sounded musical to Jack's ears as she smoothed down his tie and then used it to pull his mouth down to hers again. "Abandon, Inspector? Probably. Reckless? Never…" she whispered against his lips. She felt his lips tweak upwards as he smiled before taking hers in a lingering kiss.
She was molded against him, inflaming his desire for her; he needed her and he couldn't wait to make her his, to love her completely.
Another knock on the door broke them apart. Jack opened the door and stood speechless at the newest visitor. Phryne looked over his shoulder, her eyebrows raised in question.
This should be interesting…
To be continued…