A Fine Bag of Rats

Set around the time of the episode From Venus with Love.

Steed creates a ghost,

Emma sees one

“Hello Steed. I hope you’re well – I must assume that you are or I would have heard. I’ve been invited away for the weekend. If you should need to reach me, I’ll be at four three five ….”

Emma Peel hung up the telephone, staring at it for a moment longer before turning toward her apartment’s front door where her overnight case sat waiting. Steed had gone off on a case – that was all he’d been able to tell her before he left – more than a week ago. She had no idea whether he was even in the country, nor whether he’d be back any time soon. On some levels she wanted to simply wait for him to return, but her pride would not permit it. She knew that were the situation reversed he would be carrying on with his myriad pursuits and that he expected the same of her. It was not her nature to pine after anyone; she believed in taking responsibility for her own mood. So when his absence left her feeling lonely and at loose ends she was more surprised than upset.

Her old school mate Moira had telephoned to invite her for the weekend – they were having several guests, it would be a mad, fun party, she had said – and Emma had accepted. She hadn’t seen Moira and her husband David in almost a year so despite her underlying concern about Steed she was looking forward to the visit.

Moira had been the wild one in school, terrorizing the Swiss matrons who tried to keep their young charges out of trouble while educating them. Even then Emma had been a sponge for knowledge; not bookish, but dedicated to learning everything that the very good school had to teach her. Moira’s endless plots and pranks had distracted even her on more than one occasion, leaving them and a few other girls stranded in Vienna with an excitable circus chimp on a leash, or trapped in the attic of a busy bordello, or caught in a borrowed car with no petrol at the French border. Fortunately for Emma, John Knight had been understanding, almost to a fault, of his daughter’s occasional lapses of common sense. When she’d telephoned him at his office from the guardhouse on the French border he’d complimented the improvement in her French and wired the money for petrol, then convinced the border guard that the car really was borrowed and not stolen. Emma had never told him about the bordello, though. Some things were too outrageous even for her indulgent father to accept.

Contemplating these fond memories kept her smiling throughout the drive to Moira and David’s country house. Her last visit had been shortly after they’d moved in, and things had been rather chaotic with repairs and landscaping underway. Now it was complete and Moira, when she’d called with the invitation, had declared the house to be perfect. Emma recognized her friend’s usual enthusiasm for any project over which she had complete control, and wondered whether David would describe the house the same way. As was so often the case with strong relationships, David countered Moira in many ways. His staid, thoughtful approach to life was diametrically opposed to her energetic, impulsive manner. Emma suppressed the urge to contemplate how she and Steed fit together. Very well, certainly, but perhaps they were too much alike to be a successful couple. It doesn’t matter, she reminded herself as she parked in the wide drive beside a row of neatly shaped evergreens. There’s no future for me with Steed. Eventually one of us will end it and that will be that. As was always the case when she forced herself to follow this line of thought, her heart ached for a moment and her eyes grew misty. Dashing at them with the back of her hand – thank goodness she hadn’t bothered with eye makeup this morning – she got out of the car and retrieved her bag from the boot. Forget Steed for the weekend. Enjoy Moira and David and their friends!

It was easy to follow her own orders once Moira had swept her into the house. Emma was introduced to four other guests – one a married couple, the other clearly courting if not committed. Emma was surprised to find herself a proverbial seventh wheel, but she had never been one to be bothered by such situations. Being unattached made people open up to her and left her free to focus on getting to know them rather than cater to a partner. Moira took her on a tour of the house, which was exquisitely decorated and equipped with a dizzying multitude of guestrooms. They left her bag in one of them that had brocade curtains around the four-poster bed and on the windows and a thick oriental rug on the floor. Everything was in deep reds and creams, including the spray of fresh flowers on a side table. It made Emma want to stretch out on the bed with a book to while away the afternoon, but before she could seriously consider it Moira was dragging her off again to see the music room before lunch.

After lunch there was an impromptu tennis tournament that Emma came close to winning. The warmth of the afternoon combined with David’s powerful serve in the last set simply overpower1ed her. She and David retired to the shade and lawn chairs to sip glasses of Pimm’s and watch the other guests engage in a game of mixed doubles. They chatted a bit as they watched, but she was just considering going to get her book when Moira came around the corner of the house leading three saddled horses.

“Come on, Emma, David, leave them to their game. Let’s exercise the ponies!”

Emma looked meaningfully down at her tennis whites, which were not so fresh after multiple strenuous games, but still not exactly riding clothes. “Don’t be a sissy, Emma. We’ll have Nicky do the wash,” Moira chided her. “It’s too warm for boots and jods, and Flash is as docile as a kitten.”

Moira extended her arm holding the reins of a stocky chestnut with black mane, tail, and socks and a jagged dark streak down his forehead. He did look docile, although Emma had seen plenty of very rambunctious kittens. Still, a ride did sound fun. She drained her glass and stood up to greet Flash.

He turned out to be very well trained, due, Emma learned as they rode, to the constant attention of a trainer who Moira had hired after her mount threw her. Emma was beginning to wonder whether David’s professor’s salary was much better than she thought, or Moira was running through the balance of her trust fund. As they finished their ride she was almost relieved to see that the barn had a sagging roof and was in need of paint. At least some of the original home was not renovated. David took all of the horses and shooed Emma and Moira away.

“He likes currying them,” Moira explained as she took Emma’s arm to guide her back to the house. “He says it’s soothing. For them, sure, I can see that. But he says it soothes him too.”

Emma smiled, understanding how her friend could not find enjoyment in the slow, careful care of an animal.

“Three horses and a trainer, the house renovations – you’ve been putting a lot into things here, Moira,” she observed, trying not to sound like she was prying. Moira gave her an amused sidelong glance.

“What is it?” Emma asked suspiciously.

“We didn’t tell anyone – you know how they come after you when they find out,” Moira said, her amusement turning into unabashed glee.

“Find what out?” Emma asked, baffled.

“We won the Irish Sweepstakes last year,” her friend replied in a contained tone that sounded like she wanted to shout.

“What? Oh Moira, I’m so relieved!” Emma laughed. “You have no idea what I was beginning to think.”

“That I was spending us into debt?” Moira laughed. “You aren’t the first. David’s parents were impossibly worried when we started working on the house. We had to tell them, and then it was all right.”

“I’m so pleased for you both. And now I have no qualms about enjoying your hospitality.”

“Dear Emma, you’re always so thoughtful. The rest of that lot on the tennis court would drink us into the poorhouse without a thought.”

“I’m sure that’s not true!” Emma laughed because Moira seemed to be joking. “Now, may I be excused to go have a bath?”

“Of course darling. Dinner will be in about two hours. Come down for a drink before that, though.”

“All right, see you later.”

Emma was delighted to find an old iron footed tub in the bathroom adjacent to her bedroom. She slipped into warm, soapy water and soaked away the sweat and aches of a very active afternoon. She finally got to read, too, easily ignoring the sounds of the case clock chiming on the landing, the other guests returning to their rooms and the telephone ringing. An hour and a half later she slipped on her favorite little black dress and daring heels that she could only wear if she did not have far to walk and went downstairs to make her appearance in the lounge.

She paused in the doorway to survey the room – an ingrained habit learned from her father – and stared in disbelief at what she saw. John Steed was standing with David by the mantle with a highball glass in his hand and a smug smile on his face as he turned toward her. Her own face lit with a smile in return. Quite suddenly all was right with her world.

“Emma!” David said, crossing the room to take her hand and lead her toward his new guest. “Allow me to introduce you to an old friend of mine: John Steed, Mrs. Emma Peel.”

“Mr. Steed,” she said pleasantly, offering him her hand. With that greeting she established the rules. She could have greeting him openly, but she opted to be a stranger so that they could play their little game of getting acquainted in public. He took her hand, squeezing gently, his thumb brushing back and forth over it so sensuously she felt her whole body tingle. That was part of the game, too – little looks and touches from one designed to make the other inadvertently reveal their friendship, or at least incite intense desire.

“Mrs. Peel,” he replied.

“Steed called a little while ago – out of the blue, eh?” David said, looking at Steed for confirmation. Steed nodded, his grey eyes twinkling at Emma. “I told him there was nothing for it, he had to come join us.”

“Yes,” Emma replied, belatedly taking her hand out of Steed’s. “Nothing for it.”

“Steed and I served in the Guards together. But it has been ages, hasn’t it old boy?” David said.

“Far too long,” Steed agreed. “I’m looking forward to catching up.”

“Over a brandy later perhaps?” David suggested. “Moira will kill me if I neglect the rest of the party just now.”

“Of course,” Steed agreed amiably. “I’m sure that Mrs. Peel and I can amuse one another getting acquainted.”

“Yes. Emma has so many interests I’m sure you’ll find several in common. Please excuse me,” David said, turning away to greet the married couple, who had just entered the room.

“Called out the blue?” Emma said quietly, one brow arched, the corners of her mouth curled in a hint of a smile.

“I got your message and called. The wife of my old friend David answered,” Steed shrugged, taking a sip of his drink.

“So you forgot to ask for me,” she concluded. He inclined his head, his twinkling eyes locked on hers.

“He insisted that I come join the party. How could I refuse?”

“You mean, how could you resist?”


Steed and Emma soon found themselves involved with the rest of the guests in a discussion of a recent film that everyone had seen. The husband of the married couple was expressing his rather negative opinion of the plot when Moira swept in looking anxious. Her gaze skimmed the room and settled on Emma. She expertly extracted her friend from the conversation, taking her arm to draw her aside with a wan smile at the others and a quick “may I borrow Emma for a moment?”

“What is it, Moira – you look upset,” Emma said, clasping her friend’s hand, which gripped her forearm.

“We’ve been robbed, and I think it’s Nicky – the maid,” Moira hissed, her eyes darting toward David to be sure he wasn’t listening. For a moment Emma thought she might be the target of one of her old friend’s pranks.

“What’s missing?” she asked calmly. Moira’s peered at her, her expression turning from distress to annoyance.

“You don’t believe me. Emma, I wouldn’t accuse her without reason!”

Emma winced. It was true Moira had never hatched a scheme that had hurt anybody’s reputation.

“What’s happened then? Tell me so I can try to help.”

Moira looked at the group still discussing movies and guided Emma out of the music room and into the hall.

“David tells me over and over not to keep cash in the bedroom, but I can never remember the combination of the safe,” she began. “So I had an envelope of cash for the landscaper – he’s coming tomorrow — in my dresser drawer. Now it’s gone. Nicky has access to our bedroom.”

“All of us guests have access,” Emma pointed out. “It’s not locked, I assume.”

“But none of you have been in – I’m certain. Everyone was outside, and when you all came upstairs I did as well. Only Nicky has been in the house all day while we’ve been outside.”

Emma was not convinced, but she could see that arguing would only agitate Moira more.

“Was it a lot of money?” she asked, although the amount was not really important. An untrustworthy maid would have to be dismissed even over a few pounds.

“Seven hundred pounds,” Moira said, “It was for the landscaping around the tennis court. Mr. Lang is independent, he prefers cash since he buys the plants out-of-pocket.”

“Is anything else missing? Jewelry, perhaps?”

“No, nothing else. That’s why I’m sure it’s not a burglar. It’s someone who knows not to take anything that could be traced.”

“All right, why don’t I have a word with her?” Emma said. “Sometimes a neutral third party can get to the truth more easily than an authority figure.”

“Everything all right, Mrs. Peel?” Steed’s voice sounded mildly concerned. Moira started at the interruption, but Emma wasn’t surprised that he’d followed them.

“Moira has just told me that she suspects the maid of a theft, Mr. Steed,” Emma said, giving Moira’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “I have just agreed to speak to her. Perhaps you would care to join me?”

“Oh no, Emma, Mr. Steed. I didn’t mean to involve anyone else,” Moira protested. “Really, you should not be bothered by this Mr. Steed.” Emma understood that Moira was worried that Steed would tell David.

“I’m sure Mr. Steed will be as discrete as I am, Moira. Won’t you Mr. Steed?”

“I shall be the soul of discretion, ladies,” Steed assured Moira. “And I consider it my duty to help resolve this matter. Where might we find Nicky?”

“No ma’am. I made the bed and cleaned the bathroom. I dusted the dresser, but I didn’t open any drawers. I haven’t brought the laundry up yet,” Nicky the maid sat stiffly in a kitchen chair across the table from Emma. Steed stood off to the side behind Emma. On the way to the kitchen where Nicky was keeping an eye on their dinner for her mistress Steed and Emma had quietly devised a plan. Emma would ask the maid increasingly more probing questions and when Nicky grew upset or angry Steed would step in as her ally. He was looking forward to this role – he usually had to be the mean one when he questioned villains.

“And the dresser drawers were closed when you left the bedroom?” Emma asked.

“Yes, ma’am. It’s like I said, the laundry is still downstairs. I haven’t had time with the guests and all.”

“Nicky, are you sure you didn’t find an envelope in your mistress’s drawer? Are you sure it wasn’t just too tempting not to look inside?”

“No, ma’am!”

“And when you did look you found a great deal of money.”

“No! It isn’t true ma’am.” Close to tears, Nicky shook her head, her gaze falling on Steed. On cue he stepped up to the table next to Emma, placing a restraining hand on her shoulder.

“It’s all right Nicky,” he said soothingly. “We can see that you’re an honest young woman. It’s just that we’re all tempted sometimes. Aren’t we?”

“Yes sir, I suppose so,” Nicky said, responding to his gentle tone just as they’d planned. “But I didn’t!” she added suddenly, as if snapping out of a daze induced by his voice. “I didn’t open the dresser, and I didn’t take any money.”

Emma looked up at Steed, who nodded, and back at the distraught maid.

“Thank you Nicky,” she said. “We believe you. But that still leaves the question of where the money has gone. If you think of anything – anyone who you saw in the house while the rest of us were outside today, for example – you will tell Mr. Steed or me, won’t you?”

“Yes ma’am,” Nicky straightened in her chair, relief evident in her face and the set of her shoulders. Steed placed the odds of her reporting any of the guests after being accused herself at a million to one, and guessed that Emma was probably doing the same mental calculation with much more accurate results. 

“Very well Nicky,” he said, looking over at the stove, “Come along Mrs. Peel, we don’t want supper to be ruined, do we?”

Nicky and Emma both stood up, the maid going to the stove. Emma took Steed’s arm and they headed back toward the music room.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” she asked quietly as they walked.

“That Moira herself misplaced the cash?”


“I am trying to remain respectful of our hosts. However, the possibility did cross my mind.”

“I’ll tell her we don’t think Nicky did it. Perhaps that will force her to consider other explanations,” Emma said. They were back at the music room where David was at the piano playing while Moira sang. They joined the other guests and Steed poured Emma a glass of the white wine that everyone was sipping.

After dinner David proposed cigars and brandy and Emma was tempted to take him up on it, knowing full well he meant the men. Steed did accept, presumably in order to reminisce with his old friend. Emma shot him a crooked smile and he winked as he followed the other men out of the dining room. They both knew that they would have time together later. The women lingered over coffee in the dining room, Moira’s agitation growing more visible as the evening lengthened, although the other women gave no evidence of noticing.

She lit a cigarette and smoked it down in four puffs, then lit another and left it burning in the ashtray while she went into the kitchen. Emma followed, carrying a few empty coffee cups with her as an excuse.

“Moira,” she said, setting the cups on the counter by the sink. Moira shut the refrigerator door and faced her, her hands clasped. “We – Mr. Steed and I don’t think Nicky took the money.”

“No? She denied it?”

“Yes, but it’s not just that. It was her manner and tone. Please believe me Moira, I do have some experience with these things. Nicky didn’t take the money from your dresser. Perhaps you can think about when you last saw it there. Could there be another explanation?”

Moira unclasped her hands and put them to her face, then dropped them and met Emma’s concerned gaze.

“I’m sure it was there this morning,” she whispered. “I don’t want to ask David. I know he’ll be terribly angry with me for keeping it there.”

Emma went to her friend and gripped her upper arms gently. “I think you should sleep on it, Moira. In the morning we’ll have a look in your dresser and see if it slipped under the clothes or something – I know,” she gave Moira a squeeze to silence her protest, “you’ve checked. But you’re upset. It’s easy to overlook things. In the morning, if we don’t find it, then you’ll need to speak to David.”

“You’re wise, Emma,” Moira sighed. “I’ll take your advice, although I’m not sure I can sleep very well.”

“Perhaps a sleeping pill?” Emma suggested. She didn’t much approve of depending on drugs, but she knew Moira wouldn’t indulge in alcohol to get to sleep, and the hangover would only make it worse if she did.

“Yes, I have some,” Moira said. “Perhaps that would be a good idea. Thank you Emma. You’ve done enough tonight – won’t you enjoy the rest of it? I know you want to go join the men!”

Emma chuckled at her friend’s keen perception and Moira smiled.

“I would like to hear some of David’s stories,” Emma said.

“And Mr. Steed’s?” Moira asked with a devious grin. Emma pursed her lips and shrugged innocently, then made her escape before her friend could pursue the subject.

Most of Steed’s very good friends were also very old ones, from at least university and often from Eton or earlier. Since the war, since becoming a spy, he had avoided making new close friends. He had mourned so many fellow soldiers and agents that he had learned to keep new acquaintances at a safe, cordial distance. As a result, he valued those fellows with whom he’d shared childhood and education all the more. Mark Crayford had been one such friend: a childhood playmate, a schoolmate, and even a fellow agent. And last week Steed had had to shoot him.

He had taken Mark to Germany, briefing him en route on his mission over the wall. When they set out by car to the breach in the fence where he was to be inserted Mark had steered the conversation away from the mission, and Steed had let him. They spoke of their childhood and school days, and gradually Steed had realized that Mark harbored deep resentments toward him. Steed had been successful in school athletics. He was the best at cricket, he won most fencing matches, he was a demon on horseback at hunting and polo. Mark had often been second best, but never first. Steed’s success had come so naturally it had never occurred to him that any of his mates would dwell on it so vehemently.

But when he’d guided Mark to the insertion point, a break in the fence in a stretch of wilderness far from Berlin, his old friend had turned on him. He’d aimed a gun at Steed and told him that he would not be coming back from this mission. And then he’d begged Steed to try to stop him: to make a move and give him an excuse to kill him. Steed had hesitated, torn between loyalty to his old friend and to his job. He knew which would win – which had to win – but he’d hesitated nonetheless, and Mark had panicked and fired at him anyway. Steed had drawn and fired his own gun – which he was only carrying because they were so near the other side – and dove behind a tree. A single shot had dropped Mark to the leafy forest floor. The German soldiers waiting on the other side had come through the opening and taken him, keeping Steed behind his tree with a burst of automatic weapons fire.

Steed had clamped down on his emotions and returned to headquarters to report Mark’s defection and possible death. He’d been detained there for a few days in debriefing – long enough to learn that Mark had turned up in an Eastern sector hospital. He was still alive. So Steed had not killed his friend, but he had lost him just the same.

When he’d dialed the number Emma had left and his friend David’s wife answered the phone he’d thought for a moment it was anything but a coincidence. He assumed that the Ministry’s psychologists had arranged for him to connect with another old friend as a sort of therapy. He was sure Emma would have gone along.

But it was a coincidence – Moira and Emma were friends as long standing as he and David. It was only because they’d both been out of touch with their friends that they hadn’t known of the connection. Once he realized this Steed freely indulged in reminiscing with David. They continued chatting long after the other guests had gone to bed, and if David, who had known Mark, suspected Steed’s troubled mood he gave no sign. Some time after midnight David stifled his third or fourth yawn and noted the time. As he undressed a few minutes later Steed probed his dark emotional depths and found that the evening had eased some of the pain. It was time for the next treatment.

Emma looked up from her book as the door to her bedroom swung open. Steed, attired in his familiar silk dressing gown over royal blue pajamas, slipped inside and closed it behind himself. He stood for a moment, hands in his pockets, watching her. She had pulled back the covers to lie on her side on the sheet, head propped on one hand. The curves of her hips and shoulders offset by her narrow waist created a sensuous topography beneath her pajamas that he looked forward to exploring. She watched him watching her, fingers resting on her open book. He started toward her, untying the belt of his robe and shrugging it off of his shoulders to let it fall on the floor. Eyes still on hers, he pulled his pajama top off over his head, leaving his hair in disarray, and dropped it too. He stopped at the edge of the bed, looking down at her, his normally enigmatic face filled with open desire and affection. Out of ingrained habit, she examined his bare flesh for injuries.

In a graceful, sensuous movement she rose to her knees and looked at the healing wound across his left bicep. She drew her finger along beneath it, following the groove that a bullet had dug. The skin was already knitting without any sign of infection.

“You had a doctor take care of this,” she observed.

“It was convenient,” he smiled. “I knew you wouldn’t want me to come back damaged.”

Emma snorted, running her hands up his chest to his shoulders. He wrapped his arms around her, savoring the feel of her warm, lithe body and the cool touch of her pajama top against his skin.

Their kiss started slow, their heads turning one way, then the other as they explored one another’s faces with growing eagerness. Emma heard herself moan quietly, suppressed desire welling up from deep within as she felt the evidence of his arousal. When she’d first experienced this molten need, long before they’d become lovers, she’d been frightened at his effect on her. It felt too much like a weakness, and vulnerability was something she had struggled to eliminate from her life.

But he had earned her trust along with her respect and affection. Only after a few months of dating had he let her feel his arousal, holding her close as he kissed her goodnight at her door. Previously they had kissed and touched, but he had somehow shielded her from this manifestation of his desire. She had nearly dragged him back inside that evening, her libido easily overcoming her resolve to keep things moving slowly. But he’d pulled away from her, his grey eyes dark with passion piercing hers for a moment before turning lighter and wider with resolve. He’d bid her good night and walked away – a bit stiffly. After that it had happened a few more times, like a gentle reminder from him that a whole new world awaited them when she was ready. But never, not once, had he made an overt suggestion. His self-control was absolute. The time and place had been of her choosing. He had happily gone along when she had finally invited him.

But once they had crossed that threshold, the responsibility for initiating intimacy became wholly shared. When one wanted, one asked. And refusal was very rare. More often than not the need was mutual and freely, joyfully indulged. Bed, or wherever they found to make love, was the only place they both allowed themselves complete abandon, and it was only possible because of their absolute trust of one another.

Tonight in their friends’ guest room they could count on safety and privacy, but the encounter still bore an inflaming hint of illicitness.

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Emma drew him down to the bed with her and stretched luxuriously as he pressed kisses to her throat and gradually unbuttoned her top to reveal her breasts. They could never go slowly after being apart. Her aureoles pricked beneath his lips, her nipples standing rigid as if to get his attention. He lavished it on them, sucking one, and then the other, and then slipping his hand beneath the waistband of her pajama bottoms to run his fingers through the curly hair between her thighs. She pressed her pelvis up to him, legs parting beneath his fingers. He took her mouth with his again in great, open kisses, as if he were resuscitating her, mingling his life with hers. And then he was pulling off her bottoms, nails scratching at her legs in his nearly mindless effort to free her from them. She kicked them off of her feet, drawing her legs up as he settled between them. His fingers teased her until she froze, a deep breath caught in her throat as her loins shuddered under his touch. Her eyes popped open to see his pleased expression, distracting her for a moment until the pressure of his thick, solid cock driving into her drew her complete attention. She embraced him with her entire self, strong internal muscles grasping at his sliding, plunging member, legs locked around his waist, hands gripping at the rippling muscles of his back. She rose to him, tilting her pelvis so that his thrusts went deeper and the tip of his penis nudged against her cervix. He paused there on the edge of climax, knowing that it made her ache deep inside, knowing that she liked it. She shuddered, her out-of-control climax triggering his. He pumped into her filling her with his essence, reclaiming her as he had so many times, knowing even as he did that she belonged only to herself and only shared with him.

He was the luckiest man alive. That was all he could think as he held himself above her, his mind lost within his body and hers, gradually regaining enough muscle control to move to her side and collapse onto the mattress.


A while later she sat up, twisting away from him to move her book from the corner of the bed to the nightstand and switch off the lamp. Then she sorted out the sheet and pulled it up with the light blanket. She settled back down beside him and he wrapped one arm around her, using the other to hold up his head so that he could smile into her eyes in the darkness.

“What have you been up to?” he asked, wishing that he could talk to her about his experiences, the moment last week in Germany when he’d understood that his lifelong friend was a traitor who had despised him for decades. He hoped that asking her about herself would make up for his required reticence and help him forget that he had had to shoot a friend.

He had missed her – he always did when they were apart for more than a day or two. He hoped she had missed him too, although he knew she could fill her time so that he might easily be shuffled to the back of the queue.

“I finished the second article in my series for the mathematics quarterly,” she said. “And I’ve been working with watercolor. It’s so different from oils, though. I need to put a lot of time into it. I saw the Peels the other day. Poor Amelia is still feeling under the weather.”

Steed listened contentedly to her describing her week’s activities.

“You’ve been so busy you hardly noticed that I wasn’t under foot,” he said, allowing himself to sound peevish.

She stared up at him for a moment, her expression one that she might turn on a particularly dumb small dog.

“I made myself busy so that I would not dwell on missing you,” she replied too sharply. How can he be so dense?

He looked so remorseful she giggled, all annoyance with him gone. She couldn’t blame him for occasional lapses in ego – they were very rare, after all.

“Here, Steed, why don’t you make up for your absence?” she suggested, rolling away from him onto her stomach. “My shoulders are sore from tennis and my legs are sore from riding.” It wasn’t true, but it sounded reasonable.

“That would be my pleasure, Mrs. Peel,” he replied, getting up on his knees to massage her.

Two hours later Steed rose from her bed and turned to look back at her. There was no sight more beautiful to him than Emma’s sleeping face, except perhaps her smiling face, or her wicked grin, or perhaps the way she tilted her head when she didn’t believe him, or caught her lower lip in her teeth when she was embarrassed. He smiled at his own folly, adoring her so much that there was nothing she could do that he didn’t take pleasure in. Of course, some things she did were more pleasurable than others, and she could be damnable stubborn at times, but overall …. 

He shook himself out of his reverie and put his feet on the floor. Regretting that he must leave her, but certain that she would agree it was necessary for the sake of decorum, he bent to place a light kiss on her temple, then found his pajama top and dressing gown on the floor and put them on as he went to the door.

The house was as silent as any old country house ever can be. Outside sounds drifted in through open windows – crickets, tree limbs rustled by a breeze, an owl calling softly – and the house itself contributed with creaks and groans, as if it was still settling in for the night. The upstairs hall was infused with the scent of the fresh flowers displayed on a table. It wasn’t a specific scent, but a fresh, flowery smell that was cool and soothing. Moira was a talented decorator, Steed thought as he crossed the hall to his own room. David was lucky to have her. And down the hall around the corner they lay together in their married bed with no need for one or the other to slip away unobserved. At moments like this, as he slipped between the cold sheets of his bed, alone, with Emma so nearby, also alone, Steed regretted the choices he’d made that forced them to behave in this way. But that regret presupposed that if he had not chosen to be an agent he would still have met Emma, wooed her, and won her. Much as he knew their partnership was as near perfect as it could be, he suffered no delusions that they were destined for one another. He counted himself mighty lucky to have met her, and doubly lucky to have held on to her for this long. She was, he reflected as he began to drift off, the only friend he’d added to his dwindling list since returning to England. He might count Dr. Keel, but they had lost touch. And Mrs. Gale had come close, but she’d always kept him at arm’s length. Emma, his glorious, beloved Emma, was his one true friend these days.

As she had expected Steed was gone from her bed when Emma arose on Sunday morning. She had allowed herself to fall into delicious, sated sleep after their second time, and after they’d murmured for a while to one another about nothing, or everything. She couldn’t recall it all in the morning light. She did know they had discussed Moira’s missing money – because they’d repeated the phrase, giggling quietly as the words lost their meaning and slurred into a chant.

But this morning the matter regained some of its seriousness. As she dressed for church – Moira had begged her to join them while not pressing the other guests – Emma tried to think of other possibilities for the fate of the cash, and one was the most obvious: David had found it and taken it for safe keeping – probably in the safe. By the time she descended the stairs Emma was convinced that she must find a discrete way to ask him.

Sounds were coming from the kitchen so she went there and found her hosts and, to her amusement, Steed all standing around sipping coffee.

“Emma, good morning,” David greeted her, then turned to the counter where the coffee pot sat waiting with several cups and saucers around it. “How do you like your coffee?”

“Light please. Two sugars,” Emma replied, noticing Steed’s open mouth and realized he’d been about to reply on her behalf. She shot him a warning look and stepped over to take her cup from David.

“Mr. Steed is going to join us,” Moira said as Emma took a sip. She caught her friend’s amused expression. Moira must think he had arisen early mainly in order to be with her. They can’t possibly know about us, she thought, afraid to look at Steed, but then realizing that it would look odd if she didn’t.

“Are you a religious man, Steed,” she asked, dropping the awkward “mister” on the pretense that he would have asked her to last evening.

“I believe in divine intervention,” he replied.

“Oh? Are you in need of it, do you think?”

“We all are, Mrs. Peel,” he replied, his amused smile crinkling the corners of his eyes. “At one time or another.”

“We should go,” David put in. “Or we’ll be late. The vicar gets awfully testy when his flock wanders in after the service has begun.”

“Well, we don’t want the sheep dogs nipping at our heels,” Emma replied, her gaze sliding from Steed to David and back again. Steed smirked at her and set his cup and saucer on the counter near the sink.

“Just leave it, Mr. Steed,” Moira said, setting hers nearby. “Nicky will take care of it.”

Although the house seemed remote, it was not a long walk to the village church, where parking, Moira explained, was at a premium.

“I always feel terribly deserving of forgiveness after the walk,” she observed. “As if I’ve earned it with this Sunday morning mini-pilgrimage.”

Emma had chuckled at the notion, but thirty minutes later she realized as the four of them mounted the steps of the old church that she shared her friend’s notion.

Steed got lost in the sermon, which was a message about the importance of familial loyalty and matrimonial relationships, loosely related to whatever holy day was honored that week. As the minister spoke Steed’s gaze kept drifting toward Emma sitting beside him. She was attentive to the minister’s words, which he supposed reminded her of her deceased husband. That made him uncomfortable – any thought of the man who’d captured Emma’s heart before him did. Is she thinking of him now? Of her duty to her husband, even though he’s dead?

This ignoble thought had just flitted through his mind when Emma glanced at him. She looked back at the minister, then back at him, her expression surprisingly enigmatic. He felt as if she’d read his mind, but he couldn’t imagine what she was thinking in response. She slipped her hand over his where it rested on his thigh and squeezed lightly as she glanced down the pew to see if anyone was watching. He wanted to squeeze back, to retain that brief contact, but she removed her hand quickly, returning her attention to the minister who was directing his congregation to the next hymn in their hymnals.

“When I think of what happened, Emma, it just breaks my heart,” Moira was saying as they strolled along the road home. Steed and David were a few paces behind them engaged in a quiet conversation that Emma was trying to hear, but couldn’t.

After the service they’d each sipped a demitasse of coffee – black because the only lightening option was a powdered substance that both Emma and Steed looked at with suspicion – and a dry biscuit provided by the women’s guild. Steed and Emma stood side-by-side nodding politely to the other congregants while Moira and David greeted their neighbors. The coffee hour had been more like a quarter hour, though, as Sunday lunches and an important football match on the telly were waiting at home.

Emma was about to assure Moira that a few missing pounds were not worth such despair when her friend went on. “Losing Peter so suddenly was so horrible. I can’t imagine suddenly being without David.”

The sermon, Emma thought, catching her lower lip between her teeth to prevent herself from pursing her mouth in consternation. She had learned as a young widow that few people were comfortable expressing sympathy for such grief. And this morning it was the last thing she wanted to discuss. The minister’s observations about the strength of the bonded couple and the value of trust and fidelity had had little resonance for her. Little of the matrimonial bond had been left between her and Peter in the last months of their marriage. But in deference to Moira, and because she did not wish to explain her true reaction to the sermon, she thought about it in the hypothetical.

“It was a drastic change,” she said, speaking slowly in order to organize her thoughts. It had been drastic. And she had felt bereft in those first weeks of a companion that she had expected to have for life. Prior to Peter’s death when she’d contemplated divorce she had not imagined what life would be like without him, only that she wanted to be rid of him. “I didn’t even realize it at first. Once the memorial services were over and people stopped bringing food to me, I found myself making supper for two. When I was invited out, I said ‘we’d love to come.’ I got some strange looks.”

Moira chucked with her. “I remember that.”

“You noticed? Did other people?”

“I don’t know. I wouldn’t worry about it. I understood. Perhaps I’m out of line, but you seem to have adjusted. You seem to be thriving on your own now.”

“Well,” Emma shrugged one shoulder, trying to decide whether her current lifestyle qualified as truly being alone. She resisted the temptation to look back at Steed.

“Emma, if you are unhappy I want you to tell me. I won’t stand for it. You are a catch and I can think of a dozen men who’d love to meet you. In fact,” now Moira actually did glance back at the men, “I think Mr. Steed is a prime candidate.”

“Well,” Emma drawled, remarkably inarticulate.

“No? Someone else then,” Moira seemed more interested in the hunt than the immediate match, thank heaven.

“Emma,” David’s interruption was perfectly timed, “Steed and I were just recalling some time we spent at RAF Hambley. It occurred to me that a few years later I was stationed back there when your husband Peter was there too.”

The walking partner switch was affected so smoothly Emma was hardly aware of it. Moira slipped back to Steed’s side and David moved in beside her.

“He was a charming chap, wasn’t he? Quite the ladies’ – that is, very popular.”

Emma smiled thinly.

“Well,” David caught her expression and went on. “He was also the best darned pilot I ever saw. Whatever brought that jet down over there, it wasn’t anything he did wrong.”

“Thank you David. I know you’re right,” Emma replied, not only because it was expected, but because she believed it. Her husband had turned out to be controlling and unkind to her, but she would not deny that he’d been an excellent pilot. She’d flown with him many times, watching the childlike joy on his face as he put whatever airplane he’d gotten his hands on through its paces to impress her. His pleasure had rubbed off on her enough to send her to flight school where she’d earned her license to pilot very small, very non-military aircraft. But once she had it was as if he couldn’t stand the idea of her joining him in his private world in the air. He never took her flying again, and she found that she’d lost her enthusiasm for it too.

Encouraged, David had launched into an anecdote about Peter, an Italian officer, and a case of grappa. The story was vaguely familiar to Emma, but she listened politely anyway, which made David think of another incident, and then another as they turned into the drive. The longer he talked, the more uncomfortable Emma felt, and she caught herself glancing furtively at Steed more than once.

For the last year, since meeting Steed, she had found it very easy to avoid thinking of Peter. In the face of David’s obvious admiration of him she found it harder and harder to come up with agreeable responses. Peter had been all the things David mentioned: charming, smart, daring: by all appearances a great husband. And Emma had wanted a great husband. But hearing of him now, with Steed a few feet away, was confusing and upsetting in a way she had not expected and so did not know how to manage.

Moira came to her rescue, shooting David a puzzled look as she linked her arm into Emma’s and asked her to come help see that lunch was under control. Emma knew it was an excuse and she suspected that the men did too, but she went anyway.

“David,” Steed said, holding the other man back on the front porch as the women went inside, “that matter I mentioned really has Moira upset. You said you had an idea –.”

“Yes Steed. I have a gentle prank in mind. You can’t condone her keeping cash lying about like that, can you?”

“No of course not, but I’m concerned that she’s very upset. I would not want to make it worse when there is a happy ending after all.”

“All will end well, I assure you. Moira and I have had this same conflict many times. It’s our only real problem together, and I think this time she will finally learn to change her ways. But for it to be truly effective you will need to be here – to stay after the other guests leave – no need to bring everyone into it. Can you do that? And Mrs. Peel, too.”

Steed nodded. “All right. I’ll see if I can persuade Mrs. Peel to stay as well.”

“There’s a good fellow,” David started through the open front door. “Peter Peel would be a hard man to replace for that young woman. But then, he had nothing over you, if you’re inclined in that direction my friend.”

“Very kind of you to say,” Steed forced a jolly chuckle, diverting his friend’s attention by plunging into the music room where the other guests had gathered.

“You missed a very thought provoking sermon this morning,” David observed to the other guests after good mornings were exchanged. “A cautionary tale of the rigors of married life.”

Steed started to frown – that wasn’t how he’d describe the sermon – until David laughed at his description and then corrected it with a milder description.

“Well I did not miss my weekly dose of religion,” the married woman said. “I listened to the morning service on channel four.”

“The gravely voiced fellow who’s been on for eons?” the other female guest asked with a chuckle.

“Yes, Reverend Harlight.”

“Well that’s a jarring way to start the day!” the other woman laughed and the men chuckled too.

“Stirring, I think,” the wife replied, smiling, but not laughing. “I listen to him every week.”

There was an awkward silence.

“I believe I noticed a Cetti’s Warbler on the walk back from church – is anyone a bird fancier?” Steed said, moving from where he’d stopped near the doorway through the middle of the room toward the piano. “Elusive little buggers, but this one was flitting about in the bushes along the drainage ditch where it comes near the road,” he directed this last toward David as the only person present who was familiar with the stretch of road in question.

His little monologue had the intended effect. One of the guests mentioned hearing an owl in the night and David took up the thread by describing his battle of wills with the local woodpecker. Once salvaged, the conversation moved along smoothly and Steed relaxed against the piano.

Shortly Emma appeared in the doorway wearing her most opaque mask of social pleasantry.

“Hello everyone,” she said when there was a break in the conversation. Her clear voice easily drew everyone’s attention. “Lunch is ready. Moira requests that we gather in the dining room.”

“Wonderful!” David said, rising from the piano bench. The others also rose and Emma stepped aside so that they could pass through the door. Steed hung back, gesturing for David to precede him and then putting a hand on Emma’s arm to hold her back with him.

“Everything all right Mrs. Peel?”

“Yes, fine Steed,” she replied quietly. But her expression was guarded and her eyes, usually so deep and inviting skittered away from him before he could truly read her heart. He was left with the impression that she did not want him to and it stung more than he thought possible.

After the jovial lunch of roast chicken and salad, lemonade, and a delicious strawberry tart the party moved into the garden to play croquet. Emma pulled Moira aside and begged off, saying she wanted to freshen up a bit and would join them presently. She found her way into the sitting room. The drawn curtains created a cool, dim den where she could be alone with her thoughts. She sat on a loveseat near the hearth and peered at the enormous flower arrangement decorating the cold fireplace. The flowers concealed the blackened bricks, but by their shape and colors echoed the flames that danced there in other seasons, and were almost as mesmerizing.

Emma indulged in thoughts of Peter Peel for a while, gently probing her feelings to see if they had altered during their hibernation over the past year and a half. The anger was still there, if reduced due to neglect. That was a good sign, though. A sign that complete healing was possible. The sense of loss that had surprised her this morning was diminishing too, but she felt a growing anxiety that it would resurface once she was at home alone in her flat.

It was not the same apartment she’d shared with Peter – she had moved from that one almost immediately after his death. But her current one-bedroom apartment did seem to emphasize her singleness, a state that she had not expected to return to so quickly after her wedding. It wasn’t that she needed a husband around to fix things or handle the finances. But she had grown accustomed to having a partner to pick-up the dry cleaning when she forgot, or select a movie or restaurant when she didn’t feel like it. She had forgotten, until he was gone, how tiring it was to do everything, decide everything, on her own.

Unfortunately though, she reminded herself, that small surrender of control, however partial, had lead to Peter’s taking much more than she ever intended to give. He had proven himself undeserving of her trust and that had made her unwilling to give it so freely again.

“Here you are Mrs. Peel,” Emma smiled inwardly as Steed’s smooth voice washed over her. She wasn’t surprised that he’d sought her out. In fact she realized as she accepted the glass of lemonade that he offered her, she had wanted him to.

How fortunate I am that he does not listen to what I tell him, she thought as she watched him rest an arm on the mantelshelf and stand, one leg crossed in front of the other, to gaze down at her.

“David has Moira’s missing money,” he said.

Emma was grateful that he did not once again ask her if there was anything wrong. She knew that his subtle reminder of their post-coital discussion was completely intentional. And she smiled in spite of herself at the memory of giggling with him at midnight.

“Ah, there it is,” he said, taking a sip of his lemonade, his soft grey eyes locked with hers over the top. She arched one eyebrow in inquiry.

“Your beautiful smile,” he shrugged slightly. “Events of the morning seem to have scared it off and I was becoming concerned.”

Emma inhaled and exhaled a long sigh, looking back at the flowers on the hearth. Her smile faded despite her effort to retain it.

“Oh dear,” he said gently. “Is it really so bad, this life as a single woman?”

Her eyes shot up to him and for a moment he saw confusion, grief, anger, and passion, all before her face became the mask that she’d worn through lunch.

“What is it you want, Emma?” he asked, suddenly perturbed by her uncharacteristic emotional response. He could not help feeling responsible somehow, although he couldn’t rationally say why.

“Nothing Steed. Time to organize my thoughts.”

“Your emotions, you mean.”

“What is it to you?”

“I can’t replace your husband, Emma.”

“I know you are not my husband Steed. You are most definitely not Peter.”

Stung once again, this time much more sharply than before, Steed glared at her for a long moment during which she continued to stare at the flowers. He had not missed the difference in their statements – he had said he could not, while she had acknowledged that he was not. He wondered what she thought about his version as he started across the room toward the door.

“John wait.”

Her voice was thin, barely more than a whisper. As if she were waging an internal battle about saying anything at all. But he stopped because she had used his given name, and when she didn’t say anything more he slowly turned, considered leaving anyway. He wasn’t even sure why he was so angry. She had only stated the truth.

She sat with her left hand extended toward him, a silent entreaty to return to her. He couldn’t deny her, he never could. But this suddenly fragile young woman who had entrusted herself to him was unfamiliar, and he was not certain how to proceed. He set his glass on a side table and took her hand, sitting down beside her.

“David’s stories raised an old ghost that I thought I had put down long ago,” she said, squeezing his fingers. He covered their clasped hands with his right hand for extra assurance.

“So send him back to wherever he came from.” Steed found himself staring at the flowers as a few of his own ghosts peered back at him.

Emma shifted beside him, turning to look at his face, placing her free hand on his lapel. “You have mourned more lost friends than I have, I think,” she whispered.

He nodded, looking into her eyes and finding, to his great relief, the familiar depth and openness that he had come to know and trust.

“Some quite recently,” he whispered.

Now she nodded, catching her lower lip in her teeth in that charming way of hers.

“I thought so,” she said, the edges of her mouth curling at his slight frown. He hated it when she seemed to read his mind. And adored her for it. “I knew something was bothering you last night. Something you could not tell me.”

“I’m sorry,” he swallowed, the words barely making it out.

“There’s no need. I understand. And I will help you if you tell me how.”

He gazed into her eyes for a while longer, marveling at her ability to offer him succor while so disturbed herself. But that was the trick of it, wasn’t it? By offering him comfort she could press her own confused emotions back down where she normally kept them. If he refused her support now she would take it as a rejection. If he accepted it he would be helping her to continue to ignore her own grief and anger.

“Just be yourself Emma. Just be with me.”

She nodded slightly, her hand slipping from his chest up his neck to his cheek. She drew him to her for a light, gentle kiss, and then pulled back. The pain and confusion was gone from her face, and she wore her enigmatic little smile once again. For a moment guilt rushed through him. He had not intended with his request to give her permission to hide from her own feelings. But as she smiled at him, and then leaned in for another little kiss, he could not summon the courage to say anything more about it. She would address her emotions in her own way, in her own time.

“David asked us to stay after the others have gone,” he said. “He has derived some little prank to play on Moira, about the money. I asked him to be certain it would not further upset her.”

“Well,” Emma sighed, sounding much more like her old self, “perhaps that’s exactly the right approach. Have I told you about Moira’s pranks in school?”

“No, I don’t believe you’ve ever mentioned her.”

Emma smirked, then shot him a devilish grin. “Probably because I wouldn’t want you to know about some of the more embarrassing moments.”

For an instant he wanted to ask if she’d told Peter those stories, but he bit his tongue. “Then let’s save them for later. Are you ready to join the others in the garden?”

“Yes lets,” she stood up. “I’m sure that between us we can defeat the lot of them at croquet.”

He rose as well. “Together we can beat anything, Mrs. Peel.”

The other guests made their farewells after tea. David went to escort them out leaving Steed, Emma, and Moira lingering over their biscuits in the sitting room. No sooner had the sound of car engines from outside faded than a strange man dressed in canvas trousers and an oilcloth jacket barged into the room.

“Mr. Lang!” Moira said.

Emma shot a quick look at Steed and he nodded almost imperceptibly. The landscaper.

Lang was carrying a rough burlap sack, the opening bundled shut in one big hand. Swung it as he strode in and then held it up and shook it at Moira where she sat in her armchair. Something in the bag squealed. Emma winced at the high-pitched animal sound.

“You’ve tried to cheat me!” Lang said angrily. He didn’t shout, but his powerful voice gave the impression of it anyway. Moira recoiled, gripping the arms of her chair while her teacup and saucer sat precariously in her lap.

“No,” she shook her head from side to side.

“Oh yes. You don’t have my money, do you? And I’ve spent a fortune on the shrubs. I won’t put up with it! I’ll release these things here in your fancy sitting room, see if I don’t.”

“No please Mr. Lang. I’ll get you the money. From the bank tomorrow when they open.”

“But I’ve got the plants today. This is the third time and I’ve had it.”

David appeared in the doorway behind Lang. “What’s going on?” he asked, his voice sounding like a whisper after Lang’s.

“I’m going to release them all,” Lang said, another squeal coming from the bag as he shook it. He loosened the neck and reached inside, felt around a bit as the bag squealed again, and pulled out a big, brown rat.

“Put that vile creature away Lang,” David requested with constrained anger. Moira looked past Lang at her husband and seemed to grow even more frightened.

“Not until I get my money,” Lang sneered, still focused on Moira. She went pale, her gaze focusing on the rat that Lang was waving around at her.

“There’s no call not to be civil,” Steed said, his composed words countered by his authoritative tone as he rose from his chair. Emma rose too, taking a step toward Moira, who started to wail in fear.

“I’ll show you civil!” Lang growled as he threw the rat at Moira.

Her wail became hysterical and Steed started for Lang, “That’s enough!” he growled.

But as he spoke Moira’s wail transitioned to hysterical laughter. Steed stopped short to look at her curiously. She had caught the rat in both hands, her teacup rattling in its saucer.

“Your faces are priceless!” she cried, pointing with the rubber rodent first at Emma, then at Steed who has frozen in his tracks next to the landscaper. He stared in amazement at Moira, then looked at Emma, who was as stunned as he. Moira continued to laugh and now Lang had joined her. Steed turned to David who wore a wan smile.

“Oh lighten up,” Moira tossed the rat at Emma, who caught it unhesitatingly. She had noticed that the bag now hung limply in the landscaper’s hand – the movement of the “bag of rats” had been entirely due to his shaking it. Some sort of device inside have made the squeaking sound.

“Was this entirely for my benefit?” she asked dangling the rubber rat by the tail in front of her, wondering how she could have been taken in by it at first.

“Please forgive Moira. She couldn’t resist. It’s all she’s talked about for the last two weeks,” David said, directing his comment more at Steed than Emma, since he was still looking rather perturbed. “We decided to include Steed after he joined you to talk to Nicky last night.”

“Yes, what about Nicky?” Emma asked.

“Here ma’am,” the maid presented herself in the doorway. Clearly she’d been lurking in the hall.

“You were in on it too then?” Steed finally spoke.

“She’s a fine performer, isn’t she?” Moira asked, wiping tears of laughter from her face with a handkerchief.

Steed shared a look of consternation with Emma, who responded by tossing the rat at him. He caught it, and something about its absurd, wheezy squeal made him shake his head and laugh.

“Let me introduce our star,” Moira said, rising from the chair where she’d cowered a moment before. She placed one hand on the landscaper’s forearm. “This is our friend Ralph Landis. Ralph, this is Mrs. Emma Peel and this is Mr. John Steed.”

“Pleasure to meet you both,” Landis switched the bag to his left hand and extended his right to Steed, who shook it. Emma moved closer and also shook hands with him.

“So they persuaded you to get involved in their little drama?” Emma asked, surprised that anyone would agree to play the villain with a bag of rats to an audience of two.

“Moira is always dreaming up some prank,” Landis said. “She’s remarkably good at getting people to agree to help. And when she fails, her faithful accomplice moves in for the kill.”

“David?” Emma asked, following Landis’s gaze.

He shrugged innocently. “My Moira’s an instigator. What can I say?” his tone was so warm it melted the last edges of Emma’s annoyance. She was happy that her wild friend had found someone who loved her for it. And she was also glad to know that adulthood had not ruined Moira’s sense of fun.

Steed smiled to himself as he shoehorned the Bentley’s long body into a free parking space across from Emma’s building. She had parked her little lotus in her accustomed spot in the circular drive. She was removing her bag from the boot by the time Steed had crossed the street.

“I’m in the mood for fish and chips, Mrs. Peel – care to join me?” he asked. “I’ll go fetch it from the chip shop down the block.”

Emma involuntarily licked her lips at the thought of a salty, vinegary meal.

“I’d love some,” she said. “Shall I come along?”

“No need Mrs. Peel. You go get settled. I’ll be back in a flash.”

Emma was tired enough from the drive not to argue. She shut the boot and picked up her case, then realized that Steed was still standing there.

“I forgot over the weekend,” he said, holding out a small parcel.

She took it with her free hand, giving him an inquisitive look.

“I noticed that you were nearly out of the tea you enjoy in the afternoons. And knowing how you never seem to remember to buy it, I popped in to Fortnum and Mason.”

His eyes twinkled over his smile as he tipped his hat to her and turned on his heel, heading for the chip shop. Emma looked down at the package in her hand, then up at his retreating back. Her gaze drifted to the dry cleaner’s shop across the street where some of her clothes were waiting for her to pick them up, and she smiled.

You can’t have everything, but he certainly does come close.

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