A Question of Holmes (Charlotte Holmes #4)(4)

“Finish that sentence,” Leander said, “and I’m feeding your breakfast to Mouse.” He arranged a plate for me and pushed it across the island. “All I’m saying is that you’re on the other side now. It’s summer. Jamie’s here. Go have some fun. Do easy things, things that make you happy.”

I looked at him over a forkful of hash browns. “I picked up a case,” I said.

“Yes.” Leander braced his hands on the counter. “But is that what makes you happy? Do you know what does?”

I CONSIDERED WHAT MY UNCLE HAD SAID AS I WASHED UP the breakfast dishes. I’d left Jamie’s on the coffee table, within wafting distance, and he was beginning to make grumbling sounds in his sleep. Leander had run out “on a work errand,” though I knew that, since January, he’d dropped absolutely everything to watch over me. His income from his rental properties had been buoying us along, though we were both aware it couldn’t forever. Leander was a world-renowned investigator, fast on his feet, charming, vaguely debonair. Last week, I’d overheard him turning down a case in New South Wales (something delicious-sounding—I’d heard “circus,” and “throwing knives”), and he’d gone out straight after to his club, a racquet clutched in his hand like a bludgeon.

I’d felt bad for the racquetballs.

But there was no reason, now, that he couldn’t be back to his usual business. I was well again. Well enough, I should say. I would always be an addict, but right now, I was one in recovery. I had a plan. A good one.

It occurred to me that I should inform Watson of his role in said plan.

“Good morning,” I said to him, perched on the arm of the couch.

He blinked his eyes open. “Good morning,” he said, stifling a yawn. “Is that bacon?”

We moved to the leather armchairs by the window, and I curled up there, studying him, as he sorted through his plate with his fork. “What are you thinking?” I asked him.

He looked surprised. “That’s usually my line,” he said.

“All the same.”

With a forkful of tomato, he regarded me steadily. “I missed you,” he said. “I’m thinking about that, and how nice it was to wake up just now to you saying good morning.”

“And to breakfast,” I said.

“And that,” he laughed. “I’m thinking I’d like to hear you play your violin later, and that we could take a walk by the river. And I’m not sure exactly what I am to you, right now, but . . .” He shrugged. “I think we have lots of time to sort that out, if we want to.”

Once, this sort of emotional honesty would have sent me running to my chemistry table, needing a good loud explosion to clear my head. Today, I only curled my toes and then uncurled them, basking a little in the sun.

Watson wolfed down his breakfast and set the plate aside. “What are you thinking?” he asked. “Turnabout, fair play, et cetera.”

“Oh,” I said, stretching until my fingers brushed the curtains. “I was just refining a few points.”


“Of the terms and conditions of our relationship.”

“The what?” Watson coughed. “Sorry?”

“Do you need a glass of water?” I asked, concerned.

“No,” he said, “but a clarification would be nice.”

“That’s the goal.” I sat up, steepling my hands under my chin. “I spent the last few weeks drawing it up on a legal pad. It’s only about twenty-three pages long—”


“And I tried to keep the addendums to a minimum.” I was also attempting to keep a straight face, but I didn’t want Watson to know that. I had given this matter significant thought. I certainly hadn’t written us up contracts.

Lawyers were far too expensive.

He raked a hand through his hair. “Okay. Hit me.”


“It’s an expression,” Watson said, and poked me with his foot. He’d done that earlier. Was that something we did now? “What are these terms and conditions? What exactly am I agreeing to?”

I took a deep breath. I knew, empirically, that it was best to begin with something small. To pop the frog into the pot of water before one set it to boil. “Your nails,” I said.

Watson glanced down at his hands. “What about them?” he said, flexing his fingers.

“Quite often you have dirt under your nails,” I said. “When I first met you, I thought you might be a gardener.”

“I was living in a dorm,” he said patiently. “Where would I have been gardening? The roof? Mars? Wait, actually—don’t answer that.”

I frowned; I’d already come up with one or two sensible locations. “I’ve left a nail brush for your use in the en suite bathroom. Yours is green. Mine is black. Please don’t use mine.”

Watson bit his lip. “So this is one of your stipulations, then. Clean nails.”

I squirmed a little in my chair, then forced myself to settle. “You’ll . . . if we are dating, you’ll sometimes touch me, and it’s good for me to not have anything to focus on that I can be repulsed by.”

To Watson’s everlasting credit, he didn’t recoil at the horrible thing I had said. I hadn’t meant to use the word “repulsed”; I had meant to say “made skittish” or some phrase that reflected the fault of it back on myself. But the truth of it was that, after my assault, I struggled to stay in whatever romantic moment I was in, no matter how I was enjoying it. There was always the undertow pulling at my feet, pulling me away, away.

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