Slight stammer.

Graceful of movement; confident in home environment. Skilled in trade as evidenced by dusty fingers, ring of keys on right hip, quill tucked behind left ear.

Intellect, high; certainly well above average given the immediate surroundings and facile access to information.

Physical appearance: slim, pale, possessing femininity in abundance.

Overall assessment: fascinating.

"G-good morning, Mr. Holmes. Your shipment has a-arrived from Glasgow," the woman murmured softly. "If you wait a moment, I will h-have them brought down."

"Thank you, Miss St. James," he replied with grave courtesy, letting his gaze sweep from her and through the shop, drinking in all the details around him. It was an interesting place; familiar, and yet with an ever-changing element of randomness that made it worthwhile to study.

Unlike a pub or a pie shop, a book seller had an unpredictable clientele, and could play host to anyone from a grubby urchin eyeing a random scrap of newspaper to a burly workman wanting a cheaply bound story collection to a full gentleman looking for some respectable tomes to dress a shelf. Literature was a great equalizer in many respects, and insured a general air of peaceful coexistence among the patrons.

Very few brawls ever started at a book seller's shop, and certainly not here at St. James Limited. The business had moved from Paternoster Row near the cathedral to Delilah Lane nearly seventy years earlier, and now stood as a small dusty bastion of knowledge in an otherwise unremarkable street, across from the Apex warehouse.

The Apex was where in fact, several brawls took place in the cellars on a biweekly basis, sixpence admission, gin available.

Holmes watched as Miss St. James turned and began to mount the wrought iron staircase at one end of the counter, her slim figure moving quickly, grey skirts brushing the railing as she spiraled upwards. He was too far away to see much more than a flash of delicate boot and pale pink lace, but at the moment, that was enough.

Genevieve St. James. Only daughter of Henry St. James PhD., deceased; proprietor and manager of St. James Limited with her uncle, William St. James.

Social definition: spinster.

Erotic potential: intoxicating.

He stood still drinking in all the smells and sounds around him, absorbing them like a sponge to be identified one by one. Old rich leather from bindings; dust and dry mold from aged paper; traces of tea and glue and charcoal from the tiny kitchen in the back of the shop.

Drifting in from the street: horse sweat and straw, lumber from crates and packing cases, soot from nearby chimneys, hints of rain hanging low in the overcast sky.

Footsteps overhead; the return of Miss St. James, a pair of small volumes in hand.

Outside, the sudden shadow of a cart blocking the light. Holmes took it in quickly and moved. He heard the door open, Miss St. James come down the metal staircase and begin to waver.

An arm extended, a tug and turn in a quick movement, the goose quill fluttering out of her hair. They stood crushed together against the shop wall as the workmen carried in the heavy crates behind them, moving with grunts through the narrow doorways.

Holmes murmured a soft apology for the unseemly closeness, the necessity of the moment. Miss St. James said nothing.

Pupils wide, pulse accelerated.

Faint scent of rosewater, sweet breath; estimated point in catamenia: midway.

Breasts firm and . . . uncorseted.

Masculine physical reflexive response to proximity and pressure of said breasts: almost immediate

Miss St. James said nothing, looking over his shoulder at some fixed point beyond the cases and workmen, but Holmes felt her draw in a deep breath, pressing against him in a reaction that was gratifying to say the least. He calculated that there were only four layers of clothing between them, possibly fewer if he didn't count his coat, which was unbuttoned and technically, not an immediate barrier.

A continued track of thinking along these lines would complicate matters still further. Holmes listened for the last of the workmen to pass behind him.

Miss St. James gave a wordless little sigh completely inappropriate for the occasion; a warmly sensual exhalation open to all manner of interpretations, and when accompanied by the press of her body against his, impossible to ignore.

Or resist.

Holmes shifted, turning his head to check on the workmen; at the same time Miss St. James lifted her chin, and the quick brush of cheek to cheek passed between them, a few seconds worth of contact.

Enough to qualify as a deliberate caress.

On both sides.

Holmes stepped back.

"I apologize for the impropriety, Miss St. James," he assured her. "However, you might have been injured and I could not stand by and see that happen."

"You are very gallant, Mr. Holmes," came her equally calm reply. "I am grateful for your . . . p-presence of mind."

He gazed into her eyes, aware that they were going to be interrupted, that the workmen would very probably need to speak to Miss St. James, and that this private moment was about to disappear like a soap bubble, but while it was here, the warm intimacy, unspoken and savored between them was sweet indeed.

Then it was gone, and Miss St. James was brushing past him, back to the counter. She gracefully scooped up the quill as well, and turned, setting the volumes on the wood, her hand caressing the topmost book. "Pearson's G-Guide to Roman Aqueducts of Sussex, and the Biography of Machiavelli b-by Cannonelle." She quoted a sum lower than Holmes was expecting, adding, "The guide is w-worn, although serviceable."

He paid her and waited until she had wrapped the books in brown paper as a precaution against the weather, and although they didn't speak again, Holmes enjoyed watching the quiet grace of her actions. She had slender hands and a gentle touch; it was easy to imagine those transposed to a very different . . . situation.

Lest his gaze give him away, Holmes turned to look where the workmen had set down the crates and were now being paid in guineas by William St. James.

"Your shipment from Normandy has made good time, I see."

Miss St. James looked up, slightly startled. A small smile crossed her face as she followed his stare to the crate. Holmes spoke in a low voice. "The crates are of spindly pine unique to the Brittany region, and further there is a port stamp with the crest of Calais on one corner. Two of the workmen sport dockworker's tattoos of crossed anchors as well."

"P-part of a private library that went for auction," Miss St. James acknowledged.

"Was there a particular emphasis to it?" he asked, turning to look at her once again.

"Possibly. Uncle m-made the selections, so I cannot say until I make out the list," She murmured. "I will keep your interests in m-mind, Mr. Holmes."

"Thank you," he nodded, and added before stepping out the door, "And please give your uncle my best wishes for a safe trip to Nottingham tonight."

He left with his books and a satisfied smile; the sight of the train ticket in William's vest pocket was brief, but enough to insure he was correct in his assertion.

It began to rain. Moving slowly, Holmes made his way back home, deliberately thinking of other things, and after climbing the stairs to his rooms, he set the books down and threw himself into one of the upholstered chairs, relaxing.

His shoulders flexed a bit, and he let his gaze turn to the window, and the thin grey drops racing down the panes there. Holmes allowed himself to consider again Miss St. James, and their moment together up against the wall of the book shop.

No words, just a sensual recollection; an impression of scent and squeeze and seduction all rushing back in a wave of arousal rolling down his stomach. He closed his eyes to focus better, sliding deeper into the memory, allowing it to hold his full attention.

Concentration gave way in a slow, relentless shift from fact to fantasy. Not how things had been, Holmes acknowledged, but how he . . . wished . . . they had gone. How standing pressed up against Genevieve St. James might have been, *should* have happened.

They should have been alone.

And Miss St. James should have given that little sigh of hers against his cheek, and he should have leaned into her, dropping his mouth on hers and taking the offered kiss. Holmes knew it would have been hot and slow, a sweet drink from a long-hidden spring of passion.

Passion was the key; he sensed that keenly. Behind her green eyes lay not only a sharp intelligence, but also a sensuality held in great restraint. It was a condition Holmes understood well; seeing it in Miss St. James made him acutely aware of his own responding in kind, a call of hunger to hunger.

And half the intrigue lay in never speaking of it.

Since it had all started with lips—her lips—Holmes found that both ironic and enthralling. He remembered clearly how it had all come about after their two years of professional and formal acquaintance. Miss St. James had been always occupied a tiny corner of his mind, discreet and interesting, but it wasn't until his match against Barrel Charlie three months ago down in the main ring of the Apex that he'd caught the inner heat of the woman.

It had been a good battle; Barrel Charlie was lighter on his feet than his belly would indicate, but drawing the fight out made the bettors put more money down, and Watson had needed the cash. A few taunting passes around the ring, a few quick jabs here and there kept the game keen.

And then she appeared with a grey cloak over her head and shoulders to keep out both the chill and the unwanted attention of the patrons. Holmes had spotted her because her graceful glide was so out of place against the rough and tumble shift of the crowd. As he watched, she moved and stopped before the red-faced William St. James who was clearly enjoying his beer and betting.

A whispered word and he grudgingly moved to go with her. Holmes remembered Miss St. James turning and catching his eye, her gaze holding his and then . . . .

Then her tongue, delicate and pink had flicked out and slowly circled the rim of her mouth, wetting it with a gleam. The hot jolt that image sent through Holmes had left him slightly breathless. No demure downward gaze this time; she held his stare with her own, and he felt the desire sear between them, blanking everyone else out.

She turned away, and Holmes tried to watch her, but Barrel Charlie had begun to swing his fists again and time started up once more around him. Since he'd already figured out his opponent's weakness it was but a few moment's work to lay him out, but by the time the fight was over and the bets accounted for, both niece and uncle were long gone from the premises, and Holmes was left with a new intrigue deep within.

Women, he decided, were unpredictable and therefore, always slightly dangerous—more so than men. The average man could be analyzed, categorized and quantified in fairly short order. Not so with the fairer sex, and therefore, it was a matter of treading lightly and watching carefully. When he next visited the St. James Limited, he kept his gaze on Miss St. James.

She said nothing, did nothing out of the ordinary. Even her slight stammer was no worse than before. It wasn't until she handed him his change that Holmes felt her finger touch the center of his palm and run down the sensitive length of his middle digit in a delicate stroke. The purposeful caress, small and yet unmistakable make him pause, but another customer jostled him, and the little moment disappeared.

It had been that way ever since.

Holmes managed by the third visit to catch her wrist and let his thumb stroke the thin skin along the inside of it; an action that sent a tiny shudder of pleasure through Miss St. James, a shudder he felt rather than saw.

And the flirting continued between them, always in the smallest gestures, unacknowledged by comment or vocalization. Holmes found it captivating to indulge in the silent interplay, and reflected on each exchange afterwards, savoring the unpredictability of the encounters.

These miniscule intimacies were enough to expand his imaginings, and Holmes found himself hosting fantasies now; mental meanderings most often visited before sleeping, when a man might indulge in a more physical response to the imagery in his thoughts.

Touching Miss St. James led to kissing Miss St. James, and then caressing, undressing and bedding Miss St. James in an endless variety of scenarios from sweet to sultry to sinister.

It was an ongoing mental seduction that occasionally shocked Holmes by its graphic nature. He'd never thought of himself as a Lothario by any means, but Miss St. James brought out a more . . . predatory side to his imagination; a streak of wanton wolfishness.

Restlessly Holmes considered himself: did he want to take advantage of this fantasy any further at the moment, or wait until after his match tonight, when a lovely distraction would keep him from dwelling too long on his aches and pains?

He generally wasn't one to put off an indulgence when on his own, but at that moment Mrs. Hudson's quick knock put an end to the choices, and Holmes ruefully rubbed the inside of his trousered thigh before rising to admit her into the rooms.