This was a terrible idea.

Flynn stood in front of the Brownwell house in a borrowed and hastily tailored suit. Penny’s seamstress skills were the only thing making him remotely presentable. He was regretting his decision to come to dinner, and was trying to figure out some way he could get out of it when the front door opened and Ivy poked her head out.

“I saw you from my window,” she said, a little out of breath. “Why are you just standing at the end of the walk instead of coming to the door?”


“Come on.” She gestured wildly for him to come in and Flynn sighed, making himself walk into her grand, fancy house. The foyer alone could practically fit the cottage he shared with his mother, and Flynn began to feel a little queasy.

“These are for you,” he blurted stupidly, suddenly remembering that Penny had helped him pick out a bouquet to bring with him. He awkwardly held the flowers out; a brilliantly colorful collection he’d put together flower by flower instead of selecting one of the pre-made bouquets. None of them seemed very “Ivy” to him, so he’d just chosen individual flowers that reminded him of her. Penny had tied it off with an ivy green ribbon for good measure.

“For me?” Ivy looked pleased but shy as she accepted the bundle of flowers.

“I picked them. The flowers. Sorry if it’s a bit loud. The bouquets they had didn’t look...they were too...plain.”

Ivy clutched the bouquet against her chest, careful not to crush the flowers. “It’s lovely. I’ll just go put these in some water.”

She scurried away, cheeks still flushed. Flynn lingered in the hall, waiting for her to come back. Genevieve stepped out of the kitchen and spotted him. She gave him a cool, appraising look.

“So, you made it after all.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

She shrugged. “I really couldn’t say. We don’t know much about you, after all.”

Flynn sensed the frigid suspicion behind her words and didn’t know whether to bristle or laugh. Keeping his expression mild, he mirrored her shrug.

“Well you know enough to keep it casual,” he said easily. “Wearing a dress from last season instead of dressing up implies a feeling of familiarity.”

Genevieve stiffened slightly, her eyes going wide for a moment before she regained her composure. Clearly not a response she’d been expecting. At least Flynn’s catty sisters had been good for something; he knew exactly how to engage in verbal jousting with society girls. A chilly glint came into her eye but Ivy returned then and she had to mask it with a smile.

“Flynn brought me a beautiful bouquet,” Ivy said and Genevieve forced her smile a little wider.

“How wonderful,” she said. If Ivy noticed a decided lack of enthusiasm in her sister’s tone, she didn’t show it. She tugged on Flynn’s sleeve.

“Come on, I want you to meet Daddy and it’s almost time to eat.”

“Yes, Flynn,” Genevieve said smoothly. “Do come and meet Father.”

She shot him a brief but smug look as they all walked into the dining room. Their father was seated at the head of the table, skimming over a newspaper. He set it aside when they entered and rose to give his daughters hugs. A maid bustled quietly about filling teacups while they waited for the first course.

“Daddy, this is Flynn,” Ivy said. “I met him at the Larner’s party a couple of weeks ago.”

“Ah, well. Very nice to meet you, Flynn. I’m Herman Brownwell.”

“A pleasure, Sir,” Flynn replied politely, shaking his hand.

“So Ivy, perhaps I was right to make you attend that party after all,” Herman quipped as they all sat down. Ivy rolled her eyes.

“Yes, Daddy,” she mumbled. “Flynn is in town visiting family.”

“Oh, really? Who are you visiting?”

“Yes, anyone we might know?” Genevieve asked, eyes boring a hole in his head.

“Not likely,” Flynn said. “They’re fairly reclusive. Especially now. I’m here because of some family...troubles. Illness.”

“Oh, my, I’m terribly sorry to hear that,” Herman said. “Are you enjoying the city, aside from that?”

“Yes it’s quite lovely,” Flynn said, relieved to have shut down the line of questioning about his family. Genevieve seemed a bit put out by it, but it wouldn’t be proper dinner etiquette to pepper him with questions about ill family members.

“Tharoux is alive in the summer. The solstice festival was quite an affair,” Flynn went on. “Everyone was quite impressed with Ivy’s juggling.”

Ivy’s ears went scarlet and she nearly choked on her tea.

“Not nearly as impressed as you were,” Genevieve said slyly. “Flynn is the lucky man who landed a date with Ivy at the auction,” she explained to Herman.

“I thought Ivy might prefer spending an evening with a friend, rather than a stranger,” Flynn said, dumping a spoonful of sugar into his tea. He and Genevieve stared each other down.

“Your date ran a bit long,” she said.

“We got caught up talking about her favorite detective, J.D. Bograt.”

“J.R. Bogues!” Ivy exclaimed.

“Right. We just lost track of time.” He sipped his tea while Genevieve continued to squint at him a bit murderously.

“Yes, our Ivy does have some...unusual interests,” Herman remarked. He gave Flynn a curious glance. “You share her fascination for the criminal mind, do you?”

“Ivy is very knowledgeable about criminal cases and detective work. I enjoy talking with her.”

Ivy was by now blushing so hard Flynn started to worry she’d be red forever. Their first course was served, creating a slight lull in the conversation. Flynn caught Ivy’s eye and winked. She ducked her head to stare into her soup bowl but Flynn could tell she was smiling. It was mostly small talk through the main and dessert courses; Herman regaled Flynn with a few stories about when ivy and Genevieve were children while they had cake and coffee; much to both of their annoyance. Flynn shared some of the funnier stories of encounters he’d had with sailors and merchants, careful to exclude any detail that would allude to his real profession.

“It’s getting late, I should probably be going before I overstay my welcome.”

He stood and Ivy jumped up from her seat.

“I’ll walk you to the door,” she said. Herman rose and shook his hand again.

“It was nice to meet you, Flynn. I hope you’ll join us again soon.”

“Thank you for the invitation, Ginny,” Flynn said with an easy smile. “Have a pleasant night.”

“Genevieve,” she muttered but Ivy was already towing Flynn into the hall.

“I think Daddy likes you,” she said. “He laughed at all your stories.”

“Did you really go through a phase of wearing your dresses backwards to try and scare the tutors by acting like your head was facing the wrong way?”

“I was five,” Ivy grumbled. “I really wish he hadn’t told you that story.”

Flynn laughed. “I’m sure you were absolutely terrifying.”

“Did you...have fun?”

“Not as much fun as I have in the tree house solving murders, but yeah. I had fun.”

She smiled, nervously tugging at a curl of hair that had come loose.

“Thank you for coming. No one ever comes here to see me.”

“That’s their loss then.” Flynn gently pulled her hand down and tucked her loose curl behind her ear so she’d stop fussing with it. Her eyes widened in surprise and took a step back, bumping hard into the wall and stumbling forward again, into Flynn. He caught her shoulders to keep her from toppling over.

“Sorry,” she squeaked. Abandoning better judgment, Flynn bent his head to brush a light kiss against her temple.

“Good night, Ivy.”

She opened her mouth but no sound came out. Flynn released her shoulders and stepped out onto the front step with a slight bow. He was halfway up the walk before she blurted out, “good night!”

He waved and then chuckled as it took her a couple of tries to close the door without slamming her skirt in it. He tried to wipe the smile from his face before he made it back home, or Penny would see right through him and never let it go.