FAMILY STEELE, PART 9B: HOLT ON STEELE

BY: Phaedra Phelan

E-MAIL: PrissyBNY@aol.com

SUMMARY: Laura must confront and find closure to the trauma that defined and controlled her for much of her adult life and Remington is there to help her through it all in the midst of a life-endangering case.

DISCLAIMER: This "Remington Steele" story is not-for-profit and is purely for entertainment purposes. The author and this site do not own the characters and are in no way affiliated with "Remington Steele," the actors, their agents, the producers, MTM Productions, the NBC Television Network or any station or network carrying the show in syndication, or anyone in the industry.

*****

It was the last Sunday evening in August in 1993. Sundays were a time that Remington and Laura had dedicated to themselves and to their children found at home. Unless a case absolutely demanded it, they stayed with their children every weekend and this was one of those times.

Laura was just waking up from a long nap. She knew that she must have been sleeping quite a while because it was now dark, and also because the heaviness in her breasts told her that several hours had passed since she nursed her son, Harrison, or Harry as they had decided to call him. She was also hungry, a condition that she knew from experience to be a natural result of lactation in her case. She had so much milk that she had no problem satisfying her baby's healthy appetite, but she had to eat the four thousand and plus calories every day to sustain her baby and herself as well.

Laura's mind reverted back to earlier in the afternoon. Remington had lain down with her and they had lost themselves in the passion that was the centerpiece of their lives. Laura smiled with contentment as she remembered and realized that the evening would probably bring them together again. These days they seemed unable to get enough of each other.

Laura heard Harry cooing in his crib and she turned on the lamp by her bed and picked up her clothes that had been abandoned in the heat of the earlier moment. She put on the soft white linen shorts over her bare hips. She did not put on a bra, but simply pulled a bright blue cotton camisole over her swollen breasts and went to Harry. He was wet, but he was a patient baby and was not fussing and simply smacked his tiny lips in anticipation of nursing.

After Laura had dried him, she carried Harry to the chair where she had comfortably nursed her babies and gave him her breast. Even though motherhood was no longer a novelty to her, the fact of each of her children was a source of amazement to Laura. She looked down at the healthy three-month-old baby at her breast, and when their eyes locked, the communication was complete. She still found it incredible that she and Remington had produced the robust infant in her arms and yet she knew that it was true. She closed her eyes and remembered every moment of that day in May when Harry came into the world.

*****

Her pregnancy had gone without incident and Laura had happily sailed into her ninth month proudly carrying her heavy belly. But the day had arrived when Chle and Cassie were to graduate from kindergarten and Laura had insisted that she would attend the event in spite of her advanced state of pregnancy.

"Darling, do you think that you should attend this affair at school? I will go and represent us. You look like you're about to drop that baby anytime."

Laura was trying to make herself look presentable and finding it very difficult with her belly so full.

"If I didn't know better, I would swear I was having twins again. I'm huge."

Remington came behind her and embraced her, belly and all.

"You're havin' a baby, Laura." He kissed the back of her neck and rubbed her bottom. "I love your arse like this."

"You love it anyway you can get it."

"This is true, darling. I love you . . . everything about you. You're just beautiful when you're bloomin' so."

"I don't mind blooming, but I wish that I could camouflage my navel when it turns inside out like this. It shows through everything. And my breasts are leaking constantly."

"You are adorable, every part of you." Remington pulled up the loose silk blouson top of the dark navy dress Laura was wearing and caressed her freckled belly with its protruding navel. "You haven't observed any diminution of my ardor, have you? You are so ripe and gorgeous."

Laura smiled and flushed slightly as she remembered her husband attending to her so passionately the night before.

"Let me help you with your stockings, love."

Finally they were dressed and Esperanza had all of the children assembled and ready to go. Cassie and Chle were enchanting in matching pale blue piqu dresses with white grosgrain ribbons in their long black hair. Michael was fussy, but Remington took him in hand and he immediately calmed down in his father's arms. Jonathan and Joanna were taking it all in stride, having been along this path themselves before. Jonathan stood quietly looking quite the handsome ten-year-old. He was in the middle of a growth spurt and it was becoming obvious that this boy with the full head of red hair was going to be a heartthrob. He was a contrast to his fair blond sister who, while not unattractive, was so introverted that she would melt right into the woodwork if she were allowed to.

"Are we going to Gregory and Geoffrey's house after, Mama? To the party?" Cassie asked anxiously.

"Yes, the party, please," Chle added.

"I guess we will have to go, won't we?" Laura said. She had not calculated where she would be in her pregnancy when she told the girls that she would take them to Brathwaites. The children were all in the same kindergarten class and a natural attachment between the two sets of twins had developed.

*****

As Remington and Laura sat at the graduation program in the warm auditorium, Laura suddenly didn't feel well. The Brathwaite twins had already received their 'diplomas,' but 'S' for Steele was still a number of children away.

Ian and Sandra Brathwaite were sitting right behind the Steeles and Sandra had her eye on Laura. Actually Laura was overdue and Sandra knew that she was pushing things by coming to this event. But of course she understood that Laura would not have voluntarily missed it for anything.

"Laura looks ready to go down, Tabby. You're watching her?" Ian whispered to his wife.

"Yes, I wouldn't be surprised what happens. She's lively, you know."

"Rem, I have to go to the bathroom. I can't sit here any longer."

"Darling, I'll come along."

Remington helped Laura to her feet. Fortunately they were at the end of their row of seats, because as soon as Laura stood up and started up the aisle, her water broke and clear liquid began to stream down her legs. At the same time a powerful contraction caught her and would have brought her to her knees if Remington had not caught her.

"Remy, help me."

Remington picked her up in his arms and carried her out of the small auditorium with Sandra Brathwaite right behind him.

"Take her to the First Aid station, Remington. There's no time to waste. Use this wheelchair they keep here so you don't give yourself a hernia."

Remington deposited Laura in the wheelchair and rolled her to the small First Aid station. Just as he put Laura on the cot there, she had another powerful contraction and gripped her belly in pain.

"Oh, Rem, I'm having the baby! It's coming!"

"I know, love."

"Get her skirt and stockings off, Rem. She's not going to wait for any ambulance. She's presenting and she is ready." Sandra Brathwaite was washing her hands. She was elegant in a bright yellow silk linen suit chosen specially for the occasion, but she had shed the jacket and found a white coat in the nurses' closet. She stepped out of her high-heeled sandals and stood in her stocking feet to attend Laura.

Sandra Brathwaite threw a sheet across Laura and started to check her dilation, but Laura was pushing and grunting already.

"It's coming. I feel it coming." She tried to hold back from crying out as the contraction took her. "Hold my legs, Rem. Help me. I'm so warm."

Laura threw back the sheet and opened her legs wide for Remington to hold them steady so that she could push her baby out.

He was stunned, staring as Laura lost all modesty and quickly accelerated into the final stages of labor.

"Oh, God! God help her," he whispered in awe as he saw Laura's parts swollen and ready to deliver.

"Here you go, Laura. It's just fine. Look at you. You're doin' fine." Sandra Brathwaite had the situation well in hand. "You can push hard now. You won't tear. You're completely dilated."

Laura cried out in pain as she felt the head of her baby come through the birth canal, her whole pelvis seeming to give way and open up. She pushed with the contraction, crying and grunting, her parts stretched wide, amniotic fluid gushing out as the crown of her baby's head came into view.

"Dear Lord!" Remington whispered, almost fainting at the sight.

"Hold on, Rem. I'm not needin' you to faint on me now, man."

The next instant Sandra received the squalling little boy, wrapped him in a towel, and gave him into Remington's hands as Laura fell back exhausted.

"Thank you, Sandra. Thank you." Remington kissed Sandra on her cheek and then his tiny son and then Laura as Sandra continued to attend to her.

"The ambulance is here, Tabby," Ian Brathwaite said from the door of the First Aid Station. Can you manage everything there?"

"Yes, love. They're too late, you know." Sandra turned back to her patient. "Laura, promise me that the next time you have a baby, you won't go anywhere when you are like this."

"Next time?" Remington said with mock innocence as if there were no possibility of a next time.

"Oh, there will be a next time," Sandra Brathwaite said knowingly.

"Do I have to go to hospital, Sandra?" Laura was already engrossed in examining her newborn son limb by limb.

"Yes, Laura. This place is not sterile. I don't trust it. Just an overnight stay at Cedars to make sure you haven't picked up any infection."

Esperanza was at the door with the children.

"Come in, come in and meet your new little brother, Harrison Daniel Steele," Remington said beckoning Esperanza to come into the room where Laura lay calmly now with their newborn son nursing at her breast.

*****

Sandra Brathwaite accompanied Laura and Remington to the Cedars-Sinai Hospital and got her and baby Steele admitted.

"I leave you two now," she said finally. "Ian is at the house tryin' to have a hot dog party for the children. I think I shift gears and go to help out. I tell Esperanza that you'll be home late."

When Sandra turned to go, Laura saw the difference in her figure.

"Sandra, you look really . . . healthy . . ."

"Well, I thought you'd never notice." Her face beamed.

"You're carrying?"

Sandra nodded. "And we weren't half trying. Just enjoying life. I just passed the three month mark so I think that it's gonna happen."

"Congratulations, Dr. Brathwaite. Tell Ian that I have a few choice words just for him," Remington said grinning at Sandra.

"Listen, you two. I'm going. I talk to you tomorrow, Laura."

"Isn't that wonderful for them?" Laura said to Remington after Sandra left the room. "She thought that the twins were the end of it."

"I am very happy for them . . . and I am very proud of you, darling."

Remington took Laura's hand, kissed it and held it to his lips, his head bowed.

"Rem, are you all right?"

"Yes, I'm fine." He lifted his head and Laura saw the tears in his eyes. "I'm just very thankful that you and our wee one are both fine."

The nurse brought Harrison Daniel Steele to Laura to for his feeding.

"I'll take him," Remington said, and received the tiny bundle into arms and carefully checked him out. "He looks like you, darling, complete with freckles and it looks like he has green eyes. Imagine that! And a thatch of chestnut hair, too. Looks like your genes came in strong this round, lassie."

"Well, it's about time, don't you think?"

"He's checkin' me out, lookin' right into my eyes. Lord, you're a wise one, aren't you? Know my voice, you do? I'm your Papa . . . and I love you. Now your mum there, she's the beautiful woman with the lovely jugs. She is going to take care of you in the most marvelous way, my wee one. Oh, yes, laddie."

Baby Harrison cooed, smiled and stretched and Remington held him to his own heart for a long time, rocking him in his arms before he surrendered him to Laura.

Laura roused herself from her reverie when Harry fell asleep at her breast and carried him to his crib, with Ingrid, the year old German shepherd that had become a very important member of the Steele household, right on her heels.

*****

It was Friday afternoon the following week and as things were winding down at the office, an older man, obviously weary with the cares of life came into the reception area. He did not look exactly like a homeless person, but he was not far from it.

Mildred assessed the man and waited for him to approach her desk. Experience had taught her that it was best to let people take their time in these kinds of office situations while at the same time keeping the questionable person in view.

Finally the man got up and came to the desk.

"I . . . I need to see Laura Holt. Would that be possible?"

"Actually, Miss Holt, er Mrs. Steele, has left for an appointment. She may not be back in the office today. Did you have a . . . conversation with Mrs. Steele?"

"Oh, I've had many a conversation with her, Miss. I'm her father, Henry Holt."

Mildred was taken aback, but quickly recovered.

"Mr. Holt. It's very nice to meet you." She held out her hand and Henry Holt shook it. Mrs. Steele's husband, Remington Steele, he's here. Would you like to speak with him?"

"So my little girl got herself married. Sure I want to meet her old man."

Mildred excused herself and went to announce Henry Holt.

"Who, Mildred?"

"It's a Henry Holt, says he's Laura's father. He wanted to see her."

"What rock did he crawl from under?" Remington swore softly.

Henry Holt was obviously ill at ease as he stepped into the pristine office of the man who was his son-in-law and Remington came forward to meet him. The contrast between the two men was altogether startling.

"I'm Remington Steele." Remington shook the older man's hand firmly. "And you are?"

"Henry Holt, Laura's father. You're the fellow she married?"

"Yes sir. I'm the lucky bloke. Have a seat."

Henry Holt sat down across from Remington.

"And what brings you to town, Mr. Holt? I am aware that you have been out of Laura's life for many years." Remington came directly to the point.

"Well, me being out of her life . . . that's a long story. Some of it is my fault, but it's not all my fault. You've got to understand that."

"Make me understand it, Mr. Holt. I've been married to a woman for six years who is still trying to grapple with the loss of a father she dearly loved at a most difficult point in her life. Perhaps there is something that you might offer in your behalf, sir, but don't expect a great deal of sympathy from this quarter."

"Look here now! I didn't come here to fight with nobody. I just wanted to see my daughter," Holt said defensively.

"Listen here. You left your children, your family more than twenty years ago . . . without a word, without any explanation. You never contacted anyone to find out if they were alive or dead. Don't come in here with some sad story at this point." Remington's tone was icy, his eyes like blue steel as he surveyed the wreck of a man who was Laura's father.

"You don't know what it was like . . . living with Abigail . . . after little Hank."

"After little Hank?"

Remington had never heard Laura or Frances mention their younger sibling by name, and he had thought it better to leave that Pandora's box unopened.

"After we lost him, after I lost him. He was with me on a camping trip and wandered away from me. I was asleep. We found him three days later . . . too late."

"I'm sorry, sir. That was obviously a deeply traumatic loss . . . for all of you."

"Abigail . . . she wouldn't even sleep in the same bed with me most of the time after that . . . said I was crude, thoughtless, said she didn't need me. Listen, I'm only human. I went out, had an affair. She said that she would never forgive me . . . that I might as well leave. We went over and over the same ground every day the Lord sent."

The set of Remington's mouth softened a bit, but he was not about to excuse Holt's behavior.

"So you screwed around, and naturally she found out. What did you think she was going to do . . . give you a medal?"

"I couldn't live like that. I had to get away."

"So you left your children. Your balls were aching so you just walked out on everything and everyone. Man, you are a piece of work. You left your daughters wrecked emotionally because you couldn't go through what was necessary to repair your relationship with your wife after the loss of your son. What were they supposed to think?"

"Laura was just a teenager."

"Laura worshipped the ground you walked on. Did you know that? Did you care? Do you know how long it has taken for her to get over losing you and to be able to trust me, to believe that I won't just vanish one day like you did?" Remington was livid now.

"I'm sorry. Listen . . . I intended to come back one day."

"One day!" Remington lifted a finger in warning. "No, you listen to me. You never intended to return. You never even wrote her one line explaining . . ."

"Good Lord, there was no explanation I could give!"

"You could have told her you were a useless jerk, an irresponsible father, and that your leaving had nothing to do with her. Then she wouldn't have spent the next twelve to fifteen years trying to figure out what she did wrong. You made crap out of her life!"

Henry Holt dropped his head, convicted, and Remington looked away from him and snorted in disgust.

"I'm sorry I came. I'll just go. Don't tell her I was here."

"Listen! I'm damned if you are going to walk out of here like that. You try to leave this room and I will deck you . . . even if you are my children's grandfather." Remington stood up over his desk and Henry Holt knew to stay put.

"You . . . and Laura . . . children?"

"Yes, children! Six children . . . four birth children and two adopted. Your daughter Frances has three children as well."

Henry Holt smiled slightly. "I'd love to see 'em. I . . . I'm not well. That's why I came back from Hawaii. I've got this liver disease. They say it'll take me before long. I just wanted to try to settle things."

Remington took in the jaundiced color of the man's eyes and knew that he was telling the truth. He sat down, unable to say anything else for the moment. He knew that Laura would be back soon and the situation would have to be confronted, dealt with. He tried to calm the resentment he felt toward this man, tried to remember that this was the man who had sired the woman who was his life, tried to think of every positive thing he could imagine.

"Laura will be back shortly. She had an appointment outside the office. I suggest that you go into the room in back and wait there. This is going to be difficult for her."

He ushered Henry Holt into the back room that was the children's nursery.

"You got a young baby?" Henry Holt saw the toys and accoutrements of childcare around the room, and then he saw little Harrison sleeping in the crib and went immediately to it and stood watching his grandson in amazement.

"Harrison . . . we call him Harry . . . is three months old. He . . . he's quite a baby. All he wants to do is nurse. And Laura's got so much milk . . . he's growin' right before our eyes."

"Laura breastfeeding?"

Remington nodded.

"I never would have believed it. She was the one who said that she wanted a career . . . no babies for her."

"Well, I think she is managing to have both, and for that I am truly grateful. This was her agency . . . her concept. I came into it after it was well-established. She is really quite brilliant." Remington's tone turned sarcastic at this point. "Of course you knew that. You knew that she could go to Stanford without any help from you, that she would win a full math scholarship, no less."

"She always was the smart one. She didn't need me."

"She needed you terribly. She needed your support, your confidence. A scholarship to Stanford didn't cover that."

"You're right. You just don't let up, do you?"

"No, I don't."

"I just didn't see her being maternal. She never even played with dolls."

"Perhaps finding the right man had something to do with her desire for maternal fulfillment." Remington said gently. "I know that my desire for children has been fueled by my deep love for your daughter."

Henry Holt gave Remington a look of scrutiny.

"You and her . . . it's real, isn't it?"

"As real as it gets, sir," Remington said simply. "How about a cup of tea?"

"You don't have anything stronger? No use protecting my liver. It's shot to pieces. Might as well enjoy what's left of my life."

Remington took a bottle of scotch from the cabinet and a glass and poured a drink for Henry Holt.

"I think I hear my wife coming in. Excuse me."

Remington went into Laura's office where she was putting her things down.

"How did the appointment go?"

"I got the information we need. Did Harry wake up? I know he's hungry. Maybe I'll nurse him before we go home."

"He's still asleep. But, Laura, there is someone here."

"Someone to see me? It's after five, Rem. Is it an emergency?"

"You might say that," Remington said softly. "Your father . . . Henry Holt is here . . . to see you."

"My . . . father . . . here?" Laura's face registered a combination of emotions one after the other, surprise, fear, anger, confusion.

"He came about an hour ago. He's in pretty bad shape I'd say. He's ill and . . . wants to see you."

"I . . . don't think I want to see him."

"I think that you have to see him, darling. It's time for some closure on these issues that have been haunting you . . . and me all these years."

"I have to have some time to myself . . . to sort this out. Rem, can you give me some space." It had been years since Laura had said that to him and Remington grimaced at the pain of the remark that had always signaled the emotional barriers going up between them.

"I'm sorry. I need space to . . ." Laura saw the pain in her husband's eyes and knew that she had hurt him, but she was powerless to stop.

Remington took her by both her hands and drew her to him.

"You're not going to do that to me, Laura. This is not just about you. It's about us. I will not let you close me out. Do you think that when I lie down with you it's only about the physical pleasure we bring each other? We are one, Laura. Your baggage is my baggage and mine is yours."

Laura started to cry softly and Remington held her close as she clung to him, sobbing.

"Why did he leave me? Why did he leave?"

"He's here. Let him tell you. I've had it out with him. I'm finished with it. But I will not have him hurt you anymore. He told me about your brother, about Hank, about what happened to him."

Finally Laura stopped crying.

"I'm ready to see him."

She followed Remington into the nursery and there was her father, Henry Holt, holding her son Harry in his arms rocking him.

"Hi, Dad," she said as she came to retrieve Harry. "I think this one is hungry about now." She sat down and turned so that she was not directly facing her father, lifted her sweater and Harry latched on and began to nurse.

"May I . . . may I watch my grandson nurse, Laura?"

Laura simply adjusted her position, turning so that her father could see Harry at her breast.

Henry Holt watched, fascinated, his eyes glistening.

"Well, you've become a real grown-up woman, Laura," Henry Holt said proudly.

"Yes, I have. I've grown up, Dad. Where have you been all these years?"

"It's like I told your husband here . . . when your mother and me began to have so many problems after little Hank's death . . . and she didn't want me around her any more, I went off to Hawaii. Been there ever since . . . always wanted to just paint pictures and play a little piano. That's what I've done . . . it's taken care of me after a fashion. Now I've got some problems with my health . . . liver's gone. They give me about three months to live after the jaundice sets in. That happened about a month ago, so I figured it was time to try to make my peace with my children."

"Have you seen Frances?"

"Nope. I wanted to see you first. We were always so close, Lala."

When Holt used the pet name he had always used, tears began to stream down Laura's face.

"Then why did you leave me, Dad? Why did you leave me?"

Baby Harry sensed the anxiety in his mother and stopped nursing, looking up at her with his huge green eyes. Remington took him from Laura and rocked him. Laura just cried and cried silently, leaning upon her husband's shoulder, neither she nor her father making a move toward one another.

"I'm sorry. I was wrong. I explained it to your husband. I thought it would be easier explaining it to a man. But he didn't understand it either, didn't cut me no slack. He told me I'd made crap out of your life."

Remington had never seen Laura quite this distraught. She was sobbing hysterically.

"Henry, this is not going well."

"I'd better leave."

"Here, take this. There is a Holiday Inn not far from here. Check in there and we will get back in touch with you later."

Remington handed Henry Holt money and then turned quickly back to try to calm his wife. Holt walked slowly out of the room and closed the door behind him.

"I'm sorry. I . . . I just can't handle seeing him again after all these years." Laura was trying to stop sobbing.

"He's not as you would have expected?"

"No, he's . . . himself, but he's a stranger too."

"Laura, he isn't well."

"He's dying," Laura said simply and buried her face in his chest.

"Yes, he is. This is why he came . . . to make some sort of amends I dare say."

"I wish he'd not come back."

"Nevertheless he has come back. The objective, darling, is to make this a positive, to give you closure."

"Give me Harry back. He didn't finish."

Laura did not want to confront the issues that needed to be settled once and for all. She and took her infant son back to her breast and he resumed nursing as she rocked him.

"I sent him to a hotel. I'm taking you home now. Then I'll check back on him."

Remington took charge of the situation and got Laura to their car with Harry and all his paraphernalia. Laura was quiet as they rode along, but Remington sensed her inner turmoil.

"You never told me what happened to your little brother. No one ever mentions him so I accepted that it was one of those skeletons in the family closet. I imagined that he'd gone off to join some strange commune or become a hermit in the Himalayas. I had no idea he died as a child. I am truly sorry, Laura."

"Mother never forgave him. When Dad left, she told me over and over that you could never trust a man, that a man is just interested in using your body, that a woman has to be above that . . . control her passions. Frances was already away at school and involved with Donald when Dad left. She didn't have to hear mother day after day. When I began to have . . . feelings, I was so confused. I started having sex with boys, but I couldn't . . . let go, you know."

"Your mother transferred her feelings of bitterness to you, and almost ruined you."

"She would have if a certain blue-eyed stranger had not entered my life," Laura said softly. "Pull over, please. I need you to hold me."

Remington eased the Volvo to the curb and took Laura into his arms as she started to cry again.

"I love you, Rem. I love you so much."

"No more than I love you, darling. And I'm here. I'll always be here. We can deal with the past. It's the past. We have our love, our children. That's all that matters now. Won't you let me help you through this?"

"Yes," Laura sniffed and tried to stop crying.

"Are you ready to go home now?"

Laura nodded, and they continued on.

When they arrived home, Remington got Harry from his carrier and Laura followed him into the house.

"Mama! Mama!" Chle and Cassie ran to meet her.

"Your mum is very tired, girls. She's not feeling very well so she's going to lie down for a while. Let's see if we can all be very quiet so she will feel better."

Esperanza met them with a question in her eyes and the concern she saw in Remington's was her answer. She took the children in hand and led them into the kitchen for a snack.

"Muchas gracias, Esperanza," Remington said as he went to the phone and called the Pipers.

Donald answered the phone.

"Donald, mate, I have to call with some rather difficult news. Your father-in-law has turned up . . . at the office this afternoon."

"Henry Holt?"

"In the flesh, but quite ill and full of excuses and remorse."

"Well, this is certainly not going to set well with Frances. She harbors a great deal of resentment toward that man. She always has said that she never wanted to see him again."

"Understandable. It was only today that I heard for the first time what really happened to Henry, Jr."

"Really. I thought you had heard the story."

"I guess that chapter was just too painful for Laura to recount. At any rate, we're talking about the children's grandfather, Donald. Do you think that might mitigate circumstances somewhat?"

"I don't know. Frances has always been adamant on this. I'll call you back in a few minutes. I'd like to see some closure on this myself."

Remington went to Laura who lay on the sofa. She was emotionally spent. He sat down on the floor beside the sofa so that he could talk with her.

"Laura, darling, I spoke to Donald."

"It's no use. Frances has always said that she never wanted to see Dad again, that I would be the one responsible for him if I ever let him back into our lives. Frances never had any forgiveness in her heart. That was Mother's special gift to her . . . an inability to forgive."

"But you do, love. You helped me get through the revelation of Daniel as my father . . . and all the other sadness about my mother. Do you believe that I have any idea of what you are going through?"

"Yes." Laura answered in a whisper.

"Then will you let me suggest what I think you might do here."

Laura did not respond verbally, but she looked at him and he knew she wanted to hear him out.

"Let the children meet him. They have a right to that. He is family. When they are older, they can process all the negative aspects of this, but now they have a right to meet their grandfather. And you, darling, you need to make peace with him before he passes away. We need no more loose ends from Henry Holt between you and me."

"I don't know if I can."

"You can do it. You are the strongest lass I've ever known."

"I'm not as strong as you give me credit for."

"That's why I'm here . . . to support you."

Remington kissed Laura tenderly and prepared to go retrieve her father.

"Children, I'm going to take care of a matter. Look after your mother till get back."

As Remington drove back into town, he replayed in his own mind all the ways Henry Holt's early departure from his wife and children had impacted the relationship he and Laura shared, the years it had taken to build trust between them with the specter of Henry Holt in between. And yet all the rancor now seemed to melt away.

When he arrived at the Holiday Inn, he went up to the room Henry Holt had checked into.

"Come in," the old man said from inside.

Remington opened the unlocked door and found Henry Holt sitting glumly in the darkened room with a glass of whiskey in front of him.

"It's you."

"Yes, it is I, Mr. Holt. I came to take you to meet your grandchildren."

"I'm no damn good. I don't deserve to meet them. I should never have come back."

"They deserve to meet you. They did not just come from my loins, but from yours as Laura's father."

"Look, you should understand why I left. You're a handsome devil. You're gonna tell me that my plain Jane Laura keeps your total attention?"

"Plain Jane! Your daughter is the most beautiful woman I have ever known. There is no room for infidelity between us, even for the slightest dalliance. It's not a problem for me, but thanks to you I do know that it would never be forgiven and that I would lose the most precious person in my life. You didn't just leave your wife when you left. You left your family."

Henry Holt just sat staring bleakly at nothing in particular.

"Come along, you need to meet the grandchildren."

"Laura doesn't mind?"

"She knows I've come for you. It's all right."

Henry Holt wearily pulled himself up from his chair and, reaching into his pocket, pulled out an envelope and handed it to Remington.

"What's this?"

"I've had to do a lot of things to keep going . . . since I left. It wasn't all paintin' pictures and playing piano in a club. I'm not proud of it, but I'm going to die and I want my children . . . my grandchildren to have this. You'll see to it."

Remington looked into the envelope and saw the key to a safe deposit box.

"What is this for?"

"You'll find out when you open that box."

"No, you will tell me now. I want no surprises. If there is some illegality here, I want to know it."

"What difference does it make?"

"It makes a difference because it could endanger our family. No trafficking in anything that is not altogether legal, Henry."

"That there is the key to a locker that contains info on Jimmy Ho, one of the biggest crime bosses in Hawaii. I did odd jobs for him in his club for years. He never took me serious, but I had my eyes and ears open. There was a young girl, a runaway, who ended up working the streets for one of his pimps. Her name was Marly and she had chestnut hair and freckles. She reminded me so much of Laura at that age. When she ran away from him, he found her and had one of his henchmen kill her to make her an example to the others. That was the moment I decided that I would take him down. When I found out I had Hepatitis C, I sent him a note detailing what I had and told him to drop off one hundred thousand dollars at the designated place. He did it and I retrieved it and put it in this locker as well."

"You blackmailed him. That was quite unwise, Henry. Blackmailers have an extremely high mortality rate."

"I'm a dead man anyway. He can't hurt me. The money is mine to do whatever I want with. The information . . . you can do whatever you want to with it. It's all about the prostitution ring he ran that brought young girls all the way from Thailand and the Philippines to work for him, as well as runaway girls from the mainland."

Remington's mind was bombarded with all sorts of apprehension at this troubling news, but he forced himself to turn to the matters at hand.

"Come along. We'll deal with this other later."

*****

Remington brought Henry Holt into his home and found Jonathan, Joanna, Cassie and Chle sitting quietly around the dining room table.

"This is Henry Holt, children . . . your mother's father. He's in town . . . for a visit. You might introduce yourselves to . . . to your grandfather."

The children were at first shy of the somewhat disheveled old man, but then they started asking him questions, and their reticence vanished.

Laura lay on the sofa in the living room listening to her children with their grandfather as Remington sat nearby. Finally she sat up and walked into the dining room. The children fell silent, sensing the powerful emotions flowing between Laura and her father.

Laura went to her father, hugged him around his neck, and kissed him.

"You're quite a woman, Lala. You have everything . . . husband, children, a fine business."

"Yes, I do have everything, Dad." Laura's eyes were bright as Remington put his arm about her waist reassuringly.

"I'm sorry." The old man broke down. "I'm sorry I went away. I missed so much."

Laura just nodded. "Remy, would you make Dad a cup of tea, please? He always liked darjeeling."

Remington put the water on for tea and the emotions of everyone calmed perceptibly. The children drank their tea diluted with generous amounts of milk and continued to ply their grandfather with questions.

Michael awakened from his nap and Joanna brought him to introduce him to Henry Holt.

At that point the doorbell rang and the whole Piper family came in trouping in . . . Donald and Frances with Danny, Mindy, and Laurie Beth in tow.

"Frances, Donald, how good of you to come over," Remington said. "We were having a spot of tea. Tea is such a civilized drink, you know."

Frances walked straight to her father and stood in front of him.

"Forgive me, Frances."

Frances began to cry and Henry Holt struggled to his feet and hugged his oldest daughter. He shook hands with Donald, met and hugged all three of the Piper children, and suddenly the worst of it was all over.

Donald took Remington aside.

"Thanks for calling, Steele. I can't tell you how many nights Frances has suffered because of that man leaving them like he did. Nervous, high strung, insecure, always imagining the worst possible scenario in any situation. Man, you have no idea. You know how she was when we first moved back out here. If I didn't love that woman the way that I do, I probably would have just given up. But I love her." Donald's voice caught in his throat. "I love her, Steele."

"I understand. We will have to discuss our Holt women over a bottle of single malt one day soon."

The two men clapped each other on the shoulders and went back to the rest of the family.

After about an hour, the Pipers went home, with the promise to their children that they could see their grandfather again the next day.

"Children, now that you have finished visiting with your grandfather I suggest that you find your way to bed. I will help you and we are going to leave your mother to talk with her father."

The children kissed Henry Holt good night and Remington led them off to bed carrying Michael sleeping on his shoulder.

Henry Holt smiled at his daughter.

"Looks like you got yourself quite a stud there, Lala. You two are turning out babies like hot cakes."

"Well, the two oldest are adopted; but I forget sometimes."

"It looks good on you." He paused a long while. "Your . . . Remington . . . is a good man for you. He must be pretty smart too. I never thought you'd find a fellow smart enough for you."

"Yes, Dad, he's a good man. And he's smart too. For a long time I took out my anger at you on him. That was very wrong. He's not like you at all . . . except that I love him . . . and I loved, I love you."

"I'm sorry. I was a selfish thoughtless dreamer. I hope one of these days you will forgive me for leaving . . . and not coming back."

"I'm here. And you're here," Laura said simply. "You're the one who taught me to tie my shoes."

"You remember that?"

"If you hadn't been left-handed too, I guess I never would have learned how. Cassie and Chle are left-handed."

"They are beautiful little girls, look like their daddy just spit them out, don't they? Little Michael too?"

"Yes. I guess that's what happened," Laura said smiling.

"Harry . . . Harry looks like little Hank did as a baby . . . freckles, chestnut hair, sturdy little fellow, green eyes too."

"I know. I see Hank in this one."

Laura sat talking to her father till Remington came back from putting their children to bed.

"Henry, I'll take you back to the hotel. I'm sure you could use a good night's sleep."

"Thanks, son, I think you're right."

Laura hugged her father and stood watching as Remington led him from the house and to their car.

The men rode in a comfortable silence and finally Henry Holt spoke.

"You're the right man for my Laura, Remington Steele. Your parents still living?"

"No, I grew up an orphan," Remington said with no further elaboration.

"I'm sorry."

"I am as well. My feelings about family and . . . commitment are very strong, sir. When you grow up not knowing your parents . . . " Remington did not continue. He could not, as his mind was suddenly flooded with painful memories of his childhood from the deepest recesses of thought.

They arrived at the Holiday Inn and Remington parked and escorted Henry Holt into the elevator lobby.

"Will you be all right from here?"

"Sure. I think I'll have a drink in the bar before I go up."

Henry Holt walked in the direction of the bar as Remington watched and then he suddenly wheeled and came back toward his son-in-law.

"What's going on?"

"There's a big Samoan guy out there. He works for, for the man I told you about in Hawaii. They must have followed me here earlier. I'm a dead man. Tell Lala I love her."

"Henry, don't let it end like this." Remington spoke firmly to the old man who was trembling in fear by now.

The Samoan pulled Henry Holt away from Remington. When Remington resisted and threw a punch, another Pacific Island type seemed to come from no where, landing a solid blow to Remington's solar plexus. He crumpled helplessly to the floor in pain as Henry Holt was dragged into an open elevator door and headed up with them.

Remington pulled himself up and called the elevator. By the time another came he had caught his breath. On the way up to the tenth floor to Henry Holt's room Remington's mind played through a number of possible scenarios . . . all of them bad.

The door to the room was open and Remington carefully surveyed the situation before entering the darkened room. He could see Henry Holt lying on the floor face down.

"Damn you, Henry Holt." The words, though uttered softly, were full of passion along with sadness for this man that he had known about for so long and yet had really known so briefly.

He turned Henry over and confirmed that he was dead. There were no apparent wounds on the man, so Remington could only assume that his heart had failed in the face of imminent danger. He closed his father-in-law's eyes and sat stunned, his own eyes brimming, before reaching for the phone.

"Laura, darling, something has happened . . . to your father."

"He's dead?"

"Yes, he is. There is a complication in this. I will wait here for the police, but I want you to take that envelope that I dropped alongside the fruit bowl on the kitchen counter and put it away . . . somewhere it cannot be found."

"Sure. And I'll be right down there."

"Call Fred and have him bring you. I don't want you to drive when you might be in shock, darling."

"Should I call Frances?"

"You have to call her sooner or later. Just tell her that it appears that his heart failed, that we will take care of everything. I don't want them down here."

"Are you all right, Rem?"

"Except for possibly a couple of bruised ribs, I'm none the worse for the wear."

Alarm welled up in Laura.

"Be careful, darling. I'll meet you in the lobby of the Holiday Inn.

*****

Laura ran into the reception area of the hotel and found Remington sitting there with a couple of detectives.

"This is my wife, Laura Steele. The deceased is . . . was her father. Could we have a few private moments here?"

"Certainly, Mr. Steele. We deeply regret your loss, Mrs. Steele."

"Thank you," Laura said. "I want to see him. I want to see my father."

"You can take her up, Mr. Steele. We understand."

Remington and Laura went up to the tenth floor and to the room where her father had died. There were detectives there. Henry Holt still lay on the floor where he had died.

Laura sank to her knees beside her father and touched his brow. Remington helped her up to her feet and she sobbed into his chest.

"It was fast, darling. He probably never knew what hit him."

"Why now? Why at this moment when things were smoothing out?"

"No one can ever explain these things, love. Why did I learn that Daniel was my father the same day that he died? There is never any rhyme or reason."

Laura clung to him and Remington winced in pain.

"You're hurt. What happened? Tell me."

"We have to find some privacy, Laura. There is more to this than meets the eye."

They took a final moment with Henry Holt and then walked into the hallway and away from the detectives who were guarding the door.

"There were two Samoan fellows waiting for your father when we got back here. They threatened him and when I attempted to defend him, one of them quite literally decked me. Hence the soreness in my abdomen. They dragged your father into the elevator and by the time I called another elevator and got up there, I found what you saw."

"What did they want from him?"

"Apparently your father worked for a man in Hawaii involved in some very shady business . . . prostitution, racketeering. Your father decided to blackmail him with the threat of exposing him because he killed someone whom your father was fond of, someone who apparently reminded him of you, Laura. He felt that he had nothing to lose since he knew that he was terminally ill. That envelope contains the key to the locker which holds the incriminating evidence as well as one hundred thousand dollars."

"A hundred thousand dollars!"

"Yes. He said that he wanted his children to have it. These two big Pacific Island types were sent to retrieve the information and no doubt the money as well. I guess that that is as succinct a summary as I can give you. And, by the way, what did you do with that envelope?"

"I dropped it in the mail to Hector on the way down here."

"Good. We'll have a couple of days to take care of your father's arrangements. By that time Hector will have received it. He can pick it up for us and we can start trying to get to the bottom of this."

Laura fell silent for a long time and then she spoke.

"We have to find out who they were. They killed my father . . . just as surely as if they had shot him or beaten him to death. We can't leave them out there. The next thing we know . . ."

". . . they'll be knocking at our door looking for their money and the material your father gathered on them. It's just a matter of time." Remington finished her thought. "Let's let Frances and Donald know what happened. It would seem appropriate for you to call your mother as well. We'll have to have a long talk with our children about this."

"I think you need to go to the hospital and let them check your ribs."

"I'll be all right. I don't want to go to hospital right now."

"I'll wrap your bruised ribs when we get home. I thought the days of you getting banged up like this were over."

"This is just one of the occupational hazards of our business, darling."

"But this was not our case."

"I think I signed on for this case when I fell in love with you, darling. I always felt your father would show up again one day . . . along with baggage."

*****

Two days later the Steeles and the Pipers along with Abigail Holt gathered for a simple graveside service for Henry Holt. It was a bright sunny day and Laura took Remington by the hand when the service ended and led him to a nearby grave marked Henry Holt, Jr. 1967-1972.

"My little brother," Laura said simply.

Their older children followed them and stood solemnly staring down at the marker.

"Hank is with his daddy now, Mama?" Chle asked.

"Yes. . . in a sense he is," Laura said. "Eventually we all end up together . . . one way or another."

"Let's go home," Remington said.

Laura looked back and saw her mother still standing at her father's grave.

"Excuse me, for a moment, Rem."

She walked back to her mother.

"Are you all right, Mom?"

"I don't really know, Laura. I hated him for so long, blamed him for . . . the loss of your little brother. And now I don't know what I'm feeling. I said that I would come because of the grandchildren, but . . ."

". . . but you find yourself here because of your own personal grief for him."

"Yes."

"You have a right to grieve for him. Don't hold it back, Mom."

Abigail Holt's eyes filled with tears and Laura took her into her arms and they cried together.

"Mama and Grandma are crying, Daddy?" Cassie said

"They are so sad, Daddy." Chle stated simply.

Remington knelt down so that he could speak to his daughters at eye level.

"Sometimes it feels very good to cry when you are sad, little ones. Never hold back from crying when you feel the need. And when you see someone you love crying, you go to that one and you give a big hug."

Cassie and Chle turned and ran to their mother and grandmother and hugged them both around their legs.

Remington and Laura were walking back to the family cars with their children when Detective Jarvis approached them.

"Steele, I need a word with you."

Remington stepped aside to speak with him.

"I think that you should know that autopsy reports show that your father-in-law was struck repeatedly in the abdomen. He was a victim of advanced liver disease and the injuries sustained caused massive internal hemorrhage resulting in almost instant death. In short . . . a homicide."

"I am not surprised. I thought that perhaps he had had heart failure or a shock, but I knew that it was precipitated by threats and/or violence upon his person."

"Do you have any idea why anyone would want to hurt a seemingly harmless old man?"

"Yes, but I don't have all the information at this point. Henry Holt had some information on a big time crime boss in Honolulu and was threatening to take his information to the authorities. They came after him to silence him."

"You don't know who this is?"

"He mentioned a Jimmy Ho. Those bruisers who lay in wait for my father-in-law are probably some of his lieutenants. I will be the first to notify you if more comes to light."

"Don't try to resolve this yourself, Steele. I know that these things can be very sensitive when family is involved. You've given me a name and that's quite a start."

"I will tell you when I know something further. I've been involved with funeral arrangements and understandably haven't been in any position to pursue this matter."

When Remington got into the limousine, Laura asked him about the conversation with Jarvis.

"I gave him the bare bones of it, darling. We'll talk later."

Hector approached the car as they were just pulling away and Remington had the car stopped and got out.

"Hector, you probably received a package this morning?"

"Yes, Mr. Steele."

"Go, pick up the package. It is a key to a locker at a storage company. Find the locker, open it and retrieve a folder of documents there. You will also see a box or piece of baggage. Leave that to be dealt with later."

"Pronto, Mr. Steele. I call you when I finish."

"Bring the folder to the office and put it in a secure place. I will take care of it there."

Remington gave Hector a thumbs-up as the car pulled away and out of the cemetery.

When finally the rest of their family had left their house that evening, Remington and Laura were left to contemplate the strange turn of events that had brought Henry Holt back into their lives, and just as quickly taken him away. They sat on the sofa in their living room, Laura comfortably encircled in her husband's embrace.

"Rem, please tell me what just happened this week. It all came at us so fast. Did my father really come back after all these years? It seems like it was almost a dream. . . and then just as quickly, he was gone again."

Remington took her hand and kissed her palm inhaling the scent of her the way that he loved to do.

"It was not a dream, darling. And his death was not a case of an old man's heart failing him under stress. Jarvis told me today that he was struck repeatedly in the abdomen. With his liver in such bad shape already, that caused a massive hemorrhage that resulted in almost instant death."

"Those men were after him because of what he had . . . trying to stop him from telling anyone. Oh, my God!" Laura's hand flew to cover her mouth in horror.

"That is why you never try to blackmail anyone. They don't believe that you will remain silent and generally will come after you to 'handle' the matter."

"My father was a nave foolish old man."

"But I don't think he was a criminal, Laura. When he decided to take on Jimmy Ho, he apparently got involved with some pretty high rollers . . . definitely out of his league. I dare say they are simply reconnoitering now, planning their next move. They didn't plan on your father dying. He was supposed to give them what they came for."

Laura rested her hand upon Remington's thigh.

"Mother still loved him. I realized that today. She told me as much. For all the arguments, and resentment, when all was said and done, she still loved him."

"That is the saddest part of all . . . all the wasted years." Remington stared into Laura's face and then his eyes swept down to take in her slender figure in the elegant black crepe dress she was still wearing. "I love you in black, darling. Promise me that when I die, you'll wear a beautiful black dress for me."

Laura's face clouded. "Please don't talk about dying, Rem. I can't even think about it."

"We have to think about it. If something were to happen to me, what would you do? A woman with six children and a business to run."

"And no Remington Steele." Laura's eyes glistened. "It would be very hard to wake up and face each day."

"But you would do it. You would do it because you would have to do it. You have the strength to do it."

Laura hugged him around his torso so tightly that he winced in pain.

"I'm sorry. I forgot about your bruised ribs. You should have kept them taped."

Laura pulled his shirt out of his slacks and carefully inspected the black and blue marks on his rib cage from his encounter with the men who had assaulted Henry Holt three nights earlier.

"Laura, I love you. I don't ever want to leave you behind. I'm only facing . . . facing reality, the reality that we might not always have each other, that the time might come when one of us would have to go on alone, darling."

Remington smoothed Laura's long hair and kissed her forehead.

At that point the doorbell rang.

"Wonder who that could be? It's after ten," Laura said.

Remington went to the door. It was Hector and his face showed his agitation.

"Come in, Hector. What happened?" Remington brought him into the living room.

"Oh, Mr. Steele. I had really close call. I did what you said and I was taking that stuff back to the office, but I thought that I'd better just check things out there first since you said that this was serious. When I went into the office, the whole place . . . turned upside down . . . files dumped . . . everything. Somebody been there already looking for something."

"Probably went there this afternoon. They knew that we would all be at the funeral service for Henry Holt. What better time could they choose!"

"Hector, did you see anyone down there?" Laura asked anxiously.

"No . . . nobody. Just to be sure, I go down the back stairs to the garage. Nobody seen me. And then I come here."

Hector handed a large brown file folder stuffed with material to Remington.

"Thank you, Hector. You did well," Remington said. We're going to go over this and tomorrow we'll begin to sort this out. Get home safe."

"Pronto, Mr. Steele. You know Miriam is just about due. I don't want to leave her alone too much." Hector grinned proudly as he contemplated the impending birth of the first child from his marriage to Miriam Hollingworth, the young widow who had captured his heart during the first case he worked with the Steeles.

"She'll be fine, Hector," Laura said.

"I guess she's just nervous. Our first . . . together."

Hector turned to leave.

"On second thought, Hector, take Laura and my children to the loft tonight. I don't want to risk anyone coming in here on us with my family here." A chill had run down Remington's spine as he thought of the possible ramifications if those same men came right to his home looking for the information that Henry Holt had gathered.

Laura's alarm registered in her face at the same time as she realized that Henry Holt may have unwittingly led those thugs right to her family.

"I'll call Donald and Frances," Laura said.

"Tell them that the police have been notified and that someone will be there outside the house," Remington said.

Laura went to her husband and spoke very deliberately to him, "I am not leaving you here. I'll send Esperanza with the children."

"I don't want you in danger, Laura. We could both be killed. Then where would our children be?"

"They would be orphans of two people who loved them beyond measure."

There was nothing that Remington could say.

They bundled up their children and got them into the Volvo and Hector took off with them along with Esperanza. Remington and Laura went into their bedroom and quickly changed into their black reconnaissance clothes and turned all the lights out in the house. Jarvis had been called and promised that a plain police car would soon be parked nearby.

Meanwhile Laura had been examining the papers in the folder with a small intensity light and was shocked at what she found.

"This is powerful stuff, Rem. Prostitution, drug-trafficking, murder with the protection of some very powerful politicians. It's all documented here. No wonder they followed Dad here to get this back. There is a covering letter here documenting how he obtained this material while he worked for ten years at a nightclub called Pacific Beaches. We have to get this into the hands of the authorities."

"I dare say that is what we are trying to do, love."

"We are so visible, aren't we . . . with our children, our life style."

"It's a far cry from when Remington Steele was an enigma, someone no one ever saw, isn't it, darling?" Remington said wryly.

Laura turned off the light, put the papers into a stack of the week's newspapers in a basket by the sofa, and found her husband in the darkness, where he drew her down onto his lap.

"Do you think they will try to disarm the system?" Laura spoke of the sophisticated security system installed in their home.

"No, these blokes go on pure strength. If they come, they will kick in the door and storm in. The one that hit me looked like a sumo wrestler . . . picked me up and slammed me against the wall like I was a rag doll."

"This is when I wish we had a gun here to protect ourselves."

"No . . . no guns in our house, Laura. That is one of the things that I learned from Daniel that I know to be the absolute truth. We want no guns around our children."

"You're right. I just feel so helpless sitting here waiting for them to come."

"They might not come. They know we're on the qui vive for them. We may just end up here all night 'making out,' as you Americans say, on our sofa."

"That wouldn't be a bad idea at all," Laura said, winding her arms around Remington's neck in the soft darkness as his lips covered hers in a searching kiss.

"Um, I remember when this was the most I could hope for from you. Lord, those were difficult times."

"I would dream all night after one of those kissing sessions."

"And I would lie awake, darling . . . sometimes for hours tossing and turning . . . aching for you."

"I was so wracked up emotionally . . . wanting to give in to you, but so scared because of all the things that had happened to me. I still wonder why you stayed around and waited for me to settle down."

"I couldn't help myself, Laura. I just couldn't help myself. I would have left . . . if I could have . . . after that first tortuous year. But you had me so strung out by then. I could not leave. I could only stay and suffer and want you."

"And how did I 'string you out?' " Laura asked.

"Well, I would decide that I just couldn't take any more and then you would walk in with your hips swaying the way they do and smile that dimpled smile at me, and I was done for. I was hooked."

"Thank you for staying, darling. Thank you for being in my life. Thank you for loving me."

They kissed again and Remington bore Laura back onto the sofa, rubbing her thighs urgently as they continued to kiss.

At that moment Ingrid, who lay on the floor near them growled softly, and they were both instantly at attention.

Laura touched the dog and she quieted, but her ears were at full alert.

Remington slipped from them and exited through the glass doors that led to the swimming pool that was in the atrium in the center of the house. He wanted to see if he could get the drop on these fellows from behind. He felt confident leaving Ingrid with Laura that she would be safe. Ingrid was definitely Laura's dog.

But, Laura, worrying about Remington being assaulted by the same Samoan type that had attacked him at the Holiday Inn earlier, was concerned about protecting her husband.

"Find Remy," she whispered to the dog, who immediately took off into the darkness to do her bidding.

As Remington circled the pool and was about to go out of a door that led to the garage, that door was suddenly kicked open by a huge fellow with one blow. It was the same pair that Remington had encountered the night Henry Holt was killed.

Before Remington could utter a sound the man grabbed him with one hand and held him, and with the other landed a powerful blow to his already injured solar plexus.

Remington cried out, but the man put his hand over his mouth as Remington dangled helplessly at his mercy, his feet barely touching the ground.

"We came for the package that Holt was carrying."

Remington already could not speak for the pain and the man struck him in his face with his fist.

"No answer and I will break your back like it's a pretzel, Steele."

Remington nodded, unable to speak, but Laura had heard his first muffled groan and she pressed the alarm to the security system to alert the police who were supposed to be guarding the house.

Ingrid had tracked the intruders and as the huge Samoan's equally large partner hit Remington hard in the belly again, she growled and lunged for him, pulling him back off Remington. Then she went for the other fellow. He shoved Remington away from him and Remington, who was practically unconscious, fell backwards into the deep end of the pool and sank.

"Hell! Where'd that dog come from?"

"He bit right through my shirt."

"Kill it."

Ingrid was growling, menacing both of them.

"I can't get my gun. She won't let me."

The Samoan kicked at Ingrid who sank her teeth into his leg pulling him off his feet. His partner was not prepared for that and turned to flee. By this time Ingrid was in the pool, diving to the bottom for Remington, just as the police stormed into the darkened pool area with Laura following closely behind. Laura turned on the pool area lights and the police easily captured the two men, but that's when she realized that she didn't see her husband.

"Oh, my God! Where's Remy?" she screamed.

Then she saw Ingrid surface at the far end of the pool. Ingrid had Remington securely in tow, but he was out like a light.

One of the police held the intruders at bay while the other helped pull Remington from the pool and began to apply mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as Laura watched terrified. Finally Remington came round, choked, and coughed up water, groaning and holding his rib cage all the while. Laura held Remington in her arms and Ingrid simply licked her master's face happily as sirens announced the arrival of backup police.

"What the bloody hell happened?" Remington murmured.

"I'm afraid you had a second encounter with the Samoans, darling. He must have knocked you out . . . and you fell into the pool . . . and Ingrid rescued you from the bottom . . . after she had disabled those two fellows."

Remington smiled weakly and reached to pat the dog. "I guess you're worth what I pay you after all, girl." With that he passed out.

"We'd better get your husband to the hospital," the policeman who had administered the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, said. "He looks like he's banged up pretty bad. He was examining Remington's bruised abdomen. "There might be some broken ribs from coming up against that big fellow. A man like that can kill you with his bare hands."

The ambulance came and just as Laura was getting into it with Remington, Lieutenant Jarvis arrived.

Laura went back into the house and gave him the packet containing the incriminating information on Jimmy Ho's syndicate in Honolulu.

"I'm sorry your husband got hurt, Laura."

"He nearly got killed. He fell into the pool and almost drowned after they knocked him senseless. If it hadn't been for the dog, . . . for Ingrid." Laura fought back tears. "I didn't even know he was in the pool. I didn't know where he was."

"Well, these guys will face murder and attempted murder charges for the death of your father and this attack on your husband, if that is any consolation to you. And this information should put Jimmy Ho behind bars as well."

"There is also a large amount of money that my father got from Jimmy Ho, blackmailed him. We haven't checked it but my father said that it was supposed to be one hundred thousand dollars. Rem and I would like to donate it to a school in my father's name."

"Jimmy Ho's troubles will be such that he will not have time to be concerned about that money. Your father gave it to you and you should do with it as you please."

"None of this would have mattered if I had lost my husband, Lieutenant."

"I realize that. And fortunately . . . or thanks to your dog here, that didn't happen."

Ingrid wagged her tail happily acknowledging Jarvis' praise.

"She's only a little over a year old, but she is wonderful," Laura hugged Ingrid. "Now you stay and watch the house. I have to go now," Laura said as she left the dog and went to get into the ambulance with Remington.

At the hospital Laura waited anxiously for the doctors in emergency to finish their examination of Remington. She knew that he tended to minimize his injuries.

The doctor who handled him was kind, but matter-of-fact.

"Name is McClanahan, Mrs. Steele," he said with a decidedly western accent. He was tall, lanky, a man who looked like he would be right at home roping steers in Texas.

"How is my husband?"

"Well, now, those fellas tore him up pretty good. His injury is sorta like if a car ran into him. Did you say a man hit him this hard?"

"Yes, a very huge man . . . just a bit smaller than a sumo wrestler."

"That's a dang shame. He's got three broken ribs and considerable bruising in the peritoneum to show for it. I'm more concerned about that bruising that anything else. The ribs will heal. But I don't want to see any peritonitis develop in there. We'll keep him twenty-four hours, give him antibiotics and just observe him. There is always the possibility of the spleen rupturing after the fact with these kinds of injuries. We want to make sure he's out of danger before releasing him. Oh, and he had water in his lungs too. Did they try to drown him, too?"

Laura's eyes filled. "They were trying to kill him. Our dog pulled him from the bottom of the pool."

"Well, you be thankful for that dog, lady. It saved your husband's life tonight. By the way, you can stay over with him if you wish."

"I want to, but we have . . . children. I have a young baby . . . three months old. I can't stay away from him too long. I'm nursing."

The doctor grinned at Laura. "That man of yours has a lot to live for. Now I think you need to take yourself on in there and let him see that you're all right, little lady."

Laura went into the room where Remington was being treated. He looked rather pale lying there but was quite alert.

"Rem, you nearly scared me to death. Are you okay?"

"I guess. Just feel like a Mack truck hit me in my belly. The last thing I remember was that bruiser literally lifting me with the force of his blow to my abdomen. What happened?"

"The police came in, but I guess you were . . . unconscious and fell into the pool. You were on the bottom . . . and I didn't know . . ." Laura caught her hands to her face and started to cry as she recalled how close she came to losing him. "Ingrid disarmed the two men and . . . and jumped into the pool and rescued you."

"From the bottom of the pool?" Remington's eyes filled.

"Y-yes, from the bottom. You had to have mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, darling."

Remington held out his arms to Laura and she broke down as they embraced tenderly.

"I guess I owe my life to that dog. God, what a close call."

Laura kissed Remington gently upon his forehead and then upon his mouth.

"Whatever possessed you to take on those two huge guys? Even the Kilkenny Kid knew when the odds were completely against him."

"Defending 'hearth and home,' darling. The testosterone just kicked in and I forgot how much bigger they were than I."

"Well, we know that you've got no shortage of testosterone, that's for sure," Laura quipped. "At any rate the doctor says you'll be fine. You just have to stay twenty-four hours . . . to make sure you don't develop peritonitis from the bruising to your abdomen."

"I . . . love you, Laura."

"I know you do. I am just so sorry that my father's foolishness nearly got you killed. He had no idea of the repercussions that would result from what he did."

"Perhaps I'll just view it as a sort of 'bride-price,' darling. I accept the pain of a near-death experience in exchange for my life with you."

Laura smiled and shook her head, taking his hand in hers and kissing it on back and then inside it, inhaling the scent of him and pressing his palm against her cheek.

"This whole thing just caps off all the misery my father brought me in my life."

"He was your father. You came from his loins. Without him I would never have found you, Laura. I would have been a lost soul like Daniel ended up . . . no family, no purpose in life, floating about from one shady scheme to another. Keep loving your father, darling. You just found him again and lost him. We still have each other and our children. He didn't really hurt us, did he?"

Laura shook her head, tears slipping down her cheeks.

"We're here to take Mr. Steele up to his room. Can we do that now?"

"Yes, please take him up." Laura turned to her husband. "Harriett and Peter are coming to pick me up and Esperanza will take the children home. I'll give Harry his midnight feeding and then I'll come back here and stay over with you."

"You didn't call Frances and tell her what happened?"

"No, I think that should wait for tomorrow . . . face to face."

Remington nodded and Laura kissed him before the orderly rolled him away to the elevator that would take him up to his room.

*****

It was Sunday afternoon a month later and the Steeles were getting back to their normal weekend schedule with their family. Laura lay in bed nursing Harry and looked up and saw her husband standing in the doorway to their bedroom. He was relaxed. He had not shaved all weekend so he was sporting two days growth of beard and his hair looked like he had just gotten out of bed. As he stood smiling at Laura, she stared back at him, stung again by the force of his blue-eyed gaze. He wore a favorite pair of low-slung khaki shorts that did not hide his firm belly and navel and a soft linen shirt that hung open completely revealing the rest of his chest with its adornment of dark hair. The black and blue bruise marks from his encounters with Jimmy Ho's lieutenants had begun to fade to yellow and he had finally been able to remove the tight bandages from his broken ribs. His recovery had been unexpectedly slow because those two bruisers had done quite a bit of soft tissue damage as well as the broken ribs. Remington was just beginning to feel like himself again.

Laura did not have to ask him to come to her. He sensed that her need was the same as his and came and took Harry from her arms, kissing him before he put him in his crib where the chubby baby continued to coo contentedly.

"I suppose you want to eat dinner now, Laura. I thought you'd be awake from your nap." Remington eased her blouse off her shoulders, bending his head to tenderly kiss her soft freckled breasts.

Laura trembled as her body responded to the sensation of his beard upon her breasts. She put her hand on his chest and then slid it hand down his bare belly to just below his navel, touching him gently upon each tender spot.

"I know it still hurts, doesn't it?"

"Not as much as not having you." Remington's blue eyes twinkled and his nostrils flared as his own flesh quickened at Laura's touch.

Laura eyes were hooded and sultry, leaving no question as to her own emotions at that moment.

"I'd better check the bedroom door. The children are still up and about . . . watching the tele."

Remington got up from the bed and went to the door and locked it. Stepping out of his shorts, he came back to Laura and lay down behind her, holding her, caressing her breasts and then her belly and finally her hips.

"You don't know how beautiful you are, do you?" he murmured in her ear. (Remington had not forgotten how irritated he had been at Henry Holt's description of his Laura as 'Plain Jane' and wondered how her father had missed the beauty in his daughter. He was determined that Laura never forget how gorgeous she was.)

"I'm not beautiful. You must be blind. I've just barely gotten my figure back from the pregnancy."

"I'm not blind. I see you . . . all of you-your skin, your thick beautiful fragrant hair, the lovely shape of your hips and legs, the swelling breasts, every dimple, every freckle."

He turned her to face him and Laura took his face in her hands and kissed him passionately.

"Laura . . . darling . . ."

"Rem, I love you. I love you. Remy!"

Laura was overcome as her husband made love to her. Their parts came together with sheer perfection as they lay facing one another, her body flushing deeply as rapture swept over her again and again, each time with more intensity than the time before.

Remington took delight in watching Laura like this and tried to hold off as long as possible that moment when he would lose sanity, and the psychic and physical manifestations of their joining would mesh and capture him completely, but the pressure in his belly was irresistible. Forgetting the pain that the contractions would bring because of his recent injuries, he cried out for the release, that sense of completion that only came when he gave himself to Laura.

"Remy, Remy . . . yes . . . yes," Laura gasped as spasms gripped and released her again and again, and then the marvelous moment of capitulation that immediately followed, putting her in a state of near delirium.

"God Almighty!" Remington cried, grunting and snorting like a wild bull, his face contorted in painful ecstasy as he ejaculated and at the same moment felt Laura surrender completely to him. They were both incoherent, drenched with perspiration this warm evening, and the scent of their lovemaking, the chemistry that drew them together again and again, only intensified the climax when it came.

Remington kissed her open mouth, just as thirsty for hers as she was for his as they sank into the afterglow as the pain in his belly subsided.

"Rem, . . . I know it hurt, baby. I love you so much. I can't bear to hear you cry out in pain like that."

"The pain . . . was all worth it, love. Besides, I have to take care of my woman. You're very passionate these days, lassie. Your old man needs to be takin' good care o' you?" Remington said it teasingly, but he meant it. Solicitous husband that he was, he never assumed that he was meeting all of Laura's needs. He had sensed a difference in her since the death of her father, an assertiveness and confidence that was a powerful aphrodisiac to both of them and, in spite of his recently sustained injuries they were managing to resume their active love life.

"He takes care of me . . . such good care . . ."

"You are certain of this?"

"I know it."

"And?"

"Now, love, I just want you to kiss me again the way that you do. I want to feel your beard against my breasts, feel you inside me. I want to taste you . . ."

"Laura, Laura . . ." Remington's mouth covered hers and, as they kissed and kissed, he rolled Laura over onto him but even the weight of her slight frame was still too painful on top of him at this point and he groaned out in pain.

"Remy, I'm sorry. I'm hurting you." Laura moved off his still sore chest and abdomen.

"Please, please don't stop. I . . . need you, babe," he said, his desire for her overriding his pain.

Laura lay gently upon him this time and Remington sighed contentedly. They both laughed softly as Remington kissed Laura over and over and they were soon completely gone again. It was quite a while before they could get out of their bed, and then it was in response to their children knocking on their door.

Remington got up and pulled his shorts back on so that he could answer the door as Laura wrapped herself in her robe.

"Wow, Dad, you sure are sweating!" Jonathan said. At nine he had become quite perceptive and aware of everything that adults did. Remington knew that the time for some more detailed discussion of certain matters was fast approaching. "Were you and Mom playing a game? You're all red."

"Well, I guess you could say that, son. But it is a very serious game that only adults play."

"So who won, dad?"

"Actually everyone can win at this game. Now exactly what do you children need?"

"You said that we could have dessert, remember? The ice cream cones we were going to make?"

"Oh, yes. You go and take the ice cream out of the freezer and your mother and I will be out there in just a few minutes and we will all have some ice cream and . . . and cool off. There you go now."

Laura was laughing on her way to the shower as Remington closed the bedroom door and followed her into their bathroom.

"The sadness is finally leaving, isn't it, darling?" he said as he caught her up into his arms. "It's good to see you laughing again."

Remington was very glad to see the lighthearted side of Laura surface once again. In the weeks since her father's death she had been unnaturally somber, given easily to tears.

"Yes, I think so. I was thinking what a terrible life I would have had if I had not met you, fallen in love with you. Dad was a sad man. There was nothing I could have done to change what happened back then. You know, when Hank was born, I was ten. I had been my dad's world and suddenly I was displaced. He finally had his son, but I had a little brother that I adored. And when Hank died, I missed him so. But I thought that I would have a chance to show Dad how much I loved him, make some of the sadness go away. I couldn't. And it had nothing to do with me. He was overwhelmed with guilt that I could not possible understand."

"I hoped that you would eventually come to that analysis of matters with your father."

They got into the shower together and let the lukewarm water course over the two of them together for several minutes before they began to bathe each other.

Remington smoothed her damp hair as they finished drying themselves.

"I'm sorry that I made it so hard for you all those years when we first met. You are nothing at all like my father. I was so unfair to you."

"You couldn't help it, darling. I admit that you nearly drove me insane, but I was so in love with you. I knew that we were meant to be together. I had no idea we would end up like this . . . well-married with a flock of children, but I knew that I wanted to be with you."

Laura's eyes filled suddenly and they stood with their arms about each other.

"I'm happy . . . so happy, happier than even before."

"Me too." Remington whispered into her ear.

"I never thought I could be happier than I was."

"I know."

There was a knock on their door again and, along with it, the sound of Ingrid scratching on the door.

"That will be Johnny again . . . with Ingrid in tow, no less. Our children are summoning us."

"I am starving now. And I don't mean for ice cream. What did you make for dinner?" she said, pulling a tee shirt on, as Remington followed her from the bathroom.

"A bit of lemon chicken, darling?"

"Lemon chicken sounds fantastic!"

"And then we'll have our own special dessert . . . after the bairn are all tucked in," Remington said winking at her as they left to find their children.

END