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FAMILY STEELE PART 7: INHERITANCE OF STEELE, PART 1

BY: Phaedra Phelan

E-MAIL: PrissyBNY@aol.com

SUMMARY: Remington and Laura discover what Daniel left them in the south of France and discover a mystery there as well.

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.

*****

Late summer of 1990 found Laura and Remington busy with their young twin daughters and Jonathan and Joanna Singleton, the orphaned children that they had adopted from the Mothers' Milk Inc. case. The children had jelled as a family quite well and they found themselves forgetting that the Singleton children were not their natural offspring. Laura had finally been able to completely wean her twin girls and had rewarded herself by taking up her ballet exercises again. Remington loved to watch her at the barre she had installed in their bedroom and Laura found the strength and flexibility it gave her a needed benefit when it came to meeting the physical demands of marriage to her extremely passionate husband and caring for her young family.

As she finished her exercises, Laura realized that Remington was watching her. He had been asleep when she began and she had become so engrossed in what she was doing that she had not realized that he had awakened. As Laura felt the heat of Remington's languid blue eyes upon her, she became especially conscious of the fact that she was wearing only her tee shirt and the briefest bikini panties. Much more than breakfast would have to be attended to before they would find themselves in their office on this day. That was fine with her. Laura had been thinking about him as she did her pliés and had felt herself blushing as her vivid imagination carried her away.

The twins were away for a couple of days with Harriett and Peter and their children. Now that they were weaned it was finally possible to let them sleep over. Harriett was quite pregnant with twins herself these days and wanted to get an idea of what it would be like to handle two children the same age along with the two she already had. Jonathan and Joanna were already on their way to school with Esperanza who had plans to do grocery shopping before returning.

"We have the house completely to ourselves, Laura," Remington said. "It seems rather strange, doesn't it?"

"And I imagine that you have ideas as to how to take advantage of this situation?"

"Umm . . ."

"I'll call Mildred and tell her that we will be in at noon."

"Good idea. Call her in about an hour. It's just eight o'clock, darling."

Remington Steele got out of his bed and walked naked into their bathroom and Laura nearly caught her breath at the sight of him. She heard him puttering about and she knew that he was brushing his teeth, washing his face. He was always so concerned with his personal hygiene when he made love to her. It had taken quite a while for him to realize that Laura really did not want him to shave an overnight's growth of beard before touching her, that she loved the sensation of his beard against her soft skin, that the natural manly scent of him was altogether stimulating.

Remington caught her daydreaming when he came out of the bathroom.

"A penny for your thoughts, love." He brushed her cheek with his lips as he murmured the words.

"I-I was just thinking about us. The sight of you in all your . . . 'glory' does that to me, you know."

Remington's lips found Laura's and his kiss was so deep, so all- consuming that her knees went as weak as water and she had to hold on to the barre for support. Suddenly they came together as she stood against the barre fluttering like a helplessly impaled butterfly.

"Is this what you were thinking about, love?"

"Oh, my God! Yes!" Laura cried out, clasping her legs around his hips as he easily held her there.

The rhythm was the same timeless one that they knew so well but it was Remington who set the pace for them as they both groaned into the quiet of the house.

"Yes! Tell me you need me as much as I need you, woman!" Remington whispered carrying her back to their bed.

"Yes! Yes, I do! Remington!"

It was after nine o'clock when Laura wakened again. Her husband was not in bed with her and Laura went looking for him and found him in the kitchen. He was a rugged vision in his favorite blue silk robe in the midst of making breakfast. There was crisp toast browned on one side only served with a special grapefruit marmalade imported from Marks & Spencer, coffee, perfect soft-boiled eggs, and finally crisp slices of turkey bacon, a reluctant concession to Laura's determination that they keep their cholesterol numbers under control.

"Thank you, darling. I am so hungry."

Remington smiled at her and bent to kiss her.

"All that marvelous energy expended, I would imagine so, love."

"I missed you when I woke up. I wanted you to stay with me."

"I'm with you now. But we need nourishment, wouldn't you say?" Remington caressed her firm hips through the soft cotton robe that she had wrapped around herself.

"Agreed, Mr. Steele."

Remington and Laura sat side by side at the breakfast table and ate the simple food but their eyes were only upon each other as they took turns feeding each other. Their free hands wandered over to touch again and again till finally Laura pulled at the belt of her husband's robe allowing it to fall open.

"Laura." Remington's eyes asked the question.

Laura's gave him her unspoken answer as she let him draw her across his lap, to become one with him again, slipping her robe from her-kissing her freckled shoulders, her neck, and her bosom with his pursed lips, driving her wild in the process. This time it was Laura who set the pace and rhythm that brought such gratification to the both of them and reduced Remington to incoherent babble.

Remington cried out. He was at Laura's mercy as the contractions and spasms of release jerked his pelvis upward in concert with the spasms that she was experiencing as the climax seized them simultaneously. Laura closed her eyes and saw the midnight sun with Remington at ten o'clock in the morning.

They did not hear Esperanza open the door and come into the house.

"Rem! Oh, Rem!"

"Yes! Yes! Laura . . ."

"Oh, mios Dios!" Esperanza whispered as she caught sight of her employers in the throes of ecstasy at their breakfast table.

Remington Steele picked up his wife and carried her off to their bed again.

Esperanza went outside and sat on the steps of the house, stunned by having seen Laura and Remington Steele so completely engaged as husband and wife that they had not heard her coming into their house, not even seeming to realize that she was there. She had known that they were passionate lovers. That was easy enough to sense, but she had never seen them like this.

Back in their bedroom Remington was still rocking to and fro on his wife, whispering to her.

"Laura, darling. . . I love you so, Laura. I need you so much."

"Remington, I love you . . .you. . ."

They were both caught up to the summit, and babbling crazily to each other as it rolled over them, leaving them reeling from the passionate energy they had expended.

Finally Remington spoke. "I think Esperanza came in when we were in the kitchen."

"Oh, no!"

"Oh, yes. She got an eyeful I dare say."

His blue eyes were tender as he gazed at Laura and then kissed her gently upon her mouth before they fell asleep again.

Later they awakened, showered, dressed and prepared to leave for work.

When Laura went into the kitchen, she saw Esperanza. The women's eyes met and they both flushed.

"I'm sorry, Señora Laura. I did not know. I decided to do shopping tomorrow."

"It's all right. We should have been more discreet."

"It was very beautiful. I have never seen man and woman like that with my eyes. It is from God-what you have. For such a man you have a dozen children. Your husband is mucho hombre." Esperanza smiled shyly.

"Yes, he is mucho hombre, Esperanza." Laura's flush deepened.

Esperanza shook her head as she watched Laura Steele, dressed primly in a navy linen business suit, turn to meet her husband to go to work. There was no resemblance to the wildly passionate woman she had seen earlier in ecstasy upon her husband.

"Ready, love?" Remington asked, his face still slightly flushed from their amorous morning.

"Yes," Laura answered, smiling up at him.

He smacked her gently upon her hips as she walked out with him.

It was nearly one p.m. when Remington and Laura finally drove into the garage to their office, both of them totally relaxed and mellow from their passionate morning spent together. They sat for a moment in their car in the soft darkness of the garage.

"I especially enjoyed this morning with you, Mrs. Steele." Remington's blue eyes were still somewhat languid. "Thank you."

"Well, I must thank you too. We have to do this more often when the children are elsewhere." Laura stretched lazily and reached out to squeeze her husband's arm. "You can get me to say 'yes' to anything when I feel like this."

"I realize this but I promise that I will not take advantage of you this afternoon."

"Don't promise." Laura said, smiling seductively at him.

"All right, I won't promise. You keep lookin' at me like that and all bets are off. You are purring like a kitten, love."

"Umm, I know."

Remington leaned over and kissed Laura lightly upon her lips and they got out of the car and got onto the elevator that went up to the office holding hands, whispering endearments, and nuzzling each other playfully.

When they walked into their office full of prospective clients, they were brought quickly back to reality.

"We are sure glad to see you two. We have got our hands full here today," Mildred said.

"Well, tell us what to do. We're here now, Mildred," Remington said.

Mildred carefully looked them both over and smiled. After years with them, she could read them like a book and she sensed that they had spent the morning in intimate communication.

"It's not really as bad as it looks. Alessandra is lined up to take care of this woman here and I have already talked to this couple over there. They're waiting for me to check through some things on computer for them. They're looking for their child that was placed up for adoption at birth nine years ago. This man here, the big French guy-a Mr. Édouard-needs to see you, Mr. Steele. He actually doesn't speak a lot of English. He just said that he needed to speak to Mr. Remington Steele. And there is this woman here, a Mrs. Jennifer Winbush. She needs to see you, Mrs. Steele."

Laura took the file from Mildred and escorted Mrs. Winbush into her office.

Remington walked over to the man identified as Edouard and introduced himself.

"Vous-êtes M. Steele vraiment?"

"Oui, je m'appel Remington Steele. Venez ici." He opened the door and escorted Mr. Presendieu into his office.

Édouard Présendieu was a man who appeared to be in his early forties, a plain sort, obviously not at ease in these surroundings in Southern California. He wore a well-worn brown leather jacket over his black polo shirt and brown woolen slacks. He was dark-haired, big and muscular and his hands were the hands of a man who worked hard every day.

"Mr. Presendieu, what may I do for you today?"

"M. Steele, j'habite en Provence, dans le sud de France. Actuellement, en Les Baux-de-Provence. Vous savez Provence, M. Steele? (Mr. Steele, I live in Provence in the south of France-actually near Le-Baux-de-Provence. You know Provence, Mr. Steele?)

"Pas vraiment, M. Presendieu." (Not really, Mr. Presendieu.)

"Mais vous connâissez M. Daniel Chalmers?" (But you know Mr. Daniel Chalmers?)

"Il était mon pere, Monsieur. Il est mort. Il est deja cinq années." (He was my father. He died-five years ago.)

"Je sait. Il est seulement recemment que j'ai entendue que M. Daniel est mort. Mes regrets, M. Steele." (I know. It is just recently that I heard that Mr. Daniel had passed away. My regrets, Mr. Steele.)

"Merci, M. Presendieu. Est pourquoi avez vous nous visité aujourd'hui?" (Thank you, Mr. Presendieu. And why have you visited us today?)

"Il concerne l'affaire que M. Chalmers a laissé." (It concerns the business that Mr. Chalmers left.)

"Excusez-moi, M. Presendieu." Remington went to the connecting door to Laura's office and opened it. "Laura, could you let someone else finish there and come here please. There is something that requires your attention."

Laura extricated herself from Jennifer Winbush and came into Remington's office and took a seat on the corner of his desk.

"This is M. Édouard Presendieu. He lives in Les Baux-de-Provence in southern France. It seems that he was taking care of certain business for Daniel." Remington turned to Presendieu. "This is my wife, ma femme. Vous pouvez continuer mais elle ne comprends bien pas la française."

"Alors, I try to speak English. M. Chalmers, M. Daniel has farm-for beaujolais. I take care. I make du vin rouge. I hear nothing from M. Daniel for years. He. . . tell me if I hear nothing to keep making du vin. He come back eventuellement. I make wine, pay myself. C'est l'arrangement, M. Steele."

Laura moved behind the desk and put her hands upon her husband's shoulders. She felt him tremble slightly and knew that the pain of Daniel's loss was still with Remington. She reached for his hand and held it tightly.

"Mais deux semaines passées j'ai reçu çela. Il concerne l'impot. L'impot n'est pas payée. . . pour quelques anneés"(But two weeks ago I received this, concerning taxes. The tax has not been paid . . . for some years.)

Édouard Presendieu took a manila envelope from a leather case he carried and put it on Remington Steele's desk. Remington scanned the pages.

"I guess Daniel wasn't just fantasizing when he talked about a villa in the south of France all those years. Here it is. . . five hectares of beaujolais grapes on a hillside in Les Baux-de-Provence. The taxes have not been paid since 1986, the year before he. . . he died. This is a threatening letter from the French government."

"M. Presendieu, is there anything there besides the vineyards?"

"Une maison, une belle maison, un jardin, une autre petite maison. J'habite la." (A house, a beautiful house, a garden, another little house. I live there.)

"I understand that part. Looks like Daniel had that villa after all and never told you about it."

"Un autre problem, M. Steele. Someone try to kill me. Big man comes, tell me I have jewels-bijoux. I know nothing about bijoux. I make wine, take care for M. Chalmers. Mais je sais comment de me prendre soin, moi-même. (I know how to take care of myself.) We fight-big fight. He run away. But I know he come back."

The wheels were turning in Remington's head as a realization of a possible sequence of events occurred. He looked up at Laura and she knew as well.

"Mon ami, vous pouvez rester avec nous et nous deciderons comment resoudre les problemes que vous avez presenté. Nous avons un place tres sauf." (My friend, you may stay with us and we will decide how to resolve the problems that you have presented. We have a safe place for you.)

Merci, Monsieur. Vous êtes tres gentil."

Remington led Édouard Presendieu from his office and arranged for Hector to take him to the loft for safekeeping and then he led Laura back into his office and closed the door behind them.

"Do you realize what happened? There is a villa and farm in the south of France-and perhaps a stash of jewels that Daniel hid there."

"And someone has apparently finally traced his way back to the jewels. Oh, Rem, is there no end to this?"

"We have no alternative but to go over there, pay the back taxes, and see if we can turn up what Daniel may have stashed away. The property belongs to Harriett and me and our children. The jewels-if in fact they are there-will net a finder's fee."

"It sounds dangerous, Rem. Money is not a problem for us right now. Why not pay the taxes from here and leave the matter to rest for a while. After Harriett has the babies, we can all eventually go over there and check things out. By that time the "jewel" situation may have resolved itself."

"I wish it were that simple. Once someone goes after something like this, he's like a dog after a rather choice bone. He doesn't let go. He will not let go, Laura. You know that."

"I won't let you go alone."

"And it is much too dangerous for you to come along. We have four dependent children, for God's sake."

"I followed you and Daniel all over Europe before we were married-and even after. We managed."

"We were all very lucky, darling. I don't want to rely upon luck anymore. There is too much at stake here." Remington tilted Laura's face up to his and kissed her mouth very thoroughly and then wrapped his arms around her hugging her warmly. As Laura's arms went around her husband, she knew that he was right.

Suddenly they heard noise in the outer office. Remington and Laura ran to see the source of it, and walked into Hector and Édouard fighting two men who were trying to drag Édouard out of the office. The men were obviously professionals but Hector and Édouard were not about to be taken. When Mildred slammed a huge vase over the head of one of the attackers and Alessandra menaced the second with a similar vase, they took to flight out of the office and down the stairs.

"What the hell!" Mildred exclaimed.

"Call security, Mildred. Perhaps they can head them off when they leave the building."

"Mon Dieu, I tell you they are after me, Monsieur."

"Je vois, Édouard. Je vois."

"Hector, take Mr. Présendieu to the loft now. We have to secure him while these people are disoriented." Laura said, quick to assess the situation and take action to protect Mr. Présendieu.

"Now, ladies, I must compliment you on how you came to the assistance of Hector and Monsieur Présendieu. That was excellent work."

"So that's our guy's name. He's quite a dish-kind of reminds you of Girard Dépardieu, doesn't he?" Alessandra said before she even realized it and then blushed.

"Yes, you might say that." Laura said to Alessandra. It was rare that Alessandra made any comment of that nature. And then to Remington, "Great goings-on at the Remington Steele Agency today, eh?"

"I'll say," Remington responded. "I think we may have to reevaluate the whole situation."

"You are going to have to go over there and find out what they're looking for, whose looking for it, and why now?"

"And?"

"And I'm coming with you. The girls are weaned. Johnny and Joanna are pretty much under control these days. I think Esperanza can handle them for a week or so-unless you think we should bring the twins with us."

"I would love to take them, but we don't know what the circumstances are over there. We need to talk with Édouard again."

Remington and Laura left the office and had Fred take them to her old loft.

"Laura, can you imagine that Daniel had that villa in the south of France all along and never told me?"

"Perhaps he wanted it to be a surprise-after he was off the scene."

"And now the trapman cometh."

"Trapman?"

"I dare say we will never forget our 'trapman' who led us on a merry chase all over San Francisco."

"And you were chasing something else too, I believe, Mr. Steele."

"Yes, I was. Those were such times, wanting you, frantic with need."

"And now?"

"Now all my needs are being cared for-in a most delightful way by this incredibly sensual woman."

Remington's eyes twinkled as he stared at Laura for a long moment before lifting her hand to his lips.

"So who . . . who is the trapman in this scenario? Daniel?"

"Yes, and now the owner of the trap has come to claim his goods."

"Only the trapman is dead. What happens in that situation?"

"The trapman is always supposed to leave among his personal effects the location of any trap that he may be responsible for. Now apparently the news of Daniel's death has finally filtered down to the owner of the trap and he has come to call."

"An innocent bystander, a simple winemaker is caught in the middle of a scheme about which he really knows nothing."

"Fascinating premise, Laura. We need to get over there. Daniel would have left this information somewhere. If in fact there are jewels stashed on that estate, he would have left some evidence to let me know where they are."

Laura and Remington had arrived at the loft. There was no one in sight as Fred parked in front of the building. Entering the loft, they found Présendieu there with Hector. The two men had seemed to strike up a relationship easily even though there was a real language barrier.

"Merci, M. Steele, pour votre aide. Ils sont des vauriens la." ( Thank you, Mr. Steele, for your help. Those are some good-for-nothing men.)

"Oui, evidemment."

"Édouard, did Mr. Chalmers by chance leave and papers . . . documents for Mr. Steele?" Laura asked.

"Documents, peut-être. There are things in the office de M. Chalmers. There is a sauf-garde. Aussi dans le caves avec du vin il y a des autres choses de M. Daniel. I do not touch these things, Madame." (Documents, perhaps. There is a safe. Also in the wine cellar with the wine there are other things.)

"I see. Did you know those men . . . the ones chasing you?"

"Certainement. They live in Le Baux-de-Provence. I see them there. Mechant, toujours en train de faire le mal."(Wicked men, always involved in some wicked scheme.)

"Mais, ils travaillent pour qui?"(But whom do they work for?)

"Je ne sais pas, M. Steele."

"We will have to go over there, Laura."

"Hector, call Mildred and have her book us out of here tomorrow."

"I think that we should put Édouard on a flight back this evening, Laura. We will follow. They can't watch all of us at the same time. Book us through London. I want to talk to David Chalmers about this in person. He may remember something. He may know something. We'll overnight in London and then on to France the next day."

"Sounds like a plan, love. Do you think Édouard should go back to Provence or should we meet him and head there together?"

"Meeting him is a good idea. He can drive to Marseille and wait for us there. Then we can motor up to Les Baux-de-Provence and try to get to the bottom of this business."

Remington and Laura got Édouard prepared to take the evening flight back to France. Alessandra was arranging his ticket and while they were waiting for her to arrive with it Édouard sat with them and gave them further information on the property that Daniel had left for Remington in Provence.

"M. Steele, c'est formidable, du vin produit la. Dans les caves maintenant il y a plus que cinq mille boteilles du vin. (Mr. Steele, the wine produced there is amazing. In the cellars we have five thousand bottles right now.)

"Five thousand bottles of beaujolais, Laura. That's quite a lot of good cheer."

"Et M. Steele, I sell wine to five star restaurant in Paris-but only to care for estate et payer mon salaire. (And to pay my salary.) I have accounts for you in Provence."

"Merci, Édouard. Vous avez fait bien la tache que mon pere, Daniel a donnée a vous. Vous êtes un attendant excellent." (You have carried out well the task that Daniel gave you. You are an excellent steward.)

"Merci, M. Steele. Je suis votre serviteur humble." (I am your humble servant.)

Alessandra arrived with Édouard's tickets for his return to France. All took note when the tall slender blonde with the huge gray eyes smiled at Édouard. Both of them flushed and seemed momentarily unable to collect their thoughts.

Remington stepped forward and took control of the situation.

"Thank you, Alessandra, for making these arrangements."

He handed the travel documents to Édouard who scanned them carefully.

"I-I brought something along for him to . . . to eat. The flight is not till ten p.m."

"Excellent idea, Alessandra," Remington Steele said as she brought out a couple of roasted chickens and salad fixings along with a container of steamed vegetables.

"Laura, Alessandra seems to have this situation well in hand here. Why don't we run along and start preparations to leave tomorrow for London?" And to Alessandra, "You do not anticipate any difficulty communicating?"

"No, I don't think so, Mr. Steele." Alessandra smiled obliquely.

After everyone left, Alessandra began to prepare to serve the food to Édouard, carefully avoiding making eye contact with him.

Édouard finally reached out to gently touch her hand as she placed his plate in front of him.

"Mam'selle-Alessandre?"

"Yes . . ."

Alessandra stopped, transfixed by the passionate stare of this simple man.

"You have husband, boyfriend?"

"No. Do you have a wife?"

"Non, no wife-pas de femme, cherie."

Alessandra reached out to light caress his hand, roughened from years of work in the vineyards, and desire surged through her. He was so unlike any man she had ever been with-not cerebral, just a basic strong powerful man who seemed to have nothing underhanded, no subterfuge in his large brown eyes.

"Mon Dieu," he whispered. "C'est impossible."

"Impossible?"

"To meet and to love."

"I don't know. Je ne sait pas." Alessandra said the words haltingly struggling to remember her college French classes.

"I-I want to touch . . . you, cherie."

Alessandra nodded and allowed him to draw her onto his lap.

"Your food . . . will get cold," she protested mildly as his lips found hers and covered them in a tender kiss.

He smelled of leather and outdoors and as they kissed, the passion became hot between them and they were both completely overcome.

"Cherie, cherie," Édouard groaned as he savored the taste of her lips, her skin, the scent of her, the feel of her in his arms, his huge hands searching for the softness of her breasts. "Oui, cherie?"

"Yes! Yes! Oui!"

"Vous êtes certaine?" The man was trying to maintain some vestige of control but knew that they were very close to the edge. Memories of a wife that had died tragically in childbirth that had acted as a barrier to any other serious relationship with a woman suddenly faded and he was consumed with not only his passions, but a deep emotional need for this woman.

Alessandra responded by kissing both his cheeks and then his forehead and then taking him by the hand and leading him up to the bedroom space where they lay down side by side and continued to kiss and touch one another till there was no possibility of retreat. Édouard managed to pull a foil packet from his pocket and give it to Alessandra but she tossed it aside as she and Édouard came together as naturally as if they had been lovers for years.

When Alessandra came back to herself sometime later, she was shocked

"Oh, my God," she whispered. "I could be pregnant." She calculated and realized that she was indeed ovulating. At that moment she did not care. She was thirty-seven years old, her clock was running and she wanted to have a child before it was too late. Seeing Laura and Remington with their children made her acutely aware of her single, celibate state and if she were pregnant by Édouard Présendieu, so be it. She had never experienced what she had just experienced with Édouard and if she ended up carrying his child, she would be happy to do it whatever the future held or did not hold for them.

Alessandra got up from the bed, wrapped a robe around her and went to look for Édouard. There he was, as naked as the day he was born, sitting at the table devouring the food she had brought earlier.

Édouard looked up from his food and smiled at her and blushed and her heart was his.

"Mon Dieu, the beautiful woman. Viens, cherie."

And Alessandra went to him.

When Édouard awakened it was time to leave and Alessandra had showered and dressed. She looked altogether proper in her business suit and pumps and perfectly applied makeup but her gray eyes smoldered when they met Édouard's and her mouth was still slightly swollen from his kisses.

"Bon soir, cherie."

"Bon soir, Édouard . . . cherie," she said somewhat shyly as he drew her into his arms and patted her bottom possessively.

"Hector will be here to take you to the airport soon."

"I do not know what you do to me, but I am your man now, cherie."

Alessandra dropped her eyes in the face of his declaration and Édouard gently tilted her face upward so that he could look directly at her.

"I will come back to you, cherie. Please, tell me again that you do not have man." Édouard's eyes were serious as he spoke.

"I have not had anyone . . . for a very long time. Do I have you?"

"Oui, pour toujours. (Yes, for always.) My wife . . . die in giving birth five years ago. I have no woman since then. I visit prostitutes but I have no woman. I want no woman till today when I forget all of past and I want to love you."

"You have a child?"

"Oui. Angele. She has five years, cherie. She is with grandmere . . . ma mere in Provence. That is all to tell, ma belle Alessandre. Tell me that I am not to you just a man to sleep with. Tell me we are to be together again."

There was profound sadness behind the twinkle in Édouard's eyes as he touched her cheek, her lips, smoothed her blond hair and Alessandra sensed the pain he had suffered in his loss of his wife and the loneliness that had followed.

"You are more to me than any man I have ever known. Please come back to me."

They kissed and then sat quietly embracing till Hector came.

"Are you coming to the airport, Alessandra?"

"No, Hector. I have my car. I will straighten up the loft and go home from here."

Alessandra turned to Édouard, who kissed her tenderly upon her lips and when she responded with her own passion, he easily lifted her off her feet as they kissed ardently. Finally they reluctantly drew apart and Édouard kissed Alessandra upon her hands and fingertips, before leaving with a very amazed Hector.

* * * * * *

As Remington and Laura settled into the first leg of their long flight that would take them to London, and then on to Paris and Marseille, they turned to one another holding hands, enjoying the closeness, intimacy they felt.

Laura looked incredible, her chestnut hair swinging to her shoulders, her coloring vibrant, her extremely slender figure shapely with the fullness of bosom that was the gift of motherhood.

"You do realize that you are the most beautiful woman on this plane, don't you?"

"Perhaps you lack objectivity, love." Laura smiled obliquely.

"To be sure," Remington answered, "but nonetheless true."

He had seen the other men on the flight look approvingly at his wife. He saw the envy in their eyes as well and he knew what they were envious of. Laura did not have any idea how lovely she was, but it was obvious to any man that looked at her that she was a woman whose sensuality had been fully tapped into by the man at her side.

Laura blushed now as Remington out and caressed her thigh with his slender fingers.

"Remington, you make me think such thoughts when you do that."

"I know. I can read you like a book, darling."

"And I you?"

"I'm an easy read. You have always known what I want, haven't you?"

"Yes, I have," Laura said simply.

Remington's blue eyes were leaving no question as to what was on his mind.

"The last time we were on a transatlantic flight you were pregnant with Cassie and Chlöe. A special time for us, eh?"

Laura smiled tenderly at Remington.

"I don't know exactly how to tell you this, but I . . . I think I'm ready again."

Remington gulped and recovered.

"You mean that you are ready to carry again?"

"Yes."

Remington felt his loins tighten at the mere thought of impregnating Laura once again. He took Laura's hand and kissed it passionately, first her palm, then the inside of her wrist where he felt her pulse throb against his lips, and finally the sensitive skin of her inner forearm.

"Remy," Laura sighed.

"Come here, darling." Remington said, drawing her over and onto his lap in the darkened plane.

Pulling the blankets over them, he embraced her.

"These long flights are so stimulatin' to the libido, aren't they?"

"I think it's something about the sound and vibrations of the engines."

"I dare say," Remington whispered in her ear just before his lips closed over hers, searching the depth of her mouth in a kiss that went on and one till they were breathless.

"God, woman, I do love you! Do you know that?"

"Yes, I do know it."

Remington placed his hand upon her flat stomach and rubbed it.

"You enjoyed carrying the twins. It was beautiful . . . seeing you like that."

"Esperanza said something to me the other day after she came upon us in our . . . moment. She called you 'mucho hombre.' "

Laura giggled softly as she told this to Remington, and she sensed the pride in him as he responded emotionally to Esperanza's description.

"She said something else too. Her culture is so straightforward about our basic human urges."

"What did she say?"

"She said that for a man like you a woman will have a dozen children. And I didn't quite understand her. I am trying to understand myself. I do want more babies for you. I want everyone to know that we lie down and make love and make babies together."

"Laura, darling, we will make more babies. You need not worry. I am so completely domesticated that I probably dream of that bairnteam as much as you do."

"We've come to a place that neither of us envisioned I think, Rem."

"I know that I never imagined us at this point when we met. I wanted you . . . to be with you as a man is with a woman. I thought that would satisfy me. What we have now . . . is . . . indescribable, Laura."

"I will never forget how much I wanted you in those early months. You wakened everything in me. I didn't dare think of more than a fling with you. And yet I knew that I would never be satisfied with that."

"And me, I desired your flesh, your beautiful arse. But then . . . somewhere along the way I fell so in love with you . . . you, Laura . . . the whole person that is you that I love, that I need."

"I hope that I will always be able to measure up to your expectations. I know that I can be difficult sometimes."

"Darling, you are everything that I desire."

"Would Madam Lillie Lamour be proud of your choice?"

"Oh yes. She told me once, 'Harry, find a woman who will give you for love the pleasure that a harlot would not even give you for money, and who enjoys your pleasuring her just as much, and you will have found paradise.' I have found paradise, Laura. Have you found that paradise as well, darling?"

"Yes, . . . in every sense of the word," Laura said as she sighed and nestled into his embrace for the rest of the flight.

As Remington and Laura neared London, their thoughts turned to David and Jacqueline Chalmers. The Chalmers had settled quite happily into married life after a quiet yet lovely garden wedding in Los Angeles the year before. Since then Jacqueline had been able to turn over much of the day-to-day running of her business to her son, Marc. He seemed to have finally stopped playing and accepted responsibility so that Jacqueline was able to spend the bulk of her time in London with David.

"I'm happy for them, Laura."

"Well, they seem determined to make up for lost time, so to speak," Laura said, recalling the passionate glances constantly exchanged between these senior members of their family who along with Chlöe had become like parents to both of them.

"No doubt about that," Remington concurred as their big jet sat down gently on the runway at Heathrow.

David Chalmers had sent his man to pick them up and smooth their way through customs and so it was not long before they were drawing up to the Mayfair mansion.

It was Saturday morning in London and David and Jacqueline were in their dressing gowns when their family arrived. Chlöe was still resting, but soon got up to embrace her Remington and Laura.

"You handsome boy! It is so good to see you . . . and Laura, dear, you are as lovely as ever. Positively radiant. Are you sure you're not expecting again?"

Laura flushed at the direct suggestion and Remington just smiled down at her, his blue eyes dancing.

"Well, I . . . I don't think so."

They all hugged one another.

"Why don't we have breakfast. These children are hungry, I am sure, Jacqueline."

"Oui, le petit dejeuner est pret. Venez."

Jacqueline swept into the dining room, her blue silk robe rustling and they all sat down to a hearty English breakfast of sausages and eggs, scones and marmelade.

Finally Laura began to stifle a yawn as the effects of the trip began to settle in.

"I think we should let these young people catch up on their rest, Jacqueline. The jet lag is getting the best of Laura. You know where your room is. It's laid out for you."

Remington and Laura found their room and climbed into the now familiar bed with its down comforters and sheets of cotton so soft that they had the feel of silk.

"My, my! This is wonderful, isn't it? This bed has such beautiful memories, doesn't it?"

"Um, yes, it does," Laura said sleepily. "My feet and legs are aching from the long flight."

"Let me help you, love."

Remington took her foot and began to massage it in the way that he knew would relax Laura completely.

"Rem, that feels so good . . . so good."

Remington took her other foot and worked his same expertise on it as Laura sighed pleasurably.

"We made love in this bed-quite a few times. Chlöe wonders if you're pregnant again."

"I would love to be . . . pregnant. It's something we both want, isn't it?"

Remington nodded as he stroked her calves first and then her thighs. Laura gasped, feeling herself melt at his touch as his hands moved up her body, stopping along the way at all her familiar places till by the time his fingertips delicately grazed her nipples, she was trembling helplessly in response. Remington dropped kisses upon her lips, gently at first and then becoming increasingly passionate till suddenly they were completely engaged as man and woman.

"Yes, yes," Laura sighed as they came together.

"Oh, God, Laura. I love you."

Remington felt the ecstasy of connection with Laura from his head to his feet as they caught the rhythm that they knew so well. On this afternoon in London she submitted to his power in the peculiar way that only came occasionally when she was tired or ill, and it always produced a heady sensation of intoxication that was unlike anything he ever experienced otherwise possessing her like this. And when the climax came, it came with shattering force as the desire that had been held in check during the long flight found full expression and left them incoherent in their marital embrace.

After Remington had spent the afternoon in bed with Laura, he got up and looked for his uncle. He found him having a cup of tea and stealing kisses from his wife in the walled garden that ran from the rear of the house to the end of the property.

"Excuse me, uncle. I did not mean to intrude."

Jacqueline smiled graciously and unwound herself from David Chalmers.

"Cher, I think I cut roses for the table." She kissed him lightly upon his forehead. "Remington, I leave you to your uncle."

As Remington Steele regarded David Chalmers relaxing in his garden, it was clearly apparent how much his marriage to Jacqueline DuBois had benefited him. He was content, the sensuality that she had awakened in him making him even more handsome than his twin Daniel had ever been in his later years.

"Marriage seems to be agreeing with you quite well, Uncle David."

"Oh, yes, son. This woman has made me remember a happiness that I thought was gone forever. I wish only that I were younger. I sometimes find my mind even more energetic than my flesh these days."

"You seem to be keeping up with her very well to all appearances. She appears to be as contented as you do. It's good."

"And you and Laura. You are obviously getting on well. She is positively radiant."

"Yes, she is. Aunt Chlöe asked about . . . another pregnancy. We want that. We want more children, God willing."

"I will watch your family grow with pleasure."

Remington smiled proudly.

"Now, son, you are going to France to investigate some unfinished business Daniel had over there?"

"Yes, apparently. He always spoke of buying a villa in the south of France for his . . . retirement . . . but I never took him seriously because he never actually said that he had done so. I always thought it simply a wishful dream of his."

"And now it appears that in fact such a property does exist."

"Yes. A chap came to my office in Los Angeles earlier this week, a certain Édouard Présendieu. He is, in point of fact, the caretaker of a villa and vineyard that Daniel purchased near Les Baux-de-Provence. Now it seems that a couple of complications have arisen. The taxes on the estate are overdue for one thing. That can be settled easily. The other matter may not be quite as easy to settle."

"That being?"

"This chap was accosted by some pretty rough characters who came looking for some jewels that are purported to be hidden somewhere on the estate. Whether this is a former partner in crime of Daniel, or in fact the owner of the gems, is irrelevant. Either way, we're in the dark on this one."

"So you are on your way to Provence to try to resolve this."

"Yes. I don't want an innocent bystander killed over something he knows nothing about."

At this point Laura walked into the garden. She inhaled the heavy fragrance of roses mingled with the scent of other late summer flowers.

"So this is your favorite spot, Uncle David. Jacqueline told me I'd find you here. It's delightful."

"Yes, dear, it is. Please sit with us. Remington is bringing me up to date on this somewhat personal case you're involved with."

Laura seated herself next to Remington who made no effort to hide the fact that he found her distractingly beautiful, fresh from her afternoon nap.

"Excuse me, Uncle David, but I forgot for a moment our train of thought."

David Chalmers smiled indulgently at the two of them as Remington stared at Laura and she flushed under his gaze.

"We were trying to figure what jewels might be hidden there on my late brother's property." David Chalmers said, bringing his passionate nephew back to the matters at hand.

"We were thinking that you might give us information on any unsolved jewel heists here or on the continent within the last few years before Daniel's death," Laura offered.

"Ah, yes. Actually Laura came up with that brilliant idea."

"Of course you realize that some of these thefts are never publicized, some never even reported officially."

"Yes, that's why we are coming to you with this first. It's possible that Daniel even stole from another thief, and that now the 'chickens have come home to roost' so to speak."

"Alas, my brother was always the devious one. Thank God, your woman here put you on the straight and narrow."

"I thank the Lord every day for that." Remington's deep blue eyes were serious as he reflected on David Chalmer's statement.

"One of the most interesting chaps in the business I ever met was a man called Le Rénard. Did you know him?" Remington continued.

"Ah, yes, we did. Interpol found him impossible to apprehend. Had a dog as his accomplice, didn't he?"

"A bloody smart mutt. Our paths crossed in Los Angeles. He was legendary. But I don't think that he ever worked with Daniel. At any rate he was retired from the business."

David Chalmers sat back in his chair, his mind obviously at work.

"One of the most interesting cases I've come across with involved an American woman that has not yet to be apprehended. They called her the Black Orchid, 'L'Orchidée Noir.' She has worked on the continent for years-twenty-five, thirty years. Did you ever hear of her, son?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact I did. I even met her once. She and Daniel used to run around the Riviera together with the same crowd. Daniel only said that she ran with some of Princess Grace's buddies. That was her 'in.' "

"So she stole gems from them."

"No, that was the interesting part. She used them for credibility-got the best treatment in the most exclusive shops, positioned herself so that she could go anywhere, receive the attention normally reserved for nobility, and in the process walk off with whatever she wanted."

"Fascinating!" Laura exclaimed softly.

"Daniel said that she worked as an apprentice in the house of Dior when she first came to Europe. She learned to speak impeccable French, Italian, and German. When I met her, she was in her thirties-a stunning woman nearly six feet tall, skin like ebony, close cropped hair, presented herself as the daughter of a Senegalese chief."

"Were she and Daniel . . . involved?" Laura asked.

"He didn't pass up his opportunity to taste of her wares, let us say. He was such a gentleman I could only surmise as to his affairs most of the time but Daniel regularly arranged to rendezvous with that lovely lady. She would be well into her fifties now."

"The interesting thing about Black Orchid was that none of the gems she was accused of stealing were ever recovered. She was always a step ahead of the authorities. She was apprehended a couple of times but she had to be released because she was never found carrying contraband."

"Um, Black Orchid . . . L'Orchidée Noir, a long way from Sarah Ellen Johnson of Frogmore, South Carolina, eh?"

"That was her real name?" Laura said.

"Oh, yes. I guess that I do know quite a bit about Orchidée Noir. I believe that Daniel referred to her as the most exotic flower of the Nile that he had ever plucked, or something like that."

"Well, this is quite revealing, Remington. You never mentioned this woman."

"Darling, there is so much that Daniel did. I have spent most of the past nine years trying to forget that life-especially these kinds of details. This woman was exactly the part of that life that was most seductive . . . the person who succeeded in the business without ending up in prison. The last I heard Sarah Ellen was living as a proper dowager in Chicago."

"So you wouldn't think that she would be looking for some of her purloined goods that might be hidden away somewhere?"

"I really wouldn't know. We might have Mildred check out her situation now. It would help to ascertain her exact whereabouts."

"Is it possible that something could have been hidden on the property that Daniel knew nothing about?" Laura asked. "We will need to get information on the previous owners, the circumstances of the sale to Daniel. Perhaps Édouard Présendieu could point us in the right direction on that score."

"I will generate a list of the outstanding inventory from unsolved thefts here and on the continent and have that ready for you when you leave for Marseille."

"I think that we will be ready to leave first thing in the morning, Uncle David. Our flight is at ten a.m."

"Fine. There is a concert tonight at the Royal Albert Hall. You and Laura will come with us. It's the Czech Philharmonic playing an all Rachmaninov program. Vladimir Ashkenazy is playing and conducting."

"We certainly wouldn't want to miss that. Laura finds Rachmaninov . . . well, let's just say she enjoys his music to the full." Remington smiled at Laura.

Jacqueline came upon the three, her arms full of cut flowers, her face glowing from her gardening.

"My, now this is a sight, isn't it?"

David Chalmers drew Jacqueline down onto his lap and kissed her on her cheek and she blushed like young girl.

"Cher, David. Tu est si aimant." (You are so loving.)

"Oui, cherie, j'espere." (I hope so, darling.)

David and Jacqueline had eyes only for each other in this moment.

"Laura, why don't we leave these two lovebirds and use this time before the concert to sort out our plan of attack and . . . some other things."

Remington took Laura's hand and led her from the David and Jacqueline's private garden.

"Wow, those two have really got it going on! Jacqueline has really loosened up your uncle."

"Yes, she has. Amazing, isn't it?"

"Yes . . . and no. I expect you to be just as 'aimant' when you are his age."

Back in the secluded garden David Chalmers and Jacqueline were caught up in a passionate embrace.

David kissed Jacqueline upon her lips and her response was an invitation.

"You are so lovely, darling. Even when you are in your gardening slacks and your hands are smudged with soil, you are so fetching that I can scarcely keep my hands off you."

"Do not try to keep your hands away, cher. I love the touch of your hands."

"Ma Jacqueline, je t'aime, je t'aime. Je suis si excité." (I love you , love you, my Jacqueline. I am so aroused.)

"Je sais, cher. Je le sens." (I know, darling. I feel it.)

The arousal in David Chalmer's flesh was as intense as anything he had experienced as a young man and the desire as profound as any he had felt at any moment in his life.

"Your husband needs you so, Jacqueline."

David kissed Jacqueline over and over upon her mouth. He easily drew her up off her feet and into his arms. The sensation of his excited flesh against hers was altogether too much for Jacqueline and she swooned in her husband's arms.

"Mon cher, mon cher, mon chou-chou . . . je t'adore, David."

"Tu m'a bésoin, cherie?"

"Oui, oui, s'il tu plait, s'il tu plait."

David Chalmers easily picked up his tiny wife in his arms and strode into their house. He was about to carry her up the broad staircase to their bedroom but Jacqueline stopped him.

"Save your strength,cher,for the most important thing. I will take all of your energie cette apre-midi."

They went up the stairs arm-in-arm, and when they found the privacy of their rooms, David and Jacqueline simply looked at each other and all bridges were crossed in an instant.

"I love you, woman. Why do you excite this old man so?"

"What I see, what I feel, it is not old, cher. N'attends pas un moment, David." (Do not wait another moment.)

David Chalmers fell upon Jacqueline and they were lost in their passions as he came into her with all his power.

"Je suis si faible, cher, et tu est si puissant." (I am so weak and you are so strong, darling.) Jacqueline moaned helplessly as the rhythm of coitus swept them up.

"Tu me fait puissant, cherie. Tu me dons la puissance." (You make me strong, darling. You give me power.)

And when the climax took them both and they shook and cried out each others names, their faces were the faces of their youth, unlined, flushed with a passion that knows no age.

Finally they lay at peace together.

"You are tired, cherie. I am sorry that I have been so needing of you today."

"Non, David. Ton semence me dons l'energie. (Your seed gives me such energy.) I feel like young woman after being woman with you."

"You are beautiful, Jacqueline, so beautiful. Dear God, how did I live before we met?"

"I do not know, mon cher. I only know amour et toi-même."

David caressed Jacqueline's dainty breasts and kissed them all over as Jacqueline sighed his name.

"Je pense que tu aura bésoin de plus d'energie, Jacqueline, ma femme." (I think that you will need more energy, Jacqueline, my wife.)

* * * * * *

Later in the evening David, Jacqueline, Remington and Laura along with Chlöe went out to the concert at Royal Albert Hall together. The four of them were a handsome family group. The men were resplendent in their formal attire and Jacqueline wore a long evening suit of palest turquoise silk adorned with her signature beaded butterfly. She had presented Laura with a lovely white silk crepe bias cut gown with a wide bateau neckline and an asymmetrically cut out back that showed plenty of her lovely freckled skin but covered the scar from the shooting incident that nearly took Laura's life. The dress had thigh high slits on both sides revealing a generous portion of her shapely legs. The front was unadorned but at the top of the opening in the back of the dress was a tiny black beaded butterfly.

"Darling, I don't think that I or anyone who sees you in that gown will be able to concentrate on the Rachmaninov tonight."

"You like it?" Laura smiled coquettishly at her husband as he led her from the car into the concert hall.

"Love it! You look like you were poured into that dress. What are you trying to do to me?"

"What I'm doing to you, baby."

Laura gave Remington a secret wink and then completely rattled him by patting him on his thigh after they were seated in Sir David's box.

As they sat waiting for the concert to begin, Remington noticed a tall black woman in the box next to them. Her hair was cropped and silver-streaked and she was elegantly dressed in a gray bugle-beaded dress She was with a group of several patrons who were chatting together, but she was staring at David Chalmers, who was completely oblivious to her. Remington's mind went back to an event nearly twenty years previous in Daniel's London flat. He had just returned from two years knocking around the Caribbean with Monroe and was exhausted from the long voyage home in steerage and wanted nothing more than to find again the comfort of Daniel's flat. Now as Remington stared at Kadijah, the whole series of events came thundering back into his consciousness.

When Harry let himself into the flat, he sensed at once that he was not alone. He knew that Daniel entertained his lady friends often at home and had learned to make himself invisible at times such as this. He stealthily eased down the hallway to the room that was designated as his and fell across his bed while still half dressed.

During the night he stirred and wakened to hear Daniel and his lady friend in the throes of passion. 'I should have told him I was here,' Harry mused and then promptly fell asleep again.

In the morning Harry wakened to find Daniel in his bedroom.

"What are you doing here?"

"I thought this was to be 'home' when I needed it."

"Yes, but you've been gone a year, laddie. You could at least have notified me that you were on the way."

"And you would not have been entertaining quite so vociferously."

"Exactly."

"Well, I was too fatigued to be interested in your affairs, Daniel. I'd just gotten off the steerage voyage from Bermuda."

"So you and Monroe got your fill of the islands, eh?"

"We had our moments. I think I like things better on this side of the pond though."

"You've put on some weight-muscle. You must have been working out."

"I did some prizefighting. South America. I acquitted myself rather well, if I do say so myself."

Harry had gotten up and his naked young physique with its decoration of silky black hair and heavy genitalia was quite impressive.

"Looks like you've come into your own as a man, laddie. I'll wager you have your pick of the birds now."

"I get what I want, when I want it." Harry grinned. "And I always follow your admonition . . . no unprotected sex."

"Good. That's good." Daniel's face clouded a bit.

"Well, I hope that you are still following your own advice. Sounded like you were having quite a party last night."

Daniel did not answer him. He started to leave the room but then turned back.

"You might as well meet her. Just don't ask a lot of questions, Harry. She's in the business."

Harry bathed and dressed and finally presented himself a couple hours later.

The most beautiful black woman Harry had ever seen was in Daniel's kitchen making a huge breakfast. At nearly six feet tall, her figure was perfection-full womanly breasts, a slender waist and round hips and unbelievable legs. She was wearing a bright blue silk tie-dyed bobu, a sort of long ethnic garment that flowed over her body and yet did not completely hide it. Obviously she wore nothing else under it because it kept slipping from her shoulders to reveal delightful glimpses of smooth skin the color of dark chocolate. When she turned to greet Harry, her eyes were huge and almond shaped and her lips were full and outlined with some sort of charcoal color, her extremely close cut hair revealing all of the elegant shape of her head and graceful neck.

"So this is your 'ward,' your protegé, Daniel."

"Yes, this is Harry. Harry, this is Kadijah."

"Hello, Kadijah."

"My, you are handsome, cher. You did not tell me how handsome your protegé was, Daniel."

"You did not ask me if he were handsome, darling."

"I am trying to make a real American breakfast for my . . . friend. Hope we didn't disturb you last night . . . celebrating."

"No, I have done my share of celebrating."

"Really? You are rather young, baby. There is a lot to taste out there."

"I think I've tasted quite a bit-every color, every race, tall, short, delicate, voluptuous-all good."

"My, you've been busy, Harry. And how would you categorize me?"

"You are positively voluptuous-and very tall." Harry smiled, working the magic of his blue-eyed gaze on Kadijah as Daniel watched in amusement.

"Well, let me finish these grits and sausage, baby, and then we can talk some more."

"Perhaps you can teach my young friend a few things, Kadijah. He thinks he knows everything but you and I know that he has a lot more to learn, doesn't he?"

"I would imagine so. But now you two sit down and eat this food before it goes cold."

They all sat down to the breakfast of hot biscuits, grits, eggs scrambled with cheese, sausage and bacon together. The food was simple, uncomplicated and good. Afterward Daniel came to Harry in his room.

"Harry, I have some unfinished business to attend to. Entertain Kadijah for the next day or so. I have to go to France and she needs to stay here for a few days."

"What do you mean by 'entertain,' Daniel?"

"Whatever you or she want to do. I am not a jealous or possessive man. A woman like Kadijah has a lot to 'give,' let us say, and I have no objection to your having some of it."

Daniel left that afternoon for France and Harry and Kadijah were left to their own devices. Harry lay in his bed till the smell of food emanating from Daniel's kitchen forced him to get up and find out what was going on.

"Do you cook all of the time?"

Harry stood in the entrance to the kitchen, his shirt hanging completely open, his comfortable jeans fitting him like a second skin.

Kadijah looked at him, taking in his almost unbelievable handsomeness.

"Do you look like this all of the time?"

"Look how?"

"'Fine' is the operative word, young man. Are you sure you're not gay? Most guys that look like you are gay these days. Such a waste."

"No, I am definitely not gay. Do you want proof?"

"Maybe. After we eat dinner. I don't like my men to run out of steam."

Kadijah took a huge round-bottomed cous-cous pot from the stove and set it on the table.

"Come and eat, Harry. You do like cous-cous, don't you?"

"I love it."

They sat down at the table together in the intimacy of Daniel's kitchen. Kadijah spooned the grains of cous-cous pasta from the top of the pot onto his plate and ladled a generous portion of the stew of lamb, chicken, and vegetables heartily seasoned with garlic and onions from the bottom of the pot onto of it.

"Good Lord, woman! You are tremendous. You have to show me how to make this."

"Sure. I'll give you all of my secrets."

"What about your other secrets . . . who you are, what you're about."

"In due time . . . in due time. Here, let me pour your wine."

Harry and Kadijah ate and drank till they were completely satisfied and then Harry insisted on doing the dishes while she sat watching him. Afterward they turned to each other and they both knew what was coming next. Harry took Kadijah by her hand and kissed it, and then drew her to him and kissed her mouth. Kadijah kissed him back and followed him to his room where they lay down together in his bed and made love all night long.

At the end of their second day and night together when they were caught up in ecstasy Kadijah cried out, "You is a mess, Harry. You is some kinda mess. Oh, Lawdy!"

Later over breakfast Harry teased her. "You sure didn't sound like a Senegalese princess when you came last night. I don't believe that was Woloff you were speaking, was it?"

"No, Harry, that been a Gullah woman talkin' 'bout good lovin' to you, talkin' completely out'n her head. That been Sarah Ellen Johnson of Frogmore, South Carolina. You know where that be, Harry?"

She had dropped her flawless French-accented English and was speaking the flat vernacular Gullah dialect of her birthplace.

"No, I never heard of it. I've been to New York and Miami in the states. That's all so far."

"Frogmore be a marshly little village on the Atlantic outer banks where nobody never 'mount to nothin' more 'dan what you was the day you was born. And if'n you be born black and poor, it be a dead end street."

"So you escaped from Frogmore and into the life of continental cat burglers and jewel thieves. You are in the business, aren't you?"

"Yes, and that is all you need to know." She reverted to her persona as Kadijah with her continental affectations.

"I understand why you do it. I myself know no other life really. I went to the West Indies, to South America-almost got killed, lived from hand-to-mouth, looking for something else to do. I know this business. Daniel has taught me well. I am going to be very careful and, if I am smart, I will live reasonably well, buy a few interesting things, meet quite a few beautiful women, and die an old man in my own bed."

"One day it may not be enough. Don't you ever think about havin' a family, roots."

"I feel no desire for that now. Perhaps someday. I will deal with that when the time comes. You don't see yourself doing this, say, twenty years from now."

"Can I tell you somethin,' Harry?"

"Sure."

"I'm thirty-five years old and I want a baby the worst sort o' way. If I stay in this business, I still want a family to turn to when I see the handwritin' on the wall. I want grandchildren somewhere."

"And how do you plan to accomplish this?"

"I think that I love Daniel."

"Well, why the hell have you been making it with me none stop the past two days?"

"We's jes havin' fun, baby. I got serious feelin's for him."

"Daniel is not going to willingly get anyone pregnant. He is meticulous about that."

"Yes, he is. But we have a deal."

"A deal?"

"I pulled off a pretty big heist two weeks ago in France. I just made it out ahead of the gendarmerie, caught the ferry from Calais to Dover just in time to elude them."

"So you're 'hiding out' here?"

"You could say that."

"The deal?"

"I told Daniel where the jewels are stashed. He can have half of the take. I don't want any of it now. Too risky. But in exchange for half of the take, he gives me one solid month of unprotected sex. I'm healthy. I'll get pregnant."

"And who takes responsibility for this child?"

"It's my baby, Harry. All I want is his precious sperm."

"And Daniel agreed to this?"

"Why do you think he went to France? He's retrieving the gems and putting them in a safe place. He will fence my part, put the money in a Swiss bank account and that will be that. I trust him. I will let him know when to get my money to me. I will wait this thing out . . . till the heat's completely off."

Harry sat stunned.

"You look shocked. Don't tell me you got the nerve to have morals?"

"I don't know."

"You feel strange having intimacy with me because I am planning to have a baby with Daniel."

"Perhaps."

"But it is fine if it is all just casual sex."

"I don't know." Harry got up from the table and began to do the dishes.

"Well, you just be so high and mighty, baby. I will bet you be beggin' me to yo' bed before the sun set dis day." The Gullah dialect only intrigued Harry the more, spoken in her throaty resonant voice.

Kadijah walked out of the kitchen in a huff.

Harry finished the dishes and then went to the living room where Kadijah was lying on the sofa, listening to Françoise Hardy on the stereo.

"Come here, Kadijah," he said softly, holding his hand out to her.

She ignored him and turned her face to the wall.

"You are beautiful, Kadijah. I am intoxicated with you. I want more."

Harry caressed her, finding her firm full breasts through the side opening of the loose silk bobu she wore. She smelled of cinnamon and musk and when he lay down beside her and kissed her neck, she moaned and turned to Harry with open arms.

"What you be wantin' more of, baby?"

"Whatever you are giving, sharing. You are quite addictive."

"If I have a baby for Daniel, dat's business. What you and I do got nothin' to do wid dat."

"I would that I could believe that life were that uncomplicated."

Kadijah got up and took his hand.

"I show you uncomplicated, baby."

Harry followed her into his bedroom and took her again and again that day.

The next morning Daniel came back home in high spirits. When Harry heard him with Kadijah, he left the flat and went to find an old girl friend to spend a few days with. He had to get Kadijah out of his system if she and Daniel were going to be involved in the arrangement she had described.

Daniel never mentioned the arrangement to him. He asked Harry if he had enjoyed his sojourn with Kadijah and Harry had indicated that it was fantastic and that was that.

"Remington, your mind is elsewhere, isn't it?"

"Yes, darling."

Laura followed the direction of his eyes and saw the woman, who was looking at David Chalmers.

"I must speak to that woman before the concert starts. Excuse me, Laura."

Remington went out of their box and toward the one where he had seen Kadijah. She was nowhere to be seen. Remington walked back and forth searching for her and finally heard her from behind him. She stood in the shadows and spoke.

"It's you . . . Harry. I saw you with . . ."

"Yes, Kadijah, it is I. But that is not Daniel Chalmers. That was his twin brother, David. Daniel died nearly five years ago in Ireland."

Kadijah was startled at the revelation of Daniel's death.

"I had not heard of him for years, but I thought that he had simply gone into hiding for some reason. How did he die?"

"Of natural causes. Lung cancer. He was my father, Kadijah. I did not know it when we met nearly twenty years ago."

Kadijah staggered a bit with the shock of this news and Remington stepped forward and caught her arm to steady her.

"I need to speak with you privately for a few minutes. Can you excuse yourself from your friends for a few moments?"

Remington saw the wariness in her eyes.

"I have no interest in leading any authorities to you for any reason. I am simply in dire need of information. Come, step in here and talk to me."

Remington guided Kadijah into a private area behind a set of drawn burgundy velvet curtains.

"What do you want, Harry?"

"I need to know if there is anything, any unfinished business in Provence."

Kadijah shook her head but did not speak.

"I must know. A couple of thugs followed a chap to my office in Los Angeles last week ranting about some jewels that are supposed to be hidden on a property in Provence that I have inherited. I knew nothing of the property, much less the gems."

"I know nothing about anything, Harry. And I must go to my friends. They will wonder where I am."

"I see you still hang out with your peerage groupies."

"It is what I do, Harry. But I'm not really 'active' in the business these days. I haven't been well for a while. Camilla Parker-Bowles and I, we're old friends."

"Give this life up, Kadijah. It isn't worth the risks. Imagine if you were to be arrested and put in prison at this point."

"I have to get back to my friends, Harry."

Kadijah kissed him lightly on his cheek and left.

Remington went back into the box where his family was enjoying the beginning of the Rachmaninov Third Piano Concerto.

"Everything all right?" Laura asked.

"I hope. I asked her about the property in Provence. She claims to know nothing at all about it."

"The Black Orchid." Laura stated it as a fact. "She is still quite beautiful, isn't she?"

"Yes, darling, she is."

Laura looked back at him, wanting to say something else.

"Let's listen to the Rachmaninov, darling. I love to watch you enjoy it."

Remington tried to put Kadijah out of his mind and let the music roll over him as he held Laura's hand and felt her react to the Rachmaninov.

After the concert the car going back to the Chalmers' house, Remington drew Laura up close to him and held her very tightly. Laura looked at him and, even in the darkened car she saw the melancholy in his eyes.

"Is there something you want to tell me, Remy?"

"Yes, there is. We will talk . . . at the house."

Later in their bedroom at David Chalmers' home, Remington poured a glass of brandy and sat in one of the large easy chairs.

Laura sat on the bed across from him and waited for him to reveal what was weighing upon his heart.

"It was like a journey in a time machine . . . seeing Kadijah tonight."

"Kadijah?"

"Sarah Ellen Johnson . . . Black Orchid . . . L'Orchidée Noir . . . Kadijah Kammisooka . . . all the same woman. She carried a handful of passports too. I asked her if she knew anything about what is going on in Provence and she denied that she did. Somehow I just don't believe her."

"Uncle David said that she was in the box with Camilla Parker-Bowles. Is that true?"

"Yes. That was always her modus operandi. Meet the so-called elite. Be seen with them . . . be a part of the group. Position yourself so that you will have carte blanche wherever you go. Then strike and retreat discreetly."

"You were involved with her." Laura stated it as a fact. She was not asking a question.

"Yes. But it was a long time ago. She was really Daniel's plaything."

"Well what were you doing with her if she belonged to Daniel?"

"Laura, do you really want to hear this. I have put that chapter of my life far, far behind me and I really do not enjoy dredging all this up."

"I want to know, Rem. It seems that there is more to tell."

Remington heaved a sigh. He realized that in this instance full disclosure was his only option with Laura.

"I once spent a wild bacchanalian weekend with that woman in Daniel's flat in London . . . with his permission. I was just twenty and she was thirty-five I had no moral sense, no compunction whatsoever about my involvement with her. Daniel and I eventually shared any number of women. He and Felicia regularly got together sexually in point of fact. It was not an issue. But Kadijah told me that they were planning to have a child together."

"Daniel! I thought he was the one that was so careful, the one that taught you to be the same."

"This is true. But this was to be an arrangement. Her . . . clock . . . was running and she wanted to have a child. This baby was apparently part of bargain they had. She had stolen some gems but was not in the position to retrieve them from where they were hidden. She agreed to give Daniel half the gems in exchange for a period of unprotected sex during which she hoped to conceive."

"Bizarre! He or she would be your half-sibling."

"Yes, he or she would be."

"Even though it was . . . an arrangement . . . I felt different about being with her . . . for a few minutes at least. But I was such an incorrigible, conscienceless rake, Laura, interested in only my own gratification. Now, looking back at the situation it seems so 'out of order.' Finally I could not even tolerate myself being between two people who were going to have a child together-whatever the reason. The fact that neither of them seemed to mind didn't salve my conscience enough. I left Daniel and Kadijah to their own devices and found other females in less complicated circumstances to satisfy my needs."

"Did they actually keep this bargain they had?"

"I do not know. Daniel never discussed this matter with me. I only know what Kadijah told me at the time. I now so regret that period of my life, Laura. Do you believe me?"

"I have confidence in you, Rem. The past is the past. I don't want to think of you in that life anymore."

Laura's eyes filled suddenly and Remington realized how this particular revelation had disturbed her. He went to her and sat on the bed beside her.

"Darling, forgive me."

"I forgive you. It's just that you belong to me now and . . . I just can't abide the thought of you with someone else, Rem. I know that you are being open and honest with me."

"Would you not know if I were being less than completely honest, love?" Remington asked, his deep cobalt eyes searching hers.

"Yes, I would know."

"Come here." Remington drew his wife into his arms and kissed her tenderly upon her mouth, catching his hands into her long hair. "Don't you know that the past meant nothing from that first day I met you? I could walk away from every woman I ever had. You were the first and the only woman I ever met that I could not walk away from. "

"Yes, Rem, I know that. And I do love you so much."

"I just want to lie in your arms and forget about my unsavory past."

Laura took his face between her hands and kissed him upon his lips and

Remington kissed her back and then reluctantly released her.

"I hate to leave you at this moment, Laura, but I shall have to bring David up to date on these developments. Don't wait up for me, darling."

* * * * * *

Remington found his uncle making a late night cup of tea in the kitchen.

"That was L'Orchidée Noir at the Royal Albert Hall tonight."

"I guessed as much. You spoke with her?"

"Briefly. I asked her if she had any idea about this business in Provence."

"And?"

"She denied knowing anything."

"Do you believe her, Remington?"

"Part of me believes that she told the truth about a bargain she and Daniel had, but another part of me senses that she is lying through her teeth now about these present issues."

"A bargain between her and Daniel?"

"You see she was one woman that Daniel had a somewhat special relationship with. Not that he was faithful to her or expected her to be faithful to him. In fact he gave her to me to use to my pleasure and I, being the selfish libertine that I was, did take full advantage of his offer with no qualms of conscience whatsoever . . . at first."

"What happened to change that?"

"She and Daniel had a arrangement of sorts. She had pulled a big heist and needed someone to fence the booty and she also wanted a baby. She offered Daniel half of her take in exchange for impregnating her."

"Daniel andL'Orchidée Noir?" David's voice raised a bit in amazement.

"It was to be a bargain between them."

"Do you know if this actually did take place?"

"I have no idea as to whether the plan was ever carried out, whether Daniel claimed his part of the gems, whether she got the baby she was bargaining for. I do know that the job she had pulled was in the south of France."

"Sounds like a right bold mess. And there is a possibility of a child in the middle of all of this? Good Lord!"

"Yes."

"He would be my nephew, your half brother, Remington . . . family. If this is true, we will have to see to it that he receives whatever is coming to him from Daniel. Good Lord! Will we never clean up all of Daniel's affairs." David Chalmers sighed wearily. "I think I will need something stronger than a cup of lapsang souchong behind this news."

"Do you know who Black Orchid has been working with of late, Uncle David?"

"Funny that you should mention it but there is a fellow that was involved in some political shenanigans on the continent that came to our attention recently and Black Orchid was mentioned as one of his associates. He is known simply as Ignacio. He is a pretty elusive bugger. We have never been able to nail him, even when we know that he has done the deed."

"I would like to know where this Ignacio has been of late . . . whatever you might have on him could prove helpful. I believe what Kadijah told me about the agreement that they had. She was quite a woman, still is, I am sure. I spent a weekend . . . with her . . . intimately when I was a very young man. Actually Daniel offered her to me. I had no idea then that Daniel was my father. I would not have shared my own father's woman like that. Even at my worst, I had some principles."

"I am sure that you did. There are limits that we must place upon ourselves in these matters, limits that most people recognize. Daniel knew that you were his son even if you were ignorant of the fact. How could he have offered her to you if he were using her! He disappoints me more and more."

"Besides, I believe that she was really in love with Daniel, in her own way, but he wasn't about commitment in any form."

David Chalmers opened a cabinet, took a bottle of Glenlivet scotch out and poured a shot for him and one for Remington.

"I am thankful that you found Laura and turned your life around, son."

"I think about that everyday . . . what kind of life I would have had if I had kept on the path where I was headed. I talked to Kadijah tonight and I felt pity for her. All the exploits, all the escapades and she really only wanted to be with the man that she loved, have his child, live to see her grandchildren. But she still runs with that crowd. She was with Mrs. Parker-Bowles' friends at the concert tonight."

"A paradox, isn't it?"

"Yes. That was Daniel's whole philosophy. You walk the walk, talk the talk, and you're in. Perception is everything."

"And yet you met Laura and you could not deceive her."

"She wouldn't have me till she was sure I had reformed. And then for a long time she was still wondering. If she had given in to me early on, I would have, excuse the expression, screwed her and moved on . . . never knowing what I was missing. God, when I think what I would have missed if I had breezed through her life like a Langston Drewes."

Remington's blue eyes filled suddenly as he contemplated that possibility and he quickly downed the rest of the scotch in his glass.

"Langston Drewes, son?"

"A disreputable rake who cut a swath through a woman's life, an interesting case that Laura and I solved a few years ago. . . left her with nothing but a few painful memories. It is a sort of back-story to all of this business. In his own way Daniel was the quintessential 'Langston Drewes' to Kadijah Kamisooka's alter ego, Sarah Ellen Johnson."

"I am very proud of you, Remington. You and Laura have found something very special together. Do you ever think about your past life? You have settled down quite well, but I would imagine that temptation rears its head from time to time."

"I would be a self-righteous prig if I were to say to you that I am not affected by women I encounter. Laura is not the only woman with whom I come into contact who makes my blood race, but I will never lie down with another woman. No one I have ever met affects me as she does, and I never allow myself to forget that. When we talked tonight, she asked me about Kadijah."

"What did you tell her?"

"I told her basically what happened. And her eyes filled with tears, Uncle David. She told me that the mere thought of me with someone else . . . pained her. I didn't know what to do really. I can't change the past."

"You must work to resolve this problem, Remington."

"I realize that; but I don't know what to do. If I don't tell her about my past, I'm hiding something. If I tell her, she . . . just looks at me with those big beautiful brown eyes and I see the anguish there. You see she has this nagging anxiety about pleasing me . . . sexually. She knows about my, er, vast experience, let us say, and she feels that she is lacking somehow."

"Then you must reassure her, son."

"I tell her every day how much I love her. We have made our marriage the priority in our lives. Let me say this, Uncle David, and I speak to you now as if you were my father." Remington paused for a long moment, pouring another shot of the Glenlivet. "Before I met Laura I viewed the sexual connection as simply that. . . a necessary sensual pleasure like eating or drinking. You met a woman, you put your penis inside her, you both came, and the job was done. You were careful not to knock her up or give her a disease and that was the end of it. That was basically what Daniel taught me. He said treat every woman like she is the daughter of a duke, make no promises, and you will enjoy your life.

"When I became involved sexually with Laura, I learned that there is so much more to it. I began to appreciate the emotional and psychic aspects of intercourse with a woman. What Laura and I have together has no comparison with what I had bangin' those other women. When I am with her, it does not just involve my gonads; it involves my whole being. She is the most completely sensual woman I have ever known. The first thing every morning I look for her in my bed. I want to reassure myself that I have truly found such a treasure. And the last thing at night that I remember is touching her. I wake up in the middle of the night and lie beside her and listen to her breath and sometimes, sometimes tears come to my eyes because I am just so thankful to have found her, and that she accepted me."

"Well said, my son. You will have the rest of your lives together to prove all of that to her."

David Chalmers clapped his nephew on his shoulders affectionately and then he hugged him.

"Thank you, Uncle. I think I should go and try do a bit of fence-mending tonight."

The two men finished off their drinks and went to bed.

* * * * * *

Laura had lain quietly in bed after Remington went down to speak with his uncle, but her vivid imagination ran riot with images of Remington with Anna, Felicia, Shannon, and now Kadijah. She knew it to be an irrational fear that she was experiencing, that Remington was totally committed to her and to their marriage. But it had been a while since she had come face-to-face with one of Remington's old lovers and the resentment and hurt that she felt had taken her by surprise.

Laura reflected on a conversation she had had with Jacqueline earlier that very day in her workroom. She had just presented Laura with the dress that she would wear to the concert that evening and was correcting a few final fitting details.

"You and your Remington look very happy, cherie."

"Yes, we are. Sometimes I cannot believe that we are actually together. It took so long. And then I wonder if I will be able to keep him . . . interested. He was such a man of the world before we met."

"A man like that cherie, a man who has been with so many beautiful women, you must make him forget every other woman he has ever been with when he make love with you. Sometimes you must be princess, sometimes courtesan. And it must always be surprise, mystery waiting for him." Jacqueline laughed softly. "I think that he forget those women long ago, cherie."

"Do you really think so, Jacqueline?" Laura found it easy to talk to this extremely wise older woman.

"It is tres evident, in those blue eyes. It is great passion he has for you."

"He certainly wants it all the time. I think that perhaps I don't satisfy him enough, that that is why he wants so much."

"Perhaps it is opposite of that, Laura. He loves to be satisfied so much. You must simply keep your energie up, cherie, so that you meet his . . . needs."

Laura lay their bed and cried now as if she had lost her last friend. That was how Remington found her when he came up after speaking with his Uncle.

"Laura?" He called softly to see if she were still awake after he had undressed. That is when he heard her try to stifle a sob and came to her.

Laura lifted her tear-stained face to his and Remington was shaken to see her so undone.

"Darling, I'm sorry. I am so sorry."

"It's me, Rem. It's me. I should understand. You have never lied to me about . . . the others. It's just that . . . sometimes I think about them, all of them, and I get scared, so scared. . . The old fear, the fear that you will tire of me and leave me one day just comes in upon me . . . and I get so scared."

"I love you, Laura, more than my life. I have never deserved you, but I have tried to prove myself worthy of your love. I have been faithful. I can't bear it when you're unhappy about things over which I have no control."

Remington knelt beside Laura, caressing her body slowly and thoroughly from her head to her toes and when he reached her feet he knelt over them and kissed them over and over. Laura felt the wetness of his tears upon her feet.

"What can I do, Laura? I cannot erase the past, but I have forgotten it. I forgot it completely that first time you took me in that motel room in Los Angeles." His voice was full of his anguish as he kissed her toes, and then her arches and delicate ankles. "Have mercy on me, woman. I love only you!"

"Remy! I know! I know!"

Laura drew her husband up from her feet and into her arms and they were on their knees clinging together, declaring their love over and over.

"Look at me, darling." He drew her hand to touch him as he bore her back onto the pillows. "No other woman does this to me . . . no one but you. Laura, I'm yours . . . no one else's. Do what you want with me, darling."

Laura caressed him, holding his parts in her hand as she kissed him over and over upon his face, upon his lips till Remington felt he could restrain himself no longer, but he knelt over her, begging, pleading for her understanding.

"I need no one but you, Laura. Please, darling. Only take me into your body tonight if you believe these words . . . that I am completely faithful in my heart and soul to you, that nothing that ever happened to me with any woman compares to what I feel for you."

Laura pulled him deep inside her, crying his name as they both shook and trembled, gasping in ecstasy as their flesh joined in intercourse.

"Just tell me you are mine, Rem! Tell me the words! I need to hear you say it tonight." Laura's voice was husky, heavy with passion as she drove her husband wild with the movements of her pelvis, her nails digging into the flesh of his back as she demanded that he tell her the words she needed to hear.

"Laura, Laura," Remington groaned, his mouth ravishing hers with kiss after kiss. "Feel my flesh in your flesh. Don't you know I'm yours, woman? I'm yours!"

"Yes! Yes! Remy! I . . ." Laura's teeth clattering, her pelvis in spasm, as she saw the brilliant lights that signaled her climax.

"Laura, I love you so!" Remington cried out as he saw his wife helpless in orgasmic spasms, her eyes rolling about uncontrollably in her head, her whole body flushed and he buried his head in her bosom, taking her all the rest of the way.

"Rem, Rem . . ." Laura trembled in his embrace, unable to speak

"Don't . . .try to talk, Laura. There are . . . no . . . more . . . words."

Remington tried to ease them back, but the passion in his flesh would not slow for a moment, continuing to escalate in a rhythm so powerful that it catapulted both of them together into the psychic and physical phenomena that presaged total and complete release. And when it came, Remington could only croak inarticulately as he ejaculated and they both reached the apogée together.

Floating together in the afterglow, Remington kissed Laura tenderly over and over as he whispered softly to her, "Don't you know that all those celibate nights when I dreamed of being with a woman it was you that I dreamed of, Laura. I've forgotten what it would be like to dream about any other woman."

Laura felt her love for him well up in her heart as she kissed him back upon his lips and cheeks. "Forgive me, baby . . . for doubting for a moment."

Remington felt her in complete surrender as he held her. She tried to cling to him but the intense passionate energy she had expended had left her exhausted for the moment. Remington rolled onto his back so that she could lie upon his chest, drew the silken sheets and duvet up over them, cherishing her, stroking her hair, kissing her tenderly, till she fell asleep in his arms.

It was much later when Remington finally was able to close his eyes as anxiety over Laura's concerns about his past plagued his conscious thoughts.

END OF PART ONE