FAMILY STEELE, PART 8: STEELE THE STRONGEST OF THEM ALL
By: Phaedra Phelan
Summary: It is 1993 and Alessandra's wedding plans bring Remington and Laura into another mystery that must be solved.
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.
Since they first met when Remington and Laura were working on the UNIDAC case just before their marriage, Laura Steele and Alessandra Henry had become real girlfriends. When the case was broken, Alessandra had no desire to go back to UNIDAC. She finished her orals for her Ph.D., and got her degree, but while she was waiting to hear on her applications to teach at university level, she became involved on a temporary basis with the agency. Alessandra's vast general knowledge, combined with her computer skills and intuition were invaluable, and so, feeling as if she had somehow found her niche, she had decided to stay with them.
By 1993Alessandra had given up hopes of ever meeting "Mr. Right," but a passing encounter with Édouard Présendieu, caretaker of Daniel Chalmers' properties in the south of France, had plunged her headlong into an affair that would ultimately be the love of her life. As she sat in Laura Steele's office, she was in a state of complete confusion.
"Laura, I need to speak to you on a very personal matter . . . actually a very urgent matter."
"Laura was instantly attentive. She had anticipated this conversation after Édouard had spoken with Remington and her in France, but she had hoped against hope that Alessandra would not find herself in a pregnancy she was unprepared for. The anxiety in Alessandra's huge light gray eyes was all the evidence Laura needed that Édouard Présendieu had indeed impregnated Alessandra.
"You know that you can always talk to me, Alessandra. I had wanted to get together with you, but Remington and I have been so busy catching up with things here in the office as well as at home since getting back from Provençe. And then on top of everything else I missed my period, and I am almost certain that I am pregnant again. My husband has this uncanny ability to calculate my body's schedule exactly, and, according to him, I was due to start yesterday."
"He keeps track of your menstrual periods? Mr. Steele?"
"Always did . . . even before we really . . . got together. You know, I think that's one of the things that made me begin to see him as the man I wanted to live with for the rest of my life. Those days when I would be laid low with cramps he would come over with his teas and foot massages . . . he's big on reflexology. He would just stay with me, lie across the foot of my bed watching old movies on television while I suffered."
"Amazing. You two are truly amazing, you know."
"Well, if I am pregnant, I have to get this work ahead before the morning sickness hits. Once that happens I won't be good for anything for at least six weeks here or at home. That is the worst part of it for me. After that it is smooth sailing."
"Laura, I missed my period last week . . . and I never miss. I haven't been to a doctor but I took one of those over-the-counter pregnancy tests and the result was positive."
Laura stopped and looked directly at Alessandra.
"How do you feel about this?"
"I should be devastated, but I'm not. I never wanted to be in this situation. I have never taken chances with myself before, but in some sort of Kafkaesque way I am thrilled. It was Édouard. I am in love with him and I may never see him again, but I am thrilled to be carrying his child. I never knew that bearing a child would be so important to me."
"Édouard spoke with Remington and me when we were in France. He said that he accepted full responsibility were you to fall into this situation. He sounded as if he had fallen for you as hard as you seem to have fallen for him, Alessandra," Laura said, smiling warmly at her friend.
"I . . . I don't know how it happened. It was like we had known each other for years . . . and he hardly spoke English. I was struggling to remember my college French courses . . . and then finally words just weren't necessary," Alessandra said, flushing as she recalled the one afternoon she had spent with Édouard Présendieu.
"You're a brilliant girl, Alessandra. With a doctorate in English literature I know that you are vastly overqualified for this job and I have been thankful to have your intellectual input over these past six or so years. I really never though that you would be content to remain here. If you were so drawn to Édouard, I think that you will just have to trust your instincts. He is very charming and seems altogether as smitten as you."
"It had been a year since I had even been out on a date, Laura. I . . . I just lost it when he looked at me with those brown eyes. Perhaps it was just because I was ovulating. I don't know. But when he phones me, it's . . . it's shocking, the effect just the sound of his voice has on me."
"I suggest you contact him and bring him up to date on things and then you two should begin to make some plans. We will help in any way that we can. You're what-thrity-seven, aren't you? You need to see my obstetrician, Sandra Brathwaite. She specializes in high-risk pregnancies."
"Thank you, Laura. I'll make an appointment to see her right away."
Alessandra rose to leave the office, but then paused. "I want you to know that seeing you and Mr. Steele over these past few years with each other, with your pregnancy, and with your twins has made me long for that for myself. Do you understand that?"
"Yes, I know what you mean," Laura replied softly. "Now I think you'd better call that man of yours over there in France and tell him that he is going to be a papa. I guarantee you he will not be shocked. That must have been quite an afternoon."
"Alessandra blushed and nodded. "We couldn't get enough of each other."
"I'm truly happy for you."
"He wants to come back to see me. He asked me to marry him. I just don't know if I should tell him that I am pregnant before he comes or wait till he gets here. I don't want him to feel forced into anything. But I want this baby-no matter what he does."
"And you want him too, don't you?"
"Oh, yes! Laura, I never wanted anyone so." Tears flooded Alessandra's eyes as she spoke.
"Then I would suggest that you call him and tell him that you are pregnant. He won't be surprised. Besides, his feelings seemed to be running as deep as yours."
"Thank you, Laura. I will call him today with my news. I know that he will come. I think that I will need to plan a . . . a wedding."
The two women hugged each other.
At that point Remington Steele came into his wife's office.
"Good morning, Alessandra. I hope all is well." He smiled at her and then immediately turned his attention to his wife. "And, Laura, darling," he said, bending to kiss her on her forehead as she sat at her desk..
"I'll talk to you later," Alessandra said, as she left the office. She could see that Remington Steele was only interested in looking into his wife's eyes on this morning.
Remington brushed Laura's lips in a kiss.
"Darling, I am trying to get a head start on this paper work. Umm . . . I can't concentrate when you do that," she murmured as he pushed her hair out of the way so that he could kiss the back of her neck and then run his hand down her spine and to the curve of her hips.
"I know. I can't concentrate either . . . on anything else but you. You are so extraordinarily beautiful today. Is it perhaps the efflorescence of pregnancy, love?"
Laura flushed. Remington sat down on the corner of her desk, his thigh at her elbow, and she wanted to touch him as much as he wanted to touch her.
"I should have known that I shouldn't try to surprise you with a pregnancy."
"It's my business to know everything there is to know about you, Madame. So you did conceive in Marseilles?"
"According to your calendar, yes."
"It appears that we may have found our propitious moment then. Are you happy?"
"Tremendously happy, Rem."
"And I likewise," he said, taking her hand in his and kissing it. "I am thrilled at the prospect of another wee one."
There was a knock on the door.
"This morning is becoming a very busy one, Rem."
"I can simply hope that we can spend lunch together . . . and not necessarily simply to eat, love."
Laura nodded, "It's a date," and patted him on his thigh.
His cobalt blue eyes widened passionately and almost inaudible gasp slipped from his lips as his flesh responded involuntarily to Laura's touch.
"Darling, please, have mercy on me. You know how vulnerable I am to that sort of tactile stimulation."
Alessandra was at the door of Laura's office, but Remington did not turn around immediately, still being somewhat discomfited.
"Édouard will be here on Friday . . . three days from now. He wants to get married too. I must plan a wedding for sure."
Remington turned to grin at Alessandra, his blue eyes still twinkling.
"My, that is good news," he said.
"I'm pregnant, Mr. Steele, and I am going to marry Édouard. Isn't that wonderful!"
"You and your friend here will make good companions. Laura and I have just confirmed that we will have an addition to our family late next summer as well."
"My . . . I am overwhelmed," Alessandra gasped, as she swayed slightly and then started to sink to the floor.
Remington caught her just before she passed out completely.
"She fainted! Oh, my goodness!" Laura exclaimed
"Well, some women do that, darling. Find a cold cloth for her forehead to bring her around."
Alessandra was already murmuring incoherently when Laura put the cold compresses on her face and on the back of her neck.
"It's all right, Alessandra. You just fainted," Laura said, as she and Remington helped her up into a chair.
"I am so embarrassed."
"Don't give it a moment's thought. I hear it goes with the territory when those little tadpoles find their mark," Remington quipped as he left them. "Call me if you need me. I think I'll help Mildred handle the clients who are probably queuing up in the reception by now."
* * * * * *
Alessandra had her first meeting with Jocelyn Walters and Marcia Gilkinson that very afternoon in their place of business. She had known Jocelyn Walters from college days and there was no question in her mind. She wanted her to handle her wedding. But she found her old friend and her partner in such a quandary that she arranged an appointment for them with Remington and Laura Steele that very week.
"Mrs. Steele, when someone turned down the thermostat on our flower cases and froze all the calla lilies, then turned up the freezers and thawed all the chicken cordon bleu for the Wellington/Smythe nuptials the night before the wedding, that was the last straw. I told my cousin Marcia that our problem obviously required professional help. There had been little things happening for the past several weeks, but that was the worst to that point."
Walters was a tall and quite full-figured self-confident woman who was dressed interestingly in a bright navy tailored suit with a skirt short enough to reveal a good amount of well-shaped leg as she sat with her legs crossed. She was obviously concerned as she spoke. Marcia Gilkinson, on the other hand was tall, but thin almost to the point of anorexia and evidently under stress in spite of the fact that she was impeccably groomed and wore her Escada pants suit like a model on runway.
"So that was the most recent . . . event . . . of an unexplained nature that your company has experienced, Miss . . ." Remington mentally searched for her name and retrieved it. "Miss Walters. And Miss Marcia Gilkinson?"
"Why, yes. And you said it correctly-Marcia, like Marsha. That must be because you are . . . English?" Marcia took a moment to flirt with Remington Steele as Laura tried to stifle a sigh.
"I'm originally from Ireland."
"Marcia, please just explain to these people what's going on," Jocelyn Walters interjected with a sigh. "Keep your eye on your husband, Mrs. Steele. My cousin is dangerous around a good-looking man."
"That should be a interesting situation for someone in the business of putting on weddings. You must come into contact with plenty of handsome gentlemen. Of course they are all spoken for, aren't they?" Laura said with just a tinge of acid in her tone.
The edge in Laura's voice was not lost on Marcia Gilkinson who looked directly at Laura as if to challenge her, and then glanced away, unable to withstand her penetrating stare.
"Mrs. Steele, one out of every two marriages ends in divorce today. As far as I'm concerned, any man out there is fair game. It's just a matter of when."
"Then you should have quite a stable at the ready, Miss Gilkinson. I'm sure that keeps you quite busy. But it must be difficult keeping a joyful spirit about these weddings you arrange when you have such a sanguine attitude about male/female relationships."
Remington swallowed and attempted to refrain from smiling. He knew that Laura was perfectly able to handle the most aggressive flirt and he always enjoyed seeing her assert herself in situations like this. But he would have to be sure to avoid being alone with Miss Marcia Gilkinson. She would definitely have to be kept at arm's length.
"Getting back to the problem we're having. And please ignore my cousin. If she ate a little more, she would be able to handle stress better. She is such an outrageous flirt when she's under pressure . . . more even than normally. Me, I have my one man and we enjoy life. I know what he wants from me and he knows what I want from him. It's very simple-no angst, no drama-just relief when you need it. I met him three months ago. We knew that we had each found what we wanted and we got married last month. It has been fantastic.
"Now what we had this past Saturday, that was drama. Three hundred wedding guests, and one hundred ten of them went to hospital with salmonella-including the bride and groom and most of the wedding party. The mayonnaise had been doctored. Do you have any idea what a report like that can do to our business? We might as well close up shop."
"How many employees do you have?" Laura asked Jocelyn Walters.
"We have six regular employees. The others-waiters, attendants, etc. we hire as we need them from a temp agency that specializes in this kind of work. That way we don't have to keep an extensive number on payroll."
"We'll need paperwork on your people, ladies. Then we can evaluate the situation," Remington stated.
"Then you'll take the case?" Marcia Gilkinson said.
"We'll take the case," Laura said, "with one stipulation."
"You don't flirt with my husband in front of me. I don't care what you do behind my back. He can take care of himself. But you will respect me or you will have to find another agency. Do we understand each other?"
"Why . . . yes." Marcia Gilkinson was somewhat taken aback at Laura's straightforward manner, but in the circumstances was compelled to accept the terms that Laura had set forth.
"We'll get back to you within a day or so with a plan. Alessandra Henry will contact you. She tells me that your people did her sister's wedding last year and she wants you to arrange hers." Laura smiled graciously.
After Laura escorted the two women out of Remington's office, she closed the door behind her and turn to face her husband. She was obviously irritated.
"Well, I'd say you handled that masterfully, Laura."
"That woman was utterly obnoxious. It was all I could do to restrain myself from decking her. The way she was throwing her skinny self at you. She looks like death warmed over."
Remington opened the door and spoke to Alessandra who was still quite absorbed in taking information from the women from Weddings Unlimited.
"Alessandra, please be a dear and see that Mrs. Steele and I are not disturbed for the next hour. We're . . . lunching in."
Remington closed the door again behind him and winked at Laura as he turned toward her.
"I love to see you in full gear chasing off anyone that gets between you and your man, Laura."
Laura flushed, "Well . . ."
"I am your man, am I not? Completely, totally. Tell me I'm your man, darling."
"You . . . you're my man. Hell, yes! You're my man."
"You wouldn't have to ever fear that I would fall for a pathetically anorectic type like that. Now her full-figured cousin, that's a real woman," Remington said, teasing Laura, nuzzling her affectionately.
"You never told me you were attracted to big women. Are you serious?"
"BBW's?" Laura did not immediately understand the acronym.
"Big Beautiful Women, Laura. They even have their own magazine. Feminine voluptas does come in all sizes, darling."
"Were you ever involved with a woman of, let us say, ample proportions?"
"I confessed to you, Laura, a long time ago . . . everything about my past liaisons. You know that you are the love of my life. Past liaisons are just that . . . past."
Remington took Laura by the hand and led her back across the room to the sofa and drew her down onto it with him, but not before unbuttoning the long blue silk skirt she was wearing. It, along with her lace-trimmed half slip slid to the carpet, leaving her with only the briefest panties and garter belt on her posterior.
"But you weren't specific on that score. I just assumed that every 'notch on your gun' was a svelte slender type with great legs and big boobs. Of course there was that time back in the day when you said 'I like a little meat with my potatoes.' Remember San Francisco?"
"Yes. And I was speaking with a measure of truth on that occasion. I have enjoyed my share of, let us say, voluptuous women."
"So I guess that's why a skinny, flat-chested woman like me . . ."
"Don't go there, love. I fell in love with 'you,' not a body type. The chemistry I felt between us from the first day we met overrode everything else. And besides I don't think 'flat-chested' will ever again describe that glorious bosom."
Laura blushed involuntarily and sputtered helplessly in the face of his adoring gaze at her breasts. "But . . . but were you ever involved with a woman of truly grand proportions?"
"Laura, if we go there, promise me that you will not put me through a guilt trip about it. I remember how you reacted to learning about Kadijah Kamisooka," he said as he patted her gently on her bottom.
"I'm past that now. And I am curious . . . seriously . . . Rem."
"Well, there was this coloratura soprano who sang with La Scala, Constanza DiGregoria. I met her when Daniel and I were 'retrieving' some valuable art in Milan in the late 1970's. She had a voice like an angel, a beautiful face, and a body like a model for a Ruben's painting-huge breasts, full hips, and legs that looked like they could have supported the Colossus of Rhodes." Remington's eyes twinkled mischievously. "She was quite literally my main 'squeeze' as they say in the parlance, for the three months we spent in Milan. It was during the opera season, and as you know, many of the greatest divas swear that sexual intimacy just before a performance does wonders for the singing voice. Suffice it to say that I was glad to play the role of 'Stage Door Johnny' and I saw to it that she was never lacking on that score. She was one of the most passionate women I'd ever experienced, positively insatiable, that is, until I came together with you."
"She got you into the places where the paintings you were interested in could be found and you . . . sampled her wares freely."
"Yes, a truly symbiotic relationship. You know that your insatiability in sensual matters fascinates me, darling," Remington said gently seducing her with his kisses, as he released the supporters that held her sheer stockings.
"Did she . . . know what you really were?" Laura asked. She was wide-eyed, trying to concentrate, but unable to keep her hands off Remington . . . loosening his tie, slipping off his jacket and tossing it aside.
"I think that she suspected, but I made sure she had such a good time that she didn't care. I was Paul Fabrini then. She called me Paulo. So, darling, there you have it."
"As soon as I think that I know all there is to know about you, you tell me something else. You're amazing. Do you know that? I think I'll keep you."
"I hope so. I do pray that you never find yourself bored with me, Laura. I do love you so . . . just can't get enough of you, darling."
Remington's eyes turned the particular cobalt color that signaled a passion that Laura knew well as he kissed her upon her face and then upon her mouth, bearing her back upon the sofa, deftly unbuttoning her blouse and unfastening her bra in the process.
"Darling . . . we . . . do we have time for this?"
"Yes . . . there's time. There will always be time for this, kitten," Remington murmured from her bosom as he gave it his passionate attention.
Laura caught her hands in Remington's hair and sighed as desire for him surged in her.
"I hope you locked the office door, love," she whispered.
"It's done," Remington said, unbuttoning his shirt as he pursed his lips to kiss Laura's freckled breasts again and again. "Beautiful . . . such gorgeous udders begging to be . . . sucked . . . lovely."
Laura's blouse and bra slipped off her shoulders and joined her silk skirt that was already a bright blue heap on the floor.
"Remy . . . we need to be home . . . in our bed."
"Umm . . . I thought we . . . were," he murmured, flushing darkly as he stared at her-his blue eyes wide, nostrils flaring, mouth hanging open-before kissing her bosom again.
Remington was single-minded when extremely aroused, and Laura had to help him loosen his trousers and get them out of the way as he continued to kiss her.
"I want you like crazy right now, Laura. Touch me, woman."
When Laura touched him, his body shook as he grimaced in ecstasy, trying to keep from crying out.
"Lord, yes! Laura . . . please, take care of me, darling."
Laura got onto his lap facing forward and gave herself to him. They had often come together this way when she was pregnant and dealing with a full belly, though rarely otherwise. But this afternoon it was perfect. Remington cradled and squeezed her breasts as he held Laura onto him, drawing the large soft afghan that lay nearby over them so that they were cached in their own special place as they found perfect rhythm together
"Darling, I have to look at you," Remington said, easing her forward so that they could adjust their position. " I have to . . . to see your face, babe."
Remington tossed the thick afghan onto the thick carpet in front of the sofa and gently let Laura down on it. When he got down onto her, Laura began to shake uncontrollably, gripping his hips and pulling him deep inside her, his flushed features blurring before her as her eyes lost ability to focus.
"Please, Rem!" she begged for release as her passions escalated unbearably.
The climax enveloped them so suddenly and so powerfully that the contractions sent them into orbit together with teeth-rattling force.
"God Almighty!" Remington groaned, his eyes rolling back into his head as his voice dissolved into unintelligible garble.
Laura had surrendered and Remington was still ejaculating. She was his, taking all of him, absorbing his essence as he in turn became totally hers.
Remington kissed her tenderly over and over and then drew the part of the afghan that was free over them as they lay still joined together while the afterglow swept them.
Finally they got up and began to try to pull themselves together. When they were dressed again, they stood in the powder room in Remington's office and stared at one another in the mirror. Their excitement still showed in their faces.
"No one is going to believe that you did not entertain your man this afternoon, darling, no matter how prim and proper you pretend to be," Remington teased. "You look quite wild actually."
"I feel wild, Rem. Maybe it will help if I put my hair up."
"Perhaps. I'm sure the staff will not be fooled. They know us quite well on this score . . . and they humor us."
"Well, love, I must say that if I were a coloratura soprano . . ."
". . . you would sing like a bird?" Remington quipped, winking at her.
"You've got that right," Laura said, blushing and giggling softly and leaning weakly against him. "My legs feel so wobbly, Remy."
Remington caught her up close in his arms and kissed her tenderly over and over on her cheeks, forehead, and lips. His emotions were overcome when he saw his strong independent Laura like this. Remington was placid and relaxed, the urgent throbbing in his loins gone. He felt good, but Laura was only gradually calming. She always felt the effects of a sensual event between them for several hours, and sessions like the one they'd just had left her warm and fuzzy and needing to be cuddled for quite a while.
She clung gently to him, her head on his chest.
"Oh, Rem, just hold me a little longer," she whispered, trembling against him.
Remington took her by the hand and led her back to the sofa and drew her down into his lap, simply holding her in his arms, cherishing her.
"Darling, it's all right. I'm here . . . holding you for as long as you want me to."
"It was so intense, Remy. The contractions . . . keep coming . . . inside me."
"I know. You are a woman, Laura, quite a woman and I will take care of every need that you have."
Remington gently held her, stroking her hair till she stopped trembling and dropped off to sleep.
'Dear Lord, she wanted my attention today as much as I wanted hers. She is so passionate when she gets going, her whole body literally vibrating out of control. I have to remember to give her enough . . . enough time afterward.'
Remington eased her from his lap onto the sofa and covered her with the afghan.
* * * * * *
The next morning Remington and Laura were at the office early to discuss their strategy for dealing with the problems of "Weddings Unlimited." Mildred had gathered together quite a bit of information on the regular employees of the company, as well as those who worked with the regularly but on a temporary basis from wedding to wedding. Alessandra had done thorough research on the weddings the company had directed for the past two years.
"So, ladies, what have we here?" Remington asked.
"Boss, I can't say that anything stands out as irregular about any of these people. They have all been with them for quite a while," Mildred said.
"What about the weddings over the past couple of years," Laura asked. "are all the couples still married? That barracuda, Marcia, might have ticked off someone if she tried to get her hooks into somebody else's man."
"My . . . lovely wife . . . was rather put off by Miss Gilkinson's forward manner. And understandably so."
"She may imagine herself simply to be a player, but some people take those things very seriously," Alessandra added. "Fifteen of their couples that were married within the last two years are already divorced. But out of one hundred couples that is pretty good-better than the national average."
"I think we should check that list, see what we come up with," Laura said. "Mildred, you and Alessandra can find these people who work for Weddings Unlimited and interview them. Mr. Steele and I will see what the story is on these couples that were married within the last two years-the divorced ones."
"Good idea. Laura and I will start at the top of this list. We will all meet again at the end of the day to analyze what we have."
Remington and Laura took their list and began to decide where to begin while Mildred and Alessandra got started on their computers."
* * * * * *
The first divorced couple had moved east to St. Louis just after marriage and never returned to California. The second couple listed was still in the Los Angeles area-the husband in Anaheim and the wife now working in an inner city child welfare shelter.
"So now our third pair-a Mr. and Mrs. Hollingworth-Bradford and Loretta. Let's see where they are these days."
"Let's see. Bradford Hollingworth works for UCLA. He's a chemistry professor. His wife, Loretta . . . um, this is interesting. She's a nutritionist for a company that supplies meals, foodstuffs to the airlines, Chef of the Sky. She would be an expert in food handling . . . the kind of thing that led to food poisoning problems at that reception."
"Let's pay Mrs. Hollingworth a visit, Laura. If her husband was the target of Miss Marcia Gilkinson's advances, we may have a lead here."
Remington and Laura headed out from the office to check up on their lead.
"We'll check back with you later," Laura sang out as they left the office.
* * * * * *
The corporate offices of Chef of the Sky were near Los Angeles International Airport in a large warehouse type building. Remington and Laura surveyed the scene from their car for a few moments.
"Perhaps we should go in there as representatives of a fact-finding group, or something like that," Remington said.
"Sounds good to me, Mr. Steele," Laura said, as they got out of the car.
The office reception area of Chef of the Sky was simple and uncluttered in its presentation, giving the impression of a smooth-running efficient operation.
"We are looking for Loretta Hollingworth," Laura said to the attractive receptionist that greeted them. She was probably in her early twenties-with a figure that left nothing to the imagination poured into a bright blue knitted dress. She stood out all the more because of the spare unadorned lobby area.
"You got an appointment with her?"
"Actually we don't," Remington replied. "We have mutual acquaintances and thought we might just say "hello" since we were in the area. Tell her we're friends of Marcia and Jocelyn."
Laura watched her husband charm the woman and shook her head as the receptionist spoke to Loretta Hollingworth over the intercom.
"She has ten minutes before a meeting. Go to the last door in the corridor to the right." The woman stared unabashedly at Remington before dropping her eyes to her work again.
"I think that I am going to have to put a leash on you," Laura teased him as they walked down the corridor together.
"Not to worry, love. You have it already. I'm not going anywhere," Remington said as they stepped to the open door to Loretta Hollingworth's office.
"How may I help you? Jackie, the receptionist, said that you know Marcia and Jocelyn. They are not exactly friends, you know." Loretta Hollingworth was a slender wiry woman wearing a no-nonsense business suit, her jet-black hair in a very short stylish cut, her dark eyes peering at Laura and Remington behind fashionable rimless gray-tinted glasses.
"I'm Laura Holt from Special Surveys, Inc. and this is my associate, Remington Steele. We are doing a survey of people who were recently clients of Weddings Unlimited, determining the level of satisfaction they received from the company's services," Laura said as she took a seat.
"Well, you don't want to talk to me if you want a favorable report," Loretta said, visibly slumping and dropping her officious demeanor.
"Was there a problem, Mrs. Hollingworth?" Remington inquired.
"I don't know. I just don't know. Maybe I'm just a jerk magnet. I waited till I was thirty to get married. I find this great guy-a college professor no less. We . . . I thought we were going to make a go of it. I knew he had a history with women. He told me all about all his conquests. But that was all supposed to be behind him. We were going to have a family. My clock is ticking for goodness sake! "
"Do you mind elaborating, Mrs. Hollingworth?" Laura asked gently.
"Bradford had a . . . a sexual addiction problem. He had been in therapy for a year when we met and he thought he had it licked. We got into a great relationship-an exclusive monogamous relationship. Then, when we decided to get married, we went to Weddings Unlimited to arrange our wedding. You say you know Marcia Gilkinson."
"Yes, we know her," Laura said simply.
"She seduced Bradford. At least that's what he said. Right up to the day of our wedding they were having an affair-a full-blown affair! When we came back from our honeymoon, he tried to continue it and she would have nothing to do with him. He went berserk, fell off the wagon completely, started picking up women again like before. It was terrible."
"Well, I would say that he 'fell off the wagon' when he got involved with Marcia, wouldn't you?" Remington said.
"Yes, he did. But what is wrong with me? I did everything I could to try to keep him happy. I knew that he needed . . . a lot of . . . attention. May I ask you a personal question, Miss Holt? Are you married?"
"Why, yes, I am, and very happily. Actually Mr. Steele and I are . . . married."
"Oh! I thought something was going on between you."
"Your intuition did not mislead you, Mrs. Hollinworth," Remington said, smiling to himself. "But you were saying?"
"I was talking about me and Brad. What was I supposed to do? I had no choice but to leave him," she said tearfully.
"There are always choices, Mrs. Hollingworth. Perhaps both of you needed to go into counseling. It helped him before. You have to decide if a man is worth fighting for," Laura said simply.
"He calls constantly, begging to get back together."
Remington cleared his throat, indicating to Laura that their ten minutes were up.
"Here is our card. Feel free to call upon us if you have further comments," Remington said as he rose from his seat.
"This card says Remington Steele Investigations."
"Yes, Special Surveys is a subsidiary of the Remington Steele Agency."
Remington and Laura left the building and got into their car.
"Wow, her life is a wreck, isn't it?"
"And she doesn't even blame Marcia primarily for it. She simply thinks her husband was a rotter. She is definitely not the type to sabotage an operation. That's why I cut short the interview."
"I feel sorry for her. Let's go visit 'Bradford the Rotter,'" Laura said. "He might be distraught enough to blame Marcia for his marriage breakup, since she got him to fall into the pattern of addiction again."
* * * * * *
Remington and Laura headed over to Southern California College to find Bradford Hollingworth. He was between classes when they caught up with him and followed him into his office.
"Mr. Hollingworth, we are anxious to speak to you about a matter of concern. We have you listed as a former client of 'Weddings Unlimited.' We spoke with your wife about your dealings with them and we just wanted to get your observations," Remington said.
"You . . . you spoke with my . . . er . . . wife? I'm surprised that she owned up to being married to me." Bradford sighed unhappily. "I've been the worst excuse for a husband that you could imagine."
"Actually we are aware of your . . . problems . . . to a certain extent," Remington said carefully.
"We are investigating some problems involving 'Weddings Unlimited.' I understand that you know Marcia Gilkinson," Laura offered.
"You might say that," Bradford Hollingworth responded wryly. "If you know that much, you know that I became personally involved with Miss Gilkinson. It was my fault. I take all the blame."
"There have been a series of unfortunate events that threaten their business to continue if the source of the problems is not uncovered. We are trying to determine if there is any connection . . . perhaps a jealous bride or bridegroom who did not appreciate Miss Gilkinson's getting between them and a happy marriage."
"Mrs. Steele, that could have been anybody. That woman is a barracuda. I know that I have a sex addiction, but my libido is mild compared to that woman. If she decides she wants a man, he's dead meat. I'd do anything to undo what happened to me and Loretta. If you know what's good for you, you'll take your husband and run as fast as you can from that woman. If it weren't for the fact that going to court would only publicize an aspect of my own life that I'm not proud of, and threaten my position here at the university, I would sue her for all that she's worth."
"Did you threaten to sue Marcia Gilkinson?" Remington asked.
"As a matter of fact I did. I didn't intend to pursue it. But I wanted her to know how I felt."
Remington caught Laura by the arm and they both rose to leave.
"We will be in touch with you, Hollingworth," Remington said.
"You know what was the worst thing about it, Steele? She didn't want me after I married Loretta. She acted as if the torrid affair we'd had was all in my mind. Had the nerve to be insulted when I tried to . . . to continue it." Bradford Hollingworth dropped his head into his hands as he sat at his desk.
"Perhaps you and Mrs. Hollingworth might consider talking this matter out . . . with the help of a counselor. You have to determine whether the damage is irreparable. Here's our card," Remington said, placing his card on the desk.
Bradford Hollingworth nodded and Remington as Laura left his office, closing the door behind them.
They walked back to the Auburn deep in reflection on the Hollingworths' situation.
"Let's go back to the office and try to brainstorm this thing," Laura said. "I somehow feel very sorry for that man."
"My, but you are quite full of mercy, darling. I would never have thought you would understand his behavior under any circumstances."
"I just feel that he was somehow a victim . . . that she played upon his weakness to push him to the edge."
"That woman is a masochist at heart. Her psychological profile would be quite interesting, I am sure."
"Remy, you know what I'm thinking, don't you?"
"I dare say that I do," Remington said as he pulled out of the parking lot of the university.
* * * * * *
Remington and Laura got back to their offices and found Mildred and Alessandra in a state of high anxiety.
"We are so glad to see you. All hell broke loose over at 'Weddings Unlimited,' " Mildred said. "Someone trashed their offices. Tried to destroy their files."
"Well, we know who didn't do it," Laura said to Remington. "That lets the Hollingworths off the list of possible suspects. It would seem that we are their alibi.
"Mildred, please order food in from El Cholos. I think it's going to be a long evening," Laura said, as she settled herself with her notebook in a chair near Remington's desk.
Remington shed his jacket, loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt, trying to get comfortable and Laura kicked off her shoes and tucked her feet under her.
"Where was everybody when this happened?" Laura asked.
"It was mid-afternoon and both the women were with prospective clients outside of the office," Alessandra said.
"I think that we should check out both their stories," Remington said. "I think we should keep a completely open mind on this case, excluding no one."
"But Jocelyn is my friend. You couldn't possibly suspect her."
"We don't know whom to suspect, Alessandra. If this makes you uncomfortable, you can recuse yourself from this case. It might be a good idea anyway in view of your personal involvement," Remington said.
"No, I have to know. I don't want to drop out of this one. Édouard will be here day after tomorrow and if I have to make other arrangements to have my wedding, I want to know it," Alessandra said.
"Actually I think that you would do well to choose someone else to handle your nuptials. This case is heating up in most unpleasant fashion and I don't think you need to try to use these people," Remington said. "You could find yourself in a dangerous situation."
"All right. I'll get someone else. 'Weddings Unlimited' is out."
"We found out something interesting about the conduct of Miss Gilkinson in connection with some of her clients. She seemed to have a made a practice of getting involved intimately with the prospective bridegrooms she dealt with," Laura said.
"You mean she was screwing her clients!" Mildred said bluntly.
"In a word," Remington concurred. "Why, we don't know; but that kind of activity would definitely not have been good for business."
"Marcia?" Alessandra said in amazement.
"Just how well do you know her?" Laura asked.
"Well, I was always closer to Jocelyn. Marcia was the popular one . . . always plenty of boyfriends, life of the party."
"Did she ever have a long term relationship that you know of?" Laura asked.
"Actually I don't remember any long term relationship. She always played the field. Well, I should mention that Jocelyn's husband was originally one of Marcia's interests. We were all somewhat surprised when he went for Jocelyn. You know she's a big woman . . . not your glamour girl like Marcia. But that is what happened."
"So the plain Jane got the man," Laura said.
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, darling," Remington said smiling at Laura.
"Mildred, can you see what you can find out about how things are between Marcia and Jocelyn on a personal basis?" Laura said. "We need to know if she holds a grudge about losing in the man game to her plainer cousin."
At that point they heard a knock on the outer office door and Mildred went to receive the food they had ordered. There was another man with the delivery-man from El Cholos.
"Er, I was wondering if Mr. Steele is still in. I spoke with him earlier today. My name is Bradford Hollingworth."
Mildred received the food and had Hollingworth take a seat in the outer office. She sat down at her desk and used the intercom to announce the visitor.
"Bradford Hollingworth is here. Apparently he wants to talk with me."
"I think you should speak with him privately, Remy. I sense that. We're going to take this project into my office and you can talk with him in here."
Remington slipped his jacket back on as Bradford Hollingworth came into his office. Hollingworth stood awkwardly for a moment.
"Please sit down, Hollingworth. Make yourself comfortable."
"Thank you, Steele. I know I didn't have an appointment, but after classes I just wandered about and came here. I need to talk to you, man-to-man."
"Go ahead, mate. Talk to me."
"I really want to be with my wife . . . Loretta. I just don't know how I could have been in love with Loretta and gotten involved with that woman."
"Perhaps that is a question for a professional counselor, a psychologist, to answer. I am certainly no authority."
"But you are. I watched you and your wife today. You two obviously have got it going on between you."
"Yes, we do."
"May I ask you if fidelity is an issue between you? Just tell me if you don't want to answer."
"No, I don't mind answering your question. Fidelity is not an issue. We are completely monogamous. And I am altogether satisfied."
"I just never came to terms with that. My old man was a class A philanderer and my mother put up with it. After I came of age, my dad and I even got involved with the same woman one time. I never get enough . . . you know. When I met Loretta, I wanted to change . . . to be faithful. I fell so completely in love with her. And I knew that fidelity was important to her. I was struggling with this when I met Marcia. Then all bets were off. All my resolve went out the window, so to speak."
"Hollingworth, mate, you took a risk and you suffered the consequences of that. If you love a woman who loves you back, you learn that you don't dare risk something that precious. There was a time when I lived a pretty freewheeling life, but when I met Laura, I knew that those days were over. She was not going to have me if I weren't prepared to commit totally and live by that commitment."
"How did you do it?"
"I was sexually abstinent . . . and for a very long time. I had to prove to her that I was truly serious. And she finally accepted me. We have twin daughters and she is expecting again. My life is complete and I would never risk that for anything or anyone."
"Man, that's deep. I wonder if I could . . ."
"You may need help. Counseling, therapy. You must talk with your wife and you must be prepared to give her time to come round."
"I'm going to call her tonight. Thank you for taking this time with me . . . tellin' me about yourself. What you say makes sense."
"You know, mate, there's a place a couple hours north of here on Highway 101. It's called the Freidlich Sensitivity Spa. They work with married couples who are having problems, but who truly want to save their marriage. My wife and I did some work for them several years ago. Their program is . . . illuminating . . . to say the least."
"That sounds like something we could really benefit from. I'll talk to Loretta, see if I can get on some footing with her. Thanks for understanding, Steele."
A calmed, but still obviously troubled Bradford Hollingworth let himself out of the agency office.
Remington turned and walked slowly back to Laura's office.
"Our Mr. Hollingworth appears to see the error of his ways . . . wants to try to save his marriage."
"Really?" Laura seemed surprised, but did not pursue the subject.
"I . . . er . . . suggested that he and his wife might benefit from a visit to the Freidlich Sensitivity Spa. They're still in business, you know. Since the good doctor, Gerald Steinmetz and his erstwhile lover, Ursula tied the knot, they have been the best recommendation for the place."
"They had quite a good thing going, didn't they? Umm, the chemistry was there for sure," Laura offered with a wink.
"In some strange way, I envied them, even then. At least they knew what they each needed on a very basic level. At any rate that is the way Gerald Steinmetz explained it. All the while we were floundering about like two crazy people who didn't have sense enough to know what to do to get together."
"I'm glad we figured it out, aren't you?" Laura stated it both as a fact and as a question.
"Good Lord, yes, darling," Remington murmured as he caught her up around her waist, drew her close and kissed her gently, but thoroughly on her mouth.
"Excuse me, kids," Mildred said, realizing she had walked in on a private moment. "I'll come back in a minute."
"Thanks, Mildred," Remington said, breaking the kiss briefly and then gathering Laura up again.
"Umm, what brought this on, darling?" Laura said.
"I just realized once again what a marvelous gift I have in you, woman."
"I love you too," Laura said letting her arms slip under his jacket so that she could embrace his hard muscled frame as she offered him her lips again.
"God, woman, we'll never solve this case like this," Remington murmured as the chemistry between them took over. "It's time for me to take you home and . . ."
"Yes, it is. Things will look a lot better in the morning," Laura said, tracing up and down his spine with her finger.
When her finger found the center of the small of his back and gently massaged it, Remington jerked in helpless response. Laura had learned just what buttons to push to get him going, and did not hesitate to use them at will, much to Remington's delight. There would be no more work done in the office this evening.
* * * * * *
The next day Remington and Laura were in the office early to assess what Mildred and Alessandra had found out about Marcia Gilkinson.
"Well, this is a surprise, chief," Mildred said, coming into the Remington's office where he sat with his feet up on his desk and Laura was sitting nearby, hard at work going over the computer printouts of the previous day's research.
"What did you come up with, Mildred?" Remington said.
"Our Miss Marcia Gilkinson has a record of sorts."
"A record? For what?" Laura asked, obviously surprised.
"She was a teacher when she first got out of college. And she was charged with having sex with a minor in her class of high school seniors. The case was dismissed, but she was barred from teaching anywhere in the state of California. I think she copped a plea, made a deal."
"Find out who the prosecuting attorney was that handled her case. I want to know a bit more about what makes this woman tick," Laura said.
* * * * * *
Later that afternoon Remington and Laura met with Winston Thomlinson. He was in private practice, no longer with the district attorney's office.
"We are investigating a case that involves a woman who was the defendant in a case you prosecuted about six or seven years ago-a high school teacher, Marcia Gilkinson," Remington said. "You do remember the case?"
"Why, yes. It wasn't the usual kind of case the sex crimes unit investigates. Most of these kinds of cases involve men with younger boys or girls."
"This boy was a senior in high school the report said," Laura mentioned.
"Yes, the lines tend to become blurred when the victim is near the age of responsibility. But the teachers know that the lines are there. Marcia knew what she was doing. I am convinced of that. Her psychiatric work-up showed that she suffered from a serious pathological need to possess every male she found attractive. There just weren't the usual stops that most people have."
"We know that the details of her psychiatric information are sealed, but did you come up with any reason for such a mental . . . problem," Laura asked.
"Apparently something had happened to her in childhood. Some authorities feel that it goes back to some sort of history of sexual abuse in childhood. I'm no expert on that field, but we did work out a deal with Miss Gilkinson that did not involve serving any time, on the condition that she sought professional psychiatric counseling."
"And she fulfilled the necessary time requirements for the counseling?" Remington questioned.
"Oh, yes. But that doesn't mean her problems were solved. That woman was quite a piece of work. God! She was even coming on to me when I was prosecuting the case."
"I know the feeling," Remington said wryly.
"I can give you the name of the counseling group, but they won't give you any details."
"We realize that. Thank you very much," Laura said as they rose to leave.
Remington and Laura sat in their Auburn, still in somewhat of a quandary as to what to do next.
"It would be good if we could tap into someone with professional expertise on this sort of thing," Laura said.
"Yes, I fear I've never seen a woman with inexhaustible passion being problem till this case."
Laura looked at him quizzically. "Are you getting enough . . . attention?"
"I'll tell you when I'm getting too much attention, woman," Remington said with a sly wink. "You made me suffer those four long years and I doubt that I shall ever 'catch up,' as it were."
"Oh." Laura was at a momentary loss for words.
"See, you have no comeback for that. You know what you put me through and you still feel guilty about it."
"Guilty?" Laura was incredulous.
"Yes, guilty. You wanted me and I wanted you and you made me suffer so, darling. I'll never recover from that. When I'm eighty, I'll still be hungry for you. You'd better be ready to be the sexiest old lady on the planet. Now think of something to do about this case, if you don't mind."
"I don't think I like the way you put that. I don't like it at all."
"Well, that's the way it is, Mrs. Steele."
"You are implying that you have never gotten more . . . attention than you could handle from me. I can completely wear you out, buddy boy."
"That would be absolutely delightful. When do we start this little challenge?"
"When this case is solved."
"Then we should try to tie up the loose ends and get it over with, shouldn't we? Where it is we are going?"
Laura picked up the business card that Thomlinson had given them. "Drive to Wilshire and look for this address, please," she said icily.
"Yes, ma'am," Remington answered with mock obedience as he turned on the motor and pulled away from the curb.
They rode in silence, both of them reflecting on the somewhat pointed exchange they had experienced.
'I thought I finally knew him. I thought I knew him completely. And satisfied him completely. And here he has the nerve to say that he isn't getting enough . . . attention.'
'Lord, what's gotten into Laura. I thought she'd be flattered that I'd like more sex. God knows I just said it to flatter her. She does know how to exhaust me on that score when she has a mind to. Maybe I should have just told her that instead of taking her on like that. I should know better. She's definitely the only woman I've ever known whose passions match and mesh with mine so completely. And I love her. Lord, I love her.'
They pulled up in front of the professional arts building that corresponded to the address they were looking for and parked at the lot behind the building.
Laura reached for the car door without a word and moved to get out of the car.
"Stay here for a moment, darling," Remington said, catching her arm.
"Let's just work on the case. I'm not in the mood for much else," Laura said tensely.
"I'm sorry, Laura. I didn't mean to appear ungrateful . . . or insensitive. You are everything I ever dreamed of in a woman . . . passionate, sensual."
"You said that I've never exhausted your passions."
"I lied. I honestly and truly lied. You have worn me out so many times that I've lost count. Sometimes I can hardly put one foot in front of the other when you finish with me, woman. I just never told you. Perhaps it's my manly pride, not wanting to admit that what you do to me is altogether as powerful as what I do to you."
"Really? Your, your . . . periscope is always 'up.' It's probably up now," Laura said with a hint of sarcasm. "I don't ever remember your not being ready. Not one time!"
"Must I fail to 'rise to the occasion,' as it were, to prove to you that you have given me all that I can handle? I do hope that when that unavoidable day comes when my equipment fails to function, you will be satisfied to see my vulnerability on that score. But I seriously doubt it. You do seem enjoy my readiness to perform on demand."
"You . . . you know what I mean. You're just too . . .too"
"Do you know what you are, Laura?"
"What! What am I? If I can't be what I'm supposed to be for you, what am I?"
"Lord, this must all be brought on by the hormones of early pregnancy."
"Don't play the gender card with me, Remington Steele!"
"You still don't completely understand what we are all about, do you? After all that we have experienced together, after Marseilles, after seeing me lust after you in every way that a man can lust after a woman, how can you doubt that you can satisfy me! Have you forgotten your visit to me as 'Lorelie,' no less? You drove me completely out of my head."
"Sometimes . . . sometimes I still feel insecure. I can't help it. Maybe it is being pregnant, starting to gain weight, wondering if you will still find me attractive these next few months."
Remington took both Laura's wrists in his hands and looked directly into her eyes.
"Laura, let me tell you something. I will tell you this every day for the rest of our lives if I have to. You completely do me, woman. Whatever it is that a woman does to a man, you do it to me, and so well that half the time I can't think about anything except the next time you will do me again. But do you know the most wonderful thing about it? I know that you don't want anyone else. You want only me . . . and that is the most thrilling part of all."
"Oh, Remy," Laura sighed, tears welling up in her eyes as he drew her even closer, riveting her in his blue-eyed gaze.
His voice softened. "I think we need to spend a few days up at Freidlich's Sensitivity Spa again. To get in touch with what is really important about our relationship. We could do a few of those exercises that fascinate you . . . go for long walks on the beach together."
Remington took Laura into his arms and kissed her first almost reverently, then tenderly, and finally so passionately that he took her breath away.
"Lord, this periscope is so blasted difficult to control," he whispered. "You make me so randy."
"I love you, darling . . . I just want to be what you want . . . all the time. I hate myself when I am so insecure, when I doubt myself. I know that you want me, that you are committed completely, that you are mine, that I can give you everything you need to relieve the need you have. Forgive me for doubting myself."
"There, there, old girl, how could you doubt yourself when you see what you do to me day after day, night after night. You see how sensual I am, and you know how to calm the heat in the pit of my belly, put me to bed, and put me to sleep. I never want that to end. I love you so much, Laura."
Laura looked into the clear blue eyes of the man she loved and forgot everything except how thankful she was to have him.
"Let's go talk to this man and get this case resolved, so we can get on with our life, Remy. Are you all right now? You know?"
"I'll manage, darling. Let's get this done."
* * * * * *
Dr. Rose Peterson, the psychologist who ran the group, was a red-headed outgoing type in her late forties who exuded friendly self-confidence.
"We are looking for information on a woman who was here for counseling several years ago. A Marcia Gilkinson. She was here because she had been accused of sex with a minor, a student. She pled out. Now we are investigation a case that has all the earmarks of a crime by a person with problems like Marcia. We simply would like to know if Marcia Gilkinson is capable of something like this." Laura presented the case.
"Well, I must maintain physician/patient confidentiality but as long as we just discuss hypotheticals, we can proceed. Let me find the files on the person you're inquiring about. Gilkinson, you said?"
"Yes," Laura answered as they sat back to wait for Dr. Rose Peterson to find the file on Marcia Gilkinson.
"Here it is. I remember her. Yes, she was a sick woman."
"Doctor, without violating your position as a physician, we would like to ask you. Would someone with a history like this one be in danger of going out of control?"
"If there was the appropriate trigger."
"Trigger?" Remington asked.
"Something gone terribly wrong, emotional trauma of some sort. We're talking about a person who has probably been a victim of sexual abuse in early childhood. She only knows how to estimate herself in terms of sexual conquest. I am speaking hypothetically, of course. If such a person were to fail to conquer on that one level, it could cause a breakdown of some sort. This personality is one that is often found in serial rapists."
"You have been very helpful, Dr. Peterson. We are going to see how this information fits in with the case we're working on."
"I hope you find her before she hurts anyone. Let me know, if you don't mind."
"We'll definitely let you know how this case concludes," Laura said as they left Dr. Peterson's offices.
"I think we need to talk with Jocelyn Walters again . . . right away. The fact that Marcia came along with her to engage us is no proof that she isn't involved in this mess," Laura said.
"Don't forget that Sonia Steinmetz wife came along with Gerald to engage us when it seemed that someone was trying to ruin their business at the Sensitivity Spa," Remington added.
"I'm going to call Mildred and have her phone Jocelyn Walters and set up an appointment with her today," Laura said. "This problem seems to be escalating somehow."
"And have Fred get the limo and meet us at the office. We need a bit of freedom of mobility here. Besides, I'd prefer being free to concentrate on you, to driving in this traffic."
When they reached the agency offices, Fred was waiting with the limousine. They quickly switched cars and headed toward Weddings Unlimited to meet with Jocelyn Walters.
"Mr. Steele, Miss Krebs said for you to call her before you leave," Fred said as they got into the limo. "She said that it's important."
"Thanks, Fred," Remington said, reaching for the mobile phone in the car.
"Boss, Jocelyn Walters just called from Weddings Unlimited. Something involving Marcia Gilkinson. She sounded terribly upset."
"Good Lord, I hope we aren't too late. Talk with you later, Mildred."
"What's going on?"
"Jocelyn Walters called. There's trouble of some sort."
The phone rang again in just another minute and Remington picked it up. It was Mildred again.
"Something involving the LAPD going on at 'Weddings Unlimited.' The receptionist called them, Laura. What's your guess?"
"I don't have a clue, but it sounds ominous to me." Laura said as her mind reflected back on their conversation with Dr. Peterson.
"Don't waste any time, Fred."
Both of them were totally focused on the case now, Laura's mind running at top speed analyzing and sorting the information they had at hand, Remington with his head back, eyes closed in apparent meditation.
Remington's eyes opened suddenly.
"It's Jocelyn. Marcia is trying to ruin her. Didn't she tell us that her husband was involved with Marcia first?"
"And he decided to go for Jocelyn in preference to our "Miss Hot to Trot," Laura said sanguinely.
"Well, what the hell is up now?" Remington said.
"We're almost there. I see the police cars in front of the place."
Fred pulled up and Laura and Remington jumped from the car.
"Sorry, folks, we have a hostage situation here," the police officer informed them as he barred their way.
"We know these people. I'm a private investigator on this case . . . Remington Steele."
"Oh, yes, I recognize you. Some dame has a guy tied up in there with a gun on him. A secretary ran out of there when she saw what was going on and called the police."
"Marcia Gilkinson I'll wager. And she has William Walters . . . er tied up."
"You sure do know this case. Come here and tell the lieutenant what you know."
The officer led Remington and Laura through the police line and to the lieutenant on the case.
"Steele, you're on this case?" It was their old friend Lieutenant Jarvis.
"It's one of ours. It seems to have gone on to its logical conclusion."
"What do you two know?"
"The woman in there is emotionally unstable at the very least, and possibly psychotic. That man is in real danger," Laura stated quietly.
"Where is her business partner?" Remington asked.
"Yes, we had an appointment here with her partner, Jocelyn Walters. She might be in difficulty in there," Remington continued. "I'd like to try to talk with Marcia Gilkinson. I think I might know how to get through to her."
"Remington, are you sure it will be all right?" Laura's tone was anxious.
"I think I can divert her attention. Forgive me for what I may have to say to her, darling."
"Give it a shot, Steele. Be very careful. She has a gun."
Remington squeezed Laura's hand before he went into the building.
He walked quietly through, following the sign to Jocelyn's office at the rear of the building. The door to her office was wide open and she lay unconscious on the floor.
Remington swore under his breath as he ran to attend Jocelyn. Feeling for her pulse, he determined that she was alive. She seemed to be drugged. He eased a pillow under her head and left her to find Marcia.
Marcia's office door was just slightly ajar, but enough for Remington to see the bizarre scene inside. William Walters was conscious, but completely naked, handcuffed to the chair behind the desk and Marcia, naked as well, was fondling him with such singleness of purpose that she did not hear Remington ease the door open. The gun was on the desk.
"I think that a woman like you would prefer a man who could fulfill all your fantasies, Marcia. Leave that bloke alone and come here."
"Oh, Mr. Steele, you're a sight for sore eyes . . . a real man. This . . .one is useless. It seems he is incapable of anything. Look at him! And I had as much of him as I wanted before he saw Jocelyn. Can you imagine any red-blooded man wanting that fat cow when he could have me? She is certainly no match for me. What do you think, Mr. Steele?" she said, preening and posing for Remington.
Marcia walked seductively toward Remington and grabbed his belt to pull him to her.
"I think that you are . . ." Remington caught her arm and twisted her around and away from him so that she was helpless. "a totally insane woman."
There was another pair of handcuffs on the desk and Remington quickly put them on Marcia.
"Oh, so you're into domination too. We should get along just fine, Mr. Steele."
"I'm not into anything that involves you, Marcia. You're in quite a bit of trouble here and I fear that you are going to be locked up for a very long time. Where are the keys to these cuffs, Walters?"
"I think they're in the top drawer. Excuse my state of undress. She offered me a drink. That's the last thing I remember. She must have drugged me, took my clothes off. When I came to, she was attempting to rape me. When I was . . . unable to respond, she became like a mad woman, threatening to kill me, threatening to kill my wife, Jocelyn."
"He's lying. He tried to rape me. He was always after me. Daddy didn't want Mommy. He wanted me. He always wanted me," Marcia muttered over and over, mindlessly recalling the childhood trauma that had finally taken away her balance as she crossed the line into complete insanity.
"I'll get the police while you put your clothes on, mate. Your wife is in her office, apparently drugged as well. You'd better see about her."
"Oh, God! She hurt Jocelyn!" William Walters grabbed up his clothes and hurried somewhat unsteadily to his wife's office where he immediately knelt to attend to her.
"Baby, what did she do to you? What did she do to you?" he murmured over and over, kissing her hands, lifting her to his chest and smoothing her hair and kissing her cheeks, her forehead, as he tried to rouse her.
"Let the medics take charge, Walters. You might want to put something on . . . at least knickers . . . shorts . . . underwear."
Jarvis and his men took charge of the situation with Marcia. She was raving, out of control. They wrapped a raincoat around her and took her away. Jocelyn was taken to hospital to be treated for a severe overdose of what proved to be sleeping pills.
"This is my wife, Laura, William," Remington said as William followed the stretcher carrying Jocelyn, still barefoot and wearing just his slacks, his shirt just draped across his magnificent shoulders, his shoes in hand.
Laura stared up at the stunning blond man who was Jocelyn's husband and her eyes followed him as he got into the ambulance with his wife.
"Surprised, eh?" Remington said, guiding Laura to the limo.
"He looks like an Adonis. How did she manage to land him?"
"The chemistry was apparently just right, darling," Remington said with a smile, and for a man whose taste runs to tall, big-breasted women with huge arses, Jocelyn is the ideal. She's beautiful actually. A nervous anorectic type like Marcia wouldn't stand a chance against all that. That is what must have pushed Marcia over the edge. He didn't want her, wouldn't take her back on any terms."
"So that was the 'trigger' that threw her into psychosis."
"Absolutely. Let's get out of here, Fred," he said as helped Laura into the limo.
"Frightening," Laura added.
"This whole scene was unbelievably bad, terribly perverse, darling. I feel like I need a shower."
"She lost it completely, didn't she?"
"Babbling, incoherent, totally crazy. She had drugged him and handcuffed him naked to a chair and was . . . on him. When he was . . . unresponsive, she became furious, threatened to kill him."
"She was sabotaging the business because she couldn't stand seeing Jocelyn with William; losing him to someone she viewed as . . . less attractive was impossible for her to accept. As long as she conquered every man she wanted, she was able to validate herself. When William rejected her, it quite literally derailed her."
"And she attempted to kill Jocelyn and was on her way to finish William off if he didn't, um, come across with it."
"In a word."
"You distracted her, didn't you, Rem?"
"Yes, I did. But she'd have come after anything with male genitalia at that point. I could have been the hunchback of Notre Dame and she would have given chase."
"And you didn't?"
"No, Laura. Seeing that woman stark naked did not affect me in the least. She was a sick pathetic woman in need of a straitjacket."
"What actually happened in there?"
"I offered myself as a viable alternative to William and she took me up on it, came after me and I grabbed her and handcuffed her. No, I was not excited in the least by that insane woman. End of story. Case closed."
"Sad. This case has been full of all sorts of weird stuff-a incest victim, sexual addiction, attempted rape. Poor Brad Hollingworth with his marriage nearly ruined by that woman."
"And we don't know how many other marriages she destroyed, Laura."
"Rem, I need to call Alessandra and tell her that the case is solved. She can use her old friend to plan her wedding after all. That should be good news for her."
"Yes, call her. Please take care of all the rest of the business of the case, darling. I don't want to talk to anyone but you this evening. Actually I don't really need to talk at all. I just need you to attend to me." Remington touched the intercom button. "Take us home, Fred."
* * * * * *
It was just a month later that Remington and Laura sat in a lovely garden and watched Alessandra Henry and Édouard Présendieu exchange their vows. Remington was as dashing as ever in a perfectly tailored tuxedo and Laura was radiant in a dark green silk gown with a neckline that would have been quite modest if she weren't dealing with the swollen breasts of pregnancy. Remington enjoyed her predicament and stared to his heart's content as she tugged unsuccessfully in an attempt to adjust the neckline.
"Why are you staring at my breasts, Rem? You know I'm having a problem here. This dress was a perfect fit when I bought it a month ago."
"Stop tugging at your dress and be what you are . . .an altogether stunning woman in full bloom, darling. Your freckled breasts are simply announcing to the world your pregnant state in such a lovely manner."
"Well, thank you, Rem," Laura said, blushing slightly.
The wedding was in the late afternoon, which was an excellent time, given the fact that Laura and Alessandra had both been suffering from severe morning sickness. This was the first day that Laura's nausea had not extended into the afternoon in several weeks and she realized that she was probably at the end of that phase. Suddenly she looked at her husband who had been forced to abstinence by the weeks of nausea that left her unable to abide the sight of food, much less his advances, and she wanted him desperately.
Édouard Présendieu took Alessandra's hand and kissed it when she came to him. She was a beautiful bride, glowing with the radiance of pregnancy in a dramatic empire gown of creamy silk tussah caught into a huge satin rose under her breasts. Édouard could not take his eyes off her.
The minister began to administer simple vows before their families and close friends. At first Édouard struggled to repeat the vows in English, but then finally put up his hand.
"Un moment, s'il vous plait," he said and repeated the vows in his native French.
Alessandra began to weep at that point and could hardly get out her own vows to him. By the time they were pronounced man and wife, there was hardly a dry feminine eye in the garden, and even the men were hard-pressed to maintain their stoic demeanor.
"Don't you just love weddings?" Mildred exclaimed, wiping her eyes.
Remington and Laura looked at each other, remembering the day they had said the vows that sealed their fate on that fishing boat. Remington caught her hand in his and kissed it.
"That was the happiest day of my life, Laura," he said, smiling the slightly lop-sided grin that she loved so. "I hope you know that."
Laura nodded, unable to meet the intensity of her husband's gaze at that moment.
After the ceremony William and Jocelyn Walters came to them to thank them for their help. William in a white linen dinner jacket that accented his blond good looks, and Jocelyn in a low-cut black silk dress that skimmed her grand hourglass shaped figure and showed off her generous cleavage, were obviously completely distracted by each other.
"We are still trying to understand it all, but we are just so thankful that no one was killed," Jocelyn said. "We've offered a free counseling seminar to every couple we handled in the past two years. It's sure cheaper than having to face lawsuits, even at the rates the Freidlich Spa charges. Thank you for recommending them to us."
"We were glad to be of service," Remington said, drawing Laura close to his side.
"It was a lovely wedding," Laura said. "I am so happy for Alessandra and Édouard-and for you two as well. After all, you're still honeymooning yourselves, aren't you?"
"You've sure got that right," William said, patting Jocelyn affectionately on her ample hips, his blue eyes meeting her deep green ones in a stare that had but one meaning.
"If you don't mind, I am going to dance with my wife," Remington said. "Please excuse us."
"They truly are a stunning couple, aren't they?" Laura said as they watched William gently usher Jocelyn to a place where they began to dance together cheek to cheek.
"I'd wager there's never a dull moment there," Remington concurred. "That's a lot of woman . . . and I'm not talkin' about the size of the package either." He kissed Laura on her forehead and drew her even closer in the dance.
"They're playing 'Embraceable You.' Does that bring back memories, mon chou-chou?" Laura whispered into his ear.
"Darling, please don't torture me. You've been through nearly a month of morning sickness and I am just about frantic with need for you."
"There's no further reason for you to suffer, darling."
His eyes were a question and he saw the response he was seeking as her worm brown eyes turned nearly hazel in a signal that he knew so well.
"A certain handsome blue-eyed man could attend to some rather specific needs that I have. Think . . .of the possibilities."
"Darling, your wish is my command," Remington said, bending to kiss her lips as they continued to dance.