LOCKED IN STEELE
By: Jenny Dee Shields
First Printed: More Red Holt Steele #3, #4, #5, #6, & #7
Summary: After “crossing the line,” Remington becomes serious as Laura attempts to back away.
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.
*These boys play very nasty,* he thought as he dialed her number, again. No answer. *Where on God's earth is Laura?*
Suddenly, as if in response, there was a tap at the door.
Laura was visibly shaken. When she heard reports on the radio about the death of Monroe Henderson, she feared the worst. And when Remington never showed up at the hotel...well. But here he was, safe and sound. Her relief quickly turned to anger.
"Where have you been?" she demanded. "How could you go off with those men? What were you thinking?" He quickly closed the door behind her.
"Thinking? Well, I..."
"How could you be so reckless? You said you were just going to talk to Monroe. I should have known you'd cook up some hare-brained scheme."
"Now, Laura, calm down..."
"I am calm!" she half-shouted, doing nothing to hide her annoyance. She should have known he would never have given a thought about her feelings. Didn't he know she would be lost if anything happened to him?
"Well, I couldn't bloody well sit around and let a killer continue to stalk you, could I? Somebody had to put a stop to it."
"Obviously you're not aware that there are people who do that sort of thing. They are called police." She walked in front of the fireplace, too angry to notice its soothing warmth. The thought of being lost without him troubled her greatly. It was a feeling she could not afford to have.
"There wasn't enough evidence for that." He sat down on the edge of the sofa. After spending the past hour trying to calm Monroe's wife...now a widow...he was in no mood to fight.
"Not enough evidence?" She walked toward him again. "This isn't a game we’re playing. These people are cold-blooded killers. They're psychopaths."
"They were psychopaths. You don’t have to worry about them any longer."
"I see. So we know all the players, do we? Or do we just think we know all of them?"
It was a question he couldn't answer. At least, one he was too tired and too emotionally drained to think about right now.
"Laura, not now. Not tonight." Remington felt his patience wearing thin from fatigue. "It's over now. For God's sake, let it rest. You're safe. I'm here...barely. But it's done. Okay?"
"No, its not okay. You could have been killed."
He stood facing her. "Yes, I know and I'm touched by your concern, but right now..."
She interrupted him. "Look, we just can't continue this way."
"What do you mean? What are you talking about?" Her statement had taken him off guard.
She chose her words carefully. She had allowed herself to get too emotionally involved, and losing someone she cared about was not a position she planned to be in. The only solution was not caring at all. "I think we really need to re-evaluate our relationship...maybe let things cool off for awhile."
"Oh, really?" Her calm indifference infuriated him. "And what brought this on?
"Your actions. Your total disregard for safety...this recklessness..."
"My actions, is it?" Enough was enough. He had been through too much today to hide behind a facade. This "agreement" between them had gone on much too long. Monroe's death reinforced that living for tomorrow was a tragic waste. "I don't think that's it at all. This isn't about me, Laura, it's about you. What's really eating at you, hmmn? Found yourself emotionally 'in too deep,' as it were?"
His words hit too close to home for her comfort, angering her even more.
"You don't know...you have no right..."
"No right? No right? I suppose the time we've spent together counts for nothing, then?"
"It counts as proof of your inability to make a commitment."
"It's not my, as you say, inability to commit that's the problem here."
"I see. And I suppose there's something in your mysterious past that proves the contrary? Or do you think you can just drop in and out of my life, like...like..."
"Like who?" he asked, anticipating her next words. "Like your father? Well, I'm not your father, Laura, and you're not your mother, either. Our lives are our own. But you're stuck in the past. You're blind to what's happening here and now."
"I've had quite enough of this." She turned to walk away, but he stopped her, turning her around to face him.
"No, you're going to listen because I'm not the one standing in the way of our relationship, Laura, it's you. You're afraid. You're acting like a child, terrified that your father's going to walk out and leave you. Well, your father's never coming home again, Laura. It's time to grow up and get on with your life."
He barely felt the slap across his face. Yet, instinctively, his hands grasped her arms before the second blow could reach its target. Thinking only of calming her down, he shook her, and firmly pushed her against the wall of the apartment in a motion that took her breath away. Startled, Laura suddenly became very aware of his closeness, feeling his pulse echoing the pounding of her heart.
Actually, it was the furthest thing from his mind. But something about her startled look softened him, stirring emotions deep from within. There was no denying his feelings for her, even though he could not say the words she wanted to hear. He watched her for seconds that seemed like forever, noticing the seductiveness of her lips and how her dark, brown hair fell gently down around her shoulders. He even noticed the slight wrinkle in her forehead that appeared when she worried. It struck him how much he really needed her, and how meaningless life had been before coming into her life. Slowly, as if drawn to her like the call of a siren, he lowered his mouth gently onto hers, still holding her by the wrists.
Thousands of thoughts raced through her mind. Caught between her intense feelings for him and a fear deeply rooted in the past, she was temporarily paralyzed. Only minutes before she had feared he was dead, and acknowledged she could not bear to lose him. Now she fought not to unleash the pent-up desire for him that was burning inside her, wanting desperately to avoid the inevitable.
For an instant, he felt her body stiffen, and sensed her turmoil. Yet, he released his hold on her wrists, and Laura became keenly aware of his touch against her skin, which was now tingling with excitement. For a moment, she forgot her concern, knowing only that she wanted him thoroughly. When he started to unfasten the buttons on her sweater, however, she became apprehensive again.
*No. I can't let this happen.* She reached up to resist, to push him away, catching his shirt in her fists. Almost frenzied, she ripped it, exposing her hands to the warmth of his chest pressed against them. Touching his body, feeling the thick hair of his chest against her fingers, stirred in her passion she did not know existed. She looked up into his deep, blue eyes and, in that instant, she knew she could not fight him any longer.
Her abrupt change in response, from resistance to desire, caught Remington by surprise. He loosened his embrace to look at her, puzzled, then briefly reviewed the remains of what was once a decent piece of clothing. Before he could discern the meaning of any of it, Laura was pulling him close again, holding him tightly...as if he were the only man alive.
"Laura," he whispered her name softly, yet urgently before his lips found hers once again. He kissed her hungrily, as if devouring her would quench his own ardorous need.
She trembled as each kiss slowly dissolved the pain and confusion of her past. She managed to remove the remains of his shirt while, almost simultaneously, he pulled the sweater over her head, giving up on the buttons that remained.
The flurry of activity brought the contents of the coffee table next to them crashing to the floor. Pulling her to him, Remington backed away to avoid the loud distraction. Instead, he stepped squarely on some godforsaken item that caused him to lose his footing. They tumbled over the sofa, scattering pillows everywhere, and fell onto the floor.
The flame in the fireplace burned brightly, but virtually unnoticed, behind them. Positioned above her, desire burning inside him like a kindled flame, he kissed her passionately, running his hands across her soft skin. His entire body ached with anticipation.
But the fall brought all the old fears and doubts crashing back into Laura's subconscious. Could she afford to be so vulnerable?
He enveloped her with kisses fueled with an unbridled need so intense and consuming he could barely hear her soft pleading for him to stop. The admonishment stung greater than her slap just moments before.
"Stop....No, no don't... please," she moaned breathlessly, struggling to regain her composure.
"Yes, darling...yes," he whispered softly, gently caressing her, drawing her back into the moment. "Shhhh. Laura, I'm here...I'm right here. I'm not leaving you. I'm not going away."
His lips touched hers, and, once again, all her fears were forgotten.
He woke up confused and annoyed to find Laura gone. Darn her. The least she could do was to stick around after getting him to admit that he loved her.
She was sure she imagined it.
Laura sat in the window of her loft, gazing out into the night. She clearly remembered the sound of the crackling fireplace and feeling so completely at peace while lying in his arms. And she remembered seeming to float far away to a place where the past was non-existent.
But had she imagined those words so faint, so barely audible, that they scarcely touched her ears before landing within her heart? Or was she just fooling herself? One way or the other, she had to know for sure.
Absorbed in thought, She didn't see him approach from the street and was moderately surprised to hear the knock at her door, even though she knew he would come.
Slowly and deliberately, she rose to open the door. He was leaning on the threshold, and looked up when the door opened.
"Hello," she said, turning back toward the room.
"Hello?" he repeated closing the door to the loft behind him. He was obviously annoyed. "Something urgent come up I was not aware of?"
She smiled, facing him again. "No," she said softly.
"Well, then?" He stepped toward her, waiting.
She looked at him, seeing through his anger to the hurt tinged ever so slightly with guilt in his eyes. "It's not you."
"Oh! Well. That lets one of us off the hook."
She sighed, searching for the right words. "I need to know what comes next."
"What comes next?"
"Between us. Where do we go from here?"
He looked at her, fully absorbing the weight of her words. In his heart he knew he wanted her forever, and had even so much as said so. Wasn't that enough? But words that he had spoken only hours before now escaped him. Unsure of quite what to say, he turned, walking with his hand to his face, deep in thought. He noticed the light dimmer switch on the wall and stopped. Slowly, thoughtfully, he turned down the lights.
She glanced at the ceiling lights as they dimmed, then looked at him knowingly, lovingly, almost sadly, and sighed.
He walked toward her, and laughed a thoughtful laugh. When he reached her, he pulled her close. As they stood there, holding each other, it was as if their very existence centered on his next words.
"I don't know what comes next," he whispered, "But I suppose we'll find out together, eh?"
But she already knew that in her heart. And for now, that was good enough.
This time, it was her turn to awake and find him gone.
The sun was peeking through her loft window, signaling a new day and a new chapter in their lives. She stretched out, basking in its warmth. The sensation erased her initial panic at waking to find him no longer lying beside her.
It was Friday, and she could tell that it was pretty late in the day. Laura was in no hurry to check her alarm to see why it hadn't gone off, and instead chose to concentrate on her awareness that someone in the building was preparing a breakfast that smelled absolutely delightful. Seconds later, she realized the smell was actually coming from her own kitchen.
Meanwhile, Remington was having the devil of a time finding what he wanted. Why didn't she keep all her utensils in the same place? He was too busy rummaging through her cabinets to notice her walk up behind him.
For a moment, Laura stood watching him. The man standing before her now was vastly different from the person who came into her life more than three years ago. They had been through so much together. In spite of herself, in spite of knowing that even now he struggled with the thought of commitment and all that entailed, she knew she loved him.
*I'm here, Laura. I'm not going away.* She could hear his words clearly, as if they were uttered just seconds before. Then he had said he loved her. Although she worried about the future, she held his earlier words close to her heart, and they stimulated memories of his touch against her body and the night they had spent together.
"What on earth are you doing?" she asked, taking him by surprise.
"Oh! Laura! You're awake!" He turned to look at her and smiled. "My, you look absolutely beautiful this morning." He paused, then added playfully, "Well, actually it's afternoon, but who's watching the time, eh?" His hair was damp and he had a towel draped around his neck, over his bare chest.
"Stop changing the subject," she teased. "Why are you destroying my kitchen?"
"Actually, I was trying to surprise you." He resisted the urge to take her into his arms and carry her off once again, deciding it best to turn off the stove first. "Really, Laura, I don't know how you manage. I've spent at least twenty minutes looking for the simplest utensil so I can..."
"You mean like this one?" She reached directly in front of him and removed a wooden spoon from a glass container on the counter. They both laughed when she handed it to him. He took her hand and followed his earlier inclination to wrap his arms around her, easing his need to touch her once again.
"I thought breakfast in bed would keep you from running away from me again," he whispered, referring to her quick exodus from his apartment earlier that night. He kissed her and added, "Well, I was hoping it would keep you in bed at least."
"Why, whatever do you mean? It's Friday. We have work to do."
"Laura, you can't be serious. It's past one in the afternoon. Besides, the case is closed. All the suspects are either dead or in jail."
"But we still have a client..." she almost called him Mr. Steele. What on earth would she call him when they were alone?
"Our friend Lester is fine. Trust me."
"Well, in that case," she thought for a second. A hot shower and a hot breakfast would be truly perfect. "I'll be back in a moment."
He nodded, releasing her reluctantly. He had breakfast to finish, although he was tempted not to let her out of his sight for one instant.
While she was away, Remington found himself thinking back to the day they first met. He still remembered it vividly. At the time, he had every intention of stealing the Royal Lavulite gems she had been hired to protect then returning them to the South African government for a hefty finders fee. But from the moment he lay eyes upon her, that goal no longer seemed as important as being near her, as finding out all he could about her. Somehow, he was drawn to her, and the instant he walked into Suite 1157 of the Twin Century Office Plaza, he knew his life would never be the same again. If one believed in such things, one could almost say it was destiny.
Laura wasn't gone for more than a minute before someone began pounding at the door.
"Laura?" Realizing she couldn't hear him, Remington opened the loft door. It was Mildred.
"Something's wrong with your pho..." Mildred stopped in mid-sentence when she realized she wasn't speaking to Laura. "Oh! Mr. Steele!"
"Hello, Mildred. Is something the matter?" Amazing, he thought. The woman had the most uncanny ability to interrupt at the most inopportune times.
"No. I mean, well, I've been trying to reach you or Miss Holt all morning." She looked at him suspiciously. Why was he at Miss Holt's apartment looking as though he just stepped out of the shower? And where was Miss Holt? "The phone company said this line is out of order and no one answered at your place, so I came over to see if everything was all right." She noticed the telephone was off the hook, and she looked back at him curiously. "Am I interrupting something?"
"Oh, no. Everything is just fine." He walked over to the phone and placed it back on the receiver. "Miss Holt is just changing. Is there a problem at the office?"
"Lester Shane called. He wanted to make sure you had the right VCR manual. Oh, and he mentioned meeting you later and said something about watching Gone with the Wind." Mildred glanced around the apartment. She could hear that Miss Holt was in the shower.
"Yes, go on," he urged. If he didn't get rid of Mildred soon, he knew she would have Laura off and running and it could be hours before he would have time alone with Laura again.
"Some stock broker has been looking for Miss Holt, and the police want you to come down to the station to file charges against that Lightner guy from Perennial Corporation." Funny, Mildred thought, smiling. Miss Holt was never one to leave clothes piled on the floor at the foot of her bed like they were now. She looked at her boss again, inquisitively. It wasn't like him to leave home without shaving, either.
Remington ignored her questioning glance. "Okay, okay. Is there anything else?"
"Well, no, but are either of you coming in to the office today...I mean..."
"Probably not today, Mildred." He took her arm and escorted her to the door. "Miss Holt and I have some important work to finish up, but I promise you we'll check in to make sure everything at the office is fine." Right now, he still wanted to keep Laura all to himself. He needed to be sure all her fears were put to rest once and for all. "I know, as usual, you'll do a bang up job of keeping things on track in our absence."
"Don't forget to call Detective Jarvis. He wanted to see you right away." Mildred insisted.
"I will, Mildred. Until Monday, then." He ushered her out of the apartment. "Bye, now," he said, shutting the door behind her. He let out a sigh of relief. That was a trifle too close for comfort.
"Was that someone at the door?" Laura emerged just as he was fastening the latch.
"No one important." He quickly walked back into the kitchen and checked the stove. Everything was just as it should be. "I have to go fill out a police report at some point today, but there's no rush."
"Police report?" she thought. "That's strange. Why did the police come to look for you here?" she asked. He shrugged at her question. A change of subject was definitely in order. He concentrated on preparing a plate for her instead.
While in the shower, for some strange reason, Laura had thought of Mildred. A part of her wanted to head over to the office, or call in at the very least. She headed to the phone and was dialing when Remington walked out from the kitchen.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Calling Mildred," she responded, waiting for the phone to ring.
"I just wanted to check in, she hasn't heard from either of us all day."
He walked over and took the phone from her hand. "No need for that. I've already spoken to Mildred." He hung up the phone and led her into the dining area to a chair at the table.
"You have?" She was surprised that the thought of calling the office had even occurred to him. "What did she say?"
"She said not to worry, she'll talk to both of us on Monday."
"She did? Well, what did you tell her?"
"Tell her? About what?"
"About why neither one of us came into the office today."
"Laura, I didn't tell her anything. The subject didn't come up."
"It didn't?" That didn't sound like Mildred. Laura was still toying with the idea of heading to the office to check on things.
"No, it didn't. More importantly, breakfast is getting cold." He began setting food in front of her, which reminded her of how hungry she actually was.
"Well, this does seem too good to go to waste."
"Of course it is." He poured her a glass of orange juice and then poured one for himself. "The paperwork will wait."
Friday afternoon she had gone to the police station with Remington to help with the paperwork on the Perennial scandal. Remington had been right after all. Phil Lightner's arrest closed the case and put an end to the wrong doing once and for all.
Laura noticed that Remington had seemed eager to dispense with the entire episode. She surmised that Monroe's death had affected him more than she realized. The only good to come out of the bizarre twist of events was that it brought them closer together.
"There was nothing you could have done," she said softly, reading his mind again as they drove home from the station. He held her hand and kissed it affectionately. Yet instinctively, Laura knew there was something more to his quiet thoughtfulness. There was something else he was struggling with, and the thought was troublesome to her at first. It reminded her of something unpleasant that she could not quite put her finger on.
That evening, Lester Shane showed his gratitude by finally getting that infernal VCR to work and the four of them--Laura, Remington, Lester and Mildred--huddled at Remington's apartment watching part of Gone With the Wind. Laura enjoyed it immensely. Gone With the Wind was one of her favorites. Remington, on the other hand, spent most of the evening avoiding Mildred's questioning, and keeping her from questioning Laura. When Lester, who had to catch an early plane back to Gilroy, decided to turn in, Steele somehow managed to convince Mildred that it was time for her to leave as well. Laura prepared to leave with them, but Remington pulled her back into the apartment as they were all saying their good-byes and closed the door so that they were alone.
"Leaving so soon?" he asked. He was leaning on the door and watching her intently.
"I thought it was time," she said.
"Uh huh," he nodded. His voice was very low as he took her hand in his. "Actually, I was hoping you'd stay," he whispered as he placed her arms around his neck, then hugged her around the waist. He watched her, trying to discern what she was thinking and looking for some sign before attempting to kiss her. Yesterday, consummating a tumultuous and emotion-filled night, they had made love. He wasn't particularly proud of that. Tonight, he wanted her just as ardently, if she wanted as much, but she would be the one to decide--without any question or hesitation. He knew he had his answer when she smiled up at him, kissing him gently.
The next few days were incredible. It was like the missing piece to a large, intricate puzzle had finally found its place, and Laura found herself feeling more at peace than she had ever felt in her entire life. Past worries and complications seemed so very far away.
Until Monday morning.
Laura got off the elevator and walked to her office feeling very uneasy. For nearly four years she worked hard to keep her personal life separate from her professional one, especially when it came to her masculine "superior." But now the perimeters defining her relationship with her fictitious boss were not so clear cut. Now, not only would she have to pretend he was her boss, but she would also have to pretend they were not involved. Working with this man she called Remington Steele would take on an added dimension, and she wasn't sure at all what she was feeling about it. To make things worse, she was even beginning to doubt that he had ever professed to love her at all.
Had she just imagined it? The words seemed distant now, almost as if spoken in a dream. And although they had shared more tender, special moments in the days and hours since they first made love, he had not said them again. Not once.
The time they shared had been truly special. But she needed something more, and now reality and the uncertainty of the situation rushed into her consciousness with blinding intensity. It all started with this nagging feeling she had.
She instinctively knew that there was something Remington wanted to tell her. It had been that way all weekend, and it made her nervous. Why did she have the feeling that something ominous and foreboding were about to happen?
As usual, Mildred was waiting at her desk when she arrived.
"Good morning, Mildred."
"Good morning, Miss Holt."
"Mildred, when Mr. Steele comes in, tell him..."
"He's already here, Miss Holt."
"He is?" Laura looked at her watch. Only 8 a.m. It was unlike Mr. Steele to arrive early.
"Came in about an hour ago. He's in his office." Mildred watched Laura carefully. She was having a difficult time figuring out either one of them today. Steele had nearly beat her into the office that morning, and had been so absorbed in thought that he barely spoke to her. Now, Miss Holt seemed equally absorbed. Something was going on, Mildred was sure. The question was, what it could be?
"An hour ago?" Laura mouthed the words.
Mildred nodded. She didn't know what to make of it either. "He said he wanted to see you when you came in."
"He did?" There it was. That feeling again. It reminded her of the days right before her father left home. He had seemed extremely anxious, as if he were keeping some dreadful secret from the family. In fact, he spent several days walking on eggshells, and then one day, he simply didn't come home again.
She took a deep breath, and walked into his office.
He couldn't stop pacing. Funny, Remington had made his decision long ago, but expressing it was something else again. Especially when it came to his feelings about Laura.
It wasn't just losing a close friend that had forced him to come to grips with how deeply he cared about her. It was the stark realization of how close he had come to losing her.
His heart was racing when he headed to her apartment that night. It was only minutes after leaving his own, after seeing a mere child blown to pieces in his hallway, the victim of mistaken identity. It was a trap set for him and he knew a similar one awaited Laura at her loft.
He didn't even remember how he got there. Cars and streets converged into a single blurred image, an insignificant mosaic of color and sound merged into a surreal nightmare that he couldn't block from his consciousness. The only thing he remembered clearly were thoughts of Laura; thoughts of how much he needed her, how much he loved her. It was not a sense of concern. It was sheer terror.
Frantically, Remington had climbed the outer fire escape, entering her loft through the window, with no thought of what to do when he got there, except tosomehow destroy this threat to the very thing he cherished most. He didn't even remember how he diffused the bomb, and it suddenly dawned on him that the fact he had deciphered the firing trigger at all was no less than a miracle.
He now fingered the object in his pocket nervously. He had been struggling all weekend trying to find the right words, replaying the scene over and over again in his mind and not quite coming up with the right combination to accurately express how he felt. Now, as he touched the velvet casing, he thought again of Laura, of the time they spent to together these past few days and how much he wanted to make her a permanent part of his life.
Actually he had stopped to buy it on Thursday. He had spent hours with Sandy, Monroe's widow, as the long tumultuous day eased into night. His heart had gone out to her as she talked and cried and cried and talked, her emotions fluctuating between the intense sadness of losing a love and the stillness of soul stemming from having loved and been loved in return. When Remington left her that night, he was emotionally drained, but clearer about his own feelings than he had been in a long time. It was an experience he would never forget.
Remington smiled to himself as he thought about it. He had stopped on the way home and must have been a complete mess. No wonder the jeweler had shownquite a bit of concern when he walked in. Probably thought Remington was someone intent on a quick robbery and an even quicker getaway.
But at the time, Remington had scarcely noticed. His thoughts were focused on something else and he searched until he found the exact combination he was lookingfor. When he finally found it, the significance of it all finally hit him.
"Harry, old boy," he thought. "You're really going to do this, aren't you," and with that he bought the solitary diamond ring, partially wrapped in the clearest, deepest blue sapphires imaginable. Sapphires that reminded him of Royal Lavulite.
But now he paced in his office nervously. Even the conversation he held with Daniel that morning hadn't calmed him down. It wasn't destined to be a graceful proposal of marriage, not in the least.
Remington had been surprised at Daniel's reaction to the revelation that his prized student was suddenly contemplating matrimony. Remington had placed the call first thing that morning and he had half expected Daniel to discourage him, to instead suggest that the two of them run off to pull off some glorious caper in some exotic location. Instead, Daniel's response had been quite out of character. He had encouraged Remington to think carefully about what he was doing and pointed out that his true gauge should be to follow his instincts and, most importantly, to follow his heart. Daniel had even remembered his partner's name was Laura, not Linda.
Funny. Following his instincts was something Remington had done well all of his life. Now, when it came to Laura, he just couldn't seem to get it exactly right. Here he was, pacing in his office, trying to figure out exactly how to tackle the situation. And he was terrified.
He took little consolation in the knowledge that, at least, he had told Laura he loved her when they first made love. But he knew that wasn't enough, and he quickly brushed off waiting until lunch or dinner or some other time for a more romantic setting. He had been through that this weekend and just kept putting it off for some "better" time.
But different situations didn't make the words come any easier and he had wasted too much time already. He wanted her to know everything, and whatever he did, he wouldn't let it wait another moment.
He barely noticed Mildred when he came to the office that morning. Remington vaguely remembered her greeting him, concentrating instead on making sure to inform her to send Laura to him as soon as she arrived at the office. It was a little maneuver designed to put his impending task in the forefront of things. Laura would want to know what was so urgent. The stage would be set, as it were, and he would have to act on it.
Actually, it couldn't be more perfect. This would be the last thing Laura would suspect.
He was standing at the window when she came in.
Laura had already made up her mind when she opened the door.
"We're here early today, aren't we?" she was surprised to see him standing by the window. The blue sky behind him served to accentuate his eyes and nearly took her breath away. If there was ever a time to be icy calm, this was it. It was not going to be easy, but she knew exactly what she had to do.
"Oh, Laura. Good. You're here." He couldn't remember seeing her more beautiful. Her perfectly tailored beige suit was tapered at the waist with a hem-line just above the knees. She had taken off her hat, so her hair was just a tad out of place, but was otherwise immaculate. It was all he could do to keep from taking her in his arms and whispering all the words he had stored inside, before kissing her in a passionate embrace. Actually, maybe that wasn't such a bad idea...
"You know, we really need to talk." Laura walked over to the side of his desk. If she was very deliberate about where she stood, maybe she could get him away from that window. Then she wouldn't be so distracted. She could focus on exactly what she wanted to say, and not be reminded of how deeply she loved him. She lay her hat down on his desk and he walked over to face her. There was something about her wrinkled brow that told him she was not necessarily in the best frame of mind.
"Yes, I agree," he offered. Was it only a few hours ago that he held her in his arms as she slept beside him?
It had taken all he had in him to leave that morning and head back to his apartment to retrieve the ring he had for her. Then he had decided to give Daniel a call, after deducing it was only still early evening in London. Already he missed having her wake up next to him. He missed holding her and hearing her breathing as she lie beside him. Yes, indeed, it had been an extraordinary weekend.
"Laura, I.." he began.
"No, wait," she cut him off. "I have something I need to say." It was now or never. She took a deep breath. "Look, we really need to talk," she began, "about us...about our relationship." Her words hung in the air like frost on a cold winter's day.
"Oh?" It was all he could offer.
"Maybe we've been somewhat hasty." She couldn't bear to look at him, so she fiddled with the brim of her hat instead. The ensuing silence was deadly.
"Hasty?" came the calculated response. "Oh, I see. Having second thoughts, are we?"
"No, it's not that. It's just that maybe we need to take things slow. You know, not rush things." This had to be done. So why did her heart feel it was about to break? Her demeanor did nothing to betray her feelings.
She remembered the day her father left very clearly. Her mother had been devastated, and at the time it seemed quite sudden, like there was no rhyme or reason to it. Looking back, there were so many clues, and Remington's behavior these past few days practically shouted that he was feeling boxed in. What on earth had made her think he was ready for a serious commitment?
Watching him pull away from her, bit by bit, day by day was more than she could handle. Yes, what she had to do was painful, but necessary. It was the only way.
Remington sat on the edge of the desk, arms folded, watching her, weighing every word. "I didn't know things were rushed." His voice was calm and deliberate.
The words caught in Laura's throat, and she sighed her acknowledgment, nodding. It took everything she had in her to look at him and she tossed her head, nervously.
"Why don't we just forget this ever happened? I think it would be best for both of us." She then turned away, moving from the desk to stand by the window. Shecouldn't keep this up much longer. She already longed for him to hold her and missed the warmth of his body next to hers. She remembered that she had almost convinced herself that he had actually said he loved her and the thought caused her to tremble. She took a deep breath, and tried to put it out of her mind.
Remington was struck by her indifference and wondered when she had come to her decision. But in the long run, did it matter?
"Okay," his voice trailed off. He was surprised at himself, really. He couldn't say there was much pain at all. Not even sadness, actually. More like numbness. "Well, Laura, you know best."
She didn't answer. She couldn't. Another word and the tears she fought back would come in full force and there was nothing she could do about it.
*Well, enough of this,* he thought, searching his breast pocket for a pen. He reached inside his desk and, amazingly, found one. He then picked up the phone. "Was there something else?" he asked as he dialed. Who on earth was he calling, anyway?
"No," she answered quietly, looking up, glad for the quick change in topic. "Didn't you want to tell me something?"
"No, it wasn't important." He didn't even recognize the voice on the other end of the line. "I really have something important to take care of," he said to Laura. "Do you mind?"
"Oh, no. Go ahead," and she walked over to pick up the hat she had nearly forgotten, and looked at him once before going into her office.
"Hello?" he said to the voice on the other end. "Sorry, wrong number." Then he hung up the phone.
"Mr. Steele," Mildred called to him as he entered the lobby. "There's a client on line one. A Mr. Carlton. He says he needs to speak with you right away."
"Miss Holt can handle it," he said, putting on his sunglasses.
And with that, he left the office for the rest of the day.
Mildred was beside herself. Something had definitely gone awry and she was determined to get to the bottom of it.
Today, the boss and Miss Holt were meeting with a client, a man called Carlton. Carlton was searching for his niece and had been working exclusively with Miss Holt for the past several weeks. He had been to the office on several occasions, sometimes with several children in tow.
But in the time Carlton had been a client, Mildred had scarcely seen Mr. Steele at all, and it seemed her "kids" were barely speaking to one another. In fact, when their paths did cross, it reminded Mildred more of a chapter from Tolstoi's “War and Peace” than Remington Steele Investigations.
Frank Carlton was a pleasant man, tall, slender with a jovial air about him. He was a family man who obviously loved his wife and children. When all was said and done, Mildred had counted six of them--two boys ages approximately 8 and 10, twin girls who Mildred supposed were maybe 5 or 6, and a toddler. They were all the spitting image of their father, right down to the dark brown hair and hazel eyes. Judging from the frequency Carlton brought the children with him to the office, Mildred gathered that whatever his wife did for a career required her to be away from home a lot.
Apparently the niece had been a part of this little family, but had recently run away. From the research she had completed for Miss Holt, Mildred determined that the girl simply walked out in the middle of her college psychology class not to be seen or heard from again.
But in addition to suddenly finding herself with an absentee boss, it also seemed to Mildred that Miss Holt had been deliberately burying herself in paperwork for over a month. Laura was spending hours on end following leads to the girl's whereabouts, as if her life depended on locating the girl. Mildred was sure something was out of kilter.
It wasn't like the boss at all. No, not at all. And today he came to work without even touching his morning coffee. Mildred decided to brew a fresh pot and go in to check in on things.
He wasn't particularly interested in what the client had to say. In fact, it was quite incredible that Remington had heard anything Carlton said at all. Although the agency had been closing in on the whereabouts of Jessica Carlton, Frank Carlton's eccentric niece, Remington knew precious little about the case. In fact, he couldn't care less about the entire situation.
Laura had all but demanded that he be here this morning to review the case, and at first, he was tempted to ignore her demand. But, instead, he came grudgingly. In fact, it was the first time in days he had even bothered coming to the office. For some reason, his heart just wasn't into it.
"We've been every place your niece has been known to frequent in the area," Laura summarized. "No one seems to have heard or seen anything." She glanced in Remington's direction for support or acknowledgment. Instead, she found him fiddling with a letter opener. "Records show she made a withdrawal from a local bank not very far from here," she continued.
"So that means Jessica is still in Los Angeles?" Carlton asked.
"So it appears," Laura replied.
"Well that's great." Carlton exclaimed. "Mr. Steele, " he walked over to shake Remington's hand, pumping it emphatically, "you're as good as they say you are." Remington stood, smiling in acknowledgment, not exactly sure why he was being thanked.
"When can we expect to find her? " Carlton continued.
"Soon, Mr. Carlton, soon." Laura responded before Remington could answer. She walked toward them both. "Mr. Steele, could I have a word with you, please?" She motioned for him to follow her to the adjoining office.
"Don't be silly, Miss Holt. We have a client here," came his response. "Mr. Carlton, I assure you that we will do everything possible to locate your daughter."
"You mean my niece." Carlton replied. "I've got three daughters, but they're all at home with their mom as far as I know."
"Oh, right. Your niece. But these things do take time..."
"Mr. Carlton, please excuse us," Laura walked over to Remington, taking him by the elbow, "Just a brief caucus, Mr. Steele." she led him to her office door.
"Jerry, not to worry. We'll be back in a flash," he called over his shoulder.
"The name's Frank." Carlton called back just as Laura shut the door behind them. She was furious.
"I know you've been somewhat preoccupied, but you could show a bit more interest in this case."
"Why? It appears you've done quite well without me." He leaned against the tall, black filing cabinet near the door, arms folded, his eyes narrowed, studying her every move. He was more than prepared to call her bluff. After all, she had gotten away with acting as if she didn't need him for too long.
"That's not the point." Laura wanted to steer the conversation in another direction but she could tell this was destined not to be an argument about the case alone. She paced uncomfortably in front of him.
"What is the point, Laura? Look, you've said often enough that you really don't need me around, well, here's just another example you may be right."
"I never said..." She swallowed hard. It was much easier dealing with the difficulties of the case than their on-again, off-again relationship. Didn't he know that the problem was exactly the opposite? It was needing him that scared her most. "Look, are we talking about our work, or your bruised ego?"
"My ego? This isn't about my bloody ego. Is that what you think?"
"Look, this is neither the time nor the place."
"Laura, it's never the right time or place with us, is it?" he walked around her and sat on the edge of her desk.
"Let's just stick to the case, shall we?"
"By all means, Miss Holt." he leaned back, resting his elbow on his folded arm, chin on his hand, "But I do believe it was you who called this little caucus, wasn't it?"
"Look, I need you to spend some time with Carlton, get as much information out of him as you can. We need something more to go on."
"Okay, and why should I?"
"Why?" For a moment, she was speechless. Then the full meaning of his question sank in. "What are you talking about? We have an agreement..."
"And is that all it is to you, an agreement?" he asked. She didn't answer him. Instead, she moved toward the door.
"Laura?" he prompted again.
"I have no hold on you. You are free to leave at any time, you know."
"That much is obvious." he replied matter-of-factly, standing up to face her as she stood by the door. "But what do you want, really? Now there's a question for you."
"Carlton, Mr. Steele?"
"After you, Miss Holt." he replied. Before she walked completely through the door, he caught her arm. "But remember, I suspect you'll have to give me an answer, sooner or later." She glanced up at him and, without a word, headed through the door.
When they came back into Steele's office, they found Frank Carlton studying the pictures that covered wall in the front of the room.
"Those are some photographs you have there, Mr. Steele," Carlton exclaimed as they entered. "You must take a photographer with you every place you go."
"Not quite, Frank, not quite."
"Mr. Carlton, Mr. Steele feels it would be a good idea for the two of you to visit some of the places Jessica is known to frequent while I take some time to speak with Mrs. Carlton. Isn't that right Mr. Steele?"
"If you say so, Miss Holt," he replied nonchalantly. "So Frank, interested in photography, are you? Do a bit of shooting on your own?"
"It's a hobby of mine," Carlton beamed. "Mostly landscapes, though. I haven't really gotten in to portraits or live action."
"Oh, I see. Interesting hobby. You know, I...."
"Mr. Steele," Laura interrupted him, "Jessica Carlton, remember?"
"Yes, yes, Miss Holt." he replied, clearly annoyed. He turned to Carlton again. "Frank, any ideas where we should begin?"
"Oh, wait." Laura remembered the background information she had obtained on Jessica. "Let me give you the file I left on my desk." She headed back to her office. Just as she left, Mildred burst through the door with a carafe of coffee and a tray full of cups.
"Here's the coffee you wanted, Boss."
"Ah, Mildred, thank you," Funny, he didn't even remember asking for coffee. Actually, today he would have preferred tea.
Mildred sat the tray on his desk and Remington stood beside her as she poured him a cup.
"How about you, Mr. Carlton?" Mildred asked while pouring a second cup.
"Yeah. That would be great." Carlton replied. Mildred handed him the cup of the steaming coffee as Miss Holt walked back into the room. Laura took two steps into the room then stopped abruptly.
"Good Lord, what is that?"
"What is what?"
"What on earth is that smell?" They all paused to take in the aroma.
"Smell? Laura, it's just coffee."
"Coffee? That's got to be the worst..." and with that she dashed straight into the bathroom shutting the door behind her.
The room was silent, except for the muffled gagging sound coming from the other side of the bathroom door.
"Laura, are you all right?" He asked. She didn't answer. For moment, Remington forgot his feigned indifference. He hesitated for a second, then walked over and tapped gently on the door. "Laura?"
"Reminds me of my wife," Carlton chuckled.
Mildred looked curiously at Mr. Carlton.
Remington was oblivious to them both. "Laura?" He called to her once again before she emerged. Her face took on a strange pallor.
"What on earth is the matter with you?" he asked. She waved her hand in Mildred's direction.
"This?" Mildred asked. Laura shooed her and the coffee out of the room. She took Carlton's cup then noticed the cup still in Remington's hand and grabbed his too, sitting them both on the tray as she hurried Mildred out of the door.
"Laura, what's gotten into you? Mr. Carlton hasn't even..."
"I think I may be coming down with something." she said. "Besides, we have no time for that, we have work to do." She handed him the file of information. "Here take this. Mr. Carlton, I'd like to have a word with Mrs. Carlton, if you don't mind."
"Sure, not at all. She's at home right now. I'm sure she'll be glad for the chance to talk with someone about the situation."
"Good. I'll take care of it right away. After you, Mr. Steele?"
He grabbed his trench coat. "Mildred, tell Fred to bring the limo around," he said, and he and Carlton left the office.
Laura remained at Remington's desk deep in thought. She was still standing there when Mildred came back into his office after successfully dispensing with the last vestiges of the offending coffee.
"What was that all about, Miss Holt?" Mildred asked.
"That episode with the coffee?"
"Coffee? Oh, I don't know. I haven't been feeling well for a couple of days. I think I'm getting the flu. Now that you mention it, Mildred would you call Dr. Alexander and schedule an appointment for me? Then call Mrs. Carlton and let her know I'm coming."
"Sure thing, Miss Holt." "Now what is it with you and the boss?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"You and Mr. Steele. You two have barely said a word to each other for weeks."
"Really? I hadn't noticed."
"C'mon Miss Holt. This is me you're talking to. I've seen how you've been acting lately."
"Acting? It's nothing Mildred, really."
"Nothing? Mr. Steele disappears for days on end and you're moping around like you've lost your best friend and nothing is going on? I wasn't born yesterday, you know."
"Moping? I haven't been moping!"
"Well I don't know what you'd call it, but it's been like a tomb around here lately. You've barely said a word to anyone about anything for weeks, Miss Holt."
"It's a very complex case, Mildred." She grabbed her hat. "Other than that, everything is fine. Now, would you please ring Mrs. Carlton?" she went back to her office for her jacket and purse. Moping, indeed. How could anyone mistake good, old fashioned dedication to duty as moping?
She was more tired than anything. In fact, she was having trouble sleeping. After hours of tossing and turning, she would finally drift off, feeling warm and contented, held safely in his arms, only to wake with a start to realize Remington was not there and that she was alone.
What did she want, indeed. It was clear to her that what she wanted, she couldn't possibly have.
‘I suspect you'll have to give me an answer, sooner or later. Exactly what did he mean by that?' she thought. What did he want from her? There was no question there was more to their relationship than an agreement. But she had broken things off for their own good, *After all,* she thought, *he's the one who won't make a commitment.*
But there was another unspoken question that was nagging at her. Why was it so important for her not to need or rely on anyone?
Was it a pattern? She knew all too well how it felt to lose someone she loved dearly. Even with all the difficulties of their relationship, she had been deeply hurt when Wilson suddenly moved out, and it had taken her by surprise. One would think that her ex-boyfriend, the ultra-conservative banker, would have been more predictable.
She really hadn't dated anyone seriously since. Invariably, whenever a potential suitor got too close, she'd push him away. Now there was this three-year merry-go-round ride she shared with Remington. Was she doing it again?
She pushed his words to the back of her mind, and went into the front office.
"You're in luck, Miss Holt," Mildred informed her, waving a slip of paper at her as she walked in. "Dr. Alexander's office had a cancellation for this afternoon. And Mrs. Carlton says anytime today will be fine."
"Thanks." Laura took the appointment information from Mildred and then she headed out of the office to meet with Mrs. Carlton.
The home had kind of a warm, comfy feel about it. The kind of feeling that reminded Laura of “Ozzie and Harriet.” A white picket fence surrounded the immaculate, tree-lined yard that was filled with petunias, geraniums and gardenias in full bloom. Inside, the old frame house was warm, bright and welcoming. Visitors were greeted by a great stone hearth upon entering that took up one full wall of the huge living room. Pictures of children filled the mantleplace.
Laura smiled at the realization she had likened the home to a television show. A bad habit she had picked up from Mr. Steele, no doubt.
Sally Carlton was an outgoing, friendly woman, and Laura guessed that she was in her mid- to late-thirties. It surprised Laura that she was strikingly beautiful, athletic and in excellent condition for a woman with five children. She was even more surprised to learn Mrs. Carlton was an attorney. Laura was expecting someone more like her sister, Frances, a housewife with no career of her own to speak of.
Children's drawings covered the refrigerator in the kitchen were they sat.
"Jessica is just like one of the family," Mrs. Carlton was saying. She straddled a toddler on her knee while she talked. Twin girls sat playing in the family room nearby. Laura knew that the Carltons had two other children, older boys, but they were no were to be found.
"Do you know why she would want to run away?"
"No, not at all. Everything here at home has been fine. Jessica was living on campus, but she usually came home on the weekends to visit without one word of encouragement from me. I got the impression that things were going well at school and she was very happy."
"What about Mr. Carlton? Any reason to think that the two of them had some sort of falling out?"
"Frank? No, Miss Holt. Frank loves Jessica like she were his own. We practically raised her. He's been absolutely devastated by the entire thing."
"Yes, he seems to be pretty attached to her."
"He's attached to all of the children. Every one."
"I must admit I was surprised when he first brought them to the office."
"I was at trial, no doubt," laughed Mrs. Carlton. "Frank's very supportive of my work as I am of his. I don't know what I would do without him."
"If you don't mind my asking, were you an attorney when you met?"
"Why, yes," she laughed again. "A staunch career woman with no thought of being a wife and mother. I met Frank in court. He was a reporter back then, covering a high profile case I was trying." She shifted the toddler on her knee, then gave the child a shortbread cookie from the plate on the table. "Here, would you hold her for a second?"
"Oh," her request took Laura by surprise. "Sure." Mrs. Carlton handed the child to Laura and rose from the table, heading over to the refrigerator.
The small child smelled of talcum powder and baby lotion. She seemed startled to find herself suddenly looking up at someone other than her mother. Laura felt sure the baby would cry at any moment, then was touched when she began to laugh, offering Laura her cookie.
"Cookie," the baby offered.
"No, thank you," Laura replied. She was tickled to notice that the child had on the tiniest of tennis shoes. Little Reeboks that were even smaller than the palms of her hands.
"Funny, I didn't know how alone and empty I was until I met Frank." Mrs. Carlton continued. She opened the refrigerator and took out two bright red apples. "He walked into my life and my whole world changed. I fought it at first. I was convinced I could conquer the world and could do it all by myself." She took the fruit in to the two children playing in the family room. "But you know something, Miss Holt. I'm so glad I took time out to smell the coffee."
*Coffee?* Laura could almost feel herself becoming ill. The unpleasant reference reminded her of the upcoming appointment. She looked at her watch. There was still plenty of time.
"What changed your mind?" Laura asked. Anything to get her thoughts off the smell of coffee.
"Jessica," Mrs. Carlton replied, taking the toddler from Laura's arms. "You see, Jessica's parents were killed in a tragic car accident. Frank petitioned to be her legal guardian and I represented him in the case. Frank and I had been seeing each other for quite sometime, but when that child came into our lives, we became closer than ever. It's funny I never realized what I had been missing in my life until then."
"Missing?" Laura asked, her thoughts drifting.
"Yes, Jessica came into our lives so small and so scared and so trusting. She needed me. She needed Frank and suddenly we needed each other. After that everything changed. Before then, I didn't think I needed anyone else in my life, not even Frank. Have you ever felt that way Miss Holt? Felt like you didn't need anyone else in the entire world? It left me feeling very alone."
Laura didn't hear her. She had drifted far off into thoughts of her own. She was surprised to feel something cold and wet on her cheeks. She lifted her hand up to catch the strange, offending object. And before she knew it she started to cry.
They had spent the past two days visiting all of Jessica's favorite hang outs--and had found virtually nothing. It was time to regroup, and Steele had asked Carlton to meet him at the office to plan a different strategy. Mildred was there when they arrived.
"Ah, Mildred. Good morning."
"Frank, we can go right into my office." Remington leaned over to Mildred. "Have you seen Miss Holt today?"
"No, Boss. She went home sick yesterday."
"What do you mean she went home sick?"
"She said she was coming down with the flu. She went to visit Mrs. Carlton and had a doctors appointment right after you left, then she went home. I haven't seen her since."
"And you didn't tell me?"
Mildred looked at him in disbelief.
"Okay, never mind." he continued. "Brew us a spot of coffee, okay? And ring Miss Holt on the telephone." he started off to his office, "Oh, by the way, I'm expecting an important call. Be a love and patch it through to me straight away when it comes in, okay?" Before Mildred could question him, he went into his office.
"I don't get it, Mr. Steele." Carlton said to him when he walked in. "We've been all over town. No one has seen or heard anything."
"We must be overlooking something, Frank. We'll sit down and go over everything from the top."
"But we've gone over and over everything from top to bottom. None of this is making any sense."
"Now, Frank, it just means we're not looking close enough." Remington loosened his tie and sat down at the desk.
"Well, I don't know how much closer we can look. Ms. Holt and I covered a lot of this before."
"Uh huh. What exactly did the two of you cover in my absence?
"Oh, we went to some of the same places you and I did, but you and I covered some of the places Ms. Holt couldn't." Carlton sat down in front of Remington's desk. "We visited the dorm, the college newspaper where she works just like you and I did yesterday. Actually we followed the same type of leads I would have if I were doing a news story. You know, its interesting, Mr. Steele. Your work is sort of like my old profession, I guess. Except, maybe you do this investigative stuff a lot more than I did."
"You did some sort of investigative work?"
"I was a reporter. Retired, if you want to call it that. I decided I wanted to work for myself. Now work at home--a writer."
"Oh, I see."
"My wife Sally and I wanted to spend more time at home with Jessica. She was just a baby, then. With Sally being an attorney and all, it was difficult. I, on the other hand could be much more flexible."
"So you gave up your career to stay home with the children?"
"Not exactly, but I guess it kind of worked out that way. But I'm doing what I want to do, and I'm working at something I love"
"You say we visited some places you and Laura couldn't?"
"Yeah, now that I think about it, we checked out all the routine places, you know standard stuff, except Ms. Holt couldn't stay long at the pizza shop where Jessica worked part-time. Something in there made her ill, kind of like the coffee thing in your office the other day."
"Oh?" He stood up and walked around to the front of the desk while Carlton continued.
"Yeah. So we didn't really check out the pizza shop and Ms. Holt didn't much like the burger joint either," he chuckled to himself. "She barely got through the front door."
"You don't say." he sat on the edge of the desk. He had been so busy being annoyed with her that he hadn't noticed Laura apparently hadn't been feeling well for sometime. She must have a pretty bad case of the flu not to come into work, he surmised. *I really should go check on her,* he thought. He made a mental note to stop by after getting the call from Daniel he was waiting for.
"And then a couple of times, she was feeling very light-headed. I think that embarrassed her. I thought that was why she dumped me on you, Mr. Steele.
"Light-headed? You mean, she fainted." he was incredulous.
"And how. I barely caught her in time. That was the day before she called you in to help, Mr. Steele."
Mildred brought in coffee for them both. "Miss Holt wasn't in, Chief. She's probably on her way to the office." She sat the tray on his desk and noticed the worried look on his face.
"What is it, Boss?" she asked in a low voice, leaning over to him.
"I don't know, Mildred. What did the doctor say to Miss Holt?"
"Beats me. They haven't called here that I'm aware of."
"And you haven't heard anything from Miss Holt?"
"Not since yesterday. She went off to see Dr. Alexander and Mrs. Carlton, then went and that's the last I heard."
"Well, let me know as soon as you hear anything." Maybe he could fix her some homemade chicken soup, especially since it was obvious she was having a hard time with eating these days. After all, she needed some sort of nourishment.
"Sure, Chief," Mildred replied and went back to the reception area.
"Coffee, Frank?" Remington asked, handing Carlton a cup.
"Sure," Carlton replied. "Well, one thing about it, the symptoms are always worse in the beginning. These things usually play themselves out in a couple of weeks."
"A couple of weeks? What are you talking about?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. Its just that Ms. Holt reminds me of my wife. Sally gets like this, too, you know can't eat, light-headed, certain smells make her nauseous, the works. It can get pretty interesting at times."
"Oh. I guess something dreadful must be going around." Remington took a sip of coffee, which was actually a bit hotter than he would have liked.
"Going around?" Carlton looked at him, confused. Then he laughed. "Oh, no. I'm sorry. Sally only gets that way when she's pregnant. From the symptoms, I just assumed...."
Somehow the cup dropped from his hands, and coffee flew everywhere, although it missed them both. Choking on it sent Remington into a spasm of coughing.
"Are you all right?" Carlton asked.
"Yes, the coffee is too bloody hot," he coughed, covering his face with his handkerchief. "Did you say, preg..." Remington couldn't stop coughing long enough to say the words.
"Pregnant? Yes. Boy, I remember one time we couldn't have bacon in our house for weeks. Just the thought of it would make her ill," he smiled as he thought of it. "Although Sally doesn't normally have all those symptoms at the same time. In fact, the only time Sally had every symptom Ms. Holt has, she was actually pregnant with twins."
"Tw--," he tried to talk but still couldn't seem to stop coughing. Carlton set down his cup and started to pat him on the back.
"How's that?" he asked. "You must have been drinking that a bit too fast."
The doctor's office called that morning. They wanted her to come back right away, not wanting to give her the results over the telephone, but Laura insisted. When she got the news, it was if she had the wind knocked out of her. She sat down by the phone.
"There must be some mistake. That's not possible."
The nurse on the other end of the phone was insistent. The results were unmistakable.
"But that's not possible. I've taken every possible precaution."
The nurse on the other end was very calm and soothing. Too damn calm and soothing. "I gather this isn't good news for you, then?" the voice said.
"I..." Laura's voice trailed off. This couldn't be happening.
"Well, why don't we schedule a follow-up appointment," the voice was saying, "then we can go over all of your options. In the mean time, you really need to take some vitamins, with iron, your blood counts are way too low..."
When Laura arrived, she found the office quite empty. Even Mildred was nowhere to be found.
She really wasn't surprised. After all, it was nearly five in the afternoon. She certainly didn't expect Mildred to be there 24 hours a day. Laura almost headed for home herself after leaving Dr. Alexander's office. Instead, she now found herself walking into the lobby of Remington Steele Investigations as if drawn there by an unspoken need to see the place she lived for. It was here that she often found strength, and she needed all the strength she could get right about now.
Laura walked into her office, conscious of her own footsteps across the floor. Everything seemed strangely quiet, yet nothing in the entire room was out of place. Her desk was immaculate. She set her purse on the filing cabinet, remembering she had neatly filed and put away all her paperwork before leaving the office. Still, one thing was noticeably different. Laura didn't remember things ever feeling quite so desolate and lonely.
She walked over and touched the Curiae lamp on her desk. The base of the lamp was cool to the touch and she found some solace in the delicate feel of the glass, and its smooth texture as it massaged her fingertips. In its own way the lamp was an oasis, a touch of femininity in an otherwise nononsense, strictly functional environment. What a strange parallel to her own life.
She was indeed a woman functioning in a man's world. And, quite suddenly, she felt all the more vulnerable.
At one time she thought she had all of the answers. Now, nothing seemed clear cut. Each situation held so many shades of gray. Even her present predicament didn't hold the cut and dried solution that she thought it would. It seemed that the harder she sought a definitive answer to all of it, the more she felt as if she were being swallowed by a vortex, almost drowning in a tidal wave of emotion, grasping desperately for an anchor from which to steady herself.
Before even realizing it, she found herself standing in his office, half-wishing he was there to greet her and half-glad he was not around. It was good that he was not there, she surmised, for if he had been, Laura felt sure she would have tried to strangle him.
How did she let herself get into such a predicament?
"Anyone here?" Mildred called from the lobby area. She had gone to retrieve a certified letter from the post office. She was quite sure she had left the door to Laura's office closed, but here it was standing wide open.
Mildred walked into Laura's office and saw her standing at Mr. Steele's desk gazing out of the window.
"Hi, honey." Mildred said, walking into his office towards her. "How are you feeling? Mr. Steele seemed pretty worried about you when he left the office this morning. Is everything all right?"
"Worried? About what?"
"I don't know for sure, but right after he and Frank Carlton came back from their visit to UCLA, the boss left here in a frenzy looking for you."
"In a frenzy? What are you talking about, Mildred?"
"I don't know exactly, Miss Holt, but I got the impression that..."
The phone rang before she could finish the sentence. "Remington Steele Investigations," Mildred answered. "No, he isn't here. Oh, hi, Mr. Chalmers. Are you here in Los Angeles?"
Before she could continue, Laura took the receiver out of her hands.
"Mr. Chalmers? What an unexpected surprise. So good of you to pay us a call." Her brow wrinkled with mounting concern. *Now what exactly are those two up to this time?* she wondered.
"Linda?" the voice on the other end inquired. "Is that you? Why, I'm surprised to find you in, my dear girl."
"Funny," Laura responded, "this is my agency."
"Why, so it is," came the reply. "and you do such an excellent job bringing that to mind, don't you? It's just that I heard you were tied up with some important case." She started to answer him, but Daniel rushed on before she could respond. "Linda, it's truly nice chatting with you but I was really looking for Harry. Is he about?"
"Oh. Pity. Well can you give him a message for me then? I need to make sure he gets it before he arrives. It wouldn't do to have him sailing off on the wrong ship, you know."
"Before he arrives?" Laura's eyes widened with astonishment. "Wrong ship? Care to elaborate, Mr. Chalmers?"
"Oh, hasn't he told you? Oh, dear, it seems I've done a frightful job letting the cat out of the bag, haven't I? Maybe I better call back after all."
"Not so fast, told me what? Where exactly are you?"
"Why London, of course. But soon Harry and I will be sailing on the Riviera, thanks to my special invitation from the prince of Monaco. I'll spare you the details, but Harry thought he might pop along. I must say I'd relish the company. Didn't he tell you? I thought he told you everything. Aren't you partners?"
"Apparently not," Laura answered the voice on the phone. Her frown deepened. *Sailing the Riviera?* she thought. *Then again, maybe strangling is much too good for him.*
"Oh, that's right, you don't have a partner." Daniel's voice was nonemotional. "You've already made that clear, haven't you? Well, I think you've finally gotten the message across to even him, my dear. If you see Harry, tell him to call me post haste, all right?" With that, he hung up the phone, leaving Laura concerned and more than a little annoyed.
"What was that all about, Miss Holt?" Mildred had been listening intently during the entire conversation. She could sense Laura's anger.
"It seems like our Mr. Steele is planning a sudden extended vacation to the south of France." With a toss of her head, Laura walked back to her office to retrieve her pocketbook. *Riviera, indeed.*
"The south of France?" Mildred fiddled with her hair as she considered this. She followed Laura back into her office. "Would someone care to tell me what's going on?"
"Nothing I can't handle, really Mildred." Laura sighed. Why did she ever think that they could work things out? "Stay close to the phone tonight, Mildred. The police may need you to identify the body when I get through with Mr. Steele."
"But I can't..." Mildred began before realizing what Laura had said. "Oh, no, you're not getting off that easy." Mildred followed her into the lobby. She was intent on getting more information. "If you ask me, neither of you are being very fair. I work here, too, you know. I have a right to know what's going on."
"Mildred, I know things seem to be a bit..."she struggled for the right words.
"Chaotic? It hasn't been that bad, I hope."
"Well, confusing would certainly be putting it mildly."
"This is really just between Mr. Steele and I, Mildred. It will work itself out one way or another."
"You know, Miss Holt, I care about you both. I don't know what is going on between you two, but it's fairly obvious that neither of you are doing a very good job of working it out."
"Mildred, really I..."
"And I know that maybe it's none of my business, but it seems to me that the two of you need to sit down and talk this out. Why don't you just tell him what's bothering you? Tell him what you really want, honey, instead of expecting him to guess about it."
Laura looked at her in surprise. For a moment she couldn't answer. "What do you mean?"
Mildred continued on. "Lay all of your cards on the table, then see what happens. Things couldn't be any worse than they are now."
"I'm not the one around here who having trouble communicating. You don't see me running off to the French Riviera without a word." Laura was amazed at the woman's insight. For someone who didn't have a clue of what was going on, she was making a great deal of sense.
"True, and I'm not justifying his behavior, Miss Holt. But I don't see you making the alternative any more appealing, kiddo. Maybe he just needs a little nudge in the right direction. Maybe this isn't a matter of who is right and who is wrong. "
The two women looked at each other quietly in mutual understanding.
"Mildred, I can't make him want to stay," Laura said softly. "Making him feel obligated is certainly not the way."
"No, but only you can make sure he knows there's a reason not to leave," Mildred answered. She gently patted Laura's arm. "Oh, I almost forgot, this certified letter came in the mail today. It's addressed to Mr. Steele." Mildred handed the letter to Laura. "Listen, I'll see you kids, later. My bowling league has a championship game tonight. Wish me luck!" Then she left the office.
Laura stood for a moment considering what Mildred had said. She took one final look around her office before turning off the lights and locking the door. Then she headed to 5994 Rossmore.
The sound of the waves against the shore was almost deafening. The roar was just loud enough to drown out everything but the thoughts racing through his mind. He needed the time to himself, and the angry surf pounding against the sand was a welcomed diversion.
He could feel a storm was brewing. There was something about the clouds far off shore that led him to believe that somewhere, far off in the distance, it was raining fiercely. Although it was still too cool for thunder, the gray afternoon sky was anything but friendly. There was no sign of the sun. It was buried somewhere underneath the vast, billowing cloud coverits brightness evenly diffused and muted across the sky. It was great weather for reflection.
Remington walked across the beach headed in no direction in particular. Even Fred, the chauffeur, had been forsaken in the distance, having been given unspecific instructions to "get lost for a while." Remington would find his chauffeur when he needed him. Right now he wanted to be completely alone.
He had spent so much of his youth taking care of himself. In some ways, life had been much easier then. On his own, he had the freedom to do as he pleased, with no strings, no obligations and most importantly, no emotional ties to confuse things. He grew up never knowing where he belonged, always being in the way and never having a family of his own, so to speak. It taught him that it was much easier to remain detached from it all. And much safer too.
In many ways, he had successfully insulated himself from the rejection he felt as a child. In more ways, however, he had come to realize that all he truly had succeeded at was allowing no one to really get close.
But now that had all changed. His thoughts drifted to Laura. Slowly, he had come to realize that the life he had made for himself as Remington Steele only had meaning if Laura were truly a part of it. He wanted her to be a permanent part of his life and was no longer content living the nomadic lifestyle he once loved so much. He needed a life that was truly his and wanted some assurances that the road they traveled together was more than a convenient agreement enveloped in an elaborate charade. There was a time when that would have been good enough. That time had past. He had made a decision some time ago that if Laura couldn't decide for sure if she truly wanted him in her life it was time to move on and find a place where he would truly belong.
Two seagulls flew overhead, vying for the small fish one had plucked from the sea. They swayed awkwardly in the wind, squawking maddeningly. Yet the pair scarcely garnered his attention at all. Only the wind managed to break his concentration. It whirled playfully through his hair, causing him to stop momentarily to brush it from his eyes as he looked out across the dark, vast ocean. Eventually, the feathered pair flew on across the windy horizon searching for another sea creature to prey upon, leaving Remington alone with his thoughts about Laura.
He had been hard on her these past few weeks and had not so much as an inkling of what she must be going through. How long had she known?
Interestingly enough, it wasn't so much the shock of the discovery that Laura might be pregnant that was troubling him. It was the realization that she hadn't trusted him enough to confide in him.
Just when was she planning on telling him?
The angry ocean pounded across the stone reef projecting from the beach, splashing a mist of cold seawater all around it. In low tide, one could walk completely along the reef's surface. It stretched far out towards the ocean on a seemingly endless foray into the blue. Now the stone pathway closest to shore was almost totally concealed beneath the turbulent waves. Only the furthermost tip, its tallest point, could be detected. It stood steadfast and strangely solitary, like a waif cut off from all things safe and familiar.
Remington watched it for a moment still reflecting on his own childhood. He was painfully aware of what it was like to be raised without a father. He had spent the better part of his youth chasing a phantom, searching for a father he never knew and looking for an identity that had been snatched away from him at birth. Did his own father even know he existed? If so, why had he removed himself so very completely from his son's life?
It had taken a long time for Remington to come to grips with the anger. But he never forgave the abandonment. It was ironic to think that, if he hadn't discovered Laura's secret today, he may never have known about the child she was carrying. He would have been off on some wild, final escapade with Daniel, never knowing...
He had completely forgotten Daniel's phone call. Suddenly he realized that the sun had gone way past the horizon. It was getting dark. Time to find Fred and the limo and head home. He'd call Daniel from there and let him know leaving now was quite impossible. They'd have to catch up with one another some other time.
"Fred?" he called for his chauffeur and headed for Colony Plaza.
When Laura reached the fifth floor, a sudden panic welled inside her. What if he had already gone? She remembered walking up to his apartment and finding it empty. Remington had left without a word, flying off to London in search of an identity.
The hallway was completely empty and felt like a vacuum. Laura was the only person on the entire floor. She approached his door slowly then stood silently for a moment before trying the knob. She was relieved to find it locked. At least that was a good sign. Why lock an empty apartment?
Laura knocked and the sound echoed through the hallway breaking the hollow silence. The seconds dragged forever as waited for an answer. Suddenly it dawned on her that she hadn't the slightest clue of what she would say when she saw him. Half of her still wanted to ring his neck.
There was no answer. Laura knocked once again. She reached into her purse to get his apartment key, but realized she must have left it at the office. Instead, she retrieved the case that held her lock pick. She slowly and deliberately slipped the file into the cold recesses of the mechanism, without thinking about what she was doing or why. It was as if she needed to be there much like she needed to stop at her office just hours before. She picked the lock without a hitch and entered the apartment, closing the door behind her.
The evening light shining through the bay window cast an eerie shadow throughout the room. She held her breath as she walked into it, glad to be out of the empty hallway. Everything in the room was just as he always left it. There was no sign of anything usual and, most importantly, no evidence of a sudden departure.
Everything looked pretty much like it always did, but something about the darkened room reminded her of another time and place. They had been through much these past few years. There were so many memories.
And so many close calls. In many ways he had always been there when she needed him most. The night they broke into the Federal Reserve Bank, he even saved her life. In the Mediterranean, he used a makebelieve gun in a futile attempt to rescue her from a group of thugs. Instead, they both dove underwater to freedom. Laura shook her head and smiled as she thought of it. She had been so eager to win their bet she carelessly neglected her own safety.
Shadows crept softly through the room embracing a thousand joyous and sobering images. She remembered sitting with Remington in this very room listening to transcriptions from a romance novelist as they searched for a clue. They celebrated their temporary heist of a valuable art collection here. She remembered finding the Auburn, losing her investigator's license, losing her home...
That night she felt she had lost everything. Her house, Berniece, Murphy. All she had left of the life she had forged for herself was the office, the clothes on her back and this man she had come to call Remington Steele. The man with no name.
That night she tried to sleep in this very room. She could almost hear the fireplace roaring as the rain fell furiously outside. But sleep never came. In the end, she recalled crying on his shoulder. He held her close until her sobs began to still. They talked a long, long time, and he made her laugh, in spite of it all. She remembered his story about the Greek smuggler, Marcos, and their escapades. Marcos had also created a name for him. What was it again?
Xenos. That was it. The stranger. In many ways he was still just that to her as well.
So many memories. She turned on the lamp nearest the dining area, and the light spilled into the room bringing with it another flood of images from the past.
There was Major Descoine, who put both of their lives in jeopardy and brought Detective Jarvis into their lives, and there was Monroe.
She stopped for a moment, saddened at the thought. She sat down on the sofa watching the unlit fireplace and remembering the night they first made love.
She thought she had lost him forever. She remembered hoping beyond hope that he were still alive. Then she had found him here, shaken and exhausted but alive. And they made love. Neither of them had planned on it. They fought as hard as they could, but passion had triumphed in the end. Both yielded to the inevitable, acknowledging that they both wanted, no needed, each other desperately. It was the first time she acknowledged even to herself how much she truly loved him.
It was then she realized that he was no longer a stranger at all. In fact, she knew him better than he knew himself. And now, in a strange twist of events, she was carrying his child.
Where on earth was he?
It was well past eight and nearly dark. For the first time since she entered the apartment, she wondered if, somehow, he had been asleep the entire time she was there and hadn't even heard her knock.
The bedroom door was closed and she knocked on it gently. "Mr. Steele?" she called softly. She waited and leaned her forehead against the door.
There was no answer. She opened the door cautiously.
The room was empty. Her own reflection looked back at her from the mirrored closet doors. To be safe, she walked over and opened them to make sure they were filled with clothing. She wasn't disappointed, yet it still didn't tell her what she wanted to know. She wondered where he had gone.
Laura caught a glimpse of herself in the mirrored door panel and suddenly wondered how she'd look in another few months. She was nowhere near prepared for that reality. She couldn't begin to anticipate Remington's reaction once he found out and she wasn't sure she even wanted to. A commitment made out of some sense of obligation was certainly not what she wanted. In the end, she wanted a commitment made without hesitation, qualms or uncertainty--one straight from the heart. The last thing Laura wanted was for him to feel trapped. What was she going to do?
If Remington couldn't commit before, what chance did they have now to forge anything meaningful of their lives together? And there was this sudden trip to France to contend with as well. With the way he had been behaving lately, Laura gathered a return trip was not on the itinerary. Either way, it seemed this was a journey she was destined to face alone. And the thought was quite overwhelming.
Laura pulled herself away from the mirror, and turned back toward the living room to head home. That was when she saw it.
*What on earth?* she thought at first. She couldn't believe her eyes. This small item was strangely out of place. She knew Remington never went in for this sort of thing. But it seemed so strangely familiar, like another bit of her past calling to her in the present.
She walked to the other side of the room till she reached his bureau dresser. Then she slowly reached down to pick up the tiny object, almost afraid that touching it would somehow burst its image like a dream.
Tears came to her eyes. There really was no mistaking it. It was still recognizable, although singed from the fire that took all of her worldly belongings. The question was, what was it doing here?
Her grandmother had given this to her a long, long time ago. She had asked Laura to help find a lost ring, then repaid Laura for her good work with a quarter and this very same koala bear.
Laura recalled the last time she saw it. She often left it sitting on her night stand next to a picture she kept of her mother and sister. But that day, it was lying on her bed. That was the evening her house went up in flames.
Now here it was sitting on his dresser, small, brown, slightly matted and burned, but still recognizable. Obviously Remington had picked it up sometime after the fire. But why?
She sat it back on the dresser. It was then she noticed the small black velvet jewelry case it was lying against. She touched the top of the case in surprise, wondering why she hadn't seen it there. Then she picked it up and looked inside.
The ring was stunning. The brilliance of the center diamond was accentuated by the circle of sapphires surrounding it. She took the ring out of the case and watched it sparkle in the light of the room. Then something he had said to her just the other morning crept into her consciousness. What was it he said that morning in her office before all hell broke lose after her visit to Dr. Alexander?
*But what do you want, really?* he had begun, then...*dammit...what was it? Something about needing an answer?* Then she put the ring back in the case and set it back on the dresser.
She picked up the koala bear and went back to the living room to wait for Remington.
The front door was unlocked. He was quite sure he had locked it. He never left the front door to the apartment unlocked. It was second nature for him. So why, then, was the door opened?
It was late. Nearly midnight. Although he had headed for home long ago, he taken a detour, first to Laura's loft, then back to the office. He waited for quite some time for her at her loft until it dawned on him that she must have gone back to the office.
But she hadn't been there either. He had even tried calling Mildred several times that night but to no avail. Finally he headed for home.
The last thing he needed to find was an intruder. He could tell the lock had been picked, but wondered how the culprit made it past the security guard downstairs. Remington opened the door slowly, and turned on the light on the stand near the entrance.
The room seemed undisturbed. He cautiously walked to the bedroom to check for any sign of anything missing there.
Laura's engagement ring was still on the dresser where he left it. He had the vague feeling that something else was missing but couldn't quite place what it could have been. But it was quite obvious that whomever had broken into his flat wasn't looking for anything of value.
He quickly checked the closets and went back through the living room into the kitchen area. Nothing seemed out of place here either. In fact everything seemed quite normal. He began to relax just a bit and started to unfasten his shirt as he went to check the patio windows.
It wasn't until then that he saw her. Laura had fallen asleep on the couch waiting for him to return.
"Laura?" he called softly. She didn't stir a muscle.
Funny. He had been searching for her all night, but he hardly expected to find her here. It dawned on him that he hadn't the slightest idea of what he wanted to say to her.
Remington walked over to were she slept. He knelt down on the floor beside her and gently brushed the hair out of her face, debating whether to let her sleep or wake her. He longed to hold her in his arms, but remembered she was having trouble sleeping, and watched her thoughtfully instead.
"Sleep well, my love," he whispered. He kissed her on the cheek then rested his head against her arms.
Laura slept soundly for the first time in weeks. Oddly enough, she dreamed of being on a special mission in the south of France. She played the tape holding her special assignment in a tape player hidden inside the grill of the antique car her Mediterranean contact had secured for her. Her assignment -- to retrieve a stolen painting from a dark cavern just off the Riviera. But something had gone wrong. Somehow the ship she arrived on had exploded and she had to be fished from the water by a dark Irish prince with a lance who happened to be riding by on a white horse. He pulled her dripping wet from the sea and carried her off to safety.
She barely came to, awaking to find herself cradled in Remington's arms. Somewhere a calm, deep sense of belonging overtook her. She moved her arms around his shoulders and snuggled even closer.
"What are you doing?" she whispered, scarcely distinguishing the reality from the dream.
"Shhh," he coaxed. "Nothing. Go back to sleep." He carried her in his arms, being extra careful not to wake her any more than he had to. She sighed at the sound of his voice and peacefully drifted back to sleep, feeling more contented than she had in quite some time.
Remington crossed the room and gently lay Laura on the bed, tucking her underneath the warm covers. He kissed her once more softly, lovingly before turning off the light, closing the door behind him, and returning to living room to get some sleep as well. It had been a long day.
The ringing telephone broke the evening silence. He had barely taken off his shirt before it rang. Who could be calling at this time of the morning? He rushed to answer it before disturbing Laura from her sleep.
"Hello?" he asked. It was Frank Carlton.
"Mr. Steele," Carlton replied. "I'm sorry to call you this late at night, but we've just received a call. From Jessica. "
"From Jessica? Is she all right?"
"I don't know, Mr. Steele. Can you come over right away?"
"Yes, Frank, of course," Remington sighed. "On my way." He hung up the telephone and reached for his shirt again. Sleep and his talk with Laura would have to wait.
"She asked that we stop looking for her. She said you'd understand." Frank Carlton paced in his living room. His wife Sally sat nearest the fireplace, her young toddler lay sleeping in her arms. Both were pretty shaken. Remington sat across from them.
"I'd understand? Are you sure that's what she said?" He had left his jacket and tie home in his rush to reach the Carlton's and his collar remained open. He wondered exactly what tiny bit of information he'd neglected to receive.
"Yes, that's what she said." Frank Carlton lit another cigarette. It was already his third. Remington never recalled seeing him smoke in all the time they had searched for Jessica.
"Did she sound frightened?" Remington looked for some clue of what had transpired. "Do you think she was being threatened?"
"I don't know." Carlton answered. His normally cheerful demeanor was shrouded in obvious concern. "Her voice just sounded very far away. Distant. Like she was calling from someplace very secluded. I don't understand. Why would she say to check with you?"
"I don't know." Remington admitted. "But why do you say secluded?"
"Because it was so quiet. There was almost no sound in the background. Her voice almost echoed through the phone."
"Yes echoed. You know, like on a mountain top."
"Did she anything else at all that would give you a clue to where she is, or what was going on?"
"What should we do, Mr. Steele?" Sally Carlton had remained quiet for most of the discussion. She quietly rocked the sleeping child and observed her husband sadly.
"That's a good question, Mrs. Carlton. For now, we wait."
"What did she mean, you'd understand? Has someone else contacted you about this?"
"No, not that I'm aware."
"What about Miss Holt? Does she know something?"
"I'm afraid we won't find that out until morning." He searched his breast pocket for a pen. "Listen," he continued, "I'm headed back to the office to look around. In the meantime, you both try to get some sleep. There's nothing we can do about this now. But, if she calls again, phone me immediately." He jotted down the number to the car phone. "Track me down. Listen for any nuance that could tell us where she isany sound in the background, voices, music, anything. Understand?"
"Yes," Frank Carlton extended out his hand in thanks. "We really appreciate your coming right over."
"No problem, mate." He patted Carlton on the shoulder. "Don't worry. We'll find her."
Laura stretched out in the bed after lying cuddled close to her pillow. She absently reached for him, remembering how good it felt being in his arms. Suddenly, it dawned on her where she was and that she was alone.
How did she wind up in bed? Fully clothed, no less? Her last memory was of something completely different. She searched for it around the bed but couldn't locate it at all.
Laura glanced at her watch. It was nearly 5 a.m. She had slept the entire night. Laura couldn't remember when she last had a full nights sleep. She lay still listening to the silence of the apartment, realizing she missed him with every essence of her soul.
"Enough of this," she said to herself. It was time to leave. She had wasted too much time here already. She climbed to her feet, groggy at first, and headed to the bathroom to brush her hair. Amazingly her clothes weren't completely wrinkled.
She picked up her purse and headed for the door. Just then, she heard the lock turn and Remington came through the door.
He didn't expect to see her at the door.
"Laura," he ventured. "Good morning." He shut the door behind him, his blue eyes clouded with apprehension as he smiled sheepishly.
"Good morning? You don't seem particularly surprised to see me." Laura half wished she had made it through the door without seeing him. She was torn in half emotionally, and more confused now than when first entering the apartment. She listened to the door close behind him and waited for his reply.
He shrugged. He could tell she was annoyed, and for the life of him he didn't know why. He decided not to press the issue.
"How are you?"
"Fine," came her cursory response. Her anger mounted at the unfairness of it all. One way or another she would have to face the implications of what happened between them for the rest of her life. The ramifications for him, although eternal, were not so profound. He could still walk away from it all and forget it ever happened without any noticeable change. She on the other hand, had no such choice.
"I mean, how are you, really." he asked again. The morning sunlight sprinkled through the room splattering light across the soft gray living room sofa like fairy dust. A mosaic of color decorated the ledge just off the bay window in the living room.
"Really? I don't think you want to know." She followed him into the living room.
"Oh? Try me." He noticed the light as it fell softly across her hair, accentuating each feature as he watched for some indication of what she was thinking, what she was feeling.
"Okay. Have you seen the agency gun around the office lately?"
"Oh, I see." *What is it this time?* he thought. *Someone I've forgotten to call?* "Laura, it's late, or early depending on how you look at it, I've barely had any sleep at all. Can we call a truce here, at least temporarily?" His deep blue eyes looked at her imploringly and were met with sudden softness from the brown ones across the room. He didn't know at the time he had Mildred to thank for it.
"Where have you been all night?" she questioned.
"Jessica Carlton called."
"Jessica Carlton? When? Tonight?"
"Yes, a few hours ago."
"Well, what did she say? How is she?"
"She told Frank Carlton that I know why she disappeared."
"Uh huh. I just spent the past two hours going through the bloody office with a finetoothed comb looking for a clue to what she might be talking about. You don't happen to know why she would think that, do you?"
"No, I don't think so." She thought for a moment. "Wait," she pulled the certified letter from her purse. "This came in the mail today. I had completely forgotten."
He took the letter from her hand and opened it. "It's from Jessica Carlton. At least that's what it says."
She gasped. "You're kidding."
"It's true, at least, that's what it says her in the letter, which is written in long hand, by the way. Seems Jessica eloped. With a college professor, actually. She was afraid to tell the Carlton's because she thought they'd be disappointed in her."
"Why write you? Why not tell them directly? Especially since she called them."
"Well, it seems she saw us as a convenient way to get out of doing that for herself. When word got to her that we were looking for her, she thought we could do the job for her, at least that's what it says here in the letter."
"Where is she?"
"On her honeymoon. Aspen, it seems. I'll check it out later this morninghopefully after getting some sleep. But it seems plausible enough. Hopefully Frank can verify her handwriting and we'll see if everything else checks out."
"Frank Carlton will be relieved."
"I'm sure. Unless his new soninlaw has plans on living off his inlaws for a while. College professors don't make very much I hear. Especially if they're not tenured. Somehow I don't think running off with one of your students qualifies you for tenure."
"Well, gaining a soninlaw, tenured or not, is a small price to pay for getting his daughter back safe and sound." Laura surmised.
"Would you like a cup of tea?" If he was going to stay awake a while longer, he needed the added incentive. She nodded, following him as he walked into the kitchen and put the kettle on the stove to boil. "Actually," he said to her once the stove was lit, hoping to break the ice, "she's his niece."
As he stood there, Laura wondered how it were possible for one man to look so gorgeous. She sighed, then said seriously, "We need to talk."
"Yes, we do," he replied. There was still a lingering sadness in his heart knowing it was hard for her to confide in him.
"I mean really."
He nodded. "I think we're trying. This a start, anyway. In fact, I'll start over." His blue eyes watched her intently. "Now how are you, really?" Her pained expression at his query tore through his heart like a knife through paper. "Laura, I..."
"No, Let me start. I need to say this." She paused and took a deep breath. The seconds between her words seemed like forever. "First, I want you to know that I what I have to say doesn't have to change anything between us, but you have to know, at least."
"Laura..." He tried to let her know she didn't need to explain. But Laura wouldn't have it.
"Just let me finish." She insisted. "And I'm telling you up front I have no expectations and I didn't plan on things happening this way." He scratched his forehead, bowing his head anticipating her next words. She forged ahead. "I'm pregnant."
"I know." Almost immediately he knew it was the wrong thing to say.
"You know? What do you mean you know?" All this time she had laboring over how to tell him and he knew all along.
"Well, I didn't, I mean I suspected..."
"You did?" Strangulation was looking better and better by the minute. "How long have you known?"
"Why? Does it matter?"
"Yes, I mean. I thought..." She hesitated. "You let me go through all of this and you already knew?" By now she was furious.
"Laura, you wouldn't let me get a word in edgewise."
"That's no excuse." Suddenly she wished they were back at the office. That agency gun had to be around somewhere.
"Why are you angry? Is it something I said? What is it?"
"What is it? I'm pregnant for chrissake. That's one heck of a 'what is it.' "
"And somehow all of this is my fault?"
"Are you saying it's mine?"
"Well it's certainly somebody's fault."
"Then we're both guilty." he said calmly. "I think we're in this together."
"No, we're not. You don't have any idea what I have been going through."
"I think I do, somewhat."
"No, you don't. You have no idea what's is like to suddenly find out that somehow, some way, something fell through the cracks and you're pregnant with the child of a man who's running off to the Riviera. You have no idea what that feels like."
"Fell through the cracks?" He looked at her incredulously. Maybe it was because he was so very tired, or maybe because she was so appealingly furious that, in spite of himself, he laughed.
Laura stopped pacing in front of him. "This isn't funny."
"No, it isn't," he kept laughing. "I'm sorry, Laura, you really should calm down." He covered his face with one hand, brushing his brow with his fingertips. By this time, the water was boiling and he turned off the stove, but he couldn't stop chuckling.
"Well, I'm glad one of us finds some humor in this situation," she folded her arms and stood in front of him, anger increasing by the second.
"I don't, really," Remington sat at the edge of the counter and watched her with obvious affection. "So what happened, exactly. I mean, didn't you..." he searched for the right words. "Aren't you on..."
"Yes, I am and yes, I did," she answered him before he could finish the question.
"Well, what exactly did the doctor say?"
"I'm a statistical aberration. One of the mysterious one percent who fall through the cracks."
"Oh, I see." This time he didn't laugh, for her sake. "How did you find out about France."
"Does it matter? If you must know, I received a telephone call from your partner in crime."
"Daniel?" he suddenly remembered that he still hadn't spoken to his closest friend and was still scheduled to fly out late that afternoon. "When did he call?"
"Oh, so now we can be serious? Missing your call to action isn't funny, I gather."
"Laura, I'm not going to the Riviera. In fact, I'm not going anywhere."
"Well, Daniel certainly seems to think you are. Don't have a change of heart on my account."
"I'm not leaving you" he said matteroffactly. "I'd never leave like this." *In fact, I'd never leave you,* he was thinking.
"Leave me like what? Why should this change anything? You weren't concerned about leaving me before."
"Laura..." he began. He truly didn't want to argue."If you think I need you to stick around now, you're sadly mistaken."
It was another open invitation to call her bluff. This time he angrily refused to take her up on it. He rose from were he sat to approach her facetoface.
"You see? Where are we headed with this, eh?" he fired back. "You go out of your way to prove to me that you don't need me around, but if I believe you, if I take you at your word, you're hurt and angry. But then it's me who's not being honest. Is that the way it goes Laura?"
"You're twisting the facts."
"Am I? So you're angry with me because I'm headed to France? Well, I'm not going to France so you can stop being angry."
"What makes you think it's that easy?"
"Isn't it? Then maybe that's not what you're angry at all." He paused for a moment. "Is it Laura?"
"I don't know what you mean." In the back of her mind she replayed his words of just days before.
"Don't you, Laura?" he challenged.
She could feel his gaze upon her as she contemplated the answer. She turned away, trying to erase his image from her mind. "I am angry at you for wanting to leave in the first place," she acknowledged. "I'm angry that you could even consider throwing every thing between us away and vanishing without a word."
"Laura," he began thoughtfully, quietly. "It wasn't me who threw everything away. If you want me to stay, then stop pushing me away."
She turned to face him, confused by the accusation. "But, I'm not..."
He stopped her in midsentence. "You are," he stated emphatically. "More and more day by day, it seems. Even more so now that his has happened."
"I don't understand. I didn't mean..."
"Oh, you didn't? What did you mean, then?"
"I only meant you shouldn't feel obligated..."
"No? And what, exactly should I feel?"
"Look, just don't do me any favors. I can take care of myself."
"See, you're doing it again." He walked over to her. "Why do I want to believe that you can't admit what you want to yourself or anyone else?"
She fell silent, unable to answer him. She searched deep inside for the response. "I just want things to be different, that's all." she said finally.
"I don't know. More concrete, more definite." She turned away, unable to put her feelings to words. "What we had, the time we spent together, was special in many ways," she began, choosing her words carefully, "but there has to be more. Everything was so superficial in many ways. The fact is..."
"Dammit, Laura." He couldn't believe what he had heard. A spasm of emotion overtook him and his eyes narrowed. "The fact is that I love you. Doesn't that count for anything?" His words echoed through the apartment, clear and distinct. "How in hell can you label that superficial?"
She stood watching him for a moment, speechless. "You're just... just..." She shook her head, her eyes filled with tears. "You're just saying that because I'm..."
"Because you're pregnant? Is that really what you think, Laura?" He didn't wait for an answer. Instead, he swept her into his arms and his lips caught hers before she could utter a sound in return. His mouth melded to hers in a deep, searing kiss that merged the essence of their souls. His touch, the sheer feel of him, overpowered her, and she surrendered in his arms.
"Laura, stop this," he murmured roughly. "You've known how I feel for a long time." Incredible blue eyes looked deeply, lovingly into brown ones. "Why not give things a chance to be different?"
"I don't understand." Her voice was barely a whisper. She looked away, collecting her thoughts, trying to recount a thousand separate splinters of detail and a thousand memories.
"Don't you?" was his only response. Her heart raced but no answers came. Nothing was falling into place.
In her confusion, Laura remembered something else that had puzzled her. She took his hand and led him back into the living room to the place where she last it . It had been inadvertently pushed under the coffee table. She retrieved it, handing him the piece of her past she had found on his dresser.
"Why do you have this?" she asked.
He had forgotten even retrieving her koala bear from the closet where it had been for so long.
"I don't know," he answered honestly. After all, he wasn't remotely sentimental. "I pulled it from the debris that morning you had the fire. It was the only thing I could salvage that wasn't burned beyond recognition."
"I found it in your room," she continued, "by a jewelry box."
"I see," he acknowledged. "Found that, too, did we? So much, I guess, for the element surprise." Remington motioned for her to sit down as he headed to the bedroom.
He picked up the black case from the dresser and opened it. He hadn't looked at it once since that day he planned to give it to Laura in his office. But the ring was every bit as stunning as he remembered it. He sat the empty case back on the dresser and left the room to heed the direction of his heart.
Remington sat down next to Laura on the sofa and hesitated for a moment, remembering the last time he'd attempted this. He quickly pushed the image from his mind, took her hand tenderly and slid the ring onto her finger.
"Marry me, Laura," his voice was sensuous and pleading. "I know how it appears. But in truth, I tried asking you a long time ago, only you said you wanted to break things off'just forget what happened between us,' I think you said. I took you at your word. What else could I do?"
Her eyes widened and she looked up at him again, surprised to see the hurt embedded in his eyes as he remembered. Why hadn't she noticed it before? Her heart ached with the realization that she had been the cause of the sadness she saw there. She reached up and gently cupped his face in her right hand. He covered it with his own and kissed it softly.
"I didn't know. How could I know?" she barely whispered. He shook his head, still waiting for the answer he was looking for. The look in her eyes told him volumes before she uttered a sound.
Once, Remington promised to never leave her for her own good. Now she couldn't believe her own ears. Here he was professing an undying love and asking her to marry him. She wanted to pinch herself to see if she were dreaming.
"I love you," she scarcely breathed the words. "Yes, I'll marry you." She kissed him, and time ceased to exist.
That morning they made love again, sweet and passionate, both intoxicated by the depths of their emotion. Their only reality was each other. Later, when she lay sleeping in his arms, he would have sworn he were in heaven.
It seemed to him that he had scarcely fallen asleep before the phone rang. Reluctantly, he answered it. It was Mildred.
"Hello, Mildred." he sighed. He should have been accustomed to her timely interruptions by now. "Yes, Mildred. I have it right here. Hold on a moment."
"It's Mildred," he whispered to Laura, pulling a robe out of the closet. He headed off to the other room. He picked up the phone in the living room after locating the certified letter on the coffee table. "Yes, I have it here. Yes, she gave it to me." He didn't bother to mention it had nearly taken her an entire day.
Mildred was telling him that Frank Carlton had called first thing that morning. He wanted to know if Remington had any luck finding some information at the office.
"Tell him I may have some information for him later today," he confided. Mildred continued to outline Carlton's call in precise detail and he sighed. He knew she would keep him on the phone, or worse yet, call again until she got whatever bit of information she was secretly digging for.
He glanced up and saw Laura standing smiling at him in the doorway, obviously amused by the exchange. She was wearing one of his robes, and her hair fell softly around her shoulders. A vision, he thought. He couldn't have been more in awe of her beauty had she actually had wings and a halo. He motioned her over.
"Oh, Mildred, darling," he interjected finally, "I want you to call UCLA, and locate a Professor Martin for me. Verify he does, indeed, work there and he is, indeed, off on his honeymoon. Oh, and see if you can find out the name of his new wife. Could you do that for me? What's that? Actually, Mildred, she's right here." He gave the phone to Laura and headed back to the bedroom.
"Hello, Mildred?" Laura answered.
"Miss Holt?" Mildred was obviously pleased at finding her there. "I hope I wasn't interrupting anything."
"Never, Mildred." Laura lied. "What is it?"
"You got an urgent message from the doctor's office. They want you to call right away."
"Thanks, Mildred." Before Mildred could get in another word, Laura added, "we'll talk later, but I doubt either Mr. Steele or I will be in today." She could feel Mildred smiling as she hung up the phone and called Dr. Alexander's office.
"Hi, I got an urgent message to call you. The name's Laura Holt."
"Miss Holt?" the receptionist on the other line checked to be sure. "Oh, yes, Miss Holt. Just a minute. Dr. Alexander wanted to speak to you personally." She placed Laura on hold.
"Are you still talking to Mildred?" Remington came up behind her and began nudging her playfully, kissing her cheeks, her forehead, her ears, while she held on the phone. She laughed, pushing him away. For the first time in her life she truly felt the power of loving and being thoroughly loved in return. When Dr. Alexander finally answered his line, Laura was in Remington's arms once more, lost in the loving seduction of his kiss.
"Miss Holt?" She barely heard the voice on the other end of the receiver.
"Yes?" she reluctantly pulled her mouth away, his taste lingering against her lips like fine wine. "Hello, Dr. Alexander."
Remington continued to hold her as she talked, waiting patiently, playfully rocking her back and forth, wondering if everything was all right.
"I wanted to talk to you personally." Dr. Alexander was saying. "It seems we had a problem here in the office and I wanted to tell you right away."
"A problem?" Her hold tightened around his shoulders. He stopped swaying, and responded in kind, offering comfort for whatever unpleasantness was about to touch them from the other end of the line. Unbeknownst to her and scarcely cognizant himself, he sent a silent prayer for everything to be all right.
"Yes, it seems we had a problem with one of our office managers. She no longer works here, I might add. But in the short of it, it seems we mixed up your test results."
"What do you mean?" She looked over at Remington, concern visibly evident in her eyes. He watched her with equally mounting concern.
"Well, what it means is--and I know you'll be happy about this—you're not pregnant after all. But you do have a very nasty virus. Flu, really. It's quite rare, but gaining in occurrence in this area unfortunately. I'll have to call in a prescription for antibiotics for you. But, I personally wanted to apologize for the inconvenience. Again, we've taken care of the persons involved so it should never happen again."
"Thank you," she said numbly and hung up the telephone.
"What is it?" He was preparing for the worst.
"I'm not pregnant." she said plainly.
"What?" he asked.
"Flu," she responded. She didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
"Oh," he replied, pulling her into his arms again, cherishing the smell of her hair and savoring her touch against him. "No matter, darling," he said whispering in her ear, his voice was comforting on its own. "We'll just keep trying. Who knows. Maybe one day, in time, we'll actually get it right."