By: Ilsa Lund


First printed:

Summary: This is my second attempt at RS Fiction. It takes place shortly after 'Hearts Of Steele' but just before 'To Stop A Steele' – episodes from way back in the 1st season. Remember, this is set fairly early on in the relationship of Laura Holt and Mr Steele. I've tried to capture the spirit of the person he was at that time (ditto with Laura) but naturally, I've gone with the flow in places!

*Americans may notice odd words/terms (e.g. grey rather than gray) – I'm English and that's how we Brits spell!

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.

Rating: NC17 (I think!) but definitely 'R' for adult content and sexual innuendo so if you are easily offended please do not read on.


"Remington Steele Investigations. How may I help you?" The vivacious brunette grabbed a pad and pen. "I'm afraid Mr Steele is in conference at the moment. May I take a message? Uh-huh…How are you spelling that? L-e-i-g-h-t-o-n S-t-C-l-a-i-r. As soon as Mr Steele is out of his meeting, I will pass that on…Me? I'm Bernice Fox, Laura's – I mean, Mr Steele's secretary…Dulcet, honey-toned?…Greek Goddess?…That's one I haven't heard before! Thank you Mr StClair and good day to you too!"

She hung up the receiver with a smile on her face. What a shameless flatterer this old friend of the man calling himself Remington Steele was! It certainly explained from whom his protégé had received training in charm! She hummed dreamily to herself as the tall, fair-haired man opened his office door and walked towards her desk.

"Murphy, bow! You are standing before a dulcet, honey-toned, young lady who conjures up apparitions of Greek Goddesses!"

"What are you talking about?" he quizzed good-naturedly.

"I just spoke to an old friend of you-know-who. A Mr Leighton StClair."

"Leighton StClair? What kind of a name is that? It belongs in a corny soap! Yep, I can see it now, 'General Hospital' starring James Brolin as Doctor Leighton StClair! He cuts, he nips, he tucks, he'll melt your heart!"

Bernice playfully slapped his arm. "Ha, Ha. Very funny! But he was kinda debonair, very smooth. A real charmer. Knows exactly what to say to a woman."

"Oh no! Our impostor has an evil twin."

"They were supposed to be meeting up tonight but Mr StClair's had to cancel. Anyway, he liked the sound of my voice and that's how he described me!"


"Some private investigator you are if you need an explanation! It's called flirting. Men have been known to do it too!" She flicked her hair to emphasise the point.

"Yikes! There is another one on this planet just like him!" He pointed in the direction of Steele's door. "Speaking of you-know-who, what round are they up to in there?"

"I can't count that high. Has God invented a number that high?"

"It's been over half an hour."

"Yep and they're getting louder. I clearly heard her call him an idiot just before I spoke to Mr StClair."

"Not exactly a startling revelation, is it? He is an idiot! Oh, for the good old days when it used to be so peaceful around here! Nice, fictitious, figurehead that didn't exist and Laura and I solving the cases alone together. Then that crook worms his way in and ruins everything!"

"Oh yeah! He's really spoilt the show! Now that our previously invisible boss is a real man, we get more press! More publicity! More cases! More money! It's such a drag!"

"Whose side are you on?" he asked a little irritably.

"We've been over this so many times. Laura thinks he performs a valuable service for her agency as the flashy front man."

"Flashy front man? You won't believe what he did today! If you ask me, he's starting to get a little too involved with things around here. Always showing up at the wrong time, always getting it wrong, always interfering where he's not wanted, always spouting ridiculous movie references to solve serious crimes and taking all the limelight while Laura's forced into the background."

"Like it or not, that seems to be the way it is now."

"I don't like it."

"I know Murphy. I know."

Inside Steele's office Laura Holt, the woman behind the eponymous detective agency, glared at the handsome, dark-haired, impeccably dressed man seated behind the desk. A heated discussion had become a full-blown row since he'd arrived back at the office three quarters of an hour ago.

"I still say it was stupid! Reckless! You could have gotten yourself killed today!"

He glowered at the bundle of rage in front of him. "I can take care of myself! I have done so for a good many years now!"

"If that's the way you look after yourself, it's a wonder you're still alive!" she shot back putting her hands on her hips.

He knew it was her signal that she was just getting warmed up. He'd seen it often enough. None of her other employees ignited her ire the way he did. And no one he knew could unleash his temper with the ease that she always seemed to.

"Why are we arguing about this? I helped to solve the case didn't I? My hunch was correct wasn't it?"

Laura paced, refusing to be placated. "You went off on your own Mr Steele without consulting me, without informing me or anyone else of your plans or intentions! You could have seriously jeopardised the case!" She turned to face him, "That's not part of our arrangement and it's not how Murphy and I do things around here!"

He bristled at the unfavourable comparison to her longstanding partner, "Fine! What would you have said if I had told you what I was going to do?"

She raised her voice a decibel and locked her brown eyes with his blue ones, "That is precisely the point Mr Steele! You didn't tell me! It was frivolous and completely irresponsible! The quintessential you!" She slapped her thighs in frustration.

Something in him snapped. "Oh! Heaven forbid that Laura Holt actually give me wholehearted credit for anything I do!" He banged the desk in frustration. "I may not be a trained private detective like you but I am not an imbecile! This isn't just about your annoyance at my so-called frivolity is it?" He stood up and yelled, "After all this time, after all I've done, you still don't trust me!"

She took a sharp intake of breath. He was right but there was no way she was going to let him know that. "If we're going to make this arrangement work, if we're going to be a team, you have to act more responsibly and think of other people besides yourself! I can't juggle clients, worry about you, piece clues together, answer – "

"You were worried about me?" interrupting her in mid-rant, he walked over to the centre of the office where she was still briskly pacing.

Laura was suddenly very aware of his presence. She tossed her chestnut brown hair and smoothed the skirt of her tailored suit self-consciously.

"I'd worry about anyone who chooses to break into a sadistic murderer's house without informing someone they work with and without taking back-up."

He was silent for a few seconds, as if giving the matter thought. "My sincere apologies Miss Holt. I offer no excuses for my behaviour today. I was only trying to help."

She sighed. It was utterly unbelievable. How did he do it? He had this incredible knack of firing her rage and then killing it stone dead.

"Mr Steele all I ask of you is that you help me by not putting yourself at unnecessary risk."

"Is that all you want from me Miss Holt? I'm disappointed!" His eyes twinkled and the charged atmosphere lifted as quickly as it had arrived.

Laura's fury at his transgression dissipated and was soon replaced by a completely different emotion. She had always loved excitement and danger and an abundance of both used to form part of her professional career only. That was what the private investigation game was all about. She expected nothing less; it was part of the job. But it had never, ever spilled over into her personal life. Until now.

This man she was becoming seriously addicted to embodied the very two things she studiously avoided outside the office. The risks attached to him were intoxicating. He was intoxicating. What was that cologne he always wore? It smelt nice.

She mentally forced herself to get a grip and consider the matter at hand but regardless of which way she turned it, he was the matter at hand. Laura thought back to a seminal conversation with Bernice: the day she'd finally faced reality, admitted defeat and confessed her sexual attraction to their mystery man. In spite of living with Wilson for a couple of years and dating him before that too, they had rarely shared the level of intensity she was experiencing on a daily basis with the man the general public recognised as Remington Steele.

At stray moments when her hormones rebelled, she was sorely tempted to hop in the sack with him. It would certainly go a long way towards dissolving all the tension between them. What a way to get rid of it too! The walls she'd erected to protect herself after her father's desertion and the failed relationship with Wilson were threatening to tumble. He was getting to her, breaking down her defences just by being himself. Whoever that was.

The more she knew him the less she knew him and all this did was fire her fascination further. Damn him to hell for being so irresistible! Damn their mutual attraction! Damn her yearning to feel his mouth and hands on her! Damn and double damn all those dreamy visions of his naked body and what it would feel like to have him thrusting into her own. From on top of her. And beneath her. And behind her. Damn! Damn! Damn! His combination of good looks, charm and relentless flirting was proving lethal: huge reserves of her willpower were now required to keep him at bay. Frowning, she contemplated the conundrum that seemed to occupy her thoughts more and more: how is it possible to have such a fraught relationship with a man you're not sleeping with?

He in turn gazed at the woman whose previously ordered life he had turned upside down. In the early days his attraction to her had been deeply sexual: mainly because she wasn't giving him any! At first he reasoned that they would be sleeping together before long. It was just a matter of time: resistance from a female? It was foreign territory to him, unheard of and utterly ridiculous! But somewhere along the line, sex with her had become only part of the equation, not the sum total.

The inescapable fact was that she intrigued him in other ways too. She was unlike anyone he had ever encountered. And his coterie of conquests spanned continents. Here was a bright, sincere, honest and independent woman far removed from the type that usually interested him. Admittedly, Laura would never make Playboy material being small-breasted, petite and freckled but he didn't care about that. It made her more human, more real.

Despite the undoubted spark between them, he'd never had to work so hard at a relationship in his entire life. Perversely the chase, the challenge, the pursuit of Laura Holt excited him deeply. He had to constantly think on his feet around her, to seize opportunities as and when they presented themselves. She adhered so fastidiously to her ridiculous rule of not mixing business with pleasure that chipping away at it was almost more satisfying than sex itself. Almost.

Bless all those wonderful women for giving him so much pleasure so easily but it was too predictable. And forgettable. As soon as he came, he left. It was perfectly reasonable behaviour; they could have no complaints about his performance in bed. Besides, he needed his mind stimulated too. Not just his crotch. Victory would be so much sweeter when he finally succeeded with the formidable Miss Holt.

A physical reaction to her was one thing. But an emotional reaction? A reappraisal of one's life? That was quite another. He was forced to acknowledge that this was one of the key reasons why she was special, why she was unique. He could feel himself developing certain sensations and instincts whenever he was around her and nowadays, even when he wasn't. Feelings that had previously been completely alien. Like truth and honesty. It was bloody scary. A female reducing him to this?

Painstaking self-introspection had become the order of the day, a sure sign that he was in serious danger of getting in too deep. For starters, a rendezvous with a woman would no longer end with her spending the night back at his apartment. The last bedroom tryst had left him with a disturbing feeling that he was sullying something he couldn't quite put his finger on. Besides, it was better this way: far easier to run away from their beds than engineer reasons for them to leave his. He should have done it sooner.

He smiled at his potent enigma, his impossible challenge. He knew that he wanted her more than any other woman he'd come across since Anna. It was a feeling so intense that it shocked him. Two nights ago, he had awakened with a start from his latest explicit fantasy involving Laura. In it, he had touched her, caressed her from head to toe, tasted every inch of her, savoured the joining of their bodies and climaxed with shattering force inside her. It had been so vivid that cold reality had come as a damned disappointment. It preoccupied him nowadays to the extent of mindless obsession: why hadn't she succumbed yet? Why was progress between them so protracted?

In the reception area, a puzzled Bernice and Murphy looked at each other.

"What happened? He shouted something about her not trusting him and all of a sudden, it's all gone very quiet in there."

"With any luck, she's finally killed him and saved me the trouble! Do you think I should interrupt?" he asked concerned.

"No, she can handle him. You know it's funny, but I'm almost more scared for you-know-who than Laura. She's lethal once she lets rip at him."

Murphy fumed, "It's nothing he doesn't deserve! This time he's really asked for it! Take it from me, he has done some stupid things since he's been here but today he excelled himself!"

She fiddled with her hair. "Calm down, I believe you! Wow! It's so quiet. Y'know Murphy, this is like being in one of those parallel-universe episodes of 'The Twilight Zone!' I've kinda grown used to hearing them scream blue murder at each other all the time. I sort the mail in the mornings and they're at it. I take them tea or coffee and they're still at it. They go on appointments, come back hours later, slam their office doors and before you know it, they're at it again! They're as regular as clockwork. I can actually set my watch by them!"

"I can't remember ever bickering with Laura like that. It's been months, you'd think they'd have run out of topics by now! What do they find to fight about every day?"

"He annoys her. She annoys him. We duck. End of story."

"Yeah? Well as long as their story has no 'happily ever after', I'll be glad."

Bernice chose not to comment. What could she say to Murphy? That Laura never stopped talking about the foreigner with five passports in their gal-to-gal chats? That she'd hidden a photograph of him in a book at her house? That she'd stuffed another picture in an old folder at the back of her filing cabinet? That she was oblivious to how Murphy felt about her? That he could probably hope for no more than a kind of brotherly love? Bernice was on the outside looking in and this gave her a clear vantage point of the situation unfolding at the Remington Steele detective agency. A love triangle to rival anything the scriptwriters of 'Dallas' could come up with was being played out right before her eyes. She didn't envy Laura's predicament despite the appeal of both men: one of them was going to get hurt.

After a pause she continued, "What do you think they're doing if they're not fighting?"

It was meant as an innocuous question, an inquisitive query but both of them realised that perhaps it wasn't anymore.

He didn't hesitate, "I'll give them five minutes and then I'm going in there!"

"You know, it was very clever of you to deduce who the murderer of Mrs Davis was since Mr Davis had a solid alibi and there was no evidence of a paid hit-man."

"I tried to tell you at the time Laura. 'Strangers On A Train', Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Warner Brothers, 1951. An undoubted Hitchcock masterpiece! Two men meet on a train. Robert Walker proposes that they each murder the person who is the bane of the other's life. The Davis situation was so similar except that both Davis and Thompson knew each other fairly well and both were willing parties to their equally dastardly deed. You know Laura, they almost got away with the perfect murder."

"Is there going to be a movie which reflects every case we work on?"

"It certainly appears that way, eh? Is it art imitating life or life imitating art?"

They smiled at each other: a warm, companionable exchange that had no hope of lasting. In an instant, the mood changed and Laura felt herself being steadily pulled towards him.

She immediately said, "I've got a report to dictate to Bernice. I need to bring this Davis case to an end."

"Uh-huh." He wrapped his arms around her waist but made no attempt to kiss her.

"Venice. Queen of the Adriatic. A very romantic city."

Laura persevered. "It will be a long one for Bernice to do. It's important. It can't wait."

He didn't break stride. "Perfect for a long weekend. We'll see Venice in all her – " there was a deliberate pause so that the next words would have greater impact, "naked glory." Steele gently squeezed her body then moved his hands up and down her spine.

Laura swallowed. "Not the best part of the job I admit but just as necessary."

"We'll hire a gondola and lie in each other's arms whispering sweet nothings as we smoothly wind our way down the Grand Canal. Who knows? We might even see some of the city itself before we leave!" He tilted her head up with his right hand, as he caressed her back with his left.

It was getting harder to concentrate. "The client expects it first thing in the morning. Mustn't disappoint the client."

"The Rialto Bridge, the Doges' Palace, the Piazza San Marco, the Basilica of St Mark's. Wonderful galleries too. There was one in particular I used to frequent. Magnificent collection of Renaissance art." He joined his hands together at the base of her spine and bent his head to place feather-light kisses on her neck.

Laura sucked in air. Breathe, she told herself. Breathe. "Errr...the errr…report is a vital…aspect of…this business…Mr Steele," in desperation she added, "Sir."

He raised his head at that. "Sir? Very commendable Miss Holt. Pet names for our hotel bedroom. I'll call you," he broke off for a couple of seconds, "snookums."

Of their own volition, her arms moved to his neck as their embrace tightened in preparation for the inevitable kiss. She could clearly feel the contours of his body against hers and was beginning to float away on the heady sensations it evoked. All the friction, the sparring, the rancour that had gone before, it served as the appetiser. This was the main course. And they both knew it. Steele hoped he'd finally get dessert.

The intercom buzzed just before their lips touched. Laura instantly snapped back to business-like reality. He sensed the difference in her body and inwardly cursed the interruption. As soon as he got a chance, he was going to cut the wires on that bloody thing once and for all.

"Ignore it. Whoever it is, we're not in."

"The day is not over yet Mr Steele and we still have business to conduct." She extricated herself from him and walked over to answer it refusing to contemplate which emotion she felt more: frustration or relief.

"Yes Bernice?"

"I have a message for…Mr Steele Laura."

"Oh! Yes! We'll be right out," she looked over to where he was still standing. "Mr Steele and I have just completed our discussion." It was a loaded comment. He got her drift. Foiled again.

They moved into the reception area. Bernice immediately picked up her pad.

"Now let's see…ah yes…a Mr Leighton StClair called for you." She flipped a couple of pages before reading from her notes, "He said he's sorry to cancel seeing you tonight at such short notice but something's come up and he's on his way to Cannes but that he'll call you when he arrives."

Laura's interest was immediately piqued. Who was this person? What was his connection to Mr Steele? She turned to face the man in question and after telling herself to keep it subtle, fished for information, "It sounds as if this friend of yours is in rather a hurry. He's left you high and dry tonight."

"Hasn't he though?" Steele lightly agreed as he tugged his right ear lobe.

He too was curious about his mentor Daniel Chambers' behaviour. Using the alias 'Leighton StClair' meant one thing and one thing only: it was their secret code that a big scam had come up. It must be bloody huge to take him halfway across the world without the two of them meeting up. He smiled as he recalled some of the ambitious capers they'd pulled off together in the past. They were close for so many years but, at some point, everyone has to spread their wings and fly alone. He'd wanted the man he looked on as a father-figure to see at first hand that the young ruffian he'd found hustling on the streets of Brixton in South London was now a respected, celebrated private detective. How Daniel would love that! What was he up to now? Steele hoped he was okay.

Laura hid her frustration at the ease with which he slipped out of answering her and tried again, "Your friend has a very distinctive name. Where did you two meet?"

Murphy jumped in. "They were probably cellmates!"

"Where did we meet? Oooh, here and there." Steele answered enigmatically.

"Why do I even bother to ask?" Laura sighed and beckoned for Bernice to follow her so that they could begin compiling the Davis report.

Murphy regarded his rival intently, his scowl heavily laced with suspicion. In turn, Steele's face became adorned with the most beatific grin.

"What are you so happy about?"

"Anytime I'm in your delightful company is a cause for celebration Murphy!" Steele grinned that crooked grin of his.

"I wouldn't be smiling too much if I was you. You nearly mucked up yet another case."

"Oh really? Laura didn't think so. In fact she commended me for correctly identifying the murderer. Of course it would be remiss of me not to thank Alfred Hitchcock for inadvertently providing the real breakthrough."

Murphy crossed his arms. "Aren't you itching to get back to wherever you came from? Think of all those lovely gems you could be stealing or museums you could be breaking into. Haven't you had enough of playing detective yet?"

"Leave? And let my natural talent for this line of work go begging?" Steele retorted indignantly.

"What natural talent? You have no training, no certificates, no apprenticeship, nothing!" Murphy banged the reception desk to emphasise his point.

"But a rare intuition, call it a gift if you will."

"I won't."

"No. Didn't think you would. Pity. After all, we're supposed to be professionals."

"You'll always be a con man to me and to Laura too. She still doesn't trust you, you know. "

Steele considered his words and smiled, "We're working on it."

Murphy frowned and took a step closer to Steele, "We? It's something Laura and I already have. Trust is the cornerstone of our relationship, has been for many years and will be long after you're gone."

Steele surveyed his fingernails. "Sorry to have to disappoint you old chap but I've grown rather fond of Remington Steele. He's so smooth, so debonair, so decent! I'm rather loath to abandon him."

The American took another step forward and snapped, "Leopards don't change their spots."

"A change is as good as a rest," was the immediate response topped off with a smirk.

Murphy persisted, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks."

"If at first you don't succeed, try again."

"Once a thief, always a thief."

Steele smugly pointed to himself insisting, "I'm an artist."

They squared up to each other than backed away as the door to Laura's office opened.

"…So that's why I said to Dan that he should bring Irving along as your date tonight. Won't that be nice Laura? Just the four of us!"

"Oh yes! I'm sure Irving will be worth waiting for."

"Irving?" both men cried simultaneously.

"Who's Irving Laura?" Murphy asked.

"You're seeing someone named 'Irving' Miss Holt?" Steele queried disdainfully.

"Bernice and I are going out tonight. Irving is a friend of Bernice's boyfriend Dan and he's my date for the evening."

"Date?" the two rivals inquired at the same time.

"Yes. Date. I know I don't have to remind you Mr Steele about the concept of male/ female bonding but Murphy, you really should get out there again."

Neither potential suitor could find their voice at that moment. It simply hadn't occurred to them that Laura might look outside the office for romance.

"I've got an idea!" she suddenly whooped. "Mr Steele has had a cancellation and you're always at a loose end Murph so why don't you two go out on the town tonight? Get to know each other better. I bet it would improve working relations around here!"

Both men were stunned into silence.

Eventually the American piped up, "Laura. That has got to be the craziest notion you've ever had!"

Steele added, "Murphy and I engaging in social interaction? I must admit, it does rather boggle the mind."

Laura put her hands on her hips and played her trump card. "As the head of this agency, I'm ordering you both to spend a couple of hours in each other's company. What harm can it possibly do? It's for the good of our working relationship, all three of us! Do it for my sake if you won't do it for yourselves!"

Both men glanced at the other and then back to Laura with a resigned look on their face. Neither would refuse her anything in front of the other.

"Fine." Murphy said.

"As you wish." Steele agreed.

"Good. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and get ready." Laura marched back to her office and picked up the dress hanging on the back of her door while the two men vented their frustration at Bernice.

Murphy wasted no time. "You fixed Laura up with another man? Who is this guy anyway?"

"Miss Wolfe, was it absolutely necessary to drag Miss Holt into one of your tawdry assignations?" Steele chided.

Bernice sat down at her desk and proceeded to paint her nails a fiery red. "Do I have to remind both of you that Laura is officially single?" she remarked with complete indifference. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'd like to concentrate fully on making myself more beautiful."

"Take all the time you need, Miss Wolfe. After all, you're not getting any younger!" Steele ran into his office as Bernice aimed the stapler at him.

Laura sang softly to herself as she brushed her hair. She was looking forward to her night out with Bernice. Her secretary prided herself on being the belle of the ball, the life and soul of the party and she never disappointed. They'd shared some raucous evenings together, giggling away like schoolgirls or daring each other to carry out sophomoric pranks. Hell, it felt good to cut loose at times like that! To be as wild, free and spontaneous as the old Laura had been until Wilson had so cruelly hurt her. She needed this. She needed time away from…the office, time away from…distractions. Time away from…him. Her carefully chosen dress, a russet coloured silk, brought out the golden lights in her hair. It clung to her breasts and hips, the sleeveless design helping to emphasise her slenderness. She applied a light eye make-up and rounded the whole look off by faintly brushing a soft peach lip gloss over her lips. She surveyed herself in the small mirror; pleased with her face but wishing she could see how the rest of her looked.

In the reception area both Steele and Murphy wolf-whistled their appreciation when Bernice Fox finally emerged from Murphy's office. The white, sequinned gown sticking to her body was an extremely tight fit leaving nothing to the imagination.

"You like? Tonight I figured I'd go for subtlety!" she laughed.

"Miss Wolfe you are a vision. X-rated but a vision nonetheless!" Steele offered.

Murphy grinned and shook his head. "You look hot Bernice. Real hot."

"Thanks. Say, Laura's called for Fred. Can we drop you two someplace?"

"Fred? Where're you both headed?"

"Downtown. We're meeting our dates at some fancy restaurant. Come on guys, it'll be really funny. All of us in the limo together!"

"Sure." Murphy agreed. The less time he had to spend alone with the creep, the better. A thought struck him, "Hey Bernice, you still haven't told me who this Irving fella is."

"He's just a friend of Dan's. I've never met him so I can't tell you anything."

At that moment, Laura's office door opened. "Ready Bernice?" she asked.

"Yeah, can Fred drop Murphy and…Mr Steele someplace?"

"Oh yes!" she answered happily. "I'm pleased that you're both taking my little suggestion so seriously."

"Do we have a choice?" Murphy queried testily. "By the way Laura, you look beautiful. That Irving's one lucky guy." He walked over and pecked her on the cheek.

"Thanks Murph!" she beamed in gratitude.

Steele announced his presence by not uttering a single word. Instead he let his eyes roam freely over her body, lingering slightly on her small uptilted breasts. She looked at him below slightly lowered lashes, longing for a compliment but he was resolutely silent. And when his gaze met her own, she turned her head away. The intensity of his stare unsettled her.

"Well!" she said brightly, too brightly. "Let's get this show on the road!" Laura strode purposefully towards the exit. Steele and Murphy looked at each other then ran ahead to grab a suite door each. As soon as she had passed through, they sped towards the lifts to press the buttons, leaving the office doors swinging back violently into Bernice's path.

"I guess I'll just open the door for myself!" she called out but her sarcasm fell on deaf ears.

In the interim period of Fred bringing the limo around, the two women cheerfully chatted away while the two men indiscreetly jostled on the pavement for position. They both wanted to sit next to Laura.

"Isn't that your mate from the magazine publishers on the seventh floor over there?" Steele asked, "It would be awfully rude not to say 'hello' to him. Go ahead. We'll wait."

"Not a chance." Murphy growled. "If you're so bothered about him, you go over and say 'hi' while I stay here."

"Would you both put a sock in it please?" Bernice rounded off her reprimand with a huge tut. How did Laura stand this day after day after day?

"Evening Mr Steele, Miss Holt" Fred saluted and opened the car door. Bernice grabbed Laura's hand and pushed her in first following closely behind so that neither man could sit beside her. Despite the soothing music playing in the car, Steele and Murphy sat facing the ladies glaring unrelentingly at the smug secretary.

"So Miss Holt, you're seeing someone christened 'Irving' tonight?"

She immediately became defensive, "You remembered his name Mr Steele! We'll make a detective of you yet!"

"Nervous Miss Holt?"

"No I am not." She tossed her head, "What makes you say that anyway?"

"You keep wringing your hands and you've got that furrowed look you get in your brow when you're concerned about something. Not to worry, you'll be pleased to hear that there have been no major advancements in the mating ritual since 1981 so you'll be fine tonight!"

"Are you trying to say that I haven't had a date since 1981?"

"Me?" he said innocently, "No! Wouldn't dare to presume such a notion!"

Her temper was rising, "Listen buster just because you're not fussy whom you squander your hormones on doesn't mean – "

Bernice cut in. "Laura, ignore him. And you keep quiet too Murphy! Honestly, men! Faster Fred so we can dump these two please!"

Jake's Bar was the kind of hang out that attracted anyone and everyone. It was barely eight o'clock yet the place was already heaving with suits who'd arrived straight from the office, bleached, buxom, blondes determined to ensnare men into buying them drinks and groups of partygoers en route to the hippest night spots. Steele and Murphy headed for a booth at the back of the bar. A few heads turned to look at them, some people pointed in awe and one woman was moved enough to dash from her party waving a pen and a piece of paper.

"Oh my Gaaaad! Wait 'til the girls in the office hear about this! You're Remington Steele! Me in the same place as Remington Steele! Oh Mr Steele! Your picture in the papers doesn't do you justice! Can I have your autograph please?"

The object of her adoration instantly assumed the professional media-friendly image he presented to the world at large. In truth, it wasn't an arduous task. He enjoyed all the attention he now received. It made him feel like a movie star.

"Of course you may. But let me put my name to something more personal for you." He reached into his inside pocket, pulled out a business card and signed it.

"Please do not hesitate to contact me should you ever require the services of my splendid agency." He smiled as he presented her with the keepsake, placing his hand over hers for a brief second. The ecstatic lady threw her arms around his neck and pecked his cheek.

"Thank you Mr Steele!" She excitedly ran back to her friends and squealed in rapturous delight. Murphy felt an uncontrollable urge to be sick.

"This is getting rather embarrassing. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to stop adulating women hurling their, ah, pleasant forms against me. The travails I put up with for the sake of the agency!"

The response was sardonic, "My heart bleeds for you."

Steele hid his urge to chuckle. If baiting Murphy were a recognised sport, he'd be the Olympic champion.

They took their seats and looked at the walls, at the pictures on the walls, at the neon signs, at the boisterous people having a good time around them, anywhere but at each other. A gum-snapping waitress arrived five minutes later.

"What can I get you gentlemen?" she asked as she flipped the paper on her pad.

Murphy immediately requested a Budweiser then sat back, arms folded, waiting.

"I'll have a Manhattan, heavy on the whisky if you don't mind," Steele paused to look at the name on her badge, "Michelle." He flashed her a brilliant white smile. The waitress beamed warmly at him in return.

"I love your accent! You're not from around here are ya, handsome?" she queried as Murphy rolled his eyes heavenwards. Not again!

Steele smoothly answered her, "Let's just say, I'm a well travelled man, eh?"

"Really?" She reached out and suggestively caressed his tie, "How far do you go?"

"Errr Miss?" Murphy interrupted, "I'd like my drink this century if that's alright with you!"

Michelle turned around, "Spoilsport!" she retorted and promptly left them.

"What an engaging young lady! A credit to her profession!" Steele enthused brightly.

Murphy made no answer. Someone had selected REO Speedwagon's recent hit 'Keep On Loving You' from the jukebox. Steele listened for a moment before commenting, "Terrible tune. Makes one feel positively depressed."

Murphy would only say, "I like it."

Michelle returned with their drinks and slipped a piece of paper into the dark-haired man's hand. "I'm off-duty now but feel free to call me anytime Mr 'well-travelled-man.' I'll take you places you've never been before and you won't have to leave my bedroom to get there!" She winked at him before sashaying off to the staff exit.

Murphy was torn between envy, disgust and admiration. How does the creep do it? What's his secret? Women just seem to fall at his feet. Even Bernice had been impressed with him at first. And as for Laura…well, that was too sore a subject.

"So." his companion began in an attempt to make conversation but for once his powers of articulation failed him.

"So." Murphy responded lifting his bottle of Bud to his mouth, wishing he were anywhere but where he was and with anyone but whom he was with. Steele watched him intently for a moment, took a couple of sips of his Manhattan and finally broke the deadlock.

"Ok. I think the time has come to get down to the nitty-gritty, to speak plainly."

"Fine with me. Think you can handle telling the truth for a change?" Murphy retorted.

Steele considered the barb for an instant then decided to let it go.

"Maybe I'm being overly sensitive here but I get the distinct impression that you're still not very fond of me."

Murphy took another swig from his bottle. "Cut the cute lines. Your charm doesn't work on me. I'm the wrong sex. I had my suspicions about you from that very first day and I was right to have them." He leaned forward and pointed at Steele, "I trust you as far as I can throw you."

"That much, eh?" came the flippant response.

All the pent-up frustration and resentment Murphy had long felt was bubbling to the surface. "I can't wait for you to seriously screw up and take off to wherever you came from. I just hope our agency can survive the mess you'll inevitably leave behind."

Steele fiddled with his napkin, "Is that the only thing about me that's bothering you?" he asked casually.

"Isn't that enough?"

"I don't think we've scratched the surface yet old chap."

"Let me guess. You spent six months in Austria as an assistant to Dr Freud." His tone oozed sarcasm.

Steele looked at him for a moment before saying, "I'll get the next round mate."

"Listen mate!" Murphy tersely emphasised the word, "I'm very fussy about who I drink with."

"Well as you can see, I'm not!" Steele grinned at him, beckoning a waitress over to order the same again. After a pause of several seconds, he addressed his wary associate again.

"Can you honestly put your hand on your heart and say with one hundred per cent conviction what you'll be doing six months from now? Or where you'll be? Or who you'll be with?"

"That's different." Murphy insisted.

"I see. One rule for you and another for me. Is that it?"

"If I do go anywhere, I'm not likely to leave Laura up to her neck in trouble."

"Meaning I will?" Steele asked quietly. "You really think I want to hurt her?"

Murphy sighed. "Not intentionally, I guess. No. But –" He stopped talking as the waitress placed their drinks in front of them.

"You were saying?" Steele prompted.

"Laura never took risks with her business in the past and she's taking a massive one with you now. I don't want it to blow up in her face. Her work means everything to her."

"An admirable sentiment. I know you won't believe me but I think your anxiety for her is commendable. In your shoes, I'd probably feel and act in exactly the same manner. However, we both know that your objection to me is not based solely on professional anxiety for Miss Holt's agency."

Murphy's eyes narrowed and he downed his beer in one go. "Tell me one thing. I've seen Felicia, I've seen Gayle, Marie, Misha, Deidra, Nadine, Christ – there's too many to name! With all those women and more to choose from, why Laura? She couldn't be more different to them! What can you possibly see in her?"

Steele didn't hesitate, "The same things you see. Is that so hard to believe?"

"Yes. Frankly, it is. I don't see her as just another conquest, another notch on a bedpost. She deserves more than that."

"At last we agree on something Murphy. I knew if we worked at it long enough, we'd find some common ground!"

They were quiet again as the sounds of 'Celebration' by Kool And The Gang blared out all around them: revellers were whooping and cheering along to the song, pulling their partners up to dance, turning Jake's Bar into a mini discotheque. Steele listened for a moment, caught by the infectious mood of the crowd before he faced Murphy again.

"So. You think you're more worthy of her affections than I am, is that it?"

"I'm not discussing my feelings for Laura with you."

"I suppose that would be asking for too much." He took another sip of his drink before suddenly exclaiming, " 'The Talk Of The Town,' Cary Grant, Ronald Colman, Jean Arthur, Columbia 1942!"

Murphy looked exasperated, "It may have escaped your attention but we solved the case this afternoon! I don't need to hear yet another movie reference!"

Steele ignored him, "Granted, the story's a little contrived in places but overall it's a fine film full of wonderful bon mots! Our suave, handsome, hero Cary is framed for murder and only earnest law professor Ronald Colman can save him. Unfortunately complications arise in the heavenly shape of Jean Arthur who interests both men and has to choose between them. You know the old saying Murphy, 'two's company, three's a crowd.' " Steele couldn't help feeling pleased with the slight gibe he managed to direct at his rival via recounting the story line.

It earned him a frown, "Didn't you just say Cary was innocent? If he'd been a crook, the lady's choice would have been an easy one."

They were silent for a moment; each lost in their own reverie. Murphy thought back to the day that Gordon Hunter had hired the agency to safeguard a consignment of Royal Lavulite. If they'd stuck to the rule of passing on clients insisting on dealing directly with their fictitious boss, he wouldn't be here now with the man who'd originally intended to steal those very same gems. A miscreant posing to the world as the honourable, clever, sleuth Remington Steele. A thief that had somehow managed to get under Laura's skin. He wasn't blind and he wouldn't delude himself: this man, this nemesis of his, was serious competition for the affections of the woman who meant so much to him.

Murphy had been content to wait while she got over her heartbreaking split from Wilson Jeffries. He'd told her that if she needed anything, no matter how late at night, he'd be there for her. Of course, Laura being Laura, she'd never called but at least the option was there. He now firmly believed that maybe he'd been too patient, too understanding and too selfless. Murphy sighed. He should have made his move earlier, taken a chance and revealed his feelings, even if there was a consequent risk of her only being with him on the rebound. It would have been better than nothing. Complacency was also to blame. For so long it had just been the two of them and he'd grown used to that, seeing no reason for it to ever change. Just the two of them liaising with clients, just the two of them doing legwork, just the two of them celebrating tough cases. Now there were three. And it was too damn crowded.

Murphy knew that Laura cared very much for him but he could see that she also had feelings for the man facing him. It's uncanny but whenever you're fond of someone, you develop extra-sensitive antennae: you pick up certain vibes around the object of your affection especially from over-admiring admirers. Murphy had sensed something that very first day between his partner and the stranger. His misgivings were confirmed only twenty-four hours later when Laura had almost burst with excitement telling Bernice about her night on the town with the clown. He was diametrically opposed to this impostor in so many ways, surely Laura would prefer an honest-to-goodness, straight-ahead guy like him, a man with no kinks, no curves, no angles to one who had nothing to offer except good looks and smarmy charm? They'd always been a good team professionally and he was convinced that they could have had something very special together. Murphy caught himself as he realised he was speaking in the past tense. They still could have something very special but now he would have to work a little harder to get her to see it too. Life could really kick you in the teeth sometimes.

Eventually the more talkative man broke into his reflection by speaking again.

"It seems we are destined never to be the best of chums because we both care a great deal for the same woman. At the very least, we can toast to our exquisite taste!"

Murphy reflected on his words and stated emphatically, "There can only be one winner."

Smelling a challenge, Steele's droll mood immediately changed to deadly serious. He leaned forward, "Where Laura's concerned, I have no intention of losing."

Murphy stared at his adversary for a second before declaring, "Neither have I."

In spite of themselves and their predicament, they smiled at each other. It was probably the most genuine, warm, smile they'd shared so far in their cranky acquaintance. Or ever would share. The gauntlet had been thrown down. Both knew this was the point of no return and that defeat would entail disastrous consequences for one of them. Failure was not an option. There was too much at stake. The beaten man would have to be a daily witness to an intolerable loss. That is, if he chose to stick around.

"So just for tonight, what say we call it a truce, eh? Let's just be two regular guys having a drink in a bar."

Murphy couldn't resist saying, "There's nothing regular about you."

"Oh come now! Get into the spirit of the evening! What an apt song for such a moment! Let's celebrate!"

"What are you babbling on about now?"

"Look Murphy, we've reached an understanding of sorts regarding Laura. Right now, she and Miss Wolfe are painting the town red and up to no good too I'll bet thanks to Miss Wolfe's outrageous influence! Are we going to sit here and let the women have all the fun? Hell no! I say we men should do the same!"

He stared at the miscreant who had become the bane of his life and considered the proposition. The choice was stark: home to bed alone, or take up his crazy offer.

"I can't believe I'm agreeing to this! Fine. But just because we're out tonight together does not mean I'll stop trying to send you packing." Murphy warned.

Steele smirked, "Wouldn't have it any other way old chap. Keeps us both on our toes. However, just remember the day I said this, 'all's fair in love and war.' "

"I think you'll find that Shakespeare said that."

"Really Murphy, your preoccupation with details!"

"So what now?"

"Now? Now we need company of the female persuasion. Get some more drinks in! This will be the kind of celebration you'll need plenty of Dutch courage for! Talking of Dutch, did I ever tell you about the time I took…on second thoughts, I'll save that story for later!" With casual deliberation Steele issued a dare, "Think you can keep up?"

Murphy's heckles rose. "With you? Are you kidding?" There was no way he planned on finishing second to this crook. He intended to beat him at everything. Starting right now.

"Wonderful! Tonight you become a man! You take care of the liquids, I'll go rustle us up some lovely ladies."

"How are you going to do that?"

"This is a bar. Women have been known to drink here too! I'll be back shortly."

Steele left the booth and wandered off out of Murphy's eyeshot. As soon as he reached a telephone, he furtively glanced around him before dialling the number. "Candy?…It's Harry. I'm calling in a favour…Don't worry, you'll be paid handsomely to compensate for all those wallets you won't be picking tonight…Easiest money you'll ever make and I promise you a good time too. Who are you working with these days?…No, I don't know her but that's perfect for tonight….How quickly can you and Deborah – is that her real name?…Excellent. Is she –" he paused as if unsure how to phrase his meaning, " - up for a good time, if you gather my inference?…No. Not with me, with my drinking companion…I suppose one could call him handsome in a cherubic kind of way. He's tall, fair, a good tailor would go a long way but yes, I do believe ladies find him relatively attractive. How quickly can you and Deborah make yourselves very presentable and get down here?…You're to look like secretaries and by the way, that is your chosen profession for tonight…I'm at an establishment called Jake's Bar…Yes that's the one! You know it?…Of course! I should have guessed! Listen, this is very important. My friend and I are sitting in a booth at the back. When you get here, you do not know me. Ask if our empty seats are taken and we'll progress from there. Candy, fawn over me but don't overdo it. My plan is for you to leave with me and for Deborah to leave with my associate. When they are safely in a cab together, we'll go our separate ways. Understood?…Good. See you in an hour. Try and make it forty five minutes!" He hung up and made his way back to his seat, knowing that he had to find a way to kill some time.

Murphy saw that he was returning alone and folded his arms. "I took care of my end of the bargain. What happened to yours? Where are the ladies?"

"Ah! I seem to have momentarily lost my Midas touch. Let's shoot some pool and I'll try again later after I emerge from yet another contest with you victorious!" Steele grinned and picked up his drink.

"You don't let up for a minute do you? I can't wait to beat the pants off you!"

They found a table and proceeded to play. Before long Murphy was three games to one up and too pleased to be winning to realise that he was being hustled by a crafty pool shark. Steele knew that his scheme had a better chance of working if Murphy was in high-spirits. What better way to get him in the mood than to give him this match on a plate? It was a small price to pay for the bigger prize he had every intention of collecting. He mentally scolded himself for slipping up.

All night he'd forced himself not to think about her or what she was doing or who she was doing it with. This was no time to get side tracked by visions of that bloody impossible woman! That stubborn, arrogant, condescending, bossy, infuriating...Inwardly he sighed. His loyal, generous, compassionate, impish, strangely alluring, enticing Laura. Damn it. She shouldn't be seeing other men, she should be encouraging him to fill that role instead. And yes, she had looked utterly heavenly tonight, exquisite. If she'd been wearing that lovely dress for him instead of some twat named 'Irving', he wouldn't have hesitated to tell her what it was doing to him, seeing her in it. He knew she'd been waiting for his approbation, for his approval but there was no way in hell he'd tell her that she looked wonderful when another man stood to benefit! Despite the other women whose bedrooms he occasionally flitted in and out of, he liked thinking of Miss Holt as his and his alone. It always warmed him to do so. Then it scared the living daylights out of him.

Despite the conflicts, the arguments, the daily battle of wills, the unresolved sexual tension, increasingly they were making a good team at the office: he felt sure she was of the same opinion. It was at the bedroom door where matters were not so clear cut. They were inching closer but progress was infuriatingly slow. It was so bloody frustrating! He wished he knew exactly where he stood with her but quicksand was a firmer platform than his tenuous relationship with Laura Holt. How had she done it? How had she made him care without giving him the one thing he cared about from a woman?

He glanced at his watch whenever he wasn't observed, mentally calculating the time they needed to be back at their booth in order for Candy to meet them accidentally on purpose. They had drawn a crowd: most were curious to find out exactly who it was brashly announcing every game he won with a yell of delight.

"Oh yes! I win again! I am the best! Read it and weep buster! You are dog meat!"

Steele feigned a frown, "If I didn't know better Murphy, I'd swear you were hustling me! You didn't tell me you were this good. Next time I'll propose a civilised game of scrabble instead! But for tonight, I bow to your superior skill with a cue stick! Let's go back to our table if it isn't taken and have another round."

Murphy readily and exuberantly acquiesced. In spite of himself, he was actually enjoying the evening now. As the two men approached the booth, a raucous party of four was just leaving it.

"Good timing, eh? Miss?" The waitress strolled over. "Can we have another Manhattan here and…Murphy?"

"Bourbon. Neat."

"And a neat bourbon please? Thank you."

By now, Jake's Bar was rammed to the rafters and the jukebox was pumping out 'Upside Down' by Diana Ross. The waitress returned with their order. A couple of minutes later, a pretty blonde asked Steele if the empty seats in their booth were taken.

"On the contrary ladies, please. Join us." The gentlemen stood up as each lady took a seat and slid along.

"Hi!" the voluptuous brunette seated next to Murphy introduced herself. "My name is Deborah and this is my best friend Candy." They all shook hands. Steele noted the look that passed between Deborah and his associate and allowed himself a smile of quiet satisfaction.

"Hello. I'm Murphy Michaels and this is -"

"Jerry! Jerry Warriner!" he hastily jumped in and smoothly continued, "What my good friend here was going to tell you next is that we're insurance salesmen in town to close a substantial deal. Isn't that right Murphy?"

"Errr…yep." The other man looked decidedly uncomfortable with the little white lie but

Steele was nonplussed, "May we buy you two enchanting ladies a drink?"

"That's very kind of you but – " Deborah began only to be interrupted.

"No buts please! We insist, don't we Murphy?"

"Errr…yeah. We insist. I'll buy. What are you having?"

"Make it, two dry white wines please. Thank you." The brunette smiled sweetly at Murphy, looking deep into his eyes as he summoned the waitress over and added yet another Manhattan and neat bourbon to the order. She then turned her attention to Steele. "This isn't a line but haven't I seen you somewhere before?"

"NO!" both men exclaimed wildly in unison.

"My buddy here is always mistaken for that nerd Potsie from 'Happy Days' or Starbuck from 'Battlestar Galactica,' aren't you?" Murphy offered, smirking as Steele scowled at him.

"Squint your eyes, lean back and imagine him in those silly costumes Starbuck used to wear. If you can, picture him in one of those glittery capes or the skin-tight leggings and you'll see what I mean! What's the name of that actor who was Starbuck again?"

Deborah considered his query for a second, "Is it Robert Urich?"

"Nah." Candy joined in, "He was Dan Tanna in 'Vegas' and he was also in 'Soap'. Remember? The tennis player that got killed? He was Burt's son."

"Wait a minute!" Deborah held her hands up, "I thought Danny was Burt's son? You know, the hot dish played by what's-his-name? Oh yeah, Ted Wass!"

"Oh my God! He was so cute! I only watched Soap for him!" Candy said.

Deborah nodded in agreement then added, "Remember when Burt got captured by aliens? I died laughing!"

Candy giggled, "Oh yeah! And the alien Burt was always randy!"

"Hold on! Ladies I do believe I've solved this little mystery!" Murphy tapped his bottle with a knife, "Follow me closely and all will be revealed! Burt killed Danny's father and married Danny's mother Mary. Mary's sons Danny and Jodie became Burt's stepsons. Burt had two sons when the show started, Peter and Chuck. Robert Urich played Peter and he was having an affair with Mary's sister Jessica and Jessica's daughter Corrine. However, he was murdered and Burt's other son Chuck was the one convinced that his doll Bob was real!"

All three Americans shouted at the same time, " 'Confused? You won't be after this week's episode of Soap!' " Everyone at the table laughed heartily except Steele who had no idea what they were talking about. He didn't care though. His plan was working excellently. The waitress was once again called to bring over more of the same.

"Oh Murphy! You're so clever! The way you explain things, it's so…stimulating." breathed Deborah.

"Well, in my line of work, you've gotta be able to absorb information and make sense of it. Did you know I was top salesman last month? I sold two hundred and three policies and I've had no complaints from my customers."

Deborah moved closer to him saying softly, "I'm not complaining either."

He beamed then suddenly cried, "Starbuck is Dirk Benedict! I mean Dirk Benedict is Starbuck! Now I remember! He looks like Dirk Benedict, I mean that's who people often mistake my friend…" he struggled for the name.

"Jerry" supplied Steele testily.

"…Jerry for." Now he was really relishing the evening.

"Oh yeah!" Deborah agreed, "I can see the resemblance now! Maybe the accent threw me. You're English right?"

Steele nudged Candy underneath the table and she effectively changed the subject.

"So. Are you handsome men taken or are you like us, young free and single?"

Murphy answered her, "At the moment, we're both footloose and fancy free."

The waitress returned with the drinks and just before departing, winked at Murphy.

"Did you see that? I think she likes you! You'd better tell her that there's a queue and I'm at the front!" Deborah slunk even closer to him and entwined her arm around his. Murphy was flattered. What a night! He'd slapped that egotistical look off the crook's face by whipping him at pool, he was with the prettier girl and it looked like he was going to get lucky too! This evening had turned into the best time he'd had recently. How ironic!

Steele remembered that he was supposed to be interested in Candy. "Err…Do you and Deborah come here often?" It was as good a question as any.

"This is our first time. But now that we know cute men like you hang out here, we'll come back more often!"

She placed her hands over Steele's. It all came easily to her: deception, lies, mendacity. It was their way of life. However this was one rare occasion where she meant every word. Harry was so damn gorgeous. She couldn't help regretting that they'd never got it on. Hell, she'd tried but he had never been interested in her, she just wasn't his type. Still, events tonight had inadvertently given her an opportunity to get as close as she ever would to him. Emboldened, she moved her right hand to his left thigh and gently rubbed it. Steele smiled at her for the benefit of the others but the smile didn't reach his eyes. Candy ignored the daggers he was aiming at her and continued her administrations. What the heck? She had nothing to lose.

Time passed pleasantly enough as the drinks flowed and the conversation carried on in the same animated fashion. Murphy was livelier than Steele had ever seen him. He had to shake his head at the irony of it all. Under different circumstances they might have become good friends but there was no point thinking along those lines. Murphy had been suspicious of him from the very second they'd met and Steele knew that a great deal of that wariness was because of Laura. He didn't blame the American though: he'd worked alongside Miss Holt for so long as the only man in her professional career, the only man in her life full stop. It was all going swimmingly until the fateful day he had strutted onto the scene and into the guise of Remington Steele. Now Murphy was forced to act the employee whenever clients and strangers are around, his legwork only resulted in more awards and acclaim for his 'boss' and, to add insult to injury, he was locked in fierce competition with a relative newcomer for the woman he had long cared about. You'd have to be a saint not to resent all of that.

Although Steele could appreciate Murphy's position, he had no intention of doing the honourable thing and stepping out of the picture. He wanted Laura too. Besides, he reasoned, even if he did move aside, there was no guarantee that it would increase Murphy's chances. His conscience was clear because he knew Laura wasn't completely immune to his charms. How she felt about Murphy was less apparent. Her longstanding partner could, and probably would, offer her the very things that weren't in his vocabulary. Commitment. Guarantees. Promises. Assurances. If it came down to domestic stability or a dangerous liaison, which would she choose? Steele tapped his fingers on the table as he himself considered the question.

"Oh I love this song! It's 'Endless Love' by Diana Ross and what's-his-name? Lionel Ritchie! Come on Murphy, let's dance!" He didn't need to be asked twice. He'd been seeking a diplomatic opportunity to get Deborah into his arms and this was it. He leapt up and escorted her to where other couples were also gathering. As soon as they left, Steele addressed Candy.

"I said fawn over me but don't overdo it. Remember?"

"Well, it has to look realistic doesn't it?" She looked over at Deborah who has seductively smooching with her partner.

"Boy! Did I ever draw the short straw this evening! She's having a great time with that Murphy fella and I'm with a monk." She turned back to Steele. "Here we are, man alone and woman alone. It seems a shame to waste the moment Harry."

He knocked back his drink and indicated to the waitress to bring over yet another. How much had he drunk? He was beginning not to remember. He was also beginning not to care.

"This is strictly business Candy. That's why I called you. You're very good at this sort of thing. One of the best in fact." He raised his empty glass to her in tribute.

"What's this all about Harry?" She couldn't help being curious.

"My associate over there has been working far too hard. He is so unstintingly devoted to his profession, one aspect of it in particular, that he scarcely allows himself a break for recreational purposes. Now what kind of friend would I be if I didn't help him to relax, eh? This is just my method of ensuring that tonight he realises exactly what he is missing out on."

"I see. Let me get this straight. You get me down here because you need a woman that you have no intention of spending the night with. However, out of the goodness of your heart, you take great pains to set your friend up with someone who's up for a good time. He wakes up with a smile on his face; you wake up with a hangover. It makes perfect sense! You can't kid a kidder Harry, there's something wrong with this picture."

"You know all you need to know Candy."

"I know nothing Harry!"

"Exactly. So the sooner we get Fred and Ginger over there into a taxi and back to his or her place, the sooner we can both get on with the remainder of the evening."

"What's your rush? It's not even ten yet!"

"Some of us have employment to pursue in the morning."

"Another one of your scams Harry?"

"Hardly." He drained his glass and changed the subject. "How are the pickings around here?"

"It's not like the old days anymore. Everyone carries credit cards. I should move into another field but I'm not a big time operator like you. What you do requires careful planning and time whereas me and Deborah take things a day at a time."

"Did you tell Deborah that purloining is strictly off the menu for tonight with Murphy?"

"Don't worry. It's cool. I told her that I'd pulled off a big score and there was no need for us to work tonight. She's really thrown herself into her part though hasn't she? Then again, that Murphy is a nice man. Very sweet. I don't think she's ever met a guy like him before. He looks like the loyal, dependable type and that kind is a rare breed, almost extinct these days. Like dinosaurs. Or dodos. Or mammoths. Or-"

"I do appreciate the analogy, thank you. I don't need the history lesson Candy."

"All I'm saying is that any woman would jump at the chance to have someone like that. You know where you stand with a man like him. He won't let you down, he'll always be there for you, he'll probably never look at another chick, he'll -"

"Stop please. You'll have me reaching for my box of tissues or should I say retching into my box of tissues?"

Candy playfully poked her tongue at him as Steele covered his apprehension. Her assessment of Murphy had made him uneasy. Was that how Laura saw him too?

At that moment, the happy couple returned. Deborah gathered up her stuff.

"We're going to move on to somewhere quieter where we can get something to eat." He helped his escort with her jacket.

Steele took a gamble. "Food? My favourite!" He attempted to stand up but Murphy put his hand on his shoulder and pushed him back down into his seat.

" 'Two's company, three's a crowd'. Remember? It's been a pleasure to meet you Candy."

"Likewise Murphy. Likewise."

"I'll call you later Candy. Nice to meet you Jerry."

"Yes. I suppose it must be Deborah! You two kids have fun. Enjoy the rest of your evening." Steele put on a rueful face Murphy did not miss. He bent down to his opponent's ear,

"In baseball, the rules are three strikes and you're out. Just for the record, you're on two. First, I beat you at pool. Second, I'm not going home alone. Third is Laura." Steele sighed heavily, "Savour it while it lasts Murphy. He who laughs last, laughs longest!"

Murphy chuckled. "I must remember to thank you for suggesting female company. See you at the office. I might be a bit late." And with that, he and Deborah left.

"Now what Harry? Candy asked.

Steele rubbed his hands together in glee. His plan had worked well. "I'm celebrating Candy! Let me buy you a drink or three before we leave this utterly charming establishment!"

"…And that's why I decided to become a private detective. I agree it's not your run-of-the-mill vocation but I love it. More coffee?"

Laura and Irving were sitting on the couch in her living room exchanging first-date pleasantries. She had enjoyed her evening. They'd had cocktails at a swanky club and eaten in a chic French restaurant. Dan and Bernice had gone on to trip the light fantastic but Laura was content to bring her part of the evening to a close. She was already trying to decide what to say if Irving expressed a wish to see her again. He was harmless, safe, nice and that was his principal appeal. She liked his appearance: he had a kind face, an open manner. He was an attractive man too, very reminiscent of Wilson. They shared a similar build and colouring except that Irving's dark hair curled naturally. They were even in the same profession. He'd grinned when she'd revealed that her former boyfriend was also in the banking trade regarding it as a happy coincidence, a good sign of compatibility. Laura had merely smiled. Yep. He would never cause her any doubts. There was only one problem: he didn't exactly get her blood pumping. Not like…

"You are an incredible woman Laura. And an incredibly beautiful one too."

"Thank you. More coffee?" She gestured to the cups on the table.

He politely declined adding, "I've had the most perfect evening. Have you?"

"I've had a good time too Irving. Thank you." There was a slight pause. "Maybe I'll have more coffee. Are you sure I can't tempt you into having another cup?"

"Laura right now, you could tempt me to do anything except have more coffee! You know I was talking to Dan about you and – " Laura heaved a sigh of relief as Irving was interrupted by the doorbell.

"I'm sorry. Would you excuse me please?" She moved towards the door and called out, "Who is it?"

"Taxi, ma'am."

Puzzled she turned towards Irving, "Did you order a taxi?"

"No." he said shrugging his shoulders.

"We haven't ordered a taxi. Do you have the right address?"

"Listen lady, I've got no time for this. I'm holding up a wasted man who says he lives here and he hasn't paid me yet."

"A man that lives here?! What man!?" Laura exclaimed.

"Come on Mrs Peppler! Give a guy a break huh? I'm just a cab driver trying to make a living!"

"Mrs Peppler!" she shrieked, "Oh my God! I don't believe this!"

"Mrs? You're married?" Irving queried.

Laura answered him as she opened the door. "No! I'm not married!"

"Lady, If I had a hundred bucks for every time I hear that line when I bring loaded husbands home!" The cab driver smirked.

"He's not my husband!" she cried pointing at a very worse for wear Mr Steele.

At that, he lifted his head and tried to focus but he was swaying uncontrollably and his speech was slurred, "I leave the toilet sheat up once and you're already divorcing me schnoo…schnoo…schnookums! Your big Bob's home luv! Give us a kiss, eh?" He puckered his lips and closed his eyes. Laura felt like thumping him.

"Hey lady! Time is money. Speaking of money?"

She sighed. What choice did she have? "Follow me and put him on the couch please while I get your money." She apologised to Irving as she passed him on her way to the bedroom. With great difficulty the driver trailed behind her half-dragging, half-lifting a rambling Steele into the living room. He dropped him on the sofa beside a very bemused Irving.

Steele tried to sit up straight. He stared at Irving for a minute before saying, "Hey mate! Woss going on with you and my wife?"

Irving stood up. "I didn't know she was married. She didn't tell me."

"Women! Every time…same thing. We fight, she gets a man, I get a drink. Ain't love grand!" He grinned idiotically.

"You sound like a remarkably well adjusted couple! If you'll excuse me." Irving turned his attention to the cab driver, "Are you for hire? I'd like to get home as quickly as possible. For some reason, I'm feeling quite ill now."

Laura returned from her bedroom. "I'm sorry I was gone a little longer than I expected. I was worried I didn't have enough cash in the house but I've got it now. Keep the change." She walked over to where the driver was standing and pressed the money into his hand.

"Thanks ma'am. Don't be too hard on your old fella, we've all been there! I'll be in my car buddy." He walked out the door. Irving reached for his jacket and put it on.

"Oh! You're leaving?"

"What can I say? It's been eventful." He jangled his house keys.

Although Laura had already decided not to see Irving romantically, she wanted to clarify the awful misunderstanding. "This isn't how it looks." She pointed at the sofa. "He's not my husband. Really."

Steele rose to his feet unsteadily. "That's right Schnoo…schnookums! Destroy the shanty…shant…shantishy of our marriage! Forget those vows you made to love, promise and obey!" he shouted waving his arms.

"It's 'love, honour and obey' you imbecile! And would you please shut up?" she barked back.

"Fine! Just don't expect me to give you the 'love' part of our vows tonight!" He wagged his forefinger at her. "You're on your own schwee…schweetheart!"

"Oh!" Laura snorted angrily. "You – you – you PIG!"

"You wanton woman!" he retorted.



"It's 'slattern' you idiot!"

"That's you, you libertine!"

"I've heard enough! Laura, I don't know what kind of game you and Dan's girlfriend are playing but I don't like being lied to. It's blatantly obvious that you two are married. Don't worry about me, I'm grateful for my lucky escape."

"But – but – but –" she stammered as Irving marched to his waiting taxi leaving her and Mr Steele alone. She furiously locked the door.

"I hope you're satisfied you lousy ingrate!" Striding over to where he was sitting on the couch, she put her hands on her hips. "You've ruined my evening!"

"S'right Laura! No need to thank me." He looked into her face and gave her a broad dopey smile. "You're remarkable you know that? Shall I tell you why, eh? Why you're remarkable?"

Laura folded her arms and tried not to laugh. On reflection, the whole scene they'd just shared had been completely ridiculous. And funny too. His appearance was only adding to her stifled giggles. He looked so silly: hair slightly out of place, tie askew, shirt half-unbuttoned, suit crumpled. Not like her immaculate Mr Steele at all. "Go on." She prompted.

"I've been lying here trying to work shum…shumthing out."


"At the moment all I can think is 'she's bloody remarkable' because I can't figure it out."

"Figure what out?"

"I'm completely sherious…sher…serious." He sat up.

"Mr Steele. Spit it out. Why am I remarkable?"

"Laura, how did you get this room to spin around like this?" He twirled his arm to illustrate the point. "Remarkable."

She slapped her thighs in exasperation then bent down to hook his right arm around her shoulder and raise him off the sofa. "Come on! Get up! I'm taking you to the kitchen!"

"Wouldn't you rather take me to the bedroom?" he asked giving her a sloppy, wet kiss on the cheek.

"Eugh! You need cold water and hot coffee. Come on, help me!"

"Wait! Wait! Laura don't move.…there's two of you! Two Laura's. What a delisshious dilemma! I'm sh..shorry but I can't choose between you. You're both lovely. To make it fair we'll just have to have a threesome! Behold your sex sh..slave ladies! Do with me what you will and for God's sh..shake don't be gentle! I've been a very bad...bad boy and I must be punished!"

"Oh shut up!" she snapped.

Laura jerked awake and reached for her alarm clock. It was two am. Her throat was parched. Could she last the remainder of the night thirsty or not? With a groan she threw the covers aside and got out of bed heading for the kitchen. The living room was bathed in gentle illumination courtesy of a lamp which had been left on. The sight that greeted her on the couch made her start. She'd forgotten Mr Steele was

there. She cautiously tiptoed to the small table in front of the sofa and sat down on it facing him, watching him.

He was lying on his back and had obviously slept fitfully because the sheets were now a dishevelled heap around his legs. Her eyes travelled up to his lean hips dwelling on the black silk boxer shorts she could see he was now wearing. At some point, he must have removed Wilson's pyjama bottoms. She couldn't help wondering why. Had he been too hot? Had he disliked the design? Had he objected to sleeping in something of Wilson's? She tried not to think about what lay inside those boxers but it was a futile task. She squinted for better focus, trying to see through the material. How well endowed was he? What did he look like? What would he taste like?

With a huge effort she tore her eyes away from his crotch and carried on with her exploration. The baby hairs on his abdomen served as a tantalising hint of the bounty to be found across his chest. Admittedly he was no Arnold Schwarzenegger; no Mr Universe but she had never been interested in that type. It was the inner man who counted. That quality had drawn her to sweet, quiet, unassuming Wilson. No oil painting compared to Mr Steele but she'd loved him. At that precise moment, the man in question inhaled then exhaled deeply, his right arm dropped over the side of the couch while his left briefly scratched his stomach. Laura instantly froze and held her breath praying that he'd continue to sleep. She was rooted to the spot and if he found her there, she'd die of embarrassment. Luckily he didn't wake up.

After ten minutes, and sure he was deep in slumber, she leaned as far forward as she possibly could to stare at the visage taking pride of place in her erotic fantasies. His mouth was slightly agape which had the effect of accentuating those sensuous lips of his. Loose strands of dark hair fell over his forehead and onto his face: a stark contrast to the immaculately coifed man she was used to in the office. He looked so innocent, so appealing, so peaceful in repose. Laura was suddenly overwhelmed with an avalanche of tenderness for him. And rampant desire.

When they were alone like this, the compulsion to touch him and be touched in return was as elemental as the pull of magnetic poles. She stealthy edged forward fervently hoping he wouldn't wake. Bending over, she reached out her left hand and carefully brushed back the stray strands from his face. He stirred but his eyes stayed firmly shut. She removed her hand from his head. It now hovered over his right breastplate. Her mind commanded her to stop but her body wasn't listening. Watching him all the while, she slowly lowered her arm until her palm fleetingly encountered the heat of his skin. Thankfully, he remained in the land of nod so emboldened, Laura spread her hand flat and wide on his chest.

Suddenly his eyes snapped open and his right hand imprisoned hers. She was transfixed, caught red-handed. For a split second Steele was disorientated. There was Laura before him but why hadn't he dreamt them both naked? Why was he on a couch rather than in a bed making love to her? And where the hell was he?

Then it dawned on him that this was no fantasy. Vague details were flashing through his mind: Jake's Bar. Alcohol. Murphy. Alcohol. Pool. Alcohol. Candy. Alcohol. Despite his stupor, somehow he'd ended up at Laura's house. Had he planned this all along? If so, it was frightening. Even drunk, he couldn't resist the urge to be with her.

His left hand sought her right one and he drew her down on the sofa beside him. They looked at each other for a short period. Neither spoke. Laura felt her body stirring. No matter how she tried to force it down, she could feel the pulse, the surge of passion for him rise, wave upon wave of it, through her body.

Now that he had his bearings, Steele was pleasantly shocked to realise he'd awakened to her touching him but intuitively he knew that if he asked her why, if he verbally gloated, if he uttered a single syllable even, the spell would be broken.

So instead he chose to hold the moment, to prolong it, to quietly glory in it. For a change, she'd taken the initiative and he had no intention of letting her off the hook easily. He turned her hands upside down and planted a lingering kiss on each wrist before moving his lips with agonising slowness up her left arm. Laura involuntarily shuddered and concentrated on the hard task of getting air into her lungs. She watched his head as if hypnotised. Her mind was continuously screaming 'stop!' but also 'don't stop!' as his return journey down her right arm threatened to kill off the last vestiges of her will power.

For a second, Steele drew back. His eyes never left hers because he had to see, he had to measure for himself the force of her response to his caresses. He scanned her countenance with the thoroughness he had reserved in the past for blueprints. Her breathing was raggedly audible, she was visibly flushed and her eyes had glassed over. What a huge turn on to realise he had the power of reducing the methodical, rational Miss Holt to the trembling figure before him.

As they stared at each other, Steele took her right hand in his own and placed it over his rapidly beating heart. He left it there for a few minutes before leisurely guiding it from one side of his chest, over both nipples, to the other. Laura closed her eyes, trying but failing to suppress a moan. Not now, her brain warned. Not now, it's too dangerous, he's too dangerous. But almost as soon as the thought was voiced, a treacherous part of her whispered for release, for him.

The palms of her hands were now being kissed and she felt him place them on his stomach and inch her downwards. Steele stopped at his abdomen. It was up to her. If he was going to be touched any lower, he wanted it to be her choice. He could sense the furious battle within her. She wanted to, he knew that, but something was preventing her from fully letting herself go. A few seconds passed and when Laura didn't immediately reach inside his boxer shorts, he decided to change tack. Not wanting to lose the mood, he pulled her on top of him, pressing her body tightly against his so she felt him hard against her. Despite his boxers and her nightdress, the force of his arousal was as unmistakable as if they were naked. That sudden knowledge, that irrefutable evidence of his want for her simultaneously frightened her and heated her. She shivered and her body sagged against his.

Steele's lips burnt across her throat but he wanted to do more. He wanted to cup her breasts, to stroke her nipples, to touch her intimately but she hadn't given him a signal to encourage that kind of fondling so he deliberately avoided obvious erogenous zones. Some time had passed since he'd awakened but they still hadn't uttered a word to each other. Somehow the silence wasn't oppressive. Instead it served to charge the torrid atmosphere further and was the perfect complement to the impassioned sounds of moans and heavy breathing.

Simultaneously, they reached for each other's face. She kissed the strong angle of his jawbone, fully aware of the lingering scent of his cologne before removing her lips to slowly trace his features with her fingers. He reciprocated, taking his time to delicately go over her eyes, her nose, her cheekbones and finally her mouth.

It was becoming more and more difficult for Steele to hold himself back, to control his desire. He could feel Laura gently stroking his face as he moved his hands down her body. Innate primal urge got the better of his good intentions and before he could stop himself, he was languidly kneading her hips against his. Laura immediately placed her hands either side of his head to grip the arm of the sofa for support. She parted her legs to increase their mutual pleasure. Her nightdress and panties proved no barrier. She felt him there as strongly as if she were naked. Gasping aloud, she closed her eyes. They both moaned. Everything was blotted out except the fire in her blood, the warmth flooding her loins, the exquisite pleasure so sharp it was like pain. There was no morality, no rules, no doubts, no time, no place. It all fell away for this moment: a moment spinning dangerously out of control.

"Lauraaaa." Steele groaned in a voice edged with urgency and desperation. He had spoken: it was the bucket of ice-cold water she needed. Her mind was screaming that she'd made a terrible mistake. That she'd taken complete leave of her senses. That she'd ruined everything. The abrupt tensing of her body communicated itself to him.

"Laura?" he immediately queried, "What's wrong? You-"

"Don't!" Quickly she reached up her hand to his lips stopping his words. He caught it imprisoning her wrist.

"Don't what?"

"Don't say it please! I'm begging you!"

"Don't say what?" he asked in exasperation.

"Oh my God! What have I done?" She smacked her forehead in frustration.

"Laura, what am I supposed to not say?" he queried.

She looked at him in surprise. "You mean you don't know?"

"Would I be asking if I did?" he retorted.

"Oh my gosh! You really don't know." Her tone conveyed her shock.

"Don't know what?"

"Oh. Well, in that case, it doesn't matter." Her relief was clearly tangible.

"What doesn't?"

"If I tell you what doesn't matter, you'll know what I thought you were going to say but you didn't think what I thought you were going to say anyway, so it doesn't matter anymore." She explained.

He looked completely lost. "Keep talking Laura and I won't need a cold shower."

She sighed. This was not going to be easy. "Mr Steele, I lost my head. I'm sorry."

"Well I'm not."

"Let's forget this ever happened."

"Let's not."


He shook his head and in a low voice said, "It's not as easy as that. It's so strong, I can't pretend it isn't there anymore Laura. Every day, all the time, even when I'm not with you…I know you can feel it too. I can sense it. From that very first day when I met you as Ben Pearson I could sense it."

"I could too." She mentally kicked herself for her fatal slip. It was as good as giving him a licence to carry on pursuing her. She felt him smoothing her hair.

"So what are we going to do then? When we're in the office, when we're working on cases, when we're alone together, when we both know…"

"We'll ignore it…no mixing of business with pleasure. Remember?"

"Yes." Very deliberately he let his hand move in a long slow caress from her head, to the line of her throat and down to just above her breast.

"You think I can do that?" he asked mockingly.

"Yes" she ordered, "For the sake of our arrangement and my agency, you must."

"Must I?"

"Yes." She stood up to compose herself.

"Laura, at the risk of being indelicate, I wasn't joking about the, ah, cold shower."

"Now?" she asked.

"Unfortunately, now's as good a time as any. Naturally I'd rather not have to use the shower but I'd require your help on that score! By the way, what were you doing up at such an ungodly hour of the morning?"

"I came out here for a drink. I was thirsty."

"Oh. Sure you weren't, ah, hungry too?" he flippantly crowed. He could afford a playful dig at her expense now that he knew they wouldn't be sleeping together tonight.

Laura stopped in her tracks. She decided to let him have this mini-triumph. After all, he wasn't getting laid. Then again, neither was she.

"I'm going to get my drink. You've got two minutes. It's through there." She pointed towards her bathroom and padded into the kitchen.

As soon as he was out of sight she opened the door to her refrigerator and leant in, feeling the chill cool her down. She closed her eyes and it all came back to her. The memory just of touch was so strong that it raced through her body in sharp pulses, born again even in recollection. His mouth against her neck, her wrists, her hands,

her arms. His hands on her skin touching tenderly, then possessively, and seeming to touch, such was his power, all of her body at once. The feeling when he encircled her waist and moulded their hips together, so good, she'd almost surrendered. Why had she acted like that? What had come over her? Thankfully he hadn't reproached her, hadn't accused her of leading him on, of being a tease, as she'd feared he would. The thought hadn't even crossed his mind. How strange. How wonderful too.

Laura gulped her water down as if it could put out the internal fire raging within her. She almost choked when she heard him cheerfully call out that the bathroom was now free. Why on earth was he so damned effusive? He was supposed to be as frustrated as she now was. All of a sudden, she felt tiredness closing in on her again. A full days work on four hours sleep beckoned. Laura stopped dead when she saw Steele in her living room, hair still dripping, bare-chested and boxers clinging to his damp body. What a sight for sore eyes! He was really something hot to look at. She could jump his bones right now. Laura squared her shoulders and put on her most efficient demeanour.

"Goodnight Mr Steele, sleep well. See you in the morning."

"You too. Miss Holt. You too."

As Laura strolled past he grasped her left arm, "Laura. Details are rather hazy at the moment but I'm sure I may have said or done something reprehensible. I'd just like to apologise in advance and thank you for letting me stay here tonight." He gallantly kissed her left hand.

"Get some rest. We'll talk about it later," she responded.

Laura crept back into her bed. On the couch, Steele wrapped himself in the sheets. They both smiled.

"Remington Steele Investigations. How may I help you?" The vivacious brunette grabbed a pad and pen. "I'm afraid Mr Steele is in conference. May I take a message?…Uh-huh….Fine. Thank you very much…You too."

Laura entered the office happily humming a tune. "Bernice, how was the rest of your night? Bet it wasn't as eventful as mine!"

"Well, Dan and I went dancing as you know. Vertically speaking. And then we went back to his place and danced again. Horizontally speaking! Thank God it's Friday today. I'm beat! I've just taken a call from a prospective client who wants the services of the incomparable Mr Steele. Speaking of our leader, he hasn't arrived yet."

"I know. I left him sleeping on my couch."

"Your couch?" Bernice exclaimed, "What's he doing there? I thought he went out with Murphy last night?"

"It's a long story. Take your lunch at one and I'll share it with you. I've asked Fred to pick him up at ten thirty so could you call my house in twenty minutes please and wake him up?"

"Hey! What went on last night?" Bernice asked with a knowing smile.

"Nothing. He slept on the couch and I slept in my bed." She scanned the mail and then asked, "Murphy in yet?"


"Ask him to see me when he arrives. I want to know everything about their evening together," she said gesturing to both doors either side of her own.



"What did you think of Irving?"

"Oh Bernice! That's another long story. Let's just put it this way for now, I doubt if he'll want to see me again after what he saw last night!"


"One o'clock." Laura replied with a wink and promptly disappeared into her office leaving Bernice to answer the phone.

"Remington Steele Investigations. How may I help you?" She reached again for her pad and pen. "I'm afraid Mr Steele is in conference. May I take a message? Oh Mr St Clair! How nice to speak with you again! May I take a message for Mr Steele?…Yes..Fine…I've got that…Thank you very much…You too."

Murphy strolled into the reception area, as if on a cloud.

"Good morning Bernice! Isn't it a lovely day?"

"Yeah, if you like smog! What's gotten into you?"

"You've got that question the wrong way round. Let's just say, I had a good time last night. Anyone in?"

Bernice nonchalantly picked up the phone. "Laura's arrived. She wants to see you when you have a – Mr Steele?…Fox!…Mr Steele, Fred and the limo will be arriving at ten thirty for you so can you please make sure you're ready?…Thank you…Fox! If I've told him once I've told him a thousand times! Sorry Murphy. Laura wants to see you when you have a minute."

He knocked on her door and popped his head round, "No it's fine...We'll be right there Miss Stevens with our wrap-up of the Davis investigation...We look forward to seeing you too." She replaced the receiver and jumped up, "Come on Murph! We've got a client to see!"

Steele gingerly opened the suite door and whispered a greeting to the amused secretary. He moved his hands to his head and walked as if on eggshells, "Morning Miss Wolfe. Do we have any remedies for hangovers left?"

"A cure for hangovers? I've got one. It never fails. One hundred per cent success."

"You are an angel of mercy, a paragon of sympathy. What is it?"

"Don't drink. Simple isn't it?" She smiled as she slammed her desk drawers.

"Ooooh! Miss Wolfe, I beg you, please let my last moments on this planet be tranquil ones! If anyone needs me, I'll be quietly suffering in my office. Miss Holt in yet?

"She's out with Murphy seeing a client. By the way, Mr StClair called for you again and how did you end up at Laura's place last night?"

Before he could answer her, the two detectives marched in laughing as they shared a joke.

"Oh Mr Steele! How are you feeling this morning?" Laura asked when she saw him.

"Miss Holt, World War Three is raging inside my head. Apart from that, I'm just peachy."

"Had a little too much to drink did we?" Murphy grinned.

"That reminds me, How did you get into the state you were in last night? I thought Murphy was with you?" Laura asked.

Bernice persisted with her inquiry, "You still haven't told me how you ended up at Laura's place last night?"

"You spent the night at HER place last night?" Murphy yelled.

All three looked at Steele who pleaded for silence. Then he pointed at Bernice and said, "In a taxi", looking at Laura he added, "Murphy left with his date," and facing the furious American he confirmed the interrogation with a simple, "Yes."

"I want a word with you. NOW!"

"Murphy, this isn't the best – "

"Laura" he interrupted her, "This is guy stuff." He turned back towards Steele. "We'll use your office."

"Miss Wolfe, Would you kindly bring me a cup of tea. Oh, and order me a full breakfast from somewhere. I need the works: pancakes, waffles, sausage, eggs, bacon. I'm ravenous."

Murphy held his temper while Steele eased himself into his chair. Finally he asked, "Now, what seems to be the matter?"

"You planned the whole thing!" He accused angrily.

"What are you talking about?" Steele hedged.

"The women! It was a set-up! You had no intention of spending the night with Candy! It was Laura all along so you got me out of the picture!"

Steele decided to come clean. "You had the very same thoughts yourself Murphy. You would have gone there if I hadn't. I could see it in your eyes. You should be pleased, great minds thinking alike and all that!"

"Don't! Don't you compare me with yourself. If you took advantage of her, I'll – "

"Murphy. I was in no fit state to do anything except collapse onto her sofa, mores the pity! In fact, if she was so inclined, Laura could have taken advantage of me!" That was as close to the truth as Steele was prepared to reveal.

Murphy pointed at him and snarled, "I haven't forgotten our little chat last night. Where Laura's concerned, there can be only one winner."

"I beg to differ Murphy. You have forgotten one key element of our riotous liaison."

"What are you talking about now?" He was genuinely puzzled.

Steele leant back in his chair, linked his hands at the back of his head, crossed his legs up on the desk and announced, "You shouldn't be annoyed about last night Murphy. You got far more from Deborah than I did from Miss Holt for starters so let me give you a little advice; nothing I do with regards to Laura should ever surprise you. I told you something last night Murphy and you obviously didn't take me seriously. Details are rather cloudy now about most things from our rowdy evening together but I distinctly recall saying it."

"Saying what?"

Steele grinned. The kind of conceited grin that made his rival want to belt him. It started at his left ear and easily finished at his right as he declared, " 'All's fair in love and war' Murphy. Remember? All's fair in love and war!"