STEELE WORKING AT IT
BY: LEAH B.
SUMMARY: This is my first attempt at RS fan fiction. It starts at the final scenes of "Steele of Approval" and provides an alternate ending.
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.
He had thought things were okay between them. He contributed to the resolution of the case and felt a bit vindicated when he was able to fill holes in the analysis left by Laura. When they got back to his flat, he looked forward to a nice evening together. He knew he had some things to apologize for, but surely Laura had seen how he'd tried his best to pursue the case in Los Angeles while she pursued it in Mexico. But as they entered and he closed the door behind them, Laura turned to him and said, "We need to talk."
Was there ever a pleasant conversation that started with those words? Her tone told him this wouldn't be the first. "Sure," he answered. "Why don't I . . .uhm . . .brew some tea for us?" She only nodded. As he came out of the kitchen with the tea, he gave her a cautious glance, trying hard to read her mood. But her face was a mask. All he could tell was that she was tense. That made two of them.
As he joined her on the sofa, he tried to start the conversation with a neutral remark. "You know, I uh, took the opportunity of looking over some of your old case reports." He sat on the corner of the sofa with one leg beneath him. He wanted to face her so that he could read her expression. "I must admit, " he continued, "you used quite a bit of creativity in putting them together."
She took a sip of tea. "That was before you were you," she said, looking not at him but straight ahead. Her voice was flat. She seemed distracted and he was growing more nervous with each passing second. "I still had to keep alive the illusion that there really was a Remington Steele," she continued.
He swallowed uncomfortably and set his teacup down. "Yes. Well, uh, despite all that, I don't think we're going to have any trouble in getting our license restored." He snuck another glance at her. She still wasn't looking at him. What was the matter with her?
She set her cup down on the coffee table, sighed, and leaned back. "Not having it has, uhm," she started haltingly, "given me time to think." She finally looked at him, and their eyes met.
"About what?" he responded, his voice breaking a little with concern.
Now, she kept her eyes on his, and answered, "Is that piece of paper the only thing that's keeping us together? Do we really have anything else in common besides this agency?"
He hesitated. He had no idea what to say, but he sensed this answer was critical. Finally, he swallowed again and tried glib, "Laura, if you're talking about my allergy to legwork . . ." Wrong move.
"No," she said as she got up from the couch and moved away from him. Somehow, he felt she wasn't just putting physical distance between them. She was deliberately leaving him behind. She continued, "It's got nothing to do with that. Don't you see? I mean, losing our license may be the very best thing that happened to us." When she turned to look back at him, it was with an expression of apology. It was like looking at the live version of a "Dear John" letter. "Maybe," she went on, "it'll give us time to think about how we really feel toward each other, outside work."
She was so damned calm. "How can she say what she's saying and be so calm?" he wondered. He couldn't think. He couldn't focus. What in the world was happening?
She just kept talking, and it just kept getting worse, "All we've ever done is play trial and error with our personal relationship as we tried to squeeze it into our professional one."
He had to stop her somehow. He had to say something. "Are you saying it hasn't worked?" was all he could manage. "Brilliant," he thought to himself, "real defense of the relationship. Of course she's saying it hasn't worked."
She sat down on the coffee table and responded consistently with everything she'd said so far, "Are you saying it has?"
He tried again, "Well, maybe not consistently, but . . ."
He hesitated for a moment and she cut him off with a finality that startled him. "All I'm suggesting is that maybe we, uh, take some time," she slowed to choose her words carefully, "to think about it for a while, that's all."
He just stared at her. He couldn't believe what he'd just heard. Laura wondered whether they had anything in common besides work, but how much chance did she ever give them to find out? She was the one who always set up road blocks to advancing their relationship - becoming more intimate. And he didn't just mean sex. He meant really sharing themselves. Spending significant time together away from the office. Being a couple. He couldn't even process what she had said, really. He felt as if he'd been kicked in the stomach. He hadn't realized until just that moment how much he'd been counting on working things out with Laura. Was she saying it was over? He was, quite literally, brokenhearted.
He tried to read her expression. Was this another test? Was he supposed to object? Her face was serious and silent. He didn't trust his voice. His throat felt swollen and tight. He just couldn't tell. The only words he could force out were, "Okay, Laura, if that's what you want."
With that, she got up and walked quietly out. As the door clicked shut, his head fell to his hands and he let out a long sigh. "Please don't do this," he said aloud, but there was no one to hear.
All his life he had denied himself the luxury (frivolous, he thought) of hoping any relationship (friendship, affair, business partnership) would last more than a few weeks. His experience told him they never did and he'd be a fool to think they could. So, he had acquaintances, partners for a single or a few cons, and a long series of one or several night affairs. The brevity of these "relationships" allowed him to easily parry any inquiries of a personal nature. Even his friendship with Daniel, admittedly longer than any other, had a certain superficial quality to it. Daniel and he had made clear to each other from the start that personal questions were off limits, and they both carefully obeyed this rule. He had actually convinced himself that it was better this way. Don't trust anyone with any information that revealed fears, insecurities, or past wounds, because, if you did, you gave them the power to hurt you. And never, never, never let yourself wish for something more, something deeper.
He had, for the first time in his life, broken this rule with Laura. He had hoped that their friendship would deepen to the point that he could really confide in her. He had convinced himself that if he was just patient with her, it would happen. And he believed with all his soul that if he would ever be able to share his heart with anyone, it was Laura. His initial emotional response to Laura's little speech was the old well-worn one of self-protection, "Cover up. She'll hurt you." But it was too late to cover up. The knife was already in and twisting slowly in his heart.
The next few hours were a blur. He managed to bully the Investigative Licensing Board examiner into admitting that he'd been bribed to suspend their license. As he held the returned license in his hand, it suddenly came home to him how close he'd come to destroying everything for Laura. Granted, the examiner had been paid off, but if he had taken it more seriously, been a little less cavalier, he probably could have figured that out sooner and avoided the license suspension altogether. At least he could have tried. He stared at the license. Laura wanted to "take some time apart." He didn't want any time apart, but she obviously needed it. To think about their relationship was what she said. To consider whether he was worth the trouble was what he heard.
He knew he was trouble for her. If he had foreseen anything more than a few days of flirting followed by a brief affair when it all began, he never would have stayed. He never meant to become part of her life. Back when his primary occupation was theft, he understood intellectually and emotionally that there was no hope whatsoever for anything permanent with someone like Laura Holt. But, somehow, before he realized what was happening, his whole life view had changed. He began to care about her in a way that was almost entirely unfamiliar to him. He wanted her to trust him and he'd do almost anything to prove to her that he deserved that trust. Yet, on a fairly regular basis, he still found himself wondering if maybe she wasn't better off without him. He knew, even now, that he wasn't good enough for her. That he'd never be the Remington Steele she imagined. That somehow, somewhere, he'd disappoint her so deeply that she'd never be able to forgive him. "Is that what just happened?" he wondered.
When she had talked about taking time off, she'd looked at him like he was a stranger. Like she didn't know him at all and had no idea how he felt about her. How did he feel about her? He thought of her as his partner, professionally and personally. She was his best friend. He wanted her to be his lover and, yes, someday, something more. Of course, he'd never told her any of this. "But how could she not know?" he wondered. He had to admit, if only to himself, that there was an awful lot about him that she didn't know. Carefully guarding his past and his real thoughts had become second nature to him. The avoidance and glib responses came so easily. After a lifetime of practice, they should. But how did he expect her to really understand him if she knew none of what had made him who he was? He really hadn't been fair to her at all.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out the pocket watch he'd forgotten was there. His name. How many times had she asked him his real name? He was sure he'd lost count. It seemed as if every time they started to let each other get close, she would ask, he would avoid the question, and they'd pull away again. It was a barometer of their trust for each other (or lack thereof). Most recently, she'd said it didn't really matter what it was, "it matters only that you won't tell me." It was just too pathetic that he didn't even know his own name. Not at all in keeping with his self-image. If he was going to lose everything else, and it looked like he might, he'd have that or he'd be damned trying. He'd search for the one part of his past that eluded and haunted even him. Surely he could do it. He had to.
He looked down at the license again. "How long have I been standing here?" he thought. He had no idea. He put the license into an envelope and addressed it to Laura at the agency. At least she'd have the agency, no matter what else. As he started to close it, he hesitated, "shouldn't I send a note or something? She'll think I've just deserted her. She won't know I mean to come back." More importantly, he wanted her to know, for once, how he felt. He had to let her see the real him, finally.
He sat in the limo and composed quickly, although his hands were shaking.
I wish I'd been able to tell you these things this afternoon at my flat, but the truth is, I was stunned by what you said. Laura, you broke my heart today. I'm not saying this to hurt you but, for once in my life, for once in our lives, I want you to know what I really feel. I love you. I have for a very long time, and I always will. I have to leave for a while. There is something I have to find. Please know that if I fail, it won't be because I didn't try.
After he'd finished, he reread the note. It didn't sound right. It sounded like he was angry, and that wasn't it at all. It also sounded like he might never be back and, while that was true, it wasn't the thought he wanted to leave Laura with. No. This was too hard. He'd just have to hope she'd understand. Surely, she cared enough for him that she'd give him the time to work his way back to her. He folded the note, shoved it into his coat pocket, leaned forward and said, "Home, Fred."
He packed quickly and efficiently. God knows, he'd cleared out of places and lives enough times before to know how. He thought about what passport to use. She knew all his passport names and could easily track him if she wanted to. Did he want her to? "Probably yes," he had to admit, "but not right away." Once on the plane, he reached into his pocket, looking for the note. It wasn't there. "Oh God," he thought, "it must have fallen out somewhere." He closed his eyes and leaned his head back trying to recall when he might have dropped it, but his head was throbbing and he just couldn't focus. "It's too late to do anything about it now, " he thought. He'd just have to hope it was on the ground somewhere and not in his flat or the limo. He breathed deeply trying to relax his mind and his body, but sleep did not come.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Laura stood at his apartment door. She knocked and leaned against the door frame, trying to calm herself. She was absolutely filled with regret. She'd made a huge mistake. She could only hope it wasn't too late. All she could think about as she drove to meet Westfield earlier that evening was how angry she was with Mr. Steele. She hadn't been able to rely on him on this case, and it brought to the forefront all of her insecurities about him. She'd tried to convince herself that they really were partners, but where was her "partner" when the Licensing Board examiner was grilling Mildred? He'd just left, risking everything she'd worked for, everything she'd risked her life and sanity for. And now the agency's license was suspended. She knew in the rational part of her brain that she'd be able to get it back, but if he'd been more attentive, she probably wouldn't be in that position. The truth was, when push came to shove, she was the only one she could really count on. It was her agency after all.
By the time she got to the airport, she'd started to think over the cases they'd worked on. They were a terrific investigative team, and he'd put his life on the line right along with hers. And how many times had he saved her life? She couldn't even count. So why did she still think of it as her agency? It was hard at first. Hard to see him get so much credit for her work. It was one thing when an imaginary person collected the kudos but quite another when He gloated over the agency's successes as if he had something to do with it. She'd consoled herself with the fact that she knew, and he knew, it was Laura who solved the cases. She made sure he understood, at least privately, that without her, he'd fall flat on his face. But as time went on, he'd become a solid investigator in his own right. And he certainly brought some skills that she simply didn't have. Granted, they were mostly "criminal" skills, but useful nonetheless.
If she was honest with herself, she'd have to admit that virtually every time she'd doubted him, failed to trust that he put the agency's interests first, she'd found out in the end that he had. He had fallen prey to any number of frames and set-ups, but when the truth finally came out, it always turned out that he had done the right thing by her and the agency. Even on the Westfield matter, he had left Mildred to answer the examiner's questions, but since they were about cases from the time when Remington Steele was completely fictitious, he couldn't have offered much anyway. Given what he knew by the time she returned from Mexico, he had obviously spent his time working on other aspects of the case. Was her continued insistence on thinking of it as purely her agency simply some sort of professional jealousy? Ugh. She hoped not. That wasn't very flattering to her at all.
By the time she sat next to William on the plane, all she could think about was that she'd cut Mr. Steele off without really giving him a chance. Her concern that maybe the agency was all they really had in common was a legitimate one, but what she'd suggested (okay, dictated) would not, could not, bring them any closer to resolution. The natural, logical way to answer her question would be to spend time away from the agency with each other, not apart from each other. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
William was nice enough. And he was certainly good looking. Really sexy in a smart, solicitous way. And they obviously shared common values. But . . . But she was already in love with Mr. Steele. She just wasn't ready to move on. Would she ever be? She felt guilty about the way she'd left William but she really had no other choice. She was nervous about telling Mr. Steele how she felt, but excited too. Maybe, just maybe he felt the same or at least didn't consider her so totally insufferable that he wouldn't give her a chance. All she needed was a chance - to show him she could trust him, have faith in him, love him.
When Mr. Steele didn't answer her knock, at first she didn't think much of it. After all, he had no way of knowing she'd be coming back so soon. Why should she expect him to be sitting home waiting? He was probably drowning his sorrows in movie popcorn at some local retrospective. And she knew he had sorrows to drown. She hadn't missed the look on his face, in his eyes, when she made her little pronouncement. That's what it was. A pronouncement. No matter that she'd failed utterly to consider how he would feel. In truth, she hadn't given it a second thought. When she considered it that way, it sounded pretty selfish. But she was here, now, to fix it.
She tried the door handle and when it pushed open, unlocked, her stomach began to churn. Why would he leave his door open? Nothing to protect? She walked straight to his bedroom trying to adopt a casual air, as if she could control reality simply by acting as if she'd find what she hoped to find. Something was out of place. No. That was the point. Absolutely nothing was out of place. It looked like no one lived there. With shaking hands, she opened first one closet, then the other. Empty. She already knew, but for the sake of completeness, she checked the drawers as well. Likewise empty. She was nothing if not thorough. As she sat on the bed, she could almost hear him saying it in that sarcastic tone, "That's what I love about you, Laura, you're always so thorough. So very tediously thorough." She hated when he said it like that. His tone so clearly conveyed the opposite of his words. That's what he most definitely didn't love about her. As she sat on his bed, she'd never felt so lost. So small. So totally unprotected, cold, and alone. That was the point, wasn't it? He didn't love her. Sure, he cared about her. He'd said and showed as much many times over. But love? No.
After a while, she went home. She couldn't think. Her mind was numb. How could she possibly go back to the way things were before him? Setting aside for a moment the practical impossibility of it - clients now expected a real live Mr. Steele - she needed him as a partner. They watched out for each other, covered each other. They were a team. And what about outside work? Their personal partnership had become an irreplaceable part of her life. She thought about him a hundred times a day, totally unrelated to work. She'd see something funny on TV and wonder if he'd seen it and how he would react. She'd taste something good and wonder how he would have made it even better. She wondered constantly when they were apart what he was doing and wished they were together. This picture, this reality was, of course, totally inconsistent with her last conversation with him. Conversation wasn't even the right word. It was, as usual, all about Laura. She finally lay down in bed, but couldn't sleep. She turned it all over and over in her mind. Had what she'd said really affected him so much that he'd left as a result? Or was it just the excuse he needed, had probably been waiting for, to justify what he'd wanted to do for a long time? Leave the troublesome, tedious, screwed up Laura Holt.
By the time morning sunlight came through her window, she had decided at least one thing. She would go in to work today and, for the time being, pretend that Mr. Steele was simply away on a case. She'd turn to the one thing she'd always been able to count on to help her work through her problems - work. Work through or avoid? Whatever. It didn't matter much right now. She needed a little time to catch her breath. She'd figure out what to do on a more permanent basis later. First things first. She had to get the agency's license back.
She dressed quickly and went in to work. Mildred was already there, bright and early as usual. Laura stood outside the office doors for a moment, took a deep breath, threw back her shoulders and went in to face the day. The first day post-Mr. Steele.
"Good morning. Good morning," Laura said brightly, a plastic smile glued to her face.
"Good morning, Miss Holt," Mildred answered with a cautious look, "I have some messages for Mr. Steele. Is he expected in soon?"
Messages? Who was looking for him? Felicia, the treacherous blond? Chalmers, the snake charmer himself? Had they already heard it was over? Were they clamoring to claim him back as their own? "Who called for Mr. Steele," Laura asked, struggling to keep her voice calm.
"A Mr. Mazur and a Mr. St. Clair. Are you okay, honey?" Mildred asked, concerned at Laura's expression.
Laura's shoulders slumped at the mention of Mr. St. Clair. That was one of Chalmers' aliases. "I'm fine, Mildred," Laura responded, "I don't think Mr. Steele will be in today." At least if Chalmers was looking for Mr. Steele, they weren't together, right?
She managed to put Mildred's questions off, but she knew the older woman had noticed how tired she looked. How tired she felt.
It didn't take long to find out from the Licensing Board that she was back in business. "The license itself has been entrusted to your boss," they told her.
"I wonder how he managed that?" she thought, realizing that he must have gone straight from her rejection scene to the Licensing Board to retrieve it. Was this his noble farewell deed? Is this supposed to make up for the fact that he's left? She could hardly complain, right? She had her precious license back. "Oh, Mr. Steele," she sighed, "I can't do this alone." She shook her head to clear away the self pity. "No," she told herself. "This kind of thinking won't help. Just get to work. It'll be okay, somehow."
Several client appointments kept her busy all morning, and that afternoon, she needed to leave the office to track down some background information on a piece of stolen artwork. Mildred offered to call for Fred but Laura quickly interrupted, "No, Mildred. I'd rather drive. I don't know how long I'll be." She couldn't possibly face riding in the limo right now. It was way too filled with memories of him. And there was no way she could possibly drive the Auburn. She went down to the garage, turned the key in the Rabbit's ignition, and heard only a click. "Damn. Battery is dead." She didn't want to take the time to wait for the auto club so she went back upstairs, asked Mildred to see to the Rabbit, and called for Fred.
As she waited for Fred, she could feel her whole body tense. He had probably taken the limo to the airport only the night before. Fred pulled up and she got in and gave him the address. Up to then, she had avoided asking Fred if he knew anything about Mr. Steele's whereabouts. What did it matter? She wouldn't force him to return. She couldn't force him to want to be with her. She put her head back, closed her eyes, and let her mind wander. She thought she could still smell his cologne. She ran her hand along the seat and imagined he was there. She felt her hand touch a piece of paper and her eyes flew open. Probably just a dry cleaning receipt or a note she'd made from a case. It was a folded and slightly crumpled. She opened it slowly and saw that it was Mr. Steele's writing. Had he left her a note? No. It made no sense that he would leave it on the seat of the limo. Fred could have thrown it away. Did he leave it by accident? Well, one way to find out. She leaned forward and told Fred, "Just drive for awhile." She closed the privacy glass and focused on the paper.
It was a note to her from Mr. Steele. He must have written it before he left. She read through it once quickly. Her eyes stopped on the words. Those words. She read them over and over. She couldn't make her eyes leave them. "I love you. I love you. I love you." She felt the tears start and put the note down. She couldn't control them now. She hadn't cried the night before. She'd actually convinced herself she must already be moving on when she woke up and still didn't cry. Yeah, right. Well, she was making up for lost time now. She sobbed uncontrollably for some minutes. Finally, she got it under control and, though she was still gasping for breath in that way small children do when they're trying hard not to cry, she was able to read the note again. As if she hadn't seen it the first time through, this time her eyes stopped on, "Laura, you broke my heart today." She thought back over what she'd said to him and tried to imagine being him, feeling what he said he felt just a few lines later in the note, and hearing the words she'd spoken. "Oh, God," she thought guiltily. She was so used to his flip remarks when she said something intended to hurt him. She recalled all the times she'd minimized his contribution to the agency. Somehow, he never, ever, let her see that it hurt. But, of course, it must have. She told herself she was annoyed with his ability to deflect real conversation, but the truth was she'd gotten a bit used to being able to hurt him with impunity. He just kept coming back. ". . . for once in my life, for once on our lives, I want you to know what I really feel." She closed her eyes and said to no one, "Please forgive me."
It was then that she focused at last on the final lines. "I have to leave for awhile. There is something I have to find." What the hell does that mean? Leave for where? For how long? To find what? The last line suddenly stood out from the others. "Please know that if I fail, it won't be because I didn't try." It took her awhile, but finally she got it. He might not be coming back at all. Wait a minute. He bares is soul for two seconds then introduces a new mystery? He has to leave for awhile? She felt the rage rise and boil over. He was doing it again. Instead of telling her what was going on, he'd just left. "Fine. Leave for as long as you want," she thought, "I may or may not be here when you decide you're finished." Was he counting on her to follow? "Well, guess again, buddy. Laura Holt won't be following anyone anywhere." How easy to say "I love you" when he wasn't coming back. No commitment. No consequences. Damn him. If he ever showed up again, he just might find she was otherwise occupied.
She folded the note and put it in her purse. She dried her eyes, repaired her makeup, and lowered the privacy glass. There was just one thing she had to know. "Fred, did you take Mr. Steele to the airport last night?"
"Yes, Miss Holt," he answered. If Fred had any idea where Mr. Steele was or for how long, he didn't volunteer it, and Laura didn't ask.
"Okay, let's get to work," she said.
"Yes, Miss Holt, " Fred repeated.
Later that night, at her loft, she got ready for bed, sat down on the couch and pulled out the note. Did he mean it? He hadn't actually intended her to have it. Did that mean that after he had written it, he'd decided it didn't really reflect how he felt? Had he effectively taken it all back? Maybe he had reconsidered parts of the note, but she knew he'd meant the most important portions. He loved her and he might not be back. She couldn't deal with this now. Tomorrow. She'd figure out what to do tomorrow. With that, she lay down and fell into a fitful sleep.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Tomorrow came as it always does, but Laura was no closer to knowing what to do. So she did nothing. After just a few days, Mildred got uncontrollably suspicious and demanded to know what was going on. Laura finally came clean with her, sort of.
"All I know, Mildred, is that Mr. Steele is trying to find something. I don't know what, where, or for how long, but I'm sure all will be back to normal soon."
Of course, that last part was a bald faced lie, but what else could she say? Mildred actually ran a trace on the activity of a passport for Remington Steele. But, of course, since there was no such passport, she found nothing.
"At least he's still in the country," Mildred mistakenly concluded. When she told Laura, Miss Holt just nodded silently, knowing he most certainly was not still in the United States.
She continued to avoid questions about Mr. Steele's whereabouts and she worked. Almost three weeks passed that way. She solved case after case in record time. One day she had a hang-up on her answering machine at the loft and she wondered if it was him. "No, Laura," she told herself, "whether or not Mr. Steele has left you for good, sometimes people just dial the wrong number." Once, she went over to his apartment. She had no idea why. She needed to feel close to him or she'd just implode. She walked to the balcony and looked up. Unusual given the lights of LA, the moon was clearly visible, full and brilliant. She stared at it remembering all the kisses, embraces, and feelings they'd shared on this balcony. Somehow, she felt a little better.
She reread the note every evening alone in her loft. "Where is he? Is he okay? Does he need me? No. If he really wants me around, he'll have to be the one to ask. This time, it's his move."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Steele flew into London using a passport in the name of Michael O'Leary, but here, for the most part, he was "Harry." He didn't even try to track down Daniel. This was something he had to do alone, and he couldn't explain to Daniel what had happened with Laura. Harry knew Daniel felt he was wasting his time with the Remington Steele charade and that any thought of a real future with Laura was silly and doomed to fail. Daniel couldn't even conceive of why Harry would want such a thing. And Harry couldn't explain it in a way that made sense. Could he possibly have fallen so deeply in love with someone who didn't feel the same? He suspected Daniel thought as much. He pushed that thought out of his mind.
It was Chalkie he contacted first. He had a watch that was inscribed "To SJ, From KL," and a dead man's name - Patrick O'Rourke. He knew O'Rourke had worked in a London pub for a time. Maybe that's when he'd received the watch from Harry's father. Just thinking that phrase - his father - made him tremble. With what? Anticipation? Anger? Regret? All of it, probably. And of course, it was quite possible that the watch was really just a wild goose chase. Not really from his father. Not really meant for Harry. Something. Well, at least he should be able to eliminate it as a clue if that's where the trail led. As always when he didn't have Laura to bounce ideas off of and keep him pointed in the right direction, he felt a bit lost. He'd just have to make do. He had learned a few things, after all.
He took a small room by the week and paid two weeks in advance. "That ought to be enough time," he thought optimistically. He wanted to keep a low profile. No sense attracting attention as Remington Steele. By the time two weeks had passed, he had tracked down the pub where O'Rourke had worked and come up with KL - Kevin Landers. He'd even made the connection between Kevin Landers and the Earl of Claridge. Imagine it. He might be royalty. Somehow, the blow of his father's abandonment was softened by that thought. He rented the room for another week and arranged to meet Chalkie at a Whitechapel pub. Chalkie had promised more details on the Earl's history and the watch. Harry felt as if he needed all the information he could gather before he dared present himself as possibly the Earl's son.
As he walked through a tony section of London, Harry heard a disturbingly familiar laugh and turned slowly, trying not to be noticed. What he saw made him more than a little nervous. There, standing in front of the window of a small boutique were Felicia and a certain South African collector that Harry was hoping he'd never see again. Freddie Smyth. He turned quickly away, but he knew Felicia had seen him. "What is her game?" he wondered out loud. But it wasn't Felicia he was worried about. Having paid a handsome sum for the stolen Hapsburg dagger, Freddie had lost it again when the famous Remington Steele, posing as partygoer John Robie, stole it, returned it to its rightful owner, and caught the original thief, a particularly cold-blooded French police detective. Harry was hoping to safely live the rest of his days without running into Freddie Smyth again, but no such luck. He made his way down the street, increasing the distance between himself and Freddie as he went.
There was a time when Harry could negotiate a street filled with literally thousands of people and never be noticed or remembered by any of them. It was all about the way one carried oneself. But he'd spent the last three years working very hard to be noticed as Remington Steele. "There is no such thing as bad press," he constantly reminded Laura. Whether it was wrapping up a case or eating dinner out, Remington Steele was made to be noticed. Harry was a little rusty. As he ducked into a jewelry store, his mind wandered to Laura. The last thing he needed was to get mixed up with one of Felicia's schemes. Laura simply would not understand.
* * * * * * * * * *
Felicia sank into the tub, utterly exhausted. All she wanted was an hour of peace and quiet. The door opened and in walked Freddie.
"Felicia," he started, "how's the plan coming?"
"Oh, you know how these things go, Freddie," she answered, "the preparation can drag on and on. We've been amusing each other in the meanwhile, haven't we?"
Freddie did not look amused. "You've been paid. I want my stones," he said. Freddie was a lot less patient now than he used to be. When Felicia agreed to take this job, it was with the recollection of previous jobs she'd done for Freddie Smyth. He liked to mix business with pleasure and he was fairly easily distracted.
Felicia took a different tack. "Why don't you get comfortable and join me for a nice hot bath?" she cajoled.
Freddie smiled and sat at the edge of the tub. "You have forty-eight hours, Felicia," he said as he touched her cheek.
As Freddie walked out, Felicia began to focus on the matter at hand - stealing the Marchesa collection for Freddie Smyth. Some years earlier, Michael had stolen the fifth piece in Mexico City for a Belgian collector. Now the entire group was in the hands of a London eccentric named Theodore, "Teddy," Huggins. Felicia already had diagrams of the security at the Huggins estate. She'd just been stalling while she enjoyed Freddie's largesse. He really wasn't a completely unpleasant companion, and he could be quite generous when he wanted to. She was ready. She would go for the stones tonight.
* * * * * * * * * *
Freddie sank back on his hotel room bed. The past few days with Felicia had been entertaining enough, and he had every confidence that she could successfully plan a heist of the Marchesa collection, but the game had just gotten considerably more interesting. That man on the street today was none other than Remington Steele. The intrepid sleuth had been all over the papers the year before, at Freddie's expense no less. Since the Hapsburg dagger fiasco, Freddie had done a little research on the illustrious Mr. Steele. Not under that name, of course. There was little to be found down that road. But, for the right price, Freddie had found any number of people willing to talk about the face they recognized as Michael O'Leary and Douglas Quintaine, among others. In stealing the dagger, Remington Steele had relieved Freddie of something of great value. And Freddie was all too happy to return the favor. Mr. Steele's box of secrets was about to be split wide open.
* * * * * * * * *
Teddy Huggins was the sort who hosted charity events by day and dumped bodies in the Thames by night. Everyone on the wrong side of the law knew what he was about but he had just enough "friends" in important places to divert attention elsewhere at critical moments that he had never so much as been arrested.
Felicia thought that Teddy Huggins was either extremely confident that no one dared cross him or he was an idiot. His "security system" wasn't very secure at all. His estate was protected by the usual high stone wall, easy enough to scale. Then there were dogs of a particularly vicious breed. But any dog could be drugged into submission, no matter how aggressive. The estate's security system was about ten years old and one with which Felicia was quite familiar, thanks to Michael. She and Michael had bypassed a similar system in freeing the "Five Nudes of Cairo." As she separated irrelevant wires from critical ones in the main control panel, Felicia reminisced to herself. How had she ever let Michael get away? Bad timing, she surmised. It wasn't really feasible in this business to have a permanent partner. It left you too open to blackmail. And now he was with little "Lisa." Although . . . he was alone on the street. "Hmmm," Felicia thought, "maybe once I've rid myself of the tedious Freddie Smyth, I'll test those waters again."
Feeling optimistic and more than a little pleased with herself, Felicia cut the appropriate wires and carefully excised a circle of glass from the window. Quiet as a church at midnight. No alarms. No men running with guns. All was well. She lowered a mask to cover her face and crept inside. As she made her way to the library safe, she listened carefully for any sign of movement. Nothing. The safe was a bit of a challenge, but, eventually, she managed to get it open. With the jewels tucked safely into her backpack, she crept across the lawn, careful to keep to the cover offered by the ornamental shrubbery and flowers. Back over the wall and into her car, she wondered whether Michael's retrieval of the fifth piece of the collection had gone so smoothly. She doubted it. It would be fun to tell him about her highly orchestrated escapade.
Back at Freddie's hotel, Felicia quickly packed before delivering the jewels. She didn't want to spend one more minute with Freddie than was necessary. As she closed her case, she turned to find Freddie standing in the doorway.
"Going somewhere, Felicia?" he asked with a smile.
"There they are," she answered, pointing to the jewel case on the bed. "I'll just have the rest of my payment and be off."
"Not so fast," Freddie said with a menacing tone. "I have one more little task for you."
"Freddie . . ." Felicia started, but he cut her off.
"Not to worry, darling. You can finish this job on your way to the airport if you like. Deliver the goods to this address," he said handing her a piece of paper. "Just leave them in the case on the dresser. My man will pick them up there."
Felicia started again, "I don't understand. What man? Why not have him pick them up here?"
"Look, Felicia, dear" Freddie said with a tone of finality, "it's like this. You either do exactly as I say or Mr. Huggins will receive your photograph and a note identifying you as the thief of his precious collection. You don't want that, do you?"
The whole arrangement made Felicia very nervous but she didn't see that she had any choice. Anyway, how difficult could it be to dump the jewels at this address? "Very well," she said, "but once this is finished, so are we. Understood?"
"Oh, quite," Freddie answered with a smile that didn't reach his eyes.
* * * * * * * * *
Felicia worked the lock quickly and quietly. The address Freddie had given her was a rooming house in a fairly rundown neighborhood. Why in the world would Freddie want the gems delivered here of all places? As she entered and looked around, something seemed familiar. The case on the dresser. It was Michael's! He used to call it his "getaway case." Whatever else he might have to leave behind in a pinch, the essentials fit nicely into the "getaway case." Felicia hesitated. She didn't know why or how exactly Freddie was setting Michael up, but he was. Then she thought of Huggins. She couldn't risk his finding her. Freddie wasn't kidding when he said he'd lead Huggins right to her. Felicia didn't think it had been the plan from the start, but obviously at some point, Freddie's target had shifted from the jewels to Michael. She'd just have to trust that Michael could get out of this on his own. He'd certainly gotten out of tighter spots. She placed the jewels in Michael's case and turned it so that the handle that had been facing the door now faced the dresser mirror. With any luck, Michael would escape and little "Lisa" would be stuck explaining the stolen jewels. Felicia allowed herself a small smile. This might work out after all.
* * * * * * * * *
Later that night, Harry returned to his room. He had spent the evening at a Whitechapel pub waiting for Chalkie. But Chalkie was a no show. Harry was exhausted and, despite his initial optimism, he was beginning to get a bit discouraged. It was all taking too long. He wanted to go home. "Home," he thought. He couldn't recall ever using that term in the way he meant it now. Of course, "home" wasn't Los Angeles, exactly. "Home" was Laura. "It'll all be over soon," he reassured himself.
Once in the room, he knew immediately that something was amiss. There was a familiar perfume in the air and his case was placed differently than he'd left it. He walked carefully to the dresser, opened the case, and his eyes widened as he broke out in a cold sweat. He'd never seen the whole group together before, but they were as beautiful as he'd imagined. The Marchesa collection. How in the world did it get here?
Harry didn't even turn when he heard from behind him, "Hold it right there. We'll just have a look for ourselves, shall we?"
Without ever having seen the bloke before, Harry recognized the approach of a Scotland Yard detective in the way that criminals always know which chap in a crowded room is a copper, no matter how carefully disguised. Thank God Harry had at least hidden his passports upon his arrival in London.
"Don't bother trying to run," the detective continued, "we've got bobbies all 'round the place."
No matter how long he played the role of Remington Steele, some reactions were too deeply held to change. Harry hesitated for only a moment, then swung his arm to hit the detective full in the face and broke for the window. As he made his way down the fire escape, Harry saw the approach of several of the ubiquitous bobbies. "Damn," he thought to himself, "never a copper around when you need one, but when you don't . . . ." He fought them off and sprinted down an alley, jumped a low wall and came face to face with another detective.
"Here you go, mate." the detective smiled, "I've been expecting you. We'll have a little chat at the station, shall we?"
Harry delivered a rapid-fire three punch combination and, as the detective struggled to catch his breath, started over a high wall with metal spikes at the top. Half way over, he felt the detective pulling on his legs. As Harry sank down onto two of the spikes, he grimaced and kicked at the detective. With all the strength he could muster, he pulled himself over the wall and stumbled around the corner and into an alley. He knew the detective wouldn't be far behind but somehow, Harry couldn't seem to get out of slow motion. He sank to the ground and blinked, trying to focus his eyes. Then, everything went dark.
* * * * * * * *
Harry woke up in a hospital room with a police guard outside the door. His face felt hot and his stomach hurt like hell. He took a moment to review his situation. "Let's see," he thought, "I'm injured; Felicia has for some reason I don't understand left stolen jewels in my room; and I'm fairly certain I am at this moment under arrest. Laura will not be pleased." Just the thought of her made him sad, then afraid. "Well, at least our reunion won't be boring," he thought nervously. "Remington Steele accused of stealing jewels that Richard Blaine has already been connected with the theft of. I'm sure it could worse, but I'm at a loss to think how." All Laura's fears come home to roost at once. He had to find some way to protect her. To protect the agency.
With that thought, the detective from his rented room walked in. "Good afternoon, Mr. Steele," he started. "How are you feeling?"
"This is bad," Harry thought. He hadn't entered the country on a Remington Steele passport (there wasn't one), so how had they made that connection?
"I believe you have a bit of explaining to do," continued the detective, "but I'm being rude. I know your name. Of course, you're quite famous, really. But you don't know mine. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Inspector Williams, of Scotland Yard."
"Good afternoon, sir," Harry said with a smile, extending his hand. No sense panicking before he really knew if he needed to.
"Let's start with the jewels, shall we?" the Inspector said pleasantly, "Why don't you tell me just how they found their way into your room."
Harry thought for a moment. What would Laura do in this situation? Of course, Laura would never find herself in this situation. Still, he was an innocent victim here, more or less. Why not simply explain? "Look, Inspector," Harry started, "I've no idea where those jewels came from. I was as surprised to see them as you were."
"But in your room," the Inspector went on, "you'd have to admit, it's highly suspicious."
"Isn't it though," Harry started. He paused for a moment, searching desperately for some plausible explanation. "I can't explain it," Harry finally said, thinking now might be an appropriate time to panic. His eyes left the Inspector and glanced around the room, looking for an escape route. He doubted he'd get far in his present condition, but one needed to be prepared for any contingency. "I'm sure though that you won't find my fingerprints anywhere on them since I never touched those jewels." Harry flinched slightly at this partial truth. Well, he had never touched most of them, and he'd only touched the one piece years before.
"Easily accomplished with gloves," the Inspector said flatly. "Let's try again. We have reports that the jewels were stolen last evening, between eight and ten o'clock. Can you verify your whereabouts during that period?"
"There you go," answered Harry with a smile of relief, "during that entire period, I was in a Whitechapel pub - the Ale House, I believe it's called." Harry immediately realized that this sounded unlikely. What would Remington Steele be doing in Whitechapel at all? "I was waiting for a source," Harry continued weakly. Now, he'd be asked about Chalkie, and what case brought him to London. The circle was getting dangerously large, and it was only a matter of time before someone contacted Laura.
"Here on a case then?" the Inspector questioned, his eyes narrowing.
Again, Harry tried the truth. "I'm here on a personal matter, Inspector. One I'd rather not go into. But I can assure you, it has nothing to do with those jewels."
The Inspector almost seemed to believe him. "We'll check your story," Williams answered. "Then we'll talk again."
Williams left and Harry tried to sleep. There were just too many balls in the air. He had to protect Laura and the agency. He had to clear Remington Steele's name. He didn't want to implicate Felicia, although why he still cared about her he couldn't say. "God, I wish Laura were here," he sighed. Apart from the fact that she could always figure out how seemingly unconnected circumstances fit together, he missed her terribly. He just needed to see her, talk to her, anything. One day the week before, during business hours in LA, he had rung up the loft knowing Laura would be at work, just to hear her voice. As soon as the message finished, he hung up. It helped somehow.
Then a familiar face popped into his head. Freddie Smyth. Felicia and Freddie together, and the same night the jewels end up in his room. Freddie must have seen him on the street and decided to seek revenge for the Hapsburg dagger. That had to be it. Harry felt no remorse at the notion of trapping Freddie, and it would go a long way with Scotland Yard if he could help them arrest the real thief (or the man who paid for the theft, anyway). He tossed and turned with that thought all night, trying to come up with a plan.
The next morning, Inspector Williams visited to tell Harry that his alibi had checked out. Several people recalled him sitting in the pub all evening. There were, of course, still questions as to why the real thief would put the jewels in Remington Steele's room. And Mr. Steele's decision to run from the police was quite odd under the circumstances. Harry explained what had happened in Cannes the year before (or at least the part involving Freddie) and offered to set the trap. The Inspector agreed and together they planned the details.
That night, Harry couldn't sleep. The plan was in place but he was restless and strangely nervous, as if he'd failed to consider something. He stood at the window and looked up at the moon. He wondered whether Laura would see the same moon later that night. As he looked up, he whispered, "I love you, Laura." He had no idea why, but he felt better.
* * * * * * *
Freddie looked through the paper once more. "Damn it," he thought, "it's been two days since the theft and still no news of the arrest of the famous sleuth. What could have gone wrong?" Freddie just didn't understand it. He knew Felicia had left the jewels. He'd had her followed. And Freddie had arranged for Scotland Yard to be present upon Steele's return. It would be child's play for them to connect Richard Blaine, thief of the fifth piece, with Remington Steele. "What is the delay?" he wondered.
* * * * * * *
It was a day later before Harry was well enough to carry out the plan. All in all, he was quite proud of himself. His old life had reared its ugly head (Cannes was really his new life, but Felicia and the Marchesa collection were pure Michael O'Leary and Richard Blaine) and he'd resolved the situation by working with Scotland Yard. Laura would be proud. Well, maybe not about the part where he decked several officers and ran, but the rest of it was quite stellar. The plan was simple. Harry would confront Freddie and hope that the surprise would allow him to get Freddie to confess. Harry would be wearing a wire, and Inspector Williams and his men would be nearby. "Piece of cake," Harry thought. As Harry approached Freddie's hotel room, he had the same sense of foreboding that he'd had his first night in the hospital. "Pull it together, mate," he said to himself and knocked on the door.
Freddie himself answered and the look on his face told Harry that he did indeed have the element of surprise. "Freddie, old chum," Harry started, "it's been too long."
"Mr. Steele," Freddie responded haltingly.
Harry got right to the point, "Thought you could have me sit in jail on your account, eh, Freddie? You steal the Marchesa collection and it ends up in my room."
"That's right," answered Freddie, "only I seem to have hit a snag. You ought to be in jail by now, but I can see that I can't count on Scotland Yard to do my work for me. I suppose I'll just have to finish it up myself." With that, Freddie raised his hand and what Harry saw in it made his heart fly into his throat. Freddie had a gun pointed directly at Harry's chest. Time stood still as Harry was mesmerized by the barrel of the gun.
There was a time when Harry excelled in situations like this. Not caring whether you lived or died was a huge advantage. Reacting with disdain rather than fear usually kept the opponent off guard and allowed Harry to think calmly when most people would freeze up. Harry had completely lost that particular advantage. All he could think about as he stared at Freddie's gun was that he'd never see Laura again. Never tell her how he felt.
With that, Freddie smiled and pulled the trigger. Harry heard two shots, but it was Freddie who fell. Freddie's shot had gone high as a bullet hit the South African's shoulder. As Harry stood and blinked, trying to figure out what had just happened, Inspector Williams' men filled the room.
"Well done, Steele," the Inspector praised. Harry sat down, trying to appear calm but shaking all the while. That was a little too close. Inspector Williams was quite pleased, and best of all, with Freddie publicly identified as the thief, if Huggins wanted revenge, Freddie was the one who would pay. Freddie blathered on about Felicia, but she was long gone, and Harry denied any knowledge of who or where she was. Harry almost inquired about a finder's fee for the jewels, but decided that was just a little too blatant a tempting of fate.
* * * * * * * *
Harry returned to the room he'd rented upon his arrival in London. All was more or less as he'd left it. After tidying himself up, he went to see the Earl of Claridge. It didn't take long to determine that he wasn't the Earl's son after all. Harry was terribly disappointed. Not so much about missing out on a royal title, but because he'd thought he might actually have found his father. He'd let himself imagine what it would be like to have a father in his life. As he returned to his rented room, he considered what to do next. It seemed his father, his real father, had almost certainly stolen the watch, and Harry had returned it to the Earl. So, almost three weeks after he'd left Los Angeles, Harry had less than he'd started with. He not only was no closer to finding his name, but now he didn't even have a trail to follow. When he'd left LA, he'd been sure he could do it, but now he felt just as certain that he could take months and maybe never find out about his past. Harry's thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door.
"Now who could that be?" Harry said out loud. Harry opened the door to see Daniel standing before him.
"Harry, my boy," Daniel started with a smile. The two hugged their greeting and Harry felt a surge of relief. A friendly face at last.
"Daniel," Harry responded, "come in. Have a seat. How did you know where to find me?"
"Oh, Chalkie paid me a visit," said Daniel, "I'm sorry it didn't work out with the Earl."
"No great loss. I've made it this far without a father," Harry mumbled.
Daniel hesitated only a moment, then went on, "For how long will London have the pleasure of your residence?"
"Not long. I'm actually heading back now," Harry responded, as he turned his attention to packing.
"Back?" Daniel asked, his head cocked to one side.
"Yes. I'm returning to Los Angeles," Harry replied without looking up.
"Harry, tell me you're joking," Daniel pleaded, annoyance beginning to show in his voice, "Why in the world would you want to go back to that?"
Harry raised his hand to stop the objection, "I'm happy as Remington Steele."
"You are?" Daniel queried, one eyebrow raised.
"Well, not right this minute," Harry sputtered, "but mostly, yes." Harry thought for a moment. He certainly wasn't happy not being Remington Steele.
"And, your Miss Holt?" Daniel continued.
"I'm in love with her, Daniel. I have to go back," Harry said with a note of finality that seemed forced even to him.
"And she loves you?" Daniel asked the ultimate and obvious.
"I don't know," Harry admitted.
"She'll be waiting for you, though, to welcome you back with open arms?" Daniel raised the next to ultimate, the somewhat less obvious.
"Well . . . maybe not. When I left, she said we needed some time apart." Harry was avoiding Daniel's glance now.
"You needed?" Daniel pressed.
"Alright. Alright. She needed time," Harry conceded.
"Time for . . ." Daniel couldn't let it go now.
Harry hesitated. "I don't know," he finally answered irritably, "Time to consider our relationship, I suppose."
"Harry, my boy," Daniel began haltingly, "not to further dampen your spirits but what if . . ."
Harry cut him off. "What if I tell her and she doesn't feel the same? Believe me, Daniel, the thought has crossed my mind." Harry looked hard at Daniel. "What do you think?"
Daniel let out a deep sigh, glanced at Harry, then put it all on the table. At the very least, Harry needed to go into this with his eyes open. "I think a woman who loves you tells you in something less than three years. I think a woman who loves you shows a bit more trust than Miss Holt allows herself to feel for you. I think you may find yourself years from now still on the outside looking in." Daniel intentionally softened his voice, "Are you prepared for that?"
Harry nodded is head slowly in understanding and forced a weak smile. He had expected Daniel to be critical of Laura, but not that he would make quite so much sense. "Thanks Daniel." They shook hands and walked out together.
* * * * * * * *
Harry tried not to think about what Daniel had said, but he thought of little else on the plane ride back to Los Angeles. Daniel was right about at least one thing. Harry was not prepared to go on any longer with things as they'd been the past three years. If someone had told him at the beginning that he would stick around for three years and still not have earned Laura's trust, he probably wouldn't have bothered. He knew one thing for certain. He couldn't stay in Los Angeles as Remington Steele as only Laura's friend and business partner. Either they found a way to have a real relationship or he had to leave. He could no longer be with her but not "with" her. And if she said she didn't feel about him as he felt about her, there was no way he could stay. He knew he'd never do anything to hurt her or the name of the agency. That pretty much meant he couldn't go back to his old way of life. Remington Steele was too well known. Eventually, someone would make the connection. What he would do if he had to leave behind his life as Remington Steele, he had no idea. As he flew back to Los Angeles, he tried to focus on the positive. Laura just had to be receptive to him. If she wasn't, he had no life at all. He was the one who would have lost everything.
* * * * * * * * *
Laura woke up and forced herself out of bed as she had every day for the past three weeks. Still no word from Mr. Steele. It was over. He really was never coming back. She took out the note, read it again, and laughed bitterly. "Gee," she thought, "somehow, I don't feel all that loved." She just couldn't go into work. She needed some time to adjust to her newly accepted reality. Well, not accepted, exactly, but it would be. She had no other choice. She let Mildred know to cancel all appointments and that she'd be at home. She sat around mostly. She just couldn't put any thoughts together about anything.
Around six p.m., her doorbell rang. "That's odd," she thought, "who knows I'm home?" She pulled back the door and tried desperately to calm herself as she saw who it was. He looked terrible. Tired and thinner and very sad. She was shaking. She couldn't quite figure out what she felt. Relief? He was alive. Anger? How dare he just show up like nothing happened. Like the past three weeks of her life hadn't been pure hell. She forced herself to take a deep breath. "Laura," she thought, "for once in your life, don't jump down his throat. He looks as if he's visited a few levels of hell himself."
"Hello," he said quietly. "May I come in?" He looked very hesitant, as if he was afraid she might slam the door in his face.
"Yes," she said. He came in just a few steps as she closed the door behind him and let his eyes wash over her. She was wearing blue jeans and a soft cotton t-shirt. She wasn't wearing any shoes, so she seemed even shorter than usual, vulnerable and small. It was all he could do not to sweep her into his arms, but he knew they had to talk first. He looked at her as if he couldn't ever look away again. The intensity of his gaze threw her off balance a bit, but still she didn't speak.
"We need to talk," he said almost in a whisper. He was quite aware that she had started their last round of "discussions" with those same words and he hoped he might fare better this time.
All she said was "Go ahead." Her tone was quiet, almost inviting. She tried hard to leave confrontation absolutely out of her voice, even as she fought back the urge to demand an explanation of his actions, and to level her own accusations as to what he'd done.
"Before I start," he said hesitantly, "I have to know if there's no chance for us." Her failure to answer immediately made him uncomfortable but what could he do but wait?
"I'm willing to listen," was all she said. She hoped against hope that he was about to say what he'd said in the note. But she was terrified that he wouldn't. That he'd try to go back to the way things were before he left or worse, much worse, that he'd only come back to say a proper goodbye. "Stop thinking," she told herself, "Just listen."
She looked at him expectantly, and he began, "First, I have to apologize. Not just for the last three weeks, which couldn't have been pleasant, but too for being unable, unwilling to tell you things about my past. I realized when you insisted that we spend some time apart that you had no idea how I felt about you. It came as a shock to me, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that you still don't trust me." When Laura would have objected, he held up his hand to stop her. "I like to focus, Laura, on what we've meant to each other the past three years, but I can see now that you need more. Please don't think that my reluctance to share my past with you was because I didn't trust you. That wasn't it at all. I trust you more than I've ever trusted anyone. The fact is, I have never trusted anyone completely, ever. At first, it was a matter of survival. As a boy, there were many who quite literally would just as soon I was dead. Later, it was mostly to protect me, less physically and more mentally and emotionally. Never trusting became a way of living. And it was my way of living for thirty years. It kept me safe. Along with that, I lowered my expectations of people to a point that I'd never be disappointed. I simply assumed that, given a choice, everyone I met would sacrifice me for themselves, and I protected against that as much as I could. I thought I was doing quite well, too. Of course, I was terribly lonely, but I never let myself care enough about anyone to get hurt, and that was something anyway. Then I came to the States to steal some of the most extraordinary jewels ever found, and I discovered someone of far greater value who made me never want to leave again."
The words were spilling out of him now. Laura was trying hard to comprehend as he spoke, but it was hard. In some ways, it was like he was describing her. Never trusting. Never letting anyone get close enough to hurt her. That was Laura Holt all over.
He continued, "It all changed when I met you. At first, I told myself it was just physical attraction. Like a hundred times before, once I'd coaxed you into bed, I'd be on my way. But it was so much more than that, almost from the beginning. I didn't just want you physically. I wanted you with me always. In my heart. In my soul. I wanted very much for you to care about me even half as much as I cared for you. I began to rely on us. I needed to see you. To work with you. To be with you. When I wasn't with you, I thought about you constantly. What were you doing? When would we be together again? I dreamed of you every night. Those feelings were so strong, so constant, that I assumed you'd know without me telling you. I realized three weeks ago how wrong I was."
Suddenly, she felt dishonest. She'd read the note, and he didn't know. She had to tell him. "I found the note," she blurted out.
At first he looked confused, then sheepish. "Ah," he said. "After I wrote it, I decided it gave the impression that I might not come back, and I didn't want you to think that."
"Was it a possibility?" she asked quietly, leaving unsaid for the moment the fact that he hadn't repeated the words she'd been waiting for.
"I thought it was when I left," he answered honestly, "but, no, ultimately, it wasn't. I had to come back. Laura, I did fail. I left to try to find out my real name. Who I really am."
She wanted to be sympathetic to what he'd been through, she really did, but all the loneliness and uncertainty of the past three weeks came back in a rush. Her voice was shaking with emotion but she refused to cry. "How could you?" she asked. "How could you leave?" As she spoke, sadness turned to anger once more. "I was so afraid," she continued, "all this time, to be honest with you, because I knew if I told you, I'd have to admit it to myself, and then if you left, I'd be devastated. I was finally ready, and I came back to your apartment and . . . and you were just gone." The words came out in gasps as Laura fought to hold back the tears. "And it didn't matter that I hadn't told you," she went on, "I was devastated anyway."
This wasn't going the way he'd hoped. Somehow, after all the soul searching, he'd taken a step backward. Daniel's word came back to him - you may find yourself years from now still on the outside looking in." He fought that thought and turned his attention back to Laura. "Bloody hell, Laura," he answered, his own voice showing a little anger now, "I know I've made some mistakes, we both have, but . . . ." Suddenly, he stopped as if he'd just heard what she said. His eyes narrowed. "Told me what?" he questioned.
Laura rolled her eyes and shook her head, exasperated, "Told you I loved you, stupid."
"There's no need for name calling, Laura," he scolded gently, a hint of a smile on his face, all the anger seeping away now. He took a long ragged breath, "Me too."
"You too, what?" she asked stubbornly. She knew exactly what he meant but if he thought he could get away with only saying it in a note that he never meant her to read . . . .
His laughter interrupted her silent diatribe. "I suppose," he dragged out as if she were literally beating it out of him, "I love you too." He smiled now, "You're the one, the only one. Satisfied, eh?"
"For now," she said with a grudging but playful smile. She still had a hundred questions about where he'd been and what he'd done for the past three weeks. And she somehow needed to make him understand that he couldn't just leave when they hit a bump in the road, but tomorrow was soon enough for all of that. She closed the distance between them and their eyes locked. She moved into his arms and kissed him, very gently at first. Then she leaned into him and ran her tongue along his lips. When he open his mouth over hers, her tongue immediately entered. She explored his teeth, his cheeks. Their tongues met and they were both lost in the kiss. She ran her tongue along his ear. "Stay with me tonight," she whispered. He looked into her eyes and brushed her hair back from her face. Then he lowered his head slowly until their lips met again.
* * * * * * *
They both moved very slowly, not with uncertainty but wanting the moment to last forever. He kissed her forehead, her eyes, her cheeks, her mouth. As he made his way to nuzzle her neck, she buried her hands in his glossy black hair and a moan escaped her. She fumbled a bit with the buttons of his shirt. He didn't seem to notice. She ran her hands down his chest to his stomach and felt him pull away slightly. She stepped back and looked at him. He had two reddish welts on his stomach.
"What happened?" she asked, concern showing in her eyes.
"I'll explain later, okay? He answered.
She nodded. "Does it hurt?"
"No," he lied. The truth was he wasn't feeling anything but excitement right now anyway, and there was no way he was going to stop.
She pulled the shirt from his shoulders and kissed his collar bone, his chest, his stomach. He sat her down on the bed and began to unbutton her blouse, never taking his eyes from hers. He didn't fumble. Her blouse fell away and he unclasped her bra in one swift motion.
"Wow, you're pretty good," she said with a laugh. She smiled at the thought but her expression changed as his mouth made its way downward.
He took her left breast in his mouth as his thumb made ever decreasing circles around her right. She sighed and let her head fall back. He made quick work of her jeans, never taking his eyes off hers. His hand moved down her side brushing lightly over her ribs and tracing the top of her panties. She was very aroused now. His left hand moved with torturous slowness past her waistband and he leaned her backward as he pulled off the last barrier. Moving both hands to her breasts, his mouth ventured southwards.
Laura moaned as much with anticipation as with pleasure. He was not pretty good. He was unbelievable. She had never felt like this. It was all so prolonged, yet she was in no rush and, obviously, neither was he. Most, well virtually all, of the men she had been with were generally in a hurry to get to the main event. Her Mr. Steele took his time in a way that made her excited about the next time they'd be together even as they were in the midst of this time.
He kissed her on the inside if each thigh, on her abdomen, and finally on the place she wanted his mouth most. His hands wandered freely over her body. He seemed to be touching her everywhere at once. Slowly, the pressure built until wave after wave of pleasure washed over her. He kept up until finally she was still.
He settled down next to her and held her gently, kissing her all the while and whispering how beautiful she was. After a few minutes, her breathing returned to normal and she looked into his eyes and smiled. "Well, if I didn't love you before, I do now," she joked.
He smiled at her and his mouth began a new exploration in earnest. While he kissed her forehead, she moved her hands along the edge of his waistband, moving a finger or two beneath it in an exploratory fashion. As she moved to cover him, she could feel that he was very hard already. He probably had been, she realized, for some time. She unbuttoned his pants and moved the zipper slowly downward. He lifted his hips to help her, and she pushed his pants down and off. She pushed him gently onto his back and reached down and gently removed his silk boxers, then returned to kiss his mouth, gradually deepening the kiss until both their mouths were open and their tongues moved back and forth over each other. She moved to kiss his jaw, his eyes, and ran her tongue along the outline of his ear. Her hands moved to his chest as she kissed his collarbone. She ran her hands through the soft, silky hair on his chest and first with her hands then her mouth slid slowly further down his body. She felt his new scars and softened her touch so as not to hurt him. She ran her hands over his abdomen and down his thighs carefully avoiding, for now, her ultimate goal. He moaned and she heard him sigh "Lauraaaa." She kissed his stomach, each thigh in turn, and then moved her hand to the place she'd wanted to touch since the day she met him. His response to her touch made her feel very powerful. She took him in her mouth wondering what he would taste like. Then she stopped thinking altogether. She looked up and saw he was leaning on his elbows watching her with amazement. She smiled at him and said, "I'll be right with you, honey." He started to laugh but gasped when she took him into her mouth again.
When he opened his eyes, she was lying beside him, kissing his cheek, his shoulders, his chest. He could not believe what she had just made him feel. He hadn't been with anyone in some time, but even when he'd had a different woman almost every night, he had rarely asked them for what Laura had just done. Hell, he wouldn't know how to ask for that. He smiled at her and said, "Well, if I didn't love you before, I sure do now." They both laughed and he felt an easy intimacy that he had never felt before. At least for now, they trusted each other.
He leaned down to capture her lips. She ran her tongue along is lips and entered his mouth in one swift motion. Her expression and her actions had made him ready for her again. He didn't think he would ever get enough of her. God, she was beautiful. He leaned to take her breast in his mouth then flipped her so that he was on his back and she was on top of him. She was a little surprised by this, but pleased. Most men didn't want her on top, especially not the first time. Her Mr. Steele was full of surprises. She wanted to make him glad he'd done it.
She eased onto him slowly. She hesitated a moment, giving herself a chance to adjust. She was a little afraid his size would make this uncomfortable but after a few slow thrusts, she felt her muscles relax and she glided over him. It had been a long time for her, so she was very tight. As she felt him throb inside her, she quickened her pace. He began to thrust underneath her, his hands on her hips, but he let her control the pace. She hoped this wasn't just some sort of first time courtesy. She definitely like being in charge. As he felt himself nearing his release, he moved one hand to her center to bring her faster. She moaned out "Mr. Steele" as she came which made him smile to himself. But he quickly focused on finding his own release. As he burst inside her, she came again.
They collapsed onto each other and tried desperately to catch their breath. He turned to the side and held her gently, her head on his shoulder. She looked somewhat debilitated and he suspected he looked about the same. His stomach hurt like hell, but he hadn't even noticed it until that moment.
As she caught her breath, she looked him up and down and said thoughtfully, "You've lost weight. Did you eat at all in the past three weeks?"
He smiled as he responded, "I'll make us a nice breakfast later, darling."
She smiled at the term of endearment. Somehow, it added to the intimacy. She was thankful that tomorrow was Saturday. For now at least, she wanted him all to herself. With that pleasant thought, they slept.