FAMILY STEELE: STEELE A SONG IN MY HEART (PART 2)
By: Phaedra Phelan
Summary: Remington and Laura work as a married couple on a case that wakens many memories of her teenage years and tests their working together as expectant parents.
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.
It was just after dark as Remington and Laura Steele sat at one of the tables set for alfresco dinner service at the front of the audience at the Hollywood Bowl. They were listening to the Los Angeles Philharmonic play Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto, directed by the famed conductor, Andre Previn, with Sergei Romov as the featured pianist. Romov is a Russian in his late fifties, distinguished-looking, extremely handsome with his mane of chestnut hair streaked with silver and his striking profile, and there is an obvious rapport between him and Previn that seemed to bear the entire audience along.
Romov was playing the intensely romantic strains of the second movement, the lushness of the music only enhanced by the setting in the warm California air.
Laura is completely taken with this music and found herself reaching, almost instinctively, for Remington. When he felt her hand on his, he caught it and gripped it tightly, their eyes meeting with an impact that was at once startling to both of them. Laura's eyes were full, her heart deeply touched by the music, and Remington, sensing the depth of her emotion, simply put both his hands over hers and held them until the concert ended.
Remington found himself constantly stunned, intrigued by the impact of the chemistry between them.
Preparing to leave after the concert, Remington placed Laura's light wrap about her shoulders and then gently turned her to face him.
"I've never seen you quite so moved by music, Laura," he said softly.
"I know. That concerto just tears me apart whenever I hear it."
"I believe the critics have described Mr. Previn's Rachmaninov as 'Lusciously sorrowful.' "
"Joe Goldberg, New York Times Magazine, May 5, 1986."
"Very good, darling," Remington smiled at her use of his terminology to reference her information. "But I dare say it's more than that."
"Yes, it is." Laura's expression was full of tenderness for Remington.
"Of you, mostly. . . of us." Laura wiped her eyes.
"But such sadness, darling, and tears?"
"Tenderness, pathos. . . a yearning. . . a passion almost painful in its intensity. Maybe this is one of the side effects of being pregnant. I just feel so emotional tonight." Laura leaned her head onto Remington's shoulder, and he kissed Laura's hand, drawing her close as they made their way through the aisle.
"I believe this to be one of those conversations that we should continue at home. In the meantime, let's go see your friend, Romov."
It was one of the first times Laura had felt up to going out for the evening since she was shot in the affair at Jacqueline Dubois'. The pregnancy, which had been discovered at that same time as the accident, had firmly made its presence known with six full weeks of morning, afternoon, and evening sickness. Now, at just over three months, Laura finally felt somewhat human again, so they were celebrating by attending this special concert featuring Sergei Romov, an old friend and teacher of Laura's from teenage days.
As they walked toward the backstage area, Remington turned to Laura, who had by now recovered her composure, "You're sure that he'll remember you?"
Laura regarded him somewhat archly and continued walking.
"Why, I was one of his most promising students when I was sixteen. And besides that, I had a terrific crush on him-until I fell in love. . . with Marty Klopman."
"Marty Klopman, eh? It seems that you showed me your initials and his painted inside a heart on a wall somewhere in our going about. Something about his kissing, if I remember correctly."
Laura smiled. "Frankly, I don't recall anymore. Someone came along and blotted out the memory of everybody else's kisses."
Remington raised one eyebrow in that curious irresistible manner of his and smiled, accepting the backhanded compliment from his wife.
As Remington and Laura stood at the door of Romov's dressing room about to knock, Remington's expression was one of forbearance, whereas Laura was obviously excited at the prospect of seeing her former teacher and mentor.
"Help-please help. . ."
Their faces registered alarm as they heard Romov's weak voice from behind the door. Remington opened the door, revealing Romov semi-conscious on the floor. They rushed to kneel at his side.
"Mr. Romov, What happened? Who did this to you?" Laura asked.
It was then that Laura and Remington both saw Romov's right hand. It was crushed and bloodied. He was also bleeding from a blow on the head.
Laura knelt down beside Romov and reached for him. She stopped short of touching his wounds, afraid of hurting him further. "Call an ambulance,"
"Straightaway," Remington said, quickly exiting the dressing room.
"Who did this to you?" Laura asked softly, but deliberately.
Romov looked up at Laura, seeming to recognize her. "I know you. . ." he said.
"Yes," She pulled a towel from the dressing table and pressed it gently to his head. "I'm Laura Holt. What happened, Mr. Romov?"
Romov was disoriented and confused. He held his ruined right hand in his left. "My hand," he cried weakly, "my beautiful hand! Why?"
"Who did this to you?" Laura restated.
Romov lapsed into unconsciousness.
* * * * * *
It was much later when Laura and Remington arrived home after accompanying Romov to the hospital.
Remington removed Laura's wrap and then his own jacket and tie. He was subdued, his exhaustion from the experience evident in his languid blue eyes.
He turned to see Laura sitting on the sofa, her head propped on one of her hands, her other hand resting on her gently rounding belly. Her mood was quiet and somber.
"Laura, I. . . I'm very sorry. I know that Romov means a great deal to you. What can I say?"
Remington stood over Laura now and touched her hair, pulling out the combs that held it piled elegantly upon her head, so that the burnished chestnut locks now tumbled down about her shoulders.
Laura ignored the decidedly sensual gesture, looking straight ahead.
"I just can't imagine why anyone would want to harm Sergei Romov-an artist-sensitive-temperamental, of course. But he's harmless."
Remington sat down beside Laura on the sofa.
"And not a target for assault by any means, eh? Hopefully he'll pull out of his coma and identify his assailant."
Laura forced the words that she dreaded from her lips. "And if he doesn't wake up?"
"Then we'll have a murder on our hands. But let's cross that bridge if and when we come to it, shall we?"
"Do you think he'll pull through? That's a serious head injury he sustained. . . and he's in his seventies."
"It's hard to say, darling."
Remington reached for Laura, urging her to relax, skillfully guiding her into his embrace. As he looked down at his wife, Remington attempted to fathom all the emotions that Laura was feeling. He was finding her to be even more of an enigma with pregnancy and he only wanted to try to get on the same wavelength with her tonight.
Remington needed her so. Her weeks of morning sickness had interrupted their very intense pattern of marital relations somewhat and, now that she was feeling better, Remington looked forward to resuming the passion-filled life they both enjoyed so much.
Laura's eyes were full as she mused aloud about Romov. "Just seeing him tonight. . . hearing him play that Rachmaninov. . . the fire, the passion, the tenderness. It's all so unfair!"
Remington held Laura close to his heart and kissed her forehead lightly.
"Darling, we'll find the answers. We will surely solve this. But life just isn't fair. Victims aren't bad fellows getting their well-earned comeuppance. Sometimes-often more than not, they are fine sensitive generous people like your Romov. You know this yourself, Laura." Remington's eyes searched Laura's face as she tried to brush away tears that began to spill onto her cheeks.
" I don't usually get like this."
"Well, this is someone that you know, someone that you've known for a long time." Remington paused for a long time, taking in the radiantly beautiful woman next to him. He removed his Cartier wristwatch so as not to cause her discomfort and tossed it onto a nearby table. "And by the way, I want you to know that you were gorgeous tonight."
"You liked this dress? It's my first formal maternity gown."
Remington looked down at the gown's neckline that showed a generous and unaccustomed display of cleavage due to Laura's pregnant breasts and smiled, shaking his head.
"I love the dress-especially the décolleté." He kissed the cleavage that showed in the v-shaped neckline of the dark purple gown. "Of course, I don't see why camouflage of a round belly like this is necessary. I want everyone to see what I did to you. I take full responsibility." Remington rubbed Laura's abdomen now. "It's amazing, darling. We have just suddenly popped out here, haven't we?"
"Yes, Remy, we have." Laura's voice was just a whisper as the passionate feeling between them began to build.
"I hope that you buy one of those dresses that just clings to your belly and proclaims to the world your beautiful pregnant state." Remington traced the outline of her lips with his index finger smiling in that special way that revealed all his passionate feelings for her.
"I'll look for something like that, next time I shop." Laura caught his hand into hers and kissed the tip of his finger, letting it slip into her mouth.
"Umm, Laura-right now, why don't we try something rather basic that's guaranteed to lift the spirits of both of us?"
"Indubitably, kitten. We always make such beautiful music together. That passion, that yearning that finds its fulfillment in a blinding flash of blue and white lights, that roller coaster ride you love so much." Remington's lips closed gently over Laura's as she yielded to his embrace and then threw her arms about him, welcoming him ardently.
"You are right," Laura murmured.
"Ah, yes. This is the extremely warm-blooded woman I sat next to at the concert this evening. I thought you might climb onto me out there at the Bowl, love," Remington teased, his expression registering the combination of amusement and amazement that he always manifested when the passionate side of Laura's nature surfaced. "You constantly amaze me."
"I love you so much. Is it possible that I love you too much?"
Remington shook his head as he answered her, "Not a chance."
"I think we should go to bed."
Remington and Laura kissed yet again and as his mouth possessed hers completely, they became lost in one another.
"I need you so, darling," Remington uttered that soft familiar growl that Laura knew so well as he unfastened the zipper of her designer gown. Soon he was kissing his wife's bare breasts and the dress lay in a purple heap on the floor beside the sofa.
"Oh, my God, you are beautiful pregnant." His hand caressed the belly that carried the precious bairn. I can't believe that we did this, Laura." The languid character of his blue eyes no longer reflected fatigue but desire as he gave Laura his full attention.
Laura slipped onto her knees in front of him and helped Remington remove his clothes and then drew him down into her arms on the soft rug that lay in front of the sofa. They came together easily, perfectly.
"I thought we were going to our bed." He caught his breath as they moved in unison. "Oh, Laura, Laura. . ."
"Sometimes you just can't move from the spot where you are," she said as they rocked together. "I love you. That music-this is what it-reminds me of. . . us. . . together like. . . this."
"I know it, Laura.!" A soft primeval cry escaped Remington's lips as they found their pace and gave themselves completely to one another once again. "I'm intoxicated. . . with you."
The passion flowed full force between them till they were no longer able to contain themselves and the acme came for them both with shattering force, seeming to go on and on till they both were incoherent, babbling foolishly to one another, completely out of their heads.
"Oh, my passionate wife," Remington whispered as Laura lay finally quiet in his embrace. "It must be the Rachmaninov, eh?"
"Umm. . . positively stimulating, Remy."
"Now I think that we really should find our bed, love."
"I'm so. . . Can't we stay here?"
"But I really don't want to leave you now."
"I promise that we will take this up the minute I have you properly in bed," Remington promised gravely. His eyes twinkling at the prospect of what was left of the night that lay ahead of them, he got Laura up from the floor, picked her up in his arms and carried her off to their bedroom.
* * * * * *
The next morning Laura and Remington found Madelena at their office when they arrived at ten o'clock.
"She has been here since I opened the office at nine o'clock," Mildred offered.
Laura and Remington went directly into Remington's office where Madelena Romov was already seated. She was a striking-looking woman in her mid-thirties. Her auburn hair was impeccably styled and she wore a handsome peach-colored leather jacket draped about her slender shoulders, shoulders that were now sagging under the weight of her anxiety for her husband. She spoke now with just a hint of an eastern European accent.
"Mrs. Romov, you are not aware of anyone that might have harbored ill-will toward your husband?"
"No, Mr. Steele. It is impossible. I cannot imagine that. . . He had his detractors of course, but no one who would do this to him." Madelena began to cry softly and Laura reached out to comfort her.
"Mrs. Romov, you can be sure that we will do all we can to find your husband's assailant."
Madelena Romov practically ignored Laura, but looked imploringly at Remington Steele.
"Oh, Mr. Steele, thank you. I knew after last night. . . at the hospital. You were so kind. I knew that I could count on you."
Laura smiled benignly at Remington who cleared his throat somewhat nervously and moved back against his desk.
"Mrs. Romov. . ."
"Please call me 'Madelena.'" She smiled beseechingly at Remington.
"Ah, yes, Madelena. It is very important in cases such as this to get inside-undercover. In this way, we could perhaps trace any possible clue. Since your husband's attack included this vicious attempt to incapacitate him as far as playing the piano is concerned, I think it fair to say that this was no casual intruder."
At this point Laura moved to stand almost possessively beside Remington.
"The assailant wanted to make sure that Mr. Romov would never play again," Laura said softly.
"I have spoken with Howard Markham. He is the director at the L.A. Music Settlement School, as well as an old and dear friend," Madelena said.
Remington queried, "He is fully apprised of the situation?"
"He will cooperate with any plan you have, Mr. Steele. He is awaiting your call now." Madelena smiled graciously at Remington as she rose to leave.
"Excellent. We must get started straightaway then. My-er, Miss Holt knows her way around the settlement, so we should have no difficulties along that line, eh, Miss Holt?"
"Miss? You are pregnant, yes?" Madelena suddenly seemed to notice Laura's budding belly and was trying to figure out what part she played.
"Yes, I am pregnant. Mr. Steele and I are married, Madelena." Laura smiled sweetly but her voice had just enough edge to it to let Madelena know where she fitted into this picture.
"I did not realize. Yes, so you are a couple." Her mind was on track now.
"Madelena, I think this should be very simple actually for us to get going on this."
"It is done then. I must get back to the hospital. Thank you so much, Mr. Steele."
Madelena Romov swept from the office with scarcely a backward glance at Laura, as Remington guided her to the door and then walked back to Laura who was smoldering by now.
"She's a lovely woman, eh? I would guess Hungarian." Remington tried to lighten the moment.
"You were obviously impressed," Laura replied dryly.
"In a sense, yes. She's probably your age, Laura, and Romov is what-seventy or more?"
"If you say so." Laura's annoyance came through clearly in her voice now.
"Laura, surely you aren't jealous?"
"Of course no!" Laura was becoming testy. "Why should I be jealous of these women that are always fawning over you?" She strode into the bathroom in Remington's office, slamming the door behind her, took a brush from a drawer, and began to drag it through her hair as she regarded herself in the mirror.
Remington came into the powder room and quietly closing the door, stood behind Laura watching her, trying to understand her mood.
"You are jealous, Laura."
"No, I'm not!" Laura raised her voice.
"Laura, don't you know that you're the only woman I want. You don't need to feel insecure just because a beautiful woman bats her eyelashes at me now and again. I wish you would try to be a little more mature in these situations. It would be for the good of the agency, you know."
Laura turned to face Remington. She was quite furious.
"Mature! Now I'm immature! Are you sure that I'm sufficiently mature to work on this case?"
"Maybe not. Perhaps you are too close to the subject. Perhaps we should have referred Madelena to another agency-Romov having been your teacher and mentor." Remington was at his wit's end, trying to figure out just how they got into such a full-blown tiff.
"Are you finished?" Laura gritted the words through clenched teeth.
"No, as a matter of fact I am not finished."
"Well, I'm finished. This conversation is becoming more and more pointless. I don't really wish to continue it, if you don't mind!"
Laura brushed past Remington and out of the powder room, slamming the door behind her again. Remington quickly followed her and blocked the door so that she was unable to leave his office. He stood, arms folded, his expression determined.
"Do you intend to let me out of here?"
"No, come back into this powder room where we have a semblance of privacy, woman. I don't wish to broadcast our affairs to the waiting public." Remington took Laura by her arm and led her back into the bathroom and shut the door behind them. "Listen we have to find some accommodation on this issue, Laura. You are my wife. There's been no other woman in my life almost since the first day I met you-even though you pushed me to the brink of asceticism while you decided whether you would have me or not." Remington dropped his voice to a stage whisper. "We just spent last night in several hours of passionate marital relations. You are carrying my child in your belly. Thanks to you I am completely monogamous as I stand here before you. What more do you want from me, Laura? I love you now. I will love you forever. God! Why are you torturing me like this?"
Laura dropped her head, embarrassed at her own sensitivity, unable to meet Remington's piercing gaze for a very long time.
"You're right. I am jealous sometimes. . . and I really have no reason to doubt your feelings for me." Her eyes were tearful. "Maybe it's because I'm pregnant and I'm getting so fat and. . . Are you sure-that you still think I am attractive like this?" Her voice betrayed her anxiety.
Remington finally seemed to "get it" at that moment and stood looking at her in disbelief before he took Laura into his embrace and kissed her-hard upon her mouth.
"Oh, Laura, you are beautiful like this. You know that I cannot take my eyes off you, darling. Each day-I waken and the first thing I do is look for you in our bed. If you are not in my arms, if your hair is not strewn over me, I look for you, Laura. I want to touch you, to smell the scent of you, to know that you are there. When we have been intimate together, I count the hours till we can be together again." Remington held her for a long moment and then finally gently teased her. "Besides, you are the one who had a crush on Romov, remember?" He kissed her lips again. "Storm's over?"
Remington smiled that slightly lopsided smile that Laura loved and winked at Laura as the tension lifted between them even though they were both left with the nagging anxiety that plagued each of them when they had an argument.
Laura left the office mid-morning. She still was trying to understand herself-why she was sometimes so jealous of Remington, why she was so easily irritated these days for no rhyme or reason. She loved Remington so much and hated herself when she was tense or testy with him. She decided to take some time and shop for clothes to clear her mind. Her rounding middle had forced her to give up all her regular clothes rather suddenly and so she decided to go to her favorite Carole Little boutique and look for something to lift her spirits.
Remington was in his office at his desk in deep thought. His blue eyes were troubled as he sat trying to understand this complicated woman he had married. Some days they were totally in sync with one another and then other days they seemed to be pulling in completely different directions. This was rapidly proving to be one of those days of the latter sort..
Mildred knocked on Remington's office door. She had overheard much of the argument that followed Madelena's visit to the office and knew that her boss was uncharacteristically quiet. Since the marriage, he was in such high spirits most of the time so it was obvious when things weren't going well. She made his favorite tea and took it in to this man with whom somehow she felt a special closeness that went far beyond the office.
"Boss, I thought you might like some tea-some of that darjeeling?"
"Oh, thank you, Mildred. Maybe that might help to boost my morale a bit this morning." He looked up at his faithful secretary and his blue eyes were troubled.
"Are you okay, Boss?" Mildred was straightforward.
"Mildred, would you please sit down here and talk to me? At times like this in my life, I miss not having a mother more than any other."
"Well, I'm not saying that I'm old enough to be your mother, but if there is something that you want to say, you know that I'm here." Mildred took a seat across from Remington with her own cup of tea.
"I'm just trying to understand this woman that I am married to. I'm so crazy in love with her, Mildred, but sometimes I just seem to be doing this marriage thing all wrong. You heard us having that row this morning?"
"Well, it was kind of difficult not to hear you kids going at it like that with all the doors slamming."
"She implied that I encouraged Madelena Romov to flirt with me. I wasn't flirting with Mrs. Romov. Maybe she was flirting with me a bit, but I can't help that. I wasn't prepared for Laura's reaction, Mildred. She blamed me for the way Mrs. Romov reacted to me. It hurts when she sails into me like that-painfully. This woman is going to give me an ulcer if we keep on like this."
Mildred looked at Remington and felt compassion for him. 'The handsome devil doesn't even know the effect he has on these women,' she mused before she spoke aloud. "Mr. Steele, did you realize that Madelena Romov was-coming on to you?"
"No, not really. She smiled; she looked rather-exotic; she listened to me as I explained matters to her. I see women differently almost ever since I met Laura. I am not blind to their beauty by any means, but there is no urge in me to-let us say-affect them in any way. Do you understand what I am saying, Mildred?"
"Yes, and I believe you, Mr. Steele. But you need to realize that Laura is very insecure in some respects. She was so afraid of you being like all the other men in her life from her father on down the line. They all left her at some point or another. Maybe it's that when she sees a woman come on to you, the fear just sets in, and she doesn't yet know how to just trust you completely or control the fear."
"She feels that I may not find her attractive now because she is-pregnant and gaining weight."
"That's is a normal feeling, Boss. She may feel that she's like the little 'country mouse' compared to some of these glamour gals you folks deal with."
"Well, there's the old nursery rhyme of the country mouse and the city mouse. The city mouse was so glamorous and sophisticated and the little country mouse felt intimidated by all that glamour. Laura keeps thinking a 'city mouse' is going to come along and carry you away one of these days."
"Doesn't she know that I only want her, Mildred? You may or may not know this but I did lead a very full life before I met Laura."
"I do know that. We've had enough backlash from that for sure." Mildred smiled wryly, remembering Felicia and Shannon and Anna and all the rest who periodically came out of the woodwork of Steele's past.
"But shortly after meeting this woman and becoming Remington Steele I gave all that up. I still can't believe it when I think back on it now but I lived like a monk for more than three years. Laura knew that I gave up everything to pursue her. Doesn't count for something? I only think of her when I think of being with a woman. I am so grateful to finally be married to her. But sometimes she just seems to delight in torturing me, Mildred."
"Boss, I know that you two climbed the walls while you were trying to get together. Remember, this is Mildred you're talking to now. I saw it happen."
"But, Mildred, when it-it finally happened for us, it was a wonderful thing."
"You mean when they blew up that boy Rudy in your hallway and you two spent the night together at that motel."
"You are so wise, Mildred. I guess we would have been hard pressed to hide that from you, eh?" Remington smiled pensively, remembering that night when he and Laura had finally come together.
Mildred grinned. "When you two came in that next day, you didn't have to be a rocket scientist to know that you kids had got together. You were walking on air-like I'd never seen you. I knew that you'd finally got lucky with Miss Holt. And she looked just like that cat that ate the canary, smiling to herself all the time and blushing like crazy. You two were never the same after that. I knew that you were eventually going to really get together after that."
"It was like a gift that I had been waiting for all of my life, worth every painful moment of waiting. I just wish that she had confidence in my feelings so that she wouldn't feel that she has to 'nail me to the wall' every time another woman looks my way. I have my own issues, Mildred. I have been hurt plenty in my life and when she plows into me like that, it brings back to my mind all kinds of pain that I just would as soon forget about."
"Maybe you need to tell her how you've been hurt, Boss. I know that you don't like to talk about the past a lot, but maybe it's time to let Laura know just what you've been through."
"I thought she knew enough about that, Mildred, but maybe not. I thought she knew that to me she is the most beautiful woman in the world. I see her now, carrying our child, blooming like that. Madelena Romov doesn't hold a candle to her. I don't even think of her in comparison to other women because there is no comparison. Why can't she just accept that? Why can't she realize that she has me, that I am hopelessly in love with her for the rest of my life?"
"Some women just have to hear the words every day, Boss. I know that she loves you, that she doesn't want to hurt you. Maybe she still has that anger toward her father, and Wilson Jeffries and who knows who else. I think that you two will get through this though."
"I guess I need to hear the words too, Mildred, the reassurance that this woman loves me as much as I love her." Remington's voice caught slightly in his throat and Mildred simply reached for hand and squeezed it.
"Boss, you just keep loving that woman like you do. It will get better and better. What you two have together is something real special. I saw it when I was first with you both in Acapulco, when you still trying to get on some footing with her. And I have seen it grow over these past four years that I have been around you two. But she is going to need a lot of your talking to her to get her through this pregnancy feeling loved and wanted. She's got all kind of extra hormones going on and she probably doesn't really know herself why she went off on you like that today."
Remington smiled. "She looks adorable with her belly just beginning to show, doesn't she? I look at her and I just can't believe we did that."
"Well, you did it all right! I guess you can take credit for that." Mildred gave him one of her knowing looks.
"Thank you, Mildred. I feel somewhat better now. I think I'll take a walk, try to clear my head a bit. I'm picking Laura up back here at noon. If she comes back before me, tell her I'll be along."
A short while later, Laura did return from her shopping expedition with a couple of large bags.
"Mildred, have you seen Remington?"
"Yes, Miss Holt. He'll be back for you soon. He wasn't feeling well and went out for a walk." Mildred could not resist letting Laura know how she hurt her husband with these intense outbursts.
Laura instantly reacted. "I know I was short with him. Mildred, what gets into me? I know that he loves me, but sometimes I just want to scream at him and nail him to the wall."
"Why, Miss Holt? What has he done to you?"
"I just have this anger inside me-from so many things that happened to me that don't have anything to do with him really. I am so frustrated because-because. . ." Laura sat down in the chair beside Mildred and just started to cry. "Why did my father have to leave like he did? And Wilson, why did he treat me like that? I am so afraid that one day I will look up and Remington Steele will be gone too." She snapped her fingers. "just like that!"
"Do you want Mr. Steele to leave you?"
"No! No! I would just die if he did. That would finish me off completely. I would just check myself into a psychiatric hospital if that happened." Laura was talking through her tears now. "Do you know that I never experienced sexual. . .fulfillment till I was with him? Do you understand what I am saying? No bright flashing lights, no midnight sun, no temporary insanity, no bells and whistles and sirens, no fantastic free fall!"
"Oh, yes, honey, I understand. I understand what you are saying."
"I just couldn't give in that way before. I was too scared to surrender like that. I never told anyone. Bernice thought I was okay. Frances thought I was okay. Even Wilson thought I was okay, but I wasn't. But him-every single time I feel everything that it is possible to feel, Mildred."
"Then why do you give him such a hard time, honey? That man loves you. How many men do you know who would climb the walls for three years waiting for a woman to make up her mind-especially ones that look like Mr. Steele? You are going to have to get a grip on yourself and realize that he is not your father. He is not Wilson what's-his-name or anyone else. He is the man that loves you. He is the card that life has dealt you, and it's a pretty darned good card, if you ask me. He was hurting this morning, Miss Holt. I don't think you really want to hurt him like that."
Laura was crying in earnest now and Mildred just took her in her arms and patted her letting her cry out all her anxiety. When she was able to stop crying, she sniffed and wiped her eyes, trying to pull herself together.
"I-I never cried about Daddy and Wilson before. The night Daniel died, Remington cried and I cried with him, but I didn't tell him that I was crying for my father too. I always tried to keep from crying about it, to be strong, stoic."
"Well, when you get into bed with your husband, you finish crying, hon. Tell him why you're crying and maybe he will tell you some things that he needs to cry about too. That's what a marriage is all about."
The women hugged and Laura went into her office to try to collect herself. But when she sat down behind her desk, she began to weep again. The tears just would not stop coming.
Remington returned from his walk trying to put a much better face on how he felt. Manifesting his typical resilient behavior, he bounded into the office and greeted Mildred.
"Is my wife back, Mildred?"
"Yes, she's here. She's kind of upset-worried I guess you might say. She loves you, Boss. You two will be all right." Mildred started to get misty herself. "Would you please just go in there now? You kids are making me a nervous wreck. I'm gonna hold all calls till you tell me different."
Remington opened the adjoining door between his and Laura's office and saw her with her head still down on her desk weeping.
"Laura? Darling, what's wrong?" She began to cry in earnest again as he took her up in his arms.
"I'm scared, Remy. I am so scared that I am going to, to lose you, that I am going to be so mean to you that you will leave me. I am so horrible sometimes. I know that I am. Why? I know that you are not my father, not Wilson?"
"Those same old ghosts haunting us again, eh?"
"They just never go completely away."
"They will go away. love. Come, come now."
Remington sat down in the chair, took Laura onto his lap and rocked her in his arms, comforting her.
'Lord,' he said to himself, 'what can I do? We have to keep chasing these same old demons.'
"I'm so sorry for this morning. I realize that I hurt you, sailing into you like that."
"I know, Laura."
"I don't mean to. I just don't understand what comes over me."
"Darling, you-you must realize that-that I love you and, and when you are so angry with me and I don't understand why-it is very difficult for me."
Laura looked directly into Remington's face now and, seeing the blue eyes that she loved so much brimming with unshed tears, she suddenly realized how painful her sharp tongue was to her husband and she was cut to her heart.
"Forgive me. Please, darling, you must forgive me. You always seem so strong, so able to let things just not affect you."
"I used to be that way-before we came together and before I bared my heart and soul to you. I could convince myself that you would not have unleashed all those stinging words on me if you knew how much I loved you. But now-you know that I love you-completely. How can you doubt my feelings? I make mistakes, darling, but there is no mistaking how I feel for you. Tell me else I can do to make you happy, Laura? Because, if you are not happy, I cannot be happy."
"Remington, darling, I don't mean to hurt you."
"After it was over this morning, I felt literally ill. I just wanted to go home and get into my bed. Laura, one of the reasons it was so hard for me to say to you how I felt about you. . . that I loved you with all of my heart, was that I knew that then you could hurt me. I told you that I was vulnerable, babe."
"Tell me what makes you vulnerable. You know all about my demons and ghosts."
Remington sighed and sat quietly for a while before he could begin to speak with Laura on this.
"I guess it was being shunted about to all those different people when I was small. I always knew I wasn't really wanted-and I tried so hard to please whomever I was with-so that they would keep me, you know? If they were displeased, screaming at me, it positively terrified me, because it meant that they were going to get rid of me, send me away to someone else who didn't want me. Maybe I had just mussed my clothes or dropped my food or spilled my milk but those harsh words struck terror in my heart, Laura. Sometimes I would just go find a cupboard and hide there inside till the tirade was over because so often it meant that I was going to be without a real home again."
"So when you said I was torturing you this morning, that's what you meant." Laura stated it as a fact as she sat on her husband's lap completely dismayed with herself for her own lack of sensitivity to the effects of his own difficult childhood. She saw her husband as an unwanted little boy, frightened, hiding in a closet, and tears just sprang to her eyes.
"Yes-yes. Laura, you must know that I will never ever leave you like your father, or like that insensitive twit, Wilson Jeffries, but you must also know that you have the capacity to inflict infinite pain upon my psyche. I beg you to resist the urge to flagellate me with your tongue like you did this morning. I am emotionally naked, Laura. Please have a little mercy upon me." Tears were slipping silently down Remington's cheeks now.
"My darling, I will never send you away. I love you so much. Don't you remember that day we got married. On that street here when I told you that I didn't want to lose you. I swallowed all my pride and married you then because I needed you and wanted you and loved you." Laura clasped Remington's cheeks between her hands.
They were both crying as they embraced and kissed, tasting the salt of their mingled tears while they clung to one another.
"God help us! Laura, we don't need to be on this case today. We need to go home and work on this marriage."
Remington kissed Laura's throat and then rested his head upon her soft bosom while Laura caught her hands in his thick black hair. They held each other tightly as their tears gave way to a tender passion that swept over them, carrying them gently to a point where they were overwhelmed with the need to validate their love for one another.
"Darling, I need you now-completely. I do not wish to tire you or tax you unduly, but I beg you. . .make love to me, Laura, darling."
Laura nodded. Remington eased Laura from his lap and stood up, taking her into his arms, holding her tenderly, kissing her passionately. Taking Laura's hand, he led her into the small room behind Laura's office where there was a sofa and light blankets for times when they needed to rest at the office. Remington locked the door behind them.
They slipped out of their clothes and lay down together under the blankets and, when Remington drew Laura onto him, she started to cry again and Remington's eyes filled as well. They moved slowly and deliberately together, communing, sharing their pain, revealing their insecurities, laying their psyches completely bare to one another for the first time.
"Talk to me. . . tell me you love me, darling," Remington implored. "Today I need to hear the words. Laura, tell me-please. I'm just a pathetically needy man, Laura. . ."
"I do love you-so much. I love you, baby. I'll try not to hurt you like that again. If. . . I hurt you, take me. . . take me, Remy. . . and kiss me, kiss me hard." Laura gasped sharply, as she felt the first of the spasms that would send her beyond the pale into that psychic space that she and Remington Steele shared only with each other. "Remy. . . yes. . . Remy!"
"God help us!" Remington groaned, his features contorting in ecstasy as he gave her the deepest part of his very soul.
They both trembled uncontrollably as the marvelous moment of release shook them profoundly and then let them go, leaving them finally at peace with one another.
* * * * *
The Los Angeles Music School Settlement was a music school staffed by professional classical musicians from the Los Angeles area, a school for only the most talented and gifted students, and everything about the school reflected its dedication to excellence. It was housed in a venerable mansion from the thirties period that had been converted for its use.
Remington drove the Auburn into the parking lot of the school and he and Laura sat in the car for a few minutes absorbing the environment. They were emotionally drained, still trying to pull themselves out of the melancholy produced by the earlier part of the day; but the case needed their attention just the same.
"So now, my dear, what relationship are we going to have in this cover? Since you are so fetchingly pregnant, introducing you simply as my associate might be understating it a bit." Remington smiled at Laura, his blue eyes still somewhat pensive.
"Well, if you are my husband, it might thicken the soup a bit don't you think?"
"My dear Laura, the soup is rather obviously thick already. I have great difficulty being around you and acting, uh, normal. If you are not my wife, perceptive persons might wonder why I am looking so lasciviously at someone else's pregnant wife."
"Well, then, let's play it this way. We are involved-obviously, but I haven't made up my mind as to whether I want to get married. I'm the independent sort of 80's woman, you know." Laura smiled coyly at Remington. "That way you can look as lascivious as you wish."
Remington smiled, his lips turned up at the corners in that endearing way that he had and, getting out of the car, he came round to open Laura's door.
"By the way," he said as they walked toward the Settlement building, "I like that dress very much. That's exactly what I had in mind."
Laura's shopping expedition that morning had been fruitful and she had purchased a couple of new maternity dresses. This one was a soft grey silk jersey shift that skimmed her pregnant figure, clinging gently to her rather than attempting to hide her condition, ending just above her knees, thus revealing her lovely legs. "Please buy more like that, love. You look fabulous-you're fabulous."
Laura smiled, very contented with her Remington's appraisal.
"You know, it seems like forever since I was at this place. I was twelve years old and scared to death the first time that I came here."
"Are you apprehensive about this now, Laura?"
"Just a little."
"I'm the one who should be apprehensive. At least you are an authority on the subject." He stopped short. "I've left my briefcase in the car. You go ahead. I'll catch up with you."
As Laura entered the foyer of the school, her senses were assaulted with all the sounds and familiar smells of the music school-the sounds of various instruments emanating from various studios, the scent of violin rosin in the air. She took a deep breath soaking it all in. At that moment an attractive man in his late forties, exhuding confidence and self-assurance approached her as she stood at the foot of the wide spiraling staircase that was just inside the entrance to the lovely house.
"Why, Howard, Howard Markham!"
"It's so good to see you again, Laura."
"Hard to believe that fifteen years have passed, Howard."
"Well, I always thought that you would finally have a career in music. You were such a lovely little genius. Imagine my surprise upon hearing that you were in-private detective work! And it looks as if you have other projects going on as well. My congratulations, Laura."
"One never knows where one will finally end up, does one, Howard?" Laura smiled sweetly up at him.
As Laura and Markham begin to walk slowly up the stairs, Laura inhaled deeply.
"I still love the smell of this place so much-the smell of violins, woodwinds, instruments of all kinds."
"You perhaps missed your calling after all."
"I-I don't think so, Howard."
"You know-you are even more striking than you were then. You look great pregnant. . ."
Laura interrupted, realizing where the conversation is heading. "Howard, please. . ."
"I'm sorry. It's obvious that you are married. . ."
Laura did not reply.
"or at least in a serious relationship with someone."
"All of the above, Howard. . . all of the above."
Laura looked back and was thankful to see Remington approaching, bounding up the stairs.
"Howard Markham meet Remington Steele."
Markham looked from Remington to Laura, picking up the sexual chemistry passing between them.
"A pleasure, Mr. Markham, a pleasure."
"Your fame has preceded you, Mr. Steele, or should I say. . ."
"Byron Humphrey, actually, staff writer for Keyboard Classics magazine. We're doing a series of articles on some of the more eminent piano teachers here in America and we quite naturally desire a profile of Sergei Romov."
Laura smiled faintly as Remington outlined their cover.
Markham fell right in line, elevating his voice as he replied. "Excellent, Mr.-Humphrey. We will be of whatever assistance possible here at the Settlement. Feel free to talk with any of our staff. We all regret Mr. Romov's accident and that he can't be here himself, but we will do our best to inform you to the extent that we possibly can."
Remington, Laura, and Markham were at the top of the stairs now, looking down an elegantly appointed corridor, hearing sounds of piano, violin, and vocal music practice coming from the various rooms.
"Excellent! Excellent! And Miss Holt, my able associate?"
"I don't mean to pry, Steele, but are you the one responsible for this?" Markham gestured toward Laura's evident state of pregnancy.
Remington stared Markham down.
"Well, I have known her for a very long time. . ."
"Then you know that she is a very independent twentieth century sort of woman. I think that you are asking the wrong person your question. But if you must know, yes, I am responsible. Husbands usually are, you know."
"Well, I'm sorry. I guess that it didn't come out exactly right."
"For the sake of this cover, Howard, just let's leave the married part out of the general information. It just complicates things somehow." Laura said quietly. Then she said through her teeth, "Do you think I'd be walking around here like this with no husband?"
"Well, as Mr. Steele said, you were always very independent, Laura. Women are doing this nowadays, you know." Markham started to smirk and then thought the better of it when he looked at Remington Steele.
"Let's get on with this case, Howard," Laura said icily.
"Yes, I think we should, Markham. You have made things quite edgy here for the moment." He dropped his voice. "You do not want to get on the wrong side of this woman at this time. Trust me."
Laura looked as if she wanted to cream Remington after his aside to Markham, but she caught herself, remembering the difficult morning they had experienced.
Howard Markham continued. "Miss Holt will be interviewing some of Romov's students. That will occupy them for the next day or so until we can work them in with other teachers on our staff here. Laura is an alumnus of the Settlement and we are indeed privileged to have her take an interest in what we're doing here."
"To be sure, Markham."
"The District Competitions are just one month from now and any break in training could prove to be a disaster to our students here. We take only the best, you understand."
"It's like a musical version of the Olympics, really. An American has not won the Moscow Competitions since 1957 when Van Cliburn too first place. In 1986, Barry Douglas from Ireland won-the first non-Russian to win since Cliburn." Laura was in her element now.
"A veritable musical cold war, eh?"
Markham responded, " And Romov has at least two students that we view as serious contenders the next time around. You'll meet them both today, Laura-shortly, as a matter of fact."
Another man, about forty years old and attractive in a continental sort of way, hurried by Remington, Laura, and Markham.
"Oh, here's someone you need to meet. Matt, meet these people who are going to be working with us for the next few days. Matteo Torelli. . . Byron Humphrey from Keyboard Classics magazine along with his associate, Laura Holt."
"Welcome, nice having you here," Torelli said as he paused briefly before going on his way down the hall.
"Matt Torelli plays violin with the Philharmonic and teaches here," Markham mentioned and then, lowering his voice, added, "A mite eccentric sometimes, but marvelously talented."
Laura and Remington exchanged puzzled glances and began to walk in the direction of Sergei Romov's studio.
Sergei Romov's studio was a spare room furnished only with a grand piano and a couple of easy chairs. It was airy and sunlit, its gleaming hardwood floors covered with aging Oriental rugs.
A young student, Carla Thompson, a black girl of perhaps sixteen years, a protegé of Romov, was playing Schumann's Traumereď, its quiet evocative mood marvelously suited to her expressive technique. Laura stood in awe, listening to the genius of this young student.
As she listened to Carla play, Laura's mind drifted back to her own early teens when she first became Romov's student. Suddenly it was not Carla playing the Traumereď, but it was Laura herself at the age of thirteen, intense and introspective playing the Traumereď under Romov's watchful eye. The piece ended and Laura smiled up at Romov self-consciously.
"My dear young lady, you play very well, very well. Do you love to play the piano?"
Laura replied, "Yes, very much."
"More than television? More than talking on telephone with your young friends?"
Laura answered shyly, but positively, "I think so. Yes."
Romov was not satisfied. "You think so?" He reached for Laura's hands, taking them in his own very large ones. "You have lovely hands, strong hands, the hands of a pianist." He looked into Laura's countenance, searching deep into her eyes, assessing her. "Yes, character, motivation. I see it all."
Romov got up and walked away from the piano, his hands in his pockets. He stood looking out of the window as Laura, a bit unnerved, tried to understand what was expected of her at this point.
"Let me hear you play the Traumereď again, Laura. This time I stop you where necessary and we, we explore together, yes?"
Young Laura started playing the Traumereď again and 'Laura' was brought back to the present as Carla finishes the same piece.
Laura stirred from her reverie and walked toward Carla at the piano.
"That was just beautiful, Carla, so beautiful."
"Thank you, Miss Holt."
"What were you thinking about as you played?"
"Oh, I was thinking about the huge, sweet-smelling magnolia tree in my grandparents' yard back in Mississippi. Late in the afternoon I just love to sit under that tree and dream and dream. . ."
"That sounds lovely, Carla."
"I go there every summer. Mr. Romov says that it's all right to miss something that you love so much, but that you must express that feeling through your fingertips when you play the piano." Carla paused, placing her hands on the keyboard, not pressing the keys so as to produce sound, but only gently stroking them. "When I play the Traumereď, I imagine that my hands are magnolia blossoms-soft, like white velvet, moving ever so slightly in a warm summer breeze."
"You must always remember everything Mr. Romov taught you, Carla, no matter what."
"He isn't going to die, is he?" she asked calmly, almost stoically.
"We hope not, Carla. We hope not."
Back in the carpeted corridor of the building Matt Torelli was hurrying toward his studio, knowing that he is running late, and that his student will doubtlessly be waiting for him. Torelli is handsome, Italian, in his early forties, but in spite of his dark good looks, he carries with him a certain melancholy, a wistful pensiveness.
Markham came up quickly beside him. "So, Matt, tragic what happened to Sergei, isn't it?
"Yes, it really is. One can only hope that he will recover"
"Strange, the whole business. Who would have that much against Romov? Of course, there's always the matter of Madelena?"
"Madelena?" Torelli stopped in his tracks.
"Sure, Madelena. A woman like that? Well, I wouldn't put anything past her."
Torelli stared Markham down, obviously angered. "You have no right to question Madelena's loyalty. I'll not hear it from you. Do you understand? I'll not hear it!"
Markham replied somewhat slyly, "Don't be so indignant, Matt. Perhaps 'thou doth protest too much.' You were involved with her once upon a time."
"She was not a married woman then, Markham."
"Oh, stop with that, Matt. Everyone knows that Madelena only dropped you because you were dragging you feet, so to speak. You know that you've regretted it ever since." Markham smiled sardonically.
"If you don't stop, Markham, I'll, I'll. . ."
"Take it easy, Matt." Markham laughed out loud now in ridicule of the Torelli's emotional reaction to his accusation.
Just then Remington turned the corner of the hallway. Torelli simply glared at both Markham and Remington Steele, and stalked into his studio, slamming the door behind him. Markham simply shrugged his shoulders and smiled benignly as Remington took it all in.
"I'm looking for Jean McFarlane's studio, Markham," Remington said.
"Sure, I'll show you the way."
The two men walked along the corridor together. There were sounds of music practice everywhere around them and several young students hurried past them to their lessons.
"Did I detect a bit of friction between you and Torelli there?" Remington asked.
"Friction-not really. He's rather volatile at times. I told you that he is eccentric."
"How did he get on with Romov?"
Markham waited a couple of seconds before answering. "They respected one another as artists-no doubt about that. As for their personal relationship, that may have been problematical."
"Well, Torelli was involved with Madam Romov before her marriage to Sergei. Sometimes that sort of thing raises questions, you know."
They had reached the end of the hallway.
"Oh, say, here we are at Jean's studio. I will leave you here."
Remington watched Markham walk away from him before he turned to the door of the studio.
The door opened and a youngster of not more than ten came out. Looking almost owl-like in his horn-rimmed glasses, weighed down by the full-size violin case he carried, he paused to analyze Remington Steele closely, peering up at him through his thick glasses.
"Hi, my name is Arthur. What's yours?"
Remington smiled indulgently. "I'm-uh-Mr. Humphrey. Delighted to meet you, Arthur."
"You're new around here."
"Yes, actually, you might say that I am."
"Whose father are you? Are you Bernie's father?"
"No, I-I am not a parent, young man. At least I am not yet a parent. Of course in a sense, I guess that I am a parent. Never mind. It is not something for you to concern yourself with."
"Well, if you're a student, you'll have a hard time taking lessons without a violin." Arthur lowered his voice now. "And Miss McFarlane is one tough cookie."
"I'll wager she is, Arthur."
Arthur started to walk away and turned to wave a farewell to Remington
"See ya,' Mr. Humphrey."
The studio door opened. Jean McFarlane was surprised to see Remington Steele at her door.
"Oh, my, I was expecting Bernard Weinstein, a somewhat less mature package, to say the least."
Her keen wit was not lost on Remington whose lips puckered charmingly in response to her backhanded compliment.
"I'm Byron Humphrey from Keyboard Classics magazine. Might I have a word with you?"
"Certainly. Come in."
They both went into Jean's studio. It had the same polished spare look of the other studios, but a large vase of fresh flowers sat on the piano. Jean McFarlane was also a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, a woman in her early fifties. She is mature, stable, not overwhelmingly attractive, but not uninteresting-looking by any means either. She sat at her piano, regarding Remington, who took a seat in a large easy chair situated nearby.
"Miss McFarlane, I'm. . ."
"You're doing a piece on Sergei Romov."
"Why, yes. I gather that you have known him well-on a professional level, of course?"
Jean McFarlane laughed quietly and picked up her violin, which was lying on the top of the piano and began to pluck idly at the strings.
"Well, I've known Sergei on a number of different levels over the years. Which one are you interested in, Mr. . . Humphrey, isn't it?"
Remington cleared his throat and decided to plunge ahead. "Which one do you think would explain why someone would attempt to murder such a marvelously gifted man, or, at the very least, attempt to ruin his performing career?"
"Why would you be interested in that aspect of Romov? You're not a policeman."
"No, I most certainly am not a policeman, but let's just say that my own curiosity as a researcher is certainly piqued by this unusual development in the career of Sergei Romov. I must consider it in the overall scheme of things."
"Yes, I see. Well, Romov is your typical artist-hard on himself-hard on his students-brutally frank and honest when assessing talent." Jean rose and, after walking a few steps away, turned to face Remington again. "He has the almost uncanny ability to spot musical genius in youngsters-the hands, the response of the youngster to music, the ear, the capacity for dedication required to be a great musician."
"Of course, I'm sure they don't always agree with Romov."
"An more importantly, their parents don't always agree. They all seem to think they've spawned their own little Perlman or Ashkenazsy these days."
"A common failing in all endeavors of life, it seems. But-any notable examples here?"
Jean McFarlane sat down at the piano, laid her violin down, and took a deep breath before answering Remington. She seemed to be sizing him up, trying to decide just how much she wanted to disclose to him.
"Paul Torelli. His father is. . ."
"Matt Torelli? Yes, I met him earlier this afternoon. He teaches here too."
"I think you're way ahead of me, Mr. Humphrey." Jean McFarlane crossed her long legs and leaned toward him.
"Am I really, Miss McFarlane?" Remington raised an eyebrow quizzically.
Meanwhile Laura was interviewing another of Sergei Romov's prize pupils, Paul Torelli. He was seventeen years old, somewhat petulant in his manner, obviously doubtful of Laura's ability to impart anything of value to him. It appeared to be a stand-off.
"So you're interviewing Mr. Romov's students? Laura Holt-I never heard of you."
"Well, Keyboard Classics is based in the East. I'm a staff writer. You would not have heard of me."
"But you are not a performing artist." His tone was disdainful.
Laura responded with her own bit of sarcasm. This young man was getting to her. "I'm a critic, Mr. Torelli. I listen to people perform and say whether they are good or not."
She finally had Paul's attention.
"Oh, I see." He hesitated, then continued. "Well, I'm Romov's star pupil. I'm destined to go places, Miss Holt. I was supposed to have gone to the Moscow Competitions last fall."
"And why didn't you go, Paul?" Laura's tone was measured and very calm.
"Oh, I don't know. Romov said that I wasn't ready to go."
"In what sense?"
"He said that I wasn't emotionally ready." Paul Torell struck the keys resoundingly with the first chord of Chopin's Revolutionary Etude, launching into an impassioned rendition of the piece.
Laura reached out to gently touch young Torelli's shoulder. "Mr. Torelli, Paul. . . stop for a moment."
Paul Torelli stopped playing and began to sob quietly over the keyboard.
"I'm seventeen, Miss Holt. The next Tchaikovsky competitions will be in 1990. I know that I'm good. Mr. Romov says that I have the strongest left hand technique he's ever seen. My dad, my dad plays first violin with the L. A. Philharmonic and he says that I should have gone to Moscow this time." He shrugged his shoulders. "What am I supposed to do now? I don't know what to do next!"
"You find yourself, Paul. Maybe music will be your life. Maybe it won't be. I was once one of Sergei Romov's star pupils too. And my father was my chief fan, a musician himself. The year that I was seventeen my father left my mother, left us all. I couldn't bring myself to play the piano for a whole year. Mr. Romov was devastated, but he understood."
"If my mother were here, she would understand."
"My mother died when I was nine, Miss Holt. She was my first piano teacher. She was from Granados, a student of the Granados Piano Academy. She was so beautiful and. . . I miss her so much. She, she always understood me. She called me 'Pablo.'" Paul wiped his shirtsleeve across his eyes that are brimming again, obviously embarrassed to have so lost control of himself. "Oh, God, here I go again. No wonder Romov says I'm not emotionally ready for Moscow. I'm still crying for my mother."
Laura sat down beside Paul on the piano bench. She spoke to Paul but her eyes revealed that she was with Remington in her thoughts.
"Don't hold back the tears, Paul. Men cry when they hurt. I know a man, the strongest, dearest man I've ever known. He lost his mother when he was born, and he recently lost his father. He sheds tears when he feels that loss. He still has so much pain from the past."
As Laura and Paul sat in deep reflection, there was a knock at the door and then Matteo Torelli entered the studio.
Paul was dismayed to have his father see him in a moment of such emotional vulnerability. Laura looked from one to the other, but the Paul bolted from the piano bench, past his father and out of the room.
"Paoli! Excuse me. Please excuse me. I must go after him."
Matt Torelli turned back to face Laura.
"I don't understand the boy. Whatever I say, it is not right."
"Growing pains, perhaps?"
"No, it is more than that, Miss. . .?"
"Holt, Laura Holt."
"That's right-from the magazine. Do you have children, Miss Holt? I mean-other than the one you are. . . with?" Torelli took note of Laura's pregnant state.
"No, I don't have any other children."
"Well, get ready for some challenges when that one you carry begins to grow up, Miss Holt. For this boy I want to do everything-and yet I can do nothing. I thing he sometimes hates me."
"He doesn't hate you. He-he seems to be searching for approval."
"He told you these things."
"Yes-in so many words."
"Then he has communicated more to you in fifteen minutes than he has to me in a year." Torelli went to the window and stared out of it. "It's difficult when there is only one parent, Miss Holt. I hope, for your sake that you are 'Miss' only for professional purposes. That child you are having will need both parents to make it in this world. I am a violinist, not a psychologist." He turned toward Laura again and then left the room abruptly while Laura stood speechless with her mouth open.
Remington was back in the entrance foyer of the settlement school chatting with a stunning woman in her mid-thirties. It was Melba Mitchell, a woman of obvious Southern background with a manner that belied her talent and intelligence.
"Why, Mr. Humphrey, you have certainly brightened up things around here today."
"One tries, Miss Mitchell. One tries."
"Why call me, 'Melba,' Mr. Humphrey."
"And just what is your function here, Miss . . Melba?"
"I guess you mean-academically?" Her tone was decidedly flirtatious.
"Yes, of course."
"I teach the English horn-everything you always wanted to know about the English horn, but were afraid to ask."
Remington tried to remain serious but found it quite difficult as his mind conjured up a clear image of this tiny woman maneuvering with an English horn.
"Well, now, I'm wanting to know a few things about Sergei Romov. I'm writing an article for Keyboard Classics about him."
"That's all you want?" Melba was evidently disappointed. "I have so much more to offer."
"I'm dare say that that is all I can handle at the present time." Remington was remembering Laura's reaction to Madelena's light flirtation of the morning. Melba was on a completely different level and he did not want to go through a repeat performance of Laura's reaction. He saw his wife coming down the wide staircase and was very happy that he had been able to put Melba off somewhat.
He was surprised when Melba smiled, recognizing Laura.
"Why, Laura Holt, you're a sight for sore eyes!"
"Melba Mitchell! It's been ages. How have you been?'
"Just fine, Laura, just fine. and you two know each other, I gather?"
"Yes, we know each other very well, Miss Mitchell," Remington replied.
Melba looked from Remington to Laura and instantly sensed the chemistry between them.
"Why you two are a pair! My goodness gracious! Well, Laura, honey, you'd better tell somebody or they're liable to try to steal this handsome hunk away from you."
Laura was a bit unnerved, forgetting momentarily her obvious pregnant state. "Actually, we don't. . . Well, we aren't. . . Oh, my, I seem to be at a loss for words at the moment."
Remington was quite amused at her discomfiture. "In reality, Miss Mitchell, we 'are,' and we 'do.' In point of fact, my Laura is carrying the evidence of our 'doing.' What she is attempting to say is that we try to keep our personal relationship in the background. It makes things simpler really."
"Understood! But, Laura, I didn't know that you were still involved with music? Why was I thinking that you were doing something else?"
"We're out on the east coast, Melba. It's a different world out there in Paramus, New Jersey. I can tell you that." Laura realized that in a few minutes Melba would actually remember what she was doing.
"I believe it," Melba concurred.
Laura paused a moment and then spoke again. "Melba, you know that we're doing a story on Sergei Romov. What reason do you think that anyone might have for trying to harm him?"
"That's right. You were a pupil of his also. I can't imagine. Of course, he was sure tough on his students. He was tougher on me than my English horn teacher, and the piano wasn't even my major instrument. Perhaps he was misunderstood by someone. But why would it have to be somebody in the music business anyhow?"
"His assailant crushed Mr. Romov's right hand, thereby casting serious doubt as to the possibility of Romov's ever playing professionally again. That's why."
"Why, Laura, your Mr. Humphrey is a serious researcher. This is all too much for me to think about. I'll just concentrate on my l'il old English horn, if you don' t mind."
Melba move away as if to leave, but then turned back to face Laura and Remington.
"By the way, have you spoken to Matt Torelli?"
"Paul's father?" Laura replied.
"Should we, Miss Mitchell?" Remington asked calmly.
"Listen, Romov and Madelena have been married for only the past four or five years. Before Romov, Madelena was involved with Matt. But Matt had been recently widowed-evidently couldn't make up his mind about remarriage. While he was trying to decide, Romov came into the picture. That was that. You fill in the blanks."
"A case of 'he who hesitates,' eh?" Remington's face was grim.
"Draw your own conclusions. I've got a student waiting, folks."
Melba exited up the staircase to her studio while Remington and Laura walked out of the building and toward the parking lot.
"Interesting that our horn-playing Southern belle doesn't seem to want to focus her mind on the 'serious' matters at hand, yet she seems to know quite a bit about the goings-on around here."
"Don't shortchange Melba. She's a brilliant musician with a brilliant mind-an English horn virtuoso at age fourteen who studied calculus just to exercise her mind and fight boredom."
Remington smiled. "It strikes me that she was perhaps a mite precocious in some other areas as well. She was coming on pretty strong before you came on the scene." Remington still was trying to understand why Laura reacted negatively to some situations and not to others and was at a loss.
Laura giggled softly. "Oh, yes. I remember the summer I was sixteen. We were roommates at a music workshop up at Stanford. Melba had a wild affair going with her English horn teacher, Mr. Capitula. She was just barely eighteen. Melba broke curfew and sneaked out with him."
"My, my! Shocking behavior, to be sure."
"Oh, she did take delight in shocking everyone. But talent-she had talent the rest of us could only dream about."
"Don't shortchange yourself, darling. You're a fine musician-unsung, unheralded-but a fine musician nonetheless. And you've got a lot of other things going for you besides." Remington caught Laura by both hands and drew her close. "You're incredibly sexy, passionate, so gorgeous that I have difficulty thinking straight sometimes when I am around you-and I've caught you doodling calculus problems on a few occasions as well."
"You enjoyed telling Melba that we 'are' and we 'do,' didn't you?" Laura smiled flirtatiously at her husband.
"Yes, I did, Laura." Remington responded with his own flirtation from his cobalt blue eyes and bent to kiss Laura's lips tenderly.
They got to the Auburn and Remington nonchalantly opened the door for Laura, but she immediately gasped in dismay.
"Remington, look at the car!"
The leather seat of the car had been repeatedly slashed.
"Someone has deliberately cut the seats to ribbons," Laura sighed.
"Good Lord! Apparently there is someone that thinks we're digging and delving a bit much here."
"A warning," Laura said simply.
"Yes, and one to be taken seriously, I'm sure. Just to be on the safe side, we would be wise to have the Auburn towed and call Fred to pick us up in the limo."
"I'll go make those calls," Laura said.
When Laura turned to go back into the school, she nearly collided with Howard Markham, who had just happened along.
"You folks having car trouble?"
"Nothing we can't handle, Markham. You should have tipped us off about the vandalism problem around here."
"Vandalism!" Markham was shocked. He went over to the car where Remington was surveying the situation. "Sorry about this, Steele."
"Yes. It seems someone around here has an intense dislike for Auburns, or perhaps the neighborhood has just gone down the nick a bit."
Markham peered into the car. "This is terrible! You can't imagine how much I regret that this has happened. We will surely have your car taken care of. Why, it's as if a madman went to work on it? Certainly you don't think it to be case-related?"
"We don't know, Howard. We really have no way of knowing that at this point," Laura answered.
* * * * * * *
It was much later that evening at the office that Remington and Laura tried to sort out the events of the day at the Music School Settlement. Remington sat behind his desk with Laura perched nearby. Mildred sat in front of the desk, going over her notes on the case.
"So what do we have here, ladies?"
"Well, it's interesting that while Romov's net worth is practically nothing when compared with performers in the pop or rock field, trade papers show that his recordings are having a resurgence in popularity. In fact, Deutch-Grammaphon has plans to release all his Rachmaninov concertos on compact disc later this year when they go full tilt into that market."
"There has been renewed interest in pianists like Romov who embrace a sensitive, super-romantic interpretation as opposed to the cool technical style that has been in vogue for so many years." Laura spoke with authority on this subject.
"And that makes our Mr. Romov a hot ticket right now. Who stands to gain? Who stands to lose? Who might resent him enough to try to permanently disable him?"
Laura sighed in response to Remington's query, "I can't come up with anyone."
"What about young Torelli?" Remington asked. "He wanted to go to the competitions. He's disturbed because he feels Romov has held him back, lacking confidence in his talents-trying desperately to measure up to the expectations of a father who is concertmaster of the L.A. Philharmonic."
"No, it can't be Pablo," Laura said softly.
"He's just a boy, a boy often misunderstood, who misses his mother very much."
Laura sighed quietly and Remington, sensing her mood and after the events of the earlier part of the day, feeling more than a little pang of yearning for the mother that he never knew, sat silently for a moment or two.
Remington cleared his throat and continued, "Let's strike young Pablo Torelli from the list."
"Well, what about his father? What's the story on Matteo Torelli?" Mildred asked.
Laura leaned against Remington's desk as she began to briskly run down the information on Matt Torelli.
"Matteo Torelli, Matt to his intimates. He plays first chair first violin with the L. A. Philharmonic. He came to this country in 1970 from Milan, where he played in the orchestra at La Scala. He's a widower-his wife, Marina, a renowned pianist in her own right, a fellow student with Alicia de Larrocha at the Granados Academy in Barcelona. She was killed in an auto crash ten years ago. Torelli has not handled that loss well, by all accounts."
"Evidently seeing the genius of his late wife in his son, he has pushed him rather relentlessly."
"Try measuring up to a memory sometime. It's a lost cause." Mildred said the words as a statement of fact.
"Matt Torelli felt Paul was ready to go to the Moscow competitions this past year, but Romov didn't agree. Apparently there was friction between them with young Torelli caught dead center," Laura offered the essence of her conversation with young Paul Torelli earlier that day.
Remington got up from behind his desk and came to sit beside Laura on the edge of the front of his desk. He folded his arms in his characteristic fashion as he continued to mull aloud over the case.
"There is also the matter of a love affair between Matt Torelli and Madelena Romov-before she became Mrs. Romov."
"Oh, yes, that's the little revelation of my old friend, Melba Mitchell, who swears she knows nothing about anything."
"Yes, your very forward and voluptuous old friend-of whom you were not the slightest bit jealous." Remington was trying to understand just what made Laura tick and sometimes he was so in the dark these days."
"Why do you think that I would have been jealous of Melba, Remy?"
"Because she pushed her breasts into my face and boldly propositioned me right in front of me. That's all. You were incensed at Madelena for so much less. I'm just trying to see what it is that sets you off, Laura." Remington smiled wryly.
Mildred looked at the ceiling, a little amused at witnessing this exchange between them in that she had overheard the argument of the morning and had dealt with the backlash of it with both of them.
"Back to the case, please, kids. As to Matteo?"
"Years have passed since all of that with him. Not a breath of anything improper there now, but sometimes things like that tend to die hard."
"Sometimes they just don't ever die, no matter how much you want them to," Laura said wistfully.
Mildred came toward Remington and Laura, her arms full of her paperwork.
"Well, one thing is for sure. You don't have to wonder where all of these people were the night Romov was attacked. They were all at the Hollywood Bowl."
"It's true!" Laura said. "Even his students were all given complimentary tickets. It was the first time Romov had played with the Philharmonic since the early days when he had just come over from Russia. Everybody was really pumped up about it."
"Well, that doesn't make our job any easier. That's for certain. It only confuses, beclouds the issue here." Remington paced about, running his fingers through his thick dark hair, obviously tense.
"Let's concentrate, Remy. We've been talking about Matt Torelli-but I just don't think it's him. Actually though, he's the one person that neither of us got a chance to talk with about the case today. I spoke with him in Romov's studio for a few minutes, but we didn't talk about Romov."
"Well, for my money, he's the chap who would have gotten the bottom rating if there were a friendliness competition."
"But he has problems, Remington. That teenager he's attempting to raise and make a genius of at the same time is a genuine challenge. I don't think he understands his son at all."
Mildred, who has been listening to this dialogue, has picked up the evening L.A. Tribune from Remington's desk and was quickly leafing through it for the entertainment section. Finding it, she searched until she found the advertisement for the L.A. Philharmonic and showed the paper to Remington and Laura.
"Why don't you talk to Torelli this evening? They're playing there tonight. There it is-Hollywood Bowl, 8 p.m."
Remington took the paper and checked the ad.
"It's 9:00 now. Things should be breaking up in approximately an hour and a half."
"Why don't we check it out?" Laura suggested.
Remington Steele was already in motion to go.
"Mildred, call Fred and have him bring the limo. We'll not be able to park there. I want to ask Matteo Torelli a few questions."
At that moment the phone rang and Mildred took the call and handed the phone to Remington.
"It's for you, chief. Madelena Romov-very upset."
Remington's manner was instantly subdued as his eyes met Laura's.
"Steele here. . . I am so very sorry, Mrs. Romov. You have our deepest sympathy. . . We are doing all we can, and, in fact are intensifying our efforts. In whatever way we can be of service . . ."
Remington extended his free hand to take Laura's, drawing her to him in a tender embrace as she reacted to the message from Madelena Romov through him.
"My wife will be especially saddened at the loss of her friend and teacher. . . we will get in touch with you in the morning. . . Yes, yes. . . Good night, Mrs. Romov."
Remington hung up the phone and took Laura into both his arms while Mildred dropped her head and turned away from them.
"Excuse me please. I-I have to do something in the outer office. . . something. . . anything."
Remington spoke tenderly to Laura who was sobbing in his arms.
"There, there, dear old bee. Have a good cry of it. Yes, yes. . . The whole situation is as depressing as hell."
"I just knew it. I knew he wouldn't survive."
Laura totally gave way to tears and Remington just held her, cherishing her in his arms, trying to calm her.
"So many times he took my hands in those-marvelous huge hands of his. . .and told me. He said to me, 'Laura, you can be whatever you want to be, whatever you want to be.'"
"And he was right, darling. How right he was. . . If Romov were half as wise as you say he was, he would have been immensely proud of what I see before me now. . . a brilliant, sensitive woman. . . dedicated to helping people who find themselves in the worst sorts of trouble. . . a reformer of the likes of me." Remington faltered, bowing his head, his blue eyes melancholy, himself overcome as he attempted to comfort Laura.
Laura tilted his chin up so that her own tear-filled eyes were looking directly into his with her hands gently clasping his cheeks. She touched his lips with two of her fingertips as if to cancel the words that Remington had used to describe himself, "the likes of me," shaking her head "no" and Remington just kissed the tips of her fingers and then caught the palm of her hand to his lips. Words were not needed as they communed silently, their dependence, their need for each other almost palpable between them as Remington held Laura enfolded in his arms.
Just a little while later, Remington and Laura sat in the limo preparing to go to the Bowl to speak to Matt Torelli. Remington regarded Laura, whose mood was still quite somber, not sure of really of how to help her at this point.
"How're we doing, babe?" He reached for her hand in his and squeezed it gently.
"I'm trying. I'll be all right."
"Now we're going over there. We're going to seek out Matt Torelli, and whomever else pertinent to this case we find there. Then we're going home and attempt to sort this thing out."
"I wonder how Madelena Romov is holding up."
"Excellent question. We'll find out. There's time."
Remington leaned forward in his seat to speak to Fred. "Fred, stop by Madelena Romov's first, won't you?"
The limo headed through the dark streets to Madelena Romov's home in an elegant enclave in the Hollywood Hills and Remington and Laura tried to relax and prepare themselves for the emotional experience they would doubtlessly face there.
At the Romov home, Madelena was in the salon, a beautiful room filled with Oriental antique furniture with a Bösendorfer grand piano as the central feature. She was speaking to Howard Markham.
"I appreciate so much your coming by. It-it's a very difficult time, but I think that I will survive it-I must survive it."
"Well, I thought-knowing what we mean to each other, that you would need me here this evening." His tone was confident.
Madelena became apprehensive as she looked at Howard Markham as if she were seeing him for the first time.
"What we mean to each other?"
"You know that you're in love with me." Howard's voice was seductive now. "Now that Romov is gone, we can really be free to do what we've wanted to do for so long."
Madelena turned away from Markham, both puzzled and offended that he would speak to her in this manner at this time.
"What are you talking about, Howard? That was a harmless flirtation. You can't be serious."
"Harmless flirtation! Harmless flirtation! Until Romov got all those recording contracts and offers to go on tour again, you didn't thnk it a harmless flirtation!" Markham was screaming at her.
"No, please! It's not that way, Howard. You have misunderstood."
Howard clutched Madelena by both shoulders but she started crying and wrenched herself away from Markham and toward the grand piano in the center of the room.
"You expect me to believe that you actually cared for that broken-down has-been. No, it was his fame that lured you back!" Markham's voice was now revealing symptoms of dementia.
"No, please, please. I swear it. It isn't true. I loved Sergei."
Markham screamed at her, "Don't say you loved him! Don't ever say that again! You're in love with someone else. Yes, that's it, you faithless hussy! There's someone else. There is!"
Madelena was very frightened. Howard had her pinned against the piano and she realized that she was no match physically for him.
"There is no one else, Howard, no one. Please. . . you're hurting me."
But Markham tightened his grip on Madelena.
"I know, I know. It's Matt still. You never stopped with Matt Torelli, did you?"
"There's nothing between Matteo and me. Nothing at all."
"Matteo, Matteo." His voice was mocking hers. "You're a lying little gypsy tramp, but you are mine. I didn't mean to kill Sergei. I didn't mean it. I only hit him because I was angry. He made me very angry, Madelena. Don't you understand? The others won't understand. That's why I have this. I had to get this."
Markham pulled a gun from his pocket and showed it to a positively terrified Madelena.
"Oh, I understand, Howard. It's-it's all right. We'll work things out." She reached behind her to ascertain the location of the metronome that sat on the piano.
"But there's . . . Matteo Torelli. I must attend to him. Then-then it will be settled. You will be mine, Madelena."
"Yes, yes, Howard."
Howard Markham attempted to kiss Madelena, who at first seemed to submit to him, but at the same time she reached for the metronome behind her on the piano and struck Markham on the head with it. He was momentarily stunned and Madelena broke free from him and ran for the front door of the house.
At that very moment Remington and Laura walked up to the house and rang the doorbell. Markham hearing the bell, realized that someone else was on the scene. Running through the house to the back door, he left the house, jumped into his car and roared out of the driveway much to the astonishment of Remington and Laura as Madelena opened the front door to Remington and Laura and fell into their arms, weeping hysterically.
"It's Markham, Howard Markham. He killed my husband and. . . I think he's going to try to kill Matteo."
"Matteo Torelli!" Laura's eyes opened wide in surprise.
"Yes, yes! He's going to the Bowl. I'm sure of it. Please, stop him! He has a gun!"
"You will be all right here?" Remington asked Madelena who was leaning weakly against the door facing.
"Yes, I. . .I'll be all right. Just please hurry."
"We'll send Mildred back to see about you," Laura shouted back to her as they ran to the limo.
Remington and Laura hurriedly got into the limo and the car jetted off in the direction of the Hollywood Bowl down through the winding roads of the Hollywood Hills and through the Los Angeles streets below.
At the Hollywood Bowl, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra was playing the concluding phrases of Elgar's Enigma Variations, under the direction of the noted conductor André Previn. Howard Markham stood off-stage watching the performance, his unbalance evident in his expression, the paranoia that had overtaken him now completely revealed. As he eyed Matteo Torelli in the concertmaster's seat of the first violin section, Markham took the gun from his pocket.
Outside the limo screeched up to the stage door of the Bowl and Remington and Laura were instantly out of the car, with Laura bounding ahead of Remington as usual, but this time becoming quickly winded. She stopped short and Remington caught her by her hand.
"You can't do this." He stated it as a fact, a reality.
"You go ahead. I'll catch up. I'm all right."
Remington kissed her lightly and ran on with Laura trailing behind him by at least a dozen paces.
When he got backstage, it was clear what was about to happen. Laura caught up with him and he turned to her, "Stay back here. Markham's armed, darling, and irrational." He squeezed Laura's hand and she nodded in agreement.
Remington and Laura caught sight of Markham just off stage as the music climaxed and ended and the audience broke into wild applause. The instant the applause began Markham broke onto the stage and toward Torelli, who rose with the string section to accept the accolades of the crowd at the invitation of Mr. Previn. Remington ran past Markham and dived at Torelli who instinctively lifted his rare Guarnerius violin out of danger. Previn was completely appalled at the events unfolding before him.
Laura, approaching Markham from behind, shoved him off balance as he raised his gun and he shot wild-off his mark, the shot shattering the rare violin in Torelli's hand into useless splinters.
"Oh, my God! That was a Guarnerius!"
"Hit the deck, everybody! Hit the deck!" Remington shouted.
The audience was in an uproar as the events on stage unfolded in front of them. Markham stood bewildered, gun in hand. Suddenly there was silence.
"It's over, Markham. It's all over, mate. Give me the gun."
"I know she loves me. She has to love me, doesn't she?" He screamed, "Madelena, where are you, Madelena?"
Remington extended his hand to Markham.
"Give me the gun."
Markham dissolved, sobbing, and dropped the gun. "I didn't mean for it to happen. Oh, God, I-I didn't mean. . ."
Remington picked up the gun and handed it to Laura who came forward to take it.
The musicians of the Philharmonic cautiously got up from the floor of the stage as police arrived from the wings and took Markham into custody. Remington approached André Previn who was still sitting on the floor in disbelief, extending his hand to assist the conductor to his feet.
"Sorry to cause such a flap here, Mr. Previn," Remington said deferentially.
"Was it something I said?" Previn quipped.
"No, I think that he just got a bit carried away with the Elgar this evening," Remington replied wryly.
* * * * * *
Later Remington and Laura reviewed the case in the kitchen of their apartment. They sat waiting for a pot of tea to brew, as the strains of the second movement of the Rachmaninov Second Concerto played in the background. They have both dressed for bed, Remington in his burgundy robe and navy silk pajamas and Laura in a favorite pale pink long cotton nightgown, but they were still so keyed up from the events of the evening that even though it was well past midnight, they found themselves unable to go to bed. The personal stress they had suffered in their marriage that day had really wired them as well, so that these moments of quiet reflection were needed very much by both of them.
Remington poured Laura's cup of tea and handed it to her.
"It's been a rough day, eh?"
Laura nodded in agreement.
"That's the tape Madelena gave you?"
"Yes, it's the recording of the Rachmaninov that will be released this fall. She wanted us to have it."
They listened for several moments in silence, sipping their tea, contemplating one another.
"Tragic-all that talent wasted because an unbalanced chap became obsessed with another man's wife."
Laura sipped her tea before she responded. "A seemingly harmless flirtation triggered the whole chain of events."
"In a sense." Remington added more tea to his cup. "As long as the status quo maintained, Markham could believe that it would just be a matter of time before Madelena would come round completely."
"But Romov's resurgence as an eminent concert pianist and recording artist cast that all in serious doubt as far as Markham was concerned."
"Yes, he could visualize Madelena slipping further and further away as Romov's fame escalated. In his dementia he felt that he had to force a showdown, declare his intentions to Romov. . ." Remington sat on one of the high kitchen stools and Laura leaned against the counter near him.
"And Romov, secure in his knowledge of Madelena's commitment to their marriage-laughed at him. That's when. . ."
"That's when Markham, as they say "lost his cookies" completely. Passion, jealousy, age-old motives." Remington completed the thought.
Laura walked away from the counter, reflecting on the scenario that had played itself out before them.
"To be unhinged like that, he was a pretty cool customer. He knew we were in a serious investigation. He and Madelena were the only ones that knew it. And he just played along with the whole thing, feigning complete cooperation in every way."
"Except for the little job he did on the Auburn, Laura. That was the dark side of his psyche rearing its nasty head."
"He took a real gamble on Romov's failing to regain consciousness, didn't he?" Laura said as she walked back toward Remington, who poured more tea into the cup that she held and sat back onto the high stool. "Age-old motives, age-old emotions. A woman smiles a special smile at a man in a moment of flirtation and forgets about it, but the next thing you know, a fine artist is gone."
Remington regarded his wife intently, his blue eyes warm as he contemplated the marvelous mix of intelligence and beauty in this complex woman, as he continued. "He's not the first man to be done in by a woman's special wiles."
"Did I 'do you in?' "
"Oh my, woman, you certainly did." Remington smiled, remembering his first encounters with Laura. "I think it was all those blasted freckles that finished me off. . . that strapless gown you wore to that affair where that car was presented? I could not take my eyes off you."
Laura remembered and she knew that it was true.
"So, Remy, do you think that I flirted with Tony Roselli last year?"
"Well, let us just say that he probably thought he had a chance with you-for a moment or two. The kiss on the train didn't help if you were trying to discourage him. But of course, you were 'helping' him, darling." Remington smiled, amused that Laura should be troubled by this incident in connection with the Romov business. "Of course I have reflected back on the incident and wondered why you were so enthusiastic in that clinch."
"I have wondered why myself. I think that I was just so wanting to be with you by that time that all the-passion-that I was feeling for you somehow got transferred to him in that kiss."
"Umm, dangerous business, Mrs. Steele. These things have a way of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies sometimes. I have no doubt that, in the event something were to happen to me, Antony Roselli would suddenly appear out of nowhere to finally claim you, just as I have no doubt that Matteo Torelli and Madelena Romov will probably eventually end up together now. Perhaps that is somewhat sanguine of me, but I'm a practical man."
"You think that I would take Tony after having you? I don't think so."
"Well, he would certainly try to fill my shoes or-trousers-I dare say." Remington was smiling, teasing his wife now, enjoying her slight discomfiture.
"So I did flirt with Tony. I admit it. But I was, as you say, 'at the end of my tether.' "
"You were climbing the walls-just like me-after four long years of abstinence. I guess we could call it a form of temporary insanity."
"I flirted with you, didn't I."
"Mercilessly, every day the Lord sent. You did so beguile me. I suffered countless nights because of you."
"How did we do it, Remy?"
"I don't know, love. It just started one day. I had taken this girl out. Remember the case where the body was found in my apartment on my bed?"
"That was the Buddy Shapiro case. Waldo Church was found dead on your bed."
"Well, I had this girl that week, a certain Miss Tapplinger, I believe, who was really going to take care of my 'needs,' but we never got around to it because the case kept getting in the way. In fact, I believe that you came by when she was at the apartment and that put quite a crimp into things. I finally just sent her home. I never was with another woman after Miss Tapplinger, Laura. I decided then and there that I would give it all up. Of course I had no idea that you would make me suffer the need of you for so long."
"It was very difficult for me to keep refusing you when I wanted you so. You were very difficult to keep at arm's length."
Remington drew Laura up close to him between his legs as he sat on the high stool in front of the kitchen counter. Laura nearly swooned as she felt his flesh so close against hers.
"I don't see you keeping me at arm's length any more, darling, do I?"
"Oh, Remy, baby, no. . ." Laura melted in the warmth of his arms
Remington eased off the high stool and stood facing Laura his hands caressing her hips and pulling her blossoming midsection up against him. "But I saw something else tonight, darling."
"What did you see?"
"I saw my 'long-legged field daughter' faced with the reality that she has a baby tucked away inside her."
"I just got winded. I'm fine. You know that I'm still doing all my exercises."
"But you were seriously injured just three months ago and you are pregnant. When you took off like that tonight, that little one in there probably said 'What the hell is going on?'"
Laura dropped her head and turned to face her husband. "I just hate being slowed down like this, Remington."
"Look, darling, I will help you train for the triathlon again-next year, after the baby, but now-no more running after anybody till this baby comes. Do we have a deal?"
Laura nodded, "Yes, we have a deal." She felt her belly. "I guess this little one is changing me."
"It's changing me, love. I see everything differently now. When I almost lost you three months ago, my whole outlook changed. You-us, family, the bairn-that is what is most important. We can hire people to help in the agency, to run it, for God's sake, but there is no substitute for you in my life, Laura. I would be the most wretched of men were I to lose you." Remington scrutinized the dimpled face that entranced him so, the corners of his mouth upturned in that smile that made Laura's heart skip a beat. "Of course, it hasn't changed the passion I have for you." He put his hands on the roundness where her once incredibly slender waist had been. "This only makes you more desirable, if possible, than I ever imagined. I thought I was consumed with my love for you before. I thought that I could never love you more than when we finally came together last year in Ireland after Daniel's death. And then, when you were wounded and finally we were able to declare all of our feelings, I thought that we had become as close as it is possible for a man and woman to become. But, Laura, when we cried together today, I learned something about love between a man and a woman that I would never have imagined before."
"What have you learned, love?"
"I've learned that it never stops growing in intensity. It is so profound, like a deep well that I keep thinking I have found the bottom of, but then I discover that it is so much deeper really. Oh, Laura, do you understand what I am saying to you, babe? I never cried when making love to a woman till you and I came together. You are so much more to me than I could have ever anticipated-the most fun loving and sensual partner a man could ever want. A rollicking romp with you is pleasure, pure and simple. But, Laura, we have other moments, so intense, so filled with pathos-like earlier today, the two of us crying together like that." His blue eyes mirrored the powerful emotions he was feeling.
"Yes," Laura whispered, "I've never known a man who would share his tears with me the way that you do. I just want to hold you and comfort you in my arms and stop the tears. Then I start crying too."
Remington kissed Laura tenderly. "I feel so close to you at such moments. . .when we are emotionally laid bare like that. My feelings. . . I can't hold anything back any more. Laura. If we can just be here for each other, for the bad times, the needy times."
"Remington! I'll be here for you, for all the times. Carrying this child inside me has affected me in ways that I could never have imagined. Other than meeting and falling so in love with you, I know that it has been the most defining event of my life. Nothing else is as important as you and me and this baby that we are making together. And I never thought that I would say this. I used to think that the agency, the career, were all that was important-but they aren't, are they?"
Remington shook his head, as the strains of the second movement of the Rachmaninov built to one climax after another. They were overwhelmed by what they felt flowing between them, Remington's eyes burning hot in the passionate stare that signaled his need, and Laura, helpless in the face of it.
He kissed her mouth, at first gently, then more thoroughly, and then her lips and cheeks again and again. The sensation of his passionate kisses all over her face stirred Laura so completely that she threw her arms around him. They continued to kiss-deeply, ardently-their open mouths exploring and drinking and tasting each other as Remington easily lifted Laura against his vibrating flesh.
"Laura. . . Laura. . ." Remington pleaded.
"Yes, Remy, yes," Laura was caught up in her fervor for him, her legs weakening as she felt his heart pounding wildly so close to hers.
Remington Steele picked Laura up in his arms and carried her off to their bed.
And the Rachmaninov Second played on.