Laura readjusted the box in her arms enough to turn the knob on the front door, then bumped it closed with her hip. This was the last of the boxes from the kitchen at the loft.
"I hope whatever gadget you want is in here, Harry."
Laura set the box on the floor as there was no room for it on the countertops. "A garlic press is not a gadget, Laura. It's a basic culinary tool."
He wiped his hands on white bar towel and bent to sort through the box. "Voila, Laura!"
"What else can I do to help?"
Harry raised an eyebrow at her. "Leave."
"The kitchen, the house. Go play on the beach."
"Is that anything like 'go play in the traffic,' Harry?
He looked at her for a moment as if he was considering his answer carefully. "Yes, Laura. Exactly like 'go play in the traffic.'"
"Isn't that a bit harsh?"
"So far today, Laura, you've peeled my new potatoes down to the size of table grapes, grated orange zest with the parmesan grater and cut open a cardboard box with my herb snips. I think you've done enough damage..."
Whatever he had on the stove top boiled over and began to run down the counter to the floor.
"Laura, I love you. I don't care one whit that you are entirely incompetent in the kitchen-- as long as you stay out of it. Tonight, I'll catalogue all the places and ways you are far superior to me."
She wasn't sure if the heat in her face was from the steam off the stovetop, fury at his heavy handedness or the way he looked her over that made it abundantly clear how he planned to make it up to her later tonight.
"Please," he pleaded and pointed out the door with the bar towel. "Please leave before I can't salvage this impending disaster and we have to serve Monroe take-out."
She couldn't help but laugh at the look of horror on his face as she headed for the bedroom. Besides, she knew exactly how to even the score. Too bad she wouldn't be able to see the initial impact. But she was sure she'd hear about it later. She could hardly wait.
Now that Harry had gotten the sticky pool of liquid mostly off the floor, he was trying to decide how best to salvage the orange sauce. What a mess. He picked the pan up and swirled the remaining contents around.
"I'm going to play on the beach, Harry."
Laura paused at the door just long enough for him to get a glimpse of her. A lot of her. Too much of her. Stunned, he dropped the pan. What was left of the hot sauce splattered everywhere.
"Laura!" he called just as the back door banged closed. He strode to the window and watcher her saunter down the hill. She didn't look back, but the extra sway of her hips told him she knew he was watching. She would be the death of him yet--but he couldn't think of a better way to go.
He looked down at the now empty pan. Well, at least he didn't need to decide if the sauce could be saved now. With a sigh he started cleaning the floor, again.
The orange sauce now safely back at a simmer, Harry set the timer before wandering over to the window to look for Laura. No point in taking chances. He didn't have time to start over, again.
Not seeing Laura on the sand, he looked out over the ocean. He wondered if she was drawn to the water, if it brought her peace and comfort like it did him and Laura. Restlessness built in him and he began to move back and forth along the row of windows.
He wondered if he should share his secret with Monroe. Maybe he had been wondering about it, worrying about it, all day without knowing it. That would explain his higher than usual level of anxiety over having Monroe for dinner. After all, Monroe had already seen the house when he had orchestrated the majority of Harry's surprise move. Monroe might have even seen more of some parts of it than he and Laura, as they hadn't had a chance to unpack anything other than the main living space and their own bedroom.
A runner on the beach caught his eye. A very beautiful, scantily clad runner. His runner. She was grace in motion and he loved to watch her run. The house on the beach had been a brilliant idea. Now, she could run every day and he could watch her. Well, on the days she waited until the sun came up to run, anyway.
She reached a nautical print towel directly in front of the house and stopped. She looked up at him and waved. He waved back. She lay down on the towel on her stomach and reached back to unclasp her top. Harry swallowed hard. Goodness it was hot in here. Never mind the sauce or the duck, Harry hoped he wasn't burnt before dinner.
"Laura, could you get the door?" Harry called out from the kitchen. It had required all his concentration but he'd managed to get dinner back on track and ready on time. The bell rang again."Laura," he called louder as he slid dessert into the fridge. Come to think of it, he didn't remember hearing her come back in from the beach. He slid his apron over his head and tossed it on the counter as he made his way to the door.
He greeted Monroe at the door with a handshake and a slap on the back.
"Sorry to have kept you waiting. I thought Laura would get the door but she doesn't seem to be in the house."
His annoyance had turned to concern. Laura was usually punctual unless she was working on a case.
"She went down to the beach a couple of hours ago."
Monroe followed him over to the windows. The sun had set enough that he couldn't see the beach well any more. Monroe set a hand on Harry's shoulder.
"I'm sure she's fine, Mick. She's pretty good at taking care of herself."
"I'm sure you're right but I'm going to go look for her, anyway." He didn't like how worried he sounded, so he tried for gruff, "If she isn't back soon she'll have finally ruined the duck."
Harry started for the door.
"Why don't you grab a light just in case we need one to see to get back up the hill."
Harry opened and closed a few drawers in the kitchen, but returned empty handed. "I don't have any idea where to find one in here." That obviously needed to be taken care of sooner than later.
"I'll grab the one out of my car." Monroe led the way out the door.
They didn't have far to look once they got to the beach. Harry stood over Laura where she slept peacefully, right where she had been the last time he'd seen her. There was still enough light to tell that she was the one who got burnt before dinner. Oh well, at least she wouldn't have a tan line.
"Turn around, Monroe." he whispered
"What? Why, Mick?" Monroe whispered back.
Harry pointed to Laura's bare back.
"Ah, yes, I see your point, friend." Monroe ever the gentleman, gave Mick his back.
Harry knelt beside Laura in the sand, unbuttoned his shirt and set it on the edge of the towel. Then he gently set his hand on her bottom as it was the only place she wasn't burnt to a crisp.
"Laura, love, time for dinner."
As he expected she sat up before realizing her top was still undone. He quickly slipped his shirt around her shoulders so she was mostly covered.
He couldn't tell for sure in the rapidly fading light, but he thought she might not have turned her head after she fell asleep, as one side appeared much darker than the other.
He helped the still groggy Laura slip her arms into the sleeves.
"All those expensive silk shirts and today you decide to wear an oxford broadcloth." Laura crinkled her nose then winced.
"Oh God, how bad is it?"
"Umm, it's too dark to tell for sure but I suspect you are more well done than the duck." He helped her to her feet before retrieving the towel and her top.
"Is it safe to turn around yet?"
"Monroe." Laura lifted both hands toward her face. Harry blocked her gently. "Un huh, pretty sure you don't want to do that, sweetheart."
Laura groaned. "Hello, Laura."
"I suggest we head back to the house and take a walk on the beach some other time." Harry pointed up the hill. "Dinner awaits."
"I'd offer to carry you, Laura..."
"Don't take offense, but please Harry, don't touch me."
They all laughed and Monroe turned on the light as they headed up the trail.
Monroe stood up to help Laura clear the table.
"Sit down. Harry cooked, you moved us in. I'm doing the clean up."
Monroe hesitated. Harry stood.
"Let's go sit in the other room." Harry kissed Laura's unburnt cheek. "Thank you, love."
Much of the time he had been preparing the meal, Harry had thought about whether or not to say something to Monroe about the photos, about the girl. And he hadn't come to any firm decision but now with Monroe sitting across from him, here in this room, it seemed right. Not easy, but right.
"Feel free to keep thinking about it all night. Or you can go ahead and tell me about it so we have time to talk about it before the sun comes up. Up to you, Mick."
Leave it to Monroe to open the door. Harry stood again. "Let me get something to show you."
He stepped into the bedroom and returned with two framed photos.
"Laura received the photos, and a note to the effect that they belong in my family photo album, about two weeks ago."
He handed them to Monroe, who took them and stared at them wordlessly for several minutes. "There does appear to be a strong family resemblance."
Monroe handed the photos back to Harry, who set them on the coffee table.
"There does, doesn't there." Harry crossed his ankle over his knee and his foot kept beat to an agitated internal rhythm. "I can't deny it; but I swear I don't know anything more about her."
"Does that surprise you, Mick? Because you're not exactly an easy man to track down."
"That's assuming someone wants to find me. And Felicia and Shannon certainly have no problem locating me when they want something. Laura even found me in London when I was trying to not be found."
"Yes, well, Laura is in an exceptional class of her own. And Felicia and Shannon are rather more resourceful and, um, persistent than most other people."
Harry couldn't help but preen at Monroe's compliment of Laura. "I take it you haven't located her yet?"
"No." Harry stared at the frames on the table. "Any leads?"
"No, but to be honest, Monroe, I haven't put too much effort in it." "Does Laura have a problem with you trying to find her?"
"No. At least not that she will admit to yet. She's been very supportive." "So you have a problem with trying to locate her, then."
Harry continued to stare at the photos. Monroe let his elbows rest on his knees.
"What are you afraid of, Mick? Are you afraid of finding her and having to work through all the pain and adjustment for the three of you or of not finding her and having to live with the fact that she's out there somewhere and you can't protect her?"
Harry raised his eyes enough to look at Monroe.
"Yes and yes. But she already knows more about who she is than I know about who I am. I still don't have a name, an identity to give her, Monroe. I don't clarify anything for her, I just muddy the water further."
Monroe shook his head.
"I always thought you were pretty smart, my friend. Right now, I'm questioning that. You're her father, Mick. You of all people should know that the role is more important than the name."
"That's what Laura said."
"I rest my case." Monroe stood and stretched. "I should be heading home. Let me know how I can help once you come to your senses."
Laura let out a small sigh. The cool tiles of the bathroom floor and wall felt nice against her skin. She had heard about people who had sunburned themselves so badly they were nauseous but had fortunately never experienced it, until now. As her stomach heaved again, she promised herself this would be her first and last time.
"Laura? Are you..." She heard the bathroom door open. "Never mind, clearly you are not alright."
"Go away, Harry." She managed to croak before she was overtaken by another spasm. She didn't want him to ... A cool wash rag settled on the back of her neck and her hair was swept up and pinned back from her face.
Thankfully, he didn't seem to feel the need to fill the morning with idle chatter or recriminations about her carelessness the afternoon before. He simply sat with her through two more rounds of dry heaves, keeping a clean, cool, cloth at the ready for her.
"All finished, love?"
"I think so."
He helped her to her feet and handed her a glass of water. She rinsed her mouth and wiped her face once more, then took the arm he offered. They made their way out of the bathroom.
"Let's go get you some tea and toast. I'm sure you'll feel better once you have something in your stomach."
Was he crazy?
"Harry, I've just spent the last twenty minutes emptying my stomach. What makes you think I want to put anything back in there now?"
"I thought dry toast and ginger tea were universal home remedies for morning sickness. Is there something else you prefer?"
"I'm not...I looked at the calendar..." It couldn't be, not now. She, they hadn't planned...
Harry raised his eyebrow. "When did you look at that calendar last, Laura? I know you majored in maths but something about your counting doesn't add up here."
Laura frantically tried to remember the last time she'd... Oh, God, I can't remember. That, in and of itself was fairly damning evidence. She always knew. The calendar was more of a long-term record. Breathe, Laura. Now focus. You can do this. She was still unable to name a date. Panic began to set in, whether from the real possibility of carrying a child, being unable to remember something she never forgot or a combination of the two. She looked to Harry for help.
"Unless I missed something, Laura, it was a week or so before we wrapped up the Rossi case."
The Rossi case, that was the extensive background check they had done for Rossi Vineyard's potential new CFO. It had been very boring but very profitable work. And at its conclusion, she and Harry had spent the remainder of the weekend at one of the Rossi Vineyard's villas.
She glanced at Harry under her lashes and grinned. It had been a very good weekend holiday. Very good.
"Ah, yes. I see you've remembered the Rossi affair, also." Harry dropped two slices of bread in the toaster.
They had stayed, Harry accepting the CEO's offer for the use of a villa for the weekend. For once, Laura didn't have the slightest interest in attempting to thwarting Harry's planned seduction, not even in jest. She'd even suggested they could finish the paperwork at the office on Monday, so they could start their holiday sooner. Her face felt warm. Harry had been stunned but quickly accepted that offer, as well. By Sunday morning, Harry was laughing that they might need to cut their stay short and go take care of that paperwork so he could get a rest.
The pieces all finally clicked for Laura. She'd been ovulating
then, about six weeks ago. Her hand rose to her abdomen. A baby.
They were almost certainly having a baby.
Harry saw the moment Laura understood what he had figured out for certain during the night as he lay beside her hot body.
"A baby." Her eyes were filled with amazement or maybe disbelief. "We're having a baby?"
He reached out to touch her cheek. She was always beautiful but in that moment she was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen. No priceless work of art, no rare gem--not even royal lavulite, came close.
"Yes, I believe we are."
He slipped his hand in her hair and pulled her in for a kiss filled with awe, wonder and no small amount of passion.
The toaster popped. Startled, they jumped apart and then laughed.
"Nibble on this while we're waiting on tea." Harry handed her the saucer of toast and put the kettle on to boil.
Laura was quiet while she took a few tentative bites of the toast. When the kettle boiled, Harry brought over two cups of tea and sat beside her.
"Do you really think so?"
Harry took a drink of his tea. Vulnerable, uncertain Laura was not a creature he had much experience with but he was smart enough to know she needed to be handled carefully.
"I'm fairly certain, Laura. I wouldn't bet the house on it. I know how you feel about that kind of thing-- and besides we're only leasing it at the moment." He wagged his eyebrows and received the half-laugh he had sought from her. "In all seriousness, I'm as certain as I can be without having a doctor confirm it."
He thought this conversation normally happened in reverse, but that was alright. Since when had he and Laura ever done anything in a conventional fashion?
Laura studiously stared at what was left of her toast. He wanted to ask her things, feeling things, but he could see she wasn't ready for that yet. Patience, Harry, there will be plenty of time for that. Let her get used to the idea first.
"Whatever doubts I had were resolved last night. Quite likely when I found you asleep on the beach. But with dinner and Monroe, I didn't recognize it until I laid down beside you last night. When I found you this morning--well then there was no further doubt in my mind that you were carrying our child." He reached over, took her hand in his and squeezed it reassuringly. "It seemed in poor taste to be wildly excited while you were casting up your accounts. So I settled for smugly pleased until a more appropriate time for a celebration presented itself."
He glanced at the clock. "I should go ahead and shower so I can get to the office on time." He stood and bussed her cheek. "Take your time and call Fred when you get ready to come in. I can handle the 9:00 appointment about another possible background check on my own. It's mostly a schmooze to seal the deal anyway, you've already set up the sale."
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he could see that was the wrong thing to say. No doubt he'd hear about it momentarily.
Laura bristled at the idea of missing more time at the office. She'd been out too much lately, more in the last few weeks than in the last six years and she said as much to Harry as he came through, tying his tie.
"You won't tell Mildred?"
"I can tell Mildred you had some things for the house to take care of. I doesn't even have to be a lie. Stop by the flat and decide what else needs to happen there so we can be out of it, and out of the lease when it is up at the end of next month, if that makes you feel better."
She swirled the tea in her cup.
"Well, the flat does need to be taken care of some time. And we certainly don't need to spend money needlessly with a baby on the way." Her heart clenched and her stomach fluttered. She looked at Harry, who was wearing a goofy grin and couldn't help but grin back.
"Then we can take Mildred out to lunch and tell her together. And you can call Frances and Donald and see if they can come for dinner and see the house. I can throw something simple together, like a stir-fry."
"No." Laura panicked. She wasn't ready. This was all moving too fast. "No, Harry. Not yet."
"You're right. It probably would be best to wait until you've seen the doctor, first." He kissed her quickly then reached for the door.
"Why don't you give your doctor a call now and get an appointment. You can let me know when it is once you get to the office. I can't wait to share our news."
With a wink and a wave, he was out the door.
Laura snatched a pillow off the couch and threw it against the door. She and Harry were going to have to have a talk. Soon. She walked over and retrieved the pillow from the floor. She dropped it back on the couch and headed for the shower.
Laura climbed under the hot spray of water. She turned to rinse her hair and hissed as the water hit her sunburnt skin. She would definitely take something for the pain before she left for the Rossmore. Her hand ran across her still flat abdomen and she paused. Was that okay? She thought she remembered hearing Frances talk about not taking anything when she was pregnant because it passed through to the baby. Pregnant. The word still felt strange on her tongue, sounded foreign to her ears.
She stepped out of the shower and toweled off. Any time Frances talked about being pregnant it somehow always ended in delivery. Laura was definitely not ready for that. If her choices were Frances or the doctor, that wasn't much of a choice in her mind. She guessed she'd be calling the doctor this morning after all. At least Harry would be pleased.
There was no one at the desk when Laura arrived at the Rossmore, so she went straight up to the apartment. She unlocked the door and stopped cold. She hadn't been prepared to see it stripped bare. She hadn't been back in the days since Monroe and his crew had moved the furniture out. If she had it to do over, had known how it would affect her, she might have chosen to never return--preferring to remember things as they had been.
She ran her hand along the wall where the Thin Man poster had been, its outline faintly visible where the sun had faded the paint around it. She'd known it was gone. It hung on the wall next to the piano at the beach house. She wandered over by the windows where Harry had held her while she cried after her house was blown up then found herself headed for the fireplace where...
The phone rang, tearing her away from her walk down memory lane. She would leave as soon as she was off the phone. This was something she and Harry needed to do together.
"Hello... Yes, this is she...I need to make an appointment but I also need some advice now. It seems I may be..." She simply couldn't say the word in relationship to herself yet. "having a baby. Is it okay for me to take some aspirin?"
Laura idly twirled a ringlet of hair around her finger a she waited for the woman to see about an answer.
" Yes, I am over thirty... Yes, this is my first pregnancy. No, I don't know when my last physical was..." So many questions just to find out if she could get an appointment and take an aspirin. Finally the woman returned to the phone again. "Can I come in at 1:30? Today? A cancellation... Well, I'm not sure. I need to check with the office...Next opening for an initial prenatal isn't for three weeks. With being older..Haven't seen me in several years...I see. Yes, I'll call the office right now and call you back if I can't keep the appointment."
She put the phone down and rubbed her forehead. She was getting a headache. And she still didn't know if she could take that aspirin. Apparently being pregnant 'at her age' was more complicated than she'd imagined. Not that she'd spent time imagining it, well not much anyway. At least not before Harry...
She picked the phone back up and called the direct line to Harry's office. No answer. She called Mildred and asked her to send Fred out to the Rossmore and to have Harry call her in the limo as soon as possible.
She put the phone down and took another look around the nearly empty apartment. The steely gray tones that had looked so chic and modern before now looked lonely, cold and depressing. Laura grabbed her keys off the counter and walked out of the flat. She'd check in at the desk about the lease while she was waiting for Fred.
"Good Morning, Mrs. Steele." Eric pulled a 9" x 12" envelope from under the counter and handed it across to Laura.
She took the envelope, reminded again what wonderful staff and service the Rossmore had. She felt a bit like a traitor asking, "Do you know offhand how much notice we need to provide to terminate our lease on the penthouse?"
"I'm not certain." He turned to a young woman and asked her to go pull the Remington Steele file and make a copy of the lease agreement and the forms for notification of termination.
Laura was confused. Wasn't that what was in the envelope? If not, she had a pretty good idea about what the contents concerned, or rather who.
"I'm sorry you're leaving us. I've enjoyed having you both here. But I hear you've found a nice place by the beach. And I can understand why that would have appeal. Best wishes to you and Mr. Steele."
"Thank you, Eric. We've enjoyed living here. You have all been wonderful."
The woman returned and handed Laura a nearly identical envelope.
"Eric," Laura held up the first envelope, "do you know where this came from?"
"No, Mrs. Steele, I don't. I wasn't here when it came in."
"Do you know, has it been here long?"
"A couple of days at most, would be my guess. It wasn't here when I left on Tuesday afternoon. I had Wednesday and yesterday off. But it was already here when I got in today. "
"Would it be helpful if we called the office if you get more mail or packages here?"
She wanted to ask a lot more questions, but the doorman was waving to let her know Fred had pulled up outside.
"Yes, Eric, that would be very helpful. And thank you again for your assistance with the lease."
"You're most welcome, Mrs. Steele."
Clutching both envelopes, she exited the building to find Harry waiting beside the limo.
Laura was both annoyed and relieved at Harry's unexpected appearance. And that annoyed her. "Why are you here? Did you forget how to use the phone?"
Laura shoved both envelopes in his gut and climbed to the far side of the limo, all the way to the door. She crossed her legs away from Harry and stared out the window. Now she'd have to wait until they got out of the limo to tell him about the appointment since she didn't care to share that information with Fred. She trusted Fred implicitly except where Mildred was concerned. Somehow whatever Fred knew, Mildred seemed to know, too. And that didn't bother Laura about agency matters, but where their children were concerned, she wanted--no needed, to control the flow of information. Their children. She turned to look at Harry. They were no longer just a couple. They were a family.
Icy calm, Laura. Icy calm.
Harry followed Laura out of the elevator and into the office. She gave Mildred a cursory 'good morning,' went to her office and closed the door.
"Bad morning?" Mildred asked.
Harry shrugged. The less he said about Laura to Mildred right now the better. Otherwise uncertain what to do next, he stood in the lobby and glanced around.
"Are those for me?" Mildred pointed to the envelopes he had in his hand.
"Oh, uh, no. Paperwork on the move and all." Recognizing a potential exit line, he moved towards his office. "I'll just go look over what Laura found for me."
He glanced at the door between his office and Laura's before deciding against knocking and took a seat behind his desk. He put his feet up and tried to figure out why Laura was upset he had been there to pick her up. After a few minutes of getting nowhere further than her stubborn independent pride, he gave up. There was nothing he could do about that. He picked up the top envelope. Well, since he was here, he might as well see how to terminate the lease at the flat.
He slit open the envelope and dumped the papers onto the desk. A hand written note and a few photos fell out. Harry quickly swung his feet down and snatched up the note.
I had hoped that the photos of Alanis would have stirred something in you and encouraged your response. As that seems to not have been the case, I must now press you to contact me as soon as possible. Time is of the essence. Alanis is a wonderful daughter, helpful and not troublesome at all. She needs you, Mr. Steele. I am sorry to burden you but my situation is dire. Please come for her as soon as you can possibly arrange it.
Alanis. His daughter's name was Alanis. He picked up two of the photographs and stared at them. They did indeed share the same hair and eyes. He shuffled through a few other photos, his eyes burning with unshed tears.
Harry frantically searched the envelope for an address, postmark, anything that might provide a clue about where the envelope was sent from but there was nothing on the envelope except his name. His name written in a rather masculine scrawl not at all like the one from the note. He shook the envelope to make sure it was empty. One final picture fluttered to the desktop.
She was a vision in white lace and ruffles, there in the hands of the priest, Alanis at her christening her blue eyes sparkling. He let the tears fall. My sweet Alanis. We've missed so much.
Laura glanced at her watch again. She was tired, had a headache and was sunburnt. And she hadn't had an aspirin. She knew she was crabby. But she couldn't put it off much longer, she was going to have to go in and talk to Harry. It shouldn't be a big deal, just walk in, tell him her appointment with the doctor was at 1:30. Would he want to go with her? Insist on it? Not be interested? What did she want him to do? What did she want him to want to do? She was sure Frances knew what she wanted about Donald going to doctors visits with her.
She got up from her chair and wandered over to the picture of them that sat on the shelf. She reached up and touched the glass over his face. Why did everything about them have to be so confusing and overwhelming? Was it always going to be this hard for them? It bothered Laura that she still felt the need to hold a small part of herself apart from Harry. But she did it and she knew it and wasn't sure she truly wanted to change it. Why? Was is still the fear of being left? Would she ever be able to move past that? What was it about being pregnant that was intensifying her desire for distance? Shouldn't she want to feel closer, be closer?
Her stomach growled. Time's up, Laura. Food. She needed food. Now. She took a breath, straightened her shoulders, pasted on her happy face and knocked cheerfully on the door between their offices and breezed through.
"It's lunch time, Mr. Steele..."
Harry sat in his chair, photos littering the desktop, a smile and tears on his face. The envelope. How could she have forgotten the envelope she'd shoved at him before getting in the limo?
He reached a hand out to her.
"She has a name, Laura. My daughter's name is Alanis."
In spite of the tears, his eyes shone like Christmas lights. He pushed his chair back and pulled Laura onto his lap. He settled her against his chest, circling her with his arms. He picked up a photo and showed it to her.
"Alanis at her christening. Isn't she gorgeous."
His voice trembled just a little when he said her name.
Laura's throat was tight. He was clearly in love with the child. His daughter. Would he feel that way about their child?
Alanis was beautiful, she had Harry's eyes and Laura told him so.
He kissed her hair then showed her some of the other photographs. Alanis with a black and tan terrier. Alanis and a birthday cake. Alanis in a ruffled dress with frilly socks and Mary Jane's. Laura thought she made all the appropriate responses as Harry didn't seem disturbed.
"So where is she?"
The grin fell from his face.
"I don't know. It doesn't say."
He handed her the note.
"But I have to find her. Soon." His voice was desperate, his eyes determined.
Laura quickly read the letter and took note of the signature at the bottom.
"There's nothing in the photos I can see that helps, nothing written on the back of them. Nothing on the envelope. But I have to find her Laura, she needs me. My daughter needs me."
Laura's stomach rolled. His daughter needed him.
"Doesn't her mother's name tell you anything? Give you any clue? Anything at all to go on?"
Harry stared at the floor then shifted Laura from his lap and went to the window. He crossed one arm across his chest and rubbed his face with the other. He spoke with his back to her.
"No. No, Laura, it doesn't. Siobhan means nothing to me. Either she went by a different name or ..." he paused and then whispered, 'or I just don't remember her. I don't remember."
Laura needed to get out of there. She was feeling very queasy.
"I am meeting someone at 1:30, that doesn't leave me much time now. But perhaps we should start asking questions at the Rossmore. Someone there must know how these envelopes are arriving. I can't think of anywhere else to start."
"Right, that makes sense." He still faced away from her. "I just can't think straight..."
"I'll go there as soon as I'm done with my appointment."
"Why don't you check in with Mildred, first. I'll go there now so I might be done before you are."
"Are you going to tell Mildred?"
"Not why, no. I'll just keep her up on where I am so you will know."
Laura swallowed hard. "Okay. I need to go."
"Right. I'll see you later then."
She hesitated a moment but when he didn't move, she turned and walked out the door without looking back. After letting Mildred know she'd check in later in the afternoon, Laura took the elevator to the garage and climbed in the Rabbit. Lord knew Harry had no business driving himself anywhere at the moment.
Harry went down to the garage and wandered around for ten minutes unable to find the Rabbit. He was sure it wasn't where he left it Annoyed he stomped back up to the office.
"Mildred! Call Fred for me, will you and have him meet me out front, now. Then call the police and report the Rabbit stolen. I don't have time to bother with tracking it down myself."
He spun around on his heels and stormed out of the office. Really, didn't the LA underworld have something better to do today than mess with his car.
Fred was waiting out front with the door open when he walked out of the building.
"The Rossmore, Fred and take the long way."
Harry settled in the back of the limo his mind going a thousand directions at once. He needed time and space to get his wits about him.
"Which one, sir?"
By the marina, the docks, out by the loft, the racetrack, by the park...
"Damned if I know, Fred. Just pick one."
Siobhan. Harry repeated the name to himself over and over, like a mantra. Nothing. Nothing came to him. He ran a hand through his dark hair. He'd like to say he was sure he'd known her by another name. But he couldn't promise that, not if he was being honest with himself. At the time, it hadn't seemed like a big deal--not as long as she, whichever she happened to be a worthy acquisition, was willing. And if Alanis's mother wanted to be believed and found, why wouldn't she use the name he would have recognized? All of the lies, the deceptions, seemed to have caught up with him again. Now Alanis was going to suffer because of his past, just like Laura.
Where had she gone, anyway? He wondered what had come up that needed her attention. Actually, it was odd she hadn't mentioned it. They'd both had enough close calls in what seemed like unthreatening situations that they rarely handled anything without at least leaving a name or location. Well, she couldn't have gone too far from the office. Ten, maybe fifteen minutes away at most since Fred had already returned...God, he was good.
"Where did you take Ms. Holt?"
"To the Rossmore."
Hmm. That was odd. Hadn't she said she didn't have time before her appointment? He guessed he would ask her about it when he saw her in a few minutes.
"That's enough of a detour, Fred. On to the Rossmore, please."
He felt better knowing where Laura was. He'd feel even better once he knew where Alanis was. He picked up the envelope of photos and began to examine them one more time. He didn't have anything better to go on at this point.
"Good Afternoon, Mr. Steele."
"Good Afternoon, Eric."
Harry scanned the lobby but did not see Laura. She must have gone back up to the flat for something.
"Do you know anything about this envelope? Where it came from or who was here when it arrived?"
Eric look at the envelope. "Is that the same one Mrs. Steele was asking about earlier?"
"Yes. Yes I imagine it is."
"Like I told her, I wasn't on when it came in. Something special about that envelope, Mr. Steele? Is it part of a case?"
"Yes. In a manner of speaking. It is imperative that we speak with the person who handled this envelope as soon as possible."
Eric stood a little straighter.
"I'll check the schedule then and see what I can find out for you about who might have been here. Can you come back in about fifteen or twenty minutes? I don't know that I'll know who handled it but I can make a list of who was here the two days I was off, if you think that would help, Mr. Steele."
"Thank you , Eric. It would be a great help." He waved towards the elevator, "I'll go up for a bit then and check back with you in half an hour or so."
"Certainly, Sir. Happy to help."
Eric scurried off to the back and Harry headed up to the penthouse. That should give him time to find out what case Laura's appointment fit into.
"Hello." he called as he pushed the door open. "Laura?"
Umm. She wasn't answering. That was never a good sign. He stopped and looked carefully over the room, instantly more alert. He cleared the bedroom and bath next and finally the kitchen.
He went through them again looking for any signs of her or what might have happened to her.
No Laura. Who could tell in this half-packed flat if she'd been here in the last hour or the last week?
He was over-reacting. He must have just missed her somehow.
He picked up the phone and called the desk.
"Have you seen Mrs. Steele? We seem to have missed each other in passing...I see. But you haven't seen her since this morning."
Harry was getting very worried now. Fred had dropped her off but she hadn't stopped at or been seen by the desk staff and she wasn't in the flat. First the car and now Laura. Harry was not amused.
He punched numbers on the phone.
"Fred, meet me out front, now or sooner."
He had a bad feeling about this. Harry dropped the phone and sprinted for the elevator.
Laura saw the blue lights and checked her speedometer. Damn, Harry was going to kill her. She was almost there, too. She pulled into the parking lot of the doctor's office and parked the car. Harry was pretty nonchalant about tickets in the line of duty with a purpose but not so much otherwise. Perhaps the fact that their insurance agent had hinted at dropping their coverage had more to do with his testiness than some strong sense about operating within the law.
She reached over to the glove box and pulled out her registration and insurance.
"Freeze! Don't move unless I tell you to."
A glance in the rearview let her know that another squad car had pulled in and blocked the other driveway. So she'd been doing 45 in a 30. Last time she'd checked-- three weeks ago-- that hadn't been cause for drawing a gun. And she'd managed to get out of that one without Harry knowing or a ticket either. She grinned, just a little.
"I don't know what you are smiling at. Taking a joy ride in someone else's car isn't a funny, ma'am. Now keep your hands where I can see them and get out of the car real slowly."
He thought she'd stolen the car. Wonderful. Se slid over towards the door keeping her hands up by her head.
Laura saw a woman in scrubs come out of the door of the building then scurry back in. Great.
"That's it, nice and slow. Martin, cover me while I open the door for her."
This just kept getting better.
"I'm gggonna open the door now. But don't move until I tell you. You, you got it?"
She did as she was told, this kid was pretty nervous. She could hear it in his voice. Not good. If she wasn't careful, she'd end up shot before she could straighten it all out.
He opened the door and instructed her to step out of the car. After he'd frisked her, he read her her rights. Every time she tried to explain who she was, he just kept saying, "save it for the judge, dollface." If it wasn't happening to her, she wouldn't believe it.
Laura's patience was about at an end. There was now a line of people at the window of the waiting room in the doctor's office watching. About the only things this carnival zoo need to become a three ring circus was a reporter.
And right on cue as he cuffed her and hustled her into the squad car, a camera and microphone materialized from behind her.
Laura didn't know what was going on, but she knew this much, she would be looking for a different doctor. Once she got out of jail.
As soon as Fred pulled up, Harry yanked open the door.
"When you dropped Laura off, did you see her go inside, Fred?"
"Yes, Sir. I always wait until she's inside, just like you asked years ago. Unless she tells me different, of course."
"But this afternoon, you saw her go inside the building."
"No, Sir. Not this afternoon, this morning."
"Fred, did you or did you not see Laura go inside when you dropped her off this afternoon?"
"I didn't drop her off this afternoon."
"You didn't drop her off here this afternoon?"
"No, Sir. I didn't drop her off anywhere this afternoon."
Harry raised an eyebrow.
"You, didn't, drop her off, anywhere, this afternoon.?"
He rubbed his hand over his mouth as the obvious smacked him between the eyes. He'd been right about having a bad feeling about this. Wrong about why but right about bad.
He jumped in the limo and snatched up the phone, stabbing the numbers before his seat hit the cushions.
"Mildred, did you call the police...No, Mildred, I won't hold..." Or apparently he would.
He could feel the sweat starting to bead on his forehead. He crushed the phone between his ear and shoulder trying to reach his pocket square. The phone slid and he squished tighter. The sudden discordant blare of tones made him jump and he dropped the phone.
He blotted his forehead and grabbed the phone. Dial tone.
He dialed Mildred again.
"No, I won't hold! ...You were talking with the police... Laura's in jail."
He ran his hand down his face. Bad. This was very bad.
"I'm on it, Mildred. Fred and I are on our way."
It was probably best to face her at the station. Maybe she wouldn't kill him there.
Laura held up her hand as she walked out of the cell area and right past Harry. He hurried in front of her and opened the door to the limo before Fred had a chance.
"Do. not. talk. to. me. Not. one. single. word."
Laura punctuated each word with her index finger in his chest. Hard. He thought it best to comply.
After a few moments of stony silence Fred intruded.
Harry nodded and shrugged, indicating it was Laura's call.
"The Rossmore, Fred."
Laura crossed her arms across her chest and glared at Harry before turning to stare out the window. Again.
The words stuck in his throat not because he didn't mean them but because he meant them that much.
"It's not her fault. She needs you. I'll at least wait to kill you until we know Alanis is safe."
Harry laughed er coughed nervously.
"Thank you, again." I think.
They rode in silence a few more minutes before she wiped at her face, then turned back to him and spoke again.
"Dare I ask?"
She gave him a half smile but the tear tracks of mascara still smudged down her face made it clear she was not only angry but hurt. Damn. Damn. Damn.
Instinctively he reached for her and pulled her against him, kissing her hair.
"I am so sorry, Laura. I guess I'm just not thinking straight."
He relayed the whole series of misfortunate events that led to her arrest.
"I knew you didn't do it on purpose but it was so humiliating, Harry. Right there in front of the doctor's office. I will never be able to go back there again. I'll just have to find another doctor."
Harry felt his guilt fade. The doctor. She'd been to the doctor. Not just without him. But without even telling him.
The limo stopped and Fred came round and opened the door. They had arrived at the Rossmore.
As they stood waiting for Eric, Laura continued to berate herself for throwing the doctor's appointment out like that. The moment the words had left her mouth she'd wished them back. Well, they were out there now.
Harry stood stiffly next to her. The muscle in his jaw pulsed randomly where he clenched it so tightly. She reached over and set her hand on his arm. He twitched but otherwise didn't acknowledge her touch.
"Not now, Laura. Let's just focus on the task at hand, can we."
Laura jerked her hand away as if it had been slapped.
"Mrs. Steele, Mr. Steele." Eric appeared and handed Harry a piece of paper. "Here's that list of who worked while I was off. And," Eric waited until Harry looked up from the paper before continuing. "I have some good news..."
Finally. It was about time something went right today.
"and some bad news."
"Go ahead, Eric." Harry said impatiently.
"I think there are only two clerks who could have accepted the envelope. Michael, who should be here in the next half-hour or Raul, who left yesterday to visit his sick grandmother in Mexico City."
"Then I guess we hope that it was Michael. That would make things easier than tracking Raul down south of the border." Harry answered.
Well, easier wasn't the word of the day, was it? And it would have to be Mexico. Talk about bad things happening.
Laura steeled herself for the inevitable. Her money was on Raul, since the only way this day could get worse was if a trip to Mexico was in order. She hated to even say the word. She had less than no interest in ever setting foot in that country again. Good things did not happen for her, them, there.
She realized she hadn't caught what Harry had been saying when she felt his hand at the small of her back.
"...up to the penthouse and wait there for him to come in. Would you please call us when he is here?"
Ah the moment of truth arrives.
Laura felt as if she were being led to her mother's room for a 'talk.' Maybe Mexico didn't sound so bad, after all.
While she didn't go around seeking out confrontation, Laura didn't mind a good fight, now and again--not for a good cause and not when she had a defensible position. She knew this was not one of those times.
Harry opened the door to the flat and ushered her inside. He closed the door quietly, leaned back against it and glared at her. Laura sighed. Apparently, Harry was spoiling for a fight. Well, he'd have to start it himself. She didn't have the energy.
Harry opened his mouth, then closed it. He shoved off the door and strode across the room. He opened the cabinet he used as a bar and swore when he saw it was empty.
Laura tried to hide a smirk. Good. If she couldn't have one, neither should he.
He stuffed his hands in his pockets, cocked his head and uttered one word.
The one word she didn't have any kind of answer for that wouldn't hurt worse than no answer. Oh, Harry.
"It's hard to explain. I'm not sure I...Everything was so..."
Harry held up his hand. "Don't, Laura. Do not lie to me. Not about us. Not about this."
Laura crumbled at the look on his face. It was sort of sad but yet more, hurt but that wasn't all, either. She remembered the last time a pair of blue eyes had looked at her that way. It had been her father, when he'd caught her out with a boy he'd forbidden her to see, when she was supposed to have been at a sleepover with some girlfriends.
"I'm disappointed in you, Pixie. I thought you had more respect for both of us than that. I thought I had that from you, at least. Call me if you change your mind. I'll give you a ride."
He'd looked back over his shoulder twice as he'd walked away from her that night. She'd been too stubborn to call him. Probably too embarrassed, as well. But she'd broken off with the boy minutes later and made her way back to where she was supposed to be. Not that she'd ever told her father that. Funny, she couldn't even remember the boy's name...Six weeks later, her father had walked away from them all. She'd never understand...But maybe she did.
She pulled herself back to the present.
"I'm sorry, Harry. I'm sorry."
She held her hands out to him.
Harry wasn't sure what had happened but Laura had changed. Right there in front of his eyes. He could see it in hers.
After a moment's hesitation, he reached out and lightly took her hands in his.
"I should have told you. I meant to."
She took a deep breath, her brown eyes were mournful when she raised them to look at his.
"I walked into your office to tell you..."
"No, Harry." Laura interrupted. "That would be a lie, too. And you're right. I have more respect for both of us than to lie to you about us, about this."
She squeezed his hands then gently pulled her hands from his. She squared her shoulders. But her bottom lip quivered and she bit it for a few seconds before continuing.
"I didn't want to tell you. I knew I should but I didn't want to."
It felt like someone had just punched the wind out of him. Well, he'd wanted the truth. Before he got his breath back, she'd continued.
"I'm not sure how I feel about this whole thing, Harry."
The fear in her eyes haunted him. She was trying to play her role with bravado but there would be no Oscar for this one. She was doing it badly. And besides, he'd done that enough times to recognize it in her. Was she afraid of being pregnant, a parent, Alanis, his reaction to her confession? He wanted to ask but was afraid if he said anything she might shut down. And honestly, afraid he might not like the answers he got, either.
"What kind of mother has to be told by the father that she is pregnant? I'm a detective for God's sake. And a damn good one."
Really. She wasn't going with this where he thought, was she?
"I have a math degree from Stanford but I can't count my own calendar. You have to tell me we had unprotected sex while I was ovulating and that I was two weeks late. Two weeks!"
Laura was distraught.
Harry was trying not to laugh. He knew she was deadly serious. That somehow this had attacked her at her most vulnerable point, her own sense of competency.
"So what happens when we walk in the exam room and you have all the answers and all I have are a bunch of ridiculous questions I'm afraid to ask!"
He stood back and watched her, admired the passion she brought to everything she did. Even being self-critical. He let his eyes linger over her breasts, wondering if they were just the least little bit fuller. Then let them drift to her belly. Where their child grew, well protected by its mother, whether she believed it or not. That Laura hadn't thrown something at him yet for leering was further evidence of how disturbed she was by her ridiculous fear.
"What happens when everyone realizes that you know more about my body than I do?!"
Harry couldn't help himself any longer. He swept her into his arms.
"No one should be surprised by that at all, Laura. To you your body is a tool to accomplish whatever goals your brilliant mind has set for it. For me, it is the most priceless, beautiful work of art. I've spent the last six years in detailed and extensive study of everything about you, including your body. Why wouldn't I know it best?"
Before she had too much time to think about it, he covered her open mouth with his. She could burn some of her passion on their kiss.
Certain Laura was fully asleep, Harry slipped out from under her. He quickly unplugged the phone, then rummaged around quietly until he found a blanket still left in the bedroom closet. After enjoying one more look of her sleeping peacefully in front of the fireplace, he laid the soft fabric over Laura's bare body. She didn't move a muscle. He wasn't surprised. Growing a baby must be tiring work and today had taken the starch even out of him.
He started looking for paper and a pen to leave her a note, then decided he would just go on down to the desk. He slipped silently out the door. Based on the last few naps Laura had taken, she wasn't going to wake up anytime soon.
Eric was still at the desk when Harry walked up.
"Mr. Steele. Michael should be down any minute. Mrs. Gibbons was trying to carry her groceries by herself again. She wouldn't let Michael carry them but she did tell him he could go open the doors."
Harry laughed, "It's fine, Eric." Mrs. Gibbons was eighty if she was a day and he often thought that when she was younger, she must have been a lot like Laura. She was stubbornly, beautifully independent.
"Mr. Steele, this is Michael. I think he may be able to tell you what you want to know."
Harry shook the young man's hand and they walked over to group of chairs just beyond the desk area.
"So, Michael, Eric seems to think you might have been here when someone brought an envelope for me in the past few days. I'm sure a lot of things get dropped off here during your normal shifts. Do you remember anything about one addressed to me?"
"Actually, I do remember because the man, a priest, brought the envelope and asked if it could be delivered to you. I told him we could take care of it and he left. I laid the envelope down to answer the phone. Raul picked it up and went to put it away, only there wasn't a name or anything on it. He asked me about the envelope when I got off the phone. I wrote your name on it and handed it back to him."
A priest. And the handwriting was Michael's. It wasn't much but it was progress.
"Tell me about the priest. Did he give you his name?"
"No. He didn't say anything much except please, thank you and God Bless you child."
No name, damn.
"Well, what did he look like?"
"He had on a black robe and a white collar."
That was helpful.
"That makes sense. How old do you think he was? What color hair? Anything like that you remember?"
'He had a little bit of hair but not much. I'd say it was mostly gray." Michael screwed up his mouth while he thought a minute. "I'm not really good with ages. He was older I'd say, you know, late thirties to early sixties maybe."
"Have you seen him in here before?"
"No. I don't think so."
It appeared to be a waste of time to go much further. He had one more question, then he'd go back up to Laura and figure out what next.
"Was there anything about him that you do remember, anything about him that stood out?"
'No. I'm sorry. It was pretty busy that night."
"It's okay, Michael. And thank you. You've done your best. And what you told me was more than what I had before. I'll let you get back to work."
"You're welcome. I'll let Eric know if I think of anything else."
"That'd be great. Thanks again."
Harry shook his head and made his way back up to the flat annoyed with himself. He'd forgotten to ask Michael to contact them if he thought of anything else. He was going to have to step it up if they had any chance of finding Alanis.
Harry firmly closed the door to his office and locked it before kissing Laura.
"I'm as ready as I think I'll ever be. And I'm definitely more ready for this than another appointment. This is just between you and me. Don't you think that's how is should be?"
"I couldn't agree more. And we can wait until tonight at home if you want, you know."
Laura shook her head and held out her hand.
"Let's do this before i lose my nerve."
Harry reached inside his coat pocket and pulled out a small paper bag. He removed the box and placed it in Laura's outstretched hand. Then kissed her quickly again.
"No matter what happens, I love you, Laura Holt Steele."
"I love you too. Now wish me luck."
"Which would be what, Laura?"
Laura opened her mouth to say she wasn't sure but realized that she would be disappointed, very disappointed. She couldn't say it though. If she wasn't and she said it out loud... So she squeezed his arm and took dignified, measured steps to the bathroom.
She closed the door and leaned up against it. Her hands were shaking so badly she dropped the box, twice. Finally she pulled the instructions out. They had to wait how long!? She knew it was ridiculous but couldn't seem to help being annoyed at having to wait the extra minutes now when just hours ago she'd have happily waited days or maybe even weeks.
Then she struggled to get the pouch open before noticing the little dotted line that said cut here. She flung open the door and Harry fell through the door way.
"Well?! Are you?" he asked as he got his feet back under him.
Laura held up the pouch.
"Scissors. I need scissors."
Harry rummaged through his drawer frantically looking for scissors.
"Maybe your office?" He asked hopefully.
Laura shook her head.
"Mildred." they said in unison.
Harry shooed Laura back into the bathroom and went to borrow scissors.
After what seemed like an eternity, Harry knocked softly before opening the door.
"Scissors. Now what?"
Laura snipped the packet open, handed the scissors back to Harry and pointed to the door.
"Now you go return the scissors to Mildred and I..." she made a sweeping gesture with her hand, "follow the rest of the instructions."
She shoved him out the door and closed it again.
Laura stared at the stick as the first minute ticked by second by second. This was going to take forever. Maybe it was like a watched pot. She busied herself straightening the medicine cabinet and under the sink. One more minute.
Breathe, Laura. She started to look at the stick again. What if, maybe
Harry...No. She could do this. Then if she wasn't...well she'd have a minute to herself. She counted down with the second hand on her watch. Icy calm, Laura.
She glanced over. The answer was very clear.
Harry paced on the far side of the office. How long was five minutes anyway? He was sure it had taken him that long to casually return the scissors to Mildred and fend off her questions and updates without making her anymore suspicious about what was going on than she already was.
He still wondered if Laura hoped this test was positive or negative. She'd never answered him. And since he felt like she'd already more than met him half-way by taking the test today, he let it her have it her way. He knew what he hoped for...
The door opened and he let the thought fall off. He gave the next few moments his full focus and attention. The look on Laura's face was pure joy. Her eyes shone brightly. She didn't need to say the words. All of the nerves, the tension he'd been carrying dropped away and his heart soared.
Laura danced across the room and he caught her in his arms and waltzed a few steps with her.
"I take it you're happy with the answer you got?" he teased.
She wound her arms around his neck and pulled his head to hers for a kiss.
"Yes, you're happy or yes, yes?"
She shoved him playfully.
She study him for a moment. He could see the gears turning behind her sparkling eyes.
"How about you, Harry? Are you good with this? Is this the answer you were hoping for?"
"Better than the answer, I was hoping for, Laura. There couldn't have been a better one.
Laura was carrying his child. And she was as excited as when they pulled of a high stakes heist. He was the luckiest man on earth. He hugged her to him gently, trying to take care around her most sunburnt parts.
There was a knock at the door as Mildred opened it. He must have forgotten to lock it back when he returned the scissors.
"Boss, do you..." she stopped moving forward and raised an eyebrow at them. "Three hours ago, you," she pointed her steno pad at Laura, "were making your one phone call from jail and threatening him," she pointed to Steele, "with bodily harm for having you arrested for driving your own car. Now you're acting like lovesick honeymooners-- at the office. What gives?"
Harry looked at Laura. She'd been the one who wanted to keep their news just between them. The look she returned seemed indecisive but he was finding it mattered to him, now. For just a while, this was their secret and he really didn't want to share it. Not even with Mildred.
"Surely those books you're always reading talk about kiss and make-up being the best part of an argument, Mildred."
He waggled his eyebrows at Mildred and winked at Laura, just for a little extra insurance. And Mildred bought it. Yet again sticking closest to the truth paid off for him.
"Yes , well. I came in to ask if you needed anything else before I go, or if you're alright on your own. It's bowling night on Fridays, remember."
"Laura and I are just fine on our own, Mildred."
Mildred snorted. "I can see that."
Laura let go of the lapel on Harry's jacket long enough to give Mildred a quick wave.
"Have a good time, Mildred and tell the ladies hello."
"Will do." she started out the door, then winked and called back, "You two kids have a good weekend yourselves."
The instant the elevator door closed behind Mildred, they both burst out laughing.
Harry grabbed Laura by the waist and spun her in a circle then took her face in his hands and gave her a quick, hard kiss before returning to the chair behind his desk and the pile of paperwork Mildred had left for him. He picked up the top page and began scanning it.
Laura shook her head and smiled at the irony. How could he focus enough to work right now? She put her hand on her stomach and stared at it with awe. Their child was growing there, under her hand.
When she looked up, Harry was staring at her belly, too. Laura sighed. He'd been trying to work but apparently was no more able to do so than she. Their eyes met and she saw an uncertainty behind those blazing blue eyes.
"What is it Harry?"
He stood and came round from behind the desk to stand in front of her. Hesitantly he reached out his hand and glanced at her belly.
"Can I? I know I can't feel anything. But I want our baby to know from the very beginning that I am here."
Laura took his hand and placed it low under her shirt.
"Of course, Harry." her throat was tight and her voice husky.
Harry dropped to one knee in front of her.
"Hello, Baby Steele."
Laura could feel his breath through her blouse. His face was level with his hand, much the way he used to squat down to her eye level when Laurie Beth had been younger.
"I'm your father." He grinned up at Laura, who watched him with a bright smile and damp eyes, her hand at her mouth.
"You'll probably hear my voice often, so I wanted you to know when you hear it, that's your Da's voice and he loves you."
Laura tangled her fingers in Harry's thick, wavy hair. Tears streamed down her face. She was one blessed woman.
"Baby Steele is one fortunate child. You're going to be, no you already are a wonderful father."
She was sure that you could have lit all of Los Angeles county for a month from light that shone from Harry's face.
"Do you really think so?" He asked as he got to his feet.
"Absolutely. And I think now is the perfect time for that celebration you passed over this morning."
"I hope Baby Steele is as brilliant as it's mother."
He took her hand and pulled them out the door of his office, then the agency, shutting off lights and locking doors as they went. For once, Laura didn't leave the office on Friday night with a briefcase of paperwork. She didn't even look back.
Laura held the door for Harry as he carried in the bags from their shopping trip. He still didn't have the kitchen at the beach house fully stocked, so he'd needed to pick up a few essentials for their celebration tonight.
"Thank you, love. Now why don't you go put your feet up for a bit so you are well rested for our dinner."
"I'm not at all tired, Harry. I don't think I could rest."
"Then why don't you go play something for us." He did love to hear her play, loved to watch her play...and it kept her out of his kitchen.
She bussed his cheek. "I hope Baby Steele is as brilliant as ...it's... Boy or girl, Harry?"
Harry was taken back by his visceral response to her question. That he had a preference surprised him. That his preference was a boy stunned him. One day, he definitely wanted a daughter just exactly like her mother. But his gut reaction, his initial thought--he wanted a son first.
"Healthy and happy." he quipped, hoping she'd let him off easy.
One day, maybe he would talk about it with her. Maybe it would help him understand. But not today. It had been an incredibly long day, which started with Laura's bout with morning sickness and not so thrilled acceptance that she was most likely pregnant. Now that they knew for sure, she had changed her tune. So if she wanted to talk about the baby, he was happy to play along-- safely.
"What about you, Laura? Any motherly intuition about whether you are growing a son or a daughter?"
It was a subtle redirect but it accomplished his purpose. Laura leaned against the counter and let her hand rest on her belly, lines of concentration etched her forehead.
"I don't really have a sense yet, one way or another." She shrugged and pushed away from the counter, moving towards the piano. "Either way, I hope Baby Steele has your eyes."
Harry raised his eyebrow at her but smiled. This was a fight he was comfortable having.
"Oh no, Laura. Either way, Baby Steele should have your beautiful golden brown eyes."
"Well, I guess it is a good thing we don't get to choose. I'm not sure either of us would be willing to give in on this one," Laura laughed then settled herself at the piano bench.
Harry turned the oven on to preheat and began chopping vegetables for the salad. Laura played something light, bubbly and modern. It reminded him of her lilting laugh. Life was good.
Now if they could just find Alanis. How did one go about finding an anonymous priest in Los Angeles, anyway. He squeezed lemon over the tuna. Well, he was sure Laura would come up with an idea. He might be the man who loved impossible challenges, but Laura was the woman who conquered them. He placed the tuna in the oven and set the timer. Then he poured two glasses of sparkling juice in their best Waterford crystal and carried them over to the piano where Laura was playing.
When she reached the end of that piece, he offered her his hand and helped her from the bench, then handed her a flute of the bubbling juice.
"To Baby Steele and Baby Steele's mother." He touched his glass to hers before offering her a sip from his flute.
"To the Remington Harrison Steele family." Laura shared her flute with Harry.
Harry draped his arm over her shoulders and they watched the sun set over the Pacific.
As the colors faded, Harry kissed her hair. "I should go put the bread in. Play some Chopin for me?"
Harry watched the flush run up Laura's neck and across her face as she seated herself at the piano again. Chopin was an intimate language for them, mood music. She let her fingers run lightly over the cool keys without making a sound as she decided which piece to start with. Selection made, she closed her eyes and he watched for a moment more as the piano became an extension of Laura. He could almost see the music move from her mind, down her arms, through her hands and pass to the keys before crossing the soundboard and filling the room. Breathless, he silently turned and continued to the kitchen--where it was cooler.
He arranged the rolls on a pan and topped each one with a small pat of butter. Opening the oven, he slid the pan in on the rack over the tuna. A purring ball of sleek black fur materialized from nowhere and wound himself in and around Harry's feet.
"Maybe there will be leftovers, Nero. Maybe."
He was busy putting salads in bowls, working to the tempo of the music when suddenly the Chopin came to an abrupt stop. When it did not recommence momentarily, Harry left the salads to check on Laura.
The piano bench was empty.
"Laura?" He called, but heard her before her name was fully off his lips.
He quickly moved to the hall bath where Laura was kneeling miserably in the floor. He hated seeing her like this. Not because it made her less attractive to him but because he hated for her to suffer anything.
He handed her a cool rag.
"What can I do, love?"
"Get rid of the fish, Harry. I can't..." She was overtaken by another wave of nausea.
The fish. Oh God, Harry. How stupid. He smacked his forehead with his hand.
"Gone, Laura. It's gone." He called as he hurried to the kitchen.
He pulled the tuna out and headed out the door to the outside rubbish bin, Nero hot on his heels. Harry was reluctant to even take a bite himself lest the smell of it on his breath cause her harm. Nero looked on mournfully as he dumped the delicacy in the bin.
"Sorry, pet. If I can't, you can't. Besides, I won't risk Laura smelling it on your breath and getting sick either." They made their way back to the house and Harry held the door for Nero, who was still looking at him as if he had lost his mind.
"I know Nero, I hope this passes soon for all our sakes, but mostly Laura's. It will be a huge sacrifice to prepare and eat only bland, aroma-less, tasteless food, but more than worth it, even if it lasts the whole seven and a half months left."
He hoped Laura would feel the same, if it came to that. And he prayed it wouldn't.
Unfortunately, Saturday morning started out much the same for Laura as Friday had, in spite of the fact that Harry had brought her tea and toast before her head ever left the pillow. Son or daughter, Laura hoped that which ever Harry wanted was what he got this time because she wasn't sure she was interested in doing this again. Oh, sure, he'd blown over the whole question last night, and she was sure he would be more than pleased no matter which they had. But she'd seen something in his eyes for just a split second that made her certain he did have a preference.
On shaky legs she made her way to the living room then out onto the deck for some fresh sea air. That seemed to help as much as anything so far. She let her thoughts roll in and out like the waves. There was still so much to do with the house and the apartments. Her knowledge of pregnancies and babies was limited to what she had picked up from Frances, who had lived in Connecticut when each of her kids were born. Alanis ...and Siobhan were out there waiting for help--but didn't leave any way for Harry to contact them...
"A little better, love?" Harry asked as he gave her a gentle squeeze and kissed the top of her hair.
"Better than what, Harry? Food poisoning, maybe."
Laura knew she was not an easy person, ever, and when she didn't feel well, well it wasn't pretty. Maybe it was because she'd had so little practice. Between the nausea and the sunburn which was beginning to itch and peel she was as miserable as she had been since she'd had the chicken pox when she was six.
"Yes, well...at least we end up with a baby at the end of this."
Laura didn't really want to think about the end of this either. For someone who rarely worried about the possible dangers of her chosen profession, she seemed remarkably fixated on...Enough Laura. Get a hold of yourself. She needed to focus on something else, something she had some control over.
"Have you had any thoughts about how to find Alanis?"
"The only thing I know is to find the priest. But I haven't the slightest idea where to start. I assumed my brilliant associate would have come up with something." Harry looked at her hopefully.
"Your brilliant associate came up with the same thing she always does. Legwork, Harry. Legwork. And in this case a lot of it."
She tried not to laugh as Harry's face fell into a frown.
"So where does this legwork begin? Where do you look for a needle in a haystack? How many priests are there in Los Angeles anyway?"
Harry was clearly overwhelmed at the magnitude of this task.
"Siobhan is a mainly Irish name, right?"
"Yes. Almost exclusively Irish. But it doesn't help. I still don't remember her, Laura."
She reached out and placed her hand on his thigh to console him. She wasn't happy about it but what was past, was past. There was nothing to be done but move forward and do better. And he had.
"That wasn't where I was going, Harry. Besides, beating yourself up doesn't help us find Alanis. If Siobhan is Irish, then maybe we should start by looking in Irish Catholic parishes."
"God, I'm good, Laura."
She shook her head and laughed at the self-satisfied pose he struck.
"I dropped in to the best detective agency in the US, conned my way to the top, married the boss--who happens to be the most beautiful and brilliant woman in the world and I get to spend the rest of my life with her on my arm, being credited with all her brilliance."
Laura had never thought about it quite that way before.
God, he was good.
Harry could see Laura struggling not to yawn. Stubborn woman. He had been trying to get her to go back to the house and have a nap for the last hour.
"Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Father." Harry pulled a pen from his jacket pocket, jotted their home number down and handed him a card. "Please call us if you hear anything."
They walked back to the car. In a less than gentlemanly move that was uncharacteristic, Harry stepped in front of Laura and jumped the door on the driver's side of Rabbit.
"Sorry, love. I'm pulling rank. We're going home and you're going to take a rest. As much as I hate to admit it, another couple of hours isn't likely to make a dent in the list of possibilities. And wearing yourself out isn't going to help us find her any faster."
Laura vaulted the passenger door and glared at him, fastened her seatbelt then crossed her arms over her chest.
Harry bit back a smile. That was Laura's version of giving in gracefully.
By the time he made the second turn from the church, Laura was sound asleep. Rather than risk stopping and interrupting her nap, he headed out towards a an area where the traffic was usually light.
It was really the first time he'd had alone to reflect on the last few weeks. He glanced over at Laura and his heart swelled with love and pride. That lovely woman was his, was carrying their child. And for now, she seemed to have left behind some of her fear that he would leave her. He knew she had to be at least a bit upset about the situation with Alanis and certainly disappointed in him. He was. Yet she simply chose to keep calm and carry on. 'I've married a Londoner after all, Daniel, at least in spirit. And she's carrying my child, Daniel. It is so amazing to think our child is growing inside her.' Two children in two weeks. He couldn't wrap his mind around it. Maybe when he could wrap his arms around them, his mind would follow.
He was losing his calm where Alanis was concerned. It appeared that her and her mother's situation was dire. In what way, he didn't know. And he wasn't at all convinced that they would find her in time if their only strategy was to find and ask every priest in Los Angeles if they had been moonlighting as a postman. Laura had suggested that they contact the Diocese on Monday morning to see if they had any way to quickly contact all their priests. Until then, he didn't see any other options but Laura's. Perhaps he would light a candle for Alanis at the next church they visited. He wasn't beyond asking for help in this. It certainly seemed as though divine intervention was their best hope for finding Alanis and Siobhan in time. He wished he knew in time for what.
A discouraged Laura and Harry walked through the glass doors of Remington Steele Investigations. It was almost 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday and they were no closer to finding their priest--and Alanis, than they had been on Friday. Their meeting at the Diocese on Monday had not been the breakthrough they had hoped for. The staff had been more than cooperative but the only information they had been able to provide was a copy of the list of all the priests in the Diocese and their phone numbers--only a slight improvement over the phone book Laura and Harry had been using over the weekend.
Lunch had not gone well for Laura, either. Their food hadn't even made it to the table today before she'd had to excuse herself, quickly. Harry had argued for taking her home instead of the office but Laura had insisted. And rather than have her waste precious energy she didn't seem to have, he'd given in on the condition she rest when they arrived.
"Hi, Boss, Chief," Mildred chirped.
"Hello, Mildred," Harry responded before handing Laura the file on information on the priests. "Laura, why don't you go ahead and work on this while I catch up with Mildred." He pointed her towards his office and hoped she'd be asleep on the couch before he got done with Mildred.
Laura raised the file to him and padded through the door to his office. He quickly caught Mildred's attention, draped his arm over her shoulder and turned her back to her desk.
"So how are things coming on that Eberhardt skip-trace, Mildred?"
Harry didn't know how much longer they could keep Mildred in the dark about Laura's condition or about Alanis. Mildred was a pretty sharp and Harry was sure she had suspicions that there were things going on she wasn't being briefed on but so far she hadn't been pushing for information. He heard Mildred pause in her soliloquy and made the appropriate nod of his head.
"And what about Match-Tek? Were you able to get them on my calendar for Thursday morning."
Mildred tapped her pen on her steno pad. "I had to do some pretty fancy talking, Boss. Laura has been doing their annual security audit for the past five years. While they insisted it was nothing personal, they made it known that they would prefer 'Miss Holt' to continue that tradition since she already knows their facility."
Match-Tek was a chemical company that handled lighter fluid, butane refills and other highly toxic substances. There was no way Laura was going in there this year, not even over his dead body. He'd enlist Mildred, Donald, Frances and even Abigail if he had to.
"But you did get it changed and they know they are to expect me, now?"
"They know. They're not happy about it but they know."
The look mildred gave him let him know just how unhappy they were. Well, at least they knew. He hadn't decided exactly when or how to break the news to Laura. She didn't know. And she was probably not going to be happy, either.
"What else have you got for us, Mildred?"
She updated him on a few other current and potential cases.
"Good work, Mildred. I'll go check on Laura. Er how Laura's doing," he pointed at his office door, when what he wanted to do was smack himself in the head. "See how she is doing with that priest we need to locate."
Mildred didn't seem to notice his almost gaffe. That put his antennae up.
"Is there something else, Mildred?"
"Remember, I'm just the messenger, okay."
Harry nodded. This didn't sound good.
"Done, Mildred. Now what is the message?"
"Donald called. It seems Mrs. Steele's mother came out for an unannounced visit yesterday. She decided to surprise you last night, only when she arrived at the loft and no one answered, she tried the Rossmore--where she was informed that Mrs. Steele had moved out. And they were not authorized to share information beyond that with anyone she hadn't approved."
"Bloody hell!" He drug a hand through his hair. Just what they did not need right now, Laura especially, was any visit from Abigail. Visits from Abigail, even somewhat welcomed, planned ones, always registered on the Richter scale. This one was already in the 5 range and Laura hadn't even spoken to her mother yet. It had the possibility of being the big one that caused near catastrophic damage.
"I'll call Donald immediately, Mildred. Please, tell me that is all."
Harry didn't think he could take anything else.
"Nothing else earth shattering. Eric called from the Rossmore and asked you to return his call as soon as possible. My guess is he wanted to give you a heads up about Abigail."
Harry supposed that was possible but it was also possible that Eric had called regarding an entirely different family matter. If he was right, then Mildred was dead wrong. The earth could shift under them after he spoke with Eric, also.
Harry was already at his office door before he got the words out of his tight throat.
"I'll take care of that, too, Mildred. Thank you."
He didn't ask if she had anymore messages, if she did, he didn't want to hear them right now. He already had more than he knew how to handle--and than he knew how to share with Laura.
Harry closed the door quietly behind him, hoping not to wake Laura. At least not yet. His tie felt like a noose being tightened around his neck. He reached up to loosen it, then tore the whole bloody thing off and threw it to the floor. He reached for the phone on his desk, then saw Laura dozing on the couch. Gently he returned the handset to the cradle and slipped quietly through the connecting door to Laura's office.
He made himself at home in her chair and propped his feet up on the desk, crossing them at the ankle. He picked up the phone and dialed the Rossmore. Might as well start with Eric, first and see why he had called. He already knew more about the situation with Abigail than he wished to. Besides, he would be in a better position to plot with Donald once he knew where things stood with Eric.
"Good Afternoon, Eric. Mildred said you asked for a call." Harry got straight to the point once Eric was on the line. "Was it in regards to my mother-in-law or the priest?"
"I see." Harry could feel the pounding of his heart in his chest. His hand shook a little as he pulled a pencil and pad from Laura's tidy desk drawer. "Father Patrick Flanagan." Harry carefully copied the phone number as Eric read it to him, then called the numbers back to Eric, just to be certain he had written them correctly. "Thank you again, Eric, for your help with this. I appreciate it more than you know."
Harry disconnected the call with his finger on the cradle, and held the receiver loosely in his other hand. The priest had come by with another envelope, a letter sized one this time, according to Eric. When Eric asked for his contact information, the priest had left his name and number but taken the envelope. Harry took a big breath and started dialing the number. He almost hung up, deciding that he wanted, needed Laura with him when got the answers he was looking for. Just as he pulled the handset from his ear, a loud, cheerful voice with an Irish brogue called out ''ullo'.
"Um, yes. I am looking for Father Flanagan." Harry's hand trembled even more than his voice. It was a wonder he could hold onto the receiver. "This is Har...Remington Steele. I believe you have been acting as a courier for someone who is looking for me."
After several minutes of vetting and explaining by both himself and the priest, a half hour meeting had been arranged for a 3:30 p.m. at the church where Father Flanagan served. They'd found their priest, or rather he'd found them. Now all Harry had to do was wake Laura, rock her world, call Donald, deal with Abigail and weave his way through Los Angeles afternoon traffic. In less than an hour, he'd learn where to find his daughter. Icy calm, Harry. With slightly damp palms and a great deal of nerves, Harry turned the knob on the door between his and Laura's office.
Laura heard her name through the fog of a deep sleep but couldn't manage to push her way through it. She quickly gave up the struggle. It was just too much effort. Harry could deal with whatever it was. Who ever was calling her didn't seem to be getting the message.
"Harry! Ask Harry!" She ordered and turned away from the sound.
Suddenly her mouth was covered. She pushed hard at the thing over her but to no success. The grip on her loosened and soothed her arms but kept her mouth covered. She opened her lips to protest only to find her mouth filled with...She sighed. ...the taste of Harry. Relaxing, she wound her arms around his neck and kissed him back, sharing with him as he shared with her. Slowly, his lips moved from hers, quickly replaced by his fingers.
"Shh. Laura. You don't want to have Mildred come running in here to see what all the fuss is about, do you?"
Laura pushed up to a sitting position, then wished she hadn't. She shoved Harry out of her way and bolted past him. Not again. Not already, she thought as her body tried to empty her already emptied stomach. Wasn't morning sickness supposed to happen in the morning?
Fortunately this round was less intense than the one at lunch, but Laura hadn't really kept anything down since some time yesterday. She worked to stand up then swayed when she was finally upright. She felt Harry behind her and he pulled her close and helped her back to the couch.
"Laura, this isn't good, love. I don't think you can go on like this much longer."
Laura agreed but had no idea what to do about it.
"Do you think I would be doing this if I had a choice, Harry?" she snapped.
"I didn't mean it that way, Laura. It's hard for me to see you like this. Not as hard as it is to be like that, I'm sure, but difficult nonetheless. And it is starting to concern me."
He was worried. She could see that in his eyes.
The dizziness had passed and she was starting to feel more solid and less shaky. Her head was clearing, too.
"What is going on, Harry? Why did you wake me?"
Laura knew that look. Whatever he had to tell her, he knew she wouldn't want to hear it.
"I found our priest, or rather he found Eric. Father Flanagan is squeezing us in at 3:30 at his church."
"That's wonderful, Harry!" Laura reached out and squeezed his arm. "What are we waiting for? Let's go."
Harry set his hand on her thigh.
"Not so fast, Laura. There's one other thing that happened that you should know about."
"Which is what, Harry?"
"Your mother is in town."
"Oh, Harry. Tell me you're kidding."
"Oh, no, Laura. I'm not kidding. But wait, it gets better."
How much worse could it get, she wondered as he hesitated.
"As I understand it, she ended up at the Rossmore looking for you last night."
"And apparently she is beside herself that you moved without telling her and left no forwarding address for her unexpected visit."
"I can't deal with Mother right now, Harry. I don't care how you do it, just take care of it."
Laura had a difficult time dealing with her mother under the best of circumstances, which these were not.
"After we go see Father Flanagan about Alanis, do whatever you have to do with my mother except tell her about..." Laura set her hand on her abdomen and glanced down at it. How was it she was thirty-one years old, self-supporting and married and she still felt embarrassed to even think about talking to her mother about being pregnant. It was ridiculous. But it was.
"I won't say a word about Baby Steele, Laura. You have my word. But you're going to have to see her and I think it will be hard to hide based on how the last few days have gone."
Laura slowly got to her feet. At least for the moment, she seemed to be alright.
"Let's go see your priest. That's our first priority. You can deal with Mother when we are done with Father Flanagan."
Laura took the arm Harry offered and they strolled arm in arm from his office.
"I think we may have found our priest, Mildred." Harry explained as they passed by her desk on their way out the door. "I doubt we'll be back in tonight by the time we are done there since Laura's mother is in town. If Donald or Frances calls, let them know we are at a critical point in an investigation and I will be in contact as soon as I am able."
Harry patted Laura's arm and waved at Mildred as they left the agency.
"Have a seat." Father Flanagan showed them to a small couch in his office. "I'm sorry to have to be so abrupt but I have some counseling sessions this evening and then I am leaving for a two-week retreat."
They sat and Harry took Laura's hand and held on tightly.
"We understand. Thank you for making time to see us before you leave."
"Yes, well, time is of the essence. I received a call yesterday from my friend. I am afraid I have bad news. Siobhan has taken a turn for the worse." Father Flanagan rested his forearms on his knees and clasped his hands together. He looked at the floor for a moment, then looked directly at Harry, his face filled with compassion. "They don't expect her to last the week, lad. I'm sorry."
Harry felt the words like a blow to his gut. It mattered little that he had no memory of the time he had spent with Siobhan. He must have cared for her at least a little once--and she was the mother of his child, that meant something to him.
"Where is she?" Harry asked quietly.
"In the hospital in Mayo."
"The Mayo Clinic?" Laura asked.
"Nae, lass. Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar, Ireland."
"And your friend, then. How do we contact him?" Harry asked.
Father Flanagan pulled a folded sheet of paper from his desk and handed it to Harry.
"I've included the address and phone numbers for both the church and the rectory. If Father O'Reilly isn't in, someone will be able to get a message to him."
Father Flanagan stood. "I wish I had better news for you. Michael, Father O' Reilly, only told me enough to put you in contact with him. We take our responsibility to confidentiality very seriously, you know."
Harry stood and helped Laura to her feet.
"Yes, it is important to maintain confidentiality in our profession, as well. Thank you again for your help and your time." Harry shook hands with Father Flanagan then he and Laura made their way back to the car.
It looked like he would be making an emergency trip to Ireland as soon as possible. It wasn't a good time. Laura's face was still pale, reminding him of how difficult pregnancy had been on her so far. He wasn't sure if it was better to take her with him, knowing how miserable she would be but what a comfort to him, or leave her here, sick and unwilling to ask for help from anyone else. And then there was Abigail. He wasn't sure Laura would ever forgive him if he left her in Abigail's clutches--not that he would do that to her. It appeared they were both off to Ireland, then.
Laura stood on the deck, cautiously nibbling on a slice of apple and trying to sort through the events of the afternoon. Harry had been loving but quiet on the way home from their visit with Father Flanagan. For most of the ride he'd kept a hand on hers and she'd heard him sigh more than once. She guessed he was trying to process it all as well. It had to be difficult to find out the mother of your child was dying, no matter what the current status of their relationship was or wasn't.
She was adding to list she had started of things that needed to be handled before they could leave for Ireland when Harry walked out and joined her.
"I take it you were able to speak with Father O'Reilly?"
He stood at the railing, tapping his fingers together and stared aimlessly out over the water.
"Siobhan has an infection in her heart. They've tried everything but she's just gradually gotten worse over the last few weeks. Her last chance is a heart transplant but unless one comes along in the next few days, it will be too late."
He turned to lean back against the railing and looked at Laura, grief and uncertainty in his usually twinkling blue eyes.
"She'd made arrangements to have Alanis placed in my care if she became unable to care for her. That time has come. Father O'Reilly and the doctors believe we'll be bringing Alanis home with us permanently."
Laura stood next to Harry and squeezed his arm before taking his hand.
"How awful, for both of them. But we'll take good care of Alanis, Harry. Maybe that will be of some comfort to Siobhan, at least, knowing her child will be loved and safe."
"I hope so, Laura. And I hope she understands when Father O'Reilly tells her when he gets back to her tonight."
He pause and looked at the decking beneath his feet. Trying to gather his composure, Laura suspected.
"She stopped responding at all, yesterday. It's why Father O'Reilly sent Father Flanagan to finds us and put us in contact with him. They'd all thought she had more time, at least a few more weeks, maybe a couple of months...had hopes she could hold out for a transplant...that Alanis would only be visiting us for a few months when she sent the first letter."
Some of it was starting to make sense now to Laura.
"So the first letters and pictures were really about breaking the ice and making introductions, easing her way into it, do you think? You were a contingency plan, maybe?"
"Possibly, yes, as unflattering as being a contingency sounds." He gave her a small wry smile. "And speaking of plans, we need to get ours made. Why don't you call and get flights lined up for us for first thing tomorrow."
Laura tapped her legal pad. "I can make reservations but I'm not sure we can be ready to go first thing in the morning. There are too many details to take care of before we go."
'To hell with the details, Laura! My daughter needs me. That's the only detail I care about."
"How did you ever manage steal all those priceless jewels and old masters, Harry? I'd have thought it required meticulous planning to carry out those kinds of heists." Laura knew he was worried about Alanis. So was she. But she was also tired, moody and starving. "That kind of attitude is exactly how you ended up in the situation you're in with the INS. Do you want that for Alanis, too? Is this your idea of like father, like daughter? I don't think pleading ignorance about immigration laws will fly far this time!" Her voice had risen to the point where she was shouting. "Normal people don't just run down to the local forger and get a new identity after they've reached a crisis!"
"Well, then I guess we both fail at normal, Laura." Harry shot back and then pushed away from the rail and paced. 'So what do you suggest, since you obviously have it all figured out already?!"
Laura stepped back and crossed her arms over her chest. That barb about failing at normal had hit it's mark. It was the forged passport she had acquired that had put him on the INS's radar in the first place.
"Touche, Harry." Although he'd have been stranded in England permanently if someone hadn't done something since he'd already painted himself into a corner. 'Irrelevant at this point, Laura. Move on.'
"But since you have an INS attorney on retainer, perhaps a call to her would be a good start."
Harry stopped and stuck his hands in his pockets. He looked abashed and his voice was quiet. "That would be a good idea, eh. I'll go call her while you finish your list."
Shoulders slumped, Harry shuffled back in the house.
He'd already almost failed at protecting Alanis and she wasn't even here yet. What would have happened if Laura hadn't been there to make sure he got it all right? Harry glanced at his watch. Five minutes to five. He hurriedly pulled Ms. Phillips card from his wallet and dialed her office. A machine answered. Damn.
"Ah, yes, this is Remington Steele. I have an emergency I need assistance with as soon as possible. I have been named guardian of a Irish girl by her mother, who is very ill. I need to know what I must do before we leave for Ireland, while we are there and when we return to make sure her immigration status is not compromised. We are planning to fly out tomorrow." Harry added their phone number and hung up.
Laura walked up behind him, slipped her arms around his waist and rested her cheek on his back.
"I'm sorry, Harry."
Harry turned and took her in his arms, kissed the top of her head.
"Me, too, love. I'm just glad you were thinking clearly. How much trouble would I have gotten her into if you hadn't been here to stop me?"
The phone rang and Harry grabbed it, hoping it would be Ms. Phillips, afraid it might be Father O'Reilly.
"Steele here... Yes, Ms. Phillips...I cannot leave the country under any circumstances without approval from the State Department or Attorney General. But I have to go...No, I don't want to relinquish my claim to permanent resident status...Contact information for the attorney or agency in Ireland...Tomorrow morning at 7:30 at your office."
Harry was trying not to panic. He looked back at Laura who nodded acceptance of the appointment time.
"Right. That will be fine, then...I understand, you don't make the laws...Yes. We'll see in you in the morning. Thank you for accommodating us on such short notice...Good Night."
HIs close call had just become a near death experience. His heart was racing.
"I can't go, Laura. If I go, I can't return to the US. I will lose my temporary status and my ability to file for permanent status or become a citizen."
His hands were shaking as he pulled her into his arms. He'd almost done the irredeemable. Almost cost her the agency. Or their marriage. Or both.
Laura looked up at him, love shining in her beautiful brown eyes.
"It's okay, Harry. I can still go. I'll bring your baby home."
She raised up on her toes and kissed him on the mouth. When she pulled back she was smiling and his heart was racing for an entirely different reason. Her lilting laugh further stirred his blood, among other things.
She thumped him in the chest with her legal pad.
"You can take care of the office, my list and my mother."
He watched her sashay from the room, his mouth hanging open, her legal pad
clutched to his chest. She was definitely something, his Laura...
Once he found his voice and his feet, he followed after her and called out "About Abigail, Laura..."
"Courage, Laura." Harry whispered in her ear then kissed her hair before he rang the bell at her sister's house. "We'll say hello, have a quick visit and be on our way home. I'll do my best to occupy Abigail."
Laura didn't have a chance to respond before the door opened and Donald ushered them inside.
"Good to see you, Donald." Harry reached out and shook hands with his brother-in-law.
Laura smelled the coffee Frances and Abigail were drinking before she even entered the family room. Harry took her hand in his and gave it a squeeze before walking over and kissing Laura's mother on both cheeks. Laura stood in the doorway and watched with pleasure as he worked the room. He was a sight to watch when he was working a con, all charm and wit. Her mother blushed just a bit and laughed at whatever he said.
"Come on in and join us, Laura." Frances urged.
Harry met her Laura part way and slipped his arm around her waist.
"Like I told Donald on the phone, we can only stay a few minutes. We're at a critical point..."
Abigail nodded as if she understood what he was talking about.
"But we do have some news to share."
She was going to kill him. Slowly. And with great pleasure in the task. Harry gave her his 'trust me, I know what I'm doing' look. Laura hoped so but rather thought there might be two more fatherless children in the world tomorrow if he announced her condition.
"We had hoped to wait until we were all moved in and ready to show it off..."
Laura's shoulders relaxed. He would live to die another day. He was talking about the house.
"...have a big open house when we were done. Laura and I have decided to let go of the loft and the penthouse and have moved into a house overlooking the beach. If all goes well, we will exercise our option to purchase it in a year."
"A house overlooking the beach. Oh, Remington, isn't that outrageously expensive? " She turned to Laura, "You know I had my doubts about you and this private investigator business. But you made that work for you, marrying the boss." She kissed Laura's cheek. "Now you go to all of these exclusive parties, wear these fabulous clothes and have a house on the beach. I hope you appreciate all the opportunities your wonderful husband provides for you, dear."
Laura thought she might vomit, and she didn't think it had anything to do with being pregnant.
"Now, Abigail," Harry interceded, "I couldn't have done any of it without Laura. Before she came along, a life like this wasn't even a dream for me." He looked into her eyes and Laura could see he was sincere, this was not part of his con. "I may get all the credit but it is Laura's work ethic and brilliance that solves almost every one of our cases. Everything I have, everything I am, I owe to her."
Abigail patted his cheek. "And modest, too. He's such a wonderful husband, Laura. You should be very grateful."
"We really have to go now. We still have work to finish tonight and our day starts very early tomorrow." He turned to Abigail. "I'm sorry we won't be available much in the next few weeks but maybe the next time you come out, we'll have enough time to make changes to our schedule before you arrive."
Laura wanted to laugh but doubted that her mother understood she'd just been chastised. From the glint in Donald's eyes, he didn't miss it.
After hugging and kissing Harry good bye, Abigail hugged Laura and kissed her as well. Laura felt her stomach roil at the smell of coffee on Abigail's breath. Harry must have picked up on her silent pleading as he quickly wrapped up the goodbyes and got her out the door.
They made it two streets down before Laura gagged.
"Pull over Harry."
To his credit he didn't ask questions or hesitate. He whipped the Rabbit to the side of the road. Laura had just enough time to open the door and step out.
"Laura, love, come sit with me."
"I just want to go to bed, Harry."
"We have to talk, Laura. I'd rather do that here."
"That sounds ominous."
She came to him and he pulled her in his lap and helped her get settled with her feet up.
"I love you."
"I love you too, Harry."
"I know you do, Laura. You showed it again tonight, offering to go and bring Alanis home. It's amazing, really. You're amazing."
He kissed her softly.
She looked at him completely without guile. "What is so amazing about it, Harry? Your daughter needs you and you can't be there right now. I can."
"Doesn't it bother you, Laura, that I have a child with someone else? You had no idea when you agreed to marry me that Alanis would be part of the package."
To his surprise, she laughed.
"Harry, you didn't exactly give me time to think about what the package was when got married."
Harry cringed. What he wouldn't give to be able to do that over again.
"This is not a child you fathered with another woman while we were married or even..." she waved a hand in the air "...whatever we were before. This happened before you ever conned your way into my life, Harry. How do I hold that against you? It's not like you kept it from me. I knew before you did."
"Be that as it may, can you honestly tell me that nothing about this bothers you? Forgive me but it sounds just a bit too good to be true."
Now that they'd started down this road, he needed to know what she really felt.
"It scares me, Harry. It scares me to death. I've never been a mother before. It was one thing to think about having her for a month during the summer, holidays, weekends. Now we're talking about being full-time parents."
She paused but he sensed she wasn't finished but rather gathering courage to say something she was uncomfortable with.
"I'm nervous about being a mother to our baby, too. Alanis has a mother. She has something to compare me to."
Her voice was quiet, her big brown eyes filled with vulnerability. The depth of his admiration for her increased exponentially.
"Laura, you are one-of-a kind. You'll be a wonderful mother. You won't do things the same as Siobhan or Frances or anyone else, but you'll be wonderful in your own way. You'll raise strong, capable daughters and sons who respect women for their strength and intelligence. Exactly the kind of children I'd be proud to call mine." He leaned down and kissed her mouth. "I love that you're willing but I won't ask you to go..."
"You didn't ask, Harry. I offered."
Harry knew he needed to tread very carefully. Laura's jaw had already tightened.
"Yes, you're right."
The charm he used with Abigail didn't work with Laura. He knew better than to try that route. But he couldn't let her go as long as she continued to be sick half the day and unable to keep anything down the other half. If something happened to her... He didn't let himself finish the thought but it was enough to steel him for the battle ahead.
"If I were going, I'd want you, need you with me..."
Laura shifted to sit up straighter. She was on to him.
"I'm already concerned for your health, Laura. Is it really normal to be so sick when you're pregnant? What if it gets worse while your gone? What if you pass out again and hurt yourself? I can't get to you. I can't help you. How can I let you go alone?"
She opened her mouth but he placed his fingers gently over her lips.
"Having someone be concerned about you is part of the price of being loved, Laura."
"So be concerned. I'll be careful. One of us has to go, Harry."
Laura laid a hand on his chest.
"I just keep seeing her in my mind. Sitting alone, waiting for her mother to die, not really even understanding what that means, having no idea what will happen to her, wondering why everyone leaves her, wondering if she could have done something..."
Harry pulled Laura against him and rocked her gently. She'd bonded with his daughter through the broken places of her own heart without having ever met Alanis. No matter what he did, it would never be enough to have deserved the love of the woman in his arms.
He looked down to discover he'd rocked her right to sleep. Carefully, he got to his feet and carried her to bed. Hopefully, Ms. Phillips would have better news for them tomorrow. There had to be some way to do things that worked out for both Laura and Alanis, didn't there?
"Mr. and Mrs. Steele, come on back to my office. I've already been in touch with your contact in Ireland."
Laura sat beside Harry on the sofa and waited for Ms. Phillips to share her information.
"Adoptions in general are lengthy, bureaucratic processes which require a great deal of attention to detail and a great deal of patience. But I believe based on what I have been told that Ireland is willing to release her to your care and you would be free to leave the country with her fairly quickly..."
That sounded promising, Laura thought.
"possibly within four weeks."
Apparently, lawyers had different ideas about quickly than investigators. It was much longer than the week or so Laura had hoped for but it did not weaken her resolve.
"As for Mr. Steele being granted permission to travel outside the country, that seems less promising."
Laura felt Harry tense beside her and his grip on her hand tightened.
"I have no reason to believe that your case would be resolved before your petition is processed and your status changed to permanent resident alien."
"Damn." Harry let go of Laura's hand and ran it through his hair. "So how am I supposed to bring her home?"
"Your best option would be to send your wife. We can work out the legal details to have her act on your behalf through a power of attorney and some additional forms. Some of the challenges will change based on whether or not the minor is already in possession of a passport and birth certificate or if we will need to acquire all the identification documentation from zero."
Harry leaned towards Ms. Phillips, his voice cool and firm. "That is not an option."
Ms. Phillips looked from Harry to Laura and back again. "Well, it might be possible to send someone else but I it will make things more complicated. Ireland places a high value on family, not sending a family member might reflect badly on your petition. We can explain the extenuating circumstances of your legal status here, Mr. Steele but we would also need to provide an explanation as to why your wife is unable to act in your stead."
That clinched it for Laura. Her plans for the morning would go ahead. Now to figure out how to lose her shadow long enough to put it in to action.
Harry stood and offered his hand to Ms. Phillips.
"Thank you for your time and the information. Please follow up as soon as possible on what would be required to send someone besides my wife or myself to bring Alanis home. We'll be waiting anxiously for your call."
Ms. Phillips shook his hand then Laura's.
"I'm sorry I don't have better news for you but rest assured I will work diligently to explore other options. I just can't promise that any of them will be viable in practice."
Laura's blood boiled at the way Harry had ignored her presence. She knew why he was doing it, knew he was trying to cut her out of the decision making process because he was concerned for her and wanted to protect her, to act in her best interest and put her needs above his own. But it still infuriated her. And the need to put the other before self was mutual in this case. And the only way she knew to do that was to take him out of the decision making loop as well. Her anger deflated as she quickly realized this was a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
God was Harry going to be furious with her...
"Thanks, Fred. Give me about 15 minutes."
Laura walked calmly into the house, closed the door behind her then frantically rushed to the bedroom and pulled her suitcase from the closet. She opened it on the bed and rapidly packed her usual necessities, two professional outfits and four more casual ones. Exercise clothes and running shoes completed her ensemble.
In the living room, she carefully gathered two pictures of Harry and one of the two of them Donald had taken at Christmas. It was obvious the were missing but there was no reason to cover her tracks. As soon as Harry realized Fred had returned without her, he would know exactly what she'd done. She carried the photographs to the suitcase and arranged them among the clothes for safe keeping.
Her hand shook slightly as she dialed the phone but her voice was firm and full of conviction when she spoke to the agent.
"Please book me one seat on the 11:00 a.m. flight today to Dublin."
Task completed, she carried the suitcase to the limo and had Fred load it in the seat beside her.
"The airport, Mrs. Steele?"
Laura nodded and Fred closed the door.
When they arrived at the airport, Laura directed Fred to follow the signs for international flights. He pulled up at the correct curb, opened the door and handed her the suitcase.
"Thank you, Fred. Tell Mr. Steele not to worry. I'll call him when I arrive at Ashford Castle."
At the ticket counter, she picked up her ticket, checked her bag and then made her way down the concourse. As she neared her gate, she stopped at a pay phone and placed her first call.
"Yes, this is Laura Steele..." After exchanging warm greetings, Laura explained her business. "I will be arriving tomorrow. Can you arrange someone to meet me at the station and also air out our room...No, his Lordship is not coming this trip...She gave the pertinent travel information. "Yes, see you tomorrow."
She checked her watch and made her second call. She reached an answering machine.
"Father O'Reilly, this is Laura Steele. I am on my way and expect to arrive sometime tomorrow. You can reach me at Ashford Castle. I'd like to see you and meet Alanis as soon as possible after I arrive."
She finished the call then checked her watch. Still too early to make her final call--the one to Harry. Since Harry couldn't leave the country to come after her, once the plane was in the air, she'd be in the clear. But she couldn't take a chance and tip him off too soon.
She sat down in a near by seat to wait and a few minutes later a young woman with a toddler sat down behind her. Laura heard her unwrap the sandwich just before she smelled it. Why did it have to be tuna fish? She stood up and moved away but to no avail. He stomach churned and she raced for the ladies' room.
Ashen faced and still a little shaky, Laura made her way to her gate as quickly as she could. She had to make it. She handed her boarding pass to the agent just as they were starting to close the door. They hurried her aboard and to her seat. By the time she'd fastened her seatbelt, the plane pushed back from the jetway.
As she watched Los Angeles fade below her, she regretted she'd been unable to place her call to Harry and was glad she had thought to leave a message with Fred. Harry was going to be furious, either way. Maybe by the time she returned with Alanis, he would have recognized that the same love that caused him to be concerned about her, caused her to need to do this for him. And for Alanis. Maybe by then he would have forgiven her. Maybe.
Harry lowered the paper he had been pretending to read. It's edges wadded and twisted where he had strangled it rather than Laura's lovely neck. It was a clear sign of how distracted Laura was that she hadn't noticed she had been followed. That she was so much less observant than usual was not reassuring to him since she was traveling alone. It made her an easy target for pickpockets and other unsavory types.
It had been a very simple but exquisite tail. Of course, Harry hadn't needed to follow closely. He'd had a fair idea about what she was up to and where she was going. Following her and the limo had been easy, fortunately, because deciding what to do--or not do-- in response was so complicated he'd have had a difficult time keeping up if she'd been truly been trying to elude him.
He'd not slept well the previous night and had chalked it up to the pending meeting with Ms. Phillips and knowing that he would need to continue running interference between Laura and Abigail. It took a great deal of effort to make that look as careless and easy as it did. In retrospect, he thought he already had an inkling that Laura would try something like this.
When Fred had pulled up outside Ms. Phillip's office for Laura, Harry's antennae had gone on full alert. He let his mind drift back to his last moments with her.
"I didn't know you'd called Fred, Laura. You know I am always happy to take you anywhere you want to go."
There was no reason they couldn't go together. The only two meetings on the schedule at the office were after lunch--his subtle way of simplifying Laura's current issues with mornings. He shuddered at the thought of how this morning had gone. Even having planned extra time, he had still believed they would need to cancel right up to the last moment. He wasn't sure still how Laura was on her feet and not tucked back into bed. He would have been.
Laura had looked past his shoulder when she answered, her hand movements had been quicker and bolder than usual. "I know. But we've missed so much time from the office lately. You know Mildred has to be wondering what is going on. And there isn't anything you can do to help me with this."
He'd tucked his hand under her chin and lifted her head so she had to meet his eyes. And he'd known. The hair on his neck stood on end, his stomach clenched. She was leaving him. She was going. Against his wishes. No matter what he said or did. And in that moment he'd realized he had two options--fight her and lose her even if she stayed, or let her go and do what she believed was the right thing and hope she would be alright.
He'd wrapped her in his arms so tightly he'd probably come just short of squeezing the breath out of her.
"I love you, Laura Steele. Always know that. Don't ever forget."
He'd kissed her hard and swift, afraid if he lingered much longer he'd lose his nerve. Then he'd opened the door to the limo and handed her in--because it allowed him to hold her hand just one more moment. Closing the door and tapping the roof of the limo was one of the most difficult things he'd ever done. But he didn't have time to dwell on it as he'd raced round to the Rabbit to give chase. Once she was in the air, there was little he could do but he could at least make sure she got that far safely. That it gave him a few more minutes with her, even if she was unaware, had nothing to do with it. Nothing at all. That would be pathetic, wouldn't it, Daniel? He got no response, not that he expected one.
Once inside the terminal at the airport, Harry had needed a break to put his hastily devised plan into action. He would make sure she knew two things--that he loved her and that he'd known she was going and chose to let her go freely.
When Laura had stopped to make her phone calls, Harry had taken his chance and headed by the gift shop and then to the gate.
When they'd given the last call and she' still not shown up, Harry's heart had been in his throat. Had she changed her mind and decided to stay and work out a plan together or had something happened to her? He was just about to ask the agent to page Laura when he saw her rushing towards the gate. It had taken all the self-control he had developed over his lifetime not to sweep her off her feet, into his arms and right back home to their bed. It was clear to him even from a distance that she had been sick again. But he had stayed put. Watched her walk down the jet way and out of his life--for now. And while when he would hold her in arms again was unknown, that he would was never in doubt.