Laura stuffed the last piece of clothing in the suitcase and zipped up the side. She straightened up, surveying the bedroom for any last minute items. Fred would be calling for them in another hour to take them to the airport. Her eyes touched the dresser, the closet, the bedside table and then came to rest on Remington who was lying crossed legged on the bed, propped up on one elbow, watching her with an expression of disapproval. She glanced at his suitcases. They were still sitting on the floor beside the bed, unpacked. So, she thought, he was going to carry this out to the bitter end.
Shed been dealing with an outright rebellion for two weeks now. When she had called for airline tickets, he had called and cancelled them. She had had to threaten to cut off his expense account in order to get the tickets reinstated. When she had packed her bags, he had unpacked them and not told her. It wasnt until shed gone to retrieve them an hour ago that shed learned of his perfidy. Now hed taken up residence in their bed and was obviously refusing to budge. Either she would be going to Ireland by herself or his wardrobe would be a sad reflection of its usual glory.
Youd better get a move on. She told him, swinging the suitcase to the floor. Fred will be here in an hour, and you havent packed anything. Or have you decided to go au natural? I wont mind, but the servants might have something to say about it.
Were not going.
She put her hands on her hips and met his determined gaze with one of her own. This family vacation to Ireland was your idea. You cant back out now.
I suggested this vacation before I knew you were pregnant.
So? Laura demanded, flinging out her arms for emphasis. What difference does that make? Pregnant women fly to Ireland all the time.
He uncoiled himself from the bed, came over and took her by the shoulders, turning her to face him. Laura, youre eight months pregnant. We shouldnt be going to Ireland when youre that close to delivering the baby.
Im due in four weeks. Well spend two weeks in Ireland, and Ill be back with two weeks to spare. Besides, first babies are notoriously late.
You told you that?
She shrugged. Its common knowledge.
Remington looked skeptical. Its my understanding that babies are notoriously unpredictable, and you ought to be near your doctor and a hospital.
Last time I checked Ireland had doctors and hospitals too.
Laura, he drawled, clearly frustrated, I cant help but think this is a bad idea. I dont like it. Those little hairs at the back of my neck are standing on end, and those little hairs never lie. Im sure your mother and sister will understand if we delay the trip until the babys born.
She shook her head. We cant. If we delay by a month the kids will be back in school so its now or never. Do you really want to be the one to tell mother and Frances that theyre not going to Ireland this year? Mother would never recover from the humiliation. Shes told everyone, her Bridge club, her neighbors, Aunt Harriet whos always bragging about her trip to Venice, and most importantly the members of the Irish Genealogy Society she joined specifically for the purpose of tracing her familys heritage. Shes already written to Grace Doyle, telling her that shed be visiting. She could see Remington weakening so she administered the coup dgrace. If we destroy her dreams of Ireland, well just have to make it up to her by having another wedding.
Remington winced. A fifth wedding, Laura? Have you no heart?
Where my mother and Frances are concerned, no. She took his face in her hands, looking up at him with earnest brown eyes. My dearest Remington, I agreed to get married without them. I did things your way even though I knew wed have to face the Spanish Inquisition upon return. Now, wont you consider doing things my way? Besides, you know we have to check on the hotel and see how its progressing. We cant allow Lord Jeffreys treasure to come to naught.
Remington felt like he was being pulled in two. One part of him wanted to please his wife, and the other part wanted to protect her and their child. Yes, the pregnancy had gone well so far. The doctor had assured him, several times in fact, that mother and child were doing fine, but one never knew about babies. They had an annoying habit of arriving at the most inconvenient times. He had visions of them delivering the baby 30,000 feet in the air. It was just the kind of screwball thing that would happen to them.
Yet hed given his word to her family. Bloody hell but this domestication thing brought a lot of baggage with it. Not only did he have his own family to worry about but he had inherited hers as well.
I do this under protest. He stated, picking up his first suitcase and tossing it on the bed. And, if Im going to agree to this insanity, I want your promise that you wont overdo things.
Its a vacation. Laura said blithely. How could I overdo?
He pulled out shirts, folding them just so as to not wrinkle them. Packing was a fine art, an art Laura had refused to be taught. She just threw things in and hoped for the best. Hadnt he learned that when hed secretly unpacked her bags? It had taken him an hour to untangle everything, and hed nearly been caught at least twice. Fortunately she didnt move as quickly these days, giving him plenty of advanced warning. Hed gotten everything shoved under the bed before shed appeared. Had a hell of a time explaining what he was doing lurking around the bedroom for no apparent reason though.
With our track record a dead body is bound to show up. Probably tumbling down the baggage carousel like at Platinum Air. He told her, reaching for his garment bag and carefully filling it with suits. I want you to promise me that you will leave all dead body where you find them. No hiding them in suits of armors, no stuffing them in trunks and absolutely no more weddings to trap crazed priests.
We havent had a good murder since Gaston Rousseau. Laura said wistfully.
You sound disappointed.
Well, you have to admit that embezzlers, cheating husbands and security consultations arent nearly as interesting.
Is that why youve been so willing to pass cases off to Mildred and Marvin? Too boring for you? No nice juicy murders for Mrs. Steele to sink her teeth in?
Shed been taught red-handed, but she wasnt about to give Remington the satisfaction of hearing her admit it. He could be so smug when he was right. Ive been busy with doctors appointments and making preparations for the baby. I didnt hear you complaining.
Damn right. Remington agreed, tossing a second suitcase on the bed and heading for the dresser where he pulled out socks, underwear and handkerchiefs, I finally had my wife all to myself. Id be a bloody fool to suggest we deprive Mildred or Marvin of a nice, juicy embezzler.
Laura eased herself down on the bed, she always seemed to be easing herself into things these days, and said sullenly. Well, I doubt well run into any dead bodies in Ireland so you neednt worry about me sinking my teeth into anything.
Remington retrieved his cuff links and tie pins, zipping them into a small pocket on the case, I wouldnt be too sure of that. Last time we were there dead bodies kept popping out of the ground like mushrooms. And if I meet one professor from Ohio I swear I wont be responsible for my actions.
Even if theyre a paying guest.
That would be a blessed change from last time when I boarded the whole lot for free. Remington retorted, disappearing into the bathroom and returning with an armload of toiletries, which he carefully, almost lovingly arranged in a carry on bag. And dont think I dont know what youre doing, Mrs. Steele. Youre trying to distract me so Ill forget that you still havent promised to leave dead bodies where you find them.
Ok, ok. Laura said, throwing up her hands in surrender. If a dead body sprouts like a mushroom, I shall leave it to you to uproot. Ill sit on the sidelines and gestate like a good little wife. Happy?
Not really. He muttered, zipping the carry on and setting it on the floor. I was planning on leaving the mushroom to the police. The thought of dispatching a mushroom with only your family for help makes those little hairs jump right off my neck and run for cover.
Theyve all helped in some capacity before.
And thats supposed to be reassuring?
Its the best I can do.
Remington straightened up and surveyed the room. Two suitcases, a carry on and a garment bag. He frowned. He felt like he was leaving something behind. He usually had at least three suitcases. This last minute packing was foolhardy and as Mildred would say a recipe for disaster, but he only had himself to blame. He had stubbornly refused to believe that his wife would convince him to go through with this ridiculous adventure.
And that was what it was ~ ridiculous. No woman in their right mind would fly to Ireland for a vacation four weeks before she was due to give birth. But as hed found out years ago Laura never thought her plans foolhardy or dangerous. They were brilliant in her eyes. Thank God there was at least one clear-headed thinker in the family ~ him.
Unfortunately, he had an appalling record of rolling over and asking for a belly scratch whenever she flashed those brown eyes or smiled that smile that promised him everything hed ever dreamed of. And if truth be told, hed rather be running for his life with Laura than sipping mint juleps in an island resort with anyone else. Yes, it was an appalling situation, but he loved it, loved her.
The sound of a horn announced Freds arrival.
Laura struggled upwards, and Remington quickly went to help her up. He loved seeing her like this, round with his child, but he knew both of them would be glad when she was back to her old svelte self, Laura because she was uncomfortable and ungainly and Remington because he knew how much her present limitations annoyed her.
Ready, Mrs. Steele? He asked.
They navigated the stairs, Laura going slow as she tried to see the steps beyond her bulk, and Remington anxiously bringing up the rear. Why had they ever bought a house with the master bedroom on the 2nd floor? It was all he could do not to pick her up and carry her down, but he knew she wouldnt like that. She wanted to do things for herself.
While he settled Laura in the back seat of the limo, which was no easy task, Fred ran upstairs to the retrieve the luggage, which was no easy task either since it consisted of four suitcases, two carry ons and a garment bag. Somehow the man managed to get everything down in one trip, once again proving he was worth every penny they paid him, and they were off, headed for the Los Angeles International Airport.
It wasnt until they were sitting on the plane, waiting for take off when Remington remembered what hed forgotten.
What a bloody idiot I am. He muttered, thoroughly mortified. That he, Remington Steele, dapper, elegant, always beautifully attired should forget such a thing.
What? Laura asked, puzzled.
Shoes. I forgot shoes.
Well, Im sure they have shoes in Ireland. She replied, unconcerned.
I hope they have them at LaGuardia airport. He snapped back. Otherwise, its going to be a long flight. He held up a foot. It bore a sock but no shoe.
Laura hurriedly swallowed a laugh. He would not appreciate it. His fashionable ego was no doubt suffering mightily. Im sure well be able to find a pair of shoes somewhere in New York.
Remington snorted, unfurled a newspaper and buried his shame in it. Already a bad omen had appeared and they hadnt even left the ground.
The castle limo was waiting for them at Shannon Airport. With efficient ease the driver retrieved their luggage and stowed it in the trunk of the car. Then he held the door for Laura and then Remington to slide inside. It was with some relief that Remington heard the door thud shut and the motor roared to life. Soon theyd be at the castle and he could remove these dreadful running shoes. They were comfortable, as Laura had pointed out when he was reluctantly agreed to purchase them at an airport store, but they were in extremely bad taste, especially when wearing a suit. He looked like one of those businessmen that wore runners in the interest of saving their feet. There were some things worth sacrificing ones insteps for and fashion was one of them.
Laura had fallen into a light sleep, exhausted from the flight, her head resting against his shoulder so he turned his attention to the passing scenery. It was raining, of course. It always seemed to be raining in some form or other in Ireland, but it was appropriate somehow. It made everything seem more lush, more green, more alive with possibilities. It gave the air an earthly smell that reminded one of Druids and the other ancient people and creatures that permeated Irish folklore.
He was beginning to doze himself when the car pulled up in front of the castle. The sudden cessation of movement roused him, and he sat up from where hed come to rest against the corner of the car, Laura against his chest. His movement in turn woke her, and she blinked at him with sleepy eyes.
Were home, Lady Claridge. He murmured, gently pulling her upright.
The car door opened, and he stepped out, turning to help his wife. After a brief struggle, which reminded him of a tug of war, she was standing beside him, staring up at the castle as though shed never seen it before. Obviously she had fallen into a deeper sleep than he had originally thought. He must get her upstairs right away and make her take a nap. She would protest. She always did. But the flight had been long and tiring even for him who wasnt carrying around an additional six to seven pounds.
Miklene came scurrying down the steps, umbrellas in his hand, which he quickly passed out to both Laura and Remington.
Welcome home, your Lordship. He exclaimed with a wide smile. Its so good to see you and her Ladyship again. May I say that the old castle hasnt been the same since you left?
Been rather dull, eh? Remington commented as they climbed the steps.
Miklene looked uncertain at first as though debating about whether to say more but then decided on, Uh, yes, very dull.
They entered the castle where Miklene and a footman helped them off with their outer clothing. As Miklene removed Lauras coat, he exclaimed, Well, Blessed Mary, Ill be. Her Ladyship is expecting a wee bairn. Wont the servants be happy to hear that? Weve been a wanting an heir ever since the young master took over the castle. Guarantees ones employment, dont you know. Whens the happy event to occur?
In about four weeks. Laura answered with a smile.
She was beginning to wake up and take interest in her surroundings. Theres the staircase that had started it all, she thought with a sentimentality that was odd for her. Must be the hormones. Her eyes followed its graceful, flowing lines, and then came to rest of the telephone that had rang and rang until Remington had ripped in from the wall. Oh, yes, that was how hed silenced it. Looks like repairs had been made.
And you came all this way with a baby due in four weeks? Miklene was saying, his voice and expression clearly astonished.
My thoughts exactly. Remington assured him, his own eyes wandering around the castle. But her Ladyship can be amazingly stubborn on occasion. He looked at Miklene. Is everything ready for the arrival of her Ladyships family?
Oh, yes, MLordship, The little man said with pride, five bedrooms have been swept clean, polished until the wood shines like a sun-dappled chestnut mare and freshened just as you requested. Annie even put dahlias in the rooms, great big blossoms they are, as big as a mans fist. She thought the ladies would like them. He paused as though visualizing these lovely blooms and then continued, And Ive placed everyone in the family wing so as they wont be disturbed by the guests. Not that the guests are a rowdy lot. Very refined, they are. We dont allow any riff-raff in Ashford Hotel.
Laura turned, her interest piqued. And how is the hotel coming along, Miklene?
Oh, very well, MLadyship. Miklene assured her. We had a little trouble in the beginning but it was no matter. Nothing we couldnt handle. Just a nuisance really.
What kind of trouble? Laura asked.
Oh-oh, Remington groaned inwardly, the hound was sniffing the air, ears and tail perked to attention. Please, God, just dont let there be a dead body involved.
Oh, just little things. Miklene answered, waving his hand as though they were of no consequence. He chucked. But we did begin to wonder whether we had a bad faery lurking about the place. Old Mrs. Ryan, the cook, shes the superstitious kind, starting putting out a bowl of milk just to be safe. To appease the little fellow, so to speak.
What kind of things? Laura persisted.
Oh, well, let me see. He cocked his head as though trying to think. The workmen were painting the dining room, and one night the paint cans were all knocked over. Such a mess it was. Thank the dear Lord we hadnt put down the carpet yet. That would have been quite an expense. And then tools kept disappearing. We found a table saw hanging from a tree one morning. Burt was mighty upset about that since he had to shimmy up the tree to get it down. And there was when we were a choosing the wallpaper for the ballroom. We came down the next morning, and it was strewn all over the place, ripped to pieces, looked like a ticker tap parade had gone through.
And you never discovered who did these things? Laura asked.
Miklene shrugged. Youve got to understand the Irish, MLadyship. Were used to faeries and the like playing tricks on us. It slowed things down a bit, but we got all the renovations done and opened up the hotel right on time.
When did this start happening?
Shortly after you and His Lordship left for Malta.
You see, Laura, nothing to worry about. Remington said cheerfully. The hotels open, and everythings been going along swimmingly. Right, Miklene?
The butler looked vaguely uncomfortable. For the most part, MLordship.
What do you mean for the most part? Laura pounced on the statement like a cat on a ball of yarn.
Miklene glanced at Remington almost apologetically and said, Well, theres been some talk of a ghost.
Oh, God, there was a dead body after all, Remington thought, his cheerfulness rapidly dissipating.
A ghost? Laura echoed.
Oh, tis nothing to worry about. Miklene assured her quickly. Castles are full of ghosts. Mournful creatures and a bit pesky, but the guests are quite taken with ours, I assure you. Were expecting a team of paranormal investigators next week. Theyre having a conference and wanted to study our paranormal activity. I was a bit leery at first. Didnt want them poking around the castle, disturbing our ghost, but they offered twice the going rate, and I couldnt say no. Got to keep the castle in the black, thats what His Lordship said.
Laura glanced at Remington who flashed a brief, rather sick-looking smile. She turned back to Miklene. What kind of paranormal activity are we having?
Lights mostly. The man answered. Although we do have a groan now and then. When Laura continued to stare at him as though expecting more, he elaborated, Lights have been seen in the castle, in the upper parts where nobody ever goes. Witnesses say its a single light, like a candle or a lantern moving steadily along as though someone was carrying it, and then theres been lights seen on the water.
And nobody has bothered to investigate these lights? Laura demanded.
No. Miklene said, seemingly surprised by her question. They havent been bothering anybody, and like I said the guests seem to enjoy a good fright now and then. Of course, there are rumors among the servants, speculations really. They say its the ghost of the Old Druid come back to haunt the castle. Supposedly hes buried beneath the castle and he doesnt like it being atop of him. Prefers the woods. Druids always did, you know.
Remington had heard about all he wanted to. Well, Laura, you heard the man. Everybody likes the ghost so well just leave him where he is. He turned her arm, steering her up the stairs. Its been a long flight, and I think we both need a few hours of rest.
Im not sleepy. Laura protested. Unfortunately she was not as agile as shed been in the past and Remington had no difficulty urging her up the steps. He looked over the railing at Miklene. Ah, what times dinner tonight?
Seven oclock sharp, MLordship. I hope you dont mind, but Ive arranged for your dinner to be served with the hotel guests. Theyre most eager to meet their hosts, the Lord and Lady Claridge. Been pestering me all week about it.
Remingtons face fell briefly. He had hoped for something more private. He and Laura would have precious little time alone once her family arrived on the morrow. Ah, well, the duties of an earl were never complete. At least he could shut his door and lock them out once theyd made an appearance.
Very well, Miklene. He stopped, turning back. And one other thing.
Could you have someone pop into town and buy a pair of mens black dress shoes, size 10 ½? And you might have them pick up a pair of casual brown as well.
Right away, Milord.
Having dispensed of his lordly duties, he hustled Laura down the hall and into the master suite, closing and locking the door behind them. He had no intention of being disturbed between now and seven oclock. Tucking the key into his breast pocket, he turned, intending to give his wife a long awaited kiss. But she wasnt there. She was across the room, attempting to shove the window open. Obviously she had not realized that hed ordered the window nailed shut after Antony had made his escape through it.
Sudden desire for fresh air, my dear? He asked, joining his wife.
She gave up the struggle and glared at the window. Whats wrong with this thing?
Its nailed shut.
Nailed shut? She exclaimed. Whatever for?
To keep rats from escaping. He murmured enigmatically before taking her by the arms and turning her to face him. He studied her upturned face. It looked innocent enough but there was a gleam in those brown eyes. Youve got that look in your eye.
The look of a bloodhound on a trail. Laura, he drawled warningly, his eyes looking intently into hers, you promised to leave dead bodies where you found them. No uprooting mushrooms. Remember?
And Ive kept my promise. She told him. I have not disturbed a single dead body.
Then what was that interrogation you gave Miklene? And why this sudden urge to open window when its pouring down rain?
You said dead body, Mr. Steele. She reminded him, leaning forward to give him a kiss. Her lips lingered, and he felt himself weakening, returning the caress. She pulled back, smiling up at him. But you didnt say anything about ghosts.
I say, Claridge, this hotel thing was a devilish good idea.
Remington started. He was not used to being called Claridge. Most people called him Steele so it took his rather tired brain a couple minutes to put the two together. He turned to greet the man who had sidled up beside him, and quickly hid a wince of pain. Whoever had purchased the shoes for him had not known what a size 10 ½ was in British sizes. His feet were killing him.
What was that? He asked.
I said this hotel idea was a devilish good one. The man repeated, taking a sip from the martini he was holding. Ive got this monstrosity in Yorkshire that I cant do anything with. The wife doesnt like it, says its eerie, struck way out there on the moor, and it costing me a bloody fortune what with servants and all. Cant sell it and cant give it away. Its an albatross around the old neck.
Remington racked his brain for the mans name. Lord something. No, that wasnt any good. Most of the guests were Lord something or others. Lord Peacock, he wondered. No, that wasnt it. He was getting him confused with the Rousseau case where everyone seemed to have a name from the board game, Clue. His eyes fell on the mans dark brown jacket. Ah, yes, thats it. His name was Lord Browning.
Ah, yes, I know what you mean. Remington said. Had the same problem so I said to myself why not put the old pile of rock to work? Make it pay for itself. Thats my idea.
And a bloody good one at that. Browning reiterated. And what with the ghost thing you must be making a killing. Brilliant idea that ghost. Gives the females a delightful shiver and the men the opportunity to act the hero. How do you do it, Claridge? Send a servant sulking about the castle, flashing a torch or something?
Despite his desire to forget all about ghosts, Remington found himself asking, Have you seen the ghost yourself?
Browning laughed. Lord, no, I dont go in for things like that, but the wife claims shes heard footsteps and a few moans. Shes quite taken with it. Been talking about getting the ladies together for a séance and see what this old Druid wants.
Druid? Remington echoed. I thought only the servants called it that.
Well, you know how servants talk.
Obviously too much.
Browning roared with laughter. I like you, Claridge. I really do. Precious few chaps I like these days. Take the Giles fellow, He motioned toward a long, lean man standing in a corner, stands about all day looking dashed tragic. Rather like a sad spaniel, dont you think?
Remington considered the comparison. The mans dark curly hair did sort of give him a spaniel like appearance.
Hes a writer, they say. Browning continued. Came here for the atmosphere, to get the ole literary juices flowing, but rumor has it that hes having a bit off with the Colonels wife.
Remington followed the mans gaze to a woman standing or rather lounging beside the cocktail bar. She was talking rather loudly to a young man wearing pez nez who seemed intent on ignoring her. Did people still wear those things, Remington wondered as he studied the pair. Mrs. Armstrong was young, probably in her late 20s, with golden hair that fell down her back like a horses mane. His eyes automatically sought out her husband. Colonel Armstrong was well into his sixties, very solid in bearing with gray hair and small mustache. A very unlikely couple but money could buy a man anything.
And what about Culpepper over there? Browning asked, motioning to an older man in black evening attire and a monocle, Staring daggers at the Colonel at night. Used to be business associates, I hear, but had some sort of falling out. Dashed if I know what theyre both doing at the same hotel. Bit awkward, eh?
Brownings vast knowledge of hotel gossip was beginning to make Remingtons head spin. He had done his duty. Now it was time to gather up his wife and retire behind the door of their suite where neither guest nor ghost could bother them further and where he could get these bloody shoes off his feet.
I say, Browning, He began, unconsciously mimicking his guests style of talking, Im dashed tired. We had a long flight this morning, and in my wifes current condition, I really think its best if we retire for the evening. So if youll excuse me
Oh, yes, of course. Browning nodded. I noticed she was in the family way. Will this be your first or have you others?
The first is always the worse. The man said as though speaking from experience. After that it all becomes routine. Hope to see you soon, Claridge. Maybe a spot of cricket if this weather ever clears up. Cheerio.
The man wandered off and Remington escaped, zeroing in on his wife whod been holding court on a red velveteen sofa for the past hour. Many of the older ladies, presumably one bring Brownings wife, were clustered around her, talking excitedly and tittering now and then. Like a clutch of hens, Remington thought, maneuvering his way toward them.
I really think a séance would be so informative. One lady was saying. Then we might find out what this Druid wants. He must want something. Otherwise why would he be walking the hallways like a lost soul?
Excuse me, ladies, Remington murmured, stepping in among them, but I really think its time for her Ladyship and me to retire for the evening. He slid an arm around Lauras waist, helping, or rather lifting her to her feet. Weve had a long flight, and her Ladyship needs to rest. Im sure you all understand.
They all tittered in response, and Remington quickly led Laura away. Surprisingly she came without protest. Hed expected her to resent the manner in which hed extracted her, but she went along meekly enough, smiling and nodding as they left the lounge and crossed the foyer separating the family residence from the hotel. She didnt speak until theyd navigated the stairs and entered their own suite.
An interesting set of guests we have. She commented, seating herself on a sofa with a weary sigh as Remington hastily rid himself of the hated shoes. Theyre obsessed with hotel gossip and dead Druids. Still you can learn a lot from gossip. Lets see. She held up a hand and starting numbering them off. Giles is fooling around with Mrs. Armstrong, the Colonel has some shady dealings involving the government and Culpepper would like to stick a knife in the Colonels back. They didnt have much to say about the fellow with the pez nez except that hes from Africa, possibly Tangiers.
Remington sat down on the coffee table, picked up her right foot, removed the shoe and began massaging the instep. She sighed, sinking back into the cushions and closing her eyes. He knew her feet had been bothering her for several weeks, ever since shed reached the final trimester.
You do that divinely. She murmured with a smile. What did you learn tonight?
The same as you. Appears theres only so much gossip to go around.
Well, she sighed, I guess well have to do something about this so-called ghost.
Why? They all seem quite taken with it. Browning says Ive hit upon a devilish good idea, and I cant say I disagree with him. Imagine the marketing possibilities, Laura. Stay at Ashford Hotel and mingle with the ghosts of Druids past.
She opened her eyes and looked at him. Youve got to be kidding. Well end up with a hotel full of crackpots.
As long as those crackpots pay in cash.
I hate to burst your bubble, Mr. Steele, but the very fact that theres a so-called ghost lurking about the place is a clear sign that something in not right at Ashford Castle. First someone was attempting to slow down or stop the renovations and now theyre either trying to scare people away or carrying on some nefarious scheme right under our very noses.
As long as it doesnt concern a dead body, I dont care. Remington said, standing up and holding out his hands. She put hers in his and he lifted her up. Now, Mrs. Steele, its time for bed. Its been a long day and tomorrow the Holt and Piper clans arrive.
Id forgotten about them. She muttered, waddling over to the bed.
When she couldnt reach the zipper at the back of her dress, he readily obliged. The black silk sheath slithered to the floor. He scooped it up and tossed it across a nearby chair. Laura had difficulty bending down these days so he had found himself acting as ladies maid on numerous occasions, but he didnt mind. He enjoyed helping her, looking after her. This pregnancy had compelled her to allow him such privileges. It had placed limits on her, forcing her to give up some of her independence.
This ghost is not going to sit well with mother and Frances. Laura predicted, sliding under the sheets. She rolled onto her side, allowing the bed to help support the weight of the baby. I dont suppose itll be a good ghost and mind its own business while theyre here.
Having rid himself of his own clothing, he slid in behind her, molding his body to hers, his arm resting lighting along her waist. He smiled. It was nice to be able to hold mother and child at the same time. I would say that ghosts are a great deal like babies, Laura. Theyre highly unpredictable.
She yawned. Maybe theyll be too busy with other things to notice.
What other things? He asked.
But there was no answer. His wife was sound asleep.
The arrival of Lauras family reminded Remington of a flock of seagulls descending on some juicy morsel left behind by a beach goer. It was a loud, furious whirl of activity. The first out of the car were the children. They came running up the steps of the castle, nearly spinning Miklene around in their rush. Dan, of course, was a little more subdued in his greeting, having reached the ripe old age of thirteen and having gained the aloofness inherent in the teen years. He merely shook Remington hand and asked if thered be any cricket matches in the offing. Hed heard of the sport and was eager to try it out. Mindy and Laurie Beth were a little more exuberant in their greeting, kissing and hugging both before asking where the ponies were kept.
Next through the door were Abigail and Frances, arguing.
Im telling you Frances that man tried to steal my bag. Abigail was saying. I know a purse snatcher when I see one.
It wasnt your purse, Mother. It was that ugly plaid bag you insist on carrying around.
I have to carry it. Abigail declared, holding the bag in question tightly against her. Ive got all my genealogical research inside. If that man had succeeded in his dastardly deed, Id have no idea how to find Grace Doyles house.
You just reached for the same bag at the same time. It happens all the time at the airport. Frances maintained.
He wrestled me for it. Abigail insisted. If I hadnt kicked him in the shin, he would have run off with it.
Mother, youre exaggerating.
And what about the car that was following us?
There was no car following us.
Mindy said there was.
Mindy reads too many Nancy Drews. Shes just like Laura at that age. She suddenly seemed to realize what shed just said and turned to Laura with a bright smile. Not that theres anything wrong with being like you, Laura. She said, kissing her sister on the cheek. Its just that Mindy wants to be a private investigator and spends all her time looking for trouble when there isnt any.
I understand. Laura said, attempting a smile that looked more like a grimace. One private investigator in the family is enough.
Well, dear, it is a dangerous profession. Frances pointed out. I was hoping for something more sedate. Like a dental hygienist.
Sort of like that hygienist that worked for Donalds ex-partner? Laura asked pleasantly. She ended up dead, didnt she?
That was just a fluke. Frances explained. Most hygienist leading very boring lives.
I dont want a boring life. Mindy protested.
You will when youre my age. Her mother told her. Having dead bodies fall into your kitchen is not a pleasant experience. Even worse to find them in your garbage can the next morning.
Oh, hello, dear. Abigail said, coming forward and kissing Laura on the cheek. You believe me, dont you?
Well, mother, I wasnt actually there. Im not sure what happened.
Abigail went over to Remington, giving him a kiss on the cheek as well. I know Remington believes me. She paused, looking up at him, a light in her eyes. Whatever happened to that friend of yours? The Captain of the Hussars? I did so like him.
Remingtons smile faded a bit. He passed away about a year ago.
Oh, what a shame. Abigail murmured, obviously disappointed. I had hoped to visit him some day at his villa in the south of France. He did invite me. Such a charming man.
At that moment Donald entered, struggling through the door with several suitcases. Remington hurried over to help him. No need to do that, mate. He said, sending a glance at Miklene who immediately sent two footmen to retrieve the rest of the luggage.
No problem. Donald said cheerfully. Im used to playing the pack mule. He dropped the bags and straightened up, his eyes roaming around the foyer of the castle. This is a nice place youve got here, Steele. When you said castle, you meant castle. His gaze came back to Remington. By the way, does it ever stop raining? I was hoping to get in a few holes of golf. You play, Steele?
Only when forced.
Wonderful! Donald exclaimed. Ill arrange a round for us. The boys back home gave me the names of several excellent courses over here.
You were there Donald. Abigail declared, breaking into the conversation. Did that man try to steal my bag or didnt he?
Mother! Frances wailed.
He did look like he was going for it. Donald admitted.
Donald, dont encourage her.
It was probably just a case of mistaken identity. He laughed. Get it? A case of mistaken identity. When no one joined in his laughter, he continued on. He probably had a case that looked just like it. After all, theyve sold millions of those things.
Frances sent the plaid bag a caustic glance. What a depressing thought.
Whats that supposed to mean? Abigail demanded.
Remington watched as his wife began to visibly wilt under this second barrage of arguing. The constant chatter and bickering of her family was taking its toll. Before they had just annoyed her, drove her crazy. Now, under the weight and stress of pregnancy, she was too tired to even attempt joining the fray. He could tell that she just wanted peace and quiet.
Laura, he called out, why dont you go into the drawing room and ring for some tea while I show your family to their rooms?
She didnt even protest. Good idea, Mr. Steele.
After making sure she was safely on her way, he turned and began herding the family up the stairs, a task no border collie would envy him. It was rather like herding cats, each one going their own way. The kids ran ahead while he was continually stopping to urge Abigail or Frances onward. Donald was content to let him do all the work.
This is awfully grand. Frances murmured, stopping halfway up the stairs to gaze at the portraits on the wall. Are these your relatives, Remington?
Ah, no, they belong to the Earl of Claridge.
Well, youre the earl, arent you?
Only by adoption.
Oh, yes, thats right. She nodded, continuing onward. Id forgotten. You just seem so suited for the role. As though youve been an earl all your life.
He stopped at the Green Room, which had once housed Professor Potts. He threw open the door. This is your room, Abigail.
Abigail peered inside. Its nearly as big as my house back home. I dont mean to be ungrateful, dear, but dont you have something smaller?
Im afraid not. Remington told her gravely. Rooms in castles are made big. The only thing smaller would be in the servants quarters.
Well, Abigail said, inching into the room as though it were a trap waiting to spring on her, I guess this will have to do. Although Ill feel terribly small in here.
Remington left his mother-in-law to mourn her circumstance and ushered Donald and Frances into the Gold Room, former residence of Professor Chesterfield. Frances, at least, appreciated grandeur. She entered the room and gazed about her in awe.
Its beautiful. She breathed. Those sooty PTA moms will never believe this. Get out the camera, Donald. Weve got to take plenty of pictures.
While Donald complied with his wifes orders, Remington settled the children in their individual rooms. Daniel immediately tested the bounce-ability of the four poster bed, launching himself across it like a man shot from a cannon. Mindy and Laura Beth were much more subdued, glancing around as though overwhelmed by the very bigness of everything. Seeing their reaction, Remington overruled Miklene and moved both girls into the same room. If there was an old dead Druid roaming the halls, he imagined they would appreciate having each others company.
Having completed his task, he beat a hasty retreat to the drawing room where he found Laura sitting in a chair, the tea things spread before her. She was staring rather absently out the window, watching the rain slide slowly down the panes.
Everyone is officially settled. He told her cheerfully, taking the chair beside her.
Mother complained about her room, didnt she?
How did you know?
She always complains about her room. Hotels, staying with relatives, it doesnt matter. It never suits her. What was the problem this time?
Its a castle. What did she expect?
Apparently castles are smaller where she comes from.
Laura snorted. Its going to be a very long two weeks. Id forgotten what its like having them altogether. She paused and then asked, You dont think mother was right, do you? You dont think someone actually tried to steal that ugly bag of hers?
Remington poured a cup of tea and took a satisfying mouthful. There was something so soothing about tea. With that horde upstairs, it looked like hed be drinking a lot of it. Of course, he tended to weather Lauras family better than she did. They drove her crazy while they only made him feel like a cat in a roomful of rocking chairs ~ incredibly nervous. Mostly because he usually ended up playing referee, and he never knew when the next row would occur. He often felt like Mr. Brown in Bedknobs & Broomsticks, being ran over by one side just to struggle up to be run over by the other.
Why would someone want that bag, Laura? He asked, leaning back in his chair. Loath though I am to admit it, Frances is right. Its the ugliest thing Ive ever seen.
But maybe Donalds right. Maybe someone thinks shes got their bag. I mean, did she look inside to make sure it was hers? They might come looking for it.
Then we look inside, verify whether or not the contents belong to her and then give them the bag.
You make things sound so sensible. Laura said, picking up a tea cup. I never thought youd be the sane one in the midst of all this Holt-Piper craziness.
You mean you consider me as crazy as they are.
She smiled. There have been times in the past when Ive thought that.
But you decided to keep me anyway.
I must have a weakness for crazies. She took a sip of tea and then said quietly, Im sorry Mother brought up the captain of the Hussars.
Remington shrugged. She couldnt have known. Besides, she doesnt know he was my father. I was touched to see that she appeared genuinely sad to hear of his death.
Im also sorry that you have to play golf with Donald.
Ah, well, Im just a martyr to my own generous nature. A grin suddenly flashed across his face. But there is a silver lining.
And what is that?
I get practice teaching children how to play cricket and ride polo ponies.
James Caulfield was anticipating a very pleasant evening. He was scheduled to pick up the lovely Colleen at precisely eight oclock where they would then proceed to the Esquire Inn for dinner. After dining on filet mignon with butter sauce and a caviar garnish, braised new potatoes and Dom Perignon champagne, they would visit an exclusive local nightclub for dancing and perhaps a few rounds of baccarat in the back room.
Afterwards who knew where things might lead. With Colleen they usually led to a delightful romp in bed. Such an obliging girl. He had another bottle of Dom Perignon chilling in refrigerator of this hotel suite for just such contingencies. Jamie Caulfield always planned for contingencies. It was the name of the game, the calling card of his profession.
He looked at himself in the bathroom mirror, taking inventory as he called it. Black tux perfectly pressed, brilliant white shirt, black bow tie precisely tied, diamond cuff links. His dark brown hair gleamed under the bathroom lights and hazel eyes looked solemnly back at him. He flashed a smile, and all solemnity vanished. Yes, he thought with satisfaction, youve still got it, Jamie boy. He wasnt vain, but he knew he was handsome.
He left the bathroom, entered the bedroom and then the sitting area of his suite. Choosing a carnation from a nearby vase, he sniffed it, broke off the stem and then tucked the bloom in his coat lapel. Then he headed for the door, raincoat slung over one arm.
Going somewhere, Jamie boy?
Jamie stared at the man on his doorstep. He hadnt thought hed see Holliday again. Hed kept his part of the deal and that should have been the end of it. This was a most annoying turn of events.
I was on my way to dinner. He said with casual ease.
Dinner can wait. Holliday declared, stepping into the suite and closing the door behind him. He turned the lock.
Now, look here, old chap. Jamie said, his expression and tone of voice becoming annoyed. Ive kept my part of the agreement, and as far as Im concerned my association with your boss is over.
It isnt over until Mr. Wade says it is. The man told him bluntly. Have a seat.
Reluctantly Jamie sat down. He made sure he kept his attitude was casual as possible, crossing his legs and leaning back against the cushions with a negligent air. No use showing Holliday how irritated he was. Or how uneasy. He hadnt liked his association with Mr. Wade from the very beginning, and it was only because hed been in tight spot that hed agreed to it, a tight spot created by his own audacity. He really shouldnt have tried stealing from another thief, especially one that carried guns and employed people like Holliday.
Jamie boy, will you never learn, he mused, watching Holliday lower his muscular hulk of a body into a nearby chair. Will you never be able to resist the challenge, the temptation? Probably not so it was a good thing the Lord had supplied him with a quick brain and even quicker tongue.
So whats all this about? He asked with a thoroughly bored air.
We didnt get the bag.
There was a silence as Jamie digested this piece of news. Then he asked, Why not? I placed it on the baggage carousel just like I said I would. It was in an ugly green plaid bag. You couldnt miss it.
Yeah, well, some woman swiped it before Jenks could get his hands on it.
Woman? Jamie echoed, instantly alert. He knew plenty of women that would have liked to get their hands on that bag. Had one of them followed him? Staked him out and snatched the result of all his labors at the last moment. That would be just like Greta or Ione or Midori. They were lovely companions when the mood struck them but dangerous and completely untrustworthy. What kind of woman?
Holliday waved a dismissive hand. Does it really matter?
Certainly it matters. James snapped. If I know her, I can get it back before she gets too far.
It was just an old broad. Holliday said. Caused a big fuss over it too. Squawking like gaggle of geese, Jenks said. And she had another one with her, another woman, I mean, squawking at her. They were making such a scene that Jenks figured it was best not to press the issue. Wouldnt want the coppers to come over and have a look inside, would we?
Jamie relaxed slightly. That didnt sound like any of the women he knew. None of them would cause a scene. Theyd just slip in and slip out. Yes, I suppose it was best for him to let it go, but he should have followed her and taken it from her then.
He did follow her. To some hoity-toity place called Ashford Castle. Its part castle and part hotel.
Well, Jamie said, crossing his arms and staring at his visitor with unsympathetic eyes. What has all this to do with me? Jenks can handle relieving an old lady of her bag, cant he?
Nah, Holliday said, shaking his shaggy head, its a bit more difficult than that. Its not a matter of simple breaking and entering. Weve got to be more subtle than that.
Because this here castle is owned by Remington Steele.
Jamie looked at him blankly. So? Whats so special about this Steele chap?
Im surprised at you, Jamie boy. Holliday said, flashing a toothy grin that annoyed Jamie exceedingly. He hated the thought that this thug knew something he didnt. Id think a professional like you would know your opposition. Remington Steele just happens to own Remington Steele Investigations, an internationally acclaimed detective agency. If Jenks put one foot over that threshold, theyd have to him tussed up tighter than a Christmas pudding. Jenks hasnt got the skill to pull it off. So we need the best. We need someone clever enough to out smart Steele.
And you think Im the man for the job?
Mr. Wade does, and thats all that matters. Holliday told him. With your pretty boy face and fancy togs youll fit right in. Nobody would suspect a gentleman like you of filching jewels from an old lady.
For the first time in his life, Jamie cursed his gentlemanly demeanor, his air of elegant élan. Granted it had gotten him where he was. He had always looked like the son of an earl, had found it easy to portray himself as one, and he had used it to his advantage, slipping into elegant surroundings without raising suspicions. If a valuable necklace disappeared, no hotel inspector suspected a guest. No, they always looked at the staff first, giving him plenty of time to check out and be on his way. It had worked like a dream. But now it was a definite drawback.
Find someone else. He said flatly. I kept my part of the deal. Its not my fault that you couldnt fulfill your end. As soon as that bag left my hands, my part was over.
Mr. Wade figured youd be difficult. Holliday sighed, reaching into his pocket. Thats why he told me to bring this. A gun appeared, pointed straight at Jamies heart. Now, are you still unwilling to be cooperative?
Bloody hell, was he never going to be rid of these people, he thought, staring at the gun and Hollidays smirking face. In the future, he must remember to never pull a shell game on another criminal, especially one with fewer morals than himself. Do your research better next time, Jamie boy, or you wont live to see retirement in the south of France.
If I agree to do this, I insist on there being an iron-clad agreement that once its done, its done. He said, his voice as hard and flinty as steel. Im finished with Mr. Wade and his organization. My debt will be paid in full.
Holliday reached into his other pocket, pulling out an envelope. When weve got the bag, you get this. Its a written statement by Mr. Wade, releasing you from further obligation.
How can I trust him to keep his word? We had an agreement before.
That was a verbal agreement, Jamie boy. Holliday explained as though he were talking to a not too bright ten year old. This is written, and Mr. Wade never reneges on his signature. Its like gold. Even crime bosses have a code of ethics. Otherwise, who would do business with them?
Who indeed, Jamie thought dryly as he considered the offer. It didnt seem like he had much choice. Either accept the job or get a plug in the heart. Besides, it sounded easy enough despite the reputation of this Remington Steele. Hed out smarted dicks before. How difficult could it be to swap bags with an old lady? She didnt even know what she had. Hed slip in and slip out. Maybe hed even be able to lift a few jewels from the hotel safe.
Very well. He said, getting to his feet. Get her bag over here early tomorrow morning. He stopped, sending Holliday a sharp, questioning glance. You do have her bag, right?
Of course. Were professionals, you know.
Then get it over here tomorrow morning. Now if youll excuse me, He smoothed the wrinkles from his tux and rearranged his raincoat of his arm, I have a lovely lady and a filet mignon waiting for me.
It wasnt until he was standing at the baccarat table, Colleen purring on his arm like a Persian kitten that he thought to wonder where this Ashford Castle was located. There were certain parts of Ireland where he would prefer not to go. A man in his profession made enemies or rather spread a few white lies, lies that could complicate matters
Remington was in conversation with Miklene when he saw the man arrive. A low slung sports car zipping along the driveway and into the hotels parking lot instantly snagged his attention. From the drawing room window, just behind Miklenes right shoulder, he watched the man get out.
Even from a distance, Remington could spot an Astor & Black suit when he saw one. He studied the man, noting the dark hair, more brown than black in the weak sunshine, clean shaven jaw and straight nose. Alligator shoes and designer sunglasses completed the look. There was something familiar about the man that immediately put Remington on alert. Hed seen that look before; hed lived that look before. When the man opened the boot of his car and took out a suitcase, garment bag and ugly plaid bag, Remingtons alarm bells went off.
Im terribly sorry about the mix up in shoes sizes, MLordship. Miklene was saying. Ill send Angus out right now and tell him to pick up another pair.
No, no, thats not necessary, Miklene. Remington said absently, his eyes following the man. Ill run into town myself. He got up and started for the door.
Itll be no trouble, MLordship. Miklene assured him, chasing after him.
But Remington wasnt listening. He was trotting across the private drive and into the hotels parking lot. He slowed as he approached the man, mustnt look too eager, too suspicious.
Hello there! Remington called out Need some help with that?
The man whirled. For a moment he looked taken back, off balance, but then he quickly recovered his poise. He flashed a toothy grin. I didnt hear you there. You walk as soft as a cat, mate. He glanced down at his luggage. Im sure I can handle it.
Nonsense. Ashford Hotel doesnt allow their guests to haul their own luggage about. Remington said cheerfully, snatching up the suitcase. Interesting bag youve got there. He commented, nodding toward the plaid bag.
The man hastily picked it up as though he were afraid Remington would go for it next. Old family heirloom. Its the only thing Ive got left of dear old granny. Take it with me everywhere.
How odd. Remington murmured as they started for the hotel. My mother-in-law has one just like it.
Small world, isnt it? The man said with a short laugh. I guess its not as much an heirloom as we all thought. Dear old Mum will be terribly disappointed.
They jogged lightly up the steps and entered the lobby. A young man stood behind a marble-topped counter. He smiled broadly as Remington approached but seeing the quick shake of Remingtons head, he swallowed the greeting hed been about to make and turned his attention to the guest instead.
Welcome to Ashford Castle, Sir. The desk clerk said. Can I help you?
James Caulfield. I have a reservation. Called this morning.
The clerk checked the reservation book. Yes, here it is. Youre here for a golf holiday, arent you? Do you need help with your clubs?
Changed my mind. Jamie said quickly. Decided to come up here and just relax. A few days in the country should help a city fellow like me unwind.
Thats too bad. Remington said. My brother-in-law would have liked a golf partner, and I would have liked an excuse not to be that partner.
There was silence as the desk clerk prepared the paperwork. Remington continued to loiter, and Jamie continued to wish the man to the devil. There was something about the chap that had set his alarm bells off. Jamie instinctively knew that the man was dangerous. He looked harmless enough, cheerful and friendly, polite to a fault, but there was something in his eyes that said he sensed Jamie was not all that he appeared to be.
Jamie signed the paperwork and accepted the key from the clerk. He picked up his bags, flashed Remington a smile and said, Well, mate, Im sure Ill be seeing you around.
Im sure you will too. Remington murmured under his breath as he watched the man disappear into the elevator that had been installed specifically for the guests. He turned to Joseph, the desk clerk. What room is he in?
The St. George Suite, Room 72, Mr. Steele.
Thank you, Joseph. Remington said, tapping the counter before turning to leave. Keep up the good work and let me know if you notice anything suspicious about that chap.
Will do, Mr. Steele.
Jamie surveyed the guests seated in the hotel dining room. All lords and ladies by the look of them, but what did he expect as these rates? He wondered absently if Mr. Wade would consider reimbursing his expenses. Otherwise, he would have a lift a few jewels to break even. Overall it was a bad situation, very bad. Not only was the location undesirable due to a previous romp in the neighborhood a year ago but that fellow in the parking lot had put his defenses up. He hated doing a job when he had to continually look over his shoulder. Well, Jamie boy, he told himself, the quicker you locate grandma and swap bags on her, the quicker you get out of this place.
His eyes drifted around the dining room, noting the polished wood, the crystal chandeliers and the various ladies that could or could not be the one he was looking for. He noted a young woman with blonde hair sitting across from a solemn-looking chap with gray hair and mustache. No, too young. She wouldnt be caught dead with plaid. His gaze bounced over to a table that housed two older couples. Possibly, he thought, but somehow he doubted it. Those two women wouldnt kick a man in the shins. Theyd have their maids do it. Come to think of it, none of these women looked the type to wrestle over a bag.
Discouraged he sat down at a table and ordered the Chicken Marsala and a bottle of white wine. He had just drained his first glass of wine when the man from the parking lot entered. On his arm was a very pregnant woman dressed in a teal colored gown. His eyes went right past her pretty face and dark hair and zeroed in on her jewels. First rate diamonds, every one of them. So the fellow knew his rocks. Interesting. He was also someone of importance for the wait staff immediately snapped to attention at his arrival and ushered the couple to a large, round table set for eight.
Jamie waved a waiter over. I say, old chap, whos that gentleman that just came in?
The young man looked at him as though he was loopy. Thats the Earl of Claridge, Sir. He owns Ashford Castle.
I thought a chap named Remington Steele owned the place.
The Earl of Claridge is Remington Steele. And that his wife, Laura Steele. Theyre famous detective from Los Angeles. The waiter added with obvious pride. Would you care for some more wine, Sir?
So, Jamie thought, his eyes narrowing as he studied the couple. Thats Remington Steele and his wife. And it was his mother-in-law that had the bag. Hed said so that afternoon. Had he already gleaned onto Jamies intentions? Is that why hed thrown that juicy piece of information out like a bone to a starving dog? Oh Lord, this was getting trickier and trickier. If the mother did have the bag that meant he was going to have to get into the family residence, a more daunting task than breaking into hotel rooms. And if Steele was already suspicious ah, well, he always liked a good challenge. A little charm, a little quick thinking and a little luck and he might just pull it off.
The weak link was no doubt the mother-in-law. Hed work on her.
I dont like that man. Laura declared as they sat in the ballroom after dinner.
The hotel had hired a jazz orchestra for the night, providing their guests with evening entertainment. The earl and his family had been compelled to attend. Compelled by Abigail and Frances, Remington mused as he watched the dancers move slowly around the dance floor, strains of All the Way filling the air. He remembered the days when he and Laura could dance to such music and sighed. Now it was a little difficult to get his arms around his wife. Patience, old boy, he told himself. Shed be back to her old self in a few more weeks, and then hed take her to a nice little restaurant in L.A. and theyd dance the night away.
Hes paying Mother way too much attention. Laura continued, her eyes riveted on the couple. Whats he up to?
Your mother is still an attractive woman. Remington pointed out.
Lauras head turned and she looked at him, brown eyes dark with suspicion Shes at least twenty years older than him. I dont trust him.
Me neither. Remington admitted. Never fear, Laura, my love, Ive already got an eye on him.
You do? She asked, obviously surprised. Why?
When he came in this afternoon, he was carrying a bag that looked just like your mothers.
So hes the one that tried to steal it from her.
Remington shook his head. If he had, would she be dancing with him?
Good point. Laura acknowledged. She would have screamed bloody murder, or at least pointed out to Frances that shed been right all along. She paused for a moment, thinking and then said, But if its merely a case of mistaken identity, why doesnt he just come right out and say so?
My thoughts exactly. Remington said, leaning over to give his wife a kiss on the ear. Im amazed at how entwined our minds have become, Laura, love. Keeping his mouth close to her ear, he continued, his voice soft, There must be something in the bag that he doesnt want anyone to know about. Therefore, he murmured, his mouth moving from her ear to just beside her mouth, I propose taking a tour of his room while your mother keeps him busy.
Im coming with you.
He took her chin in his hand, turning her head gently towards him until their mouths were nearly touching. He looked into her eyes, his expression gentle but firm. Laura, if you havent noticed, youre very pregnant. Its not like the old days when we could shimmy up drainpipes and crawl along furnace ducts.
It doesnt take a lot of maneuverability to sneak into a hotel room. She pointed out.
No, He agreed, but someones got to make sure both of them stay here. Ill have to pilfer your mothers room as well in order to find what hes after.
She looked rebellious but resigned. Im only agreeing to this because I know its important to keep an eye on them. Otherwise, Id go with you pregnant or not.
Thats my Laura. He said, letting his lips caress hers. Believe me, my love, Ill be just as glad as you when this baby is born, and youre back to your old feisty self. I miss my partner in crime.
Remington sent a quick glance up and down the hallway, and then removed his pick from his breast pocket. The door opened easily, and he slipped into Caulfields room. He could have used the key, being the hotel owner, but old habits died hard. Besides, one had to keep in practice. He closed he door softly, locked it and switched on the bedside lamp. A dim golden glow filled the room.
Finding the plaid bag sitting near the dresser, he swung it onto the bed and opened it. Papers and folders rested inside. Abigails genealogical research. Re-latching the bag and replacing it beside the dresser, he went for the suitcase and garment, both of which were empty. Obviously Caulfield had unpacked. As any man who cared about his clothing would, Remington mused as he began searching for what he had really come to the room to find. The evidence that would prove his instincts correct.
He checked in all the usual places and finally found what he was looking for wedged between the box spring and metal bed slats. He lay on the floor and opened each passport. There were five altogether, all bearing different names but the same picture. He smiled. How it brought back memories. Was it really nearly two years since Scotland Yard had confiscated his and Mildred and Laura had officially given him the name of Remington Steele? Now he carried one passport and was proud of it.
He quickly scanned the names, filing them away in his brain, before carefully replacing them back where hed found them. Mustnt alert Mr. Caulfield that someone had been rummaging through his identities. Then he got to his feet, switched off the light and left Room 72, heading for the elevator and the family wing of the castle.
Abigail had not locked her door. The knob turned easily in his hand. A very big oversight that he would tactfully point out to her tomorrow morning at breakfast. He pushed open the door and was surprised to see Laura pulling the plaid bag out of the large armoire that dominated one side of the room.
Correct me if Im wrong but didnt I leave you downstairs with the purpose of keeping an eye on your mother and Caulfield? He asked, entering the room and quietly shutting the door behind him.
You did. She agreed, tossing the bag onto the bed. But I got bored.
I could have been your mother or Caulfield. Remington pointed out, his voice tight with annoyance. He did not like Laura breaking her promises. Then what would you have done?
Ive got Dan watching the stairs. Hes supposed to give me a signal if anyone but you came up the stairs. She was too busy opening the bag to notice his anger.
Remington joined her, crossing the room with cat-like stillness. Isnt Dan supposed to be in bed?
She was having difficulty with the latch. Did you go to bed at 11 oclock when you were thirteen?
I was lucky to have a bed when I was thirteen. He retorted, somewhat bitterly.
The bag finally opened. Its full of lingerie! She exclaimed, pulling out a see-thru nightie. What is this guy? Some kind of pervert? She continued rooting through the bag, tossing out bras, underwear and teddies. Wait a minute. I think Ive got something.
She pulled out a black silk stocking. Turning it upside down, they watched as a sapphire and diamond necklace fell onto the bed.
Remington picked it up, holding it up to the light. Excellent cut and clarity. Its worth at least a quarter of a million.
Ive got something else. Out came another stocking, which contained a matching bracelet and earrings. Laura glanced at Remington who was now studying the bracelet. Do they look familiar to you?
I havent been keeping track of jewels lately. He murmured, sending a lingering glance over his wifes rounded form. Ive had other things on my mind.
Like cricket bats and polo ponies?
Well, Laura said, placing her hands on her back to help support the weight of the baby. They must be stolen.
Remington nodded, putting the jewels in his pocket. Ill send Miklene out for the international papers in the morning. See if theres anything about recent jewel heists.
Suddenly a loud hooting broke the silence.
That must be Dan. Laura said, her eyes going to the door. Someones coming.
Working quickly, they stuffed the lingerie into the bag and shoved it back into the armoire. The hooting was becoming more frantic, and they could hear Abigails voice saying What is the world is that noise? To which Caulfield murmured A nightingale in Berkeley Square, Abby darling? Abigail giggled, causing Laura to frown darkly. She started toward the door, but Remingtons hand stopped her.
Were deal with it later. Right now weve got to hide.
Lauras eyes roamed the room. Where?
The obvious place was under the bed, but there was no way Laura could fit under there, at least not quickly. Remingtons frantic gaze fell on the armoire. It was big enough for two.
Get in. He muttered, turning Laura toward the armoire.
He watched for several seconds as she struggled to raise her foot high enough to manage the step inside. Her advance pregnancy and her high heels were making the feat impossible. Remington, losing patience, did the only thing he could think of. He turned her around, sat her down on the armoire floor and began pulling off her heels.
Havent you ever heard of flats? He muttered.
If I have to wear these tents, Im at least going to be fashionable on my feet. Laura retorted. You ought to understand that.
The heels thudded against the back of the armoire. There are times when fashion doesnt matter. Remington told her sternly.
Laura looked at him. Like at airports?
He lifted her to her feet. If you werent pregnant, Id
What, Mr. Steele? Spank me? She asked, raising an impertinent brow.
Dont tempt me, Mrs. Steele. He growled, spinning her around and half lifting half shoving her inside. He climbed in and closed the door just as the outer door was opening.
Thats odd. Abigail said, her voice sounding slightly slurred. Im sure I turned that light off.
Shes drunk. Laura hissed against Remingtons ear.
Dont worry about it, Abby darling. Caulfield murmured. His voice sounded perfectly sober. Im sure Steele can afford a few extra amps on his electricity bill. Just get your wrap. The moon is waiting.
He plays fast and loose with other peoples money, I see. Remington muttered in Lauras ear.
They could hear Abigails footsteps. They sounded uneven as though she had to stop several times. But that wasnt the worse part as far as the occupants of the armoire were concerned. The worse part was they were definitely headed in their direction. They heard her hand thump against the door, fumbling on the latch and then the door began to open.
Remington, thinking fast, grabbed a wrap hanging next to him and shoved it into Abigails hand. Through the crack in the door, they saw her stare at it blankly as though wondering how it had come to be in her hand, but then she shrugged, a bemused smile lifting her lips as she closed the door and stumbled her way back across the room.
Im ready for that walk now, Jamie dear. Abigail said with a coy giggle. You said something about walking in beauty
She walks in beauty, like the night; of cloudless climes and starry skies Caulfield quoted, his smooth, velvety voice fading away as they left the room and departed down the hallway.
Of all the creeps! Laura gritted. He got my mother drunk! Drunk! Shes never been drunk in her life!
Hes not intending to ravish her, Laura. Remington said calmly, opening the door and stepping out. Hes just making sure she sleeps soundly tonight. He held out his arms to help her down when the hooting came again. Bloody hell, now what? Crowding Laura back inside, he resumed his position beside her. He was getting a little too familiar with Abigail Holts wardrobe.
What a shame its raining! Abigail mourned. I did so want to hear that poem. It sounded divine. There was a pause and then she murmured, rather seductively, Laura thought in abject horror, Perhaps youd like to come in and finish it. I think I have a bottle of wine around here somewhere.
Remington could sense Lauras outrage, crushed up against her body as he was, and quickly placed a hand over her mouth before she could verbalize it.
No, lovely lady, Id better not. Caulfield sighed, regret heavy in his voice. You need your sleep. But I promise you if the weathers fine tomorrow evening, well stroll through the moonlight and Ill quote Bryon to your hearts content.
Abigail made a few murmurs of disappointment but the door closed and they heard only one set of footsteps stumbling about the room.
Whats that shes singing? Laura whispered.
Im in the Mood for Love. Remington answered grimly.
Oh, God. Laura groaned.
It seemed like it took hours for Abigail to finally go to bed but eventually they heard the light switch off, and the room fall into silence. They waited, listening for the sound of sleep. They waited so long that Remington thought they might have fallen asleep themselves because when next he moved his body protested with several aches that hadnt been there previously. His wife, whose weight he appeared to be supporting, didnt stir. He pushed open the door and glanced out. He could hear slow, even breathing.
Laura. He whispered, giving his wife a slight shake. Shes asleep. Come on.
Hmm? Laura murmured, lifting her head slowly and glancing around.
Your mother. Shes asleep. Remington repeated. We can finally get out here.
But just as he was about to slip out, the outer door creaked.
Oh, not again. Laura muttered irritably.
Its Caulfield. Remington told her. Hes here to switch the bags.
But the bags in here with us. Laura pointed out.
Bloody hell. Remington grimaced.
Grabbing the bag, he slipped in through the door and quietly sat it on the floor beside the armoire. Then they waited as Caulfield slipped silently into the room. He paused for a moment at the foot of Abigails bed, apparently looking around. Then spying what hed come for, he crossed the room on cat-like feet, picked up the bag beside the armoire and replaced it with the one hed been carrying.
As soon as he left the room, Remington and Laura tumbled out of the armoire and followed him out the door. They were taking no more chances that another visitor might appear. After all, there was still the ghost.
So not only is Mr. Caulfield a dirty, rotten scoundrel that gets ladies drunk, hes a jewel thief as well. Laura murmured as they sat before the fireplace in their own room. She was holding the necklace, admiring the brilliant blue sparkle of the sapphires. They were very beautiful. She could understand why they had fascinated her husband for so many years. And he was after Mothers bag because it held these.
It would appear so. Remington agreed, propping his feet on the coffee table and leaning back against the sofa he and Laura shared. Im fairly confident he was the one that stole them, but the question is why was he passing them off to someone else?
A fence? Laura suggested.
Remington shook his head. Once youve got the jewels you dont let them out of your sight. You take them to the fence personally. He rubbed his eyes. No, theres more to this than meets the eye.
Laura put down the necklace and looked at her husband. He had that look on his face he always got whenever one of his nefarious friends got into trouble. Shed seen it with the Lebrets and the dagger in Cannes and when Eddie and his girlfriend were murdered in his apartment. He had a weak spot for criminals and old friends. She had learned to accept it. Life was easier if she just went ahead and helped him than fight against it and have he go off on his own and get them into even bigger trouble. Besides, she admired his loyalty.
So what are we going to do about it? She asked. Go to the police?
There was a silence as she waited for his answer. Finally, he said, I think we can handle this ourselves, dont you, Laura?
You feel some kind of kinship towards this guy, dont you? She asked in return.
He reminds me of someone.
Perhaps. He admitted. But Id say hes more like Daniel. Unrepentant to the end.
Laura nodded, expecting his reply. So what do we do?
Have a talk with him. Hear his side of the story. His head rolled against the cushions until he was looking at her, his eyes beseeching. You understand, dont you, Laura?
Strangely enough, I do. She handed him the necklace and then leaned over to give him a kiss. You take care of Mr. Caulfield. Ill go along with whatever you decide to do.
There was a long pause as Remingtons eyes searched her face, touching each feature before returning to repeat the process. Then the corner of his mouth lifted, and he reached out a hand, pushing back a swath of her hair. Remember in Cannes when I said I couldnt come to you with my problems because youd get upset? She nodded. Well, thats changed. I feel as though you trust me now, that youre willing to listen to my side of things.
Its called love. Laura told him, her voice soft. Besides, we work much better as a team rather than two individuals pulling in opposite directions.
He sat up, took her face between his hands and kissed her, gently, tenderly. I love you, Laura.
Later as they were lying in bed, Lauras voice came again.
Do you know what the worse thing about all this is?
What? Remington mumbled into her hair.
Mother was right. Someone was trying to steal her bag. Laura said grimly. And if she ever finds out shell never let Frances or I forget it.
Thats it, Dan. Remington called out. Keep your back straight. Use your knees as well as the reigns.
He watched as Dan trotted the horse around the stable yard. He was a quick learner. Soon hed be ready to try the mallet and ball. Mindy, on the other hand, needed more practice, she was still too stiff in the saddle, and Laurie Beth he glanced down at the little girl standing beside him, looking at the pony in front of her with huge eyes she might never get the hang of it. Still, he thought with customary optimism, girls were supposed to love horses.
Come on, Poppet, he said, grasping the girl by the waist and hauling her atop of the pony, up you get. She sat on the horse, clutching at the mane, her bottom lip beginning to tremble. Oh, blimey, what was he supposed to do with tears? Those books Laura had bought hadnt mentioned that. Best to get her moving as soon as possible.
He waved the groom over, handing him the reigns. Walk her around a bit. Slow and easy until she gets used to the horse.
Yes, sir. The groom touched his cap and led Laurie Beth away.
Remington watched him go. He was new to the castle staff. He didnt remember seeing him last year, but he appeared to know his horses so he didnt question his employment. Miklene knew what he was doing. But still there was something in the mans eyes, his expression that caused an uneasy feeling. He just didnt look like a man who made his living tending horses and mucking out stables. Remington was still staring after the groom when a voice came from behind him.
I didnt know you were a riding instructor as well as a private investigator. A jack of all trades, eh?
Remington didnt bother to turn around. He knew who it was. Actually, hed been expecting him.
Youre an early raiser. Remington noted before turning and joining Caulfield at the railing. But I can understand your enthusiasm. Fair days are so rare in Ireland, eh?
Youve got something that belongs to me. Caulfield said, getting down to business. Id like to have it back.
Belongs to you? Remington echoed. I think not. The paper said it belongs to Tiffanys of London. The Glacé Collection, all three pieces worth nearly a million dollars.
A mere technicality. Caulfield said, flashing a smile. Possession is 9/10th of the law, isnt it?
Ah, but youre no longer in possession, are you?
Caulfield studied him silently for a moment or two, his eyes narrowed, and then said, They told me you were a world famous detective, but I didnt think you were that good. You knew as soon as you saw me what Id come for. No ones ever blown my cover that quickly.
Remington shrugged. Lets just say I know the type.
Tracked a lot of jewel thieves, have you?
Some. Remington admitted before turning to watch the riders, leaning against the railing, arms crossed. To Catch a Thief. Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Paramount, 1955. A retired thief sets out to catch another thief.
There was a silence, and then Caulfield asked, his voice incredulous. You? A thief? Isnt that a conflict of interest?
Im retired, mate. Gave it up six years ago.
Imagine that. Caulfield murmured as though he were truly amazed. I didnt think it possible to retire so young. You must have stolen one hell of a rock.
No. Remington said flatly. I met a woman.
The current Mrs. Steele?
Remington nodded, his eyes on Mindy who was picking up speed, becoming more relaxed. I was bewitched by a pair of furious brown eyes. The romantics would call it love at first sight, and knowing what I know now, Id be inclined to agree with them. She was protecting the jewels I was after, and when they went to San Francisco, I stayed in Los Angeles.
Fascinating. Caulfield breathed.
Ive thought so myself many times.
So, Caulfield said cheerfully, now you use your former skills to catch ex co-patriots.
Only when they cross my path, Remington corrected, turning suddenly to look his guest in the eyes, and you, Mr. Caulfield, have crossed my path. I wont allow anyone to steal from my hotel, and I wont allow anyone to harm my wife or her family. Those were your two mistakes, mate. But something tells me that wasnt your plan. You were sent to re-steal the jewels Abigail accidentally got a hold of, right?
Jamie studied the man across from him. Hed been right. He was dangerous, and the glint in his blue eyes verified that impression. But there was also something else in his eyes, which gave Jamie reason to hope. There was a willingness to hear his side of the story, a willingness to give second chances. What an odd man, he thought, slightly bemused. Is this what finding the right woman does to a bloke?
Im paying off a debt. Jamie admitted, knowing that only the truth would get him out of this jam.
Steele seemed to consider this, and then said, This debt of yours. If you dont pay it, will a nasty character come after you?
Jamie nodded. I suspect Ill be running for quite some time. Ireland and Britain will not be safe for me.
A smile touched Steeles mouth. I had a friend with a similar problem once.
And what did you do?
Abigail shot him.
Jamie nearly choked. That dear lady shot a man?
Remington grinned. It was just pretend, old boy. The nasty bloke thought my friend was dead and that was that. Cant chase a dead man, can you?
Jamie considered this. It wasnt a bad idea. Actually it was brilliant. He even had a name he could readily assume. Thats a pretty good idea, Steele. We could fake my death, and I could keep the jewels.
No. Remington said, shaking his head. I think its best that you pay your debt. I dont think my wife would agree to her mother shooting a second man. Although after the way you got her mother drunk last night, she may make an exception.
So what do you purpose to do?
Ill give the jewels back to you.
And your wifes doesnt have a problem with that?
Isnt that an oxymoron? Jamie asked sarcastically. A wife that understands. She must be one in a million.
He watched the smile that spread across Steeles face, and for a brief moment, he envied him. She is. Steele murmured before straightening up and pinning him with that blue-eyed stare once again. Youll find the jewels in the hotel safe. When youre ready to depart, tell Joseph to retrieve the package Ive left for you. Hell know which one. Youre welcome to stay as long as you like, but if I hear of anything missing from the hotel, this agreement is null and void, and Ill hunt you down. Got it?
Remington nodded to the man and turned away, satisfied that Caulfield understood him perfectly. Besides, he had no more time for the man. He could hear Laurie Beth beginning to cry. Looks like he was going to get another lesson in fatherhood ~ drying tears and soothing scared little girls. Ah, domesticity. Caulfield should try it.
Must your driver drive so fast? Abigail moaned, holding her head. My heads killing me.
You shouldnt have drunk so much. Laura said unsympathetically.
She, her mother, Frances and Laurie Beth were on their way to visit Grace Doyle, a distant cousin according to Abigails research who lived in a nearby village. Mindy and Dan had chosen to stay at the castle and practice their riding while Donald and Remington were preparing for a round of golf. Laura was beginning to envy Remington. Golf was preferable to being crammed into a car with a mother experiencing the effects of a first rate hangover.
And I had such strange dreams. Abigail continued mournfully. I dreamt there were people popping in and out of the armoire across the room, and this morning when I woke up I found my bag on the floor beside the armoire. I know I put it inside, not outside.
Maybe you took it out when you were drunk. Laura suggested.
Must you continue harping on that, Laura? Abigail demanded. At my age its not illegal to drink a few glasses of wine.
You know, Frances said, breaking into the conversation, her expression thoughtful, Im sure I heard footsteps in the hallway last night. Do you think it might have been the ghost?
Lauras head whirled toward her sister. Where did you hear about a ghost?
Why its the talk of the hotel. Frances said with a laugh. Everyone had something to say about it last night. Lady Browning is dead set on having a séance. She insists that this dead Druid must be put to rest, and its only by talking to him and finding out what he wants that will put him to rest. She paused, sending Laura a look of disapproval. If you and Remington hadnt snuck off so early, youd have heard about it yourself. The two of you keep awfully early hours these days.
Youre eight months pregnant. Frances pointed out. That sort of puts a damper on newlywed activities, doesnt it?
Laura smiled inwardly. She didnt know Remington. You know, she said, her tone skeptical, I keep hearing about this so-called ghost, but Ive never seen it. Im beginning to think its a figment of everyones overactive imagination or a cleverly planted rumor to divert everyones attention from whats really going on.
Well, I did hear those footsteps.
How many glasses of wine did you have, Frances?
Laura! Her sister exclaimed, quickly putting her hands over Laurie Beths ears. What a question to ask in front of children. She tossed her head. Besides, I only had two or three.
Maybe it was the ghost. Abigail murmured, re-entering the conversation. Maybe thats how my bag got out of the armoire.
Mother, Laura asked, clearly frustrated, why would a ghost want your bag? I dont think a dead Druid would have any interest in genealogical research.
Well, that man at the airport wanted it.
Oh, not again! Frances groaned.
Frances, Abigail began, trying to look stern but failing miserably thanks blood-shot eyes and pasty skin, I told you
Laurie Beth, Frances said brightly in a not so subtle attempt to change the subject, how was your ride this morning?
Laurie Beth smiled. I was scared at first, but after Uncle Remy got on the horse with me, it was fun.
Remington. Laura corrected. Its Uncle Remington, not Remy.
She would have liked to point out to the child that only cheerleaders and hookers had called him that, but no doubt Frances would have thought that inappropriate for little ears as well.
Is there really a ghost? Laurie Beth asked, wide-eyed.
No. Laura replied.
Yes. Abigail and Frances contradicted.
When the girl looked from one to the other, her face screwed up in a confusion, Laura explained. There are no such things as ghosts. If there is a ghost at Ashford Castle, Im sure its very much alive and up to no good. Whoever is playing ghost just wants to distract our attention from what theyre really up to.
The child nodded. Thats how they do it on Scooby-Doo. The bad guys always pretend to be ghosts to scare people away.
A very astute observation. Laura said with a smile.
Further conversation on ghosts was delayed by the driver easing the limo up in front of a small, white-washed stone cottage with a thatch roof. All climbed out and stood on the sidewalk for a moment or two before starting for the front door, which was painted a bright red. Another crackpot, Laura mused dryly, remembering the bright red door of her neighbor back home.
Abigail, clutching her bag, rang the bell. A round-cheeked woman answered the door, peering out suspiciously. Yes? Can I be a helpin ye? She asked with a heavy brogue.
Hello. My names Abigail Holt, and Im here to see Grace Doyle. Abigail explained. I wrote several week ago. She ought to be expecting me.
Abby, me darlin. The woman exclaimed, enveloping Abigail in an enthusiastic hug. Come in, come in. I got your letter a week ago, and dear Blessed Mary, Ive be a waitin for you to come. Give me a minute and Ill get us a spot of tea. She ushered them inside the little house. Or would you prefer coffee with just a wee nip of whiskey?
Tea will be fine. Abigail said quickly. Ive had quite enough alcohol for one day.
Could I have my bill, please? Jamie asked the desk clerk. Im checking out.
Yes, of course. Joseph said.
Jamie nearly choked when he saw the total for one nights stay. Steele was definitely making a killing on this place, he thought, pulling out his credit card and handing it to the young man. He waited patiently as the clerk completed the transaction. He picked up his suitcase, plaid case and garment bag, turning to leave and then stopped.
Oh, by the way, Mr. Steele said hed left a package for me.
Yes, sir. Joseph confirmed. If youll wait just a moment, Ill get it for you.
The young man disappeared into a room behind the counter, leaving Jamie to kick his heels in the hotel lobby. He set his bags down, turned so he could lean against the counter and sent a casual glance around the hotel lobby. What he saw through the windows on either side of the large oak entrance had him choking again. He jerked upright and hurried over to the windows to get a better look.
His eyes werent playing tricks on him. Kevin was loitering in the parking lot, circling his sports car like a shark deciding whether to attack. He only knew the man by his first name. Members of the IRA didnt like to share too many personal details. Bloody hell, he had hoped to beat it out of town before they got word of his presence.
Heres your package, Mr. Caulfield.
Jamie nearly jumped a mile at the sound of the clerks voice. He whirled, smiled broadly and walked as casually as possible over to the counter where he accepted a small black case. He shoved it into his breast pocket as his eyes searched for another way out of the hotel. The doors leading from the hotel to the family residence beckoned. Surely Steele wouldnt mind if he availed himself of another exit.
Ah he said, hurriedly extracting a bill from his wallet, could you give me change?
Joseph looked at him suspiciously but accepted the money and disappeared once again into the room.
Jamie wasted no time. He grabbed up his belongings and quickly slipped through the connecting doors. Thank God that butler wasnt lurking about or he might have some explaining to do. He ran lightly through the hallway and into the main foyer of the castle. He passed the stairway and headed for the doors, running down the steps and right into Steele and Donald Piper. They were loading golf clubs into the back seat of a rental car.
Get lost, Mr. Caulfield? Remington asked.
Ah no, Jamie said quickly, his mind searching for an excuse and an escape, Actually I was looking for you.
I was under the impression that wed said all we needed to say to each other this morning.
Well, you see, I was hoping for a lift into town. Thought you might be able to help me out, you being the owner and all.
Remington studied Caulfield with narrowed eyes. He knew a nervous man when he saw one. Oh, the fellow was good, quick thinking and an excellent actor, but he knew what it felt like and looked like to be on the run. And the man was running. There was no doubt. The only question was from whom. The person he owed the debt to or someone else? The hairs on the back of his neck said he didnt want to know.
What happened to that sports car you arrived in?
Jamie flashed an apologetic smile. Flat tire. Damnable luck, eh? He glanced at Donald. He was obviously the softer touch. Would you mind, old boy, if I rode into town with you?
No problem. Donald said amiably. Well be passing through on the way to the course.
Youre a real sport, mate. Jamie said, slapping Donald on the shoulder as he tossed his luggage into the back seat.
It was a tight squeeze with golf clubs, suitcase, plaid case and garment bag, but now wasnt the time to be picky. Hed rode in worse conditions. His only complaint was that it seemed to take forever to get underway, but finally they were moving down the road, Donald chattering about greens, Steele sitting as silent as a sphinx in the passengers seat.
Going for a round of golf, eh? Jamie asked from the back seat.
Yeah, Donald answered, theres a real nice course the boys back home recommended. Supposed to have the slickest greens in Ireland.
Jamies head turned, looking out the back window. A dark sedan was following them.
Wonderful sport. Jamie noted absently, his attention on the car. Wish I had time for a round myself.
Remington, watching from the rear view mirror, noted their passengers preoccupation with the back window and glanced in the side mirror. A dark sedan was behind them. They were being followed. Hed been in too many car chases with Laura not to recognize the signs. Caulfield obviously recognized the signs also.
Remington glanced at his watch. Ah, Donald, you might want to increase your speed a bit, or well be late.
Donald complied. The rental picked up speed. So did the sedan.
Take that road to the right. Remington said.
Donald glanced over at him. But thats not the way to the course.
Donald, old chap, were being followed. Remington told him flatly. And if the behavior of our passenger is any indication, the people behind us are not the pleasant type.
Donalds eyes widened, going to the rear view mirror. The sedan?
Without further argument, Donald turned the wheel, sending them skidding onto the side road. The sedan followed, throwing a spray of gravel from beneath their tires.
Remington turned in his seat, pinning Jamie with a steely stare. If its not too much trouble, mate, could you tell us who were running from?
The IRA! Donald squawked. Frances is going to kill me!
Remington quickly accessed their situation. I suggest you try throwing the clubs out the windows in hopes of slowing them down.
Good idea, Steele. Jamie said, rolling down the windows.
Those clubs cost over $1000! Donald protested as a driver went flying out the window followed by an ugly plaid bag. The sedan swerved but kept coming.
Its either the clubs or the IRA, Donald. Remington gritted. Its up to you.
Ok, ok. Donald muttered. The clubs, the clubs. Just dont throw out that putter. That was a birthday present from Frances.
Too late. Jamie called out. It just went out the window.
But Donald wasnt listening. He was staring at the flock of sheep congregated on the road before them. It was the end of the line. He couldnt plow through a flock of sheep. He stepped on the brake, and the car screeched to a halt.
The passenger door was yanked open and Jamie found a semi-automatic shoved up against his Astor & Black suit. Led us on a nice, little chase, didnt you, Brady? The man named Kevin sneered. Come on. Out. Mullins wants to talk to you. Unfinished business. He glanced at Donald and Remington. You better come along too.
All three men left the rental and slid into the back of the sedan. Another man that Jamie didnt recognize sat behind the wheel of the car. He waited until Kevin had climbed inside and closed the door before turning the sedan around. Kevin wasted no time in training his gun on his captives.
Remington kept watch on the countryside outside their windows, making note of landmarks, and musing on how he was once again embroiled in an adventure not of his making. At least Laura was safe. It was only himself and Donald to worry about.
As for Caulfield, hed given the man a break that morning. He had no intention of doing so again. The man attracted trouble like he paused and then unwillingly a smile lifted one corner of his mouth. He was beginning to sound like Laura. Next hed be tackling the man and demanding to know what was going on.
Finally the car turned into a long driveway, which led to a large, fieldstone house that looked like it had seen better days. Well, what did one expect from the IRA? Its not like theyd want to publicize their whereabouts. Something out of the way and ramshackle would raise no questions.
They were herded out of the car and led to an outbuilding where they were apparently being put for safekeeping. Wait here. Kevin said gruffly, shutting the door and locking it.
As soon as the door was closed, Remington turned on Jamie, hands on hips, blue eyes blazing. Ok, mate, whats going on? Why does the IRA want to talk to you?
Jamie looked uncomfortable but tried a smile. His smile has always gotten him out of tights spots before. Well, they might have the idea that Im a gun runner.
A gun runner? Remington exclaimed, stunned. Of all the explanations hed been expecting that was the last one.
Oh, God, Donald moaned, sitting down on an overturned bucket, Frances is going to kill me.
Jamie had the grace to look sheepish. Terrible shock, I know. It was to me too. You see, last year, I was trying to pinch this frightfully expensive diamond necklace from the Countess of Peterborough, and I happened to run into these people. They were trying to pinch the same necklace. To make a long story short, I got the Countess, but they got the necklace. He smiled as though remembering something pleasant before continuing, I couldnt let them keep the thing, could I? A Countess is a poor substitute for a necklace worth a quarter of a million. So I sort of implied that if they gave me the necklace, Id arrange for a shipment of weapons.
And you never arranged for the shipment. Remington finished grimly.
How could I? Jamie asked helplessly. I admit that I know some interesting people, but none of them deal in weapons. Bloody shame that. It would have gotten me out of this pickle if I had. He glanced at Remington, his expression hopeful, I say. You wouldnt happen to know of any
No, I dont. Remington said flatly.
Then I dont know how were going to get out of this situation. Jamie replied with a cheerfulness that made Donald groan even louder.
I suggest you think of something. Remington told him, his voice deadly quiet.
Jamie struck a thoughtful pose. He even began pacing back and forth. For an ex-thief this Steele fellow was being damnably persistent. If he knew how to extricate himself from his current situation, wouldnt he have done so already? He told the man that he didnt know of any weapon dealers. Wait. A morsel of information was flittering its way through his head. Hadnt there been some gossip last night at the hotel about a Colonel Armstrong?
Just then the door swung open and Kevin stood on the threshold. He waved his gun. Come on. Mullins wants to see you.
They were ushered into the house and directed towards a room in the back where a burly man dressed completely in black was sitting. Papers and maps were spread out on a table before him. He looked up at they entered. His eyes were as black as his clothing and as hard as the bullets in the gun strapped to his side.
Sean, laddie, he murmured, his voice sounding like the purr of a big cat, what a pleasure to see you again.
I wish I could say the same. Jamie replied grimly.
How are those arrangements going, eh?
Swimmingly. Jamie declared. I was right in the middle of highly sensitive negotiations when your boys interrupted.
Do you always negotiate while throwing golf clubs out a window?
How were we to know you werent some other group? There are various militias running all over the countryside. I had to protect the Colonels representative.
Yes, theres a former colonel in the British army staying nearby that has connections with the Soviets. I was negotiating with his representative here, Jamie clamped a hand on Remingtons shoulder, when your boys interrupted.
Mullins eyes went to Remington. Who are you?
Remington slipped easily into the role assigned. He didnt like it, but he saw no other way out. When in doubt, deceive. Major Kit Rawlings.
And him? Mullins asked, motioning toward Donald who was gaping at his companions. He looks like a dentist.
Well, actually, I Donald began.
Driver. Remington said quickly. Hes been with the Colonel since the war.
The Colonel has an American driver?
The Colonels an equal opportunity employer.
Mullins looked skeptical but obviously decided not to question it further. He didnt care who he got the weapons from as long as he got them. So, he demanded, his eyes on Remington, are you going to supply us with the weapons or not?
That depends on the Colonel. I shall have to consult him. Remington said.
I thought you were the Colonels representative.
I am. Remington confirmed. But on a small deal like this Ill have to consult him. We dont normally bother with shipments of a half a million or less. If were going to stick our necks out, we want to make it worth our time and effort.
What would you consider worth your time and effort?
Remington considered this. A million.
It was Mullins turn to consider. Itll take us a few days to come up with the money.
Itll take us a few days to arrange for a shipment.
There was a silence as Mullins stared at them. Jamie wondered if the man could see the sweat standing out on his brow. Probably not. His attention seemed riveted on Steele. Appropriate name, Jamie mused. Under Mullins fierce gaze he was unflinching, a man of steel. With nerve like that why had the man ever given up the racket? Oh, yes, thats right. A woman. Bloody shame. Women were always throwing wrenches into things.
Youve got yourself a deal. Mullins finally stated.
An hour later they were back in Donalds rental, golf clubs collected from the side of the road, headed toward Ashford Castle.
Were in big trouble. Donald said.
No, Remington corrected, Mr. Bradys in big trouble.
Donald shook his head. Im not talking about that although youve got quite a plum there, Brady. He said, sending Jamie a glance in the rear view mirror.
Thank you. Ive always liked plums. Jamie said sardonically.
Im talking about Frances and Laura. We should have been home three hours ago.
Laura couldnt sleep. Not only was the baby kicking like an NFL punter but she could not shake the feeling that her husband was up to something. Their late arrival and the golf clubs that looked like theyd been run over by a tank were suspicious enough, but the return of James Caulfield was what sent goose bumps of apprehension running up and down her spine.
Remington had told her that morning what he had decided to do. As a private investigator, she would have preferred not to know, but as his wife, shed been glad that hed confided in her. Anything to get rid of the man, she had thought. And he had been gone. She had checked with the front desk after returning from Grace Doyles. Yes, Mrs. Steele, Mr. Caulfield had checked out. So what was he doing back in Room 72?
Annoyed with her thoughts, she slipped from the bed, pulling on her robe. Perhaps a glass of warm milk would settle the baby as well as her suspicions. But as she was passing the window, a glimmer of light caught her eye. She stopped and turned, drawn inexorably to the window. Lights were blinking and bobbing on the water. They had a muted look about them as though screened by a thin cloth. Where these the lights mentioned in conjunction with the ghost or it just a passing boat?
She grasped the window pane, and with a quick glance at Remington to make sure he was still sleeping, she pushed it up. Cool, fresh air burst into the room. Unbeknownst to her husband, shed had his nails removed for just such an occasion.
Leaning over the ledge as far as her stomach would allow, she looked right and then left. No lights. Then she glanced upwards, and yes, a faint glow, swinging back and forth like a pendulum, could be seen in the far north wing, specifically the north tower where nobody ever went. It had been closed off years ago.
Without pausing for thought, she put on her slippers and grabbed the flashlight they kept in the bedside table. Remington murmured at the sound of the drawer being pulled out then in but didnt wake. She paused for a moment, making sure he still slept, before letting herself out of the room. Instinctively she knew he would not be in favor of her planned exploration. He was becoming so fussy these days.
She was just passing the Pink Room where the girls were housed when a voice came out of the darkness.
Aunt Laura, where are you going? Mindy was standing the doorway of her room dressed in green pajamas and fuzzy purple slippers.
Im just going to check on something.
Did you see them too?
Sure. Mindy said. Ive been looking for them.
So have I. Laura admitted.
Can I come with you? Mindy asked, her expression eager. Ive always wanted to see a ghost.
Im afraid youre going to be disappointed. Laura told her. This ghost is very much alive.
Thats ok. I just want to solve a mystery like Nancy Drew.
Your mother would be furious if I let you come with me.
She wont know. Mindy assured her. Laurie Beth sleeps like a rock, and well be back before morning.
Laura debated the pros and the cons. Her sensible side told her to send Mindy to bed, but her adventuresome side sympathized with the girl. How often at her age had she wanted to track ghosts and solve mysteries? Besides, Mindy was right. Frances would never know.
Do you have a flashlight?
Right here. Mindy said, waving the slim silver tube at her. I keep it with me all the time. Mom bought it for me for Girl Scouts.
Ok. Lets go.
Together they navigated the hallway, the stairs and the foyer. They passed the servants wing and kept walking, opening doors and crossing corridors that led them deeper into the north wing of the castle. The deeper they went, the cooler the air became. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling like threadbare garments and the stone floor was thick with dust, which along with their soft-soled slippers muffled the sound of their steps.
Look. Mindy whispered, training her light on the floor. Footprints.
Laura placed her foot beside it. Looks like they belong to a man. Lets follow them.
The footsteps led them through a series of corridors before stopping at a stairwell. Laura shone her light up the stairwell. It was narrow and twisted like a corkscrew. Obviously a tower room. She didnt relish the climb since climbing was an activity that required a lot of energy these days, but if thats where the so-called ghost went then they had to check it out. She put her foot on the bottom step and heaved herself upwards.
The stairwell ended at a door, which she pushed open. Cool air lifted their hair as they stood atop of the northern most parapet, looking across the shadowy hills and valleys and the ocean beyond. There were no longer any lights on the water. All was dark.
Well, Laura murmured, looking over the side of the parapet, he couldnt have flown down. Wed better go back down and see if we can find another set of footprints.
They crept back down the stairwell, Laura going slow and resting a hand against the wall for support. She didnt know what was worse. Going upstairs or downstairs with a seven pound bowling ball around her waist. Even if it did give Remington the vapors, she would be more than happy to have the baby here in Ireland.
It took them some time to locate the correct trail, thanks to all the footprints that now covered the floor, but when they did, it led them straight into a large, floor length picture of some gentleman dressed in a ruff and mushroom-shaped bloomers. He stared down at them, a wicked smile on his face.
These footsteps disappear right into this picture. Laura murmured.
Maybe its a secret passage. Mindy suggested, her expression hopeful.
Good thinking. Laura said as she began running her fingers along the edge of the frame.
A second later the picture sprung open, letting out a rush of dank, musty air and revealing a dark, narrow passageway.
It looks real spooky in there. Mindy whispered.
Laura thought the same thing, but business was business. She had a ghost to catch. She squared her shoulders, turned on her flashlight and stepped inside. Im going to follow it. She told Mindy. You go on back to your room. If you follow the footsteps, theyll lead you out of here.
No, I want to go with you.
What if you need help? I thought good detectives always had back-up.
Against her better judgment, Laura gave in. Ok. But stay close.
Mindy stepped in behind her and they started their trek. The passage seemed to go on forever. Some sections were quite wide while others made Laura wonder if shed be able to squeeze through. A terrible sense of claustrophobia gripped her, and she was glad shed allowed Mindy along. It forced her to keep her cool. She couldnt let the girl see her fear as they crept onward, steadily descending.
The walls became damp and slimy, and Laura wondered if they were below ground. Just when she thought she physically could go no further, the passage ended abruptly at a thick, wooden door. There was a lock but it hung lose. Someone had passed before them but had not yet returned. She pushed open the door slowly, carefully.
The door opened into a wide, low cave. Sand covered the floor, leading to the mouth of the cave, which in turn led out into ocean. They could hear the faint roar of waves, becoming louder as they crept toward the entrance, staying close to the wall.
Look. Mindy whispered.
They stopped abruptly. A boat was moored at the entrance of the cave and men were busy unloading crates, hauling them in on rafts and then storing them inside the cave to one side. A figure in a long, flowing, hooded robe stood illuminated against the night sky, apparently overseeing the work.
The activity went on for a good half hour then the men jumped abroad the boat and it pulled slowly away, leaving the robbed figure behind. Once the boat was out of sight, the figure turned and walked hastily back to the passage, his robe scraping eerily across the sand. Laura and Mindy huddled down, pressing themselves against the rocky wall. The figure passed, entered the passageway and closed the door. The lock thudded into place.
Well, Laura said, leaving the wall and surveying their surroundings, the question is how do we get out of here? We cant use the passage because hes locked it, and we cant swim. Too cold and too dangerous. She walked out onto the sand beyond the entrance, studying the rocks above the cave. In the morning, youll have to climb out and get help, Mindy.
Me? Mindy gasped, suddenly looking very young.
Its rocky, but not too steep. When you get to the top, go get Remington and have him come for me in one of the boats. Theres no way Im going to be able to climb out with this baby.
But Mindy swallowed, Im scared.
Laura came over, took her by the shoulders and looked down at her. I know youre scared, but I know you can do it. Youre an investigator, right? The girl nodded, staring at her with solemn eyes. Then I know you can do it. I have faith in you, Mindy. And when youre about 10 years older, Ill hire you. You can work at Remington Steele Investigations.
Really? Mindy breathed, eyes wide.
Really. You have my word on it.
Remington pulled at the sheets but still he was cold. He reached for Laura. She was always an excellent heat source. When his arm came back empty, he sat bolt upright in bed. Laura was gone! His eyes searched the bedroom. She wasnt on the sofa or in the bathroom. Her robe was missing from the end of the bed and her slippers were gone. He catapulted out of bed, frantically ringing the servants bell as he struggled into pajamas and robe.
He was frantically searching for his slippers when Miklene appeared at the door, disheveled and blurry-eyed. You called, MLordship?
Have you seen Laura? Remington demanded, emerging from under the bed, slippers in hand.
Miklene looked surprised. No, MLordship. Its only five in the morning, and I dont go on duty until six. Ive never seen her Ladyship down before eight.
What about the other servants? Have they seen her? He asked, hopping around on one foot as he struggled to shove a foot into a slipper.
I I dont know. Miklene admitted. Id have to ask.
Then ask, man, ask! Remington urged.
Miklene, never having seen his Lordship is such a state, scurried off to do his bidding, coat tails flying. As Remington was turning to go back into his room to wait Miklenes report, the door of the Green Room opened, and Abigail peered out. Whats going on?
Missing? Abigail echoed. How do you know shes missing?
When I woke up, she wasnt there.
His mother-in-law laughed. Remington, dear, theres no need to be concerned. Shes probably raiding the refrigerator. I got terrible cravings when I was carrying Frances. Always had to have horseradish and pickle sandwiches at six oclock every morning.
But Laura hasnt. Remington pointed out. She always sleeps right through the night. Never gets up, never wanders.
Suddenly there was screaming from down the hall. The door of the Gold Room flew open, and Frances burst out. Thats Laurie Beth. Id know that scream anywhere. She must be having a nightmare. She disappeared into the Pink Room and almost immediately re-appeared. Mindys gone!
Miklene came huffing and puffing up the stairs. The servants report having seen neither hide nor hair of her Ladyship since last night at dinner.
Damn! Remington muttered.
He knew all eyes were on him. They were all waiting for him to take charge, to give orders but it was bloody difficult to do so when a tidal wave of panic was threatening to overwhelm him. Calm down, he ordered himself, pacing back and forth. Think logically. What could have happened to her? His mind immediately locked onto one name ~ Caulfield. Everything that had gone wrong when Caulfield has shown up. White hot anger surged through him, and he turned toward the hotel.
Excuse me, your Lordship, Miklene asked, his voice tentative, what shall I do?
Have the servants search the castle. Call out the dogs.
But we dont have any dogs, MLordship. Miklene said, chasing him down the hall.
No dogs? Remington snapped. How appalling. I thought all English gentlemen kept dogs.
Well, we did have dogs when the earl lived here regular like, Miklene said, trotting along beside him, but after Maggie Mae died, we just never replaced her.
Then borrow some. Remington growled as he burst through the hotel doors.
Jamie was rudely snatched from his dreams by a violent shaking. Good Lord, where they having an earthquake? He opened his eyes, squinting upwards as though expecting a piece of plaster to hit him in the face. Instead he saw Steele, looming over him like a black thundercloud.
Where is she? Steele demanded.
Wheres who? Jamie asked, bewildered.
Jamie searched his memory banks. They were sluggish in the morning so it took a moment or two to register the name. Oh, yes, the wife. Dont know. Sure shell turn up, old man. He closed his eyes and turned back into his pillow.
Suddenly he was flying through the air, hauled up by the front of his pajamas and slammed against the wall. He winced. Surely one or two ribs had snapped. Steeles face was inches away from his. He could see murder in the mans ice blue eyes. Ill ask once again, mate, and then Im going to throw you out that window. Where is my wife?
Im telling you I dont know. Jamie insisted frantically. Why would I want your wife? I dont want one of my own let alone another mans.
Steele seemed to consider that and then said, What about that chap you stole the jewels for? Would he kidnap her?
Hes the type, yes, but he doesnt even know her. Jamie said. Besides, I turned the rocks over to one of his henchmen last night. The debts all paid. Ive got his signature and everything. He nodded toward an envelope on the bedside table. And Wades signature is gold.
Remington still wasnt satisfied. What about those goons from yesterday?
Sure, they could have, but why would they? They think theyve made a deal. Come on, old man, get a hold of yourself. Jamie urged. Youre grasping at straws.
Remington blinked as though coming out of a dream. His hold on Jamie loosened slightly. A bewildered look was slowly replacing the murderous rage.
Would you mind putting me down? Jamie asked, trying a smile. Youre wrinkling the pajamas.
He was released so abruptly that he fell to the floor. Picking himself up, he smoothed his pajamas, his eyes on his visitor who had plopped down on the bed, his head in his hands. Youve got it bad, havent you?
Yes. Remington admitted without hesitation. Havent you ever been in love?
Jamie sauntered over to his suitcase, removed a silver flask, splashed a bit of its contents into a tumbler and handed it to Steele. No, I havent, and after seeing you, I dont think I want anything to do with that particular affliction. Ill just continue sampling the flowers in the garden. Much less exhausting.
Remington tossed back the liquor and then gasped. What was that? Turpentine?
Jamie smiled, taking a swig himself. Old family recipe. He replaced the flask and then took a seat in a nearby chair. Lets consider this logically, mate. Are you sure shes just not out taking a stroll? Women are awful fond of strolling. Used to do it a lot in the old days. Parasols and what not.
Her robe and slippers are missing. Besides, Remington said with a slight lift of his mouth, strolling is not a pleasurable activity when youre eight months pregnant.
That far along, eh? Jamie turned his mind to other possibilities. Maybe shes having a snack in the kitchen. Dont pregnant women want pickles and other uneatable things?
Her mother suggested that, and no, shes never had a particular craving. He paused as the mention of Abigail reminded him of a detail hed forgotten in his rage. One of the nieces is missing too.
Well, there you are. Jamie declared as though the case was solved. They must have gone off together. Nobody is going to kidnap an aunt and a niece. Makes no sense.
Remington suddenly sat upright as more memories flooded his brain. The room had been cold, damnably cold, as if a window had been left open all night. He jumped up, heading for the door. He was down the hallway, past the front desk and throwing open the doors to the family residence before he realized Caulfield was on his heels.
He stopped, ready to tell the man to go back to his room when Jamie silenced him by saying If you dont mind, Id like to join the search. Its the least I can do for a chap thats helped me out of a tight spot or two. I imagine if I had a wife, and I said imagine, mind you, Id want to get her back too.
By silent agreement they joined forces, jogging the rest of the way back to the master suite where Remington found exactly what he had expected to find.
Miklene! He yelled. There was a scrambling of feet and the butler head and then body appeared at the top of the stairs. I thought I ordered that window nailed shut.
Oh, you did, MLordship. Miklene assured him. But her Ladyship ordered it un-nailed the day you arrived.
And who has the final word around here? The Lordship or the Ladyship?
Miklene looked uncomfortable. Why, you, of course, MLordship.
Then dont ever follow an order from her Ladyship that contradicts one of mine. If her Ladyship has a problem with that, send her to me.
Yes, MLordship. Miklene agreed reluctantly as he imagined her Ladyships reaction to this new rule. It was frightening to contemplate so he didnt. Instead to turn to his mind to the information hed collected in the Lordships absence. Ah, begging your pardon, but while you were gone Ive been questioning some of the servants, and theyre reporting that the old Druid was out and about last night. Lights were seen on the water and in the north tower.
Remington frowned. He now knew without a doubt what had happened to his wife. He should have known she wouldnt be able to resist. Hadnt she told him so? Hadnt she said: You didnt say anything about ghosts? He should have handcuffed her to him. And she had the nerve to claim that he was the troublemaker.
Have the servants search the entire north wing as well as the grounds. Remington said grimly. Im fairly certain her Ladyship has gone ghost hunting.
In the end it was Dan who alerted them to Laura and Mindys whereabouts. They were all gathered in the drawing room, waiting for news from the search parties, when Dan, whod been kneeling on the sofa, staring morosely out the window, for he couldnt imagine anything more boring than what he was doing, suddenly jerked upright.
Look! He cried. Theres a light down there.
They all rushed to the window. There was a light, a brief flash that came and went from the rocks below. Remington wasted no time. He was out the door, sprinting down the steps and across the lawn. As he drew closer, he could see a small figure in green pajamas. It was Mindy. Where was Laura? He scrambled down the rocks, ignoring the scrapes and cuts he received in the process.
Mindy. He called when only a few feet separated them. Wheres Laura?
Shes in the cave. She called back. My foots stuck. Thats way I used the mirror on my flashlight.
Remington reached the girl and quickly accessed the situation. Her foot was wedged between two rocks, a fuzzy purple slipper preventing its release. He pulled off the slipper and pulled the foot free. Then he handed her up to Donald who had followed him down the rocks.
Good work, Mindy. He said before turning to continue down the rocks.
A hand stopped him. He tried to shake it off, but it held fast.
You cant get her out that way. Jamie told him flatly. Youd have to be superman to carry a pregnant woman over these rocks.
Laura said to have you come for her with a boat. Mindy offered.
Reason and emotion warred within him. His one thought was to get to Laura, even if it meant tearing himself apart on these bloody rocks, but he had enough sanity left to recognize that the sensible thing to do was get the boat. Decision made, he climbed back up the rocks, sprinting for the boat dock as soon as his feet touched solid ground. He was momentarily surprised when Caulfield climbed into the boat with him, taking the rudder, but he didnt question it. Two sets of eyes were better than one.
Stay close to the shore or we might miss her. He yelled over the roar of the motor.
Jamie complied, easing the boat close to the shoreline. It wasnt long before they saw a figure outlined against the darkness of a rocky opening. Before Jamie could even maneuver the boat through the caves opening, Remington was leaping out, splashing through the water. He swept Laura into his arms, kissing her frantically.
Laura, baby, he rasped between kisses, dont ever do that to me again!
Its not like I intended to end up in a cave. She told him.
Thats not the point. Remington said, taking her face between his hands so he could look into her eyes. We had an agreement, remember? We dont wander off by ourselves.
I wasnt by myself. Mindy was with me.
Ok. I wont do it again. Satisfied?
No, but Ill resign myself.
How is Mindy? Laura asked. Im assuming she made it out ok.
We had a fuzzy slipper fatality but all is well.
Good. There was a pause and then a look of excitement crossed her face and she took his hand, leading him over to the crates. These were delivered last night. We didnt have anything else to do so Mindy and I opened them, and found this. She took one of the plastic-wrapped packages and put it in Remingtons hand. Weapon parts.
So Armstrongs a gun smuggler after all. Jamie commented, joining them.
Laura looked at Jamie and then Remington. There was no surprise on either of their faces. Anger boiled up within her. She had followed a ghost all over the north tower, down a dank passage the size of a rabbit hole, spent the entire night in a cave, and they werent at all surprised. Her instincts had been right. Her husband had been up to something.
You knew about this and didnt tell me? She demanded.
Now, Laura Remington began.
You could have saved yourself the worry this morning by just telling me the truth last night. She sent Jamie a look full of disdain. I suppose this guy is a gun runner as well as a jewel thief.
Ah, ah, ah, Jamie said, wagging a finger at her, youve been listening at keyholes again, havent you, Mrs. Steele?
Remington sent him a withering glance. He wasnt making it any easier by antagonizing her. Laura, I did not know about this. He waved a hand at the crates. I just knew there was a certain group of people interested in purchasing weapons.
The IRA. Remington waited for the thunderbolt but when it didnt strike, he continued, Our Mr. Brady here is supposed to arrange something for them with the Colonel.
Brady? Laura echoed, zeroing in on the most unlikely bit of information. I thought his name was Caulfield.
It is. Jamie answered. Sean Brady, James Caulfield, I answer to both.
I should have known. Laura sneered. I suppose you have five passports too.
Rifling through suitcases as well as listening at keyholes. Quite a woman, youve got here, Steele. A bit nosy, but feisty.
Laura felt like screaming, but she controlled herself. She refused to give Caulfield the satisfaction of seeing how much he annoyed her. Taking a deep breath, she turned to Remington. So what do you propose we do about this, Mr. Steele? We cant allow someone to smuggle guns on our property. Bad for business.
I have some people that would be happy to take them off your hands. Jamie interjected. Willing to pay a million for them.
No, thank you. Laura retorted. Theyre our guns. Well dispose of them.
Have it your way.
Laura opened her mouth to snap back, but Remington had heard enough. If he allowed them to continue, thered be a rugby scrum soon. Placing his hand over his wifes mouth, he fixed Jamie with a hard look. Thats quite enough from both of you. As long as Im the Earl of Claridge, this is my property and my hotel and Ill decide what to do with the weapons and the smuggler. Ow! Laura had sunk her teeth into his palm. He released her, accessed the damage, and said grimly. If I remember right before we left for Ireland, you said I neednt worry about you sinking your teeth into anything, Mrs. Steele. Whats this? A lamb chop? She tossed her head and turned her back on him.
Bites too. Jamie noted. Delightful.
I dont know why Im still talking to you. Remington muttered as he and Jamie entered the elevator. They had an appointment with the Colonel at ten thirty. It took me five years to get where I am now, and you nearly ruined everything in one hour.
Dont tell me you werent able to smooth it over with the missus. Jamie said, pushing the button for the second floor. You seem a charming enough fellow.
Charm doesnt always work with Laura. Remington admitted. But, yes, I did manage to smooth things over. He smiled as he remembered how Laura had made amends for biting him. If that was how she was going to apologize, she could bite him any time she wanted. I even got her to agree to this ridiculous charade. What bothers me if why he requested my presence. This is your deal, not mine.
He probably knows you pinched his weapons. Bound to want them back.
Thats the whole point of this charade, isnt it? Remington asked. Draw the smuggler out by using the contraband as bait?
Something like that.
Jamie still liked his idea the best. Swap the weapons with the IRA for a million in cool cash. It solved everyones problem. It took the contraband off Steeles hands and he got the IRA off his back. Perfect solution. Of course, there was the question of the smuggler. The Steeles would obviously want to find out who it was and put a stop to it. As her Ladyship had pointed out, it was bad for business.
They left the elevator, walked down the hallway and stopped at the Queen Anne suite, Room 24. Jamie rapped on the door. No answer. He rapped again, harder this time. Still no answer.
He glanced at his watch. He said ten thirty. Dash it all. I thought these military types were punctual to a fault. He tried the doorknob. Locked.
Remington sighed, removed his pick from his breast pocket and opened the door. Already he was having a bad feeling about this. Broken appointments and locked doors were never a good sign.
Armstrong? Jamie called out as they stepped inside, closing the door behind them.
The room was completely dark, the curtains drawn to block any outside light from penetrating. Another bad sign, Remington thought grimly as he reached for the light switch. He flipped it. Nothing. Either someone had turned off the lamp switches or removed the bulbs. With dread doing a tap dance along his spine, he groped his way toward the nearest lamp, but before he could turn it on, a hard thump sounded in the darkness.
Damn! Jamie muttered. I just tripped over something. Get that bloody light, will you, Steele? I think Ive broken my ankle.
The light came on, and all Remingtons suspicions were confined. Jamie lay sprawled across the body of Colonel Armstrong.
Is he dead? Jamie asked, rolling quickly to the side and scrambling to his feet. His ankle hurt abominably but he was about to stay on the floor, not next to that hideous thing with the purple face and bulging eyeballs.
Oh, yes, Remington nodded, hes dead. As a door nail, Id say.
Jamie digested this bit of information and ventured, Was he murdered?
Well, Remington said, crouching down to get a better look, theres some sort of fabric belt around his neck. He glanced up at Jamie. How many men who die of natural causes do so with a belt around their necks?
Are you sure its a belt and not a cravat or tie?
Remington removed the belt and held it up for inspection.
Arent you tampering with evidence? Jamie asked nervously. Stealing was one thing; murder was quite another. Thats the murder weapon, you know.
Its also a clue. Remington stuffed the belt into his pocket and got to his feet.
Well, what are we going to do with him? Jamie demanded. We cant just leave him lying here.
Yes, weve confirmed that. Remington agreed, his eyes scanning the room for other clues. Its common in my line of work. Many a time Laura and I have hauled around a dead body. Remington said cheerfully. We had this one case where every time we put the body somewhere, it would reappear. We called him Harry. He paused, his expression becoming thoughtful. I dont suppose theres any way we can hide this from Laura. Or the guests for that matter. Theyll have to be questioned. He sighed. Well, come on, mate, we might as well get this over with.
Get what over with? Jamie asked as Remington ushered him out of the room.
Telling Laura, of course.
Will she be upset?
No, shell be delighted. She was mourning the fact only a few days ago that the murder business had hit a dry spell.
Delightful wife youve got there, Steele.
I think so.
What do you mean solve it myself? Remington demanded.
Laura shrugged and continued glancing through a magazine her mother had brought back from a shopping trip into town. It was on child-rearing. It was frightfully boring, but she wanted to make her husband squirm a bit. He had made her promise, hadnt he? I believe we delegated mushrooms to you before we even got on the plane to Ireland.
Now, Laura Remington began, sitting down on the sofa beside her and smiling with all the charm in his arsenal, we both know that youre the brains behind our partnership.
You must be desperate to admit that. She flipped a page.
He removed the magazine from her hands, tossing it over his shoulder. He leaned forward, kissing her forehead, then her cheek and ending with her mouth. Of course, I am. What do you think will happen to the hotel if it gets out that people are being murdered in their beds? Very bad publicity. He kissed her ear. And what about the agency? How would it look if Remington Steele allowed a murder to take place right under his nose and didnt do anything about it? Our reputation would suffer appallingly.
But you are going to do something about it. Laura murmured into his ear. Youre going to solve it. By yourself.
Remington jumped up, obviously annoyed. Laura, Im surprised at you. Werent you the one that said life was getting dull without a corpse popping out of a closet or falling out of the ceiling? Heres a nice, juicy murder just begging for you to sink your teeth into and youre not interested. What has happened to you?
I had a bad experience with a ghost. From now on Im just going to sit here and gestate.
He had one last card up his sleeve, or rather his pocket, and he pulled it out. The belt dangled before Lauras eyes, swinging back and forth like a hypnotists watch. The murder weapon.
Despite her desire to let her husband hoist himself on his own petard, Laura was intrigued and reached for the belt, drawing in through her fingers. Remember when Murphy and I went to that reunion for Havenhurst Detective Agency?
Oh, you mean, when you conveniently didnt tell me I was invited?
And Alan committed suicide using the belt from Sandys robe? This looks awfully familiar.
Are you suggesting that the Colonel committed suicide, Laura?
No. she said, giving him an exasperated look, I mean the belt is familiar. This is a belt from a womans robe. But the question is how could a woman strangle a man of Colonel Armstrong size and strength? Did the owner of the belt do it or is someone trying to frame her? We need to find out whos missing a belt. She handed the belt to Remington. Have the maids rifle through the guests closets when theyre cleaning.
Correct me if Im wrong, Laura, but wouldnt that be considered unethical?
Laura raised a brow. When did ethics ever bother you, John Robie?
When a brown-eyed brunette led me down the straight and narrow.
But Laura didnt hear him. She was already rolling the case over in her mind, her brows furrowed in thought. He smiled, congratulating himself on how well he knew his wife. The belt had worked like a charm. Like an alcoholic offered a drink, she couldnt resist. Yes, it was unethical of him, he mused, but as she said, when had ethics ever bothered him?
Remington watched Cheryl Armstrong destroy his handkerchief. He hadnt want to give it to her but had felt compelled by a glance from Laura and the fact that streaks of mascara had been running down the womans face, giving her the appearance of a mournful raccoon.
I just cant believe it. Cheryl said, wiping her eyes. Remington winced at the black smudges on the handkerchief. Who would want to kill David?
I can think of one or two. Laura told her. Cant you?
No. The young woman said stoutly. He was a good decent man.
Who was rumored to be involved in gun smuggling. Laura added. A rather dangerous profession, dont you think, Mrs. Armstrong?
Cheryl stared at Laura. Its a lie! She declared. David did no such thing. He retired from the army with full military honors.
Thats not what Culpeper told us.
Dont believe a word that man says. Hes always hated David.
I dont blame him. Remington murmured, leaning back in his chair. He cheated the man out of half a million dollars. Some sort of pyramid scheme, wasnt it?
Another lie. Theyre all lies. Lie, lie, lie.
Laura decided to change tactics since the woman was becoming hysterical. Your husband was a very wealthy man, wasnt he?
Cheryl shrugged, tossing her long, blonde hair. Yes, but so are a lot of people.
Who inherits upon your husbands death? When the woman just stared at her, Laura explained, Were merely trying to establish a motive, Mrs. Armstrong. Money is usually a very strong motive for murder.
I didnt murder him.
I take that as meaning you inherit.
Yes. Cheryl agreed, her tone sullen.
Where were you between the hours of eight and ten oclock?
Youre accusing me of murdering him, arent you? The woman jumped up, sending the long mane of hair into a frenzy of movement. This this is outrageous! Im a guest. My husband was just murdered, and youre accusing me. This is harassment. Ill Ill sue. Ill sue for defamation of character.
Remington and Laura exchanged glances. The woman was either a loon or guilty of something.
Were not accusing you of anything. Laura told her crisply. Weve asked everybody weve interviewed the same questions. Now if you dont sit down and start behaving like a rational human being, we will start suspecting you.
Cheryl plopped down into her seat. I was in my room.
Were you alone?
Thats not what a maid said. Remington noted, picking up a piece of paper and running his eyes over it. Her written statement says she was passing your room around 9:20 and heard your voice quite clearly. So either you had a visitor or you just enjoy talking to yourself.
I had a visitor, but its none of your business who.
He or she might be called upon to provide an alibi. Remington warned.
When Cheryl Armstrong stared mutinously at them, her tears disappearing as quickly as a summer shower, Laura gave up. You can go now, Mrs. Armstrong, but please remain at the hotel. The police wouldnt like it if you left suddenly.
The door shut with a sharp little slam, and Laura leaned back in her chair with a weary sigh. She was the most obstinate of them all.
And she ruined a perfectly good handkerchief. Remington added, picking up the piece of cloth the woman had thrown at him as she left the room. Amazing how quickly her tears dried up when she thought herself a suspect. Not in time to save a handkerchief though. Pity. He got up and tossed the cloth into a wastepaper basket.
There was a tap on the door.
Come in. Remington called.
One of the hotel maids peered around the door. Begging your pardon, Milord, but Ive found that robe youve been looking for.
Excellent. Remington exclaimed, going forward to take the girls arm and urge her into the room. Miss Gwyn, isnt it?
The girl blushed, obviously flattered that the lord of the manor should know her name. Yes, Milord. Im Mr. OFlynns niece.
Keeping it in the family, eh? Good to see nepotism is alive and well. Well, Miss Gwyn, he said, rubbing his hands together expectantly, who does the robe belong to?
Mrs. Armstrong, Milord.
I hope your friend is as good with the ladies as you claim. Laura said as they let themselves into Cheryl Armstrongs room.
Hes not my friend, Laura. Remington replied, pocketing his pick and taking a quick glance around the room. Hes just sort of attached himself to me. Like a barnacle to a ship. He picked up a hair brush, examining it. And Ive no reason to doubt Caulfields finesse with the ladies. If he says he can keep the delightful Mrs. Armstrong occupied for an hour, I believe him. You have to admit, Laura, hed been a help.
Yeah, a real help. Laura muttered, crossing the room to examine the contents of a trash can. Thanks to him we have the IRA hanging about our front door expecting a shipment of weapons.
Yes, well, Ive been rolling that over in the old brain, my dear, and I think Ive come up with a plan. Quite brilliant if I say so myself. I propose that we
Dont tell me. Laura said, holding up a hand as though to ward off his words. I dont want to know. Just do it.
Im amazed at how quick you are to trust me these days, Laura.
Just get rid of them.
Remington prowled around the room, hands clasped behind his back. What exactly as we looking for?
A plausible explanation of how Cheryl Armstrong got into the Colonels suite. The door connecting their rooms was locked on his side as was the door leading out of his room. Unless shes an expert locksmith then she couldnt have gotten in that way. Laura threw open the doors to the balcony. And unless shes an acrobat, she couldnt have used the balconies.
Does it really matter how she did it? Remington asked, wandering over to the fireplace. That belt was pretty damning evidence.
I know. Too damning. Laura agreed. Its just a little too neat and tidy for me. Murderers arent usually that stupid.
She scanned the room, her eyes touching on the untidy bed and dressing table and then moving on to resting briefly on Remington leaning against the fireplace mantel before coming to she stopped, her eyes going back to Remington. Above his head was a picture, a very familiar picture. Shed seen that face before, the wicked smile, the ruff and bloomers. It was a small but definitely the same. Either this long dead Claridge had liked himself immensely or it was a sign pointing to another hidden passage.
What are you doing? Remington asked when she joined him.
This exact same picture was in the north tower, only bigger. Her fingers were busy running up and down the frame.
Remington ran a cursory glance over the picture. Cant imagine why. Terrible looking fellow.
It led to
But she didnt get to finish for she was suddenly flung into Remington as the fireplace moved. He caught her, his arms going around her chest, but her weight as well as his own imbalance threw them against the mantel. She heard his grunt of pain as his back came into sharp contact with the brick surround. When the fireplace finally came to a stop, she was nearly on the floor, her arms around her ears as Remington tried to hold her upright.
Good God, Laura, dont take this the wrong way, but youre as heavy as a young ox. Remington gasped, pulling her upwards. How in the world do you manage to walk around?
I feel like a young ox so I wont take offense to that. She said, regaining her footing. Once upright, she took a look around and then sent her husband a triumph smile. There you go. Thats how she did it. Secret passage.
Not exactly a passage. Remington noted, straightening his jacket and tie. Weve merely swung around into the next room.
Into the Colonels room. She said significantly.
So the wife did it.
It would appear so.
This there anything else, her Ladyship, will be a needing? Miklene asked as he set the tea tray on the table in the master suite.
No, this will be fine. Laura replied.
Once Miklene was gone, Laura contemplated the teapot and sandwiches. Oddly enough, she wasnt feeling very hungry that afternoon. To tell the truth, she was feeling a bit crampy. Shed had cramps or contractions before so she wasnt particularly worried about it, but it was a bit of a nuisance when she had other things on her mind. Thank God Remington wasnt there or hed probably be fussing over her.
Actually nobody was in the castle that afternoon. All were out and about. Her mother and sister as well as Laurie Beth had returned to Graces house while the men, including that Caulfield fellow, were golfing. She smiled as she remembered Remingtons expression when Donald had informed him that hed been able to get the clubs repaired. It was a cross between a sick dog and a stricken rabbit.
The thought of Caulfield reminded her of something shed been meaning to do. Pushing aside the tray, she reached for the phone and dialed Los Angeles.
Remington Steele Investigations. Miss Trouts efficient voice answered.
Hello, Miss Trout. Its Laura Steele. Is Mildred in?
Ill put you right through, Mrs. Steele.
There was a brief pause and then Mildreds voice came across the line. Hi, honey, hows the vacation?
So far weve got a gun smuggler and a dead body.
So, in other words, the usual.
Youve got it. There was a brief pause as she poured a cup of tea, Listen, Mildred, I want you to do a little investigative work for me.
Sure. Just a sec while I get a pad. There was a rustling then, Ok, honey, shoot.
Weve run into a rather interesting character. He checked into our hotel under the name of James Caulfield. He turned out to be a jewel thief.
Another one? I didnt realize there were so many until I came to work for you.
Remington attracts them like a magnet, I think. Laura muttered. But anyway, he also goes by the name of Sean Brady. Under that name hes a gun runner but from what I can piece together thats just a story in order to con the IRA out of something they had that he wanted. I want you to check out both names.
Laura could hear the sound of a pencil scratching across paper. Then there was a pause as though Mildred were studying the names. Finally she said, Arent those the names on the bosss watch?
I see your mind is going in the same direction as mine. Laura said. See if you can find a birth certificate or church record. Something that lists his parents name.
Ill see what I can do. I should have something in a day or two.
Laura hung up and then sat for a few minutes, her mind running over what she suspected of Mr. Caulfield. Shed been suspicious of his identity ever since she learned of his other name. It would be a very odd coincidence indeed if they should run into the very man who should be the Earl of Claridge. Not that she thought hed sought them out for that purpose. He was probably as clueless as Remington as to what his name combination meant. She should just let sleeping dogs lie, but her insatiable curiosity would not let her. What she would do with that information afterwards, she didnt know.
There were a lot of unanswered questions floating around in her head that afternoon. The murder of Colonel Armstrong was one of them. All the evidence was pointing to Cheryl Armstrong, but one thing still bothered her. She could not reconcile in her mind the image of skinny, little Cheryl strangling a man of Colonel Armstrongs size and strength. Even if shed gotten the belt around his neck, he could have easily pulled her off. And it was that inconsistency she was still pondering when Miklene knocked on the door and entered, carrying silver platter with an envelope on it.
Begging your pardon, your Ladyship, but a letter had come for you.
A letter? Laura echoed, accepting the envelope. Was it delivered by post?
No, Milady, it was just sitting there on the platter addressed to you so I brought it right up.
Thank you, Miklene.
The butler departed.
Laura turned the letter over in her hands, noting the stationary was that provided to their guests at the hotel, before opening the envelope. She took out a folded piece of paper, scanning it quickly. Mrs. Armstrong was asking for a private meeting in the stables at two oclock. Laura glanced at the mantel clock. It was now approximately fifteen after one. She refolded the letter and stuffed it back in the envelope, frowning.
It was an odd request. Why the stables? Why not the lounge or hotel tea room? The location bothered her, but she felt as though she must comply. What if the woman had important information to impart? Yes, she could be a murderess, but somehow Laura didnt believe it. Her head said that evidence didnt lie, but her gut said something different. She smiled, struggling to her feet. She was beginning to solve mysteries like Remington. All gut and no head.
The stables were deserted when she got there. The smell of hay, oiled leather and horseflesh overwhelmed her senses as she let herself in. She walked down the aisle of stalls, stopping now and then to pat an inquisitive equine nose.
Mrs. Armstrong? She called.
No answer. She continued onward toward the last two stalls, which were empty. Mindy and Dan were out riding, practicing with their polo mallets. She glanced casually in the stalls as she passed and then stopped, her eyes wide. Had she seen what she thought shed seen? Taking a couple steps backwards, she glanced in the last stall again. Cheryl Armstrong was lying on a pile of straw, staring upwards, her blonde fan out around her like a golden halo. A dark red stain soaked her blouse.
Laura was attempting to stoop down to examine the woman when a voice came from behind her. No need to check, Mrs. Steele. I assure you that shes quite dead.
She froze and then slowly straightened, turning to the voice. The man known to her as Lord Browning stood behind her, dressed in a monks robe, a gun pointed straight at her heart.
You killed her?
Im afraid so. She gave me no choice. Browning said with feigned regret. He had lost his exaggerated aristocrat mannerisms and accent. Your questioning made her nervous, you see, and she always was such a nervy thing. She had threatened to go to you with a lot of incriminating details. Now I couldnt allow her to do that, could I? So I killed her and then wrote you a little note.
What do you want with me?
He looked at her, his dark eyes even darker in the dim of the stable. Your husband has something that belongs to me, Mrs. Steele. So Im taking something that belongs to him. A bargaining chip, you might say.
The weapons. Laura said. Youre the smuggler, not Colonel Armstrong.
A smile spread across his thin face. Amazing what a little rumor will do, especially in a hotel. I planted that little idea in my wifes head, and she obligingly spread it.
So your wifes involved in this?
Oh no, not Margaret, but she has unwittingly provided an enormous help over the years. It was her fascination with the occult that gave me the idea of providing Ashford Castle with a dead druid. He swirled his robes for her. How do you like it, Mrs. Steele? Is it authentic enough? I thought youd like to see ye olde dead druid for yourself since it was reported to me that you didnt believe in his existence. Well, as you can see, he exists. You really ought to thank me, you know. He said with a toothy smile. Ive increased the castles notoriety by leaps and bounds. Great drawing feature.
And what about Cheryl? Where did she fit into all this?
He shrugged. She was a convenient dalliance. I met her on a trip to Dublin. She was an eager pupil. It was me that arranged her marriage to the Colonel. Oh, yes, she got the old boy to propose, but it not to hard to bedazzle old men. Not only would she inherit if the old chap popped off but his contacts provided us with treasure trove of clients and suppliers. Unfortunately, the young ladys charms must have worn off very quickly. He had started to figure it out, and when he made the decision to consult Steele, I was forced to take action.
So you killed him too.
Very astute of you, Mrs. Steele.
Not really. Laura said dryly. Your attempt to frame Cheryl for the murder nearly worked.
Yes, that was rather brilliant of me. He agreed. The mans ego was enormous, Laura thought, watching him almost preen like a peacock. She had served her purpose. It was Cheryl whod suggested Ashford as an ideal spot for smuggling. She knew every nook and cranny of the place, all the secret passages, everything. Shed worked here as a child and in her spare time had gone a wandering as the minstrels say. He sighed regretfully. Ashford was an ideal location, but now I must be moving on, but not without my shipment of weapons. Thats where you come in. Come along, my dear, were going for a little ride.
Laura didnt move. Her eyes were frantically searching for a means of escape.
Theres no need to fear. He told her, almost kindly. Ill send a note to Steele arranging a swap and all will be well. Youll be returned to your husband safe and sound, and the ghost of Ashford Castle will be laid to rest. Sounds like an excellent arrangement for everyone involved, wouldnt you say?
Accept for the fact that youve committed two murders.
Oh, yes, thats right. He murmured. Youre a private investigator. Murders bother you, dont they? Ah, well, it cant be helped. He waved his gun. Lets go.
His genial, almost conversational tone of voice suddenly became hard, and Laura was reminded that hed already killed two people. The reasonable thing to do would be to comply with his demands. For now thoughts of escape must be put on hold. She headed for the stable door and Browning fell into step behind her, his gun pressed against her back.
Mindy sprinted toward the stable yard. She and Dan had tired of practicing for the day, and where headed back to the stable. Isnt that Aunt Laura? She asked, pointing in the direction of a black sedan.
Dan looked in the direction indicated. Yeah, it is. Wheres she going with that guy in the robe?
Wherever it is, she doesnt look like she wants to. Mindy ponder this for a moment before turning to her brother with an expression of intense excitement. I bet shes being kidnapped.
You read too many Nancy Drews. He scoffed. You think everyones being kidnapped.
We should follow them.
Her brother considered this. Chances were his sister was imagining things. She always imagined things. But what if she were? Would it be such an awful thing to ride across the Irish countryside in pursuit of a possible kidnapper? It sounded like fun, a lot more fun than kicking their heels in the castle waiting for mom and dad to return.
Ok. He said. Lets go.
They followed the car for some distance, keeping far enough behind not to be noticed but close enough not to lose their quarry. It was touch and go for a while when the car entered a small village, but they managed to pick it up again when it emerged on the other side. Finally the car turned into a short driveway, which led to a stone house surrounded by several outbuildings and a tangle of vegetation.
It wasnt until Dan saw the man with the robe motioning to Laura with a gun that he finally believed his sister. Aunt Laura had been kidnapped, and they had to do something about it.
Sorry I didnt believe you, Min. He said as they sat within a corpse of trees, watching Laura being hustled into the house. Lauras in trouble and weve got to do something. You ride back to the castle and get help. Ill stay here and keep an eye on them.
No, Mindy said, getting off her horse. You ride back. Youre a better rider than me.
Dan looked dubious. His big brother protectiveness was asserting itself, but he had to admit she was right. Theyd get help faster if he did the riding. Ok. But keep out of sight. Id be grounded for life if anything happened to you.
Gone again, Remington fumed as he paced the drawing room. And this time not only was Laura and the same niece missing but a nephew was well. It was becoming a bloody epidemic, and if he had listen to Frances wail like a banshee for one more minute, hed go stark raving mad. Thank God theyd had enough sense not to let her know about the dead body in the stable or his entire handkerchief supply would be depleted by the time he returned to Los Angeles. She was already in the process of mangling his favorite blue one.
Frances, please! He gritted. Wailing like a bloody banshee isnt solving anything.
I I I cant help it! She cried. My two babies gone!
I can understand your concern, Remington said tightly, his patience stretched to its limit, I, myself, am missing a wife and child, but we must remain calm and approached this logically.
We should have never come to Ireland! She continued, blubbering into the handkerchief. Isnt that what I told you, Donald? Didnt I tell you we ought to go somewhere safe like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon or or Chicago!
Ah, no, dear, Donald corrected, you specifically said you wanted to come to Ireland.
Oh, Frances, do get a hold of yourself. Abigail said from the sofa. Remingtons right. All these hysterics are getting us nowhere.
Frances shot her mother a look of wounded reproach. Youre taking his side because I wouldnt believe you about that bag, arent you?
They were all saved from hearing Abigails response by the door bursting open and Dan running in. He was mud-splattered, wind-tossed and panting. Hes got Aunt Laura!
Whos got her? Remington demanded.
The guy with the robe. Dan panted. Mindy and I followed them.
Wheres Mindy? Frances asked, jumping to her feet.
She stayed at the house to keep an eye on them.
Do you remember where the house is? Remington asked.
Remington had the boy by the shoulder and was halfway to the door when Jamies voice came, calm and annoyingly reasonable. And what do you propose to do, mate? You just cant bust in like the Coldstream Guard. Youve got to have a plan.
When I said plan, this is not what Id envisioned. Jamie muttered as they crouched behind one of the many outbuildings where Laura was being held. I cant see where posing as the IRA is going to rescue fair damsel.
Its the technique known as element of surprise. Remington explained, studying the house, noting its strengths and weaknesses. We did something similar when we had to get a stolen diamond from a crime boss. Got the idea from Thomas Crown Affair. Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, United Artists, 1968.
Your life must be one long movie.
I like to think so.
Id feel a lot better about this if it wasnt for the women.
Jamie cast a glance at Frances and Abigail who were pulling down their black ski masks, guns taken from the smuggled shipment tucked under their arms. Strangely enough, they looked quite natural dressed in black and holding sub-machine guns. He shook his head, turning back to Steele. Strange family. One minute shrieking like banshees, the next looking as cool as Al Capone on St. Valentines Day. Even Donald looked lethal.
No need to worry about Abigail. Remington told him. Shes done this kind of thing before. Nerves of steel. Just like Laura.
And the other one?
Wild card, mate. Remingtons attention was back on the house. Mindy said she saw three men go in and out of the house. One got in the car and left shortly after their arrival. The other one is inside with Browning. His expression hardened as he remembered the note theyd gotten just before leaving the castle. I should have known that weasel was involved in this.
He covered his tracks very well. Jamie pointed out.
Remington nodded. But weve got him now. Hes shown his hand. The five of us ought to be able to handle two men.
Theyve got weapons.
So do we.
With no ammo.
Remington looked at Jamie, the corner of his mouth lifting in a half smile. Youre not turning squeamish on me now, are you, mate?
No one calls Jamie Caulfield squeamish. Jamie growled, pulling down his ski mask and picking up his gun. Lead on, Mon Capitaine.
The cramps had grown worse, and Laura was beginning to worry. She could not stay a captive for much longer. She knew the note had been sent, requesting a swap, but she had no idea how long it would take Remington to act. Knowing him, it would be sooner than later, but even so, it was imperative that she get back to the castle. She had a sneaking suspicion that she may be going into labor.
She glanced at Browning. He was in conversation with the new groom from Ashford Castle. Hed been the one to drive them from the stables to this house. Once they got out of this mess, they would have to have a little talk with Miklene about his screening techniques. But she had no time to think about that now. Her one thought had to be on escape.
Suddenly and without warning, the outer door burst open and five figures in black swarmed in. She immediately found herself being hauled to her feet and placed between Browning and the intruders. A strong contraction hit her and she gritted her teeth, swallowing back the involuntary yelp of pain.
What do you want? Browning demanded.
We want the weapons. The apparent leader of the group said gruffly.
I havent got them.
Thats not the word on the street, mate.
Browning began backing, pulling Laura with him. The groom had already vanished.
Im telling you I dont have them. But I will.
We want them now. Maybe this, the leader waved his gun, will jog your memory.
Youll have to shot through her to get me. Browning stated.
A slow smile touched the leaders mouth. Were the IRA, mate. Do you think shooting a woman bothers us?
Laura could feel Browning indecision, the tension in his body, his quick breathing. They were nearly at the back door now. It had been left open by the fleeing groom. As quick as a flash, Browning made his decision. Shoving Laura forward, he ran for it. Laura went stumbling into the leader of the group. He caught her.
Laura, he said urgently, are you all right?
She looked up at him. Hed removed his mask. Remington. She should have known. The entire scene was something straight out of a movie. Actually it was something straight out of the past. Hadnt theyd done something similar? Only that time Murphy had been leading the show.
Dont worry about me. She told him. Go get Browning. Hes killed two people.
Remington was reluctant to leave her, but he knew she was right. Passing her over to Jamie and her family, he headed out the door, and nearly tripped over the body of the groom. He was laying face down, shattered bits of pottery around his head.
Dan did that. Mindy said helpfully. Hes gone to call the police. Here. She handed him the reigns of her horse. The other guy went that way.
Swinging himself onto the horse, Remington took off in the direction Mindy had indicated. It wasnt long before he found his quarry, running across the field, robes flying. Pulling the horse up even, Remington launched himself to the side, knocking Browning to the ground in a fine example of an NFL tackle. The gun went flying.
Scrambling to his feet, Remington grabbed Browning by the neck of his robe and plowed a fist into the mans face. Browning fell back onto the ground, unconscious.
The house seemed to be a buzz of activity when he returned for the police had arrived and was busy questioning everyone. Dan and Mindy were particularly eager to provide a detailed description of the adventure. Jamie was nowhere to be found. He had probably slipped off to the car where Laurie Beth was waiting. No doubt a room full of cops was the last place he wanted to be.
Theres another lying out in the field. Remington said to a police officer.
He joined his wife. I think weve had enough excitement for one day, Laura. Shall we return to the castle?
Laura smiled up at him. I couldnt agree more, Mr. she stopped, her eyes going wide.
What? Hed only seen that expression once before. It was when shed seen her picture in Bedside Babes. What is it?
My water just broke.
Are you sure?
Of course, I am sure. She snapped.
But the baby isnt due for another 2 ½ weeks.
As you said before, Mr. Steele, babies are very unpredictable things.
The full gravity of the situation suddenly struck Remington. If he didnt get her back to the castle as soon as possible, one of them would be delivering a baby. He glanced at the assembled crowd, judged their skill level in regards to obstetrics and immediately leapt into action. They had to leave. Now.
Ah, excuse me, he said, interrupting Abigail in the middle of a sentence to a large, burly police officer, Abigail, if youd be so kind as to help Laura to the car, shes having a baby.
A baby? Abigail asked blankly. But its not due for another two weeks.
Tell that to him or her. He herded her in the direction of Laura.
Donald, Frances, He said, placing an arm around both of their shoulders and steering them away from the police officer theyd been talking to, dont be alarmed but Laura has gone into labor so Im afraid we shall have to make a hasty retreat. Would you be so kind as to gather up your children?
It was amazing how efficient the Holt-Piper family could become when faced with an imminent crisis. Laura, supported by Frances and Abigail, was hustled to the car and bundled inside. Remington took the steering wheel while Donald slid into the front seat.
A bit tight in here, isnt it? Jamie asked, finding himself squeezed between the two men. When Mindy took a seat on her fathers lap, he began feeling quite claustrophobic. Hed never been this close to people in his life except maybe a blonde or two.
Baby on the way. Remington said briefly, starting the motor and flooring the accelerator.
The car leapt forward, wringing a groan from Laura and a squeal from Laurie Beth whod been flung against her brother who promptly pushed her off. So far so good. They were making good time. Everything would be fine, Remington assured himself, glancing every two or three seconds into the rear view mirror. Laura was grimacing and groaning but not in full labor. He mentally estimated the distance to the castle. They ought to be there in twenty minutes as long as his eyes had returned to the road. Oh bloody hell!
A flock of sheep was bunched like a large cotton ball middle of the road. My God, the sheep in this blasted country use the road more than the people did. A collie was bounding up and down, yapping, but didnt seem to be making much progress. Stubborn lot, obviously.
Thats torn it. Jamie muttered as they came to a stop. He glanced at Donald. Well, Donald, old boy, youre the closest thing weve got to a doctor. Better roll up your sleeves.
Remington was studying the scene before him, quickly accessing the possibilities. Consider the possibilities Xenos had told him years ago. Well his eyes fell on a car sitting on the other side of the flock, the side of the road they wanted to be on. Maybe a swap could be arranged. Not maybe, he told himself, as he flung open the door, a swap would be arranged.
Out. He ordered, opening the back door. Abigail, Frances and Laura stared at him as though hed gone potty. You heard me, ladies. Out. Were commandeering that car on the other side.
Can we do that? Abigail asked, pulling Laura across the seat as Frances shoved.
Probably not but Ill wing it. Whats the use being an earl if you cant throw your weight around?
Leaving his companions to follow, Remington sprinted through the sheep, shattering ewes and lambs here and there to the great distress of the collie, coming up to the driver of the other car. He knocked on the window. A white haired man with a cap hesitantly rolled down the window and peered out.
Excuse me, mate. He said with his most charming smile. Earl of Claridge. He felt in his pockets. Damn. Where were those calling cards Miklene had insisted on printing up? Probably in his suit, which he wasnt wearing. Ah, her Ladyship, my wife, is having a baby, and I was wondering if youd consider making a swap.
A swap? The man echoed.
Well, seeing as how we want to be on this side of the sheep and you want to be on the other, I propose that we swap cars. You take ours, and well take yours.
The man seemed to be considering the suggestion, craning his neck to see the car in question. Oh, I assure you, its quite operational. Newer than your own, Remington ran a glance over the car, noting the dents and rust around the wheel wells, beauty.
Remington took that for a yes, opening the door and hauling the man out while he waved everyone inside. Keys in the ignition.
While the man stood gaping at them, Remington climbed behind the wheel, spun the car around in a shower of gravel and took off towards the town, which he could just see in the distance. Laura let out another groan, and he pressed the accelerator to the floor. Hold on, baby, hold on, he chanted as the thatched roofs and church spirals came into view. Once on the other side, Ashford as a mere ten minutes away.
Oh, blimey, Jamie exclaimed, what now?
The town was overflowing with people. They crammed the streets, clogging every thoroughfare. A loud, raucous singing could be heard accompanies by fiddles.
Remington rolled down his window and shouted to a passerby. Whats going on?
The man smiled and lurched over to them. He smelled strongly of Guinness. Its old Paddy Maguires wake, dont you know. The man has finally gone home to be with his Lord and Maker, bless his crooked, old heart.
Popular chap, eh?
The man laughed, sending a whisky soaked breath into front seat of the car. Popular? Ah, no, laddie, he was the most hated man in town. He used to lend money, and were awfully glad to be rid of him.
Jamie snorted. The Christmas Carol a la the Emerald Isle. Splendid.
Remington felt like beating his head against the steering wheel. Panic was beginning to set in, especially when Frances cried out her contractions are coming closer together. How much could one man take? Dont give up now, Harry, Daniels voice seemed to come out of nowhere. Use your wits, boy. Theres always more than one exit.
Look, he said, staring the man with hard eyes, my wife is having a baby. Weve got to get through. Is there any way around this town?
The man thought for a moment, scratching his bristly chin. Well, theres always the dock. Plenty of boats.
Remington didnt hesitate. He gunned the car, spun the wheel and headed for the dock. He was gratified to see that the man had been right, pickled in Guinness though he was. The dock fairly burst with boats of all shapes and sizes, bobbing peacefully along the gangways. The miserly hand of old Paddy must have reached into a lot of pockets.
Can you hotwire a boat? He yelled to Jamie as they jumped abroad a cabin cruiser named Rose of Tralee. He reached for Laura, swinging her down and then handing her off to her sister and mother.
Are you kidding? Jamie shouted back, already pulling out wires.
Hey! A man called, running down the gangway. What do you think youre doing? That boat belongs to Sir Percy.
The cabin cruiser was already moving away from the dock.
Earl of Claridge. Remington called out, pointing to himself. Terribly sorry, old man. Having a baby. Thank Sir Percy for me, will you?
The boat was gaining speed, bouncing through the water and sending up a spray that completely delighted the children who were clinging to the prow like figureheads.
Oh, God, I think Im going to be sick. Laura moaned.
You cant be sick. Frances told her sternly. Youre having a baby.
I can and I will if I dont get off this bloody boat! Laura nearly screamed, unconsciously reverting to Remington slang as pain and misery gripped her.
Why had she ever left Los Angeles? She could be in a nice, clean hospital room right now with nurses and doctors attending her, administering a blessed, beloved epidural. Why was she so stubborn? She should have listened to Remington.
To Francess delight as well as everyone elses, Laura managed to hang on long enough for the boat to plow around a outcropping of rocks, revealing the glorious sight of Ashford Castle sitting stable and secure, the sinking sun painting its stones a warm orangey-red. Remington had never been happier to see the old sprawling pile of rocks in his life, and as soon as Jamie had eased the boat into dock, he jumped out, reaching for Laura. Once on her feet, she doubled over, clutching her stomach.
Come on, Laura, love, its only a few more yards. He urged, his arm going around her as he tried to lift her upright.
I I dont think I can. She moaned, crumpling toward the ground. She just wanted to roll up like a hedgehog and die under a bush.
Then I will. He declared, sweeping her into his arms.
Afterwards he could ever say with any certainty how he made it across the lawn, into the castle and up the winding staircase to the master bedroom where he gently deposited his miserable wife. He guessed it must have been the legendary power of pure adrenaline. Leaving her to the tender mercies of her family, he jogged down the stairs, yelling for Miklene at the top of his lungs.
Miklene! Where are you man?!
Miklene appeared, wide-eyed and open-minded. Hed never heard the master yell in such a way. Yes, MLordship?
Get a doctor. Fast. Remington ordered. Her Ladyship is having the baby.
Ill go and get Annie right away, MLordship. He turned to go but Remingtons voice stopped him.
Shes the local midwife. Shes delivered many a bairn as well as several lambs and calves and a few litters of puppies. Miklene said with obvious pride. Shes my younger sister.
No offense to your family, Miklene, Remington gritted, but I want a doctor, not a bloody veterinarian.
Miklene suddenly looked troubled. Well, Im not sure Dr. Brennan is back from Dublin yet, MLordship, but I could send someone around to
GET A DOCTOR! NOW! Remington roared, his patience finally failing him.
Miklene swayed as though the very words had blown him off balance and then scurried away, the tails of his jacket flying.
The bedroom was a madhouse when Remington returned. Frances and Abigail were fluttering around Laura like two barnyard hens, clucking and picking at the sheets and pillows, the children were sprawled at the end of the bed chattering a mile a minute while Donald looked on worriedly as though he were afraid that being the only medical person available he would be called on to deliver the baby. Jamie was seated himself on a sofa, feet propped up on the coffee table, his head leaning against the cushions, eyes closed as though attempting to sleep. Hed have better luck at a rugby match, Remington thought.
Wheres Remington? Laura was saying, her head tossing back and forth on the pillow. I want Remington. Get Remington.
He immediately went to her, pushed Dan out of the way and sat down on the bed beside her, taking her hand in his. Im here, baby. Everythings going to be fine. Miklenes getting a doctor.
She looked at him. He could clearly see the pain and frustration in her eyes. Get them out of here. She gritted. Theyre driving me crazy.
But, Laura, He tried, theyre your family.
I dont care. Get them out of here or I wont be responsible for my actions.
It took some doing but he managed to corral them all, gently but firmly pushing them out the door. Just wait in the Gold Room. He told them. Well let you know the moment the babys born. He collared Jamie as he was about to leave. Keep an eye on them, will you? Nobody leaves that room until I say so.
You got it.
As he was turning to go back inside a man with a napkin tucked under his chin came bustling down the hallway followed by Miklene and a woman in her mid-fifties.
Dr. Connors was a staying at the hotel, MLordship. Miklene explained helpfully. And I brought Annie along just in case.
Have you delivered many babies, Doctor? Remington asked.
Im a foot doctor by trade, but I delivered a few babies while in residency. The man said, taking off his coat and rolling up his sleeves. Lets see what weve got here.
Laura opened her eyes slowly. She felt tired and sore but thankfully the excruciating pain of a few hours ago was over. And she could see her toes again. Hello, toes, long time no see. Her hands went to her stomach. It was tender but flat. A rueful smile touched her mouth. Well, sort of, she amended. Shed have to get those running shoes out.
Her head turned on the pillow and her eyes fell on Remington. He was sitting in a chair pulled up close to the bed, holding a bundle of blankets in his arms, his dark head bent over the bundle. The rueful smile turned sentimental as she remembered the last time shed seen him in such a pose.
He glanced up, a grinning immediately spreading across his face. He got up and came over, sitting down on the side of the bed. He placed their son in her arms. She looked down into the wrinkled red face. Not exactly as handsome as his father but give him a few months.
Well, she murmured, touching a soft cheek, I guess its time to name this little guy.
There was a silence. A long silence. She glanced up. Shes never seen such a guilty expression in all her life.
I had to. Remington insisted. The doctor was in a hurry to get back to his lamb chops, and youd fallen asleep.
Just dont tell me its Godfrey or Harvey or some other dreadful name from the movies.
Oh, God, she groaned, go ahead. Tell me.
His name is Richard Blaine Steele.
Laura rolled the name over in her mind. Richard. Rick. She could live with it.
I ought to be mad at you. She told him with a reproachful glance. I should be furious, but of all the names you could have chosen, that is one of the better ones. She paused as a thought struck her. Im just glad he didnt have a twin sister or you would have named her Ilsa.
Remington smiled. Im saving that for the next one.
I had a call from Mildred this morning. Laura said as she and Remington walked along the coastline.
It was good to be up and about again, good to walk without waddling, good to wear something that clung to ones figure instead of hung. A couple of days following the birth, her mother and Frances had done a very kind and caring thing. Theyd gone on a shopping spree and brought back clothes for Laura that actually fit. For that, Laura could almost regret their departure. Almost. It was with an undeniable sigh of relief that she had watched them pile into their rental that morning and leave for the airport. Finally she and Remington had the castle to themselves. Ah, peace. Ah, tranquility.
And how are the intrepid detectives handling themselves in our absence? Remington asked, his eyes on the horizon where clouds were beginning to gather. Thered be rain soon. Keeping Los Angeles free from embezzlers, thieves and murderers?
Marvin had a murder shortly after we left.
Poor Laura. Remington sighed, placing an arm around her shoulders and pulling her close for a hug. As soon as youre gone, a nice juicy murder presents itself. Damnable luck, eh?
They walked a few more steps before Laura plunged into the reason why shed suggested this walk to her husband. I had Mildred do a little checking on your our friend, James Caulfield.
Why? His voice was indifferent as though it really didnt matter to him.
I found it odd that he should go by Sean and James.
You mean because of the watch.
She nodded. And his eyes were hazel.
Remington stopped and turned to look at her. His expression was that of mild interest. Laura wondered if it truly didnt matter to him or if he was carefully masking his true feelings. Sometimes it was difficult to tell even after all these years.
Are you trying to tell me that hes Kevin Landers son? That hes the Sean James on the watch?
She nodded. Mildred found his birth record or rather Miss Trout did. That woman has a knack for digging legal documents out of nowhere. His mothers name was Kathleen Brady, and his fathers name was listed as Kevin Landers. Hes the earls real son.
Pity the earl didnt have a Miss Trout. Remington commented before resuming their walk.
Is that all youre going to say? Laura demanded, refusing to take a step further, which in turn caused Remington to stop. He looked at her, his expression puzzled as though he didnt understand her question. Arent you surprised? Upset?
Surprised? He considered the word and then said, No, I dont think so. I rather suspected it. As for upset, he shrugged, why should I be?
Hes the rightful heir of Ashford Castle. Hes the real earl, not you.
Ah, Remington murmured, you think I ought to be upset because Im to be supplanted. He considered this, hands clasped behind his back, rocking slightly on his heels. I admit that I rather enjoy playing the earl. Im sort of born to it, dont you think?
You play the aristocrat divinely.
He smiled, pleased. I sort of wonder at times if perhaps my mother was the daughter of a duke. Itd be just like Daniel to fool around with royalty. He had a distant look on his face as he considered this but he quickly came back to the present, taking Lauras hands in his. Laura, my love, our life is in Los Angeles, not Ireland. Weve got the agency, and now weve got the beginnings of a family. I dont begrudge Jamie a castle and title. My treasure lies elsewhere.
Laura stared at him, bemused. You are a very odd man, Mr. Steele. Anyone else would be plotting how to bump of the rightful heir.
I couldnt do that, Mrs. Steele. He said, pulling her close. Itd been such a long time since theyd been able to be this close, and it felt wonderful. He loved his son dearly, but hed been rather intrusive for the last few months.
Why not? She asked, turning her face up to his.
Because my wife specializes in murders. Id be caught in a second.
Their lips met, and they didnt even notice when it began to rain.
The next day Remington took a similar walk with Jamie Caulfield to the stables, not the coastline. Hed lured the man with an invitation to ride. He was scheduled to leave the following day so as Laura had said that morning over breakfast it was now or never. It wasnt that he didnt want to reveal the truth to the man; it was more an uncertainty of how to broach the subject. Men just didnt talk about their fathers, their personal histories.
We really appreciated your help, mate. He said, stopping at a stall to pat a long, inquisitive nose. Well miss you.
Jamie grinned. Ah, yes, Im sure Mrs. Steele is quite devastated. How will she be able to bear it? No whipping boy.
I dont think its you personally. Remington said, opening the stall and leading the horse out. Its just that you remind her of someone from my past.
Not a past lover, I hope.
Remington ignored him. You remind her of my father.
Poor fellow. I shouldnt like anyone to resemble an unconscionable swine like me.
I would describe the two of you as unrepentant thieves rather than swine. Remington crouched down, checking the horses legs and hooves. You see, my father taught me my former trade. I was already an excellent pickpocket by the time he found me, but he honed my skills, broadened my horizons.
Jamie picked up on the word Remington had hoped he would.
Found? Jamie echoed. Why did you have to be found by your father?
Remington straightened up. Because he wasnt around for the first fourteen years of my life. Actually, he didnt tell me he was my father until the day he died, which was a little over a year ago. And it was actually Laura who convinced him to tell me then. For twenty years of my life he was my friend, my mentor, the father Id never known. He laughed, somewhat bitterly. Even though hed forgiven Daniel it still hurt at times. Thats ironic, isnt it? My father was the father Id never known?
At least your father finally showed up.
Remington pounced on that statement. It led him exactly where he wanted the conversation to go. Yours wanted to.
Jamie stared at him, suddenly suspicious. His voice had lost its banter, its devil may care cockiness. What do you know about my father?
He was searching for you.
How do you know that?
Because I met him two years ago. Remington reached into the pocket of his tweed riding jacket, pulling out the watch and handing it to him. This led me to him. I thought for a short time that he was my father, but I had blue eyes. His sons were hazel.
Jamie reluctantly accepted the watch, turning it over in his hands, eventually opening it. He read the inscription.
SJ stands for Sean James and KL for Kevin Landers. Remington said helpfully. You know your fathers name, dont you? I can tell by your expression that you do.
My mother told me his name, but that was about it.
And you never went looking for him yourself?
No. Jamie said, snapping the watch shut. Why should I? He left us. That pretty much says it all. He held out the watch.
Its yours, not mine. Remington said. Your father meant for you to have it. My father just happened to steal it. Thats how it came into my possession.
I dont want it. It means more to you than to me.
That watch is as much yours as Ashford Castle.
What are you talking about, Steele? Jamie asked, getting a little impatient with the conversation. He didnt want to talk about his father or anything else about his past. Hed thought Steele a decent egg until he started all this talk about fathers.
Kevin Landers was the Earl of Claridge. Remington told him. He made me the heir because he couldnt find you. By rights, this place belongs to you, and Im willing to sign it over.
Jamie gaped at him. Youd give all this up? Just like that?
Remington shrugged. I admit that I like being an earl, but Laura and I have another life in Los Angeles. He paused, studying the other man carefully. Shall I call the attorney?
There was a long pause as Jamie considered the offer. It was appealing. He would probably enjoy playing the role of earl as much as Steele, but that title also included a lot of responsibility, and responsibility was something he had always avoided. He liked being footloose and fancy free. He even liked being a thief. It had a certain charm that was intoxicating. Following jewels all over the world, moonlight trysts with Countesses, the endless challenge, who could give it up? Jamie glanced at Steele. He had. It was only fitting that he should keep the title and the castle.
I dont want it. Jamie said, his mind made up. Im not cut out for that kind of life. Im just not that type of bloke. I like my life just as it is.
People can change. Remington told him. I did.
You met a woman.
You might meet your own Laura someday.
God forbid. I like my fingers too much. Jamie said, the corner of his mouth lifting upwards in a rueful smile. Then he sobered, But if I ever do, you can sign it over then. For now Id prefer you to keep it. It suits you somehow.
Very well. Remington agreed. If thats what you want.
He handed the reigns of the horse to Jamie before going to the nearby stall and leading out a big grey gelding. Once in the stable yard they mounted and turned their horses toward the green hills beyond the castle. There was a fine mist in the air, but they ignored it, urging their horses onward until they crested a hill. There they stopped and stared down at the castle for a moment or two.
It sort of grows on you, doesnt it? Jamie asked, his eyes running over the sprawling stone structure. If you dont mind, Ill stop in now and then.
Thats fine as long as you promise to keep your hands off the guests jewels.
Jamie smiled. You drive a hard bargain, Steele. There was a paused and then he said casually, almost too casually, Perhaps Ill even stop by Los Angeles one of these days. I am, after all, Richards godfather, much to your delightful wifes disgust.
Remington glanced over at him. Hed like that. Itd be like having Daniel back, not a father but more like a brother. Youll always be welcome as long as
I keep my sticky fingers in my pockets. Jamie finished, with a laugh.
Youre going to miss him, arent you? Laura asked as she and Remington stood on the hotel steps, watching Jamie get into his sports car.
Yes. Remington admitted. It was like having Daniel back for a while.
Im sure well be seeing him again.
You can count on it, Mrs. Steele. Remington said as the sports car roared off after a cheery wave from the driver. He turned to his wife, sliding his arm around her waist. Shall we go and see what Annie and our son is up to?
Love to, Mr. Steele.
Speaking of Annie, Remington said as they entered the hotel, gave a wave to the desk clerk and headed for the doors leading to the family residence, I was wondering how youd feel about taking her back to Los Angeles with us. Nick and Nora had a nanny, and Miklene assures me shed make an excellent housekeeper with a little training. We could get rid of that dreadful cleaner we currently have. I think she spends more time rifling through my MGM collection than cleaning.
Laura considered this. Sort of like Alice.
Remington glanced down at his wife. Who?
You know, Alice on the Brady Bunch.
Some obscure reference to one of those American sitcoms, I suppose.
She was a live-in housekeeper, helped look after the kids. There were six of them.
By the way, Laura said as they turned the corner and started up the stairs, whatever happened to all those smuggled weapons?
Remington smiled. I thought you said you didnt want to know.
Very well, Ill tell you. He said cheerfully. I gave them to our friends from the IRA.
Laura stopped mid-way up the stairs, staring at him, mouth open. You didnt!
I did. Remington confirmed with a grin. Of course, I had the servants remove a very important component before handing them over. Im afraid theyve received a defective shipment. The money was returned to the bank from which it was stolen much to Jamies chagrin and great disappointment.
Laura smiled, sliding her arms around his neck. Mr. Steele, Ive said it before, and Ill say it again, you are a treacherous liar, a cheap crook, and a cut-rate con man.
He grinned, pulling her close. Are you disappointed, my love?
Devastated, Laura declared, her mouth against his, but I suspect Ill get over it.
CONTINUED IN 'SAVE THE LAST STEELE FOR ME'