Hell Hath No Fury
Mildred pulled the sheet of crisp, white paper out of the typewriter, read through it for mistakes and then picked up a fountain pen and signed her name with a flourish. Then she stood up, squared her shoulders and marched toward Lauras office. She faltered for a moment as her eyes went to the open door of the office where he used to sit every morning reading his paper. The stark neatness of the room depressed her. No files, no newspapers, not even a suit coat or tie pin. Empty. Completely empty. Just like their lives.
She quickly looked away and continued her march to Lauras door. Once there she knocked loudly.
Come in. Lauras voice called out.
Mildred opened the door and walked in. She was surprised to see Laura seated behind her desk, files piled five to six deep, the top of her desk looking like a patchwork quilt of various forms. Several crumpled balls of paper lay in and around the wastepaper basket, and although she held a pen, she had not used it. The forms remained blank. She glanced up as Mildred entered.
For a moment Mildred hesitated. Shed never seen Miss Holt look so tired, so grim. There were dark circles beneath her eyes as though she hadnt slept in a week, and her hair was untidy as though shed been running her fingers through it repeatedly. Perhaps now wasnt the best time. No, she reminded herself, tamping down on her soft heart, it had to be done, and Miss Holt was going to have to reap the consequences of her actions or lack of.
Ive come to give you this. Mildred declared, slapping the sheet of paper on the desk right under Lauras nose.
Laura picked it up gingerly. Whats this, Mildred?
Its my resignation. Im leaving in two weeks.
Your resignation? Laura echoed as though shed never heard of the word. I dont understand. I thought you liked it here. You were set to get your license and everything.
I did like it here. Mildred stated. But not anymore. Im not working here without the boss. Were a package deal. He goes. I go.
Laura frowned, clearly irritated. Mildred, its not like I fired him. He was deported. There was nothing I could do.
Her defense had no affect on Mildred. There had been something she could have done, and they all knew it. She could have married the dirty rat, but she had refused outright and no pleading from Remington or Mildred had changed her mind. There was no way she was going to marry a man who had only moments before been willing to marry a hooker. The creep. Shed been so angry, so livid that she would have delivered him to immigration herself if they hadnt already been waiting.
We both know thats not true. Mildred told her stoutly. You stopped him from marrying that hooker, and Im grateful, hon, truly I am, but to throw him to the wolves like that after all hes meant to you and the agency? It was heartless. When Lauras frown increased, she hurried on. Now, dont get me wrong. Ill be the first one to admit that his plan was unbelievably stupid, and you have a right to be angry, but couldnt you have married him and made him pay the piper later? After all, it was our passport that got him in trouble.'
Laura jumped up and stalked out of the office, brushing past Mildred with neither a word nor a glance. She felt smothered in there, cornered and she wondered why shed allowed him to have the big office all these years. She was the one that did all the work. She was Remington Steele, not him. Her eyes went to the corner office, and she scowled. That wall of trophy pictures must be removed immediately.
She walked in and began pulling them off the wall, tossing them onto the white couch. It was a stupid thing to do. There were more important issues demanding her attention, like Mildreds resignation, but she had to do something to work off the frustration, and the sound of shattering glass soothed her. She only wished it was his head she was smashing them against rather than the couch. The creep! A hooker, a hooker, of all things!
Removing those arent going to make you forget him. Mildred said from the doorway.
Maybe not but its a good start. Laura said, slapping another picture on the couch with a satisfying crunch. Out of sight, out of mind.
They also say absence makes the heart grow fonder. Mildred rebutted.
Laura turned around, hands on hips. Mildred, I couldnt marry him.
Why not? Mildred demanded. The two of you have had the hots for each other ever since I came here. Marriages have been based on less.
Im not marrying someone because I have the hots for him. Laura declared, bright spots of color coming into her cheeks. Marriage should be based on mutual love and respect, not lust or , she waved a hand, 'an immigration agent.
Mildred stared at her in a way that made Laura squirm. Look, honey, you can lie to yourself all you want, but Im not taking it anymore. You cant fire me so Im going to tell it to you straight. The awful truth is youre in love with him, and its about time you made up your mind what to do with him.
I did make up my mind. Laura said flatly. I deported him.
And youve been miserable ever since. Laura opened her mouth to protest, but Mildred continued. I know where you went that afternoon. You went to the airport and watched them put him on a plane to London.
Have you been following me?
Of all the nerve! Thats what comes of hiring ex-fraud agents and then allowing them to get their investigators license. They started investigating you. Not only was the thought of Mildreds checking up on her annoying to the extreme but it also reminded her of what she preferred to forget. She had gone to the airport, and she had watched him board the plane. She had watched until the plane was just a speck on the horizon.
Shed told herself it was to make sure he was good and gone, never to darken her doorstep again, but the deep, inner part of her knew it was for a different reason entirely. Never mind that shed gone through an entire box of Kleenex when shed gotten back to her loft.
I didnt have to. Mildred told her with a sniff. Theres a parking pass from the airport stuck in the windshield of the Rabbit. I saw it this morning as I was coming in.
Laura felt the outrage leaving her like air from a leaky balloon. Why continue to deny it? She shoved the pictures aside, unconcerned when several hit the floor, and plopped down on the couch, defeated, her hands clasped between her knees as she contemplated her sorry condition.
Mildred, she sighed, staring at her hands, cant you see that marrying him would have been a disaster? We already bicker and snipe at each other. Imagine what it would have been like with Clarissa standing between us. It would always bother me, gnawing at me like a termite, undermining things. It might have been different if I had some idea how he feels
How he feels? Mildred exclaimed, interrupting her. Hell, honey, if you dont know that by now, then youre blind. Oh, I know, you want the words. We all do. But when a man is desperate enough to marry a hooker in order to stay by your side, Id say hes signed, sealed and delivered. Laura sent her a look that clearly questioned her sanity. I know, I know. Its a funny way to express your love. But the boss never had been the conventional sort.
Why didnt he just come to me? Laura demanded, the question that had been tormenting her for two weeks finally bursting out like a cork out of a bottle. He would rather marry a prostitute then come to me.
Her voice sounded forlorn even to her ears. She couldnt even imagine what Mildred would make of it.
Mildred came over, shoved a few more pictures to the floor and sat down. I dont know, honey. Thats between you and him. I dont know his reasons, why he felt he had to handle this one on his own. Hes been acting kind of funny ever since that Sensitivity Spa case. Hes been moody, cagey even. She paused as though uncertain how to ask the next question. Did anything happen between the two of you while you were there?
Yes. Laura admitted, drawing the word out slowly, reluctantly. But I thought wed resolved it. It seemed resolved.
Laura shook her head. Oh, it was silly, crazy. The instructor encouraged us to tell each other how we felt. One thing led to another and before I knew it we were arguing, really going at each other. He said things about proving himself and not being my father, and I... she faltered for a moment, I lost my temper and I told him that I would have been better off without him.
Yep. That would do it. Hes got a sensitive spot the size of Montana, especially when it comes to you and his place in your life.
But I apologized!
Words dont always work. In fact they usually end up making things worse, especially with a man like Mr. Steele who prefers actions to words. She placed a hand on Lauras arm. And lets face it, hon, your actions havent been all that encouraging. Not only have you banned him from your bed, but you just threw him out of your life not to mention the country. Its going to take a lot of TLC to smooth this one over, I can tell you.
You act as though this is my fault. Laura complained, jumping to her feet as anger flared once again. Hes the con man, the jewel thief, the swindler. Hes the one who created this mess. She waved her arms. Hes always creating messes that I have to clean up. Hes worse than a St. Bernard.
Im not blaming you. Mildred protested. Im just pointing out that getting him back is going to take a lot of work. Youre going to have to go to London and pop the question. I recommend plenty of groveling. Hell like that.
Pop the question? Laura exclaimed, incredulous.
Sure. Its real easy. You just say ~ Mr. Steele, will you marry me? I know its not a Leap Year, but
Youre crazy! Laura interrupted, stalking over to the windows. She paced for a couple minutes as though uncertain where to go and then stopped. There is no way Im going to chase after him like...like '
Like you did last year?
Laura ignored her.
Besides, what makes you think I want to smooth things over with him? Hes the one that went to a hooker instead of coming to me. Hes made his bed. He can lie in it. Im not pulling his buns out of the fire anymore. Im sick and tired of his excuses and prevarications. Visions of who would be sharing that bed with him suddenly danced through her mind and she abruptly turned away so Mildred couldnt see her expression. In a cold, hard voice, she said. Believe me, Mildred, were better off without him.
There was a silence, long and heavy, like no mans land after a cease fire, and then the couch creak and glass tinkled as Mildred stood up.
Maybe you are, but Im not. She stated. Ill work out my two weeks, but after that Im out of here.
Mildred, Laura said, turning around to face her again, I really wish youd reconsider. If you leave, Ill be Remington Steele Investigations.
Isnt that what youve always wanted? Mildred asked cryptically before turning on her heel and marching from of the room, calling over her shoulder as she went. You have an appointment with Mr. Banks of Carrington Financial at two.
Laura watched her go, frustrated. Everyone was deserting her. Bernice, Murphy, Remington and now Mildred. Fine, she decided, seating herself in the chair Remington had sat in for the last four years. Let them leave. She could handle it. Remington Steele had been her creation anyway.
Leaning back into the luxurious leather, she propped her feet up on the desk and surveyed the office. Shed move in here tomorrow, and then shed call a temp agency and arrange for a secretary. After that shed place an ad for another investigator. She might as well write the ad now before Banks arrived.
She pulled open a drawer. Nothing. She pulled open another one. Nothing but a tie pin and a comb. Her hand started to reach for the tie pin, but she stopped herself, closing the door with a bang. Then she got up, went into her office and returned with a yellow legal pad. Hadnt the man done any work in the last four years? How can you run a business without basic office supplies?
Picking up her pen, she wrote: Wanted. Experienced private investigator. She thought for a moment, chewing the head of her pen and then continued in large letters ~ No liars, no crooks, no con artists need apply.
The man whod been known as Remington Steele for the past four years let himself into his hotel room. Tossing the key on a nearby table, he immediately went for the liquor cabinet, tugging his tie loose as he poured a hefty amount of brandy into a tumbler. He tossed it back in one gulp and then threw himself in a nearby armchair where he moodily contemplated his surroundings.
He wondered how long hed be able to support a place like this. It was putting a serious strain on what money hed managed to get transferred from his saving account in L.A. to London. Exchange rates were killing him, and his agency credit card had been revoked. Laura hadnt wasted any time, he mused with something that could only be described as bitterness. She always had been remarkably efficient when it came to cutting off his expense account.
Laura. He rolled the name over in his mind, savoring the anger it caused, flinching from the pain it inflicted. Never had a woman put him through such anguish, not Anna, not anyone. He had done everything possible to remain at her side, to keep his promise and what had she done? Chucked him to the feds. She hadnt even bothered to see him off. Obviously parting had not caused her the same anguish as it had caused him. While hed been bleeding to death between two INS agents, she had been gallivanting about L.A. in that ridiculous tin can she called a car.
The long flight had given his pain time to mature into rage, and hed gotten off at Heathrow intent on obliterating Laura Holt from his mind. After checking into the most expensive hotel he could find, compliments of Remington Steele Investigations since the credit card hadnt been cancelled yet, he had prowled the hotel lounge like a shark and had eventually caught himself a pretty blonde minnow. However, after only one kiss from her overly eager lips, hed felt physically ill. Tossing her fake mink at her, he had shoved her out the door and proceeded to get rip roaring drunk.
The alcohol had kept him delightfully numb for several days, but eventually hed emerged from his stupor and began to wonder what the bloody hell he was going to do with the rest of his life. Did he continue on as Remington Steele or did he go back to being Harry?
His only passport said Remington Steele. Itd been her passport that had gotten him into his mess. It had brought the feds calling. He could still remember how his hands, no, his whole body, had trembled when hed opened that official looking letter and read its contents.
His first thought had been to tell Laura and hed even gotten up to go to her office, but then hed stopped. What if this gave her the excuse shed been waiting for to get rid of him? Hadnt she said she would have been better off without him? Hadnt she indicated that she was getting tired of waiting around for him to declare himself when those gifts from that lunatic secret admirer started arriving?
So hed done the only thing he knew how to do. Hed turned to deception, and it had landed him exactly where he didnt want to be, thousands of miles away, banned from the U.S. and banned from Laura. Permanently. She had placed a continent and ocean between them and thrown away the key. There was no way he could get back to her. Customs would be on the look out for Mr. Remington Steele.
He brooded until the room turned as dark as his thoughts. There must be a way, he told himself over and over. Think, Harry, old boy, think. If only Scotland Yard hadnt confiscated his other passports. He stopped as the answer finally struck him. There was nothing stopping him from getting another passport. It was fairly easy if you knew the right people, and Harry knew the right people.
For the first time in two weeks he grinned. But it wasnt the cheerful grin hed worn around Remington Steele Investigations. This was a grin of devilish proportions. If the Piper children had seen it they would have said it was Grinch-ish in nature. Laura Holt was not getting rid of him that easily. Oh no. He wasnt going to let her shuffle him out of her life as easily as she had Wilson, Murphy and all the other men shed bewitched with a pair of brown eyes and a smile that promised bliss. Miss I-Can-Handle-Anything had met her match.
He unfolded his lean frame of the chair, walking over to the mirror. He noted the hair that hed failed to get trimmed. It was longer and shaggier. He ran a hand along his jaw, feeling the scrape of whiskers just beginning to emerge. The grin widened. Hed see Pete tomorrow and make arrangements. In a couple weeks, he ought to have enough of a beard to alter his appearance enough to fool a harassed customs agent. And with a new name the possibilities were limitless just like Xenos had always said.
Old Mackys Back in Town
Mildred was just getting ready to step into a lovely bubble bath of lavender mint when the doorbell rang. She decided to ignore it, shoving one foot under the bubbles. When it came again and again, chiming like a demented bell tower, she removed her foot, belted her robe around her waist and went to get rid of the nut leaning on her doorbell.
Miss Holt! She gasped. What are you doing here?
Laura stood on her doorstep, soaking wet. Can I come in, Mildred?
Of course. Mildred said, stepping aside to let her enter. What happened to you? Youre all wet.
I got caught with the top down on the Rabbit.
Mildred eyed her, noting that the dark circles beneath her eyes were even darker and that she looked thinner than she had three weeks ago. She was also beginning to shiver as she dripped all over Mildreds newly mopped parquet floor. First things first. Miss Holt needed to be warmed and dried before pumped for information. It was the only honorable thing to do.
Ive got a hot bath drawn. Mildred said briskly. Youd better go get in it before you catch one heck of a cold.
No, no, I couldnt. Laura protested as Mildred hustled her down the hallway.
You can, and you will. Mildred told her firmly. Theres a robe on the hook behind the door. Itll be too big, but itll do until your clothes dry.
She gave Laura a little push, quickly shut the door and holding it shut until Laura gave up and complied. Surrender came in the form of a bundle of wet clothing, which Mildred promptly confiscated and threw into the dryer. Then she went and made some tea. Just the way he liked it.
Half an hour later, Laura emerged from the bathroom, pink from the heat of the water and wrapped in an old terrycloth robe, which fit her like a pup tent. Mildred handed her a mug of tea before leading the way into the living room. The gas fire had been lit and burned merrily, quickly taking away the chill brought on by rain and unseasonably cool weather for a Los Angeles winter.
Now, Mildred said, seating herself in an armchair, whats all this about? What were you doing on my doorstep looking like a drowned kitten?
Laura seemed uncomfortable, hesitant even. An unusual condition for her, Mildred noted, watching her over the rim of her mug. Miss Holt rarely if ever hesitated. She made decisions like a bullet fired from a sharpshooters gun, quick, powerful and dead on target. It was odd to see her fidgeting with her mug, twisting it around and around in her hands, her eyes following the movement. It was a wonder she didnt get dizzy and keel over, Mildred thought as the mug continued to twirl. Still it was interesting. Fascinating as Mr. Spock would say.
Mildred, Laura finally said, her eyes still on the mug, I was wondering if youd consider coming back to the office.
Have you popped the question?
Then I cant come back. I told you, honey. Im a package deal.
You realize some people would call that blackmail.
Mildred grinned and Laura was struck at how much she resembled Remington at that moment. Her heart squeezed, painfully and disturbingly. Whatever works, honey. Thats what the boss would say.
Lauras eyes went back to her mug. What if I went and got him for you?
How are you going to do that?
Irritation flashed across Lauras face. Just answer the question, Mildred, and leave the details to me, ok? Would you come back if I went and got Mr. Steele?
Would you come back now? When Mildred frowned, Laura hurried on, looking up at her with something close to desperation in her dark eyes. Someone has to watch the agency while Im in London. She paused, running a hand through her damp hair. Heck, he could be in Hong Kong by now, especially if he hooked up with Daniel again.
Mildred considered the request and then said, Ok. Ill do it, but I dont understand how going after him is going to make a difference
Unless I pop the question. Laura finished for her.
So youve finally made up your mind.
I really dont have much choice. Laura told her a little heatedly. The offices a mess. I have clients ringing the phone off the hook, piling up in the office like sardines in a tin can and nobody to sort them out. The temp agency couldnt seem to find anyone competent enough to answer a phone let alone type a letter so I was forced to ask Frances to help out. Within two days wed had a huge fight, something to do with coffee, I think, and now she wont speak to me. Normally that would have been a blessing but she called mother and told her Id fired Mr. Steele. So now I have mother calling me ten times a day asking me how I could have let that divine man slip through my fingers. And to top it off I cant find anyone remotely qualified to be my new partner. I considered calling Murphy, but, she shrugged, well, hes got his own life. He ruined that relationship for me too.
There was a long silence and then Mildred asked quietly, You miss him, dont you?
Like hell. Laura admitted, surprised at how easily it came out. I cant sleep. I cant eat. I cant do anything that doesnt remind me of him. If Im in my car, I see him sitting there with that pained look he always gets when I'm driving. If Im at home, I see him preparing Peking Duck in my kitchen. If I go to the park, I see us running around those trees right before the Auburn tried to kill us. Hes everywhere I go. I never realized how enmeshed he was in my life. She exclaimed, getting up and pacing over to the fireplace. Her eyes went to the pictures on the mantel and she turned back to Mildred. See? Even here I see him. Hes driving me mad.
So youre going to marry him.
Laura seemed to consider her question for a moment and then smiled, a sad, bittersweet kind of smile. Gigi. Leslie Caron, Louis Jourdan, MGM, 1958. To quote Gigi: Id rather be miserable with you than without you. Well, I guess thats what its come down to, Mildred. If popping the question is the only way to get him back, then Ill do it and hope for the best.
You realize hes not going to make it easy for you.
I know. I just hope he doesnt make me get down on one knee or something equally humiliating.
He just might. Mildred warned. Hes that sort of guy. He was angry when you refused to cooperate, and hes had nearly two months to brood over it.
Laura nodded. Im not expecting it to be easy, Mildred. In fact itll probably be the most difficult thing Ive ever done. Chasing hardened murders around L.A. would be preferable to swallowing my pride and asking Mr. Steele to marry me. But, she shrugged, the way I see it I dont have much choice. Things cant continue as they have been. Ive got to do something.
Well, Mildred said, getting to her feet and going over to a roll-top desk, if youre committed to doing this then youre going to need these.
She returned with a small, velveteen box, which she dropped into Lauras hand.
Whats this? Laura asked, staring at the box.
Curious, Laura placed her mug on the mantel and opened the box. Two bands of gold, one smaller, the other larger, winked back at her from a bed of deep, blue velvet. She removed the rings, examining them carefully. Inside the larger of two was engraved the word Bogie. The smaller was inscribed with Bacall.
Laura glanced at Mildred. Bogie & Bacall?
Was that a blush spreading across Mildreds face, Laura wondered.
I thought the boss would like it. You know, loving movies like he does.
When did you get these, Mildred?
Shortly after we returned from London.
And they were always intended for Mr. Steele and me?
Who else? Mildred asked as though it were the most natural thing in the world that they should marry. I knew the way the wind was blowing a long time ago. I knew you two kids were cuckoo about each other, and I thought after London youd finally get around to admitting it so I went out and got the rings. They were to be my wedding present to you. I just never expected Id be giving them to you. Traditionally the man does the proposing. She shook her head, chucking. Silly of me to assume that your relationship would follow the traditional route. It never has and never will.
Laura smiled, sharing the irony of her statement. Yes, she and Remington never had done things by the book, and she wasnt expecting marriage to change that. There would always be fireworks, both verbally and physically, but she was now willing to risk the singes and burns. The question was would Remington? He had been willing two months ago, but now? It was going to be difficult, and she would have to control her temper better than she had in the past, but, she reminded herself, shed never been one to shrink from a challenge.
She replaced the rings and shut the box a snap. Then she went over to Mildred, bending down to give her a kiss on the cheek. Thank you, Mildred. Theyre beautiful. Im sure Mr. Steele will be suitably impressed. Wish me luck, ok?
Mildred touched her cheek in a motherly fashion and said, Just remember, honey, his pride has been hurt just as much as yours.
Ill try to keep that in mind. Laura said with a smile before straightened up and saying in her efficient, business-like way. Now, weve got some work to do. If my clothes are dry, lets see about arranging a flight to London.
Vincent Parry placed one Italian leather shoe on the sidewalk and then eased his long, lean frame out of the taxi. He stood on the sidewalk for a moment, breathing in the fresh Los Angeles smog before turning and paying the driver. Then he faced the twin office buildings, a wolfish grin spreading across his bearded face. Ah, yes, ole Mac the Knife was back in town. He headed for the entrance of the building.
The glass doors of Remington Steele Investigations sat calm and unruffled, just like the intrepid Miss Holt. Parry made a beeline for them, his heart pounding as he savored the imminent storm he was preparing to unleash upon the unsuspecting agency and its owner. He pushed open the door and stepped inside.
Mildred stifled a growl of irritation as she heard the door open yet again. Shed already chased off three clients, two salesmen and the plant lady, and it wasnt even noon yet. At this rate shed never get her research done, and Miss Holt would be calling in another hour. Shed been in London for two days and was getting impatient, understandably so. Mr. Steele had jumped from hotel to hotel like a ping-pong ball on steroids.
Putting on her fraud face, she turned to greet the visitor and nearly fell off her chair.
Boss! She gasped. Howd you get here?
The usual way, Mildred. Remington said. I took a plane.
But how she started and then suddenly blurted out, Is that beard real?
Remington stroked his chin. Of course, its real, Mildred. What do you take me for? A fool? He looked at Mildred, one dark eyebrow arching. Deception, my dear Mrs. Krebs, is at its finest when practiced as close to reality as possible.
But howd you give them the slip? She asked, returning to her original question. Remington Steele is persona non-gratis in the States. You couldnt have entered on your passport.
Remington reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a small blue book, which he handed to Mildred.
Vincent Parry. Mildred read.
Dark Passage. Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Warner Bros., 1948. A convicted murderer escapes from prison, gets a new face and finds the real murderer of his wife. Remington provided helpfully.
Birth place: Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. Mildred continued.
Im not going to be deported this time.
Mildred shook her head, handing the passport back to him. Reverted back to your old ways, I see.
I didnt have much choice, did I? Some of his tightly suppressed anger leaked out making the question sound bitter even to his ears. The delightful Miss Holt had me thrown out on my ear. Speaking of that paragon of virtue, his eyes went to the closed door of the middle office, is she in?
You dont sound too sure of that, Mildred. Remington noted, picking up on the uncharacteristic hesitation in her voice. She was hiding something. What? His mind wandered down dark streets and came up with an answer. Shes already replaced me. Hes with her right now, isnt he? Without waiting for a reply, he started for the door, rage consuming him. Hed chuck the blighter right out the window.
Mildred hurried around her desk, catching the sleeve of his suit coat. No, boss, its not that.
My chair has barely gotten cold and she goes out and gets herself a new Remington. He growled, shaking off Mildreds hand. Has she banned this one from her bed as well or is it just me, the cheap crook, thats not allowed between her pristine sheets?
He threw open the door, fully expecting to see Laura in a clinch with some Murphy-type fellow, but the office was empty. Completely empty. No files, no delightful Laura clutter, just a desk put neatly in order, filing cabinets and a chair. Not satisfied he burst through the door connecting her office to his. Same thing.
He turned to Mildred who was hovering behind him.
Dont make me wring it out of your, Mildred. He said quietly. Too quietly, Mildred thought, unconsciously taking a step backwards. He sounded like a polite jungle cat, dangerous but unwilling to get his paws dirty .yet. Where is she?
What in bloody hell is she doing in London?
Looking for you, of course.
Me? He echoed. Why? To get my signature on a non-competition agreement? To personally revoke my company credit card?
No, you big dope, she went there to marry you.
Mildred struggled to hold onto her patience. These two kids of hers were the most touchy, overly sensitive, pig-headed people shed ever met. Always jumping to conclusions and going off on tangents. And what a mess theyd created once again. Laura was running all over London, harassing hotel desk clerks, while the object of her search was standing right here, spewing his anger all over the place like Old Faithful on a hot summer day.
Its a little late for that, isnt it? He asked, voice dripping with sarcasm. She could have married me two month ago. Hell, she could have married me two years ago. I did ask her, but she ignored me. Too busy finding the killer of all those bloody bachelors.
Mildred took a deep breath and tried again. Boss, I understand why youre angry, and you have a right to be, but
But he wasnt listening. He was stroking his chin thoughtfully. Went to London to marry me, eh? Too bad Im not there to turn her down. Im not a yo-yo. I have feelings just like the next person. Oh, I know she thinks I dont, but I do. Why else would I have kicked my heels around this place for all these years? Well, I didnt need her wedding ring. I got back into the States by my own design.
Illegally. Mildred pointed out. Its only a matter of time before this brilliant plan blows up in your face like all the rest. If you want to stay here, I suggest you get over there as fast as you can and accept her proposal. You know, it took a lot of courage for her to swallow her pride and go after you.
Im surprised she was able to swallow it at all.
She did it because shes in love with you.
Funny way of showing it. Remington snorted. Having the man you supposedly love tossed out on his ear. Im afraid you must have sipped too much eggnog during the holidays, Mildred, because its clearly pickled your brain.
She told me to my face that she loved you.
And I suppose she looked all tragic with dark circles beneath the eyes.
As a matter of fact she did. Mildred ran a critical eye over his perfectly pressed suit, gleaming shoes and overall robust appearance. To tell you the truth, you seem to have weathered the separation better than she. You look the picture of health.
Youd been surprised how revenge can sustain a man.
Mildred had had enough. Both were in the wrong yet both wanted to blame the other. At least Miss Holt had come to her senses. This she eyed Remington disdainfully this boy needed to have his ears boxed before he ruined everything by clinging to his self-righteous anger.
If it had been me I would have done a lot more than deport you. She declared stoutly. I would have taken a club to that hollow head of yours and beat some sense into it. Marrying a hooker. She spat out as though the sentence tasted bad. What in the world were you thinking? That was the stupidest, most knuckle-headed thing youre ever done.
I did it for her! He protested, clearly stung by her attack.
You arrange to marry a hooker, would have succeeded in doing so if Miss Holt hadnt saved your sorry hide, and thats supposed to prove your love and devotion to her? Mildred demanded, blazing away with both barrels. Sometimes I wonder about that gray matter between your ears. Its warped or something. Frankly, boss, she did you a favor by letting the feds have you. Any other woman would have put a bullet between your eyes and left you for the buzzards.
Remington stared at her, his mouth slightly open as though he wanted to protest but couldnt. It was the first time his ally, his devoted servant had talked to him in such a manner, and it stung. Not only had Laura thrown him to the wolves, but Mildred had followed up by nailing his carcass to the barn door. So much for his grand plans of revenge. His target was out of the country and one ally had taken out her pistol and shot him between the eyes.
He wandered over to the chair that had served him so faithfully over the years and sank down into the soft leather. He felt like a balloon that had lost all its air. Perhaps Mildred was right. Maybe Laura had just as much right to be angry with him as he was with her. The Clarissa thing had been incredibly stupid, but hed been desperate, not thinking clearly. He sighed, rubbing his eyes wearily. He needed time to think, to sort out all these bloody emotions.
Look, Mildred said, starting to feel guilty, this cat and mouse thing has gone on too long. Im going to ask you a question and I want a straight answer, ok? No excuses, no dodging. Do you love Miss Holt?
Yes. The answer came without hesitation.
Either hed given up trying to hide it any longer or he was still in shock from her drubbing, Mildred thought.
If she asks you, will you marry her?
What kind of answer is that? Mildred demanded.
It means, Mildred dear, that Im going to lead Miss Holt on a merry little chase before she gets me.
Havent you been doing that for the last four years?
No. He said firmly, emphatically. Shes been doing the leading, and Ive been doing the chasing. I was a nice, ripe apple just waiting to fall into her lap, but she refused to shake the apple tree. Now that shes finally shaking, lets not make it easy for her. She ought to have to climb up and get it, wouldnt you say?
Mildred. Remington interrupted, suddenly opening his eyes to look at her, and for a brief second, he allowed her to see all the anguish hed been wrestling with for three months. Laura had looked tragic on the outside; he looked tragic on the inside. My prides the only thing Ive got left. Shes taken everything else. Do you begrudge me a proper proposal in a proper setting? He could sense Mildred weakening. Whats her plan to find me?
Shes following Remington Steele from hotel to hotel. She paused and then her curiosity got the better of her. What have you been doing? Playing musical hotels? My research indicates that youve been to at least five different hotels.
Check again. Youre missing two. Before she could question him further, he volunteered the information although somewhat gruffly. My funds were running low. I was no longer employed, and you shut off my credit card. Naturally I had to economize. My last digs was at a bed letter in Soho.
Must have been quite a blow to a guy used to a penthouse apartment.
It was. He said briefly before leaning back in his chair and propping his feet on the desk. His eyes went to the ceiling. If Laura doesnt find me at a hotel in London, whats her next plan of attack?
Find Daniel Chalmers. She figures youll eventually hook up with him again. Birds of a feather flock together.
Ah, yes, Daniel. Remington murmured, tapping his fingers together. Odd that I should have forgotten about him. Do you know where he is?
No, but Im working on it. I should have something in a few hours. Why?
If she expects me to be with Daniel, then let's not disappoint her. After all, Daniel always did annoy her in the most satisfactory way. He was more effective than any woman in bringing out Lauras possessive instincts.
Youre set on being difficult about this, arent you?
Im just giving Miss Holt what she likes best. A good mystery. He got up and went over to her, taking her arm and urging her toward the outer office Dont worry, Mildred. I fully intend on being caught in the end, but why not have a bit of fun in the meantime, eh? Ill work off a bit of leftover frustration annoying her, and shell feel like shes accomplished something grand when she swoops in and rescues me from Daniels corrupting influence.
Boss, youre playing with fire. Mildred warned. Shes only going to be able to choke down so much humble pie, you know.
I know, I know. Remington assured her. Now go get that information on Daniel. He turned, intending to go into his office and read the newspaper like he always did, but the desk was empty. There was no comforting sight of newsprint anywhere. He frowned, calling out over his shoulder. Wheres my newspaper?
She cancelled it the day after you left.
Mildred looked up from her computer as he strode by. Where are you going?
To pinch one from our neighbors.'
Slipperier than an Eel
Laura let herself into her hotel room, tossed her purse on a table and immediately sat down to remove her shoes. Her feet were killing her. Shed been walking the streets of London for a week, wearing out shoe leather and developing a healthy collection of blisters, and she still hadnt found the elusive Mr. Steele. The man must be part eel for he was just about as slippery as one. As soon as she arrived at one hotel, he had already departed and no, the desk clerk had no idea where hed gone.
Why he was jumping from hotel to hotel? The only pattern she could discern was each hotel was seedier than the last. Today she had visited a ratty-looking bed letter in Soho with no luck. Since he couldnt get much worse than that place, she supposed shed have to start checking under bridges next.
But her search hadn't been a complete lost. She had gained an interesting piece of information when shed showed his photo. They had all agreed on his identity, but the further she got down the hotel chain, there were comments like thats him, but the man I saw had a beard. Now why in the world would Mr. Steele grow a beard, she wondered, rubbing her toes. Couldnt the man afford a razor?
She winced, but it wasnt her toes paining her. It was her conscience. The only explanation for the hotels seemed to be a lack of funds. Hed had to move because he simply couldnt afford the hotel, and that, Miss Holt, was your fault, her conscience declared mercilessly. Shed cancelled his credit card, and considering the lifestyle hed lived, she was pretty sure he had little if any savings. Not only had she kicked him out of the country, but shed left him penniless in the process. Theyd have to have a talk about his spendthrift ways once they were married.
Married. The word echoed through Lauras mind like a death knell. It wasnt so much that she didnt want to marry him. Rather it was the proposal thing. First of all, it raked across her feminine pride like a snow plow on bare pavement, sending up sparks that threatened her resolve. Having to propose to a man, and particularly Mr. Steele, was a bitter pill to swallow.
It was also a total mystery to her how to do it. A man might wine and dine his intended, take her out for a little dancing before pulling the ring out of his coat pocket, but a woman? She supposed what worked for a man would work for a woman, but the thought of romancing the king of romancers was intimidating, especially if he was angry and uncooperative. Should she present it was a business arrangement or should she finally throw her feelings out there and see if he did a tap dance on them?
She sighed, rubbing her forehead as these questions whirled about her like the knock-out stars of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Youll just have to play it by ear, she told herself. Heck, you havent even found the guy so why stress over something that may never be?
Reminded that the first order of business was to locate Mr. Slippery, she got up and went to the phone. Time to check in with Mildred. Surely she had something on Daniel by now.
Remington Steele Investigations.
Mildred, its Laura.
Oh, Miss Holt, Mildred said, her business voice warming, hows the search going?
Laura sat down on the bed. Terrible. Mr. Steele is slipperier than an eel.
Hed got enough experience in it. Being slippery, I mean.
Experienced or not, hes the very devil to find. She stared at her toes and then brightened. But I did find out an interesting piece of information. It appears that our Mr. Steele has grown a beard. Now why do you suppose hes done that?
Not a clue. Mildred said. Maybe he couldnt afford a razor. You did cut off his credit, you know.
Laura grimaced. Looks like Mildred was joining her conscience in the flagellation business. Maybe they'd like to get the cat-o-nines out next. 'Yes, well, go ahead and reinstate his card. If he tries to use it, we can track where hes going and what hes doing. She paused, her mind going back to her original question. Do you suppose hes trying to alter his appearance for some reason?
Mildred laughed. Whatever for?
A passport. Laura said without hesitation. Hes done it before. Whats stopping him from doing it again?
Mildreds laughter seemed louder, almost forced. But hes reformed, remember?
Leopards dont change their spots that quickly. Laura informed her. When he gets in a tight spot, he reverts back to what he knows best. Deception. When Mildred seemed unable or unwilling to comment, Laura went to the reason for her call. Have you found Daniel?
Papers shuffled and then Mildred said, According to my research, hes currently in Monte Carlo.
Monte Carlo! Laura squeaked.
Hes staying at the Hotel Blanc. Its a beautiful five star hotel overlooking the harbor, old world design, lots of pillars and white stone. Oh, Mr. Steele would just love it. Mildred sighed rapturously. There was a pause as though she was contemplating what shed just described and then she continued. Chalmers arrived there two days ago so if you want to catch him I suggest you leave immediately. You know how Mr. Steeles acquaintances move around.
Laura groaned. She didnt want to go to the airport. She wanted a hot bath, a nice dinner in a quiet restaurant and some sleep, but Mildred was right. Daniel could vanish in a wink of the eye and pop up in Singapore.
Ok. She said, getting to her feet. Ill pack and leave for the airport.
Ive already booked you a flight to Nice. It leaves at 9 PM your time.
Laura glanced at the clock. It was now 7:24 PM. Drat!
Mildred replaced the phone, feeling extremely guilty. She didnt like being a part of this deception, but Mr. Steele had insisted he knew what he was doing. Considering his track record, those words had not comforted, only alarmed. Nevertheless, she picked up the phone, dialed the Hotel Blanc and asked for Mr. Vincent Parry.
Remington answered on the second ring. That you, Mildred?
Youve got news for me?
Shes on her way. Shes on the 9 PM flight out of Heathrow.
Excellent, Mildred, excellent. Ill have Daniel waiting for her.
Daniel? I thought she was going there to find you.
There was a pause that Mildred didnt like. In her minds eye she could see the grin spreading across his face. No, not me. Not yet. I was wondering, dear, if you could book Daniel and I a flight to St. Moritz for the day after tomorrow. In the morning I should think. Otherwise shell have too much time to put her nose to the ground and come up with a scent.
Dont worry, Mildred. He told her for about the fiftieth time. I know what Im doing. This is the last and only time Im going to get proposed to, and a chap ought to have a proposal to remember, dont you think? Besides, shell love St. Moritz. Plenty of winter sports, excellent symphony, Swiss chalets with romantic fires. Can you think of a better place for a proposal?
I just hope you know what youre doing.
She was about to hang up but he stopped her, saying, Oh, and Mildred, do a little research on how foreigners get married over here, will you? Make sure its legal. We dont want to give Miss Holt any wiggle room.
Laura stood at the entrance of the hotel casino, surveying the crowd of elegantly dressed people, men in suits and women in evening gowns. Some sat at the tables, some stood and watched, but all were intent on enjoying the charms of Lady Luck. Her eyes searched the room, finally zeroing in on the person shed come to find. He was seated at a baccarat table, his hair gleaming under the light casted by ornate chandeliers, a blonde woman many years his junior at his elbow.
Daniel, her nemesis, her rival for Remingtons loyalty. How she disliked having to go to him for help, but he was the most likely candidate to know where Harry was. Taking a deep breath, she squared her shoulders and swept into the room, rapidly making her way through the other patrons until she stood in the group around the baccarat table. She waited patiently until the man to Daniels left vacated his chair. Then she slipped into the seat, the skirts of her dark blue gown swirling around the legs of the chair.
Hello, Daniel. She murmured. Its been a long time.
Daniel turned at the sound of her voice, a ready smile coming to his lips. Daniel always smiled even if he didnt like you. Why, Linda, how are you, my dear? What brings you to Monte Carlo? Chasing a corpse, I suppose. He glanced around with an expectant air. Is Harry with you?
I was rather hoping he was with you.
Daniels eyebrows rose. With me? Dont tell me youve lost the lad. I didnt think anything could pry him out of your iron grip.
Laura glanced at the blonde. Do you think we could continue this conversation in a more private setting?
Oh, dont worry about Christine. She doesnt know Harry.
Nevertheless, I would prefer
Very well. Daniel said as though hed been asked to make a great sacrifice. I havent been having much luck at the table anyway. He rose and then turned to his companion, a charming smile lifting his lips. If youll excuse me, my dear, I have a little business to attend to.
But what about dinner? Christine asked, pouting up at him prettily.
He took her hand, brushing a kiss across its smooth surface. Tomorrow, my darling. Theres always tomorrow.
Then he took Lauras arm and escorted her from the casino.
Will the lounge be agreeable to you? He asked as they entered the foyer Or would you care to take Christines place and join me for dinner? The hotel restaurant is excellent. Very secluded too.
Dinner would be fine.
Within minutes of arriving at the restaurant they were seated at a table overlooking the harbor. Apparently Daniel was well known to the hotel staff, garnering them quick service and the best seat in the house. If it hadnt been for the unpleasant business ahead, she might have enjoyed herself, Laura mused, gazing down at the water below.
Now, Daniel said, once their orders had been taken and an excellent house red poured, whats this all about?
Im trying to find Mr. Steele. Laura said. I thought he might be with you.
Have you lost him?
In a manner of speaking, yes.
Daniels eyes were on his wineglass, apparently fascinated by the deep red color. How exactly does one lose a man, Linda? I was under the impression that one doesnt lose someone unless they want to be lost.
Lauras lips tightened. He was deported three months ago.
Deported? Daniel snorted. I thought I taught Harry better than that. Men of our profession should never allow themselves to be deported.
Oh, believe me, Laura said dryly, he would have made your proud. He used every deceptive art in his arsenal not to be.
Oh really. How did he do that?
He attempted to marry a hooker.
Ingenious boy! Daniel cried, clearly impressed. Thats using your head. No questions asked, no strings attached. Purely a business relationship. He paused in his admiration as a thought suddenly struck him. But if hes married to a hooker, then why was he deported?
I said he attempted to marry a hooker. I put a stop to it.
There was a pause as their dinners were delivered. More wine was poured, and they ate in silence for a few minutes before Daniel finally said, So in other words you had him deported.
Yes. There was no used denying it.
And now youre trying to find him. Why?
Laura knew this question would eventually arise. She grabbed her wineglass, took a fortifying swallow and said, To marry him myself.
Daniels eyebrows shot into his hair. Why didnt you just marry him when he was there?
I dont think thats important to our conversation. Laura stated, finishing her salmon and pushing her plate aside. All I want to know is whether or not hes been in touch with you.
Well, let me see. Daniel murmured, squinting toward the ceiling as though in deep thought. Laura waited impatiently, her foot tapping against the floor. Finally his eyes came back to her. He smiled sweetly and said. No.
Do you have any idea where he might be?
Youre the detective, my dear. Surely you can scare up a man thats been in your exclusive company for the last four years.
I admit that I have a good idea where Remington Steele would go, but hes not Remington Steele any longer. Hes Harry. You know Harry. You created him. Where would he go?
Daniel shrugged. Its hard to say.
Laura stood up. There was no use beating a dead horse. Daniel was not being cooperative. He seemed intent on needling her. Nothing new there. She sensed he knew something, but it would be useless to try to trick the information out of him. Foxes, even old ones, were too clever, too slick to allow themselves to be out foxed. Best thing to do was keep an eye on him.
Well, I thank you for dinner, Daniel. She said. I wish I could say it was a pleasure to see you again, but we both know it would be a lie. Weve never been friends. Nevertheless, if he does show up, I hope youll contact me.
Would love to. Where can I reach you?
The office. Mildred will relay any information you might have.
Daniel inclined his head and Laura turned to take her leave, sweeping out of the restaurant with a rustle of dark blue skirt. If she wasnt so dangerous, he would have liked her immensely, Daniel mused, taking a sip of his wine. He could certainly see what Harry saw in her. She was magnificent. Just like a certain lady hed known oh so many years ago. Sinead, such a lovely girl, hair as black as a ravens wing and eyes so blue as to rival Royal Lavulite. Ah, Sinead.
He was interrupted in his musings by a man sliding into the chair Laura had vacated.
Really, Harry. Daniel asked, shaking his head. Must you continue to wear that dreadful beard? You look like Sir Walter Scott or another one of those dead poets.
Ill get rid of it as soon as Remington Steele decides to re-emerge.
And when will that be? Soon I hope.
Just as soon as you leave for St. Moritz, which will be tomorrow morning at eight.
St. Moritz? Daniel exclaimed. Why in the world would I leave this delightful place for the Swiss Alps? Im not fond of snow, Harry. Matter of fact, I thoroughly detest it.
Because Laura will follow you.
My boy, I dont understand any of this. Daniel declared, clearly perplexed. If you want to marry the woman, then stop running all over the place and marry her.
You sound like Mildred.
I dont know Mildred, but she sounds like a damn sensible woman. You say Lindas here to propose, then sit still and let her propose though God only knows why youd want to get married in the first place. Daniel gave a little shudder. Dreary institution.
Ill sit still in St. Moritz.
Whats so special about St. Moritz?
I want to see just how far shell go. Remington murmured, almost to himself, his eyes on the water below. He sat for a few moments, contemplating something Daniel wasnt privy to, and then suddenly turned back to his old friend with a wide grin. Besides, St. Moritz is a lovely spot for a honeymoon.
So is Monte Carlo.
Look, Daniel, are you going to help me or not?
Of course, of course, Ill help you, my boy, but it seems a damn silly way to go about it. And what am I supposed to do in St. Moritz while youre being proposed to? Sit by the fire like an old codger?
You might take up gallery hopping. I hear theres an exquisite collection of diamonds coming in from South Africa.
Laura had just come out of the bathroom, hair and body wrapped in thick white towels when she happened to glance out the hotel window. Her attention was caught and held by the sight of Daniel standing on the sidewalk below. She glanced at the clock. It was barely six thirty in the morning. An odd time for a night owl like Daniel to be up and about. She moved closer to the window, pushing the curtains aside to get a better look.
As she watched a bellhop appeared, rolling a cart loaded with luggage, and then a man, dark-haired and bearded, sauntered up to Daniel. Remington. He might be sporting a beard and longer hair, but shed know that long, lean frame anywhere. Also he dressed like Remington. Nobody could wear cuff links and tie pin in quite the same way. Grabbing the fluffy robe provided by the hotel, she ran for the door. There was no time to lose. They were obviously waiting for a taxi to arrive.
She entered the hotel lobby to the surprise of patrons and staff alike at a dead run, but still she was too late. Daniel and Remington were already in the taxi, their luggage loaded into the trunk by the bellhop, when she tumbled onto the sidewalk.
Remington! She yelled as the taxi pulled away.
She thought she saw Daniels head turn as though in response to her call, but the other man didnt move. Had it been Remington, she asked herself, frowning, or had she just wanted it to be him? No. It had to be him. What was the probability of Daniel knowing two men so similar? And her legwork in London had confirmed that Remington was now sporting a beard.
Mademoiselle, the bellhop said, coming up to her, you should go back into the hotel. The street is no place for a lady in a robe.
She turned to him. Those two men, who were they?
The bellhop gave a very Gallic shrug. Me, I am paid to handle bags. I do not know the names of our patrons. But perhaps the desk clerk can tell you, eh?
Laura re-entered the hotel and marched up to the counter. The desk clerk eyed her warily. He was not accustomed to dealing with patrons in robes and bare feet. Can I help you, Mademoiselle?
A guest of yours, Daniel Chalmers, just checked out.
I am familiar with Mr. Chalmers. The clerk said cautiously. He is a regular at Hotel Blanc. He is most charming.
Could you tell me who the man was that was with him just now? The dark-haired one with the beard.
The clerk frowned. Im afraid I do not know. Only Monsieur Chalmers checked out. If there was a man with him, he must have been staying elsewhere.
There was enough luggage on that cart for five men let alone two. Laura pointed out.
The clerk smiled. Monsieur Chalmers always has a lot of luggage. He dresses well, does he not? Will there be anything else?
Yes, there is something else. Laura said, not liking his snooty tone. Do you know where Mr. Chalmers was headed?
The clerk nodded. Mais oui. He was going to the airport in Nice. He has a flight to Zurich this morning. However, his final destination is St. Moritz.
St. Moritz! Laura gasped. Are you sure?
Mais out. Very sure. I made him a reservation at our sister hotel in St. Moritz this very morning.
Laura turned away from the clerk, feeling slightly stunned. St. Moritz, she wondered as she started back to her room. What was in St. Moritz? She wracked her brain as she tried to remember what she knew about the city. Not much. Skiing and expensive where the only words that came to mind. And now Daniel and Remington were on their way there. To do what? Steal jewels, of course.
Her slow meander suddenly became a fast stride. Time was of the essence. Shed spent four years straightening that man out, and she wasnt about to let Daniel destroy all her hard work. She jabbed the elevator button and then jabbed it again. She knew that old fox was hiding something. He had lied to her. He had Harry back in his clutches, and he wasnt about to let him go. Well, well see about that, Laura thought, as the elevator doors finally opened.
As soon as she was back in her room she went for the phone, giving the operator Mildreds home number. She hated to bother the woman at home, but this was an emergency. She needed a flight into Switzerland ASAP.
That was a close one, Harry. Daniel noted as the taxi disappeared into traffic. The game was very nearly up.
Too close. Remington agreed, grimacing. I didnt expect her to have a room overlooking the road. Im slipping, Daniel. I should have checked that out.
Never mind, my boy. Daniel said with an unconcerned wave of one hand. The bellhop and desk clerk will keep their mouths shut. I tip very well. Besides, I told the desk clerk this morning that should a young lady ask after me to tell her that Im going to St. Moritz and nothing more. We can trust Jacques.
Im afraid youll have to be the fall guy for this one, old boy. Remington said with a sigh. If she asks, and we both know she will, I will claim no knowledge of her presence in Monte Carlo. She will, therefore, assume you lied to her.
Well, didnt I? Daniel asked. I lied out my bloody ears last night, but its of no concern. Its not like youd be ruining a beautiful relationship or anything. She expects such behavior from me. You, on the other hand, have more to lose. Of course, Daniel murmured, his eyes on the road ahead of them, this could have all been avoided if youd just let her find you.
Remington stroked his chin. The beard was becoming itchy. The first thing hed do upon arriving at St. Moritz was shave it off. It had served its purpose. If things went as planned, hed have no more use of the beard or Vincent Parry. In a few days time, he ought to be able to assume the identity of Remington Steele permanently.
Yes, Daniel, I see your point. Remington drawled. If she finds out Ive been stringing her along all this time, Id be in for it. You and Mildred were right. Ive been playing with fire. Laura has always been highly volatile, nitro glycerin in a skirt and heels. Its just that I wanted to sooth my wounded pride a bit before letting her have me, wanted to see just how far shed go to get her Mr. Steele back.
I understand. Daniel assured him. I was young and in love once too.
You were? Remington asked, surprised. It was the first hed ever heard of Daniel being in love. Itd always been a string of beautiful ladies with him. No commitments, no entanglements. Do I know her?
Daniel stared out the window for a long moment and then said quietly, No, Harry, you didnt know her. She died a long time ago. I was foolish in those days. I didnt know a truly precious jewel when I saw it. He glanced at Remington. Dont make my mistake, Harry. Give up the game before it blows up in your face.
I intend to.
Remington entered the café, handed his ski parka to the smiling hostess and then wove his way over to a cozy booth tucked into a corner beside a large, stone hearth where a fire burned merrily. When a waiter asked what hed like to drink, he ordered a coffee that he didn't want and then waited. Laura should be showing up any time now. Shed been trailing him since hed left the hotel an hour ago.
Hed thought shed pounce immediately, but she hadnt. Shed hung back rather like a stray dog wanting to come near but not daring. Did he look that unwelcoming, hed wondered, stopping at a store window to study himself. Hed tried a smile and then a grin and then moved on when hed noticed the stares he was attracting from those inside. Finally hed ducked into the café out of self preservation. It was either that or freeze to death.
From the corner of his eye he saw the door of the café open and Laura enter, dressed in a blue and white parka and matching hat. She handed her outerwear to the hostess and then stood a little uncertainly as though do sure what to do. To his annoyance instead of coming across the room to him, she slid into a chair by the window. Blimey, what was she waiting for? Shed been chasing him for nearly two weeks and now when he was ready to be pounced on, she refused to pounce.
He was savoring the irony of it all when the voice hed been longing to hear for over three months said, Would you mind if I join you?
He looked up, tried not to devour her with his eyes and said nonchalantly. Not at all. I was wondering when youd get around to it. He waited until shed seated herself and then asked, What brings you to St. Moritz, Laura?
I could ask you the same question.
So, she persisted, why are you in St. Moritz?
He shrugged. Where else would I be? Im a free agent again, and the world is my oyster.
It wouldnt have anything to do with the Simba Collection, would it?
Simba Collection, he wondered, momentarily baffled. What on earth was she talking about? Then the name clicked. The diamonds from South Africa. Daniel was doing a cursory inspection as they spoke. You dont believe a leopard can change its spots, do you, Laura?
I did, but bad company corrupts good intentions.
He decided to ignore that reference to Daniel. Instead he said, Now that weve discussed why I might be here, perhaps youd enlighten me on why you are. Not chasing a dead body, I hope?
No, Ive been chasing you. All over Europe.
Me? He echoed. Did I leave some contracts unsigned? Forget to turn in my badge? Or would you like your passport back? We wouldnt want someone running around the world pretending to be someone hes not. Wouldnt look good if Remington Steele was discovered with a pocketful of stolen rubies, eh?
Her lips firmed. Im here because we have some unfinished business to discuss. There was a pause and he watched her grimace as though having trouble getting the words out. Would you have dinner with me tonight? I I think dinner would be a more appropriate place to discuss business.
Business, eh? So she was going to follow that line of reason, present marriage as a business arrangement rather evoking that pesky thing called love. Very well. Hed play along. Id be glad to.
She blinked. You would?
Of course. Ive always enjoyed dining with you, Laura. Youre beautiful by candlelight.
She seemed momentarily speechless but quickly recovered herself. Would eight oclock at Johannes be ok?
He nodded. Shall I collect you from your hotel room or meet you in the lobby?
Ah, no, she said quickly. Ill meet you at the restaurant.
As you wish.
Well, then, Laura said, getting to her feet, Ill see you at eight.
And with that she was gone, weaving her way through the table and chairs, collecting her coat and hat and disappearing into the snow that was just beginning to fall beyond the frosted café window.
Remington sat in brooding silence, nursing his coffee mug. Why had she declined his offer to meet at her room or in the lobby? They were in the same hotel. Hed checked. There was no reason why they shouldnt travel to the restaurant together. He frowned as tingles of unease ran up his spine.
Why did it matter to him whether they arrived together or separately, he asked himself. Was it because he wanted to make sure she didnt get cold feet? Shed come this far, what makes you think shed turn back now? He sighed, getting up and tossing a few francs on the table before going to retrieve his parka. Lets face it. He wouldnt breath easy until he had her signature on a marriage certificate. On occasion Laura could be as slippery as an eel.
Laura couldnt remember a time when shes been more nervous. It had taken her over a half hour just to dress. Shed put her thumbs through two pairs of panty hose and then dissolved into unmitigated panic when she couldnt find her other black heel. So much time had been spent in debating whether or not to take Mildreds rings with her that shed nearly forgotten to call for reservations. Did men go through this much angst when preparing for a proposal, she wondered. Somehow she thought not. Of course, they hadnt deported their intended before popping the question either.
She grimaced remembering her meeting with Remington that morning. Itd been dreadful. Oh, hed been pleasant enough, restricting himself to only few sarcastic jabs, but it had been pure agony for her. First, shed struggled with whether or not to even go up to him. She knew she had to, but uncharacteristic uncertainly kept her hanging back.
Then when shed finally made her move, shed had difficulty getting the words out. She would have preferred to settle the matter then and there, but a coffeehouse had seemed so cold and impersonal for a proposal. She should at least make an attempt at romance, shouldnt she?
So she had suggested dinner and really put her foot in it. What in the world had possessed her to suggest meeting at the restaurant rather than traveling there together? They were in the same hotel. It made sense to share a taxi, but for some reason shed wanted to preserve her independence. Maybe shed still hoped for a way out. Whatever the reason she could tell that Remington had not been pleased with the suggestion although hed hid it well. Now the hour was upon her.
Deciding that staring at her reflection wasn't going to improve it, she left the bathroom, scooped up the velveteen coat with the fur-lined hood shed bought that afternoon and headed for the door.
Would you like me to call a taxi for you, Fräulein? The desk clerk asked as Laura entered the lobby.
No, Id rather walk. She said absently. Its just a couple of blocks up the street.
A light, delicate snow fluttered down like powdered sugar shaken from a sifter, and within minutes, Laura regretted her refusal of the taxi. Navigating a snow slicked sidewalk was not pleasant in heels and a long skirt. It required most of her concentration, which was good in the sense that it kept her from worrying about the upcoming proposal but bad because she didnt notice the long, dark car that had eased up beside her.
She heard a car door open but thought nothing of it. Probably just people being let off. However, instead of people scurrying by, eager for the warmth of a pub or restaurant, she felt hands grab her and then the hood of her wrap was pulled down over her eyes, effectively blinding her. She struggled, landing a hard kick against her assailants ankle, but it was to no avail. In a matter of seconds, shed been bundled into the car. The engine revved, and they leapt forward.
What is the meaning of this? She demanded, attempting to push back the hood.
A hard, gloved hand caught her wrist. Leave it.
I she started then stopped when she felt the hard press of steel against her side. A gun. These people meant business.
She had no idea how long they traveled. It was hard to judge when one was blind. She knew they were going up, almost every road in Switzerland went up, and there were several twists and turns, which threw her against her captors. There were two, one on either side, their shoulders keeping her from falling over.
Finally the car slowed and stopped. Doors were opened and she was hauled from the back seat with about as much dignity as a sack of potatoes and placed on her feet. Then the gun re-emerged, applying pressure to her back, urging her forward. She complied, walking tentatively, groping as she went. Impatient the two men finally grabbed her arms and lifted, hurrying her up a set of steps and into some sort of building.
There she stood for several minutes with the gun in her back as footsteps walked away. It was silent. She strained her ears, trying to pick up anything useful. All she heard was the soft breathing of the man behind her and the distant ticking of a clock. After what seemed like an eternity the footsteps returned, and they were off again, hauling her up a flight of stairs.
At the top of the stairs, they turned right, hustled her down what must have been a hallway or landing and then stopped. A door opened and then she was falling, having been shoved forward. She landed on her hands and knees on a carpeted floor. Behind her the door bang shut and a lock clicked into place.
Great. Just wonderful, she fumed as she fought against the coat. She knew it was a bad purchase as soon as the sales clerk brought it out, but it had matched the dress and she couldnt very well wear a ski parka to an important dinner. With one last heave, she emerged rumpled and highly annoyed, panting slightly. Her hair, which had been swept up into a becoming swirl was now hanging in her face. She pushed it back impatiently, struggling to her feet.
She was in a bedroom. A large, king size bed with a white damask bedspread sat at one end dominating the wall. Various dressers, a vanity which looked like itd come out of the reign of King Louis XIV and two over-stuffed armchairs provided the only other furnishings. Opposite the door from whence she came was a pair of French doors opening onto a balcony.
Where was she and why was she here? She would have liked to know the answer, but the gun downstairs convinced her that sticking around to find out was not a good idea. Best to get out and investigate later. She considered her options. Her picks were in her purse, which she no longer had so there would be no escape from the door opening into the house. Her eyes went to the logical second choice.
The French doors were unlocked. Apparently they were not worried about her escaping from that direction, and after surveying the ground below, she understood why. The room was on the second floor, and it would be a leg-breaking drop without a rope of some kind.
Rapunzels hair would be nice but no Rapunzel. Her mind then explored the possibly of using bed sheets, but she quickly abandoned the idea. Theyd be too ungainly and too long. Besides, shed never get a tight enough knot. She just needed something light and flexible that would lower her just enough to drop from a reasonable height. The snow would cushion her fall.
She considered the problem for a few moments, pacing back and forth, when an idea struck her. Kicking off her shoes, she removed her panty hose. Despite the ease in which they laddered, they were surprisingly durable if one didnt put a thumb through them. Tying one leg of the hose to the balcony balustrade, she tossed her shoes over the edge and then climbed over the railing, testing the grip of the hose before lowering herself, hand over hand.
With about three feet to go, she let go and dropped. She landed in a snowdrift, the sounding of tearing fabric echoing in her ears. Scrambling to her feet she inspected the damage. The skirt of her dress was torn from hip to foot. Damn! She had liked the dress better than the coat, and itd cost her a pretty penny to boot. But there was no time to mourn the lost. Putting on her shoes, she hurried along the edge of what turned out to be a large, sprawling chalet.
The car she had arrived in was still sitting in the driveway, pulled up in front of the chalet. It was long and black and bore some kind of emblem on the door. She would have liked to search it for her purse but thought better of it. Light from the house was spilling out, illuminating it, and shed surely be caught. Nevertheless she was loath to leave it behind. Although her passport was locked in the hotel safe along with her investigators license and personal ID, the purse held her credit cards and more importantly, Mildreds rings. If she left without them, she would have to return at a later date and get them.
Her lips firmed. Rings or not, she would be returning. Nobody kidnapped Laura Holt and got away with it. With one last look at the chalet and car, she wrapped her coat around her and headed for the road.
Remington stared at the empty seat across from him. Then he looked at his watch. Two hours late. If this wasnt being stood up, he didnt know what it was. Why hed actually sat there for that long watching the candles melt and the champagne lose its fizz hell never know. It was humiliating. Hed never been stood up by a woman in his life. Somehow it didnt surprised him that Laura would be the first woman to do so. Shed given him a lot of firsts in his life. The first to deport him, the first to turn his heart inside out with a smile, the first who had made him want to stay.
Your champagne had gone flat, Herr Steele. The waiter commented, sidling up to the table. Would you like me to get you another bottle?
No. Remington said, getting up. Im leaving. He threw a few francs on the table and then said, Should the lady ever show up, tell her she knows where she can find me.
Anger gnawed at him as he walked the couple of blocks to his hotel, snow falling unnoticed on his hair and shoes. Hed gone to the restaurant expecting a proposal and had gotten nothing but a bottle of flat champagne. At least shed made a reservation. Too bad she hadnt felt compelled to keep it. Had she decided that she could do without Mr. Steele after all? Or had Sven the ski instructor swooshed in and absconded with her?
The questions swarmed around him like vultures, picking at his resolve, and he entered the hotel with every intention of going upstairs, packing his bags and taking the first flight to anywhere. But his feet had a mind of their own. They took him to the door of Lauras hotel room. He stood staring at the gold-plated room number and then raised his hand.
He tapped one knuckle against the door. No answer. He tapped again, using all four knuckles. No answer. Finally he used his fist, hammering and calling out her name. Still no answer. Finally, cursing himself for being such a bloody idiot, he reached into his breast pocket and pulled out his pick.
The room was empty. So she had gone out but not to Johannes. Where then? With a woman like Laura it was hard to say. She could be pursuing a dead body down a ski slope. There was only one thing to do, he thought grimly, removing his outer coat and tossing it across a chair. Hed just have to sit here and wait for her return. Then hed wring the information out of her even if it took all night. Settling himself in a chair, he amused himself by imagining just how hed do the wringing.
Two hours later he was still waiting. Tie, tie pin, cuff links and suit jacket had been removed and his hair was mussed from running his hands through it every quarter of an hour. Midnight had come and gone and still no Laura.
Hed searched the room an hour ago, thinking she might have bolted altogether but had found clothes and toiletries in the bathroom. She had been there, and she had prepared for an evening out. Two pairs of laddered panty hose in the trashcan and a bathroom which held her own special scent, a scent that nearly drove him mad, was proof of that.
So where the bloody hell was she?
It was ten minutes after one in the morning when Laura finally entered the hotel lobby. High heels were not meant for walking down the side of a snowy mountain. Thank God that bus from the ski resort had come along or shed still be walking. She knew she ought to stop by Remingtons room and explain her absence, but she was not in the mood to withstand an interrogation. Tomorrow, she told herself, tomorrow.
It wasnt until she was standing outside her door that she realized the key was in the purse she no longer had. Would this day from hell never end, she wondered, turning to retrace her steps back downstairs. But she stopped when the door of her room suddenly opened. Remington stood on the threshold, hair mussed, shirt unbuttoned nearly to the waist, eyes accusing her of God only knew what.
Where have you been? He demanded and then immediately said, No, dont tell me. I dont want to know.
The door slammed shut.
It opened again.
I have never in my life been stood up by a woman. He declared imperiously.
Again the door slammed shut only to open again seconds later.
Do you know how humiliating it is to sit a table for two hours waiting for someone who never shows up? I felt like Margaret Sullavan in The Shop Around the Corner, MGM, 1940. Waiting for Dear Friend who never showed up. Its, he waved a hand, humiliating.
He went to slam the door again but got Lauras foot instead. Shed shoved it between door and jam while hed been rhapsodizing.
Youre crushing my foot! She snapped.
Then move it! He snapped back.
Its my room!
They stared at each other for a moment, brown eyes warring with blue, and then he released the door, turning his back on her as she limped inside.
I can explain. She began, closing the door.
Thats what they all say.
Lauras temper flared. The least you can do is listen to my explanation considering how many of yours Ive listened to and believed over the years.
Go on. He said tightly, keeping his back to her.
I was kidnapped as soon as I left the hotel and taken to some chalet. They put me in a room for safe-keeping but I escaped over the balcony. Ive just spent the last four hours hiking down a mountainside in a snowstorm in heels. If that ski bus hadnt come along, Id probably be a frozen block of ice by now.
Come now, Laura, he scoffed, surely you can do better than that.
Its true! She insisted. Look at this! She removed the velveteen coat, tossing it on the bed. It slid to the floor unnoticed. I got this climbing over the balcony.
Remington turned around. Laura was showing him a long, bare leg. Lacy, white underpants peeked from beneath a tear that ran the full length of her dress. They mesmerized him, and it was with effort that he said, What happened to your hose?
I used them to lower myself over the balcony.
Instantly an image of Laura removing said panty hose popped into his head and he turned away quickly, putting distance between them. Itd been so long since hed touched her, held her, drank in her fragrance, felt her body against his. Now was not the time to get amorous.
Thats the most ridiculous story Ive ever heard. He said, annoyed when his voice shook a little.
Then you havent been listening to your own. Most of them are straight out of a James Bond movie.
Laura, Ive never lied to you.
No, she agreed, you just conveniently left out important details.
And that warranted deportation?
I didnt deport you for not telling the truth. She shot back. I deported you for attempting to marry a hooker.
I did it for you! For us!
This ought to be good. Laura snorted, crossing her arms and giving him a look that said hed finally lost what mind he might have had. Please explain to me, Mr. Steele, how marrying a hooker would benefit me? Thats got to be the most original explanation for infidelity that Ive ever heard.
I wasnt unfaithful. He protested. I never touched Clarissa in that way. I never intended to, never wanted to. It was just a business arrangement.
And how did you think Id react when I found out? At his shame-faced expression, she concluded grimly. You planned on using your skill at deception to keep me in the dark. It was the old shell game, wasnt it? Except instead of using a pea you were going to use a hooker.
Laura He began, taking a step toward her.
Ok. She said, throwing up a hand as though to stop him. Lets say you succeeded in fooling me. You never have, but lets pretend. How did you expect to convince the INS agents the marriage was real if you never intended to live with her as husband and wife? Keyes would have had immigration on you at the first indication of a sham marriage. Were you going to let her run her business out of your penthouse? I can see the headlines now: Steele Caught in Prostitution Ring Shakedown.
Ok! Youve made your point! He exclaimed, throwing up his hands. It was a stupid plan, the invention of a man half mad with fear, but I had to do something. Dont you understand, Laura? I couldnt just let them tear us apart.
He looked at her. I think you know the answer to that, Laura.
Do I? She asked.
Its the same reason youve chased me all over Europe.
They stared at each other. The space between them began to hum as though itd suddenly been plugged into an electrical outlet.
Kiss me. Laura said.
Laura, I dont think now is the time
But she didnt let him finished. She took matters into her own hands, launching herself at him, her arms going around his neck, pulling his mouth down to hers. He tried to resist but couldnt. He wanted her so badly, so endlessly for so many years that he couldnt stop. Four years of frustration refused to be held at bay any longer, especially when the source of that frustration was urging him on, her hands running over his body, her lips demanding a response. It was like holding a wildcat in his arms.
His arms closed around her like a trap, pulling her close. Their lips met, clung and met again, each kiss becoming deeper until they were breathless, their hearts racing. Hands roamed, frantically brushing aside clothing.
They fell across the bed.
Laura, Remington rasped, rolling her onto her back, isnt there something youd like to ask me?
Cant think of anything.
Are you sure?
Positive. She rolled him onto his back.
He couldnt think straight with her on top of him, and they needed to get this proposal thing settled.
But what about those words you've always wanted? He insisted, forcing her onto her back again.
Highly overrated.' She said with a nonchalance that stunned him. Obviously when Laura Holt made her mind up, she made her mind up. 'I prefer action. Lots of action.'
And with that she rolled him onto his back again, but this time there was no bed to receive him. They tumbled to the floor, landing on the velvet coat. He immediately rolled her on her back again and then rose up on one elbow to look down at her, preparing to press the issue. Wrong move. A pair of liquid brown eyes stared up at him, willing him to take her, and God help him hed never been able to resist those eyes. To hell with the words. They'd come later.
His hands pulled her upright, fumbling for the zipper at the back of her dress. He swore. Never had his hands trembled so. He felt like a teenager with his first woman.
Just tear it. Laura murmured against his neck. Its already ruined.
He laid her back down on the floor and his hands went to the ripped skirt. There was something incredibly arousing about the sound of tearing cloth, Remington noted as the wine colored fabric came apart in his hands. Laura must have thought so too for the moment she was free of the restricting fabric, rising out of the tattered shreds like a phoenix out of ashes, she reached for him, urging him down on top of her, wrapping herself around him.
A knock came at the door. Remingtons head jerk up. Their old luck was still holding, and for the first time, he regarded it as a blessing rather than a curse.
Someones at the door. He said, struggling to his knees.
Ignore it. Laura ordered, reaching for him. Theyll go away.
It could be important.
At two oclock in the morning?
It would have to be important for someone to knock at two oclock in the morning.
Oh, very well. Laura said, releasing him. Get rid of them and then put the Do Not Disturb sign on the knob.
He scrambled to his feet and hurried to the door.
Daniel! He exclaimed.
Harry? Daniel replied, obviously surprised. I thought this was Lindas room.
Daniel eyed the unbuttoned shirt and the mussed hair. Am I disturbing something?
No, no, not at all. Remington said brightly. Laura and I were just burning the midnight oil. You know, planning our strategy, that sort of thing.
Laura suddenly appeared at Remingtons elbow, wrapped in the velvet coat. Was there something you wanted, Daniel?
A bit warm for a coat, isnt it? He asked, ignoring her question.
Im very thin-blooded.
Good to have my suspicions confirmed at last.
She scowled. What was it you wanted, Daniel?
Actually I was looking for Harry.
As you can see, hes quite all right. Laura said sweetly. Now, if youll excuse us. She started to close the door but Remington stopped her.
It must have been something important for you to come by this late at night, eh? He asked hopefully.
Daniel was about to say it could wait but paused. There was a desperate look about the boy that reminded him of drowning victim getting ready to go under for the last time. Odd. From the looks of them, theyd been tumbling about the bed, and itd been his impression that Harry had been working on achieving just such a situation for the past four years. Why did he want to escape now when he was so close to realizing his objective?
Ah, well, Daniel thought with a mental shrug, there was no accounting for the peculiarities of youth. Best to play along and get the details later.
As a matter of fact, I did have something important to discuss with you.
Then by all means, lets discuss it. Remington declared, stepping out into the hallway.
Mr. Steele! Laura interrupted, grabbing his sleeve. What about our planning session?
Remington leaned toward her in a conspiratorial fashion. Come now, Laura, can't you see that Daniel's in need of a friend right now?'
Daniel, hearing his cue, provided a few heavy sighs for effect.
He looks perfectly fine to me.'
'He's the strong, silent type, holds everything inside.'
Laura looked more than a little skeptical. 'I understand your concern for a friend, but might I remind you that we were just in the middle of something of equal importance?'
Weve waited this long, darling. Surely another day wont hurt.
I cant believe Im hearing this. She said, sounding somewhat dazed.
Youve had a rough night, Laura.. He murmured, leaning down to give her a peck on the cheek. Get some rest, and Ill see you in the morning.
As soon as the elevator doors closed behind them, Remington collapsed against the wall. Thank God you arrived when you did. I very nearly made love to Laura tonight. If you hadn't interrupted us, it would have been a fait accompli. I never could resist that woman.'
I thought that was what you wanted. Daniel commented.
I did! I do! Remington exclaimed. But you told me once to make sure the moneys in the bank before handing over the goods.
Good Lord, Harry, dont tell me she still hasnt proposed?
I gave her every opportunity to do so but all she wanted to do was tear my clothes off. Nearly succeeded until you showed up. He straightened up and began buttoning his shirt. Well, Daniel, if Laura Holt wants my body, shes going to have to marry me. Ive played Remington Steele for her, but Ill be damned if Ill play the gigolo.
Daniel chuckled. Good boy. Turn the tables on her. About time Linda had a taste of her own medicine.'
With his shirt buttoned and tucked into his pants, Remington was beginning to feel a bit more like himself. Also with a floor seperating them, Lauras allure was not as potent. His brain was finally working again. He glanced at Daniel. By the way, old man, why did you come to Lauras room?
I told you. I was looking for you.
Id heard youd been stood up.
Stood up? Remington scowled. Who told you that?
I have my sources.
Is that all you wanted? To assure yourself that I hadn't thrown myself off a bridge or something?'
Not quite. Daniel admitted, glancing over at his young friend. Come to my room and well discuss it.
The Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
The first thing Laura saw when she woke the next morning was the tattered remains of the wine-colored gown. She grimaced and shut her eyes again. What a thing to wake up to. It was an instant reminder of a disastrous evening. Not only had she lost Mildreds rings but shed sent Remington bolting from her room like a scared rabbit. It just went to show that women shouldnt do the proposing.
The rings were an easy enough problem to solve. After all, retrieving stolen property was a specialty of hers. It would delay the proposal, but it was an obstacle she could quickly overcome. Remington, on the other hand she frowned, chewing on her bottom lip. She had totally misread him.
But who could blame her? Hed spent the last four years trying to maneuver her into bed. With a track record like that it was only natural to assume that hed be open to making mad, passion love, and for a few moments there, it had seemed like her assumption had been correct. Hed been returning her caresses with a fervor that thrilled her, but then hed started rabbiting on about words.
Mildred had said he preferred action to words so Laura had given him action. Shed been doing things his way instead of hers. Hed wanted to be in her bed so she had invited him in. No, she corrected with a frown, she'd dragged him in. But she'd asked no questions, made no demands. And what had he done? Turned the tables on her and starting making his own demands. She sighed, rolling onto her back. If she should live to be a hundred and one, she still wouldnt have that guy figured out. Just when she thought she had him neatly pigeonholed, hed throw her a curve ball.
Well, she thought, throwing back the covers, lying here all day was not going to fix matters. She had a pair of wedding rings to find and a man to reassure. Losing Remington like she had Wilson was not an option. She had let Wilson go, hadn't fought for him. Remington was a different matter entirely. She'd been fighting for him since he stepped into her life. Fighting his past, fighting Daniel, fighting her own fears. And now was no time to give up the fight, especially with victory in sight. She had surpressed her wild streak before, she could do it again.
A steady pounding dragged Remington to consciousness. He growled deep in his throat, struggled up on his elbows and cast an irritated glance around the room. It was coming from the door. He thought about ignoring it, but finally rolled out of bed and padded across the floor to answer it.
Good morning, Mr. Steele. Sleep well?
Actually he hadnt. By the time hed left Daniels room, it had been four in the morning, and now it was, he squinted at the clock, eight.
Like a baby. He lied.
Good. She said briskly. Then you wont mind if I come in. Ill ring room service and have them send breakfast up.
Remington sent a hasty glance over his shoulder. The drawings Daniel had given him to look over were on the table in plain view. Hed dumped them there before falling into bed. There was no way he could let Laura see them. Shed automatically assume the worst. Blast Daniel and his schemes!
Ive got a better idea. He said quickly. Why dont we have breakfast in your room? Youve got a much better view.
Im not interested views. Laura said flatly.
Remington winced inwardly. He should have known she wouldnt be cooperative after the way hed bolted last night. As a matter of fact she was behaving as she had in the office, all business and no nonsense. Damn! Why hadnt she proposed? They could be sharing breakfast in bed if shed just popped the question like she was supposed to.
Give me a minute. He said, starting to close the door.
I need to put some clothes on.
Its not like I havent seen it all before.
Nude men. She supplied helpfully.
Remington scowled. Im not in the mood to discuss your past amours, Laura. Ill be with you in a minute. He shut the door in her face.
As soon as the door was closed he hurried across the room and gathered up the drawings. Where to put them? The closet? No, she always looked in the closet. Under the bed? Ditto. In the end he stuffed them under the covers of the bed. In her present frame of mind, it was the safest place for them. He doubted shed be rolling him around the bed this morning.
Pulling on a robe, he opened the door and motioned her inside. She entered with that suspicious air she got whenever she suspected him of something devious. She stood for a moment like a beagle sniffing the wind for a scent and then headed for the closet.
Looking for something? He asked.
Theres usually a woman hiding in a closet when you wont let me in.
I assure you theres no woman. He said indignantly. But by all means check it out yourself.
He sat down on the bed to watch and then winced as it crinkled. This is what sleep deprivation and sexual frustration did to a person. It made them sloppy.
What was that? She asked, spinning around.
What was what?
That noise. It sounded like papers being crumpled.
European mattresses. He supplied. I think theyre made out of recycled newspapers or something.
My bed doesnt sound like that.
You dont have the environmentally friendly room. He explained, getting up and coming over to her. He took her arm and urged her toward the door. Which is why we ought to eat breakfast in your room. Less noisy. Im sure the chairs are made out of the same material. Why dont you go back to your room, order breakfast and Ill be up in a couple of seconds.
Are you trying to get rid of me? She demanded, digging in her heels at the threshold. No matter how he pushed, she refused to budge.
Why would you think that?
She suddenly looked uncomfortable. It occurred to me that I might have shocked you last night.
He stared at her blankly. Shocked me? Why would you think that?
Well, her eyes dropped to the floor, I was somewhat aggressive.
She seemed reluctant to answer at first and then the dam broke, her words coming as a rush. Some men dont like sexually aggressive women. They make them nervous. Threatens their masculinity. That sort of thing.
Remington looked down at her, noting the flushed cheeks and eyes that looked everywhere but at him. It would appear that Miss Holt had been busy this morning coming up with reasons for his early departure. And jumped to a bunch of wrong conclusions. What in the world had made her think shed shocked him? Him of all people!
Wilson. The name floated through his memory. Hadnt she told him that her wild streak had made the man nervous? Naturally she might assume that other men would react in the same fashion. It was ridiculous, considering the fact that he was about as different from Wilson as a man could get, but Laura tended to make judgments on past experiences, especially when it came to relationships.
Best to put a stop to that crazy assumption right then and there. Otherwise, his wildcat would turn into a prim and proper schoolmarm.
Laura, he said gently, tilting her chin up so he could look into her eyes. They were dark and full of something he rarely saw ~ vulnerability. I assure you that my masculinity was not threatened in the least. I found your enthusiasm quite stimulating. Overwhelming erotic in fact.'
In response he lowered his head and took her mouth with his. He put all his love, all his passion, all his longing into that one kiss and when he finally released her, she swayed slightly.
Does that answer your question, Miss Holt?
Completely, Mr. Steele.
Im glad we understand each other. He said with a smile. Now why dont you go upstairs and order that breakfast?
Like a good little woman?
Your words, not mine.
She turned to go and then stopped, looking back at him. If I didnt scare you, then why did you run off last night?
Always asking questions. That was his Laura.
Daniel got himself in a spot of trouble.
What kind of trouble? Her question was quick and full of suspicion.
Well, there was this woman
Never mind. Laura interrupted. Im not interested in Daniels love affairs. Although to be honest, I cant imagine any woman causing him more than a momentary flicker of discomfort.
I wouldnt be so sure of that. Remington murmured, remembering the conversation in the Monte Carlo taxi.
She glanced at him sharply. Whats that supposed to mean?
Just that he might surprise you some day. He said cheerfully. Now how about that breakfast? Im famished. Thanks to you I didnt have any dinner last night.
Breakfast was laid out on the table near the window when he arrived at her room, shaved, dressed and feeling more awake. Laura glanced up from a newspaper she was reading.
Its still hot. They just brought it up.
He took the chair opposite and reached for the teapot. It was now or never. The subject of the proposal had to be broached. He took a sip of his tea for fortitude and asked, When you invited me to dinner yesterday, you mentioned some unfinished business that needed discussing.
Did I? She asked, turning a page. It must have slipped my mind.
Perhaps youd like to discuss it now. You have my undivided attention.
Laura buried her head in the newspaper. She couldnt propose without those rings, darn it. Shed have to stall him. Think, Holt, think.
Oh, yes, I remember. She said brightly. I was wondering if youd gotten around to talking to that bookie. You know the one that OConnor was funneling money to. Harley, wasnt it? I cant close the OConnor case without all the details.
Remington blinked. You came all this way to ask me about a bloody case?
I believe in being thorough.
There was a long silence, which caused Laura cringed behind her paper. She hated misleading him, but there was those blasted rings to locate.
So what was last night? He demanded. More of the legendary Holt thoroughness?
Laura peeked at him over the paper. Last night I was attempting to do things your way. Havent you always wanted to take our relationship into the bedroom?
Of course, Ive wanted it. He admitted, running a hand through his hair. But I thought well, I was under the impression that youd be expecting some words, promises, that sort of thing.
I told you last night that words are highly overrated.
Remington stared at her, stunned. All these years shed held him at arms length demanding words, wanting commitments and now in a matter of a month or so that had all changed? His temper flared. If she thought she could weasel her way out of marrying him now by offering him a romp in bed, then she had another think coming. Oh, no, he came with a price tag.
So tell me, he said, voice dripping with sarcasm, in the world of Laura Holt, what happens once weve had a roll in the hay?
We continue on as before.
That will be little difficult when Im in London and youre in L.A., dont you think?
Oh, I dont think itll be all that difficult.
Laura, Ive been deported, remember?
No, you havent.
Damn it, Laura, I distinctly remember being hauled away by two very large, very unfriendly INS agents and put on a plane, economy class I might add, to London.
She put down the newspaper. Vincent Parry has not been deported. She smiled at his startled expression. You thought I didnt know about that, didnt you? And you thought you could hide a hooker from me.
Mildred? He asked.
She shook her head. Before leaving the hotel in Monte Carlo I let my fingers do the walking through their registry when the desk clerk was busy putting out a small fire in the ladies restroom. A Vincent Parry checked out at the exact same time as Daniel Chalmers.
That doesnt prove anything.
Mr. Steele, have you forgotten that youve forced me to watch every Bogart movie made? He plays the role of Vincent Parry in Dark Passage. When I learned in London that youd grown a beard, I immediately suspected you of wanting to procure another passport. So when I arrived in St. Moritz and discovered your room unguarded, I did a little search and found what I was looking for. She chuckled as his dumbfounded expression. After four years I know all your hiding places.
Her revelation had stolen all his indignation, all his fury for the moment, and he could only stare at her. You knew all this and still followed me to St. Moritz?
You got it.
Laura, he finally said, a rueful smile lifting the corner of his mouth, youre an amazing woman. Here I thought I was being so clever.
You always do. She said, turning back to her paper. Now, lets get down to business. Weve a kidnapper to find, and I have a good idea where to start.
She folded the paper to an article shed been reading and handed it to him. See that crest on his coat?
You mean this chap with the horse? Remington eyed the crest in question, bringing the paper close to his face for further inspection. 'What is that? A horned toad?'
I think it's a unicorn.' Laura answered. 'And Ive seen it before. It was on the door of the car that kidnapped me.
Why would the Earl of Cheswick want to kidnap you? Remington scanned the article. Hes here to compete in the Landrieu Polo World Cup on Snow.
I dont know why hed kidnap me, but Im going to find out.
Remington frowned. If she got involved in chasing a kidnapper, hed never get that proposal out of her. Is that really necessary, Laura? You escaped unharmed. It was probably just a case of mistaken identity.
Laura stood up, going over to the closet to remove her parka. Nobody kidnaps Laura Holt and gets away with it. Besides, he has my purse, and a womans purse is sacred property. She looked at him. Are you coming with me or staying here?
Fifteen minutes later they emerged from the hotel. A light snow was falling once again, collecting on the sidewalks and roads.
Do you know how to get to this chalet, Laura? Remington asked, pulling on a pair of leather gloves.
Of course. She said. I nearly walked the entire way last night. The ski bus let me off at that corner. She motioned with a mittened hand.
I hope youre not intending to walk there today.
Laura frowned. She hadnt considered that. Theyd need some type of transportation. They couldnt expect the ski bus to tote them around. I guess we could take a taxi.
Before Remington could say another word, shed stepped out into the street, flagging down a passing taxi. They slid inside and turned to give directions. The words caught in their throats. A gun was trained on them from the front seat.
Sorry for the intrusion, old boy. Remington said, offending a smile. Obviously youre expecting someone else. If youll excuse us, well just He made to open the door.
Stay where you are. The man on the other side of the gun said. The Duchess wants to see you.
The Duchess? Laura asked. Whos the Duchess?
Youll find out.
It was amazing how quickly hed landed into a first class pickle as soon as hed resumed Lauras company, Remington mused as they sat on a small, Victorian-style sofa waiting to be ushered into the Duchesss presence. He supposed he ought to be glad that no dead bodies had shown up but being kidnapped was almost as bad. It certainly put a serious cramp in his plans.
He glanced at Laura. Ah, yes, the wheels were already turning. He could almost see them churning out questions and connecting dots. All personal issues, such as proposals, had been shoved to the back burner. Her full attention was focused on the matter at hand. The bloodhound had found a trail to follow.
Well, he thought, resigned to his fate, at least they hadnt been taken to another mountainside chalet. The Duchess was apparently more cosmopolitan than Lord Cheswick, preferring to commandeer the penthouse suite of one of the larger luxury hotels.
Suddenly the door at the end of the room opened and their friend with the gun reappeared.
The Duchess will see you now.
They rose and entered through the door held for them. It closed behind them with a decisive snap, leaving them in a large, airy room decorated in muted blues. At the far end of the room sat a woman with her back to them. She appeared to be writing, her dark head bent over her task. Finally she straightened, folded the paper shed been writing on and put it in an envelope. Then she rose, turning to greet them.
Trouble, nothing but trouble, Remington thought as he surveyed their hostess. It was not so much her demeanor as her face that sent chills of unease to running up his spine. The face that greeted them was nearly a perfect replica of Lauras.
Welcome Mr. Steele, Miss Holt. She said, coming forward. Her voice was low and melodious with just the barest hint of an accent. My name is Katrina Wagner, Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. I apologize for the unorthodox manner in which I summoned you, but secrecy is of the utmost importance to a woman in my position. I hope Hans and Stefan were not too intimidating.
When Laura failed to answer, Remington answered for them. You know our names.
Of course. Who doesnt know of Remington Steele Investigations? Your agency is world famous.
If its not too much trouble, he continued, would you be so kind as to explain why were here?
I would think that's obvious. The Duchess said, looking at Laura. Im sure its not escaped your notice that Miss Holt and I are remarkably similar in appearance. Nearly twins, I would say.
And that warrants kidnapping at gunpoint? Remington asked.
Apparently. She replied, her eyes still on Laura. You were kidnapped last night, werent you, Miss Holt?
For the first time since entering, Laura found her voice. How did you know?
The Duchess smiled. A woman in my position makes it her business to know these things.
And what else do you know? Remingtons voice came hard and tight.
He did not like this woman. She may look like Laura, but thats were the similarity ended. There was something about her that caused his highly sensitive instincts to recoil. Hed bet the Royal Lavulite that she was not all she appeared to be, and as a result, he must do everything in his power to extract Laura from her clutches.
Unfortunately Laura appeared fascinated with the woman, staring at her in a way hed never seen Laura stare at a person before. It was almost awe-like, and for the first time he regretted his folly in leading Laura to St. Moritz. Daniel had been right. He should have stayed in Monte Carlo. Hed probably be married and enjoying a honeymoon if hed not given in to a desire to make her prove her love for him. Forgiving and forgetting had obviously been the better choice.
I know why you were kidnapped and by whom. The Duchess said, breaking into his thoughts. Would you like me to elaborate?
Please do. Laura said with an eagerness that sent Remingtons heart plummeting to his toes.
She waved them to another sofa, this one a little more comfortable than the other, and then took a seat opposite.
Would you care for tea? The Duchess asked, reaching for a small silver bell.
That wont be necessary. Remington quickly interrupted. If youd just
Get on with it? She asked, smiling again. He was beginning to hate that smile. It reminded him of the Cheshire Cat. Very well, Mr. Steele. I can see youre an impatient man. She settled herself more comfortably in the chair and began. The man who kidnapped you is Trevor Martyn, the Earl of Cheswick. Hes here to compete in the Landrieu Polo World Cup on Snow, and he kidnapped you because he mistakenly thought you were me. No doubt his people told him so. She paused, studying Laura closely. Still Id be surprised if even he could tell us apart should we wish to deceive him.
Is that why you brought us here? Remington demanded. You want to deceive this man for some reason?
The Duchess stared at him, dislike apparent in her brown eyes. Suspicious as well as impatient. I suppose a world class detective must possess such traits to be successful no matter how disagreeable. Having dismissed him, she turned to Laura. I brought you here because I have a proposition for you, Miss Holt. In other words, Id like to hire your services.
Were on vacation.' Remington said quickly. 'And we never mix business with pleasure. Do we, Miss Holt?'
Laura glared at him. I think we can make an exception in this case. We have in the past. Dont you remember all the times weve broken that rule, Mr. Steele?
Not often enough if you ask me.
Laura ignored him and turned back to the Duchess. What exactly do you want us to do?
The Duchess studied them for a moment as though wondering whether to proceed and then said. I have been asked to open the Polo World Cup on Snow tomorrow. Sort of what your country calls a Grand Marshall of Ceremonies. I am to wish the teams well and throw out the first ball. That evening I am required to attend a ball celebrating the beginning of the tournament. I often perform such duties. Its part of being a Duchess. She paused, allowing this information to sink in before continuing, What Im asking you to do, Miss Holt, is to take my place tomorrow. Be Grand Duchess for a day. I will pay your handsomely for this service.
Laura frowned. But why?
There was a long pause and then the Duchess said quietly. There is a man.
Not Lord Cheswick.
No, not him. Katrina agreed. This man is someone I met long ago. We met one summer in Naples. It was a chance meeting. I snuck away from the hotel, wanting to be free for a few hours, to be like everyone else, and I met him. At a gelato stand, I believe. We spent a wonderful day together, but duty called. I became Grand Duchess again, and he went back to his job. Hes writes for a travel magazine.
Roman Holiday. Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Paramount, 1953. Remington muttered.
Hes quoting movies. Laura said quickly. He often does. Please go on.
Over the years weve managed to arrange meetings with each other. A weekend in Rome, a couple days in Paris. All much too brief but at least there is something.
How tragic. Laura murmured.
The reason I want you to take my place for one day is to give me an opportunity to meet my lover. He is only here for one day, and weve not seen each other for over six months. One day is all I ask, Miss Holt. You will have this suite and my personal limo at your disposal as well as any clothing in my closet. Its every girls dream, no? To be Cinderella for a day?
Remington watched in dismay as Lauras expression became positively dreamy. He knew she liked romance, but he had never suspected a desire to play Cinderella. Laura was too practical to harbor such childhood fantasies, wasnt she? The Duchess was weaving a clever spell, which had to be broken.
And where exactly does Lord Cheswick come into this? Remington asked, his voice shattering the silence. He does come into it, doesnt he? After all, he attempted to kidnap you. Perhaps you should explain to Miss Holt the danger that might be involved in this assignment.
The Duchess looked at him, annoyance in her dark eyes. Of course, there is danger. Why do you think I travel with a security detail? People in my position have enemies, political and personal. Lord Cheswick is one of them. I had the unfortunate pleasure of being his fiancée at one time. He had never quite forgiven me for breaking it off. He claims I stole a ring from him. I did not steal it. Engagement rings are gifts.
So by accepting this assignment, Laura would be placing herself in danger.
With you to protect her Im sure she will be quite safe. She looked at Laura. Will you accept the assignment, Miss Holt?
Laura opened her mouth to respond, but Remington jumped up, pulling her along with him. Would you mind if my associate and I discuss this matter in private?
Of course not. You can use my bedroom. Its through that door.
Remington propelled Laura inside the door indicated, closing it firmly behind them. He glanced around, wondering if the room was bugged.
What is wrong with you? Laura demanded.
I dont like it.
You never do.
Laura, you didnt come to St. Moritz to accept a case.
No, but while Im here, I dont see why I shouldnt replenish the agencys coffers. Weve been closed for several weeks, and all this traveling and Mildreds salary, not to mention yours, cost money.
Is that the only reason you want to do this?
Laura wandered over to the closet, opening it and inspecting its contents. No, I rather like the idea of playing Duchess for a day. She pulled out a gown, holding it against herself. Surely you know how it feels to want to be someone youre not. Youve been playing the role of Remington Steele for years.
It doesnt feel like a role any more.
Besides, she said, putting the dress back, itll give me the opportunity to retrieve my purse from Lord Cheswick.
Remington felt like pulling his hair out. Whats so bloody special about this purse?
Its got something of great value in it. She came over to him, sliding her arms around his neck. He instantly felt himself softening. Her close proximity always had that affect on him. Why are you so opposed to this?
Because we didnt come here to work.
If I promise that well take a long vacation after I get my purse back, will you agree to this assignment?
He looked down at her. I will require much more than that.
Permanent residency in the United States.
Laura had no doubt as to what he was referring to. He was basically saying that he wanted her to become Mrs. Steele without actually asking her. The feminine side of her wanted him to do the asking, but hed already done that and shed deported him. It was only right that she be the one to ask, and she intended to, but not without Mildreds rings. It was silly, but the minute Mildred had given them to her, theyd become special. Perhaps a small promise for now would satisfy him.
You help me get that purse, and Ill do whatevers necessary to make you a permanent resident.
For the life of him he didnt understand the purse thing, but this was the closest shed come to proposing, and he was willing to accept it for now. He pulled her to him.
Ill hold you to that promise. He warned softly.
Im counting on it.
My God, Harry, you look terrible. Daniel declared as Remington slid into a seat next to him at the hotel bar. Whats Linda been doing to you?
Shes accepted an assignment impersonating a Duchess. Weve just spent the entire afternoon learning what it takes to be a bloody Duchess. Lauras still with her. I only managed to escape because of my appointment with you. He signaled to the bartender for a drink. And I still havent managed to get a proposal out of her. She just keeps going on about her blasted purse. Youd think the Royal Lavulite was in there.
Daniel blinked, feeling lost. Whats a purse got to go with a marriage proposal?
Not a blooming clue.
Well, Daniel said, taking a sip of his scotch, are you sure you want to continue withholding the goods from her? It might improve your temper if you tumbled her.
'Please, Daniel, don't be vulgar. The proper term is lovemaking, not tumbling.'
'Ah, yes, I'd forgotten the love angle.'
As for withholding the goods, I really don't have any choice, do I? My body is the only thing I've got to bargain with. Remington said, tossing back his own drink. But I dont know how the bloody hell Im going to resist her, especially since Im sharing the Duchesss suite with her. Shell have me right where she wants me. I'm a goner, old man.'
Harry, Im surprised at you. Theres always a way around every problem.
Daniel chuckled. There are all kinds of excuses, my boy. Women have been using them for years. Claim a headache, fall asleep on her, fake a cold. Oh, wait a minute, he rummaged around his jacket, finally pulling out a small packet. Slip her a mickey. That will put her out until morning.
Remington stared at the packet. When did you start carrying mickeys around with you?
When I needed one and didnt have it. They come in handy sometimes. Nice, easy way to slip out of a tight spot. Provided you can talk the chap into a drink.
You never ceased to amaze me, Daniel. Remington murmured, tucking the packet into the pocket of his black jeans. Ill give it a try, but I've never had much luck resisting her.
You put that in her drink and you wont have to worry about resisting.
I dont know if I can drug Laura.
Dont think of it as drugging. Look at it as improving her REM cycles.
So, Remington said, deciding it was time to move off the subject of Laura and get down to the reason for their meeting, what did you want to see me about?
Daniel turned in his chair to look at his young friend. Suddenly another face popped into his mind, which he hastily pushed aside. No use thinking of her, he admonished himself. He supposed it was all this talk of love that had resurrected a long buried memory. Of course, hed never been able to look at Harry without remembering. He looked so like her.
Daniel? Remington said, concerned by his friends pained expression Are you ok?
Daniel started, realizing Harry was looking at him, his expression worried. Just wool-gathering. Nothing to be concerned about. Now where were we? Oh, yes, the reason I wanted to see you. Have you had an opportunity to go over those plans?
Ive glanced at them.
And what did you think?
There was a hopeful note in his voice that Remington hated to kill, but the truth had to be faced. Their adventures in that particular area were over. Even if he and Laura were no more, he didnt think hed be able to go back to his previous life. Spending four years on the straight and narrow had changed him. Hed done it for Laura, but hed also done it for himself. For once in his life, he was respectable, and he liked it.
Daniel, you know I dont do that kind of thing any more.
Of course, my boy, of course. The old man said, picking up his drink once more. Just wishful thinking. He took a sip and then smiled. But, my God, we would have had an easy time of it. The Simba Collection is just sitting in that museum like a peach waiting to be plucked. Nobodys paying attention to it because Landrieu has brought in the Tigers Heart Ruby for display during their Polo championship. Ive been all over the museum, and itd be a piece of cake if I were twenty years younger.
Which is where I would have come in.
Cant blame a man for trying.
Id like to help out, old man, but
Daniel waved off his explanation. Never mind, Harry. I understand. Unlike me, youve been able to give up the chase. Youre a smart lad, always was, and Im happy that youve found something of more value to invest your life in. Im almost glad you ran into your Laura. But dont tell her that. Ive worked too hard at earning her bad opinion. Now, he said, getting up, if youll excuse me, I have a dinner date with an exquisite blonde from Belgium, Yvonne, I think her name is, and I mustnt be late. She has an equally exquisite sapphire necklace. Give, Linda, my love, wont you? Shell enjoy that.
Then he was gone, leaving Remington to finish his drink alone.
Grand Duchess for a Day
Mildred was just rolling a piece of paper into the typewriter when the phone rang. She grabbed it with the eagerness of a child reaching for cookies. Nearly three weeks alone in the office had made her desperate for a human voice, even a telemarketers. Besides, she was beginning to worry. The kids hadnt called for several days.
Remington Steele Investigations.
Boss, is that you? She asked eagerly. I havent heard from either in you for several days. I was beginning to worry. Hows it going?
Terrible, Mildred, terrible.
Lauras accepted an assignment to impersonate a Duchess. We leave in two hours to open the Landrieu World Polo Cup on Snow.
Whats so bad about that? Mildred asked, perplexed. Sounds like fun to me.
Were not here to work. Remember?
The boss sounded testy. Not a good sign.
She hasnt popped the question yet?
Are you absolutely certain she was going to? He demanded.
Sure. Mildred said. She told me so herself. I gave her the rings and everything.
You dont know about the rings?
What bloody rings are you talking about?
Ok, ok, calm down, boss. Mildred soothed. Geesh, he sounded like a firecracker ready to go off. Theyre wedding rings, his and hers. They were my wedding gift to you. She paused as a thought struck her. You dont suppose shes lost them, do you?
There was a long pause and then he said in a calmer voice. That might explain her preoccupation with a certain purse thats been kidnapped. Thank you, Mildred, you might have just saved my sanity.
Glad to help. Was there anything else?
Actually, yes. He said. I called to ask you to do a little research for me.
Sure. Mildred grabbed a notepad and pen. Shoot.
Find out everything you can about Katrina Wagner, Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.
I take it shes the Duchess Miss Holt is impersonating.
You got it, sweetheart. Remington confirmed. She looks so much like Laura they could be twins. I dont trust her, but Miss Holt does so this little investigation is just between you and me, ok?
Ah, Ive got to go now, Mildred. His voice had taken on an anxious note. Lauras starting to wake up.
Wake up? Mildred echoed as he rang off.
Mr. Steeles call hadn't left her with a warm fuzzy feeling. It sounded as though her kids were in the process of messing things up again. Missing rings, kidnapped purses and dishonest Duchesses did not sound like a happily ever after ending. Three hours later, having completed her research, she knew things would not end happily if she didnt do something.
She reached for the phone. She needed a flight to St. Moritz ASAP.
Laura yawned. It wasnt a dainty yawn. It was a yawn of jaw-popping proportions.
Sleepy? Remington asked.
She glanced over at him, sitting beside her in the Duchesss long, black limo. He was dressed in the severe black favored by security personnel. Since Stefan and Hans were required elsewhere, Remington had been drafted to provide Laura with security, which had been just fine with him. As far as he was concerned, nobody could protect her like he could.
Yes, I am. Actually Ive never been so sleepy. She said, stifling another yawn. Im sorry I fell asleep on you last night. It wasnt anything you did. I mean I wasnt bored or anything. I I just couldnt keep my eyes open.
No offense taken. Remington assured her. It could happen to anyone.
She frowned. I just dont understand it. I felt perfectly fine until I drank that cocoa you had sent up.
Cocoa will do that to people. Been a sleep aid for centuries.
Well, tonight order champagne instead.
Remington removed a small notebook from his pocket, pulled out a pen and murmured as he wrote, Champagne. Got it. He glanced at her. Anything else, Your Grace?
Dont you think youre taking this servant thing a little too far?
He closed his notebook and tucked in back into his pocket. I believe in playing a part to perfection. No sloppiness here. Youre the Duchess, and Im the hired hand. Its dangerous for an employee to get too familiar with his employer, Laura. He might get ideas above his station.
Is that a general observation or something more?
Both, I imagine.
Youve never been just an employee to me.
Well, maybe in the beginning. Laura admitted. But you very quickly became my friend and partner.
Isnt that enough?
No, its not. He said with a firmness that surprised her. Not any more.
I dont think this is the time to discuss this. Laura said carefully. After I get that purse back
Ah, yes, the purse again. He muttered. What have you got in there, Laura? The Royal Lavulite?
Dont be ridiculous. Of course I dont have the Lavulite. Its just a valuable purse. Alligator, highest quality, cost me a fortune.
You could replace it at any of these stores.
Not this purse.
He seemed as though hed like to pursue the subject but changed his mind, settling on. Id be interested in knowing just how you plan to retrieve it. Are you going to walk right up to Lord Cheswick today and demand it?
Of course not. Im the Duchess, remember?
Then whats your plan?
She shrugged. I thought Id walk right into his chalet and demand it.
No matter how much youd like to think otherwise youre not Dirty Harriet. He pointed out. You cant go in there with guns blazing. Might I remind you that the agency gun is locked in a filing cabinet in L.A.?
She thought for a moment, tapping her cheek. Youre right. It does seem like everyone has a gun around here except us. I suppose well just have to go on one of our midnight adventures.
And wander aimlessly around the chalet? He asked, incredulously. You dont even know for sure that he has the purse.
Hed better have it. She muttered. At his frown, she hurried to reassure him. Mr. Steele could get so fussy at times. Ill have to do a little investigative work, wont I? Im sure I can maneuver myself into his vicinity this evening.
He looked at her as though shed gone mad and then turned his attention to the scenery outside the window. The limo was barely creeping, hindered by traffic going to the championships. I just wish youd tell me whats so important about this purse.
Laura slid across the seat, closing the gap between them and put her hand on the side of his face, turning him to look at her. Soon. She told him. Soon youll know why, I promise, but right now Ive got to ask you to trust me.
I always have, Laura. He said softly. Its you whos always had a problem with trust.
She winced inwardly as his statement struck home.
Youre right. She admitted. Ive never trusted you enough to do things your way. Perhaps if Id been more open, more accepting of your ideas, you wouldnt have resorted to Clarissa.
He reached out a hand, touching the side of her face. Laura, please believe me when I say that Ive never regretted anything more than that hair-brained scheme. It hurt you and got me deported, but I felt I had no other option. A rueful smile touched his lips. Laura, a man gets tired of always having to be rescued. Its hard on the ego, and it seems like our whole life together has been me getting into trouble and you riding to the rescue. Admit it, Laura. Ive been one big headache since I stepped into your boss shoes.
A headache Id like to make permanent.
One step closer to a proposal, Remington assured himself as he searched Lauras upturned face. Why didnt she just say it instead of beating around the bush? It had to be those rings, and they had to be in the blasted purse. Well, he might as well resign himself to the task at hand or he really would be waiting until Leap Year for her proposal. Thus resolved, he placed his hand on her thigh. The fabric of her ski suit was slippery beneath his fingers.
I think you should have taken my advice and worn the dress.
Too drafty for a day of snow polo. Her hand delved beneath his wool coat, coming to rest against his chest. But Ill be wearing a dress tonight.
It will be. She promised before wondering aloud. Do you think the Duchesss chauffer is as discreet as Fred?
I imagine he has to be. Remington said. That glass between him and us makes it impossible for him to see or hear anything.
Well, then, Laura murmured, allowing her hand to wander, how would you like to fool around with a Duchess?
Itd be my pleasure.
Their lips had met, lingered and met again when the intercom buzzed.
Were here, Your Grace.
Just like home. Remington muttered as they reluctantly moved apart. Always a bloody interruption.
He almost regretted putting that mickey in Lauras cocoa. It was getting increasingly difficult to keep his hands to himself, especially now that she was determined to have him in her bed. But, he reminded himself, pushing aside thoughts of fan dances and lace teddies, not until she married him. Daniel was right. No goods until the money was in the bank.
He slipped on a pair of sunglasses and reached for the door. Ready, Your Grace?
The frozen expanse of Lake St. Moritz was alive with activity. Spectator stands had been erected and teams were warming up, trotting their horses and taking practice swings at the bright orange ball. As soon as Remington exited the car and turned to help Laura out, they were swarmed by photographers, crowding around them and causing Remington no end of anxiety as he herded Laura toward the podium.
An official looking gentleman was waiting for them when they finally reached their destination. He reached down to assist Laura up the steps.
Were so pleased to have you with us today, Your Grace. He said with a smile, tucking Lauras hand under his arm. Im Claude Gruber, the Master of Ceremonies. I believe my assistant told you what youd be doing today, but let me provide you with more details. He started to lead Laura away. Remington followed. The man turned, looking at him down a long, thin nose. I assure you that the Duchess is quite safe. We have excellent security.
Im sure you do. Remington said. But Ill stay with the Duchess if its all the same to you.
The man frowned, which caused Laura to quickly intervene. Im sure your security is top rate, Herr Gruber, but I would feel more comfortable with my own security staff nearby.
Indeed. The man said, giving Laura the long nose treatment before offering a chilly smile. Very well, Your Grace. If it makes you more comfortable, then, of course, well oblige. Now, in about twenty minutes, warm up practice will end and the teams will
His voice droned on, explaining the tournament and Lauras scheduled role. Remington allowed his mind to drift, his eyes scanning the stands, looking for anything suspicious. He found nothing. Most of the people here probably didnt know who the Grand Duchess was. Nor did they care. They were just wealthy aristocrats, jetsetters and movie stars looking for some entertainment. One Duchess was as good as another as far as they were concerned.
He felt a hand on his arm.
Were going to our seats. Laura managed to get out just before Herr Gruber swept her away.
Remington followed, taking a seat beside her as the teams began to parade onto the field. Team by team they came out, stopping briefly in front of the podium to salute the honored guests before grouping to one side. The horses bobbed their heads and stamped impatiently, ready for action. He knew the feeling. Get on with it already. He liked polo but not on a frozen lake. Damn silly way to play polo.
Finally the last team, Team Landrieu, approached the podium. Lauras hand clutched his sleeve. Amazing how gloved fingers could still be painful when applied with enough force.
Theres Lord Cheswick. She hissed. The blonde one with the white horse.
Remingtons eyes went to the man in question. He looked a great deal more dangerous in person than he had in his photograph. He was a tall, lean man with the broad shoulders and muscular thighs of an avid horseman. His hair glinted like gold bullion in the sunshine. When he stopped in front of the podium, his eyes went immediately to Laura.
Easy, Harry, old boy he cautioned himself as the mans gaze lingered longer than necessary. Supposedly thered been an engagement between this fellow and the Duchess. There would naturally be an intimate light in the mans eye. Even with that reminder, Remington still had a hard time not jumping across the barrier and shaking the man like a rat.
His tension had barely eased when Herr Gruber got up, approached the microphone and welcomed the crowd to the World Cup Polo on Snow championships. Then he introduced the Grand Duchess. Remington sighed. It was going to be a long day.
I heartily approve.
Laura turned at the sound of his voice. Of what?
Remington let his eyes drift over her, a smile lifting the corner of his mouth. The dress, of course. It certainly fulfills its promise.
She glanced down at herself, her hands smoothing the frothy gold skirt of her ball gown. Katrina has beautiful clothing. I feel like a princess.
Are princesses allowed to dance with hired hands?
Not exactly a hired hand, Mr. Steele. She pointed out. Everyone in this room is aware of your identity and suitably awed.
Ah, yes, Herr Gruber. The mans a broadcast system on two legs. Remington murmured dryly. No doubt his retaliation for pinching his seat beside you at the tournament. Ah, well, he said with a shrug, I suppose a famous detective is a more acceptable partner for a Grand Duchess so Gruber has done me a favor. Shall we, Your Grace?
Wont your associate, Miss Holt, be jealous?
I sincerely hope so.
And do you know how to waltz, Mr. Steele? Laura asked, placing her gloved hand in his.
Does Pavarotti know how to sing?
Thats what I love about you, Mr. Steele. Your talents are limitless.
He waltzed as elegantly as he did everything else, and for one brief moment, she allowed herself the luxury of believing that she really was Cinderella and he Prince Charming. It was silly, ridiculous even, but the atmosphere, the music and the swirling ball gowns worked their magic, and she gave into the dream. Until her eyes happened to fall on the person of Lord Cheswick.
There he is. She hissed.
Who? Remington had been indulging in his own fantasy. It involved kissing every one of those exposed freckles.
Pity. I had hoped swine would be banned from the ball.
She looked at him. How can you call him that when you dont even know him?
Believe me, Laura, I know the type. He assured her grimly. Besides, he knows you. Or at least thinks he does. He nearly stripped you of that ski suit you were wearing this afternoon.
Are you saying Katrina and he were intimately involved?
They were engaged, werent they?
Laura frowned. That puts a wrench in things. I wonder if hell be able to tell Im not her.
How can you be so sure?
He looked at her in a way that sent shivers of hot desire shooting down her spine. You and Katrina may share a face, Laura, but I would know instantly who I held in my arms. Lovers know these things.
Is that what we are? She asked a bit breathlessly. Lovers?
Is there any doubt?
His voice was soft and seductive, curling around her and dragging her under. Now was not the time for wandering down amorous avenues, she told herself sternly as she struggled to free herself some the spell he so easily cast upon her. That would come later when they were in the Duchesss suite. Right now she had a job to do.
I guess Ill have to give it a try and hope for the best. She said briskly. Ill ask him to dance and see what happens.
Whats so absurd about it?
Come now, Laura, Remington said with a little laugh, its bad etiquette for a lady to ask a gentleman to dance.
What century have you been living in, Mr. Steele? She asked with a lift of her chin. Its perfectly acceptable for a woman to ask a man to dance, and Ill be happy to demonstrate.
In mid-twirl Laura stopped, stepped out of his arms and marched across the ballroom, shoulders back, head held high, gold skirts swishing. Luckily Cheswick was in a group that included Herr Gruber, which provided easy access to her quarry. As soon as she approached, the man smiled brilliantly and stepped forward to greet her.
Your Grace. Gruber murmured, taking her gloved hand and kissing it. Are you enjoying the ball?
Very well. Thank you.
Is not the Tiger's Heart Ruby magnificent?
Ah, yes. Shed forgotten about the ruby. It was being displayed in an adjoining antechamber. Quite beautiful.
But not nearly as beautiful as you. He said before turning to the three gentlemen and one lady that made up his group. Let me introduce you to my companions.
When he reached Lord Cheswick, that gentleman said coolly. No need to introduce me, Gruber. The Duchess and I are well acquainted. Arent we, my dear?
Yes, I believe we are. Laura agreed. I was wondering whether youd care to dance, Lord Cheswick. That was my purpose in coming over.
Id be a fool to decline when every other man in the room would like the pleasure. He noted dryly.
Handing the champagne glass hed been holding to Gruber, he offered his arm, and Laura took it.
Speaking of other men, he said as they joined the other couples of the dance floor, Mr. Steele has been monopolizing your time quite a bit this evening.
I didnt know you noticed such things.
I notice everything about you, Katherine. He said simply. I must admit that I was perplexed at first. Hes not exactly your type. Too squeaky clean. But then it dawned on me. Distract the great detective while your friends perform the operation. Clever of you. If the look Im getting is any indication, Id say youve got him right where you want him.
Mr. Steele? Squeaky clean? Laura nearly laughed out loud but the mention of an operation quickly sobered her. What operation? What friends?
I congratulate you, my dear. He continued, guiding her into a smooth turn. Im told he only has eyes for his associate. I believe her name is Miss Holt. Your seductive powers must be stronger than I remember.
So Mr. Steele was reported to have eyes only for her. She tried not to preen at the knowledge. Keep your mind on the job, Holt.
Its all part of the job.
And when will the job be complete? He pounced on the statement like a cat on a mouse.
Soon. She assured him. These things take time.
You promised me a delivery before I leave St. Moritz. Thats three days from now, Katherine. Cutting it a bit tight, arent you?
A delivery? Of what? Drugs? No, she decided, he didnt look like a drug addict. His grey eyes were too clear, too sharp for that.
Youll have your delivery. You have my word on it.
Your word, Katherine? He echoed. When has your word ever meant anything? The last time you promised me something I woke up alone in Amsterdam with a hang over and empty pockets. I can understand taking the wallet, darling, but my passport? I had a devilish hard time getting back to London without it.
What kind of relationship did these two have, Laura wondered as the music ended, and they left the floor. Obviously not the traditional sort. Most fiancées dont take off with the others wallet and passport. And why would a Duchess want such things? Laura frowned. Shed approached Cheswick in the hope of getting answers and had gotten more questions.
Shall we walk for a while in the Conservatory? She suggested.
Ive never seen you so eager for my company. Cheswick commented. Do I dare hope that youve missed me, or is this just another one of your games?
They entered the Conservatory, a glass-enclosed antechamber off the ballroom. Exotic plants and flowers lined the walls and dangled from the ceiling, creating a tropical paradise in the midst of a winter wonderland. A large marble fountain sat in the middle of the room, water trickling from the jug of a half-naked peasant girl.
Laura turned to face him as an idea of how to get into his chalet suddenly dawned on her. Remington would not approve, but this was business. Besides, she was doing it for him. The sooner she got those rings, the sooner she could propose.
People change. She said softly, allowing her hands to rest against the lapels of his jacket.
The suddenness of his response surprised her, and she found herself asking, rather stupidly, How?
He tiled her chin upward. Laura tried to remain calm as his grey eyes searched her face. Would this close-up inspection blow her cover? She forced herself to breath and looked up at him with as much sincerity as she could muster.
Finally he spoke, saying quietly, Come to my chalet tomorrow evening.
Ill be there. She promised.
His head lowered and she braced herself for his kiss. Putting her heart and soul into these business kisses was becoming harder and harder. She closed her eyes, waiting, but nothing happened. What was taking him so long? She opened her eyes just in time to see Remington landed a fist in Cheswicks face. The man stumbled backwards, a hand to his nose.
Laura watched in stunned silence as Cheswick lowered his hand, saw the blood on his fingers and then hurled himself at Remington. Hes ruining everything, Laura thought, watching the two men exchange punches. How would she ever explain this male aggression to Cheswick? He would certainly wonder why a man she barely knew would become so enraged over an attempted kiss.
She was pondering this dilemma when the two men tumbled into the fountain, sending a wave of water in her direction. Taking evasive action she was surprised to run into another person. It was then that she became aware that the fight had drawn the attention of others. They were gathered in the doorway, watching eagerly.
It was with a sense of relief that Laura watched Remington deliver the final blow. Relief that the fight was over, not that hed won. Cheswick went reeling backwards, falling hard against the peasant girl and letting out a terrific howl of pain as his arm came into contact with the hard marble.
Youve broken my arm, damn you! Cheswick spat.
Be glad it was only your arm. Remington spat back.
Cheswicks eyes went from Remington to Laura and then back to Remington. He was beginning to suspect, to wonder. The wheels were turning. She could see it in his expression, at first bewildered and then speculative. If she didnt act fast, all her work of the previous twenty minutes would be lost.
Im so sorry, Trevor. She said, hurrying over to him. I should have told you earlier. I hired Mr. Steele to provide security, and Im afraid he must have thought you were attacking me. He takes his work very seriously.
Security? Cheswick echoed, wincing as she helped him out of the water.
She leaned close, whispering. The operation, remember? Not waiting for his response, she turned to the watching crowd. Someone call an ambulance for Lord Cheswick.
Oh, this is terrible. Gruber moaned, bursting into the room wringing his hands. If his arm is broken, he wont be able to finish the championship, and what will Landrieu do? Our sponsor cant be without a team.
Laura straightened up. Ive heard that Mr. Steele plays polo. Perhaps hed be willing to take Lord Cheswicks place. She paused, sending Remington a look that would have wilted a man unused to such looks. Seeing as how he started the fight. What do you say, Mr. Steele?
Remington knew she was basically ordering him to comply. But he wasnt feeling cooperative. In fact he was feeling downright surly.
He dabbed at the blood on his lip with the back of his hand. Im afraid I dont know anything about playing on snow, Your Grace. Sorry.
Oh, thats not a problem. A dark-haired, swarthy gentleman said, detaching himself from the crowd and coming forward with a toothy grin. Alejandro Visalia. I play on the Landrieu team with Cheswick, and Im sure with a little practice, we can get you comfortable on snow. Youve just got to get used to the feel of it. Most of the ponies can do it in their sleep so all youve got to do is swing the mallet.
Isnt that wonderful, Mr. Steele? Laura asked.
Wonderful. Remington agreed.
That was the most disgraceful display of naked male aggression Ive ever seen. Laura declared as they entered the bedroom of the suite. What got into you? Its not like Ive never schmoozed a guy before. Ive done it lots of times. Its all part of the job. You know that.
And may I say that its one of the least attractive aspects of this profession.
Attractive or not it has to be done. She told him. It took me twenty minutes to get him to invite me to his chalet, and you nearly ruined everything in two.
Laura, Remington drawled, sitting down on the bed, you cant be serious about going to that mans chalet tomorrow night. Its suicide.
Of course, Im serious. Laura said, going into the bathroom.
Cabinet doors banged, water ran and she re-appeared carrying a washcloth and first aid kit, which she tossed onto the bed beside him. She grabbed his hand, applying the cloth to scraped knuckles. He winced, but she didnt let up on the pressure. He deserved to reap the consequences of his folly. She was looking forward to applying the disinfectant.
Im going to that chalet tomorrow night whether you like it or not. She continued. Somethings going on, and I intend to find out what.
Correct me if Im wrong, Laura, but it was my understanding that you were only interested in getting your purse back.
I was. She removed the cloth and reaching for the peroxide. But that was before I heard about operations and deliveries. Those two are up to something, and I want to know what.
Ow! He yelped as she poured a liberal amount of peroxide on his scrapes. Your bedside manner is much to be desired.
If you dont like in then you should have kept your fists in your pockets.
The mans a snake.
She shrugged. We meet a lot of snakes in our line of business.
But thats just it, Laura. Remington exclaimed, clearly frustrated. This isnt our business. You were hired to impersonate a Duchess, which you did. Mission accomplished. Now we collect the check and go on to the next dead body.
There is no dead body.
Laura snorted and turned away from him, collecting the first aid paraphernalia and carrying it back into the bathroom. I was hired under false pretenses. She called over her shoulder. I thought I was helping star-crossed lovers, but apparently Im being used as cover while Katrina and her friends perform some sort of operation. She re-appeared in the doorway, hands on hips. Where are Mildred and her computer when I need them? Id sure like to do a background check of Cheswick and his girlfriend.
So basically youre upset about being used.
Brilliant deductive work, Watson.
She came over to him and slid her hands beneath his jacket, shucking it off his shoulders in one smooth motion. Then her fingers went to the buttons on his shirt.
Ah, Laura, He asked, what are you doing?
We need to get you out of these wet clothes before you catch a cold.
Theyre pretty much dry now.
She ignored him. We cant take any chances, Mr. Steele.
The shirt disappeared, flung somewhere behind her, and then she was pushing him back against the bed, hands going for his zipper. Remington caught her hands in his.
I can do that.
She looked perplexed but didnt push the issue. Instead she straightened up and reached behind her. There was the sound of a zipper being lowered and then the frothy gold gown fell to her feet, leaving her in nothing but a lacy red teddy. He swallowed hard as white, hot desire surged through him.
Ive got a surprise for you. She murmured, placing one knee on the bed and leaning over him invitingly.
For me? He echoed in a voice that sounded and felt strangled.
Yes, for you.
Arent you mad at me, Laura?
Then why would you He motioned at her attire.
Because Ive decided to accept you as you are, Mr. Steele. She dropped a series of kisses along his collar bone. He shivered. Life would be terribly dull if you didnt land us in hot water at least once or twice a week. Now, she breathed into his ear, arent you the least bit curious about my surprise?
His mind was still stuck on the first half of her statement. Did she actually say she was going to accept him as he was? That was the last thing hed expected. It seemed like most of their life together had been spent trying to mold and shape him into Remington Steele, her fictional boss, that paragon of virtue she had created. Now she wanted him just as he was? Amazing.
Fans. She told him, apparently growing impatient with his silence.
I thought youd like to see my fan dance.
Oh, God, think, Harry, think! Youre a goner if she gets out the fans. Hed been fantasizing about that for years.
She smiled, a slow, sensuous lift of the lips that caused Remingtons heart to pound crazily against his ribs. Then she stood up and sashaying over to the closet.
Remington did the only thing he could do. He sneezed.
She stopped, turning to look at him. Are you ok?
He sneezed again and then again.
I must be coming down with something. He said. Those wet clothes
She frowned, returning to the bed. Thats one fast-acting cold.
Foreign germs. He assured her. Bodys not built up a resistance. Perhaps if you got me some cold medication
I dont carry it with me.
They might keep some downstairs at the desk.
But she glanced down at herself, I cant go downstairs like this.
He sneezed and then added a cough for good measure. Just put on that fur coat you wore tonight. No one would suspect whats under it.
If this turns into pneumonia, I could be laid up for weeks.
She looked mutinous but headed for the door anyway. All right. Ill go. But take a hot shower while Im gone. Thatll warm you up and help with any congestion.
Twenty five minutes and two drug stores later, she returned, wrapped in the fur coat and carrying a small bag of medication. She was surprised that both the bathroom and bedroom were quiet. She had expected him to be waiting for her. Instead she found him under the sheets sound to sleep.
Of all the ingrates, she thought indignantly, banging the medication down on the bedside table. When he didnt stir, she removed the coat and slid beneath the covers. So much for the fans.
Remington smiled in his sleep. Another bullet dodged. Barely. Hed taken a cold shower rather than a hot one and sincerely mourned his decision to withhold himself from her until she married him. The situation was becoming intolerable. If she didnt get that purse tomorrow and propose, hed have to take matters into his own hands. Either that or explode.
Another Nice Mess
Remington was already up and moving around the suite when someone knocked on the door. He hadnt wanted to get up, but when hed woke to find Laura wrapped around him like a boa constrictor, he thought it best to leave the bed while he still could. It had taken every slippery skill in his arsenal to disentangle himself, but hed managed and was now waiting for breakfast to be delivered. Food should put any amorous ideas out of Lauras head.
He opened the door expecting room service and got a surprise instead.
Mildred! He exclaimed. Howd you get here?
The usual way. She said. I took a plane.
Ah, let me rephrase that. He said, the irony of her answer not lost on him. Hed given her pretty much the same answer a month ago. What are you doing here?
Id love to tell you, boss, but do you think a hallway is the best place to talk about this?
He cast a glance towards the bedroom and then reached out and pulled her inside, closing the door softly behind her. Just keep your voice down, ok? Lauras still asleep.
A smile burst across Mildreds face. So she finally popped the question?
He scowled. No, she hasnt.
Then whats she doing in your bed?
Technically its her bed since shes playing the Duchess, but the answer to your question is sleeping.
And what was she doing before that?
Scaring the living daylights out of me.
Sorry, boss. You lost me.
Remington sighed, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his robe. Mildred, do you have any idea how difficult it is to stay out of womans bed when shed determined to have you in it?
Cant say I have.
Well, its exhausting. Im a wreck. He declared. If she doesnt ask me today, then thats it. Im not waiting any longer.
Now, boss, Mildred hurried to assure him, just give her a little more time. Its difficult for a woman. You cant take off on her now.
Who said anything about taking off? If she doesnt ask me, Im going to ask her. He paused as a thought struck him. No, Mildred, no. Im not going to ask. That doesn't work. Im going to tell her, and heres how were going to make sure she listens.
He took her arm, pulling her further into the room. You found out how we get married in Switzerland, right?
Sure. Mildred nodded. I even went ahead and took care of the paperwork. I had to fudge some things since I didnt have a birth certificate for you, but it ought to hold up. She frowned. You really ought to see about finding your birth certificate, boss. Itd make things a lot more binding if you did. Without a real birth certificate, I can't guarantee that the marriage will be wiggle-proof.'
Later, Mildred, later. He said, waving aside her concerns. We can clear up any legal issues later. The important thing is to get her believing she's married to me.
If that's all you want then just find a civil registrar.
That sounds right up your alley. He said with a smile meant to flatter. I tell you what, Mildred. You find us a registrar and arrange a ceremony for six oclock tomorrow evening, and Ill deliver Miss Holt, hog-tied if necessary. Do we have a deal?
Deal. Mildred agreed. But why tomorrow? I would think today would be even better.
Obligations, Mildred. Remington said with a sigh. Thanks to the gracious Miss Holt, Im scheduled to compete in the World Cup Polo on Snow this afternoon. Should I survive that invigorating exercise I then have the privilege of watching Miss Holt wine and dine a snake.
Howd a snake come into all this?
That bloody purse, of course. Hes got it, and she wants it. But its not as simple as that. Oh no. Nothing is simple with Miss Holt. While in pursuit of said purse, she stumbled onto a nice, juicy mystery, which she has sunk her teeth into and refuses to let go. The aforementioned snake is expecting a delivery from the Duchess, and naturally our inquisitive Miss Holt wants to know what it is.
Oh, I almost forgot! Mildred exclaimed, reaching for her purse. Ive got that information you wanted on the Duchess.
What have you got on her?
She doesnt exist.
Of course, she does. Ive seen her.
Youve seen somebody, but its not the Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin because she died two years ago at the ripe old age of eighty-eight.
I never did trust that woman. He muttered before asking hopefully. You wouldnt happen to know who the imposter is?
Mildred shrugged. Not a clue. I cant search the computer for a woman that looks like Miss Holt. I have to have a name or something.
Well, he declared, rocking back and forth on his heels, it looks like were going to have to wring it out of Cheswick. I doubt very much well ever see the Duchess again.
Remington was about to answer when a knock came at the door. He went to answer it and found a waiter with a cart laden with plates covered with silver domes. Breakfast had finally arrived. The man was quick and efficient and within minutes he was ready to leave.
Your paper, Sir. He said, handing Remington a newspaper as he rolled the cart into the hallway.
Damn! Remington swore as his eyes fell on the headlines.
What? Mildred asked.
The Simba Collection was stolen last night.
I have this dreadful feeling I know who stole it.
Harry, my boy Daniel said cheerfully as Remington slid into the seat across from him. What a pleasant surprise! Im just finishing breakfast. Would you like Kurt to get you something? Tea perhaps? Danish?
Im not hungry. Remington said grimly, waving the waiter aside. He got right to the point. He didnt have time to beat around the bush. Team Landrieu was waiting for him. Why are you still in town, Daniel? I thought you didnt like snow.
Daniel shrugged. I thought Id stick around for the wedding. There was a pause and then he added. If theres ever going to be one.
You wouldnt be sticking around for some other reason, would you?
Cant think of any.
Remington handed him the newspaper. What about this?
Daniel scanned the headline and then glanced at Remington. You think I had something to do with this?
I know you were interested. The maps you left in my room nearly got me in big trouble with Laura.
Im much too old for such things, Harry. When you turned down my offer, I threw away my maps and resigned myself to sitting by the fire. Of course, He said, taking a sip of his coffee, Im not surprised someone pinched it. I told you it was ripe for the plucking.
You wouldnt happen to know who that was, would you?
No, but I would take a look in my own back yard if I were you.
Remington frowned. What in the world was Daniel talking about? His back yard included Laura and Mildred, and he was pretty sure neither one of them would be pinching diamonds from a museum.
Ive baffled you, havent I? Daniel asked, smiling. Ah, well, I dont suppose youd know since youve been walking the straight and narrow these days. One loses touch with the underworld. He put down his coffee cup and looked at Remington, his expression serious for once. Im referring to Trevor Martyn, the man whose arm you broke yesterday in a fit of jealous rage. Really, Harry, you must learn to control your emotions. Havent I always told you that?
Howd you hear about that?
The usual way.
Maybe he ought to ask the hotel staff who stole the diamonds, Remington thought sourly. Instead he asked, Who is Martyn and whats he got to do with the diamonds?
Well, Im not sure he does have anything to do with the diamonds. Daniel admitted. But a man like him would be interested, very interested.
Hes a fence, Harry. A high class dealer in very expensive stolen goods. Where do you think he gets all his money?
I assumed it came with the title.
Daniel shook his head. He got a title but nothing to support it so, being a man of exceptional wits and questionable ethics, he used his connections and found people interested in buying high-priced stolen merchandize. You know as well as I do that many a stolen Van Gogh has ended up in a billionaires private collection. Hes got quite an operation. Some would call him a modern day Fagin. Hes even got a network of thieves. He sighed, leaning back in his chair, his expression becoming wistful. I wish Id had the connections to do something like that. Beats doing the dirty work yourself. But alas my family had no name, no connections. Now Sinead, her family He stopped abruptly.
But Remington had stopped listening three or four sentences ago. His mind was rolling over the possibilities, connecting the dots, formulating theories. In all probability Katrina was one of Cheswicks thieves. That would explain the delivery she owed him. He must share this information with Laura.
He got up. Thank you, Daniel. Youve been most helpful.
Not at all, my boy. Glad to help. Oh, Harry? He called out as Remington turned to leave. Whens the wedding?
Tomorrow evening at six. Ask the hotel for Mildred Krebs. Shell provide the details.
Daniel watched him go with a smile on his face. Despite missing their adventures together, he was glad the boy had found what he wanted. If that was a respectable career and a wife like Laura then so be it. He didnt begrudge him. Actually he would say hed turned out much better than his father. Not that the fathers life had been bad. Thered been good times, but thered been regrets too.
He had always hoped that Harry wouldnt have to live with regrets, and it appeared that he wouldnt. As long as he could manage to get himself married one of these days, Daniel thought, standing up and tossing a generous tip on the table. Maybe he ought to contact this Mildred person. Between the two of them they could surely devise way to get those two kids married.
Remington paid the taxi driver and then turned to survey his surroundings. The lights of Cheswicks chalet could be seen in the distance, looking stark and remote against the mountainside. He removed the snowshoes from his pack, put them on and started his trek, using the dim glow on a half moon as illumination. A flashlight would be suicidal, easily seen against the vast expanse of white.
Laura had specifically told him to stay at the hotel, but his protective nature where she was concerned would not allow him to obey. There was no way he was going to let her handle Cheswick on her own. Oh, hed let her do the talking, the schmoozing as she called it, but he wanted to be nearby in case things got out of hand, in case she needed him. Partners backed each other up, didnt they?
Besides, if the shoe was on the other foot, would she have stayed at the hotel? Not a chance. The intrepid Miss Holt would insist on being in the thick of things come hell or high water. Hadnt she interfered with more than one of his plans? Damn right she had, and now he was just returning the favor.
I must say Im surprised you kept our date, Katherine. Cheswick said, handing Laura a snifter of cognac before taking a seat beside her on the large, white couch in front of the fire. Its almost as if Im dealing with another woman.
Laura clamped down on the unease that flickered to life at his words. Did he suspect? Was he baiting her? Her mind raced through the options. There werent many. The only thing she could do was keep her cards close to her chest and bluff.
You dont believe in leopards changing their spots, do you, Trevor?
You can paint a leopard blue, but its still a leopard on the inside. Cheswick noted, taking a sip of his cognac. Same teeth, same claws, same basic instincts. He looked at her over his glass, his gray eyes hooded and unreadable. Although I must say I prefer this Katherine to the one I knew before.
And trust is important to you?
Trust is a rarity and should be cherished when found.
And have you found it?
You must be a very lonely man.
Just about as lonely as you. When she didnt answer, her eyes on the golden liquor in her snifter, he said, Of course, I had hoped for something different when I took you on and trained you, but I suppose desperation has that effect on people, making them more malleable, more submissive. Once you had a taste of the high life, once youd spread your wings and realized your own abilities, you wanted freedom. I guess its true what they say. If you love something, let it go. If it returns, it was always yours. If it doesnt, it never was.
Laura glanced at him. Did you love me?
I could have. He admitted and then laughed, a harsh, bitter sound. As much as someone like me can love. But that doesnt matter now. You made yourself perfectly clear the last time we spoke. You wanted your freedom, and I gave you the price of obtaining it. So when can I expect the delivery? The client is becoming impatient.
Perhaps Ive changed my mind.
Double-crossing me, Katherine? He said softly. Thats not a good idea, my dear. You were with me long enough to know that those who betray me never enjoy their ill-gotten gains. They usually have accidents.
So he was a murderer as well as a fence, Laura thought. Fagin and Bill Sykes rolled into one. Lovely. Perhaps Remington had been right. Coming here was a big mistake. How in the world was she going to extract herself? Of course, she couldnt leave without the purse. Wherever it was.
She allowed her eyes to drift around the room. It was not likely to be in the living room. His study perhaps? That was the logical place to search first.
Is that why you kidnapped me? She asked in an attempt to lead the discussion to the purses whereabouts. To make sure I didnt double-cross you?
Ah, yes, the kidnapping. I wondered when wed get around to that. He murmured. Thats the reason for this little meeting, isnt it?
Laura was about to ask him what he meant when a tap came at the door of the room.
Yes? He called out.
A man appeared in the doorway. He was short and stocky, reminding Laura of a bulldog. No doubt he was just as powerful. Theres a phone call for you, boss.
Cheswick unfolded himself from the couch, placed the cognac on the coffee table and rose to his feet. He faltered slightly, hampered by the sling around his neck. It had turned out to be a sprained wrist rather than a broken arm. Nevertheless it restricted him. Remingtons jealousy might prove to be a blessing after all, Laura thought, watching him beneath lowered lashes.
He turned to her, an apologetic smile on his handsome face. If youll excuse me, my dear, I wont be a minute.
Laura watched him go. The minute the door was closed she leapt to her feet and ran over to it, placing her ear against the oak panels, listening. As soon as all was quiet, she opened the door and stuck her head out. All clear. Leaving the room, she hurried down the hallway.
Shed have to work quickly. It was uncertain how long hed be gone. If he arrived back before she did, shed have to make an excuse about needing to use the bathroom. Whether hed believe it was debatable, but this might be her only chance to search the premises. She must make the most of the time allotted.
The study was dark and unoccupied. She let herself in and closed the door quietly behind her. Her search was quick and efficient, checking desk drawers and cabinets. No luck. A hidden safe, she wondered, her eyes going to the large painting behind the desk. What she would do if she found one she hadnt a clue. Unlike Remington, she had no skill in opening safes. Still one had to try.
She reached for the painting.
Its not there, Miss Holt. A voice said from the doorway.
Her fingers froze on the gilded frame. He had used her real name. She turned around, slowly. Cheswick stood on the threshold holding her purse in his good hand. The bulldog was behind him, a gun clutched in one beefy paw.
You knew? She kept her voice as cool as possible.
If a snake could smile, it would have looked like Cheswick at that moment. Of course. You dont think Id be foolish enough not to check the purse once youd escaped. I found a jewelers box and several credit cards in the name of Laura E. Holt. A couple phone calls and I had the information I wanted. Laura Holt was the close associate of Remington Steele, the great detective. Its unfortunate that we had to involve you in this. It was not my intention. But now that you are, he shrugged, Im afraid Ill have to silence you.
All I want is the purse.
In the beginning, yes. Cheswick agreed, inclining his golden head. And if Katherine hadnt involved you further, I would have returned it to you anonymously. He eyed her. But somehow I dont think you would have been satisfied with that. Your curiosity would have led you to this moment whether Katherine had involved you or not. Isnt that right, Miss Holt?
Havent you heard that curiosity killed the cat?
I might have heard that once or twice.
He smiled, obviously amused by her cheek. Im really going to hate doing what I must do, my dear. You amuse me. Immensely.
She watched as he crossed the distance between them. Rather than touching her as she had expected, he passed by and reached for the painting. It sprung open, revealing a wall safe, which he quickly and efficiently opened. The purse was placed inside and the door closed and locked once more.
Then he turned to her, his eyes running over her face. Believe me, Miss Holt, I am sorry. You were a much better Katherine than Katherine herself. I now understand why Mr. Steele is reported to only have eyes for you. A woman of such courage is a rare treasure. Unfortunately he can savor his prize no more.
Youre going to kill me. It was a statement rather than a question.
He touched her face. Im afraid so, my dear. I cant have you interfering with my plans, and although you may promise that you wont, we both know that you will. A private investigator is bound to do their duty. But out of regard for you Ill make it as painless as possible. Carbon monoxide perhaps? With one last lingering look at her, he walked away, calling over his shoulder. Put Miss Holt in a room for safekeeping, Franz. And make sure you tie her hands and feet this time. I want no chance of escape.
Remington stood in the shadows of the hallway, nearly invisible. Having reached the chalet, hed removed his white ski suit in favor of the black clothing underneath. He knew the value of camouflage. It had allowed him navigate Cheswicks chalet as quietly as the shadows he lingered in. It also protected him as he watched a stocky fellow marched Laura up the stairs and into a room. Several minutes later, he reappeared, locked the door and disappeared back down the stairs.
Once he was sure the man was out of sight and hearing, Remington detached himself from the shadows, removed his pick and went to work. The door opened, and he slipped inside, closing it softly behind him. He turned and nearly laughed despite the gravity of the situation. Laura lay on the bed, literally hog-tied, a gag in her mouth. How nice of them to do the work for him, he mused, coming over and looking down at her.
A pair of furious brown eyes stared up at him.
Well, he murmured, a grin teasing his lips, heres another nice mess youve gotten yourself into. Variation on the famous phrase first used in The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case, 1930. The eyes glared up at him. From your expression, Laura, I must assume youre not fond of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
The eyes continued to glare, and with a smile he reached down, pulled a Swiss Army knife from his boot and cut her bonds in two efficient strokes. She sprang to life, immediately reaching for the gag.
What are you doing here? She demanded as soon as her mouth was free.
Saving your life apparently.
I had everything under control.
Yes, I could see that.
She ignored him, scrambling to her feet. Come on, lets go.
He followed her out of the room and down the stairs, but instead of heading for the front door, she turned to the left.
Ah, Laura, he hissed, grabbing her arm, the doors this way.
Im not leaving without that purse.
Whats more important our lives or your purse?
I havent come all this way for nothing.
He looked at her. In for a penny, in for a pound, eh?
Are you coming or not? She asked.
Lead on, O Captain, my Captain. Walt Whitman, 1865.
Im impressed. Laura murmured as they entered the study. Your horizons are expanding. When did you start reading poetry?
When I was kicking my heels in Monte Carlo waiting for you to show up. Your response time needs improvement.
Well, hopefully all that culture hasnt affected your safe-cracking skills. Laura said, throwing aside the painting and motioning toward the wall safe with a flourish that would have made any magician proud. Go to it, Mr. Steele.
Happy? He asked a few seconds later.
Ecstatic. She said, taking the purse from him and stuffing it under the jacket of her white ski suit. Lets get out of here.
Her hand had just touched the doorknob of the front door when a familiar voice came from a nearby doorway.
Youre talents continually amaze me, Miss Holt. You must be Houdini reincarnated. Franz assured me that you were tussed up tighter than a Christmas pudding yet here you are. On the verge of escaping once again.
Cheswick was holding the gun this time. The bulldog was nowhere in sight. No doubt preparing the garage for the carbon monoxide poisoning. Laura took a step backwards, expecting to come up against Remington, but to her surprise, he wasnt there. For a moment annoyance surged through her. How dare he leave her to face the snake alone. The creep.
But then reality rushed in. Remington would not leave her. She knew enough about his protective nature to know that. He was lurking nearby, hovering in the shadows, waiting for his opportunity to strike. She knew it as surely as she knew she loved him. Some things just had to be.
I took Escape 101 in investigator school. She told him cheekily.
He frowned. Your spirit is becoming wearisome, Miss Holt. I gave you the opportunity to die painlessly, but now Im afraid were going to have to do this the hard way. In cold blood. He leveled the gun at her.
She waited for the impact but it never came. Instead a backpack came swinging out of the shadows, knocking the gun from Cheswicks hand and sending him reeling backwards. Unable to regain his balance, he crashed to the floor.
Remington wasted no time. He grabbed his pack, took Laura by the arm and pulled her out the door. They scrambled down the steps and hit the snow running.
Were not going to get far on foot. Remington noted as they stopped at the corner of the house to catch their breath.
Laura surveyed the area. To one side was a large two-story garage. Unlike the time before, no car sat in the driveway. The only things remotely resembling transportation were three snowmobiles, which must have been brought outside to make room for the car, probably the one that would generate the poisonous gas. Shed never driven a snowmobile, but any port in a storm.
She grabbed Remingtons arm and pulled him toward the snowmobiles.
Do you know how to drive one of these? He asked as she jumped on and turned the key. The motor purred throatily.
Does it really matter?
Remington glanced at the chalet where movement could be seen. There were shouts followed by the sound of a gun being fired. A bullet hit the snow beside him. He jumped on behind her. No, I dont suppose it does.
Laura clutched the accelerator level to full power and they were off, skidding across the frozen expanse of snow, streaking down the side of the mountain. They thought theyd made good on their escape until a bullet whizzed pass them followed by several more.
There are two of them! Remington called out, having taken a quick glance behind.
Hold on! Laura yelled. Im going to take evasive action!
She whipped the machine to the left and then to the right. Their zigzag movements seemed to stymie their pursuers for the gunfire stopped.
Remington? Laura suddenly called out.
I havent gone anywhere, Laura!
If we manage to survive this, will you marry me? Laura yelled above the sound of the motor.
We have an appointment with the civil registrar at six oclock tomorrow! He yelled back.
Thats what I love about you, Mr. Steele! Youre a great planner!
Do you, Laura?
Do I what?
As soon as I opened the door and found you sitting in Mr. Steeles chair!
Good! I never fancied unrequited love!
She was savoring this admission when his hands closed over hers on the handle bars. She started, sending the snowmobile in a crazy swerve to the left. What are you doing?
I suddenly have this overwhelming desire to survive, and although youre doing an admirable job at steering, I think your hands could be better occupied!
Finding something to tie the accelerator to the on position! A variation of our old boat trick! Instead of jumping into water, well jump into snow!
I cant find anything! Laura yelled a few minutes later, having searched her person. She silently cursed the fact that shed been carrying a clutch purse that night instead of the everyday variety with strap.
He was silent for a moment then shouted, Im wearing a belt!
Laura reached behind her back, her fingers searching. After a few fruitless attempts that caused him suck in his breath sharply, her hands having found sensitive spots, she finally located the belt, unbuckled it and pulled it free. But before leaving the area completely, she allowed her fingers one last tantalizing stroke.
Now is not the time to be arousing the beast, Laura. He told her. But Ill be happy to discuss it with you once were married.
Not tonight? She asked hopefully.
Not a chance. Youll have to marry me to get me between your sheets, Miss Holt. This bloke comes with a price tag.
There was a silence as Lauras mind began to turn, reviewing the last few days and how conveniently hed managed to stay out of her bed. You know, its amazing how quickly that cold of yours cleared up, not a sneeze or a sniffle all day. And that cocoa
Later, Laura, later. Remington interrupted. Here. You steer while I tie off the accelerator.
Keep her busy so her mind cant put two and two together and come up with four, he thought, turning the steering over to her. He quickly knotted the belt around the accelerator, securing the lever to the on position. Then he looked up, scanning the horizon. It was difficult to see anything in the light of a half moon. Everything was a shadowy gray blur. Next time, bring infrared goggles, he told himself.
See that hill up there? She nodded. When we go over, well disappear momentarily from their view. Thats when we jump, ok?
The snowmobile dipped, and they threw themselves to the side, landing in the snow and rolling until they lay flat to the ground, Laura on top, her white suit masking as much as Remingtons dark clothing as possible. Their snowmobile streaked onwards followed first by one snowmobile and then other.
They lay for a few minutes, waiting until the noise of the snowmobiles faded into the distance then Laura rolled to one side.
Hurry. Remington said, getting to his feet. Best to be gone by the time they figure it out.
Thats easier said then done. Laura muttered as her sunk to her knees in deep snow.
Almost forgot. He grabbed his pack and removed two sets of snowshoes. This should help.
You come prepared, dont you, Mr. Steele? She noted, strapping on her shoes. A regular boy scout.
As you said, Laura, Im a great planner.
An hour later they were seated on a ski bus rumbling slowly down the mountain towards the lights of St. Moritz.
We really must give this ski resort some business after this adventure. Laura said. Ive used their buses often enough. How about it, Mr. Steele? She asked, linking her arms with his and resting her chin on his shoulder. How does a honeymoon at a ski resort sound?
I hope so. She murmured, lifting her mouth to meet his.
Get Me to the Church on Time
So. Laura said the next morning as they ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant. How do we recover the diamonds?
Recover the diamonds? Mildred echoed. I thought you just wanted the purse.
I did. Laura agreed. But just think of the finders fee well get if we recover the Simba Collection. She paused, staring off into the distance as though imagining all those nice, crisp franc notes. Besides, we ought to get something for our troubles. Its obvious that check the Duchess gave us will bounce all the way to Paris.
Remington, who had cringed at her question, suddenly perked up. Ah, yes, the elusive finders fee. Hed been chasing it for years. How hed love to actually get cash for finding jewels rather than stealing them. But they had a tight schedule. A polo tournament at one and a marriage at six would be pushing things. Not to mention they had no idea where the diamonds were.
We have a tight schedule today, Laura. He pointed out. If Landrieu is in the final match, well have to hurry to get to the registrars office by six.
Five. Mildred said.
Remington looked at her. What happened to six?
They close at fifty thirty. You know these government types. When they close, they close.
We could push it back a day. Laura suggested.
Not a chance. Remington stated. Well be there come hell or high water.
Then well just have to work around it. Laura said with a shrug before turning to Mildred. Have you had any luck finding Katherine?
Mildred shook her head. She hasnt returned to the hotel, and I searched the room again in case we missed something. She left nothing but the clothes, and boy, does she have some beautiful dresses. I could have spent hours going through that closet. She sighed wistfully and then brightened. But I got those fans for you, Miss Holt. They were right where you said theyd be.
Fans? Daniel asked, entering the conversation for the first time.
Laura blushed. Hobby of mine.
One in which I look forward to joining. Remington murmured into his teacup.
Well, Laura said briskly, lets look at what we know. Lord Cheswick has made it plain that he is expecting a delivery from Katherine. Its reasonable to assume that Katherine stole the diamonds and will be delivering them as promised. The question is how and when. Since weve been unable to locate Katherine, the obvious solution is to keep an eye on Cheswick. Her eyes went to Mildred. Do you think you can trail him, Mildred?
Sure. Mildred said eagerly.
And the rest of us? Remington asked.
Laura shrugged. Attend the polo tournament.
If its all the same to you, Daniel said, Id prefer providing Mildred with back-up. Ive never liked polo. Damn silly way to spend an afternoon, if you ask me. Cant think why Harry ever bothered with the sport.
You were the one that suggested I learn. Remington reminded him.
Dont you remember the Countess with the sapphire necklace? She was particularly fond of polo.
Daniel looked blank for a moment and then he smiled. Ah, yes, the Countess. Id nearly forgotten her. Did we ever get those sapphires, Harry?
No, but I believe you felt yourself duly compensated.
If possible Daniels smile became even wider. Never walk away from a job empty-handed, my boy. At least get something for your troubles.
Which is exactly why we need to find these diamonds. Laura interjected. Shed heard quite enough about countesses and sapphires. It was time to direct the conversation back to the matter at hand. How do you propose to get yourself to the chalet, Mildred?
Oh, we can do better than that, my dear. Daniel declared. You meet me at the hotel entrance in half an hour and well go in style.
You dont want to be too conspicuous. Laura warned.
Dont worry, Linda. Daniel said, getting to his feet. Im never conspicuous.
Laura watched as Mildred and Daniel left the restaurant, frowning.
He knows what hes doing. Remington assured her.
Thats what Im afraid of. Laura told him. You dont suppose hed take off with the jewels himself, do you?
Remington considered her question, his head tilted to one side. He might, but I dont think so.
Well, thats certainly reassuring.
Its the best youre going to get. Remington said, getting up. He went to assist Laura from her own chair, tucking her arm under his as they left the restaurant. Besides, he told her as they entered the elevator, he knows if he pinches them, youll hunt him down like a dog and rip his heart out. He may be slightly untrustworthy, Laura, but hes not stupid.
Thank God for small favors. She muttered as the elevator doors closed.
A limo? Mildred gasped as she stood on the sidewalk outside the hotel, staring at the long, white vehicle. She leaned over and glanced into the car where Daniel was comfortably seated. You werent kidding when you said style.
If we must follow this chap like Marys little lamb, we might as well do so in comfort. Daniel informed her. Do get in, Millie. Youre letting in all the cold air.
Mildred slid into the back seat. I hope youre not charging this to the agency.
Of course, I am. Business expenses, you know.
Miss Holt is going to be furious.
I sincerely hope so. Daniel declared with an unrepentant smile. Otherwise this job isnt going to be nearly as entertaining. Here. Have a glass of champagne.
Mildred stared at the glass hed shoved into her hand. Champagne too?
Comes with the car. At noon they provide a picnic basket. Hope you like caviar and brie. Now, he said, leaning back against the leather cushions, if youll provide Leon with the directions to this chalet, well be on our way.
Excuse me, Miss Holt?
Both Laura and Remington stopped in mid-stride. Theyd been on their way to the tournament, Remington dressed in his red Landrieu jersey with white pants and Laura in another white ski suit with fur hat and thick, woolen gloves. She turned at the sound of her name, and seeing the desk clerk motioning discreetly, she left Remington where theyd stopped and walked over to the counter.
You called me?
Yes, Fraulein, I did. The man said. A message was delivered for you about fifteen minutes ago. I was just about to have one of the bellhops take it up.
He held out a small, white envelope, and Laura took it. Frowning, she re-joined Remington.
What is it? He always hated when she frowned like that. It usually meant trouble.
Someone delivered a message for me. She said, her eyes on the envelope. The handwriting looked oddly familiar. I wonder who it could be from.
Only one way to find out.
She sent him a look that said his wit was not appreciated before breaking the seal and pulling out a sheet of folded stationary. It, too, looked familiar, and when she unfolded it, she knew instantly where itd come from. The name of the hotel where theyd stayed while posing as the Duchess was embossed in elegant letters across the top. Although the mystery of who sent the letter had been solved, the words written across the paper did nothing to alleviate Lauras frown. If anything, it became blacker. He was right. Trouble was brewing.
Bad news? He queried.
Its no news at all. Laura said irritably. All it says is ~ winner takes it all.
Someones quoting ABBA songs at you?
I very much doubt it. Its obviously supposed to mean something to me.
I would say Katherine is giving us a clue.
Why would the thief give us a clue as to where the diamonds are? Speaking from a professional standpoint, it very bad business.
Because she wants to make sure Cheswick gets caught receiving stolen goods.
Shes setting him up.
Looks that way. Laura tapped the note against her cheek, her expression becoming thoughtful. What does the winner of the polo championship get, Mr. Steele?
The Landrieu Trophy.
Well, Mr. Steele, She said, taking his arm and guiding him out the door, it looks like both of us will be working this afternoon. While youre smacking an orange ball around the snow, Ill be keeping an eye on that trophy.
You think thats how shes going to deliver the diamonds to Cheswick?
Right now its the only lead weve got.
Laura ended up with a better view of the trophy than she had expected. As soon as she and Remington arrived at Lake St. Moritz, Herr Gruber swooped out of nowhere, pouncing on her with the suddenness of a hawk upon a mouse.
Your Grace! He cried, grabbing her hand and clasping it between his. Your arrival here is providential, simply providential.
Ah, thank you, Herr Gruber. Laura said cautiously. She gave her hand an experimental tug. He did not let go. Your enthusiasm is most overwhelming.
Im so glad that you could join us today. When I called the hotel and theyd said you hadnt come in last night, I thought perhaps youd left us. He cast a glance at Remington who was standing at Lauras side as dark and silent as an Easter Island statue. Do we have Mr. Steele to thank for this extended visit?
Uh, yes. Laura said, linking her arm with Remingtons. Mr. Steele has proven a most fascinating companion.
Herr Gruber offered a smile albeit a pained one. We are most obliged to you, Mr. Steele, for persuading the Duchess to remain with us. Little did we know at the time how blessed wed be when you broke Lord Cheswicks arm.
Remington had had enough toadying for one day. Stop with the slobbering, Gruber, and just tell us what you want.
The man pulled back, clearly offended. Laura took the opportunity to extract her hand. It came out without a struggle.
I was hoping the Duchess would do us a favor. Gruber said stiffly. The president of Landrieu was scheduled to award the trophies for 1st and 2nd place this afternoon, but yesterday he broke his leg skiing, leaving us in a bit of a tight spot.
I dont suppose it did him much good either. Remington noted.
Grubers long nose twitched, but he didnt comment. Instead he turned to Laura, obviously thinking her the easier target. Naturally I thought of you, Your Grace. Since you opened the tournament, it would be fitting for you to close it. Im sure the players would prefer their picture taken with a beautiful woman rather than a middle-age businessman. What do you say, Your Grace? Will you help us out?
Laura looked at Remington. He looked back at her, his expression unreadable. She would have liked to pull him aside and consult together as they had so many times in the past, but Grubers watchful eyes stopped her. Wouldnt it appear odd for a Duchess to consult a detective? It might give rise to gossip. Gruber looked the type to wag his tongue unreservedly.
Personally she wanted to decline. She sensed Remington wanted her to decline too. One night of playing Cinderella had been enough for both of them. Yet continuing the masquerade would put her in an excellent position to recover the stolen diamonds. As the Duchess, shed be near the trophy. She might even get the opportunity to search it.
Very well, Herr Gruber. She heard herself saying. Ill help you.
Remington swung his mallet and struck the orange ball with a satisfying smack. The fact that hed been imagining it to be Herr Grubers head might account for the reason it flew so wildly across the snow, nearly overshooting his teammate from Australia. Interfering bugger, he thought sourly. Recruiting Laura to hand out trophies would delay things considerably.
Thered be an endless round of pictures as well as a bunch of pontificating, leaving them very little time to get to the registrars office. And if by some odd chance she actually did find the diamonds, his hopes of making her Mrs. Steele that afternoon looked slim to nil. Once again his plans were on the verge of total disaster.
The only bright spot on his horizon was the fact that he knew exactly where Cheswick was. Hed been in the team tent when Remington had arrived. Apparently hed decided to provide moral support to his teammates. The fact that hed shown up now, when yesterday hed been nowhere to be seen, lent creditability to Lauras theory. Either he was a glory hound who wanted to be included in the teams victory or he had a desire to be around when the trophies were passed out.
Either way it was imperative to keep an eye on him. Fortunately the man had made that chore easy. Dressed in his Landrieu red jersey, Cheswick stood out like a sore thumb among the other spectators hanging about the sidelines. To Remingtons relief he was nowhere near Laura. It was quite possible he wasnt even aware that the Duchess was present.
He glanced at the sidelines, his eyes seeking out Laura. She was exactly where hed left her, attached to Grubers side. It was encouraging to see the man was good for something. He was not likely to allow Laura to wander off without him. No, Herr Gruber, with the tenacity of a burr, would stick to her, and that made Remington breath easier.
The orange ball spurted out in his direction and he charged his horse toward it. Nonetheless, hed like to know where the devil Daniel and Mildred were. Their absence was keenly felt. He would prefer to entrust Laura to their care rather than Grubers, but it looked as though he had no choice as long as he was stuck on this blasted horse. It was Gruber or nothing.
He swung his mallet, launching the ball into the goal.
I wonder whats keeping that woman. Gruber muttered, craning his head toward the tents behind the stands. The championship match is nearly over.
What woman? Laura asked.
My assistant. A Miss Freiberg, I believe her name is.
Youre not sure of your assistants name?
She hasnt been with me very long. He explained, his eyes still scanning the piazza. I hired her a few months ago, and shes been perfectly competent until today. I told her to retrieve the trophies at least half an hour ago. Where could the woman be?
Laura had an idea, but she kept it to herself. The fact that Miss Freiberg had been in Grubers employment such a short while and had mysteriously vanished when asked to fetch the trophies seemed highly suspicious. Could Katherine have been playing a double role? Probably. Con artists were skilled actors and actresses.
Would you like me to go in search of her, Herr Gruber? Laura inquired.
Of course not, Your Grace. He replied, obviously scandalized by the suggestion. A lady of your position shouldnt be chasing down stray assistants.
Oh, it would be no trouble. Laura persisted. Id like the opportunity to stretch my legs.
I wouldnt hear of it. He declared. If anyone is to go, itll be me. Shes my assistant, and I know exactly where the trophies are. I wont be a minute.
Before Laura could protest further, he jumped up with the agility of a rat terrier and took off across the piazza. Laura immediately rose to follow. She couldnt let him get out of her sight. He would lead her to the trophies and if Miss Freiberg had been doing what Lauras suspected her of doing, the diamonds as well.
She was so anxious to keep up with him that she didnt see the woman until shed bumped into her.
Oh, Im sorry. She exclaimed.
No need to apologize. The woman said. It was my fault entirely.
Something in the womans voice drew Lauras attention. She looked at her, noting the long blonde hair beneath a Nordic cap and the over-sized sunglasses. They nearly obscured her entire face. Only a pert nose and smiling lips were visible. Laura opened her mouth to say something, but before she could, the woman had walked off, disappearing into the crowd as quickly as shed appeared.
No time to ask questions, she told herself as she saw Gruber duck into a tent. Recovering the diamonds was the objective. If Cheswick managed to get them before her then the game was up. The Simba Collection would disappear along with their finders fee.
She headed for the tent but was stopped again. This time by familiar faces.
Miss Holt! Mildred called, hurrying forward. Daniel followed at a more leisurely pace. We lost him!
Mildred, Laura said, annoyance flaring, I thought I could trust you to keep an eye on him. Hes our only lead. If he gets to the diamonds before us, we go home empty-handed.
Dont blame, Millie. Daniel interjected. Its my fault. I distracted her.
I should have known youd be at the bottom of it. She eyed him. You wouldnt have designs on those diamonds yourself, would you?
When it comes to jewels, I always have designs, my dear. He told her with an aplomb that nearly sent her over the edge. Of all the nerve! However, he continued, on this particular occasion I am merely guilty of overestimating the size of the picnic basket. It was not deliberate, I assure you.
What picnic basket?
The one that came with the limo. Mildred supplied.
Laura struggled to control her temper. Now was not the time. Later, she promised. Right now she had to get to that tent.
Well discuss this later. She told them, taking off at a run.
What should we do? Mildred called out.
Camp out at the registrars office. Laura shouted back. Dont let them close until we get there.
She ducked into the tent and came to an abrupt halt. Lord Cheswick was holding Gruber at gunpoint. This was not what shed been expecting. How many people held other people at gunpoint in the middle of a crowd?
So good of you to join us, Your Grace. Cheswick said cheerfully. I was just trying to persuade Herr Gruber to award the trophy early. Im afraid to say hes proven unexpectedly stubborn about it. Perhaps youd like to have a go.
Laura glanced at Gruber. He was clutching the Landrieu Trophy to his chest like a child with a favorite toy. She wondered if he was being courageous or just incredibly stupid. You didnt argue with a gun. Shed learned that lesson when Carl had put a bullet in her back.
Herr Gruber, Laura ventured, now would be a good time to give him the trophy.
Out of the question. Gruber declared. Id look a perfect fool if I didnt have a trophy to award.
Lord Cheswick has a gun, Laura pointed out, and I can testify that he has no qualms about using it. Give him the trophy.
Listen to her, Gruber. Cheswick said softly. She knows what shes talking about.
Gruber glanced at Laura, his bravado was starting to falter. You know Lord Cheswick?
Very well. Laura said, deciding to keep up the pretense of being the Grand Duchess. We were engaged once. I assure you that hes not kidding.
While Gruber considered this bit of information, indecision flickering across his thin face, Laura looked around the tent, searching for something, anything that might stop Cheswick. Her eyes fell on a case of champagne. It might just work. She waited for Gruber to make his decision.
Finally the man stepped forward, handing Cheswick the trophy. Laura stepped forward too, picked up a bottle and hid it behind her back while Chewicks attention was on Gruber.
A very wise decision, Herr Gruber. Cheswick was saying.
Lauras fingers fumbled with the foil at the neck of the bottle.
Now if youll excuse me, Ill be on my way. Cheswick said, moving toward the tent entrance. The gun remained trained on them.
Dont forget your champagne. Laura said sweetly.
Cheswick looked at her, and she was ready for him. Holding the bottle in front of her, she worked the cork loose with her thumbs. The cork exploded outwards, hitting Cheswick in the chest. It was followed by a sudden rush of champagne, which caught Cheswick right in the face. He stepped backwards, the hand with the gun automatically going to his face as he was momentarily blinded.
Laura did not waste any time. She launched herself at him, hitting him low in the waist. They tumbled to the ground. The gun went flying as did the trophy.
Get the gun! Laura yelled at Gruber as she and Cheswick rolled across the packed snow and ice.
She knew it wouldnt take long for Cheswick to regain his composure and throw her off, and within seconds, he was doing so, tossing her aside like a sack of potatoes. He scrambled to his knees, paused for a second to access the situation and then reached for the trophy. By the time Gruber had picked up the gun, Cheswick was gone, bursting through the tent flaps and into the milling crowd.
Just dont stand there! Laura ordered, rolling to her feet. Stop him!
In response to her command, Gruber fired the gun. People screamed and dove to the ground.
Across the field Remingtons head jerked up at the sound of gunfire. His eyes checked the sidelines. Cheswick, Gruber and Laura were all missing. Damn! Hed gotten so caught up in the final play that hed lost track of his quarry.
He scanned the stands and piazza. The crowd was always a shifting, undulating mass, but near the media tents there was a flurry of movement, which seemed to be progressing across the piazza. It was headed in the direction of the tents where the polo ponies were housed. He urged his horse forward.
Steele! Visalia called. Where are you going? The match isnt over yet!
Youll have to finish without me! He called back.
Laura was beginning to breathe heavily. Despite her excellent physical condition, she couldnt keep up the pursuit for much longer, and she certainly couldnt if Cheswick reached his goal. She was fast, but there was no way she could out run a polo pony.
Her heart sank as she turned a corner and saw him swinging himself onto a horse. It would take too long to find a car or other means of transportation. Her only option was take a horse herself, something that did not appeal to her. She was much better on mechanized transportation.
She was debating whether or not the finders fee was worth a ride on a horse when the decision was taken out of her hands. The back of her jacket was seized and she found herself slung across a saddle. As she struggled to right herself, the horse shot off in pursuit of Cheswick who was rapidly disappearing across the frozen lake.
I heard the gunshot and somehow knew it was you. Remington murmured in her ear when she was upright in the saddle. What happened?
Gruber went to retrieve the trophy and ran into Cheswick instead. At first the silly little man didnt want to give it to him. She broke off abruptly as they went plowing through the restaurant tent, sending people, waiters and bratwurst flying in all directions. They emerged on the other side, Cheswick still in view.
Cheswick shot Gruber? Remington asked.
No. Gruber shot Cheswick.
I think Ive missed something.
You did. Laura confirmed before yelling, look out! as they barreled into another tent. Women screamed, men yelled and the melodious sound of alphorns ended with an inglorious sputter and burp.
Terribly sorry! Remington called out as they galloped through a concert given by the Alpine Horn Musicians of Lower Lucerne. Shrieks and bellowed curses met his apology. Tough crowd. He muttered as they left the tent behind.
The next few minutes were something that Remington would later compare to the chase scene from Its a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, United Artists, 1963. They would have certainly found it as comical if they hadnt been living it at the time. Between the two horse and three riders, they pretty much turned the World Cup Polo on Snow upside down. Spectators were running about willy-nilly, play on the field was suspended and Herr Gruber nearly fainted to see his brainchild turned into a three ring circus. The only bright spot was the arrival of the police, lights flashing and sirens blaring.
Somewhere above the ruckus the sound of a bell tower striking fifteen minutes to five caught Remingtons attention. If the chase didnt end soon, theyd be late for their wedding. He grimaced and urged the horse on to greater speeds. He was not going to wait one more day to make Laura his wife. This plan was not going to blow up in his face.
Here! Remington shouted, shoving the reins into Lauras hands as the horses drew even. Take these!
What are you doing? Laura yelled.
Im going to jump and hopefully knock him off his horse.
But I dont know how to drive one of these things!
Theres no time like the present to learn. He called as he threw himself at Cheswick.
The two men fell to the ground, rolling over and over. Before Cheswick could pick himself up, Remington scrambled to his feet, grabbed the man by the collar and ploughed a fist into his face. He had put all his strength into that punch, and Cheswick responded accordingly. He went limp, crumpling to the ice. Remington stood over him, panting and trying to shake the sting out of his hand.
Laura suddenly appeared at his side, holding the trophy in one hand and the diamonds in the other. He wondered how shed gotten off the horse but had no chance to ask since they were instantly mobbed by spectators, polo players, police and a loudly protesting Herr Gruber.
There he is, Officer! Gruber exclaimed, pointing to Cheswick. Thats the man who held me at gunpoint. Such rudeness and all for a trophy.
Not just for a trophy. Laura said, stepping forward. She grabbed the officers hand and placed the diamonds in it. The Simba Collection, Officer. Compliments of Remington Steele Investigations. She then thrust the trophy at Gruber. And heres your trophy, Herr Gruber. A little dented but Im sure the winning team wont mind under the circumstances.
Gruber beamed. Youve saved the day, Your Grace.
Not just me. She told him. Mr. Steele had something to do with it.
Yes, well, Ill make sure your agency is compensated. Gruber said, casting a glance at Remington. He took Lauras arm, urging her toward the piazza. If youll come with me, Your Grace, the trophy is ready to be awarded.
Laura, Remingtons voice interrupted, weve got exactly seven minutes to get to the registrars office.
She shook off Grubers hand and re-joined Remington, linking her arms with his. By all means, Mr. Steele, get me to the church on time.
Where have you been? Mildred exclaimed as they scrambled into the registrars office at exactly one minute to five. We had the dickens of the time keeping him here. He wanted to go home early. These government types are all the same.
Slight delay. Remington answered, brushing snow from his red jersey. Hell of a way to get married, he thought, frowning. Dressed in a bloody polo uniform. Had some diamonds to recover.
So you got them? Mildred asked.
You can pick up the finders fee while were on our honeymoon and dont stop at any casinos on the way to the bank. He told her sternly. And while youre at it stop by Herr Grubers and see what you can get out of him. He mentioned something about compensating us.
Will do, boss.
Daniel was waiting in the registrars personal office, leaning back in his chair, looking perfectly relaxed. The registrar, on the other hand, looked anything but. His expression was testy. No doubt they were keeping him from his Wiener schnitzel.
Harry, my boy! Daniel said, coming forward. Ready to take the plunge?
No second thoughts? Cold feet? The Royal Lavulite is still in South America, you know.
Look, old man, Ive told you
Daniel laughed. Just testing you, my boy. Come along now. Stand up straight. Pity I didnt think to bring a suit along with me. That uniform is ghastly.
The registrar stood up. Wheres the bride?
Remington hurried over to the door, poking his head out. Ah, Mildred, we need a bride in here.
Hold your horses on. Mildred called back.
He waited impatiently. Finally they emerged from around a corner, and he nearly fell over. Laura had been transformed. Her ski suit had been replaced with a long, ivory gown, which fell to her feet. In her hands she carried a small bouquet of ivory roses. The same roses held back her dark hair. He immediately felt overwhelmed and irritated at the same time. Here she looked like a princess and he looked like a bloody coachman.
Whered you get the dress? He asked.
We borrowed it from Katherines closet. Laura said with a smile. Youre not upset, are you?
Why should I be upset? He said testily. You look beautiful, and I looked like something the cat drug in. Why should I be upset about that?
Laura glanced at Mildred and then back at Remington. If the registrar doesnt mind waiting a few more minutes, Im sure our fairy Godmother can wave her magic wand over you.
Five minutes later Laura and Remington stood before the registrar, her in the ivory gown and him in a dark suit with all the trimmings. Mr. Steele couldnt get married without tie, tie pin and cuff links. Mildred had even brought along a handkerchief for his breast pocket. He grinned, feeling much more himself.
Are we ready now? The registrar asked, clearly annoyed at the delay. When no one demurred, he began, We are gathered here today to join his man and this woman
The ceremony went smoothly until they got to the part about the rings.
Rings? Laura echoed, suddenly going white. I havent got them.
Blast it all, Laura, Remington exclaimed, dont tell me youve lost them after all weve been through to get those bloody things back.
I havent lost them. She declared, color surging back into her face. I left them at the hotel so I wouldnt lose them. I thought wed have plenty of time to go back and get them.
Remington turned to the registrar. Cant we do this without the rings?
Im afraid we have to do the rings.
Here. Daniel murmured, shoving something into Remingtons hand. Use mine.
Its no time to ask questions, my boy. Daniel said. Marry your Laura.
Remington slid the worn gold ring onto Lauras finger, and she did the same to him. He wondered at the rings but soon forgot them in the joy of hearing the man pronounce them husband and wife. At last he had his Mrs. Steele.
He took Laura into his arms, tilted her face up with one hand and kissed her.
Mr. & Mrs. Steele
The door of the rented ski chalet burst open and Remington strode inside, Laura in his arms.
Welcome home, Mrs. Steele. He said, letting her feet drop to the floor.
Not exactly home. She pointed out.
It will be for the next two weeks.
His hands were busy unbuttoning the white fur coat she wore, another item borrowed from Katherines closet. It fell to the floor in a heap. His fingers immediately went to the zipper at the back of the ivory gown. Within minutes, Laura wearing nothing but a cream-colored teddy.
In a hurry, Mr. Steele? She queried, lifting one dark brow.
Are you complaining?
No, but I thought equality was going to be maintained in this marriage. Here I am in nothing by a teddy, and youre still fully dressed.
He spread his arms invitingly. By all means, Mrs. Steele, liberate me.
Smiling, Laura went to work, removing outer coat, suit jacket, shirt and tie, letting her lips followed behind her fingers. He was breathing rather unevenly by the time she reached the zipper of his pants. When her fingers reached for it, he suddenly came to life, swinging her up into his arms again and carrying her over to the hearth where a fire burned low, casting warm shadows across the room and their bodies.
He knelt, laying her down on the bear skin rug, and then pulled back, letting his eyes drink her in. Laura, his Laura, waiting for him, staring up at him with liquid brown eyes, her lips slightly parted. Finally, after all these years she was about to become his completely. He leaned forward, letting his lips trace the sharp line of her collar bone as his hands removed her remaining garment.
Remington. She breathed as his hands played over her body, caressing here and massaging there, lingering yet always in motion as though he couldnt stop touching her.
She reached for him, pulling him down, sighing when his skin met hers.
It wasnt like the time in her hotel room when separation had made them desperate. This time they made love slowly, luxuriously, savoring every touch, every sigh, every murmur of encouragement. There was no urgency. That would come another time. Tonight, their first night as Mr. and Mrs. Steele, was spent stoking the fire, fine tuning their desire to a fevered pitch so that when Remington finally joined his body with hers their lovemaking was explosive yet exquisitely tender, a physical reflection of what their relationship had always been and always would be.
And when theyd wrung every last ounce of passion from each other, they collapsed on the fur rug, wonderfully relaxed and completely sated.
That was beyond anything. Laura breathed against his shoulder when their breathing had quieted.
Then you forgive me for extending the wait?
She propped herself up on one arm and looked down at him. Now that I dont understand. You spent four years trying to get into my bed and then when its wide open, begging you to jump in, you turn prudish. What was that all about?
I suddenly remembered the advice of a wise old man. He said Harry, my boy, dont ever turn over the goods until the moneys in the bank.
I should have known Daniel was behind this.
We wouldnt have had to wait so long if youd just popped the question. He told her, his tone reproachful.
I had to have those rings. Laura said and then laughed, holding up her hand. She still wore the ring Daniel had lent them. And in the end we used something borrowed rather than something new.
Remington didnt answer immediately, causing her to study him more closely. What was he thinking? His eyes were lowered, the lashes hiding any stray thought or emotion.
Finally he spoke. Daniels a fine one for surprises, isnt he? Ive known him for twenty years, and he never mentioned anything about having had a wife.
And that bothers you?
He shrugged. It just shows me how much I still dont know about the man.
He never spoke of his life prior to finding you?
Men like us dont speak of the past, Laura. Its usually something we prefer to forget.
So Ive noticed.
His expression suddenly turned contrite. Its not that I didnt want to tell you, Laura. Its just something that Im not very proud of, and I was always a little afraid that He stopped, his gaze sliding away from her.
Afraid of what? She asked quietly.
She could tell he didnt want to answer. It was clear in the eyes that didnt want to look at her and the tension that had suddenly seeped into his body. He was not a man who liked admitting fears. They usually had to be pulled out of him. Unfortunately for him he was trapped beneath her and she was no longer in the mood to let him get away with dodging subjects he didnt like.
Remington, tell me. She insisted.
He remained stubbornly silent for a few more minutes and then he finally answered, somewhat gruffly. I was afraid that if you knew the worse, Id lose you. I was about as far from Wilson and Murphy as a bloke could be. They were pillars of virtue, and I was a cheap crook.
I didnt marry a pillar of virtue. Laura told him quietly. I married you. Doesnt that tell you anything, Mr. Steele?
It tells me that youve got a weakness for strays.
No. She corrected, taking his face between her hands and forcing him to look at her. It says that I love you no matter what your past, no matter what your present and no matter what your future.
He stared up at her. Are you sure, Laura?
Ive never been more sure of anything in my life, Remington Steele.
He was completely still for a moment and then he came to life, his arms snaking around her and pulling her down, holding her to him as though hed never let her go. She felt the smile against her hair. Then I guess I can get rid of Vincent Parry now.
I wouldnt say that. Laura said. Its always handy having a spare passport around in case of emergencies.
Im surprised at you, Laura. A private investigator advocating fake passports.
Youve reformed me. She paused and then asked. Speaking of that passport, what exactly where you planning on doing with it.
Invade your life once again. If I couldnt stay in the country as Remington Steele, I could as Vincent Parry. I told you I wasnt going anywhere, Laura. You picked up a stray dog all those years ago, and hes going to follow you wherever you go.
It seems to me that I was the one following. You led me on a merry little chase, didnt you?
Perhaps. He admitted, allowing his hand to follow the curve of her back. But if a chaps going to be proposed to, it might as well be done properly and under the right circumstances, dont you think?
Like on a snowmobile with bullets whizzing past?
Upon reflection I wouldnt have had it any other way.
Me neither, Mr. Steele, me neither. Laura said with a laugh.
Good. He murmured, his lips teasing hers. Now that thats settled, I suggest we move on to more pleasurable subjects.
Im afraid I didnt bring them with me.
No. She said, her hands beginning their own journey of discovery. But never fear, Mr. Steele, I do have other talents.
Such as? The question came out as a gasp. Shed found a particularly sensitive spot.
Did I ever tell you about my dance of the seven veils?
Oh, it will be. I guarantee it.
I want to thank you for the use of your rings. Remington said as he and Daniel stood in the Zurich airport terminal waiting for their flights out.
No need to thank me. Daniel replied, pocketing the two rings. I was glad to be of help.
There was a pause and then Remington ventured. Ah, Daniel, about those rings
An old story, my boy, thats best forgotten. Daniel interrupted.
Obviously youve not forgotten it or you wouldnt be carrying around those rings. Remington persisted. Was she the one you referred to in Monte Carlo?
The answer had a ring of finality about it that told Remington he wasnt going to get any more information out of Daniel. Hed been lucky to get as much as he had, and he wondered what had induced Daniel to even mention it. What had triggered the man to talk after twenty years of silence?
Daniel was wondering the same thing. What madness had caused him to mention Sinead to Harry and why in Gods name had he given him the rings to use? He supposed he must be getting sentimental in his old age. Why else would he have stayed in that deep freeze to see the boy married? Because it was what Sinead would have wanted. He shook his head. Daniel, old man, youre as mad as a March hare.
To his relief his flight to Monte Carlo was called. He still had that dinner date to keep with Christine.
Well, my boy, He said, picking up his overnight bag, time for me to go.
Not for good, I hope.
Ill be around.
If you ever happen to be in L.A .
Ill look you up. Daniel finished. He looked at Remington for a moment or two, his eyes taking in his good looks, his elegant appearance, and then suddenly said, his voice slightly hoarse. Be good to her, my boy. Treasure her and youll never regret it.
Then he was off, disappearing into the crowd. Remington stared after him, his expression a mixture of bewilderment and concern.
Whats wrong? Laura asked, sidling up to him.
Nothing, I hope.
Did he tell you about the rings?
No. Remington said. He didnt want to tell me.
And you didnt press him?
Remington shook his head. Hell tell me when hes ready.
Laura touched his arm, and he glanced down at her. Im sure theres a good reason why he doesnt want to tell you.
Defending Daniel, Laura? Remington asked, lifting a dark brow. You realize hed be devastated if he knew. Hes worked so hard cultivating your bad opinion.
Which is all the more reason to defend him. She replied. The more I defend him, the more it will irritate him.
Remington laughed. Thats what I love about you, Laura. Even in victory, you refuse to leave the battlefield. Come along, Mrs. Steele, its time to go home.
As they walked toward their boarding gate, Laura said. Mildred called from L.A. this morning. She said the finders fee is in the bank, and Herr Gruber coughed up a tidy sum for your services. It should about pay for this escapade you led me on.
Splendid. Remington said cheerfully. Our luck appears to be changing, my love. Hopefully this is a portent of the good things to come.
The last part of his sentence was drowned out by the sudden appearance of uniformed policemen. They swarmed the terminal, fanning out in all directions, barking orders to each other.
Laura frowned. I wonder whats going on.
Ignore it. Remington told her sternly. Were going home, remember?
They continued onward, entering the boarding gate, but just as Laura stepped across the threshold, a hand on her arm stopped her. She turned, her expression one of polite inquiry. Before she could say a word, a pair of handcuffs snapped down on her wrist.
Whats the meaning of this? She demanded.
The police officer stared back at her, unruffled by her indignation. Laura Holt, Im arresting you for the theft of the Tigers Heart Ruby.
TO BE CONTINUED IN 'TO CLEAR A STEELE'
CREDITS & DISCLAIMERS
I based the Landrieu World Cup Polo on Snow on an actual event that takes place in St. Moritz. It's called the Cartier World Cup Polo on Snow and takes place annually in late January. It lasts for four days where my event lasted only three.
I have never visited St. Moritz or Monte Carlo so please forgive any inaccuracies.
Also I wouldn't recommend trying pantyhose to lower oneself over a balcony. I have not tested it and would not recommend that it be tested. This was pure imagination on my part.