Holt With Nerves of Steele?
By Wolfgang Walter

This story is for those who liked "Holt Loosening A Steele Grip" and didn't find the courage or time to inform me about it - and especially for those who liked it and told me so (Thank you again). This is the continuation of it.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you!
Summary: After their engagement not everything's going the way they envisioned it!
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters of Remington Steele and Laura Holt. I just borrowed them for entertainment. Any resemblance to any existing person is purely coincidental.

Mildred shook her head. What had happened to her kids she didn't know. After the announcement of their engagement three weeks ago they seemed to be the happiest couple you could think of. Now it was as if they were facing doomsday. When they talked it was all quite professional. They seemed to avoid touching each other, but she had seen them watching the other longingly when they'd thought the other one wasn't looking. All she could see was that they loved each other, but something was standing between them. She had asked both of them about it, but they both had been quite evasive about it. 'If I were cynic I'd say it's their usual up and down and it's nothing to worry about,' she thought sarcastically, but she did worry. Although they hadn't been able to talk about their feelings with each other they always had confided her this way or that way. At least they had admitted it when she had been asking them, but now it seemed that they didn't know what was wrong, and that worried her. 'Well', she thought, 'I hope they can diffuse this bomb before it's dropped, because I certainly don't wanna stay near the center of the explosion!'

Though they couldn't be content with their personal lives they could be with their professional one. They had a constant stream of clients, and she hardly found the time to go on with her own license, but with their problems she didn't want to distract them with another one concerning employing a new secretary.

It was a hot September afternoon, and they weren't awaiting another client, perhaps she could persuade them to take an early evening. She wasn't sure about them, they were quite willing to work right into the night. Perhaps they're just lacking private time. "Yeah, lie to yourself", she muttered, "If they wanted some private time they would take it."

The door of the agency opened and a man came in carrying a briefcase. He looked modest but he seemed to be quite nervous. After looking around he immediately walked her direction. "Excuse me, is Mr. Steele in?" he asked in a hoarse voice.

Mildred scrutinized him. He didn't only look nervous, he looked frightened. He also seemed to have not rested well for some time judging his features. "Who wants to know?" she asked formally.

"Oh, sorry, my name is Bob Fenton and it's very urgent."

"Mr. Fenton, do you have an appointment?" She knew too well that he didn't have one.

"Oh, ah, Ms -" he looked quickly at the brass-plate, "Ms Krebs, no, I don't have an appointment, but my life depends on my talking to Mr. Steele as soon as possible." He really looked desperate.

"Mr. Fenton, you know that Mr. Steele is a very busy man, perhaps you could tell me about your business before I decide to interrupt him or not. You don't know how many times I've heard requests like yours before."

"Ah Ms Krebs, you have to believe me, it is urgent, and it's also important that as few people as possible know about my business here."

"Is it something illegal?" she asked suspiciously. "I have to inf-"

"No! Yes, in a way," he interrupted her. "I wish I could go to the cops, but if I do this I'm a walking dead man! They will know!"

"I could ask Mr. Steele's associate, Miss Holt -"

"Just Steele, please!" he pleaded.

She looked angrily at him and reached for the phone. "Mr. Steele, there's a Mr. Fenton who insists on talking with you." - "No, he doesn't have an appointment." - "He seems to be concerned about something." - "Okay, I send him in." Before she could repeat the message Mr. Fenton was on his way to the office of Mr. Steele. He entered it and was surprised to see Mr. Steele opening another door.

"Miss Holt, would you please join us? We may have a new client."

"Mr. Steele, I thought we'd talk alone," Bob Fenton intervened.

"Mr., ah, Fenton, it's not a habit of mine to keep anything secret to my associate. I can assure you of her discretion. If you can't accept my methods of work you are free to leave," he said firmly.

"Oh, yes, of course," he said weakly, "I heard you're engaged." It sounded as if this explained everything to him.

Laura was on the point of asking him what that meant when she felt Remington's hand on her shoulder. She looked up, saw the concern in his eyes and reluctantly let it go. It would do no good debating this remark, and obviously their new client had a severe problem.

"Take a seat," Steele offered while he and Laura walked to the opposite side of the desk. "How can we be of service?"

"Ah, have you ever heard of someone called 'The Marten'?" Mr. Fenton started nervously. "Our ways crossed two or three times on business, and the last time he wasn't satisfied with the results I got. Accidentally I got hold of some papers that are very important to him - and also dangerous. He probably knows by now that I've got them. He will use any means to get them back, and he's not that particular when he's that desperate."

"Well, I've heard of him. He seems to play a more or less important role in the local underworld, but I don't understand how we could help you in this matter. I suggest you go straight to the police. If you have papers of this import that are proof of his illegal affairs there certainly will be a way to make a deal with the district attorney. They will also be able to guarantee your safety on a more solid base than our agency could."

"You don't understand, Mr. Steele! His henchmen are already on my track. As soon as I set my foot in a police-station I won't have time to write my will."

"Mr. Fenton, I'm quite aware of the danger this - organization means for you, but I don't see any way to help you out of this. We are not bodyguards. So what do you want?"

"Well, I thought I could leave the papers with you and just in case I got caught I could trade for my freedom."

Steele paled. That wasn't a good idea. He hadn't revealed everything of what he had heard about 'The Marten'. Although he was not the brightest light in the underworld he was notorious for his cruelty and unscrupulousness - even among his henchmen. That was probably responsible for his still being a minor criminal, because he didn't encourage loyalty this way.

When he made efforts to deny this request Laura asked him: "Mr. Steele, could we talk in private?"

He sighed and nodded. They both entered the other room and closed the door. "Harry, why don't you want to help him?"

"Laura, 'The Marten' is a very dangerous man, he's so dangerous that even people with a very shady kind of business avoid him. Only very desperate people trade with him. According to his reputation he's a kind of - of a sadist. He's also very suspicious. He doesn't like any witnesses. Let alone the fact that he," he pointed towards the other door, "is consulting us could make us prime targets. I am worried!"

"So you just want to leave him to his fate?" she asked incredulous. "I can't believe it!"

"Laura, I don't like the idea, either, but I don't think we have another choice. The police are prepared for such cases, we're not!"

"When I invented Remington Steele I thought of someone who would protect those who needed his help!"

Now it was his turn to become angry. "Does this include committing suicide? Do you really believe I declined this lightheartedly?"

She looked briefly at him, then bent her head. "I'm sorry. But if it's true what you heard then we're already involved. If those papers are this dangerous he won't run any risks. So we've got no choice. If he goes to the police they will know, staying with us might solve it."

He contemplated that and he didn't like to admit that she was right. If they're lucky they could get out of this that way. "You certainly have a point," he said reluctantly. "Let's hear how he sees the whole operation."

She could feel he wasn't happy with the decision, but she hadn't expected him to be. At least he'd agreed to listen. She couldn't ask for more now. They headed back to his office. "Mr. Fenton, Mr. Steele and I decided to accept your case. We -"

"Mr. Fenton, I don't want to give you a wrong idea; we didn't accept this case because we think we are prepared for it, we accepted it because we have no other alternative. YOU haven't left us any. We all can just hope to get out of this alive! And I think you were quite aware of this. Why did you choose the Remington Steele agency anyway?"

Laura shot him an annoyed look. This wasn't necessary even though he was right.

Bob Fenton gulped and didn't look at all comfortable. "Well, there's a rumor that you had supported someone who had trouble with one of the bigger bosses. And it's also rumored that your methods aren't always totally legal. So I thought you were predestined..." He became very small when he saw the cold anger in Steele's blue eyes. "Mr. Steele, please try to understand me!"

"Mr. Fenton," he said in a low voice, "If I weren't aware of the intensity of your problem I wouldn't have accepted this at all. I still think it would have been best for you to go to the police, but now it's vital for us to know everything about this, and I hope for your own sake that you won't hold back anything."

The next twenty minutes Mr. Fenton explained his idea about it, answered their questions and finally handed over the papers and $20,000 in cash - as payment. After that he left.

"Well, what do you think about it?" Laura asked.

"This will only work as long as they don't catch him. As soon as they got hold of him he surely will be dead. And we will be the next ones on their list. At least he paid for our funerals."

She could hardly believe her ears. "Why did you accept it when you're sure that either way it's going it won't help him?"

"I did it because I think there can be something arranged for our own security. If they're on his track he surely is a dead man, that's nothing we can change. If they're not on his track we will probably never hear of him again because he has vanished. Then we can give the papers to the DA who will be very grateful for this information. And the $20,000 is a just payment for blackmailing us. And if they got him we will need it to save our own hide. The same thing with the papers. I suggest we photocopy them, leave the originals here, give one copy to the police with the strict order not to reveal anything unless they have prepared everything. Perhaps I can ask Monroe for support. He doesn't like 'The Marten' either."

They made four copies and filled Mildred in. She wasn't very enthusiastic about it and became very worried. She almost refused to leave the agency and leave them alone, but finally she gave in.

Steele was thinking about asking Laura about leaving early, but then he dismissed it. They didn't talk privately although they were kind of cohabiting, one time in his condo, the other time in her loft. It was as if they didn't know what to talk and do. It had started about a week ago, and the tension it caused grew stronger and stronger. As long as they could occupy themselves with work it seemed they could avoid the final breakdown, but they couldn't keep it this way very much longer. Mildred had sensed almost immediately that something was going wrong. They had to solve it or everything would be ruined. Laura's snapping at him was an indication for that. He was sure that she was still loved him, and he still loved her, so why did they become uncomfortable when they were together - alone?


Laura couldn't stand it anymore. As long as they were professional they could talk with each other, but as soon as they went out of topics they just kept silent. It had become unbearable, something had to happen.

After leaving the office they had returned to his condo, he had prepared dinner, no gourmet feast, of course, but it would still have outdone anything she could have come up with. They had talked about Bob Fenton and some of the ideas that were circling in Harry's head how to prevent disaster. Harry also gave a more detailed description of 'The Marten' that had sent shivers down her spine. But eventually they'd run out of things to talk about and she had fled out of the kitchen while he was taking care of the dishes. She had made herself ready for bed, now she was laying in it waiting for him - and what else? Maybe this would break the tension... this way or another...


Harry didn't anticipate going to bed at all. Two weeks ago this had been a total different case. They had gently teased each other, had caressed each other, had held each other without *crossing the line*. He had always thought that it would drive him crazy to lay next to Laura knowing that she loved him and not showing her how *deep* he loved her. But surprisingly it had turned out to be not this important at all because he had been sure that it would happen eventually. Playing games had been fun, and along this road they - she actually - had decided to call him Harry privately. She'd said that she always had to think of a typewriter when she called him Remington, and 'Mr. Steele' was certainly not suitable on such occasions.

And now? They still held each other, but it wasn't because of joy, it was looking for comfort and consolation.

He entered the bedroom. He saw her in the dim light that fell through the open door and paled. He had to take hold of the doorframe or he would have stumbled out of the room. Why did she do this? Why did she humiliate them both? He knew the answer, but it didn't solve anything. He knew she was desperate, he also felt the desperation but he didn't know how to fight it. How do you fight something that you can identify only by its effect? It was like trying to cure the symptoms but not knowing what caused them.

He had fantasized about this sight: her lying naked in the bed awaiting him, ready for everything. But her bearing betrayed her; she wasn't expecting him with anticipation. For some moments he thought about his options, his mind racing furiously. He couldn't do it, it was like the time her house had been blown up, but he also couldn't turn his back to her and leave; she'd feel rejected, and that would make things worse. He had to face her, had to show her how much he loved her and he had to make sure he wouldn't give in to the temptation it meant. He knew he couldn't face his image in the mirror if he failed.

He swallowed hard and gained all his strength, then he went with shaking legs to his side of the bed. He could almost feel her gaze. He lay down beside her, then his hands took hold of her head and he started to kiss her gently all over her face. He felt her arms moving around his torso. His arms slid around the upper part of her body, and he stopped kissing. He laid down placing her head upon his breast. He started to stroke her bare back gently, he felt her this way for the first time. He was breathing heavily and tried to control his arousal.

He didn't know how long he was stroking her, eventually he also caressed the back of her head with the other hand. Finally he managed to ask in a hoarse whisper: "Why? You know I can't do it that way. What's wrong?"

He heard her starting to sob, her tears leaving cold traces upon his chest. He lost every feeling of time. After what seemed to be an eternity he heard her whispering countless times, "I don't know," felt her hands hammering the bed in frustration. He didn't allow his own tears to fall, he just caressed her back and head. He didn't say anything, he didn't trust his voice. Finally her voice faded away, but he still could hear and feel her crying. He felt so helpless. 'What can I do? What am I doing wrong?' he wondered thousands of times.

After some more time her crying ceased, and he could tell by her soft and slow breathing that she'd finally fallen asleep, but he didn't stop stroking her, caressing her. Now he allowed his tears to start falling. It wouldn't have done any good to show her how much he was hurting although she probably knew it, but the tears would just have added to her misery, and he knew that she felt very miserable.

When his tears finally stopped falling he gently rolled her on her back. Her face was still wet and strands of hair were lying in tangles all over it. He smiled as he pulled them to the side of her face. He wouldn't tell her but he thought it looked cute when they lay without order. He simply loved the sight of it, when she wasn't in control. Now her face looked peaceful, not displaying the hell they both went through. She also looked so vulnerable. When he saw her like this he didn't feel so useless. He admired her determination, her intelligence, her independence, but he couldn't love her for that. He loved her for so many reasons, her trust, her smile - the fact that she allowed him to see one side of her she'd only shown very few people. He didn't love her because she was vulnerable - every human being was that - he loved her because she allowed him to see it and to take care of it like she took care of him. He didn't want to see her hurt - this was the last thing he wanted to see; it hurt him also, made him feel as though he'd failed - but he knew only when she opened herself he might get the full sight of what he just had managed to get some glimpses of - her playfulness, her passion, her impulsive streak, things he thought would be a constant source of joy, distraction and change, things she tried to hide because of her disastrous relationship with Wilson. He could spend hours just watching her sleeping: his Laura, like he was her Harry.

Then his gaze fell to the soft raising and falling of her chest and he just stopped in time to not touch her. He covered her cautiously with a blanket hiding the tempting look she presented, not wanting to wake her. Then he kissed her forehead and said, "Sleep tight, Laura, darling!"

After that he turned his back to her. He was desperate and exhausted. He didn't know how many scenes like that he could stand but he feared that the next one could be too much. He knew he had promised once not to leave her for her own good, but what when he was the threat she had feared he meant? What if they for some reason were simply incompatible? He heard her moving and suddenly felt her hand moving involuntarily past his back. He rolled on his back and captured her hand with his hand squeezing it gently. She relaxed, looking peacefully again. He looked at her silently wondering if he was just saving the image in case he'd never see her that way again, and with that thought he fell in a restless sleep.


When Mildred looked at them the next day she couldn't believe it. 'Nothing's that bad that it couldn't get worse,' crossed her mind. Obviously something had happened, and it wasn't connected with this Fenton-case. She sighed and tried to concentrate on her work.

Remington left the office after a short time to have a long talk with Monroe. They discussed their options and started to make preparations just in case the worst would happen, but both knew it would take some time to set everything straight. Monroe couldn't mobilize his men at such a short note, they just could hope for the best.

Meanwhile Laura was informing the police about the papers and 'The Marten'. Later an inconspicuous looking policeman, an inspector, entered the office. After looking through the copies he whistled. This would enable them to arrest the whole organization, but the preparations would take a lot of time. They also spoke about the possibility of an abduction, and he offered police protection, but she refused. This would make them suspicious and endanger the whole operation. He reluctantly left the original papers in her possession, but he had to admit that if the worst happened, it would give them at least something to trade without involving the police obviously although it was no guarantee for success. He also knew the reputation of 'The Marten'.


After their day was done Harry steered the Auburn to Laura's loft. When he stopped in front of the entrance door he suggested, "Laura, it may be wise that we do not spend the evening together." He saw her mouth forming a thin line while she bent down her head and gripped firmly the panel. He laid his hand on one of hers. "Laura!"

She looked up. She saw him watching her, a picture of insecurity. She knew he'd stay if she asked, but what would they gain out of it? The general situation hadn't changed if not aggravated, they still didn't know what was wrong, and it was very unlikely they could solve it tonight when they hadn't been able to find a solution earlier. They didn't know where to start, and that was the worst aspect. She laid her other hand on his and squeezed it gently. "OK," she managed to say. "When shall I fetch you tomorrow?" She tried to smile.

"The usual time," he suggested.

She nodded and left the car. She watched him driving away then she ascended slowly the three flights to her loft. A sad smile crossed her lips when she thought about Harry climbing up the stairs. She knew for certain now that he had pretended to be out of breath when he was visiting her earlier. It had been a scheme to either make her quit the loft or make her pity him. She should have known that for a long time. If those three derisory flights had really made him out of breath he'd never have been able to run his stunts as thief. She still couldn't believe she had fallen for that, perhaps his antipathy of legwork had made it so credible.

After entering her loft she laid her briefcase down and walked to the kitchen. She didn't feel hungry at all but knew she had to keep her strength. She was busy the next 30 minutes preparing something trying to remember some of the tricks he'd shown her when he had been cooking one of his gourmet feasts and she hadn't been able to resist the smell. It had seemed to be so easy all the times she had watched him.

When she thought everything was ready she started to eat. After her first bite she immediately recalled his remark about her coffee *tasting like a hot cup of the Thames*. She could understand it now: she hadn't thought that her cooking was that bad, but obviously he had spoiled her sense of taste within the last three weeks by constantly preparing meals for them. With an angry motion she wiped away the dishes that landed on the floor, but she didn't care. She took the briefcase and went to her living area. For the next two hours she worked on some case-files, but it took her very long; something - somebody - was missing. She looked at the clock: 10:30. She thought again about calling him asking to stay the night, but again she decided to leave it. Instead she decided to go to bed. If she wake early she could work on with the files.


After tossing and turning for about ten minutes she got up again. She had wanted to hold something, but her pillow wasn't serving this way. She had to find a substitute for him or she wouldn't sleep at all she feared. Her eyes went to a chair where a very huge teddy bear was seated. She took him up and held him tightly. She remembered the way she got him. The weekend after her mother's (thank Goodness) short visit they had spent many hours on a funfair. She had told him about the many times she had spent in such places, the times she had spent with her father, about all those wonderful memories she combined with these locations, and she had been able to tell this without becoming sad by remembering how this had ended when her father had left them, not her. She had been surprised about that, it had always hurt her thinking about that, but with his arm wrapped around her she had been able to enjoy these memories again.

He in return had spoken about funny little incidents that happened during his short career as circus artist, how he had burned himself practicing as the 'Great Savini', or the time he almost swallowed the liquor stuff when he was suddenly facing an older tiger of the circus strolling around. This incident hadn't been this dangerous - the tiger had suffered senility and had been getting his bread of charity - but facing a kitten of this size unexpectedly...

She had had to laugh about this when her eyes caught a glimpse of this huge teddy bear in a booth. Catching her sight he'd tried four times to win it until he had succeeded admitting later that if it hadn't been for his time at the circus he wouldn't have known how to do it. When she'd asked what had happened to the man who wouldn't give a woman a teddy bear he just had answered that he hadn't given it to a woman, but to his little Laura, and had grinned. Feigning exasperation she'd nudged him, and he had pretended to be hurt in such a way that she couldn't help but laughing that he joined.

Later that night she had had to realize that her bed was to small for the three of them, so she'd seated it on the chair. Laying together she'd thought about crossing the line finally but with her head placed upon his chest and listening to his heartbeat while he was caressing her back - only separated by the thin cloth of her nightie - she had felt too comfortable and cozy then to make it happen. She had felt almost the same way last night...

Last night! She didn't know what had struck her. She knew it had been a kind of short circuit. She had wanted to release the tension, she had wanted to hurt him, she had wanted to have a reason to be angry with him, either by his rejection or by his taking her. She had seen his hesitance. Then he'd climbed into the bed and had started to kiss her gently. She had laid her arms around him. She had felt his arousal, but she hadn't been able to encourage him more. Then he had lain down and had placed her head on his chest starting to stroke her back, then her head. She had finally broken down when he'd asked why, his voice full of pain. She had started to cry and all she had been able to do was beating the bed and answering, "I don't know!", while he had been still caressing her.

She knew that he'd probably saved their relationship - for this time. He had saved both their faces, and she was grateful for that. She realized that she was crying again and went to bed clinging to her teddy. She knew he was afraid that he could lose control if something like this happened again, but strangely enough she was convinced that this would never happen, that he was too strong to let it happen. It dawned to her that she needed him to protect her from herself. And she missed him so much. She missed his presence. The teddy wouldn't start soothe her. She hoped that she would never forget how she felt that night, that she would never do anything to endanger their relationship, that everytime she felt angry with Harry she would have the strength to get over it - she never wanted to feel this way again.

She tried to concentrate on other topics to shake off the feeling. The visit of her mother hadn't been that bad, at least as long as Harry was around. She hadn't been speechless but had been quite pleased to hear of their engagement. Naturally she'd asked about a possible date for the marriage and started to count the persons who simply had to attain this great event whereat the mayor and the cheif of the police weren't the most popular persons. They both had shuddered by the thought of the ever-growing list; if this didn't stop she'd finally invite the President of the United States. They both had assured her that they haven't thought about a fixed date, that they had to work things out. Obviously Harry had scented mischief because he had stayed with them as long as possible, but after some more or less open hints of her mother he'd left them alone. It would have been impolite not to grant them some private moments. He later confessed that he had thought about calling Daniel to distract Abigail.

After he had left the scene Abigail had lost her reservation. She made it quite clear that she expected them to marry as soon as possible. Remarks like *nice men like him don't grow on trees, you know* and *how long do you want to hold him out?* were still ringing in her ears. Though she had had her points Laura silently started to wonder if her mother had ever thought of the possibility that men might have their own opinions and their own conceptions about such events - especially when they were essential parts of them. Perhaps that had driven her father away from them.

Mercifully Donald had arrived shortly after Harry's departure and interrupted a longer tirade before she could get real momentum. Abigail had asked him immediately if he knew about the happy news and was quite pleased to detect that she obviously had been the first one who had been notified about that - Laura had felt no urge to tell her that Mildred had been informed first - although she'd asked why they hadn't informed her sister and brother-in-law yet. Donald had congratulated courteously and had reminded Abigail that Frances and the kids were awaiting them, and that it was already getting late. They'd said goodbye and Laura had been quite happy that she had been spared from a longer one-sided discussion and had prepared herself for the phone-call soon to come from Frances.

They'd enjoyed dinner when the phone had been ringing. It indeed had been Frances who congratulated her and had told her more or less important things about marriages and this stuff. She had only listened with half an ear.

Marriage - how could they think about it when they even haven't worked out living together, she wondered while her eyes started to moisten again. How she missed him. One part of her hoped that he'd missed her as much as she did, but another part also hoped he wouldn't - he deserved better than that.


Actually he wasn't feeling anything at all. When he entered his condo he was surprised to find the door unlocked. Seeing the mess he stepped further in, his sixth sense warning him too late that somebody was standing behind him. All he could feel was a hard blow on the back of his head, then the lights went down...


Laura had hastily prepared a cup of coffee to wake up after this long night and her restless sleep. Her sip went all over the paper when she caught side of the first side headline and the portrait of Bob Fenton: "Unknown Man Brutally Slaughtered!"

"Oh my God," she stammered, took her briefcase and her keys and raced to her Rabbit. Ignoring most of the insignificant rules of traffic and some more important ones she raced to the condo. She entered his condo, saw the mess - and some dark points on the carpet, looking suspiciously like dried blood. Her legs almost gave in and she hardly reached an armchair. She looked and felt like death. After some minutes she gathered her strength and reached for the phone. She informed Inspector Cooper, the one from yesterday, that Mr. Steele obviously had been abducted, his rooms had been searched and that the dead man in the front page had been Bob Fenton, the man who had delivered the papers. After that she informed Monroe about the change of plans. He was swearing terribly, but after managing to calm down he said that he needed one more day to finish everything. Now everything depended on her: she had to gain time.


The phone was ringing. Mildred took the receiver and started, "Remington Steel A-" when she was impolitely interrupted by a harsh voice: "Listen, granny, I wanna speak with this other secretary, Holt or what's her name!"

Mildred had read the papers and guessed who the one on the other side of the phone was. She didn't know of her boss' abduction, but the fact that this subject demanded to speak with Laura, gave her something to think. She was partly aware of their plans, and one of the finer points was not get intimidated or leave this impression. "Listen buddy, I'm not your granny, I wanna know your name and Miss Holt isn't in yet!" She heard him going for a blow. He didn't like to be talked this way, perhaps she could distract him until Laura or her boss arrived.

"Granny, I've got your boss and I wouldn't bet a cent for his life if I don't speak to this Miss Holt right now!"

Mildred paled. She believed him, but she couldn't grant his wish - Laura still hadn't arrived. She just hoped she did the right thing. "Listen, Mr. Doe," - another gasp in the line - "This may be true or not, I can't give you Miss Holt, she hasn't arrived yet, capice?" She looked up when she heard footsteps. It was Laura looking very pale but determined. Her face was an only question-mark. "But you're lucky, she's just coming in." She covered the receiver with her hand and whispered. "There's someone calling for you. He said he has the boss."

"Mr. Doe?"

"I had to call him someway and I couldn't come up with something else. He refused to say his name." She handed her the receiver.

"Laura Holt here!"

"Listen, sweetheart, I've got your boss. You've got the papers. Your boss can't get them for some reason although we tried to persuade him. If you want to have him back bring them -"

"Make a break, John, I've got a strict timetable, and if it's true that you've got Mr. Steele I have to attend his appointments, too. I suggest you call around noon again, I want to speak with him then. And one minor point: don't damage him too much, I don't trade for damaged goods. If I don't hear from you then, the police will get the papers. Bye." She heard him gulping twice. Laying the receiver on the cradle she could hear a faint 'But' before the line went dead.

"Mildred, if he tries to call again, no bargaining. As long as we keep the impression that we can do without Mr. Steele he won't do him anything. He's desperate to get this papers, but one sign of weakness, and it's over with Mr. Steele. Keep that in mind!"

The phone started to ring again. Laura went to her office when she heard Mildred picking it up. "Remington Stee-" - "Mr. Doe, I'm sorry, but she already left..."

Inside her office she called Monroe. "Monroe, it's me, Laura. Can somebody keep an eye on me?"

"Yes, everything is arranged."

"OK, I'm leaving in about one hour to see if everything's right. I hope the area we've chosen serves the purpose."

"I'm sure about it. And keep your head up. Everything's gonna be alright. Mick's luck hasn't run out."

"I wish I could believe it."

"Do I detect a undertone of pessimism? And I always thought that someone who puts up with Mick is a hopeless optimist. Come on now, believe in your own strength. It lies not within our power now, but as long as you show no sign of uncertainty we've got a fair chance. Your ideas of how to make the deal are elaborate enough to give him some headache."

"And if he refuses?"

"Then Mick is already dead!"

"Thank you for the encouragement!"

"Think about Bob Fenton. He didn't give him a chance to bargain, but he's bargaining with you. The chances aren't that bad!"

"I hope you're right, and thank you for your help."

"No problem. I'll see you tomorrow during the exchange. Bye."

She heard the soft *click* as the line went dead. "Bye," she whispered.


'The Marten' was seething. He had tried four times to get this Miss Holt again, but this granny at the reception had always rebuffed him. If those paper weren't so important. If he had more men. If this stupid ass was thinking she could play games with him, well, she would have the surprise of her life. It would be a bit more risky than the simple exchange and elimination he had had in mind, but he had to be flexible. Pity was he couldn't deal with Steele the way he wanted to, just in case plan B failed, but omittance is no acquittance.

He had to recruit more men. He could hardly keep his organization in full swing, and he hadn't thought that this whole affair would keep him this busy. But now he had to take care of Miss Holt. He called his only two free men. They weren't be too enthusiastic about the job, their portraits could be seen in every PD of this state, but that was their problem. He hadn't ordered them to get almost caught and identified doing one of their jobs. They were paid for doing them. He didn't care how as long as they were done.

While he was filling them in he seethed more and more. Once he got hold of them he would make them scream, begging for a fast end. *John Doe!* They would pay in full measure. Then he took one of his capsules containing Nitroglycerine.


His two henchmen observed the agency building. They immediately recognized the Rabbit and started to follow her. They tried to look inconspicuous, and everything seemed to be all right. They were totally surprised when another car started to push them, they lost control and crashed into a parking car. They hadn't fasten their safety-belts so they both were injured. The arriving policemen were astonished when they identified them and gladly withdrew them from circulation after some ambulance men had taken care of them.


'The Marten' was still seething at noon. He had hoped for a quick success, but obviously it took them much longer. Steele was sitting by his side well-chained, his right eye almost swollen shut. He had also some bruises all over his body, but in general he was in good health.

'The Marten dealt the number of the agency. After the usual ritual Laura was on the phone. She demanded to speak immediately with Steele. Only the thought of his revenge kept him calm. Steele tried not to provoke him, but also didn't show any sign of resignation or fear. 'The Marten' sensed that something was going on, but he couldn't put his finger on it. If he was the boss, why didn't show those two secretaries more concern about him? If he was the boss, why couldn't he get those papers? It was rumored that he and this Miss Holt had become very close lately, then why had he been alone at his condo? His men had waited as long as they could for her to arrive, but there had been nothing, not even a telephone call.

Now it was time to take the initiative. "Well, Miss Holt, now that you know that he's still all right, you take the papers and -"

"How dumb do you think I am?" she asked harshly. "If you want those papers the exchange has to be done my way." She didn't give him a chance to interrupt her. She explained what she expected from him.

"And what will happen when I refuse?" he asked, hardly able to control his anger.

"I'm sure the police is very interested in them. As far as I can see it contains detailed information about smuggled goods, their destination, bank accounts and so on. If I were a cop I'd say 500 Lord's prayers just to thank for this gift."

"And you don't care about your boss?"

"You know, he's quite useful for the public relations stuff. As long as he's looking good he's OK. But as I mentioned this morning, if he's too damaged I can't use him anymore."

"And what about the rumor of you being together?"

"Oh," she said airily, "I have to keep him in good mood, push his ego, you know."

He saw Steele gritting his teeth who could overhear this whole conversation. It seemed to be right what she said.

"OK," he said, "and no tricks!" He slammed the receiver on the cradle. He glared at Steele. He tried to gather what he knew about RSA. He remembered the first time he had seen a picture of Steele, something in the context with some valuable jewels and the presentation of a new car. But the agency existed much longer, there had been this or that arrest because of them. The story seemed to be plausible. Perhaps he had underestimated this Miss Holt. No wonder this agency was this successful; with him in the front row nobody would care for this little missy in the background.

If it was this serious it would be best to gather all of his men who weren't of essential need otherwise. And he got the nagging feeling that he might not hear from the two who had been ordered to take care of her. If they returned, good, but better not expect too much. She certainly was bright, or she couldn't have come up with this scheme.


Laura laid the receiver on the cradle with shaking hands. She was glad that she was sitting, otherwise she would lie on the floor now. It had been that hard to keep the impression of a purely businesslike relationship.

Mildred came in and laid her hand on her shoulder. Laura looked up and saw the concern in the face of the elderly woman - and her fear. That gave her the strength to state: "We'll manage it!"

They reached a call from Inspector Cooper just about the time they wanted to close the agency. He told them that the two victims of the accident had been quite talkative, perhaps a result of a concussion. He had the legal means to watch over the bank accounts, he could arrest 'The Marten' anytime now, they knew of his hiding-hole. Laura refused, it was still too dangerous, one wrong move and everything had been in vain. Cooper agreed. He knew that there was a plan about the exchange, but he also knew that he couldn't force her to inform him. She had cooperated this much that it wouldn't be right although he wasn't happy that she wanted to involve personally. But he had agreed to accept her way.

He also supposed that she had her fingers in the pie concerning the accident of these two villains, but he could live with that. Perhaps the DA would have other ideas about it, so it was better not to stir sleeping dogs.


Back home all Laura could do was pacing and thinking about the hair-raising scheme she had worked out after some nebulous ideas of Harry. She thought about all the little ifs that threatened to overcome her. She had dealt with dangerous persons, both men and women, before, but never before this much had been on the stake. She knew she would never forgive herself if Harry died because of this.

She didn't bother trying to prepare something to eat, just the thought of it made her start to vomit. She felt exhausted and drained. She decided to go to bed. It would keep some of her strength at least. Clinging to the teddy was a familiar feeling now, it gave her some consolation. She began to make all kinds of promises if she just had her Harry back. Finally she dozed off.


Knaski drove the limousine of his boss followed by two additional powerful street cruisers. 'The Marten' and his right hand, Clayton, were having a tight look on Steele. They didn't trust him. Though Laura's story had been plausible, there was something that made them beware of him. The lack of background information about him wasn't able to dissipate their doubts. If he was only a front figure, why hadn't his cover been blown up long before? Even if she was very good, if he had been inexperienced in this field he would have made mistakes. There was much more about him, and it didn't sink 'The Marten's' blood pressure that he couldn't deal with Steele the way he wanted to.

They finally arrived the area where Miss Holt intended to make the exchange. Her choice of the locality had surprised him, but he had to admit that it made it damn difficult not to play by her rules. If she had posted some guards around the deserted industrial complex, his men wouldn't have had the slightest chance to make any preparations unseen. The area was also open enough to convince him that he could escape if he wanted to. When he reached the spot he was supposed to he saw a chair standing, on its seat a field-glass and a walkie-talkie. He also saw some other preparations, the ground was filled with nails. He clenched his fists. That meant he lost the advantage of mobility and motor-power; no tire would stand this. She certainly knew her way through it. Damn!

"You're early, John," a voice quaked out of the walkie-talkie. "Take the glass and look to the left, you will see me in the Rabbit holding three envelopes each containing a third of your papers. You choose which one I will lay on the box about 200 yards right in front of you. You can send someone to fetch it and to make sure it's part of the papers you want to have so badly. But nobody will move as long as I don't say they can!"

He swallowed and took the glasses. Yeah, there she was. He chose the middle one and informed her through the walkie-talkie. She slowly handed the two others a man accompanying her and fixed the middle one on the windshield to ensure him she wasn't playing any dirty trick. She slowly drove to the mentioned box and laid the envelope down, then she returned to the man. "Now you can send someone!" quaked out of the walkie-talkie.

One movement with his hand and Clayton started to sprint to the box and returned about two minutes later. He ripped open the envelope and looked through the papers. Yes, they were about a third of his precious papers.

"Now you know I'm playing a fair game, John. Now you or somebody else, but only one person, will accompany Mr. Steele to the table in front of you, left, about 400 yards away. I will also leave another envelope on that table. And make sure Mr. Steele isn't carrying something that does belong to you, something like a bomb, for example." He could hear the threat in her voice. He had thought about that and wisely renounced to make any use of it. It wouldn't have been a satisfying solution after all, and he was sure to get them - this way or that way.

He saw her depositing the cuff and beckoned Clayton to walk with Steele to the said table. Then he ordered his men in the two other cars two cover the possible exits of this yard. He would inform them via wireless where the Rabbit was heading when all was over. This missus had obviously planned everything painstakingly, he didn't know where to upset this thing, so he decided to play along.

After four minutes they reached the table. Clayton made sure that they were the papers all right and confirmed it through the walkie-talkie that was laying there.

"Mr. Steele, are you OK? No fancy stuff tied around you somewhere?"

"As far as I know everything goes along your wishes, Miss Holt. I am fine as can be under these circumstances."

Well if he could talk this way he certainly was all right.

"OK, now listen, buddy, I know you have a rod. Take the ammunition out of it, then throw it as far as you could. As soon as you have unchained Mr. Steele I will drop the last envelope about 50 yards away from you. You will have to release Mr. Steele to get it. I will park about 40 yards away from you."

He did as he was told, then he awaited her move. She dropped the envelope, and stopped after a crazy slalom about 40 yards away. He never knew what hit him when Remington knocked him off and ran towards Laura's Rabbit.


Monroe had prepared everything to her satisfaction. Three of his men could survey the whole area what they had done during the night. Laura had memorized the slaloms she had to take during the whole action. It was complicated, but she hadn't been able to think of something less complex. She just hoped it would serve her purpose. She knew that much depended on her driving skills and hoped she wouldn't make a mistake. She fetched Monroe, and together they were waiting about 40 minutes until they saw the convoy arriving. She started to perspire blood and water and swallowed hard. She felt Monroe's hand on her shoulder. She hugged him and pecked him on the cheek. "Thank you for everything!"

Monroe left the car. "It's OK. Now it's your game. Good Luck!"

Everything went according to her plan, and Harry had taken part wonderfully. She had been worried about a second gun and had hoped that this part wasn't too risky. He had almost reached the car when Clayton started to move again. She felt the shock of Harry jumping into the car. "Glad you could make it; now fasten your safety-belts," was all she said when she pushed the accelerator. After the final slalom she fetched Monroe who was awaiting them. Teaching the roads some lessons they wouldn't soon forget she drove away remembering the escape route they had planned. And sure enough there was one of those monster cars, and soon she spotted the second. She drove through those deserted narrow streets and could keep them this way in distance. Ah, there was it, the critical point, a very narrow passage, just wide enough to get through it with the Rabbit, but those cruisers wouldn't stand a chance. She didn't hit it well and had to leave her rearview mirror, but that was something she could afford. When she heard the satisfying sound of metal screaming hitting stone, screaming tires and metal crashing into metal she smiled triumphantly and sedated her speed. "You two are OK?" she asked.

"I have to figure it out as soon as I'm standing on my feet and can look if everything's in its supposed place, but I think I'm OK," Steele stated.

"I'm all right, but I don't think that you could make your living as a cab driver," Monroe replied dryly.

Laura just laughed wholeheartedly. "Where shall I drop you off?" she asked him.

"At my office," he answered. "I think Desmond has informed the police, so we don't have to bother about that."


After recovering from the unexpected blow Clayton stalked to the last envelope and ripped it open. There were the missing papers. He raced back to his boss and handed him the papers. The color of his face had an unhealthy violet touch.

The phone of the car was ringing. He answered the call. He went pale, that wasn't good. His boss would get a fit when he gets the news, both cars scrap, the men more or less disabled. Knaski wouldn't like that either. Everytime he saw his boss taking those capsules he became very nervous. How had he put it? 'That's the stuff that explodes by shaking. Saw it in a Western. Don't like it when the boss becomes a walking bomb!' He would never realize how true this was, even though not in the context he imagined. Knaski was one of a kind; if he puts one and one together, he'd say it's three because he'd think he has to count the result also. But he certainly could drive. He once managed to escape the cops with one tire shot flat. It had been a miracle. Though they had to give up the car the police couldn't prove anything. Since then the boss behaved himself when he was driving with Knaski.

"What's wrong this time?" the angry voice of 'The Marten' interrupted his daydreaming.

"They escaped, both cars are immobilized, the men are all injured."

'The Marten' kicked furiously at the chair, then stamped on the innocent walkie-talkie, then he took three of the capsules. He entered the car and ordered: "Home!"

Clayton made himself as small as possible. He knew he'd be on the reaching end if his boss exploded. At times like this he wondered why he had put up with him. This would be a very long ride.

When they finally arrived at their HQ the car was immediately surrounded and blocked by police cars. When he saw an officer approaching with a warrant of arrest he knew it was over. Then his boss lost his temper...


They drove silently to the agency. There also was a kind of tension, but not the same kind they had encountered before, this time it was more like anticipation. When they finally arrived and stopped the car in the parking lot, they left the car and stared at each other for some very long moments, then embraced tightly as if they never let go, oblivious to the rest of the world. There was no need to say anything, they just enjoyed the feeling of being together again. Sometime later they let go. "You look horrible," Laura said after an examining look in his face.

"And you look like an angel awaiting me at Heaven's gate," he returned.

They embraced again and she felt him starting. "What is it?" She asked worriedly.

"Nothing your healing touch couldn't take care of," he calmed her.

When they hugged again she tried to be more careful, but it was a worthless effort because he didn't care, so after some moments she gave in and back as good as she could.. They finally parted and went to the office.

Mildred let her tears flow when she saw 'the boss' enter. He looked exhausted, bruised and untidy, but her relief to see him alive made her overlook this minor details. It wasn't the first time he looked this way, and she was sure that time would heal all wounds. "Oh boss, I'm so glad you're back!"

"So am I, Mildred, so am I," he returned and allowed her to hug him.

Mildred examined Laura briefly. The strain of the past few days and the lack of sleep had left their traces, but she looked happy again. "Listen, you two, why don't you leave for the day? We've already cancelled every appointment and I don't see any reason for you to stay here. I hold the fort."

"Laura refused. "Mildred, as long as we don't know they're sound and save behind bars I won't leave this office." She turned to Harry. "You better take a shower and change clothes. I will have a look at the first aid kit. I don't think my healing touch will be this effective without this," she said with a twinkle in her eyes.


Three hours later Inspector Cooper called. The whole gang had been arrested, they had found much more evidence, even hints of other crimes yet unsolved. For some of them they would get rewards, even this or that finder's fee could find its way to them. They also started to investigate the links of 'The Marten', but everything indicated that he really had been a minor light in the underworld, just known for his unnecessary cruelty.

In the meantime Laura had taken care of Harry's bruises and had been quite glad she had found some spots she could touch without hurting him. She had suggested to consult a physician because of possible internal harm, but he'd stubbornly refused. "The best remedy I can think of now is laying in your arms," he countered.

"Well, that leaves us to my loft, because your condo is still a mess."

He grimaced. He had forgotten the view of his condo when he had been knocked out, but now the memories returned. "Three flights of stairs!" he said feigning exasperation.

"If you prefer staying in the office, it surely can be arranged," she'd said sweetly. "The couch can surely serve as bed for the time being. Unfortunately only for one person, but I do prefer my bed. I think it would take you only three days until you should be able to tidy your room on your own."

"Laura, you're talking to a seriously hurt man!"

"In that case we should take you to a hospital. I think if we find one with nurses like Ms Blackell you will recover immediately."

Harry had groaned and Laura had laughed. "If these are the alternatives I vote for your loft." He had been laying on the sofa holding her hand and had looked in her brown eyes. He'd remembered all his fears he'd gone through being imprisoned: never see her again - she being caught and harmed by the crazy 'Marten' - never say her again that he loved her, no matter how awful their relationship would turn; "I love you, Laura!"

"I know, and I love you, too, Harry," she'd answered in a very soft voice.


After the call Mildred reminded Laura about her statement not leaving the office, and Laura reluctantly agreed to go home. She knew she needed a rest but she feared that being alone with him in her loft would just raise the old tension, but she also knew she couldn't avoid it, so she gathered her pluck.

Harry immediately sensed her tension and laid his hand on her shoulder. She looked up and saw the concern in his eyes - and his love - and relaxed. He pulled her closer and kissed her softly. She carefully hugged him and said, "Let's go home!"

On their way down he asked: "Do you know what's in your fridge? They haven't nourished me the way I like it, so I'd like to prepare something, and I don't feel like going out."

She tried to remember, and he told her what he had in mind, something that made her mouth water, but they would have to go shopping.

"Tell you what," he suggested, "I make a list of things I will need, you drop me off by your loft, I start to make the preparations and you go shopping, OK?"

She agreed. Later she spent close attention to his skills envying his light ways concerning that area, but when she smelled it, and he allowed her to taste it, she felt as if she was in heaven.

They needed two hours to finish their meal exchanging tidbits and kisses. After that he took care of the dishes while she tidied up the loft. She had neglected it the past two days. She had seen his curious look when he had seen the fragments of some dishes, but he had said nothing, just given her a look full of sympathy while she had blushed.

Later they were sitting on her sofa half listening to some music enjoying the peace they felt while holding each other - something they hadn't been able to do three days ago. They both felt so saturated from their extended late lunch that they both decided to leave dinner.

When both grew a little tired they prepared themselves for bed. As soon as he entered her niche his eyes popped open: Laura was laying back up on the huge teddy bear reading a magazine - naked. Then he heard her voice: "It took you a lot of time to get ready!" If he hadn't been sure about it before, he was it now. She had purred like a cat that had just swallowed a fat delicious canary...


Laura forced herself not to look up as he entered, she just watched from the corners of her eyes when she said, "it took you a lot of time to get ready!" Her look fell on his still tender chest, and her confidence started to crumble, then she caught his gaze. 'Well, if he's willing to pay the prize, maybe I can help him to reduce his expanses...' she thought and a mischievous smile appeared on her features.


Five days later Harry had prepared himself for one of those boring meetings he had to attain in his role as Remington Steele. He opened the connecting door to her office and leaned against the frame. Was this really the same woman he had fallen for four years ago? He almost couldn't believe it. Her workaholic attitude had disappeared. She still held all threads of the agency efficiently together, she still was determined to close everything as sufficient as possible, but now there was an air of ease she'd never displayed earlier. The agency was no longer her one and only thought, she even thought about redecorating her office, it was 'kind of too austere', that's the way she had put it. He tried to imagine how it would look like once she'd have finished it and had to grin when he thought about some teddy bears sitting on a shelf or posters of circuses pinned on the wall. He had learned a lot about the woman he loved within the past five days. She had finally opened herself, first tentatively, as if she needed his permission and reassurance, then she had become more bolder displaying the full richness of her self. She had shown qualities he had always suspected, but he had been surprised by their depth. He had started to feel humble when he compared himself with her, but she had managed to dissipate his worries. He knew now why Wilson hadn't been able to cope with her, and Wilson surely hadn't get the full impact, but it didn't matter to him. And Abigail, well, she certainly earned a medal for putting up with a child like Laura, who was - is - this spontaneous. She must have felt punished, but it hadn't driven her to a lunatic asylum, that spoke for her.

Laura certainly inherited her strong will and determination to control everything from her mother; once she made up her mind nothing could stop her. Abigail wouldn't be too pleased that he supported those properties, but that was her problem, she couldn't try to control Laura all her life. Though Frances might complain about it that she was leading her mother's life she resembled her much more - and Donald was quite suitable for her, patient, but not willing to surrender. He liked his future in-laws, but he knew their kind of lives wasn't suitable for him, it would have driven him crazy.

Life with Laura couldn't be boring, that was unthinkable. He accepted her claim to dominate their relationship, but he would remind her that he had done this voluntarily, that he had equal rights - in case she'd overdo it. But he hoped that this wouldn't be necessary, that her sensitivity would prevent her from trying to dominate him. He loved her, but he wouldn't give himself up. Now that she had her freedom he hoped she would understand his needs.

Now that her intelligence and playfulness were going hand in hand it was amazing how curious she had become - or perhaps he should say how she extended her curiosity on other areas; she had always been curious, especially about his name - the thoughts that sometimes crossed her mind; he had to smile at this.

Now she was enjoying her life and her work. There had been times when he'd thought she only saw them as challenges to defeat her, that he was such a challenge. Perhaps he had been - at the beginning. He wasn't sure about that, but he knew he had made many mistakes this first year. He had compared her with other women he'd known, had used same techniques to win her heart even though he'd known that one of her charms was the fact that she was unlike other women. He had to fail this way. It would have been boring if he hadn't failed, and he'd certainly have lost his respect for her. At the latest when her house had been blown up he'd realized that he hadn't wanted her for every prize, that she deserved better than that and that it made him a better man. He'd also realized that it had been important to him that she had a good opinion of him, he'd wanted her to be proud of him, he'd wanted her respect. That had probably been the hardest task.

It had taken him much longer to realize that not her heart had been the problem, but her mind and her fears. She had had this terrible fear that she could repeat a mistake - she'd thought that it was her fault that Wilson had been running away; that was something he wholeheartedly disagree; it hadn't been a mistake, they simply had been too different. It seemed to him that she had been afraid to get close to somebody at all - that she had been afraid to be hurt again when she'd do something to make him run away. He still felt bad about Cannes where a chaining of unfortunate conditions had made him almost lose her. Now he knew that she needed trust - the smallest hint that there was something he wasn't able to confide her in would have a terrible effect on her ego. He had only partly realized that at her first encounter with Daniel when he told her that *trust is not something bestowed, but earned, and on the face of it, I've done nothing to earn yours*. He had doubted her understanding or had not wanted to involve her several times later, and that had made her doubt him, especially after Cannes. She had almost been paranoid about it, the times he went away to give her something to cling on, his name, he just had acted out of habit. He hoped he had made it clear that whenever she thought he was holding back something she should ask him about it.

It had been this bad because of his chaining with *her* agency. The agency had meant everything to her. If he'd ever left her she would have lost everything, or so she had thought. Now she could accept the fact that people believed he was playing the first fiddle, that she was just a secretary. Now she gave a damn what people thought. Though she had been aware of the advantages not being taken seriously it had been hard for her. Now she didn't care anymore. She knew she was doing a good job, she even started to enjoy it that they were conning the whole world.

"Something particular in mind?"

He snapped back to reality. "Just you," he answered honestly.

The corner of her mouth twitched: "Something *very* particular in this field?"

He had to grin. "No, you in general." He sat down beside her. She laid down the pen and took place on his lap. His arms encircled her and gave her hold. "You know, I still don't know if I should write Wilson a long letter of gratitude - or just wring his neck."

"You don't know if you're either grateful he left me or you're angry with him because you're saddled with me?" she asked playfully.

"What do you guess?" His kiss stifled her reply. "No, I was thinking about other terms. I probably would have never met you if you hadn't been hired by Gordon Hunter to protect the Royal Lavulite. I never spent much time in the states, it was my second time. Do you think you would have build up the agency if you hadn't tried to become the woman Wilson always wanted you to be - although he had already left you?"

She thought about that, but she came to no real conclusion. "I don't know, perhaps yes, but more probably not. It really meant much work to build this up, and if I hadn't tried to prove myself..." She looked up. "And for that you're grateful?"

"Laura I'm so sorry for you that you had to learn it this hard way." They kissed again. "And that's the reason I want to wring his neck, because he made you hide yourself under this cover of a businesslike woman."

"You just said if it weren't for this businesslike woman you never would have met me."

"But you're both! You're businesslike when you're in the office - although that had changed slightly -" another quick kiss, "and you're this wonderful temptress at home." A long kissed followed these words.

"So, a wonderful temptress I am ?"

"This, and so much more."

Now she laid her arms around him. "May I know what this is?"

"I let you know as soon as I figured it out." His hands framed her face and his thumbs started to caress her cheeks. She leaned closer for another kiss.

"You know, at times like this I wished the wheel of time would just stop turning."

"I do feel the same way, but we can't change it, Laura."

She sighed. "How long do you think we can put my mother off before she arranges the marriage without us knowing and decides to inform us the evening before?

"If you don't feel like marrying me, we don't have to. I am content the way we're living now. It wouldn't do you any good too marry me just to please your mother. What do you expect from a marriage? What changes do you think it involves? Do you think of it as something special?

"I'm not sure. As a child I daydreamt about it, this beautiful gowns, the importance of this moment, the knowledge of joining with the one you love, the promise of eternal happiness... If I look at reality, my parents separated although they're married, we're already joined..."

"But perhaps we could make some of this child's dreams come true," he offered softly.

She leaned her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. "I really don't know," she admitted. "One part of me wants to have a real nice little ceremony, another part asks why bother. It wouldn't change anything about our relationship, would it?"

"Laura, if you're this ambivalent about it, I think we should ignore the rational part of it. You know in which part I'm interested in." He smiled what she couldn't see.

"Yeah, it's a little lower than the brain - and a little higher than the part I accused you to be only interested in." Now they could joke about it, but it still gave her an uneasy feeling talking about it. How could she have been this blind - or ignorant? She felt his arms slide down, encircling her again and squeezing her gently. "And what do you think about it?"

"You know, Laura, I have avoided commitment like the devil avoided holy water. That had changed when I started to love you. I used to think about marriages as the end of independence and the beginning of a boring life without changes, but somehow I can't combine this with living together with you. It seemed to be the most natural thing to be together with you, married or not doesn't matter to me, but if it matters to you, then it matters to me also."

"Well," she said reluctantly, "maybe we should discuss our different options." He hadn't been a great help about this, but she couldn't blame him. He'd told the way he felt about it, that his only concern was her happiness. "Well, I think I'd like to have a simple one, no media event!"

"I agree. It only concerns us and close friends and relatives, none of our many business acquaintances."

"It will be hard to explain that to my mother."

"We could ask Abigail to give us a list of people she would like to invite, and during a three days vacation we can wipe out those who you certainly don't want to invite. There will probably be some names on this list you wouldn't have come up with but have fond memories of, that you'd be sorry if they missed this event. We don't give her a fixed date - we have to come in terms about it ourselves - and we make sure that she won't be part of the preparations. If she disagrees we'll probably have to blackmail her: if she wants a marriage, it's either our way or no way at all. If nothing helps we'll send Daniel to distract her. I think she has quite fond memories about him after her vacation in the South of France." He heard Laura gasp. "Laura, as far as I know nothing has happened there, and even if it was the case, it wouldn't be anything of our concern. They're both adults, and I think I said it once before, just because one makes his living on the shady side of the street doesn't mean that he's beyond human emotions, that he can't care very deeply and very passionate for someone. You of all should know that. And your knowledge that I was - and still am - a con man didn't make it easier."

"Why do you believe you're still a con man?"

"Impersonating a person that doesn't exist is a con, wouldn't you agree?"

That made her smile. "You look pretty real to me, Mr. Steele," she teased. "But I'm not this fond of Daniel. You said something about a possible retirement, and the next time we met you were becoming a duke, not to mention your adventure with the Earl later."

"Laura, you and Abigail certainly have some things in common."

"Like what?"

"Well, you both seem to know what is acceptable for the other, you both want to decide how the other one has to has to lead its life, and - most important - you both seem to have a fondness for con men. Like mother, like daughter!"

She nudged him, and when he started to feign being seriously hurt she silenced him with a long passionate kiss. She knew that some bruises were still painful for him, and she wasn't sure if she'd hit one of them accidentally.

Harry become serious again. "Laura, I know that you don't trust Daniel, I think you were afraid that he'd make me return to my former life, but you know that I won't do that, at least not without you. I owe Daniel too much that I could exclude him from our marriage, it wouldn't be fair, and I think that could convince him that I'm out of his reach now - if he isn't already convinced."

Laura was contemplating that. She had been afraid that Harry would return to his mentor. Then she had to think about the adventure of Harry becoming a Duke. Shortly before their departure he had tried to convince Harry to join him in the South of France, although he had given this ticket to Gwen. This old fox! "You know he offered me to join you both and turn Europe on its ear."

"How do you feel now about it, tempted?"

"If you weren't still such a pitiful wreck I'd clobber you for just thinking about it - but then again... It certainly would be very instructive to know to work on the other side, could make it much easier being a PI," she said feigning serious musing.

"OK, I'll ask him if he's available during our honeymoon, think about it, honeymoon in Europe, burglarizing the Louvre in Paris, the Prado in Madrid, the Tower of London, Italy has plenty of arts just waiting to be lifted - and the most important aspect, we're together as a team."

"It's worth considering it," she stated at last playing along. "Perhaps I should forget my reservation concerning him. A honeymoon in Europe - that's something I could be persuaded to. You said something about like mother like daughter, perhaps like father, like son?"


"You know, I had this nightmare..."

"Laura, as far as I know we've got different blood groups, and I think there are some other indications that he's not my father. He even reminds me a little bit of you - perhaps that was one of the reasons I fell for you four years ago."

"Would you like to tell me the other ones?"

"Well, one was the almost impossible challenge, of course," he said and started to kiss her when the door opened and Mildred looked in. "Oh, I'm so sorry, but Fred is awaiting you, boss." She looked at them in bewilderment when they started to laugh, then she retreated.

Laura said under giggles, "some things never change, do they?"

"If everything would change we could never be certain of anything," he said while she stood up and rearranged his suit.

"As much as I'd like to continue our conversation, especially about this interesting topic, you have to go now! Have some fun!"

"Fun? At such a meeting? Without you? Why don't you accompany me?"

"I'm not invited and I'm not dressed for this occasion."

"I wouldn't rack my brains over dresses." He grinned evilly. "In case they don't approve of it we should be able to find some fans. You know I still haven't seen this dance, and the members of the meeting either."

She laughed. "Who do you ask, the businesslike me or the temptress, or do I really have to ask?"

"I know the answers of both," he replied convinced.

"You do?"

"Well, one would say 'No way!', the other one 'Okay!', but I ask you, you have to come in terms with both."

"And I just thought you were only interested in the last one," she returned bantering.

"Oh, we mustn't neglect the other one, maybe it will become useful sometime."

"Do you think they would like to see me dance?"

"The men certainly, but I doubt that they'd accept it, think about the bankers of Acapulco. There certainly will be some female guests and wives, and embarrassing them would surely have some consequences..."

"Like what? Losing our license or arresting us for creating a public annoyance? I don't think they would put us in the same cell."

"I knew your rational part is useful. I wouldn't have thought this far ahead," he acknowledged and stifled her upcoming laughter with one last kiss.

The end (for now?)

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