This is my fourth piece of RS Fiction. It takes place shortly
after 'Steele Belted' but just before 'Etched In Steele' - episodes
from way back in the 1st season. Remember, this is set early on
in the relationship of Laura Holt and Mr Steele. I've tried to
capture the spirit of the person he was at that time (ditto with
Laura) but naturally, I've gone with the flow in places!
*Americans may notice odd words/terms (e.g. grey rather than gray) - I'm English and that's how we Brits spell!
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction for entertainment purposes only. I am not attempting to make a single penny or profit from this. I do not own the rights to any of the characters from the television series "Remington Steele" and am not affiliated in any way to MTM productions or any television network screening the show.
Rating: 'R' for adult content and sexual innuendo so if you are easily offended please do not read on.
"Bernice! It's two-thirty! Stop what you're doing right
now! Come and join the party! Come on!"
The vivacious brunette replaced the phone and smiled into the face of fellow secretary, lunch partner and shopping companion Susan Elliott.
"What's going on at your place? It sounds like a riot! I'm sure I just heard Mr Stollerman sing 'Jingle Bells' in four languages! And by the way Susan, if you want me to put in an appearance, get them to take off that Bing Crosby Christmas LP. It's driving me bananas!"
"Christmas Eve at Leiber and Stollerman wouldn't be Christmas Eve without old Bing! I know how to get you to come, guess who's turned up?"
Before Bernice could probe further, the telephone rang. "Remington Steele Investigations, can I help you? -Yes, he's here - I'm Bernice Fox. And you are? - I beg your pardon, who? - Monroe? - Just a minute please, I'll put you through." She pressed a couple of buttons and returned her attention to her friend. "Who's turned up?"
Susan stared at the door ahead of her. "Was that a call for your boss?"
Bernice tried but failed to hide a grimace. "Yes. Now, who's turned up?"
Her companion seemed distracted. "Oh, so he's here then?"
The secretary snapped her fingers, "Hello! Calling Susan Elliott! Paging Susan Elliott! Susan Elliott please return to planet Earth where your friend Bernice is waiting for you!"
"Huh? Oh sorry! You're so lucky! I really envy you. What I wouldn't give to work with something like that every day! Is he married? Or worse, is there someone he cares about?"
"Susan, believe me when I tell you that the very last thing I care about is Mr Steele's love life!"
"Oh I'd probably be as blasé as you are if I got to see those tight buns daily! That gorgeous dark hair, those blue eyes, hear that English accent and-"
Finally, her patience cracked. "Susan, who-the-hell has turned up!!"
"Well! Excuse me for drooling Bernice! Did I get irritated when you bombarded me with questions about Steven Howard last month? Anyway, today, Friday the twenty fourth of December 1982, is your lucky day! It's Chris Hillier from that publishing firm on the tenth floor!" Her excitement was clearly palpable as she communicated the information.
Bernice groaned deeply. "Susan, Why'd you tell me? You know I'm seeing Michael now. A girl can only wait so long!" She paused for a couple of seconds before declaring wickedly, "Oh well, no harm in looking is there?"
Susan clapped her approval, "That's the spirit! So you'll come along later?"
"I'll do what - hold on a minute." She cocked her ear, "They're changing the record at last. No more Bing Crosby! Yeah, sure. I'll make my annual belle-of-the-ball appearance."
Susan backed out of suite 1157 with a wag of her finger. "And make sure you bring that gorgeous boss of yours too!"
Bernice pursed her lips at the allusion to the man ensconced in the grandest office and perused the stack of Christmas cards from satisfied customers, sycophantic press reporters and business peers. Walking slowly over to the ribbon she'd mounted on the wall, Bernice placed the cards down on it. Dean Martin's silky entreaty for it to snow boomed across the floor and she found herself humming and bopping along to it, unaware that a door had opened.
The mythical leader of the eponymous agency dispassionately
dissected the picture before him. Lovely legs, nice bum, good
figure, interesting face - ah yes, Miss Wolfe was indeed something
to look at.
For Steele, women had always fallen into two camps. The majority were in Category F: females that aroused him physically, sexually. These were the ones he readily applied the 'three Fs' to. Between 'finding' them and 'flinging' them away there was - well, a great deal of pleasure.
He recognised something of himself in the secretary cum receptionist of Remington Steele Investigations. Perhaps that was why, like two positively charged ions, they repelled each other so forcefully. The archetypal Category F woman; she was one he'd never allow himself. Too close to home - in every sense of the phrase.
She turned around and he beamed. "Oh my God! It was staring
at my ass!"
"Such vanity Miss Wolfe! My attention was caught by something far more riveting and aesthetically pleasing. That plug socket over there in the corner!" he pointed.
Bernice narrowed her eyes. "Ha. Ha. Very funny."
Steele placed his hands on his hips. "What is that infernal racket? Much as I love Nat King Cole, even he has a time, a place and a maximum volume level!"
"The music is coming from law firm Leiber and Stollerman's Christmas party. You know, Christmas? Peace on Earth, good will to all men?"
"You call this Christmas? Compared to London, it's warm enough to sunbathe! Right now England's streets, hills and dales are probably covered in beautiful white, crisp snow. Little children will be making snowmen and throwing snowballs at each other. They'll miss their intended targets and break a few windows instead but that's what I call Christmas weather! In comparison this is purgatory! Why I've never -"
Bernice interrupted. "Been nice knowing you. So sorry you decided not to stay. Give my regards to Queen Betty when you see her tomorrow. Ta, ta!"
He ignored her barb. "Would you be so kind as to make me a cup of tea?" He tried to make his next question sound nonchalant and non-committal. "Where's Miss Holt?"
"She's not here."
"I can see that. Where?"
"She's probably with a client." Bernice resumed her task of hanging up the cards.
"Did Murphy go with her?"
"What do you think?"
"Miss Wolfe, perhaps you are unaware but the purpose of asking a direct question is to receive a direct answer!"
Steele knew from her tone that she wouldn't divulge any meaningful information: the woman had made it all too clear that she resented this new cosy set-up. A couple of months ago, his journey to Los Angeles was undertaken specifically to steal gems the Remington Steele agency had been assigned to protect. Assuming the identity of the previously invisible famous detective had initially come about for one purpose and one purpose only: to save his skin. It had worked like a charm too until he'd stupidly woven himself too deeply into the web he'd created.
The days had turned into months and he was still playing the super sleuth for the real head of the agency whose two employees distrusted him intensely. Detective Murphy Michaels in particular never missed an opportunity to remind him that he was - at best - a mere underling and at worst, a deceitful miscreant. Their appraisal didn't bother him in the slightest. Only one person's opinion within Suite 1157 mattered.
Steele thought of his mentor, Daniel Chalmers. Would Daniel have so readily abandoned one obsession to chase another? He doubted it but resolved to keep the awful truth from him for as long as possible. How on earth could he rationalise his actions to anyone when he could barely make sense of them himself?
"The tea, Miss Wolfe. If you don't mind."
"Yeah, whatever. There's some shady characters calling here for you. You'd better not be up to something! This is Laura's agency, not yours."
Before he could respond their attention was caught by the mass of people whooping as they noisily winded their way along the corridor. Bernice looked on in amazement.
"It's a conga. Wow! That party is really swinging and I'm stuck in here with you!"
"Careful Miss Wolfe or you'll hyperventilate - all those men passing you by. All that testosterone escaping your iron clutches!"
She flicked her hair. "One lump of arsenic in your tea or two?"
"Peace on Earth? Good will to all men? Your words, remember?"
"Yeah, good will to men. You don't pass muster."
Steele strode over to the tiny artificial office tree and picked up a little sprig sitting atop it. He waved it in the air. "Care to see how much of a man I really am?"
Bernice glanced briefly at the mistletoe. "Urgh! Are you kidding? I'd rather kiss a tarantula!"
"Yes, I'm sure you would. But what has the poor tarantula done to deserve that, eh?"
She poked her tongue out and sauntered off to make the tea resolving to get back at him by making him wait a damn long time for it!
Steele grinned to himself. Winding her up had become his favourite occupation. Correction, winding her up had become his second favourite occupation: baiting Murphy provided a level of fulfilment that should only be attainable with a nude woman!
The suite doors opened and the two detectives entered laughing heartily at the antics of the usually staid law firm. Murphy was too preoccupied to notice that his longstanding partner's mirth had momentarily left her.
Laura Holt stared at the man opposite her. Even though his features were by now familiar to her, the handsomeness of that face was startling. Her sexual attraction to him overwhelmed her at times and as always, a brief image of him naked on top of her flashed across her mind. What would he look like? How would he taste? Even seemingly innocuous tasks, such as watching him sign documents, had taken on an erotic twist lately. She'd find herself contemplating his hands, his long fingers - and what they could do to her. Laura saw him in the moment he saw her and for a fraction of a second she paused, taken aback. Then he moved very slightly to his left, blue eyes brightly blazing.
She had the full blast of his effortless, lazy magnetism, his contained power but also his curious detachment, a solitariness. Then she realised his eyes were travelling languidly down from her face, lingering on her breasts. She squared her shoulders and put on her most efficient demeanour. His mouth lifted a little at the corners. Less than a few seconds had passed but to Laura it felt like an eternity.
Steele couldn't help smiling as he contemplated the Category A woman starring in his sexual fantasies. Last night's dream had been particularly cruel. He could have sworn her warm, wet mouth had been on him. He was certain he'd cupped her breasts, that he'd sucked her nipples and tongued her to a shattering climax before joining their bodies. He'd awakened firmly believing that they'd finally slept together and reached for her intending to make love again. The cold, empty space was like a dousing in icy water.
For him, this type of female was rare. Steele didn't think he'd find another one after Anna. Quickly he pushed the memory of his previous lost love away and brooded on his current one: the slender auburn, alluring, magnetic and with a cast-iron will to boot. Laura Holt stimulated every part of his anatomy: crotch, intellect and nerve endings. She stubbornly resisted his overtures but perversely, he was enjoying the pursuit of his impossible challenge; he'd get her in the end. No woman could resist his charms but it wouldn't be enough to take her to bed and screw her brains out. No. With Category A women, the goal was total and complete possession. The reward had to be their mind, body and soul. Nothing less would do.
In a way that psychotic wretch Creighton Phillips had provided clarity, of sorts. The night when poor Waldo Church had been murdered: seeing them together, Phillips' hands all over Laura, touching her - he could have cheerfully killed the bastard. All of a sudden, the idea of having sex with - what was her name? - his date for the evening felt like making do with vastly inferior seconds.
It had dismayed Steele to realise just how jealous he was of Phillips: especially when the cur had mauled the woman he increasingly regarded as his and his alone. The fact that Laura wasn't really his, he dismissed as a technicality. Steele could still clearly recall his feelings as he'd lain under Phillips' bed and they'd rolled around on top of it. He'd prayed like he'd never prayed before and luckily, his wish had been granted. Up until then, he'd been lying to himself a good deal but after that, well, he'd been forced to acknowledge a few things.
"Ah Miss Holt! Murphy! My invaluable associates. How did
you do without my assistance today?"
"Good afternoon Mr Steele. Feeling better are we? So convenient the way your migraines flare up whenever there's a committee for you to sit on!" Laura observed wryly. She flashed him a glare of irritation, scanned the mail, picked up a package and headed towards her office.
Murphy coolly regarded the immaculately groomed man before him. "Still here? I thought you'd be gone by now. I suppose you're in the middle of planning your next heist. And if you want to know how Laura and I got on without you today, the answer is the same as we did before you showed up. Meeting clients, solving cases, collecting money."
"Really?" Steele queried brightly. "Next you'll be telling me that my services are no longer required. Come on then Murphy, I'm waiting. Tell me that my services are no longer required."
The American regarded his British rival with a bitter scowl. The crook had him on the spot. He was powerless. And the creep knew it. Any orders to leave couldn't come from him. It was Laura's agency and she persisted in the notion that this foreigner with five passports and no name performed an invaluable service at Remington Steele Investigations.
Mutual chagrin had momentarily united them when attractive, eligible lawyer Creighton Phillips romantically courted the object of their desire a few weeks ago. Despite joining forces and exposing the prospective suitor as a murderer, their association remained cranky.
At first, the stranger's jealousy had amused Murphy. Finally,
the shoe was on the other foot. He was forced to take a dose of
the very medicine he daily dished out in the office and the taste
had so obviously choked him. But it had also spurred him into
action. The charlatan became a man possessed, relentless - and
ruthless - in his determination to get rid of Phillips. Of his
own volition, he'd run several background checks on the lawyer,
buried his pride to ask his keenest rival - of all people! - for
help and had hit Phillips hard enough to break his own hand! All
for Laura. For some unfathomable reason, his partner wanted the
damn thief around and what she wanted, she invariably got. Boy,
just once he'd love to belt that Cheshire cat grin off the man's
Steele started to whistle at Murphy, motioning with his hands in expectation. He knew he had the American on the ropes and the feeling was euphoric.
Murphy tried a different tact. "Until you do leave, I guess I'll just content myself with working on cases alongside my partner while you sit here. Alone."
"Oh I'm never alone, I have my dreams to keep me company. Do you dream Murphy?"
"Nope. I prefer cold, hard reality."
"Take my advice and dream. Because working on cases with Laura is the closest you'll ever get to her. And that's the cold, hard reality." Steele grinned, ear to ear.
Murphy uttered a mirthless, "Huh!" and then leaned forward. "Just remember: I know her. I know her very well. I've known her for years, far longer than you have."
"Indeed Murphy. But I'll know her in ways you can only dream of." Steele surveyed his fingernails then looked his adversary square in the face and beamed.
He scowled and was about to answer when an office door opened. Laura placed her hands over her ears as she walked over to the two men.
"Good lord! I think I'll ask them to play the music a little louder for the three or four people in Paris who can't hear it!"
Murphy turned to Laura. "I'm going in my office to be violently sick. Something out here doesn't agree with me. If you need me, you know where I am." Glancing at Steele he placed special emphasis on his next word, "Partner."
She nodded and as soon as his door closed, immediately said,
"Isn't it time you and Murphy made a real effort to get along
"On the contrary Miss Holt, Murphy and I understand each other extremely well. I assure you!"
She sighed. "I just don't understand why things are so testy between you two. He's one of the most congenial people you could ever hope to meet."
Steele couldn't hide his astonishment. If Laura had one flaw, it was an inability to spot the obvious under her own roof. Get her somewhere else and she could see a pin in the ocean. The sharpest detective, the most resourceful, cleverest woman he'd ever come across. It took a special talent to pull off the massive con she'd executed with such aplomb for so long: fooling important clients, juggling lies and deceiving an entire metropolitan city into believing that the great Remington Steele actually existed!
Stumbling onto Laura's secret masquerade had sent his mind reeling. What kind of woman cooked up a scheme like this? What lay behind such an ingenious façade? Had he finally met his match? Confronting her with the naked truth, inch by glorious inch - building to the climax that Remington Steele was her invention, had aroused him to an intense degree. Hiding it from her as they'd danced at the formal unveiling of that Hunter JetStar car had proved a devil of a task.
"Just for you Laura, I'll make a special effort to stay
on Murphy's good side."
"Thank you." She briefly touched his arm in gratitude.
"Just give me a clue, left or right?"
"Murphy's good side. Is it the left or right side? Personally, I think he looks the same from every angle!"
She slapped her thighs. "I give up. Why do I even bother?"
"Oh come now! Don't be so serious! After all, it's Christmas, eh? Peace on Earth, good will to all men, the season to be jolly et cetera, et cetera." He bent his head slightly to the right, "Phil Spector's 'Winter Wonderland' - it's beginning to seem like a traditional Christmas now despite those bloody Californian sunbeams and the lack of mince pies!"
She smiled. "Mince pies?"
"You know, mixture of currants, raisins, sugar, spices, brandy enveloped in delicious pastry."
Laura shook her head. "I'm sorry, I've never eaten one."
"Good God! I'm in a land of heathens!"
Laura picked up a box on Bernice's desk. "Candy?" she offered weakly.
Steele playfully feigned horror "By trying to make it better, you've just made it worse!"
He recalled that he was still holding the sprig of mistletoe. Closing the gap between them to the point where he could smell her perfume, Steele inhaled her scent and lowered his voice. "However, I'm pleased to report that some of our nicer festive rituals have made it across the Atlantic." He waved the mistletoe above them.
Warning bells immediately rang loudly in Laura's head. "Don't be ridiculous!"
"What's the matter Miss Holt? Afraid I'll kiss you? Or afraid you'll like it?"
They were standing very close to one another, and suddenly Laura felt intensely aware of their proximity, as if the minuscule space that separated them sparked with electric charge. She hesitated then changed the subject.
"What are you doing tomorrow?"
His brow furrowed. "Tomorrow?"
"Christmas Day. How are you spending it? Friends, family?"
"I'll be with an old friend. You?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "Family."
"They're coming here. Their flight's arriving later this evening." she continued.
"So is my old mate. Coming over here, I mean. To my flat."
"Well, feel free to pass by my place. If you and your friend want to, I mean."
Steele gave her suggestion some thought. "Well, if I do pop in, I'll bring the mistletoe - and my pyjamas!" He shook the sprig in her face.
She smiled. "You incorrigible reprobate."
"You irrepressible scaredy-cat," he grinned.
"Tea." Bernice announced. "Sip it slowly, wouldn't
want you to choke on it!"
"Miss Wolfe, what would I do without your angelic concern?" He took the cup from her and set it down on the reception desk.
She ignored him. "Hey Laura, do you need me any more this afternoon? Susan came by earlier to drag me away. I wouldn't mind checking out what's going on at Leiber and Stollerman, if that's okay?"
"Be my guest. Murphy and I barely managed to avoid the conga on the way in here! Sounds like a really wild one this year! Oh, by the way Bernice, what are you doing for tomorrow?"
"How are you spending Christmas Day?"
"Michael and I will be together at my apartment. Why?"
Laura gestured insouciantly. "No reason. But feel free to pass by my place. If you and Michael want to, I mean."
"Thanks. Oh! It's the Jackson 5 now and mommy's kissing Santa Claus under the mistletoe! Gotta go! With any luck, they'll put some disco on next!" She raced off to join in the fun.
Steele raised an eyebrow, "What's the world coming to if Santa Claus has more success with women than I do! Laura, I'm beginning to notice -"
A door opened. "Laura, did we file the report on the Howe
"What about the notes from the Richardson stake-out?"
"Did we cash the O'Neill check?"
"The Demsky contract?"
"Typed and ready to go."
Murphy checked his watch. "So, what you're telling me is that I can get my flight home and not worry about coming back to unfinished business?"
"Oh. You're going back home for the weekend?"
"Soon as I book my flight." He tapped his office door.
"Haven't you left it a bit late?" she queried good-naturedly.
"Nah. I always get standby on Christmas Eve."
"Oh. I was going to tell you to drop by my place tomorrow, if you wanted to, that is. I've already asked Bernice but she's going to be with Michael instead."
Murphy cocked his head in surprise. "Aren't you spending Christmas Day with your family tomorrow?"
"Yes, but I just thought -"
"Thanks but -"
"Hey, it's okay. I understand. Are you going over to Leiber and Stollerman's wild gathering? Bernice has just this minute left to let her hair down!"
Steele interjected. "Yes Murphy, any second now - scores of unmarried men will need rescuing!"
"Well, we've done everything here and I can't stay much longer so I'm gonna get thirty minutes of good will inside me! See you over there!" he hastily jogged in the direction of the joyous crowd.
Steele watched him go before saying, "Laura is something wrong?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Call me presumptuous but I get the distinct feeling that you don't want to be alone with your family tomorrow. You've invited all of us to your house. It's not that I don't want to renew my acquaintance with your mother but -"
She pointed at him. "You're presumptuous."
"Uh-huh. I see. I see."
Laura turned away then faced him again. "Dean Martin," she gestured.
He followed the direction of her hand and chose to lighten the mood. "Really? I could have sworn that was Carl, the security guard! Think he'll give us a couple of verses of 'That's Amore' or 'Volare' if we ask nicely enough?"
She laughed before admitting, "I always loved this song. It's like eating comfort food without having to deal with the calories afterwards! You can really hear how much he wants it to snow," she emitted a dreamy sigh.
"He isn't the only one!"
"Doesn't it feel like Christmas to you yet?"
He took a step toward her. "Christmas? With no mince pies, no mulled wine, no snow, no -"
He took another step and whispered reverently. "Heat, Miss Holt."
"Mulled wine is all about heat. You heat a particularly fine claret and drink it at Christmas time. Some people choose to add grated citrus rind of some kind - usually orange plus sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and other spices of that ilk. I'm rather partial to a drop of brandy in it too. Then you heat it."
"Oh, You do?" she asked, astonished.
"Yes but you don't boil it. That's very important."
"And when it's done, the only thing that should be resistant to heat, is the container you pour it into."
Laura nodded. "Right."
Steele closed the gap between them. "Then you set the warm, piquant liquid alight."
"And you ladle it into glasses."
"Glasses. Got it."
"Then, very carefully, you move it steadily in a circle -"
She jumped in. "I'm sorry, I don't follow."
"Errrrmm. Ah! I'll show you." He grasped her left hand. "Now, imagine my thumb on your palm is the base of a glass filled with lit mulled wine. The motion should be exactly the same: beguiling, shapely, sensuous circles. You see?"
Laura nodded then swallowed and when she believed she had command of her galloping hormones, she ventured a question. "Why? Why do you have to move it like that?"
"To keep the flames burning."
He continued to languidly caress her palm with his thumb whilst locking his blue eyes and her brown ones. "Must keep the flames burning. Eh, Miss Holt?"
"If you say so."
"I do say so Laura. In fact, I absolutely insist. Sensuous circles to keep the flames burning."
"Sensuous circles. Fine. Got it."
He smiled. "We're not finished yet."
Laura couldn't bear much more. She managed a breathless, "We're not?"
"No. The pièce de résistance comes at the very end."
"What's the pièce de résistance?"
"You turn out the lights."
"You turn out the lights?" she echoed hollowly.
"Yes. You turn out the lights for that gentle illumination effect. It's so much better drinking a pleasantly spicy, stimulating claret that way. We should make it together one day Miss Holt. Or even, one night."
"Oh." Inwardly, she scolded herself.
"Would you like to try some? It's an experience to share Laura."
"It will be wonderful. Warm liquid moving smoothly down your throat, heating every part of your body. Sensuous circles. Flames burning. Lights off."
The intensity of his stare unsettled her. She withdrew her hand and self-consciously straightened her tailored trouser suit. "We ought to put in an appearance at Leiber and Stollerman's party. Right now."
"Yes. Bernice and Murphy have -"
"No. They're playing Dean Martin again. Shall we?" he held out his hand.
Her eyes widened in surprise. "You mean, dance? Here? In the reception area?"
"Why not? Dancing on Christmas Eve is supremely avuncular activity!"
"Well -" she hesitated.
"You wouldn't be so cruel as to make me beg now, would you?"
She shrugged and stepped into his arms.
"Then again, the change might do me good. I've never begged a woman for anything fully-clothed before!"
She playfully hit him and they began to move to the music.
He looked down at her flushed face, "Merry Christmas Miss Holt."
She met his gaze. "Merry Christmas Mr Steele."
Suddenly he dipped her. The movement took her by surprise and she let out a peal of infectious laughter. After a second, he joined her.
Laura gawked at her reflection in the mirror. Then she played with her hair. Then she pulled faces at herself. Then she turned to the side. Deciding not to change out of her blue jeans and close-fitting white cotton shirt, she studied her profile. Then she stared at her bust. "You'll never get a part in 'Dallas' Laura Holt" she told herself with a sigh.
What to do? All alone on Christmas Day: bored, bored, bored! No cases to solve, no activities to pursue, no Mr Steele to fight with - where had that stray thought come from? - no books to balance - what was he doing? And who was he doing it with? - no clues to piece together, no suspects to suspect. She sighed heavily. Moving from the bedroom, she flounced on the couch, picked up the remote control and absent-mindedly zapped through the channels, trying to find something to watch. The ringing of the doorbell came as a complete shock. A welcome one but a shock nonetheless.
She opened the door and her face immediately spread into a
"Bernice! Come in, come in!"
The secretary cautiously peered into the house before crossing the threshold and looking all around her. "Where is everyone?"
"Everyone? Oh, you mean my family! Well, mother decided that she didn't want to come to California for Christmas after all and she persuaded Frances that Frances didn't want to come either! Frances called me at the office, just before we joined the fun at Leiber and Stollerman's." Laura explained.
"Are you telling me that your mother still exerts some kind of influence over Frances? Isn't Frances your older sister?"
"It's complicated and involved. Let's sit down."
"Laura, I bought this for you. I was going to give it to you on Monday but - Merry Christmas," she handed over the beautifully wrapped gift.
"Bernice! You shouldn't have! Thank you. Merry Christmas to you too."
"After that huge bonus you gave us this year? I should be thanking you!"
"Business is booming ever since Mr - I thought you were spending the day with Michael?"
"That son-of-a-bitch!" Bernice snapped.
"He's crawled on his belly to his ex! She called him last night and said she'd take him back. So he's gone. I'm sorry Laura, I know this is short notice but -"
"No, no. It's great! We'll pass Christmas Day eating, drinking and bitching about men."
"To hell with them!" Laura declared.
"Hell's too good for 'em!"
"The way they use us!"
"And abuse us."
Laura warmed to the topic. "Chew us up and spit us out!"
"Stomp on our hearts."
"Toy with our emotions!"
Bernice groaned. "Can't live with them and can't castrate 'em! I need a drink. What's a girl to do?"
"I'm doing fine without one."
"Huh!" her companion snorted.
"What's that 'huh' supposed to mean? Help yourself to wine, by the way." Laura gestured at the bottle on the small table in front of them.
"There's only one glass. Don't you want some?"
Bernice poured out a generous measure then sat back. "You've got a nerve trying to pass yourself off as Mary Poppins when you've got the hots for a certain mysterious someone."
"I do not have the hots for Mr Steele!" she cried indignantly.
"I didn't mention a name Laura. Freudian slip?" Bernice grinned slyly.
"Well who else could you have been referring to?"
"It could have been anyone. It could have been your mailman or your butcher but you said his name. Guess you're still itchy?"
"Okay, okay. I admit that sometimes, well, there are times when -"
"When?" her secretary prompted.
"Are you really going to make me say this?"
"Don't worry about me, I'm too emotionally raw to be sick at the thought of you with him!"
"Well, he does have a certain mystique."
"Urgh! He bakes your cookies, it's okay Laura, I get it!"
"And there are times when I'm with Mr Steele, he just - he just -" she motioned desperately with her hands, trying to find the words.
"What? Gives you a good feeling? What?" Bernice pressed impatiently.
"He just - makes me want to strangle him! I mean, literally. He irritates me so much! At least once a day, he says something or does something to make my blood boil to the point where I could happily kill him!" she ended heatedly.
"Get to the back of the very, very, very long line Laura. I'm first!" They laughed heartily but the sound of the doorbell temporarily interrupted them.
"Excuse me Bernice."
Laura opened the door and her eyes widened in surprise. "Murph! Weren't you going home?"
"Hey partner! Couldn't get a flight." he explained and cocked his ear. "No screaming kids?"
"No family. Bernice has just arrived. Come in."
"Bernice is here but your family isn't?"
She shrugged. "Long story."
"Is it okay to take up your invitation Laura and -"
"You mean spend the day here? Sure! The more the merrier!"
"Hey Bernice. I thought you were spending the day with -"
"That son-of-a-bitch!" she reached forward and poured herself another glass of wine.
He flashed a querying glance at Laura. "Long story, Murph. I'm just gonna get us some glasses."
"Wait, before you go in the kitchen. I've bought you a present. Merry Christmas."
"Oh Murphy! Thank you. Merry Christmas to you too."
"Your welcome." Her smile gave him the warmest of feelings. It was so good to have her to himself again. This felt like old times, just the three of them.
"What's on the old tube over there?" Murphy pointed at Laura's television.
"I don't know. Flick through the TV Guide and see if anything takes your fancy. I'll just put these under my tree."
"Good lord! I need to think about what I'm going to feed you guys. I was just going to have a TV dinner but now I guess -"
"Woah! Are you going to cook?" he asked in mock alarm.
"You can all help me then! I'll get the glasses."
Murphy sat on the couch. "Okay Bernice. Tell me what happened."
"Men! You're all alike! Give you a piece of rope and you hang us with it!"
"Uh-oh, male bashing alert! Look at it this way Bernice, if that creep hadn't done whatever it is that he's done, you'd be spending Christmas Day with a heel instead of with people you care about who also care about you." He rubbed her shoulder and was rewarded with a smile.
"Thanks. I needed that," she grasped his hand in gratitude.
"No problem. Now please, repay me properly by making sure Laura does not cook for us today!"
They both grinned. Murphy turned his attention to the television and checked his watch. "Say, there's an 'I Love Lucy' marathon on later. Good ol' Lucy and Ricky."
"I'm sure I saw something about a Christmas special of 'The Love Boat' too. Look up channel seven while you're at it."
Their musing was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell.
"What is this, Grand Central Station?" Bernice observed sardonically.
Murphy called out to Laura, "Do you want me to get that?"
"Please," she yelled back.
Sauntering over to the front door, he opened it and promptly shut it again.
"Who is it?" Laura hollered from the kitchen.
"Nobody partner! Believe me when I tell you nobody!" He stretched out on the sofa next to Bernice.
She eyed him quizzically. "Okay, tell me. Who is it?"
"You don't want to know," he insisted.
"Oh my God! It's not -"
Murphy swiftly placed his hand over her mouth. "Don't think it and for pete's sake, don't say it! If you say it, it won't go away!"
Two seconds later a voice could clearly be heard loudly singing.
"ON THE FIRST DAY OF CHRISTMAS, MY TRUE LOVE SENT TO ME, A PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE! ON THE SECOND DAY OF CHRISTMAS -"
Laura walked into the living room and stopped suddenly. "That sounds like -"
"It is!" Murphy and Bernice groaned simultaneously.
She handed over the glasses and answered the door.
"-THREE FRENCH HENS, TWO TURTLE DOVES AND A PART - ah Miss Holt!"
She gawked at the image before her: he was wearing a blue silk shirt complete with matching handkerchief gingerly placed in the top pocket of his tweed jacket. The real killer was the blue jeans hugging his lean form. She'd never seen him wear a pair before and the combination of styles making up his attire was devastating. It was so unfair! Her pulse was racing just at the sight of him. A complete assault on the senses.
She took in the silver locket around his neck - what was that cologne he always wore? - his chest-hair - how far down did it go? - the portion of his torso not covered by the shirt and finally, the buttons on the garment itself. The buttons transfixed her: she wanted to rip his shirt open and see them fly off. She wanted to run her hands through his chest hair. Then she wanted to push him on the couch and straddle -
"Miss Holt? Laura? Laura?!"
An arm was frantically waving in her face. She blinked. "Huh?"
"Is something wrong? You're staring at me."
"Right through me, as a matter of fact."
"Oh! It's-well-it's just that-I didn't expect to see you here today. That's all."
Steele's brow furrowed. "You invited me, remember?"
"Yes I do Mr Steele. So good of you to announce your presence so uniquely!"
"Wasn't it though?" he grinned, peering round. "Aren't you going to invite me in?" Wordlessly, she stood aside and he entered.
He glanced at the grumpy faces on the sofa. "Those two members of your family bear an uncanny resemblance to Murphy and Miss Wolfe."
"You know very well that it is Murphy and Bernice. My family couldn't make it. I'm just going to get another glass. Excuse me." She departed for the kitchen again.
"Ah Murphy! Very funny trick with the door. Positively side-splitting. Didn't you have plans for today?"
Murphy clasped his hands behind his neck. "Some good has come out of me being unable to get a flight home. It looks like I've ruined your little scheme to get Laura alone."
"Oh, no-no-no! Merely delayed it somewhat, that's all!" Steele beamed and then addressed Bernice. "Weren't you going to spend the day with some chap named -"
"That son-of-a-bitch!" she exclaimed.
"You poor thing, Miss Wolfe! Let me envelop you in my arms and comfort you in your hour of need. Even the garbage only gets dumped once a week!"
Bernice shot Steele a venomous look. "I think I'll go and help Laura in the kitchen."
"Yes, you do that. Meanwhile we men will do what we do best on Christmas Day - nothing."
As the secretary disappeared into the kitchen, Laura entered with a glass and another bottle of wine that she set down on the small table in front of the couch.
Steele sprawled out on the sofa and watched her intently while Murphy watched him watching her. She looked up and caught the expression in his eye.
"How did you get here? Fred's got the weekend off."
"My old mate couldn't spend as much time with me as he'd originally intended and -"
Steele ignored Murphy's gibe. "-so he gave me a lift here on his way home to pack. He's off to Jamaica on Monday -"
"Aren't you accompanying him?" Murphy queried.
"- to visit some members of his family -"
"Don't they take in waifs and strays?" the American persisted.
"- and to enjoy a Caribbean New Year."
"And you let him go alone? Some friend you are!"
Steele glared irritably at Murphy and then said, "You know Laura, I've got no way of getting home. Can I sleep here?" He patted the sofa.
"I drove over. I'll take you back!"
"Yes, somehow I thought you would Murphy. Always thinking about yourself - how selfish! I suppose it hasn't occurred to you that Laura may wish me to sleep here tonight?"
"Don't be ridiculous!" she snapped.
"As usual, you're right Miss Holt. This couch is no place for us."
"For us? I beg your pardon!"
"Save the begging for tonight Laura, when we're both suitably undressed!"
"I'm gonna hit him!" Murphy seethed.
"Just ignore him Murph. Look, it's Christmas Day. Let's try and get through the next few hours cordially!" She stomped off back to the kitchen.