Remington Steele stood on a street corner and studied an official scrap of paper. With a last, almost longing, look, he slipped it into a large envelope addressed to Laura Holt, in care of Remington Steele Investigations, and dropped it into the mail box.
Then he walked to the limo waiting at the curb and stood a moment before leaning in to say, "Home, Fred."
He got in, and the limo pulled into the street.
Ninety minutes later, Remington glanced at his watch. Hed made excellent time. The cab driver was familiar with the short cut to the airport that Laura always used, and theyd managed to avoid what looked like very bad traffic on the south-bound 405.
Almost three hours later, Remington glanced at his watch and swore. If only the damned driver had gotten off at Overland, as hed asked, they wouldnt have wasted most of an hour stranded on the overpass, making the transition to the grid-locked 405.
Laura Holt locked the Rabbit and slung her carry on bag over her shoulder. She took a deep breath and held it, as if undecided about something. Then, shaking her hair back, she walked straight to the elevator and took it up to the departure level.
Remington paid the driver and watched as a sky cap stacked his luggage on a cart. He walked up to the Qantas desk and produced a passport for Richard Blaine. While the ticket agent prepared tags for his baggage, he tipped the sky cap and turned to stare at nothing.
It was for the best, really. When he knew when he had something to tell her hed be back.
Remington tossed some bills at the driver, jumped out of the cab and stood fuming by the trunk. When the driver finally came around to open it, he grabbed two of the bags himself and instructed the sky cap to hurry.
* * *
Laura gave her ticket and passport to the Mexicana ticket agent and waited for her boarding pass. She glanced around the terminal, almost wishing, perhaps, that someone would come through the doors to stop her. No one did, and she realized she was feeling a weird kind of relief. Boarding pass in hand and firm of purpose, she headed toward the gate.
Laura gave her ticket and passport to the Mexicana ticket agent and waited for her boarding pass. She glanced around the terminal and saw what looked like Remington Steele, laden with suitcases, come charging through the doors.
"Mr. Steele!" she exclaimed.
He didnt hear her. Steele was in some kind of hurry, as was the sky cap who trailed in his wake with what looked like fifty suitcases.
"Miss Holt?" The ticket agent was handing her her boarding pass.
Laura snatched it and followed Steele. Hed gone around to the other side of the international terminal and was heading towards the Qantas desk. She watched as he plowed straight past a line of people and slammed his ticket and who knew which passport on the counter.
From the number of suitcases, and his haste, Laura deduced that Steele wasnt just going away for the weekend.
With a determined set to her shoulders, she turned toward the gate, and Mexico.
The British Airways jet touched down at Los Angeles International Airport sometime before noon. Remington Steele checked his passport a shiny new one, issued by the United States of America and dragged his garment bag off the plane. Speeding through customs, he stepped out into the hot September morning and gave his address to the first cab driver to respond to his hail.
As the taxi made its way across the city, he caught a few more minutes of sleep, oblivious to the bright day around him.
The driver reached back and shook him awake. Remington blinked and looked around. Uncertain what his situation might be, he handed over a few twenties and told the driver to wait. Upstairs, his key fit the lock not that it would have mattered and he found himself at home for the first time in months. Sheets and drop cloths covered all the furniture, but underneath, it was just as hed left it.
A hot shower, a shave and a change of clothes, and Remington Steele felt ready for anything.
Half an hour later, the cab pulled up to the curb outside the twin towers of Century City.
Remington might have admitted to a few butterflies as the elevator arrived at the eleventh floor, but by the time he reached suite 1157, he was fine.
"Chief!" Mildred exclaimed as he came through the door. She stared at him, thunderstruck.
"Good morning, Mildred."
"Sorry." He checked his watch. "Still on London time. Is Miss Holt around?"
"Uh," Mildred gulped. "Chief, we never thought wed see you again!"
With a grin, he replied, "And she calls herself a detective."
"Mr. Steele " she began.
Already he was at Lauras office door, swinging it open, leaning in for a cheerful greeting.
She wasnt there.
Things had changed. The desk had been moved, and some of the trappings of Remington Steele carefully framed publicity photos; there he was with the mayor, and at the firing range were stacked by the window.
"No use letting a perfectly good corner office go to waste, I suppose," he remarked, and opened the connecting door.
Mildred had preceded him through the other door and was conferring with Laura, who had obviously been sitting at his desk.
Now she was on her feet. "Mr. Steele," she said. "This is unexpected."
He opened his arms; she didnt move. "Yes," he replied, "well. You know me. Always like to keep the staff on their toes."
"Thank you, Mildred," said Laura, and Mildred, glancing from one to the other, went out and closed the door.
Remington stood and looked at her. She was lovely. Laura was always lovely, favouring a simple, if glossy, all-American girl style that put more artificial types to shame. Shed done something different to her hair. Not much; it was only a little shorter, styled just a bit differently, but of course he noticed. She was wearing a new outfit, too, a suit, but it was very becoming.
After a moment, she came around the desk and leaned back against it, arms folded on her chest.
"So " she began. "Youre back."
"Whereve you been?"
"Whereve I been?" he repeated. "Where havent I been? Australia, Italy, France, Ireland. London " With a sweeping gesture, he added, "I was on a quest, Laura! A quest, and now "
He strode forward, took her in his arms, kissed her passionately.
Not unexpectedly, Laura resisted his embrace at first. Or rather, she didnt resist, but she didnt yield, either. Her mouth didnt soften against his; her hands didnt come up to clutch his jacket. She just stood there, in the circle of his arms, rigid and unresponsive.
Of course she was angry; of course she was hurt. He planned to make it up to her. He would make it up to her, somehow.
"Mr. Steele," she said, when he stepped back.
She opened her mouth to speak. Then the door opened behind him; he heard a mans voice, speaking to Mildred.
" not with a client, is she? Ill just be a second "
Remington turned to see a tall man enter the office.
"Sorry for the interruption," the man said. "I just " He hesitated. "Wait. Arent you "
"Remington Steele," he explained, extending his hand.
"William Westfield," the man replied, shaking it.
"Mr. Westfield," Remington went on. "What can we do for you? What urgent question can we clear up? What brings you to us today?"
Westfield looked at him, then at Laura.
Remington understood completely. "Ah. I see my trusted associate has already begun work on your case. Yes. As a matter of fact, she was just bringing me up to speed, werent you, Miss Holt "
Laura looked at him, then at the client. Inexplicably, she went to Mr. Westfield and put her arm through his.
"Mr. Steele," she said. "Id like you to meet my husband."
The company jet touched down shortly before midnight at John Wayne Airport outside Santa Ana. He emerged from the plane after it came to a stop on the tarmac several hundred yards from the terminal, and wearily trailed after the helpful steward. The minimal Immigration presence perfunctorily processed his passport, and he was on his way. The shiny black limousine arranged by his capable assistant whisked him onto the Golden State Freeway and toward home. A home he hadnt been in since May. Returning to Los Angeles after a nearly four-month stint in Tokyo, he had one thing on his mind. But given the late hour and his desperate need for a shower and a solid nights sleep, he decided she would have to wait until morning.
"Ok, Mr. Westfield, were here."
Westfield opened his eyes and jerked awake. The car pulled up outside the condo in Westwood. He fumbled with his bags, deposited at the curb by the driver, and struggled to the front door. Keys. Hed taken them out of his briefcase, but then what? Patting down one pocket and then another, he finally found them and swung open the door. His housekeeper, Maria, had taken good care of Chez Westfield; there was only a slight stale odor, but certainly not a single speck of dust in sight. A trip to the kitchen revealed a stocked larder. Westfield found a quart of milk in the refrigerator and took a long slow swig straight from the carton. A minute later, having shrugged out of his worse-for-wear suit, he flopped face-down on the bed, obligingly turned down by Maria.
* * *
His expression was painful to look at. Laura imagined her own expression had been something like his, that night last spring when shed left William on the plane and gone to Steeles apartment and found it cleared out, empty, abandoned.
Shed sat, empty and abandoned herself, on his bed for a long time a bed shed never shared with him, for all the opportunity hed given her.
After everything theyd been through together, it had come down to this: Remington Steele was, after all, the man she feared most, the man who could walk away without a word, without a backward glance, the man who would leave her. A man like Wilson, like her father. Shed wanted to believe otherwise, but her instinct, that little niggling voice way in the back of her mind, had warned her, and her instinct had been right.
Too numb to cry, too numb to think, she sat despairing on the bed, utterly unaware of the minutes ticking by.
Finally, she got up and went to the kitchen and drank a glass of water. She wandered aimlessly around his apartment until her eyes fell on her overnight bag by the door.
Action was better than inaction. It was worth a try, anyway.
* * *
Too numb to cry, too numb to think, she sat despairing on the bed, utterly unaware of the minutes ticking by.
The phone shattered her silent, hopeless reverie. Laura lunged across the bed and snatched up the receiver.
"Yes? Hello? Mister Stee "
The voice of a very young person was saying, "Hi, is Tiffany there?"
Her heart sank again. "No," Laura replied, her voice strangled by grief. "You have the wrong number."
She hung up and looked at her watch. William was probably in Mexico by now, Steele wherever he was going. One man had left her, and shed left the other; Laura Holt had nowhere to go herself but home.
Gathering up her things, she turned out the lights and locked the door behind her.
* * *
Just before noon the next morning, a bright sunny September day, William Westfield staggered out of bed and into a hot shower. Now anxiety crept into his subconscious, crowding out the pep talk hed given himself on the long flight home. He hadnt wanted to pressure her. It was clear that she was confused; that guy had taken her for a ride, and even though he desperately wanted to be there to pick up the pieces when it was truly over, business had dictated otherwise. Hed managed to convince himself that by giving her some time and space, shed be ready to let him in the game. If shed only give him a chance, let him off the bench, hed be able to show her how he felt about her. Hed never believed in love at first sight, at least not before hed met her.
Westfield dressed with care. Mundane decisions about suits and ties masked his growing apprehension. He dreaded finding out, but he had to know if he stood a chance with Laura anymore.
Snatching his car key from its customary hook by the garage door, he prayed that his trusty automobile would start without protest. In vain.
"Look, I called two hours ago!" Westfield seethed.
"Well, Im here now, aint I? Want a jump or not?"
Nice to know things hadnt changed much in LA in his absence.
* * *
William didnt stay long. He relayed his message that he was taking a deposition in a colleagues office in the other tower and then heading to the Santa Monica courthouse and took off, not before shaking Steeles hand again and welcoming him back to Los Angeles.
Steele hadnt stayed long, either. After William left, he stood and stared at the door; then he turned and stared at Laura.
"This is some kind of a joke, isnt it?" he said finally.
She shook her head. "No."
"Of course it is. You heard I was back in Los Angeles, and you decided to give me a shock. Quite rightly, too, I might add."
Laura didnt look away. "How could I have known you were back? You didnt call, you didnt "
"The doorman at the flat. He called you."
"He didnt," she said.
"And then you hastily put this little charade together so that "
It was easy to see how hed made a living as a con man. He was a quick thinker; he was persuasive; for a second, he almost had Laura believing that she had fallen in love and married, just to shake him up.
"No. Im sorry," she added. She reached out and put her hand on his arm, a hand, he noticed, with a gold ring on the third finger, paired with a not inconsiderable diamond solitaire. "Its not a charade. A few things have changed."
"I can see that," he agreed. He moved away from her, circled the room as if caged, glanced out the window. "Youve cut your hair."
"Mr. Steele "
"Well!" he exclaimed. "At least that hasnt changed. I was beginning to wonder. Mildred!" He almost pulled the door off its hinges as he went into the lobby. "Mildred, have Fred bring the car around."
Laura followed. "Mildred, please tell Fred to take Mr. Steele home. Or wherever hes going."
When he looked at her, she couldnt read his expression, or she didnt want to.
* * *
She stopped at the market on her way home, calming her nerves by patrolling the aisles, looking for the most basic items and exotic treats, hoping the mundane task might focus her mind. As she stood in line to check out, she read the entire National Enquirer, and then the Star. The TV Guide she tossed onto the conveyor.
She was about forty five minutes later than usual when she aimed the remote at the garage door and pulled in beside Williams little Mercedes.
As she reached into the back seat, the laundry room door opened, and her husband came down the steps into the garage. "Interesting day?" he asked.
Thrusting a bag of groceries into his arms, Laura had to laugh. Laughing to keep from crying, she thought. What a day.
They carried the groceries through the back hall to the kitchen and shared out the chore of putting them away.
"He didnt even call," William began, gently broaching the subject, "to let you know he was back in town?"
"Nope. Came in five minutes before you did."
He put a big roll of foil into a drawer next to another big roll of foil. "How longs he been back?"
She replied, "I dont know."
William sorted out an armload of stuff for the bathroom and carried it away. Laura arranged a neat row of tomato soup, then got down on her knees to put away a bottle of applesauce. She heard him pause a moment behind her before he stepped over her feet and got back to work.
Holding up some obscure gourmet product for examination, he asked, "So whats he been doing?"
Laura stood up and dusted off her hands. "Going on a world tour," she said acidly. "You would think," she added, closing a cupboard with a bang, "I mightve gotten a postcard."
He shrugged. How would he know what Laura could expect from Remington Steele?
She shoved a drawer shut, catching the edge of something, jamming it in heedlessly. "To think I wasted my time wondering if he was dead, or hurt, or lost somewhere "
Grabbing up a couple of things William forgot, she headed for the bathroom. There, she stood and looked at herself in the mirror, looked at Mrs. Westfield, wondered whether Steele had really been able to process any of her words. She had not felt the least little bit happy or pleased or vindicated by his reaction to her news; she only felt sorry for him, sorry it hadnt worked out for him, that hed come back and found everything upside down.
She tried to smile at herself; Laura Westfield smiled back. Hed made the decision, she told herself, as she had not needed to tell herself for weeks. He was the one who took off without a word. What had he expected? Except Laura knew.
Later, over dinner, they talked of other things until finally, William asked, "Is he coming back to work?"
Laura shrugged. "Who knows? As usual, Ill be the last person to find out. What Mr. Steele is thinking or doing or feeling is a mystery to me."
"Because its okay," her husband told her. "I mean, if he does, Im fine with it."
She smiled at him, reached out and clasped his hand, brought it to her lips. "I know. Thank you."
* * *
Palms sweaty, Westfield strode through the double glass doors into the lobby, involuntarily wiping his hands down the sides of his suit jacket. He pressed his way on to the crowded elevator; by the time it reached the eleventh floor, he had to claw his way back out.
He hesitated a moment, then pushed open the door into Suite 1157.
The blonde woman at the reception desk was staring at her computer screen. "Good afternoon. May I help you?"
A deep breath, then, "Yes. Laura Holt. Is she in?"
If Mildred was surprised that a client was asking for Miss Holt and not the great detective Remington Steele, she hid it well. She pushed back from the desk, and met him halfway.
"Take a seat, and Ill see if shes free. Cup of coffee?"
"Uh, no, no thanks."
And then he looked up. His eyes met hers for a second, and she was dazzled. Those green eyes! If she were ten years younger. . . well, maybe fifteen. . . . Boy did he look in sorry shape. Oh, he was dressed nicely, but he looked as if hed been through a wringer. Mildreds maternal nature got the better of her as she seized his arm and steered him toward the sofa.
"Sit down here, and Ill get her. Dont you worry, Miss Holtll be able to help you." She squeezed his arm reassuringly, and crossed the room to knock lightly on Lauras door.
A light tapping caught Lauras attention; she looked up as Mildred opened the door and stepped in, closing it again behind her.
"New client." Mildred jerked her head in the direction of the outer office. "Looks like he needs some TLC. If I were five years younger---"
Putting her pen on her desk and closing the file that had been occupying her attention, Laura perked up and said, "Send him in, Mildred. What did you say his name was?"
"Forgot to ask," Mildred replied sheepishly.
"Thats ok, Mildred. I think I can get it out of him myself."
Mildred retreated to the outer office. She told Westfield, who had taken to pacing in front of the sofa, that he could go in.
He approached the door and pushed it open. Laura was perched on the edge of her desk, arms folded across her chest. The light from the window behind her framed her face in a wash of yellow. She was flabbergasted to see him, but she hid it well. Behind her friendly smile, a sea of emotions fought for a voice, but she swallowed it back. The most insistent of them, guilt, made her avert her eyes from Williams.
Guilelessly, he told her exactly what was on his mind at that moment. What had been on his mind almost nonstop since Mexico. "God Laura, you are so beautiful. A sight for sore eyes. All I could think about is you. I---"
She held up a hand to his chest, her fingertips brushing lightly against his breast pocket. "Dont! Please. You wont thank me for hearing this. I---"
"Are you kidding?! All Ive wanted to do, nonstop, for the last four months, is tell you this. And more."
He didnt imagine the break in her voice, barely above a whisper. "But I cant listen. Not now."
Before he could ask her why, before he could line up his thoughts in a coherent fashion, rustling sounds from the adjacent office drifted through the open connecting door. Both William and Laura turned their heads toward the noise, which Westfield identified intellectually as the sound of someone hanging a jacket on a hangar behind the door.
"Ah, Laura, here you are. Maurice has worked miracles with my new suit." He stopped short. "Oh, my apologies. Didnt realize you were with a client." But then Steele looked at the man in Lauras office full in the face and realized that this wasnt just any man. Take a breath, mate. Icy calm. Striding forward, hand outstretched, he shook Williams. "Steele. Remington Steele."
"William Westfield." He returned the greeting but Westfields mind raced. What was he thinking? How could Laura ever have preferred him over this guy? Smooth couldnt begin to describe him. But maybe there was still a chance.
Suddenly, Laura shifted and stood up. She walked over to Steele and placed a hand on his arm. "William, Id like you to meet my husband. We were married three months ago."
* * *
Still seething, Laura stalked off to a nearby bank of telephones and assaulted the first one she reached. Stabbing Mildreds home telephone number into the infernal machine, she bit back the bile that rose to her lips.
"Mildred, its me."
"Hi, Hon, whats up?"
Whats up, she asks. Wouldnt I like to tell her! "Nothing, Mildred. I just wanted to let you know Ill be out of town for the weekend. In Mexico City."
"Huh? I thought the Westfield case was wrapped up. Did something---"
"No, its wrapped up all right. Like a Christmas present. And Im opening it." With a vengeance, Laura thought, as she drummed her fingers on the metal front-plate of the telephone.
Mildreds shock registered over the wires. "Wait a sec, are you telling me --- youre not doing something youll regret, are you?"
"Not a chance, Mildred." It was time to fill in some gritty detail for Mildreds otherwise stellar portrait of Mr. Steele. "I just saw Mr. Steele, here, at the airport, swamped in suitcases, and headed out of the country."
"Yes! " Laura announced triumphantly. "Hes turning tail and running, Mildred."
"No, he must be working on a case, and he just cant tell you about it yet."
Just like Mildred, to take his side. "Hardly! Theres no case. Hes merely decided that theres nothing worth sticking around for anymore."
But instead of berating Steeles behavior, Mildred wanted to know why Laura found herself in the international terminal at LAX on a Friday night.
Indignantly, Laura cried, "Ihey, this isnt about me! What about him?"
"You two make me sick sometimes, ya know that? What I wouldnt give to lock you both in a room somewhere and not let you out until "
"Hi. You lookwonderful. A sight for sore eyes." Out of nowhere, Westfield had appeared. He had obviously been scanning the crowd for her, and when his eyes alighted on Lauras face, he smiled.
"William!" Laura drew her tongue across lips suddenly parched. "Hold on, Mildred."
"---while the two of you pick and pick and pick at each other like scabs. William??"
Westfield held up two Mexicana airline tickets. "Would I be able to talk you into Acapulco instead?"
Into the telephone receiver, Laura said, "Scratch that, Mildred, Ill be in Acapulco. At the---" she looked questioningly at Westfield.
"The Mayan Palace," he supplied.
"The Mayan Palace," she repeated. "Gotta go, Mildred."
"Acapulco? You---gotta go?! Wait just a minute Im not---"
With a momentary pang of regret, Laura replaced the receiver on its hook, and Mildreds disembodied voice ceased its lecturing.
* * *
By the time she got to Mexico City, it was four in the morning. By the time she got to Westfields hotel, the sun was coming up and it was nearly six. Laura checked in and hauled herself, not to the fourth floor, where her room was, but to the seventh, where the obliging desk clerk had told her Mr. Westfield was staying.
She knocked, and knocked again. She heard the rustling sound of movement behind the door, and then it opened.
Westfield, wearing a bathrobe obviously hastily put on, blinked at her. "Laura!"
"William " She had a speech all planned, but she forgot it.
"What are you doing here? I thought "
"So did I. I thought wrong." She shrugged off her overnight case and took a step closer. "Its ridiculous for me to be here, to wake you up like this, to assume youll even speak to me, but "
He gazed at her silently a moment, then took her hand, which was clutching her key, and turned it over. Leaving the door wide open, he went back into his room. Exhausted, Laura leaned against the wall. Water ran in the bathroom; then he was back, in jeans, buttoning up a shirt.
"Come on," he said, picking up her bag and starting off down the hall.
Laura followed without protest.
"You look dead on your feet," he told her, in the elevator.
When she looked up, he was smiling, and she smiled back wanly. "Thanks."
He took her key and let her into her own room.
It was nice, with a big bed and a table by the window.
"All right," he said, turning down the covers. "You know where I am. You get some sleep, and call me when you wake up."
"Dont worry. Ill be there."
* * *
She was too exhausted to do anything but haul herself into and out of the shower and then into bed. William reached across and pulled her to him; she snuggled up against him with a sigh. She wanted to make love to him; she wanted to show him that nothing had changed, that the reappearance of Remington Steele had very little to do with Mr. and Mrs. Westfield. She wanted to tell him, but she didnt have the strength, and with a mumbled good night darling, she fell instantly asleep.
* * *
When she awoke, it was pretty dark. She couldnt remember where she was, or how she got there. As she fumbled for the switch, she heard a noise; turning with a start, she saw William Westfield sitting in the corner, turning over the pages of a magazine.
"Didnt mean to startle you," he said. "Just making sure youre all right."
Laura sat up, pushing her hands back through her hair. Westfield pulled the cord, and the sun came in, hurting her eyes, making her blink.
"What time is it?" she said, her voice thick.
He consulted his watch. "After two."
She repeated this to herself. Kicking the covers off, she got up and went to the bathroom. She took a long shower. When she came out, Westfield was still there, still reading.
"Im sorry," she said.
She couldnt think of anything else to say. She was sorry things were so mixed up, sorry for treating him badly, sorry for ruining things, sorry for herself.
He put the magazine aside. "I must say, Im intrigued."
"Long afternoon," he suggested. "I rescheduled my flight for tomorrow morning. And I took the liberty of booking yours, too unless youre planning to stay on a while."
Laura shook her head. "No. I dont even know why Im here."
* * *
Grousing under his breath, laden with luggage, Steele crossed the threshold of his flat and dropped his burdens in an unceremonious heap. Likewise, he flopped down onto the sofa, legs spread-eagle, hands absently running through his hair.
Damn! Bloody airlines always late, except on the day when he was delayed getting to the airport. The wing-sporting gentleman blocking his way down the gangplank had self-importantly crossed his arms before declaring, "Too late, buddy. Theyre already pushing back from the gate."
"Well, get them bloody back!" hed bellowed. Was it truly a surprise when his angry words and wild gesticulations only garnered a security escort to the curb?
With a long sigh Steele reached for the telephone. Time to cross swords with Qantas once again and try to get wait-listed for the flight tomorrow. At least hed be sleeping in his own bed tonight, and not on one of those Day-Glo orange plastic chairs at the airport. He didnt notice as Hurricane Mildred stormed through the open apartment door.
"I knew Miss Holt was wrong, you wouldnt---" Mildred stopped in her tracks as she surveyed the evidence to the contrary.
Steele hauled himself to his feet at the sound of her voice. "Ah, Mildred. Be a love and call Qantas for me. Make them put me on tomorrows flight to Sydney---Mildred, what is it?"
Hands on hips, Mildred surveyed the situation. Here was Mr. Steele, by his own account heading out of the country, leaving her---and Miss Holt---behind, like yesterdays news! And he wanted her to make the arrangements?! No, that couldnt be it. He must be on a secret case, one in which he couldnt involve Miss Holt. She took a deep breath and started slowly.
"Boss, whats going on? Are you on a secret case? Cause Miss Holt doesnt seem to know anything about it."
"Yes, yes, Mildred, all very hush-hush," he quickly responded. Relief and lingering suspicion played across Mildreds face, and he gave her a quick hug.
"Now work your magic with those lackeys, will you?" He extended the telephone receiver to Mildred, and started to sit down again before leaping to his feet and whirling to face her. "What about Miss Holt?"
"She saw you at the airport, with all this luggage, and she just assumed---I tried to tell her she shouldnt, but then that Westfield guy was there---"
Steeles jaw set. "Why was she at the airport? And with Westfield?"
Uncomfortable in her role as the bearer of bad news, Mildred said simply, "I dunno. She said they were going to Mexico for the weekend."
Pacing the path between Mildred and the sofa, he exclaimed, "A rendezvous south of the border with Westfield?! Thats her idea of taking some time to think about our personal relationship? Obviously all a ploy to further her true agenda: developing a personal relationship with Westfield."
Mildred was shocked once again. It was just as she suspected. These two were as crazy about each other as two people could be, but all they could do about it was hurt one another. She opened her mouth to give Steele the tongue-lashing shed intended for Miss Holt. But she closed it just as quickly, as she realized that it might not be the best approach with Mr. Steele. She took a deep breath and placed her hand on his shoulder, causing him to stop and face her.
"Youre right, Boss. She doesnt deserve you. Here youve given her everything, and shes willing to throw that all away for Westfield?! Knowing you love her, how could she do that?"
He didnt have enough energy to deny the obvious, but it pained him that Mildred had a misimpression of Laura. "Mildred, Ive never told Laura how I feel about her. Not really."
Only feigning surprise slightly, Mildred said, "You havent? Why not?"
"The timing never seemed right. And she---" Mildred stopped him with a wave of her hand.
"Dont give me that load of crap! Geez, men really are all alike. Whens there a wrong time to hear somebody loves you? But at least you were committed to her. You let her know you were here to stay. Right? You did let her know you were in it for the long haul?"
He sighed, as the weight on his shoulders suddenly felt oppressive. "I told her once that Id never cut a fast tango through her life, and Id never stop wanting her, but those were the only guarantees I could make."
Mildred couldnt keep the sarcasm out of her voice. "Oh, brother! Thats your idea of whispering sweet nothings in a girls ear?! Now give! Where were you headed? And why?"
He whispered, and she had to lean forward to catch his words. "She doesnt want a con man, a man whos walked the shady side of the street his whole life. She wants somebody like Westfield. She deserves somebody like Westfield." He spun around, unable to face Mildred. "I couldnt even give her my real name. Thats what I was setting out to do. Somehow, I thought if I could give her that---"
If Mildred thought she was confused before, now her head began to spin. What con man? "Youre talking nonsense. She loves you. Any idiot can see that. If shes turning to Westfield now, its only because you pushed her into his arms."
Steele stopped. For a moment time seemed to stand still, and then. . . and then he grabbed the smallest duffel bag he could find on the floor and ran to the door.
Mildred called after him, "Hey wait! Where are you going?"
"Mexico. Get me on the next flight. Ill call you from the airport." He disappeared, and then stuck his head back in. "Where in Mexico am I going? Please, Mildred, dont say Acapulco."
Steele sighed. "Lets hope the local police chief remembers me with kindness."
* * *
In a night of little or no sleep, Remington Steele considered his options. He had, at the moment, no plan, no course, no future, at least none that was apparent to him. What he did have was a routine, one he could fall into without thinking, one that might at least keep him occupied until he could work something out.
"Morning, morning, morning," he said, strolling into the office bright and early.
Mildred looked up from her computer. "Good morning, chief."
He headed straight back to his office and found the door locked. Surprised, he brought out his keys.
"Oh, no," said Mildred. "Thats Mrs. Westfields office."
"Mrs. Westfields office, eh?" Putting his hands in his pockets, he wandered over to examine a potted plant. "Mildred, who is the head of this agency?"
"Mrs. Westfield," she replied promptly.
That was unexpected, but easy to deal with. "Indeed? And whose name is on the door, there?" He pointed toward the large lettering on the glass.
"Remington Steele Investigations."
"Which is owned by Mrs. Westfield," Mildred went on. "Mrs. Westfield created Remington Steele Investigations. To all intents and purposes, Mrs. Westfield created Remington Steele."
"She said that?"
"You got it."
"And you believed her?"
She eyed him narrowly. "She had some pretty convincing evidence."
"The way I see it, youre just some guy who came in off the street."
Hand on his heart, he staggered back. "Mildred "
"Youre not Remington Steele. She made you up. Youre just a common criminal."
Remington, blinking with shock, came up to her desk. "Thats how she describes me? Me, a master of the art of deception, an expert evaluator of security systems world wide "
"Thats exactly how she described you," said Mildred. "Especially that master of the art of deception part. Art thief, jewel thief, cat burglar like Cary Grant in that movie. Sounds like a common criminal to me."
"Not any more, Mildred. Ive reformed. She reformed me. She made me the man I am today. A respected servant of the law-abiding public. A shining beacon of hope for those in need. A "
" creep?" she suggested.
"No. Ah, now, Mildred "
"You take off without a word, leave her, leave us, and Im supposed to feel sorry for you? Huh uh, buster. You made your bed. Hope you enjoy sleeping in it."
Vanquished, Remington retreated to Lauras office Lauras former office and sat down at the desk. He still had a window, still had a view. Maybe this wouldnt be so bad, at least until he could think of something
Mildred was right on his heels. "Thats not your office, either."
"This is Garys office."
"Whos Gary, then?"
"Gary Sanchez. A P.I. Mrs. Westfield recruited out of the Havenhurst agency."
"Oh, yes?" He got up and pushed the chair back up to the desk. Then he slammed it back against the wall. "What am I supposed to do, then? Sit on the sofa and read magazines? Perch next to the copier and the coffee machine?"
Mildred picked up an empty file box and thrust it at him. "You can start boxing up the files in that cabinet," she explained. "Were moving."
She left him holding the box and brought out four more, collapsed, from the supply room.
"Moving where? Where are we going?"
"Bigger digs upstairs. Mrs. Westfield always said, whether Remington Steele is here or not, hes gotta have an office."
"Thats something at least, an acknowledgment of my contribution to the enterprise."
"And she has to have a partner. A real partner. She and I cant do it alone, even with Gary. Im too old to be chasing crooks down the street."
"As I understand it," he said, "she has a partner. At home in Brentwood."
Mildred chuckled. "Hes a good guy."
"A good guy. And what am I? Eh?"
Sobering, Mildred looked him in the eye. "Im not so sure any more, chief."
* * *
Shed thought it would be awkward, but it wasnt. In fact, it was downright pleasant. Once she sank into the seat, she was able to give herself over to Westfields genuine interest in her. She hardly thought about---well, about anyone else but William.
Before she knew it, the wheels were screeching on the runway. William gallantly slung her overnight bag over his shoulder, and they joined the crowd pressing its way off the plane. After finding their way to the taxi stand, they flagged a yellow cab to take them to their hotel.
"Mr. Westfield? And Miss Holt. Welcome to the Mayan Palace in beautiful Acapulco! We have you in rooms 214 and 411. I apologize, sir, but with the late reservation we werent able to put you on the same floor---"
"Oh, thats fine." He signed the register and whipped out his gold AmEx before Laura had even reached for her purse.
"I want to pay for my own room." She hastily fished around for her own piece of plastic. Westfield turned and looked at her. He didnt say a word, just stepped aside so Laura could conduct her own transaction.
Given the late hour and the scarcity of bags, they eschewed a bell hop. They rode the elevator to Lauras room. Westfield took the key from Lauras hand and swung open the door. Stepping into the room, he turned on lights while Laura brought her bag into the bathroom. They met in front of the television. Westfield reached for her hand as kissed her chastely, but with promise.
"Breakfast?" She smiled.
"Mm-hmm. Sleep tight."
She walked him to the door. William waited just outside until he heard the bolt sliding into place, and then he turned and bounced down the hall, hands in his pockets, grin on his face. Laura, meanwhile, leaned against the closed door, wrapping her arms around her shoulders. A grin danced across her lips as she thought of his bright eyes, his captivating smile. But then her face clouded over, if only for a second.
* * *
She woke with a start. What a dream! Mr. Steele, in the international terminal, carrying everything he owned, turning tail and heading for God knows where. But that wasnt a dream. . . . She was here, in Acapulco, with William, while Steele had vanished, dusting LA off without so much as a backward glance. With a groan, Laura rubbed the sleep from her eyes and turned to climb out of bed.
A new day, a new man. And a very different one at that. This man: attentive, caring, solicitous, safe. That man: dangerous, unreliable, and after three exasperating years, unknowable. Oh, he had his charms: he was smooth, sophisticated, and so very mouth-wateringly handsome. But hed never be there for the long haul, that much was obvious.
After propping herself against the shower door while the warm water pelted every inch of skin, Laura was ready to face the day. She rang his room. Westfield answered on the first ring, and she knew hed been sitting there, waiting patiently for her. No demands.
"Laura. Did you sleep well?"
Most definitely. He had no idea just how much. God, how long had it been? Too long, if she needed a calendar to figure it out.
After a poolside brunch, William pushed back from the table and ran the cloth napkin across his mouth. Laura watched, oddly fascinated. When he licked his bottom lip, she inhaled sharply, but managed to reel herself back in by thinking about an algebra problem. Works every time. Or almost every time. This time it might take a quadratic equation.
For a full eight hours, they were Mr. and Mrs. Joe Tourist, pondering no weightier decisions than which beach to hit first, whether to have the margaritas straight up or on the rocks, which Aztec ruin to peruse. Laughing, stumbling against one another, they made their way across the hotel lobby, exhausted but by no means ready to call it a night.
"I dont know about you, but I could use a shower. And forty winks," Westfield remarked as he pressed the elevator button, his free arm draped casually around Laura. "Meet up again later for dinner?"
"Sure, Id love a shower too. But I havent gotten to see your room yet. Can I come up for a peek?" Laura was astonished at her own brazenness. If William was too, he hid it well.
A short distance away, from behind a rather large potted plant, he spied on them. He heard the innuendo in her voice. He saw the other mans hand placed proprietarily on the small of her back. He even recognized the look in Westfields eyes, and why not? Hed seen it in his own mirror. The look that said I want this woman, every damned inch of her.
To Part 2