Steele Ocean

Mildred was on the phone when Harry arrived at the office. With a thankful sigh of relief, he gave her a small wave and beat a hasty retreat to his office. His hand was still on the knob and he was vacillating about locking the door when it swung open and an angry Mildred pushed her way past him.
"I've got a message for you from Fred, Boss." She fixed him with her IRS fraud squad glare and Harry shuffled a tiny step back. "Apparently, he dropped Mrs. Holt at the airport this morning and she will call you when she gets to Ashford Castle."
"Thank you , Mildred. If that is all, I..."
"No that's not all, I have a message for you too, buster."
She took two steps towards him. Harry took three steps back, until he felt the edge of the desk against his legs. He rested his hand on the desk and tried to look, well, boss like rather than like a child being scolded. He had no confidence in this performance.
"I don't know what's been going on with you two for the last couple of weeks. But I'm not stupid, Boss. Something's rotten in Denmark." Mildred held both hands up in surrender. "If you and Mrs. Holt want to keep your personal life private, fine. I mean, I just work here. But I work here and when it starts affecting the office and how I do my job here, then I gotta say something. Just today, I've spent the last two hours covering for your unreturned phone calls and straightening out your continuously rescheduled appointments."
She took a breath but made it very clear she wasn't finished with her message. Harry leaned back further and all but sat on the edge of the desk, his arms crossed over his chest.
"If you hadn't just bought that fancy beach house, I'd be wondering if maybe you two had decided to close up shop or something. But I'm thinking that you need every penny's worth of income this place generates to make your house payment. The Mrs. Holt I thought I knew would be in here 24/7 trying to sign-up new clients and worrying over the books."
"It's not a fancy house, Mildred. It's really rather tastefully simple."
Mildred gave him a death stare, "I wouldn't know, since I haven't seen it--but if it's near the beach it ain't cheap."
Ah, Harry began to understand at least part of the problem. Mildred was feeling left out and unimportant. His lips made a small, tight line. He lowered his head a bit and apologized with his eyes.
"No one's seen the house except Monroe, who helped, well really, who moved us in. We're not even unpacked yet. It's probably vain of me, but I wanted to wait until we had it all sorted out and fixed up. You know, show it off best foot forward."
Mildred looked slightly mollified. "Really, no one, not even Mrs. Holt's mother or Frances?"
Harry smiled and raised an eyebrow. "Most definitely not Abigail or Frances."
He stepped away from the desk and swept his hand towards the door to his office. "And you made some good points about our neglect of the agency. I will endeavor to improve while Laura is away." He walked Mildred back to her desk then stuck his hands in his pockets and gave Mildred his 'I lost my puppy' look. "But I know I shall be a poor substitute for her where the books are concerned. It might be best if you started identifying some options of accountants or bookkeepers to help me with the numbers..."
"I could do that, Boss, you don't need to find someone else." Mildred entreated.
"I don't know if I should ask you to, Mildred. You already have so much..."
"That's not the real problem, Boss. I just need to know what I'm responsible for. I can get it done."
"Only if you're sure it won't be too much. And only if you promise to tell me if it turns into too much later."
"Deal." Mildred answered with a huge smile on her face. "I can handle it for a week or two no problem."
"Uh, it might be a bit longer than that."
Mildred's smile slid off her face. "How long?"
Harry wondered himself.
"I'm not sure. A month, maybe more?"
Mildred stared at him with her mouth open. Fortunately for Harry, the phone rang before Mildred found her voice. He answered the phone.
"Remington Steele Investigations...Yes, just a moment and I will get someone to help you with that."
He handed the phone to Mildred, mouthed "I'll be back before we close," then walked out the glass doors.
He had a lot of thinking to do and he didn't do that well behind his desk.
Disgusted, Harry tossed the remote on the coffee table, got off the couch and headed out to the deck. He stood at the railing and scanned the beach. Far in the distance, a petite woman with a brown ponytail and dark pink running shorts caught his eye. For a split second his heart raced before his brain reminded his body she wasn't here to take her customary runs. His heart deflated. But the sand and waves still called to him and his feet followed. He left the deck and slowly made his way down the trail. Laura's imprint was there as well; it was much more well worn from her consistent daily run than it had been even a few weeks ago. The ground grew softer and vegetation opened up as he reached the end of the path and the ocean spilled out in front of him. He slipped off his shoes, tucked his socks into them and stuck them next to the rock they used as their own beach locker. He rolled the bottoms of his pants up to just above his ankles.
The sand was warm under his toes but he continued towards the water until the cold surf washed over the top of his bare feet. He stuck his hands in his pockets and meandered along the water's edge in the direction Laura normally ran. He wasn't sure if being here in her space, her place made him feel closer to her or made her absence more tangible, more real. He sighed. But it felt right to be here.
From the office, he'd headed to the boxing club but didn't even slow down as he drove past. Turns out he was ambivalent at best about pummeling something or someone or being beaten up himself. He guessed that worked better when he was trying to work out some rage or frustration. He shook his head slightly and the corner of his mouth turned up just a bit. Maybe the outcome of his last round there had some impact on his lack of interest. He sobered. Or maybe the possible risks and consequences simply didn't feel worth it to a man who was now a father and father to be.
He raised his eyes and stared across the water. Anger and frustration were not what he felt. And this wasn't the first time that boxing hadn't been the answer to his emotional upheaval. So he'd driven home and headed for his movie collection. Those classics had never failed him until today. There wasn't a single one that came to mind to help him solve this case. Whether there wasn't one or his mind was simply too muddled to think of it, he hadn't a clue.
Disappointment settled over him like a stubborn Irish mist. Disappointment in himself for creating this situation on so many levels. Disappointment in Laura for not staying and working it out together. Disappointment that six years later, he still knew very little and had assisted with even less of the nuts and bolts, daily grind aspects of the agency. Truth be told, he'd have no idea what financial institution held the agency accounts if it wasn't written on his paycheck.
Perhaps this was the point where he needed to spend less time pretending and more time becoming. After all, he was no longer impersonating Remington Steele. He was Remington Steele. And though Steele might not concern himself with balancing the books, he certainly would concern himself with the balance on the books. Pleased with his own insight, Harry grinned. He could do this--and it wasn't going to be the painful, boring experience he'd first thought. It would even lighten Laura's load when she returned.
He turned around and started back. He could see their home, his and Laura's, up on the hill ahead of him. There wasn't anything he could do at this point about the situation with Alanis and Siobhan--no way he could go there and take this burden, his burden, from Laura. But there was something he could do for her. He could make sure that the agency was in as good a place when she returned than when she left--better if Mildred's assessment from earlier had accurate. And he could carry his share of that endeavor for himself from now on. Energized, he pulled his hands from his pockets-- and though he would never admit it to Laura-- ran, sort of, towards their house and their future.
Still breathing hard from his unusual exertion, Harry heard the phone ring and groaned. His heart protested and his quads quavered and burned as he sprinted to answer it--it could be Laura. The timing was off, though. She shouldn't have made it to Ashford, yet. Fear amplified the pounding of his heart in his chest. Gasping for air he snatched up the handset and pushed the button.
He sagged against the wall and tried to catch his breath. Why again did Laura do this? Ah yes, she claimed to find energy and peace... in this torture?
"Everything alright, Steele?"
Murphy. Harry took a couple of slow, deep breaths.
"Are you okay? Should I call 9-1-1?"
He wasn't sure if Murphy was serious or laughing at him.
"..'m fine... just ran for the were...Laura."
Murphy laughed.
"That's sweet, Steele. You're still chasing her. I thought husbands were supposed to run away when their wives called."
Harry gritted his teeth and sneered. Murphy was another one of those things Laura had an affection for that he'd never understand.
"Laura's on her way to Ireland. If she needed help, I didn't want to miss her."
" Laura Holt calling home for help traveling to Ireland? Ha. Are you sure you're okay? 'Cause it sounds to me like you've forgotten who you're married to. Instead of phoning home, she'd be determined to take care of herself."
"Or die trying," Steele mumbled, "that's what worries me."
"You're seriously concerned." Murphy wasn't joking now. "You are actually worried about her, not just lovesick and lonely."
Now you've done it, Harry. For all his obvious faults and a few more subtle ones, Harry knew Murphy genuinely cared for Laura. Murphy wasn't going to let it be if he thought Laura was in trouble or in danger.
"If you're so concerned about her, why aren't you with her? I know the two of you rarely go anywhere further than the grocery store without the other these days but Laura's smart, strong and knows how to keep her head. She's saved both our necks and her own."
"More times than I'd like to think about. Things are just different this time, Michaels. Laura's not been herself, lately."
"Gee, wonder why that is. Wouldn't have anything to do with another blast from your past, would it? Maybe a few photographs, some cryptic notes and a long lost daughter found? Seriously, why'd you send her off by herself...oh wait, you didn't send her..."
Harry tried to come up with the right angle for dealing with Murphy but the only ones he could come up with involved the angle of the punch to Murphy's face or the angle of Murphy's neck when his head snapped back. Perhaps he wasn't over boxing after all...
"She left, didn't she?! Dammit, why didn't she call me?"
"Go over that one more time, Michaels."
"What I will do to you if anything has happened to Laura? Do you need more detail about how I will tear your heart out after I..."
"No, the part about the photographs."
"The ones that Laura called me about a couple of weeks ago. She cried, Steele. Laura cried."
In spite of his rising anger, Harry could hear the pain in Murphy's voice.
"I told her to tell you, that she was right in wanting to stand by you. I don't know what you did to change her mind but if anything happens to her, you will die a slow painful death..."
This at least, they could agree on. But he wasn't going to give Murphy the satisfaction of even that knowledge. Murphy already knew too much about his and Laura's personal life.
Steele pushed off the wall and walked towards the windows overlooking the deck and the ocean.
"I'll let Laura know you called. Thanks for your concern, Michaels, but you don't need to worry, I can take care of my own wife."
He clicked the off button on the phone. He stood staring out at the surf, his arms crossed over his chest, the phone twitching in his hand, the pulse jumping in his clenched jaw.
She'd gone to him first. Him. First. What the hell was he supposed to make of that?
Mildred was lying in wait for him when Harry arrived back at the office. She made a show of looking at her watch and made certain he noticed.
"Don't rush, Boss. You're back with five minutes to spare before closing time.
He'd heard her use that sarcastic tone often enough with recalcitrant witnesses, clients and suspects, but rarely with him. And it never bode well for peace and tranquility in the office. He sighed. Wasn't this day over yet?
Normally this is where he would run the con, turn on the charm and schmooze his way back into someone's good graces. Well, he wasn't doing that tonight. He was all business. He straightened his tie.
"I said I'd be here and I am. And since I've only five minutes, maybe you could give me a three minute recap about what can't wait until the morning and mine and Laura's messages."
Mildred rolled her eyes. Harry stared back, his gaze direct and firm. He crossed one arm over his chest and the other hand under his jaw. His toe tapped impatiently in his shoe but on the outside he was Joe Cool.
"Matchtek called about their audit, again. I've put them off as long as I can. You have no idea..."
Well, having Laura out of the country saved him this battle with her, anyway. He'd have to take this one over.
"Right." He cut Mildred's grumbling off. "I appreciate your efforts. I'll call them first."
He glanced at his watch and made sure Mildred saw it.
"Anything else that needs my attention tonight?"
"Murphy called for Mrs. Holt."
Harry stuck both hands in his pockets where he could make fists while still appearing nonchalant. He really didn't mind Laura using Holt professionally, actually he understood her reasoning and whole-heartedly approved. But where Murphy was concerned, Harry preferred him be reminded often that Laura was married to him. Had chosen him. His conscience twinged. Saying that street corner conversation about marriage, deportation and the survival of the agency meant she'd chosen him over anyone, including Murphy, was a stretch, even for an elite conman such as himself.
Harry shook his head in an effort to chase off that line of thinking. He rocked back on his heels.
"I've already spoken with Mr. Michaels."
Mildred raised an eyebrow at him.
"Mr. Michaels, huh?"
"What else, Mildred?"
He swore Mildred was trying to hide a smirk.
"Mrs. Holt's mother..."
Abigail. His teeth were going to be worn down to nubs, soon.
"Any other agency business, Mildred, that needs to be dealt with this evening?"
Mildred glanced at her watch again and pulled her purse out of the desk drawer.
"Just the landlord wanting to know if you planned on paying rent this month," Mildred called back over her shoulder then marched triumphantly out the door.
Harry watched her get on the elevator then locked the door and turned off the lights in the lobby before gathering the pink message slips from Mildred's desk and heading to Steele's office. His office.
He slumped into his chair, put his feet on the desk, his hands behind his dark hair and leaned back.
"Smooth, Steele. That went well." About as well as the rest of his day. Laura hadn't even been gone an entire work day and his world had already hit the skids. And he still had Matchtek, the landlord and Abigail left to go. Tomorrow wasn't looking promising either. He'd wake up alone. When he got to the office Mildred would still be miffed. And he dreaded Laura's call from Ashford almost as much as he longed to hear her lilting voice. Almost. He didn't know what to think, let alone what to say to her right now.
He lowered his feet and picked up the messages, flipping through them until he found the two he was looking for. Might as well start with the landlord. How hard could that be? Sorry for the oversight, I'll send Mildred round tomorrow morning with a check, right.
He picked up the receiver and punched in the numbers.
"This is Remington Steele, returning your call...Yes, Mildred mentioned we had not...I can send her round tomorrow...Not renewing our lease under its current terms...But it's only one payment we're late by two days on."
Harry stood and raked his fingers through his hair before trying to pace and hold on to the phone at the same time.
"Most of our clients are neither dangerous or shady...No, I haven't forgotten about the Santas and the bombs...Or the hole in between floors for the stolen diamonds...You have warned us before, just last month..."
Harry didn't remember anything about being warned they were in danger of losing their lease once the Santa situation had been resolved.
"Some kind of computer software start up looking for space. Nice, safe and willing to pay twice what we're paying." Damn. "Let me get this straight. Our lease is up in 60 days and we can renew it in twenty-four hours at two and a half times our current rate or you will notify us in writing our lease is not being renewed?" Sweat beaded on his forehead and Harry reached for his pocket square, only to realize it wasn't there. "Laura, Mrs. Holt, is out of the country. I need more than twenty-four hours..." He didn't want to cave in to this extortion but he didn't want to make this kind of decision on his own, without Laura's input. "That's your best offer. You have to answer the computer company...Just business..I'll get with you before 9:00 a.m. day after tomorrow...Good night to you, too."
Harry dropped into his chair and put his face in his hands. He took a moment to gather himself. He still had two phone calls to make.
Laura took a final sip of the ginger ale before handing it to the flight attendant in preparation for take-off. At least this last bout of nausea hadn't caused her to almost miss her flight. She'd even managed to upgrade her seat to business class for very little cost, on the suggestion of the flight attendant on the plane from LA.
She gripped the stuffed rabbit tightly as they taxied down the runway for take-off. Harry, she sighed, rubbing the soft ear between her fingers. She'd fallen asleep almost immediately on the first flight and slept the whole trip, so the flight attendant hadn't given her Harry's gift until she left the plane. She hadn't even read the card yet, only knew for certain it was from him by the distinctive handwriting of her name on the envelope. Pulling the card from her bag, she wondered how he'd known. Had she been that obvious? She was a detective, for pete's sake. And just how angry was he? He couldn't be that mad, could he? He'd sent her the rabbit. And he'd let her go. Without trying to stop her. She'd have the whole flight to think it over.
Her hands trembled slightly as she slipped the card from the envelope.
Dearest Laura,

If you love something, let it go, eh? Know I will be impatiently waiting for you to come back to me.
I trust you to take care of yourself and our Baby Steele. That is the most important thing.
Only Yours, Harry
PS... If one rabbit's foot is lucky, maybe four will do the trick. And yes, Laura, I'm still angry...
She choked out half a laugh as a few tears rolled down her face and she swiped at them with the back of her hand. He knew her too well. Her heart leapt at the thought but it also sent a shiver down her spine. How wonderful to matter enough for him to study her so thoroughly. But it was a bit unsettling, to be known in that way by another. She felt a bit exposed and vulnerable. 'It is the price you pay for being loved, Laura,' he'd said not long ago. He'd been referring to something else but she suspected it applied here, too. No one, not Wilson, not even her father had known her this well, not as well as Harry. Maybe that was a good thing. Wasn't it?
She took the pillow and blanket the attendant offered, closed her eyes and held on to the thought as tightly as her rabbit.
It was late afternoon when Mikeline and Laura arrived at Ashford Castle in the stereotypical cool Irish rain. Mikeline insisted on taking Laura's bag, so she took her rabbit and hurried inside, where the staff were either assisting other guests checking in or waiting to greet her. After a warm round of hugs and welcomes, Mikeline lead her up the stairs to his Lordship's chambers.
Laura noticed a number of changes, most of them for the better, in the brief walk but when Mikeline opened the door to her room, everything looked exactly as it had when they had left it two years earlier.
"We didn't change a thing in here, ma'am, except for the telephone." He pointed to the cordless on the table beside the bed.
A wave of longing washed over Laura as she stepped inside. This was their room, her's and Harry's. He should be here, with her.
"Somewhat because we didn't know what you'd like. But also because we've been focused on the guest areas of the castle. Focused on the areas that will make us money, the revenue stream, ma'am just like you've been telling us." Mikeline nodded.
Laura swallowed hard to move the knot from her throat and blinked back the now expected tears.
"And from last quarter's numbers and what little I've seen so far, doing it quite well, Mikeline."
"I hope you'll have time for a full tour, ma'am, while your here."
"Absolutely. And please, don't you think it's time you called me Laura?"
Unbeknownst to Harry, at least once a quarter Laura, Mikeline and some of the other staff-owners of the castle had a conference call to talk about how things were going and what else they might do to make the resort more successful.
"Aye, but only in private. Twill be good for business for her ladyship to be in residence, you know." His Irish eyes twinkled.
Laura laughed. Nothing about this trip was perfect but it was wonderful to be among friends in a place that felt at least a bit like home. She sighed and having relaxed that little bit began to yawn.
"You must be tired from all your travels. Have yourself a rest before dinner. The meal is served at seven thirty, sharp in the main dining hall, if you'd like to join us. We dress for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Or we can have dinner brought here, if you'd rather. Oh, and no fish will be served during your stay, at his Lordship's request. If there are any other accommodations we can make so you have a pleasant visit with us, please do let us know."
Laura felt the heat rush to her face and didn't even bother to fight the tears or the big smile at Harry's thoughtfulness.
"Thank you, Mikeline."
"You're welcome, Laura. I'll leave you to rest." He started out the door then turned back to her. "I do hope you and his Lordship will return after the blessed event and show off the babe."
Laura wasn't sure if Harry had told or if Mikeline and the staff had drawn their own conclusion. Either way, it was a surprising relief not to have to pretend. She bussed his cheek.
"I certainly hope so, too, Mikeline."
He nodded and closed the door behind him.
The large four poster bed called out to her. As Laura slipped off her shoes, she was tempted to fall across the covers fully dressed. But the castle was still an Irish castle, the room cool and damp. Besides, she'd been in these clothes for more than twenty hours. She pulled a night gown and clean undergarments from her suitcase then headed to clean up.
After her shower, Laura climbed under the covers and picked up her rabbit. She still needed to call Harry. She reached over and picked up the cordless phone on the table beside the bed, glad this had changed at least. No more phone ringing from the bottom of the stairs. The bittersweet memories rushed over her.
She still didn't know why she'd done it. She'd been in his arms, on the way upstairs to begin their much overdue honeymoon when the phone rang. She'd known, suspected Harry'd known, who was on the other end. Tony. She should have just ignored it then, told Harry to continue. She let her mind drift, not for the first time, to the possibilities...but quickly pulled her imagination back into line. She hadn't ignored it, she'd answered it. And then sent Harry on up without her. Stupid. She'd been stupid and reckless. Stupid, reckless and gullible. Since she did answer, she should have set Tony straight then, given him a piece of her mind. He'd used her to get to Steele--but then she'd used him to get to Steele, although in an entirely different way.
Pain settled in Laura's chest. It did no good to try and push all of the blame back on Harry and his INS problems or his ridiculous plan to marry a hooker. She was responsible for her own response to the situation, for her own choices and behavior. And she'd always been willing to own up to that. Except in this. Not only had she behaved badly by using Tony to make Harry jealous, angry, hurt and whatever other negative emotion--betrayed, yes, definitely that one, she could conjure up, she'd not closed the door firmly on Tony's attentions then that night on the phone. Not even though she was on her way upstairs to consummate her marriage to Harry.
They'd both tried to pretend everything was fine, to continue as if nothing had interrupted. Laura had no idea if she would have been able to follow through had then phone not rung again. But it had.
"Let it ring." She'd insisted that time. It was the right answer for the first time. But it brought Laura no peace of mind the second. And it continued to ring. And ring. Then it stopped, momentarily, before ringing again. It became apparent that some action had to be taken. At the very least the phone had to be taken off the hook. And while that would stop the ringing of the phone, it would not clear Laura's conscious.
"I'll get it." She had climbed out of the bed and pulled on Harry's robe before making her way down the stairs.
"We weren't through, Laura." Tony'd insisted. "You can't tell me..."
"No, Tony, we are through. You used me to get what you wanted, I used you and almost lost what I already had. I was stupid and reckless and my only defense is that I was hurt and wanted to hurt back worse. I made my choice a long time ago, Tony. You weren't ever even on the menu. Goodbye."
Fingers trembling, she'd held the receiver down long enough to disconnect the call. When she'd picked it up, she'd checked for a dial tone, then set it beside the phone before turning to start up the stairs. There at the top had stood Harry, striped as bare emotionally as physically. He'd taken the stairs to her two at a time. After a long, passionate kiss full of love and forgiveness on both sides, Harry'd carried her back up the stairs, to their marriage bed, the bed she laid in now. And the two had become one, in body, mind and spirit.
They' d been through a lot together, and always come out stronger on the other side-- eventually. She made herself comfortable and dialed their number.
Laura pictured Harry, his thick dark hair disheveled from sleep, groping around in the dim early morning light for the phone. In spite of the slight nervousness about just how upset with her he really was, her heart skipped a beat and she smiled. Angry he might be but she was secure in his love--and his desire for her.
"Uh, hello?"
"Good morning, sleepyhead." Laura's voice was low and husky in contrast to the playful words.
He'd run his hand through his hair, then raise himself to a half-sitting position on one arm. There was something almost sacred about this type of knowing and she felt a connection so strong with him in the moment it felt as though she should be able to reach out and touch him.
"Laura." He repeated. "Is everything okay? Where are you?"
She chuckled just a little, not because he was concerned but because she knew it would be his first thought to be concerned.
"Yes, Harry. Everything is fine," she paused for effect. "I'm in our bed."
She held back a giggle as she heard him rustle the covers.
"No you're definitely not. I just checked to be sure."
"Oh but I am, your lordship. I'm in our bed."
"Your lordship?"
She heard the intake of breath as he woke up enough to follow her clues.
"Laura, are you trying to seduce me, from 5,000 miles away? Because that's the only reason I can ever imagine you calling me 'your lordship.'"
"Yes, Harry, I am. Is it working or should I try harder?"
She felt sure she was on the right track from the sound of his voice but making him talk about it would only further her cause.
"Are you breathing, Laura?"
She was confused by the question.
"Yes, but..."
"No buts, so you're alive-- then you're well on your way to seducing me. Haven't you figured that out yet."
Laura laughed, thankful he couldn't see the moisture gathering in her eyes. She'd almost lost this for...
"Laura, are you there?"
"Yes, Harry I'm here. But you're not. I miss having you here, in this place, this room, this bed..."
"I miss being there with you--especially in that bed."
Laura could see him waggle his eyebrows.
Her laugh sounded sad, even to her own ears.
"Are you sure you're alright?"
"I'm fine. Just tired. Mikeline and the staff are determined to meet my every need. I've even been assured that fish will not be on the menu as long as I am in residence."
"Ah, yes, uh, about that. I didn't do it to make you angry..."
"Do I sound like I'm angry, Harry?"
"Uh, no?"
"No. How can I be angry when you were so thoughtful that you tried to do something to make my life easier?"
"Well, when you put it like...Laura."
His voice ended in a warning.
Damn, he caught on too fast. She hadn't really intended to play it this way when she'd called but when the obvious opportunity presented itself...well, she'd hoped.
"There's a fair bit of difference between my asking Mikeline not to serve fish and your hopping on a plane out of the country behind my back, don't you think?"
His tone was even and gentle, not condescending at all, but his message was clear. He was not pleased.
She'd done it again, let her stubbornness and insistence on doing things her own way take precedence over taking Harry's feelings into account, over trusting they could work something out together. He'd expressed reservations and valid concerns and she'd blown them off as irrelevant. She sighed.
"Does it matter that I did it for the right reasons?"
The rather expensive silence stretched on. She sighed again.
"I love you, Laura Holt Steele. I love that you are so generous with your love that you have already wrapped Alanis in it. I love that you are willing to do this, wanted to do it without my even asking."
Laura held her breath. Whatever came after 'but' was going to sting or he wouldn't be quite so generous with his praise, even though she knew he meant every word of it. He'd mean every word of what came after, as well.
"But, I'm left here feeling like you don't think I'm smart enough to participate in making this decision together, like you don't know from experience that I am willing to admit when your idea is better and go with it. Did it ever occur to you that you were out to prove your capability at the expense of mine?"
"I know I'm not the Stanford grad in the family. Hell, I've never really graduated from any school other than the school of hard knocks. And while I'm not proud of it, I don't think it represents anything other than my circumstances, certainly not my ability to problem solve."
The sting was indeed sharp.
"And while my experience in normal family dynamics is non-existent, my experience in human behavior is fairly extensive. If we're going to be successful parents, we're going to have to learn how to make difficult decisions together and not undermine or under cut each other, even under duress."
She wanted to argue, to defend. But there really was nothing there to work with. She'd been wrong. And on some level she'd known it all along.
"I'm sorry, Harry. I didn't mean to hurt you. Certainly not that way. But I see your point."
It didn't seem like enough. Wasn't enough. But, 'I do think you're smart and capable,' wouldn't help much, either. He was a man who valued deeds over words. At this moment in time she had no idea what deeds would soothe the wounds she'd created.
There were two more points Harry wanted to make.
"I'm not going to agree with you all the time. And I know better than to expect that from you--wouldn't want it, either. I do expect that when you disagree, you'll say so and point out all the reasons why your way is better. "
His body stirred at the image in his mind of Laura, making her case, her cheeks a bit flushed, her brown eyes bright like burning golden flames.
"I love that about you. I don't want that to change. But our plan is always going to be better than your plan or my plan--your way or my way. We manage it well when we're working on a case. I can't help but wonder if it's because you have more trust in me on a professional level than a personal one?"
Her silence didn't concern him much, as he'd meant it as a rhetorical question. Knew she'd need to think about it, analyze it, work it out for a while herself before she was ready to tackle it together. But he wanted to be sure she really heard what he said next.
"Laura? Are you still there?"
"I'm here, Harry. I'm not sure what to say..."
"It's alright. I'll always be ready to listen when you're ready to talk. And I have one more thing to say about this and then unless you have something you want to say, it's on to some agency business. Okay?"
"I am the luckiest man alive, being married to you. I may not like all the ways you've handled having Alanis dropped on us like this, but I will never, ever forget that you've not only met the situation with Alanis with grace and acceptance but you've stood behind me and supported me in ways that no one has a right to expect. I've never loved you more than I do right now."
Harry gave her a moment to let that sink in. Really gave himself a moment, too, let some of the tension leave his body relieved at how well that had gone. He'd thought long and hard last night about how to tackle this conversation with Laura. Once he'd figured it out, he'd rehearsed it over and over in his head until he could do it in his sleep--which he sort of had, at least at the start. He'd hated doing it, knowing there was no way he wasn't going to hurt her yet also knowing that for them to move forward, it needed to be said. All of it.
"Shall I move on to agency concerns?"

The silence was a little longer than he was comfortable with but just as he started to speak, her voice, still a bit raw, came over the line.
"Yes, I think that would be good."
He wished he could take her in his arms...He let himself feel her hurt while continuing to shift the conversation.
"I had an interesting conversation with the landlord last night."
"Oh god. I forgot to pay the rent. I'm sorry..."
"No one's perfect, Laura. There's a lot going on. Let it go. Turns out he was only partially calling to remind us of the rent. He was really on a mission of extortion. Seems he's had a better offer for our space. A much better offer."
"How much better?"
Harry smiled at the irritation in Laura's voice. It seemed a good sign to him.
"More than twice as good as ours."
He pulled the phone back from his ear before the last word was out.
"That's ridiculous!"
He had no problem hearing her from arm's length.
"I agree. What really makes me furious is that he wants two and a half times as much as the current rent from us, or we're out when the lease is up sixty days. And he wants an answer no later than 24 hours from now."
He held the phone out again.
"Insane! What kind of company is willing to pay twice the going rate for our office space?"
"Some sort of computer software something."
"I don't like it Harry. I don't like any of it."
"Of course not."
"Something's just not right about it. I mean aren't the offices on the fifth floor still available? I could have sworn the last time I left the office they still had a sign up in the lobby about them."
A light was slowly coming on for him. Laura wasn't just mad, she was suspicious. And he was starting to see her reasoning.
"Mrs. Steele, you are brilliant! I was so caught off guard last night, I didn't even think to wonder if that company wanted some office space, some office space in our building or our offices. It certainly seems like they want our offices, doesn't it? I had gotten so used to seeing that sign in the lobby, I'd forgotten all about it."
His mind was racing but he was sure Laura's was going faster. This was the kind of thing where she was always one step ahead of him. Or more.
"I'll put Mildred right on it this morning when she comes in. See if we can't find out the name of the company who's after our space and if there has been any recent change in space available in the building."
Reluctantly he asked the unanswered but obvious question.
"It's going to be very difficult to resolve this in less than twenty-four hours. If it comes to that, what's your vote on the offer, take it or leave it?"
He had mixed emotions. It was the place where he'd first seen Laura. Literally his whole identity came out of Laura's imagination and those offices. He would have a hard time letting them go. But the offer on the table was truly extortion. And he didn't even know if they could afford to pay the increase.
"Leave it." Her tone was regretful but resolved. "My vote is leave it. But you get a vote, too."
"Could we pay it? If we had to? If we wanted to?"
"It would be tight, Harry. Really tight. But, yes I think we could. Do you want to keep them? We still could lose them, though. I don't think we could go any higher if we wanted to..."
"We've got twenty-four hours. Let's see what happens today. A lot can change in twenty-four hours."
He threw off the covers and padded to the closet. He'd have Mildred pick up breakfast once he got to the office. He had work to do.
"Keep in touch when you can. I don't want to make this decision without you."
He hopped into his slacks one handed.
"I will. You shouldn't have to. I'm sorry I'm not there. But I know you and Mildred will do your best. If there's a way to get to the bottom of this, I know you will. And I'll help any way I can. "
"We're counting on it. I love you but I should get started..."
"I love you, too, Harry."
He hung up the phone and slipped his other arm in his shirt. They were just offices, not what made the agency. But there had been so much upheaval in their lives in the last weeks, if there was a way to keep those offices, he was determined to find it.
Harry waved her steno pad at Mildred as she walked in the door.
"Good Morning. I've been making a list..."
He led the way to his office and indicated she should follow. He expected there might be some fallout from how they'd left things yesterday evening and he hoped jumping right in would stall that discussion, at least until after the little matter of where their offices would be located in 60 days was resolved.
"How do you feel about working in real estate, Mildred?"
"A little shaky if you mean management or the structural stuff, but if you're talking prices, location, comparables, things like that," Mildred pointed to herself and raised her chin, "I'm your gal."
Harry gave her a wide, encouraging smile and held out her steno pad.
"That's what I wanted to hear, Mildred."
He came around and sat on the corner of the desk and looked at the list with her.
"I need a list of all the comparables for our offices that are currently on the market. If we wouldn't put our office there, don't include it. Use concentric circles, one mile, three miles and five miles, if you have time. Now with this building," palm upturned he pointed out their offices, "here, I want to know every available space and as many details about the lease agreements as you can gather for all the tenants in similarly sized spaces in this building."
"You got it."
Mildred jumped to do his bidding and headed for her desk, only to stop before she crossed the threshold.
"Wait a minute, Boss." She turned put the hand with the steno pad on her hip and pointed her pen at him. "This is more funny stuff. When are you going to let me in on what wacky case we're on that has everything so crazy around here?"
Harry opened his mouth and then closed it. Still not sure what to tell and what not to tell--
"Come on , Boss."
He hated Mildred's whiny voice.

"I'd probably do a better job if I understood what you hoped to gain from all this information you're asking for."
But the woman had a point, there. And she was only asking about this, not all that...
"Go grab us some breakfast first, Mildred. When you get back we'll have a nice chat about"
Maybe that would give him time to finish figuring out what he was going to do with the information once they had it...
"Don't like it but gotta admit it makes sense, Boss. I mean he's a business man. Why wouldn't he take that deal? I mean the only way he loses is if the company goes bankrupt before he gets the value of our rent out of it."
Steele snapped his head up.
"Say that again, Mildred," he asked, his mouth still full of bagel.
"He's a business man?"
He wiped at his mouth and took a drink from his cup.
"No, the part about how he loses."
"Well, the way I figure, if this new upstart..."
"Start up, Mildred."
She pointed her pencil at him.
"That's what I said, Boss. Anyway, if this upstart pays rent at that rate for at least five months, then he comes out in the black, with money in his pocket versus our rate for 12 months. The only way it doesn't work is if the company goes belly up before it pays the fifth month's rent."
Harry grinned and shook his head.
"Yes, Mildred." He tapped the eraser end of his pencil on her steno pad. "But there's one problem, there, one flaw."
Mildred looked skeptical but he just grinned wider. He was sorry Laura wasn't here to see this, him. It was just the kind of thing he'd have expected her to have noticed. He wanted to dance a jig. And would, if this worked how he thought it might. It didn't solve the mystery but it might buy them some more time. Sometimes that was all you could hope for, just a little more time to try and figure it out, get it right. He grabbed the calculator and headed back to his office while Mildred looked on, dumbfounded.

"Keep working on those lists, Mildred. Maybe you'll come up with something else I can use when I call back our landlord, the friendly businessman."
He closed the door, sat down at his desk and started running numbers. He was sure there were some sort of fancy mathematical formulas that would tell him right off what he wanted to know. Hell, Laura could probably just look and tell him. And Mildred, too. But he needed to do this for himself. Besides, he needed Mildred to keep working on what other properties were available, just in case...
"Hello, Mrs. Steele, I am Father O'Reilly. I do wish we were meeting under better circumstances."
After a brief, gentle handshake, he pointed to a wingback chair.
"Have a seat, please."
Her anxiety pushed aside by her need to make the most of the few hours left in the evening, Laura jumped right in as soon as they were seated.
"I don't know where to begin with my questions, Father O' Reilly. Maybe you can tell me what you know about how things got to this point. All I have are a few photos, the notes and your message from Father Flanagan. That's it."
"Weel, lass, I've known Siobhan and Alanis since they came to this parish three years ago. It's always been just the two of them. Siobhan never had much to say about their past. I gather she grew up somewhere on this side of Ireland. She worked as a nurse before she got sick, mostly with mums and bairns, I think. They were at mass most every week and seemed to be content if not happy with their quiet, simple life. Wish it twere that way with more of my flock," he sighed.
"So you don't know anything about other family or where they were before they came here?"
"Nay, except they belonged to a large parish in Dublin before here. That's all. I asked Siobhan many times after she became sick who I could call, if there wasn't someone who would want to know. Her answer was always no, only her neighbor Constance. That's who the lass has been staying with the last weeks. And then your husband. But she didn't even bring him up until they started talking about a heart transplant being her only hope to ever get well enough to come home."
It was not lost on Laura that save for Daniel's reluctant confession, she knew no more about where Harry came from than she did Siobhan.
"And what did she say?"
"Only that Alanis's closest, only, living relative to her knowledge was Remington Steele, the detective in Los Angeles."
"That's it?"
"I'm afraid so, lass."
Laura took a deep breath. Well, there seemed little use in trying to get more information about Siobhan's past from Father O'Reilly.
"It doesn't matter much at this point, anyway, does it. Were you able on short notice to arrange for me to see Siobhan or meet Alanis this evening?"
"Yes, lass. Knowing you were coming soon, I'd already made inquiries. Constance suggested we start with Alanis, so the child can settle down before bed tonight. She is still sending her to school, trying to keep some normalcy and routine in her world. If you're alright with that, I'll ring Constance and let her know we'll be over shortly."
Laura nodded, glad there was no need for words. Her throat was tight and her stomach rolled. And she'd felt so good after her nap.
Laura bolted from the room, happy she had spotted the ladies room on her way in. She thought she might just make it.
Frustrated his numbers weren't as compelling as he'd expected, Harry pounded his fist on the desk. What he really wanted was to send Johnny Todd out to visit Mr. Hastings. Nice thing about boxing, you got to use gloves, he thought as he rubbed his hand. It would give him immeasurable personal satisfaction to watch Mr. Hastings's eyes get very wide, to have him feel some of the discomfort and uncertainty about his fate that Harry currently felt. In spite of the temptation, he refrained. In the first place, he'd likely get caught out. Johnny Todd had never dealt with anyone who had already met Mr. Steele in person. Second, but more importantly, he rather suspected Laura would frown upon him making mob like threats against their landlord.
"Everything okay in here, Boss?" Mildred called out as she opened the door to his office.
"No, Mildred. Everything is not alright in here. The angle I was hoping to use didn't turn out to be as advantageous as I had anticipated."
"So, what does that mean?"
Harry came around and sat on the corner of his desk, put his hand up to his mouth and stared at a spot of in the distance to the right of Mildred. Finally, he sighed and gave her a grim smile.
"It means I hope there is something in the information you've been working on that will help us, soon. And that you had best continue looking for another home for the agency, just in case."
Mildred came over and put a sympathetic hand on his arm.
"Chin up, Boss. Have some faith. You'll come up with something that works, or your name isn't."
"Remington Steele" they said in unison. His laugh at their standing joke was half-hearted.
"I appreciate the vote of confidence, Mildred." He slid some papers over and patted the clean spot on the desk top beside him. "Have a seat and let's see what you've got."
They flipped through her notes but Harry didn't see anything that sparked an idea or even another good question.
"Damn it, Mildred! There has to be something we're not seeing. I know Laura said she was okay with it if we had to let go of these offices but I think she was just saying the right thing, trying to make it easier in case..."
The phone rang and Mildred reached over and answered it.
Harry rubbed the back of his neck while she talked to whoever was on the phone. He surveyed his office. His. Memories played through his mind like a highlight reel from Best Picture nominations. His head ached. And so did his heart. Well, he wasn't going down without a fight.
Concern and sympathy were all over Father O'Reilly's face when Laura returned.
"Are you sure you are alright to do this tonight, lass? Perhaps you'll feel better in the morning, after a good rest."
Laura held back a snort.
"That's doubtful, Father. More likely, I would feel worse."
"I understand. Sometimes it is better to get the thing that concerns you done. Things are rarely as difficult as we expect, are they?"
"Yes. I mean no. It's not. I uh, of course I am a little nervous but that's..." Her awkwardness over...this... annoyed her. She was married. She was happy, thrilled really. Unconsciously her hand settled over her belly, her baby. "I'll be fine."
She turned and started out the door. Father O'Reilly followed her down the hall.
"I'm excited to meet Alanis. As far as we know, she is also Harry, Mr. Steele's, only living relative, as well."
They left the building and he drew up beside her, indicating the direction of their destination.
"Constance lives only five blocks from here, but if you'd like, we can take the car."
"No the walk will be welcomed after all the sitting."
They were silent for the first block or so. Laura decided Father O'Reilly was leaving it up to her if she wanted a conversation.
"Tell me about Alanis... and Constance."
"Constance Driscoll has been like a grandmother to Alanis, I think since the moment Siobhan and Alanis moved in next door. Has been a blessing for them all, I think. Constance has only the one son, who lives near Waterford with his family. He's offered to move her there nearer them and one day, I suspect she'll go. But she's not ready yet. So the three of them have been their own merry band. As for Alanis..."
His smile grew and reached his eyes.
"Alanis is a good lass. A spirited but good natured, generous child. Keeps you on your toes, that one, but never really into trouble. Used to be quick with a smile."
Laura's chest tightened. That sounded a lot like someone else she knew--very well.
"But the last few months, she's become quiet and compliant, much too sober and grown up. Understandable but a shame, you know. I miss her sparkle."
"What kinds of things does, did she like to do?"
"Can't say as I know, really."
He gave her a long look, one of both sympathy and challenge.
"You'll discover that over time, if you listen and watch, not only with your eyes and ears but also," he tapped his chest, "with your heart."
They crossed the street and turned. Father O'Reilly pointed to the third house down.
"That gray one, there, that's it. Siobhan and Alanis lived in the white one just past."
Normally graceful and sure footed, Laura stumbled just a bit as she climbed the first step.
'Icy calm, Laura. You know Alanis must be more nervous than you. She'll need you to be confident, caring and interested.'
She took a deep breath as Father O' Reilly raised the knocker. The door opened before it ever made a sound. They'd been watching, waiting, too.
A child of nine or ten with a weary smile held the door for them.
"Hello, Father O' Reilly. Ma'am, my name is Alanis. It's nice to meet you."
The fingers on the small hand she held out were long and elegant but her grip was firm and even. Piano player hands, Laura thought as they shook hands.
"Please come in. Gran went to put the kettle on. Would you like me to take your coats?"
Her hair was dark, and thick, Laura guessed, from the width of the neat, single braid resting on her shoulder. There was a dusting of fine, brown freckles just across her nose. Laura looked into the blue eyes that stared at her. Harry's eyes. Alanis was beautiful--an exquisite porcelain doll but there was fear and uncertainty in those familiar blue eyes. The desire to please etched in every move she made. For the first time since before Laura left Los Angeles, she was glad Harry wasn't here with her. It would have crushed him to see the gracious, stoic suffering of his child. She knew she could do nothing to change Siobhan's health. That was in the hands of the doctors and God. But Laura would do everything in her power to reassure Alanis and lighten the load this precious child carried, for Alanis's sake. And Harry's.
So far, it had been fifteen minutes of four adults sharing small talk, something Laura usually had little patience for. But right now, she was grateful for the safety of it. Laura wondered how much Alanis knew about who she was, why she was here. As Constance topped off their tea and offered another cake, Laura tried to get her bearings. She wasn't entirely sure what she'd expected to find, but this miniature adult wasn't it.
"Gran and I go by the hospital every day after school to see my mum. She's very sick, you know. What she has is called myocarditis."
Alanis was completely composed as she spoke. Her eyes never left Laura's face and Laura recognized the challenge in them. Laura was glad to see there was still a spark of spirit in the girl. That she could relate to. Gauntlet thrown down, Alanis sat back and, Laura thought, waited to see how she would respond. Well, Miss Alanis, message received and challenge accepted. You're not a baby, and I'd better not treat you like one.
"Yes," Laura spoke directly to Alanis, "Father O'Reilly told us your mother was very sick."
Alanis shot him a dark look which she quickly covered with an excellently manufactured sweet smile at Laura.
"Did he or Gran tell you she is going to die soon, too?"
Her tone was cordial. Her perfect little lady expression never faltered. But Laura wasn't taken in by those eyes, that charm. She'd seen it all before. Father O'Reilly's compliant, polite child was full of pent-up fury, rage...and mistrust. And Laura was beginning to fully understand who was going to feel the brunt of the blast when Alanis exploded, which looked to be imminent.
An eerie hush fell over the room. Then all three adults spoke at once.
"Yes, Alanis.." Laura began
"Oh, Alanis." Constance gasped.
"Dear God," Father O'Reilly prayed.
Only Laura continued.
"I was sorry to hear the doctors are worried she might die."
"Because then you and he will have to take care of me." Alanis stated sharply, crossing her arms across her chest.
Laura could see her lip quiver just a little before Alanis bit the inside of it to make it stop.
"Alanis Shaye!" Constance's scolding was more an apology than a reprimand. "How did you find..."
The phone rang in the background.
Oh dear God. Alanis hadn't known. She'd just confirmed for Alanis that her mother was probably dying. For a moment she was awash in guilt, then indignation for Alanis rolled in like a wave. When had they planned to tell the child?
Alanis still hadn't taken her Steele blue eyes from Laura' s face and Laura held her gaze. She patted the space beside her on the love seat.
"It sounds like you and I have a few things to talk about, Alanis. Why don't you come sit here with me. Or would you rather go for a walk?"
Laura was running on instinct and a prayer here, but in for a penny...
Alanis stared her down for a moment longer before rising.
"I'll get our coats. Excuse me."
She didn't look at either Constance or Father O'Reilly before she left the room.
Constance looked concerned and shocked. Father O'Reilly looked...amused? Laura wasn't sure what all she'd missed. But before she had an opportunity to ask, Alanis was back with their coats. Laura, she just wondered what in the world she thought she was doing.
Alanis handed Laura her coat and put her own on. She stared daggers at Constance and Father O'Reilly for a few seconds.
"I like to walk," Alanis shared as they walked to the door.
Laura wasn't sure why, but she thought she'd been given a one question pop quiz--and passed. Unfortunately, she was afraid she was headed out for a final exam very unprepared.
"Which way shall we go?"
Alanis shrugged but then turned the opposite way Laura and Father O' Reilly had come.
"Let's go this way. I always take the other to school."
"Lead the way."
They walked on in a surprisingly comfortable silence until they reached a small park. Alanis slowed and pointed to the swings.
"My mum used to bring me here almost every day before she got sick. We'd walk around and then before we went home, we'd sit on the swings."
The sun had set but there was still enough of light from its glow and from the street lights to see the metal A-frames fifty yards away.
"Would you like to swing, Alanis?"
"Could we, just for a few minutes?"
"I don't see why not."
Laura thought it was the first genuine smile she'd seen from Alanis. Instinctively, Laura held her hand out and then Alanis's hand was in hers as they made their way to the swings.
When they got close, Laura dropped Alanis's hand and whispered, "Race you."
The second word wasn't out of her mouth before Alanis had dropped her hand and taken off. Laura laughed and gave chase, catching up enough to be credible in her effort but not so much as to win. She settled herself in the swing beside Alanis and watched as the girl worked her way higher and higher. She didn't miss it when Alanis began to look over at her, waiting, Laura guessed, for an admonition not to go too high. She'd be waiting a while.
Laura smiled to herself, remembering her own childhood. Playing in the yard with her sisters. It was always her that elicited the 'not so high's' from Mother and she should have thought her name was 'Be Careful, Laura!' as she rarely heard her first name without it.
When her father was home, he would laugh and call loud enough that Laura could hear, "Leave the girl alone. She knows what she's doing. And if she falls, she'll mend." That place in her chest ached for a moment, that empty spot where her father belonged. She owed so much of who she was to him and his confidence in both her competency and her resiliency, but she hadn't been finished when he'd left, wasn't ready to stand on her own.
Alanis squealed, then giggled.
Laura pulled herself back to the present. Now wasn't the time for deep inner reflection at least not for its own sake.
"Got your tummy, did it? I loved that feeling."
"Then why don't you swing, too?"
Why not indeed, Laura thought as she straightened on the seat and pushed off. Soon she was swinging almost as high as Alanis and they were giggling together. But after a few more arcs, Laura discovered why not indeed. She jumped from the swing and ran for the bushes in one fluid motion.
When Laura straightened, a tear streaked face was watching anxiously beside her.
"You're sick and going to die like my mum, aren't you?"
Alanis wrapped her arms around Laura and laid her head on Laura's belly. Sobs wracked her small body.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean it. I don't want you to die. Him either."
"Oh, sweetheart."
Laura pulled the child close and kissed the top of her head. She opened her mouth to speak but another wave of nausea overtook her. She gently pushed Alanis aside and turned back to the bushes.
Shaking, Laura took a few deep breaths. No more swinging for her, at least not while she was pregnant. That had been one of the most awful episodes so far. She slowly pushed to her feet then turned to find Alanis and finish reassuring her.
But Alanis was gone. The light was not nearly as good as when they'd entered the park, Laura could barely make out the swings just ahead of her. But there was no girl there.
"Alanis! Where are you?"
Laura tried to keep her voice warm and cheerful, but she had a bad feeling about this. She was almost certain that Alanis had run away.
'Oh God. Help me. She has to be here somewhere.' Laura prayed as panic set in. She couldn't have gone far, could she?
At the sidewalk, Laura took a quick glance back towards Constance's house then a longer, more thorough one in the other direction. It made more sense to her that if Alanis was running away she wouldn't go back towards her house. Her line of sight was good in both directions, but nothing moved, not even a cat.
Still winded from her sprint to the sidewalk and worn down from her bout of morning sickness, Laura walked briskly but quietly back into the park. She'd given up the idea of calling for Alanis, thinking stealth might be a better option as Alanis probably didn't want to be found, at least not yet. Laura started along the bushes to her right and tried to stay in the shadows and out of sight, while keeping the entrance to the park in view.
It felt like it had been hours but was probably only ten or fifteen minutes later when Laura heard whimpering just ahead of her. She was nearly opposite the place where she and Alanis had entered the park. A few steps more and she discovered Alanis curled up on her side next to some rocks near another entrance.
"Thank you, God." She murmured as she sat beside the child.
"It's alright, Lani." Laura brushed a few curly wisps of hair that had escaped Alanis's braid from her face then reached to pull the girl into her lap.
"Ahh." Alanis yelped and drew back.
"You're hurt."
Alanis said nothing but Laura saw confirmation in those blue eyes just before Alanis turned away from her.
"Come on sweetheart, let me help you. Where does it hurt?"
Still no answer. Fine. Laura laid her hand back on Alanis's head and stroked her silky hair.
There was no protest from the child, so Laura let her fingers continue to smooth Alanis's locks.
"You don't want to help me. I prayed that you and he would die. That God would let you die and my mum live."
"I'm not dying, Alanis." Laura was clear and emphatic in her delivery. "I promise I'm not." She said more gently.
She felt, more than heard the huge sigh leave the little body.

"And even if I were, it wouldn't be your fault. God's not like that. He doesn't just hear our words, he hears our hearts. You didn't want anyone dead. You just want your mum to live. If I can understand that, I'm sure God can, too."
"Do you really think so?"
"Yes, Alanis, I do."
Alanis turned towards her gasping when she sat up.
"But you're still sick."
Laura started to ask about Alanis's injury again but decided that Alanis seemed more concerned with her emotional wounds than her physical ones.
"Only sort of, sweetheart. I'm going to have a baby, and right now, sometimes it makes me get sick."
Alanis looked at her puzzled.
Laura chuckled.
"That's a very good question, Lani. A very good question."
"You really don't know?"
"I have no idea. I do know I'll be glad when it stops."
Alanis was quiet for a moment and just as Laura went to ask where Alanis where she was hurt, the girl spoke.
"Are you mad at the baby for making you sick."
Ahh. This one was a thinker.
"No, love, not at all."
Laura reached over with her sleeve and wiped some of the tear tracks from Alanis's face.
"I'm sure Baby Steele doesn't have any say in whether or when I get sick."
She stopped and looked Alanis directly in the eyes.
"And I'm not angry with you for wishing and wondering why your mother may die and Harry and I will live. I'd probably wonder the same if I was you."
It was if a dam had burst. Alanis flung herself into Laura's lap and sobbed so hard Laura was afraid the girl might be sick herself.
"I don't want her to die. I don't want my mum to die."
Tears flowing down her own face and unsure what else to do, Laura held on to Alanis while they rode out their first wave of grief together.
Slowly, Alanis's sobs subsided. They were both wet through, their bottoms from the damp ground, their front side from all the tears and the light mist Laura only now realized had started to fall.
"Come on, let's get you home and cleaned up before bed. But first, let's assess the damage. Tell me about it."
"I was running...away, and I fell on the rocks."
"So let me guess, hands, knees, elbows?" Laura asked, familiar with that kind of mishap.
"Yes. And right here."
Alanis pointed to her wrist and forearm but didn't touch them. Even in the near dark, Laura could see some swelling.
"Yes, I can see that it would hurt. Did you put your arms out to catch yourself when you fell?"
"Umm hmm."
"I thought so."
Laura pulled the scarf from around her neck.
"Let's put your arm in a sling to help support it, okay?"
Alanis's eyes grew wide.
"Will it hurt more when you do that? It hurt when I touched it."
"I'm not sure, sweetheart. It might while we get it in the sling. But it should make the walk home more comfortable."
Alanis looked skeptical and Laura didn't blame her.
"How about I make the sling and then you see if you can put your arm in yourself."
Alanis watched carefully as Laura folded the scarf in a triangle to form the sling, then tied it loosely around Alanis's neck. It was a slow process but eventually Alanis slid her arm in and they had the sling adjusted to where Alanis wanted it.
Laura gave Alanis a reassuring squeeze on her good shoulder as they climbed the steps to Constance's house. And went inside.
A suitcase stood ready by the door and Constance was coming down the hall with another small bag.
"Oh good you're back...What happened to you dear."
Constance out the bag down and came to check on Alanis.
"Alanis took me out to the park. She was running and tripped and fell on some rocks."
"I see." She turned to Laura. "Do you think it's broken?"
Alanis started shaking beside her. Her eye widened.
"I don't think so."
"Oh, good. Because we really need to get going."
Constance turned to Alanis, "can you get yourself cleaned up or will you need help?"
Laura interrupted.
"Going where, Constance. I didn't realize you were leaving."
And oddly enough, Laura wasn't happy about Alanis leaving. For starters, she really didn't believe the girl had broken her arm but she'd planned to take a good look at it tomorrow, just to be sure they shouldn't have it looked at.
"That was my son on the phone earlier. His wife tripped over their dog and broke her arm this afternoon. They have a three month old and a two year-old. She's got to have some help and he is scheduled to leave for France tomorrow on a big business trip."
"Not a good day for arms, huh?" she gave Alanis a quick smile. "Do you think you can go start the bath water if I come and help you get out of your shirt in a minute?"
Alanis nodded but Laura thought she also knew she was being sent off from the conversation, too.
"Would it help if I offered to watch Alanis while you are gone?"
Constance looked her over with enough scrutiny Laura wondered if she had any secrets left.
"Are you sure you want to do that already? I don't know how long I'll be gone, a week at least. And there are no guarantees about Siobhan... Are you ready to take that on, if it comes to it?"
Laura swallowed hard. Ready, no. Willing, yes. And it was one more reason for her to keep Alanis here.
"I'm used to dealing with unpredictable challenges. It goes with my job."
So those challenges were in an entirely different arena. That wasn't relevant, was it?
"Well, there is no doubt it would be easier for me if you were able to keep her while I'm away. And it appears you will have to take over sometime. I hadn't planned for it to be this soon..."
"Me, either. And I am a little nervous but I don't think anything will change that except doing it."
Constance smiled at her.
"I'm sure you'll be fine, dear. I just wanted to be sure you understood what you were getting into."
The only thing Laura was sure of was that she had no idea what she was getting into. But it had been that way with Harry, and look how that had turned out.
The phone rang and Harry jumped. Again. He didn't like waiting. But right now, that was what he needed to do. Wait. Wait for Laura to call. Wait for Mr. Hastings to call. Wait for Mildred to knock on his door.
He waited.
He sighed, got up and went to pace in front of the window. He lifted his hand, started to glance at his wrist, then abruptly dropped his arm. There was no point in looking at his watch. Again. Either call could come at any the next four hours.
After watching the traffic for a few more minutes, Harry strode across his office and into the lobby. He leaned against the wall by Mildred's desk and watched her take notes while she spoke on the phone. It was part of his job to supervise the employees while Laura was gone, was it not?
Mildred hung up the phone and stared back at him.

"Starting to get you, huh, Boss?"
Laura being gone. Laura being pregnant. Laura being sick. The agency in danger of losing its office space. Siobhan dying. Alanis. Abigail. Cheeky staff. Nah. Nothing was getting to him. He gave her a bored smile.
Everything she thought was getting to him, was and more. But he had no intention of giving Mildred that kind of knowledge. No without back up.
"Can't I come out and observe the work of my staff?"
Mildred rolled her eyes.
"Whatever you say, Boss."
She turned back to her work.
He stood there another moment, then walked into Laura's office.
He could see her, sitting there behind her desk, bent over her paperwork. Her chestnut hair was down, tucked behind one ear, a curtain of waves over her bare shoulders. He grinned. Well, he could think anything he wanted since he was creating the picture, couldn't he?
He rounded the desk. Sat in her chair. Put his feet up and leaned back. Looked at the office of his rational, reasonable, practical, brilliant partner. That was the Mrs. Holt clients saw from their side of her desk. But here in her chair, he knew there were signs of the other Laura. His passionate, sometimes uncertain, surprisingly sentimental, vulnerable, tempted temptress.
He knew there was a single bar of Scharffen Berger chocolate, her favorite photo of them, along with her flashlight, emergency radio, two hundred dollars in twenties, a can of mace, a whistle and two bottles of water in a small backpack in the bottom drawer of her desk. Her emergency kit--in case of an earthquake or another invasion of Santas.
The bowl of that looked like expensive potpourri was really a priceless collection of dried petals from flowers he had sent her, not that she was aware he knew it. It had taken him years to suss out that little secret of hers and several months of covert operations to confirm his suspicions. He lived in anticipation of the day she'd have to explain why she'd had to get a larger bowl. And wondered if he would ever know if her collection had started with her first rose from him. And if not then, just when...when she'd decided he was a keeper.
"...Hey, Boss!"
Harry jumped when Mildred clapped her hands in front of his face. He put his feet down, sat up and adjusted his tie.
"No need to shout, Mildred."
"Call for you. I think it might be the landlord himself this time. "
He spun around and reached for the phone.
"Thank you, Mildred."
He eased back in his chair , crossed his foot over his knee and put on his best schmoozing smile. Daniel had always told him that people could see your smile through the phone.
"Ah, Mr. Hastings. So good of you to return my call today."
Mildred continued to stand and stare, he cupped his hand over the receiver, "That will be all for now, Mrs. Krebs."
She glared at him but headed back towards the reception area.
"And close the door on your way out. I wouldn't want anyone overhearing my private conversation."
Mildred smiled sweetly but the door frame rattled as it closed. That was fine. He didn't want any witnesses, just in case Johnny Todd happened to join the conversation with Mr. Hastings.
"Your assistant explained last night that you'd had a very generous offer on our office suite. Could you go over that with me again, I don't have those notes right in front of me. I'm not at my own desk right now."
He listened carefully for any discrepancies between the two offers, but they sounded essentially the same. He whistled quietly.
"Those are some deep pockets. Some computer company, wasn't it?...CompuPlus? Can't say I've ever heard of them. Who's their parent corp?..You're not sure. I'd have to believe they have some ties to big business or a big backer somewhere in order to be able to put out that kind of money on rent for any length of time, wouldn't you? It's certainly too rich for us."
Harry let that thought percolate for a moment.
"As I was walking in this morning, I saw the sign for the suite on the fifth floor. You should probably take that down, now that it's been leased...Oh, it hasn't been...Almost identical to this in terms of size, you say?...No, I don't think we would be interested. I mean, if we are going to have to relocate after having been here almost seven years...Oh yes, time does fly, doesn't it, eight years..."
Really, one day he would have to ask Laura to fill him in on his whole past.
"I don't believe we will be making an, internal move, let's say."
Wait for it, Harry...Now.
"Hey, but maybe your computer fellows would be interested in your open space instead of my space, since they're nearly identical. Save us all a lot of trouble. You'd have all your space leased, we wouldn't have to move."
He used his best good 'ole boys tone. "Win-win, right."
What he thought he heard raised his eyebrows. "The deal is only good for this space, my space...No. No, I don't want to take a look at the fifth floor suite...A larger space is also available on the twentieth floor, you say. How much larger...not quite twice this size. Perhaps I should at least consult Ms. Holt about that space...Yes, that Ms. Holt, my partner and my wife. Has quite a mind for business, she does. Wouldn't have gotten where I am without her."
Harry paused a moment.
"You know, she seems to think that if we do need to move out, that we should consider purchasing our own offices. Maybe even look at having some rental units of our own. I'll be leaving those decisions up to her. See I would have thought that it would be better to keep the long-term, stable tenant you had rather than take on an unproven renter, especially if you already had vacant space. With my lack of knowledge of the real estate business, I would have thought perhaps you were having a little problem with cash flow since you are so keen on taking what looks to my untrained eye like a long-term risk for an upfront gain, large though that seems to be."
Harry waved his hand dismissively in the air. If they could see your smile, maybe they could see your cluelessness, also, he laughed to himself.
"I'll get Ms. Holt to explain it all to me tonight or at least try to explain it to me. I'm afraid I am hopeless at these things, as embarrassing as it is to admit. I do wish she was here to handle it. Or maybe I'll get that genial fellow at the investment firm on the eighth floor to help me if I can't get in touch with her."
He'd thought he could hear Mr. Hastings choke on his own tongue when Harry'd mentioned cash flow problems.
"Oh, or I could just ask Mrs. Krebs. I'm sure she dealt with rentals and real estate back in her days with the IRS Fraud Division ."
And he was sure that cough of Mr. Hastings's wasn't from a late spring cold.
"I'll be in touch tomorrow morning to let you know if I can present you any kind of comparable counter offer, then. Or if Mrs. Holt wants to see the suite on the twentieth floor when she returns to the country."
Take it easy, Harry. Don't overplay your hand.

Oh but he was having so much fun. Not as much fun as sending Johnny Todd but Laura would like this tactic much better.
He jumped from the chair, took three big strides and flung open the door.
"I've got him right where I want him!"
"Where's that, Boss?"
"Shaking in his shoes at the possibility of me siccing you and Laura on him."
"Softened up for you and Laura."
Mildred shook her head and laughed.
Alanis's sleepy eyes grew wide as they pulled up in front of Ashford Castle.
"We're staying here!?"
Laura gave her a conspiratorial smile.
"Amazing isn't it."
Alanis said nothing, just slid a little closer to Laura and stared out the windows until the car came to a stop.
Laura opened the door, grabbed the bag at her feet and held out her hand to Alanis.
"Come on. Just wait till you see inside."
Alanis slid from the car, still careful of her arm, then took the hand that Laura offered and clasped it tightly.
Mikeline was waiting just inside the door. Laura tried not to laugh at the shock that briefly crossed his face when he saw the two of them. Maybe she should have called to warn him...
"Mrs. Steele. Welcome home."
"Mikeline, this is Alanis. She's going to be staying with me for a few days, at least."
"I see."
Laura could see he didn't. They'd have to talk later. She'd seen no reason to tell him anything when she'd left earlier this evening, but things had certainly changed.

"I will have someone prepare a room for Miss Alanis. I am not sure we have one in your wing, though." He frowned.
Alanis had pressed in closer to Laura and was looking up at her with concern. The child had had a long evening, perhaps...
"I think we can wait until tomorrow to sort out a solution. It is rather late notice to make up another room."
She tried to convey her meaning to Mikeline without tipping off Alanis. All girls had their pride.
"For tonight, why don't we have her share with me. There is plenty of room."
She could feel Alanis relax a bit beside her.
"That might be easier, ma'am." Mikeline appeared to have followed Laura's thinking. "Shall I have someone bring up a cot and some extra bedding?"
"Let us go up and take a look, Mikeline. We'll let you know what we need."
"Right, then. Will there be anything else I can help you with tonight?"
Alanis pulled on Laura's arm. "Will that big car take me to school tomorrow?"
School. Laura had forgotten. Thank goodness Alanis had asked.
"Yes, Mikeline. We'll need the car to school tomorrow."
What time? What school? What other important details did I forgot to get from Constance? Laura wondered.
"Which school, ma'am?"
"Scoil Raifteiri." Alanis said with pride.
Laura looked at Mikeline with raised eyebrow.
"The all-Irish boys and girls school, eh." Mikeline rattled off something Laura didn't understand and Alanis laughed.
"What time does school start, Alanis?" Laura asked.
"Eight fifty, exactly. And not nine o'clock." She said mockingly, much to Laura's amusement.
"Then the car shall be ready for you at 7:30 in the morning, just to be safe." Mikeline winked. "That should give you time if you need to stop by your house for something you forgot."
Like lunch, Laura thought back to her school days. A lunch!
"Do you carry your lunch or buy one at school?"
"Buy one at school? You can't buy a lunch at school."
"I'll have Mrs. O'Leary pack you a lunch and have it waiting." Mikeline promised.
"Thank you." Laura turned to Alanis, "Now let's get you upstairs and into bed so you can get up in time for school tomorrow."
"Is he yours?" Alanis waved the rabbit at Laura as she came out of the bathroom in her pajamas.
"Yes. Harry gave him to me, to keep me company on the trip here."
"Who's Harry?"
Now there was the question of a lifetime.
"Mr. Steele. At home he goes by Harry..." Anticipating her next question, Laura continued, "from his middle name, Harrison. And we need to call him before I go to sleep."
"What's his real name, then?"
Oh, well, so she'd jumped the gun on that one. Alanis didn't seem to know him as anything other than Mr. Steele.
Alanis giggled as Laura climbed under the covers.
"That's a silly name. No wonder he likes Harry better."
Laura couldn't disagree, even though she'd been the one to choose it. She'd never planned to have to call anyone by it. And certainly not in any intimate situations. She let her hand rest over her abdomen.
"Don't worry Baby Steele," she whispered soundlessly, "We'll do better for yours."
But an awkward thought hit her--what if Harry wanted to give his son his name, literally? And it didn't seem outside the realm of possibility, given how he felt about wanting to provide his family with everything he'd never had.
Slowly, Laura realized that Alanis had gotten quiet and had a very somber, serious look on her face.
"When you call him, will I talk to him, too?"
"Would you like to?"
Laura thought that seemed like the safe answer.
Alanis nodded.
Well, wasn't Harry in for a surprise tonight.
"But what do I call him?"
The kid had a basket full of million dollar questions.
Answering a question with a question was one of her favorite investigative techniques. Especially when she didn't have or didn't want to share an answer. Apparently, it was going to be her fallback in parenting, as well.
"What would you like to call him?"
Alanis fiddled with the rabbit's ears for a minute. When she looked back up at Laura, Alanis looked like a child afraid of the response to the answer she was going to give in class.
"I..I have a mum, you know...But, well, I've never had a father. Not like the kids. I mean..."
The child took a deep breath.
"Do you think I could...since I will be living, I mean he..."
Laura's heart ached for Alanis. She rushed in to reassure her.
"I don't think he would mind at all, if that is what you want to call him."
Alanis looked as if she had been given the best present ever. And Laura could understand. Even now, as angry as she was at her father for leaving, if he walked back into her life, some part of the little girl she had been would still be thrilled just to have him in her life.
Laura had known when she came to Ireland on her own, that she wouldn't be there to see the look on Harry's face the first time he spoke with his daughter, wouldn't be there to give him the support, to share the moment. What she hadn't known was how deeply that would affect her. And she wasn't sure if this was just pregnancy hormones or if she was getting to be a softie where this whole family thing was concerned.
She reached over and picked up the phone and dialed the number directly to Harry's desk.
"Remington Steele Investigations, Mildred Krebs speaking."
"Hello, Mildred. Is Mr. Steele in the office?"
"Hello, Chief. How's Ireland?"
Mildred's sarcasm was not lost on Laura. Neither was the cost of an international call. She and Mildred could make up later.
"Fine, Mildred. Mr. Steele? I take it he is not at his desk. Is he out?"
"No, he's been in your office most of the day. As far as I know, he's still there. I'll put you through."
Wasn't that an interesting piece of information. Harry'd been at her desk all afternoon...
"No! Wait, Mildred. Does he have any more appointments this afternoon?"
"No a one but he's got two in the morning and three tomorrow after lunch."
"Good to hear you are keeping him busy, Mildred. Would you tell him I'll call him at home in about twenty minutes."
"Twenty minutes, huh. Can he make it to your new place by then?"
"I'll keep calling if I miss him the first time."
"Right. I'll tell him."
"Thanks, Mildred."
Harry was on edge as he alternately paced with his hands in his pockets or stared at the phone and willed it to ring. He'd driven like the devil--well, like Laura, anyway, so he would be sure to be home before she called. He suspected something was up since she wanted to talk to him at home rather than the office--probably because she never encouraged him to leave early, he thought with a wry smile.
The phone had started ringing as he got to the door. His hand had been shaking so much, he'd had a hard time getting the key in the lock on the front door. He hoped Daniel had been busy watching something else. He'd be highly amused that Harry had been unable to get into his own house--even with a key, in under five minutes. By the time Harry'd finally gotten the bloody door open, the phone had stopped ringing. He'd missed her.
Until now, Harry had been busy enough with agency business that he'd had little time to think about Alanis and Siobhan, at least consciously. Now waiting for the phone to ring, he was getting nervous. What had happened today? What must it have been like for Laura, meeting the daughter he'd never known existed and seeing the child's mother, whom he did not remember, lying unconscious in hospital?
He nearly jumped out of his skin when the phone finally rang again and quickly snatched the handset off the base.
"Steele, here."
His heart hammered in his chest.
"Abigail...Now is not a good time, Abigail. I am waiting on an international call...Dinner, with us tonight? No. That is just not possible...Tomorrow? I don't believe that works either..."
"You have news for us...Yes, I know it is hard to wait when you have news to share...unless you are Laura, you said? Now, Abigail, I think that is unfair..."
He needed to get her off the phone but he was not going to allow her to criticize Laura without having something to say about it.
"Laura is a very private person...yes, I know, you're her mother...Look, Abigail, I have to keep this line free. I will call you in the next day or two...Goodbye..."
Abigail was still talking when he disconnected the call. He was sure he'd hear about that the next time they talked but he didn't care what she thought this time. He just hoped he hadn't missed Laura's call again already. He knew she'd keep trying but he wasn't sure he would be sane if he had to keep waiting.
Carrying the handset, he walked to the sofa, sat down and put his feet on the coffee table. He picked up a throw pillow and started to worry it. Nero strode across the coffee table and stared at Harry with disdain. Wonderful, even the cat thought he was pathetic. Nero mewed a few times before finally climbing up Harry's legs, standing up and batting at him.
"Oh, I guess you want to be fed, hmm, since I came home."
He left the phone on the cushion, picked up Nero and headed to the kitchen. He'd just started opening a can of food when the phone rang.
"Sorry, old chap."
Harry dropped the can, opener still attached and it clattered to the counter, then the floor as he sprinted to the living room and snatched up the phone.
"Steele." He answered, out of breath.
"Hello, Harry."
Just the sound of Laura's voice was a balm to his soul.
"Laura, love, how are you?"
Her laugh was light and lilting.
"I'm fine, Harry." He could hear her indulgent smile in her tone. "You can stop worrying."

Right. When he was dead, maybe. But he could put on a good show, for now.
"Good. Good. So about the lease, then. I've discovered, well, Mildred and I've discover..."
"Let's leave business for later..."
"I'm sorry, Laura. There seems to be problem with our connection. I thought I heard you say to leave business for later."
Laura laughed. He'd missed that since she'd been gone.
"First you send me home early from work. Now you tell me we'll talk about losing the lease on the office where you invented me and I first laid eyes on you, later. What happened to my wife? The one who is always telling me 'work first, then play'."
"She's still here, Harry. But she's learning there's more to life than work and play. "
"Like what?"
"Like a spur of the moment sleepover with a charming girl--who wants to talk to her father."
Harry's heart jumped into his throat and lodged there. He couldn't swallow, could hardly breathe.
"What should I say?" he heard a child's voice whisper. Then Laura's soft laugh.
She must have put them on speakerphone.
"Why don't you try hello?" Laura whispered.
"Dia dhuit, Da."
'Hello, Dad' in Gaelic, nonetheless. He couldn't find his voice as the tears streamed down his face.
"Is he angry?" He heard her whisper to Laura, "Mum always gets very quiet when she is angry."
Harry cleared his throat and tried out the long ago familiar response."Dia is Muire dhuit, A leanbh." He translated for Laura, "God and Mary to you, my child. It's the traditional Irish way of saying hello."
He worked to keep himself from falling completely apart. He could do that once they were off the phone.
"I am not angry at all, A leanbh. That is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard."
His brogue was thick and his voice still heavy with emotion, even to his own ears. He wanted to declare his love, beg forgiveness. But he knew now was not the time. It was much too soon for Alanis. He struggled to clear his head enough to think of what to say...A sleepover, Laura had said something about a sleepover.
"So what are you doing at your sleepover? Watching old movies, playing games, staying up all night?"
"No, Da." Alanis sighed. "It is not a party sleepover. There is scoil tomorrow."
His daughter was in school, of course. It hadn't even occurred to him that she would be in school. And it didn't bring up pleasant memories for him.
"How do you like Scoil? Are you good and smart so the nuns are nice to you?"
"I don't go to the convent scoil, Da."
A huge grin split his face. He couldn't help but notice she used the word 'da' as often as possible.
"I go to Scoil Raifteiri, the Gaelscoil. The teachers are nice there. We have swimming and music and dance."
"And which do you like best?"
"All of those and maths."
"I see."
He didn't but he would. He'd learn all there was to know about her Gaelscoil. Make certain that she was learning but also being nurtured the way children should.
"What I see is it is well beyond your normal bedtime, miss. And we have quite a drive in the morning, as well. We should get you tucked in and to sleep. So it is time to say good night ."
He smiled, his ever practical Laura.
"Can I talk to my da again, soon?" He heard Alanis ask Laura.
"Of course. You can talk to your father tomorrow after school."
"After we visit, mum." Alanis reminded her matter of factly.
"Yes, sweetheart. Now say goodnight."
She was wonderful with the girl. Her voice was calm and kind but firm, Harry noticed.
"Oíche mhaith agus codladh sámh,Da."
He'd whispered the words over Laura many times while she slept, but Harry couldn't remember the last time someone had told him 'good night, sleep well' in Gaelic.
"Oíche mhaith agus codladh sámh, A leanbh."
"I'll call again once she's settled in." Laura said
"Right...And Laura,...thank you..."
"I love you, Harry. I'll call you soon."
He held the phone there by his ear until he heard the dial tone, then clicked it off and dropped it on the charger. He'd spoken with his daughter. His daughter...
Laura let out the breath she hadn't known she was holding. It was done. Harry had met his daughter and it had gone well. She wasn't sure what she'd expected--or feared. But what they'd gotten was a simple, quiet, everyday moment between a father and his daughter. It was a wonderful start for them.
"I'm going outside in the hall to call...him back."
Laura moved to slide off the bed. But Alanis tugged at Laura's sleeve.
"You can call from here."
Laura felt as if she was being torn in two. It was reasonable, and flattering, that Alanis wanted her nearby. But Harry... Laura needed to be able to talk openly with Harry, have him be able to tell her anything, to laugh and cry with him.
"I'll be right outside. It will be hard for you to sleep with me talking."
"It won't. I'll go right to sleep. I promise."
How did one choose between meeting the needs of your child and meeting those of your husband, your heart? And how had she already come to think of Alanis as her own?
"Please. Please, Mrs. Steele."
The Mrs. Steele threw Laura for a moment. She was, and was proud to be so. But only Harry, usually for seductive purposes, and her mother, usually for chastising Laura or social gain for herself, called her Mrs. Steele. She started to tell Alanis to call her Laura, but that seemed too familiar, informal, for someone who she had authority over. Well, they could work that all out later. Right now she needed to get to Harry.
"I'll be right outside, Alanis." Laura reassured again. "And I'll be right here," she patted the bed, "when you wake up. You won't be alone tonight."
"Promise?" Alanis's blue eyes were wide and solemn.
"I promise."
Laura started for the door.
"Mrs. Steele?"
Laura fought to keep the impatience from her voice. Harry was waiting.
"Yes, Alanis?"
"You forgot prayers and a good night kiss."
Laura sighed. So she had. She put the phone down and returned to Alanis's side.
"So which comes first?"
Alanis eyed her suspiciously and her expression let Laura know that, at least in this, she had been found sorely lacking.
Laura filed that information away. She had no plans to have to ask what Alanis made clear was a dumb question, twice.
"Alright. Fold your hands, close your eyes and I'll say them."
Alanis looked at her in confusion. Her raised eyebrow looked very much like her father's when he couldn't believe what Laura was saying. It was uncanny.
"They're my prayers. You don't say them." Alanis pointed to herself, " I do." Finger now pointing at Laura, "You listen."
Laura couldn't hold back a smile.
"You know, I always thought the same thing when I was a child and my mother said my prayers for me."
Alanis smiled, leaned in close and whispered.
"Well, she was doing it all wrong. But it's okay, Mrs. Steele. I'll teach you the right way to do tuck ins. It'll be our secret. Da and Baby Steele will never have to know."
It was all Laura could do not to fall off the edge of the bed laughing. Somehow she managed a fairly straight faced, "thank you," and got through her 'lesson.'
When she got out in the hall, she smiled so big her face hurt. Harry was in for a shock. And they were both in for one hell of a ride with this livewire.
The End