My version of what happened the next morning at Castle Ashford. This short story is a prequel to "The Best is Steele to Come".--Suzy
He awoke first. The early light was dim and deep grey, colors still invisible. He felt as much as saw Laura asleep beside him, and in just a few short hours the warmth of her bare body was already a constant in his life. Her hair spilled across the pillow and, as he continued to watch, a small smile twitched her lips. His response to that simple gesture caught him unprepared, and the magnitude of his love for her torched through his heart and made his limbs tremble with a physical strength that left him astonished.
The roar of its flames ought to have awakened her. Awakened everyone in the castle. But she slept on, her breathing quiet and regular. This is it. This is what I've sought all these years. None of his past lovers had left him so utterly satisfied and yet wanting so much more that a lifetime wasn't enough to fulfill his need. Not even Anna. Their loving had been magnificent but it had ultimately been one way. He was delighted to discover that Laura unleashed was truly as passionate and uninhibited as he had hoped. Maybe as they both had hoped?
But what if what they had shared wasn't enough? What if it was merely physical? The old fear slid insidiously back to whisper in a dark portion of his mind. What happens when she awakes? Now that we've turned that corner, he thought, borrowing one of Laura's phrases from long ago, what happens next? Does she relegate me to the status of pretty toy who satisfied that itch? I've known those women before. Or is she back to being the old Laura, frightened of our emotional strength? Wanting to pretend this never happened? That we didn't feel what we felt?
Or did Laura experience what I hoped to show her? That she's so very much more to me? A part of me that I couldn't lose without ending myself?
Suddenly he was terrified that she'd awaken. He didn't want to know her thoughts this morning, now that the concealing power of night was gone. It was safer not to know, because that way he could still pretend. Confused by his conflicting reactions, he slipped quietly out of bed - he was very good at not awakening his lovers - and crossed to stand before the windows at the far side of the large room, where the open drapery wouldn't disturb her. He didn't bother to dress. No one would be up. And he'd never been embarrassed about his nudity.
It was one of those stereotypical Irish mornings. A heavy mist hung thick over the gardens and lawn, muting the world. The moisture that was suspended in the grey air polished the leaves and dampened all sound, isolating them within a small world that overlooked the castle's gardens, and keeping them untouched and unreal. He felt suspended in time and wanted the sensation to last as long as possible.
He'd forgotten that Laura could move like a cat as well. He didn't hear her bare feet brush against the carpet until she was nearly behind him. Her cool arms wrapped around his torso, and she pressed her warm cheek against his shoulder blade, her small breasts against his back, her hips tucked into his. Her strong muscles were relaxed against his, and gradually he relaxed as well. His anxieties dissipated into the mist. They stood like that for minutes. Hours. Years.
Eventually her cheek rubbed gently against his back, like a cat's gesture. She said softly, "Penny for your thoughts, Mr. Steele?"
He turned swiftly, his love for her spiking again like a physical force. He kissed her hard, with a passion that he was astonished to discover was even greater than the past night's. Laura's answering response was equally uninhibited and one bare leg rose to encircle his hip and pull his erection hard against her. Her arms twined around his neck in invitation. He lifted her easily and carried her back to their bed.
Some unknown time later, they still laid entwined. Laura's head rested against his shoulder as if it had always fit there. Probably it always had. Her fingers were making gentle circles and loops as she played with the crisp hair on his chest and abdomen, tracing down to his loins and back again. It was a heady sensation and she knew it, because her touch was immediately responsive to his every twitch and little shudder.
He pressed a kiss against her luxuriant hair. He felt tongue-tied and let his body do the speaking, knowing that mere words were inadequate to express how he felt.
"That wasn't a penny, Mr. Steele," Laura finally said. Her voice was husky. "You could've put a substantial deposit into the castle's debt load."
How could she know what I was thinking? She mirrors my every thought.
"You know that I've never been a prudent investor," he teased back.
She wriggled with satisfaction and, in doing so, deliberately put pressure on all the right areas. "You certainly fooled me. You put it right where I wanted it."
Oh, good. Time to play double entendre.
"And was your investment satisfactory, Mrs. Steele?"
She arched an eyebrow. "Satisfactory? Are you telling me I didn't bankrupt the house?" She rolled quickly from his embrace and, before he could react, pinned his hips beneath hers. She sat upright above him, where he could enjoy the view of her delightful breasts. Definitely uninhibited.
"I'm dismayed to report," he quipped, "that your investigation failed to uncover all my hidden assets. And you call yourself a detective."
She wiggled her hips just right, making his breath catch, and gave him a wicked smile that he had waited four long years to finally see. "Mr. Steele. You've forgotten I was a math major. Keeping track of your financials is one of my strengths. I can see the case calls for a thorough audit."
But before they could become too involved and lose all sense of the present, there was a heavy knock at the bedroom door. Steele pulled himself together and did a quick mental check. Door still locked. Good. He rolled over onto his elbows and covered Laura's mouth with his own, effectively silencing her.
"Mr. Steele? Mr. Steele? Are you in there?"
Laura moved to get up. "Mil-" She tried to say around his lips, but Steele replaced his mouth with a gentle hand and shook his head. "You had to mention 'audit', didn't you?" Then, more seriously, he added, "No interruptions. This is finally our time." Still holding her luminous gaze, he called in a loud voice, "Go away, Mildred!"
Laura peeled his fingers away, her touch equally gentle and her expression dancing with mischief. "Go away, Mildred!"
"But-?" Silence. And then an astonished, "Mrs. Steele?!"
And then Mildred let out an exultant "Wheee!" and they heard the scurry of her feet disappear back up the hallway.
They looked at each other, Laura's eyes wide and Steele's even wider. His mouth twitched. Laura began to laugh. Steele joined her and soon they were convulsing with laughter and clinging to each other.
Fifteen minutes later came the gentle clatter of silver and another, far more discreet rap at the door. Mickleen's voice announced, "Breakfast, your Lordship." Laura counted down softly from ten, and by the time she reached 'four' his steps had disappeared as well. "All clear, your Lordship," she said, prompting one eyebrow to rise substantially. Laura was trying hard not to giggle and was clearly failing.
He slipped from bed, found his dressing gown, and opened the door just enough to confirm that no servants or double agents lurked outside, then he pulled the tray-laden cart into their room. Our room, he thought happily. He made a show of relocking the door and turned back to the bed.
"Apparently someone believes we need to keep our strength up."
Laura made a show of thinking. "I suppose we've burned through a couple hundred calories this morning already."
He thoughtfully spread marmalade on toast, selected a streaky rasher for himself, and returned to bed with both, handing Laura the toast. She had drawn herself into a sitting position, pulling the blankets over her knees but leaving herself exposed from the waist up. Unselfconscious. That's a good sign.
"Are you planning to unlock that door any time soon?" she asked mischievously.
"No," he said simply. "It's past time we had ourselves to ourselves. I don't plan to let anyone share us."
"That sounds selfish."
"It is." To another woman he would have said, "I want to keep you to myself." But because this was Laura, he said instead, "I want to keep myself with you. For as long as the world will let us."
It was the right thing to say. Her warm eyes abruptly glistened and she touched a hand to his cheek. "Keep our happiness to ourselves?"
"Are we happy?"
"Oh, yes," she said without hesitation. "I want this feeling to go on forever and forever."
He caressed her cheek. "Then I'll do my damnedest to guarantee it."
And breakfast was forgotten.
Later that day they went for a walk through the estate. The earlier mist had transformed into the lightest of drizzles - "Irish rain" - Steele called it, and he loved how the damp put wavy curls back into Laura's hair.
"You're finally going to release me from your bedchamber, my Lord?" Laura had teased when he proposed the walk.
"Only to show the magnanimity of my victory."
"Sorry? Of whose victory are we speaking? And my proper form of address is 'milady'."
They donned thick, hand-knitted wool sweaters - Laura was beginning to appreciate their necessity in Irish weather - and, hand in hand, they slowly walked the lush green lawns and formal planted gardens of the extensive property. At one point they spied Mildred, and Mildred spied them. They both waved at her. Mildred waved back and then shot from view. Apparently she was not going to intervene in their day. In fact, everyone from the estate gave them a wide berth apart from cheerful waves from a distance.
"I see Mildred's dispensed her marching orders," observed Laura.
"That woman's not only getting a raise, she's going to receive something elegant involving pearls."
"My very thoughts, Mr. Steele."
He thought about what she had just said, and then paused in their walk. They were standing below the stone-fronted hah-hah that kept non-existent cattle out of the formal gardens. The structure's tall stone wall prevented them from being observed by anyone in the house.
"Mmmm?" She turned and wrapped her arms about his waist. She tilted her enticing face to look up at his.
"About Mr. Steele?"
He felt her stiffen within his embrace. Oh, damn. I started this wrong. So he instead kissed her. Thoroughly. She responded eagerly, and he waited until they were on safer ground.
"Laura?" he murmured through her lips. She was still focused on the kissing portion of the conversation. "At the risk of interrupting our connubial bliss-"
"Yes, Mr. Steele," she said as she moved along his jawline and up to an earlobe.
"Laura, my love. Do you really want to be shouting 'Well done, Mr. Steele!' at the height of our, ah, conjugal activities?"
She made a low rumbling sound that might've been a purr. "I didn't. But I'm not convinced your ears were working at that particular moment." She now focused on nuzzling beneath the upturned collar of his sweater.
"Er, no. You didn't. I think."
"'Your Lordship' would only go to your head,'" she said, without missing a beat. Or an inch of his neck. "Although I did like hearing, 'Oh, Milady!'" at one point in the festivities."
He surrendered and began to reciprocate. He'd always thought she had an elegant and erotic neckline. "I'll keep that in mind. But I can't see you calling me 'Remington', even in the throes of distraction."
"Not gonna happen," she agreed easily, her voice heavy with seduction.
She finally looked up at him. She hadn't removed her arms from around him. That was a good sign. "This is important to you?"
"The most important."
"Okay, then. I'm happy to call you Remington around clients who know we're married. And around family. But I won't when it's just the two of us."
"Why not?" he repeated.
"You know why."
"I think I probably do. But I want to hear it from you. No more assumptions. No more guessing between us."
She let out her breath. Stepped back, still clasping his hands in her own. "I love you more than anything. You. Everyone and everything that you are. Who you were in the past, because they made you who you are in the present. And I know I'll love whoever you'll be in the future. Because all I can see is our future together."
"Oh, Laura!" The simple declaration moved him more than had any of their physical intimacy from the night before. He moved forward to kiss her, but to his surprise she stepped back. But she still held his hands.
"Let me finish. I can't call you Remington when we're alone. That's a name I invented. You stepped into the mantle and wear it brilliantly. But for me to call you that? When we're alone? It's like I'm imposing my invention on you."
"I wouldn't mind, Laura. If that's who I am to you, then I'll never mind."
But she shook her head gently. "But you're not only Remington Steele. You're not a creation of mine. I never wanted that. I love the entirety of who you are. Detective, con man, orphan, jewel thief."
Her directness brought moisture to his eyes. "Rich man, poor man, eh? Then who shall I be for you?"
It took him a moment. "'You'? You can't go calling me 'you'. It sounds like a female sheep."
She chuckled. "After last night? Not a chance." Then she rested her hand against his sweater front. "To be honest, I hadn't given it much thought. Any thought, actually. I was too focused on what was going to happen. What would you like to be called?"
"Therein lies the problem. I hoped to have a name to give you. But it seems the Fates had other plans for us. I know I'm Daniel's son. But would you believe it? I don't even know if Chalmers was his real name. Daniel always held his cards close to his chest."
She squeezed his hands in sympathy. "I know, love. I'm sorry beyond words that he's gone. More than anything, I wish Daniel had lived longer, so that you could have shared more of your history. More time to be together."
"More than anything?" he asked. "More than us?"
"Even us. That's what real love does. I want for you the one thing that you've always wanted. To know who your parents were. Your family. It breaks my heart that it's gone from you."
"No," he corrected her. "Knowing my real name -" and then he corrected himself, "My original name - is the other thing I've always wanted. I finally have the first." And he leaned forward to kiss her again, just to make the point.
When they finished, she moved a half-step back, the better to read his expression. Her brown eyes were dancing. "I know."
"I know which name you could choose. It's just a suggestion, because this time, you're the one who has to decide."
Uneasiness tugged at him. "Laura? What are you thinking?"
"What about 'Harry'? Daniel always called you Harry."
Steele shrugged. "It was his name, not mine."
"And that's my point. It's your father's name for you. Maybe he had a special reason for choosing it? I've always liked it for you."
"Have you?" That surprised him. "I should have thought it would remind you of Daniel. And you two never got along."
"But we did, at the end. We came to understand that we wanted the same thing for you. To be happy. You, Harry, were the most important person to us both."
He fell silent, thinking it over.
"So. What do you think?" She looked anxious, clearly fearful she had made the wrong suggestion.
"I think," he said slowly, feeling his way, "that I'm fated to be in your debt forever. It's entirely thanks to you that I have a fulfilling career, a woman I love, my real father. And now a name."
The anxiety deepened. "Is that a problem?"
He smiled and laid his hand against her mist-dampened hair. "'I feel no burden.' Orson Welles to Joan Fontaine, Jane Eyre, 1944. On the contrary, it feels right."
"Remington Harry Steele?"
"Harrison," he corrected quickly. "Harold is so " He pulled a face, and Laura laughed.
"Okay. Remington Harrison Steele. We'll have to get yet another new passport. Honestly, you're impossible when it comes to identities."
"And who's to blame for that? I'm not the one who keeps on resurrecting more of my past."
She shrugged. "You married a detective, Harry. Live with it."
"Oh, I plan to. And the more you say it, the more I like it. Harry." He dropped his arms around her and drew her close. "It even feels like family."
"Albeit a family who specialized in elaborate cons and charades. For me, it reminds me of movies. I can't think of you without thinking of movies."
"Naturally. Henry V with Olivier, eh? Goes with the Dukedom, I should think?" She laughed again, so he leered. "Perhaps Dirty Harry?"
She was grinning now. "The Trouble with Harry."
"Ah." That figured. "The snag you seem to have forgotten, Laura, is that Harry was the corpse's name."
"Oh, I hadn't forgotten. It might even help keep you in line."
He gave a mock sigh. "Emblematic, somehow. Harry was the unreliable sort. Always running off or turning up when Shirley McLaine didn't need him. And I was very good at running away."
"Running, yes. But never away." She snuggled into his embrace. "You want the truth? That movie reminds of the first time I took the courage to show you how I felt about you. It wasn't just the wine speaking."
His spine tingled with remembrance. "The Kiss."
"You gotta admit, Harry. It was a hell of a kiss."
"I was afraid it might remind you of Wilson."
"Wilson who?" she purred huskily and got back to the business of kissing.