Lost Art of Steele

By Lauryn Poynor


Author's Note: Takes place during the fourth season after "Steele in the Running."
Rated:  NC-17


 
Laura Holt was unusually cheerful as she rode the elevator up to Steele's apartment. She had continued a modified workout schedule even after her recent tri-athalon competition and found it helped energize her for the full workday. But today wasn't a workday. At least, not for her. A slow smile began to creep across her face. After skillfully evading her attempts to prod him into a regular exercise routine, Steele had finally agreed to a compromise of sorts of playing tennis with her on weekends. She'd never seen the man near a health club or even exercising on his own although he wasn't out of condition. Still, a little discipline wouldn't hurt him. Too much.

Laura knocked on the door to his apartment, rocking back on her heels with a bit of impatience when several tries produced no response. She let herself in with the agency key. She walked through, not seeing him and called out "Mr. Steele"- then heard the sound of the shower running. So much for that wakeup call. How like him, she thought. She had been up for her morning jog two hours ago. Hearing her voice he called out over the sound of the water "Won't be a moment, Laura." "Would you get my tennis racket out of the hall closet?" "Should be up on the left, top shelf."

She went to the closet and looked up, seeing the handle of the tennis racket visible in the far corner. Stretching , she pulled it free along with several nearby items. Among them an overturned box containing an assortment of charcoal pencils and pastels and a small sketch pad. The pad lay partially open where it had fallen. She picked it up
intending to put it back on the shelf. It opened to reveal something which froze her in mid stride.

It was a charcoal drawing. Unmistakably her. Unmistakably nude.

Dazed, she gathered all the items and wandered over to the sofa and sat down. Her pulse racing, she turned the pages. Nearly all the subjects were of her. Some were head shots, some were figure studies. Several of those were nudes.

She studied them intently. They were very like her yet strangely different. Although obviously not drawn from life, the proportions and features were accurate, the lines sure, skilled, and lively. Her self in pencil seemed incredibly sensual and beautiful, certainly more so than she believed herself to be. Even to her untrained eye Steele's intuition was uncanny. It was as if he knew her, or some undiscovered part of her, better than she did herself.

How long has he been seeing me like this? Imagining and waiting for this other Laura? She tried to picture it in her mind. Him sketching. Perhaps at odd hours at the office. Perhaps alone at night, lounging in bed, conjuring her body. This last thought caused a sudden flash of heat through her veins and she ran a steadying hand through her hair.

She slowly turned the pages, noticing that the backs of some of them were marked with dates. The date of the first nude jumped out at her.

October 1, 1982. That day, long ago, that he had walked into her life as Ben Pearson. Even then? Suddenly her breath left her. She should be angry, she decided, but that wasn't what she was feeling. She wasn't quite sure what it was.

A familiar voice intruded on her thoughts. Startled and guilty, she quickly closed the sketchbook and looked up. "Well Laura, ready for your tennis lesson, I trust?" "I'll try to be gentle with y--" He broke off as he realized what she held in her hands. He was dressed in his robe, his black hair still damp from the shower. How could she be angry with someone who looked so damned gorgeous, she thought distractedly.

"This fell out of your closet accidently." " I was just um..looking,", she finished lamely.

He seemed unfazed. "Oh, I've been doing a bit of sketching lately. Old hobby of mine", he said casually. After the
words left his mouth, the other shoe dropped. Those sketches. Shock and embarrassment colored his face.

After an awkward silence, Laura continued, "more than just lately it seems." "By the dates on these you've been at this for some time. Since the day we met actually."

He looked at her uncertainly as if trying to gauge her reaction. " I know it must feel strange to you," he began, "and I can understand that. If you're angry I understand that, too. But I can't apologize. I had only the best intentions."

Curious, she looked him in the eye. "Care to explain them?"

Not directly meeting her gaze he thought for a moment. "That day I first walked into your office, when I first saw you, I couldn't get you out of my mind. When I went back to the hotel that night all of my nerves were on edge. I wanted to
follow through on my original intent to steal the jewels but you had thrown a severe hitch in my plans. I didn't want to admit it at the time but somehow I knew the jewels really weren't as important to me as something else. I went through all of the possibilities in my mind, trying to find a way not to involve you. I was tired as hell but I couldn't sleep. I couldn't get your image out of my mind. So I put it on paper. It was way of exorcising those demons I suppose. A way to get you out of my head." He took a breath, gathering his thoughts. "After I became Remington Steele it grew to be something else. A way to close the distance when you were away. To keep you close." He stopped abruptly, his face withdrawn from her, wondering if he had revealed too much.

"I see," Laura replied smiling. "So few forms of true intimacy left."

He remembered the words. "No need to quote me so accurately, Miss Holt." Smiling himself now, he pulled her to him.

She looked at him thoughtfully. "These drawings, they're really wonderful you know." " "A bit of a shock at first - but wonderful." "One of these days I'll discover all of your hidden talents."

"I'm an open book, Laura," he replied nibbling her ear. Not bloody likely, she thought. Well, maybe a bit more open.

On a sudden decisive impulse she slipped out of his grasp. "Well, I'm off," she said.

Confused, he saw her heading for the bathroom, pulling off her sweater. "Isn't it a bit cramped in there for tennis?"

"Not what I had in mind." She explained, "I know you have your vivid imagination to rely on and I'm no expert, but don't most artists work better from life?" "Sharpen your pencils, Mr. Steele."

 ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~

As soon as Laura shut the door behind her resolve left her. Why had she been so damned impulsive? What was she trying to prove? She stared at her reflection in the glass. It was startled and frozen, as if she'd just seen a ghost. She shivered and breathed in air, trying to calm herself.

Out there he was waiting, expecting her. Hoping that she would emerge from the bathroom like Venus rising from the sea. Not that a few strategically placed shells would hurt. Would she measure up to his image of her? Did it matter? Wasn't the real Laura the one he wanted? Never mind that he had tried to make that clear. She still feared the reality would disappoint him. A shiver ran through her as she sat down on the cold edge of the bathtub.

How did he expect her to feel? It was too much. What did he want from her anyway? That was hardly fair, she thought. He hadn't asked for this. She had been the one who intruded. Forced him to reveal something. Backed him into a corner. Now she was the one who was boxed in.

She knew, even before, that he had wanted her from the beginning. She hadn't quite realized how much. Yet, no matter what he felt then or was feeling now, he hadn't really been waiting for her, not physically, anyway. There had always been other women, and still were, although lately she saw less and less of them. Unlike the old days when they drifted in annoying waves in and out of the office. Whatever his occasional needs, he was keeping them to himself.  She thought about what she knew of his past. Anna and Felicia. Did their portraits exist, too, hidden away on a shelf somewhere? Had they posed for him? Angry with herself she pushed the thought from her mind.

He had tried to be honest with her, that much she believed. She had pressed him and he had let his guard slip. It hadn't been an idle comment. The revelation had cost him, had meant something. He wanted them to be closer. So did she, but the past was so full of miscues and hesitations. Maybe her charcoal image was all he would ever have of her.

It wasn't that she didn't want him, but she knew that was treacherous ground. There was safer ground elsewhere. She hadn't been waiting for him, either. She had her own needs, during four years. None of her other relationships had led anywhere outside of the bedroom, even though she convinced herself she had tried. Sometimes, with someone else she had imagined it was Steele but it worked out quite badly. It was a distraction she couldn't handle.

When she was alone it was easy for him to come clearly into her mind. She couldn't deny the effect he had on her. The blue of his eyes. The feel of his thick black hair under her fingers. The way he moved, the fluid drape of his suits across his lean frame. Wondering always what was underneath, what his body was like. What he would feel like. Why didn't she find out? Why couldn't she let it just happen?

Laura knew he was tiring of the game. Stop and go, out of rhythm. Always having to push against that mysterious barrier that he couldn't break and couldn't understand. He couldn't understand her fear. Her fear that her body under his touch would betray her, undermine all of her hard won defenses. She would have to admit it to him then, how she really felt.

She couldn't go through with it. Her self laid bare under his gaze. She hadn't the strength to give him what she thought he wanted. Laura stood up, pulled her sweater on and squared her shoulders. How long had she been sitting there? She would have to face him. Willing her feet to move she stepped out of the room.

She found him standing at the bar, pouring Bushmills into a glass. He looked her up and down, assessing the situation. "Care to join me?, he said, pouring another one. He clanked them together in salute and quickly downed one, reserving the other. "There's a bit of white wine in the fridge if you'd prefer." Laura declined. "Need something to calm the nerves?," she asked. He gave her a rueful smile.

"Absolutely." The thought struck her that maybe he'd been as nervous as she was.

"I know you were expecting something more or should I say , um less…" she trailed off. I guess I'm just not ready for that yet. She searched his face. He didn't seem disappointed. "I have to confess it's a bit of a relief, really", he began. The thought of you before me in the flesh so to speak was a bit daunting artistically. I have excellent powers of concentration but I'm only human." They both had to laugh at that. Some of the tension left the air.

"Laura, you don't have to give me something you're not ready for. You don't have to prove anything to me." "We can do something else. We can go out for tennis or stay here, do whatever you like. It's sort of like that tri-athalon. We'll work up to it gradually, until we can cross that finish."

"Are we talking about art, sports or something else here?", she shot back. She saw a flash of anger in his eyes. "Don't you think the same principle applies?" he answered. "We know what the process will require. Us on the same page. Sticking to a goal. Staying focused. No outside distractions. No, um, extra curricular activities." "I'm game if you are." It was clear what he meant. A mutual agreement. The ground rules to put everything into play, win or lose. She decided.

"Where do you want me?" she asked. He stared at her in utter confusion. "To pose," she explained. She was heartened by the hope she then saw in his eyes. "You'll have to take me as I am right now. I'm not ready for the big finish just yet."

His gentle smile was full of meaning. "As you are will be just fine, love."

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~

"Where do I want you? What a question, Laura," he said with a teasing light in his eyes. "Let's see. Almost anywhere, really." Steele leaned closer, lowering his voice seductively. "My office, your office, the elevator, the kitchen, the floor, the bedroom.."

She rolled her eyes. This was not going to be easy. "How about the sofa?," she offered.

"The sofa it is. I'm yours to command, love." She crossed to the sofa and sat down.

Putting his drink on the coffee table, he gathered up the pad and pocketed several charcoal pencils. He moved the coffee table aside and went into the kitchen, returning with a wooden stool. He glanced at the lamps and toward the window as if checking the light. He centered the stool several feet away from the sofa and then sat on it.

"How is that distance," he asked. "Comfortable?"

"Fine," she said. He moved toward her. She jumped at his touch. He positioned her, drawing her knees up and shifting her until she rested lengthwise with her feet on the sofa. He took off her shoes, reset her feet and then placed her hands so that they rested on her shins.

"This is just a start, he explained. "You can move around a bit when you need to. As I'm drawing, you'll see me turn the page. Then you can move into another position. Whatever you wish. You lead, I'll follow, eh?" It sounded simple enough. Laura calmed down a bit. "Back in a flash," he said. He returned with a metal easel. He set it up, securing the pad in place. From her angle she could only partially view the surface of the pad. He perched back on the stool and began.

His pencil moved in quick, sure strokes, his gaze shifting easily from her back to the page before him. Laura could see the bold outlines of her figure taking shape and substance. She, who had never seen him work, watched curiously. He sketched quickly and skillfully, his long, sensitive fingers curved in concentration, his body at a three quarter angle to her line of vision. His loosely belted robe had fallen open at the waist, revealing the dark, curling hair of his chest. She took pleasure in the view. She caught a glimpse of his thigh as he shifted position slightly. She wondered if he had anything on under his robe. He pushed a stray lock of hair from his forehead. His blue eyes stared at her with complete concentration, unnerving and exciting her at the same time. She had never been the object of such total attention. She sensed his enjoyment and gradually allowed herself to relax .

Close to ten minutes had passed when he removed the pad from the easel, turned to a blank page and re-secured the pad. She tried to read his expression for some hint of what to do next but he gave nothing away. Gathering her courage Laura pulled her sweater over her head. She unclasped the front of her satin bra and let it fall to the floor. Only a brief flicker of his glance betrayed his surprise. Icy calm, our Mr. Steele, she thought. Maybe he sensed that any reaction would panic her. But despite her earlier fears she was finding it oddly comfortable, as if there was an unspoken trust forming between them.

Absorbed in the moment she committed his image to memory as he in turn recorded hers. With each of Laura's movements the silent communication between them never wavered. The turn of the page came again. She stood up, unzipped her shorts and stepped out of them. She saw him tense and heard the slight quickening of his breath. She reclined before him, her hair tumbling over her shoulders. Her recumbent form took shape under his mobile fingers. She saw his concentration waver slightly. There was an almost imperceptible hesitation as he turned the next page. She removed her panties and stood naked and completely still before him. He held her in his gaze, almost unbelieving, as if she were a mirage that would suddenly vanish. He stopped and stood up, hardly daring to breathe, and watched her walk towards him. When she was inches away she spoke.

"Is this where you want me?"

"Yes." The word seemed to catch in his throat as if her oxygen were burning up his lungs. Without touching him she crossed the distance to his lips. When that distance closed there was no restraint. They sought each other, touching, tasting, exploring - anticipation and hunger making them breathless. Laura slipped her hands inside his robe, feeling the warmth of his chest and the pulsation of his heart against her palms. Insistent, his arms circled her waist, pulling her against him. She felt his erect length press against her body. The heat of his lips moved to the hollow of her throat, then down her shoulders. A stifled cry escaped her as he moved to her breast. He sucked her nipple, drawing her left breast into his warm mouth. He teased the right nipple into hardness with a light touch of his fingers. Longing made her head swim.

She pulled almost desperately at the belt of his robe, pulling it free, needing to feel the heat of his skin against her own. Steele shivered as the robe fell away and her hands slid slowly down his body. Her fingers began at his chest and continued exploring, trailing across his flat belly, then downwards. Finding his erection she caressed the smooth flesh, feeling its hardness against the sheath of her hand. Her lips trailed wetly down his hip as she bent to take him into her mouth. She heard the sharp intake of his breath as she encircled him, her palms pressed against the backs of his thighs, holding him. She relaxed her throat to take him deeper into her mouth. She felt him lean slightly away, as if trying to curb his response. She took him deeper then, from root to tip, teasing the underside with her tongue. 

Breathing hard he gripped her shoulders, clinging to her as she drove away all thoughts of resistance. Her rhythm continued to work him. She felt the muscles tightening in his thighs and knew he was close. He took what she offered until he knew his own flesh could not contain it and all of him spilled into her. Near collapse, his equilibrium failed and his knees sank to the carpet.

Steele fell onto his side, Laura moving with him, and he pulled her close, gasping. His eyelids fluttered open as she touched the side of his face and smoothed back a damp lock of hair. She held him until the rate of his breathing subsided. Kissing her swollen lips, his hands stroked her skin, barely touching the surface. She rolled on her back feeling almost weightless as his touch meandered across her curves. Wanting more contact she pulled at his fingers. They moved lower, skimming her navel, then tangling in the soft curls below. She felt his warm breath against her skin as his lips continued their descent. She was already wet and parted when he placed his head between her legs. She felt the wet friction of his tongue, up and down, pressure changing with her response. Pleasure pulsed through her like static electricity. She thrust against him as his lips explored her and his tongue teased at her entrance.

Steadily he gave her more until the contact overwhelmed her. Tears filled her vision. Her thighs gripped him and finally she spasmed against him, dizzy with sensation.

She fell back, her legs releasing him. Gradually Laura's breathing slowed and became more relaxed. He watched her in fascination. In a slow progression his hands moved up her body, his strong fingers kneading and soothing her muscles.
"You're so beautiful, love," he said. More than I had imagined."

"It's enough? Just the real Laura, in the flesh?", she asked.

"Oh, yes... Well, never just flesh." Steele replied. "But it is such lovely flesh." His lips and tongue teased her earlobe. His breath made her shiver and she turned to kiss him. Pulling him in, they lay side by side. Her hands traversed him, seeking and finding, traveling from his back and shoulders to the taut, smooth skin of his buttocks. Wanting more, her fingers teased the curve of his hip. She reached between his thighs, testing his readiness for her. He became easily aroused and ready, she found, whenever she touched him.

Rolling back, she pulled him on top of her, lifting her hips to bring them skin to skin. He was large and his first strokes slightly uncomfortable, but soon his hardness glided like silk inside her. Her channel felt incredibly tight and wet to him as he moved in and out of her. He quickened his rhythm as she engulfed him. They moved together, each infused and stimulated by the other's pleasure. She pulled him sideways, still linked and he rolled on to his back. Laura straddled him. She lowered herself down his length, enclosing him entirely. He could sense from the eventual quickening of her movements that she was close and he pushed up with his hips trying to drive her to release. He reached down to their joining, his hand on her, to find the center of her pleasure. Steele heard her cry out and felt her press and contract, her heat surrounding every inch of him. After a few final thrusts, his hands gripped her waist and he pulled the length of her body tightly against his own. Soon, they slept. 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~

Steele awoke in momentary confusion. His mind felt pleasantly fogged in and yet restless. Although he was dimly aware that his muscles ached he felt strangely disconnected from his body, as though he'd been sleepwalking. Some indefinable thought or feeling nagged at the back of his mind. He opened his eyes, trying to focus on the surroundings of his bedroom. Then he remembered. Laura.

He reached out behind him and touched her sleeping form. Her arm was draped around his waist, her warmth pressed tightly against his spine. Gently disengaging from her grasp, he rolled onto his back and then turned to look at her. She was curled up under the sheets, her thick brown hair in waves across the pillow. A beam of afternoon sunlight fell across her shoulders and the pale skin of her breasts, just visible above the top of the bed sheet.

Images of the past few hours tumbled in his mind. They had both wanted this but neither of them had been prepared for what had happened between them. A slow ache spread through him as he remembered the feel of her skin against his, her heat surrounding him, the arch of her back, her lovely face as she came. He couldn't clearly recall how they had ended up here, just that their lovemaking had continued after brief snatches of sleep.

He thought of all the time they had lost waiting for the right moment, the perfect setting. Somehow that no longer mattered. He looked down at her face. This moment. The past few hours. The next. Perfect because they were together. Smiling, he placed a light kiss on her forehead.

When Laura awoke, Steele was sitting cross legged at the end of the bed, drawing pad balanced in his lap, pencil moving across the page. Her eyes narrowed, trying to focus on the pattern of the bedspread. Other details began to register in her mind. She felt the coolness of the sheets against her bare skin.

"Good morning Laura, or should I say afternoon?" he said. "No matter. You look lovely anytime."

How long had she been here, she wondered. Pulling herself up and resting against the headboard, she stared at him. He was poised, pencil in hand, watching, with nothing covering him but the drawing pad. Her memory began to recover. Him sketching. Her posing. And everything after. Especially after. Remembering, she felt light, as though a weight had been lifted from her. She smiled at him. "I'm not really at my best first thing in the afternoon, or the morning for that matter." She smoothed back her hair.

"You're so wrong, love. I have indisputable evidence," he rejoined, handing her the pad. There was her image seeming incredibly real. Her face in repose, something indefinable in her expression. Her heart knew what it was. Happiness, she decided. And maybe something more... if she would admit it.

She handed him the pad. Picking up the pencil, he turned the page. She pulled back the covers, and inched her way towards him until she was close enough to feel his breath. "Miss Holt, you're in my light, " he teased. She took the pad and pencil out of his hand.

"We'll try again later, Mr. Steele."

"Yes, love. Much later." He leaned in to kiss her. A flicker of disappointment crossed his face as she pulled away.

"Unless of course you like to sketch in the shower," she said, getting up with a grin and heading for the bathroom.

Steele followed. "Never tried it. Might be a bit damp." He came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. "Anything I can do to help, Laura?" She picked up the back brush.

"Excellent idea. A nice, brisk scrubbing," Steele murmured in her ear.

"Sounds stimulating," she agreed.

He grinned. "I've always had a soft spot for stimulation."

She trailed a finger slowly down his belly. "It's not your soft spots I'm interested in."

"Wicked girl."

Some time later both emerged from the shower a bit waterlogged and slightly breathless. Laura toweled off and went into the living room to retrieve her clothes. She went into the bedroom to brush her hair out and get dressed while Steele hunted for a spare toothbrush. She had her clothes back on when he stuck his head out of the bathroom, toothpaste running down his chin.

"Found one. But where's my bloody comb?" She went back to the bathroom and brushed her teeth, straining her eyes at the fogged up mirror.

She was sitting on the bed when he emerged, hair combed, towel around his shoulders. He walked over to the dresser, opened a drawer and retrieved a pair of silk boxers. She stared at him dreamily as he pulled them on over his hips. Hmm. Definite tan line, she thought. Maybe we could work on that. Mine and his. On some secluded beach somewhere...

"Laura?" His voice broke in on her thoughts. "Are you listening?"

"Oh, sorry."

"I was asking if you're still up for tennis."

"Oh, no. I don't think so. We've both had a pretty good workout for today." He leaned down, lifted up her chin and kissed her nose.

"Tennis does rather pale by comparison," he mused, smiling. He rummaged in his closet for something to wear.

Laura picked up the drawing pad that lay open on the bed. Her skin flushed slightly as she remembered the events of the morning. As she turned the pages everything stood out in her mind very clearly. She stared at the earliest drawing of her on the sofa. All of her conflicting emotions were captured on the page. Her face was pensive, her body slightly awkward.

She turned to the next drawing. She was naked from the waist up. She was still in the same basic posture but her chin was up, her gaze more straightforward, almost defiant. In the final pose she was reclining, her head and neck arched back, her hair falling over her shoulders. She hadn't been completely naked but he had drawn her so. The attitude of her face and body was sensual and confident. She seemed indelibly real. The process had asked a lot from both of them but it had also given something. It was as if they had been forced to see each other clearly for the first time.

She sensed his presence and looked up. He stood by the edge of the bed dressed in jeans and a soft grey polo shirt. "Well Laura, what do you think of them?" he gestured at the sketches. "It's hard for me to be objective. I was a bit um, distracted at the time."

"They're marvelous, incredibly good and you know it," she replied.

"Thank you. You are an inspiring and unbelievably sexy subject."

She thought for a moment. "You know, what I did..wasn't just foreplay," she began.

"I know."

"You had been honest with me about your feelings and I wanted to do the same. To stop hiding..." she stopped, unsure of what to say.

He sighed. "I guess it was about damned time for both of us. No more hiding, Laura. We'll start over, eh?" He kissed her forehead and smoothed back a lock of her hair.

"So, Mr. Steele. Tell me about this art training of yours."

Training?" he said innocently.

"Remember that case with Artie, the cartoonist for the Blaster? You let it slip then that you'd had a bit of art training in your mysterious past. Don't you think you should tell me about it? No more hiding, remember."

He winced. "Are you sure you'd like to know?"

"Absolutely."

"I was afraid you'd say that."

"Where are you going?" she asked as he strode out of the room.

"Be right back, Laura, I promise."

A few minutes later he returned and dropped something into her lap. It was a photograph. She picked it up. It was a shot of a young man sitting on the steps of a columned building with a massive Roman façade. His thick black hair fell down over his collar and the expression in his blue eyes was intense, with a hint of anger. He was wearing jeans, a charcoal grey pullover and a red woolen scarf.

"How old were you?" she asked.

"Eighteen, I think."

"Where was this taken? I've seen that building before."

"It's the Fitzwilliam Museum."

"Oh," she said surprised. "That's - at Cambridge. You went to Cambridge?" Her words came out in a rush.

"Ah, yes. Briefly."

"How briefly?"

"Oh, about nine months. I read History of Art."

"Oh I see." She remembered something. "But when we were on that case - the ghost at Murphy's reunion - you didn't know Cambridge was on the Cam river. So you were just pulling my leg."

"Well yes, even if I hadn't gone there I'd at least have known that bit of geography."

That was true, she thought. "OK, Let's start from the beginning. Your academic career, however brief. I want to know all the details." Steele sat down next to her on the bed and eyed her nervously.

"Well, there's not much to tell really. It was Daniel's idea. My schooling, as you would imagine, had been haphazard to non existent prior to that point. Daniel had just pulled off a very successful job and had a good deal of spare cash. He reckoned he could afford it and tried to convince me first, that he could get me in and second, that I wanted to go. Frankly, I was pretty doubtful about both. Daniel hadn't exactly been neglectful. I'd had tutors who had tried to fill in some of the gaps in my education."

Steele paused and glanced hesitantly at Laura before continuing. "Daniel had taught me a lot about how to dress and how to speak properly but I wasn't at all sure I could even survive socially, let alone academically. He was determined, though. He had records drawn up which were quite convincing but false of course. My father was supposedly in the foreign service and we traveled extensively so I'd been tutored privately and gone to boarding school in Switzerland. Well, Daniel could hardly claim that I'd been to Eton or Harrow. I'd have been rumbled the first day.

"When the day came for my interview I was more petrified than I'd ever been in my life. Daniel had put up all of my fees and expenses and refused to take no for an answer. I was ushered into the interview room before an old duffer in moldy tweeds with a smoker's cough." Steele leaned back on the bed, glancing up at the ceiling as he recalled the details.

"I had brought a portfolio of my work in different media and he barely glanced at them. I fielded a few easy questions about various art movements until out of the blue he asked me what horse I was backing in the Grand National. I hadn't even been following it but I managed to remember the names of some of the contenders. I told him the first name that popped into my head. I found out later that he won quite a packet on that horse."

Laura laughed. "Figures. So then what happened?"

"Well, after I was accepted I came up in October and it all started. I went to a few lectures a week. We had what were called 'supervisions' weekly where our progress was checked and we were given a bit of a going over. I was nervous about it at first but the coursework wasn't too demanding. It was mostly visual memorization which I was good at so I had a lot of time on my hands and more freedom than I'd ever had. I was out from under Daniel's thumb and able to breathe a bit." Laura, recalling her own college years, smiled in understanding.

To have access to the incredible collections of the Fitzwilliam was like a slice of heaven to me." Steele continued, warming to his subject. "I mean, Daniel had taken me to museums but always with another object in mind. I took advantage of private tutors in painting, drawing and a bit of commercial art. Cambridge also had a number of film societies which was quite wonderful as well.

"It wasn't always easy. I made some good friends but was a bit wary of getting too close.

I had to put up a good front even though I hadn't exactly had the typical Oxbridge background. It was the early 70's and elitism was out of fashion but that didn't mean it still wasn't pervasive. Sometimes I'd be listening to some pompous git at a party nattering on about the underclass and I'd want to bang his head against a wall. After all, I was member of that underclass and more 'under' than most. Most of time I'd hold my temper and console myself by imagining just how long the bastard would survive on the street."

He stopped for a moment lost in thought. Laura knew his difficult childhood had left its mark on him but he rarely let it show. Sometimes, though, she could see it on the surface - in the occasional flash of anger at a privileged client or in his quick sympathy for those in trouble. She put a comforting hand on his arm.

"So, you say it ended after nine months? What happened? Some dangerous liaison with the Chancellor's daughter?"

He chuckled. "Sadly no. Although I did my share of what was known as 'climbing in.' Now most of the colleges are co-educational but when I attended nearly all were single sex and mostly male. Competition for the available women was fierce and it was every man for himself. Faint heart never won fair lady and all that. One of my tutors got so tired of me climbing over his balcony railing that he gave me a map with a different route.

"If climbing in failed there was always what we called 'the backs' along the lower part of the river Cam.. a good place to...um, well I digress." He paused, gathering his thoughts as Laura raised a curious eyebrow at him. "Actually I did do a bit of punting there. That area of the river is pretty easy going. It's shallow and mostly gravel on the bottom. There are parts where the river is more secluded, away from the colleges, but they're deeper and muddier. It's a tricky business. It can take the edge off the evening when you've lost the pole and you have water running down your sleeves."

"Sounds like fun," Laura said a bit wistfully.

"It was. At least for a while. I got in a bit of hot water with a bookmaking operation and then Daniel called with news that he needed me for a job. He'd also had a sudden cash flow problem, so my brilliant career pretty much came to an end."

"Sounds like you learned a lot of skills for use later in life, Laura said smiling up at him. "Fine art, climbing in, breaking and entering.."

"That always nagged at the back of my mind, really. Whether Daniel sent me out of guilt, or for my best interests, or just to get me primed. It was only after that I realized he'd done me a favor. He'd taught me to survive among people whose backgrounds and mine were worlds apart. Besides it was all just posing, really, on everyone's part. Bluffing was sort of the essence of the whole experience. It's funny, actually. I'm still doing it now as Remington Steele."

"Yes, you are," Laura replied. "But I can't imagine him as anyone else." She kissed him lightly on the lips. "Just one question. Why didn't you ever tell me about this before?"

"Not sure, really. I suppose I wish things had turned out differently. A few regrets."

"Do you ever think about going back one day? Becoming Remington Steele (BA Cantab.)? Something to add to your resumé?"

He glanced reflectively at the photograph then tucked it away inside the drawing pad. "Maybe someday. But let's not tempt fate, eh? My resumé's given us both enough problems, remember? All that gop about the CIA."

"How could I forget."

"Well, Laura. I think we've had enough revelations for one day. That is unless you have something of your own that you're dying to share. Have any compromising photos from your days at Stanford hidden away?"

"Nope. Burned them," she said a bit too quickly.

"Hmm. Too bad. I'm sure your mother might - "

"Don't even think it," Laura said shuddering. A change of subject was in order. "Now Mr. Steele, tell me about those girls from Cambridge."

He pulled her into his arms. "Barely remember them," he said gallantly. "Pale, puny things compared to California girls."
 
 

THE END


 

[ Steele A State Of Mind ]