By Lauryn Poynor & Anne Rose
story was once linked at another RS site, but is now housed here.
Unfortunately, due to current copyright protections and restrictions,
the music files which accompany “Orchestrated Steele” are no longer
able to be uploaded. Markers have been left for the music cues. For
full enjoyment of the story, I encourage readers to seek some of the
music out on their own.
Parts: One / Two / Three / Four
Remington Steele stood patiently on the sidewalk as he watched Fred elbow the trunk of the limo shut. Shifting his heavy burden of grocery bags, he glanced up at the wide open windows above him. Once he stepped out onto the street, what had been merely a cacophony inside the car evolved into the sounds of a symphony orchestra going full tilt. Now the music cascaded down on them as they entered the building. Although he had some suspicion about the source, the number of other windows open to the late afternoon breezes made it more difficult to pinpoint its origin.
Fred trudged up the stairs a respectful few paces behind, catching up with Steele at a landing. Taking his cue from his employer, he set down the box of wine bottles and ice and rolled his shoulders.
"Won't have to do this much longer, Mr. Steele."
"Five weeks, one day and a few hours Fred," he sighed, the relief audible in his tone. "No one will be happier than I." He shouldered his load of bags again. "Although I believe you'll be a close second, eh?" Steele smiled at him, their mutual dislike of stair climbing affirmed.
"Yes, sir," Fred said emphatically, picking up his box.
Steele started up the stairs, his imagination happily conjuring up images of an empty loft, with all of Laura's belongings safely packed on the moving van. That nice couple relocating from Fresno couldn't move in soon enough, as far as he was concerned. He stopped abruptly and turned. "I have an idea, old man."
"About what, sir?"
"I thought perhaps we could station ourselves on the sidewalk while those poor sods from the moving company negotiate these stairs. Wouldn't want to get in their way, would we?"
"I've got a couple of comfortable lawn chairs."
"And I've got a bottle of Roederer Cristal that I've been saving for the momentous day."
"I'll make sure the ice bucket is full." They grinned at each other.
Steele returned to his climb. Inwardly he shuddered at the thought of the moving process, and hoped that the piano would go on the truck first. He was not looking forward to being around Laura when her treasured gift was hauled down three flights of stairs. However skilled and experienced the movers, Laura would be a nervous wreck until the job was complete.
Thinking back on tougher times, Steele realized that a life without many possessions might have been more difficult from day to day, but it certainly was less complicated.
Setting aside his melancholy thoughts, his spirits were lifted by the expectation of an evening of culinary and other delights. He whistled a melody that had been drifting through his head since the morning. Maybe it was Gershwin, maybe it wasn't, but it suited his mood just the same. Tonight would be perfect, he thought. Phone off the hook, a willing Laura in his arms, a little Sinatra on the stereo - all of the ingredients were there - well almost all of them. Bloody market was out of chanterelle mushrooms and he'd had to substitute -
"Hey! Watch where you're goin,' road hog. It's two way traffic here." Steele and the grocery bag had hit something solid, straight on.
Though slightly dazed from the impact, Steele had no trouble recognizing the obstacle. It was Laura's neighbor and sometime nemesis, Nestor Bartholomew, squinting up at him through wire-rimmed glasses.
"Sam Spade. I shoulda known. Don't try to pull any rough stuff. I got friends in this town." Fred took a protective step forward but was halted by Steele's outthrust elbow.
"Why, Nestor. You never fail to surprise. Joined a support group, have you? Grinches Anonymous?" Steele grinned wolfishly at the man's sour expression but his sense of triumph was short lived as he realized that the prime ingredient of his pasta sauce was now littering the stairwell.
Bartholomew picked up one of them and inspected it. "What are these things? They look like something growing in a science lab." He squinted at the label on the cardboard container. "Morals?"
"Morels, Nestor, morels. Wild mushrooms. Accent on the second - never mind."
"Whatever. You and that floozy in 3-A could use some. Morals, I mean. From the sound of things she's having some wild party up there."
This unexpected news upset Steele's equilibrium a fraction but it would be bad form to show it. "She decided to start without me, eh?" Steele nudged Bartholomew with his elbow. "What's a few loose morels between friends?" He smiled winningly. "Care to join us?"
"They'll be making snow angels in hell first."
"Give them my regards."
"For a big shot detective, you're not too smart. Creating a hazard like this in the stairwell. You'll be hearing from my lawyers. Putnam, Bailey and Richards. I think this is yours." He handed Steele a tomato and glared at Fred. "Outta my way, Kato." Steele stared after him as Bartholomew stalked back to his apartment and slammed the door.
Steele smiled tightly. "So much for the perfect salad course. I'll have to improvise." Fred picked up the stray edibles and tossed them in a nearby trash bin. All things considered, the damage had been minor. As much as he relished these little tete-a-tetes with Nestor, he'd reserved the evening for better things. What had the man meant by that remark about "wild parties?" Probably just his usual paranoid ramblings, he decided.
By the time Steele reached the landing outside apartment 3-A, he knew something didn't feel quite right. He knocked on the door and realized the floor was vibrating under his feet. The metal door was humming in rhythm. Now perhaps he had found the source of the music that had greeted their arrival in front of the building. He looked at Fred quizzically. The stereo speakers were obviously going full tilt, but from his vantage point it was simply noise. The second hand crawled by on his Rolex while he waited for Laura to answer the summons. Fred propped his burden against the wall.
"La-a-u-ura, the lettuce is wilting," he whined, hammering on the door and giving it a kick for good measure. "Damn, this is useless," he muttered to Fred, checking his shoes for scuffs. He was about to give up and make a forced detour to the fire escape when the door slid open and Laura stood there, looking slightly annoyed.
"Mr. Steele. Running late, as usual." She motioned him inside with an impatient wave.
"Hello, Fred," she said pleasantly. "I'll take that."
"Are you sure, Miss Holt? It's pretty heavy."
"Not a problem. See you Monday?"
"Yes, ma'am. Have a good weekend. I'll get the door."
Laura followed Steele to the kitchen and dropped her load next to his. "I see you're wearing your new Rolex."
"It keeps perfect time. For example, it took exactly 4 minutes and 12.8 seconds for you to answer the door. What on earth is that racket?" Steele's ears registered something very loud and orchestral and naggingly familiar. "I thought perhaps the Los Angeles Philharmonic had taken up residence."
"Close, but no cigar. 'Shostakovich Symphony no. 5 in D minor,' Opus 47. Finale. Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic, Columbia Records, 1959.'"
<Shostakovich - 5th Symphony - Finale>
"Impressive, Miss Holt, but that's no reason for not answering the door."
"You can't convict, Mr. Steele. I'm 'taking the Fifth.'"
"Good Lord. First the hearing goes, then the mental faculties. I think the sense of humour is the next casualty. Could you turn down the volume before it gets contagious?" Steele crossed to the sofa and sat down, trying to angle his body away from the speakers.
Laura complied, rattling on with enthusiasm. "Isn't it thrilling? So powerful, so kinetic." She picked up a record sleeve and curled up next to Steele on the sofa. "According to the album liner notes Shostakovich's 5th is the great unanswered question. Is it anti-heroic or heroic, political protest or - "
"As soon as my ears stop ringing, I'll venture an opinion."
"You're on Mr. Steele."
For a long moment Steele listened in a meditative pose, fingers to his temples. "Well Laura I think I can safely say, without fear of contradiction that it sounds very, um, very ---Russian."
Laura put down the record sleeve and stifled a laugh. "That's your considered opinion, Mr. Steele?"
"It also sounds very familiar but I can't quite place it." Steele rubbed his forehead, lost in thought. He leapt to his feet, inspired. "I've got it. 'Battleship Potemkin', Sergei Eisenstein, Grigori Aleksandrov, Mosfilm, 1925. The great silent film classic, of course. I'm almost sure of it. That music wasn't written for the film but added later. Various rousing bits. Depends on the print. If you had a spare copy lying around we could pop it in the VCR and see which -"
"Does a piece of music have to be a backdrop for a movie to get your attention?"
"Laura, aren't you the least impressed that I recognized this masterpiece of yours? I have to rely on something. A picture is worth a thousand -"
"I am. Impressed, I mean. There's hope for you, Mr. Steele. Musically speaking."
Steele smiled broadly, immensely pleased with himself. He rejoined Laura on the sofa and lounged against the cushions, curling an arm around her shoulder. "I'm relieved to hear it. Frankly, I'm relieved to be able to hear anything after that ear splitting rendition but -"
"Ear splitting?" Laura pulled away from him. "How many times have you dragged me to film festivals full of sound and fury, Mr. Steele? Combat, natural disasters, gunfire, murder and mayhem? 'John Ford's America: the World War II Years? 'Apocalypse Wow: the Hollywood Disaster Film,' 'Sam Peckinpah: Blood and Bullets?'"
"I'll admit, Peckinpah's 'The Wild Bunch' isn't for the squeamish but disaster films can be a climactic, roller coaster ride. Remember that revival screening of 'Earthquake' we went to with SenSurround sound? A forgotten piece of cinematic history."
"Victoria Principal running around in an afro wig is historic?"
"Well, yes, absolutely, in a 70's time capsule sort of way. Speaking of historic decades, what's wrong with World War II and John Ford? Wasn't it one of your American generals who said 'war is hell?'"
"Hah! I've heard that phrase before. The night you blew out the left speaker on your big screen TV playing 'Tora, Tora, Tora.'"
"But Laura, to experience the invasion of Pearl Harbor and Kurosawa at less than full volume would be -"
"At least I don't have the neighbors up in arms. Your Mr. Bartholomew, for one."
"Up in arms? I haven't heard any complaints."
"One doesn't usually until the local plod, otherwise known as LA's finest come knocking on the door."
"It's your neighbors who should be calling the police, not mine. I'm not the one who watches old movies all hours of the night. What about that little old lady next door to you? Must drive her batty."
"Mrs. Velasco? Deaf as a post." Steele smirked.
"The guy across the hall, the air traffic controller?"
"Works the night shift."
"The fashion model?"
"Plays Jane Fonda workout tapes in the wee hours. No one's complaining, though. Sometimes she's clothing optional."
"Now how do you know that, Mr. Steele?"
"What about your neighbor the nude saxophonist?"
"Got a bigger horn. Switched from tenor to bari sax. He's pretty well covered these days. Well, unless the angle's just right."
Steele did an involuntary double take at her words. "I'm all for music appreciation, Miss Holt but I think you're taking a few too many notes."
"As they say in the parlance, Mr. Steele, he didn't measure up. Of course, one runs across the occasional exceptions." She ran one thumbnail lightly down the front of Steele's shirt, stopping just shy of the zipper of his pants. "The instrument of a true artist requires very close study."
Steele raised an approving eyebrow, drawing closer until his warm lips barely grazed her earlobe. "Music to my ears, Miss Holt."
"I suppose I could be persuaded to do a bit of research later this evening. In the interests of art." She murmured the words against his shoulder.
"A noble sentiment. Mmm." Steele pulled away with reluctance and rose to his feet. "Speaking of artistic endeavors, I need to get started on dinner."
Laura sprang up and led the way. "It's all yours, Mr. Steele. Whenever you're ready."
"That sounds more like a dare than an invitation. No doubt a reference to the state of your kitchen. It's only fit for primitive man."
"Primitive man? How primitive are we talking here, Mr. Steele? Neanderthal?" Laura turned and took a step towards him, holding his attention. "Homo habilis?" she grabbed fistfuls of his striped braces and jerked him to her before whispering into his lips, "Or Homo erectus?"
The proximity was too much. His arms enveloped her. Instinctively their bodies pressed tightly together and they kissed passionately; a kiss that became more erotic in its intensity. Steele groaned as her hips moved gently and rhythmically against his. Finally, he lifted his head and whispered, "Dinner."
Laura smiled up at him. "Hungry?"
"Me too. Think you can handle my appetite tonight?"
He released her from his embrace and quirked an eyebrow. "I'm sure I'll rise to the challenge."
She idly stroked his chin. "I'm sure I'll relish it."
"Indeed." Steele pecked her forehead. He removed his long, white apron from its hook and tied it around his waist.
"I went by Rossmore while you and Fred were out and picked up a few items. Some assorted Bourgeat cookware, your set of Wusthof chef's knives -"
Steele stared at her in genuine surprise and delight. "Laura, I'm moved beyond words. I promise you tonight's dinner will be worthy of the gesture."
"Share and share alike, Mr. Steele."
The symphony thundered to its conclusion. Not daring to be too obvious, Steele kept his sigh of relief to himself and announced eagerly, "The sooner I get started the sooner we eat, eh?"
Laura helped Steele unpack the groceries and set them out on the counter.
"Looks interesting," she commented, looking over the variety of ingredients before her. "What's on the menu?"
"A symphony of Italian delights," he proclaimed exuberantly. Hooking his arm around her, Steele brought her bare forearm to his lips. He kissed it with exaggerated relish, traveling from elbow to wrist. "Mmmm. Antipasti, primi, secondi, dolcei -"
"That you are, Miss Holt." He nibbled her fingers.
"I was talking about dinner."
"Ah. A close second."
"Care to translate, Mr. Steele?"
"Bowtie pasta with morel cream sauce, roasted asparagus with wild mushrooms, Tournedos Rossini, balsamic strawberries with mascarpone cheese -"
"Did you say Rossini?"
"Is something the matter?"
"Not at all."
"You'll find this dish a most inspirational choice, I assure you."
How right you are, Mr. Steele, Laura mused, with a secret smile.
"The cuts I've selected for our Tournedos Rossini would make Escoffier green with envy. Filets mignons fit for royalty." Steele seasoned the splendid cuts of beef and gave them a last admiring glance before storing them in the fridge.
"A culinary classic in the making."
"It will be, Miss Holt, it will be. And lest we forget, the perfect wine for our venture into la buona cucina - a well aged 'Vietti Brunate Barolo.'" He presented the wine bottle label out with a flourish. I decanted it several hours earlier - de rigeur with a fine Barolo Riserva. It needs to breathe properly to be at its best."
"I'm the one that's breathless, Mr. Steele. Everything sounds fabulous. Anything I can do to help?"
"You could put the foie gras in the refrigerator. Riding around in the limo boot didn't do it any good."
Laura did as he asked and then put the ice in the freezer.
"I've had a bit of stage fright about trying this dish but the sommelier at Spoleto's was very accommodating. After I relieved him of that fine Barolo and put a sizeable commission in his pocket he gave me something quite valuable in return."
"What did he give you?"
"A small but potent container of Chef Bartolo's marvelous beef stock. Now that I have that essential ingredient without having to sweat for it we're well on the way to reproducing Rossini's favourite dish in grand style."
"I almost hear music, Mr. Steele."
Steele washed and sorted the morels and the salad ingredients and drained them. He pulled out a cutting board and chef's knife and began to slice off the mushroom stems with quick, precise strokes.
Laura watched him work, his shirtsleeves rolled up, long fingers curved firmly around the knife handle. His ease in the kitchen would once have made Laura envious, but repeat performances over many nights like this had given cooking a comfortable feeling of intimacy.
Steele cut several slices of thick white bread into octagonals and heated some oil in a large sauté pan. An intoxicatingly earthy aroma began to fill the air.
"That smells absolutely incredible. What is it?"
"Truffle oil. Have I weakened your defenses yet?"
"You're getting there, Mr. Steele."
Steele placed the bread slices in the pan and browned them lightly. He removed them and took the filets mignons from the fridge. After adding more oil, he turned up the heat slightly and began to sauté the filets. He set some water to boil for the pasta course.
"Anything else I can do to help?"
Steele dusted his hands against each other. "Everything's under control here. What about some more music?"
"OK. Let's see what I can find." She started to leave the kitchen but stopped when Steele reached for her arm.
"Actually, I was hoping you'd play something on the piano."
A lightning quick flash of stage fright surged through Laura and her first impulse was to refuse. As much as she loved to play the piano, as time permitted, it was always for herself and her personal enjoyment. The idea of someone listening to her play brought back memories of high anxiety as she waited her turn to perform at childhood piano recitals. At age 13 she had promised herself that when she grew up, she wouldn't allow anyone to subject her to that kind of stress again.
"You want me to play?"
Steele noted the anxiety in her voice and put his arms around her. "Yes, I think it would be a wonderful accompaniment to dinner preparation."
"I haven't practiced for awhile."
"No matter. Whatever you select will be delightful, I'm sure." He kissed her cheek and went back to work.
Laura crossed the loft and opened the long black bench. She reminded herself that she probably would not find a more receptive listener than Steele. A few months ago they had finally broken down one of the major barriers between them; perhaps he could help her overcome this mental barrier as well.
"Something energizing, or something relaxing?"
Steele looked up from his cutting board. "Something relaxing, I believe. George Mulch at 4:00 on a Friday did nothing for my stress level."
Laura laughed. "If you hadn't let Mildred go home early today, she could have stopped him at the drawbridge."
"A drawbridge is a capital idea. Better hire a few dragons for good measure. Brave Sir George is tilting at some very dicey windmills these days. Care to hear his latest scheme?"
"I'm afraid to ask."
"Actually, it's partly my fault. I bumped into Mr. G. E. M. Productions at that Lubitsch film fest last week. The credits were rolling after 'To Be or Not To Be' when he tapped me on the shoulder. Of course I wondered why he was there, then I reasoned, what more could he do to Ernst Lubitsch, Jack Benny, and Carole Lombard? They're all dead."
"Is that a rhetorical question?"
"Well, I thought in fairness to those dearly departed I needed to get his mind off using their famous names for some kitchen gadget. I did a quick segue from old movies to old cases and we ended up talking about 'Chef Gaston's Instant Gourmet Dinners.' Unfortunately my well intentioned digression merely inspired him further."
"I'm still waiting for the punchline."
"Can you grant me absolution first?"
"A line of frozen entrees. '60 Minute Meals.' Just the thing to digest during your weekly news digest. George is trying to line up endorsements from the newshounds at '60 Minutes.' Andy Rooney's Cheese and Macarooni Bake. Mike Wallace's Mixed Grilled Favorites. Diane Sawyer's Steak Diane. And from the wine cellar - Harry Reasoner's Reisling."
"What happened at the pitch meeting? Did they put a cork in him or grill him first?"
"As George tells it Andy Rooney rather liked the idea. Plain speaking, plain food, that sort of thing. Harry wanted a beer named after him. Diane, unfortunately, is a vegetarian."
"What about Mike Wallace?"
"He was a bit steamed. I expect a camera crew to show up at George's flat any day now."
Laura turned from the piano and stared at him, worry crinkling her brow. "You didn't invest any agency funds in this hare-brained scheme did you?"
"Laura, you cut me to the quick. How could you suggest such a thing?"
"Forgive me, Mr. Steele. I should have known you'd never risk the agency's good name on such -"
"The agency? It's my good name that matters here. Remington Steele - culinary artist, paragon of taste, bon vivant - backing such a flash in the pan enterprise? Freeze dried food? Macaroni and cheese?" Steele turned the filets mignons over and began to scrape the pan with a bit more energy than was necessary.
"As I recall, when we were on that case in San Francisco a certain paragon was more than willing to eat a chili dog."
"You're hardly playing fair, Laura. A starving man will force most anything past his lips."
Laura tried unsuccessfully to smother a laugh.
"What's so funny?"
"Oh, nothing, really. Just the thought of Remington Steele, bon vivant, on the cover of 'Tomorrow's Food' eating a chili dog with onions."
"Well, I'm sure I could appease your taste buds with something of the fast food variety. I'll just whistle for Fred, hop in the limo, locate the nearest drive thru window - "
"Don't you dare, Mr. Steele. I want you in top form tonight."
"Well then, play something wonderfully soothing to the ear, Miss Holt, and I promise the chef will stimulate the palate." Steele added the pasta to the pot and began to prepare the side course of asparagus, shallots and mushrooms.
"I'll do my best."
Laura rummaged through her music and pulled out a few volumes. She flipped one of them open and mentally reviewed the music. Placing her hands on the keyboard, she began to play the simple, elegant chords.
<Satie - Gymnopedie #1>
Steele moved around quietly in the kitchen, trying to keep his lid rattling to a minimum. He stopped for a moment to watch Laura play, her expression relaxed, and a feeling of contentment flooded over him. What better way to unwind from a stressful week then for him to be buzzing about in the kitchen with Laura, apparently lost in thought, providing background music?
He thought with satisfaction, and not for the first time, about the many days to come when he could have this same feeling, when he and Laura would move into the house in Silverlake they had both agreed was perfect.
The only cloud in his sky was the promise to Laura, made under some duress, that he'd keep Abigail out of the loop. Laura had made it very clear to him that her mother would be told everything about the small private wedding she was planning for next month in McCollum Park, when she was ready to tell her. In her own good time. After it was over.
The ancient dance came to an end and Laura opened the next book. Now a slow, smoky jazz melody filled the loft.
<Gershwin - Prelude #2>
Steele placed the side dish ingredients in a shallow roasting pan and put them in the oven. He came over to the piano and sat next to Laura, his back to the keys.
Laura continued to play, studiously avoiding eye contact with him. As she came to the end, she played the last chord and reached for the final bass note at the far end of the keyboard. After she released the sound, Steele took advantage of her position and pulled her left arm around his waist, looping his own arm around her waist.
"Somehow that sounded vaguely familiar, Laura."
Laura smiled and hummed a few bars of I've Got Plenty of Nothin'.
"Ah, yes, the great George Gershwin."
"Did you know that old George like to compose in the nude?"
"You're joking, Laura."
"Kind of puts a new spin on things doesn't it?" Laura grinned and broke into song. "'The way you wear your hat, the way you sip your tea.. the mem'ry of all tha-a-t -'"
"Laura, please. As much as I enjoy your singing I'd rather keep my memories of the man sacred if you don't mind. Let's call the whole thing off, shall we?"
"If you insist, Mr. Steele. I didn't think George would object."
"Perhaps we should switch gears for a while. I'd love to hear you play something else. It will be a bit longer before dinner's ready."
Laura knew what she would play next, and she didn't need the music for this one. Whenever a personal or professional storm swirled around her, Laura could play this piece and be transported back to the night she had entered her newly furnished loft to find this magnificent instrument ensconced in her living room. Every time she looked at it Laura was reminded of how much Steele cared for her. Now as she played she thought about how much she cared for him.
Even though some might think the music melancholy and the chords monotonous and repetitious, Laura found it helpful in putting her mind back on its analytical path.
<Chopin - Prelude in E minor>
Laura pulled her arm back and Steele released his hold. She played without conscious effort, her gaze on a point somewhere far, far away. The music traveled from her memory to her fingers without any intervention from her thought processes.
Steele sat quietly next to her, noting her far away expression. Although he could not name the composer, he knew he had heard this music before, and vaguely recalled a specific time and place.
Laura came to the final measures, letting the last three chords sink in. When they had finished reverberating through the loft, she returned from her far off place.
"That was beautiful, Laura."
Laura blushed. "Thank you. That's probably my favorite piece." She smiled at him. "It's the first piece I ever played on this piano."
Flashes of recognition leapt through Steele's mind as he was suddenly reminded of that specific time and place, in fact the very night that he had stood on the sidewalk outside the warehouse, concern about her safety foremost in his mind.
Steele forced a neutral expression. "Really?" he replied, feigning ignorance.
Laura tolerated his bluff. "It's much too late to be coy with me, Mr. Steele. You got me through some of my darkest days when my house was blown up. I didn't have anyone else to turn to, and you were right there. I couldn't believe it when I came in that night - I had to sit down and play to convince myself it was real. That I wasn't dreaming."
Remington sighed. "I know, I heard you," he confessed. "I had Fred bring me over here to make sure you were home safely."
Laura smiled and put her arms around him. "And I appreciate it. Somehow I had a feeling you were down there. After all you had done for me, I knew you wouldn't have just left me alone in this suspect neighborhood. I figured you were hanging around."
She kissed him, smiling to herself as she thought through the scheme she had planned for tonight. Well, maybe scheme wasn't the best word - perhaps scenario. Since she had replaced her ancient stereo with a state of the art system installed by Monroe's workers, she had been enjoying her music collection and the acoustical advantages of her high-ceilinged loft as often as possible. After an evening with the instructional manuals she had figured out how to record cassette tapes, and had made her own compilations of music for the car.
Acting on a flash of inspiration that had hit her while showering one morning, Laura hoped that Remington would be as receptive to her plan as she assumed he was. Of course, it was never a good idea to assume anything with Mr. Steele, but she was willing to try. A previous evening chez Steele had convinced her that he was in dire need of her intervention...
Laura's hands slid down to Steele's waist as they slow danced to the music. She rested her head on his chest, listening to the slow pulse of his heartbeat just under her cheek. Usually this closeness would send a rush of expectation through her as she imagined them later, skin to skin, in front of the fire, but tonight she felt unaccountably restless.
Steele, sensing her mood, broke their embrace. "What is it? Heart and feet out of sync tonight?"
"I don't know. Just the strain of the day, I guess."
"Let it go, Laura. We have the whole night ahead of us. I promise to devote myself tirelessly to relieving your stress. Releasing your tensions. Whatever it takes. Tibetan massage, bio-feedback, extra chocolate rations." Steele walked to the stereo and turned up the volume slightly, then came back to her. "Now. Where were we?"
"You were going to relieve my stress. Place me under the care of a specialist.."
"All in good time, Miss Holt." He pulled her gently back into his arms as another song began. With an effort Laura tried to clear her mind and enjoy the evening. Lately they had shared so many, she thought. Was it all becoming a little routine? Dinner. Dancing. Maybe watching an old movie. Even their banter didn't raise the usual sparks.
Steele pressed his body more fully against hers, a familiar yearning overtaking him as he held her close. He could feel Laura tensing at the contact and he wondered again why she was so on edge. Had he done something to upset her? Rubbing her back with his palm in slowly widening circles he tried to will her to relax, to let the night and the music work its magic.
Laura smiled ruefully as she recognized the song that was playing. Sinatra was crooning Ira Gershwin's lyric "I Can't Get Started." Sinatra. Gershwin. Unrequited love. Steele never tired of the combination. Strange how a man with such a capacity to surprise and amaze could be so predictable in this one area of his life.
Their thoughts began to roam their separate ways as the ambient soundtrack spun its bittersweet lament:
Around a golf course I'm under par;
And Metro-Goldwyn want me to star...
...Relax, Laura, relax. I know just what you need. What we both need...
...Aerobics class tomorrow. No more distractions or excuses. Got to go for the burn...
I've got a house, a show-place-
But I get no place with you.
...I wonder what's new at the video store? Maybe I can drop by at lunch...
…and must remember to phone mother. No. Must remember to forget to phone her …
You're so supreme
The lyrics I write of you
...Sinatra to set the mood for romance, a little patience, a little timing, a little passion...
… Nero didn't touch his chow again. Time to change brands. Fussy old cat ….
Dream, dream, day and night of you
...Don't fight it, love. Think how good it feels to get away from the cares of the office. Pleasure before business...
…. Did Mildred say she'd ordered more stationary pads? More stationary pads! He's got to cut down on his doodling …..
Scheme just for the sight of you
Baby but what good does it do
...What a classic tune! Whose theme song was it? Bunny Berrigan or Artie Shaw?...
...Once more with feeling, Frank! Good lord. This is like déjà vu; just a little too familiar...
I've been consulted by Franklin D.
Even Gable had me to tea...
"That's it." Laura ground out with finality. "I've had enough." She let both arms drop to her sides. "Time to sit this one out."
Puzzled, Steele released her. "Laura, what's gotten into you?"
Steele stared at her, confusion quickly giving way to irritation. "OK, Laura. You don't have to draw me a picture. You've been nursing a grudge all day. I apologize. I'm sorry I sent Mildred out for cheese danishes this morning when she should have been crunching numbers on that insurance fraud case - but a man has to have sustenance. Was it my fault she got tied up in traffic?"
"This isn't about the office and it isn't about pastry, Mr. Steele."
"What is it about, then?"
"Clark Gable? Are you sure you're feeling all right Laura? Any fever? Palpitations?" Half seriously, he put a hand to her forehead.
"I'm fine." Laura slapped his hand away. "It's that song. Gable, Gershwin, Franklin D. I feel like I've just walked off the set of some old movie."
"And that's a bad thing?"
"When I hold you close I hear music, Mr. Steele. And it's always the same. Gershwin, Sinatra, old show tunes. You may not realize it but there's a whole world out there. Of songs that were written after 1952. And timeless music that existed before the invention of celluloid."
"Well, perhaps, my musical education has been a bit one sided - "
"There are gaps, Mr. Steele. Serious gaps."
"Gaps. I see," Steele sniffed. "Perhaps I lack your formal training, Miss Holt, but I think my preference for the classics should be commended."
"There's nothing wrong with your preference. It's just incredibly confining."
"If you're going to suggest I start listening to the top forty on KROT -"
"There's no need to get testy."
"Forgive me, Laura but I fail to see what you're driving at."
"Look. I love Gershwin. Cole Porter. Rodgers and Hart. Frankie and Tony B. But they're not the whole universe. They're a tiny ripple in the ocean. A dot on the musical map."
"That's a rather summary dismissal of genius."
"All I'm saying, Mr. Steele, is you need to expand your horizons. Think of it this way. You love Humphrey Bogart but would you like to spend the rest of your life watching nothing but Bogart movies?"
Steele's brow furrowed. "I'm thinking, Laura. I'm thinking."
"I'll hold you to it, Mr. Steele."
"You win, Miss Holt. Point taken."
Laura walked to the sofa and sat down. Steele poured them both glasses of wine and joined her.
"You know, Laura, I'm not entirely ignorant of the current music scene. Cyndi Lauper, The Eurythmics. Michael Jackson. George Michael -"
"You said George Michael gave you migraines, or was it Boy George?"
"Can't remember. Get them confused."
"Boy George is the one wearing the Egyptian eyeliner, the wig, and the dress."
"Shaking his tambourine?"
"That's the one."
"Then unless you need makeup tips, I suggest you stick with Gershwin, George."
"You're incorrigible, Mr. Steele." Laura took a deep breath and decided to delve. "Can I ask you a very personal question?"
"By all means."
"Well, um..," Laura hesitated.
"Would it be easier if I tell you the answer first? Let's see. 'Joy of Sex.' Chapter six. Diagram 6(a.)"
"That wasn't what I had in mind."
"How disappointing. What then? Chapter seven? Paragraph -"
"Mr. Steele -"
"Alright. We'll play it your way. What's the question?"
"Fair warning. It concerns your sordid past."
"Ah. Chapter one, then."
Laura folded her arms in exasperation. "Just answer the damn question."
"A little levity, Laura. Fire when ready."
"Well, I can't help but be curious. All of those women in your past who succumbed to your charms. They can't have all been Gershwin fans. I mean, what did you, um -"
"What did I what?" Steele feigned ignorance.
"You know what I mean."
"Ah. Use for seduction purposes? Really, Laura. To ask me to kiss and tell."
"Forget it. Forget I asked."
"Nonsense. It's a fair question and I promised to answer it - but the answer rather depends."
"Depends upon what?"
"Well, their place or mine, I suppose."
"What about your place?"
"Well, before -- I did a lot of living out of hotel rooms. Rather limits one's options."
"I never thought of it that way. Not that I thought of it at all, really, I -"
"Of course not."
"What about all of those bimbos that used to flit in and out of the office? I'll bet they didn't know Rodgers and Hart from, um, what's that TV detective series?"
"You're asking me? Laura, you know I rarely watch the small screen."
"The one where they're blissfully romantic for days on end and call each other darling."
"That narrows it down, doesn't it."
"They have a chauffeur named Max and a dog named Freeway."
"Hart to Hart. That's it! Rodgers and Hart from Hart to Hart."
"Now I've forgotten the question."
"Bimbos. Blondes. Or whatever the flavor of the month was for the eligible Remington Steele."
"That reminds me of that case where they were killing bachelors. The one where I ended up flat on my back."
"Who was first? You or Miss Fairbush?"
"Flat on my back in hospital, Laura. I had a broken leg and three broken ribs."
"A fond memory, Mr. Steele. One of the few times in my life I could be sure of your whereabouts."
"Wouldn't a beeper have been more sensible?"
"Speaking of Miss Fairbush and blondes from hell, whatever happened to the one you were seeing with the 'Frankie Goes to Hollywood' T-shirt and the tattoo across her navel?"
Steele winced at the memory. "Temporary aberration. Very temporary."
Laura grinned at his discomfort. "How did you two meet anyway?"
"Remember the Federal Reserve case? That club on Sunset? Lingerie? We bumped into each other on the dance floor. She handed me something."
"A ticket to a campus film festival. She was a theatre major at UC Santa Barbara."
"A few, actually. But movies aside, we weren't exactly soul mates."
"That's a relief. I'd hate to think she's out there somewhere with 'Remington Steele' tattooed on some fleshy portion of her anatomy."
"It was no laughing matter. I kept having this nightmare that I'd wake up one morning and find a tattoo on my backside."
"That I'd love to see," Laura laughed.
"Well I can show you one but not the other."
"And I thought you never did anything by halves, Mr. Steele."
"A timely reminder. What's mine is yours. Illustrated or not."
Laura regarded him curiously. "When you were at her place, what was on the stereo?"
"Didn't spend much time there. As I recall Elvis Costello was never far from the turntable."
"Really? What was the attraction there, I wonder?"
"Oh, broken hearts. Obsession. Love gone terribly wrong - all in a snappy three minutes or less."
"I didn't know you were a fan."
"I wasn't. Depressingly familiar. Dominant women, Freudian hangups, free floating anxiety. Just like a day at the office." Steele grinned slyly.
"Really, Mr. Steele. What an enlightening analogy. Speaking of the office, what was your theme song? 'Call me Irresponsible?'"
"You wound me, Laura. I thought you were going to say 'Embraceable You.' He pulled her into his arms with a sweeping movement. "You see? Gershwin had the right idea."
Laura warmed to him, wrapping her arms around his waist. "You could be right, Mr. Steele."
Steele looked thoughtful. "So could you."
"Expanding my horizons, music appreciation, learning new tricks."
"Are you serious?"
"Of course I am. I have faith in your excellent tutelage."
"No second thoughts? There's a lot to learn. And you never know when there will be a pop quiz."
"A pang or two, perhaps. As the song goes, "'I like a Gershwin tune'.., but I'm...
"S'wonderful, Mr. Steele."
If her project tonight was successful, he would be singing a different tune, or so she hoped. It had taken quite a bit of her spare time to find and record all the selections she had in mind. There were so many possibilities that she had to limit herself to particular favorites. A trip to the library and another to the record store, and her evening's worth of music was complete. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, she had spent an additional evening running through her mental timetable, making sure that she would not run out of music.
Tonight, Laura mused, Mr. Steele would have his musical horizons expanded like never before.
Warming in anticipation of her carefully orchestrated evening, Laura slid closer, her thigh pressed against his. They turned toward each other, arms reaching and grasping, their hands caressing arms and backs, while searching kisses caressed lips and faces.
Steele's hand gently cupped her breast, his thumb grazing her hardening nipple through her blouse. Laura moaned softly and leaned him against the keyboard, her hands grasping for his collar button.
Laura reveled in the delicious sensation of her body against his, of her hands freely exploring wherever impulse took her. Once again the sense of liberation she felt since they had finally opened the book and found that they'd been on the same page all along set her mind free to enjoy everything that her senses took in.
She ran her hand down his shirt front, the lightly starched cotton slightly rumpled after a day's work, then moved down his side to his leg. Her fingers sneaked under the apron covering his lap, sliding up his thigh toward his waistband.
Steel applied both hands to her breasts, alternately kneading them while unfastening selected buttons. The tempo of their kisses increased as the numbers of fasteners decreased.
The passion filling the air was cut by a persistent buzz from the kitchen. Steele played a chord of frustration as his elbow came down on the piano keys. "Bloody timer," he muttered, pushing himself upright. "What I have to put up with sometimes to make a successful repast."
Laura took a deep breath to recover her senses and smoothed back his hair at one temple. "I'm sure it will be worth all of your sacrifices."
Reluctantly, Steele got up and went back to the kitchen, snapping off the timer a little too forcefully. Laura watched him from the bench.
Steele removed the foie gras from the fridge and sliced it thinly then set out the beef stock. He heated more truffle oil and started to simmer the ingredients over a low flame. He began to prepare the simple cream sauce for the pasta course.
"You did promise me, Miss Holt, that this resort in Martinique has no alarm clocks, correct?"
"Only if you ask for one."
"And no telephones?"
"Just one at the reception desk. Plus a lovely dining room where timers will not be your responsibility."
"Yes, yes. And what about overzealous assistants who selectively remember what 'Do Not Disturb' means?"
Laura chuckled. "THEY will be on the other side of the continent, Mr. Steele."
"Excellent work, Miss Holt. Mildred can expend her energies keeping Mr. Mulch at bay while we expend ours in more pleasurable pursuits." Steele conjured up a vision of island bliss. "Two travelers in search of paradise, on a sandy beach, shaded by palms once painted by Gauguin, a five-star chef within hailing distance -"
"What more could we ask for?"
"A fully crewed yacht and a couple of bottles of sunscreen?"
"Mr. Steele, I don't think there's a line item for yachts in the discretionary fund."
"Or sailboats either, as I recall. And Grainville, Iowa is a far cry from Zurich."
"Well, you can blame that one on our overzealous assistant."
"You mean that if Mildred hadn't cast our pearls before swine we could be sailing the ocean blue?"
"Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Steele. It's a long way to Martinique. I hope you have lots of stamina."
"Hmm. Topside or, ah, below decks?" Steele wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.
"Um, I think you need to turn down the heat."
"I'd hoped the feeling was mutual," Steele sniffed.
"Your pasta sauce is boiling over."
"Oh, no! It can't be -" Steele stared at the bubbling liquid in dismay and frantically began stirring. He turned off the flame and hesitantly tasted a spoonful. "The phrase 'the nick of time' comes to mind, Miss Holt."
"How is it?"
Steele breathed a sigh of relief. "No harm done. We're still on schedule."
His words prompted Laura to set her own timetable in motion. She put the music in the piano bench and went to the stereo. She made certain her tapes were in order, inserted the first one in the cassette player and pushed "play." On her way to the kitchen she closed the loft windows against the intensifying evening breeze and checked the table settings.
Steele poured the mushroom sauce over two dishes of pasta and turned the filets and beef stock down to a simmer.
<Handel - Water Music>
A stately Baroque march filled the air, thundering through the loft. Laura raced back to the stereo and turned the volume down with a sheepish grin.
"Oops," she smiled.
"I'm all for dinner music, Laura, but not at a volume akin to sitting next to an LAX runway. Monroe went to great pains to provide you with a state of the art system with a wide dynamic range, not just your usual 'off' and 'full blast.'"
"I guess those crescendos have been getting a workout," Laura admitted. "Should I pour the wine?"
"Yes, everything's ready." He gestured toward the table with the two plates in his hands. "Shall we?"
Steele set the plates on the table while Laura filled the glasses, then helped her with her chair. As Laura sniffed her first course appreciatively, Steele raised his glass in a toast.
"What shall we drink to this evening?"
"I get the feeling we're celebrating something."
"As a matter of fact, we are. One less impediment to connubial bliss."
Laura raised her glass cautiously. "Unless mother's decided to move to Alaska and take up dog sledding, I'm stumped. Care to elaborate, Mr. Steele?"
"The closing went through on the loft this afternoon. I would have told you earlier but you'd already left the office."
"The closing went through on the loft?" she echoed in stunned surprise.
"As I said - one less impediment. In a few weeks you'll hand over the keys, the saxophonist, the stairs, and the neighbors to Mr. and Mrs. Fillmore from Fresno."
Laura winced. "I hope Nestor won't be too much of a shock to their system."
"Good heavens, Laura! What do you expect? After all that gop you gave them about your caring, sharing neighbors. Always looking out for each other. Never turning their backs on each other is more like it."
"So I stretched the truth a little. It was for a good cause. The Fillmores were crazy about the loft and they did say they wanted to escape their dull, boring lifestyle. Meet new and interesting people."
"I suppose one could describe Nestor as interesting - if one were truly desperate for company. Or perhaps a scientist studying alien life forms."
"He isn't that bad, Mr. Steele. You bring out the worst in him."
"Do I? How gratifying. Speaking of gratification, let's not postpone it any longer, eh? Dinner awaits."
Laura took a small sip of her wine, trying to discern whatever features there were that made this vintage worth the extra expense. Not identifying any, but knowing that she liked it, she picked up her fork.
"This looks fabulous."
"Well then, buon appetito, Signorina Holt, mangia bene, as they say in the vernacular."
"Not a minute too soon. I'm famished." Laura ate with enthusiasm, savoring the pungent flavor of the mushrooms in their elegant cream sauce.
Steele watched her digging in with amusement. "Laura, remind me never to get between you and a plate when you're hungry. I could lose a finger." He tasted his appetizer, making a mental note to add a touch of white pepper the next time. "Is there anything you won't eat?"
Laura set down her fork and looked at him, trying to decide if he was baiting her. "Are you implying that I'll inhale whatever's put in front of me?"
Steele backed off a notch." No, no, not at all. I just want to be sure that I don't prepare a special surprise at some time, only to find you won't go near it."
"Raw oysters," she said immediately. "I don't care what anyone says about their aphrodisiac qualities - I think they're revolting."
"Duly noted, Laura. I'm sure we can find an avenue to passion that doesn't involve bivalves." He sensed that a change of subject was in order. "This music makes me feel like we should get up and dance the gavotte between courses."
Laura grinned. "It might be better to row."
"I beg your pardon?"
"It's the 'Water Music' by George Frideric Handel. It was written for the entertainment of another George, King George the Ist, as he went floating up and down the Thames."
"More on the line of a barge, then."
"Yes, but one for the King, and another for the musicians."
"You don't say." Steele flashed her a wicked grin. "I hope the musicians put their backs into it then. At least they'd be able to dip the oars in perfect time."
"They weren't rowing!"
"How silly of me. Probably against union regulations."
Laura rolled her eyes. "Really, Mr. Steele. The musicians had to play for almost three hours. They had plenty of things to keep them busy."
"Busy, eh? Sneaking over to the royal barge at the intermission. Stealing the silverware, raiding the galley, pinching a stray chambermaid or two."
"Just how many ancestral ghosts do you have, Mr. Steele?"
"You're marrying into a noble line, Miss Holt."
"In high school I was voted the girl most likely to marry an Olympic gold medalist."
"How prophetic. I always did have a certain fondness for bright, shiny objects. And such a tribute to my Greek god-like good looks, too. Not to mention my prowess, my staying power, my -"
"Modesty? Next you'll have me believing that Handel wrote the 'Water Music' for your ancestral ghost instead of King George."
"I wouldn't rule it out entirely, Miss Holt. My ancestor was an excellent player of whist. Perhaps one night at the gaming tables he caught Mr. Handel rather short of cash and decided to take it out of the composer in trade." He glanced at Laura out of the corner of his eye, trying to gauge her reaction to his rather baroque improvisation.
Laura rolled her eyes in mock dismay. "So you're saying that Handel wrote the 'Water Music' to pay off a gambling debt. Sorry, Mr. Steele. That idea doesn't have a ghost of a chance. The dedication to King George is right on page one of the manuscript."
"That hardly disproves my theory." Steele fortified himself with a healthy swallow of wine. "You know, with all the king's ladies and all the king's men and all the king's musicians barging down the Thames, one wonders how they stayed afloat."
"That's an easy one, Mr. Steele. No sopranos."
Steele raised an amused eyebrow. "Some of them can be rather strapping, I'll admit." He listened intently for a moment to a rhythmic passage with horns. "I like this one. Very dashing."
"I thought you might." Laura was pleased. "Handel also wrote music for the royal fireworks."
"A man with a sense of occasion, eh?"
"That one didn't turn out as happily. The fireworks ignited by accident, the pavilion burnt down and then it started raining buckets. Throngs of people slogging through the mud -"
Steele speared his pasta with a fork. "All you need is love and peace and you'd have a Baroque version of Woodstock."
Laura laughed. "That comparison won't make the history books, but it's not bad."
They finished their first course in companionable silence. Like a true gourmand, Steele dispassionately dissected his effort, determining to add slightly more seasoning and slightly less cream next time around; Laura resisted the urge to run her finger through the remaining sauce on her plate, to get every last drop.
Steele brought in the side course of roasted asparagus. "Not much longer, Miss Holt. The piece de resistance is almost ready." At his words the trumpets and timpani ended in a magnificent roar and the music shifted to the gaily rippling chords of a piano and string quartet.
<Schubert - Trout Quintet >
"This one is lovely, Laura. Sounds almost like a babbling brook."
"Very good, Mr. Steele. This is the 'Trout Quintet' by Franz Schubert."
"Trout? I know composers have been inspired by nature in many forms, but fish?"
Laura rolled her eyes in mock dismay. "The melody Schubert used is from an art song he wrote called 'The Trout'".
Steele couldn't keep his smile from creeping into his eyes. "Now if only I had known this music was on your agenda this evening, I would have prepared sole meuniere, or a bouillabaisse, perhaps."
"Speaking of the catch of the day, Mr. Steele, I could tell you a story -"
"A fish tale? How exciting. I'm hooked already. Go ahead, Miss Holt. Reel me in."
Laura folded her arms. "A musical fish story. It's about Fritz Kreisler. The violinist."
"I never knew there were so many connections between fishing and fiddling. You musicians certainly are a strange lot." Steele gave her a sidelong glance. "Sorry to interrupt, Miss Holt. Pray continue."
"As I was saying, Mr. Steele, one day Kreisler was out strolling with a friend when he passed a fish market. He looked down at the fish and saw row upon row of staring eyes and gaping mouths. Like a shot, he slapped his hand to his forehead and shouted 'Get me a cab! I'm late for a concert!'"
Suddenly Steele was reminded of something. "You know I had the same experience recently at that crime seminar at the mayor's conference. I looked out over the audience and saw their mouths hanging open like codfish."
"Maybe your discourse on Alfred Hitchcock movies went above their heads."
"Was it my fault that Mildred misfiled my lecture notes? One minute I'm regaling them with my sterling work in capturing a counterfeiting ring and then I turn the page and Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll are escaping over the Scottish highlands."
"I don't think a lecture on handcuffing techniques was quite what they expected."
"Just trying to stay on topic, Laura. A shame my brilliant thesis for the LA chapter of the Hitchcock Society received such an inauspicious debut. 'Manhunts and Mistaken Identity: from 'The 39 Steps' to 'North by Northwest.'"
"I'm sure the Hitchcock Society will forgive your sneak preview."
"Undoubtedly. My lecture on 'The Birds' at last year's banquet was the highlight of the calendar. That reminds me, did you have Mildred type up my after dinner speech to the Committee to Save the Bald Eagle?"
"It's on your desk. Wouldn't want you to disappoint any bird lovers."
"How lucky you are, Miss Holt, to be spared the endless grind of gladhanding and speech making. If only one could pick and choose one's audience."
"I'll settle for a private audience of one, Mr. Steele."
"As you wish, Miss Holt. I'll do my best not to resemble a herring halfway through the Chopin."
"It's a deal."
Steele rose from his chair and went to put the finishing touches on the main course. She refilled their wine glasses and waited patiently for him to return to the table.
"And now for a taste of la dolce vita, nineteenth century style," announced Steele, setting her plate before her with a flourish. 'Tournedos Rossini.'"
Almost as if on cue, a drum roll began, signaling the start of Rossini's sprightly opera overture. Laura smiled to herself at the serendipitous timing of her tape. Perhaps the rest of her timing would go as well, later in the evening.
<Rossini - Overture - La Gazza Ladra >
"You and Giacchino Rossini have a lot in common, you know."
"Rossini? As in the composer of this penultimate dish before us?" Steele asked.
"Among other things. He certainly knew his way around the kitchen, not to mention the opera house. One of his arias from 'Tancredi' was known as the 'rice aria' because he composed it one day while leisurely cooking a risotto."
"Sounds like a clever fellow. A good risotto takes infinite patience. Once, while stirring a risotto primavera, I mentally worked out a plan to liberate an exquisite Bellini panel from a museum. The waiting collector was very anxious, but as I reminded him, the artist cannot be rushed. These things take time. Would have worked, too, except for one thing."
"What was that?" Laura asked, curious about the plan in spite of herself.
"Added the spring vegetables too soon."
She threw up her hands. "Why do I ask?"
Steele grinned. "As for the Bellini, all is not lost. Perhaps I'll dust off those plans again. We may need some supplemental income to pay off that mammoth mortgage of ours."
"I don't think the bank would approve."
"Then perhaps I'd better revise that early retirement plan." Steele winked at her across the table.
"You have even more in common with Rossini than I thought."
"He virtually retired before he was forty."
"Ah. A man after my own heart."
"His aversion to hard work was legendary. He preferred to compose in bed whenever he could. In fact, if he was writing a piece and one of the pages fell on the floor, he just started again, rather then having to get out of bed to retrieve it."
"It seems to me the man knew exactly what he was doing, Miss Holt. If one can replicate the same perfect result, time after time in bed, what better expenditure of one's energies, eh? Reminds me of a certain evening two nights ago."
Laura blushed at the memory of their bedroom gymnastics. "Rossini would have been proud of us. Every crescendo was perfectly timed." As if in reply the overture reached a momentous climax then returned to the theme once more.
"It was rather legendary, wasn't it? Speaking of legends, I think it's time we tested the main course."
Laura's knife slid through the tender meat and she savored her first bite.
"You don't have to say a word, Laura, your expression says it all." He congratulated himself on the success of his efforts.
The savory combination of the rich sauce, the thinly sliced foie gras, and the tender filets commanded the attention of the palate, so little was said between them in the next few minutes. They both surrendered happily to the pleasures of a dish that caressed the senses like the finest Como silk.
Laura leaned back in her chair, wishing now that she'd put on those elastic waist pants she had contemplated earlier. She sighed contentedly and finished her wine.
The overture came to an end, and the music became operatic, a soprano soaring over the orchestra with a beautiful melody. Laura closed her eyes, a slight smile on her lips as she soaked in the glorious sounds.
<Puccini - Mio babbino caro from Gianni Schicchi >
Steele studied her. "I would judge that from that near orgasmic expression on your face, you enjoyed your dinner."
Laura opened one eye. "Oh, I did, very much. But this music - it's so rapturous. I love this aria."
"Yes, Puccini was always my preference over, say, Mozart or Wagner."
Now both of Laura's eyes were open as she stared at him. "You're an opera buff? Somehow I would never have imagined that among your, uh, interests."
"Oh, Daniel loves the opera. I remember one spring in Milan, we saw 'The Barber of Seville'. I'll never forget that night because it was the first time I wore a dinner jacket."
"Somehow Daniel and the opera don't go together in my mind."
"Laura, think about it. What better place to inventory the assorted baubles of the well to do, then at intermission at the opera house? La Fenice in Venice, La Scala in Milan, the Paris Opera. We had our pick of the finest jewels in Europe. Two charming gentlemen would have very little trouble ascertaining the names of the wearers of choice items. A little research, an evening reconnoiter or two, and..."
"I don't want to hear anymore!"
"Very well. Daniel made sure we didn't draw any unnecessary attention to ourselves by my falling asleep out of boredom, so we read through the synopses prior to the evening of the opera so that I would at least know what was going on."
"And you prefer Italian opera?"
"Most definitely. German opera defies understanding, with those convoluted plots, and strange men falling in love with their breast-plated mothers. No thank you."
Laura laughed at his critique. "I prefer Italian myself."
"To sweeten the experience in my more wayward youth, Daniel used to reward me with dinner afterwards. Whatever we ate depended on the libretto. If the language was French we ate French cuisine, much more often, of course, we ate Italian. I had an unreasoning prejudice against German food for years. I blame it all on 'Tannhauser.'"
"I'm surprised after an extended evening of Wagner, you could still find a restaurant open. Of course 'Tannhauser' is only four hours long," Laura joked.
"One night we went to see 'William Tell' at La Scala and dined out later at the Savini. It was the first time I tasted Rossini's dish and I thought I'd gone straight to heaven. And here I am now twenty years later, giving the same gift to a beautiful woman. I must say, it's lovelier the second time around."
Steele took her hand in his and kissed it lightly. Laura regarded him warmly. "You certainly did his creation justice. I don't think I've ever tasted anything so delicious."
"Thank you, Laura. It was worth the wait."
"You and Giacchino certainly like to do things on a grand scale. Speaking of scales I'll have to hide the one in my bathroom if you keep cooking for me like this. How did Rossini's sopranos manage to lace up their corsets?"
Steele gazed across at Laura with a speculative frown. "Now there's an interesting experiment for the boudoir. I wonder how I can get you into a corset, though it might be more fun to get you out of one."
"Sounds like you've spent one too many nights at the opera, Mr. Steele. I've heard of opera plots being based on less. That reminds of the music appreciation class my friend Lorna and I took together our junior year."
"Even math majors have fine arts electives, Mr. Steele. We were pretty bored by the opera lectures, until we got the bright idea of re-writing the plots with a little twist."
"What kind of twist?"
"Well, um, opera is a venerable art form, and as you can imagine, it has acquired a variety of genres and sub genres over the centuries."
"You mean like grand opera as opposed to operetta?"
"That's right. And opera buffa and opera seria."
"True opera seria is pretty stuffy. The plots are either tragic or uplifting. Lots of mythological themes and such. Because the librettos in opera seria had to be so, um, serious, the opera buffa style developed to allow for a little comic relief between the acts. Then it got expanded on its own, with more entertaining results. 'The Barber of Seville' is an excellent example."
"Not at all serious, is it?"
"Not very. Of course my friend and I were convinced that opera buffa hadn't gone quite far enough. So we invented our own sub-sub genre. A plot twist here and there to an old favourite, and presto chango! Opera in the buffa."
"Did you say opera in the buffa?" asked Steele, wondering just where this semi-serious conversation was heading.
"For example, Mr. Steele. I'll take 'Barber of Seville.'"
"If it were performed as opera in the buffa it would go something like this: let Figaro service your needs. Your special requests met right in your home. Cross dressers available."
"Laura!" Steele was mildly shocked. "There's something positively lascivious in your tone."
"Exactly. Get the idea?"
"I could hardly fail to do so. I must say you surprise me, Laura. I expected your sense of humour to be a bit more, ah, refined."
"You have your secrets, I have mine. Now it's your turn."
Steele raised an eyebrow warily. "For secrets?"
"For opera jokes, Mr. Steele."
"Opera jokes, of course. Yes." Steele ran his tongue nervously over his lips.
"Stumped already?" Laura asked smugly.
"Couldn't we just play charades?" He held up two fingers. "Two syllables, first syllable sounds like -" Steele brightened and stopped in mid sentence as his hand signals suggested a ploy.
"By George, I think I've got it. How about this? Fight fans. Step into the ring with Carmen. She'll take your bull by the horns." Steele waggled his fingers suggestively.
"Free cigarettes, too," Laura joked. "Not bad, for an amateur. Still, you have a lot to learn. Here's one from a pro. Her name was 'Madame' Butterfly. She had a girl for a guy in every port. For the right price. Hello, sailor! Call Cio-Cio San for a good time."
"My, my, Miss Holt. This is getting positively pornographic." Steele thought for a moment, furrowing his brow in concentration. "Every port, eh? You realize, don't you, that Gilbert and Sullivan beat Puccini to the punchline."
"'H.M.S. Pinafore.' Or the lass that loved a sailor, and another sailor, and another sailor."
"Touché, Mr. Steele," Laura laughed. "We could go on like this all night."
"So could the lass from 'Pinafore.'"
"And Cio-Cio San. Sounds like an excuse for a party. Remember Violetta, the consumptive courtesan from 'La Traviata?'"
"I have a feeling you're going to remind me."
"By invitation only to her Paris salon. Alfredo, mi amor. Mardi Gras party at eight. Clothing optional. Leave gypsies. Bring penicillin."
"This is turning into an orgy, not a party."
"Just trying to keep your interest up, Mr. Steele."
"You've succeeded admirably, Miss Holt."
Steele rose from his chair, gathering used plates and silverware on route to the kitchen. "Your plot summaries may be unorthodox but they certainly don't lack for inspiration."
He reappeared a minute later at Laura's elbow, regarding her with wry amusement.
"Perhaps a dress rehearsal would be instructive."
"I left my corset at the cleaners," Laura replied, straight faced.
Steele was undeterred. "You'll just have to come as you are, Miss Holt." He nuzzled her ear and lightly traced the curve of her left breast with his fingertips. "I'm always keen to explore a variety of forms. One's duty as an artist, I should think."
Laura warmed to his touch, smiling at another instance of felicitous timing as the quiet strains of an aria began to be heard; the handiwork of a poet practicing the tender art of persuasion on his lady love. "Artists are supposed to suffer, Mr. Steele. Like Rodolfo and Marcello in 'La Boheme.'"
<Puccini - Che gelida manina from La Boheme>
Steele suddenly became aware of the music. "Of course! 'La Boheme.' I thought I'd heard that tune before. That's the one where Rodolfo tries to warm up Mimi isn't it?"
"Very good, Mr. Steele. 'Che gelida manina.' Poor Mimi. If only she'd had mittens."
"Or cough syrup. Being a soprano is a risky business." Steele observed dryly before vanishing back into the kitchen.
"I, for one don't plan to freeze in a garret this Christmas Eve."
"Where's your sense of adventure, Miss Holt?"
"I'm an alto, Mr. Steele."
Laura listened for a moment as the poet's song soared to a passionate crescendo, then the floodgates closed and the mood became hushed and yearning once more.
Steele returned bearing two small salad plates filled with mixed greens and grilled mushrooms topped with a basil vinaigrette. He put the plates on the table and grated fresh parmesan over each.
"I've always made fun of the unbelievable plots of operas," Laura mused. "Still, I think with a gorgeous soundtrack like that even I could fall in love in fifteen minutes or less."
"If I'd known Puccini was the way to your heart I could have saved a small fortune in candy and flowers."
"Maybe it's for the best," Laura mused sadly. "In opera they fall out of love every fifteen minutes, too."
"Well, a dash of realism never hurts."
Laura poked him sharply with a fork.
"Ouch. Well, almost never."
"This looks inviting," said Laura, looking down at her plate.
"I thought something unaffectedly simple would refresh the palate."
"I don't think my palate is going to forget Tournedos Rossini for a while but I'll give it a try."
"I'll take that as a compliment."
"Just remember, I'm saving room for dessert."
"Nice to know there are still some things in life one can count on."
"We'll work off the calories later." Laura winked lewdly at him and took a bite of her salad.
"My, my. You certainly do have an appetite tonight, Miss Holt. Don't worry. There's more than enough for seconds."
"I'm counting on it, Mr. Steele."
While they ate Laura's mental clock ticked ahead, thinking of music still to be heard and more intimate pleasures yet to be enjoyed. Caught up in the web of her own daydream, she was jolted back to the present when her fork almost slipped from her hand. She hurriedly ate a mouthful of salad, wondering if Steele had noticed her preoccupation. She sneaked a glance at him.
He was toying with his wine glass, concentrating on her with an intensity that left her struggling for breath and fighting to conceal it. His long finger slowly traced the length of the stem...up and down...up and down.
A completely innocuous act took on a sensuous, erotic guise. As if hypnotized, Laura watched, blood singing, heart hammering. Finally he raised his glass to his mouth and sipped, promptly lowering it and caressing the stem once more. He glanced up and caught the look on her face returning it with a fervor that doubled her heart rate.
They stared across the table at each other, keenly aware of an extra-sensory vibration in the air that had nothing to do with the music. Laura swallowed hard and drank a sip of wine. Steele absently speared a piece of lettuce. They both made quick work of the salad as if eager to move on to the next phase of the evening.
A brief moment of silence fell as the aria came to a close. Steele got up from his chair and gathered up the dishes. "Still room for dessert, I trust?"
Laura fought the nervous impulse to glance down at her waistline. She was sure it had expanded measurably in the last half hour. "The spirit is willing, but I'm not sure the flesh is up to it."
Steele's fragile ego was affronted. "Laura, you can't mean that you'd leave such a delicate confection to languish untasted, untried, unseen. Wasting its sweetness on the desert air."
"We're not in the desert, Mr. Steele."
"An immaterial point, Miss Holt. Poetic license is the chef's privilege. Not that balsamic strawberries with mascarpone cheese needs any embellishment," Steele said with bland assurance.
"Strawberries?" Laura breathed wistfully.
Steele smiled at her unguarded reaction. Sensing he'd hit upon a fatal weakness, he extolled the virtues of the dish in rapturous prose. "A truly inspired combination. The ripe perfection of strawberries, the tart drizzling of balsamic syrup, the velvet smoothness of the sweetened cheese filling. Topped with a generous spoonful of fresh whipped cream.."
"Why do you always have to make everything sound so damn irresistible?" Laura sighed.
"It's a rare talent. Call it a gift, if you will."
"Really, Laura. There's no need to keep up the pretense now that we're about to join matrimonial forces, as it were. I'm well aware of the devastating effect of my powers of persuasion."
"Let's keep the effects to a minimum, shall we? At least where food is concerned. For the sake of my waistline?"
"And where other things are concerned?" Steele murmured huskily.
Laura's eyes roamed over his body, lingering on those areas she found hardest to resist. "I'm willing to be convinced."
"I'll save that demonstration for after dinner."
"It's a date, Mr. Steele. Now where's this epicurean dazzler of yours?"
"Ah! You can resist everything except temptation, eh? Coming right up, Miss Holt."
Steele returned in short order with two elegant goblets filled with the refreshing Italian dessert. Laura took a deep breath and dipped in her spoon, throwing caution aside. The simple ingredients provided an unexpectedly arresting contrast in flavors. Both Steele and Laura soon found themselves absorbed in the act of savoring each bite as if it might be the last.
"That was incredible, Mr. Steele," Laura affirmed. "Everything I expected, and more. I bow to your superior skills. In the kitchen that is."
"As I've said before, Laura. I'm only too happy to use them for the common good."
"Your dinner was a hit from first course to last. Rossini would have loved it."
"One artist to another, eh? What finer praise could there be? Except of course, yours, Miss Holt. A never ending source of inspiration." Steele lifted his wine glass in salute, drained it, and got up briskly from the table. He leaned over and kissed her lightly on the forehead.
For her own part, after four courses, Laura felt somewhat less agile. The prospect of weeks of dieting seemed imminent. Still, she couldn't deny it was worth it. She suddenly realized that the tape had continued playing and was now well into the next musical selection. Surely her partner would recognize this one, she thought.
<Bizet - Carmen Suite / Toreador Song>
Steele gathered up the goblets and silverware and idly whistled the melody. He ambled into the kitchen and began to run some water in the sink.
Laura joined him, only too glad to stretch a bit and shake off the feeling of drowsiness from the wine and the heavy meal.
"Music sound familiar, Mr. Steele?"
In reply Steele picked up his apron with a flourish, brandishing it before him like a cape. Continuing to whistle the tune he maneuvered as if to sidestep the onslaught of a charging bull.
"I told you charades would be more fun, Laura. Four syllables. To-re-a-dor, to be exact."
"Your memory is better than I thought. The 'Toreador song' from 'Carmen.' Also known as the theme of Herschel 'The Hammer' Sinclair. To his loyal legions of fans."
"None other." Steele re-hung the apron on the wall. "You might say I beat you to the punch, Miss Holt."
"Hardly, Mr. Steele. That's just the end of round one."
"Well, the night is young. There's plenty of time for sparring before we both hit the canvas." Steele began rinsing the dishes under the faucet and transporting them to the dishwasher.
"And for learning the ropes. How is Herschel 'The Hammer' these days? Early retirement still suiting him?" Laura helped Steele stack the dishes and wipe down the counters.
"He's making more money now than he ever did as a fighter. Syndication has done wonders for his bank balance."
"What's the name of his newspaper column again?"
"Astrology - the Sweet Science."
"How could I forget?"
"Climbing the star charts with a bullet, as they say. Herschel's branching out into a new sideline. Some pay phone service called 'Dial-a-Horoscope.' He's beating the bushes for investors."
"In Galileo Enterprises. I'm told the name was Barney's idea. He rang the office last week by the way."
"What do you think, Laura? Should we get in on the ground floor on this scheme? What do the stars say?"
"Taurus is bullish but Virgo doesn't want to rush things."
"Split decision, eh?"
"That's what Mildred says. Or maybe it was her manicurist. Or one of her bowling partners."
"Remind me to keep a sharp eye on the discretionary fund."
"Leave that to me, Mr. Steele. You know, Barney and I had a very interesting conversation. He says the Kilkenny Kid still has what it takes."
"He said that? The old fox. He's just trying to find the surest path to my wallet for this new venture." Steele shrugged off the compliment but Laura could tell he was pleased.
Laura waited a beat and then let the other shoe drop. "He also said you were in training."
"Really? Whatever gave him that idea?" asked Steele in what he hoped was the requisite tone of casual indifference.
"Just the fact that you've been sparring at the gym four times a week. I wondered why you were taking those long lunches."
"Just trying to keep in shape. Your nagging is finally paying off."
"Do you mind telling me what's really going on?"
Steele approached the touchy subject with extreme trepidation. "I was hoping to keep it a surprise, actually." He eyed Laura for encouragement but she was stone faced. "We, ah, that is, Herschel and I, weren't dead certain it would pan out."
"Certain what would pan out?"
"Er--a match of sorts. For charity. Between two ex-pugilists, and -- old friends." Steele flashed her a quick, nervous smile.
Laura was stunned. "Did I hear what I think I heard? A match? You and 'The Hammer?' In the ring?"
"I know it sounds a bit reckless -"
"Don't worry, Laura. I won't hurt him too badly."
"It's not 'The Hammer' I'm worried about."
"Your lack of faith rather disturbs me."
"And when is this main event going to take place?"
"We're still hashing out the details, but sponsors are lining up around the block as we speak."
"Sponsors? You have sponsors for this forlorn hope?" Laura threw up her hands. "Why am I always the last to know?"
"I couldn't afford to take any chances. You have a devastating right hook."
"So does 'The Hammer.' Don't forget, Mr. Steele. Your famous face is an asset to the agency. I'd hate to see it get rearranged. Not to mention the effect on morale at the LA Tribune if your profile was no longer fit to print. You're the sole support of the Lifestyles editor, and several news photographers."
"Not to worry." Steele reassured her. "A broken nose didn't do Robert Mitchum any harm. A few more bouts under my belt and I could play Philip Marlowe."
Laura was unconvinced. "I thought you liked the Bogart versions better."
"Don't fret, Laura. You know how soft hearted 'The Hammer' is. He'd never do serious damage to our, um, friendship."
"Just to your midsection. Your ribs. Your jaw."
Steele blithely ignored her predictions. "While I, on the other hand still have an underdog's killer instinct. In fact, if I were a betting man I'd say by the fifth round -"
"I thought this was strictly a charity event."
Steele curbed his runaway enthusiasm. "Quite right, Miss Holt. Gate proceeds only."
Laura looked him in the eye, arms folded skeptically. "I think I'm getting the picture. What's the line on the Kilkenny Kid?"
Steele was all innocence. "Really, Laura -"
Steele acknowledged the obvious with a resigned shrug of his shoulders. "As of this morning 12-1 by decision, 9-2 by knockout. And I'd prefer to keep it that way."
Laura couldn't repress a smile. "Don't worry. I'll keep your skills under wraps."
Steele grinned boyishly and put an arm around her shoulder. "I was hoping you'd be in my corner."
"Do I have a choice? I have a proprietary interest in keeping you alive. It's called a mortgage."
"That's the spirit, Laura. I knew you'd come around."
"Don't make me regret it, Mr. Steele. Oh, I almost forgot. Barney said you still need to get your weight behind your punches. Use the floor for leverage, pivot from the hip, and there was something else..." Laura racked her brain for a moment. "Wait! Now I remember. Training regimen. No rich food and no hanky panky."
"In that order? I think this evening puts the kibosh squarely on that old notion. Barney's worse than 'The Hammer,' though he'll never admit it. Superstitious to the last. Next time round he'll be telling me to throw salt over my left shoulder and hang a horseshoe above the door."
"Now that you mention it he did say something about a lucky pair of gloves."
"Don't humour him, Laura. It only makes things worse. That reminds me. Take the phone off the hook, will you?"
Laura started to comply but then decided unplugging it from the wall was even better. "Should I hang out a 'do not disturb' sign? We aren't in Martinique yet."
"Paradise is where you find it, Miss Holt." He pulled her into his arms and whispered an invitation in her left ear. "Care to dance?"
"I thought you'd never ask."
"Wonderful! I need to practice my footwork," Steele said with a wink in Laura's direction. He demonstrated a graceful slide-and-step move in a boxer's stance.
Laura brushed his jaw with a playful right fist. "Don't push it, Mr. Steele."
With the 'The Hammer's' theme song thundering to a close, Laura realized it was time to put on another tape. She walked over to the cassette deck, switched out the tapes and hit 'play,' still feeling pleasantly groggy from the after effects of dinner.
Steele dried his hands on a towel and followed her out of the kitchen. When Laura finished her task at the stereo she turned around to find him beside her. She could swear she had seen him out of the corner of her eye turning down the volume knob. She wanted to be annoyed with him but once the music started and she found herself in his arms the moment passed.
Laura's thoughts drifted back to the last time they had gone dancing together. Steele's senses, she knew from experience, were as finely tuned on a dance floor as they were when cracking a safe or driving a sports car on a hairpin curve. He knew how to hold a woman and was attentive in just the right way, anticipating his partner's moves and knowing how to make them both look good.
Though Steele enjoyed learning new steps, the mechanics weren't what inspired him most. As he'd once confessed to Laura, dancing was about courtship, the means to charm a desirable woman, and that easily went double where she was concerned. It was a pleasure Laura wished she had risked more often with him in the past. Back then, she'd always been wary of inciting the two of them to more horizontal temptations than she was ready to handle.
As they moved across the floor, the way he held her and the gently rocking rhythms of the song almost made Laura forget that she'd planned their evening together with mathematical precision. Somehow it felt perfectly natural and spontaneous to be dancing to this particular tune at this quarter of the hour, letting the smoothly flowing current of the music lift their spirits.
<James Taylor - How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You>
Steele's was amenable to the persuasion. He bent to nuzzle her neck. "Hmm. Isn't it romantic, Miss Holt?"
She had to agree. "It's not Rodgers and Hart, but it's one of my favorites."
"Lovely sentiment. How sweet it is to be loved by you. And in so many ways, as the song says." His breath was warm against her cheek. "I can think of a few ways we haven't tried."
"So can I," purred Laura seductively. "'Joy of Sex.' Chapter twelve. Diagram 12(c)."
"Chapter twelve? What a delightful notion! Have you taken up a new hobby? Speed reading perhaps? I thought we'd only made it as far as chapter seven."
"Bad habit of mine," Laura smiled. "Can't read a book without skipping ahead to see how it ends."
Steele raised an eyebrow, supremely curious. "And how does it?" - he stopped short when he noticed her widening grin. "On second thought, Miss Holt. I'd rather you surprised me."
"It'll be an unexpected pleasure, Mr. Steele."
<Chicago - Colour My World>
Steele's arms went around her shoulders and she felt a small chuckle rumble in his chest. "This certainly is the polar opposite from my first experience dancing with you."
Laura groaned loudly. "Please don't remind me of one of the most embarrassing moments of my life."
"I think of it as one of the most memorable moments in my life, actually. Among all the dancing partners I've had, that was the first time I had ever danced with a wildcat."
Laura buried her forehead in his shirt and shook her head. "You're only making it worse!"
"It was also the first time I've ever been assaulted on the dance floor. A very memorable evening all around."
Laura looked up at him and poked him in the ribs.
"Ow. Despite the physical and verbal abuse I was subjected to, a man never forgets his first dance with the woman he loves."
The withering look Laura had been preparing melted with his words. She put her head back on his chest. "If I hadn't been in such a blind fury that night I would have had a better appreciation for your dancing skills."
"But didn't both of us assume that we'd probably never see each other again? Even after Hunter publicly shoved me into Remington Steele's shoes, a hasty exit to San Francisco was still my original plan."
"I guess I had been anticipating my moment in the spotlight and when it shifted slightly to my left, I lost it."
I for one enjoyed our dance despite the circumstances." He rested his chin on top of her head. "From the moment we shared that magnum of Champagne, I felt this dull ache inside, anticipating my chance just to touch you. And when you catapulted away from the table, I wasn't just trying to stop you from exposing me; or yourself for that matter. I also saw it as my big chance to hold you in my arms."
The music changed and the slow swaying beat turned to a slow rocking one. Without any apparent effort Remington shifted from one rhythm to the next.
<Aretha Franklin - (You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman>
"You do that very well."
"Thank you. Another one of Daniel's social priorities."
"Dance lessons, too?"
"Oh, yes. It was his opinion that the dance floor was the perfect intimate setting for coaxing valuable information out of a woman. But I had to be good enough to carry on a sparkling conversation without stepping on her toes."
"Obviously you were taught well."
"Yes, and I had some very interesting teachers, spanning continents. Juanita taught me the tango in Argentina, Millicent tutored me in the finer points of the foxtrot in the Savoy Ballroom...and despite what you might perceive as a lack of musical breadth on my part, they all thought I was a quick study and had excellent rhythm."
Laura gently thrust her pelvis against him. "I will definitely agree with them on that."
Remington listened to the words as they gently rocked. "You feel like a natural woman?"
"Mmm-hmm." After being subjected to the endless procession of cosmetically enhanced nightmares that passed through the agency's office in Mr. Steele's earliest days, she knew that taking good care of what she had was preferable to the high maintenance of being tucked, sucked, or inflated.
"Tell me, what does a natural woman feel like?"
Laura took his hands and placed them on her rib cage, then looped her arms around his neck. "You tell me."
Remington felt that blissfully familiar head rush that came whenever Laura gave him this intimate carte blanche. Ruefully he realized that the sensation probably came from the oxygen deprivation his brain experienced as his blood instinctively moved to other parts of his body.
Playing along, he slid his hands around to her backside. "Hmm, delightfully firm here." His hands traveled up to her hair and brought a few strands to his cheek. "Silky soft, and pleasantly fragrant, too." Then he slid up her rib cage, a note of concern in his voice. "Well, a bit on the bony side here."
"After tonight's feast, I don't see how that's possible."
"Still, a bit of filling out might be beneficial." One hand moved to cup her breast. "Ah, so temptingly soft and just the right size. They say more than a handful is wasted, you know." Laura tried to squirm out of his grasp without success. Remington deliberately rubbed his thumb over her nipple and Laura jumped. "Ah! And yet, hard and firm at the same time."
"Are you finished 'copping your feel' of a natural woman?"
"The universal language, eh? Glad to hear the nuances are the same on both sides of the pond. One likes to keep on top of things."
"Abreast of the situation?"
"Naturally, Miss Holt." Remington grinned and pulled her close as the song faded to an end.
<Odyssey - Native New Yorker>
A slow smile spread across Laura's face as a vibrant sax intro soared above a dance beat, and the next song, "Native New Yorker," kicked in. She'd never equated the average disco tune to pop classics from earlier eras but there was a feeling about this one that she loved. It seemed to encapsulate all the world-weariness, sophistication, and strut of the city in a way that was close to poetry.
...love is just a passing word. It's the thought you had in a taxi cab that got left on the curb
When he dropped you off at East 83rd...
"Does this one ring any bells, Mr. Steele? Or did the 'Saturday Night Fever' era pass you by?"
"On the contrary, Laura. It's all coming back to me now," said Steele, smoothly executing a combo of footwork and hip movements and leading Laura through two underarm spins.
Laura gaped at him. "I'm impressed, Mr. Steele. And frankly, a little shocked. Somehow the thought of you dancing the night away in platform shoes seems - " Laura was suddenly at a loss for words.
"Out of character. Like James Bond walking into a club and ordering a Harvey Wallbanger."
"You'll be relieved to know, Miss Holt, I've never worn platform shoes and have absolutely no idea what that drink concoction is. Sounds perfectly dreadful."
"Actually, it's not as bad as you'd think but I don't think my fondness for them survived my college years."
"I must admit, much about the decade is best forgotten, swept under the rug, as it were." Neither of them missed a beat as Steele spun Laura back into his arms.
Laura agreed, slightly breathless. "Or kept in the closet. I don't want to even think about what was in mine. Let's see. Eight track tapes, tie-dyed T-shirts, tube tops, glitter socks, Atomic Man action figures, Yo Yo's -"
"Weren't you a bit old for that sort of thing?"
"Atomic Man action figures?"
"Well, yes, that goes without saying but I was thinking of the Yo Yo's. Or did you have the world on a string in those days?"
"Not that kind of Yo Yo. These were platform shoes. With chunky plastic heels, and a hole in the middle."
"Good heavens, Laura. Sounds rather precarious."
"I had strong ankles. But weak resistance. So many fashions, so little time. Reminds me of high school. I used to wear suede lace-up boots and a red velvet jacket with matching hot pants cut all the way up to my - "
Laura laughed as Steele missed a step. "That got your attention. Maybe I'd better can the retrospective for now."
"Just when it was getting interesting. They say confession is good for the soul."
"Is that so, Mr. Steele? I'm all ears. Ready to grant you absolution for your fashion sins."
"Really, Laura. It was just a figure of speech."
"What deep, dark secret do you have to declare? A flirtation with polyester leisure suits? In shiny synthetic earth tones, over an open necked brown shirt with lime green flowers. I can almost smell the scent of Brut aftershave hanging in the air -"
"Laura, you're hallucinating. And I'm feeling ill," Steele said with an involuntary shudder. "That combination doesn't exist in nature, and it's certainly not in my nature to wear it."
"Forgive me, Mr. Steele," Laura said with mock gravity. "I don't know what came over me. Never in my wildest dreams would I think that you -"
"Of course you wouldn't. Obviously some traumatic experience in your impressionable youth brought the image to mind."
"You could be right. I used to hang out a lot at the mall."
Steele put a finger to her lips. "We'll say no more about it."
"Why spoil a perfect evening?"
"Why, indeed, Miss Holt?"
Steele pulled her close and they glided smoothly across the floor to the pulsing beat. It was easy to look back on those fashions and fads and laugh; easy to get caught up in the memories, even if they weren't all happy ones.
...where did all those yesterdays go
When you still believed love could really be like a Broadway show
You were the star. When did it close?..
Laura always felt a tug at her heart at that verse. Even in an era of good times, she reflected, love could get a little lost along the way. She pushed the thought aside for another day and concentrated on following her partner's lead. Tonight was for celebrating, and she had no intention of losing the mood.
Steele had been struggling to recall when he'd heard the song before.'76, '77? It was all kind of a blur. He remembered Monroe was always trying to drag him to discos, just to annoy him, knowing full well his distaste for anything noisy and trendy. After their ill-fated sojourn in the Caribbean, they'd returned to London to find the streets and night spots overrun with John Travolta look-alikes. Still, he had to admit, there was a certain charm to this particular song. Not exactly Cole Porter but cleverer than most.
"You certainly have your share of hidden talents, Mr. Steele," said Laura as they both began to work up a sweat from their exertions.
"So do you, Miss Holt. Share and share alike."
"Then you won't mind satisfying my curiosity. I've been dying to ask. Who taught you to do 'The Hustle?' My money's on Monroe."
Steele concluded, not for the first time, that Laura's instincts were very good indeed. Quite close, but no cigar. Monroe had tried his best to teach him some new tricks. Steele had been a reluctant pupil until he'd realized just how many gorgeous women were out there waiting for someone to sweep them off their feet, women who didn't mind teaching an attractive prospect some new moves.
"Monroe? Teach me to do 'The Hustle?' You can't be serious. My dancing partner was much better looking than he is."
He decided it was quite unnecessary to mention that the dancer was even more swept away by Monroe's ersatz Caribbean charms. If only he'd bothered to learn the merengue, Steele admitted, it might have been a different story. He took some satisfaction in recalling that, for Monroe, the footloose girl turned out to be quite an expensive hobby.
Steele himself had an unfortunate knack in his youth of courting disaster when it came to the female sex. The charms of one particular red head he'd met at a screening of 'Last Tango in Paris' had caused him no end of trouble.
They'd only been seeing each other for a few weeks when complications ensued. The Brando-phile had two younger siblings who invariably needed babysitters and were always underfoot at inopportune moments. Once, he'd agreed to squire the older girl, Jeannie, to a Donny Osmond concert to get her to stop changing channels whenever he was watching a movie.
Jeannie rhapsodized about the teen idol for weeks, buying purple clothes and scribbling in her diary, and when the fated day arrived Steele found himself squeezed in amongst a writhing mass of pre-pubescent females, their tireless throats all screaming D-o-n-n-y!! at an ear splitting volume while they ogled Osmond's wholesome polyester clad behind.
Steele thanked the gods none of his mates had seen him, not that anyone he knew would be caught dead there. To this day the song "Puppy Love" made his blood run cold. That was one seventies era confession Laura, or indeed, no power on earth would shake out of him. Imagine if Murphy found out. Or Monroe. He'd have to lay low for the remainder of his days in some godforsaken place where they'd never think to look for him. Oxnard, or Fresno, or Torrance, or ...
"Mr. Steele? You seem to be sailing somewhere without me. Care to let me in on the joke?"
Steele's stomach did a lurching backflip at the thought. "Not really, Miss Holt. Unless you want to start looking at real estate in Fresno."
"I'm afraid you've lost me completely."
"Suffice it to say there are some parts of my mysterious past that shall ever remain so. What about your youthful indiscretions? Anything you'd like to get off your chest?"
As Laura considered his leading question, she couldn't help noticing that Steele's gaze was fixed with laserlike precision on her upper torso. Undoubtedly he was picturing it covered only by a skimpy tube top. It was too bad she'd gotten rid of that stuff at some long ago garage sale. It might be fun to put on some of those clothes again. She imagined Mr. Steele would have even more fun taking them off.
Even though some of the fashions of the time were rather revealing, it was funny how innocent it all seemed now. She even had an urge to come clean about her collection of Bobby Sherman singles. On second thought, confessing she'd once ordered a record called 'Bubblegum and Braces' off a Post cereal box when she was in junior high was probably not a smart move. The fact that Steele found endless amusement in her lifelong obsession with Atomic Man argued against adding further fuel to the fire.
"Sorry, Mr. Steele. I've confessed my sins. It's time for you to return the favour."
"Still looking for sartorial skeletons in my closet? Rest assured that there are no white belts, rude T-shirts, and bikini briefs cluttering up the inventory of my misspent youth."
"One of these days, Mr. Steele, you're going to tell me all about real estate in Fresno."
"Ever the intrepid detective, Miss Holt. Happy hunting." He leaned her backwards into a dip with sure handed bravado as the disco days faded away in a final flurry of horns and violins.
<Nina Simone - My Baby Just Cares for Me>
A swinging jazz piano shuffle began to play, shifting them both into a more leisurely groove.
"Foxtrot, Mr. Steele? Or is that hopelessly 'old hat?'"
"You've read my mind, Miss Holt. A true classic never goes out of fashion." They fell into a light and easy rhythm.
"Out of fashion? Is that a hint? One of these days I'll have the last laugh. All of those 70's clothes will be back in style."
Steele blanched visibly at the thought. "If you're trying to upset my equilibrium, rest assured. It's working."
"Visions of platform shoes keeping you off balance?"
"On the very brink, Miss Holt, and playing havoc with my footwork. Would you be averse to changing the subject?"
"Not at all, Mr. Steele. Unless you have a hidden desire to see me in a tube top. I think I've got one squirreled away in a drawer somewhere."
Steele raised an eyebrow at the tempting prospect. "Perhaps I've been a bit hasty."
Still keeping in step Laura glanced at her watch. She waited a beat, then flashed him a flirtatious smile. "Time's up."
Steele gave a shrug. "Perhaps it's for the best. Let's say adieu to 1977, shall we?"
"So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good night," said Laura with a wave of her hand.
"Very good, Laura. 'The Sound of Music' Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, 20th Century Fox – "
Laura rolled her eyes. "I suppose I asked for that one. Speaking of the sound of music what do you think of this tune? It's been one of my favourites since college. It always makes me feel kind of light on my feet."
Steele listened a moment as they moved in tandem to the springy rhythm. "It is rather engaging. I'm almost certain I've heard it before, though I'm not acquainted with the singer."
"Well that goes without saying, Mr. Steele." Laura said with a superior smile.
"Really, Laura," Steele sniffed. "I'll admit I'm no expert when it comes to jazz vocalists but –"
She began to sing along in the singer's sultry style. "'My baby don't care for clothes... My baby don't care for shows..' It's obvious you two have never met. That doesn't sound like you at all."
"Very funny, Miss Holt."
"'My baby just cares for me," Laura crooned, playfully ruffling his hair.
Steele pressed closer until they were cheek to cheek. "Pretty sure of yourself, aren't you," he murmured.
"I just thought you might want to know."
"Ah, but I've known it for quite some time now." Steele brushed a strand of hair away from her face.
"I meant the name of the song."
"Of course you did."
They laughed together at the joke; two clever people, a well matched pair. Steele felt suddenly brimful of good fortune that she was his and now they were partners in every way. How had the both of them made it this far? he wondered. They were like gamblers who'd beaten the odds, or soldiers who'd won the day after a long campaign of advance and retreat.
As the last verse of the song began their bodies rocked gently two and fro. Steele reached out and stroked Laura's cheek and began to massage her temples.
Laura draped her arms around his neck, contentment stealing over her as the sunny beat of the music and the relaxing touch of his fingers broke down any lingering resistance. Steele pulled her into a tight embrace, pressing his lips against hers, his pulse beginning to race at Laura's eager response. For a long time neither let go, happy to remain suspended in their own bubble of pleasure, senses primed by the taste of good food, good wine, and each other.
<Billie Holiday - Our Love Is Here to Stay>
Laura was finding it impossible to concentrate on the musical side of her orchestrated evening. Steele's hands and mouth were roaming possessively over exquisitely sensitive parts of her body, his hips pressing urgently into hers. He was shutting down all but the most primitive parts of her nervous system. Desperate to return the favour, she could barely wait to get him out of his clothes.
Steele was almost as oblivious to his surroundings as she was. As the tape continued to the next song he became conscious, dimly, of some familiar context to the tune, but the distractions of the moment were too tempting to ignore.
Laura's hands were at his waist, slender fingers working to unfasten his braces, while his own fingers explored the tantalizing curve of her hip. He was growing hard with desire for her as his hands glided slowly southward and grabbed a handful of the firm flesh of her backside. Steele felt one of the braces come free from the back of his trousers and then another, along with a button, and heard Laura murmur a breathless apology.
"Sorry, Mr. Steele. So many buttons -"
"So little time. Yes, I know." The pause in the action gave him a moment to think. He stepped back slightly, staring into space with a furrowed brow. "There's something else. I've been trying to put my finger on it but haven't quite -"
"Anything I can do to help?" She ran her hands absently through her hair. "Your fingers seemed to be doing just fine."
Steele pulled her back into his arms.
"That's a good start."
"Laura, when I hold you close, I hear Gershwin. And Billie Holiday if I'm not mistaken."
He let go abruptly and exclaimed, "I've got it!"
Laura had completely forgotten the tape was still playing.
"I know that one. Gershwin. George Gershwin. 'Our Love is Here to Stay.'"
"I think you're absolutely right, Mr. Steele."
"Of course I am. The classics are my area, Miss Holt." He grinned in triumph.
Laura didn't want to talk about music. She stepped back and surveyed him; hair tousled, tie askew, braces half undone. It was a sight guaranteed to distress Steele's tailor, which just made it all the more tempting as far as Laura was concerned.
She'd always loved the way he looked in braces. Steele insisted that they were a must when wearing a suit with pleated trousers, the support allowing the pleat to establish its proper line. Whatever the impetus for the choice, they also emphasized his characteristically erect posture, and at this particular moment, put Laura in mind of other erect things as well.
Her hands sneaked around to the remaining buttons in front of his trousers.
"I hate to leave things half done, Mr. Steele. We might as well go all the way."
Steele was staring, transfixed, in the direction of the stereo speakers.
What was his problem?, she wondered. He acted as if he hadn't heard a word she'd said.
"You know, I have a recording of Sinatra doing this very same tune. Wonderful stuff! Lots of big band horns and strings -"
"You could help, you know," Laura exclaimed as another button fell victim to her impatience and clattered to the hardwood floor.
"Laura, slow down, will you? We have all night and these are very expensive buttons. Let's just enjoy the music for the moment, eh?"
God, he was right. Laura sucked in a calming breath. There was no need to rush things. She'd been worried from the start about how Steele would react to her musical scenario but he seemed to be following the program to the letter. She'd never considered that her own over eagerness would put a crimp in her carefully planned schedule.
"Of course, Mr. Steele. For the moment." Laura forced her hands to her sides.
He kissed her forehead. "You know, Laura. I've enjoyed this evening immensely but one thing has me curious."
"You've broken your own cardinal rule. I thought the idea was to wean me off the Gershwin tunes and on to new horizons, as it were."
"That's not a bad idea, but if you're suggesting I planned this whole evening -"
"And quite well, too. Symphonies, chamber music, a night at the opera? And disco dance tunes hot on their heels?"
"Just because I like a little variety, Mr. Steele."
"Don't worry, Laura. I've nothing but admiration for your little plan. I only wish we'd met sooner. I could have used you on a heist. Your timing during tonight's dinner would be the envy of a Swiss watchmaker. Why, there would have been no limit to the heights we could climb."
"Don't you mean the depths we could sink?"
"Of course that's all behind me now."
"I'm relieved to hear it. I didn't know my natural talents would be such a temptation."
"Those words speak volumes, Miss Holt. Why an inventory of your talents would fill a book."
Laura trailed a finger slowly down his chest. "Why stop at diagram 12 (c)?"
"Indeed. You know, Laura. No one ever took such a keen interest in my musical education before. Well, except for Daniel, and his motives weren't exactly pure."
"That's an understatement."
"I want you to know how…, well, grateful I am for the gesture."
Laura gazed into a pair of deceptively innocent blue eyes. He certainly seemed sincere.
"Do you really mean that?"
"Absolutely. I'll never be able to listen to Gershwin again without thinking of your raging libido. Rest assured, Laura, I'll be happy to let you finish what we started just now. Though I may need the assistance of a needle and thread afterwards," he finished smugly.
"Despite what you think, that wasn't the intent of the evening," Laura shot back, exasperation making her reveal more than she intended. "I was trying to expand your mind not just your – um -- never mind. You know what I mean."
"As Gershwin would say, it's very clear, Miss Holt."
"You're still not off the hook, you know. There could be a musical pop quiz at any time. Just to make sure you've learned your lesson."
"Not to worry, Laura. I've been taking notes all evening. Why, you'd be astounded at what I've learned."
"You think so? Try me, Mr. Steele."
Permission granted, Steele closed the distance between them. "For example, what happens when I do this.." Laura's back arched involuntarily as Steele fingertips glided sinuously over her rib cage.
"And this.." as his thumbs coaxed her nipples into ardent firmness. "And you thought I wasn't paying attention."
"I stand --ah, corrected." Laura expelled her breath in a shuddering gasp. It took her a moment to form a coherent reply. "I should have realized that some students benefit more from --um, hands on experience."
Laura heard the last measures of the Gershwin tune fade away and disengaged herself, walking over to stop the tape.
"Class dismissed?" Steele asked in a tone of disappointment.
"What do you think, Mr. Steele? Should we stick to the syllabus? Or are you tired of taking notes?"
"I think I can manage to keep my pencil sharp."
Laura smiled deviously and punched 'play.' "Then let's face the music, Mr. Steele."
<Van Morrison - Moondance>
She walked back and stood facing him, her eyes alight with expectation.
"Laura, I think you've forgotten something." Steele tugged the half of his braces that were still attached.
"Oops," Laura said, chagrined. She started for the buttons.
"Perhaps I should do the honours, Miss Holt. I wouldn't want my tailor to have to issue a restraining order." He finished the job and hung the braces over a chair.
"You're really having fun with this aren't you?"
"I did wonder why you had to do them such violence. You could have just slid them off my shoulders."
Laura hesitated to admit she'd thought of hanging the braces on the stair rail by the bed like a trophy. There was something about taking them off that she found incredibly stimulating.
"Sorry. I lost my head for a moment."
"A perfectly natural reaction. I have that effect on the female sex."
"Shut up and dance, Mr. Steele."
"Who could resist such an invitation?"
Steele gathered her into his arms, listened for a bar or two and said, "Excellent choice, Miss Holt. Van Morrison. Heard him perform this one live at the Hammersmith Odeon. 1979, I believe."
"That's two in a row. Maybe you're ready for that pop quiz after all."
"As I said, the classics are my area, and that's an undisputed one in my book."
"There's hope for you yet, Mr. Steele."
This song had always put Laura's senses in overdrive and this fact wasn't lost on her; it was part of her carefully crafted plan. Still, the instantaneous effect of the music took her by surprise. She closed her eyes for a moment, holding her partner close, praying he would be as fully receptive to its spell as she was.
She could feel her skin shiver with anticipation as each measure of it soaked in to her pores. By the time it was over she hoped they would both be ready and willing to give in to those horizontal temptations they'd been fantasizing about all evening.
The first verse with its 'October skies' always made Laura think of that particular month, her favorite. It was hot by day with the Santa Ana winds gusting down from the canyons but by night the breeze was cold enough to make her shiver a little under her sweater.
There was something especially enticing in that insinuating back beat and soulful melody, just begging to be danced to, and a world of promise in the singer's words, an invitation that sounded smooth and blues-rough at the same time.
Can I just have one a' more moondance with you, my love?
Can I just make some more romance with you, my love?
Steele wasn't immune to the sentiment, nor to the enjoyment of holding a willing woman in his arms, especially the woman he had dreamed of for more unfulfilled evenings than he could count. He hoped that the music lesson would be an abbreviated one. He wasn't sure how much longer he could resist the need for her that was claiming him. He wanted to strip his partner bare, to fling her on the mattress, and bury himself inside her until they were both weak with pleasure.
Well I want to make love to you tonight
I can't wait til the morning has come
Laura's eyes flicked open when she felt him press his hardness against her. Steele was thrusting slightly, teasing with the contact. Her skin tingling, she flashed abruptly to a vision of him naked and poised expectantly above her.
Mr. Steele naked was becoming one of her favourite sights. She closed her eyes and visualized: Steele leaning to turn down the bedclothes; emerging from the shower, hair dripping wet; in the morning, aroused and eager to satisfy; the infinite variety was a delightful side benefit of almost wedded bliss.
Steele began to kiss her, his lips leaving a fiery trail from lips to throat to just below the collarbone. She fought the impulse to grab his head and guide him to her breasts. Her hands skimmed the planes of his shoulders, traveling gradually lower until they reached the waistband of his pants. She slid one palm underneath and down and was rewarded by a moan from Remington when her light fingers teased the bundle of nerves at the base of his spine.
Shivers of pleasure were coursing up and down his body as he took the nipple of her left breast into his mouth. He sucked it gently through the cloth while teasing the right nipple with his fingertips. Laura yielded to the sensations as the music matched their rhythm and spurred them on.
And every time I touch you, you just tremble inside
And I know how much you want me
that, you can't hide...
By the time the verses repeated they were both inching, dizzy and mesmerized, hearts pounding, toward the bed. When the final chords died away Laura was barely conscious of the fact that the room was suddenly quiet. Remington had pulled her almost to the stairs before she realized the music had stopped.
Laura reached out to steady herself and gripped the handrail. The sudden coldness of the metal sent a chill through her hand and shocked her spinning senses back to the moment. Laura knew that was the last song on the tape and pulled herself away, albeit reluctantly, to go to the stereo. She took a deep breath and put in the last tape.
<Anita Baker - Sweet Love>
She hummed along to the enthusiastic declaration, slowly moving her way back toward Remington. Without stopping she walked past him, taking her hand in his and leading him up the stairs. When they were next to the bed Steele went after her blouse buttons.
"Hold on a second." Laura put her hands over his. "Tonight I thought we'd try a little do it yourself."
Steele sighed. "Laura, that's hardly been necessary these last few months."
Laura smiled. "No, that's not what I meant. I thought we could just undress ourselves, and watch each other. As much as I enjoy undressing you, I thought we'd just try something different. Maybe it will be stimulating."
"Being within 100 yards of you is stimulating enough."
Laura slid his hands around her waist. "Just going for variety, Mr. Steele. To keep things interesting."
"Laura, I can very safely assume that our love life will never suffer from boredom. You inspire me every time we're together."
"And as long as you're willing to try new, uh, ideas....you inspire me as well." She kissed him and pulled away to start on her buttons.
Remington pulled his shirttails out and began unbuttoning. "Perhaps you're interested in how a man undresses. You know, it's a funny thing about that." He reached the last of the buttons and his shirt hung open.
Laura stopped between buttons and looked at him askance. There was something vaguely familiar about this speech.
Steele went on, undeterred. "If you'll notice, the coat came first, then the shirt." Unbuttoning his cuffs, the shirt came off.
Laura went back to her task. She knew where this was going now and decided to humor him a moment more. She pulled her arms out of her blouse and draped it over a chair.
"Now according to Hoyle, the pants should be next. But that's where I'm different." He sat on the bed. "I go for the shoes next. First the right" he popped off one loafer with his toes, "then the left". And the other. "After that, it's every man for himself."
"Very funny, Clark," Laura shot back, saying the name pointedly, "but this Claudette isn't going to run to the other side of the walls of Jericho."
Remington grinned at her. "Very good, Laura. 'It Happened One Night', Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Columbia 1934."
Laura had to smile herself. Once again she was amazed at his ability to quote entire portions of movies verbatim. But the warm feeling was suddenly replaced by a cold chill and she shuddered involuntarily.
Steele saw the shadow that passed over her face and stood up. "Are you all right, love?"
Laura smiled weakly. "I'm OK. Unfortunately that movie also reminds me of Stonewell Aircraft and Thorpe Aviation."
Steele moved to put his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. "I'm sorry."
Laura rubbed her cheek against his chest. "Don't be. You can't help it if you have an instinctual need to quote Clark Gable."
He tried to lighten the mood. "Did you know that Clark almost singlehandedly destroyed the men's undergarment industry when audiences saw he wasn't wearing an undershirt? That's what I call influence."
Laura's mind drifted back to Claudette and Clark and their cross country adventures. "I wonder if it was safe driving the highways in 1934."
"Why do you ask?" Steele was mystified.
Laura imitated the movements of a sultry femme pulling up her silk hose. "Claudette certainly knew how to stop traffic."
"A glimpse of stocking, eh?"
"And I'm not even wearing panty hose today."
"I have an excellent imagination, Laura."
Laura backed up a step and kicked off her shoes. She pushed her pants down, pulling each leg off with slow deliberation. When she straightened up, legs bare, she saw Steele watching her progress appreciatively. She made a circular motion with her hand, indicating he should go on with what he was doing, and he obligingly unzipped his pants.
The next song came on, a trio of voices softly crooning over the swaying beat.
<Bee Gees - How Deep Is Your Love>
"I know this one, too. English chaps, raised in Australia but their name escapes me."
He stared off into space, holding his waistband. "John Travolta and assorted unknowns, 'Saturday Night Fever,' Paramount, 1977."
Laura draped her slacks over her blouse. "That's right. Where were you in 1977?"
Steele pulled off one pants leg and stopped. "Let's see, that wasn't all that long ago. Oh, yes, that was a prime year for Daniel and me. A very successful opera season at Covent Garden. My dalliance with a certain young woman of means I became acquainted with at intermissions proved to be both profitable and educational."
"Really, Mr. Steele. It sounds as if this close acquaintance of yours made a few overtures of her own. Did you discover the finer points of performance?"
"Oh, definitely. I learned that Domingo is a much better Pagliacci then Pavarotti." He pulled off the other pants leg and hung his trousers over the stair railing.
Laura gave him a playful punch in the arm. "And in 1977 did you own a white suit and polyester shirt with the Elvis collar?"
"Heaven forbid, no. Anything like that offended Daniel's Savile Row sensibilities, not to mention my own."
"Why do I get the feeling you're holding out on me?
"What will it take to satisfy those dogged investigative instincts of yours?"
"Nothing less than a full admission of guilt."
"I fear my past fashion crimes aren't quite on a par with your own, Miss Holt. I only have one minor mea culpa to offer you. I once owned an enormous crushed velvet black tie. Looked like a luna moth was tied around my neck. Or perhaps a miniature kite."
"It certainly sounds -- unusual." Laura couldn't repress a smile.
"On a windy day it was precarious. One had to be careful not to catch an updraft. Not my finest sartorial moment, I'll admit. But rather hard to resist all the same."
"I think I can guess why. Another temporary aberration?"
"I made a habit of them in those days. Especially where women were concerned."
"We all make mistakes." Laura said philosophically.
"Yes, but few are quite so painfully obvious. You see, as it happened, men's fashions were in a terrible decline at the time; mass-produced synthetic fabrics, jackets with machine stitched lapels. A scandalous state of affairs. I was forced to haunt vintage clothing shops for something presentable to wear. Of course, there were a few up and coming designers with panache who still knew the art of fine tailoring, but one had to seek them out."
"Get to the point, Mr. Steele."
"Cherchez la femme."
Ah, the woman in the case. Just getting round to that. I was browsing the racks in a little clothing boutique in Covent Garden when I saw this ravishing creature in the shop across the street. She was chatting up some rock star or other, trying to get him to buy the latest thing."
"I wouldn't think that would be difficult," Laura said drily.
The place was called "Mello Yello" or something like that. Well, one look and I thought I'd just walked on the set of 'Dr. Zhivago.' She was the image of Julie Christie; an inch or two taller, and just as stunning."
"And naturally you fell for her line."
"Of clothing, yes."
"The things we do for love."
"Indeed, Miss Holt. I trust the contents of your closet stayed au courant during the disco era."
"By the time I hit college musical fashions were really more my speed. If it had a beat and you could dance to it I was in heaven. This Bee Gees’ tune was prime belly rubbing music, as we used to call it in my bar-hopping days. Reminds me of this place we used to go called 'The Junction.' It was an old country and western bar that decided to cash in on the disco craze. They added a mirror ball and some lights, but left the wooden railings and the peanuts on the floor. Even the sign was the same. They just put the word 'disco' in front of it. But we didn't care because it had a big dance floor and cheap drinks. We didn't demand much from our night spots back then."
"Belly rubbing, eh?" Remington pulled her close, firmly pressing his hardness against her. "Did it feel like that?" Unable to stop there, he bent his head to the small valley between her breasts. Laura grasped his hips and held on.
She took a deep breath and struggled to recover from this assault on her senses. "No, thank God, I might have run screaming from the dance floor." She moved her hands to his head and brought it up to hers. "Good thing I grew up and learned to appreciate the finer things in life." She kissed him softly and pulled away, reaching for her bra clasp. Finally free of all but one item, they stood surveying each other, the rising heat of their desire radiating between them.
Wordlessly, they each moved to take off the last article of clothing, their eyes fixed on each other. Laura's glance diverted just for a moment, still drawn to that one part of him that she had fantasized about for so long and still could not fully comprehend would always be for her pleasure alone.
Putting his hands on her shoulders, Remington turned Laura so that her back was to him and wrapped himself around her. She felt his hardness slide between her thighs, his arms creating a comfortable shelf for her breasts. His warm kisses moved along her hairline and behind her ear, sending shivers of delight down her legs.
<Marvin Gaye - Sexual Healing>
They swayed gently to the provocative beat. Unfamiliar with the song, Steele listened a little more carefully to the words.
Laura relaxed into the comfortable fit of their bodies. She was convinced that even though it had taken four years for them to reach this level of intimacy, the time before hadn't been wasted. They knew each other on so many different levels that when the day (or night, actually) happened and they finally came together, it did not take long for all of their accumulated knowledge to be applied to their lovemaking. There was no long learning curve needed to know what sounds meant pleasure or discomfort, and what areas of their bodies provided greater arousal than others.
After a couple of weeks of sharing a bed, Laura had realized that this new level had, as much as anything, provided another avenue for satisfying her insatiable curiosity about everything concerning her Mr. Steele. Having naturally bypassed the awkward dating stage, she had been able to quickly pick up on his sexual responses with the benefit of years of practice deciphering clues. Applying her investigative skills, it did not take long for her to discern that his inner thighs along the crease of his legs were exquisitely sensitive, or that a couple of delicate fingernail scratches applied to a certain area on the small of his back sent him into orbit. Playing detective in the bedroom was more stimulating than she'd ever imagined, and she was enormously pleased with herself.
"A concept I wholly agree with."
Laura started out of her reverie. "What was that?"
"These lyrics. Sexual healing is certainly an apt way to describe it. A most therapeutic activity, making love with you." He nuzzled behind Laura's ear with his nose, placing soft kisses along her nape.
Laura turned in his grasp and placed her hands lightly on his chest.
"And I agree with his directness. Getting right to the point, as it were."
Laura heard the song fade out and the next one jump into rhythmic action.
<George Michael - I Want Your Sex>
"You haven't begun to hear direct, Mr. Steele." She stood still in his arms as he listened to the words.
"I wouldn't call that direct, I'd call it outright blatant."
Laura laughed and pulled him onto the bed.
"On with our regularly scheduled programming, Miss Holt?"
"You've been very agreeable with this whole evening."
"Laura, you know I'm amenable to expanding my mind. Especially with such an attractive tutor."
"Give it a few more minutes and I plan to blow your mind. And maybe one other place, as well."
"Ah. Directness can be a virtue, Miss Holt. Lead on. I must admit this has been a most delightful, and, uh, stimulating way to further my musical education."
"Lie down and stop talking Mr. Steele. I want your sex, and a few other things as well."
Remington lay on his back and Laura moved over him on her hands and knees. Covering his mouth with hers, Laura's hands glided up and down his arms. Remington gently grasped her breasts, each thumb and forefinger squeezing her nipples into rosy firmness. Laura leaned forward slightly, wrapping her hands in his hair. He flicked the closest strawberry with his tongue, then sucked it into his mouth, his lips holding firmly as his tongue continued to torment. Laura writhed above him as he turned his attention to the other waiting breast. Mentally he flashed on his recent discovery that Laura's right breast was considerably more sensitive than her left, if that were possible.
Remington's hands meandered down Laura's back to give her buttocks a firm squeeze. Gently pulling her thighs apart slightly, his fingers probed her slick folds.
His mouth on her breast and his fingers touching her center, Laura moaned loudly. That was another aspect she had learned early on - Remington liked noise.
Moving on to the next phase, Laura gently pulled away and turned herself toward the foot of the bed. Kneeling, she swung one leg over and set her focus on his stiffened shaft.
Remington pushed a pillow under his head to raise it to a comfortable height. Knowing how exquisitely stimulating Laura found his tongue, he instead sought to prolong these moments by gently probing again with his fingers. He hoped that by concentrating on driving Laura crazy he would be distracted from what she was doing to him.
Laura combined squeezing and pulling motions as she worked her way up and down his length. With just the tip of her tongue she traced a line around and around his ridge, pausing occasionally to take him in her mouth, her teeth grazing his shaft as she pulled up. Remington's hips bucked involuntarily with each cycle.
<Prince - Erotic City>
Somewhere out on the foggy edges of his consciousness he heard the music change again. Laura was driving him to the brink, and it was time to bring her along for the jump over the cliff. He parted her musky folds and ran his tongue up and down. With each touch on her bud, Laura moaned loudly. The vibration this caused on his hardness was pushing him further.
Moving his mouth fractionally forward, Remington found her bud and sucked gently. Reaching for her, he found her breasts and caressed them, pinching her nipples. Laura hit the edge of the cliff and flew off, diving through space on wave after wave. Her last coherent thought being that she might hurt him, she let go of his erection and just hung on, fistfuls of coverlet in her grip.
Returning to reality a few moments later, Laura realized she had ended up sideways on the bed. She turned herself around and knelt next to him, her cheek resting on his chest.
"Welcome back," he whispered, stroking her hair away from her face.
Simply smiling, Laura swung her leg over him again, this time positioning herself over his erection. Her fingers laced in his, she slowly lowered herself onto him, sinking down to full penetration with an audible sigh.
Remington knew that control was no longer an issue - he had none left. The lyrics of the song and the sights and sounds of Laura above him all made for a very short fuse. Laura moved up and down, gripping him with her vaginal muscles. When she had done that three times, his hips began moving in rapidly accelerating thrusts. Tightening his grasp on her fingers, he thrust upward one more time, throwing himself off that cliff.
Laura gradually came to her senses and was fully awake when she felt Remington moving out from underneath her. Her satiated brain took a moment to realize that the loft was silent.
Shaking off a chill, she pulled the edge of the coverlet over her and watched his naked form race down the steps.
"Where are you going?"
Steele backtracked up the steps and bent over her. He kissed her quickly. "Back in a flash. I'm just going to rewind that tape."
[ Steele A State Of Mind ]