By Lauryn Poynor & Anne "Andrea' Rose
Thanks go out to Linda Bonnell for beta reading and advice
Laura shivered against the evening chill, mentally berating herself for not having worn sturdier clothes, or warmer clothes, or more layers of clothes, or that item now at the top of her most wanted list - sensible shoes. She had always taken a certain surreptitious pride in the fact that she could shakedown any suspect, collar any criminal, flag down any felon - in the spikiest of sandals or most precarious of pumps. Extra points were smugly awarded for apprehensions in full evening wear - but tonight, she'd gotten off on the wrong foot entirely, and crime would have to take a holiday.
She glanced down at her thin cotton espadrilles with mounting chagrin. A sensible purchase at the time, she thought, but now her feet were freezing and blisters were forming on both heels. Size six had felt too small and six and a half slightly big. Vanity had made her choose the six. Now her feet were taking their slow and painful revenge. At least she had the luck to be out of formal wear, and in casual slacks, cotton sweater, and jacket, flimsy though they were proving to be against the cold seeping through to her skin.
Teeth chattering, she glanced over at her partner who was striding more quickly and far less painfully by her side. Although she noticed his hands were in his pockets and the collar of his suit jacket turned up against the wind, he seemed not to really mind that the streetlights were fading and dampness was hanging in the air. Brow furrowed, lost in thoughts of his own, he appeared somehow, as he paced the concrete, to be perfectly, and maddeningly, at home.
Laura lengthened her stride to keep up with him. "Mr. Steele, as much as I'm enjoying the scenic wonders of this deluxe walking tour of Hollywood Boulevard don't you think it's time we get down to business?"
Startled, he slowed a bit and looked at her distractedly. "What was that, Laura? Sorry, I must have been daydreaming."
"I said, don't you think it's time we get down to business?" She pulled her jacket tightly against her chest, shivering as she spoke the words into the chill air.
"Could you be a little more specific? After all, being dead rather limits our options. What sort of business did you have in mind?"
Steele's head snapped around, eyebrows raised, blue eyes wide with interest.
Laura slapped her forehead, flustered and annoyed at her unconscious verbal slip. "I mean - sleeping arrangements, um, finding a place to sleep, Mr. Steele."
"You always say precisely what you mean, Miss Holt. Such an admirable trait." He teased her with a lopsided grin. "I'd be happy to oblige - although I was going to suggest we shower first."
"Just where are we going to find a place to sleep let alone shower on ten bucks?"
"Laura, you're such a pessimist."
"Only around you."
"Relax, Miss Holt. I'm sure there's a park bench somewhere big enough for both of us."
Laura stopped dead and grabbed him by the arm. "You're joking. Aren't you?"
Sensing her growing anxiety,
Steele turned to face her, resting his hands on her shoulders. He smiled
down at her in
"Oh? And what's first then?" Laura asked, her tone an odd mixture of dread and curiosity.
"Four blocks up and on the right, I think. He offered her his arm. "Shall we?"
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
"A porno movie house?" Laura
exclaimed in disbelief, decibel level rising into the stratosphere. She
stared up at the
"Laura, don't be so provincial. It's perfect. Meets all the requirements. Roof over our heads, open all night."
Laura stared daggers at Steele as he rattled on with growing enthusiasm. "Cushioned furnishings, snack bar for those late night urges to nibble, widescreen entertainment -"
"You had it right the first time."
"Roof over our heads. Open all night. I think you hit the good points - all two of them."
"Not quite. There's at least one more."
"Ha! What could it possibly be?"
"It's $9.95. For both of us. And it has central heating."
"Point taken." Laura glowered
up at Steele's relieved countenance. "I'm sold, Mr. Steele." She proceeded
The grey-haired attendant barked at them in an accent somewhere between Brooklyn and Queens, "Popcorn's on special tonight. Fifty cents with each admission." He scratched at the collar of his "I Love LA" T-shirt and pointed at the concession stand. "Just show 'em your ticket."
Laura stared longingly at
the rows of Raisinettes, Reese's Pieces, and Hershey's Kisses. She breathed
in the scent of
Steele dug into the recesses of his trouser pockets for some change. He spread out forty cents on the counter and frowned down at it. "Laura I think I saw a dime out there on the sidewalk. I'll go check. Just save me a spot in line, eh?"
"Jeez, I switch to the night shift and I get stuck with the last of the big spenders." The fifty-ish blonde cashier rolled her eyes in disbelief. "Tell ya what, just to speed things up for Donald Trump here, I'll raid the penny jar."
"Bless you, madam. One special popcorn, please."
The blonde filled the container and glanced back at Steele. "Plain or with butter? Just so you know, we throw in the butter for free."
Steele eyed Laura, eyebrow raised questioningly.
"Plain, please." Best to be cautious, Laura decided. Who knew what they put in the food in a place like this? "How much are those Hershey's Kisses?"
"Dollar fifty. I'll check, but I don't think I have that much in my penny jar."
"Laura, I think our account is a bit overdrawn. We agreed we wouldn't spend more than ten dollars."
The overpowering smell of chocolate filled Laura's nostrils. She felt like a bow string pulled taut and ready to snap. "Mr. Steele, maybe you could knock off that parking meter outside."
"Laura, please." Steele gave the cashier a nervous smile. "You're not yourself. Let's dig in to that popcorn, eh? You'll feel better in no time."
"Sorry, Mr. Steele." Laura straightened and with visible effort averted her eyes from the candy display. "I lost my head. I'm fine, really." She released her tight grip on the counter and picked up the popcorn. "Just fine." She strode purposefully, eyes front, toward the theater entrance. Steele shrugged apologetically and then turned to follow her.
The cashier called after them. "Hershey's Kisses are on special Wednesday nights. Seventy-five cents. Maybe you can save up for a big night on the town. You only live once, ya know."
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
The theater was nearly empty as they made their way down the aisle. A contingent of frat boys from UCLA was exiting from the rear, while a middle-aged man with horn-rimmed glasses sat front and center in the third row. His studious air was belied by the filthy raincoat he wore buttoned up to his chin.
Steele spotted what he'd been looking for about midway from the screen. "Since we're going to need to get some sleep Laura, perhaps that love seat would be most comfortable." She nodded, and limping slightly, moved sideways toward it until she was able to sink gratefully into the cushions. She kicked off her shoes with a relieved sigh. Steele joined her and they sat, squeezed somewhat tightly together, thighs and knees touching. Their hands remained resolutely in their laps.
Steele was first to break the silence. "Strangely enough, I was here, sitting a few rows up, just last month."
"Mr. Steele, if you'd prefer not to share the experience - "
"Love to, Miss Holt. It was
a marvelous film. An artistic landmark. Exquisite acting and cinematography.
Laura stared in complete surprise, pictures of him watching the on screen action filling her mind. "Deep? Penetrating?"
"Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd-"
"Cybill Shepherd is a porn star?"
"Nonsense, Laura. "The Last Picture Show." Cybill Shepherd, Timothy Bottoms, Ben Johnson, Columbia,1971. Saw it here at the midnight show. This theater used to run classic movies and that was their final screening. Appropriate given the title, don't you think? Two young men coming of age in a small Texas town inherit a run-down cinema-"
Suddenly the house lights dimmed and a swift series of images filled the screen. A rocket blasted from a launching pad as a melodramatic voice-over intoned the words "countdown - to ecstasy." Phallic symbols flashed in rapid succession: an erupting volcano, an atomic mushroom cloud, an oil geyser, a dam bursting, culminating in a final montage of male genitalia being massaged to climax. The tag line boomed from the overhead speakers: "Exxstasy Films. Nothing else - comes close."
Steele stared at the screen, feeling more than slightly embarrassed. He was beginning to think this visit to the Hot Hips Holly Holiday Inn was a very bad idea. He looked out of the corner of his eye at Laura, anxiously awaiting her reaction. Had he only imagined that sharp intake of breath a brief moment ago? She seemed perfectly calm now, taking it all in stride. Still, perhaps he should do the gentlemanly thing and - "Laura, if you'd like to use my jacket and um, cover up as it were, or perhaps we could move to the back row."
"Whatever for, Mr. Steele?" Laura munched her popcorn with apparent nonchalance. "My horizons are yours to expand. Besides, now that I've taken off these shoes I'm not moving." The floor felt very sticky under her stockinged feet. She didn't want to imagine from what.
"Look, ah, I think I saw a water fountain outside. I'm going to see if can get us a cup and some ice."
"Hurry back. I wouldn't want you to miss any cinematic landmarks."
"Shouldn't take long. Errand of mercy. Thought you might be getting thirsty, Miss Holt."
"Oh, I am. How thoughtful of you to think of something to cool me off, Mr. Steele."
"Yes, well, um, I'll see
what I can find." He moved down the aisle in a distracted fog, wondering
if he was once more
"Well, Mr. Trump. We meet again. Find some spare change under the seat?"
"Not exactly, um, Roxanne." Steele said with forced cheerfulness, as he read her name from her plastic ID. "I was wondering if I could interest you in a trade of sorts."
"Yeah?" She popped her gum. "What would that be? The number to your secret Swiss bank account for a Milky Way? Keys to your Mercedes for some Raisinettes?"
Steele dug deeply into his trouser pockets until he unearthed a pair of solid gold cuff links. He placed them on the counter and said with grim finality, "These. For a large cup of ice."
He noted with satisfaction the flicker of greed that crossed her face. "Are those real gold?" She lifted them in her palm, testing their weight. They seemed real, she thought, but what was too good to be true was usually exactly that.
"Turn them over."
"Cartier? No kidding? Nah, they gotta be knock offs." She looked around nervously.
"What if they aren't?" He smiled slightly, knowing she was hooked.
She scooped them up and thrust them into the pocket of her slacks.
"On second thought," Steele said, "I'll have a large Sprite and a large Diet Coke. With extra ice. And a bag of Hershey's Kisses."
Still eyeing him with suspicion, Roxanne filled his order quickly and turned off her register. "OK, Donald, now you're on your own. Snack bar's closed."
"It's been a pleasure." Steele flashed her an insincere smile. He knew the blonde would be on her way to the nearest pawnshop by morning. He could redeem the cuff links later, once they had arranged a safe meeting with Mildred. He found them when he'd been digging in his pockets for change. He'd started to wear them on the trip back from New York, but changed to another pair. The trade had been worth it. Laura hadn't eaten for hours. He'd eaten a light meal on the plane but she hadn't been hungry. Too tired to eat, she'd said.
Steele gathered his hard won trophies and headed back to the theater. If only he had carried more cash he and Laura wouldn't be scraping for pennies. Not carrying cash was an old habit. Sometimes, in his former life, he'd simply been skint, flatbroke. But even when he wasn't, he packed light. He knew better than most that a fat wallet was fair game for any passerby with light fingers.
Somehow, Steele felt, someone from his past was tied up in all of this, in the murders at his apartment. He'd been outwardly calm and reassuring for Laura's sake but he knew he had placed her in danger, in the path of a killer. He would do anything he could, use any skills he possessed, to keep her safe and alive. He hoped it would be enough.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
When he arrived, carrying the drinks and candy she stared at him in wonder. "Mr. Steele. How on earth -?"
"Our friendly bleached blonde at the concession stand. I've seen her before at the track. Swapped these for a tip on a horse." He handed her the Diet Coke and the Hershey's Kisses.
"You're a hard bargainer, Mr. Steele." She tore open the bag, breathing in its restorative scent. "I hope it was a good tip."
"A solid gold tip if ever there was one." Steele slid in close beside her. She felt warm and dry and smelled pleasantly of popcorn. Light from the screen flickered across her face as she savored a bite of a chocolate kiss. Her eyes were closed, one corner of her mouth lifting up in a dreamy smile. He smiled back.
During his absence, trailers had continued to hawk the coming attractions. He stared, idly curious, at the scene, as groups of topless biker chicks roared in tandem down the highway. "It was a long, strange trip," the narration began, "through the Summer of Love - 1967. Hippies and Harley honeys only after one thing: something big, throbbing and powerful to put between their legs. They were - Sleazy Riders." An ersatz version of "Born to Be Wild" blared from the speakers as the screen filled with well endowed bikers sporting leather and tattoos being rhythmically and enthusiastically straddled by various females.
Even a second rate version of "Born to be Wild" took Laura back to her college days. How often had she abused the speakers in her bright yellow ragtop by cranking that song to the max? True, her VW Beetle always sounded more like a washing machine than a Panhead Harley when she revved it up - but in those simpler times there was room on the open road for everyone. Score one for democracy.
Her circle of friends in college had been mostly male and she had never formed many close female friendships. She wondered what those over-achieving girls from 4 East would say if they could see her now. There was only one female she'd known who wouldn't bat an eyelash at her current predicament.
Jolene McSwain, n_e Robicheaux, was from Cajun country in Bayou Teche. A sharp-eyed stunner with a head (and a body) for business, she and Laura crossed paths in a few Business Math courses and struck up an unorthodox friendship. When her scholarship ran out, Jolene worked the pole in a strip club until she hooked up with a boyfriend in the blue movie business. Hearing someone croon "Give me some o' dat, bay-be" in a sexy Cajun accent, 38DD bra and crotchless panties, was pretty novel and soon she was on her way to being a headliner.
Laura and a few of her dorm mates were dragged to the local porn palace in hopes of a glimpse of Jolene in all of her glory, but even when she wasn't on screen her riotous commentary on the ins and outs of the action had them in stitches.
After graduation Jolene moved to Hollywood and Laura lost track of her until one day she got a call that she was glad Bernice didn't answer. Jolene, who now worked as a producer, discovered that several months' worth of film footage was missing from the inventory and she needed to know why and pronto. Laura tried to beg off but Jolene insisted she come down to the set and investigate all of the likely suspects. They're just professionals, like everyone else, Laura reasoned. Also, the agency was struggling in those early days before Steele made his appearance, and Jolene had cash to burn.
After a week on the set posing as Jolene's personal assistant, Laura uncovered the culprits. It was an inside scheme to sell off the film stock to a rival company in the underground market overseas. Laura's experience had been an eye-opener to say the least, but a well paid one, and definitely a change from the buttoned down office routine.
Some of the male suspects had made some unsubtle passes, but she'd only been slightly tempted. The thought of a romp with someone who was long past amateur status seemed a bit too experimental for comfort.
The trickiest part of the whole business had been hiding the nature of the case from Murphy and Bernice. Jolene wasn't exactly a shrinking violet. Laura had been terrified whenever the phone rang that Jolene's husky Cajun cadence would purr across the line. Laura sent up a fervent prayer of thanks that Mr. Steele hadn't been with the agency then. With his uncanny ability to hone in on any hidden deceptions of hers, he would have ferreted out the truth, she was sure of it.
She was suddenly terribly curious about something. What would Mr. Steele think of her if he knew it now? Would he be shocked? Turned on? She pushed the questions to the back of her mind. Part of her would take devious pleasure in shaking him up a little buther rational side was stronger, at least for the moment. Whoknew how he'd react? Why look for trouble? She had a feeling before this night was over they both would have more than they could handle.
Thoughts of the past had temporarily rescued her from having to think about what was going to happen tonight both on and off screen. Suddenly Laura was becoming acutely aware of his closeness. In the narrow confines of the loveseat there was no way for them to sit without their bodies touching. Steele was watching the screen surreptitiously, she noted, chin turned away from her and slightly downward, like a schoolboy cribbing from his classmate's homework. Startled, his head snapped up when she touched his arm.
"Popcorn, Mr. Steele?"
"Oh, you finish it off, Miss Holt. I've had all I can handle for awhile."
"I still have plenty of Kisses."
"Hmm. Perhaps we'll save those for later."
The last of the red hot skinflick trailers had bumped and grinded to a halt and the feature presentation was about to start. Over the distractions of a pounding disco beat and an overworked smoke machine, a day in the life of "Hot Hips Holly," an exotic dancer at "The Executive Sweet," was revealed: a tale of naked ambition and steamy, sequined sex. The portrait of a young up and comer, bent on dethroning her glamorous, but fading rival. It was "All About Eve" with pasties, Velcro-snap G-strings, and "go, lover, go."
A big-haired blonde in a fur bikini and a leopard skinned garter was re-touching her nails. "Kid, I got thongs older than you and I seen lots of girls work the catwalk. You ain't gonna beat Venus Envy at her own game. She's got moves you can only dream of."
The raven haired Venus, wearing jeweled sandals and a glittering, white G-string under her toga-inspired wrap, smugly agreed. "I've got a hundred moves, little girl, and you ain't even up to "love motion no.9."
At this jibe, Laura burst into a fit of giggles. She glanced over at Steele, who wasn't laughing. He'd probably never heard that song before. One of these days she was going to teach him there was more to life than Gershwin and Sinatra.
Steele shushed her with annoyance. "Laura, please. You really don't want to attract any unwanted attention in here."
"Where's your sense of humor, Mr. Steele?"
"I'm sure it will return as soon as it hears something that's actually funny." He folded his hands in his lap and stared pointedly at the screen as if he was daring Laura to crack a smile.
Venus continued her short list of insults. "Why, good golly Miss Holly. What was the name of that low rent club you used to work in? 'The Bush League?'"
Holly tossed her chestnut mane and hiked up her leather bustier. "The clubs I headlined don't hire women your age - you've been around the block so many times you could run a marathon without breaking a sweat."
Good golly. The Clovers and now Little Richard, Laura mused. It was an unexpected twist. Unfortunately, the dialogue soon degenerated into the more monosyllabic, once Venus undraped and launched into her Roman orgy routine. Friends, Romans, and countrymen (toga partying strip club customers) were serviced with a smile and all three of the working girls lost their Vestal virginity.
"Give it to me, Maximus. Your juicy love javelin, and you too, Brutus," Venus moaned as the threesome tied itself into a love knot.
"Love javelin? Oh my. I've never heard that term for it before. You know, that dark-haired Maximus fellow looks a bit like you - under that laurel wreath."
"You're joking, Laura. I'd say he's several inches shy."
"Is he, really? Are you saying he doesn't quite measure up, Mr. Steele?"
"Most definitely not."
"You know," Laura teased, deliberately misreading the veiled sexual reference, "I have to agree. They say most male porn stars are under 5'8". Makes, ah, other things look bigger in proportion."
Steele was immediately on the alert. "Where did you pick up that bit of information, Miss Holt?"
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
Steele's query was interrupted by the man in the filthy raincoat. "Hey, Siskel and Ebert. Could you keep it down? Some of us are trying to hear the dialogue."
"What dialogue?" Laura rolled her eyes in disbelief. "Oh, great Caesar, your sceptre is showing? Or the 'oohs, aahs, and oh my God's?'"
"It's not exactly "Spartacus," is it?" Steele sniffed.
The owlish man turned around in his seat. '"Spartacus." Now that was a classic. You won't see its like today. Besides Stanley Kubrick's all washed up. It's no secret. 'The Shining.' Bah! Millions of dollars thrown at the screen and you get nothing but a bunch of cheap scares and setups. The beginning of the end of the horror film. Just look what it's left us with. 'Friday the Thirteenth: the Final Chapter.' If it only was. I'm sure they're working on the next chapter as we speak."
"But you can hardly blame Stanley Kubrick-" Steele began.
"If you strike up a conversation with that perv in a raincoat, I'm leaving."
"But, Laura, he said-"
"I mean it, Mr. Steele."
Glaring, Laura fished around on the floor for her shoes.
"Laura, calm down, OK?" Steele entreated her. "Just sit back and enjoy the- um, well, never mind. I must say this place attracts a diverse clientele."
Laura sat stiffly next to him, suddenly unsettled. Steele started to put an arm around her shoulder but her body language warned him off. He slumped sulkily, watching the screen. Although, like most men, he would take it any way he could get it - for stimulation, porn movies had never ranked that highly on his list. As for that list, there was no question in his mind as to what, or whom was at the top of it. Steele glanced over at Laura, who was staring straight ahead, arms crossed over her chest.
On screen, the hard working
Holly was orally pleasuring one orgy-goer while she straddled another.
Her long, chestnut hair tumbled over her shoulders. As Steele's idle imagination
began to respond, he began to picture a quite
He could feel his erection pressing tightly against the seam of his trousers. It seemed to be quite large, more so than usual, and Steele's being so close to Laura, the object of his desire, was causing it to throb almost painfully.
He thought of putting his jacket across his lap but that seemed like such a dead giveaway and in any case he couldn't think of an excuse for doing so. Thankful, at least, for the near darkness, he closed his eyes and tried to direct his thoughts elsewhere. Anywhere but on the screen or on the woman at his side whom he was longing to touch.
The idea flashed into his head that maybe Laura was being affected as well but one quick glance at her rigid posture made him doubtful. Was she actually watching the screen? Finding it stimulating? Or a complete turnoff? She seemed quite casual about it on the surface. He never was sure what wavelength she was on, even though he had convinced himself he knew her like no one else.
His thoughts wandered back to the Charlotte Knight case and the hours they had spent listening to the heavy breathing antics in "Prone Positions." At first, he had tried to stop the tapes, to shield her from the story's overheated prose but Laura had let him know that she was by no means a virginal heroine in need of rescue. In fact, she had once carried off a casual seduction of a teacher using only her charm and a pair of glasses.
He remembered how intrigued he'd been by her revelation. He hadn't expected her to be so honest with him, so teasing, yet direct, sexually. He found the most carnal thoughts were creeping into his mind. As the evening progressed and each succeeding cassette of the steamy novel was loaded into the machine, the air grew so thick with tension and longing until he thought surely the two of them would either give in or combust.
He'd never touched her that night though he had ached to do so, and he knew she felt the same. Now he found himself short of breath as he recalled the sight of her lying stretched out, relaxed and drowsy, on the floor of his apartment, seemingly unaware that he was watching her. And not simply watching, but filing away every bit of her in his memory. Imagining the smooth contours of her skin laid bare. Wishing he could use his hands, his mouth - all of his senses, to explore her, unresisting, at will.
He opened his eyes, letting out a slow, shuddering sigh that he hoped Laura couldn't hear over the movie soundtrack. He was better off watching the action on screen. His unfettered imagination was only torturing him further.
"Teach me, O Great Caesar, the many ways of love." Holly breathed seductively on the sleeve of a fortyish man in a purple tunic. Visions of Laura and the Calc professor hummed in Steele's over-stimulated brain. Only this time, he had replaced the Calc professor and Laura was his own star pupil - and she was ever so slowly removing his glasses.
This was not working. He had to think of something to get his mind off of getting off. What usually worked? Film annotations were good for concentration. His thoughts raced. "Teacher's Pet." Clark Gable, Doris Day, Gig Young, Paramount, 1958. Suddenly he had a bizarre flash of Marlene Dietrich greeting Emil Jannings in "The Blue Angel." "Breakfast, Herr Professor?"
Dietrich was perfect. Long career. Lots of obscure German language films. Unfortunately, at the moment, he couldn't remember any of them. Well, who counted those anyway? "The Blue Angel" was where it all started, really. "Der Blaue Engel." Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich, UFA, 1930. God, what was next? "Morocco." Gary Cooper, Adolphe Menjou, Paramount, 1930. "Dishonored." Victor McLaglen, Warner Oland, Paramount, 1931. "Shanghai Express." Clive Brook, Anna May Wong, Paramount, 1932...
He'd gotten all of the way up to "Destry Rides Again" when it happened. Her hand on his thigh. Millimeters away. He jumped as if she had burned him.
"Mr. Steele? Could you save these Kisses for me? I'm afraid if I don't give them up, they'll all be gone soon." Her fingers brushed him lightly on his inner thigh as she deposited the bag of candy in his lap.
Steele sucked in a breath but it didn't seem to reach his lungs. He had to get some air. "Love to, Laura. I'll hold on to them when I get back. I was just going to get some ice. Would you care for some?"
"No. I'm fine really. Just a little high on chocolate."
What did that mean? How high? Steele thought distractedly. With exaggerated casualness he handed her back the bag. He rose carefully from his seat, cup in hand, then started down the aisle without a backward glance.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
Stepping out into the brightly lit lobby, Steele pulled off his jacket and draped it over his arm. Holding the jacket close to the front of his body, he surveyed the territory. No one was at the snack bar and the attendant was leaning against a wall reading the sports page.
Steele's skin felt flushed and his pulse was racing. Icy calm, mate, he told himself. Deep breaths. He went into the men's room and leaned against the sink. What on earth had he been thinking? A porn theater? He must have been daft to come here with Laura.
He'd been so worried about getting her somewhere safe, that out of habit he'd fallen back on old tricks. It was one thing to use those survival skills on his own, but the rule book wasn't made for two - and it hadn't included a chapter on dangerously beautiful female companions.
Steele turned on the faucet and splashed water into his cup. He drank down half of the icy liquid and poured the rest over his face. It was no good. His groin felt as if it were being roasted over a slow fire. He supposed he could go in the stall, unzip, and take himself in hand. He wondered how else he was going to get through the evening.
He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, then opened them. He struggled back into his jacket, staring at his image in the bathroom mirror. Was he really that bloody desperate? Good Lord. He looked an absolute wreck. Steele rubbed his temples, feeling a dull headache forming behind his left eye.
Suddenly the door opened and he started guiltily. Nerves on edge, he thrust his hands into his pockets. Roxanne stood in the doorway with a roll of tissue. Steele swallowed hard and tried to find his voice. He cleared his throat, covering his embarrassment with a tone of righteous indignation. "Isn't it customary to knock?"
"I did." She spoke in the tone of an exasperated mother humoring a small, not especially bright child. "I just needed to put this in here. Are you done, or do you want me to come back?"
"No, no, not at all. I was just leaving," Steele replied, hastily drying his face and hands with a paper towel. He could feel her eyes on him, looking him sharply up and down. Heart dully thumping, he squeezed past her with infinite care to the freedom of the door. He walked warily through the lobby but no one took notice of him. Reaching the exit, he stepped outside, grateful for the shock of the cold air on his skin.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
A faint smile crossed Laura's lips as she watched Steele retreat back up the aisle. She was well aware of the reason for his sudden departure. While he had been watching the movie, she had been watching him, noticing his rapt expression and slightly ragged breathing as he stared at the parade of flesh on the screen. She could feel his warmth against her in their close confines, and guessed, from those cues and from the subtle shifting of his body, at his state of arousal. His overreaction at the merest brush of her fingers practically confirmed it.
She wondered if he was thinking of her as he watched the women on screen. She didn't have the attributes of the average porn star but at least she was real and not enhanced with silicone. She watched dark haired Maximus intimately entwined, grasping Venus by the hips and thrusting into her as she leaned over the back of a silk covered couch.
Actually, he did look a bit like Mr. Steele. His features were somewhat coarser, his body stockier, and he was several inches shorter in height, but he seemed to have the inches where it counted. She pondered Steele's off hand remark about the man being "several inches shy." If he truly was, then how well endowed was Mr. Steele? That was the question. The one that had been buried in the back of her mind ever since he'd offered her that magnum of champagne. He wasn't the only one aroused with curiosity.
Laura reflected that since they had met they'd done nothing but torture themselves with unanswered questions. What would he or she be like - once the clothes and inhibitions had been removed? A well matched pair in every way? Perfect for each other? How would they ever get to the point of testing that sexual intuition of theirs? They had become friends and partners and sometimes adversaries, but desire had always been the one constant of their universe.
Her thoughts drifted to past cases where the temptation of mixing business with pleasure had become almost irresistible. That day, handcuffed together in the hayloft in Ireland they had come so very close. Steele had forgotten he was Steele and it was a chance to start fresh, to be able to let go of his past and hers and happily surrender to the moment. He'd lowered her down to the hay, his lips seeking hers. Remembering the handcuffs, she smiled, wondering how they would have managed it if Xanadu and that watch hadn't interrupted them.
As the moans and groans issued forth from the overhead speakers, Laura was reminded of the Charlotte Knight case and the novel "Prone Positions." She'd certainly seen her share of positions on screen tonight. The book was fairly tame stuff by porn movie standards but it had been enough to drive Laura crazy with unrequited lust.
It had started innocently enough at first. They had pushed play on the recorder and listened to each increasingly climactic chapter. Steele had stopped the tape once or twice in the early going, wanting to protect her innocence, but she let him know it was nothing she couldn't handle. She grinned deviously, remembering his reaction to her seduction of that Calc professor. She'd certainly gotten Steele's attention. Several times she'd caught him staring at her so erotically that when she met his gaze she had trouble breathing.
Late into the night, she awoke to find him lying asleep on the carpet, his lean body sprawled out full length, nearly touching hers. She sat up and watched him breathing deeply and evenly, lips slightly parted, his hands resting on his chest. Every detail was committed to memory. He was wearing a pale blue shirt and dark blue pleated trousers. He wore no tie and his shirt was partially unbuttoned, revealing a tantalizing glimpse of the dark, curling hair of his chest.
Here was a chance to study him as closely as she liked, without hindrance or distractions. She longed to pull that crisp, ironed shirt from his trousers and unbutton it, revealing him slowly and deliberately, savoring each moment of discovery. Next, she would remove his belt and deftly work the button and zipper of his trousers free and slide them down his legs, along with his socks. His briefs would be next. Those she would remove quickly, impatient to indulge her avid curiosity about what lay beneath.
That night she had fantasized doing all of those things, freely and without consequence. To learn what his body was like - what it looked like and what it felt like under her fingers. She would have been happy with knowing just that, and nothing else.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
Steele lightly touched her arm as he slid in beside her. "Any Kisses left?"
Lost in her thoughts, Laura was taken aback by his sudden appearance. "What?"
"I said are there any Kisses left?"
"All yours, Mr. Steele."
"Do you know how long I've been waiting to hear you say that?"
"Longer than I care to remember, Miss Holt. I'm glad you enjoyed them. They're not Parlaits but it was the best I could do on short notice. I'll have to save your favourites for Christmas."
"It's the thought that counts, Mr. Steele."
"Indeed. You know, that reminds me. When that dirtbag in the Santa suit pointed that gun at my chest I thought my life would flash before my eyes - but I could only think of one thing."
"What was that?"
"I'd never get to see you naked."
Laura punched him on the arm.
"Don't you think you've seen enough naked women for one night?"
"There's always room for one more - if it's the right woman."
"Only in your dreams, Mr. Steele."
"How about a compromise? What about that little ensemble you wore to Donald's dentist's convention? That revealing top, snug in all the right places, that almost illegally short mini skirt, and those sleek black stockings and boots."
"If you think I'm going to strut around for you to drool over like that G-stringed bimbo up there, you're going to have a very long wait."
"Nonsense, Laura. Her walk is a crude invitation. Yours, a caress."
"Ha! Like I haven't heard that line before." Actually she hadn't and it wasn't bad. Sometimes he said the nicest things when she least expected them. She leaned in a fraction nearer and Steele shifted his body toward her, hesitantly at first, then when she didn't object, putting his arm around her. Laura relaxed against him, allowing her head to rest against his shoulder.
"Hot Hips Holly" played out in an endless procession of flash and flesh until it began to seem more than a little rote. It was occasionally enlivened by a spirited menage a trois, or two, until the final showdown between Holly and Venus Envy, a wild finish in which both stripped down to fighting trim, daring customers to double their pleasure, winner take on all. Steele and Laura both lost track of the body count until Holly was declared the victor by inches.
After the credits rolled, they sat through a snack commercial with a twist, involving several ears of corn and some hot, young lovelies. This one provoked Laura to uncontrolled laughter and even Steele couldn't help but join her, despite the baleful glare from their erudite and humorless friend in the raincoat.
"I don't think I've ever seen corn popped quite that way before, Mr. Steele," Laura managed to gasp, between giggles.
"Nor are you likely to again," Steele remarked with a bemused smile.
"Thank heaven for that."
A preview of next week's offering,"Porn With the Wind" flashed on screen, announced as "the epic story of a scarlet woman who took on all of Sherman's army and whipped the Yankees like they'd never been whipped before."
"Mr. Steele, I don't think I'll ever be able to look at the Tarleton twins without blushing. And they weren't kidding about Big Sam. He certainly lives up to his name. It's true, it's true," Laura smirked, segueing giddily into quoting "Blazing Saddles" while Steele raised an amused eyebrow.
"That auction sequence at the ball in Atlanta was a bit over the top, Laura, I must say. All of the ladies wrapped up in the Stars and Bars, with nothing underneath. History may never recover. Neither did they, I suspect."
"Rhett Butler certainly got his money's worth."
"So did Ashley Wilkes."
"And he wasn't even in Atlanta at the time, Mr. Steele. Don't you hate it when they change the book?"
"Where was the wooden-headed Mr. Wilkes? Fighting nobly for The Cause?"
"And pining for love. Off somewhere with his unit."
The "Porn with the Wind" trailer was followed by an even more bizarre one, "Clockwork Orgy" a tale of gangs of predatory females looking for ultra-sex rather than ultra-violence as they roamed the streets. Alexa and her slutty cohorts, the appetizing Dim Sum and Georgina, were shown being caught and de-programmed from the pleasures of the flesh, and then, quickly falling back into their life of carnal crime.
"Alexa DeLarge certainly is, said Laura. "Sleeping on her stomach must be a challenge. And her twin brother Alex is pretty large himself, at least Georgina seemed to think so." "So that's what Stanley Kubrick's been doing all this time." Steele smiled slyly. "And I thought he was hiding out in Hertfordshire. Always a bad sign when one parodies one's own work."
"This one's better," chimed in their raincoated friend.
"Laura, that man is beginning to worry me."
"You and me both."
The opening credits rolled again for "Hot Hips Holly" and Laura and Steele, already tired and frazzled by the events of the night, began to get weary as the film came round and round again in an endless loop. Steele, Laura noted with envy, was fast asleep by the third screening. She wondered how often he'd had to sleep in far more uncomfortable environments and gave thanks for both of them that they weren't in a doorway, on a park bench, or under a freeway with only a bit of cardboard for a blanket.
Despite their relative comfort, a chair wasn't a bed and Laura longed to stretch out and sink her face into her goosedown pillow. She had never found it easy to sleep through distractions and the pounding soundtrack and fervent moaning and groaning was giving her a slight headache.
The man in the raincoat had departed after the second showing and the theater was quite empty. Over the music, she could hear the regular rhythms of Steele's breathing as he sat slumped beside her. His neck was craned toward her at an uncomfortable angle and Laura took his head gently in her hands and placed it against her shoulder. He mumbled something she couldn't catch and then was quiet.
Some time later Laura realized
she must have dozed off without knowing it. She awoke to find her head
buried against Steele's right ribcage and her hand resting low on his hip.
She pulled her hand away and tried to sit up,
Laura smelled the elusive masculine scent of his cologne, slightly mixed with sweat, as she took in air with deep, slow breaths, trying to encourage sleep. The way he smelled had always aroused her and she breathed in all of him once more as she leaned against his chest. She'd never been able to identify the undoubtedly expensive brand of cologne he used, though the scent of it in the air, combined with his own, always made her pulse race faster.
Steele was in shirtsleeves, having removed his jacket earlier and folded it over the outside arm of the loveseat. Laura's fingers brushed the smooth, soft cotton of his shirtfront as she rested beside him. The first two buttons of his shirt were undone and she reached out and stroked his chest hair lightly with the tips of her fingers. He stirred a little, shifting his hips upward and his body toward hers. Something between a moan and a sigh escaped his lips - then one word.
Had he just mumbled her name? It sounded like "Laura" although it could just as easily have been "lower." She smiled. Her gaze traveled downward, finally resting between his legs. Her breath stopped in her throat. The bulge in his trousers was unmistakable and Laura wondered what was sparking his desire. Was he thinking of some large-breasted, overly experienced blonde from his past? Or of her? Was she in his fantasies as often as he was in hers?
Laura lifted her head and glanced around the darkened theater. A quick look at her watch revealed the time was 3:00 in the morning. No one was there except the two of them. She rested her head back against his shoulder and sighed. Her fingers trailed slowly down the buttons of his shirt coming to rest just above his belt. She closed her eyes, listening to the slightly arrhythmic thump of her heartbeat over the movie's disco soundtrack. Steele stirred, thrusting his hips slightly forward as her nervous fingers traced the edge of his belt loop.
Laura waited, frozen with indecision, as she pressed close to him. She wondered for the thousandth time what it would be like to strip him bare, slowly, to unbutton and unzip until there were no more barriers to her curiosity. She forced her gaze upward, trying to distract her thoughts. Unfortunately the only option was watching Venus do to Maximus what she longed to do to Mr. Steele. She watched the twosome on the screen until she felt slightly dizzy.
What was happening on celluloid didn't really matter. She wanted Steele, her Mr. Steele, more than she had ever wanted anyone. Her hand moved lower, sliding lightly down the path of his zipper. Steele's eyes blinked open and he grunted in surprise. "Laura?"
Laura guiltily drew her hand away and tried to compose herself. Steele moaned and struggled to sit up. "Damn. Oh, my neck." He twisted his head around. "Laura, rub my neck, please." He fell back, leaning his head against her for support.
Laura complied, secretly relieved to move to more neutral territory. "Oh, that's good. That's wonderful," Steele mumbled, falling back to sleep. Laura concentrated on massaging his neck until her hands grew tired. She stroked his hair and trailed her fingers along the slight stubble on his chin. She desperately wanted to do more, but she knew it wasn't the time or the place. She let out a breath, slowly releasing the tension. We never seem to get a break, do we, Mr. Steele?
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
Rough hands shook Laura awake. She strained to focus on the face that was swimming in her vision. Her fogged brain finally recognized the blonde from the snack bar.
"You and Donald have to vamoose. Sun's up. We gotta clean up in here before noon."
Laura slipped regretfully back into her shoes and stretched her aching limbs. She tapped Steele on the shoulder, gently at first, and then with more force until he started awake. "Oh, Laura." He blinked at her, bleary-eyed, for a long moment until he registered the sobering presence of Roxanne.
Steele yawned, then recovering his wits, looked up at her as she loomed over him. "'At such a height, 'twere death if a hard word from you fell on my heart.' Cyrano to Roxane. 'Cyrano de Bergerac.' Jos_ Ferrer, Mala Powers, United Artists, 1950."
Laura grinned. "Look it up. It's a movie about a man with a very large, um-"
Steele smiled in delighted appreciation of the joke. He winked at Laura. He got up, stretched his body gratefully and offered her his arm. "Shall we, Miss Holt?"
"Gladly, Mr. Steele."
Steele slipped into his jacket as they stepped into the sunlight. As odd as it seemed to both of them, the movie house had been a safe haven, one they would leave behind for an uncertain future, neither knowing what would happen in the days ahead.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
Laura was warm, comfortable and extremely relaxed. After the ordeal of the last couple of days, being this content was positively idyllic. She and Remington quietly discussed the ironic twists and turns of the case in the cozy environs of his living room floor.
Laura hoped that talking over the case would help Remington process the loss of his friend Freddy, but after they had worked this through, that was all the business she wanted to discuss.
Earlier in the day, when
she had indulged in the longest hot shower of her life, Laura's thoughts
had turned to psychology class, of all things. The lecture on Abraham Maslow
and the hierarchy of needs came flooding back to
Remington, on the other hand, had carefully, and protectively, guided Laura through places and circumstances that she hoped to never experience again, keeping them one step ahead, and most importantly, alive. More than once he had stopped Laura from rash acts that would have made them the target.
Not for the first time, Laura gave thanks for that side of Remington's past that she was innately curious about, but preferred not to know the details of. She literally would not have survived without him.
However, as Laura thought back again on the ladder of needs, there was one physiological need that had not been satisfied, and she was determined that tonight she would change that.
"Ironic, isn't it?" Remington asked. He studied Laura's face intently as he spoke. "We spent the last two days with hardly a penny in our pocket, and all because of a ticket worthwell over a million dollars."
Laura looked off into nowhere. "It's amazing how little we can survive on if we really ha..." Laura froze. Something behind her that she could not see became a chilling reminder of the homeless shelter. "Is that your foot on my leg?" she asked cautiously.
Steele waggled his eyebrows at her suggestively. "Hmmm-mmm."
Laura smiled, relieved that nothing with more than two legs was touching her. She slowly leaned in to kiss him.
Laura broke their kiss but stayed within millimeters of his lips."Actually, Mr. Steele, I'm not sure if it's JUST your foot."
Remington smiled. "Actually, Miss Holt, I also found a rather lovely coaster for my drink."
"Well, it's getting a little cold back there. Do you mind moving it?"
Remington set his tumbler on the floor beside her and placed his hand lightly on her behind. "Do you mind if I replace it?"
Laura laughed lightly. "Not at all." He kissed her again, this time using that hand to pull her possessively closer. He slid his left arm around her shoulder, gently pressing her to the floor with her head pillowed in the crook of his arm.
Laura melted into him, the achingly familiar longing building as it always did whenever he held her. The little demons of doubt began to creep out of their hiding places in her mind, but she quickly shut them away before they ruined the resolve she had built up for just this chance, just this moment.
Laura knew that if she tried to extract herself right now that Remington would assume that she was following her well-established pattern of going only so far, and then cutting him off and leaving. She had something that she needed to share with him, but it was in her purse, and if she was going to maintain her resolve she had to have it to make her point.
Laura broke away as gently as she could, and yet she could feel Remington's body slump in disappointment. She ran her hand through his hair and around his ear. "I'll be right back," she whispered.
"Really?" He looked her in the eye, checking for any possible miscue.
"Yes, really. I just want to get something out of my purse."
In tacit agreement Remington released his grip and Laura got to her feet. She crossed to the entry way and dug a cassette tape out of her purse. On her way back she noticed the phone on the table, and surreptitiously removed the handset from the cradle.
Laura paced a bit behind the couch, keeping the physical barrier between them while she prepared her little speech. Remington rolled onto his chest and rested his chin on his stacked fists, watching her.
"Last week when I had to drive out to Long Beach, I heard this song on the radio. I only half listened, since I was thinking about my meeting with the insurance adjuster, but on the way back they played it again, and I really heard the words then." She tapped the cassette repeatedly on her palm. "I know you're not much for popular music, but I bought the tape for you to hear."
"And this song, spoke to you, as it were?"
Laura nodded and put the tape in the stereo. She sat near him on the floor and leaned against the couch.
"Who's the singer?"
"It's a group called REO Speedwagon."
Remington's eyebrows jumped in question. "As in the large lorries?"
"I guess so."
The music started and Laura
studied her hands.
I can't fight this feeling any longer
And I can't fight this feeling anymoreAs the song faded to its end, Laura jumped to her feet and stopped the tape. She stood there as the silence enveloped them, the only sound in the room the soft hiss of the gas logs in the fireplace. The overwhelming urge to make a run for it welled up inside, but Laura fought it down. She didn't want adrenaline to drive her right now; she wanted some different hormones to take over at this point.
"Why don't you come sit down again, Laura?" She moved slowly around the couch. "Can I get you anything else?"
Laura didn't dare say the first thing that popped into her head, so she wordlessly joined him again on the floor.
Remington reached over for her hand. "I liked it, the song. A bit theatrical in its performance, perhaps." He ran his thumb over each of Laura's knuckles, studying her hand intently. "What is it that you can't fight any longer, Laura?"
"I'm sure you know."
"That may be, but perhaps I want to hear you say it." Laura hesitated. "I probably know full well what you're thinking, but I've misinterpreted your signals so many times that you're just going to have to line it out for me. I don't want there to be any doubt-. for me or for you."
Laura pulled her hand away, seemingly a defensive gesture, but actually more of a desire to concentrate on what she was saying without distraction. She took a deep breath.
"I'm sure you can understand when I tell you that these past couple of days have been some of the worst of my life."
"I had assumed that, yes."
"I don't think I've ever been so cold and miserable in my life."
"Welcome to my side of the street, Laura, or rather my former side of the street."
"I should have realized that when you moved us so confidently from one dump to the next that you were falling back on old knowledge."
"A short list of people and places from another lifetime, Laura."
"And without that I would have put myself on Candy's list of targets." A heavy silence fell. Laura reached over and took his hand again. "I'm fairly sure that I never said thank you, for saving my skin-again."
Remington placed her hand on his chest and covered it with his own. "Merely enlightened self-interest, Laura." He smiled.
"I just want you to know that I'm grateful for everything you did to keep our lives intact, until we were able to get them back. And you don't have to remind me that it's not the first time that you've done that. I owe you several times over."
"Oh, on the contrary, Laura, I owe you more times over for the day your grand charade rescued me from certain harm at the hands of two particular nasties, specifically Messrs. Kessler and Neff."
"Call it even?"
"For the moment, at least." He moved Laura's hand from his chest to his knee and held it in his. He cleared his throat conspicuously. "Now then, back to these Speedwagon chaps."
Laura fought down the adrenaline surge and reminded herself that she had started them down this path, and she had vowed she would not back down. She took a deep, slow breath. Just say it, Laura. You know you want to, you've been wanting to for a long time. Go ahead, now, c'mon, don't be --
"I want you," she blurted out. "I want you so much I can't stand it anymore."
Steele stifled the urge to laugh at Laura's abruptness, knowing how much it had taken for her to admit what he had always hoped had been on her mind. Still, he couldn't help but smile. "There, that wasn't so difficult was it?"
"I know you're serious." His expression softened. "I know you take us-.this-.very seriously."
Laura didn't answer, still recovering from the rush of finally unloading her mental burden.
"Believe me, Laura, I'm serious about wanting you, too. I've wanted you since our first magnum of champagne."
Laura had had enough talk. She didn't want to wait another minute to act on their mutual need. Her hormones were surging nicely. It was time to satisfy the one missing piece in their hierarchy of life's essentials.
She slid forward to place herself beside him, the sides of their thighs touching. She pulled him closer by his jacket lapel. Their lips met gently and tentatively at first, then with increasing assurance as the reality of their shared consent sank in.
Laura's right hand snaked up to his neck, holding his lips to hers as her left hand worked its way down his shirt buttons. Her hand skimmed up the smooth skin of his shoulder, meeting her right hand at the base of his neck. Reluctantly she moved her lips away from his to plant feathery kisses along his jaw and temple.
Steele's head swam at the realization that Laura had finally come to terms with her desire. He congratulated himself for having the patience, however difficult it had been, to wait for Laura to wake up. In the darkest times, particularly after their return from Cannes, he brooded over how distant they could become, especially when Laura put up walls as it suited her. Then he was positive he was only conning his own ego with reassurances that Laura would eventually turn that corner.
Now, when things had improved considerably, thanks to the unwitting assistance of George Edward Mulch, he could assure himself that whenever Laura decided she was ready, his patience would be amply rewarded. Already he was convinced.
Laura kept her hands behind his neck, as much to keep them from trembling as to force herself not to rip off his clothes and rush to conclusion. Her hormones wanted to race ahead, but her intellect wanted to savor every moment for this personal version of "Hot Hips Holly" that she anticipated.
Remington's hands moved to her waist where he slowly pulled out her shirt hem. Laura pressed his leg down to the carpet with her forearm. She came up on her knees and swung one leg over, maneuvering herself to sit on his thigh. She wedged her knee between his legs, gently pressing into his zipper.
Steele groaned audibly as Laura maddeningly aggravated the growing pressure in his groin. He worked his way swiftly through her shirt buttons, wanting desperately to just rip the bugger off of her, and every other bit of clothing that stood in his path. But if four years of patience had yielded these rewards, he thought, he could muster up just a bit more in anticipation of even greater returns.
Laura pulled his shirttails out and moved her hands gently over his chest. She pushed her hands down the arms of his sleeves, the shirt and jacket sliding in a heap on the floor.
Laura ran her hands up his back, staring with undisguised delight at his chest. Although she had seen him without his shirt before, revealing it in this fashion felt like some sort of erotic treasure hunt. And she was just getting started.
Now Laura allowed her mind to recall the movie theater and all of the things she didn't do there, as much as she wanted to. All of the touches and caresses that she had so desperately needed to give and receive returned in an overwhelming flood of desire. Now there would be no need to hold anything back.
Remington spread his hands around Laura's ribs, running his fingertips over the slight ridges. His thumbs ran under the elastic of her bra, working their way around her back to the clasp. Take care of it now, mate, he thought, before it gets impossible to reach.
His hands moved to Laura's shoulders, and with two quick pulls on one of her sleeves and then the other his view of her was unencumbered, his imagination fulfilled. No amount of celluloid or silicone could compete with this moment, when he could touch and see the woman who had been the focus of his fantasies for so long.
Laura watched his face in the firelight, enjoying the half-closed eyes and lust-filled smile she saw. She straightened up, bringing herself even closer.
Remington wrapped his arms
around her, his tongue tracing a line along the underside of one breast
and then the other, carefully avoiding her erect nipples that begged for
his attention. His hands moved to her buttocks, squeezing firm handfuls
as he laid kisses up one side of her torso and down
Her fingers wrapped in his hair, Laura's anticipation grew as his hands and tongue fulfilled every fantasy she had imagined. As her mind replayed the scenes of Venus and Maximus giving it their all, she recalled their glib exchange about men and their dimensions. How tempted she had been to find out how Mr. Steele compared that night, but even an empty theater was too public a place for Laura to try anything like that, no matter how aroused she was. Besides, she reminded herself, how could any man on the screen, no matter how much pistol he packed, compare with having this very real, very desirable man right in front of her?
As Remington worked his tantalizing magic on her breasts Laura decided to continue her treasure hunt. She gently removed his hands from her rear and pushed him toward the carpet. Steele propped himself up on his elbows, watching her, studying her, taking in everything and comparing it with what had been filed away in his mind all this time. Reality was definitely out-doing every imagined feature.
Still straddling his thigh, Laura went to work on his belt and zipper. Obligingly Steele lifted his hips and Laura slowly freed him from his trousers and boxers. She held herself back from touching him, literally keeping her hands behind her back as she studied him and made a new mental imprint, erasing her various images accumulated over the years and replacing them with a permanent one. She could resist for only a moment, though, and quickly involved all of her senses in her exploration.
She gently wrapped her hands around him, and Remington's head fell back in ecstasy. Tentatively at first, then with more confidence, she ran her tongue over the places her hands did not cover and he writhed beneath her.
Remington could not process all of the stimuli that were assaulting his libido. With the limited mental capacity that he had he told himself to breathe. He had frozen in anticipation of yet another fantasy being wonderfully replaced with reality, and again his expectations were exceeded. To have Laura half-naked in front of him, stroking and fondling him into this erotically altered state, was almost more than he could stand.
Half-naked. Although his thought processes were on the most primitive level now, the blood supply to his brain was not yet so seriously depleted that he did not realize that there was still some work to be done. Namely, Laura's pants. Although he dreaded the idea of interrupting what Laura was doing, he forced himself to sit up and lifted her head away.
Hooking his finger in her waistband, he pulled her to him again, this time reveling in the sensations of his chest against hers. His hands groped for her button and zipper, and within seconds her pants and underwear were being pushed off. Laura stood for a moment to help him finish.
He looked up at her, completely nude, backlit by the fireplace. As his body threatened to lose control, his remaining synapse told him to swallow. He did, hard.
Kneeling, he took Laura's hand and guided her down to the floor in the same position he had been in moments before. Laura tried to relax, but every nerve ending in her body tingled with anticipation. She took a deep breath and her senses filled with the potent mixture of their arousal.
Positioning himself between her knees, Remington bent over and kissed her deeply. Before she was ready to let go of that sweet caress, his lips had traveled down her body, lingering in select spots that made Laura squirm beneath him. He sat back on his heels and gently lifted one of Laura's legs onto his shoulder, massaging her foot with his hand as he planted light kisses on her calf, behind her knee, and along her thigh. He let her leg slide to the floor and repeated with the other. This time Laura tried to maneuver her musky mound to his tongue, desperate to feel him touch the place where her arousal was now centered.
Remington put her leg down and pushed her knees up to her chest. He bent over her, ever so lightly touching his tongue to her mound. Laura's elbows gave out and she collapsed to the floor with the flood of sensation.
He flattened his tongue wide and pressed hard against her, traversing up and down, stopping to suck lightly at the top of each cycle. The decibel level of Laura's moans increased exponentially with each motion, her arousal spiraling upward, fast.
Laura's feet dropped to the floor and she pushed her hips forward, grabbing Remington by the head. His gentle sucking increased intensity, and when he slid two fingers inside her Laura went over the edge.
She moaned and bucked beneath him, pounding the floor with a fist. He held her down, pushing her beyond every limit. Finally she started to return to reality, but before she could fully recover he slowly entered her, trying to control his overwhelming need. Laura was very wet, but very tight, and against the combination of her grip and his lust he could not hold out much longer.
He folded her legs, placing her knees on her chest. He bent over her, cradling her buttocks in his hands and trying his utmost to control the urge.
Laura opened her eyes and saw his face tense with concentration. She needed him closer, even closer than he was now. She grabbed his wrists and pulled him on top of her, extending her legs around him.
He claimed another searing kiss as his weight pressed her down. Perhaps Maximus could go on like this for hours, he thought, but Maximus had never had Laura in his arms, and that man was a professional. There was nothing professional about Remington's feelings for Laura. She was the woman he'd been waiting for, and now that the waiting was over he simply couldn't hold back any longer.
He could not stop himself from moving in and out, his face buried in her neck. Intellect no longer existed as his brain operated on its most primitive level. Laura clenched with each movement, pulling him closer to orgasmic oblivion.
Finally Laura gasped for air beneath him. Not knowing whether it was sexual or suffocation, Remington shoved himself up on his elbows so that his weight did not bear down on her, and checked to make sure she was breathing comfortably. Laura took his face in her hands and looked into his eyes.
Transfixed by the transparency of Laura's desire for him, Remington went over the top. He tried to hold her gaze until his body exploded into hers, his face contorted by dizzying heights he had never known existed until now.
Gloriously spent, he rested his damp forehead on Laura's chest, her heart pounding against it. Laura ran her hands up his back and through his hair. After several minutes of recovery, he raised his head and smiled at her. Tenderly he smoothed back damp strands of hair.
"Don't ever fight that feeling, Laura."
"I won't. I can't."
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
Laura slid the heavy door back with ease. "Good evening, Mr. Steele, won't you come in?"
Steele would have stepped over the threshold and greeted Laura properly, but instead staggered back two steps when he saw what Laura was wearing.
Laura laughed at his reaction and pulled him in. "I couldn't find everything exactly the same, because I never wanted to see that outfit again. I think I tried to burn it. But since you mentioned it the other night..." She deliberately brushed very close past him and shut the door.
Steele's words stuck in his throat as he stared. Without a doubt this was very similar to, if not the very same outfit that stopped traffic in the hotel lobby of the dental convention.
Laura strolled to the kitchen as casually as the high-heeled boots would allow and bent over to check the oven, temporarily putting her out of Steele's line of sight. Finally gathering his wits, he hustled over to the kitchen island for another look. Just before she straightened he caught a fleeting glimpse of her garter clips.
Laura smiled to herself at the sound of his scurrying footsteps as she opened the refrigerator to retrieve a bottle of wine. She leaned over the island much farther then she needed to and put it in front of him.
"Would you open that, please?"
Steele pried his eyes away from the view of Laura's cleavage and reached for the bottle. He cleared his throat forcefully. "Certainly," he croaked.
Laura made more trips back and forth to the table then were necessary, putting as much sashay in her step as she dared. When everything was ready she offered to take his coat and tie, then guided him to a seat.
Laura tried to tone things down a bit and give Steele a break, as it were. She steered the conversation towards inconsequential small talk, but Steele said little and ate even less.
Forcing himself to look at his plate and not at the delectable Laura, Steele gradually regained some of his composure. He would have been entirely successful if one little question would not continue to run through his head - was Laura wearing any underwear?
After dinner Laura suggested a movie. She handed him two black plastic cassette cases.
Uncertain whether to be alarmed or elated, considering the way the evening had started, Steele opened one of the cases and glanced at the title.
"'Hunga Din'?" he asked incredulously.
Laura giggled in spite of herself. "Look at the other one."
With increasing trepidation, he opened it. "'Dial N for Nookie'? Good Lord, these titles!"
"I'm afraid that might be the most creative part of the movie." She settled next to him on the couch, moving in very close. "I thought we'd give the, umm, adult movie industry another chance, since circumstances are different now." She kissed him deeply. "The woman at the Bird Cage was very helpful. She thought these would be better than average."
"The Bird Cage? What on earth is that?" His expression changed with the shock of answering his own question. "Is that where you were all afternoon? I wondered why on earth you would disappear and not tell Mildred where you were."
Laura grinned. "Now take
it easy, Mr. Steele. I had several errands to run, and Fred took me there
and he stayed right
Still uncertain whether to
be relieved that Laura had not ventured back to Hot Hips Holly's neighborhood,
"I imagine that was a unique experience for you."
"I'll say." Laura closed the gap again. "It's not exactly a 20/20 video store, you see. There's a table in the back with all these three-ring binders with just the video jackets. Then to rent them you have to show your driver's license, and sign in their book. Naturally they don't give out those little plastic cards. Now they've got my name and address and everything. No fingerprints or frisking, but I've been very thoroughly checked out."
"Indeed you have, Miss Holt. Indeed you have."
Laura pressed herself against him, sliding her arms around his neck. Steele realized that once again a risky venture had been a substantial turn-on for Laura. Locked in their embrace, Steele's mind drifted back to Pitkins, champagne and the Bordeaux Triptych. Laura did not have a great deal of experience coping with the adrenaline rush that came with successful grand larceny, and she had directed all her pent-up hormones at him. How many times since that night had he chided himself for being so focused on the Triptych that he had practically pushed away the supercharged Laura, realizing almost too late the opportunity that was literally dropped in his lap? An opportunity that went unachieved with the untimely return of that poor nebbish Richie. Fortunately, he realized, tonight, Laura's state of arousal would not be dampened by anyone, or anything.
"I'm ready when you are," Laura whispered.
"Roll tape," he muttered, trying to get a grip on her leather covered posterior as Laura moved to the television.
The strung together plot concerning over-endowed female appliance technicians who serviced more than dishwashers and dryers left much to be desired in motive, production values and dialogue, Steele thought. But the action was certainly as advertised.
He mused briefly on how different circumstances were tonight. He no longer had to concern himself with hiding his desire for Laura, nor the effect she was having on him. It would not be necessary to excuse himself in order to find some way to relieve his incredible discomfort. Now, Laura would be more than happy to join him in ecstatic release. What a difference one night made.
His arm was draped casually around her shoulder as she curled up next to him, but he made no move to touch her otherwise. He let the video do the work as the assortment of sexual acts and positions moved on.
Laura tried to lay still, her hand resting idly on his knee. Privately, she was very pleased with herself and the results of her extended shopping trip. It had not been easy putting this slutty outfit back together, but the look on Remington's face when she opened the door had made all of her effort worthwhile.
She forced herself to not go where she really wanted to go, hoping that the movie would have the same effect on him that it had on her.
After another five minutes Laura gave up the unspoken battle of wills. Without warning she turned to him as her hand slid up his leg to his zipper. Steele jumped in surprise.
"Hmmm," Laura purred. "A hard man is good to find." She kissed him hard, her tongue making a quick dart over his.
Remington groaned, halfway
between ecstasy at her touch and disgust over such a trite line. Laura
interpreted it as the
Steele's hands moved to her breasts, gently running his thumbs over her nipples. He reached around to find the garter belt clips, and was delighted to confirm his suspicion that Laura wasn't wearing underwear of any kind.
Laura was about to attack his belt when a loud shift in the schlocky jazz background music drew her attention back to the screen. She saw a female plumber with her head under the sink, her shapely rear end barely covered by cut off shorts. She was being admired by a silent but horny homeowner. The woman stood up from her work, her cut off T shirt barely covering her ample breasts.
Laura was on her feet, rocket-propelled in surprise. "Jolene!"
Instantly realizing what she had done, Laura belatedly clapped her hand over her mouth and flopped back onto the couch. She sat stunned for a split second, then realizing that there was someone else in the audience, grabbed the remote and stopped the video. She stared at the blank television screen, trying to calculate the odds of how out of all the x-rated videos available to rent, she had managed to find one featuring Jolene.
Several minutes passed in heavy silence. Remington tried to recall what had transpired on screen and off in a futile attempt to determine what had launched Laura off the couch. They had been moving down the erotic garden path rather nicely, in his opinion, so he could only surmise that something in the video had disturbed her. Between Laura and the movie, however, it took some time for him to remember what was playing on the screen. With effort he recalled that Laura had spoken someone's name. Now he was sure that was what he had heard.
Laura stared straight ahead, wishing with all her might that she could take back one word. She had scanned the video jackets but hadn't seen her name. How could she possibly know that Jolene had worked under another name for another producer?
She felt the burden of Steele's unavoidable questions pressing down on her. When he moved next to her she mentally cringed.
"What was that all about, Laura?"
Laura waged a mental battle with herself. Come clean about her work in Simi Valley for Jolene, or bluff her way clear? A well-constructed deception might do it, but Laura lacked the time and intellectual agility for that right now. Besides, as she had reminded herself in the theater, he would see right through it.
So the truth would have to
be it. But how would he react? Shocked and scandalized? That response might
be to her
But Laura immediately dismissed that possibility. Any tale she had ever used to knock him off balance had been merely transformed into ammunition for his perpetual assault on her sexual defenses. A specific artistic rendition on a certain table in a particular bar in a popular resort town in Mexico was at the top of the list.
In addition, Laura had a feeling that anything she told him would fall on deaf ears, once she started pacing the floor as she inevitably did when she was in the midst of any explanation. This evening her manner of dress did not lend an air of professional credibility.
She glanced at him furtively, confirming her suspicions that he had never taken his eyes off of her once she had sat down again.
"Laura, I don't think it was my imagination that I just heard you say someone's name."
Laura heaved a sigh and took the plunge. "I know someone in that video," she admitted.
"Really?" The expression on his face was unfathomable. Was he skeptical? Aroused? Curious?
He aimed the remote at the VCR and started the video again. Not sure what kind of name of he had heard, he asked, "The man or the woman?"
"The woman. That's Jolene, a friend of mine from Stanford. I had no idea she was also known professionally as Connie Lingus." Laura poured out the whole story. As she talked any anxiety about his reaction disappeared.
Remington's gaze moved back and forth between Laura and Jolene as he listened silently, absorbing this tantalizing portion of Laura's past. Although on one level it aroused him to think of Laura mingled with all those writhing bodies, on the other it perplexed him that she could describe the entire case so clinically and dispassionately.
"So that's how you could speak with such authority on the proportions of male anatomy." He put his arm around her waist. "And all of this, umm, cinematic fervor didn't tempt you to participate?"
"Honestly, after the second or third day it got very repetitious. Like watching 'Hot Hips Holly' three times in a row. And I had a case to solve." She sat back and pulled him with her. "Besides, at that time I didn't have anyone to rewrite my fantasies with."
Remington pushed her on her back and covered her body with his. A loud moan brought their attention back to the screen.
By this time, Jolene was on her knees in front of the homeowner, slurping enthusiastically.
Remington looked back at Laura, his eyes twinkling. "A plumber's skills are not to be taken lightly. Many years of hands-on study to become proficient."
Laura slid his unbuttoned shirt off. "And years of continuous practice under a master." Her hand went between them to his zipper.
Remington levered himself up on one elbow and with her help peeled off the skin tight blouse. He bent to touch his tongue to one hardened nipple, and then the other.
Laura moaned, her back arching her body toward him. She fumbled with his belt. "The right tools and technique are essential, Mr. Steele. The pipe has to be precisely the right size." She popped the button.
"Precisely." He slid one hand up her stockinged thigh and under her skirt.
"In length and width." Laura reached inside, cradling his silky hardness in her hand.
"Not an inch shy," he moaned.
"The proper coupling is crucial." She freed him from his trousers and boxers.
"Best to turn it on gradually and let it build to release." He pushed her skirt up to her waist and slid his hand under the garter belt.
"Find the correct pressure, then release," she murmured, her knees falling apart.
Steele positioned himself, holding back just a moment.
"Ready when you are, Miss Holt."
"Ready, Mr. Steele. As Jolene
would say, laissez les bon temps rouler. Let the good times roll."
[ Steele A State Of Mind ]