By Lauryn Poynor
|Author's Note: I
am indebted to my editors, Anne and MJ, for their tireless energy, attentiveness,
and enthusiasm. What started as a simple add-on to an episode soon became
an extended engagement, and I’m sure they were as surprised as I was. Next
time I’m sure they’ll read the fine print on the contract.
Rated: R for sexual situations
|Parts: One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven / Eight / Nine / Ten / Eleven / Twelve / Epilogue|
"So you do get up. I was beginning to think you worked in bed like Marcel Proust," purred a sultry feminine voice.
"You wouldn't know him. A French writer."
"Come into my boudoir."
There was a soft click -- then silence enveloped the dark room like a heavy curtain. It was no good, Steele thought. He tossed the TV remote to the floor and rubbed his temples. Perhaps watching "The Big Sleep" in his current condition was akin to tempting fate.
Raymond Chandler had something more final and deadly in mind when he penned his noir classic than a good night's rest, but that hardly mattered to Steele as he tossed and turned, hoping against hope he could finally nod off to sleep. He recalled reading somewhere that Chandler was known to be a hopeless insomniac, but now that Steele had joined the club he was in no mood to appreciate the irony.
He glanced at the clock and whacked his pillow in frustration. Four a.m. Not a good sign. “Better lay off the round-the-clock movies, mate,” he chided himself, “or before you know it you'll be seeing a lot of shows that aren't listed in the ‘TV Guide.’” All the hours he'd spent watching credits roll were beginning to worry him.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
"Morning, Mr. Steele," Laura greeted him, barely glancing up from her case file as he strode through the suite's doors.
"Morning? I suppose it is. Never sure these days." The attempt at levity couldn't disguise the weariness under the surface.
Startled at his tone, Laura put down the file and looked at him. Really looked at him. She blinked twice and managed to sputter, "Mr. Steele. You look... like hell."
"Thank you for the diagnosis, Dr. Holt." Steele ran his hands absently through his hair and adjusted his tie. His clothes were as immaculate as ever but Laura noticed he disdained his usual French cuffs, and there was a patch of stubble on the side of his jaw the razor had missed. His skin was abnormally pale and signs of exhaustion were clear on his face.
"Diagnosis? Are you sure you don't need one? You look like you've just spent the night in intensive care. Or in jail. Um, you haven't spent the night in jail have you?" Laura asked, only half-joking.
Curiosity piqued at the word "jail”, Murphy poked his head out of Laura's office. He walked over to Steele and stared at him in morbid fascination. "Someone named Bruno or Guido after you in a cement truck? Or maybe it's a jealous husband this time." He warmed to the theory. "Let me guess. He came home early and you spent the weekend hiding in the closet. I hope you had a good book to read."
Steele's single-minded pursuit of sleep had no time to spare for the niceties, nor the usual games of one-upmanship.
"Tell me, Miss Holt. What’s on my schedule for the day? The usual or the unusual?"
"What do you mean, Mr. Steele?"
"By this afternoon I want it wall to wall. Chock full of the usual humdrum routine. Chamber of Commerce luncheons. Rotarians. Shriners. Politicians. Blue-haired women. Insurance salesmen."
"What?" Laura gaped at him as if he'd taken leave of his senses.
"Tedium, Miss Holt. That's all I ask for. Dullness. Boredom. Monotony."
"I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth, Mr. Steele, but just a few months ago you were saying you'd run out of doodles."
"I'll stock up on pencils. Murphy. Do you have any autopsy reports I can peruse? Something with loads of medical jargon. Or the same in Latin? Greek perhaps?"
Murphy looked Steele up and down as if mentally measuring him for a straitjacket. "I'm fresh out."
"Surely you have -" Steele paused as if struck by a sudden thought. "Where's your baseball almanac, Murphy?"
Bernice's jaw went slack, her filing forgotten. "Laura, I think he's finally cracked. Hold up two fingers and see if he can guess how many, or better yet, ask him his real name. If he says it's Dr. Quincy, though, I'd start worrying."
Laura's brow furrowed. "Mr. Steele, are you alright?" She put a hand to his forehead. "You feel a little warm. Maybe you should lie down."
"No, I don't think that would help, at least it hasn't for some time. Perhaps some desk work is called for." Steele blinked hard and looked around in confusion. "Desk work. Through here isn't it?" He began to walk unsteadily toward Laura's office.
"We'll use your office." Laura guided him by the arm. "Don't want to overload you with paperwork."
Laura pulled him inside and shut the door. She led him to his chair and pushed him firmly into it. "Sit. I'm going to get you some coffee."
"Laura, I don't think coffee -"
"Don't move. I'll be right back."
Laura returned, closing the door behind her. She handed Steele a steaming mug, then sat down on the edge of his desk. A worried frown creased her brow. "I thought maybe you should drink it black."
Steele shrugged resignedly. "Anything for you, Miss Holt."
"Now give. What's happened to you in the last seventy-two hours, Mr. Steele? And don't tell me you've discovered a sudden affinity for autopsy reports."
Steele sighed and eased back gratefully into his chair. "Well, it's all a bit fuzzy around the edges but I think I can recapitulate the major points of interest. Let's see. Roughly eighteen hours of staring at my bedroom ceiling, six hours of solitaire, an Erich von Stroheim film festival, four long walks, ten crossword puzzles, a Bogart marathon -"
"Am I going too fast for you, Miss Holt?"
"I thought you didn't like crossword puzzles."
"Bore me to tears. Getting the picture?"
"I think so. But what about the Bogart marathon?"
"A man has to keep his spirits up somehow, Laura."
"And this all adds up to..?"
"No sleep. Not forty winks, not four. I think I may have hit two and a half in the shower this morning, or perhaps while I was shaving."
"You haven't slept in nearly three days?"
"Not that I've noticed. Not since we left the hospital after the Lindstrom case."
"Good lord! I know you mentioned insomnia but I thought it was just temporary. Brought on by the stress of the case, of pretending to have a sleep disorder."
"I played my role a lick too well, Laura." He sipped his coffee absently. "Funny, I never thought of myself as a method actor."
"But you were in such good spirits after we invited Ivan and Dr. Lindstrom for dinner."
"Entirely due to your expert ministrations, Dr. Holt."
Laura thought about the kisses they had shared in the kitchen and felt a faint shiver go through her. Steele had certainly seemed wide awake at the time.
"Speaking of your healing touch, Laura, where were you the next day?"
"The day after the case. You told me to spend the whole day in bed. Where were you?"
"Mr. Steele, I never said - you didn't think I would -," she broke off, flustered. "I was busy."
"Too busy to check on the patient? I called the office on the hour. Believe me, I've been watching the clock these days. Your Miss Wolf did a bang up job guarding the drawbridge."
"You needed your sleep, Mr. Steele."
"You know what I needed, doctor. Physical therapy. Your lilting voice."
"You know full well that if I, um, we, ended up -"
"In your bedroom -- you'd have spent the whole time trying to -"
Steele rose to his feet, meeting Laura's gaze with sudden alertness. His eyes raked over her.
"You know exactly what -" Laura fiddled nervously with the open collar of her blouse. "The patient would never have gotten to bed - um, er, to sleep."
"No matter, Laura. The floor would have been fine. We could’ve nicked the bedcovers in a pinch.”
"You're dreaming, Mr. Steele."
"On the contrary, we were wide awake when you agreed to my course of treatment."
"A neck rub, wasn't it?” Laura sniffed. "Nothing more."
"We both know it went further than that."
Laura's cheeks flushed at the memory. She knew exactly what he referred to. She just didn't know what to do about it. She hadn't expected Steele's physical therapy to become . . . so physical.
They had worked closely on the case, just the two of them, sharing evidence, sharing confidences, sleeping together but not "sleeping together." It was new and unexpectedly seductive terrain. Afterward, at his apartment, they'd lingered in the kitchen, their defenses down, hands wandering, limbs entwined, tongues exploring, temperatures rising.
When they broke away, they were breathless and clearly aroused. Only the sound of laughter from the other room as Ivan told a joke had reminded them that they had dinner guests. Laura bolted from the room carrying the dessert tray and Steele managed to compose himself and play the gracious host. As the guests were leaving, Laura contrived to slip out with them, despite Steele's protestations, saying she wanted to be sure he had time to recover from the demands of the case.
"I don't think what you have in mind is a medically accepted treatment for insomnia," Laura said defensively.
"You can't deny the results were promising in the early stages, doctor."
"I thought we were talking about sleep."
"I believe the sleep phase comes later. Once we're nestled in each other's arms, spent but outrageously fulfilled from a spirited round of testing out the mattress."
"You're a medical marvel, Mr. Steele. Seventy-two hours without sleep and all you can think about is -"
"Bed, Laura. Is that so surprising?"
"Look, this isn't getting us anywhere. Maybe you need to see a doctor. I can't have a sleep-deprived Remington Steele falling face down in the chicken a la king at the mayor's luncheon or the policeman's ball."
"Ah, so your concern is strictly professional." Sulking, Steele returned to his chair and sank into it with a slump of his shoulders.
"Well," Laura hedged. "Not . . . strictly. Part of me feels responsible for your condition."
Steele leaned forward, voice lowering to a seductive whisper. "Well, then. If you'd care to make amends, perhaps tonight you could . . . tuck me in. After we've given the mattress a stress test we could check the sturdiness of the pillows, the couch, the coffee table -"
Laura tried to ignore the torrid images his less than innocent inferences were conjuring in her mind. Slapping her hand to her forehead, she sighed, "Why can't you behave?"
"Kiss me Kate."
"Kate? Mr. Steele! You said you had insomnia, not amnesia!"
"’Why Can't You Behave’? From 'Kiss Me Kate’?" At her puzzled frown, he continued. "It's a movie, Miss Holt. A musical. Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson? MGM, 1953? Surely you remember that one! Cole Porter songs, Shakespeare and glorious Technicolor? A beautiful woman, a charming man. A battle of wills but all's well that ends well."
The odd thing was, now she did remember it. She just didn't have Steele's lightning quick cinematic reflexes. She hastened to correct him. "I do remember it, Mr. Steele. I don't need to brush up my Shakespeare."
"Wunderbar, Miss Holt. Glad to hear it."
The man masquerading as Remington Steele was a mystery she despaired of ever solving. "You associate everything with the movies, don't you?" Despite herself, Laura was impressed. "How do you do it?"
"Come round tonight and I'll reveal all," he invited with a waggle of his eyebrows.
"You sound better already." Laura crossed her arms. "I thought you weren't trying to sleep with me."
Steele smiled at the memory. "Back then, I wasn't trying to sleep with you. But now I'm trying to sleep with you."
"I must have been crazy to involve you in the case," Laura moaned in exasperation.
"No offense, Laura, but I knew it would turn out badly when you cancelled my 'canard au vin rouge.'"
"I didn't think the sleep clinic would have such a lasting effect on you."
"Not to worry, Miss Holt. My skills as a cruciverbalist have improved immeasurably."
"A creator or solver of crossword puzzles. Can't recall now if that word was down or across."
"This isn't a joking matter. I'm calling Dr. Lindstrom and getting you booked into the sleep clinic."
"But Laura, I'd get far more benefit out of your personal touch. I won't take up much of your time. A man in my condition exhausts easily. Later when we're rested -"
"No 'buts' Mr. Steele. I'm sure Dr. Lindstrom would be glad to help. You're the savior of his clinic - and his most famous patient."
"Perhaps we should get a second opinion. Make sure I'm in safe hands. 'First do no harm' is the physician's creed, their Hippocratic oath if I'm not mistaken. Surely being poked and prodded by Nurse Blackell contravenes that noble sentiment. Even prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention have certain inalienable rights –"
"The patient will survive, I'm sure."
"That may be, but it's hardly my idea of a relaxing evening. Why, the costly and intensive therapy I'd warrant afterwards could bankrupt the agency, not to mention put me out of action for months."
"For months? You think so?" Laura smiled sweetly. "Maybe Murphy and I can finally get some work done."
"Drudgery loves company, I suppose. That wasn't the action I had in mind."
"Spare me the details, Mr. Steele. Whom you invite to test out your mattress is no concern of mine. I'm sure they do their best work flat on their backs. Just make sure they don't get lipstick on the designer sheets."
"Actually, I was thinking of the kitchen, not the bedroom. We could pick up where we left off. Just before dessert, wasn't it?"
"I don't think that's such a good..." Laura moved back slightly out of arms' reach. Steele rose from his chair and inched nearer.
"...idea. Mr. Steele."
As he closed the space between them she felt oddly detached, somnambulant, as though she were watching them both from a distance. Steele lifted her chin, his eyes locked with hers. She felt his fingers skim her jaw line and trail warmly down her neck and along the top of her blouse, raising goose bumps on her exposed skin.
His touch roused her, whetted her appetite for more. Every rational impulse she possessed was warning her to stop, but now she knew how good it would feel, how good he would feel. She could stop whenever she wanted, she told herself. Just not yet.
He leaned down to kiss her, softly at first, attuned to the cues of her response, then with more insistence, his hand slipping to the back of her head. Laura shuddered involuntarily as he buried his fingers in her hair. At the mounting pressure of his lips on hers, she slipped from the desk to stand upright and facing him.
Her forearm brushed the rough stubble on his cheek as her arms went around his neck. Laura could feel the cool surface of the desk against the backs of her thighs as his body leaned into her embrace. Her mouth opened to him and she heard him moan in response when she pressed her tongue against his teeth. He let her explore at will until they were tongue tip to tongue tip.
Laura's fingers slid under his collar, teasing the fine hairs on the back of his neck. She felt him flinch slightly. Maybe he was ticklish there, she thought. She applied more pressure. Abruptly, Steele squirmed away from her as if he’d been branded.
"Mr. Steele." Laura exhaled in a rush. "What's the matter? Don't like my technique?"
"Perish the thought, Miss Holt. You’re indescribably good, believe me. It's not that at all. "
"Then what -"
"Damn!" Steele exclaimed in frustration. "It's my neck, Laura. It feels like something just went awry, a muscle or a tendon perhaps."
"Can you turn your head?"
"Just barely." Steele winced with the effort.
"Let me see."
Laura attempted to rub the area but Steele's collar was in the way. She unknotted his tie and slid it free and began to unbutton his shirt. She stopped short after the third button, shocked into inaction as she realized too late that she was actually undressing him.
Her throat felt dry as she stared at his chest, his open shirt revealing the dark, silken hair she'd just grazed with a fingertip seconds before. Suddenly unsure what to do with her hands, she froze. Steele quickly captured them with his own.
"Laura. You were doing so well." He kissed her palms. "Why stop there?"
Laura jerked her hands away, fighting to regain her composure. "I thought your neck was the affected area, Mr. Steele," she said with what she hoped was a convincingly clinical tone.
"Well, mainly, yes. I didn't think it fair to overburden you with my various other bodily aches and pains. I'm sure if you start at the top and work your way down I'll feel much better in the morning."
"Try an aspirin."
"Never touch the stuff. Hate pills."
"An aspirin a day keeps the doctor away, Mr. Steele.”
"Is that what you're trying to do, doctor? Stay away?" An edge of weariness and irritation crept into his voice.
"N-no...of course not," Laura stammered. Caught off guard, a feeling of guilt swept over her. "Maybe you don't believe me, but I am concerned about all this -"
"Perhaps it's churlish of me to notice," Steele sniffed. "But your concern was conspicuously absent two days ago."
"You're right, Mr. Steele."
"It's churlish of you to notice." Hurt and angry, she spun away from him.
Steele barely managed to catch her at the corner of his desk, and get between her and the door. "Laura, I -"
"You don't want concern," Laura spat. "You want someone to fall at your feet. To indulge your every whim. Well, consider me unavailable, Mr. Steele."
Steele had been prepared to apologize but her accusation struck a nerve.
"My whims are easy to satisfy, Miss Holt. The sound of your voice on the other end of the phone would have done for a start."
"Why so starved for company? Lose your little black book? Couldn't find a bouncing blonde to re-enact your production of 'Once Upon a Mattress’?"
Did she really think his standards were that uncompromisingly low? He salved the wound with a quip. "Really, Laura. I give you Cole Porter; you give me dinner theatre. It's hardly an even trade...ohhh!" Steele tried unsuccessfully to suppress a moan as a sharp pain traveled from his neck to his shoulder.
It wasn't fair, Laura thought as she surveyed the man facing her. Running on empty, hair disheveled, shirt hanging open. She couldn't --wouldn't--feel sorry for him. Her mind flashed back to that night at the clinic when desperate for sleep, he'd slipped under the covers with her. That moment seemed charmingly innocent now, though her thoughts at the time certainly weren't. How she'd hated to kick him out. While he'd been counting sheep, she'd been counting the buttons on his pajamas and wondering just how quickly she could unfasten them.
His voice shook her out of her reverie. "Mr. Steele?"
"I didn't mean what I said. Well, surely not the way it came out. It's just that…" Steele sighed, too tired to dissemble anymore. "I missed you."
She was too surprised at his confession to form any argument. "Missed me?"
"Terribly, as a matter of fact. Your neck rubs. Your lilting voice. Who could ask for anything more?"
Laura still clung to a healthy strand of skepticism. "You could. Several times in the last ten minutes."
"I'm only human, Laura. I'd hoped for more. But failing that penultimate demonstration of your devotion you could at least have helped me with my crossword puzzles. I gave up on the ‘London Times’ after the word ‘acrostic’.”
"The right words would have convinced you, Mr. Steele?"
"From you, Miss Holt? Absolutely. Of course actions speak louder, they say." He considered his options. "You could convince me by … starting right here." Steele rubbed his neck gingerly.
Laura smiled in spite of herself. "You always know where to start, Mr. Steele. Just not where to stop."
"Perhaps we could meet halfway." He managed a lopsided grin.
Laura wagged a finger at him. "No halfway measures allowed. Wouldn't want to aggravate your other aches and pains."
"Why do doctors always think they know what's good for you?"
"Dr. Holt knows exactly what you need. This for example." She began to massage his neck with slow, circular motions.
Steele could feel his entire body begin to relax. He closed his eyes and sighed luxuriously, "Oh. Yes, that's incredibly… therapeutic, doctor. You're right. I don't think we need a second opinion."
"Are you sure there's not something about your past you haven't told me?" Steele murmured against her cheek.
"Stanford graduate. Mathematics major. Massage minor."
Laura laughed. "Sorry to disappoint you, Mr. Steele but my scholarship didn't cover it. Massage, that is."
"Pity not to nourish such a natural talent.”
"It was the 70's, though," she mused, smiling. "Must have been an elective course." She continued to massage his neck area, working her fingers up gradually under his hair to the base of his skull.
"Well, if you ever decide to matriculate, Miss Holt, let me offer my services as your most willing class project." His head fell forward to rest on her shoulder.
"Are you sure you'll make the grade, Mr. Steele?"
"Mmmmh. Grade? Sure..."
Steele's breath warmed the skin of her throat; his dark hair was thick and soft under her fingers. She felt his body shifting as he leaned more heavily against her. After a minute passed she found her limbs buckling suddenly under his weight. He'd fallen fast asleep and was close to toppling over.
Maybe she could get him to his chair or to the couch, Laura thought. She managed to pull his desk chair closer and maneuver him into it but Steele was jostled awake by the procedure.
"Miss Holt? Did I -" Steele blinked at her, a lock of hair dangling comically over one eye. Laura smoothed it back.
"Just for a moment. I was trying to get you comfortable."
"You're a nice person...doctor."
"Speaking of doctors, I'm calling Lindstrom. You've got to get treatment. Unless you want to learn to do it standing up."
"Any position you choose, Laura. I'm flexible. At least I used to be."
"I'm relieved you're such a willing subject, because like it or not you are going to the sleep clinic."
"Must you be so concerned for my well being?"
"I'm afraid so."
Steele stretched his limbs and gave a sigh of resignation. "I'll expect daily visits from Dr. Holt to check my vital functions. Fluff my pillows, sing me lullabies, give me sponge baths."
"Sorry, Mr. Steele. I've turned in my stethoscope."
"What a pity. I had visions of the two of us hooked up in the sleep station, listening to the beating of each other's hearts."
Laura’s pulse rate accelerated to fast forward. "I don't think Nurse Blackell would approve,” she replied, feeling a blush steal across her cheek. “She'd never be able to explain the readout."
"There's no one I'd rather make medical history with than you, Miss Holt."
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
"Mr. Steele." Laura shook him gently by the arm.
"Very odd," he mumbled sleepily. "Why is the bed moving?"
"We're in the limo." She smiled down at him. The morning ride to the clinic was turning out to be an oddly pleasurable experience. Steele had drifted to sleep almost as soon as Fred turned the ignition. He'd snuggled against Laura's shoulder, oblivious, as her fingers, unable to resist the temptation entirely, ran lightly through his hair.
Steele yawned, stretched his legs, and hazily surveyed his surroundings. "So we are." He rolled down the window and sucked in a bracing breath of air.
"I'm feeling better already. Slept like a baby. I do believe I've hit on the cure. I've always said this car had an excellent suspension. Fred could simply cruise the streets every evening with me in the limo until I doze off, eh?"
"Fred has more important things to do than have you drive him around in circles. Not that he isn't used to it."
"The simplest remedies are often the best, I find. Why must the layman's method always take a back seat to medical science? Hospitals, doctors, pills by the lorry load. What use are -" Steele stopped, entranced by his own flow of words. "Yes. Take a back seat...that's very clever. Remind me of that later, Laura."
"I don't think your automotive argument is going to hold much sway with Dr. Lindstrom. You agreed to let him treat you by more accepted measures, remember?"
"How could I forget, with his parting remarks over the phone still ringing in my ears: 'we'll make a sleeper out of you yet, Mr. Steele.'" Steele stared sullenly out the window. "So much false cheer can't be good for a patient's morale. At least Lindstrom's colleague Dr. Wicker had the good grace to expire before becoming unbearably tedious. Well, almost before."
"Are you always this grumpy in the morning?"
"'Sleeper.' Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, United Artists, 1973. A man wakes up in hospital two hundred years in the future after a routine ulcer operation. Slept for two centuries. Routine ulcer operation! Imagine what could happen if they're trying to put me to sleep. The same thing in reverse. The wrong symbol on a chart somewhere and I could wake up minus an organ or two. I have several I'm rather fond of."
"You survived the clinic before, Mr. Steele. Don't be such a worry wart."
"It's my métier, Miss Holt. I'm an insomniac."
"Worry is the interest paid on trouble before it's due. So they say."
"Good lord. You sound like a greeting card. Or a slogan for T-shirts, perhaps. Why do Americans always assume strangers want to converse with their clothing?"
Laura’s brows knitted together in a frown. "Good question."
"Speaking of which, whatever happened to 'Bankers Do It With Interest’? Did you palm off that sartorial embarrassment on some myopic denizen of skid row? I daresay if he were sober he'd turn up his nose at the white belt."
"It's none of your affair, Mr. Steele," Laura shot back imperiously.
"Quite right. Your affairs are your own, Miss Holt. Unless, of course, you choose to advertise them."
"Advertise them? What on earth is that supposed to mean?"
"Come now, Laura. Surely you knew that one day I'd come across those items in your closet."
"Are you seriously suggesting I left them there for you to find? Of all the delusional, conceited -"
"What better way to stir my jealousy?" Silence hung in the air as he noted her flushed cheeks with satisfaction. "And what surer route to bring our emotions to the surface? Awaken our hidden desires, our lurking... passions." His words teased feather-light against her ear.
Laura leaned toward the opposite window, trying vainly to resist the spell of his proximity. "You know perfectly well they were found by accident."
"An excellent plan but rather flawed in its execution."
She turned back to face him, seething. "Execution? There's a thought. I'd buy tickets to yours."
"To expect me to be jealous of a man so lacking in the barest rudiments of good taste."
"I'll donate your wardrobe to the needy. A condemned man doesn't need a two thousand dollar suit."
Steele held up his hand in a conciliatory gesture. "I'll gladly forgo the mysteries of your closet if you'll allow me to explore the remainder of your bedroom. I'll have to admit, Laura, your wardrobe has me curious." He lounged against the seat cushions, appraising her frankly. " For instance. What did you wear to bed last night? That gossamer nightgown of azure blue, ever so transparent..."
Had he been spying on her? Imagination overthrew logic for a brief moment, then the pendulum swung back to reality. "I don't have a blue nightgown!" she exclaimed in exasperation.
"What a pity. Your closet needs filling Miss Holt, and I'm just the one to -"
"That's it." Avoiding his keen gaze, Laura punched the controls for the privacy screen and watched with satisfaction as it slowly rose into place. "I've had enough innuendos to last me a lifetime. I'm not going to sit here and discuss my -- nightgowns with a thief and a conman who's shopped around with half the female population of Los Angeles."
Steele's calm was maddening. "Well, then. If nightwear is verboten, we could always dispense with it."
"That's not what -" Laura floundered. "I meant nightgowns are off lim - never mind. End of discussion. I'm not sleeping with you, Mr. Steele."
"Laura! I was merely discussing the state of your closet. Was ever an insomniac so misunderstood?" Steele’s expression of wounded innocence threatened to break out into an insouciant grin.
Laura's hands clenched and unclenched feverishly as she absorbed this latest round of infuriating, yet tantalizing proposals. Determined to ignore him, she stared ahead with fierce concentration at an imaginary mid point in the glass partition.
Her visible discomfort only incited Steele to further mischief. He flashed Laura a disarming smile and rolled down the privacy screen. "Fred, can you locate a promising detour on the way to Sleep Central? One that leads to San Francisco, perhaps?"
"Too late, Mr. Steele." Laura said smugly. "The clinic is just ahead on the right."
Steele's smile turned to a grimace. "Fred, do I have to remind you again whose name is on your checks."
"Miss Holt's, eh?" Steele shrugged philosophically. "Just wanted to make sure you were on your toes."
Steele fidgeted nervously with his tie as Fred pulled into the parking lot. "That sleep case has become very inconvenient. I'd have much preferred to use an alias during my stay as an actual patient. Now the whole staff knows who I am."
"A blown cover is a risk we detectives have to take. What alias would you have used? Rip Van Winkle?"
"I'm an insomniac, not a narcoleptic, doctor."
"Just trying a little reverse psychology. I'm not your doctor, you know. I'm just here to make sure you and Fred don't take any side trips."
"In that case you'd better call Marty's, Fred, and cancel my reservation."
"Wait a minute! You made a reservation at Marty's? Marty's Restaurant in San Francisco?"
"With the snooze patrol breathing down my neck? Really, Laura. Would I do such an irresponsible, frivolous -"
"I've always wanted to go there."
"Reckless, profligate, impetuous, foolhardy -" Steele stopped abruptly, wondering if he were dreaming or if he were still awake. "What did you say?"
"Marty's. I've always wanted to go there. I've heard so much about it. I have this unfulfilled fantasy running in my head about the perfect evening for two. Drinks at the Top of the Mark. Spectacular views. A candlelight dinner. Dancing."
"Have you read my mind, Miss Holt or have I read yours?"
Each stared at the other as if they'd just seen a conjuring trick. "I was going to ask you the same thing, Mr. Steele. You didn't really make a reservation, did you?"
"Sadly, no, but we could pick up the phone and -"
"First things first," said Laura. "I want you following doctor's orders from now on. I wouldn't want you to fall asleep before dessert."
"Laura Holt, a closet romantic. Boggles the mind. Now all I have to do is stay awake long enough to reap the benefits - or should that be go to sleep?"
"A 'closet' romantic? If that's meant to be a joke -"
"Inadvertent, I assure you. I take any romantic impulse of yours quite seriously."
"If I've learned anything about you, Mr. Steele, it's that you're never quite serious."
Steele put his hand to his
heart in mock distress. "Cruelly misinterpreted, yet again. Will science
ever find a cure?"
"Mr. Steele," said Dr. Lindstrom eagerly. "If you'll step into my office, I just have some initial questions, a brief background survey we do of all of our patients."
"Should I wait outside, doctor?" asked Laura.
"If you don't mind, Miss Holt," said Lindstrom apologetically. "You know, you look even lovelier out of uniform."
"Um, well, white isn't really my color," Laura joked, slightly embarrassed.
Steele scowled suspiciously, his eyes flashing from one to the other. "Dr. Holt is strictly in civvies these days."
"The medical profession's loss, Mr. Steele."
"Undoubtedly," returned Steele, warily. Lindstrom's flirting with Laura had done nothing to calm his nerves.
Lindstrom ushered Steele into his office and closed the door.
"Please take a seat, Mr. Steele. I can't tell you how delighted we are to have you back at the clinic. As an actual patient this time."
"Well, I hadn't exactly planned on it but, ah, fate intervened as it were." Steele leaned back in his chair and expelled a long sigh.
"There's a standard series of questions we ask all of our insomniacs. I hope you don't mind indulging us. I assure you they are necessary to determine the pathology of your particular case."
"I'm sure you know best, doctor. Fire away."
"Can you pinpoint the onset of the sleep problem? To the best of your recollection?”
"Well, outside of my recent sojourn at your excellent facility, I would say I haven't slept since I checked out."
"Really? Why, that's fascinating."
"That's not precisely the word I would have used, but you're the expert," Steele said dryly.
"It sounds as if your role-playing as an insomniac has had a powerful effect on your subconscious."
"That seems all too evident, doctor. The question is how do we reverse it?"
"Well, we would first want to rule out any organic cause before we decide on a course of treatment. We also need to be fully apprised of your sleep habits and any lifestyle issues that might be contributory."
"Lifestyle issues?" Steele arched an eyebrow.
"A patient's lifestyle can be either a curse or a blessing when it comes to restful sleep, Mr. Steele. Don't worry. All of that will be covered in this questionnaire."
"How comforting." Steele had no idea what sort of lifestyle was favored but he was fairly certain his own was not among them.
Lindstrom pulled out a notebook and a ballpoint pen. "Insomnia is a very individual thing, Mr. Steele. Proper diagnosis and treatment requires that we ask questions which may seem, well, a little personal. This is all completely confidential, of course."
"Now then. What sort of sleeping environment do you have at home? Your bed, for instance. Do you have comfortable bedding? A firm mattress?"
"I would describe it as quite comfortable. I've certainly spared no expense. I must say the mattress has held up rather well under various -- stresses."
"Stresses? Such as?”
"The usual. Tossing, turning. I go through a lot of . . . positions in one night, doctor. My mattress has responded quite admirably to the challenge."
"You'd call yourself a restless sleeper, then?"
"On occasion, yes." Steele allowed himself a smile.
"What about the noise level in your bedroom. Is it relatively quiet?"
"Well again, it varies."
"High level of street noise? Loud neighbors?"
Steele's thoughts drifted back to an orgasmic bout of bedroom Olympics with the fashion model who lived two doors down. "I'd say the neighbors have been a bit noisy at times but on the whole, quite satisfactory."
"Excellent. Now let's move on to your general sleep habits. Do you keep late hours during the week?"
Steele repressed a flash of irritation; his various nocturnal activities were strictly his own business. He decided an evasion tactic was the best route. "I'm sure you understand doctor, that we detectives, like the members of your own profession, burn quite a lot of midnight oil. Dedication has its drawbacks."
"Believe me, I can relate. You might want to consider turning over some of the casework to your staff. That attractive associate of yours, Miss Holt, seems quite capable of handling the burden."
Steele had no doubt of it. Other than the recent sleep clinic case, his workload had hardly been overwhelming. "I'll take that under advisement, doctor."
He wondered anew why Lindstrom seemed so interested in Laura. He was practically drooling over her. Steele decided to test the waters. "Doctor, forgive the intrusion but we're always concerned for the continuing welfare of our clients. How are you faring these days? Sheila Marcus's death must have been quite a shock to you."
"Very much so."
"I know that one is often tempted in these situations to er, compensate for the loss of the loved one, search for outlets for one's grief, rebound into new and perhaps ill-advised relationships. . ." Steele trailed off, unsure of how to continue without seeming obvious.
"To be perfectly honest, Mr. Steele, Sheila's death has caused me to re-evaluate things. I've filed for divorce, actually. My marriage was really over a long time ago. Sometimes I think my life has been a quest to find the perfect woman. Sheila was darn close. Wild, uninhibited, impulsive. Happen to know any women like that, Steele?"
Steele flashed back to a memory of Laura doing an impromptu striptease in a winery. "Not a one," he said with all the conviction he could summon. Why, the man had the morals of an alley cat. Steele hoped Lindstrom's wife had a good divorce lawyer.
"I'm not surprised. Sheila was one in a million. Still, I thought maybe a bachelor like yourself . . ." Lindstrom let the inference hang in the air.
Steele regarded his rival with barely concealed distaste. "I rarely have time for such frivolities, doctor. I live and breathe private investigating. Give me mysteries to solve, clues to ponder, and I can fill every waking hour. Well, at least I could before three days ago."
"Don't worry, Mr. Steele. We'll get to the root of your sleep problem. Just a few more questions to go. What about your weekends? Do you make time to relax, unwind from the pressures of the job? What did you do the weekend before the case, for instance?"
Steele struggled for a moment to remember what he'd been doing and with whom. He'd gone out to the ballet with Irina, an extremely limber Russian exchange student. She'd spent the overture nibbling on his ear and whispering amorous suggestions about a pas de deux they could perform together. She'd promised it would take all night. Attention to the activities on stage began to wander as much as their hands. They'd left for her studio apartment an hour before the entr'acte. Steele sighed at the memory; he'd never known barre exercises could be so stimulating.
"Took in a bit of culture. The Kirov Ballet is in town and I was able to get tickets at the last minute. Russian dancers. So athletic."
"A pleasant evening out?"
"Splendid performance. I was in bed by ten."
"Very commendable, Mr. Steele. Is that a typical recreational activity? What about the weekend before?"
Steele grimaced involuntarily as he recalled the details of a disastrous sojourn to Tijuana. He'd gotten into a poker game with a card sharp named "Fingers" who wasn't as sharp as he thought he was. When Steele pressed him for the money they ended up at Caliente, watching the man's collateral, a gelding named Pochismo get bumped like a pinata in the stretch, then fade and finish fourth. Before the evening was over Steele had tried his luck and several shots of mescal too many and concluded that by comparison, the outcomes at California tracks were as predictable as atomic clocks.
Steele was spared further unhappy recollection by the interruption. "Sorry, I seem to have lost track. Could you repeat the question?"
"Your weekend?" Lindstrom prompted.
"Ah, yes. Went out of town to assist a colleague with a little, um, financial snag. I hardly think it's relevant to your diagnosis, doctor."
"Fair enough. I just need to clarify a bit. How about weekdays? Do you try to give yourself the occasional break from the office routine? Within limits, of course. I realize you do have to be able to get sufficient rest to get up bright and early the next morning."
Since Steele rarely strode through the office doors before noon the counsel scarcely applied. The good doctor would be cheered to know that his new patient spent most, if not all, of his waking hours trying to escape the clutches of responsibility. Still, it would hardly be to Steele's advantage to state the truth so baldly.
"I quite agree, doctor. Getting away from the pressures of business can often stir one's creative juices. I think better when I relax."
"Relaxation is very key, Mr. Steele. I can see we have something to build on here. In light of this, one admonition I always give my insomniacs is to avoid certain stimulants: coffee, tea, alcohol, nicotine. Are you on any medication?"
That answer required no prevarication. Steele had an almost pathological dislike for taking pills and was wary of any sort of recreational drug use. As for drinking, he did it mostly socially, and not to excess unless the occasion called for it. He rarely drank alone. His nicotine intake was governed by quality over quantity. He was willing to succumb to the pleasures of a fine cigar. Other habits would be harder to break. He knew he would regret the loss of those extra few cups of coffee in the morning.
"How about physical activity? Do you exercise regularly? Work out? Go jogging? There's no better way to work off that extra adrenaline."
Steele gazed wearily up at the ceiling and fought an impulse to yawn. The question was distressingly familiar. Was everyone in California a health fanatic? It was bad enough that nearly every tryst with an eligible female had to be fit in between aerobics classes. He'd managed to resist the trend so far but the course of idleness certainly hadn't run smooth since he'd arrived.
"I find that a daily workout routine is the most beneficial for my patients, Mr. Steele. I advise them to get a membership in a health club or gym."
"I have my own methods, doctor. Unorthodox perhaps, but I manage to keep myself reasonably fit."
Doctor's orders or no, Steele planned to avoid such depressingly fashionable places like the plague. He'd been shocked to find that gyms in Los Angeles had valet parking and juice bars. In his opinion, if a gym didn't have a 20-foot square boxing ring, a heavy bag, and a smell like stale sweat and cigar smoke it wasn't worthy of the name.
"I think we've covered most of the preliminaries, Mr. Steele. The important thing at the outset is to establish a pattern that will give you at least seven good hours of sleep each night. I want you to start keeping a sleep diary."
"A sleep diary?"
"A log of your sleeping habits. What time you went to sleep, how many times you woke up during the night, what activities you engaged in before going to bed, and so forth. I need you to record this for at least two weeks."
"Won't you be keeping track of my activities here at the clinic?"
"You won't be required to stay here continuously, Mr. Steele. After you check in and we run some diagnostic tests we'll hook you up to the monitoring machine and see how it goes. Thereafter, you'll report here on one more scheduled evening around eight o'clock and be hooked up until morning. We hope to be able to alleviate the problem primarily through those lifestyle changes we discussed."
"Lifestyle changes. Yes. I'm sure they'll work wonders," Steele said with an air of certainty he entirely lacked. He'd rarely felt less sure of anything.
"I'm going to give you a prescription for some sleep aids."
"Is that absolutely necessary, doctor?"
"Just to tide you over until we can get you scheduled at the clinic." Lindstrom scrawled the prescription on a notepad and handed the slip to Steele. "I regret to say that there will be a delay of twenty-four hours until we can take delivery of our new equipment. I think you'll find it most impressive. The SleepSentry 2000. It's the state of the art in sleep monitoring. Why, the ‘Sentry’ almost has a personality of its own."
Steele raised a dubious eyebrow. "An engaging one, I hope."
Lindstrom chuckled. “I think you’ll become rather attached to it.”
“I can’t wait,” Steele replied with a singular lack of enthusiasm.
Lindstrom apologized again for the delay in admitting Steele to the clinic and effusively assured him he would soon be getting the best of care. Steele rose from his chair and followed the man out into the corridor. They walked toward the waiting room area.
"Don't let it concern you, doctor. I'm sure I'll survive in the interim."
"There is some excellent literature on insomnia at the admissions desk. Be sure to look the pamphlets over and call me if you have any questions. There are some tips for sleep strategies you'll want to put into practice."
"I'll give them my undivided attention. Ah, Miss Holt. There you are." Steele was relieved to see her, or indeed anyone who wasn't predisposed to treat him as the subject of a lab experiment.
"I'll leave Mr. Steele in your more than capable hands." Lindstrom's appraising eye fixed on Laura for what seemed, to Steele, like an eternity, though it would have appeared to the unwary as the merest glance. "We'll be admitting him in twenty-four hours for a full work up, the doctor continued. "In the meantime I suggest that you give your employer every assistance. We want to be sure that his workload is fairly light at this crucial stage."
"As far as the office is concerned, Mr. Steele doesn't have a care in the world. I'll see to it that he stays as uninvolved as possible." Laura managed to deliver this pronouncement with only a light frosting of sarcasm.
"It's a strange phenomenon. Often busy executives find they can delegate far more than they ever realized. The office can practically run itself if they just loosen their grip."
"Mr. Steele runs the office with a light hand,” Laura interjected smugly. “Light as a feather, in fact."
"I have a firm grasp on the big picture of course," Steele said in an expansive tone, hoping to dispel any notion that he was a mere figurehead. "Whereas Miss Holt's forte is paying due care and attention to every tiny detail." That smirk on Laura's face was most unattractive, he decided. It was time to give her a dose of her own medicine. "I can rely on my trusted associate to be tediously thorough. Toiling tirelessly behind the scenes, no matter how trivial or menial the task –"
"You've made your point -- sir," said Laura with an annoyed stress on the honorific.
"I merely wished to ensure the good doctor that his patient wouldn't be over burdened with the petty, nuts and bolts operations.”
"I'm relieved to see I have no worries on that score," replied Lindstrom.
"Glad to be able to put your fears to rest, doctor."
"Speaking of rest, Mr. Steele, I've been looking over these sleep disorder pamphlets and there are some very improving ideas in them." Laura dug several folded sheets from her purse. "Even for people without sleep problems. Daily exercise, keeping regular hours, following a set schedule -"
Excellent, Miss Holt." Lindstrom was impressed. "Mr. Steele should be encouraged to practice his lifestyle regimen as much as possible."
"I'll do my best to see he follows it to the letter." Laura couldn't resist a twist of the knife. "However trivial and tediously thorough the advice may seem."
"If you're not careful, Mr. Steele, I may hire this woman away myself. The clinic can always use someone of her obvious talents. And she would certainly improve the scenery."
Lack of sleep was straining Steele's forbearance to the breaking point. He'd had just about enough of the man's feeble attempts at seduction. His voice took on a silkily dangerous edge. "A word to the wise, doctor. Miss Holt isn't for sale. Or rent." The warning in his tone was unmistakable.
"I hope I haven't stepped on anyone's toes," replied Lindstrom, taken aback. "I was merely paying a compliment –"
"Whatever you're paying it isn't enough. Come along, Miss Holt. We have work to do." He pulled a speechless Laura after him by the arm.
"Remember," Lindstrom called after them, "you'll need to report back to the clinic tomorrow at eight p.m. sharp."
Steele delayed their egress for the briefest possible moment. "I'm well aware of the schedule, doctor. Good day."
Laura shrugged apologetically. "We'll be there," she assured the bewildered medical man.
As soon as they were out of earshot she turned on him. "What left field did all that come out of? Miss Holt isn't for sale? As if I were your private property! I have news for you, Mr. Steele. Any interested buyers are my business."
"You can't mean you're considering it? Laura, the man's a philanderer. An adulterer - "
"So he likes to play the field. He isn't the first." Laura jerked away from Steele’s grasp and marched toward the clinic entrance, irritation mounting with each step.
Her voice echoed loudly down the corridor. "You think I can't handle someone like him? A womanizer, a flirt, an annoyance? I'm a very artful dodger, Mr. Steele, or haven't you noticed?"
"Point taken, Miss Holt. Your reflexes are excellent but -"
"I should write a book. I'd never run out of material. Every day at the office is a new chapter."
Steele matched her stride for stride. "It's not your handling that worries me, it's his. The man couldn't keep his mitts off Sheila Marcus and now he's after groping the next warm female body he can find."
"That's all I am? A warm female body?"
"To a man like that, yes." Steele eyed her slender form with a connoisseur's appreciation. "Although I will award him considerable points for good taste."
"I'm immune to male flattery, Mr. Steele. His and yours."
"But of course you are. It's inconceivable for Laura Holt to have the slightest chink in that armor of hers. No compliment to femininity gets past her guard. I salute any man who tries to lay siege to the fortress. Once more into the breach -"
"Are you defending Lindstrom? Or yourself?" Laura flung open the clinic doors and strode toward the parking area.
Steele barely managed to dodge the doors on the backswing. He lengthened his stride to catch up with her. "It's not the same thing."
"It isn't? Then kindly point out the difference, Mr. Steele. And bring a microscope. I'm not sure it's visible to the naked eye."
"That shows a want of feeling, Laura." Steele seemed genuinely distressed. "You really think I'm as cold blooded as that man in there?"
"I stand corrected. You're all heart, Mr. Steele." Laura's tone dripped sarcasm. "Your efforts to get needy blondes and silicone starlets off the streets and into a nice warm bed are strictly philanthropic."
"It's time you came in from the cold, Miss Holt. A few sessions with a philanthropist would do you a world of good."
"And I suppose you're volunteering for the job. What a mensch!"
"I'd call it a mercy mission." Steele snapped, temper flaring. "The man who beds you should get the Nobel Peace Prize."
Laura stopped in mid stride and gave him a look that could freeze an Eskimo. "If you're hoping for a congratulatory call from Stockholm you're going to have a very long wait,” she huffed. “The next time you get the urge to be charitable, heat up a blonde."
"I find that an excellent suggestion," Steele shot back. "At least they start out above room temperature."
They glared at each other in frigid silence until Laura abruptly turned away and stamped across to the limo. Steele made it there in time to see her push past Fred who was holding the car door open for her. She flung herself into back seat, and slammed the door shut behind her with hurricane force. His hand on the opposite door, Steele swore he could feel his teeth rattle.
He got in on the other side, gratified by Laura's look of extreme annoyance as he shut his own door almost noiselessly.
Laura's voice was tight with rage. "Fred, drive me to the office. And drive Mr. Steele -- somewhere else. Around in circles -- to San Francisco -- or Stockholm -- I really don't care."
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
Steele sank gratefully to the sofa, closed his eyes, and exhaled wearily. The morning had been a disaster of epic proportions. During the ride back from the clinic the silence between them had settled in like a layer of permafrost. Laura had taken a sudden interest in a featureless stretch of highway; Steele had tried and failed to concentrate on a crossword puzzle from the daily paper. His skills still hadn't improved, though he did get a thrill of satisfaction from scratching out a-d-u-l-t-e-r-e-r, the word for seven across, and replacing it with l-i-n-d-s-t-r-o-m.
Steele hadn't really considered the man to be serious competition, but the thought that Laura might want to entertain the notion, even out of mere spite, was cause for losing sleep. And he'd done enough of that already.
He frowned at the bottle of little green pills on the coffee table and the nearby glass of water. Should he give up, call it a day and take one? He had nothing better to do. Laura had made it clear she didn't want him at the office and it was a bit early to go looking for female company, even if he were so inclined. The fact that he wasn't depressed him even more.
Steele twisted the cap off the bottle and removed a pill, swallowing it down with a gulp of water. He recoiled as a wave of nausea swept through him. He couldn't shake the persistent feeling that his fortunes had taken a wrong turn when he wasn't looking.
The new identity that he'd assumed so confidently suddenly felt claustrophobic. Was life as Remington Steele really different from that of any other harried businessman in a three-piece suit? He'd spent a lifetime thinking that respectability was the ultimate trap. Yet here he was, in the clutches of the soft life, tossing and turning and popping tranquilizers when once he'd been accustomed to sleeping in squats and on park benches.
Steele smiled grimly. If his old mates could see him now they'd say he was a sad case indeed. That mortifying incident at the sleep clinic was proof enough. It had taken him five minutes to pick the lock on the door to the hospital records room. He hadn't slept much at the time, but lock picking was rarely a skill that was performed under ideal conditions. Commonly, one had to contend with an alarm system, a tight schedule and pitch darkness, not to mention keeping an eye out for security guards or police.
He was right. He should have been able to do it in his sleep. He'd taken his talents for granted for so long the possibility that he might lose what he considered a god given ability had never occurred to him. His well stocked arsenal of survival techniques was a reliable fixed point in a world where nothing had ever lasted for long and addresses and identities changed with the prevailing wind.
Since he'd arrived in Los Angeles and assumed the mantle of the famous detective, his old skills seemed rather beside the point. He used them sometimes in the line of duty but they were hardly as essential as Laura's legwork or her well-schooled investigative methods. Even the minor recreational detours he took from the straight and narrow hardly challenged his powers. Perhaps those talents really didn't count for much any more. But his stubborn pride and a sense of insecurity still gnawed at him.
Steele went into the kitchen and retrieved something from the bottom drawer of the cabinet. He walked back to the sofa and sat down, placing the object in the center of the coffee table. He regarded it speculatively from several angles.
It was the complete mechanism of a high security pin tumbler lock. The lock contained twelve shear cut pins randomly situated around the cylinder's 360-degree circumference. Each pin had to be picked and aligned vertically, then twisted a set number of degrees to allow the cylinder to open. It was virtually impregnable to a thief unless he took the usual route of drilling it. Such crude methods, though effective, were anathema to a true artist.
The word on the street was that the manufacturer offered a reward to anyone who could pick the lock, not that Steele had any intention of collecting one. The considerable challenge would be its own reward. In preparation he rose, walked over and closed the curtains and extinguished the lights and put on a pair of dark glasses. He selected two finely crafted tools from the set of lock picks in his jacket.
Steele sat perfectly still and began to focus on his task, conjuring a mental picture of the lock's internal mechanism from a diagram he'd once seen. His pulse quickened in anticipation. He held the tools delicately between his fingers, approaching the object as if it were something rare: a well guarded gem or perhaps a lover he'd long been waiting for. In no hurry, he let his sense of touch guide him as he explored the mystery before him with infinite care. Minutes later, his face in shadow, he smiled softly at the satisfying click as the first tumbler fell into place.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
Laura pulled the car into a space in the parking garage at Rossmore and turned off the engine. She cranked the top back up on the Rabbit and ran nervous fingers through her windblown hair. She still wasn't sure what she was doing there but she'd felt restless and uneasy the whole afternoon.
She'd drifted through appointments like a sleepwalker, shaking a succession of hands, acting businesslike and reassuring, her body going through the motions but her mind elsewhere. More than once she thought of how Mr. Steele would have handled the client, imagining him winning them over with that singular brand of charm and persuasion that he seemed to employ without apparent effort.
It was ironic, she thought, that once she had banished him from the office, she couldn't stop thinking about him, wondering what he was doing, and if he was OK. She found out later that Fred had dropped Steele off at the apartment several hours ago after stopping by the drugstore to get his prescription filled.
In the limo, she'd noticed Steele dozing off between filling in blanks on a crossword puzzle. He'd looked drawn and tired, almost devoid of energy. She could feel a sympathy that was almost maternal welling up inside her, a rather puzzling impulse considering that a few minutes earlier her only feelings for him had been homicidal. Unable to resolve the contradiction she forced herself to look out the window at the non-existent scenery, nursing a migraine while she replayed their argument over and over in her head.
It wasn't his jealousy of Lindstrom that drove her up the wall. She found the doctor's behavior almost as disgusting as he did. What galled her beyond endurance about Mr. Steele was that proprietary air of his, as though they were more than just business associates and he had some sort of claim on her. He seemed blithely unconcerned that this exclusivity he trumpeted was a one way street. She was expected to live like a nun in a cloister while he had carte blanche to have a stream of women trooping in and out of his bedroom like it was Union Station.
Laura got out of the car and headed for the elevators, telling herself every step of the way that a man like that deserved a few sleepless nights and why should she care if Remington Steele turned out to be an incurable insomniac? She punched the elevator button and wrestled with the nagging voice inside her head; the one that said it all started with the Lindstrom case and she'd gotten him into this mess and she was going to have to help him out of it.
By the time she rang the doorbell to his apartment the voice was considerably more subdued. What if he'd taken her up on her suggestion and was with some blonde whose body temperature was higher than her IQ? What if he was asleep? Then she really shouldn't disturb him, right? What if he wasn't asleep? What would he think she was doing there?
He'd never believe she was just being caring and concerned. He'd think she was jealous, spying on him, trying to catch him with someone else, or that she'd come there to apologize. Or worse, that she'd come there because she'd reconsidered and she wanted to spend the whole day in bed with him, practicing massage techniques and --
The door opened.
"What the devil do you want? Can't you - " Steele stopped in mid tirade and blinked at her. "Laura?"
"I'm sorry," they both said in unison.
"I thought you were the annoying chap down the hall. He's been trying to sell me insurance."
"You were asleep?"
That much was obvious, Laura thought as she took in his slightly dazed expression, his tousled hair, his silk robe that was barely fastened at the waist. She caught a tantalizing glimpse of the dark fabric of his briefs before he quickly gathered his robe and tied the belt more securely. She swallowed hard. This errand of mercy business wasn't going to be as easy as she thought.
"I'll come back later."
"No, don't go, Laura. I was, um, just watching a movie," Steele improvised, not wanting her to think she'd disturbed his sleep.
Laura stepped through the door with furrowed brow, listening.
"I don't hear the TV."
"Ah. . . with the sound off. Know the dialogue backwards. 'Scarface.’ Paul Muni, Osgood Perkins, United Artists, 1932. Re-discovered classic." Steele quickly shut the door behind her. He ran his fingers through his hair. "Would you like some coffee or something?" He straightened the sofa pillows and motioned for her to sit down. She sank onto the cushions with a worried frown.
"I've dragged you out of bed."
His mouth twitched in a smile. "Not a problem. You can drag me back in."
Laura felt her skin flush at the proposal. "I'm sure you can manage on your own, Mr. Steele."
"But it would be so reassuring to have you by my side in my hour of need." Steele perched on the arm of the sofa.
"Hour of need? Are all insomniacs this prone to exaggeration?"
"Hard to say." Steele regarded her appraisingly. "We could try a few prone positions and see what develops."
"This conversation is beginning to sound very familiar."
"Of course it does. Remember Charlotte Knight? Hot and steamy novels? 'Prone Positions’?"
"Are you suggesting -"
"A little bedtime reading? Not unless you brought along a copy."
"Why would I have a copy of one of her books?" Laura replied dismissively.
"Why, indeed?" Steele grinned slyly. "What a wonderful knack you have, being able to describe them in minute detail without having read them. What was the phrase you used? 'Every thigh is creamy white, every breast is full and heaving.'"
Despite the triteness of the prose, Laura's imagination began to wander into the torrid zone. There was something about the way his voice caressed the words that made them sound genuinely erotic rather than mass-marketed. And that look. Why did he have to give her that look? As if he were imagining them both en route to the bedroom door leaving behind a trail of hastily discarded clothing. Although in his case he wouldn't have much to remove. How was it that a man who'd barely slept for days could be this tempting, could still make any passing female's palms sweat and her mouth water?
It was very disconcerting, not that she was about to let him know it. Laura forced herself to meet his gaze. He was watching her with a slight smile on his face as if he was well aware of the precise effect of his seductive powers.
"Ha! You've read one, you've read them all," she volleyed back.
"And have you?"
"Have I what?"
"Read them all?"
"I may have skimmed a few," Laura replied with a show of disinterest. "When we were working on the case." She picked at an invisible piece of lint on her jacket.
"That reminds me, Laura. That copy of 'Twice Nightly' -- the one that you inadvertently left in the file cabinet? It's due back at the library on Tuesday."
"Tuesday?" Laura blurted before she could stop herself. She quickly recovered and tried to turn the tables. "What were you doing in the file cabinet?"
"Oh, just looking for stray clues."
"Likely story. You were snooping."
Steele's air of reasoned calm was unassailable. "Merely trying to take an interest in our work. I'll admit I'm no expert but is it usual to file erotic literature in with the gory details of murder, mayhem, and malfeasance?"
"If you're determined to master our filing system, I'm sure I can teach you the basics. Once you've caught up on your sleep and things are back to normal you can start solving cases from A to Z - and each and every letter in between."
Steele was affronted. "Filing? Laura, you can't seriously be suggesting that the head of the agency engage in such menial activities."
A detective's work is never done, Mr. Steele."
"Wouldn't a division of labour be in our best interest? I find your rapt attention to the mundane very liberating. You see, it frees me to look at the large canvas. To make those great intuitive leaps –"
"Of faith?" Laura finished derisively.
"Of deductive reasoning."
"You can't have it both ways, Mr. Steele. Deductive reasoning and intuition are two entirely different things."
"Excellent point, Miss Holt. Let's not limit ourselves, best of both worlds and all that."
Laura crinkled her brow thoughtfully. The fact that Steele's slightly bent perspective sometimes seemed to make sense was beginning to scare her.
"Why don't I make that coffee, Laura? You look as though you could use some. That unappetizing brew you concoct at the office hardly qualifies."
Laura could hardly deny the awful truth but felt compelled to put up a defense. "It keeps me going."
"Ah, but at what cost to your life expectancy?"
"Stop whining. You're as bad as Murphy."
"Really, Laura. There no need to insult a man who was going to offer you a gift from the gods."
"The finest coffee that has ever passed man's lips. An exclusive blend direct from the Wallensford Estate in Jamaica."
"Jamaica? I usually buy what's on sale at Safeway."
"Allow me to educate your palate, Miss Holt."
"You don't have to -"
Steele was already halfway to the kitchen. "Two sugars, correct?"
Within minutes a pungent and distinctively rich aroma filled the air. Steele breezed past the sofa and headed in the direction of the hallway. "Don't go anywhere. I'll be right back."
Laura heard water running briefly, then Steele re-appeared a few minutes later, drying his face with a towel. He was wearing pajama bottoms under his robe and he had combed his hair.
Laura felt a twinge of disappointment. She kind of liked the just-tumbled-out-of-bed look. His wardrobe at the office was always so formal that she relished the chance of seeing him a little more unbuttoned. This time was a bit more than she bargained for. She never expected to catch that quick freeze-frame of him, standing there in his open robe half naked. The sight had almost made her heart stop. She had a feeling that glimpse would be replayed in her fantasies for quite a while. Too bad he'd put those pajama bottoms on, she mused. Still, things were probably a lot safer that way for both of them . . . not that any situation where they were alone together was entirely safe.
He went into the kitchen to check the coffee and returned with two cups filled to the brim with the heavenly brew.
"Sorry I disappeared on you. I was just making myself a bit more presentable. I wasn't expecting company." He handed her a cup and sat down next to her on the sofa.
"I should have called first. I'm sorry. I just wanted to, um, check on the patient," she finished self-consciously.
"A doctor this charming who makes house calls is a rare find, indeed," he teased, brightening at the prospect of a therapy session.
His hopeful look did not escape her. She had to be honest with him. "Um…I'll stay for coffee, but I really can't . . . stay."
His mouth turned down at the corners a little in disappointment but she saw the acceptance in his eyes.
"I understand," he said finally, setting down his cup. He leaned over and kissed her forehead.
"You do? I was afraid you'd -"
"Laura." He smiled at her in a way that made her breath catch in her throat. "It doesn't matter. I'm just glad you're here."
A feeling that was part pleasure, part relief swept over her. "Insomniacs say the nicest things, Mr. Steele."
Steele chuckled. "Crossword puzzles do wonders for the vocabulary."
Savoring the aroma, Laura took a sip of her coffee. The taste was so exquisite it almost made her toes curl. "This coffee is incredible. I think I could get used to the finer things in life.”
Steele arched an eyebrow. “Then my work hasn’t been entirely wasted.”
Laura lifted her mug in salute. “Maybe I could add another line item to the office expenses."
Steele drank deeply from his own cup. "I will warn you that it could turn out to be a rather expensive habit."
Laura shrugged. “We could all use a little indulgence now and then. Within reason.”
Steele regarded her with warm amusement. “Indulgence and reason are two different things, you know.”
"Touché, Mr. Steele. The coffee went to my head.”
"Damn, that reminds me."
"Coffee. I'm not supposed to drink it, doctor's orders. I guess I'll have to get used to decaf." He grimaced at the prospect. "Bottoms up, Miss Holt. It's all yours." He handed her his cup.
"Mr. Steele," Laura protested. "Now I'll be the one who's awake all night."
"Solidarity. That's the spirit."
Steele insisted she take the rest of the brewed coffee home in a thermos and he gave her the remainder of the package of coffee beans.
"No need to let it go to waste."
"Get some rest now. You'll need to get your exercise in the morning."
"Exercise? In the morning?”
"Part of your new and improved lifestyle, Mr. Steele. You'll thank me for it someday -- when you're being chased by the police and are able to put on that extra burst of speed."
"Be gentle with me, Miss Holt."
Laura was on her way to the door when something on the coffee table caught her eye: a very sturdy and complex looking solid steel lock and a pair of lock picks.
She inclined her head. "Planning to do a little breaking and entering before bedtime?"
Steele improvised rapidly. "Just, um, product testing. I'm thinking of putting some more secure hardware on my front door. Detective work can be a very dangerous business."
Laura was sure he was up to something but decided to play along. "Good idea. Make sure you give me a spare key."
"Oh, of course, Laura, what's mine is yours. You shall have unquestioned entrée to my flat at all times."
"As long as the agency is paying the rent."
"Quite right, Miss Holt." Steele hastened to agree.
"Good night, Mr. Steele." She swept through the door he opened for her.
She turned slowly as an irresistible
force drew her back. She reached out and gently smoothed back his
dark hair at one temple, then leaned in and kissed him hard, her body pinning
him against the doorframe. His hair was damp and his warm lips tasted of
"Ye-es?" he managed to gasp.
"About that hardware of yours." She looked him frankly up and down.
"Hardware?" Suddenly his pajama bottoms felt a bit tighter than they did before.
"On the coffee table."
"Oh. That." He glanced back at it distractedly.
"Do try to stay out of jail tonight. You need your sleep."
With that parting shot she walked away, leaving him speechless in the doorway.
Sleep Diary of Remington Steele
26 January, 1983
Sleep aids taken (1) (is this really necessary?)
Caffeine units (1 half cp Jamaican ambrosia, remainder gallantly surrendered)
Number of crosswords completed (0) (redeemed by creative spelling)
Number of cross words exchanged (too numerous to count)
Congratulatory calls from Stockholm (0) (but peace talks promising)
Number of times thought of strategies to warm up heat resistant partner (98.6 and rising)
Number of prone positions
Congratulatory calls from Medeco Lock Co. (0) but success is own reward, also fait accompli
Number of times solid steel(e) hardware caught the eye of lovely associate (2) possibly more, judging from direction of glance
Number of times dreamed about
testing mattress with lovely associate (3)
Number of times solid steel(e) hardware interrupted sleep (3)
Number of times interruption accompanied by cold shower / emergency relief measures (3)
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
Sleep Diary of Remington Steele (as related to Dr. Philip Lindstrom)
26 January, 1983
Sleep aids taken (1) as per doctor's orders
Caffeine units (.5) considerably less than adult daily requirement
Activities prior to bedtime
1. Vocabulary building exercise
on drive back from clinic
Times got up for extended periods during the night (3)
Est. hours of sleep obtained
Steele stood under the caressing warmth of the shower spray, turning slowly as the reviving force of the water massaged his body from every angle. Fifteen minutes of absolute bliss, that was the ticket. He rinsed the last vestiges of shampoo from his hair and reluctantly turned off the water. He slid open the shower door, reaching blindly for a towel while combing his hair back with his other hand.
Hope flickered in his chest that his fortunes were improving with a certain lady detective, despite the restless night that had followed her departure.
Even the prospect of a morning constitutional / exercise regimen / health club workout didn't seem such a bad idea, with a spandex-clad Laura by his side. He wasn't quite sure what his partner had in mind. She'd been rather mysterious about the whole thing, merely telling him to pack a gym bag with a change of clothes and that she would pick him up at lunchtime. He'd had to ask Fred what sort of attire was usual for this sort of outing and undertake a last minute shopping trip to find something to wear. Fred often observed the natives in their natural habitat while dropping Laura off at the gym, so he had a good idea of what was de rigueur.
Working out with Laura surely couldn't be boring, Steele decided. She'd be with him every step of the way; keeping his spirits up, giving him pep talks, urging him on to spectacular feats of athleticism. He pictured their sweating bodies in rhythmic synchronization, heartbeats accelerating as they stretched their endurance to the limit. What did Americans call it? Going for the burn? Perhaps a steamy rendezvous in the sauna would be part of the program. He sighed deeply as he imagined his captivating partner clad only in a very small towel. His temperature was rising already, and parts of his anatomy were following suit.
He toweled off his hair vigorously and padded out of the bathroom in a pleasantly distracted fog. By the time he reached the bedroom, he was fully erect and the part of his brain that wasn't otherwise engaged was telling him he needed to get back in the shower and try that cold remedy again, maybe with an ice bucket for extra insurance. Otherwise he'd have to tell Laura that something had come up, not that that "something" was necessarily a bad thing if she were in the vicinity, but he did have to work on his timing.
He started in shocked surprise as an unseen hand reached around him and between his legs, feminine fingers avidly exploring his length.
Steele didn't have to guess; he looked up to see her tanned and toned reflection in the mirrored doors of the closet. The groper's name was Amber and her face had graced the covers of every fashion magazine in Los Angeles. Her body was the stuff dreams were made of; her honey colored hair framed perfect cheekbones and full, flawless lips. She was young and eager to make it in more ways than one. Her beauty was somewhat spoiled by a perpetually slack-jawed expression, though the handicap wasn't fatal. She could change it to a sensual, lover's pout at the click of a shutter.
"Something on your mind?" She giggled and reached for him again. "Remy, you have such a gorgeous -"
He carefully pried her hand loose. "Don't -- call me Remy."
"Whatever you say, lover."
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
Laura maneuvered the Rabbit briskly through the traffic, not even minding the retaliatory horn blast from the sleek, black Mercedes she cut off at the head of the lane. Her agile ragtop made it under the yellow light with milliseconds to spare. She cranked up the radio and a fizzy explosion of synth pop blared from the speakers as Olivia Newton-John warbled "Lets Get Physical" to a procession of passing joggers.
A smile formed on her lips as she wondered what surprises were in store once she crossed the threshold at Rossmore. Though the mental image of Mr. Steele wearing form fitting workout attire had undeniable appeal, Laura was still monumentally unsure if he would actually go through with it. His usual reaction whenever she mentioned the gym was either a stifled yawn or an eyebrow quirked in amusement at the American fetish for fitness.
Ever since Steele had arrived on the scene she'd been kept off balance by his unorthodox and irregular habits. Where the agency was concerned she was on firm ground. It was entirely appropriate to lecture him over noon arrivals, leisurely lunches, and calling it a day before the clock struck three, but what he did on his off hours, especially his evenings, was terra incognita and likely to remain so. She would rather walk barefoot over hot coals than admit to her enigmatic partner that she was consumed with curiosity about his social calendar or his ever-so-mysterious late night wanderings.
Sometimes she would lie awake, a glance at the clock causing her imagination to idle restlessly. 1:35. Where was Mr. Steele? Clues would surface in the expense accounts or from a tell tale sign in the limo the next morning; a stray betting slip; a matchbook from an exclusive club; a long blonde hair on the seat cushion; the scent of an expensive perfume.
Mr. Steele's amours were his own business, she supposed, though they were hardly a secret. The women he went out with enjoyed the spotlight. Still, he stubbornly cultivated an air of mystery. He delighted, it seemed to Laura, in firing her curiosity about his love life and then leaving her hanging. It was as if, deep down, all he really wanted to make sure of was that she cared, at least a little.
She knew he liked the finer things: Savile Row tailoring, Italian shoes, haute cuisine, and he loved old movies, but other, more intimate knowledge was harder to come by. His newly acquired insomnia fell squarely into the unknown category; she was afraid to delve too deep. Despite picking up some of the lingo during her stint at the clinic, she wasn't a doctor. Maybe the best she could do was to see that he complied with his treatment - whether he liked it or not.
She harbored no illusions that his lifetime habit of indolence could be reversed overnight, but Steele had been willing to follow doctor's orders on his caffeine consumption, a sign he was taking his condition seriously.
Despite her natural skepticism she felt a small thrill of hope. Could his insomnia be a blessing in disguise? Maybe -- just maybe -- it would change things. Make it possible for him to change. To become more mature and responsible. More self-disciplined. Less indulgent. You're dreaming, Laura, she told herself as she sat waiting at the stoplight; but it was a pleasant fantasy all the same.
The station wagon in front remained stubbornly immobile. After a couple of seconds Laura hit the horn, impatient to be on her way. "Hey it's not going to get any greener. Move it! Some of us are in a hurry!"
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
"How did you get in?" Steele said to Amber in a tone of growing annoyance. "I don't recall giving you a key."
"The apartment manager let me in. He'll do anything I ask him. I told him you were expecting me."
"Seems I'm always the last to know," he said offhandedly. Inwardly he was cursing his luck. If he couldn't get rid of her soon he'd have to hide her in the laundry hamper.
Amber eyed the sweat suit and the partially packed bag that lay on the bed. "You're going to the gym? Since when? I thought you hated the gym."
"I've taken up a new hobby," Steele replied nonchalantly, strapping on his watch.
"Hobby? Who is she? And don't tell me Jane Fonda."
"It's not a social liaison. It's purely a professional relationship - a client." There was an almost imperceptible hesitation on the last word.
"A client? Uh-huh. What's so important about a client? You never take me to the gym. And I look great in spandex."
Her arms encircled his waist, hands lightly stroking the dark hair on his belly as she rained light kisses across his shoulders.
Steele pulled out of her determined embrace and rummaged in his top drawer for a pair of briefs. "I'm working on a case. Surveillance operation. The subject, er, client, that is, is someone I'll be pumping for information -- while pumping iron, as it were. As I said. Strictly business."
Amber kicked off her shoes and sat on the edge of the bed. She grinned shamelessly up at him. "I can take care of business, too. You won't need those." She tugged at his underwear.
"Normally I'm delighted by spontaneous displays of affection but as the song goes, 'it's the wrong time, and the wrong place.'"
"C'mon, Remy. You know you want to. Remember that night in front of the fireplace? You said it yourself. We're made for each other."
Steele gaped at her as if she were speaking in Hindustani. He said that? He couldn't have uttered anything so ridiculous -- or so boring. Impossible. And if he had, how could she be so thoughtless as to remind him of it? He had to admit, the night in question was a bit out of focus now. Something involving a bottle of Dom Perignon, an overturned ice bucket, and a very revealing fashion show.
"Must have been the champagne."
Amber peeled off her silky, camisole style top, revealing a pair of perfect breasts. "I don't think so."
Steele was temporarily at a loss for words, distracted by the unexpected sight of her shell-pink nipples.
She slapped a manicured hand to her forehead. "Jeez. I almost forgot. I've got something to show you." She began to undo the button on her jeans.
"For heaven's sake, not now!" Steele glanced frantically at the clock on his nightstand, sending up a silent prayer to the Almighty that Laura be unavoidably detained by a flat tire, a minor earthquake, or a nice, juicy triple homicide.
"You'll love this."
"It can't wait."
"An admirable sentiment but under the circumstances -"
In a flash, Amber was out of her jeans and underwear. She held up her panties as if they had a starring role in a lingerie commercial.
"Um, very nice. Calvin Klein?"
"Isn't everything these days?"
"Not by Simon Le Bon. Feast your eyes. He signed it right there, just below the elastic."
Amber put down the panties and rolled her eyes in disbelief. "'Hungry Like The Wolf’?"
"Sorry, love." Steele squinted nervously at his watch. "I don't have the time or the inclination."
"Have you been living on the planet Mongo? You've never heard of Duran Duran?"
"Of course I have! He's the character played by Milo O'Shea in 'Barbarella.' Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law. Paramount Pictures, 1968. Directed by Roger Vadim. Incidentally Vadim was married to Jane Fonda at the time, but before that his claim to fame was being Mr. Brigitte Bardot and -"
"Puh-leeze." Amber yawned. "Snooze-o-rama! Like a dumb Jane Fonda movie could ever compare to a totally awesome band like Duran Duran. For your information, 'Hungry Like The Wolf' is a track from the 'Carnival' EP. I got it last week. And these panties are signed by Simon Le Bon, their hot lead singer.”
"Oh. I take it that he's somewhat famous then?" Steele casually remarked as he splashed on some cologne.
Amber watched him in the mirror as he turned his back to her. From her vantage point she had an excellent view from both front and rear of his half naked form. His tight-fitting briefs merely served to emphasize the fact he was still partially erect. The sight of him standing there, coolly oblivious to the effect he was having on her, kicked her hormones into overdrive. She came up behind him and nuzzled his neck. That scent he was wearing was definitely a turn-on.
"Hello, gorgeous," she breathed into his ear.
"'Funny Girl.' Barbara Streisand, Omar Sharif –"
"Omar who? Don't you know anybody that's like, really famous, like John Taylor or Nick Rhodes?" Amber sighed, playing a videotape in her head of Simon's cutest band mates in all their glam, synthetic glory.
She walked back to the bed and stretched out languorously, picking up the panties and clutching them to her chest. "My brush with stardom," she recalled with a dreamy smile. "It all started when my agent got me this 'new faces' photo session for 'Elle’, my first major shoot, you know, on this luxury yacht. There was this totally rad party going on at the same time for some department store heiress or whatever. I was taking a ciggie break when I turned around and there he was! Simon Le Bon -- in the flesh! I had multiple orgasms on the spot! Just melted into a puddle all over his Gucci loafers . . ."
Repressing a shudder, Steele pulled on his sweat pants. He knew his bed partners weren't exactly Mensa candidates, but were they all this insipid? Don't answer that, mate, he told himself. What on earth was she rattling on about? He'd known French poodles with more wit. Cocker spaniels, even. He had to get rid of her, and quickly. The clock was ticking and he was woefully ill prepared to play a game of truth or consequences with Laura.
". . .Simon was there with this stuck up French model, très Eurotrash, you know the type, lots of underarm hair, but I would have committed murder for her Alaia handbag. Anyway, I could tell Simon was checking me out in my Calvin Kleins and I did the Brooke Shields thing, like, 'do you wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins?’. . ."
"Brooke Shields. 'Pretty Baby,' Susan Sarandon, Keith Carradine, Paramount, 1978," Steele said to no one in particular.
". . . then I showed him. I could tell he was really interested, you know, but that hairy matchstick wouldn't let him out of her sight. Simon signed them anyway. Told her he was just having a laugh. I did, too. I mean, I really did. You know how ticklish I am." She giggled as if to illustrate the point. "He is just, like, so -- wicked. I nearly died."
Amber's games of 'Simon says' were making his eyelids droop. Her chatter would cure the most dedicated insomniac, Steele thought. At least she was good for something. Cole Porter was right. It was the wrong time and the wrong place, and her face was lovely, but it was the definitely the wrong face. Despite the lyrics, Steele decided, if some night she were free he'd be sure not to call. What had he been thinking that night in front of the fire? Or more to the point, what had he been thinking with?
Amber bounced lightly on the edge of the bed. "I only wear them when I'm really, really, in the mood for love, you know. I owe Simon that much." She tossed the panties playfully in his direction.
Steele was beginning to feel slightly desperate. His knowledge of the fair sex was encyclopedic but there were far more entries devoted to getting women out of their clothes than back into them. Short of physical force an effective strategy was proving maddeningly elusive. Still, inspiration had never failed him before; surely an answer was out there somewhere. If only he'd slept better last night maybe he could think.
"I said, I only wear them when I'm really, really -"
Her words fell on deaf ears as a blinding light switched on in Steele's brain. The answer had been dropped, quite literally, in his lap. You're slipping, mate, he admonished himself with a rueful grin. He snatched up the panties and raced for the living room, a naked and bewildered Amber trailing behind him.
"Hey, Remy, what are you doing? Wait for me! Do you have something kinky in mind?" she called out as he hurdled the couch and sped through the open French doors to the balcony. Steele stood teasingly out of arms' reach, holding the panties high above his head.
"Sorry, love. I don't have time to play games. I have an urgent appointment."
Amber, half hidden behind the French doors, stretched out and made a desperate but awkward lunge in Steele's direction.
"Ah, ah. Simon says take two steps back."
"Be careful with those, she whined. "You could -“ Understanding slowly dawned in her underpowered brain. "You wouldn't dare -"
"Drop your treasured souvenir over the side?" Steele strolled casually out to the edge of the balcony and leaned over the wall, panties in hand. He feigned a sudden attack of dizziness. "Never was good with heights."
"Remy, that's not funny."
"Don't you think you should put something on? From the looks of things you're a bit chilly." He glanced pointedly at her breasts. "And the rental agreement on these flats prohibits frolicking on the balcony -- al fresco, as it were."
"Ooh, when I get my clothes on -"
"Promises, promises." Steele glanced speculatively over the balcony, dangling the panties precariously on one finger. "What an ignoble fate for your lingerie. Out there at the mercy of the elements, fair game for any autograph hound or perhaps a passing pervert who wishes to while away the lonely hours -"
"Oh my god! Don't drop -" she begged, signaling him to stop with a frantic wave.
"Shall we reconvene here in say, about three minutes with you in your Calvin Kleins?"
Amber bit her lip. "You win," she huffed prettily. "Funny. I thought I understood men. I've never had to work this hard to keep my clothes off before."
Steele shrugged philosophically. "Think of it as a learning experience.”
Nose in the air, Amber flounced, if that particular attitude were possible when naked, back to the bedroom to retrieve her clothes.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
Despite a few misgivings Laura felt energized at the prospect of working up a sweat with her recalcitrant, but tempting partner. She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel to a phantom beat. Now that she'd heard that song, she couldn't get it out of her head. She turned off the ignition, and sat in the parked car, drumming and singing part of a verse and chorus.
...There's nothing left to talk about
Let's get physical, physical
An odd look from a passerby made her stop short, feeling more than a little foolish at letting herself go. She checked her hair and make-up in the rear view mirror and glanced down at the rest of her body. It was encased, armor-like, in no-nonsense, heavyweight, gray sweats. The sight made her heart sink more than a little and quickly doused her optimistic mood. Still, it was too late for regrets now because gray was the result of a whole morning spent at the office agonizing over what to wear. . .
“This? Or the blue one with the matching headband?” Laura said aloud to herself as she stood in Steele's office bathroom modeling a succession of tights and spandex leotard combinations. The bounty of a mad shopping spree the night before, they came in a range of fashion colors from rose pink to metallic silver to leopard prints.
She'd even brought along the leotard in a thong style. Surveying herself in the mirror, she was shocked and secretly pleased at how good it looked on her. But, how could she ever dare to wear it? Not in front of him.
She jumped at a sudden rap on the door. "Laura, are you still in there? There's a photographer here from 'Sports Illustrated’. You know, the Swimsuit Issue? Are you ready for your close-up?"
Laura opened the door a crack. "Very funny, Bernice."
Bernice stood in the doorway, her eyes widening in surprise. She gave a low whistle. "Yowza! I think they just found their next centerfold -- or is this for his eyes only?"
"Just trying to keep up with the latest fashions," Laura said casually, adjusting the clinging fabric in the mirror.
Bernice crossed her arms skeptically. "Uh-huh. I hope you know what you're doing. Skeezix sees you in that outfit and they'll have to roll his tongue back up like a Persian rug."
"You think it's a little too, um, provocative?" Laura could feel a warm flash spreading all over her body.
"Provocative? Are you kidding? Provocative leaves something to the imagination." Bernice looked her over, stopping at thong level. "This, on the other hand -"
Laura bit her lip, panic setting in. "Ohhh. What was I thinking? I can't wear this! You know what he's like. I can barely keep him in check when I'm wearing wool suits and sensible shoes."
"Coward. Of course you can. Just think of the fun you'll have torturing him. Bring along a can of mace for extra protection. Or better yet, some brass knuckles. And aim low."
"Bernice, if I spend the whole time fending him off we'll never get any exercise. I mean, real exercise."
Laura hated to admit it, but she was as worried about her own libido as she was his. Her vision last night of him, barely dressed, in the doorway, had been catalogued and memorized for instant recall. His body had been on her mind all morning; the same body that was going to be a mere arms' length away from hers for the next two hours.
"Just think of it as resistance training," Bernice smirked. "He pushes. You push back. Back and forth, back and forth. Pretty soon you're working all of the most important muscle groups."
"I know what you're thinking but that's not what this is all about. This is part of Mr. Steele's treatment. A doctor recommended, daily fitness regimen, not an orgy."
"I don't know about doctor's orders but one look at you in that outfit he'll be dying to fill your prescription, if you get my drift."
"You're impossible. Both of you. That's just it. I don't want him to get the wrong idea. This trip is going to be strictly business. To get him started on a workout program. It's all about self-discipline. No excuses. No distractions."
Bernice rolled her eyes. "A little distraction is the spice of life. Admit it, Laura. You've been dying to get him to the gym so you can ogle him in a pair of tight shorts or catch a glimpse of him wearing only a towel. Then there's the pool. Will it be boxer-style swim trunks or something closer to the Chippendales variety?"
Laura was helpless to deny it. "OK, I'm busted. The thought has crossed my mind."
"How many times in the last half hour?"
"You really don't want to know."
They both laughed conspiratorially. "Remember, Laura. If it's Chippendales, I want pictures."
Laura pulled a very skimpy flame red bikini from her shopping bag and held it up for Bernice's inspection. "Love to, but where would I hide the camera?"
It had been false bravado, and she knew it. As soon as Bernice closed the door Laura was out of the spandex and into a pair of heavy, shapeless sweats. She told herself that she was doing it for his own good. He needed to take things seriously and that would never happen as long as she was giving him a free floor show. She sneaked out of the office with her gym bag, grateful to see that Bernice was on the phone and she could escape being cross-examined. However, it had been impossible for Laura to miss her friend's headshake of disappointment.
Laura sighed regretfully at the memory and cranked up the convertible top. She got out of the car and locked it, and with a confident stride that belied her inner anxiety, headed for the apartment elevators.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
Steele stood shirtless out on the balcony, shivering a little in the freshening breeze. He checked his watch for what seemed like the hundredth time; Amber had one minute left but his nerves were on a knife-edge. He found himself jumping at the slightest sound. Any moment Laura would be ringing the doorbell, demanding an explanation in that tone he knew so well, the one that said, in no uncertain terms, that he'd lived down to her expectations yet again.
Panties stuffed into his waistband, he walked back through the French doors, and made his way to the bedroom, ready to cajole, charm, threaten, or bodily remove Amber from the scene of the crime before Laura could pick up the scent.
"Simon says, time's up, love."
Amber, wearing only her blouse, was painstakingly applying a new coat of 'Pink Vibrations' lipstick. She put the tube back in her purse and gave him a toothy smile. "Remy, have you seen my other earring? Maybe it's under the bed."
"Why don't you slip back into these while I check, eh?" He held up her jeans and sandals.
"If you don't find it now, maybe you could bring it over to my place later, along with a bottle of champagne. Remember when I knocked over the bucket and then you did that thing with the ice cubes? I was so-o-o turned on."
Steele ignored her and got down on his hands and knees to look under the bed. There was some stray lint under there and last week's TV Guide but no earring. He was just about to straighten up when Amber slid a questing hand between his legs. He flinched and swore at the sudden contact, then realized with a sinking feeling that she'd grabbed the panties as well.
"Do I have to handcuff you to the bed to get you to beha -" he started to say. He realized the error of his ways too late. She was bound to take that as a form of foreplay.
"I thought you'd never ask." She trailed a finger down his left thigh. "Can I do you first?"
"That's ever-so-tempting -- but I'm afraid I'll have to take a rain check."
Amber slipped into her Calvins without a peep of protest. "Just remember, lover. It's a date. And bring the ice cubes." Steele zipped her up, patted her rump and handed over her shoes all in one brisk motion.
"I'll make a to-do list."
She eyed the panties and gave him a wink. "Maybe we can play some more games with these later." She put them in her purse and shuffled into her sandals.
"Perhaps not," Steele quipped. "Simon sounds like the jealous type."
Amber put a finger to her lips. "I'll never tell." She slung her purse over her shoulder and wrapped her arms around his waist, leaning in to nibble his ear.
Steele extricated himself from her grasp and held her wrists, kissing them lightly. "On second thought, why don't you go back to your flat and make that list straightaway? Let's see . . .Dom Perignon '76, ice cubes, hand cuffs, intimate lingerie -"
"That's a lot to remember."
"I'll leave a note under your pillow," Steele murmured, lifting her chin so that she got the full force of his seductive blue gaze.
Amber, half-mesmerized, allowed him to lead her to the door. "Until then," he whispered against her lips, giving her a light farewell kiss. The devastating display of charm had its intended effect. A weak-kneed Amber slowly backed out as Steele smiled adoringly into her eyes, all the while resisting the urge to slam the door firmly shut on her.
Bloody pain-in-the-neck. He vowed never, ever to let a model strutting the catwalk in ultra tight Gloria Vanderbilt jeans hypnotize him. Simon Le Bon indeed! Simon Le Idiot was more like it.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
Laura stepped out of the elevator and walked down the corridor toward Steele's apartment. Though her feet were taking her inexorably to her destination, they seemed to be moving forward of their own volition. Inside her head a seesaw battle was raging between anticipation and dread, boldness and caution, with few stops in between.
It's strictly a business proposition - not a date, Laura kept repeating to herself like a mantra. After all, what was more important than the morale and physical well being of the man who was the very public face of Remington Steele Investigations? Still, no matter how she fought to maintain that focus her thoughts kept straying to more dangerous ground, to visions of Steele lounging in the sauna, towel loosely fastened around his waist, or the two of them at the pool, mentally undressing each other, until, unable to resist the temptation, their bodies dipped below the surface of the water, hands free to explore and caress.
Laura shook her head ruefully. Get a grip, she scolded herself. There would probably be a crowd of people at the pool this time of day, she thought. Bored housewives trying to tone and trim; harried, over-achieving executives cooling off after a sweaty game of handball; the usual assortment of beautiful people and body builders who never seemed to go home. They would be lucky to get a toe in the water without bumping into the lot of them.
Caught up in her thoughts, Laura almost didn't notice when she brushed against someone in the corridor, but an awkward movement registered in the corner of her eye. It was a slightly dizzy looking blonde, with cover girl good looks, leaning over to pick up something off the carpet. Laura blinked twice when she saw what the 'something' was.
The girl stuffed the panties in her purse with a nervous giggle and an "oops!" and sauntered down the hall, leaving an elusive trace of cologne in the air. Something about that cologne made the hair on the back of Laura's neck stand straight up. It seemed strangely familiar but it didn't go with the blonde. It was more like a men's cologne. A very exclusive scent, too. What was it? Where had she smelled it before?
Her hand went to her mouth as the answer hit her like a ton of falling bricks. The cologne. The underwear. The girl -- coming from the direction of his apartment . . . That con artist! That -- that louse!! She'd need an unabridged dictionary to find enough bad words to call him. No wonder he couldn't sleep at night; preying on her sympathy, all the while cavorting around on the mattress -- then throwing the bimbo out in the hall half-dressed. The smug bastard was probably crowing with triumph, congratulating himself on having gotten rid of the 'evidence' in the nick of time. Well, he was about to have a very rude awakening.
Blood boiling, Laura strode the remaining distance to Steele's front door and started to punch the doorbell. A satisfying vision of throttling him until he turned a violent shade of blue flashed in her brain. On second thought it wasn't satisfying at all. It was far too quick. How much sweeter it would be to catch him off his guard; to knock that smug smile off his face when he least expected it. She willed herself to be calm, to seem utterly unaware of how he'd been getting his exercise in the last few hours.
Last few hours, Laura thought with a grim smile. That had a nice ring to it. If she killed him, the fact that he undoubtedly had enemies across the globe meant there would be no shortage of suspects. Still, slow and steady revenge was definitely the more attractive option. All that remained was to find the right moment and the right plan.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
What a morning! Steele expelled all the air in his lungs in a tremendous sigh of relief. It could have been disastrous, not to mention fatal, but for that combination of razor sharp instincts and superb timing that he possessed in spades. You haven't lost a step, mate, he assured himself. That escape plan was worthy of Houdini! Once again, victory had been snatched from the jaws of defeat and Laura would never even know he scored the winning goal.
Still, he mused reflectively, it almost seemed unsporting; Amber was child's play. If it had been Felicia. Or Shannon. God forbid. Steele felt a chill in the air and a sudden urge to bolt all the doors and windows.
What a chore it could be juggling so many women, he sighed, running a comb quickly through his hair. If it weren't for the fringe benefits he could give serious thought to laying low for a while. If only he could convince the tempting but charm resistant Miss Holt to join him. They could frolic in some secluded Polynesian hideaway: sunbathing and swimming in a picturesque lagoon, volcanic mountains peeking through the morning haze. The thought of a topless Laura wearing a tight sarong brought a slow smile to his lips. The sound of the waves . . . native drums . . .
The mechanical sound of the door buzzer signaled the end of island bliss.
"Laura. At last. I thought you'd never get here."
The smile Laura had managed to paste on vanished almost immediately. "Is that why you're standing there, half-dressed?"
Steele raised an eyebrow. "What a question! Tsk, Tsk, Laura. So goal oriented this early in the day. It does appear I have a head start." His eyes roamed over her sweat-suited form. "No matter. We'll just remove a few of your layers." He gave her a second look. "Well, in your case, more than a few."
Steele had hit a nerve. "What's wrong with what I'm wearing? she demanded, looking down at herself. "It's perfectly suitable for -"
"An Antarctic expedition? You're rather bundled up, aren't you? I was expecting something a bit more stylish -- a bit more -- form fitting."
"You're wearing sweats!"
"Really, Laura. You don't expect me to prance around in spandex, do you? Like some Chippendales disco dancer?"
Laura flushed with embarrassment. The man's instincts were uncanny.
"The thought never crossed my mind. It isn't of the slightest interest to me what you wear." She glared at him icily, studiously avoiding looking at his bare chest. It was obvious from his amused regard he didn't believe her for a minute.
"What a pity. I was counting on you to help me with my wardrobe choices. Fred is a very observant chap and terribly helpful but I'm used to trusting my own judgment. Workout chic is so exceedingly American. I'd hate to put a foot wrong."
Why didn't you just ask the bimbo? Laura wanted to shout. She gritted her teeth and forced out a more neutral reply. "Anything to speed this along. That mountain of paperwork on my desk isn't getting any smaller. Lead on, Mr. Steele," she said with a martyred air.
Laura followed him into the bedroom. She sat on the edge of the bed, glancing pointedly at her watch while he pulled items from his gym bag and from several closet hangers.
Steele displayed the various choices out on the bed. He suddenly seemed reticent, almost shy, Laura thought; such a contrast from his usual self-assurance where men's fashions were concerned. He looked a bit lost. Rather appealing. Damn it.
He held up the first, a matching, long sleeved top to the sweat pants he was wearing.
"Bor-ing," Laura pronounced.
"Are you sure? I thought perhaps simplicity was the best route -"
"You asked my opinion."
"So I did. Shall we continue?"
Laura gestured impatiently for him to get on with it.
He picked up the next item: a sleeveless black tank top cut low in the neck and back. "Fred assures me that this style is rather popular, but it seems a bit, ah, non traditional for Remington Steele."
"I'll be the judge of that. Try it on."
"OK." Steele stood up and pulled the tank top on over his head, then quickly tucked the hemmed shirttail into his pants. "Well?" He looked over at her, brow furrowed uncertainly.
Laura surveyed him with an air of frankness that was a bit unsettling. "Turn around, Mr. Steele."
Hmm. Not bad, actually, Laura decided. She stood up to get a closer look. That view of his chest hair was nice; no argument there. She liked the way the style emphasized his posture. She indulged in a long, lingering look from the rear. At least he didn't have a hairy back, like so many other guys at the gym. So rare to find a man with hair only in the right places.
Feeling a bit uncomfortable at her rather close inspection, Steele turned around. "Laura?"
Laura snapped back to attention, seemingly all business. "Next, please."
Another tank top, drab Army green in a revealing mesh fabric. She stared at him for a long moment, poker-faced.
Steele winced. "Don't tell me you like it. I don't think it's me, somehow."
Laura was tempted. If she really wanted to have her revenge she would tell him she loved it but she didn't want to have to look at it for the next two hours. "You're right. Too military," she agreed, hiding her smile behind her hand.
Steele breathed a sigh of relief. "It is rather gung ho, isn't it?"
The next choice was a navy polo shirt. Nice. An expensive label. But she'd seen him in those before. She wanted something different.
She picked up a cotton T-shirt from the bed, unable to resist rubbing the smooth fabric between her fingers. It was so soft it almost felt like cashmere and it was an absolutely gorgeous deep shade of slate blue.
"Actually, that one's been in my closet for a while. Just never had an occasion to wear it. I rather liked the colour."
Her Mr. Steele still had good instincts. It just might do. Nicely. She tossed the garment nonchalantly in his direction. "Let's see what it looks like."
He put it on and when Laura took in the sight, she almost had to remind herself to breathe. It was form fitting, but not too tight, and the color set off his dark hair and blue eyes to perfection. It was a match made in heaven. She'd never thought that a man who was so at home in a suit would look this good in a T-shirt and sweat pants.
She assumed a casual air but Steele had caught the appreciative gleam in her eye. "Well, do I pass inspection?"
"You'll do, Mr. Steele," she said flatly. Despite her hormones' chorus of approval she was still mad at him and unwilling to let anything slip that resembled a compliment.
"I said so, didn't I?"
A bit stung by her outward lack of enthusiasm, Steele replied in clipped tones, "I suppose I can put these back then." He started to gather up the clothes.
"Can't you hurry?"
In his haste Steele knocked over a shopping bag that was nearby on the floor. A single item of clothing spilled out.
Laura looked down at it and scooped it up with her foot. Her eyes widened. It was a very brief, bikini-style swim suit in a clinging fabric so neon bright it probably glowed in the dark. She snatched it up with two fingers and stared at it from every angle. A wide grin threatened to split her face in two.
"So you're not going to prance around in spandex, eh, Mr. Steele?"
Steele stared at the suddenly appearing garment and swallowed hard, wracking his brain for a plausible explanation. "Oh, yes. Those are - ah, they, um -- I picked up someone else's bag by mistake while I was shopping this morning. Haven't had a chance to return it to the store."
"Really?" Laura said archly. "What a shame. I thought I'd discovered a hidden side of you." She stifled a laugh. "Not that you could hide much in these."
"Sorry to disappoint you, Miss Holt."
"Don't be too sure. Maybe you wouldn't disappoint me at all," Laura teased, enjoying his discomfiture immensely. "Care to try them on?"
"That would be rather impolite. I do have to return them."
"Oh, of course," Laura smirked.
Actually, there had been a slight shopping mishap but it was not a tale he was eager to share. While Fred had gone off to get a quick snack in the labyrinthine mall complex, Steele's attention had been drawn to some attractive displays of swimsuits in a trendy sportswear shop. He was so intent on hurrying before Fred got back and missed him he hadn't really noticed that the place had a decidedly gay vibe and rather overly attentive sales people.
Steele took several pairs of boxer style swim trunks into the fitting room. He had barely gotten the first pair pulled on over his hips when a muscular blonde sales clerk with spiky, moussed hair poked his head over the partition. The clerk had an armful of the latest, priciest, and briefest swim styles in tow and insisted that Steele give them a try.
Steele exited the fitting room without having tried them on and with no intention of buying any of them. As he headed for the counter he fielded several leading questions from the muscle man about where he 'worked out' and when. Normally Steele took that sort of male flirtation in stride and was rather adept at brushing it off. His equanimity was more than a little upset, however, when he looked up to see Fred standing outside the shop giving him a very odd look.
He grabbed up a boxer style pair and one of the flashy spandex suits and slapped down his credit card, eager to get out of there no matter what the cost. He'd worry about the expense account later.
Fred launched into an apology as soon as he met Steele outside, saying he would have warned him "The Locker Room" was one of "those places" but he hadn't seen him go in there.
Steele was relieved that Fred hadn't assumed he was an habitué of such establishments. It was hardly likely given that his driver had to have more than an inkling of what he and his dates got up to. Such evenings were always marked by a request for a round trip to Santa Monica and an instruction to raise the privacy window.
Admittedly, the venue wasn't a preferred one for seductions but invariably, there was a will. And where there's a will . . . Besides, some of the women were veritable contortionists.
Steele took the more sedate pair of swim trunks he'd bought that morning out of a drawer and stuffed them in his gym bag, also packing a pair of jeans, some underwear, and a casual sweater for a change of clothes. He pulled on a pair of socks and laced up his sneakers.
"Mr. Steele, I know that your bio-rhythms are still on idle this time of day but could you get it in gear? Some of us have schedules to keep."
"Sorry, Laura. I, um, missed my wake up call."
Don't worry, Mr. Steele, thought Laura. You'll get one soon. Although she'd decided to hold her fire about his bedroom hijinks she couldn't resist an early shot across the bow.
"And how did you spend your morning? Flat on your back in bed?"
"If only. I had the devil of a time finding just the right spot."
"Did you, really?" she replied, not bothering to keep the sarcasm out of her tone.
"Makes it rather impossible to relax. I was hoping to conserve my strength."
"I'd hate not to live up to your expectations. My experience is rather limited when it comes to exercise regimens. I was counting on you to lead me, guide me, show me how it's done."
His appeal was all blue-eyed innocence but the hint of flirtation in his tone wasn't lost on her.
"Show you how it's done?" she echoed, torn between wanting to jump his bones and wanting to lead him, guide him off the nearest cliff.
"Looking forward to it," Steele replied, not giving her a chance to refuse. "Do you mind if I have a quick shave? Won't be a moment."
Laura threw up her hands. "Why don't you get a hair cut, a manicure, and a Swedish massage while you're at it? Maybe we'll be ready to go by spring."
"Close shaves are a trademark of Remington Steele." This morning was the proof, he mused, wincing at his turn of phrase. "Must be mindful of the image, Laura." He scratched the side of his chin.
"If you must. Three minutes."
"More than adequate." He vanished into the bathroom.
Laura reclined on the bed,
trying to relax. Her patience was running so thin it was threadbare.
As she leaned backward her elbow rested on the open gym bag. She stared
at it blankly for a moment; then a slow smile spread across her face. Mr.
Steele still had some more packing to do.
"Well, Miss Holt, are you finally going to reveal our destination or do I have to wear a blindfold on the way?" Steele rolled down the car window and propped his elbow up.
"You're awfully curious," said Laura as she pulled out into traffic. "I thought bench presses and barbells bored you."
"My mother, Mrs. Steele, always taught me to be prepared. 'Semper paratus.’ Family motto."
"You don't say," Laura said dryly. "I thought that was the Coast Guard's."
Steele smiled blandly. "Latin. So versatile."
He leaned closer to Laura and spoke in a conspiratorial tone. "So where are we going? 'Hard Bodies’? 'The Slim Gym'? 'Fit Stop’? 'Muscles, Inc.’?"
"I thought fitness was a dirty word where you come from. How do you know all those names?"
"One hears rumours," Steele replied with a mysterious smile. "Speaking of gossip, what about 'Weights and Mates’?"
"’Weights and Mates’?" Laura sniffed. "That meat market?"
"Meat market? How delightfully descriptive, your American slang. Does it mean what I think it -"
"You know perfectly well what it means, Mr. Steele. The only reason women flock there in droves is to pick up -"
"Free weights? Workout tips?"
"Men. Hulking, sweaty, spandex-clad men."
"Really? What a fascinating social ritual." Steele looked down at his attire in faint disappointment.
"It's nothing but a sleazy singles bar with leg warmers and lat machines."
"Your knowledge is encyclopedic, Miss Holt." His brow furrowed. "Have you observed this phenomenon at close range?"
"You can put the brakes on that over-active imagination of yours, Mr. Steele." She turned the car onto a side street. "I've never been there. From what I hear it's rather, um, notorious."
"In a way that Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman never dreamed of, apparently."
"I suppose.” Laura tossed her head. “Like I said, I've never had the dubious pleasure.”
"Relieved to hear it," Steele replied, running his hands through his hair. "Someone with your aversion to spandex would find the idea terribly distasteful, no doubt."
Despite her reassurances his imagination was left spinning in top gear. He pictured Laura being fought over by hordes of suitors; grunting cave dwellers with one track minds and hairy backs, eager to klonk a female on the head and drag her off to the nearest exercise mat. He felt a trickle of sweat roll down his spine. His instincts were telling him the gym subculture could be treacherous - even the more highly evolved variety. He'd have to keep a very close eye on his lovely associate. Very close indeed.
"Mr. Steele? Did you hear what I said?"
"'Personal Best.' Mariel Hemingway, Scott Glenn, Warner Brothers, 1982," he piped up automatically.
"It's not a movie. It's a gym. Our gym. Just ahead on the right." Laura drove the Rabbit up to the corner and turned in a driveway.
Steele smiled at her, all at once feeling a bit more cheerful. He liked the way she said that. “Our gym.” So cozy. So intimate. Just the two of them.
"As names go 'Personal Best' doesn't quite have the je ne sais quoi of 'Weights and Mates' but one hopes the dress code for men is a bit less confining," he quipped.
"Relax, Mr. Steele. You'll do just fine."
That was an understatement she mused as she patted his shoulder. She sneaked a glance at him. Despite his casual attire he somehow managed to look flawless, almost elegant. She'd long ago decided it was a gift. No matter the circumstance, whether they were being chased, shot at, or manhandled he always looked the part of Remington Steele.
To the outside world it was a stainless steel persona, virtually immune to the shocks that flesh was heir to. It was only since he'd straggled in to the office, weary and frazzled after three sleepless nights, that she'd been alert for incipient cracks in the facade. She searched his face. He looked more focused, more rested. Signs of strain were still visible, though less clearly marked than before. She almost convinced herself not to go too hard on him until she remembered how eager he'd been to exert himself that morning. And with whom.
"Why are you stopping here? Don't we need to park?" asked Steele.
"They have valet parking. Musn't over exert oneself walking from the parking lot to the advanced aerobics class."
"Somehow that logic escapes me."
"Just go with the flow, Mr. Steele."
"Only in LA, eh, Miss Holt?"
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
Steele signed in at the guest registry amidst much oohing and aahing from the relentlessly cheerful 'Personal Best' trainers. They were practically doing handsprings over the prospect of having such a highly esteemed pillar of the community, man about town, and walking publicity magnet join the ranks of the toned and trendy.
"You know, Laura, I'm forever amazed at how the fame of Remington Steele has spread to all corners of the city. Astonishing, eh? In only a few short months. A tribute, no doubt, to my larger than life persona, my savoir-vivre, my matchless profile, my keen intellect, my firm handshake -"
"My tireless PR efforts," Laura amended, clenching her jaw.
"Yes, well. Behind every great man there's someone with an appointment book and a pencil."
Laura put a hand to her forehead in exasperation. "Remind me again why I created Remington Steele."
"I thought I just did." He flashed a camera-ready smile.
Laura walked over to a display of vitamin supplements and aimlessly fingered the bottles. "Never an aspirin when you need one."
The cause of her tension headache regarded her curiously, arms folded, head cocked slightly to one side.
"There's a muscle in your left cheek that's twitching. Why don't we un-tense one another? See if our minds and bodies can reach nirvana from a standing start."
"Mr. Steele, this is hardly the time -"
"Then perhaps they have night classes."
"I don't need -" she began, feeling his eyes on her. "We're not here to - I'm perfectly relaxed."
Steele straightened from his casual stance and honed in on his elusive quarry.
Expectantly, he took a step toward her, then another, until he was mere inches away. Laura lifted her chin and squared her shoulders.
"Try aerobics, Mr. Steele."
"Not dressed for it."
"A bit of a stretch."
"A tanning bed?"
"You're getting warmer. Keep trying."
"I'm not getting in the jacuzzi with you."
He gave her a look that was half pity, half regret.
"The road to nirvana and you veer left."
"Alright then," Laura replied in as peremptory a tone as she could muster. "Since you're so determined to get the grand tour, I'd suggest we get started."
Steele sighed with resignation. "Love to. Just one question. How am I going to get the VIP treatment when you chased off all the hired help?"
"Believe me, Mr. Steele, I did you a favor. Did you really want to listen to their sales pitch for the next two hours?"
"They certainly know how to stroke one's ego, to roll out the red carpet, so to speak. If you hadn't bared your fangs at them they might have thrown rose petals." Steele chuckled with delight.
"It's nauseating. All that bowing and scraping."
Laura's own ego was still smarting from the fact that she'd been roundly ignored on her first visit while some functionary from the mayor's office was waited on hand and foot and given a complimentary manicure and massage. If it weren't for the fact that the facility was minutes away and their machines and amenities were top notch, she would have told them where they could stick their dumbbells and curl bars.
Steele nonchalantly surveyed his fingernails. "The adulation of the masses can get wearying at times. Shall we, Miss Holt?"
They strolled down a neon-lit foyer toward the main exercise area. The walls were painted in deep blues and sea foam greens and decorated with life-size photographs of athletes captured at a moment of glory: a sprinter straining against the tape, a heavyweight boxer, one arm held aloft in victory, a gymnast vaulting through the air in perfect form.
Steele glanced at his reflection in a wall mirror and spotted a wedge shaped man with a buzz cut making a beeline in their direction.
He gestured to Laura with his thumb. "Reinforcements have arrived." He turned just as the man extended his palm for a bone-crushing handshake.
"Mr. Steele. They told me you were here. I'm Jake Masters. Fitness Lifestyles Manager. I'd like to welcome you to 'Personal Best.'"
"Delighted to be here, Mr. Masters. This is my associate, Laura Holt. She's forever singing the praises of your fine establishment." Steele managed to avoid wincing as Masters released his hand to shake Laura's a trifle more gently.
"Do you come here often, Miss Holt?" asked the hulk, flexing his left bicep in Laura's direction.
"Whenever my schedule allows, Mr. Masters. Usually several times a week," she assured him.
"I wonder why I haven't seen you before? I have been kind of busy with personal training." He ran his eyes over her petite frame. "One on one instruction is my specialty."
"Sounds rewarding." Laura stared, perversely fascinated, at the massive pecs rippling under his tiny tank top.
"I think we would be great together. In fact, Laura, I'm sure I could unleash your potential." He flashed two gleaming rows of teeth that were a marvel of dentistry. "All you need is a few sessions a week with 'The Master.'"
"With who? Oh - Masters - the master, how, um - that's very -"
"Clever, huh? Glad you like it. It's important to have a catchy name or a hook that people can remember. The competition is fierce in today's fitness environment. I majored in marketing at SC."
Correspondence school, more like, thought Steele uncharitably. The colossus was no Rhodes scholar. No doubt he was ingesting some muscle inflating substance that shrank one's brain down to the size of a walnut. And other organs as well.
"Small world, Mr. Masters. I took some marketing classes in college. I was a math major. Graduated from Stanford."
"I won't hold that cardinal sin against you, Masters quipped with a self-amused grin.
"Stanford Cardinal. Cardinal sin. Ha, ha,” Laura laughed half-heartedly. “I didn't know you Trojans were so good at word play."
"You'll find we're good at a lot of things, Miss Holt."
Steele noticed a large blue vein pulsing in the muscleman's neck. Poor fellow, he mused. I hope that attempt at witty repartee didn't strain anything. Why in blazes was Laura so enamored with him?
The Master swiveled his massive bulk in Steele's direction. "And I'm sure we could get you into crimefighting trim, Mr. Steele. Several months of supervised weight training would do wonders. Reshape your body in ways you never thought possible."
"I'm sure the possibilities are endless, Mr. Masters. I'm a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to these matters," replied Steele in the affable but vague tone he employed at Kiwanis Club luncheons and awards banquets. "I've always preferred a lean silhouette. And my Milanese tailor is rather excitable. Change distresses him."
Laura pinched his bicep experimentally. "It wouldn't hurt for you to bulk up a bit, Mr. Steele. I'm sure Gianni could let out your new suits."
"Would you excuse us a moment, Mr. Masters? I've just been reminded that I'm flying out of the country tomorrow. Milan, actually. I must discuss an urgent matter of scheduling with my associate." He pulled Laura behind the vitamin display by her shirt sleeve.
"Whose side are you on, Laura?" Steele hissed in an angry undertone.
"Yours, Mr. Steele. Remember your doctor's orders. You have to work off that extra adrenaline."
"I can think of better ways." His eyes roved over her swiftly, but with a thoroughness born of practice.
"If you expended half the energy exercising that you do trying to get me into bed you'd be ready for the Olympic trials in less than a week."
"Excellent idea. I always was a quick study. I'll wager you are, too. Why don't we convene in say, half an hour and practice stroke techniques?"
"Stroke techniques?" Laura could feel her cheeks growing a little warm.
"I'm sure the pool is regulation size. What shall we try first?"
"Just what are you suggesting?"
"The backstroke? he murmured silkily. "Or would you prefer . . . the breaststroke?"
His offer pulled at her like an irresistible tide. She could almost feel the shock of the cold water, the tingling warmth of slender fingers tracing wet skin.
Laura shook herself out of her reverie to find Steele's keen gaze glued to an area just south of her collarbone. An Esther Williams inspired fantasy of Laura as a mermaid in a tiny seashell bra had his imagination riveted.
"Sorry to dash your hopes, Mr. Steele, but they don't award medals for making passes."
Steele’s preoccupation with Laura's anatomy merely emboldened his attack. "Why, Laura, I'm surprised at your ignorance. In track and field the baton pass is an integral part of the 400 meter relay. An Olympic event in which your American athletes excel."
"You know that's not what I -- what you meant," Laura snapped in exasperation.
"Just imagine, Miss Holt. Hours of practice rewarded by the achievement of perfect synchronization. A noble goal to keep in mind as we join forces, our two bodies striving for the ultimate moment of -"
"I think you're wandering a bit off track, Mr. Steele."
"Not at all. Nothing in life is worth doing unless it can be accomplished by -"
"A shortcut. Or an oblique angle," Laura said dryly. "Your philosophy. Not mine."
"On the contrary. I was going to say one must always be willing to be bold, vigorous. To test one's limits, to -"
"Go the distance?" Laura queried.
"You do have a way of cutting to the chase, Miss Holt."
"But are you, really? Ready to go the distance, that is?"
Steele opened his mouth to reply but was distracted by Laura sliding a teasing finger from his chest down to his waistband.
"All of those veiled hints about your prowess, your stamina -"
"Yes?" Steele breathed hopefully.
Laura tossed her head. "Forgive me if I'm not convinced."
"Not convinced?" Steele raised a shocked eyebrow at this heresy.
"It sounds like typical locker room exaggeration to me."
Steele's ego was bruised but unbowed. He decided to seize the moment. "Why don't we settle the matter over dinner tonight? After you've marveled at my culinary skills your lingering doubts can be swept away by an impressive demonstration of my . . . athleticism."
"A demonstration is a wonderful idea. But not over dinner. Why not right here, right now?"
Steele glanced around. "Behind a vitamin rack? It would be a rather unexpected pleasure but there does seem to be a lot of foot traffic."
"What I had in mind, Mr. Steele, was testing your limits on the treadmill. The exercise bike. The weight bench. House rules, of course. All participants fully clothed, working individually -"
"Must you take the fun out of everything?"
"This isn't supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be good for you. You rarely do anything more strenuous at the office than lift an eyebrow. Or maybe a pencil."
"Ever ready to jot down clues."
"Or the number of your bookie in the rolodex."
"Really, Laura. Must you use that tone? I was merely trying to improve office efficiency."
Laura bristled at the memory. "Efficiency! You told me it was the number to the coroner's office. I called for the lab results on the Fujiyama case and got post-time odds on a nag named 'Dead Ringer.'"
"Everything alright, Mr. Steele? Miss Holt?" Masters poked his head around the display rack.
"Forgive us for being so mysterious, Mr. Masters. My associate and I were just, ah, discussing a delicate forensic matter."
"Post mortem evidence can be so crucial to the outcome of a case," Laura added without missing a beat.
"Sounds fascinating, Laura. You know, that show 'Quincy' is one of my faves."
Laura smiled apologetically at Masters. "I guess all of this shop talk sounds a little strange to you. In our line of work we often deal, well -- in bodies."
"What a coincidence. So do we," joshed the hulk with a smug grin.
"At least yours are alive and kicking," Laura laughed.
"Most of the time. We do save some body bags and toe tags for the beginners. Take no prisoners. That's our motto."
Steele raised an apprehensive eyebrow.
"Don't worry, Mr. Steele. It's just a little workout humor. I don't have a zip bag with your name on it."
"How reassuring." Steele smiled wanly. This was not going to be the piece of cake he'd envisioned.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
Steele was roused from his semi-somnambulant state by a decisive jab in the ribs from Laura’s elbow.
“Sorry.” Steele blinked fuzzily at Masters. “I know it must appear somewhat mystifying to the layman but I find meditation quite useful when absorbing the salient facts of a case – or, as the case may be, your riveting summary of the benefits of – ah – “ Steele’s wrist motioned languidly as he struggled to fill in the blanks.
“Cardio-vascular conditioning,” prompted the hulk, vigorously demonstrating the concept on the exercise bike.
“Conditioning. Yes. I’m sure once I consider it – ponder it - it will seem positively Zen-like in its simplicity.”
“You’ll have to do more than exercise your mind, Mr. Steele, “Laura admonished, sotto voce. “It may have escaped your notice, especially when you’re at the office, but the human body is composed of moving parts.”
“As you so ably demonstrate, Miss Holt. In fact, the way your body moves has inspired me on any number of occasions.”
“This isn’t about my body, “she fired back. “It’s about your -- body.” Her eyes couldn’t resist the invitation to skim over the subject at hand.
“Did you have a particular moving part in mind?”
With an effort, Laura reined in her wayward imagination.
“Your big toe!” she snapped, daring him to contradict her.
“Really, Miss Holt. If only I’d worn sandals.”
Laura glared a warning at him, indicating the hulk, who was well within earshot of their extra-curricular exchange.
Masters stopped cycling and got up from the bike. He looked a bit uneasily from Steele to Laura. “Well, I guess I’ll, um, leave you to it. Give me a buzz when you finish your cardio session. We’ll hoist a few.” He mimed a weight lifting motion to Steele, then flexed his pecs in anticipation.
“Wouldn’t miss it.” Steele smiled tightly, hands clasped behind him, carefully avoiding a rematch in the handshaking contest.
“Really gives you a lift,” Masters grinned, thumping Steele on the back like a bongo drum.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
Steele rubbed his jaw. “I think he loosened a filling in my right bicuspid.”
Laura straddled the bike. “I didn’t know you were so fragile, Mr. Steele. This twelve step program came in the nick of time.”
“I’d live longer if we skipped the introductions.” They both adjusted their machines and began to pedal.
Laura propped a magazine on the handlebars.
“Ah, the never ending quest for self improvement. What are you reading, Miss Holt?”
“’Physique - the Magazine for Women Who Work Hard and Play Hard.’”
“Favourite of yours?”
“Never heard of it,” she replied with exaggerated casualness, re-setting the bike’s tension levels.
Glancing over, Steele read the contents aloud. “‘1,001 Tights - My Fitness Fetish,’ ‘To Thong Or Not to Thong?’ ‘I Hate My Thighs! – One Woman’s Quest.’”
Laura shrugged. “Not exactly Pulitzer material.”
“I don’t suppose they have any reading matter of a more masculine variety.”
“Help yourself, Mr. Steele.” She waved a hand toward a magazine rack. “There’s ‘Ripped,’ ‘Pumped,’ ‘Power Lifter -’”
Steele winced. “So much for light reading.”
“Then stop whining and watch the TV.”
On the oversized screen a man with frizzy curls and tight pink and white striped shorts was exhorting a lineup of plus-sized women. “C’mon, girls!” he shouted as a disco beat pounded in the background. “Let’s tone to the bone! We’re movin’ and groovin’! 1, 2, to-the-beat! 3, 4, lift-those-knees!”
Steele did a double take at this alien ritual. “Don’t be alarmed, Miss Holt, but I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”
“Los Angeles, last time I looked.”
“I think I’d rather be in Cleveland. I sincerely hope that isn’t contagious. How does one change the channel?”
“That’s what we’d all like to know.”
“Some sort of indoctrination, no doubt. Are you sure this is good for my health?”
Laura tried her best to look serious. “No pain, no gain, Mr. Steele.”
There were times that Steele envied Laura her ability to focus her energies and tune out distractions. He watched her on the bike; cycling rhythmically, jaw set, chest rising and falling, eyes glued resolutely to her glossy magazine. Several strands of hair had escaped from her ponytail and curled against her neck; she hadn’t quite broken a sweat, but her skin gave off a warm glow even in the harsh lighting of the gym.
“So,” Steele said, after a moment. “Do you really hate your thighs?”
Laura started with surprise in mid-paragraph. “What?”
“Like that woman in the article you’re reading.”
“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.” She redoubled her pedaling efforts.
“I thought perhaps it might have something to do with why you’re so covered up.”
Laura crossed her arms. “For your information, Mr. Steele, every woman in America hates her thighs. Cheryl Tiegs hates her thighs, Jessica Lange hates her thighs, Goldie Hawn hates her thighs, for heaven’s sake.”
“Really? I wasn’t aware.”
“Of course you weren’t aware! You’re a man. You have no idea what women go through to -- never mind.” She suddenly realized that her decibel level was climbing to Mount Everest. “I’d rather not discuss it,” she ground out through clenched teeth, flipping furiously to the next article.
The murderous look in her eyes sent a warm flash of desire straight to Steele’s groin. Nothing was more stimulating than lighting that short fuse of hers and watching the fireworks go off. Well, almost nothing; except perhaps the thought of her lovely thighs. He didn’t have to see them bare; he remembered every detail from one long afternoon, as the guests milled on the lawn at Sheldon Quarry’s wedding. Laura sitting on the grass, flowing skirts revealing every inch of her glorious legs. He wondered what it would feel like to have those thighs clasped eagerly around him, pulling his hips closer, drawing him into her warmth . . .
Laura watched him from the corner of her eye. Damn him for knowing just which buttons to push. If only she’d worn something more revealing. Like that girl on the treadmill. She watched the two of them, blood pressure soaring. The bimbo certainly was his type, Laura fumed. Too dumb to read a map or she wouldn’t have gotten lost on the way to “Weights and Mates.” Steele seemed hypnotized, like he was hanging on the artificially enhanced creature’s every move.
The buzz of the cycle’s timer interrupted Steele’s erotic daydream of Laura and splendor in the grass. A busty redhead in a clinging midriff top swam into his field of vision. She bounced energetically on the treadmill, smiling into his eyes. Lips forming a moue, she blew him an air kiss and sucked her stomach in even flatter.
“Finished, Mr. Steele?” Laura asked. It was time to get his mind off the scenery and back to business.
Steele’s mental fog cleared long enough for him to recall that he’d set the timer back a third, hoping Laura would think he’d gone the full distance. He stopped pedaling and assumed an air of innocence, praying she wouldn’t look too closely at the mileage indicator. “Why, yes. I do believe I have.”
“You did five miles, Mr. Steele? Not too shabby for a beginner.”
“You’ve inspired me to great lengths, Miss Holt.”
Laura’s own timer went off two minutes later. She regarded him quizzically. “How do you feel?”
Still dreaming of her thighs only, Steele pondered the question. “A slight stiffness coming on.”
“Really?” Laura companionably patted his arm. “Where? I’ll massage it away.”
“No-no. It’s fine,” he insisted as he fought to dispel the image her words immediately inspired. “None the worse for wear. Shall we continue, eh?” Steele motioned toward the treadmill.
It was odd. He felt a bit light-headed, but not at all tired. Unexpected reserves of energy seemed to radiate up from the balls of his feet. He hadn’t expected the first round to be so stimulating.
The red head was just stepping down from the treadmill as Steele approached. Green eyes met blue ones for a moment – then green eyes roamed lower, and lower still, then back up to meet blue ones again.
Satisfied with her inspection the redhead put a little extra hip movement into her sinuous glide toward the juice bar.
Laura examined the control panel. “Masters wasn’t exaggerating. These new treadmills are state of the art. Adjustable speed, elevation, distance levels. It even counts the calories you burn.”
Steele watched the bimbo’s progress from the corner of his eye. “Marvelous equipment.” He fiddled absently with the controls.
“Do you know what you’re doing?” Laura’s expression was dubious.
Steele quirked a smile at her. “Just, ah, adjusting my elevation.”
“I wouldn’t want you to strain yourself.”
“All in a good cause.”
“Timer set properly?”
Steele tried to read something from her look but Laura was stone faced.
“Allow me, Mr. Steele.”
“Shall we synchronize our watches?” Steele deadpanned.
Laura ignored him. “I hope you were listening to Masters’ instructions.”
“I knew I could count on you, Miss Holt.”
“Remember to increase the speed and incline after the first ten minutes.”
“That’s what I love about you, Laura. You’re always so tediously thorough.”
“One of us has to be.”
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
After twenty minutes of running Steele was more than ready to slow the pace down to a walk. His was feeling the burn in his calves and thighs. Running was an incredibly boring activity, in his opinion, unless one was being chased, and he could think of better ways to get his heart racing.
He glanced over at the still striding Laura who was mumbling something about calories as she checked her readout. She turned off the machine and stepped down.
Steele followed suit. “All work and no play, Miss Holt.” He flashed her a winning smile. “Why don’t you rest those lovely bones of yours and join me in more pleasurable pursuits? They certainly don’t skimp on the amenities at this fitness factory. Manicures, pedicures, mineral baths. Full body massage.”
Laura was tempted. She brushed two damp strands of hair from her forehead and considered her options.
“Tibetan actually. I checked.” Steele eyed her for a reaction.
Laura’s eyes widened in surprise. “Tibetan massage?”
“Shame to let a complimentary session go begging.”
“Complimentary? I don’t remember getting any –“
“Just the first two sessions. The first ten if I offer a glowing testimonial for their newsletter.”
“Testimonial? What newsletter?”
“You’re not on the mailing list?” Steele replied innocently. “I’m sure if you stop by reception –“
“I have no intention of – “
“No matter. I’m sure they have the agency’s address.”
“When did they ask you for a testimonial?”
“Shortly after we first arrived.”
Laura drew a blank. She had to admit, she might have missed that part. By the time they’d offered Steele the complimentary bathrobe (monogramming optional) she was busy digging in her purse for some aspirin.
“Well, you can forget the endorsements. Massage is not the sort of image that Remington Steele should be –“
“And why not?” Steele’s tone was righteously indignant. ”You see some harm in a man having his chakras adjusted? There are seven major chakra centers and it takes years of practice, not to mention copious amounts of massage oil to achieve the perfect harmony of –“
Laura gaped at him. “You’re not serious.”
“On the contrary, Miss Holt.” His eyes swept keenly over her. “I could tell you things right now about your chakras that would make your hair stand on end.”
“Can you, really?” She decided to call his bluff. “For instance.”
“They’re very out of balance, you know.”
His gaze was suddenly so intent Laura felt uncomfortable. She let out a shuddering breath.
“Out of balance?”
“I can fix that.”
Alarm bells were going off in her head. She lifted her chin defiantly. “Oh, I suppose you’re an expert.”
“In some areas.”
Laura could just imagine which areas those were. Why wouldn’t he play by the rules? She was the doctor, he was the patient. Not the other way around. She stiffened her spine and assumed her sternest bedside manner.
“Don’t you think you’re the one who needs adjusting, Mr. Steele?”
“You’re the one with the sleep problem.”
“Touché, Miss Holt. And what adjustments did you have in mind?”
His voice was calm, but she saw his equanimity waver for an instant. Something flickered behind his eyelids. Anxiety? Annoyance? It was gone too quickly for her to say.
As the seconds ticked by Laura began to feel vaguely guilty, as though she’d accused him of something. She tried to lighten the mood.
“We’ll start with your aversion to legwork.”
Steele rubbed his thighs and raised a sardonic eyebrow. “Miss Holt, don’t you think we’ve had enough legwork for one day?”
“Ah! I knew there was a reason I brought you here.”
“You’re terribly pleased with yourself, doctor.”
“Shouldn’t I be? You’ve made it through the warm-up without any ill effects.”
“Laura,” he continued in mock dismay, “if that was the antipasto, what did you have in mind for the main course? A triathlon, perhaps?”
“Really, Mr. Steele. That’s what I had planned for next month.”
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
“Almost there. Almost there. Don’t stop, Mr. Steele.”
“Laura, please. I’m only human.”
She looked down at him: dark hair damp with sweat, muscles tensed, body glistening. At the touch of his warm skin her own pulse began to race.
“You’re heading into the backstretch.”
“Very funny, Miss Holt,” Steele replied, gasping for air.
“Fifteen more sit-ups should do it.”
“Do what? Cause me permanent injury?”
Laura sighed in mock disappointment. “This wasn’t the display of your athleticism I’d hoped for.”
“It wasn’t precisely what I had in mind, either.”
“Don’t worry. You can redeem yourself on the chin up bar.”
“There’s no one else I’d rather have under me, Miss Holt.”
Though she’d never stroke his ego by telling him, Steele hadn’t done badly at this part of the program. Even if was on the lean side, his body seemed pretty flexible, which shouldn’t have surprised her given the requirements of his larcenous past. Though her partner was beginning to feel the strain, he’d acquitted himself well through the varied routine of leg and arm stretches and pull-ups. It pained her to admit it, but climbing through windows, scaling walls, and balancing on balconies had had a salutary effect on his physique.
After their last exercise, Masters reappeared like magic, as if he had been waiting in the wings for his cue.
“Ready to, ah, ‘pick up’ the tempo a little bit?” He led Steele and Laura to the weight training area.
Steele thought that if he heard another feeble joke about lifting, he’d be forced to kill Masters. Very slowly. With a couple of weights. Oh – the irony. Like most overly muscle-bound men, he probably wasn’t as strong as he looked.
“I’m more than ready to work out with very large dumbbells.”
Steele watched his riposte sail over Masters’ head, though he thought he saw Laura crack a tiny smile.
“First we need to determine your proper training load. If you can do ten to twelve reps without getting tired we need to add another five to ten pounds. Since you’re a beginner we’ll start you off with these. They’re on the rack according to weight, lightest ones at the top.”
He handed Steele a pair of twenty-five pound dumbbells. Steele looked over at Laura to find she was beginning a set of arm raises with just ten pounds less. His masculine pride was severely affronted.
“Isn’t this a bit -- light?”
“That’s for you to decide. If you experience muscle failure by your last rep then that’s the really the perfect weight level.”
“Muscle failure?” Steele sniffed. “I hardly think so.”
“Relax, Mr. Steele. It doesn’t mean a total collapse. It just means that you can’t complete the repetition in good form.”
“Rest assured Mr. Masters; Remington Steele’s form is always exemplary.”
“That’s good to hear, “Masters replied in the soothing, neutral tone he adopted for recalcitrant clients. “Just be careful not to overdo it.”
After doing fifteen raises with each arm, with Masters looking on, Steele’s wrists ached and his palms were beginning to sweat. He glanced at Laura, wondering if she’d been watching him. He caught her eye and realized she had. For a fraction of a second he lost his concentration and the weight slipped from his left hand. He managed to grab it before it hit the floor.
“Whoops! You see what I mean, Mr. Steele, about muscle failure,” Masters said in an I-told-you-so tone. “Sometimes it hits you when you least expect it.”
“But that wasn’t – I wasn’t – the weight was just a bit slippery, that’s all,” Steele protested.
“Still, you held your form pretty good. That’s probably a safe level for you right now.”
Masters looked over at Laura with a gleam in his eye. “Your form, Miss Holt, couldn’t be better.”
Laura seemed pleased but not terribly surprised at the compliment. “Thank you, Mr. Masters. I’ve done my share of heavy lifting,” she laughed. “You should see the files on my desk.”
Steele managed to feign interest as the hulk demonstrated using barbells and fun things to do with weight benches. Like a pitchman at a county fair or a chef uncovering the piece de resistance, Masters went on to describe the advantages of each piece of machinery: “universal gym” weight stack machines, cable machines, and variable resistance models. It was rather fascinating, thought Steele, to watch the complex interplay of cables, pulleys, and variously shifting and clanking pieces of metal. It didn’t look that difficult to set them in motion.
Masters walked them back to the weight stack machine. After doing several lifts with much flexing and grunting he re-adjusted the apparatus, then got up and invited Steele to try.
As Steele began his lift he thought something must be wrong. He could barely move the stack at all. Face flushed and veins standing out like whipcord, he tried again under Laura’s appraising eye.
“Is there a problem?” Laura walked casually around the machine while Steele sweated and strained. She suddenly realized what had happened.
“Mr. Masters, I think you left your pin in. I don’t think Mr. Steele is quite in your weight class.”
“My pin? You’re kidding? I couldn’t have – whoa! Hold on, Mr. Steele. I think she’s right.” He leaned over for a closer look.
“Let me just take this baby out and set it under a weight you can manage.”
Masters made a great show of removing the pin and reinserting it under a much lighter stack of plates. “Sorry, about that. Even us experts forget once in a while. You should always check the machine before you start. Conan the Barbarian could have been using it before you did.”
“Thanks for the lesson, Mr. Masters,” Steele replied, outwardly calm but inwardly seething. Masters had played that little trick on purpose, he was sure of it. Steele felt almost as angry at himself. If he hadn’t been so intent on showing off for Laura he would have paid more attention.
“Are you alright, Mr. Steele?” Laura asked, concern clouding her features.
“I’m fine, I’m fine.” The last thing he wanted right now was to be fussed over.
Laura ran cool fingers across Steele’s back and shoulders, exploring and massaging here and there. “Does that hurt? What about here?”
“No, Miss Holt. That feels –“he sighed as she hit precisely the right spot – “much better. Oh, yes.”
Being fussed over did have its compensations. Steele glanced over at Masters who was looking rather unpleasantly surprised at Laura’s solicitude.
“You should be more careful,” Laura lectured the hulk. She turned back to Steele. “At these prices you’d think the instructors would know what they were doing.”
Before Masters could reply, Laura spun on her heel, and strode briskly away from the weight training area. “Come along, Mr. Steele. I think the experts have done enough damage for one day.”
“Damage? Let’s not overreact,” said Steele, striding to catch up with her.
“Laura, slow down. We’re not competing in that triathlon just yet.” Steele pulled her to a skidding halt.
Laura stood there, breath coming in short, angry bursts. “I’m not overreacting. He switched that pin before you started your lift. When I first looked it was on a much lighter weight level.”
“Of course he switched it.”
“Of course he –“ she broke off, taken aback by his air of unconcern. “Aren’t you the least bit upset?”
“What for? I should have expected it. The sort of tactic that’s right up his street.”
“You could have easily been hurt.”
“Laura, I’m not as fragile as you think.”
“Oh, so that’s what this is all about? Your male ego! If you’d stop thumping your chest so loudly you’d realize how ridiculous you sound.”
“Last time I checked you weren’t wearing a big red “S” on your chest. You know, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound? Even Superman knew better than to fall in love with his press clippings.”
“So I’m not invulnerable. But I don’t need rescuing. And I don’t need a nursemaid.”
Laura threw up her hands. “Oh, I see. I should just let you kill yourself.”
“Laura, I may not have biceps the size of beach balls but I can deal with a man like Masters.”
“Well, then, at least your death will be quick, if not necessarily painless.”
“We’ll see about that.”
“A word to the wise, Mr. Steele. I’m not letting this turn into another Creighton Phillips situation.”
“Creighton Phillips? I thought he was tucked safely behind bars – though they let him out for tennis now and again. Unusually civilized, your American prison system, provided one has the right connections.”
Laura’s curiosity was piqued. “Are you speaking from personal experience?”
“So many questions. You’re beginning to sound like Murphy.”
“That’s another thing. You and Murphy. Ganging up on someone just because he had the audacity to ask me out on a date.”
“Merely trying to avert disaster. Cotton candy is very bad for the digestion. Did you know that across the pond, it’s called ‘candy floss’? Separated by a common language, eh? ”
“Stop changing the subject!” she cried.
“What subject?” he shrugged.
“Manufacturing evidence, breaking and entering. Murphy told me you know all about jumping telephone lines.”
“How indiscreet of him.”
“Not everyone feels the need to keep secrets.”
“Murphy least of all, apparently,” Steele replied with some asperity.
“Are you two planning to send everyone I date to jail from now on?” Laura began to pace distractedly.
“Only the guilty ones.”
“Because a girl likes to be prepared. Maybe I should buy a parking pass to San Quentin.”
“So you’re thinking maximum security? I’m not so sure that’s a good –“
“No!” Laura slapped her forehead in frustration. “I’m not thinking about maximum security.”
“No dates in the offing, then?”
“Will you stop talking about my dates!”
“Minimum security?” Steele’s brow furrowed. “I still think Murphy and I should interview them first.”
“You sound like my mother. I’d laugh, if I didn’t think you were serious.”
“Where you’re concerned? Terribly so.”
“Men!” Laura exclaimed with feeling. “There’s so much free-floating testosterone in the air I’m growing hair on my lungs. You and the incredible hulk. It’s déjà vu all over again.”
“Hardly. Masters, the muscle bound miscreant is still at large. Which is more than I can say for your Mr. Phillips.”
Laura stopped pacing, fingers twitching spasmodically. “He’s not my Mr. Phillips!”
“I hear he’s dyed his hair. Some indeterminate colour. Once bitten, twice shy, I suppose.”
“Will you shut up and listen? I’m trying to get it through that thick skull of yours that I don’t want this face off with the hulk to end up the same way.”
“Which way would that be? Masters floored by a tremendously satisfying right cross?”
“No. You with your hand in a cast for six weeks.”
Steele winced. That was a bit of a sore point in more ways than one. In countless street brawls and in months of boxing his way across South America, miraculously, he’d never broken his hand. Still, the sight of Phillips sent flying into the furniture almost made up for it.
“Along with the rest of your body. Though why I should care is beginning to escape me.”
Steele grinned smugly. “Why, indeed? Weeks with me unable to move, having to be waited on hand and foot by my wonderful, but overburdened staff. Missed mayor’s luncheons. Costly medical bills. Agency coffers dwindling by the hour.”
“I knew you’d come up with a reason,” said Laura, cracking a smile. She stared at him for a long moment, then slowly drew her fingers across his right cheek. “I wish you’d listen for once. I wish you’d stop.”
“Stop what? Have I started something?” Steele asked innocently.
“Stop . . . trying to impress me. It doesn’t impress me.”
“Ah. That’s clear as crystal.”
“No. What I mean is, mostly it happens when I least expect it.”
Steele regarded her with a curious frown. “What happens?”
“You do something that impress – well, surprises me, anyway. Like today.”
“So surprising even I don’t have a clue what it is.”
“We’ve been exercising for almost two hours now,” Laura began.
“And you only took one shortcut. Think about it. That must be a record for you, Mr. Steele.”
“Why, Miss Holt. What sharp little eyes you have. What shortcut would that be?”
“The one on the exercise bike.”
“A minor diversion. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention. Actually, I’d hoped for better things.”
The shortcut to your heart, perhaps? That’s the fourth chakra center, very key, spiritually speaking. Of course, number seven has always been lucky for me.”
“What’s number seven?”
“I’d love go over the finer points, Miss Holt, but it loses so much in the translation when one is fully clothed.”
[ Steele A State Of Mind ]