Chapter 1: The Slopes

Remington shifted into third, giving the black, four-door Chevrolet Silverado pick-up a little more gas as it climbed what should be the last hill prior to their descent into Vail Village. Dropping the gear shift, his fingers brushed against Laura's hand. Despite being caught up in the view outside the passenger window, she turned her hand over automatically and laced her fingers through his own. Without thought, he lifted their joined hands and pressed his lips just below her knuckles, drawing her eyes away from the view briefly as she bestowed a warm smile on him. He gave her hand a squeeze in response then lay their hands back on the seat between them.

I can't believe we've finally done it. After years of trying, we are on holiday together, he thought to himself with a smile.

When he glanced into the rear view mirror to check for traffic behind, he caught Monroe's contemplative gaze upon him. He chose to ignore it for the moment.

"First time in Vail, Jocelyn?" he asked the woman seated next to Monroe in the backseat of the truck.

"Yes. I generally ski closer to home - Bear Mountain, Squaw Valley, Badger Pass, Tahoe. Although I did enjoy a delightful ski holiday in St. Moritz while on a shoot," she replied, drawing another grin from Remington. Jocelyn, a model by trade, stood at 5'11" tall, with raven hair that flowed down her back, honey colored skin and large, green, almond shaped eyes. A lifetime ago, Remington would have been tempted to use his considerable charms to lure her into a brief assignation... well, if she hadn't already been involved with Monroe, of course.

"I've enjoyed schussing the slopes of St. Moritz myself a few times. I was particularly fond of the more vigorous slopes at Corvatsch and Diavolezza."

"Some of the slopes in those areas can be rather...daunting."

"Yes, and therein lies the pleasure. There's nothing I appreciate more than a challenge," he replied, giving Laura's hand a squeeze.

She laughed, then turned sideways in her seat, so she could join in the conversation. The move required her to let go of Remington's hand, but as soon as she had repositioned herself laid the fingers of his other hand against his open palm and stroked it lightly.

"And you, Monroe?" she asked. "Do you have extensive ski experience as well?"

"I've indulged a time or three, but fear I'm a mere novice compared to these two. Yourself?"

"Junior downhill champion when I was ten," she laughed softly, "But I haven't had much time in recent years to keep my skills honed. Looks like you and I may be keeping each other company on the green and blue slopes while Mr. Steele and Jocelyn gratify their need for adrenaline on the black diamond courses."

"At long last, an opportunity for me to charm your affections away from my friend here. I look forward to it."

Monroe's loud laugh echoed through the car in response to the glare he received from Remington and the playful smack against his arm by Jocelyn. Laura's laughter chimed in, even as she ran her hand along Remington's arm, then joined her hand with his once more. Remington grinned at her, then pursed his lips quickly, sending her a touchless kiss.

Monroe furrowed his brow thoughtfully upon seeing this exchange, and reminded himself once more that he and his old friend needed to have a little chat at some point during the trip.

"Is that... Is that a covered bridge ahead?" Laura asked, her voice infused with enthusiasm at the prospect.

"Mmmmm," Remington acknowledged wordlessly, "Indicates our arrival at Vail Village."

"Absolutely charming," Jocelyn murmured from the back seat.

"Where are we staying?" Laura asked. "You never said."

"Jack Gallen has a place on the western side along Beaver Creek. Offered us use of it anytime we wanted, in appreciation for us saving his life and all."

"Gallen? That case was nearly two years ago. You're still in touch with him?"

"To a point. Chris and Angel have touched base here and there. I've spent a little time with them."

"How didn't I know this?" He shrugged in response. "How many other former clients have you 'touched base' with?"

"A few here and there."

"Such as?"

"Perhaps a few more than a few," he answered, in an attempt to put off her queries, as the truck thumped, thumped, thumped over the slats of the covered bridge.

"Seems you're in the frying pan, Mick," Monroe laughed from behind him.

"I shouldn't see why," Remington answered him, then stole a glance at Laura, who was currently giving him a sidelong glance.

Laura suddenly sat up straight, her face aglow with wonderment. Without thought, she reached out and placed her hand on Remington's arm.

"It's like an old village nestled in the Swiss Mountains," she said in awe. "And look, it's still decorated for Christmas!"

"I should think so, given today is only the day after," he laughed, removing her hand from his arm, and holding it in his own once more.

"We're not finished with this conversation, you know."

"Of course not."

"We'll talk about it after we settle in."

"Of course we will."

"I want to enjoy this right now."

"It is lovely, isn't it?" Jocelyn asked, staring out her window as the town slowly moved past.

"May I suggest that we continue on to Beaver Creek, get ourselves settled at the house then return for a late lunch? I've reservations for the four of us this evening for nine at the Swiss Chalet, but it's quite a long time between now and dinner."

"I think that's a splendid idea, Mick," Monroe chimed in.


"I could eat."


"I'm on vacation, I don't have a shoot in the next few weeks. I say, let's eat."

"So, we're all in agreement," he grinned. "I think you'll enjoy the house, based on what I've heard about it."

"Look, Mr. Steele, they have a skating rink," Laura enthused, straining her neck to look past him.

"So, I see," his smiling widening. It was seldom that Laura let down her walls long enough to relax into life and focus on the simple pleasures with such enthusiasm. He found it absolutely charming, and he wanted nothing more than to stop the truck and kiss her soundly.

"I haven't been ice skating since college," she commented wistfully.

"Then we'll have to make time while we're here so that you can, won't we?"

"I'd like that."

The occupants of the car fell quiet, admiring the town as they continued to drive slowly through. Several minutes later they emerged on the other side, once more navigating through a tree lined, two lane highway climbing ever upwards. Laura found herself thankful that Remington was driving, masterfully handling the large pick-up, despite the wet roads and inclines. While she did the vast majority of the driving in LA, she was quite use to the flat, congested roadways there. The idea of navigating these roads made her slightly nervous.

Fifteen minutes out of town, Remington steered the vehicle onto a private driveway on the right side of the road. When they reached a wrought iron security gate, he pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, then punched in a four digit code into the security box located there. The gates swung upon, then closed behind them after the truck had passed through. A quarter mile down the road, Remington once more found himself smiling at the pleased gasp emitted by Laura.

"This is the Gallen's vacation home?"

"Mmm hmmmm," was his only reply.

The two-story home resembled an Alipine ski lodge with its log exterior, peaked roof tops, and large ceiling to floor windows. The house featured a four car garage, and a porch that wrapped around three sides of the exterior. The sides and front of the house was nestled among tall pines, offering privacy, and even from where they now sat in the truck, it was apparent that the rear of house looked over the edge of the mountain upon which it set.

Opening the doors to the truck, all four piled out. Remington untethered the tarp covering their luggage in the bed of the truck, and began pulling out suitcases, while Monroe quickly joined in the effort as Laura and Jocelyn grabbed overnight bags and began slinging them over their shoulders. Grappling two suitcases in each hand, the men led the way up the stone steps to the front door. Dropping the suitcases he'd been juggling, Remington searched his pockets, located the key, then swung the front door open, indicating Laura and Jocelyn should enter before the men.

"Perhaps you and I should take the luggage to our rooms, while the ladies look around?" Remington suggested to Monroe. "Jack insisted that Laura and I use the master here on the first level. There are three more suites upstairs, replete with their own bathrooms and hot tubs on the balconies. Feel free to choose whichever you feel suits best. Come get Laura and I when the two of you are ready to leave."

"That I'll do. I must say, Mick, you have some friends in high places these days, based on the look of this place."

"It's a beautiful home," Remington concurred, opting not to acknowledge the remainder of Monroe's comment. It was only by luck of the draw that they'd been hired by Gallen, and it was through the joint work of he and Laura that Gallen counted them among his allies, thus offering up his home for their retreat.

"Laura," Remington called to her where she stood in front of the wall-to-wall windows that looked out over the mountainside, down into Vail Village, "Our room's at the back, just over there. Come join me when you've finished admiring the view. The sooner we unpack, the sooner we can return to town for lunch."

"I'm coming," she called back to him, before briefly returning her gaze to the view out the back of the house. She wondered briefly about the five-foot high concrete wall to the left side, then dismissing it turned her attention back to the right side of the house, where the lawn gently sloped down to the bed of the river far below.

"It's perfect," she breathed, a smile lighting her face. With a nod of her head, she turned on her heel and walked to the back of the house where Remington had headed, traveling past a billiards room, the kitchen, and crossing through a private living room, before finding the door to the bedroom. She halted in the doorway and looked around the room, wide-eyed.

"Wow," she said aloud, unable to come up with another word to describe the room in front of her.

"Astounding, isn't it?" Remington answered from inside the closet where he was hanging his clothes. "I understand now why Jack insisted we take this room."

The large room featured vaulted, beamed ceilings, and the wall facing the back of the house was a solid bank of floor-to-ceiling windows, broken up only by a massive fireplace made of hand laid river rock that extended to the ceiling. The king-size bed faced the window while a sitting area had been created on the far side of the room. To the right, there was a large master bathroom replete with a whirlpool tub, shower, and double vanity, all made of solid marble. Adjoining the bathroom was a large walk in closet, outfitted with custom cabinets. Wandering over to the bank of windows, Laura found her answer to the curious stone wall outside the living room. Ensconced in absolute privacy among three similar walls was a small, pool, clearly heated as the steam mingled into the cold air above with a river rock fire place built in into the wall buffering one side of the pool where it connected to a large hot tub.

Turning away from the view, she moved to her luggage laying on the bed. She and Remington continued to unpack in companionable silence. Drawers were filled, clothes hung, shoes placed in racks, and toothbrushes, shampoos, razors and creams stashed in the bathroom. There was a fluid rhythm to their actions born from sharing lodging across the years, and both acknowledged to themselves the newly added nuance of domesticity that reverberated under the surface, which was concurrently comforting and disquieting.

Task complete, they wordlessly left the room to explore the home which would be theirs, as well as Monroe and Jocelyn's, in the days ahead. They toured a fully stocked library, where Laura fingered the bindings of several first editions with reverence, drawing a laugh from Remington, "They'll be no time for that this trip, Miss Holt," another laugh following her look of dismay. They strolled through the billiards room, finding a door in the rear of the room that led into a screening room, where Remington fingered the titles in a cabinet with longing.

"Imagine, Laura. A private screening of Casablanca," he hinted hopefully.

"I'm sure we can find time," she laughed, then squealed with delight when he strode quickly across the room and lifted her into a tight hug, leaving her feet dangling from the ground.

"Put me down," she laughed again, pushing at his shoulders until he dropped her to her feet once more. "Onwards with the tour Mr. Steele?"

"Lead the way, Miss Holt."

They bisected the living room and headed into the kitchen, where Remington was transfixed by the accoutrements. Fingering the copper cookware that hung from an overhead rack, Remington rummaged through cabinets, humming all the while.

"I suspect we'll be eating in while we're here?" Laura teased.

"At least once," he confirmed with a grin.

Grabbing her hand, he led her over to the couch where they had slung their coats on arrival and helped her on with hers. Lifting her hair from under the collar he touched his lips against her nape, before releasing her hair and pulling on his own. Threading his fingers through hers he led her to the sliding doors then out on the back deck. Wrapping her in his embrace, he pulled her close. Laura relaxed into his body, head lying against his shoulder, and ran her hands over the length of his arms until they rested on top of his. They stood looking down into the valley at Vail Village.

"I bet it's beautiful, lit up at night," she commented quietly, not wanting to disturb the mood that had enveloped them.

"Mmmm," he agreed, then releasing her stepped between the deck and Laura, leaning against it, before taking her by the hips and pulling her to stand between his legs.

She looped her arms around his neck, her eyes on his, her voice sultry when she asked, "Something on your mind, Mr. Steele?"

He lowered his head to hers, his lips brushing against hers several times before settling and exploring. She felt his contented hum when her fingers began to play with the hair at the base of his neck, his hand moving to the back of her neck to reciprocate. He pulled back, breaking the kiss, but unable to deny her when her hand pressed on the back of his neck, he resumed his attentions on her mouth. He nibbled her lower lip playfully for several moments, then at her murmur of pleasure flicked his tongue against her upper lip, pulling her tighter against himself as she opened willingly to him. Their tongues tasted, tangled, played, before he once again ended the interplay, to run his lips along her neck. Laura arched her neck back willingly, allowing him the access he craved, then gasped when his lips gave a gentle tug on the lobe of her ear. He felt a shiver run through her, and he leaned back to consider her, before turning his attentions to the other side of her neck.

"Cold?" he whispered in question, as his lips continued to graze, downwards towards her collarbone.

"A little. I don't think my coat is made for Colorado winters," she answered breathlessly.

His fingers moved aside the neck of her sweater to allow him more freedom of contact, when his eyes caught site of the bruise he'd left upon her there the night before. Running his thumb over it, he felt a moment of remorse, knowing that she'd likely be trying to conceal it throughout the trip.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled, before pressing his lips against the area.

"You should be," she teased. "I haven't had a hickey since I was sixteen."

"I assure you, it wasn't intentional," he told her lifting his head to look at her.

"Hmmm, I know. Might have been more fun if it had been," she smirked at him.

"Well in that case," he semi-leered at her, then brushed her sweater off her shoulder on the opposite side, and began lowering his head.

"Oh, no you don't," she laughed, while placing her hand over his mouth to prevent him from continuing. "Besides, it's my turn."

"Oh?" he raised a brow.

"Most definitely."

Dipping her head under his chin, to kiss and nip her way down his neck, she was encouraged to be a little more daring when he tilted his head to the side to give her more access while one hand got lost in her hair and the other rubbed over her back. Darting her tongue out briefly to taste him, where neck met shoulder, she smiled against his skin at his quick intake of breath.

"I love the way you taste," she whispered against his ear, before pulling the lobe into her mouth. She felt his body jerk against her own, in response to both her words and action.

"Do you now?" he asked on shortened breath.

"Mmmmm. You taste, sweet, salty, spicy all at the same time. It could be addicting," she mumbled, lips pressed against his skin, still traveling.

"Could it now?" he asked, pulling back from her and tilting his head down so he could see her face.

She smiled up at him in response to the boyish grin on his face.

"Yes, perhaps too easily."

"Ahh, Laura, the things you say sometimes."

Wrapping his arms around her, he pulled her close to him, dropping his chin down to lay on top of her head when her arms went willingly around his back, holding him tight. They stood, gently swaying in one another's arms for several minutes.

Monroe paused in the doorway, watching the interaction of the couple once more, before clearing his throat subtly to announce his presence. Remington lifted his head, his eyes meeting Monroe's, as Laura turned in Remington's arms, only to lean back into him. Remington dropped a kiss on top of her head, before addressing Monroe.

"All unpacked?"

"We are," he answered, slinging his arm around Jocelyn's waist as she joined him in the doorway.

"Find everything to your liking?"

"The room is magnificent, Mick. Far more than either of us were expecting," Monroe acknowledged while Jocelyn nodded her agreement next to him.

"The views are stunning, and I cannot wait to indulge in that hot tub later this evening," she enthused.

"Glad to hear. Shall we head to town for a bite to eat?"

Arriving back in town fifteen minutes later, a discussion on the way to town had resulted in Remington parking the truck street-side in front of Blue Moose Pizza. An hour later the two couples departed, having had their fill on Greek salad and the one of the house specialties, the spring pizza, layered with artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, basil, garlic and oregano.

"We should be able to get in a couple of quick runs before dusk," Remington told Laura, as he took her gloved hand in his own.

"If it's okay with you, I'd rather just get an early start in the morning. The trails will be tracked out by now, and according to the weather statements, they are expecting fresh powder to start falling around eight tonight."

"I agree with Laura, if it's any matter," Jocelyn chimed in from behind.

"Seems the ladies have made up their minds, Mick," Monroe commented with a smile.

"Seems so. Any suggestions on how we might spend the afternoon then ladies?"

"I'd be content to explore the village and do a little shopping, window or otherwise," Jocelyn suggested.

Laura tapped her lip briefly, then smiled. Jocelyn's suggestion would work perfectly for the plan she'd hatched earlier in the afternoon.

"I'd like that," Laura agreed, ignoring the surprised look by her partner who was well-aware of her dislike of shopping.

The two couples whiled away the afternoon enjoying the charm of the town. Laura was dazzled by the Christmas tree near the center of village, that stood a good 20 feet tall. Remington smiled down at her adoringly as she sighed her wish that it were evening so they could all enjoy the lights. Eventually, the men and ladies paired off, as Remington claimed there was a tailor's shop he'd like to peruse, while Laura asserted she wanted to find a couple of small trinkets to take back home to her niece and nephew.

As soon as Monroe and Remington cleared the corner, Laura ducked into a toy store, quaintly called "Toy Store", dragging Jocelyn along behind her.

"I never realized a toy store held such appeal," Jocelyn laughed.

"Normally it wouldn't but I don't want Mr. Steele tracking me down before I've bought what I need," Laura laughed along with Jocelyn, as they made their way to the sales counter. Thankfully, the store was relatively empty on the day after Christmas.

"Why is that? Afraid you'd overspend on your nieces and nephew?"

"If you knew Mr. Steele, you'd know that there is no such thing as overspending to him," Laura giggled with mirth at the thought. "No, this is a surprise for him."

"You're buying a toy for him? Isn't that a bit odd?"

"Hmmmmm. More like fulfilling a childhood wish," she answered cryptically.

"I see." Jocelyn smiled. "May I ask you something?"

"Sure," Laura replied, glancing at the door, then tapping her foot impatiently, waiting for the person in front of her to complete their checkout.

"You and Mick are involved, yes?"

"Yes," Laura answered, distracted, looking at the door again, then tapping her foot harder.

"Then why do you always refer to him as 'Mr. Steele'?"

The question threw Laura off-guard, and she forgot her impatience for a moment, in order to mentally browbeat herself. Of course, the other woman would have noticed. She should have considered that before they ever left out on the trip and planned accordingly. She briefly closed her eyes, her nimble mind working quickly.

"Habit, I suppose. Remington and I work long hours together, and we agreed a long time ago that we would keep business and personal separate. Given the number of hours we clock, I use 'Mr. Steele' far more often during the course of the day, just as he does 'Miss Holt.'"

"Remington," Jocelyn pondered. "Why does Monroe call him Mick then?"

"I'm afraid even I don't have an answer for that," Laura laughed. "That seems to be a question for Monroe."

Laura exhaled deeply, relieved when the customer in front of her finally departed. When the clerk turned his attention to her, Laura quickly explained the purchase she needed to make. With a little incentive in the form of a few bills slipped into a discrete palm, the clerk guaranteed delivery Sunday morning, a time when Laura felt fairly certain she would be able to convince Remington to linger a little while over breakfast on their last day in Vail. Laura scribbled out the security code to the gate on the slip of paper provided to her, then turned back to the interior of the store.

Quick, what should I pick up for the kids?

Jocelyn, God bless her, made a few suggestions and after snatching those items from various shelves Laura returned to the line. After a fair amount of waiting, she was once again checked out, and she and Jocelyn stepped back outside onto Bridge Street, just in time to see Remington and Monroe heading in the direction. Both men had made purchases of their own, Remington carrying a garment bag along with mid-sized bag, while Monroe carried several smaller ones.

"Let me guess... new suit?" Laura asked Remington, lifting her cheek to him for a quick kiss, as she simultaneously nodded at the garment bag in his hand.

"Uh, coat, actually," he answered with a smile. "Find what you were looking for?"

"I think they'll enjoy them, although it just occurred to me it was rather silly buying them toys the day after Christmas."

"I'm sure they'll love you for it. You'll be their favorite aunt before you know it." Wrapping his arm around her waist as they began walking towards the truck, he gave her side a squeeze.

"I'm their only aunt," she commented dryly.

"See, you'll have the spot all sewn up!" He laughed as she playfully punched him in the arm, then swung her around gave her a quick kiss.

Grabbing her hand, they continued their walk back to the truck, ready to head back to the house for a little relaxation before dinner.

Laura emerged from bathroom draped in a strapless dress. The red, beaded silk was embroidered with a delicate floral design of silver thread. The floor length gown featured a split extending from the hem to just above the knee, offering a glimpse of her stocking clad legs she was certain her Mr. Steele would appreciate. She'd pulled back the front of her hair, leaving her long bangs to frame one side of her face and the back of her hanging down, knowing full well how much he enjoyed running his fingers through her hair. She made no attempt to deny it to herself: she had dressed with him in mind this evening.

She turned towards the closet when she heard Remington's low-pitched whistle of approval. With a hand signal, he indicated she should spin around, which she did slowly, a smile lighting her face. Pulling a red tie from the hanger in the closet, he walked towards her while knotting it and pulling it tight, freeing his hands to reach for hips when he neared her.

"You're stunning." His lips pressed against her cheek. A lone finger skimmed the side of her jaw as he watched her skin flush at his compliment.

"And you, Mr. Steele are exceptionally handsome this evening." She reached out and smoothed the shoulders and sleeves of his black pinstriped suit, before running her hands down the lapels.

A finger grazed the skin of her collarbone. She'd worked some magic with her foundation and concealer, hiding the bruise, he noted. His hands grasped either side of her face, thumbs caressing her cheeks, and gently lay his lips over her own. She stumbled, surprised by the movement, the tenderness, grasping his sides to stay afoot. With a kiss against the side of her neck, he moved away.

My God, he is in top form tonight, she thought to herself, resisting the urge to fan her face.

Laura wandered to the dresser, then stood threading small drop diamond earrings through her ears. Rustling through her small jewelry case that she brought along travels, she took out a necklace and clasped it around her neck while watching Remington in the mirror with appreciation.

When he walked in the office four years ago I thought I'd never seen a man more beautiful than him, she thought to herself. With his dark hair, laser-sharp blue eyes, his tall, slim frame, the charm, the near courtliness in his mannerisms. I was wrong. The way he has filled out over the years: the wider girth to his shoulders and chest; the sharpened angles of his face; the fine lines around his eyes, on his forehead; the calm that has settled around him; the gentleness he used to try to conceal. He's like a fine wine that only gets better with age.

She fairly blushed when she returned from her reverie and found him watching her watch him in the mirror, a knowing, pleased smile lighting his eyes. She averted her eyes for a moment, somewhat embarrassed, then in a moment befitting the old Laura, lifted her chin and stared boldly at him, her eyes in the mirror giving his reflection a thorough once over. She smirked as she watched his smile falter in surprise.

If that surprised you, you really won't know what hit you next, she thought to herself, cocking an eyebrow inwardly.

Spinning on her heel, she walked with intent towards him as he tried to decide what had gotten into her. Before he could formulate an answer, she pressed herself against him, and with a hand pulled his head down to hers, her lips connecting purposefully with his. A kiss, a nip, a flick of a tongue, his mouth willingly allowing her entrance. As she teased and enticed with her lips, her teeth, her tongue, he responded, giving tit-for-tat, as long, masculine fingers glided up and down the column of her neck. Joint, soft murmurs of bliss were exchanged, before their lips parted and they settled into one another's embrace.

My God, if this is even a taste of what it will be like between us when we finally make love, she will be my match in every way, as I have long suspected. He brushed his lips across the top of her head, pulling her tighter to him, his breath still short from the response her impulsivity had stirred.

"By no means to look a gift horse in the mouth, Laura, but what did I do to earn that enchanting interlude? Whatever it may be, I'll have to make a point of repeating it often."

Her head lifted, a beatific smile accompanied by a self-satisfied gleam in her eyes. "I'm not sure I should say. It could go to your head."

"Could it now? Should I promise that it won't, would you share?"

She pretended to give the matter grave consideration. "Well, I suppose," she answered, drawing out the final world, "if you promised."

"You have my solemn oath, Miss Holt," he responded with all the gravity he could force into his words, made rather difficult as a single finger belonging to the woman in his arms, traced abstractedly across his chest.

"I believe, in my head, that I was likening you to a fine wine." Her fingers nimbly released shirt studs allowing a hand to slip unfettered under the cloth, fairly smirking as his breath hitched and body twitched in response.

Ahh, Miss Holt, two can play at this game. Lowering his mouth to her shoulder, he alternated between kissing and suckling the smattering of freckles that sprinkled her bare shoulders. "Oh?"

"Yes. You…ummm…Oh," her thoughts scrambled as his teeth nipped her skin gently. He laughed quietly, enjoying her inability to focus on her words. "Mmmm…have only gotten…" she stumbled over a breath "finer..." her hand settled in his hair, urging him closer "with age."

Her hands moved to undo a tie, to open a collar, to tug a shirt out from under belted pants, so that lips could explore the skin of broad shoulders. His head lifted from her shoulder, pure pleasure shimmering through his body at her touch, at her words.

Thought you had the upper hand there for a minute, didn't you? A finger slipped under the low neckline of her dress to feather across her skin, causing goosebumps to rise across her skin. Oh, my.

Turning his head so his lips lay next to her ear, his warm breath sending delicious tingles down her spine as intended, he whispered, "Whatever you do, wherever you go...I want to be with you...anytime, anywhere." Laura's stilled in his arms. "Guys and Dolls, Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons, Marlon Brando, Goldwyn Productions, 1955. Kiss me, Laura."

She met him half-way, his lips settling over hers to caress, to explore, before a touch of his tongue to her lips indicated a desire to taste her more fully. Gentle strokes were met with her hums of pleasure, her hands roaming the bare skin of his back. His body jolted as her fingers brushed over the bare skin above his belt. His lips left hers, as his hands reached to gently frame her face, waited for their eyes to meet.

"I need you, Laura. I need to know you, all of you," his voice was quiet, earnest, his eyes holding hers, hoping she would understand the true meaning of his words.

Her hand cupped his jaw, her thumb brushing across his chin. "I…"

"Mick! Are you and Laura nearly ready? We'll be late for our reservations shortly, mes ami," Monroe called from the living room.

Both heads turned to towards the door of the room as they were roused from the moment which had cast a spell around them. Turning their heads back to one another, their eyes caught, then they laughed.

"Seems were are destined to always be interrupted at the most inopportune times," he quipped, drawing a smile from her, before calling back, "We'll be there in two shakes, mate."

Leaning down he pressed his lips against her forehead, holding them there for a long moment, before taking a step back. "Shall we, Miss Holt?"

"I suppose we must," she said, disappointment lacing her words, surprising him pleasantly once more. "Let me just get my coat. You, Mr. Steele," she grinned impishly at him, "Seem to have lost your shirt. You may want to rectify that."

A hand reached out and held her arm as she stepped away, then turned her back around. Her eyes opened wide as he gave her a quick, hard kiss, before releasing her once more. Her teeth gently bit down on her lower lip, as a smile pulled at the corner of her lips, before she turned to retrieve her coat from the end of the bed. She watched him with unabashed enjoyment as he refastened his shirt studs, tucked in his shirt then finally retied his tie. His eyes darkened with desire at her open admiration.

He mentally shook himself, breaking free of her beguiling stare, then approached her until he stood a mere couple inches behind her. Reaching up, he nudged her coat off her shoulders, then tugged first one sleeve, then the other, before divesting her of it.

"We're never going to get out the door at this rate," she laughed, turning to face him.

"This will just take a moment."

She watched as he walked to the closet then returned with the garment bag he had been carrying in the village earlier. She raised a brow, mimicking the gesture she had seen him do a thousand times, and regarded him quizzically,

"Our felonious Santas kept me from picking up your gift on Christmas Eve," he explained, as he unzipped the garment bag, "but perhaps that was fortuitous after our conversation this morning. Turn around."

She glanced at him questioningly, but did as he asked.

"May I have an arm, Miss Holt?" He could feel her frowning, as she somewhat reluctantly held out at an arm. Inching it into the sleeve, he smiled as heard her intake of breath. "And the other?" he laughed as he held the coat, while waiting on her.

When she extended her other arm, he threaded the sleeve over it, before lifting coat onto her shoulders. Lifting her heavy hair out from under then over the collar, he was unable to resist, and pressed his lips against the side of her neck, before stepping back.

He grew nervous as her back remained to him, while her hand rubbed against the sleeve of the coat. The gleam in her eye betrayed her words when she finally turned around.

"It's too much."

"A beautiful woman should own at least one fur." He shoved his hands in his pocket and began unknowingly shuffling on his feet, as he worried he had somehow overstepped a boundary he had not been aware existed. He stood there for several excruciatingly long moments before his face broke out in a relieved, boyish grin, as she lifted her face to look at him, a smile of delight lighting it.

"It's stunning. What is it?" She rubbed her hand up and down the soft, snow white sleeve of the full length coat.

"White fox. I assure you, it will keep you very warm."

Just thinking about this moment will keep me warm. Did I say he was in top form tonight? No, this is extraordinary form.

"Thank you." Her words of appreciation were as soft as the kiss she placed on his cheek. "Dinner Mr. Steele?" she asked, handing him his cashmere coat from where it lay at the end of their bed.

"Lead the way, Miss Holt." After tying the sash around his coat, he lay his hand on the small of her back and followed her out to the living room where they greeted Monroe and Jocelyn before leaving for the restaurant.

Dinner at the Swiss Chalet had been a festive and sumptuous affair so far that evening. Both couples agreed to leave the ordering up to Remington, the veritable gourmet of the group and once again his choices had proven impeccable. Caprese Salat was followed by a piquant main course of Zuricher Geschnetzelte accompanied by Prunotto Cannubi Riserva, a rich red wine with a fantastic nose. Conversation at the table was lively as the couples exchanged ski war stories of days gone past, with the exchange naturally segue-waying to past holidays, both good and bad, peppered with frequent laughter.

As their waiter unobtrusively cleared their dinner plates from the table in preparation for dessert, Remington laid his hand over Laura's, then with a subtle flick of his eyes towards the dance floor and a wag of his eyebrows, silently suggested they sojourn to the dance floor. A sedate smile graced her lips, leading him to stand and pull back her chair before taking her hand and leading her to its center. They folded naturally into one another's embrace, allowing the music to set their pace. Not to be outdone, Monroe rose and offering a hand to Jocelyn, accompanied by a graceful bow, led her to the floor as well.

Laura tipped her head back, giving Remington's arms a small squeeze as she did so.

"I like him…Monroe. Unless you'd told me I would never have guessed that he…"

"Lived on the shady side of the street, as once did I?" he finished her statement with a question and a raised brow.

"Yes, well, but I didn't mean.. I mean, I didn't mean to imply…" A flush climbed over her cheeks, accompanied by a quiet sigh of frustration. Damn, why do I constantly feel the need to throw his past back at him? Why can't I just enjoy that he is here, with me, at least for now? Bright blue eyes perused her face, noting the flush born of discomfort.

"Relax, Laura." The arm around her waist squeezed quickly, before his hand began running soothingly up and down her back. His movements drew Laura to lean back again, then finding a warm smile looking down at her, she settled herself more closely in his arms, laying her head upon his shoulder.

"I'm sorry. I don't know why I feel the need to constantly point out your past."

"You wouldn't be Laura Holt if you didn't," he laughed warmly.

"I suppose I wouldn't." Another laugh, this one more quiet. She angled her head back once more, pulling a little more distance between their swaying bodies. "How long has Monroe been out of the life? What made him decide to leave it behind?"

"You also wouldn't be Laura Holt if you weren't the most damnably curious woman I have ever known," he observed. "What's say we come to an agreement."

"What kind of an agreement?" she asked, brows furrowed slightly. I'm only so curious because you always avoid talking about the times before we met. Have you any idea what thoughts go through my mind? How many enemies do you have out there, worse, how many former allies, waiting, lurking to take you away from me?

"We agree to simply enjoy this evening. Then tonight, when we get back to the house, I will answer any questions you have about Monroe, so we can put that agile mind of yours to rest. Eh?"

Laura mulled the request over in her mind. "Anything?"

"Within reason." He exhaled deeply, growing frustrated. Bloody hell. The woman is like a bull dog terrier, clamping her teeth around something, refusing to let go. Why can't she simply enjoy the moment? Enjoy us, here, together? Continue to build on the moment back at the house?

"Laura, let's just enjoy this time together. Can we do that?" The words came out unbidden, unplanned, some part of him deciding to give voice to his thoughts without consent. He stiffened subtly as he recognized his request, the slight pique in his voice, could well rouse his irascible partner's temper.

Laura felt his body tense against her. To someone else, the slight change would have been unnoticeable. She, however, was not someone else, and could sense his change of moods in a way no one else could. She silently lambasted herself for putting a crack in the shell of quiet intimacy that had enclosed itself around them since their plane touched down that morning. Give it a rest, Holt. At least for this weekend, stop putting the walls between you and him. Let yourself just fall into the moment for a change.

She took a step closer to him, closing the physical gap that had been created, then lying her head back on his shoulder, gave his arm a nearly imperceptible squeeze, closing he emotional fissure as well.

"Yes, we can do that."

Her soft reply was an instant balm to his roughened nerves. She felt his body relax fully into hers, moments before she felt his cheek rub against the top of her head.

"Thank you."

"Believe me, it's my pleasure."

They danced silently for several minutes, allowing themselves to sink back into the contentment of being in one another's arms. The delicate strains of Bing Crosby's A Kiss to Build a Dream On, wafted through the air. They lost themselves in the words of the romantic words crooned by Crosby:

"Give me a kiss to build on and my imagination will thrive upon that kiss
Sweetheart I ask no more than this, a kiss to build a dream on.

Give me a kiss before you leave me and my
Imagination will feed my hungry heart
Leave me one thing before we part, a kiss to build a dream on."

Laura lifted her head from Remington's shoulder to find blue eyes swimming with tenderness looking down upon her, leaving her slightly breathless. He bent down until his lips were close to her ear, his breath, when he spoke, caressing it.

"Give me a kiss to build a dream on, Laura," he murmured, before lifting his head to look down at her once more.

Her head tilted back while her fingers brushed against the short hair at the back of his neck, before faintly pressing against his nape in answer to his request. His lips barely touched hers, then left, only to return again to brush against hers again. As the Crosby's warm tenor wafted through the air, they lost themselves in only one another and the kisses they exchanged.

"Give me your lips for just a moment and my
Imagination will make that moment live
Give me what you alone can give, a kiss to build a dream on."

Across the room, in Monroe's arms, Jocelyn sighed deeply, her eyes watching Laura and Remington as they danced. Monroe glanced down at the woman, seeing that her attention was held elsewhere.

"Is something amiss, cheri?" he queried.

His question roused Jocelyn from her thoughts to focus on him.

"No, not at all."

"You seemed distracted for a moment."

"Captivated might be a better word."


"Laura and Mick."

With a couple of fluid movements of his feet, Monroe turned the couple around a hundred and eighty degrees. He settled in to observe his old friend and the woman in his arms thoroughly. Laura's arm was draped over Remington's shoulder, her hand playing with the hair at the back of his neck, Remington's hand clasping her other hand in his own, both arms drawn tight against their bodies, while his free arm was wrapped around her waist holding her body snuggly against his own. The couple was oblivious to anyone else in the room, lost in the moment and the brief yet meaningful kisses they shared often.

Monroe's brow, as it had many times in the past, furrowed with concern. He remembered, all too well, the Spring prior when Mick had called to ask for his assistance. Monroe had sent several of his men over to Mick's apartment post haste, to help the man pack all his belongings. Within the hour, the apartment had been cleared out. Mick had stopped by Monroe's apartment, very briefly, to bid him adieu, to thank him for storing his possessions. The man that had stood before Monroe had been…tortured…was the only word that would come to Monroe's mind at the time. He neither shared what had brought him to such a state nor where he was going or why. Yet, Monroe had known instinctively that Mick was not simply moving on to the next adventure but instead was on the run. From what, Monroe had no idea, and he never asked.

Three months ago when Mick had returned to LA, Monroe began to realize what exactly had sent his friend on the run from the life he had clearly not only embraced but relished. He still did not know the why, and this left him concerned. Never before he had seen Mick in the state he'd been that night last spring, not even in the brief couple of days after Anna's death when Mick had joined him in Barbados for a respite. This woman, as enjoyable as Monroe found her, had set Mick's life on its head, and he feared what it would do to his friend should it happen again.

"Yes, they do cut quite the dashing rug, don't they?" he asked Jocelyn now.

"That's not what I mean, and you know it," she laughingly replied.

"I know, and find myself wondering if they do," he responded cryptically before turning her in his arms once more. "Now, Cheri, let's create a little magic of our own."

Across the dance floor, as Remington's lips touched hers once more, Laura's mind tried to shake loose the intimacy that had enveloped them. It reminded her too much of a night not long ago in San Francisco, a night that had, in part, led to her hasty, fear driven decision to end them again. Only this time, he hadn't stayed and waited her out. Instead he'd finally left, taking off for parts unknown, tearing apart her carefully crafted world in the process. If she knew one thing about her life with absolute certainty, it was that she could not go through that again…ever.

Remington was oblivious to the thoughts running through her mind, as she purposefully kept her body pliant in his arms. She was on the verge of pushing him away, returning to their table, when his words earlier in the evening crept in from the recesses of her mind.

Whatever you do, wherever you go...I want to be with you...anytime, anywhere.

I need you, Laura. I need to know you, all of you.

It was his words he'd spoken to her last September in a hotel room in London, that settled her rampaging fears.

When you showed up here in London, I'd hoped that you'd realized what I had: that our fears of giving ourselves over to each other were meaningless compared to what it was like to be without one another. We're good apart, but we are magnificent when we are together. And when we are apart, we're left with an aching need to be with one another.

Golden brown eyes met cerulean blue, soft smiles were exchanged, fingers moved from nape to hair, a palm of a hand flattened and urged a head downwards, and lips merged once more.

Be bold, Laura. Take a chance, stop playing it so safe. You may not be ready, yet…most definitely yet… for everything, but you are ready for, need, so much more. So does he.

Decision made, she pushed herself up on her toes to kiss him again, before wrapping both her arms around his back, holding him close. She felt tension leave his body, surprising her, as she knew it was in response to her own indecision which she thought she had hidden so well.

Remington, eyes closed, dropped his forehead onto her shoulder. He'd felt her withdrawal, her indecision and for a moment had believed it was about to happen again: her shoving him away, putting distance between them, running from them, what was between them. His heart had begun to pound, only to be suddenly quieted when she'd turned into him instead of away. Ah, Laura, thank you for that. Thank you for choosing what we are building, for choosing not to run.

He backed away a step, hands reaching for her face, holding it, his thumbs sweeping against her cheeks as he looked at her, then brought her to him to simply press his lips against hers and hold them there for a long moment, to retreat then return, kissing her shortly then backing fully away.

"Dessert, Miss Holt?"

"Dessert, Mr. Steele," she agreed, her face alit, drawing a wide smile from him.

His hand caught her own, fingers intertwining, as they walked across the dance floor to rejoin Jocelyn and Monroe. The delightful apfelstrudel with the succulent crème anglaise that accompanied it was not nearly as tantalizing as the small touches they shared while indulging in the treat.

Upon their return to the house, Laura and Remington bid a goodnight to Jocelyn and Monroe. Laura adjourned to their bedroom while Remington promised to join her in a few moments and headed to the kitchen. When he arrived in the bedroom, a bottle of white wine and glasses in hand, it was empty, a cold draft entering the room from the cracked balcony door. Setting the wine and glasses on the mantle of the fireplace, he pulled back on the coat that just a few minutes before he'd taken off and slung across his arm while gathering their refreshments. Kneeling, he lit the fireplace, then wine and glasses in hand stepped outside. Placing the wine and glasses on a table between two chaise lounges, he walked over to Laura before wrapping his arms around her from behind. He smiled when she relaxed automatically against his chest, her hands covering his own.

"Thinking?" he asked.

"No, enjoying the view. It's lovely. It's as though Christmas is holding on for as long as it can."

His gaze followed hers down into the valley. The village was clearly defined, the lights decorating the exterior of businesses twinkling. The Christmas tree in the square was fully lit in a dazzling array of green, gold, red and blue lights. Houses in the surrounding area were alight at well. She was right, the vision was lovely. They stood taking in a view, comfortable in the companionable silence, content to simply be with one another, neither sure of how much time had passed. It was she who ended the moment, when she turned towards him, her eyes catching sight of the wine on the nearby table.

"Wine?" she smiled.

"I thought we'd simply enjoy a little more of the evening together. That is if you're up to it. We do have an early morning ahead of us."

She considered his suggestion for a moment then shook her head no. He tried but failed to conceal his disappointment, causing a corner of her mouth to quirk upwards as she draped her arms around his hips.

"A compromise?"

"I'm all ears."

"Tonight, I shower and get ready for bed while you make sure the house is secure. Then once you shower, we get some sleep. Tomorrow afternoon we turn over the truck to Jocelyn and Monroe, and you and I stay in. Dinner, made by you in that kitchen you are dying to get your hands on. Casablanca in the screening room. Wine and the hot tub afterwards. What do you say?"

With a wide grin and a sway of his hips he took a couple of steps closer to her, his arms tightening around her, drawing her even closer.

"Once again, I find myself enraptured with that adroit brain of yours, Miss Holt."

Her lilting laughter drifted across the night air.

"So, we're in agreement then?"

"So we are, Miss Holt, so we are." He leaned in for a quick kiss then walked to the table, retrieving the wine and glasses. He glanced over his shoulder as he headed back into the house.

Laura dispensed of her shower quickly, then pulled on a pair of long sleeve pajamas and a bathrobe. While Remington took his shower, she went to the library and plucked an early edition of "Love Letters Across the Ages" off the shelf. She was cozily ensconced in their bed when he emerged from the shower, towel drying his hair and carrying his pajama top.

Her eyes glanced in his direction then returned to the book in hand.

"Don't even bother asking," was her reply to the question he was about to ask.

Ah, Laura. Have you any idea what it does to me, knowing that you want the touch of my bare skin next to yours when we sleep?

He laughed shortly, then laid the pajama top at the bottom of the bed and tossing the damp towel across the back of a nearby chair, climbed into bed next to her. Mimicking her own position, he adjusted the pillows behind his back, reclining in a partial sitting position. Laura scooted over next to him, laying her head back against her shoulder, book still in hand, devouring whatever it was she read.

Dexterous fingers plucked the book from her fingers, turning it around to read the spine.

"'Love Letters Across the Ages'? I knew you enjoyed indulging in a spicy Charlotte Knight every so often, but poetry?"

"It can be more enticing than any adult novel," she answered with a shrug of her shoulders.

"I admit to enjoying history tomes, an excellent mystery here and there, but I've never indulged in poetry despite Daniel's attempts elsewise."

"That surprises me given you're a romantic at heart."

"Does it now?" he asked looking down at her with a raised brow "Let's give it a round then, shall we?"

Turning the book around, he skimmed the page.

Laura settled back into the crook of his shoulder, lacing her fingers through the hand that lay on her arm, pulling it in front of her. She settled in to listen to soothing timber of his voice as he read aloud.

"Come back,

Because tonight you are in my hair and eyes,

And every street light that our taxi passes show me you again, still you,

And because tonight all other nights are black,

All other hours are cold and far away,

And now,

This minute,

The stars are very near and bright.

Come back.

We will have a celebration to end all celebrations."

"A bit dour don't you think? Love lost and all?" he asked, lying the book against his chest for a moment, his hand moving to finger her still damp hair.

"Possibly. A love lost, but was it regained? I prefer to believe that she returned and they celebrated together." Two hands now held his one, one holding his hand at eye level, while the other explored his palm and fingers.

"One more?" he asked, then picked up the book and selected a random page at the nod of her head. His brow raised, surprised. "Kafka?" His reaction was met by her soft laugh. "Well then, let's see what we have here."

"I belong to you;

There is really no other way of expressing it

And that is not strong enough.

How could I,

Fool that I am,

Go on sitting in my office, or here at home,

Instead of leaping onto a train

With my eyes shut and only opening them when I am with you."

"Never would I have imagined the writer of The Metamorphosis and The Trial writing poetry. Rather well, too, if I do say so myself." He closed the book, then after laying it on the bedside table switched off the lamp.

He watched in the light of the fireplace as her hand continued to explore his own. The sensation of her fingers brushing over the lines of his palms, sweeping softly up the length of each finger and then back down again was both soothing and sensual at the same time. His fingers moved to finger her damp, curling tendrils of hair, as he patiently waited to hear whatever was on her mind, knowing she would speak only when ready. They lay in silence as the minutes ticked by, he eventually closing his eyes, focusing on the light touches of her fingers against his hand. For a man that craved her touch every minute of each day, her fascination with his hand, wherever it arose from, was an elixir to his overwhelming desire for greater intimacy with her. His eyelids grew heavy and he was about to doze off when she finally spoke.

"Have I ever told you how much I love your hands?"

One side of his lips lifted along with a single brow, pleasure and curiosity mixing. "Not that recall." I would have remembered, believe me. Your compliments are so rare, each is a treasure.

"I do, you know. Your long fingers" she stroked a finger softly up the length of one of his own "how soft your skin is" a finger explored his palm "their gentleness." She brought his hand to her mouth, holding her lips against his palm for a long moment, his eyes closing at the sensation.

Store this time away, old sport, for times like these are far too few and much too far between.

Laura suddenly sat up, her face earnest when she faced him.

And never last long enough.

"I need to talk with you."

He tried to school his reaction, without success. Seeing the look that passed over his face, she felt a small stab of guilt, knowing that nearly every time he had heard those words in the past, the content of those conversations inevitably left him wounded.

"It's nothing bad, I promise," she tried to reassure him, quickly. His look, however, remained guarded, then turned to surprised when she flipped over stretching out across the width of the bed, her head resting on his stomach. Her hand reached for his, merging their fingers once more, before she pulled his arm forward to rest across her stomach.

"What's on your mind, Laura?"

"Do you remember when we were working the Golden Dugout case last year?"

"I do," he answered, clearly perplexed by the direction the conversation had taken.

"Are you aware of the American idioms that merge baseball and, ummm, dating?"

"Are you trying telling me I'm about to 'strike out' Laura?" he asked, voice tight.

She exhaled deeply, getting frustrated.

"I told you it's nothing bad. Can you please just trust me on that? This isn't easy for me."

God help me, he thought but utilizing years of training, relaxed his body under hers.

"Okay. Go on."

"I mean the bases. First base, second base, third base…home."

"I seem to recall a delightful shortstop," he grinned, momentarily forgetting his worries. His fingers began playing with her curling tendrils of hair that were currently splayed across his stomach.

"Focus, Mr. Steele," she laughed. "Bases, American idioms…."

"I've heard mention made of them, but have little reference to their intended meaning."

"First base: kissing. Second base: touching, above the waist, clothes on or off. Third base: essentially everything but actual sex. Home base, I think is self-explanatory."

He mulled her words for a moment. "What an odd notion, but I suppose it's a fairly accurate representation of the courting ritual."

Laura closed her eyes. Deep breath, Holt. You can do this.

"So I was thinking earlier, that there really should be a ski equivalent to that, don't you? You know, green slope, blue slope, black diamond…grand slalom…"

"An interesting concept, I'll grant you that," he answered distractedly, once more lost in the silken texture of the hair held between his fingers.

She heaved a sigh of exasperation. The man needs to pay attention. He should have caught on by now.

"Focus, Mr. Steele."

The aggravated tone of her voice, pulled him out of his thoughts once more.

"Focusing, focusing."

"At dinner tonight, I was thinking about something you said earlier."

"Oh, what was that?" her hair beginning to derail his train of thought once more.

"When you told me you need to know me, to know…" she swallowed heavily against the nervousness that was threatening to cut off her ability to speak, "…to know all of me."

His fingers stilled in her hair, his focus fully on her now, knowing he had misheard or at the very least misunderstood the direction the conversation had taken.

"Yes, I remember the conversation," he told her, carefully selecting his words.

"Right now we are firmly navigating the green slope."

"We are," he agreed tenuously. What were the other slopes, no bases. What were the other bases? You should have been paying attention, old sport. Black diamond, above the waist, blue? What was blue. No blue was above the waist. Bloody hell, what's black diamond? I can't even remember the last.

"So, I was thinking, perhaps it's time to strap on our skis and test out the blue slope. If our test runs of that slope are successful, then maybe we give some serious consideration to the black diamond. Although…the grand slalom is firmly off-piste, at least until I feel, umm, confident in my mastery of the other slopes and our ability to navigate them successfully together."

Okay, Holt, you said it. It's out there. Time for him to either push off or turn back.

He was silent for several long moments, moments in which she recalled his reaction in Cannes, when she had made the impetuous decision to declare "tonight's The Night." Her nerves began to fail her. When will I ever learn. I put myself out there, and get crushed. He made it clear in Cannes that he wanted an equal voice in where our relationship heads. Have I taken that decision out of his hands again?

"Laura, come here." His softly spoken words broke through her doubt filled reverie, yet still she did not move until he gave a small tug on her hand.

Sitting up, she turned to face him then watching him toss aside one of the pillows and roll to his side, propping his head on a hand supported by an arm anchored by the elbow on the bed, then stretched out facing him in the same manner. Having convinced herself she had made yet another misstep, she kept her eyes averted from his own. Two fingers skimmed along the underside of her jaw, until they rested underneath her chin.

"Look at me, Laura." His gut clenched when her eyes finally met his and he saw the self-doubt, the questions residing there. "Good God, woman, will you please turn off that pretty brain of yours, and stop using it to flog yourself?" Tipping her chin, he touched his lips to hers. "Relax," he urged, when she pulled away. "We're quite a pair, the two of us, always expecting the worst."

"But in Cannes…"

"Forget Cannes," he interrupted. "God knows I'd like to and those long, lonely months after. This is Vail. Let's concentrate on Vail. Can we agree on that?"


"Now, forgive me if I sound obtuse when I ask this," fingers tucked her hair behind her ear, "but did you just suggest that we move our, uh, physical relationship" deep swallow "…forward?"

She averted her eyes again.

"If that's what you want."

"If…I…want," he said each word thoughtfully, the back of his fingers stroking her neck. "'You're the only real thing I ever wanted.'"

Her eyes met his and she waited. When still he did not speak, she finally smiled, as he had hoped she would.

"Don't leave me in suspense. What movie?"

"Picnic. William Holden, Kim Novak, Columbia Pictures, 1955." Before he made an utter fool of himself he needed clarification on one of her points. "When?"

"Now, if…"

Her words were cut off when his lips pressed against hers, his arms wrapping around her, lowering her to her back on the bed.

"Since the day we met, I've wanted nothing more." His voice was gruff with desire, with disbelief. "You're sure?"

"Yes." Her hand skimmed across his shoulder, behind his neck, then pulled down until his lips were mere millimeters from hers. "I want to feel your lips on mine."

"It'd be my pleasure." His breathe whispered across her lips as he spoke, then his lips made contact, softly at first, gradually increasing in pressure as their lips parted then met once more. He teased her lips, nipped softly at them, left them, then returned, until she moaned quietly, part in pleasure, part in frustration, wanting more of what he was so far refusing her. He grinned down at her, knowing she wanted more, but held off a few more moments to allow the anticipation to build, to let her get lost in it. She lifted her eyes to stare at his lips, her hand applying pressure to the back of his neck again. Only then did the tip of a tongue touch a lip, lips part and he began to tease her anew. Nails raked lightly down his back in response, he felt a smile under his lips as his back arched into her hands automatically. With a groan of delectation, the teasing ended, became purposeful, aimed to arouse her as much as she had just done to him. When their lips at last parted, both were breathless.

Blue eyes caught amber ones and held as a thumb reached up to sweep across her lip. Laura's hand captured his, lowering it until it lay atop her breast.

"Touch me." Her request was a plea born of a need to be close to him, to find his hands fully on her at last.

He was helpless to deny her. His head bent until his forehead rested upon her own, his hand settling fully on the soft mound. His breath hitched in his chest as he felt her nipple harden against his palm, his hand pressing upward, testing the weight of her breast. It was only then that he believed this was real, and with that realization he released the breath he'd been holding. His lips brushed over hers again, before journeying down the long column of her neck, touching, tasting as a hand buried itself in his hair, fingers massaging his scalp.

Her breast was on fire, all the nerves ignited by the simple weight of his hand pressing upon it. I've never needed, never wanted, someone to touch me so badly before. She gasped as his lips settled in the hollow of her throat, as a tongue flicked against the sensitive area, tasting it. The hand that had long ago lost itself in his hair, pressed on the back of his head, urging him further downwards, an unspoken request to which he happily complied. A thumb swept across her covered nipple, sending shimmers down her spine. Her back arched and she cried out when his lips closed around the taut peak, as his hand abandoned her breast and sought the bottom of her shirt, seeking connection to her bare skin. His mouth left her breast, only to blow against the wet fabric, the sensation jolting her to her core.

Small hands pushed against his shoulders. His hand stopped its upward movement against the bare skin underneath of her shirt. He sighed with disappointment, but willingly removed his hand, then leaned down to kiss her. Her lips melded against his own, then they, too, pulled away. He pushed himself up on his arm, prepared to leave her, when his eyes caught her movement. In a fluid motion, Laura's arms crossed, hands grabbing the hem of her pajama top, then lifting, removed it from her body, a lone hand dropping it to the ground. She lay back, bare for the first time to his eyes, before reaching for him, pulling him down for a sweet kiss, laced with longing.

Their lips parted, and he glanced down at her, soaking her in, his breath leaving him in a staccato sigh. Ah, Laura.

Her eyes followed his, then the single finger that traced a pattern along the freckles smattered across her chest, before continuing down her center, circling her navel then trailing to her side. Once there, he flattened his palm against her, skimming it along her side, pausing to slowly explore the ridges and valleys of her delicate ribs.

Leaning over her, he pressed his lips beneath her ear, then breathed, "You're beautiful Laura."

Fingers traced his jaw, before lips replaced them, trailing down his neck, until lips found shoulder where they grazed and teeth nipped. Curious hands explored shoulder to waist, trying to ferret out long hidden secrets, delighting in making muscles jump, nerves quiver. Her mouth traveled downward until it found a lone nipple hidden amongst soft, dense hair, a flick of a tongue, then a mouth suckling as soft murmurs of pleasure slipped past hungry lips. A pleased laugh trickled into the air as his body shuddered, a moan of pleasure escaping him.

His hand wandered, fingers tracking over a flat abdomen, ever upward, until at last they reached the swell of a breast. A finger swiped her nipple, her back arched, pressing a small, plump breast into the palm of his hand. His hand left her and he smiled at her moan of disappointment. His fingers moved to the back of her neck, and grasping it lightly, urged her mouth away from his chest, so their lips could join. He kissed her deeply, tongue dancing against her own, as he lowered her to her back on the bed. His mouth broke free of hers with a gasp, and he shifted his body downward, until his face hovered above her breasts.

His eyes feasted on the dusty rose areolas before them, then watched, as his finger circled, her nipple hardening in response before it was ever touched. Two fingers grasped the hardened little bud, rolling it between them. He smiled as she cried out, the sound of her response causing his erection to twitch, almost painfully. At last, he leaned down and finally knew the experience of her in his mouth. His mouth suckled gently at first, then when her back arched, tugged a little more firmly, as his other hand began the pay attendance to her other breast. Releasing her, he blew gently across the wet nub, drawing a murmur of pleasure from her.

Pressing himself up on his elbows, he nuzzled his face in the crook of her neck, teeth nipping, tongue tasting, lips trailing up her neck, behind an ear, until a lobe was nipped, tasted, suckled upon. Laura cried out again, grinding her hips upwards instinctively, coming into contact with his hardened shaft, ripping a growl from deep within his throat. He shifted automatically, away from the contact, removing the pressure. His lips found hers again, resting against them for a long moment, before seeking, devouring. She responded, tongue, lips, meeting his tit-for-tat as her body writhed beneath his, her hands kneading their way down his back, nails scraping against the small of his back. His back arched, as air hissed from between his teeth.

A hand grabbed his, was forced downwards, pressed over and held against the breast that had thus far been left unattended.

"Please." Uttered on a short breath, tainted with undisguised need. Lips quirked upwards in response, before trailing their way across her jaw.

Small hands found their way between their bodies, fingers explored a densely covered chest, one set finding the small nub of his nipple, pinching it lightly, tugging, brushing across it as his back arched upwards. His body threatened to explode from her tantalizing explorations.

"Oh God, Laura, I won't be able to take much more of that," he murmured, dropping his head so that his lips could pay tribute to the freckles smattered across her chest. His hands moved under her back, lifting her upwards, needing more contact. "I feel I've waited a lifetime to taste these glorious freckles of yours," he murmured, words muffled against her skin. He felt, as much as heard, her sigh through his hands on her back.

Hands threaded in his hair, journeyed down his neck, pressed upon his bare shoulders, indicating again where she desperately needed his attention. Her back lifted off the bed when at last his lips caressed her nipple, both hands tangled in his hair, urging him to continue his attentions. A tongue lathed, a mouth pulled, when teeth nipped her whole body twitched in response. Her arms reached under his and pulled him upwards, until he lay on top of her. Her arms wrapped around him, holding him tightly to her, his hands at either side of her head fingering her hair, his forehead resting on hers as they both sought to catch their breaths.

Fingers rubbed against her cheeks, leading her eyes to meet his own.

"You're more than I ever imagined, even in my dreams, Laura." The lips that pressed against hers could feel the soft smile caused by his words.

Her hands pressed against his shoulders. A quick kiss on her forehead, then he rolled off of her, settling in with his back against the bed, leaving his arm open for her to join him. He waited until she draped herself across him, her bare breasts against his skin, a leg draped carelessly over his own, then wrapped his arm tightly around her. Her fingers freely explored his chest and side as they allowed their bodies time to relax after the onslaught of sensation. Laura finally spoke.

"It's frightening, you know." Her finger traced a lazy pattern around his nipple. Sucking in a deep breath in response to the sensation, his hand grabbed hers, holding both still against his chest.

"What is?"

"If it's like that between us when we are just, ummm, exploring the blue slope, what's it going to be like when we…"

"Complete the grand slalom?" he asked, finishing her sentence for her.


His hand released her, to stroke her chin then tip it upwards.

"As close to heaven on earth as one can get, I imagine." His lips gently touched hers then moved away, his cheek nuzzling the top of her head.

They fell silent as they considered his words. Her hand found its way to his side, and began stroking it.

"How old were you when you met Monroe?" She heard the laughter rumble in his chest.

"I should've known you wouldn't forget."

"You're right, you should have," she laughed.

"Nineteen, nearly twenty."

"I thought you were with Daniel from fourteen on?"

"For the most part. Shortly after I turned eighteen, I lit out on my own. I wasn't drawn to the con, at least not one of the cons Daniel intended for me, the con he oft utilized."

"What kind of con was that?"

"Using our, err, charms, to beguile a woman away from her possessions."

"Did you? Did you ever take a woman to bed to get what you were after?" She felt him stiffen underneath of her.

"Just once," his voice was tight, held a touch of bitterness. "I didn't like myself much after. Vowed never to do it again."

Laura propped her chin on his chest, then lay her hand on his cheek.

"I can see that. It's your nature."

"How do you mean?" He refused to look at her, knowing if he saw in her face the condemnation for his act that he still held for himself to this day, it would be unbearable…especially so soon after they had at last moved forward.

"You respect women too much. Respect yourself too much." His eyes finally met hers, relief hovering in their depths, along with a lingering dose of doubt.

"Knowing this, does it change your estimation of me?" He forced the words past the lump in his throat.

"I would think so. You were young. Eighteen? It was what you'd been taught, yet still you walked away from that part of the life. How you ever maintained your innate code of honor," a hand moved to rest on his chest "this heart, speaks volumes about who you are." She returned her head to his shoulder as an arm tightened around her shoulders and lips pressed against the top of her head. "So you left at eighteen. Is that when you ended up in Barbados with Monroe?"

"Not directly. I spent near on a year prospecting in the Yucatan, before moving on to Brazil where, of course, I met up with Barney…"

"The Kilkenny Kid, Pride of the Pampas." Fingers idly explored his chest, her eyes watching as the hair fell back into place when her fingers passed.

"Yes. I hopped a container ship there, bound for Barbados, working my way for the fare. Met Monroe 'round a week after I'd arrived, when we got into a tussle at a bar."

"Over a woman?" She smiled at the laughter that rumbled in his chest, then hummed as his fingers stroked the bare skin on her side.

"It's what Monroe believed, at least. Frankly, the young woman he'd been seeing had made overtures to me, hoping to make him jealous. I'd say she succeeded."

"Why fight him, if you'd done nothing then?"

"Frankly, I'd been spoiling for a fight, after what Barney'd done. Monroe and I became good mates, once we were done pounding the tar out of one another."

"How long has he been in LA?" she asked on a yawn.

"Going on two years now. Decided he was tired of the life, was ready to retire and walk the straight and narrow. Simply needed a friend and a few quid in his pocket to set him on his way. His business has done…" he trailed off as he heard her sigh, her arm grown heavy against his chest. Tilting his head, he looked at her and confirmed she was sound asleep.

With a glance at the alarm to assure it was set, he carefully settled down lower on the bed. Wrapping both arms around Laura, he allowed himself to give in to sleep. The last thought to cross through his mind before sleep over took him, surprised even himself. I want this time to last the rest of my life.

Laura had only been asleep for a couple of hours when she woke, uncomfortably hot. It only took her a moment to ascertain why: the fire that had been blazing in the room for hours, the central heat running at full tilt, the heavy comforter covering her and the very warm body wrapped around her. She tossed back the comforter trying to find some relief from the oppressive heat, then laughed to herself.

Sometime during the night they had changed positions. Remington was now spooned firmly against her backside, one arm wrapped around her waist, while the hand of the arm that pillowed her head had claimed a breast as its own. Carefully untangling herself, she pulled the comforter back over him as she climbed out of the bed. Picking up her robe, she shrugged into it, tying the belt as she left the room. After a quick but refreshing glass of water in the kitchen, she returned to the bedroom. Turning off the gas logs in the fireplace she quietly slid open a door to the porch then leaned her back against the jam, enjoying the cold air brushing across her body. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. There's something about the mountain air…

A rustling of bed sheets drew her away from her thoughts. Turning her head, she smiled as she watched Remington's hand search for her, even in his sleep. Not finding her, he roused, pushing himself up on an elbow, his eyes scanned the bed, then glanced towards the bathroom. Door open, light off, even in his sleep befuddled mind it was clear she was not in there. His eyes scanned the perimeter of the room, finding her, immediately registering the open door, the cold air seeping into the room, Laura dressed only in a silk dressing gown.

"You're going to catch your death from the cold. Come back to bed, Laura."

She briefly considered refusing, her hackles normally rising when anyone told her what to do rather than ask. What's the point? It's where I want to be.

Closing the door, she stripped off her robe, laying it across the bottom of the bed before climbing back in. His arms reached for her, pulling her back snug against his body, wrapping her in his embrace. When her feet nudged at his legs, he unquestioningly lifted the top leg allowing her an opening, then lay it back down once her cold feet were comfortably ensconced between his calves. Shortly before they both fell back asleep, his hand slipped down to cup her breast once more. With a silent laugh and a shake of her head, she lay her hand over his, twinging her fingers through his, smiling as his own fingers folded around hers. With a quiet sigh, she slipped back into her dreams.