"Good Morning," Laura said with a smile as she walked into the brightly decorated offices of Remington Steele Investigations.
"Speak for yourself," the receptionist grumbled from behind the packages on her desk.
"Oh come on, Bernice," Laura replied, her voice much too cheerful for Ms. Foxe's liking. "Get into the holiday spirit."
Laura smiled as she looked at the gifts that filled the desk. She had to admit she was enjoying the attention, but her friend was right. It was getting out of hand.
"Seriously Laura," Bernice said, "This has been going on for over a week. There's still another week before Christmas, and it just keeps getting worse. First Murphy brings in a gift, and then Skeeziks brings in a bigger one. Then Murphy has to outdo him and so on and so on… You HAVE to make them stop!"
As flattering as it was, Laura knew she had to do something. Murphy was her best friend. She didn't share his romantic interest, and she didn't want to encourage him. Mr. Steele, on the other hand, was a different story. He, she was most definitely interested in--- but she wasn't sure she wanted to encourage him, either. She did, however, know that neither of them should be spending that kind of money. Murphy couldn't really afford it, and Mr. Steele was probably using agency funds.
"I'll handle it," she said. "Is he in?" she asked, nodding toward Mr. Steele's office. The look Bernice shot her reminded Laura how ridiculous her question was, as if their titular head would ever show his face before noon. "Right," she answered. "Send him in as soon as you see him." She turned and left for her office.
Bernice looked up from her desk to see Remington Steele entering the offices carrying a huge red poinsettia.
"Oh, that's it!" she exclaimed. "I can't take anymore!"
"Why Miss Wolfe," Steele said, feigning hurt. "You cut me to the quick. I only wanted to spread a bit of holiday cheer."
"You're spreading something, all right," Bernice responded with a roll of her eyes.
"Well, if you're not of the holiday mind," he said, holding back the plant, "Perhaps Miss Holt would like these…"
Bernice quickly looked up to meet Steele's eyes. "Wait," she said. "You didn't buy that for Laura?"
"No, Miss Wolfe," he answered. "I realized that while Miss Holt's collection of gifts continues to grow, the other beautiful woman of the office has been neglected." He set the plant down on the corner of her desk and gave her a wink.
Despite herself, Bernice felt her animosity for the man slipping, but just a little. She remembered how infatuated she'd been with him that first day, although her feelings quickly changed. She hadn't been able to look at him the same way after she found out he was a fraud. It didn't help that Laura seemed to be interested in him. She had been worried about her friend getting hurt by the smooth con man, but she was slowly changing her mind on that score as well. She called out to him as he turned toward his office. "Laura wants to see you."
Steele nodded, but continued into the larger executive office. Closing the door behind him, he smiled as he walked toward the connecting door that led into Laura's office. He knocked softly and then opened the door, just enough to stick his head in.
Laura looked up from the file she was reading and smiled at the sight of him. "Come in," she said. She indicated for him to sit in the chair opposite her desk. As he did, she continued. "We need to talk."
She had smiled at him, and that was a good sign. He enjoyed the fact that she was generally glad to see him, but her tone was ominous. "What about?" he asked innocently.
She sighed. "While I'm happy that you and Murphy seem to be really embracing the holiday spirit, this little competition of yours has got to stop."
"Laura, I have no idea what you're talking about," he said, giving her his best look of wide-eyed innocence.
"Let's not play this little game for once," she said, glaring at him. "I came to you because I need you to stop. Murphy is going to keep in step with you measure for measure. Look, I know you enjoy torturing him, but I'm asking you to stop. For me. Please."
He couldn't resist her when she looked at him that way. What was it about this woman? He sighed softly before answering, "Okay, but on one condition."
"What is it?" she asked.
"Have dinner with me tonight," he replied.
Inwardly, she was delighted at his suggestion, but she refused to let him see that. "All right," she answered. "But you have to take the gifts back."
"All of them?" he asked.
"All of them," she answered, nodding.
"But it's Christmas," he protested. "You have to have at least one present."
She thought about this for a moment. She had already bought a gift for him and one for Murphy, as well. She supposed it would be all right to keep just one of their gifts. "Okay," she answered. "You can leave one. But the rest have to go back." She stopped him just as he opened his mouth to reply. "And I'll tell Murphy."
"Whatever you say," he replied as he stood. He turned to the door to the outer office. "I'll just go get started on returning those gifts." He opened the door and noticing Murphy talking to Bernice, he turned back to Laura. "I'll pick you up at seven."
Laura hung yet another dress back into her closet. She'd changed her clothes no fewer than five times. Nothing seemed to be right. She'd quickly discarded the red dress she'd worn to the Hunter ceremony, and the white dress she'd worn to the dinner party with the Dillons. She wanted something he hadn't seen her in. Though she hated to admit it, she was looking forward to her date with Mr. Steele.
She had been finding it harder and harder to keep him at arms length. Her attraction to him was growing by the day. It wasn't that long ago that she had been ready to "cross that line" with him in the Devil's Playground. Then there was the fact that he was taking his detective training seriously. The longer he worked with them, the more she realized that he might actually make a good detective one day. She thought that he seemed truly interested in it, and that softened her to him all the more.
She didn't know where he was taking her, but she knew his taste, and she'd seen his credit card statements. She decided on a slinky black beaded evening gown. It wasn't her usual taste, but Bernice had insisted she looked great in it. When she bought it, she never really thought she'd have an occasion to wear it. She wore her hair down. It looked softer than when she wore it up, and she loved the way he looked at her when it fell down softly across her shoulders.
She looked at the small, beautifully wrapped package sitting on her nightstand. She picked it up and put it in her evening bag. She picked up the diamond necklace she'd splurged on after the completion of the agency's first big case, and held it behind her neck. She'd just finished clasping it when the doorbell rang.
She walked out to the living room, past the beautifully decorated tree and opened the front door, with Nero rubbing at her ankles. She had to fight to remember to breathe when she saw him. The man she called Remington Steele was incredibly handsome, and she was sure that no one wore a tuxedo quite the way he did. He looked even better bathed in the twinkling lights of her Christmas decorations.
"Good evening, Miss Holt," he said as she invited him in. "You look lovely this evening."
As he stepped into the foyer, he realized she was standing directly under a sprig of mistletoe. He leaned in and gave her a gentle kiss. When she looked slightly startled, he pointed up. Nero practically glared up at Steele, and then stalked away.
"Thank you, Mr. Steele," she answered, still blushing from not remembering she'd hung the mistletoe. "You're not so bad, yourself." She wasn't sure how long he planned to stay at the house, and she hesitated over her next words, "Can I get you a drink?"
He looked at his watch, apparently considering her offer. "Our reservation is for eight thirty," he said. "It will take a little while to get to the restaurant, but I think we have time."
They had enjoyed an easy conversation over a glass or two of wine before leaving Laura's house. Now, they were sitting in the back of the limo cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway.
"So, were you able to take back all of those gifts?" she asked.
"Most," he answered honestly. He'd decided to hold on to a few pieces that he'd picked out specifically for her. There would be other occasions, and someday he would have the chance to give them to her. The fact that he'd even contemplated a future with Laura in it was not lost on him. It actually made him much more nervous than any con ever had. He didn't want to think about it just now. "How did Murphy take the news?" he asked.
"As well as could be expected," she answered. "He didn't like it, but once I told him you'd already agreed, there wasn't much he could do." She didn't really want to talk about Murphy. She looked out the window. "Where are we going, anyway?" she asked.
"A little place I found just outside Malibu," he answered. "It's called 'Mia's', I think you'll like it."
She was sure she would. The man had exquisite taste, so much so that she began to wonder about the gift she'd placed in her bag. Would he like it? When she'd chosen it, she was sure it was perfect for him. So why was she so nervous all of the sudden?
He watched her as she continued to look out the window. She was beautiful, but so unlike the women he'd known in his past. There was something about her that attracted him in a way that he'd never felt before. After having spent the past few months pursuing her, he realized that this woman was more than just a conquest… and that left him with an uneasy feeling.
What's the matter with you "Old Sport?" Steele thought. He had even gone out and bought a Christmas present for the first time in his life. He wasn't sure that it was to take up the gauntlet that Murphy Michaels had thrown down, or because he actually wanted Laura to have something from him for Christmas. What's happened to you? he thought. Dare I say you are getting into the Christmas spirit? No, it wasn't the Christmas spirit he felt when he looked at Miss Holt.
He patted the envelope in his pocket. She'd made him settle for giving her just one gift. He'd never been one that was big on holidays, especially Christmas, but he could see how much the holiday meant to Laura and he wanted to give her the perfect gift. He hoped he'd chosen the right one.
to be continued...