After dinner, they had gone for a walk along the restaurant's pier. It was warm for December, and the setting was calling to them. They were alone on the long pier that was decorated with twinkling lights. The reflection of the lights on the water almost matched the stars that floated above them. Laura had always loved the ocean, and tonight it seemed even more beautiful. She chalked it up to the company. She was pleasantly surprised at how well the evening was going… and even more surprised that she didn't want it to end.

He watched her as they walked along the pier, she seemed more content than he'd ever seen her. He had to admit to feeling something similar himself. He wasn't ready for the evening to end, and he still hadn't given her the gift. He wanted it to be tonight, when they were alone and not in the office. It wasn't the most personal of gifts, but at this stage, that was probably a good thing. He noticed her shiver as the wind picked up over the ocean. He took off his jacket and

draped it over her shoulders.

"Perhaps we should be heading back," he said, putting his arm around her shoulder. He expected her to pull away, but she didn't. She simply nodded in agreement as she leaned into his embrace. They walked in a comfortable silence that carried on as Fred drove them back to Laura's house.

When Fred pulled the limo up in front of the house, Remington got out and extended his hand to help Laura out of the car.

"I'll get a cab, Fred," he said, leaning into the passenger window. "You can go on home," he added before tapping twice on the roof.

He walked alongside Laura as they approached her front door. When she withdrew the keys from her bag, he reached out for them. "May I?"

She nodded and handed him the keys. A moment later, he was following her into her living room. She took his jacket from around her shoulders and handed it to him. He laid it over the back of the sofa.

"How about a nightcap?" she suggested.

"Sounds wonderful," he said with a smile. He knew she was nervous, but he was happy that she seemed to be allowing herself to let go a little and enjoy the moment. He sat down on the sofa as she poured them each another glass of the wine they drank earlier. He patted the sofa next to him as she approached. She sat down next to him and handed him a glass.

"Laura," he said softly "I had a lovely time this evening."

"So did I," she answered, before taking a sip of her wine.

He set his glass down on the table. "There's something I wanted to give you," he went on, reaching behind her to remove an envelope from the breast pocket of his jacket. "Merry Christmas," he said as he handed the envelope to her.

Despite herself, her hands were trembling as she took the envelope from him. Why did he have this affect on her? Slowly, she opened the envelope and pulled out two tickets. They were VIP box seats for the ballet. Her eyes drew open wide as she continued to read.

"The Nutcracker?" she asked, disbelieving. "On Christmas Eve." She had always loved that particular ballet, and it had been years since she'd seen it. There seemed to be something magical about seeing it on Christmas Eve. "Thank you," she said, her voice barely more than a whisper.

"You're welcome," he answered, pleased that she seemed genuinely touched by the gift. "I hope you'll allow me to accompany you," he said.

"Of course," she said, smiling. She wouldn't have it any other way. "I have something for you, too." She got up and walked over to the table at the front door where she'd left her handbag. She opened it and took out the small box. She walked back over to the sofa and sat down beside him. She handed him the box.

"It's beautiful," he said, admiring the wrapping.

"Open it," she said, sounding very much like a child on Christmas morning.

He tore off the beautiful paper and flipped open the lid to find a pair of gold cufflinks that were set with the most beautiful blue stones.

"They're sapphires," she said. They reminded her of his eyes, she didn't say. "I couldn't find Royal Lavulite."

Her words and the idea behind her gift touched him more than either of them could have realized. She had chosen a gift to commemorate their meeting, and they both knew that it meant she hoped he'd stay around, and it meant even more than that to him. He'd gotten gifts from women before; beautiful, expensive things that he could unwrap before moving on to unwrap the giver. But this was different. This was Laura.

--------------------

Monday morning, Laura was sitting at her desk when Murphy walked in to her office.

"Hey Murph," she said, looking up.

"Hey," he said quietly. "Did you have a good weekend?"

"Yeah," she answered. "You?"

"Mm-hmm," he nodded. He wanted to ask about her date with Steele, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Instead, he reached into the breast pocket of his plaid shirt. He pulled out an envelope and handed it to her. "I know we don't usually exchange gifts until Christmas Eve," he said, "but this can't wait."

"Oh Murphy," she said, taking the envelope that he handed her. "I didn't bring yours. It's at my house, under the tree."

"It's okay," he told her. "I'm the one who changed the rules. Go ahead, open it."

Laura opened the envelope to reveal two tickets.

"The Nutcracker," she said, hoping she didn't sound disappointed. "On Christmas Eve."

"They're in the back of the orchestra," he said. "But these tickets were almost impossible to get. I know how much you love ballet," he went on.

Before he could continue, there was a knock on the connecting door.

"Come in, Mr. Steele," Laura called.

Murphy didn't try to hide his disappointment, or was it disgust?

"So, Laura," he said, never taking his eyes off Steele. "What time should I pick you up on Christmas Eve?"

Steele looked at Laura, knowing that Murphy was obviously unaware of their plans.

"Murphy's just given me two tickets to The Nutcracker on Christmas Eve," she said to him with pleading eyes.

"Well then," Steele answered. "Let's make it a foursome."

--------------------

"I can't believe it," Murphy said, pacing the office. "I find her the perfect gift and he has to do me one better. Box seats! How did HE get box seats?" Murphy continued to pace as he tugged at his bow tie.

"Relax, Murph," Bernice said. "They'll be here any minute. Just try to have a good time, okay?"

"And that's another thing," he said, stopping to look at her. "Why did HE get to pick her up?"

"Because they're on a date," Bernice answered with a sigh. "She likes him, Murphy. And he did ask her first. Face it, you're stuck with me. Let's just try and have a good time…"

Bernice was interrupted by the sound of Laura's laughter as she and Remington Steele entered the office. Laura looked beautiful in a flowing white, off the shoulder gown and Steele definitely knew how to wear a tux.

"Merry Christmas!" Laura said to her friends.

"Yeah, Merry Christmas," Murphy repeated. "Let's get going."

"Not so fast, Murph," Laura said, stopping him from walking to the door. "We've got plenty of time, and I want to give you and Bernice your gifts."

"There's something I need to check on in my office," Steele said, excusing himself. "I'll be through by the time we're ready to leave."

Laura smiled warmly as he looked at her. He knew she needed time with Murphy. He had been pleased that she'd agreed to keep their date, knowing how Murphy would feel about it. Murphy's feelings for Laura had not gone unnoticed by Steele, or anyone else for that matter, but it was obvious that Laura did her best to hide from the situation. He walked into his office and closed the door behind him.

Murphy visibly relaxed as the door closed. He even smiled as Laura handed him a brightly wrapped box.

He tore into it like, well, like a kid on Christmas. He looked at Laura in disbelief. "A flannel shirt?" he asked. He had searched high and low to find her the perfect gift, and she gives him a shirt? So caught up was he that he didn't notice the look of amusement on Laura's face.

It took her only a minute to dissolve into full blown laughter. "You're too easy, Murph," she said between giggles. "Look under the shirt."

He lifted up the shirt to find an envelope. He opened it and pulled out five small cards. "Guest passes to White Oaks?" he asked.

She nodded. "You've always wanted to play there, right?"

"You know it!" he answered, practically giddy.

"You've got five rounds, all eighteen holes," she answered. "But you have to take me at least once."

"I can't think of anyone I'd rather play with, Partner," he said, closing the distance between them. "Thank you!" He picked her up and held her close. He was just about to kiss her when Bernice cleared her throat.

"Ahem."

Murphy glared at her, but she just nodded toward Steele's door. Even if Murphy couldn't see it, she knew Laura and the mystery man were on a collision course. Whether or not it was love she wouldn't dare speculate, but she knew something was going on between them and she didn't want to see Murphy hurt anymore than he already was.

"Come on, Murph," she said, pulling him away from Laura. She led him over to her desk as Laura followed. "I've got a gift for you, too." She picked up the shopping bag from behind her desk and handed Murphy the larger of the boxes. "Open it," she said.

Murphy tore off the paper and pulled back the lid of the box to find a new pair of hiking boots. They were exactly the pair he'd been looking at.

Laura and Bernice exchanged gifts. Bernice had gotten Laura a beautiful soft pink cashmere sweater, and Laura gave Bernice the latest designer handbag she'd been coveting.

Murphy gave Bernice a pair of gold earrings that Laura had picked out. She took off the ones she was wearing and put them on. They went perfectly with the deep red gown she was wearing.

The three friends were laughing and enjoying their gifts when they heard the office door open.

"It's about time to leave," Steele said, tapping his watch. "The restaurant is right across the street from the theatre, but we need to get going if we're to make our reservation."

--------------------

Over dinner, Murphy finally let himself relax. The foursome laughed and had a good time. Murphy found himself watching Laura, and though he was loathe to admit it, she seemed happy. And when he wasn't busy hating him, he actually found Steele to be a likable guy. He'd never admit that out loud.

Bernice watched Murphy as he concentrated on Laura. She thought he was finally seeing what she'd seen all along, but she couldn't be sure. His features seemed to soften, his glare had gone and his signature goofy grin had returned. She really looked at him, maybe for the first time. He was an attractive guy, and much cuter when he wasn't mooning over Laura. He wasn't rich, but he was a pretty good catch… strong, and steady, handsome, reliable, good at what he did. He was athletic, and took great care of himself. She began to think that maybe she'd been looking in the wrong place all this time.

As dinner ended, the foursome stood and prepared to walk to the theatre. Steele held out his arm to Laura. She took it as they stepped out to lead the way.

When Laura and Steele were a few steps ahead, Bernice wrapped her arms around Murphy's. "Come on Murph," she said with a wink, "Let's go." Then, licking her lips, she looked up into his eyes. "Have I ever told you how much I LOVE Sugar Plum Fairies?"

Murphy's jaw dropped as he looked at the beautiful brunette on his arm. This might turn out to be a great Christmas, after all…

The End