"I don't want to know," Laura said.
She had been adamant about this for weeks, but Remington was hoping to change her mind. They were going to see Dr. Elliott for another ultrasound the next day and he'd told them he should be able to determine the sex of the baby. For the past five and a half months, she'd been referring to the baby as "he" and Remington had been referring to the baby as "she." He had hoped that the ultrasound would put them on the same page, but Laura was being her usual stubborn self.
"Why would it hurt to know?" he asked.
"I don't know," she said testily. "I just don't want to know."
"It would go a long way toward decorating the nursery," he suggested. "And choosing a name."
"We'll choose a name when he is born," she said. "And I thought we decided to do the nursery in a nice neutral yellow."
"We did," he agreed, with a sigh.
"Look," she said firmly, placing her hands on her hips. "I'm tired, my feet are killing me, I'm irritable and I'm fat. Can't you just leave it alone?"
"Don't do that."
"Placate me. You don't really want to let it go, do you?"
"No, I don't," he said honestly. "But I also don't want to fight with you. I can wait to find out the baby's gender if it's that important to you. Come here," he reached out to her and she sat down next to him on the sofa. He turned so she was leaning her back against his chest and they were both facing the windows. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. "We've only a couple more months of nights like this."
"Like what? With me being cranky and irritable?"
"No," he said with a gleam in his eye. "I think we have fifty or sixty years of that to look forward to," he paused as she elbowed him in the gut. "I meant nights alone here, where we can just enjoy each other."
She let out a long sigh.
"I haven't been too enjoyable lately, have I?"
"It's to be expected, darling," he said, leaning in to kiss her temple. "And I always enjoy you. Laura, your body is going through so many changes. I can never understand fully what you're going through, but I love and respect you for going through it. You're not alone in this, no matter how much it might feel like it."
"I know," she said. "And I love you for that. Now, what's for dinner?" she asked with a smile. "I'm starving."
"Come on, mother," he said, chuckling as he pushed her slightly forward so he could get up. "Up you get."
"Are you laughing at me?"
"Of course not, my love."
"Yes you are," she said, pouting. "Can I help it that I'm eating for two?"
"No dear," he said. "Come on, let's get you fed."
He led her to the kitchen and she watched as he threw together a quick but incredible meal. She'd never understand how he could do that. He seemed to be able to make a gourmet feast out of the sparest ingredients. If it were up to her, she'd eat nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
"Good morning, Chief," Mildred said as Remington came into the office.
"Where's Mrs. Steele?"
"She wasn't feeling well this morning," he said. "I wanted her to sleep in. I'll go and pick her up later. Do we have anything pressing today?"
"No," Mildred told him. "Schedule's pretty light. Mrs. Steele has an appointment with Dr. Elliott today. I try to keep her workload lighter on her appointment days."
"Thank you," he said, smiling. "I've said it before Mildred, but what would we do without you?"
"How is she really?" Mildred asked.
"She's fine, Mildred," he answered. "She's just getting more uncomfortable. It won't be long now."
"What about the cravings?" Mildred asked. "Is that getting any better?"
"I had to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at three this morning."
"That's not so bad," Mildred said.
"She insisted on boysenberry jam."
"Let me guess, you didn't have any boysenberry jam?"
"Thank goodness for twenty-four hour supermarkets, huh?"
"What makes you think I went out at three a.m. for boysenberry jam?"
"Of course I did, Mildred. Laura is having my baby; do you think I would deprive her of anything? I wouldn't, not even boysenberry jam at three in the morning."
"She's a lucky lady," Mildred said with a sigh.
"I'm the lucky one, Mildred," he answered. "What have we got on the schedule for today?"
"Just a couple of security contracts," she answered. "We have a new client coming in after Mrs. Steele's doctor's appointment.
"Missing person," she said. "Sort of. I wasn't sure if you'd want to take the case. It hits a little close to home."
"How so?" he asked. She'd piqued his interest, but she knew she would.
"Mrs. Riley is a wealthy widow. She has no known heirs…"
"But apparently, she gave a baby up for adoption when she was pretty young, and now she wants to find the child she gave up before it's too late."
"That's going to be rather complicated," he said. "We'll meet with her. But no promises."
"I'm not going to make it another month," Laura said, sitting back as Remington positioned the Christmas tree in front of the window.
"You'll make it, darling," he said. "I can imagine how difficult it is for you, but it's almost over," he said with a smile. "And very soon, you'll be holding our little bundle of joy in your arms."
"Not soon enough," she complained.
"Just think of next Christmas," he encouraged. "The littlest Steele will be nearly a year old and you'll be feeling like your old self. You won't be able to contain your Christmas spirit."
"Do we really have to go to Frances'?"
"No," he told her. "But you're telling your mother why we're not there."
"All right, all right… I'll go."
"That's the spirit, Laura."
"Don't push your luck."
He smiled, thinking this was the perfect time to show her the surprise he'd been working on. She'd been feeling rather down lately. He wasn't sure if it was really the weight gain; he'd assured her that she was still as beautiful to him as the day they met, or if she was really going to miss being pregnant. When her mood was good, she seemed to really enjoy it. Either way, his surprise was guaranteed to make her happy… today and for years to come. He walked over to the sofa and reached out his hand.
"Come with me," he said.
She stood to join him, as he took her hand in his.
"Where are we going?" she asked.
She rolled her eyes.
"Remington, I've seen your screening room. It's lovely and that's the biggest TV I've ever seen."
"You're right Laura," he said. "It IS lovely, but that's not where we're going."
"I don't feel like walking down to the beach," she said.
"Not to worry," he told her. "Will you just trust me?"
"You know I do," she said softly, wishing she wasn't so grouchy lately.
"Then come on."
He led her through the kitchen to the stairs leading to the lower level. The previous owners had used the two large rooms for storage and had left them unfinished. On one side, Remington had created a screening room, with blackout curtains over the windows that overlooked the beach, leather sofas, surround sound and the largest big screen TV Monroe could get his hands on. They hadn't decided on what to do with the room across the hall, at least that's what Laura thought.
"Close your eyes," he said as they stopped outside the door across from his screening room.
She looked up at him with a smile, "What have you done?"
"You'll see," he answered. "Close your eyes."
"Yes, sir," she said, and she closed her eyes.
When he was sure she wasn't peeking, he opened the door and led her inside. After he closed the door behind them, he told her she could look. She did, and she couldn't believe her eyes.
"Oh, Rem," she said.
They were standing in the middle of a dance studio, and it was absolutely gorgeous. The polished wood floors shined almost as much as the sun reflecting off the ocean outside the window. One wall was mirrored from floor to ceiling and there was a barre on the opposite wall. She could see that there were speakers around the room and assumed it was set up with surround sound like the screening room. It was, and she was thrilled when he showed her the stereo system that was connected to the speaker system.
"Do you like it?" he asked.
"It's perfect! Thank you, so much!"
She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him her appreciation. This incredible man that she'd married knew her so well. This was the perfect surprise and she couldn't wait to use it. Of course right now, she could barely walk without waddling… but after the baby came, this studio would be the perfect place to get her figure back. He told her constantly how beautiful and desirable she was, and she believed him. That's why she didn't give in to the urge to be angry that he thought she needed her own exercise studio to work off all the weight she'd gained. That wasn't his intention at all. He knew how much she loved to dance and this would be the perfect place for her to find respite from the crazy world they lived in.
"You're welcome, Mrs. Steele," he said. "Now, we have to go up and get ready for dinner at your sister's."
Christmas at the Pipers was eventful. Danny got a drum set, Mindy got her period and Laurie Beth got her Uncle Remington's undivided attention for the last time.
Remington enjoyed the chaos of a big family gathering, but being three weeks from delivering, Laura couldn't wait to get home.
"You know what the bad thing is about being due to give birth in January?" she called out from the bathroom as he reclined on the bed.
"No darling," he said. "What is the bad thing about being due to give birth in January?"
"It's just too close to Christmas," she said, brushing her hair as she came out into the bedroom. "I'm not feeling much like myself these days, and I didn't want that to ruin Christmas."
"Christmas isn't ruined," he said, patting the bed for her to sit down beside him. "Why would you say that?"
"I feel badly for the kids," she said. "I didn't make over them the way I usually do… we didn't sing Christmas carols…"
"I'm sure they didn't notice," he said. "They're kids. They were too busy with their new toys and video games to worry about you paying attention to them. Besides, they understand that you've not been feeling well lately. Things will get back to normal once the baby comes."
"As normal as it can be for us, I guess," she said.
"I got a couple of leads on Mrs. Riley's daughter," Mildred said, as she walked into Remington's office. Looking up from the file she was reading, she saw her kids sitting on the sofa. Laura was lying down with her feet in Remington's lap, he was massaging them. "I'll come back later," she said.
"No, no," Remington said. "Come in, Mildred." He nodded to one of the chairs opposite the sofa. "Sit down," he said. "Tell us what you've got."
Laura would be giving birth any day now, but she insisted on coming to work right up to the very end. She wanted to take as little time off as possible and would still be involved by phone in all their cases while she was at home with the baby.
"I've taken the information we got from the hospital and cross referenced it with the adoption agency's public file. There's not much there, but it was enough to narrow it down to three women who could possibly be Mrs. Riley's daughter."
"That's great, Mildred," Laura said, sitting up.
"Not really," Mildred answered. "One of them died two years ago, and one of them lives in New York City. The other one is here, down in Orange County."
"Maybe we'll get lucky and she'll be the one," Laura said.
"But someone is going to have to go interview the one in New York," Remington said. "We can't possibly. You're about to give birth any minute, Laura. I doubt they'd let you on a plane, and I'm not about to leave you…"
"… You'd better not," she said, incredulous that he'd even entertain the idea.
"We'll work that out," Mildred said, thinking that tracking down a lead like this and traveling all the way to New York to do it would make a nice addition to her internship file. She'd be ready to get her license in about six months. "I'll see what I can find out on them both in the meantime. But you've got some more nanny applicants this afternoon."
"Speaking of applicants, Mildred," Laura said. "Call the temp service and get someone to fill in for you while I'm gone. We'll need someone to work the phones and do the filing while you fill in for me in the legwork arena."
A wide smile spread across Mildred's face. She'd been hoping for some more responsibility, and they hadn't really discussed Mrs. Steele's absence. She knew the Chief wouldn't want to be running down all the leads by himself. Legwork was never his forte. He was great at it, but he found it tedious. He'd never say it, but she always thought he felt it was beneath him. That probably came from all that time when he functioned "best in an advisory capacity."
"I'm on it, Mrs. Steele," she said. "Your next interview is in twenty minutes."
"Thanks, Mildred," she said. "Send her in when she gets here."
To be continued…