Steele, Inc.-Atlanta Division

It's Steele Just Child's Play
by
Debra Talley (with Thekla Kurth)

This story is set in the Brendan Universe and is the 3rd part of the Brendan Trilogy.


Feb. 10, 1995

"There's no place like home," a very pregnant Laura Holt-Steele said to herself as she entered her home through the front door. It always gave her an unexpected thrill to enter unannounced and catch her family in the midst of their activities. She didn't think of it as spying ; rather, she thought of it as savoring the priceless bits and pieces of her continuing wonderful life.

Being careful not to make any noise, she placed her purse on the hall table and listened. The air was alive with the sounds of her husband and children. She smiled to herself and followed the nearest sound-- her piano-- into the formal living room.

There she found Rory, almost seven, pouring his heart and soul into the ivory keys. It was clear he loved her piano as much as she did. He practiced his scales with as much reverence as Laura had played Chopin's Prelude in D Minor in her empty loft so many years earlier. She took a mental photograph and left her son to his music.

It was the sounds and smells from the kitchen that attracted Laura's attention next. In the silent shadows of the doorway she could see Remington and their eldest son Brendan, age eight, up to their elbows in flour as they kneaded dough on the counter top. She almost laughed aloud when she saw the sprinklings of flour in their coal black hair. It was even harder to restrain herself when she saw Abby, thirteen months, asleep in her high chair. Sticky dough was smeared on her face, which was resting on the high chair tray, and her hair was also "dusted." Laura took another mental snapshot and left her gourmet chefs to their creations.

The sounds of laughter then drew her upstairs to the doorway of her own bedroom. There she discovered her almost-five-year-old twins, Laurie and Remy, in the midst of playing dress-up with Mummy and Daddy's clothes. Mounds of discarded clothing were scattered about the floor. Laura knew she should be angry, but at the moment she was busy making memories.

She was so caught up in watching the scene before her that she almost didn't notice when Remington, a sleeping Abby in his arms, joined her. She motioned for him to be quiet and together they watched their offsprings' performance.
 
Laurie examined herself from all angles in her parents' full-length mirror and frowned. Grabbing another throw pillow from the bed, she stuffed it under her oversized clothing.
 
"Do I look as fat as Mummy?" she asked, studying her reflection.
 
"You better not let Mummy know you think she's fat!" Remy warned as be held up his father's trousers' legs and stepped into his dad's favorite pair of dress shoes.
 
Laurie stepped into her mother's high heel shoes and wobbled closer to her twin. "Maybe we should hide Mummy's chocolate chip cookies, so she won't get even fatter," she suggested.
 
"You're just saying that so you can eat her cookies," Remy accused as be struggled to tie what he referred to as his dad's "measles tie."
 
"I'm not gonna eat Mummy's cookies. Every time she eats lots of those cookies, she gets fat and then she and Daddy bring home another baby."
 
"I thought you liked it when we get a new baby," Remy said as he tried to extricate his hand from the knot be had made.
 
"I do like it! But if I eat lots of chocolate chip cookies and get fat like Mummy, I might have a baby, too! And I don't want one yet!"
 
Remy jerked his hand free of the knot and accidentally hit Laurie, easily knocking her off balance in the high heel shoes she was wearing.
 
"Why don't you try Mummy's wedding shoes?" Remy asked.
 
"Good idea," Laurie agreed. "Help me find them."
 
They both got on their hands and knees and began rummaging through Laura's numerous pairs of shoes.
 
"I found one!" they exclaimed together, each holding up a once white, muddied sneaker.
 
"Why doesn't Mummy throw these nasty things away?" Remy asked as they each shoved a shoe on Laurie's foot and pretended to tie them.
 
"You know how mummies are. They like to save shoes. She saved our shoes, remember?" Laurie reminded him.
 
"Oh, yeah - the gold ones on the piano. Think she's gonna turn these gold and put them on the piano, too?" Remy asked.
 
As they stood up, one of Laurie ' s pillows slipped from beneath beneath her loose clothing and fell to the floor. They giggled and then Remy helped her adjust it. Laurie then plopped her mother's black honeymoon hat on her head, batted her eyes at her Remy and slipped her arm through his.
 
"I'm ready, Remy," she purred.
 
"Mummy doesn't call Daddy 'Remy'," he remind her.
 
"Oh, yeah," Laurie said. Then clearing her throat and batting her eyelashes again, she said, "I'm ready, Mr. Steele."
 
"Indeed, Mrs. Steele. We better hurry. We wouldn't want Humpty Bogart to start without us, now, would we?"
 
"Do you have money for the tickets?" Laura asked, imitating her mother perfectly.
 
"I started carrying cash the day after Brendan was born, but you still ask every time we go out," Remy said, trying to mimic his father's "hurt" tone.
 
"Just reminding you, Mr. Steele."
 
"I still say it ruins the line of my suit. *You* carry it. No one will see it with that abdo-abdo- of yours,"he said, pointing to Laurie's stomach.
 
"Abdo-man. Gosh, boys don't know anything."
 
"Mummy doesn't say that."
 
"No, but she does this!" Laura said as she began to whop her brother on the head with a pillow she had pulled from beneath her mother's maternity dress.
 
Remy covered his face with his hands and as a result didn't see Laurie stomp on his foot.
 
"Laurie, please! Ow! Stop it!"
 
At that moment Bogart, the family sheepdog, galloped past Remington's legs and into the bedroom. Laurie and Remy were knocked to the floor in a fit of laughter as Bogart expressed his affection with big, sloppy face licks.
 
Doing his best to stifle his laughter, Remington made a mad dash down the hallway to the nursery the sleeping baby still in his arms. Laura started toward the twins, but changed her mind and followed Remington instead.
 
He was placing Abby in her crib when she got there.
 
Remington greeted his wife with a broad grin, saying, "I think we should do it."
 
"Here? In the nursery? In front of the baby? You're depraved," Laura said, feigning shock.
 
"No, not here; on top of the piano," Remington said.
 
"But Rory is practicing his lesson," Laura pointed out.
 
"So?"
 
"Mr. Steele, really. You know I have no problem expressing affection in front of the children, but I think that's going too far!" Laura exclaimed, swatting his arm.
 
Remington looked puzzled. "Are we talking about the same thing?" he asked.
 
"l certainly hope not! What *are* we talking about?"
 
"Bronzing your wedding sneakers and displaying them on the piano along with the children's baby shoes. What did you think I meant?"
 
Laura's sly smile and raised eyebrows were answer enough for Remington.
 
"On top of the piano, eh? And you think *I'm* depraved," he teased. "Well, you must admit, it would certainly give a whole new meaning to the term 'tickling the ivories.'" Then burying his face in Laura's hair, he kissed her neck and suggested, "Maybe we'd better put that experience on hold until after the baby comes."
 
"Good idea," Laura whispered seductively as she kissed him.
 
He returned her kiss with equal fervor and then pulled back to study her face. "Speaking of magical moments, Laura..."
 
"Yes?"
 
"Don't you think we should correct Remy and Laurie's misconception that babies come from eating too many chocolate chip cookies?"
 
"I'd rather correct their misconception that I hit you every time we disagree."
 
"Is it really a misconception?" he teased.
 
"I'm serious. I didn't realize that was the message I was sending the children. I don't want them to think it's okay to slug each other."
 
"Yes, well, then I suggest you remember that the next time you feel an uncontrollable urge to destroy my foot with your high heel."
 
"Think what will happen to them when they get to school," she said, ignoring his comment. "All of their little friends will go around saying, 'Watch out for those Steele twins; they hit'."
 
"Laura, we've never had any problems with Brendan or Rory at school. The twins will be no different-- unless, of course, they start tackling anyone who starts to eat a cookie. Maybe it's time we sit them down and tell them the horrid truth about . . . cookies," Remington suggested, unable to keep the twinkle out of his voice.
 
"Oh. I don't know," Laura said as she moved closer to her husband. "Personally, I've always found chocolate chip cookies to be a very powerful aphrodisiac."
 
Leaning against him, they took full advantage of the rare private moment and shared another kiss.
 
Suddenly a SWOOSH came rushing through the open nursery doorway and a suction cup dart attached itself to Remington's forehead. Laura tried not to laugh, but it was hopeless and her lilting laugh soon blended with the delightful sound of childish giggles coming from the hallway.
 
"Some things never change, eh, Laura?" Remington said with a sigh. "Someone still shoots as us when we're kissing!"
 
He pulled the dart from his forehead with a resounding "Ouch!"
 
"Courage, Mr. Steele. It's just a flesh wound," Laura reassured him. "Want me to kiss it and make it better?"
 
"Later, perhaps," he said as he began easing his way out of the room, taking Laura with him. "But first things first; right now I've got to capture some desperados!"
 
In a flash, Remington grabbed a giggling Remy, Laurie and Rory and the four of them fell to the floor amidst gales of laughter. Shaking her head and laughing, Laura carefully shut the nursery door shut so Abby wouldn't be disturbed by the ruckus.
 
"I'll kiss it and make it better, Daddy!" Laurie offered, throwing her arms around Remington's neck and giving him a resounding smack on the forehead.
 
"Thank you, sweetheart; it feels better already," Remington said as he started to get up. He didn't get far, however, as all three children climbed over him and began whispering in his ears at once. After a moment, he put his finger to his lips, saying, "Shh, you don't want to spoil Mummy's surprise, now, do you?" he asked.
 
"Surprise?" Laura hesitantly asked.
 
Rory was the first one up, grabbing Laura's hand and pulling her toward the stairs. In seconds the twins were helping their older brother lead the way. At first they were all talking at once, but at Laura's puzzled look, they began taking turns.
 
"We were helping Daddy clean up..." began Laurie.
 
"...because Grandma's coming tonight..." added Rory.
 
"...and you know how Daddy has been looking for it ever so long..." contributed Remy.
 
"...and the rules say we can help him look . . ." reminded Rory.
 
Laura opened her mouth as if to object, but Remington interrupted her. "Ah - you agreed to those rules, Mummy. And everyone knows your word is your bond. Right, kids?"
 
"Right!" all three children hollered as they finally deposited their mother in front of the family photo wall in the den.
 
There on the short bookcase under the photo wall sat the object of the children's excitement - a framed, color photo of Laura and Remington on Juan's tuna boat at the time of their first wedding.
 
Laura shrugged her shoulders to signify defeat. "Okay. You found it. I promise to let it sit there for a whole week before I hide it again."
 
"Oh, no!" Remington said as the children protested loudly. "The rules say two weeks!"
 
Laura sighed. "Okay. If the rules say two weeks, then two weeks it is."
 
Just then Bogart, wearing Remington's measles tie, trotted down the hallway. Before Remington could raise his voice in a threat, all three kids took off after him.
 
"Really, Laura. I would have thought you'd be more original. I mean, the bottom of the laundry hamper?" Remington asked. "You're not teaching our offspring to be very good detectives if you can't find a better hiding place than that."
 
'To the contrary; I'd say it was an excellent hiding place. It took the six of you three weeks to find it," Laura said as she chucked Remington under his chin.
 
"Yes, well - we didn't expect you to hide it in the same place twice in a row."
 
"Ah, but a good detective has to expect the unexpected, Mr. Steele," Laura reminded him.
 
"I'll remember that in two weeks, when you hide it again."
 
"After eight years, this game is getting a little old, don't you think?" Laura asked, frowning at the photo. "Mother will be absolutely mortified to find that wedding picture on display along with our nice wedding picture."
 
"Nonsense. Abigail is a true romantic. She understands the sentimentality of our first wedding," Remington said, picking up the photo and studying it fondly. "To me, you were just as lovely in your ripped, muddy suit and sneakers as you were in your Irish lace."
 
"You mean that, don't you?" Laura said softly, her eyes sparkling.
 
"Absolutely," Remington whispered as he drew Laura close and kissed her.
 
This time it was Brendan who interrupted them. When their eldest son cleared his throat and just stood there, Remington broke the kiss and he and Laura just looked at each other and laughed. Before Brendan could explain, however, the timer in the kitchen suddenly went off.
 
"I was going to tell you the rolls are almost done," Brendan said.
 
"Ah, yes," Remington said, replacing the photo and putting his other arm around his son's shoulders. "Done to perfection, I'd say."
 
Laura, alone now, looked around the warn, friendly family room. She picked up the tunafied wedding picture and smiled as she wiped fingerprints from the glass. She really didn't object any more to displaying both wedding pictures, but as long as the children enjoyed playing Hide-and-Seek with the original photo, she'd go along with it. They'd soon be all grown up and games with their parents would embarrass them, so she'd enjoy it while she could
 
Glancing out the window, Laura could see Rory and the twins still chasing Bogart around the back yard. Wishing she had the energy to join them but knowing she did not, she kicked off her shoes and collapsed on the couch. Her hand touched a solid object as she sat down and she turned to see one of Remington's burglary scrapbooks. He'd first shared them with her during their Le Renard case. It had made Remington seem more human, knowing he'd collected things just like any other red-blooded boy.
 
Smiling, Laura picked up the scrapbook and started flipping through it. Noticing that only half the pages contained clippings, she decided this must have been his last book. Since there weren't many articles and Remington had dinner under control, she decided to read while she rested.
 
********
As soon as she saw the final headline, Laura sat upright and groaned. Marchessa Collection Stolen, Mysteriously Returned.'The name of the newspaper and the date were handwritten above the article. "The Los Angeles Tribune," she read aloud. "November, 1994."
 
Laura would have assumed Remington was resuming his childhood hobby, except for one thing - the handwriting belonged not to her husband, but to Brendan. Quickly flipping back through the book, she carefully checked the dates and the handwriting on each and every article. When her task was finished, she sat back in shock. Every entry was from the past two years.
 
Scrapbook in hand, Laura marched toward the kitchen.
 
"Mr. Steele," she clearly enunciated. "May I see you for a moment in my office?"
 
Remington turned to see Laura standing in the doorway, her fingers drumming on the scrapbook under her arm.
 
"Ah, yes...of course."
 
He dropped the dish towel he'd been using and followed her down the hall into the den, one corner of which was her office.
 
Brendan, in the midst of loading the dishwasher, watched them leave. Judging from the tone of his mother's voice, he knew something was up. He also noticed she was holding one of the burglary scrapbooks.
 
When Remington had first shared his scrapbooks with his son, he explained that it was just something he had done over the years. Brendan had been fascinated and had asked if they could start one together. After some hesitation Remington had agreed, on the condition that it would be their little secret. He had explained to Brendan that his mother might not approve.
 
But now she had found out anyway.
 
That was one thing about Mummy, Brendan thought to himself. Secrets never stayed secrets for very long. She always figured out who was up to what.
 
He was curious as to just what his mother had to say about the father-son scrapbook, so he closed the dishwasher and quietly crept into the den, where he hid behind a wing back chair in a corner. Fearing his hiding place would be detected, he hurriedly eased himself beneath his mother's desk. He'd once asked her why it was her desk and she was the only one who worked at it. After all, didn't his father need a desk, too? She had merely replied, "Your father's skills are hard to define, Brendan. Very hard, indeed."
 
Brendan was still trying to figure that one out, but right now he was concentrating on his parent's conversation. If he angled his head a wee bit to the left, he was in the perfect spot to see all of the action. Caught up in the excitement of the moment as he was, he never gave a thought to the very real possibility of being caught.
 
Laura held the scrapbook for Remington to see.
 
"My scrapbook," he exclaimed, feigning surprise. "Wherever did you find it? I was wondering where it had gotten to."
 
Brendan decided one of his father's skills must be acting.
 
"It was on the couch," she replied tersely.
 
"How in the world did it get there?" Remington asked, still playing innocent.
 
"You tell me. And while you're at it, you can also tell me why every article in there is less than two years old. Resuming your childhood hobby?"
 
Remington took a deep breath, then said, "Laura, there's a perfectly good expla..."
 
"The evidence leads me to believe that you are sharing your...unique...hobby with our son."
 
"Now, Laura, let's not blow this out of proportion," Remington pleaded.
 
"When have I ever blown anything out of proportion?" she contested.
 
Knowing how irrational she could be when she was pregnant, Remington held his tongue and let her remark pass. Then taking her hand in his, he calmly said, "As l recall, you asked me to help Brendan with his reading."
 
"I assumed you would be reading children's stories--Irish fairy tales, or maybe mysteries. But what do I find? First, he tells me the two of you are reading Gone with the Wind. All right, that's not too bad. But now I find this." Waving the scrapbook in front of Remington's face, she continued her tirade. "I do not believe for a minute that Brendan is doing this on his own. I know you're helping him. You treasure these scrapbooks and you would never turn the children loose with them."
 
"If I recall correctly, you once called them amazing."
 
"Knowing you collected something just like other children made you seem more human. Granted, it's not the *kind* of thing most children collect, but still..."
 
He interrupted. "And that's what you object to with Brendan, isn't it? It's the *kind* of thing, eh?"
 
"Yes!" Laura said adamantly. "I'm not sure it's healthy for an eight year old to collect larcenies. Are you?"
 
"I believe it's more than healthy for Brendan to share a hobby with his father. Sort of a father-son thing."
 
"Most fathers play baseball with their sons. They collect comic books, or baseball cards or videos... They *don't* encourage criminology!"
 
"Laura, I'm not encouraging anything of the sort. And I don't take it as lightly as you seem to think. I am merely sharing my childhood hobby with my son. I don't see any harm in that."
 
Brendan almost spoke up, wanting to defend his father and their hobby, but the phone rang. Since Laura was still busy protesting, Remington answered it.
 
He listened for quite a while before finally saying, "Yes, I see...No, no, don't worry about it. We'll be there to pick you up... We're looking forward to seeing you, too." He returned the receiver, saying, "That was Abigail. Her flight has been delayed three hours... Something about a pigeon denting the wing. Anyway, she's been rescheduled on a later flight."
 
"Great," Laura mumbled. She hated it when something disrupted her neatly ordered world. "It will be the children's bedtime by then. How are we supposed to keep them awake? I'm not going to put them to bed just to wake them up again when Mother gets here."
 
"We'll work it out. I'm sure Abigail didn't plan it this way."
 
"Didn't she?" Laura protested. The only good aspect was that it would delay her mother's arrival by at least three more hours.
 
"I've got an idea," Remington said brightly. "We have the limo tonight. We'll get the kids ready for bed and put them in the car. Then instead of going straight to the airport, we'll stop at the drive-in. They're showing The Little Mermaid."
 
Laura mulled over the idea. "Sounds good to me, but we'd better take plenty of blankets and pillows for the little ones. They'll never make it," she said, yawning.
 
"The little ones won't make it, eh?" Remington teased.
 
"I'm sleeping for two," she reminded him, giving him the beginnings of a smile. "Now back to the scrapbook-- I agree that Brendan will benefit from sharing a hobby with you. I just wish you'd have been a little more selective."
 
"Well, you keep all the Atomic Man memorabilia locked in your trunk," he teased. "I had to make do with what I had."
 
"My Atomic Man collection is priceless, I'll have you know," Laura argued, though her anger was waning.
 
"So are my scrapbooks--to me, at least," he said softly.
 
Laura nodded. "All right. I still don't entirely approve, but I'll yield to your judgment. I know you'd never do anything you thought would harm our children. But you have to promise me you'll remind Brendan that while the events in those articles are exciting, they're also illegal, immoral, dangerous and terribly wrong."
 
"That's a promise, Luv. In fact, I'm way ahead of you on that one," Remington assured her, taking the scrapbook so he could put his arms around her. "You have to admit, though, it must be confusing for him to understand that crime doesn't pay, when we make a living at it. We may be the good guys, but all Brendan knows is that we profit because everyone else isn't as despicably honest as his parents."
 
"As long as he aspires to be one of the good guys."
 
"I wouldn't have it any other way," Remington assured her. Just as he leaned forward to kiss, the doorbell rang. "Always something, eh?" he muttered, going to answer it.
 
Laura followed him, not really surprised to see Jackie standing there when Remington opened the door.
 
"Jackie!" he said, grinning as he reached for his wallet. "How much do you need this time?"
 
Jackie laughed. "Not this time. Can we talk?" Nodding a greeting to Laura, he added, "Alone?"
 
Laura got the message, saying, "I'll go get the children ready for dinner."
 
Remington ushered Jackie into the den. Brendan had been just about to leave when they entered, but he quickly ducked back under the desk rather than be caught.
 
Remington leaned back against the desk and asked, "What's the problem?"
 
He regarded the young pickpocket he had helped save from a life of crime. It had taken a while, and over the years Jackie had gotten into his fair share of scrapes, but Remington had always been there to bail him out. He was now working for Monroe, a job Remington had helped him get; after all, what good was being the largest single investor in Monroe's company if he couldn't for a favor now and then? It had now been nearly two years since Remington had needed to intervene with the law on Jackie's behalf, and he was pleased with the progress his young protege had made with his life during those months.
 
"I'm getting married," Jackie announced.
 
"That's terrific, Jackie. Joining the ranks of honest men, eh?" Remington said, walking over and slapping him on the back. "This calls for a celebration. I'll get the champagne." Walking towards the cabinet, he added, "I hope Melissa realizes what a lucky girl she is."
 
"Whoever would have thought when she gave me that parking ticket last year we'd be engaged now?" Jackie asked, plopping down on the couch.
 
Remington looked puzzled. "I thought you said you sweet talked her out of giving you that ticket."
 
Jackie shifted awkwardly. "Yeah, well. Not exactly."
 
"A word of advice, Jackie. If in the future you feel the urge to alter the facts to the little woman, don't. Your lies will always find you out."
 
"Speaking from experience?"
 
"Afraid so," Remington admitted.
 
"I'll try to remember that."
 
"Oh, and another thing," Remington said. "*Don't* refer to her as 'the little woman'."
 
"What *do* l call her?" Jackie asked.
 
Remington just grinned. "Depends on the setting. Just be creative."
 
"Anyway, we got engaged last week and, naturally, I wanted to get her a ring."
 
Remington paled. "Jackie, tell me you didn't..."
 
"No, I didn't!" Jackie assured him. "Well, not exactly, but I might just as well have." He pulled a jeweler's box from his jacket pocket. "This one is just as hot. When I was waiting to pick Melissa up after work today, on her desk was a memo about the theft of this very ring."
 
"Are you sure?"
 
"Am I sure? Man, I know when something is hot! I can't give her a hot ring! She'll bust me!"
 
"Icy calm, Jackie," Remington said, putting a hand on the young man's shoulder upon hearing the rising hysteria in his voice. "Now, tell me how and where you got the ring."
 
Jackie took a deep breath. "Well, when I decided to get the ring I started looking around in jewelry stores, but everything was way too expensive. I knew enough to stay away from pawn shops and Freddy the Touch, even though at that point I was tempted."
 
"Good boy," Remington said, patting his shoulder. "May I see it?"
 
Jackie gave it to him.While he continued telling his story, Remington examined the ring.
 
"Then at one store, the owner asked how much I was willing to spend. When I told him I could swing a down payment of $200 and maybe make payments on $300 more, he said he just happened to have a ring in the back that he'd let go for $250 cash. I guess I should have been suspicious-- a ring of that quality, that cheap... But I was desperate, so I took it."
 
Remington held the ring up to the light, examining it. "Yes, the stone minus the mounting is easily worth ten times that amount."
 
"He said he'd created it for a customer who canceled the order after making a down payment, so he could afford to make me a good deal. l thought I had taken advantage of *him* until I saw the memo. But all that time, he had swindled me."
 
Jackie stared at the floor, feeling both embarrassment and anger at having to come to Remington for another favor.
 
"Don't feel so bad, Jackie," Remington advised. "Love does strange things to all of us. Puts us off balance; blurs our natural instincts and talents. Now, I think the first thing to do is check out the store and the owner. We'll pay a visit to his shop tomorrow during regular business hours and I'll get a feel for the situation. Then, if the situation calls for it, we can always drop by later."
 
Remington couldn't stop the ear-to-ear grin that took over his face. The prospect of breaking in to any place always aroused his senses.
 
It also had the same effect on Brendan, who was still hiding beneath the desk. He quickly decided to follow them. After all, there was no school the next day--and maybe he could even help.
 
"Now, don't worry," Remington said as he showed Jackie out. "This matter may seem complicated now, but it will be easily resolved-- or my name isn't Remington Steele."
 
"Your name *isn't* Remington Steele," Jackie laughed, standing on the front porch. "Monroe told me."
 
"Never mind what Monroe told you. Exaggerations. All exaggerations," Remington chuckled good-naturedly, dosing the door.
 
He then went in search of Laura, finding her in the kitchen feeding rolls to Rory and the twins.
 
"What did Jackie want?" she asked, wishing she could bend over and pick up the crumbs the twins were dropping on the floor.
 
"We need to caucus,"he said, taking her arm and guiding her into the hallway and then over to the den door. As he did so, he sniffed her breath suspiciously, asking, "Is that chocolate I smell?"
 
"No," she said too quickly.
 
"Laura. I know you," he pressed. "You're almost nine months pregnant and your mother is due to arrive in approximately four hours. . ."
 
"Don't remind me."
 
"Really, Laura. Remember the last time your mother was on her way here? I found you in the doghouse sharing Bridge Mix with Bogart."
 
"Once again, I went in to change his flea collar and the box fell out of my pocket," she said sharply. "Oh, all right! So I had one lousy chocolate chip cookie."
 
"Just one, eh?"
 
"One, two, a dozen. What's the difference?" she asked testily. "Now stop changing the subject! What kind of trouble is Jackie in now?"
 
"He needs my help."
 
"Naturally; some things never change. What is it this time?"
 
"Possibly breaking into a jewelry store."
 
"What?" Laura hissed. "That's supposed to reassure me? Look, I know we decided to be honest with each other about everything. But as you said, I'm almost nine months pregnant. Need I remind you that I could go into labor at any time, and we already have five other children? Do you want to be present at the birth of your sixth child? Do you want to be around to watch your children grow up? Or do you want to only see them when I bring them on weekly visits to prison, which is where you will be rotting if you attempt a jewelry store heist!"
 
She had remained remarkably calm during her speech, until the end when she punctuated her point by stomping on Remington's foot.
 
"What happened to the giving wrong message to the little tykes?" he protested, flexing his toes to make sure they weren't broken. "And we're not pulling off a heist, Laura; we're returning something."
 
"One generally uses customer service for that, Mr. Steele. Or is it that you're returning something Jackie's already stolen?"
 
"He isn't a thief anymore, Laura, he reminded her. "But you're partially correct."
 
"Care to explain?"
 
"It's very likely stolen, but Jackie didn't steal it...and neither did I," he added when he saw her eyebrow twitch.
 
He explained Jackie's dilemma, then stepped out of harm's way and waited for her reaction.
 
"Splendid," Laura sighed, leaning back against the wall. "And so naturally, he couldn't wait to share his problem with you."
 
"Laura, we're all he has. I have to help him."
 
"I know you do," Laura sighed. "It's just that Mother's coming, and she already thinks we're leading the children straight to hell."
 
Remington cupped her chin in the palm of his hand and looked into her eyes. "Your mother will never know," he assured her. "We'll simply..."
 
"Spare me the details," she said, shaking off his grasp and refusing to look into his blue eyes. "It's getting late. You finish getting dinner for the kids and I'll get Abby ready. She should be awake from her nap by now. I called Mildred to see if she could pick Mother up, but didn't get an answer. Fred's answering machine isn't turned on, either. They're probably avoiding us."
 
"It doesn't matter, Laura. We have the limo tonight."
 
"What good is a chauffeur when we end up using the limo as a family van?" she asked.
 
She turned to leave, then suddenly remembered something. "If you and Jackie do get into trouble at the jewelry store, where do you keep the key to the safe deposit box?"
 
"In the bedroom safe," Remington reminded her. "It used to be in my sock drawer, but you insisted we move it to a safer place, remember?"
 
"Did you move your will, too?"
 
"Yes., but I'd have preferred keeping it under your panty hose."
 
"What about the insurance policy?" she asked.
 
"I left that under my briefs. It seemed more poetic," he told her, wiggling his eyebrows.
 
"Only you would find poetry in fire engine red briefs," she said, leaving him in the middle of a comeback.
 
Remington watched her go and shook his head. Laura always went a little crazy whenever she was pregnant-- and the older she got, the more pronounced her craziness became. He was wondering how he would survive the next week as he joined the kids in the kitchen.
 
********
A few minutes later, Laura came in with Abby and placed her in the high chair.
 
"Where's Brendan?" Remington inquired. "I thought he'd be with you."
 
"I'll find him," Laura said, shaking her head with a sigh.
 
Just as she disappeared up the stairs, Brendan walked into the kitchen. He'd stayed hidden in the den longer than he'd intended, but had finally decided the coast was clear.
 
"Where have you been hiding?" Remington asked, looking up.
 
Brendan gulped, afraid his father knew he'd been spying. Finally, however, he deduced that his secret was safe so he shrugged and casually replied, "Around."
 
That seemed to satisfy Remington. "Well, wash up and eat. We're going to the drive-in."
 
*********
An hour later Remington had the kids fed and ready to go, but Laura was now missing. He told the kids to wait for them in the car while he went to find her.
 
"Laura!" he called, walking into their bedroom. Thinking she might be in the bathroom, he walked to the doorway and called again. After a quick search confirmed that the room was empty, he sighed and started back downstairs.
 
Rory met him at the bottom of the stairs.
 
"I thought I told you to wait in the car," Remington told his son.
 
"Mum's out there," Rory explained. "She sent me to tell you to hurry up."
 
"Oh? Where was she?"
 
"She came from the backyard."
 
Remington smiled. "Cookie in hand, no doubt."
 
"Hershey bar," Rory corrected.
 
"Where'd she get it?"
 
"She found the one I hid in my sock drawer," Rory sadly explained. "Guess I better find a better hiding place."
 
Remington put his arm around his son's shoulder and walked with him to the car.
 
"A word of advice," Remington said. "Never hide anything from a woman in your sock drawer. That's the first place they look."
 
"Where do you hide things from Mummy?" Rory asked.
 
"In *her* drawers. They're such a jumbled mess, she'd never find anything in there."
 
Rory giggled and Remington shushed him as they approached the car and climbed in.
 
"All set?" he asked, climbing into the driver's seat.
 
"What are we going to see, Daddy?" Laurie asked.
 
"Can I have popcorn?" asked Remy.
 
"You just ate," Remington reminded them.
 
He started the car and swung it around in the driveway. As he did so, he slyly turned to Laura and asked with a smirk, "Enjoy your dessert?"
 
Laura opened her purse and removed the half-eaten candy bar. "I only had two bites! See?"
 
Remington laughed, then reached over and snatched it away from her. "You should know better than to steal from your children."
 
"I'm teaching them not to hide food in their rooms. It draws ants."
 
"Oh, I see," Remington said, lowering the window and tossing out what was left of the candy bar.
 
Laura folded her arms and said, "That's littering, Mr. Steele. You realize you can get arrested for that."
 
"Always concerned for my welfare, aren't you, darling?"
 
Brendan leaned forward and asked, "What's it like in prison, Daddy? Do people really rot in there?"
 
Laura and Remington turned to look at each other, Remington raising his eyebrow. It wasn't the first time their curious oldest son had spied on them, but it *was* a habit they were trying to break him of.
 
"Why do you want to know?" Remington asked cautiously. "Did you hear someone talking about rotting in prison?"
 
Brendan realized his slip. "I just wondered. Brett at school says if you get caught littering, the police throw you in prison and leave you there until you rot." He held his breath, wondering if he'd covered himself or if his parents had figured out that he'd been spying on them earlier.
 
"Yes, well, Brett may have been exaggerating a bit, but he's right about littering being against the law," Remington said, exchanging another look with Laura.
 
"Daddy," Remy asked, "are you going to rot in prison because you threw Mummy's candy bar out the window?"
 
Laurie started to cry and was soon joined by Abby.
 
Laura shot Remington a self-satisfied smirk as he turned the limo around.
 
"Don't cry, sweetheart," Laura said. "Daddy's going to go back and get the candy bar. He's not going to rot in prison."
 
Brendan leaned back in the farthest back seat and let out a sigh. Remy's well-timed question had saved him this time, but he bad a feeling be wasn't out of hot water yet. He'd seen the look his parents had shared. He just hoped Grandma's visit would distract his mother so much she'd forget to ask questions later.
 
************
In spite of the evening's shaky beginning, Laura found herself really getting into the spirit of The Little Mermaid. She and Remington had always considered it to be their favorite Disney movie. They even bought a copy each time it was in video release, afraid the children would wear it out and it wouldn't be re released for a while.
 
They could really associate with Ariel and Eric's frustration in Kiss the Girl. It had been hard enough in the "old days" for them to share an intimate moment without being interrupted by Mildred, an occasional bullet, or ringing phones. But now, with five children, it was nearly impossible. Well, not *entirely* impossible, Laura thought to herself as she smiled and folded her hands over her abdomen--but certainly a challenge.
 
She and Remington had once been naive enough to believe that a sturdy lock on their bedroom door would afford them a measure of privacy. But then, they hadn't counted on their inquisitive eldest son believing that locks were made to be conquered. The more intricate the lock Remington installed, the more determined Brendan had been to pick it. Like his father, he just couldn't turn his back on an impossible challenge.

Laura had finally come up with the solution. She had Remington reinstall the original lock. Since Brendan knew he could handle that one with no problem, the challenge was gone. As a result, their bedroom was once again a safe haven--at least, until one of the children needed something.

Laura was drawn out of her reverie when her entire brood began singing Under the Sea along with Sebastian and his cronies. Good-naturedly, she added her soprano to the chorus. When the number ended, Remington impulsively leaned over Laurie and Remy's heads and gave Laura a kiss.
 
"Daddy!" Laurie reminded him with a great deal of indignation. "It's not time for Kiss the Girl."
 
"It's always time to kiss the girl, darling. Always." To emphasize his point, he quickly gave Laura another kiss.
 
Rory and Brendan leaned over the back of the seat, dodging their heads from side to side.
 
"Hey! We can't see when you do that!" Brendan declared.
 
"You've seen this movie dozens of times," Remington reminded them.
 
"But we've never seen it at the drive-in before!" Rory protested.
 
"Yeah!" three of his siblings said in agreement.
 
"You and Mummy can kiss any time!" Brendan reminded them.
 
"Yeah!" the three older kids echoed.
 
"Any time, eh?" Remington sighed, wishing it were true.
 
Before be could comment, however, there was a tapping on the outside of the car window. Everyone turned toward the window at Laura's right and saw the face of the overly cheerful Barbara Frick, who had been Laura's college roomie on 4-East.
 
"Icy calm, Laura," Remington told his wife, knowing Barbara wasn't her favorite person.
 
"I hear you, Mr. Steele," Laura said through clinched teeth. "I hear you."
 
Remington pushed the automatic window control and Laura was face to face with Barbara's "treachly" smile. Treachly was a word Remington had "coined" years earlier when he and Laura had shared a cup of tea with her during a case. To Laura's amusement, he had said it was a combination of treacherous and phony--and it certainly fit Babs to a tee.
 
After exuberant greetings all around, Babs shook her head in disbelief at the sight before her. "Laura, Laura, Laura," she said in a sing-song voice. "I never thought I'd see the day when you'd be attending a G-rated movie at a family drive-in with a hubby and 1, 2, 3, 4 kids in tow."
 
"Actually, Babs, make that five..." Remington said. Then patting Laura's protruding stomach, he added, "...with number six soon to join us."
 
"Thank you, dear," Laura said to Remington, hating every moment of the current conversation. "And how many children do you have now, Babs?"
 
"The same two as before. The only time our family expands is when we get more goldfish."
 
"Goldfish!" Remington exclaimed in mock delight. "Did you hear that, dear? Babs is getting her feet wet with goldfish!"
 
"We have a dog!" Remy loudly volunteered. "His name is Bogart. . ."
 
"...because Daddy likes to watch Humpty Bogart in the movies!" Laurie finished with enthusiasm.
 
"Does he now?" Babs asked.
 
Not wanting to be left out of the conversation, Rory added, "Bogart has fleas! Daddy says he gonna get us all flea collars to wear so we won't catch them, too!"
 
Remington coughed. Laura tried to hide her laugh by quickly turning her head away from Babs and towards her husband. His eyes were laughing, Laura noted, but he was doing a good job of remaining in control. The topic of flea collars always made them laugh, thanks to the time before their marriage when a flea collar and Laura's sister's flea-bitten dog had provided them with quite a bit of excitement.
 
"Yes, well, you should try goldfish. They never get fleas," Babs said, gloatingly.
 
"Daddy won't let us have fish," Laurie said.
 
"Yeah," continued Remy. "He says that when they die, they float on their backs in the water and then you have to flush them down the.. ."
 
"Mrs. Frick knows all about dead fish, sweetheart," Laura said with a laugh.
 
"Mummy, when mermaids die, do they float on their backs in the water until someone flushes them?" Laurie asked, looking intently at her mother with wide eyes.
 
"Don't be a ninny, Laurie!" Rory chastised. "How could you flush a mermaid? They're too big."
 
"Well, if you can't flush them, what happens to them?" Laurie asked, her lips quivering.
 
"Someone comes along in a boat and eats them," Brendan offered.
 
"No!!" Laurie protested, covering her ears.
 
Remington glared at Brendan. "They go straight to mermaid heaven, Laurie," he said. "You don't need to worry about that now. Ariel is-"
 
Mercifully, he was interrupted by Abby's angry wails. All eyes went to the back of the limo, where Brendan was scooting over to Abby's car seat to check out the problem.
 
"Wet again," he proclaimed.
 
"Daddy! Daddy! I want popcorn!" Remy yelled, bouncing up and down on the front seat.
 
Laurie quickly decided popcorn was more important than dead mermaids and joined the bouncing chorus. As she was sitting on Laura's knees, that wasn't a good idea.
 
"Careful, darling," Remington said as he reached across the seat and took Laurie into his own lap. "Mummy doesn't need your bouncing on her tummy like that."
 
Abby continued to wail.
 
"Anybody gonna change her?" Brendan asked. "She's getting mad."
 
Babs patted Laura's shoulder and gave her another treachly smile, saying, "When I first heard that you and Remington were married, I admit I had my doubts. It's a real relief to know that you're just a traditional married couple like the rest of us."
 
Remington gave Babs his own devious smile and shook his head in agreement, saying, "Yes, that's us, all right. Traditional, all the way. Isn't that right, dear?"
 
Laura turned towards Remington, gave him a murderous look that betrayed the smile on her face and turned back to Babs. "If you'll excuse me, I think I'll change Abby now. But it was really nice seeing you again, Babs."
 
When good nights were finally said and Babs was almost out of earshot, Remington called out, "Do come see us, Babs! You can't miss our house - it's the traditional one with the white picket fence. lt's in the hills. Look us up!"
 
Babs suddenly turned, yelling back, "In the hills?"
 
Laura turned to Remington, embarrassment and indignation on her face quickly turning into a laugh.
 
Rory was confused. "We don't have a white picket fence, Daddy. Why did you say we have a white picket fence?"
 
"Daddy was teasing," Brendan explained.
 
"Mummy," Remy asked, thoroughly confused. "How come when Daddy says something that isn't true, it's called teasing. But when we say something that isn't true, it's called fibbing?"
 
Remington wasn't about to get into a discussion on that topic at that particular moment, so he quickly suggested Remy and Rory go with him to get popcorn and drinks while Laura changed Abby.
 
Actually, he wasn't merely trying to postpone a discussion with the children about teasing versus lying; he was hoping to avoid a discussion with Laura about traditional married couples. Not that Barb's comment had particularly bothered him, but Laura's wild eyes had told him in no uncertain terms that it had bothered her. It would be better to let her cool off a while.
 
**********
Remington stood at the refreshment counter with Remy and Rory on either side of him and a counter top of colas and popcorn before him.
 
"Do you have any money, Daddy?" Rory asked.
 
"He means cash," Remy added.
 
"I have not left the house without cash in years-- not in your mother's presence anyway," Remington explained in a loud whisper.
 
When the cashier looked confused, Remington merely smiled and patted Rory's head.
 
"If there were some parking meters around, we could help," offered Rory, giving his father a wistful look.
 
Remington took a deep breath, got a stern look on his face and knelt down beside his middle son. "I don't want to hear talk like that, mate. What you and Brendan did three months ago was an emergency. You were helping Mummy and Daddy. You and Brendan had to repay every cent, remember?"
 
"I remember."
 
"We've been through all of this, Rory, and you said you understood," Remington explained patiently. "Now I don't want to hear any more talk about breaking into parking meters."
 
Slowly breaking into a sheepish grin, Rory said, "I was teasing, Daddy."
 
Remington's face was expressionless for a moment, but then he laughed heartily. Mussing Rory's brown hair, he stood up and once again faced the cashier, asking, "How much?"
 
"Nineteen-fifty."
 
Remington counted the bills in his wallet, then said, "I only have eighteen. I don't suppose you give family discounts?"
 
"Nope."
 
"I told you we needed a parking meter," Rory said, giggling before his dad could comment.
 
"Okay. I'll just, uh, get the rest from my wife."
 
"No way," the cashier said. "You don't come hack, I'm stuck with all this food your kids have handled."
 
"Uh, well, then...Here. I'll leave my watch as collateral," Remington offered, pulling on the band.
 
"I already have a watch."
 
"It's a Rolex."
 
"So is mine, and I bet I paid a third of what you did."
 
"Bought it in a parking lot, eh?" Remington asked.
 
"Something like that," the cashier admitted.
 
"My driver's license, then?"
 
"I don't care who you are. I just want my $19.50."
 
When both boys began pulling on his pants leg,Remington looked down into their excited faces.
 
"Leave us, Daddy-- like you left Mummy in Mexico," Rory said.
 
"You left your wife in Mexico?" the cashier asked.
 
Remington started to comment but then thought better of it and looked down at the boys.
 
"We can handle it, Daddy," Rory declared. "We can be food guarders."
 
"It'll be my first case!" Remy exclaimed.
 
"Is that okay?" Remington asked the cashier.
 
"Yeah, why not? I think you'll come back for them."
 
Remington considered the situation for a moment. "All right, mates," he finally said. "Your assignment is to keep an eye on our food without moving from this spot."
 
"We'll wait right here," Rory assured him.
 
"They'll be fine," the cashier declared. "But make it snappy, okay? Here comes a car load and you'll be holding up the line."
 
With one last look at the boys, Remington quickly left the refreshment shack.
 
He was almost back at the limo when he met Brendan. "What are you doing out of the car?" he asked.
 
Brendan held out a $IO bill. "Mum sent you this."
 
"She did, eh?" Remington scowled, but took it from him. "Come along; you can help us carry everything."
 
"She was right, huh?"
 
"Brendan, your mother is always right... even when it hurts."
 
* * * * *
lt wasn't long before Remington and the boys climbed back into the limo with popcorn and drinks. Laura was already sitting in the back seat, Abby and Laurie on either side of her. Brendan climbed into the front seat and helped his father distribute the food.
 
"We guarded the food, Mummy," Remy declared, sitting next to Brendan. "We didn't even let the fat lady that bumped into Rory take it from us."
 
"You were very brave, sweetheart. But we shouldn't call people fat," Laura said, smiling.
 
Her eyes, however, were on Remington--and they were not smiling.
 
"They did Humpty proud," Remington bragged, handing her the change.
 
"Just don't give them cause to do it again," Laura said over her wax-coated paper cup of cola. She knew she shouldn't be drinking the caffeine, but surely a little wouldn't hurt.
 
"I want to sit in the front again," Laurie shrieked, bouncing up and down in the rear seat and making Laura feel queasy.
 
"Wait a second, sweetheart; you know Mummy's tummy doesn't like to be bounced about," her father instructed her. "Just hang on; I'll come get you."
 
Remington walked around to the rear door and climbed inside. Reaching into the back seat, he lifted Laurie in his arms and held her suspended over the rear of the front seat until Brendan could help her the rest of the way.
 
"I can't believe this," Remington said softly into Laura's ear.
 
"What?" Laura asked.
 
"This," he said, "is the first time in years we've be allowed to sit together in the back seat at a drive-in."
 
Glancing at his watch, Remington put his arm around his wife and prepared to enjoy a few restful moments.
 
* * * * *
Remington looked at his watch again; Laura was sure it was the fifth time, even though she wasn't consciously keeping count.
 
"You keep doing that," she pointed out. "Is something wrong?
 
"It's been running slow; that's all," Remington explained as he shook it and placed it near his ear.
 
"You only use that excuse when you're trying to sneak off someplace. Where is it this time?"
 
"Don't you have that backwards, Mrs. Steele? Under the circumstances, shouldn't I be worried that *you'll* sneak off?"
 
"Don't be silly. I'm thrilled about Mother's visit"
 
"Uh huh," Remington said, unconvinced.
 
In a minute he glanced at his watch again and thumped his fingers on the back of the seat, tapping Laura's shoulder in the process. Then leaning forward, he whispered something to Laurie. When he was sure she understood, he settled back into his seat.
 
Then after glancing at his watch a few more times, he cleared his throat.
 
Laurie suddenly bounced to her knees and leaned over the front seat, announcing, "I hafta go to the bathroom."
 
"I'll take her," Remington offered, quickly climbing out of the car before Laura could protest and opening the front door so Laurie could climb out. Then scooping her up in his arms, he carried her towards the rear of the drive-in.
 
"Where we going, Daddy?" Laurie asked.
 
"On an adventure."
 
"Like Peter Pan?"
 
"Sort of," Remington explained, searching the area for something. Finally spotted what he was searching for, he changed directions.
 
"Isn't that Mummy's car?" Laurie asked in a moment when she noticed the Rabbit in the distance.
 
"Hmm, I do believe it is," her father stated, picking up his pace.
 
"It's Jackie!" Laurie exclaimed in delight when she was close enough to clearly see the figure behind the wheel. "Daddy, why does Jackie have Mummy's car?"
 
"lt's a surprise for your mum," Remington explained. "She and I are going to watch the last part of the movie here by ourselves while Jackie stays with all of you. And you're going to help me surprise her."
 
Laurie giggled, then asked, "How, Daddy?"
 
"You and Jackie will go back to the limo. But right before you get there, he'll hide while you run to the limo and tell Mummy to come look for me. Tell her I need her help."
 
"What do you need her help for?"
 
"Oh, I don't know. Make something up."
 
"We're not supposed to make up things," Laurie chided.
 
"This time it's okay," Remington assured her. "When your mum comes looking for me, I'll surprise her. Jackie will stay with all of you and then he'll take the Rabbit home while we go get Grandma at the airport."
 
Laurie giggled again. "Remy had his first case tonight. Is this mine, Daddy?"
 
"I suppose it is," Remington said. "Now, can I count on you, sweetheart?"
 
"You have my word, Daddy, and a Steele's word is her bond," Laurie assured him. "But Daddy..."
 
"What is it, sweetheart?"
 
"I really do hafta go to the bathroom."
 
* * *
Back in the limo, Laura chewed her thumbnail, and glanced at her watch with a determination that would have made Remington pale. She was just about to about to organize a search party when the back door opened and a breathless Laurie scrambled inside.
 
"Mummy! Mummy! It's Daddy!"
 
"Where *is* Daddy?" Laura asked.
 
"Over there!" Laurie said excitedly, pointing behind the car.
 
"Calm down, darling. Why isn't Daddy with you?"
 
"He's being chased by three big lions! Hurry, Mummy, before they eat him!"
 
"How did you get away?" Laura asked.
 
"Daddy was so brave, Mummy!" Laurie exclaimed, really getting into her 'first case.' "He pushed me in front of him and said he'd hold them off until I could get help! You've gotta hurry!!"
 
"Right!" Laura said, taking charge. "Brendan, you and Rory watch the others. After I lock the doors, don't let any strangers in. And I don't care how badly anyone has to go to the bathroom, no one gets out of this car!"
 
Realizing that Remington was up to something and that Laurie was obviously in on it, Laura played along. After locking the doors, she looked around and quickly spotted Jackie waving to her from behind a nearby car. Waving back, she headed to the back of the drive-in where the restrooms were located, trying to figure what out exactly what her unpredictable husband was up to this time.
 
As soon as she was out of sight, Jackie tapped on the window of the limo. Laurie unlocked the door and let him in.
 
"Hi, kids,"he said in greeting. "Pass me some of that popcorn."
 
They did, while Laurie told everyone about her first case.
 
*****
When Laura spotted Remington leaning casually against the Rabbit, she couldn't help but notice that he was in one piece.
 
"Where are the lions?" she asked, looking around.
 
Following her cue, he scanned the area around them, also. "Lions?"
 
"Laurie said you were being chased by three of them. I hated to tell her your slim frame would hardly interest them."
 
He looked wounded, but then chuckled. "Lions, eh? Well, I told her to think of something, but I didn't expect her to be quite so creative."
 
"I don't see any scratches," Laura remarked. "Any teeth marks I should examine?"
 
"Only yours," he said, wiggling his eyebrows. "But are you going to stand here discussing them, or are you going to get in the car with me?" he asked, opening the door for her.
 
"You're absolutely right. Time's a wasting," Laura admitted, crawling in and watching him walk around to the driver's side of the convertible.
 
"Now, what are you plotting this time, and what is my car doing here?" she asked after he had taken his seat.
 
"Jackie is baby-sitting," he explained, holding out the popcorn Jackie had left for them. "We'll share a few private moments and, after the movie is over, Jackie will return this antique to the garage and we'll all go after your mother."
 
Laura stared at him in disbelief for a few moments. She thought briefly about defending her car, but then thought better of it. Laughed instead, she said, "You old romantic, you."
 
Taking a handful of popcorn, she gratefully rested her head on her husband's shoulder. "Private moments are so few these days. In fact, I was just thinking about that earlier today," she admitted.
 
"You were, eh?" Remington asked, putting his arm around her.
 
"I love all of our children, and I've never regretted having them...but sometimes I wish . . . Well, it's just that ..."
 
When Remington noted with concern that Laura was on the verge of tears, he tenderly squeezed her shoulder, saying, "Out with it, Laura."
 
"How can I explain this? I know it's a terrible thing to say, but sometimes I'm almost jealous of them," she admitted.
 
"It just proves my theory that you're human, Laura,"he assured her, giving her a quick kiss on the forehead. "I'm sure every mother who ever lived has felt that way at some point."
 
"What would you say if I told you that I didn't want any more children?"
 
He was momentarily surprised, but did his best not to show it. Then giving her shoulder another squeeze, he asked, "Laura, do you remember what did I told you when Brendan was born?"
 
"You said it didn't matter to you whether we had one child or twenty, but that you would love each and every one we might have as if he or she were the most special child on earth."
 
"I'm relieved to know that pregnancy hasn't diminished your memory," he said.
 
"I certainly never dreamed we would have such a large family, but Brendan was such a joy and you were such a wonderful father and I loved being a mother, so it was the most natural thing in the world to want to multiply that joy. But... perhaps six are enough," Laura confessed.
 
"Six seems an adequate number," Remington agreed.
 
"I'm not sure you know what I'm trying to say," Laura confessed. "It seems *I'm* the one having trouble with the words tonight."
 
"'Come now, Scarlett; you aren't suggesting separate bedrooms, are you?'" he asked in his best Gable impression.
 
"Of course no!" she replied indignantly. "It's just getting to be more than I can handle."
 
"I understand, Luv," he assured her.
 
"There's so little opportunity for spontaneity anymore, professionally or personally," she explained further. "I don't really mind the professional limitations, but I do find the personal limitations frustrating. I mean, when was our last spontaneous romantic interlude?"
 
Remington thought hard for a moment, then said with a smile, "Last month, when we took a two hour lunch at Andre's."
 
"That was nice, but it was planned," she pointed out. "You're always surprising me with unexpected long lunches, relaxing drives along the coast and romantic walks on the beach. But I would hardly call any of them spontaneous; they all took careful planning. You seem to thrive on it, but I feel like a general orchestrating a battle when I plan something as mundane as grocery shopping!"
 
Remington buried his face in her hair. "Laura, I know it's hard sometimes, but. . ."
 
"Who would have thought our life together would be like this?" Laura said with a sigh.
 
"Any regrets?" he cautiously asked.
 
She thought a moment. "No," she admitted with a smile. "None at all. Though it would have been much simpler if I had married Norman the accountant; he only wanted two kids and a Siamese cat."
 
She never thought Remington would take her last remark seriously, but even in the semi-darkness she could see his bewildered expression.
 
"But I wouldn't have had nearly the fun," she said with a smile as she kissed his cheek.
 
"I was afraid, for a moment, you were going to say Norman *Keyes.* I mean, I know pregnancy always make you a bit raving, but that would have been..."
 
Laura elbowed him gently. "I guess what it all comes down to is that I belong to the California generation who protested environmental destruction and civil disobedience. I never thought I'd be so..."
 
"...civilized?" he guessed.
 
"Traditional," she corrected, nearly spitting out the word. "Even Barbara called us traditional. You heard her. And you were worse, with that syrupy tone and treachly smile."
 
She elbowed him again, harder this time.
 
"Laura! I'm sure she won't accept my invitation to visit," Remington said in an effort to placate her.
 
Laura sighed. "At least you rubbed it in a little by telling her we live in the Hills."
 
"Well, we couldn't find a big enough house anywhere else that offered the same security," he reminded her.
 
"Don't spoil it," she warned, though her voice was playful. "I just never expected my life to turn out the way it has; that's all I'm saying."
 
"You know, when you think about it, Laura, we're probably the least traditional couple in America," Remington pointed out.
 
"You once promised me that we'd be the happiest married couple in America."
 
"And are we?" Remington asked.
 
"Sometimes. We do have a good marriage-- better than most. Certainly better than Barbs and what's-his-name, and she thinks her marriage is wonderful."
 
"But you think it could be better?"
 
"I just wish we could recapture some of the excitement, the thrill, the adventure of the old days. You know, all of those things that both attracted me to you and scared the living daylights out of me."
 
"Ah, yes," Remington sighed. "The good old days when you fought my affections tooth and nail."
 
To his amusement, her thoughts suddenly took a different turn. "Do you suppose that old sensitivity spa still exists?" she asked dreamily.
 
"What?" he asked, startled. "Are you saying we need therapy? Come now, Laura, you don't actually buy into all that gop, do you? There's a reason spa is just another way of spelling sap. We don't need outside help."
 
"No, of course we don't," she agreed, chewing on her lower lip.
 
"Want me to write you another letter outlining the reasons I fell in love with you?"
 
"Couldn't hurt," she confessed with a smile.
 
When her hand came into contact with his as they reached for popcorn at the same time, he caught her fingers and squeezed them.
 
"It doesn't have to be the spa," she explained. "Just someplace we can get away for a few days, just the two of us. No phone, no kids, no relatives, no Mildred... no interruptions of any sort. I want..."
 
"What?" Remington asked. "What do you want?"
 
"More of what you managed tonight. I want to be romanced again, without having to enlist Jackie, or having to worry that we only have two hours because the kids will be home, or that Frances and Donald are coming to dinner, or. . ." Her voice trailed off for a moment, but then she continued. "I need time just for us. I want time with *you*-- the man I love. I never dreamed a commitment would mean giving up so much."
 
"I'm not sure I understand," Remington admitted, a bit confused. "You have the agency, you have me, you have our children..."
 
"To hell with the agency!" she suddenly blurted out. Then noticing his shocked look, she quickly said, "I know, I know; I never thought I'd say that, either. But you're missing my point: in gaining you, I've lost you."
 
"Now I *am* confused. How have you lost me?"
 
"We've been so caught up in the kids, work...Everything except each other."
 
"I haven't meant to neglect you," he said sincerely.
 
"We've neglected each other. Do you ever wish you could go back?" she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
 
"Back to what? The carefree days before we had children?"
 
"No. Back to before we met...Before you and I became us...Before you became Remington Steele."
 
"Absolutely not," he said with a smile, taking her into his arms. "I cherish *our* life together, even if it does seems like a circus most of he time. How could you even ask such a thing?"
 
"I've heard you discussing old times with your old mates, when you're playing poker at the house."
 
"Reminiscing, Laura," he interjected. "That's all it is. You do it, too, you know-- when you talk to Murphy or Bernice on the phone. Maybe what I say is colored with fondness, but a lot of it is just talk that's been dulled or embellished with the passage of time. My old times were hard times, Luv. Living day to day is a lonely existence. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I'd to be where I am today."
 
"Sitting at a Disney movie with a very pregnant wife while a reformed pickpocket watches your five offspring?" Laura asked.
 
"Surrounded by love," he corrected. "I have it all, Laura." On her look, he added, "More time for just the two of us would be nice, but we're alone now."
 
"In a convertible-- and only until the movie ends," she pointed out.
 
"Well, I've never been one to miss an opportunity," he said, nuzzling her neck.
 
Safe in Remington's arms, Laura closed her eyes. And for a while, she forgot all about the worries she had brought with her to the car.
 
****
The screen had been dark for several minutes and other cars were starting to leave when Remington and Laura untangled their arms and legs and sat up.
 
"I suppose we'd better rescue Jackie," Remington said.
 
"Must we?" Laura asked with a sigh.
 
"And I'm afraid we're going to have to hustle to get to the airport in time to meet your mother's flight," Remington said, glancing at his watch. "She may already be circling."
 
"Writing 'Surrender, Laura' from her broom, no doubt," she muttered.
 
Remington let the comment pass and helped her from the car. They walked, arms around each other's waist, toward the limo. Neither was in a hurry to end the few stolen moments they had shared.
 
"What are you thinking about?" he asked her.
 
"That Hershey bar you gave the kids."
 
"Your mother brings that out in you, doesn't she?"
 
"Among other things. Can we just drop it, please?"
 
"She's the only grandmother the kids have," Remington reminded her.
 
"I know, and I tolerate her for their sake," she said. But after a moment of silence, she added, "No, I take that back. I love my mother; I really do. We just don't communicate very well. Certainly not as well as Mother and Frances."
 
"If it wasn't for the genetic chocolate thing, I'd wonder if you and Frances were really sisters."
 
"Me, too," confessed Laura, leaning against Remington as a car passed by slowly. "Frances is perfect, but I have dozens of past aberrations that Mother just has to drag up at every opportunity. Everything from my running away to the laundry hamper to my arrest record. Oh, she thinks she's being subtle when she says things like 'What ever became of Wilson Jeffries?' or 'Do you ever see that nice jail matron who kept that horrible woman from strip-searching you?' But what she really means is 'Why can't you be more like Frances?'"
 
Remington laughed. "How have you managed to keep my past sins from her?"
 
"Oh, she thinks you're perfect, too--except for the fact that you spend too much money."
 
"Abigail said that?"
 
"Countless times," Laura assured him.
 
Remington laughed again, saying,"You take after her, you know."
 
"I don't harp on our children's mistakes!" Laura said defensively.
 
"No, you don't; not even about Brendan and Rory's museum escapade. It's only *my* little indiscretions that you keep bringing up, in your own subtle little ways."
 
Laura stepped away from him at that point and poked a finger in his chest. "And speaking of your little indiscretions, I think leaving Rory and Remy at the refreshment center tonight was far too reckless."
 
"Laura, if I stop being reckless, what's left?" he grinned, increasing his pace and walking ahead of her. Then calling back over his shoulder, he added,"I guess I'll just have to be traditional!"
 
***********
 
Laura found the peace and quiet of the seldom-used formal living room almost as comforting as the piano piece she was playing. lt had been a hectic day and she had needed this time to herself. Sensing that, Remington had sent her to "practice her preludes" while he, Abigail, and Mama Katie handled bedtime hugs and prayers with the children.
 
As Laura finished her selection, she lovingly stroked the dark wood of her beloved piano. It was her most treasured material possession, and the fact that Remington had made monthly payments on it for years endeared it to her even more. She thought back to that magical night when she discovered Remington's gift in her empty loft, and she couldn't help smiling as she thought of all the "possibilities" that had since become realities.
 
It was then that Laura's reverie was broken by her grandmother. Putting her hand on her granddaughter's shoulder, she said, "I knew I made the right decision when I gave you my piano. It wasn't as elegant as this one, but you loved it as much as I did."
 
Laura patted the bench beside her and Mama Katie joined her. "It was the thing I missed the most when my house burned," Laura admitted.
 
"Yes, I know," Mama Katie admitted, stroking the lovingly polished wood. "You know, your mother was mortified when Remington gave you this piano. Not that he gave it to you, mind you, but that you accepted it without any protest."
 
"Were you mortified as well?"Laura asked, studying her grandmother's face.
 
"Enlightened is more like it. I knew that any man who knew you well enough to know how much that piano meant to you was a very special man indeed. And for you to accept it meant that you also saw that in him. l just didn't think it would take you so long to admit it. But then, you always were stubborn."
 
Laura laughed and gave her grandmother a hug. "I'm so glad you came! l just wish you'd told us ahead of time!"
 
"Why? So you wouldn't have been dreading your mother's visit?"
 
"Oh, dear. Is it that obvious?"
 
"Laura, dear, it doesn't take a detective to figure out that your mother's visits set your teeth on edge."
 
Laura looked embarrassed. "I've disappointed Mother all of my life," she said with a sigh. "Maybe I should have become a dental hygienist like she wanted."
 
"Heaven forbid--you would have been a terrible hygienist! You were destined to become a detective, ever since you were six years old and found my missing ring. I'll let you in on a little secret: Abigail is the one who always wanted to be a dental hygienist."
 
"Mother?!" Laura exclaimed, shocked to learn that her mother ever had dreams of her own than didn't involve running her daughters' lives. For a moment, she felt a wave of understanding. "Where is Mother, anyway?"
 
"Probably in her room, fortifying herself with Krunch bars." On Laura's disbelieving look, Mama Katie continued. "Laura, being flustered by a visit from your mother is not unique to you, you know. But enough of that. What I'm really interested in is my newest great-grandchild. I love all of my great-grandchildren, but I feel a special bond with this one."
 
"Remington has said that about all of our children," Laura said. "He says he feels a special bond with each of them. At the time I didn't think that was possible, but I've learned it is. Each one is special in his or her own unique, wonderful way." Laura smiled as she placed her hand on her abdomen. "Even though this little one will be number six, it's just as welcome as the first."
 
"As a sixth child myself, I'm very glad to hear you say that. My parents loved me, but sometimes I felt like I just blended in with the rest. I really wanted to be here for this one's birth, to let him or her know from the very beginning that they're special."
 
Laurie, in her white nightgown and bunny slippers, choose that moment to burst into the room. Holding up a silver charm bracelet, she exclaimed, "I found it, Mama Katie!"
 
"Well, you certainly did! Where in heaven's name was it?"
 
"I figured that Bogart took it when he ran from your room, so I looked in his doghouse and there it was! Do I get a reward?"
 
"Absolutely, dear. Let's go get that dollar right now!"
 
Laura took her daughter into her arms and whispered in her ear, "When I was your age, I only got a quarter."
 
The three of them walked upstairs to Mama Katie's room, but Laura waited in the doorway. She didn't want to spoil a precious moment between great-grandmother and great-granddaughter, nor did she want to let Laurie see the tears of pride in her eyes.
 
Laurie took the dollar from her great-grandmother, gave her a hug and shook it excitedly in her mother's direction. "Isn't it great, Mummy? My first client!"
 
"It's wonderful, sweetheart," Laura assured her.
 
"I've gotta go tell Daddy!" Laurie exclaimed as she ran out of the room and into the hallway.
 
"Looks like we have another detective on our hands," Mama Katie observed. "And she has a head start on you, doesn't she?"
 
"Did you really lose that bracelet?" Laura asked, raising her eyebrow suspiciously.
 
"Why, Laura, I'm surprised at you! Next thing l know, you'll be wondering if I really lost that ring 30 years ago!"
 
* * *
Laura smiled and hugged her pillow, unaware that her husband had been watching her for several minutes, savoring the sight of her sleeping. Smiling, he leaned over and gave her a series of kisses.
 
Slowly opening her eyes, she found herself gazing into the face of her husband. Putting her arms around his neck, she pulled his face against her shoulder. Then she shook her head and laughed.
 
"What's so funny?" Remington asked, kissing her ear.
 
"I had the craziest dream," Laura told him. "I'd invited Barbara Frick over for tea because I wanted to show off our new picket fence."
 
"Nothing like a traditional dream for a restful night's sleep," Remington said in mock seriousness.
 
"Well, not exactly. While I was in the kitchen getting ready, you and the kids painted movie scenes all over the fence. I ended up joining you and the cake burned to a crisp."
 
"Color pictures or traditional black and white?"
 
"Both, actually."
 
"Hmh...picket fence covered with movie scenes. Think your subconscious is trying to tell you something, Mrs. Steele?" Remington asked.
 
"I don't know about that, but my stomach is certainly trying to tell me something. What time is it, anyway? I'm starving!"
 
"I'll go start the waffles while you get dressed," Remington said, pulling Laura out of bed. When she was on her feet, he tenderly ran his fingers across her chin, saying, "You're beautiful when you're pregnant, Laura."
 
"Only when I'm pregnant?"
 
"You're beautiful to me all the time, Luv. But you're even more beautiful when you're pregnant."
 
*******
It didn't take Laura long to realize the house was empty. She heard no giggles, no tears, no slamming doors and no scampering feet. She had forgotten how quiet and lonely the house was without the sound of children. Her own footsteps even echoed as she made her way down the stairs to the kitchen.
 
"Where is every..." she asked, stopping in mid-question when she saw the table set for two, complete with a lace tablecloth, candles and a long-stemmed red rose in a crystal vase.
 
Her eyes filled with tears as she looked into Remington's glowing face.
 
"Surprise!" he said, planting a kiss on her cheek.
 
Laura threw her arms around him. "Every day with you is full of surprises."
 
"Yes, well, I don't want you getting bored," Remington said as he helped Laura sit at the elegantly prepared table.
 
"I think boredom is one thing our marriage will never suffer from," Laura admitted.
 
"I think Greta Garbo said it best when she said, 'I'm afraid of nothing except being bored' ," Remington said.
 
He then watched in awe as Laura poured half a bottle of syrup onto her waffles. "Laura," he chastised. "If you eat all of the syrup you've poured on your plate, the baby will be doing calisthenics."
 
Laura smiled and took a bite of dripping waffles. "He or she is past the trampoline stage," she rationalized. "They're just waiting to be born now."
 
"You've gained all the weight the doctor wants you to gain," he pointed out.
 
Her smile remained, but she said, "I really hate it when you do that."
 
"Cook waffles?"
 
"Chastise me about my eating."
 
"I wasn't chastising," he explained. "I was just pointing out ..."
 
He was silenced with a sweet, sticky kiss. By mutual, non-verbal agreement, they thus agreed to change the subject.
 
"So, where is everyone?" Laura asked, her mouth full.
 
"Enjoying a day out on the town with Fred and the limo. I think the agenda included the zoo, the park, Pizza Circus, putt-putt and the toy store."
 
"It was sweet of you to plan their day so we could spend some time together."
 
"Actually, Laura, it was sweet of *Abigail* to plan their day so we could be alone."
 
"It was Mother's idea?" Laura asked incredulously.
 
"Boggles the mind, doesn't it?" Remington asked, raising his eyebrow. "She made the suggestion last night while you were talking with your grandmother. She wanted to give us a day to ourselves before the baby comes and things get even more hectic around here."
 
Laura shook her head, feeling guilty. "And all that time I thought she was hiding in the guest room eating my Krunch bar."
 
"Well, come to think of it, Abigail *was* eating a candy bar while we were talking," Remington recalled.
 
Laura laughed. "Don't you get it? When Mother visits, I get nervous and eat ...choc... choc... chocolate." Laura shuddered as she said the word. "And when Mama Katie visits Mother, Mother goes batty and you find her eating chocolate, too."
 
"Oh, I see. It's a family tradition," Remington said, ducking to avoid the napkin Laura threw at his grinning face.
 
* * *
Laura would remember that day as the nicest gift she had ever received from her mother. And, when she flipped through the pages of her mental scrapbook years from now, she would love Remington all the more for making it truly memorable. That it wasn't spontaneous hardly mattered.
 
After their leisurely breakfast by candlelight, they enjoyed a relaxing drive in the Auburn up to the Griffith Park Observatory. Laura wasn't able to climb behind the infamous Marty Klopman wall, but she received an almost sexual satisfaction when Remington blotted out Marty's initials with white spray paint and added his own in blue. Upon leaving Griffith Park, Remington drove to "their spot" in McCullum Park, where the two of them necked before taking a romantic stroll through the woods. Laura had expected them to leave the Park afterwards, but Remington instead surprised her with the picnic lunch he had packed.
 
After their picnic, they sat through two sets of instant photos at the bus station. Laura, despite hating the bloated face she always imagined having when she was pregnant, felt like a teenager again as they had their pictures taken inside the small, curtained booth. She had forgotten how much fun it could be to act so uninhibited with the man she loved. For the first set of four photos, they tried to outdo each other making silly faces. The second set recorded a single kiss that didn't end until Remington reminded her they'd better grab their photos and run before a reporter from the LA. Inquirer once again beat them to it.
 
When they finally drove into their own driveway late that afternoon, Laura was pleasantly exhausted. It took practically no coaxing for Remington to get her to take a nap before dinner, but she did make him promise to wake her up in time to eat with the rest of the family. For once, she was anxious to see her mother and thank her for giving them such a special day.
 
* * *
Laura was asleep when her family returned from their day's excursion. The children were bubbling over with stories about their adventures, and Remington proved to be an enraptured audience. When Abigail later asked how his day had been, he merely smiled, kissed her on both cheeks and said, "Thank you." That simple act told her everything she needed to know.
 
lt was then that Jackie arrived. He had made previous arrangements to meet Remington at the house at 5:30 so they could scope out the jewelry store and formulate their plan for that night's visit. Remington was still in such good spirits from his day's activities that he didn't even object when Brendan asked to go with them.
 
* * *
Jackie and Brendan casually looked around the jewelry store while Remington feigned interest in a silver choker. During his discussion with the clerk, he ascertained that the door was the only thing rigged to an alarm system and that the ventilation duct near the ceiling was probably large enough to crawl through.
 
The next step was to discover exactly where the ventilation duct led. That search led them straight to the men's bathroom next door in a L.A. Information Center.
 
"Well, Jackie, my boy, we've lucked out," Remington said, slapping him on the back. "This little job will be child's play, assuming I can fit in the vent. If you'll just give me a lift, we'll know for sure."
 
Jackie cupped his hands and gave Remington a boost. Then pushing the wire vent aside, he pulled himself up into the gaping black hole.
 
"It looks a little tight, but I think I can make it," Remington declared.
 
"I can fit, Daddy. Let me do it," Brendan urged.
 
"No," his father said as he jumped down from the vent.
 
"But I'm little -I can do it; I know I can."
 
"No," Remington repeated.
 
"But I helped you return the Marchessa Collection..."
 
Remington knelt beside Brendan and put his hands on his son's shoulders, instantly letting him know he'd gone too far.
 
"It's not open for discussion," Remington declared in a no-nonsense voice. "Do I make myself clear?"
 
"Yes, sir. I won't mention it again."
 
"Good. See that you don't," Remington added for emphasis, making sure he got the last word in. "Now, let's get home and eat dinner."
 
* * *
Laura had forgotten how good her mother's pork chops and Spanish rice could be. The family had just finished their relaxing meal when Kristy Cordova O'Casey called and asked if she and her husband could stop by for a short visit later that evening.
 
Laura had know Alan O'Casey since the early days of Holt Investigations; he was her contact at the DMV and had helped her agency out on many occasions. Then she and Remington had met Kristy during a high flying case involving Kristy's circus and the mysterious crook named Turk. When they had introduced Kristy and Alan it was, as Remington put it, 'Kismet.' Kristy and Alan had now been married for five years. During that time they had gotten to be good friends with the Steeles--all of the Steeles.
 
The Steele household leaped into action in preparation for their expected visitors. Remington volunteered to give the younger children their baths. Laura supervised Brendan and Rory in straightening up the house while Abigail and Mama Katie straightened up the kitchen. By the time the O'Caseys arrived, the house and the children were in good shape.
 
Before visiting with Laura and Remington, the children insisted on giving Kristy and Alan a grand tour of the nursery. Kristy always loved seeing the Steele nursery. It was quite unlike any other she had ever seen, but it was nevertheless very appealing. Alan easily carried Kristy up the stairs behind the children, who were bubbling over with excitement.
 
"Now tell me again, whose poster is which?" Kristy asked as Alan carried her over the nursery threshold . She already knew---heaven knows they'd told her often enough! But the kids enjoyed telling her, so she always asked. It was a sort of game they played.
 
Just as the wall of the video room was covered with Remington's framed movie poster originals, the wall of the nursery was covered with original, framed Disney posters. After the birth of each child, Remington had purchased the appropriate poster and added it to the nursery wall. Each of the children were very possessive of their own poster. Brendan adored his Lady & the Tramp, Rory loved his 101 Dalmatians, Laurie was enamored of her Snow White, Remy delighted in his Peter Pan. And it was a sure bet that Abby would one day become just as attached to her Sleeping Beauty.
 
"Daddy has one for Mummy, but it's a surprise; he's not giving it to her until after the baby comes," Laurie said.
 
"And what poster will the new baby get?" Kristy asked.
 
"If it's boy, Daddy's gonna get Robin Hood," Brendan answered.
 
"And if it's a girl, he and Mummy are gonna get The Little Mermaid," Remy added.
 
"Aunt Kristy, when mermaids die, do they get flushed?" Laurie asked, remembering her concerns from the evening before.
 
"I don't know, Laurie. I never really thought about it before."
 
"It would take an awfully big toilet, silly," Rory said.
 
Remington decided that was a good time to rescue Kristy. "All right, kids," he announced. "Give Mummy and Daddy a good night kiss. Grandma and Mama Katie will tuck you in. And I wouldn't be surprised if they knew a story or two."
 
After hugs and kisses were exchanged, Laura and Remington led the way back down the stairs to the family room. Though Kristy wasn't very heavy, Alan welcomed the chance to sit beside her on the couch for the remainder of their visit.
 
"I realize this is short notice, but we have a favor to ask you," Alan began.
 
"You know you're always welcome here anytime, Alan. Now, exactly what is it that we can help you with?" Remington asked, slipping his arm around Laura's shoulders.
 
"We've made several visits to an adoption agency recently, and they seem optimistic that we'll be approved for a child," Kristy explained.
 
"That's wonderful!" Laura exclaimed.
 
Laura thought back to the dark days of Kristy's two miscarriages and their subsequent decision to adopt. They desperately wanted a child, but had been turned down by each and every adoption agency they contacted. As long as they were traveling with the circus, their lifestyle was considered too unstable for a child. It was only right that now they should finally have the chance.
 
"Do you ever regret selling part interest in the circus and settling down?" Laura asked.
 
"Never," Kristy declared with no hesitation whatsoever. "When it came down to a choice between keeping the circus or having a child, there wasn't any question which I wanted most."
 
"Besides, Kristy is a superb gymnastics teacher," Alan added. "The children love her. But then, how could they not?"
 
"Well, that's grand news, Alan, but what's this favor you need? Lining up babysitters already?" Remington asked.
 
"We want to use you both as references," Alan explained. "They may even want to personally interview you."
 
"We'll be honored to help in any way we can," Laura assured them.
 
"And that *does* include babysitting. All you have to do is ask," Remington added. "We'll just throw yours in with ours. After all, what's one more, eh?"
 
"Speaking of babies, Laura-- exactly when is the newest addition to the family due?" Kristy asked.
 
"A couple of weeks," Laura answered, patting her stomach.
 
"Of course, Laura hasn't gone full term yet; all of our children were born two to three weeks early. Which means this one could arrive at any time now," Remington predicted.
 
Just then Laura felt a pain and shifted her position with a groan.
 
"I know I said at any time, Laura, but I didn't mean it literally."
 
"Relax, dear. It's nothing," Laura assured him. "It's probably indigestion."
 
"That hardly reassures me. You've yet to admit that first labor pain."
 
"Icy calm, Mr. Steele. If you recall, the Spanish rice had green peppers and I've never been able to tolerate them when I'm pregnant. I don't think I'll be going into labor tonight; at least, not unless something stressful happens to bring it on," she said, knowing Remington would understand exactly what she was not saying.
 
* * *
A few hours later, the children were safely tucked in bed and Abigail and Mama Katie had retired to their rooms. Remington had left for the jewelry store with Jackie, and Laura was trying to sleep. Problem was, she couldn't relax. It wasn't that she was worried about Remington's little trip; after all, the plan was simple enough. The real problem was the green peppers. She finally gave up hoping the discomfort would go away and took a spoonful of liquid antacid before trying a different position in bed.
 
Another cause of her insomnia was the evening's visit with Kristy and Alan. Laura was thrilled that they had tentative approval as adoptive parents; they both yearned desperately to have children. But a little part of her had wanted to tell them about the not-so-rosy side of the picture. About the lost sleep, the crying and fighting, the loss of privacy and spontaneity, the hours of worrying when they were sick...
 
Laura went to sleep with that thought. She dreamed of a far different life than the one she and Remington shared. She saw them celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary, not with candlelight and champagne, but with a heart wrenching walk through a cemetery to visit the graves of their stillborn children. When Laura awoke, she could feel the tears on her face as she sat upright in bed. Even though she knew it was only a dream, she still felt the need to crawl from her bed and check on her children.
 
Abby was sleeping in the fetal position in her crib in the room she now shared with Laurie. Laurie lay on her side, contentedly sucking her thumb. The only time her oldest daughter sucked her thumb any more was at night, and neither she nor Remington were concerned about it yet.
 
Laura's next stop was the younger boys' room. She was relieved that the new arrangement had not bothered them. Brendan and Rory had shared a room until recently, when an upstairs sitting room had been converted into a bedroom for Brendan. That had let them move Remy in with Rory and Abby in with Laurie, once again freeing up the nursery. The move had made Remy feel grown up, and Rory seemed to be enjoying the role of older brother. lt was something be couldn't be when Brendan was around.
 
Still, though, she and Remington would soon have to make a decision. They had kept two spare bedrooms as guest rooms for visiting family and the occasional client they had to safeguard. As the children grew older and wanted privacy, they'd either have to move them into those rooms, convert some other room into a bedroom, or add onto the house. Somehow, she couldn't see Remington giving up his video room.
 
Laura smiled as she saw Remy's bare feet sticking out from beneath the covers. Just like his father, she thought to herself. Remington had the same habit of kicking the covers from his feet while he slept. She tucked him in again and made her way to Rory. He was covered up to his chin with his stuffed leprechaun held tightly in his aims. Remington had purchased King Brian during their Irish honeymoon and the children took turns "owning" him. It was currently Rory's week.
 
Laura then backed out of the room, eased the door closed, and went to check on Brendan. She opened his door and looked across the room, but he was completely hidden by the covers; even with the light from the hall, she couldn't see him. Crossing the room and gently pulling down the sheet, she saw a carefully placed pillow in the spot where Brendan's dark hair should have been.
 
"Why, that little... Ooh!" Laura declared, turning on her heels and stomping out of the room.
 
She continued to talk to herself as she stormed to her room and hurriedly began dressing in black slacks and top. "I knew we should have come down on him harder after that fiasco with the Marchessa Collection! But, oh, no! 'His conscience will punish him!' Ha! Just like his father, that's his problem! Picking locks at age three! Ha! And did he learn his lesson after breaking into the museum? Not bloody likely! He kept it in a scrapbook! And now he's helping Daddy break into a jewelry store!"
 
During her tirade, Laura experienced a couple of regular pains. By now she knew it probably wasn't indigestion, but she begged for time to get to the jewelry store so she could scream and make her men feel eternally guilty for bringing on her labor!
 
By the time she finished dressing and made her way downstairs, Abigail was waiting for her.
 
"Laura, is something wrong?" she asked, genuine concern in her voice. "I could hear you babbling all the way down here."
 
"I don't babble, Mother."
 
"Why are you dressed like that?"
 
"I have to go out for a while," she explained. "Brendan's missing."
 
"Missing? Good heavens!"
 
"It's okay, Mother. I have a pretty good idea where he is. I think he's with Remington on a case, but the last thing Remington needs right now is a child hanging around. Just keep an eye on the others until l get back. I'll be back with Brendan as quickly as I can," Laura instructed as she hurried to the front door.
 
Another pain hit her before she could open it, however. Looking back at Abigail, she said, "I think you lucked out this time, Mother. You got here just in time for your grandchild's birth."
 
"Laura, you stay right there! I'm taking you to the hospital!"
 
"There's plenty of time," Laura insisted. "You can take me when I get back. I will not go into labor without knowing where my son is!"
 
"Then I'll drive you," Abigail stated, changing tactics.
 
"Don't be ridiculous!"
 
"You can't drive if you're in labor.What if you're in an accident?" Abigail argued, taking Laura's keys from her hand. "No arguments, Laura; I'm driving--and if you don't like it, that's tough.""
 
"Mother...! "
 
Mama Katie, who had gone unnoticed from her vantage spot in the hallway, said, "You two go on. I'll watch the brood."
 
So Laura in her burglar's clothes and Abigail in robe and pajamas headed out the door.
 
* * * * *
It was Brendan's sneeze that had given him away. He hadn't counted on Jackie's stinking, baby powder filled sneakers being in the trunk. If the car had still been moving, the sneeze probably would have gone unnoticed. Unfortunately for Brendan, however, Remington had already arrived at their destination and parked the car. He and Jackie were going over last minute details when they heard it.
 
Knowing how anxious Brendan was to accompany them on this case, Remington knew exactly who had sneezed. He quickly crawled into the rear of the car and pulled down the seat, exposing the dark vastness of the trunk. Then reaching into the darkness, he groped until he came in contact with Brendan's arm. To say that Remington was angry would be putting it mildly; he was livid.
 
"Okay, Mate," Remington said in his most authoritarian voice, grasping his son's arm and guiding him into the back seat. "Out!" Remington was startled by the tone of his own voice; he usually he had to consciously make himself sound stem, but not this time.
 
* * * * *
"Breathe, dear," Abigail said, bringing the limo to a stop at a red light.
 
"I am breathing, Mother," Laura hissed when the pain subsided. "How far apart now?"
 
"Twelve minutes."
 
"Wonderful," Laura moaned. "Turn left at the next intersection."
 
"I thought a limo would be difficult to drive, but this is a breeze. Let me know when Fred goes on vacation next time and I'll fill in for him." Abigail realized it was a silly thing to say, but she wanted to take Laura's mind off the labor pains. "I could do this all night," she laughed aloud as she made the turn. "Are you sure they'll be at the jeweler's, dear?"
 
"Yes. There are times, I'm sorry to say, when my husband is highly predictable. Now hurry and take the next right before I take the wheel."
 
* * *
With his father's help, Brendan scooted himself into the back seat and waited as his dad angrily punched the rear seat back into place. Then from the floorboard of the car Remington picked up a flashlight and shined it in his son's face. Brendan squinted and tried to shade his eyes.
 
"Just what do you think you're doing here?"
 
"l just wanted to help," Brendan tried to explain, suddenly realizing the foolishness of his reasoning. "l thought you might need some backup."
 
"Think back, mate. What did I tell you this afternoon?"
 
"You said no," Brendan said quietly, still squinting at the bright light.
 
"What was that?" Remington asked. "I didn't hear you."
 
"You said no," Brendan repeated louder.
 
"No, what?"
 
"No, I couldn't help you."
 
"So you heard me, but you hid in Jackie's trunk and came along anyway," Remington said tersely. He paused momentarily, looking for the words to express his anger and disappointment. "Do you realize just how upset I am right now?" he finally asked.
 
"Yes, sir," Brendan said softly. "I'm really sorry."
 
"That's all well and good if it's true, Brendan. Maybe your mother was right- maybe I am setting a wrong example."
 
"Do we have to tell her about this?" Brendan pleaded.
 
Remington was outraged at the suggestion they keep this from Laura. "Yes, we have to tell her! There's no way I'm..."
 
Suddenly everyone in the car heard tapping coming from the window beside Remington. He looked up, fully expecting to see Laura or the police. Instead, he saw Abigail frowning down at him. Unlocking the door, he stepped onto the sidewalk to stand beside his mother-in-law.
 
"Abigail? Where's Laura?"
 
"In the back of the limo," she explained. "Having contractions about every eight minutes."
 
Brendan crawled out of the car and walked over to his father, but Remington ignored him.
 
"Hi, Grandma," Brendan said sheepishly.
 
"You're in your robe," Remington said, noticing Abigail's attire.
 
"There wasn't time to change," Abigail explained. Then turning to her her grandson and straightening his hair, she said, "Just look at you. You're a mess."
 
"Sorry, Jackie," Remington said, leaning across the car, "but duty calls."
 
"So I heard," Jackie said, walking around the front of the car to join them on the sidewalk. "I'll take Brendan home. Mrs. Holt, do you need a ride?"
 
"No, thanks, Jackie," she said. Then sprouting an excited grin, she exclaimed, "I'm about to be a grandmother! Again!"
 
Hands firmly on Brendan's shoulders, Abigail guided him toward the front seat of Jackie's car.
 
"Wait!" Brendan yelled, jerking free and running to the limo.
 
He found his mother sitting sideways on the edge of the car seat with her feet resting on the curb, as though she had tried to get out and had given up.
 
"I'm sorry, Mum," he declared breathlessly, throwing his arms around her. "It was all my idea; please don't be mad at Daddy."
 
"I'm not mad at anyone, darling," Laura assured him. "I just want you to be safe."
 
"I love you," he said, trying very hard not to cry.
 
"I love you, too. Now go tell Daddy to get his tail over here before your new brother or sister ends up being born in the limo."
 
He hugged her again and ran back to the car, where Abigail caught him and firmly placed him by Jackie's side.
 
"Tell his great grandmother to sit on him until his father gets home," Abigail instructed Jackie.
 
"Yes, ma'am," Jackie promised. "And Remington, tell Laura I'm wishing her good luck!"
 
But Remington wasn't listening; he was already running to the limo, with Abigail at this heels.
 
"Sit in the back with Laura; I'll drive," Abigail insisted, getting behind the wheel before Remington could protest.
 
He helped Laura back into the car and gathered her into his arms.
 
"So it wasn't the green peppers, eh?" he teased.
 
"Not this time."
 
"I'm sorry I wasn't there to drive you."
 
"Forget it; Mother's having a ball. Just look for stowaways from now on, okay?"
 
"We're going to have to do something about him," Remington said, caressing her lower back.
 
"Well, maybe he's learned his lesson this time," Laura said hopefully.
 
Remington wished he could see her face, to see if she doubted that as much as be did.
 
* * * * *
Jackie looked down at a sniffling Brendan.
 
"She'll be okay, kid. Having babies should be a piece of cake to her by now," he assured Brendan.
 
Jackie took the stolen engagement ring from his pocket and looked at it. "Guess this will have to wait," he said, tossing it into the air a couple of times and catching it.
 
On the third toss, however, he wasn't so lucky. The ring slipped through his fingers and fell to the pavement. Before he could grab it, it rolled off the curb and dropped through the opening of the storm drain.
 
"Oh, no!" Jackie groaned, getting down on his knees to take a look.
 
Brendan joined him, but they couldn't see anything in the darkness.
 
"Wait!" Brendan said, jumping up and running back to the car.
 
He returned almost immediately with the flashlight.
 
"There, I see it!" he exclaimed excitedly.
 
"Yeah, but a lot of good that does us," Jackie said dejectedly "Even your arms are too big to fit through those bars."
 
After a moment of thought Brendan grinned. "Got any gum?" he asked.
 
"What for?"
 
"I have an idea. We need chewing gum and shoe strings."
 
Jackie looked at his own feet and then at Brendan's. Both were wearing sneakers, but velcro held them closed instead of strings.
 
"There are some shoe strings in the trunk," Brendan reminded him.
 
"You should know" Jackie teased as he headed for the car. "Well, come on! You can get the gum out of the glove compartment while I get the shoestrings."
 
Brendan's plan was actually quite simple. He tied both strings together and then stuck a wad of chewed gum on one end of it. As Jackie held the flashlight, Brendan carefully lowered the string over the ring, hooked it with the sticky gum, and gently raised the ring to the surface, where Jackie grabbed it with a sign of relief.
 
His relief was premature, however.
 
"What's going on, fellows?" asked a police officer who had approached while their attention was on the drain.
 
"Nothing, officer," Jackie said as he nervously got to his feet "We just, uh, dropped something down the drain and were trying to get it out."
 
"Exactly what did you drop?" the officer asked, looking at Jackie suspiciously.
 
Brendan stood next to him and started answer, but Jackie interrupted.
 
"It was nothing, really," he stammered, putting the sticky ring in his pocket. Then looking at Brendan, he said, "Come on, kid; let's go home."
 
"Not so fast," the officer protested. "How about showing me what you just put in your pocket."
 
"Sure," Jackie said, trying to appear nonchalant.
 
He took the ring out of his pocket and handed it to the policeman. The officer ignored the mess the best he could and examined the ring. Jackie looked at Brendan and wondered about what Remington would do to him for not taking the kid straight home.
 
"Okay, pal. Care to tell me what you and the boy are doing with a hot ring at 2 am outside a jewelry store that's under surveillance?"
 
* ***
Remington had no idea how long he and Laura had been in labor at the hospital. He didn't know if it had been minutes, hours or days. Time meant nothing when they were going through this. The only thing that mattered was that he and Laura were bringing a new child safely into the world.
 
The birth of their children was both the best of times and the worst of times for Remington, a combination of joy and pain. Yet Remington embraced it, because he knew his own father would have given anything to have attended his own birth. Daniel had been cheated out of that moment, and Remington was determined that fate would never rob him.
 
But there was something more. Somewhere in the dark recesses of Remington's subconscious, he had always wondered if perhaps his own mother would have lived had Daniel been there to give her strength. And because of that deeply buried fear, Remington insisted on being with Laura during each birth, to give her his strength and to keep her safe.
 
He wiped her face with a cool cloth and gave her hand another reassuring squeeze. "You're doing great, Mrs. Steele," he said softly.
 
"Don't call me that!"Laura ordered through clenched teeth.
 
Remington just ignored her outburst. By now be knew only too well that Laura wasn't responsible for what she said during labor. Her doctor had told him years ago that when the real pains of childbirth set in, most wives seemed to suddenly hate their husbands for "getting them pregnant." Laura was no different.
 
Before she could say anything else Remington would have to ignore, another contraction hit.
 
"Go with it, Mrs. Steele. That's it," a female voice said.
 
Remington hadn't noticed the sudden appearance of the labor/delivery nurse. After the contraction had passed and she had checked Laura's dilatation, she addressed Remington, saying, "Mr. Steele, you have an urgent phone call at the nurse's station."
 
"Good lord, woman; take a message. I'm having a baby, here!" he said, exasperated.
 
"It's the LAPD."
 
"I said, take a message!" he repeated.
 
"It's about your son, sir."
 
Laura grabbed Remington's arm and dug in with her fingernails.
 
"Laura, please! " Remington yipped as pried her fingers loose. "That hurts!"
 
"Listen, buster, don't you talk to *me* about pain! Now get out there and answer that phone! And if it's Brendan, tell him we're trading him for stock in Hershey's!"
 
"Whatever it is, it can wait," Remington argued. "I'm not leaving you." Then looking at the nurse, he asked, "Can't you transfer it in here?"
 
"We don't ring phones in rooms during labor," the nurse said. "It's policy."
 
Laura sat up as straight as possible. "If you don't talk to them, l will! Brendan's just a baby! I can't have this one until I know the other one is okay!"
 
Remington pushed her back against the bed. "Settle down! Brendan is old enough to be patient. This baby isn't."
 
"Just do it!" Laura screamed, not on much in anger as in reaction to another contraction. She gripped his hand tightly until it passed, then shoved him.
 
Giving in, he followed the nurse from the room.
 
It seemed to Laura that he was gone for an eternity, but scarcely a few minutes passed before be rushed back into the room and gave Laura a quick kiss on the hand.
 
"Well?" she asked.
 
"Your mother sends her love."
 
"Forget Mother! What about Brendan?"
 
Remington helped her breathe during the next contraction, then said, "Really, Laura, now is hardly the time to get into Brendan's indiscretions."
 
Laura grabbed the front of Remington's surgical shift and pulled him down to her so they were eye level. "Mr. Steele, either you tell me what you learned on the phone, or l'll break your neck," she threatened in a low voice. "Don't think I can't."
 
Dr. Kenneth O'Malley, who had been through labor with the Steeles many times, arrived midway through Laura's threat. "Sounds to me like you'd better tell her whatever it is she wants to know," he advised Remington.
 
"All right, but first make her let go," Remington said.
 
Laura turned loose and Remington straightened up, rubbing his still throbbing arm from her squeeze. "Evidently, Jackie and Brendan didn't go straight home. They were picked up outside the jewelry store for having a hot ring in their possession."
 
"They can't arrest a child!" Laura protested. "They're just doing this because they know I can't come down there and kick them!"
 
After the next contraction, Remington did his best to reassure her. "I didn't say they were arrested, Laura. Jackie explained everything to their satisfaction and Melissa is on her way to the station to straighten everything out. But they don't want to release Brendan into Jackie's custody."
 
"Then go down there and get him!" Laura demanded, barely getting out the words before the next contraction hit.
 
"Looks like we're almost there," O'Malley said, noting Laura's dilatation.
 
"Forget it, Laura," Remington said as he urged her to breathe. "I'm not leaving until the baby comes. Subject closed. Brendan's not in any danger and right now *you* are my top priority!"
 
"Tyrant!" Laura muttered as she gathered her breath for the next pain. "If you weren't so damned handsome, I wouldn't put up with you."
 
"Flattery is cheap, Mrs. Steele. How about a little costly truth?" Remington asked as he brushed Laura's damp hair from her forehead.
 
Laura somehow managed a weary grin, asking, "Mother sent her love?" After the next contraction, however, she no longer saw humor in anything, saying, "She probably wonders why I'm taking so long."
 
"I told her you were being as stubborn as always."
 
"Excuse me," interrupted the doctor, "but if you two will stop bickering and Laura will start pushing, I think we're about to have a baby here."
 
* * * *
Shortly thereafter, Laura smiled through half-open eyes as Remington gently cradled their new auburn-haired daughter in his arms.
 
"She's beautiful, Laura," Remington said dreamily. "Aren't you, darling? You're the most beautiful baby in the world."
 
Megan squinted contentedly in the direction of her father's voice and yawned.
 
"You've said that about all of our children," Laura reminded him.
 
"And I was right every time, wasn't I? All six of them are the most beautiful children in the world."
 
"Yes, they are," Laura admitted.
 
Remington gently placed the little bundle in Laura's arms. Laura caressed the baby's brow, saying, "She looks like a Megan, doesn't she?"
 
"Yes, I believe she does," Remington agreed. "Even though I never knew my mother, Laura - never even saw a picture - somehow I feel Megan must look like her. There's an Irishness about her." He lowered his head and smiled, adding, "I suppose that must sound silly."
 
"No, it doesn't sound silly at all," Laura assured him.
 
Leaning closer to mother and daughter, he asked, "And does it sound silly, after an these years, for me to still be saying I love you?"
 
"Those words never sound silly, Mr. Steele."
 
"And do you?" Remington asked her.
 
"Do I what?" Laura asked.
 
"Still love me."
 
"Oh, absolutely."
 
They shared a kiss, which was interrupted by a nurse assistant's coming into the room with a bouquet of flowers. They laughed as she set the flowers on the bedside table.
 
"Any guesses who they're from?" Remington asked, reaching for the card. Removing the envelope, he read aloud, "Congratulations again. Estelle Becker." Still our staunchest supporter, eh? We'll have to send her a new family portrait for her office."
 
"She must pay someone at this hospital to call her as soon as I go into labor." Laura mused. "Think she still rubs it in to poor Gladys Lynch?"
 
"And why not?" Remington asked. "We're Estelle's biggest success story."
 
"You'd think that after nearly nine years and six children, Ms. Lynch would give up, wouldn't you?"
 
The nurse's assistant was on her way out of the room, but stopped at the door, asking in disbelief, "You mean you have five more?"
 
"Yes, well, the first rule of orphanages and Irish families is there's always room for one more." Remington explained. "At least, that used to be our motto. We're starting to think perhaps five brothers and sisters are enough for anyone."
 
The assistant smiled, shook her head and left. Remington laughed both at her expression and at Laura's.
 
"If you don't go after Brendan, we may be short one," Laura reminded Remington.
 
He leaned over and gave Megan a kiss. "Don't worry, sweetheart. Daddy will rescue your big brother before be rots in jail."
 
He gave Laura another kiss and turned to the door. Before leaving, however, he turned toward them again, saying, "Oh, Laura, I'll send your mother in to keep you company."
 
Laura pretended to reach for a pillow to throw at him and laughed in spite of herself.
 
* * * *
 
Fortunately, Melissa had been able to straighten things out for Jackie when she arrived at the police station. Jackie agreed to work with the police to help nab the fence and as a result, no charges were filed. Melissa wasn't even angry that Jackie had been caught with the stolen ring. She just wondered why he hadn't come to her with the truth when he first realized the ring was stolen. He somehow found the words to explain how he had feared her rejection, but she quickly put that fear to rest. When all was said and done, Jackie considered himself to be a lucky man.
 
For Brendan, however, the events following his and Jackie's apprehension had literally been a nightmare. Jackie was relieved when Brendan finally fell asleep. He didn't know how the child could sleep on such a hard bench, but didn't they say children could sleep anywhere? Brendan's sleep, however, was not the restful kind. As bad as the actual events themselves were, in his dreams they were ten times worse.
 
Brendan finally awoke with a start to find Jackie shaking his shoulders. As he rubbed his eyes, he saw a haggard-looking Remington hurrying towards them. Tears swelling in his eyes as he saw his father, he quickly jumped up and propelled himself full force into Remington's arms.
 
Hugging his son tightly, Remington sat wearily on the bench beside Jackie.
 
"Are we glad to see you!" Jackie declared.
 
"Listen, Jackie. I appreciate your waiting here with Brendan. They told me you had been released, but wouldn't leave him here alone."
 
"Hey, it's been a rough night for him." Jackie said. "I mean fingerprinting, strip search, mug
shots . . ."
 
"Brendan?!!!?"
 
"Not Brendan; me!" Jackie quickly explained. "The kid wouldn't let me out of his sight for a minute! He was pretty shaken up-- not just about all of this, but about his mom, too."
 
Brendan had been anxious about his mother, but at the same time had been afraid to ask. Finally gathering his courage, he asked, "Is Mummy okay?"
 
"Mummy's fine, and you have a beautiful new baby sister," Remington announced proudly to anyone within hearing distance.
 
"Really? Mummy's okay? I was afraid my sneaking out had upset her so much that... that she wouldn't ever come home again."
 
"Of course she's coming home," Remington assured him. "Tomorrow, maybe. Day after, at most."
 
Brendan burst into tears. "No, she's not. She's never coming home and you just don't want to tell me! She's never coming home and it's all my fault!"
 
Brendan received small comfort from the loving embrace of his father's arms.
 
Remington quickly decided there was only one way to calm him. "Shh, shh. If Jackie can go with us, we'll go to the hospital and see Mummy and Megan. What do you say to that?"
 
Brendan sniffed a few times and blew his nose on the handkerchief his father held out for him. "Really? Right now?"
 
"As soon as I talk to Melissa for a moment," Remington said as he sat Brendan down beside Jackie on the bench.
 
When he tried to stand up, however, Brendan tightened his grip around his father's neck. Remington just held him for a moment. Finally, Brendan removed his arms from his father's neck and began biting his nails, gathering his courage to speak again.
 
He finally took a deep breath and plunged ahead, saying, "I know you're real mad, but I'm gonna try real hard to be good so you can love me again."
 
Remington felt his eyes fill with tears. Giving Brendan another reassuring hug, he said, "Brendan, nothing you could ever do would make me stop loving you. I may get angry at you and there may be times when I'm disappointed in you, but I will always love you. No matter what happens, you are still my son and I love you more than anything else in the world."
 
"Do you think Mummy still loves me?"
 
Remington smiled. "I'm absolutely sure of it."
 
After another hug Remington went in search of Melissa, but he didn't have to look very long. As soon as she had seen Remington enter the station, she had headed his way. She had been waiting until he finished talking with Brendan, and now she smiled as he walked over to her.
 
"You know what they say," Melissa said. "Nothing strengthens the character like a little misfortune."
 
"In that case, Brendan and I have both had our characters strengthened tonight," Remington sighed. "I certainly hope you and Jackie have nice traditional children and never have to go through a night like this."
 
"Oh, I don't know," Melissa said with a smile. "I think I'd welcome the challenge of having a child like Brendan."
 
* * * ´ *
In spite of her concern about Brendan, Laura actually enjoyed visiting with her mother. Abigail was mesmerized with her newest granddaughter, and Laura couldn't help getting caught up in the magic. Laura was more than relieved, however, when Remington called to say all was well with Brendan. Without even realizing it, she suddenly found herself telling her mother the situation with Brendan and sharing her trepidations about parenthood.
 
"Wouldn't it be wonderful if they stayed like this forever?" Laura asked as she caressed Megan's downy auburn hair. "So sweet and innocent and loving. All Megan has to worry about is being warm, fed, dry and loved. Sneaking off in the middle of the night and breaking into jewelry stores and museums are the farthest things from her mind."
 
"But she won't stay this size forever," Abigail reminded Laura. "She'll grow up, too. And she'll probably even sneak out of the house some night-- or at least think about doing it. She may even play in the runoff tunnels with rats or do a fan dance on a bar in Acapulco."
 
"Mother, please allow me my illusions of innocence for a little while. Reality will thrust itself upon us soon enough."
 
"The reality, Laura dear, is that none of us are perfect parents and no one has perfect children. All we can do is love them and try to instill good values in them. And when they take a wrong turn, we do what we can do guide them back to the right path."
 
"But we do that with Brendan and he still keeps wandering off the path!" Laura sighed.
 
"Growing up doesn't have to be so much a straight line as a series of advancements," Abigail reminded her.
 
Laura laughed. "Out of every disaster, a little progress is made, eh?"
 
"Something like that."
 
Laura looked sheepishly at her mother. "You knew about the tunnels and the fan dance?"
 
"Of course, dear. But you were always such a free spirit. I knew I couldn't protect you from everything; you had to try things and learn for yourself. And I have a feeling Remington was much the same way as a child, always trying new things, looking for excitement, living on the edge."
 
Laura laughed, promising herself that one day she'd tell her mother about Remington's bitter childhood. Then laughing at the irony, she said, "You could be describing Brendan instead of us."
 
"Yes, I know. And, if Brendan turns out half as good as his parents did, then you and Remington have nothing to worry about."
 
"You think I turned out okay?" Laura asked, genuinely surprised.
 
Abigail squeezed her daughter's hand. "You're a beautiful, successful young woman with a wonderful husband and children who adore you. I'm proud of you, Laura. I don't say that very often, but it's true. I love you and I brag to anyone who'll listen about all you've done with your life. I may not have approved of everything you did along the way - and I'm probably never going to let you forget any of your mistakes - but you're a brightly shining light, Laura."
 
"I never thought of myself that way."
 
"Remington does."
 
"How do you know?" Laura asked.
 
"I'm your mother, dear," Abigail said in a voice that left no room for doubt.
 
* **
Remington cradled the small bundle in his arms as he sat beside Laura on her hospital bed. Abigail had already taken a taxi to the Steele's home and Jackie and Melissa had taken Brendan to the snack bar for breakfast, giving Remington and Laura a chance to talk. Brendan had protested until Remington reminded him that he had refused breakfast at the jail and hadn't eaten since he'd downed popcorn at the drive-in the night before. When Remington last saw them, Brendan had Jackie by the hand and was leading him and Melissa towards the elevator.
 
"I told you I wouldn't let your big brother rot in jail, didn't I, sweetheart?" Remington said to Megan. "Daddy gave you his word and Daddy's ..."
 
"...word is his bond," Laura finished.
 
Megan sneezed her thoughts on the matter.
 
"All right, young lady," Remington protested. "Not even a day old and you're already joining your mother to gang up on me, eh?"
 
Laura reached over to caress Megan's forehead and smiled. The smile, however, was soon followed by a sigh.
 
"So, do we tell her that her big brother is a jailbird, or do we let her find out on her own?" Laura asked. "Or do we just wait and let her read about it in your and Brendan's burglary scrapbook? 'Son of Famed Private Detective Spends Night in Jail.'"
 
"Laura, please; he made a mistake. There's no need to label him for life," Remington admonished.
 
"I know, I know," Laura grumbled. "It's just that seeing Megan so tiny and innocent reminds me of when Brendan was first born. We had all these wonderful plans, but no where did we plan for him to be.. ."
 
"...a seasoned burglar before the age of ten?" Remington finished.
 
"Not at any age!" Laura protested. "I know you did a lot of the same things at an early age, but you did it to survive! We give Brendan everything he needs and much that he doesn't, so why does he do these things?"
 
"Because he has a good heart," Remington reminded her. "He broke into jail because he wanted to help us. He returned the Marchessa Collection to the museum to keep us out of trouble. He sneaked out of the house last night because he thought he could help Jackie and me."
 
"Don't forget Christmas when he also sneaked out, too."
 
"Yes, to give some of our Christmas presents to a family that wouldn't have had Christmas otherwise," Remington pointed out.
 
Laura smiled. "Our own little Robin Hood."
 
"Perhaps Brendan's life isn't turning out like we planned, but a life that's planned is a closed life. It can be endured, perhaps, but it cannot be lived," Remington explained. "Think about it, Laura. lf your life had turned out like your mother had planned it, you'd be stuck in a sterile dentist's office all day."
 
Laura laughed. "I'd have made a terrible dental hygienist."
 
"I agree. And I think Abigail has finally accepted that."
 
"She actually paid us a compliment earlier today. She said that if Brendan turns out half as good as we have, we have nothing to worry about."
 
"It's nice to hear the two of you are getting along."
 
"We got...closer... today. I don't know. I guess it's a..."
 
"...a mother-daughter thing?" Remington asked, kissing Megan on the nose. "So, what do you propose we do about our little con artist?"
 
After some discussion, Laura and Remington finally agreed on disciplinary measures for Brendan.
 
"Yes, well, I guess it's time to find him," Remington said with a sigh, placing Megan in Laura's arms. "And we tell him now what his punishment is, right?"
 
"Absolutely. For discipline to be most effective, it needs to be immediate," Laura reminded him.
 
"I understand all that" Remington assured her, "but do you think it'd be okay if we let him hold Megan? Or is that like rewarding him for his disobedience?"
 
"I think we can let him hold her," Laura said.
 
Remington smiled his million dollar smile as he left the room.
 
* * * *
Megan was now sleeping in the nearby crib and Laura was beginning to get impatient. Finally her door opened and Remington stepped into the room, Brendan shyly peeking around his leg.
 
"What took you so long?" Laura asked as she sat up and readjusted her pillows.
 
"Brendan wanted to get something for Megan," Remington said with a wink as he tried to pry Brendan loose from his leg.
 
Laura could tell her son was upset.
 
"What is it, sweetheart?" she asked gently. "Tell me about it."
 
"I can't," Brendan muttered quietly. "It's my fault you're here and I don't want to make you feel worse."
 
"It's not your fault I'm here, sweetie," Laura assured him. "It was time for the baby to come."
 
"But it's too early for the baby. It's not time! Kevin's sister came too early and his mom and sister almost died!"
 
"Brendan, come here," Laura instructed softly.
 
Brendan hesitated.
 
"You heard your mum, mate," Remington said.
 
When Brendan still hesitated, Remington picked him up and sat him on the bed beside Laura. Close to his mother, Brendan's composure broke and he threw his arms around her.
 
"Brendan, it's okay. Don't cry, darling."
 
"You didn't cause the baby to come early, Brendan," Remington said. "Megan was just anxious to get here, that's all."
 
"Listen to me," Laura said as she wiped Brendan's tears with a tissue. "All of your brothers and sisters were born a little early."
 
"They were?"
 
"In fact, you were the earliest of all," Remington added. "Sometimes babies do come too early and yes, sometimes they have health problems. But both your mum and Megan are fine."
 
Brendan sniffled. "You're really okay?"
 
"Well, I don't feel like running in a marathon, but I'm fine. Honest. And Megan weighs nearly seven pounds; she's healthy as can be."
 
"Don't you have something to give Mummy?" Remington asked, handing Brendan the plastic bag he was holding.
 
Brendan took out a small bag of chocolate kisses and handed them to Laura. Laura groaned as she opened the package and ripped the silver wrapper off a kiss.
 
"How am I supposed to lose that extra weight when you keep giving me chocolate?"
 
"You don't need to lose weight, Mummy. You're already beautiful," Brendan said, giving her another hug.
 
"What else do you want to tell Mummy?" Remington prodded.
 
"What I did tonight was wrong," Brendan confessed. "I shouldn't have snuck out of the house and I shouldn't have hidden in Jackie's trunk and gone with Daddy."
 
"Yes," Laura agreed. "What you did tonight was very wrong."
 
"Daddy said you've already decided what my punishment is," Brendan said. "I didn't give you the kisses for bribery, though. Honest, Mummy."
 
"He's right. He'd already gotten them from the snack machine when I went to get him."
 
"I don't mind being punished, Mummy. But do you think you can still love me?"
 
Laura looked angry as she cupped Brendan's chin and forced him to look at her. "Listen here, sport," she said. "You can pull my fingernails out with rusty pliers... You can bury me up to my neck with ants dancing across my eyes..."
 
"Laura, please. You're getting disgusting," Remington said.
 
"But nothing you do-- and I repeat, nothing--will ever make me stop loving you. Now, do you understand?"
 
"Yes, ma'am."
 
"Now, it's because we love you that we're disciplining you. Do you understand that?" Remington asked.
 
"I guess so," Brendan said. "Sort of."
 
"Since you acted in an untrustworthy manner, for the next week you are to be in the company of a pre-approved adult at all times."
 
"That means your daddy or me, or maybe Aunt Mildred or Aunt Frances or Grandma. But you are not to be alone during non-school hours under any circumstances," Laura elaborated.
 
"That means no more private time in your room after school," Remington went on, knowing how Brendan savored his private time each day. Brendan seemed to share his own need to get away by himself on occasion, and Remington knew this part of the punishment would be the hardest for his son.
 
"Yes, sir. I understand."
 
There was silence for a moment, which caused Laura and Remington looked questioningly at each other.
 
"That's it?" Remington asked, a bit disbelievingly. "No protests? No arguments?"
 
"No, sir. I guess I deserve it," Brendan conceded. "Can I see Megan now?"
 
It still amazed Laura and Remington that a child's attention could shift so suddenly.
 
"Of course," Laura said. "Scoot up here by me and let Daddy hand her to you."
 
"Can I give her my present first?" Brendan asked Remington.
 
"Certainly. Show it to Mummy while I get your sister."
 
Laura gasped when Brendan took the small gift box out of the plastic bag and showed her the small silver claddagh necklace.
 
"When did you have a chance to get that?" Laura asked. "I thought the hospital gift shop was still closed."
 
"It is," Remington admitted.
 
"Don't tell me you..."
 
"Certainly not. Brendan saw it in the gift shop window. He wanted to get it for Megan, so I had them open the shop for us."
 
"But how did you pay for it?"Laura asked Brendan as she continued to admire it.
 
"Daddy loaned me the money. I have some saved at home, and he said I could earn the rest by helping around the house," he explained.
 
"I told him I'd pay half of it, but he insisted on paying for it himself. He wanted it to be his special gift for Megan."
 
Laura hugged Brendan and gave him a kiss, saying, "You're a good brother. And a good son."
 
"Here you go," Remington said, gently placing Megan in Brendan's waiting arms. "Say hello to Megan Kathleen Steele, the newest member of our family."
 
Brendan was in awe of the tiny sleeping bundle in his arms.
 
Remington took the necklace from Laura and carefully placed it around Megan's neck, saying, "There you go, sweetheart; something special from your big brother."
 
"What do you think?" Laura asked, wondering exactly what was going through her son's mind at that moment.
 
Brendan shrugged. "I think... that the happiest days are when babies come."
 
Laughing, the three of them cited the movie quite reference in unison. "Olivia de Haviland, Gone with the Wind, MGM. 19391"
 
***
The next day, February 13 to be exact, Laura leaned against the open doorway of the nursery and savored the sight of Remington rocking Megan.
 
And Hennessy Tennessy tootled the flute and the music was something grand.
A credit to ole Ireland is McNamara's Band.
Boom boom boom boom...
 
Laura's smile was from deep inside her heart and made her feel warm all over. The first time she'd heard Remington sing that song was when baby Joey had been under their protection. At that time, she had predicted that one day Remington Steele would be a good father. He had scoffed and accused her of dreaming, but her prediction had come true. In the eight years since their marriage, McNamara's Band had become the traditional family lullaby. And no matter how many times Laura heard her husband mesmerize their offspring with his crooning, it always gave her a sort of thrill.
 
She stood quietly until Megan was lulled to sleep and Remington became silent. She then walked over to the rocker.
 
"I was right, wasn't I?" she asked.
 
"About what?"
 
"About Remington Steele proving to someday be a good father."
 
"Yes, well. I guess you were," he admitted. "But then, you've always known me better than anyone else. Where's Megan's baby seat?"
 
"Downstairs. You can just put her in her crib."
 
"I want us to take a little walk outside," Remington informed her.
 
"We shouldn't take her outside this time of night," Laura reminded him. "Turn on the monitor and we can take a receiver with us. There's one in the family room."
 
"Ah, yes - that's where Mama Katie was when she pushed everyone aside and grabbed Megan before anyone else had a chance," Remington chuckled, lowering Megan into the crib. Then making certain she was covered with a light comforter, he turned on the monitor and joined Laura at the door.
 
"It's the first time Mama Katie's been here when one of her great grandchildren came home from the hospital," Laura explained. "She feels a special bond with Megan. Both of them are them are the sixth child."
 
"Come on. I have something for you," Remington said mysteriously.
 
"More? You've already given me the poster," she said as she nodded towards the single, framed poster on the wall opposite the children's poster wall. He had presented it to her after all of the children had helped him hang Megan's Little Mermaid poster.
 
"I wanted one that best reflected all that you've done for me," he had told as he removed the Beauty and the Beast lithograph from its brown wrapper.
 
"Ah, but that was only the beginning," he explained.
 
In response to Laura's puzzled look, Remington took her hand and led her down the stairs.
 
While he hooked the receiver over his waistband, Laura picked up the vase of red roses on the end table and sniffed them. "Even with the broken leaves, they're absolutely beautiful."
 
Remington laughed. "Did you see the way Abby kept trying to grab Remy's rose? I was afraid she'd break his, too."
 
Laura kissed Remington on the cheek. "Having the children bring me roses whenever we bring a new baby home is one of my favorite family traditions. Thank you for starting it."
 
"Yes, well, it seemed the thing to do when we brought Rory home. Sort of a way to make Brendan feel part of the homecoming."
 
"Well, I definitely think all of the children felt a part of Megan's homecoming, thanks to the roses and to all the other family traditions you've started over the years," Laura said with a laugh. "I'll bet even the neighbors could hear the children chanting 'Kiss her! Kiss her!' when you carried Megan over the threshold. Mama Katie couldn't believe it when you kissed her five times!"
 
"I saw Laurie explaining it to her," Remington said. "What exactly did she say?"
 
"Something about how your kissing the new babies the first time they crossed the threshold would bring them the luck of the Irish."
 
"Couldn't have explained it better myself," Remington said. "I hope Rory wasn't underfoot too much while Donald was taking pictures. You know, I hadn't really noticed before, but I'd say Rory's developing an interest in photography."
 
"I noticed that today, too. Oh, Donald said they'd have the pictures tomorrow afternoon."
 
"Good. Brendan was asking when he could take a picture to school of him holding Megan." Remington put his arm around Laura. "Come along, Beauty."
 
Remington escorted his wife into their roomy backyard. She was pleasantly speechless when she saw Remington's surprise. There beneath the willow tree near the children's bedroom window sat a white gazebo.
 
"When you commented that sometimes you'd like for us to return to the sensitivity spa, I thought maybe this would serve the same purpose," Remington explained as he guided Laura up the step and sat beside her, placing the monitor behind him. "A place for just the two of us, where we can spend some quiet times talking - or, perhaps, not talking."
 
The look on Laura's face was all the thanks Remington needed.
 
"It's beautiful," Laura said, putting her arms around Remington's neck and giving him a romantic kiss. "I love it and I love you for getting it. But you realize, of course, that our being alone tonight is the exception rather than the rule."
 
"Ah, but I've taken care of that," Remington said.
 
"You've talked Donald and Frances into taking the children every night?"
 
"Not exactly. I just explained to the children that the gazebo is Mummy and Daddy's private place and they're not to use it unless they're invited by us. And, they are not to disturb us when we are sitting here -- unless one of them has broken a limb or the house is on fire."
 
"Mr. Steele, your creativity never ceases to amaze me."
 
"I decided that we do need more time alone, away from the kids. After all, the best way we can ensure a happy home for our children is to make sure our marriage never grows stale."
 
Laura laughed. "I don't think there's any chance of that happening."
 
"But just a few days ago, you were worried that we were becoming too traditional," Remington reminded her.
 
"I was just upset that night," Laura explained. "Besides, I realized you were right. We're probably the most non-traditional traditional couple around."
 
"Speaking of tradition..." Remington said, reaching beneath the seat and pulling out an iced bottle of Dom Perignon. "Since you aren't nursing this time, what say we toast the tradition Frances and Donald started when we first brought Rory home?"
 
Laura shook her head in disbelief and laughed as Remington pulled out two champagne glasses and handed them to her. "I'm not sure they knew what they were getting themselves into, though. It's wonderful of them to keep the other children so we can be home alone the first night with the new baby, but they may not have started that tradition if they'd known we would have six children."
 
"To Donald and Frances, then - and a wonderful family tradition," Remington said as they clinked their glasses and drank.
 
"To our children, for not being too insecure to leave the night a new baby comes home," Laura said as they touched glasses again. "And to Megan; may she have a wonderful life."
 
"And to us," Remington said. "May the rest of our life be as marvelous as the last eight years."
 
This time they intertwined their arms as they drank and then shared a slow, sweet kiss.
 
Remington took their glasses and set them aside. Then reaching into his pocket, he took out something Laura couldn't see.
 
"I, uh, wanted to get you something special," he said. "Something that represented not only my love for you, but our love for our children."
 
He took her right hand and slipped a multi-colored ring onto her ring finger.
 
She immediately recognized the significance of the seven stones. "It's a mother's ring!" she exclaimed as she held the ring out where she could see it.
 
"The, uh, Royal Lavulite, stands for my birthday," Remington told her. "I mean, I don't know when my real birthday is, anyway, so. . ."
 
"...so you adopted Royal Lavulite as your birthstone."
 
"More or less," Remington admitted with a shrug.
 
"A nice traditional choice," Laura agreed, embracing Remington and hugging him tightly."I love everything. Thank you."
 
"I decided that since our family is now complete, it was an appropriate gift. After all, I've always thought of our children as priceless jewels."
 
Laura was quiet for a moment, then took Remington's hand in hers. "What I said the other night about sometimes being jealous of the children-- I never meant I'm sorry we had them. I love them - all of them - and I can't imagine my life without them. I would have been happy if we hadn't been able to have children, but I'm six times happier and more blessed as things are now."
 
"You are remarkable, Laura. Truly remarkable. When I think of what my life would have been like now if you hadn't loved me, it frightens me. You've given me everything I need and everything I want." Remington brought her hands to his lips and kissed them. "Gerald O'Hara told Scarlett that land was the most important thing, but I'm afraid I'd have to disagree."
 
"You're disputing a movie reference?"
 
"It's been said the Irish value family so highly because it was all they had in the dark days," Remington said. "All I know is that *this* Irishman values and loves his family and home more than anything else in the world. And he values and loves the woman who gave him that family and home. He just hopes she knows that."
 
"She does," Laura said. "And l can assure you, she loves and values that Irishman just as much."
 
They shared a kiss.
 
Then Laura laughed and leaned into his arms, saying, "You know, no matter how traditional things may get, I can always count on one thing."
 
"What's that?"
 
"That you'll always make each day special."
 
She kissed him on the cheek.
 
Remington stood and held his hand out to her. "Care to dance, Mrs. Steele?"
 
"Indeed, Mr. Steele. There's nothing I'd like better."
 
There were no stars in the sky. There was no sweet romantic music, and they weren't in a castle ballroom. But Laura and Remington danced to their own music and stared at the stars in each other's eyes. Soon enough, children and reality would once again assume their places, but for now the only place for Laura and Remington was in each other's arms.
 
The End
Written Winter 1990; Revised Jan. 2000
 
 
dtalley@mindspring.com
 

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This story copyrighted 1982-2000 by Debra Talley. The characters of Remington Steele are used without permission. It is purely for entertainment purposes.