Steele, Inc.-Atlanta Division


The Best Christmas Steele Ever
by
Debra Talley and Thekla Kurth

This story is set in the Brendan Universe and the second story in the Brendan Trilogy


Christmas Eve, 1994
 
Laura slowly managed to roll over onto her side. She hated not being able to sleep on her stomach for two more long months. She was surprised when she turned over not to come into contact with her husband's solid presence in the bed beside her. Where could he be?
 
She opened her eyes and peered into the darkness of the bedroom. No, he was not definitely in the bed. There was no indication he was in the adjoining bathroom, either. Laura sighed and rose, slipping into her old terry cloth robe. She then noticed Remington's robe was missing from its customary place on the nearby suit rack where he placed it at bedtime each night.
 
At first she thought he might be checking on some problem with the children. She breathed a sigh of relief when a quick inspection of each room disproved that possibility. Brendan and Rory were safely tucked into their bunk beds, Abby was sleeping soundly in her crib and the twins were off in Dreamland.
 
But still there was no sign of the illusive Remington Steele.
 
Laura proceeded to check the rest of the house. She walked down the stairs into the living room. The first sight that greeted her was the large, unlit Christmas tree. It was proudly standing guard over the other shimmering decorations, many of them made by small eager hands. The children's presents from Santa were piled beneath the tree and spread out into almost every corner of the room. Everything seemed to be ready for the mad dash of happy, giggling children in just a few short hours.

It still never ceased to amaze Laura and Remington how five small children could make shambles out of a room in such a short amount of time. Laura always accused Remington of going overboard at Christmas and spoiling the children by buying out half of the toy stores in greater L.A. Secretly, though, she knew it was just his way of living the childhood he had never had and she certainly couldn't begrudge him that. She didn't even really mind that he went overboard in his gift giving to her as well, with rare pieces of jewelry, designer clothes, chocolates, flowers, and even art glass.

Laura walked closer to the tree and peered down at some of the presents. She spotted one wrapped in red and white candy cane striped paper. The tag read, "To Mummy, From Laura and Remy." Laura smiled to herself as she thought about the twins. The present beside theirs was a big green one tied with a red velvet bow that said, "To Laura, From Remington." Laura picked it up and shook it gently. When it didn't rattle she deduced it was a dress box. She sighed, knowing that if it was another designer dress it would be a while before she'd be able to wear it.

She laughed softly as she saw brownie crumbs on the empty Santa plate and the empty hot chocolate cup. The children had insisted on leaving a chocolate snack for Santa, so while Remington had laid out the children's gifts earlier that evening Laura had done her part and made the hot chocolate and brownies disappear. Suddenly, she realized she was hungry again. A midnight raid to the kitchen seemed like a wonderful idea, even though it was actually only 3 a.m.

Laura ambled into the kitchen. Turning on the bright overhead fluorescent lights, she was a disappointed. She'd half expected to find her husband there raiding the refrigerator. Where could he be?

A sudden horrifying thought occurred to her. Though she knew it was completely irrational, she found herself wondering if he could actually have left her.Laura had once feared that Remington would one day leave her. Ever after all these years, her insecurities occasionally still surfaced when he would 'disappear' with no previous explanation. This was one of those times and the feeling was overwhelming.

Her disappointment and fear soon turned into anger. How could he leave on Christmas Eve?! Wasn't that's just like him? Leaving her and the kids in the lurch on Christmas --and with her family coming the next day!! How could she ever explain his absence?

She yanked open the refrigerator, hoping she'd find the answers there. She peered in at all the goodies she and Remington had prepared together for Christmas dinner. Too bad the turkey wasn't cooked yet, she thought. A turkey sandwich would have been good. She thought about cutting into one of the pumpkin pies, but decided against it because she didn't want to explain the missing piece. The cheesecake was tempting, too, but it presented the same problem.

Oh, to hell with it, she decided. Who cared about one measly missing piece anyway? She cut a large slice of cheesecake, placed it on a place and took it to the kitchen table. She took a large bite and chewed thoughtfully, angry and irrational as only a hungry expectant mother can be at 3 a.m.

I should have known this day would come someday, Laura thought. I'd wake up and he'd be gone. Men! They were all alike! Their brains were in their heads and their hearts were in their pants.

She wolfed down another bite of cheesecake.

But how could he pick Christmas Eve?! She wondered if their near fiasco at the art museum the previous month had something to do with it. Laura thought they had resolved that affair nicely and put it behind them. True, Brendan and Rory still had some guilt concerning their part in that little adventure, but Remington and Laura considered that healthy. And it helped to keep the boys in line for the time being.

Laura's fork was poised near her mouth for another bite when she heard a noise behind her.

"Lau-ra!" Remington chastised as he approached her. "I leave you alone for a second and here you are, stuffing your face with cheesecake. Tsk tsk!!"

"I was looking for you," Laura explained defensively."I woke up and you were gone."

"Well, I wasn't in the refrigerator,"Remington explained as he got a fork from a drawer and helped himself to a bite of Laura's cheesecake.

She slapped his wrist. "Get your own piece!" she demanded.

"You know what they say--once a thief, always a thief. You must admit, stealing cheesecake is a lot safer than stealing jewels, eh? At least, you can swallow the evidence."

Remington easily swiped another piece. Laura was so lost in thought she didn't even protest.

"Kind of takes the fun out of it, Luv, when you don't even try to stop me," Remington explained.

He waited a moment for her to reply, but when she didn't, he decided to probe further.They had learned during the course of their marriage that it was far better to get things out in the open. Pulling out a chair and sitting beside her at the table, he said, "Okay. Out with it."

"It's nothing,"Laura replied sheepishly as she pushed her cheesecake around on the plate. "Really. It's...silly. I don't want to talk about it."

Remington cupped Laura's chin in his hand. She had no choice but to look at him as he said, "I was only gone for 15 minutes, Laura. After all these years, why do you still think I'm going to disappear one day? Haven't I proven my loyalty to you and to the children a million times over?"

"Of course, you have. And I hate it when I get this way. I know you're not going to leave. I guess I'm just afraid that our life together is too good to be true. That our happiness can't last."

Remington leaned close and gave Laura a kiss. "They say the way to truly appreciate something is to realize that it may someday be lost. Thank you for appreciating me."

After another kiss, he tried to swipe one more bite of Laura's cheesecake.

This time she once again slapped his wrist. "Oh, no! Steal your own!"

Remington rose and walked to the fridge. "You're a cruel woman, Laura Holt," he said as he cut himself a huge slice before returning to the table.

"So, where were you?" Laura asked nonchalantly. "Watching for Santa?"

"As a matter of fact, yes," he admitted as he attacked his midnight snack.

Laura, having finished her own piece, began helping Remington eat his. They soon made a game out of feeding each other.

"I never believed in Santa as a child--I guess because I was never really a child," he explained. "But now, Christmas has a whole new meaning. It's like I'm a child right along with Brendan and Rory and Laurie and Remy and Abby. I don't want to miss a bit of the magic. If I could get away with having my picture made with Santa, I would."

Laura smiled warmly, took his hand and kissed it tenderly. "Next year we'll look for Santa together," she said.

After another kiss, they piled their dishes in the sink and returned to their bedroom. They closed the door and turned off the light.

 
***********
Brendan breathed a sigh of relief from his hiding place against the bedroom wall next to his open door. Seeing that his parents were apparently safely tucked away for the remainder of the night, he tiptoed across the room to his bunk and pulled his black leather jacket out from under the mattress. He put it on quickly. He was already wearing black slacks, socks, sneakers and turtleneck sweater.
 
Rory suddenly groaned loudly and rolled over on his top bunk. Brendan froze until he was sure his younger brother was still fast asleep. He usually enjoyed having Rory join him on adventures. After all, he was a sharp kid and a good friend. Together, the two of them made a good team. But ever since last month's Marchesa Collection fiasco, Rory's conscience had been bothering him and Brendan thought it would be better to leave his brother out of this particular adventure.
 
Actually, Brendan had been struggling with his conscience, as well, but he felt like this "case" he was about to undertake was a mission of mercy. He'd just have to resume the struggle with his conscience afterwards.
 
Brendan quietly grabbed a large cloth bag and stole down the stairs into the living room. He strode purposefully to the Christmas tree and without a moment's hesitation began rummaging through the wrapped presents until he found the exact three gifts he was searching for. He carefully placed all three items beside his bag: a Flexible Flyer with a large red bow that read "To Brendan & Rory, From Santa", a Teddy Ruxpin with pink bow that read "To Abby, From Santa" and a large silver package with a blue bow that read "To Laura, From Remington."
 
Brendan knew the silver box contained a beautiful light brown, fur coat. His dad had shown it to him the day he bought it. His mom had yearned for that coat for months, but since she didn't know she was getting it anyway, Brendan hoped she wouldn't miss it. And he figured Abby was too little to care what she did or didn't get. He hated to take the sled, though, because he knew Rory really had his heart set on it. But, it was more blessed to give than to receive and he hoped Rory would understand.
 
All of the Steele children had heard the story about Daddy following the little boy with the sled on Christmas Eve and throwing a rock through his window. Ever since he could remember,Brendan had gone with his parents to distribute gifts at the local orphanage during the Christmas season. Sometimes his dad would even dress up as Santa. His father was determined that other orphans would have better Christmases than he had when he was a child.
 
But Brett wasn't just an orphan; Brett was Brendan's friend. They were schoolmates. Brett's father had recently run off and his mom could barely scrape up enough money to feed the three of them. His baby sister had been sick for weeks now. Brendan knew Brett's mom wouldn't accept charity, but how could she turn down presents from Santa?
 
Brendan had bided his time carefully until he was sure Santa had visited the Steele household. He was glad Santa had seen fit to deliver the sled and the teddy bear, as he'd already decided they were the perfect gifts for Brett and little Charlotte. And he knew Mrs. O'Hara would love Mummy's fur coat. He quickly ripped off the original tags and replaced them with the ones he had prepared earlier that evening. He then gathered his bag and cautiously tiptoed to the front door.
 
He wasn't Remington Steele's son for nothing. He knew how to make a quick and quiet get away. The real trick was to accomplish his mission and get back to bed before his dad woke everyone up at the crack of dawn. His dad was always the first one awake on Christmas morning, but Brendan felt sure he would be back home in his bed with time to spare if things went as he planned. He noiselessly opened the door, stepped outside into the glare of the security lights and hurried on his way.
 
***********
Meanwhile, in a run down section of L.A., Felicia rolled over for the umpteenth time. The commotion in the street below was loud and disgusting, but that wasn't the real reason she couldn't sleep. She lay listening to the rowdy rendition of "Deck and Halls," trying to keep her mind off her current troubles.
 
It wasn't working. All she could think of was her troubles. It had been a month since she had conned Michael into helping her steal the Marchesa Collection for 'security reasons.' In reality, she was being blackmailed by an old acquaintance. Initially, she had every intention of taking the jewels and giving them to Jack Favell as instructed. But she hadn't counted on Michael's pregnant wife and infant daughter accompanying them on the heist. Things quickly got out of hand and she was lucky to escape without getting caught. And now, Favell was out to get her and it was all she could do to stay one step ahead of him.
 
Felicia had hated involving Michael in the nasty affair in the first place. She envied him his current respectable lifestyle and his beautiful children. He had really struggled to get where he was today and she didn't want anything to threaten that for him. She had decided to see to it that Favell was caught with the jewels and that Michael got the applause, but fate had intervened. And now Favell was out to get her.
 
As if that wasn't enough to concern her, word on the street was that some guy named Weasel was asking questions about her and trying to discover her whereabouts. She didn't know who this Weasel character was, but she'd found out that he was working for someone named Harry. Michael had sometimes gone by the name Harry, but Felicia quickly dismissed that thought. Michael probably never wanted to see her again, and she didn't blame him.
 
Felicia sat up and punched her lumpy pillow yet again. The "carolers" were now mutilating "The 12 Days of Christmas." Felicia had spent many Christmas Eves on the run, but never had she felt so utterly alone as she did on this night. Finally, on about the 7th Day of Christmas, she fell into an exhausted sleep.
 
*********
Brendan stole quietly through the streets of L.A., the street lights his only illumination as he dragged his sack behind him. He had given up trying to carry it over his shoulder long ago. Brett's house was just around the corner. Almost there. Suddenly, Brendan became aware of car lights behind him on the otherwise deserted street. He turned around, then quickly ducked behind the nearest hedge. Holding his breath, he watched a police car approach slowly and then finally drive on. He waited until it was well out of sight before he continued frantically toward his destination.
 
Reaching Brett's house at last, Brendan slipped around to the back door. He pulled out his lock pick from his jacket pocket and went to work on the lock, grateful now his parents had not taken it away from him like they first said they were going to after the museum fiasco. He had overheard them talking about it, his mummy telling his daddy, "Icy calm. Brendan wrestling with his conscience will be punishment enough."
 
Brendan got the door open and slipped quietly into the dark house. He made his way through the kitchen to the living room. They didn't even have a Christmas tree, he noticed sadly. He unloaded the three presents, placing them in the center of the room. He felt sorry for Brett--his daddy running off just like that, leaving his family. Brendan knew that Mummy's daddy, his grandfather, had run off when Mummy was younger. Even though his own parents argued sometimes, he never had any fears that one of them would run off. Despite their disagreements, deep down they still loved one another above all else and made sure their children were well aware of that fact.
 
Suddenly and unexpectedly, Brendan heard crying from upstairs. Charlotte must have awakened. He had to get out of there now--fast. He exited the way he'd come in. Looking back as he ran through the yard, he saw a light go on upstairs. He continued running for a few blocks and then slowed down to a fast walk for the rest of the way home. He thought about what he'd done as he walked through the silent air and he felt good. He knew he'd done the right thing. Brendan began humming "Silent Night," whistling the last verse.
 
***********
 
Remington and Laura had retired back into their bedroom following their kitchen raid.
 
"Well, you'd better be a good boy and get to bed if you want Santa to come," Laura teased, patting her husband's chest.
 
Remington watched her shrug out of her robe. "Ah, Laura, how about if I'm a bad boy? Do I still get a present?"
 
"What do you mean?" she asked as she saw the gleam in his eyes.
 
He slipped off his own robe and then embraced her. She came to him willingly.
 
As they lay down, Laura reminded him, "In a couple of hours the kids will be getting up."
 
"All the kids, eh?"
 
"Yes,all the kids. Shouldn't we get some rest?"
 
"Laura, really. Why is it you're so reticent? You'd think after years..."
 
"I am not reticent."
 
"Then what do you call 'I'm not in the mood;' 'I'm tired;' 'Not tonight, Dear; I have a headache.'?" Remington asked ,mimicking her just a tad too convincingly.
 
She hit him. Twice.
 
"You'd think after all this time I'd learn that was coming," he said.
 
Laura suddenly pulled him to her, kissing him passionately. "Okay, if you simply can't wait for your Christmas present..."
 
She proceeded to give him a present he'd never forget.
 
************
Brendan raced through the yard and into the house. He wasn't sure exactly how much time he had left, but figured he was on the safe side. He crept up the stairs and past his parents' closed door. He saw a crack of light underneath and froze. Then he heard a soft moan and, suspecting what was taking place behind the closed door, headed for his own room with a sigh of relief. His parents were preoccupied and would never know he had been gone.
 
"Where ya been?" a voice suddenly asked through the darkness,
 
Rory's voice startled Brendan and he jumped. "Rory, what are you doing up?" he asked his younger brother.
 
"I could ask the same question," Rory shot back.
 
"Okay, I was outside looking for Santa," Brendan blithely lied.
 
Rory seemed to buy it. He leaned forward eagerly. "Did you see him?"
 
"No," Brendan answered. That much was the truth, he rationalized, even if it wasn't the whole truth.
 
He undressed quickly and got back into his pajamas. Brendan then climbed back into bed and immediately fell into a contented sleep. Helping people felt good, he decided.
 
************
Brendan had only been asleep for a couple of hours when he was awakened by the vigorous shaking of Rory. His father was standing beside him, holding Abby, who looked ridiculously festive with two Christmas bows stuck in her hair.
 
"Come on, Mate. Time to get up and see what Santa brought, eh?"
 
Brendan gulped. Even though he knew he'd done the right thing --and had no regrets and given the chance he'd do it again-- for the first time he felt nervous. What would his father say when he noticed the missing presents?
 
Quietly, he slipped on his robe and followed them downstairs. Laura already waited by the tree with the twins, who had been up for what felt like hours.
 
"I don't know why we have early," Laura complained.
 
"Didn't get enough sleep last night, Luv?" Remington teased with a grin.
 
Laura blushed. "Why don't you hand out the presents, Darling?" she quickly asked, trying to change the subject.
 
"Ho, Ho, Ho," Remington exclaimed as he bounded over to the tree, placing Abby on the floor between the twins and Rory while Brendan joined Laura on the couch.
 
Remington made quick work of dispatching all the gifts. When the last one had been handed out and opened, Remington looked around with a puzzled expression on his face. He gestured for Laura to follow him into the den. The other kids were so busy with their new toys they didn't even notice their parents had gone. But Brendan did, and he gulped nervously.
 
"What is it?" Laura asked after Remington closed the door to the den.
 
"Laura, some of the presents are missing. Where is Brendan and Rory's sled? And what about Abby's Teddy Ruxpin?"
 
"You're right," Laura remembered. "Did you forget to put them out? I just assumed you had put out everything last night. I really wasn't taking inventory."
 
"Yes, I remember. You were otherwise occupied, eating chocolate for two, if I recall. But I distinctly remember putting them under the tree last night."
 
"Then where could they be?" Laura wondered aloud.
 
"That's what I'd like to know." He paused for a moment. "One of your gifts is missing, as well."
 
Laura looked at him quizzically. She thought she had already received all of her gifts.
 
"That light brown fur coat you've been lusting after for months? It was in a silver box," Remington explained.
 
Laura stared at Remington in genuine surprise. "You got me that coat?"
 
"Yes, I did. But now I'd like to know where it is."
 
"So would I," she mused. "You don't think..."
 
"...we were robbed?" he finished.
 
Laura chuckled, "Rather ironic, isn't it? A thief himself being robbed."
 
"It's not funny, Laura."
 
"Sorry. Of course it's not." She sobered instantly. "But it doesn't make any sense for someone to just take three presents. I mean, why not just take everything?"
 
"You're right as usual, Laura," Remington agreed.
 
"So what should we do about it?" she finally asked. " I know it looks like a case for the great Remington Steele, but I really didn't want to work today."
 
"Well, I'm against calling the police for now. We're going to look silly claiming we've been robbed when our living room is overflowing with gifts," he pointed out.
 
Laura agreed. "Okay ,we'll just have to handle it ourselves."
 
Remington took Laura into his arms. "I think it would be better not to tell the kids. I mean, they won't miss what they didn't even know they were getting."
 
Laura agreed.
 
I am sorry to disappoint you about the coat, though, Luv," Remington whispered against her ear.
 
"I am, too," she murmured, thinking of that beautiful fur.
 
"I'll replace it tomorrow," he promised."If they don't have another one just like it, then I'll get something in white, eh? You look lovely in white fur, Laura."
 
"I already have a white fur coat," she replied absentmindedly, her mind now occupied with the new mystery. "Maybe if we look around again, we'll discover we simply forgot to put them out."
 
"Laura, I may get preoccupied and distracted at moments, but I'm not getting completely forgetful in my old age. I know I put them out."
 
"Okay, okay. I just thought... I mean, there are so many presents out there you could have easily overlooked those three. And no, you're not getting old." She affectionately ruffled his hair. "No gray hairs yet. At least, not many."
 
"Amazing, considering what I've been through since I met you." He was lost in thought for a moment as relived last night's events. Then shaking his head , he repeated, "No, I couldn't have accidentally overlooked those three. That sled was very special and so was your coat."
 
"I know they were," Laura smiled as she placed a tender kiss on his lips. "Since the boys were really hoping for that sled, what say we all just go buy a sled tomorrow? It'll can be a family after-Christmas outing. It doesn't have to be a Christmas present, per se. Maybe we could even take an overnight trip soon to a family resort somewhere and do some sledding. It could be the beginning of a new family tradition."
 
"What if the sled turns up as mysteriously as it vanished?" Remington inquired.
 
Laura thought for a minute before replying. "We'll give it to the orphanage," she suggested.
 
"You're brilliant, Laura. A truly remarkable woman."
 
"Is that why you married me?"
 
"You know why I married you," Remington said.
 
"To keep from being deported?"
 
"No. Because I love you and I can't live without you," he honestly answered, kissing her.
 
When the kiss started taking a passionate turn, Laura broke it off. "We'd better get back to the kids. After all, it's Christmas and we have to celebrate."
 
"Umm, right," Remington mumbled as he smacked his lips, reluctantly crossing to the door.They left the room, arm in arm, to rejoin the kids in celebrating the holiday.
 
Brendan looked up questioningly at his parents reappearance. Remington noticed, but passed it off as normal curiosity about his and Laura's private affairs. Brendan seemed to be increasingly nosy about what they did behind closed doors, as made evident by his repeated picking of their bedroom lock. That was going to have to come to an end very, very soon, Remington vowed.
 
Laura went over and rescued Abby from a pile of Puff-a-Lumps. She looked around at all the shining new toys and scattered wrappings. She knew the ones that were missing would never even be noticed, although she couldn't help feeling a twinge of longing for her lovely coat.
 
Remington joined Rory, who was trying to help the twins play a game of "Chute and Ladders." He gestured for Brendan to come and join them. Brendan approached very nervously, but when he saw that all his father wanted was another player he breathed a sigh of relief. Nothing was said about the missing presents and, as the day wore on, Brendan actually began to feel nothing more would ever be said. He allowed himself to start enjoying the holiday.
 
***************
When Felicia awoke on Christmas morning she knew she had to get out of this hotel. Keeping on the move was her best defense right now. First, she stopped at the small cafe which was near the end of the block and next to a pool hall. She planned to get a bite to eat while deciding where to go from there. The cafe was deserted except for the proprietor, as she'd hoped and expected it would be. He took her order, brought her food and then left her alone. That suited Felicia just fine.
 
After dropping enough bills on the table to cover the cost, she left. As she emerged and walked past the pool hall, a man stepped out from the shadows of the dark alley and blocked her way. She tried to step around him.
 
He grabbed her arm. "You're hard to track down, Felicia."
 
She wrenched free and ran, but he caught up to her, grabbing her again.
 
"Oh, no, you don't," he said. "Harry is most anxious to see you."
 
"Well, I'm not anxious to see Harry," she spat back.
 
"Oh, I think you will be. By the way, name's Weasel."
 
Felicia didn't need or want to know.
 
*****************
 Remington was in the kitchen whistling Christmas carols as he put the final touches on the Steele's Christmas dinner. A festive red and green holiday print apron covered his white dress shirt .
 
Laura came into the kitchen. "How's everything going?" she asked.
 
"Splendidly. Just splendidly."
 
"Good. Frances and Donald and the kids should be here shortly." Laura reached down and nibbled some of the salad he had been tossing.
 
He slapped her hand away. "Kids all ready?" he asked.
 
"They're in the living room playing with their new things. You know, you went overboard again this year," she admonished.
 
"Laura, please, allow me a few pleasures. You know how much I enjoy spoiling you and the kids."
 
"I know," she sighed, not really feeling like arguing the point on today of all days.
 
"And I must say, your new baubles look especially lovely on you," he remarked, giving another appreciative look at the diamond and emerald necklace with the matching earrings. They matched Laura's new green silk dress perfectly.
 
"Yes, they're lovely," Laura agreed as she fingered the necklace once again. Unexpectedly, she began whirling around in circles."Frances will be green with envy," she exclaimed with a giggle.
 
Remington swooped her into his arms."Laura, please, You're making me dizzy--not to mention the baby. And my reason for giving you the new baubles was not to make your sister jealous," he admonished.
 
"I know. You gave them to me because you love me." She kissed him in appreciation. "Still, getting the upper hand on Frances occasionally gives me satisfaction."
 
"Okay." Remington could play along with that. "In that case, I'll tell her you cooked the entire dinner."
 
"She'd never believe that," Laura said. She gave Remington one more kiss before leaving his embrace. "I better go check on the kids. I want them to stay clean long enough for family pictures."
 
"Ah, yes. And I'd better baste the turkey once more," Remington remarked as he turned to the oven.
 
Laura peeked into the living room where her brood was playing relatively quietly, dressed in their new Christmas outfits. She turned to her own reflection in the hall mirror and once more admired the sparkle of the jewels. It pleased Remington to see her in beautiful things and she loved wearing them for him. She could hardly wait to wear the new lace negligee that he'd also given her. It would please him to see her in it, she knew.
 
She reached her hand to touch up her hair when the doorbell buzzed. "Darling, they're here," she called out to Remington as she moved to answer the door.
 
To say that Laura was shocked when she opened the door was an understatement. She had been expecting Donald and Frances and their three children, but instead found herself face-to-face with one of the last people she wanted to see on Christmas Day. Weasel stood there on the doorstep, holding a complacent but belligerent Felicia by the arm.
 
"Well, if it isn't the Catholic schoolgirl on this holiest of holidays. Tell Harry I've got someone here he wants to see."
 
"I don't think Mr. Steele..."
 
She was interrupted by the appearance of her husband, still wearing his holiday apron. "Weasel. Felicia. How nice of you to drop by. Do come in," Remington said, as gracious as always.
 
Laura glared at him as the two intruders stepped inside and Remington closed the door behind them.
 
"By the way, Harry, you owe me cab fare on top of the usual fee, which is double on account of working on a holiday," Weasel pushed.
 
Remington perfunctorily nodded, then turned to his wife. "Laura, where are your manners, eh? Be a dear and greet our guests," he said, nudging her.
 
Laura mumbled, "Yes, do come in. Always a pleasure, Felicia. Weasel." Then she silently grrred as Remington put his arm around her.
 
Felicia took the charming domesticity of the Steele household - Remington in apron with his arm around his pregnant wife, the smell of good food wafting from the kitchen, the shrieks and squeals of delighted children coming from other parts of the house. She had a slight pang of longing, which she quickly repressed by thinking of her own immediate troubles.
 
"We need to talk," Laura whispered urgently in her husband's ear while somehow maintaining her frozen smile.
 
"In a little bit, Darling," he whispered back, maintaining his smile, also. Then gesturing to the others, he asked, "Why don't we all go into the den, eh?"
 
He led the way, his arm still around Laura, the others following.
 
"Uh, Harry, I can't stay long," Weasel protested as he and Felicia followed Remington and a seething Laura into the den.
 
"Really, Weasel, You sound just like the plant lady," Remington airily remarked.
 
"Plant lady?" Weasel remarked. "Next thing I know, you'll be wanting me to locate her."
 
"Should be a cinch for you, Weasel. She's in jail," Laura offered. "Is that where you found Felicia?"
 
"It wasn't my idea to come here," Felicia explained angrily. "I was accosted by this--this--WEASEL person and dragged here against my will."
 
"Now, now, ladies, it's Christmas. Surely you can put aside your differences for a few hours. Eh, Laura?" Remington asked, looking at Laura pleadingly.
 
Laura didn't know what he was up to, but she decided to give in. She knew she had no reason to be jealous of Felicia. Remington had obviously brought her here for a reason, and stewing about it would serve no purpose at the moment. Besides, Frances and her brood would be there any minute. Hopefully, Felicia would get lost in the crowd.
 
When Laura nodded as an indication that she would be civil to Felicia, his face beamed with a million dollar smile as he squeezed her waist.
 
"Felicia?" he inquired.
 
"I'll behave. But I would like an explanation of why I was kidnapped and brought here," Felicia said as she was 'helped' into a chair by Weasel. She gave him a dark look.
 
Weasel stood beside Felicia as Remington and Laura sat opposite them on the couch.
 
"Nonsense, Felicia, you weren't kidnapped. Weasel was merely issuing you a dinner invitation. You're free to leave at any time, but I do hope you'll stay through dinner. I bake quite a good turkey, if I do say so myself," Remington bragged.
 
"That's it? You had me kidnapped to share Christmas dinner with you and your family?"
 
"Certainly. What other reason would there possibly be? After all, no one should have to spend Christmas dinner alone. Unless, of course, you already have other plans ..." he asked innocently.
 
Remy and Laura suddenly came running into the den in their crisp, new, Christmas outfits and threw themselves at Weasel. "Uncle Weasel! Uncle Weasel! Merry Christmas!" the twins squealed as they grabbed his legs.
 
He scooped them up in his arms and sat down with them in a nearby chair. They excitedly began telling him about their new presents.
 
Then Rory and Bogart, the family sheep dog, scampered into the room. Bogart was wearing one of Remington's tuxedo bow ties. Remington allowed this only once a year, for the family Christmas portrait. Seeing Felicia, Rory shyly walked over beside Laura and sat close. Bogart, being more outgoing, walked up to Felicia and began wagging. She began petting him as Rory shyly studied her.
 
"What's his name?" Felicia asked.
 
"Bogart. After Humphrey Bogart. My daddy likes his movies," Rory explained.
 
"Yes, I know," Felicia explained.
 
Brendan then entered the room carrying Abby. She was chattering happily to herself, now wearing three Christmas bows and enjoying the excitement of the day.
 
"Hi, Uncle Weasel," Brendan said as he handed Abby to Remington.
 
"Hi,ya, Sport," Weasel said. "Santa bring you a stocking full of coal this year?"
 
Brendan froze. Did Weasel know what he had done last night? Had he told his father yet?
 
"You're the one who deserved a stocking full of coal, Mate," Remington told Weasel.
 
Brendan decided to change the subject--FAST. He walked over to Bogart and began petting him along with Felicia. "I'm Brendan," he said, introducing himself. "Who are you?"
 
"Just call me Felicia. I, uh, used to know your father, a long time ago."
 
"I thought so," Brendan said as he patted Bogart's head.
 
"What made you think that?" she asked, genuinely curious.
 
"Your accent. Lots of Daddy's friends from a long time ago have accents," Brendan explained.
 
The phone rang and Laura answered it. It was Donald, saying there had been a domestic crisis at home and they'd be a little late for dinner. Realizing there would be a wait for dinner, Weasel joined the twins on the floor near the tree and the three of them began building with the brand, new Lincoln logs. Rory had joined Brendan and they were both talking with Felicia.
 
The timer in the kitchen shrieked.
 
" Ah! Time to baste the turkey again," Remington explained as he stood with Abby.
 
"Uh, Harry, don't forget, I can't stay long," Weasel reminded Remington once again. "We still need to settle up."
 
"Turkey before business, Weasel," Remington explained. "Ah, Laura, be a dear and give me a hand."
 
Before Laura could protest, Remington had plopped Abby in Felicia's lap. "We'll be right back, Felicia. Just make yourself at home," he told her as he grabbed Laura's arm and dragged her from the room.
 
Laura stole a backward glance before they exited completely and was once again surprised to see the familiar way Felicia held Abby. She was satisfied that Abby was safe for the moment.
 
Remington lead her into the fragrant kitchen, where he proceeded to open the oven and baste the turkey. She stood idly by, munching lettuce from the salad bowl as she watched.
 
"Donald better get here soon; that's all I can say," Remington explained as he basted.
 
"Has the turkey over-cooked?"
 
"It's not the turkey I'm worried about - it's the kids. I don't know how much longer they can stay neat for the family portrait," Remington explained as he finished his task and closed the oven. Then walking over to Laura, he suddenly embraced her tenderly from behind."Thank you," he whispered into her ear.
 
"For what?"
 
"For not pressing the point about Felicia's being here. For not being jealous."
 
"How do you know I'm not jealous?"
 
"Because I know you. You were angry, but you weren't jealous."
 
"Well, I suppose everyone deserves a nice Christmas - no matter how much explaining they have to do," Laura explained.
 
"Are you referring to me or to Felicia?"
 
"Both," Laura admitted. "But I'm not going to let anything spoil my Christmas."
 
"Commendable attitude, my dear."
 
"You better have your talk with Weasel. He can't stay long, remember? I'll set an extra place at the table."
 
Remington gently turned Laura towards him and gave her a tender kiss. "Thank you."
 
Laura smiled and slapped Remington's bottom. "Weasel, remember?"
 
"Certainly. Weasel.," he said as he gave her another quick kiss and left the kitchen.
 
She smiled and retrieved another plate and glass from the cabinet. She also gathered extra silver and napkin and walked into the dining room to set Felicia's place. She placed her between Brendan and Rory, since they seemed to have taken a liking to her. Besides, she may not have been jealous, but that didn't mean she had to let Felicia sit anywhere near Remington.
 
Laura heard the door bell. She walked to the front foyer to find a very pale Brendan already standing by the open door. He looked downright ill.
 
"Brendan, are you all right?" she asked as she felt his forehead.
 
"I'm fine, Mum. Uh, this is Mrs. O'Hara," he explained weakly.
 
"Of course. You're Brett's mother. How nice to meet you. Won't you please come in?"
 
Mrs. O'Hara hesitantly entered, holding a large silver box with a blue bow.
 
When Brendan slowly backed into the den, his frightened expression did not go unnoticed by Felicia. She recognized fear when she saw it.
 
Laura led Mrs. O'Hara into the formal living room. Laura loved this room because her beloved piano held the place of honor, but it was rarely used by the family on a regular basis. Except by Rory. Rory seemed to have been born with music in his soul and he loved to express himself on the piano. He had quite an ear for music and Laura and Remington were going to start him on piano lessons in the very near future. Brendan may have taken after his father in every way imaginable, but Laura reveled in the fact that Rory had inherited her musical soul.
 
Laura sat beside Mrs. O'Hara on the couch. Neither one noticed that Brendan had left the den and was now standing just outside the formal living room, listening with baited breath.
 
Likewise, Brendan had not noticed Felicia watching him carefully from the open doorway of the den. She had been immediately struck by Brendan's startling resemblance to his father, in both appearance and behavior. She felt a closeness with the lad and was more than a little curious as to what had so obviously frightened him. She jostled Abby tenderly as she shared Brendan's pain.
 
Felicia no longer felt a romantic attachment towards Michael, but they had shared some special times--some rough times--and times like that bound people for life in a special way. After all these years, here she was feeling that special bond with Michael's family. Her feelings surprised even her as she watched a very troubled Brendan eavesdropping on his mother.
 
Unaware that her eldest child was standing just around the corner listening, Laura was finding Mrs. O'Hara's story fascinating
.
"Of course, Brett assumed the gifts were from Santa," Mrs. O'Hara told her. "He was crazy about the sled. You could have picked a better gift for him. We're visiting my parents in Wisconsin next week and he simply can't wait to try it out. And of course Charlotte loved the Teddy Ruxpin. But then I opened ... my gift."
 
Mrs. O'Hara lifted the lid off the silver box and Laura gasped. It was the very fur coat she had lusted after for months--the one Remington had gotten her for Christmas-- the one that had mysteriously disappeared.
 
"I found this note inside," Mrs. O'Hara said as she handed Laura a card with a beautiful hand drawn rose in the corner.

Laura quietly read it and smiled, tears filling her eyes. The note from Remington was the real treasure--not the fur coat. She was already making plans to lock away his beautiful declaration of love in her memory box, along side the letter he had written her at the Sensitivity Spa. Those two items were truly her two most prized possessions.

"I didn't realize how personal the card was when I read it, Mrs. Steele. I was trying to figure out where the gifts came from."

"That's quite all right, Ellen. And please, call me Laura."

"I must admit, Laura, that I envy you. Not for the fur coat, or the nice house, or your successful career--but because you have a husband who loves you and his family more than anything. You don't know how lucky you are."

"Yes. I am lucky. Very lucky," Laura admitted.

"It's awfully sweet of you to give the children their Christmas, but I simply can't accept the fur," Ellen insisted. "It's enough for me just knowing Brett and Charlotte had a nice Christmas."

"I insist you keep the coat! You deserve it and we want you to have it, really. It was just a mix-up. My husband must have put my card in the wrong box. He gave me the most beautiful white fur, and I certainly don't need two furs," Laura explained.

Brendan suddenly heard his father's footsteps approaching. He quickly turned and ran up the stairs.

Felicia was worried by the look she saw on Brendan's face as he took off running. She walked back over to where Rory and the twins were playing while Remington escorted Weasel to the front door. No need to let Michael know she'd been eavesdropping.

Remington entered the formal living room after hearing Laura's voice. Upon hearing the story, he and Laura shared a knowing glance. Both knew their oldest son was behind this Christmas steal. Oh, the joys of parenthood!!

After a few minutes, Felicia became more and more worried by Brendan's absence. Well, Michael had told her to make herself at home. If anyone asked, she'd simply say she was looking for a diaper for the baby.

Having decided, Felicia climbed the stairs still holding Abby, who was now asleep. All the doors off the hallway were open except one. Assuming it must be Brendan's room, she tried to open it, but the door was locked. No problem. She pulled a lock pick out of her skirt pocket and neatly picked the lock. She smiled to herself ... first time she'd ever picked a lock holding a baby!

She quietly pushed the door open and entered the bedroom, closing the door behind her. Brendan, wearing his black outfit from the night before, was just zipping up his freshly packed black flight bag. He looked up, startled.

"Going somewhere?" Felicia calmly inquired.

Brendan paused for a moment. Then he squared his shoulders and spoke boldly. "I'm running away and don't you try to stop me!"

 
***********
"Oh, I'm not going to try to stop you," Felicia replied.
 
Brendan couldn't disguise his surprise nor his relief.
 
"But before you go, I have a little story I'd like to tell you," she said.
 
Brendan regarded her warily, but finally sat down on his own bottom bunk.
 
When he looked up at her with those blue eyes so like his father's, it tugged at Felicia's heart. She pulled a chair from the desk and sat down opposite them. What could she possibly say to Michael's son that would convince him to unpack his flight bag and stay right there where he belonged? Perhaps, if she told him about another child long ago who was forced to survive on the unforgiving streets of London, he would realize the foolishness of his scheme. She had no idea exactly what words she should use to talk to a child, so she just spoke from her heart.
 
"There was once a young lad about your age. Maybe a little older," she began. "He was running, too."
 
"Away from home?" Brendan asked.
 
"No, more like running away from his circumstances, his life, himself. He had no choice but to live by his wits on the streets. It was a cold and lonely life-- and a very dangerous one. He had never known love or security, not the kind that comes from stability and permanence. He was lucky, though. Eventually, he fell in with good people. Maybe he didn't find true love with them, the kind of love he sought, but he did find a type of satisfactory bond with them. But he still kept looking for that one thing he felt that could offer him true happiness." She paused a moment, hoping he would recognize the identity of whom she was talking.
 
Carefully studying his sober expression, Felicia continued her tale."He did find it, eventually, though in the most unlikely of places and with the most unlikely of people. He finally found that perfect contentment he'd always searched for. It took him three decades to find that happiness, but he's never been happier. Even now, all the emotional scars probably haven't completely healed. They probably never will. When you've gone through harrowing, almost unbearable situations, the scars never completely leave you. But he was lucky. He was able to rise above those harrowing circumstances. He learned from them; used them to his advantage. Most people aren't that fortunate. I suppose they simply don't have it in them."
 
Brendan had been listening thoughtfully. "What does that have to do with me, though?"
 
"I just wondered if you were one of those people who has it in them to rise above any given situation."
 
"Yes, Ma'am," he answered honestly and sincerely.
 
"I believe you just might be. But, Brendan," Felicia said as she reached forward and gently touched his cheek with one finger. "Think about it really hard. Do you really want to turn your back on the wonderful life you have here with your parents and brothers and sisters? You already possess all the things my old friend spent years searching for. Believe me; the streets are not somewhere you want to be." She stood up."Think about it, won't you?"
 
As a final gesture before leaving, she lightly touched his dark hair.
 
**********
Felicia rejoined the family downstairs. While she was gone, Weasel had taken his leave--he couldn't stay long--and Frances and Donald had arrived. After Remington had introduced Felicia to the new arrivals, Frances pulled Laura aside while Remington tried to round everyone up for pictures.
 
"Old friend?" she hissed at Laura. "If I were you I'd keep my eye on her and not let her within ten feet of my husband. Women that look like her spell trouble."
 
"Frances," Laura interrupted. "There's nothing to worry about. She and Remington are old friends from his days on the streets. I trust Felicia and I trust my husband."
 
Frances couldn't have known how many years it had taken for Laura to make that admission and actually mean it.
 
Frances just shook her head. "I certainly hope you're right, little sister."
 
Remington yelled, "Laura! Frances! Come on! And has anybody seen Brendan lately?"
 
Felicia kept her silence. She wanted to wait and see what Brendan's decision was going to be before she said anything to Michael.
 
"Wait here," Remington ordered everyone. "I'll go see if I can track him down."
 
"Check the kitchen and dining room," Laura suggested. "Maybe he sneaked in there for a sample."
 
Remington entered the hallway and spotted his son coming down the stairs. "Shake a leg, Brendan. We're ready to take family pictures and then it'll be time to eat. I don't know about you, but I'm starving."
 
"Coming, Daddy," Brendan replied.
 
Remington put his arm around his son's shoulders. "What were you doing upstairs?"
 
"Nothing..."
 
"Were you in Mummy and Daddy's room again?"
 
"No, sir," Brendan answered honestly. "I, uh, just wanted some time by myself."
 
"Too much excitement, eh?" Remington asked.
 
Brendan nodded.
 
Remington knew very well what was actually bothering this son, though. "You know, at Christmas we sometimes forget how rewarding giving can be. Don't ever forget that, Brendan; it is far better to give than to receive. It's nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to be embarrassed about."
 
Brendan got the message - his father knew he was the one who had given away their Christmas presents. But it didn't really matter what his punishment would be; it was just a relief to know he didn't have to keep his secret anymore. He gave an audible sigh of relief and broke into his first genuine smile of the day.
 
Remington squeezed his son's shoulder. "Come on. We wouldn't want them to take the family pictures without us, would we?"
 
Brendan and Remington rejoined the family. Brendan enjoyed the rest of the day's celebration with a lighter heart and a pacified conscience. No more thoughts of running away crossed his mind.
 
**************
It had been a marvelous day spent with family and friends in the true spirit of Christmas. Remington and Laura were almost finished putting their exhausted children to bed. Remington had finally finished giving Abby her bottle and was rocking her to sleep. Laura, relaxing in the matching nursery rocking, was savoring the sight and sound of her husband singing an Irish lullaby to their youngest daughter. When Remington was sure Abby was sleeping soundly, he tenderly tucked her under her covers. Putting his arm around Laura's shoulder, they walked out of the nursery and quietly closed the door.
 
"I think I'll check on the boys one more time," Laura said.
 
"Brendan will be fine," Remington assured her. "He learned a valuable lesson today."
 
"And what was that? Not to give away our Christmas presents without first asking our permission?"
 
"No. That it's better to give than to receive. An admirable quality for a lad Brendan's age to learn in this age of 'Gimme'."
 
"You're absolutely right," Laura agreed as she leaned into her husband's embrace.
 
Remington rocked Laura gently in his arms. "Granted, I don't approve of the way he did it. I mean, he should have come to us first."
 
"We're in agreement there," Laura responded. With a sigh she planted a kiss on his cheek and moved out of the circle of his arms. "I'll only be a minute or two," she promised as she headed to the door.
 
Remington nodded. "I'll go down and get us some eggnog".
 
"Good. See if there's any pumpkin pie left."
 
"Laura!" he admonished.
 
"Okay, then bring me a turkey sandwich," she shrugged.
 
Remington just shook his head and started down the stairs.
 
************************
Laura quietly opened the door to the boys' room, hoping they were both asleep. Rory was, but Brendan was sitting at his desk writing.
 
Laura approached him. "What are you doing, Darling?"
 
"Writing my thank you notes."
 
"That's nice," she commented with a smile, proud of her eldest son's industriousness.
 
He held up one of the finished cards. "This one's for Grandma Abigail for the hand knit sweater."
 
"Good. We'll mail it tomorrow," she promised. "She'll be pleased you responded so promptly." After a brief pause, Laura took her son's hand. "Brendan...," she began, not quite knowing how to bring up the subject.
 
He looked up at her. "Are you real mad about what I did last night? "
 
"Yes, and no," she told him, patting his hand. "Though your daddy and I don't agree with your methods, we do understand why you did it. It was a lovely gesture. Brett is very lucky to have you for a friend. But listen closely," she said, tilting his chin upwards. "When you want to help someone in need, you come tell Daddy and me. We'll never turn down a worthy cause. If we had known about this earlier, we could have done something more for the O'Haras."
 
"I know, Mum. I'm sorry. Really I am."
 
Laura tousled his hair. "Now go to bed and get some sleep. Those," she said as she gestured to the note cards, "can wait until tomorrow."
 
She helped Brendan into bed, tucked him in and gave him a good night kiss before turning out the light.
 
**************
Remington was already in bed waiting for her. Two cups of eggnog and two plates bearing turkey sandwiches sat on the nightstand.
 
Remington smiled. "Everything all right?"
 
"Yes, everything is fine. Brendan knows we understand and appreciate his generosity, but don't condone the way he executed his little scheme."
 
Laura sat down on the bed and Remington offered her a plate and cup. She accepted them and started nibbling on her sandwich.
 
"All in all, I'd say it was a very memorable day, eh, Laura?"
 
"You mean the part where I opened the door and found Weasel and Felicia standing on our doorstep?"
 
"That was a bit of a shock, I know, Laura. I suppose I should have forewarned you," he admitted.
 
"That's a crock. When was the last time you gave me a warning about anything?"
 
"Laura, do you really want to fight tonight?" he asked, looking at her suggestively. "After all, it's Christmas night ... 'Tis the season to be jolly, good will to men and all that."
 
"And I suppose you want me to show you a little of that goodwill," she said as she sighed unenthusiastically.
 
"Well, it beats fighting, doesn't it? Look, Laura, whatever you want is fine. If you're too tired...."
 
What she wanted was to get back at him for his unexpected invitation to Felicia and Weasel. She thought about dumping the eggnog over his head, but then decided it really hadn't quite warranted that. It hadn't been really all that bad having Felicia join them for dinner. She actually got along well with the kids, which surprised Laura. And hadn't she just told Brendan they should be willing to extend a hand to those less fortunate? Even though Felicia couldn't be considered needy, she was all alone on Christmas with nowhere to go. It was only right that they had extended friendship and hospitality to her.
 
Laura glanced at Remington, who was watching her closely. "Well, maybe Felicia's presence wasn't that bad," she admitted.
 
"You behaved admirably, Laura," Remington said proudly, squeezing Laura's shoulder. "While I've never expected the two of you to be the best of friends, you've shown that you can behave in a civilized manner towards each other."
 
"I'm not jealous anymore. Not really. I know Felicia is in the past. Whatever you two had to together is in the past. And no, I don't want to hear about it. I also realize that because of the hard times you shared, you'll always have a special bond. I understand that and it doesn't bother me. Any time you want to invite Felicia to our home, it's fine with me. Only next time, let me know about it ahead of time, buster!" She stabbed him in the chest with her finger for added emphasis.
 
"I get the message, Laura. No more surprises with Felicia. I give you my word." He looked deeply into her eyes and once again was overwhelmed with the depth of his emotions."You are truly a remarkable woman, Laura Holt-Steele. You're the only woman I have any desire to say those words to and to honestly mean them."
 
"And what would those words be?" Laura inquired teasingly.
 
"I love you, Laura." He kissed her and she returned the kiss with passion, snuggling into his arms.
 
After a minute she pulled away. He gave a heavy sigh, having been through this scenario before.
 
"I, ah, think I'll slip into something more comfortable. I'll only be a minute. Don't go away," she instructed as she rose from the bed. She blew him a kiss as she headed for the adjoining bathroom.
 
Remington smiled broadly, folded his arms behind his head and lounged back, already comfortable in his wine silk robe. "By comfortable, I hope you don't mean that old terry cloth robe of yours!" he warned.
 
"Just wait and see," she teased.
 
Laura emerged in the new lace negligee and blushed as Remington whistled his approval.
 
"I didn't know they made maternity clothes that were this evocative," she commented.
 
"They don't," he answered. "I had it especially made for you."
 
"Figures."
 
"Well, I happen to like to seeing you in beautiful things."
 
"You mean sexy things," Laura amended. "And it really doesn't matter to you that I look like Mamu the whale?"
 
"Laura, I don't care what size you are. You'll always be beautiful and exciting and desirable to me." He pulled her down beside him and proceeded to show her how much.
 
When he pulled away and seemed lost in thought, Laura looked quizzically at him. "What's wrong?" she asked.
 
"I think there's something else you should know," he confessed.
 
"Oh?" She really didn't care right now, whatever it was.
 
"Brendan told me this afternoon that he had thought about running away," Remington explained.
 
Suddenly, Laura was all ears. "He what?"
 
"He confessed to me that we couldn't find him before taking pictures because he was upstairs packing."
 
"But why would he run away?" she asked.
 
"I suspect it had something to do with Mrs. O'Hara's unexpected visit and our finding out what he'd done. He probably figured we wouldn't understand and he wanted to run to escape punishment or something." Remington shrugged. "Who knows what he was thinking? It's hard to figure out how a child's mind works. "
 
Laura touched Remington's cheek. "Perhaps because you were never a child yourself," she said softly.
 
Remington either didn't hear or chose to ignore that statement.
 
"Rather ironic," he said. "You're preoccupied with me leaving when I disappear for a few, unexplained minutes, yet you're oblivious to the fact when your own son actually *is* leaving."
 
"Are you blaming this on me?" she hotly argued.
 
"To the contrary, my dear. I was only pointing out a consistency in our relationship and its wide spreading effects."
 
"I get the point," she muttered. "Like father, like son."
 
"No, Laura, that's not what I meant," he said with a sigh. "What I mean is...Oh, well; never mind. Anyway, to continue my story, apparently Felicia caught Brendan packing and sat him down for a little chat. I don't know exactly what Felicia said to him, but the jist of it seemed to be about my past--my childhood on the streets of London." He paused for a moment. "Whatever she said, it convinced him that home was where he belonged, where he was surrounded by the people who love him."
 
Laura would be forever grateful that Felicia had managed to talk Brendan out of running away, but there were a few things about the situation that bothered her. Remington was right - she *was* at times so preoccupied with other matters that she had no idea what her own children were up to. If she were truly a conscientious mother, shouldn't she have been aware of Brendan's struggle? Shouldn't she - and not Felicia - have been the one helping him sort things out?
 
Laura berated herself on her inadequacies as a mother. As much as she loved her children, she wondered if she was really doing right by them. Maybe it would have been better if...
 
She lightly touched her abdomen where the new, little one rested. No. If she had it to do all over again, she would still have had the children - every one of them. But she would do things a little differently. She would spend more time with them and pay more attention to them--not just to their immediate needs, but to their feelings and thoughts. It wasn't too late, she realized. From now on she would make her husband and children her top priority and put the insignificant matters aside. She knew that would be the best gift she could ever give to her family--the gift of herself.
 
The first insignificant matter she'd discard was her insecurity about Remington leaving. If he really wanted to leave, he would have done so years ago; she was convinced of that. She was armed with the knowledge that he truly loved her and their children. Maybe that alone wasn't reason enough for him to stick around, but it was an awfully large incentive. And if the day ever did come when he disappeared... Well, she'd cross that bridge when it occurred. In the meantime, she'd not worry about it anymore.
 
"What are you thinking about? You seem awfully preoccupied," Remington asked, startling Laura out of her reverie.
 
"Oh, just thinking that Felicia and Brendan know more about your past than I do," she hedged, not wanting to tell him her real thoughts.
 
"That's not true, Laura. Felicia doesn't know everything. And when it comes right down to it, you know more about me than she ever will," he assured her.
 
She couldn't really argue that point, but she tried. "Perhaps, but as for your past..."
 
"She only knows about the years we shared and the rest, she can only speculate on," Remington explained.
 
"Probably fairly accurately, too," Laura mumbled.
 
"I thought you didn't want to hear about my time with Felicia," he remarked.
 
"That's right, I don't."
"Then why are we discussing it?"
 
"Oh, because there's nothing else to discuss," she lamely answered.
 
"I can think of more interesting things to discuss," he said softly as he started edging closer to her.
 
"Such as?"
 
"Oh," he said as held her against him. "This..." He lifted her hair and kissed her neck. "And this..." He pulled down the strap of her negligee and kissed her shoulder.
 
"Oh, and here I was hoping you wanted to discuss the grocery shopping. We're out of milk and eggs and..."
 
"Laura... " Remington admonished.
 
"...or next week's schedule. We need to interview piano teachers for Rory. Both Bogart and Abby have appointments for check ups with the vet and doctor on the 28th and... "
 
"Laura, really," he sighed. "Some things never change. The moment I get romantic, you find some way to thwart my attempts."
 
"That can't be true all the time," she reminded him. "And we have five - almost six - children to prove it."
 
"That makes it appear I've only been successful six times. Not a record number, by any means," Remington glumly commented.
 
She fastened her lips onto his and then lightly bit.
 
"Ouch. Don't bite, Laura" he admonished as her teeth sank in.
 
"Sorry."
 
Against her lips, Remington said, "We're going to be awfully tired tomorrow for our annual Boxing Day party."
 
"I don't care," she replied.
 
"Mildred's bringing a date," he added. "Her dates are always so, umh... interesting. Don't you agree, Luv?"
 
"Uh-huh," Laura replied, starting to work her way down his chest with tiny kisses. She wasn't interested in Mildred's dates right now.
 
But Remington seemed to be."I remember that stockbroker she brought here to dinner one time? Or was it an economics professor? No, he was a banker. Anyway, he..."
 
Laura stilled him with a kiss and then raised herself up to look into his face. "Why are you trying to thwart my attempts at a romantic interlude?"
 
"Oh, is that what I was doing?" he asked innocently.
 
"Yes, you are," she declared as she hit his shoulder with her fist.
 
"Between your biting and hitting and stomping, I think perhaps I deserve a combat medal," Remington stated.
 
"Would you settle for this?" Laura asked as she looked in his eyes and kissed him deeply.
 
"That I would, Luv. That I would," he whispered as he pulled her into his embrace.
 
As they lay together in a contented embrace, Laura smiled as she thought again of the lovely note Remington had enclosed in her Christmas gift. As soon as she was alone, she knew she would take it from her memory box and reread it. But for now, his words of love were locked away in her heart.
 
***********
Brendan had been unable to sleep after Laura left him. He lay in bed thinking about the story Felicia had told him about the boy growing up on the streets. He very strongly suspected that young boy was his own father. After all, Felicia and his father were old friends from a long time ago. And it fit with the story his father told them about following the boy with the sled and throwing a rock through the window.
 
Brendan quietly stole out of bed and down the hall to his parents' room. He would ask his father outright if Felicia had been talking about him. He turned the door knob, but then whispered, "Damn, the door's locked." He quickly clapped his hand over his mouth. His parents didn't like him to swear, even though they did. That was just one more thing about adults he couldn't quite figure out.
 
He raced back to get his lock pick. While he was carefully inserting the pick, he heard soft noises coming from beneath the locked door that could only mean one thing. Brendan stopped, debating whether to continue. He remembered the last time he'd jimmied the lock to his parents' bedroom door and had walked in on them. He hadn't seen that much, but his father had been livid.
 
Deciding not to press his luck this time, he returned to his own room. He could wait until morning to ask his father. And if his father wouldn't tell him, maybe his mummy or Aunt Mildred would. Brendan felt sure his suspicions were correct, but he wanted proof. After all, he was his mother's child as much as he was his father's.
 
Brendan climbed back into bed, deciding that this had been the best Christmas ever. It wasn't long before he was dreaming dreams of a young lad looking remarkably like himself living an Oliver Twist existence on the streets of London. The next day when he would tell Rory about his dream, Rory would accuse him of watching Oliver again.
 
*******
Down the hall, Remington and Laura were also drifting off to sleep, wrapped in each other's arms. Laura's head rested in its usual place on Remington's chest. The baby kicked sharply and she guided her husband's hand to her abdomen. They both smiled as it kicked again.
 
"He or she is going to take after you, Laura; that's a lethal foot. Guess I'll have to keep my distance, eh?"
 
"Should keep you on your toes then," she mumbled sleepily.
 
"Good night, Luv," Remington said as he kissed her brow lightly.
 
"Night," she mumbled in reply.
 
Remington tightened his arms around his wife, his hand still on her belly.

The End

Originally written in 1990 and revised in 1999
 
 

Steele, Inc.-Atlanta Div.

"Life in the Steele Lane" Index

 
 
 

dtalley@mindspring.com
 

Disclaimer: The characters of Remington Steele are used without permission. This story copyrighted 1985 by Debra Talley. It is purely for entertainment purposes.