Steele Upon a Mattress - Part Four
Date: Saturday, March 01, 2003
Lauryn Poynor <lpoynor@yellowhammer.com>


STEELE UPON A MATTRESS - PART FOUR

by

Lauryn Poynor

Special thanks to SJ for gym inspirations.
______________________________________


"Well, Miss Holt, are you finally going to reveal our destination or do
I have to wear a blindfold on the way?" Steele rolled down the car
window and propped his elbow up.

"You're awfully curious," said Laura as she pulled out into traffic. "I
thought bench presses and barbells bored you."

"My mother, Mrs. Steele, always taught me to be prepared. 'Semper
paratus.' Family motto."

"You don't say," Laura said dryly. "I thought that was the Coast
Guard's."

Steele smiled blandly. "Latin. So versatile."

He leaned closer to Laura and spoke in a conspiratorial tone. "So where
are we going? 'Hard Bodies'? 'The Slim Gym'? 'Fit Stop'? 'Muscles,
Inc.'?"

"I thought fitness was a dirty word where you come from. How do you know
all those names?"

"One hears rumours," Steele replied with a mysterious smile. "Speaking
of gossip, what about 'Weights and Mates'?"

"'Weights and Mates'?" Laura sniffed. "That meat market?"

"Meat market? How delightfully descriptive, your American slang. Does it
mean what I think it -"

"You know perfectly well what it means, Mr. Steele. The only reason
women flock there in droves is to pick up -"

"Free weights? Workout tips?"

"Men. Hulking, sweaty, spandex-clad men."

"Really? What a fascinating social ritual." Steele looked down at his
attire in faint disappointment.

"It's nothing but a sleazy singles bar with leg warmers and lat
machines."

"Your knowledge is encyclopedic, Miss Holt." His brow furrowed. "Have
you observed this phenomenon at close range?"

"You can put the brakes on that over-active imagination of yours, Mr.
Steele." She turned the car onto a side street. "I've never been there.
From what I hear it's rather, um, notorious."

"In a way that Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman never dreamed of,
apparently."

"I suppose." Laura tossed her head. "Like I said, I've never had the
dubious pleasure."

"Relieved to hear it," Steele replied, running his hands through his
hair. "Someone with your aversion to spandex would find the idea
terribly distasteful, no doubt."

Despite her reassurances his imagination was left spinning in top gear.
He pictured Laura being fought over by hordes of suitors; grunting cave
dwellers with one track minds and hairy backs, eager to klonk a female
on the head and drag her off to the nearest exercise mat. He felt a
trickle of sweat roll down his spine. His instincts were telling him the
gym subculture could be treacherous - even the more highly evolved
variety. He'd have to keep a very close eye on his lovely associate.
Very close indeed.

"Mr. Steele? Did you hear what I said?"

"Eh?"

"Personal Best."

"'Personal Best.' Mariel Hemingway, Scott Glenn, Warner Brothers, 1982,"
he piped up automatically.

"It's not a movie. It's a gym. Our gym. Just ahead on the right." Laura
drove the Rabbit up to the corner and turned in a driveway.

Steele smiled at her, all at once feeling a bit more cheerful. He liked
the way she said that. "Our gym." So cozy. So intimate. Just the two of
them.

"As names go 'Personal Best' doesn't quite have the je ne sais quoi of
'Weights and Mates' but one hopes the dress code for men is a bit less
confining," he quipped.

"Relax, Mr. Steele. You'll do just fine."

That was an understatement she mused as she patted his shoulder. She
sneaked a glance at him. Despite his casual attire he somehow managed
to look flawless, almost elegant. She'd long ago decided it was a gift.
No matter the circumstance, whether they were being chased, shot at, or
manhandled he always looked the part of Remington Steele.

To the outside world it was a stainless steel persona, virtually immune
to the shocks that flesh was heir to. It was only since he'd straggled
in to the office, weary and frazzled after three sleepless nights, that
she'd been alert for incipient cracks in the facade. She searched his
face. He looked more focused, more rested. Signs of strain were still
visible, though less clearly marked than before. She almost convinced
herself not to go too hard on him until she remembered how eager he'd
been to exert himself that morning. And with whom.

"Why are you stopping here? Don't we need to park?" asked Steele.

"They have valet parking. Musn't over exert oneself walking from the
parking lot to the advanced aerobics class."

"Somehow that logic escapes me."

"Just go with the flow, Mr. Steele."

"Only in LA, eh, Miss Holt?"

***

Steele signed in at the guest registry amidst much oohing and aahing
from the relentlessly cheerful 'Personal Best' trainers. They were
practically doing handsprings over the prospect of having such a highly
esteemed pillar of the community, man about town, and walking publicity
magnet join the ranks of the toned and trendy.

"You know, Laura, I'm forever amazed at how the fame of Remington Steele
has spread to all corners of the city. Astonishing, eh? In only a few
short months. A tribute, no doubt, to my larger than life persona, my
savoir-vivre, my matchless profile, my keen intellect, my firm handshake
-"

"My tireless PR efforts," Laura amended, clenching her jaw.

"Yes, well. Behind every great man there's someone with an appointment
book and a pencil."

Laura put a hand to her forehead in exasperation. "Remind me again why I
created Remington Steele."

"I thought I just did." He flashed a camera-ready smile.

Laura walked over to a display of vitamin supplements and aimlessly
fingered the bottles. "Never an aspirin when you need one."

The cause of her tension headache regarded her curiously, arms folded,
head cocked slightly to one side.

"There's a muscle in your left cheek that's twitching. Why don't we
un-tense one another? See if our minds and bodies can reach nirvana from
a standing start."

"Mr. Steele, this is hardly the time -"

"Then perhaps they have night classes."

"I don't need -" she began, feeling his eyes on her. "We're not here to
- I'm perfectly relaxed."

Steele straightened from his casual stance and honed in on his elusive
quarry.

"I'm not."

Expectantly, he took a step toward her, then another, until he was mere
inches away. Laura lifted her chin and squared her shoulders.

"Try aerobics, Mr. Steele."

"Not dressed for it."

"Yoga?"

"A bit of a stretch."

"A tanning bed?"

"Too confining."

"The sauna?"

"You're getting warmer. Keep trying."

"I'm not getting in the jacuzzi with you."

He gave her a look that was half pity, half regret.

"The road to nirvana and you veer left."

"Alright then," Laura replied in as peremptory a tone as she could
muster. "Since you're so determined to get the grand tour, I'd suggest
we get started."

Steele sighed with resignation. "Love to. Just one question. How am I
going to get the VIP treatment when you chased off all the hired help?"

"Believe me, Mr. Steele, I did you a favor. Did you really want to
listen to their sales pitch for the next two hours?"

"They certainly know how to stroke one's ego, to roll out the red
carpet, so to speak. If you hadn't bared your fangs at them they might
have thrown rose petals." Steele chuckled with delight.

"It's nauseating. All that bowing and scraping."

Laura's own ego was still smarting from the fact that she'd been roundly
ignored on her first visit while some functionary from the mayor's
office was waited on hand and foot and given a complimentary manicure
and massage. If it weren't for the fact that the facility was minutes
away and their machines and amenities were top notch, she would have
told them where they could stick their dumbbells and curl bars.

Steele nonchalantly surveyed his fingernails. "The adulation of the
masses can get wearying at times. Shall we, Miss Holt?"

They strolled down a neon-lit foyer toward the main exercise area. The
walls were painted in deep blues and sea foam greens and decorated with
life-size photographs of athletes captured at a moment of glory: a
sprinter straining against the tape, a heavyweight boxer, one arm held
aloft in victory, a gymnast vaulting through the air in perfect form.

Steele glanced at his reflection in a wall mirror and spotted a wedge
shaped man with a buzz cut making a beeline in their direction.

He gestured to Laura with his thumb. "Reinforcements have arrived." He
turned just as the man extended his palm for a bone-crushing handshake.

"Mr. Steele. They told me you were here. I'm Jake Masters. Fitness
Lifestyles Manager. I'd like to welcome you to 'Personal Best.'"

"Delighted to be here, Mr. Masters. This is my associate, Laura Holt.
She's forever singing the praises of your fine establishment." Steele
managed to avoid wincing as Masters released his hand to shake Laura's a
trifle more gently.

"Do you come here often, Miss Holt?" asked the hulk, flexing his left
bicep in Laura's direction.

"Whenever my schedule allows, Mr. Masters. Usually several times a
week," she assured him.

"I wonder why I haven't seen you before? I have been kind of busy with
personal training." He ran his eyes over her petite frame. "One on one
instruction is my specialty."

"Sounds rewarding." Laura stared, perversely fascinated, at the massive
pecs rippling under his tiny tank top.

"I think we would be great together. In fact, Laura, I'm sure I could
unleash your potential." He flashed two gleaming rows of teeth that were
a marvel of dentistry. "All you need is a few sessions a week with 'The
Master.'"

"With who? Oh - Masters - the master, how, um - that's very -"

"Clever, huh? Glad you like it. It's important to have a catchy name or
a hook that people can remember. The competition is fierce in today's
fitness environment. I majored in marketing at SC."

Correspondence school, more like, thought Steele uncharitably. The
colossus was no Rhodes scholar. No doubt he was ingesting some muscle
inflating substance that shrank one's brain down to the size of a
walnut. And other organs as well.

"Small world, Mr. Masters. I took some marketing classes in college. I
was a math major. Graduated from Stanford."

"I won't hold that cardinal sin against you, Masters quipped with a
self-amused grin.

"Stanford Cardinal. Cardinal sin. Ha, ha," Laura laughed half-heartedly.
"I didn't know you Trojans were so good at word play."

"You'll find we're good at a lot of things, Miss Holt."

Steele noticed a large blue vein pulsing in the muscleman's neck. Poor
fellow, he mused. I hope that attempt at witty repartee didn't strain
anything. Why in blazes was Laura so enamored with him?

The Master swiveled his massive bulk in Steele's direction. "And I'm
sure we could get you into crimefighting trim, Mr. Steele. Several
months of supervised weight training would do wonders. Reshape your body
in ways you never thought possible."

"I'm sure the possibilities are endless, Mr. Masters. I'm a bit of a
traditionalist when it comes to these matters," replied Steele in the
affable but vague tone he employed at Kiwanis Club luncheons and awards
banquets. "I've always preferred a lean silhouette. And my Milanese
tailor is rather excitable. Change distresses him."

Laura pinched his bicep experimentally. "It wouldn't hurt for you to
bulk up a bit, Mr. Steele. I'm sure Gianni could let out your new
suits."

"Would you excuse us a moment, Mr. Masters? I've just been reminded that
I'm flying out of the country tomorrow. Milan, actually. I must discuss
an urgent matter of scheduling with my associate." He pulled Laura
behind the vitamin display by her shirt sleeve.

"Whose side are you on, Laura?" Steele hissed in an angry undertone.

"Yours, Mr. Steele. Remember your doctor's orders. You have to work off
that extra adrenaline."

"I can think of better ways." His eyes roved over her swiftly, but with
a thoroughness born of practice.

"If you expended half the energy exercising that you do trying to get me
into bed you'd be ready for the Olympic trials in less than a week."

"Excellent idea. I always was a quick study. I'll wager you are, too.
Why don't we convene in say, half an hour and practice stroke
techniques?"

"Stroke techniques?" Laura could feel her cheeks growing a little warm.

"I'm sure the pool is regulation size. What shall we try first?"

"Just what are you suggesting?"

"The backstroke? he murmured silkily. "Or would you prefer . . . the
breaststroke?"

His offer pulled at her like an irresistible tide. She could almost feel
the shock of the cold water, the tingling warmth of slender fingers
tracing wet skin.

Laura shook herself out of her reverie to find Steele's keen gaze glued
to an area just south of her collarbone. An Esther Williams inspired
fantasy of Laura as a mermaid in a tiny seashell bra had his imagination
riveted.

"Sorry to dash your hopes, Mr. Steele, but they don't award medals for
making passes."

Steele's preoccupation with Laura's anatomy merely emboldened his
attack. "Why, Laura, I'm surprised at your ignorance. In track and field
the baton pass is an integral part of the 400 meter relay. An Olympic
event in which your American athletes excel."

"You know that's not what I -- what you meant," Laura snapped in
exasperation.

"Just imagine, Miss Holt. Hours of practice rewarded by the achievement
of perfect synchronization. A noble goal to keep in mind as we join
forces, our two bodies striving for the ultimate moment of -"

"I think you're wandering a bit off track, Mr. Steele."

"Not at all. Nothing in life is worth doing unless it can be
accomplished by -"

"A shortcut. Or an oblique angle," Laura said dryly. "Your philosophy.
Not mine."

"On the contrary. I was going to say one must always be willing to be
bold, vigorous. To test one's limits, to -"

"Go the distance?" Laura queried.

"You do have a way of cutting to the chase, Miss Holt."

"But are you, really? Ready to go the distance, that is?"

Steele opened his mouth to reply but was distracted by Laura sliding a
teasing finger from his chest down to his waistband.

"All of those veiled hints about your prowess, your stamina -"

"Yes?" Steele breathed hopefully.

Laura tossed her head. "Forgive me if I'm not convinced."

"Not convinced?" Steele raised a shocked eyebrow at this heresy.

"It sounds like typical locker room exaggeration to me."

Steele's ego was bruised but unbowed. He decided to seize the moment.
"Why don't we settle the matter over dinner tonight? After you've
marveled at my culinary skills your lingering doubts can be swept away
by an impressive demonstration of my . . . athleticism."

"A demonstration is a wonderful idea. But not over dinner. Why not right
here, right now?"

Steele glanced around. "Behind a vitamin rack? It would be a rather
unexpected pleasure but there does seem to be a lot of foot traffic."

"What I had in mind, Mr. Steele, was testing your limits on the
treadmill. The exercise bike. The weight bench. House rules, of course.
All participants fully clothed, working individually -"

"Must you take the fun out of everything?"

"This isn't supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be good for you. You
rarely do anything more strenuous at the office than lift an eyebrow. Or
maybe a pencil."

"Ever ready to jot down clues."

"Or the number of your bookie in the rolodex."

"Really, Laura. Must you use that tone? I was merely trying to improve
office efficiency."

Laura bristled at the memory. "Efficiency! You told me it was the number
to the coroner's office. I called for the lab results on the Fujiyama
case and got post-time odds on a nag named 'Dead Ringer.'"

"Everything alright, Mr. Steele? Miss Holt?" Masters poked his head
around the display rack.

"Forgive us for being so mysterious, Mr. Masters. My associate and I
were just, ah, discussing a delicate forensic matter."

"Post mortem evidence can be so crucial to the outcome of a case," Laura
added without missing a beat.

"Sounds fascinating, Laura. You know, that show 'Quincy' is one of my
faves."

Laura smiled apologetically at Masters. "I guess all of this shop talk
sounds a little strange to you. In our line of work we often deal, well
-- in bodies."

"What a coincidence. So do we," joshed the hulk with a smug grin.

"At least yours are alive and kicking," Laura laughed.

"Most of the time. We do save some body bags and toe tags for the
beginners. Take no prisoners. That's our motto."

Steele raised an apprehensive eyebrow.

"Don't worry, Mr. Steele. It's just a little workout humor. I don't have
a zip bag with your name on it."

"How reassuring." Steele smiled wanly. This was not going to be the
piece of cake he'd envisioned.

***

"Mr. Steele?"

Steele was roused from his semi-somnambulant state by a decisive jab in
the ribs from Laura's elbow.

"Sorry." Steele blinked fuzzily at Masters. "I know it must appear
somewhat mystifying to the layman but I find meditation quite useful
when absorbing the salient facts of a case - or, as the case may be,
your riveting summary of the benefits of - ah - " Steele's wrist
motioned languidly as he struggled to fill in the blanks.

"Cardio-vascular conditioning," prompted the hulk, vigorously
demonstrating the concept on the exercise bike.

"Conditioning. Yes. I'm sure once I consider it - ponder it - it will
seem positively Zen-like in its simplicity."

"You'll have to do more than exercise your mind, Mr. Steele, "Laura
admonished, sotto voce. "It may have escaped your notice, especially
when you're at the office, but the human body is composed of moving
parts."

"As you so ably demonstrate, Miss Holt. In fact, the way your body moves
has inspired me on any number of occasions."

"This isn't about my body, "she fired back. "It's about your -- body."
Her eyes couldn't resist the invitation to skim over the subject at
hand.

"Did you have a particular moving part in mind?"

With an effort, Laura reined in her wayward imagination.

"Your big toe!" she snapped, daring him to contradict her.

"Really, Miss Holt. If only I'd worn sandals."

Laura glared a warning at him, indicating the hulk, who was well within
earshot of their extra-curricular exchange.

Masters stopped cycling and got up from the bike. He looked a bit
uneasily from Steele to Laura. "Well, I guess I'll, um, leave you to it.
Give me a buzz when you finish your cardio session. We'll hoist a few."
He mimed a weight lifting motion to Steele, then flexed his pecs in
anticipation.

"Wouldn't miss it." Steele smiled tightly, hands clasped behind him,
carefully avoiding a rematch in the handshaking contest.

"Really gives you a lift," Masters grinned, thumping Steele on the back
like a bongo drum.

***

Steele rubbed his jaw. "I think he loosened a filling in my right
bicuspid."

Laura straddled the bike. "I didn't know you were so fragile, Mr.
Steele. This twelve step program came in the nick of time."

"I'd live longer if we skipped the introductions." They both adjusted
their machines and began to pedal.

Laura propped a magazine on the handlebars.

"Ah, the never ending quest for self improvement. What are you reading,
Miss Holt?"

"'Physique - the Magazine for Women Who Work Hard and Play Hard.'"

"Favourite of yours?"

"Never heard of it," she replied with exaggerated casualness, re-setting
the bike's tension levels.

Glancing over, Steele read the contents aloud. "'1,001 Tights - My
Fitness Fetish,' 'To Thong Or Not to Thong?' 'I Hate My Thighs! - One
Woman's Quest.'"

Laura shrugged. "Not exactly Pulitzer material."

"I don't suppose they have any reading matter of a more masculine
variety."

"Help yourself, Mr. Steele." She waved a hand toward a magazine rack.
"There's 'Ripped,' 'Pumped,' 'Power Lifter -'"

Steele winced. "So much for light reading."

"Then stop whining and watch the TV."

On the oversized screen a man with frizzy curls and tight pink and white
striped shorts was exhorting a lineup of plus-sized women. "C'mon,
girls!" he shouted as a disco beat pounded in the background. "Let's
tone to the bone! We're movin' and groovin'! 1, 2, to-the-beat! 3, 4,
lift-those-knees!"

Steele did a double take at this alien ritual. "Don't be alarmed, Miss
Holt, but I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."

"Los Angeles, last time I looked."

"I think I'd rather be in Cleveland. I sincerely hope that isn't
contagious. How does one change the channel?"

"That's what we'd all like to know."

"Some sort of indoctrination, no doubt. Are you sure this is good for my
health?"

Laura tried her best to look serious. "No pain, no gain, Mr. Steele."

There were times that Steele envied Laura her ability to focus her
energies and tune out distractions. He watched her on the bike; cycling
rhythmically, jaw set, chest rising and falling, eyes glued resolutely
to her glossy magazine. Several strands of hair had escaped from her
ponytail and curled against her neck; she hadn't quite broken a sweat,
but her skin gave off a warm glow even in the harsh lighting of the gym.

"So," Steele said, after a moment. "Do you really hate your thighs?"

Laura started with surprise in mid-paragraph. "What?"

"Like that woman in the article you're reading."

"I can't believe we're having this conversation." She redoubled her
pedaling efforts.

"I thought perhaps it might have something to do with why you're so
covered up."

Laura crossed her arms. "For your information, Mr. Steele, every woman
in America hates her thighs. Cheryl Tiegs hates her thighs, Jessica
Lange hates her thighs, Goldie Hawn hates her thighs, for heaven's
sake."

"Really? I wasn't aware."

"Of course you weren't aware! You're a man. You have no idea what women
go through to -- never mind." She suddenly realized that her decibel
level was climbing to Mount Everest. "I'd rather not discuss it," she
ground out through clenched teeth, flipping furiously to the next
article.

The murderous look in her eyes sent a warm flash of desire straight to
Steele's groin. Nothing was more stimulating than lighting that short
fuse of hers and watching the fireworks go off. Well, almost nothing;
except perhaps the thought of her lovely thighs. He didn't have to see
them bare; he remembered every detail from one long afternoon, as the
guests milled on the lawn at Sheldon Quarry's wedding. Laura sitting on
the grass, flowing skirts revealing every inch of her glorious legs. He
wondered what it would feel like to have those thighs clasped eagerly
around him, pulling his hips closer, drawing him into her warmth . . .

Laura watched him from the corner of her eye. Damn him for knowing just
which buttons to push. If only she'd worn something more revealing. Like
that girl on the treadmill. She watched the two of them, blood pressure
soaring. The bimbo certainly was his type, Laura fumed. Too dumb to read
a map or she wouldn't have gotten lost on the way to "Weights and
Mates." Steele seemed hypnotized, like he was hanging on the
artificially enhanced creature's every move.

The buzz of the cycle's timer interrupted Steele's erotic daydream of
Laura and splendor in the grass. A busty redhead in a clinging midriff
top swam into his field of vision. She bounced energetically on the
treadmill, smiling into his eyes. Lips forming a moue, she blew him an
air kiss and sucked her stomach in even flatter.

"Finished, Mr. Steele?" Laura asked. It was time to get his mind off the
scenery and back to business.

Steele's mental fog cleared long enough for him to recall that he'd set
the timer back a third, hoping Laura would think he'd gone the full
distance. He stopped pedaling and assumed an air of innocence, praying
she wouldn't look too closely at the mileage indicator. "Why, yes. I do
believe I have."

"You did five miles, Mr. Steele? Not too shabby for a beginner."

"You've inspired me to great lengths, Miss Holt."

Laura's own timer went off two minutes later. She regarded him
quizzically. "How do you feel?"

Still dreaming of her thighs only, Steele pondered the question. "A
slight stiffness coming on."

"Really?" Laura companionably patted his arm. "Where? I'll massage it
away."

"No-no. It's fine," he insisted as he fought to dispel the image her
words immediately inspired. "None the worse for wear. Shall we continue,
eh?" Steele motioned toward the treadmill.

It was odd. He felt a bit light-headed, but not at all tired. Unexpected
reserves of energy seemed to radiate up from the balls of his feet. He
hadn't expected the first round to be so stimulating.

The red head was just stepping down from the treadmill as Steele
approached. Green eyes met blue ones for a moment - then green eyes
roamed lower, and lower still, then back up to meet blue ones again.

Satisfied with her inspection the redhead put a little extra hip
movement into her sinuous glide toward the juice bar.

Laura examined the control panel. "Masters wasn't exaggerating. These
new treadmills are state of the art. Adjustable speed, elevation,
distance levels. It even counts the calories you burn."

Steele watched the bimbo's progress from the corner of his eye.
"Marvelous equipment." He fiddled absently with the controls.

"Do you know what you're doing?" Laura's expression was dubious.

Steele quirked a smile at her. "Just, ah, adjusting my elevation."

"I wouldn't want you to strain yourself."

"All in a good cause."

"Timer set properly?"

Steele tried to read something from her look but Laura was stone faced.

"Allow me, Mr. Steele."

"Shall we synchronize our watches?" Steele deadpanned.

Laura ignored him. "I hope you were listening to Masters' instructions."

"I knew I could count on you, Miss Holt."

"Remember to increase the speed and incline after the first ten
minutes."

"That's what I love about you, Laura. You're always so tediously
thorough."

"One of us has to be."

***

After twenty minutes of running Steele was more than ready to slow the
pace down to a walk. His was feeling the burn in his calves and thighs.
Running was an incredibly boring activity, in his opinion, unless one
was being chased, and he could think of better ways to get his heart
racing.

He glanced over at the still striding Laura who was mumbling something
about calories as she checked her readout. She turned off the machine
and stepped down.

Steele followed suit. "All work and no play, Miss Holt." He flashed her
a winning smile. "Why don't you rest those lovely bones of yours and
join me in more pleasurable pursuits? They certainly don't skimp on the
amenities at this fitness factory. Manicures, pedicures, mineral baths.
Full body massage."

Laura was tempted. She brushed two damp strands of hair from her
forehead and considered her options.

"Tibetan actually. I checked." Steele eyed her for a reaction.

Laura's eyes widened in surprise. "Tibetan massage?"

"Shame to let a complimentary session go begging."

"Complimentary? I don't remember getting any -"

"Just the first two sessions. The first ten if I offer a glowing
testimonial for their newsletter."

"Testimonial? What newsletter?"

"You're not on the mailing list?" Steele replied innocently. "I'm sure
if you stop by reception -"

"I have no intention of - "

"No matter. I'm sure they have the agency's address."

"When did they ask you for a testimonial?"

"Shortly after we first arrived."

Laura drew a blank. She had to admit, she might have missed that part.
By the time they'd offered Steele the complimentary bathrobe
(monogramming optional) she was busy digging in her purse for some
aspirin.

"Well, you can forget the endorsements. Massage is not the sort of image
that Remington Steele should be -"

"And why not?" Steele's tone was righteously indignant. "You see some
harm in a man having his chakras adjusted? There are seven major chakra
centers and it takes years of practice, not to mention copious amounts
of massage oil to achieve the perfect harmony of -"

Laura gaped at him. "You're not serious."

"On the contrary, Miss Holt." His eyes swept keenly over her. "I could
tell you things right now about your chakras that would make your hair
stand on end."

"Can you, really?" She decided to call his bluff. "For instance."

"They're very out of balance, you know."

His gaze was suddenly so intent Laura felt uncomfortable. She let out a
shuddering breath.

"Out of balance?"

"I can fix that."

Alarm bells were going off in her head. She lifted her chin defiantly.
"Oh, I suppose you're an expert."

"In some areas."

Laura could just imagine which areas those were. Why wouldn't he play by
the rules? She was the doctor, he was the patient. Not the other way
around. She stiffened her spine and assumed her sternest bedside manner.

"Don't you think you're the one who needs adjusting, Mr. Steele?"

"Am I?"

"You're the one with the sleep problem."

"Touch_, Miss Holt. And what adjustments did you have in mind?"

His voice was calm, but she saw his equanimity waver for an instant.
Something flickered behind his eyelids. Anxiety? Annoyance? It was gone
too quickly for her to say.

As the seconds ticked by Laura began to feel vaguely guilty, as though
she'd accused him of something. She tried to lighten the mood.

"We'll start with your aversion to legwork."

Steele rubbed his thighs and raised a sardonic eyebrow. "Miss Holt,
don't you think we've had enough legwork for one day?"

"Ah! I knew there was a reason I brought you here."

"You're terribly pleased with yourself, doctor."

"Shouldn't I be? You've made it through the warm-up without any ill
effects."

"Laura," he continued in mock dismay, "if that was the antipasto, what
did you have in mind for the main course? A triathlon, perhaps?"

"Really, Mr. Steele. That's what I had planned for next month."


***

"Almost there. Almost there. Don't stop, Mr. Steele."

"Laura, please. I'm only human."

She looked down at him: dark hair damp with sweat, muscles tensed, body
glistening. At the touch of his warm skin her own pulse began to race.

"You're heading into the backstretch."

"Very funny, Miss Holt," Steele replied, gasping for air.

"Fifteen more sit-ups should do it."

"Do what? Cause me permanent injury?"

Laura sighed in mock disappointment. "This wasn't the display of your
athleticism I'd hoped for."

"It wasn't precisely what I had in mind, either."

"Don't worry. You can redeem yourself on the chin up bar."

"There's no one else I'd rather have under me, Miss Holt."

Though she'd never stroke his ego by telling him, Steele hadn't done
badly at this part of the program. Even if was on the lean side, his
body seemed pretty flexible, which shouldn't have surprised her given
the requirements of his larcenous past. Though her partner was beginning
to feel the strain, he'd acquitted himself well through the varied
routine of leg and arm stretches and pull-ups. It pained her to admit
it, but climbing through windows, scaling walls, and balancing on
balconies had had a salutary effect on his physique.

After their last exercise, Masters reappeared like magic, as if he had
been waiting in the wings for his cue.

"Ready to, ah, 'pick up' the tempo a little bit?" He led Steele and
Laura to the weight training area.

Steele thought that if he heard another feeble joke about lifting, he'd
be forced to kill Masters. Very slowly. With a couple of weights. Oh -
the irony. Like most overly muscle-bound men, he probably wasn't as
strong as he looked.

"I'm more than ready to work out with very large dumbbells."

Steele watched his riposte sail over Masters' head, though he thought he
saw Laura crack a tiny smile.

"First we need to determine your proper training load. If you can do ten
to twelve reps without getting tired we need to add another five to ten
pounds. Since you're a beginner we'll start you off with these. They're
on the rack according to weight, lightest ones at the top."

He handed Steele a pair of twenty-five pound dumbbells. Steele looked
over at Laura to find she was beginning a set of arm raises with just
ten pounds less. His masculine pride was severely affronted.

"Isn't this a bit -- light?"

"That's for you to decide. If you experience muscle failure by your last
rep then that's the really the perfect weight level."

"Muscle failure?" Steele sniffed. "I hardly think so."

"Relax, Mr. Steele. It doesn't mean a total collapse. It just means that
you can't complete the repetition in good form."

"Rest assured Mr. Masters; Remington Steele's form is always exemplary."

"That's good to hear, "Masters replied in the soothing, neutral tone he
adopted for recalcitrant clients. "Just be careful not to overdo it."

After doing fifteen raises with each arm, with Masters looking on,
Steele's wrists ached and his palms were beginning to sweat. He glanced
at Laura, wondering if she'd been watching him. He caught her eye and
realized she had. For a fraction of a second he lost his concentration
and the weight slipped from his left hand. He managed to grab it before
it hit the floor.

"Whoops! You see what I mean, Mr. Steele, about muscle failure," Masters
said in an I-told-you-so tone. "Sometimes it hits you when you least
expect it."

"But that wasn't - I wasn't - the weight was just a bit slippery, that's
all," Steele protested.

"Still, you held your form pretty good. That's probably a safe level for
you right now."

Masters looked over at Laura with a gleam in his eye. "Your form, Miss
Holt, couldn't be better."

Laura seemed pleased but not terribly surprised at the compliment.
"Thank you, Mr. Masters. I've done my share of heavy lifting," she
laughed. "You should see the files on my desk."

Steele managed to feign interest as the hulk demonstrated using barbells
and fun things to do with weight benches. Like a pitchman at a county
fair or a chef uncovering the piece de resistance, Masters went on to
describe the advantages of each piece of machinery: "universal gym"
weight stack machines, cable machines, and variable resistance models.
It was rather fascinating, thought Steele, to watch the complex
interplay of cables, pulleys, and variously shifting and clanking pieces
of metal. It didn't look that difficult to set them in motion.

Masters walked them back to the weight stack machine. After doing
several lifts with much flexing and grunting he re-adjusted the
apparatus, then got up and invited Steele to try.

As Steele began his lift he thought something must be wrong. He could
barely move the stack at all. Face flushed and veins standing out like
whipcord, he tried again under Laura's appraising eye.

"Is there a problem?" Laura walked casually around the machine while
Steele sweated and strained. She suddenly realized what had happened.

"Mr. Masters, I think you left your pin in. I don't think Mr. Steele is
quite in your weight class."

"My pin? You're kidding? I couldn't have - whoa! Hold on, Mr. Steele. I
think she's right." He leaned over for a closer look.

"Let me just take this baby out and set it under a weight you can
manage."

Masters made a great show of removing the pin and reinserting it under a
much lighter stack of plates. "Sorry, about that. Even us experts forget
once in a while. You should always check the machine before you start.
Conan the Barbarian could have been using it before you did."

"Thanks for the lesson, Mr. Masters," Steele replied, outwardly calm but
inwardly seething. Masters had played that little trick on purpose, he
was sure of it. Steele felt almost as angry at himself. If he hadn't
been so intent on showing off for Laura he would have paid more
attention.

"Are you alright, Mr. Steele?" Laura asked, concern clouding her
features.

"I'm fine, I'm fine." The last thing he wanted right now was to be
fussed over.

Laura ran cool fingers across Steele's back and shoulders, exploring and
massaging here and there. "Does that hurt? What about here?"

"No, Miss Holt. That feels -"he sighed as she hit precisely the right
spot - "much better. Oh, yes."

Being fussed over did have its compensations. Steele glanced over at
Masters who was looking rather unpleasantly surprised at Laura's
solicitude.

"You should be more careful," Laura lectured the hulk. She turned back
to Steele. "At these prices you'd think the instructors would know what
they were doing."

Before Masters could reply, Laura spun on her heel, and strode briskly
away from the weight training area. "Come along, Mr. Steele. I think the
experts have done enough damage for one day."

"Damage? Let's not overreact," said Steele, striding to catch up with
her.

"Laura, slow down. We're not competing in that triathlon just yet."
Steele pulled her to a skidding halt.

Laura stood there, breath coming in short, angry bursts. "I'm not
overreacting. He switched that pin before you started your lift. When I
first looked it was on a much lighter weight level."

"Of course he switched it."

"Of course he -" she broke off, taken aback by his air of unconcern.
"Aren't you the least bit upset?"

"What for? I should have expected it. The sort of tactic that's right up
his street."

"You could have easily been hurt."

"Laura, I'm not as fragile as you think."

"Oh, so that's what this is all about? Your male ego! If you'd stop
thumping your chest so loudly you'd realize how ridiculous you sound."

"Ridiculous!"

"Last time I checked you weren't wearing a big red "S" on your chest.
You know, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound? Even Superman
knew better than to fall in love with his press clippings."

"So I'm not invulnerable. But I don't need rescuing. And I don't need a
nursemaid."

Laura threw up her hands. "Oh, I see. I should just let you kill
yourself."

"Laura, I may not have biceps the size of beach balls but I can deal
with a man like Masters."

"Well, then, at least your death will be quick, if not necessarily
painless."

"We'll see about that."

"A word to the wise, Mr. Steele. I'm not letting this turn into another
Creighton Phillips situation."

"Creighton Phillips? I thought he was tucked safely behind bars - though
they let him out for tennis now and again. Unusually civilized, your
American prison system, provided one has the right connections."

Laura's curiosity was piqued. "Are you speaking from personal
experience?"

"So many questions. You're beginning to sound like Murphy."

"That's another thing. You and Murphy. Ganging up on someone just
because he had the audacity to ask me out on a date."

"Merely trying to avert disaster. Cotton candy is very bad for the
digestion. Did you know that across the pond, it's called 'candy floss'?
Separated by a common language, eh? "

"Stop changing the subject!" she cried.

"What subject?" he shrugged.

"Manufacturing evidence, breaking and entering. Murphy told me you know
all about jumping telephone lines."

"How indiscreet of him."

"Not everyone feels the need to keep secrets."

"Murphy least of all, apparently," Steele replied with some asperity.

"Are you two planning to send everyone I date to jail from now on?"
Laura began to pace distractedly.

"Only the guilty ones."

"Because a girl likes to be prepared. Maybe I should buy a parking pass
to San Quentin."

"So you're thinking maximum security? I'm not so sure that's a good -"

"No!" Laura slapped her forehead in frustration. "I'm not thinking about
maximum security."

"No dates in the offing, then?"

"Will you stop talking about my dates!"

"Minimum security?" Steele's brow furrowed. "I still think Murphy and I
should interview them first."

"You sound like my mother. I'd laugh, if I didn't think you were
serious."

"Where you're concerned? Terribly so."

"Men!" Laura exclaimed with feeling. "There's so much free-floating
testosterone in the air I'm growing hair on my lungs. You and the
incredible hulk. It's deja vu all over again."

"Hardly. Masters, the muscle bound miscreant is still at large. Which is
more than I can say for your Mr. Phillips."

Laura stopped pacing, fingers twitching spasmodically. "He's not my Mr.
Phillips!"

"I hear he's dyed his hair. Some indeterminate colour. Once bitten,
twice shy, I suppose."

"Will you shut up and listen? I'm trying to get it through that thick
skull of yours that I don't want this face off with the hulk end up the
same way."

"Which way would that be? Masters floored by a tremendously satisfying
right cross?"

"No. You with your hand in a cast for six weeks."

Steele winced. That was a bit of a sore point in more ways than one. In
countless street brawls and in months of boxing his way across South
America, miraculously, he'd never broken his hand. Still, the sight of
Phillips sent flying into the furniture almost made up for it.

"Along with the rest of your body. Though why I should care is beginning
to escape me."

Steele grinned smugly. "Why, indeed? Weeks with me unable to move,
having to be waited on hand and foot by my wonderful, but overburdened
staff. Missed mayor's luncheons. Costly medical bills. Agency coffers
dwindling by the hour."

"I knew you'd come up with a reason," said Laura, cracking a smile. She
stared at him for a long moment, then slowly drew her fingers across his
right cheek. "I wish you'd listen for once. I wish you'd stop."

"Stop what? Have I started something?" Steele asked innocently.

"Stop . . .trying to impress me. It doesn't impress me."

"Ah. That's clear as crystal."

"No. What I mean is, mostly it happens when I least expect it."

Steele regarded her with a curious frown. "What happens?"

"You do something that impress - well, surprises me, anyway. Like
today."

"So surprising even I don't have a clue what it is."

"We've been exercising for almost two hours now," Laura began.

"I've noticed."

"And you only took one shortcut. Think about it. That must be a record
for you, Mr. Steele."

"Why, Miss Holt. What sharp little eyes you have. What shortcut would
that be?"

"The one on the exercise bike."

"A minor diversion. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention.
Actually, I'd hoped for better things."

"Better things?"

The shortcut to your heart, perhaps? That's the fourth chakra center,
very key, spiritually speaking. Of course, number seven has always been
lucky for me."

"What's number seven?"

"I'd love go over the finer points, Miss Holt, but it loses so much in
the translation when one is fully clothed."
***
TBC
To Part 5

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