Sun Sensitive Steele Part 4
Date: Tuesday, September 24, 2000
Lauryn Poynor <>


by Lauryn Poynor

Rated SPF 45 (Coppertone)

Thanks again to Anne Rose for ever helpful beta reading

Laura gripped the counter of the sink and took several deep breaths, trying to calm her nerves and get her pulse rate back to normal. It was no use. She wanted to do something violent. Break something or scream. She saw a large plastic bottle of complimentary sunscreen labeled "Barely There - the tanning lotion for the experienced sun bather." She picked it up and flung it with all the strength she could muster toward the tiled wall of the whirlpool bath. It ricocheted wildly off the wall several times before bouncing to a stop at the bottom of the tub.

Breathing hard, she sat down on the edge of the bathtub and stared at the gleaming, Spanish-tiled floor. Damn him, she thought murderously. How could the man manage to make her so angry when they'd been here for less than an hour?

That was just the point, she thought. Why did he always have to push? This whole insane situation was difficult enough. Did he really think she would be ready to hang out the "do not disturb" sign and get naked with him before they had even unpacked? The problem was she had come damned close to doing it. Pressed intoxicatingly close to him as he had said those words, she had wanted nothing more than to strip him completely bare and throw him down on the bed - or let him do the same to her.

Why did he have such an effect on her? It seemed her body, if not her mind, was always itching to give in at the slightest stimulation. What made it even harder to endure was she was sure he was aware of it too. So sure of himself. So sure of her. It would be sweet revenge to make him think twice, to shake him up a little. She smiled slightly and savored the possibilities.

A sharp knock on the bathroom door made her jump to her feet. "Go away, " she called out loudly as she leaned against the door frame. "I don't want to see you or talk to you."

"Laura, it's Mrs. Sommers. She's here for the tour."

"Oh," Laura exclaimed in surprise, quickly unlocking the door and stepping outside. She looked up into the puzzled face of Mrs. Sommers. "I was just freshening up after the drive over," Laura hastily explained, hoping she didn't sound as foolish as she felt. Laura extended her hand. "I'm Laura Holt, Mr. Steele's associate."

"Sonya Sommers." They shook hands. Mrs. Sommers was a slender, athletic looking woman in her early fifties. She had stylish, close cropped auburn hair and a brisk, no nonsense manner. She was wearing white medium length shorts and a crisp sleeveless blouse in pale pink cotton. She looked like a typical, well preserved, country club spouse on holiday.

"I know this whole situation must seem pretty strange to you. Gerald tells me that you're not naturists but that you're both committed to investigating these accidents. That's asking a lot from both of you and I hope I can help to make your progress here as painless as possible. I think you'll find it's not as difficult as you imagine. Clothes free living can be very liberating. I think you'll find it will seem very natural to you after a while."

Mrs. Sommers led them around the grounds, pausing to chat with and introduce several staff members and guests. Most of the conversationalists were pretty much bare, with the exception of the occasional fanny pack or towel around the waist or shoulders. Laura practiced keeping her chin up and eyes front. I didn't always work - there had been this swimming instructor who'd definitely caught her eye, but she thought she done rather well under the circumstances.

Laura noticed that Steele hadn't contributed much to the conversation lately beyond a few basic "hellos." Wondering how he was taking it, she hazarded a glance in his direction. His gaze seemed riveted on several particularly bouncy young ladies playing volleyball on a sandy area by the fitness center. She could almost swear she heard him say the words "nice moves" as they continued along the path.

After they made the circuit of the grounds and facilities, Mrs. Sommers walked with them back to their suite. "I'll get that list of resort guests to you as soon as possible, Miss Holt, or should I say, Mrs. Blaine," she added, smiling.

"We'll need a complete employment history on all of the staff as well," Laura informed her.

"I'll be glad to furnish you with that information, Miss Holt. Perhaps you'll find some clue to this mystery that I've overlooked. There doesn't seem to be any pattern here. I feel like I'm pretty much in the dark. What possible motive could there be for these random acts?"

"Who would stand to gain if the resort were to be shut down?" Laura was almost startled to hear the formerly silent Mr. Steele enter the conversation.

"The property is held in trust by the California Naturist Society. It was given to them by Friedrich Gauss. He was a lifelong naturist and ecological activist. However, there was a codicil in his will that held that if the resort ceased operation, the property would pass out of the Society's hands to the State of California. No one else could touch it. It was a way of ensuring that his legacy outlived him, I suppose. Gerald is just as committed as his mentor was. He's not going to close down the resort without a fight."

Laura looked thoughtful. "We'll see to it that he has a fighting chance, Mrs. Sommers. Let me know when you have gathered all of the information from your files. Perhaps they can tell us something."

"Thank you again, Miss Holt and Mr. Steele. I appreciate everything you've done. Gerald couldn't get any other detective agency to help us."

"He tried others?" Steele looked slightly miffed that they hadn't been first choice.

"Oh, yes. None of them would take him seriously at all. I'm glad your agency was a little more open minded."

Laura chimed in. "We never make snap judgments about clients, Mrs. Sommers. Open-mindedness is one of our watchwords at the agency. Open-mindedness and - "

"Versatility," Steele added with a smirk.

"Yes, versatility," she added, giving him a sour look. "We'll be in touch Mrs. Sommers."

After good-byes were said Laura and Steele entered their suite and tried to unwind after the day's events. Laura sat cross legged on the bed and began dragging out a pencil and notepad from her luggage. She busily jotted down some thoughts. "I wish I had brought this with me. Especially since you didn't seem to be paying much attention - to the conversation, that is."

"Exactly what do you mean by that? Pray enlighten me. Because if you're disturbed by the fact that I noticed a few young lovelies out there, get used to it. A man has to seek his recreation somewhere." He turned his back to her and began to unpack his suitcase with decidedly more energy than was needed.

Laura grabbed his arm as he strode determinedly to the closet with several pairs of shoes. "You're going to have to keep your mind on investigating this case. A professional never lets distractions interfere with the job at hand."

He shook her off. "Professional is it? I saw how you ogled that swimming instructor."

"Well you have to admit he was rather strikingly um - built."

Steele paused in mid stride, still carrying the armload of shoes. His gaze was icy. Laura flinched involuntarily as if she was afraid one of the shoes might come sailing across the room.

She backed off and sat down on the bed. "Look. We're never going to solve this case if we spend the whole time second guessing each other. It's not going to be easy but we can get through it if we keep our emotions in check."

"You're the expert there, Laura. You've been practicing it with me for some time now."

"I refuse to spend this whole day arguing. The cafe is still serving breakfast. After I unpack I'm going down for a bite to eat."

Laura unpacked her suitcase and began to ponder the inevitable. What should she wear? Or not wear?
That was the question. She looked over at Steele who was still unpacking and hanging shirts and trousers. She noticed a large bottle of sunscreen inside Steele's open suitcase.

"Do you mind if I borrow your sunscreen? she asked him. I think it's a higher SPF than mine."

He gave her the briefest of nods. "Be my guest."

She selected several items from her luggage and moved toward the bathroom. "I'm going to be in here for a while slathering this on. Is that a problem?"

"Not at all. I'm getting rather used to you spending time in there, Laura." He was lounging on the bed staring sulkily at nothing.

"Are you just going to mope in here all day or are you coming down later?"

In answer, he clicked the TV remote and begin surfing through the channels.

"Fine. I'll just go by myself."

Laura closed the bathroom door and began removing her clothes and underwear. She rolled them into a bundle. Laura picked up the bottle of sunscreen. She began to apply it all over her body, paying special attention to usually unexposed areas of skin. She wondered if she was using enough. Oh well, a few more freckles won't hurt, she thought. Except for the hard to reach areas of her back she thought she had done a pretty thorough job.

She tied on the briefest of bandeau style tops and cinched a fanny pack around her waist. She put her smaller bottle of sunscreen in the pack along with some money which she had gotten out of her handbag. She took a medium sized towel and secured it around her waist with the elastic from the fanny pack. She surveyed herself in the mirror. The towel covered all the strategic areas, but just barely. Sitting down was going to be a challenge but she thought she could manage it. She completed her minimalist ensemble with a pair of sandals and some Ray Bans.

She picked up her bundle of clothes and the large bottle of sunscreen and walked out into the suite. Steele didn't seem to notice her presence. He was staring straight ahead at the television screen.

"Could you do my back? I think I missed a few spots."

He looked up and his unprepared gaze fell upon her brief attire and the curves of her athletic form. He swallowed hard. He looked her completely over from head to toe and then once more just because he liked the view. "Peter Sellers used a guitar," he said with more nonchalance than he felt. At her puzzled expression he continued. "A Shot in the Dark. Peter Sellers, Elke Sommer, MGM 1964. Peter Sellers as Inspector Clousseau has to investigate a series of murders, one of which takes place in a nudist colony. He uses a guitar to cover himself. He and Elke Sommer end up driving through the street of Paris completely naked."

Laura laughed. "Didn't bring a guitar with me. I hope life doesn't imitate art. That last part would be tricky in the Auburn. It would make a great highlight film for the local news, though."

Steele smiled back and some of the tension between them faded. "Come here. I'll do your back for you."
She handed him the bottle of sunscreen and he rubbed her back and shoulder area gently but thoroughly.
It was a businesslike rub, strictly confined, with no teasing or lingering touches. Laura wondered if he was still angry. He padded to the bathroom, washed his hands in the sink, walked toward her, then stopped. She looked up and caught him watching her, his expression unreadable.

"Well I guess it's time for the Christians to face the lions. I hope it's safe out there."

Steele didn't think it was safe at all. "Don't worry, Miss Holt. Your backup will be along shortly. I just have a touch more unpacking to do."

"See you later, then." She leaned down and kissed him lightly on the cheek. Then she took several strides and
a deep breath and walked out into the sunlight of the brave new world.

Steele crossed to the bed, gave a heavy sigh and fell back against the pillows. He closed his eyes, trying to erase the fresh images of Laura crowding into his mind. Her long, tanned legs, the way the towel clung to her hips and thighs, the graceful line of her back and shoulders. His visceral response to these things unsettled him. He had always suspected, or perhaps hoped that Laura would respond as strongly to him. But the barriers were always up, the ground rules always in effect.

What was it she had said? "Look but don't touch." Well she certainly had him looking. And he doubted that he would be the only one. Who knew what the ground rules were in a place like this? The thought jolted him into action. He sprang up and began to undress, leaving a trail of discarded clothing in his wake.
End Part 4
To Part 5