The Trouble With Love(chap9-13)

Chapter 9
Frantic protests filled Susannah’s mind. Fallen in love? No. That just wasn’t possible. Fallen in lust? That was it. Just lust. Not love. It could never be love. The desire she felt for Hogan was clouding her judgment. She didn’t even like him. At least, she tried not to. What she felt had to be lust, not love. What was she getting so upset about? Lust was understandable. Just a chemical reaction between two attractive, available people. He was a handsome, virile man. It was nothing but plain old lust. That was it. And that was all it was, she rationalized. Lust could be resisted. All it took was a little will power.

“Is there something you wanted to say?” Hogan asked.

Susannah’s eyes widened. She realized he was staring at her. She shook her head vigorously. Lust was safe. She understood it. She could walk away from it. Her legs felt rubbery. “No, that was just my stomach growling.”

“Your stomach?”

“Yes.” It had to be lust. If she went to bed with him and satisfied her physical needs, everything would return to normal. She just had an itch that needed scratching. She could scratch it or ignore it. The choice was hers.

“As fierce as you’re looking I’m glad I’m not between you and a sandwich when you’re hungry.”

The rationalizations continued. He was an attractive man. She was a healthy, normal woman. It was just chemistry. True, it was inconvenient, but it could be controlled. And understood. She’d been lonely. He was single and available. And sexy. Okay. Very sexy. Big deal. She’d been around sexy men before. So why did he make her feel so different?

“You look mad enough to chew nails. If you’re that hungry, go find something to eat.”

“Who me?” Susannah asked, surprised to find his gaze on her.

“No, the other deputy in the corner.”

“Funny. I’m sure the next week will speed by with such a sharp wit to keep me entertained.” She firmly banished her absurd romantic thoughts and focused on what he was doing. “How are you going to set that up without anyone noticing it?”

Hogan picked up the tripod and camera and moved it over to the glass sliding door. He closed the heavy drapes. “Trust me. I know what I’m doing.”

“You certainly like to bandy that word about.”

“What word?” Hogan turned to look at her.

“Trust.”

“You say that as if it were something profane.” He remained motionless, his gaze focused on her.

She felt exposed beneath his probing gaze and tried to divert his attention. “Won’t McConnell see that big round black lens staring at him?”

After a long moment, Hogan shook his head. “With only the lens protruding through the closed drapes, you’re talking about a dark spot less than six inches in diameter. From a distance.” He fussed with the camera. “McConnell would have to know where to look and what to look for in order to see it. He’d still have a tough time picking it out.”

“You’re sure about this?”

“I’m positive. I’ve done it. . . .” He broke off and looked through the camera and played with the zoom.

“Many times before,” she finished.

When Hogan merely grunted, she asked, “Is that a yes?”

“Yes.” Hogan sighed.

“The mayor said you had experience. What kind of experience?”

Hogan quit fiddling with the camera and looked at her directly. “The kind you don’t talk about. What is this? A quiz show?” Without waiting for her to answer he said, “Shouldn’t you unpack? We’ve already wasted most of the morning.”

“That wasn’t my fault,” she said sweetly.

“It doesn’t matter whose fault it was.”

“I can’t unpack until you take my suitcases to my room.”

Without a word, he left the camera and grabbed her bags. “Lead the way.”

Susannah hurried toward the room that would be hers.

“Now will you quit pestering me, Nancy Drew?” he asked, tossing her bags onto the king-sized bed in the other bedroom.

“I’ve had enough of your Nancy Drew cracks. Are you going to be this way all week?”

“What way?”

“Bossy and irritating.”

“Look who’s talking. Go scrounge us something to eat. Maybe your mood’ll improve.”

“Yes, master. Anything else I can do for you, master?”

Hogan wheeled and stalked away. Relieved, Susannah looked around the room where she’d be sleeping. Alone. It was pleasantly decorated in coral and cool blues. Thank goodness there was no bed the size of an aircraft carrier to incite ridiculous romantic fantasies. She unpacked quickly then went to the bar.

It was stocked with an assortment of beers, soft drinks, crackers, and cheeses. She set out two of everything and called Hogan. She didn’t wait for him. She settled onto one of the bar chairs and started piling cheese on crackers. Happily munching away, she realized she really was hungry.

When he joined her, she waited until he’d gobbled up a couple of butter crackers before she asked, “What else do you know about McConnell that you haven’t told me?”

“I think you’ve been given all the relevant information. He doesn’t seem to have picked a mark yet. He hasn’t stirred from his room except to play golf. He’s used room service for most of his meals. He hasn’t attended any of the cocktail mixers in the evenings. In fact, he’s not matching the profile we have. That’s why you’re here, to draw him out of his shell.”

“Maybe he’s really taking a vacation.”

“Men like him don’t just take vacations,” Hogan said. “He’s looking for a score.”

“That in itself contradicts what you told me. You said his modus operandi is to always have a target picked out before he shows up.”

“Maybe he came here thinking it was a thief’s paradise. Maybe, just maybe, he’s having a hard time deciding which woman to fleece when there are so many of them to choose from.”

“That’s a lot of maybes. What if he rips off another woman before we discover where he hid Yvonne’s jewelry? What if he leaves in the dead of night?”

“And that’s a lot of what ifs,” he retorted. “Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen. The sooner you get acquainted with him, the sooner we’ll get this show on the road.”

“You really think he’s going to open his drapes, stare at me sunbathing on the balcony, and fall head over heels in love with me or something? I’m sorry, but that’s pretty lame. In fact this whole undercover or stakeout or whatever the Mayor wants to call it just doesn’t make sense. If you’re staking someone out, you don’t want to attract attention like we did in the elevator. I’m supposed to be bait? To draw him out of his shell? That just doesn’t make sense.”

“Let me do the thinking around here.”

“What’s really going on?”

When he didn’t answer, she said, “Okay, assuming he opens his drapes, and you can see into his suite, and see him retrieve the jewels from some hiding place, how are you going to get them back? Go knock on his door and demand them? You don’t even have an official leg to stand on. You need a search warrant which you can’t get unless you’re prepared to charge him with something.”

“Details, details. You’re just going to have to. . . .”

“Don’t say trust you.” Susannah interrupted. “You may have done stakeouts and undercover assignments before judging by the references to your mysterious past, but this plan sounds just plain dumb.”

Hands on hips, Hogan said, “Sounds to me as if you aren’t keen on your role in this charade?”

“What possible objection could I have to making a spectacle of myself?”

“Now, Deputy Quinn, if you don’t want to play the role of femme fatale, you can go home.”

“No way. You’re not getting rid of me. If you want me to lay out there like bait in a bikini, no problem.” She stood. “You can take care of cleaning this up. I’m going to change.” She flounced off, acting a lot more brazen than she felt.

In her bedroom, the pale blue monochromatic color scheme meant to inspire tranquility did little to calm her. The bed was just a plain ordinary king-sized bed with a sky blue velvet headboard and coverlet. She closed the drapes, thankful that this room didn’t inspire any wild fantasies. Or it wouldn’t if Hogan hadn’t been in the next room.

Posing as Hogan’s wife was turning out to be difficult, as she’d expected, but for different reasons. Before she lost her nerve, she grabbed the hot orange bikini she’d bought in Houston and went back to where Hogan sat munching the rest of the crackers. With an odd mixture of rebellion and insecurity, she dropped the two pieces on the table. “Think this’ll do the trick?”

Hogan reached over and lifted the expensive scraps of fabric. “What is this?”

“A swimsuit. What’s it look like?”

“Triangles held together by string?”

She withered him with a glare. “I’m going to change and then lay out on the chaise on the balcony. So you can’t complain about my not playing the required role.”

When Hogan crushed the aluminum drink can in one hand but didn’t say a word, she took the bikini and returned to her bedroom and closed the door. Before she could lose her nerve, she pealed her clothes off and pulled on the tiny bikini. Privately, she agreed with Hogan. It did look like a couple of triangles tied together. Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, she fidgeted, feeling self-conscious and awkward. And oddly breathless at the thought of having his eyes on her while she wore this.

Normally, she wore a one piece. When she swam, she didn’t like the distraction of wondering if her suit would fall off. For this occasion though, she’d known the hot orange bikini was perfect the moment she’d seen it.

Would Hogan think she looked skinny? She had better curves than she’d had in high school, but there was no denying she was slender. When she thought about Hogan molding her curves with his hands, heat flashed through her body. She placed her clammy hands over her cheekbones, trying to cool the furious blush. Somehow, she had to stop obsessing about him.

Determined to think only about the assignment, she opened the bottle of sun screen and began applying the coconut-scented lotion. The unreachable area of her back defied her best efforts. What a quandary. Risk sunburn or risk asking Hogan apply the lotion.

It took five minutes of debate before Susannah accepted the inevitable. She stepped into a pair of cork platform sandals. Grumbling beneath her breath, she retrieved a couple of the oversize fluffy coral towels from the adjoining bathroom. Taking a deep breath and armed with her most assured attitude, she grabbed the bottle of lotion and left the safety of her room.

Hogan was tearing open a bag of potato chips. Susannah dropped the towels on the table. Nervously, she sought something to say before brashly asking him to put the lotion on her back. “Too bad we can’t wire tap McConnell’s phone.”

* * *

“We’d need a court order.” Hogan looked up. The vision of her wearing the hot orange triangles silenced him. His hands convulsed on the bag in his hands, crushing the chips. His mouth went dry. He swallowed. Then he took a deep breath, but that didn’t ease the pressure in his chest. Or in his pants.

Abruptly, Susannah held out a bottle. “I can’t reach my back so you’ll have to do the honors.”

He stared dumbly at the bottle. His brain refused to work. “The honors?”

“I’ll burn if I don’t get sun screen on my back.”

“You want me to put sun screen on your back?”

“No, I’m asking the other deputy in the corner.”

Hogan took the bottle from her hand. She sat on the other bar stool and presented her back to him. Yeah. He’d like to do the honors all right. But what he had in mind had nothing to do with sun screen and everything to do with both of them getting hot, sweaty, and naked.

“Speaking of microphones, I went on the Internet when I was at work yesterday and found this wireless directional mike that we could place on the balcony. We might be able to hear him if we aimed it at his suite.”

Hogan’s pulse thudded with enough force to burst his veins. His hands were unbelievably clumsy. It took him a couple of tries just to get the damned top off the bottle. A loud buzzing in his ears drowned out the rest of what Susannah said.

Gazing raptly at her back, he squirted a stream of scented white lotion on the satiny expanse. With effort, he tried to focus on what she was saying and keep his eyes off her bottom which was sleek and sexy and shapely and nearly naked except for a very narrow strip of orange.

Suddenly, he realized she was waiting for him to respond. What had she been talking about? “Uh, I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

Hogan tried to focus, but his little head was doing his thinking at the moment, and the little head wouldn’t let him think about anything except getting inside her.

“Wireless mikes sound like just the tool we need.”

Ah, microphones. Relief washed over him. “They’re probably not worth the shipping cost. Usually anything available to the public is strictly for amateur use.”

“Whatever you say, boss.”

His hands shook. She didn’t want to know what he wanted to say. Tentatively, he smeared the lotion in a big circle. Prim Deputy Quinn would get her ears blistered if he said what was in his brain at that moment. He took a deep breath and began to spread the lotion in smaller circles. His hands slowed. Her skin felt like silk beneath his hands. He couldn’t ever remember being so turned on by a woman’s back before. If he could only touch other parts of her body, he could die a happy man.

Slowly, reverently, he stroked the coconut-scented lotion across Susannah’s shoulders and down her back. He dared not touch her hips. Just the thought of sliding both hands down and over the rounded buttocks made him break out in sweat.

Blood pounded through his veins and pooled in his groin. He was so hard he could hammer nails. It was all he could do to keep his hands confined to the satiny skin of her back, but he couldn’t keep his thoughts there as well. He imagined his hands moving around and cupping her small perfect breasts. Stroking the nipples to hard points of desire until she cried out for him. He was seized by a longing so hot and so intense that he felt dizzy.

His hands slipped under the string of the bikini top and inched across her ribs. Slowly. Oh so slowly. How far could he go before she seized his hands and made him stop? Mesmerized by the feel of her skin, he rubbed and stroked long after the lotion had soaked in. What had Susannah done to him? He’d never wanted a woman as much as he wanted her in that instant. He had to have more of her. So much more.

Hogan didn’t allow himself to think in specifics about what that more might be. He dared not think about it or act on it. Not yet. Not here. Not when he was supposed to be her partner. Not when he needed his wits about him. He’d thought to protect her, but at this moment, he couldn’t think of anything more dangerous than the way he felt.

“That’s enough. No more.” Susannah jerked away from him. “Thanks,” she mumbled and grabbed the towels. Hastily, she rushed over and lifted her straw hat from the coffee table then went out the sliding glass doors to the balcony.

“Yeah. No problem.” Hogan said to the empty room. Relieved she hadn’t turned and looked at him, he took a couple of deep calming breaths. When he thought he could walk without embarrassing himself, he returned to the bedroom, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other and willing his erection to subside.

His hands tingled. He stared at them then abruptly squeezed them into fists as if he could hold onto the feeling of her skin. His whole body throbbed. When he tried to remove the lens cap from the camera, it took two attempts. He thought about Susannah and the orange bikini. This wasn’t right. He didn’t want her out on that balcony with McConnell and the rest of the world ogling her. This whole set up stunk like yesterday’s shrimp shells.

He had to break into McConnell’s suite as soon as possible and find those damned jewels and steal them back. Then this insanity he had agreed to would be over. And none too soon. He just had to be strong until then.

He stepped away from the camera and peeked through the gap in the drapes. Susannah was spreading one of the towels onto the chaise lounge. With her tight, round fanny stuck up in the air, she made quite a show of shaking the towel and arranging it. So much for trying to tame his hard-on.

Work was work. Play was play. You never mixed one with the other. He’d never even considered it. Until now. Susannah stretched out on her stomach. Then she reached around and untied the bikini top. She spread each string aside, exposing her perfect, beautiful back. His stomach knotted with desire.

“This is total insanity.” He barely repressed his instinct to rush out there and cover her from head to toe with. . . . He groaned in frustration. With his body. Sweat beaded his forehead. He couldn’t take it. She lay like an exotic delicacy, offered to appease the rapacious appetite of the sun.

Her skin had felt incredible beneath his hands. He knew every inch of her would feel the same. Like silk. Everywhere. Oh, hell. He couldn’t help it. He imagined peeling that little swimsuit from her perfect body, and burying his throbbing erection in Susannah’s sexy warmth.

He might like to think he was ruled by his head, not his passions, but Susannah had made a lie of that. She was displayed like a banquet, and he felt like a starving man. It was too much to ask of any guy.

It was only Saturday.

This was going to be the longest week of his life.

* * *

The rest of Saturday dragged until Rory began to think it was the longest day of her life. She went to her office, located in what would have been a guest room, and tried to fill the afternoon with work. Each hour ticked by with excruciating slowness. Finally she gave up and left her desk.

By sunset, she’d had all day to obsess about what she’d done. She didn’t know whether she had come to her senses or lost her courage, but she was horrified at her actions. How could she have so brazenly propositioned that man? Any man. But to do it to the man who had such close ties to what Susannah was involved in was mortifying. She showered, pulled on her bathrobe, and made a decision.

Too nervous to dry her hair and style it, she ran a comb through it and forgot about it. Then she paced from the bedroom, through the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen where she’d turn and reverse her steps. As she paced, she tried to figure out what to say because she simply couldn’t go out with Walt. Not when he was expecting her to. . . . Expecting them to, well, do it. She blushed scarlet at the thought of what she’d led him to expect based on their earlier encounter.

She called the number Susannah had left, but it proved to be Walt’s office phone. Obviously, on a Saturday evening, he wasn’t in the office so she didn’t bother leaving a message. Oh, dear. She’d wanted to break their date over the phone. She hadn’t wanted to see him again. How could she face him? What must he think of her?

What if Susannah somehow found out? All her years of effort to prove to everyone that she was respectable were meaningless.

The glass-domed clock on the mantle chimed the hour. Panic hit Rory. He’d be here any minute. Belatedly, she realized that meeting him at the door in her robe wasn’t going to send the message she intended. With a groan, she tightened the sash on her robe. She wanted to hide, but she had to face the consequences of her rash actions.

Deciding brightly-lit rooms were less conducive to seduction, she rushed around flipping the switches in every room until the house was ablaze with light. She even turned on the porch lights front and back.

Her senses were so heightened, she heard a car pull into the driveway and stop. Her heart hammered in anticipation. Wistfully, she wished that he was calling on her because he liked her, not because he thought he was going to have sex with her. But what else could he think? Rory’s heart pounded so hard now she almost didn’t hear him when he knocked.

Her hands were clammy. Dreading what was to come, she opened the front door. Walt was gorgeous in a beautiful charcoal suit with a pristine white shirt and a red-striped tie. He looked beautiful. Rory tried to smile but couldn’t quite complete the task. She felt like crying.

“You’re not dressed.” He smiled. “That’s okay, I’ll watch TV while you go make yourself more beautiful.”

“No.” In a wooden voice, Rory said, “I want to apologize for my actions today. I don’t know what came over me. I really and truly have never done anything like that before in my entire life.”

Walt smiled. “Really and truly?”

Rory stiffened. “Don’t make fun of me.”

He looked instantly contrite. “I apologize. I wasn’t making fun of you. I was just trying to lighten the mood. You look so grim. Where’s the Sleeping Beauty from this morning?”

His words distressed her even more. “That’s just it. I’m not like that. I can’t explain why I behaved that way.” Nervously, she pulled on the sash as if to tighten it and constrict her wayward thoughts and wishes.

“That’s too bad. I’d really like to get to know that woman. It’s not often I find myself in the presence of a woman so natural and impulsive. Most of the women I meet have every word, every mannerism rehearsed to fit what they think I’m looking for in a woman.”

“Why do they do that?” Rory couldn’t help but ask.

“Because they want me. Rather, they want my bank account. I can’t remember the last time I met a woman who didn’t have an agenda for me that didn’t include my money.” He slapped his hand to his forehead. “Wait a minute. Yes, I can.”

“When?” Rory asked.

“This morning. When I met you.” His smile was warm and intimate. “I got the impression you wanted me, not my money. Me.”

“Oh.” Her eyes rounded in surprise then her gaze dropped.

“It’s too bad you’re not that woman, but if you’re not. You’re not. I understand.”

Disappointment flooded Rory. She bit her lower lip and nodded. “Thank you. I’m glad you understand.”

“You’d better get dressed. We have reservations for nine o’clock.”

“But, I thought.” She frowned.

“If I can’t have Sleeping Beauty, I guess I’ll have to settle for her alter ego.”

Comprehension dawned. “You mean, you want to go out with me anyway?”

Walt smiled. “Yes.” He gazed sharply at her. “Did you think I was just after your body?”

She blushed crimson. That was exactly what she’d thought.

“True, it’s a delectable body, but I like to think I’m smart enough to know there’s more to a woman than her body.”

Rory felt a ray of happiness. Still, she hesitated. “Just to make sure we understand each other. I’m not going to. . . that is, we’re not going to. . . .” Her voice trailed off. She took a deep breath. “I hope you didn’t go to any trouble getting condoms, because you won’t need them.”

Walter put his hands on her shoulder, gently pulled her to him, and to her surprise, kissed her on the forehead. “I’m a quick study. I already figured out that part.”

Now her heart really did beat fast. She tipped her head up to look him in the eye. “You don’t mind?”

His voice deepened, and his eyes darkened. “Oh, I mind very much.” He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out something. He held it out to her.

Automatically, Rory reached for it. She nearly dropped the folded packet when she realized it was a strip of condoms, each little packet separated by a perforation from the others in the strip.

“I’ll let you keep these. When you decide you’re ready, you can let me know.”

“How many are here?”

“Only twenty. I would have brought more, but I’m not as young as I used to be.” Grinning wickedly, he smacked her lightly on the rear. “Now go get dressed.”

Rory flew from the room. She felt as if her heart was doing cartwheels. She didn’t have to dither over her wardrobe. She pulled a sleeveless black linen sheath from the closet. Normally, she wore this to church with its matching jacket to hide the low scoop neck. She was pretty sure it would look sophisticated enough for dinner.

Her good black pumps pinched the foot that had been operated on a bit, but she didn’t care. Her gold hoop earrings completed her ensemble. She leaned over, brushed her hair forward, then raised up and flipped it back. A quick part on the right side and some spritz on the roots to lock in the lift left her with a few minutes for makeup. She rooted around in the bathroom drawer for her meager supply. Mascara to darken her auburn lashes. A quick swipe of an eyebrow pencil to give a bit more definition to her brows. Blush on her cheekbones. Some lipstick. That was it. She glanced at her reflection, grimaced, and shook her head. Somehow she’d expected to look different, more glamorous. Even sexy. Like the way Walt made her feel.

When she rejoined him in the living room, he was holding a book he’d pulled from one of the bookcases. “I’ve heard about this book. Is it any good?”

Rory nodded. “It is. I usually read either gardening books or romance, but I’m finding there’s a lot of good science fiction being published too.”

He laid the book on the table and looked her over. “You look beautiful, Rory.”

She blushed, pleased at the compliment, even though she knew she looked like plain old Rory Quinn. “Thank you.”

Outside, Walt took her hand and walked her to the passenger side of a Cadillac Esplanade. After he’d got in and buckled his seat belt, she asked, “What did you mean inside?”

“Mean about what?”

“When you said you didn’t mind doing this the right way. Do what the right way?”

He reached over and laid the palm of his hand on her cheek. Solemnly, he said, “Why, courting you of course.”

“Oh. Is that what you’re doing?” Rory asked in a breathless whisper.

Chapter 10
Susannah had decided her fabulous assignment was a crap detail. To make her week here even more trying, something weird was going on with her mother. She’d only been gone three days counting today, and her mom was acting so strange. She was hardly ever home. Hogan was weirding her out too. She’d sunbathed two days away, but Hogan had disappeared every time she closed her eyes.

In the evening, to her surprise, he’d insisted on room service meals. How could she be seen if he wouldn’t let her go downstairs? She’d been so worn out by the heat that she hadn’t argued when he’d suggested quiet evenings of watching television. Every time she sneaked a look at him, his eyes were on her. She couldn’t have said what the television programs were about, but she could have related every detail of the fantasy that played in her mind as she watched him. The tension between them was building to the explosive stage.

She’d always heard that being on a stakeout was one of the most boring jobs a cop could do. She agreed. The days were nothing like in the movies. She’d have settled for a consolation prize of doughnuts with sprinkles at this point.

In real life it was boring beyond belief. And the only thing she’d had to snack on was junk food that was heavilytilted toward salty snacks rather than sweet. Oh, what she wouldn’t give for some of the peach pie from Eunice’s Courthouse Café.

Through it all, McConnell’s drapes remained firmly closed. She and Hogan were getting nowhere at warp speed. To make matters worse, if they could get any worse, there was this thing with her mother.

Tired of the sun and bored beyond belief, Susannah rolled over on the chaise and sat up. For a redhead, even one who could tan, the heat had been brutal. She grabbed her sun hat and the towels and headed inside to cool off.

“Hogan?” Susannah paused in the act of retrieving an icy can of Coke from the fridge. Great. He was gone.

She popped the top on the can and drank deeply. That jerk. He’d ducked out again. Just like yesterday. Every time she went out on the balcony, he disappeared so fast it was almost as if aliens had beamed him up. Was it too much to ask him to do his part while she baked on the balcony? But no.

Jealousy pricked her. He’d better not be with that Allison woman.

Irritated at the thought, Susannah looked around to see if he’d left a note, knowing he hadn’t. She blamed her tiredness on the heat, but if she were honest, she’d confess that it was the emotional roller coaster that drained her energy.

Laying in the sun with nothing to do but think had found her thinking about Hogan. Thinking about the way his lips had felt on her throat. Wondering what would have happened if she’d stayed in that hotel room with him in Houston. She shivered. She knew what would have taken place, and she wished it had.

Days of thinking and nights of having him haunt her dreams were taking their toll on her. She felt hollow-eyed and exhausted. Then when she was around him, she was a mass of nerves and afraid she might actually speak her thoughts aloud. And her thoughts were definitely X-rated.

For weeks, Hogan had flirted with her at the Sheriff’s office, teasing and tempting, priming her for more. But now that they were alone together, he acted as if she were nothing more than a deputy on assignment with him. He was making her crazy.

Bored and restless, she decided to call her mother from the phone in the suite. She’d wasted the last of her cell phone minutes in trying to reach her mother the previous nights. She hadn’t yet had an opportunity to check with the gift shop to see if they had refill cards for her pay as you go cellular service.

When Rory answered, Susannah felt better. Just hearing the familiar voice grounded her. “Gosh, it’s good to hear your voice, Mom. Where have you been?”

“Susannah? Oh, hi. Hello.”

Rory Quinn’s nervous voice set off Susannah’s alarms. “Are you okay, Mom?”

“Of course. Uh, was there something you wanted?”

“No. Just to hear your voice.”

“Oh, that’s sweet.” Rory rushed on, “Listen, dear, I’m in a bit of a rush. Walt’s due any minute, and I’m not quite ready yet.”

Susannah frowned. “Walt? Do you mean Mayor Bofco?”

Rory giggled like a teenager. “Of course. Do you know another Walt?”

Susannah’s frown deepened. “I don’t know that I know this one very well. And neither do you. What do you mean he’s due?”

“He’s taking me out for lunch to this restaurant where he swears they make the best grilled shrimp on the Gulf Coast.”

Susannah held the receiver out and stared at it. It was an old joke, but had someone replaced her mother, a woman always too busy with her bookkeeping business to have lunch away from her office, with an alien replica?

“You do mean Walter Bofco, the Mayor of Murphy’s Cove?”

Again, Rory laughed. She sounded young and girlish. “Susannah, you silly goose.”

Alarm bells sounded in Susannah’s head. She blurted out, “Mom! Are you and the Mayor,” she hesitated, then gasped out the word, “dating?”

An awkward pause followed. “Well, I guess one could call it dating. We’ve been out a few times.”

“But I’ve only been gone three days, and that’s counting today.” Susannah listened as her mother told how she and the Mayor had met the day Susannah had left with Hogan.

Rory insisted they had so many things in common that they’d just hit it off. “Why, last night we talked nearly all night.”

Susannah tried not to sound accusing. “You mean he was over at the house all night?”

“No, we talked on the phone after he dropped me off from dinner.”

“So that’s why I couldn’t get through when I called.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, dear. Did you need anything important?”

“No, I just wanted to see if you were okay. Apparently, you are.” Susannah didn’t understand why, but she felt angry.

“We have so much in common, Susannah.”

“Yes. You said that already.”

“I did?”

Her small town mom and a rich, retired Army colonel? Susannah didn’t buy it. “What do you have in common?”

“Well, gardening for one thing.”

“Gardening?” Now, she knew something was wrong. She’d heard the mayor say he didn’t know the difference between crab grass and crab legs. That’s why he preferred condo living. Susannah didn’t like this. What was he trying to do? Suddenly she realized, she didn’t know any more about Walter Bofco than she did about Hogan. And that made her very uneasy.

By the time she bid her mother goodbye, her suspicion had sharpened to a scream of alarm. Her mother sounded like a giggling teenage girl not a middle-aged mature woman. True, her mom was barely forty-two, but that didn’t make any difference. She was acting like a silly girl with a crush. How had the mayor slipped past her mother’s defenses?

Something had to be done before Rory made a fool of herself, or worse, got hurt. It was past time to do some sleuthing of her own. Paula should be back in Alton by now. Susannah decided to charge another call to the room. She punched in the Collier’s number.

“Thank goodness you’re there.” Susannah’s tense grip on the phone relaxed.

“Just drove in from Huntsville this morning. Sam Houston State is going to have to do without me until fall.”

“Paula, I need your help.”

“You sound funny. What’s up?”

“Nothing funny, that’s for sure. You said one time that you could find out anything about anyone with a computer. Did you mean that? Can you really do that?”

Her friend laughed. “More or less. It’s not difficult. Nearly all public records are computerized. And if you know what you’re doing, and I do, you can access the ones that aren’t public too. Why?”

“I have a favor to ask.” It only took a few minutes for Susannah to tell Paula her fears about her mother. “Don’t say anything about this to your mom.”

“Okay. Give me a few hours to gossip with Mom. Then I’ll unpack and get Brian settled in the guest room.”

“Oh, I forgot about Brian. He really did come with you?”

“I tell you, kiddo, I think he finally doused that torch he’s been carrying for you all these years. He’s meeting some girl in New York.” Paula laughed. “I’ll hand the mayor off to him. He can use his laptop. I’ll tackle your boyfriend myself.”

“He’s not my boyfriend, Paula.”

“Whatever you say.” Paula laughed. “But I can’t ever remember your being this interested in any guy.”

“I’m not interested,”Susannah protested. “I’m worried.”

“If you say so,” her friend countered.

* * *

Hogan groaned as his stepmother pressed another serving of pecan waffles on him. “Vonnie, if I eat any more, I’ll explode.”

“But, sweetie, you look a bit thin.”

“You want to talk thin? Then explain why you look like an anorexic model.” Hogan had been shocked when he’d seen Yvonne. Though still beautiful and elegant, she looked as if she’d suffered through some serious illness.

“Now, sweetie, don’t lecture me. I’ve always watched my weight. You know the old cliché. You can never be too thin or too rich.”

“I disagree with that theory. You’re way too thin, and you’ve had nothing but coffee since I got here.”

Yvonne dismissed his comment with an airy wave. “Nonsense. I ate before you arrived.”

A sigh escaped him. “Now, why don’t I believe that?”

“Because you have a suspicious nature. It goes with the territory in your line of work I suppose.”

Hogan knew nagging her about her weight would serve no purpose. When upset, she just didn’t remember to eat. When his dad had passed away, he’d thought she’d waste away to nothing.

“Have you seen Thomas?” Yvonne asked.

“Not yet.” He told her what they’d done.

“Oh, sweetie, that’s awful. How could you spy on him like that? And to use that girl because she looks like his daughter? That’s reprehensible.”

Hogan shrugged though he didn’t feel a bit nonchalant about using Susannah. “I didn’t exactly have a choice, Vonnie. You know how Walter is when he gets his mind set on something. And McConnell is a thief. When you bait a trap for a rat, you use the kind of bait that most appeals to the rat. The minute Walter saw the picture of McConnell’s dead daughter, there was no stopping him. If I hadn’t agreed to run this operation, he’d have found some way to get Susannah involved. At least this way I can protect her.”

For the first time, some color appeared in Yvonne’s face. “Well, I don’t think it’s right to use someone who looks like his daughter to entice him. That’s hurtful.”

“That’s your opinion. I’m doing what I have to do to get the job done. As it turns out, you don’t have any reason to be upset. McConnell hasn’t poked his head out since we arrived.” He didn’t bother telling her that he hadn’t let Susannah poke her head out of their suite either.

Yvonne chewed her lower lip and looked worried. “Could he be ill?”

“I don’t get it. You act as if you’re more concerned about that man than about recovering your jewelry.”

“I said I wanted him left alone. Why won’t you and Walter listen to me? Just let him have the damned jewelry. I should have never said anything about it being missing.”

Hogan’s eyes narrowed in speculation. “Why have you done a one eighty since you called me, in tears I might add, and begged me to help?”

Yvonne sighed and looked distinctly unhappy. “I’d already called Walter. I was angry. Upset. I think now I made an error in judgment. About a great many things. I should have fought my own battle.”

“What’s going on here, Vonnie?”

“I just asked you to help because I know how my brother is. Goodness knows what he would have done if left to his own devices.” She twisted her hands together nervously. “What’s all the fuss about? After all, it’s just some old jewelry.”

“Old jewelry? According to Walter, it’s a cross between the crown jewels and the Bofco legacy to the world.”

She dismissed his comment with a wave of her elegant, ringed fingers. “That’s just Walter. He thinks I should have given the opals to Allison since I never had a daughter. This is just his way of getting back at me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Sibling rivalry doesn’t disappear just because you grow up, sweetie. Walter’s always felt short-changed. I’ve told you that our parents were both well into middle age when he was born. Just like your dad and mom when you were born. Unlike your parents, ours didn’t have the desire to deal with a baby.”

With a shrug, she continued. “Frankly, they hadn’t been much better when I was a child, but Walter thinks I got all their attention, and he got none.”

“I never knew he felt that way.” Hogan frowned.

Yvonne shrugged. “I don’t think he realizes it. Beneath that tough military exterior beats the heart of a lonely little boy. When he was in kindergarten, I was in college and too involved to be a surrogate mother to him. So he never found acceptance until he received his commission. The Army became his family.”

Hogan pursed his lips thoughtfully. “I never realized how lucky I was that Dad, and Mom while she was well, did all the things the other parents did. Little League, Scouts, all of it. I never felt slighted. When you and Dad married, I just assumed you’d be the same kind of mother. And you were.” Hogan reached over and squeezed her hand. “What do you want me to do, Vonnie? Name it. You know I’ll do what you want even if that goes against Walter. Do you still want me to get your jewelry back?”

Her smile faded. “I don’t know. There’s some things I should have told you, but I couldn’t.” Hesitantly, she asked, “If I ask you to back off?” She sighed. “I know Walter will have a fit. Even though he can be a prig, he is my brother, and I do love him. I don’t really wish upset him. But I don’t want any trouble for Thomas either.”

“Yeah, Walter would be one unhappy dude. He’d probably insist McConnell be arrested.”

“No. I don’t want that. Promise me you won’t let that happen.”

“Then what do you want?”

She sighed heavily. “I just want this never to have happened.”

“We can’t undo the past. You can’t turn back the clock, Vonnie,” he said gently, wondering why she was so sad. Was there more to her change of heart than she was saying?

“Oh,” she moaned, “I wish I’d never told Walter. I’m so sorry I got you stuck in the middle of this, sweetie.”

“Stuck is right,” Hogan complained. “I,” he broke off. “Never mind.”

“What were you going to say?”

When she persisted, he shrugged. “I don’t like having my life turned upside down.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, her gaze sharp.

Hogan felt like a kid again. He’d never been able to put anything over on Yvonne, and the years hadn’t changed that. Besides, he found himself wanting to tell Vonnie his problems. Maybe she could shed some light on the situation. “The deputy I’m stuck with is driving me to the brink of insanity.”

“Deputy? You mean the young woman who looks like Thomas’s daughter? What’s her name?”

“Susannah Quinn.”

“What’s so irritating about her?”

“Everything. Where do you want me to start the list?”

“Really? Knowing your taste in women, she must be singularly unappealing. Though if she looks like Thomas’s daughter, she couldn’t be unattractive.” Yvonne frowned. “His daughter was very pretty.”

“She’s not ugly. In fact, she is very attractive. You might even say beautiful.”

“Oh? Then she must not be very bright.”

“Wrong again. She’s an honors graduate in Criminal Justice.”

“How interesting. So you two have law enforcement in common? Do you share any other interests?”

“We have nothing in common,” he declared bluntly. “She’s rigid and unyielding. You’d think she was born holding the scales of justice in her hands. Can you believe she actually wrote me a ticket? Two tickets! And gave me a lecture about obeying the law the second time we met?”

Yvonne smiled. “Intolerable. Do tell me more. What happened the first time you met?”

Hogan felt heat flush his face. “Nothing much.”

“Hmmm. Okay. We’ll move on to another question. What’s so objectionable about her other than her rigid sense of right and wrong?”

Hogan felt relieved to talk to someone about Susannah. “She’s got a smart mouth that she can’t seem to keep closed. She argues with me about everything.”

“Tsk. Tsk. We can’t have that,” Yvonne murmured.

“And she won’t take orders at all.”

“Oh, dear, I can see where that would be unforgivable.”

“You should see her clothes.” He rose and paced as he described the orange bikini and her sun dresses. “She runs the risk of being arrested for indecency every time she steps out on the balcony.”

“But that’s what all the women wear here, sweetie.”

“Yes, but . . . .” His voice trailed off. He frowned.

“But what? All your girlfriends have worn short dresses, tight pants, and brief swimsuits. You never complained before.”

“This is different,” he growled.

When Yvonne opened her mouth, he held up his hand. “Don’t ask me why it’s different. I haven’t figured that part out yet.”

Yvonne smiled as she walked over to him. She hugged him and patted his shoulder. “That’s all right, sweetie, I’m sure you’ll figure it out fairly soon. I already have.”

Chapter 11
Susannah admired the quiet elegance of the hotel lobby. Her black halter dress with its gauzy skirt bordered by a ripple of red was perfect, just as the boutique owner had said. Black high heel mules slapped against her feet as she walked across the polished gray marble floor.

After talking with Paula, she’d decided she was tired of lying on the balcony and waiting for something to happen. Waiting for Hogan to return. Most of all she was tired of sleeping alone at night, imagining him in the next room. She couldn’t take many more days of the sexual tension between them. The only way she was getting out of here sooner, rather than later, was to discover McConnell’s whereabouts.

Action was called for. She was determined to get something going. Anything. She bolstered her courage by remembering Hogan had said a good cop didn’t blindly follow rules. She’d remind him of that if he got upset when he discovered what she was doing.

She strolled toward the gift shop, enjoying the swirl of the soft fabric against her tanned legs. At least she’d netted a killer tan from her hours on the balcony.

She planned to roam the hotel. The entire Cove if necessary. Eventually she would find McConnell. If she could get this job over, she could return to her world and rescue her mother. She had a feeling Rory was in way over her head if she was involved with the esteemed mayor.

Hogan and his disappearing act had been the last straw. Out of sight, out of mind, she’d told herself. Her plans for life didn’t include a man, she had reminded herself. Certainly not a man like Hogan. He was a complication who would derail her careful plans.

Susannah played tourist all afternoon and visited all the shops. Unfortunately, none of them had the refill cards for her cell phone. She guessed there wasn’t a big demand for pay as you go cell phones in the wealthy community. Later, she dropped by the indoor pool and looked in all the other watering holes, chlorinated and alcohol laden, but she didn’t find the elusive thief. Optimism eventually gave way to tiredness. Finally, dejected, she gave up and returned to the sparkling aqua pool. It might be a fake tropical lagoon, but it was an appealing imitation of paradise, complete with a trio softly playing Caribbean steel drum music.

At the other end of the pool was the bar which looked as if it were half of an old outrigger hull topped with a huge expanse of smoked glass. Several attractive women attired in expensive resort wear sat in the tall bamboo chairs at the bar. Turquoise striped market umbrellas shaded round black wrought iron tables and sunny yellow cushions padded the chairs. A tiny lighthouse occupied the center of each table.

More than half the customers were women. Susannah selected a table with a view of the entrance. A good-looking guy in white shorts and a blue Hawaiian shirt appeared to take her order.

“I’m Rusty.” A practiced smile showed gleaming white teeth. “Can I get you something to drink?”

“Frozen margarita, please. No salt.” Susannah yawned after he’d left.

Within minutes, Rusty was back with a huge mug filled with the pale green frozen mixture. Susannah signed for it, including a generous tip for the guy with the cheerful grin since it had been a while since she’d seen anything other than a scowl.

“Is there anything else, ma’am?”

Susannah removed the lime wedge from the rim of the mug and squeezed it into the pale green frozen concoction. “Tell me, Rusty, is this as exciting as it gets here at the hotel?”

He chuckled. “It’s a little better at night.” His smile flashed. “Most of the people here make their own excitement if you know what I mean.”

Susannah sipped through the straw. “Ummm. Delicious.” She looked around. “I was wondering. Aren’t there any men here?”

Her question startled a laugh from him. “There’s some single gentlemen staying at the hotel, but they’re a bit older if you know what I mean. You can spot them real easy when they show up. All the women perk up and pounce.”

“So I just have to pay attention and pounce first, huh?”

He grinned. “That’s it, Ms.–,” he glanced at the check she’d signed. “Hogan.” Then he looked at her left hand. His expression cooled. “I mean, Mrs. Hogan,” he amended stiffly.

The note of censure in his voice gave her pause. He no longer smiled. “If you need anything, flip the switch on the lighthouse.” He pointed to a toggle switch at the base of the small lamp.

“Thanks.” So much for her plan to interrogate the no longer friendly waiter. Just her luck to get Mr. Prim and Proper.

Susannah took a long pull on the frozen drink then kicked off her black mules and propped her feet in the opposite chair. She didn’t care what anyone thought. Her feet hurt from traipsing all over the hotel, and she was sun baked and tired. And sleepy, thanks to D. E. Hogan who haunted her dreams. Making herself comfortable, she scooted down in the chair until the back of her head rested on the wrought iron. She had as good a chance of McConnell showing up here as any place, she decided, sucking some more of the delicious drink into her mouth.

After a few minutes, she felt herself tension ebb. Relaxed, she didn’t even care if Hogan got ticked off when he returned and found her gone. Big deal. She hadn’t even left him a note. Neither had he though each time he’d disappeared. So why should she bother to inform him of her whereabouts? She sipped her margarita and yawned. The more she drank, the more the day took on a decidedly pleasant glow.

Drowsy and content, she watched the women with their artfully made up faces and their well-tended perfectly proportioned bodies. How did they walk like that? With stomachs sucked in, breasts thrust out, and hips rolling side to side. And their bodies. She’d never seen such muscles. Each of the golden brown bodies should be signed by the personal trainer. Or the plastic surgeon. She giggled. Realizing she was really drowsy, she tried sitting up, but it just took too much effort. Big deal? Sit up or slouch? Why not just be comfortable? She could observe that way, couldn’t she. In a moment, she’d slid back down and surveyed the pool area through half closed eyes.

As she lazily watched, all the women suddenly thronged the bar. Where had that man come from? She watched as the women clustered around him as if he were some kind of pied piper. A tiny frown creased Susannah’s forehead. That meant something, but she couldn’t quite remember what.

Still struggling to remember what was significant about the scene playing out before her, she drifted asleep.

* * *

When Susannah opened her eyes, she couldn’t have said whether she’d slept an hour or a minute. In the chair opposite her sat the man she’d searched the entire resort for, Thomas McConnell. Susannah jerked upright.

“I hope you’ll pardon my presumptuousness,” he said in a British accent that rivaled Sean Connery’s for sex appeal.

“What?” Susannah stared dumbly at him. He was resplendent in white slacks and a pale blue shirt that made his eyes look even more blue. His shining white hair was perfectly groomed and contrasted sharply with his tanned skin.

“I took advantage of your napping to help me avoid the rather aggressive charms of some of the other guests.”

“What?” she asked again, feeling as thick as her tongue felt in her dry mouth.

“When I saw you alone, I told all the ladies that I was your date. Extraordinary that they believed me.” McConnell chuckled softly.

“Why would you do that?” Susannah tried to gather her wits.

“I’ve discovered it’s tiresome to be an unattached male at this resort. If I wasn’t at such odds with myself, I believe I’d chuck this whole vacation and head home. But there’s no peace to be found there either.”

Susannah finally found her brain and her tongue. “I don’t think I know you, sir.”

“Oh, dear. I do apologize. I’m Thomas McConnell, and I’m very pleased to meet you, Mrs.–?” he stared at the gold band and raised questioning eyes to her.

To Susannah, her fake wedding ring gleamed in the afternoon sun. “Uh, that is, Hogan,” she stammered. “Susannah Hogan.” While she’d been sleeping on the job, the good luck fairy had visited. “How do you do, Mr. McConnell?”

“Fairly well, all things considered. If you’ll again pardon my presumptuousness, I must say I’m rather taken aback by your curious resemblance to someone I knew. Someone I loved very, very much.”

The way he said it, with a kind of sad intensity, surprised Susannah. And it answered the question of why she’d been so important to this fake assignment. “I’m sorry. Might I ask who that was?”

“My sweet daughter. She was so beautiful with her green eyes and red curls. She was only fifteen when she died.” He blinked rapidly and looked away. “Car accident.”

McConnell turned back to her, his eyes studying her. His smile was sad and filled with longing. “Looking at you now, I see your hair’s a much darker auburn. Your face is shaped differently. And your eyes are a different green. I guess the resemblance is only superficial. Just an old man’s wishful thinking.”

“How long has it been since you lost her?” Susannah asked softly, unable to avoid the sympathy that welled up inside her at his obvious pain.

“Oh. More years ago than you are old, I’m afraid. Another lifetime ago, Mrs. Hogan.”

“Don’t call me that. I mean, call me Susannah. I’m not used to the other name.” Instinctively, she reached out and patted his hand.

“What a charming name.” He took her hand in both his. She wondered if he intended to kiss her hand the way they did in old movies, but he just squeezed it before releasing it.

“Delighted to meet you, my dear Susannah. You must not call me Mr. McConnell. Makes me feel terribly old. Call me Thomas, even if I am old enough to be your elderly father.” His laughter drew the eyes of the other women.

“Certainly, Thomas.” Susannah cleared her throat. “I’m feeling rather parched.” She reached over and flipped the lighthouse switch to summon the waiter. “Would you like to join me in a drink? I really need something wet and cold.”

“I imagine so. You look as if you’ve soaked up too many of those cancer rays, my dear. You Americans never cease to amaze me with your propensity to bronze your skin.”

“There’s just something so pagan about laying in the sun. Some ancient, primitive pleasure,” she said with a laugh.

“Well, I was just about to wake you or rearrange the umbrella to shade you better. The sun in this climate is brutal. You’re quite pink in the cheek already.”

“I’m usually more careful. I just haven’t slept well lately.” And the margarita had been as good as a sleeping pill, she thought, turning aside to smother a yawn. Her eyes rounded in shock as her gaze swept the entrance.

Uh oh. Hogan. She could see his clenched jaw from here. As he approached, she saw the anger glittering in his blue eyes. All in all, his face looked like a thundercloud.

Susannah braced herself. The storm of the century was bearing down on her.

“Darling. This is where you got yourself off to.” Hogan’s hands settled on her shoulders as if in affection. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

Susannah knew he really put his hands there to hold her down. Actually, fleeing sounded like a pretty good idea at the moment. He leaned over and branded her cheek with a kiss. Her heart skipped a beat then settled into a decidedly bumpy rhythm.

McConnell stood and offered his hand. “Thomas McConnell, sir.”

“I’m Hogan, Susannah’s husband.” Hogan shook hands briskly.

“Darling,” Susannah parodied him. “We were just about to have a drink.”

“Delighted you can join us,” McConnell said. “Do sit.”

Hogan selected the chair where Susannah’s feet rested. Before she could move her feet, he lifted them and sat, pulling her feet into his lap. When she tried to jerk her feet away, he said, “That’s okay, darling.” He sat and pulled her feet onto his lap. Then he began to knead and massage the insteps.

Susannah hadn’t realized feet had so many nerve endings. And every single one of hers was swooning with pleasure. Hogan could always get a job as a foot masseur if law enforcement didn’t work out. She’d be glad to give references.

McConnell ordered margaritas all around when Rusty the waiter arrived. “By Jove, I feel suddenly much more vacation-ey so to speak.”

“So, what have you been up to while I was slaving away to keep you in the lap of luxury?” Hogan asked, pressing his thumbs into her instep. Slowly, he stroked the tops of her feet and teased her toes.

Her pulse refused to settle down. “Not much,” she managed to say. His touch sent shivers of excitement racing upward. If Hogan could pleasure her feet this way, she wondered what he’d do if he had her entire body as a playground. With every hour that passed, she found herself longing to find out.

“Your lovely wife provided a haven for me,” McConnell said.

“Really.” One dark brow arched as Hogan looked from McConnell to his pretend wife. “And how did she do that?”

“Most delightfully I assure you,” McConnell said. When he smiled, dimples appeared at the corners of his mouth. “She’s kept all the other females at bay, thank goodness.”

Hogan’s hands moved to encircle her ankles. His fingers stroked around and around, snaking their way up the calf of each leg then swooping back to her feet. Heat pooled low in her body. Her breasts tingled. Oh, how she wanted his hands to continue their slow ascent.

Perhaps if she had stayed with him that night, she’d now be immune to him. That was a theory she was beginning to think she should explore. Anything would be better than this constant tension when she was around him.

Horrified at the direction her thoughts insisted on following, Susannah yanked her feet from Hogan’s lap. “That’s enough.”

“Are you sure?” Hogan asked in a voice smoother than the twenty-five year old whiskey her uncle had let her sample once.

“Quite sure.” She cursed the blood rushing to her face.

“I say, Susannah, you really need to put on more lotion to protect your skin,” McConnell said. “You’ve got quite a sunburn, my dear.”

“It’s nothing,” she mumbled.

“I’ll oil you down, darling, as soon as we get to our room.”

Heat arced through Susannah. She recalled the last time Hogan had done that. She didn’t think she could stand an encore. “Oh, you’re so busy with work. You don’t have to bother.”

“But, darling, it’s never a bother. I want to properly take care of you.”

And, oh, brother! Did she want to be taken care of! That itch that needed scratching just got worse every day. Did he really mean what he said? Or was he just playing his part a little too convincingly? Confused, she didn’t know what to believe. Fantasy and reality were merging into a confused jumble.

“You shouldn’t leave a lovely girl like her alone, Hogan.”

“You’re right. I’ll have to remember not to make that mistake again.” Hogan gave him a glance as sharp as his tone of voice.

McConnell laughed. “Why, thank you, sir. That look from you is quite a compliment. I haven’t been accused of being on the prowl in years.”

As McConnell talked, Susannah had to remind herself he was a crook because he simply didn’t fit her concept of one. He was easily the most charming man she’d ever met. Everything about him was courtly and well mannered.

The sun began to set and still McConnell regaled them with stories of faraway places. Susannah, who’d never left the state, found herself enthralled. So were most of the other women who’d pulled up chairs and sat down to listen.

When Hogan suggested they leave, she completely forgot McConnell was a suspect and protested. “Oh, no. It’s early yet.”

“Not for what I have in mind, darling.” He stroked her jaw line with the tips of his fingers.

Susannah’s heart lurched. She couldn’t ignore how she responded to his touch. To his words. She wanted him. She knew she dared not be alone with him tonight. His slightest touch could be her undoing. How could she miss something so fiercely that she’d not yet known? She was too vulnerable. She dared not be alone with him. Yet that was all she wanted. A sigh escaped her. What a girl wanted wasn’t always what was good for her.

As the two men shook hands, she concocted a scheme to keep away from Hogan and get close to McConnell. First, she had to have a few minutes alone with the thief.

Pulse pounding, she allowed Hogan to lead her into the hotel. When they neared one of the hotel shops, she said, “Oh, I need to see if they have a refill card for my cell phone. Go on. I’ll be up shortly.”

“I’ll go with you.”

Susannah shook her head. “You don’t have to.”

“I’ll wait for you,” he said flatly.

Desperate, she pulled out the one excuse no man would argue with. “Look, I hate to be blunt, but I need to get some personal items. Female personal items.”

Hogan’s face flushed a dull red. “I’ll see you back in the room. If you’re not there in fifteen minutes, I’m coming back for you. Understood?”

“You’re not my chaperone, Hogan.”

“Understood?” he repeated.

Susannah nodded and watched him walk away. As soon as he’d rounded the corner, she hurried back to McConnell.

“Susannah? I say, did you forget something?”

“No. I just have a favor to ask, Thomas. My husband intends to work all evening. Again.” She heaved a sigh. “I’m tired of being alone. I wondered, would you be a sweetheart and escort me to dinner?”

“Why, I’d be delighted, my dear. I’ve been at loose ends myself since I arrived. Are you sure it won’t cause a problem with your husband? I can see how possessive he is of you.”

“Hogan? Possessive?” That wasn’t exactly how she would have described him.

“Well, yes. Can’t say I blame him. It’s easy to see how much in love you two are.”

“It is?” Susannah stared, aghast. She and Hogan must be better actors than she’d realized. Still startled by what he said, it took a minute for her to remember she was play acting. “That may be, but I know he’ll be up to his eyebrows in faxes and emails. Actually, he’ll be thrilled not to have his work interrupted.”

“Capital. Though I think you overestimate your husband’s devotion to business. I’m certain he cares more about you than any business matters.”

She sighed dramatically. “I hope you’re right.” She cast her eyes down and sighed again. “I get so lonely. I’m just grateful he could spare a few minutes this afternoon at the pool. It was such an unexpected treat.”

McConnell said he’d make reservations for eight, and they arranged to meet in the restaurant. Susannah smiled all the way to the suite. What was it Sherlock Holmes always said? The game’s afoot? Well, she’d been responsible for getting the game afoot. Now all she needed to do was to keep it afoot until she could crack the case wide open. Then she could put distance between her and her impossible chaperone.

* * *

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Hogan shouted.

“Keep your voice down unless you want everyone in the hotel to hear you.” Susannah smoothed her hands down the short black silk dress that cupped her bottom and stopped at mid-thigh.

“You can’t have dinner with him.”

“Why not?”

“Because.”

“Because? That wasn’t even good enough for me when I was a child.” She transferred some cash and a credit card to a small black-beaded handbag. Too bad she hadn’t been able to find refill cards for her cell phone. She could have taken it and quickly notified Hogan if she needed rescue. Which she didn’t think would happen.

Hogan shoved his hands through his hair, making it stand out like wings. “You lied to me about needing that female stuff. You wanted to get rid of me so you could set this up.”

“True. And you fell for it so accommodatingly.” Susannah smiled sweetly. “What’s done is done. So get over it.”

“You’re supposed to follow orders. Your role is to lay out and sun bathe. You’re supposed to let McConnell seek you out.”

“But you told me a good cop is flexible. He did seek me out. Remember?”

At his muttered curse, she quipped, “Besides, it’s dark. I didn’t agree to moon bathe. And I’m tired of being locked up in this room like some prisoner.”

She turned to him and placed her hands on her hips. “Look, Hogan, part of my role is to chat McConnell up. I was doing a good job until you showed up with your surly attitude. Without you around, glowering at him, I can get him to talk. I bet I can get him to tell me everything he’s done from the time he stole his first candy bar at the corner grocery.”

Hogan snorted. “You’ve got an inflated opinion of your abilities. Did it occur to you that you may be his next victim?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I may be inexperienced, but I’m not dumb. Why would he pick me to be a victim? I don’t have any jewelry other than this fake wedding ring. And this plain gold band wouldn’t make anyone look twice.”

“He probably thinks you’re as well heeled as the rest of the women hanging around this overpriced singles swap meet.”

“I think he meant what he said. He’s lonely and just wants some company for dinner.” Susannah chewed her lower lip. Hesitantly, she asked, “I need to ask you something. Is it possible you’re mistaken about him?”

“No,” Hogan said flatly. “He’s exactly who and what the background check showed. Don’t let your personal feelings get in the way.”

She frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I mean he’s not a kind fatherly figure. Don’t transfer your need for one to him.”

She stiffened. “Do you realize how insulting that is?”

“I’m not trying to insult you. I didn’t mean it that way. But I know that sometimes when you want something bad enough, it’s easy to read into something or someone what you want to be true instead of what is.”

“Look. I just like the man so quit psychoanalyzing me and my actions.” She did have more than a twinge of sympathy for McConnell she admitted, but she also had common sense.

“He’s just not what I expected.”

“Well, don’t forget he’s the bad guy.” The sharpness in his voice matched the narrowed gaze he focused on her.

“I won’t. He’s probably everything you said he is, but, he’s kind of sweet and charming too.”

“It’s his business to be charming. He’s managed to stay out of prison for ten years by being charming. Don’t romanticize this. He could write a book on charm.”

“Gee, a book like that could certainly help you, Hogan.”

“I don’t have to be charming. I’m not a thief looking for a mark. Quinn. Susannah, this is not the way you work a stakeout. You don’t have intimate dinners with the man you’re watching.”

“I know that, but you’re doing the stakeout. I’m undercover. At least that’s how it was explained to me,” she said, batting her eyes in pretend innocence. “Is there something else you want to tell me? Like what’s really going on?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Hogan said gruffly.

When he didn’t back down, she shrugged. “Okay, have it your way. And I’ll have this my way. We can’t wait for the next ice age for McConnell to reveal himself. Let’s speed the process along.” She placed her hands on her hips. “You ought to congratulate me on being so flexible and creative instead of following the rule book.”

“You haven’t heard a word I’ve said. I order you not to go.”

“You order me?” she asked, her voice dangerously soft.

“Yeah. And as the team leader, I expect you to do what I say, or I send you packing.”

Susannah swallowed the insolent retort that trembled on the tip of her tongue and changed tactics. “Hogan, we’re supposed to be professionals. This is our break in the case so let’s use it.”

“I don’t like it. This wasn’t part of the plan.”

“Yeah. The Mayor’s magnificent plan. Well, we see how well that’s worked out. I don’t want to spend the rest of the summer waiting for McConnell to make a move. Do you?”

Grudgingly, Hogan said he didn’t either.

“We’ll be in a public restaurant. What could possibly happen?” It took her another fifteen minutes, but she finally got a very reluctant Hogan to agree to let her dine with McConnell. Alone.

“Okay, but if anything goes wrong, or you want out for any reason, tell him you have to go powder your nose then duck out and get back up here. And I mean it. Don’t start improvising. Just do what I say. For once.”

“Right. Of course.” Her eyes sparkled with excitement. “Why wouldn’t I do exactly what you say?

Chapter 12
Hogan got a Shiner Bock from the mini-bar, dropped onto the leather sectional, and prepared to wait for Susannah. He pressed the cold bottle against his forehead in a vain effort to cool his heated emotions. The bikini had been bad. The ultra short black dress with the tight top and the skirt that drifted over her hips, making his hands itch to lift it and discover the magic underneath, was just as bad. It revealed plenty of leg and was whisper soft when he’d brushed against it. He twisted the top from the beer and drank deeply.

He’d let Susannah get under his skin. This had to stop. If he couldn’t have her, and he couldn’t, then he needed to send her the hell away from here. With her out of the room, it was easier to put everything into perspective and renew his vow of professionalism. And abstinence.

If this had been a different situation, he’d have admired her initiative. As it was, it just worried him. She was getting too emotionally involved with McConnell. He didn’t want her to get hurt. She didn’t need another father figure stabbing her in the heart.

He took another long pull on the beer then picked up the remote control and clicked the television on. For a while he channel surfed but could find nothing to distract him from his thoughts.

Susannah was driving him crazy. At warp speed. Since the day they’d arrived, he’d wavered between sending her home or pulling her into his arms and kissing her until she was too breathless to rebel. Then he’d take her to bed. Instead, the woman he wanted to toss onto that gold coverlet on the oversized bed where he’d slept all alone each night was having dinner with the man who’d stolen Yvonne’s jewelry.

Damn. Why had he ever gotten mixed up in this? He had only himself to blame. He kept riding to Yvonne’s rescue. He loved his stepmother, but he was too protective of her. Maybe it was time she started solving her own problems.

Hogan sighed. If she hadn’t nearly grieved herself to death when his dad had died, maybe he could be firm with her. He just wished she could find what she was looking for and be happy. If anybody deserved happiness, she did.

If only he could find those damn jewels and get the hell out of this place. He’d be happy! But where would he go? Back to Quantico? Alone? For the first time, he realized that when he left Texas, he’d be leaving Susannah behind. Was that what he really wanted? For that matter, did he have any choice? Did he even want a choice? Or was it too late for that?

* * *

After they finished their shrimp cocktails and were waiting for the crabmeat stuffed red snapper in wine sauce to arrive at their table, Susannah leaned back against the brown velvet cushion and sipped her wine. She smiled at McConnell. “What part of England are you from, Thomas?”

“Actually, I’m from Glasgow, Scotland, originally. But as a young man, I decided to go to London to seek my fortune.”

McConnell nodded at the waiter who refilled his glass, carefully turning the wine bottle to avoid spilling a drop of the champagne which had cost more than she spent on clothes in six months.

When they were alone again, Susannah continued her subtle interrogation. “And did you find it?” When he smiled, she could tell he was lost in the past.

“No, I didn’t. But I did find something important. I discovered fortunes aren’t made in nine to five jobs like the one I had at one of the oldest banks in England. I discovered something else. I wasn’t good at the day to day, nose to the grindstone routine. I found it, in a word, boring. Two words. Tedious and boring. I didn’t like putting little pieces of paper in file cabinets.” “I can identify with that,” Susannah muttered.

“What did you say, my dear?”

“Nothing. Go on. Tell me more.”

Thomas shrugged. “I decided to find another way to live my life. And make my fortune.”

I just bet you did, Susannah thought. “And what was that?” she asked, sipping the champagne.

“I discovered, my dear child, that it was easier to steal a fortune than to make one.”

Susannah choked on the mouthful of wine. She coughed so hard she thought she’d cough up a lung.

“Oh, dear, are you all right?” Thomas asked.

“I’m fine,” she said, sputtering. “Just went down the wrong way.” She had to give the guy credit for honesty.

“I shouldn’t have given the punch line so abruptly.”

“The punch line?”

He chuckled. “I do apologize. I’ve told that story so often that I thought it had lost its shock value.”

“You mean it’s not true?”

“Oh, it’s true. It’s just that I’ve used that line on women so often that it’s second nature. For some reason, women find it exciting to think they’re out with a renowned thief.”

“Are you a renowned thief?”

“Oh, my yes. I’m rather abashed that you haven’t heard of me.” His dry chuckle invited her to share his joke.

Susannah couldn’t help but smile. “Thomas, I swear I don’t know if you’re telling me the truth or spinning another of your incredible tales.”

“Oh, I’d never lie to you, my dear.”

“Never?”

“Well, hardly ever.”

Susannah laughed, unable not to. “You’re incorrigible. So tell me about this fortune you stole.”

He grinned. “Oh, not just one fortune, my dear. Several fortunes. Several times.” He chuckled softly. “I found there really is truth to that old axiom, ‘Easy come. Easy go.’ That began a rather unfortunate pattern in which I amassed and subsequently lost fortunes. I couldn’t seem to hang onto the damned money for any length of time.”

“At least you’re not bitter about it,” she said, finishing her entree of shrimp in wine sauce.

“On the contrary. I believe there’s something to be learned from every experience. Even the bad ones.”

“So why is it that you, a renowned thief, are having dinner with me? I’m not wealthy.”

“Well, not to argue with you, but you must be if you’re staying in this hotel. Anyone who can pay the thousand quid a night has to have money.”

“Oh, certainly. Of course you’re right.” She’d nearly forgotten she was playing a role. “But it’s my husband who has the money. Not me. So are you here looking for a, I think they call it a mark?”

“Oh, my, no. This renowned thief is also a reformed thief. I learned my lesson. The hard way.”

“You don’t mean?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so. Finally got nabbed and had to pay for my crime. Now I’m just a retired renowned thief.”

“Did you go to prison?”

“Yes. Beastly experience. One I swore never to repeat. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. Never before were words uttered that were so true. I simply can’t do time. I’m no good at being incarcerated.”

“How does a retired thief get the money to stay here?” Susannah probed. “If you don’t mind my asking.”

“Not at all. I seem to be taking quite a few trips down memory lane of late. When I was in prison, I used the time to learn about the sources of real money.”

“And what might they be?”

“The stock market. As it turned out, I discovered I had quite an affinity for trading stocks. The rest as they say, is history.”

He lifted his wine glass by the stem and swirled the remaining bit of wine, staring thoughtfully at the bubbles. “History. How odd that sometimes, despite our best efforts, we end up repeating it.”

“Are you all right, Thomas?”

“What?” He looked up and smiled. “Oh, yes. Sorry. I was just thinking about something that happened several weeks ago.”

Susannah reached over and laid her hand on his forearm. “It doesn’t look like a memory that brings you much happiness.”

The sigh he released intensified his air of sadness. He smiled though it looked as if it took effort. “I don’t want to spoil our evening with maudlin tales of heartbreak. Let’s just say there really is no fool like an old fool.”

He sipped his wine, set the glass down, and said, “We were talking about my life on the straight and narrow, weren’t we?” At her nod, he smiled. “After my unfortunate incarceration, I decided there had to be a less risky way to earn a living, yet one that offered an element of excitement. Since I was too old to become a Wall Street shark even though I was drawn to trading, I learned how to do it on my own. Now I dabble in investment real estate, stock, even some futures trading.”

“You sound as if you’re proud of what you’ve done.”

“I am.” His eyes met hers. “I’ve built a nice pile of money and earned every bit of it honestly.” He nodded thoughtfully. “So I am proud which is fitting I suppose since pride usually goes before a fall.”

Before Susannah could question his solemn statement, their dinners arrived. Silence fell between them as they tackled the delicious redfish smothered in a lemon wine sauce. After a bit, Susannah felt compelled to ask, “Is it really true that you don’t steal anymore?” She studied him as she waited for him to answer the bold question.

“Absolutely, verifiably true.” He laid his fork down and stared morosely into his wine glass. “I’m just an old man who learned his lesson. At least I thought I had.”

He seemed so depressed she wanted to comfort him but didn’t know what to say. They were silent the rest of the meal. Susannah didn’t quite know what to make of his story. He sounded sincere. But what about Yvonne’s jewelry?

With the meal over, she decided she needed to talk to Hogan. Perhaps someone else could have stolen the black opals.

“Thomas,” she said, “this has been wonderful, but I should go now.”

“But what about dessert?”

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly.”

“Please, don’t rush off,” McConnell said. He reached out and placed his hand atop hers.

Susannah hesitated. He looked desolate. She felt so sorry for him. It was obvious he was bothered. Her heart fell. Perhaps he really had stolen the opals. But why when it seemed he was a changed man?

“I’m sorry, my dear.” He removed his hand. “Just blame my presumptuousness on an old man’s loneliness. I hadn’t realized how starved for companionship I’d become. I find myself reluctant to part with your delightful company and your exquisite beauty.”

The flattery surprised a laugh from Susannah. “That’s laying it on a bit thick, Thomas.”

“Oh, my no. You are exquisite, and if that husband of yours doesn’t tell you so at least a dozen times daily, then he’s too hardheaded by half.”

“Well, he is a bit of a blockhead,” Susannah agreed.

“I say, do you like to play games?” His face brightened.

“Games? You mean like cards and such? Why, yes, I guess so.”

“Why don’t you come visit an old man in his room?” McConnell wagged his brows. “I’ve got a wonderful Scrabble game I take with me everywhere. And a huge box of Swiss chocolates. We can have them later with coffee for dessert.”

“That’s tempting.” She could look around his suite. Hogan would have a stroke when he found out, but what Thomas had said about being straight and honest sounded sincere. If she didn’t take this chance, she’d kick herself later. Maybe Thomas really wasn’t the man they were after. “Sure. Why not?”

“You mean it?” His sad eyes lit up.

Touched, Susannah said, “Sure I mean it.” Even if he was a consummate actor, which she was beginning to doubt, she couldn’t see a downside to this. “My. . . my husband won’t miss me. Just give me a moment to call him and let him know.”

Susannah made the call from the courtesy phone in the lobby while McConnell bought a copy of the New York Times at the gift shop. “Hogan, get your camera ready,” she said softly.

Before he could bombard her with questions, she said, “Got to go. You’ll understand soon enough. Just go to the camera.”

Ten floors of rationalizations later, Susannah stepped into McConnell’s suite. She’d get the drapes open, and if Hogan was where he should be, he could put his nifty camera to work and snap a truck load of photographs.

“I’d planned to buy a condo here,” Thomas said, “But now.” He shrugged and sadness settled on his features again.

His suite seemed even more elegant than the one she and Hogan shared. A replica of a suit of armor, nearly a foot and a half tall, occupied a position on top of a marble coffee table. Its intricate metal engraving drew her eye. “How beautiful.” Susannah stroked her finger over the silver armor.

“Yes, the old bloke’s traveled with me nearly thirty years.”

“You mean he’s yours?”

“Old Harold, I call him. I rescued him from a dusty shop in London after I made my first million.”

“Legally or illegally?” she asked sternly.

McConnell laughed but ignored her question. “I’ve always kept the old fellow nearby. He’s kind of my good luck charm I suppose you’d say. Since I plan to stay a couple of months, I had some of my things shipped to the hotel. Now, please, have a seat while I slip into something comfortable? If you’ll pardon that time-worn cliché?”

“You better not come out in a negligee.” Susannah laughed and kicked off her shoes. She settled on a beige silk sofa and curled her legs beneath her.

McConnell looked at her silently. After a minute, he said, “You’re so natural and utterly delightful. I like to think my daughter, had she lived, might have been like you.”

“That’s very sweet.” His words reached into her heart where she hid her secret attempts to get her father to love her. Her own had left so long ago that she had only hazy memories of life with him. All she associated with the man was her longing to be cherished. For him to sweep back into her life and make up for all the tears her mother had shed.

“I’m sure your daughter would have been a wonderful woman.” Susannah blinked rapidly, not wanting Thomas to see how he had affected her. He nodded and left the room.

Alone, Susannah took a few minutes to compose herself. She liked Thomas McConnell. Even if he had been a thief. She believed him when he said he’d left that life behind him. So why had the Mayor’s sister accused him of stealing her jewels? It just didn’t add up.

With a sigh, she reminded herself of why she had come to McConnell’s room. She owed it to Hogan, she supposed, opening the drapes and pushing wide the sliding door. A soft breeze kissed her face as she stepped out onto the balcony.

The night was awash with lights from the hotel yet she could still see the stars. A big silver moon hung over the ocean and illuminated the night. A lover’s moon. She had become a hopeless romantic, she thought with a nervous laugh. It was easy to imagine the moon shining down on her and Hogan as they lay in that huge mahogany bed in his room. Or maybe on the nearby beach where moonbeams silvered the water.

What a silly thought. Susannah sighed. Maybe it was silly, but she wished it would happen. Another sigh escaped her as she looked across to the suite that she shared with the most maddening man she knew. Okay, Hogan, this is your big chance.

* * *

Hogan peered through the telephoto lens. Surely his eyes were playing tricks on him. He hadn’t had much sleep. His eyes were tired. That had to be the problem. He pulled back, blinked his eyes, then looked again. Unfortunately, he wasn’t hallucinating.

“Why that little fool.”

Fear struck him like a blow. Cold sweat broke out on his forehead. What if McConnell tried something? His first instinct was to make a 9-1-1 call. The thought of Susannah being in even a tiny bit of danger made him sick with dread.

Then he saw McConnell join her on the balcony. The man carried two glasses. He handed Susannah one. Brandy? Was the man insane? Nobody drank brandy in August. Especially not in Texas.

What did she think she was doing accepting that drink?

To his further dismay, he saw Susannah click her glass to McConnell’s, and his temperature went from cold dread to hot jealousy. The green-eyed monster bit down hard. What did she think she was doing drinking brandy with that, that felon?

Fuming, Hogan jerked his tee shirt over his head and dropped it to the floor. What the hell did she think she was doing? Didn’t she know men like McConnell thought she was fair game? She might buy that fatherly facade, but he didn’t. He suspected the man had been Yvonne’s lover. He’d set her up to steal her jewelry and break her heart.

“How dare Susannah gaze at the moon with that lecherous over the hill Romeo.”

Well, he wouldn’t have it. This was the straw that broke his camel’s back. It was past time to swear out a warrant for McConnell.

He grabbed the phone and dialed Luke Orland. “I don’t care how late it is. Get a warrant, and get over here now.”

Hogan slammed the phone down and pulled a knit shirt out of the dresser drawer. Yvonne would be upset, but Susannah’s safety was at stake, he rationalized. His stepmother would just have to understand her second thoughts were a luxury he could no longer tolerate. Not when Susannah was mixed up in this.

In another moment, he’d exchanged his jeans for tailored navy slacks. Impatiently, he glanced at his watch and decided not to wait for Luke. Time was flying, and he didn’t trust that aging Romeo as far as he could throw a bull by the tail.

* * *

“What was that?” Susannah asked.

“It sounds as if someone’s pounding on my door.” Thomas laid down the game box on the marble coffee table and hurried to the door. Susannah trailed after him.

Thomas looked out the peephole. “Oh, it’s your husband. He must have finished his work early.”

“Oh, boy. Lucky me.” Susannah guessed Hogan wasn’t here to compliment her on getting into McConnell’s lair. She shrugged. Now she’d have to sooth Hogan’s ruffled feathers. Still, experience had taught her it was usually better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.

“Good evening, Hogan,” Thomas said, smiling, as he opened the door.

Hogan walked in. He nodded curtly at McConnell then said, “Susannah, we’re going,” He hooked his hand around her upper arm and tugged.

“Hey. Don’t grab my arm like I’m a disobedient child.” She twisted free. “Maybe I’m not ready to go.”

“Oh, dear,” Thomas said. “Is everything all right?”

Susannah tried to hang onto her own temper, but when Hogan acted like an alpha male, it put her back up. She took a deep breath and reminded herself of her promise to act her role as his dutiful wife. She’d try to soothe McConnell. “Of course everything’s all right, Thomas.”

She turned to Hogan. “If you weren’t always such a workaholic, I wouldn’t be here, darling.”

“Well, darling.” His eyes glittered with anger. “I’m prepared to lavish my attention on you now. I might add, at great length.”

When she looked up, she found his eyes gleamed hotly down at her. Susannah decided he probably had meant that as the double entendre she’d interpreted it to be. “I can hardly wait,” she said between clenched teeth.

“Your charming wife was kind enough to keep an old man company this evening. If you need to be angry with anyone, be angry with me.”

“Yeah, she can be real charming apparently. To other men.”

Surprised by his stinging remark, she said, “Why, darling, what are you insinuating?”

“I’m not insinuating anything. I’m saying flat out that you spread your charm a little too freely on other men.”

That steamed her. She forgot she was acting. “That’s because there’s no reason to waste my charm on you. You don’t seem to know I’m alive. You’ve treated me like a stick of furniture since the day we arrived.”

His voice rose as hers had. “Oh, but I do know you’re alive. I can’t help but be aware of you, and those scraps of fabric you call clothes.”

“Oh, dear me,” Thomas said. “Would you two like to sit down and have a nice, calming drink? I have some lovely tea.”

“No!” They chorused in unison. Hogan and Susannah edged closer.

“Well, if you’re aware, it’s news to me.” Susannah realized she was within a hair’s breadth of Hogan’s rapidly rising and falling chest. His respiration was as ragged as hers. Suddenly she wished McConnell would vanish and leave Hogan alone with her. She didn’t want an audience for what she wanted to do to her pretend husband.

“Please, Mr. Hogan. If you are upset with anyone, it should be with me.” McConnell interjected again.

“Why should I be upset? Just because my wife is alone in another man’s room?”

“Maybe if you gave your wife one ounce of attention, she wouldn’t have to go to other men’s rooms.” Susannah said irrationally.

“I’m prepared to give you all the attention you want. I’m overflowing with attention. So get a move on, Mrs. Hogan. We’ve got a perfectly good room of our own going to waste.”

“Ah, I see.” Thomas chuckled. “Don’t mind him, my dear. He’s jealous.”

Hogan’s expression would have been comical if Susannah hadn’t been so steamed. Had McConnell intuitively nailed Hogan’s problem?

Suddenly, she realized she and Hogan were putting on quite a show. Her heart sank. This wasn’t the way to prove she was a professional. Apparently Hogan realized the same thing.

Gruffly, he said, “Sorry, McConnell.” Then he took her arm. “Susannah, let’s go. I think we’ve created enough of a scene for one evening.”

She nodded, chastened by the emotional outburst she’d given in to. She wondered if Hogan too had let personal feelings surface under the guise of playacting? Was he really? She couldn’t help a covert glance at his stormy face. What she saw there made her feel nervous yet excited.

“I do apologize, Thomas. We’ll leave now,” she told the older man who suddenly looked more amused than upset. “Perhaps we can play your game tomorrow.”

Thomas whispered, “Don’t be too hard on him, my dear. Men in love are complete idiots. We do and say the dumbest things when we feel threatened.”

Thomas’s whispered words unsettled her. Was it possible that Hogan could be in love with her? The thought made her feel odd, though strangely enough, it didn’t send her into a panic. Cynicism reared its ugly head. Did he love her? Or did he just want her body?

She allowed him to escort her out of the suite and down the hall. As soon as the door closed behind them, he said, “I don’t want you playing any game or doing anything with that senior citizen Lothario.”

“What? You make him sound as if he had designs on my virtue,” Susannah scoffed.

“If the shoe fits,” Hogan fumed.

After a few more steps, she said, “Speaking of shoes, slow down. I can’t keep up in these shoes.”

Hogan looked down at the black high heels held to her feet only by a couple of thin straps. “I’m not surprised. Where’d you get those things? Hookers Are Us?”

“These are perfectly respectable fashion shoes.”

“Well, they’re sure not made for walking.” He swept her off her feet as if she weighed nothing.

The feel of his arms around her did weird things to her brain. “I can walk,” she protested. “I just can’t jog. You can put me down.” Her voice sounded insignificant even to her own ears. Being held in his arms felt even better than she’d imagined, but that didn’t mean she’d let him get away with such a caveman tactic.

When Hogan ignored her and continued walking, she folded her arms and clamped her mouth shut and concentrated on calming her rioting emotions. She just hoped he couldn’t feel her rampaging heart beating like a wild thing against his chest.

Her nipples were taut. The slide of the silk of the sheer bra over the hard peaks made her shiver as the warmth of his body penetrated. Her brain filled the silence between them with fantasies of his hands sliding over her breasts.

Knowing her thoughts continued to stray into the danger zone, she tried to distract herself. “Hogan, you’re being ridiculous. If you hadn’t barged in, I’d have had the man confessing his every sin.”

“Don’t flatter yourself, darling. An old fox like that isn’t going to tell you anything he doesn’t want you to know.”

“You’re just upset because I got inside and looked around.”

“You’re right. I am upset. You weren’t told to look around, were you? You were told specific actions to undertake. You weren’t told to flirt with McConnell. And nowhere, no how were you told to go to his room. Are you insane?”

“I must be. I’m living with you and calling myself Mrs. Hogan,” she muttered as they stepped into an elevator.

Hogan punched the button for the mezzanine then opened his arms. She slid down his body, aware of every inch of him sliding against her sensitized flesh. Her face flamed as much from arousal as anger. When she stood on her own feet, she faced him and gazed into his eyes.

His blue eyes glittered, and his voice was hoarse with strain. “This was supposed to be an easy job.”

She could only think of how close together they were. She couldn’t seem to muster any anger of her own. “I did call you first.”

He broke in. “Let me finish.”

“All right. Go ahead and vent. I’ll be quiet.”

“I doubt that.” Hogan took a deep shuddering breath. “I was afraid for you. All I could think of was getting you away. Making you safe.” He struck the elevator wall with the flat of his hand. “Damn it. I can’t do this. I can’t run an operation this way. Ever since I met you, you’ve kept me off balance. I don’t know whether I’m coming or going.”

Susannah realized he really was upset. Guilt pricked her conscience. “I can explain about tonight. It’s really not as bad as you think.”

“Please, Susannah. Just shut up.”

Her mouth snapped shut at his quiet command. Oddly enough, she didn’t take offense.

Hogan made a kind of groaning laugh sound. “I’m not angry with you. I’m mad at myself.” He looked away.

Susannah noticed when his eyes returned to her face, they focused on her mouth. Nervous, she swallowed and moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue.

Hogan made that sound halfway between a groan and a laugh again. “This isn’t the right time.”

“For what?”

As if he hadn’t heard her, he rolled his eyes. In an exasperated voice, he asked, “But when would be the right time? When did I ever even have a choice?”

“What are you talking about?”

The elevator door opened. He ignored her questions and escorted her over to the elevator that serviced the tower where their suite was. Susannah remained silent though no one else was in the mezzanine. Once inside the east tower elevator, he punched the button for their floor. The elevator doors whisked closed and rushed upward.

Susannah felt suddenly exhausted by the evening. She leaned against the mahogany paneling.

Hogan turned to her. “You made me violate my most sacred rule. Never let your personal feelings get in the way of business.” His hands closed over her upper arms. With a gentle jerk, she was a hair’s breadth from his body.

“What are you doing?” she whispered, suddenly not tired at all.

“In the end, what will it matter?” he muttered.

“What will what matter?” she could only whisper.

He pulled her that millimeter closer. Her breasts flattened against the wall of his chest. She could feel his heat through her clothes.

Hogan’s voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. “There’s no way this will work out to my advantage, is there?”

“What?” she could only ask, dazed by the pounding of the blood through her veins. Aware of only the need to join her body with his.

“Am I crazy, Susannah? Or do you want me as much as I want you?” Hogan’s mouth swooped down and captured hers.

Chapter 13
When Hogan’s lips met hers, Susannah wrapped her arms around Hogan’s neck and pressed her body to the hard planes of his. She closed her eyes, wanting to blot out everything but the sensation of his mouth on hers. The feel of his body next to hers. She kissed him back and welcomed his tongue as it plundered her mouth. The kiss made her weak, yet in the same moment she felt as if she were stronger and more alive than she’d ever been.

Dimly, she was aware that his hands moved away from her arms. She opened her eyes and saw him groping behind him. He did something to the control panel, and the elevator car slowed and stopped. In the next moment, he was kissing her again. Meeting her hunger with his own. His tongue mating with hers.

She felt desperate to touch him, to feel his skin. She pulled at his shirt, seeking the man beneath. Her hands slid over his chest, skimming the crinkly hair there, idling over the flat male nipples, pulling a deep groan from him. His mouth moved from hers. A soft moan was her only protest. She leaned forward as she pushed his shirt up. Her wet lips encircled the nipple her fingers had toyed with. When she kissed him there, swirling her tongue over the hardened nub of flesh, he gasped. She felt infused with a power she hadn’t known she possessed.

Frantically, his hands began pulling at her skirt as he kissed his way to her ear. He gently nipped the lobe then soothed it with his tongue. His hands twisted in her skirt. “I want to touch you. I have to touch you.” His voice was low, guttural with need.

“Yes,” she breathed, wanting that too. And more.

Suddenly, a loud bell rang, shattering the spell.

“Aw, hell.” Hogan groaned. His hands dropped. He leaned his forehead against hers. His breathing was ragged. “I’m sorry. I know better.”

“What?” Confused, Susannah tried to control her breathing. Was it over?

“Security video cam in the elevator.”

Horrified, Susannah jumped back from him just as a polite voice spoke over the canned music.

“Do you need assistance, sir?”

Hogan reached over and pushed a button. “No. We’re fine. I must have accidentally hit the emergency stop. I’ve corrected the situation now. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome, sir. Enjoy your evening.”

Susannah was certain she’d never blushed quite so red in her entire life. And that was saying a lot considering she was a redhead.

Before, she hadn’t understood why Paula and other women made such idiots of themselves over men. Why sex was so important to them. Now she understood. Her legs felt weak. Her pulse still pounded low in her belly, still throbbing, making her so wet she was certain the tiny black panties she wore must be soaked. That’s how Hogan had made her feel that night in Houston. He’d stirred her as no man ever had.

Then, she’d been reeling from the devastation of her father’s rejection. More than that, she’d been heartbroken, horrified by what she’d learned. All she’d wanted when she met Hogan was to stop thinking, to silence the words that kept echoing inside her head. She’d sought comfort in the arms of a stranger, but she’d found more than mere comfort. He’d aroused a passion in her that had frightened her. Confused and knowing she was too vulnerable, she’d fled.

That was then. This was now. She was still frightened by the intensity of her emotions, but she wasn’t confused any more. She knew exactly what she wanted. Him.

Silently the doors of the elevator opened. Hogan reached over, and, to her surprise, pressed the button for the lobby. She was about to ask him what was going in when he touched her hair, apparently taming it into some semblance of respectability. Just that simple touch raised the goose flesh on her arms and made her weak. His expression was unreadable. Twin spots of color marked his cheeks though. She swayed toward him as he smoothed her dress down.

He steadied her. Then, to her mounting confusion, stepped away. A moment later, the doors of the elevator slid open.

“There you are,” a familiar male voice exclaimed.

Bewildered, Susannah saw Luke Orland grinning at them. Why was he here? Slowly, her mind cleared. What was going on?

Luke cocked his head to the side. “You all right, Susannah? You look kind of funny.” His brown eyes were inquisitive as he looked from her to Hogan.

She cleared her throat and stepped out into the lobby, hoping her legs wouldn’t fail her. “Yes, I’m fine. You’re out of uniform,” she said, stating the obvious since she couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“I’m off duty, but I had to deliver something to Hogan.” He patted his blazer pocket. “Got it right here, boss, when you need it.”

Luke smiled at Susannah and offered his arm. “How about a drink and some talk? Haven’t seen you in a while.”

Hogan deftly took Susannah’s arm. “A drink sounds good. Don’t wait for us.”

Luke grinned and nodded. “I see. No problem. Take your time.” Luke winked at Susannah and sauntered off.

Relieved, Susannah watched Luke disappear into the Tiki Lounge. She and Hogan were alone. Maybe if she got him up to the room, she could persuade him to continue what he’d started in the elevator. She shuddered in reaction, looked up, and saw Hogan looking at her. She suspected he knew the seductive thoughts bouncing around inside her head.

Hogan took her hand and pulled her to him. Her pulse leaped. She started to tell him she was all for putting an end to the desire tormenting them, when, to her surprise, he reached into his hip pocket and pulled out a handkerchief.

Gently, he wiped her mouth. “You’re lipstick,” he explained in a gruff voice.

She saw her bright red lipstick on the white cloth. “Oh, no.” Mortified, she covered her face with both hands, peeking through her fingers at him. He was right. Her lipstick was smeared. All over his mouth. She took his handkerchief from him and wiped his mouth.

“Sorry,” he said softly, tucking away the handkerchief when she handed it back to him. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I didn’t mean for any of that to happen.” In a stern voice, he vowed, “I promise you it won’t happen again.”

“It won’t?” The resolve in his voice dismayed her. She didn’t like the steely determination in his blue eyes. She wanted it to happen again. She didn’t care if Luke knew they’d been sucking face in the elevator like a couple of teenagers. She wanted more of it. And not just kisses. She wanted everything, the whole enchilada. Was she that big a fool?

Stricken, she looked into his eyes. Did he regret kissing her? Had he just gotten carried away with the pretense of their being lovers? Being married? That thought stung her pride.

While she was trying to sort out her feelings, Hogan started walking her toward the main entrance. She realized he was giving her the old bum’s rush. She dug in her heels, and he jerked to a halt. “What are you doing?”

“I’m taking you back to Vance. I’ll pack your things tomorrow and bring them up to you, but you’re going tonight. It’s the only way now that I can guarantee your safety. And I promised your uncle you’d be safe.” He stopped and faced her. “Be reasonable. McConnell might look like a meek old man, but he’s a convicted felon. I can’t take the chance that you might get hurt.” He started walking again, nearly dragging her along.

Susannah stopped again. So abruptly, he lost his grip on her arm. “You can’t take the chance? What am I? A child? Some silent partner without a brain? You can’t do this.”

“I can, and I am. You were here to provide distraction.” He flushed and shoved his hands in his pockets, looking down at the floor. “Distraction for McConnell.” He looked up briefly. “You knew the ground rules. You’ve proved you can’t follow orders.”

“That’s not fair. If I hadn’t done what I did today, we’d still be nowhere.”

“That remains to be seen.”

“Hogan,” Susannah wailed. “You can’t do this to me. I won’t go back to being Uncle Barney’s file clerk. If you send me packing, he’ll never take me seriously.” She knew that was a bit of exaggeration, but she didn’t care. She was not leaving. With that thought in mind, she turned and walked rapidly away, heading toward the cocktail lounge.

“Come back here,” Hogan snapped.

Susannah flinched at the anger in his voice, but she didn’t stop. Over her shoulder, she said, “No. Quit shouting unless your intent is to attract attention.”

“I’m not shouting. Yet.”

“I won’t leave, and you can’t make me. I’m joining Luke for a drink. You can certainly use something cold to drink. Maybe it’ll cool your temper.”

This is what she got for yielding to her emotions. She needed to practice what her best friend Paula preached, “Sex doesn’t mean you have to be emotionally involved.”

Hogan had set her up. All that bull about her attracting McConnell. Obviously, they thought the only talent she had to bring to the party was her resemblance to a girl long dead. Then he’d set her up again in the elevator. Kissed her, romanced her. He’d practically seduced her in an attempt to soften her up so he could get rid of her.

“I’ll cool off the minute I get you out of here,” he said catching up with her.

In a scathing voice, she said, “The only way you’ll get me out of here is to pick me up and carry me out. You won’t do that because everyone here, including you know who, will know about it by tomorrow.”

“The hell I won’t.” But he made no move to do so. Instead, he matched her step for step as she hurried into the dimly-lit lounge Luke had entered.

The bamboo-lined room, lit only by clamshell wall sconces and votive candles on the tables, was so dark it took Susannah a couple of minutes to spot Luke. A three piece combo on a small stage played a Jimmy Buffet song. She rushed toward her friend without looking at Hogan.

To her surprise, Hogan quietly followed and pulled out a chair for her at Luke’s table. She murmured her thanks and sat. Hogan took the chair on her right where he faced the entrance. She risked a look at him. He seemed resigned, but no longer hostile. Maybe she’d convinced him to change his mind.

Luke lifted his glass of beer. Amusement flickered in his eyes. “You look like you could use a drink. Want one?”

Hogan nodded. “Sure, why not. I’ve been told I need to cool off.”

Luke snickered. “How about you, Susannah?”

“Just a Coke,” she said, looking at her old friend. She and Luke had played in the same sandbox together. He knew about this caper, but she had a feeling he knew more about it than she did. Some friend, she thought sourly.

Luke waved a cocktail waitress over. The dark-haired girl wore a pink-flowered sarong and had a pink hibiscus blossom tucked behind her right ear. She took their drink orders and left. Luke leaned close to Hogan and began talking in a low voice.

With Hogan’s attention off her, Susannah tried to pretend she was listening to the music rather than eavesdropping on the men’s conversation. When she heard Luke ask if Yvonne would be pressing charges if they arrested McConnell, her interest sharpened.

Apparently, the Mayor’s sister, the famous Yvonne of the incredibly bad taste in men, was in residence at the hotel. Hogan didn’t seem surprised so he must have already known. Susannah had a flash of insight. That’s where he’d gone when he’d disappeared. Why hadn’t he told her he’d visited the Mayor’s sister? Why keep it a secret?

Disgruntled that he hadn’t told her, she found herself analyzing his sudden passion in the elevator. He’d done a good job of distracting her. If the elevator ride had been any longer, she might have been willing to follow him anywhere if he so much as crooked his finger at her. Hogan was good. She had to give him that.

But why was he trying so hard to get rid of her? She’d thought he didn’t want her here because she wasn’t experienced. The last couple of days had showed her it didn’t take experience to act like the idle rich. Resentfully, Susannah studied him. Had he thought kissing her would seduce her into meekly following his orders to leave? She blinked to dispel the sudden moisture in her eyes. She’d thought such sweet passion had to mean something. She squeezed her eyes shut.

Hogan was just a man, and men used women’s passion to get what they wanted. And he wanted her gone. The reason didn’t matter. Her stubborn nature came to her rescue. She wasn’t going anywhere. She’d stick this out to the bitter end. And he wasn’t going to order her away, scare her away, or seduce her away.

The sarong-wrapped girl brought their drinks. The icy cold liquid helped cool her emotions. By the time Hogan and Luke finished their conversation, she was in control of herself again. She chatted with Luke about his family and her own for a couple of minutes, but Luke’s eyes kept straying to a point behind her. Without looking around, she knew his attention had latched onto a woman.

“Go on,” she said. “You don’t have to stay here for my benefit.”

Luke grinned and picked up his drink. He saluted them. “Behave yourselves, children.” He stood. “Back in a few.” He sipped his drink. “Or not.”

Susannah waited until Luke was out of earshot. Maybe it was time for some manipulation of her own. She touched Hogan’s arm. “Hey.”

He looked at her as he lifted his beer. “Hey, yourself.”

She decided not to mention the scene in the elevator. “Hogan, I’ll follow your lead from now on. I promise.”

He sipped his beer, set it down, and asked, “Why did you volunteer for this? What do you hope to get out of this week?”

She shrugged. “Experience? A little excitement. Maybe a career boost?”

“Career boost.” He nodded. “Is that what’s important to you? Your career?”

“What else is there?” she asked, sounding more serious than she intended.

“A husband?” He set his drink down. “Children? That’s what most women want. Even the ones I’ve met in law enforcement. Most men want that too even though a lot of them don’t realize it or won’t admit it if they do.”

Susannah toyed with her glass. Why was he asking? What did he want to hear? Cautiously, she asked, “Do you mean am I looking for happy ever after?”

“Yeah. Sure. Don’t you want that?” His gaze was intense.

“Do you think there’s such a thing?” she parried.

He shrugged. “Yeah. I guess I do. My parents felt that way. They had that. Even when my mom died and my dad remarried, he found that with my stepmom too.”

Susannah couldn’t meet his eyes. “Sorry. I don’t think there is such a thing. Maybe some people think they’re in love and living the fairy tale, but all fairy tales come to an end. They’re just fooling themselves.” Her eyes flicked to his. “They lie to themselves, but they can’t fool the children they bring into the world. My mom used to say my dad loved me. He doesn’t. At least he was honest enough to tell me that.”

“Not every parent is like your father.” Hogan reached out and covered her hand with his. “Don’t judge every man by that yardstick.”

“Men lie to get what they want. My father lied to get what he wanted, and my mom got pregnant at sixteen. He lied when he said till death do us part. That death part? Well, when he left, my mom nearly died. People lie.” She met his gaze unflinchingly.

Hogan’s eyes shifted away from her bleak stare. “Sometimes things aren’t what they seem. Yes, people lie. But sometimes, maybe, there’s a reason. A good reason.”

“You must have listened to Grace’s mitigating circumstances lecture.” She laughed but there was little humor in the sound. “I disagree. There’s never any excuse for lying. Especially from someone who’s supposed to love you.” Susannah thought about what her father had told her. What was she supposed to do with that knowledge?

“Hey, y’all look so serious,” Luke interrupted, pulling his chair out. “The lady over there is engaged so I guess I’ll interrupt your conversation and rejoin you if I may?” Luke dropped into his chair. “All these intense whispers. What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Hogan answered, his eyes on Susannah.

Her chest actually hurt as if a block of ice sat on it, freezing her emotions to keep them from melting and running down her face in tears. Love hurt. Despite her best efforts, she had loved her dad and wanted his love in turn. She was tired of the pain.

“Come on, Susannah. Talk to your old buddy,” Luke said.

She forced a smile and joked, “Hogan’s miffed because I made more progress with this McConnell thing than he has.”

Luke’s brows lifted. “That so?”

“No, it’s not so. And I’m not miffed. I’m just trying to get Susannah to understand the importance of following orders.”

“He’s got you there, Susannah. You’ve never been good at following orders.” Luke grinned. “Giving them, yes. Following them? No, ma’am.”

“Thanks a lot, Luke. You’re a big help.”

“Well, I will say in Susannah’s defense that she has great intuition. Also, she’s good with people. She’d make one hell of an interrogator. I’ve seen total strangers tell her their entire life story with no provocation at all. I think it’s those wide green eyes.”

Luke sipped his beer. “Just don’t get in the way of her ambition. I remember when she was in sixth grade she told everyone that she was going to go to the FBI academy. No one laughed. The girl has will power in spades.”

“Yeah, I’ve found that out.”

Susannah imagined Hogan didn’t think she had a snowball’s chance in hell of going places. But she’d show him. And her dad. And the whole damn county.

Poor little Susannah.

The desire to run away from that label, from Hogan’s questioning gaze was nearly overwhelming. Quietly, but forcefully, Susannah said, “I’m going to do it. My uncle isn’t going to keep me cushioned in cotton balls forever. I’ll get what I want.”

Luke picked up his frosted mug and said, “Well, let’s drink a toast to getting what we want rather than what we deserve.”

Hogan looked grim at the silly salute, Susannah thought. Of course, Luke was just being Luke. Still, he should show some discretion. “Luke, how many did you have before we arrived?”

“Hey, this is it. But it doesn’t matter how many. I can hold my liquor just as good as I can keep secrets. Right, Hogan?” Luke grinned. “Here’s to keeping secrets.”

Secrets? That was hitting a little too close to home. Maybe it was time to plead tiredness and retire for the night. “Luke, it’s been real. It’s been fun. But it hasn’t been real fun.”

He slapped the table top and laughed. Then he sat up straighter. Next thing she knew, his attention was riveted to whoever had just arrived. Another woman, she guessed, amused. Some people never changed.

“Be back in a few,” he said and bolted.

“Susannah.” Hogan leaned toward her. “Sometimes something can happen that might make you doubt someone. I want you to promise that you’ll remember what I’m about to say. I’m on your side. Always. You can trust me. With anything. Even if circumstances seem to suggest otherwise.”

Trust him? The thought was alien. Admittedly, she wanted to be with him. Did she have to trust him in order to have a relationship with him? In the end, could she have a relationship without giving him some kind of power over her? Too many questions and no answers. Susannah looked away and saw Luke had seated himself at a table with Allison Platt. How perfect.

The woman was just Luke’s type. She was probably any man’s type. No wonder she’d attracted Luke’s attention. She was hard to miss in a tight, shiny silver dress that made Susannah’s short black silk dress seem prim by contrast. Susannah realized Allison Platt was staring at her in return. Or was it Hogan the woman watched so avidly?

Susannah didn’t like the blonde. Not one little bit. It took all her will power not to question Hogan about his connection to Allison. Disquieted by the woman’s presence, she forced her thoughts back to the problem at hand. At least that was something she could see to a logical conclusion without messy emotional entanglements. That was the appeal of law enforcement. Things were either right or wrong. If they were wrong, you fixed them. That was so much easier than real life.

“Hogan, let me follow up with McConnell. Please? We’ll finish the job then you can get on with your life, and I can get on with mine.” Her words made her feel empty and hollow, but that was the way it had to be. That was best.

“Is that what you want?” Hogan asked with quiet intensity. “Just to go our separate ways? Never see each other again?”

“Sure. I’ve got things to do and places to go.” She tried her best to sound assured yet she watched him carefully. The tension seemed to drain from his body at her response. She figured he was relieved by her assurances.

Hogan took a long pull on his drink. Long minutes passed, then he asked, “You really like McConnell, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do, but you say the word, and I’ll arrest him quicker than you can spell habeas corpus.” She forced a grin.

Hogan’s lips twitched. He rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. Another long sigh, and he said, “I give up, Quinn. I’m going to level with you. I need to tell you everything then we can go upstairs.”

“Well, hello. If it isn’t the lovebirds, Mr. and Mrs. Hogan.”

Susannah felt like throwing her hands up in despair. Talk about bad timing. She bit back a growl as Hogan stood. Allison Platt, with her arm linked with Luke’s, had zeroed in on them like a heat-seeking missile.

“Hogan,” Allison scolded. “You were supposed to call me.” Allison stood on tiptoe and planted a noisy kiss on Hogan’s cheek.

Susannah cast a surprised glance at her pretend husband. She’d thought he’d sneaked away to meet with Yvonne. But maybe he’d really gone to see the blonde. Maybe he saw them both without mentioning a word to her. The sense of betrayal cut deep.

Yeah, she could trust him. Her anger flared and focused on the lip print on Hogan’s cheek. She could not sit here another moment and gaze at that mark of possession. Too bad she didn’t have any sand paper. That would remove the red mark quite nicely.

“I’ll leave you two to reminisce. I was just leaving.” Susannah rose, her gaze fixed on the doorway. Damn. Thomas McConnell was walking into the dark lounge.

“Aw, come on, Susannah, don’t be a party pooper,” Luke said, pulling out a chair for Allison then dropping into the one he’d occupied before deserting them to race across to the blonde.

Susannah dropped back into her chair and held her hand over her forehead as if to shield her eyes. She hoped Thomas wouldn’t see her and come over to their table. She watched as he seated himself at the bar. Under the table Susannah kicked Luke’s shin.

“Ow.” He caught her pointed gaze and looked toward the bar. “Oh. Sorry. Just an old football injury. Gives me a twinge every now and then.”

Quicker on the uptake, Hogan casually turned as if looking for someone.

Susannah felt trapped. “Okay, I’ll stay a little longer.”

“Wonderful. I’m so glad you’ll stay. We need to get to know each other,” Allison said, tossing her mane of straight blond hair over her shoulder.

Susannah saw the bartender pour Thomas a brandy. Oh, great. It would take forever for him to sip that stuff. She was trapped. She just hoped he didn’t see her and Hogan. It was bad enough with Allison Platt here. She didn’t want another actor to enter their comedy of errors pretense.

“Come on, Hogan. I insist you and your, uh, lovely wife, let me toast your marriage,” Allison said, eyes twinkling. “Your very sudden marriage at that. Champagne is definitely called for.”

Luke made choking sounds and covered his mouth with his hand. Susannah fixed him with a malevolent stare. He just grinned back at her. Knowing Luke and the way his brain worked, he probably thought they were using the McConnell thing as an excuse to have a fling in the luxury hotel. Her lipstick smeared all over Hogan’s face probably had just confirmed the fact for him. Luke had always had sex on the brain.

She stiffened her spine. She didn’t care what he thought, but she did care that Hogan obviously had told Allison the truth. That meant the blonde bimbo knew they weren’t married. What a ridiculous situation. It was like some stupid Regency comedy of errors novel plot.

“It’s a miracle you landed this guy, Suzanne,” Allison gushed.

“My name is Susannah, not Suzanne.”

Allison giggled. “Like the song? Maybe if you had a banjo on your knee, I’d remember.”

“Sorry. I left my banjo at home. There wasn’t room for it in the Porsche.”

Hogan coughed. When she looked at him, amusement gleamed in his eyes. Her eyes narrowed in warning. If he laughed, she would not be responsible for what she did.

“Hogan, if I’d known you were here, I’d have skedaddled down to Texas sooner.” Allison took a long look at Luke and said, “Do tell me all about your friend here, and I don’t mean Suzanne.”

With an apologetic grin in Susannah’s direction, Hogan said, “My wife really hates for people to misuse her name.” A grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Isn’t that right, my love?”

Allison didn’t give her a chance to reply. “I know just how she feels. People are always calling me Alice or Ally, and I just hate it.” She pouted prettily. “My name is Allison. Is that too hard to remember, Suzanne?” Allison giggled and patted her hand. “Sorry, I couldn’t resist one last misnomer. When you get to know me, you’ll discover I’m one big prankster. I love a good joke.”

Allison ordered champagne while Luke turned on the charm which he never bothered to use on platonic friends like Susannah. After that everything went downhill like a wet snowball rolling to hell.

She resented how the woman continuously touched Hogan. A squeeze of his hand, a pat on the cheek, a touch on his shoulder. True, she treated Luke the same, but that didn’t upset her. The woman was so touchy-feely she put Susannah’s teeth on edge.

Susannah clenched the glass of champagne Allison had forced on her and watched the continuous stream of bubbles rise through the hollow stem to break on the surface. That was better than watching the blonde flaunt her assets while she complained about the remnants of a sunburn she’d received in Martinique.

As much as Allison talked, it was surprising her tongue didn’t suffer from fatigue.

“You don’t look a bit burned,” Luke said gallantly.

“Oh, baby, if you saw me without my clothes.” Allison’s dramatic sigh was accompanied by a flirtatious giggle.

“I’d love to,” Luke said.

Allison just laughed and launched into another story about sailing off some other exotic island.

Susannah wondered if she doused the blonde with the chilled bubbly if that would help her alleged itchy sunburn. Fortunately, Thomas McConnell chose to notice them. He caught her looking and saluted her with his glass. He smiled.

“He looks so sad.”

Hogan whispered in her ear. “Don’t even think about asking him to join us. Just let him finish his drink and leave.”

“All right. I wasn’t going to say anything to him,” she lied.

Moments later, she glanced up and saw Walter Bofco walk into the lounge with a woman clinging to his arm and smiling at him with an expression of adoration.

Susannah gasped. “Oh. My. God. Is that my mother?”

This entry was posted in THE TROUBLE WITH LOVE. Bookmark the permalink.

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