"How do I explain reports with no errors?" Susannah beamed at Hogan and shrugged. "Beginner's luck?"
She left the office quickly, closing the door behind her. In the outer office, she had only a minute to savor her victory. A moment later, the chime over the door jamb rang. With a sunny smile, she greeted the tall, slender man dressed in a pale blue golf shirt and tropical white slacks. "Good morning, Mayor Bofco."
"Good morning, Susannah. Please. How many times must I ask you to call me Walter?"
Though she wondered why he always spent so much time and attention on her, she didn't mind his rather old-fashioned charm. "Good morning, Walter."
"Much better." Bofco's dark eyes twinkled. He doffed a straw panama hat, revealing a mass of dark brown hair, edged with silver at his temples. His pale blue shirt contrasted sharply with his tanned skin. Unlike her uncle who never used cologne, Mayor Bofco always smelled faintly of lemon. He'd moved to Murphy's Cove last year and had immediately been elected mayor. He was a perfect portrait of all that he was down to the expensive designer fragrance he wore, a wealthy, middle-aged man in the prime of life who spent much of each day on the golf course. The Mayor never failed to treat her with deference. Hogan could take lessons.
"I love Wednesday," the Mayor said. "I hope Hogan didn't eat all of Opal's sweet rolls."
"I might have saved you one," Hogan said from the doorway.
Susannah's smile faded. Darn that man! How did he move so silently?
"You better have saved more than one."
"Come on. Barney's ready."
Walter didn't move from Susannah's desk. "You graduated in May with a degree in Criminal Justice didn't you? With honors?"
"Yes, from Sam Houston State in Huntsville."
"Well, done. That's a tough degree program."
Hogan watched Walter and Susannah and realized that he'd overestimated the amount of time he'd had to dissuade his stepmother's brother from his plans. The man was as impossible to handle as Hogan's stepmom. Despite their differences Walter and Vonnie were easily identifiable as siblings because the two trust fund babies had mastered stubbornness before toilet training. At least his stepmother wasn't as autocratic as her brother. Vonnie ruled with a velvet glove over her iron hand.
Hogan tried again, but his uncle ignored him. Walter Bofco lived as if he were still a colonel in the army. In fact, he ran his mayoral office the way he'd run the Army post he'd commanded. With complete and total control. The man hadn't retired from military life. He'd merely transferred his power base. He refused to listen to anyone, much less answer to them. And if what he wanted to do couldn't be paid for from city funds, well, Walter just paid for them out of his millions. This little operation was a perfect example. Whatever it cost didn't matter. Walter just charged ahead like the cavalry but with a checkbook in hand instead of a saber.
"If I might be permitted, why did a bright young woman like you come back to Vance? Not that Barney isn't a great Sheriff," he added hastily. "But most young people want to be where the action is. That hardly describes Alton County."
Susannah laughed. "True. But it's as good as any place to get started. Also, right after graduation, my mother had surgery that required her to be off her feet. I was needed here."
"Is she all right now?"
"Sure. She's fine. It was foot surgery. Nothing life threatening."
The Mayor frowned. "I don't believe I've ever met your mother, and I've been introduced to a lot of your relatives since I've been going to Sunday dinner at Barney and Opal's."
"Weekends, and most weekday evenings, you'll find my mom only in one place. Her yard. She loves gardening. She'd spend every waking moment outside if she could. The only time I can drag her away from home is in the winter when the weather's too nasty to work outdoors."
Walter Bofco laughed. "Sounds as if she has a very green thumb."
"Green thumb, fingers, and toes too probably. She can make anything grow."
"Well, I don't know much about gardening. I wouldn't know crabgrass from crab legs. That's why I live in a condo so I don't have to contend with lawn maintenance."
"I hate to brag, but we have the most beautiful yard in town. If you ever need to find me, just drive around until you come to a yard that looks like it should be featured on some gardening television show. That's our place."
"So is your mother a landscape architect or a professional gardener?"
"No. She owns a small bookkeeping business, a one-woman shop. Between that and the gardening, she doesn't usually join Uncle Barney and Aunt Opal for Sunday dinners."
"Well, that's too bad. What does she think about your being in law enforcement?"
"She understands and supports my choice," Susannah said.
A sound between a laugh and a snort of disbelief from Grace's side of the room drew their attention. Grace smiled blandly. "Sorry, got a frog in my throat I guess."
"I know I sound nosy, but do you still need to take care of your mother?"
"No, she's in a soft cast and should be out of that soon. She gets around just fine now."
Hogan tried to head his uncle off. "Walter, remember all the reasons this won't work?"
"You mean you think it won't work. I think it's a great idea." To Susannah, the Mayor said, "What does your father think about your career choice?"
Hogan saw the quick flash of pain in her eyes before she said, "My parents are divorced. He has no say in my choices."
"I didn't mean to pry." Bofco turned to Hogan. "She's perfect. I don't know why you're so against it."
Hogan wasn't about to enlighten him in front of Susannah. He focused on dissuading Walter. "Not in a million years. Not in a trillion."
"Now, Hogan. I outrank you, and I say she's perfect."
"This is not the Army," Hogan said. "You don't outrank me. You have no rank. You're a civilian, remember? And she won't do."
"I guess we should discuss this with Barney," Bofco said.
"He won't agree." Hogan hoped like hell he was right. He was depending on Barney Drummond to veto Walter's crazy idea.
"You two are discussing me as if I'm not here. Exactly what are you talking about?" "Nothing, Deputy Quinn." Hogan grabbed Walter's arm and hustled him away.
"Well, ain't that something?" Grace asked.
Susannah shrugged. "Guess I'll go work on the old files in cell number four."
"Good girl. Keep at it and you'll have all twenty years of those records input into the computer before you retire."
Susannah rolled her eyes. "Funny, Grace."
Five minutes later, the door to the Sheriff's office flew open. Hogan stood in the doorway and bellowed, "Quinn?"
Susannah hurried out. "What?"
"Get in here."
She bristled at his peremptory tone. "Don't snap orders at me. I don't work for you."
"Do you have to argue about everything?" He held up both hands. "Forget I asked." With a long-suffering sigh, he rephrased his request, "Would you please join us, Deputy Quinn?"
Susannah pasted a smile on her face. "Why, certainly, Mr. Hogan."
Bofco stood when she entered the room and didn't sit until she settled into one of the worn leather chairs. Susannah felt somewhat like the fly who joined the spider in its parlor.
Hogan prowled the room like a restless cat. The undomesticated variety. The rubber soles of his running shoes squeaked against the oak-planked floor.
Barney rubbed a gnarled hand over his buzz-cut gray hair. "I don't much like this, but I told Walter I'd let you make your own decision. You've got a level head, and you're a deputy as you keep reminding me. I don't think there's any danger, or I wouldn't even let him mention it."
Danger. The word vibrated through Susannah's nervous system. She perked up, waiting impatiently for someone to tell her what was going on.
Barney sighed heavily. "Your mother's gonna kill me when she finds out 'cause I know there's no way on God's green earth you're gonna turn this down." He leaned back. His old swivel chair groaned. "Go ahead. Tell her."
The Mayor smiled. "We have a little assignment for you, Susannah."
Assignment? Her breath nearly stopped. Not job. Not project. Assignment. This might be the chance she'd wanted to prove herself.
"It's my sister Yvonne. Hogan, what's the name of that Italian industrialist, I should say alleged industrialist, she married? She's still using his name. Said she'd keep the name to remind herself of the price of stupidity."
"Rizzoli," Hogan muttered.
Susannah thought it curious that Hogan knew the man's name, but Walter Bofco, the woman's own brother, didn't.
"That's it. Rizzoli. My sister Yvonne Rizzoli has a problem. Yvonne's older than me. I was a surprise to my parents," Bofco said a bit sheepishly. "Since she was an only child until I came along, she was spoiled dreadfully I'm afraid."
Susannah willed Mayor Bofco to hurry through the family history he seemed compelled to share with the occupants of the room. Get to the good part, she wanted to shout. The part about the assignment. And danger. The words danced through her mind with a tantalizing samba beat. At last, something more exciting than inputting twenty years of musty files into the computer. More exciting even than clocking speeders on the state highway.
"It took Yvonne two marriages before she found the right man. When he died several years ago, she had a hard time with grief. She immediately went into a marriage with that Italian playboy." Disgust colored his voice. "And him ten years younger. He was a fortune hunter who tried to bilk her for a million when she divorced him nine months later. After that, she played the field. To make a long story short."
"Too late." Hogan grumbled.
Susannah held her index finger to her lips and frowned at him to be quiet.
"Last year, she became entangled with this man she met on a cruise. Thomas McConnell. He was quite the charmer. I knew something was up when she didn't move on after a few months. McConnell isn't just a fortune-hunter. He's a thief who's served time in prison."
Bofco's voice rose incredulously. "Can you believe it? My sister running around with a convicted felon. It came as no surprise when Yvonne told me he'd stolen some jewelry from her." His voice rose in outrage. "Jewelry that's been in our family for generations."
"I'm sorry. I can see how upsetting this is for you," Susannah murmured. Sympathy, curiosity, and excitement bubbled inside her. She couldn't hold back the question she very much wanted answered. "What has this got to do with me?"
Hogan quit pacing. "Nothing. That's what I keep telling Walter."
The Mayor ignored him so Susannah did too. "How do I fit into this, Mayor?"
"It's complicated. Yvonne told me that she'd already made an, uh," he paused, "an arrangement of her own to recover the jewelry. I want to make sure there are no slip ups so I've fine-tuned her plan to better handle the situation."
"You should let your sister handle this," Hogan warned with a look as sharp as his words.
Surprised by his remark, Susannah was even more surprised that the Mayor didn't seem insulted. Bofco didn't look like a man who'd tolerate such rudeness from anyone, much less an employee, and that's basically what Hogan, as a consultant, was.
"Yvonne insisted this thief, this Thomas McConnell, would come to the Cove."
"Why would she think that?" Susannah asked, surprised by the information.
"I don't know. She had some brochures lying about or something. I'd guess McConnell expressed a lot of interest in the area so she figured he'd show up here."
Susannah nodded. "That makes sense. I can see why a man like him would come to the
Cove. There's a lot of money down there. But it seems foolish that he'd still come here after ripping her off. Wouldn't he realize she might suspect he'd pay a visit?"
"You'd think he'd have more brains than to show up," Bofco agreed. "But he's there."
"What?" A thrill raced up her spine. "There's a jewel thief in the county?" Oh, she could hear the sweet siren call to her ambition. "Is it really him?"
"It's him all right. I had Yvonne email me a picture. Thomas McConnell is staying at the Las Brisas in the west tower. He's got a tenth floor suite with ocean view. Arrogant crook registered under his own name. He didn't even try to hide his identity."
Hogan slammed his hands down on Barney's desk. "That's enough, Walter. I don't want Susannah involved in this. I won't have it."
He wouldn't have it? There was no way she'd let Hogan keep her from this. Whatever this was. He probably thought she couldn't cut it. Well, she'd show him. She'd show them all. She wasn't about to let him cheat her out of this opportunity. "What can I do to help?"
"I want to make it clear I'm not interested in seeing justice served. I don't want McConnell arrested."
"What? Why not?" Equal amounts of confusion and disappointment filled her.
"As foolish as Yvonne is, I don't want her dragged through some scandal in front of the whole world. I just want those black opals back. I think McConnell may have them with him because they haven't turned up anywhere yet. I know because I've had men in all the major cities checking on them, and there's been no trace of them. We can install you in the suite across from him. With the proper surveillance equipment, we might actually see where he's got them hidden."
Hogan's snort of disgust didn't faze Susannah. Excitement shone from her eyes. "You mean this will be a stakeout?"
"You'd be in the east tower in a tenth floor suite directly across from him. Very low profile. Frequent the pool, sunbathe on the balcony. That sort of thing. You won't do anything except attract attention. He's got an eye for the ladies. I imagine when he sees you, he'll approach you. All you have to do is be visible and wait for him to make contact," Bofco said.
"Not just a stakeout, but an undercover operation?" Wow. Undercover and a stakeout. That would look awesome on her resume. But something just didn't sound right.
"Uh, yes. Kind of both," the Mayor said. "Just chat him up, no private tete-a-tete or anything unseemly. We're not asking you to do anything inappropriate. Nothing like that. The man's supposed to be very social, but he's been a recluse since he arrived. It doesn't fit his profile so I'm hoping that seeing you will draw him out into the open."
Susannah's brow wrinkled in confusion. She hated to admit it, but this sounded like a load of crap. How could they be certain the thief would approach her? She didn't exactly look like a Sports Illustrated model. Before she could ask questions or voice her concerns about what sounded unorthodox even to her inexperienced ears, Hogan jumped in.
"Walter, she's not right for this job." He smiled at Susannah as if to take the sting from his words. "No offense, Deputy Quinn."
"None taken," she said in a deceptively calm voice. Hogan didn't want her on assignment in the Cove. Well, she didn't care if Bofco's assignment did sound bogus. It was better than typing and filing. She wanted the job. She'd worry about the logic of it later.
"I can get a woman officer from the Department of Public Safety for this," Hogan said. "Susannah's perfect. You know that. You also know I don't want anyone else involved in this. You shouldn't either," Bofco said.
Susannah watched them as they argued. What weren't they telling her?
"All Susannah has to do is be seen. There's nothing dangerous or repugnant." Bofco turned to Susannah's uncle. "Barney, I wouldn't propose this if I thought there was any danger."
"A stakeout and an undercover assignment. Piece of cake. I can handle that," she said.
"This isn't a job for Nancy Drew, girl detective." Hogan threw his hands up. "She's not trained for this kind of thing."
"You don't know what I can or cannot do." Susannah turned to Bofco. "I'll do it, Mayor."
She'd get those damn jewels back, and she'd arrest the thief too. She didn't care what the Mayor said about letting the man go. Right was right, and wrong was wrong She'd show Hogan that she wasn't the weak, weeping female she'd been when they first met. She was a professional and up to any task she was asked to perform. She'd prove that to him. And she'd show her uncle that she was just as capable as any of the deputies.
Hogan quit pacing and leaned against the door. He crossed his arms and affected an air of nonchalance. "I bet a bored, young, attractive wife will really interest McConnell."
"Wife?" Susannah frowned. She didn't like the mocking grin on his face. She fixed her questioning gaze on her uncle then on the Mayor. "What do you mean by wife?"
"Tell her the good part, Walter." Hogan urged.
The Mayor cleared his throat. "Your cover is that you're a young wife. You're lonely because of your workaholic husband."
"Husband?" A sense of foreboding hit her.
"I wouldn't let you go down to Murphy's Cove all by yourself. You'll have backup every step of the way," Barney assured her, looking pleased.
"You mean I'd have a partner? A partner posing as . . . my husband?" Her eyes flew to Hogan's face. She blanched. "Who?"
"Come on, Susy Q. You already know, don't you?" Hogan grinned like the devil he was.
"One of the other deputies?" She asked hopefully. The three men shook their heads. "One of the officers from the Cove?"
"No," Walter and Barney said in unison.
Susannah shivered. Her voice cracked. "Who's going to pose as my husband?"
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