So what was Hogan up to?
That question and Hogan's face haunted Susannah's dreams. When she awoke before dawn Saturday morning, her thoughts immediately went to the irritating man. Disgusted and somewhat bleary-eyed, she rolled out of bed and proceeded to get ready.
Seven o'clock sharp, the appointed time according to her newly-appointed boss, dulled to half past the hour. Then eight o'clock came and went, taking Susannah's patience with it. She sat at the kitchen table and sipped her third cup of coffee. At this rate, maybe she could plead caffeine overdose when she was tried for assault and battery of her obviously reluctant partner.
Moments later, she heard the subdued growl of a powerful engine from her driveway. She dumped the rest of the coffee down the drain, rinsed the mug, and left it in the sink.
Impatiently, she shoved the back door open and marched down the flagstone walk toward the sound. Her mouth dropped open in surprise. A candy apple red Porsche Boxxter, with Hogan in the driver's seat, idled in the driveway behind her Jeep. She hadn't expected him to show up in the police department Burb, but this?
She turned to him to ask where he'd gotten the car, but Hogan's appearance made her forget what she was going to say. No scruffy beard. No wild Hawaiian shirt. Oh, dear. He looked like he'd looked that night in Houston. Like a cover model for GQ. No. He looked better. More male than a pretty boy model.
Oh, dear. She was in a heap of trouble.
Several moments passed before she realized Hogan was staring at her as hard as she was at him. Neither said a word. Susannah began to wonder if she'd forgotten to close some of the big black buttons stretching from the low cut vee of the yellow polka dot sun dress to the hem. Disconcerted by his perusal, she sought defense in a good offense. "You're late."
He turned off the engine, and his long frame unfolded from the Porsche. He wore tailored gray slacks and an expensive designer golf shirt in a pale blue that made his eyes seem even more blue. Not only had he shaved, but he'd had a haircut. Grace would swoon, Susannah thought, trying hard not to do the same.
"Lighten up." His voice held more than a hint of a growl.
Lighten up? She was tired of being told that. If she took everyone's advice, she'd be floating like a balloon. In a huff, she planted her hands on her hips. "One of us has to be the adult and focus on details."
"There's no doubt you're perfect for that role," he muttered.
Susannah's eyes narrowed. "If you have something to say, then speak up. Don't mumble."
"Look, details are like rules. Sometimes you pay attention to them, and sometimes you don't. That is if you're a good cop."
"I am a good cop, and a good cop always follows the rules."
"No, a good cop is flexible."
"Don't lecture me on the attributes of a good cop. You're just a consultant, not a real cop so how would you know?"
"You must have got up on your usual wrong side of the bed, Susy Q."
"Where I get up is none of your business. I'll thank you to remember that."
His eyes rolled. "This is gonna be a fun week."
A week of discord held no appeal for Susannah even if it was a good weapon against Hogan's charm. She decided to call a truce. She could be more amicable if he could. In a milder tone, she said, "I kind of expected to see you in the Suburban."
"This goes better with our cover. Where's your bag?"
"On the porch." She couldn't help adding, "Since seven sharp."
She presented her back to him and flounced along the flagstone walk to the back porch.
* * *
Hogan leaned against Walter's Porsche and stared at the expanse of skin bared by the black and yellow sun dress, and at her shapely legs in black stiletto sandals. Walter had said he'd arranged for Susannah to get an appropriate wardrobe and accessories so she'd look like a young, affluent wife. A long painful sigh escaped him. He couldn't recall Walter adding the adjectives sexy and seductive to that description.
Just wondering if the rest of the clothes were like the yellow polka dot number she wore made Hogan break into a sweat. The dress was tight and revealing, plunging low in front and lower in back. She should look like a silly bumblebee in the yellow and black dress, but she didn't. He'd finally realized his fantasy. Once again he got to see Deputy Quinn in something other than her uniform, Stetson, and boots.
The trouble was, Susannah, out of khaki and into a sexy little dress and swaying along on four-inch stilettos, was better than anything he'd imagined. As if he needed unending days of sexual frustration. And nights.
Hogan took a deep breath and forced himself to restrain his inconvenient lust. How the hell was he going to keep her at arm's length when everything about her made him want to get up close and very personal? He hit the heel of his hand against his forehead. This whole thing was dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb. He accentuated each word with a thud to his forehead.
Susannah looked over her shoulder. "Are you coming?"
His body clenched. Not yet, he thought, but hope springs eternal in the male heart. He pushed away from the car and followed her. This was a fine mess he'd gotten himself into. Rather, it was another fine mess his stepmother had gotten him into. When was he going to learn to say no to Yvonne? Hogan stepped onto the back porch and halted dead in his tracks. The pile of luggage stunned him. "What the hell is this?"
"Luggage? You are familiar with the concept? It's kind of a box with a handle? It holds clothes when one travels?"
"Yes, I'm familiar with the concept," he mimicked in a singsong voice. "Since you're so smart, why don't you tell me how you think we'll fit all this in a Porsche?"
"Well," Susannah said sweetly. "You didn't tell me we were traveling in a Porsche, now did you?"
He folded his arms. "Deputy Quinn, why don't you offer me a cup of coffee before my head explodes?" He forced himself to smile. "I'll sip it quietly and patiently while you decide which two bags you want to take. And make sure they're two of the smaller bags, not that thing as big as a steamer trunk."
"Well, you better make it possible."
"There's no way I can get all this in two smaller bags."
"I'd say you're right." His lips stretched in a smile, but his eyes were shard as flint.
Susannah stepped closer and lifted her chin to stare defiantly at him. "I'm not the one who drew up that clothing list. If you have a complaint, tell it to the Mayor."
"That list was about as stupid as this whole situation. I didn't create it, but I'm the one responsible for transporting it, so decide. Two bags. Uno. Dos." He held up two fingers. "Two." Then he pushed past her and grabbed the doorknob. "In the meantime, I need coffee."
Susannah grabbed his arm. "Hey, this is breaking and entering, buddy. I didn't invite you into my house."
"Then arrest me, but let me have some caffeine first."
"I drank all the coffee while I was waiting." Sparks flew from her eyes. "Quit thinking about coffee, and start thinking about my luggage. Be creative. Figure out how to squeeze my bags into your silly car."
"Listen, sweetheart, there's just one problem with that." He took a step to bridge the short distance between them. He looked down the low neckline and saw the shape of her small, perfect breasts. And forgot what he was going to say. Sweat popped out on his forehead.
Susannah's eyes narrowed. "And what's that?"
"You said there was just one problem so tell me what it is."
"Problem? Right." He got back on track. "No matter how creative I get, six bags won't fit in a Porsche."
She stepped even closer and tilted her head to look him in the eye. Her breasts brushed against him, and Hogan's brain shut down. All the blood stampeded south. With great effort, he managed to ignore a certain part of his anatomy and dragged his gaze from the creamy curves of her breasts. Breasts that were pretty damn perfect as far as he could tell. She was close enough to hear his pounding heart. Hell. He was close enough to count the gold flecks in her green eyes.
Moments passed. He caught a whiff of honeysuckle and couldn't help himself. He glanced down, wondering if the light fragrance came from the shadowed valley between her breasts. He could picture her spraying perfume there. That mental image just enhanced something that didn't need any more enhancing. His pulse pounded even harder, traveling through his body like tom tom drums signaling danger on the horizon.
Dishes clattered and crashed. Hogan quickly stepped away from Susannah. A blush stained her cheeks. Maybe she wasn't immune to the electricity between them.
A woman who must be Susannah's mother opened the back door. She held a broken cup in her left hand. Hogan hurried over and held the door for her. Embarrassed, he was fairly certain his face was suffused with the same scarlet hue as Susannah's.
"Hi, I'm Rory Quinn, Susannah's mom. Sorry for the noise. I thought I'd bring a tray out so I could offer you some coffee, but I dropped a cup trying to get out the door." She held her hand out to him. "You must be D. E. Hogan. Would you like some coffee?"
He pumped her hand vigorously and said in a heartfelt voice, "Yes, I'm Hogan. I'd kill for a cup of coffee."
"I don't think homicide will be necessary, Mr. Hogan." She flashed another smile. "Susannah, I think you need to redo your bags. I'll keep Mr. Hogan company while you take care of that."
She turned to Hogan. "Why don't you come inside so Susannah can focus on what needs to be done?"
Sweating like a man on the rack, Hogan followed her and sat at the kitchen table. While Rory Quinn got another cup and filled it for him, he pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket and discreetly blotted his forehead. Somehow, he had to erect a big wall around Susannah and hang a "no trespassing" sign on it. And he'd better figure out a way to do it fast, or he wouldn't last the day out at this rate.
* * *
Susannah watched Hogan and her mother. Slowly, she released the breath that had somehow lodged in her lungs. The heated encounter with Hogan had shaken her. Hyper awareness made her shiver. She could smell the musky aftershave he wore. Even if she closed her eyes, she could see his blue eyes. And his mouth. Even drawn into a scowl it had made her want to trace his lips with the tip of her tongue. To press her mouth against his lips. That thought struck fear in her heart.
"Are you all right?" her mother asked from the doorway, startling her. "You look kind of peculiar."
"Mom! I thought you were in the kitchen. Yes, I'm fine. Just fine. Just trying to figure out what to do with the clothes situation."
"Just take what you think are necessities. If you find you need something you've left behind, just call me. I can sneak it to you at the hotel."
"That might be a good idea. Thanks."
Rory nodded and left her alone. Susannah snapped open the locks on all the bags and surveyed the contents. In a matter of minutes, she had two medium-sized bags and a makeup case ready. She was certain they'd fit in the small trunk of the car despite what Hogan said. He could just shut up and deal with it because there was no way she could get by with less.
When she went into the house, she was surprised to find Hogan and her mother laughing together as if they were old friends. She cleared her throat. Her mom turned merry eyes to her. "Before I leave, Mom, I wanted to tell you that Mayor Bofco may come by to check on you. Just be, well, be cordial." She blushed and felt foolish for advising her mother on how to act. "You know just in case you need anything."
Rory chuckled. "Well, that's very sweet of him, but I don't think he needs to bother. I can take care of myself just fine."
Guilt at leaving her alone urged Susannah on. "Yes, but you had surgery just a couple of months ago."
Rory laughed. "I'm fine now and wearing regular shoes. Don't worry so much."
"The Mayor's nice. It doesn't hurt to have someone in addition to Uncle Barney or Grace to call for help. Just in case, I left his phone number by the kitchen phone."
"Oh, and Walter's single, rich, and fancy free," Hogan threw in, laughing.
Rory laughed. "Somehow I don't see you as a matchmaker, Mr. Hogan. Honestly, if I need anything, there are people who'd come running if I so much as whistled. Go. Don't give me a thought."
"The coffee was great, Rory," Hogan said.
"Another cup before you go, Mr. Hogan?"
"No, thanks. And please. It's just Hogan."
"D. E.? Right?" Rory asked, with a laugh.
Hogan nodded. "That's it, but everyone calls me Hogan."
"What do the initials stand for?"
"That's top secret information, Mrs. Quinn. I could tell you," he grinned, "but then I'd have to kill you."
Rory laughed. "I thought that was James Bond's line. All right. Since I don't have a death wish, I won't ask again."
To Susannah's surprise, Hogan seemed to enjoy talking and laughing with her mother. Maybe he wasn't a complete jerk. Any guy who was this nice to her mon had to have some redeeming qualities.
After a few minutes of listening to them joke back and forth, Susannah said, "I hate to interrupt, but shouldn't we be going?"
Rory laughed. "My daughter. Always focused on the task at hand."
"Rory, it was a pleasure." Hogan shook her hand then followed Susannah.
Back on the porch, he studied the two bags she pointed to. He lifted one dark brow as if questioning her. She crossed her arms and stared him down. Wisely, he just picked up the bags and headed to the Porsche.
"Hey, don't forget your hat." Rory pointed to a wide-brimmed black straw hat laying on the porch swing.
"Thanks, Mom. I'll call you tonight." Susannah planted a hasty kiss on her mother's cheek. Rory whispered, "I can see why Hogan bothers you so much."
"He's impossible, isn't he?" Susannah replied in a hasty whisper. "What am I going to do with him?"
Rory pulled her into her arms for a quick hug. Her voice sounded choked. She blinked rapidly and cleared her throat. "You're a smart girl, Susannah. I think you'll eventually figure out the real problem and the only right solution all by yourself."
"I hope so." Susannah placed the sun hat on her head and hurried outside.
As she walked up to the car, Hogan slammed the trunk shut and turned. "Why are you wearing an umbrella on your head?"
"Very funny." Susannah walked around to the passenger side.
He climbed into the driver's seat. "Whatever."
Susannah tapped her foot impatiently. "Well?"
"Well what?" he asked, putting on a pair of expensive sunglasses.
"Aren't you going to open my door for me?"
"This isn't a date, Deputy Quinn. Open it yourself."
"I think we should get into character immediately. I'm certain rich, attentive husbands always open the car door for their wives."
"You're going to milk this for all it's worth, aren't you?"
An impudent grin was his only answer.
"This is going to be a damned long day." Nevertheless, Hogan climbed out, walked around, and yanked open the passenger door.
"There you go, muttering again." Susannah enjoyed seeing him grinding his teeth in exasperation for a change. Smart, sassy remarks might be as good a defense as antagonism.
Her dress rose to mid-thigh when she slid onto the black leather seat. She'd have to have been blind not to notice his interest. Somehow, that made her feel better. Ridiculously pleased, she leaned back against the warm leather. She was tempted to leave the hemline where it was, but that might be playing with fire. Those who played with fire often got burned. She yanked her dress down.
Hogan still stood beside her. She waited for a taunting remark. When it didn't come, she looked up, meeting his gaze. The heat in his eyes robbed her of thought.
"Uh, you need, that is, we need, to wear these." He reached into his trousers pocket and pulled something out. Sunlight glinted off two plain gold wedding rings in the palm of his hand.
Susannah held her hand out, surprised to see a slight tremor in it. He slid the smaller band onto her ring finger. Her heart beat unsteadily. A weird feeling swept through her as she watched him slip on the larger gold band.
"Right. We're set then." He slammed the car door and walked around. He slid into the driver's seat and turned to her. "Ready, Mrs. Hogan?"
His voice sounded as hollow as she felt. The gold band on her finger taunted her. Uneasy, she rotated the ring surprised that it fit perfectly. Why did being with Hogan make her have such a feeling of anticipation? As if something new and different and exciting lay just around the corner. And she wasn't thinking about a police operation. Her heart beat so fast and so unsteadily.
"Ready," she managed to say, willing herself to believe it was the undercover operation that affected her. Because if it was something else, something she couldn't allow herself to think about, then she was in big trouble. Upset that a piece of meaningless metal placed on her finger by him could induce such crazy thoughts, such weakness, she rallied her defenses.
"What should I call you this week? I can't very well go around addressing you as Hogan. I'm surprised the Mayor left that little detail out of his battle plans."
Susannah fished a pair of oversized black sunglasses from her small purse and popped them on, hoping he didn't notice the mistiness in her eyes and the quaver in her voice. "You realize this is the new millennium. We women don't have to address our husbands by mister or lord and master."
"Okay. I'll just call you D. E."
At his derisive snort, she giggled. "Wow. Your names must be really horrendous." She'd stumbled on a topic that made him uncomfortable. Good. That made them even then because everything about him made her uncomfortable. "Come on. Tell me what your names are? Delmar Egbert?"
"None of your business, Susy Q," he said starting the engine.
"Come on, confess, Hogan." When he ignored her, she asked, "Is it Dostoyevski Ezra?"
He shoved the sunglasses down on his nose and looked at her.
"No? Dagny Ezekiel?"
His blue eyes scorched her.
"You call me any of those, and I'll think of something worse than Susy Q to call you." He glanced over and grinned at her. "And you really hate Suzy Q so just imagine what I might come up with."
"Suzy Q isn't so bad." She flashed a wicked grin, knowing she had the best of him. "It's a lot better than Darnell or any of the other names I'm thinking of. You better mind your p's and q's, Hogan, or you just might find yourself stuck with Dionysus Engelbert."
"Better fasten your seat belt. And hang on to that damned hat."
Susannah placed a hand on the crown of the hat and held tight to the expensive straw concoction. "Oh, I've got it. Don't worry about me."
Hogan quickly backed out the driveway. On the street, he shoved the gear shift into first, and with a squeal of the Michelins, they were off.
The words vanished into the wind as Hogan stomped the accelerator leaving only the echo of her laughter.
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