Susannah knew the trip from her house down to Murphy's Cove wouldn't take very long, and she didn't intend to waste a minute of it. Hogan would learn that payback was a given. She couldn't have him thinking she was a doormat.
"Let's see. D. E. must stand for Dilbert Erasmus. Right?"
Other than a grunt, Hogan didn't respond to Susannah's guess.
The car accelerated. Gratified at the scowl on his face, she had to raise her voice to be heard over the engine noise and the rushing wind. "Are you speeding, Darnell?"
"Look, just call me darling in front of other people. When we're alone, make it Hogan. Think you can do that, Deputy Quinn?"
"I can if you can. Darling." Her grin turned into laughter when he punched the accelerator again. The Porsche jumped. The wide brim of her hat caught the wind and flapped violently. Susannah removed it and anchored it in her lap.
Hogan looked over and smirked. "Want me to put the top up?"
She wouldn't give him the satisfaction. "Not at all. I love the feel of the wind in my face."
Once they cleared the city limits, Hogan kicked it up to a speed that brought out the best in the sports car, forcing himself to keep his attention on the road, not on Susannah.
Wind tore through her short curls. Fruit stands and bait shops blurred past as they raced down to the coast. Susannah closed her eyes, loving every minute even though she knew he was speeding and therefore breaking the law. Good thing she'd left her ticket book at home.
When the car slowed, she opened her eyes and saw the stone arch marking the entrance to the enclave of condos, hotels, and million dollar villas known as Murphy's Cove, home away from home for the world-weary wealthy. The Texas Gulf coast was an undiscovered playground, or so the Cove's tourist info proclaimed. The one thing that couldn't be denied is that it kept the economies of several nearby small towns afloat.
Since the Third Coast was the only one Susannah had been to, she didn't have much to compare it to, but to her eyes it really was lovely. Excitement swirled through her. She'd lived in Alton County all her life and had driven around Murphy's Cove often, ogling the grand buildings that lined the beach. The only architectural restriction for the community was that each building had to be Spanish-style and be topped with a red clay tiled roof.
Pink, red, and white oleanders in full bloom lined the boulevard. Susannah had always thought the little town was one of the most beautiful places she'd ever seen. Now, as an adult, the Cove still enchanted her.
Las Brisas, the half-moon shaped hotel where they had a two-bedroom suite reserved, courtesy of the Mayor, offered an ocean view from every room. Amenities included a gym, a spa, boutiques, gift shops, a salon for hair and nails, a pool designed like a tropical lagoon, five-star restaurants, and lounges boasting live entertainment. Or so the brochure said.
Each room had a full array of electronic and technological gadgets for those who couldn't isolate themselves from the real world. Sago palms, gingko trees, oleanders, and crape myrtles of every hue bordered the lushly landscaped grounds that usually had her mother salivating when they drove around the resort town.
Susannah could hardly contain her excitement as Hogan pulled under the porte cochere and cut the engine. Two parking valets hurried over. Hogan tossed the keys to one. The other opened her door. She placed the hat atop her windblown curls and smiled her thanks. The young man smiled back and beckoned to a bellman who hurried over with a luggage carrier.
When Hogan touched her arm, her pulse leaped. She whirled. The wide brim of her black straw hat smacked him right in the face, knocking his expensive sunglasses off.
"Awww." he yelped, grabbing his eye.
"Sorry. Did I catch you in the eye?"
"Yeah, but that's okay. I've got another one." He bent to retrieve his glasses from the pavement.
"You were standing too close." Susannah hoped the complaint hid her breathlessness.
"We're supposed to be in love. Remember?" He grabbed her arm, but his grip was gentle.
"You can be in love without being pawed to death." She resisted his unnerving touch. His grip tightened, causing, not pain, but a deeper awareness she didn't want to feel.
"Guess you've never been in love, darling."
His taunt hurt. "And you have, Darling?"
"A time or two."
"Yeah, that sounds like true love. Each time I'm sure." She tossed her head, catching him across the forehead with her hat.
"Would you take off that damned hat before you blind me in the other eye?"
"It's part of my ensemble."
"I don't care. Why would you even want a hat the size of an umbrella?"
"This is my disguise. I can't take it off."
"You don't need a disguise. You're supposed to be seen."
"Maybe I'm not ready to be seen yet."
"Quit scowling." Hogan ducked under the brim of her head, leaned down and whispered, "Well, are you ready to smile and act as if you're happy to be spending a romantic week with your husband?"
He was close enough to kiss. The thought shook her to her red-tipped toenails. She felt breathless. "Do I have a choice?"
"Sure. You can always go home." He stepped away and took her arm to escort her into the lobby.
Susannah tried to ignore the heat spiraling through her body. Sternly, she scolded herself and then him. "Listen, Buster."
"Buster?" He laughed. "What decade were you born in?"
Susannah's scowl deepened. "Just because we're going to be stuck in a room together for a week, don't get any ideas. Try anything, and you'll be walking crooked for the rest of the week."
"Oh, I'm shaking in my shoes." Hogan ducked under the brim of the hat again and leaned close to her ear. "Better watch it, Deputy. I might be the kind of man who can't turn down a dare from a beautiful woman."
Beautiful woman? Her? The tiny hairs on the back of her neck tingled. She imagined his mouth brushing a kiss at the nape of her neck or on the curve of her ear. Excitement rippled through her. Thankfully, he didn't notice.
He moved out from under the brim of her hat. In a near growl, he commanded, "Act sweet. I know it'll be a stretch but try."
Susannah clasped her hands around his arm and squeezed with all her strength while she smiled and cooed at him. Hogan winced, but remained silent as they stepped into the lobby.
On their way to registration, Susannah noticed they attracted an inordinate amount of attention from an attractive blonde who was walking across the marble floor. The woman actually stopped in her tracks and stared.
"Hogan?" The blonde squealed.
To Susannah's shock, the woman rushed over and threw herself into Hogan's arms, kissing him on both cheeks as he flushed a red as bright as the lipstick that now decorated his bronzed face.
Susannah, still clutching his arm, felt as if she'd had the breath knocked out of her. With what sounded, even to her ears, like a jealous hiss, she asked, "Old girlfriend? Darling."
* * *
Hogan eased out of Susannah's grasp first and then disentangled himself from the blonde. Things were going wrong already. He took one look at Susannah's stony face and regretted again that he'd gotten caught in Yvonne's mess which Walter was only making messier. "Allison, what are you doing here?"
"Oh, Hogan. I've missed your face. You never call, you bad boy." The blonde looked over at Susannah as if she'd just noticed her. "Oh. New girl? You naughty boy."
Before he could say a word, Susannah grabbed his arm again and said in a voice that would freeze water in Hades, "I'm not a new girl. I'm his wife."
"Wife?" The woman echoed. Her mouth dropped open in shock as she looked from Susannah to Hogan and then back again. She whirled on Hogan. "This is unforgivable. When did you get married? And why wasn't I told?"
As Hogan sputtered, Susannah said, "I'm Susannah. And you are?"
"Allison Platt, of course. Surely Hogan's mentioned me."
"Of course." Susannah hugged Hogan's arm to her breasts. "If you'll excuse us, Allison, we're late. Come along, darling."
"But, Hogan," Allison protested, looking puzzled.
Despite Susannah's tugging, Hogan didn't move. "Allison, does your dad know you're here?"
"Not yet. But I'm sure he will soon enough. Too soon for my comfort." She giggled. "You're not really married to her or you?"
"I'll call you later," he whispered. Apparently, he hadn't spoken soft enough. Susannah stepped on his foot.
"But, darling, you promised you'd given up all your women." She ground the black high heel into his instep. "This isn't the time or place to break your promise. Now is it?"
Hogan winced. "I'm painfully aware of how right you are. Now would you get off what's left of my foot?"
"Oh, sorry, darling, did I step on your poor little footsy wootsy? I'll have to kiss it and make it well." She smiled brightly at Allison and said in her best bimbo voice, "I promise Hogie Wogie and I will get together with you before we leave. I'd just love the chance to get acquainted with one of his old girlfriends."
"Hogie Wogie?" Allison giggled. "Yes, that would be entertaining as well as educational to have you and," she snickered, "Hogie Wogie explain what's going on. About your relationship that is."
"Are you staying here, or with your dad?" Hogan asked.
"Never with Dad. You know that. We'd kill each other inside of an hour. Just call my cell."
"I'll call you," he promised.
"Don't wait too long." She favored Susannah with a brilliant smile. "My curiosity is killing me."
"Too bad. You know what curiosity did to that other cat, don't you?" Susannah asked.
While Allison Platt laughed and waved goodbye, Hogan rushed Susannah over to registration. The screw-ups had already begun. Walter was going to have a stroke when he found out Allison was home for a visit. He closed his eyes and shook his head in exasperation. Had his cousin been kicked out of another college?
"So who was that and who is her dad?"
"Nobody and none of your business." Hogan didn't want to open this particular can of worms if he could help it because it would just mean that other, bigger, can of worms would blow.
* * *
Susannah pursed her lips and stared at him, irritated that he refused to tell her the truth. She knew he planned on calling that woman. Well, she'd have to see what she could do about that. She held her peace until she and Hogan had checked in.
As they waited for the elevator, standing hand in hand, posed like the perfect couple for all the world to see, she asked, "So is Allison one of the women you've had true love with?"
"I don't want to discuss Allison."
"Well, is she?" Susannah persisted.
"What's the matter, wifey? Jealous?"
"Ha. What would I be jealous of? She's nothing special though I'll admit she's kind of pretty in an obvious way."
"Very pretty." Hogan grinned and looked at Susannah.
"I didn't say very. Just pretty."
"But not as appealing as you," he added in a low, smooth voice.
Surprised, Susannah's mouth snapped closed. She blinked. She didn't have a retort to that. She felt all warm and quivery inside. Then he spoiled it by adding, "But she's got a much sweeter personality."
"Very funny." She jerked her hand, but he held tight.
"Play the part," he growled, tucking her hand into the crook of his arm.
This was never going to work. By the time the elevator arrived, her smile muscles had frozen, and her hand felt like lead. She stepped into the elevator, relieved that she'd have a few minutes free of this pretense.
Just as the doors started to close, a man called, "Hold the elevator." He dashed through the doors. "Thank you."
Susannah could only stare at the handsome, silver-haired man. It wasn't the British accent that tingled her nerve endings nor the fact that he resembled Cary Grant in that old Doris Day film where Cary offers Doris a mink coat. Though both his looks and his voice were enough to make a woman stop and stare. It was the fact that he was the jewel thief they were out to catch.
She heard Hogan answer him. She could only stare at Thomas McConnell. He looked much more handsome than the photograph she'd been shown.
Here she was face to face with him, and she felt like a dolt. What should she do? Panicked, she turned her back on McConnell and stared at her pretend husband. Hogan was right. She wasn't ready for this. Her eyes gazed helplessly into Hogan's. It was all over. He'd send her packing when he saw how frozen in shock she was.
Hogan plucked her hat from her head and pulled her close. The warmth of his body comforted her. She leaned against him in relief. Her nerve endings picked up a signal from his body. A different kind of panic swept over her.
He bent close and kissed her ear lobe. "Relax," he murmured softly into her ear. "He thinks we're lovers."
Relax? How could she relax when she felt as if she would melt into a puddle at his feet? That was her last coherent thought because Hogan pulled her closes and pressed a gentle kiss on the tender cord at the side of her neck. Lovers? She shivered. She didn't know whether it was from fear or excitement.
The elevator whooshed upwards. Distantly, Susannah heard bells ringing and a sound that made her think of angels. A tiny part of her consciousness urged her to object. Be outraged. Hogan was taking advantage. A stronger inner voice told outrage to take a hike.
Susannah felt as if she were riding a roller coaster. One moment, dizzy and scared. The next excited. Just hang on tight and enjoy the ride. Her eyes slid shut. She felt Hogan's soft breath on her cheek. She'd never felt a caress so gentle. It reminded her of the night they'd met when he'd held her so gently.
Somewhere outside herself, out beyond her throbbing body, she heard soft laughter. She was so awash in sensation, she didn't know if the laughter was real or part of her imagination. Maybe it came from the same place as the ringing bells and the angel music.
Hogan drew back. Her eyes opened. She stared dreamily into his blue, watchful gaze. He really did have beautiful eyes. She smiled.
"We've stopped," he whispered.
"McConnell's gone. We're alone."
"Ummm. Alone." Her smile widened. "Good." It was the flash of amusement in his eyes, and the smile hovering about his lips that brought reality crashing back.
She stiffened. "What are you doing?" She became aware of soft new age music pouring from the ceiling speaker. So it wasn't Hogan's nearness that had made her hear bells and harp strings.
"Protecting your anonymity?"
Susannah pushed at his chest. "Get off me." She grabbed her hat from his hand.
"Yes, ma'am." Hogan set her away from him and grinned. "Don't you trust me?"
Trust him? Those two words cooled her hot blood more effectively than ice cubes. She didn't trust any man. "Yeah, about as far as I could throw you in an overhand toss."
How could his touch make her lose herself so completely? She righted her hat and gruffly apologized. "Sorry. I kind of blanked when McConnell got in the elevator with us. It won't happen again."
To her surprise, he said, "No problem. You're supposed to attract his attention. I guess you succeeded."
"That makes me feel so much better," she muttered. The elevator doors opened on their floor. She was surprised he wasn't going to give her a hard time over it. "I mean it. It won't happen again," she promised and stepped out of the elevator.
Anxious to put some distance between her and the scene of what could easily have been her undoing, she said, "Come on before McConnell shows up again."
"He got off at the mezzanine to take the elevator that serves the west tower."
She leveled a cold look at him. "I know that." But she hadn't. She probably couldn't have recited her own name if someone had asked. She turned right and rushed away, hoping she'd chosen the correct direction.
* * *
Hogan watched her disappear around the corner. He stepped out. The elevator door closed. He took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. Until she'd turned all snippy and cold, he'd thought she was as besotted as he. Maybe she was better suited to undercover work than he'd suspected. He was just thankful she hadn't noticed her effect on him. Another minute with her perfect breasts pressed against his chest, and he'd have said to hell with McConnell, Yvonne, and all the jewels on the planet. He'd have locked down the elevator and done his best to seduce Susannah on the spot.
Actually, that scenario still held vast appeal for him. His hands shook with a fine tremor when he wiped the dampness from his brow. He had to get control of himself before he entered that suite with her. A week in a hotel room with Susannah Quinn was nothing but a recipe for certain disaster. He tried to remind himself that he wasn't here to make mad, passionate love to Susannah.
Uncomfortably, he shifted and glanced downward. Too bad a certain part of his anatomy hadn't yet got the message there wasn't going to be a hot, kinky episode on the floor of the elevator. Hogan sighed and went in search of the woman who threatened to drive him mad.
* * *
Susannah found their suite and seized the moment alone to regain her composure. She closed her eyes and took a couple of deep, badly-needed breaths. Her skin felt hot and too tight to contain her emotions. And she didn't even want to think about how other parts of her body, parts she'd never given much thought to until she'd met Hogan, felt during and after the interlude in the elevator.
Inside her tiny purse she found the key card she'd been given at check in, but Hogan sauntered up just then. She took one look at him, and the drum beat began again in every erogenous zone she possessed.
Why couldn't she ignore him? She'd never had a problem ignoring other men. She was an expert at giving the cold shoulder. Was it being in a hotel with him? Was it knowing they were going to be thrown together for a week? Maybe old Cupid had decided her number was up because, despite all her denials and rationalizations, she was attracted to Hogan.
She wanted the difficult man, and she was pretty sure he wanted her too. Beneath all his teasing and joking, she could see the truth. As long as they'd pretended nothing had happened between them when they'd first met, she'd been safe. But how much longer could she ignore the heat between them?
"Here, I've got it," he said reaching past her with the key card, brushing her breast in the process. She jumped as if her skin had been touched with a red hot branding iron. To her relief, he didn't seem to notice her reaction. When he unlocked the door and pushed it wide, she stepped inside quickly.
"Oh, it's lovely." She babbled as she walked around the suite, cataloging the soft sea green and warm coral contemporary furnishings as if she were some television designer.
A huge living room with a curving white velvet chenille sectional occupied most of the space. Short halls led to the left and right from the living room. She guessed they led to the two bedrooms and baths. Draperies of an abstract pattern blending the shades of green and coral hung on either side of an expanse of glass that completed the opposite wall of the living room.
A bar with two upholstered leather bar chairs separated the kitchen from the designer kitchen with granite counter tops and upscale appliances.
Sliding glass doors set in a wall of glass opened onto a long balcony that she'd been told stretched from one bedroom to the other. Beyond the balcony, the Gulf of Mexico gleamed like wet slate in the bright sunlight.
Susannah removed her straw hat and tossed it onto a freeform slab of glass that was the coffee table. The wall opposite the sectional sofa held enough electronics to satisfy any media enthusiast. When she had her emotions well in hand, she turned to Hogan and exclaimed, "This is incredible. Just look at that view."
Hogan made a noncommittal reply and reached for the phone. She heard him talking to the bell captain about their luggage which should have been in the room by the time they'd arrived.
As he replaced the receiver, he said, "Our stuff's on the way up. Let's check out the bedrooms and figure out where to set up the camera."
"Good idea." His brisk professionalism surprised her. It was as if the sexy interlude in the elevator hadn't happened. Feeling a bit piqued, she followed him down the short hall to the right of the living room. Well, she could be brusque and business like too. She shouldn't be annoyed that his demeanor had changed, she scolded herself. She should be glad. That would make the week easier if they were both professionals.
At the bedroom doorway, she stopped abruptly. She swallowed hard and stared at the room in front of her.
Oh, my goodness. That wasn't a bed. That was a. . . . Words eluded her. She hurried inside, trying to avoid looking at the monolithic bed, but it was impossible to keep her eyes off the massive carved mahogany bed setting on a raised dais six inches above the rest of the floor. The canopy bed was big enough to set sail in the Gulf and would probably make it all the way to Cuba without mishap.
Sheer gold-hued mosquito netting hung from the polished wood rails and could easily serve as sails. The dull sheen of burnished gold beckoned lovers to lie on the coverlet and lounge against the small mountain of sea green, gold, and coral silk pillows piled against the headboard.
"If it's okay with you, I'll set up in here." Hogan said, seeming not to notice the bed. Or her reaction.
"Good. Great. No problem." Susannah tore her gaze from the mahogany monument to romance. She studied everything else in the room in her attempt to keep her eyes from the amazing piece of furniture. It wasn't just a place to sleep. It was a haven for two lovers where they could shut out the world and bask in sexuality. She imagined herself and Hogan in that bed, wrapped in. . . .
"Susannah, are you listening?"
"What?" Her startled eyes swung to him.
Hogan stared at her. His face was flushed. He looked as hot as she felt, but when he spoke, he was brusque. Impatient. "I asked if you wanted this bedroom?"
Only if you come with it.
Her eyes rounded. For a split second, she wondered if she'd actually said that aloud instead of just thinking it. But Hogan just stared at her as if he were exasperated while he waited for her to answer. "No. Not at all. The other will do just fine. Unless you want the other room? After all, you're going to sleep where you set up the cameras, right?"
She sidled toward the door. "I think I'll just unpack. That is when my bags get here. Maybe take a shower. I'm a bit hungry. How about you? Let me see what's in the refrigerator." She knew she was babbling like an idiot, but she couldn't help it. She kept her eyes averted. Best not to look at that bed. Not even think about it with Hogan in it.
She forced a laugh. "It really doesn't matter. About the room. I'm sure one is as good as the other. I can't wait to see the other room. In fact, I'll go look at it right now." She fled. Maybe she could escape desire. Elude the overwhelming sense of awareness by outrunning it.
"I'll get the camera set up," Hogan called after her. "I'm hungry too. Let me know if there's any food in there."
As Susannah fairly raced across the living room, there was a knock on the door. She reversed and went to the door to let the bellman in. "Darling," she trilled. "Our bags have arrived."
Hogan came out and waved the bellman toward the room that would be his.
While the bellman went about his duties, Susannah busied herself with checking out the fridge. She felt a moment of panic when the bellman left, and she was again alone with Hogan.
He locked the door and put the safety lock on then proceeded to completely ignore her. "As soon as I get the camera set up, I'll carry your bags to your room," he called over his shoulder as he headed back to the bedroom he had claimed.
Susannah wished she could settle on a set of emotions and quit being confused, one moment piqued that he'd acted as if nothing had happened between them then relieved the next. Despite her good intentions, she found herself returning to the room with the bed.
Had Hogan felt none of the feelings that had coursed through her body when his lips had touched her throat? Was she the only one plagued by unprofessional thoughts? From the bedroom doorway, she watched him unpack a camera, tripod, and telephoto lens big enough to see Saturn. If the Mayor had paid for all this, he'd spent a small fortune.
Though she'd pressed her uncle as to why he was going along with the Mayor and Hogan and sanctioning something that wasn't strictly on the up and up. He'd said he trusted them. Then he'd winked and added that he thought she might like a week away from the dusty files. She'd kissed him on the cheek and thanked him and decided she'd have to find the answer to her questions. She knew she wouldn't be able to list this assignment on a resume, but she planned to gain from the experience nonetheless. And it really was a thousand times better than going through cartons of papers that were nearly as old as she.
Personally, she'd thought the days spent here might also shed some light on Hogan. There was more to him than the easy-going flirt he'd impersonated since he'd arrived in Alton County. He hadn't been that way when she'd met him the first time. That night he'd been compassionate and caring. Now as she looked at him, she saw still another persona. His eyes gleamed with intelligence, not the lazy flirtation she'd grown accustomed to seeing. He was focused on the task at hand. He handled the camera and equipment with practiced ease.
"What are we going to do when the maid shows up?" Susannah asked.
"I've left instructions that we don't want to be disturbed. Not even by housekeeping. After all, we're young and in love," he said, sounding faintly derisive.
Young and in love? The chances of that were as remote as his voice had suddenly become. Somehow, that made Susannah feel dejected so she focused on Hogan. How quick and sure his hands were as he put the camera and tripod together. What was it the Mayor had said? Hogan was experienced. What kind of experience? She realized she knew very little about him. And unless she slept with him, she'd never even know his name.
How could she have fallen for a man who wouldn't reveal his given name? Susannah felt sick in the pit of her stomach as that thought echoed.
"What?" Hogan asked, looking up. "You look weird. Are you all right?"
"Yes. Absolutely." She sounded breathless even to her own ears. She was a fool. D. E. Hogan was a man who was just passing through on his way to bigger and better things.
Had she really been foolish enough to fall for him?
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