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."
"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?
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