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."
"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."
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.
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