Sometime before dawn, Susannah stirred. Hogan sprawled next to her on the tangled sheets. Beard stubble shadowed his face. She suspected she had some evidence of the abrasive five o'clock shadow on various parts of her anatomy. She wished she could engrave his image on her heart.
If only she were as sophisticated and blasé about the past night's adventure as she'd pretended to be. The more she looked at Hogan, the more she felt as if she might shatter into a million pieces. A bubble expanded inside her. Suddenly, it burst, and she knew its contents without a doubt. Despair. She choked back a cry and carefully disentangled herself.
Sadly, she realized why most women didn't indulge in the same dogged pursuit of sex as men did. When a woman gave herself to a man, there was often more at stake than pleasure. Too often, women risked their hearts. Just as she had. Walking away, once you've given your heart, isn't so easy.
Hogan stirred and reached out, encountering the pillow where she'd laid her head. He snugged it to him. When she could stand the pain no longer, she knew it was time to leave.
Silently, she gathered her clothes from the floor then backed out of the room, watching to make sure he didn't wake. She didn't think she could stand it if he opened his eyes and looked at her before she'd armed herself against him. She had to leave before then.
After a quick shower, she packed only her personal items. The clothes, the accessories, all the expensive things that had been bought for her, could stay here and rot. They weren't hers. The Mayor had paid for them so he could have them.
What a fool she'd been. She stretched. She was sore, and her breasts were tender, a reminder of last night that would haunt her for a few days. Then, hopefully, she'd forget. No wonder sex made people crazy and love made people act as if they were brainless. She snapped her makeup case closed.
Susannah wrenched the gold band from her finger and left it lying on top of the suite's key card on the coffee table. Then she lifted her bag and quietly slipped away.
When she stepped out of the elevator and into the lobby, she nearly collided with Allison Platt. Susannah's eyes raked her from her tousled blond hair to her bare feet. She wore a red sequin cocktail dress. Matching red satin sandals dangled from her fingertips. Her feet were sandy.
"Long night?" Susannah didn't even try to repress the censure in her voice.
"Why, Mrs. Hogan." Allison grinned. "Very long night." Her eyes glanced to Susannah's makeup case. "Traveling light?"
"Excuse me, I'm in somewhat of a hurry," Susannah said stiffly, pushing past her.
"Where's Hogan?" Allison trailed after Susannah.
Irritated, Susannah stopped and turned. "I assume he's upstairs asleep. Why don't you go wake him?"
"Oh, so that's how it is? The honeymoon is over. The bloom is off the rose. The. . . ."
"Stuff it." Susannah walked away, without a backward glance, toward the pay phone.
Still Allison followed. "Who are you calling?"
Susannah raked her with a scathing glance from her tousled hair to her sandy feet. "Don't you have some man to seduce or something?"
Allison grinned. "Not at the moment. The only one worth bothering with is upstairs asleep. And he's not someone I could ever seduce."
Susannah's brows snapped together in irritation. "If you say so."
"So who are you calling?"
"If it's any of your business, I'm calling my friend Paula so she can come pick me up."
Allison balanced on one foot while she slipped on first one shoe and then the other. "Don't wake your friend. Come on. I'll drive you where you need to go."
"Why would you do that? More importantly, why do you think I would possibly want to ride with you?"
"Hmm. Good questions. First answer, I'm bored. Second, I've got a fast car, and you look like you want to shake the dust of this place as fast as possible. Am I right?"
Susannah hesitated, even though Allison was right on all counts. "I couldn't think of imposing."
"That's a fake answer. But if you're really concerned, let me assure you that you won't be imposing. I'm still wired. I get like this and can't shut my brain down."
Susannah eyed her suspiciously. "You're not on anything are you?"
"Just high on life." Allison grinned.
Having Allison drive her home would solve her most immediate problem. She wasn't exactly keen on waking the Colliers at this hour. Even though they wouldn't mind.
"Come on, Mrs. Hogan."
"Okay, but only if you quit calling me that."
"Deal. So where are we going?"
Susannah told her as they waited for the parking valet to bring Allison's car around. At that hour of the morning, it only took a few minutes to get it from the parking garage.
"Thanks, Miguel," Allison said to the valet as she slid into the driver's seat.
Susannah stared at the red Porsche. The Boxxter looked exactly like the one she'd arrived in. She settled into the other bucket seat as Allison let the top down. She looked over at Allison. "Wait a minute. You don't have your wallet."
"Well, you don't have a driver's license."
Susannah looked at her pointedly. "You can't drive without a license."
"Sure I can. I just can't drive legally." She threw the car into gear and peeled away, laughing at Susannah's expression.
After a minute, Susannah laughed. The laughter took some of the pain away. "I never thought of it that way, but you're right. I guess you can drive. Just not legally."
Allison looked over at her and grinned. "I have to admit that you surprise me."
"Why because I have a sense of humor?"
They drove in silence for a few minutes. Once they'd cleared the arch at the entrance to Murphy's Cove, Allison said, "I remember I saw a diner just outside Vance. Do you think it's open this early?"
"It should be."
"Good. Let's stop for some breakfast. I need coffee. Okay?"
Susannah shrugged. "You're the driver." It mattered little whether she got in at six in the morning or later. At least she was away from Murphy's Cove. Away from Hogan.
Allison cruised at the speed limit much to Susannah's surprise. "Did you arrive by car?" Susannah probed, curious about the coincidence of the car.
"No. I flew in and rode down to the Cove with some friends. This isn't my car. It belongs to my father."
"Oh, your dad lives in the Cove?"
"Sure does. In fact, you know him."
Susannah looked at her doubtfully. "I don't think so. I'm sure I don't know anyone named Platt."
"Platt's my married name."
Surprised, Susannah stared. "You're married?"
"Was. Past tense. Usual story of being too young and stupid to marry. I was young. He was stupid. End of marriage. End of story."
The way she said it, so dryly, so without rancor, surprised another laugh from Susannah. "So who's your dad?"
"The esteemed mayor."
"What?" Susannah's smile transformed to a scowl. So Hogan and Walter had fooled her in ways she hadn't even begun to comprehend.
"Why? What's wrong with that? Don't you like my father?"
"I thought I did, but your father is one of the reasons I'm in this mess."
"What mess exactly are we talking about?" Allison braked quickly, turned the wheel sharply, and pulled into the parking lot in front of the Busy Bee. She glided to a stop next to a huge eighteen wheeler. She turned to face Susannah. "I want to know everything. So start with the mess."
"The mess of me being with Hogan in Murphy's Cove. The mess of my mother thinking she's in love with your father." A look of horror crossed Susannah's face. "Oh, my God! Please tell me your father doesn't have a wife tucked away somewhere."
Allison sighed. "I wish he did, but Mom died when I was fourteen."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that the way it sounded." Tiredly, she rubbed a hand across her forehead. "In fact, I'm so tired I'm probably not making a bit of sense."
"Come on. Some high octane caffeine will fix you right up." Allison climbed out of the car.
Susannah followed. "Aren't you going to put the top up and lock the door?"
"Why bother? It's as safe here as it is in the garage. That's one thing I love about this part of Texas." She spread her arms wide. It's like stepping back into the fifties. People still respect your property. You don't have to worry about getting carjacked or mugged down in this little corner of Texas."
Susannah considered. "You know, you're right. I've spent so much of my life scheming to get out of this part of the world that I overlook its good points."
Allison grinned as she opened the door. A bell jingled. "I've found people often don't know how good something is until it's gone."
The Busy Bee had black and white tile floors, red leatherette booths, and red Formica-top tables. Only a half dozen customers at that hour of the morning were scattered throughout the cafe. Steel guitar music of the kind her grandparents' generation had listened to blared from the juke box.
Allison and Susannah settled into a booth. A middle-aged woman with bleached-blond hair and three inches of dark roots put white stoneware coffee cups in front of them. With her pencil poised above her order pad, she asked, "Leaded or unleaded?"
"Definitely leaded." Allison pointed to the woman's name tag. "Dottie."
"You got it," Dottie answered.
"What's that music on the juke box?" Allison asked.
"I can tell you're not from Texas. That's Bob Wills and the Light Crust Dough Boys. I'll get your coffee."
"Who's Bob Wills?" Allison asked Susannah.
"The king of western swing. I grew up listening to that kind of music as much as to alternative, pop, and all the other stuff."
"That's the owner's private collection of records filling that juke box," Dottie called from the coffee station. "You can't find music like that anymore."
Susannah fell silent and listened to Allison and Dottie. What she heard made her reevaluate Allison's personality. Apparently, the blonde had never met a stranger.
"I can believe that." Allison smiled and patted the table top with her fingertips in rhythm to the music.
"That's a gorgeous dress." Dottie pointed at Allison. "When you get tired of it, give it to me."
"You got it, Dottie," Allison said. "When I toss it, it's yours."
"I'll hold you to it." Dottie grinned. "In the meantime, what can I get you for breakfast?"
"Check back in a few. We've got some girl talk to do,"Allison said.
By the time they'd downed a mug of the fragrant black brew, Susannah had sketched out the events of the last few days. She'd left out the sexual olympics with Hogan.
"Gee whiz. I miss all the exciting stuff. I wish I could have shacked up with Hogan for a week. I'd have that man begging for mercy."
"I thought you said he was off limits. He is your cousin, isn't he?" Susannah found it hard to keep her jealousy in check.
"Only by marriage," Allison said with such aplomb that Susannah couldn't help but laugh. At least laughter kept her from crying.
Allison drained her cup and motioned for more from Dottie. "Now I want the juicy details. Come on, tell your Auntie Allison what really happened. Did Hogan manage to withstand your charms?"
Susannah shook her head. "Nothing to say. I plead the fifth."
"Oh, come on. You can't leave me hanging like that. I bet you'd planned to tell Paula."
"Well, yes, but I've known Paula forever."
"So you haven't known me that long. Yet." Allison's eyes twinkled. "But we've bonded over coffee, haven't we?"
Susannah laughed. "You're really something. How on earth does your father deal with you?"
Allison's smile faded. "Actually, not very well. We tend to end up in shouting matches. I'm surprised your mother would want anything to do with him. He's stiff and unyielding and doesn't know how to have a good time. Usually. Last night, he was like a different man with your mother."
Susannah rubbed her forehead. "I was shocked. My mother. And a man. Any man." She frowned. "I'm pretty sure I wasn't very nice."
Allison looked at her. "I can tell that it bothers you. My dad dating your mother."
"No. It's not that. It's my mother dating any man."
Susannah shook her head. "I don't even know how to explain it. All my life my mother warned me about falling in love. Unlike you, I didn't rebel. I listened and worked hard to keep every guy I was ever interested in at a distance."
"Gee, must be hard to have sex at arm's length."
"Oh, shut up."
"Sorry. I couldn't resist. How old were you when your father left?"
"Seven. One day he was there. The next day he wasn't."
"Ouch. That must have hurt."
"More than I realized. I never knew how hard it was for me to trust a man just because of that. It sounds simplistic, textbook psychology, but it's still true."
"With my mom it was the same way, but I knew it wasn't her choice."
The two women fell silent, each consumed with their thoughts.
"So tell me then how you really feel about my father dating your mother?"
"I'm afraid he'll hurt her."
"Not my dad," Allison scoffed. "He's never been this interested in a woman. Any woman. If he's after your mom, it's for keeps. By no shape, form, or fashion is he a player."
Susannah stopped to consider. Finally she said, "Even if he does hurt her, it's her life. She has to live it. I shouldn't try to sway her though that's what I'd planned to do when I got home." Susannah set her cup down. "Okay. You. How do you feel about your dad dating my mother?"
"I think it's a great idea. Daddy needs someone to soften him up. I've never seen him like he was last night. He's always a perfect gentleman, but he seemed so tender, so gentle around your mother. I'm so used to our fights that I think I've forgotten that he's been lonely for a lot of years."
Over their breakfast of hash brown potatoes, crispy bacon, and fried eggs, Allison tried to get Susannah to open up about Hogan.
"Allison, I don't care if you are my new best friend. I'm not talking to you about Hogan."
"But, he's almost my cousin, Susannah. You know I was just teasing by flirting with him don't you?"
"Yes. It's not that. I just don't want to talk about him."
Susannah was amazed at Allison's easy amiability. She chatted with anyone who came over, and several did, with joking comments about the red cocktail dress she wore.
Finally, Allison pushed her plate away and yawned. "Let's get this show back on the road." After another yawn, she said, "I may have to nap at your house before I start back."
"You're welcome to." Susannah covered her own yawn. The events of the past few days had caught up to her with a vengeance.
By the time they pulled into her mother's driveway and parked next to Old Reliable, both women were drooping. Susannah led the way onto the porch.
Allison took one look at the porch swing piled with pillows and headed for it. "Wake me when it's dark."
Susannah said she would and slipped into the house. Before going to her room, she left a note on the kitchen table for her mother, explaining who the strange young woman in the swing was and why an expensive sports car was parked in her driveway. Then she stumbled off to bed, finally too tired to be haunted by Hogan.
* * *
Hogan studied his bleary-eyed reflection in the bathroom mirror. Yesterday had been the most frustrating day of his life. It had also been the best day of his life. He hadn't been able to find McConnell, but he'd found Susannah instead. Now he'd lost her. Somehow it was appropriate that he looked as bad as he felt. Had he meant nothing to her but a night of sex? Really, really great sex?
"You look like the son of something from the black lagoon," Luke Orland cheerfully observed from the doorway.
Hogan concentrated on splashing cold water on his face. He had to take care of this McConnell business then find Susannah. He'd ask her straight out how she felt about him. He glanced down at the smallest finger of his left hand where he wore the gold band he'd found on the coffee table that morning. The ring would go no further than over the first knuckle. As soon as he'd seen it, his heart had sunk. He'd known Susannah was gone.
"Are you going to be much longer?"
"Keep your shirt on, Orland. And get me some coffee."
"I'll see if I can get room service to send up a gallon," Luke said pushing away from the door frame where he leaned. "Maybe it'll improve your mood."
"There's nothing wrong with my mood," Hogan snapped. Nothing wrong that seeing Susannah wouldn't improve. He turned on the shower and stepped in. The cold water cleared away the remaining cobwebs. He should have talked first and loved later last night. Explained everything. But his little head had been calling the shots.
A half hour and three cups of coffee later, he felt nearly normal. "Let's go visit McConnell." He held up the passkey card he'd obtained. "I have a feeling that since the lovely deputy has departed, McConnell is probably home again."
"After you." Luke waved the warrant.
When they got to McConnell's suite, there was no answer. Luke drew his pistol, carefully pointing it in the air. "Okay, Hogan, you're on," he said quietly.
"I think you can holster your weapon," Hogan said dryly. "McConnell has never carried a gun before."
Luke hesitated then sighed. "Too bad." He put the gun away as Hogan inserted the electronic key card.
Luke stepped through first. "Thomas McConnell, this is the police. We have a warrant for your arrest."
"Chill, Orland." Hogan thought he heard a noise in one of the bedrooms. He held his finger to his lips and motioned Luke to follow him. They crept down the hallway and stood outside the bedroom door. Someone inside the room laughed.
Hogan put his hand on the doorknob. Silently he mouthed to Luke, "On three."
Hogan held up one finger, then two, then three. He turned the knob and flung the door open. He and Luke burst through the doorway then froze in mid-step.
Yvonne screamed and jerked the sheet that lay loosely over her chest up to cover her head. Thomas McConnell came out of the bed with a roar.
He'd have looked rather threatening, Hogan thought, if he hadn't been clutching a long-stemmed red rose between his teeth. And if he weren't stark naked.
McConnell spat the rose out. "Get out of here."
Hogan and Luke beat a hasty retreat. The door slammed.
Luke looked at Hogan. "Uh, that was your stepmother, wasn't it?"
Hogan glared at him. "You know it was."
Luke looked down at the warrant. "Somehow I think we're not going to need this."
The door behind them flew open and Yvonne, wearing a man's red plaid bathrobe, stood there glaring at them.
Hogan and Luke shuffled their feet restlessly.
"How dare you." she hissed.
Hogan's temper flared. "Now wait just a damn minute, Vonnie. What the hell are you doing in bed with the guy who stole your jewelry?"
Yvonne had the grace to blush. "That was just a misunderstanding."
"A misunderstanding?" Hogan roared.
The door flew open again and McConnell, wearing only finely tailored trousers, stalked out. "Don't you dare yell at Yvonne that way," he snapped, getting right in Hogan's face.
"How I talk to my mother is none of your business."
"It most certainly is my business. I won't have you taking that tone to my wife."
"Your wife?" Hogan and Luke cried in unison.
Hogan shook his head. "I didn't have enough coffee to make sense of this."
Yvonne laughed softly. "Come on, sweetie." She took his arm and led him to the living room. "You too, Mr. Orland. I guess I owe you both an explanation."
She seated them on the couch. "Tommy, darling, would you make us some juice or something while I explain everything to these two children."
Hogan glowered at her. "I have spent most of my vacation running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off, thinking I was helping you get back some family heirlooms. Just what the hell is going on here?"
"Sweetie, I take full responsibility for this whole peccadillo. You see," she had the grace to blush. "After your father died, it hurt so bad I thought I didn't ever want to love someone that much again. Then I had that disastrous marriage to Rizzoli, and, I'm ashamed to say, a series of not very nice affairs. I thought I'd become immune to love. Then I met Tommy." She glanced over at her new husband and smiled.
McConnell brought a tray of glasses filled with orange juice on the rocks. He set it on the coffee table where everyone ignored it. Hogan noticed how her eyes softened when she looked up at the man.
"When I met Tommy, I knew I was in trouble. Then when he proposed, I was scared. I forced myself to break it off and start dating someone else. I couldn't take the pain of loving someone again and eventually losing them." She reached over and took his hands, interlocking her fingers with his. "Sending Tommy away just about killed me."
McConnell took over the story. "It made me completely insane. I wanted to hurt her the way she'd hurt me. So I stole the jewelry she valued most."
Yvonne reached over and kissed his cheek. "By the time I discovered the jewelry was gone, I had already decided I'd made a huge mistake. I didn't care about the jewelry. I just wanted Tommy back. But I'd made the mistake of telling Walter the jewelry had been stolen. He went ballistic. I didn't want Tommy hurt or thrown in jail. That's the real reason why I asked you to help me, sweetie."
"But why not just get in touch with McConnell and tell him you'd changed your mind."
"I was afraid. I might have killed his love for me. I had to make sure he'd stolen the opals for the right reason. I didn't want Tommy to marry me because he was afraid I was going to send him to prison."
"This is crazy," Hogan raked his hands through his hair.
"Love often is," Yvonne said. "Lucky for Tommy and me that your Susannah entered the picture. She told us she'd buy us some time while we eloped. And she did."
Hogan felt as if someone had stabbed him in the gut. "Yeah, lucky for you," Hogan said. "What was she? The maid of honor at your elopement?"
The painful realization that Susannah had slept with him just to keep him from breaking up Yvonne's elopement nearly crushed him. Buy them some time. Susannah hadn't wanted him. She'd just used her body to put one over him. She'd distracted him while Yvonne and McConnell eloped. How could she have used him like that?
"Where is Susannah?" McConnell asked. "Yvonne and I would like you both to join us in a celebration dinner tonight."
"I don't think that's going to be possible. She's not here," Hogan said stiffly.
"Oh, dear, you let her get away?" Yvonne asked.
"It's not like I could take her into custody to keep her with me."
"Why not?" Yvonne asked, eyes twinkling mischievously.
* * *
Three days later, that question still reverberated in Hogan's mind. He checked his bags in at the counter outside the air terminal and tried to shake the feeling that he was making a mistake by leaving. He'd have stayed if he thought there was any chance Susannah had wanted more from him than a one-night stand. But she hadn't. She'd never be able to trust any man long enough to let herself fall in love. He accepted that now. She'd just lusted after him. If she'd really loved him, he told himself, she would have stayed to make sure he didn't mistake the meaning of their night together. Wouldn't she?
He tucked his boarding pass in the inside pocket of his navy sport coat and held out his hand to Walter. "It was good seeing you again, Walter."
"You too, Hogan. I guess I owe you an apology for getting you involved in this mess."
"Hey, what's family for if not to screw up your life?"
Walter grinned. "Funny. But true."
"Did you and Allison talk?"
"Yeah. She's off following one of her whims again."
"Don't be too hard on her. It takes some of us longer to find out what we want in life."
"Speaking of that, uh, are you sure you don't want to talk to Susannah before you go?"
Hogan's mouth thinned. "I'm sure." Her using him still rankled. He hadn't been able to get beyond the fact that she'd slept with him just to distract him from what he'd intended to do.
"Well, in case you change your mind. . . ."
"She's back at work at the Sheriff's Department. Just a phone call away."
"You're wasting your breath. I don't want to see her." Hogan turned to enter the terminal.
"All right," Walt called out. "I'll tell Rory. I guess that clears the field for Susannah's young man from college."
Hogan stopped dead in his tracks. He turned and walked back to his uncle. "What do you mean?"
"I think the kid's name is Brian. They dated in college. Apparently, according to my future wife, he's been crazy about Susannah for years. Head over heels in love with her, but she'd never given him a chance or any encouragement before. Now, for some reason, she seems to have changed her mind and is welcoming his attention. If you know what I mean."
Hogan's frown intensified. He did know what Walt meant, and he didn't like it at all. "I didn't know she had a college boyfriend."
"Well, like I said, she'd never let it get serious before, but Brian has always hung in there and hoped. Odd how he showed up in Vance just a few days ago. It's as if he knew his time had come. He's staying at Rory's. She said, he'd been a, uh," Walter cleared his throat, "a comfort to Susannah."
"A comfort?" Hogan felt jealousy sink its talons into his heart. What did she need comfort for? He's the one who needed comfort. She broke his heart, not the other way around. "And he's staying at the Quinn house?"
"You know Vance. There's not a hotel in town."
Hogan's gut felt as if it were tied in knots. He'd begun to suspect that he was developing an ulcer.
"Rory tells me Susannah's a different woman since she returned from Murphy's Cove. Not so driven. More relaxed and laid-back."
"Good. Everybody needs balance in their life," Hogan muttered. Surely Susannah wasn't thinking about marrying some boy from college? She needed a man who could go toe to toe with her. Not some boy.
"So, you'll be back for my wedding?"
Hogan shrugged. "Sure. It's a family thing, right?"
"Right. And don't even think about weaseling out of it."
Hogan looked abashed. That's exactly what he'd planned to do. It hurt just thinking about Susannah. Seeing her again might well tear him into pieces. Seeing her with another man? He didn't like that picture at all.
The two men shook hands and clapped each other on the back and said their farewells again. "See you next month," Walter said.
Hogan nodded and entered the terminal without hesitation this time.
Walter's shoulders slumped in defeat. He pulled out his cell phone and punched in a number. While he waited for Rory to answer, he retrieved his car keys from his trousers pocket and jingled them as he walked to the metered parking. Feeling depressed and knowing Rory would be upset, he leaned against the fender of his Porsche.
When Rory answered, he said, "Sorry, darling. I'm afraid I failed. I thought sure I had him when I started talking about Brian, but he didn't fall for it. Maybe I should have said Brian proposed."
"Yeah, maybe you should have," Hogan drawled from behind him. He plucked the car keys from the mayor's hand. "Get in. I'm driving."
Walter's sheepish expression changed to a delighted grin that stretched ear to ear as he jumped into the passenger seat. "Are we going where I think we're going?"
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