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had decided her fabulous assignment was a crap detail. To make her week here even
more trying, something weird was going on with her mother. She’d only been gone
three days counting today, and her mom was acting so strange. She was hardly
ever home. Hogan was weirding her out too. She’d sunbathed two days away, but
Hogan had disappeared every time she closed her eyes.
the evening, to her surprise, he’d insisted on room service meals. How could
she be seen if he wouldn’t let her go downstairs? She’d been so worn out by the
heat that she hadn’t argued when he’d suggested quiet evenings of watching
television. Every time she sneaked a look at him, his eyes were on her. She
couldn’t have said what the television programs were about, but she could have
related every detail of the fantasy that played in her mind as she watched him.
The tension between them was building to the explosive stage.
always heard that being on a stakeout was one of the most boring jobs a cop
could do. She agreed. The days were nothing like in the movies. She’d have
settled for a consolation prize of doughnuts with sprinkles at this point.
real life it was boring beyond belief. And the only thing she’d had to snack on
was junk food that was heavilytilted toward salty snacks rather than sweet. Oh,
what she wouldn’t give for some of the peach pie from Eunice’s Courthouse Café.
it all, McConnell’s drapes remained firmly closed. She and Hogan were getting
nowhere at warp speed. To make matters worse, if they could get any worse,
there was this thing with her mother.
of the sun and bored beyond belief, Susannah rolled over on the chaise and sat
up. For a redhead, even one who could tan, the heat had been brutal. She
grabbed her sun hat and the towels and headed inside to cool off.
Susannah paused in the act of retrieving an icy can of Coke from the fridge.
Great. He was gone.
popped the top on the can and drank deeply. That jerk. He’d ducked out again.
Just like yesterday. Every time she went out on the balcony, he disappeared so
fast it was almost as if aliens had beamed him up. Was it too much to ask him
to do his part while she baked on the balcony? But no.
pricked her. He’d better not be with that Allison woman.
at the thought, Susannah looked around to see if he’d left a note, knowing he
hadn’t. She blamed her tiredness on the heat, but if she were honest, she’d
confess that it was the emotional roller coaster that drained her energy.
in the sun with nothing to do but think had found her thinking about Hogan.
Thinking about the way his lips had felt on her throat. Wondering what would
have happened if she’d stayed in that hotel room with him in Houston. She
shivered. She knew what would have taken place, and she wished it had.
of thinking and nights of having him haunt her dreams were taking their toll on
her. She felt hollow-eyed and exhausted. Then when she was around him, she was
a mass of nerves and afraid she might actually speak her thoughts aloud. And
her thoughts were definitely X-rated.
weeks, Hogan had flirted with her at the Sheriff’s office, teasing and
tempting, priming her for more. But now that they were alone together, he acted
as if she were nothing more than a deputy on assignment with him. He was making
and restless, she decided to call her mother from the phone in the suite. She’d
wasted the last of her cell phone minutes in trying to reach her mother the
previous nights. She hadn’t yet had an opportunity to check with the gift shop
to see if they had refill cards for her pay as you go cellular service.
Rory answered, Susannah felt better. Just hearing the familiar voice grounded
her. “Gosh, it’s good to hear your voice, Mom. Where have you been?”
Oh, hi. Hello.”
Quinn’s nervous voice set off Susannah’s alarms. “Are you okay, Mom?”
course. Uh, was there something you wanted?”
Just to hear your voice.”
that’s sweet.” Rory rushed on, “Listen, dear, I’m in a bit of a rush.
Walt’s due any minute, and I’m not quite ready yet.”
frowned. “Walt? Do you mean Mayor Bofco?”
giggled like a teenager. “Of course. Do you know another Walt?”
frown deepened. “I don’t know that I know this one very well. And neither
do you. What do you mean he’s due?”
taking me out for lunch to this restaurant where he swears they make the best
grilled shrimp on the Gulf Coast.”
held the receiver out and stared at it. It was an old joke, but had someone
replaced her mother, a woman always too busy with her bookkeeping business to
have lunch away from her office, with an alien replica?
do mean Walter Bofco, the Mayor of Murphy’s Cove?”
Rory laughed. She sounded young and girlish. “Susannah, you silly
bells sounded in Susannah’s head. She blurted out, “Mom! Are you and the
Mayor,” she hesitated, then gasped out the word, “dating?”
awkward pause followed. “Well, I guess one could call it dating. We’ve
been out a few times.”
I’ve only been gone three days, and that’s counting today.” Susannah
listened as her mother told how she and the Mayor had met the day Susannah had
left with Hogan.
insisted they had so many things in common that they’d just hit it off.
“Why, last night we talked nearly all night.”
tried not to sound accusing. “You mean he was over at the house all
we talked on the phone after he dropped me off from dinner.”
that’s why I couldn’t get through when I called.”
I’m sorry, dear. Did you need anything important?”
I just wanted to see if you were okay. Apparently, you are.” Susannah
didn’t understand why, but she felt angry.
have so much in common, Susannah.”
You said that already.”
small town mom and a rich, retired Army colonel? Susannah didn’t buy it.
“What do you have in common?”
gardening for one thing.”
Now, she knew something was wrong. She’d heard the mayor say he didn’t know the
difference between crab grass and crab legs. That’s why he preferred condo
living. Susannah didn’t like this. What was he trying to do? Suddenly she
realized, she didn’t know any more about Walter Bofco than she did about Hogan.
And that made her very uneasy.
the time she bid her mother goodbye, her suspicion had sharpened to a scream of
alarm. Her mother sounded like a giggling teenage girl not a middle-aged mature
woman. True, her mom was barely forty-two, but that didn’t make any difference.
She was acting like a silly girl with a crush. How had the mayor slipped past
her mother’s defenses?
had to be done before Rory made a fool of herself, or worse, got hurt. It was
past time to do some sleuthing of her own. Paula should be back in Alton by
now. Susannah decided to charge another call to the room. She punched in the Collier’s number.
goodness you’re there.” Susannah’s tense grip on the phone relaxed.
drove in from Huntsville this morning. Sam Houston State is going to have to do
without me until fall.”
I need your help.”
sound funny. What’s up?”
funny, that’s for sure. You said one time that you could find out anything
about anyone with a computer. Did you mean that? Can you really do that?”
friend laughed. “More or less. It’s not difficult. Nearly all public
records are computerized. And if you know what you’re doing, and I do, you can
access the ones that aren’t public too. Why?”
have a favor to ask.” It only took a few minutes for Susannah to tell
Paula her fears about her mother. “Don’t say anything about this to your
Give me a few hours to gossip with Mom. Then I’ll unpack and get Brian settled
in the guest room.”
I forgot about Brian. He really did come with you?”
tell you, kiddo, I think he finally doused that torch he’s been carrying for
you all these years. He’s meeting some girl in New York.” Paula laughed.
“I’ll hand the mayor off to him. He can use his laptop. I’ll tackle your
not my boyfriend, Paula.”
you say.” Paula laughed. “But I can’t ever remember your being this
interested in any guy.”
not interested,”Susannah protested. “I’m worried.”
you say so,” her friend countered.
* * *
groaned as his stepmother pressed another serving of pecan waffles on him.
“Vonnie, if I eat any more, I’ll explode.”
sweetie, you look a bit thin.”
want to talk thin? Then explain why you look like an anorexic model.”
Hogan had been shocked when he’d seen Yvonne. Though still beautiful and
elegant, she looked as if she’d suffered through some serious illness.
sweetie, don’t lecture me. I’ve always watched my weight. You know the old
cliché. You can never be too thin or too rich.”
disagree with that theory. You’re way too thin, and you’ve had nothing but
coffee since I got here.”
dismissed his comment with an airy wave. “Nonsense. I ate before you
sigh escaped him. “Now, why don’t I believe that?”
you have a suspicious nature. It goes with the territory in your line of work I
knew nagging her about her weight would serve no purpose. When upset, she just
didn’t remember to eat. When his dad had passed away, he’d thought she’d waste
away to nothing.
you seen Thomas?” Yvonne asked.
yet.” He told her what they’d done.
sweetie, that’s awful. How could you spy on him like that? And to use that girl
because she looks like his daughter? That’s reprehensible.”
shrugged though he didn’t feel a bit nonchalant about using Susannah. “I
didn’t exactly have a choice, Vonnie. You know how Walter is when he gets his
mind set on something. And McConnell is a thief. When you bait a trap for a
rat, you use the kind of bait that most appeals to the rat. The minute Walter
saw the picture of McConnell’s dead daughter, there was no stopping him. If I
hadn’t agreed to run this operation, he’d have found some way to get Susannah
involved. At least this way I can protect her.”
the first time, some color appeared in Yvonne’s face. “Well, I don’t think
it’s right to use someone who looks like his daughter to entice him. That’s
your opinion. I’m doing what I have to do to get the job done. As it turns out,
you don’t have any reason to be upset. McConnell hasn’t poked his head out
since we arrived.” He didn’t bother telling her that he hadn’t let
Susannah poke her head out of their suite either.
chewed her lower lip and looked worried. “Could he be ill?”
don’t get it. You act as if you’re more concerned about that man than about
recovering your jewelry.”
said I wanted him left alone. Why won’t you and Walter listen to me? Just let
him have the damned jewelry. I should have never said anything about it being
eyes narrowed in speculation. “Why have you done a one eighty since you
called me, in tears I might add, and begged me to help?”
sighed and looked distinctly unhappy. “I’d already called Walter. I was
angry. Upset. I think now I made an error in judgment. About a great many
things. I should have fought my own battle.”
going on here, Vonnie?”
just asked you to help because I know how my brother is. Goodness knows what he
would have done if left to his own devices.” She twisted her hands
together nervously. “What’s all the fuss about? After all, it’s just some
jewelry? According to Walter, it’s a cross between the crown jewels and the
Bofco legacy to the world.”
dismissed his comment with a wave of her elegant, ringed fingers. “That’s
just Walter. He thinks I should have given the opals to Allison since I never
had a daughter. This is just his way of getting back at me.”
do you mean?”
rivalry doesn’t disappear just because you grow up, sweetie. Walter’s always
felt short-changed. I’ve told you that our parents were both well into middle
age when he was born. Just like your dad and mom when you were born. Unlike
your parents, ours didn’t have the desire to deal with a baby.”
a shrug, she continued. “Frankly, they hadn’t been much better when I was
a child, but Walter thinks I got all their attention, and he got none.”
never knew he felt that way.” Hogan frowned.
shrugged. “I don’t think he realizes it. Beneath that tough military
exterior beats the heart of a lonely little boy. When he was in kindergarten, I
was in college and too involved to be a surrogate mother to him. So he never
found acceptance until he received his commission. The Army became his
pursed his lips thoughtfully. “I never realized how lucky I was that Dad,
and Mom while she was well, did all the things the other parents did. Little
League, Scouts, all of it. I never felt slighted. When you and Dad married, I
just assumed you’d be the same kind of mother. And you were.” Hogan
reached over and squeezed her hand. “What do you want me to do, Vonnie?
Name it. You know I’ll do what you want even if that goes against Walter. Do
you still want me to get your jewelry back?”
smile faded. “I don’t know. There’s some things I should have told you,
but I couldn’t.” Hesitantly, she asked, “If I ask you to back
off?” She sighed. “I know Walter will have a fit. Even though he can
be a prig, he is my brother, and I do love him. I don’t really wish upset him.
But I don’t want any trouble for Thomas either.”
Walter would be one unhappy dude. He’d probably insist McConnell be
I don’t want that. Promise me you won’t let that happen.”
what do you want?”
sighed heavily. “I just want this never to have happened.”
can’t undo the past. You can’t turn back the clock, Vonnie,” he said
gently, wondering why she was so sad. Was there more to her change of heart
than she was saying?
she moaned, “I wish I’d never told Walter. I’m so sorry I got you stuck in
the middle of this, sweetie.”
is right,” Hogan complained. “I,” he broke off. “Never
were you going to say?”
she persisted, he shrugged. “I don’t like having my life turned upside
do you mean?” she asked, her gaze sharp.
felt like a kid again. He’d never been able to put anything over on Yvonne, and
the years hadn’t changed that. Besides, he found himself wanting to tell Vonnie
his problems. Maybe she could shed some light on the situation. “The
deputy I’m stuck with is driving me to the brink of insanity.”
You mean the young woman who looks like Thomas’s daughter? What’s her
so irritating about her?”
Where do you want me to start the list?”
Knowing your taste in women, she must be singularly unappealing. Though if she
looks like Thomas’s daughter, she couldn’t be unattractive.” Yvonne
frowned. “His daughter was very pretty.”
not ugly. In fact, she is very attractive. You might even say beautiful.”
Then she must not be very bright.”
again. She’s an honors graduate in Criminal Justice.”
interesting. So you two have law enforcement in common? Do you share any other
have nothing in common,” he declared bluntly. “She’s rigid and
unyielding. You’d think she was born holding the scales of justice in her
hands. Can you believe she actually wrote me a ticket? Two tickets! And gave me
a lecture about obeying the law the second time we met?”
smiled. “Intolerable. Do tell me more. What happened the first time you
felt heat flush his face. “Nothing much.”
Okay. We’ll move on to another question. What’s so objectionable about her
other than her rigid sense of right and wrong?”
felt relieved to talk to someone about Susannah. “She’s got a smart mouth
that she can’t seem to keep closed. She argues with me about everything.”
Tsk. We can’t have that,” Yvonne murmured.
she won’t take orders at all.”
dear, I can see where that would be unforgivable.”
should see her clothes.” He rose and paced as he described the orange
bikini and her sun dresses. “She runs the risk of being arrested for
indecency every time she steps out on the balcony.”
that’s what all the women wear here, sweetie.”
but . . . .” His voice trailed off. He frowned.
what? All your girlfriends have worn short dresses, tight pants, and brief
swimsuits. You never complained before.”
is different,” he growled.
opened her mouth, he held up his hand. “Don’t ask me why it’s different. I
haven’t figured that part out yet.”
smiled as she walked over to him. She hugged him and patted his shoulder.
“That’s all right, sweetie, I’m sure you’ll figure it out fairly soon. I
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