Frantic protests filled Susannah's mind. Fallen in love? No. That just wasn't possible. Fallen in lust? That was it. Just lust. Not love. It could never be love. The desire she felt for Hogan was clouding her judgment. She didn't even like him. At least, she tried not to. What she felt had to be lust, not love. What was she getting so upset about? Lust was understandable. Just a chemical reaction between two attractive, available people. He was a handsome, virile man. It was nothing but plain old lust. That was it. And that was all it was, she rationalized. Lust could be resisted. All it took was a little will power.
"Is there something you wanted to say?" Hogan asked.
Susannah's eyes widened. She realized he was staring at her. She shook her head vigorously. Lust was safe. She understood it. She could walk away from it. Her legs felt rubbery. "No, that was just my stomach growling."
"Yes." It had to be lust. If she went to bed with him and satisfied her physical needs, everything would return to normal. She just had an itch that needed scratching. She could scratch it or ignore it. The choice was hers.
"As fierce as you're looking I'm glad I'm not between you and a sandwich when you're hungry."
The rationalizations continued. He was an attractive man. She was a healthy, normal woman. It was just chemistry. True, it was inconvenient, but it could be controlled. And understood. She'd been lonely. He was single and available. And sexy. Okay. Very sexy. Big deal. She'd been around sexy men before. So why did he make her feel so different?
"You look mad enough to chew nails. If you're that hungry, go find something to eat."
"Who me?" Susannah asked, surprised to find his gaze on her.
"No, the other deputy in the corner."
"Funny. I'm sure the next week will speed by with such a sharp wit to keep me entertained." She firmly banished her absurd romantic thoughts and focused on what he was doing. "How are you going to set that up without anyone noticing it?"
Hogan picked up the tripod and camera and moved it over to the glass sliding door. He closed the heavy drapes. "Trust me. I know what I'm doing."
"You certainly like to bandy that word about."
"What word?" Hogan turned to look at her.
"You say that as if it were something profane." He remained motionless, his gaze focused on her.
She felt exposed beneath his probing gaze and tried to divert his attention. "Won't McConnell see that big round black lens staring at him?"
After a long moment, Hogan shook his head. "With only the lens protruding through the closed drapes, you're talking about a dark spot less than six inches in diameter. From a distance." He fussed with the camera. "McConnell would have to know where to look and what to look for in order to see it. He'd still have a tough time picking it out."
"You're sure about this?"
"I'm positive. I've done it. . . ." He broke off and looked through the camera and played with the zoom.
"Many times before," she finished.
When Hogan merely grunted, she asked, "Is that a yes?"
"Yes." Hogan sighed.
"The mayor said you had experience. What kind of experience?"
Hogan quit fiddling with the camera and looked at her directly. "The kind you don't talk about. What is this? A quiz show?" Without waiting for her to answer he said, "Shouldn't you unpack? We've already wasted most of the morning."
"That wasn't my fault," she said sweetly.
"It doesn't matter whose fault it was."
"I can't unpack until you take my suitcases to my room."
Without a word, he left the camera and grabbed her bags. "Lead the way."
Susannah hurried toward the room that would be hers.
"Now will you quit pestering me, Nancy Drew?" he asked, tossing her bags onto the king-sized bed in the other bedroom.
"I've had enough of your Nancy Drew cracks. Are you going to be this way all week?"
"Bossy and irritating."
"Look who's talking. Go scrounge us something to eat. Maybe your mood'll improve."
"Yes, master. Anything else I can do for you, master?"
Hogan wheeled and stalked away. Relieved, Susannah looked around the room where she'd be sleeping. Alone. It was pleasantly decorated in coral and cool blues. Thank goodness there was no bed the size of an aircraft carrier to incite ridiculous romantic fantasies. She unpacked quickly then went to the bar.
It was stocked with an assortment of beers, soft drinks, crackers, and cheeses. She set out two of everything and called Hogan. She didn't wait for him. She settled onto one of the bar chairs and started piling cheese on crackers. Happily munching away, she realized she really was hungry.
When he joined her, she waited until he'd gobbled up a couple of butter crackers before she asked, "What else do you know about McConnell that you haven't told me?"
"I think you've been given all the relevant information. He doesn't seem to have picked a mark yet. He hasn't stirred from his room except to play golf. He's used room service for most of his meals. He hasn't attended any of the cocktail mixers in the evenings. In fact, he's not matching the profile we have. That's why you're here, to draw him out of his shell."
"Maybe he's really taking a vacation."
"Men like him don't just take vacations," Hogan said. "He's looking for a score."
"That in itself contradicts what you told me. You said his modus operandi is to always have a target picked out before he shows up."
"Maybe he came here thinking it was a thief's paradise. Maybe, just maybe, he's having a hard time deciding which woman to fleece when there are so many of them to choose from."
"That's a lot of maybes. What if he rips off another woman before we discover where he hid Yvonne's jewelry? What if he leaves in the dead of night?"
"And that's a lot of what ifs," he retorted. "Let's make sure that doesn't happen. The sooner you get acquainted with him, the sooner we'll get this show on the road."
"You really think he's going to open his drapes, stare at me sunbathing on the balcony, and fall head over heels in love with me or something? I'm sorry, but that's pretty lame. In fact this whole undercover or stakeout or whatever the Mayor wants to call it just doesn't make sense. If you're staking someone out, you don't want to attract attention like we did in the elevator. I'm supposed to be bait? To draw him out of his shell? That just doesn't make sense."
"Let me do the thinking around here."
"What's really going on?"
When he didn't answer, she said, "Okay, assuming he opens his drapes, and you can see into his suite, and see him retrieve the jewels from some hiding place, how are you going to get them back? Go knock on his door and demand them? You don't even have an official leg to stand on. You need a search warrant which you can't get unless you're prepared to charge him with something."
"Details, details. You're just going to have to. . . ."
"Don't say trust you." Susannah interrupted. "You may have done stakeouts and undercover assignments before judging by the references to your mysterious past, but this plan sounds just plain dumb."
Hands on hips, Hogan said, "Sounds to me as if you aren't keen on your role in this charade?"
"What possible objection could I have to making a spectacle of myself?"
"Now, Deputy Quinn, if you don't want to play the role of femme fatale, you can go home."
"No way. You're not getting rid of me. If you want me to lay out there like bait in a bikini, no problem." She stood. "You can take care of cleaning this up. I'm going to change." She flounced off, acting a lot more brazen than she felt.
In her bedroom, the pale blue monochromatic color scheme meant to inspire tranquility did little to calm her. The bed was just a plain ordinary king-sized bed with a sky blue velvet headboard and coverlet. She closed the drapes, thankful that this room didn't inspire any wild fantasies. Or it wouldn't if Hogan hadn't been in the next room.
Posing as Hogan's wife was turning out to be difficult, as she'd expected, but for different reasons. Before she lost her nerve, she grabbed the hot orange bikini she'd bought in Houston and went back to where Hogan sat munching the rest of the crackers. With an odd mixture of rebellion and insecurity, she dropped the two pieces on the table. "Think this'll do the trick?"
Hogan reached over and lifted the expensive scraps of fabric. "What is this?"
"A swimsuit. What's it look like?"
"Triangles held together by string?"
She withered him with a glare. "I'm going to change and then lay out on the chaise on the balcony. So you can't complain about my not playing the required role."
When Hogan crushed the aluminum drink can in one hand but didn't say a word, she took the bikini and returned to her bedroom and closed the door. Before she could lose her nerve, she pealed her clothes off and pulled on the tiny bikini. Privately, she agreed with Hogan. It did look like a couple of triangles tied together. Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, she fidgeted, feeling self-conscious and awkward. And oddly breathless at the thought of having his eyes on her while she wore this.
Normally, she wore a one piece. When she swam, she didn't like the distraction of wondering if her suit would fall off. For this occasion though, she'd known the hot orange bikini was perfect the moment she'd seen it.
Would Hogan think she looked skinny? She had better curves than she'd had in high school, but there was no denying she was slender. When she thought about Hogan molding her curves with his hands, heat flashed through her body. She placed her clammy hands over her cheekbones, trying to cool the furious blush. Somehow, she had to stop obsessing about him.
Determined to think only about the assignment, she opened the bottle of sun screen and began applying the coconut-scented lotion. The unreachable area of her back defied her best efforts. What a quandary. Risk sunburn or risk asking Hogan apply the lotion.
It took five minutes of debate before Susannah accepted the inevitable. She stepped into a pair of cork platform sandals. Grumbling beneath her breath, she retrieved a couple of the oversize fluffy coral towels from the adjoining bathroom. Taking a deep breath and armed with her most assured attitude, she grabbed the bottle of lotion and left the safety of her room.
Hogan was tearing open a bag of potato chips. Susannah dropped the towels on the table. Nervously, she sought something to say before brashly asking him to put the lotion on her back. "Too bad we can't wire tap McConnell's phone."
* * *
"We'd need a court order." Hogan looked up. The vision of her wearing the hot orange triangles silenced him. His hands convulsed on the bag in his hands, crushing the chips. His mouth went dry. He swallowed. Then he took a deep breath, but that didn't ease the pressure in his chest. Or in his pants.
Abruptly, Susannah held out a bottle. "I can't reach my back so you'll have to do the honors."
He stared dumbly at the bottle. His brain refused to work. "The honors?"
"I'll burn if I don't get sun screen on my back."
"You want me to put sun screen on your back?"
"No, I'm asking the other deputy in the corner."
Hogan took the bottle from her hand. She sat on the other bar stool and presented her back to him. Yeah. He'd like to do the honors all right. But what he had in mind had nothing to do with sun screen and everything to do with both of them getting hot, sweaty, and naked.
"Speaking of microphones, I went on the Internet when I was at work yesterday and found this wireless directional mike that we could place on the balcony. We might be able to hear him if we aimed it at his suite."
Hogan's pulse thudded with enough force to burst his veins. His hands were unbelievably clumsy. It took him a couple of tries just to get the damned top off the bottle. A loud buzzing in his ears drowned out the rest of what Susannah said.
Gazing raptly at her back, he squirted a stream of scented white lotion on the satiny expanse. With effort, he tried to focus on what she was saying and keep his eyes off her bottom which was sleek and sexy and shapely and nearly naked except for a very narrow strip of orange.
Suddenly, he realized she was waiting for him to respond. What had she been talking about? "Uh, I don't think so."
Hogan tried to focus, but his little head was doing his thinking at the moment, and the little head wouldn't let him think about anything except getting inside her.
"Wireless mikes sound like just the tool we need."
Ah, microphones. Relief washed over him. "They're probably not worth the shipping cost. Usually anything available to the public is strictly for amateur use."
"Whatever you say, boss."
His hands shook. She didn't want to know what he wanted to say. Tentatively, he smeared the lotion in a big circle. Prim Deputy Quinn would get her ears blistered if he said what was in his brain at that moment. He took a deep breath and began to spread the lotion in smaller circles. His hands slowed. Her skin felt like silk beneath his hands. He couldn't ever remember being so turned on by a woman's back before. If he could only touch other parts of her body, he could die a happy man.
Slowly, reverently, he stroked the coconut-scented lotion across Susannah's shoulders and down her back. He dared not touch her hips. Just the thought of sliding both hands down and over the rounded buttocks made him break out in sweat.
Blood pounded through his veins and pooled in his groin. He was so hard he could hammer nails. It was all he could do to keep his hands confined to the satiny skin of her back, but he couldn't keep his thoughts there as well. He imagined his hands moving around and cupping her small perfect breasts. Stroking the nipples to hard points of desire until she cried out for him. He was seized by a longing so hot and so intense that he felt dizzy.
His hands slipped under the string of the bikini top and inched across her ribs. Slowly. Oh so slowly. How far could he go before she seized his hands and made him stop? Mesmerized by the feel of her skin, he rubbed and stroked long after the lotion had soaked in. What had Susannah done to him? He'd never wanted a woman as much as he wanted her in that instant. He had to have more of her. So much more.
Hogan didn't allow himself to think in specifics about what that more might be. He dared not think about it or act on it. Not yet. Not here. Not when he was supposed to be her partner. Not when he needed his wits about him. He'd thought to protect her, but at this moment, he couldn't think of anything more dangerous than the way he felt.
"That's enough. No more." Susannah jerked away from him. "Thanks," she mumbled and grabbed the towels. Hastily, she rushed over and lifted her straw hat from the coffee table then went out the sliding glass doors to the balcony.
"Yeah. No problem." Hogan said to the empty room. Relieved she hadn't turned and looked at him, he took a couple of deep calming breaths. When he thought he could walk without embarrassing himself, he returned to the bedroom, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other and willing his erection to subside.
His hands tingled. He stared at them then abruptly squeezed them into fists as if he could hold onto the feeling of her skin. His whole body throbbed. When he tried to remove the lens cap from the camera, it took two attempts. He thought about Susannah and the orange bikini. This wasn't right. He didn't want her out on that balcony with McConnell and the rest of the world ogling her. This whole set up stunk like yesterday's shrimp shells.
He had to break into McConnell's suite as soon as possible and find those damned jewels and steal them back. Then this insanity he had agreed to would be over. And none too soon. He just had to be strong until then.
He stepped away from the camera and peeked through the gap in the drapes. Susannah was spreading one of the towels onto the chaise lounge. With her tight, round fanny stuck up in the air, she made quite a show of shaking the towel and arranging it. So much for trying to tame his hard-on.
Work was work. Play was play. You never mixed one with the other. He'd never even considered it. Until now. Susannah stretched out on her stomach. Then she reached around and untied the bikini top. She spread each string aside, exposing her perfect, beautiful back. His stomach knotted with desire.
"This is total insanity." He barely repressed his instinct to rush out there and cover her from head to toe with. . . . He groaned in frustration. With his body. Sweat beaded his forehead. He couldn't take it. She lay like an exotic delicacy, offered to appease the rapacious appetite of the sun.
Her skin had felt incredible beneath his hands. He knew every inch of her would feel the same. Like silk. Everywhere. Oh, hell. He couldn't help it. He imagined peeling that little swimsuit from her perfect body, and burying his throbbing erection in Susannah's sexy warmth.
He might like to think he was ruled by his head, not his passions, but Susannah had made a lie of that. She was displayed like a banquet, and he felt like a starving man. It was too much to ask of any guy.
It was only Saturday.
This was going to be the longest week of his life.
* * *
The rest of Saturday dragged until Rory began to think it was the longest day of her life. She went to her office, located in what would have been a guest room, and tried to fill the afternoon with work. Each hour ticked by with excruciating slowness. Finally she gave up and left her desk.
By sunset, she'd had all day to obsess about what she'd done. She didn't know whether she had come to her senses or lost her courage, but she was horrified at her actions. How could she have so brazenly propositioned that man? Any man. But to do it to the man who had such close ties to what Susannah was involved in was mortifying. She showered, pulled on her bathrobe, and made a decision.
Too nervous to dry her hair and style it, she ran a comb through it and forgot about it. Then she paced from the bedroom, through the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen where she'd turn and reverse her steps. As she paced, she tried to figure out what to say because she simply couldn't go out with Walt. Not when he was expecting her to. . . . Expecting them to, well, do it. She blushed scarlet at the thought of what she'd led him to expect based on their earlier encounter.
She called the number Susannah had left, but it proved to be Walt's office phone. Obviously, on a Saturday evening, he wasn't in the office so she didn't bother leaving a message. Oh, dear. She'd wanted to break their date over the phone. She hadn't wanted to see him again. How could she face him? What must he think of her?
What if Susannah somehow found out? All her years of effort to prove to everyone that she was respectable were meaningless.
The glass-domed clock on the mantle chimed the hour. Panic hit Rory. He'd be here any minute. Belatedly, she realized that meeting him at the door in her robe wasn't going to send the message she intended. With a groan, she tightened the sash on her robe. She wanted to hide, but she had to face the consequences of her rash actions.
Deciding brightly-lit rooms were less conducive to seduction, she rushed around flipping the switches in every room until the house was ablaze with light. She even turned on the porch lights front and back.
Her senses were so heightened, she heard a car pull into the driveway and stop. Her heart hammered in anticipation. Wistfully, she wished that he was calling on her because he liked her, not because he thought he was going to have sex with her. But what else could he think? Rory's heart pounded so hard now she almost didn't hear him when he knocked.
Her hands were clammy. Dreading what was to come, she opened the front door. Walt was gorgeous in a beautiful charcoal suit with a pristine white shirt and a red-striped tie. He looked beautiful. Rory tried to smile but couldn't quite complete the task. She felt like crying.
"You're not dressed." He smiled. "That's okay, I'll watch TV while you go make yourself more beautiful."
"No." In a wooden voice, Rory said, "I want to apologize for my actions today. I don't know what came over me. I really and truly have never done anything like that before in my entire life."
Walt smiled. "Really and truly?"
Rory stiffened. "Don't make fun of me."
He looked instantly contrite. "I apologize. I wasn't making fun of you. I was just trying to lighten the mood. You look so grim. Where's the Sleeping Beauty from this morning?"
His words distressed her even more. "That's just it. I'm not like that. I can't explain why I behaved that way." Nervously, she pulled on the sash as if to tighten it and constrict her wayward thoughts and wishes.
"That's too bad. I'd really like to get to know that woman. It's not often I find myself in the presence of a woman so natural and impulsive. Most of the women I meet have every word, every mannerism rehearsed to fit what they think I'm looking for in a woman."
"Why do they do that?" Rory couldn't help but ask.
"Because they want me. Rather, they want my bank account. I can't remember the last time I met a woman who didn't have an agenda for me that didn't include my money." He slapped his hand to his forehead. "Wait a minute. Yes, I can."
"When?" Rory asked.
"This morning. When I met you." His smile was warm and intimate. "I got the impression you wanted me, not my money. Me."
"Oh." Her eyes rounded in surprise then her gaze dropped.
"It's too bad you're not that woman, but if you're not. You're not. I understand."
Disappointment flooded Rory. She bit her lower lip and nodded. "Thank you. I'm glad you understand."
"You'd better get dressed. We have reservations for nine o'clock."
"But, I thought." She frowned.
"If I can't have Sleeping Beauty, I guess I'll have to settle for her alter ego."
Comprehension dawned. "You mean, you want to go out with me anyway?"
Walt smiled. "Yes." He gazed sharply at her. "Did you think I was just after your body?"
She blushed crimson. That was exactly what she'd thought.
"True, it's a delectable body, but I like to think I'm smart enough to know there's more to a woman than her body."
Rory felt a ray of happiness. Still, she hesitated. "Just to make sure we understand each other. I'm not going to. . . that is, we're not going to. . . ." Her voice trailed off. She took a deep breath. "I hope you didn't go to any trouble getting condoms, because you won't need them."
Walter put his hands on her shoulder, gently pulled her to him, and to her surprise, kissed her on the forehead. "I'm a quick study. I already figured out that part."
Now her heart really did beat fast. She tipped her head up to look him in the eye. "You don't mind?"
His voice deepened, and his eyes darkened. "Oh, I mind very much." He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out something. He held it out to her.
Automatically, Rory reached for it. She nearly dropped the folded packet when she realized it was a strip of condoms, each little packet separated by a perforation from the others in the strip.
"I'll let you keep these. When you decide you're ready, you can let me know."
"How many are here?"
"Only twenty. I would have brought more, but I'm not as young as I used to be." Grinning wickedly, he smacked her lightly on the rear. "Now go get dressed."
Rory flew from the room. She felt as if her heart was doing cartwheels. She didn't have to dither over her wardrobe. She pulled a sleeveless black linen sheath from the closet. Normally, she wore this to church with its matching jacket to hide the low scoop neck. She was pretty sure it would look sophisticated enough for dinner.
Her good black pumps pinched the foot that had been operated on a bit, but she didn't care. Her gold hoop earrings completed her ensemble. She leaned over, brushed her hair forward, then raised up and flipped it back. A quick part on the right side and some spritz on the roots to lock in the lift left her with a few minutes for makeup. She rooted around in the bathroom drawer for her meager supply. Mascara to darken her auburn lashes. A quick swipe of an eyebrow pencil to give a bit more definition to her brows. Blush on her cheekbones. Some lipstick. That was it. She glanced at her reflection, grimaced, and shook her head. Somehow she'd expected to look different, more glamorous. Even sexy. Like the way Walt made her feel.
When she rejoined him in the living room, he was holding a book he'd pulled from one of the bookcases. "I've heard about this book. Is it any good?"
Rory nodded. "It is. I usually read either gardening books or romance, but I'm finding there's a lot of good science fiction being published too."
He laid the book on the table and looked her over. "You look beautiful, Rory."
She blushed, pleased at the compliment, even though she knew she looked like plain old Rory Quinn. "Thank you."
Outside, Walt took her hand and walked her to the passenger side of a Cadillac Esplanade. After he'd got in and buckled his seat belt, she asked, "What did you mean inside?"
"Mean about what?"
"When you said you didn't mind doing this the right way. Do what the right way?"
He reached over and laid the palm of his hand on her cheek. Solemnly, he said, "Why, courting you of course."
"Oh. Is that what you're doing?" Rory asked in a breathless whisper.
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