Susannah 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.
In 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.
She'd 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.
In 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.
Through 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.
Tired 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.
"Hogan?" Susannah paused in the act of retrieving an icy can of Coke from the fridge. Great. He was gone.
She 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.
Jealousy pricked her. He'd better not be with that Allison woman.
Irritated 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.
Laying 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.
Days 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.
For 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 her crazy.
Bored 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.
When 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?"
"Susannah? Oh, hi. Hello."
Rory Quinn's nervous voice set off Susannah's alarms. "Are you okay, Mom?"
"Of course. Uh, was there something you wanted?"
"No. Just to hear your voice."
"Oh, 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."
Susannah frowned. "Walt? Do you mean Mayor Bofco?"
Rory giggled like a teenager. "Of course. Do you know another Walt?"
Susannah's frown deepened. "I don't know that I know this one very well. And neither do you. What do you mean he's due?"
"He's taking me out for lunch to this restaurant where he swears they make the best grilled shrimp on the Gulf Coast."
Susannah 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?
"You do mean Walter Bofco, the Mayor of Murphy's Cove?"
Again, Rory laughed. She sounded young and girlish. "Susannah, you silly goose."
Alarm bells sounded in Susannah's head. She blurted out, "Mom! Are you and the Mayor," she hesitated, then gasped out the word, "dating?"
An awkward pause followed. "Well, I guess one could call it dating. We've been out a few times."
"But 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.
Rory insisted they had so many things in common that they'd just hit it off. "Why, last night we talked nearly all night."
Susannah tried not to sound accusing. "You mean he was over at the house all night?"
"No, we talked on the phone after he dropped me off from dinner."
"So that's why I couldn't get through when I called."
"Oh, I'm sorry, dear. Did you need anything important?"
"No, I just wanted to see if you were okay. Apparently, you are." Susannah didn't understand why, but she felt angry.
"We have so much in common, Susannah."
"Yes. You said that already."
Her small town mom and a rich, retired Army colonel? Susannah didn't buy it. "What do you have in common?"
"Well, gardening for one thing."
"Gardening?" 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.
By 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?
Something 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.
"Thank goodness you're there." Susannah's tense grip on the phone relaxed.
"Just drove in from Huntsville this morning. Sam Houston State is going to have to do without me until fall."
"Paula, I need your help."
"You sound funny. What's up?"
"Nothing 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?"
Her 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?"
"I 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 mom."
"Okay. Give me a few hours to gossip with Mom. Then I'll unpack and get Brian settled in the guest room."
"Oh, I forgot about Brian. He really did come with you?"
"I 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 boyfriend myself."
"He's not my boyfriend, Paula."
"Whatever you say." Paula laughed. "But I can't ever remember your being this interested in any guy."
"I'm not interested,"Susannah protested. "I'm worried."
"If you say so," her friend countered.
* * *
Hogan groaned as his stepmother pressed another serving of pecan waffles on him. "Vonnie, if I eat any more, I'll explode."
"But, sweetie, you look a bit thin."
"You 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.
"Now, 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."
"I disagree with that theory. You're way too thin, and you've had nothing but coffee since I got here."
Yvonne dismissed his comment with an airy wave. "Nonsense. I ate before you arrived."
A sigh escaped him. "Now, why don't I believe that?"
"Because you have a suspicious nature. It goes with the territory in your line of work I suppose."
Hogan 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.
"Have you seen Thomas?" Yvonne asked.
"Not yet." He told her what they'd done.
"Oh, 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."
Hogan 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."
For 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 hurtful."
"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.
Yvonne chewed her lower lip and looked worried. "Could he be ill?"
"I don't get it. You act as if you're more concerned about that man than about recovering your jewelry."
"I 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 missing."
Hogan's 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?"
Yvonne 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."
"What's going on here, Vonnie?"
"I 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 old jewelry."
"Old jewelry? According to Walter, it's a cross between the crown jewels and the Bofco legacy to the world."
She 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."
"What do you mean?"
"Sibling 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."
With 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."
"I never knew he felt that way." Hogan frowned.
Yvonne 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 family."
Hogan 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?"
Her 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."
"Yeah, Walter would be one unhappy dude. He'd probably insist McConnell be arrested."
"No. I don't want that. Promise me you won't let that happen."
"Then what do you want?"
She sighed heavily. "I just want this never to have happened."
"We 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?
"Oh," she moaned, "I wish I'd never told Walter. I'm so sorry I got you stuck in the middle of this, sweetie."
"Stuck is right," Hogan complained. "I," he broke off. "Never mind."
"What were you going to say?"
When she persisted, he shrugged. "I don't like having my life turned upside down."
"What do you mean?" she asked, her gaze sharp.
Hogan 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."
"Deputy? You mean the young woman who looks like Thomas's daughter? What's her name?"
"What's so irritating about her?"
"Everything. Where do you want me to start the list?"
"Really? 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."
"She's not ugly. In fact, she is very attractive. You might even say beautiful."
"Oh? Then she must not be very bright."
"Wrong again. She's an honors graduate in Criminal Justice."
"How interesting. So you two have law enforcement in common? Do you share any other interests?"
"We 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?"
Yvonne smiled. "Intolerable. Do tell me more. What happened the first time you met?"
Hogan felt heat flush his face. "Nothing much."
"Hmmm. Okay. We'll move on to another question. What's so objectionable about her other than her rigid sense of right and wrong?"
Hogan 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. Tsk. We can't have that," Yvonne murmured.
"And she won't take orders at all."
"Oh, dear, I can see where that would be unforgivable."
"You 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."
"But that's what all the women wear here, sweetie."
"Yes, but . . . ." His voice trailed off. He frowned.
"But what? All your girlfriends have worn short dresses, tight pants, and brief swimsuits. You never complained before."
"This is different," he growled.
When Yvonne opened her mouth, he held up his hand. "Don't ask me why it's different. I haven't figured that part out yet."
Yvonne 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 already have."
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