Susannah awoke feeling like an armadillo who'd got smacked by a car while crossing a Texas farm road. She refused to dwell on the question of her love for Hogan. Instead, she focused on what she had to do. The need to take immediate action on her plan forced her out of bed. She padded over to the balcony. Peering through the drapes, she saw the sun peek over the horizon and tint the sky rose gold. It was beautiful, but the lovely sunrise brought no peace to her troubled soul.
Across the way, she saw Thomas out on his balcony doing what appeared to be tai chi. She chose to view the fact that he was an early riser as a good omen. The possibility she could find the jewels and make the case against McConnell existed. She had only to decide if she wanted to ignore Hogan's edict about the situation and take matters into her own hands which meant arresting McConnell. The bottom line was if she could bring the case to some conclusion, any conclusion, she could go home gracefully. That beat running away like a scared child.
Going home a winner, if she didn't count losing her heart to Hogan, held a lot of appeal.
Ironically, solving the case didn't thrill her as much as it once had. Somehow, she'd find out the truth from Thomas, get the jewelry back, and teach Special Agent Hogan a much-needed lesson. Then she could head back to Vance and begin the process of forgetting the insanity of this week.
An hour later, dressed in a turquoise bikini with a flowing ankle-length sarong tied at her waist, she slipped on cork sandals, dropped her sunglasses into her straw bag, and grabbed her unwieldy hat.
Only silence greeted her when she opened the bedroom door. Luck appeared to be on her side. She stepped out and immediately tripped over something on the floor. She looked down. Her breath caught. She picked up the navy slacks Hogan had worn last night. Unable to resist, she cradled them for a moment to her breasts. Realizing mooning over him wasn't making her feel any better, she dropped them back to the floor.
Two steps away lay his belt. Slowly she walked through the living room. There was a sock. And another. What was it he'd said last night? He'd leave a trail for her to follow? She peered down the hallway. Right outside his door lay a pair of charcoal gray briefs.
Despite herself, Susannah was amused. Damn. He was doing it again. Teasing and flirting. Trying to charm her into bed. And he wasn't even standing in front of her! It wasn't fair, she fumed. Angry at her reactions to him as much as at him, Susannah stalked out of the suite.
When she reached the lobby, she placed a call to Thomas's suite then went to the pool-side buffet to wait.
A few guests were already cruising the long linen-covered tables which boasted every variety of fruit, from guava, pineapple, and star fruit to Texas-grown melons. Baskets of golden brown rolls and muffins, platters of gooey pastries, and huge silver buffet dishes of bacon, ham, and sausage completed the arrangement.
A chef stood behind the portable gas cook top taking special orders for eggs. A woman carefully kneaded balls of masa harina, the corn meal mixture used to make tortillas. The woman then flattened the masa harina balls with a heavy steel press into perfectly round corn tortillas. Another woman took the tortillas and dropped them on a stone griddle. Susannah watched but couldn't dredge up an appetite. She settled for coffee and a vacant chaise lounge.
Rusty, the cute waiter from yesterday, walked around with carafes of coffee and tea for refills. When he stopped to fill her cup, she managed a smile.
"No breakfast?" He frowned.
"Just coffee. I'm on a diet." Susannah tried to smile at her own feeble joke.
Rusty shrugged. "You're kind of skinny, I mean slender. You could stand a few calories if you don't mind my saying so."
"Gee, guess the diet's working." Susannah gave up her weak effort at humor and leaned back, closing her eyes. She heard his muttered "whatever" then his footsteps told her he'd left. She'd certainly made a bad impression on poor Rusty. Yesterday, she'd made him think she was on the prowl. Today, he probably thought she was anorexic.
She saw Thomas McConnell the moment he arrived. He waved and walked over to the buffet table. Susannah smiled and waited for him.
"Good morning." McConnell placed his cup and saucer on the table and gave her a jovial smile. "I say, you look tired, my dear. Have a late night?" His eyes twinkled.
To her chagrin, McConnell chuckled. "Ah, a full moon and an ocean. There's nothing like that combination to bring out the romance in one's soul. I take it you and your possessive husband worked out your differences?"
Susannah bit back the desire to cry on his shoulder and merely shook her head in reply. The pressure behind her eyes increased until she had to blink rapidly to keep the tears at bay. What was wrong with her? She'd puddled up more in the last few days than she had in years?
"Oh, dear. Perhaps you didn't." Thomas pulled his chair closer, leaned over, and patted her on the shoulder. "Want to tell an old man your troubles?"
Susannah looked at him and felt even more miserable. He was a sweet man, and she had set her snare just to catch him and get him to confess. "No. It won't do any good. I'll be okay."
"Are you sure? Sometimes I find sharing the load halves it. Heaven only knows there've been plenty of times in my life when I wish I could have distributed my burden to a willing listener."
Susannah really felt like crying now. Did he have to be so caring and compassionate? Resolved, she swallowed her tears. There would be plenty of time later to release them and lots more. "No, I'm fine. I appreciate the offer though. Thank you."
He patted her hand. "Not at all, my dear. If there's one thing I've found, it's that the need for friends doesn't diminish as we get older. It only increases." He frowned. "Believe me, if I'd had someone around to give me a good talking to last month, I might not have acted like a foolish young hothead."
He sounded so dejected that Susannah's heart went out to him. She knew he must be referring to his theft of the jewelry. Though she'd planned to get him to confess, she found herself half hoping he wouldn't say anything else.
His mouth drooped and his shoulders sagged. "I shouldn't burden you with my problems." He snorted. "My stupidity. I should make you laugh to forget your cares."
Damn it. She liked him. He needed a friend. Not a cop. "I didn't know you last month, but I'd be happy to listen now. Want to share your burden, Thomas? It'll take my mind off my problems to listen to yours." She smiled gently. "Tell me what happened."
He stared at his hands for a moment, then he said, "I'm afraid I did something I'm ashamed of. It's bad enough my action was rash and stupid, but by committing that action, I betrayed myself." His sigh sounded as if all the pain in the world lay inside him. "What is even worse is that I betrayed someone I love very deeply."
A myriad of emotions, sadness, compassion, satisfaction, but most of all regret, surged through Susannah. She wished she were back in Vance cleaning up the dusty files. Anywhere would be better than sitting here with this poor miserable man who didn't even know he was being targeted.
"Wow, that's a heavy load of guilt." She watched him turn his cup around and around on the saucer. "What happened?"
"Betrayal is the worst thing you can do to someone you love, my dear Susannah. It's an invisible point of no return. Even if you make amends, there's no going back."
His hand trembled when he lifted the coffee cup, but his voice was steady, though filled with regret. "There's no chance in this case to go back to the way things were anyway."
"I can tell whatever you did is eating you up. Talk to me. Tell me, Thomas."
He set his cup down. "All I ask is that you remember I did this because I was hurt. Deeply hurt. I'm not a bad man. I changed over the years. Reinvented myself, and I liked the person I had become. I was just," he paused and smiled before finally saying, "in love. For the last time in my life."
He had to be talking about Hogan's stepmother. Thomas was in love with the elusive Yvonne? The woman whose jewels he'd stolen? Did Hogan know?
"I had proposed to Yvonne." He looked up. "That's her name." His smile was tinged with sadness. "I thought she loved me. No, I knew it. She did love me. But she rejected my proposal. Threw it back in my face without warning. Then, she broke it off with me, and immediately began dating this chap who belonged to my golf club."
His pain was palpable. Susannah sat up and reached out to him, covering his hands with both of hers. "I'm so sorry."
He took a deep breath. "I shouldn't have done it. God! It's so true jealousy is a sign of insecurity. It was rash. Stupid. It countered everything decent I've done in the last ten years and wiped it all away in an instant." He shook his head. "I lashed out and tried to hurt her as deeply as she hurt me."
Quietly, sadly, Susannah asked, "What did you do, Thomas?"
"I took something from her. Some black opals that were pieces of an heirloom suite. I just wanted her to see how it felt to be betrayed. To hurt her the way she'd hurt me. As soon as I left her home, I knew I'd done something unforgivable."
After he finished talking, Susannah was silent while her brain raced. She understood why Thomas had taken the jewels. Passion, love, had the ability to make one completely insane. Finally, she said, "Maybe it can be fixed."
"I've tried to fix it. I'm still trying. But I don't think it will make any difference."
She didn't want to see him go to jail. He'd made a mistake. She could well imagine his outrage and his pain when Yvonne so callously rejected him. That didn't make what he did right, she knew, but it did make it understandable. "Maybe I can help."
He looked at her. "Maybe you can. Could I give the jewelry to you? You could see that it's returned to her properly? Would you do that for me?"
* * *
Hogan jerked awake. Bright sunlight streamed into the room. He'd lain awake half the night, waiting, hoping that Susannah would come to him. He wasn't surprised that he'd overslept. He listened intently, but only silence greeted him.
Exasperated that he'd awakened alone, he bounded out of bed. It was time to close the book on this ridiculous assignment. He'd get Luke Orland to get a search warrant. Then he'd go to McConnell and give him a chance to give the jewels back. If he cooperated, then he could go free. If he didn't, Hogan planned to use the search warrant to persuade him. Once he got the jewelry back, McConnell was free to go.
In any event, Yvonne would get her jewelry, and she wouldn't have McConnell's incarceration on her conscience. Jewelry back without scandal, and Walter would be happy. It was a winning situation for all parties.
Then Hogan could tell Susannah everything. In the short time he had left before returning to Washington, he planned to use every minute to convince her that she should continue the role of Mrs. Hogan. For real.
After he was dressed, he rang McConnell's suite but got no answer. Maybe the man was still at breakfast. Since Susannah had already left the suite, he had a sneaking suspicion that he'd find the woman he loved with that over the hill thieving Romeo.
* * *
"Old Harold has served me well in ways you don't suspect," Thomas said, pressing one of the rivets on the knight's shield.
Susannah heard a soft click. She watched as Thomas rotated the upper torso of the miniature suit of armor and lifted the section off. He reached inside and pulled out a plastic bubble-wrapped package and handed it to her.
"Oh, my goodness." She was at a loss for anything more articulate to say. He'd confessed, and now he'd handed her the stolen jewelry. This was the point in her fantasy where she arrested him. But, she'd changed, she suddenly realized. The spit-polished, rule book toting Susannah would have done just that. The new Susannah who understood mitigating circumstances just couldn't do it.
"Open it." Thomas turned away and walked over to stare out the sliding glass doors at the ocean beyond.
Gingerly she did as he commanded, revealing an old-fashioned suite of jewelry consisting of black opals in heavy, ornate gold settings. On the coffee table, Susannah lined up the brooch, a bracelet, a necklace, and a ring. Looking at them, she felt sadness engulf her. She lifted the brooch and watched the play of color, fire red, electric blues and greens, as she rocked it side to side to catch the light. "The gems are exquisite."
From his position by the glass doors, Thomas said, "I'm so disgusted with myself I can't stand to look at them."
"I think you'd better start at the beginning and tell me the rest. How did you get them away?"
"I broke in when Yvonne went to dinner with the new man in her life." Bitterness colored his words. Then, he stopped and cleared his throat. In a more neutral voice, he continued, "The wall safe in her boudoir was a joke. Even though I hadn't cracked one in over ten years, it only took minutes to open."
"Did you take anything else?"
"Just those. They were important to her for family reasons." He shoved his hands in his pockets and began pacing.
Susannah stared at the flashes of intense color in the dark depths of the stone. How like the secrets that lay hidden in people. "What did you intend to do with them?"
"I don't know. That's just it. I didn't think. I acted like a hurt child and lashed out to hurt her in return. I don't want the damnable things. I never wanted them. I just took them to hurt her as badly as she'd hurt me. I hope you won't think any less of me for being abominably stupid, but I'll understand if you want to leave right here and now. I can only plead temporary insanity. Do you think a jury would believe that and let me off?"
Susannah sighed and laid the piece on the coffee table. "Thomas, all you need to do is return the jewelry."
"I tried to send it back. I had it boxed up the very next day and an overnight delivery service waiting. When I called Yvonne to make certain she or the maid would be there to sign for the package, there was no answer. I tried the next day and the next after that. I don't know where she's gone. Her house is closed up. I know it's silly, but I half-hoped she'd show up here. That's why I really came to Murphy's Cove. We'd talked about vacationing here so I could meet her brother. He's the mayor here. I supposed I could give them to him. But I wanted, no, I needed, to apologize to her personally when I return the pieces."
Poor Thomas. He'd obviously cared for Yvonne far more than Yvonne had cared for him. Without even having met the woman, Susannah decided she didn't like her very much. What kind of woman breaks up like that, with a man who'd been her lover? Who'd proposed marriage? A man who'd professed his love? Love was more a curse than a blessing in too many cases it seemed.
"Did Yvonne know about your past?"
He nodded. "I was straight with her. I told her everything. She accepted me. We'd been together six months, and had planned to spend the rest of the summer here at the Cove."
Thomas looked around and sighed. "She's right. It is a lovely place. We'd have had a good time here. Together," he added wistfully. He waved his hand at the jewelry. "I know this burned my last bridge with her. She's got to know I took the pieces." He walked back to the couch and slumped onto its silk cushions. "Now you know my deepest, darkest secret. So tell me, what do I do now?"
Susannah took a deep breath. "We give the jewelry back to Yvonne. She's here, Thomas, in Murphy's Cove. Probably in this very hotel."
"Yvonne?" He sat up, suddenly looking more alive than he had all morning. "Here?"
"That's right. In the flesh, though I haven't seen her yet."
He frowned. "I'm sorry, my dear. I'm afraid I don't understand. If you haven't seen her, how do you know she's here. More to the point, how do you know Yvonne at all?"
"You're not the only one with a confession to make, Thomas."
When she finished telling him what she was doing at the Cove, he laughed. The sound wasn't particularly pleasant. "I don't believe it. I pick a deputy sheriff to confess my sins to. I really have lost my touch."
He shook his head ruefully then held out both hands in the traditional posture of surrender. "Slap on the cuffs, Deputy. I'm ready to go. Actually, it's a relief."
"Put your hands down, Thomas, you look ridiculous," Susannah said. "And don't call me Deputy. I'm probably the poorest example of a law officer to ever pin on a badge."
As he lowered his hands, he said, "Oh, I wouldn't say that. You got me to confess."
"Yeah, but you didn't think you were confessing. You were just confiding in a friend."
"Is your Mr. Hogan expecting to arrest me? Is that why you're not doing the honors? You're going to let him have the pleasure?"
"He's not my Mr. Hogan, and no one is arresting anyone. All Hogan wanted was to steal the jewelry back for his stepmother."
"How very unorthodox. So your Mr. Hogan is Yvonne's stepson, the famous FBI agent?"
"If you don't quit calling him my Mr. Hogan I might change my mind about arresting you."
"I remember Yvonne talking about him. She always called him Sweetie. She showed me a picture of him, said it was her favorite, but it was taken years ago when he was very young. He had on karate pajamas and was hoisting a trophy bigger than he into the air." He shrugged. "No wonder I didn't recognize him. He was doing this for Yvonne, was he? A personal favor with no official sanction?"
"That's right," she said.
"If you're not arresting me, what do you plan to do?"
"I'll find Yvonne. We'll return the jewelry, and that will be that. She gets her jewelry. You get your freedom. Hogan gets his stepmother's satisfaction, and he gets to return to Washington."
"And you, my dear? What do you get?"
"I get to go home and try to figure out what to do with my life. I'm doubting law enforcement is for me."
"What makes you think it isn't your forte?"
"Frankly, I might be in this for the wrong reason. I don't think being an upholder of justice will help that seven-year-old girl of my memory."
"I'm sorry. I don't follow, but I do disagree about your suitability for law enforcement." He winked. "Take it from me, I've had a lot of experience with the police. Too much. The best ones are those who can blend wisdom with rules. Just like you're doing."
She smiled. "Thanks. I'll take that into account." She kissed him on the cheek. "Take care, Thomas McConnell. Try to get back on that straight and narrow path and stay there."
"You can count on it, my dear."
"Good. Now, hide this stuff until I find Yvonne."
"Perhaps you and I should team up. After all, you can't recognize her if you've never seen her, now can you?"
Susannah frowned. "You do have a point." She stood and walked to the door. "But I know someone who knows her." She nodded slowly. "Other than Hogan." She glanced at her watch. "Let me see if I can locate my old friend Luke."
She opened the door and peered out and was relieved not to find Hogan lurking there. Wary of running into him, she decided not to hang around the hotel. Instead of phoning Luke, she'd go straight to the police department. Face to face, she'd have an easier time persuading him to reveal Yvonne's whereabouts.
By the time she arrived at the red brick building that housed the Murphy's Cove Police Department, she was hot and thirsty. Though not a great distance from the hotel, there were more pleasant things to do than walk eight blocks on a scorching August day.
The tile-roofed building was cool and quiet. Her cork sandals muffled her steps on the marble floor as she walked into the lobby of the police department.
"May I help you, ma'am?" asked the policeman behind the high counter, his pen poised above the paper he'd been writing on when she walked in.
"Yes, I'm looking for Luke Orland. Is he in?"
"He just ran over to the cafe. Should be back any minute. Would you like to have a seat and wait?" He gestured toward the chairs lining the wall behind her.
"Thank you." Susannah took a seat but didn't lean back. She felt too sweaty and sticky to press her back against the vinyl chair.
"Hot day, isn't it?" The policeman asked, smiling at her instead of returning to the form he'd been filling out.
"It certainly is. Too hot."
"Yes, ma'am. I heard that." He pointed. "There's a water fountain and some vending machines down the hall and to the right if you'd like something cold to drink."
"Oh, thank you."
The water refreshed her. Just as she patted her mouth, she heard hard-soled shoes on the marble floors. She started back. Just as she started to turn the corner, she heard a man laugh. She froze. She knew that laugh.
Susannah peeked around the corner and saw Hogan and Luke. The two men made no effort to keep their conversation quiet so she had an easy time of eavesdropping.
"I'm tired of this pretense," Hogan said. "One way or another, I'm finishing this business today."
"What about Susannah?" Luke Orland asked.
"Leave Susannah to me." The he asked, What do you think she'll do?"
"Probably plug you with her service revolver," Luke replied cheerfully.
"Thanks a lot. That's encouraging."
"Hey, anytime." Luke laughed.
It felt odd to hear these two rats discuss her. Susannah stayed perfectly still so as not to call attention to herself. She hoped they didn't come her way.
"You're sure we should go against what the Mayor said and do it this way?" Luke asked.
"Yeah. I should've had you arrest McConnell instead of wasting all this time playing Walter's game. You've got the warrant so meet me at the hotel in an hour."
"Won't your stepmom get upset if you arrest him?" Luke asked.
"Probably. She just wants me to forget the whole matter, but she's the one who set this train in motion."
Luke whistled softly. "I don't know Hogan. She told me and Walter at lunch that she didn't want us to do anything about McConnell. Said she'd hire a lawyer for him if we even tried. She and Walter really got into it over him."
"I'll handle Vonnie," Hogan said. "You just grab Susannah if you see her. Don't let her come back to the hotel until I give you the word."
A few minutes later, Hogan left. Susannah didn't dare walk back to Luke's office. When she was certain the coast was clear, she slipped around the corner and raced down the hall toward the back entrance. She had to warn Thomas. There had to be some place she could stash him and the jewelry until she located Yvonne.
She ignored the heat and the humidity as she dashed along the hard-packed sand. The cork sandals had rubbed blisters on her toes but she disregarded the sting of perspiration in the wounds and reached the hotel in record time. She went around to the parking garage and used the freight entrance to get to the lobby. She was pretty sure Yvonne was in this hotel, but she knew the desk wouldn't give her the woman's room number.
If Yvonne didn't want Thomas arrested, and Thomas was wanting to return the jewelry, then all she had to do was put the two of them together.
Susannah hurried to the hotel flower shop. She'd seen this work in an old movie. Hopefully, it would work for her. Now, what had Hogan said Yvonne's name was? Rizzoli?
"Hi," she said cheerfully to the girl behind the counter. "I want to order some flowers." She pointed to an irridescent white vase filled with what looked like two dozen long-stemmed American Beauty red roses. "How about that?"
"That's three hundred dollars," the girl said.
"Three hundred dollars?" Susannah gulped. "I mean that will be fine." She signed Hogan's name and the room number to the bill.
"I want these delivered immediately to Yvonne Rizzoli here in the hotel. They have to be there within the next half hour." Her pen poised over the bill. "There's a big tip in this if you can guarantee delivery."
"Oh, yes, ma'am." The girl smiled delightedly. "I have someone who can take them up immediately."
"Great." Susannah added a hefty tip and charged it all to the suite. When she left the flower shop, she found a chair in the lobby, obscured by a large potted palm. She waited. Minutes later, a delivery man holding the vase crossed the lobby. She hurried after him. He was alone when he stepped into the same elevator. She watched the numbers glow as she tracked his upwards progress, noting where it stopped.
Gosh, this was as easy as it looked in the movies, Susannah thought, stepping into the other elevator and pressing the number for the same floor. She felt quite proud of herself for her ingenuity.
Moments later, she stepped out and saw the man down the hall. She ambled down that way, intending only to locate the room number. All she needed to know was which suite was Yvonne's then she'd come back later with Thomas and the jewelry.
The bellman stopped at a door that had a small black sign. Gulf Breezes East. Susannah walked past then realized the hall was a dead end. There were no more doors. There was only the one room. The penthouse, of course, she realized. Panicked, she turned around and started back. The man with the flowers stared at her.
Just as she drew even with the penthouse, the double doors were opened by an elegantly dressed woman. She was blond and very thin. More importantly, she was about Thomas's age. Susannah glanced up. Their eyes met. Susannah hurried on. From the corner of her eye, she saw the woman take the flowers. Then the woman sneezed.
Just then Susannah heard Yvonne call out. "Young woman."
The delivery man passed her, glancing curiously at her as he continued to the elevator. Susannah felt a hand on her shoulder. She sighed and turned.
"You have amazing green eyes," the woman said, catching her off guard.
"Why, thank you," Susannah said, cautiously.
"What's your name?" the woman asked, staring at her oddly.
"This wasn't the way I had planned this," Susannah said. She held out her hand. "I'm Susannah Quinn. You're Yvonne?"
The woman nodded. Her grip was surprisingly strong for such a fragile-looking woman. "Come with me. I think we have quite a lot to talk about," Yvonne said. She ushered Susannah into the penthouse. "Those roses are from you, not Hogan." She gestured toward the arrangement setting in the middle of an ebony grand piano. Yvonne laughed. "I'm not psychic. Hogan knows I'm allergic to roses."
"I wanted to talk to you, and I didn't know which suite was yours so I ordered the flowers and followed the delivery man. I should have guessed you'd be in the penthouse."
Yvonne grinned. "Hogan's right. You are clever."
"He said that?" Susannah asked, nonplused.
"Along with a lot of other things."
"Like what?" Susannah couldn't help asking.
Yvonne laughed. "Why don't we have tea and then we can exchange girlish confidences?"
"I'd love to, but I don't know if this is the time or the place. You see, Yvonne." She broke off. "I mean Ms. Rizzoli."
"Yvonne. I have a problem. Hogan's on his way to arrest Thomas."
"No, he wouldn't dare." Yvonne's eyes rounded with shock.
"Trust me. He'd dare. He's got a warrant. He and Luke Orland of the police department intend to arrest Thomas."
"We've got to get Tommy out of here," Yvonne exclaimed. "Will you help me?"
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