Day after day, Susannah worked to exhaustion in an effort to be so tired that she'd have no energy left to obsess about Hogan. Banishing him from her brain was an exercise in futility.
She dragged another box from the file room and carried it to her desk. "Here's the last one from the eighties, Allison." Tiredly, she hoisted the dusty box onto her desk and brushed her hands together.
"Great. We're really making some progress now," Allison said. "This was really a two-person job, Susannah. With me sorting and filing. . . ."
"And me inputting the data," Paula said, looking up from the computer.
"We should be finished with this before Paula goes back for the fall semester," Allison concluded.
"Right." Paula swung to the side to grab some papers from in front of Allison. Her waist-length black hair fell across her face. Absently, she tossed her head, flipping the black tresses over her shoulder.
"Words can't express how appreciative I am to both of you for pitching in like this," Susannah said.
Paula grinned. "No problemo."
"Hey," Allison interrupted. "I'm not doing this for you. This is a job, and I'm actually getting paid."
"Yeah, like you need that minimum wage," Susannah said with a wry laugh.
"You girls want me to bring back anything from the cafe?" Grace Collier asked. "Myrtle's got lemon ice box pie for dessert today."
"Ooh, that sounds scrumptious," Paula said. "Get a piece for me, Mom."
Allison rubbed her slender mid-section. "I'm starved. Get two slices for me, Grace."
"Girl, where do you put all the food you eat?" Grace laughed. "I've never seen anyone consume so much."
Allison shrugged. "Luck of the draw. I ended up with a super fast metabolism. Other people get musical or artistic talent."
Susannah dropped into the chair next to her desk. "Why are you still here, Allison? I know Mom's porch swing is a great place to sleep, but why haven't you gone home?"
Allison shrugged. "I'm having fun. As long as it's fun, I'll stay."
"Going through dusty old papers is fun? Not that I don't appreciate your taking over this project, but it doesn't make sense. You're rich. You could be anywhere doing anything. Laying on a beach on the French Riviera sounds like a heck of a lot more fun than Alton County, Texas, in August."
"Been there, done that. Got the tee shirt. Don't need another." Allison opened the box and began sorting its contents. "By the way, did you call Hogan to say goodbye?"
Startled, Susannah looked up. "Goodbye?"
Allison shrugged. "Yep. He's leaving for Washington today."
"I didn't know." She felt as if Allison had shoved a nightstick through her heart. Hogan hadn't set foot in the Sheriff's office since she'd returned from the Cove. "There's no reason to call him. If he wanted to apologize, he knows where I am."
"Maybe it would make you less miserable to see him and clear the air," Paula suggested.
"Don't be ridiculous," Susannah scoffed. "I'm not miserable."
"Oh. So crying yourself to sleep is normal behavior for you?" Allison asked.
Susannah reached into the box and pulled out a ticket. "Look at this. Here's another citation Uncle Barney wrote for Mrs. Rojas because her sheep Ruffles ate Lucy Flores's Easter hat."
"Don't change the subject," Allison said. "Did you here that Aunt Vonnie and Thomas McConnell got married?"
A smile brightened Susannah's glum expression. "Your dad told Mom who told me. I'm happy that things worked out for them."
"Yeah, it's kind of neat having a family with a famous jewel thief and an FBI agent too." Allison glanced up. "Oops. Sorry."
"No problemo," Susannah echoed dully.
"What do you think about my dad marrying your mom?"
Susannah sighed and laid the old ticket aside. "I think it's a foregone conclusion. She and I talked. What can I say? I'm convinced. I've never seen her this way."
She grimaced. "Though I don't know if I could tolerate having you for a sister. I mean, you already steal my clothes. What will you do when we're officially sisters?"
"I'll let you steal mine. Though I must take exception to your statement. I haven't stolen your shirts. They don't exactly fit," Allison said.
"Gee, Allison. I'm sure she appreciates the reminder that you have better assets in that department," Paula remarked dryly.
"Hey," Allison said, "It's quality not quantity that counts. I'd be willing to bet that my rather dense cousin didn't complain."
Susannah flushed. No. Hogan hadn't complained.
"You spend all your time thinking about him. Why don't you call him? Come on, Susannah. Give in. I'll tell you what the D. E. stands for if you'll call." Allison promised.
Susannah ignored the bribe. If Hogan wouldn't tell her, she didn't want to hear it from someone else. "What would I say? Hi, this is the woman who . . . what? Had a one-night stand with you?"
"How about, this is the woman who loves you?" Paula suggested.
"No. If he'd wanted to talk to me, he'd have called me."
"That's the lamest excuse I've ever heard. What happened to your proactive feminist stance? Why wait for a man to call you? Come on. Act like a man." Paula grinned. "Pick up the phone."
"Paula, your advice is what got me in this predicament. What kind of relationship could we possibly have?" She asked, trying her best to sound light-hearted and joking. "I mean he's a G-man from D. C. and I'm a deputy from A. C.? Alton County, Texas, is a world away from Washington. I'm not exactly the vacation-affair type."
"I know Hogan. You should trust him," Allison said. "He's not the one-night stand type either. Believe me."
Susannah felt her anger freshen. "Trust him? Why should I?"
"Because you can't go through life like before," Paula said.
"I've had enough. That's all I hear lately from you two. And from Mom. From everybody. Well, I'm tired of it. You two live your life your way. Which I can't see has gotten either of you very much. Paula, you're miserable from your last broken relationship, and, Allison, your free-wheeling lifestyle has only resulted in too many affairs and nothing long-lasting."
"Sometimes, appearances aren't what they seem," Allison said. "I may not be the bimbo you think I am. Just like you're not the hard as nails loner you pretend to be."
Instantly, Susannah felt ashamed of her words. "Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't mean those things. I don't think you're a bimbo, Allison."
The phone rang. Susannah grabbed it, glad to have something to break the tension in the office. "Alton County Sheriff's Department. This is Deputy Quinn. May I help you?"
She handed the phone to Allison. "It's your dad."
"Deputy Allison, what can I do you for, Mayor?" Allison grinned and winked at Susannah.
She listened, her eyes dancing mischievously. "Okay. Ten four, good buddy."
Susannah laughed. "That's a telephone, not a CB radio, Allison. Anything important?"
"Nope. Nothing at all. Just family business." She fiddled with the papers in her hand for a few minutes, glancing surreptitiously at the clock on the wall. After ten minutes had passed, she said, "Susannah, shouldn't you leave for patrol?"
Susannah shrugged. "I've got time before I have to relieve Carl."
"Well, Carl's out in the parking lot already. Why don't you take over early?"
"Why? There's nothing much to do on patrol except drive around."
"Isn't that what you wanted? To be a patrol deputy?"
"It was. Once. I've decided to set my sights a little higher now."
"Well, Deputy Quinn, show a little initiative. This county needs you. Get a move on." Allison rose and gave Susannah a push toward the door.
"All right. All right. Give it a rest. I'm going." Susannah grumbled.
Brusquely, Allison said, "Well, move a little faster."
"My but you're a pain." Susannah sighed. "I'll see you both tonight."
"Sure. Meet you at the courthouse square," Paula said. "Your cousin Judy Anne said her mom and her nieces would meet us there too."
"I can't wait for the Mid-summer Night's Festival," Allison added. "I bet Vance brings new meaning to Shakespeare-in-the-park. I can hardly wait."
"Be careful out there," Paula said.
Susannah snapped her a mock salute. "Yes, ma'am. Tell Uncle Barney not to worry. I'll keep it under a hundred unless I have to chase someone."
Two minutes after Susannah left, Allison picked up the phone and called her father. "Okay, Dad, she's on her way."
Then she turned to Paula. "You won't have to wait until tonight for fireworks. They're about to begin."
* * *
Susannah had cleared the air with her mother. She'd told Rory about her two meetings with her father. They'd cried together.
"I refuse to love anyone the way you loved my dad," Susannah had whispered.
Rory had said, "You have no choice whether to love or not. Love comes, and it's there for those brave enough to take it. You have to be brave, and you have to trust. If you can't trust, you can't love." Rory's eyes fell. "And if you can't love, you've going to live a very lonely life."
Those words haunted Susannah. She climbed into the Sheriff's Department cruiser, a brand new Suburban, and adjusted the rear view mirror. She stared at her reflection then hid her haunted eyes with mirrored sunglasses like the troopers wore.
Quickly, she buckled her seat belt and pulled out of the parking lot. She should be happy. She'd got just what she wanted after returning from Murphy's Cove. Her uncle had given her patrol duty three days a week. She drove slowly through the streets then began patrolling the stretch of highway she'd been assigned, but she couldn't work up much excitement for the job.
She'd gone into law enforcement for all the wrong reasons. Now she had to figure out what she really wanted to do with her life. She'd been thinking seriously about going to law school, but even that didn't excite her the way it once might have. Once, she'd thought career was the most important thing of all. Now, she realized she'd been wrong. She had a horrible feeling that her mother was right. Love was the only thing of real value. Everything else passed away, but love remained. Even an old jewel thief had discovered that.
Susannah drove the crime-free streets of Vance and tried to sort out her feelings. Knowing Hogan was leaving made her feel bereft. Alone. Maybe she should have called him. But what would she have said?
He'd lied to her. Suddenly she recalled Hogan's face as they'd made love. Yes, he'd lied to her. But hadn't she lied to him too? Her mother had lied yet she'd forgiven Rory. She understood the mitigating circumstances that had prompted Rory's deceit. Just as, in her heart, she understood why Hogan had lied.
Damn it. Just because she understood didn't mean she could trust him with her heart. Or did it? That question haunted her as she drove out the blacktop road east of town.
Angry, Susannah hit the steering wheel with her fist. "Trust him? Why should I? All men have ever done is lie to me. How can I trust any man?"
The words hung in the air. She flinched. Oh, God. She'd trusted Thomas McConnell, a thief. She'd trusted the convicted felon when no one else had. She'd believed him. If she could do that, then why couldn't she trust Hogan?
She'd forgiven Rory. Why couldn't she forgive Hogan?
Susannah slammed on the brakes. She'd had no problem trusting an ex-convict she hardly knew. Her instinct had told her McConnell was okay. She'd believed him and his mitigating circumstances. She had good instincts. Then why not trust her instinct about the man she loved? Couldn't she trust herself to have fallen in love with a man worthy of her love and respect?
"Oh, dear, God," she whispered. Suddenly, she knew that it wasn't Hogan she didn't trust. It was herself. She didn't trust herself to have the strength to risk her heart and survive if it didn't work out.
But she'd already risked her heart. She'd given it to him. And promptly run away. She'd never run away from anything in her whole life until she'd met Hogan. She'd survived too. She wasn't curled up in a fetal position and contemplating her navel. True, she felt like crap, but she was out in the world, taking care of her responsibilities.
Could going to Hogan and telling him how she felt be a bigger risk than what she'd already done? So what if he said he didn't love her? She was strong enough to take that gamble. Wasn't she? She'd survived her father's rejection. If Hogan rejected her, then she could survive that too. But she'd never know if she could have it all unless she took a risk. Just like her mother had tried to tell her.
A smile spread across her face. Not only was she strong, she was smart. Smart enough to finally realize a man could not act like Hogan, be so tender, say the things he'd said, and not love her. She just hoped she wasn't too late because it would be a long trip to Washington D. C. if she missed him at the airport.
For the first time in days, Susannah knew exactly what to do. She U-turned the big Suburban and headed back to town. Allison was right. She should have called Hogan. If for no other reason than to make sure he was as miserable as she, she thought, grinning foolishly. Why should he get off scot free?
From the rear view mirror, she saw a red Porsche come roaring out of the east. It passed her as if she were standing still. That car looked awfully familiar. She knew it wasn't Allison driving because Walter had taken the car back to Murphy's Cove yesterday. And she was fairly certain Walter wouldn't drive at supersonic speed. That left one man.
Susannah hit the siren and flipped on the flashers. Her foot stomped the accelerator. The Suburban's big V-8 turbo-charged engine would never have caught a Porsche driving flat out, but she suspected the pseudo renegade driving that particular Boxxter would feel compelled to pull over when he saw the flashing lights.
The Porsche was a growing speck ahead of her when she glanced down and saw the speedometer reach a hundred and five. "Sorry, Uncle Barney," she said aloud with a grin that didn't have a shred of remorse in it.
For the first time in days, she felt happy. Excitement thrummed in her at the thought of tangling with Hogan again.
The brake lights of the Porsche came on. It grew larger in her field of vision as she raced up behind it. She braked sharply as the distance between the two vehicles narrowed.
The Porsche pulled off the road and into the parking lot of the Dairy Palace. Three other cars filled with teenagers enjoying their last days of summer vacation occupied the lot. Car doors flew open as the kids piled out to watch the show.
Susannah's heart pounded. She'd know within minutes how he truly felt. She'd know the minute she looked into his eyes. Her hands felt clammy on the steering wheel as she pulled in behind the Porsche. Oyster shells that took the place of gravel in parking lots close to the coast crunched beneath the Burb's big tires.
She cut the engine. She could see Hogan clearly as he lowered the Porsche's convertible top. She could tell as she opened the door of the Suburban that he was flipping through his wallet for his license.
Susannah took a moment to adjust her mirrored sunglasses. She settled her western hat squarely on her head and stepped out onto the running board then hopped down to the shell-covered ground. She had him now. She hitched up her gun belt and gave her best imitation of her uncle's swagger as she stepped up to the Porsche. "Going to a fire?" she asked, trying to sound as gruff as her uncle.
Hogan froze. He looked up from his wallet. "What are you doing here?"
"Keeping law breakers like you from running roughshod over us poor country folk."
A slow grin spread over his face. "So you finally talked your uncle into letting you patrol?" His gaze devoured her.
Susannah felt something inside her ease. She pursed her lips to keep from smiling. Primly, she replied, "I'll ask the questions, sir. License and registration please."
"What? You're not serious. You don't think you're going to write me a ticket, do you?"
"Trying to make your quota, Susannah?" one of the teenagers called. The rest burst into laughter.
Hogan worked up a scowl. "You wouldn't dare write me ticket."
"I guess that would make you a three time loser." Susannah rested her forearm on the window frame and leaned toward him. She slid her mirrored sunglasses down with her index finger and looked over the rims. "You were breaking the law, sir."
She exaggerated her Texas drawl and didn't crack a smile. "We don't take kindly to yankees coming down here in their fancy cars and disturbing the peace. We especially don't like them arguing with a peace officer. Now, you're not planning on giving me any lip now, are you?"
* * *
"Lip?" Hogan felt his insides unknot for the first time since she'd left him. A delicious feeling of triumph swept through him. Oh, baby, I'm gonna give you a lot more than lip, he thought. Enjoying her game, he affected a drawl. "Maybe you could extend some professional courtesy, Deputy. After all, I am a federal officer."
"You are, huh?" Susannah pushed her glasses back into place and straightened. "Then you should realize that speeding is one of the five reasons for accidents in most states."
"Is that a fact?"
"Yes, sir. That's a serious fact. As serious as dirt."
Hogan looked at her mouth hungrily. That mouth of hers had kissed him and teased and tormented him. He was past ready for some kissing and making up to commence. He smiled slowly, enjoying this prelude to the main event. "What are the other four reasons, Deputy?"
"Driving under the influence, failure to yield, following too close, and running a stop sign."
"Well, Deputy, maybe you just better take me to jail now."
"Why's that, sir?"
Well, I'm driving under the influence of a green-eyed woman too stubborn for her own good. But then you'd have to arrest her for impersonating a woman in love."
"Impersonating huh? Sounds like you don't know the lady in question very well or you'd realize she wasn't impersonating anything."
Hogan studied her intently. A slow smile lit his face. He swallowed over the lump of emotion in his throat. It really was going to be all right. Susannah was going to be his.
"If you don't arrest her for that, then maybe you should arrest her for failure to yield," he suggested.
"Now I know you don't have all the facts of this case, Mr. Federal Agent. I understand the lady in question has yielded just about everything a woman can yield."
"Is that so? Perhaps we need to explore the facts, Deputy. Suppose you, as a representative of the county, and I, as a representative of the federal government, get together for a, shall we say, in depth exchange of information?"
"Just a moment, sir. How do I know you're really a federal agent? Can you prove it?"
"I do have a shield." Hogan grinned. "In my pants pocket. Would you like to come and get it?"
Susannah didn't respond to the chorus of cat calls from the bystanders who had edged closer. "Why don't you show it to me, sir?"
"Why don't you come and get it? I won't bite. Much." His voice was like silk.
Susannah's lips twitched. "All right, sir, but I must warn you. Don't make any sudden moves. I wouldn't want to have to get physical with you."
"Oh, come on, Deputy, get physical. Please."
Without warning, Susannah launched herself at him, diving over the door and landing cross-ways against him. Her hands clutched the lapels of his sports coat as she planted her mouth on his. The kiss burned away all the doubts between them.
In the background, the raucous catcalls from the kids continued, but neither Susannah nor Hogan cared.
After an eternity, Susannah pulled back and looked deep into his blue eyes. "What kept you, Special Agent Hogan?"
"I think Vonnie's new husband calls it being a blockhead. What kept you, Deputy Quinn?"
They smiled into each other's eyes before closing them to block out the world as their lips met again.
When they came up for air, Hogan said, "There's just one thing I need to know."
Susannah smiled up at him. "And just what might that be?"
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