Free Romance Stories – ch 3

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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20

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            “How do I explain
reports with no errors?” Susannah beamed at Hogan and shrugged.
“Beginner’s luck?”

            She left the office
quickly, closing the door behind her. In the outer office, she had only a
minute to savor her victory. A moment later, the chime over the door jamb rang.
With a sunny smile, she greeted the tall, slender man dressed in a pale blue
golf shirt and tropical white slacks. “Good morning, Mayor Bofco.”

            “Good morning,
Susannah. Please. How many times must I ask you to call me Walter?”

            Though she wondered
why he always spent so much time and attention on her, she didn’t mind his
rather old-fashioned charm. “Good morning, Walter.”

            “Much
better.” Bofco’s dark eyes twinkled. He doffed a straw panama hat,
revealing a mass of dark brown hair, edged with silver at his temples. His pale
blue shirt contrasted sharply with his tanned skin. Unlike her uncle who never
used cologne, Mayor Bofco always smelled faintly of lemon. He’d moved to
Murphy’s Cove last year and had immediately been elected mayor. He was a
perfect portrait of all that he was down to the expensive designer fragrance he
wore, a wealthy, middle-aged man in the prime of life who spent much of each day on the golf course. The Mayor never failed to treat her with deference. Hogan could take lessons.

            “I love
Wednesday,” the Mayor said. “I hope Hogan didn’t eat all of Opal’s
sweet rolls.”

            “I might have
saved you one,” Hogan said from the doorway.

            Susannah’s smile
faded. Darn that man! How did he move so silently?

            “You better have
saved more than one.”

            “Come on.
Barney’s ready.”

            Walter didn’t move
from Susannah’s desk.  “You
graduated in May with a degree in Criminal Justice didn’t you? With
honors?”

            “Yes, from Sam
Houston State in Huntsville.”

            “Well, done.
That’s a tough degree program.”

            Hogan watched Walter
and Susannah and realized that he’d overestimated the amount of time he’d had
to dissuade his stepmother’s brother from his plans. The man was as impossible
to handle as Hogan’s stepmom. Despite their differences Walter and Vonnie were
easily identifiable as siblings because the two trust fund babies had mastered
stubbornness before toilet training. At least his stepmother wasn’t as
autocratic as her brother. Vonnie ruled with a velvet glove over her iron hand.

            Hogan tried again, but
his uncle ignored him. Walter Bofco lived as if he were still a colonel in the
army. In fact, he ran his mayoral office the way he’d run the Army post he’d
commanded. With complete and total control. The man hadn’t retired from
military life. He’d merely transferred his power base. He refused to listen to
anyone, much less answer to them. And if what he wanted to do couldn’t be paid
for from city funds, well, Walter just paid for them out of his millions. This
little operation was a perfect example. Whatever it cost didn’t matter. Walter
just charged ahead like the cavalry but with a checkbook in hand instead of a
saber.

            “If I might be
permitted, why did a bright young woman like you come back to Vance? Not that
Barney isn’t a great Sheriff,” he added hastily. “But most young
people want to be where  the action is.
That hardly describes Alton County.”

            Susannah laughed.
“True. But it’s as good as any place to get started. Also, right after
graduation, my mother had surgery that required her to be off her feet. I was
needed here.”

            “Is she all right
now?”

            “Sure. She’s
fine. It was foot surgery. Nothing life threatening.”

            The Mayor frowned.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever met your mother, and I’ve been introduced to a
lot of your relatives since I’ve been going to Sunday dinner at Barney and
Opal’s.”

            “Weekends, and
most weekday evenings, you’ll find my mom only in one place. Her yard. She
loves gardening. She’d spend every waking moment outside if she could. The only
time I can drag her away from home is in the winter when the weather’s too
nasty to work outdoors.”

            Walter Bofco laughed.
“Sounds as if she has a very green thumb.”

            “Green thumb,
fingers, and toes too probably. She can make anything grow.”

            “Well, I don’t
know much about gardening. I wouldn’t know crabgrass from crab legs. That’s why
I live in a condo so I don’t have to contend with lawn maintenance.”

            “I hate to brag,
but we have the most beautiful yard in town. If you ever need to find me, just
drive around until you come to a yard that looks like it should be featured on
some gardening television show. That’s our place.”

            “So is your
mother a landscape architect or a professional gardener?”

            “No. She owns a
small bookkeeping business, a one-woman shop. Between that and the gardening,
she doesn’t usually join Uncle Barney and Aunt Opal for Sunday dinners.”

            “Well, that’s too
bad. What does she think about your being in law enforcement?”

            “She understands
and supports my choice,” Susannah said.

            A sound between a
laugh and a snort of disbelief from Grace’s side of the room drew their
attention. Grace smiled blandly. “Sorry, got a frog in my throat I
guess.”

            “I know I sound
nosy, but do you still need to take care of your mother?”

            “No, she’s in a
soft cast and should be out of that soon. She gets around just fine now.”

            Hogan tried to head
his uncle off. “Walter, remember all the reasons this won’t work?”

            “You mean you
think it won’t work. I think it’s a great idea.” To Susannah, the Mayor
said, “What does your father think about your career choice?”

            Hogan saw the quick
flash of pain in her eyes before she said, “My parents are divorced. He
has no say in my choices.”

            “I didn’t mean to
pry.” Bofco turned to Hogan. “She’s perfect. I don’t know why you’re
so against it.”

            Hogan wasn’t about to
enlighten him in front of Susannah. He focused on dissuading Walter. “Not
in a million years. Not in a trillion.”

            “Now, Hogan. I
outrank you, and I say she’s perfect.”

            “This is not the
Army,” Hogan said. “You don’t outrank me. You have no rank. You’re a
civilian, remember? And she won’t do.”

            “I guess we
should discuss this with Barney,” Bofco said.

            “He won’t
agree.” Hogan hoped like hell he was right. He was depending on Barney
Drummond to veto Walter’s crazy idea.

            “You two are
discussing me as if I’m not here. Exactly what are you talking about?”             “Nothing, Deputy Quinn.”
Hogan grabbed Walter’s arm and hustled him away.

            “Well, ain’t that
something?” Grace asked.

            Susannah shrugged.
“Guess I’ll go work on the old files in cell number four.”

            “Good girl. Keep
at it and you’ll have all twenty years of those records input into the computer
before you retire.”

            Susannah rolled her
eyes. “Funny, Grace.”

            Five minutes later,
the door to the Sheriff’s office flew open. Hogan stood in the doorway and
bellowed, “Quinn?”

            Susannah hurried out.
“What?”

            “Get in
here.”

            She bristled at his
peremptory tone. “Don’t snap orders at me. I don’t work for you.”

            “Do you have to
argue about everything?” He held up both hands. “Forget I asked.”
With a long-suffering sigh, he rephrased his request, “Would you please
join us, Deputy Quinn?”

            Susannah pasted a
smile on her face. “Why, certainly, Mr. Hogan.”

            Bofco stood when she
entered the room and didn’t sit until she settled into one of the worn leather
chairs. Susannah felt somewhat like the fly who joined the spider in its
parlor.

            Hogan prowled the room
like a restless cat. The undomesticated variety. The rubber soles of his
running shoes squeaked against the oak-planked floor.

            Barney rubbed a
gnarled hand over his buzz-cut gray hair. “I don’t much like this, but I
told Walter I’d let you make your own decision. You’ve got a level head, and
you’re a deputy as you keep reminding me. I don’t think there’s any danger, or
I wouldn’t even let him mention it.”

            Danger. The word
vibrated through Susannah’s nervous system. She perked up, waiting impatiently
for someone to tell her what was going on.

            Barney sighed heavily.
“Your mother’s gonna kill me when she finds out ’cause I know there’s no
way on God’s green earth you’re gonna turn this down.” He leaned back. His
old swivel chair groaned. “Go ahead. Tell her.”

            The Mayor smiled.
“We have a little assignment for you, Susannah.”

            Assignment? Her breath
nearly stopped. Not job. Not project. Assignment. This might be the chance
she’d wanted to prove herself.

            “It’s my sister
Yvonne. Hogan, what’s the name of that Italian industrialist, I should say
alleged industrialist, she married? She’s still using his name. Said she’d keep
the name to remind herself of the price of stupidity.”

            “Rizzoli,”
Hogan muttered.

            Susannah thought it
curious that Hogan knew the man’s name, but Walter Bofco, the woman’s own
brother, didn’t.

            “That’s it.
Rizzoli. My sister Yvonne Rizzoli has a problem. Yvonne’s older than me. I was
a surprise to my parents,” Bofco said a bit sheepishly. “Since she
was an only child until I came along, she was spoiled dreadfully I’m
afraid.”

            Susannah willed Mayor
Bofco to hurry through the family history he seemed compelled to share with the
occupants of the room. Get to the good part, she wanted to shout. The part
about the assignment. And danger. The words danced through her mind with a
tantalizing samba beat. At last, something more exciting than inputting twenty
years of musty files into the computer. More exciting even than clocking
speeders on the state highway.

            “It took Yvonne
two marriages before she found the right man. When he died several years ago,
she had a hard time with grief. She immediately went into a marriage with that
Italian playboy.” Disgust colored his voice. “And him ten years
younger. He was a fortune hunter who tried to bilk her for a million when she
divorced him nine months later. After that, she played the field. To make a
long story short.”

            “Too late.”
Hogan grumbled.

            Susannah held her
index finger to her lips and frowned at him to be quiet.

            “Last year, she
became entangled with this man she met on a cruise. Thomas McConnell. He was
quite the charmer. I knew something was up when she didn’t move on after a few
months. McConnell isn’t just a fortune-hunter. He’s a thief who’s served time
in prison.”

            Bofco’s voice rose
incredulously. “Can you believe it? My sister running around with a
convicted felon. It came as no surprise when Yvonne told me he’d stolen some
jewelry from her.” His voice rose in outrage. “Jewelry that’s been in
our family for generations.”

            “I’m sorry. I can
see how upsetting this is for you,” Susannah murmured. Sympathy,
curiosity, and excitement bubbled inside her. She couldn’t hold back the
question she very much wanted answered. “What has this got to do with
me?”

            Hogan quit pacing.
“Nothing. That’s what I keep telling Walter.”

            The Mayor ignored him
so Susannah did too. “How do I fit into this, Mayor?”

            “It’s
complicated. Yvonne told me that she’d already made an, uh,” he paused,
“an arrangement of her own to recover the jewelry. I want to make sure
there are no slip ups so I’ve fine-tuned her plan to better handle the
situation.”

            “You should let
your sister handle this,” Hogan warned with a look as sharp as his words.

            Surprised by his
remark, Susannah was even more surprised that the Mayor didn’t seem insulted.
Bofco didn’t look like a man who’d tolerate such rudeness from anyone, much
less an employee, and that’s basically what Hogan, as a consultant, was.

            “Yvonne insisted
this thief, this Thomas McConnell, would come to the Cove.”

            “Why would she
think that?” Susannah asked, surprised by the information.

            “I don’t know.
She had some brochures lying about or something. I’d guess McConnell expressed
a lot of interest in the area so she figured he’d show up here.”

            Susannah nodded.
“That makes sense. I can see why a man like him would come to the

Cove. There’s a lot of money down there. But it seems foolish that he’d
still come here after ripping her off. Wouldn’t he realize she might suspect
he’d pay a visit?”

            “You’d think he’d
have more brains than to show up,” Bofco agreed. “But he’s
there.”

            “What?” A
thrill raced up her spine. “There’s a jewel thief in the county?” Oh,
she could hear the sweet siren call to her ambition. “Is it really
him?”

            “It’s him all
right. I had Yvonne email me a picture. Thomas McConnell is staying at the Las
Brisas in the west tower. He’s got a tenth floor suite with ocean view.
Arrogant crook registered under his own name. He didn’t even try to hide his
identity.”

            Hogan slammed his
hands down on Barney’s desk. “That’s enough, Walter. I don’t want Susannah
involved in this. I won’t have it.”

            He wouldn’t have it?
There was no way she’d let Hogan keep her from this. Whatever this was. He
probably thought she couldn’t cut it. Well, she’d show him. She’d show them
all. She wasn’t about to let him cheat her out of this opportunity. “What
can I do to help?”

            “I want to make
it clear I’m not interested in seeing justice served. I don’t want McConnell
arrested.”

            “What? Why
not?” Equal amounts of confusion and disappointment filled her.

            “As foolish as
Yvonne is, I don’t want her dragged through some scandal in front of the whole
world. I just want those black opals back. I think McConnell may have them with
him because they haven’t turned up anywhere yet. I know because I’ve had men in
all the major cities checking on them, and there’s been no trace of them. We
can install you in the suite across from him. With the proper  surveillance equipment, we might actually
see where he’s got them hidden.”

            Hogan’s snort of
disgust didn’t faze Susannah. Excitement shone from her eyes. “You mean
this will be a stakeout?”

            “You’d be in the
east tower in a tenth floor suite directly across from him. Very low profile.
Frequent the pool, sunbathe on the balcony. That sort of thing. You won’t do
anything except attract attention. He’s got an eye for the ladies. I imagine
when he sees you, he’ll approach you. All you have to do is be visible and wait
for him to make contact,” Bofco said.

            “Not just a
stakeout, but an undercover operation?” Wow. Undercover and a stakeout.
That would look awesome on her resume. But something just didn’t sound right.

            “Uh, yes. Kind of
both,” the Mayor said. “Just chat him up, no private tete-a-tete or anything unseemly. We’re not asking you to do anything inappropriate.
Nothing like that. The man’s supposed to be very social, but he’s been a
recluse since he arrived. It doesn’t fit his profile so I’m hoping that seeing
you will draw him out into the open.”

            Susannah’s brow
wrinkled in confusion. She hated to admit it, but this sounded like a load of
crap. How could they be certain the thief would approach her? She didn’t
exactly look like a Sports Illustrated model. Before she could ask
questions or voice her concerns about what sounded unorthodox even to her
inexperienced ears, Hogan jumped in.

            “Walter, she’s
not right for this job.” He smiled at Susannah as if to take the sting
from his words. “No offense, Deputy Quinn.”

            “None
taken,” she said in a deceptively calm voice. Hogan didn’t want her on
assignment in the Cove. Well, she didn’t care if Bofco’s assignment did sound
bogus. It was better than typing and filing. She wanted the job. She’d worry
about the logic of it later.

            “I can get a
woman officer from the Department of Public Safety for this,” Hogan said.            “Susannah’s perfect. You know
that. You also know I don’t want anyone else involved in this. You shouldn’t
either,” Bofco said.

            Susannah watched them
as they argued. What weren’t they telling her?

            “All Susannah has
to do is be seen. There’s nothing dangerous or repugnant.” Bofco turned to
Susannah’s uncle. “Barney, I wouldn’t propose this if I thought there was
any danger.”

            “A stakeout and
an undercover assignment. Piece of cake. I can handle that,” she said.

            “This isn’t a job
for Nancy Drew, girl detective.” Hogan threw his hands up. “She’s not
trained for this kind of thing.”

            “You don’t know
what I can or cannot do.” Susannah turned to Bofco. “I’ll do it,
Mayor.”

            She’d get those damn
jewels back, and she’d arrest the thief too. She didn’t care what the Mayor
said about letting the man go. Right was right, and wrong was wrong She’d show
Hogan that she wasn’t the weak, weeping female she’d been when they first met.
She was a professional and up to any task she was asked to perform. She’d prove
that to him. And she’d show her uncle that she was just as capable as any of
the deputies.

            Hogan quit pacing and
leaned against the door. He crossed his arms and affected an air of
nonchalance. “I bet a bored, young, attractive wife will really
interest McConnell.”

            “Wife?”
Susannah frowned. She didn’t like the mocking grin on his face. She fixed her
questioning gaze on her uncle then on the Mayor. “What do you mean by
wife?”

            “Tell her the
good part, Walter.” Hogan urged.

            The Mayor cleared his
throat. “Your cover is that you’re a young wife. You’re lonely because of
your workaholic husband.”

            “Husband?” A
sense of foreboding hit her.

            “I wouldn’t let you
go down to Murphy’s Cove all by yourself. You’ll have backup every step of the
way,” Barney assured her, looking pleased.

            “You mean I’d
have a partner? A partner posing  as . .
. my husband?” Her eyes flew to Hogan’s face. She blanched.
“Who?”

            “Come on, Susy Q.
You already know, don’t you?” Hogan grinned like the devil he was.

            “One of the other
deputies?” She asked hopefully. The three men shook their heads. “One
of the officers from the Cove?”

            “No,” Walter
and Barney said in unison.

            Susannah shivered. Her
voice cracked. “Who’s going to pose as my husband?”

 

 

   

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