Free Romance Stories – ch 4

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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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            “Oh, Susy Q, wait
for it,” Hogan drawled. “You’re going to love this.”

            “You’ll be posing
as Hogan’s wife,” the Sheriff and the Mayor chorused in unison.

            “Hogan’s
wife?” Susannah echoed the words in a tone that matched the horrified
expression on her face.

            She looked as if she’d
been told she had an advanced case of bubonic plague. Hogan  suppressed his laughter, but it wasn’t easy.
He should be insulted, but it was so damned comical. Unfortunately, he didn’t
have time to appreciate the humor. He should have known Walter would take the
matter into his own hands when Hogan had refused to involve Susannah.

            Damn his uncle. He had
to figure out a way to get her to refuse this cockeyed sham assignment. He
pasted as smarmy a leer as he could produce on his face. If he’d had a
moustache, he’d have twirled the ends like an old school cinema villain.
“What do you say to that, Mrs. Hogan?”

            Susannah shot out of
the chair and was nose to chin with him before he could blink. In a voice so
low he knew no one else could hear, she hissed, “I wouldn’t be your wife
if you were–.”

            “Pretend
wife,” he interjected, grinning.

            “The last
heterosexual male in the entire solar system,” she finished as if he
hadn’t interrupted.

            “So, I guess
that’s a no?” God, he hoped so.

            “Not just no.
Hell no.”

            Hogan breathed a sigh
of relief. He didn’t think he could have stood five days and nights of
temptation alone in a hotel room with her.

            Susannah sidestepped
him. “Sheriff,” she said brusquely. Then she stopped.  In a softer, sweeter voice, she said,
“Uncle Barney.”

            Hogan grinned at her
lightning-quick change in strategy. He had no choice but to admire her though
he thought it a bit unethical for her to play the uncle card.

            “Uncle Barney,
wouldn’t it be better if we used one of our guys? Like Carl? We know him and
the way he thinks. Surely that’s important for two partners on an assignment
like this?”

            “Well, now,
sugar, Carl’s got vacation scheduled, and I don’t think Noreen would take
kindly to his canceling it. She’s been looking forward to this trip to Branson
for six months.”

            “Oh, no,
Susannah,” the Mayor chimed in. “It has to be Hogan. He’s the man for
this assignment, just as you’re the woman for the job. If you don’t want to be
partnered with him.” He frowned. “Well, that kind of throws a monkey
wrench into the plan. You see, you’ve got a, uh, special quality that’s needed
for this job.”

            “It’s not that I
don’t want to be partnered,” she paused, “with Hogan.”

            Hogan knew she’d
nearly choked on his name. He tried to think of something more obnoxious to
say, but nothing came to mind.

            “It’s just that.
. . I mean,” Susannah floundered. “Did you consider one of the police
officers from the Cove? A real cop not just a consultant?” Her face
brightened. “I know Luke Orland. He’s a good man. Smart. And he’s single
so there’s no wife to complicate matters. Luke and I get along great.”

            Hogan’s smile faded.
She got along great with Orland? What the hell did that mean? Luke Orland was a
player if he’d ever seen one. He doubted that guy ever slept alone on a
Saturday night. Surely Susannah wasn’t one of his conquests?

            “No,” the
Mayor vowed. “It’s got to be Hogan.”

            Hurriedly, Susannah
scrambled for excuses. “But surely he’s too busy with the demands of his
consulting position to tie up his days.”

            “And
nights,” Hogan interjected, though he was annoyed at her insistence on
partnering with Orland. Annoyed and something else that didn’t bear scrutiny.

            Susannah directed a
look at him that would probably have melted lesser mortals into puddles of
testosterone at her feet.

            “Believe me, Luke
would be perfect for this job.” Susannah rattled on about how wonderful
the hometown boy was.

            Hogan’s grin remained
fixed even though his amusement at her attempt to oust him had begun to fade.
He hadn’t wanted to get Susannah involved. He’d known scaring her off would be
difficult. She was acting like a stray dog with only one bone between her and
starvation, and she didn’t intend to lose that bone. Trouble was, the more she
sang the praises of Orland, the more his focus shifted from scaring her off to
making sure that if she ended up in a hotel at the Cove with a man, he was
going to be that man. Not Orland.

            “But Luke is
already on the payroll, and he’s perfect for the job.”

            Hogan’s jaw hardened.
Perfect? In what way was Orland better than himself? There was no way in hell
he was going to throw Luke Orland and Susannah together. For anything.
Derisively, he snorted. “Luke doesn’t have the experience for this.”

            Walter pursed his lips
and nodded. “Hogan’s right. Luke’s a good man. He’ll go far in the Cove’s
police department, but he doesn’t have the background Hogan has. I want someone
with  experience.”

            “Background?
Experience?” Susannah looked at Hogan. Her head tilted to the right as if
she were seeing him in a new light. “What kind of background and
experience could he possibly have? He’s just a consultant.”

            “No,
he’s–.”

            “Walter,”
Hogan broke in. It was no use. He knew nothing that was said would change
Walter’s battle plan so he might as well end the useless discussion before
Walter revealed his true identity. “I’m sure Deputy Quinn isn’t interested
in my past.”

            Oh, but he could tell
she was. He could see the wheels spinning in her pretty head as she chewed on the
tidbit Walter had tossed her way. He’d have to do some fancy tap dancing to
shift her attention.

            “As far as being
too busy, let me assure you, Deputy Quinn, I’ve finished my work with the
police department in the Cove. It’s a well-oiled machine, and Orland is a good
cop. He’s needed to keep things running smoothly. I’m comfortable leaving
everything in his capable hands so I can help the Mayor with his little project
as my last official duty for this consulting job.”

            He wasn’t lying. He
did think Orland was a good cop. At least Orland was smart enough to be
discreet. The Mayor had personally selected the man to assist in Hogan’s
pretense as a consultant which hadn’t involved much except looking busy and
creating phony memos and reports. Which the lovely Deputy Quinn had typed for
him.

            He tried one last
tactic. “Look, Barney, she’ll be in over her head. I can’t guarantee her
safety. How can I take care of this matter appropriately, as we discussed,
Walter, when I have to keep an eye on her all the time?”

            “Guarantee my
safety?” Susannah stared hard at Hogan. “I’ll have you know I can
take care of myself.”

            “Yeah,
right.” Hogan plowed on. There was always the chance if he might still
alienate her enough to make her back away. “You don’t look like you could
take care of a herd of gnats, Susy Q. No offense.”

            “None
taken,” she grated.

            Resignation settled
over Hogan. He didn’t need a crystal ball to realize when the intriguing Deputy
Quinn learned what was really going on, she’d probably plug him with her service
revolver. Glumly, he tried to think of a solid reason to exclude her, but
Walter’s pigheaded attitude would make every argument null and void. Hell. No
wonder Walter’s only daughter couldn’t be under the same roof with her father
longer than twenty-four hours before they butted heads.

            “Actually, Mayor
Bofco, I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.” Her smile held
little warmth as she glanced at Hogan. “I have a black belt in Aikido, and
if Mr. Hogan would like a quick demonstration, I’d be more than happy to
oblige.”

            “No, no, that
won’t be necessary,” Walter said. “I think we’re straying from the
point here. There won’t be any danger, Hogan. You said so yourself. She’ll
never be out of your sight.”

            “But I still
think Luke Orland would be better on this job.” Susannah added.
“You’ll get recognized in the Cove. People know you were working for the
police department.”

            At the mention again
of the Murphy’s Cove cop, some part of him, obviously the part of his anatomy
that controlled his thought processes when he was around Susannah, forced Hogan
to rebut her point. “I kept a very low profile. Hardly anyone in the Cove
knows me.”

            “What about the
other officers and the civilian employees of the police department? Are you
saying they don’t know you? How can that be?”

            “Well, sure, they
know me, but they won’t talk. Chances are we won’t even see any of them while
we’re closeted together in a hotel room.”

            “Closeted
together?” Susannah echoed. In a frantic voice, she said, “But,
there’s another problem. You look like a beach bum. I don’t mean to criticize
your appearance, Hogan, but it’s a definite problem. You don’t look like a
workaholic successful businessman. Not by a long shot.”

            “Not a
problem.” He rubbed his stubbly chin. The soft rasp was easily heard in
the room. “I do own a razor. I’m pretty sure I remember how to use
it.”

            Susannah opened her
mouth to protest further, but Hogan quickly added, “And I actually own
some decent clothes. You can check my closet for yourself, Deputy Quinn.”

            Susannah looked as
deflated as a leaky helium balloon. Hogan took a deep breath and ignored the
traitorous part of his brain that whispered he’d have her all to himself for a
week. He was a professional, and he damn well better start acting like one. From
this point on, it was hands off. Business not pleasure. Not even any thoughts
about what might have been.

            Hogan knew Susannah
wanted this just as he knew Walter wouldn’t change his mind. He looked at
Susannah. Aw, hell. He threw in the towel “Okay, Walter. You’re the
boss.”

            Walter Bofco beamed.
“Wonderful. Let’s tell Susannah everything.”

            With a sigh, Hogan
began, “McConnell’s had a long career, but he’s been inactive for the last
decade, or he’s been lucky. He hasn’t had an arrest since he came out of prison
ten years ago. The ladies like him.” He shrugged. “Maybe he’s so
smooth women chalk it up to an expensive good time when he rips them off.”

            “You may be
right,” Walter interrupted. “Yvonne had a change of heart right after
she told me about him. She wants me to just drop it. She doesn’t want him
arrested. Says she won’t press charges. But those jewels he took are family
heirlooms. Damn it all. I want them back even if she doesn’t.”

            “Weren’t those
things insured?” Barney suddenly asked.

            “Of course, but
I’d have to file a police report in order to get the insurance money. I don’t
want the money. I want the black opals. They’ve been in our family over two
hundred years.”

            “We’re really not
going to arrest him?” Susannah asked, frowning.

            “Sorry, Susy Q,”
Hogan quipped. “No arrests.” He couldn’t resist adding, “Not
even a ticket to write. Why waste your time?”

            “Because it’s my
time to waste.”

            “Despicable
though his thievery is, he’s never harmed his victims,” Walter said.
“It’s unlikely he’d change his habits now. I really wouldn’t present this
to you, Susannah, if I truly thought there was any danger. So she’s going to be
your wife, Hogan, and there’s nothing you can do about it but get used to the
idea. Let’s move along.”

            “Fine. No
problem,” Hogan said. Somehow he’d find a way to keep her out of his hair.
And off his brain. He hated complications. With Susannah involved, his job, not
to mention his life, was going to be one massive pile of complications.

            She wanted to be an
undercover agent? He’d see how well she took orders. “Okay, Deputy.
Welcome aboard.” Somehow, he’d keep his hands off her and still do what he
set out to do. He just hoped she didn’t end up hating him too much when this
was over.

            “Thank you so
much for your faith in me, Mr. Hogan,” Susannah said, sarcasm dripping
from her words.

            His eyes narrowed.
He’d like to kiss the sass out of her. But if he was going to survive this,
he’d better start treating her like one of the guys. He wasn’t known for being
a stern, detail-oriented team leader, but maybe that was the best way to handle
her. It would certainly keep her mad at him and at arm’s length. If he was
lucky.

            “Be ready to
leave Saturday morning at seven. Think you can handle that?”

            “A cocker spaniel
could handle that,” she said with a smirk.

            Hogan closed the
distance between them and leaned toward her. His gaze flicked to her lips.
Softly, he asked, “Anyone ever complain about your smart mouth?”

            Her smile tightened
even as her voice dropped to match his in softness. “Why, no. Anyone
complain about yours?”

            “No woman ever
has.” At that, her grin disappeared. Hogan would have given a year’s
salary right now to feel her mouth against his again. To feel her softness
pressed to him. “You know what happens to little girls with smart mouths?”

            “My mouth is none
of your business.” Her auburn brows snapped together in a frown.

            He swore he could feel
the heat from her body. In a voice full of promise, he said, “They get
them closed in the most interesting ways.”

            “Is that a
threat?” Susannah’s stuck her chin up and didn’t retreat an inch.

            Hogan admired her for
not backing down. “No, that’s a promise.”

            For the first time, he
thought he’d got the better of her. Her gaze dropped for an instant, but only
an instant. Then she looked up. He read her message loud and clear. Touch her,
and she’d make him pay dearly. It was a dare he willingly accepted. For the
hundredth time he wondered why he couldn’t have found a nice, uncomplicated
woman.

            Nah. Too boring. No
challenge at all.

            “What’s the matter?
Cat got your tongue, Susy Q?”

            “No, but if I’m
lucky, next time you have dinner with Uncle Barney, Aunt Opal’s tabby may think
yours is an hors d’oeuvre.”

            “Let’s get one
thing straight right now. You follow my orders to the letter. Understood,
Deputy?” She didn’t like being bossed, but she’d better get used to it. He
planned to do a lot of it.

            Susannah snapped him a
sassy salute. “Yes, sir, Mr. Hogan.”

            “When I say jump,
you don’t bother to ask how high. You just start jumping like you had springs
on your feet.”

            Susannah mocked him
with another salute. “Yes, sir, Mr. Hogan.” Defiance sparkled in her
green eyes.

            The Sheriff said,
“Hogan’s right, Sugar. You follow his orders.”

            Hogan sighed. This had
disaster written all over it.

            Susannah smirked at
Hogan’s long-suffering sigh. She looked at her uncle. “Of course,
Sheriff.” She had brains and guts and determination. One way or the other,
her uncle, and Hogan, would recognize that. “How long will the assignment
last?”

            “Probably only a
week,” Bofco said.

            A week. Seven days.
And nights? A week of twenty-four/seven with Hogan? In close quarters? Doubts
assailed her. She hadn’t been able to stand seven minutes with him since he’d
arrived in town. How was she going to tolerate seven days?

            “Still want to
tackle this, Deputy Quinn?” Hogan asked.

            Susannah detected no
antagonism in his voice. She looked up. He seemed serious, not patronizing. She
nodded. Stuck in Alton County, this might be the only chance she’d have to do
the kind of police work that advanced careers in other venues. With steely
determination, she said, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

            “Good. Let’s get
down to business.” The Mayor grinned like a victor who’d won the battle.
“Have you got those copies I left with you, Barney?”

            The Sheriff opened the
top left side drawer and pulled out a thick sheaf of papers and handed them to
the Mayor.

            Bofco passed out the
bound reports. “I took the liberty of creating this scenario should you
say yes. Read this and learn your part well.”

            Susannah tried her
best not to snicker at the retired military man’s fifteen page scenario that
read like an Army threat assessment. Her sense of humor failed her when she
came to the list of clothing appropriate for the resort. Bikinis? Evening
gowns? The list was long and consisted of items she simply didn’t possess. She
hadn’t had an evening gown since senior prom. It still fit, but she didn’t
think mint green satin with a bouffant skirt was suitable for a sophisticated
evening in a swanky club or restaurant.

            Her brow wrinkled in
alarm. This sounded more like a James Bond spy movie than a police department
stakeout. And she was cast as the Bond girl. “Uh, excuse me, Mayor. I
understand I’m just bait, but I have a problem with this.” She shook the
pages.

            “What’s wrong
with my plan?” the Mayor asked, frowning. “I’m sure I’ve covered
everything most logically and in detail.”

            “No, it’s not
that. It’s a great plan. Very logical and certainly very detailed. The problem
is, well, I don’t exactly own evening gowns and cocktail dresses. I’m a small
town girl who just graduated from college. My wardrobe is pretty much limited
to jeans and tee shirts.”

            “Oh.” Walter
laughed. He sounded relieved. “That’s not a problem. Since this is a
personal project, I’m funding it. Just like I’ll be compensating the Sheriff’s
department for your time. I’ll take care of everything.”

            “He’ll even look
in on your mom so you don’t have to worry about her. Isn’t that right,
Walter?” Barney asked with a gleam in his eyes.

            Susannah thought the
Mayor looked surprised, but he assured her he would indeed keep an eye on her
mother. Then he told her he’d made arrangements with a boutique owner in
Houston to supply her with the proper wardrobe and bill him.

            Half an hour later,
she left the trio of conspirators. She closed the office door behind her,
skipped over to Grace’s desk, and did a high five then told her the big news.

            The dispatcher began
to laugh. “Oh, this is going to be good. What I wouldn’t give to be a fly
on the wall.”

            “What do you
mean?”

            Grace wiped tears of
mirth from her cheeks. “I don’t know which of you I’d place my money on.
It’s a toss up as to whether you kill Hogan first or vice versa.”

 

 

   

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