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Free Romance Stories – ch 11

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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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            Susannah
admired the quiet elegance of the hotel lobby. Her black halter dress with its
gauzy skirt bordered by a ripple of red was perfect, just as the boutique owner
had said. Black high heel mules slapped against her feet as she walked across
the polished gray marble floor.

            After
talking with Paula, she’d decided she was tired of lying on the balcony and
waiting for something to happen. Waiting for Hogan to return. Most of all she
was tired of sleeping alone at night, imagining him in the next room. She
couldn’t take many more days of the sexual tension between them. The only way
she was getting out of here sooner, rather than later, was to discover
McConnell’s whereabouts.

            Action
was called for. She was determined to get something going. Anything. She bolstered
her courage by remembering Hogan had said a good cop didn’t blindly follow
rules. She’d remind him of that if he got upset when he discovered what she was
doing.

            She
strolled toward the gift shop, enjoying the swirl of the soft fabric against her
tanned legs. At least she’d netted a killer tan from her hours on the balcony.

            She
planned to roam the hotel. The entire Cove if necessary. Eventually she would
find McConnell. If she could get this job over, she could return to her world
and rescue her mother. She had a feeling Rory was in way over her head if she
was involved with the esteemed mayor.

            Hogan
and his disappearing act had been the last straw. Out of sight, out of mind,
she’d told herself. Her plans for life didn’t include a man, she had reminded
herself. Certainly not a man like Hogan. He was a complication who would derail
her careful plans.

            Susannah
played tourist all afternoon and visited all the shops. Unfortunately, none of
them had the refill cards for her cell phone. She guessed there wasn’t a big
demand for pay as you go cell phones in the wealthy community. Later, she
dropped by the indoor pool and looked in all the other watering holes,
chlorinated and alcohol laden, but she didn’t find the elusive thief. Optimism
eventually gave way to tiredness. Finally, dejected, she gave up and returned
to the sparkling aqua pool. It might be a fake tropical lagoon, but it was an
appealing imitation of paradise, complete with a trio softly playing Caribbean
steel drum music.

            At
the other end of the pool was the bar which looked as if it were half of an old
outrigger hull topped with a huge expanse of smoked glass. Several attractive
women attired in expensive resort wear sat in the tall bamboo chairs at the
bar. Turquoise striped market umbrellas shaded round black wrought iron tables
and sunny yellow cushions padded the chairs. A tiny lighthouse occupied the
center of each table.

            More
than half the customers were women. Susannah selected a table with a view of
the entrance. A good-looking guy in white shorts and a blue Hawaiian shirt
appeared to take her order.

            “I’m
Rusty.” A practiced smile showed gleaming white teeth. “Can I get you
something to drink?”

            “Frozen
margarita, please. No salt.” Susannah yawned after he’d left.

            Within
minutes, Rusty was back with a huge mug filled with the pale green frozen
mixture. Susannah signed for it, including a generous tip for the guy with the
cheerful grin since it had been a while since she’d seen anything other than a
scowl.

            “Is
there anything else, ma’am?”

            Susannah
removed the lime wedge from the rim of the mug and squeezed it into the pale
green frozen concoction. “Tell me, Rusty, is this as exciting as it gets
here at the hotel?”

            He
chuckled. “It’s a little better at night.” His smile flashed.
“Most of the people here make their own excitement if you know what I
mean.”

            Susannah
sipped through the straw. “Ummm. Delicious.” She looked around.
“I was wondering. Aren’t there any men here?”

            Her
question startled a laugh from him. “There’s some single gentlemen staying
at the hotel, but they’re a bit older if you know what I mean. You can spot
them real easy when they show up. All the women perk up and pounce.”

            “So
I just have to pay attention and pounce first, huh?”

            He
grinned. “That’s it, Ms.–,” he glanced at the check she’d signed.
“Hogan.” Then he looked at her left hand. His expression cooled.
“I mean, Mrs. Hogan,” he amended stiffly.

            The
note of censure in his voice gave her pause. He no longer smiled. “If you
need anything, flip the switch on the lighthouse.” He pointed to a toggle
switch at the base of the small lamp.

            “Thanks.”
So much for her plan to interrogate the no longer friendly waiter. Just her
luck to get Mr. Prim and Proper.

            Susannah
took a long pull on the frozen drink then kicked off her black mules and
propped her feet in the opposite chair. She didn’t care what anyone thought.
Her feet hurt from traipsing all over the hotel, and she was sun baked and
tired. And sleepy, thanks to D. E. Hogan who haunted her dreams. Making herself
comfortable, she scooted down in the chair until the back of her head rested on
the wrought iron. She had as good a chance of McConnell showing up here as any
place, she decided, sucking some more of the delicious drink into her mouth.

            After
a few minutes, she felt herself tension ebb. Relaxed, she didn’t even care if
Hogan got ticked off when he returned and found her gone. Big deal. She hadn’t
even left him a note. Neither had he though each time he’d disappeared. So why
should she bother to inform him of her whereabouts? She sipped her margarita
and yawned. The more she drank, the more the day took on a decidedly pleasant
glow.

            Drowsy
and content, she watched the women with their artfully made up faces and their
well-tended perfectly proportioned bodies. How did they walk like that? With
stomachs sucked in, breasts thrust out, and hips rolling side to side. And
their bodies. She’d never seen such muscles. Each of the golden brown bodies
should be signed by the personal trainer. Or the plastic surgeon. She giggled.
Realizing she was really drowsy, she tried sitting up, but it just took too
much effort. Big deal? Sit up or slouch? Why not just be comfortable? She could
observe that way, couldn’t she. In a moment, she’d slid back down and surveyed
the pool area through half closed eyes.

            As
she lazily watched, all the women suddenly thronged the bar. Where had that man
come from? She watched as the women clustered around him as if he were some
kind of pied piper. A tiny frown creased Susannah’s forehead. That meant
something, but she couldn’t quite remember what.

            Still
struggling to remember what was significant about the scene playing out before
her, she drifted asleep.

* * *

            When
Susannah opened her eyes, she couldn’t have said whether she’d slept an hour or
a minute. In the chair opposite her sat the man she’d searched the entire
resort for, Thomas McConnell. Susannah jerked upright.

            “I
hope you’ll pardon my presumptuousness,” he said in a British accent that
rivaled Sean Connery’s for sex appeal.

            “What?”
Susannah stared dumbly at him. He was resplendent in white slacks and a pale
blue shirt that made his eyes look even more blue. His shining white hair was
perfectly groomed and contrasted sharply with his tanned skin.   

            “I
took advantage of your napping to help me avoid the rather aggressive charms of
some of the other guests.”

            “What?”
she asked again, feeling as thick as her tongue felt in her dry mouth.

            “When
I saw you alone, I told all the ladies that I was your date. Extraordinary that
they believed me.” McConnell chuckled softly.

            “Why
would you do that?” Susannah tried to gather her wits.

            “I’ve
discovered it’s tiresome to be an unattached male at this resort. If I wasn’t
at such odds with myself, I believe I’d chuck this whole vacation and head
home. But there’s no peace to be found there either.”

            Susannah
finally found her brain and her tongue. “I don’t think I know you,
sir.”

            “Oh,
dear. I do apologize. I’m Thomas McConnell, and I’m very pleased to meet you,
Mrs.–?” he stared at the gold band and raised questioning eyes to her.

            To
Susannah, her fake wedding ring gleamed in the afternoon sun. “Uh, that
is, Hogan,” she stammered. “Susannah Hogan.” While she’d been
sleeping on the job, the good luck fairy had visited. “How do you do, Mr.
McConnell?”

            “Fairly
well, all things considered. If you’ll again pardon my presumptuousness, I must
say I’m rather taken aback by your curious resemblance to someone I knew.
Someone I loved very, very much.”

            The
way he said it, with a kind of sad intensity, surprised Susannah. And it
answered the question of why she’d been so important to this fake assignment.
“I’m sorry. Might I ask who that was?”

            “My
sweet daughter. She was so beautiful with her green eyes and red curls. She was
only fifteen when she died.” He blinked rapidly and looked away. “Car
accident.”

            McConnell
turned back to her, his eyes studying her. His smile was sad and filled with
longing. “Looking at you now, I see your hair’s a much darker auburn. Your
face is shaped differently. And your eyes are a different green. I guess the
resemblance is only superficial. Just an old man’s wishful thinking.”

            “How
long has it been since you lost her?” Susannah asked softly, unable to
avoid the sympathy that welled up inside her at  his obvious pain.

            “Oh.
More years ago than you are old, I’m afraid. Another lifetime ago, Mrs.
Hogan.”

            “Don’t
call me that. I mean, call me Susannah. I’m not used to the other name.”
Instinctively, she reached out and patted his hand.

            “What
a charming name.” He took her hand in both his. She wondered if he
intended to kiss her hand the way they did in old movies, but he just squeezed
it before releasing it.

            “Delighted
to meet you, my dear Susannah. You must not call me Mr. McConnell. Makes me
feel terribly old. Call me Thomas, even if I am old enough to be your elderly
father.” His laughter drew the eyes of the other women.

            “Certainly,
Thomas.” Susannah cleared her throat. “I’m feeling rather
parched.” She reached over and flipped the lighthouse switch to summon the
waiter. “Would you like to join me in a drink? I really need something wet
and cold.”

            “I
imagine so. You look as if you’ve soaked up too many of those cancer rays, my
dear. You Americans never cease to amaze me with your propensity to bronze your
skin.”

            “There’s
just something so pagan about laying in the sun. Some ancient, primitive
pleasure,” she said with a laugh.

            “Well,
I was just about to wake you or rearrange the umbrella to shade you better. The
sun in this climate is brutal. You’re quite pink in the cheek already.”

            “I’m
usually more careful. I just haven’t slept well lately.” And the margarita
had been as good as a sleeping pill, she thought, turning aside to smother a yawn.
Her eyes rounded in shock as her gaze swept the entrance.

            Uh
oh. Hogan. She could see his clenched jaw from here. As he approached, she saw
the anger glittering in his blue eyes. All in all, his face looked like a
thundercloud.

            Susannah
braced herself. The storm of the century was bearing down on her.

            “Darling.
This is where you got yourself off to.” Hogan’s hands settled on her
shoulders as if in affection. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

            Susannah
knew he really put his hands there to hold her down. Actually, fleeing sounded
like a pretty good idea at the moment. He leaned over and branded her cheek
with a kiss. Her heart skipped a beat then settled into a decidedly bumpy
rhythm.

            McConnell
stood and offered his hand. “Thomas McConnell, sir.”

            “I’m
Hogan, Susannah’s husband.” Hogan shook hands briskly.

            “Darling,”
Susannah parodied him. “We were just about to have a drink.”

            “Delighted
you can join us,” McConnell said. “Do sit.”

            Hogan
selected the chair where Susannah’s feet rested. Before she could move her
feet, he lifted them and sat, pulling her feet into his lap. When she tried to
jerk her feet away, he said, “That’s okay, darling.” He sat and
pulled her feet onto his lap. Then he began to knead and massage the insteps.

            Susannah
hadn’t realized feet had so many nerve endings. And every single one of hers
was swooning with pleasure. Hogan could always get a job as a foot masseur if
law enforcement didn’t work out. She’d be glad to give references.

            McConnell
ordered margaritas all around when Rusty the waiter arrived. “By Jove, I
feel suddenly much more vacation-ey so to speak.”

             “So, what have you been up to while I was
slaving away to keep you in the lap of luxury?” Hogan asked, pressing his
thumbs into her instep. Slowly, he stroked the tops of her feet and teased her
toes.

            Her
pulse refused to settle down. “Not much,” she managed to say. His
touch sent shivers of excitement racing upward. If Hogan could pleasure her
feet this way, she wondered what he’d do if he had her entire body as a
playground. With every hour that passed, she found herself longing to find out.

            “Your
lovely wife provided a haven for me,” McConnell said.

            “Really.”
One dark brow arched as Hogan looked from McConnell to his pretend wife.
“And how did she do that?”

            “Most
delightfully I assure you,” McConnell said. When he smiled, dimples
appeared at the corners of his mouth. “She’s kept all the other females at
bay, thank goodness.”

            Hogan’s
hands moved to encircle her ankles. His fingers stroked around and around,
snaking their way up the calf of each leg then swooping back to her feet. Heat
pooled low in her body. Her breasts tingled. Oh, how she wanted his hands to
continue their slow ascent.

            Perhaps
if she had stayed with him that night, she’d now be immune to him. That was a
theory she was beginning to think she should explore. Anything would be better
than this constant tension when she was around him.

            Horrified
at the direction her thoughts insisted on following, Susannah yanked her feet
from Hogan’s lap. “That’s enough.”

            “Are
you sure?” Hogan asked in a voice smoother than the twenty-five year old
whiskey her uncle had let her sample once.

            “Quite
sure.” She cursed the blood rushing to her face.

            “I
say, Susannah, you really need to put on more lotion to protect your
skin,” McConnell said. “You’ve got quite a sunburn, my dear.”

            “It’s
nothing,” she mumbled.

            “I’ll
oil you down, darling, as soon as we get to our room.”

            Heat
arced through Susannah. She recalled the last time Hogan had done that. She
didn’t think she could stand an encore. “Oh, you’re so busy with work. You
don’t have to bother.”

            “But,
darling, it’s never a bother. I want to properly take care of you.”

            And,
oh, brother! Did she want to be taken care of! That itch that needed scratching
just got worse every day. Did he really mean what he said? Or was he just
playing his part a little too convincingly? Confused, she didn’t know what to
believe. Fantasy and reality were merging into a confused jumble.

            “You
shouldn’t leave a lovely girl like her alone, Hogan.”

            “You’re
right. I’ll have to remember not to make that mistake again.” Hogan gave
him a glance as sharp as his tone of voice.

            McConnell
laughed. “Why, thank you, sir. That look from you is quite a compliment. I
haven’t been accused of being on the prowl in years.”

            As
McConnell talked, Susannah had to remind herself he was a crook because he
simply didn’t fit her concept of one. He was easily the most charming man she’d
ever met. Everything about him was courtly and well mannered.

            The
sun began to set and still McConnell regaled them with stories of faraway
places. Susannah, who’d never left the state, found herself enthralled. So were
most of the other women who’d pulled up chairs and sat down to listen.

            When
Hogan suggested they leave, she completely forgot McConnell was a suspect and
protested. “Oh, no. It’s early yet.”

            “Not
for what I have in mind, darling.” He stroked her jaw line with the tips
of his fingers.

            Susannah’s
heart lurched. She couldn’t ignore how she responded to his touch. To his
words. She wanted him. She knew she dared not be alone with him tonight. His
slightest touch could be her undoing. How could she miss something so fiercely
that she’d not yet known? She was too vulnerable. She dared not be alone with
him. Yet that was all she wanted. A sigh escaped her. What a girl wanted wasn’t
always what was good for her.

            As
the two men shook hands, she concocted a scheme to keep away from Hogan and get
close to McConnell. First, she had to have a few minutes alone with the thief.

            Pulse
pounding, she allowed Hogan to lead her into the hotel. When they neared one of
the hotel shops, she said, “Oh, I need to see if they have a refill card
for my cell phone. Go on. I’ll  be up
shortly.”

            “I’ll
go with you.”

            Susannah
shook her head. “You don’t have to.”

            “I’ll
wait for you,” he said flatly.

            Desperate,
she pulled out the one excuse no man would argue with. “Look, I hate to be
blunt, but I need to get some personal items. Female personal items.”

            Hogan’s
face flushed a dull red. “I’ll see you back in the room. If you’re not
there in fifteen minutes, I’m coming back for you. Understood?”

            “You’re
not my chaperone, Hogan.”

            “Understood?”
he repeated.

            Susannah
nodded and watched him walk away. As soon as he’d rounded the corner, she
hurried back to McConnell.

            “Susannah?
I say, did you forget something?”

            “No.
I just have a favor to ask, Thomas. My husband intends to work all evening.
Again.” She heaved a sigh. “I’m tired of being alone. I wondered,
would you be a sweetheart and escort me to dinner?”

            “Why,
I’d be delighted, my dear. I’ve been at loose ends myself since I arrived. Are
you sure it won’t cause a problem with your husband? I can see how possessive
he is of you.”

            “Hogan?
Possessive?” That wasn’t exactly how she would have described him.

            “Well,
yes. Can’t say I blame him. It’s easy to see how much in love you two
are.”

            “It
is?” Susannah stared, aghast. She and Hogan must be better actors than
she’d realized. Still startled by what he said, it took a minute for her to
remember she was play acting. “That may be, but I know he’ll be up to his
eyebrows in faxes and emails. Actually, he’ll be thrilled not to have his work
interrupted.”

            “Capital.
Though I think you overestimate your husband’s devotion to business. I’m
certain he cares more about you than any business matters.”

            She
sighed dramatically. “I hope you’re right.” She cast her eyes down
and sighed again. “I get so lonely. I’m just grateful he could spare a few
minutes this afternoon at the pool. It was such an unexpected treat.”

            McConnell
said he’d make reservations for eight, and they arranged to meet in the
restaurant. Susannah smiled all the way to the suite. What was it Sherlock
Holmes always said? The game’s afoot? Well, she’d been responsible for getting
the game afoot. Now all she needed to do was to keep it afoot until she could
crack the case wide open. Then she could put distance between her and her
impossible chaperone.

* * *

            “What
the hell do you think you’re doing?” Hogan shouted.

            “Keep
your voice down unless you want everyone in the hotel to hear you.”
Susannah smoothed her hands down the short black silk dress that cupped her
bottom and stopped at mid-thigh.

            “You
can’t have dinner with him.”

            “Why
not?”

            “Because.”

            “Because?
That wasn’t even good enough for me when I was a child.” She transferred
some cash and a credit card to a small black-beaded handbag. Too bad she hadn’t
been able to find refill cards for her cell phone. She could have taken it and
quickly notified Hogan if she needed rescue. Which she didn’t think would
happen.

            Hogan
shoved his hands through his hair, making it stand out like wings. “You
lied to me about needing that female stuff. You wanted to get rid of me so you
could set this up.”

            “True.
And you fell for it so accommodatingly.” Susannah smiled sweetly.
“What’s done is done. So get over it.”

            “You’re
supposed to follow orders. Your role is to lay out and sun bathe. You’re
supposed to let McConnell seek you out.”

            “But
you told me a good cop is flexible. He did seek me out. Remember?”

            At
his muttered curse, she quipped, “Besides, it’s dark. I didn’t agree to
moon bathe. And I’m tired of being locked up in this room like some
prisoner.”

            She
turned to him and placed her hands on her hips. “Look, Hogan, part of my
role is to chat McConnell up. I was doing a good job until you showed up with
your surly attitude. Without you around, glowering at him, I can get him to
talk. I bet I can get him to tell me everything he’s done from the time he
stole his first candy bar at the corner grocery.”

            Hogan
snorted. “You’ve got an inflated opinion of your abilities. Did it occur
to you that you may be his next victim?”

            “Don’t
be ridiculous. I may be inexperienced, but I’m not dumb. Why would he pick me
to be a victim? I don’t have any jewelry other than this fake wedding ring. And
this plain gold band wouldn’t make anyone look twice.”

            “He
probably thinks you’re as well heeled as the rest of the women hanging around
this overpriced singles swap meet.”

            “I
think he meant what he said. He’s lonely and just wants some company for
dinner.” Susannah chewed her lower lip. Hesitantly, she asked, “I
need to ask you something. Is it possible you’re mistaken about him?”

            “No,”
Hogan said flatly. “He’s exactly who and what the background check showed.
Don’t let your personal feelings get in the way.”

            She
frowned. “What do you mean?”

            “I
mean he’s not a kind fatherly figure. Don’t transfer your need for one to him.”

            She
stiffened. “Do you realize how insulting that is?”

            “I’m
not trying to insult you. I didn’t mean it that way. But I know that sometimes
when you want something bad enough, it’s easy to read into something or someone
what you want to be true instead of what is.”

            “Look.
I just like the man so quit psychoanalyzing me and my actions.” She did
have more than a twinge of sympathy for McConnell she admitted, but she also
had common sense.

            “He’s
just not what I expected.”

            “Well,
don’t forget he’s the bad guy.” The sharpness in his voice matched the
narrowed  gaze he focused on her.

            “I
won’t. He’s probably everything you said he is, but, he’s kind of sweet and
charming too.”

            “It’s
his business to be charming. He’s managed to stay out of prison for ten years
by being charming. Don’t romanticize this. He could write a book on
charm.”

            “Gee,
a book like that could certainly help you, Hogan.”

            “I
don’t have to be charming. I’m not a thief looking for a mark. Quinn. Susannah,
this is not the way you work a stakeout. You don’t have intimate dinners with
the man you’re watching.”

            “I
know that, but you’re doing the stakeout. I’m undercover. At least that’s how
it was explained to me,” she said, batting her eyes in pretend innocence.
“Is there something else you want to tell me? Like what’s really going
on?”

            “I
don’t know what you mean,” Hogan said gruffly.

            When
he didn’t back down, she shrugged. “Okay, have it your way. And I’ll have
this my way. We can’t wait for the next ice age for McConnell to reveal
himself. Let’s speed the process along.” She placed her hands on her hips.
“You ought to congratulate me on being so flexible and creative instead of
following the rule book.”

            “You
haven’t heard a word I’ve said. I order you not to go.”

            “You
order me?” she asked, her voice dangerously soft.

            “Yeah.
And as the team leader, I expect you to do what I say, or I send you
packing.”

            Susannah
swallowed the insolent retort that trembled on the tip of her tongue and
changed tactics. “Hogan, we’re supposed to be professionals. This is our
break in the case so let’s use it.”

            “I
don’t like it. This wasn’t part of the plan.”

            “Yeah.
The Mayor’s magnificent plan. Well, we see how well that’s worked out. I don’t
want to spend the rest of the summer waiting for McConnell to make a move. Do
you?”

            Grudgingly,
Hogan said he didn’t either.

            “We’ll
be in a public restaurant. What could possibly happen?” It took her
another fifteen minutes, but she finally got a very reluctant Hogan to agree to
let her dine with McConnell. Alone.

            “Okay,
but if anything goes wrong, or you want out for any reason, tell him you have
to go powder your nose then duck out and get back up here. And I mean it. Don’t
start improvising. Just do what I say. For once.”

            “Right.
Of course.” Her eyes sparkled with excitement. “Why wouldn’t I do
exactly what you say?

 

 

   

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