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Free Romance Stories – ch 14

Online Romance Novel ~ Chapter 14 Home ~ Novel’s Main Page

 

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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Joan has also created a great soundtrack to go along with each chapter in THE TROUBLE WITH LOVE so you can listen as you read.

 

 

            Susannah
closed her eyes tightly. When I open my eyes, I’ll see that the woman giggling
and cooing at Walter Bofco can’t be my mother. She counted to ten and opened
her eyes. The woman was still there, and she was still her mom.

            “Welcome
to Bizarro-land.”

            “What
did you say?” Hogan asked.

            Susannah
set her champagne glass down with such force the liquid sloshed over the rim.
She didn’t know which question to consider first. Hogan’s or the question of
what was her mother doing here or the question of what was she doing here with
the Mayor of Murphy’s Cove?

            “What
is it?” Hogan murmured.

            “Nothing.”
She couldn’t tell him. She and Hogan had to keep up their cover with Allison
eyeing them suspiciously and Thomas McConnell over at the bar. Maybe the Platt
woman knew something was amiss, but she couldn’t risk drawing attention to
herself because McConnell might take note.

            Hogan
frowned at her but didn’t speak. Instead he looked around the sparsely
populated bar. She knew exactly when he saw her mother and the mayor. His
shocked gaze locked onto hers.

            “What
the hell is he doing?” Hogan muttered.

            Susannah
shrugged. “You got me.”

            She
couldn’t tear her gaze from the couple, but she tried to be discreet as she
watched. The mayor’s manners were impeccable as he guided Rory toward an empty
table. He seemed gentle and solicitous, but there was something else. His face
looked different when he looked at Rory Quinn. He didn’t look like the
no-nonsense Army colonel. He looked like. . . . Susannah gulped some of the
bubbly. He looked enchanted. Besotted.

            They
had eyes only for each other. It irritated her that they were completely
unaware of the rest of the room’s occupants as they gazed into each other’s
eyes. What on earth was wrong with her mother?

            Susannah’s
eyes narrowed. And where had she got that green sheath dress that hugged her
body and revealed a figure Susannah had never noticed before? And what was with
Rory’s hair. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen her mom with her
hair styled. Even when she went to church, she just ran a brush through it. But
tonight, Rory’s shining reddish-blond hair was carefully groomed. She’d parted
it on the right side, and it fell in waves to her shoulders. And she was
wearing heels. True, they were low heels in deference to her recent
recovery  from foot surgery, but they
were still heels. Strappy, sexy, gold evening heels.

            As
she gazed at the couple over the rim of her champagne glass, her mother tipped
her head back and laughed melodiously at something the mayor said. Oh, my
goodness. Her mother was flirting.

            “Wow,
your mom looks hot,” Luke said.

            Susannah’s
eyes jerked to him. Oh, hell. She’d forgotten about Luke. He’d spill the beans
to Allison and anyone else paying attention. Before she could stop him, he’d
risen and was walking toward Rory and Walter. She felt as if her world were
spinning out of control. When Luke stopped at their table and spoke, her mother
and Walter looked over and caught Susannah staring at them. They acted like two
kids who’d been caught playing spin the bottle. Or something worse.

            “Is
that your mother?” Allison asked.

            “I
think so,” Susannah muttered, resigned to make the best of a bad
situation. “She looks like my mom.”

            “She’s
not what I expected.” Allison’s eyes narrowed as she studied Rory Quinn.

            “Oh,
no. Luke asked them to join us.” Susannah could have kicked him again,
much harder, for his perverse sense of humor. He’d better know that she would
pay him back. Some way. Some how.

            Luke
made the introductions. Everyone acted like polite strangers, but the mayor
frowned when Allison Platt was introduced. To her surprise, the mayor was quite
brusque as he was introduced to Allison.

            Susannah
marveled at the farce being played for an audience of one, Thomas
McConnell  who still sat at the bar. As
odd as the situation was, it paled in significance to what her mother was doing.
She’d been gone only a few days and look what had happened. Rory was wearing
heels and makeup and tight dresses and dating a man she couldn’t possibly know.
A man she had nothing in common with. She was beginning to think she didn’t
know her mother at all.

            Her
mind flashed back to her last meeting with her father. She’d tried so hard to
forget what the hurtful things he’d said. She’d told herself it was just sour
grapes. Now, looking at her mother, she wondered.

            Walter
nodded at Hogan when introductions were completed. “How are you
doing?”

            “Doing
all I can to keep world war three from breaking out.” Hogan grinned,
surprising a laugh from the Mayor.

            Susannah
frowned. She knew Hogan referred to the present situation as well as to the way
she acted toward his old girlfriend. If he didn’t like it, then maybe he
shouldn’t create dissension by sneaking away to visit the woman.

            The
men exchanged chitchat for a few minutes while the women eyed each other in
silence. For some reason, Allison Platt seemed to be enjoying the scene with a
great deal of pleasure. After a bit, the mayor stood and held a hand to Rory
who rose. The couple bid them good evening and returned to their table. Luke
and Allison resumed their flirting, and she and Hogan stared at each other in
silence.

            Susannah
pressed her hands to her temples. Her head pounded. This was turning out to be
the longest day of her life. She could barely make sense of everything that had
happened. And she was so angry at her mother. How could her entire world have
been turned topsy turvy in such a short time?

            She
needed to talk some sense to her mother, she decided. She excused herself and
went to the ladies room, purposely passing the table where her mother sat. When
Rory looked her way, she jerked her head, indicating that she should follow.

            Susannah
made sure no one else was in the bathroom. Then she leaned against the vanity,
arms crossed, foot tapping impatiently against the marble floor. Finally, her
mother pushed through the door. Susannah pounced. “Okay, what the hell is
going on?”

            Rory’s
lips tightened. “I thought I might see you tonight. Maybe that was why I
agreed to come here instead of someplace outside the Cove.” She smiled
gently. “Getting caught in the act was easier than just calling and telling
you.”

            “What
are you talking about? Tell me what?” Susannah couldn’t shake the chill
that seemed to be seeping into her bones.

            “I
guess I should explain.”

            “Please
do,” Susannah snapped. Then she held up her hand. “Sorry. I didn’t
mean to sound like that.” Her shoulders sagged. Tiredly, she went over and
sat on the tapestry-covered settee in the corner and leaned her head against
the high back. Her eyes closed. “Just tell me what’s going on. The truth
please.”

            Until
last month, she’d thought she could depend on her mother to always be truthful.
Now she wasn’t so sure.

            “I
know I owe you an explanation. It’s just that it’s as hard as I thought it
would be. The truth is Walt and I are, well, I told you we were dating.”

            Susannah
opened her eyes and saw Rory, clutching her beaded evening bag as if it were a
life preserver and she was in danger of drowning. “Dating?”

            “Actually,
it’s more than dating.” Rory’s nervous fingers began to work on the gold
chain on her evening bag, twisting and untwisting it.

            Susannah
stared at the gold chain and felt as if she were being bent and twisted like
the metal links. “More than dating? Exactly what does that mean?”

            Before
Rory could answer, Susannah gasped and looked up. “You don’t mean?”
She couldn’t say it. She couldn’t even think it. She shook her head vigorously.
“No. Oh no. You can’t be.”

            Rory’s
hands stilled. She straightened her spine and looked her daughter directly in
the eye. “Sleeping with Walt? Not yet, but, I’ll be honest. I want to. I’m
going to.”

            “But
why? I don’t understand.” Susannah just couldn’t picture her mother as a
sexual being. Rory was her mom, for heaven’s sake. “Have you lost your
mind?”

            “No.
I finally found it a few years ago.” Rory laughed ruefully. She sat next
to Susannah and spoke softly. “This isn’t a conversation I thought we’d be
having in a bathroom.”

            “This
is as good a place as any to have a conversation about your affair with a man
you know absolutely nothing about.”

            “That’s
not what I want to talk to you about. I’m sorry, sweetheart, but I don’t feel
the need to justify myself or discuss my love life with you.” She laughed.
“Love life. I can’t believe I actually said that.” She shook her
head. “I can’t even believe I’m planning to have one.”

            Planning
to? Susannah’s brain worked franticly. So her mom  really hadn’t gone to bed with Walter yet.
There was time to avert this disaster. Cautiously, she asked, “Then what
is it you want to talk about?”

            “You,
sweetheart. I want to talk about you. I probably should wait until you finish
your job, uh, assignment, here, but I have this nagging feeling that I
shouldn’t put this off another day.”

            “Well,
what’s so important that you have to come down here and turn my world upside
down?”

            “I’m
not trying to disrupt your world. Well, perhaps I am. Maybe it’s like a jigsaw
puzzle where the pieces have been forced into positions they don’t belong in. I
guess I’m trying to put the pieces back where they should be.”

            “Mom,
you aren’t making a bit of sense.” Susannah pressed her hand on her breast
to still the panicked beating of her heart.

            “Bear
with me. I think it’ll begin to make sense. First, I want to tell you how much
I regret your childhood.”

            “My
childhood?” Susannah forced a laugh. “Are you sure this is going to
make sense?”

            Rory
nodded. “I’ve realized since you moved home that you’re blind to certain
things. For instance, you don’t see me as I am now. You see me as the bitter,
depressed mother of your childhood. I can’t undo the past and give you back the
childhood I took from you.” She held up a hand to keep her daughter from
interrupting. “No, you don’t have to deny it to make me feel better. I
just want you to open your eyes and see what’s real now. Not what happened in
the past. I’m different.”

            “I’m
the same as I’ve always been.” Susannah stood abruptly. She was afraid
suddenly. “I don’t want to talk about this now. Mom, just go home. When I
get back, we’ll talk.”

            “I’m
afraid it might be too late then.” She threw her hands up in disgust.
“I’m making a mess of this. Look. I’ll be blunt. You know how I used to
warn you about the complications men bring? Well, I was bitter. Vindictive. I
told you never to fall in love. To always maintain a distance. Keep your
perspective.”

            “Yes.
So?”

            “Well,
I was wrong to do that. I was so wrong.”

            “Why
can’t this little mother-daughter talk wait?”

            “Because
I don’t want to wait another minute to set the record straight. When you
entered high school, I realized what I’d done when I saw how you were with
boys. I knew I had to change because I realized, for better or worse, that I
was your model for behavior. I didn’t want you to end up the same way. Bitter,
lonely, and alone. I should have told you the truth then, but I was
afraid.”

            Susannah
started to speak, but her mother shushed her.

            “I
keep telling myself that you’ll fall in love, but that hasn’t happened. Every
time you meet a man, you keep him at a distance. You’ve never let anyone into
your heart. If a guy forces the issue, you drop him so fast it makes my head spin.”

            Rory
reached out and grabbed Susannah’s hand. “You’ve never been in love
because you’re too afraid to give your heart away. And that’s my fault. I have
to tell you the truth now. And this isn’t going to be easy for me to tell or
you to hear. But I have to wipe the slate clean. Your father never really loved
me. It was me. It was all my fault.”

            Susannah
wanted to cover her ears so she wouldn’t have to hear. She knew what her mother
was going to say. She’d heard it from her father last month. Tears pooled in
her eyes.

            “Oh,
God, this is so hard.” Rory’s gaze dropped to her hands then jerked up to
look directly in her daughter’s eyes. “I tricked him, Susannah. I loved
him so much that I couldn’t stand the thought of him going away to college. I
wanted to get pregnant so he’d have to marry me. I seduced him, not the other
way around. And I kept at him until, well, until you happened.”

            Rory’s
voice dropped to a whisper. “I’ll spare you the details, but I got what I
wanted.” She exhaled a long breath. “His parents forced him to marry
me because that’s the way it was then. But he hated me for it. He lost his
scholarship, and he died a little bit every day. I saw it happening, but I
didn’t know what to do. You’d been born. I thought he would love you the way I
did, but I think every time he looked at you, he thought of what I’d done. I
don’t blame him. He stayed until he couldn’t take it any more. When his parents
were killed in the car accident, he took off.”

            Susannah
thought her heart would burst from the pain. It was all she could do to hold in
the tears.

            Rory
collapsed back against the settee and closed her eyes. “There. I finally
said it. I forgave him long ago for leaving, but I couldn’t forgive myself.
That’s the true source of my bitterness and depression. Self-loathing.”

            Silence
fell between the two women. Finally, Rory opened her eyes and looked at her
daughter. “I was afraid to tell you the truth. I was afraid you’d hate me.
It was easier to let you blame him for everything than to take the blame myself
for screwing up my life, his life, and your life. I made stupid mistakes, but I
don’t want you to make an equally stupid mistake by refusing to love and be
loved.”

            Susannah
hardly breathed. She’d had a month to get used to the knowledge that her mother
had lied to her all her life. She wanted to be compassionate, but hurt and
anger consumed her.

            “I
know it’s a shock. Can you forgive me?”

            No,
Susannah wanted to scream. Instead, she said, “I already knew.” She
shook her head and clamped down on the raw emotions coursing through her.
“I don’t think I believed it though until now.”

            “But
how?”

            “It’s
not important. I don’t want to talk about this any more. Not now. When I get
home, we’ll talk. In the meantime, you tend to your love life more carefully, and
I’ll tend to mine.”

            “What
love life? You don’t have one. You meet a guy and then dump him after three or
four dates. Or you try to make them friends when that’s not what they want.
Brian Nguyen’s the only exception, and he’s stayed your friend because he kept
hoping you’d change your mind.”

            Defensively,
she said, “I’ve told Brian to move on.”

            “I
know. This isn’t about Brian. It’s about you. Wake up, Susannah. You’re young.
Don’t let love pass you by.”

            Unbidden,
Hogan’s image came to her. She shook her head as if to dislodge his face from
her thoughts. He might be the right man, for a short while, but she had no
delusions about anything beyond this week. “Who are you to tell me
anything about love or men or life?” She blurted out, releasing her anger.

            Rory
looked sad. “I want you to let go. Lose control. Let yourself fall in
love. I have.”

            “Oh,
is that what you’ve done? Fallen in love?” Susannah nearly vibrated with
her anger.

            Rory
blushed but replied calmly. “When I met Walt, I wasn’t planning on that.
I’ll be honest though it will probably shock you. I thought maybe I’d have an
affair with him. Instead, I’ve fallen in love with him.”

            Susannah
bounded off the settee. “That’s crazy.” She threw her hands up in
disgust. “You can’t be in love with Walter Bofco. You just met him.”

            “I
know, but,” Rory’s voice softened. “I am. Even though it’s been
years, I recognize the feeling.” She looked up and met her daughter’s
incredulous gaze. “Except this time the feeling isn’t hormonal puppy love.
This time I’m mature enough to know what love is, and how rare it is. I also
know that it may all be one-sided on my part, and that it may go no further
than a brief affair. But I won’t do anything crazy to get him to love me back.
And I won’t regret having him in my life either.”

            “This
is absurd. You can’t suddenly fall in love with the first man you’ve dated in
years. The first man you’ve ever dated.” Susannah turned around and wet a
towel with cold water and pressed it to her throbbing forehead.

            “It
does sound crazy. But it’s true.”

            “No,
it’s not. It can’t be. I know how you hate being alone. You know I want to
leave Vance. You think if you convince yourself you’re in love you won’t be
alone when I leave.”

            Rory
laughed softly. “I told you I know you’ll leave eventually. You haven’t
noticed, but I finally grew up after you went away to college. I expect you to
live your own life whether that’s here or some place else. The world is yours,
my darling. Go out and make your dreams come true. Maybe it’s not too late for
me to make some of mine come true as well.”

            Susannah
dropped to the couch. She wanted to weep. She wanted to crawl onto her mother’s
lap and let Rory comfort her for a change. “But I thought you wanted me to
stay in Vance so you wouldn’t be alone?”

            “No,
Susannah. I want you to stay in Vance because you’re my daughter, and I love
you.”

            “Oh.”
She felt as if someone had knocked the breath out of her. She couldn’t take any
more revelations. She had to think about all this and try to assimilate it.
Everything she thought she could trust, everything she thought was true, had
changed.  Maybe her mother had also
changed, but that didn’t mean the woman wasn’t about to make a huge mistake.

            She
tried calm logic. “Mom, I can understand that you’d be flattered by the
mayor’s attention. He’s an attractive man, but that isn’t the same as being in
love.”

            “How
would you know the difference, Susannah?” Rory asked quietly. “You’ve
run from every relationship you’ve ever had.”

            Anger
sank its talons into her again. “We’re not talking about me. We’re talking
about you.”

            “I’m
sorry this is upsetting you,” Rory whispered, putting her arms around her
daughter.

            Susannah
refused to yield to the softness of her mother’s embrace. She felt hollow,
empty, Rory sighed. Her arms fell away. Susannah heard the quiet rustle of silk
as Rory stood.

            “I’ll
see you when you get home, dear.”

            The
door opened. Susannah finally spoke. “Mom?” Her voice, even to her,
sounded cold and distant.

            “Yes,
dear?”

            “Don’t
say anything or do anything you’ll regret. We’ll talk about this when I come
home.”

            “There’s
really nothing more to talk about, Susannah.”

            “Just
promise me you won’t do anything rash.”

            “Yes,
dear, I promise I won’t do anything without giving it a lot of thought.”
She hesitated and added, “Whether you believe it or not, I do know what
I’m doing.” She left.

            Her
mother was wrong. When it came to desire, no woman knew what she was doing.
Susannah had only to think of the confusion Hogan incited in her to prove that.

            When
she thought she had her emotions under control, Susannah rose and checked her
appearance in the mirror. To her surprise, she looked unchanged. She found that
very odd.

            The
three-piece combo had been joined by a woman who sang a love song with a slow
Latin beat. Susannah saw two couples on the small dance floor. To her relief,
McConnell had left.

            The
table where her mother and Walter had sat was vacant. Good. She didn’t think
she could have faced them again. The next time she talked with her mother, she
intended to know everything there was to know about Walter Bofco. She’d make
her mother see the man was just using her for his own purposes. Whatever they
might be. Sex. Fun. Whatever. Rory was being played for a fool. Somehow, she’d
make her mother see that. Just as she faced up to the prospect that maybe Hogan
was playing her for some kind of fool too.

            As
she approached her table, she saw Allison’s feet, minus the silver high heels,
resting in Hogan’s lap. That was the spark needed to detonate the anger that
had been simmering since her mother’s confession. Her mother was wrong in her
newly-found enlightenment. She should have held onto her bitterness. Men
couldn’t be trusted.

            Hogan,
in deep conversation with Luke, had the woman’s feet in his lap the way he’d
held Susannah’s feet that afternoon. True, he wasn’t giving the blonde a foot
rub, but still the feet rested on his thighs when he should have dumped them to
the floor.

            Susannah
stalked over and yanked Allison’s chair. The woman nearly fell out of it.
“If you want to play footsy with someone,” Susannah snapped, needing
an outlet for the anger simmering  inside. “Then pick on Luke. He’s single. But you keep your red-toenailed
feet out of Hogan’s lap.”

            Luke
burst out laughing. Hogan leaned back. A grin slowly lit his face, replacing
the grimness that had characterized his features most of the evening. Susannah
wanted to bean him with the bottle of bubbly.

            “I
assure you I didn’t mean anything.” Allison laughed as if she found
Susannah’s reaction hilarious.

            “Well,
I don’t like it.” Susannah declared, eyes flashing. She wanted to hit
something and wished she’d brought some work out clothes so she could go to the
fitness center. There was bound to be a body bag there she could pound.
“If I see you touch him again, I won’t be responsible for the amputation
of whatever appendage is guilty.”

            Then
she whirled on Hogan. “And you!”

            “Me?”
Hogan held up both hands to ward her off. “What did I do?”

            “You
didn’t stop her. You’re a man who’s supposed to be my husband.”

            “You
tell him, girl,” a woman at another table called out.

            Susannah
suddenly realized she was the center of attention. She’d forgotten that Thomas
McConnell might still be at the bar. She took deep breaths and tried to get
control of her emotions.

            The
combo picked up the beat and the singer launched into another love song. Hogan
stood and grabbed her hand. “Come on. Let’s dance.”

            “I
don’t want to dance. I want to go.” She resisted as he tugged her hands.

            “I
have some news.” Hogan pulled her to the dance floor, and she reluctantly
followed, and, even more reluctantly, went into his arms. Still angry, she kept
her face averted, looking over his shoulder rather than up at him.

            Hogan
guided her easily, and she followed. They moved as if they’d been dancing
together for years. “I apologize. I’m so used to Allison’s games, I didn’t
realize how it might appear to someone else,” he said quietly. “By
the way, thanks for putting her in her place. God knows I’ve been trying for
years to do that. But she really is harmless. Especially to me.”

            “Just
doing my job. That is, just playing the role of the wife. Apology
accepted,” Susannah managed to say. Slowly, she began to relax. His arms
brought her a few minutes of sorely needed comfort from the storm of emotions
lashing her. “Now what news do you have?”

            “Nothing.
I just thought you needed some quiet time away from Romeo and his latest
target. Are you all right?”

            Susannah
didn’t know if she’d ever be all right again.

            Hogan
pulled back and studied her face. “You look as if you’re about to
cry.”

            “No.
I’m fine. I’m not a cryer.” Then to her surprise, she felt a tear trickle
from the corner of her eye.

            Hogan
reached up quickly and caught the tear on his finger tips. “I see
that.”

            “It’s
nothing. Just allergies. Probably to the perfume your friend Allison is doused
in.”

            “Right.”
Hogan’s hand moved in slow soothing circles on her back. He pulled her tighter
to him until her head rested on his shoulder. “Go on and cry if you want
to,” he soothed. “I’ll still respect you in the morning.”

            Tears
blurred her eyes, but Susannah refused to let them fall. She had her pride.
That’s all she’d had, even as a child, to keep her back straight and her head
high when other kids made fun of her garage sale clothes or when she overheard
one of the women at church gossiping with the rare newcomer about her mother.

            “Talk.
It’ll do you good.” Hogan whispered. “Tell me what your mom said.
Tell me anything that’s on your mind.”

            Susannah
shuddered. Why not? Finally, she said, “When I was sixteen, I found my
father and went to visit him. He wouldn’t see me. I had this insane idea that
if I worked really hard and put myself through college and graduated with
honors, I’d be a daughter to be proud of. He’d want me in his life.”

            “I
waited until I’d graduated from college. I took my diploma and all my
certificates of achievement and went again last month. I called him, but he
wouldn’t let me come to his house. He met me in a coffee shop. A lousy coffee
shop with bad coffee and stale doughnuts.”

            “Why
did you tell me that night I met you that your father had died?”

            “He’s
dead to me. He told me not to come again. Ever. I was part of the past that he
didn’t want to remember. I guess he thinks he fulfilled his responsibility by
paying child support until I was eighteen.” She shuddered and took a deep
breath. “He told me that my mom had tricked him into getting her pregnant.
I called him a liar. I told him my mom would never do anything like that. We
were the victims.” She ached inside. In a whisper, she finished, “My
mom admitted it just now that he was telling the truth.”

            The
song changed. They stayed on the dance floor, moving slowly around the room.
Susannah couldn’t seem to stop the flow of words. Maybe if she got it all out,
she could get beyond the anger and hurt. “He didn’t know I followed him
home. I parked where I could see his house. As he parked his Mercedes in the
driveway, a cute little red sports car pulled up next to him. A teenage girl
got out of the red car. Pretty. Dark hair. Even from across the street, I could
tell that she looked like me.”

            Susannah
pressed her lips together and willed her anger to return. She could handle
anger better than the feeling of desolation. “She called him dad. He
kissed her on the forehead and hugged her. She’s his daughter. My sister. I
have a sister,” she whispered brokenly. “But she’ll never know about
me because I’m just a mistake he made when he was a kid. And he doesn’t want me
to mess up his perfect suburban life.”

            “You’re
not a mistake,” Hogan said vehemently. “He’s got problems or he
wouldn’t have dumped all that on you. If he doesn’t want to know you, he’s an
idiot. One day he’ll regret it.”

            “You
sound so wise,” she scoffed. “So unlike your usual self.”

            “Well,
I’ll try to insult you in a minute if it’ll make you feel better.”

            “Thanks.”
In as matter of fact a voice as she could manage, she said, “I could
handle him rejecting me. But how do I deal with the fact that my mom lied to me
all these years?”

            “Don’t
you think it’s a little unrealistic to expect her to have sat you down and told
you the tale of how you were conceived?”

            Susannah
bit her lower lip. “I guess.”

            “If
you didn’t have this knowledge, how would you feel about your mother’s love for
you? Would you question it or her honesty, her integrity?”

            “No,”
Susannah said without hesitation. Unable to instantly put it behind her, she
said, “But why didn’t she tell me the truth? Why let me think everything
was his fault? How can I believe anything she says?”

            “Mitigating
circumstances,” Hogan whispered. “One lie doesn’t make her incapable
of honesty. Have a little faith in her. Trust her.”

            Trust.
She was beginning to hate that word. She was quiet for several minutes as she
tried to get a handle on her anger. Finally, she told him about her mother and
Walter Bofco, and that just renewed her anger.

            “Wow.
Now that’s a bombshell.”

            “She’s
being a fool.”

            “Why?
Because she’s in love?”

            Scorn
dripped from her voice. “Love. See where it got her before?”

            “She
was a kid. She’s a grown woman now.”

            “I
don’t care. She can’t be in love.”

            “Why
not?”

            “Because
love is nothing but a figment of the imagination.”

            He
laughed softly. “Do you really believe that?”

            “Damn
right I do.” Stewing, she stared over his shoulder and tried to make her
mind blank. She was tired of thinking.

            When
Hogan’s arms tightened, pulling her even closer, Susannah didn’t resist. Her
face flamed. He was aroused. In a flash, everything that had happened in the
elevator came rushing back to her, heightened by the raw emotions roiling
inside her. He stopped and held her as they swayed to the music. Heat rushed
through her veins. She burned where they touched. There was no doubt in her
mind that there was even more to him now than a moment ago. She noticed that he
noticed, and her blush deepened.

            “Sorry
to be so transparent. Men are at such a disadvantage,” Hogan murmured.
“Women can hide when they’re aroused, but with men it’s there for all the
world to see. You could be at arm’s length, and you’d have the same effect on
me.”

            His
admission confused and excited her. She savored his honesty as much as the feel
of his hardness against her aching emptiness. Their eyes locked. The singer
finished and the combo began a slow song with a steady rhythmic beat that
seemed to seep into her bloodstream and pound through her veins. Slowly, they
danced. The sweet torture of his body rubbing against hers made her throb in an
echo of the way his heart pounded against her breasts.

* * *

            When
the music stopped, Hogan leaned down and brushed his lips against her temple.
He wanted to protect her, soothe her. He wanted to take her to bed and love
her. Teach her that she could trust him. But first he had to tell her
everything. He feared if he did, he’d just prove her point that men lied and
couldn’t be trusted at all.

            Now,
he could have told Yvonne that he knew why it was different with Susannah. Why
it mattered what she wore, what she did, who she saw. The answer was simple. He
was in love with her.

            He’d
been prepared to keep his hands off Susannah, but that little scene with
Allison showed she was jealous. Guessing – hoping – her reaction meant she felt
more for him than she was letting on, encouraged him. She had to care. Even if
she wouldn’t admit it. That changed everything.

            Life
was too short to spend any more time denying his feelings for her. Feelings
that had shocked him, but he’d lived with them long enough that he’d accepted
them. Somehow, he’d win her over. He’d tell her everything. He had to before
they took the next step.

            Unfortunately,
he was having a hard time convincing his body they needed to talk first and
love second. Every part of him wanted to forget the talking and head straight
for a bed. In fact, he rationalized, maybe it would be better to first love her
so thoroughly she’d have no doubt they belonged together. Then he’d reveal all.

            Softly,
he asked, “Isn’t it time we retired for the evening, Mrs. Hogan?”

 

 

   

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Joan
published
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Moonlight on Snow:
A Love Story

 

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