Authors: Karen Sue Burns
Tags: #romance, #romantic suspense
“Damn it, this is terrible.” Anger salted his words. “Dr. Arnold won't like our donors being contacted by the police.”
“It's a routine part of their investigation. The police have to do their job and we have no choice but to cooperate.”
“I know. But donors can be fickle.” He sighed again.
“Have Rebecca call them to smooth over any ruffled feathers. You know how they all love her.” She bit her tongue as she said that.
“She's not here, out sick the last two days.”
“Really? How interesting.” No wonder she hadn't replied to the second email or called Quinn back.
“I'll talk to her tomorrow and she can call the donors then. Ellie is ill today, too. There's a bug going around.”
Unlike Scooter, Quinn found it strange, downright weird, that everyone was suddenly calling in sick. Rebecca's absence from HCU on the very day Bill was killed might be a sad coincidence or it might be something else.
Quinn ended the conversation frustrated with Scooter. What had happened to his priorities? All he worried about was Dr. Arnold not liking the police contacting donors. What about the police finding $25 million dollars?
She drove into the parking lot of Hermann Park, off Fannin Street and noticed Dr. Arnold by his car. She waved to him then locked up the Volvo.
“Let's sit over there.” Dr. Arnold pointed to a bench a few yards down a sidewalk bordering the outer edge of the park. Live oak trees shaded their hike to the bench.
Sweat beaded on the back of her neck. She was nervous meeting the HCU president without Scooter. This wasn't the usual thirty second encounters she was accustomed to. She had no clue as to the agenda so she waited for Dr. Arnold to speak after they settled on the bench.
“Quinn, I realize this conversation is irregular. I'd appreciate you keeping it between the two of us.” He stared straight ahead, the sun glaring off his glasses.
“I will. What did you want to discuss with me?”
“I have your complete confidence?” he said.
She nodded, her anxiety elevating. She stopped her foot from tapping on the concrete.
He pursed his lips. She guessed he'd made a decision.
“Scooter hasn't been himself the last couple of months.” He glanced from side to side as though searching for an eavesdropper. “I'm worried about him. Have you noticed anything out of the ordinary?”
Two teenagers strolled toward them. She waited for the couple to pass and considered the best response to Dr. Arnold's question. Truth or dare?
“That's a difficult question to answer. Scooter is â¦ inconsistent at times. He can change his mind a lot.”
Dr. Arnold appeared startled for a moment then regained his composure. “Is that so?”
Not a question requiring a reply. She kept quiet and waited for him to speak, mental fingers drumming on the bench.
“I need your cooperation.” He hesitated, rubbed his face. “I'd appreciate you reporting directly to me, rather than Scooter, on your work with the police. I realize this is an unusual request but I assure you it's made with the welfare of the university in mind.”
“I get the feeling there's something you're not telling me,” she said.
“Very perceptive but I need you to honor my request all the same.”
Dr. Arnold had just asked her to ignore her boss and communicate only with him. Scooter would consider it insubordination while she considered it a no-win situation. Yet she had to do the right thing.
“I'll honor your wishes. However, Scooter expects me to update him on my progress,” she said, a trickle of dread trudging across her chest.
“I understand your dilemma. You may provide Scooter a high-level summary of your activities with the police. No details, though.”
She squeezed her eyes shut. Less than thirty minutes ago she had blabbed to Scooter about the missing cash. She had to tell Dr. Arnold.
“I've already given Scooter the details of some missing gift checks,” she said.
“What are you talking about?” he replied sharply.
A young couple pushing a baby stroller passed in front of the bench, providing a few moments of distraction while she gathered her thoughts. She had to tell him everything and she did.
Silence for a good thirty seconds, which was a lifetime for Quinn as she sat on a park bench with her boss's boss and wondered how bad she'd screwed up as the HCU point person. She hoped he wasn't thinking of his top ten ways to fire her.
“It's okay.” He blew out a breath, patted her hand. “I know you're doing everything you can to help with this situation. However, if there's any other reason to contact our donors, speak to me before talking to the police. In fact, call me every day with an update on your activities using my cell number. If I don't answer, I'll call you back as soon as I have privacy.”
Quinn's role as the HCU point person became exponentially more complicated. First, she couldn't be direct and forthcoming with her direct superior. Second, she had to call Dr. Arnold once a day to report her conversations with Roddy. And third, she couldn't contact donors without Dr. Arnold's permission. Just peachy.
She was a HCU trooper. “Okay, I'll report in daily.”
Damn, now she had three bosses â Scooter, Roddy, and Dr. Arnold. Would the real boss please stand up?
Once back home, Quinn plopped in front of the television to watch the local news and escape from the past several hours. She needed a mental break from her borderline obsession with the theft. Her brain felt waterlogged. It needed to spring a leak and empty her mind of stress.
The empty mind routine must have worked. She woke from a quick nap as a story began on Bill's death. She had expected local coverage, but not the lead story. His association with HCU was highlighted in the report.
An on-location reporter supplied the details live from the front of Brennan Hall, the main administration building on campus. He stated the police were treating Bill's death as a homicide. They didn't yet have any suspects. It was an even juicer story considering the unknown whereabouts of the mega gift.
She turned off the TV.
She was tired of HCU, missing funds, and running around Houston like a crazy person. At dinner tonight, she'd ask Logan Rice a couple of questions, then erase the theft from her mind for the rest of the evening.
She poured a glass of chardonnay, then went to her bedroom to draw a bath â girl time was in order. She doused the water with jasmine-scented bath oil, set the wine on the edge of the tub, and slid into the water. Its warmth and the oil's aroma stroked her senses with the gentleness of a feather.
Her curiosity about Mr. Rice brewed as she sipped the wine. Who wouldn't be fascinated after meeting him in a clown costume? Even Ruthie's attempts at cupid-playing had never involved a clown. She chuckled at the memory of him in that outfit. Priceless.
After twenty minutes, the water was cold, the wine glass empty. She dried off, then studied the contents of her closet for the perfect casual outfit.
She pilfered through pants, shirts, and summer dresses. Pulling out three of each, she coordinated various ensembles and ended with a mess of clothes on her bed. She checked the bedroom clock: six forty-five. Decision time â she threw on white jeans, lime green silk top with a smidgen of cleavage, and silver sandals. She quickly applied foundation, mascara, lip gloss. She fluffed her air-dried hair, sprayed on Coco, and pirouetted in front of the mirror.
Grandma was looking good.
The doorbell pealed and she hurried downstairs.
After re-fluffing her hair, she opened the front door.
Oh. My. God.
Logan Rice resembled a movie star â sandy hair, blue eyes, square jaw, and that million-watt smile. His six-foot muscled frame sported a light blue Polo shirt and khakis. He looked good enough to eat â well, lick at least. A one-eighty from when she first met him in Scooter's office. Maybe it was the fact he had a smile on his face.
“Miss Wells, it's good to see you again.”
“Mr. Rice, good evening.” She stood in the doorway, statue still. She didn't invite him in, or offer a glass of wine. Where were her manners? Finally, her tongue became unglued. “Did you enjoy the event at the hospital?”
“Actually, it was fun. The kids were great and I managed not to fall over the floppy shoes.” He unloaded the grin. “Are you ready? I'm starving.”
“I'll get my keys.” She picked up her purse, turned on a lamp in the living room, and hurried back to Mr. Rice. He waited on the doorstep, not a figment of her imagination.
While strolling to his car he mentioned she should call him Logan and Quinn responded with the same. Things were definitely going well. They were on a first-name basis in less than three minutes.
She expected he'd drive a decked-out sports car, the typical ride for a hot-looking bachelor. Wrong. His vehicle proved that a person shouldn't make assumptions. Logan opened the passenger door of a mid-sized family sedan.
“My grandmother has a car like this.” She groaned in silence. Her big mouth again.
“It's reliable.” He glanced at her. “I hope you like Italian. There's a Carrabba's not far from here.”
“That's fine. Turn right at the next corner.” She cringed. Giving him orders already?
They arrived at the restaurant minus any further extraneous comments from Quinn â so far, so good. Logan talked about the Astros; he sounded like a huge fan.
Sunlight streaked the spring air so they settled at a table on the patio. Fairy lights, lush potted plants, and secluded tables evoked a mood perfect for romance, totally unnecessary for this dinner. After being seated at a corner table, shrouded from other tables by a large sago palm, Quinn experienced a momentary illusion of being on a date with a very attractive man. She gave herself a mental slap to ward off such ridiculous thoughts. This dinner addressed a business matter and nothing else.
They perused the menu and discovered a mutual appreciation for the same food and wine. Logan ordered grilled chicken and linguine for two along with a bottle of merlot. They discussed the weather and the national basketball playoffs until the wine arrived.
“Quinn, I'd like to propose a toast.”
She raised her glass, curious as to what he'd say.
“Here's to a mutually rewarding experience.” He lightly tapped his glass against hers.
What did he mean by “mutually rewarding experience?” Was he referring to the $25 million, to a good relationship between HCU and the Bridge Foundation, or something else?
“Logan, the reason I made an appointment with you is to discuss the loss of the gift funds last Friday. I'm now the HCU contact with the police and I â ”
“I know that and we will have a conversation about the theft.” He smiled. “Let's enjoy our dinner, get to know each other. We can talk business later.”
“I could use a break from the subject.” She sighed. That was an understatement. “It's overtaken my life the past five days.”
“I can only imagine. Put the theft out of your mind for now. Tell me about yourself. Who is Quinn Wells?”
“When I figure that out, I'll let you know.”
A corner of his mouth hitched up. “I'm serious. Are you married, divorced? Have children, cats, dogs?”
He was serious, how cute. “You may be sorry you asked,” she said, her stomach suddenly overrun with ribbons of angst. “Well â¦ I'm divorced and I have twin twenty-four year old daughters. One is pregnant, with her first child due in a month â¦ I'm almost a grandma.”
“I can't believe that. You're much too young to have kids that old.”
“Thanks.” The arrival of their dinner saved her from further sharing. They ate in silence for a minute or two until Quinn had to ask a question. “Your turn, tell me about you.”
“That's easy. Most of what I do revolves around my family â work, fun, socializing, you name it. These days there's a member of the Rice clan involved in most of my activities. I've never married and have no children so I give a lot of attention to my nieces and nephews.” He laughed. “If I ever do get married, I'll have plenty of experience at changing diapers.”
Quinn was uncomfortable at the turn of their conversation to such personal topics. They transitioned into less personal topics until the dishes were cleared and cappuccinos arrived.
“Are you relaxed enough to discuss the theft?” She might as well get the ball rolling. The reason for the evening was professional. The fact that she found him attractive as hell was irrelevant.
“Very relaxed.” His mouth had a lazy smile before his tongue licked his lips. He again leaned forward with his elbows on the table, his gaze drilled into hers. “Ask me any question you have in mind.”
“Does anyone at the Bridge Foundation have a personal relationship with a HCU employee?
“Not yet, but things are looking better.”
“I'm serious.” She had no idea Mr. Society Guy would be such a flirt. “Don't you think it's possible this particular gift was targeted not only because it's a lot of money but also because the Bridge Foundation was the benefactor?”
He moved back from the table, business persona back in place. “Meaning that someone has a major problem with the foundation? Sure, it's possible. But why? We give money away. Who would be unhappy with that?”
“Someone who had a request turned down?” She sipped the coffee, weighing the words on her tongue. “Or, perhaps it's not related to what the foundation does. Perhaps the theft was a personal matter, a grudge. Perhaps the real motive was to embarrass the foundation.”
“You've got to be kidding.” Logan leaned back in the chair, stretched out his legs and crossed one ankle over the other. “Who in the world would want to embarrass the foundation? We're the good guys. We help others advance their charitable programs with our grants. You're way off-base, Quinn.”