This Hero for Hire

By: Cynthia Thomason

CHAPTER ONE

  THE VOICE ON the phone sounded familiar. But it couldn’t be. Albee Rhodes? Governor Albee Rhodes? Why would Georgia’s esteemed governor be calling small-town cop Boone Braddock? But Chief of Police Stickler’s face had been unusually guarded when he’d insisted that Boone abandon the barking dog complaint he’d been filling out and take a phone call in Stickler’s private office.

  “I just want you to have some privacy,” the chief had said.

  Boone had wondered why he needed privacy. Had someone in his family taken ill or been in an accident? Boone had just spoken to his brother in Atlanta, and everything had been fine with his wife and Boone’s two adorable nieces. Boone’s mom and dad had been settled in a New Mexico RV park for the past week, enjoying retirement, so as far as he knew, everyone was fine in his world.

  Trying not to read anything dire into an unexpected call, Boone had picked up the phone in the chief’s office and said, “This is Braddock.”

  His announcement was followed by the booming voice of Georgia’s governor. “Boone, my boy! How are you? Long time no see, eh?” After a pause, the voice continued. “This is your governor, Boone.”

  Boone sank into Stickler’s oversized desk chair and took a deep breath. “Governor Rhodes?”

  “The one and only. I’m back in the bosom of my hometown for a short visit.”

  “That’s nice.” What was he supposed to say? Wanna get together for a beer?

  “How are your folks, Boone? Everybody okay?”

  “Yes, sir, all doing well.”

  “You and I haven’t had a real sit-down since your academy days.”

  Boone couldn’t recall any time he’d had a “sit-down” with the governor. Maybe the man was talking about the one time after Boone received his associate’s degree in law enforcement when the family was celebrating his accomplishment and Rhodes, in full-on political mode, had patted Boone on the back in the Mount union   Diner. Did that constitute a conversation? Boone didn’t think so.

  Undaunted by his misrepresentation of the facts, Albee continued. “Are you enjoying life as one of Mount union  ’s finest?”

  Boone thought of the barking dog report and didn’t know quite how to answer the governor’s question. Boone had never lived anywhere else, he loved his hometown and being a cop here had a lot of rewards, but heart-thumping excitement wasn’t one of them. “It’s okay,” he finally managed to say.

  “Just had a long talk with Stickler about you, Boone. He says you’re doing a good job and that he can always count on you.”

  “Nice to know.”

  “Bet you’re wondering why I’m calling today.”

  That was an understatement. “I’m curious, yes, Governor.”

  “I have a special assignment for you, son. Stickler thinks you’d be perfect for the job, and I agreed with him. This is a family matter, Boone, and requires some tact, finesse, you know what I’m talking about.”

  Boone didn’t know. He did know that Albee’s wife had left him years ago, so this detail probably didn’t involve Miranda Rhodes. And the governor’s daughter, Susannah, had left Mount union   at least fifteen years ago, if he remembered correctly. When the governor made one of his infrequent stops in Mount union  , he was almost always alone in his big house on High River Road. Alone except for bodyguards and staff, that is.

  Boone gripped the phone more tightly. “What would you like me to do, sir?”

  “You’re acquainted with my daughter, Susannah, aren’t you?”

  Boone blinked. No way this had anything to do with Susannah Rhodes. Boone barely knew her, hardly remembered her.

  “You two kids were in high school together. You must have crossed paths.”

  “I think we were two years apart, sir. Susannah was a sophomore when I was a senior.” Boone’s mind jumped to a mind-boggling, impulsive moment in the equipment room outside the Mount union   High School gymnasium. A fresh-faced, pink-cheeked, honey-blond rich kid with a ponytail had pulled him alongside the wrestling mats and planted a remarkable kiss on his mouth. “I just wanted to do that,” she’d said before leaving him standing there like a beached bass gasping for air. Yes, he remembered Susannah and especially how she’d looked walking away from him.

  She probably would have been Albee’s pride and joy if she hadn’t been in trouble most of the time. At least that’s what was rumored about the father-daughter relationship.

  At the end of Susannah’s sophomore year, Albee had shipped her off to a private school for girls in Atlanta, and from that time on, she was only home during holidays. Because the Rhodes and Braddock families didn’t socialize—ever—Boone never saw her again. But he’d heard stories about her since, involving disciplinary problems at the school and even minor brushes with the law, mostly rebellious teen stuff. She traveled a lot, he knew that, seeming to prefer anywhere but quaint little Mount union  , Georgia. Boone wondered now if she’d settled down since she’d been out from under her father’s influence. Anyway, because of that awkward kiss, and many other reasons, Boone did not want this assignment to involve Susannah Rhodes.

  “I figure you have to recall Susie,” Rhodes continued. “She’s the type of girl a fella remembers.”

  No kidding. “We were barely acquaintances, sir...”

  “No matter. You’re still my choice for this assignment. In fact, if you don’t have any clear memories of Susie, it might be even better.”

  Strange thing for a father to say. Besides, Boone did have a few personal memories of Susannah. Cute, spontaneous, popular and out of his league, despite that jaw-dropping teenage kiss.

  The governor chuckled, an unnatural, practiced sound. “Susannah had some problems growing up, I won’t deny it. Mostly because she flocked to birds of a different feather, not our nice, genteel Georgia gals. Like her mama, Susie was always looking for the next adventure. But I wouldn’t want you to have any preconceived opinions about the kind of woman she is now. I think she’s finally worked that wild spell out of her system.”

  Boone tapped a pencil on the top of the chief’s desk. He was getting a bad feeling about this whole conversation. “What is the nature of this assignment?”

  “Susannah’s coming home, Boone. She arrives in...well, I don’t know exactly. Maybe one day, maybe three. I don’t have to tell you that this announcement took me by surprise. She’s been in Oregon for these last couple of years, and now, on the spur of the moment, she’s decided to come home to Georgia. Says she’s going to help on my reelection campaign.”

  “I’ll bet that makes you happy, sir.” Again, this conversation between two near strangers was perplexing—Boone didn’t know what part he was supposed to be playing. He didn’t know if Albee and Susannah had maintained loving ties through the years, or if they’d hardly seen each other. One thing he did know was that he probably wouldn’t recognize Susannah Rhodes all grown up and filled out.

  “Oh, it does. I’m pleased as can be that my girl’s coming home, but I won’t be here much of the time she’s back in the house. This is a big state, son. You know that. And I’ve got a campaign to run and a lot of people who need to be persuaded that Albee R. Rhodes is the man they want for another four years.” He chuckled again, a politician’s laugh. “I’ve got to be shaking hands statewide for the next few weeks, not babysitting a grown woman.”

  “Babysitting, sir? Susannah’s only two years younger than I am. That makes her thirty-two. I can’t imagine that she’d need babysitting.”

  “Well, of course not, Boone. That was a poor word choice.”

  “So how exactly do I fit in with Susannah’s homecoming?” It was time to cut to the chase. He still had a dog complaint to file, and he was meeting the two high school football coaches at the tavern later for darts. His life was full and busy, for the most part, without adding a spoiled rich woman to his schedule.

  “Susie’s a good girl,” Rhodes said. “She’s got a heart as big as all outdoors, but she’s always been a bit unpredictable. Her mother encouraged that trait, not that I approved....Well, it doesn’t matter. Susie can also be stubborn. Thinks she’s invincible, like all you young folks do.”

  Boone didn’t think that about himself. He learned in the academy that no one was immune to the dangers in the real world. All it takes is one bullet or one out-of-control automobile. But okay, he’d go along with Rhodes. “What does this have to do with me?” he asked.

  “She won’t let me put a security detail on her. Says it’s a waste of money, and she doesn’t need it.”

  Figuring where this conversation was headed, Boone said, “She probably doesn’t need a detail, sir. This is Mount union  , Georgia. I doubt anyone will bother or harass her.”

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