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Authors: Elizabeth Finn

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BOOK: Conflicting Interests
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Chapter Five

 

She couldn’t seem to get enough coffee into her body to stay
alert the next morning but she was there. When Imogen popped her head into the
teachers’ lounge about ten minutes before first period was to begin, she
offered a sympathetic smile.

“You sure you want to be here today, Trink? I mean, no one
really expects you to be and you look like hell. Did you actually look in the
mirror this morning, love?” She was being Imogen—with a sarcastic sense of
humor that always brought a smile to Katrina’s day. Of course smiling actually
wrinkled her brow on this day and left her head aching.

She filled her coffee mug for the third time and headed out
of the lounge toward her classroom. She knew no one expected her to be there.
The good news had traveled fast once Imogen entered the building with her that
morning and within fifteen minutes, ten teachers and the superintendent had
stopped by her room assuring her they could get a sub for the day and telling
her she was crazy for coming to work.

What they failed to realize was she had no interest in being
anywhere alone at the moment—not even Imogen’s overly secure house on Lake
Washington. She needed to be at school. She needed to be around people.

She’d mentally committed herself to going home that night
and she was dreading it. She loved her home. It was small, quaint and she’d
poured her sense of style into every last nook and cranny of the place. She
spent a small fortune on an old railroad-cart coffee table she loved. She’d
thrift-store-shopped and antique-shopped her way into an incredible eclectic
design which literally made her smile every time she walked through her door.

She relaxed every time she thought about the smell of her
home and the comfort of her small world that belonged to just her. She couldn’t
lose that. She simply couldn’t give it up. What she could give up was a bit of
money to have the locks changed and two motion sensor lights installed at the
front door and the side door. The workmen were scheduled to arrive that
afternoon and though Imogen had glared at her over lunch in the teachers’
lounge as she called and scheduled the installer and locksmith, she’d held her
ground.

“Imogen, I appreciate you offering to let me stay, but I
have to do this. I can’t let this thing stop my life. I like my life too much
to see it sullied by this.”

“You sound like such an English teacher when you say shit
like
sullied
. But you also keep saying
this thing
. It’s not a
thing you can just ignore. It was a man. A man who had no business being there
or trying to hurt you and you need to take this seriously!”

“And you don’t think I am? Come on, you know me better than
that. Why do you think I’m changing the locks when there’s likely no reason for
it? Why do you think I’m installing the motion lights?”

Imogen studied her. Katrina wasn’t used to Imogen being so
serious—ever. It just wasn’t her style. “I’m just worried about you.”

“I know, and I appreciate it.” They were interrupted by a
couple other teachers who came in jabbering on about a problem student who was
driving them nuts. She wished a problem student was all that worried her today
and as Imogen’s brows shot up and she rolled her eyes, she made it clear she
understood just how much deeper her worry went on this day too.

Katrina didn’t have a class during the last period on
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and she usually moderated a study hall but on
that day, she found another free teacher to cover the hour and she left early
so she could be home in plenty of time to meet the installer. She took a cab
from school since she had no car and as it pulled up in front of her home, her
heart started pounding, her hands got clammy and she started to panic.

Could she really do this? It looked like her home. It really
did look exactly as it always did but it felt so very different. But she couldn’t
sit in the cab all night and as the cab driver’s eyes met hers in the rearview
mirror, she saw the awkward way he watched her as though he suspected she might
just be crazy. She didn’t want to be crazy and so she stepped from the cab,
paid the man and turned toward the largest investment she’d ever made in life. She
desperately hoped she wouldn’t ultimately end up hating it.

It was on a deep breath and a sigh that she started the trek
up her lawn toward the front door. She rarely used the front door but for
whatever reason she couldn’t seem to bring herself to use the side door. She
unlocked the door and just stared.

She could smell the scent of her life she loved so much and
it was like longing for something she couldn’t quite reach. It looked like her
home, in a slight state of disarray but still. She almost expected the place to
explode when she stepped across the threshold but she didn’t make it that far
until she heard a car pull into her driveway.

She turned to see Detective Adler pulling in behind her car
and relief hit and started to soothe her nerves instantly. She could feel tears
pricking the backs of her eyes and she fought to stifle them as he stepped from
his car and watched her for a moment. Given the serious look on his face, she’d
not quite stifled how hard this was for her. He stood watching her for a moment
before he started walking toward her.

“Can’t quite seem to walk in.” She laughed humorlessly and
he smiled gently.

“You wouldn’t be the first victim who’s experienced that
feeling.” He shook his head and exhaled deeply. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to
trivialize or generalize how you’re feeling right now. It’s just very normal to
feel that way. How about we walk in together?” She nodded as a tear escaped her
eye and ran down her cheek.

She shook her head in frustration and he reached to her
shoulder, studying her eyes. She wanted more. She wanted to feel his strong,
firm arms around her but that was insane. He didn’t get paid to hand out hugs
to frightened young women but fuck she sure needed one.

Apparently touching her was okay, though. When he reached up
to brush her bangs away from her eye to take in the damage, she tensed.

“Nice shiner.” His eyebrows shot up as he took in the state
of her face. It was bad. The swelling had turned quite colorful over the past
twenty-four hours and she’d spent the day dodging questions from students about
what had happened. There was no hiding the damage.

She chuckled quietly as she held the door open for him and
he sauntered casually past her into her living room. She followed him,
commenting as she walked. “On the plus side though I look hot with a black eye.
So I’ve got that going for me.”

He smiled. They stood staring at each other in her living
room and her body started trilling at the quiet closeness.

“I wanted to take another look around and ask you a few more
questions.”

“Didn’t you say you had a partner? I’m starting to think that
was a lie.” She was trying for playful, knowing damn well it would be a
struggle given her less-than-playful mood.

“He’s shy.” He smirked. “Why? Would you prefer to work with
him?”

“That’s not what I meant, but since you bring it up, is this
considered a conflict of interest for you?” She sure as hell hoped not.

“What? The fact you vehemently hate me for my tardiness
issues or the fact you teach my son?”

“Both.”

“We don’t have a personal relationship, so no.” His voice
trailed off quietly as he held her gaze and her breath caught in her throat.
“But if you’re uncomfortable working with me, please tell me.”

Her heart started pounding as her brain started spinning.
Where to even begin processing what he’d just said? No personal relationship
was a good place to start. No duh—but she wasn’t sure she liked hearing him say
it.
Uncomfortable?
Hell yes she was uncomfortable. But it was the really
good kind of uncomfortable that left butterflies in her tummy and left her
blood tingling through her veins until the warmth of it settled between her
legs. She didn’t want to deal with some other detective.

“No. I’m glad you’re the one working on this case.” His lips
pulled up ever so slightly at the corner before relaxing.

He turned from her and started looking around her living
room. It was still in disarray and he studied the odd angle her railroad-cart
coffee table was sitting at He studied the fireplace for a moment and then he
turned back to her. “Show me.”

She had only just made it to the kitchen and was starting to
pick up the groceries she’d abandoned on the floor from the night before. Half
of it would be going in the garbage at this point but as she stopped and looked
to him, his eyes were serious and dark. She lined herself up facing the side
door as though she was getting ready to reach for the storm door to shut it and
he stepped in front of her.

“He pushed me. Here.” She pointed to the spot just between
her breasts. His eyes flashed to the spot before returning to hers. “I fell
back onto the floor and I started crawling backward,
Exorcist
-style if
you ever saw that scene, toward the living room. He followed me.”

“Was he moving quickly as though trying to catch you?”

“No. Not at all. I wasn’t moving fast enough to warrant it
and he just followed me. Very creepy. When I reached the fireplace he reached
down and grabbed the collar of my shirt, pulling me up.” He nodded as his eyes
moved around the room. “Hit me a couple times. Imogen called, I answered, threw
the phone away from him so he couldn’t disconnect it…”

“Good move.”

“Thanks. When he punched me I spun and fell into the mantel
and then to the floor and the last I saw of him, he was running out the door.”

“What about workmen, servicemen? Have you had any in your
home recently?”

“My home is older than dirt. So sure, I have them in
regularly. Plumbing, tile work. There was a roof issue and I nearly had to gut
the bathroom a year or so ago. So yeah. A ton. But
really
recently no.
It’s probably been nine months or so.”

“Any of them strike you as unusual? Pay too much attention
to you? Anything?”

“No. I usually see their butt cracks more than I see them.
You know, I’m not really good at making enemies, pissing people off.” The
sudden small smile on his lips gave him away. “I mean, aside from you.”

The smile slowly faded as he walked down her hallway, peered
into the bathroom and then continued on to her bedroom. She followed him to her
bedroom, finding him looking around the room. There was something odd about
seeing the man standing in her small bedroom with his hand rested easily on the
footboard. It sent a tingle up her body as her mind wandered to a very nice
little fantasy of him lying on her bed.

When he turned to her, his face was gravely serious and
those most intoxicating images faded. He followed her eyes down to his hand and
he lifted it from the bed as she felt the heat creeping into her cheeks but
that flush faded quickly when he opened his mouth again. “I don’t think you
pissed anyone off. He wasn’t here because you upset him.” Her eyes slowly
dropped to stare at the middle of his chest. She knew that. She didn’t want to
admit it but she knew it.

“Could he come back?” Talk about the most pointless of all
questions.

She caught his eyes shifting from her before he looked back.
“Of course it’s possible.”

She took a deep breath before turning from him to leave. “I
need to pick up the groceries I left in the kitchen. Feel free to look around
as much as you need.” She left without another word.

 

He found her in the kitchen, staring out to her backyard
with her hands on the side of the sink. There was an open beer sitting beside
her and she was just staring. The bags were all gone and a large garbage bag
was sitting by the side door ready to be taken out.

“Your spare bedroom window was unlocked and the blinds were
open in your bedroom. Make sure you check your windows regularly and keep the
blinds closed, especially in a bedroom. If it’s daylight you can open them but
I always recommend closing them when the sun starts to go down. It’s far too
easy for people to see in and watch you with open blinds when it’s dark out.”

She nodded and then there was a knock on the front door. As
she let a serviceman in, he watched her. She looked nervous and unsure, not the
way he remembered her from their first encounter on parent-teacher conference
night. He didn’t like that she was scared and unsure right now but he
understood of course. The man was there to install a couple of motion-sensor
floodlights. He waited for her as she showed the man the side door and front
door, where she wanted the standard exterior lights changed out.

When she rejoined him in the kitchen, she took a swig of
beer and found his eyes. She blushed for a moment as he watched her and then
she walked to the fridge and pulled out a package of chicken and a couple
packages of fresh herbs and vegetables, setting them on the counter.

“Would you like to stay for dinner?” He was suddenly
struggling to swallow but he forced himself to hold her gaze.

“I can’t do that.” No sense sugarcoating it.

“You can’t eat?”

“Not with you.” He watched her and she didn’t look away.

“Are you attracted to me?”
Fuck
. Her voice sounded
exceptionally vulnerable and quiet and yet her question was loaded with
backbone. God, he was so attracted to her.

“Don’t.” The very question left his groin tight and his
heart hammering. Hell yes he was attracted to her and he wanted her to know
just how much at the moment but that wasn’t going to happen. “I’d better go.”

He watched her for a moment longer. She looked nervous and
she looked confused and all he wanted to do was touch her, reassure her.
Instead he pulled his business card out of his pocket, wrote his cell number on
the back and handed it to her. “You call 911 if it’s an emergency but if you
see anything suspicious or have anything to report, you call me.” He turned
from her to leave out the side door, grabbing the bag of garbage for her.

BOOK: Conflicting Interests
12.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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