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Authors: Elizabeth Finn

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BOOK: Conflicting Interests
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She had so many memories of doing just this as a little
girl. Her fears weren’t real then the way they were now but this was how she’d
always managed it.

She lay still under the weight of her blanket, listening to
the quiet. She’d almost prefer some noise. Silence only magnified every last
drip of water from her leaky faucet, the furnace as it kicked on, the creak of
her old pipes, the long tendril-y branches of the overgrown bushes outside her
window as they brushed along the siding. There were just too many quiet sounds.
But eventually she did fall asleep. And when she woke in the morning she was
still alive.

The next few days tumbled by without incident and the feeling
that perhaps the worst was over inched into her mind just a bit more with every
passing hour. She wanted to
it was over and every minute that
passed with more nothing made it easier and easier to think, to rationalize and
then eventually—after a while or so—to fully believe it was just plain over and
that belief was extremely comforting. Part of her thought it was contrived and
just her way of finding peace and sleep—part of her thought it might be real.

She’d followed Dillon’s request to take public transit to
her Wednesday-night class that week, though she was struggling to fathom why at
this point. It was uneventful at best, minus the exceptionally foul smell of
the woman sitting next to her on the bus. Class was equally uneventful.

She stopped in the registration office before the start of
class and asked for Josh Grant’s personal contact information, and they handed
it over without question. When he approached her as the other students were
filing out of the classroom at the end of the night, she almost felt guilty.
His head was down and he was holding a piece of paper in his hand.

“I made this for you.” His eyes stared at her desktop and he
dropped the paper in front of her. She reached for it, trying to hide the
tremble in her hand. They were alone at this point and she was nervous. Josh
was an odd duck if nothing else and Dillon had her afraid of the poor man at
this point. She unfolded the paper and gasped.

It was stunning. Nothing more than a simple ink drawing on a
single white sheet of copy paper but it was her. It was an amazing likeness of
her. Not a posed or glamorous drawing, just her staring off at some distant
point. She wasn’t smiling, she wasn’t frowning, she was just…being. Her heart
thumped and she lost her ability to stifle the tremor in her hand any longer.

“Josh, this is beautiful. I had no idea you were an artist.”
She was trying to sound casual and as nervous as she was she was just as amazed
by the talent she was looking at.

“Was…uh…who was…was that guy yours? No—no, no… Like was he
your boyfriend…last week?”

“Oh.” Her pause was ridiculously long as she contemplated.
“Yes.” She blurted it out as her eyelids fluttered. That meant she was lying.
Thank God he didn’t know that. She sniffled and looked away quickly. That was
lie sign
numero dos
. She cleared her throat nervously as she stood and
gathered her belongings.

“That’s nice.” His face dropped and he turned from her with
his head down. Her heart was racing and she was starting to panic. He walked
from her without a sound and she waited until he was out the door before she
sank into her chair and started breathing deep calming breaths of air.

When Dillon burst into the room, she shrieked in shock and
he rushed to her, pulling her to her feet. He held her at arm’s length, turning
her face, touching her skin and pulling back, trying to figure out what the
hell had happened.

“I’m fine. I’m fine.” She grabbed his wrists and stilled the
panic in his touch.

“What the fuck was he doing in here with you alone? I got
here as your students were leaving. I didn’t realize he was still in here with
you. I was just waiting for you in the hall when I saw him leave. Did he touch
you?” His panic hadn’t abated an ounce.

“He didn’t do anything. He gave me a picture.” She wasn’t
doing very well at controlling her own panic either. The man had done nothing.
Nothing but given her an incredible picture. He was odd. He was very odd but
he’d done nothing. Dillon studied the picture in his hand and she watched him.
“I have his information.”

“Good.” He didn’t even look up from her likeness on the
piece of paper as he spoke the word. His jaw tensed and clenched as she watched
his face.

“Why are you here, Dillon?” Again he didn’t seem interested
in pulling his gaze from the picture.

“I wanted to see that you got home all right. Come on. I’ll
drive you.”

The weather was warm for early spring though the sun was
long gone and as he walked her from the building, they strolled. He didn’t say
where he was parked and she just followed his lead, meandering slowly down the

When a skateboarder nearly took her out, he clutched her
upper arm and swiftly pulled her body into his. It left her gasping as her palm
met the hard clenching muscles of his stomach to steady herself. Even with a t-shirt
on it was easy to feel the definition of his abdomen and it was all she could
do to pull from him.

He stared down at her. It was nearly a glare as he fought
his own battle. She could see it in the way his intense eyes held hers,
refusing to look away but refusing to let his expression soften either. He was
trying to remain in control and not falter—but he wanted to falter as much as
she did.

He was parked two blocks away and when his hand met the
small of her back as he rounded the car with her, she inhaled a rushed breath
and he instantly pulled back from her. He eyed her carefully as she climbed in.

The phrase “walking on eggshells” suddenly had new meaning.
It was what they did with each other. It was as if her every movement was
somehow offset by his. If she touched, he pulled back. If she gasped he held
his breath. If she looked, he looked away. He was trying so hard to undo her
every reaction to him and it was so telling. She wasn’t offended. He wouldn’t
be doing it if he wasn’t trying to hide what he really wanted to do, which was
match her every move, every gasp, every touch. It was an incredible turn-on to
some degree and it was incredibly painful in another.

Once he was sitting beside her in the driver’s seat, she
turned to him. “What if it’s over?” He cocked his head at her as his eyes
narrowed. “I mean couldn’t it be? It’s been nearly three weeks, nothing’s
happened, maybe nothing will. Maybe he was scared off and…”

He studied her, his jaw clenching. She could tell he was
frustrated with her but it wasn’t anger. “That’s a very enticing notion but I
don’t think you can afford to think that way.” He’d shifted his body toward her
and he’d not even bothered starting the car. “You say a few weeks as though
that means something. A few weeks is nothing. This man watched you for months.
There’s no doubt in my mind. So what’s a few weeks to a man who has invested a
few months on you already?”

She shivered at the thought. But she didn’t want to believe
that was true and she shook her head, opening her mouth to argue.

“Don’t.” He silenced her quickly. “You’re not the first
witness who’s wanted to trade her circumstances for something a bit less
horrifying. You’re rationalizing, you’re compensating and you can’t afford to
be that careless with your life.”

Her mouth hung open at the harshness of his words. Nothing
he’d said was cruel or mean. It was just honest and devoid of any sugarcoating

“I just thought maybe…” Her eyes shifted out the window and
when they shifted back, she caught his outstretched hand as his fingers curled
back and he redirected his hand to the steering wheel. He’d wanted to touch her
but he wouldn’t.

After he dropped her off at her side door, she walked inside
and he walked down to the patrol officer’s car to speak with him. She watched
him from the living room window, and he stayed there for many minutes until
turning and walking back up her driveway. She half expected him to knock on her
door and come in. but he didn’t. When she heard his car start her heart sank.

Chapter Twelve


He managed to avoid her for the next week. And he hated
every minute of it. He didn’t call her, he didn’t seek her out, he didn’t text—hell,
he didn’t even go inside the school the couple afternoons he was able to pick
Seth up. But the following Tuesday afternoon, he hurt her anyway.

“Dad, Jake and I want to go play soccer after dinner. Aunt
Molly already said Jake could go.” Seth was approaching him as he stood by his
SUV outside the school. He was looking at Dillon expectantly, waiting for an
answer. Answer? Hell, Dillon was still waiting to hear a question.

“Was any part of that supposed to sound like it had a
question mark on the end of it?” He cocked his head to the side as he watched
his son. Seth was a really good kid and Dillon was determined to keep him that
way. He’d witnessed entirely too many kids who should have known better start
taking steps in the wrong direction and there wasn’t a chance in hell that was
going to happen with his son.

Seth threw his book bag on the floor of the front seat as he
climbed in and Dillon closed his door. But he froze the second he turned to
round the car. She was there, standing up near the entrance doors to the
school, watching him.

She wasn’t smiling. She wasn’t doing anything at all except
pinning him to his spot with her incredible eyes. He swore he could see the
blue even from twenty-five yards away. Her hand was half raised in a casual
attempt to wave at him. He should say something to her but he panicked.

Every time he tried to just be a detective around her he
caught himself being a man. So instead of letting that happen he ignored her,
looked away and rounded the car to his side. He refused to look at her. That was
until he was pulling away from the curb and stole a quick glance in the side
mirror. Her head was down, looking at the ground. He didn’t need to see those
beautiful blues to know she was hurt.
It was the last thing he
wanted to do to her but he couldn’t seem to behave himself with her.

“So can I go?”

“Yeah, sure.” He was barely thinking when he said the words.

“Really? That’s it? You just said yes, you know that, right?
You can’t unsay it.” Seth was speaking a hundred miles an hour.

“What?” Dillon was confused.

“You just said I could go play soccer with Jake after
dinner.” Seth sounded suspicious and Dillon was still—well, confused.

“I did?”


“Fine. Yeah. You can go as long as your homework is done but
in the future ask, don’t tell and say please. I promise it’ll get you further
in life.” Seth hated it when he lectured but at the moment, Seth was a bit too
jazzed about soccer to give a shit if his dad wanted to lecture.

“Okay. So uh, what’s up with you? I mean like no offense,
Dad, but you’re acting kinda weird.” Seth was giving him that chastising look
that said he thought his dad was crazy. Dillon was very familiar with it.

“Why? Nothing. Nothing’s wrong.” He was practically

“I saw you looking at Ms. Page.” Dillon tensed at nothing
more than her name. “Do you like my teacher, Dad?”

Seth was watching him and his face was oddly serious for a
kid of thirteen. “I mean, it’s okay with me. She’s really pretty cool for an
old person.” Old person? Dillon almost laughed. She was seven years younger
than he was and his son thought of her as an old person. Then again Seth
probably thought of his dad as geriatric.

“I don’t have a crush on your teacher, Seth.” He said it
sternly, hoping to mask the blatant lie but given the look on Seth’s face—that
look that made Dillon think his son was rolling his eyes without actually
rolling his eyes— Seth wasn’t buying any of it.

“Whatever, Dad.” Seth ignored him for the rest of the drive.

Molly was no better that night and after the boys were out
the door headed to the soccer field two blocks away she lit into him. “So how’s
Ms. Page?”

“You know I’m not having this conversation with you.”

“I’m not asking about her case. I’m asking about the two of
you.” She was staring at him, waiting for him to ‘fess up.

“There is no two of us and there’s also nothing to say.
Sorry to disappoint.” He quickly stood from the table and started clearing

“You only do dishes when you don’t want to talk about
something!” She hollered after him and as he returned to the table for more
dishes, she propped her feet up on one of the other chairs and rested her hands
on the back of her head casually. “But seeing as you never help in the kitchen,
I’m inclined to let you keep your silence.” She smirked and he stared down at
her before finally sinking into a chair.

“Fine. I like her.”


“A lot. I…care about her. A lot.”

She dropped her feet from the chair and moved her hands to
the table. Now she looked concerned. “The case won’t always be a factor. You’ll
be through this someday.”

“First of all, she has to survive this and I’m not going to
say more than that so don’t even ask. Second of all, assuming I can solve this
fucking thing and keep her intact, there’ll likely be charges, court,
testimony. This thing could go on for a year or more when it’s all said and
done. Hell, longer! I’m not allowed any involvement with her until this over,
buried dead and over.”

“Then buckle in and be patient. You care. Isn’t she worth

“Worth what? Listen to what you’re saying. I mean—what the
hell are you saying? That I should—what? Hey, Kat, let’s put this relationship
that we don’t have on pause for the next couple years, okay? I mean I know
we’re not seeing each other and maybe you won’t even survive long enough but
can you just maybe not see anyone else for two years in the event that someday
we might be able to go out on a date and decide if we actually want to see each
other? Seriously, Molly?”

She cracked a small smile. “Then take yourself off the case.
Make up a reason if you have to. Dillon, you like her. You care. It’s been a
long time since you’ve been like this. I don’t believe that’s a waste of your
time for one second and you wouldn’t be this wrapped up about it if it was.”

“I’d rather be on this case than trust someone else to her
safety. That’s the most important thing.” He held her eyes and she pursed her
lips as her brow wrinkled. “And at the same time, how compromised is my
perspective because of how I feel about her?” He shook his head in frustration.
He cared. He wanted what was best for her and he no longer had any idea what
that actually was.

Dillon stood, grabbed more dishes and walked to the kitchen.
When Molly joined him at the sink as he rinsed dishes, she started taking them
from him to load into the dishwasher. They were silent as they worked and once
they’d finished she squeezed his shoulder before walking out of the kitchen and
leaving him staring out the kitchen window.

* * * * *

When Stephens called him at eight-thirty the next night, he
and Seth were watching TV. “Your girl’s house was broken into tonight. Just got
the call.”

Dillon sat bolt upright as Seth’s eyes flashed to his. “Is
she okay?” His heart was pounding loudly and he caught his hand on his chest as
though he could still the racing speed.

“She’s fine. She’s with the patrol officer right now and
they’re securing the scene. You coming?”

“I’m on my way. Forensics has been notified?”

“Duh.” And then Stephens hung up on him.

“Do you mind staying at Aunt Molly’s?” He didn’t even need
to ask. They were used to this routine and Seth never minded. He was as
comfortable there as he was here and though that left Dillon with his moments
of guilt—not to mention jealousy—he’d feel a whole lot worse if Seth didn’t
have such a great second home to go to.

He called Molly quickly before leaving and his worry took
his mind to places he really didn’t want to go on the drive to Katrina’s place.
He saw her leaning up against the squad car as he pulled to the curb. She was
talking to Officer Anderson and she nodded subtly at something he said. She
smiled at him appreciatively and his heart raced for a moment.

It was an odd sense of jealousy that hit him. Anderson was
young, he was handsome and the way he watched her wasn’t completely innocent.
It also wasn’t lascivious. He meant her no harm but he was attracted to her if
nothing else and though he was being professional, Dillon could see it clearly.

The moment Dillon stepped from his car and she caught sight
of him, she inhaled a deep breath and moved as though she was going to come to
him. But then something stopped her and she dropped her eyes to the ground and
her body stilled. He wanted to rush to her, pull her into his arms and quiet
the slight tremble that was running through her body.

It took considerable willpower to keep his gait calm and
slow as he approached them and once he was there he struggled just as much to
greet her casually. Her eyes flashed to his as he said hello and the hurt in
her expression reached out and slapped him across the face. In all his worry
and fear for her safety he’d completely forgotten what an ass he’d been in the
school parking lot the day before. She very obviously hadn’t.

“Officer Anderson, can you give Ms. Page and me a moment?”
He didn’t bother looking at the man and kept his eyes trained on hers. Once the
man was out of earshot he opened his mouth. “How are you?”

Her eyes flashed to his quickly and the hurt was replaced by
anger. “So you’re acknowledging me today? I wonder, Detective, what it is I did
today to earn your attention.” Bitterness was dripping from her tone. She was
more than angry.

“I’m sorry. I have no excuse for my behavior yesterday.”

“Yes you do. It’s just not an excuse you’re willing to say
out loud.” Fuck, she was pissed and more than that, she was dead-on.

He inhaled slowly and let it out just as slow. He deserved
her anger and though it left him defensive, he was going to give this one to
her. But she needed to stow it fast. He had a job to do and her anger could
wait until later. “Like I said I’m sorry but this isn’t the time. I need to
know what happened.”

“Yeah? Well, Stephens already knows what happened so I
suggest you talk to him.” She wasn’t stowing it at all.

“I’m talking to you. I want answers and I want to hear them
from you.” And then he leaned toward her, speaking through gritted teeth. “Be
angry with me later. Not now.” Her jaw clenched but her emotions got the better
of her. He watched as tears welled on her lower eyelids. Her tears were
perfectly and beautifully restrained and he swallowed painfully over a lump in
his throat.

“I let class out early, got home and the side door wasn’t
latched. It wasn’t open but it was pushed slightly in. The floodlight didn’t
come on either. I panicked and I ran down to the patrol car.”

“So you didn’t enter?” She shook her head. “And did you
touch the door, the door handle, anything?” She shook her head again.

Stephens was walking casually down the driveway to meet them
but Katrina’s back was to him. “Can I go in and make sure Kitty is okay?”
Stephens shook his head as he heard her words and he watched Dillon closely.

“I’ll check on Kitty.” He said it to make her feel better
but he wasn’t at all sure what to make of Stephens’ response. Was the cat dead
or was he implying something about the crime scene?

When she finally noticed Stephens as he stepped up beside
her, she turned to him. “Did you see my cat?”

“I didn’t but we’ll check on her.” His voice gave nothing

“Well, can’t I just go in and check? I won’t touch

“Sorry. Forensics is in there and there’s evidence we need
to preserve.”

“What evidence?” Katrina’s question was met with silence.
Stephens took a deep breath and looked away. Dillon’s head cocked to the side
and his eyes narrowed as he studied Stephens’ expression. There was entirely
too much going unsaid at the moment and he didn’t like it.

“Do you have somewhere you can stay tonight?” Dillon broke
the silence.

“Yeah, Imogen should be here any minute.” Dillon was itching
to get inside her house but he wasn’t quite ready to leave her alone yet. They
stood by awkwardly for a few minutes until Imogen finally pulled up. When she
looked up to him, her expression had softened. “Please check on Kitty?”

He nodded but said nothing else. He didn’t even know if the
poor old bat was still alive and given he couldn’t outright ask Stephens who
was still standing by silently, all he could do was agree.

He and Stephens walked toward the house together and it
wasn’t until they were getting ready to enter the side door that Stephens
stopped him. “There’s gonna be questions on this one.”

He said nothing else to Dillon before he walked through the
door. Dillon followed and the moment his eyes lit on the kitchen counter he sucked
in a quick breath. The crime scene technician who was studying the countertop
peered nervously up to Dillon the moment he saw him. Dillon swallowed, forcing
the lump in his throat down and then he stared until he couldn’t get the images
out of his mind.

“I want eight-by-ten copies of all of these by tomorrow
afternoon.” The tech looked at him wearily but nodded. Dillon finally made it
out of the kitchen and followed Stephens back to her bedroom. He froze in the
doorway, refusing to go any farther.

Stephens was standing beside her bed looking down but when
his eyes moved back up to Dillon’s, he shook his head. “Like I said, questions.
I can’t I say I don’t have some myself.”

How was he going to have this conversation with

BOOK: Conflicting Interests
13.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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