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Authors: Elizabeth Finn

Conflicting Interests

Conflicting Interests

Elizabeth
Finn

 

English teacher Katrina Page’s
patience is put to the test when sexy detective Dillon Adler saunters into her
classroom forty-five minutes late for parent-teacher conferences. Their first
meeting is anything but amicable—but they’re soon together again in an entirely
different and more unpleasant situation.

When Dillon responds to a home
invasion and assault, the last person he expects to see is his son’s fiery-tempered—and
damn attractive—teacher, who has been haunting his thoughts since he aggravated
her only days before.

It soon becomes clear that
Katrina’s attacker’s intentions are far more sinister than anyone initially
realized and Dillon and Katrina’s time together becomes a necessity. But as the
investigation heats up and their attraction mounts, Dillon is faced with a
choice. Ignore the rules about getting involved with a witness—or risk it all
for love.

 

A
Romantica®
contemporary erotic suspense romance
from Ellora’s Cave

 

Conflicting Interests
Elizabeth Finn

 

Chapter One

 

Katrina wasn’t at all sure she wouldn’t call the man up and
scream at him if he didn’t arrive soon. Last damn one of the day and he was
standing her up. Her blasted head hurt as if it were in a vise. A vise that was
tightening with every minute this man kept her waiting.

She rifled through her desk drawer, hoping to find something
with a painkiller in it.
Cold medicine. Great
. But she was desperate and
it had acetaminophen in it. It might leave her wired for hours thanks to a good
kick of real ephedrine but she’d rather be wired than in pain.

“Are you Mrs. Page?” The voice was deep and masculine.
Authority oozed from the assured tone.

But this was
her
damn meeting. She slammed the drawer
on her finger as she righted her body to see who spoke. As the pain bit into
her fingertip, the words escaped her before she could reel them back in. “Son of
a bitch!”

He simply watched her appraisingly with an impassive
expression that caused a knot of rage to twist in her gut. She didn’t need to
know the man to guess who he was and he was late. She also held him completely
responsible for her headache and that wasn’t helping her vengeful attitude. It
was damn near eight o’clock in the evening and she was
done
with this
day.

“You must be Mr. Adler. And it’s Ms. by the way. You are
aware you’re late?” Her voice was curt and cool.

“Yes. I’m sorry but I got tied up and—”

“I don’t care.” Oh boy was she in a mood. “I’ve been here
since seven this morning. It’s now nearly eight at night. The least you could
have done was call the office and let them know you were running late. They stayed
open for just such a purpose tonight but I’m guessing whatever it is you were
doing was far more important than this. Does that about sum it up?”

He watched her for a moment, saying nothing, giving nothing
away by the bland expression on his face. “As I said, I’m sorry. I’m a single
parent and—”

“Contrary to what you obviously think, you’re not my only
single parent and every last one of them managed to make it to their assigned
appointment.” Damn.
In a mood
didn’t quite touch her irritation with
this man.

He studied her intently but without so much as the slightest
reaction to her anger. He was handsome—dark-brown hair, five o’clock shadow,
oddly pretty eyes for such a masculine, brooding appearance. However stunning
his light-brown eyes were, they were searing into her at the moment. He was
tall and fit and she was fighting to hold his intense stare rather than letting
her gaze wander down his strong frame.

“Please have a seat.” Her voice was curt as she pulled her
folder back out from her drawer.

He eyed the nearest desk. “I think I’ll stand, thank you.”

“Very well. I’m Seth’s homeroom teacher and I’m also the
seventh grade English teacher. I’ve received reports from his other subjects to
review with you as well. Seth is doing well in his math and science
courses—above average in both—but he’s struggling with history and literature.
I’m concerned his reading comprehension isn’t where it ought to be. This is his
first year of junior high and I’m worried he could fall behind quickly if his
reading comprehension doesn’t improve.”

“I see. Do you have some recommendations?” The man’s jaw was
tight but there was no mistaking the concern. He might not like her—not that
she cared—but he was obviously concerned about his son’s progress. She
shouldn’t be surprised but after their rough start she was.

“We have a reading group for students who are struggling—”

“My son knows how to read, Ms. Page.” He was starting to
sound annoyed again—almost as much as she still was.

“I’m not suggesting he doesn’t, but reading comprehension
doesn’t simply revolve around reading as much as it does remembering and
understanding what one reads. This group specifically addresses those concerns
and I would recommend you consider putting him in this study group.”

His jaw was working and his nostrils flared for a moment as
he appeared to stew in irritation. He wasn’t the first parent to hear bad news
during conferences and she supposed their rocky start hadn’t helped matters.
She let the words sink in as she unconsciously pushed on her head between her
eyebrows, trying to stifle the throbbing pain in her head.

“Are you all right?” His voice was suddenly far gentler than
it had been and the crease between his brows looked of concern, though she
couldn’t imagine it after how she’d treated him. She had been rude. More than
rude and that wasn’t Katrina’s habit.

“I’m fine. I just have a headache.” He studied her for a
moment longer with his arms crossed on his chest as he appraised the situation.

“Very well. What do I need to do to sign him up for the
group?”

“Nothing at all. I’ll take care of it. The group meets in my
classroom during morning study hall, so it won’t conflict with any of his
current courses.”

“Fine. I’m sorry I was a bit late.” His words were clipped
and he didn’t sound at all sorry. He still sounded annoyed and what right did
he have?
She
was annoyed and as he turned to leave, it was with a
frustrated shake of his head that ratcheted up her own irritation just a hair
further.

“Yes well, I’m sorry I was a bit rude earlier.” Her words
sounded no more apologetic than his but it was more a taunt than real regret
she was imparting and her voice sounded of sarcasm. He’d only barely managed an
apology and a pathetic one at that, so he’d get nothing better from her.

He paused. He took a moment to turn toward her again and
when he did she watched his very chiseled, handsome jaw work on his rather
beautiful face as his very delicious-looking mouth pursed. “You weren’t a
bit
rude. You were
exceptionally
rude.” His hands were on hips as he squared
off with her but Katrina was used to rude parents and she wasn’t going to be
intimidated by this one.

She stood putting her own hands on her hips. “Yes? Well you
weren’t a
little
late. You were
exceptionally
late!” His eyebrows
shot up as he watched her for a moment before turning once more and sauntering
his handsome ass away from her.

“Have a good evening, Ms. Page.” He didn’t even bother
looking back at her.

“What’s left of it.” She muttered under her breath to the
empty room. He was long gone.

She packed up, thinking her brain might fall out through her
nose as she bent over. She slung her laptop bag and book bag over her shoulder
and flipped the light switch as she left the room. The building was silent as
she headed toward the exit and the only sound that could be heard was the
clicking of her heels along the old concrete floors. Even the custodians were
finished for the day. She was alone.

She hated this place when it was empty. It scared the crap
out of her, really. The usually bustling, loud and busy halls were terrifyingly
still and ghostly. It was the perfect setup for a horror movie and she happened
to be walking through this most unsettling scene by herself in near darkness.

She pulled her pepper spray from the side of her book bag as
she neared the exit door and as she bumped it open with her hip she nearly
careened into Mr. Adler. She was sure he must have a first name but she’d be
damned if she’d gotten it or paid attention to whether it was on her schedule
or not. It was only after she realized she was aiming the pepper spray at him
and his hands were up that she realized just how hard her heart was pounding.

“Maybe point that elsewhere. I’m thrilled to see you’re
carrying it but it’s not warranted with me, I assure you.” His voice was still
intense and harsh but she couldn’t deny she was relieved to see him.

“I’m not so sure of that. What are you still doing here?” It
didn’t mean she was suddenly going to start being a sweetheart.

He looked around a bit with his lips pursed for a moment. It
was almost a sheepish expression, if this man was capable of such a thing. “The
parking lot was empty—the building was too. I didn’t want to leave you here by
yourself.” He was muttering. He was definitely still irritated—about as irritated
as she felt—but it didn’t stop her cheeks from burning hot. Fortunately, the
only light was coming from the parking lot lights. It was otherwise dark as
pitch.

It was a chilly Seattle night midway through the spring
semester and she shivered as she pulled her jacket tighter around her.

“I’ll walk you to your car,” he said.

Well she wasn’t going to argue with that—not when her heart
was still thudding away.

“Maybe you could put the pepper spray away now?”

“Yeah. Um…thanks for sticking around. I appreciate it. I
can’t stand this place when there’s no one here.”

“Well, it is my fault you’re here so late. It’s the least I
could do.” They walked in silence to her lovely, sensible and used Subaru
Outback. He watched her climb in and raised his hand in a casual gesture as he
turned from her toward his not-so-sensible but far-more-rugged Chevrolet Tahoe.

He was really something else to look at. Asshole of a
personality, but hot damn he had the butt of an Adonis. He was wearing slim-cut
charcoal-gray wool slacks that hugged his body beautifully and a light-gray
dress shirt. It was dressy but not over the top. She got lost at the sight of
that ass and it was only when she peered up quickly to his face and realized he
was standing at his car door staring at her that she snapped back to this
world.
Fuck!

He stared at her without an inkling of expression until she
fumbled with her key that was already in the ignition, realizing too late that
her car had already started. It made a god-awful noise as she turned over the
engine again and he continued to eye her impassively.

She threw her car into drive, nearly screeching out of her
parking space as she took off. She snatched up her cell phone, dialing quickly.

“So you know how I’m literally the world’s biggest dumbass?”

“Of course I do. I mean, anyone who knows you knows you take
the cake on idiocy.” It was Imogen, her best friend with whom she’d felt the
need to call and share her humiliation. Imogen was a feisty brat from the U.K.
who Katrina had met during their first year of college. They hadn’t been apart
since, including working for the same school system. Imogen had obviously
gotten home from parent-teacher conferences long before Katrina had.

“Right, well, add another log to the idiot pile. What the
f-bomb is wrong with me?”

“You’re not in school, love. You can say fuck. No detention,
I swear.”

“Fuck fuck fuckity
fuck!
Why? Why? I mean
really?
Why am I such a moron?” Katrina was whizzing through streets, speeding far more
than she should but the streets were fairly deserted and she was done done
done
being responsible for the day.

“Uh oh, Trink. What happened?”

“You know I hate it when you call me Trink. Why can’t you
call me something cool like Kat?”

“Kat’s taken by the chick in
The Hunger Games
. I’m
afraid you’re just stuck with Trink. I don’t make the rules, dear. What about
Trinkster?”

Katrina was already starting to smile again. Bless Imogen’s
heart for bringing a laugh to her life when she needed it most. “Anyway…”

“Yes, anyway. What did you do this time?”

“Oh you know…I was rude to a parent who consequently
deserved my rudeness and then he caught me staring at his butt. The usual.”

“Ah. So the parent had a nice butt, I take it? Or is this
your new way of sizing up the parents at parent-teacher conferences? So whose
parent are we talking about?”

“Seth Adler.”

“Ah… Yes. I don’t know the man but I’ve heard mention of his
hotness factor and I’ve seen him from afar. Nice ass is right!”

Katrina groaned as she remembered his expressionless face
watching her while her eyes were glued like tractor beams to his backside. “It
was awful. And I might have left my transmission in the parking lot too. Who
knows?” She threw her hand up as her less-than-perfect alignment pulled her
toward the center lane. Grabbing the wheel again, she righted her path.

“You need a drink.”

“I hear that, sista! But sadly I still have five more essays
to grade tonight before I can call it a day. Grading and drinking do not mix.
Listen, I gotta go, but I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

They disconnected quickly as Katrina pulled into her
driveway. It was just a small home but she loved it. Her neighborhood in
Seattle was quiet and modest and while not anywhere near the amazing views on
the Sound or Lake Washington, it was all hers—thanks in large part to the
inheritance her father left her years ago after passing away from lung cancer.
Imogen called it a shack but in fact it was a quaint older bungalow-style home.
Imogen was allowed to call it a shack because Imogen had money—lots of money—and
no one had to die for her to get it.

While Katrina struggled to eke out a living on the modest
income afforded a teacher, Imogen taught simply for the love of it and nothing
more—not that Katrina didn’t love it.

Oddly enough, Imogen was the most down-to-earth, quirky and
fun character Katrina had ever met. Her money didn’t spoil who she was in any
way and she was just as content schlepping her way through Walmart by Katrina’s
side as she was dragging Katrina through stores Katrina could never in a million
years afford.

When she entered, Kitty met her at the door. She was an old
cat—at least twenty years at this point. She’d wandered up to her dad’s house
as a stray when Katrina was still in elementary school and she’d just stuck.
The poor old bat couldn’t hear a thing and when she meowed she more often than
not made no sound. She had no idea, of course. She was simply deaf and had no
clue her meow box wasn’t working anymore. She staggered like a drunken old
soldier too. She was as neurologically messed up as she was deaf but she was a
ravenous animal when it came to food and so Katrina couldn’t bear to put her
down yet. Kitty was just far too content in her deaf, neurologically fucked-up,
half-dead, older-than-dirt sort of way.

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