Endearing Seduction Excerpt

THE DIAMOND CLUB SERIES

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The flashing lights in her apartment parking lot was her first clue that something was very wrong.

The large crowd of uniformed police officers standing outside of her apartment door was her next.  Emily stopped at the end of the hallway, breathing in slow and steady breaths, trying to calm herself.  “It’s all okay,” she whispered to herself.  “Everything is okay.”

After several deep breaths, her pulse slowed and she was able to move forward.  Tugging her tote bag and her duffle bag higher onto her shoulder, she forced her feet to walk towards her open doorway.

“There she is!” Ms. Edwards called out.

Emily smiled tightly at the elderly woman.  Ms. Edwards lived across the hall from Emily and was one of the sweetest, kindest, gentlest women in the world.  She loved making cookies and brownies and often brought over a warm plate of her baked goods for Emily.  Ms. Edwards had five children between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five as well as ten grandkids, many of whom lived in the area and visited often.

Several sets of eyes turned, looking in her direction.  Feeling trapped, Emily took another long, slow breath.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.  She stepped back, flexing her fingers on the straps of her bags.  Long ago, she’d vowed never to show fear!  Fear indicated vulnerability and Emily absolutely refused to be vulnerable!

Straightening her shoulders, Emily stepped forward once again, lifting her chin in an effort to appear confident.  “What’s going on?” she asked, closing her fingers around the straps of her bags to hide the trembling.  Flashbacks to the last time she’d been surrounded by police haunted her.  Not just police, but doctors and her parents and strangers and…!

Ms. Edwards moved forward, her lace collared, flowered dress swishing gently around her knees.   “Your apartment was robbed, dear,” Ms. Edwards explained, laying a wrinkled hand on Emily’s arm.  “I was coming back from the grocery store and noticed your apartment door had scratches on the outside and was open.  I knew that you weren’t due back yet so I called the police.”

Emily shivered, hating that her privacy had been violated!  Her shoulders started to curl forward in a defensive gesture, but Emily realized what she was doing and straightened once again.  She was strong and confident, she reminded herself.  Emily was not a victim!

“Thank you for being so aware, Ms. Edwards.”

“Oh, pish!  It’s what any neighbor would do!”

Their conversation drew the attention of the officers standing outside of her door.  “Are you Emily Bertrand?” one of the officers asked, a pen hovering over his small notebook.

“Yes,” she replied, automatically stepping back as the officer approached.  Emily was very aware of her personal space, not allowing anyone to violate the mental perimeter she’d drawn around herself.  “Was anything taken?” she asked, mentally reviewing the contents of her apartment.  She didn’t have a lot of things worth stealing.  So why had she been targeted?

The officer opened his mouth to reply.  “I’ve got it, Joe!” a deep voice called out, interrupting whatever the uniformed officer was about to say.

Emily shivered again, although this time, her reaction wasn’t from fear but from the deep, gravelly voice coming from inside her apartment.

The officer, obviously named Joe, stepped back with an “I Tried” expression to his handsome but young features.  “Detective Anderson will take you through this,” he explained, flipping his notebook closed and stepping out of the way as his forefinger touched his hand in a salute.

“Thank you,” she said to the officer who was cute in a boyish kind of way.  Not that Emily was interested.  Not even in the slightest.  Emily didn’t date.  Not cute, boyish officers or the tough, motorcycle guy who had tried to catch her eye at the convenience store earlier in the day.  A long time ago, she’d enjoyed the flirtatious attentions of men…boys, really.  But the male half of the population no longer interested her.

Two more officers came out of her apartment, both of them stopping when they saw her.  One of them grinned in her direction and the other just sort of…stumbled as he moved out of her apartment.

“Hello, ma’am,” the shorter one said.  He was the one that grinned at her.  The other just sort of nodded and moved out of her way.

Emily stepped through the door to her apartment, bracing herself for what she might find.

As soon as she stepped through the door, her breath caught in her throat.  Her apartment was…trashed!  Books were all over the place, the granola that she’d baked just last weekend was sprayed out all over the kitchen floor.  Her garbage had been dumped, her plates taken from the cabinets and smashed to the floor…the pillows from her big club chair were slashed, the stuffing from inside was now laying in puffs around the room.

“What…?!” she cried as she looked around.

“Your television and computer were also stolen,” that deep voice explained.

Emily looked up from the chaos of her apartment.  But the man standing in the middle of that chaos was even more frightening.  He was huge!  The man was probably six feet, five inches tall with shoulders that were so broad, she couldn’t imagine how he purchased shirts to go over them.  He wore a dark green, flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up over his forearms and she spied a tattoo peeking out from one of those sleeves.  A military tattoo, she suspected, but before her mind could fully process the mark, she looked lower, taking in the long legs with muscles pressing against the soft denim.  And boots.  Big, heavy boots!

For the first time in…years…Emily was aware of a male as a man.  As a big, attractive man and she stepped backwards, stumbling slightly as she pulled her eyes upwards again.  She was startled by the instant, intense and unwanted attraction!

“I’m Detective Kurt Anderson,” he said, reaching out a hand to her.

Emily stared at the hand and, warily, she put her own in his.  Immediately, the fire shot up her fingers and her eyes snapped up to his.  Blue eyes, she noticed absently as she looked up at him.  Blue eyes, crooked nose, harsh jawline and…hot!

“Emily,” she replied, then pulled her hand out of his as she realized that he probably knew her name.

“Good to meet you, Emily.  This is my partner, Detective Keith Munson.”

Emily reluctantly pulled her eyes away from Detective Anderson and blinked.  As big and rough as Detective Anderson was, his partner was the exact opposite.  He was short, maybe in inch or two taller than Emily, with a thin frame and soft, friendly eyes.

Even better, when he shook her hand, there were no startling sparks of awareness, no heat or unwanted tension.  He was just a nice, friendly man and she liked that.

“Nice to meet you, Detective Munson,” she replied with sincerity.

“Wish it were under better circumstances,” he replied with a warm smile.

Emily sighed and looked around at the mess of her apartment, still shocked at the destruction.  “Yeah.  Me too.”

“They got your television and computer.”

Emily turned, startled by the rough tone of Detective Anderson’s voice. She looked up at him, her eyes narrowing as she noticed that he was angry for some reason.

“No.  They didn’t.”

He waved his pen towards the table set up against the wall.  “Your television is gone.”

She smiled, but she doubted that the expression was very friendly.  “I don’t own a television.”

There was a startled pause as everyone in the room stopped and turned, looking towards her as if she’d just said that there was a body buried in the wall.

“You don’t have a television?” he asked, his tone reinforcing his surprise.

She shrugged and pointed to the books scattered all over the floor of her apartment.  “Nope.  No need.  I read.”

He still looked stunned.  “How do you watch football?  Or hockey?”

She laughed, shaking her head. “I don’t.”  She leaned forward, as if she were about to impart a secret.  “I read!” she explained again.

He shook his head, still not understanding.  “Yeah, but…”

Impatiently, Emily lifted her hand, halting his next question. “I don’t have a television, Detective,” she said firmly, pressing her lips together to stop another laugh from bursting out of her.  His indignant expression was…cute.  Cute in a rugged, manly sort of way.  For a moment, she felt that spark of attraction vibrate between them, blue eyes glaring into her brown ones as the big guy struggled to comprehend another person surviving without a television.

His surprise and incomprehension were cute in a sexy, manly sort of way.  Emily felt her resistance to him weaken before she stiffened her resolve.  He might be cute and tall and ruggedly sexy, but he was still a man.

The big guy blinked, shaking his head slightly as if dismissing the issue because it was too far outside of the norm to understand.  “Right.  Okay, well, your computer is…”  He stopped when she pulled her laptop out of her tote bag.

“I’m a high school history teacher and always carry my computer around with me.”

He stared at the laptop, then up at her.  “That probably explains why your apartment is so trashed.”

She blinked up at him.  Now she was confused.  “It does?”

“Yeah,” he rubbed the back of his neck.  “There has been a slew of break-ins over the past few months in this area.”

“I haven’t heard about that,” she replied, looking around again.  Emily needed to stop looking at the handsome detective.  He was…wrong for her in so many ways.  Wrong because he was big.  Wrong because he was male.  Not that she was attracted to women.  Emily just…she didn’t want to be attracted to anyone.  Her life was perfectly fine.  She was single and very content.  She didn’t need or want a man in her life, especially not a man who was twice her size and too tall to…well, too big to control, she realized.

“Yeah, your apartment will be the tenth break in over the past three months.”

She looked up at him, startled by that news.  “Well, isn’t that special?” she replied, sarcasm dripping from her voice.  Then she realized that her anger was misplaced.  She might not like this man, but he didn’t deserve her anger.  That should be directed at the culprit.

Taking a deep breath to calm her fury, she centered herself once more.  “I apologize,” she told the big guy.  “I’m angry about the invasion of my home and shouldn’t direct my anger towards you.”  She shifted on her feet, her fingers flexing on the straps of her bags once again.  “I appreciate your diligence here today, but it looks like the only thing stolen here is my privacy.  So…” she indicated the door.  “Thank you, but I can handle it from here.”

The big detective’s blue eyes narrowed, almost as if he understood what she was thinking.  Emily didn’t like that.  She didn’t like anyone seeing into her thoughts or her apartment.  They were both private spaces.

His pen pointed towards several other people who were in her bedroom and kitchen.  “We’re getting fingerprints.”

Fingerprints?  What was the point?  She had intimate, brutal experience with police.  In her world, they didn’t solve crimes.  This guy looked brawny enough to stop an invasion in progress, but once a crime had been committed, Emily didn’t believe that the police could find the culprit.  At least, they hadn’t been able to do so when it had truly mattered to her.  To her mind and soul.

So no, Emily didn’t want these officers in her house.  She wanted them gone!  She shook her head.  “Not here,” she told him with a firm, but polite voice.  “Thank you for coming by, but I don’t need your assistance.”  Emily stared up at the detective with a challenge in her eyes, noticing the instant frustration at her dismissal.  He wanted to argue with her, but Emily pressed her lips together, refusing to back down.  She’d gone through a police investigation years ago.  The police hadn’t found the person who had…well, that issue had gone unsolved.

That’s when his expression changed.  The frustration disappeared and…he appeared…understanding?  Impossible!

“You don’t trust us to find this guy?”

She shrugged, refusing to back down.  “I don’t have an opinion on the subject,” she replied.  Which was an absolute lie.  No, she didn’t trust him.  She didn’t trust any police officer.  Emily was fully aware of the statistics on crimes.  Yes, the police sometimes caught criminals, but not always.  Not when it really mattered.

When he looked about to open his mouth to argue, she lifted her hand in the air.  “I appreciate that you want to catch this person, but since nothing was stolen, I don’t think that there’s much you can do for me.”

“Sir,” a guy in a pair of baggy jeans and a sweatshirt came over, looking up at Detective Anderson with respect.  The big guy stared at Emily for a long moment, ignoring the shorter man for a moment before sighing.

“Yeah?” Detective Anderson snapped.

“Uh, sorry, sir, but we’re only coming up with two sets of prints.”  The guy looked over at Emily, looking apologetic.  “One is from Ms. Edwards next door.  We’ve already taken her prints.  Would you…?”

Emily shook her head.  “No.  I’m not giving you my prints.”  She dumped her heavy bags down on the floor by her feet.  “Like I said, I appreciate that you all arrived so quickly, but I’m fine.  No need to waste your time further.”

The big guy laughed softly.  “In other words, get the hell out of here?” he offered.

She turned and, ignoring the silly quiver of…something…that hit her when she looked into those blue eyes again, Emily nodded. “Exactly.”

He watched her for another moment, then nodded slowly.  “Fine.  We’ll clear out.  I think we have what we need anyway.”

“Thank you,” she replied with as much politeness as she could muster.  But in reality, she just wanted everyone gone.  She needed to get her life back in order.  Looking at this mess, she hated that someone had invaded her life in such a violent manner, but she still didn’t want police officers in her space.  Especially Detective Anderson.  The sooner he was gone, the sooner she could find that inner peace that she’d fought so hard to obtain over the past several years.

“Let’s clear out, everyone!” he called to the others in the apartment, his big voice booming over the chaotic rooms.

Immediately, everyone who had been in her bedroom and kitchen moved towards the door, walking out of her apartment.

Unfortunately, Emily couldn’t breathe a sigh of relief yet because the big guy stood next to her, waiting until the last of the forensic team was out the door with all of their equipment.

When there was quiet again, he turned to face Emily and she could actually hear the air crackling around her with the tension.

“Would you like some help cleaning up?”  His head tilted towards the piles of broken glass and books strewn everywhere.

She stared up at him, seeing the flecks of yellow in the blue of his eyes, fascinated by the color.  But did she need help?  Absolutely not!  Emily was strong and independent!  She’d handled everything in her life alone, facing it head-on.  She could handle this latest development as well.

“No.  I can handle this on my own.”

He reached out, touching her ponytail.  “I’m sure that you can handle it on your own,” he said, his voice soft and sexy and yet, somehow soothing.  “But you don’t have to.  I’m a big strong guy, Emily.  I don’t mind helping you clean this mess up.”

Oh, the sweet words were like a siren’s call.  To lean on someone?  To have help?  She opened her mouth, thinking to accept his offer.  But then flashes from her past came back to her and she stiffened her resolve.  Instead of accepting his help, she shook her head, unaware of her ponytail swinging behind her.  “No.  Thank you, but I’m fine on my own.”

She’d learned the hard way to rely only on herself.  Emily could handle this alone, just as she’d handled everything else in her life since that horrible night.  She’d handle this issue as well.  Just as she’d done for the past several years by putting one foot in front of the other and handling every issue one at a time.

He watched her for another long moment before nodding.  “I get it,” he replied.  With that, he turned and walked towards the door and Emily let out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.  She’d almost relaxed her shoulders when she noticed him pause by her door.  With horror, she watched him reach out and touch the multiple locks on her door.  There wasn’t just the handle lock and a deadbolt.  There was also a reinforced chain, a hoop and knob lock – similar to the kind that hotels use, and when he looked at the floor, there was a steel night-lock mechanism that pushed a reinforced steel “foot” against the door.  In other words, there were five different locking devices that were all installed on the door attached to a steel plate on the wall for additional strength.

The enormous man turned and looked back at her, those blue eyes shimmering with curiosity.  Thankfully, he just nodded slightly towards her and turned, walking out of her apartment and into the night.

Once he was gone, Emily rushed over to the door and engaged all of her locks, her fingers trembling now that she was alone once again.  It took several attempts to get a few of the locks connected because her fingers trembled too badly.  Once she was safe again, she leaned against the door and…slid to the floor, staring at the mess of her apartment.

She allowed herself five minutes, even setting a timer on her phone.  “Engage the emotions,” she whispered to herself.  As soon as she gave herself permission to “feel”, a tear trickled down her cheek.  Emily stared at the mess.  Her dishes, the beautiful dishes that she’d found at a flea market with the cute flowered pattern were destroyed.  The dishes hadn’t been expensive, but they’d been hers.  She’d chosen them and lovingly cleaned them all before stacking them carefully in the cabinets.  Her eyes moved to the pillows that she’d hand embroidered.  Slashed with a knife or something sharp.  She’d spent hours at night listening to podcasts while carefully embroidering each pattern.  Today, someone had come in and just…destroyed them.  A stranger had been inside of her home.  A stranger had done this to her life!

The alarm on her phone sounded and Emily turned it off.  “Enough!” she said out loud, wiping the tears from her cheeks.  “Enough!” and she pushed herself up and looked around.  “Time to fix this!” and she started with her books.  For the next three hours, she stacked her books up one by one and stood them up in the corner.  She filled several bags with the garbage and broken dishes, then carried each one out to the dumpster, relieved that it was nearing midnight by that point so none of the other residents would be around to ask her questions.

Finally, she stood in the middle of her clean, organized apartment and breathed a sigh of relief.  Her home was back in order and even the fingerprint dust was cleaned up and all evidence of a break-in was gone.  She didn’t wear jewelry, didn’t own a television and carried her computer with her wherever she went.  Emily suspected that the mess created by whoever had broken into her apartment had done extra damage because there wasn’t anything here to steal.  So in the grand scheme of things, Emily felt good about her day.  Exhausted, but good.  Sure, her dishes were broken and her glasses shattered, but those were just things.

Emily knew that violence against things was nothing compared to…well, she wasn’t going there.  It was in her past and she was stronger for surviving that incident.

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