Authors: Ditter Kellen
Tags: #Mystery & Suspense
The Seeker: Ember Burns
Copyright © December 2013 by Ditter Kellen
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Editor: Kierstin Cherry
Cover Artist: Anne Cain
Published in the United States of America
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I would like to say a huge thank-you to Sheri Louther for not only being an amazing friend and beta reader but for loving this story as much as I do. She rode this ride with me and never let me fall. I love you dearly, my right arm.
Laurann Dohner, one of my closest friends, critique partner and whip wielder, thank you for staying on top of me and making me better. You have taught me so much and been there for me in good times and bad. I will never forget our lessons, and I love you to the stars.
Dawn Montgomery, thank you for all your help and loving my story. And for being such a great friend. I’ve learned a lot from you and will never forget how we met and what all we have been through together. I love you muches!
Christian Boeving, you are the inspiration behind Angel. So many things about you brought his character to life…your face, voice, body, and personality. But most of all, your energy and protective nature. You have been a light in my life, and I look forward to our growing friendship and writing partnership.
Cathe Green, such a beautiful lady whom I adore. Thank you for reading and loving my Angel. Your friendship and devotion mean the world to me.
Ember Wells gazed around her new seventh-floor corner office. She’d been promoted to lead photojournalist at the Lakeland Hedger after eight years with the fast-paced newspaper company. All those late nights spent sucking down coffee and abusing her laptop had finally paid off.
“Eat your heart out, Lois Lane.” She grinned and strolled across the room to open the blinds. The morning sun bathed the city below in a golden glow. Horns could be heard from several cars and cabs in a hurry to reach their destinations. It was her home.
Ember had grown up in Lakeland, Florida, with no desire to relocate. Her busy schedule didn’t allow much time for a social life other than an occasional drink with her editor and dearest friend, Laura Donovan. The pretty blue-eyed blonde was the closest thing she had to a sister.
The trill of a phone put a stop to her musing, and she abandoned the view with a little reluctance. A large oak desk faced the windows with a hideous painting hanging on the wall behind it.
That definitely has to go
. She toed off her stilettos and padded across the carpet to take the call.
She almost laughed when Laura’s flat tone came over the line. The editor just had one of those humorous personalities.
“Would you mind bringing me some coffee now that you’re up here with the big dogs?”
Ember grinned at the request. “I’ll be right there. Anything else, Your Highness?” When a contemplative
echoed back, she chuckled and hung up. She snatched up the office keys, stepped into her heels, and tucked her purse into the bottom drawer of the desk on her way to the door.
It opened suddenly, and Alan Boyd stuck his head inside. “Can I come in?” Without waiting for confirmation he stepped into the room “Nice office.” He took in everything with a quick glance.
“I was just heading out. Can I help you with something?”
He stopped just inside her personal space, wearing cologne strong enough to peel the paint. “Yeah…I was wondering if you had any plans for tonight.”
Ember noticed he had something stuck in his teeth. She made a conscious effort to stare into his eyes, but her gaze strayed back to his mouth against her will.
What in God’s name is that?
“I’m having drinks with Laura after work. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment.” She suppressed a shudder and tried to step around him, but he blocked her path.
“How about after that? I could come over when you get home.” His knowing smile made it clear he wasn’t offering to hang drapes.
“I don’t think so. I’m running late, and I really do have to go.” She skirted around him and marched through the open doorway, hoping he would take the hint to leave.
The mail guy happened to be in the hall, heading toward her, and she bit back a sigh of relief.
. “Hi, Stanley.” He reached her seconds before Alan fled the office without a word to either of them. It was obvious he wasn’t happy, but it couldn’t be helped.
Ember had agreed to go out with Alan a couple of years ago, and it was not something she wanted to repeat. Between his roaming hands, lack of breath freshener, and cologne bath, the date had ended in disaster.
“Miss Wells?” Stanley held a manila envelope with her name on it. “This came Friday, but you weren’t in your office, so I kept it for you, ma’am.” He flushed and handed over the mail, making it hard to resist wrapping him in a hug.
“Thank you.” She accepted the envelope with a smile meant to put him at ease and turned to lock her office door before heading off in the direction of the break room. “Have a nice day, Stanley.”
Poor guy. It must be hard being that introverted.
Stanley had worked for the Hedger for two years before gathering enough courage to speak to Ember. She could only imagine how difficult he found it to make eye contact.
The smell of coffee reached her seconds before entering the employee lounge. She tucked the envelope under her arm and plucked two paper cups from the wall dispenser before filling them with Columbian blend. She stirred in some creamer and headed toward the exit.
Ember noticed movement through the partially opened door. She backed up a few steps to avoid a collision. The heavy wood swung wide, admitting a frowning janitor pulling a cleaning cart. He was extremely tall with oily brown hair, dark beady eyes, and wore a dingy blue uniform with the name
stitched over the left breast pocket.
“Excuse me.” She gave him an expectant look, but he refused to step aside.
Clearing her throat, she tried again. “Could you please back up some? This coffee is hot. I would hate for either of us to get burned.”
Twice in one day? What’s up with the barricades?
The longer he stood there leering at her, the more uncomfortable she felt.
His gaze traveled over her body in a way that made her skin crawl before he stepped back enough so she could inch by him.
She blew out the breath she’d been holding and made her way to Laura’s office.
Her spirits lifted when the editor’s nameplate came into view along with a pile of blonde, curly hair that could be seen through the partially open door. Laura sat behind a massive desk squinting at a computer screen while her fingers flew over a keyboard.
“Shouldn’t you be wearing your glasses?” Ember bumped the door with her hip, forcing it open enough to walk through without spilling the coffee.
“Did you have to pedal to Starbucks?” her friend asked without looking up.
She smiled and deposited Laura’s caffeine on the desk before taking a seat. “I just saw your man in the break room.”
That brought her head up. “Brad Pitt?”
“More like arm pit.” Ember took a sip of coffee to hide her grin.
“Is that what took you so long? Making out in the lounge is against company policy. ”
“Yeah, that was the holdup. And Alan stopped by my office just before I left.”
Laura’s blue eyes twinkled. “So, you did them both?”
“Ha. You know I don’t kiss and tell.” They shared a laugh for a moment before Ember sobered. “Who’s the new janitor? He seriously gave me the creeps a few minutes ago.”
“I wasn’t aware they had hired anyone. What happened?” All trace of humor disappeared from the other woman’s face.
“Nothing serious. He just had that whole Lurch thing going on with a side of
.” She shivered with the memory of his stare. “He blocked the exit when I tried to leave. Maybe he’s slow and didn’t understand, but something wasn’t right. His eyes…” She shook off the thought. “I’m sure it was just my overactive imagination.”
“That’s understandable considering what you’ve been through. Are you still having trouble sleeping? And you really should rethink talking to someone about your nightmares, Em. It’s over. He’s behind bars.”
“I’m fine, honey.” Ember really didn’t want to rehash the past or mention the changes in her dreams. Laura worried enough as it was. Ember had never known anyone quite like the talented editor. She was loyal, funny, dependable, and giving.
Since the discovery of the first picture over a year ago, the curly-haired vixen had been by her side protecting her with an unconditional love and friendship that was humbling.
The photos began appearing shortly after a body had been found in an alley not far from the Hedger. Ember had been dispatched to cover the breaking news and soon learned she wasn’t the only one photographing the grisly scene. A couple of days later she’d received a package at work with no return address. Inside were two images: one of the body’s chalked outline and one of herself. That had been the start of a yearlong investigation ending in four murders, several suspicious photographs, and ultimately the conviction of Malcolm Carnley, aka the Watcher.
He’d been named the Watcher by the media for his uncanny ability to hide in plain sight, aware of every move his prey made.
Ember would still be looking over her shoulder or possibly be dead by now if not for the diligence of Detective Clay Harper. He’d led the investigation with the efficiency of a general, eventually catching the Watcher through evidence left at one of the crime scenes.
“I know of a really good doctor if—”
“I need a drink not a shrink,” Ember interrupted, effectively cutting her off.
“Okay. You win. Where are we going tonight?” Laura’s gaze softened.
“I thought we would go to Sam’s Pub. They have a live band and the best wings in town, unless you’d rather have sushi?” She took a drink of the now lukewarm coffee and glanced over the rim to wink at Laura, whose blue eyes were narrowed in her direction.