Protecting What's His Page 11

“Is there a particular case you’re working on right now?” Ginger asked.

“Yes, actually. Two rival gangs have been taking each other out one member at a time. I’m tempted to let it continue since that would eventually solve the problem, but that’s not my job.”

Ginger looked at Derek with fresh eyes. He was too young to sound so cold. Earlier at the door he’d laughed, genuine humor temporarily replacing his usual stoicism. For that brief moment, he’d seemed free of his harsh responsibilities, but now his serious mask lay firmly in place once more.

“I read this article once about gang initiations. Some pretty scary stuff,” Willa commented. “Usually it’s robbing a convenience store or something, but other times new members have to take out a rival. Could that be what’s going on?

“You seem awfully interested.” Derek leaned back in his chair, eyeing her sister’s hair and clothes. “You thinking of starting up a gang of aspiring morticians or something?”

“Derek!” Ginger admonished, ready to jump across the table and strangle him. No one, save herself, insulted her sister and lived to tell the tale.

Willa’s mouth dropped open at the insult, but instead of impaling the good lieutenant with her chopsticks, she threw back her head and laughed.

Ginger had finally seen it all. Her sister making normal conversation, then laughing uproariously with a stranger. Something was definitely in the Chicago tap water.

“Not bad, Lieutenant Lo Mein. Not bad at all.”

Derek went back to eating without commenting on his new nickname, but Willa had apparently only gotten started. Ginger popped a dumpling into her mouth and leaned back to watch the show.

“Since you’ve earned my grudging respect and put a hilarious vision in my head of pasty, leather-clad gang members in dog collars roaming the streets, I feel you’ve earned the right to some helpful knowledge. And since you’ve come here on a Chinese food pilgrimage with the intention of getting laid—”

Ginger shot forward in her chair. “Willa!”

“—I’m going to take pity on you. My sister doesn’t date. You’re wasting your time.”

Derek raised his eyebrows, looking back and forth between her and Ginger. “Oh? And why is that?”

Alarm bells went off in Ginger’s head. “Willa, don’t you dare.”

Her sister ignored her plea as if she’d never spoken. In fact, Ginger was starting to feel like a spectator at a cage match. “That would be because of a series of incidents we refer to as the ‘Holy Trinity.’”

“Actually, it’s a really boring story and I don’t think Derek wants to hear it.”

He smiled at her. “Wrong.”

Willa speared a wonton with her chopstick. “Around the time of Ginger’s twenty-first birthday, she made the fateful decision to try her hand at dating. What would transpire in just three short days has been widely referred to as the three worst dates in human history. My sister has never once made it past the appetizer.” Holding up one skull-ring-adorned hand, she began ticking off Ginger’s humiliations. Ginger could only press her hands over her face and hang her head in defeat.

“The first man’s name was Huey Lewis. No joke and no relation. He casually dropped the fact that he operated a gerbil farm in his basement during predinner drinks. When Ginger laughed since he was so obviously pulling her leg, Huey Lewis proved his claim by pulling his pet gerbil, Cooter, out of his coat pocket and depositing him on the table.”

Willa ticked off a second finger. “Then there was Bill. Ginger’s coworker set them up on a blind date and when Willa showed up at the address he’d given over the phone, she found a church. It turned out to be Ginger’s very own ambush baptism. Something new the congregation, all of whom were present, were trying out in an attempt to reach out to the community.”

Ginger groaned loudly, then stood up and began shoveling empty food containers into a garbage bag. Anything to avoid the amusement on Derek’s face.

“Willa, I really think that’s enough. I mean it.” She even stamped her booted heel for emphasis.

“Sis, you can’t really expect me to leave out Walter the eunuch.”

Derek had just taken a sip of water when Willa dropped that bombshell. Her sister had to stand up to pound him on the back until he could breathe normally again. Served him right. If his intentions were to get laid, laughing at tales of her humiliating foray into the dating world was not the way to go about it.

“All right, if everyone is finished amusing themselves at my expense, I have to get ready for work. Surely you have some dead folks to get to, Lieutenant?”

He didn’t take the hint. As Willa flopped onto the couch to fiddle with her camera, Derek circled the apartment, inspecting everything from the locks on the windows to her current decoupage project. She’d picked up the oversize wooden treasure chest at a yard sale down the street yesterday and began work immediately, giving it a childhood theme. Upon seeing it, she’d envisioned a child storing his toys inside and it inspired her. Using parenting magazines and children’s activity books as her guide, she’d cut out everything from teddy bears to cartoon characters to accomplish the theme.

“What’s this?” he asked, nodding toward the chest.


Derek raised an eyebrow, prompting her to explain. For some reason, it felt too intimate sharing her hobby with him. If he mocked her for it like he did everything else, she wouldn’t know how to react. Her buyers were like-minded people with an appreciation for the creative. Derek probably wouldn’t know creative if it bit him on the ass.

She sighed. “I buy used furniture and personalize the pieces with magazine and newspaper cutouts. Like that one over there.” Ginger pointed toward the Parisian-themed coffee table she’d completed last week and decided to keep since it suited the apartment.

He walked over to inspect it and Ginger turned to wash a glass in the sink, afraid of seeing judgment on his face.

“It’s good. Do you sell them?”

Ginger jumped at his deep voice right behind her in the kitchen. In her peripheral vision, she noticed Willa get up and enter her bedroom, closing the door with a click behind her. To give them privacy, no doubt.

Willa seemed full of surprises today.

Ginger turned to him, flipping her hair over her shoulder. “No. I mean, every so often someone back in Nashville would buy one, but it’s really more of a hobby.” With an inward wince, Ginger realized she’d just revealed where they’d lived prior to Chicago. Volunteering information didn’t seem wise considering what had prompted their departure.

“Maybe you should make it more than a hobby.”

She felt herself flush a little under his compliment, not used to men commenting on anything beyond her looks. He could have been patronizing her, but it didn’t feel like it.

Derek circled the kitchen, eyes lighting on everything in their path, weighing and measuring. She supposed he couldn’t simply turn off his ability to observe and analyze after hours, but having him in her house felt strange. Honestly, it would feel strange having any man in her house, but Derek in particular kept her off-balance, never knowing what to expect. They’d established a physical attraction and she’d been interested in possibly pursuing it, but Chinese food and bantering with Willa, that felt like something more.

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