Protecting What's His Page 13

Her sister shot straight up and screamed. “Ginger? What the f**k?”

“My ceiling just caved in and there’s water everywhere. I want to get you out of here in case it’s not just contained to the one room.”

Willa gave a doubtful head tilt. “Are you sure you’re not dreaming?”

“Look at me. I’m soaked!”

“All right. I’m up.”

Cautiously, they entered the living room and flipped on the light to find the ceiling darkening with the spreading water above.

“Oh, God,” Willa whispered. “Ginger, your furniture.”

She’d been avoiding that side of the room with her eyes, but looked over now to find the child’s hope chest she hadn’t yet lacquered sat directly under a stream of water, along with two unfinished decorative chairs and several hatboxes.

She blinked back tears. “It’s not important.”

Willa searched her face for a moment before her eyes shot wide.

“Dolly,” they breathed at the same time.

Ginger barely had time to register the perfect synchronicity of their leaps over the waterlogged couch and coffee table. They each grabbed an end of the five-foot-tall Dolly statue and lifted, groaning under its weight. Ginger took the lead, wobbling backward through the wreckage, showing Willa where to step safely. They needed to move quickly. Judging by the rapidly growing stain on the ceiling, standing underneath the wet plaster didn’t seem wise.

“Ginger, lift! You’re going to knock off one of her boobs if it hits the table!”

Grunting over the strain in her muscles, she lifted Dolly up and over the dining table. “For once I wish Dolly had smaller tits,” she panted.

Thankfully, they made it outside without mishap and Ginger managed to get the sleeping super, Lenny, on the phone and up to their apartment in less than two minutes. By that time, their living room ceiling had partially caved in, the room filling rapidly with water. Ginger and Willa were waiting with their Dolly statue in the hallway when he ran up the stairs, still buttoning his jeans.

Lenny took one look in their apartment before sprinting up the stairs to Ginger’s upstairs neighbor’s apartment. A minute later he sprinted past them again, presumably down to the basement so he could turn off the water. The steady stream flowing into their apartment finally subsided, but Ginger didn’t dare go back inside. Instead, she stared through the doorway in silence at the new home they’d barely had time to get used to.

Lenny, looking incredibly stressed and apologetic, explained to them that their upstairs neighbor, a middle-aged woman living alone, had been suffering from the flu and thanks to her cold medicine, had passed out waiting for her bathtub to fill some three hours earlier. The older building’s flooring had been no match for the weight of the water, sending it downstairs to Ginger and Willa.

It seemed like only minutes after Ginger’s call to Lenny, the fire department arrived to begin pumping out the water and also attend to their upstairs neighbor, whose illness appeared more serious than she’d originally thought.

As she and Willa pressed themselves up against the hallway wall to let the firefighters by, she heard Derek’s door slam. He exited the apartment wearing gray sweatpants and a T-shirt, clearly having been woken by the commotion. Narrowed eyes ran over the firefighters walking into her apartment, then landed squarely on her. Until his eyes dipped and ran the length of her body, she’d forgotten her attire consisted solely of a sopping wet white nightshirt. She hastily crossed her arms over her br**sts and stepped in front of Willa, who wore a similar shirt. In black, of course.

Glaring at the passing men, Derek stomped back inside his apartment without comment. He returned seconds later carrying two giant fleece sweatshirts with police department logos over the right breast. He tossed one to Willa, who gratefully pulled it over her head, then yanked one over Ginger’s head. It fell to her knees.

“What the f**k is going on?” he finally asked.

She and Willa were cold and homeless and this ass**le had the nerve to demand answers from her? Fuck that. “Don’t bark at me!”

Derek pinched the bridge of his nose and turned to walk into her apartment. A moment later, she heard Lenny relaying the story to Derek, the super’s harried voice fading in and out as they surveyed the damage.


She looked over at Willa. “Yeah?”

“Does this mean we’re going back to Nashville?”

The numbness in her sister’s voice made tears prick behind Ginger’s eyelids, but she kept them in check. Later, she might cry over how this type of catastrophe seemed to follow them around and wonder if maybe she deserved it. But right now, Willa needed reassurance.

“Girl, it’ll be a cold day in hell.”

Willa looked hopeful. “Yeah?”

Ginger tilted her head. “You like it here?”

Her sister nodded.

“Then we stay.” Nodding her head at the statue, Ginger smiled. “Dolly said once that if you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain.”

“How f**king appropriate.”

They laughed.

Derek came back out of the apartment then with Lenny and two firemen. His eyes met Ginger’s immediately and she swore an apology lurked in there somewhere. Watching the way he communicated with the firefighters and Lenny, asking questions and discussing how long repairs would take, Ginger saw him in yet another light. Derek, the cop, currently stood in front of her in the exact spot she’d also met the moody, uptight neighbor and the filthy-mouthed lady killer.

While she’d been lost in her own thoughts, it appeared they’d come to some important decision, because all four men turned to look at her.

Derek finally spoke up in his no-nonsense lieutenant voice. “All right, let’s go. You two are staying with me.”

Chapter Nine

“You must be high.”

Derek frowned as Ginger’s words had the two rookie firefighters behind him snickering under their breath. Oh yeah? I’d like to see you try, ass**les.

Scratch that. He didn’t want them trying anything with Ginger. He couldn’t blink without seeing the way she’d been dressed when he first came out of his apartment, and one look at the guys’ faces said they remembered, too. She’d been wearing a soaked white T-shirt that barely covered her ass, and her puckered br**sts and red panties had been visible through the thin layer of cotton, baring her to everyone’s view. Even now, with her wearing his fleece, Derek remained unsatisfied with her lack of clothing. If rookie number two glanced at her legs one more time, he’d use the man’s suspenders to strangle him.

“Don’t argue with me about this.”

She scoffed. “Oh, this isn’t an argument. That implies you might win.”

Derek prayed for patience. “Can we have a moment?” he asked tersely, turning to the other men. They threw final glances over their shoulders at Ginger, setting Derek’s teeth on edge, then disappeared back into the apartment.

He stepped forward, reaching for her arm.

“Do not touch me, Derek. I will clean your clock.”

“Why don’t you explain to me what your problem is.”

She got right in his face then, looking righteously pissed-off and achingly beautiful, even with damp strands of hair sticking to her neck and face. He wanted to kiss her. “My problem is you telling me what we’re doing and not asking. I make decisions for us. Not you. Your badge has no jurisdiction here. Or in my place of work, for that matter!”

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