Protecting What's His Page 20

The evening had been going so well until now. Good wine, amazing food, friendly people. She’d truly been enjoying herself. Even Derek appeared to get over his initial annoyance over her attire and had started smiling at her. Derek in a tuxedo was a breathtaking sight. Throw in a smile on top of that and you had one dangerously irresistible man. His scent teased her, reminding her constantly how close he sat, how little she’d have to move to be touching him. Sitting in his lap.

Then the slideshow started and everything ceased to exist around her. The past blurred everything out, threatening to expose her as an imposter in this room full of rich people.

When the lights came on, Ginger let go of Derek’s hand and pretended to dig in her clutch so no one would notice her puffy eyes. He suddenly stood behind her, pulling her chair back.

“Come on. Dance with me.”

Grateful for the chance to escape their table, Ginger didn’t dwell on her surprise over Derek’s invitation. Standing, she took his hand once more and let him lead her out onto the floor where several other couples danced to a soft instrumental. Finding an open spot, he pulled her into his arms.

A sigh escaped Ginger before she could stop it. Her body fit perfectly against his in her heels, bringing her head just under his chin. The expensive aftershave scent emanating from his throat smelled near enough to taste. They’d never stood this close to each other before without something sexual transpiring between them, and the reality of that pulsed in the air like a living, breathing thing.

To distract herself from those memories, she counted his flaws. Stubble appeared on his jaw much too quickly after shaving. His dark hair was cut too short, giving a woman nothing to sink her fingers into if the mood struck her.

Aw hell, who was she kidding? The man kicked her libido into warp speed just by existing. As they swayed to the music, he held on to her tightly, one hand riding just above her ass, sending a message to every other man in the room that he’d be the only one seeing her naked tonight. It infuriated her. It turned her on so crazily, she could hardly focus on the dance.

“I’m sorry.”

She tipped her head back to meet his eyes. “What are you sorry about?”

His gaze penetrated hers. “You were upset during the slideshow. I’m sorry.”

Ginger attempted a smile to disguise the painful drumming of her heart, but didn’t think she succeeded. She wished Derek hadn’t reminded her. “You don’t have anything to apologize for. I guess I was just thinking about someone who could have used a program like this back in Nashville.” She paused. “Even if it is just a recruitment program in disguise.”

Derek’s face registered surprise. “Picked up on that, did you?”

She shrugged, casting a glance over at their table where several detectives were still seated. “You seem so young to be their lieutenant. How did that happen?”

Apart from his shoulders tensing underneath her hands, his demeanor stayed the same. “It’s not a very pleasant story.”

“Okay. You don’t have to tell me.”

The hand riding just below her waist pulled her even closer. “New Year’s Eve three years ago, there was a hostage situation involving a Lithuanian man who’d been fired as a messenger from some major company located downtown in the Old Colony Building. I’d just made detective, and my partner at the time, Kenny, spoke fluent Lithuanian. His parents are first-generation immigrants and he happens to be the only man in the department with that particular skill.”

His hand skimmed up her back, moving underneath her hair, where he began stroking her neck gently. Ginger struggled to focus on his soothingly deep voice as he continued the story.

“Kenny translated for the hostage negotiator and they seemed to be getting through to him, calming him down. Then one of the hostages tried to escape and was shot and killed for his efforts. The whole operation went to hell, the perp aware that his new status as murderer wouldn’t buy him any demands. They were getting ready to send in a SWAT team, but because of the building’s layout, he would probably have seen it coming and shot more people before they could stop him.”

She sensed him nearing the uncomfortable part of the story. “The Old Colony Building is a landmark and I’d studied it in college during an architecture course. I knew a different way into the building that would bring us onto the same floor without alerting him to our presence. They didn’t like putting their faith in a brand-new detective, but I led a team inside, through the back of the building, and took the perp down through a vent in the ceiling.”

“Sounds like you paid attention in class.” Ginger leaned back, studying his frown. “That’s a great story, save the one unfortunate death. It could have been a lot worse.”

“You asked me how I made lieutenant.” He glanced away. “One of the hostages turned out to be the mayor’s granddaughter. When he got wind of my role in the takedown, he demanded the department promote me. I didn’t earn it. They handed it to me.”

Ginger scoffed in disbelief, but his expression remained tight so she leaned in and spoke quietly against his shoulder. “Derek, people have gotten ahead in this world for much less. A lot of them are probably in this room right now.”

He leaned down to rest his mouth against her temple. “You’re right about that.”

She shivered. In order to kiss him, she needed only tip her head back and meet his lips. But they stood in the middle of a crowded dance floor filled with his peers, so she appeased herself by pressing closer to his warm chest. His arm tightened around her, the hand in her hair tugging lightly on the strands.

“So being a lieutenant isn’t all about fancy charity events like this one. There’s a lot of danger involved.”

He nodded against her head but didn’t respond.

Ginger could sense the direction of his thoughts. “I wish I’d known that day in the hallway you were headed to a funeral. I still feel a little guilty about telling you to go to hell.”

“If I recall correctly, I deserved it.”

She wrinkled her nose, then sighed. “Well, it certainly isn’t an easy life you’ve chosen for yourself. I’m sorry I added to it that particular day. Even if you did deserve it.”

The hand in her hair began massaging her neck. “It hasn’t been easy for you, either. Has it?”

Ginger didn’t show any reaction to his casually posed question, but her internal defenses shot to attention. “That’s a story for a different day.”

She sensed him wanting to press her for more, but he wisely refrained. A heavy silence descended between them as they danced, and Ginger searched her brain for a way to lighten the mood again.

“Patty mentioned something interesting during dinner.”

“Did she?”

“Hmm. She took some liberties in responding to your invitation tonight.”

His chest rumbled with laughter against her cheek. “So it was her. I had a feeling.”

Reluctantly, Ginger pulled away to look up into his face. Being held by him felt too natural, like she could crawl into his arms and fall asleep. But cuddling and neck massages were not a part of what they were doing here together, and she needed to remind herself of that fact. Derek was the same man who spanked her without warning, pleasured her in front of a mirror so he could watch. She shouldn’t feel safe with him, but she did. It forced her to question her judgment.

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