Protecting What's His Page 31

“Need to talk?” Her mouth dropped open. “I can’t believe this. You’re handling me.”


“Lieutenant, you’re smarter than I gave you credit for. How is it that you’re so inept when it comes to handling my sister?”

“No one handles your sister.”

She shrugged. “I’ll concede that.”

The sound of heels clicking on wood grabbed their attention seconds before Ginger came into view at the top of the stairs. Derek’s mouth went dry at the sight of her. In jean shorts and cowboy boots, Ginger never looked less than stunning, but goddamn, she’d done something completely different today. Her hair had been pulled back away from her face and piled on top of her head in a loose bun. She wore a modest cream-colored dress that revealed no cle**age and dropped past her knees.

How then did she look the sexiest he’d ever seen her? He wanted to meet her halfway down the hall and kiss the breath out of her. Carry her into his apartment. Remind her how well he knew her body.

Derek heard Willa snicker at him behind his back. “Va va voom, sis. Who are you so dressed up for?”

Which had been his next f**king question.

When she spotted Willa standing behind him, Ginger’s pace quickened, her black pumps tapping with each step. “Willa, thank God. Is everything okay? I just saw your missed call.”

She passed Derek to get to her sister, shooting him a wary glance. Her wildflower scent washed over him. In that moment, he wanted very badly to be the first and last person each day to breathe it in.

“I’m fine, G.”

He watched Ginger’s own tired eyes widen as she examined her sister’s appearance. Willa tried to convey her usual belligerent expression, but didn’t quite pull it off. Her lower lip quivered a little.

“Is it the boy?” Ginger asked softly.

Willa burst into tears and launched herself into her sister’s arms. Ginger, appearing stunned by her sister’s show of emotion, stumbled backward a step before righting herself and tightening her arms around Willa.

A boy. He hadn’t seen that one coming.

Ginger met Derek’s gaze over her sister’s shoulder, her eyes swimming with fear and uncertainty. He swallowed around the knot in his throat at seeing her so unsure. Deserted of her usual confidence. Nodding somberly, he tried to communicate with his eyes that everything would be all right. For now, it would have to be enough.

Another set of footsteps pounded up the staircase. He frowned when a boy the size of a linebacker appeared, looking panicked and out of breath. The kid’s eyes widened on the girls embracing farther down the hallway, and with a choked noise, he tried to rush toward them past Derek. He stopped the newcomer cold with a firm hand to the chest.

“I’d explain myself rather quickly, if I were you.”

He didn’t even spare Derek a glance. “Willa, talk to me.”

Derek looked back over his shoulder to see Ginger standing protectively in front of Willa, fury radiating from her gorgeous face. He could have stood there watching her all day. She turned slightly and whispered something to Willa before sailing forward, coming to a stop near Derek.

Derek watched the kid’s eyebrows shoot skyward upon seeing Ginger up close. I know that feeling too well. To his credit, the kid kept his eyes from dropping below Ginger’s neck.

“You must be Ginger.”

“Oh? And why is that?” Her voice cracked like a whip and the kid winced. “Why must I be Ginger?”

“Willa mentioned that you…that everyone you meet falls in love with you. Not that I am,” he rushed out. “I’m just saying, I can understand it. Other people doing it. Oh God, I can’t say or do anything right today. Do you ever have a day like that? I am screwing this up so badly.”

Some of the fight went out of Ginger. She raised an eyebrow at Derek, obviously thinking the same thing he did. This kid seemed like the furthest thing from a heartbreaker.

“And you must be Evan. The reason my little sister is so upset. I don’t like to see my sister upset, Evan. Not at all. Give me one reason I shouldn’t toss you out of here on your ass.”

Evan looked relieved that Ginger was giving him an opportunity to speak. He tried to peek past her to see Willa, who stood immobilized at the end of the hallway, but Ginger blocked his view, crossing her arms over her chest. “I just need a chance to explain. She knows I would never hurt her on purpose. I just have to keep reminding her. And I will. Every day until she believes it.”

Ginger’s arms dropped to her sides, her anger deflating completely. Damn, maybe this kid can give me some advice on how to handle a Peet sister. After scrutinizing Evan for several long moments, Ginger turned and passed a silent question on to Willa, who lifted one shoulder and let it drop in response.

“All right, Evan. You have two minutes to make my sister smile before I turn you from a rooster to a hen in one shot. And don’t think I can’t do it.”

They both watched as Evan approached Willa. When he’d made it halfway, Willa held up a hand signaling for him to stop, which he immediately did.

“Natalie ambushed me in the parking lot this morning,” Evan began. “Her friends, my friends. Everyone was standing around talking. Out of nowhere she announces we’re going to prom together. She knew I wouldn’t correct her and embarrass her in front of everyone. She counted on it. I don’t even know why she wants to go with me. We’re barely even friends anymore.”

Willa stayed silent, clutching the strap of her backpack against her chest. Derek couldn’t tell by her expression whether or not she believed the poor kid. To be honest, he felt funny watching this teen drama play out, but he sensed Ginger needed him there. Even if she would never admit it.

“I did everything I could to find Natalie before fourth period, to tell her I wanted to ask you. I never even wanted you to know about what happened, but I didn’t get to her in time. She knows now, though. Believe me.”

Willa’s face cracked. “I hate you for making me care about some stupid high school dance, Evan Carmichael.”

He took a cautious step toward her. “No, you don’t hate me. Don’t say that.”

Tears streaked down her face. “Yes, I do.”

“Please don’t cry. There’s nothing to cry about.” Evan reached Willa in two strides and lifted her off the floor into a sweeping hug. She stuck her damp face in the crook of his neck and sobbed.

Derek glanced down at Ginger, who watched the couple in complete awe, moisture brimming in her eyes. Derek reached out without thinking and stroked a thumb across her cheek to comfort her. She leaned into his palm for a moment, then flinched away.

Derek sighed. “I have to get back to work, but we need to talk tomorrow.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Dammit, I—” His phone rang, cutting him off. Derek read the caller ID flashing across the screen. The chief of police had called twice, probably wondering where the hell he’d gone with less than an hour to go before the raid. “I have to go. We will talk tomorrow.”

Derek couldn’t afford to wait for her reply. He turned and stalked out of the building.

Chapter Eighteen

Ginger woke on the floor as if a fire alarm had gone off, knocking over a half-full glass of red wine.

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