Protecting What's His Page 32

What the hell is that noise?

She shoved the heels of her hands against her eyes, blocking out the lamplight. A magazine clipping depicting a cat wearing sunglasses was stuck to one of her hands, and she ripped it off, letting it flutter to the floor. When her momentary fuzziness passed, she tried to piece together the last few hours.

Willa and Evan reuniting in the hallway. Evan staying for dinner. Ginger watching Willa smile and laugh like she hadn’t done in years while Ginger plied herself with wine, lamenting the fact that she was now the only emotionally stunted sister in the room.

Check, check, and check.

She buried her head in her hands and groaned. When had the world shifted and left her sitting in the same spot? They’d been fine before, hadn’t they? Two sisters against the world! Sure, they never discussed their hopes or fears, but they sure as hell had each other’s backs. Now, Ginger wondered if she’d been wearing blinders as her sister developed an entirely new facet to her personality.

She’d been the one to make the decision to leave Chicago for a new start, but the only thing she’d really changed was her location. Willa had found a way to move on from the past. Why couldn’t she?

Derek wanted to talk to her tomorrow. The very idea of discussing a potential relationship between them frightened her. He didn’t realize how impossible a task he faced trying to convince her to take that leap. Did he think a simple conversation could erase the previous twenty-three years she spent not trusting anyone but herself?

We’re more than sex, Ginger. Accept it.

Oddly enough, she had accepted it. Something very clearly existed between them besides their intense sexual attraction. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be feeling sexually frustrated, sitting in a pool of cheap wine. She’d be with Derek, working out those frustrations in a far more entertaining manner.

She couldn’t allow herself to succumb to those urges, though. Every second she spent with him made it harder to keep a comfortable distance. And even if she wanted to attempt a purely sexual relationship with Derek, he’d made it clear that arrangement didn’t work for him. Damn him for that. Because his restraint had accomplished far more than simply impressing her, which it had. It made her wonder if his intentions toward her really were genuine. If maybe a relationship could work if two strong-willed people, such as them, wanted it to.

What would Derek be like as a boyfriend? Controlling, possessive, challenging. Yes to all of the above.

She thought of the man she’d danced with on Saturday night. The humble, comforting Derek with the dry sense of humor. The one who’d held her hand and stroked her hair. She’d barely scratched his surface. Did she want to?

Yes and no. Yes, because men like him were rare. She wanted to know what drove him, made him who he is. To have all that seething intensity focused on her…it would never be boring, that was for certain.

No, because the more she knew about him, the harder he would be to forget.

But Ginger knew one thing. She missed him so badly her chest ached. The thought of letting Derek go without at least making an attempt at something more left her feeling empty.

Tomorrow, she’d listen to what he had to say. Then she’d decide.

Where is that noise coming from?

She peeled her hands away from her sensitive eyes and spotted her cell phone buzzing and dancing on the coffee table she’d been working on prior to passing out. Her clock said 1:45 a.m. The screen of her cell displayed an unknown number with a Chicago area code. Who would be calling her at this time of night?


“Oh, Ginger. Thank God. I’ve called three times.”

She recognized the thick Chicago accent. Patty, the lady she’d met at the charity event. Something sank heavily in her stomach. No one called at this time of night with good news, and their only connection was Derek.

Stall. Put it off. “How…how did you get this number?”

“We exchanged numbers, don’t you remember?”

She couldn’t think past anything over the pounding in her head. “Oh. Okay.”

“Listen dear, I don’t know if this call is appropriate or not, but you and Derek seemed so close the other night. I thought you would want to know. There was a massive raid this evening at a meeting between two major gangs that resulted in some serious gunfire, and Derek has been taken to Saint Anthony’s medical center. I just thought you’d want to know.”

Ginger’s body felt numb. “He’s been shot?”

“Saint Anthony’s. Fourteenth floor, ICU. I would get there as soon as possible.”

The line went dead. Ginger couldn’t make her body move for a full minute. Everything around her felt too clear. Every sound, even the feel of the carpet under her legs, felt abrasive, like a scrape along her nerve endings. She pushed herself up on shaking legs, stumbled into the bathroom, and stared at her reflection in mirror under the harsh fluorescent light.

She’d barely finished brushing her teeth before her knees buckled and she landed on the tile floor. Pain came screaming through the numbness so swiftly, she doubled over with a cry. Eventually she found the strength to struggle to her feet. She stumbled back through the bedroom and out the apartment door, shoving her feet into her cowboy boots as she went.

Ginger got in her truck and drove aimlessly in one direction before realizing she didn’t know Saint Anthony’s location. At a stoplight, she begged for directions from an off-duty taxi driver, made a U-turn and finally headed the right way. Her drive to the hospital blurred together in a series of stoplights and street signs. Nothing felt real. Maybe she still lay passed out on her bedroom floor and this was one big, wine-induced nightmare. She squeezed the steering wheel, felt the solidity of it beneath her hands, rolled down the window, and breathed in the damp air. No way was she dreaming. That meant Derek could at that very moment be dying. Dead, even.

She’d just seen him hours earlier, solid and reassuring in the hallway of the building. They were supposed to talk tomorrow. He hadn’t even given Ginger the courtesy of letting her know he was on his way to risk his stupid neck, dammit. Maybe she wouldn’t have been so stubborn if she’d known.

Give me a chance, beautiful girl.

Hot, salty tears dripped from her eyes as she turned down the street leading to Saint Anthony’s. Ginger could barely read the sign through her blurry vision, but somehow mustered the capability to park the truck and run inside. Bypassing the front desk, she headed straight for the elevators and punched the button for the fourteenth floor.

Ignoring the flower-toting family staring at her dishevelment with open curiosity, Ginger blinked through her tears at the numbers above the doors as they ticked away, moving so slowly she wanted to scream in frustration. When the doors finally parted, she took off like a shot, her eyes scanning the floor frantically. They finally landed on a desk with an official-looking woman sitting behind it, typing away on a computer.

She didn’t bother wiping her eyes or trying to fix her appearance. None of it mattered.

“Excuse me. I’m here to see Derek Tyler. Lieutenant Derek Tyler. He’s been shot. Please, I need to see him right away.”

The redhead dressed in scrubs looked bored by Ginger’s plea, taking her time looking up from the screen. “Spell the name.”

Ginger bit back an exasperated groan. She needed to see Derek and this woman clearly didn’t get the urgency. How many lieutenants had come in shot that night that she couldn’t remember him? Jesus, had she even made it in time? How much time had passed since the phone call? It could have been minutes or hours for all she knew. “T-Y-L-E-R. As in, Tyler. Please, I need to see him.”

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