Protecting What's His Page 36

His voice shook. “You don’t ever have to feel unsafe again. I won’t allow it.”

Apprehension clouded her features. “I made a decision on the drive home last night from the hospital. If we’re really going to try this…”

“We are.”

Her eyes squeezed shut. “Then there are some things I want you to know about me first. Things you deserve to know.”

Chapter Twenty-One

Ginger’s heart pounded. She was actually going to tell Derek about the money she’d stolen. Everything that happened next between them would depend on his reaction. She didn’t harbor any fears that he would arrest her or demand she return the cash to Valerie. She could rest easy on that score. But one thing she’d learned about Derek? He took his job as a law officer very seriously. How would he feel about having a thief in his bed?

If anyone had told her a week ago she would be considering a relationship, with a cop no less, she would have laughed and called that person a filthy liar. Well, here she was. And she’d be damned if she’d waste her time pretending to be someone else. He would accept the worst of her or nothing at all.

Maybe she’d shed a little bit of her former self this week by quitting Sensation and taking a meeting with an actual businessman about her furniture. But she would never completely shed the girl from Nashville who’d once flashed her br**sts at a hardware store owner in exchange for him installing a deadbolt on her and Willa’s bedroom door. That Ginger had worked with what the good Lord gave her, and she would never be ashamed of her actions.

Only one question remained. Would Derek be ashamed of her?

“Willa and I didn’t have the best of upbringings,” she started, hating her voice for shaking. “Our mother, Valerie, she had me young and…she wasn’t quite ready for a kid. And by the time Willa came along, she still wasn’t ready.” She took a deep breath. “I’ve had to do things maybe some people wouldn’t approve of to keep us clothed and fed—”

“Ginger, I know.”

Her expression went from anxious to confused. “You know what exactly?”

Derek released a breath and placed a hand on her arm, like maybe he thought once he explained, she would make a run for it. Unease spread through her.

“Please try not to get upset.”

She didn’t say anything.

He sighed. “I ran a search of your name on the national database. There was a missing persons report filed for you and Willa, by your mother, three weeks ago.”

Ginger couldn’t get air into her lungs. She lurched up in the bed, hand clutching her chest, vaguely sensing the alarm in Derek’s voice. Valerie had gone to the police and reported them missing. That could only mean one of two things. Their mother had suddenly decided she gave a damn—highly unlikely considering the condition she’d been in when Ginger last saw her—or something was very wrong. Her mother didn’t associate with cops unless they were in the process of arresting her. If she’d walked into a police station without handcuffs on her wrists, there must be a damn good reason.

The money. Ginger never really stopped to ponder where it might have come from. Derek said Valerie filed a missing persons report, but hadn’t mentioned the theft. Which meant Valerie needed to find Ginger to get the money back.

But she would never involve the cops unless her circumstances were dire. Life or death. Either it hadn’t been her money to begin with and she’d been holding it for someone who now needed it back. Or she’d borrowed the cash and her debt was coming due.

How could Ginger not have seen this coming? Besides the police, who else was looking for them? And how could Derek have brought her into a room full of cops knowing about the missing persons report?

Ginger threw her legs over the side of the bed, intending to go pick up Willa from school. She couldn’t think beyond that. She just knew she didn’t want her little sister out there alone.

Derek pushed her back down onto the bed, looming above her.

“Get off me!”

“Jesus, will you just listen to me?”

She fought him, but his hips pinned her to the bed. “No. Let me up!”

“I took care of it! Ginger, I took care of it.”

Her body went still underneath him. “What does that mean?”

“It means no one will be looking for you in Chicago. There’s no way to delete the report, but I found a way to hide it. When I said you didn’t have to feel unsafe anymore, I meant it.” His eyes searched wildly around the room. “Dammit, Ginger. Where the hell were you going? Were you going to leave me? Leave town?”

Relief warred with the adrenaline still pulsing through her. “I don’t know. I don’t know! What was I supposed to do? Every cop at that event, the ones in the hospital…they’ve all seen me, know my name. Willa is a minor. What I did is considered kidnapping.”

“Don’t ever try to leave without hearing me out first, okay?”

The panic on Derek’s face broke through her racing thoughts. Whether or not she approved of his checking into her background, ultimately he’d compromised himself for her. Should she be grateful or furious? She didn’t know. Nothing seemed clear anymore. But she needed time to figure it out. Her plan to tell Derek about the stolen money could wait for another day.

“So you know my mother’s name now. You must have seen her rap sheet.”

“Yes,” he confirmed in a hushed voice.

“I guess you know all about me then. I had this big confession ready and you already knew.”

“There’s nothing in your past that could keep me away from you.” Derek’s voice radiated sincerity. “You can tell me anything.”

Ginger struggled against the tears gathering behind her eyes. Derek scrutinized her expression, as if he knew she held something back, but he didn’t press.

The barrier she’d erected between them had never truly existed. While she’d been pretending to be carefree, no-strings-attached Ginger, he’d known about the past weighing her down. It made her angry. It made her want to blot out the knowledge she saw in his eyes.

Ginger became aware of their position on the bed, his body wedged between her parted thighs. His obvious arousal told her he hadn’t remained unaffected. Ginger’s arms were pinned over her head, bringing their chests and stomachs flush. She could see the battle taking place on his face. Sympathy warred with his need for her.

“Don’t look at me like that,” she snapped.

“Like what?”

“Like you feel sorry for me.”

“How do you want me to look at you, Ginger?”

She locked her ankles behind his back, watched him shudder. “Look at me like you did last night.”

With a loud groan of surrender, she felt the remaining anxiety in his body melt away, replaced by a different kind of tension. Derek rocked against her, claiming her mouth and biting at her lips until she offered her tongue. Liquid heat poured through her, spreading and warming everything in its path. Within seconds, her body craved him to the point of pain.

Ginger tugged her hands from his grip above her head. When they broke for air, she ripped her shirt off over her head and watched his eyes go dark as she molded her own br**sts in her palms, tugging her ni**les between her thumb and finger.

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