Protecting What's His Page 39

She appreciated his honesty and smiled to let him know. “Okay, then. We understand each other.”

“Ginger, can I come out now?” Willa called impatiently from her bedroom.

“I suppose.”

The bedroom door opened and Ginger snapped Evan’s reaction shot on her cell phone. He looked like he’d been struck dumb at the sight of Willa coming toward him. She saved the photo of Evan with the intention of showing it to Willa the next time she felt unsure of his feelings for her. The poor kid looked two seconds away from throwing himself at her feet.


“Hey.” Willa shifted from side to side, looking uneasy under Evan’s scrutiny. She pretended to adjust the bracelet Ginger lent her to avoid his eyes.

“Willa, stop.”

Both sisters gaped at Evan.

“Stop what?” Willa managed.

“I can tell you’re freaking out.” He held out his hand to her. “Stop.”

Ginger watched, fascinated, as Willa’s eyes glassed over and she bit her bottom lip. Nodding, she reached out and took his hand.

“You look beautiful,” he breathed.

Willa’s face transformed with her smile. Safely tucked into Evan’s side, they walked to the door. Ginger stood rooted to her spot, unable to believe the exchange she’d just witnessed. How had Evan come to understand Willa so well in such a short period of time?

Letting Willa live her own life without interference had always seemed like the best approach, but now Ginger wasn’t so sure. Of course, she provided support whenever necessary and she liked to think they were best friends. But maybe she’d chosen to remain at a distance because it was easier for her, not Willa. By ignoring their mutual past and making light of the horrors they’d experienced, she’d set a horrible example. Pretend your problems don’t exist and push through had always been her philosophy. She never stopped to think it might be the wrong one. Willa had been given no choice but to follow suit.

It was time she fixed the mess she’d made.

Before they could walk out the door, Ginger stopped the couple. “Wait up, Wip. Evan, can I just have one minute with my sister?”

“Sure.” He walked out into the hallway to wait, throwing one more glance at her over his shoulder as he went.

Willa searched her face. “What’s up?”

Ginger fought to maintain her composure so as not to alarm Willa. She needed to find the right words to express her regret without giving herself away entirely.

“I just need to tell you that I’m going to do better. Okay? I want you to be as proud of me as I am of you right now. I’m going to do the right thing from now on.”

Smiling, Willa shook her head. “Ginger, you’re just emotional because I’m wearing a dress.”

“You’re right. That must be it,” she lied.

“I promise I’ll be back in a hoodie by tomorrow.”

“Okay.” Ginger opened the door and pushed her out. “Have fun, you two.”

Ginger closed the door behind them and blew out a shaky breath. Then she turned and walked to the Dolly statue. With a small twist to the right, the blonde’s head dislodged. She reached inside and pulled out the canvas bag.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Derek walked into his apartment and flipped on the lights. He set down the bottle of wine he’d picked up on the drive home and unstrapped his shoulder holster, laying it on the kitchen table. After finally wrapping up the paperwork and briefings pertaining to the Modesto case, he looked forward to a couple of much-needed days off. As soon as he took a shower and changed out of his wrinkled work clothes, he planned on dragging Ginger out of her apartment and into his bed. He’d see to her pleasure and then he’d damn well sleep for at least ten straight hours.

Tomorrow night, when he felt semi-human, he planned on taking Ginger out on an actual date. She’d been patient with his demanding work schedule. Almost too patient, as if she didn’t expect anything from him. That shit would come to an end this weekend. He wanted Ginger to expect everything from him.

Derek refused to put off their conversation about the stolen money any longer. She’d been on the verge of telling him as they’d lain in bed together a few days ago, he was sure of it, but she’d balked at the last minute. Although he’d wanted to push, she’d already looked so damn vulnerable after his confession that he’d researched her past, Derek didn’t have the heart. This weekend, he would come clean that he already knew. And there would no longer be any secrets between them. He wouldn’t allow it to fester. Not when she meant so much to him.

Additionally, Derek hated having the loose end. So he’d tied it up. As long as Ginger remained in possession of the money, her safety would be in question. It made him crazed to think what could happen if a shady character such as Haywood Devon learned of her whereabouts. But with the help of his contact in Nashville and the national criminal database, Derek had found something he could use to put Devon behind bars for a long time, if not for good.

It had been his experience that, in most criminal enterprises, members tended to branch out when the well dried up. Which is exactly what happened a few years back for Devon when his then-partner left Nashville in search of greener pastures.

Thankfully, the partner in question had branched out to Chicago, bringing a wealth of information about his shady Nashville past, including valuable dirt on Devon. All Derek had to do was make him talk—something he planned to get right on now that they’d busted up Modesto’s gang ring.

Derek caught Ginger’s scent and turned, half expecting to find her waiting for him. Instead, he saw a lacquered box, decorated with one of Ginger’s trademark designs, complete with a metal fastening where he could insert a lock. A gun box. Picking it up, he laughed at some of the magazine and newspaper headlines she’d interspersed with pictures of Dirty Harry and John Wayne.

Dirty mouth? Clean it up!

Guns don’t kill people, zombies kill people.

Mean people duck.

Opening the lid, Derek found a note with his name on it, next to a smiley face. Positive he was grinning like a jackass, he unfolded the paper.


There is something I need to take care of. Try not to worry.

Please check in on Willa.

I’ll be back before you have a chance to miss me.

Ginger xo

Smile fading, a heavy sense of dread settled in the pit of Derek’s stomach.

Okay. Okay, relax. She probably just went to the store.

Snatching his phone off the counter, he pressed the speed dial for Ginger’s cell. It went straight to voice mail. He swallowed a curse.

Trying valiantly to calm his mounting panic, Derek flung open his apartment door and strode down the hallway. Maybe he’d caught her before she left. Please let him have caught her. He took the stairs three at a time, reaching the third floor and her apartment in seconds. The hollow sound of his fist rapping against her door echoed through his skull.

Within seconds, he heard footsteps and the sound of the deadbolt lock turning. His head dropped forward, body deflating with relief. He would shake some sense into Ginger the second the door opened and beg her never to scare him like this again. Bracing his hands on either side of the door, Derek attempted to dial back his panic. He didn’t want to start the weekend off by terrifying her.

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