When the tremors subsided in both of them, Derek lay his face on her taut belly, listened to her breathing turn even after a few minutes. He wanted to stay just like that forever, but knew it was impossible. Already he could sense her confusion, possibly even hurt, over the unusual end to their lovemaking. He always found release inside of her. Always. Nothing he’d encountered in this world compared to it. Now, because he hadn’t, she obviously sensed something was wrong.

“Derek? Did something happen at work?” Her fingers slid hesitantly into his hair, sending tingling warmth down his spine. “I’m right here. T-talk to me.”

Hating the note of uncertainty in her voice, he pulled her down onto his lap. She tucked herself against him immediately, trusting, comforting. It made him feel like the biggest bastard alive even as his heart swelled with love.

“Everything is fine, baby.” He started to stroke her hair, but curled his fist against the urge. “I just had a long day.”

Ginger nodded, her head bumping his chin. Tenderness shot through him, battling the guilt momentarily. Then she opened her mouth and obliterated that sliver of progress. “Derek, you know how we talked about the importance of us being honest with each other? Tell each other everything, no matter how big or small?”

Steel banded his throat, choking off his air so all he could do was grunt.

“So…if there were something sort of big that might change things…you would still want me to tell you. Right?”

Christ, this had to be the worst kind of punishment. She wanted to open up, communicate something important to him. Progress for headstrong, independent Ginger on so many levels. However, if he listened to it, witnessed her honesty, he would either feel obligated to reciprocate, or continue to keep his silence. Either way, he would feel like a son of a bitch. His options were scare her or lie to her. He found both of them equally unappealing.

At that moment, with the center of his universe wrapped around him on the floor of their home, Derek felt secure enough to admit something else to himself. He felt…fear over the upcoming raid. Fear of failing. The possibility of losing more men. Dying himself and leaving Ginger alone. So many things. Prior to meeting Ginger, he’d never experienced a real moment of fear in his life. It had simply never been part of his emotional makeup. Then a year ago, Ginger had put her life at risk and he’d been forced to race the clock in order to save her.

He remembered that first sharp sting of fear so clearly, it still gave him vivid nightmares. He had something to lose now. Having something of value in his life meant getting used to feeling fear, but it would take time. Now? It still felt too fresh. If he were to come clean to Ginger about the danger ahead, he would see his own fear reflected in her face. It would stay with him when the inevitable moment came to risk his life. He’d never be able to perform his duty, knowing what it would do to her if he never came home. Just like the fallen officer whose death he needed to avenge. The thought of leaving Ginger, when he’d promised so many times he never would, battered his heart. His only choice was to stay silent. Make damn sure that by the time she learned of the case, he was already on his way home to her.

Praying he would find the words to explain his reasoning to her someday, Derek took a deep breath. Then did one of the hardest things he’d ever done in his life. Without answering her earnest, endearing questions, he eased Ginger off his lap and pulled them to their feet. “I just remembered I left some work unfinished at the station. Can it wait until later?”

Hurt clouded her features for a split second before she hid it. He hated that she hid it, even though the blame sat squarely on his shoulders. She closed into herself then, in a way that would be imperceptible to anyone but himself. The man who knew her inside and out. With a chuckle, she straightened her clothing and marched into the kitchen, spine so rigid, he feared she might crack. “At least take a potpie with you. No reason to starve while you’re out saving the whole damn world, Lieutenant.” Her movements briskly efficient, she drew a pie out of the oven and snapped it into some Tupperware. When she handed it to him, she didn’t quite meet his eyes.


“What is it?” she burst out. “You got exactly what you came home for. What else is there to say?”

A voice shouted in his head, ordering him to pull her into his arms. Demand she hand over her burden, even though he couldn’t make a fair trade with his own. He wanted to reassure her, but couldn’t. The longer the silence stretched, the easier it was to read disappointment in her eyes. She’d never looked at him that way before and it slayed him.

“Go to work, Derek.”

He watched her turn and shut herself into the bedroom before he left, loathing every step that took him farther away from her. All the while knowing it didn’t even compare to the distance he’d just created.

Chapter Four

Ginger accepted cash from the customer and handed him his receipt. “Is the chest a gift for your wife or did you just make her mad?”

He laughed as he tucked the slip of paper into his leather wallet. “It’s a gift. Although I make her mad often enough that I’ll definitely be back.”

“Good.” She winked at him. “I’ll set aside the matching bureau.”

“Consider it a sale.” His eyes twinkled. “For when she finds out I bought those Cubs season tickets.”

Her smile was a little wistful as she watched the older gentleman, with the help of his eager-to-please son-in-law, carry out the French two-drawer chest. She always felt this way watching one of her favorite pieces walk out the door, but it bolstered her mood knowing it was going to a good home. Not to mention the hefty price tag.

Two young mothers walked into the store chatting animatedly, their respective children entering behind them like hurricanes hell-bent on destroying her shop. Both dressed as Captain America, they skidded to a stop in front of the cash register and held out their pillowcases to her, toothy smiles a mile wide.

“Trick or treat!”

Ginger shared a laugh with the mothers as she reached under the counter to retrieve her bowl of mini Snickers bars. Wicker Park, the neighborhood in which she’d chosen to open her store, was full of young families, unique shops, and experimental restaurants. She loved it here. The unique, funky sensibility of the locals layered over a strong foundation of family. The more she witnessed those unbreakable bonds of mother-child, husband-wife, even pet-to-owner, the more she understood it. Somewhere along the line, the foreign concept of unconditional love had started making sense to her. It hadn’t seemed so impossible anymore. Maybe, just maybe, she could have that for herself. With Derek.

How that careful building of confidence and hope could shatter so quickly, she didn’t honestly know. Five nights ago, waiting for Derek to come home, she’d been so damn sure of his reaction to the news that she was pregnant. The entire day, she’d become more and more convinced that a new life could be a good thing. An amazing thing. She’d tell him she was carrying their baby. He would pull her close and share in her joy.

Never, not once, in the thousand scenarios she’d created in her head, did Derek walk away before she could share the news. He’d never actually been there to begin with, she’d realized afterward. Sitting in the bedroom, hearing the front door close, she’d replayed the scene in her head. Derek coming home, giving her an unbelievable sexual experience, yet withholding that final part of himself. Pleasuring himself without the use of her body. He’d been distant. Something had been missing. But she’d still kept her faith, her hard-won faith, because this was Derek. And he loved her.

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