Her purple velvet skirt flared out from her hips, over her pert little ass. Then it ended. No. It was too short. Her thighs were too exposed. If she bent over…fuck. He couldn’t think about her bending over. He’d need immediate fulfillment and she was out of his reach right now. His growl of frustration echoed in the car’s interior.

Ginger finished locking the door of the shop and turned in his direction, seemingly unaware of the reaction she’d just caused. His attention became arrested on her face. Her full, red lips, darkly made-up eyes. She looked exotic. Ripe. Sensual. Even more gorgeous than usual. Hand gripping the steering wheel so hard the leather groaned under the pressure, Derek’s gaze dropped helplessly to her br**sts. Pressing snugly against the white ruffle serving as a goddamn shirt, they looked f**king delectable. He wanted her straddling him at that moment in the car so he could suck her ni**les until she peaked. He wouldn’t allow her to remove the top either. He would suck her right through that sorry excuse for clothing.

A yellow cab pulled to a stop at the curb and Derek shook his head, even knowing she couldn’t see him. She wasn’t going anywhere dressed like that. Not without him. After casting an absent glance to determine there was no oncoming traffic, he flung the car door open.


She jerked to a stop in the act of climbing into the cab, eyes wide in surprise as they landed on him forty yards away. Based on her visible reaction, Derek had an idea of the look on his face. Fucking pissed. Possibly a little deranged. A whole lot of aroused. He couldn’t care less. His objective was to stop her from getting into the cab. Going somewhere and being around other men who would look at his woman.

“Come over here,” he called, his voice deep and purposeful.

For a minute, she simply stared. Then her chin went up. “No.”

The challenge burned in his gut and frankly, turned him on even more. “No?”

She tossed her purse into the backseat and sent him a wink. “Have a good night, darlin’. Don’t work too hard.”

“I swear to God, Ginger—”

“Oh, you do? Well, as long as you’re chatting with God, can you ask him what happened to my boyfriend?” When words failed him, she shrugged, hazel eyes shining. “Because I’m damn tired of wondering.”

Her words pelted him like stones, but Derek wasn’t giving up the fight. He waited for a car to pass, then stalked toward her, intending to bodily place her in his passenger seat, drive her home, and f**k her silly in their bed. It couldn’t be helped any longer. His need was a drumming, aching pain. Ginger was the only one who could cure him.

He could cure her, too. He could fix this. It wasn’t just about sex anymore for him, although he wouldn’t deny the insane need thickening with each passing moment.

Something in her expression, her rigid demeanor, alarmed him. What he’d done, the manner in which he’d left that day, had somehow set them back. So much further than he’d originally thought. She didn’t just appear confused. There was fear and finality there. It pummeled him. What the f**k?

She moved too fast, ducking into the cab, slamming the door, and signaling the driver to go. With a growled curse, he sprinted back to his SUV and followed.

Chapter Five

Letting the cool October breeze wash over her through the open taxi window, Ginger watched the familiar residential neighborhood pass by in a blur. Costumed children raced up and down the sidewalks, their exasperated parents attempting to keep up, reminding them to say please and thank you. Bare trees and dead leaves decorating the ground called to mind her first month in Chicago late last fall. She remembered the fear of striking out on her own. Wondering if she was doing the right thing. Somehow, she’d circled back to the beginning, but couldn’t remember taking a wrong turn.

A memory rose unbidden to her mind, blindsiding Ginger in her current state. Derek surprising her on a Friday afternoon last spring, showing up at Sneaky Peet’s to take her to lunch. They’d driven to the Lincoln Park Lagoon, sat in the grass, and watched students paddle by in kayaks. Talked about their mornings. She’d laid her head in his lap and drifted off to sleep in her newfound happiness while Derek stroked her hair. Not knowing how long she’d been asleep, she’d woken with a start to find Derek watching her. His expression had stolen her breath. Derek didn’t express himself the way most men did. He didn’t use flowery language or buy the typical gifts men bought women. That day by the lagoon, however, she’d caught him off guard. His expression had been such a stunning mix of tenderness and awe, she’d been unable to do anything but stare back.

He’d brushed his thumb over her bottom lip, throat working with emotion. “Sometimes I look at you…and I can’t breathe around these feelings.” She’d started to speak, but he put his hand over her mouth. A move that, coming from Derek, wasn’t meant to be offensive. It only meant he wasn’t finished. “If you ever want anything in this world, promise me right now you’ll tell me what it is. I want the honor of killing myself to make it happen. Promise.”

She’d nodded vigorously and the second he removed his hand, she’d thrown herself into his arms. Neither one of them had returned to work that day. They simply couldn’t bring themselves to separate.

Valiantly, Ginger tried to stop thinking about Derek, about the sweet memory and the ugly scene outside her shop moments ago. Instead, she focused on regaining the attitude she’d had in her office. She wouldn’t allow herself to feel anything. Her other option was to curl up in a ball of self-doubt and anxiety over what the future held. She refused to be that person. So, for tonight, she’d be the girl who hid everything behind her smile. Again.

The cab pulled to a stop in front of Patti’s home, a three-story clapboard house painted bright robin’s-egg blue. Judging from the crowd spilling out onto the front lawn, the party was in full swing. Immediately, Ginger spotted a few of Derek’s detectives on the porch. Noticing they weren’t wearing costumes, but their uniforms instead, she frowned. They looked tense. None of them were holding drinks.

The cab driver cleared his throat, demanding her attention. She handed him her fare through the partition and exited onto the sidewalk.

Several people called out greetings to her as she walked up the path to Patti’s house. People she genuinely liked whom she’d met at similar parties, or Derek’s work functions over the past year. She gave them her biggest, bravest smile, waving at them as she passed. Behind her, she heard a vehicle screech to a stop at the curb. Without turning around, she knew it was Derek. An unconscious part of her had known he would follow. Whether or not he’d decided to move on from their relationship, he still desired her physically. Would still consider her his until he’d stated otherwise. A man like Derek didn’t relinquish control so easily. Half of her hated him for it. The other half was thankful he’d come. It confirmed he still felt something for her.

Pretending to be oblivious to his presence, she increased her pace slightly, hoping to escape into the house before he reached her. Perhaps she was running from the inevitable confrontation, but decided to cut herself from slack. Walking into a party, feeling as though she could fly apart at any moment, was enough pressure to face for now. Derek called her name, but the loud music pumping from the house gave her a valid reason to ignore him. As if she hadn’t heard.

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