Derek reminded himself that Alvarez was still waiting for a response. “You’re right about that.” He held his hand out for the folder and Alvarez handed it over. “But if we’re successful, and I plan to make damn sure we are, this department will finally break the backs of both the Lazio and Modesto crews in one fell swoop.”

Alvarez studied him for a moment. “All right. I’ll leave you to plot the bad guys’ respective downfalls, Lieutenant.” The older man rose to exit the office, but paused with his hand on the doorknob. “You know what they call a raid like this?”

Derek arched an eyebrow.

“A widow-maker.”

Long moments passed while Derek absorbed the implications of what he was taking on. The risks involved in taking down a dangerous crime family and their potential new partners. Was getting justice for one man and his family worth the risk? Yes, he thought without hesitation. How many men would they lose in the years to come if he allowed these criminals to remain loose on the streets? How many more widows? Fatherless children? This was his job. His responsibility. He had the power, the opportunity, to stop it. Turning a blind eye would be irresponsible. Beneath him.

Once again, his gaze landed on Ginger’s smiling face in the photograph. She would protest mightily if she knew he considered her to be his responsibility as well. An infinitely more pleasurable one than his job, but a responsibility nonetheless. Hell, they were responsible to each other. She would lose her shit if she knew the danger he was getting ready to put himself in. Just like he’d lost his when she’d endangered herself last year in a stubborn attempt to do the right thing and return the $50,000 she’d stolen to create a new life for herself and Willa.

Derek raked a hand down his face. Shit. He couldn’t tell her about the upcoming raid. Not without scaring the hell out of her. Their relationship thrived on honesty. He’d been the one to insist on that—to demand it, initially. Breaking through her barriers, earning her trust, hadn’t been easy, but it had been the most rewarding accomplishment of his life.

He brushed his thumb over the photograph, imagining her beautiful face covered in tears. Her ability to love without the constant fear of losing that love was still fragile. The possibility of not holding her through the night, every single night for the rest of her life should things go bad, was a distraction he couldn’t deal with right now. Distractions could cost lives—maybe his own.

He’d need to distance himself, he realized. The decision ate him alive, but it couldn’t be helped. He had a responsibility to the fallen officer and needed to see it through.

Focus on the case. Plan it down to the smallest detail, take the fuckers down, and get back to your woman.

He brushed his thumb over the photograph again.

Try to understand, baby.

Chapter Three

Ginger rose from her kneeling position, intending to retrieve the furniture lacquer from under the sink, then froze. She frowned down at the decoupage nightstand she’d spent the afternoon decorating with magazine cutouts so they formed a cohesive collage. With the 9 to 5 soundtrack blasting from the stereo, she’d lost herself in the supposed Halloween design she’d been planning on displaying this week in her shop, leading up to the holiday.

Instead? Pink. Baby. Shit. Everywhere.

At this rate, she wouldn’t need to drop the baby bombshell on Derek. He’d take one look at her latest creation and know she was in the family way within seconds. She wouldn’t have the chance to prepare him carefully, like she’d planned. Or to stuff him full of her famous chicken potpie first. Her nervous gaze flew to the clock. Derek would be home any minute. With a muffled curse, she gripped the edge of the nightstand and dragged it into the nearest closet, slamming the door shut just as Derek entered the apartment.

Ginger took a moment to adjust her bra, tugging down the snug material of her tank top while she was at it. No sense in letting a perfectly good cleavage day go to waste, right? If it made her feel slightly better going into the big reveal with a fully loaded arsenal, well, she wasn’t harming a fly, was she?

She turned and cocked her hip, knowing her white cotton skirt would slide up her thigh with the action. Heaven help the man, he loved her thighs. “Hey, darlin’.”

Loosening his tie, he watched her closely. “Ginger.”

His deep voice traveled across the room to massage her senses. Fire licked in her belly, her loins, her breasts. He did it all to her with a single word. A year ago, when she’d moved in next door to Derek, this intense chemical reaction had alarmed her. Made her feel out of control. Needy. Powerless. Now, she knew better. She held just as much power as Derek. But Lord, did they wield that power in different ways.

Still observing her through heavy-lidded eyes across the room, he began rolling up his sleeves to reveal brawny forearms. Slowly. With intention. Her chest shuddered on a deep breath, pulse kicking up ten notches. Feet rooted to the floor, she could only watch and wait to determine his purpose. Not having seen him in nearly two days, she used the time to drink him in, appreciate the breathtaking man she shared a bed with. Derek managed to look at home in his suit, although she knew from experience he owned whatever he wore. Confident and sensual one minute. Challenging and ruthless the next. She’d once likened him to a barroom brawler, all cut muscles and harsh angles. A body she never got tired of tracing with her fingers, her tongue.

He regarded her steadily from behind green eyes, his demeanor casual. However, with his dark brown hair slightly mussed, she knew better. He had a habit of losing his patience with it when he wanted something. Usually her. The undercurrent of lust had already reached her, enfolding her to drag under its surface. It never took a day off. She couldn’t escape the connection between them and didn’t want to.

When he’d finished his appraisal, Derek rounded the couch and came toward her, each step purposeful. Already panting with need, Ginger let him walk her backward until her body made contact with the hard wall of the living room. His masculine scent, mixed with a hint of leather and coffee, caused her body to ready, recognizing its mate. She welcomed the warm, damp sensation between her thighs, knowing her readiness would please him. Derek braced his hands above her on the wall, but didn’t make contact with her body. She wanted to sob a protest and pull him closer, but knew better than to push. Much as it pained her keeping quiet, patience always paid off with Derek.

He let his head drop down so he could speak, very precisely, near her ear. “Take my cock out.”

This time she couldn’t contain a whimper of anticipation. With shaky hands, Ginger quickly undid his belt buckle, movements slightly clumsy under his watchful gaze. His button and zipper came next. She could feel his weighty erection pressing against his boxer briefs. Unable to help herself, she took a moment to squeeze him, run her thumb up the sensitive underside.

“I didn’t give you permission for that.” His eyes were closed, a telling sign that despite his harsh words, her touch had certainly affected him. Then they snapped open, harder than before. “Reach inside, wrap me in your hand, and take me. The fuck. Out.”

“Yes, Derek,” she breathed, slipping her hand under the waistband of his briefs. “Since you asked so nicely.” She tugged his underwear down his hips with the other. Before she could make contact with his thick arousal, Derek snagged her wrist, brought it to his mouth and licked her palm, provocative and slow, then released her. They both groaned into the silent apartment when she fisted his erection with her newly dampened hand. Whatever game he was playing, Ginger was a willing participant. The young woman she’d been when they met would have taken offense to being ordered around. This Ginger, she gloried in the part of her man that craved control. After all, at that moment, she held the concentration of that power right in her hand. Without her, his power didn’t exist.

His hips began to thrust rhythmically, pushing his length into her grip. “Would you like to hear what happens next?”

She inhaled in a rush. “Yes, please. The devil is in the details.?


“I guess that makes me the devil.” One big, callused hand dropped to the outside of her thigh, coasting up her flesh just close enough to raise goose bumps on every inch of her body. Slipping underneath her skirt without hesitation. When he reached her backside, Ginger wanted to beg shamelessly for him to palm her roughly, knead her there. Instead, he merely brushed his fingers down the center of her bottom, along the cherry-red material of her thong. The simple touch had a devastating effect, every nerve ending singing with terrible, glorious need.

“I’m going to take some much-needed time with your mouth right now. While I do, you’re going to continue stroking me until I’m so close to coming, I’ll be ready to die just to drill you against this wall. But I won’t. I’m going to stop you just before I bust. Then I’m going to lick the sweet pussy that’s been waiting so patiently for me.” He surged into her hand. “Come on, baby. Make me suffer.”

Ginger’s knees wobbled, lust pounding so insistently in her belly, she would climax from his words alone if he continued to speak. No. Derek would give her relief. Only Derek. She could feel it hovering already. Only if she followed his sensual instructions, though. Hell, she was eager to follow them. They’d been designed for her alone. Lifting her eyes to his, she massaged the crown of his erection with her thumb, reveling in his shortened breathing. When her fingers tightened and dipped to the base, rising in a firm, tight stroke, Derek’s mouth swooped down with a growl to kiss her greedily. The kiss was far from gentle. It was raw, base agony translated through hot, slippery warmth. The sting of teeth. The smooth glides of their tongues. It consumed Ginger, scorching her where she stood. Unconsciously, her hand increased its pace to match the frenzied tempo of the kiss.

They broke apart, gasping for precious air at each other’s lips. Her breath caught at the fierceness of his expression, but her hand didn’t slow its ministrations. Subtly, she twisted her wrist on each stroke. Applied more pressure. Above her head, his fist punched the wall. “Just a little more. I’m almost there. Make it fucking hurt for me, beautiful girl.”

“Let yourself go. Let me make you come, Derek. Please.” Her plea escaped her without a thought. She didn’t like seeing him in pain. Couldn’t think past making it go away. He’d been away from her too long. Knowing him, he would refuse to lessen the urgent ache on his own.

“No.” His jaw flexed. The firm hand resting on her bare bottom squeezed her flesh, then slapped it, leaving a fresh sting in its wake. “You do what I tell you, Ginger. Or no tongue between your legs.”

Oh God. She needed his mouth so badly. Her stomach muscles clenched tightly, moisture coating her core just imagining his dark head dipping between her thighs. She needed this torture to end. Now. Derek might refuse to take his release, but she wasn’t nearly that proud. If she didn’t find satisfaction soon, she might expire from the blistering need. “Yes, Lieutenant. I only do what you tell me,” she whispered, knowing it would send him higher.

“Goddammit.” He ripped her hand free. “You’re lucky I’m dying for a fucking taste, or I would spank your ass raw for that.”

“Lucky me,” she whispered, shivering with anticipation.

With a sound of blatant hunger, Derek dropped to his knees before her. He curled his hands beneath her knees and draped them over his broad shoulders, effortlessly supporting Ginger’s weight with his hands. Her panties were torn free. By his teeth? Hands? With her head lolling against the wall, eyes squeezed tightly shut, dying for that first lick, she couldn’t care less about his method.

His pressed his mouth to her core. She felt the vibration of his moan as he nuzzled her, his stubble scraping the sensitive flesh of her inner thighs. Letting her weight rest on his shoulders, his hands were free to grasp her bottom, tilt her hips toward his mouth. “Soaked and slick, baby. Just how I like you.”

“Oh, please. Give it to me.” Too many sensations. Her nerve endings sizzled and snapped. The apartment blurred and tilted around them. “Derek. I can’t…”

She heard his dark laughter, then ceased to think altogether.

Derek sampled his woman with teasing licks, purposefully avoiding the tender spot dying for his attention. Fuck, she tasted like…Derek abandoned every adjective his lust-fogged brain could manage, discarding them as inadequate. She tasted like his. That’s what the fuck she tasted like. When she screamed yes, yours above him, Derek realized he’d repeated his internal sentiment out loud. Good. She needed to be told regularly who she belonged to.

He continued to lap at her until her thighs squeezed his head. Until her whimpered words stopped making sense. Then, only then, did he relent, gently stabbing her clitoris with his tongue until she screamed, only to lick it soothingly, murmuring his praise, apologies, filthy words against her damp flesh.

He spread her thighs as far as they would go and fit his mouth snugly over her clit, sucking, rolling it on his tongue. Her hips writhed and bucked, trying to get closer, and he knew she was seconds away from her peak. Nails dug into his shoulders, his hair, as if not knowing where to settle. Her disjointed motions undid him. He’d driven her out of control of her own body. It exhilarated him every time. After one final, sweet suck, Derek pulled back slightly and circled his tongue over her spot once, twice, and felt her begin to shake. Desperate to taste the pleasure he’d wrought, he slid his tongue past her opening, groaning at the feel of her tightening on him.

“Oh God. Derek. Oh God.”

Her taste was like an aphrodisiac to his system. The pulsing ache between his legs grew too fierce. His body demanded he seek release. Surge up between her legs and claim her. Fuck her like an animal against the wall. But he couldn’t do it. Even in this state of blind need, his conscience weighed down on him. His decision to keep her in the dark about his case was the gritty layer of deceit stopping him. There hadn’t been a single barrier between them in a long time and he resented it. Resented himself. So he wouldn’t allow himself the complete comfort of her body. Through his lie of omission, he was withholding a part of himself. Something he’d promised never to do again.

Tense with self-disgust, Derek wrapped a fist around his erection. Using Ginger’s perfect taste to drown out every other thought, he climaxed into his own hand, growling against her core as the spasms racked his body.

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?”