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.

Ginger spotted Patti the moment she walked into the house and wound her way through several groups of people complimenting one another on their costumes. Again, she noticed many officers were wearing their uniforms. Looking tense, they huddled together and talked amongst themselves. Even Detective Alvarez, whom she now considered a dear friend, only managed a quick nod in her direction before returning to his discussion. The rest of the party guests seemed oblivious to the serious officers, however, dancing and drinking as though they didn’t have a care in the world.

She placed a hand on Patti’s arm and the woman turned to her with such a warm, welcoming smile, Ginger felt thankful she’d come. No matter what happened, these were still her friends. Her surrogate family. She even laughed when she realized Patti had dressed up as Olive Oyl. To her left stood her long-suffering husband in a Popeye getup.

“Ginger!” Patti exclaimed. “You came! And look at you dressed to kill. If I had a body like that, I swear on this martini, I’d walk around naked. You wouldn’t get me in pants. Not even for church.”

Ginger laughed, painfully aware that Derek was only seconds behind her. She could only hope he’d been waylaid by some of his detectives. “You know you look good, Patti. I say give those church folks an eyeful. Give them something to talk about.”

“Don’t encourage her,” Patti’s husband chimed in drily before tossing back his drink.

Patti rolled her eyes, but Ginger could see the affection between them. It produced another pang in her chest. A look of sympathy crossed Patti’s features. “I’m actually surprised you came. With everything going on, that is.”

Ginger quirked an eyebrow. “What’s…going on?”

The older woman cleared her throat, suddenly appearing uncomfortable. Ginger felt her heart sink to her stomach. Did Patti know something she didn’t? Did she just inadvertently confirm what Ginger had already suspected about Derek wanting to end things? She remembered the uncomfortable demeanor of the officers when she’d arrived. Their quiet discussion. Did everyone know? Were they pitying her? Ginger took a shaky step backward and bumped into a hard chest. Derek’s hands banded around her arms.

His words landed on her like a falling piano. “We need to talk.”

Patti split a nervous glance between them, then ducked her head. Ginger realized then, beyond a shadow of a doubt, she’d been right. Her instincts had told her this was coming. Even now, Patti couldn’t meet her eyes. Derek finally wanted to talk. Which had to mean she was moments away from the worst emotional pain in her life. No, this couldn’t be happening. Not after everything. Not after her finally learning how to trust. Jesus, had he already moved on to someone else? Was her replacement here at the party?

So easily he could cast her aside. Just like all those men in her mother’s life, with their lies and false promises. She’d fallen for it hook, line, and sinker. Dammit, she thought she’d been so careful to avoid the trap. The trap of becoming anything even remotely resembling her mother.

Ginger felt exposed. Vulnerable. And after a moment, pissed as hell. She’d told him this would happen. That trust was for suckers and happiness didn’t last. At the end of the day, you could trust only yourself. She remembered all those nights he’d spent away over the last week and felt sick to her stomach. Hated herself for lying in their bed, wearing his T-shirt. So trusting. So stupid.

No way in hell would she give him the satisfaction of breaking her. If she was getting dumped the same week she found out she was pregnant, so what? Worse things had happened to her and she’d come through them stronger. This wouldn’t kill her. It might come damn close, but she would fight through. And she’d be damned if she gave him the satisfaction of seeing her brought low.

With a toss of her hair, she pushed away from him. “I don’t feel like talking. I feel like dancing.” With that, she clicked out of the kitchen on her heels. It felt good, voluntarily walking away from him, putting that signature swagger in her step. Eat your heart out, dickhead.

Lithely, she snaked through the crowd to the living room at the back of the house. Furniture had been removed to give the guests room to dance. A dozen couples were moving to the popular music, plastered against each other. This is where the younger guests had congregated, Ginger noted. Away from the agitated police officers and prying eyes. Good. She was young, too, wasn’t she? Sure, she was months from being a mother—a duty she would perform to the best of her ability. For the moment, though, she needed to think about something else. She needed to feel something. Anything to delay the inevitable.

Ginger tossed her purse onto a nearby table, careful to avoid knocking over any of the other dancers’ drinks. She turned toward Derek, who’d followed her through the crowd, an unreadable expression on his chiseled face. When those eyes tracked down her body, she felt a powerful surge of arousal. He still wanted her. She could have him right now. She could be the one to walk away afterward. It would give her something to take with her. Grant her some goddamn pride.

She let her fingers track slowly up her bare thighs, swaying gently to the music. A few interested glances were thrown in her direction, but for the most part, people were concentrated on their own dance partner. Good. She was just getting started.

Derek rubbed a hand over his mouth. “Ginger.”

Crooking a finger at him, she dipped her hips in time with the music. “Come here, Lieutenant.”

“Stop this now.” He took a step forward, spoke near her ear so she could hear him over the music. “I didn’t want to do this here…”

Desperation bloomed in Ginger’s chest. Oh God, he was going to break her heart right here and now? She’d had no time to prepare, even though she knew no amount of preparation would soften the blow. But…maybe she could delay it. She wanted, needed, to hinder the ax’s descent at all costs. Not yet. Not yet. She moved closer, molded her body to his. Feeling his rigid arousal boosted her confidence. Ginger twined her arms around his neck, circled her hips against his, heard him groan. She closed her eyes and let their time together blur into a series of erotic images. Allowed herself to want him. As if she ever had a choice in the first place. Since he was challenging her own, she tapped into his pride, knowing it would have a devastating effect on him. He would never be able to resist it. And she meant every word.

“Derek. I was so lonely this week without you.” She dragged her fingernails down his chest, opened her mouth on his throat. “You left me unsatisfied in our bed. I needed you, but you didn’t come to me. I ached. And you weren’t there.”

His chest rumbled with a near-violent growl. “Stop it.”

She turned methodically, undulating as she danced. Her bottom brushed strategically against his arousal and his fingers dug into the flesh of her hips. To prevent her or encourage her, she couldn’t tell. Ginger was starting to wonder who was seducing whom when a sharp, blistering tug in her belly nearly buckled her knees. It had been too long. Her body was needy for his.

No. Attempting to retain focus, she shook herself. Tried to fight through the need. She pushed a button she knew would send him past his breaking point. “I wore this costume for a reason. I knew you’d hate it. Knew you’d show me how much you hate it.”

Another deep groan. “Did you want to feel my displeasure?” Derek’s fingers brushed down her naked stomach, inched slightly lower. Ginger was grateful for the near-darkness. She knew her face was flushed, her nipples pouting from their need to be touched.

“Yes. I want to feel your displeasure now.”

His hand circled her wrist, unrelenting as ste

el. Before she could judge his intention, he pulled her from the living room and down a hallway, his stride sure and purposeful. He led her into a dim room. A home office, Ginger registered absently, then she could think no more. Derek whirled her around and his mouth came down on hers. His lips, tongue, and breath were familiar counterpoints to her own that had become vital to her survival. She immediately went under a tidal wave of hot, unrelenting desire. Even with uncertainty swirling around them, his touch grounded her immediately. She resented it even as she let it consume her. Drag her into its depths.

She sucked in a breath when his hands gripped her bottom and hitched her high on his body. Craving contact with him, Ginger locked her legs at the small of his back, crying out when he set her down on a low file cabinet and ground himself against her in a rough, urgent move. Her thin panties were almost nonexistent as they encountered the stiff material of his uniform pants, molded around his erection.

“How hard do you want to be fucked?”

Letting her thighs fall open, she whimpered. “No holding back this time. I don’t want your mouth or your fingers. Not like last time. Give me what I deserve.”

His green eyes lit with a dangerous fire. Ginger knew she’d found his limit. Not only had she told him he’d left her unfulfilled in their bed in his absence, she’d implied their last encounter hadn’t satisfied her. It wasn’t the truth, not remotely, but he reacted in the way she wanted. Needed. In one swift movement, he yanked her off the cabinet, whirled her around and bent her over. Her panties turned to rags in his hand as he rent them from her body. She threw her head back in reckless anticipation as his palm came down hard on her ass in a serious of stinging blows. Each time his hand connected with her backside, a groan issued from his throat, driving her wild in the knowledge that his need matched her own.

“Enjoy it, baby. You fucking begged for it, didn’t you? Do you enjoy wielding your power over me? You like turning me into an animal? Crazed to fuck?”

“Yes,” she moaned.

“Good. Except now it’s my turn.” Slap. Slap. “And you’ve put me in a bad motherfucking mood, Ginger. I’m not going to stop pounding until the shape of my cock permanently exists inside of you. Until you can’t move an inch without feeling me. Now, say my goddamn name.”