Based on surveillance reports and the informant they currently had in custody, over a hundred members of the Lazio and Modesto crews were taking part in the covert meeting. They were all armed and under orders to provide cover if needed for the higher-ranking members to escape. Lazio included. His men, the other departments, they were aware of the risks and were just as dedicated to the cause as Derek. He reminded himself he’d planned for every eventuality. He’d done everything possible to safeguard his officers. This was everything he’d worked for and soon, one way or another, it would be over.

He didn’t want to be distracted. This operation demanded his full attention. Today he would have justice for a fallen officer. Possibly prevent numerous deaths in the future, deaths of officers and citizens alike. Yet it couldn’t be helped. His thoughts continued to stray to Ginger. To her broken expression as she demanded he put her out of her misery and… Derek couldn’t finish the thought. Couldn’t think about the conclusion she’d drawn without feeling actual, physical pain lance through him. He’d hurt her. Made her question his commitment to her.

His decision to keep her in the dark had been a mistake. That much had become clear immediately. How could he have been such a hypocrite? He’d spent the last year earning her trust, reiterating the importance of having no secrets between them. Then when given the chance to prove how strong their bond had become, he’d left her to twist in the wind. God, just knowing she’d spent the week thinking he was drifting away made him feel ill. What would he have done if Ginger didn’t come home for days on end? If she refused to talk to him? Derek knew exactly what he would do. Pin her down and love her, kiss her, reassure her until she opened up. He hadn’t given her that chance. He’d hid like a coward, afraid to reveal his own fear.

Now, his fears consisted of something else entirely. He needed to return to her at all costs. Fixing the mess he’d made was imperative. He’d promised her. A broken promise couldn’t be the memory he left her with. He simply wouldn’t allow it.

With a minute to go before the helicopter arrived, tipping off the perpetrators inside the warehouse to their presence, a flashback hit him. Ginger running down the hospital corridor in a nightshirt and cowboy boots, hair streaming behind her. Launching herself into his arms. Under the false impression that he’d been shot, she’d raced to the hospital in the middle of the night and found him safe and sound, merely waiting for an injured officer to be released. It had marked the first time she’d freely admitted to her feelings. He’d vowed never to take those feelings for granted. And he had. He fucking had.

Moving images smothered him then. Ginger, pissed-off and gorgeous, giving him hell for acting jealous. Ginger, sleepy-eyed and smiling, gasping as his hand slipped between her legs. Ginger, dancing and laughing at one of his officers’ weddings, looking so beautiful and happy it broke his heart and made it swell at the same damn time.

When he got out of this alive—because his promise left no other option—he was going to marry her. Before he did anything else. It suddenly felt like a goddamn sin that he hadn’t done it before now. If he’d corrected the travesty before this, maybe she wouldn’t have had room to let misgivings creep in. Maybe he wouldn’t be terrified over the prospect of something happening to him, leaving her with nothing. No rights as his wife. In his heart, she already was his wife. He needed it to be official, so badly it burned in his chest.

The dull roar of helicopter rotors beat in the distance, signaling the start of their operation. Derek nodded at the officer stationed in the warehouse window across the street, who immediately raised a radio to his mouth.

This is it. Now or never.

With a heavy heart, Derek reminded each image of Ginger how much he loved them all. How he wished he had handled everything differently this week. He prayed she could somehow hear him. Then he determinedly tucked her safely away and moved into the warehouse, his men following close behind.

Ginger lay on her side, face pressed to the wooden floor. She’d been in the same position, facing the door since late last night. Waiting for Derek to walk through. At first she’d been a whirlwind of nervous energy. She’d pulled out her hefty reserve of magazines and started cutting. Several pieces, expensive ones she’d earmarked for future projects, were now covered in the fruits of her furious labor. She barely remembered a single second.

At one point, she’d considered turning on the news, but had immediately discarded the idea. She’d ignored phone calls from Patti. Willa. No news was better than bad news, to her way of thinking. The more time she’d had to think, the reasons behind Derek’s action had begun to take shape in her mind and allowed for one dreaded conclusion. He wouldn’t have kept the case a secret from her if it hadn’t been incredibly dangerous. They did not keep things from each other. How many times had he drummed that fact into her head until she finally started believing it?

In order for Derek to keep her in the dark, his life had to be at risk. As soon as she’d realized that, she’d been unable to think of anything else. So she’d dropped her scissors into the pile of magazine scraps and lain down, her hand resting on her belly protectively. She didn’t move a muscle for fear she’d break apart and cease to exist. As the morning light illuminated the apartment, she wished fervently for the darkness to return. Everywhere the sunlight touched was another memory sent to haunt her. Ginger could practically hear his deep voice echoing through the apartment.

“Baby, you’re making us late again.”

Ginger smiled behind their bedroom door. They’d been on their way to a department ceremony in which Derek would be honored by the commissioner for his role in a drug sting earlier that year. “I’m always worth the wait, though, darlin’.”

“Can’t argue with that.”

She’d yelped when the bedroom door swung open, royal-blue dress halfway down her body. “Derek, knock it off. I’m almost ready. You’re just going to distract me.”

He’d run his hands up her thighs, over her bottom. “The hell with it. Let’s stay here.”

“No.” Her protest had been breathless. “You deserve this ceremony. You worked hard and earned it. We’re going.”

Derek had picked her up and plunked her down on the dresser. His mouth moved over hers sweetly, long enough to turn her bones to jelly, before he’d pulled back. “We’ll go. But only so I can see you smiling up at me from the front row. Proud of me.” Fingers brushing over her cheek. “If I didn’t have you sitting there in the audience, the honor wouldn’t mean a damn thing.”

“I’m always proud of you,” she’d whispered back, shaken by his words. “So proud.”

He’d cleared his throat and looked away, still getting used to his own feelings, she’d mused. She’d understood the sentiment too well. “Good. Then move that beautiful ass.” She’d laughed and let him carry her out of the bedroom over his shoulder without a single word of protest.

The memory faded just as she heard the sound of a key turning in the lock. Ginger slowly moved into a sitting position, positive her imagination was playing tricks on her. Then Derek walked in, looking filthy and exhausted, yet wonderful at the same time. His gaze found her and warmed. A loud sob tore from her throat. Sweet, cleansing relief cocooned her, chasing away the last of her worry. Yet on its heels came palpable frustration. It had been numbed by the fear until now, but the anger bred through helplessness wouldn’t be held back any longer. She’d been left in agony for a week, unprepared because he’d wanted to be noble. A part of her knew the frustration was just anxiety leaving her body in a rush, but she couldn’t help it. She needed to let it out. Make damn sure he never did this to her again.

“I’ve got something to say, Lieutenant, so you listen real well.” She rose to her feet, went toward him, finger pointed squarely at his chest. “I doubted you, us, this week and I’m damn sorry about it. I’m still learning. I might keep on learning forever.” Ginger dragged in a shuddering breath. “But you doubted us, too. You doubted me. You didn’t g

ive me enough credit to understand your job. How much it means to you. I know. I know everything about you, Derek Tyler. So, I’m sorry I messed up and lost sight of what’s between us, but you messed up, too.”

“You’re right,” he said abruptly, bringing her up short. “I didn’t give you the chance to be strong enough for us both when you’re the strongest person I know. I’m sorry.”

Her heart thundered in her ears. His words were so unexpected, she couldn’t process them. “Help me understand.”

“It was bad, Ginger. I knew it would bad be going in.” He released a pent-up breath, shifted on his feet. An action unlike her usually stoic Derek. “I couldn’t say it out loud. I couldn’t look at you and tell you I was putting myself in a high-risk situation. Not after I demanded you never do the same again.” His gaze penetrated hers. “This was something I had to do. Something important. I’m sorry as hell I didn’t share it with you. If something happens to one of us, the other suffers. I forgot it goes both ways. Until the last second.”

Tears threatened to fall, but she determinedly held them back. “What happened?”

“We got Lazio. Crippled Modesto. Everyone is alive, but it was fucking close.”

Relief, coupled with pride in Derek, blurred her vision. She looked up at him, hiding nothing, seconds from throwing herself into his arms and never letting go, but he’d become distracted by something behind her. An odd expression crossed his face. One she’d never seen before. With a frown, Ginger turned and looked at the furniture scattered around the living room, as though seeing it for the first time.

Pink. Baby. Shit. Everywhere. Chairs, nightstands, even lampshades were covered in carefully pasted and lacquered collages of rattles, pictures of babies, storks, smiling parents, bottles.

Ginger whirled back around to find Derek watching her, the intensity of his expression robbing her of any lingering frustration. She hadn’t even needed to tell him. Without her saying a word, he’d known, known her habits enough to figure her secret out on his own. Still, she couldn’t decipher how he felt about the news. His face gave nothing away.

“You’re pregnant.”

She placed a hand over her belly and nodded.

Derek inhaled shakily. “How long have you known?”

“Just this week.”