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"Move!" she whispered as loud as she dared. "It's going to be okay. I promise. But we have to move."
Just a little farther away from the building. Down the alley, to the street, and then
There was no little farther. No safe. Not until they were miles away. Too bad her escape plan was more of a shot in the dark than an actual plan.
There were shadows flanking the street entrance to the long alley. Human shadows she wasn't sure were friend or foe.
"Quick, back here." She cut behind one of the Dumpsters beside the door they'd escaped through.
He'd be furious.
She could hear them searching inside the warehouse. Frantic. And they never bothered to be frantic, except when following orders or covering their asses. So much for her element of surprise.
Shouts echoed. Their hide-and-seek posse was about to spill outside. "Lexi?" The whisper at her elbow was shaky. Terrified.
"Shh." She squeezed the sweaty palm clinging to hers.
It was midday, but her warning hung like a hazy omen in the cold air. Just breathing could get them caught.
"We have to be quiet," she warned.
It was either be quiet or be dead. And dead wasn't going to happen.
She could still make this disaster right. Somehow.
She glanced toward the street. Still no movement. Maybe no threat. But she had to be sure.
The shadows and filth around them revealed no makeshift weapons. No epiphanies for how to fix this.
"Lexi, I dropped Felix in the warehouse. I have to"
"I have to go back for him." The hand tugged free. "I have to"
"We can't go back!"
She had no business trying to do this on herown. But there'd been no time. And now everything was unraveling, and she didn't have a choice .
Worry about Felix later. Get to later first.
They had to reach the street while there was still time, then
The door creaked open, hinges scraping, rust against rust. Footsteps left the warehouse and echoed across the damp concrete, scuffing against discarded cardboard, scattering the junk littering the ground.
She forced shallow breaths. One hand motioned for silence, the other pressed against the pitted surface of the Dumpster. It was too obvious a hiding place.
As if she'd had tons of alternatives! Desperation makes you reckless, a voice from her past had once cautioned. But you can use the recklessness to your advantage . Every now and then, you'll make yourself a little luck.
The footsteps stopped.
The Dumpster's lid lifted long enough for someone to peer inside, then it slammed shut. Hard-soled shoes shuffled in opposite directions. Two sets of them, heading toward either side of the bin.
Screw luck. "Run!" She shoved against the Dumpster, crashing it into the men. "Run to the street and don't look back! Help! Help us!"
One of the men hit the ground, his gun skidding away. She grabbed it and sprung from her crouch into a full sprint. More footsteps poured into the alley from the warehouse. "Help us!" she yelled again.
The shadows down the alley turned, bodies in motion heading their way. Not friends after all.
She raised the gun.
Trying to shoot her way out was stupid. There were too many of them. But stupid wasn't dead.
They still had a chance, as long as
A hand clenched in her hair and yanked her backward.
"No!" She kicked as she was dragged away from the street. "Run! Whatever you do, don't stop running!"
She twisted to face her attacker. Ignored the pain. She brought the gun around to fire, knowing she was already done. But there was done, and then there was taking one of these bastards with her.
She had a sudden taste for the latter. She'd distract them for a few more seconds, then "Lexi!" The terrified scream came from the street. A shadow closed in from behind her. Before she could react, the side of her head exploded in pain.
She crumpled to the ground, taking her attacker down, too. Failure echoed around hermore screams for help, bouncing off the buildings around them. Blackness enveloped her. An automatic pointed between her eyes, pressed to her forehead.
"You stupid bitch," a disembodied voice growled. The child's next scream ripped through her pain. Along with it came the certainty that it was almost over.
It was finally over. "Do it," she snarled, the weakest part of her relieved as the alley faded to black.
But the nightmare continued, and in it, she kept fighting . Kicked to get free
Twisted against her restraints Strained against the hands holding her to the table
Fought the pain and the light shattering her skull
The blackness shifted to gray . Reality drawing closer
"Hold her still," a soothing voice commanded. The warm hand on her shoulder belonged to the voice, not the icy cold of her nightmare. It was soft, not cruel, absorbing her shivers. Quieting them.
"It's okay," he whispered near her ear. "Try to relax. You're safe now."
She somehow willed her body to still and her eyes to open. A tall figure towered over her.
Blue, shapeless shirt.
Her mind recoiled from the thought. She tried to jerk away from the gentle touch, but he stopped her. Him and the heaviness stealing through her body.
He smiled behind his mask, his expression kind.
Caring. She hadn't wanted either from anyone in a long time. She was certain of it, even though nothing else made sense.
"We've given you a sedative," he explained. "You should be starting to feel it. Try to relax. No one's going to hurt you here."
Her instinctive laugh escaped as a moan.
He studied the whirring and beeping monitors she hadn't noticed before. His hand moved to the bandage she suddenly realized engulfed half her head, pulling it back to check beneath.
"You've got one minute to get her under," he instructed someone she couldn't see.
The blackness reached for her again.
His fingers smoothed down her cheek, easing her panic. More effective than any drug. She blinked against the shadows, needing to see his eyes a while longer. Their blue was shot through with a steely, determined gray.
"Help me," she begged. "You have to help me get out of here. Get to the street. We need to go ."
"What street?" he asked. "We who?"
The question strangled her. A surge of adrenaline anchored her more firmly to the present, forcing a horrifying moment of clarity.
Because there was nothing there.
No answers to his questions.
She couldn't remember . There was nothing, except for the gun pointing at her, and that final scream. A child's scream. "Run!" She tried to sit up. She had to get out of there. "I have to go back, before"
"Go back where?" He held her down until she stopped struggling.
She blindly felt for his hand. He started at her touch, then squeezed her fingers. "There's nowhere to go right now. Let me take care of you, then we'll figure out the rest. It's going to be okay."
The sentiment sent her fighting again. "You've taken quite a blow to your head." He restrained her as gently as before. "You need immediate surgery, but you're safe. You're not alone. I'm not going to let anything happen to you."
A mask was placed over her mouth and nose. "Breathe normally." He nodded to someone behind her, then smiled again. "Let yourself fall asleep. I promise, I'll be here when you wake up. You can trust me."
She was in bad shapeshe'd seen the truth in his eyes. In the barely controlled urgency behind the orders he'd issued. The right side of her head felt like it was on fire. The nightmareit had been real. And now she could die. But worse, she'd
She'd failed at something important .And now Someone she cared about deeply, someone she couldn't remember, was in danger.
Please, she begged him with her eyes.
Please, she'd begged someone else a long time ago. Stay. Don't go away .
"It will be okay," he promised. "Trust me."
And she did.
She shouldn't. That long-ago voice had promised the same thing, and lied. But the anesthesia was enticing her to let go.A cloud of security blanketed the fear.
She could finally stop running. From what, she had no idea. But just this once, she could stop running.
"FINISH PREPPING HER," Robert Livingston demanded, his gaze lowering to his patient's relaxed features. "I want to be in there looking for bleeders in five minutes."
He made himself let go of her hand as she was intubated. Then he turned to study the portable CT scans and focus on the challenges of the case. Anything but accepting the unprofessional protectiveness he'd felt for the gravely injured woman who'd been frantically trying to crawl off his operating table.
Jane Doe's skull hadn't been breached by whatever had struck hera pipe, maybe something smaller. But there was significant damage. The CT scan showed a compound fracture, a subdural hematoma beneath and other lesions that could become life-threatening. Reversing the damage, even delicately, would increase the risk of complications. But he had to stop the bleeding and remove any debris that might cause a clot or escalating pressure and swelling.
Then all there'd be left to do was wait, and hope. It will be okay .
Every person in the O.R. had frozen at his unprofessional lapse. Her odds of a full recovery were fifty-fifty at best. Her terror upon waking was understandable. The police had classified this a typical mugging, but hers was one of the worst robbery outcomes Robert had seen. And he'd seen plenty. Nothing might ever be okay for this patient again.
But when she'd grabbed his hand, he'd fallen into those expressive brown eyesjust like Jacob's eyes. And in the face of her all-consuming fear, he'd found himself promising whatever he had to, just as he had with his baby brother over twenty years ago.
"I have to rescrub." He turned away while his surgical intern stabilized the patient's head, covering everything but the shaved area around the injury with sterile dressings. "We open in two minutes."
It had been drilled into him in med school that his patients' problems outside the hospital were beyond his control. So were the many possible complications they faced during recovery. But in the O.R., the control was his. And he was good at what he did. The best neurosurgeon in Georgia, tops in his field nationally. He lost very few patients, and he wasn't losing this one.