“Faster,” the man demands. Nicki falters, looking over her shoulder at us. The man moves the gun to my temple, and he presses the barrel there. “Fucking faster or I’ll blow her goddamn head off.”

Nicki pivots, then starts pulling inventory off the shelves faster. When the bag is half full, she turns to hand it to the man. He whips his head to the door, checks to see if anyone is near, and then swivels back to Nicki. Releasing his hold around my neck, he reaches out for the loot.

When it’s in hand, he waves the gun, pointing at the floor. “All right… both of you on your knees with your faces away from me.”

Nickie moves to the spot he indicates, then immediately starts to drop to her knees. I don’t like the sound of putting myself into a position where he can shoot me execution style. Maybe I’ve watched too much of the Sopranos or something, but nope. Not going to happen.

I don’t move a muscle.

“Get on your knees, bitch,” he growls.

“No,” I reply as I lift my chin, but my voice is shaking like a leaf. “You got your shit, now get out of here.”

It comes so fast I have no time to react, dodge, or duck. His hand with the pistol cocks back and comes flying at me backhand style. Right across my temple. Stars explode in my eyes. The pain is blinding for a moment, but then I see my own blood spatter across Nicki’s worktable as I go crashing to the floor.

My back is to him, and I wait for the bullet to come next.

Instead, the door chime goes off. My heart wrenches for whoever is getting ready to walk into this disaster. I hear the man curse, feet scuffling, and then someone else screams.

Nicki is at my side, gently turning me over so she can look at my head. “He’s gone,” she says. Someone else is now at my side, kneeling next to me. An older man with snowy-white hair in a buzz cut. He looks former military or police, and he has his phone pressed to his ear while he talks to 9-1-1.

“Yes, I just walked into a robbery at MyRx on Honey Camp Road. The assailant is gone, but there’s an injured woman… looks like a head wound.”

“He hit her with the gun,” Nicki provides, then she pushes up and disappears. In moments, she’s back with a towel to press to my bleeding head.

I try to sit up, but the man gently pushes me by the shoulder to stay down as he continues to talk to the dispatcher.

“You’ve got a really bad laceration,” Nicki advises me, her voice quavering. “I am so sorry, Elena.”

I smile wanly. “Why? It’s not like you planned this.”

Her return smile is tremulous. “I just can’t believe that happened. I mean… what the hell is wrong with people?”

“Indeed,” I murmur, closing my eyes for a moment. My head hurts like a… well, like I’d just been pistol whipped.

Over the next twenty minutes, we’re swarmed with police and crime scene investigators. Paramedics arrive and while I don’t want to go in an ambulance, I’m sort of strong-armed into doing so by them and Nicki.

“You’ve got a nasty head wound, and you really should have a CT scan to make sure there’s no bleeding on your brain,” one told me.

That scared me a little, so I relented.

They load me onto a stretcher, and I feel foolish for it. I was sure I could walk, but they won’t let me. They bandage up the wound, but they can’t give me anything for the pain.

We can’t leave until they get some of my basic information. Another paramedic works on starting an IV. While they’re doing that, Nicki sits in the ambulance with me for support.

And then it occurs to me… I won’t be shopping for a pretty dress or attending dinner at Brandon and Colleen’s tonight with Benjamin.

“Nicki… can you send a text for me?” I ask.

“Sure,” she replies, then rummages through my purse for my phone.

I don’t even consider calling Benjamin. He’s busy at work seeing patients. Besides, I wouldn’t even expect him to answer. This isn’t an emergency, though, so I’m fine with a text.

I tell her exactly what to say on the text. After she sends it, she asks, “Do you want me to call your mom or someone else?”

“No,” I say wanly. “Dad’s out of town, and she just had a knee injection so she’s not mobile right now. I’ll call her later after the CT scan so I can assure her everything’s fine.”

“Want me to call anyone?” she presses.

I consider Jorie, but then decide against it. She’d worry, too, and I’m fairly sure there’s nothing to worry about. Despite having a hell of a headache, I don’t feel that bad. Nothing I would expect from such an injury—no dizziness or anything. I didn’t even lose consciousness.

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