I stared at the messages on my phone screen dejectedly.
Aaron was furious. I could tell from the brevity of his messages and how he actually bothered to end his texts with periods.
Someone only did that when they were pissed.
And speaking of pissed-off doctors…
“How incompetent can you be?” Dr. Bennet fumed as he paced back and forth in his office.
I’d been trying to ignore his angry tirade, but it was starting to get to me.
“Why Aaron thought to promote you I have no idea. How did you even get your qualifications?”
Alright, enough of this.
“Shut up, will you? This is as much your fault as it is mine,” I didn’t care that he was my boss. This came down to basic human respect.
“He was right in front of you and you let him waltz out of here like he owned the place,” Bennet’s face was flushed bright red from anger.
“You’re the one who got tied up,” I fired back. “What kind of ~moron~ gets hog-tied by their patient?”
“How did you not even know what Wolfe looked like before you took on the job?”
“Listen, asshole,” I said. “I took the assignment literally twenty minutes before I found you tied up to the bed, so cut me some slack.”
“You should be fired for this,” he spat.
“You’d better hope not,” I threatened. “Because if I am, I’ll make sure you get dragged down with me.”
We stared at each other, neither of us backing down. With a final huff, Bennet stormed out of the office, giving me one final glare for good measure.
I sighed, sinking down further into my seat. That was my new boss. And my new patient was a dangerous psychopath on the loose…
I closed my eyes, wishing there was a big red reset button I could press.
Great start, Riley.
“You’re lucky,” Ken said through a mouthful of lasagna.
I stopped to stare at him, the chunk of cheesy pasta on my fork falling back down onto my plate. The chatter of the TV buzzed in the background in our tiny apartment, breaking up the silence.
“And which exact part of my story gave you the impression that I was ~lucky~?” I asked.
I’d given Ken the gist of what had happened: from meeting Dr. Bennet, to meeting the real Dr. Bennet and finding out that I’d just let a dangerous man loose upon the world.
I might lose my job.
And I can’t afford to get fired…
“He didn’t hurt you,” Ken said. “I don’t know if it’s sunk in, sis, but you were alone in a room with a mentally unstable patient. Things could’ve easily gone worse.”.
I hadn’t thought about it that way. In fact, there wasn’t a single moment when I was with Jackson Wolfe that I’d felt scared or uncomfortable.
In fact, I was feeling something else entirely…
But according to his file—one that I’d read far too late—he was a psychopath. And psychopaths were good at manipulating others.
“Anyway, enough about my day,” I said, not-so-subtly changing the subject. I didn’t want to think about my near brush with danger. “How are things going with you, Dr. Dolittle?”.
Ken sighed heavily, staring into the never-ending layers of cheese in his lasagna. “Not much to report. Long days and longer shifts.”.
He scarfed down the rest of his food and got up to wash his dishes.
It felt like someone had taken a knife and jammed it into my heart. My brother’s back was slouched as the sponge moved sluggishly along his plate.
Ken had always wanted to become a veterinarian. Ever since our childhood dog had died, it had been his dream to help our furry little friends from meeting the same fate.
But watching him now…
He looked so tortured.
Things had been rough ever since our parents had died in that freak car accident. We’d been left with debts to pay off, and vet school was by no means cheap. The stress was getting to both of us.
We’d always tried to comfort and be there for each other, but lately, it felt like Ken was avoiding me.
“Ken, if there’s something bothering you—”.
“Nothing’s wrong, Riles. I’m just tired,” he turned to face me, a paper-thin smile on his lips. “I’m going to hit the sack.” He retreated to his room, gently closing the door behind him.
I yawned, exhaustion suddenly overtaking me. I quickly cleaned up in the kitchen and was about to turn off the TV when the news caught my attention.
“49-year-old Melissa Stratton has been reported missing,” the news anchor announced. A photo of a smiling middle-aged woman was shown on the screen. “If you have any information, please do not hesitate to contact local law enforcement.”
I turned off the TV and dragged my feet to my bedroom.
I was restless.
Jackson’s killer smile kept flashing through my mind.
There was no way he was connected to this disappearance…
“Neither of you will lose your jobs,” Aaron said.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
Bennet looked like he wanted to say something, but he kept his mouth shut.
Both of us were sitting across from Aaron in his office. There were no freshly baked cookies on his desk this time, and his usual friendly demeanor was gone.
“For the time being, the two of you will be assigned to different patients until Jackson is recaptured,” he looked at me. “Riley, you’re being assigned to Dave Anderson.”
Bennet snorted beside me, and I threw him some side-eye.
Dave Anderson, also known as Mad Dave by the more…enthusiastic hospital staff, was a problem case.
Aaron shifted his gaze to Bennet, unamused.
“You, Paul, will shadow me. I’ll be keeping a close eye on you to ensure you follow standard safety protocols.”
Bennet shrank into his seat, and I felt some vindictive glee run through me.
“It’s concerning that Jackson was able to subdue you,” Aaron continued. “No matter how cunning he may be, there’s no reason you should have been in that situation.”
Bennet opened his mouth to say something, but Aaron held up his hand.
“I don’t want to hear it. We’re moving on from this incident.” Aaron pinched the bridge of his nose, looking ten years older than he really was. “Now, unless the two of you have any questions…?”
Bennet and I looked at each other, neither of us wanting to speak up.
“Great. Then let’s go ahead and—”
We turned to find his receptionist at the door, gasping for air. She looked frazzled, her usually impeccable updo loose and messy.
“What is it now?” Aaron groaned, standing up.
“It’s Jackson,” she said. “They caught him.”
The hospital entrance was crowded with staff, the media, and curious bystanders. I got up on my tiptoes, craning my neck to try and see over the crowd.
“Did you hear?” a voice to my left said. I looked over to see two nurses from the ICU murmuring to each other. “Apparently he killed someone.”
My stomach dropped. I inched closer to them, trying to hear what they were saying.
“They found the missing lady. Well, what’s left of her at least.” This nurse was definitely playing up the story, retelling it as if this poor woman was a victim from a horror movie rather than an actual human being.
It made me sick.
“What do you mean what’s left?” the other asked.
“Her limbs were all chopped up. They found pieces of her everywhere—bite marks all over her body.”
“Jesus,” the other nurse murmured under his breath.
“How do you know Jackson did it?” I interrupted.
The two of them looked up at me, startled.
“He was found close by,” he said. “Besides... Jackson has a history.”
Before I could ask, a flurry of movement exploded by the entrance. Shouts accompanied the rapid-fire camera shutters of eager journalists.
Jackson was escorted through the hospital, secured tightly to a wheelchair. The curious onlookers parted for him, and eventually his path passed where I was standing.
We locked eyes: those deep chocolate-brown orbs latching onto mine. He looked different from when I’d last seen him. He didn’t look as suave as he had in the doctor’s coat.
He looked dangerous. Feral.
He wore dirty jeans and a ripped white T-shirt, splatters of blood staining the fabric.
Blood from the missing woman?
Am I inadvertently responsible for a stranger’s death?
“Oh, hello, Cotton Candy,” he said casually as he was wheeled past me.
My hand instinctively moved to touch my purple hair. “Don’t call me that,” I said.
Heat raced down my spine as he winked at me.
Jackson smirked, a burning sex appeal smoldering in his gaze. “We might have to take a raincheck on that date.”
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