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“Don’t you worry about that,” she said, shaking her head and sitting forward. “If your uncle needs you, then he needs you. Last thing I’m going to do is keep you here for the obligatory two weeks if you’ve got a sick relative.”

“I really appreciate that. You’ve no idea how much it means to me.” I upped the sympathy factor a bit. And I really was appreciative. Dr. Ruben was doing me a major solid letting me depart on such short notice.

She nodded, and I could sense she wasn’t happy about the idea of losing me.

“We’ve got the staff to cover you, so don’t worry about that. Plenty of doctors fresh out of med school who all want a chance to prove they’re the next Dr. Ecomides.”

That got a chuckle out of me. “Well, I’d love to finish out my last shift here, if that works for you.”

“Of course, it does.” She offered a small smile. “And it’s been a pleasure having you on staff.”

With that, we wrapped up the meeting and I got to work. The shift wasn’t anything too bad—a stabbing from a street scuffle was the worst I had to deal with. When the shift ended, I learned that Dr. Ruben had snuck out at some point to pick up cupcakes and non-alcoholic champagne to throw an impromptu going-away party for me.

It was all bittersweet. As eager as I was to get out of the city, I truly loved my position at Midtown Presbyterian, not to mention the people with whom I was lucky enough to work. By the time the shift was over, and I was done saying my goodbyes, I felt a small tugging at my heart.

I pushed it aside as I stepped out through the doors one last time, into the cool night air. Once I was alone, my mind focused on the tasks at hand. I’d need to make arrangements for my trip to Denver.

I had the money to take care of whatever needed to be done. All the same, I hated feeling like I was fleeing, like I was sneaking away like a rat. But the perfect opportunity had presented itself. Nico wasn’t stupid, and if he hadn’t figured out yet that I was the one who’d called the NYPD on him, he’d put it all together soon enough.

I hurried down Fifth Avenue, my heart racing with excitement as I realized I was mere minutes away from getting to my apartment.

“Sir? Excuse me?”

I stopped, the back of my neck tingling. Quickly, I turned.

The person who’d asked the question was a woman, slight and in her fifties. Everything about her was non-threatening, almost as if by design.

“I’m looking for East Seventieth and Second. Is there any way you could help me?”

Heavy footsteps sounded out behind me.

The back of my neck tingled hard, and I reached into my jacket pocket for my gun as I turned.

However, I never got the chance to see who was running up behind me—a fist flying toward my face made sure of that.

A dull thud sounded out, pain blasting through me as I staggered backward.

It’d been a long time since I’d taken a punch, I realized. I was getting soft.

“There’s the good doctor.”

My vision unblurred, and I glanced over my shoulder just in time to watch the woman who’d been used as a distraction run off, disappearing around the nearest block.

Before I even had a chance to think about how dumb I’d been for even stopping, a huge hand clapped down onto my shoulder, spinning me back around. When I turned, another fist slammed into my stomach, air rushing out of my lungs.

As I staggered backward, I managed to catch a glimpse of the men who’d gotten the best of me. They were a pair of very fat men, both tall as I was, but obese instead of muscular. As they stepped toward me, however, I could tell by the way they moved, how they carried themselves, that their power was the weight behind their punches, not skill.

Both regarded me with beady eyes situated among fleshy faces, their heads shaved and their looks so similar that they almost appeared like brothers.

“Man, that was easier than I thought,” one of them said.

“Yeah,” spoke the other. “I thought this guy was supposed to be tough.”

I coughed once more, getting my bearings. “I see that the dumbass goon store is having a two-for-one special.”

They regarded each other with the same confused expression, as if they’d expected me to have been too beat-down for a fight.

“The hell you say?” one of them stammered.

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