She didn’t like the man, but she would tolerate him. She had to. She had bills and student loans and rent and car payments. If she quit or was fired, her parents would point out what a disappointment she was and ask why she couldn’t do things right—like her brother.
Stiffening her spine, she decided she had no intention of leaving Spruce Creek. The quaint Colorado mountain town was her home now. The century-old buildings—and newer ones constructed to look as if they were—housed a community nestled in a small park-like setting bisected by its namesake. A single-lane bridge spanned the creek, allowing only one vehicle at a time to cross.
In just a short time, Kat had come to love the small town, the people who lived there, and her job working with animals. Since she planned to stay, she would just have to refashion Jordan Walker into a sensitive human being. She had her work cut out for her. Kat rushed to find Torrey, the office manager, to discuss what she should do about the confrontation. But she found, instead, that Torrey had left for the day, as had the rest of the front office personnel. The doors were locked, and the reception and exam room lights were off.
Damn! The conversation she desperately wanted to have right this minute must wait until tomorrow.
She stomped into the staff room, pulled on her jacket, and furious, grabbed her bag before turning to leave by the back exit. Since there were no windows in the rear portion of the animal hospital, none of the waning daylight from the sinking sun intruded into the work area.
A few animals were settled quietly in their boarding cages. The smell of warm bodies permeated the air. The clinic was kept scrupulously clean, so there was no smell of urine or feces.
Had she not been so angry she might have noticed sooner that there was something . . . off. Something strange—an unfamiliar scent, spicy and peculiar.
The cleaning crew hadn’t yet arrived and she was alone. She felt spooked—a shiver ran down her spine. Her anger was replaced by a sense of foreboding. Was the back door open?
All the lights were muted or turned off for the night. The chill intensified. Goose bumps rose on her arms. She forced herself through the darkened clinic toward the pharmacy, where a light burned. She walked forward calling out, “Dr. Walker, are you here? Is anyone here?”
Kat heard no response and stuck her head in through the door. She sensed a presence in the room. Suddenly the light went out and, without warning, pain stabbed into her temple. She was shoved off her feet, and her head struck the door jamb.
When she regained consciousness, panic consumed her—heart racing, breath labored, palms sweating. She didn’t know where she was or what had happened. She only knew she had a piercing headache and the bitter taste of blood in her mouth.
After her racing heart slowed, Kat looked around. She saw the open pharmacy door and realized she’d been attacked. Pulling her cell phone from the bag lying next to her, she dialed nine-one-one. In spite of a crushing headache, she managed to tell the dispatcher what had happened, instructing that the emergency personnel should enter through the back.
Sirens blaring and lights flashing, the deputies arrived in record time considering the eleven miles of mountain highway they’d driven from Bailey.
She heard a voice at the same time she saw a flashlight glow. “Park County Sheriff, is anybody here?”
Weakly, she called out, “Here—I’m here. I’m hurt.”
The beam of light found her and the officer called out loudly “Clear” to the paramedics waiting impatiently until the area was secured.
“Where are you hurt?” an EMT asked as he wrapped Kat’s arm in a blood pressure cuff. “Relax if you can, we’re here to help you.”
The overhead lights flared on as Jordan Walker came through the door. “What’s going on here?” he yelled.
“Who are you?” a deputy yelled back while reaching for his weapon.
“Stop, please,” Kat whimpered. She hated feeling vulnerable. Spotting Kat behind the paramedics, Jordan hurried to her side. “Kat, uh—Ms. Morelli—what happened? Are you okay?”
Both a paramedic and a deputy stepped forward to restrain him.
“It’s okay,” she told them. “He’s Dr. Walker. He owns this clinic.”
A detective strode through the back door just as she called off her two would-be protectors. He waved the deputy away. “Dr. Walker, I’m Detective Turner. Can you tell me what happened?”
“I don’t know, I just got here,” he replied. “We need to ask Ms. Morelli. She’s the one who’s injured.”
Turner looked at Jordan. “And how did you get here so fast?”
“I live upstairs, in an apartment over the clinic. I heard the sirens and saw the lights, and I came down as soon as I could get shoes on.”
Turner looked to the paramedics. “Can I ask her a few questions?”
The paramedics turned to Kat. “Do you feel up to answering questions? They can wait until you get to the treatment center, if you want.”
“Now’s fine,” she said. She told them the short version, about the lights being out and checking the premises before leaving for the night. How she was surprised to find the pharmacy open and a light on. How she stuck her head in to check and then it was lights out, literally.
Kat watched Turner accompany Jordan into the pharmacy to see what had been taken. The steel cabinets which held the narcotics were still secure. She could tell that Jordan was concerned to find that the drawer holding tranquilizer darts had been broken into. She listened as Turner asked the implications of their use against a human.
“Since I primarily treat small animals—cats and dogs—in the clinic, the darts I keep on-hand here are low dosage. They might affect an adult, but not much. They would be more effective against a small child.
“How about if more than one were used on an adult?” Turner asked.
“That might be problematic,” Jordan replied. Then he rushed away, calling behind him, “I need to check the garage. I keep stronger darts in my truck in case I’m called out on a lion sighting at the campground.”
When he returned, apparently satisfied that the garage was secure, he approached the EMT who was treating Kat.
“I only have a headache,” she claimed. “I’m going to live. I don’t need to go to the ER.”
Before the paramedic could respond, Jordan spoke up. “Kat—uh, Ms. Morelli,” he corrected. “You are going to the emergency room. You might have a concussion. In fact, that’s a probability. As your boss and as a doctor, I am not allowing you to do anything else.” He spoke emphatically—his words were steel.
“You are my boss, but you’re an animal doctor, not a people doctor,” she argued . . . and a pompous ass.
“Makes no difference. You’re going to the ER to be checked. As you pointed out, I am a DVM, not an MD, so I can’t give you a clean bill-of-health.”
“Okay,” she grumbled, “my head hurts too much to argue.”
With that, the paramedics loaded her onto the gurney, placing her personal belongings at her feet. As they rolled her toward the door, she heard the detective ask, “Is there any chance Ms. Morelli opened the pharmacy door to her assailant and then became his victim to hide her involvement?”
“Not a chance in hell,” Jordan replied. “Veterinary assistants don’t have keys for the
“My office manager and I.”
“Well, that narrows the suspect list,” Turner said. “Anybody upstairs with you in your apartment when this happened?”
“In the morning we’ll see if the pharmacist has an alibi. Since we know you don’t have one— as they say in the movies—don’t leave town.”
Had she been able, Kat would have smiled at the detective’s quip, but even the thought of smiling hurt too much.