A second later, I find out why.
When I try to back through the glass door, it’s locked.
I bump it again with my hip—hard—but it sticks.
“Automatic lock,” one of the men calls from behind the counter. “There’s a button under the counter.”
“Nice try, though,” says his friend, chuckling—and he raises a gun.
A gun much bigger than mine. Is that a rifle?
Acid floods my mouth and something I never could have expected happens. I whimper Ryan’s name. I want to rewind to this morning and tell him everything so he can give me those quiet words of wisdom, at which I usually roll my eyes. But I wouldn’t now. I might even let him give me a hug and tell me everything is going to be fine.
The two men are coming around the counter now and instinctively, I drop the bag containing the cash box and try to pry open the door. It doesn’t work. Oh God, I’m stuck in here with these men I just robbed—and is that…?
Yes, that’s sirens in the distance.
They must have triggered a silent alarm. I anticipated that, but figured I would be long gone before the police arrived. I never considered a remote locking door.
I’m well and truly screwed.
I cock my gun. “Back up,” I order them, trying to sound as authoritative as possible.
One of them tilts his head. “How much fun do you think we can have with her before the cops arrive?”
“She sounds cute under that mask.” He uses the muzzle of the rifle to lift the hem of my coat, inching it higher and higher until my red flannel shirt is revealed. “Let’s take a little peek, shall we?”
The man holding the gun drops to the floor. His gun is confiscated, held in a fist while his owner slumps into a pile of bones below.
Whose fist is that?
The man. I forgot about the other man in the store.
“Be with you in a second.” He clocks the second guy between the eyes with the butt of his gun, knocking him out cold, then casually tosses the rifle onto his shoulder, like an action movie star. “Lose the mask, princess. We have to move. I assume that rental car is registered to your name.”
What is even happening right now? “I…y-yes.”
“I already took out their surveillance system,” he says offhandedly, before stepping back and kicking open the door, glass shattering, metal squealing. “Mask, Jessie.”
“Oh, right,” I breathe, whipping off my disguise and shoving it in my pocket. “Wait. What are you doing here?”
“There’s no time to talk now.” Ryan takes my hand and urges me through the door. We run across the street toward my parked rental car and somehow, I have enough mental fortitude to toss him my keys and hop in the passenger side.
“Seatbelt,” he growls.
I don’t argue.
Feeling like a puppet with its strings being pulled, I hand him over my device. He powers it down, along with his own and sticks them in his pocket. “Cell towers,” he says offhandedly. “If we’ve been seen, we don’t want them tracking us.”
Seconds later, we’re peeling out of the space and I’m a fugitive.
And so is my best friend?
“What the hell, Ryan?”
“I could ask you the same thing.” His jawline flexes and just like this morning, there’s an interesting little kick in my belly—apparently my body is all about bad timing. “What were you thinking, Jessie? Robbing a store at gunpoint?”
My face heats. “How did you know I was going to do it?”
“You were acting weird this morning. I followed you. After about the third time you checked the chamber of your gun—in plain view of the street—I put two and two together.”
Yikes. “You followed me? Ryan, that’s an invasion of my privacy.”
For some reason, this makes him laugh. “I’m taking you somewhere to lay low until I know if the police can connect you to an attempted robbery. There could be eye witnesses or cell phone footage. As soon as I know what they’ve got, I’ll take care of it.”
“Like destroy it?” I twist to face him in the driver’s seat and take hold of his forearm—which…wow. Are those muscles underneath his loose-fitting shirtsleeve? I take my hand back like I’ve been burned. “Ryan, you have to drop me off. You can’t be a part of this. You’re a police officer and you’re making yourself an accomplice. What if you lost your job?”
“Then I’d find another way to keep you safe,” he bites off. “Which apparently is going to require even more diligence than I thought. As soon as we get where we’re going, I want to know why you needed that cash.”
Panic climbs my throat. “You can’t force me to confide in you.”
“I can and I will, Jessie.” He takes a hard right at a corner and the smell of burnt rubber fills the car. “You had it your way for the last thirteen years, shutting me out. But you just put your life in danger and I won’t fucking have that, princess. All bets are off now.”