“Thank you,” she said.
She stepped out of the taxi, long legs elegant in her high heels, shoulders so straight, she looked regal. Her fingers dug into the back of his hand, she was hanging on so tight, like a drowning woman gasping for her last breath. But no one looking on would guess she was fighting internal demons merely to get out of the car. Would she even be able to take the stand, if she could barely walk through the door of the courthouse? They’d have to cross that bridge when they came to it, he decided.
Standing on the sidewalk, she craned her neck to stare up at the building towering above them. The Cairns Courthouse was of modern, concrete construction, with lots of glass windows, and wide, concrete pillars. She hadn’t let go of his hand, and so he tugged her gently toward the main door. Her fingers were slim and cool inside his own. Juggling both of their bags on one arm, he coaxed her through the door, and into the cool interior.
SKYLAR SANK INTO the rear seat of the taxi. Lying her head against the backrest, she closed her eyes for a second and pinched the bridge of her nose. Thank God that was over. The whole day had been a blur. But one thing she did remember clearly was Nash. He’d stayed by her side for most of the day, when he wasn’t giving evidence. He’d been her rock. She hadn’t realized how bad her anxiety had become until she tried to step out of the taxi in front of the courthouse this morning. Her heart had been racing a million miles an hour; it felt as if the taxi was closing around her, like she was in a tin can being crushed by the weight of expectation.
“Bet you’re glad that’s over,” Nash said in his convivial way, lips tweaking upward in that cute, crooked smile. Nash had changed back into his civilian clothes. “You did an amazing job, by the way. I’m sure your testimony will put that bastard away for a long time.”
“Thank you. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“Of course, you could.” He raised one eyebrow.
She liked that he was so humble. That he didn’t feel the need to rub her face in her failings. Unlike Craig. Toward the end of their relationship, Craig seemed to be hellbent on dragging her self-confidence down at every opportunity he got.
It’d taken all of Skylar’s self-control to force herself to step up onto the witness stand this afternoon. But the lovely junior lawyer, Samantha, who’d helped to prepare her for the questions, was staring at her expectantly. Everyone was staringat her expectantly. Nash was there, sitting in the second row back. Wearing his smart dress uniform, he looked good enough to eat, the dark-blue of his jacket bringing out his cobalt eyes. He’d already given his testimony, and his gaze was urging her on, giving her the confidence that she could do this. The wife, Patty, was nowhere to be seen. But Samantha told her that was standard. She’d be watching the trial through closed-circuit TV, because she didn’t want to face her husband. Skylar sympathized with the other woman. Dan Sanders was there, or course, giving her that know-it-all smirk. It was that smirk that finally got her feet moving. She’d taken one step, then two steps, and then she was sitting in the chair.
Once in the chair, Skylar concentrated on Camden, the lead prosecution lawyer, who asked her questions in a cool, unwavering voice, soothing away her fears. Soon, the rest of the court faded into the background. It was only her and Camden. Her reverie was broken slightly when the defense lawyer began to cross-examine her. But Samantha had warned her this guy would try to rattle her, try to discredit her testimony, make it seem like she didn’t remember things properly. By that stage, all Skylar wanted was to make sure Dan Sanders didn’t get away with any more of his bullshit. She used her rage against him—and her bottled-up rage against Craig—to fight away the waves of anxiety if they threatened to overwhelm her.
In the end, it was all over quicker than she expected, and the judge was asking her to step down. Perhaps it’d been the relief flooding her veins because she’d made it through the ordeal, that was the reason Dan Sanders’ menacing remark had caught her so off guard.
“You’re still a non-believer, I see,” he’d said, in a low voice as she passed by the front bench to return to her seat. She’d turned to look at him, startled by his audacity. And his threat. “Just you remember what I said about making you pay for your lack ofobedience.” His dark eyes had glittered with intimidation, even as his lawyer tugged at his sleeve. She’d stumbled and almost fallen, just managing to save herself by grabbing the edge of the desk before she hit the ground. Nash stood up in his seat, but she waved for him to sit back down.
“The defendant will not speak to the witness,” the judge had barked, but it was too late by then. Dan leaned back with a supreme smirk on his face, as if he hadn’t a care in the world. A chill had run down Skylar’s spine.
The memory of that moment sent a shiver down Skylar’s spine, the rear taxi seat somehow suddenly feeling cold and confined. Perhaps it was the way her smile changed, from triumphant to worried, but Nash narrowed his eyes.
“What did Sanders say to you as you left the dock?” he asked, as if reading her mind.
Should she tell him? Would it matter? Make a difference to the outcome of the trial? Probably not. “He was just being a pig,” Skylar said. “But why would we expect anything else from an ignorant man like that?”
Nash looked like he was about to say something more, when his gaze went out the window behind her and his eyes got bigger and bigger. “Whoa…” he said, staring, open-mouthed at the hotel as they pulled into the driveway. She and the rest of her family always stayed at The Shangri La when they came to Cairns. Owning a luxury eco-resort made them all more aware that you got what you paid for. And the Shangri-La was worth it. She never thought about the price, because she didn’t need to. Overlooking the main marina, with a gorgeous view toward the Great Barrier Reef, there was no better place to stay in Cairns. But looking at Nash’s face, she began to see things in a different light. Could he even afford a night in this five-star hotel? She very much doubted that any overnight subsidy he was getting from the police force would cover the cost of this hotel. But thenagain, he was the one who suggested they stayed at the same place. She shrugged and climbed out of the taxi.
A doorman came to collect the luggage. Walking through the automatic doors, into the cool lobby of the hotel, she felt most of her tension drain away. The composed Skylar was returning. She’d come to terms with her anxiety. If she could take the stand in front of Dan Sanders, all those jurors, the judge, and all the spectators, then checking into a hotel would be a breeze.
“Are you here together?” The receptionist asked in a saccharine voice.
“Yes,” Nash answered, at the same time as she said, “No.”
“We’re not staying in the same room,” Skylar qualified hurriedly. “But if you could give us rooms close by, that would be nice.” She wasn’t sure why she said that. This wasn’t supposed to be a holiday spent flirting with the handsome policeman. Actually, she’d been more than a little surprised when Dale had announced yesterday that Nash would be joining her in the helicopter. Dale told her that when he’d found out the senior constable would be attending the court case as well, it was just naturally polite to offer him a lift and save him the long drive. And she guessed she agreed with him. But she was here to do one thing only, and that was to make sure that monster ended up in jail.
The girl behind reception flicked her long, dark hair over her shoulder with the barest hint of irritation. “Certainly, madam. I’ve got two ocean-view rooms right next to each other up on the third floor. Would that be okay?”
“Yes, thank you,” she replied. Rooms right next to each other, she hadn’t been expecting that. A tingle of unwanted awareness slid down her spine.
“Shall we have dinner together tonight?” Nash’s casual question caught her off guard. “We don't have to eat in therestaurant, if you don’t think you’re up to it,” he amended, when he caught her hesitation.
She’d been looking forward to a long soak in the tub, to help her unwind, and then perhaps some champagne and canapés on her balcony. Did she really want to have dinner with Nash?
Part of herdefinitelywanted to have dinner with Nash. The illogical, indulgent side of her. The side that, whenever he looked at her, sent heat licking through all her womanly parts that’d been sorely ignored over the past four years. The same part who’d almost agreed to date him when he’d asked her out at the ball. She’d been able to turn him down then. But now… Fraternization with the cute cop hadn’t been part of the plan.
He stood, waiting patiently for her answer.
“Why don’t you come to my room at around seven o’clock? I’ll order in room service.” Her answer surprised her. She could just as easily have said no. But they were both here now, and it’d be nice to share a few relaxing drinks and the amazing view with somebody, rather than spending her time alone. Again. As long as he didn’t get the wrong idea, of course. She’d already turned him down once. Surely, he’d got the hint? Surely, he wasn’t a sucker for punishment? And if he was, Skylar wouldn’t have a problem rejecting him a second time. She had no place in her life for a man. She didn’t need a man, or want a man. They only caused trouble and heartache.
“Great.” A tiny flash of surprise flickered over his face, as if he’d been expecting her to turn him down. “I’m going to check out the pool, first. And perhaps take a look at the gym. See you tonight.” He picked up his bag and followed the sign pointing toward the pool, leaving her to find the elevator and take it up to the third floor. As she turned inside the lift, she caught sight of Nash disappearing around the corner. He had a happy grin on his face, like he was looking forward to an adventure, and, for some stupid reason, it lifted her mood as well. She allowedher gaze to rove up over his backside, enjoying the sight of the black trousers hugging his buttocks and thighs. The white shirt seemed almost tailor-made, and she admired those lovely, broad shoulders, tapering down to masculine hips. For a second, Skylar wondered what he’d look like minus the shirt and pants. Perhaps she could nip down to the pool a little later to catch a glimpse of him swimming, bare chested and… She roped in her galloping imagination.Not here to socialize,she reminded herself. Why then, did she suddenly feel so hot?