Page 12 of Starlit Skies

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“Can I get you another one?” he asked.

“Yes, please.” She handed over her bottle, careful not to come in contact with his fingers as she did so. “I’ll find the menu. I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry, and the food is good here.”

Skylar followed Nash inside and went around the bed to retrieve the room service menu, which she’d been perusing right before Nash arrived. She already had an idea of what she wanted to order, a selection of their delicious tapas; the chefs in this restaurant were well known for producing modern and exquisite food, and she’d been hoping to taste it for a while. She flicked on the bedside lamp so she could read the menu.

A hand landed on her shoulder, and instinctively she flinched and ducked, raising her palms to ward him off. The fight-or-flight instinct taking hold.

“Sorry,” Nash apologized, stepping backward, a look of confusion clouding his face. “I just wanted to give you a beer.”

It took a second for Skylar to work out that it wasn’t Craig reaching for her. That Nash was a friend, and she’d reacted badly.

“It’s not your fault. It’s…nothing. Sorry,” she mumbled.

Shit, now she’d done it.


NASH WASN’T SURE what to do or how to respond to her over-the-top reaction. He was holding two bottles by the neck in one hand, his other hand up in the air as if in surrender. “Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked gently, because she obviously wasn’t.

“Sorry,” she apologized again.

That look of pure horror that’d passed over her face before she could mask it was still flashing behind her eyes. All he’d done was touch her shoulder. He’d noticed that she’d been overly careful to avoid coming in contact with him all day. The only exception she’d made was when she let him help her out of the taxi. But even then, she’d been the one to initiate the contact.

“It’s just that… I don’t like to be touched.”

That was a major understatement. This woman was full of surprises. And not all good ones. There was definitely something going on here. He had half a mind to ask her what’d happened to make her so twitchy. The way she found it hard to leave Stormcloud, as if it was a sanctuary for her. Her anxiety around groups of people she didn’t know, and her reticence to visit the city. And now she revealed that she hated to be touched. Everything was adding up to the fact that Skylar had suffered from some form of trauma.

But the look on her face, one of contrite mortification, stopped his questions before they left his mouth.

“All good. Now I know, I’ll try to make sure we don’t come into contact again.” Did that sound a little spiteful? He hadn’tmeant it that way. “What were you going to order?” Time to get this conversation back on track. He handed her one of the beers and she passed him the menu. “The food looks good,” he added.

Skylar took the bottle and sidled around the bed until she was standing in the doorway to the balcony. Putting space between them. Now, he had an inkling as to why she’d gone to the other end of the balcony when they’d first gone out to look at the sunset. She touched her wrist as she stared out toward the ocean. He was coming to recognize it was an unconscious habit whenever she was in a stressful situation. Why her wrist, though? Did it have something to do with her not liking to be touched?

He perused the menu as if nothing was amiss. “A crocodile burger, now that sounds interesting. What do you recommend?” He finally looked up and met her gaze. She’d stopped fidgeting with her wrist, and was now fidgeting with the label on the bottle instead, tugging at a loose corner with her fingernail.

“All the food here is good. I haven’t had the crocodile burger, myself, but I dare say it’s probably delicious.” The shadow of shame still lingered behind her eyes, but he could see she was trying to hide it, trying to pretend nothing had happened. “I’m going to order a selection of tapas. They have some interesting choices, using different ingredients, and I’ve wanted to taste them for a while, to see if I can incorporate some ideas into my own cooking.”

So, she had an ulterior motive for choosing this hotel. As he was beginning to find out, Skylar was all about work, and not much about pleasure. She was a strong woman who didn’t like to be viewed as anything less. The image she projected, one of strict professionalism, especially when it came to her cooking, was what everyone always saw first. Perhaps some people also saw it as her being a little aloof; she certainly isolated herselfaway, even when she was at Stormcloud, using her need to be in the kitchen as an excuse not to mingle often.

Tonight, however, Nash had been given a glimpse into the real world behind Skylar’s polished exterior. She wasn’t as all-together as she made out. Some men might shy away from that. A woman with baggage and battling internal demons was something most men wouldn’t put up with. But it made her all that more intriguing to him.

She was watching him over the rim of the bottle, blue eyes wary and shuttered. Leaning her hip against the doorway, she took another sip of beer. That same black dress she had on earlier hugged her body, showing her hips and breasts off in the soft light from the bedside lamp. Tonight, she’d allowed her long, blonde hair to fall loose over her shoulders, the flaxen locks contrasting against the black dress nicely. There were still hints of the makeup she’d applied this morning before she attended court. The dark eyeliner made her eyes smolder. Nash couldn’t ever remember Skylar wearing makeup during her workday.

She was a damn fine-looking woman. Cool and classy. Sexy as hell. And God help him, he wanted to know more about her. Wanted to delve into the depths of the oceans where the true Skylar resided.

* * *

Nash’s arms were so full of bags, he almost couldn’t see where he was going. The tarmac shimmered with heat haze as he followed Skylar out to the waiting helicopter. It was late afternoon, and Skylar had spent the whole morning shopping, while Nash had returned to court to continue to watch over proceedings. Neither the prosecution, nor the defense, had required more information from Skylar, so she’d been free to pick up a few things she said she needed to take home.

Paul met them halfway across the tarmac, offering to take some of the bags from Skylar, who was also laden down with more baggage than she could manage.

Arms full, Paul dropped back to walk beside Nash. “What the hell have you got in here?” he murmured.

“I don’t actually know,” Nash confided. “I think she was stocking up on things the family wanted. You know, when you live remotely it’s all the little luxuries that you miss. I think her brother, Dale, asked for a stash of Bounty Bars. Supposedly you can’t buy them in the Dimbulah grocery store.”

Paul snorted in reply, seemingly not impressed.

“Sorry, we’re late,” Nash added, hoping to placate the man. Paul was due out at Stormcloud to ferry another couple back to Cairns this afternoon, and with all of Skylar’s shopping exploits, they were fifteen minutes late getting to the airport.