Page 13 of Starlit Skies

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“Yeah, well, let’s get a hurry on. I’m not even sure where this is all going to fit,” Paul added darkly, and hurried toward his chopper.

Nash shuffled his armload higher and watched Skylar reorganize her own load of bags in front of him. His gaze drifted down to stare at her slim, toned legs. This morning, when she’d emerged from her hotel room, his jaw had nearly hit the ground. While he was wearing his long trousers and a second clean, white shirt, she’d come out in a pair of cut-offs that showed off her glorious legs to their full magnitude, and a tank top that barely covered her midriff. This wasn’t the subdued, earnest Skylar he’d been expecting. She was dressed like one of the tourists who flocked to The Esplanade to shop and buy trinkets. And she looked sexy as hell. Nash had to put his wandering thoughts on a tight leash, before they took him down the path of wondering what it would feel like to run a palm down the whole length of those silken thighs.

“What’s wrong?” she’d asked testily, when she’d noticed Nash staring.

“Nothing. Nothing at all,” he’d replied, trying to regain his professional equilibrium. Which was going to be hard to do if she kept staring at him with her hands on her hips, baring a small strip of creamy skin above her waistband.

“I used to live in Cairns, remember? I wore this sort of thing every day.”

She might well have worn that sort of attire once upon a time, but it was the first time Nash had seen in her in anything but jeans and a shirt, or the occasional classy dress like last night.

“Well, this look suits you. You should wear it more often,” he replied. What else could he say? It was the truth, but he might regret his words, because if she did start wearing this down the main street of Dimbulah, he might find himself chasing off every male over the age of twelve. The idea stirred something dark low down in his gut. He didn’t like the idea of other men drooling over her.

Skylar stumbled and nearly lost one of her packages, and Nash rushed to her side to lend a hand. He tried to banish all further thoughts of Skylar’s long, elegant legs and firm ass rolling along in front of him. And he almost succeeded.

Ten minutes later, some of the shopping bags had been stashed in the small luggage compartment of the helicopter along with their overnight bags, and the rest were crammed on the spare seat, or around their legs on the floor.

Skylar said into her microphone, “I’m so sorry, Paul. I think I got a little carried away. Can you ever forgive me for stuffing your beautiful helicopter full of my brother’s candy bars?” She gave the pilot a contrite smile, and touched his arm by way of apology.

Paul turned and winked at Skylar. “No probs. The tourists who fly in my chopper are much worse. You should see someof the luggage they try and squeeze in here. I have to remind them about the weight restrictions. You’re lucky, if there were any more passengers today, you’d have to leave half this stuff behind.” The annoyed frown left the pilot’s face, but Nash wasn’t surprised. Skylar was relaxed and happy this afternoon. The most relaxed he’d seen her for the past two days; the thought of going home was clearly putting her at ease. And what man wouldn’t react when she smiled at them like that?

His thoughts flashed back to their dinner in the hotel room last night. After that brief glimpse of the true Skylar when she’d flinched away from his touch, she’d returned to the well-guarded Skylar he knew so well.

Well, almost.

Now he knew what to look for, he was starting to view her aloofness as more of an insecurity. And he could see between the cracks of her veneer, to the softer, more vulnerable layer beneath.

In an attempt to get the night back on track, Nash had phoned through their room service order, and then set up the little table and chairs outside on the balcony, so they could look at the view while they ate. When the food arrived, Skylar had fussed over the placement of all the plates on the table, and he’d covertly watched as she uncovered each of the meals with the same delight as a child unwrapping a present on Christmas morning. It was fascinating to see how she lit up as she revealed each of the tasty morsels.

The burger was mouth-watering, as she’d predicted. But he found more pleasure in watching her experience her food than he did in eating his own. Skylar would close her eyes and roll each mouthful around and around, chewing it thoughtfully, before finally swallowing. While her eyes were closed, he observed her face, and he could see the stress drain from hermuscles as she concentrated on the flavors and textures of the food.

Her barriers had come down a little more as they chatted and drank another beer. At one stage, she even offered him a taste of food from her fork. He’d leaned in and they’d locked gazes, sharing a few intimate seconds, before he sat back, and the moment vanished. He felt as if he’d learned something important about her right then, but he couldn’t put his finger on exactly what.

He’d enjoyed his time with her so much, he’d had to force himself to get out of his chair at the end of the night, each step toward the door a little harder to take. Even though he knew he was kidding himself; there was nothing between them. And never would be.

“All right, here we go.” Paul’s voice brought Nash back to the present. The whine of the rotors increased and then they were off the ground, lifting as light as a feather in the breeze. Nash decided that if he ever quit policing, he might like to become a helicopter pilot instead. What a life of freedom it’d be, with just the hint of danger to add some spice.

Nash was hoping the pilot might give them a quick trip out over the beach—he could see the strip of sand edging the ocean of blue off to their right—but no such luck. Paul must be in a hurry to collect his next passengers. The chopper zoomed into the air, heading directly inland, straight toward Stormcloud Station. They soon cleared the outskirts of Cairns, and houses and roads were replaced by never-ending lush jungle vegetation. Nash was happy to sit in companionable silence with Skylar as they both watched the ground speed past below them.

They’d been in the air for a little over five minutes when Paul made a noise of disgust.

“What’s up?” Nash asked through the headphones.

“Some idiot who doesn’t know what they’re doing.” Paul indicated out the side window to the left. “They’re flying way too close.”

Both Nash and Skylar craned their necks. Nash was sitting on the left and so had a better view. He was shocked to see another helicopter flying alongside. What the hell were they doing? Paul was right, they were extremely close. Paul talked into his comms, asking the aircraft to identify themselves.

“It must be a privately owned helicopter,” Skylar said. She was right, the other helicopter had no markings to identify it, unlike Paul’s, which had the aviation company logo splattered all over it. It was a smaller aircraft, a little two-seater. More of a flying glass bubble, than a proper chopper. Nash had seen something similar being used to round up cattle out on the stations. He could make out the features of the two men inside clearly now. What were they up to?

Paul was still calmly speaking into his microphone, warning the helicopter to move away.

But the chopper came closer still. It was flying parallel, keeping pace.

“Are they going to crash into us?” Skylar suddenly asked.

Nash was still staring at the two men and so he saw the exact moment when the one in the passenger seat slid open a small side window and raised a gun to point directly at them. Nash recognized a semi-automatic rifle when he saw one. It was the sort of weapon a sniper might use for long range as well as precision, but these guns were illegal in Australia. Which only meant one thing.

“Get down,” he yelled. “They have a gun.” He threw himself on top of Skylar, covering her body with his own.

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