Page 21 of Starlit Skies

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If they were going to have to stay in this godforsaken wilderness overnight, maybe they should stay here. It was as good a place as any. Easy to defend if need be. He should take another look at his leg, check on the bleeding. And at Skylar’s wound, as well.

“We’re camping here for the night,” he said with an edge of finality.

“What? But I thought… I don’t know what I thought.” Skylar stared at him as his words sank in. He could see her internal struggle, her desperate need to get out of here, balanced against the practicalities of their position. Logic won in the end, and she merely nodded. Once more, this woman surprised him with her steely resolve. There were no tears and no tantrums. Just prosaic acceptance of their situation.

“I agree,” she said finally. “It’d be stupid to keep going in the dark. They’ll call off the search soon, anyway. We may as well stay put. Keep hidden if there is someone out there hunting us, and make a fresh start in the morning.”

Staring at her in the fading light, he noticed how vulnerable she looked. Her face was so pale it made her blue eyes seem huge. There were lines of dirt around her mouth and leaves in her hair. He wanted to brush his thumb over her cheekbone, wipe away the smudge of dust, straighten the wisps of blonde hair falling across her face. Right at that moment, sitting here inthe dust at the bottom of a ravine, he thought she was possibly the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.

“How about I take a look at your shoulder?” he said gently.

“Oh, right, I’d almost forgotten about that in all the chaos. You won’t be able to see much, it’s nearly dark.”

“Aha, but I was a Boy Scout back in the days.” He rummaged around in his pocket and was pleased to find the warm weight of his little Swiss Army knife. He pulled it out and flourished it like it was their saving grace. He’d bought this one specifically because it had a little LED light in one end. Possibly the smallest flashlight in the world, but it was better than nothing.

“Why don’t we find somewhere a little more comfortable and sheltered, first?” he suggested.

“Great idea.” Skylar stood and offered him her hand. Trying not to give away exactly how much pain he was in, he used her arm to lever himself off the ground. Then he slowly hobbled down the ravine. It was flat along the bottom, mostly dry dust, which was easier for him to negotiate than having to climb over logs or dodge around boulders.

A hundred meters down the gulley, they came to a spot where the cliffs soared almost straight up, and a rock ledge formed a slight overhang right above a cleft in the rock face. Not quite a cave, but not bad. It’d be nice to have something at their backs. One less direction for them to have to watch. They were lucky it was the dry season. This gorge might well flood in times of rain. But it was as dry as a bone right now.

Using the tiny flashlight, he found a nice flat spot and dropped the backpack, then lowered himself gingerly onto the dirt and leaned back with a sigh of relief. Skylar settled in beside him.

“There was water in there, right?” She pointed to the bag.

“Yep.” He was once again glad he’d taken those few precious seconds to shove all the stuff into the bag. It was a survival kitof sorts. “You may as well take out the whiskey and the rags, as well. We’re going to need them,” he added, watching her rummage through the bag.

“Oh, yummy, dinner,” she said, brandishing a couple of Bounty Bars and the two packets of chips.

It was a tad ironic; he’d been trying to get Skyler to go on a date with him forever. And now they were finally alone, but instead of being able to offer her candlelight and wine, they were stuck in the middle of the bush with only water and candy bars.

“Let me see your shoulder,” he said. “Before we settle down to our gourmet meal.” He indicated that she turn around, so he could inspect the damage. “Can you pour a bit of that whiskey on one of the rags, please,” he requested, pointing the flashlight in the direction of her shoulder.

As he reached to pull aside the tattered tank top, a sudden memory came back to him, of Skylar flinching away from his hand in the hotel room last night. Her aversion seemed to have disappeared ever since the crash, as he’d touched her numerous times without complaint, but he thought he’d better check, anyway. “Is it okay if I touch you?”

“What?” She half turned, and he could see her eyes glowing in the weak beam of light. “Oh, yes, that phobia went out the window the second the helicopter crashed.” He could tell she was trying to make light of it, but these kinds of phobias didn’t just go away. Perhaps what she meant was that she no longer had a problem withhimtouching her. That thought sent a spike of heat through his chest. Did it mean she was finally starting to trust him? He liked that idea. Liked the idea he could lay his hands on her silky skin.

The bullet had left a clean rip in the fabric of her top. Prying the hole open with two fingers, he studied the wound. “Yep, it looks like you’ve been kissed by a bullet.”

“What?” She tried to turn around to look at him, but his hand on her shoulder stopped her.

“It means the bullet grazed your skin but didn’t penetrate into the flesh. It’s like when you graze your knee if you fall off your bike, it’s taken some skin off, but it’s not deep and not even bleeding much.”

“I suppose that’s a good thing.” She sounded relieved.

“Of course, it’s a good thing. But this is still going to sting like buggery when I douse it in whiskey. Are you ready?”

“Yep.” She pulled her knees up in front and wrapped her arms around them, hugging them in tight.

“Here goes.” He dabbed gently at her shoulder blade and heard the hiss of air over her teeth as she sucked in a deep breath. There wasn’t much more he could do for her. The wound could probably do with a sticky bandage to keep it clean, but there weren’t any of those available.

“All done,” he said.

“Now it’s your turn,” she said. She was putting on a brave face, but he could hear the trepidation in her voice. She was squeamish around blood; she’d admitted that much back in the helicopter. But he was going to need her help, even if it was just to hold the flashlight for him.

He’d been avoiding looking at his leg, and as they both looked down simultaneously, he understood why. Blood had soaked completely through the makeshift pad and bandages. It was a mess. All that walking and exertion had kept the blood flowing. Perhaps if he’d been able to sit still, it wouldn’t look so bad.

She gave a little whimper and averted her gaze. But then she forced her eyes back to his leg, and he applauded her self-control. He’d become used to all kinds of grisly injuries during his time in the force, and so sometimes he forgot that mostpeople found this sort of thing disgusting. “I can help. What do you want me to do?” she said.