“Can you hold the flashlight, please? You need to keep that little button depressed.” He showed her how to keep the light on. Then he undid the hastily tied knots and unwrapped the lengths of fabric. He dropped the bloody bandages in a pile in the dust. Then steeled himself for what was to come and lifted what was left of his white T-shirt. Clenching his teeth, he forced himself to study the wound with a clinical eye, as if his leg belonged to someone else.
“How is it?” Skylar asked. Her gaze was focused on the ground near his thigh, but at least she was there helping and not fainting on the ground like some women might’ve done.
“It’s actually not too bad,” he admitted. “It’s deep, but a clean cut, almost like a stab wound. And it’s in the meat of the muscle. I think it’s just bleeding a lot because of all the exercise.”
“Thank God for small mercies,” Skylar whispered faintly. “Right,” she said, rallying and reaching over to grab the whiskey. Her knuckles were white around the neck of the bottle. “You should pour more of this on it.”
“Wait,” he called as she began to tip it over his thigh. “I need a swig of that before we do this.” Nash held out his hand for the bottle.
“I might join you,” she said, taking a large slug before handing the bottle over, then smothering a coughing fit as the burning liquid slid down her throat.
Nash took two large hits of whiskey and then, before he had too much time to think, poured a large splash over the wound.
“Holy mother of…” he ground out between teeth locked together so tight he thought he might shatter a molar. But he dare not cry out. They still had no idea if there was someone out here in the bush with them.
“Oh, that’s horrible,” Skylar said, her mouth pulling back in a grimace of distaste. He wasn’t sure if she was referring to the whiskey or his leg. “Here quick, put this on.” She handed him a folded piece of clothing and he pressed it onto the wound. This rag looked like it might have been a pair of socks she’d put together. His blue police socks, no less.
“You need to get that properly tended,” she said. “It needs stitches. And antibiotics. And…you need a hospital.”
“I know.” He kept his tone calm, he could tell by the rising timbre of her voice, she was starting to freak out. “And we’ll get there soon enough. We just have to stay put until morning.” He didn’t add that morning might not bring them anymore relief. Daylight would make them visible to search and rescue. But it’d also make them visible to unfriendly eyes, as well. He wondered about the logistics of their situation. If they couldn’t rely on search and rescue, would they be able to get themselves to safety?
“Do you have any idea where we are?” he asked, reaching out his hand for the whiskey bottle. He wasn’t aiming to get drunk, but anything that might take the edge of the pain would help.
“Not really.” She handed over the whiskey with a lift of her eyebrow, but then began to tear what was left of the bottom of his pants into long strips. “Paul said something about Lamb Range before we went down. If that’s where we are, then we’re about sixty kilometers away from Cairns.”
“That’s not so far,” Nash mused.
She didn’t say anything, merely looked from his leg up to his face and back again. Her message was clear. It was too far for someone with a damaged leg to walk out. But that might be their only option.
SKYLAR SHIVERED. NOW that the sun had disappeared, the air in the ravine was cooling. Her little shorts, tank top, and white sneakers might have seemed the perfect choice for a hot and steamy tropical afternoon in Cairns. It was a break from her normal work attire of jeans and a button-up shirt, a nod to the fact she was away from the station, and perhaps even feeling a little in a holiday mood. And the way Nash had stared at her when he first saw her this morning had definitely made it worthwhile. Even though she hadn’t been aiming for that reaction when she’d shoved the outfit in her bag, she had been woman enough to enjoy that look of hunger in Nash’s eyes. But now she was regretting letting silly fancies get away from her. Jeans, a work shirt, and boots would’ve been much more appropriate for surviving a crash and a night spent in the wilderness.
“Are you cold?” Nash’s disembodied whisper came out of the dark. After they’d dressed his wound and she’d tended to the other smaller injuries, especially the gash on the side of his face, which was probably going to leave a scar, they’d eaten their meal of chips and candy bars washed down with half a bottle of water. Then he’d made her turn the little flashlight off. To save batteries, he said. But she also knew it was an unspoken worry that it’d attract the gunman. If he was actually out there.
Her eyes had slowly adjusted to the dark, but there was no moon tonight, and down here, she could barely make out the edge of the ravine against the night sky, let alone see her hand infront of her face. Stars twinkled high above, but their cold light hardly reached them in their hideout beneath the overhanging rock.
Skylar was unconvinced that the man was still out there somewhere. Nash seemed pretty sure, however, and perhaps she should listen to him. He was a cop, after all, using his cop knowledge and instincts to make the deduction. But she was finding it hard to believe someone had been brazen enough to shoot a helicopter out of the sky; let alone be prowling around in the darkness like some sort of vigilante commando straight out of a bad TV show. It was all too much for Skylar to compute.
“A little,” she whispered back.
“Come over here.” Nash was a dark, amorphous shape, against an equally dark background, and she sensed his movement, more than saw it: he’d opened an arm wide, inviting her to come and lie next to him. She hesitated.
“I could do with a little warming up, myself,” he added. Nash was injured, he needed to be looked after. It wouldn’t do if he got cold tonight.
“Okay.” She shuffled across the few feet separating them, reaching out a hand to feel her way. He was using the backpack as a pillow to prop himself against the cliff face. He tucked her beneath his armpit, wrapping his arm around her waist, and she steeled herself against the feelings of apprehension that always came upon her whenever someone who wasn’t part of her close family touched her. That automatic, instinctive reaction to flinch away, to protect herself. She’d sometimes even break out in a cold sweat at the mere thought of it. It was one of the reasons she never entertained the idea of dating again. She’d been afraid those feelings would stop her from forming any sort of attachment. From having a normal relationship again. But those feelings never came. Being in close contact with Nash over the past few hours, all that they’d been through together, seemedto have cured her. Perhaps, subconsciously, her brain accepted him, understood that he meant her no harm.
As she relaxed, the tension oozing from her muscles, her legs stretched out along the length of his, and she actually snuggled into his chest. He made a noise of contentment and shuffled his arm, so it was a pillow for her head. But she began to doubt his assertion that he was cold. Because as soon as she settled in beside him, heat emanated from his body. And a very male body it was, too. Even if she was never to date again, she could still appreciate a nice-looking man from a distance. And Nash was nice looking. She remembered once that Daisy had referred to Nash as that golden God surfer dude. It was a fairly accurate description.
“The stars are so much clearer out here,” Nash said, interrupting her train of thought. “I noticed that the very first night I moved to Dimbulah. When you live in the city, you don’t tend to pay much attention to the night sky. It’s a bit immaterial. But out in the bush, it becomes more a part of you, don’t you think?”
Skylar welcomed the distraction of conversation. It took her mind off all those hardened muscles lying right next to her.
“Yeah, I guess. I’ve never been much of a stargazer,” she said. Maybe it was because her whole world revolved around food. She was interested in how things grew, interested in the soil that supported the plants that she loved. Dale and Daisy might’ve agreed with Nash, they were constantly gushing about how bright the stars were at night. But she was a tad ambivalent.
“I thought with a name like Skylar, you’d love staring up at the stars. Or at the sky, at least,” Nash said, and she could hear the slight confusion in his voice.
She gave a loud snort. “My name has nothing to do with the sky. It’s derived from a Dutch surname, and it meansscholar.Daniella loved the name for some reason. But don’t read any connotations into it.” She laughed softly.