She wouldn’t let this happen to her again.
Gathering her energy, she drew back her foot—glad that she was wearing her good old Blundstones—and drove a boot down onto the man’s bare toes.
He howled in pain, but didn’t let go as she’d been expecting. “You fucking bitch.” He threw her to the ground with such force that her head cracked against the floorboards and for many seconds, all she could see was bright lights. This man was strong. And determined.
When her vision finally cleared, Skylar could see Patty huddled in the corner like a frightened rabbit. Skylar knew she wouldn’t do anything to help herself, but maybe she might act if it were to help someone else.
“Do something,” she yelled at the woman. “Go and get help. Get—”
A foot landed squarely in her stomach, knocking all the air out of her lungs. She tried to scream, but no sound came out. Instead, she made small, pathetic, gasping noises.
“Patty knows better than to do anything she’s not supposed to,” Dan yelled, spittle flying from his lips. “And you’re going to learn how to behave, as well. You won’t be calling the cops, have you got that?”
Skylar didn’t know how to answer; couldn’t, in fact, answer because she was still struggling to breathe. The man was clearly deluded if he thought he could coerce Skylar into submission. She wouldn’t let him do that to her. She tried to tell herself not to be afraid. This man was a coward, who beat up women to make himself feel big. But as he advanced toward her, fear clawed like a wild animal inside her belly. Was he going to hurt her again?
His knee landed on her stomach, pinning her to the floor. He picked up her arm, easily trapped her wrist in his large paw of a hand. Her broken wrist. She struggled against him, tried to wrench herself free, but he bent her hand backward at such an angle that pain sliced through her. She gasped. No, not again. Surely, he wouldn’t be so stupid. Wouldn’t do something so insane as to injure her? Not while she was on her own property. In her own home.
Keeping the pressure on her wrist, Dan smiled down at her. “Now, I want you to say after me,‘I won’t go to the cops, Dan. In fact, I won’t tell anyone what happened here tonight. I’ll keep it to myself.’Got it? That way, I won’t have to hurt you.”
The pain got worse as Dan increased the pressure, and she let out a whimper. Maybe the smart thing to do would be to agree with him. Pretend to acquiesce. Then call the police as soon as he let her go.
“Now, now. I can see it in your eyes. You’re one of those feisty girls who think they’re above their own station. One of those non-believers.” He raised his head and smiled at his wife, who was still cowering in the corner. “Patty used to be a non-believer, too. But she’s a good girl now. Aren’t you?” Patty nodded emphatically. “She learned early on, that nobody says no to Dan Sanders. A lesson you’re about to learn too, little missy. Because if you don’t do as I say, I’ll have to come back and make you pay.” Dan’s eyes were slivers of blue ice. Skylar’s fear ratcheted up a few notches. He truly believed what he was saying. There was aclarity in this man’s eyes. A conviction that he had every right to do whatever he liked. To maintain dominance.
Unlike Craig, whose eyes had always clouded over whenever he lost his temper. As if he wasn’t truly in control. Almost as if he’d been two different people.
This man knew exactly what he was doing. Took pleasure in his supremacy. Took pleasure in other people’s pain.
He was staring at her with those ice-blue eyes, waiting for her answer.
“I won’t tell,” she said, her voice coming out in a frightened squeak. And in that exact instant, she doubted if she would tell. All she wanted was to be let free. To go back to her safe life and forget this ever happened. Leave Patty to her own torment. Perhaps live with the guilt of turning a blind eye, but if that’s what it took to stay out of harm’s way, sheltered behind the walls of Stormcloud lodge, then so be it.
“I promise, I won’t tell.” She made herself relax. Made herself take a few deep breaths. Dan had to believe she was telling the truth. How could she convince him? “I swear on my grandmother’s gr—”
The front door burst open, and Dale leaped into the room. “Get off my sister,” he growled, then grabbed Dan in a headlock and dragged him to the floor.
SENIOR CONSTABLE NASH King clenched his jaw in an effort not to say the words that wanted to spill from his lips.What on earth possessed you?Why did you put yourself in such danger?Skylar sat at the small table opposite him, her hands wrapped around a hot mug of tea. But she couldn’t hide the slight tremble in her fingers. She was suffering from shock. Daniella hovered protectively behind her daughter’s chair. He should remember to tell Daniella and Steve to keep an eye on her.
Nash had to resist the urge to lean across the table and take her hands in his. For the life of him, he couldn’t figure out why she thought she should go dashing into a cabin to confront a man twice her size.
Skylar Williams was a determined woman, that was for sure. Determined and beautiful.
“Hey fuckface, when do I get to see my lawyer?” Nash lowered his eyebrows and turned to look at the man he’d handcuffed to the table leg of the large dining table on the other side of the room.
Dale Williams stood at the end of that same table, glowering at the man, ready to pounce if the other guy even twitched a finger the wrong way. Dale’s girlfriend, Daisy, stood a little way off, watching him like a hawk, ready to stop Dale from doing anything stupid. Nash silently thanked the wisdom of women when it came to heated scenarios. At least Daisy understood that if Dale assaulted Dan again—without reasonable cause this time—Nash might have to charge him.
Dan’s wife—Patty was her name—sat straight-faced and calm in a chair a few removed from her husband. She didn’t even look at him as he spoke. The bruises on her neck were covered by a large, silk scarf.
Luckily, Nash had been at the station doing overtime that evening, filling out paperwork, when Daniella’s call had come in. Daniella had calmly relayed that they had a man on the station who’d assaulted Skylar, and could he please come and take him to jail? Dimbulah police station was a one-man affair, and his sector covered a large area, so he wasn’t always in close proximity when a crime occurred. It was nearly a forty-five-minute drive out to Stormcloud.
The scene confronting Nash at the cabin when he’d first arrived had been highly charged and volatile. Dale was being forcibly held back by his stepfather, Steve, ranting that he wanted to kill the fucker. Dan Sanders was on the floor, cowering, a black eye, and bruises on his face testament to the justice Dale had already meted out. Daniella had been holding onto Skylar’s arm, both women glaring at the man on the ground, almost as if they wanted to egg Dale on. They were a formidable family, and he wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of them.
Nash had quickly removed Dan from the scene—handcuffing him and marching him up to the lodge, cautioning him to make sure he understood his rights and the reason for his arrest—leaving Steve to calm Dale down and telling Dan’s wife to get dressed and bring Dan a shirt.
Daisy had arrived in a flurry of questions, at the same time Nash had marched Dan Sanders into the lodge. Daisy lived in an outstation on an adjoining property, but Nash knew she spent most nights here with Dale. This must’ve been one of the few times she’d actually gone home for the night.
The rest of the Stormcloud staff had been gathered in the dining room, looking more like a lynch mob than anything else. Wazza, the station’s big, burly stock hand spearheaded the group and made a beeline for Dan Sanders. The others, Alek, Bindi and the new girl, Sasha, all hovered behind him, ready to back him up.