Page 34 of Starlit Skies

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“Nash,” she said a little louder. “Wake up.”

He frowned but still didn’t open his eyes, and then tried to roll away from her touch. He cried out in pain then and mumbled something more incomprehensible.

She put a hand on his forehead. Shit, he was really burning up. There must be an infection in his leg. The feelings of contentment and peace fled, and she suddenly felt useless andhelpless. What should she do? She had no drugs to help bring down his fever. Not even anything as simple as paracetamol.

There was always the old-fashioned way to reduce a fever. Cool water. And she had plenty of that.

“I’ll be right back,” she told him, even though he couldn’t hear her.

She filled two plastic bottles with water from the stream and ran back to Nash, pulling the fronds away from his body. There were no rags left in the backpack, so she resorted to tearing another strip off her tank top. It now barely covered her bra and was filthy from her having spent two nights in the open, but it couldn’t be helped. Dousing the fabric in water, she leaned down and dabbed it over Nash’s face. Again, he mumbled something incoherent, and tried to bat her hand away. But she persevered, tipping a little of the water over his sweat-soaked scalp and combing her fingers through his blond hair. The gash on his cheek had stopped bleeding, but it was crusty and red; it didn’t look too good, either.

But this wasn’t enough. She needed to cool his whole body if she were to have any hope of reducing his fever. She leaned in, and without a second thought, began undoing the buttons on his shirt. Spreading his shirt open, she was surprised to see an amazing set of tanned abs. The abs weren’t the surprising bit, he was fit and muscular—although they were definitely drool-worthy—it was the deep, even tan that had her stopping to stare. Where would he get a tan like that? But she was forgetting herself. She poured more water onto her rag and patted it over his chest, down his sternum, and over his impressive abs.

Nash rolled his head from side to side at her touch.

“Please open your eyes,” she begged him. But they remained firmly shut.

She pulled up the hem of his ragged shorts and sponged the top of his legs. Should she remove the bandages from hisinjured thigh? There was minimal blood soaking through, and she decided against it, for now.

Moving the wet rag down, she gently ran it over his knees, and then over the scars on his lower legs. They fascinated her, as did the story of how he received them. What a horrible thing to have happened to him. Yet, he’d survived the trauma and possibly become a better man because of it.

She continued to administer her damp cloth to his exposed skin, hoping and praying it was helping. At least he’d stopped thrashing around. That was a good sign, wasn’t it?

Skylar had no idea how long she persevered with sponging Nash down. She emptied both bottles of water and went back for more. But as she knelt next to him and lay a hand on his forehead, he finally opened his eyes. Oh, thank God. Those bold, blue eyes pierced her to her very soul.

“Hiya,” she whispered.

“Whatcha doing?” he asked groggily, lifting his head to peer down the length of his nearly naked body.

“You’re burning up,” she replied. “I’m trying to cool you down.”

“I know. You said I washotlast night.” He gave her a wobbly smile.

“That you are,” she replied. “Where do you get time to get a tan?” she teased gently.

“Surfing,” he said. “I love to surf.”

Skylar knew that wasn’t the case, because where he lived in Dimbulah was hours away from the nearest beach, but she didn’t argue with his fantasy. He might be speaking nonsense, but at least he was awake.

“Thirsty,” he said, reaching for one of her bottles.

She snatched it away from him just in time. “This is not the drinking water,” she told him. She’d scooped this up directlyfrom the stream. If he drank that, he might get sick—sicker. “I’ll get you something to drink. Promise me you’ll stay here.”

He gave her a lopsided smile that nearly broke her heart. Even while he was sick, burning up with an infection and delirious, he was doing his best to keep her morale up. He was a good man. She already knew that, but something warm flooded her chest as she stared down at him, as if her heart was finally catching up with her mind. His smile turned to a grimace, and he reached for his leg, as a spasm of pain seemed to shake him. He was really sick. If they didn’t find help soon, he could even die. Her hand flew to her chest at that thought. She couldn’t lose him. Not now.

Heart beating wildly, she scrambled down to the small spring where the clean water seeped from the rock, nearly falling and spraining her ankle in her haste. She caught herself just in time. The last thing Nash needed was for her to get injured, as well. He was relying on her.

Unable to wait for the bottle to fill completely, she sprinted back up the hill with a half-full container. He was still lying exactly as she’d left him.

“Here,” she said, landing on her knees by his side. “Drink this.” She held it to his lips as he slurped greedily. It might not be good for him to drink it all in one go, so she drew back and let him take a few breaths.

“Oh, no,” he complained. “Can I please have some more?” He sounded so much like a petulant child, Skylar had to smile. “I’m really thirsty, and that tastes so—”

“Shh,” she said suddenly, putting her finger to his lips. She’d heard something that was out of sync with the birdsong and insect life buzzing around them. A human voice. Fear flooded her veins. Had the gunman found them, and come to finish the job?

Nash let out a quiet giggle. “Are we playing hide and seek?” he whispered.

Oh God, he really was hallucinating. How was she going to keep him quiet? If it was the gunman, there was no way Skylar could hope to move Nash to safety now. She scanned the ground, looking for a weapon. That’s when she remembered the knife. She’d noticed Nash had placed it beside him at some stage last night, probably in a vain hope that he could use it to protect them if need be.

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