Page 4 of Starlit Skies

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Nash was used to working on his own most of the time, and he’d handled plenty of situations where the friends and family wanted to exact their own revenge on the perpetrator. Wazza and the rest of the staff were protective of their own, and if they thought this scumbag had hurt Skylar, then he didn’t blame them for getting angry. When police were thin on the ground, like they were here, country people often dispensed their own form of justice, but he couldn’t let that happen this time.

“I want to hurt you so bad, right now,” Wazza growled.

“And I’m right behind you,” Alek had added, although Alek’s threat seemed less menacing. The Polish man, with his slicked-back hair tied up in a man bun, and his perfectly manicured hands, wasn’t nearly as scary as the gruff station hand.

“Now, guys, back off. I have this under control.” Nash held up a hand and added with calm authority, “This guy is on his way to jail. But I don’t need to be taking more of you in on assault charges, now do I?”

Right at that second, as Nash squared off with Wazza and Alek, hoping they didn’t do anything stupid and force his hand, Julie stalked into the room. “Jesus wept, what the hell do you think you clowns are up to?” Nash liked Julie; she didn’t pull any punches. You knew where you stood with her. She was Steve’s daughter, a stepsister to Dale and Skylar, and had been working at the lodge for nearly a year now.

Nash sent her a grateful glance. He wasn’t worried that he couldn’t handle the situation, but it was always better when it didn’t escalate in the first place.

Julie clapped her hands, shooing the staff like a gaggle of geese, but they stood around as if unsure whether to obey her.

Then Daniella arrived with Steve, Dale and Skylar in tow, and took in the scene in an instant. “We have guests to serve. Get into the kitchen, right now. They’ll be eating their dinner in their cabins tonight, which means I need all hands on deck to ferry the meals down.” Daniella flicked a quick, worried glance in Dan Sanders’ direction, the only hint that she wasn’t completely in control. “Julie and Bindi, are you up to finishing the meal? Skylar’s a little indisposed at the moment.”

“Yes, ma’am,” both women answered simultaneously as they drifted through the door and disappeared into the kitchen.

“Wazza, and Sasha, go and help them deliver the food,” Daniella commanded. “And Alek, can you please come up with an after-dinner activity that the guests can do outside? We need to keep them away from the lodge tonight.” The other three staff jumped at Daniella’s authoritative tone and they, too, had disappeared through the door. Nash had drawn a big sigh of relief.

Now Nash returned his concentration to the woman sitting opposite him. Daniella still hovered, laying a comforting hand on Skylar’s shoulder, but Skylar merely stared, unseeing, out the window into the dark bushland. Nash wanted to talk to her alone.

“I’d kill for a cup of coffee,” he said gently, while looking directly at Daniella.

The older woman seemed ready to argue, but then nodded and took the hint, giving her daughter one more swift touch on the shoulder before she left. But right before she turned to go, her gaze met Nash’s.Take care of her,her eyes seemed to say. He lifted his eyebrow in reply. Skylar was safe in his hands.

He needed to record her initial statement, but he’d take it slow, not wanting to stress her even more than she already was. Nash took out his notebook and pen and laid them on the table.

“How are you? Are you up to answering a few questions?” he asked gently.

Her blue eyes darted around the room, but wouldn’t meet his gaze. “Sure, I’m fine. What is it you want to know?”

That was a lie, if ever he’d heard one. She was anything but fine. If she didn’t want to admit it, then there wasn’t a lot he could do to persuade her. She kept touching her wrist, almost as if it were an unconscious habit, and Nash again felt the urge to take her hands in his.

“Can you tell me, in your own words, what happened tonight?” he asked, keeping his tone light.

“Yeah, this bastard was hitting his wife, that’s what happened.” She glared over at Dan, her jaw working as she ground her teeth together. “But that wasn’t enough. He had to attack me as well, because I stood up to him.” Venom dripped from her words. She was angry. Really angry. But there was something else behind that anger. Something Nash couldn’t quite put his finger on. It was more than plain fear or panic. Almost as if she were reliving some other deep horror. As if she’d seen this kind of thing before.

“I have rights, you know,” Dan snarled across the room when he saw them looking at him. “Let’s get this shit over with. Get me out of here.” Dan Sanders was a rich, arrogant man, who thought he could buy his way out of any situation. Well, he might just find that country people didn’t take kindly to being bullied. He could wait until Nash was damn well good and ready to take him back to the station. Nash wanted to make sure Skylar was all right, first. It was going to be a long night, with lots more paperwork; five more minutes at Stormcloud wouldn’t hurt.

“We’ll be leaving shortly,” he replied, tone clipped and formal. He was nothing, if not professional and calm. Even if he did want to take a turn where Dale had left off, smacking that smug smile off the abuser’s face, he’d never actually do it.

This family had it rough over the past year. Nash had been involved in the murder investigation almost a year ago, when one of their station hands had been killed. The whole sordid affair had ended with another of their staff, Sally Tsun, along with her boyfriend, being arrested for the murder. But the reputation of the luxury eco-resort didn’t seem to have been tarnished. In fact, the whole torturous situation seemed to have brought them more guests and more accolades. You couldn’t argue with a tasty morsel of gossip to bring the vultures crowding around. Human beings were strange creatures.

Skylar had seemingly taken the whole thing in her stride. As she liked to say, it was Dale and his girlfriend, Daisy, who’d been at the heart of the trouble last year. But as Nash watched her now, he could see the way she scanned the room, almost as if looking for an escape. This situation seemed to be affecting her differently than the one last year.

He turned back toward Skylar, ignoring any further comments from his prisoner. Her long, blonde hair had escaped from its ponytail, probably during the attack, and she was trying to wrestle it into some form of submission. With a sigh, she gave up and let it hang in loose tangles around her shoulders.

Skylar was a stunner, but she seemed not to notice most of the time. He’d noticed it, however. Right from the very first day he’d moved to Dimbulah to take charge of the run-down police station. He’d come across her in the street as she was standing next to her four-wheel-drive, peering under the hood. It was the blue of her eyes that he found irresistible. So blue, like a lake in the middle of summer, or a brilliant-cut topaz, sparkling in the sun. He’d helped her jump-start her vehicle—it was merelya dead battery—and then watched her drive away. A stunner, certainly, but also one with mental guards firmly in place. She’d been friendly, but cool. Polite, but detached.

She was looking at him now with that same reserve. “Will he be charged?”

He talked quietly enough so the man couldn’t hear him. “Yes, he assaulted you. That’s enough to put him before a judge, at the very least.”

“So, he won’t…you won’t let him go?”

“No. As long as you’re prepared to lay charges.” He looked at her for confirmation, and she nodded. “Then he’ll be transferred to Cairns, and a judge will decide if he warrants bail.”

“He could get out on bail?”

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