Page 40 of Starlit Skies

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They’d only been home an hour, and she was already pacing like a caged lion. Nash wisely kept his mouth shut. The lifeof a bachelor cop was a lot of living on TV dinners and two-minute noodles. He’d never learned to cook properly, scrambled eggs and maybe spaghetti Bolognese, if he wanted to impress someone.

“There’s ten packets of noodles in here and nothing else. I need to go to the supermarket to get some fresh ingredients.”

He winced. She was probably right. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d stocked his shelves. But going outside wasn’t really on the cards.

“That’s not in the protocol. We shouldn’t leave the house, but I can send…” he began to say.

Skylar’s eyes turned the color of ice. “I don’t care what theprotocolsays. You know I’m only here because I don’t really have a choice. And Ineedto go to the supermarket.”

They stared at each other unblinking; at an impasse. Her words sounded a lot like an ultimatum, which was why he was the first to back down. Because the last thing he needed was Skylar storming out of his house after less than an hour under his protection.

“Okay,” he said, raising his hand. “Let me run it by Robinson.”

It shouldn’t be too hard to organize a trip into town. His little wooden cottage was on the outskirts of Dimbulah. A quick, five-minute walk to the Main Street, or in their case, a one-minute drive.

“I’ll get my shoes on.”

“You don’t need to come. You’re supposed to be convalescing,” she said, the snark clearly evident in her voice. “Why don’t you stay here with your feet up and I’ll run into town, like a good little woman.”

Nash sighed. She wasn’t taking this seriously. It was almost as if she was blaming him for her situation. Of course, he needed to come. He might be injured, but he was also part of her securitydetail. She still didn’t seem to get how much danger she could be in.

He got up off the couch, reaching for his walking stick. They’d given him plenty of painkillers when they’d discharged him this morning after two days in hospital, and his leg was feeling pretty good, considering. But he still needed a stick to help him get around. The thick bandage on his face had been removed this morning, replaced by a few butterfly strips, and he was happy to see the gash on his cheekbone was healing nicely. They’d kept Skylar in hospital with him, after a special request from Robinson, so they could keep her safe and under police guard until he was ready to leave.

His replacement phone was on the kitchen countertop, and he hobbled over to pick it up. Even after the police had scoured the crash site, his old phone hadn’t turned up. Which meant it’d been a good decision not to waste any time looking for it when the gunman had been after them.

“I can’t believe we have to phone in and ask permission to go to the shops, like we’re some irresponsible children who can’t be trusted to do anything on their own.” She glared at him, arms crossed, and hip planted against the countertop.

“That’s not how this is, and you know it.” Nash was already beginning to regret his suggestion to bring Skylar home. If she was going to be this difficult and bitter the whole time, it was going to be a very long few days. This Skylar was nothing like the woman he’d come to know in the jungle. That woman had been vulnerable and scared, but also feisty and determined. And then, for a while during their stay in hospital, Skylar had been solicitous toward him, concerned about his welfare. Now the walls were back up, and the old, aloof, reserved Skylar was firmly back in place.

Daniella had brought in some of Skylar’s clothes to the hospital, and she was back in her normal uniform of blue jeansand a loose, linen shirt, sleeves rolled up to the elbows; hair drawn back into the tight ponytail she normally wore for work.

Nash understood she felt lost, out of place here in his house, and she was searching for familiar ground. He put the call through to Robinson, who wasn’t at all happy with the break in procedure. But he eventually agreed to the trip, on two conditions. That the cop stationed at their front door go with them as backup—which Nash was going to do, anyway. And if Nash even thought he glimpsed someone who looked out of place, then the mission was to be aborted. Skylar wouldn’t like that, but it was something she was going to have to get used to.

The media had swarmed all over the story of the chopper being shot out of the sky. It was front page news; a pilot killed, and two passengers injured and lost in the jungle for a day and a half. Images of the crash site had taken up so much of the early news reports that Skylar had asked Nash to turn it off, as she didn’t want to keep being reminded of the horror of being hunted and the heartache of losing Paul.

Robinson had managed to keep Nash’s identity away from the media. So far. But everyone knew the chopper had been headed for Stormcloud, and a couple of diligent news crews had driven out to the station and hounded Skylar’s family for information. Steve and Daniella asked Nash not to tell Skylar about the media harassment, as it would only worry her more. Steve had succeeded at keeping the paparazzi at bay, locking the large, wrought iron front gates, and warning them that they’d be arrested for trespass if they dared even put one toe over the fence. This was now the third day after their rescue and Steve had reported that the last of the crews had given up this morning as interest in the crash waned, probably returning to the city and more up-to-the-minute stories. There was a small possibility someone from the media might yet be prowling around Dimbulah, searching for locals who knew a juicy tidbit ortwo. He was taking a risk, being seen with Skylar in town. The last thing they needed was the paparazzi camped out the front of his place. But it was a calculated risk. Nash also knew the locals had no love for the media, and hopefully, they wouldn’t give too much away.

Robinson had most of his team working on finding the gunman who’d shot them out of the sky. But as of this morning, they still had no concrete leads. Even though Nash had wounded the man and he must’ve been hurt from his fall into the ravine, the gunman had disappeared. Like a ghost. Almost as if he and Skylar had made the whole thing up. And it was the same with the pilot of the helicopter that’d shot them down. There’d been no flight plan listed and no evidence that another chopper had even been in the vicinity of Lamb Range. Thank God they’d retrieved the rifle lodged in the cleft in the rocks. It certainly helped corroborate their story. But the gun had given up no more leads, as the serial number had been filed off. It was obviously bought on the black market, but it was turning up nothing helpful.

Dan Sanders had been interrogated three times over the past two days, while Nash had been in hospital. But the smug shit was refusing to talk. Pretending ignorance about the helicopter shooting, and feigning concern over Nash and Skylar’s well-being.

Nash retrieved his gun—thankfully, the police had located his bag, with his lockbox still safely stowed inside—from the drawer in the dresser by the front door, and slung his holster over the top of his T-shirt. Normally it was kept in a gun safe in his bedroom, but with a potential threat out there, he needed it to be more accessible. He opened the front door and spoke to the cop on duty today. Nash had only met this constable for the first time this morning; they’d sent her up from Cairns. There was going to be a guard on his door around the clock for thenext few days at least, in a rotating shift of eight hours each. He didn’t envy the poor bugger who had to stand guard duty for that long. It was a shit of a job, but someone had to do it. Constable Schroeder was her name, and he briefed her on the upcoming outing.

She frowned and looked about to argue, and he merely held up his hand. “Robinson has agreed to this. So, let’s just get it over as quickly as possible.”

“We’ll take the police cruiser, then,” was all she said in reply. Smart lady.

“Let’s go,” he called to Skylar, and she appeared at the end of the hallway. “Please don’t tell me we’re going to be driven around in the back of the police car?”

“It’s either that, or we don’t go.” Nash had had about enough of her attitude.

“Everyone in town is going to see us. Especially with you wearing that.” She stared pointedly at his gun. “They’re going to wonder. We’re going to be the talk of the town.”

“Probably,” he admitted. He was used to being stared at, pointed at. People usually saw a cop and got out of their way, then gaped as they walked by. But Skylar valued her privacy, she wasn’t used to people talking behind her back. The police cruiser was a necessary evil. A show of force, if you like. If there was someone still out there gunning for them, it showed that Nash and Skylar were under police protection and they’d hopefully think twice about trying to get to them.

This trip into town was going to be interesting. Not only did he have to hope they didn’t bring themselves to the attention of the rogue gunman, but also pray they weren’t spotted by any media.

Nash ushered Skylar to the rear seat of the police cruiser parked in the driveway. He was becoming better at using the walking stick. He could probably get by without it, but it mightmake for a good weapon. And it helped keep him firmly in the invalid category in Skylar’s eyes. Because at the moment, that was the main reason she was justifying her stay at his house to herself. She’d said more than once she was determined to help Nash recover. And as soon as he was better, she was out of there.

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