Page 41 of Starlit Skies

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SKYLAR STRODE AHEAD of Nash, not stopping to wait and see if he followed her into the supermarket. An anger that she couldn’t explain burned deep in her belly. She knew it wasn’t really Nash that she was angry at, but she was taking it out on him anyway, because she couldn’t help it.

This whole situation sucked. All she wanted was to be back in her kitchen at Stormcloud. Not worried about who might be stalking them down the main street of a small, country town in the middle of a hot, summer day. And not thinking about going to Paul’s funeral in a few days’ time; a man who’d died, possibly because of her. And definitely not feeling like she was going to suffocate being locked up in a house with Nash for the next however long it took.

She pulled things off shelves and shoved them into her basket, without care or thought.

A quick glance backward told her that Nash had asked Constable Schroeder to stay outside the small IGA. Good. The last thing she needed was an armed policewoman trailing her around the supermarket aisles. Everyone was already staring as it was. Nash stayed near the front counter, keeping a wary eye on every customer and every staff member in the store. But the mere fact that he was also sporting a gun while dressed in civilian clothes would have tongues wagging. They were all locals, of course, and they all nodded a greeting to her, albeit with a question hovering behind their gaze. But at least they had enough manners not to ask. Everyone was local, exceptone woman Skylar didn’t recognize. Nash followed her with his astute gaze as she strolled up and down the aisles. Most likely she was a tourist; there were a couple of caravans hitched to four-wheel-drives parked on Main Street. Nash narrowed his gaze in the tourist woman’s direction. Really? Did he really suspect that middle-aged lady in flip-flops and flowery shorts to be a killer for hire?

She snorted her frustration. She needed to calm down. This was doing her no good. And in truth, maybe Nash was right to suspect everyone. Perhaps that ordinary-looking lady was on Dan Sanders’ payroll and was right now reaching for a gun strapped to a hidden holster beneath her shirt.

Skylar whirled around to stare at the retreating woman’s back. She disappeared around the end of the aisle, and Skylar let out a breath. Now she was becoming paranoid. She was better off leaving it up to Nash and the others who knew what they were doing. Taking a few deep lungfuls of air, she calmed her buzzing nerves and headed for the fresh produce section. Their range wasn’t the best, but for a little town, hundreds of kilometers away from any big city, they didn’t do too badly. Lifting a plump, red tomato to her nose, she drew in its distinctive smell. That was better. It calmed her, centered her. Food was reliable, it never let her down.

A few minutes later, she strolled back to the checkout, feeling a little more serene and in control. She’d decided what she was going to cook for Nash tonight, and the simple act of planning the meal in her head was a good distraction.

“Hello, Skylar. Senior Constable King.” Kim was on checkout today, and he nodded his greeting to them both. She gave him an anemic smile, hoping he’d get the message that she didn’t want to talk. Kim was tall and lanky, the owner’s son, and normally Skylar enjoyed talking to him about any new products they were bringing in, or what fresh fruit was in season at the moment.

“Looks like you’ve got something delicious planned,” Kim said conversationally. When neither she nor Nash answered, he must’ve got the hint, because he scanned her items without further comment, shooting one quick, curious glance in Nash’s direction.

“Thanks, Kim. I’ll see you soon,” Skylar said, helping him pack the last of her ingredients into a reusable carry bag.

“Yes, thanks.” Nash echoed her words. He hesitated for a second and then speared the younger man with a steely gaze. “By the way, Kim, has anyone been in here asking questions?”

“Ah, like what sort of questions, Senior Constable?” Kim blinked rapidly at Nash as he kept his laser focus on him.

“About me. Or about Skylar,” Nash answered gruffly.

“Oh, ah, no, sir.” Kim shook his head vehemently.

“That’s good. But if anyone does…well, I’d like to keep this little shopping trip between you and me, if you know what I mean?” Nash’s smile didn’t reach his eyes.

“You got it, sir. My lips are sealed.” Kim made a zipping motion with his hand across his mouth.

“Thank you.” Nash nodded.

Skylar could feel Kim’s stare burning a hole through her back as she exited the shop, Nash by her side.

Keeping her eyes pointed forward, she strode down the street, ignoring Constable Schroeder, who slotted in behind them. After two or three strides, she noticed Nash struggling to keep up with her. She’d forgotten all about his leg. He was so bloody stoic about the whole thing. She knew he didn’t really need her help to recover. It was all part of the story to convince her to stay at his place, where she’d supposedly be safe. Nevertheless, a large part of her had been terribly relieved when the doctor had said he would suffer no long-term damage, and he’d be back to full duties within a month to six weeks. That wasgreat news for Nash. It meant he could keep doing the job he loved so much.

“Was that really necessary?” she asked, once they were out of earshot of the doorway.

“Yes, it was,” Nash said roughly. “We need to stay vigilant. And you need to stay behind me.” He hobbled past her and put her between himself and Constable Schroeder. Had Nash really just snapped at her? She was about to answer back with an equally snarky response, when Nash stopped so abruptly in front of her that she ran into the back of him.

“In here.” Nash dragged her into the mouth of a narrow alleyway.

“What the…?” But she never finished her question as Nash forced her behind a large dumpster, pushing her down so she could no longer see the main street, his solid body rammed up against her back, the bag of groceries squashed in between them.

“Over there. The guy with the baseball cap and dark shirt,” she heard him say. It took her a second to realize he was directing the constable, who was still out on the street.

“Stay down,” he hissed as she tried to poke her head above the dumpster.

“What’s going on?” she squeaked, but he didn’t answer.

Two anxious minutes later, Schroeder’s voice echoed down the alley. “False alarm, sir. Just a tourist from Sydney. You can come out now.”

Nash’s large hand under her elbow helped her up to standing, and he led her out from behind the dumpster and into the street.

“Sorry,” Nash apologized. “I saw someone who resembled the gunman,” he admitted.

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