Page 45 of Starlit Skies

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He hung his head. “I’ll talk to Robinson, see what he says.”

“You can talk all you like; my mind is made up,” Skylar said.

He was sure it was. His problem would be his boss. Nash also understood that if he and Skylar attended the funeral, it’d be a logistical nightmare for Robinson and his men. But he also knew Skylar would go, whether she had police protection or not, so Robinson would have to make this work.

“We’ll be going, too,” Daisy interjected. “Maybe we should drive over in a convoy. If that’d help?” She turned her emerald-green gaze to Nash. Daisy really was a stunning lady. With her coffee skin, green eyes, and long, caramel hair down to her mid-back, she’d make most catwalk models jealous. However, she was a bit like Skylar, in that she never flaunted her beauty. Most of the time, it seemed as if she were actively trying to hide it—or at the very least ignore it—under her regular work attire of baggy jeans, button-up shirts, and boots. This evening, she’d changed into denim shorts and a sky-blue, silky blouse that contrasted nicely against her brown locks and skin. Dale was one lucky man.

“That might be a good idea,” Nash mused. There was safety in numbers. With Dale and Daisy, as well as a police car tailing them and perhaps even Daniella and Steve, if they were going, ashow of force might make the gunman think twice. If indeed, he was even still out there.

“I must, say, this is the most relaxed I think I’ve ever seen you look.” Daisy changed the subject, waving a hand up and down, encompassing Nash’s surf shorts and short-sleeved shirt. Then her eyes widened slightly as she suddenly caught sight of his scars. He could see as things became clearer in her mind. Why he always wore long pants and long sleeves. But, to her credit, she merely said, “It suits you. Hopefully, we see more of this relaxed you around the place.” This time, her gaze shot to Skylar. The hint of a raised eyebrow was the only giveaway that Daisy suspected there was something else going on. She was an astute lady.

Dale frowned, as if realizing he was missing some subtlety in the conversation, but not understanding exactly what it was. Nash was sure Daisy would fill him in later. He winced at that thought. Dale was a very protective brother. He might not like the idea of Nash and his sister being together. But that was a bridge he’d have to cross if he ever came to it.

Skylar spent the next ten minutes interrogating Dale and Daisy on how Bindi and Julie were coping with the cooking while she’d been away. She gave them plenty of hints to pass on, and ended up by saying she would call Bindi and help her with this week’s menu.

“We’ll let you get to your dinner,” Daisy finally said, standing up and dragging Dale with her. “I’m really happy that you both survived.” She went over to the couch and gave Skylar a heartfelt hug. “We were so worried about you.” She leaned back and stared at her friend. “You make sure you listen to the senior constable here. He’s only trying to protect you. And I know what you’re like, you’ll argue something is black until the cows come home, when it is clearly white.” Daisy cast Nash a sympathetic glance.

“Humph,” was Skylar’s only reply. But she pulled Daisy in for one more quick hug, before releasing her and taking Dale by the elbow to lead him to the front door. “Have a nice dinner at the pub,” she said, wrapping her arms around her brother’s neck.

“Yeah, well, I bet their chicken snitty won’t be nearly as nice as whatever you’re serving up here.” Dale made puppy-dog eyes at Skylar.

“Get out, you big oaf.” Skylar pretended to push him through the door.

Nash and Skylar stood in the doorway to wave farewell to the other couple.

Schroeder came up the steps onto the porch as Dale opened the door of his four-wheel-drive for Daisy. She stood beside Nash as they waved goodbye. Her uniform was immaculately pressed; the pleat running down the middle of her trousers was so sharp you could slice a cut of beef on that edge. Her blonde hair was scraped back into a severe bun at the nape of her neck. She might be pretty if she ever relaxed. She was clearly a stickler for protocol; one of those cops who reveled in the military-style rules of the force. Nash hoped she was as good at her job as she was at following the rules. She hadn’t said much during their trip into town, or while she’d been on duty all afternoon. But she watched everything with keen eyes and remained alert and on guard the whole time.

“I’ve just finished a perimeter run,” Schroeder reported, watching Skylar as she retreated into the house. “Senior Sergeant Robinson has someone coming to relieve me in a few hours,” Schroeder continued quietly as Nash observed the other couple drive away. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Right.” Nash scrubbed a hand through his hair. “Thanks for everything,” Nash added belatedly.

“Do you want me to do a quick run through the house before I go?” Schroeder kept her eyes pointed forward.

“No, I’ve got that covered, thanks.” Nash had already checked that all the other windows and doors were locked, but her careful vigilance reminded him he should probably do it again, just to make sure. Skylar had complained about having to keep everything closed up, as she wanted to let the late-afternoon breeze run through the house, until it finally dawned on her why he was locking everything. They’d have to make do with running the air conditioner all night, instead.

He closed the door behind him with a click and limped over to the dining area, where Skylar was laying out two plates. He hardly ever sat at the small table. Most nights, he’d eat his microwave dinners on the couch in front of the TV, or even leaning up against the countertop in the kitchen.

“This looks great,” he said.

Skylar had set the table with proper plates and cutlery, the plates piled high with what could only be called gourmet-style pasta. The damper sat in the middle of the table, with a pat of real butter next to it. She’d even found a candle somewhere in the depths of his kitchen, and there were two wine glasses, waiting to be filled from a bottle of chardonnay. She must’ve bought all this from the shop because there was no way she found it in his kitchen. It was all very grown-up.

Skylar shrugged off his comment and took a seat, looking up at him expectantly. Even though Nash knew this wasn’t supposed to be a date, he decided that they needed music. Something to complement this wonderful meal. He limped over to his stereo and flicked it on. The last CD he’d been listening to started up. Keith Urban. It’d have to do, for now. This wasn’t supposed to be a seduction, just two friends having dinner and listening to some music.

Nash went over and sat, tucking into the plate of pasta. “Oh. Holy cow. This is…amazing, Skylar.”

He half expected her to do one of her shrugs of indifference again, but her face lit up with a bright smile.

“Do you really like it?” she asked, and he suddenly realized that his reply truly mattered to her. Why on earth would she need his seal of approval?

“Yes, I really like it, Skylar,” he said, meeting her gaze and holding it. “You’re an awesome cook. And an awesome woman.” Skylar blushed at his words, but perhaps she needed to hear them. Maybe she didn’t hear it enough. People took it for granted that she could cook, and she was a resilient woman who could look after herself. But by the look on her face, he could see that she was still terribly uncertain deep down inside. How could a woman as beautiful and talented as her not realize what she had?

Skylar was rubbing her wrist again, and he reached for her hand, covering it with his own. “I mean it.” Her blue eyes widened at his touch. “And I meant what I said to Dale. I don’t think I would’ve survived without you out there in the jungle. You need to give yourself credit for that.”

She bit her lip and stared at him, then her gaze dropped to the table. The muted tones of Keith drowning out what would otherwise have been an awkward silence. Right at that moment, Nash wanted to find this Craig guy and take him into a private room, away from all prying eyes, and teach him a lesson he wouldn’t forget. How could any man treat Skylar so badly that she doubted herself at every turn? It was a crime that needed to be punished.

“I do give myself credit,” she replied, but there was a lack of sincerity in her answer. “Do you want a glass of wine?” she asked, removing her hand from beneath his. Which was a shame. Because now they were alone again, the buzz of anticipation had started up along Nash’s skin, and his mindwent back to that hot kiss they’d shared before Dale had appeared.

“Yes, please.” He watched as she poured them each a generous glass. As she passed it over to him, his fingers grazed hers and his awareness of her shot up another level. They locked gazes over the rim of their glasses, and he suddenly felt an altogether different type of hunger fill him.