Page 55 of Starlit Skies

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“I’ll fill her in,” Nash said to the constable. “You get back outside and do another patrol. I’ll come out as soon as I get dressed. Report this incident to HQ, as well.”

“Yes, sir.” Newman closed the front door behind him.

Skylar fixed Nash with a fearful gaze. “What’s going on?” she asked again. “Was someone trying to break into the house?” Her voice rose an octave on the last word.

“We don’t know.” Nash took a step toward Skylar, meaning to pull her into his embrace, but she moved backward, out of his reach, her eyes going cold. All he wanted was to comfort her because he knew her bloodshot eyes were from crying. And he was the dickhead who’d made her cry.

Instead of taking her into his arms, he stepped back with a sigh while she stood with arms crossed, glaring at him. She hadn’t forgiven him. Didn’t look like she was about to forgive him anytime soon. How was he supposed to redeem himself?

“Newman heard something outside, and he chased someone away. But we’re not sure who it was, or what they wanted,” Nash said.

“What do you mean, you’re not sure?” Skylar sent him an incredulous look. “It can only be one person. Can’t it? No one else would take the risk of poking around here. Not with an armed policeman out front.”

Nash wanted to argue with her. Could it possibly be just a nosy local thief? Unaware of the guard out the front? Or willingto take the chance even if he was? Nash doubted it. But without any concrete evidence, they had no way of knowing who’d been out there, or what they wanted.

“We need to stay extra alert, that’s all. I’m pretty sure whoever was out there won’t come back.”

“Don’t treat me like a child,” she hissed. “At least pay me some respect. I spent two days and two nights with you in the jungle, being hunted by that crazy fucker.”

She had a point. He was trying to shield her from the truth. Not wanting her to worry. His protective instincts and his cop persona taking over. But they’d been equals while they’d been on the run. She was a strong, fierce woman, and could look after herself. Had indeed helped to save his life.

“You’re right, Skylar. I’m sorry.”

“I’m going to make some hot chocolate.” She stomped toward the kitchen. “It’s going to be a long night. Do you want some?”

“Yes, please. But I’m going to give Newman a hand to make sure the house is secure first. I won’t be long.”

“Do what you need to do.” Skylar turned her back and pulled out mugs, and the milk from the fridge, as if none of this was her concern. But he could tell by the tense line of her shoulders she wasn’t happy.

He hurried to his bedroom and threw on a shirt and a pair of shoes, grabbed a flashlight, then dashed back down the hallway. He needed to check for himself that the area was clear. Look for any clues the intruder might’ve left behind. Not that he didn’t trust the young constable, but he may well have missed something. He was half-way out the door when he remembered to say, “Please don’t open the door to anyone but me.”

She threw him a derisive glance.

Nash descended the stairs, weapon drawn and at the ready, and stood at the end of his driveway. Then he did a slow three-sixty turn, taking in the road, his front yard and finally hishouse, set back from the curb. Nothing looked out of place. The air hummed with the song of night insects, some of them throwing themselves futilely at the porch light. It was warm out here, compared to the air-conditioning inside. Cane toads croaked from numerous places around the garden. An especially brazen one sat in the middle of his driveway, surveying him, throat slowly pulsating, not scared of Nash in the slightest. A slight breeze shifted the branches of the tall eucalyptus trees at the rear of his property, rustling the leaves together in a soft sigh. Newman was correct; there was a lot going on out here that might hide the sound of a prowler. It was a big ask to expect a single guard to monitor the whole house and garden. Nash wondered if Robinson might find money in the budget to post a second cop on his house. He’d probably say no, but Nash was going to ask, anyway.

A shadow broke away from the side of his house and Nash tensed for a millisecond before he recognized Newman’s distinctive profile—the young cop had one of the largest Roman noses Nash had ever seen.

“This is where I think the prowler was trying to break in,” Newman said as Nash approached. Newman had his own weapon out, pointed at the ground. “I made sure I didn’t compromise the crime scene, sir,” Newman reported.

The constable had stopped right beneath the window to his bedroom. Nash swallowed a rush of fear. Had the intruder known that was where Nash slept? Thank God he’d heeded policy and kept all the windows and curtains closed. At least he hadn’t attempted to enter Skylar’s room, which was on the other side of the house. Nash flicked on his flashlight and explored the ground around the window. His little cottage was set up on stilts, in case of flooding, like many Queensland houses. There was enough space underneath the house for a man to crawl beneath it. He assumed Newman had already checked, but forceof habit made him bend down and direct the beam of light under the house, just to make sure. Nope, no one under there. He straightened again.

Nash wasn’t much of a gardener. He didn’t have the time or the inclination to do more than make sure the lawn was neat and relatively green. The area beneath his window was supposed to be a garden bed, but right now it was bare, dry earth. The flashlight showed lots of scuff marks in the dirt. Then Nash’s blood ran cold as he spotted a single, fresh boot print in the red earth.

Because his cottage was on stilts, it meant that all the windows were higher off the ground than most houses. Even a tall man would have to stretch to see inside. The window surrounds were made of wood, with two panes of glass opening out from the middle. Nash directed his flashlight at the wooden casing. There were marks on the white paint, as if someone had tried to push a crowbar underneath.

The intruder couldn’t have been in the yard for long. Newman reported that he’d done a perimeter walk only fifteen minutes before. Had the prowler been watching and waiting for his chance? He could’ve stood in the bushland by the back fence for hours and not be seen. How long had he been watching the house?

Was it the same man who’d hunted them through the jungle? It was just lucky that the prowler had made a mistake and given away his presence. Nash didn’t like to think about what might’ve happened if the man had managed to get in.

A sudden memory of the pile of small, red stones on his front porch the other day came back in a rush. He remembered where he’d seen those stones before; in the ravine where he and Skylar had spent the night. The same ravine where the gunman had ended up at the bottom, after Skylar had pushed him. Nash’s blood turned ice-cold. Had that been a sign? Had the gunmanbeen to his house the other day, and left the pebbles to taunt Nash?

Nash spent the next ten minutes stalking around his house, he and Newman checking every nook and cranny before he finally declared the area clear. Newman followed him up the stairs onto the front porch.

“You should up your perimeter patrols to every ten minutes,” Nash instructed. “I’m going to leave all the lights on. That might act as a deterrent, in case he’s thinking of coming back.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m going to contact Robinson first thing in the morning and ask if he can send another officer,” Nash continued. “We have a clear and present threat now; he needs to increase the guard patrol.”

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