“Yes, sir.” Newman’s replies were stilted, and he stood to attention as he spoke.
“Relax, Newman. This isn’t your fault,” Nash said. The poor guy was blaming himself, when none of this was his fault. But Nash knew how he felt, because he was also berating himself for being less mindful than he should’ve been.
Maybe it was a good thing Skylar wouldn’t be spending any more time in his bed. She was one huge distraction, and he needed to concentrate on keeping them both alive, not be led astray by that luscious body and keen mind. He’d been lulled into a false sense of security, not dreaming that the gunman would continue to hunt them down. Overcome by his lust for the gorgeous woman staying in his house.
It was time he put his cop face firmly back in place, and remember his duty was to keep Skylar alive, not to feed his own libido.
THE PAST TWO days had been a living hell. Having to stay in the same house with Nash had been a sheer nightmare. After sharing his bed for two nights, tasting that sweet elixir and then having it all ripped away from her, it was a special kind of torment. Living so close to him, yet having him out of bounds.
She should’ve known better. Should never have let him kiss her. Never let him lead her to his bedroom. Thank God it was soon to be over.
They were going to Paul’s funeral this morning, and then she’d be back at Stormcloud Station tonight.
Home. She was going home.
Nash had tried to talk her out of it, of course. But she was sticking to her guns. There was no way she could spend even one more moment cooped up in this house with him. Nash had been polite, cool, and highly professional over the past two days. Ever since Newman had chased away the prowler, Nash had become a different man. The warm, gentle soul she’d been coming to know was firmly hidden behind the wall of the officious policeman. He’d taken on the role of protector, and it didn’t matter how much she disagreed with him, told him that she was capable of looking after herself, his persona never cracked.
None of that really mattered, anyway, because she’d already made a decision the night she’d revealed Craig had raped her. She and Nash could never be together. Because his male ego would always try and dictate her feelings. He wouldn’t be able to help himself, he’d exert his influence—it may be subtle, butit’d be there—to control her. And he was proving her point right now, with his overbearing attitude and seeming lack of empathy for her position.
The night of their fight, he’d entreated her not to shut him out. To let him help her. But Skylar knew no other way to keep her heart safe. Perhaps she was using their argument as an excuse, a way to block him out of her life. Because she could never trust him completely not to coerce her to turn Craig in, or even go after Craig on his own. The rape, and how it affected her, would always hang like a knife blade about to fall between them.
There’d been no sign of any more intruders after that night. Perhaps it was the second policeman Robinson had stationed at the house, acting as a deterrent. Whatever it was, it was almost like that night had been a dream, like there’d been no intruder, and it was all a made-up story to keep Skylar locked inside. Maybe a part of Skylar wanted to believe there had been no prowler, that Newman had imagined it all, because then she could go home safely with a clear conscience.
That was a knock on the door. “Are you ready to go?” Nash’s voice came through the wooden panel between them.
“Yes. Be with you in a sec,” she replied, forcing her voice to sound light and breezy. She took one more quick look at herself in the mirror above the dresser. Daniella had delivered her clothes this morning; she’d asked her mother to find something suitable for a funeral in her wardrobe and bring it along. The black dress was simple, knee-length, with lacy capped sleeves. Plain black pumps and a dark blue handbag her mother had found at the back of her wardrobe finished off her outfit. They’d never recovered her favorite handbag from the crash site, and Skylar wondered if that meant it was lost forever, or if someone had picked it up. A shiver ran up her spine at the thought.
No makeup for her today. This was going to be hard enough without having to deal with mascara running all over her face.
Taking a deep breath, Skylar opened the door and walked down the hallway. Everyone was waiting for her in the living room. Daniela and Steve were seated on the couch, looking uncomfortable in their funeral outfits. Steve was even wearing a suit, and Daniella, a dark blue dress that hung down to her ankles. Dale and Daisy stood next to the kitchen countertop, also dressed in mourning attire. Dale acknowledged her with a nod of his head. But there was no laughing or joking; a subdued air of sorrow hung over the small gathering. They were going to drive in a convoy to Cairns for the funeral. Dale was driving Daisy, Daniela, and Steve in his four-wheel drive, and he would take the lead. Nash and Skylar would follow in Nash’s private vehicle. Constable Schroeder and the other constable—she could never remember the third one’s name—would bring up the rear in her police cruiser. Effectively sandwiching herself and Nash between the two other cars, just in case the gunman thought to make an attempt on their lives as they drove to the funeral.
Nash stood as she appeared in the hallway and came forward, no longer walking with the cane, the limp hardly evident now. Her heart jolted at the sight of him. His black trousers and a long-sleeved dark-gray shirt made him look handsome and debonaire; set off his sky-blue eyes. She longed to reach out and touch his face; trace the healing scar along his cheekbone. And tell him she missed him.
But then she noticed the gun in his shoulder holster and flinched away. It was a reminder that they still weren’t safe.
“Shall we get moving?” Nash suggested, surprising her by taking her elbow and steering her toward the front door, gathering up his black suit jacket as he went. “We don’t want to be late.”
Skylar let him lead her down the stairs, where Schroeder and the other constable were waiting, keeping their watchful gazes directed up and down the street.
Skylar wished that she could ride with Dale and Daisy. Being stuck in a car with Nash for close to two hours would be excruciating.
But she needn’t have worried. Nash seemed fixated on the road, almost as if he was actually expecting the gunman to jump out in front of the car at any second. And he kept his mouth shut, which suited her fine. But this hypervigilance was beginning to annoy her. He wasn’t normally like this. What the hell had changed so much on that night? It was as if a switch had flicked inside him. Her thoughts turned down a darker path as she brooded, staring out the window. Perhaps it was more than that. Maybe Nash despised her, now that he knew she was spoiled goods. She’d thought Nash wouldn’t be the type to let that worry him. In fact, she thought he’d been the exact opposite. But people were fickle. Men were untrustworthy.
The drive was uneventful, apart from Skylar’s spiraling thoughts, and they made it in record time, in just over an hour and a half.
Skylar’s brain switched from analyzing Nash’s motives to nervous worry, as the outskirts of Cairns appeared. She was dreading having to face Paul’s family; having to face the finality of Paul’s death.
Nash turned off the main road, following Dale, and Skylar was surprised to see a media scrum at the entrance to the cemetery. She hadn’t been expecting that. Bright flashes of light filled her vision as cameras were forced against the windshield and the side windows. Two police officers, obviously stationed there to keep the pack at bay, were being overrun. Nash made a noise of annoyance, but continued to drive slowly, but surely, through the throng, following in the wake of Dale’s large four-wheel-drive.
“Sorry about that,” Nash said. “We’ll have to run the gauntlet on the way out as well. They’ve been sniffing around at thestation, too, but Steve told them in no uncertain terms they weren’t welcome, and when they discovered that you weren’t there they got discouraged and left. Robinson kept my name out of the media, so at the moment, they still have no idea I was the other passenger in the chopper. Which is the main reason we allowed you to stay at my house.”
“Really?” The media hounding her had never even crossed Skylar’s mind. Nash had never mentioned it. Neither had Steve nor Daniella. Probably not wanting to worry her.
“They’re not allowed into the cemetery, so they won’t interrupt the ceremony.”
“That’s good,” Skylar said faintly, not sure how much of a salvation that really was.