Page 59 of Starlit Skies

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“Yes. I’ve got it covered.”

“Thanks, sir.” Skylar heard the relief in her voice. “We’ll meet you at your house in ten, and follow you the rest of the way out to Stormcloud from there.”

A few turns in the road later, Nash pulled his car into the driveway. Skylar studied the little white cottage. It really was quite cute, with its wooden windowsills, standing up on stilts.

She sat in the car and waited until Nash drew his gun and checked down both sides of the house. Then he came around to collect her from the passenger seat, and she swallowed her impatience as Nash led her up the stairs and opened the front door, keeping her tucked in behind him. He made her stand in the living room and wait, while he checked each room was clear. She tapped her foot agitatedly. The gunman was obviously tired of chasing them. He was probably too concerned with dodging the police net they’d put out to capture him, to worry about them anymore.

She watched Nash disappear into her bedroom, the last one at the end of the hall.

There was a small sound behind her. Before she could even swing around to see what it was, a large hand came up to cover her mouth and the cold metal of a gun barrel pressed against her temple.


FOR A SPLIT second, Nash didn’t believe what he was seeing. He stood frozen in the hallway; weapon still pointed at the floor. His eyes must be playing tricks, because the gunman from the jungle had just appeared through the doorway and put a pistol to Skylar’s head. It was his imagination replaying nightmarish scenarios.

Then the man spoke and shattered any illusion that this wasn’t real.

“Drop your weapon,” he demanded.

Nash stared at him, desperately hoping for divine intervention. But in the end, there was no other option. Slowly, he bent his knees and placed the Glock on the ground.

“Good boy,” the man said mockingly. “Now, you’re going to do exactly as I tell you, or your girlfriend’s brains are going to end up all over your lovely, white walls.”

Skylar let out a whimper from behind the man’s hand, blue eyes dilated with fright.

How had he missed this guy? He must’ve been hiding outside, waiting to pounce. Nash had only done a superficial sweep because he was distracted. He was so stupid. But now wasn’t the time to drown in self-flagellation. He could do plenty of that once he got Skylar away from this madman.

“We’re getting outta here. You’re going to drive, while me and Blondie sit in the back. Got it?”

Nash nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

“First of all, hand over your phone.” The man pointed at the coffee table with his pistol, and Nash saw Skylar’s phone already sitting there. “Well done,” he said, when Nash did as he was told. “After you.” The gunman tilted his chin toward the door and took a step back, dragging Skylar with him, so there was room for Nash to move past.

Even as he raised his hands and walked slowly through the door, he was assessing the man. It was definitely the same guy from the jungle. Same height. Same muscular build. Same menacing, gravelly voice. And he was dressed exactly the same, as well. Long, dark, cargo pants, a black T-shirt, combat boots, and utility belt loaded with ammo slung around his waist, along with the black backpack over his shoulders. Nash couldn’t see a sign of where he’d struck the man with his knife. It seemed as if this guy had shrugged the injury off. Clearly a man not to be trifled with. The rifle he’d lost out in the jungle had been replaced by a handgun; a 9mm Beretta, if Nash was correct.

But there were signs that the man had perhaps been living rough. His clothes were dirty, as if they were the same ones he’d been wearing in the jungle. Dirt was ingrained in the lines on his face and the furrows on his forehead, as well as around his fingernails and creases of his palm. And he stank, as if he hadn’t showered in a week.

Nash stepped down the stairs slowly, exaggerating his limp, hoping that if he took his time, Schroeder might appear around the corner in the police cruiser.

Nash rolled one scenario after another through his head as he hit the bottom step. Could he possibly defeat this guy? Or at least delay him until help arrived? Because once he got them both in the car, they were on their own. The man had Skylar held in front of him, using her as a shield as he followed Nash down the stairs. So Nash couldn’t lash out without hitting Skylar first. The gun was no longer pointed at her head, which meant he’dprobably moved it to the small of her back, so it was less visible to any passers-by. But it was no less deadly.

In the end, Nash couldn’t come up with any idea that wouldn’t put Skylar in direct danger, so he had to step behind the wheel of his car and watch, powerless to do anything else, as the man shoved Skylar in the back seat and followed after her. Skylar struggled, turned, and kicked out with her long legs at the man, catching him in the stomach, and he grunted in pain and surprise.

Quickly, he raised his gun and pointed it directly at the side of Nash’s head. “Go on, my lovely, try that again. I dare you.”

Skylar sucked in a sharp breath, and turned to sit properly on the seat.

“Yeah, I thought as much,” he sneered.

“Gimme that,” the man said, pointing to Nash’s police radio. When Nash gave him the handset, the guy ripped the cord out of the main receiver. And there went Nash’s last chance at communication. “Head north, out of town,” he directed.

That was the road to Gamboola. And it went straight past Stormcloud Station. Nash started the car and backed out of the driveway, praying the police car would turn down the road in front of them. But no such luck. Nash kept quiet, checking on Skylar in the rear-view mirror.

“How was the funeral?” The commando asked. “You both look lovely, by the way.”

Nash stared at him in the rear mirror. Was this guy trying to make small talk now? Or was he merely gloating? Rubbing it in their faces that he’d caused the death of the pilot. It proved one thing, however. That the gunman had known their every move. He knew where they’d be today, and when they’d return. And he’d laid his trap. It was just sheer luck on the gunman’s side that Schroeder had been diverted. Or was it? He couldn’tpossibly have engineered the scene down at the station. Could he?

Skylar turned a look of shocked disbelief on the man. “You utter bastard,” she snarled. “Where are you taking us? You can’t do this. You know the cops will be on you soon. You—”