Page 62 of Starlit Skies

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Her head still throbbed, but as long as she kept her movements slow and smooth, it was bearable.

It was so dark; Skylar could hardly make anything out. All she could ascertain was she was in some kind of room, sitting on a bed. Who it belonged to, she had no idea. There was a small window up high to the left, but that only showed her a starlit sky. Night had fallen. She’d been unconscious for a while; a few hours at least.

Suddenly, a light flicked on, and Skylar cried out, covering her eyes. The light hurt her head. But she needed to see for herself. Forcing her hand away from her face, she squinted into the brightness.

The gunman sat on a chair over by a small table, near a partially open door. It looked like they were in a shed or small outbuilding.

Nash lay on the floor between her and the gunman, trussed up with ropes at his ankles and wrists, which had been pulled behind his back.

“Nash,” she called helplessly. But he didn’t answer, and that’s when she saw the terrible bruising on his face and blood trickling from his nose. He’d been beaten, and now he was unconscious. Without any thought for herself, she launched off the bed and crawled to his side. She almost ended up in the fetal position as pain lanced through her brain. But she fought through it, and then sat still beside him until the pain subsided a little.

“You fucker,” she said between clenched teeth, as she took Nash’s face between the palms of her hands. He was breathing. That was good.

“Yeah, that’s me,” the gunman said with an evil grin. Then he watched with seeming delight as Skylar tried to gently wake Nash. His handsome face was pale and bloody, his hair caked in blood, as well. She wanted to lie down on the floor and cradle him in her arms and make this all go away.

“It’s probably time he woke up, though. I need to get this finished. I’ve got better places to be right now.” The gunman stood suddenly, and Skylar only had time to sit up and direct a scathing glare at him, before he dumped a whole jug full of water all over Nash’s face.

Skylar wanted to reach up and scratch his eyes out, but then Nash groaned and spluttered. The water had worked, Nash was awake. Even if she despised the gunman’s methods, Skylar was absurdly pleased to see Nash’s blue eyes fix on her.

“Are you okay?” he croaked.

“I’m alive,” she replied, stroking his cheek, wiping some of the water from his face.

“Thank God.” Nash leaned his cheek into her palm and stared up at her. Emotions so strong she could hardly name them flooded through her.

“Enough chitchat,” the gunman interceded. “It’s dark now. We can start.”

“Start what?” Skylar glared at him.

“You, go and sit on the bed,” he commanded. She was slow to comply; she didn’t want to leave Nash. But when the gunman nonchalantly touched his weapon, nestled in its shoulder holster, she did as she was told. He didn’t have to draw the gun, she already knew what the barrel of his pistol felt like pushed against her skin.

The gunman strolled toward Skylar, and the rope dangling from his hand drew her gaze.

“Stand up,” he commanded. She thought about disobeying him, but what other option did she have, really? “Hands behind your back.”

She rolled her eyes, but did as he told her. It only took a few seconds for him to tie her wrists together, then he spun her around and pushed her down to sit on the bed. The jolting movement caused her head to throb, and she cried out in pain.

“Look, Jacko, let’s come to some sort of agreement,” Nash croaked from the floor.

“I don’t think you’re in any position to talk, my friend.” The gunman sounded almost convivial. Jacko, that was what Nash had called him. At least he had a name now. Skylar wondered what else she’d missed while she’d been unconscious. But even though his tone was easy, he was rough with the rope, yanking her ankles together painfully as he tied the first knot.

“Let her go,” Nash pleaded. “Take me. You can do whatever you want to me. But leave her out of this.”

Jacko turned to look at Nash. “Much as I’d like to negotiate with you, mate—because I will admit you have both been formidable opponents, I’ve never had to work so hard to complete a contract before—I’m afraid the contract calls for both your heads on a spike.”

What the hell? Was this guy for real? Was he giving them a backhanded compliment with one breath and then threatening to kill them with the next? What sort of man was this Jacko? And what did Nash think he was doing? Trying to use himself as a bargaining chip to gain her freedom. Over her dead body. She wasn’t about to let him sacrifice himself for her.

“Nash King,” she said hotly. “You will not do anything of the sort. I—”

Jacko slapped a hand over her mouth and then followed it with a large piece of duct tape. “That’s enough from you, woman.” Jacko said. “Like I said, neither of you is in a position to bargain here. I’m running the show. Patty was a bloody walk in the park compared to you pair.”

What had he said? Had he just admitted to killing Patty as well? One more reason to hate his guts, and Skylar’s blood began to boil. With a quick flick of his wrist, Jacko tipped Skylar backward, and then lifted her legs to lay her straight on the bed and rested her head on the pillow. He manhandled her as ifshe weighed nothing, but he was also surprisingly gentle. That didn’t stop Skylar’s anger from spiraling, however. She tried to kick out, but with her legs tied together, it was a completely ineffective move; she was more like an irate caterpillar than anything else. A feeling of complete powerlessness washed over Skylar. Trussed up like a pig going to slaughter, with her mouth taped shut, she couldn’t even plead for her own life.

This joker was going to kill them both. Skylar couldn’t stand the idea of Nash being dead.

“What are you planning on doing with us?” Nash asked. Skylar heard the resignation in his voice. Surely, he wasn’t giving in?

Jacko took one more look at Skylar before he straightened. He was so tall; his head nearly brushed the ceiling. Jacko stared reflectively out the small window. “Perhaps I might retire. Sanders paid me well. And it’s gonna be harder to stay out of sight after this stuff-up. Now I’m on the fucking police radar. Thanks to you guys.” He glared down at Nash.