She stared up at him for many uncounted moments until a fit of coughing racked her body and she tried to sit up.
“Where’s Jacko?” she asked, eyes still dazed and unfocussed. Her voice was so raspy with smoke, she could hardly form the words. “We have to—”
“He’s dead,” Nash said with finality. “You don’t have to worry about him.”
“Over there.” Nash pointed to the inert form lying in the dust between the burning shed and the ruined farmhouse. “I killed him. He won’t hurt us again.”
Nash freed her ankles from the ropes, and then helped her shuffle backward until they were up against the trunk of an enormous tree. He cradled her in his arms, using the tree as a backrest, her head laid back on his shoulder. They were far enough away from the fire now so they could watch it consume the shed without fear. Both of them continued to cough. They needed oxygen. Skylar could have lung damage. He should call an ambulance.
“I’ll be right back,” he said, easing himself out from behind Skylar.
“Nash, where are…?”
He hobbled over to Jacko and felt around in his pockets until he found what he was looking for, and held it up with a wave of triumph. The man’s cell phone.
Nash hobbled back to Skylar, sliding in behind her again and cradling her once more. The phone was locked, but he didn’t need a password to dial 0-0-0. He made the call, stunning the woman in dispatch to silence for a few seconds as he relayed who he was and what his situation entailed.
“They’re sending an ambulance and a couple of fire trucks,” he told Skylar. Funnily enough, Jacko had been right when he said the fire wouldn’t spread. The building collapsed in on itself, sending a shower of sparks skyward, but the bare earth around it was enough to keep it from catching hold of anything else.
They sat in silence, watching the shed burn. He’d never felt more at peace than in that single moment, with Skylar safe in his arms. He’d done it. He’d been strong enough, after all. And she was alive because of him. They both were.
“Did you say you loved me?” she asked suddenly, voice still husky.
“What?” Had he said that? He didn’t remember, it was all a blur. Perhaps he’d thought something along those lines. But had he said it out loud?
“I’m sure I heard you say you loved me,” she continued. She swiveled in his arms so her face was close to his. “So, do you?”
He studied her blue eyes by the firelight. “Yes,” he replied simply. “I do.”
Would his answer scare her away? Just this morning they’d been fighting about her lack of trust, how she liked to live her life shut off from her true feelings. She’d been prepared to move back to Stormcloud and end the good thing that’d been growing between them. Had something changed since then?
“Good.” She turned and lay her head back against his shoulder, her breath rasping on another cough.
Good? That wasn’t what he’d been expecting.
“Because I might be in love with you, too.”
He didn’t look at her, but his heart leapt skyward. It was so typical of Skylar to understate everything. But right now, he’d take whatever she was offering. Because he knew he couldn’t live without her.
SKYLAR STOOD AND stretched, bringing the bunch of freshly picked basil to her nose to draw in the spicy scent. It was good to be back in her kitchen garden again. She’d missed the simplicity and peace that spending time with your hands in the dirt could bring. The sky was a soft peach color, the last vestiges of the sunset disappearing over the escarpment. The air was warm and buzzing with the noise of insects on the wing.
It was a week today that she’d been released from the hospital, after spending two days being monitored for smoke inhalation. Nash had spent another two days in hospital after she left; his leg needed more stitches put in after he split it open during the struggle with Jacko. Skylar had wanted to stay with Nash, to sleep curled up beside him in his hospital bed like a lost kitten, but everyone urged her to come home and convalesce; telling her that Nash was in good hands. Nash had been the loudest advocate of all, and so she’d done as they asked. But she missed him. This whole week, she’d missed him like crazy.
Her lungs still ached if she over-exerted herself, and she was prone to coughing fits occasionally. For the first few days, she recuperated in the family suite, spending long hours sleeping in her bed, or watching mindless TV in the lounge room. She stayed away from the hustle and bustle of the lodge and the guests, preferring to cloister herself away, letting her wounds—which were all superficial—and her lungs heal. But after three days in her cocoon, she finally became tired of being house-bound andbegan to putter around the lodge, renewing her connection with the workings of the station and spending time with the staff.
Wazza and Alek had treated her like she was made of spun glass, which made her laugh. If only they knew the full details of what she’d had to do to survive, they’d understand she was much stronger than they knew. Julie had been much more pragmatic, making sure Skylar ate all the food she put in front of her, and telling her funny jokes to lighten the mood. Bindi and Sasha had welcomed her back with hugs and tears. And Daniella had been more attentive than Skylar could ever remember. Steve had been Steve. Down-to-earth, but also gentle. It made her glad she had such a good man for a stepfather.
But it was Daisy who’d offered her the greatest comfort. Skylar was finally ready to stop keeping all of her emotions and yearnings bottled up, and Daisy was the perfect sounding board. They’d talked for hours late into one night about love and men, and Daisy helped Skylar sort out her feelings for Nash. Daisy had been ecstatic when Skylar finally admitted that she’d fallen for Nash, and she encouraged her to let love in and see where it took her. It reassured Skylar to see that Dale and Daisy had been able to make their complicated lives work. Love had found a way with those two. It gave her hope that perhaps she and Nash might also have a future together.
Skylar glanced at the raised garden bed. The weeds had almost taken over her herbs in her absence. She was going to have a word with Dale about that, he should’ve done a better job looking after it for her.
“Hey, sis, where are you?”
Speak of the devil.