“Over here,” she called. “Down by the herbs.” She let her gaze drift over her garden as she waited for her brother. Without conscious thought, her eyes landed on the cabin below her young orchard. The cabin where she’d confronted Dan Sanders.A spontaneous shudder ran through her. If she’d known exactly how evil a human being Sanders would turn out to be, would she still have entered that cabin?
Because she couldn’t walk away, knowing another woman was being abused without trying to help. Maybe she might’ve handled the situation differently. Not gone in alone and unprotected. And maybe if she had, Patty might still be alive.
But in some ways, the act of walking through that door to confront the monster had started the chain of events—terrible and frightening as they were—that eventually led her to break out of her own cycle of self-oppression. It helped her awaken from a life half-lived. It’d led her to Nash.
The sound of booted feet swishing through the grass alerted her to Dale’s presence, and she turned to study her younger brother as he strode down the hill. He had on his ubiquitous Akubra hat, long jean-clad legs stretching out. He looked up and smiled, the dimple in his cheek lighting up, and Skylar felt her heart lift. It was so good to be home again, surrounded by family.
In a burst of spontaneous joy, she reached out and hugged him as he came near. For a second, Dale started at her surprising show of affection, but then he pulled her in for a bear hug. She was determined to break out of her self-imposed style of remote aloofness. From now on, she was going to demonstrate to her family how much she loved them every chance she got.
“You okay?” he asked, when he finally stepped back. There was a huskiness to his voice that told her he was holding back his emotions; she knew how much it meant to him to have her back, safe and in one piece.
“I’m okay,” she replied with a nod. “I’m doing better each day.”
“Good. You know we’re all here for you. If you need someone to talk to, I’m your man.” He thumped his chest like a malegorilla might, and Skylar laughed. Her brother, the joker. But she could see the truth of his words behind his attempt to lighten the mood.
He looked down at the basket in Skylar’s hand and narrowed his eyes. “You’re not allowed back in the kitchen until tomorrow. You need to take the doctor’s advice seriously, sis.” Dale frowned at her. “Julie and Bindi have this under control, so stop fussing.”
“I’m not fussing,” she replied lightly.
“Don’t get pedantic on me. I know you’ve been in the kitchen today because Julie snitched on you.”
“I have been in the kitchen,” she admitted. “But I promise I’m not interfering in the prep for the guests’ meals. You’re right, Julie has it all under control.”
“Then why are you down here collecting herbs?” he accused.
“Because I’m cooking for Nash tonight.” She smiled at him sweetly.
That took the wind out of his sails for a second.
“Well, that’s different,” he said, returning her smile with a dimpled one.
“Yes. I like Nash. He’s good for you.”
“Yes, well, I don’t need you getting involved with my love life,” she said, a little more haughtily than perhaps she should’ve.
“Love life? I like the sound of that. It’s been so long since I’ve seen you with a man.” He raised his gaze to the sky for a second. “I don’t think I’ve seen you with anyone since you split with Craig.”
Skylar’s grip on the wicker basket tightened. She still hadn’t told her family about her treatment at Craig’s hands. She would tell them, soon. When she worked up the courage. They deservedto know. And she needed to tell them so she could move on. But not tonight. Tonight was about her and Nash.
“I think you might be right,” she said, keeping her tone light and conversational. Picking up the hem of her long skirt, she began to walk up the hill, back toward the lodge. Reaching out a hand, she took her brother’s, and they ambled along in companionable silence.
When they reached the back door, Dale tugged her around, so she had to look at him. “I’m glad you’re here with us. And I’m glad you’re giving Nash a chance. He’s a good guy. He’d make a great brother-in-law.”
“Now, don’t go jumping the gun.” Skylar slapped Dale on the shoulder. “It’s very early days yet.”
“Yeah, I know,” he drawled, and opened the door to let her inside.
“Would you do me a favor?” she asked, giving him a saccharine smile.
“Whatever my sister wants, my sister gets.” He parodied a low, sweeping bow.
“Would you set up the small fire pit down by the billabong for me?”