Page 7 of Starlit Skies

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Skylar returned her mind to the present and shook away those stupid flights of fancy, hoping she wasn’t blushing. She watched Nash take another big gulp of coffee and wondered how much sleep he’d managed to get last night. Now that she was looking, she could see gray smudges beneath his eyes, his tanned face slightly pale beneath his surfer good-looks.

“I learned a few interesting things about Dan Sanders. He is a part-owner of the Crown Casino down in Melbourne, and has a reputation for being a savvy businessman. He’s a multi, multi-millionaire. So at least we know his ravings about being uber-rich are correct.” Nash gave a wry smile. “Not that it gives him the right to go around beating up women, as he seems to think it does. He also has a reputation for having a foul temper.”

“All that makes perfect sense. I still can’t believe there are men like him out there,” Daniella said into the silence.

Skylar flinched, then crossed her arms over her chest, sweat suddenly beading on her forehead. Her fingers itched to encircle her wrist, stroke away the remembered pain. If only her mother knew how prevalent these types of men really were. Daniella would be so disappointed to find out her own daughter had been a victim of one of thosemen like him, as she put it. Which was one of the reasons she’d never told her. None of her family knew how she’d suffered at the hands of Craig. They all believed her relationship with the talented chef was one-hundred-percent perfect. And because she’d been living and working in Cairns, they never guessed otherwise.

“I hate to think we need to vet our guests from now on. But how else are we going to stop monsters like him from coming to our lodge?” Daniella asked.

“You’re not,” Steve said, speaking up for the first time, and Daniella looked up, surprised. “How were you supposed to know?” Steve softened his tone, but his eyes remained steely. “How were any of us supposed to know? And his wife was obviously complicit in hiding whatever was going on.”

“That’s true,” Daniela sighed.

“Of course, it’s true, Mum,” Dale said with a frown. “We never really know what’s going on behind closed doors in any marriage. We might think we do, but that’s why domestic violence is so insidious. It’s this big, dark secret.”

Skylar stared at Dale, wondering how he’d suddenly become so insightful. Perhaps she had Daisy to thank for opening his eyes to life outside their little Stormcloud bubble. Daisy’s indigenous heritage, along with her connection to her culture, was a good thing for Dale to be involved in, because now he got to see some of the day-to-day hardships she had to endure; including both the subtle and the blatant racism sheencountered nearly every day. And perhaps Dale had also learned a few valuable lessons during his time spent on their uncle’s ranch in Montana. He, along with the rest of the staff at the ranch, had been unwitting victims in an arson attempt by a disgruntled employee. Thankfully, that sordid tale had turned out okay; no one had been hurt. But Dale was beginning to see that life in the real world wasn’t always rosy.

Nash nodded his agreement. “The best part about my whole night, is that I think I may have convinced Patty to press charges against him.” Nash sat back and let his words soak in.

“Oh, wow, that’s great,” Skylar said, uncrossing her arms and leaning forward.

“Yes, it is.” Nash speared her with his hypnotizing gaze. “And I think it’s all because of you.”


“Yep. She told me, it was when she saw you on the floor, with Dan yelling at you and kicking you in the stomach, that she suddenly knew what she had to do. It was like a switch had flicked inside her. Up until then, she’d been blocking out what was happening to her, telling herself that it wasn’t really that bad, and Dan was doing it because he loved her and wanted the best for her. But when she looked at you, she finally saw herself lying on the floor. Saw herself as a victim of that violence.”

“So, my interference was a good thing, after all?”

“I wouldn’t say that you putting yourself in danger and getting beaten up by that pig was a good thing,” Dale growled.

She gave him a look of exasperation. “You know what I mean,” she said. “If Patty is finally ready to see this man for what he really is, and to make him pay for his bad deeds, then it was all worth it.” And it was. She’d take more bruised ribs any day, if it meant she could free even one woman from a man’s tyranny. If only she’d been that lucky, to have someone willing to help her.

“I’ll still need to get all of your statements from last night, to help with the case of assault against Skyler,” Nash continued. “I’m assuming you’re going ahead with that?” he asked, a sudden frown marring his handsome face.

“Yes, of course.” She wasn’t letting this scumbag get away with it. She’d let Craig get away with it, because she wanted her freedom more than she wanted him to pay for his crimes. All she wanted was to never see Craig again. But this guy needed to rot in a jail cell. Perhaps, in a twisted sort of way, she was using Dan Sanders to get her revenge on Craig. On all men. Perhaps a psychologist might say she needed help, needed to purge herself of all this hurt and bitterness, by talking it through. But she didn’t care, this was her form of therapy. Better than any talking.

“Good. That’ll definitely help to convince the judge that Patty is also telling the truth. This guy might have some powerful lawyers, but no one is above the law,” Nash said, a relieved look on his face. “He’s already been transported to Cairns, where he’ll be arraigned. I’ve requested he not be granted bail, because of his history of violence, and also because of his threats toward you.”

A chill ran down Skylar’s spine as she remembered Dan’s words.“If you don’t do as I say, I will have to come back and make you pay.”At the time, she’d believed him. She’d even been willing to make him any promise he demanded, just to secure her freedom. Now, however, she was embarrassed to think she’d paid heed to his words. He was merely a simpering coward, who used his words as weapons. She wasn’t going to be intimidated by him.

Nash continued, “A court date will be set. I’m not sure yet if the charges will be heard together, or if they’ll require two separate trials. The judge will have to decide. It might be a few weeks before we know exactly. But this…guy will end up in jail. I’m sure of it.”

Skylar wondered at his slight hesitation. What had Nash been about to call Dan Sanders?

Daniella raised her eyebrows, but the tilt of her mouth told Skylar she was happy with the outcome. As was Skylar. This would all work out perfectly. She reached over to grab Dale and Nash’s empty mugs, ready to take them back to the kitchen and get on with her meal prep. Her day was looking much better with this new information.

Then Nash speared her with his gaze. “You’ll be required to go on the witness stand, Skylar. I’m assuming you’re happy to do that?”

“What?” Skylar stilled, her heart rate suddenly becoming erratic, the mugs rattling together on the tray.

“Yes, it’ll mean going to Cairns for a day or two,” Nash continued, clearly unaware of her sudden panic. “But I’m sure Dale can organize a helicopter for you, so you don’t have to drive up.”

Oh, wow, she hadn’t thought of that. Leaving the safety of Stormcloud. The last time she’d been to Cairns had been a few years ago. Recently, she’d used the excuse that she was too busy to leave the station, except to take quick trips into Dimbulah. And sometimes she’d drive over to Daisy’s place for dinner and a glass of wine. All her supplies and any food she needed that she couldn’t grow on the station were ordered online and delivered straight to her back door.

No one seemed to have noticed that she hardly left the station anymore.

Well, almost no one. Dale had asked if she wanted to join him on a trip to Townsville a few weeks ago, said it’d be good for her to get a little R and R, and regaled her with facts about the amazing hotel he’d be staying at while he was there. But even though he’d frowned when she’d refused, he hadn’t pushed the point. It wasn’t that she couldn’t leave the station, she didn’treally need to. She certainly wasn’t agoraphobic, or anything like that.

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