Page 70 of Starlit Skies

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“IT’S WAY MORE spectacular than I imagined,” Nash said, leaning over the edge of the rock face to watch the waterfall disappear beneath him. Davies Creek Falls was everything Skylar had told him it would be. It was magnificent. The meandering stream filled a natural pool, right on the edge of the cliff, where you could lie in the water and stare out over the unfolding hills below. The water escaped through a narrow point in the granite dam wall, where it cascaded over the huge boulders down the vertical bluff underneath.

“I know, right?” Skylar replied. “Pity I was about fifty miles out on my estimation of where we crash landed.” She laughed, tilting her head to the sky and closing her eyes. He took the chance to drink in all her curves and long legs, sheathed in black leggings, with a crop-top showing off her midriff. Then she opened her eyes and sobered. “But it wouldn’t have mattered if we found this waterfall, or the other one. You were in no fit state to appreciate anything by that stage.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I appreciated you lying next to me all night. I remember that much.” He jumped across the small stream onto the flat platform, away from the edge, and gathered Skylar up into his arms. “It was kinda hot, with you all sexy and assertive, telling me what to do and then lying beside me to keep me safe.”

“Yeah, it was hot, all right. Because you were burning up with a fever.” Skylar sounded peeved, but the pink tinge at the top ofher ears was a dead giveaway that she secretly liked the fact he thought it was sexy.

“I’m glad you were there to save me,” he said, knocking her cap off her head so he could angle his head just right to reach her mouth and kiss her, stopping any more arguments she might’ve been forming in that beautiful mouth of hers.

This was day two of their journey of discovery into Lamb Range. Yesterday they’d visited the waterfall where they’d spent the night, after Nash collapsed from his wound; where he’d very nearly succumbed to blood poisoning. It was almost three months to the day they’d lain next to that waterfall. That’d been toward the end of the dry season, and the water had been merely a trickle. Now they were well into the wet, and the streams were gushing.

Skylar hadn’t been sure she wanted to go back and revisit that place; she thought it might bring all the bad stuff back to the surface. But after Nash told her he wanted to do it, because his police psych had said it’d help with his recovery, Skylar had reluctantly agreed to join him. It was police protocol, after encountering a life and death situation—two life and death situations, really—to see an appointed psych for ten sessions. At first, Nash had only agreed to it because he wanted Skylar to do the same, to talk to a professional about her trauma, both the early stuff with Craig, as well as the part where she’d nearly been burned alive in a shed.

The early sessions had tried his patience, the counsellor getting on his nerves with all his probing questions. But after session three, something the counsellor said resonated within him. Something about how, until he truly processed the way the crash when he was a teenager had affected every choice he made after that, even well into his adulthood, then he’d never be able to move on. It resonated because he could see the same thing happening with Skylar. Denial might be a method of coping inthe short term, but he was beginning to see that long term, it caused more damage than anything else.

The sound of voices brought Nash back to reality, and he released Skylar. She bent down to retrieve her hat just as another couple emerged from the trail leading up to the waterfall.

“Let’s find a spot to eat lunch,” Skylar suggested, but Nash knew she meant a quiet spot away from the other tourists. She led the way to the rear of the large pool, and they clambered over some boulders and up an embankment, emerging through the scrubby bushes higher up the cliff face. They found a flat rock close to the edge, and she dropped her backpack on the rock.

“We should do this more often,” she enthused, doing a little twirl to take in the impressive views of the surrounding jungle wilderness.

“Yes, we should,” he agreed, bending down to undo his pack and retrieve two bottles of water. “I’m glad you took two nights off. It gives us more time to…explore. Spend some quality time together.” He handed her a bottle and took a swig from his, and swiped the sweat off his brow beneath the brim of his hat. Boy, it was hot today.

“Me too,” Skylar replied, putting the bottle to her lips and drinking deeply before staring out over the green hills below.

Nash was proud of how far Skylar had come in regard to easing off her obsession with her job at the lodge. She now took the whole of Sunday off every week, letting Julie and Bindi take over for that one day, giving her and Nash twenty-four hours of magical bliss to spend together. It’d been her idea, which at first surprised him. But Skylar Williams was a determined woman. And she was determined to change her life for the better. Which included a better work-life balance. Although he knew she often found it hard to let go, and he’d caught her on the phone to Julie a few times during their supposed Sunday off.

Nash had bought the Patterson place two months prior and had been making it his own ever since. Old Merv had been pretty pedantic about maintenance around the place, so there wasn’t a lot to do in that regard. But Nash’s sparse furniture from his little cottage in town hardly occupied half of the bigger house. So, with Skylar’s help he was slowly filling in the spaces with furnishings bought online. He never thought he’d enjoy the feeling of owning his own house as much as he did. It gave him a freedom, and a peace to do with the place as he wished, that he’d never even contemplated before. And of course, the best part was when Skylar came to stay. They spent every Sunday together, and sometimes she’d sneak over on other nights, after she’d finished her shift. Even if it was late, Nash always welcomed her into his bed. And she was helping him plant up his vegetable garden, and he was already reaping some of the rewards, by adding fresh veggies to his meals. Skylar was also playing a big part in redesigning the new kitchen. Work on that part of the house wasn’t due to start for a few months, but the look on Skylar’s face every time they talked about it was more than worth the cost of ripping out walls and buying the best appliances money could buy.

Originally, this trip was only meant to be one night, during Skylar’s rostered day off on Sunday. But she’d surprised him a week ago by suggesting they go for longer. Nash knew it was a big step forward for Skylar. She’d always be dedicated to her work, cooking was her life, it helped define who she was. And it’d kept her sane during that horrible time after she left Craig. But she was slowly letting go, so that it didn’t control her whole life anymore. He didn’t like to brag, but he knew he had a lot to do with her softer attitude. Because she told him every day how much she loved him, and how much she missed him when she couldn’t be with him.

Nash also had more freedom when it came to taking a well-earned break, with Constable Willow now a permanent fixture at the station. He enjoyed having the young constable around, he was smart and keen, and kept Nash on his toes.

“You want something to eat?” he asked.

Skylar nodded. “I’m starving.”

He dug in his bag again and produced two packets of cheese and pickle—homemade with love by Skylar, or course—sandwiches. They chose a spot near the edge and sat down, shoulder to shoulder, to look at the view while they devoured their lunch.

Yesterday, they’d pitched a tent in the little regional park campground on the edge of the national park and had driven up to the parking lot, then hiked up the trial to the fateful waterfall, which they now knew was called Emerald Creek Falls. Nash wasn’t sure what to expect when he arrived. But all he felt was ambivalence. Like he’d told Skylar, the only thing he really remembered was her snuggled up beside him, the rest was a blur.

Afterward, they’d driven back to the campground and cooked sausages in a slice of bread for dinner in the common kitchen area. Then they’d snuggled in their little tent all night, enjoying the novelty of trying to stay completely silent as they explored having sex while not waking their neighbors through the ultra-thin walls of nylon fabric. Nash didn’t think he could remember a time when he’d ever felt happier.

“I’m glad we came,” Nash said quietly. He thought about his next comment for a while before he spoke. “It’s not so much closure that I got from this trip. More like perspective.”

“I know what you mean.” Skylar lay her head on his shoulder. “I don’t see this place as where you nearly died or where Jacko led us on that terrifying chase through the jungle. I see this place as where we first fell in love.”

“That’s exactly it,” he replied.

* * *

Yes, that was it. Perspective, not closure—that was what this trip had allowed her to find. She pretty much had closure when she’d seen Jacko’s dead body on the night of the fire. He was never coming after them again, and the spectre of his presence was washed from her mind, if not forever, then at least from taking precedence over her thoughts.

Dan Sanders, however, was a whole other matter.

“Any more news on the Sanders case?” she asked, managing to keep her voice light. It irked her that her throat closed up every time she thought about him. He was still a thorn in their side, perhaps always would be.

“Not really,” Nash replied evenly. “He’s due for sentencing next week. Now he’s been found guilty of Patty’s murder, on top of the other assault charges and our attempted murders, he’ll go away for a long, long time. Twenty years, or more.”