Could she do that? Go to Cairns to take the stand in front of lots of people, then recount what that monster had done to her? Recount what she’d seen him doing to his wife? With all those people staring at her. Judging her.
Skylar shook her head and backed away.
NASH PULLED INTO the lot behind the lodge and parked beside a row of other cars, most of them dusty, white, four-wheel-drives belonging to the station. Sprinkled in between were a couple of luxury SUVs, belonging to the guests. Most people chose to fly into the isolated lodge via helicopter; it was much quicker and more efficient. But some people liked to drive or combine it with a longer trip around the top end.
Nash leaped out of his car and ran around to the tailgate to retrieve his overnight bag. He was running late. It was only eight-thirty in the morning, but he already felt like he’d worked a full day. The helicopter that was to take him to Cairns was already waiting on the Stormcloud landing pad, rotors spinning lazily. He liked to make a point of being punctual, but out here, it was sometimes impossible. This morning had been spent showing Constable Willow around his station. Robinson had sent the young constable down to fill in while Nash was in Cairns for the next two days, attending Dan Sanders’ court case. Willow was young and eager to learn, clean-cut and astute, but perhaps a little too arrogant, and overly confident. Nash sincerely hoped that nothing major happened in the next two days.
He’d spent more time than he bargained, bringing Willow up to speed as to where everything was stored in the station, as well as pointing out a few of the idiosyncrasies of the police vehicle. The four-wheel-drive was an older version—it badly needed an upgrade—with a manual gearshift, and the young constable needed a quick refresher on how to drive such a vehicle. Nashhad run home to get changed, and then then added his uniform and locked gun case containing his Glock into his bag with a spare change of clothes, as well as all the documents he might need in court—which he’d thankfully packed the night before—and dumped it into his personal car to drive to Stormcloud.
Dale sauntered out of the back door and came to meet him halfway.
“Sorry I’m late,” Nash apologized.
“No hurry, mate.” Dale smiled, flashing a matching set of dimples. “The helicopter only touched down ten minutes ago. Daniella took the pilot a cup of coffee and one of Skylar’s chocolate brownies, and is plying him for all the gossip from the big city.” Dale glanced down the hill to where the bright-red helicopter glinted through the trees. “Actually, now I think about it, perhaps we should go and rescue Paul from my mother.” He laughed, his eyes crinkling at the corners. It was good to see the easy, relaxed Dale was back. Unlike the angry-as-a-bull, ready-to-charge man he’d seen the night he arrested Dan Sanders. It was only two weeks ago, but it felt like a year.
A door banged behind them, and they both turned to watch Skylar walking toward them, carrying a small, overnight bag in one hand. She looked different, and it took Nash a few moments to figure out why. Instead of her normal jeans and loose-fitting, linen shirt, she was wearing a simple, figure hugging, black knit dress. It draped to her knees, showing shapely calves, made to look longer by the high-heeled, black pumps on her feet. Today, her hair was still tied back in a ponytail, but it was a loose version sitting low on her neck, not the sleek, high ponytail she usually sported. It was a softer look, more relaxed, and ultimately more feminine.
Something in his gut tightened way down low. She was stunning, and certain parts of his body appreciated how goodshe looked. He glanced away, filling his vision with the billabong instead, anything to distract him.
“Morning,” she said, once she was within earshot. Her gaze flicked over him quickly and he got the distinct impression she might be appreciating him as well. “Why are you…? Oh, sorry.” She waved a hand in the air. “You caught me by surprise. I was expecting you to be wearing your uniform.”
Nash glanced down at his outfit. Long, black trousers, shiny, black shoes, and a white, long-sleeved shirt, rolled up to the elbows. “I’m in civvies this morning,” he explained. “I’m off duty until I get into court.”
“Oh, right.” She frowned. “Won’t you be hot in those?”
“Nope, I’m used to it.” His civilian clothes were almost a uniform in themselves. He wore the same thing all the time. Trousers looked neat and practical, projected an air of professionalism. But there was another reason for the long pants. To cover the scars on his lower legs. The long shirt sleeves were for the same reason, to hide the burns on his upper arms. He wasn’t ashamed of the scars, not exactly, just unwilling to talk about how he got them. If people never saw them, he never had to answer their questions.
“Sorry, I just imagined you’d be a shorts-and-Hawaiian-shirt sort of guy, that’s all,” she joked. “But I guess it’s no different to what we wear on the station most of the time.” She glanced toward Dale in his blue jeans, cowboy boots, and button-up shirt, also rolled up to the elbow.
“That’s true.” He hadn’t really thought about it before, but their clothes were worn as much for safety as anything else.
“I’ll walk you down, if you’re ready?” Dale tilted his chin in the direction of the helicopter. “Let’s go and rescue Paul from my mother.” He reached for Skylar’s bag, and after a second’s hesitation, she handed it over.
Then she turned toward the lodge, reluctance in her gaze.
“Julie and Bindi will be fine while you’re away, sis. We’ve got this all under control, don’t worry.”
Skylar chewed her bottom lip. “I know.” But her feet remained resolutely pointing at the lodge as if she might change her mind about coming to Cairns and sprint back through the door.
“You’ve practically pre-cooked everything for them, all they have to do is heat and serve it,” Dale prompted. But his tone was gentle, as if he knew how hard this was for his sister to leave her kitchen in someone else’s hands. “It’s only two days,” he prompted. “You’ll be back in time to help with dinner tomorrow night. Nothing calamitous can happen in that time, surely.”
Nash thought back to Skylar’s seeming reluctance two weeks ago when he announced she would need to take the witness stand. Perhaps this was part of the reason for her hesitation. She’d built a reputation as an amazing chef at Stormcloud, and she didn't want anything to tarnish it.
Right that second, Julie burst through the rear door and jogged over to Skylar. Her short caramel hair was spiked up, as if she’d run a harried hand through it recently. But her face lit up in a huge smile, meant for Skylar alone. Julie was slightly curvier than Skylar, and a tad taller. She was also a good-looking woman in her own right, and Nash took a second to appreciate Skylar’s stepsister. She had a way of walking that spoke of optimism and fun, and she fixed her bright, tawny eyes on Skylar.
“Stop shilly-shallying, woman,” she scalded. “Get on the helicopter. Go on, shoo.” She enfolded Skylar in a hug, which Skylar belatedly returned, and then Julie pushed her toward the path.
“Yes, yes,” Skylar grumbled. “I’m going. God, it’s almost like you’re all desperate to get rid of me,” she groused. As Skylar turned away, Julie rolled her eyes in Dale’s direction, and they shared a look of communication. Nash decided that Skylar mightbe right, and they did have a conspiracy going to make sure she got on that helicopter.
Nash didn’t have time to wonder why, however, as Dale led the way down a gravel pathway and Nash indicated for Skylar to precede him. Even though he’d only ever seen her wearing high heels once before, at the charity ball in Mareeba, she seemed to be right at home wearing them today, walking along the gravel pathway as if it were no problem at all. Nash admired the way her hips swayed hypnotically before him, letting his gaze drift up her backside to savor her narrow waist, and how her blonde hair curled over her shoulders.
“Hi, Paul,” Dale called out as they approached. “I’ve got your passengers here, ready to board.”
The look on the pilot’s face was sheer relief as he handed Daniella his empty mug and plate. Nash wondered what information Daniella had been after. She was a formidable woman, and you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her.
Paul extended his hand. “I’m Paul Dorper, I’ll be your pilot today.”