Her hands shook as she ladled stew into a bowl. Erron’s heart was at a constant pound, her skin flushed. The two men at the table were silent, but disaster was imminent.She made it to them without tripping and set Jarek’s dinner down in front of him. He flashed a smile and offered thanks. Erron averted her gaze. Her father watched them, eyes narrowed. He said nothing, but a tremble slid down her spine.Hurrying back to the kitchen area of their cottage, she retrieved the bread she’d baked that morning. Norden always demanded a warm loaf with his meal, so she’d heated it by proximity to the fireplace.Erron took her seat after pouring mead for her father. Jarek stopped her and poured his own, as well as some for her, earning a glare from Norden. She held her breath, staring at the inviting bowl of rabbit stew. Steam wafted, the pleasant scent tickling her nose, but it only made her stomach clench tighter.As was typical for her father, conversation was scarce as he shoved food into his mouth. Jarek shifted on the seat next to her, but Erron screamed at herself not to look at him. If Norden assumed they had some familiarity, she’d pay for it later.She bit back a gulp and shoved a spoonful of the thick stew into her mouth. Chew. Swallow. Normally one of her favorite meals, tonight Erron tasted nothing.“This tastes very good, Erron, thank you,” Jarek said.Meeting his eyes for only a moment, Erron gave a small smile. “Thank you,” she whispered.Her father looked up. He said nothing, but snatched another piece of bread and tore off a bite.She took a breath and made herself eat. The sooner they finished, the sooner Jarek would…well, what did he plan to do? He’d said he wanted to speak to her father about her hand in marriage. Would he just come out and say it?Her heart skipped a beat. How could Erron make her father think she didn’t care either way? If he figured out she desired to marry Jarek, he would surely decline.She’d never had a suitor before. What would Norden say?Erron spared Jarek a glance. Heat crept up her neck as she caught his dark eyes. He was staring in her direction. She looked down, swirling her spoon in her bowl, swallowing hard.What would the tanner say if her father said no?I promised you in Dalunas Main I was coming for you, and I have. And I’m telling you now I’m not leaving you here, Erron. Memory conjured his words as if he leaned over and whispered them in her ear.He wouldn’t leave her. He wouldn’t…leave her? Her heart skipped a beat as fear settled over her. Would he leave her? Why did she care? This was her life, she was resigned to it. As she always had been…He won’t want you when he finds out the truth. She crushed her eyes closed, then forced a breath and sat taller. She was at the supper table. Her father was right next to her. She couldn’t give him cause to notice something wasn’t right with her.The hope Jarek instilled in her made her chest ache. Whether she stayed with Norden or went with her tanner, Erron would never be the same.∞∞∞∞∞∞Evening meal was an awkward affair. Jarek had no idea what was going on other than the fact he didn’t like Erron with her eyes cast down, head bowed, much too silent.His gut stayed clenched, his heart screaming the wrongness of the situation. What the hell was going on?The food itself was great…the rabbit stew even tastier than Anais’s. Erron’s father said nothing, just stuffed spoonful after spoonful into his mouth, grunting from time to time. How could Erron eat around him every meal? It was unappetizing to watch him.Jarek forced himself to eat slowly. He cut bread for Erron when he took a second helping and she thanked him quietly before gluing her eyes back to her bowl. She’d only looked at him once, and it was killing him.In his experience, meals had always been a time to share the day with loved ones. Even before Anais had started cooking for him and his father regularly, their meals had been full of discussion. From what Jarek had seen tonight, Erron’s father treated her like a servant. He hadn’t even thanked her—for anything, the full mug, the bread on his trencher, and multiple bowls of stew. He ate, she bustled, leaving her food three times already.Jarek clenched a fist, biting back a growl. The man was a bastard. No matter what he had to do, Jarek was taking her with him when he left.He finished his meal, declining a second portion when Erron quietly offered. Jarek waited at the table seat in silence, his hands entwined on his lap.Her father finished his third helping and finally leaned back in his chair. He drained his mug of mead and she refilled it without comment. Every action made Jarek even angrier. His blood was boiling by the time the older man met his gaze.“So, what brings you here?” Erron’s father asked. “You’re a tanner by trade, if I remember?”Be. Polite. Jarek nodded, forcing a smile. “Yes, sir. My father is a master and has taught me all he knows. Our goods are sought out all over Dalunas Main. I enjoy our work, and I hope to have my own shop one day.”The fair haired man’s gaze didn’t waiver. He studied Jarek, saying nothing.Jarek reminded himself he needed to gain favor with the bastard. He wanted to marry his daughter.“You have not answered my question.”Erron shoved her chair back from the table and scrambled to her feet. The move was a distraction for both men, and Jarek didn’t miss the glare her father threw her way. She lowered her head and Jarek clenched his jaw. Damn the man.Her hands trembled as she grabbed and stacked the three empty bowls and plate that had held the loaf of bread. It took all he was made of to not reach for her, pull her close and comfort her. Once again, his instincts screamed that something was very wrong between her and her father. Erron was petrified.Jarek forced his gaze back to the pale eyes that matched hers. Norden was staring back at him, his expression expectant.“I intend to marry your daughter.”Erron dropped the bowls, and one shattered.
TO BE CONTINUED:
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