Jarek didn’t want to leave her. He stared up at the open window—her window—and waited a moment. But she didn’t come over to look down on him. His chest constricted. Leaving her…felt wrong. He wanted to take her with him. Whoa…that was crazy. How could he feel so much for a girl he’d seen literally two times?He shook his head and forced himself away from the place, or he would run back up the stairwell, break down the door, and steal her away. Would she protest? She’d said she’d been thinking of him, too. Jarek’s heart stuttered. He…wanted her. Not just physically.“I have gone crazy,” he whispered.Though he’d hurried to get to her, his step was slow on his retreat. Every lift of his boots was an effort, his instincts screaming that he was going the wrong way. He needed to stay with Erron. He wanted to hold her, kiss her. Why the hell hadn’t he kissed her goodbye? She probably wouldn’t have let him, anyway.She’d told him where she lived. He wasn’t going to let her go.Jarek kept an eye out for her father, but didn’t see or pass him as he made his way home. Damn, he could have had more time with her. By the time he reached the tanning shop’s storefront, his heart was in his stomach, his shoulders slumped. Never in his life was the sense he’d made a mistake so strong.Jarek should have stayed with Erron.His father’s voice caught his attention and he looked up from his musings. What he saw made him trip into the doorjamb. Jarek caught himself on the wall just inside the shop.Anais was in his father’s arms. The older couple was beaming at each other.The near accident caught their collective attention. The smile faded from Kirgan’s face, replaced with concern.“Son, are you all right?”Anais slipped from his father’s arms and rushed to him. “My lad?”Jarek met her pale blue eyes and managed a smile. “I’m fine, Anais, really.” He dropped a kiss on her cheek. “You two just surprised me, is all.”His father chuckled and pulled the widow back to his side, slipping his arm around her waist. “We’ve some news,” he said.“Oh?” Jarek asked. Anais’s cheeks were crimson and he couldn’t hold back his grin.Kirgan looked at her, a tending smile on his face, holding Anais even tighter to his side. She nodded, and his father looked back at him. “We’re to be wed.”“Well, it’s about damn time,” Jarek exclaimed, sweeping his new mother into a hug. Over her shoulder, his father struggled to hold onto a mock glare but lost the battle. His grin took turns off his face. Jarek winked.Happiness for them warred with envy. He pulled away from Anais and she returned to his father. Jarek stared at them.
“Lad, is something wrong?” Anais’s tone mirrored the concern in his father’s expression.Jarek took a breath. “No. Nothing’s wrong. Listen, I have some news, too.”As he talked, he formulated his plan.∞∞∞∞∞∞Erron made herself remain seated on the bed as Jarek’s footsteps faded down the stairs. He had to go. Her vision blurred and she wiped the tears away. The last thing she needed was her father to notice she’d been crying and demand to know why.She didn’t trust herself to go to the window and watch her tanner walking away. She wouldn’t be able to keep from calling out to him, begging him not to leave. Or worse—go after him. Runaway with him.What the hell was she thinking? Norden would kill her.Why had she told Jarek where they lived?I will come for you. His words bounced around in her head. Erron believed him. But what good would it do? Could he want her? Her heart thundered.When Jarek found out the truth, he wouldn’t anymore. No one would. As much as that hurt, Erron couldn’t blame him. She was damaged, impure. A shudder wracked her body and tears cascaded. She’d always been stuck with her father; that wasn’t new. But now she knew what it was to crave something else. And feel just as hopeless about getting it.“Erron, get it together,” she whispered, swiped her hands down her cheeks, then rubbed her eyes. Her father could be back any moment.∞∞∞∞∞∞The ride home was coated in misery. The rain poured down on them, but it helped disguise the tears that wouldn’t stop. Jarek consumed Erron’s thoughts. She’d only seen Jarek once. It was not nearly enough.Two days in Dalunas Main and she’d not left the Old Spirits Inn and Tavern at all. Even the privy was inside the small room she’d shared with her father. At least he’d not touched her. Being around people had given her a reprieve. Evidently, her father didn’t want the outside world to know what went on behind the closed doors of their home.Norden had come and gone several times, barking harsh threats each time he’d left her. Despite that, her stomach fluttered as soon as he was gone. She waited for her tanner, but he didn’t come to her. She even called to him mentally, as if she possessed the magic necessary to get a response.She clung to the white mare. Fancy’s mane was plastered to her long neck, but Erron weaved her fingers into the coarse hair, holding onto the reins with the other. She needed to feel something, even the soaked hide of her mount. Fancy was warm beneath her fingertips.“Erron, sit up and hold onto that horse properly,” her father ordered.Wincing, she did what he said, slipping a little further into her cloak so he couldn’t see her face.When they got home, Erron helped Norden tend the horses. He was gruff with her like always, but he didn’t touch her.In the house, he watched while she heated the water for her bath without comment. Her heart thundered, hands shaking as she filled the tub by the fireplace.Erron had no desire to bathe naked in front of him, or worse—with him.“Hurry with your washing so the water will not chill for my bath,” her father said.“Yes, Father.”She breathed a sigh of relief as he disappeared into his sleeping room. Erron washed as fast as she could, donning a floor length, long sleeved, high neck chemise with too-damp skin. She shoved her arms into it, heart in her throat.The need to crawl into her own bed and bar the door was all consuming. But there was no lock on the small room she slept in. And if Norden wanted her in his bed, he usually ordered her there after evening meal. Often she never saw her own quarters.“Father, your bath is ready,” she called. No way was she going into his room. Her hands trembled as she put out a clean bathing sheet for him.Norden said nothing as he came back to the fireplace, but he started to unbutton his shirt. His breeches were already beltless and hanging open. She averted her eyes and breathed a sigh of relief when he said nothing to her.Erron slipped into her room muttering a goodnight he ignored. Tears slid down her cheeks as she lay in bed. She’d been foolish to think anyone would save her from reality.Jarek’s handsome smiling face danced into his mind and she squeezed her eyes shut. He was a dream she couldn’t have.She could only pray that Blessed Spirit would keep her from her father’s bed this night.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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