TO BE CONTINUED:“You…what?” Erron broke away from his grip on her shoulders and took a step back. She stumbled and the ground met her backside hard. She winced. Her head spun. There was no way her ears hadn’t deceived her. It was impossible Jarek had actually spoken of marriage.“Are you all right?” he asked. Erron gulped and nodded. “Not exactly the reaction I’d anticipated.” His face fell, but he took a step forward and offered her a hand.She took it, her cheeks heating as he pulled her to her feet without effort. She’d hurt his feelings. “I’m sorry,” Erron whispered. “You…you…surprised me.” She avoided his dark eyes.Even if she agreed to marry him at that moment, he’d never want her when he found out the truth. Her stomach flipped.Erron bit her lip to stave off the threatening tears and brushed the dirt off the back of her dress.“Look at me.” Jarek’s tone was firm and she couldn’t help but meet his gaze. The heated tenderness there made her heart pound. “I realize this is a shock. Honestly, it is to me as well. I…I…can’t explain it. You’re…perfect. I want you to be my wife.”Her blush intensified and he took another step toward her. Erron’s heart shouted yes, and her head reminded her of how impossible the prospect was. He won’t want you when he finds out, a voice chided.Jarek took her hand and she didn’t pull away. She ached to accept his proposal. With him, she could have a real future…love…children. Could it really be more than a dream? His handsome face blurred and she swayed on her feet. How was she going to deny him? Deny what she wanted? What would be worse, declining his offer or telling him the truth only to have him reject her? Either way, she lost him. Tears cascaded.“Why are you crying?” he whispered. Jarek brushed her tears away with gentle fingers and Erron wanted to lean into him, fall into him.What he’d said was true, they didn’t know each other, but…she was drawn to him. It wasn’t something she couldn’t explain, either.She shook her head, unable to speak.“Erron!” The boom of her father’s shout made her jump.She and Jarek looked at the large blonde man at the same time, and Erron yanked her hand out of her tanner’s. She took a step away from him. Jarek shot her a look but said nothing.Norden strode across the field. Even at a distance, she could feel his fury, see it in his expression. A tremble slid down her spine and her hands shook, so she made tight fists and planted her arms at her sides.Jarek stepped in front of her, obscuring her from her father’s line of sight. She gulped and shifted. Being blocked, protected, from Norden would only make him angrier.He reached them in moments, glaring at the tanner.“Who’re—” Her father stared at Jarek, then growled. “I remember you. The alley.” His gaze swung from Erron and back to Jarek. She bit back a wince. “What’s going on here?”Jarek cleared his throat and took a step toward Norden. They were almost equal in height, but her father outweighed him in bulk and muscle. “Sir, I would like to speak to you.”“You are.” Norden’s eyes narrowed.What if…Erron shook her head. No. Her father wouldn’t harm him. Usually to the outside world, her father actually had some manners. But from the look he was giving her, when Jarek left, she was in for it. He would accuse her of something horrible, or just flat out beat her. She wouldn’t dwell on what else he would do. He hadn’t demanded she come to his room in over a sevenday.Erron dug deep and took a step forward, stopping next to Jarek. If only she could have taken his hand. “Father, we should offer the tanner some hospitality. We’re in the field…”“I’m well aware of our location,” Norden snapped.Jarek said nothing, but his jaw tightened. Erron winced. If he stood up for her now, she would be the one to pay when he left.“The tanner is our guest,” she pressed, her heart thundering, her stomach tight and achy.Her father grunted. “I suppose so. Put Angus away. The sun sets soon. It’s almost time for you to prepare supper, anyway.”Norden turned on his heel without another word. He crossed the field and headed into the barn.Jarek shot a look at her, and she shook her head. He took her cue and said nothing until Norden was well out of earshot, but his shoulders were tense and his fists clenched at his sides, his knuckles white. He was furious.She said nothing, returning to the plow and unhooking one side from Angus’s hitch. The old gelding nickered and she patted his rump.Jarek handled the other side, his movements jerky. “I’m not leaving you here, no matter what he says.”Erron’s heart skipped a beat at the promise in his tone and bit her bottom lip. “This is my life, Jarek.”“And there’s something very wrong.”She shook her head.“I don’t like how he talks to you. And I don’t like how he snatched your arm the day we met.”Sliding her hand into Angus’s bridle, she tugged the gray horse toward the barn. “Come this way, but please keep your thoughts in your head. My father is in the barn. Leave the plow, I’ll get it later.”Jarek growled and grabbed her arm. Though his touch was urgent, he didn’t hurt her. “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.”She stared at him, tears hot on her cheeks. “You won’t want me, Jarek.” Why the hell had she said that?“What are you talking about? I do want you. I want you to be my wife.”Shaking her head again, Erron swallowed back a sob. “You won’t for long.” It took all she was made of to turn away from him, square her shoulders and lead the old plow horse to his stall.Jarek followed, walking behind Angus, but his gaze burned her back. She could sense his heat behind her as if he was touching her.Erron wanted to collapse in his arms. She wanted to feel his lips on hers again and his hard body tight against her. But even if her father agreed and gave her to him, he wouldn’t want her when he found out she was damaged. Impure.And when Jarek left, her spirit would go with him.
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