Erron’s father threw back his head and laughed. What the hell was amusing? Jarek was torn between punching the bastard and making sure she was all right.“Marriage?” the man asked. “You came here seeking my daughter’s hand? You shouldn’t have bothered.” The tone was disparaging. Like she was dirt. Or worse.Jarek scowled, clenching his fists. Why hadn’t he brought a weapon?“As you can see, the lass is not worth much. She’s the clumsy sort.” Norden gestured to Erron, who was squatted down gathering shards of pottery from the bowl she’d dropped.Growling, Jarek leaned forward. “Do not speak of her that way in my presence.” He caught Erron’s head shooting up in his peripheral vision, eyes as wide as saucers.Her father’s brows drew together and his expression was dark, but Jarek glared right back.“The lass is mine.”“I’m not leaving her with you,” Jarek promised.Norden’s face reddened and he pounded a fist on the table. Out of the corner of his eye, Jarek saw Erron jump. He cursed under his breath.The older man had several inches in height and about fifty pounds—weight and muscle—on him, but Jarek would do what he had to do for Erron. There was no way he was going home without her. Hopefully she would forgive him if he had to pound the bastard a few times. Blessed Spirit knew he wanted to wipe the expression off her father’s face with his fists, assuming she’d be bothered by it.He stared her father down, both of them unmoving.“The lass is mine,” Norden repeated. “Mine to do with as I wish. For my farm, my food, my cottage, my bed, even for my disposal if I saw fit.”Jarek froze at the same time Erron cried out. His bed? Did that mean…? No. The man was her father.Fury burned him from the inside out. His stomach churned the pleasant meal into stone. Bile rose. He swallowed hard. He didn’t want to pound the bastard. Jarek wanted to kill him.He heard her crying and he couldn’t look at her. It would be impossible for him to see her face red and wet and not act on her behalf. He would grab the nearest—anything—that could act as a weapon and kill her father.However, Jarek ending up in a penal territory—especially the one as notorious as the work camp in Dalunas—would do Erron no good. He needed to get her away from Norden.∞∞∞∞∞∞If Erron hadn’t already been on the floor, she would have collapsed.Her father had just told Jarek everything. And now, he wouldn’t even look at her. He knows. He doesn’t want you, see the proof?Pain overtook, constricting her chest and her breathing. She swallowed back a sob, but couldn’t withhold the second. How could she feel so much loss? She didn’t know Jarek. But he didn’t want her now. It was obvious.Ruined. Impure.She really was destined to waste her life with her father. At his every whim, like he’d told the only man she’d ever wanted to marry.Shards of the broken bowl fell from her hands as her vision blurred. Erron deflated, falling to all fours, catching herself before she landed on her face. Her right palm smarted. She’d cut herself on the broken bowl. Her hand was likely bleeding, but Erron didn’t care. Her heart was bleeding, too.She heard angry voices, but couldn’t process the words. Her head spun, and she couldn’t focus through the chaos in her mind. What would she do now? Life had rarely held meaning, but what little she’d had was now gone.Erron looked up when Jarek shot to his feet. Norden shouted, but her would-be suitor moved too fast. She gasped as her father’s chair went over, him in it. Jarek hit him two more quick times. Her father’s head jolted with the impact, but he didn’t otherwise move.The tanner shook his hand as he straightened, cursing under his breath.She froze, gaping.What—? Erron blinked but the scene before her didn’t dissipate. Jarek had hit—knocked unconscious—her father? Why?He hurried over to her and thrust down his hand. “C’mon, we have to go.”“Go?”A dark brow shot up. “I told you I wasn’t leaving you here.”She could only stare.Jarek shifted on his feet and threw a glance over his shoulder. “There’s no telling how long he’ll be out…”
“I…I…” How could he still want to take her with him? He knew. It was different now. Erron swallowed hard, her heart thudding in her ears.“Erron.” Jarek’s tone compelled her to look up. Their gazes locked. “Do you want to go with me?”“Yes.” The word rushed from her lips, but she meant it with all her heart.There was no way he would still want to make her his wife, but Jarek could still get her away from her father. She could offer to earn her keep by helping out in his shop.If she had to see him marry someone else it would kill her, but she would deal with it then.For now, Erron would be with Jarek. That was all that mattered.She put her hand in his and Jarek yanked her to her feet and into his arms. Her heart skipped a beat, but she clung to him for a moment.“Are you all right?” he whispered against her hair.“Yes.”Jarek pulled back and looked down into her face, smiling gently. “Good. Let’s go.”She gathered a few belongings, her other two dresses and underclothes, her mother’s silver comb and mirror. He helped her stuff them into a hide bag.Then Erron let him lead her to the door of the cottage she’d been born in.He tugged her outside to his waiting horse. Jarek smiled as he secured her bag to his mount. His hands on her waist as he lifted her into the saddle rushed her face with heat. When he settled behind her and pulled her close, she trembled.Her tanner pressed his knees to his mount. As they rode away, Erron didn’t look back.
TO BE CONTINUED...
All rights reserved; copyright © C. A. Szarek. The text within may not be reproduced in whole or in part or distributed in any form whatsoever OR SOLD without first obtaining permission from the author.