A full list of curses swirled through my mind. I thought Baker’s men would’ve chased everyone outside and looked for us in the panicked crowd. But one of them must have spied us running up the stairs and into this room. I turned back to the window. The only exit out of this cheap-shit room.
It’s the best shot we’ve got. “We have to jump.”
Another thud came from the door, and a small splinter of wood broke out to expose the blade of an ax. It was yanked back, making the perfect hole for a pistol barrel to be forced through. A shot rang out into the room, and I pulled Meriden out of harm’s way, toward the window.
We looked down at the bare ground together. “You first,” she mocked, waving her hand outside.
Several hard crashes echoed behind us. With a quick glance over my shoulder, I found the door bending to the invaders’ will. The wood cracking nearly in half, width-wise, under the force.
“You have to jump, now,” I demanded.
“Like hell I am!”
I grabbed her wrist, forcing her to focus on me. “You don’t know these men like I do. If they get their hands on you, and you don’t agree to their terms, you will be raped. You will be tortured. And they will do everything in their power to break you.”
Meriden stared at me, her eyes firm, giving me an idea of what she was about to say before she even uttered it. “I can’t leave you here alone,” she breathed. “I won’t.”
“F*** it,” I hissed quietly at her stubbornness. I then did a double take out the window. There in the night, a horse and cart of hay walked slowly our way with no human guidance. The wheels barely fitting between the two buildings. By some miracle, it continued through until it came to a stop with the cart just below our window. It shifted and snorted like someone yanked its rains. Not really understanding what just happened, I took my chances with fate and swept one arm under Meriden’s knees. Losing her balance, she tipped into my arms, her back falling into my embrace while she hugged my neck.
She panicked. “I don’t think this is exactly the time to sweep me off my feet, do you?”
“Don’t worry. I’m just trying to save your neck.”
I gently slid her out the window and held her over the hay pile below. Meriden looked from the clear sky down toward the alley, obviously unable to see the horse and cart below her by the way she gripped my throat.
“Are you mental?” She wrapped her arms tighter, making it hard for me to breath. “What good will it do me to escape with a broken leg or worse?”
I felt my temper rising, only to suddenly become aware how much her body was trembling. Her skin was paler than the moonlight shimmering overhead, and her eyes were like saucers looking down. There was no way she was scared of heights. I’ve seen her on the ship, climbing the rigging like a little show monkey. Hell, she didn’t even seem this frightened a moment ago, when she was mockingly waving out the window. So, I had to ask myself, why was she so scared all the sudden? Was it the idea of falling that terrified her? Or was it something more?
“Meriden,” I growled. “Meriden.” She finally turned toward me. “For once, trust me. You’re going to be all right. Just let go.”