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She’s killing me, and I don’t know what to do.

So I hold her. She’s so small compared to me and I am afraid I’m holding her too tight, but if I loosen my grip, she grabs on to me even tighter.

I bend down and hook one arm under her legs and pick her up. She’s light as a feather.

She doesn’t fight me.

I walk over to the couch, and I’m about to set her down on it, but quickly change my mind. Instead, I sit down with her in my lap. She melts into my body, and I'm surprised by how it makes me feel. I feel like I would do anything to protect her. Anything at all.

I let her cry, the whole time rubbing her back and offering her soothing words. I wait until it seems that she may be calming. “I didn't mean to upset you,” I whisper softly against the top of her head.

She snorts and sniffles at the same time. No doubt all the emotions tonight have her on edge. “You didn't upset me. Actually you being nice to me is well, everything. Thank you for that.”

Confused, I ask her, “What, by saying I'd protect you?”

She nods. “Exactly that. I've never had anyone in my corner, and whether you meant it or not, it means everything to me.”

I cup her jaw and lift her chin, which is resting on my chest. Even now more than ever I feel it all the way to my bones. I can't let anything happen to this woman. Nothing. When her eyes are on mine, I tell her honestly, "No one is ever going to hurt you again, Heather."

She winces. "Emma. My name is Emma."

A soft smile breaks on my face. I’d wondered if she had lied to me or not. "Emma. Okay, so in order for me to help you, I need to know what we're facing here. Tell me and I'll help you."

She shakes her head. "I won't go back."

I nod my head in agreement. She’s right: If I have a say in it, she won’t go back. Ever. "You can stay here for as long as you need to."

“You say that, but you don't know what I did.”

“Tell me,” I urge her.

She takes a deep breath, and I can feel her small body rattle with it. She's so tiny in my arms. "My father is was not right. Ever since my mother died, he's been crazy. He drinks all the time. He never let me leave the house. Made me homeschool. I wasn't allowed to do anything. I told myself when I graduated high school and was eighteen I would leave, but it's like he knew that. He had locks on all the windows and doors, and I couldn't get out. In the last two years, I haven't been out of the house at all. He came home drunk today. The middle of the day and he was already so wasted. I knew what was coming. It happens every time he's like that. But before he could get the first punch in, I was done. I hit him over the head with a beer bottle. I don't know if I killed him or what, but he fell, and I got the keys and cash out of his pocket while he was out and left. I have a bag of clothes and that's it. I don't have anything else. I probably killed him. I'll probably go to jail, but right now, I'm free."

She says it all in one long breath, and her body sags farther into me the more she gets out. No doubt she’s relieved by sharing this with someone else. But where she softens, I harden. My whole body is tense just thinking about what she’s been through. How could a man beat his own daughter? Lock her up like that, hurt her day after day?

I try to reassure her. "You're not going to jail. It was self-defense."

She shakes her head. “You don't know that.”

I lean up to the coffee table and grab a pad of paper, handing it to her. "Write it down. I want your address. Father's name."

She doesn’t argue. She takes the paper and writes something down, handing it back to me. Tyler Bates. The address is in Mutton Hollow, TN, a town only a couple hours from here.

She looks frightened. "What are you going to do?"

I shrug. "I'm going to take care of it."

"I can't have you do that. He's mean... he's..."

I shake my head. "You won't have any peace just running and not knowing what's chasing you. Let me do this. I promise no one is going to take you." I almost say no one is going to take you from me but I stop before I get the words out.

She's so lost in thought she lays her head against my chest. I stare off at the wall, the feel of her in my arms going to my head. I want to make everything right with her. I want to make her feel safe. But in the end, I know I won’t be able to force her to stay. All I can do is make sure she’s safe and hopefully fix it so she doesn’t have to keep running.

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