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epilogue

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The room was bright. So bright that when Marla’s hands came away from her eyes, Fran had to squint to see it properly. She smelled the sea before she saw it, almost being able to taste the slight chill it made to the air as it called to her from another room. If she angled her head into the airy hallway, she could actually see it through the French doors and hear the waves lapping gently against the rocks. The house itself was as gorgeous as the view out the window. Scandinavian, like in all the interior design books that Fran had read, with light beige walls and white curtains and the faintest smell of vanilla, or something similar. It might’ve been Marla’s perfume because Fran could never place her mind on what that smell was.

“Well, what do you think?” Marla grinned as she placed her keys in the bowl by the door. “Do you like it?”

Fran shook her head and laughed. “Are you kidding? It’s beautiful.”

“I thought we could spend a week here, you know, just you and me. We’ve been working too much and not seeing enough of each other. It’s time we had a vacation.”

“I see you every day.”

“You know what I mean.”

Marla snuck an arm around Fran’s waist and pulled her in close, placing a kiss to her forehead. As she did, Fran winced. The bruises around her mid-section were still healing and ached whenever she touched them. Roman’s men had really done a number on her and two weeks later, she was still feeling their boots on her body. Marla heard the slight gasp and let go, looking down.

“Sorry.”

Fran shook her head and pressed herself closer to Marla’s side. “It’s fine. It’s nothing.”

Marla scoffed and made an annoyed expression. Not at Fran, they both knew, but annoyed all the same. “It’s not nothing.” Her eyes fell to Fran’s side and lingered there, staring as if she could see the black bruise beneath her shirt. Guilt seeped in like a breaking dam. “It’s my fault this happened to you.”

Fran watched her, observed how she tried to keep her troubled expression blank. Marla had been blaming herself a lot since the incident. Roman had scared her more than she would allow herself to let on. It was almost every night that she was waking up in the night, screaming and crying in fear of being in that car again. She refused to wear the suit: the yellow one Fran had bought her after she’d ruined the last one. That one stayed at the back of the closet, unseen and unworn. She’d started sleeping in a different room as well, not wanting to wake Fran with her screams or show how frightened she truly was. The bed was lonely without her and Fran found herself waking up in the night wishing that she could curl up to her, whether she was crying or not, and find comfort in her warmth.

Fran took Marla’s hand and pressed it up against her face, up against the cut on her jaw that was starting to heal and fade. She held it there. “Look at me.” She willed. “I’m still here. I’m still alive. I’m still yours. Nothing, not even that asshole’s douchebags, will ever take me away from you, okay?”

“But-“

“This is not your fault. It’s just the work of some man who thinks he can control us because he can’t outplay us. This is him, not you.” Marla stared at her as if she was trying to believe her. Fran reached up on her tiptoes and pressed a strong kiss to her lips. “You are a fucking lioness, remember?”

Finally, after a long pause, Marla nodded and returned the kiss. “I don’t deserve you.” She kissed her again, slower, and stronger as if silently thanking her. “I love you.”

Fran rested her forehead against Marla’s. “I love you too.”

They stayed like that for some time, resting against each other in quiet regard, listening to the rolling waves outside. Fran breathed in Marla’s warmth, holding her peaceful presence close because she knew it would be gone by the night and be back the next morning. Although they were both in business with Roman now, Fran swore one day she would kill him for what he did to them. If he, or anybody else for that matter, ever took Marla from her: she’d burn the entire world down.