Seeing her attitude and fiery spirit come back to life was proof enough that she was going to be okay.

The shock came a month after the fire when I brought in the mail that included Finnley’s, since she had everything forwarded to my address. When I handed her an envelope with Jordan’s parent’s return address in the upper left hand corner, she opened it quickly and with confusion. When she pulled out the letter inside and read through it, she let out a small sob and her hand flew up to her mouth.

That was the one and only time she ever cried over Jordan Castillo and his family after he died. Even though he made her life hell off and on for seventeen years and came close to ending it with one swipe of a match and his mother did her best to make Finnley feel guilty for all of their problems, at least they did one thing right.

Inside the envelope was a letter from Mrs. Castillo. She said she wanted to tell Finnley this information at the funeral, but she understood why Finnley didn’t attend and thought it best to write to her instead of upsetting her with a phone call. The letter explained that they had filed a claim for Jordan’s life insurance policy and that as soon as it came in, every single penny of the $300,000 would be Finnley’s. With Jordan’s never-ending cycle of unemployment, Finnley had just assumed he’d stopped making the payments long ago and even if he’d kept up with them, the money wouldn’t go to her since she’d filed for divorce before the fire and his parents would most likely do everything in their power to keep her from it.

Mrs. Castillo explained that she and Mr. Castillo had covered Jordan’s payments when he couldn’t make them and never let the policy lapse. Finnley was pissed at first, figuring they were only doing this out of guilt because of what their son had done and that they never took her claims of addiction seriously. When I couldn’t get through to her that she should take the money, I brought in the big guns and called her mother over. It only took a few words from Finnley’s mom to convince her that she should let the Castillo’s do whatever they could to try and make things up to her. Losing a child would be bad enough, but knowing that he almost took several lives in the process would be pure agony. If giving her that insurance money eased some of their guilt, why shouldn’t Finnley benefit from it? She’d suffered enough at the hands of their son and it was time for her to live her life to the fullest.

With Finnley being off of work for so long to let her burns heal, her bills and those that Jordan left behind were quickly piling up. No matter how many times I told her not to worry about anything and that I would take care of her, she put her foot down. She spent too many years not standing up for herself and it was extremely hard for her to take any sort of handout, even if it was from me. She was fiercely independent and determined to take care of everything on her own and I can’t say that it didn’t make me love her even more than I already did. I just hated the fact that she was still stuck in the same place and not able to fully move forward with her life.

With that check and the chunk of change she got from her homeowner’s insurance, Finnley was able to pay off every single bill, quit her job and immediately enroll in art school. After a few weeks, her teachers were so impressed with her work that they invited her to showcase some of her art tonight at a local gallery. Every time I look around the room and see one of her gunpowder designs hanging on the walls, my chest swells with pride.

“I’ve got a great idea to get your mind off of the fact that there are fancy people looking at your art and thinking about buying it,” I tell her as she turns in my arms and slides her hands around my waist. “I saw an empty supply closet next to the bathroom a few minutes ago. How about we see if my twenty-second record can make it down to ten?”

She laughs in my arms and stands up on her toes to kiss my lips, peppering kisses along my cheek until she gets to my ear. She runs her tongue along my earlobe and I shiver, my dick hardening in my charcoal dress pants.

“Do you want to fuck me in a supply closet, Mr. McDaniels?” she whispers in my ear.

My hands tighten on her hips and I pull her closer so she can feel how much I want to do just that. Turning my head, I whisper the same words I said to her that day outside of her office by the tree.


“You’re playing with fire, Lee.”

She takes a step back from me, reaching for my hand and tugging me across the room, right towards the supply closet.

“It’s a good thing we’re not afraid of a little fire then,” she tells me with a smile as she backs into the dark room and pulls me in behind her, flipping on the light as soon as we get inside.

I kick the door closed with my foot, wrap my arms around her waist and turn, pressing her back into the wall next to the door. She wraps her legs around my hips and I push myself against her.

Making quick work of the button and zipper of my pants, I free my cock and slide the thong she’s wearing under her dress to the side. In one quick thrust, I’m deep inside of her welcoming heat, right where I belong. She wraps her arms around my neck and locks her ankles together above my ass. As I begin a slow, pounding rhythm inside of her, my hand skims along her upper thigh. She winces in embarrassment and reaches down to try and remove my hand from her leg.

“The scars… don’t, they’re so ugly,” she whispers.

I hold myself still inside of her and look down at her thigh, puckered with scars where they took skin grafts for the patches of second-degree burns on her shins, calves and hips. Running the tips of my fingers all over the red marks on her skin, I lean forward and place a kiss on the tip of her nose.

“They aren’t ugly. Nothing about you is ugly, Lee. These scars are just proof that you’re a fighter and you survived. I’m never going to stop touching them and kissing them and being thankful every single day that you AND your scars are here with me, so you better get used to it.”

She cocks her head and smiles at me, wrapping her hands around the back of my neck and pulling me closer. “You’re crazy and I love you so much.”

I immediately start moving inside of her again, doing everything I can to make her forget her anxiety over wearing a dress for the first time since the fire and the fact that people are right now looking at her art and thinking about buying it to display in their own galleries.

She has no idea that my own anxiety is threatening to overwhelm me. As I slam in and out of her and bring my hand between our bodies to rub my fingers over her clit, I try not to think about the items in the back pocket of my pants.

As she comes hard and fast around my cock and I follow quickly behind her, I try not to allow my nerves to get the better of me.

I make sure she doesn’t see the tension on my face as we right our clothes or feel how hard my hand shakes as I hold it against her lower back and lead her out the door and back into the main part of the gallery.

When we’re standing in front of the first design I ever watched her create, I quickly stop and turn around to face her.

“It seemed fitting to do this right here,” I tell her with a smile, tilting my head in the direction of the Japanese pagoda art piece that first brought us together so many years ago.

She looks at me in confusion as I grab both of her hands, rubbing my thumbs across the tops of them.

“Fire brought us together seventeen years ago and fire almost ripped us apart seventeen years later. It left behind a few burns and some scars that will never completely heal, but it didn’t destroy us. Nothing can destroy us, Finnley. It’s been seventeen weeks since I almost lost you. I can handle anything that life throws at me, but I can’t handle even a day without you by my side.”

Dropping one of her hands, I reach into my back pocket, pull out a folded piece of paper and hand it to her.

She takes it from my hands, wiping a few stray tears from her cheeks as she unfolds the paper. “If you’re breaking up with me right now, this is seriously the WORST break-up in the history of break-ups.”

I chuckle at her and shake my head. “Just read it.”

She looks away from me and stares down at the piece of paper. I can see the exact moment when she realizes what it is. Her mouth drops open and she gasps. With a little help from her parents and a lot of digging through their attic, they were able to help me put this together and do what I can to make up for the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. When she looks back up at me, I slowly get down on one knee and hold the other item from my pocket out in front of her: a black velvet box with the lid popped open so she can see the diamond ring nestled inside.

The note flutters to the ground as Finnley’s hands come up to either side of my face and she stares down at me with tears streaming down her cheeks.

“Yes! Absolutely, without a doubt, yes!” she exclaims with a watery laugh before she closes the distance between us and presses her lips to mine. I quickly stand and wrap my arms around her, the crowd that gathered around us erupting into cheers and applause. As I hold her close and we rock back and forth in each other’s arms, I glance down at the note on the floor and smile.

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