Black Rose


EPILOGUE




SHE SAT QUIETLYuntil her heart rate slowed to normal, until the tangle of nerves, of rage, of reaction in her belly eased a little.



Broken glass glittered in the sunlight. Glass could be replaced, she reminded herself. She'd mourn her flowers, but she'd save some of the wounded, and she'd grow more.



She'd grow an abundance of more.



"How's your hand?" she asked Mitch.



"Fine. Good." He all but spat it out. "He's got a chin like a marshmallow."



"Big strong man." She turned to wrap her arms around him, and didn't mention Mitch's raw, scraped knuckles.



"He must've gone crazy to think he could get away with this."



"A little, I guess. I imagine he planned to be done wrecking my place before the reception was over. He'd figure we'd blame it on kids - or the police would. And all I'd have was a mess on my hands. A man like that doesn't have any respect for women, doesn't believe one can best him."



"One did."



"Well, two. One live one, one dead one."



Since the faintness had passed, she got to her feet, held out a hand for his. "She was like fury, Mitch. Flying over the ground, through tables, and so fast. Wicked, wicked fast," she stated. "He saw her, Bryce saw her coming at him, and he screamed. Then she was choking him. Or, I think, making him believe he was choking. Her hands weren't on him, but she was strangling him."



She rubbed her arms, then clutched gratefully at the lapels of his jacket, drawing them tight when he draped it over her shoulders. She didn't know if her bones would ever be warm again.



"I can't describe it. I can hardly believe it happened. Everything so fast and wild."



"We could hear you shouting," he explained. "You cost both me and your son several years of our lives. I'm going to say this once."



He turned, took the lapels himself to hold her still and facing him. "And you're going to hear it. I respect and admire your steely will, Rosalind, and appreciate your temper and your capability. But the next time you so much as think about taking on some lunatic with a bat on your own,I'm doing some ass-kicking. And it's going to be your ass with the bull's-eye painted on it."



She angled her head, studied his face, and saw he meant exactly what he said. Son of a gun.



"You know, if I hadn't already decided on this thing I'm about to ask you, that would've done it. How could I resist a man who lets me fight my own battles, then when the moment's right, steps in and cleans house? After the dust is clear he gives me a good piece of his mind for being an idiot. Which I was, no question, no argument."



"Glad we agree on that."



She took the last step toward him, lifted her arms, and hooked them around his neck. "I really love you."



"I really love you back."



"Then you won't have a problem marrying me."



She felt his body jerk, just a little, just once, then it settled in against her, warm and true. "I don't see a problem with that. You're sure?"



"Couldn't be more sure. I want to go to bed with you at night, wake up with you in the morning. I want to sit and have coffee with you whenever I please. Know you're there for me, and I'm there for you. I want you, Mitch, for the rest of my life."



"I'm ready to get started on that." He kissed her bruised cheek, her uninjured one, her brow, her lips. "I'm going to learn how to tend at least one flower. A rose. My black rose."



She leaned on him. She could lean on him - and trust him to step back when she needed to stand on her own.



Everything inside her calmed, even when she looked at the destruction of what was hers. She would fix it, save what could be saved, accept what couldn't.



She would live her life, and plant her gardens - and walking hand-in-hand with the man she loved, watch both bloom.



And in the gardens of Harper House, someone walked, and raged, and grieved. With mad eyes burning into the candy-blue sky.

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