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if i prove false to you

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They’d been sitting in a holding cell at the bank for two hours, each of them quietly fantasizing about the Barbados they would clearly never see—Ellie could still taste it, though, the piña colada adorned with a decorative blue umbrella, its coconutty and sweet flavor dancing across her taste buds before sliding down her throat to settle in her belly. She could feel it, the warm sun shining on her skin, her pastel blue bikini hugging every curve of her body as little specks of sand dotted her golden skin. She could hear it, the rhythmic crash of the waves as they rolled in and out on the beach, lulling her to a peaceful slumber as the sunshine slipped its way into her pores, her golden curls picking up a bit of a Caribbean breeze, Armani sunglasses perched regally on her nose. She could see it all so, so clearly—the life she nearly had, the freedom she would never have again.

She should have given up when the money burnt—hell, if she’s honest, she never should have started in the first place. But when she found out Roy had done her in the way he had, when she found out he’d had a bloody kid with some other woman while Ellie was doing time that should have been his, she thought maybe, just maybe, it should be her turn this time. And so she kept her head down for four years, did her time without so much as a complaint; she made real, proper friends for the first time in her life, and she came up with a plan. One that was all her own. One that would leave her rich and her old man scorned, fitted with a charge he so rightly deserved.

And she thought she’d have a life. Full of friends and cocktails on the East Coast of Barbados, tanned and happy and laughing, without a care in the world except making it to the next happy hour. She’d almost convinced herself that she deserved it, too, happiness—after everything she’d been through, she’d really nearly believed that someone like her could have that, deserved that. It’s what kept her going when she was inside, when the face of Roy’s kid kept invading every space in her brain. She hated the kid, and she felt guilty for hating the kid, because it was just a kid; it didn’t ask to be born. But she did hate it, and she couldn’t help it; she hated it because it was the kid she’d never have, not with Roy and probably not with anyone else, either. The thought gutted her.

She’d have done anything to take her mind off all the things she’d never have, to stop the fitful dreams of faceless children that were painfully, tragically, so very not hers. So she dreamt of Barbados, and made a solid plan to get there; it took up all her time for awhile and really, it was just what she needed to keep her from dwelling on things it simply wouldn’t do to dwell upon. And it was a good plan, too—smooth and simple, and she should have known it was going to be blown to hell and she’d never step a bare pink-toenailed foot in Barbados.

Instead, she’d ended up in bloody Scotland of all places, in the quirkiest little town she’d ever seen. Hope Springs. But she’d had her friends there—her daft, insufferable, cheeky, whimsical friends—who seemed like they’d just come out of some weird not-quite-right fairytale, but friends nonetheless.

And she’d had—well, she didn’t know what she’d thought she had with Gil. Something, anyway. She’d clearly been mistaken, whatever it was. But there were days in Hope Springs, despite how much she chastised the other girls for it, when Ellie didn’t think of Barbados at all—days when she found herself fantasizing about a quiet normal life with a normal bloke in cold-as-hell Scotland when all along she should have known better. Ellie Lagden always knew better.

Hope Springs, indeed.

And now she was in a holding cell she wasn’t sure was strictly legal three stories beneath a bank, sitting across from Hannah, the dream of the sun and the beach slipping through her fingers for what felt like the last and final time.

Her Hannah, her best mate in prison, the one she’d told everything to, confided in about Roy and his mistress and their child. She’d cried, really, telling Hannah the story—she’d told Hannah she was just mad about it all, not hurt; of course she wasn’t hurt. But Hannah could see the truth, and in the end, Ellie let her see it. Ellie let Hannah her hold her hand in the prison cafeteria, uneaten sausages on sparse trays between them: I’ll never be a mum, Ellie had whispered, the tears brimming in her eyes. Hannah had shushed her, wrapped an arm around her, and let her cry. The same way Ellie had done for Hannah so many nights before, and would do so many nights after.

Ellie let Hannah see her weak, just the once. It stuck, made them closer, bonded them to each other in shared vulnerability—and even Ellie was vulnerable. Don’t tell anyone, Hans, please. She’d whispered, Please.

It’s the exact nerve Ann-Marie had danced on the day of the wedding, the one Ellie likes to pretend doesn’t exist; Ellie had always wanted to be a mum, could always envision bouncing a little one on her knee, waking up in the middle of the night for feedings, and only Hannah knew it. Ann-Marie only suspected. Ellie had felt Hannah behind her, ready to step in, and it’s how Ellie didn’t fall apart. Ellie never falls apart. But she could have.

Ellie looks at Hannah now and thinks that she looks just as scared as she did in the early days of prison, her face pale and her eyes wide, her mouth quivering. Ellie opens her mouth to say something, but stops when she sees a tuft of brown hair pass by the small vertical window in the holding cell door at the same time she hears a soft voice float under the crack in the door and realizes she recognizes it.

Ellie’s eyes widen as she looks at Hannah, “You called Gil, of all people?” Ellie whispers, the incredulity slipping into her voice.

Hannah stares back at her and shrugs, “Who did you call, then?”

Ellie lets out a sharp bark of laughter, though the situation is anything but comical, “I didn’t have anyone to call, Hannah.” And her meaning is clear.

Hannah’s mouth drops open, “You said you didn’t even like him, Ellie! You said he was just a mate!” Hannah tucks her long brown hair behind her ears, then glances down at the table, and Ellie can see the guilt.

Ellie shakes her head, staring directly at Hannah, “That’s not exactly true, is it?” Ellie turns her head to the side and waits for Hannah to look at her. Hannah glances up quickly, and then drops her gaze back down to the gray table, “You’re the one that told me that’s how I felt about him, aren’t you? You’re the one that told me I was confused, right? That I was confused because I’d never had a partner I liked before? I just didn’t know quite what you were playing at on that bench.”

Hannah sinks down in her chair, dropping her head even lower. She looks at Ellie and the tears threaten to spill down her cheeks, “It wasn’t like that.” At Ellie’s sharp look, Hannah blanches a little, “It wasn’t.” Hannah whispers, “Oh, come on, Ells. You could have any guy you want and you know it.” Ellie hears what she doesn’t say.

Ellie lets out a soft laugh, “Except one who’s good for me, hey? Better stick to criminals and cheats, yeah?” She smiles, but it’s sad, the corners of her mouth moving out instead of up.

“Ellie… I didn’t mean…” Hannah starts, but she can’t finish, knows there is nothing to say, really.

Ellie looks at Hannah, the guilt displayed in her posture, on her face, in her eyes, spilling down her cheeks. Ellie never could bear Hannah’s tears—she never could bear anyone’s tears. She’d always rather they be her own into her pillow at night. She’d take the weight of the world on her shoulders so someone else wouldn’t have to, always had done. She knew Hannah deserved a bit of something good in her life; probably deserved it more than Ellie did, anyway.

Ellie sighs, “You know what?” Her voice is a whisper, “I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to fight with you over a man. He’s all yours, Hans. He can write you love letters in the nick until you get out, it’ll all be very romantic.” Ellie purses her lips and shuts her eyes, taking a deep, steadying breath, “Sorry, that was mean.” She reaches across the table and takes Hannah’s hand in her own and gives it a little squeeze before letting go.

“It’s alright,” Hannah whispers, “I deserve it.”

Ellie shakes her head, “No, Hannah, you don’t.” But, then, neither do I, she thinks just as the door to the holding cell opens.

Ellie turns to look and it’s Gil, standing there with two bank security guards. He has a pained expression on his face as he looks at Hannah; a small smile ghosts across Hannah’s face, but Gil doesn’t smile back. Instead, he turns to fix Ellie with a hard stare, the anger rolling off him in waves. It’s all she can do not to roll her eyes.

“Separate cells for you two for a bit,” one of the security guards says, stepping further into the room and gesturing for Ellie to stand, leaving Hannah behind. He’s a big, burly man who ushers them out, but not before his eyes skate over Ellie’s chest and back up again. He smirks at her, appreciation evident in his lustful gaze, and she does roll her eyes this time.

The new cell he leads her to is smaller, with open bars, and it looks like a proper jail. Ellie wonders what sort of nefarious things have gone on in here because it is not, actually, a proper jail. The security guard takes her arm and jerks her a bit roughly into the cell, clearly enjoying the power dynamic. “Wait here.” He instructs, his tone harsh.

The cell clicks closed and Ellie wonders just how many times in her life she’s going to have to hear that bloody sound. With a heaving sigh, she sits down and rests her cheek on the palm of her hand, drumming her fingers on the table. She plays a tropical tune, closes her eyes, and pretends she’s waiting at the bar in Barbados for a drink and a date. He’s a tall, dark, and handsome bloke with eyes the color of the sea, and oh, is he ever in love with Ellie. She thinks it will be a beach ceremony and she’ll show up barefoot with a flower in her hair and a mai tai in her hand.

A small smile is playing on her lips at the scenario when she hears the door roll open. She opens her eyes and isn’t surprised to see Gil standing just inside the cell as the doors roll shut behind him.

Ellie pushes herself up in her chair and crosses her arms over her chest defensively.

“Happy to be in here, are you?” He asks, referencing the smile that had just been on her lips. He raises his eyebrows at her in a gesture that feels accusatory.

She smirks at him, “Oh yeah, Gil, I’m bloody thrilled to be here.” She watches him, watches the way his nostrils flare in anger. It’s fun, she thinks, to rile him up. “I thought you gave your badge up, hey?” She arches an eyebrow at him, “Ex-commissioner?”

He shrugs, “Not official, yet.” His voice drops low, and he looks around furtively.

Understanding dawns and she nods her head, “At least not that they know, am I right?” She smiles, “What are you doing in here with me?” She asks him, pointedly, “Shouldn’t you be in with Hannah?” She hates the tone of her voice as she says it, fearing it gives too much away. But either Gil is too mad to hear it or he chooses to ignore it; either way, Ellie is thankful for it.

“Well, you’re the reason she’s in here, aren’t you? You’re the reason for all of this? For everything that’s happened to your friends… if you can even call them that, since it seems your friends just turn out to be people you use.” Gil takes a few angry steps towards her, and she laughs. Anger’s the one emotion from a man she has always been able to abide; it’s the only thing that makes sense to her, that doesn’t put her on edge. The sound of her laughter bounces off the concrete walls and fuels Gil’s anger; his voice raises, “You destroy everything you touch, right, Ellie?” He says her name with such venom that she blinks, unprepared to hear her name fall out of his mouth quite like that.

The look in his eyes is so much like hate that it takes her breath away. She didn’t realize how much she never wanted to be on the receiving end of that look from him until she actually is; the realization deflates her and she exhales sharply. “Sure, Gil. It was all me, all of it.” The weight is heavy on her shoulders, but she’s used to it. “I only care about myself.” She gives a bitter laugh, because nothing could be further from the truth; she shakes her head sadly, “The whole thing was my fault; just show me where to fall on my bleeding sword.” It’s sarcasm, obviously, but there’s a sadness tingeing her words, like Ellie Lagden has taken the blame one too many times for people and things who don’t deserve it, and Gil very nearly softens at it.

But he thinks back to the scene at his wedding, to the wind in his face and the words Ellie said to him, deep and cutting, and he makes the choice to step further into his anger instead; he’d already let her make a fool out of him, and he’d be damned if he let her continue. He steps forward, closer to her now than he has been in days, and he towers over her, his voice harsh and angry, “You got Hannah into this, you bloody well get her out of it.

Ellie feels the anger wash over her, replacing the shame, and she leans into it, grateful for its presence. She’s been intimidated by bigger men than Gil Cameron, she’s been threatened, beaten, and nearly killed by bigger men than Gil Cameron. She doesn’t know what to do with his disappointment, with his pain, with his grief—but she knows precisely what to do with his anger: return it, blow for blow.

You’re the one with the badge, yeah?” She pushes herself up from the table and stands so she’s nearly level with him, throwing her hands on her hips, “You get her out of it.” She smirks at him, feeling the anger inhabit her body, “You want to be the big hero, right? The big man—you save her.” Her voice bounces off the walls, and she doesn’t realize that she’s put the emphasis on the wrong pronoun, “She’s the one who deserves it, right?”

Gil looks at her curiously, his anger suddenly waning as he catches something in Ellie’s eyes, something he can’t name, “And what? You don’t?”

Ellie scoffs and throws her arms over her chest, “I don’t need anyone to save me.” She says, her tone full of spite.

“Oh,” Gil says the word on a breath, “That’s right, I forgot. You’re the woman who has everything so together. You don’t need anyone, do you?”

Ellie tucks her chin up at him, “No,” She says it defiantly, “I bloody well don’t.”

“Right, right, except abusive ex-husbands.” He sneers at her.

Ellie presses her eyes shut, and when she speaks her words are even and measured, “I told you he wasn’t my husband.”

Gil shakes his head, the anger smoldering beneath the surface ready to erupt. The words come out venomous, his tone low and quiet, “You’re a fraud and a liar, Ellie Lagden, you lied to me from the minute you met me; not a single word that came out of your pretty mouth was true.”

“And that’s what this is about, is it? Your wounded pride.” Ellie smirks and rolls her eyes with a confidence she doesn’t quite feel, “Come off it.”

Gil’s eyes shift, something dark clouding them over, and his mouth turns up at one corner—Ellie’s never seen him look so mean, didn’t know he could. “Tell me, Ellie. What kind of woman does what you do, eh?” He takes a step towards her and she backs up, “What kind of woman does what you did to a man on his wedding day? How could you say those things, Ellie, to me?” He steps toward her again, his advance menacing, and she steps away from him until she feels the cool bars on her back; they’re hard but not unwelcome against her warm flesh.

Her arms cross over her chest and her cheeks flush. “Are you really that thick?” She shakes her head, “What kind of policeman are you, anyway? You couldn’t see how terrified of Marius I was? Really?” She cocks her head to the side, as though she’s questioning his emotional intelligence.

Gil doesn’t respond—he knows he should have looked harder, knows he should have done better. He hasn’t wanted to admit it to himself; he was too ready to believe the worst in Ellie because it was easier for him that way. It was easier for him then, and it is easier for him now.

“I did what I had to do.” She lets out an exasperated sigh, “I said what I had to say to—to save your life. That’s the only reason I did it.” She shrugs her shoulders, “You wouldn’t leave. I had to make you want to walk away from me and not want to find me.” She feels the frustration coursing through her veins, “Don’t you understand? Marius was going to kill you, Gil, and worse, he was going to enjoy it.” She feels the emotion swell in her throat, and she fights against it, “I couldn’t let that happen; not to you, not to Hannah and the girls. And I’d have done a lot more than that to protect you if I had to, whether you want to believe it or not.”

There’s a vulnerability to her voice that Gil hasn’t heard before. He feels the walls of his anger start to crumble—he’d spent every day since the wedding building them, shoring them up against this woman, so unlike anyone he’d ever met before. But he can’t let them down, not yet, too afraid of what he might find amongst the rubble.

Steeling himself against the onslaught of doubt, he leans closer to her, letting the vitriol slip into his voice, “And what kind of woman lies about being battered?”

Ellie’s mouth drops open, and the color rises to her cheeks. She stares at Gil for a long moment, watching as his cold eyes search hers. She drops her gaze and clears her throat. When she speaks, her voice is only a whisper, “There’s more than one way to batter a woman, Gil.” She meets his gaze again and smiles, but it’s the saddest thing he’s ever seen.

There’s something in her eyes that he can’t quite place, can’t quite name, but behind that he sees nothing but raw pain, open and bleeding, and it steals his breath. Her eyes glisten in the dim light of the cell and he feels the last vestiges of the walls he built around his heart throw themselves down. That a woman like Ellie has ever been hurt so thoroughly feels like the worst crime in the world. That she believes she deserves it is the second.

Suddenly, every emotion he’d been trying to hold at bay since he first laid eyes on her—this pretend rambler with beautiful hair and a quip at the ready—floods his heart all at once and he feels overwhelmed by the sheer weight of it as the emotions tumble over him one by one until the blood is rushing in his ears. He’s been hiding from these feelings for a long time now, scared about what it might mean about his relationship with Ann-Marie, what it might mean about him in general. And suddenly it doesn’t matter—the only thing that matters is proving to Ellie that he’s sorry and that she’s worth it, every single thing.

His hand slips into her hair, the curls tangling around his fingers, “Oh, Ellie,” He whispers, searching her eyes, wondering who hurt her besides him and how, “Oh, Ellie, Ellie, Ellie,” His thumb brushes gently along her soft cheek and her eyes flutter closed as she nestles her head into his hand. “I’ve never met anyone like you, Ellie, never in my life. You’re so beautiful and smart and you just… you take it all on, don’t you?” His words are soft, reverent, “You take it all on.” He whispers things about her that no one has said in a very, very long time.

Gil leans forward and presses a soft kiss to her lips, his fingers tightening in her hair. Her lips are soft and sweet. She starts to kiss him back, and he sighs against her mouth but just as he starts to deepen the kiss, she pulls away, placing a hand on his chest to keep him away.

“No,” She whispers, shaking her head as it rests against his forehead; her eyes are still glistening, “We can’t.” She says, shaking her head again, this time emphatically as she leans her head to the side, away from his touch, “I can’t do this to Hannah.” She gives him a wan smile, and shrugs, “She really likes you, Gil, and I can’t… even though I want to… I can’t.” She is speaking loudly as though trying to convince herself.

Gil feels the shame creep in—he’s the one that put them in this position. He’s the one that turned to Hannah for comfort, trying to pretend that Ellie had made a fool out of him. He’d been aiming for self-preservation, but all he’d done was ensure the exact opposite.

He pulls his hand from her hair and it feels like the hardest thing he’s ever done, feeling her soft curls slip through his fingers. He scrubs his hand down his face and nods his head sadly, “You’re right.” He hates himself for saying it, “I’m so sorry, Ellie.”

Ellie tilts her head to the side and looks at him, taking in the plane of his face, the kindness in his eyes—at least she has that again; he’s finally not looking at her like she’s the enemy, and it means more to her than she thought it might. She lifts her hand to touch his cheek, her soft palm touching the rough stubble she finds there,

“Me too, Gil,” She whispers, her voice thick with emotion, then drops her hand to her side, clenching her fist to keep from touching him again. No one has looked at her the way Gil is looking at her, not ever, and it takes every ounce of strength and every thought of sweet Hannah she has to not stand on her toes and kiss him until she’s forgotten about Marius, Roy, prison, the little boy who isn’t hers, Barbados, and every man who has ever done her wrong; until she feels no more pain.

“It’s okay, Ells.” The voice comes from outside the cell, and it’s so, so soft but it startles her anyway.

Ellie peeks around Gil and sees Hannah standing there, peering into the cell, a female security guard standing by her side. Hannah’s eyes are red-rimmed and a steady stream of tears is spilling down her cheeks. Ellie quickly moves around Gil and makes her way to Hannah, reaching out through the bars.

Hannah steps into Ellie, and Ellie grasps her by the arms, “Hey, no—we were just…” Ellie trails off.

Hannah takes a shaky breath, “I heard everything—and it’s—” She chokes back a small sob, “It’s okay, Ellie.”

“Doesn’t sound like it, Hans,” Ellie says, but her voice is gentle, sweet as it floats to Hannah’s ears.

“Will be.” Hannah says, with a definitive nod. “You two…” She looks at Gil for the first time, then back at Ellie. Hannah takes Ellie’s hands in her own, “I shouldn't have gotten in the way. I'm sorry I did. You deserve each other.” Her voice is strained, but she smiles anyway, leaning in to whisper in her ear, “Stop thinking that you don’t, Ells,” Hannah squeezes Ellie’s hands and then lets go.

“You’re sure?” Ellie asks, her conscience and heart pulled in two different directions.

Hannah nods once, gives her a small smile, then nods again at the security guard who leads her back down the corridor.

Ellie spins around, and Gil is already crossing the distance of the cell. He snakes his hands into her hair and she opens her mouth to speak but he cuts her word off with a kiss. His lips slide over hers and she loops her arms around him, her fingers playing with the hair at the nape of his neck. His tongue slides into her mouth and she gasps at the sensation, kissing him back as his left hand slides from her hair down her back settling into the curve of her lower back. He draws her closer to him, enjoying the perfect way her body fits against his.

It’s their first proper kiss—it’s their first kiss not tinged with guilt, not carrying the weight of secrets and lies, and it’s brilliant. She whimpers a little into his mouth and he deepens the kiss, enjoying how sweet she tastes, then pulls away and whispers her name. He cups her face with his hands and she’s never seen anyone look at her with such tenderness. She feels it everywhere in her body and it’s more than the lust and sense of danger she’d felt with Roy and other men in the past. The feeling surprises her in its intensity, in the way it rushes in to fill every space in her heart.

Gil leans down to kiss her again and his lips brush against hers briefly before they hear a throat clearing behind them. They both turn to look and see the burly security guard. He’s somehow managing to smirk and look at Ellie like she’s a piece of meat at the same time; his gaze unnerves her, “If you two are ready…” He reaches out and unlocks the cell, rolling the door back from the wall.

Ellie is stunned as she looks between Gil and the security guard. She settles her gaze on the security guard, “You’re just going to… let us go?” Her tone is incredulous.

“Yeah, well,” The security guard shrugs, “Your copper here must have said something awfully persuasive.”

Gil looks at her and winks then places his hand on her lower back to guide her out of the cell—the protective nature of the gesture touches her, but Ellie stops when she’s halfway through the cell. “Oh!” She turns back around and grabs her sunglasses from the table before heading back the way she came.

As she passes the security guard, he smirks again, checking out her ass as she passes by. When she is just beyond him, he grabs her by the arm; her eyes dart to Gil at the end of the hall where he stands filling out some paperwork, Hannah just beyond him looking tired and sad. The guard drops his eyes to the swell of her breasts, “’Course, we’ll have to keep your money here, love. ‘Less there’s something you want to do to, you know, get it back.” His gaze runs up the length of her body and his meaning is clear.

Ellie smiles at him, then drops her gaze to where his hand is curled tightly around her bicep, his fingers digging into her skin, “You’ll want to be letting me go.” She jerks her arm away from him, and puts her sunglasses halfway on. She peers at him over the top of them, “And I’ll get my money, don’t you worry.” She smirks and pushes the sunglasses all the way up on her nose before sashaying down the hall to join Gil and Hannah.

When they’re finally outside, Gil leads them to the car park—he watches as both Ellie and Hannah survey the parking lot, “Sadie, Shoo, and Josie are already back in Hope Springs,” He looks at both of them, silent questions in their eyes, “The bank manager, he’s not exactly on the up and up. Was more than pleased to forget the whole thing happened.” He shrugs, then drops his gaze to Hannah, “Hannah,” He runs his hand through his hair, shuffling his feet a bit awkwardly, “Can I have a word?” Hannah nods, and he leads her away from his car.

Ellie sighs and leans against the hood of the car, pushing her sunglasses on top of her head. She looks at the ground, surveys the parking lot, tries desperately not to watch them, but she can’t help it, she finds herself watching Gil’s hands as he explains something gently to Hannah. She nods, then reaches out and touches his bicep, then nods again. They embrace quickly and then pull away, heading back towards the car. Ellie watches them carefully and notices that they both look a bit lighter.

As she walks past the hood of the car to the backseat, Hannah reaches out and squeezes Ellie’s hand before she opens the back door and slides in.

As Gil approaches, Ellie quirks an eyebrow at him, “Alright?” Ellie asks, pushing herself up from the hood of the car.

Gil nods and smiles, leans in to press a quick kiss to Ellie’s cheek, then opens the passenger door for her. She slides inside, and turns to look at Hannah as Gil closes the door and walks to the other side of the car.

“You okay, Hans?” Ellie asks, quiet concern in her voice.

Hannah looks at her carefully, “You know what, Ells?” Hannah breaks into a smile, “I really am.”

Ellie nods and smiles back as Gil slides into the driver’s side. Putting the key into the ignition, he starts the car and pulls out of the garage. The sun is shining and he rolls the windows down. As he enters the highway, he reaches across the console and grabs Ellie’s hand; as they drive, he traces little patterns into the back of her hand with his thumb.

“So, where to, ladies?” He asks, grinning as he checks his side mirrors.

Ellie laughs, and slides the sunglasses back over her eyes with her free hand. The sun warms her skin and a song plays on the radio in the background, something she’s heard before, but can’t quite place. The wind whips through the window, throwing itself through her golden curls and she tucks a few strands behind her ear only to find that they fly back again and across her face. Shrugging, she turns her face to the wind, and feels it rush over her all at once, sudden and thorough. It sweeps through her body, and the feeling is at once foreign and familiar to her—like something she had once but lost long ago and which she will spend a lifetime learning how to remember: happiness.

There’s still loose ends, of course. She figures for her, there always will be—there’s the thing with Roy (him being dead and all), there’s the fact that she lost her hotel in a poker game, there’s the fact that she’s holding hands with a bloke that belonged to her best friend, there’s a finger on-ice in her bag, and there’s the small matter of the 15 million quid payday she’s just lost out on again. But these things, she thinks, will sort.

She looks at Gil, watching as the sun illuminates his face—he hums along to the song on the radio, just now getting to it’s chorus: If you like piña coladas…

Ellie throws her head back against the headrest and laughs, a full throated sound that she’s sure she hasn’t made in ages; and when she starts, she can’t stop. The laughter rolls off her in waves until she finally catches her breath. Hannah is looking at her like she’s mad, and Gil is watching the road, but when she sees him glance over at her, she doesn’t miss the look in his eyes—it’s been a long while since she’s seen it, but she knows what it means.

Hope springs, indeed.