“Hunter, right now is not a good time.”

“Baby, please, there is something I really need to ask you, and I don’t want to wait around to say it.”

“How about we meet up later?” she asked.

“Payton, I really want you to marry me. There, I have said it. I want to marry you, and have lots of sex so we can have babies, and then more sex. You’re the woman for me, and I love you more than anything else in the world. You can blame your ass if you want. I just love it.”

He was expecting her to burst out laughing, or say something witty.

“Hunter, my parents are here.”

Oh shit.

He took a step back. This was not what he expected today, and he ran fingers through his hair. “You’re joking?”

“Nope, I’m really not, and you just proposed to me.”

“And I said all of that other stuff. Damn it, I must sound like a complete lunatic.” He paced the front steps of her apartment block.

“I will buzz you up.”

“No, don’t. I can’t see them, Payton.”

“Hunter, don’t do that. Come on. It will be fine. I want to see you now. You can’t just propose through a buzzer and leave, that is rude.”

The buzzer went, and Hunter opened the door, but he didn’t go through.

He wasn’t a coward, never had been, so he went to Payton’s apartment. She was already standing there.

“Hey,” she said.

“Do I get my answer before I meet your parents?” he asked, holding up the ring.

“You really were proposing to me?”

“I was. I love you, Payton, more than I have loved anyone else in my life.” He cupped her cheek. “I will always love you. Can’t you feel it when we’re together?”

Tears filled her eyes. “Yes. I feel it. I’ve tried not to. I’ve tried to keep my distance from you because I didn’t know where this was going, and that scared me.”

“I don’t want you to. I want every single thing about you.” He pressed a kiss to her lips. “Don’t ever change, not for me.” Hunter held her close, and glanced into her apartment. There two people who were indeed a lot older than she was. “I thought you were avoiding me.”

“No. They are here to talk. It has been too long.” She took his hand, and within second he was in front of her parents. “Mom, Dad, I would like you to meet Hunter Reynolds. He’s just asked me to marry him, and I accept. Hunter, this is my mom and dad.”

“She’s told me a lot about you.”

He saw that her mother had a tear in her eye. “Was it all bad?” she asked.

“Mom, no.”

“We deserve it.”

“Linda,” her father said.

“Look what we did, Matt. One daughter died, and we pushed the other one away.” Linda stood. “There was a news reporting into Bethany’s death. At first we were so angry, and through our grief, we realized we had pushed our little girl away. Bethany, she would have been so angry with us. I’m so angry, and I wanted to come here, and to make it up to you. We’re so proud of everything that you’ve achieved. We have been following you, and even though at times it has been painful, you are doing so well, Payton.”

“I didn’t help either,” Payton said. “I didn’t stick around. I blamed you, and I blamed myself, and then I didn’t want to be around anyone. I’m so sorry.”

Hunter felt her hand tighten around him, and he saw she was struggling with this. He pulled her into his arms and hoped that he gave her comfort. Her parents looked really upset, and clearly wanted to make amends.

“You have nothing to be sorry about. I know it’s going to take time,” Matt said. “I don’t expect you to forgive us. It has been years, and we made the mistake in pushing you away.”

“Bethany meant everything to me,” Payton said. “She asked me to do this. She asked me to make something of my life, and to rock my body all over the world.” She started laughing. “She probably wouldn’t dream of me being a model, but I did it. I hope if I ever see her again, she’ll be happy with what I did.”

Hunter stepped back as Payton went into the arms of her family. He saw they had been broken for too long now, and so he waited. She was going to be his wife, and he could wait for as long as she needed him to.

****

“What if your parents hate me?” Payton asked.

She was in Hunter’s car, driving toward his family’s home. Between her parents visiting, and the hugely successful launch, she was walking on cloud nine. She had to be. Elise’s designs, and everything she had invested into the clothing range, had come true. That one opening with the launch party had already shown a massive response, not just from critics, but also from their consumer base. The party had taken place on Friday, and on Saturday, they had opened at all Image Counts stores.

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