I'm waiting here at the cafe for Hope to arrive...I asked her to have lunch with me today while Ciara is working. God, I'm nervous...my hands are fidgety.

Hope has never been a fan of mine; I've had to prove myself to her constantly the past few years. I don't know how she's gonna react to my asking for her blessing to marry Ciara. She spent over a year of her life as someone else. She didn't see the struggle we went through...she wasn't there to watch how her daughter saved my life and proved my innocence. As my anxiety raises inside of me, I feel a hand on my shoulder.

"Hello, Ben...sorry I'm late. I had to stop by the police station to fill out more paperwork for this whole...," she cringes and lowers her voice,"Princess Gina reign of terror I led."

"It's ok...I've only been here a few minutes."

"So... what's on your mind? I'm assuming you have a reason for this lunch...is Ciara ok? Nothing is wrong, I hope.," she says...always the momma bear looking after her baby.

"No...Ciara is great. WE are great. We are both so happy that this nightmare is over and we can be together," I say...Hope smiles a little and I continue, "I just...uh...," I struggle to find the right words to start this conversation, "I want you to know how much I love Ciara, first of all. She is everything to me...the way she loves, the way she lives...she is amazing. I have never met anyone like her..," I notice Hope smiling a little bigger, "and all I want to do is make her happy."

"Well, Ben...from what I've witnessed, I think you do...make Ciara happy." She leans back in her chair a little and takes a breath before continuing. "Ben, I know you and I have had...difficulty...with each other the past few years. Honestly, your past scared me to death. I was terrified you were gonna make my baby girl your next victim."

I wince a little at her words, as my past is unchanging and never too far away in the thoughts of most people.

Hope continues, "But I watched you with her. You have been so protective and gentle with her, you saved her life on more than one occasion...I saw that. I saw you endure a lot of negativity and doubt from us,her family...I'm sure that was hard to take. I've also seen you show kindness to all of us...even after we accused you of so many awful things."

"Hope, I know my past is horrible...it's gruesome...and honestly, if I had a daughter, I would want her FAR away from somebody who had a past like mine. But god...Ciara is my heart. Her love changed me. She made me a better man and I want to spend my life showing her more love than she can fathom."

Hope's expression changes, her brow goes up.

"Ben...are you...Ben, what are you saying..."

Oh god, there's no going back now. She knows what I want to ask her.

"Hope, I love her. I want to marry her...if she'll have me.," I look down at the table, humbled. "I just wanted to ask your blessing first." There is a quiet and a stillness that takes over the cafe that is deafening. Then Hope takes a deep breath.

"Ben, Ciara is my baby. She has been through so much in her life. I'd be crazy to not think of all the hardships and possible dangers that a life with you would bring her."

My face falls and I look down again at the table...god, I really wanted Hope to see that I've changed and just want the chance to love Ciara the way she deserves.

"But...," she continues, "I also know that Ciara loves you...she adores you, really. She has told me many, many times that you would never hurt her. You've told me the same. It has taken me a long time...but I have come to believe that what you say is true."

I am stunned.

She continues, "Ben, Ciara's dad and I loved each other dearly. We were soulmates, no doubt in my mind. But marriage and life...it was hard. It was the hard that made it all so worthwhile...we worked at it. After all, is love really love if there's no work to it?" Hope takes my hand across the table and smiles at me. "Ben, you can marry my baby. You have my blessing," she tears up a little.

I stand up and walk around the table, I pull her up from the chair and hug her so tightly.

"Oh god, thank you! I swear I will make her so happy!"

Hope laughs and says, "Ok honey...I know you will," still laughing at my awkwardness.

I release her from my grip and she grabs her purse to go. She turns to me one more time, with a cocked brow and a determined look, "But if you ever hurt her, I'll kill you." She gives me a wink.

"I believe you," I say...and all is right with the world.

—-

"Ben, I'm home!," I yell, as I shut the loft door. I turn around to find the table looking beautiful with flowers and lit candles on it. The room is dim and something smells wonderful...is that pasta?

"Hey there, Beautiful," Ben says and walks around the corner from the bedroom looking sexy as hell in a black dress shirt, dress pants, and shiny black tie.

"Wow!," I say and rub my hands up and down his chest. "You look goooood," I growl out and lean up to kiss him. He chuckles a little...as my thirst for him is entertaining somehow. "What is all this?," I point to the table.

"A special night for a special woman," He says and brings me in for a fuller kiss. "I got something for you today...it's in the bedroom." He gently shoves me in the direction of the bedroom and swats my ass lightly. I giggle a little and head to the bedroom to see what's in store for me. There, laying on the bed, is an-off-the-shoulder, black lace dress. It's beautiful...looks like my size. I grab it up and head to the bathroom while grabbing my favorite black heels. Once in the bathroom, I slide my body into the dress. It's PERFECT! It hugs every curve I have and I feel so sexy in it...how did he know what size to get? I'm not surprised by the lace, he LOVES that. I slide my heels on..even thought we're staying in, it completes the look. I touch up my makeup and hair and head back out to the dining area.

"What do you think?," I say and do a slow turn for him. He stands and stares at me for a few seconds.

"Baby..oh my god...you are stunning."

"You did good! This dress fits perfectly! I love it!," I say with a huge smile on my face.

I notice the food is on the table. I was right...pasta. Ben pulls the chair out for me and I sit...he's such a gentleman, always opening doors for me...pulling chairs out..he's so dreamy.

We sit and start eating, chatting about the day. I tell him about work, how grandpa and Xander have made some new goals for the company and want me to be more involved. Then he brings up something interesting as we finish our meal.

"I had lunch with your mom today."

I almost choke on my food...coughing a little. He grins and continues, "I had lunch with your mom in the square today."

"Ummm why?"

"I wanted to talk to her...about you, about us. She's had a rough go of it lately and I wanted to check in with her." I am so taken by surprise, I'm not sure what to say to Ben next.

"Okaaaay, how was she?," I ask.

"She's ok. She had to stop by the police station for more paperwork...the whole Princess Gina thing. That situation is still so bizarre, right?," he says. He's talking but I'm not buying it. He's got something else on his mind.

"Yeah, it's crazy. What else did she talk about...what do you u both talk about?" We are both finished with our food and we sit back in our chairs and have a sip of wine.

"Ciara, I wanted your mom to know where WE'RE at...in our relationship. I wanted your mom to know how much I love you. You are everything to me," he scoots his body closer to me and leans in. He has the sweetest look of love on his face and continues, "I just want to make you happy."

I reach my hand up to his face, "Oh Ben, you DO! You make me so happy. I love you so much."

"Babe, your love changed me...I will never be the same. You have made me a better man." He stares into my eyes, swallows hard, and takes a deep breath. He seems a little nervous... "Sooo, that's why today...I asked your mom for her blessing..."

"Blessing...," I furrow my brow trying to understand... OH MY GOD! He's...am I?...He's asking me...OH MY GOD! "You mean, BLESSING blessing...," I say and my heart starts to beat wildly, his smile is huge.

Ben pulls a box out of his pants pocket and says, "Surprisingly enough, Hope did give me her blessing. Sooo," he gets down on one knee and looks deep into my eyes, "Ciara Alice Brady, will you marry me?"

I launch out of my chair onto him, my embrace nearly knocks him over...I'm crying and clinging to him. I hear him laugh a little as he holds me and strokes my hair.

"Is that a yes?," he says, still chuckling.

I lean back from him, both of us on our knees...my tears are flowing freely.

"Yes..oh yes...," I say. I take his face in my hands and kiss him, leaving my tears on his cheeks and lips...or are those his tears? Oh how I love this man!

He opens the box and takes out the most beautiful diamond ring...a solitaire...emerald cut. My favorite. He slides it on my left ring finger, it fits perfectly. He takes my hands and we stand up from the floor.

"Ciara, you have made me the happiest man on Earth. I can't wait for you to be my wife."

His wife.

I'm so filled with love and joy.

"Ben, I want to show you how happy you've made me...my amazing fiancé." I take his hand and lead him to our bedroom where our souls dance all night long.