Page 86 of Coercion

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Ben pushes at my hand, urging me to my feet, and I turn around to find Will down on one knee in the sand.He has my plastic palm tree cupped in his hands, and at the very top, perched in the fronds, is a ring.

A diamond ring.An engagement ring.

Will looks into my eyes.“Bristol, I love you.”Mia gasps.“I want to give you absolutely everything.Morethan everything.I want to take you to every beach you could ever want to visit, and then I want to come home with you to our beach.Because you’re everything to me.You’re more than I could ever deserve.If you’ll let me, I’ll spend the rest of our lives showing you how much I love you.There’s nothing else I’d rather do.So.”He swallows, his cheeks flushed.“You know.I thought I should ask.Will you marry me?”

“Will, to be absolutely, totally clear.”I put my hands around his, around my dreams, held safe in his palms.“Yes.I wouldloveto marry you.”

Someone shrieks nearby.I look up throughmorehappy tears and find Will’s family doing a terrible job of hiding behind one of the trees between our houses.Daphne.Emerson.Sinclair.Will’s mom.Daphne has a camera in her hand, and she’s laughing.

“I’m sorry!”she calls.“I just got so excited.Sorry!Keep going.”

Will rolls his eyes, gets to his feet, and kisses me.I put my hand over the top of the palm tree, stricken by the fear that the ring will fall into the sand and be lost forever.We kiss until Sinclair whistles.

“I love you,” Will whispers in my ear.Then he takes the ring and slips it on my finger.“Platinum,” he murmurs.“So it would go with your mom’s necklace.”A single, perfect diamond sparkles in the sun.“Oh—there’s something else, too.”

“What is it?”Mia’s eyes are huge.

Will puts a hand in his pocket and takes out two slim black boxes.He hands one to Mia and one to Ben.

“Look at this box,” Mia breathes.She brushes her fingertips over the delicate embossing on the top of hers.I lean closer to see it, Will’s arm wraps around my waist.She’s right.It’s a gorgeous logo.A mountain, pressed in silver.Mia looks up at Will.“Can we keep them?”

“Can you keep the boxes?”The corner of his mouth turns up.

“Yeah.”Mia’s solemn.“I really want to keep it.”

“Yes.”Will looks serious, too.“You can.And you can keep what’s inside, too.”

“Can we come see the ring?”Daphne shouts.“He wouldn’t show us earlier.”

“Get over here,” Will shouts back.“Then we have to call Bristol’s brother.Her dad, too.The whole family.”



When I first came to work atHughes, I thought the meetings were over the top, what with the formal agendas and the birthday announcements and some guy ruling over the conference table like the president.Or, I guess, the chief of staff.

The meetings are nothing compared to the parties.

This party in particular is a showcase of the Hughes Industries event planning machine.There’s a whole department of people dedicated to the cause.

Behind closed doors, yes, I roll my eyes.I would never have had an event planning department at Summit.Now that I have a higher-level view of things at Hughes, it makes a certain kind of ridiculous sense.

And, now that I’m on a stage with professional lighting about to finish my speech, I’m glad that somebody planned all this with an obsessive level of care.

“—looking forward to the future we’ll build together.I’m very proud to be part of the Hughes tradition of changing lives for the better, and I couldn’t be more honored to share it with you.Here’s to many more years of making the world a better place to live.”

The applause from the guests is immediate and enthusiastic.

Nailed it.

The loudest applause comes from a spot on the left and continues for several beats after the rest of the clapping tapers off.It’s my family, gathered around one of the standing tables.Daphne and Bristol are the loudest, but everyone came.Sinclair’s using all his strength to clap at a deafening volume.My mom stands next to Emerson, clapping with fierce determination.He has his hands over her ears, and he’s laughing his ass off.

It’s among the top ten most heartwarming things I’ve ever seen, and frankly, I’ve seen a lot of heartwarming shit.

Finn Hughes crosses the stage, claps my shoulder, and leans into the mic.“There will be cake in approximately ten minutes.Please enjoy yourselves in the meantime.”

We climb down the stairs at the side of the stage.“Happy with how it’s going?”