“Stop.” She held up a hand. “It’s fine.”
“It’s not fine. She was terrible to you. I’ll never forgive her for the things she said.”
She let out a tired laugh. “The sad thing is that she’s right. You have tension with them, but I’ll never belong in that world.”
I frowned. “Neither will I.”
“It’s different for you. I can dress the part, but under it all, I’m still some poor girl who’s climbing her way up. You were born into a successful family with so much going for you. You’ve lived a different life and struck out on your own. I admire that. I’ve done it too, you know, in my own way. But you shouldn’t alienate them for my sake.”
“I was alienating them before you came back into my life. What they think has no bearing on how I feel about you. It never did. Regardless, their unattainable expectations only seem to drive a wedge between us, which is all the more reason to shut them out.”
“You may regret that one day.”
I wouldn’t, but I knew what she meant. She’d never had the luxury of shutting out her family. What lengths would she travel to have her mother back in her life, even with all of her shortcomings?
“No, but they probably will. I’m not changing my life to make them comfortable. I meant what I said in there, about us.”
“You shouldn’t have said it. They’re probably freaking out.”
I took a step closer, grasping her hands in mine. She was trembling, maybe from the cold.
“All I care about right now is being with you.”
“I want to be with you too. I wish I didn’t care what they think of me, honestly, but a part of me hates that I’ll never be what they want for you. That they’ll be disappointed in you because of me.”
I tipped her chin, lifting her gaze to mine. Searching her eyes, I wished for an answer to the question I hadn’t had the courage to ask again.
“You’re what I want. You’re everything to me. The good, the bad, and every moment in between. Everything we’ve been through has made us who we are, and I wouldn’t change a minute of it because I love you so much right now it hurts.” I swallowed hard before freeing my next words. “I want everything we had and more. I want this…us, forever.”
“Cam.” Her lip quivered.
I traced its curve as her mouth fell open. I wanted to pull her closer, to kiss away every insecurity she ever had. But I had to tell her everything. I had to get the words out, even though this wasn’t remotely how I’d planned it.
My lips went dry. I fought to breathe. Nerves, the weight of our past, like a bag of stones pressed down on my lungs. I reached into my pocket and retrieved a small black velvet box. I held it loosely between us, my fingers not quite ready to release it yet. I tensed, every instinct held me back and shoved me forward at once.
“I love you, Maya. I’ve always loved you. Every part of you, no matter what you think or what anyone says. The day I met you, something drew me to you. And I haven’t found anything like it since. I’m not in love with who you used to be, or who you strive to be. I’m in love with your soul. That’s all I see. Nothing and no one is going to ever change that.”
When I looked back to her, tears brimmed her eyes. She shook her head and something like dread seized me.
“Please…don’t, Cameron. Not now. I can’t do this, not with everything else that’s happening right now.”
A tear slid down her cheek. I wiped it away. My heart broke for her, for both of us. Why couldn’t I f*****g get this right? Was I living under some sort of curse? I’d promised myself I wasn’t going to take no for an answer. I drew in a steadying breath.
“Marry me, and we’ll face it together. That’s all I’ve wanted from the beginning.”
“You don’t need to be dealing with all my baggage, problems that I still need to work through.”
“I’ll tell you what I need. You. You’re all I need. I can’t f*****g sleep at night without you next to me. I can’t think straight when things aren’t right between us. My life has been a g*****n wreck since the day I left you. I want us both to finally be happy again.”
“If it doesn’t work… I can’t live with hurting you again.”
I sighed, fighting the wave of emotion that hit me. “Then don’t… Say yes. Marry me, and I promise you that we will make it work this time. We’ll get through whatever crap life throws at us. Together.”
Her eyes glittered with emotion, tears that she could no longer hold back slid down her cheeks.