Daniel continued. “By senior year, I thought I was close to winning her over. I foolishly thought that if I bided my time, Mia would see the light and see how well-suited we were for each other. She didn’t. Mia didn’t want me. She’d had a crush on Ashton Rollins for years. And when he finally paid attention to her, they started seeing each other.”
Angela looked at him, confused. She’d probably thought he’d had this great love affair with Mia. How wrong she was.
He laughed. “That’s right. She didn’t think the great Daniel Cobb was all that. She chose Ashton. He was good-looking and rich and apparently everything she could ever want. And once they began dating, I did my best to be supportive because Mia had no family. Her parents were dead and she’d grown up in the foster care system. She had no one but me. So I stuck around even though it hurt me to watch her with Ashton. But then she was killed in a tragic car accident right after we graduated from college. At her funeral, everyone hovered over her grieving fiancé, Ashton, while the press speculated that Mia might have been drinking, which caused her to lose control of her car. I knew it wasn’t true, because Mia didn’t drink, but what could I do? And what did it really matter? She was gone. And I was left alone with my regret.”
“That if you’d tried harder to win her from Ashton, she’d still be alive?”
He nodded. “I thought that for a long time, but it wouldn’t have ever happened. She loved Ashton and not me. It’s as simple as that. But Mia’s death changed me, Angela. It made me scared. It made me second-guess my judgment when it came to women. And it wasn’t just her. When I look back, my parents have never really been a part of my life. There’s always been a void there. I closed myself off at a young age and learned not to feel. And I guess after Mia, I never wanted to let anyone get too close for fear of getting hurt again. I tried with Farrah, but she wasn’t the right woman. She was only using me to get ahead, and she certainly didn’t push me or call me out on my bull crap like you do. You were the first person who wasn’t willing to back down.”
Angela couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “And you’ve come to realize all of this now?”
“Yes. You’ve opened my eyes and forced me to look at the past and realize that I put Mia on a pedestal as some sort of ideal woman when she was just as human and flawed as both of us. And, most importantly, she was a woman in love with another man. Maybe that’s why I was so into her, wanting someone I could never truly have.”
“I’m glad that you’ve come to these realizations,” Angela said, turning her hands over and over, “but I’m not sure what this means for you, for me, for us.”
“It means I was never really in love with Mia. Just this idealized version of her that I’d carried around in my mind for years. And I know now that it wasn’t love. Real love doesn’t make you feel bad, or question your self-worth. Real love makes you feel like a king. And I know that because that’s how I feel when I’m with you.”
“What?” He could see a gamut of perplexing emotions cross her face because he had never spoken of love before, and she probably wasn’t sure what it all meant.
So he made it clear.
“I love you, Angela,” he confessed. “And I think I’ve known it for some time, but I’ve been running scared. Afraid to take a risk again and get hurt. Afraid you might not love me, too. And I’m sorry I made you doubt my feelings for you, but it’s true. I love you with all my heart.”
* * *
“You do?” Hope spread through Angela like wildfire at his admission, but she wasn’t jumping in his arms just yet. Was this really happening? Or was she dreaming? Since they’d become involved, Daniel had closed off his heart to her even though she’d given him all of herself. Could she believe what he said was genuine?
She wanted to. It was up to her now to take the risk and tell him how she felt, because he’d just bared his soul to her. Before she could say anything, Daniel spoke again.
“I know you don’t need a ring.” She watched in shock as he rose to one knee on the blanket. “And I know you aren’t looking to be a Mrs.” He pulled out a tiny box from his jeans pocket. “But I would very much like to make you one.”