Roxy tried to think, but Leo’s proximity and the intimate crackle of the fire clouded coherence, and for a mad moment all she wanted to do was kiss him, to find solace and avoidance in his arms.
She gathered herself together. ‘I didn’t believe we had a future because I didn’t believe you had serious intentions. We came from such different backgrounds and I thought you were “hiding” me from your family. I accept I got that wrong. But there were deeper reasons. You didn’t even tell me you loved me until you proposed. I thought you just felt sorry for me because of the accident. It felt like a pity proposal.’
Leo’s aghast expression touched her and she reached out, covered his hand with hers. ‘Don’t look so horrified.’
He shook his head. ‘I am horrified. It never occurred to me you would feel like that. When you had that accident, it terrified me that I could have lost you. Perhaps that triggered my proposal, but it didn’t come from pity. I proposed because I loved you.’
The words rocked her backwards, but… ‘It doesn’t work like that.’ This she knew.
Leo shifted closer to her. ‘Then how does it work?’
She knew she owed him the truth, however painful the topic. ‘Pity brings on an illusion of love, makes you believe you love someone even when you don’t.’ She inhaled deeply. ‘After my parents died, I ended up in the care system. My first foster carers were so full of pity they made promises—that they would love me, look after me, forever. Long story short, they didn’t. Instead they decided to have another baby, a child of their own, and I ended up back in the system.’ She could still remember the intensity of the shock, the self-blame and fear. ‘They said they loved me, but really they pitied me.’
‘I’m sor…’ He trailed off, then resumed. ‘I am sorry. I hate that you went through that.’ Anger sparked in his grey eyes, alongside compassion. Discomfort filled her and he instantly took her hands in his. ‘But I don’t pity you. I admire you—you came out of the system and you didn’t let it break you. You are a good, kind, talented person. So no pity. Not now and not back then. It wasn’t a pity proposal. I believed we had a future together. I wanted to marry you, to have children with you, to be a family.’The image conjured up caught her breath with pain as she pictured a scene that could never be. Just as she had pictured a life with her foster carers and look how that had worked out. In this case the pain cut even deeper because Roxy knew she could never have children with Leo, with anyone. Therefore, she wouldn’t let the slightest possibility of a false future enter this conversation. Better to stick to what she knew—pity-fuelled false love. And so she said, ‘I believe you believe that, and I am truly glad we had this conversation. For closure.’
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