‘What do you say?’ Scott held out the ring again. A rose gold trinity knot with an oval emerald in the centre of it. It was absolutely beautiful.
As difficult as it was, she closed the lid, pushed it back to him and shook her head.
‘I can’t. I’m sorry.’
Scott’s eyes darkened. He pocketed the ring so quickly it was as if she’d imagined it.
‘Fair enough.’ His voice was thick with emotion.
She reached out and took his hand in hers. ‘It’s not a no, Scott, but… Compromise?’
A wariness she hated seeing shifted through his pure blue eyes. ‘What sort?’
‘The kind that gives us more time.’
An urgency filled his body like electricity. ‘Mags, if there is one thing that I’ve learnt, it’s that life is precious. It’s also incredibly short. I want to live together, make babies together, build a business with our names above the door. All of the things we dreamt of and I want to start doing them now. With you.’
She started to say something, then hesitated.
‘Don’t you want that anymore?’ Scott’s eyes bore into her with an intensity she’d never seen before. ‘Don’t you want me?’
‘That’s not it. It’s just…’ She bit down on her lip, trying to choose her words perfectly. ‘Trust, the kind we’d had, was something we’d built over years. I know now that you split up with me because you were wrestling with so many things, but we both know life isn’t always a smooth ride. What if something else happens? How will I know you won’t turn your back on me again?’
Scott shook his head as recognition dawned. ‘Actions speak louder than words?’
A flush crept onto her cheeks, but she stuck to her guns. ‘’Fraid so.’
‘More so than a flashy ring and a shiny new house?’
She answered truthfully. ‘I understand why you’ve done it. Bought the house, this beautiful ring. They’re amazing, but I need to make sure we’re both on the same page. What if another job offer comes? What if, God forbid, one of us gets hurt? Will the same thing happen?’
Scott took both of her hands in his. ‘I will never ever turn my back on you again. Not unless you tell me we’re quits. That it’s time to walk away.’
‘I don’t want that. Not now, but…I think we need to see how we go in “real life.”’
Finally, he laughed. ‘Good call. As a matter of fact—’ he pulled a sheaf of papers out of the pocket inside his coat ‘—I was looking into retraining as a paramedic. There’s plenty of work here in Scotland or…if you wanted me to come with you…New Zealand. Either way, if it doesn’t work out, I’d…’ He scrubbed a hand through his hair and blew out a slow, jagged breath. ‘I wouldn’t like it, babe, but I’d go. I’d walk away. If that was what you wanted. Lesson learnt.’
Margaret traced a finger around his heart. ‘I love you so much. I always have. From the moment we met.’
‘I feel the same way.’ He pressed soft kisses onto the backs of her hands. ‘Which is why…if you need me to…I’ll back off.’
‘Let’s see how we go, shall we?’
‘Nice and slow,’ he said solidly and then, with a twinkle in his eye, asked, ‘How slow’re you talking? Treacle or ice age?’
Margaret laughed. ‘Treacle sounds about right.’
Scott rubbed his hands together and looked up to the sky, where stars were beginning to prick through the gloaming. ‘This could be fun. Like a challenge to a knight!’ He broadened his Scots accent. ‘What shall I do tae prove my love fer ye, lassie? Throw a caber for ye?’
‘Aye. That’ll do nicely.’ She grinned up at him, accepting the big old cosy bear hug he was pulling her into.
‘Shall I whisper sweet nothings into your hair?’ he asked through her pile of hair.
‘Tell you I love you when you sleep?’
‘That’d be nice, too.’ This was fun.
‘Draw you baths of asses milk and butterflies?’
She guffawed as Scott wrapped one arm across her shoulders and fanned his other out in front of her. ‘Let’s get these dogs walked, and then how would you feel about joining me on a “first date”?’
She tapped her finger against her lips. ‘Toasty cheese sandwiches and a box set in front of the fire?’
A broad smile peeled his lips apart. ‘Consider it done.’