“I couldn’t have done it without you,” she said with a smile.
“Well, I guess we couldn’t have done it without each other,” he said. “I’m so proud of you.”
She blushed. No matter how chaotic things got, she knew she could always count on Dane to support her. For years, her family had believed that she was a failure. Not living up to their sky-high expectations. Her parents were professors at prestigious institutions after all, so it made sense for them to want their children to excel. But she had never gotten real support from her family. Nobody had cheered her on. Nobody told her they were proud of her.
But Dane had been proud of her no matter where she was in life. He had appreciated her when she worked as his assistant. And now, despite the fact that she was still taking university courses online and learning on the job, he believed in her. Was proud of her.
Suddenly, she felt tears form.
Dane leaned forward, concern on his face. “Allyson? Are you okay?”
She nodded, quickly brushing the tears away. “It just feels so good to have someone root for me for a change. My family never did.”
“They think if I’ve accomplished anything it’s because I married a rich man,” she said. “My brother and my sister started their successful careers before they got married. In their eyes, all my accomplishments are because I got lucky.”
“There’s no way you could have had such a successful launch at the sports show without your own talent, drive, and intelligence,” he said. “Just because they’re not smart enough to see how amazing you are doesn’t mean that you aren’t amazing, Allyson. Some things are true even if people don’t believe them.”
She let out a shuddering sigh. “Honestly, I’m really nervous about how Christmas is going to go. We’ve had joint family gatherings before, but nothing is like Christmas.”
“Has that been stressing you out?” he asked.
“A little,” she admitted.
“It’s okay to need a break. Or to tell me if you’re stressed,” he said. “You try so hard to be perfect and make it all look effortless, when you don’t have to do that. Sometimes you put a hell of a lot more pressure on yourself than anybody else does.”
Her husband was probably right about needing a break now and then, but there was nothing wrong with hard work. “Your mother expects things to be a certain way,” she reminded him.
“Nothing will ever be good enough for her,” he said. “That’s simply the way she is. You don’t have to work yourself to death for her approval. You’ve been doing so much to please your parents and my mother. When are they going to try to please you for a change?”
“Their presence during Christmas is enough to please me,” she replied.
Dane scoffed. “You’re too good for them. For all of them. They don’t deserve you.”
Allyson wanted to believe her husband’s words. Believe and accept them. But Dane had an obvious bias. He always supported her. Always believed in her. Even when he was stubbornly trying to protect her, he did it not because he didn’t think she was up to a challenge, but because he valued her so much.
Being cherished like this was so new to her. She was trying to accept it, but was still getting used to it. Still, if she had learned anything this year, it was that she wasn’t going to be afraid of her newfound happiness.
Not even when she was keeping a secret that would change everything.
SHE WAS TEXTING SOMEONE. As her fingers typed out the message on her phone, a blush crept up her cheeks.
The change on her face was subtle, something only Dane would notice. Who on earth was she texting that made her blush like that?
“Are you texting Cameron?” he asked, keeping his voice even so he wouldn’t give his annoyance away.
Her hands started shaking, and she nearly dropped the phone. “Yes. How—how did you know?”
“Lucky guess,” he muttered.
“I was just messaging him back since he sent a text to let me know he got to California safely,” she said.