Following a season filled with catfights, insecurities (and one contestant's inexplicable black eye), Brad Womack, two-time star of The Bachelor
, finally seemed to have put the drama behind him. In choosing grounded single mom Emily Maynard, 25, over often weepy executive assistant Chantal O'Brien, Womack, 38, had fallen for the fan favorite: a southern belle whose beauty masked a terrible tragedy after she lost her fiance, NASCAR driver Ricky Hendrick, in a 2004 plane crash only to learn five days later that she was pregnant with their child. It seemed the Texas bar owner, who was branded a commitment-phobe after the 2007 season, when he left the show alone, was finally going to get his happily-ever-after.
Not so fast. Though a giddy Maynard accepted his proposal in November, once the show-and Womack's flirtations with other women-began airing on Monday nights (drawing an average 10.2 million viewers), Womack began fielding distraught phone calls from his fiancee, questioning if his love for her was real. Since then he has been working overtime-and draining his bank account on lavish gifts, including a Cartier bracelet worth several thousand dollars-to keep her happy amid tabloid reports that he previously proposed to an old flame and Internet rumors saying he'd chosen O'Brien. In between wooing her, there have been angry accusations, tearful apologies and even scrapped wedding plans. "It hasn't been a fairy tale," Womack says. "We were facing a lot of adversity." Adds Maynard: "We're just beginning. I'm ready to start a normal life." Now the twosome are ready to tell all about the obstacles they've overcome, the challenges that lie ahead and why maybe there's a baby in their future.
You guys have had a rocky three months since the show ended.
Brad: Very rocky. There have been numerous times where either she or I have said, "To hell with it. It's just too difficult." We've thrown in the towel, broken up. But at the end of every day I'd call and say, "I know you might not like me today, but I love you."
Emily: We'd break up at night, and then in the morning we'd forget about it.
What was so difficult?
Emily: Watching the show. Going through it, everything was very real for me. Even when there were 30 girls, he still made me feel special. But then, watching it back, he had a tendency to say the same thing to a couple girls. So I felt less and less special. I get that it's a show. But it's still hard. You're not sure what's real and what's reality TV.
So Monday nights weren't fun ...
Emily: I had severe anxiety every Monday. I had girlfriends texting me during some of his dates with Chantal saying, "Oh, it's so her. They are so in love." I felt awful because I couldn't say, "No they're not!" So I'd say, "Oh, it doesn't look like they're having that much fun." But I was feeling awful, and I was taking it all out on him.
Then a blog reported that Brad spent Thanksgiving with Chantal.
Brad: She unfortunately reads all that stuff. She called me in tears and said, "Please tell me [our relationship] isn't some hoax." I said, "Babe, you can't believe everything you read. I promise you, I'm in Austin, Texas."
And one of your ex-girlfriends claimed you proposed to her?
Brad: In any relationship that's gone on as long as mine did with that particular person, marriage was discussed. But I never proposed to her. I never talked to her father about proposing.
But the hits just kept coming.
Brad: It was torturous. Not being able to be there physically to reassure Emily was the biggest test I've ever been through. I went broke sending flowers and shoes. Christian Louboutins, I was told, were the way to a woman's heart.
Many people watching the show will be unsure about the state of your relationship. You're engaged?
Brad: I'm so happily engaged. I've never been happier, I promise you that.
Emily: He is my fiance, yes. Now I can finally tell people!
You were going to elope to Anguilla right after you got engaged. Why didn't you?
Brad: Em and I had a conversation, and she said, "If you propose to me, you better be ready to get married." My wheels started turning, and the producers' wheels started turning, and there were plans made.
Emily: But I had to step back. I want to do it right, and I don't want it to be a secret. I want to have bridesmaids, and I want my daughter to be a part of it. I want to take my time now and enjoy it.
Brad: Now we're going to try to build a real relationship with some normalcy.
But nobody is planning to move anytime soon . . .
Emily: If it were just me, I would move tomorrow. But I have to do what's best for my daughter. I want her to feel comfortable and know that it's forever.
Brad: So the next few months I'm going to be traveling back and forth and flying her and her daughter to Austin.
Brad's family loves you, Emily. Does your family approve of Brad?
Brad: No one knows, but I flew her father to South Africa, to the proposal site, from West Virginia. I made it very clear I would not ask her to marry me without his consent. It was off-camera. I looked him in the eye and told him, "I'm very much in love with your daughter. This isn't for show."
Emily: My dad [David Maynard] is a coal miner-super manly, doesn't show emotion. Well, he saw Brad and I together, and he just started crying. He really liked Brad a lot.
How did your late fiance's family feel about you doing the show?
Emily: They said, "Why in the world do you want to do that?" But they get that I'm young and still have a lot I want to do. I don't want to have any regrets, and they've both lived their lives with no regrets, doing what's in their hearts.
Brad: My God, I respect that situation to no end, so I'm treading lightly. I could never take the place of Emily's former fiance. Never.
How does your daughter Ricki feel about Brad?
Emily: She opened up to him immediately, and it just confirmed that he has that effect on all women, no matter what the age! We went to FAO Schwarz in New York City and there was a Ken doll, and she said, "That looks just like Mr. Brad!" [Laughs]
Brad, in addition to becoming Ricki's stepfather, are you ready to have more kids with Emily?
Brad: We're trying! Wait, can I say that?
Emily: I definitely want more kids. I'm ready.
Brad: That was the motivation for coming on the show. I wanted a real relationship, which to me means white picket fence and happiness and kids. I want to start a family. And I want to be a very proud father and stepfather. I'll be a damn good one, that's for sure. Biggest role of my life. Husband will be a close second.
What are your favorite things about each other?
Emily: As good-looking as he is, I thought he'd have a little bit of arrogance about him, but he doesn't at all. He's so humble. He is such a kind man.
Brad: Obviously, she's stunningly beautiful. But this is the first time I've found a person who's so beautiful on the inside and out, and I know it's not an act. She keeps me on my toes, and she makes me want to be better.
What about the not-so-good things you've learned about each other?
Emily: He has a temper. When I met his brother, he asked, "Have you poked the bear?" Now I know what he means.
Brad: In a lot of ways I've been in a pressure cooker. I don't want to sound like, "Woe is me," but a lot of people are coming at me from different angles-people from my past, tabloids, families. All I'm concerned about is making this relationship work, so when we're butting heads, I tend to explode a little bit. But she's worth working on that.
Emily: We're both independent and trying to figure out how to be in a relationship and give and take. I never claim perfection on my part at all.
Brad: She's got a potty mouth. Sweet southern woman has a potty mouth.
Emily: It's not that bad!
One of the girls in the house compared you to Mother Teresa.
Brad: I'd like to meet that Mother Teresa because who I know is not her.
So where do you go from here?
Emily: The hardest part is behind us. I feel pretty confident if we can make it through [the past three months], we can make it through.
Brad: There's no light at the end of the tunnel because we're at the end of the tunnel. I want people to understand Em is the girl I've been looking for all my life, not just through this show. I'll be damned if I'm going to let her go.
- With additional reporting by Elizabeth Leonard.