It wasn't supposed to be like this. The last time Emily Maynard was in sunny Southern California, she was a contestant on the ABC reality dating show The Bachelor
. That's where the Charlotte, N.C., single mom began a whirlwind TV romance with an eager-to-wed Brad Womack-a love affair that culminated in the Austin, Texas, bar owner popping the question on the show's season finale. It may have been an on-air love affair, but Maynard makes it clear she thought she had found The One. Instead, her return to the lavish mansion where the show is filmed-captured in an emotional one-on-one interview with host Chris Harrison that will air during the July 11 episode of The Bachelorette
-reveals no such happy ending. Sobbing and shaking as cameras rolled, Maynard opens up about the rumors that have dogged the couple for weeks: that she and Womack had broken up. "We're no longer engaged," she tells PEOPLE, tearing up after her talk with Harrison. "The last time I got out of a car here was to meet Brad for the first time," she says. "I thought the next time [I came here] we would be planning a wedding, getting married. This was my worst nightmare. I thought there was no way Brad and I wouldn't work out."
For his part, Womack, 38, is also reeling from the breakup. "The demise of our relationship was completely my fault," says the former Bachelor
, who declined to attend the ABC taping with Maynard, 25. "I gave Em every reason under the sun to get out much sooner than she did. She hung in there with me much, much longer than she should have."
Both say they tried hard to make their relationship work but that it had begun to unravel not long after their Bachelor
season began airing last January. While viewers watched Womack romance her onscreen, Maynard-who had to remain apart from her fiance to keep the show's ending a secret-was devastated by scenes of him in intimate situations with other contestants. "Going through it, everything was very real for me," Maynard told PEOPLE in March. "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 of girls. So I felt less and less special." Unable to comfort Maynard in person, Womack sent lavish gifts and flowers from Texas in an attempt to reassure her. "It was torturous," he says. "Not being able to be there physically to reassure Emily was the biggest test I've ever been through."
After watching the finale and reliving the moment when Womack got down on one knee and popped the question with a $50,000 Neil Lane diamond engagement ring, Maynard thought she was finally ready to put the past behind them. "I felt this is a whole new relationship-like I fell in love with him all over again," she says. "I never brought up the show again. I just wanted to fade into normal life."
Unfortunately, her idea of a normal life had ceased to exist. Photographers and camera crews followed Womack around in Austin and Maynard and her 6-year-old daughter Ricki in Charlotte. "I had photographers outside of my house waiting for me to go somewhere," says Maynard, who felt deeply conflicted about uprooting her daughter and relocating to Texas. "I thought, 'Oh, it will die down.' But it didn't."
The paparazzi "became a huge game-changer," says Womack, who experienced similar scrutiny during his first go-round as the Bachelor in 2007, when he famously didn't choose either of his final two potential suitors. "I failed [Emily] in the respect that I should have protected her." Angered by the tabloids, he sometimes directed his frustration at Maynard (see box).
Meanwhile, the couple were coping with other major stumbling blocks, including Womack's inability to fully embrace the concept of being a 24-7 parent to Ricki. "He didn't understand why I couldn't go on a random vacation the next day," says Maynard. "It's hard for me to say, 'I am so tired, I want to go to bed at 8,' and for him to understand."
That stress was compounded by their long-distance relationship. Maynard had initially planned to move to Austin in the summer but ultimately decided it wasn't in her or Ricki's best interest because of the couple's on-off status. "I need stability," she says. "I can't just say I'll figure it out when I get there. I didn't feel it would be a good move to take my daughter away from her life for a guy if I don't know if it's going to work out a month down the road."
As the months wore on, both began to feel that their differences were too great to overcome. "There's nothing worse than fighting with someone you love so much. When we were together, we were really happy," says Maynard. "But the second we were apart, it got hard." Agrees Womack: "It drove me crazy. It was a sense of detachment I didn't like at all."
While some tabloid reports indicated that Maynard was always eager to break things off, Womack says she tried as hard as he did to keep their romance alive. "There were numerous moments that I threw my hands up and declared a breakup, but she stuck by my side," he says. After several months of trying to reconcile, however, Womack says he again suggested they part ways, and "she didn't disagree the last time." The split finally happened "not too long ago," Maynard says. "We didn't want to announce anything until we knew for sure. I was okay with it, but I think it was hard on him," she says, adding that they tried to make it work until the end. "We both went down swinging-that's for sure."
Maynard takes equal responsibility for the relationship's demise. "It wasn't him hurting me or me hurting him," she says about the decision to end the engagement (she has given the engagement ring back to Bachelor producers). "There was no huge blow-up fight. It was two adults having the maturity to step away and realize that just because we love each other doesn't mean we're right for each other."
She's quick to shoot down the idea that Womack is a commitment-phobe. "He's smart enough to know when it's right and when it's not," she says. "The first time he was on The Bachelor
, it wasn't right. We both thought it was right this time. He's been such a gentleman. I feel confident had we lived in the same city and met at church, we could have made it."
Their breakup has added a sadness for Maynard, who lost her fiance, NASCAR driver Ricky Hendrick, in a 2004 plane crash, only to find out five days later that she was pregnant with their child. She remains close to Hendrick's parents, who "have seen me at the bottom and know how badly I want to fall in love again and get married," she says. "They know how much I want more children. They want it as much as I do for me."
For now, though, Maynard is trying to stay focused on enjoying the summer with her daughter, who "has been a huge help for me," she says. "I have more fun with her than I do with anyone else." The duo's plans include borrowing a pickup truck, putting a mattress in the back and taking Ricki and several of her pals to a local drive-in for her birthday. Maynard has also added a pet to the family, a kitten named Safari.
One thing she won't be doing, however, is signing on to be the next Bachelorette. "Right now my main focus is being a mom," she says of the gossip that she'll star in the series. "I'm just like any girl dealing with a heartbreak. The last thing on my mind is to do this all over again."
And while she and Womack have called it quits, Maynard plans to keep in touch with her ex-fiance. The two are still texting and calling each other. Could they ever reconcile? "I don't know," she says. "Right now I need a break from everything. I don't know what's going to happen in the future. I know that I love him, and more than anything he's been a friend to me."
She quietly starts crying as she recalls calling Womack her "angel" during the show. "He's taught me that I have it in me to love someone again," she says. "Just opening up my heart and not be scared of getting hurt. I think he's always going to be a part of my life." The feeling is mutual. "She was the one," says Womack. "She's the only woman I ever wanted to marry. I will always be in love with Em."
No matter what her future holds, Maynard is trying to stay positive. "It's okay," she says. "It's not the first relationship in the world that hasn't worked. People get through it. I know I will too, and he will." But that doesn't make the end of a fairy tale any less painful. "I'm sad," Maynard says quietly, "that we don't have a happy ending."