Dare Me Ch. 04byhoneywldcat©
It wasn't that he wanted to be engaged to Stephanie, well in one way he didn't want that. He did want her to be only his. At least until he could get her out of his system. Daren just wasn't ready to walk down the aisle with anyone. If that ring she had on her finger kept other men away from her then yes, he wanted to be engaged.
Once he came to that conclusion, he took a drink of his beer and asked, "Is the idea so horrible?"
Stephanie dropped her head to the table and groaned, "Are all SEALS certifiable?" When Daren just looked at her bemused she asked, "Why?"
"Three reasons, if you must know." He held up one finger, "One would be to tell your ex you are not his." He held up another finger, "Two is that no one would question me and the guys being with you 24/7." Holding up three fingers, "I don't share. So, for as long as we are together, you are mine."
Stephanie pointed out, "That means you are mine, too. I won't share either." A shit eating grin covered her face, "Does that mean I need to get you a ring, too?"
Surprisingly enough, the thought of wearing a ring from Stephanie didn't bother him. Daren looked down at his watch. The jewelry store would be open for at least thirty more minutes, "Throw on some shoes."
Stephanie laughed, "OK, big shot."
Daren was pleasantly surprised that she didn't bother to primp or put on make-up. She grabbed her shoes and put them on, grabbed her cell phone and a credit card. She walked to the door and turned towards him, "Ready?"
He couldn't help it, he laughed. Before she could open the door, he kissed her. When he knew she was extremely worked up, he pulled back, "I really do like you, Stephanie."
Saucily, she winked at him, "Good thing since we're engaged and all."
Stephanie was waiting for the punch line. There was no way Daren was serious about this whole engagement business. She thought he would protest wearing a ring from her, so when they made it to the jewelry store to find one, to say she was stunned would be an understatement.
An elderly couple smiled broadly as they entered. The woman patted the man's chest as she greeted them, "She said yes, Daren? I'm so happy for you both! You must be Daren's Stephanie."
"Please call me Anne. I'm Anne Tolliver and this," she pointed to her husband, "is Charles."
Charles embraced her and kissed her cheek, "What do you think of your ring?"
Stephanie blushed and glanced at Daren, "I love it. It's perfect."
Daren planted a kiss on her lips, cupping the side of her face, he looked at her with a look that made her feel...special. He told her, barely above a whisper, "You are perfect, baby."
Charles cleared his throat and Stephanie looked up to see tears in Anne's eyes. Daren told them, "We're here to find a ring for me this time. She thinks if she's going to wear one, then I need to as well."
Stephanie smiled and Anne led her to the other side of the store, "Let them stay there and look. This is something we need to take care of, honey." As Anne pulled open the case of rings, "What do you think, dear?"
Stephanie saw the one right off that was perfect, "That one."
Anne obviously approved. While she rang up the sale, Stephanie held the double band. It was a platinum band that held a small row of sapphires so dark they almost appeared black until the light hit them. The other band that was with it was a thin plain platinum band. Stephanie hoped Daren would like it.
Stephanie quickly reminded herself, it's only for three weeks. He won't ever wear the wedding band. The sadness she felt was irrational and she knew it, because as soon as the mess with Jeff was over with, so were they. Anne had just boxed up the wedding band portion and Stephanie slid it in her pocket when Daren's arms wrapped around her waist.
Daren kissed her neck as she slipped the sapphire band on his finger. She could feel him look at it over her shoulder, "Look." He laid her hand on top of his, seeing that their rings complimented each other had tears pooling in her eyes.
Charles asked, "May I?" As he nodded towards his digital camera, "I'd love to take a picture of you two."
A picture would be perfect, Stephanie thought. Something to remember the man I fell in love with.
The next morning, Stephanie was still in La-La Land. Making love to Daren last night and waking up in his arms this morning was definitely La-La inducing. Just thinking about what he did to her in the shower less than two hours ago had her clenching her thighs under the table.
The girls were all chattering away and Stephanie was having a hard time participating. She made a conscious effort to keep her left hand under the table waiting for Daren to show up. She just couldn't pull this three week engagement off without him.
"Steph, what's with you?" Jessica asked.
She blushed, "Huh?"
Erin gasped, "You slept with him, didn't you?"
Sarah exclaimed, "Details!"
Thankfully, Daren chose that moment to appear, "Hi, baby."
Just like he had been doing it forever, not less than twenty-four hours, Daren delivered a bone melting kiss on her lips. Without thinking, Stephanie brought her left hand up, sliding it to Daren's shoulder.
Sarah asked, "Is that ...?"
Erin groaned, "Oh, holy hell!"
Jessica gasped, "Oh My God!"
Daren chuckled against her lips and asked, "Didn't tell them yet?"
Stephanie mumbled, "I was waiting for you."
Sarah, the hopeless romantic of the group, recovered first. She came around the table and hugged them both, "I'm so happy for you both! It's so sweet!"
Erin laughed and said, "The sex must be amazing for a ring to be in play this quickly!"
Stephanie hid her face in Daren's chest as Daren said, "Hell yes it is," wiggling his eyebrows.
Erin threw her napkin at him, "I meant for her!"
Jessica somberly asked, "Um, Stephanie, are you sure this is a good idea? I mean with Jeff and all..."
Daren tensed, "I'll deal with him."
Stephanie placed her hand on Daren's chest to calm him down, "We'll be fine, I promise. Daren knows all about Jeff. As for whether or not I'm sure?" She bit her bottom lip and blushed when she looked at Daren, "Yeah. I'm positive. We've agreed it will be a long engagement."
Daren busted out in laughter, "Three weeks is a 'long engagement'?"
All three of her friends repeated him in unison, "Three weeks?"
Stephanie covered Daren's mouth with her hand and jerked it back quickly when he licked her palm, "He goes back to report in in three weeks."
Immediately Sarah started planning, "Three weeks is doable. We can find a dress for you and all of us, of course. Then the guys will be able to rent tuxes. Cake shouldn't be a problem. I bet we can do it all at your house, Stephanie! It will be perfect out by the flower garden and gazebo!"
Daren smiled and cut Stephanie off as she tried to tell Sarah, "I didn't say..."
Daren kissed her, "Sounds perfect to me." Stephanie couldn't hide the confusion in her face. No one said a damned thing about actually getting married. Hell, it was a fake engagement! It was just for three weeks, until he leaves. Daren leaned down and whispered, "Just go with it. We'll straighten it out later."
Sarah continued, "Of course, Jess will be the maid of honor, me and Erin will be the bride's maids, right?"
Stephanie's stomach churned, "Of course."
"What about the guys? How will they rank?" She asked Daren.
As Erin just shook her head and mumbled, "Nothing hideous for a dress." Jessica took notes on what needed to be done.
Daren spoke up, "Beau can do the ceremony. We'll talk to him about it when we get back to Kentucky. Chase will be the best man, and the others can be groom's men."
Stephanie had to put a stop to this before it went too far, "Why don't we talk about this stuff later? Like later this week."
When her cell phone rang, she jumped. She pulled it out of her pocket and cringed, it was Jeff. She wasn't about to answer it, but Daren grabbed it out of her hand, "Hello?" Everyone at the table quieted. Only Jessica knew the full details of everything that had happened with Jeff and she stiffened, realizing who the call was from. Daren was the only side of the conversation they could hear, "Who is this?" He paused, his voice menacing, "Well, sorry about your luck, Jeff. Stephanie and I are engaged. Lose her number or you'll deal with me." He hit a button to end the call and said, "Excuse me, ladies."
Stephanie watched as Daren walked away from the table getting his phone out. Probably to call Chase, she guessed.
Jessica asked, "You ok, Stephanie?"
Nervous laughter erupted from her, "I guess, just a little off balance." Once she realized how that would sound to her friends, she pointed out, "It's crazy. I want to be with him, but it's fast. I never thought I'd feel like this."
Sarah smiled, "How did he ask?"
Stephanie laughed and told the truth, "He sat the ring on the table and said, 'Put that on.'" All of their eyes got big, "I argued for about half an hour about how crazy it was, but he convinced me. Then I decided if I was to wear a ring, he had to. We went and picked one out for him, too."
Jessica was the one to ask, "Do you love him?"
Without hesitation, Stephanie honestly replied, "Yeah, I love him."
Daren almost swallowed his own tongue when he overheard Stephanie admit that she loved him. Did she really or was she just trying to convince her friends like they talked about? He remembered her telling him that she was a horrible liar, and if he was a betting man, he'd bet that it was the truth.
When her friends immediately went into plan the wedding mode, he thought it was a good idea. It made everything seem more believable. Letting them plan and all, would help to keep them from figuring out what was going on. His inner voice asked, 'What is really going on though?'
Daren avoided looking too much into that question just yet, one thing at a time. Deal with her ex first. Then they'd figure out where they stood. Once he knew she was safe, maybe then he'd be able to get her out of his system. If not, well...who knows? Maybe an indefinite engagement until he had a chance to.
As he sat down at the table, Stephanie blushed. He loved how easily she got flustered, made it easy to see what got to her. Smiling he asked, "You love me, huh?"
Instead of answering, she told him, "Show the girls your ring."
His eyes never left hers as he lifted his hand, displaying the ring Stephanie got him. She held his stare, but he could tell she hid what she was thinking, blanking out on him. Daren decided he couldn't have that and cupped her face. He knew her bottom lip was sensitive and rubbed it. Immediately, her eyes glazed over, "You ready to head home?"
Stephanie grumbled, "That's not fair." When he winked at her, she rolled her eyes, "I guess I'll see you guys at work tomorrow."
There were more hugs and promises to get together on Wednesday night to plan the wedding. They made sure to point out that the guys were expected as well. Daren agreed and they were on the road within moments. He was on the phone most of the time or she feigned being asleep, so he couldn't question her and the love comment. He let her keep her pretense of sleeping until they arrived in her town.
Gently, he shook her arm, "Show me where everything is."
Stephanie blinked at him, momentarily confused. Maybe she really did fall asleep. After she rubbed her eyes, "The next left," she pointed, "will take you to the elementary school where I work. At the end of that street, take a right and go about 8 miles. My house is on the left."
Daren actually liked the fact that it was a small town. He smiled, easier to take care of the Jeff issue. As they passed the school, he noted that it was small yet looked to be inviting. He noticed Stephanie chewing on her bottom lip as they got closer to her house and asked, "Nervous?"
He held her hand when she nodded, "A little. I just never know what to expect when I open my door or leave and come home."
The thought of her being afraid constantly upset him. What made this Jeff person think he had the right to torment Stephanie? Daren vowed silently that he would take care of him and soon. Stephanie would not worry ever again. Squeezing her hand he told her, "The guys are at your house. Everything's safe, I promise. They also got you a surprise."
Her face lit up, "Really? What did they get?"
Daren smirked, "Consider it an early birthday present." The fact that she didn't mind the guys being in her house made him feel good, "Oh, we need to tell them we are engaged."
"They don't know? I thought they knew the plan?"
Her confusion was evident. Daren hadn't told her that the engagement deal was a spur of the moment thing. When he'd been walking past that jewelry store, he glanced in the window and saw the ring. That's when the thought to put it on her finger occurred. Hell, it was a gut thing. He just knew it would make things easier and he didn't like the thought of anyone questioning him being with her. That damn inner voice pointed out, maybe because you want to be with her for longer than the three weeks. Daren quickly ignored his thoughts, deal with that later, he reminded himself.
Daren shrugged, "I decided that it would be best. I guess I forgot to mention it to them with everything else going on." He could feel her watching him, "I hope you like the surprise."
As they turned into her drive way, Daren noted that there was a long entrance, which was good and bad for security reasons. Trees made a tunnel affect drown the drive and it curved before the house came into view. A two-story cabin with a wrap-around porch sat in the clearing. It had a homey feel to it with plenty of flowers around the edge of the porch and trees in front of the house. She even had a front porch swing and a basketball goal in the drive, which is where the guys were gathered.
Almost as soon as the truck stopped, Stephanie jumped out, "Where's my surprise?"
Daren laughed, "Hey guys."
Chase walked over and wrapped his arm around Stephanie's shoulders and Daren had to fight the urge to rip it off. Guiding her to the porch, Chase said, "Your surprise is sleeping."
Right under the swing, a small black lab puppy was curled into a ball. Daren turned a glare to his guys, "I said a dog, not a puppy!"
Beau spoke up, "Figured shorty would rather have a puppy."
Stephanie giggled, actually giggled, and hugged each man before she made it back to Daren. Wrapping her arms around his neck she soundly kissed him, shutting him up. "Thank you. I love it!"
Daren grumbled, "I'm glad you like it, but how's a puppy going to protect you?"
Beaming at him, "I thought that's what you were for?"
All the guys laughed and Jake asked, "Uh, Dare?" Daren looked at him and he continued, glancing at Daren's ring finger, "What's with the ring?"
Almost flippantly, Stephanie said, "We're engaged."
"What the fuck?" Chase asked and all of the guys stared at Daren in disbelief.
Daren shot a don't-fuck-with-me ook, telling them, "I asked, she said yes after I convinced her." All of them but Chase looked at him like he'd grown three heads, "What?"
Chase looked pissed as he told Daren, "We need to talk."
Stephanie touched Chase's arm, "It's OK, Chase. We're fine." Chase nodded at her, but shot a look to Daren as she asked, "What's the puppy's name?"
She picked up the sleeping puppy which immediately woke up and started licking her face. Daren walked over petting the runt as Jake said, "You tell us, shorty. He's yours...well I guess yours and Daren's?"
Stephanie decided after talking to the guys for a bit that it would be a good idea to start supper. They offered to go get take out, but she wanted to cook for them. While they sat outside playing basketball or playing with the dog, she started cooking. She thought back to when she and Daren were on the way to her house and how it worried her having all of the guys there a little. She was afraid that it would have been intimidating, but oddly enough it was comforting.
All of them seemed to accept her engagement to Daren extremely well, all of them but Chase that is. Even Stephanie couldn't help but notice how upset he was over it. Why Daren never explained that it was fake, she didn't know or understand. What is the point of them not knowing the truth?
She was starting to feel extremely guilty for not telling her friends or his friends the truth. Stephanie knew Daren probably had his reasons for not telling them, but it still didn't make complete sense to her. She was lost in thought while she cooked until she felt someone watching her. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Daren leaning against the door frame.
Her breath caught in her throat when she saw the look in his ice blue eyes. Stephanie's body went from being complacent to achy in a split second.
As he leaned against the door facing, his arms crossed, Stephanie realized how big Daren really was. His arms were the size of her thighs and his chest and abs were honed, rippling with muscle. His olive skin tone only accentuated the color of his eyes. His lips were full and soft, except when he was annoyed. No man had a right to look as good as he did in a tee and old jeans.
When her gaze made it back to his eyes, he winked at her and Stephanie rolled her eyes, trying to act like he didn't affect her nearly as much as he did.
Turning her back to finish supper, "Let the guys know it'll be ready in about twenty minutes."
She felt his arms wrap around her and couldn't help but snuggle up to him a bit, "It smells great, but you smell better." He brushed his lips against her neck. Doubts crept in and Stephanie stiffened against him wondering if this was all a part of the act, too. "What's wrong?"
Stephanie lied, "I need to wash my hands."
She stepped away from him and while she washed her hands, closed her eyes, trying to build some type of defense against him. She cringed as he said, "Don't, Stephanie."
Blowing out a shaky breath, she asked, "What are you talking about?"
Daren turned her around, "You're walking away again."
She stammered, "N-no..."
Daren's lips covered hers. Gently coaxing, he kept the kiss soft. Stephanie whimpered. She didn't know how to fight this. How on earth do you not give into the person that you stupidly fell in love with? Kissing him back now, she was the one to deepen it; opening her mouth, brushing her tongue against his lips.
He groaned and lifted her onto the counter. She wrapped her legs around his waist, clutching him. She needed him to be as close as humanly possible.
Jake's voice interrupted, "I'm too young to witness this display."
Daren laughed and Stephanie buried her face, hiding. Daren asked, "What do you need, Jake?"
"Well, uh..." he blew out a breath and chuckled, "Damn, I just never thought the day would come, you know?"
Stephanie's interest peaked, "What do you mean?"
Jake smiled as Chase spoke up from behind him, "Well, we all were trying to figure out if it was true or not. Placing bets on if the engagement was the real deal."
Daren growled, "Dammit, guys..."
Jake laughed, "We know it's real. Just watching you two is all the proof any of us need." He sobered up slightly and told Stephanie, "I'm glad you'll be a part of our family, shorty."
Tears threatened to spill over her eyes and Daren hugged her to his chest. He told Chase and Jake, "Supper will be ready here shortly. Can you give us a minute?" Chase acted like he was going to come closer and Daren said, "Please, Cougar."
As soon as the guys left the room, Stephanie admitted, "I can't do this, Daren."
His voice seemed distant to her as he asked, "Can't do what?"
She looked into his eyes, "I hate lying to people I care about."