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When Two Hearts Collide

Chapter 15

The restaurant was filling up with the lunch crowd when they walked in. The waiter led them to a booth near the front window, promising to return with the pot of coffee that Daniel requested.

Casey examined the menu. Knew that even as hungry as she was, eating too much would make her ill. And she certainly didn't want to waste food. But oh, the French toast sounded so good!

"Whatever you want, babe," he said softly.

"I don't want to get more than I can eat," she replied, just as softly.

"Order what you want. Eat what you can. Don't worry about the rest," he told her.

She looked up at him. "That's wasting food…and money."

"I'm taking care of you now," he said quietly. "You don't have to worry about anything. Get whatever you want."

She shivered. Not even Grandma Rose had been able to make her feel this loved, this safe, this…cherished. She nodded.

When the waiter came back with the coffee, he took their orders. Daniel had ordered the Belgian Waffle, with sausage on the side. Casey gave in and ordered the French toast. If Daniel was still hungry, maybe he could help her finish her breakfast, she thought.

She was staring at the small pitchers of syrup that were sitting on the table. She'd been here once before, well, not this particular restaurant, but the IHOP near where she lived with Kelley. That time also she had wondered what the different flavors tasted like.

"Casey?"

"Hmm?"

"What's wrong?"

She started, looked up into concerned blue eyes. She blushed. "I was just wondering what they tasted like," she replied softly.

He glanced at the syrups. "Try them."

The look she gave him was pure mischief. "Don't mind if I do. She pulled the metal basket that held the pitchers closer. Poured a bit onto her finger. Stuck it into her mouth. "Oh, that's good," she sighed. She poured more onto her finger. "Want some?"

"Absolutely," he grinned. He sucked that slender finger into his mouth. Delicious. Syrup wasn't bad, either.

She giggled. And proceeded to sample each of the flavors, sharing them with him as well. "Now my fingers are sticky," she complained.

He took her hand, carefully licked and sucked each delectable finger, then used his napkin to dry them. "Better?"

"Not really," she said, giggling again. "I'll be right back." She slid out of the booth, disappeared into the hallway where the restrooms were located.

He watched that sweet, heart-shaped fanny, and the sexy sway that made him hard. Danny, my boy, you have hit the jackpot! his brain told him. Hell yes, I have, he agreed happily.

When she returned, their meals had been served. Conversation was light as they ate, Daniel steering clear of any topics that might bring that sadness to her eyes. For the rest of the day all he wanted to see in those green eyes was happiness…and love.

 

A   A   A   A   A   A 

 

When they'd finished their breakfast, they walked hand in hand to the rental car, Daniel holding open the door for her, leaning in and fastening her seatbelt, stealing a kiss before walking around to climb behind the seat.  After a brief discussion on the matter, they decided to stop at her place of employment first, since they were closest to it. Casey could give her supervisor Daniel's address, so that her last paycheck could be sent there.

Hightower Containers, Inc was on the waterfront in Tacoma, a business that supplied shipping containers in one hundred different sizes. Several men working on the dock, loading a waiting freighter, stopped to watch the two people as they strolled toward the low, metal building. Several appreciative whistles filled the air.

Let 'em know who she belongs to, his brain told him. Daniel couldn't help but grin, and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. When she snuggled close to his side, her arm around his waist, he tightened his grip.

The men on the docks watched. Had seen the blonde many times. They had never seen her with a man before. Not one of them missed the fact that she was as close to the guy with the glasses as she could get without crawling inside his clothes with him. "Lucky sonovabitch," one of the workers grumbled.

"I hear that," his companion sighed.

 

 

 

Jan watched the young blonde woman walking toward her. In the six years she had been working for the company, Casey had never missed a day without a good excuse, usually because of illness. The young woman did more than her fair share of work without complaining, or demanding more money. Something that made Mr. Hightower very happy. Whenever she was away from her desk, the work piled up quickly, and the other girls in the office weren't as willing to take on the extra. "So just where have you been?" the woman asked irritably.

"It's a long story, Jan," Casey said softly. "I'd like for you to meet Doctor Daniel Jackson. My fiancé. Sweetheart, this is my boss, Janice Van de Meer."

The older woman jerked, looked up at the man. She hadn't even been aware Casey was seeing anyone. "So you've been off on a romantic getaway, is that what you're saying?"

She couldn't hold back her giggle. While last night had been the most incredible night of her life…so far, the past three days had been anything but romantic! "Not exactly."

"Casey would have given the required two weeks notice," Daniel said quietly, flashing the smile that had charmed alien diplomats and numerous senators and their aides, "but things happened rather quickly, and we have to be back in Colorado Springs tomorrow."

Jan was upset, but she wasn't immune to the charms of one Dr. Daniel Jackson. She smiled. "I suppose I should congratulate you."

"Thank you," Casey said softly. "I just needed to give you Daniel's address, so you can send my check there."

The woman nodded, picked up a notepad and a pen, handed them to the young woman, who in turn handed them to the handsome young man.

"Would it be all right if I took my things now?"

"Certainly. I'll find a box for you," Jan replied.

Daniel printed out his address, put the notepad back on the woman's desk, followed Casey deeper into the large room. Several women looked up in surprise as they walked by, but no one uttered a sound as Casey disappeared into 'her' cubicle. 

She carefully gathered the few things that had made this tiny area her personal space. A picture of her, Ricky, and Kelley, in front of a gaily decorated Christmas tree. One of her and Kelley outside of the Key Arena before going inside to hear Pearl Jam. An African violet plant that was in full bloom. Four strands of glass beads, earned during the Seattle Mardi Gras for simply giving smiles to the men who had asked.

She put the items into the small box that Jan had brought to her. "Tracy Ballard has always wanted to work up here," she said, watching the older woman's reaction.

Jan was surprised, and it showed on her face as well as her eyes. Tracy Ballard had shown nothing but contempt for Casey since the slender blonde had started working at the factory. Had made every type of cruel comment she could. Casey never had responded to the taunts. Even though the pain caused by the remarks had been in her eyes. As well as tears. "I'll have to think about it," she replied. And if she did decide to transfer the woman from shipping, she'd be damned sure to let her know that it had been Casey's idea!

"We need to go, babe," Daniel said softly, putting his hand on her elbow.

"Good luck, Casey," Jan said, reaching out and hugging the young woman in an uncharacteristic display of affection.

"Thanks, Jan," Casey replied, taken aback by the gesture. "Don't let Mr. Hightower bully you. Without you, this place would fall apart, and he knows it."

Jan smiled. "Thanks. I'll remember that."

She looked around one last time. Yep. She really hated this place! Goodbye, and good riddance, she thought, walking out the door for the last time.

 

A   A   A   A   A   A

 

Following her directions, Daniel returned to the freeway. And headed for South Center. Jared had told him that Weisfield's had a nice selection of diamond rings for competitive prices; it was, the gay man had informed him, where he and Kevin had purchased their matching rings. Daniel was determined to get a ring on her finger that would let the world know that she was taken, that the beautiful blonde with the amazing green eyes and the smile that could warm the Arctic was his!

He took her hand, led her inside. Well, how about that, it was right by this entrance! He tugged gently. "C'mon, Angel," he said, smiling at her.

Her eyes went wide when she realized where they were going. "Daniel?"

"I want my ring on your finger, Casey. You belong to me, and I want everyone to know that."

Tears filled her eyes. "You're sure?"

"More sure than I am that the sun will come up tomorrow," he replied.

"Around here, it might not," she quipped, trying to hide her surprise behind her humor.

"It's always there, Case. Even if you can't see it," he said softly. "Now, there is one thing I want to make sure you understand before we go in there," he said nodding at the counters that waited in the open-sided business.

She nodded, waiting for him to set the price limit.

Jared had also been most forthcoming with the fact that Casey had always struggled financially, that she'd always been forced to 'settle' for what she could afford. "I don't want you looking at the price. At all. You look only at the rings. You find the one that you want, the one that makes you happy. Understand?"

"I…um…," she paused. She knew that jewelry was expensive. Very expensive. She and Kelley liked to browse, pretend they had the money to buy whatever they wanted. Picked out the bracelets and necklaces and earrings that caught their fancy.

"I can afford this, Casey," he said, knowing what she was thinking. "I want to put the biggest, shiniest ring that I can on your finger. I want it to be the ring of your dreams." Rings. Marriage. Two days ago he'd been sitting in his office, contemplating the loneliness of his life. Now he was standing in a mall, with the woman of his dreams. The woman who completed him. The woman his heart and soul had recognized before he had. The woman he wanted to see wearing a ring that proclaimed to the world that she belonged to him. If she hadn't shown up at the SGC, this reality would still be at risk. And he would still be alone, and lonely. Thank you, Miss Eloise, wherever you are, he thought.

"I'll try," she whispered.

He nodded. "If I catch you looking at the price tags…" he looked at her, then grinned. "You'll shower alone for a month."

She giggled. "What if I want to shower alone?"

Damn…he'd hoped to hear her protest…hoped that she wanted to repeat this morning every day for the rest of their lives. "Do you?"

"No way!"

"Then no looking at price tags," he replied, his heart sighing with relief.

Her smile faded. "I'll try," she whispered.

Daniel reached out and caressed her cheek. "That’s all I'm asking, babe. Let's go find the ring of your dreams."

How could she tell him that she had no clue what that would be? That she'd never allowed herself to even think about engagement rings…or wedding rings…or weddings…or marriage. That for her, those things had seemed as unattainable as flying to the moon.

The older woman standing behind the counter watched them walk toward her. "Good afternoon! How may I help you?"

Daniel smiled. "We'd like to look at your wedding sets."

The woman, Susan, according to her nametag, nodded. "We have several lovely sets," she said, leading them to the end of the counter. Two upholstered stools sat on one side.

Daniel sat down, tugged at Casey's hand until she was settled on the stool beside him. "Whatever you want, Angel," he said softly.

Casey smiled at him, her fingers locked with his. She was trembling, with excitement, and love, and emotions she wasn't even sure had names. Never in her life had she been this happy. What an incredible experience!

Susan began pulling velvet boxes that held diamond rings from beneath the glass. There were several different cuts of the brilliant stone, all of them lovely.

Her breath caught in her throat when her eyes stopped on an emerald cut diamond. Two baguette diamonds nestled against the two-carat solitaire on either side of the band. The matching wedding band had four baguette diamonds. The man's wedding ring had two baguette diamonds as well, set to one side of the wide, square-topped band. The set was platinum. And she couldn't help it when her eyes dropped to the price. It was nearly eight thousand dollars!

Daniel watched her eyes, noted the sparkle…and then the paling of her cheeks. He continued to watch her, as she carefully examined all of the other rings the clerk had put on the glass topped case. She tried on two princess-cut rings, then a traditional round cut. Not one of them stayed on her finger longer than it took for her to glance at them. "Casey," he said softly.

"What?"

"Did you look at the price tag?"

She refused to look at him. But her cheeks flushed.

He almost chuckled at her guilty reaction. "See anything you like?" Yep, those green eyes flickered back to that emerald cut ring. He reached for it, took it from the velvet box, then slid it onto her finger. Kept her hand in his so that she was forced to look at the ring on her finger. "So what do you think?"

"It's beautiful," she sighed. Tried to pull her hand free. It also costs the freaking earth, she thought. Even if that was for the three ring set. Eight thousand dollars was nearly half of what she made in a year!

He slid the wedding band on beside the engagement ring. Grinned when she insisted on putting the man's band on his finger. "Looks good, huh?"

She couldn't speak around the lump in her throat. They were breathtaking. And so damned expensive! But, oh, the rings looked so good on their hands!

He leaned close enough to whisper in her ear. "Do you want to look somewhere else?"

She shook her head.

He glanced up at the clerk, shared a knowing look with her. "So what do you think?"

With another sigh, she pulled her hand away from his, took the rings from her finger, and tucked them back into that velvet box. None of the other rings even caught her eye. "I think they're expensive."

"I thought I told you not to look at the price," he said softly.

"I didn't mean to," she replied. "But Daniel, eight thousand dollars! That's so much money!"

"If you'll excuse me, I'll let the two of you discuss this," Susan said quietly. She was certain that the young woman liked the ring. She just didn't know if the man, who seemed more than willing to purchase it, could talk her into it.

"Angel, I can afford this," Daniel insisted.

Tear-filled green eyes looked up at him. "That's so much money! It's almost half of what I earn in a year!"

Which meant she made a little more than sixteen thousand a year! No wonder she'd been so concerned about wasting money at the restaurant! She'd been living hand to mouth all of her life! "Do you want that ring, Casey?"

God help her, she did. More than anything she'd ever wanted before. And that want reflected in her eyes. She glanced over at it again. "Want it…yes. Need it? Not at that price."

He shook his head. "Damned stubborn, aren't you?"

She couldn't help but smile. "Sometimes. When I think it's important," she replied softly. "I just don't want you…or your friends …to think I'm…that I'm…that I'm a gold digger or something!"

He laughed out loud. "I don't think that would ever occur to my friends. And I know for a fact that it's not true." A sign near the cash register caught his eye. It proclaimed that a diamond should be valued at three months total income. Hmm…"What if I told you that I make a little over a hundred and thirty a year."

Her eyes went wide. "Thousand? One hundred and thirty…thousand?"

Daniel nodded.

"I'd say I'm marrying Daddy Warbucks!"

"Well, not quite," he chuckled. "But I can take care of you."

Once again her eyes were drawn toward the ring. She sighed. "It's so much money," she said again.

"It's just over one month's wages," he pointed out. He grinned when another thought poked at him. The pièce de résistance of his argument. "You'll be making at least half what I am," he pointed out.

Her heart jumped in her chest. She and General Hammond had never actually discussed how much she would earn. Half of what he made…sixty-five thousand dollars? Just because she was a seer? For just a few seconds she felt light-headed with disbelief.

"If you want that ring, it's yours," he said softly. "If you'd rather look somewhere else, we will."

She put her hands on either side of his face. Kissed him gently. "I love you," she sighed.

He grinned. "Does that mean you want the ring?"

That lump was back in her throat. She nodded.

Daniel caught Susan's eye, nodded and grinned. "We'll take that set," he said when she approached.

"Let's see if we need to size them," the clerk said, taking a large key ring from beneath the counter. It had dozens of small metal rings on it. She sorted through several, tried three on Casey's finger before declaring the fit 'perfect', then went through the same routine for Daniel.

"How long to size them? I'd like the engagement ring as soon as possible, and we'll need to pick up the wedding bands before ten tomorrow."

Susan hesitated. The rings were the most expensive wedding set in the store at the moment, and had been in the display case for nearly six months...the manager had marked the price down by thirty percent in an attempt to get the set sold.  She wasn't certain he'd be willing to rush sizing them, considering the size of that discount.. "Let me check." She slipped back to the small workroom where the resident jeweler was busy working. After a quick discussion, she returned with a smile. "Joel says he can have the engagement ring ready in about an hour, and the wedding bands ready by six. We close at nine," she said brightly.

"Perfect," Daniel smiled.

"And how will you be paying for this purchase?"

"American Express," he replied, tossing his card onto the counter. He didn't think he'd used the card at all in the past month. He signed the receipt, grinning like a madman inside because Casey was leaning against him, her hands around his arm, hanging onto him as if he were her lifeline.

"So what do we do for the next hour?"

He glanced at his watch. Not quite two. "Let's just wander around, see what we can find," he said. His arm around her shoulders, hers around his waist, they walked into the wide corridor of the mall.


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