Piper held up her left hand to show off the ring she’d purchased online a week ago. Sawyer felt kind of bad that she had to buy her own fake engagement ring, but not bad enough to part with the amount of money she’d spent on it.
It didn’t seem possible for the audience to get any louder, but they somehow managed. Sawyer realized in that moment how popular his fake-fiancée truly was. Whitney pretended this was the first she’d heard of this news and threw to commercial break before hugging both of them.
“Great job, you two. That was perfect!” she said as they group-hugged.
The two people assigned to crowd control attempted to settle the audience and remind them to follow their cues. The show’s director called for the next segment to start. The spectators managed to follow directions, clapping and quieting when told.
Whitney stared into the camera. “We’re back, and in case you’re just joining us, I’m here with my guests Piper Starling and Sawyer Stratton, who nearly gave this poor woman in the front row a heart attack. Are you okay, ma’am?”
One of the cameras turned to get her in the shot. The woman nodded and assured Whitney she was fine. She was still wiping tears and breathing heavily. “I’m just so happy for them. I’m the biggest Piper Starling fan. I knew after the Country Artist Awards that they were together, but I wasn’t expecting this.”
Sawyer was shocked at how emotional complete strangers could become over this. It made little sense that people would get so invested in two people they didn’t even know.
“I wasn’t, either, my friend! Did that really happen? Did you just announce on my show that you’re engaged?” Whitney asked.
“We are,” Piper confirmed.
Sawyer put his arm around her, hoping it made them look more like a real couple. The audience cheered for them again but quieted quickly.
“Oh my goodness, I am so happy for you two, but I feel like you just met. Are you sure you know each other well enough to take the plunge?”
Sawyer noticed a tic in Piper’s jaw.
“I sure hope so,” Sawyer answered, garnering a laugh.
“When you meet the right person, you don’t need a lot of time to know he’s the one for you,” Piper said. “I think I knew it almost as soon as I met him. We just clicked.”
“I am a huge believer in love at first sight,” Whitney said. “At the end of their very first date, my father told my mother he was going to marry her. He said he just knew.”
“Did she feel the same way?” Sawyer asked, his curiosity piqued.
“Oh, heck no. She told him he was nuts and asked her roommate to screen all her calls after that. Lucky for him, the roommate never did as she was asked and my mother gave him a second chance. They were married six months later.”
“Sawyer wasn’t so sure at first, either,” Piper said after the audience stopped clapping for Mr. and Mrs. Hansen’s love story. “But apparently I wore him down.”
Piper gave his knee a squeeze. He pretended to laugh and pulled her closer. “She’s lying. Who wouldn’t fall head over heels for this woman?”
“No one,” Whitney agreed. “I think it might be fun to test you two, make sure you’re ready to take this next step in your relationship. How do you feel about playing a little game with me? It’s a bit like The Newlywed Game but with a Whitney Hansen twist. Are you two up for it?”
Piper stiffened but kept the smile she was wearing firmly in place. “I guess so. What do you think, babe?” she asked Sawyer.
Every fiber of his body wanted to scream no, but he was in full fake-engagement mode, so he threw his arm over her shoulders and pulled her closer. “Let’s do it.”
Whitney had a member of her staff run out with two Ping-Pong paddles, “Piper” written on one side and “Sawyer” on the other. While they waited for Whitney to scan her game cards, Piper fidgeted with the paddle and her bracelets.
Sawyer needed to calm her down. He leaned over and whispered, “We got this.”
She nodded, but the worry in her blue eyes didn’t fade. Without thinking, he gave her a quick kiss on the lips.
Whitney sighed. “You two are so darn cute. I can’t stand it.”