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“Bet you couldn’t date me.”

Derek inwardly cursed himself.  What made him say that?  The words slipped out without a thought.  To be fair, he had never really put much effort into the ‘think before you speak’ thing but gazing across Casey’s dorm room at her frozen profile, Derek reconsidered every life choice that brought him to this moment.  Oh well, there was no going back.  He would have to depend on his quick thinking and charm to carefully maneuver through this one. 

It was stupid, really, how this conversation started.  They were passing a typical night on Queen’s campus.  He showed up to her dorm, made himself at home on her bed as Casey studied at her desk.  Derek pulled out his laptop, attempting to do his own work, but as usual, little time had passed before their homework took a backseat to their verbal sparring.

One thing led to another and after arguing over every one of their exes, they quickly progressed to bickering over each other’s types, claiming that Casey could not land a date with someone Derek deemed cool and Derek would not be able to maintain a relationship with anyone Casey classified as intelligent.  Casey’s words, ‘I bet I could date any cool guy I wanted, Der-rek!’ thudded through his head.  So, naturally, his mind leapt to the coolest person he knew.

Shaking himself back to the present, Derek repeated his challenge, “Bet you couldn’t date me.”

Casey’s study notes fell from her weakened hand.  The noise was deafening in the stunned silence.   “What?

Derek cleared his throat.  His easy smirk was not at all forced.  Repeat, not at all.  The tension built as he stalled in answering.  With all the mock arrogance he could muster, Derek folded his hands behind his head and crossed his legs at the ankle as he lounged deeper into Casey’s fluffy girly pillows, attempting to appear at ease.  Derek teased, “You deaf, Princess?  I said, for the third time, I bet you couldn’t date… me.”

Casey gaped at him, floundering for words, her mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water.  If it had happened at any other moment, Derek would have laughed at her astonished expression, but not now.  No, right now, he had to concentrate on breathing.

Finally, she countered, “And why would I even try to date you?”

“It’s obvious.”

Casey spluttered.  “Um, no, it’s not!”

“We’ll see exactly who’s right about this.”

“You’re turning this entire argument into a bet?”

“Casey, Casey, Casey.”  Repeating her name seemed to help ground him.  Betting.  Right.  He could bet with Casey.  Easy.  Just a bet.  No higher stakes involved.  Breathe, Venturi.  

Smirk hitching into place, Derek taunted, “Face the facts, Case.  You couldn’t handle—” A hand came out from behind his head as he leisurely gestured down his prone figure.  “All this.”

Her brow crinkled slightly as her eyes followed his hand.  Abruptly, her pinkening face snapped up to meet his eyes briefly.  Casey turned her back to him, straightening the stacks of books and notes on her desk.

“I wouldn’t be so sure, Venturi.”

Humming, Derek sat up, scooting to the end of her bed as he watched her.  “Oh, yeah?  Prove it then.”

Casey’s hands faltered over her piles.  Her curiosity got the best of her.  “How?”  Slowly, she cast a look over her shoulder at him.

“I think there’s only one way.”  The challenge in Casey’s eye brought Derek to his feet. “I’m the coolest person I know and you’re the smartest person you know...”

They had hit the point of no return.  There was no way Derek was not going to seize this opportunity.  Slowly, Derek edged towards her until his body was draping over the back of her chair, his next words ghosted over Casey’s earlobe as he whispered to her.

Date me.”

He watched the goosebumps erupt across her creamy flesh as Casey’s breath caught in her throat.

“Wh— Are you out of your mind?”

Derek straightened, but stayed close to her, leaning on the back of her chair.  He knew the buttons to push.  “I knew you couldn’t do it.  You couldn’t handle me as a boyfriend.”

“I could.”  Casey sniffed haughtily.  “I just choose not to.”

He snorted.  “You wouldn’t know what hit you.”

“Whatever.  If that’s how you ask a girl out, then I’m surprised you’ve ever had any dates.”

“Meaning?”

Casey rolled her eyes.  “You can’t demand that I date you as a way of asking me out!”

He quirked a cocky eyebrow.  “You want me to ask you out?”  Derek reminded himself to keep his voice at a natural pitch.

Covering both of her cheeks with the back of her hands, Casey took a deep breath.  “I’m saying that your egotistical demands would not work on me if you were actually asking me out.”

It was Derek’s turn to roll his eyes, mumbling, “Romantic to the end.”

Casey sniffed, her chin darting high into the air.  “There’s nothing wrong with romance.”

“Sorry, my white stallion is in the shop.”

The corners of Casey’s lips twitched before she looked back at him.  “I’m sure you can come up with another way.”

He could not hold back the shit-eating grin that broke across his face.  “Ah, so you do want me to ask you out!”

This time Casey flushed across her entire face and neck.  And Derek’s eyes absolutely did not trace down to where the blush disappeared underneath the collar of her V-neck. 

“I didn’t say that!  I’m just telling you in all practical purposes that I wouldn’t agree to a date based on a demand.”

He tsked as he goaded her, “And here I thought you wouldn’t backdown from another bet.  Too bad, McDonald.  Now I know for sure you couldn’t do it.”

Casey’s eyes narrowed.  “Think again, Venturi.  I know I could handle it as much as I know you couldn’t handle it.”

Derek raised an eyebrow.  “You don’t think I could date you?”

“I know you couldn’t.”

“Oh, please.”  He waved a hand through the air.  “Dating you would be a piece of cake.  You would be the first to break it off.”

Snorting a laugh, Casey retorted, “Yeah, right.  You would so break first.”

“You couldn’t make it a day, Princess.”

“Ha, you couldn’t make it an hour!”

His grin broke wickedly across his face.  “Care to put your money where your mouth is?”  Derek’s gaze dipped lower, tracing her lips as a faint blush rose to her cheeks.

“Just to be clear—" Casey nibbled at her lip, effectively breaking Derek out of his spell.  “The bet would be what exactly?”

“I bet… that I can date you longer than you can date me.”

“So… the first one to break it off… loses?”

“Exactly.”

Casey bit the inside of her cheek.

Unable to wait, Derek pressed with a practiced amount of taunting and arrogance lacing his voice, “Will you take the bet, McDonald?”

The silence stretched between them until Casey puffed, “Fine.  But I have one condition.”

“Only one?”  His arrogant half-smirk mocked her.

Casey nodded.

“Well?  What is it?”

“You have to actually ask me out and not demand we date.”

Derek rolled his eyes, but the grin spreading on his face told a different story.  As if that would be a deal breaker.  Because he had not thought about this moment.  Never.  Not once.  He faked a sigh, “Fine.  But I have some conditions too.”

Her brow furrowed.  “You do?”

Nodding, the grin disappeared from his face.  “No one but us knows about the bet.”

The shock showed on Casey’s features.  “You want people to think we’re actually dating?”

“It wouldn’t be a fair bet if they didn’t.”

Casey pursed her lips.  “Okay, I guess that’s fair.  I’ll agree to it.”

“And—” He scratched the back of his neck for a beat before his arm fell heavily to his side.  “We’re exclusive.”

Choking on her sharp intake of breath, Casey stuttered, “Wh— Are you serious?”

His seriousness must have shown on his face as Casey’s bright baby blues hovered anxiously over his features, because he had barely begun to nod, when she uttered quietly, “Okay.”

Derek tried to smooth his features into a neutral expression as she continued to study him.  “And last—”

“Der-rek!  I only had one condition!”

Unable to resist, he shushed her quietly as he leaned closer to her ear again, his voice dropping into a deep murmur, “When you date me, you date the real Derek Venturi.  Not some made up Ivanhoe.”  The words were tumbling out faster than he could process.  “I won’t become your idea of the perfect man, Casey.  And you can’t change yourself.  I have to date Casey McDonald.  No punkette, no cheerleader, no rebel, just your klutzy keener Princess self.  It’s the real me, and it’s the real you.  The whole time.  Got it?”

She nodded weakly.

His bottom lip brushed against her ear and he rejoiced at the shiver that cascaded down Casey’s body.  Derek kept his mouth close to her, resting his forehead against her temple.  Each breath fanned enticingly across her lobe.

“Casey—” Derek breathed sensually, “Will you go out with me?”  He pressed a featherlight kiss to her earlobe.  “Please?

The air whooshed out of Casey all at once.  Her voice was hoarse as she croaked, “Yea— Yes.”

Derek’s deep chuckle vibrated between them as he gently pulled back.  Backing away from her chair, Derek shot a wink at her stunningly red face.  In one smooth swoop, his arms were through his infamous leather jacket and his bag thrown over his shoulder.

“Later, Princess.”  He breezed to the door, pausing in the doorway to wait for her eyes to catch up to his movement.  “See ya tomorrow.” His smirk blossomed to a new extreme as she gaped at him.  “6:00 good for you?”

Mutely, Casey nodded.

“Then it’s a date.  Night, keener.”  If anyone asked him, he would deny that supposed insult came out with any sort of affection attached to it.  Directing one last wink at Casey, Derek was out the door. 

Whistling to himself, Derek strolled through Casey’s deserted dorm hall, a spring in his step and a grin on his face.  It was only when the crisp night’s air smacked him across the face that Derek wondered if his heart could survive the outcome of this bet.