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"I tell her 'You saved me',"  Daniel Frye says of his fiancee. "I went from sleeping in cars to great success. I have a really good job now and she’s the reason.”

By Michelle Boudin
Updated January 20, 2017 03:46 PM
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Daniel Frye wanted everything to be perfect when he got down on one knee and finally proposed to his girlfriend.

He’d spent months working to be able to afford the $5,000 ring Lauren Williams, 25, had handpicked, and two weeks ago surprised her with a trip to one of her favorite places, the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

“I had it all planned,” he tells PEOPLE. “Her parents were even supposed to drive up and meet us and jump out and surprise her right after I proposed.”

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Lauren Williams and Daniel Frey
| Credit: Tracy Smith

The couple, who live in Rock Hill, South Carolina, met two years ago at a restaurant and both say it was love at first sight. They’ve been together almost every day since.

Daniel, a former marine who served two tours in Afghanistan, says he’d been going through a rough time battling PTSD and Lauren, a waitress who is getting her real estate license, helped him turn things around.

“I tell her you saved me,” he says. “I don’t think she really believed me thought until Thanksgiving when I introduced her to my family and they told her. I went from sleeping in cars to great success. I have a really good job now and she’s the reason.”

That’s why he was so intent on making the perfect proposal.

But moments before he was going to pop the question, Daniel realized the ring was gone.

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The ring
| Credit: Courtesy Daniel Frye and Lauren Williams

“I looked over and saw complete panic on his face,” Lauren remembers. “I saw him reaching in every pocket and it just clicked. I knew right then he’d been planning on asking me and that the ring was gone. I just knew.”

Daniel says: “I felt terrible. I just felt terrible.”

The 29- year-old, who now works as a welder, says the last time he knew he had the ring was on the bus that takes you from visitor parking up to the entrance of the estate when he was showing it to the other couple that had come with them.

“We searched, we looked all over the estate and filed a police report,” Lauren tells PEOPLE. “I’ve never seen him cry until that day.”

They left the next day devastated and after almost two weeks with no word on a ring turning up, they told their story to several local news stations.

The story was shared on Facebook and a widow in Athens, Georgia realized she had the couple’s ring.

“I had been getting on the bus and my arms were full of bags and a man thought I’d dropped something and threw it in my bag,” she tells PEOPLE. “At the time I didn’t look to see what it was. Then I was going through my bags and saw the ring box.”

She didn’t know what to do until her son sent her the post. She immediately got on Facebook, tracked Lauren down and sent her a message. She doesn’t want her name out there, doesn’t want any sort of reward.

“I was just happy to make sure the rightful owner got it,” she says.

Daniel immediately got in the car Thursday night and spent six hours in the car to get the ring back.

“He must have hugged me ten times,” the Georgia woman says.

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Daniel Frye and Lauren Williams
| Credit: Tracy Smith

When he got home, he finally got on one knee in the couple’s living room and put the ring on Lauren’s finger.

“It was the best..better than what I expected because I had put so much into it and there was so much worry and effort,” he says of that moment. “It was all worth it to see that glow on her face. I’ve never bought anything that expensive before but that’s the one she wanted so that’s the one I got her.”

His future bride couldn’t be happier.

“So much blood sweat and tears went into that ring,” Lauren says. “It’s a full blown miracle that we got it back. What are the chances? What are the odds?”