“So, Sawyer and I talked last night. We are both completely on board with touring together.”
“That’s great,” Dean said. “I think it’s a really solid business decision. You two are meeting with the tour promoters today?”
“This afternoon. Are you sure about this? We talked about a lot of other options,” her father reminded her.
“There’s a reason why I think it’s a better idea to take Sawyer on tour,” Piper replied.
Faith folded her hands in front of her. Her engagement ring caught the light and sparkled. Piper wished it was Faith and Dean making this announcement rather than her.
Everyone stared, waiting for Piper to go on. Surely they could all hear her heart thundering inside her chest.
“Do you plan to share?” Heath asked.
“When Sawyer and I were writing the songs for my album, we…thought we were in love. And foolishly, we acted on those feelings and—” Her voice cracked as her eyes darted from person to person. She didn’t want to make eye contact with any one of them for too long.
“Piper is pregnant,” Sawyer said. “We found out yesterday. We weren’t sure how everyone would take the news, so we waited until this morning to tell everyone. Especially you, Mr. Starling.”
Piper’s father dropped his fork with a clang. “You have to be kidding me. Tell me he’s kidding, Piper.”
“I’m sorry, Daddy. I know this isn’t what you want to hear right now, but I swear to you, I will do whatever it takes to make this okay.”
Her stomach clenched as she waited for him to say something, anything to give her a clue as to what he was thinking.
“I suspected something was going on when I had to leave to help your mother with Matthew,” he finally said. “I trusted you to not to do anything stupid, but I guess that trust was misplaced.”
Piper squeezed Sawyer’s hand as her shoulders stiffened.
“I don’t think falling in love with my brother is stupid,” Faith said, jumping to her brother’s defense.
“Love?” Heath scoffed. “They were not and are not in love. They barely know one another.”
“Okay, everybody needs to take a breath,” Dean said. “Piper’s pregnant. It’s not the end of the world.”
“Not the end of the world?” Heath’s voice shook. “She has a reputation to uphold. She’s about to start a yearlong tour across the US. This is a public relations nightmare.”
“You’ve been drooling over all the positive press about me and Sawyer today even after I fainted on national television. Last night should have been a complete public relations nightmare, but we have everyone rooting for us to be together instead. Maybe there’s a way to salvage this,” Piper said.
Her father covered his eyes with one hand. His chest rose and fell with frustrated breaths. He dropped his hand, and his glare zeroed in on Sawyer. “There’s only one way to salvage this. You will marry my daughter.”
* * *
MARRY PIPER? SAWYER felt nauseous. The only Stratton getting married anytime soon was Faith. He glanced at Piper and those baby blue eyes. She had this sweetness about her that sucked him in. Maybe he had believed for half of a second that Piper could be the person he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, but she’d quickly proved she was not. She wasn’t as innocent as she looked. She was as conniving as her father.
“I won’t make Piper do any of this alone because this baby is my responsibility, too, but I can’t get married. To me, people should only get married when they plan to stay married.”
“I don’t really care what your feelings on marriage are. You will make an honest woman out of my daughter before the press finds out.”
Dean interrupted, “Heath, you can’t force him to get married. Let’s be reasonable about this.”
“I am being reasonable! Aren’t you the one who wanted to force my daughter to pretend she was in love with this boy? How is my request any less reasonable?”
Dean had no comeback.
Piper spoke up instead. “I know you’re not in love with me,” she told Sawyer, letting go of his hand. “I know you don’t want to spend the rest of your life with me, but we are having a baby. We are going to be parents. My image can survive a divorce from the father of my child. I’m not sure it could withstand the beating it will take if the truth comes out.”