“And that’s all good, right?” He approached her like she was an injured animal that might attack if he moved too quickly. “We don’t want to call this wedding off and let Gretchen think she’s won.”

And there it was. He’d shattered all her hopes in one fatal swoop. “That’s your biggest concern right now?” She couldn’t stop her voice from rising. “This is all some kind of game you need to win?”

Sawyer’s eyes went wide. “No. That’s not what I meant. I don’t know why I said that.”

She stood up, wishing she could throw something at him. “Don’t start lying to me now, Sawyer.” She paced in front of the bed. “You were completely against the idea of even setting a date for a wedding when we left LA. But your mom showed up telling you not to get married and, boom, here we are today,” she said. “Admit you’re trying to prove her wrong.”

Sawyer heaved a sigh. “How many times do I have to say that I don’t care what Gretchen thinks? She has nothing to do with this at all.”

“At all?” Piper questioned. “It seems like she has everything to do with everything!” Did he seriously have no idea how much that hurt her? “Do you really think I’m going to buy that? You already admitted that you’re afraid to give yourself over to me completely because of what she did to your dad. You built this wall around your heart—those are your sister’s words, not mine—because she abandoned you. You asked me to marry you on the day she came waltzing back into your life.”

“Because she gave me the push I needed.”

Piper wanted to pull her hair out. Why could everyone see this but him? “No, Sawyer. Because you are so afraid that you might be just like her—unable to love someone who loves you.”

She could see the sick realization come over him. When he examined his true motivations, he couldn’t possibly deny how his immature need to stick it to Gretchen had been pushing him along. “Maybe I’ve been acting like a child when it comes to my mother. I guess she brings out the worst in me. Maybe my anger has been steering my course more than it should.”

Sawyer held his head in his hands. As much as it pained her, there was only one way this day could end.

“I love you,” she said. “I think you have an amazing spirit and a huge heart. You live life to its fullest every day, and you make beautiful music while doing it.” Piper choked back the tears. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you. But I love you too much to ask you to pledge yourself to me before you’re ready to do so. I also can’t handle how much it will hurt to be married to someone who doesn’t love me back. I deserve better. I can’t marry you, Sawyer. I’m sorry.”

She backed out of the room as his shoulders shook and the sound of soft sobbing began. Piper held it together until she saw her mom.

“What happened, baby?” Claudia asked as she held her in her arms. Piper couldn’t answer—her own weeping made it impossible to speak.

Faith went into the bedroom and shut the door. At least Sawyer had his sister to help him through this.

“What can I do?” Piper could hear the helplessness in her mom’s voice.

She did her best to pull herself together. “I need you to go get Dad and Matthew. I want to go home.”

Her mom winced but gave Piper a kiss on the forehead. “I’ll go get them. Don’t you worry about a thing, okay?”

Piper gathered up her train and headed for the stairs.

“Let me help you,” Trina said, picking up some of the tulle.

Piper stared at the beading on the hem of the train as she cradled it in her arms. It had been such a thoughtful gift. She felt guilty that it would go to waste.

Her parents were outside. She watched from the door as her mother told her father what had happened. Not that she knew exactly, but she could guess. Heath didn’t look as relieved as she’d thought he would upon hearing the news that she’d called off the wedding.

She watched as her mother went to fetch Matty and her dad made his way up the porch steps. He opened the door and she fell into his arms.

“Let’s get you home, sweetheart.”

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