There was a massive traffic jam on the road outside the farm. Piper ducked into the back seat of her father’s car, and her mother and brother sat on either side of her to shield her from view. As soon as she had stepped outside, she knew people were taking pictures of her. They’d been waiting for her since yesterday. All of those paparazzi would be champing at the bit to get a shot of her tearstained face as she drove away.

“Keep your head down,” her dad said as they made their way to the gates. “Matthew, make yourself as big as you can. Block that side as much as possible.”

It was all pointless. Her image didn’t matter anymore. What the world thought meant little to her at this point. The one person she wanted to love her couldn’t do it. That was all that mattered.

Piper cried into her tulle train all the way home.

CHAPTER TWENTY

“PIPER STARLING, COUNTRY music’s new runaway bride, is performing here in Chicago for two sold-out shows starting tonight at the Allstate Arena.”

The reporter had on the brightest green tie Sawyer had ever seen. “Her ex-fiancé, Sawyer Stratton, is still scheduled to open up for her. This will be the first time the two of them have been seen publicly since Starling apparently called off their wedding two weeks ago, moments before the couple was set to say ‘I do.’” The camera cut to a video of Piper and her family driving away from Helping Hooves. “There has been no formal statement from either side explaining the strange turn of events.”

Sawyer turned off the television on the bus. He’d only wanted to see if they were going to cover the story or not, and of course, they didn’t disappoint. The news had been having a field day over the quickie wedding that hadn’t been quick enough to happen.

“We have to decide if you’re going to sing ‘You Don’t Need Me’ so we can finish this set list,” Hunter said.

Sawyer had no idea what the plan was. He wasn’t in the inner circle anymore, so the information he got from the top was limited. “We’ll have to ask Heath. I vote no. But knowing that sadist, he’ll probably make us sing it.”

That song would be the absolute worst song to sing right now, but singing it meant being onstage with Piper. Getting to see her would be healing and yet torturous at the same time.

Surely Heath wouldn’t make Piper sing a breakup song after they’d actually broken up. He wouldn’t do that to her.

“Actually, I would leave it off. I doubt they’ll send her out for that.”

“Do you want me to go to the other side of Bus City to ask, or are you going to text them?” Hunter asked, though he looked a little too comfortable on the couch to be honestly offering to go talk to them for him.

“Fine, I’ll text him.” He sent Heath the question. After a few minutes with no response, he considered texting Lana. She would at least respond. Before he could, his phone beeped. There was a long text with an attachment.

You will be performing the song tonight. Piper will not. You will use the music video for Piper’s part in the duet. Attached are the specifics for setting that up. Also, meet and greets will be with Piper only from now on. Your presence is no longer required. Please do not try to engage with Piper once we are all in the building. Do not stand outside her dressing room or bother her staff to pass messages. Thank you for your cooperation.

That was probably the first time Heath had thanked Sawyer for anything. And he’d done it before Sawyer actually did what was asked.

“Looks like we need to put it on the set list. I will be performing it with recorded Piper.”

“Ouch,” Hunter said. “Sorry, man. I know you wanted to see her.”

He did and he didn’t. He wanted to see her to make sure she was all right. He didn’t want to see her because he was not.

It was very weird to go from seeing a person every day to not seeing or speaking to them at all. She couldn’t avoid him forever, though. They were still having this baby together. They were still going to share custody and coparent.

His heart ached at the thought of raising their son without Piper by his side. He’d had that vision of them living together as one big happy family, and now that wasn’t a possibility. Sawyer would get his time and Piper would have hers. He hated the idea of it and feared their son would, as well.

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