Piper wiped her mouth. “I’ll be out in a second.” How she wished she hadn’t eaten dinner. She’d heard of morning sickness, but it was after seven o’clock in the evening. Why was she throwing up now?
“They’re ready for you onstage. This thing is a well-oiled machine. They can’t get backed up.”
Piper washed her hands and checked her reflection in the mirror. She looked tired. Even with all the makeup magic her stylist had used to make her red-carpet ready tonight, she could see the exhaustion written all over her face.
No rest for the weary. Piper pulled open the door. “Let’s go.”
The anxious-looking stagehand behind Lana radioed to someone that they were on the move. All Piper had to do was sing “You Don’t Need Me” one more time and then she could tell Sawyer about the baby. Once he knew the truth, maybe he would know what they were supposed to do.
Someone handed her an earpiece and a microphone as they approached the stage. Sawyer’s hair was like spun gold under the glow of the stage lights. With a guitar strapped across his chest, he wore jeans and an oatmeal-colored henley, while she was tortured in a dress covered in red sequins. He had the shoulders of a man who had lifted hay bales his whole life. He was so strong and sturdy.
He reached for her hand when they were directed to head out during the commercial break. Like a stupid moth drawn to the flame that had no goal but to zap the life out of it, she took his hand and let him lead the way.
“I’m so nervous,” he admitted. “Tell me everything’s going to be all right.”
Sawyer was usually so full of naive confidence. It always seemed like he had no idea whom he could disappoint. In front of this crowd, however, he was obviously humbled.
“Almost everyone out there has been on this stage and knows it’s not easy. They’re more forgiving than you’d expect. But we’re going to be better than all right, so no worries,” she assured him. At least she knew they would survive this performance. Afterward, things didn’t look as promising.
“How’s your sprain?”
She’d almost forgotten about her ankle. Had it not been for twisting it earlier today, she might not have figured out she was pregnant until much later. She wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing.
They had offered to let her sit on a stool for the performance, but she had refused. She would tough it out because she needed to knock this out of the park if she was going to have any hope saving her career from complete ruin.
The lights went down and the orchestra under the stage began to play. Commercial over. Piper felt her own set of butterflies, only they weren’t flying—they were swimming some rough seas in her stomach. Closing her eyes, she prayed she wouldn’t throw up onstage—on television—in front of millions of people.
One song. One last time pouring out her heart to a man who was about to find out their time together had major consequences. This song had brought them into each other’s lives and yet was all about saying goodbye.
“I’m thrilled to present Piper Starling and Sawyer Stratton!” country icon Sara Gilmore exclaimed as the lights came up and the music started to play.
Sawyer strummed his guitar and let what he did best guide him out of the fear. Piper reminded herself that the stage was home. Nothing could hurt her here. This was where she shone bright.
Piper sang the song, holding nothing back. She let her real emotions fuel the performance. The song was about fear—the fear of letting go. Piper was very much afraid, but this time of having to hold on.
As the song neared the end, their gazes locked. He sang about goodbye, and sadness tightened her throat. He stepped closer. Piper froze. At rehearsal, they had decided he would begin to back away as the music faded and the lights dimmed. He was clearly changing the plan here.
Piper’s heart pounded as he stood in front of her. Sawyer pushed the guitar behind his back so there was nothing between them. He reached up and cradled her cheek in his hand. The blood thumped in her ears. She had no idea what he was doing. As the lights began to dim, he leaned forward, his lips inches from hers.
The crowd gasped and then exploded into thunderous applause. Piper blinked and everything went black.