Sawyer crouched in front of her. He took her hand. “I’ve been a fool. I told myself that all these things I felt weren’t love—until I thought something had happened to you. That’s when I realized there was nothing else it could be. All my stupid defenses fell away and this feeling burst out.”

“Love?”

“Without a doubt love.”

* * *

PIPER DIDN’T SEE an ounce of uncertainty in Sawyer’s eyes. They were the clearest they’d ever been. There was no confusion, no fear. And she was looking.

“I also have to apologize to you for putting my anger ahead of your feelings,” he said. “I promise you that I am going to make things right between me and my mom. I know now that I have to work these feelings out if I want to move forward with you.”

She put her hands on his cheeks and bent down to kiss those lips one more time. His honesty made her heart feel like it was about to bust at the seams. “I forgive you.”

“I love you, Piper. I want to be a family. Will you be part of my family?”

“I still love you, but I’m not marrying you unless I have enough time to plan my dream wedding.” This time, nothing would be rushed. Both of them would savor every moment.

One side of Sawyer’s mouth curled up. “You can have as much time as you need,” he said. “When we get married, I want everything about it to be right.”

* * *

MAKING THINGS RIGHT for Piper meant making things right back in Grass Lake. Sawyer needed to resolve his issues with Gretchen before he brought Piper into the mix.

He accompanied Hunter home in between the shows in Minneapolis and Detroit. Faith was riding Sassy in the front paddock. She waved at her brother as he parked the car.

“How’s Hunter doing? Did he survive the flight okay?”

“He’s fine, but he was hogging the armrest the whole way home with his cast.”

“Your sympathy for his pain is admirable,” Faith said with a laugh. “I might have baked some of your favorite cookies, so you’d be in a better mood when Mom comes over.”

Cookies would help his growling belly. It was unlikely they would help him feel less anxious about talking to Gretchen. If he was going to be completely free of fear and distrust, he had to confront the woman who had put those two things in his heart.

“I’m going to take Sassy to the tack room and clean her up. I’ll meet you inside in a few?” Faith asked as she dismounted.

“How about I take Sassy? Maybe doing a little manual labor will help me clear my head.”

Sawyer loosened the girth strap and took the lead rope from his sister. “Come on, girl. You remember me?” Sassy nudged him with her nose. “Of course you do.”

He removed the saddle and pad and gave Sassy a good brushing. After checking her hooves, he led her back out to the pasture to graze.

Harriet’s car was parked up by the house. Sawyer’s heart rate was already elevated from grooming the horse. Confronting Gretchen increased it a few more beats per minute.

If he was going to be the best husband and father he could be to Piper and the baby, he needed to put his anger with his mother to rest once and for all.

The three women sat at the kitchen table with a plate of cookies in front of them. No one was eating, however. He knew those cookies weren’t capable of ridding anyone of this kind of anxiety.

“Hey, sugarplum,” Harriet said. “How was your flight?”

He went to the sink to wash his hands. He could feel Gretchen’s eyes on him. “It was fine.”

“How is the tour going after everything? Is the press being kind?” Harriet was the only one of them brave enough to make conversation.

“The media loves to twist everything, but we’re good. We’re great, actually. I think calling off the wedding was exactly what we needed to get on the right path. Piper and I are actually happier now than we’ve ever been.”

“I knew you’d be happier when you were free,” Gretchen said.

“Piper and I are happy together. She loves me and I love her. Someday, we’ll get married and our son will have a bunch of brothers and sisters.”

“Oh, sweet pea!” Harriet said. “I don’t know how you got here, but I am glad you’re happy. If you’re happy, I’m happy.”

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