CHAPTER FOUR

SAWYER TRIED NOT to panic as he scooped Piper up. The stage was dark, but there was little chance no one had noticed her faint. Her head fell back as she lay limp in his arms.

“Piper, wake up. Please wake up,” he said as he carried her offstage. What was wrong with her? Fear mixed with the adrenaline coursing through his body was similar to what he’d felt when he found his father on the floor after his heart attack. “Piper, you need to wake up.”

Hunter, drumsticks still in hand, was the first to join him. “I can’t believe you made her pass out with one kiss.”

“I didn’t kiss her.”

A bearded stage manager was waiting in the wings to help. He cleared a space for Sawyer to lay her down.

Sawyer put his face close to hers. He could feel her breath on his cheek, thank God. She felt warm to him, though, and her skin was covered in a light sheen of sweat.

“Come on, Piper. Wake up. Please, Piper.”

“What happened out there?” Heath came barreling through the small crowd that had gathered.

“She passed out,” Sawyer explained, although he knew that wasn’t what Heath was curious about.

“Why were you in her personal space?” her father demanded. “What did you do to her?”

“I didn’t do anything to her.”

Piper’s eyes fluttered open, her gaze landing on Sawyer first, then her father, then her surroundings. It was clear the moment she became aware she was lying on the ground instead of standing onstage. Her cheeks turned as red as the barn back at the Strattons’ horse farm.

“What happened?” she asked as she tried to sit up. Both Sawyer and Heath reached out to help.

“You’ve done enough!” Heath’s harsh tone was enough to get Sawyer to back off. “Can we keep the press away? I don’t want any pictures of her like this.”

Sawyer rolled his eyes. The only thing that man seemed to care about was Piper’s public image. God forbid she get sick or have a human moment in her life.

“Piper, are you okay?” Dean appeared over Heath’s shoulder.

Sawyer wanted to shake Dean for coming up with the terrible idea of surprising her with what was supposed to look like a kiss. It had been nothing but a stupid publicity stunt. Why had he done it?

He’d done it because Dean had told him this was what the public wanted. Sawyer had to give people what they wanted if he was going to make it in this business.

It had also felt like the most natural thing in the world. Because when he’d listened to her sing, he had heard the pain in her words and wanted to take it away. Because when he’d looked at her, he had seen how vulnerable she allowed herself to be in front of not only everyone in the crowd and watching on television, but in front of him.

Sawyer got to his feet and took a couple steps back. Those were dangerous feelings. Piper had a way of drawing those out.

“I’m fine,” she said, rubbing her forehead. “I don’t know what happened.”

“Let’s get her to her dressing room.” Heath helped Piper to her feet, but she cried out when she tried to put weight on her bad foot.

Instinctively, Sawyer reached for her again. She steadied herself on one foot with his help. Their eyes met, and she bit down on her bottom lip. The desire to kiss her was immediately overwhelming. Sawyer picked her up instead and carried her to her dressing room.

Piper’s arms stayed wrapped around his neck even after he set her back on her good foot. She wasn’t helping him repress those feelings he was trying to avoid.

“You should sit,” he suggested.

Her blue eyes stayed locked on his. “Why did you do that?” she asked.

“Because he’s an idiot,” Heath said, swooping in. He led her to the chaise lounge in the corner of the room. “Come lie down over here.”

Piper’s entourage, as well as several CAA employees, began to fill the room. Sawyer quickly became claustrophobic. He slipped out and found his sister and Hunter waiting outside.

“I can’t believe you made Piper Starling pass out,” Hunter teased. “Just the thought of having to kiss you knocked her out.”

Sawyer shot him a look. “This isn’t funny. She’s hurt and obviously something is wrong.”

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