Everyone whooped and hollered for her, and Becca found herself staring at them all, cheeks hot as she gave a little wave.

Sam nodded to the pyrotechnic guys waiting for their cue. “We hope you enjoy the show—”

“Sam!” Becca whispered.

Sam held up a finger to the crowd, grinned at them again, effectively paralyzed them with the gorgeousness of his good humor, and then stepped close to Becca, as if they were alone instead of with every single person in town.

“What are you doing?” she hissed.

“Getting ready to start the fireworks display.”

“Why are all my kids sitting in those chairs holding their instruments?” she asked, already knowing the answer as the blood began to roar in her ears.

“You can do this,” he said again, so damn sure. Of course he was sure; it wasn’t his ass on the line here.

“What do you mean? Why do you keep talking in some language that I don’t understand! I can’t—” She broke off and put a hand to her chest, which was pounding, pounding, pounding. “Oh, my God. I’m going to have a stroke; I’m not kidding. I can’t do this. Sam, you know that I can’t play in front of strangers.”

He ran his hands up and down her arms. “They’re not strangers, babe. They’re your friends.”

She looked out at the crowd. She saw Cole and Tanner. Mark. Jack, and Ben. Jax. Lucille. Amelia. Lance. Mark. Olivia . . .

Sam was right. These were her friends. They cared about her. And she cared about them. “But. . .” She swallowed. The lump in her throat—the one the size of a regulation football—didn’t go anywhere. “We haven’t practiced anything for this.”

“Yes we have, Ms. Teacher!” Pink called out, bouncing in her seat so hard her little-girl legs swung with each word. “We’ve been practicing for weeks, remember?”

“‘God Bless America,’” Becca whispered.

Sam nodded. “‘God Bless America.’” He nudged her to her keyboard.

“You sneaked into my apartment for the keyboard?” she asked.

“Nope,” he said. “I used a key.”

“You don’t have a key.”

He smiled.

He had a key. He had a key to everything, including her heart. Damn it. “Sam—”

“Just try it, Becca, I promise you’ll do great. And afterward, I’ve got ranch-flavored popcorn waiting.”

She paused. “You bought me more ranch-flavored popcorn?”

“A brand-new tin,” he promised, and then lowered his voice. “And more condoms. None of them blue.” He gave her another nudge, gestured to the pyrotechnic guys, and a hush came over the crowd. “We welcome our own Lucky Harbor band,” he called out. “Give them a hand as we start the show!”

The crowd hooted and hollered, and Becca gave one last panicked look in Sam’s direction.

Tanner was standing with him now, beaming. “I can’t believe you bribe your woman with popcorn,” he said to Sam.

“And sex,” Sam said, his voice low and serious. “Don’t forget the sex.”

Becca stifled a half-hysterical laugh and turned to her kids. They were all grinning widely, excited, and she could only hope to God they actually remembered the song this time. “One, two, three,” she prompted, and waited for them to jump in.

Silence. As if suddenly overcome by shyness as one, the kids had gone suddenly still as stone, staring out at the audience like a pack of deer caught in the headlights.

“One, two, three,” she repeated.


Oh, God.

The crowded shifted but remained quiet. These people were mothers, fathers, friends . . . they wanted these kids to achieve their dreams. Which meant that there was no sense of impatience or irritation that the ticket price was too high for the value of the show or that she was disappointing anyone. Lucky Harbor wanted this, them, her, to succeed. Becca drew a breath and spoke softly. “Hey,” she called to her precious class. “Guys, look at me.”

The anxious faces turned her way. God. God, she knew just how they felt. The panic was clawing its way up from her own gut to her throat, choking her until it was all but impossible to breathe. But they were looking at her, eyes wide. Counting on her. She walked to the keyboard.

You can do this, Sam had told her. And Sam was always right. She ran her gaze over the kids, taking in each and every one of them, and smiled. “Just me,” she said softly, for their ears only. “Just me and a few friends and family. That’s all. Everyone knows this song. If we start, they’ll join us, okay?”

Like bobbleheads, the kids nodded in unison.

And she smiled at them again, feeling her heart warm and fill with love and pride. “One, two, three,” she prompted, and this time she began to play first, an intro, not taking her gaze off the kids.

Just her and the kids . . .

As she played, she settled. Her heart still threatened to burst out of her chest, but the fear receded a little bit, replaced by a familiar tingle that was so old she hardly recognized it.


She ran the intro again and held her breath, but the kids joined in this time—though not exactly smoothly. Several of them were half a beat behind, and Pink and Kendra were at least half a beat ahead.

Just like in real life.

The fireworks began as they entered the chorus. The town indeed joined in, and by the end of “God Bless America,” everyone was in sync, and Becca could hardly keep in time herself because the lump in her throat was back.