“It didn’t look like acting to me,” Murray said. “You two really look like you’ve got some chemistry between you. Real chemistry. I’m surprised. She didn’t strike me as your type, but stranger things have happened. I, for one, never thought I’d end up with my opening act.”
Julian listened to his friend and thoughtfully sipped his drink. He was right. There was something building between them. He didn’t know what it was—novelty perhaps. Gretchen was nothing like any of the women he’d ever dated before, and it wasn’t just physical differences.
For one thing, she wasn’t a vain peacock of a woman. Julian spent his fair share of time in the hair and makeup trailer during films and for official appearances, but it was always a fraction of the time his female costars put in. He got the feeling that Gretchen’s day at the spa was a rarity for her. She took care of herself, but her whole self-worth was not wrapped up in her appearance. She was a skilled artist, a savvy businesswoman, and that was more important to her than clothing designers and a close, personal relationship with her colorist.
She also didn’t seem that impressed by him. Gretchen was nervous, to be sure, but he got the feeling she was that way around most men. She was aware of his celebrity status, but he couldn’t tell if it just didn’t impress her, or she didn’t care for his body of work. He’d been greeted by plenty of screaming, crying women on the verge of passing out when he touched them. If Gretchen passed out at his touch, it was probably because she’d tensed up and locked her knees.
It had been a long time since he’d been around a woman who didn’t care about his money or what he could do for her. She didn’t secretly want to act. He wasn’t aware of her carrying around a screenplay in her purse for him to read and pass on to a producer. Gretchen was real. She was the first authentic woman he’d spent time with in a really long while. He’d been in California so long, he’d forgotten what it was like to be with a woman instead of a character.
He turned and glanced through the wall of French doors into the house. He spied Gretchen and Kelly standing by the buffet chatting with another woman. Gretchen was smiling awkwardly, carrying on the conversation as best she could. He knew the exact moment the discussion shifted to her work, because she lit up like the sun. She might not think she was a beautiful woman, but he’d never seen anyone more radiant in that moment.
Gretchen was slowly drawing him in. He never intended to let himself get that close to his fake date, but he couldn’t help it. He fought the urge to text his brother and tell him about her. James always loved it when his aide would relay stories about Julian’s escapades, and he thought his brother would take to Gretchen. She was a talented artist with a quick wit and coy smile. She seemed to enjoy the pleasures in life, drinking her margarita and nibbling on goodies without remorse. She knew who she was, and she lived the life she wanted to.
It was an attractive quality that made him both extremely jealous of her and desperate to have her all at once.
Gretchen crept quietly into the office Thursday morning. She didn’t have any wedding-related activities with Julian today, so she wanted to get some things set up for the weekend. Despite the assurances from her coworkers that she didn’t have much to do the day of the event, there was plenty that needed to be organized beforehand. And the more she could get done without her coworkers knowing she was there, the better. She wasn’t ready for the inquisition.
“Look at you,” a woman’s voice called down the hallway just before Gretchen reached her office. “Creeping around in the hopes we wouldn’t see you. Your hair might be different, but we can still recognize you, you know.”
Turning around, Gretchen saw Bree standing outside her office. There was a knowing smirk on her face, and her arms were crossed over her chest.
“Morning, Bree,” Gretchen tried to say brightly.
“Don’t ‘morning’ me. You go ahead and get settled, but you’d better know we want to hear all about it.”
With a sigh, Gretchen nodded and continued into her office. She hoped it would be quick. They did have a huge, expensive wedding this weekend. Amelia, especially, didn’t have time to waste with all those people to feed.
Setting down her things, Gretchen didn’t even bother getting on her computer. Instead, she went to the door that led to her storage area. She scanned the various box labels on the shelves, finally identifying the box with the Murray wedding paper goods.