“It’s not your biceps,” Gretchen corrected. “It’s the abs.”

One of Julian’s dark eyebrows went up. “Well, thank you for noticing.”

Gretchen blushed. “I didn’t. I was really just saying that I...” Her voice drifted off as she ran out of argument.

“It’s okay, Gretchen. You’re allowed to admire the abs. It would be hypocritical of me to use my body to make money, then criticize someone for noticing it. Maybe someday I’ll be known for something else.”

“Have you considered doing different kinds of films now? I mean, how many big action flicks can you make in a year? You’d think you’d have time to do something new every now and then.”

Julian sighed. “I’d love to. I’ve actually got a script in my hotel room for something I’m really excited about. It’s totally different for me. A real, meaty role. The kind that might earn critical acclaim for my acting.”

Gretchen noticed Julian perk up in his seat as he talked about the plot of the script. He was eyeing the role of an alcoholic who loses everything and returns home to face the family he’d left behind. It sounded like an amazing role, the kind that could change the whole trajectory of his career. “Why don’t you do it?”

“My manager doesn’t think it’s a good idea. And he’s right. The more I think about it, the more I know it isn’t the right time.”

“Why? What could it hurt to try it?”

Julian got a distant look in his eyes as he turned to glance out toward the front of the café. “It could hurt everything. I’m blessed to have what I do now. I have enough money coming in to care for my family, live an amazing life and never worry about how I’m going to pay for something. But this industry is fickle, and you can lose it all in an instant.”

“How could you possibly do such a terrible job that you could sink your entire career?”

“It’s been a while since I’ve stretched my serious acting muscles, Gretchen. I may not have even been any good at it to begin with. I landed my first movie role for my body, and little has changed. What if I...” His voice trailed off. “What if I tried to do a serious movie and I’m no good? What if I get panned left, right and center, ripped apart by critics for thinking I could do anything more than shoot a gun or fly a helicopter?”

“At least you will have tried. Pardon me for saying so, but these action movies don’t really seem to fulfill you. As a creative person, I understand how that can be. If you’re compromising and not doing what you love, eventually you’ll lose your joy for the work.”

“You enjoy your work, don’t you? I can tell by the way your whole demeanor changes when you talk about it.”

Gretchen hadn’t noticed that before, and she was surprised Julian had paid that much attention. “I’m not sure about how it changes me, but I do love my job. I’m not necessarily a traditional artist that paints or sculpts, but I get to do so many different and creative things. I never get bored. And I get to work with my best friends, so that makes every day fun.”

“I have to admit I’m jealous.”

Gretchen looked up at him, her eyes wide in surprise. “You’re jealous of me? Really?”

He nodded. “Absolutely. You’re living the life you want. You’re doing the job you enjoy. You seem to be living so authentically, doing what makes you happy.”

“Well, I’m also not a millionaire. There’s probably a trade-off in there somewhere.”

“Money isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s necessary, and I’m thankful to have enough to do what I need to do, but the thought of losing it can become what holds you back. I mean, look at me. I’m in a delightful-smelling café, near drooling over some berry tart in the case that I won’t let myself have. I don’t eat what I want, I don’t do what I want, I don’t act in the films I’d like to...all because of the money.”

Gretchen shook her head. “Only someone with money could ever consider it a burden.”

Julian watched her curiously for a moment. “May I ask why you agreed to participate in this charade with me?”

She had to laugh at his query. She was surprised it had taken him this long to ask. “That’s a good question. For the first few days, I was asking myself the same thing. Part of it was being in the right place at the wrong time, but in the end, I’m ashamed to admit it came down to the money. It was a few days out of my life and when it was over, I’d have the opportunity to take the trip I’ve always dreamed of taking. Without it, who knows when, if ever, I’d get another chance.”

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