“I love to travel,” Julian said, scooting aside his half-eaten salad and leaning closer to her. “Where are you wanting to go?”
“Italy,” she said with a wistful sigh. “It’s been my dream since high school when we studied the Renaissance. I want to go and just suck up all the beauty there. The paintings, the architecture, the food and the people. I want to experience it all, and this money will make that possible.”
Julian nodded as he listened to her speak. “Italy is beautiful. You’ll love it.”
“Have you been?”
“Once. We filmed for a few weeks in Tuscany and I got to visit Florence. It’s an amazing place. I’ve always wanted to go back, but I haven’t had the time.”
Gretchen understood that. “I know how you feel. Even with the money, taking the time away from From This Moment is hard to do. It’s been my life since we started the place.”
“Well,” he said, “I think you need to make the time. If you’ve got the money, do it. There’s never going to be a perfect time, and before you know it, life will dwindle away your savings and you’ll miss your chance.”
“I don’t think I—”
“I dare you to go next spring,” Julian said with a conspiratorial smile. “Maybe late April or early May. It will be perfect. Good weather and not too crowded yet.”
Gretchen nearly choked. “You dare me?”
“I do,” he said, his blue eyes focused intently on her in a way that made her spine soften and her chest tighten. “You don’t seem like the kind of woman that would back down from a dare.”
She eyed him with a twist of her lips. She hadn’t played many games of truth or dare in her time, but she was certain that two could play at this game. “Very well, I accept. But I have a dare for you as well.”
“Oh, you do now?” He sat back in his seat and crossed his arms over his chest as though he couldn’t be intimidated by her challenge. “I can’t wait to hear what it is. Back in college, I always opted for the dare over the truth. I haven’t turned one down, ever.”
That might be true, but he hadn’t gone up against Gretchen before. “Okay, Mr. Confident. I dare you to go back to the counter, buy that berry tart you want so badly and eat every bite of it. Live on the wild side for just today, Julian. Who knows, one day it’s berry tarts, the next day it’s a film premiering at Sundance.”
Julian watched her face for a moment. She knew that he was fighting with himself, but a dare was a dare, right?
She decided maybe she should throw him a bone. She of all people knew what it was like to try to diet and have family and friends unintentionally sabotage her plans. “I’ll share it with you, if you want.”
At that, his expression brightened. “Done.” He got up and left her alone at the table for a few minutes to secure their pastry prize.
Alone, she sat back in her chair and took the first deep breath for nearly half an hour. Julian was so intense, she sometimes found it hard to breathe when he was around. But she liked it. She liked being with him. She’d never expected that to be the case. They were so different, or so she thought.
Beneath it all, she realized they had more in common than she expected. The more time they spent together, the more easily she was able to see the man behind the actor.
As nice as that was, they were dangerous, pointless thoughts. They’d just discussed what she was going to do with the money he was paying her to be around him. Once the wedding was over, so was their time together. It might feel as if they had a connection, but he was an actor. Gretchen couldn’t let herself forget that. In a few days, he would return to LA and forget she ever existed.
It was just her luck that the first guy she’d really felt comfortable with in years turned out to be a Hollywood actor who would disappear and want nothing more to do with her.
At this rate, she was never going to get laid.
* * *
Julian nearly groaned as he took the last bite of the berry tart. It was the best thing he’d tasted in...a year, maybe? Most days of his life, he didn’t control what he ate. His trainers and personal chefs took care of that for him and kept the temptations far away. Bridgette was even more strict with her eating, so it was easier to get through the day knowing he wouldn’t be exposed to the things he really wanted. Out of sight, out of mind.
Gretchen wasn’t hung up on all that. She indulged when she wanted to indulge, and the satisfied smile on her face was evidence of that. So what if it cost her a few extra pounds? Her soft, womanly figure with a sincere smile was far better than rail-thin Bridgette and her pinched, anxious look. She never smiled with contentment. She was always looking for something more in life.