It was just as well. She needed the cold air to cool the fire Julian had so easily built inside her.

 * * *


 Julian was over the bachelor party scene. He’d done his duty and set up a great send-off for Murray, complete with alcohol, scantily clad women and billiards, but it wasn’t really where he wanted to spend his time. Not since his discussion with Gretchen at the rehearsal dinner.

 He’d relived that moment by her car over and over in his head since it happened. He had expected a lot of different reasons for why she shied away from him, but none of them included the fact that she’d never been with a man before. In this day and age, that sort of thing was almost unheard of.

 Admittedly, he hadn’t reacted well to the news, and he felt horrible about it. He’d told her about his two-hour treadmill penance, but that wasn’t the half of it. He’d barely slept that night thinking about how badly he handled her confession. It hadn’t been because he felt as if there were something wrong with her, or that she was strange, but because he’d felt this sudden pressure he wasn’t expecting.

 Being a woman’s first lover was a big responsibility. When he was sixteen and horny, he hadn’t thought about it that way, and he knew of at least one girl who’d had a less-than-stellar first time because of how he’d handled it. Now he was a grown man. An experienced lover. It was bad enough that he had a reputation because of his films that he was some hard-bodied Casanova. Adding the delicate handling of a woman’s first time on top of that made his chest tighten.

 Gretchen had made it sound as though she would be happy to be rid of the burden of her virginity. It would be doing her a favor, somehow. And he wanted her. There was no doubt of that. But was making love to Gretchen selfish? Was taking her virginity and then returning to LA a horrible thing to do, even if she’d asked him to? Just the thought of it made him feel sleazy.

 Speaking of sleazy, a woman in a corset and a thong was making her way over to him. She had multiple bills tucked into her G-string and a coat of glitter across her tan skin, reminding him of his own ill-fated turn as a stripper in a movie. The kind of movies he hated. The kind of films Gretchen encouraged him to branch out from.

 The burlesque dancer wrapped her feather boa around Julian’s neck to pull him closer. Putting a few obligatory dollars beneath the strap at her hip, he waved her back toward the groom. Murray was the one who deserved the attention tonight, not him.

 Julian looked down at his phone to check his messages. He didn’t want anything to be wrong at home, but it would give him an excuse to leave. Murray had been his roommate in college, so he knew all about Julian’s family and how things tended to crop up. Thankfully, all was well, but unfortunately it was only a little after ten. Was that too soon to leave? He sighed and put his phone away. Probably. The cigar roller hadn’t even finished making all the cigars yet.

 Then he caught Murray’s gaze across the room. His friend smiled and shook his head. “Go,” he mouthed silently, then turned back to the busty blonde vying for his attention.

 That was all it took. He stood and walked toward the edge of the room, trying to slowly slip out without making a big deal of it. Once he made it out the door, he climbed into his SUV, thankful that they hadn’t taken the limo bus directly from the rehearsal dinner so he had a vehicle to make his escape. Inside his car, he texted Gretchen.

 Where are you?

 As the engine warmed up, he got a response. In the ballroom hanging seventy thousand crystal pendants. Care to join me?

 He did. Putting the phone aside, he pulled out of the parking lot and headed back to From This Moment. Once again, Gretchen’s little green sedan was the only car in the lot when he arrived. Apparently everyone else had already given up for the night.

 He headed straight for the ballroom, as she’d said she’d be there, but he didn’t see her. Her handiwork was evident, though. The room had been absolutely transformed since he’d been there the day before. The tables now had an assortment of glasses and flatware at each place setting. The tall silver candelabras he’d moved the night before stood in the center of some tables. Others had slim silver vases or small silver bowls. There were candles scattered all over and tall white trees in the corners, dripping with crystals. It looked as though the only thing missing was the fresh flowers.

 “Just wait until the pin lights are on and all the candles are lit,” Gretchen said, coming in behind him with a box in her arms. “It will be magical.”

 “I bet. You’re very talented.”

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