“Really?”

 “Stupid, right? I was convinced that I would go out there and get acting work and be able to support my family. I could’ve just as easily landed a long-term role as a waiter who couldn’t afford his own rent. But I met Ross. He saw potential in me. He might be a jerk sometimes, but he got me into some commercials, then small roles in movies. The next thing I knew, my parts were getting larger, and then I was offered a lead role. I wasn’t an overnight success, but it only took a few years before I started making seven figures on a film. I wasn’t thrilled with the parts, but they allowed me to move James to a private residential facility that specializes in patients with cerebral palsy. I was able to buy private health insurance for all of us and send my mom money to live on. I’d achieved my goal.”


 “That’s why,” Gretchen said with an enlightened tone.

 “Why what?”

 “Why you don’t want to take those other roles. You said you worried about screwing up and damaging your career. It has nothing to do with your ego and everything to do with supporting your family.”

 Julian sighed. “Yes. They depend on me. I can’t, won’t, do anything to risk my career. Or to risk anyone finding out about James and turning him into a tabloid headline.” As he said the words, he realized just by telling Gretchen this story, he’d compromised his brother. She might not mean to tell, but things could happen. If Ross knew, he’d insist on a confidentiality agreement. Not exactly his usual pillow talk, but he supposed everything was different with Gretchen.

 “I know I made you promise not to tell anyone, but to tie up loose ends and ensure my brother’s protection, I’ll probably need to have Ross draft up a confidentiality agreement in the morning. I know he’ll insist on it. I’ll also see to it that he adds another five thousand to your payment to compensate for your cooperation. It’s not your fault I dumped this on you.”

 He felt Gretchen stiffen beneath his fingertips, and then she raised her head to look at him. “Are you serious?”

 Julian frowned. “This is the way my life works. Contracts and compensation, even in my personal life.”

 She just watched him for a moment, but her body remained stiff as a board. Finally, she said, “I’ll sign your stupid agreement, Julian.” The tone of her voice was sharp. He could tell he’d offended her. “But I’m not taking any more of your money.”

                       Eight

 Any second now, someone was going to wake Gretchen up. She sat in front of her vanity applying her makeup the way the woman at the department store had told her to. Draped across the bed behind her was the gown she was wearing to the wedding as Julian’s date. That was surreal enough on its own. Knowing she’d slept with him the night before was completely in the dream realm.

 She’d waited years for that moment, never once anticipating that she would end up in the arms of one of the sexiest men alive. Gretchen still couldn’t quite understand why he wanted her. It annoyed him when she mentioned it, so she’d stopped. But even if she’d had a healthy sense of self-esteem going into this scenario, it would be unbelievable.

 The only thing about the past few days that convinced Gretchen that all of this was real was their awkward discussion after his call about James. She had been high on the excitement of having sex for the first time and thrilled that Julian was willing to share something that personal with her. Then he started talking about confidentiality contracts and worse—paying her to keep quiet about it.

 The longer they were together, the easier it was for her to forget that none of this was real and that she was being compensated for her time. She hadn’t liked the idea of this from the beginning, but as they went on, she liked it even less. With sex added to the mix, she was starting to feel very Pretty Woman about the whole thing. The additional money for her silence just rubbed salt in the wound and reminded her that she was that much closer to being a whore.

 “Ugh,” she said as she applied the last of her mascara and threw it down onto the table in disgust. She needed to get out of here and distract herself with the chaos of the wedding so she didn’t stew in those thoughts any longer.

 Looking into the mirror, she admired her handiwork. It wasn’t bad at all. She’d already straightened her hair and wrapped it into a French twist with a crystal barrette securing it. Having her hair up made her neck look longer and her face look thinner, which was great. She anticipated a lot of cameras being around today since it was the big event they’d been building up to. She had to be believable as Julian’s girlfriend, and a double chin wouldn’t help her case at all.

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