The song came to an end, and Julian could feel the spell drift away with the last notes. This night could only be more perfect with Gretchen in his bed again. He wanted to get out of here before something interfered.

“Are you ready to go, Cinderella?” he asked as he led her off the dance floor.

“I don’t know,” she said with a wrinkled nose. “The minute we step out the door, it’s over, isn’t it? Our little fantasy relationship turns back into a pumpkin at midnight. If leaving means it’s over, then no. I want to stay and dance until the band unplugs and goes home.”

Julian pulled her tight against him and kissed her. A tingle traveled straight to his toes, making his feet feel as though they were asleep. “I’m not sure what time period Ross negotiated, but I really don’t care. If we walk out of this ballroom, I intend to take you back to my hotel and make love to you all night. And I’m going to keep doing that until I have to get on a plane and go back to LA. I don’t know about you, but to me, what’s going on between us has nothing to do with any business arrangement.”

“It’s not for me, either.”

Julian smiled. “Then slip out of this ballroom with me right now.”

Gretchen looked around the dim ballroom at the crowd on the dance floor and the others milling around their tables. “Isn’t it too early to leave? Isn’t there anything else you need to do as the best man?”

Julian shook his head. “I’m done. We’ll see them tomorrow morning at the farewell brunch.”

She was biting her lip, but he could tell he’d won the battle by the naughty glint in her eye. “Okay, let me go get my bag out of my office and we can go.”

Julian took Gretchen’s hand and they made their way out of the ballroom. He was moving quickly, weaving through the other guests. He couldn’t wait to peel that dress off her tonight. In the lobby, he waited while she dashed down the hallway to grab her things.

Then he heard it: the special ringtone designated for his brother’s care facility. Reaching into his tuxedo pocket, he grabbed his phone and said a silent prayer.

“Hello?” he said, wishing the voice on the line would tell him it was a wrong number or something.

“Mr. Curtis?” the woman said, dashing his hopes.


“Mr. Curtis, I’m sorry to have to call again, but this is Theresa from the Hawthorne Community. James’s condition has gotten substantially worse since we spoke last.”

“He’s in the hospital, isn’t he?”

“Yes, but he isn’t responding quickly enough to treatment. The doctors think they might have to put him on a ventilator to keep his oxygen levels high enough while the pneumonia clears up.”

Julian should know more about his brother’s condition and what all this would mean for him, but he didn’t. His brother’s tracheostomy was supposed to solve his breathing problems, but apparently it wasn’t enough this time. “What does that mean? Is he going to be okay?”

“We don’t know. We called to give you the status and let you know that your mother is with him and hopes you can come as well. Do you think that will be possible?”

“Yes, I’m in Nashville right now. I can be there in a few hours. Which hospital is he staying in?”

“He’s at the university hospital. I’ll be sure to let your mother know you’re on your way.”

“Thank you. Goodbye.”

Julian hung up the phone and slipped it back into his pocket. He looked over his shoulder as Gretchen came from her office with her purse and a small duffel bag.

“Gretchen...” He stopped. He hated to derail everything, but he had no choice. “I’m going to have to cancel on tonight. I just got a call about James and I’m leaving for Kentucky as soon as I walk out of here.”

Her dark eyes widened with concern lining them. “Is he going to be okay?”

Julian felt a tightness constrict his chest, making it almost impossible for him to get out the words. “I...don’t know. I just know that I have to go. I’m so sorry. This isn’t how I wanted tonight to end.”

“Then let’s not let it end. Let’s go.”

“Go?” he asked in confusion. “You mean you want to go to Kentucky with me?”

She nodded quickly, without hesitation. “Absolutely.” Walking up to Julian, she placed a reassuring kiss on his lips and then took his hand to tug him toward the door. “Let’s get on the road.”