Now he stood at the foot of the bed, silently tugging off his bow tie and slipping out of his tuxedo jacket. She could tell he was distracted and worried about James. Gretchen knew that if one of her sisters were in the hospital, she’d be beside herself.

 Instead of watching him undress, she took her bag into the bathroom to change. She’d spent far too many hours in this strapless bra, and she was ready to be done with it all. Unzipping her bag, she looked inside and groaned. Unfortunately, when she’d packed, she’d packed for a sexy night at his hotel. A detour to Louisville to see his sick brother hadn’t been on the radar. The only pajamas she had were of the sexy red lace variety. With the dark cloud looming over Julian, she doubted he would be interested.


 But with limited options, she slipped into the chemise and pulled the fluffy hotel bathrobe over it. When she returned to the bedroom, Julian’s suit was lying across the chair and he was gone. She found him in the living room, standing in front of the minibar clad in just a pair of boxer briefs as he held a tumbler of golden liquid in his hand. Scotch, she’d guess.

 “You’re drinking?” she asked. That was the first thing she’d seen him drink aside from water since they met.

 “Yeah,” he said, looking thoughtfully at the glass. “My trainer can punish me later. That’s the beauty of being able-bodied. I just... I just needed something to numb all the feelings inside me. A bottle of water and a protein bar wasn’t going to do it.”

 Gretchen nodded. She hated to see him like this, but there wasn’t much she could do. Instead, she sat down on the couch and beckoned him to sit beside her. He slammed back the rest of his drink and left it on the counter before he came over and collapsed onto the pillows.

 Without saying anything, Gretchen snuggled up beside him. He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and hugged her tight against him.

 “I want to talk about something other than my brother,” he said after a long silence. “Tell me...” Julian hesitated. “Tell me about how someone so beautiful and full of life could be so awkward and inexperienced with men.”

 Really? That was the last topic she wanted to discuss, but if it would take his mind off James, she would confess it all. With her face buried against his chest, she started the not-so-interesting tale of her life. “My mother was a ballerina. She toured with a company for several years before she broke her ankle and retired. She met my father, a physical therapist, while she was doing rehab on her leg. She was tall and willowy, educated in the classics, and he was shorter and stockier, with more knowledge about football than anything else, but for some reason, they hit it off.

 “They married and had three girls. I was the middle child. My sisters were always so much like my mother, so graceful and so skilled when it came to charming men. I took after my father. I was always chubby, always clumsy. I actually got kicked out of kinder ballet classes because I kept knocking over the other children. To say I was a disappointment to my mother was an understatement.”

 “Did she actually say that to you? That you were a disappointment?”

 “No. But she always pushed me to be more like my sisters. She didn’t seem to understand me at all. Even if I hadn’t been stockier or uncoordinated, I was very shy. I was much more comfortable with my art and my books than with boys. I really didn’t have much in common with anyone in my family. And when I got old enough to date, I don’t know, I guess I sabotaged myself. I didn’t feel pretty, I didn’t feel confident and so guys never noticed me. I was so quiet, I could virtually fade into the background, unseen and unheard. It just continued on like that and after a while, I decided that maybe I was meant to be one of those suffering artists, destined to be alone.”

 “That’s ridiculous.” Julian eased back and lifted her chin with his finger until she had no choice but to look him in the eye. “There’s no way a woman like you would end up alone. You’re beautiful, talented, smart, passionate... You’ve got way too much to offer a man. He just has to be smart enough to see you when others don’t. I’ll admit that I probably wouldn’t have been that guy. I’m always on the move, always too distracted to see things that aren’t right in front of my face. And if Ross hadn’t set up this date, I would’ve missed out on a wonderful few days because of my blindness.”

 Gretchen felt the blush of embarrassment rise to her cheeks. She wanted to pull away, to avoid his gaze, but he wouldn’t let her.

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