She was a fool. A fool to believe that a man like Julian would ever want something to do with a woman like her. A fool to think that she could find happiness with a person so unobtainable. He was a fantasy.

 And now, it had all come to an end.


                       Eleven

 Gretchen had buried herself in work this week. It was easy with her job—there was always a wedding to decorate for, a consult with a couple, some design work to finish and send to the printers. Thank goodness. She needed the distraction.

 Her two days off had been awful. She’d pretty much sat in her apartment crying and eating cookies. That wasn’t going to help matters at all. But by the time she returned to the office, she had that out of her system. She was ready to focus on work and forget all about Julian Cooper.

 Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. Not with three nosy friends and coworkers who immediately noticed that the romantic bubble had burst. She’d left their staff meeting on Monday almost beaming and came back Thursday morning in mourning. She’d fought off the questions but gave them enough information to satisfy them: it was over. She didn’t want to talk much more about it when it was so new. So far, they’d backed off, but only because they were busy preparing for the next wedding, too.

 When the time came, she wasn’t entirely sure what she would tell them. Getting up from her desk and going into her supply closet, she pulled down the bin labeled for this weekend’s autumn-themed wedding. As she sorted through the paper products, she tried to work out the tale in her mind.

 “He accused me of leaking a story to the press and we broke up,” she said aloud. “And really, we were never actually together. He was just playing me.” That sounded silly, especially out loud, despite every word being true.

 Of course, the supposed truth was nothing compared to her secret worry. Would he really have used all that as an excuse to break up with her because when it came down to it, he needed to date a pretty actress, not a frumpy artist? He’d insisted that wasn’t true. He’d done nothing but tell her how pretty she was while they were together, but was he just buttering her up for the part? She couldn’t dismiss what she’d heard between him and Ross.

 The worst part of it was that she had to admit that Ross was probably right. She wasn’t what people expected. Vain, painted-up Bridgette made a lot more sense in their business, even if Julian didn’t like it. As hard as he worked to keep his brother and family out of the spotlight, protecting Gretchen would be harder. While early press might be positive, eventually, she’d find herself on a cover with a headline that declared Julian demands she lose weight or it’s over.

 It would never work between them; she knew that now. It was a pipe dream, a fantasy that lasted only while he was playing the role of the adoring, doting boyfriend.

 Her fingers went to her throat and sought out the opal necklace. She’d worn it nearly every moment since he bought it for her. She loved it. But it was time to take it off. She unlatched the clasp and let it pool in her hand. Looking down at the beautiful, ruined necklace, she opened her desk drawer and dropped it in with her pens and paper clips.

 That done, Gretchen picked up the box of paper products and carried them out of her office. She quickly divided them up among the chapel, the entryway table and the ballroom.

 The ballroom was still bare bones. This weekend’s wedding was smaller and far less grand compared to Murray and Kelly’s event, but there was still plenty to be done.

 “Gretchen?”

 Gretchen set down the programs and turned to find Natalie in the doorway behind her. “Hey.”

 “The linen delivery is here. Do you need help?”

 She shrugged. “Sure, if you’ve got time.”

 Natalie nodded and they both went to the back to get the cleaned, pressed linens from the delivery truck. They rolled the cart back into the ballroom and Gretchen started laying them out on the tables. She could tell Natalie was lingering purposely, but she wasn’t about to start the conversation she was dreading.

 Her coworker joined her in laying out linens, this wedding using a chocolate brown with an ivory-and-gold lace overlay. After a minute, Natalie said in a quiet voice, “Are you okay?”

 Gretchen sighed and finished spreading out the tablecloth. “No, but I’m getting there.”

 Natalie nodded. The wedding planner at From This Moment was the quiet, observant type. She did a lot of listening, both in her job and in her daily life, something most people didn’t really do. By listening, she noticed a lot, most importantly what people weren’t saying.

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