“It’s too tight,” Gretchen complained, and tugged the top away from her stomach. “I’m too heavy to wear clingy stuff like this.”
Amelia sighed and rolled her eyes. “I’m sorry, but wearing bulky clothes just makes you look bigger than you are. I wore a 34F bra before I got pregnant, okay? I’ve tried hiding these suckers under baggy sweaters for years, but I wasn’t fooling anyone. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Well-fitting clothes will actually make you look smaller and showcase your curves.”
Gretchen just turned and went back into the dressing room. There was no arguing with her. Instead, she stripped out of the outfit and tried on another. Before they were done, she’d gone through about a dozen other outfits. In the end, they agreed on a paisley wrap dress, a gray sweaterdress with tights, a bright purple cocktail dress, and a strapless formal that looked as if it had been painted with watercolors on the full silky skirt. Gretchen had to admit the gown was pretty, and appropriate for an artist, but she wasn’t sure if she could pull any of this off. In the end, she needed to look as though she belonged on the arm of Julian Cooper.
She didn’t think there were clothes for any price that would make the two of them make sense. Julian was...the most beautiful man she’d ever seen in person. The movies didn’t even do him justice. His eyes were a brilliant shade of robin’s-egg blue, fringed in thick brown lashes. His messy chestnut-colored hair had copper highlights that caught the lights and shimmered. His jaw was square and stubble-covered, his skin tan, and when she got close, she could smell the warm scent of his cologne. It was intoxicating.
And that wasn’t even touching the subject of his body. His shoulders were a mile wide, narrowing into a thin waist and narrow hips. He’d been wearing an untucked button-down shirt and jeans when they met, but still, little was left to her imagination, they fit so well. The moment he’d opened the door, her ability to perform rational speech was stolen away. She’d felt a surge of desire lick hot at her blushing cheeks. Her knees had softened, making her glad she was wearing sensible flats and not the heels Amelia had nagged her to wear.
When it came down to it, Julian was...a movie star. An honest to God, hard-bodied, big-screen superstar. He was like an alien from another planet. A planet of ridiculously handsome people. And even though she looked pretty good in these expensive clothes with expertly applied makeup, Gretchen was still a chubby wallflower with no business anywhere near a man like him.
Men had always been confusing creatures to Gretchen. Despite years of watching her sisters and friends date, she’d never been very good with the opposite sex. Her lack of confidence was a self-fulfilling prophecy, keeping most guys at arm’s length. When a man did approach her, she was horrible at flirting and had no clue if he was hitting on her or just making conversation.
At her age, most women had a couple relationships under their belts, marriages, children... Gretchen hadn’t even been naked in front of a man before. On the rare occasion a guy did show interest in her, things always fell apart before it got that far. Her condition seemed to perpetuate itself, making her more unsure and nervous as the years went by.
Being close to any man set her on edge, and a good-looking one made her downright scattered. Julian just had to smile at her and she was a mess. She couldn’t find a normal guy to be with her; how would anyone believe a shy, awkward nobody could catch Julian’s eye? It was a lost cause, but she couldn’t convince anyone of that.
An hour later, they carried their bags out to Amelia’s car and settled on having dinner at a restaurant that was a few miles from the mall, near the golf course.
“I’m glad we could have a girls’ day out,” Amelia said as they went inside. “Tyler had to fly to Antwerp again, and I get lonely in that big house by myself.”
Amelia’s husband, Tyler, was a jewel and gemstone dealer who regularly traveled the world. They’d hired a woman named Stella to help with catering at From This Moment, so Amelia occasionally got to travel with Tyler, but the further she got in her pregnancy, the less interested she was in long flights. That left her alone in their giant Belle Meade mansion.
“In a few more months, that little girl will get here and you’ll never be alone again.”
“True. And I need your help to come up with some good names. Tyler is terrible at it.” Amelia approached the hostess stand. “Two for dinner, please.”
“Good evening, ladies.”
Gretchen turned at the sound of a man’s voice and found Murray Evans and Julian standing by the entrance behind them. Before she could say anything, Julian approached her and she found herself wrapped in his arms. He smiled at her with a warmth she would never have expected after their awkward first meeting, and he hugged her tight against the hard muscles of his chest.