She stood stiffly in his arms, burying her surprised expression in his neck and waiting for him to back off, but he didn’t seem to be in a rush. When he did finally pull away, he didn’t let her go. Instead, he dipped his head down and pressed his lips to hers. It was a quick kiss, but it sent a rush down her spine that awakened her every nerve. She almost couldn’t grasp what was going on. Julian Cooper was kissing her. Kissing her! In public. She couldn’t even enjoy it because she was so freaked out.
He pulled away and leaned down to whisper in her ear. “You need to work on that,” he said. Then he wrapped his arm around her shoulders and turned to Amelia with a bright, charming smile.
“What good fortune that we’d run into you tonight. It must be fate. Do you mind if Murray and I join you for dinner?”
* * *
“Not at all, please,” the redhead said with a smile that matched his own. “Gretchen said the boys would be out and about today, but we didn’t expect to run into you down here in Franklin.” She had a twinkle of amusement in her eyes that made her seem like the savvy type who knew how to play the game. But judging by the curve of her belly and the rock on her hand, he knew why the redhead had been taken out of the running for his fake girlfriend.
“Excellent.” Julian turned to ask the hostess to change the table from two to four, ignoring the woman’s stunned expression. He was used to that reaction when he attempted to live a real life outside Hollywood. What bothered him more was the wrinkling of the woman’s nose as her gaze shifted to Gretchen in confusion. It made him pull her tighter to his side and plant a kiss in the silky dark strands of hair at the crown of her head.
“What are you two doing out in Franklin?” Gretchen spoke at last, squirming slightly from his arms.
“Well,” Murray began, “we wanted to play some golf. Since I live in Brentwood, coming down here to Forrest Hills is easier and we’re less likely to run into any photogs.”
The hostess gestured for them to follow her to a corner booth in the back of the restaurant. Gretchen slid into one side, and he sat beside her before she could protest. She might not be ready for their ruse to begin, but they were together in public. He hadn’t seen any photographers, but one could be around the next corner. The nosy hostess could tip someone off at the local paper. If anyone saw them together, they needed to be playing their parts.
“What are you ladies up to today?” Julian asked after the server took their drink orders.
“It’s makeover day,” Gretchen said. “Julian, this is Amelia Dixon. She’s the caterer at From This Moment. She’s also very fashionable and helped me with my full day of beauty and shopping.”
Julian shook Amelia’s hand, but he found it hard to turn away from Gretchen once he started really looking at her. She looked almost like a different woman from the one who had shown up at his hotel room the day before. He hadn’t even recognized her when they first walked in the restaurant. It wasn’t until Murray pointed out that they were the women from the chapel that he realized it was Gretchen. The changes were subtle, a refinement of what was already there, but the overall effect was stunning. She was glowing. Radiant. The straightening of her hair made an amazing difference, highlighting the soft curve of her face.
“Well, she did an excellent job. You look amazing. I can’t wait to see what you guys bought for the wedding.”
Gretchen watched him with wary eyes, as though she didn’t quite believe what he’d said. She’d looked at him that way the first night, too. She was an incredibly suspicious woman. He smiled in an attempt to counteract her suspicion, and that just made her flush. Red mottled her chest and traveled up her throat to her cheeks. It seemed as though she blushed right down to her toes. It was charming after spending time with women too bold to blush and too aware of their own beauty to be swayed by his compliments.
He’d argued with Ross that he didn’t think this was going to work after their short, strained meeting, but maybe he was wrong. They just needed to deal with her nerves so her physical reactions to him were more appropriate. She went stiff as a board in his arms, but he had some acting exercises that would help. It was probably fortuitous that they ran into each other tonight. Better they work these issues out now than at an official wedding event.
As the evening went on, it became clear that Julian knew the least about everyone there. Murray had met both women at the various planning sessions leading up to the wedding extravaganza. Julian was starting with a completely clean slate where Gretchen was concerned. Ross hadn’t even told him his date’s name before they met, and their first conversation hadn’t been particularly revealing. They wouldn’t just be posing for some pictures this week. They’d have to interact as a couple, and that meant they needed to learn more about each other if they were going to be believable.