“I can’t just pull a relationship out of my butt, Ri. How am I supposed to add a personal touch to a story about something I’ve never experienced?”
“Interview women who have been through it,” Grace said practically, sounding exactly like Camille.
“Go undercover,” Riley said at the exact same time.
Julie paused with the newly refilled champagne flute halfway to her lips, eyes fixed on Riley. “Keep going with that. Undercover. What are you thinking?”
“What about my idea?” Grace asked.
Julie ignored her. A bland interview-focused article wasn’t on her radar. She hadn’t spent years building up the personal aspect of her articles only to let it all fall apart now.
“Go undercover,” Riley repeated. “If you’re not interested in actually taking a relationship to the next level, fake it.”
“Tell me you’re joking,” Grace said. “That’s just wrong. Pretending to fall in love would be bad enough, but pretending to actually be in love? That’s cruel.”
“It wouldn’t have to actually be love, per se,” Julie mused, warming up to the idea. “I could just sort of dip my toe into the world of commitment. Find some nice, reliable, wife-seeking guy and see what happens.”
“Exactly right,” Riley said with approval. “You just pull the plug before it goes too far. It wouldn’t be unlike normal dating. You’d just be trying a guy on for size, seeing if it might work out.”
“Except it wouldn’t,” Julie said. “Work out, I mean.”
“Maybe not. But he doesn’t know that.”
Grace groaned. “I can’t believe I’m listening to this.”
“This could really work,” Julie mused. “Maybe I could truly find out firsthand what all those boring couples do after the butterflies-and-fun stuff has worn off.”
“Hey!” Grace said.
“Not you and Greg, of course,” Julie amended. “You guys aren’t boring.”
Except they were. Just a little.
“So how do I do this?” she asked, turning her attention back to Riley. “Where do I start?”
Riley rubbed her hands together. “Ah, the tigress hunts her prey.”
“Not that I want any part of this charade,” Grace said slowly, “but tonight might actually be an ideal time to find such a man.”
“Tonight?” Julie’s stomach clenched. She’d thought she’d at least have a few days to prepare.
“Sure!” Grace said, as though they were discussing nothing more dicey than a fifth-grade scavenger hunt. “It’s an education fund-raiser. I’m thinking many of the men here will be more family-minded than we might find on an average Friday night out.”
Riley nodded in agreement. “Baby call instead of booty call. I like the way you think, Brighton. We can for sure find a dull, committed kind of guy here. Assuming this is for our August issue, you’ll have over a month until you have to get a draft to Camille. If you keep this moving, that’s plenty of time to get serious.”
Julie chewed her lip. “You guys really think I should go man hunting at an education fund-raiser? Isn’t this a little . . . depraved?”
Grace shrugged. “For the record, I think this whole thing is depraved. But if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it right.”
Julie’s eyes scanned the room, taking in the sheer number of conservative suits. Grace had a point. Tonight was as good a night as any to find a fake boyfriend. But could she do this? Should she do this?
Then she pictured Kelli’s gloating face. If she didn’tdo this, it would be Julie who’d be assigned to fridge-cleaning duties, while Kelli moved her tiny butt into Julie’s office.
“So how do we do this?” Julie asked. She tried to keep the trepidation out of her voice. She’d never really paid much attention to the length of her previous relationships, but now she couldn’t seem to think about anything else. Once they’d run out of quips and banter, and after the sex haze had worn off . . . what did people do?
“Let’s split up,” Riley said. “We’ll cover more ground that way.
Everyone keep an eye out for the quiet, rich, husband-material type.”
“Yeah, that should be a breeze,” Julie said. “Not like ninety percent of the women here aren’t looking for one of those.”