As She Likes It

02/28/2002 at 01:30 PM EST

No one does happy better than Julia Roberts. And at the Opium Gardens nightclub in Miami Beach last month, the girl in the jeans and pigtails was downright giddy: giggling, gabbing and generally glowing. One minute she was drinking Jack Daniel's with a group of pals, the next she was dancing with a buff blond in khakis and a T-shirt. The fact that he wasn't exactly light on his feet didn't seem to bother Roberts; the two partied until they left together at 5:30 a.m. "They were holding hands, kissing," says a witness. As they were over a shared bowl of chicken soup at the Cuban restaurant Puerto Sagua a day or so later. "They were quietly talking," says waiter Roberto Lazo. "They were very romantic." Right up until her beau left $15 in cash on the table and headed out with Roberts for some afternoon window-shopping, leaving fellow diners to ponder whether a 33-year-old cameraman named Danny Moder might be, finally, The One.

"He's cute, very cute, a good guy for her," says one Roberts colleague of the low-profile L.A. native who has quietly but consistently been at her side for the past several months. "I think she can settle down. I think she is ready now, actually. When she finds her true love -- and this looks pretty real to me -- she is going to settle down and want a family."

Tell that to Benjamin Bratt. Ten months ago Roberts and the 38-year-old actor she so openly adored parted because he wanted to settle down and have children and she did not. Why things would be different with Moder is unclear; Roberts isn't talking (she has yet to mention his name in an interview), and her close circle of friends are uniformly mute about the relationship. But never before has Roberts, 34, been so well-positioned to get what she wants. More than $1 billion in box office sales and a Best Actress Oscar have lifted any career pressure. That allows her to pursue choice roles, such as her part as a reporter in Steven Soderbergh's low-budget drama Full Frontal, out in late March. The same holds true in her personal life; nine years after (briefly) marrying singer Lyle Lovett and proclaiming, "I want to have a family, raise kids," she has gained the confidence and self-knowledge to do nothing of the sort. "Julia keeps growing in her consciousness. She's matured," says her Pretty Woman costar Hector Elizondo. "She's someone who has overcome difficulties and now emerged a full-fledged human being, brave and comfortable with herself."

Unfortunately for Bratt, it took nearly four years together for her to realize that the white picket fence was everyone else's happy ending, not hers. "She's a bit of a gypsy," one source says of Roberts's unwillingness to commit. "You can't change who you are. It's like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole." After their breakup Bratt bought an Edwardian home in his native San Francisco and began a romance with Talisa Soto, 34, his costar in Piñero -- and presumably a fellow round peg. "I'm done dating," the Law & Order vet says in last month's Elle magazine. "If I'm with you, there's an intent to be in a one-on-one, faithful relationship -- and there's an army of women who feel that way too, I guarantee you."

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