Maggie hesitated at the doorway. From inside the room, she could hear a loud rumble of voices. Just as she turned to head back to her car, a woman stepped into the hall.
"Good morning!" She beamed at Maggie. "Are you a visitor?"
"Umm." Maggie didn't know how to answer. "I'm here for my boss, Jim Hamilton. His son has a school program this morning."
"Oh, then you're a sub. Come on, we'll get you signed in." She wrapped a hand around Maggie's arm and led her into the room, effectively stopping her escape.
People stood in small groups, laughing and talking. Maggie took a breath and let it out slowly, trying to calm her heart rate. "It will be good for you," her boss had told her the day before, after she'd said she didn't want to go. "I need someone to cover for me at the meeting and you need to get out and meet people."
He was probably right. Her divorce had been final for seven months and she'd been on her own for twice as long. Ever since her husband - ex, she reminded herself - had told her he was in love with his assistant.
She smiled and nodded politely at the people greeting her with bright "Good mornings." Her guide showed her where to sign her name and gave her a nametag. "We start in a few minutes. Would you like to pass out some business cards before then?"
"I don't have any." Jim hadn't mentioned she'd have to mingle.
"Well, then, let's get you settled." She led her to an empty seat. "Again, welcome!"
Maggie sank into her chair, watching as the woman hurried across the room, beaming a hundred watt smile at each person she met. "Wow!"
"Pretty chipper, isn't she?"
She swiveled to look at the man sitting to her left, her cheeks heating up. He must have sat down while she was watching her guide.
"I am - I thought - " Where had her brains gone?
He grinned and his brown eyes crinkled at the edges. "Not a morning person, are you?"
Her own lips curved upward. "No. When my boss asked me to sub for him, I agreed before I realized what time I had to be here. Not that seven a.m. is that early," she added quickly. She didn't want him to think she was lazy. "Just that I'm usually getting my first cup of coffee at that hour, trying to wake up before I have to say anything to anybody. And I was running behind this morning so I didn't get my coffee and I'm hoping I didn't forget the notes Jim gave me to read --"
She blinked, surprised she'd said all of that out loud. Well, she'd certainly made it clear she was single and living alone.
He didn't seem to notice. "First time here?"
"This is my second visit. Watch what the others do and you'll be fine." He tipped his head toward the group moving to their seats. The talking had only lessened a fraction. "I'm filling in for my brother-in-law."
Ah. He was married. Not that she was interested in him. Not really. Only it was nice to talk to a man again, to think about dinner together, maybe some dancing. . .
"What does your brother-in-law do?" she asked to stop her daydreaming.
"He and my sister own a cleaning company. They do an excellent job." His grin brought out a
dimple in his right cheek she hadn't noticed before. "I was their first client."
His sister. Maybe he wasn't married. She peeked at his left hand but he was holding a notebook and she couldn't see if there was a ring or not.
The president called the meeting to order and all the talking subsided. During the brief business portion of the hour, she half-listened, more aware of the man sitting next to her and his subtle cologne. She barely registered the other members sharing quick descriptions of their businesses and giving testimonials about each other.
When it was her turn, she read the notes her boss had given her and sat down, her attention shifting to her neighbor. He stated his name, "Todd Matthews," then listed the reasons he used his sister's cleaning company in his veterinary office.
At the end of the meeting, she pushed back from the table and stood up. "I enjoyed meeting you." She held out her hand.
His grip was firm and strong. "We haven't really met."
"I don't know your name."
She frowned. She hadn't used her name. Instead, she'd used Jim's name to talk about his business. "I'm Maggie, Jim Hamilton's secretary."
"Well, Maggie, Jim Hamilton's secretary. Would you like to have dinner sometime? That is, if you're not seeing anyone. I can give you references." The dimple flashed again.
"I'd like that," she managed, hoping she didn't sound as breathless as she felt. He still held her hand.
"Do you have a number where I can reach you?"
She nodded and he released her hand, giving her his business card and a pen. She wrote her phone number on the back and he tucked the card into the front pocket of his suit coat.
They walked together to the parking lot. He told her a funny story about his black Lab and she shared how much she wanted a dog of her own. "But not while I'm living in an apartment and working so much," she added.
"Responsible and cute," he replied and she felt her cheeks heat up again.
They stopped next to her car. She clicked the keypad but didn't open the door, reluctant to leave him and head back to her office.
"I'll call you later this afternoon." He reached around her for the door handle. "I have appointments all morning."
"All right." She slid into the driver's seat.
He leaned down, one hand holding the door open and the other on the roof. She caught another whiff of his cologne. "You know," he said, "I'm going to have to apologize to my sister."
"Why?" He'd been very complimentary about their business.
"I gave her a hard time about having to be here so early." He straightened. "Now, I'm glad she asked me."
He gave her a smile and shut the door. She buckled her seatbelt and started the car, giving him a wave as she backed out.
At the stop sign, she realized she would have to make an apology of her own.
Her boss had been right. It was time for her to get out and meet people.