Maggie didn't know a tight end from a running back, but she knew loneliness. And this was one Thanksgiving that she didn't plan on sitting in her cozy little house alone with only a turkey entree Lean Cuisine and the Macy's parade on the television, followed by a huge howl watching Jimmy Stewart learn all over again that it was a wonderful life. And that meant even if she was forced to listen to football all day and night long.
It wasn't that Maggie didn't have friends and family. On the contrary, she was popular. She had a wide circle of girlfriends and a string of beaus. It was often a difficult task for Maggie to juggle dates with the six men she was currently seeing, relying on a nice little electronic personal assistant to keep them all straight. She was an efficient woman, an administrative assistant for a very powerful businessman.
It was the very powerful businessman's fault, though, that she couldn't just hop on a jet and wing across the country to spend Thanksgiving with her family. It would have been the first Thanksgiving in more years than she cared to remember that she'd even been able to schedule extra days off to do that very thing. But, now her ticket had been exchanged for one at Christmas because Lincoln Carlisle told her on Monday that she'd have to forego her vacation because he needed her.
Once, about five years earlier, Maggie's heart would have beat double time at those words coming out of Linc Carlisle's mouth. He needed her. But, that was back when she first began working for him and had a crush the size of Vermont on her boss. Thankfully, Linc never recognized the crush, so busy was he at building his empire, and the crush soon evolved into a warm friendship that she treasured. Besides, a girl can get pretty lonely just on a plain old Saturday night waiting for the boss to notice that she's the one girl in the world to bring him eternal passion and bliss. And so she eased into a variety of relationships with a variety of men. It had been fun for a while, and none of them had been all that serious.
Unfortunately, on that dark Monday when Linc Carlisle had told her that he needed her, she'd been dealt an even more devastating blow than having to forego jetting off for a long weekend in the bosom of her family. It had been her birthday--annually forgotten by Linc until he reviewed his credit card slips and discovered what she'd charged to him as a present--and she'd turned thirty-five.
Thirty-five. The number haunted her like the dot of cellulite she'd discovered that morning on her thigh when she was toweling off from the shower. Next would come the fine lines around her eyes, the wattle hanging beneath her chin, the chicken wing upper arms that would flap in the breeze. Thirty-five. It drove her to the foggy bathroom mirror to search for the first gray roots. Of course, there were none there, but it was only a matter of time--days, weeks, months at the best.
So, when Linc breezed by her desk that Monday morning and lightly announced that they would have to prepare for a huge meeting on Friday, she'd just nodded and waved him past. It was only later that she remembered the ticket in her purse and the suitcase waiting to be packed in her bedroom at home. Maggie had more important things on her mind. It took a half an hour for his announcement to penetrate her brain enough to send her into his private office and complain, not that it had done much good. The tyrant.
After calling her parents, she flipped through the electronic address book and that's when the notion began to blossom. It was time to settle down. It was time to pick one of her beaus and make him the luckiest man in the world. It was time to pass on her perfectly efficient genes to a lovely daughter who would sacrifice all to make it home for Thanksgiving and every other major holiday on the calendar.
Still, she'd never invited anyone to her home for Thanksgiving, not because she truly loved the turkey entree Lean Cuisine, the parade or Jimmy Stewart all that much that she couldn't bear to share them, but because she figured that most of the people she knew had their own families to celebrate the day with.
Picking up the telephone, she placed her first call to Adam Aronson, the architect. Adam was a recent beau, one she'd met through work when Linc had decided to rent more office space and move his investment firm. Tall, dark with curly black hair and the cutest little mustache. He was clever, artistic and a terrific kisser. She dialed, asked the receptionist for Adam and learned to her dismay that he was out of his office all morning. She left a message, offering him an invitation for a home-cooked Thanksgiving feast at her house.
He would probably have already made plans, she decided, flipping a bit farther through her address book. Dana Bergen. Dana, a television reporter, she'd met through her friend, Sue, who worked at the same station. She'd known him for about a year. Good looking, smooth and charismatic. She dialed the station and asked to speak to him. He was out on assignment, so she left an invitation with an R.S.V.P.
Dana would probably have his choice of invitations, Maggie decided, flipping through a few more addresses. Hector Kratos, Greek...and with the looks of a Greek god. Not tall, but built with muscles bulging in all the right places. A serious scholar who worked out seven days a week at the gym. He was hunky. She dialed his university office and his answering machine picked up. Again, she left a message inviting him for Thanksgiving Day.
Oh heck. Hector, being Greek and seriously devoted to his family, would probably have already made plans with them, she decided, again resorting to her address book. Robbie Nelson. Oh, Robbie. Robbie worked as a fireman in the downtown district. Red-haired with a wicked wit, he was so much fun, taking her on some of her most memorable dates. Hang-gliding in the afternoon, followed by opera that evening. Robbie really knew how to make an impression. She dialed his apartment, but there was no answer, so she tried his department. His chief answered and she relayed the invitation. The chief promised to pass on the message and have Robbie call her, though he knew that Robbie had offered to work that day for those firemen who were married and had families.
She flipped again. David Quartermain. Ah, David. Excellent choice, she commended herself. She should have thought of him first. Another man she'd met through work. He was a client, an attorney with a penthouse office suite and a client list that just didn't end. Blonde and thin, he cut a devastating figure in his three-piece suit and looked even better in jeans and a sweatshirt. Unfortunately, David was in court when she called his office. Another invitation, another plea for an R.S.V.P.
Getting desperate, she studied the rest of her address book. Bill Welbourne, dentist. Not her first choice, but a nice enough guy. She dialed his office. His nasal-voiced receptionist said he couldn't be interrupted in the middle of a root canal, but she'd be glad to relay a message.
Linc breezed out of his office just as Maggie laid down the receiver and motioned for her to accompany him. She gathered her briefcase and tossed her coat over her shoulders and followed him out. They entered the elevator before she spoke to him.
"You've ruined my holiday, Linc. Are you sure you absolutely need me?" she asked, pressing the button for the ground floor.
"Absolutely...though I'm sorry you won't be able to go home." He smiled at her. "If it's any comfort, I won't be going home either. I just hope there's going to be a pizza joint open so I can get something to eat."
Her heart melted. She'd forgotten that Linc would be spending a lonely holiday, too. "Would you like to come to my place for dinner? I invited some friends, but I doubt if any of them will be able to make it. We could even get some work done before the meeting on Friday."
"Turkey dinner? All the trimmings? And a doggie bag to send home with me?"
Maggie, the efficient personal assistant, needed her own assistant when it came to anything involving the culinary arts. But how tough could it be to stick a frozen bird in the oven? She could probably buy the rest of the stuff she'd need ready-made from the deli at her grocery store.
"Sure...complete with pumpkin pie," she offered. How hard could it be?
"Deal...and I'll even bring the wine."
"You should. After all, it was your whining that got you the invitation," she laughed, stepping out of the elevator.