Some time after Melanie has a dispute with a stranger in a coffee shop, she bumps into him again at her sister's dinner party. Her hostility is apparent to everyone. He suggests a suspension of hostilities and realises, after he discovers she has recently broken her engagement because of betrayal, that to win her trust he will have to move unhurriedly and carefully, His patience is eventually rewarded when Melanie falls in love with him. This is a sweet cup of romantic fiction. Two sugars please!
"Hi, Mel. How are you?"
"Fine. Now tell me what you want." Melanie knew from the tone of Susan's voice that she was about to ask for something.
"I need a really big favor, Mel. Brian invited four associates over for dinner tonight and one couldn't make it. I need you to come over and fill a chair at the table."
"Susan, are you trying to set me up again?" Ever since she had broken her engagement two months ago, her well-intentioned but misguided sister had kept trying to get her to date again.
"Not this time, Mel. This dinner is really important to Brian. His architect will be here and I could really use your support. I haven't met any of these people before, so they could be sixty and balding for all I know. Please, Mel?"
"Don't whine. If you promise me this isn't a setup, I'll come over."
"I promise. Be here about six-thirty. Love ya! Bye." And she hung up the phone.
Having planned a long hot soak in the tub, Melanie now had to settle for a quick shower. She dressed carefully and applied a light touch of make-up. Her teal blue dress was flattering in its simplicity and she knew it brought out the highlights in her auburn hair. She added a gold choker and drop earrings. Grabbing a small evening bag, she took one last look in the mirror and left her apartment.
As an insurance broker, she was in contact with people on a daily basis, but since her breakup, she had been keeping to herself in her free time. Now she felt a little tremor of excitement at the prospect of meeting others in a social setting.
Tapping lightly on her sister's door, she let herself in. She saw him immediately - and flashed back to that disastrous episode at the local Tim Horton's only days ago. In unison, they both said "You!"
Sensing the sudden tension in the room, Brian came over. "I see you've already met my architect, Russ." Before she could respond, Russ said "We've bumped into each other before, yes."
Being introduced to the other couple gave Melanie a few moments to become composed, but she was dismayed to find herself seated beside Russ at dinner. At least I don't have to look at him, she mused. When he tried to make conversation, she answered in monosyllables or ignored him completely, until finally he leaned over and spoke very quietly into her ear. "Stop sulking and smile. Your attitude is going to spoil this dinner for your sister and Brian, and it is really important to them, so I suggest you shape up."
Without really thinking about it, Melanie turned and smiled at him while swinging her foot under the table and kicking him on the shin. Still smiling, she asked him "How's that for attitude?"
To give him credit, he just smiled back and raised an eyebrow. In spite of her antagonism towards him, she had to acknowledge the truth in what he said and she made a real effort to be pleasant for the rest of the meal. As soon as it was over and she had helped clean the table and load the dishwasher, she made her excuses and prepared to leave. She found him at her elbow as she reached for the door knob.
"I'll walk you out."
"There's no need. I can see myself out."
"That wasn't a question, Melanie." He opened the door and waited for her to exit, then followed quickly as she almost sprinted to her car. Holding her car door closed with his hand on the frame, he said "Look, Melanie, I know you don't like me any better than I like you, but I'm going to be working closely with Brian, so we have to sort this out because we'll be running into each other. Will you have dinner with me tomorrow night so that we can come to some kind of an understanding? You choose the restaurant."
Reluctantly she agreed. "Okay. Meet me at Kelly's at seven-thirty. Now can I get into my car, please?"
Holding up his hands, he stepped back and said "Be my guest. I'll see you tomorrow night."
Driving home, Melanie re-visited that horrible day at Tim Horton's. She had just paid for her coffee and turned to leave when he also turned in the other direction with a full cup. The collision was made with enough force to pop the tops on both cups and spray the contents over them. Her temper flared immediately, as did his. Neither spoke, just glared and left.
For Melanie, it was a disaster. She had been assigned one of their largest farm accounts and she knew that, although they had faith in her abilities, it was still a test. Being new to the office, and relatively new as a broker, she was determined to prove herself, and show them that she was a capable and valuable employee.
The farmer, Noah Draper, had requested a review of his farm policy, so she had visited him at his home, reviewed his current coverages, and made extensive notes of the changes he required. Before leaving, she took photos of the dwelling, barns and outbuildings. She knew companies had complaints of photos being submitted that could only be described as 'drive-by shootings' where the broker parked at the side of the road, stuck his camera out of the car window, and took a couple of pictures which he sent to the company. Fortunately these were in the minority, and Melanie was determined to stay out of that category.
Digital cameras had made the process much easier, and the knowledge she had gained about the proper way to photograph buildings from a school camera club, helped her immensely. Each building was shot from opposite corners, thus giving a good view of all sides and roof areas. She still remembered being told of a risk with beautiful photos of the front of an outbuilding, taken straight on. When the inspector made a visit, he discovered most of the back wall of the building was missing.
Mr. Draper was coming to the office at nine that morning to discuss his policy, and Melanie was going to give him comparative quotes from the farm companies her brokerage represented. She was going to have to do it with coffee stains all over her once-pristine white blouse. As she fumed, a part of her mind made a mental note to herself - store a change of clothing in the office at the first opportunity.
She had borrowed a sweater from the receptionist. The color clashed horribly with her skirt, but it covered most of the damage and, by the time Mr. Draper arrived for their meeting, she had calmed down sufficiently to carry on with her presentation. After discussing the various options, Mr. Draper gave her his decision on the coverages, and left quite satisfied with her assistance, so the day wasn't a total write-off. She was happy to wrap up his policy on the spot, because she knew if he didn't commit with her right away, he would possibly go elsewhere for another quote, and she could lose him as a client.
Her stomach in knots after work the next day, Melanie went home, showered and dressed in her most conservative suit. It helped her to feel a little more in control. But her confidence waned as she entered the restaurant. Kicking him had definitely not been wise. She spotted him immediately at a corner table, and for just a brief moment, saw him as a tall, young, attractive man rather than her enemy. His dark brown hair was cut really short, he had a firm jaw and his eyes held secrets and laughter.