From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Kids buckled up? Check. Birthday gift wrapped? Check. Pulling up to the home of pals Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck for Garner's 38th-birthday party on April 17, Reese Witherspoon brought along some extra logistical help: As she pulled a present from her trunk, Jim Toth, the Hollywood talent agent she's been quietly dating since January, ushered her children Ava, 10, and Deacon, 6, to the door. Inside, the foursome mingled with starry guests such as Tobey Maguire, Molly Sims, Jason Bateman and their families before heading out to a sporting-goods store to pick up some soccer equipment for Deacon. Toth "seemed very comfortable around Ava and Deacon," says an observer. "It was obvious that they have spent time together."

For Witherspoon, 34, who split with Jake Gyllenhaal around Thanksgiving, the romance with Toth, 39, has gone from casual to full-throttle in just weeks. What began with date nights at Italian restaurants and an adults-only getaway to her house in Ojai, Calif., has quickly become so serious that Witherspoon-a devotedly hands-on mom-has brought her new guy into her kids' lives. "She wants them to get to know him. She thinks he'll be a great influence," says a friend of the actress's. "She definitely seems in love: She acts giddy around him. Everyone's so happy for her."

After two intensely public breakups-from Ryan Phillippe in 2006 following seven years of marriage and then from Gyllenhaal after two years of dating-friends say Witherspoon was at first determined to keep things simple in the romance department. She had felt Gyllenhaal, 29, was "a little needy, and it got to be too much," a source said after the breakup. "This is someone who just two months ago was being very vocal about not being ready to settle down," says another source close to the actress. "She was ready to just date and have fun and be free."

Then Toth entered the picture-and Witherspoon was swept off her feet by someone "who's more mature and in a place in his life where he's ready to settle down," says the source. "The relationship happened very fast. I think for the first time in a very long time, she feels as if she's with a grown-up."

Taking the romantic plunge isn't something the cautious Witherspoon does easily. "Friends are very surprised how quickly she's moved on from Jake and how fast things have progressed with Jim," says her pal. "She takes relationships very seriously. Even she's surprised at how fast she fell for him."

The Oscar winner first introduced Toth to a group of girlfriends March 20, when she celebrated her birthday in Ojai. At the time, says a source, Toth had yet to meet her children. "She was initially hesitant to introduce Jim to the kids," says her friend. But after he got the seal of approval from her friends, Witherspoon introduced Toth to them in early April, says a source, and he joined Reese, Ava and Deacon at church services on Easter weekend.

While Toth is at home around A-listers, his lack of recognizability is a major plus for Witherspoon. "She loves that he's not a celebrity," says her friend. "She always felt that she and Jake had so much heat on them from the press, but with Jim things have not been as crazy. They've been left alone to get to know each other in a more private way."

Once known as a ladies' man in Hollywood circles, Toth, too, seems downright smitten. "He's always saying 'my girlfriend this, my girlfriend that.' He's really into her," says a longtime friend of the Pennsylvania native. "He used to be such a player, but he's treating her like gold. He'll do anything for Reese."

So is Witherspoon thinking about a long-term future? "She's an old-fashioned girl, and she definitely still believes in marriage," says her friend. "Her relationship with Jake was just never meant to be. She's now in a much better place with Jim. She's truly enjoying her life right now."

  • Contributors:
  • Pernilla Cedenheim/Los Angeles,
  • Lisa Ingrassia/Los Angeles,
  • Ulrica Wihlborg/Los Angeles,
  • Alyssa Shelasky/Washington,
  • D.C..