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No More Playas
By Brenda Jackson
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2005 Brenda Streater Jackson
All rights reserved.
A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.
— James Joyce
He stood in the shadows, an uninvited guest among hundreds, watching with deep pain as the woman he loved was united in marriage to another man.
The minister's words tore into Lance Montgomery even though he knew that losing Asia had been entirely his fault and there was no one else to blame.
"Do you, Asia Monteen Fowler, take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband — to live together after God's ordinance — in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sadness and in joy, to cherish and continually bestow upon him your heart's deepest devotion, forsaking all others, keeping yourself only unto him as long as you both shall live?"
Lance held his breath and prayed that the bride would realize she didn't love Sean Crews and that —
With Asia's affirmation, soft but spoken loudly enough for all present to hear, another sharp pain tore into Lance. He wanted to scream out that there was no way she could love Sean Crews when she loved him. He tried screaming but couldn't find his voice.
Instead, the minister's words flowed through the church. "Inasmuch as Sean and Asia have consented to unite together in marriage before this company of friends and family, and have pledged their faith and declared their unity by giving and receiving a ring, they are now joined. By the power vested in me by the State of South Carolina and Almighty God, I now pronounce you man and wife. Sean, you may kiss your bride."
The moment Sean took Asia into his arms and kissed her, the scream Lance hadn't been able to release before suddenly burst from his lips. Everyone in the church turned to stare at him, but Asia and Sean continued kissing. Lance continued to scream until his throat felt raw, but it was all for nothing. He had lost her....
Lance bolted upright in bed and sweat poured down his face. He'd had another dream. No, it had been another damn nightmare.
He dragged a hand down his wet face. This had been the third time in two weeks that he'd been consumed by visions of Asia and Sean's wedding — a ceremony that hadn't taken place yet — and each dream took something out of him, chiseled away more of his heart.
He sucked in his breath when the phone rang. Glancing over at the nightstand, he checked the caller ID. It was his good friend Sam. At first Lance wondered why Sam would be calling him so late, but a quick glance at the illuminated clock showed that it wasn't even ten o'clock yet. Right — he'd gone to bed early after consuming more brandy than he had intended. Even more pitiful? Until recently, he'd never liked brandy. Scotch had always been his drink of choice.
He reached over the bedside table and picked up the phone. "Yes, Sam?"
"What's going on with you, Lance?" Samuel Gunn said, not wasting any time lighting into him. "Lyle and Logan called today, claiming you're not taking their calls. Even your dad called today asking about you. It's not like you to not keep a check on your old man. What the hell is going on? I've called you several times, and you didn't call back."
Lance threw back the covers and pivoted to sit on the edge of the bed. He had avoided his brothers' and father's phone calls. Too much pain surrounded his heart, and he hadn't wanted to talk to anyone. "Look, Sam, I can't talk to you right now, and —"
"The hell you can't. I'm downstairs in the lobby. I'm coming up, and your ass better let me in."
There was a click in Lance's ear when Sam hung up the phone. Lance closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. Although he knew it was utterly impossible, he was convinced he could still pick up Asia's scent from the one time she had been in his home. She'd lain in this very bed while he tasted her, pleasured her, did everything short of sexual intercourse. The moment he had eased his face between her legs, he had inhaled her delicious feminine fragrance, and then he practically devoured her. It was as though an ache had moved from his groin to settle in the muscles of his tongue, making it throb relentlessly, and he knew of only one way he could satisfy the pulsating sensation. For the first time he could remember, he had held tight to a woman, had clung to her while exploring her intimately. Later, feeling her climax while his tongue had been inside her — kissing her in the most intimate way a man could kiss a woman — had been the single most erotic thing he had ever done in his life. And by the time he finished, he had fallen madly and completely in love with her.
Lance decided to put on a pot of coffee, since there was no telling how long Sam would be staying. Although a part of him wasn't up for company, there was no way he could keep his best friend out. The two of them had always been there for each other, from the time they were tots attending Mrs. Mary's Little Lambs Day Care, forging a bond that had lasted all of their thirty-three years.
After slipping into a robe, he walked to the living room. He had left the blinds open, and the view of Lake Michigan from his twentieth-floor window was magnificent tonight. He loved living in Chicago.
On his way to the kitchen, Lance caught a glimpse of The Playa's Handbook, a book he had written — and his ultimate downfall. Oh, the sales were great, since it was still in its twentieth week on the Times bestseller list. He had signed a very lucrative two-book deal, and his agent, Carl Kilgore, was already breathing down his neck about when he'd start penning the next million-dollar seller. Even now he should be doing research, deciding on the topic for his next title, but his mind had gone blank. For the first time in his life, he knew how it felt to have writer's block.
He had been tempted to tell Carl just where he could take the book and shove it, since Lance blamed the fact that he had lost the one woman he had ever loved on its existence.
He shook his head. Love? Yes. Love. Of all people, he, Dr. Lance Montgomery, had fallen in love — and had fallen hard. If anyone would ever have suggested such a thing to him months ago, he would have cursed them out and cut off their damn head. The word love had not been a part of his vocabulary. His motto was that he didn't love women, he played them ... and he played them well. Over the years, he had perfected a strategy that guaranteed him any woman he wanted. Even the haughty of the haughtiest couldn't resist the Lance Montgomery charm when he laid it on thick. He had been dubbed the "king of the playas," the man whose playa's card would never expire. He had proudly written those books that glamorized the art of being single, and he'd found it downright amusing when The Playa's Handbook got a rise out of the female population. At the time the uproar hadn't particularly fazed him. If anything, it had annoyed him that the women were quick to place blame on him and not where he felt it belonged — on females themselves and the games they were known to play with men. No matter, controversy was good for sales, and so was adverse publicity — the book had quickly shot to the best-sellers' list, and it was still there.
But then something had happened to him.
He met Dr. Asia Fowler, a fellow relationship psychologist whose books directly contradicted his. Their opposing styles made them unwitting adversaries. From the moment he had met the simply beautiful and stunning Asia, he had wanted her. In his bed. He had been totally convinced that lust was driving his obsession, and nothing more.
He had been ruthless in his pursuit — daring, bold, relentless. And when he'd gotten her just where he wanted her, right on her back and in his bed, his good fortune became his downfall. He experienced emotions he had truly believed could not and did not exist.
Instead of accepting his fate, he rebelled like hell and pulled a stunt that had hurt the woman he loved. He could never get back in her good graces. Now she was engaged to marry another man, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it.
He turned his head from the coffeemaker when he heard the doorbell. He went to open the front door for the man whom he considered his best friend.
"You look like hell, man," Sam Gunn said, walking into Lance's condo. He turned around to face the entry and looked Lance up and down. "When was the last time you shaved, and what's going on with your hair?"
Lance leaned against the doorway. He had let himself go over the past two weeks, and it was just like Sam to mention it.
"At least I've been taking a bath every day," Lance muttered.
"Glad to hear it, smart ass. So what has you in a funk? Last I heard, that damn book of yours was selling like hot cakes, which means you're getting richer, but as far as I'm concerned, you can burn the damn thing."
Lance lifted a brow as he moved away from the door and strolled toward the kitchen. "And what do you have against The Playa's Handbook?" he tossed over his shoulder, curious to hear what Sam had to say. One thing an author didn't do was trash his own book, but if others did it, then ...
"Plenty. Besides nearly screwing my brains out with this zodiac-obsessed woman, it almost messed things up for not only me but for Phillip and Marcus, too. We read your book and decided to put our stuff into action. We were so busy being playa wannabes that when we finally met good women, we didn't know how to act and almost screwed things up."
"You met someone?"
Sam smiled. "Yeah, man. You know I was in a bad way after all that went on with Kim. Her affair really hurt. And marrying the guy before our signatures were even dry on the divorce papers only compounded the pain."
Lance nodded. He had talked to Sam a lot during that difficult time. "But you did meet someone?"
"Yes. Her name is Falon Taylor, and we met when she moved into my apartment complex a few months ago. At first I tried keeping her at a distance, not wanting to fall in love again — not thinking that I ever could anyway. We started out as friends, and now it's escalated to more than that." Sam grinned. "I even broke the number one rule in your handbook and gave her the key to my apartment."
Lance studied his friend for a long moment. Then a sincere smile touched his lips. "I'm happy for you, man, and glad things worked out."
Now it was Sam's time to study Lance. Lance was not a person who gave his blessings to serious relationships. Sam crossed his arms over his chest. "Okay, Lance, what's going on? Promoting happy endings these days? You're definitely not yourself."
Lance rubbed his face. Sam was right. He needed a shave. He said, "I screwed up, man. I met someone, too. I actually connected with a woman — and not just physically. I fell in love and fell hard but ... I lost her. I lost her, and now she is going to marry someone else."
Sam heard the anguish, the torment, and the pain in Lance's words. "Damn," he said softly, shaking his head. "You actually fell for a woman. You?"
"Yes. Crazy, isn't it?"
"No," Sam said, "I don't think it's crazy. Nor do I think you should throw in the towel. If this woman hasn't gotten married yet, then there's still a chance."
Lance shook his head. "You don't know what all I did."
"Then let's talk about it."
Lance didn't say anything for a long moment, and then he nodded. "Okay. Let me finish making a fresh pot of coffee."
"So there you have it, man." Lance pulled a long draw from his beer and then set the bottle aside as he leaned back in his chair. He and Sam had decided to skip the coffee.
While talking, he'd felt like he was in a shrink's office, stretched out on the sofa and spilling his guts. Sam had listened without saying anything. Of course, Lance had omitted the intimate details of his relationship with Asia, but he'd told Sam enough to convey exactly how much he had hurt the woman.
"So you screwed up big time. What are you going to do to get your ass out of this mess?" Sam asked.
Lance couldn't help but smile. That was Sam for you, definitely a straight shooter. His friend didn't believe in bullshitting around the bush. "I'm not sure there is anything that I can do."
Sam leaned back, took a swig of his own beer, and then exhaled a derisive snort. "Sure there is. From the way things look, you've already kicked yourself for messing things up. Now it's time to take action and do whatever you have to do to get her back. But first you need to come to terms with the reason you did what you did: why you panicked when you saw yourself falling in love with her. I think it goes back to how you've come to think of women over the years, Lance, starting with your mother."
Lance forced out a careless laugh. "My mother?"
"Yes, your mother. She wasn't the best in the world."
Lance thought about the woman who had deserted his father, brothers, and him; running off with another man and taking six- week-old baby Carrie with her, and leaving everyone speculating that the child belonged to her lover and not his father.
"What does my mother have to do with anything?"
"Come on, Lance, you're the one with the Ph.D. in psychology, so you know more about it than I do. There has to be a deep-rooted reason why you've always thought so little of women. Even when we were in high school, you acted like an asshole toward them. I think you should finally analyze the ramifications of that and just how your mother's desertion may have played a part in it. You have issues, and you need to resolve those issues before trying to get Asia back."
Lance studied his beer bottle for a long moment, and then he looked up at Sam. "She doesn't want to have anything to do with me, man."
"When did you ever give a damn about what a woman wanted? And it will be in your best interest not to start now, especially if it means giving up without a fight." Sam took another sip of his beer and then said, "If you really love this woman, then you need to get your shit together before it's too late. You're good at whatever it is that you do, Lance. Instead of using your skills as a negative, you should use them as a positive, pulling in all your creative abilities to win her heart. And whatever you do, you have to be sincere about it."
Lance considered Sam for a moment and then inclined his head. "I really love her, Sam. I thought I'd never say those words, but I can say them about Asia."
"Then let her know how you feel. Winning her back won't be easy, but if you love her as much as you say you do, then you should try."
Lance thought about how Asia had warmed his frozen heart, unthawing it. She was a truly remarkable woman who deserved more than a loveless marriage to Sean Crews. "There's no way I'm going to give her up," he said, knowing he would do whatever he had to do.
He remembered the obsession and the urgency with which he had wanted her in his bed, and the tactics he'd used when he'd been pushed beyond rational thinking. He had met her after she'd given a speaking engagement in New York, and from the first, he had been knocked off balance, struck right between the eyes. And although he had a feeling that she'd been attracted to him, she'd maintained that cool reserve even when he had pulled out his best lines and all his smooth moves. And the more she resisted him, refused to give him the time of day, the more fascinated he became. He saw her as a rare exotic breed of woman. And now the thought of her marrying someone else was totally unacceptable.
"I'm going to get my woman back, Sam. And I won't stop until I do."
"Hey, now you're talking," Sam said, smiling. "Before you get all fired up and start working on some devious plan to accomplish that goal, how about coming to dinner next Saturday night? I want you to meet Falon."
The next morning, shaved, showered, and after making an appointment to visit his barber, Lance walked over to the window and looked out, the phone still in his hand. The next person he needed to call was his agent, but before he did that, he needed a moment to reflect.
Excerpted from No More Playas by Brenda Jackson. Copyright © 2005 Brenda Streater Jackson. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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