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Want, Need, Love
By Niobia Bryant
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Niobia Bryant
All rights reserved.
"Hey ... double or nothing."
Mona pouted her plump lips after mouthing the words along with the Omar Epps character in her favorite scene of Love and Basketball, when Sanaa Lathan's character played him one-on-one for his heart. It was one of her all-time favorite romance movies. She had been sixteen years old when it was released and had foolishly thought she was deeply in love with her first boyfriend, Warren Michaels. Her affection for the movie lasted much longer than her childish adoration of Warren.
"Awww," she sighed as the characters kissed. Twirling one of her tight ebony ringlets of hair around her pinky, she lay back among the dozen full-sized pillows on her queen-sized bed. Pillows that almost fooled her into forgetting that one side of her bed was consistently empty as she slept. Nude. Alone. Empty. Consistently.
"A freaking born again virgin," Mona muttered, confident that a solid eight months without sex had earned her that title.
Freeing her body of her cotton sheets by kicking them away with her long, shapely legs, she reached down to lightly pat the top of her cleanly shaven mound. "You're the dick whisperer," she said. "I'm not sure what vibes you are throwing out to make the penises behave, but you have them well trained to not be naughty with me. Too trained."
With one last pat, Mona rolled off the bed and rose high up onto her toes as she stretched her five-foot-eight-inch frame and tilted her head back far enough for the tips of her long spiraled hair to stroke the middle of her back. Mona wasn't a lover of the length, which was high maintenance, but it reminded her of time well spent with her mother. The hours she spent brushing her mother's hair and greasing her scalp as they talked about her day at school. It was a ritual she would love to replicate with her own daughter one day and so she kept it long. One memory of many she hoped to leave behind once she was gone on to heaven too.
The death of her mother and the subsequent illness of her father not long after had led Mona back home to Holtsville. Pushing aside a poignant feeling of sadness at the loss of her mother, which instantly drew in the emptiness at her father passing away not a year later, Mona padded across the dozen area rugs she had layered across the bedroom floor. Each had a bright floral pattern, and somehow the varying colors worked, making her all white bed linen seem like a cloud floating above a garden. Her mental peace on earth.
As she went through the normal motions of preparing for her day, she was constantly aware of the singleness of her life. The lone washcloth in the shower. A single toothbrush in the cup holder on the left-hand corner of the double sink—of which only one was used. For breakfast just one slice of wheat toast with a fried egg and a cup of lemon tea. A closet with nothing but her eclectic mix of business attire for work and hippy chic garb for play.
Everything was a constant reminder of her "only the lonely" status.
Her first boyfriend was just one of several heartbreaks scattered on the bumpy road to "happily ever after." And despite that fact she was a hopeless romantic who wanted nothing more than to be in love. She was still hopeful.
Finally dressed in a red cotton pantsuit that emphasized her tall and slender frame with fullness at her breasts, hips, buttocks, and thighs, Mona slipped into animal print kitten heels. She grabbed her matching briefcase before leaving the modest but comfy two-bedroom cottage she'd been renting for the last few months upon her return to the small rural town of Holtsville, South Carolina. The early spring air was rich with the smell of the towering trees, grass, and wildflowers of her surroundings. Mona was not an "earthy, dig your feet in the dirt, sigh over cute furry animals" type of woman. At all. She preferred paved roads to dirt ones and sidewalks to grass lining the roads, but even she couldn't deny the allure of the southern quiet being broken up only by the sounds of nature.
She came down the steps of the wraparound porch and opened the back door of her red VW bug with a white convertible top. The heart-shaped logo she used for her business, Modern Day Cupid, was on the doors and trunk. She shook her head at the irony of being a professional matchmaker who couldn't find a love of her own. That little nugget stayed stuck in her craw almost as much as her little vibrator stayed pressed to her—
The vibrating of her iPhone interrupted her thoughts. She knew it was an e-mail and didn't bother to check it as she reversed down the paved driveway and started on the main road leading into the heart of rural Holtsville. She drove by the many houses and mobile homes that were far outnumbered by the amount of towering trees, fields overrun with farm animals or waist-high grass, or abandoned homes covered in wild ivy.
Mona smiled and shook her head at the memory of those first months after her family moved there from New Orleans, Louisiana, when she was just ten. In her young eyes rural Holtsville made metropolitan New Orleans look like New York in comparison. It wasn't the type of town you moved to for opportunity. Relocating to Holtsville meant that either you grew up there or left behind family there; otherwise you wouldn't know it even existed.
Holtsville was her mother's hometown, which she'd left behind to attend Xavier University in New Orleans. It was there she met and eventually married Mona's father, a native of the city. And it was there they remained for the next fifteen years, until her father fell in love with the laid back pace and the small town familiarity during a two-week summer visit one year.
Two years later they were off to Holtsville.
Mona pulled to a stop at a red light, chuckling at how miserable she had been in those first few weeks after the move. She had ached for everything they left behind in New Orleans. She even threatened to run away—threats her parents smartly paid no mind to. "Just a little drama queen," she muttered as she checked for oncoming traffic before turning onto the main road through Holtsville.
She briefly contemplated stopping at Donnie's Diner for a good home-cooked breakfast made with plenty of butter, but pressed on toward Walterboro instead. Mona hadn't hired a receptionist yet—as she had in her previous office of five years in Columbia—so along with her matchmaking duties she had to make sure she was there to answer the phones. One more thing on my to do list.
"Driver, roll up the partition, please," she sang along with Beyoncé's song on the radio. Mona quickly ate up the fifteen miles to the neighboring larger city where the office for her business was located.
Main Street of downtown Walterboro was still reminiscent of the older days of five and dime stores and small mom and pop shops, even with the inclusion of a restaurant and bar. It could easily be the backdrop for a 1960s movie, the narrow street just wide enough for one-way, one-lane traffic.
Mona pulled her convertible into a corner parking spot. As she reversed to get closer to the curb, she spotted a tall man in a three-piece suit casually leaning against the hood of a dark gray BMW. Her foot paused on the brake pedal when he turned his head toward her vehicle. The mirror aviator shades he wore looked good against his dark complexion and gave the tailored suit an edge that made her pulse race a little.
"Child, please," she warned herself, focusing her attention on parking her car.
As she climbed from her VW and walked around to the passenger seat to remove her briefcase, she gave the man a brief glance. He looked down at his watch and then pushed off the car to walk closer to the glass front door of her storefront office.
She closed her passenger door and frowned a bit when he swore and turned away from the storefront in anger—not the usual laid back nature of potential clients looking for love. Sliding her briefcase in the bend of her arm, she walked up to him giving him a more thorough evaluation from the top of his jet black fade, to his chiseled dark-skinned features and the firm fit of his suit on his body.
"I'm Mona Ballinger. Can I help you?" she asked, coming to a halt by where he paced on the sidewalk.
He stopped and turned to face her. She was almost five foot eight, but he easily towered over her by another six inches, even though she was in her kitten heels. "You own this business?" he asked, his voice deep, masculine, warm ... and tinged with annoyance as he removed his shades.
Mona lightly gasped at the sight of his dark brown eyes surrounded by long and full lashes that no hundred-dollar tube of mascara could replicate. Well damn ...
"Yes," she finally answered with emphasis as she stiffened her spine and locked her knees.
"Hmph," he said, using his striking eyes to take her in from head to toe.
Mona arched a full, shaped brow as he made her feel somehow inadequate, like she didn't meet up with his expectations. "Listen, it seems you have all day. I—on the other hand—do not," she said, stepping to the side to then move past him.
The hell? Mona worked the key to the front door free from the others dangling on her Coach key ring.
"A matchmaker who breaks up relationships?"
Mona glanced at him over her shoulder as she pulled the glass door open. "Do you want to explain who you are and what you want?" she asked. "I'm trying my best not to be rude, but since you're so fluent with it I'll just get on your level."
He reached out to press the door open wider for her. "It's funny you have no idea who I am, but you advised my fiancée to end our engagement," he said.
Mona acknowledged his gentlemanly move with a brief nod of her head. "And who is your fiancée?" she asked as she walked inside the renovated flower shop that housed her one-room office. She strode across the hardwood floors and placed her items on the white-painted wood desk in the center of the room, set atop a large red area rug.
"Are you ruining so many relationships that you can't keep up?" he asked.
Mona turned and faced him, one hand pressed above the curve of her hip and the other against the edge of her desk. He stood there with his arms crossed over his chest, his very presence seeming to shrink the size of the already small interior of the office. "It's not my job to find just anybody for someone," she said. "I want him or her to be with ... the right person."
He shook his head and released a chuckle filled with sarcasm. "You're taking 'modern day cupid' too seriously, ya think?"
Mona's face became pensive as she repositioned her body to lean back against the edge of the desk. She studied the handsome man and then eyed his luxury vehicle through the glass window. The looks. The arrogance. The wealth. Crossing her legs at the ankles, she nodded in sudden understanding. "So Carina did take my advice?" she asked, picturing him with the pretty, fair-skinned pediatrician.
He was Anson Tyler and he fit every description his former fiancée had given about him last month as she sat with Mona in the lounge area of Modern Day Cupid. Of course Mona had asked why an engaged woman would even seek out the services of a matchmaker and the woman admitted that she was ready to end the relationship.
His face stiffened with anger. "Your advice based on what?" he asked, his voice flushed with his annoyance at her.
Mona purposefully pressed her lips together and gave herself a five count to think before she spoke. She and her younger sisters, Reeba and Shara, had a gift of premonition and a sixth sense about love inherited from the female lineage of their ancestors, said to date back to the days of slavery. Although she could distinctly remember reaching over to touch the other woman's hand and having a clear vision of her with another man, Mona didn't tell him the basis of her certainty that a forever love was not in the cards for him and Carina.
And Mona was never wrong. But she wasn't going to tell him that. "Listen, Mr. Tyler," she began, rising to move around her desk to take her seat in the white, leather, tufted club chair. "Please believe that I do not take what I do lightly. I have nothing to gain by the end of your relationship, and this confrontation you are trying to have with me is pointless. I'm sure the end of a relationship—particularly an engagement—is not easy, but the end of marriage is worse. You two were not meant to be together."
Anson walked up to her desk and, bending his tall frame to press both his hands against the top of the desk, loomed over her. "Who in the hell do you think you are?" he asked.
She leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs as she tilted her head to the side and locked her eyes with his. "I know exactly who and what I am," she told him confidently.
He stared at her.
She met his stare even as she forced her body to remain relaxed, when she in fact was a bundle of nerves.
His eyes shifted to her left hand. "Do you have a man of your own, Ms. Ballinger?"
Mona hated that her gaze shifted away from his for even a millisecond and that her face revealed just enough to elicit a knowing look from him. Running her hands through her curls, she sat up in her chair and began shifting items around on her desk. "No, Mr. Tyler, I don't," she said, fingering an ink pen with her logo imprinted on it. "But I believe in love. I respect love. I want people to be happy in love. I want it for myself and I want it for every client who hits me up on social media or my Web site or walks through that door. So, I'll give you the same advice I gave your ... Carina. The same advice I gave Carina."
He snorted in derision as he rose and wiped his mouth with one strong hand.
"Take some time. Gain some perspective. And when you feel ready to move on I will be more than happy to match you up—"
"Here the hell we go," Anson balked, throwing his hand up in the air. "Destroy a relationship and then pick up two new customers for this sham you're running."
Mona jumped to her feet, sending her chair toppling back with a wham. "Get out," she snapped, pointing one red spike-shaped fingernail at the door.
"No problem." He turned and stalked to the door.
"What you need to deal with is what doubts brought her through that same door you're about to walk out of," she said, her cold voice filling the silence as she glared at his broad-shouldered back.
He paused with his hand gripping the handle.
Mona's chest was still heaving with anger and indignation. "Your fiancée came to a matchmaking company, Mr. Tyler, on her accord. I didn't seek her out. She was supposed to be in the midst of her happily-ever-after. What brought her here? Now you go somewhere and deal with that reality you're running from."
He looked over his shoulder at her. His eyes were filled with the truth of what she'd said, and Mona felt regret for her harshly spoken words.
"Go to hell," Anson said, his voice soft but filled with meaning.
Her regrets evaporated. "I have been there for the last ten minutes."
With long strides he walked through the door, slid on his shades, and moved to his car. Moments later his vehicle took off down the street.
Mona shook her head as she turned and bent to set her chair upright. She dropped down into it and pressed her elbows into the top of her knees. "Well, that's a first," she drawled before releasing a deep breath.
In college, Mona had discovered that she had a natural instinct for matchmaking her friends. Her gift of premonition had just been a confirmation that she had been right. Among her family they all liked to joke that they were descendants of Cupid, and the Ballingers used their strong intuition to ensure that those who were worthy were gently nudged toward their one true love. In time, people she didn't even know would come to her for help in finding love. What began as her helping out friends became a hustle to make ends meet and then a small business that she aggressively expanded when she graduated from college. With the combination of her personality, her belief in love, her gift, and the marketing and business skills she'd acquired in college, the business was a success.
She truly loved love. To have someone question that and her integrity shook her a little bit.
Not that it was the first time.
Excerpted from Want, Need, Love by Niobia Bryant. Copyright © 2014 Niobia Bryant. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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