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AT LONG LAST (The Playas Series - Book 4) by Brenda Jackson (1)

1

 

Tampa, Florida

 

LOGAN

 

Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.”

 

-Lyndon B. Johnson

 

 

Are you watching the news, Logan?”

Logan Montgomery had just entered his condo after having spent a day out on the bay with friends. He paused at the sound of panic in his brother Lance’s voice. Lance never got worked up about anything…except for that time a few years ago, when he thought he’d lost Asia, the woman he loved. “No, I’m just walking in the door. I was out on the boat all day. Why?”

“There was a bombing in a restaurant in Algiers.”

Logan felt the blood drain from his face at the same time his heart began pounding painfully in his chest. “Claire?” he said, in a voice wrenched with sudden fear. When Lance didn’t answer quick enough, he said, “Dammit, Lance, has Asia heard from Claire?” Moving quickly, he walked through his kitchen and grabbed the remote off the table, then clicked on the television in the family room.

Claire was Asia’s older sister and the woman Logan hoped to marry one day, although Claire didn’t have a clue. They had met through their individual siblings a few years ago and that first time had been enough for Logan to decide she was the woman he wanted to one day share his life with.

“No, Asia hasn’t heard anything, and that has us worried. We tried calling but couldn’t get through. Asia is on the phone in the other room with the State Department, but they don’t have any information yet either.”

Logan momentarily tuned out Lance’s words to hear what the news reporter was saying on the television screen. The Shelton House in Algiers had been a popular eating place that catered to a huge crowd on the weekends. It was believed there had been just over sixty persons dining at the restaurant and it had been confirmed there were sixty dead. The bomb had been meant to blow up the entire restaurant and it had not only done that, but had destroyed a parking garage next door which had caused a major fire.

“Claire isn’t someone who dines out a lot, so there’s no reason to think she was there,” Logan said, trying to reassure Lance as well as himself. He knew that much about Claire from their many talks. He would call her from time to time to see how she was doing.

“Usually she doesn’t, but…”

“But what?” Logan asked, hearing the hesitation in his brother’s voice. And it was enough to make his nerves go on edge.

“Asia talked with Claire earlier today. One of her friends had a birthday and they were getting together to celebrate at that particular restaurant…tonight. They had reservations for eight o’clock.”

Logan knew there was a five-hour time difference between where he was in Tampa and Algiers. That meant Claire could have been there at the time of the bombing. His pounding heart suddenly froze. No! He refused to even consider it.

“Logan?”

“Yes?”

“I’ll let you know when we hear something. Asia’s been talking to her mother when she’s not on the phone with the State Department.”

“How is Ms. Annie holding up?” Logan asked. He had met Asia and Claire’s mother at Lance’s wedding and had liked her immediately.

“It’s the not knowing that’s driving everyone crazy. But don’t worry. As soon as I hear anything, I’ll let you know.”

“Okay. Give Asia and the baby a kiss for me.”

The moment he disconnected the call with Lance, Logan rubbed a hand down his face before moving toward the kitchen to grab a beer out the refrigerator. When his phone rang again, he quickly answered it. “Hello?”

“I guess you heard about the bombing in Algiers.”

It was his brother Lyle. “Yes, Lance just called.” He then relayed what Lance had told him about Asia talking to Claire earlier and her plans to go to that restaurant for dinner with friends.

“Let’s hope she changed her mind or hadn’t arrived yet,” Lyle said softly.

“Yes, let’s hope.” He wasn’t sure how he would handle it if that wasn’t the case. In that instant, he suddenly felt much older than his forty years.

Logan ended the call with Lyle, and before he could finish his beer, his phone rang again. In the next few minutes, he got calls from his father, Jeremiah, and sister, Carrie, who both lived in Gary, Indiana. They too, had heard about the bombing and were hopeful Claire was safe.

After he finally managed to get off the phone, he headed for his patio that overlooked the bay. Dusk had settled in and as he dropped into a chair, he suddenly realized how many members of his family knew the way he felt about Claire. Yet, Claire, herself, didn’t have the slightest idea.

He was certain at some point, she had picked up on the attraction between them, the sexual chemistry. It had been too strong for her not to have noticed. But they hadn’t made any effort to act on it, and instead, had done their best to ignore it. At least she had. He couldn’t. Because he’d known her career goals and her plans not to return to the United States to live on a permanent basis for at least a couple more years, he had been content to wait for her. For one thing, he wasn’t cut out for a long-distance relationship, which was all she could have offered him. If she was interested, at all.

Besides, if he was honest with himself, he’d have to admit he was enjoying his freedom. This was the first time in ten years that he didn’t have to worry about anyone but himself. When she’d been eighteen, Carrie had moved in with him and had remained for eight years. Even while attending the local university, she had preferred living at home instead of in the dormitory or an apartment. The arrangement had suited them both fine. Carrie had needed him to extend his oldest brother role and he hadn’t been in any hurry to relinquish it. Now Carrie was happily married to Connor and living in Gary near their father, and she and Connor were expecting their first baby.

He thought about his younger brothers, Lyle and Lance. Like him, Lyle had chosen a career in medicine. Logan, himself, was a plastic surgeon, while Lyle, who lived in Texas with his wife Monique, was a heart specialist. Lance, though, had taken a different path. He was a relationship guru and bestselling author. One of his novels, The Playa’s Handbook, which supposedly perfected the art of being a single man, namely a playa, had caused quite a national stir a few years back. Now the die-hard player was happily married with a seven-month old son named Leland.

Logan stretched his legs out in front of him. This had been an eventful year. Leland had been born in February, Lyle had gotten married in April and Carrie’s baby was due in the spring. Everyone seemed to be moving on. Everyone but him.

He took another sip of his beer, remembering the first time he’d met Claire Fowler. It was after Lance and Asia’s turbulent love affair which finally ended in marriage. Logan and Claire had met at the rehearsal dinner on Paradise, the island where the wedding had taken place.

In a way, he’d known before meeting Claire that he would like her, mainly because she had been instrumental in helping Lance win over Asia. He’d figured if a woman like Asia could blow the mind of a die-hard bachelor like Lance Montgomery, she must be one hell of a woman. And if Claire was anything like her sister, then meeting her would be worth his time and effort. It had been.

As he sat there, watching the sun set, he could recall the night they’d met, just as if it had been yesterday…

 

Logan walked alongside Lyle, as they made their way to the courtyard where the others were waiting to start the rehearsal for Lance’s wedding. It wouldn’t be a large ceremony, since Lance and Asia had opted to invite just close friends and family. However, the wedding was attracting a lot of attention from the media because both Lance and Asia were renowned in the field of relationship expertise--but on opposite ends of the spectrum. News of their engagement gave hope to single women all over the country, and had the playas running for cover. Still, Logan was glad his brother had come to his senses before it was too late, and that Asia had forgiven Lance for past transgressions.

The minute Logan and Lyle rounded the corner, Logan caught a glimpse of the woman standing with Asia. Seeing the similarities in their features, Logan had no doubt that this was her sister Claire. As if she felt him staring, she glanced his way, their eyes connected and she smiled at him.

Logan walked over, with Lyle quietly following to where the two women stood with their brother, Lance. Asia quickly made introductions and the moment he’d taken Claire’s hand in his, he’d known she was the one for him. Claire Fowler had not only caught his attention but just that quickly, she’d captured his heart.

Since Claire had been Asia’s maid of honor, and Logan was to escort one of the bridesmaids, a friend of Asia’s from college, during the rehearsal, it had been only later, after the huge barbeque, that he’d finally been able to speak with Claire again. It hadn’t been hard to talk her into taking a walk on the beach with him.

This is a beautiful island,” she’d said as they walked along the shore.

It is. Now I wish I would have bought it that time Lance had thought of selling. Of course, that was before he got Asia out here and they fell in love with it, and each other.”

She chuckled and the soft sound carried with the wind. “Oh, I believe they were in love well before then. All they needed was a little push. Especially Asia. I am so happy for them.”

Logan recalled that time. “You should be. You played a major part in bringing them together.”

She didn’t say anything for a moment as she looked out over the ocean. “I did what I felt I had to do.” She shook her head. “Don’t get me wrong, Sean is a really nice guy, but he was still David’s brother. Eventually, David would have destroyed things between them. He’s such an ass.”

So, I’ve heard.”

I couldn’t let that happen. It took me only a short while to see that Asia’s heart was with Lance. He makes her happy.”

He nodded as he took a sip of his beer. “So, tell me, Claire, what makes you happy?”

She smiled and when she did, the dimples in both cheeks took his breath away. “My work makes me happy. I love what I do, working for the State Department. It was always my dream to travel and I’m doing just that. I never live in the same place for more than two years.”

What exactly do you do?”

As a foreign service diplomat, I work closely with the Department of Defense as an educational consultant. My job is to make sure that the kids of our military men and women are getting a good education while they are living abroad with their parents who serve our country.”

I understand you went to Harvard.”

Yes, all the way through--I got my bachelors, masters and PhD. I understand you went there, as well.”

He figured she’d heard that from Lance or Asia. “Yes, but I’m sure I’d finished before you got there. You’re thirty, right?”

Yes.”

I’m thirty-seven. So, we couldn’t have been there at the same time.”

There are two years difference between you and Lyle, and four years between you and Lance, right?”

Yes. Carrie came much later.”

He figured she knew all the dysfunctional details of the Montgomery family, thanks to his mother.

And where do you go next?” he asked, thinking again of how beautiful she was.

After this year, I’m due to spend some time in Algiers. I’ve heard it’s an incredible place—full of culture and history. I’m really looking forward to it.”

How long do you plan to do this job? You’re so seldom home.”

She shrugged. “I’m not sure. Probably just another couple of years. After tomorrow Asia will be married, and I anticipate getting some nieces or nephews soon. As well, my mom is getting older, and I want to be around to spend more time with her. I haven’t told Mom or Asia but after my assignment in Algiers, I’m thinking of taking a special assignment that would allow me to travel the way I like, only not as frequently. And my home base would be DC.”

Logan nodded. She recognized that her mother was getting older. Newsflash. Her mother wasn’t the only one. They were as well. Evidently, she wasn’t one of those women who worried about getting married before a certain age. But then, neither was he one of those men. “Are you seeing anyone?”

She threw her head back and laughed. “Heck no. No man in his right mind would want to hook up with me now.”

Was she giving him a hint? “Why do you say that?”

Because I’m married to my job and I like it that way. I’m too busy to take on a man who wants any part of my time. And since I don’t believe in long-distance affairs, what I have are male friends who have a clear understanding we are nothing more than friends.”

He nodded. “I see.” And he did. He had no problem giving her breathing room, because now that Lance and Carrie were married off, he could sure use some himself. He figured it wouldn’t be long before the right woman came along for Lyle, too.

Waiting a couple of years for Claire to return to the States permanently wouldn’t be so bad. He would be close to forty by then. He’d never figured he would marry before his fortieth birthday anyway, so her timeline might just work out with his.

Mind if I call you now and then, to see how you’re doing?” he asked her.

She smiled over at him. “No, I don’t mind. Asia told me about your big brother complex.”

His big brother complex? “And what did she tell you?”

That you like looking out for people.”

Yes, he couldn’t resist doing that. After all, he’d had years of experience. But he did not have any big brother feelings when it came to her. There was nothing brotherly about what she did to him…

 

Logan’s thoughts slowly returned to the present. He took the last sip from his beer, remembering. When he and Claire had parted ways two days after the wedding, he’d known Claire was the only woman for him. Since then, they’d spent time together whenever she’d returned to the States to attend family functions, and he made it a point to call her regularly to see how she was doing. Unfortunately, he was pretty sure she didn’t suspect how he felt about her and had conveniently slotted him into that “male friends only” category. When he’d seen her four months ago at Lyle’s wedding, he’d finally given in and kissed her, although it was only a brief brush of his lips on her forehead. But every time he saw her, it only reinforced his belief that one day they would be together.

Logan almost jumped out his skin when his phone rang. He glanced at the call display--it was Lance. His gut tightened as he clicked on the phone. “Yes, Lance?”

“Good news and bad news. The good news is that Claire finally got through and called to let us know she’s safe. She wasn’t feeling well, so she’d decided not to go. The bad news is that four of her friends were killed. If she’d been feeling better, things would have gone another way.”

Logan knew what way Lance meant. “I’m just so relieved she’s okay, although I’m very sorry about what happened to her friends.”

“Something else you might be glad to hear is that she’s coming home for a while. This incident has shaken her up pretty badly, Logan. Asia said she sounded grief-stricken.”

“I can understand that. Will she be flying to Paradise?” Although Lance and Asia owned a beautiful home in Chicago, they had created the Montgomery Marriage Institute on Paradise Island. The institute specialized in working with couples in crisis by holding marriage seminars to help couples build, repair, and strengthen their marriages.

“Asia asked her to come here, but Claire wants to spend a couple of weeks at her place in DC. She said she needs some time to get a handle on a few things…alone. She was pretty adamant about that.”

Logan nodded. Luckily, she hadn’t made the same request of him. She needed him, whether she knew it or not. Right now, she only saw him as Asia’s brother-in-law. However, that was about to change.

“This might be a good time to read my latest book--How to Jumpstart a Lasting Relationship. It might give you a few pointers when you see her.”

Logan lifted a brow. God, his brother knew him well. “What makes you think I’ll see her?”

“Hey, let’s not get cute, Logan. And speaking of books, I can read you like one. You’re going to see her.”

Lance was right. He was going to see her. Everyone who mattered to him knew he was in love with Claire Fowler. Now it was time that she knew it as well.

 

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