Gwynne Forster McNeil's Match (Arabesque)

ISBN 13: 9780373091591

McNeil's Match (Arabesque)

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9780373091591: McNeil's Match (Arabesque)
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After a bitter divorce, twenty-nine-year-old Lynne Thurston is faced with the prospect of not knowing what to do with the rest of her life. Once a highly ranked pro tennis player, she gave it all up six years ago when she got married. Now, with nothing else to lose, can she make a comeback on the tennis circuit? And more important, can she regain her self-confidence and faith in love? 

Sloan McNeil is a businessman whose gruff manner and appearance belie his sensitive and caring nature. When he meets Lynne, all of that changes as he tries to convince her that she still has what it takes to compete in professional tennis. But with Lynne's ex-husband relentlessly pursuing reconciliation, will Sloan be able to convince her to take another chance on love...with him?

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About the Author:

Gwynne Forster is an Essence bestselling author and has won numerous awards for fiction, including the Gold Pen Award, the RT Book Reviews Lifetime Achievement Award.

She holds a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology and a master’s degree in economics/demography and has traveled and/or worked in sixty-three countries.

She lives in New York with her husband.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

On the second day of January, Lynne Thurston walked out of municipal court in Ellicott City, Maryland, a free woman after years of psychological abuse intended to break her will. She had not and would not cry about all she had given up for a man, who swore before the world to love, care for and cherish her. He was a man of God, who proved to be a master of self-righteousness, selfishness and mental cruelty. He hadn't broken her, and no man ever would.

Six years earlier, when she was twenty-three and the number two tennis player in the world, she had walked away from it, because her new husband hadn't thought it proper for a minister's wife to be such a public person engaged in a "nonredeeming" pastime. After six years of fighting to be her own self and not the shell of a person her husband and the brothers and sisters of his church wanted her to be, she ended the charade.

"What are you planning to do now?" her lawyer asked, wiping his forehead with a handkerchief dampened from his fear that his adversary would win the case. "You're lucky, Lynne. It's hard to win any kind of case against a preacher."

"I know. Even that born-again judge knew I couldn't make up all those things. Willard is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Five minutes after smiling and blessing his parishioners, he would treat me as if I wasn't human."

"It's over now," the lawyer said. "What are your plans?"

She hadn't thought much about her future; she had only wanted to change the present, to be a free, independent woman no longer subjected to daily, and sometimes hourly, vicious verbal attacks and scornful criticism.

"Look, Harry. I'm only twenty-nine, and I'm strong and healthy. If I work hard and discipline myself, I can regain my old form. I've never stopped wanting that number one ranking. When I quit to marry Willard, I was the world's number two tennis player, and only eighty-nine points separated me from number one."

They walked side by side down the gray-stone steps of the courthouse. "You were my favorite player, men included. Why'd you quit?"

"Willard said it wasn't proper for a minister's wife to be a professional tennis player."

"You mean he couldn't stand the competition. Well, if you're willing to take the punishment and make the sacrifice to get back to the top, I say go for it. You'll never be satisfied until you try."

"Thanks, Harry. For everything."

She walked to the taxi stand nearby, got into a cab and went to her brother's house where she was staying temporarily. Yes. She would work herself into shape and get back on the tour. Once more, the women tennis players would fear her as they did before she left the sport, and she didn't plan to stop until she was the number one tennis player in the world, the title that would have been hers if she hadn't foolishly fallen in love with the reverend Willard Marsh.

"How'd it go?" her brother asked. "I expected that the divorce would be granted, but what about the terms?"

She adored Bradford, but at times he could be so cut-and-dried that she'd wanted to shake him. Right then, what she needed was a hug, a feeling that somebody somewhere loved her. "There were no terms and no stipulations. I left with what I brought, and he did the same. I didn't want any alimony."

His eyes rounded. "You mean you got nothing for six long years with that rotten excuse for a man?"

She lifted her shoulders in a shrug. "I got plenty. I'm a free woman, and I got a lesson I won't have to learn again. Don't you think that's something?"

"If you say so. Have you made any plans? You can stay here as long as you like. I know you don't need money, but you need some way of passing the time."

She didn't look at him. "I'm giving myself two years to win the US Open tennis tournament."

He jerked around to face her, his mouth agape. "What? What did you say?"

She didn't repeat it. "You heard me."

"Are you out of your mind? You're almost thirty years old, and the hottest player on the tour is eighteen."

"I know how old she is, and I also know how well she plays, but within two years, I'll beat her."

"Look, sis, I hate to say this, but you're setting yourself up for a dreadful disappointment. Why don't you start a tennis clinic or a tennis academy if you want to stay close to the game. But don't do this to yourself."

"Did I hear you saying that Lynne's planning to resume playing professional tennis?"

Lynne glanced to her left and saw Debra, her sister-in-law, rubbing her eyes as she entered the living room.

"That's exactly what you heard," Lynne said. "I want it badly. I need to show myself and Willard Marsh that he can't stop me. And before I've finished, I'll be number one."

Debra dropped herself into a big overstuffed chair. "Well, saints be praised. Girl, that's just like counting stars when the sky's full of 'em. How you gon' do that?"

"Hard work and skill. When I quit, they were saying I was the best there ever was. They'll say it again. Trust me."

Bradford shook his head from side to side and spoke softly, almost a murmur. "I don't believe this is happening. Lynne, you were always so levelheaded."

"And I was always determined, too. Right? I've got what it takes. And another thing: Wasn't Andre Agassi about my age when he went from number one hundred and forty-seven to number one in two seasons? Well, if he did it, so can I."

"You can't compare yourself to—"

"Agassi is the best role model I can think of, and one of the greatest."

* * *

The next day, Lynne sat in the middle of her bed surrounded by maps and travel videos, choosing the place she hoped to live for at least the next five years. She loved to be close to water, but what she needed more was a climate that was dry and warm for most of the year. And she didn't want to live in Florida with its stifling humidity.

"Why not south Texas?" Debra asked at dinner that evening. "It's hot most of the year."

"Yes, indeed!" Lynne said. "San Antonio, here I come. I was there with Willard at a church convention for two days, and I fell in love with the place."

Within three weeks she had leased a house on the outskirts of San Antonio, moved and bought a BMW. "I need a coach and a trainer," she told Bradford during one of their phone conversations, "and if I like this house, I'll buy it."

"What about tennis courts? Where will you practice?" he asked her.

"I'll have a couple put right here, one hard court and one clay court. I don't need a grass court, because I take to grass the way a mouse takes to cheese."

His laughter floated to her ear through the wire—warm, friendly and indulgent. "If you'd said you take to grass the way you take to cheese, you'd have been just as accurate. Gotta go. Bye."

She phoned Gary Hines, a recently retired former number one tennis player and told him her goal and that she needed a coach. "You're on," he told her. "But you haven't played for a while, so I'd get a trainer first for, say, about six weeks. Try Max Jergens. He'll get on your last nerve, but he's the best. You and I can start six weeks after you begin your training."

In her rush to begin her comeback, she didn't want to hear that, but she knew he was right, and she agreed.

Building the first tennis court didn't create any problems with her neighbors, whose houses were set a considerable distance from hers. But when they saw the clay court, several complained that she was commercializing the area and ruining property values.

"My presence here can only enhance the value of your property," she told one woman who she had already decided might not like having her live nearby. "I'm building these courts for my own use, so I'll be able to practice at my own house," she said.

"Are you a black tennis player?" the woman asked.

Lynne couldn't help laughing. "I'm a tennis player, and I'm black. Does that answer your question?"

"I don't believe you," the woman said. "I remember one black tennis player, a great one, but she got married and quit."

"Well, I'm living proof that she got a divorce about six weeks ago, and she's trying to make a comeback. I'm Lynne Thurston, and I'm glad to meet you."

"As I live and breathe. Who would have thought it? You never looked this tall out there on the court, but the way you ran I guess you never straightened up to your full height. I'm Thelma MacLendon. I hope you make it back, 'cause I sure did love to see you play."

"There are some other good black female tennis players, Ms. MacLendon."

"If I can call you Lynne, you call me Thelma. Yeah, there're some others, but they don't play like you did. None of those women do. I gotta get back home now. I live in that two-story redbrick across the way. When you get settled, maybe we can have tea or something. Being an athlete, I don't suppose you drink coffee." The woman raised her hand to wave goodbye and started off.

"I appreciate the neighborly gesture," Lynne said. "'Twasn't anything," the woman said. "You come see me."

One week later, Max Jergens arrived at Lynne's house in a berry-red Mercedes convertible coupe, skintight black T-shirt and skintight black pants. "Hi, I'm Max," he said when she opened the door. "Let's get started."

When she managed to close her mouth, Lynne said, "I thought we were going to work out in a gym."

He stared at her. "Sometimes we will, and sometimes we won't. Today, we're going to work out on your clay court. You do have a clay court, don't you?"

I don't like you, buddy, she thought to herself, and pointed to the courts. "Of course I have one."

"Tomorrow, we work out in the gym, but right now, I want to see how bad a shape you're in."

Gritting her teeth, she narrowed her eyes. "Why don't you just ask me? I haven't had a serious workout in six years. And I haven't played a serious game of tennis in just as long, so I am not ready for any kind of strenuous exercise. But since you're the expert, I suppose you know that."

"No point in getting testy with me, honey. I'm here to get you into shape, and that's what I'll do."

"I'm not paying you to kill me," she retorted.

"No, but if you wanted a wet nurse, I'm the last person you'd send for. You gonna exercise in that?" He pointed to her jeans and sweatshirt. "Or are you gonna put on something suitable?"

"Come on in out of the heat and have a seat while I change," she said. "Would you like something to drink?"

He raised an eyebrow. "Like what?"

Both hands went to her hips. "Since I don't have any hemlock, water or ginger ale will have to do."

For a minute, she thought he would laugh, and she had hoped that he would. Instead he said, "Two or three glasses of cold water. I'm parched."

She brought a pitcher of ice water and a glass. "Be back in a minute."

After she changed into shorts, a T-shirt and tennis shoes, she followed him to the clay court and, for the next hour, he put her through some strenuous paces, stretching, jumping and running. "That's enough for now. See you tomorrow at one o'clock sharp." He handed her a list of what she should and should not eat and drink. "Remember. No alcohol."

She nodded, dragged herself into the house and fell onto the living room sofa, exhausted. If what she had just experienced was his nonstrenuous workout, she was in for it. She swung her feet up on the sofa, locked her hands behind her head and smiled a smile that seemed to sweep over her entire body. She had a long journey ahead, but she was on her way.

The following afternoon at twelve-thirty, she turned into Route 35 en route to the gym and, almost immediately, the car stopped. And she could not move it. Cars honked all around her, passing drivers shook their fists at her, and some gave her the finger. She looked at her watch. A quarter of one, and Max would be in a snit. She dialed his cellular phone.

"What do you mean you're stuck on Route 35? I just drove along there, and I didn't see you."

"Listen, Max. Don't give me any stuff. I'm mad enough sitting here in a brand-new car that I've had less than a month, a car that won't move. I'll have to call AAA."

"If you can't get here by one-thirty, let's forget it, and I'll see you here tomorrow same time. If this happens again, honey, I'm out of this contract. My time is valuable."

Thoroughly irritated at him, she said, "So is mine, and it's a pity that you are the only physical trainer in this area. See you tomorrow." She hung up. Let him chew on that.

She called AAA, took a deep breath and waited. After about twenty minutes, a tow truck arrived bearing the inscription, McNeil Motor Service. A big man, somewhere around six feet five inches tall, took his time getting out of the truck, pushed back his navy-blue baseball cap, ran his fingers through his hair and walked around the car as if perplexed.

"I'm sorry to rush you, but I have to keep an appointment, and I have to be there no later than one-thirty."

He didn't answer, merely raised the hood of her car and began fiddling around, screwing and unscrewing things, as far as she could tell.

"Well," she said, becoming increasingly irritated at him. "How long will this take you? I'm serious. I have to be someplace no later that one-thirty."

"Too bad. This car has to go to the shop."

"But it's brand-new. I've only had it a month."

"Uh-huh. I can see that. You want me to take it to the shop, or do you want to call another service?"

"If you take it to the shop, will you lend me a car? Where I live, it's impossible to get around without a car. Now just look! It's twenty-five minutes after one, and I've missed my appointment. Can't you do something?"

"I can take this car to the shop and repair it. I feel for you, lady, but I wouldn't lend you a car of mine if I had one to spare."

"What?"

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ISBN 10:  1583146954 ISBN 13:  9781583146958
Publisher: Harlequin Kimani Arabesque, 2006
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