Brenda Jackson, . . Griffin, $13.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-312-33178-8

Jackson (The Savvy Sistahs ) probes the "playa" mind in this spicy, engaging tale of Chicago singles. Lance Montgomery, an arrogant womanizer and "renowned divorce and relationship expert," has just published his philanderer's manifesto, The Playa's Handbook , to predictably mixed reviews: men appreciate his use 'em and lose 'em philosophy, but women sure don't. Thirty-something friends Samuel Gunn and Phillip McKenna, both divorced, and recent widower Marcus Lowery decide to take Lance's advice to heart ("A woman can't use you if you use her first"). Sam gets busy with Tina, whom he met on a business trip, but finds neighbor Falon a more tempting morsel, while Philip preys on the single moms at his daughter's school, namely beautiful, widowed attorney Terri. Marcus hits Internet chatrooms and Fantasyland, an exclusive masquerade sex party, though frisky family friend Naomi looks good, too. Meanwhile, Lance is determined to break the vow of celibacy of fellow relationship guru Asia Fowler with his patented slippery style and a shared talk show gig. But their seduction ploys begin to falter when Marcus is stalked and Philip recognizes the masked mystery woman he'd had a passionate encounter with at Fantasyland. Eventually, romance melts the hearts of these free spirits, even Lance himself. The consequences of being a "playa" outnumber the advantages in Jackson's clever, frothy story as independent, self-centered men cave to the irresistible lure of love. Agent, Pattie Steele-Perkins. (Nov.)