Read an Excerpt from the Latest in the Curtis Black Series by Kimberla Lawson Roby
Alicia’s prayers had been answered. She and Phillip were finally going to be married—again. It had been six years since their first wedding, but in two months, she would walk down the aisle of her father’s church and live happily ever after. She was fully committed to Phillip this time around, and unlike before, she wouldn’t betray him. She wouldn’t sleep with another man behind his back. Just thinking about how selfish she’d been and how terribly she’d treated Phillip still upset her, but thankfully, he finally trusted her again. There had been moments when Alicia hadn’t been sure he ever would. Still, she’d gone out of her way doing all she could to show him just how much she loved and adored him and wanted to be his wife. From this point on, they would be together until death do us part, no matter what.
Phillip stood at the bedroom window of Alicia’s condo, looking as handsome as ever, and Alicia smiled at him. He winked at her but continued his phone conversation. He’d driven over last night and was now on the phone with her dad, discussing church business. Phillip had returned to his assistant pastor position at Deliverance Outreach in Mitchell, Illinois, which was the reason he and Alicia had purchased a home there. With all his church responsibilities, it was better for him to reside in the same city as his job so he would have quick access to the church and to any members who needed him. Phillip had moved in a month ago, but it wouldn’t be long before Alicia joined him, as she now had a buyer for her Chicago-area condo and would be closing on the sale in six weeks. She’d even begun moving some of her belongings out to the house in Mitchell. She would certainly miss Covington Park, along with much of the culture and excitement that the Chicago area provided, but she also couldn’t wait for her and Phillip to live as husband and wife again.
Things were going to be good between them. They would have a great life, and she thanked God for second chances. As a matter of fact, God had blessed her in such a tremendous way that she sometimes shed tears uncontrollably. Here she’d committed adultery against Phillip—hurting him to the core—yet he’d found it in his heart to forgive her. And he’d never once stopped loving her.
Then, there was that awful second marriage she’d entered into with the likes of Pastor JT Valentine. The man had slept around with more women than Alicia could count, and the whole experience had been a nightmare. Still, God had delivered her from JT and his madness and allowed her to move on and forget about him.
And if those blessings hadn’t been enough, she was a successful novelist who would be releasing her fourth book in a few months. She had such a wonderfully kind and loyal audience of readers; some of whom read her work because of her father’s worldwide status, but the majority seemed to genuinely love her stories and she was grateful for that.
Phillip ended his call. “I’m gonna get ready so I can head back home. Your dad and I and some of the other officers are meeting for lunch today.”
“I need to get ready myself. I’m meeting Melanie at noon so we can pick out our jewelry for the wedding.” Melanie Richardson was Alicia’s best friend, and she and her husband, Brad, who was Phillip’s best friend, were going to be their attendants. Alicia and Phillip had considered having bridesmaids and groomsmen, too, but then decided they wanted to keep their ceremony as intimate and as meaningful as possible. That way their day would be about them and the love they shared, versus some massive, impersonal affair.
“Oh yeah, that’s right,” he said, strolling over to Alicia and hugging her. “But more important, have I told you how beautiful you are today?”
“As a matter of fact, you have,” she said, kissing him. “You’re so good to me, and you make me so very happy.”
He squeezed her tighter. “Not as happy as you make me.”
“My life is finally complete.”
“I’m glad to hear that. And although it took a while for me to propose to you again, I hope you know that I never stopped loving you. Not once.”
“I know you didn’t, and I never stopped loving you, either. And I’m also sorry for…well, everything. I destroyed our marriage, and I will always be indebted to you for forgiving me the way you did.”
“God forgives us all, and we have to do the same thing with others. Sometimes though, just because you’ve forgiven someone it doesn’t mean you can still be as close with them. You can still love them and be there for them if they need you, but forgiving someone and trusting them again are two different things. So I thank God that in our case, I was able to do both.”
“You’re a good person with a huge heart, and I love you with everything in me,” she said.
“I love you, too,” he said, kissing her.
Alicia’s yearning for Phillip was strong and intense—it was the kind of yearning she couldn’t act on or ask him to satisfy. He talked a lot about how he couldn’t wait to make love to her again, except Alicia wasn’t handling this celibacy thing nearly as well as he was. She knew Phillip was a minister and that he was serious about his faith, but Alicia had certain needs and desires. For her, kissing and cuddling only meant tons of torture, and she longed for their wedding day. It couldn’t come fast enough, and she’d gone without for so many years that it was almost funny. Especially since the sole reason she’d done so was because Phillip had made it clear that he wouldn’t have it any other way. He’d insisted that the only way things could work between them was if her love and respect for God were sincere. This, of course, meant living by the Word and not having sex until they were remarried. Still, she’d be lying if she said she was okay with it, because she wasn’t. She was twenty-eight, and she couldn’t help the way she felt. Phillip was only ten years older, so she couldn’t see how he was able to deal with this either. But he was, and he seemed to do it with ease.
After Phillip left, Alicia finished getting dressed and grabbed her large black leather tote from her bed. She disconnected her phone from its charger and saw that she had new emails. When she opened her mailbox, she scrolled through three department store sale reminders and a couple of other unimportant messages. But she swallowed hard when she saw the next one. The subject line said, “Hey Beautiful,” and the sender’s name was listed as Levi Cunningham.
She covered her mouth with her hand, whispering out loud, “No, this just can’t be.”
She took a deep breath and sat down on the leather chaise in shock. Her heart beat faster with every few seconds, and although she was curious about the contents of the email, she was afraid to open it. What could Levi possibly want? She hadn’t heard from him in five years, not since he’d called her from prison. She’d wondered then how he was able to contact her and talk for as long as he wanted, until she’d learned that he’d gotten in pretty good with one of the correctional officers. He’d called her twice. Once to let her know how much he still loved her, and the second time to tell her that her husband at the time, JT, was sleeping around on her and committing other unimaginable sins.
Although, now that Alicia thought about it, she had spoken to Levi a third time, and that was when she’d told him she was going to do everything she could to get back with Phillip. Levi had been disappointed, but it wasn’t like he could offer her something better, not with him still serving time for drug-related felony charges. Back then, he’d been sure he’d be out within a few months, since his attorney had discovered new evidence to help exonerate him. Levi had also cooperated with the authorities, which likely meant he’d told on the right people. Still, as far as she knew, nothing had ever panned out in terms of his getting a new trial.
Alicia stared at her phone, debating whether she should open the email. Her common sense begged her to delete it, but her heart pleaded for something different. And she knew why: after all these years, she’d never fully gotten over him. She’d buried her feelings and gone on with her life, but she’d never forgotten their genuine chemistry. Their hearts had bonded naturally, and their deep emotional connection had been indescribable. It was the kind that only true soul mates could share—the kind she had never experienced with another man, not even Phillip. Although, what harm could Levi do from a prison cell?
Alicia debated no further. She opened the message and read it.
I’m sure I’m the last person you ever expected to hear from, right? I’m a little surprised myself, but I’m happy to say I finally got my new trial, and I was released yesterday. I’m a free man, and although it hasn’t even been a full 24 hours yet, I’ve never felt better. I wanted to contact you as soon as my mom and my boy Darrell picked me up, but I decided I would spend some quality time with my mom last night first. She has been my rock through all of this, so I owed her that. But this morning, I woke up thinking about you and how much I missed you. So can you please email me back? I really want to see you. Oh, and I’m not sure whether you noticed or not, but after being locked down for all this time, I went back to school and learned a lot about commas and when to include them. J Even better, I now have a bachelor’s degree in business. Amazing what you can do online these days, and I can’t thank God enough for it. I’m a totally different man. Anyway, I hope you respond. I can’t wait to hear your voice.
Talk to you soon.
P.S. I never stopped loving you, sweetheart. Not for a second.
Alicia didn’t move. She couldn’t have if she’d wanted to. Was it really true? Was Levi out of prison and living back in Mitchell? The same city she was returning to as well—the city where she and Phillip were making their permanent home? This was all too much for Alicia to digest, but as she sat thinking, she realized something. Levi’s email wasn’t going to change anything. She loved Phillip, she was marrying him in two months, and that was that. This was her reality. This was all of their reality. End of story.
“Brad, what is this?” Melanie exclaimed, holding her husband’s latest credit union statement.
Brad frowned. “What is what?”
Melanie passed him the document. “Here, see for yourself.”
“Where did you get this? Were you rummaging through my desk?”
“No, I was looking for a black marker, and I just so happened to see it.”
“Do I search through your things?”
“I wouldn’t care if you did. I don’t have anything to hide.”
“Neither do I, but I also don’t like stuff moved around in my office.”
“Normally, you lay your mail on top of your desk. But not this, though.”
Brad ignored her. “What would make you rummage through my stuff like this?”
“You know what, that’s neither here nor there. I just wanna know what you needed ten thousand dollars for.”
Brad sighed. “I can’t believe you went through my desk and opened my mail.”
“We’ve been married for, what? Three years? So as your wife, I have a right to see everything. And until now, you’ve never had a problem with that.”
“Why aren’t you answering my question? Are you doing something I need to know about?”
“No, I made a bad investment, and I lost some money.”
“How?” she said, folding her arms. “Playing around with the stock market again?”
“I wasn’t playing around with it. I read about a couple of hot items, and they didn’t pan out.”
“But ten thousand dollars? You lost ten thousand dollars, and you’re acting like it’s no big deal?”
“I never said it wasn’t a big deal.”
“But you’re sounding like you lost ten pennies. Not to mention, it’s bad enough that you lost more than thirty thousand a year ago for the same reason.”
Brad rolled his eyes. “Oh, here we go. Bringin’ up the past again.”
“I’m simply making a point. It’s not like we’re getting any younger.”
“Are you serious? Mel, you’re only twenty-eight years old.”
“But you know how careful I’ve always been when it comes to money. I was cautious and saving as much as I could before you ever asked me to marry you. And since you’ll be forty in a couple of years, I would think you’d start being a lot more cautious, too. Especially when it comes to your savings account.”
“Look, baby,” he said, calming his voice. “I’m sorry. I hear you, and I promise it won’t happen again.”
“You said the same thing last year.”
“I know, but I mean it this time,” he said, leaning against his desk. “I traded some pretty high-risk stocks online, and it was only because I thought I could make a lot of money from it. But I’ve learned my lesson.”
“So this wasn’t even done through a broker? You did this on your own?”
“Yeah, but I’m done. I know you don’t believe me, but losing all this in a matter of days really opened my eyes.”
Melanie spoke in a softer tone. “You can’t keep doing this.”
Brad’s cell phone rang, and he pulled it from his blazer. “Baby, it’s the office. Just give me a second, okay?”
Melanie sat down in the supple brown leather wing-back chair and waited for him to finish his call. She was trying not to be angry, but she couldn’t understand why Brad did this kind of thing. She was just the opposite, so it didn’t made sense to her. She could never blow that kind of money unnecessarily, not from her individual savings, checking, retirement, or any other account. They had two joint money market accounts as well, and for the most part, she pretended those didn’t exist. She just couldn’t see spending money so frivolously like there would be no tomorrow. There were times when she knew she might have gone to a bit of an extreme with her vigilant money-management philosophy, but who knew what the future held? Anything at all could happen. Loss of employment, illness, or even death.
Then, to think how hard they’d worked to get where they were professionally. Brad was the newest senior partner at the firm he’d been practicing at since graduating law school—a firm that was known statewide—and Melanie was a nurse practitioner at the most highly recommended internal medicine office in Mitchell. Also, last year they’d built a six-thousand-square-foot home and furnished every room with all new furniture and accessories. Melanie had thought they were spending way too much money, but once Brad had convinced her that they could afford it and that he wasn’t working all his life for nothing, she’d gone along with it. Of course, that had been well before she’d known he was going to throw away thirty thousand dollars only three months after breaking ground. She certainly hadn’t known he was going to lose ten thousand more last month. It was common for the stocks and bonds that made up their retirement portfolios to fluctuate, but the idea of buying risky items for no reason was uncalled for.
Brad ended his call and reached out his hand to Melanie. “Baby, come here.”
“Just come here. Please.”
She got up and walked over to him.
Brad sat back onto the top of his desk, drew her closer, and wrapped his arms around her waist. “I’m really sorry. I got a little carried away, and I messed up. Can you forgive me?”
Melanie looked at him but didn’t say anything.
He caressed the side of her face. “You know you can’t stay mad at me forever, right?”
“I just wish you wouldn’t do things like this. I mean, if you’re just dying to give away money, I’d rather see you give it to families or organizations in need. Because to me, when you throw away money that God has blessed you with, you’re being ungrateful.”
“I agree. But do you forgive me?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“Not really,” he said, wrapping Melanie’s arms around his neck and kissing her.
Melanie hated arguing with him, and it felt good holding him and trying to get past what had happened.
“I was planning to wait to bring this up, but now is just as good a time as any,” he said.
Melanie wondered why he looked so serious. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. But I do want us to think more about starting a family. I want you to stop taking your birth control pills.”
“I don’t know,” she said, and although she wanted a child, too, she wasn’t sure this was the right time anymore. Not with Brad’s latest financial move. She wanted to believe him when he said this would never happen again, but she needed to see it. Another thing that had started to concern her quite a bit was the fact that he worked a lot of hours. She clearly understood what his job entailed, but for the last few months they’d sometimes barely seen each other except on Sundays. They’d had words about that very thing a couple of weeks ago, and she didn’t want to be the kind of mother who raised her child alone.
But then there was her other reason, the one she didn’t have the courage to tell Brad about. She was terrified of gaining a huge amount of weight from being pregnant. As it was, she was already struggling to lose the same ten pounds she’d been trying to get rid of for more than a year. She was sure ten pounds didn’t seem like a lot to most people, but the last thing she wanted was for her mother to start harassing her again—spewing some of the same hurtful comments she’d dished out for years. Melanie had been a chubby child, and her mother had been repulsed by it.
“Why aren’t you saying anything?” he asked.
“No reason. I just wanna make sure we’re ready.”
“Baby, how much more ready do we need to be? We have more than enough room, and we can definitely afford it. Plus, you know it’s still my dream to be able to give our children what my parents weren’t able to give me. When they were alive, they took care of me the best they could, but they barely made ends meet, and I went without a lot. Even in college.”
“I know. Why don’t we talk about it more tonight?”
“Fine. And hey—are you losing weight?”
“Why? Because it’s not like you need to. You look perfect.”
“I’m glad you feel that way,” she said, wondering how he could possibly think she’d lost even a few ounces, let alone enough weight that was noticeable enough to see. Especially since she weighed herself every single day, and not much had changed. Although maybe working out six days a week without fail was helping her lose inches.
Brad kissed her again, this time with more passion. “Make love to me.”
Melanie gently pressed both her hands against his chest. “Baby, I can’t. I have to get dressed so I can drive over to Schaumburg. I’m meeting Alicia, remember?”
“Oh yeah. Well, I guess I’ll let you off the hook this one time. I expect you to make this up to me tonight, though,” he said, smiling.
Melanie was relieved, because her plans to drive over and meet Alicia weren’t the only reason she was putting him off. Truth was, she had long stopped wanting to make love to him in broad daylight because of how pathetic she looked when she was naked. At five foot nine and 165 pounds, she wore a size ten and looked like Miss Piggy, which was one of the many names her father had called her when she was a child. She wasn’t nearly as heavy now as she’d been back then, but she was still a size ten for heaven’s sake. Just the thought of it made her want to burst into tears. Brad deserved so much better. A wife he could be proud to have on his arm—just like her mother regularly told her. And if it was the last thing she did, she would make that happen. She would do whatever was necessary to drop those ten horrible pounds she was parading around with. That way, she could fit back into her size eights the way she was supposed to. She wouldn’t be happy—and neither would her mother—until she did.
It’s been four years since twenty-eight-year old Alicia Black, daughter of Reverend Curtis Black, divorced her second husband, the most womanizing and corrupt man she has ever known. Since then, Alicia has been dating her first husband, Phillip Sullivan, a wonderfully kind and true man of God whom she’d hurt terribly by cheating on him. Alicia has worked hard to prove herself worthy of his trust once more, and when he asks her to marry him again, she couldn’t be happier. But Levi Cunningham, the drug dealer Alicia had an extramarital affair with, has just been released from prison, and he has completely turned his life around for the better. Still head-over-heels in love with Alicia, he will do whatever is necessary to win her back. Remarrying Phillip is the one thing Alicia has wanted for years, but she can’t get Levi out of her mind. Alicia and Phillip aren’t the only ones in the middle of a crisis. Their best friends, husband and wife Brad and Melanie Richardson, are struggling to keep their marriage together. Workaholic Brad is never home and has begun losing thousands on bad investments. Or so he says. Melanie, who is certain there’s more to the story, is determined to get at the truth. At the same time, her frustration and stress cause her to eat a lot less, and she behaves in an extreme fashion. Alicia worries that she could be suffering from anorexia, but Melanie steadfastly denies it. Their friendship begins to suffer, and it isn’t long before they’re talking to each other like enemies. Fresh betrayal leads to consequences no one saw coming, and Alicia’s relationship with Phillip might not be the only thing that needs saving. But is it already too late?