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There is never a dull moment for Mount Zion Ministries' main ladies, but this time around, the ladies find themselves fighting to stay afloat amid the storm. Charles and Sullivan Webb's happy home life comes crashing down around them after Sullivan is critically injured in a car accident. Charles is faced with having to choose between saving the life of his pregnant wife or that of his unborn child. Lawson Banks had barely gotten used to the idea of being a stepmother to husband Garrett's love child when her teenage son, Namon, informs her that she is about to become a grandmother. Lawson struggled as a teen parent, and she will stop at nothing to make sure history doesn't repeat itself. Angel and Duke King pray that the third time is the charm for their turbulent romance. All seems well until a female employee accuses Duke of attempted sexual assault after an overnight business trip. Given his past, Angel is torn between standing by her man and taking the word of his accuser. After secretly eloping, Reginell and Mark Vinson are basking in wedded bliss, until Reginell is diagnosed with endometriosis. Not only does her subsequent hysterectomy terminate any chance of conceiving a child, but Reginell also suffers unforeseen consequences. After failing to get her own reality show off the ground, Kina manages to secure a lucrative book deal. Her publisher assigns Desdemona Price to be Kina's ghostwriter, and the two become fast friends—until Desdemona starts to insert herself into the lives of Kina's friends and it becomes apparent that she has a hidden agenda of her own. The ladies have always been able to rely on God and each other, but even those things that were once most familiar now seem foreign. For the first time, they begin to question if their friendships are more of a hindrance than a help, and if God is even listening.
Release date: October 1, 2014
Publisher: Urban Christian
Print pages: 288
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Exasperated, Lawson looked down at her watch for the third time. “Is it physically impossible for that woman to be on time for anything?”
Her close friend, Angel King, laughed and tossed back her chestnut ringlets. “Charles called Sullivan again a little while ago. She said she’s on her way. Plus, it’s a surprise party. Technically, Sullivan doesn’t know she’s late.”
“Not to mention those fifty extra pregnancy pounds she’s lugging around!” added Kina Battle, joining them, trying to balance a plate of vegetables and a cup of punch. “Having a human being occupying your uterus slows down even the best of ’em. I do wish she had let one of us pick her up though.”
As she sifted through the remnants of food left on her plate, Lawson overheard someone complaining about Sullivan’s tardiness. “Sully needs to forgo the grand entrance and hurry up. The natives are getting restless! You know our girl isn’t exactly the church’s favorite person. It was like pulling teeth to get this many to show up. I practically had to bribe half of them to come and had to guilt the rest into being here.”
Angel defended their wayward friend. “I think the congregation has started to warm up to Sully, thanks to that gut full of baby bump she’s carrying and the DNA proof that Charity is the pastor’s child, not Vaughn’s. Those kids have been the best PR Sullivan could’ve asked for. Besides, her affair with Vaughn and all that drama was years ago. Nobody is holding that against her anymore. I doubt if most of the folks here even remember it.”
Lawson rolled her eyes. “Girl, please! Who do you think can forget something as messy as the first lady getting chopped down by the church’s mechanic? Not church folks! We can give elephants a run for their money when it comes to remembering acts of foolishness. Don’t get me started on all the fallout that came afterward.”
Kina scoffed. “Don’t look at me! Charles was bound to find out about the possibility of Charity not being his daughter whether I told him or not. Anyway, she turned out to be his baby, and there’s no doubt that soon-to-be born baby Christian is his child. All’s well that ends well.”
Lawson plucked a carrot stick from Kina’s plate. “Actually, Kina, I wasn’t even thinking about you. I was talking about Charles’s failed campaign for commissioner and the impact the affair had on their marriage, but thank you for reminding everybody how loudly hit dogs do holler!”
“Be careful what you say to Kina,” cautioned Angel. “You don’t want to end up scandalized in your cousin’s new book.”
Lawson cut her eyes toward Kina. “Yeah, I forgot. My sister had to learn the hard way how shady Kina can be for the right price.”
Kina balked. “I neglected to check my calendar this morning. Is this National Beat Up on Kina Day?”
“Oh, don’t try to whip out your victim card now.” Lawson set down her plate of food. “You lost that privilege when you decided that family loyalty came second to fame and your so-called reality show.”
“A reality show that never even got picked up,” Kina reminded them. “I don’t know why you all are still giving me flack about exposing Reggie. Aside from a handful of my social media followers, who even saw that video of her in all her naked glory at the strip club?”
“Um, her fiancé, for one!” answered Angel. “Your little exposé almost tore them apart.”
Kina raised her index finger. “Instead, it was the catalyst for Reggie getting off the stripper pole for good and going back to college. Now she and Mark are off on a romantic gambling weekend in Biloxi, and their relationship is stronger than ever. Honestly, Lawson, you should be thanking me for saving your sister, not raking me over the coals.”
“I’m sure that’s the Hollywood spin you’ll put on it in this tell-all book,” predicted Lawson.
“It’s not a tell-all book about my friends. It’s about my journey from being an abused widow to a weight-loss starlet to, apparently, a condemned woman.” Kina sighed. “Unfortunately, no matter how I spin it, my editor still won’t like it. She hates me. The only thing she hates more than me is anything I submit to her in writing. I’m absolutely dreading my upcoming meeting with her.”
Angel patted Kina on the back. “Kina, I’m sure she doesn’t hate you. She probably jus—”
“Hates me!” blurted out Kina. “She’s rejected every single thing I’ve written, and she’s made it very clear that the only reason she’s even giving me this book deal is because she wants to capitalize on whatever fleeting fame I have left from being the winning contestant on Lose Big.”
“Well, you did get a pretty nice book advance, Kina,” noted Angel. “It’s no surprise that your publishing company is expecting a return on their investment.”
Kina grimaced. “Twenty thousand dollars is nice, but it’s not like I can retire on that. Anyhow, I’m a secretary, not a writer!”
“Perhaps you should’ve revealed that to your publisher before cashing that big check,” deduced Lawson.
Angel tried to reassure Kina. “You’ll be fine. Just do what we always do. Put it in God’s hands and let the pieces fall into place.”
Lawson checked the time again. “Somebody needs to put Sullivan’s sense of punctuality in God’s hands too. We’ve been waiting over an hour now.”
“Yeah, this is a little beyond fashionably late,” conceded Angel. “I can’t stay much longer. Duke is leaving for LA in a couple of days, and I want to spend as much time with him as I can.”
“He left you for eight years while he was immersed in marital bliss with his late wife, Theresa. Does it really matter if y’all miss a few more minutes?” joked Kina.
Angel frowned. “Very funny. All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord, including husbands who cheat and abandon their starter wives for a few years. Obviously, all that time apart showed Duke and me that we want to be separated as little as possible.”
Kina smirked. “Tell that to his replacement wife—God rest her soul!”
Lawson tried to muffle her laughter. “Don’t listen to her, Angel. You and Duke have survived affairs, dead wives, addictions, and bratty step-kids. Any couple who can go through hell and back like you have and still come out feeling something that resembles love deserves to be together. You’re soul mates. It’s just took you a while to figure that out.”
“Thank you, Lawson. You and Garrett have been through the fire too,” said Angel. “I don’t smell any smoke on you, either.”
“Oh, it’s there. It’s just covered with a lot of perfume,” replied Lawson. “But we’re definitely in a much better place than we were a year ago. My husband’s mistress-slash-baby mama still works my nerves, but Simon has become an important member of our family, especially now that Namon is in school in Atlanta.”
“I still can’t believe he’s in college! It seems like only yesterday that you were waddling around campus, trying to hide Mark’s illegitimate seed growing inside your belly,” said Kina. “Now he’s all grown up.”
Lawson nodded. “Thank God everything turned out as well as it has. Five years ago, when Mark reentered my life and discovered that Namon was our love child, I never would’ve predicted that Mark and I would end up as great friends, or that Namon and Mark would grow as close as they have. Now Namon is at Georgia State on a full academic scholarship, Mark and I have found a way to co-parent, he and Garrett are somewhat getting along, and Reggie is great at playing the roles of both aunt and stepmother-to-be to Namon. It’s one big happily dysfunctional family!”
“Just wait until Reggie and Mark start procreating, and Namon has a bunch of ‘brother cousins’ running around,” interjected Angel.
“Admittedly, it’s a little unconventional,” granted Lawson.
“Unconventional? Try incestuous! I could never get involved with someone my relatives had been with.” Kina sneered. “It seems so . . . icky.”
Angel gave Kina the side eye. “You didn’t think it was so icky when you had the hots for Sullivan’s husband.”
Kina’s olive skin reddened from embarrassment. “Sullivan’s a friend, not a relative. You all know I was confused at the time. I wasn’t thinking straight.”
“You certainly weren’t thinking straight when you dove into the lady pond with Joan, but I digress,” Lawson added snidely.
Kina groaned. “Can we change the subject?”
“Gladly.” Lawson checked her watch again. “My goodness, where is that girl? This is late, even by Sullivan’s ‘anything under an hour isn’t late’ standard.”
“I’m getting kind of worried now,” admitted Angel. She turned her back to make a phone call.
“Yeah, people are starting to leave,” said Kina. They looked up in time to see Charles and his assistants bolt toward the door. “I wonder what that’s about.”
“I don’t know, but I’m not getting a good feeling about this.” Lawson dug her phone out of her purse. “I’m gonna try to call Sully again.”
“Don’t bother.” Angel hung up her phone. “I just tried. It’s going straight to voice mail.”
“That’s not good. Sullivan always has her phone on.” Lawson put her phone away. “You two stay here. I’m going to look for the pastor and find out what happened.”
Kina and Angel stayed behind while Lawson darted off to find Charles.
Kina rubbed her arms, finding herself here chilly and nervous. “You don’t think something’s seriously wrong with Sullivan, do you?”
Angel let out a deep breath. “I don’t know. I’d feel much better if we prayed about it, though.”
As Angel and Kina joined hands to pray, Lawson returned, frantic. “We’ve got to leave right now!” announced Lawson, grabbing her purse and jacket. “Sullivan was in an accident.”
Angel gasped. “Is she okay?”
“The car flipped over, and she was thrown through the windshield.” Lawson looked her friends in the eyes. “It doesn’t look good.”
After three days of no change in Sullivan’s condition, Lawson and Angel petitioned the Lord in prayer and didn’t care who in the hospital saw or heard Lawson interceding on their friend’s behalf
“God, we come right now, acknowledging and proclaiming you as our strength and our healer. We praise you, and we thank you for letting both Sullivan and her baby see another day. Lord, our friend has suffered trauma to her brain and hasn’t opened her eyes in three days, but we walk by faith, not by sight. We know that one touch from you will heal and deliver Sullivan and her son, little Christian. God, we profess that you heal the brokenhearted and bind up our wounds. We know that your son, Jesus, bore our sins in His body, and by His wounds we have been healed. So we put our faith in the Word more than the doctor’s diagnosis. We thank you for a full recovery for Sullivan and Christian and declare it done!”
“Yes,” whispered Angel, squeezing Lawson’s hand with one hand and wiping tears as they dripped down her cheek with the other.
“God, we ask that you watch over Charles and Charity. Strengthen them during this difficult time. Lord, we pray that they remember that you are our comforter. You are strongest when we are at our weakest. Keep them covered, Lord,” pleaded Lawson. “Let the church continue to function in our pastor’s absence as it does in his presence. Lord, it’s hard right now, but we know that you never allow us to go through anything we can’t bear. We pray that we all come out of this with a testimony and that you will receive the glory and that others may be healed and helped through this ordeal.”
Lawson went on. “God, we love you, and we believe we receive everything we ask for according to your Word. We thank and praise you in advance. It’s in the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.”
Angel nodded and sniffed, smearing the last of her tears away. “Amen.”
Angel and Lawson huddled together outside of Sullivan’s hospital room, staring at her through a small crack in the door as doctors examined her. Sullivan’s husband, Charles, looked on. The stress of watching his wife’s life hang in the balance weighed on his face, causing him to look older than his fifty-two years.
“She looks so small and . . . helpless,” remarked Lawson in a hushed tone, not accustomed to seeing her childhood friend so defeated.
“All those machines hooked up to her makes it look worse than it really is,” Angel assured her.
Lawson walked away from the door and out into the waiting area, not wanting Charles to overhear them. “Angel, she’s been in a coma for three days! The longer she’s like this, the harder her recovery will be.”
“Maybe, but she’s alive. That alone is a lot to be thankful for. Charles showed me pictures of the car after the accident.” Angel shook her head. “It’s a miracle that she made it out at all. Sullivan is healthy and strong. She’ll pull through this.”
Lawson exhaled and flopped down onto a love seat. “I, on the other hand, feel completely powerless right now. There’s literally nothing we can do to help her or baby Christian.”
Angel joined her. “You’re never powerless when you serve a God with all power in His hands. We get our strength through prayer.”
“I’ve been praying since they brought her in.”
“And we’ll keep praying until she wakes up and until that precious baby is out of the neonatal intensive care unit,” asserted Angel. “The prayers of the righteous availeth much.”
Lawson hesitated before asking her, “Do you honestly think he’s going to make it?”
“Yes, Lawson. I know what the doctor said and what his medical charts say, but God is still in charge. We have to have faith. Sullivan is our sister, and she wouldn’t want us giving up on her baby.”
Lawson faced Angel head-on. “Angel, you’re a nurse. Christian was barely two pounds at birth, and he’s in an incubator, on breathing machines. Speaking as a medical professional, do you think that baby is going to survive?”
“A lot of preemies live and go on to have normal lives,” replied Angel, hoping to keep Lawson encouraged.
“What about ones delivered three months early, like Christian? What’s the likelihood that he’ll survive or live to see his first birthday?”
Angel lowered her head. “I won’t lie. The odds aren’t in his favor. We just have to pray that the Lord’s will is done and that His will is that both that baby and Sullivan will be okay.”
“Sullivan would lose her mind if anything happened to that baby.” Lawson sighed. “If only they could’ve kept him inside of her a little longer . . .”
“Every day—every hour, really—that he stayed in utero would’ve helped him, but it would’ve been detrimental to Sully. Charles didn’t want to take that kind of chance with her life. I don’t blame him for telling the doctors to deliver the baby in order to save Sullivan.”
“It’s such an awful position for Charles to be in. Can you imagine having to choose between saving your child and saving your wife?”
“I think he made the right decision.”
“I hope Sully sees it that way. I think we all know that she isn’t the most selfless person in the world, but she does love her kids. I think if it was up to her, she’d risk her life to give her son the best chance at survival. Any mother would. I know I’d give up my life in a heartbeat to save Namon.”
“I’m not a mother, so I’m probably not to the best authority on this, but I think that’s different,” replied Angel. “Namon is here. He’s a living, breathing person. You’ve loved him and taken care of him for eighteen years. I’d expect you to feel that way, but Christian is practically a fetus. Sullivan hasn’t had time to form the same kind of attachment to her son that you have to yours.”
Lawson shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. From the moment a woman finds out she’s pregnant, she’s a mother to that baby, and she’ll do anything to protect her child.”
“Hopefully, knowing how much her baby needs her will give Sully the will to keep fighting. I think once Sully wakes up and sees Charity and Christian, she’ll be fine.”
Lawson turned solemn again. “You mean if she wakes up, don’t you?”
Angel was riled up and bolted from her seat. “No, I don’t! Sully will make it through this, Lawson.” She took in a breath and sat back down. “She has to.”
Lawson squeezed her friend’s hand. “You’re right. She will.”
Angel nodded in agreement. “Christian will too.”
Lawson was less hopeful about his chances. “I pray he does. If he dies, I’m scared a big part of Sully will go right to the grave with him. We both know how destructive Sullivan can be when she’s hurt or desperate. Charles could end up losing both of them.”
“He won’t let Sullivan self-destruct again.”
“How can he stop her?” Lawson stood up and walked toward the glass panel on Sullivan’s door. She peered into the room and saw Charles kiss Sullivan on the forehead. “He’ll probably be the one she lashes out at the most. I know her.”
“So then we’ll keep praying. Sullivan can’t lose that baby, and she certainly can’t lose her husband and the only real family she’s ever known.”
“And we can’t lose our friend.” Lawson turned to Angel. “Angel, Sullivan’s been my best friend since we were nine years old. What in the world am I supposed to do without her?”
Lawson dragged herself into the house and found Garrett loading plates into the dishwasher.
“Any change?” asked Garrett, but one look at his wife’s downcast eyes confirmed that there was no change in Sullivan’s condition.
Lawson set her purse and keys down on the breakfast bar. “She’s just lying there, you know? It’s weird because Sullivan has always been so full of life and zeal. Now she’s . . .” Lawson pursed her trembling lips together, and her eyes began to water.
Garrett pulled Lawson into his broad and comforting arms. “I know it’s hard seeing her like that, but Sullivan’s a trooper. She’ll get through this.”
Lawson nodded and wiped her eyes. “That’s what I’m believing God for.”
“Then that’s what will happen.” Garrett slowly released her. “I think I have something that will put a smile back on that gorgeous face.”
Lawson composed herself and smiled. “Is he here?”
Garrett chuckled. “Namon just called. He’ll be here in about twenty minutes.”
Lawson squealed, her mood lifted. “My baby is coming home! I know it’s been only a couple of months, but it feels like we haven’t seen him in forever!”
“I know you miss him. We all do.”
Lawson quickly snapped into Mommy mode. “We’ve got to make sure his room is fixed up.” She glanced over at the clock. “I wonder if I have time to run to the store and get those caramel apple cookies he likes so much. I’ve been so swamped with work and Sullivan that I completely forgot about them. What about that portable speaker thing he’s been talking about? Were you able to pick it up? Oh, and his favorite cereal. We need to get that too.”
Garrett grabbed his wife by the waist. “Whoa! Calm down, woman! I know you want to baby him, but Namon’s a college man now. He doesn’t want his mama making a big fuss.”
“I don’t care how old he is. He’s still my baby.”
“Well, he’s Shari’s baby too now,” Garrett teased her. “Don’t be surprised if he’s a little more interested in spending the weekend with his girlfriend instead of his mother.”
Lawson wrinkled her nose at the mention of Namon’s. . .
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