Mt. Zion's first lady, Sullivan Webb, has left her philandering ways behind her, but lingering questions surrounding her daughter's paternity motivate Sullivan to seek out her own absentee father, Pastor Samuel Sullivan. What her search uncovers is years of lies, secrets, and betrayal that threaten to destroy the lives of almost everyone she loves. Kina Battle's newfound celebrity status as the winner of a popular weight-loss reality show goes to her head as quickly as she shed her unwanted pounds. Kina is prepared for the fame, endorsement deals, and celebrity appearances that come along with stardom. What she isn't prepared for is the harsh backlash when her secrets are exposed and the public starts to question whether she is the devout Christian that she's led everyone to believe she is. Lawson Kerry Banks could get over her husband's affair if the evidence wasn't staring at her through the eyes of his love child. Lawson's insecurities and inability to accept his child force Garrett to choose between the woman he loves and the child he's fathered. Life as the soon-to-be wife of high school football coach Mark Vinson lacks the excitement of Reginell Kerry's former life. It certainly lacks the financial security that pulling down $1000 a week as an exotic dancer afforded her. When the bills start to pile up, Reginell goes back to doing what she knows best, only this time it may cost her more than she's willing to pay. Angel King's broken heart finds a safe place to mend in the arms of high school classmate Jordan McKay. He respects her decision to abstain from sex until marriage, he loves the Lord, and he adores her. However, Jordan is harboring a dangerous secret that could destroy their relationship and leave Angel brokenhearted once again. Just when these ladies think they've gotten life figured out, fate steps in and throws a curve ball, adding fuel to the drama that seems to follow the ladies wherever they go.
Release date: August 1, 2013
Publisher: Urban Christian
Print pages: 288
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Flawfully Wedded Wives
“Something’s missing,” observed Lawson, the mother figure of the bloc. She more than made up for her petite frame by being a verbal powerhouse and a spiritual force to be reckoned with.
Lawson’s younger sister, Reginell, and good friend Angel King, nodded in agreement.
Sullivan, a stylish and high-maintenance diva, adjusted the big pink bow wrapped around one of Charity’s Afro puffs. She inspected her work. At one year old, Charity was every bit the fashion maven that her mother was. “Yes, what’s missing is your gratitude for all the hard work I put into preparing all this food,” retorted Mount Zion Ministries’ first lady and magnet for drama and controversy.
Lawson eyed her with suspicion.
Sullivan relented. “Okay, all the hard work our maid put into it.”
“It’s all very lovely, Sully,” acknowledged Lawson. “But there’s still something missing.”
Angel plucked one of the decorative tea lilies next to her and secured it to the natural ringlets dripping from her head. “You mean someone.”
Sullivan huffed and rolled her eyes. “If you’re talking about Kina Battle—”
“Of course we’re talking about Kina,” interjected Lawson, referring to the absence of her ousted cousin, who had once completed the circle of friends. “We started this journey together. The four of us were there when you found out you were pregnant with Charity. It doesn’t seem right that Kina is not here to celebrate Charity’s birthday with us. Charity has never even had a chance to meet Kina and get to know her like she knows all of us.”
“And why should my daughter get to know the woman who almost destroyed our family?” argued Sullivan.
Angel raised an eyebrow. “Um . . . that woman would be you, Sullivan. You’re the one who cheated on your husband.”
“Yes, but Kina is the one who told him about it.” Sullivan was never one to be caught without an excuse or someone to blame. “She also tried to convince him that I was carrying another man’s child.”
“It ain’t like Kina was lying,” uttered Reginell, a cocoa-skinned beauty, as she absently braided her kinky twists into one thick plait.
While it was true that Sullivan’s brief affair with mechanic Vaughn Lovett could have very well resulted in Charity’s conception, Sullivan had chosen to ignore that possibility and had set her mind—and both hers and Charity’s futures—on Charity being the daughter of her husband and esteemed pastor, Charles Webb.
Sullivan continued. “Say what you want about me, but I’ve never tried to hurt anyone.”
“That’s only because you and Vaughn had a safe word,” cracked Reginell.
Sullivan responded with an icy glare. Despite the fact that Sullivan and Lawson were more like sisters than friends, she and Reginell had been sworn frenemies since childhood.
“Kina knows what she did was wrong, and she apologized to you more than once,” recalled Angel.
Sullivan fumed. “Are you all forgetting that Kina nearly killed my husband? He had the stroke right after she blabbed about me being pregnant with Vaughn’s child.”
Angel sighed, exasperated. “She didn’t almost kill him. Charles had a stroke. I’m sure his years of unhealthy eating were a much bigger culprit than Kina.”
“No bucket of fried chicken ever did as much damage to my husband’s health as Kina and her vicious character assassination on me. What Kina did was cruel, and it was done for no other reason than to destroy my marriage so she could have my husband for herself. Thank God Charles either doesn’t remember her telling him or has chosen to ignore it.”
“And if Charles can forgive you for cheating and all your other sins, which far exceed Kina’s, surely you can forgive her temporary lapse in judgment,” Lawson pointed out.
“I don’t know about y’all, but I miss her,” admitted Reginell. “I’ve barely even talked to Kina since she jetted out of Savannah a year ago.”
“I never told her that she had to leave town. I told her she had to leave my husband and me alone.”
“At least we get to see her every week on TV,” noted Angel. “How wild is it that she was chosen to be on a weight-loss reality show?”
“You actually look at that mess?” grumbled Sullivan. “I don’t think I can make it through a whole episode without retching.”
Lawson playfully nudged her. “Don’t act like you’ve never tuned in to see our girl Kina.”
“I won’t say never, but devoting an hour of my Saturday every week to watch this charade of Kina’s is not at the top of my to-do list.”
Lawson chuckled, in awe of her cousin. “You’ve gotta hand it to her, though. Kina is not afraid of going after what she wants.”
“Apparently, those wants include my husband. I’m tired of talking about Kina. New subject please.” Charity began whining. Sullivan cradled the child in her arms to quiet her. “You see that? The mere mentioning of Kina’s name brings my baby to tears.”
Reginell shook her head as she rummaged through Sullivan’s selection of herbal tea bags with her clawlike, iridescent fingernails. “What’s up with all this bougie tea you got us drinking?” she asked, crumpling her nose at a Fruits d’Alsace tea bag before dunking it into her teacup filled with hot water. “You too good for regular ole Snapple?”
Sullivan grimaced. “It’s a tea party, you twit! Forgive me for trying to introduce a little culture into your back-alley world.”
Reginell fluttered her mink eyelashes in indignation. “Back-alley? You grew up in the same hood that me, Lawson, and Kina did! You lived right across the street, remember?”
“I grew up in the hood, but the hood didn’t grow in me,” scoffed Sullivan and kissed her daughter. She gawked at Reginell’s exposed midriff and tight snakeskin pants with disapproval. “Now that I think about it, I may need to start limiting your contact with Charity. I don’t want your heathen ways and hood rat–inspired fashion sense rubbing off on her.”
Reginell gave Sullivan the once-over. “Is taking after her gold-digging, bed-hoppin’ mama any better?”
“Can you not act like this in front of the baby?” requested Angel, weary of her role as constant referee between Sullivan and Reginell. “I swear, at one year old, Charity is more mature than both of you! It’s no secret that we’ve all been guilty of some things I’m ashamed to say out loud, but I do have to give Sullivan some credit. She’s turned out to be an excellent mother.”
Sullivan smiled, both smug and proud. “Thank you.”
“Yeah, Sully, even I have to admit that I didn’t think you could do it,” confessed Lawson.
Sullivan hid her face with her hands, playing peekaboo with Charity. “Do what?”
Lawson snickered. “Keep this child alive for a whole year!” Reginell and Angel joined in her laughter. “We didn’t even have to call child services out here once.”
“Yeah, I lost twenty dollars on that bet,” grumbled health-conscious Angel as she waded through Sullivan’s sea of scones in hopes of finding something to eat that met her low-fat, low-calorie, gluten-free dietary demands, needed to maintain her athletic physique.
Lawson stacked her plate with goodies. “Don’t cash out on that bet just yet. Charity’s birthday isn’t until tomorrow. She still has twenty-four hours to go.”
“Very funny.” Sullivan tilted her arms so they could all see Charity. “As you can all see, Charity Faith Webb is alive, well, and thriving, not to mention absolutely stunning, like her mother.”
“It’s not like we can attribute any of her looks to her father, seeing as how you don’t know who he is,” ribbed Reginell.
Sullivan laughed bitterly in sarcasm.
“All right, don’t be mean, Reggie,” Angel scolded playfully. “Everybody knows that this is Charles’s baby.”
Reginell sucked her teeth. “I’ll believe it when Maury and a DNA test confirm it.”
“We don’t need any tests,” retorted Sullivan. “Charles knows in his heart that Charity belongs to him, and so do I.”
“Just look at those cheeks and those big brown eyes,” cooed Angel, looking down at Charity’s cherub face. “It’s like Pastor Webb popped them right out of his own sockets and put them into hers. Any fool looking at Charity would know she’s Charles’s daughter.”
“What about last week, when you said Charity’s nose and mouth couldn’t be anybody’s but Vaughn’s?” Reginell reminded her.
Angel gulped, and her pecan complexion blushed from embarrassment. “Did I say that?” She quickly recovered. “At this age, babies change so fast that they don’t really look like anyone for more than five minutes.”
“Personally, I think she’s the spitting image of her gorgeous mother,” said Lawson, planting a kiss on Charity’s cheek. “Of course, now the prayer is that she doesn’t act like her!”
“I’ve been the model first lady, wife, and mother,” insisted Sullivan, tossing a cluster of thick manufactured curls over her shoulder.
“You sure have,” chimed in Reginell. “It’s been at least a year since your last infidelity scandal!”
“A year and a half,” Sullivan replied, correcting her, and laid Charity down in her playpen.
“I guess this means you really can turn a whore into a housewife,” cracked Reginell.
“No doubt that’s what your fiancé told himself before asking you to marry him,” shot back Sullivan, alluding to Reginell’s days as an exotic dancer. “At the very least, I’m sure that’s the sound bite Mark uses whenever he runs into one of your old pole patrons in the street.”
Reginell geared up for an acidic reply. Lawson stopped her. “Remember you started it, Reggie.”
“Sully, you have to admit that Reggie has come a long way from the wild child we had to anoint with oil a few years ago,” conceded Angel, pouring another cup of tea.
“We’ve all come a long way,” affirmed Lawson. “No more stripping for Reggie, no more creepin’ for Sully.” She lifted her eyes toward Angel. “No more Internet porn for you.”
“Must you keep bringing that up?” questioned Angel, a little testy. “Mind you, my brief foray into porn also occurred during the time I was competing with my fiancé’s dead wife for his love and attention. It was my coping mechanism.”
“Coping mechanism?” repeated Sullivan with skepticism.
“Yes, the same way downing bottles of tequila used to be your coping mechanism,” blabbed Angel. “We all have our vices. Mine just happened to be naked and online. These days, I only use the Internet for what it was created for—shopping.”
Reginell sifted through Sullivan’s assortment of gourmet cookies. “We’ve all made changes in the right direction except you, Lawson.”
“What have I done?” balked Lawson, grabbing a smoked salmon finger sandwich.
“It’s what you haven’t done,” Angel informed her. “You still haven’t forgiven your husband.”
Lawson averted eye contact. “I forgave Garrett for his affair with Simone a long time ago.”
Angel softened her tone. “Yeah, you’ve said the words, but what counts is what’s in your heart. If you have truly forgiven him in your heart, you wouldn’t be still punishing him and little Simon.”
Despite the effort Lawson and her husband had made to move past his one-night stand with his construction company’s interior designer, Simone, the evidence still lingered in the form of his four-month-old love child, Simon.
“Like Garrett, I’m guilty of screwing up every now and then,” conceded Sullivan.
“More like ‘screwing around,’” Reginell said, butting in.
Sullivan went on, ignoring Reginell’s dig at her. “All I’m saying is that we’ve all come short of God’s standards, and it’s not as if you’re blameless in all this, Lawson. Garrett never would’ve stepped out on you if you hadn’t lied to him for months, secretly taking birth control pills while knowing that he wanted a baby.”
Reginell added, “Not to mention how crazy you got after Mark and I started dating.”
“Reggie, we all looked at you a little sideways about that one,” divulged Angel. “After all, Mark is Namon’s father and the man your sister lost her virginity to.”
“That’s not the point!” Reginell swept her braids off of her shoulders. “Lawson, the point is that you made Garrett feel disrespected and unloved. You shut him out.”
For once, Sullivan sided with Reginell. “Between your lies and your neglect, you did everything except gift wrap Simone’s panties for him, Lawson.”
“Whatever.” Lawson put down her plate, having now lost her appetite. “I’ve owned up to my mistakes, but no one, not even Garrett, can expect me to warm up to the one thing that’s a living, breathing constant reminder of my husband cheating on me.”
“Simon is not a thing, Lawson!” blurted out Reginell. “He’s Garrett’s son and your stepson—”
Lawson held up her hands to cut her sister off. “Simon belongs to Garrett and that tramp Simone. He has nothing to do with me.”
Sullivan sat down next to Angel on the sofa. “And it’s that attitude and your refusal to accept his son that are going to drive your husband away and right back into Simone’s waiting arms. Is that what you want?”
“None of this has been what I wanted. My marriage would be fine—perfect—if it weren’t for that woman and her child,” griped Lawson, balling her fists in frustration.
Sullivan shook her head and glanced over at Charity. “No marriage is perfect, honey, believe me!”
Reginell wrapped her arm around her sister. “Garrett and Simon are a packaged deal, like you and Namon were when you met him, and you need to find a way to make peace and deal with it.”
“The difference is that Garrett went into it knowing I had a child.”
“But you agreed to stay married and work things out, knowing that Garrett had a child on the way.” Angel sipped her tea. “Lawson, that kid isn’t going anywhere, and your husband loves him. Don’t force Garrett to choose between the two of you. You’ll lose every time.”
Reginell spoke up. “Plus, it’s not fair. He’s never made you choose between him and Namon, not even when Mark got in the picture.”
“Again, the circumstances are different.” Lawson sat down across from Sullivan and Angel. “I had Namon when I was sixteen. I didn’t even know Garrett existed. My husband got this chick pregnant less than a year after we were married! There’s no comparing the two situations.”
“Maybe not, but you’re going to lose your husband if you can’t find it in your heart to love and accept his son,” warned Reginell.
Angel checked the time. “Ohhh, it’s almost seven o’clock!”
Sullivan rolled her eyes. “And?”
Lawson stood up to turn on the television. “Sully, don’t act like that. Lose Big is about to start. It’s down to the final two episodes, and Kina is one of the top three finalists.”
“Personally, I can’t wait to watch every episode,” disclosed Angel, sliding in next to Lawson. “I’ve been very proud of Kina and how she’s represented herself.”
Sullivan frowned. “Why? I can’t stand the way she tries to market herself as this devout Christian whenever she spies a camera nearby.”
“Kina is a Christian, Sully, and she’s not ashamed to let the world know it. I say amen to that.” Lawson raised her teacup.
The television screen flashed a montage of the contestants during their weekly workout routines as a voice-over narrated.
Angel pointed at the television. “Look at Kina kickin’ butt and taking names on all those obstacle courses. She’s been puttin’ those young chubsters to shame!”
Reginell agreed. “I know, right? Who knew she was so athletic?”
“She’s always had it in her,” replied Lawson. “In high school Kina was a cheerleader and on the track team. She didn’t start to lose herself until she got mixed up with E’Bell.”
Angel beamed. “Well, she’s definitely finding Kina now!”
As Kina completed the course, she lifted her hands and head toward heaven, silently praising God.
Sullivan smirked. “I wonder how eager she’d be to let the world know about her non-Christian activities, like trying to seduce my husband, or her lesbian lover, Joan.”
“She’d be as eager for the world to know about her past as you are for the world to know that you jumped back in the sack with Vaughn and nine months later out popped that little girl over there!” Angel remarked.
Sullivan sulked in silence.
“Do you see how great she looks?” added Reginell, noting that Kina’s once round body had been sculpted into a new, svelte figure. Silky weave now flowed down her back replacing the short, stubby hair that refused to grow.
Angel turned up the volume on the television. “Look, Kina’s talking!”
“Yesterday was very grueling for me,” recalled Kina during the video-diary session of the show. “The rain was pouring down, and we were all so tired and still had half a mile to run in all that rain and mud. Just when I was at my wit’s end and about to give up, I looked up at the sky. I remembered that God promises that rain doesn’t come down and go back up until it’s done everything it’s supposed to, just like His Word. It was all I needed to get my second wind and go on to victory!” Kina lifted her hands, and the camera cut to her crossing the finish line, soaked and covered in mud, surpassing her competitors. “God gets all the glory! It’s none of me and all of Him!”
Sullivan booed and threw a pillow at the television.
“Real mature, Sully,” admonished Angel.
“Do you honestly think she meant a word of that? It’s totally scripted!” insisted Sullivan.
Lawson turned to Sullivan. “Scripted or not, if it helps someone else or leads someone closer to God, it’s all good.”
“You mean it’s all fake,” Sullivan muttered.
Angel pinched her. “Stop hatin’, Sully. You’re just mad you’re no longer the center of attention.”
“Call up Vaughn and make another sex tape and leak it on the Internet, Sully,” suggested Reginell. “You’ll be trending again in no time.”
After a few more minutes of watching Kina trample her competition, Angel stretched and stood up. “Well, ladies, as fun as this has all been, duty calls.”
Lawson looked up from the television screen. “You headed to the hospital?”
Angel nodded. “From eight to eight, like every weekend for the past three months.”
“Angel, between your personal care business and the hospital, you’re working sixty hours a week. How long do you think you’ll be able to keep this up?” asked Sullivan.
“Until I can build up enough cash flow not to. Guardian Angel is practically bleeding me dry. I’ve got to work at the hospital to stay afloat.”
Sullivan squeezed Angel’s hand. “I told you I’d loan you the money to tide you over for a while.”
Angel was confused. “What money, Sully? You don’t work. You spend your husband’s money, remember? Besides, I can do this, with the Lord’s help and your prayers.”
“You know I’ll be praying for you, girl, as always.” Lawson stood up. “In fact, there’s no better time than the present to put in a little prayer for all of us.”
Sullivan and Reginell peeled themselves away from their seats and joined hands with Lawson and Angel.
“In the name of Jesus, Lord, we come praising your name. Thank you for grace. Thank you for your Word, and we thank you for bringing us together today for such a joyous occasion. Thank you so much for our precious angel, Charity Faith. She has brought nothing but love and happiness to everyone in this room and our entire church family. Continue to strengthen her. Make her virtuous and kind. Give her a desire to follow your ways and to know you, Lord. Watch over her parents. Give them the wisdom, resources, and compassion needed to bring up this child in the way she should go. We ask for your protection over her entire family for all the days of their lives.
“God, we know that you provide and bless according to your riches and glory. We know that through faith and patience, we inherit your promises. You’ve promised to take care of our every need, so I ask that you bless Angel abundantly in her finances, knowing that she works for you and will be a faithful steward over that which you bless her with. Help her to remember that you are her source and that jobs are only resources. Give her the strength and energy she needs to make it through this week and beyond.
“Lord, I thank you for my friends, whom I call my sisters. The soul of each one of us is knit to the other like your servants David and Jonathan. Let this friendship be the impetus to strengthen, not tear down one another. Thank you for the love between every woman in this room. And while we treasure these friendships, we know that friendship with the world is enmity to you, so let us be in this world but not of the world. Keep our eyes stayed on you. Let everything we do exalt you, Lord. We thank you and praise you in advance for all you’re doing in our lives.”
“Amen,” said Angel, Reginell, and Sullivan in unison.
“And, Lord, please watch over Kina,” Lawson added. “Give her the courage and knowledge to carry out your plans. Keep her safe and bring her back home to us very soon.”
Kina Battle stared out of her high-rise hotel window into the starry California night. A few short months ago she had barely had money to put food on the table and had maxed out her credit cards to buy plane tickets, leaving Georgia with nothing but a hope and a prayer. Now she was ordering room service and lounging in designer robes. Both life and God were indeed good.
She looked over at her thirteen-year-old. . .
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