Be Careful What you Pray For
Release Date, January 19, 2010
Sample Excerpt Discussion Questions
Her first marriage didn’t work out, but that isn’t going to stop Alicia Black, the privileged daughter of the charismatic Reverend Curtis Black, from getting what she wants. One month after her wedding to her second husband, she can’t believe her good fortune. God has heeded her prayers, blessing her with Pastor JT Valentine, a handsome, dynamic man of the cloth with his own large congregation, just like her father.
Unfortunately, Alicia doesn’t understand just how much like Curtis her new husband truly is. She doesn’t know JT has been sneaking around town with other women–or that he only married her to get close to her famous father’s money and fame. But while Alicia is blinded by love, her dad certainly isn’t. He warned his little girl that JT “simply can’t be trusted.” After all, it takes one to know one, and who better to see into the darkness of a sinner’s heart than Curtis?
It will take a miracle to save the day. But God acts in mysterious ways, and soon a host of lies, long-time secrets, and acts of betrayal come to light, and Alicia must face some very crucial and life-changing decisions. This time, though, she’s got to be careful what she prays for. . .
He was almost too good to be true, what with his at least six-foot-two body frame, flawlessly smooth skin, coal-black wavy hair, and pearly-white teeth. He somehow didn’t seem real, but Alicia knew he was real because at this very moment, she was sitting directly across the table from him at one of the most upscale restaurants in downtown Chicago. He was by far one of the finest looking men she’d ever laid eyes on, and there wasn’t a woman she could think of who would disagree with her findings. The man looked that good and if that wasn’t enough, he also conveyed exceptional charisma, an alluring smile and was the founder of New Life Christian Center, a five-year-old church that already had over five thousand members. Yes, Pastor JT Valentine was the kind of man Alicia had been hoping and praying for, particularly ever since her first marriage had ended just a few months ago from her first husband, Phillip, and she could barely contain herself. But since her father, stepmother and a couple of Pastor Valentine’s deacons and their wives were also dining right along with them she took a deep breath, drank a sip of water and coolly leaned back in her chair. “Pastor Black,” Pastor Valentine said and Alicia couldn’t help noticing the very elegant and obviously tailor-made suit he was wearing. “I just want to thank you again for agreeing to come speak at our church this morning. Your words were even more powerful than the last time I heard you deliver a sermon, and I hope you’ll consider blessing us with your presence again sometime in the future.” “I would be happy to, and I’m glad you were satisfied with what I had to share today.” Pastor Valentine chuckled. “Satisfied isn’t even the word. You have been the one man I’ve truly looked up to for a while now, even before I accepted my call into the ministry, so having you accept my invitation has been the highlight of my year.” “Well, I’m glad and it was an honor.” “And I also want to thank you, Mrs. Black,” he said to Charlotte, “for taking time to make the trip here as well. I know you only live about an hour and a half away, but I do still remember what it was like for my wife, God rest her soul, and how demanding a first lady’s schedule can really be.” “This is true, but unless our son Matthew needs me to be home to attend one of his football games or something else school-related, I pretty much travel with my husband to most of his out-of-town speaking engagements. Which actually works out fine because Matthew loves staying with my Aunt when we’re gone, and Curtis doesn’t travel nearly as much as he used to anyway.” Curtis lifted a forkful of Caesar salad from his plate. “No, these days, I tend to turn down far more opportunities than I take on, but after traveling around the country for so many years, I eventually decided that I wanted to spend as much time as possible with my family.” “Totally understandable,” Pastor Valentine said and then looked at Alicia. “So, Miss Alicia, and I guess I’m sort of changing the subject a bit, but your father tells me that you’ve written the next worldwide bestseller.” Alicia smiled. “Well, I don’t know about all that, but I did just finish writing my first novel.” “That’s really impressive. It takes a lot of patience and diligence to write any book, fiction or nonfiction, so I’m very proud of you.” “Thanks,” Alicia said, smiling at him again, her stomach fluttering. “She worked on it just about every single day over the last six months, and it’s great,” her father added. “She definitely poured her heart into it and that makes all the difference, regardless of what anyone is writing.” “It really is wonderful,” Charlotte said. “I read it in one sitting, the same as I do with all the other books I read by well-known authors.” Pastor Valentine raised his eyebrows. “Wow, then, maybe I should read it, too. That is if you don’t mind sharing it with me.” “No, I don’t mind at all, and actually, I would love to have someone else’s opinion. Someone who doesn’t love me so unconditionally that they would tell me anything as long as it doesn’t hurt my feelings.” Everyone laughed and then her father said, “You’re right. I do love you, but at the same time, I would never tell you something was good if it really wasn’t.” Pastor Valentine turned his attention to Alicia again. “So, you’ll send me a copy next week?” “Yes, I’ll mail it tomorrow,” she said and it was all she could do not to blush like some teenaged school girl. She was pleased to know how interested he seemed to be in her work but what she was most thrilled about was how interested he was in her—something she could tell more and more as they continued making eye contact. The chemistry between them was discreetly intense, and it was the reason Alicia suddenly realized something. JT wasn’t just some man she was attracted to. It was true that she’d known him for only a few hours, but at this very moment she knew he was the man of her dreams. She knew it with all her heart. She knew she was going to be the next Mrs. JT Valentine. No doubt about it.
Seven Months Later It was a fine and very warm first Sunday in May and Alicia sat in the front row of the church, admiring her wonderful husband. He was actually sitting right next to her but was only minutes from heading into the pulpit to deliver his sermon. Alicia and JT had been happily married for one full month now but she was still in awe of his entire being, the same as she’d been the first day she’d met him. It was still so hard to conceive how truly blessed she’d been to have found him—the perfect spouse, who ironically, was ten years her senior just like her first husband had been—not to mention how soon it all had happened. She’d sent him her manuscript as planned, he’d called her two days after receiving it, saying he’d read it and loved it, and the next thing Alicia had known, they’d found themselves on the phone for two hours. They’d talked about everything imaginable, and one thing had led to another. He’d driven over to Mitchell the next day to take her to dinner and just one month later, JT had presented her with a three-carat, princess-cut, solitaire, diamond ring. He had slipped the huge rock onto her finger and had asked her to marry him. For a few seconds, however, and only a few seconds, Alicia had been speechless and in tears, but then she had quickly told him yes three different times. She could still remember how happy she’d been, happier than she’d ever been in her life, and how even though they’d only dated for six short months, she’d felt as if she’d known this man for years. There was one unfortunate aspect, however, that she couldn’t push out of her mind: her father hadn’t approved of JT and still hadn’t accepted the idea that she’d gotten married to him. She’d tried her best to forget her father’s words and all the reasons he’d given in terms of why she needed to end things with JT—reasons he’d given her for the umpteenth time the night before the wedding. But she couldn’t. “Baby girl, I really wish you’d think long and hard about what you’re getting ready to do tomorrow,” her father said. “Because all JT Valentine cares about is money, power and women, and he’ll never do right by you.” “Daddy, why can’t you just be happy for me? I mean, why can’t you just support my decision the same way you did when I married Phillip?” “Because JT is nothing like your first husband. Yes, he’s a minister like Phillip and he’s thirty-three like Phillip, but that’s where their similarities pretty much end. JT is all about JT and when it’s all said and done, all he’s going to do is cause you a mountain of pain.” Alicia pleaded with her father to understand. “He loves me, Daddy. He really does, so I’m begging you. Please, just give us your blessing.” “I can’t do that. I can’t be happy about any man who I know is going to hurt you in the end.” “Daddy, the only person who’s going out of their way to hurt me right now is you.” “I’m sorry for any harm this may be causing you, but I can’t help the way I feel. I can’t help the fact that I’m able to see straight through this man you’re so desperately in love with. Or should I say who you think you’re in love with because I’m not sure if you actually love him for him, or if what you’re really in love with is the amount of money he earns.” “I really resent that, Daddy. I resent it, and I’m shocked that you would have the audacity to say something like that to me. I love, trust and believe in JT with all my heart and regardless of what you or anyone else thinks about him, JT is the one.” Alicia sighed at her last thought and remembered how her father hadn’t said another word and how he’d eventually walked out of her bedroom. Then, that afternoon, he’d pleaded with her one last time to reconsider, but when he’d finally realized she’d made up her mind to go through with the ceremony, with or without him, he had reluctantly escorted her down the church aisle and given her away. JT peered at the crowd in front of him and Alicia gave him her undivided attention, the same as everyone else in the sanctuary. “It is so good to finally be back in the house of the Lord,” he said. “Although I must say, while I really did miss seeing all of you, I definitely enjoyed having an entire month off to spend with my beautiful new bride,” he said and a resounding number of “Amens” could be heard throughout the audience. “Most of you know how hard it was on me when Satan robbed me of my first wife two years ago and how I never thought I’d find true happiness again. But I’m here to tell you today that through God’s grace, not only did I find true happiness, I also found the kind of genuine love every man ought to experience at least once in his lifetime.” “Glory to God,” one woman said. “Praise His Holy name,” another added. JT glanced down at his wife. “Sweetheart, stand up and say hello to everyone.” Alicia smiled, stood, faced the congregation and waved. Many of them smiled back at her, chuckled and chattered approvingly amongst themselves, and Alicia felt like a celebrity. In the beginning, she hadn’t known how receptive the members of New Life Christian Center would actually be toward her. Especially, since they’d clearly been very fond of their former first lady and also because JT hadn’t known Alicia very long before popping the big question. So, she was very relieved to see how pleased they were to have her there. She continued waving in a number of directions and then took her seat. JT grinned and said, “And just for the record, don’t think that the only thing my wife has are her noticeably good looks because she’s also a very talented writer. She’s written a novel and once she finishes up a few revisions, it’ll only be a matter of time before multiple publishers begin making offers for it.” The congregation applauded, and Alicia appreciated their kindness and obvious support of her endeavors. “Most of you know, too,” JT continued, “that I have lots of new goals for NLCC and a vision of how quickly I want to see our ministry grow, so I thank God for giving me a woman who loves me the way Alicia does and for all of you, the people who make all that I’m trying to do here so possible.” Alicia listened as JT spoke more about his future plans for the ministry, but she couldn’t stop thinking about her new husband and how attentive and generous he’d been over the last six months. He’d given her dozens and dozens of roses, spent every minute of his free time with her and had surprised her with the kinds of gifts most women could only dream about. Alicia had wondered if she would ever find a man who loved her the way Phillip had but at the same time earned a salary that was well into the six figures, and she was happy to say she’d found every bit of that and so much more. Over the years, she’d heard a number of people insisting that it simply wasn’t possible for any one person to have everything all at the same time, specifically lots of wealth and a perfect marriage. But Alicia was pleased to know that she and JT had proved every single one of them wrong. JT was such a loyal and honest man of God— the kind of man who had made it clear from the start that even though he was dying to make love to her, he wanted them to do the right thing and not have sex until after they’d taken their vows. He’d talked a lot about how he didn’t want them doing anything that would defy God’s Word or something that might diminish their very strong moral values and how he was more than willing to wait. Needless to say, Alicia couldn’t thank God enough for bringing such a decent and wholesome man into her life. She was thankful that the fairytale she’d prayed for actually wasn’t a fairytale at all. She was elated to know that the fabulous life she and JT were so happily living was clear-cut reality. Chapter 2 “Oh, that’s it!” Diana Redding screamed at the top of her lungs, and JT felt like he was going to pass out. His heart beat violently, he panted uncontrollably and it was all he could do to try and catch a few breaths of air. In all honesty, he felt like he was going to die…but it was a chance he was always willing to take when it came to this wildcat who was old enough to be his mother. JT rolled to the side of her. “You have got to be the most amazing woman I’ve ever met.” “Oh yeah?” she said. “Well, let me tell you…that’s nothing compared to all the other tricks I plan on showing you before you leave here tonight. That is, if your little young behind can handle all of them.” Diana was incredible to say the least and strangely enough, JT had known from the first day he’d laid eyes on her, one year ago, that he had to have her. He’d known she had to be at least in her early to middle fifties, especially since she had a daughter who looked to be the same age as him, but she looked not a day past forty. She was lively and vivacious and her perfectly-shaped body, youthful skin and erotic smile had lit a raging fire right under him—the kind of fire that simply had to be put out. And he’d let her put it out five nights later at this very same condo out in Oak Brook, which was one of the many properties Diana and her real estate tycoon husband owned in the Midwest. They were multimillionaires in their own right and by far the wealthiest members he had. JT had originally seen Diana, her daughter, and her husband one Sunday at church and had spent days trying to figure out how he might be able to connect with her. He’d known he couldn’t just simply walk up to her during one of their services, but as luck would have it, he had run into her at an Italian restaurant not far from where he lived. He’d been dining with his two assistant pastors and a couple of other church officers, but then he’d seen Diana, dressed to the hilt in some vogue-style, cream-colored suit, and looking over at him. Shortly after, he’d spotted her heading toward the restroom, so he had quickly excused himself from his table and followed her. It had only taken him minutes to catch up with her and when he had, she’d smiled seductively, handed him a small piece of folded paper with an address and what time to meet her, but never said one word. She’d then walked away, and less than twenty-four hours later, JT had found himself in bed with a fifty-five year old cougar who could run wide circles around just about any woman he’d been with. Diana propped herself onto her elbow and caressed JT’s chest. “You really gave a wonderful message this morning. I mean, you always give great sermons, but this one was another winner for sure.” “I’m glad you liked it.” “I did and I’m always so proud to sit and listen to you. I’m so proud of who you are and who I know you’re eventually going to be.” “Your support means everything because I never got that when I was a child.” “Meaning?” “I know I’ve never told you much about my childhood the same as I haven’t told most people, but my years as a child were flat out pitiful. My father spent most of it telling me how I was never going to amount to anything and how I was going to end up just like him: working myself to death for just a few dollars more than minimum wage and living my entire life in shame. He pounded those words into me every chance he got and for a long time I believed him.” “Oh sweetheart, I am so sorry, and why haven’t you ever shared that with me?” “Because I try my best not to think about my father and the horrible person he was. He practically ruined any self-esteem I might have had back then and by the time I turned ten, my mother passed away from uterine cancer and he turned to alcohol. He drank himself into a complete stupor seven days a week and after a couple of years of dealing with it, I ran away.” Diana frowned. “At twelve years old?” “Yeah, but thankfully my aunt was willing to take me in. She was my mom’s older sister, and she treated me like her own child. Which was fine until I started my senior year in high school and she passed away from the same kind of cancer my mom did.” Diana slowly shook her head in disbelief. “You poor, poor thing.” “Okay, that’s enough of that,” JT said, refusing to release tears that had suddenly filled his eyes. “Let’s talk about something else.” “No, we have to talk about this because I can’t believe what you went through. And looking at you now, no one would ever guess it in a million years.” “I know. I’ve definitely come a mighty long way, and it’s all because of how wonderfully God has blessed me. He took care of me when I wasn’t quite able to take care of myself and then one night about six years ago when I was at my lowest, He set things up so that this ended up being the same night my now father-in-law was on television, preaching this awesome sermon. At the time, I had never even heard of anyone named Reverend Curtis Black, but he still had my attention from the moment I flipped through the channels and saw him. Then, when he finished, I got on my knees and asked God to forgive me for all of my sins and to use me in whatever way He saw fit.” “That’s really profound, and you know, I think it would really help if you started telling your life story to a lot more people. Especially to our congregation because they’ll certainly feel a lot closer to you once you do. People like knowing that their leaders or that any man in power who they look up to is just as human as they are. They like knowing that you haven’t always had the success you have now and that you had to work very hard to get to where you are today.” “Well, they already know I wasn’t always this successful in ministry because I’m always mentioning how I started out with only a few members but now have over five thousand.” “Still, they’ll sympathize with you a whole lot more if you tell them about your childhood. They’ll listen to you a lot more closely, and they’ll tell others what you’ve been through which in turn might bring in new members. At the least, it might get new people to come and visit New Life to see how they like it.” JT sighed deeply. “Maybe.” “Just think about it. I know it’s not an easy story to tell but having any real success in this day and age means putting your heart and soul into every aspect of what you’re trying to do.” JT smiled at Diana. “That’s what I love about you the most. Well, it’s one of the things I love about you, anyway.” “Yeah, right,” she said, chuckling, “because we both know what you love more than anything else.” JT reached toward her and caressed the tip of her chin. “You’re right about that. But seriously, what I love about you is the way you constantly encourage me to be the best person I can be and how you always have such strong faith in all that I want to do. I mean, I have so many plans and goals till I can barely think straight. I want to double the size of the congregation within the next five years and my biggest dream of all is to begin televising nationally.” “And, sweetheart, you will. You have everything it takes and as long as you continue satisfying me the way you have over the last twelve months and you keep spending a respectable amount of time with me, I’ll do whatever I can to help you financially, emotionally and otherwise.” “Hey. You’ll always be my girl and nothing will ever change what you and I have together.” Diana’s face turned serious. “Not even the fact that you have a new little wifey? That sweet young thing who’s only twenty-three years old?” JT sighed and hated having this particular discussion with Diana because he knew she still wasn’t happy about him getting married. “Now, baby, you know I didn’t have a choice. You know when a pastor doesn’t have a wife, it opens the door for loads of ridiculous rumors. As it was, people were starting to gossip and whisper about a couple of other women in the church they thought I was sleeping with, and that’s when I knew it was time to get married again.” Diana looked at him but didn’t comment one way or the other. JT wasn’t sure what he should say next because he could never tell her his other reasons for taking a wife: that he’d had the opportunity to marry the Reverend Curtis Black’s firstborn child, that he could already see how becoming Curtis’s son-in-law would eventually do great things for his career, that he wanted to have a couple of children who would be able to carry on his legacy, and that deep down there was a part of him that really did love Alicia. “So, do you love her?” Diana asked, almost as if she could hear what he was thinking. “I care about her,” he said, not wanting Diana to think he loved anyone more than he loved her. He didn’t want her even considering the idea that what the two of them had together really wasn’t love at all and that their relationship was purely based on the rough and very passionate sex they regularly engaged in, and of course, based on the money she didn’t mind providing for him. He cared about Diana, but love had nothing to do with it. “Well, if you don’t love her then I don’t see why you had to up and get married,” she said, shifting rather forcibly away from him and onto her back. JT knew he needed to explain things a lot better. “Baby, come on now,” he said, pulling her back toward him so they were facing each other. “I care about Alicia, but I love you. Plus, it’s like I keep telling you, I only got married because I knew the congregation would be happy about it. And of course with Alicia being Curtis Black’s daughter, they love her.” “Yeah, I could tell that today, but if you ask me, that’s just plain silly. I mean, who decides to like someone just because their father is famous?” “Well, for whatever reason, lots of people are obsessed with having even a remote connection to any celebrity, and to prove it, our membership increased by two percent within a month after he served as guest speaker.” “But according to you, he’s not all that thrilled about you marrying his daughter in the first place.” “Yeah, but he’ll come around. He’s just a little hesitant right now because of all the rumors and lies floating around about me, but I’ll eventually gain his total trust. Before long, he’ll love me like his very own son.” “I hope you’re right because there’s nothing like a father-in-law, especially someone as powerful as Curtis Black, who despises the man his daughter is married to.” “Everything’ll be fine. You’ll see. He’ll change his whole tune before you know it. Plus, even if for some reason he doesn’t, I have you, right?” Diana smiled in a captivating sort of way. “As long as you keep up your end of the deal, I’ll give you all the money you need to promote both New Life and yourself throughout the entire city of Chicago. And I’ll also do whatever necessary to help you go national. But there is one other condition.” JT wasn’t sure he liked the tone in her voice but said, “And what’s that?” “With the exception of me, you’re to have no other mistresses. Your wife is one thing, but I don’t ever want to hear about you being with anyone else. Not ever.” “You have my word,” he said. Then, he rested his body on top of hers and kissed her more ravenously than he had earlier. He did what he had to do. For the sake of his ministry and its future.
1. Were you surprised that Alicia agreed to marry again so soon after divorcing her first husband? Why? Do you think she was truly in love with JT or did she marry him because of how successful he was as a pastor?
2. Curtis doesn’t like JT from the very beginning or at least not after he learns that he wants to marry his daughter. Why is that? Do you think Curtis was right for trying to warn Alicia?
3. Were you surprised to learn that one of JT’s main mistresses was old enough to be his mother? Have you ever dated a much younger man? If you are a guy, have you ever dated a much older woman? If so, how was it different from dating someone your own age?
4. Were you surprised to learn that Alicia was old friends with one of JT’s mistresses?
5. How do you feel about Levi overall? It is true that he is more of a “bad boy”, but could you see him and Alicia getting together in the future? Would you want to see that happen? Why or why not?
6. Have you ever had a friend like Carmen, one who would never think twice about betraying you? If so, please share your particular experience and the outcome.
7. Did you think JT was just as bad as the “old” Curtis or worse? If so, why and in what ways?
8. Do you think Alicia was well within her rights when she made such a surprising announcement to the entire congregation? How would you handle a cheating husband, particularly if he was wealthy and powerful?
9. Were you surprised by the ending? If not, who did you expect Alicia to be with and why?
10. Do you think Alicia has finally learned her lesson? Does she realize that material wealth and other possessions don’t mean a thing if a person is completely unhappy?
11. What do you think Alicia’s life will be like from this point on? 12. What message do you believe this novel conveys?