A man who once thrived on wickedness and counted on forgiveness, Curtis Black has changed his ways. Back in the heart of his congregation and his family, he will no longer stray from the beaten path. Or so he’s promised his long-suffering wife, Charlotte.
But the sins of the past have strange ways of coming to light. First, Curtis’s former mistress shows up with their newborn baby daughter—named Curtina—and insists that Curtis be a part of their lives. Charlotte has forbidden her husband to have anything to do with them, but the trouble is, Curtis’s newfound conscience is leading him to have uncomfortable thoughts of responsibility.
Also, the interim pastor who took over while Curtis was on a book tour is threatening blackmail. He’s gotten too used to life at the pulpit and will do everything in his power to stay there.
Meanwhile, Charlotte has her own previous transgressions to deal with. The man who claims to be her son’s biological father has turned up and wants to make amends for the past thirteen years. If Charlotte gives in to his increasing requests, she may lose the only child she has left.
However, Curtis and Charlotte have been through too much together to give up now. They must work harder than ever—as a mother and a father, as husband and wife—to save their family, their marriage, and their souls.
Six Months Earlier
The phone rang and when Curtis saw the words Mitchell Memorial on the Caller I.D. screen, his stomach immediately started to churn. He felt a nervousness that he hadn’t felt in a very long while and the fact that his wife, Charlotte, was sitting right next to him and had clearly seen where the call was coming from wasn’t helping.
He knew with everything in him that Tabitha was calling to announce the baby’s arrival.
He answered after the third ring. “Hello.”
“Baby, I’ve got the best news,” she said, clearly ecstatic. “You’ve got the most beautiful little girl in the whole wide world!”
“Is she healthy?” was all Curtis could think to say.
“She’s wonderful. She’s the most precious little thing I’ve ever seen and, baby…she looks just like you. I mean, she’s only been here for less than an hour but I can already see so many of your features. Baby, she’s everything you could possibly ever hope for and you just have to come see her. You have to come see what a beautiful child you and I have created together.”
Curtis was speechless. Literally speechless. Not because he didn’t have a ton of questions for Tabitha because he did. But it was just that Charlotte was now standing across the room, looking as though she was ready to pounce on him at any moment. She was outraged and he knew he needed to choose his words very carefully and end this conversation with Tabitha as soon as possible. Not to mention, Charlotte would become even more irate if she knew Tabitha was referring to him as ‘baby’.
“Did you hear me, baby?” Tabitha continued. “I said, you need to come see your daughter.”
“You know that’s not possible,” Curtis finally told her. “You know we have an agreement and once you send me a certified copy of the birth certificate, I’ll be transferring the last half of the fifty thousand dollars into your account.”
“And then what?” she asked and Curtis could tell her happy attitude was changing.
“You and I won’t contact each other again. I’ll continue to send you fifteen hundred dollars every month for child support until the child turns eighteen, and I’ll also pay for all healthcare. Then, when she’s out of high school, I’ll cover all college expenses, and I’ll give her a monthly allowance until she graduates. But other than that, this will be our last conversation.”
“How can you be so cold? I mean, how can you sit over there and just pretend you don’t have a new baby to worry about?”
“I’m really sorry, Tabitha. More than you know. But this is the way it has to be. You and I made a terrible mistake, and I regret that the baby will have to suffer certain consequences, but this really is best for everyone.”
“What you mean is that this is what’s best for that crazy wife you’re married to.”
“Like I said, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t you even want to know her name?” Tabitha asked and at the same time, Charlotte said, “Curtis, why are you apologizing to that witch? Hunh? I mean, do you even see me standing here?”
Curtis sighed and wished he could run and hide the way he had done as a child whenever he’d done something he shouldn’t have. He wished he could vanish and never have to deal with this fiasco ever again. Better, he wished he could turn back time, because if he could, he would surely do things a lot differently. He would be faithful to Charlotte and he would never get mixed up with Tabitha under any circumstances.
But it was too late for that. Too late and no way to send his baby girl back into her mother’s womb.
“Tabitha, please try to understand. I can’t change the past but know that I pray only great things for you and the baby. I pray for all the blessings I know God already has in store for you.”
Tabitha laughed out loud and Curtis wondered what was so funny.
“At this point, your prayers don’t mean one thing to me. And just for the record, I’m not asking you to change the past. I’m asking you to do right by your daughter or else.”
“Or else what?
“Keep blowing off our baby like she’s some unwanted little orphan, and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.”
“You know what, Tabitha,” he said. “I think it’s time we end this conversation.”
“Do whatever you want but just know that I’m not going anywhere and neither is Curtina. She’s here to stay and you can either do right by her voluntarily or involuntarily. Makes no difference to me. But understand that if I have to force you, it won’t be pretty.”
A second later, Curtis heard the phone click.
She’d hung up but her words were still lingering mid-air and making him more uncomfortable than he wanted to be. Uncomfortable because her tone had sounded vindictive and like some sort of guarantee.
Curtis pressed the off button and set the cordless onto the kitchen
Charlotte folded her arms and leaned against the refrigerator. “She was threatening you, wasn’t she?”
“If you want to call it that?”
“What did she say?”
“It’s not even worth going into. You heard what I told her and whether she likes it or not, she’s going to have to accept it.”
“And you’re naive enough to think it’s going to be that simple?”
“Why wouldn’t it be?” he said although, he knew Charlotte had a more than valid point. Especially after just hearing Tabitha speak to him the way she had.
“Curtis, are you that blind? Are you so blind that you can’t see that this woman is going to be a serious problem?”
“What can she do? Because it’s not like I want anything to do with her. When I said I was committed to you and that I was finished with Tabitha, I meant it.”
“But now there’s a baby in the picture. It was one thing when she was pregnant but now that she’s actually had it, she’s thinking she has another chance with you.”
“I don’t think so.”
“And why is that?” Charlotte asked now tapping her foot against the floor with her arms still folded. She could be so sarcastic when she wanted to be and Curtis could hardly stand it.
“Because she knows my decision.”
“What did she say to you exactly?”
“That she just had the baby and that it’s a girl.”
“I hate that whore,” Charlotte said, moving toward the counter and slamming a crystal glass into the sink.
Curtis could no longer see the gold-trimmed goblet, but he’d heard it shatter into what seemed a million pieces. He knew Charlotte was thinking of their daughter, Marissa, and how she’d tumbled down the stairs, hit her head and died almost instantly. He knew Charlotte despised the fact that she no longer had a daughter of her own but now Tabitha proudly did.
“Baby, please,” he said moving closer to where she was standing and pulling her into his arms once again. “I love you with everything in me, so please don’t let this come between us. Not now.”
This time, to Curtis’s surprise, Charlotte didn’t pull away from him. She hugged him tightly and wept in a way that said her pain was deep within her soul. She wept over the loss of her own child and now Curtis was feeling sorrier than he had been.
What a huge mess all of this had turned out to be and he had no idea what he was going to do about it. If he didn’t go see his new daughter, there was no telling what Tabitha might actually do. But on the other hand, if he did, Charlotte would spin into an uproar and the peace they’d shared between them over the last year would quickly cease to exist.
So, his hands were tied. Tied because he loved his wife and even though he hadn’t seen her yet, he loved his baby girl. Curtina. His youngest and the one Tabitha had decided to name after him. His own flesh and blood.
Curtis continued holding Charlotte closely against his chest but he couldn’t help trying to picture what his daughter looked like. He tried and tried and without warning, tears slowly streamed down his face.
He and Charlotte cried while still holding each other.
They cried, but sadly, for very different reasons.
Charlotte couldn’t imagine life being any better than it was currently. She and Curtis were closer than they’d ever been and best of all, they hadn’t heard from Tabitha. Not once. Which was a wonderful surprise because Charlotte had been sure Tabitha was going to become the intrusion of a lifetime. Especially, since she’d called the day the baby was born and tried to get Curtis to come see it. Or actually, come see her, because whether Curtis wanted to admit it or not, Charlotte knew Tabitha still wanted him. She knew because she’d never heard of any mistress who didn’t have high hopes that the man she was sleeping with would somehow miraculously leave his wife for her. She knew because to be honest, she’d felt the same way herself when Curtis had still been married to Tanya. Her desire had been as wrong as wrong could be, however she had still wanted what she wanted and hadn’t cared a whole lot about who might be hurt in the end.
But right now, none of that mattered. What mattered was that she and Curtis had just finished making exceptional love to each other and they were lying in bed, snuggled closely, enjoying a beautiful moment.
“Woman, what in the world are you trying to do to me?” Curtis asked, breathing more easily than he had been five minutes ago.
Charlotte chuckled. “Are you saying you can’t handle it?”
“Me? The Curtis Black? Not able to handle my wife when it comes to making love? Please.”
“Well, that’s what it sounds like.”
“As Matthew would say, ‘Girl, don’t get it twisted’.”
They both laughed.
“You’re right,” she said. “That’s exactly what he would say. Although, now, he doesn’t have much of anything to say at all.”
“I know. He’s been on the quiet side ever since we told him the truth but I still say we did the right thing. He needed to know that I’m not his biological father.”
Charlotte heard what Curtis was saying but if she’d had it her way, she would have left well enough alone and worried about telling Matthew the truth at a later date. When Marissa had died, she’d begun feeling as though it wasn’t a good idea to keep secrets of any kind from anyone, including Matthew. She’d kept secrets most of her adult life and far too many people had been hurt because of them so she’d decided she didn’t want Matthew to learn about his paternity from anyone other than Curtis and her.
But now, he was basically moping around the house, not saying any more than he had to to either of them, and Charlotte was starting to regret telling him anything. She’d wanted him to know the truth but she hadn’t wanted him to feel the amount of pain she could tell he was feeling and she certainly hadn’t wanted to create any tension or distance.
“He’ll be okay,” Curtis finally said. “It’s just that this is all very new to him and it’s going to take some getting used to.”
“I guess. But I hope he’s okay sooner rather than later.”
“He will be. He’ll be fine.”
Charlotte nestled closer to Curtis and laid her head on his chest but as soon as she did, the phone rang.
“Who could that be?” she said. “It has to be at least eleven o’clock.”
“Something must be wrong,” Curtis added.
Charlotte picked up the phone from the nightstand and sighed deeply. It was Tabitha.
“Could I speak to Curtis, please?”
“Tabitha, do you realize what time it is?”
“No, and to be honest, I really don’t care.”
Charlotte sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed.
“You don’t care?”
“That’s what I said, didn’t I?”
“I don’t believe you. You’re actually calling here this late at night to speak to my husband, and you’ve got the nerve to be getting smart with me? You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Look, Charlotte, will you just get over yourself and put Curtis on the phone? I need to discuss something with him about Curtina.”
The whole idea of the name Curtina was enough to make Charlotte cringe. She was annoyed by the fact that Tabitha had chosen to name the baby as close to Curtis’s as she could. Not to mention, Curtina had to have been the ugliest name she’d ever heard.
“First of all,” Charlotte began. “You’ve been told more than once not to call this house and not to contact Curtis in any way, so why can’t you just leave us alone? Why can’t you just move on and forget about him?”
“Because whether you want to accept it or not, Curtis and I have a baby together. We have a gorgeous little daughter and you’re just upset because you don’t have any children with him. I mean, I know you claimed Matthew was his and then you lied and schemed about Marissa for as long as you could, but in the end, neither of those children was his.”
Charlotte felt her breathing accelerate a few notches and was thankful she wasn’t in the same room with Tabitha. If she had been, she would have beaten her unmercifully. She would have done whatever necessary to make sure Tabitha never bothered her and Curtis ever again.
“Will you just put him on the phone?!” she yelled.
“No. And the only way you’ll speak to my husband is over my dead body.”
“Oh and you think that can’t be arranged?”
“Are you threatening my life?”
“Give me the phone,” Curtis interrupted and reached for it.
But Charlotte snatched away from him, turned on the lamp and stood up.
“You look here, you crazy heifer,” Charlotte said matter-of-factly. “Just because you were stupid enough to mess around with a married man, stupid enough to get pregnant by him and then stupid enough to think he was going to leave me once that baby was born, well, that’s simply not my fault. You hear me?”
“Oh I hear you very well, but which do you think is worse, Charlotte? My getting pregnant by Curtis or your getting pregnant by your cousin’s husband? And let’s not forget about how you got pregnant by that schizophrenic, Aaron, who tried to burn down your house while you were still inside it. So, no matter which way you look at any of this, you’re as loose as Mary Magdalene. Actually, you’re much lower because even Mary Magdalene had the decency to take Jesus’ advice to go and sin no more. And those are not my words, sweetheart, they’re Curtis’s.”
Charlotte pressed the off button and threw the phone at Curtis as hard as she could. It landed against his chest.
“What did you do that for?”
“You actually had the audacity to say I was worse than Mary Magdalene?”
“What are you talking about?”
“That tramp just told me you compared me to her. So, is it true?”
“Charlotte, why are you listening to anything Tabitha tells you?”
“No, just answer my question. Did you ever say that about me?”
Curtis leaned his head against the headboard and covered his face and Charlotte knew Tabitha wasn’t lying.
“Is that what you really think of me?” she asked.
“Then, why did you tell her that?”
“You know how hurt and angry I was after that whole Aaron situation, and I said a lot of things I didn’t mean.”
“Still. How could you be low enough to talk about me that way to some woman you were sleeping with?”
“Baby, you know Matthew is in the other room, so please don’t speak that way.”
“I’ll speak any way I feel like speaking. And for the record, which do you think is worse? Words or committing adultery?”
“I don’t know. You tell me.”
Charlotte knew he was referring to her own infidelity, but she ignored him. She pretended he hadn’t said a word and kept on her mission.
“I’m telling you right now, Curtis. You’d better stop Tabitha from calling here or else.”
“You know I’ve already told her not to contact me, and she hasn’t until now.”
“I knew when we didn’t hear from her over the last six months, it was all too good to be true. I always knew it was just a matter of time before she started thinking she still had a chance with you.”
“Tabitha knows what we had is over. She knows it’s over for good, so I don’t know why she called here.”
“You really piss me off when you do that.”
“Pretend like you’re so naive to everything.”
“I’m not pretending anything. I’m just saying that Tabitha knows how I feel about you and that there’s not one chance of her and me being together.”
“Well, all I know is that you’d better handle this. You’d better handle it before it causes some serious problems between you and me. I told you I would stay with you but I only agreed to forgive you because you claimed that your only involvement with that woman would be through child support payments.”
“And that’s the only involvement I have had.”
“All of this makes me sick. It makes me wish I had divorced you right when you told me she was pregnant.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“Oh…yes…I…do. Because if I had, I wouldn’t be receiving phone calls like the one I just answered.”
“I can’t believe you’re saying this. Not after all this time.”
“You thought just because I never brought up this pathetic situation that it doesn’t bother me?”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying.”
“Then, what are you saying?”
“That I thought we made a pact. I thought we agreed to forgive each other and move on with our lives.”
“We did. And I was fine. That is, until a few minutes ago.”
“If it will make you feel any better, I’ll call Tabitha and explain to her that if she contacts me again, she’ll be violating our contract.”
“From the way she sounded on the phone, she probably couldn’t care less. As a matter of fact, I’ll bet it’s only a matter of time before she does something even worse,”
“What else could she do?”
“Go public. Demand more money. Drop the baby on our doorstep. You tell me.”
“When we agreed to pay her that fifty-thousand-dollar lump sum and she signed on the dotted line, she knew that meant complete silence.”
“All I can do is call her.”
“Then, what do you want me to do?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t want you talking to her.”
Curtis shook his head in frustration and Charlotte gave him a dirty look. Next, she stormed out of the bedroom.
She felt like screaming and the only reason she didn’t was because Matthew’s room was just down the hallway. If only Curtis hadn’t started that affair with Tabitha and gotten her pregnant. Life would be so much easier. So much happier. So much more bearable.
But no matter how she fantasized about the way things could have been, reality struck her straight across her face. To be honest, it struck her so forcibly that she wondered how she would ever be able to live with it. She did love Curtis and of course she wanted the best for Matthew, but after hearing Tabitha’s indignant tone, she didn’t know if she could deal with this for years to come. Not to mention, the idea that Tabitha had a baby with Curtis and she didn’t, made her ill. It made her wish upon certain tragedies. Tragedies that would free them from Tabitha for good. The kind of tragedy that would allow her and Curtis to live happily ever after the way they’d planned.
The kind of tragedy that might happen by accident.
2. Should Curtis go ahead and spend time with his daughter, Curtina, regardless of how Charlotte feels about it? And if so, why?
3. If you were Matthew’s age and had never met your biological father, do you think you’d have a burning desire to do so? What about if you were an adult and had a chance to meet your father for the first time? What would you do if you were in that situation?
4. Why do you think Matthew and David take such a liking to each other during their very first meeting?
5. What is your reaction to Tabitha showing up at the church with Curtina and then demanding to see Curtis? What about when she attended service and then addressed the congregation?
6. When David quickly threatened to sue for custody of Matthew, what did you suspect – that he had ulterior motives or that he was being genuine – and why?
7. Was there a time while reading SIN NO MORE that you thought Curtis would end up having another affair with Tabitha? If so, why?
8. Reverend Tolson’s wife stands before an entire congregation, confessing everything she knows about her husband and Tabitha. If you were in her shoes, how would you have handled the situation?
9. What do you think of Curtis and Charlotte firing Tracy, their housekeeper, for betraying their trust? Do you believe Tracy was sincere when she said she didn’t know what else to do once Tabitha began blackmailing her, and if so, why?
10. Before you learned who was actually sending Charlotte anonymous email messages, who did you think the guilty party was?
11. Do you have any relatives who remind you of Charlotte’s streetwise cousin, Dooney? What do you think about the possibility that all families have one or more dysfunctional relatives, whether they are willing to admit it or not?
12. What kind of reaction do you believe Curtis’s past sins will eventually have on both Matthew and Alicia? How might this affect their future relationships?
13. Is it your opinion that for the first time since they were married, Curtis and Charlotte will finally be able to live a very happy and normal life? Why?
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