Sin of a Woman
Release Date, June 20, 2017
After her very public divorce from Dillon, Raven Black is recovering nicely. Dillon has done everything he can to discredit her, but Raven has learned from her mistakes and him. In fact, she’s intent on using every bit of Dillon’s revenge and betrayal, as she prepares to take what is hers – and more. Her ambitions have never been so great, and Raven always knows how to get what she wants. She also won’t allow anything or anyone to get in her way.
She has become her ex-husband in more ways than one and is slowly leading those connected to her down a terrible path of destruction. But playing with the lives of innocent people has dire consequences – the kind that Raven won’t see coming. Raven, of all people, should know that what happens in the dark will eventually come to light…and that there’s only so far you can run before your past catches up to you.
Raven—Pastor Raven Jones Black, that is—scanned the interior of her massive second- floor office, smiled, and strolled closer to the large picture window. But as she gazed down at all the vehicles that were lined up in the church’s parking lot, it was still hard to believe that everything had evolved so quickly. And in such perfect order, too. Yes, having a one-thousand- plus-member congregation was all that she’d hoped for, but she wasn’t sure she’d expected to see her dreams come to pass in only two years. Of course, it hadn’t hurt that nearly two hundred members from her ex-husband’s former church had joined right away. Because had they not, she knew her ministry would have taken a lot longer to build.
Raven gazed around her office again, admiring her espresso-colored Italian leather sofa, matching loveseat, two oversized chairs, CEO-style mahogany desk, and executive chair. When they’d first purchased New Vision Christian Center and had moved into the building six months ago, the pastor’s study had been only half the size it was now. But the more folks had joined the congregation and paid tithes and offerings on a regular basis, the more upgrades Raven had been able to make—both at the church and for herself. From tearing out a wall and doubling the size of her office to clearing out her closet at home and stepping up her wardrobe game, she’d made lots of changes for the better. To tell the truth, she’d always dressed in expensive clothing, even when she’d been married to that awful ex-husband of hers, Pastor Dillon Whitfield Black. But today she only wore suits that came from some of the highest-end stores people shopped at. In fact, the couture-style fuchsia jacket and skirt she wore now had come from Bergdorf Goodman in New York. She didn’t get the opportunity to shop there often, what with her residing in Mitchell, Illinois, but whenever she did fly to New York for a ministry engagement, she never left before spending at least a little time at Bergdorf, Barneys, or Saks’s flagship location. She did the same thing at the Neiman Marcus flagship store when she visited Dallas, and although some people might not understand her great desire to live well and have the best of everything, she knew it was only because they didn’t know her story. Her childhood horror story. Her reason for deciding early on that when she became an adult, she would never go without any of the things she wanted, not if she could help it.
What was so amazing, though, was that regardless of how great her life seemed to be going, she still reflected on her blemished past. She certainly didn’t want to, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t forget about her very public and very nasty divorce from Dillon. She couldn’t pretend she hadn’t spent time in prison for stealing a hundred thousand dollars from her former father-in-law, Reverend Curtis Black. She couldn’t dismiss the fact that she’d once struggled with a very serious gambling addiction.
She hadn’t even known Dillon back when she’d worked as CFO for his father’s church, and now, she regretted the day she’d contacted him. But when she’d heard about the fallout between him and his dad, she’d decided to reach out to Dillon, letting him know that she understood his pain and that she could help him build a much larger church than the one Pastor Black had founded. This, of course, had secured Dillon’s undivided attention, and not long after she’d been released from prison, they’d begun seeing each other and had gotten married. Raven had truly loved him, too, and she could tell he’d loved her—at least for a while. But then greed and power had become a lot more important to Dillon, and he’d commenced having an affair with another woman. And then a second one.
But of course, when Raven had lied and told Dillon that God had called her into the ministry and that she wanted to be named co-pastor, he hadn’t liked it. He hadn’t shared his feelings with her straight out, but she could easily tell that he wasn’t happy. What he’d wanted instead was to continue running things all on his own, even though she’d always been the true brains behind the ministry. She’d taught him everything she knew, including all that she’d learned while working for his father, but Dillon hadn’t cared about her love, commitment, and loyalty to him. So finally, when Raven had demanded that she be named not only co-pastor but also co-founder, Dillon’s church had suddenly caught on fire and burned to the ground. Raven couldn’t prove it, and thus far neither had the fire marshal, but she knew Dillon was the guilty party. There was no doubt in her mind that the sole reason he’d destroyed the church was because he would rather have no church at all than to have to share control of it with anyone.
Although there was another reason, too, for his resorting to such drastic measures. If he hadn’t burned down the church and had still refused to give Raven what she wanted, he’d known she was going to circulate that salacious sex tape she’d gotten possession of—the video that his first mistress, Porsha Harrington, had secretly recorded of the two of them and given Raven a copy of.
Raven shook her head and half laughed because who would’ve guessed that she and that same Porsha Harrington would become fast friends, and that Porsha was now NVCC’s associate minister? Who in their wildest imagination would have foreseen the fact that Porsha would join forces with Raven by investing $250,000 for the ministry’s start-up funding? Because it certainly wasn’t the most common sort of thing, personally or professionally, that might happen between a wife and the woman who’d had an affair with her husband.
But with Raven and Porsha it had happened, and they were both benefitting greatly.
Raven left the window to sit behind her desk, but just as she did, someone knocked on her door.
“Yes, come in.”
Porsha walked inside. She wore a black St. John suit that Raven hadn’t seen before, and while it looked good on her, it wasn’t nearly as nice as the black one Raven had purchased a few months ago.
“I know you’re preparing for your sermon, so this will only take a minute,” Porsha said. “No, you’re fine. Is everything okay?”
“Everything’s great, but I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching and God has been leading me toward being a little more active on Sunday mornings than I have been.”
Raven wasn’t sure she liked the sound of this, but she didn’t show her apprehension. “Really?”
“Yes, so what I’ve decided to do is begin saying a few words to the congregation, right after praise and worship service. It would be just before you enter the sanctuary.”
Porsha had spoken to the congregation many times before, and sometimes she even delivered the sermon if Raven was out of town, so Raven wondered why she’d specifically come to tell her about it today.
“You’ve done that before, and I think it’s a great idea.”
“Well, the only difference now is that I’m going to be doing it every Sunday. I’ll be giving a short inspirational message, and I’d like to have this new segment printed in the weekly program. You know, make it a normal part of our service. But more than anything, I wanted to make sure you don’t have any objections.”
Raven couldn’t say what she wanted to say, but of course she did have objections. Still, she smiled and said, “No, not at all, and will you be speaking for a certain amount of time?”
“Not more than five to seven minutes. It really will be brief, and it won’t infringe on any of your sermons. I just want to say something that will encourage our members, right before you deliver your message. I mean, you already give them everything they need, but again, I believe God wants me to do this.”
Raven smiled again but secretly cringed on the inside. “Not a problem. I think it’ll be fine.”
“I’m glad you’re okay with it, and since praise and worship is just about over I’d better get going. I’ll see you out there shortly.”
Raven watched Porsha leave her office and shut the door behind her. This was so not the kind of news Raven wanted to hear, and more and more she wished she’d borrowed that $250,000 from a bank instead of accepting it as an investment from Porsha. Porsha’s offer had seemed like a real blessing at the time, though, and Raven had seen no reason to take out a loan with interest when she had someone willing to invest the entire start-up capital. Not to mention, Porsha had agreed to a very nice deal. She’d only wanted one-half of her investment back, and that wasn’t until the ministry had begun bringing in enough money to cover all expenses and pay the two of them more than ten thousand dollars per month. She then wanted to continue receiving 50 percent of all proceeds minus all expenses. They were very careful not to use the word profit out loud since they were referring to church income, but they’d also figured out a legal way to compensate themselves with healthy salaries. They did so by taking a percentage of what was actually considered profit on each previous month’s financial statement.
In the beginning, they’d each earned about eight thousand a month, but by the start of year two, the ministry had grown tremendously, particularly because of Raven’s online contributors, and they now each received checks for just over fifty thousand dollars—every single month. Porsha was already wealthy and didn’t need the money the way Raven did, but Raven was ecstatic to be earning more than a half million dollars annually from the ministry.
This also didn’t include the generous honorariums she received when she gave sermons at various churches and large religious conferences. She was doing exceptionally well, but this new idea from Minister Harrington made her a bit nervous. Especially since, as of late, Porsha had been offering opinions and unasked-for advice much more than usual. She’d begun suggesting lots of new programs and other planning points that she expected to be incorporated. It was true that Raven was the sole founder of the ministry, but again, Porsha had invested the initial dollars and felt as though she had the right to offer input and make crucial decisions. Thus far, Raven and Porsha hadn’t had any major disagreements, but for the last several months Raven had noticed a few looming in the background. As a matter of fact, the only reason they likely hadn’t exchanged angry words was because Raven had purposely held her tongue to keep peace
between them. She hadn’t wanted to make any waves and cause problems for the ministry, and she hoped that this could continue to be the case. And it would as long as Porsha didn’t try to control Raven or interrupt the way she ran NVCC.
Raven leaned back in her chair and sighed, but now someone else knocked on her door. “Come in.”
Michelle, Raven’s assistant, walked in. “It took me a little longer than I thought, but here’s your revised copy.”
Raven reached for her sermon notes. “Thank you so much, Michelle. I know I always have last-minute changes, and I’m not sure what we would do without you. Porsha and I really appreciate everything you do for us.”
“I love working for both of you. It’s really a joy for me.”
“Well, thank you again.”
“Okay then, if you don’t need anything else I’m going to head out to the sanctuary.” “No, I think I’m good to go.”
Michelle smiled. “You’re always so prepared anyway, but I still wanted to ask.”
“I feel like I have to be. Not everyone believes a woman should be senior pastor of a church, and some don’t feel a woman is capable of being a minister at all. So that’s why, from
the very beginning, I’ve always done the same thing. I begin writing my sermons on Thursdays, I review and edit them on Fridays, and then I verbally practice them on Saturday evenings. I also practice once more on Sunday mornings before I get dressed.”
“I knew you wrote them on Thursday and practiced on Saturday, but I didn’t know you practiced on Sunday morning as well.”
“Yes, but again, it’s mostly because I feel like I have to.” “Well, you always do an amazing job.”
“I appreciate that.”
“Okay, I’m heading out now, but I’ll see you soon.”
Raven smiled again, and Michelle left on her way. She truly was the best executive assistant ever. She was precise and knowledgeable, and she went over and above to get things right. She’d only been working for Raven and Porsha for six months, but she’d attended New Vision for more than a year. She also wasn’t your normal executive assistant, as she’d completed a double major in college in marketing and finance, and she was now working on her MBA through an online university program. Not many MBA candidates would even consider working as an assistant, but Raven knew it had been important for them to hire someone who had clerical skills and so much more. What they’d needed was someone who could speak for them when they weren’t available and keep them abreast of anything new, business- and social media–wise. It was the reason they paid Michelle accordingly, to the tune of eighty thousand dollars per year.
Although, in all honesty, it was mostly Raven who Michelle worked for. She handled a few items for Porsha, but it wasn’t daily or even weekly, because Porsha didn’t have nearly as much going on as Raven.
Raven flipped through her pages of notes one last time and took a deep breath. She closed her eyes as she prepared to calm her thinking so she could meditate. For a second, her thoughts wandered back to Porsha and this new weekly message she wanted to deliver. But in a matter of seconds she pushed Porsha and everything else from her mind. She sat quietly, taking more deep breaths, in and out, praying and waiting until it was time to leave her office—and hoping that more people joined the congregation today, and that they received more tithes and offerings than ever.
Raven stood in the side hallway with her eyes closed, waiting for one of the church elders to announce her entrance into the sanctuary. When he did, a female usher opened the door, and Raven walked inside, smiling and waving to her members. Their high-spirited applause and standing ovation never ceased to amaze her, and it always sent her adrenaline into overdrive.
She absolutely loved the incredible way her congregation welcomed her every Sunday morning, and she couldn’t imagine them not doing it. She knew this wasn’t the norm—a pastor being formally announced and then making a grand entrance into the sanctuary—but from the first service she’d held, this had been the way they’d greeted her. They’d done it without her even expecting them to, and it had motivated and inspired her so much that she’d decided to make her special introduction permanent. Kane, her significant other of one year, thought her “celebrity-style” intro showed no humility and wasn’t appropriate for a pastor, and she could tell that Porsha basically felt the same. But Raven paid no attention to either of them—not when she believed that all pastors, especially founders of churches, deserved to be treated with unique honor and praise.
She stepped up the pulpit stairs and then behind the glass podium. “Thank you all so very much. Thank you for being the blessing that you are and for showing me more kindness and love than any pastor could ask for.”
The applause continued, but soon Raven raised both her hands, gently motioning for everyone to take their seats. Then she subtly checked beneath the podium, making sure the hospitality staff had poured ice water in her favorite crystal glass and set it on a small sterling silver platter, alongside her lace-trimmed handkerchiefs. Last week, they’d used some other glass that she’d never seen before, and for a few seconds, their reckless mistake had thrown off her concentration. From the very beginning, though, she’d made it clear to everyone who worked for New Vision Christian Center and New Vision Ministries, Inc., that she had pretty high expectations. She’d warned that certain errors wouldn’t be tolerated. So, thankfully, the hospitality staff had gotten things right this time.
As she did at the beginning of every service, Raven scanned the congregation and recited Romans 8:30–31 from memory. “Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?”
“Amen,” everyone responded.
“It is certainly wonderful to see all of you here today, and as I look out at all your beautiful faces and think about the way you have continued to support me as your pastor and the ministry as a whole, my heart overflows with joy. This is the reason I love Romans eight, thirty through thirty-one so very much. It confirms my calling from God not just to become a minister but to become a pastor. It solidifies my reason for answering His call, even though there were a lot of naysayers. Even though many folks right here in the city don’t believe a woman should organize a church or serve as its leader. But more than that, I am reminded of the woman I used to be,” she proclaimed with tears filling her eyes.
She paused and swallowed hard, just as she’d watched her ex-husband, Dillon, do many times, whenever he wanted his members to sympathize with him. Raven had also seen the good Reverend Curtis Black breaking down and crying before his congregation. He’d go on to tell them about his awful childhood and his sinful past and then announce how God had delivered him from all of it.
So Raven had decided early on that there was no reason to change what worked. She also saw no reason to stop insisting that she was called by God to minister, even though, like her former husband, she hadn’t been. Her position as founder and pastor of New Vision Christian Center had materialized by choice, and there was nothing wrong with that.
“Some of you know my story and some of you don’t, but there was a time when I did some terrible things. And while I never try to use my childhood as an excuse for my actions, I do know that being raised in multiple foster homes and being physically abused and raped at one of them wasn’t good. It was unbearable. Although, I will say this, my childhood nightmare is what made me determined to get good grades and work my way through college so I could have anything I wanted. But before long, wanting material things became a huge obsession, and when my paycheck didn’t cover my expensive tastes, I started to gamble. First I played the lottery. Not like normal people, mind you, but I played it heavily and regularly. There were times when I would buy a hundred dollars’ worth of tickets in one day. And I would win, too…but how many of you know that I lost a lot more than I won?”
“Amen,” the members said, some nodding in agreement.
“Then, when I realized the state lottery wasn’t providing the kind of money I needed, I slowly but surely began heading over to the casino. I took that thirty-minute drive sometimes seven days a week, and the next thing I knew, I’d cleaned out my savings accounts, missed paying the rent on my condo for two months, and I’d refinanced my car. But worse than that, I’d begun working on the side for a dangerous loan shark, handling his finances.”
Some members of the congregation showed expressions of shock, acting as though they’d never heard her story. Others actually hadn’t heard it before and shook their heads in disbelief.
“Then, if that wasn’t enough, I began stealing money from this loan shark, and ultimately, I even stole one…hundred…thousand…dollars from my former father-in-law. I stole from a pastor and his church, and I don’t think there’s anything else I’m more ashamed of. Pastor Black wasn’t my father-in-law back then, but I worked as his church’s chief financial officer.
The worst thing about my gambling addiction, though, was that the stealing part of it is what sent me to prison. I did time, and to this day, I’m a known felon. The reason I say ‘known’ is because even though I’m not proud of it, I don’t hide it. I openly share my story as a way to show just how much God can change any of us if we let him. I tell my truth so that others who might be struggling with gambling addiction or any other kind of addiction—drugs, alcohol, sex, whatever it might be—can hear it and hopefully learn from it.”
Now tears fell from Raven’s eyes.
“But I also stand here, having to accept and admit that all my past sins and dirty deeds led to major destruction. I’m a true example that we all surely do reap what we sow. And for me, prison was just the beginning, because marrying my ex-husband proved to be my harshest punishment of all. You see, I fell deeply in love with a man who claimed to love me, yet he had an affair with not one, but two women.”
Raven quickly glanced toward one of the front pews, where Porsha was sitting, but not long enough for anyone to notice it. She also thought about the fact that Porsha’s decision to bring her that sex tape hadn’t evolved simply because Porsha had wanted to do the right thing. She’d done it only after learning that she wasn’t Dillon’s only mistress, and she’d wanted revenge.
“I couldn’t believe my husband had betrayed me in such a cruel and humiliating way, yet he proudly stood in front of our members on Sunday mornings like it was nothing. Then, of course, once I decided to end our marriage, I suffered through a humiliating, nasty, and highly public divorce. I even slipped into a deep state of depression, and for a while, I wasn’t sure where I would live. Where my next meal would come from. Because my husband had withdrawn all the money from our joint accounts and left me with nothing. I was destitute, but let me tell you about the awesome God we serve. Our God had a different plan for me. My God was true to His Word and forgave me for my transgressions. He brought me out of my depression and gave me all of you! He fixed everything. You hear me? He fixed absolutely everything in my life and showed me that His mercy really does endure forever.”
There was loud applause and some folks stood up again.
Raven wiped her tears with both hands, smiling, and then raised her hands above her head, praising God with her congregation. She may not have been called by God to preach, but she loved each and every one of her parishioners. She loved the way they responded to her and how dedicated they were to the ministry. She cherished the kind of life she was able to live, all because of their generosity, and she didn’t want to lose that.
This was also the reason Raven turned her attention to Porsha again. To this day, no one except Raven, Porsha, and Dillon knew about that sex tape or even about Dillon and Porsha’s affair itself…but Raven still had her copies of it—both the DVD and one on a USB drive. She kept it safe, and no matter how much she’d forgiven Porsha and had become friends with her, Raven would do whatever she had to when it came to protecting her ministry and position as sole founder. This also meant that Raven would have to monitor every one of these new “inspirational messages” Porsha had decided to incorporate. All services were recorded, and Raven couldn’t wait to hear the words Porsha had spoken earlier.
But the more she thought about it, the more she realized she would also have to protect her ministry from Dillon—when he crossed her again. Because if she knew Dillon the way she thought, he wasn’t going to simply accept the idea that she now had as many members as he’d once had and that she’d already surpassed his level of success, thanks to her massive online following. A following of folks who gave consistent financial contributions. She knew Dillon
was likely monitoring everything she was doing and was searching high and low for ways to ruin her. She knew this because that was just who he was. But what she also hoped was that Dillon still remembered who she was, too. She hoped he understood that she would stop anyone who tried to destroy all that she’d accomplished.
She would do so at all costs.