The Best Kept Secret
Release Date, February 1, 2005
Sample Excerpt Discussion Questions
Following the phenomenally popular CASTING THE FIRST STONE and TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING comes a mesmerizing tale featuring rascally preacher Curtis Black
Too good to be true …
It was love to hate at first sight when Kimberla Lawson Roby’s readers met the Reverend Curtis Black, surely one of the cleverest ministers ever to set foot in a church. Now Curtis is starting over. He has a new job as founder and minister of Deliverance Outreach, a new wife (again), and a newfound will to follow the straight and narrow path of righteousness.
True love versus passion …
Or so he thinks. While his spirit may be willing, the wayward preacher has a particular weakness when it comes to female flesh. Curtis has never made a promise he could keep, and before long, he’s tempted to be up to his old tricks. The difference now is his third wife, Charlotte, mother of his seven-year-old son, Matthew, and a woman unlike any he’s ever encountered. For the first time in his life, Curtis just might have met his match. Charlotte has her own hidden desires and is every bit Curtis’s equal.
Secrets always have a way of surfacing …
Struggling to make their marriage work, Curtis and Charlotte may have finally found the strength to stay together. But just when it looks like life for the Black family is getting back to normal, an explosive surprise ending will leave readers stunned.
Shhhh … Don’t tell.
The Reverend Curtis Black proofed the last line of his news column and e-mailed it to his editor. His deadline was noon tomorrow, and that meant he was cutting it rather close. Not purposely, of course, but primarily because he’d taken on a large number of commitments over the past month. Last week, he’d preached at a revival in Dallas five days straight, prepared his sermon for Sunday worship and handled a ton of other pastoral responsibilities as soon as he returned to Mitchell, a city ninety miles northwest of Chicago.
Once upon a time, he would have thrived on traveling long distance, just to escape his home environment or whatever wife he was married to, but to his surprise, he no longer felt that way. As a matter of fact, he wanted nothing more than to spend as much time as possible with his wife and seven-year-old son. Charlotte and Matthew were his life, and he was proud of the fact that he’d been faithful to her the entire two years of their marriage. Which was quite an accomplishment on his part, since he hadn’t been true to either of his first two wives. He’d finally mastered the ability to resist temptation, and his world was better because of it. Still, he had to admit, it wasn’t always easy, not with two noticeably attractive women at the church, constantly trying to come on to him. The forty-year-old was quiet and discreet with her advances, but the younger one was almost blatant. It didn’t matter one way or the other, though, because Curtis basically ignored them. He’d learned the hard way that sleeping with outside women just wasn’t worth it.
He flipped the light switch of his newly renovated study, engaged the security system and walked out to the well-lit parking lot. After sitting inside his Cadillac SUV, the same one he’d driven for three years, he turned the ignition and drove away from the church. Life was a lot different, now that they were living in Mitchell, but Curtis couldn’t be happier. True, he was no longer earning five thousand per week, residing in a six thousand square foot house or preaching to a three thousand-plus congregation, but based on Mitchell’s cost of living, he wasn’t doing badly. Especially, since he and Charlotte had founded Deliverance Outreach the first month of their relocation. They’d started out with maybe fifty members during the first six months, increased to just over a hundred the first year and now they were easily five hundred strong. Curtis had built a well-known ministry that drew people in, but it certainly hadn’t hurt when another local pastor had retired and some of those members had sought a new church home. It also hadn’t hurt when he approached the local newspaper about doing a weekly column.
Before arriving in Mitchell, he’d written a church business plan, and when he’d realized he needed something that would get people stirred up and taking notice of him, he’d decided to submit a column to the Mitchell Post. The features editor was clearly interested but, after deciding that the material was a bit controversial, she asked Curtis to re-think some of his subject matter. He wasn’t happy about the request, but decided to do whatever he needed to in order to get his work published.
In the beginning, he’d centered his column on polite topics such as the importance of going to church on Sunday, the reason families needed to pray together, what couples should do when their marriages were falling apart. But three months later, his editor left for vacation, and Curtis snatched his golden opportunity. His interim editor was much more liberal and quickly approved a piece that Curtis had written on atheism, its affect on society and how nonbelievers were going straight to hell. And as Curtis suspected, letters to the editor poured in at an unusual rate. Days later, the editor-in-chief called a meeting with Curtis and offered him more control over his topics. Which ranged from teenage sex to gang violence to adultery, the latter being something Curtis knew a lot about. But once a month, he crafted inspirational messages, hoping to motivate his readers, and he was almost finished writing his first book, How to Have Almost Everything You Want. His editor-in-chief was also talking possible syndication for his column.
When Curtis arrived home, Matthew rushed toward him with a piece of paper.
“Dad, look what I have,” he said beaming and hugging his father around his waist.
Curtis took the sheet of paper from his son and playfully grabbed him in a headlock. “What’s this?”
“It’s a permission slip for the Milwaukee zoo!”
“Wow. So, you’re going to the zoo, huh?”
“Yep. And my teacher said that they need something called chaperones, too.”
“Really? And what exactly is a chaperone?”
“I’m not sure. But I think you could be one if you wanted, because she told us to ask our parents.”
“Is that so? Well, just so you know, a chaperone is an adult who escorts young children. They sort of watch over them.”
“Oh. Well, I really want you to go, okay?”
Curtis smiled at his son with all the love any child could stand.
“You know I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“Wait ‘til I tell Jonathan and Elijah,” he announced. “We’re gonna have so much fun.”
Matthew brushed past his mother and ran back upstairs.
Charlotte smiled at her little boy, strutted into the kitchen and over to Curtis.
“Hi, baby,” she said.
“Hey, beautiful.” Curtis pulled her into his arms and kissed her.
“What was that all about?”
“Field trip. His class is going to the zoo, and I told him I’d be a chaperone.”
“That little booger. He never said one word to me about any trip.”
“What can I say? Maybe he prefers spending time with his father,” Curtis teased, still holding his wife closely.
“That he does. Matthew is definitely a daddy’s boy.”
“That doesn’t bother you, does it?”
“Not at all. Nothing makes me happier than when I see the two of you together. Even with all your church obligations, you spend a lot of time with Matthew, and I’m really thankful for that.”
“And baby, I’m thankful for you. Very few women would have stuck by me. Not with everything I did and went through. But you still loved me no matter what. You’ve been the best wife, and I can’t thank you enough for being so supportive and so dedicated to the church. I love you so much,” he said and kissed her again. Curtis didn’t want to let her go. He wished he could hold her in his arms for the rest of his days, because for the first time ever, he felt content. He felt as though God had forgiven him for all his transgressions and was allowing him another chance to do the right thing.
Charlotte loosened her embrace. “I hate to end this, sweetheart, but duty calls.”
“Baby, not tonight?” Curtis protested.
“Unfortunately, yes. I hate going back in, but the partners are working double time on this wrongful death case. And as their paralegal, I have to do the same. But after this week, I won’t have to put in so many hours because it looks like the trial will be over in a few days. We’ve finally got them cornered. And there’s a chance that the company we’re suing will be offering our client a huge settlement.”
Curtis tried to be excited for Charlotte, especially since her eyes always lit up whenever she spoke about her work, but in reality, he wanted her to quit and work full-time at the church. They’d discussed it a few times before, but Charlotte was clear on her disapproval. She worked for a top law firm in Mitchell, which was a privilege since she only had two years of work experience, but Curtis still wanted her by his side. He wanted them to concentrate on building their ministry.
Charlotte pecked Curtis on the lips, apologized again for having to leave, and went upstairs to throw on a jogging suit. Curtis walked down into the sunken family room, shed his blazer and collapsed on the plush, oversized sofa. He scanned his surroundings and realized how satisfied he was with the way Charlotte had decorated their home. Every room had a distinct color-scheme, and this was the red room. The living room was adorned in black and white, the dining room in off-white, and the kitchen displayed hues of browns, tans, and various shades of orange. Their master suite was graced with rich purples and greens, Matthew’s room was consumed with masculine blues, and the guest bedroom with dark and light teals.
Curtis turned on the television and then glanced at the fireplace mantle lined with photos. At first, he smiled, but when he saw the picture of Alicia, his sixteen-year-old daughter, his spirit dropped instantly. It was hard to forget about all the pain he’d caused for so many people. Seven years ago, he was ousted from a large Baptist church in Chicago due to his obsession with money, power and women, and as a result, lost his first wife, Tanya, to her current husband. He’d also lost part of his daughter’s love. Alicia had even witnessed one of the deacons telling the entire congregation that Curtis had been sleeping with Adrienne, the deacon’s wife, and that Curtis had paid for Adrienne to have an abortion. Alicia had only been nine at the time and was devastated. Then, after leaving the ministry for five years, Curtis was offered another pastoral position at an even larger church and then married his second wife, Mariah. He could still kick himself for not being faithful to her. If he had, things surely would have turned out differently. He never would have started seeing Adrienne again, and she never would have shot him down from his own pulpit and then turned the gun on herself. It had been an absolute nightmare, and the reason Curtis had made the decision to relocate. He’d wanted to move to a city like Mitchell where there were only one hundred fifty thousand residents. That way, he and Charlotte could found their own church and start their lives afresh. He’d wanted to give Matthew a normal, decent life and thus far, they’d been able to do that. But the worst of all was that horrid incident Alicia had experienced at fourteen. She’d been begging Curtis to spend more time with her and acting out in obvious ways to gain his attention, but he hadn’t taken her seriously. Not because he didn’t want to, but because he’d had so many other responsibilities on his plate, and because he just didn’t think she’d resort to anything dangerous. But to his regret, she had. She’d formed an on-line relationship with a seemingly nice young boy who, in person, turned out to be a twenty-one-year-old drug dealer. She’d allowed him to pick her up from school and take her to his apartment, but when she refused to give him what he wanted, he took it anyway.
Charlotte and Matthew entered the family room, and Matthew dropped down next to Curtis, playing his GameBoy.
“Dad, let’s order a pizza.”
“Pizza? Don’t you ever get tired of that?”
“Nope. I could eat it over and over and over, every single day.”
“Apparently, so. But I was thinking more along the lines of Thai.”
“It’s similar to Chinese. And I know you like Chinese.”
“Yeah, but I want pizza.”
Charlotte smiled at Curtis. “Sorry.”
“So, what time will you be finished?” Curtis asked.
“I don’t know, but I promise I’ll be home as soon as I can. I’m hoping I won’t have to be there more than a couple of hours.”
“We’ll miss you,” Curtis said.
Charlotte kissed Curtis on the lips and their son on his cheek.
“I’ll miss you guys, too. Oh and Matthew has some homework that needs to be checked. Right, Matthew?”
“Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it. You just go so you can get back here.”
“I love you, too,” Charlotte said and headed toward the garage.
When she left, Curtis double-tapped the back of Matthew’s head, provoking a father-and-son wrestling match.
Charlotte couldn’t remember ever feeling the way she felt right now.
“Oh my God, Aaron. Baby…you…are…driving…me…crazy,” she said between breaths. She was laying face-down across the king-size bed, savoring every moment of what she was getting: a very intense tongue-lashing.
Aaron Malone was six foot two, and ironically enough, reminded her of Curtis. Most people assumed they were brothers since they had the same muscular build and deep-mocha complexion. In a word, they were both gorgeous. The only difference was, Curtis had recently turned forty, and Aaron was five years his junior. Charlotte was ten years younger than that. But at twenty-five, she felt much older and wanted nothing to do with any man she was close in age to…and you have to buy the book to get the rest of the story!
1. Were you surprised that Curtis was finally making a conscious effort toward being faithful to his new wife and his ministry?
2. After reading about Charlotte in TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING, did you expect her to end up almost as scandalous as Curtis—specifically in the end?
3. As you were reading, did you find yourself no longer despising Curtis, but maybe feeling a touch of sympathy for him?
4. Is it your opinion that Curtis would have remained faithful to Charlotte forever, had she not turned out to be so deceptive?
5. What were your feelings when you discovered that Curtis’s paternity, regarding Matthew was questionable?
6. Do you feel that Anise was justified in cutting off Charlotte completely?
7. How did you feel about Charlotte when you learned that she was pregnant and was considering an abortion?
8. In CASTING THE FIRST STONE and TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING, Curtis was an example of many true-life ministers in this country, but do you know of any first-ladies who remind you of Charlotte? Both in the way she worshiped money and status and her act of adultery?
9. Over a period of time, do you think that Curtis will eventually learn the truth about Charlotte’s ultimate best-kept secret?
10. Would you like to finally close the chapter to The Reverend Curtis Black with this book or see him at least one more time?