The Best of Everything
Release Date, January 13, 2009
Sample Excerpt Discussion Questions
World-renowned Reverend Curtis Black’s daughter Alicia is all grown up and even more trouble than her father. The apple certainly doesn’t fall far from the tree in this new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Sin No More and Love and Lies.
Alicia Black Sullivan swore to never repeat her father’s mistakes: she would never break any promises, she would never be unfaithful. And most important of all, when she got married, it would be for good.
And she really does love Philip, the assistant pastor of her father’s church. She just happens to love money – and the things it can buy – as well. Alicia was born to the good life, she’s entitled to the best, and she’ll do anything to get it. Even if it means piling up thousands of dollars in debt. Even if it means denying to everyone—even herself—that her love of shopping has gotten way out of control.
Before long, Philip begins to wonder if marrying the woman of his dreams was a huge mistake. Alicia has the same thoughts, too. Deep down, though, she knows a whopper of an emotional bill is coming due. And all the regrets in the world won’t change the fact that she may be more like her infamous father than she could have imagined—or feared.
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6 Months Earlier
Alicia closed her eyes and wondered if she was making the biggest mistake of her life. She was only twenty-two and had just graduated college three months ago, yet here she was standing next to her father, preparing to walk down the center aisle of the church. As a matter of fact, this was the same church she’d grown up in, the one her father had once resided over, and the first of two churches he’d been thrown out of for one reason or another.
Although, today, her father’s past transgressions were the very least of her worries because what she needed to focus on now was the man she was about to marry. Phillip Sullivan. The man her parents, step-parents and everyone else seemed to adore so completely. The man her father liked so much, he’d hired him on as assistant pastor of his own church—which, in all honesty, was one of the main reasons Alicia wasn’t so sure Phillip was right for her. She did love him, that part she was sure of, but she couldn’t help thinking back to all the pain and humiliation her father had previously burdened her mother with. She loved her father and had forgiven him a long time ago, but no matter how hard she tried, she would never forget all the women he’d slept around with whenever he’d felt like it. She would never forget the horrible way he’d treated his second wife, Mariah, or the fact that he’d gone and gotten another woman pregnant, all while married to his current wife, Charlotte. It was true that Charlotte had done her dirt, too, a great deal of it for that matter, but Alicia still wasn’t happy about the life her father had once led. She knew he was human and that everyone made mistakes, but it was because of all of his sinful acts that she’d promised herself she would never, not under any circumstances, take any minister’s hand in marriage. She’d made a pact with herself a very long time ago, well before she’d become a teenager, and her feelings hadn’t changed.
At least, not until six months ago, when she’d driven to her father’s house for a weekend visit, gone to church that Sunday morning and saw Phillip standing in the pulpit. Her father had talked about him often, ever since hiring him three months before, but it wasn’t until that weekend that Alicia had actually seen Phillip in person and realized there was noticeably strong chemistry between them. She’d tried to deny her feelings for him, especially with him being ten years her senior but she hadn’t been able to do so. And how could she when her attraction for him had been so intense? How could she when Phillip had made it clear, from the very beginning, that she was going to be his wife?
He’d been adamant about the whole idea of it and right after their first meeting, he had visited her at her college campus once or twice every week and she’d come home every single weekend to be with him. They’d fallen in love immediately, spent all of their time together and had quickly decided they didn’t want to live without each other. Then, to Alicia’s total surprise, her father hadn’t objected to her seeing Phillip and neither had her mother, Tanya. Which was strange, specifically when it came to her father because he’d always been so overly protective of her when she dated. Partly because he didn’t want to accept that she was a full-grown woman and partly because he didn’t believe any man was good enough for his daughter.
But that was then and this was now because today, her father was standing proudly in an Armani tuxedo, smiling ear to ear.
“So, are you ready, baby girl? Ready to make a life-long commitment before God and everyone else who loves you?”
“I guess so.”
“You guess? Don’t you know?”
Alicia sighed. “I guess I’m just a little scared is all.”
“That’s understandable. But as long as you love him, you’ll be fine. You do love him, right?”
“I do, Daddy. I love him with all my soul.”
“And he definitely loves you. No doubt about it. I knew it the first time I saw the two of you together.”
Alicia smiled and her father kissed her on her cheek.
“And I love you, too. You’re getting married today, but you’ll always be my baby girl and I’ll always be here for you. You remember that, okay?”
“I will, and I love you, too, Daddy. I’ll always love you no matter what.”
Tears filled her father’s eyes and just then the double doors slowly swung open.
It was time.
The harpist and flutist played their instruments softly and beautifully, and Alicia saw Phillip standing at the altar, waiting patiently. She could tell how at peace he was, and she wished she could feel the same way. She wished she could be sure that they really were going to live happily ever after.
So she stood there, unable to move her feet. She stood in place for as long as she could but when her father nudged her arm, she finally stepped forward.
The church was absolutely gorgeous and based on everyone’s facial expressions, so was her pure-white, sleeveless, Reem Acra wedding gown made in silk satin at the top and tulle at the bottom. The top was covered with a finely beaded overlay and the multi-foot chapel train trailed gracefully behind her. Her mother had begged to differ, but this dress had been a steal at five thousand dollars, and Alicia was glad she’d chosen it. She was glad she had a father who thought she deserved the world—a father who had generously given her a one hundred thousand dollar spending budget to cover her wedding and reception expenses. He’d talked a lot about how she was his first-born and how he wanted her big day to be something she could cherish for the rest of her life, and she was happy to say the setting couldn’t be more flawless.
But as she walked farther down the aisle, passing all the exquisitely arranged, white floral designs attached to each pew, a feeling of sadness overtook her and now she knew the real reason she was so uneasy. She didn’t want to feel this way, but she couldn’t help who she was and what she’d been used to her entire life: the best of everything, regardless of what it cost.
What she wished was that love could simply be enough for her and that designer clothing and other luxuries didn’t matter in the least. But they did matter. And she knew Phillip couldn’t give her any of those things—not on his salary. Maybe in a few years he might be able to, especially once he wised up and came to the realization that heading up a mega church was the real goal he should be working toward, but for now, he’d made it perfectly clear that he was happy right where he was—happy and dead set on learning as much as he could from his future father-in-law, well before branching out on his own.
Now, Alicia wished she’d thought this whole thing through just a bit more thoroughly, but it was too late. Too late for any turning back or changing her mind.
Too late for anything except taking their vows and saying, “I do.”
Phillip drank the last of his coffee, set down the local section of the Chicago Sun-Times and gazed across the table at Alicia. She looked back at him and could already tell he was about to start nagging her all over again. Last night, they’d had another major blow-up, and for the first time in the six months they’d been married, they’d gone to bed not speaking. They’d turned their backs to each other and hadn’t said one word ever since then and as far as Alicia was concerned, the silence between them could continue. She was fine with it and, even more so, if he was planning to complain about her spending habits.
“Look,” Phillip finally said. “All I’m trying to get you to see is that there’s no way we can afford for you to keep spending money the way you have been. I mean, I know you’ve always gotten pretty much whatever you want, but, baby, things are different now.”
Alicia leaned back in her chair and tossed him a disapproving look. “Different how?”
“Different because you’re no longer in college and being supported by your father. Different because you’re now a grown woman and you’re now married to me.”
“So, what are you trying to say? That because I’m married to you, I’m supposed to lower my standards?”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. What I am saying, though, is that it’s time you started being a lot more responsible than you have been and time you realize that we can’t always have everything we want when we want it.”
“I’m not trying to have everything. But at the same time, I’m not about to start living like some pauper just because you don’t earn enough money.”
Phillip shook his head. “Alicia, your father pays me seven thousand dollars a month and that’s a pretty decent salary by anyone’s definition.”
“That may be. But if you’d do what I keep suggesting, you could be making so much more than that. When my dad was your age, he was earning three thousand dollars a week and that was nearly twenty years ago. So, imagine what you could be earning today.”
“It doesn’t matter because I’m happy right where I am, working at Deliverance Outreach. I’m happy working for your father, and for the life of me, I don’t understand why you have such a huge problem with that.”
“I only have a problem with it because you could be doing so much better. I mean, Phillip, just think about it. You’ve got a degree in business and also one in theology, so you could easily apply for senior pastor positions at much larger churches. Actually, you should be doing it on a regular basis because if you did, you’d definitely get hired at one of them. Not to mention the fact that once any of those churches see who your father-in-law is and that he highly recommends you, it’ll be a done deal, anyway.”
“But that’s just it. I don’t want to be hired because of who I’m now related to. I want to be hired because I’ve learned a lot about ministry and because I’m truly knowledgeable enough and ready to lead a mega-size congregation.”
Alicia scooted her chair back and stood up. “Well, you do what you want, but don’t expect me to be okay with it. Don’t expect me to live with a lot less than what I’ve always been accustomed to.”
Phillip pushed away from the granite-topped island as well. “You’re wrong. You’re as wrong as can be, and all I can do is pray that you eventually start to see it.”
“Whatever,” she said and walked over to the kitchen sink and set her glass and plate inside it. “Because it’s not like I’ve been spending your money anyway.”
“No, that’s true, but it’s only a matter of time before that money your father gave you is gone, and that’s why I’m trying to get you to see that you have a problem.”
Alicia jerked her head toward Phillip and raised her eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
“I’m serious, Alicia. Because how much do you actually have left in your account?”
Alicia loved her husband but right now she didn’t like him very much. As a matter of fact, at this particular moment, she couldn’t stand him. She knew he was referring to the twenty thousand dollars she’d had left over from her wedding budget but that was her money and how dare he inquire about it.
“How much?” he repeated.
“Because I wanna know.”
“But why do you wanna know?”
“Because I’m trying to make a point.”
“Phillip, I’m really getting tired of this, so why don’t we just agree to disagree.”
Phillip folded his arms. “You’ve spent every penny, haven’t you?”
“No. For your information, I’ve still got ten thousand of it,” she lied.
“Oh so now you’re calling me a liar?”
Phillip slipped on his suit jacket. “I have to get to work.”
“Fine. Do whatever you want,” she said and headed up the staircase. A few minutes later, she heard him back out of the driveway and she was glad he was gone. She hated lying to him but he hadn’t left her any choice. And it wasn’t like she hadn’t tried to save the money left over from her wedding budget because for the first three months of their marriage, she hadn’t spent one dime of it. She’d tried her best to live the way Phillip wanted them to live but it hadn’t been long before she’d started driving over to Chicago and frequenting upscale department stores the same as she’d been doing since she was a child. She’d been shopping at Saks, Neiman’s and Marshall Fields’ flagship location on State Street for as long as she could remember, well before Marshall Fields was bought out by Macy’s, and she didn’t see why Phillip had a problem with it. Maybe the fact that she’d spent five thousand dollars of her money, every month for three months straight and the fact that she only had five thousand left, hadn’t been the best decision she could have made but the most important fact still remained: It was her money. It was all hers, and she had the right to do whatever she felt like doing with it.
Alicia pulled the plush, tan and purple comforter toward the head of the king-size bed, positioned the pillows and shams, and then sat down on the posh-textured chaise adjacent to it. Just yesterday, she’d received notification from QVC about their white gold sale this morning and she couldn’t wait to see what they were going to be offering. She’d been thinking about it the entire time she and Phillip were having breakfast and was glad he’d left when he had.
She reached to the bronze and glass designer table sitting to the side of her to pick up a notebook and pen. Then, she turned the channel to QVC and waited for the host of the white gold segment to introduce the first item. But when Alicia saw the gold and diamond bracelet, she wasn’t all that impressed and decided it wasn’t worth the selling price.
She continued watching, though, but then couldn’t help thinking about Phillip and how unreasonable he was being and how he really could be making over six figures at another church. Because if he did, it wouldn’t matter how much money she spent on clothes, jewelry and whatever else. He seemed so proud of the money her father paid him and yes, he was right, seven thousand dollars per month was a very decent living, but it wasn’t enough. Actually, he wouldn’t even be earning that amount if Deliverance Outreach hadn’t grown to just over two thousand very loyal members, many of whom were tithe givers, and was now having to hold two services back to back on Sunday morning. Alicia couldn’t deny that she was very grateful that her father had chosen Phillip to serve as his assistant pastor and that he was paying him more than he’d paid the previous interim pastor, but she also knew that Phillip had so much more potential. He could probably earn double what her father had earned back when he was first starting out because not only did Phillip deliver great sermons, he was a good and honest man. He was faithful to her, and he genuinely cared about people in general.
“Now, here’s a stunning white gold and diamond ring that is sure to be sold out in no time,” the QVC host announced, and Alicia agreed with her completely. It was beautiful and very classic. It was a neat little band with diamonds covering the entire circumference and she had to have it.
She pressed the speed dial number she’d assigned to QVC and the representative answered immediately. Of course, her shipping and credit card information were already in the system and since she was calling from her home phone number, the representative had already identified who she was.
“Will we be shipping to the Lampley Cove address?”
“Your first item number, please?”
Alicia read the number she’d written down in her notebook and told the rep she needed a size seven.
“Next item,” the woman continued.
“That will be it for now…no wait,” Alicia stopped when she saw a pair of hoop earrings on the TV screen. She already had a pair that looked similar but these were a bit smaller and would look great when she wasn’t dressed up and wanted to wear a T-shirt and jeans. So, she quickly spoke the item number and the woman confirmed her order.
Alicia thanked her and then heard the Call Waiting signal. Someone was calling from the church and while she knew it could either be Phillip or her father, she had a feeling it was Phillip and debated whether she should answer.
She waited but then muted the television and pressed the flash button. “Hello?”
“Hey, I just wanted to call to say I’m sorry and that I hate when we argue like this.”
Alicia had prepared herself for combat but her face softened when she heard him apologize. “I hate it when we argue, too.”
“I know I get upset about the way you spend money but in the end I hope you know how much I love you. I love you with all my heart and, baby, you really do mean the world to me.”
“I love you, too, sweetie,” she told him and suddenly felt her eyes watering. Phillip made her so angry when he ragged on her about money but she did love him and even after only being married to him for a short period of time, she already knew she didn’t want to live without him.
“Truce?” he offered.
“So, what were you doing before I called?”
“Working on the outline for my novel.”
“Well, that’s good news. You haven’t worked on that in a while now.”
“I know, and it’s really time I started taking my writing a lot more seriously because the sooner I finish the outline, the sooner I can get the entire manuscript written, and then start submitting it to literary agents.”
“Once you finish it, you’ll be published in no time.”
“You really think so?”
“Of course. Your short stories and articles are excellent, so now all you have to do is write an actual book.”
“Yeah, but a full-length book is a lot more time consuming and it takes a lot more character developing and plotting.”
“But you can do it if you truly want to.”
Alicia watched the QVC host displaying a diamond, oval-shape pendant hanging from a dainty chain. It was another must-have, and she hoped Phillip wasn’t planning to be on the phone with her much longer. She’d already lied to him about what she was doing, and she didn’t want to tell another lie just so she could end their conversation.
“Well, I guess I’d better get going, but again, baby, I’m sorry.”
Alicia’s prayers had been answered. “So am I. And I love you.”
“I love you, too, and happy writing.”
Alicia dropped the phone to the side of her and quickly jotted down the item number of the necklace. Then, she jotted down the information for a second pair of white gold earrings, except these were a lot dressier than the hoops she’d purchased earlier. She waited to see what the next item was going to be, however, when she saw it, she decided she wasn’t interested and called to place her next order. Right after, though, she flipped to the Home Shopping Network and smiled when she saw this fabulous-looking, mustard-colored leather jacket. It must have been the sharpest thing she’d seen in months, and she could already see herself wearing it with a cute white, short-sleeved top and matching pure white pants. It was only February, but just a matter of time before it was warm outside.
After another hour of not seeing much of anything that was worth her while, she turned off the television and decided it really was time for her to work on her outline. She’d put it off long enough and the more she thought about it, if she could finish writing her first novel and was blessed enough to get it published, she’d have a chance at earning her own six-figure income. Which would be good because then Phillip wouldn’t have a single reason to complain about anything. She’d have her own money, and this problem they were having would be over with.
Alicia tore out the notebook pages she’d written her item numbers on and went into her office and shredded them. She did this because the last thing she needed was for Phillip to see her notes and then instigate another argument. This was also the reason she was glad he worked all day, Tuesday through Friday because for whatever reason, not many of the packages she received tended to come on Monday or Saturday. Those were Phillip’s two off days, and it was just better if he didn’t see most of the things she ordered. There was an occasional delivery every now and then on both of those particular days, but thankfully they were very rare.
When Alicia sat down in front of her computer, the phone rang and she smiled when she saw that it was her mother.
“Hi sweetie. How are you?”
“I’m good and you?”
“And James?” Alicia asked, referring to her stepfather.
“He’s doing fine as well.”
“I can’t believe I haven’t seen you in almost two weeks.”
“I know and that’s pretty unusual for you.”
“It is but I’ll see you this week for sure. I’ve been a little busier than normal with some of our church activities, but this month will be a lot more open,” Alicia told her but felt somewhat guilty because she knew her statement was only partly true and that the real reason she hadn’t stopped by to see her mother and James was that the last couple of times she’d driven over to the Chicago area, she’d spent so much time shopping, it had become too late for her to head out to the suburb where they lived and still get home at a time early enough to keep Phillip from asking questions—suspicious questions relating to her whereabouts and the kind she didn’t want to have to answer.
“Honey, you know I understand and there’s no need to explain. You have a husband now that you need to spend time with, and even though we’re only ninety miles away from you, that’s still a pretty good ways to drive on a regular basis.”
“I know, Mom, but I miss you.”
“I miss you, too, but your husband comes first, and you should never forget that.”
“So, what have you been doing this morning?”
“Oh my goodness, Mom, I bought this amazing yellow jacket. It’s dark like mustard.”
“This early? Did one of the stores have a thirteen-hour sale or something?”
“No, I ordered it from HSN.”
“The Home Shopping Network?”
“Alicia,” her mother said sounding disappointed.
“I know you’re grown and that we’ve talked about this before, but honey, you really need to cut back on some of your spending.”
“Because you know Phillip isn’t happy about it.”
Alicia loved her mother with all her soul, but she didn’t like any of what she was saying. It was true that they had had this conversation before but Alicia was getting a little sick of everyone, specifically her mother and Phillip making such a big deal about nothing. She was sick of people telling her what she should and shouldn’t do, and she wasn’t sure how much more she could take of it.
“Mom, everything is fine. Things are not as bad as you think. Believe me.”
“Maybe it’s time you considered finding a job. Even if it’s only part-time.”
“But if I do that, I won’t have time to work on my novel.”
“Of course, you will. You can write before you go to work or after you get home. I’m sure other writers do that all the time.”
“You really should, and just a few weeks ago, your dad was telling me that he wants you to come work at the church. He said something about a public relations position, so has he talked to you about it yet?”
It still amazed Alicia that even though she was twenty-two, her parents still discussed her life like she was a child. They were divorced, but they always seemed to stay in contact so they could talk about her and what she was doing.
“Yes, he mentioned it but I told him I’d think about it.”
“Well, I think you should take him up on it. You’d be good at promoting the church to the public, and it will be a good way for you to start building your résumé.”
“I’ll talk to him again,” Alicia agreed and thought about how maybe this was a good idea after all. Partly because once she’d spent the money in her bank account, she’d still have an income and even more so because she knew her father would pay her much more than the job was probably worth.
“You can work part-time and still get a lot of writing done because Phillip makes more than enough to support both of you. Especially if you stop buying things you don’t need.”
Alicia rolled her eyes toward the ceiling and decided it was best she ended this stressful dialogue with her mother.
“Well, mom, I’d better get back to my outline but I’ll talk to you later or tomorrow, though, okay?”
“Sounds good. Tell my son-in-law I said hello.”
“I love you, too, Mom,” Alicia said and hung up the phone.
Then, she turned off her computer and called her best friend, Melanie, to see if she wanted to meet her at the mall. If so, her outline would just have to wait.
1. Were you shocked to see that Alicia’s personality was very similar to her father’s in a great number of ways? If so, please explain why?
2. In the prologue, Alicia is having second thoughts about getting married. Do you know someone or have you yourself ever been in the same situation? Why do you think people sometimes get married, even when they aren’t completely sure it’s the right thing for them?
3. Do you know a real-life shopping addict—specifically a close friend or family member? If so, what is the most expensive thing you’ve ever seen them purchase? Also, what did you say to them afterward?
4. Can a spending addiction be as serious as an alcohol, drug or gambling addiction? How might it affect family members and friends?
5. Why do you believe so many women and men in this country tend to spend well beyond their means?
6. With the exception of Alicia’s excessive spending habits, do you believe she was a good wife to Phillip? If so, please explain why?
7. What did you think of Phillip? Was he the kind of man any woman should have been happy to have as a husband? If so, why? Or why not?
8. Were you surprised to learn that Alicia was having an affair with Levi? What did you think of Levi overall? It is true that he was a known drug dealer, but was he the kind of bad boy that even the most decent woman might find herself attracted to, even if they could never admit it to another living soul?
9. Do you think Alicia started seeing Levi because she really liked him or because she needed money and a lot of it?
10. Do you believe Phillip made the right decision at the end of the book? If not, why? Do you think he’d taken as much as anyone should have to take from a spouse?
11. Do you think Curtis was shocked to hear Alicia blamed him for her terrible ways? Was she right in feeling that way? If so, how was she justified?
12. Now that Alicia has lost a man who loved her so unconditionally, do you believe she learned any valuable lessons? Do you think she now realizes that money isn’t everything and that love and commitment are the most important aspects of any successful marriage? If not, what do you believe her next move will be?
13. After reading THE BEST OF EVERYTHING, do you think you might have a shopping problem and/or need to become a lot more responsible with your spending habits?