Secrets Never Told

( 15 )

Overview

From national bestselling author Rochelle Alers comes the powerful story of one woman and the secrets that will forever alter her vision of her family, her marriage, and herself.

In one night, Morgana Johnson-Wells takes two hard hits: first, news that her mother has died, then evidence that her husband is having an affair. Fleeing Baltimore to tend to her mother's estate in Salvation, Georgia, Morgana finds comfort in the company of her Uncle ...

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Overview

From national bestselling author Rochelle Alers comes the powerful story of one woman and the secrets that will forever alter her vision of her family, her marriage, and herself.

In one night, Morgana Johnson-Wells takes two hard hits: first, news that her mother has died, then evidence that her husband is having an affair. Fleeing Baltimore to tend to her mother's estate in Salvation, Georgia, Morgana finds comfort in the company of her Uncle Julian and in the diaries her mother left hidden in the attic.
Shocked by her mother's most private thoughts and confused about both her illusions of her own childhood and the fate of her marriage, Morgana is drawn to local artist Erick Wilson, with whom she shares the kind of intimacy she and her husband have lost along the way. The connection grows deep, and by the time all of her mother's secrets are revealed, Morgana has a few secrets of her own...secrets of the heart, mind, and body that need never be told.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Connie Briscoe New York Times bestselling author An unforgettable tale of love, and betrayal, marriage and infidelity. I was hooked from page one.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743470308
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • Publication date: 7/22/2003
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,146,649
  • Product dimensions: 5.34 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Hailed by readers and booksellers alike as one of today's most popular African-American authors of women's fiction, Ms. Alers is a regular on bestsellers list, and has been a recipient of numerous awards, including the Vivian Stephens Award for Excellence in Romance Writing and a Zora Neale Hurston Literary Award. Visit her Web site www.rochellealers.com

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Read an Excerpt

Prologue

SALVATION, GEORGIA

SEPTEMBER 1945

The lengthening ember on the tip of a fragrant hand-rolled Cuban cigar went unnoticed as Edward Joseph Graham squinted through the blue-white haze swirling around his face at the five cards cradled lovingly in his smooth, manicured hand.

Tonight's the night!

The three words echoed in his head, much like the sensual whisper from a seductive woman. But the numbers and faces on the cards were a woman — a lying, cheating, duplicitous, and sometimes pleasurable woman — from which he could not free himself. He'd tried over the years to walk away, but the game of chance was a jealous mistress, refusing to free him from her spell.

Every Friday night, with the exception of New Year's Day, Good Friday, or Christmas Day, Edward and eight of the most influential colored men in Salvation meet for their weekly poker game. They'd been meeting for the past two years, ignoring and alienating others who felt they were entitled, by virtue of their social standing in the community, to become a part of the privileged group.

Edward loved his wife, their beautiful daughter, Katherine, playing poker, smoking and drinking premium bourbon, but not necessarily in that order.

It was the cards, the smooth taste of bourbon on his palate, and the aromatic smoke wafting in his nose this night that had become as vital to him as breathing was to sustaining life.

Stealing a glance at his cards, Edward smiled, the corners of his mouth inching upward to reveal teeth clamped tightly around the tightly rolled tobacco leaves. Seven of the nine in the group had bowed out and said their good-byes. Tonight, as with most Fridays, only Edward and Randolph Johnson remained. He was heavily into debt to Randolph, but that would soon change.

Randolph, ten years Edward's junior, was thought of as a handsome man. He claimed a dark brown complexion, reminiscent of supple, highly polished calfskin. A thin, neatly barbered mustache made the contrast between a thin upper and fuller lower lip even more obvious. His close-cropped black hair was brushed back off a high forehead. And even though he wore a short-sleeved shirt open at the throat and sharply creased tan slacks, the businessman was the epitome of sophisticated elegance. This card game, like all the others, was held in Randolph's wood-paneled library, and the room's furnishings were as elegant as its owner.

"What do you have, Graham?" Randolph's deep voice was deceptive, soft as sterile cotton. He'd learned over the years to control the timbre to suit his mercurial moods. Nothing in his expression revealed the shiver of excitement racing along his nerve endings. He couldn't have been dealt a better hand if he'd cheated.

Closing his eyes, Edward mumbled a silent prayer. This was it — the moment he'd been waiting for. It was time for his luck to change, to regain his self-respect.

He placed his cards on the felt-covered table. "Four of a kind."

Randolph glanced down at the cards spread out on the table, his gaze narrowing. A muscle in his jaw twitched as he noticed Edward's right hand inch toward the pile of bills on the table's surface.

"Don't you want to see what I have?"

Edward jerked his hand back as if he'd touched a piece of hot coal. "Yes...of course."

Slowly, methodically, Randolph laid his cards down, fanning them. He almost felt sorry for the man staring numbly at the cards. "Royal flush." His voice held a mocking tone.

Closing his eyes, Edward slumped back against the tufted chair, trying unsuccessfully to stem the hot tears welling up behind his eyelids. He had been so certain, so damn sure that he would beat Randolph this time. He owed the man nearly three thousand dollars. Where was he going to get that much money to pay off his gambling debts? He had barely earned a little more than twice that amount last year.

Every week he told himself this was going to be the last time; that he would never gamble again. But every Friday night at seven-thirty he found himself in Randolph's library, sipping bourbon, puffing cigars, shuffling cards, and praying his string of losses would end.

The tears overflowed, running down his cheeks, and dotting the front of his starched white shirt. Edward cried silently, his chin quivering as he tried to regain his composure. Unsuccessful, a sob escaped his parted lips and the cigar fell onto the table. Randolph reached over, picked it up, and put out the burning embers in a large glass ashtray.

"I told you last week that I wasn't going to allow you to add to your tab. It ends tonight. You now owe me twenty-nine hundred dollars, and I want my money." The words were issued in a low, threatening tone.

Sniffling, Edward reached into the back pocket of his slacks and withdrew a handkerchief. Nodding, he blotted the moisture from his cheeks and chin. He picked up his glass half-filled with the golden liquid, put it to his lips, draining it with one swallow. The bourbon slid down the back of his throat, numbing the pain and his shame.

Squaring his shoulders, he stared directly at Randolph. "I don't have it."

"Yes, you do."

Edward blew his nose, red-rimmed eyes widening in puzzlement. "What do you mean?" he asked through the square of cotton.

"You have something I want."

He panicked. "Not my house."

Leaning forward, Randolph laced his fingers together. "What the hell do I need with your house when I have my own?" A much larger house, he added silently.

A wave of heat darkened Edward's burnished gold face. "But...but you're holding the deed to it." A month before he'd handed Randolph the deed as collateral against the money he owed him.

Randolph waved a hand. "That's before I realized that I actually like my own home. It has everything I want except for..." His words trailed off.

"Except what?" Edward held his breath, ignoring the increasing constriction in his chest.

"A wife. I need a wife." His dark eyes burned with a strange light. "I'm prepared to forgive your gambling debts, return the deed, but you have to give me something in return."

Edward's forehead wrinkled in a frown as he stared at Randolph with bloodshot hazel eyes. He knew he was slightly intoxicated, but he wasn't completely drunk. "What do you want?"

Randolph plucked a cigar from a humidor, cut off the tip, moistened the cylinder of tobacco with his tongue, taking his time lighting it. There was no need for him to hurry. After all, he was the victor. He inhaled deeply, drawing smoke into his mouth, savoring the heat and the sweet musky taste on his tongue before he blew out a perfect smoke ring. Squinting through the rising haze, he stared at the defeated man sitting across from him.

He hated Edward Graham: his polished manners, impeccable lineage, family name, and his education. He even hated his fair skin coloring. Edward had attended college and law school, while Randolph had to shine shoes, repair cars, muck out barns, and on occasion chop cotton to earn enough money to set up his own business.

One business became two, and now at thirty he and his brothers were partners in a funeral home and a real estate company. He had literally worked like a slave while Edward never had to worry about tuition, books, or room and board because of his family's money. But all of that was about to change because of five cards. He would exact his revenge on everyone who represented the class of Negroes into which the Grahams were born.

"Not what, but who. I want to marry your daughter."

Weaving slightly on his chair, Edward smiled, his eyebrows shifting upward. "I believe you have me confused with someone else. My daughter is only fifteen."

"I know how old she is, Graham." He'd spat out the last name. "I'm willing to wait for her."

Pushing away from the table, Edward attempted to stand up. "Go to hell! You're fifteen years older than my Katherine."

Moving quickly, Randolph reached across the table. Holding tightly to the front of Edward's shirt, he slapped him savagely with his free hand. A trickle of blood dotted Edward's chin from a split lip. Randolph almost laughed aloud at the stunned expression on his captive's face.

"Watch your mouth with me. Either you bring me my money by twelve o'clock tomorrow, or I'm going to evict you, your wife, and your lovely young daughter. And don't think I won't do it."

At that moment Edward wished he'd been carrying a gun. He would've shot Randolph Johnson through the heart before he turned himself into the sheriff.

"You have until tomorrow to let me know if we have a deal." Randolph released Edward and the man slumped back down to his chair. "No one has to know," he continued, deciding to press his attack. "I'll wait until she's eighteen before I begin to court her."

Shaking his head, Edward tried to make sense of Randolph's preposterous proposal. He glared at the man who within an instant had changed from friend to enemy.

"You're asking me to sell my daughter."

"It's not the first time it's been done, and it won't be the last."

The soft ticking from a clock on the fireplace mantel measured the seconds. Edward closed his eyes in resignation, the gesture seemingly aging him by twenty years.

"I can't. As God is my witness I can't."

Randolph sat down again. "Sleep on it. You'll see things more clearly in the morning."

He opened his eyes. "Why are you doing this?"

"Isn't it obvious to you?"

"No."

"Marrying a Graham will give me respectability."

"But you and your brothers have a stake in every important business in Salvation," Edward argued.

Randolph silently acknowledged that fact. Like him, two of his brothers were astute and savvy businessmen, while the youngest had expressed a desire to become a doctor.

"We have money, but people still see us as the sons of a sharecropper daddy and a laundress mama. Your daughter comes from a line of teachers, lawyers, and doctors. Right now, you sit here broke as a convict, yet you still get respect because you're a lawyer, as was your daddy. I want my children to have money and respectability."

What he didn't say was that Katherine Graham was also the right complexion. If she bore his children, then her pale coloring, wavy dark auburn hair, and sparkling light gray eyes would offset his dark skin and kinky hair. He'd managed to tame his tightly curled hair with water, hair pomade and a nylon stocking cap, but there was little he could do about his own sable-brown coloring. He knew several dark-skinned Negroes who had taken to bleaching creams to lighten their skin, but he wasn't one of those. If he had children with a high-yellow woman, then he was certain to have one or two who would inherit her light complexion.

"What if she doesn't like you?"

"I am not without charm." There was no boastfulness in the statement. He did not want to tell his future father-in-law about the number of women who were more than willing to share their beds with him. "I'll even wait for her to graduate from college. A month after she graduates I expect her to become my wife."

Edward knew he had to agree or be disgraced. Katherine was only fifteen, and if she attended college then she would graduate at twenty-two. A lot of things could happen in seven years. Maybe he would get enough money to repay Randolph. Or...maybe some unfortunate accident might befall the arrogant piece of shit whose only focus was respectability when most Negroes were concerned about their survival in a region of the country where Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan were evil threads tightly woven into the fabric of the Southern landscape.

Seven years. The two words were branded on his brain. He had time. He was given a reprieve.

"Okay." The single word was pregnant with resignation.

Randolph refilled Edward's glass with the bourbon he kept especially for his card games, then poured a splash into his own snifter. "I'll be good to her, Edward. She'll become my queen."

Edward stole a lingering glance at his cards, then rose slowly to his feet and walked unsteadily out of the library. He left the house, mumbling an incoherent farewell to Randoph's housekeeper who'd opened the door for him, stumbled to his car, and managed to make it home without wrecking the vehicle or injuring himself.

His footfalls were heavy as he climbed the winding staircase to the second floor. He stood outside the door to his wife's bedroom, wanting to go to her and confess all of his sins, but couldn't. He made his way down the hallway to another bedroom where he slept whenever he came home smelling of stale cigar smoke and bourbon. Lauretta forbade him to come to her bed whenever he drank.

She was lucky gambling and drinking were his only vices, because she had given him every right to take up with other women. It had been more than four years since Lauretta had permitted him to make love to her. He was only forty — much too young to stop taking his pleasure with his wife.

The light from a lamp on a table outside the bedroom provided enough illumination to make out the bed. Falling facedown on the firm mattress, fully clothed, Edward Joseph Graham berated himself for his weaknesses. He'd lost thousands of dollars on a card game and now he was using his daughter — his beautiful, delicate, and trusting Katherine, to pay off his gambling debts.

Edward wondered, before he succumbed to a tortured sleep, whether he would ever be forgiven for his many sins.

Copyright © 2003 by Rochelle Alers

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Introduction

Reading Group Guide for Secrets Never Told

1. Who is the book's narrator? Why does the author set the story in a town called Salvation? Who finds salvation there? Pick a passage and share how the author uses description and setting to tell the story.

2. What are the secrets never told? Why does Edward make the deal with Randolph?

3. Describe Franklin, Morgana, Randolph, and Katherine as if you are describing them to a friend. Share what they look like, their habits, where they come from, and what kind of people they are.

4. What are the parallels between the marriages of Franklin and Morgana and Katherine and Randolph? How do the couples' sexual relations relate to the functioning of their marriages?

5. To what is Morgana referring when she says of Katherine, "even in death she affected a mysterious smile"? When did you realize that Morgana Johnson-Wells is Julian's daughter? Share whether or not you are surprised to be more involved, early on, in Katherine's story rather than Morgana's. Why does Rochelle Alers construct the book this way?

6. How could Morgana have missed the signs that Franklin was fooling around? Discuss why his cheating may not have had anything to do with his wife. Why would he cheat if he believes his marriage to be "something sacred, something so vital"?

7. Look at the paragraph in Chapter 3 that describes Katherine's hair. Discuss what information is imparted and what puzzle pieces of the story are put in place.

8. How does Morgana treat Franklin after she learns of his philandering? Share whether or not you believe she still loves him, and why. What does it mean that Morgana celebrates her 28th wedding anniversary withanother man? Discuss Franklin's unraveling after he visits Morgana on their anniversary.

9. Why does the author utilize diaries in Secrets Never Told? What does Morgana learn from the diaries? How do they affect her life? Discuss whether or not you keep a diary and how you would feel if someone looked at it now as well as after your passing. What would you do if you found the diaries of one of your parents?

10. Why is Katherine so repulsed by Randolph? Even though Randolph didn't tell Katherine about "winning" her, does Katherine know about it? Looking at Katherine's journal entry in Chapter 12, what does she say about her life with Randolph? About her feelings about gambling?

11. Share your reaction to Katherine being Randolph's prize. Is Randolph's attraction based on Katherine's hair and skin color? Consider how and why men confer different status to women in Secrets Never Told. Does Randolph really love Katherine, or is something else involved?

12. Think about "black magic" and working "roots." Discuss why people believe in them. Why would Lenny want to harm Randolph even though she is told that he would come back to her? What is going on when Randolph has his accident? Does black magic have anything to do with it?

13. What is the "miracle Jesus wrought in Cana"? When and why does this reference appear in the book? Why is it significant for Secrets Never Told?

14. Discuss Uncle Julian. When did you figure out he was more than Morgana's "Uncle"? Trace his life and his accomplishments as an African American in the twentieth century.

15. How does Morgana justify sleeping with Erick? How does having a time-frame for her affair with Erick affect Morgana?

16. In Chapter 19, Morgana says that Randolph, Julian, and Katherine "were all losers." Why does she feel this way?

17. Share whether or not you are satisfied with the book's outcome, and why.

Rochelle Alers is the two-time Gold Pen Award winning author of more than twenty-six acclaimed novels and short stories. She lives in Freeport, New York. Visit her website at www.rochellealers.com.

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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide for Secrets Never Told

1. Who is the book's narrator? Why does the author set the story in a town called Salvation? Who finds salvation there? Pick a passage and share how the author uses description and setting to tell the story.

2. What are the secrets never told? Why does Edward make the deal with Randolph?

3. Describe Franklin, Morgana, Randolph, and Katherine as if you are describing them to a friend. Share what they look like, their habits, where they come from, and what kind of people they are.

4. What are the parallels between the marriages of Franklin and Morgana and Katherine and Randolph? How do the couples' sexual relations relate to the functioning of their marriages?

5. To what is Morgana referring when she says of Katherine, "even in death she affected a mysterious smile"? When did you realize that Morgana Johnson-Wells is Julian's daughter? Share whether or not you are surprised to be more involved, early on, in Katherine's story rather than Morgana's. Why does Rochelle Alers construct the book this way?

6. How could Morgana have missed the signs that Franklin was fooling around? Discuss why his cheating may not have had anything to do with his wife. Why would he cheat if he believes his marriage to be "something sacred, something so vital"?

7. Look at the paragraph in Chapter 3 that describes Katherine's hair. Discuss what information is imparted and what puzzle pieces of the story are put in place.

8. How does Morgana treat Franklin after she learns of his philandering? Share whether or not you believe she still loves him, and why. What does it mean that Morgana celebrates her 28th wedding anniversary with another man? Discuss Franklin's unraveling after he visits Morgana on their anniversary.

9. Why does the author utilize diaries in Secrets Never Told? What does Morgana learn from the diaries? How do they affect her life? Discuss whether or not you keep a diary and how you would feel if someone looked at it now as well as after your passing. What would you do if you found the diaries of one of your parents?

10. Why is Katherine so repulsed by Randolph? Even though Randolph didn't tell Katherine about "winning" her, does Katherine know about it? Looking at Katherine's journal entry in Chapter 12, what does she say about her life with Randolph? About her feelings about gambling?

11. Share your reaction to Katherine being Randolph's prize. Is Randolph's attraction based on Katherine's hair and skin color? Consider how and why men confer different status to women in Secrets Never Told. Does Randolph really love Katherine, or is something else involved?

12. Think about "black magic" and working "roots." Discuss why people believe in them. Why would Lenny want to harm Randolph even though she is told that he would come back to her? What is going on when Randolph has his accident? Does black magic have anything to do with it?

13. What is the "miracle Jesus wrought in Cana"? When and why does this reference appear in the book? Why is it significant for Secrets Never Told?

14. Discuss Uncle Julian. When did you figure out he was more than Morgana's "Uncle"? Trace his life and his accomplishments as an African American in the twentieth century.

15. How does Morgana justify sleeping with Erick? How does having a time-frame for her affair with Erick affect Morgana?

16. In Chapter 19, Morgana says that Randolph, Julian, and Katherine "were all losers." Why does she feel this way?

17. Share whether or not you are satisfied with the book's outcome, and why.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 15 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 24, 2011

    Unexpectedly AWESOME!!!

    I accidentally stumbled across this page turner. I thought it was going to be some lame love story but it had other elements that kept my nose in this novel. Once I read this one I fell in love with Rochelle Alers. She never disappoints.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2006

    A Hand of Cards Changes The Lives of Generations

    What can I possible say about this book that hasn't already been said? This book was absoluteley wonderful! The characters were very vivid and the plot drew me right in. Morgana is a woman who literally has it all. She married her college sweetheart, she has a thriving business, two grown, successful children and a beautiful home. Money was of no consequence. This is truly a woman that anyone would envy. Truth of the matter is her life is NOT perfect and the walls suddenly close in on her when she loses her mother and her husband in the same day: her mother to death and her husband to another woman. She retreats to her home to bury her mother and deal with her feelings towards her husband's infidelity. She meets an intriguing stranger while finding solace in her mother's journals. Soon Morgana and the reader begin to see why Morgana is the way she is and why her mother was the way she was. The plot of this book contains elements of suspense, adultery, family secrets and even bigotry. One of the things I admired most about this novel was the way Ms. Alers brought to light not only the racism that existed in the south between blacks and whites in Katherine's (Morgana's mother) day but, also in the inner circle of racism within the Afican American residents of Salvation. Ms. Alers doesn't disappoint but then, what else is new? I recommend this book without reservation. This book is definitely a must read!!! I simply loved it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2005

    I enjoyed every page

    I truly liked how the author made you feel like you were there in every scene as it played out. I mean the characters seemed so real. I definitely plan on reading more from this author.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2004

    Oh My Goodness

    The book was well written and the ending was a total surprise!! Drama, Drama, Drama

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2003

    Secrets + The Bond of Marriage

    This is an excellent story about woman,daughter,wife,mother and lover that leans that life is not perfect. In the process of learning that, she also rediscover herself. Without giving out any hints to the ending, the author made a statement that most readers will probably complain about the ending, but I just want to say, I'm probably that one reader who thought the story ened the way it should have. I will be reading more of Rochelle Alers work.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2003

    Keeping Secrets, Telling Lies.

    Morgana Wells, Has Her Hands Full Dealing With 2 Hard Hitting Events In Her Life, One Is That She Discovers That Her Husband Had 'An Affair' Which Has Devastated Her, Then She Must Deal With The Sudden Death Of Her of mother. Both Of These Events Has Taken A toll On Her. Durning The Time Of Her Brief Separation From Her Husband Franklin She Meets An Attractive Artist 'Eric Who Shes Has A brief Sexual Encounter With. But The Story Really Gets Good When Morgana Discovers Her Mothers Personal Journals That Were Left Behind After Her Death. the Journals Are Filled With Some Serious , Deep Dark Family Secrets, That Are Just Mind Blowing. It Makes You Wonder If People Are Really who The Say They Are. In The End of This Story, The Secrets Will Unfold One By One.. i really loved this Book,Im looking forward To reading More Works By This Author.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2006

    Riveting story, vividly told

    This was a fast read, from the very first chapter. I like reading about previous generations of contemporary people and their trials and tribulations in life. As the story unfolded I felt like a fly on the wall, watching the action. And it ended the way I hoped. The only thing I didn't like was Morgana's husband's comment, 'Now we are even.' I thought that was silly. Two wrongs don't make a right.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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