The ladies of Hope Filled Christian Center spend more time serving other women's husbands than they do serving the Lord in Mason's fourth novel, a soap opera–like tale about the bad choices smart women make for love and companionship. Holier-than-thou Faye Watkins is married to the pastor of one of the largest churches in Dallas. She has a psychology degree and counsels the women of her husband's church, mostly about their problems with men. Among her charges is Renee Turner, a bohemian interior decorator who leads the church's singles' ministry. Renee breaks a long romantic dry spell with a client's husband, which has some negative consequence. Elise Clayton, a choir member and real estate agent, would do anything to get Jay, a married-with-kids truck driver, to leave his wife. And newly empty-nested Tess Martin wishes she had the strength to leave her philandering husband, Jesse, a church deacon who sleeps with everyone but her. Readers of commercial African-American fiction who haven't yet discovered Mason would do well to pick up this steamy cautionary tale. (Apr.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
This Fire Down in My Soulby J. D. Mason
When Faylene Watkins begins counseling women of her husband's congregation at Hope Filled Christian Center church, three women teach her the perils of love, sex and obsession. Choir girl Elise thinks she's found a good man in Jay, a truck driver who came blowing into her life one sultry night. Irresistible and sensual, he's caught up in romancing Elise./i>
When Faylene Watkins begins counseling women of her husband's congregation at Hope Filled Christian Center church, three women teach her the perils of love, sex and obsession. Choir girl Elise thinks she's found a good man in Jay, a truck driver who came blowing into her life one sultry night. Irresistible and sensual, he's caught up in romancing Elise. However, when she's ready for happily ever after, he realizes that he can't just walk away from his wife and two children. And Elise just can't seem to let him go. Everyone knows that singles ministry leader Renee is full of herself. When she starts her latest interior decorating project, she thinks her client's husband is hot, and together, they're on fire. Meanwhile his wife wants to be friends, and it's not long before a twisted game starts to unravel. For twenty-five years Tess's life revolved around her unfaithful husband (who sits on the deacon's board) and their two wonderful sons. But now the kids have left the nest and Tess wants to spread her wings. While busy seeking her first job and creating a new social life outside the church, Tess meets a new man—a most forbidden man—who rides into the picture to rock her world off its steady axis. All the while, First Lady of the church and counselor, Faye is keeping a secret of her own that is much deeper than any one of them could ever imagine.
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This Fire Down in My Soul
By J. D. Mason
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2007 Jaclyn Meridy
All rights reserved.
wade in the water ...
(Laughing) "How come you always look at me like that?"
"Like you don't know why I keep coming back. Like I don't belong here."
"Is it that obvious?"
"I'm sorry I don't mean for it to be."
"The church bulletin said counseling sessions were available and open to all women in need of guidance, Dr. Faye. So — come on now. Guide me."
"You don't seem like the type to need guidance, Renee. Confident, ambitious, focused ... I honestly don't know why you come to see me."
She hesitated for a moment before responding.
"An overachieving, self-assured woman like myself can have issues like everybody else, Doc. Sometimes, I just need to let off some steam. Sometimes, I just need someone to talk to."
"You're head of the singles ministry, Renee. I'd think you'd have plenty of people to talk to."
Renee rolled her eyes. "My job as head of the singles ministry is to keep lonely people occupied and blind to the fact that they are lonely in the first place." She smirked. "So, who's got time to talk? I mean, really talk."
"What about your friends?"
She laughed. "Friends?" Then held up one finger. "I have one friend."
"And he makes a joke out of ever fucking ... I mean ... sorry."
"I don't always feel like laughing, and not everything is funny. Raymone likes to play that sarcastic queen role of his to the hilt and sometimes it gets on my nerves. I don't think he has a serious bone in his body."
"Why don't you have other friends?"
She shrugged indifferently "I prefer not to have too many friends bringing baggage and all their drama and chaos. One or two good friends is all any woman needs, but" — her eyes twinkled mischievously — "I think I'm in the process of making another one. Lucky you."
"Don't be. My motivation is purely selfish."
"Ours will be a lopsided relationship at best, Doc. Onesided, and all about me. That sucks, huh?" She didn't wait for a response. "I talk. You listen, maybe nod your head every now and then. A match made in heaven."
"So, what is it you want me to listen to and nod my head to today?"
Renee smiled. "About — how much I love attending this church, and to ask you where you got those kick-ass shoes, First Lady Pardon my cussing."
"That's par for the course with you, Renee."
Bohemian — retro-groovy. Say it loud! — bargain basement cheap. Designer label expensive chic. Renee's look summed up in a nutshell. She worked hard developing her artistic, expressive style, in an understated, but definitely enviable and effortless way Renee Turner climbed out of her black Toyota Tacoma pickup truck, full moon afro first, wearing Jimmy Choo rust leather 'Taris' pumps, 7 for All Mankind Boot cut jeans, a long sleeve, creamy white, V-neck tee that she found on sale at Old Navy, slipping a Dolce & Gabbana camel suede buckle tote over her shoulder. A Tiffany's wide band, eighteencarat gold ring with ten round brilliant diamonds circled her middle finger, while cheap mahogany carved hippopotamus earrings she picked up at a flea market on her last homage to South Africa, dangled precariously from her ear lobes.
She stared up at the palatial home in front of her. It had that brand-new, old-world, Spanish kind of vibe going, with the stucco exterior, wrought-iron accents, arched doorway of the entry. Given the style and the neighborhood, Renee guessed the price to be between five and six hundred thousand, easily, depending on the upgrades inside. All and all, though — it was cute.
"Trishelle?" Renee smiled at the woman answering the door.
"You must be Renee." The woman smiled back, extending her hand to shake. "It's so wonderful to finally meet you in person," she said, closing the door behind them. "I'm such a fan of your work."
"Thank you so much," Renee responded, making a concerted effort to appear and sound gracious and humble. But her shit was tight, and just about everybody in Dallas, maybe even the world, knew just how tight it was.
Tall woman, Renee thought as she followed Trishclle Stevens. She had to have been at least six feet tall, maybe more.... Auburn curls framed her white face and bounced just at the top of her narrow shoulders. Brilliant blue eyes sparkled beneath wisps of bangs. In another life, she was probably a model, Renee concluded. It would have been a damn shame if she wasn't. Trishelle was model beautiful and pliable, almost generic-looking like a mannequin that you could dress anyway you wanted, and she'd end up looking unrealistically good.
"As you can see," she said over her shoulder, leading Renee through the house, "we haven't done anything to the place, except move in," she laughed. "I've never had a house this big before, so I have no idea where to start with decorating the belly of this whale, and I certainly wouldn't want to fuck it up, which is why I've asked you to come."
The kitchen was a chef's and his whole team's dream with granite, slab countertops that spanned for miles, stainless steel, oversized appliances, a huge six-cook top stove, and two baker's oven. An endless array of dark-stained cherry custom cabinets, some with glass-paned fronts, provided space to store enough food and dishes to serve a small country Canned lighting in the ceilings ran the length of the kitchen, which apparently ran the length of the whole south side of the house.
Trishelle poured two cups of coffee, and the women sat down at a small and oddly out-of-place kitchen table. Trishelle seemed to read Renee's designer mind.
"It's from our home in Seattle," she said sheepishly, lovingly running the flat of her hand across the top. "I'm going to hate to see it go. The truth is, this is a major upgrade for us," she chuckled. "You could just about fit our entire house in this kitchen. My husband called it cramped." She looked at Renee, and smiled. "I liked to think of it as cozy."
So this woman had no idea of what needed to be done to this house. That much was obvious. She was desperate for help and answers and direction. All Renee had to do was rise to the occasion. Interior design was as much psychology as it was art. It was not only a study of space and hardware, but a study of human character as well. If she was going to turn this whale's belly into a home for this woman, then she needed to start her design concept from the center of Trishelle Stevens, and forget all about these oversized walls and the never-ending garish kitchen surrounding them.
"What kind of work do you do?" Renee asked, studying Trishelle.
"I teach." Her eyes sparkled, then faded. "Well, I used to, back in Seattle."
Renee flashed a patient smile. "And what brings you to Dallas?"
"My husband does," she said with pride. "And his new position." That pride faded away quickly
Mrs. Stevens was here because her husband dragged her here chasing after his career, giving little to no thought to hers. And she loved him just that much to let him. In the short exchange, Renee had Trishelle's life all figured out. That woman was impressed by her new house, but she definitely wasn't in love with it, and she was certainly more than a little intimidated by it.
Dr. Renee Turner to emergency. Stat!
They slowly strolled through the house, room by room, stopping long enough for Renee to record her findings in her microrecorder.
"Color?" she said to Trishelle. "What's your favorite color?" Renee smiled warmly and stared with genuine interest into Trishelle's eyes, as they lit up at the thought.
"I like orange, and plum, and midnight blue." She grimaced. "Sounds like they'd be a mess together. Don't they?"
Renee smiled assuredly. "You'd be surprised."
"My husband, Lewis, on the other hand, prefers neutral colors." Renee hadn't missed that subtle hint of disappointment in her tone. Almost as if Lewis had a tendency to let all the air out of his wife's colorful balloon on a regular basis.
Leave it to Dr. Turner to resuscitate her failing patient, she thought with pride. "Oh, I think we can find some middle ground." She gently touched Trishelle's arm. "Trust me."
Arched doorways and spiraling staircases in this house screamed for attention and dared to be showcased and brought to life. Yeah, when she was finished, this one would go on her Web site and would be a lovely addition to her portfolio for the day she finally landed a meeting with The Donald or Oprah to decorate one of their digs.
Renee was recording her notes in the study, lost in her observations when Trishelle disappeared from behind her. The sound of a man's voice threatened to trample on her creative train of thought.
"Hello," his voice came from behind her.
"Hi, honey," Trishelle greeted him in a whisper, so as not to disturb Renee's artistic vibe.
She finished with her notes, then turned to greet the man who'd be paying for her services. "Hello." She reached out to shake his hand, fighting back surprise. "I'm Renee."
He smiled and gently took her hand in his. "Lewis. Lewis Stevens."
Another one bites the dust. The lyrics rewound over and over again in her head. The brother was nothing short of an African King reincarnated.
"Your home is lovely." Renee hoped she sounded convincing, but she'd seen better.
He smirked. "My home is empty, and I'm hoping you can help make it feel more like we live here instead of feeling like we're taking up space in a warehouse." He looked at the wife he held in his arms, pressed up against the side of him, and gave a noticeable squeeze. "I hear you're one of the best designers in the city."
Something about the look in his eyes almost hinted at sarcasm and cynicism, and Renee knew already that she wasn't digging this caramel-skinned god.
"Yes," she smiled, meeting his gaze with her own. "I've heard that, too."
Touché. He looked as if he thought it, but didn't say it.
"She has some wonderful ideas for the place, sweetheart," Trishelle chimed in. "I think you'll like them once you see what they are."
"I'm sure," he smiled. "Well, I'll leave you two ladies to finish up, and," he gave his wife a quick peck on the lips, while loosening his tie, "I'll be upstairs in the study."
For a second, she felt a twinge of jealousy kick her in the ribs, and a sense of black-on-black betrayal warmed her from the tips of her toes to the top of her head. But common sense rang in, reminding her that he couldn't help who he loved, and when he was looking for a woman, Renee was probably traipsing around Europe with all her belongings in her backpack or some shit like that, which is why she missed him. Besides, she'd never set foot in Seattle, so there was no way their paths would've crossed anyway.
An hour and a half after she'd arrived, Trishelle escorted Renee to the door.
"I have some thoughts," Renee replied, confidently, "and I should have a proposal ready for you in a few weeks."
Trishelle sighed, relieved. "Thank you so much, Renee. I'm so glad to have met you."
"The pleasure was all mine," she said, professionally. "We'll get this place together for you in no time," she winked, and turned to leave.
"Good-bye." Trishelle said one last time. "Oh, and Renee?" Renee turned to her.
"Remember." Trishelle's expression turned downright menacing. "Money is no object."
"I think he called himself being in love with this one," Tess Martin said indifferently, sitting at the end of the couch in the office, one leg crossed over the other, her arms folded in front of her.
"You couldn't possibly know that for sure, Tess."
"I've been married to him for twenty-three years, Faye. Women have come and gone, especially when he was appointed to the Deacon's board," she winced. "Everybody else saw that appointment as a blessing, but to me, it was a role that gave my husband carte blanche to do what he did best."
She smiled. "How could I not know?"
The two of them sat silently for several minutes, while Tess quietly reflected on and revisited the past two decades of her life. Recalling the younger woman she once was, filled with ideals and the joy of the life she pictured ahead of her, sadly coming to the realization that she was no longer that idealistic joyful woman. She'd become someone else along the way Someone she didn't know or even like.
"Men don't know how to leave," she blurted out. "No matter how unhappy they are, or how badly they'd rather be with someone else, they won't leave unless you tell them to. Why do you think that is?"
Faye shrugged. "It's in their nature not to. And I also believe that men want permission to leave so that they don't have to blame themselves or be accused of abandonment."
"I wish he would leave."
"I don't think you do, Tess. I think you're angry and hurt ..."
Tess shook her head. "No. No, not anymore. I'm tired, Faye. I'm too worn out to care enough to be hurt and angry I've been hurt and angry for the last twenty years, and —" She shrugged. "I'm done. Emotionally, physically —"
"He did end the affair, though, and at least that's something, Tess. At least you and Jesse have an opportunity to mend and heal and start over from scratch to make your marriage work. If you'll just trust in the Lord and in the love the two of you —"
"Have for each other?" Tess concluded.
"What if I don't want it to work? What if I'm finally to the point where I want to move on and start over without him, Faye?"
"If that's what you'd really wanted, Tess, you'd have moved on by now."
Tears filled her eyes. "If I knew how — if I had the courage — God knows I would've left him years ago."
Tess stood on the beach, gazing at the ocean in front of her, drinking buckets of the salty air, smiling at the sunrise winking at her from the horizon. If she didn't know better, she'd swear she was crazy. But for the first time in her life, Tess felt more than sane, and for the first time in her life, finally in touch with the true nature of her self. Her surprisingly wonderful self
She and her husband Jesse had visited St. Simon's Island years ago to celebrate their twelfth wedding anniversary Tess had always dreamed of coming back. He never wanted to. She used to let things like that hurt her feelings. Now she knew they weren't even worth her time. Jesse stopped being in love with her a long time ago. And Tess had come to her senses, finally, and slipped quietly out of love with him, too.
Lord, forgive me for lying, she thought, smiling at the view. Somehow she knew, she didn't even need to ask. Of course, she was forgiven. A woman's got to do what a woman's got to do. If she'd told Jesse she needed to get away, that she wanted to come back here, he'd have come up with any number of excuses to keep her from going, and she'd fallen for them, too. Why would he stop her? she'd wondered before deciding to leave. It wasn't that he liked her company so much, or loved coming home to his good wife and better meal. The answer came to her over time, and it didn't make much more sense than either one of them did. He was comfortable knowing she was in a certain place at a certain time every day. He was comfortable in her predictability. Tess never strayed too far away from the routine of her life or of their marriage, and everyone she knew had expectations of her that didn't include hopping on a plane at the spur of the moment and flying off to some island for no other reason than to catch up with her peace of mind.
The images of the waves, gently washing ashore seduced her. The coolness of the water lapping over her bare feet, tugged at her. Seagulls called to her from the crystal blue sky, serenading her, trying desperately to say her name. She felt sexy here. Sensual. Interesting. Deserving. All the things she never felt at home, in Dallas, in her own house, in her own skin. And if it were up to her, she'd never leave.
She'd lied and told Jesse that a small group of people from her church were going to a retreat to the St. Simon's for spiritual cleansing. She chuckled just thinking about it. Tess had played that man like a guitar and he never suspected a thing. She should've been an actress, Tess surmised, proud in her achievement.
"A retreat would do us good, Jesse," she reasoned, pleading to him with her expression, stressing the importance of his presence at the nonexistent forum. Of course, there was a small chance he'd surprise her and say yes. But it was very small, extremely small, microscopically small. "When's the last time we took a trip together? When's the last time we had a vacation without the boys?"
"Tess," he sighed, pretending to sound disappointed. "You know I can't just drop everything and take off like that."
"It's a weekend, Jesse! One weekend," she protested. Tess sat down next to him on the sofa and placed a tender hand on his thigh. "There's going to be counseling." Going. "Prayer services." Going. "And even a sunrise meditation service right there on the beach." Gone.
The look in his eyes told her everything his mouth couldn't. "Well, which weekend is it again?" He tried his best to sound hopeful.
She smacked him in the face with a wide, toothy grin. "Next month. The fourteenth through the sixteenth. All weekend, honey. Oh, and did I tell you Deaconess Wilson has invited the Anointed Voices Choir of Atlanta to come sing for us at Friday night's reception?" It was the final blow, unmerciful and downright hateful, that sent him tumbling over the edge.
"Oh, that weekend." Disappointment shadowed his expression. "That's the weekend before the inspection, baby. Remember? The VP of Manufacturing is flying in to go over some quality and performance issues at the plant. I'll be tied up all weekend buried under mountains of paperwork, juggling numbers — I'm sorry, Tess. But, why don't you go ahead and go without me?"
Tears. She needed to fake the funk real good for a moment. Tess's eyes needed to water, and damn if they didn't. Right on cue. "You sure?"
He nodded, and patted her hand. "Yeah, sweetheart. You go right ahead, and try and have fun."
The sunlight warmed her face, and Tess inhaled, closed her eyes, and smiled. She said a silent prayer that time would be patient today, and not hurry through to tomorrow. Tess was tired of giving all the damn time. For twenty-three years, she'd given all of her self to her children, marriage, insecurity, and blame. She'd devoted every waking moment of her days to raising her twin boys, who were now men, and out on their own. Now it was her turn. She'd lay prone on her back at Jesse's feet, dedicating herself to being the wife he'd dreamed of, only to have him step over her to get to women younger, sweeter, and more enticing than hers. She'd forgiven him his trespasses time and time again, through tears, threats, and anguish every time one of those little trespasses happened to show up in his funky drawers, or as phone numbers stuffed in his wallet.
Thankfully, for the first time in more than twenty years, he wasn't the center of her adventure. She was.
Excerpted from This Fire Down in My Soul by J. D. Mason. Copyright © 2007 Jaclyn Meridy. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
J.D. MASON is the author of And On the Eighth Day She Rested, One Day I Saw a Black King, and Don't Want No Sugar. She lives in Denver, Colorado.
J.D. MASON is the author of That Devil's No Friend of Mine, You Gotta Sin to Get Saved, This Fire Down in My Soul, Don't Want No Sugar, And On the Eighth Day She Rested, and One Day I Saw a Black King. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her two children."Mason's contributions to African American literature have dealt with life's problems head-on..."--American Library Association "Mason has become a major name in African American fiction. Her stark portrayals of her characters and their innermost thoughts bring the readers right into the emotional center of the story. Those who enjoy Carl Weber and Eric Jerome Dickey will add Mason to their list of favorites." --Booklist
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