Most people think that money is the key to happiness, but when an ecstatic Nina Lawson wins millions in the Powerball lottery, her world only becomes more chaotic and stressful. At first, she and her fiancé, Rick, are delighted with the unexpected windfall and immediately begin planning their future. Soon, family members and friends begin coming out of the woodwork to claim a piece of Nina’s winnings. But the most unexpected request comes from Todd, Nina’s ex-husband. He and his fiancée, Pam (with whom he had the affair that ended their marriage) reveal that the paperwork making Todd and Nina’s divorce official was never filed—and she may be compelled to share half the money with her husband. As the situation begins to spiral out of control, Nina risks losing her heart and her newfound winnings to find out what really matters.
With just the right blend of joy, drama, and humor, Billingsley entertains and inspires readers with every turn of the page—it’s no surprise that her readership grows with each new book.
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Read an Excerpt
My eyes must be playing tricks on me. Nina Lawson glanced at the digital clock in the lower corner of her Hewlett-Packard laptop. It was two forty-five in the morning. Yes, her eyes had to be playing tricks on her. She was dog tired after staying up studying for her latest real estate exam, so she knew she shouldn't put much stock in the email that was blaring at her. She'd only checked it because she came across it as she was looking for an email from one of her clients. She realized she hadn't checked her numbers from Saturday's drawing, so she decided to quickly look at the update email from the Lottery Commission.
She never expected this.
"'The winning lotto numbers for Saturday's Texas Lotto drawing are four-seven-fourteen-seventeen-twenty-one-twentyfive,'" she mumbled, reading the email again.
Nina's eyes made their way back down to the little pink ticket clutched tightly in her right hand. 4-7-14-17-21-25. This was her fifth time comparing the numbers, and the results were still the same.
Slowly, any semblance of weariness began to fade away.
"Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod." Nina's whispers gradually turned into an all-out shout.
"I won! I won! Yes!" Nina began screaming as she jumped up from her leather chair, sending it toppling to the floor. She didn't realize how loud she was being until she looked up to see her fiancé, Rick Henderson, standing in the doorway to her office.
"What in the world is wrong with you?" he groggily asked. "You know I have to get up and go to work in the morning. Why are you still up? And why are you in here screaming like you're crazy?"
Nina shook out both her hands, trying to calm herself down. Rick was standing there shirtless, his caramel-colored skin and rippled abs reminding her why he was one of the most soughtafter personal trainers in Houston. They'd met two years ago, after he whipped her best friend Michelle into shape. He'd flirted with Nina, telling her how pretty she was and how much she looked like Gabrielle Union. Even so, she didn't give him the time of day because she was married at the time. Then, two months after her divorce, she'd bumped into him at the gym where he worked. They'd gone to lunch, and the next thing Nina knew, he was spending every night at her house.
Rick was sweet, caring, and the finest man she'd ever seen. But more than that, he was good to her. After her ex-husband, Todd, betrayed her, Nina thought she'd never be in love again, but Rick had quickly changed that. Too quickly, her friends said. He'd moved in with her about six weeks after their first date to help her with her bills, which she'd been struggling to pay since Todd left. Despite her apprehension about getting involved with someone so soon after her marriage ended, things had progressed quickly. Before she knew it, not only were they living together but they were engaged to be married.
"Baby, you're not going to believe this," Nina said, bringing her excitement level down a notch.
"Do you know what time it is?" he repeated. "I have a client at five o'clock, Mrs. Brighton. And you know she comes all hyped up and ready to work."
Nina smiled widely. "Well, you need to call Mrs. Brighton and tell her you aren't coming to work out with her tomorrow. Tell her you won't ever be working out with her again."
Rick rubbed his closely shaven head. "Nina, what are you talking about?"
She had to use everything in her power to contain her excitement. She inhaled deeply, then sauntered over to him, lightly waving the pink ticket in front of him. "This is what I'm talking about. This little piece of paper is about to change our lives."
"What is that?" he asked, squinting.
"Here." She excitedly handed him the ticket. "Take a look at this."
He took it but continued to frown as she raced back over to the computer.
"Look, girl, I don't have time to be playing. I need to get some sleep."
"Just gimme a minute." Nina began reading the computer screen again. "'The winning numbers for Saturday's Texas Lotto drawing are four-seven-fourteen-seventeen-twenty-one-twenty-five.'" She stood up triumphantly and pointed at the ticket. "What do the numbers on that ticket say?"
"What do the numbers say?" she repeated.
He huffed in frustration, then read the ticket. "Four-seven-fourteen-seventeen-twenty-one..." His eyes grew wide as he looked up at Nina. "Oh, my God. I...is this for real?"
Nina was grinning like a kid at a chocolate factory as the excitement began building up again.
"As real as it gets!" She could no longer contain herself. She raced over and threw her arms around his neck. "We're rich, baby. Rich, rich, rich!"
Granted, they weren't married, but he had popped the question out of the blue two months ago. Rick was trying to open his own gym, and he wanted to be financially secure before they actually set a wedding date. He had bought her a small band, with promises to upgrade to a platinum and diamond one as soon as he got his money right. Still, Nina had no doubt that she was sharing her winnings with her man. Shoot, if anything, they were definitely ready to marry now.
Rick pulled away from Nina, taking a look at the ticket again. Shock was still blasted across his face. "H-how much?"
She kissed him hard. "Sixteen million," she said, pulling back. "I mean, I did the cash option payout, so I don't know how much that actually equates to, but I'm sure it's somewhere in the millions, even after taxes."
Rick kept staring at the ticket like he couldn't believe it. "But how, I mean...is this for real?"
She nodded. "I wouldn't play around with something like this, especially at three o'clock in the morning."
"Since when did you start playing the lottery?"
Nina shrugged. "I'm not a regular player. I just play every now and then. I was in the gas station Saturday and found a five-dollar bill folded up in my pocket, so I just bought five tickets. I never in a million years thought I'd win."
For once Rick was speechless. He was a hustler, so he was always talking a good game. Nina always told him that his gift of gab was so great, he should've been in sales.
Nina took Rick's hand and led him out of her office, down the hall, and into the living room of their small three-bedroom home, which she'd moved into after her divorce.
"Do you know what this means?" she said, easing him down onto the sofa.
"It means you're rich?" he said slowly, like everything was still registering.
"It means we're rich, baby. I can pay off those student loans, get out of debt, open my real estate business, and you you can now finally open that gym you've wanted to open."
Rick had been scrimping and saving for years to fulfill his dream of opening an upscale gym that catered to young professionals. He'd managed to save a nice chunk of change, but three months ago, his only brother was killed, and Rick had to use the money to bury his brother. So he was essentially starting all over.
A smile finally crossed Rick's face as his eyes began to twinkle. "We're rich?"
Nina nodded, matching his smile. "We're rich."
He jumped up and swung her around in circles as they both let out piercing screams. Nina couldn't remember a time she'd been happier. She knew from that moment forward, their lives would never be the same.
Copyright © 2009 by ReShonda Tate Billingsley
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Say Amen, Again includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author ReShonda Tate Billingsley. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Rachel Adams is trying to find a way to forgive her husband, Pastor Lester Adams, for having an affair. Her task is made all the more difficult by the reappearance of his former mistress, Mary Richardson, in their family’s church. Now pregnant, Mary claims that Lester is the child’s father and is intent on seducing him away from Rachel. Meanwhile, a tragedy rocks the foundation of the Adams family and everyone involved is confronted with an ultimate decision of forgiveness.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. What does Rachel’s dream in the novel’s opening chapter reveal about her fears? How is she able to overcome these fears by the end of the book?
2. Despite Lester’s continual refusal of her affections, Mary protests that the love she feels for him is real. Do you think this is true?
3. Rachel fears that her anger is interfering with her growth as a Christian. Do you agree with her decision to leave the church until Mary is removed? Likewise, do you think Mary should be removed from the church—or do you agree with Deacon Jacobs’s assessment that “if they kicked one transgressor out, they had to kick them all out” (p. 14)?
4. Mary’s visit from her mother, Margaret, is unwelcome and reinforces why Mary removed Margaret from her life in the first place. How does Mary feel when she sees her mother? How do you think Mary’s relationship with her mother has influenced her as a person?
5. Mary’s dealing ex-boyfriend, Craig, is another unwelcome visitor who brings “nothing but trouble” when he comes around. Is there anything Mary could have done to rid Craig from her life and leave her past behind? Or do you think her past was always destined to follow her?
6. Fed up with Aunt Minnie’s constant judgment of his family, Simon reveals a few of her deepest secrets to prove that she’s not as perfect as she pretends to be. As Simon says, do you think she “had that coming”?
7. Although Bobby never makes an appearance in this novel, Rachel can’t help but think about him from time to time. She wonders if chasing after him in the past influenced Lester’s affair with Mary. Do you feel that Rachel is right to take on part of the blame for Lester’s affair?
8. After Rachel’s interaction with Pastor Terrance Ellis at Lily Grove Church, she felt humiliated for having misunderstood the pastor’s intentions. Did you also think Pastor Ellis was coming on to Rachel? How did you react to her reasoning that having an affair of her own would help her recover from Lester’s affair? Have you ever felt a similar urge to seek some kind of revenge?
9. Did Roderick’s suicide take you by surprise? Teenage bullying due to sexual orientation is a prominent topic in the media today. How does Roderick’s story echo other tragedies you’ve read or heard about?
10. Rachel’s father offers words of advice after Lester is arrested: “Baby girl, God is in the blessing business. He’s not in the punishing business. . . . Just know that God doesn’t give us more than we can bear” (p. 197). Do you agree? Has there ever been a time in your life that you felt you were being tested beyond what you could bear?
11. What did you think of Rachel’s decision to keep Mary’s son, despite him being a constant reminder of Lester’s indiscretion? Would you have made the same decision? Similarly, how would Rachel’s decision have been different if it had turned out that Lester was, in fact, the boy’s father?
12. How did your opinion of Mary change as you read the book? By the end of the novel, did you find yourself sympathizing with her situation? Or did you think she got what she deserved?
13. How does the role of forgiveness impact both the characters and the events in the novel? Is Rachel truly able to forgive Lester for his indiscretion by the end of the book? Do you think Jonathan will ever be able to forgive himself for what happened to Roderick?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Let the Church Say Amen, the first in ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s Say Amen series, is currently being produced as a feature film. If you were in charge of casting, who would you cast as Rachel? Lester? Mary?
2. Roderick’s suicide, like many other teenage suicides committed by those who do not feel accepted by their families and/or communities, came as a saddening shock to those who loved him. If you’d like to help troubled teens in your area, consider taking part in one of the following campaigns:
• The It Gets Better Project, a worldwide movement of hope for LGBT youth: www.itgetsbetter.org
• To Write Love on Her Arms, a movement dedicated to helping those who struggle with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide: www.twloha.com
• The Trevor Project, a campaign for a future where all youth have the same opportunities, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity: www.thetrevorproject.org
3. Say Amen, Again is the third book in ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s series about Rachel and her family. If your book group hasn’t yet read the first two books in the series, consider Let the Church Say Amen or Everybody Say Amen for your next discussion.
4. You can learn more about ReShonda Tate Billingsley and her books on her official website (www.reshondatatebillingsley.com). You can also follow her on Twitter (twitter.com/ReShondaT).
A Conversation with ReShonda Tate Billingsley
Say Amen, Again is the third book in the Say Amen series. Which character do you think has grown the most since Let the Church Say Amen, the first in the series?
It would definitely have to be Rachel. I mean, did you ever imagine the Rachel we first met would be capable of adopting the child of her husband’s mistress?
Do you have any plans to write another book about Rachel and her family? What’s next for the Jacksons and the Adamses?
Rachel is one of those characters that won’t let me tuck her away. I never planned to write the first sequel, and she demanded that her story continue. Next up, she’ll meet up with Jasmine Larson Bush, the main character from author Victoria Christopher Murray’s Jasmine series. The two women are so much alike and so different and they’ll clash as both try to get their husbands elected to a prestigious position in a national organization. That book is called Saints and Sinners and comes out in 2012.
Before you began writing Say Amen, Again, did you know how it would end? Was Rachel always going to accept Mary’s baby into her life?
Oh, I never know how my books are going to end. That’s why it’s so hard for me to write an outline. My characters take over and they tell me the direction in which they want to go. So, I had no idea if the baby was going to even be Lester’s, let alone Rachel’s plan for the child.
Roderick’s suicide is undoubtedly one of the novel’s saddest moments. Why did you feel this was important to include?
I just wanted to show the tragic side of what can happen when our young people feel like they can’t talk to anyone. I don’t even know whether Roderick was gay, but the simple fact that he was conflicted was cause for concern. Yet, for various reasons, he had nowhere to turn.
When it comes to writing, what would you say is your greatest challenge?
Whew, I guess it would be I can’t write fast enough, and I write pretty fast! There are so many unchartered territories I’d like to venture into, but my plate is pretty full. Some people would think that time might be a challenge, but I believe that you find time for your passion and writing is my passion, so time has never been an issue for me.
In its starred review of Let the Church Say Amen, Library Journal raves about your ability to infuse your text with “just the right dose of humor to balance the novel’s serious events.” Do you find it difficult to strike this balance in your writing?
I don’t. At all. People are always telling me how funny I am and I just don’t see it. I guess it’s because I’m not trying to be. It’s just a part of me; so naturally it’s reflected in my writing.
When you write, do you craft your novels with a mostly Christian audience in mind? Or do you aim to reach a wider readership?
Well, I’m a Christian who writes fiction, but that’s about the scope of my target. I mean, of course I want Christians to enjoy my book, but I also want nonbelievers, people of other religions, anyone and everyone to be able to pick up my book and enjoy it. And more than anything, get a message out of the book. In fact, my greatest joy in writing comes from those who found themselves growing closer to God, stronger in their faith, because of something I wrote. But at the end of the day, my message is for the masses. I believe that’s what God has called me to do.
What most inspires you to write?
A pure, simple passion for telling stories.
If one of your readers wanted to write a novel of his or her own, what would be the first piece of advice you would offer?
Don’t just talk about writing, write. And every minute you spend talking about what you don’t have time to do could be spent doing it. So many people don’t get their book finished because they let that get in the way. Something will always get in the way. The road to success is paved with tempting parking spaces. Don’t take a detour in trying to reach your dream. And finally, set small, attainable goals. I started with three pages a day, five days a week. No matter what, I committed to that. Well, before I knew it, three turned to thirty and I was able to finish my book.
What would you say is the most important thing for your readers to take away from Say Amen, Again?
The power of forgiveness and moving past your anger. I also hope that the book helps people reflect on how judging someone is something that should be left up to God.