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Love, Honor, and Betray
By Roby, Kimberla Lawson
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2011 Roby, Kimberla Lawson
All right reserved.
The verdict had sort of been in for months now. But at this very moment, Charlotte’s feelings were crystal clear: She hated Curtina. She despised this tiny, little two-year-old with a passion and wanted her out. She wanted her gone because it wasn’t fair that Charlotte had to stomach Curtis’s illegitimate daughter on a daily basis. Curtina was there all the time, what with her tramp of a mother going in and out of the hospital on the regular. Of course, it was true that Tabitha had been stricken with the AIDS virus and hadn’t been able to care for Curtina the way any mother would want, but that wasn’t Charlotte’s fault. As a matter of fact, it was Tabitha’s own fault a thousand times over, thanks to all the whoring around she’d done.
But since today was Christmas and Curtis and Matthew were so elated to have Curtina there with them, Charlotte was going to plaster on the best fake smile she could and pretend to be happy. She would act as though she loved Curtina and was overjoyed about being her stepmother. She would do this even though she couldn’t stand that little heifer.
“Wow, Dad, thank you!” Matthew yelled out when he opened yet another one of his gifts and then went over and hugged his father. Then, he reached down, all six foot two inches of him, and hugged Charlotte. “This is exactly what I wanted, so thank you, too, Mom. And just wait until Elijah and Jonathan hear about this!” He was already pulling out his iPhone to text his two childhood best friends.
Charlotte looked at Curtis and they both smiled. Of all the presents they’d gotten Matthew, they knew this two-thousand-dollar gift card would be the one he loved most, since he would now be able to purchase that set of chrome rims he’d been begging for over the last three months. Never mind that a perfectly nice set of rims had come standard with the brand-new ragtop BMW they’d bought him shortly after he’d finished driver’s school, Matthew had still decided he wanted something different. But since he continued getting straight A’s at the college preparatory school he’d attended for years now, and as a junior he had already aced both the ACT and SAT exams in the fall, they didn’t see why he shouldn’t have the one thing he wanted most. It was also hard to deprive any child who’d already received early interest from Harvard.
“We thought you’d be pretty excited,” Charlotte told him.
“Excited isn’t even the word,” he said, keying in the last of his message. “I’m ecstatic and thrilled out of my mind.”
Curtis laughed. “We’re glad, son. You’re a good kid, and you deserve it.”
“So, can we go get them tomorrow?” Matthew asked his dad.
“Yeah, I suppose we could. Although, I have to say, that day-after-Christmas shopping traffic is going to be a monster.”
“Maybe, but I doubt the auto shops are going to be crowded,” Matthew said.
“I doubt it, too. So yes, we’ll head there first thing in the morning.”
Matthew smiled and then scooped up his baby sister, who squealed with total joy, the same as she always did whenever her big brother gave her his undivided attention.
It was enough to make Charlotte ill. She hated the fact that Matthew loved Curtina as much as he did, and what she loathed even more was the brightness she saw in Curtis’s eyes as he watched both of his children. He seemed so relieved and so at peace seeing them together and living as what appeared to be the perfect American family. But what he didn’t know was that Charlotte hoped, wished, and prayed every chance she got that Tabitha would be healed. She prayed that, if nothing else, Tabitha would live at least for the next sixteen years, so she could raise her own child and keep primary custody of her until she graduated high school. Charlotte wanted this so desperately that she asked God for this very thing every night before going to bed and then again each morning as soon as she woke up. It was the first thought in her mind, once she opened her eyes and realized her nightmare was reality.
But no matter how much she prayed, for some reason God just didn’t seem to be hearing her because instead of Curtina spending less time in their household, her visits had only become more frequent. So much so that she was making Charlotte’s life unbearable. This little girl that Curtis loved with his entire being was ruining the wonderful life Charlotte had worked so hard to create for herself and Matthew. Curtina was destroying everything, but Charlotte could tell Curtis had no idea how strongly she felt about this. Not to mention, she did feel somewhat guilty—not much, but somewhat guilty—about once having an affair herself and then having a child by her lover. Needless to say, this was the real reason Charlotte couldn’t be as verbally outraged as she wanted to be when it came to Curtina and the reason she had at least tried to love her and forget that she was a product of Curtis’s extramarital philandering. But the truth was, she couldn’t forget. She didn’t want to, and instead she longed for the opportunity to speak her mind, loudly and forcefully. However, she knew Curtis would quickly remind her of her own sins. He would toss all her past mistakes right back in her face, and she wouldn’t have any ground to stand on.
Charlotte lifted a cup of the hot cinnamon apple tea she’d made earlier, sipped some of it, and admired the beautiful twelve-foot Christmas tree. It was stunningly adorned with velvet bows as well as crystal and gold ornaments, and the woman she’d been hiring to decorate for the last two years had completely outdone herself. One year ago, the main color scheme had been purple and white, but this year she’d chosen the traditional red and green and it was fabulous. Even the wreaths layered across the fireplace mantel and those circling all three levels of the staircase couldn’t have been more striking, and Charlotte was going to make sure to call Lettie before the day was over to thank her.
Charlotte looked up when she saw Curtis walking toward her with a tiny little turquoise bag swinging from his hand.
“Oh my God,” she said, thinking how she’d already opened five other very expensive gifts from him. “You got me something else?”
“That I did,” he said, leaning down and kissing her.
Matthew walked over with his little sister in tow. “We both know what that is, don’t we, Curtina?”
Curtina clapped her hands, acting as though she fully understood that Charlotte was obviously in for a pleasant surprise.
“Now I’m almost afraid to open it,” Charlotte said.
Curtis reached his hand out. “Okay, then, I’ll just take it back.”
“No,” Charlotte said, quickly pulling out the container, unwrapping the white satin bow, and pulling out the jewelry box. When she opened it, her heart skipped a beat, and all she could do was place her hand over her mouth. What she saw was at minimum a six-carat diamond, with the center diamond alone being no less than three carats.
“Wow, Dad, that ring looks even bigger than when we saw it at the store. I mean, talk about bling-bling, Mom.”
They all laughed, and Charlotte stood up and hugged her husband. “I don’t believe you did this.”
“Why not? Because it’s not like you don’t deserve it, and I just wanted you to know how much I love you and how much I appreciate the way you’ve supported me and stood by my side, no matter what.”
“I love you, too, baby,” she said as Curtis slipped the monstrous rock on her finger. Then, the two of them held each other and gazed into each other’s eyes. This was by far one of the best moments they’d shared together in recent months, and Charlotte didn’t want it to end. She wanted them to be happy and content, and after what Curtis had just done for her, she was going to work harder on her feelings toward Curtina. She would never accept her, but what she would do is learn to tolerate her more than she had and focus more on the bond she and Curtis shared as man and wife.
After a few minutes passed, Charlotte realized what time it was, and since their housekeeper, Agnes, had the day off to be with her own family, Charlotte went into the kitchen to start breakfast. Thankfully, she didn’t have much to do when it came to Christmas dinner because her aunt Emma had invited everyone to her house. Aunt Emma was an extremely wonderful cook, so even Charlotte’s parents were driving over from the Chicago area, and Charlotte’s best friend, Janine Wilson, and her husband and daughter were joining them as well.
But just as Charlotte opened the refrigerator to pull out a carton of eggs, the phone rang and she walked toward it. She could already see the words Mitchell Memorial displayed on the caller ID screen, and she immediately thought back to the day Curtina had been born and how Tabitha had called Curtis to inform him of it. Charlotte knew this was her calling now, too, and she hoped Tabitha hadn’t been admitted, because this would mean she’d had yet another setback and they would have to keep Curtina well beyond the holiday weekend.
Charlotte hesitated but finally answered. “Hello?”
“Charlotte?” Tabitha’s best friend, Connie, said in tears.
“I just wanted to let you know that Tabitha was rushed back to the hospital early this morning… and she’s gone. She passed away about a half hour ago.”
Charlotte heard what the woman was saying but couldn’t respond. She just stood there thinking how she could never love Curtina the way she loved Matthew and how she could never be a mother to her. Then, as more seconds passed, fast and furiously, she thought how none of this drama would be happening if Curtis hadn’t slept with that witch, Tabitha, in the first place.
This was all his fault, and she hated him for it. She hated what he was putting her through, and this sprawling mansion they lived in wasn’t going to be big enough for both her and Curtina. One of them would clearly have to go, and it wasn’t going to be Charlotte.
She decided that Curtis would either get rid of that little brat or find himself in divorce court.
One Month Later
It was Sunday morning, bright and early, and almost time for Charlotte and Curtis to start getting ready for church. Right now, though, they were lying in bed, snuggling close and reflecting on the beautiful love they’d made last night as well as the steamy hot bath they’d taken together right afterward in their whirlpool tub.
“I wish we could stay in bed all day and skip service altogether,” Charlotte commented.
“That would be nice.”
“Then, let’s do it. Let one of the associate ministers preach today’s sermon.”
Curtis chuckled. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Maybe another time. And when I’ve given one of the other ministers ample time to prepare.”
Charlotte nestled closer to Curtis and groaned playfully. But right when she did, Curtina burst into their room, climbed on top of the bed, and giggled.
Charlotte moved away from Curtis and got up, wanting to strangle her. This little girl may have only been two, but she seemed to have a knack for bad timing and always knew how to interrupt what was otherwise an enjoyable moment. There was ten thousand square feet of space—ten whole thousand—for her to walk around in and play in, but she always wanted to stay stuck under her father.
Curtis snatched her up, rocked her back and forth like she was on some amusement park ride, and they both laughed out loud. Charlotte looked on in a despising manner and wished to God someone else could have taken Curtina away from them. But to Charlotte’s great disappointment, Curtis had made it clear that Curtina was his daughter and his responsibility, and her going to live with any of Tabitha’s relatives was out of the question. Charlotte had objected profusely, trying to make her case, but Curtis had told her his decision was final. He had also reminded her for the umpteenth time about Marissa, her illegitimate child, and how he’d accepted her with no problem, even though he’d known all along she wasn’t his. So Charlotte hadn’t had any choice but to go along with Curtis’s wishes. Still, though, she wholeheartedly didn’t want Curtina there with them, and while one month ago she’d prayed at night and then again in the morning for things to go back to the way they used to be, she now prayed every waking moment—she prayed that only she, Curtis, and Matthew lived in their house and that Curtina had never been born.
“You’re the most beautiful girl in the whole world, and Daddy loves you,” Curtis told his daughter.
“I love Daddy,” she said.
Curtis held Curtina tightly, and Charlotte went into the bathroom and turned on the shower. She had taken all she could, witnessing this pathetic little Kodak moment, and refused to watch any more of it.
When she finished drying off, she put on her robe, opened the bathroom door, and walked back out into the bedroom. Curtina was still sitting in their bed, now watching the Disney Channel, and Curtis stepped out of the walk-in closet when he heard Charlotte strolling past. “Hey, baby, can you do me a favor?” he asked.
“What is it?”
“Get the little one dressed for church?”
Charlotte cringed inside but smiled as genuinely as she knew how. Getting Curtina dressed was the absolute last thing she wanted to do, but she also wanted to keep peace between her and Curtis. The only problem was, she didn’t know how much longer she’d be able to continue this façade because ever since Tabitha’s funeral, which Charlotte had flat out refused to attend, her disdain toward Curtina had only gotten worse. There were times when she did feel guilty and wished she could feel differently about her, but those particular moments were very rare, and Charlotte couldn’t seem to help herself.
“Come on, Curtina,” she said in a chipper voice, and they headed down the hallway and into her bedroom. Once there, Curtina rushed toward her play area, but Charlotte became even more disgusted because this room of hers looked as though it had been stolen from the pages of some well-known fairy tale. It was beyond beautiful with all the hot pink, purple, and white accents, and what angered Charlotte the most was that Curtis had even gone as far as hiring a specialist to decorate it. He’d acted as though his precious little Curtina was nothing short of royalty and that she deserved anything and everything his money could buy her. Which was interesting, because had Charlotte been the one making Curtina’s decorating decisions, she’d have found her some cheap little cot to sleep on and maybe some small inexpensive dresser to dump her clothes into. She certainly wouldn’t have ordered her this classy armoire and canopy set she was looking at. But that was neither here nor there, because Curtis had done what he wanted to and hadn’t bothered asking her opinion.
Charlotte searched through the first few items inside Curtina’s closet and pulled out a black and white velvet dress and black patent-leather shoes. Then, she went over to her dresser and pulled out a pair of white cotton panties and a pair of white tights. Thankfully, though certainly against her wishes, Charlotte had already given Curtina a bath last night right before Curtis had put her to bed, and she needed to give her only a washup this morning.
When they finished in the bathroom, they came back into the bedroom and Charlotte kneeled onto the floor. “Come here so you can get your underwear on, Curtina,” she said. Curtina rushed toward her with open arms and wrapped them around Charlotte’s neck.
“I love Mommy,” she said and Charlotte wished she’d stop calling her that. She did understand that Curtina was just a small toddler and was only calling her that because this was what she always heard Matthew calling her, but she still didn’t like it. Although, since Matthew called her Mom, she wasn’t sure why Curtina didn’t just stick to that and drop this whole “Mommy” business.
The other thing that unnerved Charlotte was that Curtina was so happy all the time. The first couple of weeks after Tabitha’s death, she had spent most of it saying she wanted her mommy, but now she was adjusting very well to her new home and seemed to love it. Although, maybe it was because she’d already been spending quite a bit of time there, anyway, over the last year, and nothing was really all that new to her. She was comfortable, didn’t ask for Tabitha much at all anymore, and acted as though she belonged where she was.
Curtina held on to Charlotte and wouldn’t let go. Then, she started singing the way children tend to sing when they’re content and having a good time.
“Just stop it, Curtina!” Charlotte said through gritted teeth, grabbing both of Curtina’s arms, moving them away from her and slightly shaking her. “Stop playing, so I can get you dressed and then get you out of my face.”
Curtina gazed at her with teary eyes, but thankfully her tears didn’t fall, because the last thing Charlotte needed was for Curtis to walk in and see how upset she was. He would have a fit if he knew Charlotte wasn’t showing Curtina the kind of love he thought she deserved, and she didn’t feel like dealing with that right now. Although the more she thought about the way Curtis had slept with Tabitha behind her back, and had even allowed her to travel with him to many of his speaking engagements, the angrier she got. She was steaming and knew it was only a matter of time before she and Curtis had the blowup of a lifetime. She’d tried her best to avoid it, but she now knew it was inevitable.
The choir sang its second selection, and Curtis sat at the far side of the pulpit thinking about his household situation. He knew Charlotte was trying to hang in there, but whether she realized it or not, he wasn’t oblivious to what she was feeling. She smiled when she was supposed to and laughed when something was funny, but deep down he knew she was miserable. They’d been together for just over ten years now, and if he didn’t know anything else, he knew his wife and who she was. He knew she wanted Curtina out of their lives for good.
Only thing was, though, sending Curtina away wasn’t an option, and he wished there was some way Charlotte could learn to love her. He wished she could let bygones be bygones, and that she would soon accept Curtina as her daughter. Curtis had been praying for exactly that for more than a year but even more so over the last month since Tabitha’s passing. Part of him understood why Charlotte wasn’t happy about them taking full custody of Curtina, but part of him didn’t because there was no denying that Charlotte had slept with his best friend, Aaron Malone, conceived a child with him, and then tried to pass her off as Curtis’s. She’d lied and schemed, and while Curtis had learned the truth about Marissa’s paternity, shortly after she was born, he’d never said a word to Charlotte. Charlotte had allowed a terrible thing to happen, and though Curtis had sometimes played this humiliating scenario over and over in his head, more often than Charlotte realized, he’d still forgiven her and continued loving her with all his heart. The reason: he always thought about his own previous misgivings and outside affairs, and that always humbled him. He thought about all the women he’d bedded, not to mention all the pain he’d caused his two eldest children, Alicia and Matthew. Even worse, he thought about the fact that he hadn’t actually met Matthew, his own biological son, for the first time or become a father to him until Matthew was seven—partly because Matthew had been conceived while Curtis had still been married to his first wife, Tanya (Alicia’s mother), and partly because Charlotte’s father had demanded that Curtis stay away from his daughter and grandson or else. Yes, Curtis thought about all that and so much more, but as far as he was concerned, he’d done his thing, Charlotte had clearly done hers, and it was high time for both of them to move beyond it.
Curtis listened as the choir continued singing and scanned the audience. Every seat had been taken, and the folding chairs that had been placed throughout the vestibule and down the center aisle were also occupied. God had truly blessed Deliverance Outreach and Curtis’s overall ministry. When Curtis had first started out as a new pastor down in Atlanta, he’d only had maybe three hundred members. Then he’d taken a position at Faith Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, which had a membership of three thousand. After that, he’d become the pastor of Truth Missionary Baptist Church, and they’d had a large membership, too. But after being ousted from both the latter two congregations, Curtis had made the decision to found his own church out here in Mitchell, a smaller city about ninety miles northwest of Chicago. He and Charlotte had worked diligently toward gaining the trust of every Mitchellite they could, and from the looks of the crowd they had clearly succeeded. They had a huge following, and once they moved into a larger facility, Curtis had no doubt their membership would grow tenfold. He knew this because folks regularly came up to him in public, saying how they just couldn’t deal with struggling to find a parking spot and then fighting to get a seat inside the sanctuary. But then they would go on to say how they couldn’t wait for the new building to be completed so they could finally start attending service, and in some cases, people couldn’t wait to join.
The choir finished singing and took their seats, and Curtis went to the podium.
“This is the day the Lord hath made, so let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
“Amen,” everyone said.
“You know, for the last few minutes, I sat here scanning every single pew and couldn’t help but give God a lot of praise and much thanks. I know we’re overcrowded, and that it’s not the most comfortable situation for any of us to be in, but if you can just hold on for another four months, we’ll finally be moving into the new building Memorial Day weekend.”
Applause echoed from every direction, and Curtis smiled.
“It’s been a long journey, but one I believe has been very well worth traveling. As a congregation, we’ve had a number of ups and downs, mainly because of some very selfish mistakes I made in my personal life, so I just want you to know how much I love and appreciate all of you. I want you to know how indebted I am to each of you for remaining by my side and not giving up on me.”
There was more applause.
“I also want to remind everyone about the business meeting two days from now, as we’ll be giving an update on the final stages of the building process. We’ll share what our overall sanctuary capacity will be, which thankfully is a bit more than we’d originally talked about, and we’ll also discuss a few surprises and answer any questions you might have. Elder Jamison has put together a wonderful agenda, so I hope you will all plan on being here.”
“What surprises?” he heard a woman say and many other members chattering.
“Oh, did I say ‘surprise’?” he said teasingly, and everyone laughed. “Well, since we were planning to tell you on Tuesday anyway, you may as well know that we’ve added on a full café, an amazing coffee shop, and a Christian bookstore.”
The congregation was thrilled and spoke among themselves accordingly, but what saddened Curtis was the nonchalant look on his wife’s face. She looked as though she couldn’t care less about the news he’d just announced, or anything else for that matter, and now Curtis knew it was time—time they had a heart-to-heart conversation about Curtina. Time they got everything completely out in the open and dealt with this troubling dilemma. It was time they both stopped pretending that all was well inside the Black family household—when it clearly wasn’t.
As soon as they’d left the church, they’d driven straight over to Aunt Emma’s to have Sunday dinner, but now they were home and Charlotte was stuffed. Aunt Emma, of course, had done her usual and cooked way too much food, but everything had tasted wonderful. The corn bread and turkey dressing, candied yams, green beans, macaroni and cheese, and a to-die-for banana pudding.
“See you later, Mom,” Matthew said, rushing into the bedroom and kissing her good-bye, the same as he did every Sunday afternoon. “See you later, Dad,” he said, bumping fists with him. “I’m out.”
“You be careful, Matt,” Charlotte said. “Because you know how nervous you make me whenever you’re out driving around.”
“Aw, Mom. I’m not a baby, and I’m only going over to Elijah’s.”
“Still, you be safe out there. And absolutely no texting when you’re behind the wheel.”
“Listen to your mother,” Curtis said, smiling, and Charlotte knew it was because he thought she was a bit too overprotective. He did agree with her about the “no texting” policy, but he was a lot more lax about everything else. He didn’t worry nearly as much as she did, but he was a man and couldn’t be expected to.
“I hear you, Mom, and I will,” Matthew yelled from downstairs.
“He’ll be fine,” Curtis said.
“I know, but it’s just that he’s my baby, and teenagers never take enough precautions. He’s a good driver, but I still worry about him.”
Charlotte unbuttoned the jacket to her gold-buttoned knit suit and slipped off her skirt. Then, she removed her pantyhose and put on a velour sweat suit. When she’d taken her church clothing inside the closet, she came back into the bedroom, preparing to go down to the family room, but Curtis stopped her.
“Hey, we need to talk. We need to do it today, and that’s why I asked Aunt Emma if she could keep Curtina for a couple of hours.”
Charlotte wasn’t sure what this was about exactly, but she sat down on the side of the bed. Curtis sat down next to her.
“First of all, I know you’re still not happy about Curtina having to move in with us, and I’m really sorry about that. So what I want to know is how I can make things better for you. All you have to do is tell me, and I’ll do whatever I can.”
At first Charlotte just looked at him, debating what she should or shouldn’t say, but then she said, “I didn’t ask for this, Curtis.”
“Baby, I know you didn’t, and I will never be able to apologize to you enough. But at the same time, I can’t turn my back on my daughter.”
“But it’s not like Curtina didn’t have anywhere else to go, because both Tabitha’s sister and one of her cousins each offered to take her. And I didn’t see what was so wrong with that. Especially since you’d still be able to visit her whenever you want.”
“But it’s like I told you before, giving her to someone else isn’t an option, because I’m Curtina’s father, and she needs me.”
Charlotte locked eyes with Curtis but didn’t say anything. So he continued:
“You know, part of the problem is that you still haven’t forgiven me.”
“Yes, I have.”
“No. You haven’t. Because if you had you wouldn’t still feel so much animosity about all of this.”
“I can’t help all the anger I keep feeling, and I have to be honest with you—I don’t know that I will ever feel any different.”
“Maybe if you could just be a little more open, things would get better. Plus, I know you can tell how much Curtina loves you.”
This time, Charlotte looked away from him.
However, Curtis gently turned her face back toward him. “Baby, I’ll never be able to say this enough times, but I’m so, so sorry for having that affair with Tabitha. I’m more sorry than you could possibly ever imagine, and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the horrible mistake I made.”
Charlotte heard all that he was trying to say, but for some reason his apologies were starting to piss her off.
“Baby, you have to believe me when I say how bad I feel about what happened, but more than anything, I need you to know that I never stopped loving you, and that you mean everything to me. I love you so much that my heart is literally aching right now, even as I sit here next to you.”
Charlotte stood abruptly, rage overtaking her. “Look, Curtis, I’ve tried to be nice and quiet about all of this, but enough is enough. I don’t want to be a mother to Curtina,” she yelled. “I never did, and I never will. And you had no right moving her in here when you knew I didn’t want that.”
“But I didn’t have a choice.”
“Of course you had a choice. But you chose to do what you wanted to. You slept with that trick, and you never even cared how it would affect me one way or another.”
“So what you’re saying is that you’ve not made any mistakes? Because you and I both know that you haven’t been some perfect little angel yourself. And another thing. How would you have felt had I totally disowned Marissa and then told you she couldn’t live with us?”
“What? Curtis, please! I am so tired of you bringing up that same old tired crap. I’m tired because Marissa is completely beside the point. That’s all in the past, and she’s dead. She’s dead and gone forever, Curtis,” Charlotte screamed. “And I wish you would stop trying to compare my little girl to yours.”
“I can’t believe you. I can’t believe all your double standards.”
“What double standards?”
“You know exactly what I mean. You thought it was okay to sleep around and get pregnant by some lunatic, but when the tables turned, you decided you had a huge problem with it. You wanted me to forgive you and accept a child that wasn’t mine, but now you want nothing to do with Curtina.”
Curtis frowned. “Different how?”
“No, it’s not. It’s exactly the same and you know it.”
“What I know is that when we got married, we took sacred vows and promised to keep each other first. And right now, with this whole Curtina business, you’re not doing that.”
Curtis laughed out loud. “Funny how you so conveniently forgot those sacred vows the whole time you were whoring around with Aaron.”
Charlotte wanted to slap the mess out of Curtis. He was making her sound like a common tramp, and now it was time she put an end to this conversation.
“You know what, Curtis, the bottom line is this: I want Curtina out of here.”
Curtis raised his eyebrows, clearly stunned by her words. “Oh yeah? Well, let me make myself clear. Curtina isn’t going anywhere, and you might as well get used to it.”
Charlotte looked shocked. “So then, what you’re saying is that this little girl is more important than I am? More important than your own wife?”
“No. What I’m saying is that Curtina isn’t going anywhere, and you might as well get used to it.”
Charlotte laughed, her tone sarcastic. “Well, then, if that’s the case, you’d better start looking for a nanny as soon as possible, because I’m done playing mommy to your mistress’s daughter.”
“You mean my daughter.”
“Fine. Then, I’m done playing mommy to your daughter,” she said and left the room.
Charlotte drove out of the driveway as fast as she could and then out of the subdivision. She needed to get away from Curtis before she did something bad to him… or to Curtina the next time she saw her. Charlotte was so incensed over the way he’d spoken to her, and the idea that Curtina “wasn’t going anywhere” was enough to make her consider murdering somebody. She hated this insane situation she was in and would now have to think long and hard about her next move. Curtis seemed so set on his decision, and this was what bothered her the most. In the past, he’d always made things right and gone out of his way to make her happy, but not with this. No, with this whole Curtina drama, he was acting like some crazy man she didn’t even know.
Charlotte drove a few more miles and then turned into Janine’s driveway. She’d phoned her right before leaving and since Janine’s husband, Carl, had gone to visit his brother, she’d told Janine she really needed to come talk to her.
She parked, turned off the ignition, and stepped outside her vehicle, then closed the door, and strolled up the walkway. She rang the doorbell, watched the beautiful wooden door open, and then burst into tears.
“Sweetie, oh my goodness,” Janine said, pulling her inside and hugging her. “What’s wrong?”
“Everything.” Charlotte sobbed. “Just everything.”
“Honey, let’s go sit down,” Janine said and then she went into the powder room. Charlotte took a seat on the family room sofa. When Janine returned with a few pieces of tissue, she sat down next to her.
“Thanks, girl,” Charlotte said. “And I’m so sorry for coming over here like this.”
“No need to apologize at all. I’m glad you called me.”
“I hate burdening you with my problems, but I really needed to talk to someone. I really have to figure out what to do about this.”
“Well, what is it exactly?”
Charlotte wiped more tears and sniffled. “It’s Curtina.”
“Is she okay?”
“Huh!” Charlotte said, suddenly no longer feeling quite as sad or like she wanted to cry. “That little brat couldn’t be better.”
Janine looked at Charlotte, and Charlotte could tell how taken aback she was. She was astonished to hear Charlotte speaking so negatively about her stepdaughter.
“J, I just can’t do this anymore. I can’t pretend like I love that child when I hate the ground she walks on. I hate the fact that she was ever born, I hate that ugly name her mother gave her, I hate everything about her.”
Janine looked baffled.
“I know this all comes as a surprise, but, J, I have felt like this from day one. And it’s never gotten better.”
“Gosh, girl. I guess I don’t even know what to say.”
“I’m sure. Especially since I led you and everyone else around me to believe that I was fine with Curtina. But the only reason I did that was because I knew if I didn’t pretend to be okay with her, it would cause serious problems between Curtis and me. And I didn’t want that.”
“I’m so sorry” was all Janine said.
“Not more than I am. And what I can’t get over is the fact that Curtis is choosing that child over me. He told me she’s not going anywhere, and I’m so disappointed in him.”
“Maybe you just need more time.”
“No, I’ve had all the time I need. She’s been around for a little over two years now, and if anything, I dislike her more than ever. So what I need Curtis to do is wake up. What I need is for him to realize that we will never be happy again until this issue is resolved.”
“And I’ll tell you something else, J. I’m so tired of having all these problems with Curtis. I mean, every time we try and work past one thing, there’s always the next thing staring us straight in our faces. And I just don’t want to keep living like that. We’ve now been together for ten years, but very few of those years have been completely happy and peaceful. I know I’ve caused some of our problems, too, but this thing with Curtina is the worst because Curtis has basically told me to take it or leave it. And he’s not backing down.”
“Regardless, I still believe you guys can work this out. Especially since I know how much Curtis really loves you and how much you really love him. And that’s what’s important.”
“That’s what used to be important, but now I’m not so sure.”
“Maybe as more time passes, you won’t feel so betrayed and upset about this.”
“No, I’ll never be okay with having that child around me. And while there was a time when I thought maybe I had forgiven Curtis, now I know for sure that I haven’t. I can’t forgive him because Curtina is a constant, daily reminder of Tabitha and the affair Curtis had with her.”
Janine rested both her hands on top of Charlotte’s. “I just hate hearing this, girl. I hate seeing you so upset.”
“I hate it, too, but it is what it is.” Charlotte took a deep breath. “But enough about me and my craziness. What’s going on with you? And where’s my precious little Bethany?” Bethany was Charlotte and Curtis’s baby goddaughter, who was now approaching her first birthday.
“She’s fine and sleeping away. You wanna look in on her?”
“Yes, definitely,” she said, and they both started toward the stairway.
Janine and Carl’s home was breathtaking. Very few people knew how to put together furniture and accessories the way Janine did. The dining room was elegant and spacious, and the living room was just as lovely. Charlotte had always admired how beautifully decorated all four bedrooms were, too, which they were now passing on the upper level. When they arrived in front of Bethany’s nursery, Janine eased open the door and they tiptoed in.
Charlotte smiled at how gorgeous and innocent her goddaughter looked. Bethany was a pure doll, and with all that Charlotte was going through and with as much as she missed her little Marissa, she wanted to scoop Bethany up and take her home with her. She wanted to keep her for days, weeks, and possibly even months, just so some of her pain would go away. She wanted her own little girl to love, nurture, and care for. So, actually, maybe that was it. Maybe it was time she considered the idea of getting pregnant again.
After Charlotte leaned into the crib and kissed Bethany on the cheek, she and Janine went back downstairs.
“Can I get you something?” Janine asked.
“No, I’m fine. We ate over at Aunt Emma’s,” Charlotte said, sitting back down.
“We went out because Carl is sort of on this new trip about me doing too much around the house and not taking out enough time for myself.”
“You are so lucky to have a man like Carl. Someone who loves and respects you and who always seems to put your needs before his.”
“Carl really is wonderful, and I thank God for him all the time, but so is Curtis. I know the two of you have been through a lot, but you do mean the world to Curtis. That much I’m sure of.”
“I used to think that, too, but now I really don’t know.”
“What you guys need is a nice long weekend away at some resort. Some time with just the two of you.”
“We’ll see,” Charlotte said, feeling somewhat better than she had earlier, although it was mostly because she hadn’t stopped thinking about Bethany and how having her own baby might be the answer to saving her marriage. She was only in her thirties and certainly still young enough to conceive and bear a child, so her mind was made up. She would tell Curtis what she wanted, he would quickly agree, and life would soon be better for them. She wouldn’t give up on the idea of trying to get rid of Curtina. No sirree. But at least she’d have something happy to think about in the meantime. She’d be able to focus on something good and positive, and she could pretend Curtina didn’t even exist. She’d be able to ignore her even more than she had been.
So much for big ideas, Charlotte thought as she sat at the kitchen island, watching Agnes serve breakfast to the entire family. She’d hurried back home yesterday evening and told Curtis how much she wanted to have another child but all he’d said was, “Baby, I don’t think this would be good for us, because you know you wouldn’t be doing this for the right reasons.” He’d allowed her to say her piece but had basically dismissed her and went on with the rest of his evening. He’d acted as though this conversation about her possibly getting pregnant hadn’t even come up. Which was the reason she hadn’t said a word to him since, and as she’d promised herself, she was officially through when it came to doing anything for Curtina. She hadn’t gotten her dressed this morning and had barely glanced at her.
“Mommy, Mommy, look,” she heard Curtina say but ignored her. “Mommy, Mommy, look.”
Charlotte picked up the Sun-Times, opened the front section as widely as possible, and Curtis and Matthew continued their small talk.
“So, Dad, you know the Saints are going to be the new Super Bowl champs, right?”
“As Mister said in The Color Purple, ‘Could be, could be not.’ ”
“Yeah, right. You know they’re gonna win. Easily.”
“We’ll see. And it’s not like I have anything against New Orleans anyway, but since the Indy coach is from Beloit, Wisconsin, barely a half hour from here, I gotta go with the Colts. I gotta root for my homeboy.”
“Please,” Matthew said, cracking up. “You don’t even know that man.”
“Still, he’s from the area, and I believe in supporting all homeboys. Whether I know them or not.”
“How sad. And pitiful, too, when you know they’re gonna lose.”
“Like I said, we’ll see.”
“We sure will. We’ll see those Saints go marching home with that trophy.”
Charlotte set down the paper she was reading, but as soon as she did, Curtina started up again. “Mommy, look.”
Charlotte still paid her no attention and had no idea what she was trying to show her. To be honest, she didn’t care what it was.
“Mom, what’s wrong?” Matthew asked, catching Charlotte off guard.
“Nothing, sweetie. I’m fine.”
“Then why are you so quiet?”
“No reason. No reason at all.”
She could tell Matthew didn’t believe her because the next thing he did was look at his sister, who was sitting next to him, and then he said, “Let me see, Curtina.” Then he pulled her arm closer to him. “Wow, that’s a pretty little bracelet you have on. Now, that’s what’s up, little girl.”
Curtina giggled, and Matthew ran his finger down her nose. Curtina giggled more, and Charlotte sat there, stone-faced.
“Oh, well, I guess I better get out of here,” Matthew said, glancing at the clock on the microwave and picking up Curtina. He kissed her good-bye, kissed Charlotte, and then did his usual fist bumping with his dad.
As he gathered his book bag and keys and headed out to his car, Charlotte yelled, “Be careful, Matt.”
When he was gone, Curtis put down the sports section of the newspaper and turned to their housekeeper. “Agnes, if you don’t mind, would you please take Curtina upstairs to get her ready? I’m taking her shopping today.”
“Of course, Mr. Curtis.”
Mondays had always been Curtis’s day off, so Charlotte had wondered why he’d gotten dressed so early. This upcoming father-daughter excursion he’d just spoken about explained it.
“So, you wanna go with us?” Curtis asked.
Charlotte looked at him like he was nuts. He must have been out of his ever-loving mind if he thought she was going anywhere with the two of them.
She didn’t say anything, though. But seconds later, Curtis got up and walked over to where she was sitting. He smoothed the side of her face with his hand and lifted her chin upward. “I’m sorry that I don’t agree with you about having another baby, but no matter what, I do love you. And who knows? Maybe if we can work through our current situation and come to terms with that, we can talk about this again. It’s not that I don’t want another child. It’s just that if we have a baby, I want it to be conceived with love and no heartache.”
Charlotte wasn’t sure what it was, maybe her hormones, but suddenly all she could do was close her eyes, cry, and rest her hand on top of Curtis’s. He continued caressing her face, and chills eased through her bloodstream. She loved him, too, and thought it interesting how after all the years they’d been together, he still had such a mesmerizing effect on her.
Curtis pulled her up from her chair, and Charlotte opened her teary eyes. She gazed into his and couldn’t stop thinking that no matter how much time had passed, Curtis was still the most handsome man she knew. Actually, the more she analyzed his face, she would swear he looked even better than when she’d first met him, if that were even possible.
They stood holding each other, and then Curtis kissed her in a way that told her he did love her, that he still had extreme passion for her, and that he didn’t want to be without her.
But from there, things went downhill.
“Look, baby, I know you’re unhappy with the idea of Curtina being here and that you’re also sad about Marissa being gone. But if you could just try to see that regardless of the mistake I made with Tabitha, Curtina is simply an innocent child. If you could just try to see that maybe Curtina is God’s way of replacing Marissa. Maybe Curtina is God’s gift to both of us.”
Charlotte shoved Curtis away from her. “God’s gift? You can’t be serious!”
“Okay, baby, maybe that didn’t come out right. But you know what I mean. I—”
“I just don’t get you, Curtis,” she shouted, interrupting him. “I don’t get any of this.”
“Baby, look, I’m sorry. And why don’t you please try to calm down.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down! Hell, why don’t you calm down? Or better yet, why don’t you tell that little bastard child of yours to calm down?”
Curtis stared at Charlotte in a way she’d never seen him stare before, and she knew she’d gone too far. She would even take it back if she could, but her pride wouldn’t let her.
Curtis finally shook his head and then left the kitchen.
When he was out of sight, Charlotte tried settling her nerves and regaining her composure. Things were spiraling steadily out of control, and she was getting scared. She’d been telling herself for a while that she didn’t think things would get better, but deep down there had been this part of her that wanted to believe she and Curtis would eventually be fine. Now, she wasn’t so sure. They were playing a very dangerous game of tug-of-war, and she didn’t see how anyone had a chance at winning it.
Charlotte sat for another twenty minutes, then went upstairs. When she entered their bedroom, she saw Curtis putting on his shoes, though he wouldn’t look up at her. So she went into the bathroom and turned on the shower. However, to her surprise, when she came back out, Curtis had already left. She wanted desperately to go find him, but at the same time she was still too angry about that whole Curtina-replacing-Marissa comment he’d made. She could just kill him for being so thoughtless.
Finally, she walked closer to the doorway and heard Curtina singing in her bedroom. This infuriated Charlotte even more, and she wished Curtina’s little jovial behind would just shut up. For good.
Charlotte returned to the bathroom, took her shower, and then stepped back out into the bedroom. This time, she looked out of the window and saw Curtis backing his shiny, black SUV out of the garage and the wrought-iron gate closing. As he drove away from the house, Charlotte saw Curtina sitting in her car seat, clapping her hands. Probably to one of those irritating DVDs she loved so much.
Charlotte watched until her husband and stepdaughter drove completely out of the subdivision and knew she had to do something. She still didn’t know what exactly, but something. Anything. Anything at all as long as it had to do with eliminating Curtina from their lives. Maybe not literally—although literally doing away with her would solve everything.
Mom, things really couldn’t be worse between Curtis and me right now,” Charlotte told her mother as she curled her legs up on the chaise. She’d browsed the Internet for a while and then decided to call her mom at work.
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“Curtina is what’s wrong. I can’t stand her, Mom, and I want Curtis to send her to live with one of Tabitha’s relatives. My husband just won’t hear of it, though, and he’s acting as if I don’t even matter to him anymore.”
“Sweetheart, I’m so sorry. I had no idea. And why have you kept this whole thing from me? I mean, I knew when Curtina was born you didn’t want Curtis having a relationship with her, but once she started coming around I just assumed you’d accepted her. I thought you and Curtis were very happy now.”
“Yeah, I’m sure everybody thinks that. But so much for appearances.”
“You do think the two of you can work through this, though, don’t you?”
“I don’t know because, Mom, I can’t deal with being around Curtina every day. It’s enough to drive me insane.”
“Well, I do have to admit, I can’t imagine that you would be happy living with your husband’s outside child. I don’t think any woman would.”
“I know, so I’m not sure why Curtis can’t seem to understand that.”
“Maybe he’ll soon come to his senses and will realize that keeping Curtina isn’t good for your marriage.”
“I don’t think so. Not when he’s already said Curtina isn’t going anywhere. He loves that child, and she thinks the world of him. As a matter of fact, even Matthew thinks the sun doesn’t shine the right way unless it’s shining directly on his baby sister. She’s got them both wrapped around her little finger, and it’s sickening.”
“Then, what we’re going to have to do is pray over this one. And you should also talk to Curtis again. Get him to see why having Curtina there with all of you isn’t a good thing.”
“I’ll try. But I doubt it’ll change his mind because whenever the subject comes up, he always brings up Marissa and yada, yada, yada. He keeps harping on what I did to him.”
“I’m sure he does. But you just hang in there. Curtis is a wonderful man who loves you, and in the end, that’s what’ll count.”
“I hope you’re right, Mom.”
Charlotte chatted with her mother for a few more minutes and then hung up. Soon after, she flipped through channels on their mounted flat-screen but stopped when she heard a show host on TBN talking about forgiveness.
“No matter how much another individual has wronged you or betrayed you, God still wants you to forgive, forget, and move on. He wants you to forgive others the same as He has forgiven you for all your misdeeds,” the bearded man explained.
Charlotte wished forgiveness was truly that easy. She wished she could somehow accept Curtina and go on with her life, business as usual. But she couldn’t.
She flipped through more channels; however, when she didn’t see anything interesting, she decided to change out of her loungewear and take herself to lunch. At first, she considered calling Janine at the university to see if she already had plans, but then realized she just wanted to spend some time alone, enjoying a nice meal. She searched through her closet for an outfit and hoped getting out of the house would make her feel better.
Charlotte sashayed inside The Tuxon, told the hostess she needed a table for one, and the sixtyish maître d’ escorted her into the dining area. As they strolled further along, though, Charlotte thought her eyes were playing tricks on her. Had to be, unless it really was Curtis and Curtina sitting only a few feet away. Charlotte moaned silently and wondered why she couldn’t get away from them. Not even at a restaurant.
As they stepped closer, Charlotte knew this was going to make for an awkward situation because while she did love her husband and would have loved nothing more than to make up with him, she wasn’t about to sit with him and his daughter. If she could have had things her way, she would speak and pass on by them. But so much for that.
“Hey, baby, I didn’t know you were coming here for lunch,” Curtis said, smiling. “So, why don’t you join us?”
“Mommy!” Curtina sang with excitement. “Yeaaahhhh, Mommy.”
Charlotte wanted to vanish. Literally.
“Is that what you’d like to do, ma’am?” the maître d’ asked. “Would you like to sit here with your husband and beautiful little daughter?”
“Of course she does,” Curtis said.
“That’ll be fine,” the man said, patting Curtina on the head and then pulling the chair out for Charlotte.
Charlotte gave the man a half smile. “Thank you.”
“No problem, and enjoy.”
“Baby, I’m really sorry about the argument we had this morning, and I’m really glad to see you.”
Charlotte didn’t know what to say or how she should have felt, but there was one thing she did know. No matter how hard Curtina kept trying to get her attention, which was what she was trying her best to do at this very moment, Charlotte refused to make eye contact with her.
Curtis picked up his menu. “I was just about to order, but I’ll wait until you decide what you want, too.”
“I’m really not that hungry anymore.”
Curtis slightly frowned, confused. “Then why did you come?”
“Because I wanted to spend some time with just myself.”
Curtis didn’t comment, but she could tell his feelings were hurt. His eyes conveyed much disappointment.
So they sat in silence until the waitress came to take their orders.
“What can I get for you, ma’am?”
“Actually, my water is fine for now. I may order something later, though,” Charlotte said, but she knew she wouldn’t.
“For you, sir?”
“I’ll have the Chilean sea bass,” he said, then looked at Curtina. “And what about you, my beautiful little princess?”
Everything was so hunky-dory with the two of them, and Charlotte was irritated.
“I’ll tell you what. She’ll have the gourmet cheese pizza.”
“She’ll love that,” the waitress added. “All the kids do.”
The waitress turned to Charlotte again. “Are you sure I can’t get you anything? Maybe an appetizer or a salad?”
“No, I’m good. Really.”
As soon as she left the table, Curtis leaned back in his chair. “So, what do you have planned for the rest of the afternoon?”
“I haven’t really decided on anything specific.”
“Do you wanna go with Curtina and me to the movies? There’s some kiddie movie playing, so I figured I would take her.”
Charlotte shook her head no, becoming more and more uncomfortable by the minute.
“Mommy, look,” Curtina said, but Charlotte looked away from the table. “Mommy, look,” she repeated.
Charlotte still ignored her, but she could see Curtis through her peripheral vision, eyeing her and waiting to see if she was planning to say anything. When she didn’t, he spoke up.
“Yes, sweetheart, Daddy sees it. You did an amazing job, and Daddy is very proud of you.”
“No, want Mommy.”
Curtis looked at Charlotte. “Baby, do you hear her talking to you?”
Charlotte finally looked at Curtina, but only quick enough to see the sheet of paper she was holding up, the one she’d been coloring on.
“That’s nice, Curtina,” she forced herself to say. Thankfully, that seemed to satisfy Curtina, and she went back to drawing. When Charlotte had first sat down, she hadn’t even noticed any crayons or a coloring sheet, but it was probably because she’d made it a point not to look in Curtina’s direction.
Charlotte drank more of her water and set the glass back down. There was more awkward silence, but Curtis tried to make conversation with her again.
“So you are planning to be at the business meeting tomorrow night, aren’t you?”
“I’m not sure.”
“I don’t know. I guess it depends on how I feel.”
Curtis didn’t say anything else, and before long, the waitress brought out his and Curtina’s food. Charlotte looked on as they began eating, for all of thirty seconds, and then said, “I just remembered. I have some errands to run, so I’ll see you when you get home.”
“Baby, please don’t do this,” Curtis said.
But she stood up anyway, told him she was sorry, and then made her way to the entrance. She left the building and decided to do something she hadn’t done in years—drive over to one of her favorite jazz clubs in Chicago to have a few drinks.
Excerpted from Love, Honor, and Betray by Roby, Kimberla Lawson Copyright © 2011 by Roby, Kimberla Lawson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Kimberla Lawson Roby is a true writer, a storyteller at the top of her game.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
kimerla lawson has done it again. hope one day she will bring rev curtis black to the big screen. just loved it!!!!
Another great installment about the good ole Rev. Black.
Wonderful additional to Rev. Black Series. Quick read with lots of page-turning drama. Colorful characterful any of us can identify with at some point in your lives. Excellently written, flows to the final page and leaves you wanting MORE!
This is my first Kimberla book, and i finished it in 3 days!!!!! OMG WHAT A PAGE TURNER!!!!! I looooooovvvvvvveeeeee Kimberla
Finished the book in 5 days which is a long time for me whenever I read a book by Roby. Pretty predictable and you can tell Roby is setting up the next phase in the Curtis Black series. I personally would like it if she focused on another character from the book, even if its Matthew because the Curtis and Charlotte story line is getting old.
Could Not Put It Down....WOW..You Out Did Yourself Kimberla OMG...
A page turner that left me wanting more. Can't wait for # 9 in the Curtis Black series
Great installment in the Curtis Black Series! It was hard to put down.
I really enjoyed this book. I couldn't wait to see what would happen next. Love, Honor and Betray does not disappoint. the Reverend Curtis Black Series is the best
Charlotte is definitely Curtis Blacks match. The book starts off slow but once it got going, it did not disappoint me. I am anxious to see what happens with this couple in the next novel.
Oh man great book....i cant wait for #9;. Your a great story teller......
I have read all of KLR books, good book. Highly recommend
Love this book.A must read!
As always this particular book and series are just what I expected it to be. It was funny, serious, love and a nice book to read. I was not disappointed with this book, never a dull moment.
This was one of the best books I have ever read. I could not put this book down. OMG was a great story.
I really enjoyed this book...I love all the storylines involving Rev Curtin Black but I would hate to see him and Charlotte separate after all this time.
I enjoyed the way the author exam the depths in which a woman hurt will explore methods to cover the pain but to not exam what her own issues are. We asked the question" would you stay with a man that had a outside child?' Well, fs there was a on going situtation like Charlotte & Curstis then all fair in Love & War. However. there will be no step children in my home. Nor will the father is he feels that strongly about raising his child. Could never treat a child wrong, But then i would not have to look at that child daily as a remainer of his affair!!! After all of these books, I am about to be sick of Rev. Black and Charlotte...But does anyone know the next release date***......
My first book by this author and I did not want to put it down. I would have never expected things to turn out the way they did. I am ready for the next one!
Great book! This time it was not the Rev...........
Kimberla has done it again.....cant wait to see how they fix this mess
This is a must read. The author truly deserves credit for fine work. Greagt for book clubs. So much to discuss and debate over. Especially opinions about how they would end up. I hope Charlotte got what she deserves. I cant say enough about how i enjoyed this book. I promise you will too.
Curtis Black is too much
I've read all 8 of the Curtis Black Series. And once again she did not disappoint. I didn't think there could be anything else that Charlotte could possibly do, or how she could be so selfish, but apparently there was. I was proud to see Curtis not falling back to his old ways, and enjoyed seeing how Matthew has grown through out the series. I can't wait to see how this plays out in the next book! Kimberla, keep doing what your doing and you will always have my support!!!
Great book and a must read