Better Late Than Never


By Kimberla Lawson Roby

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In this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Reverend Curtis Black series, Curtis’s secret past returns in an unwelcome–but ultimately healing–visit.

Rev. Curtis Black is no stranger to scandal. Throughout the decades, he has done much in the public eye, both good and evil. But what most people don’t realize is that Curtis has been hiding a horrific childhood that has affected him in countless, unspeakable ways.

His buried past resurfaces when his estranged sister becomes alarmingly ill and his youngest child, twelve-year-old Curtina, becomes the kind of problem daughter whom he never imagined she could be. This is only the beginning.

The horror of Curtis’s childhood secrets, as well as Curtina’s wild and rebellious behavior, takes a critical toll on Curtis and the entire Black family. All the public scandals they’ve experienced over the years now seem like child’s play compared to the turmoil they are facing in private. Who could have known that the deepest wounds would come from within?


A Message for My Readers

Dear Readers:

As much as I always knew that this particular day would come, it still doesn't seem real. But nonetheless, the fifteenth and final book in my Reverend Curtis Black series is now complete, and you, my wonderful readers, are preparing to read it.

It is also pretty hard to believe that, as of this very month, January 2018, the Reverend Curtis Black series has been in existence for nineteen years. For nearly two decades, I have been writing about this fictional family who I grew to love and care about on so many levels, and I have to say I'm so glad I did, as each of these Reverend Curtis Black characters will hold a very special place in my heart forever.

This sentiment alone makes me think about one of my most-asked questions relating to the series, which is, "Who is your all-time favorite character?" For years, I have been asked this question, but even today, my answer remains the same: My all-time favorite character in the series is Curtis's youngest son, Matthew. I used to wonder why that was, but early on I realized that, of all the family members, Matthew was the one person who genuinely tried his best to do the right thing—not just every now and then, but all the time. He certainly wasn't perfect, the same as none of us is, but even when he did make mistakes, he always felt great remorse and never fell into a habit of repeating them. He also cared about everyone, his family and others, and he treated people the way he wanted to be treated.

Another reason, I love Matthew is because no matter how many times his parents hurt or embarrassed him—thanks to their infidelity issues and other public scandals—Matthew never stopped loving them, and he never used his pain or dysfunctional family drama as an excuse to act badly. Instead, he continued being the amazing child whom any parent would be proud to have.

The other most-asked question I receive is the following: "Is your Reverend Curtis Black series based on a real-life pastor?" Of course, the answer is no; however, I will say this: I have been in church my entire life, and I have seen and heard a lot. So much so that the younger Reverend Curtis Black would be considered meek and mild compared to many real-life pastors I know. Not to mention the great number of ministers nationwide who my readers have shared stories about for years. Yes, I knew about some of what was happening in my home state of Illinois, but it wasn't until I wrote the first book in the series and traveled around on tour that I learned there was at least one "Reverend Curtis Black" residing in every single city in the country.

At first, I was stunned, but it wasn't long before I realized that corruption in the church wasn't new. What I discovered was that ministers had been involving themselves in scandals well before I or the generation before me were born. The only difference was that, back then, it wasn't talked about openly. There is no doubt that, behind closed doors, people shared with each other what they knew, but for the most part, problems in the church were discussed in a hush-hush fashion, and many folks pretended that they didn't exist at all.

And to be honest, had my husband, Will, not suggested that I write about the problems that occur in some churches, I'm not sure I ever would have. Especially since there are, in fact, so many wonderful men of God—honorable pastors with great integrity—ministering everywhere. However, because I had decided from the start that I would always write about real-life issues, even in a fictional format, I had shared with Will how, for my third book, I wanted to write something that everyone would either know about or, at least, have heard of. It was then that he recommended this particular topic, and from there, Reverend Curtis Black was created.

Still, when Casting the First Stone was released, it was never my intention to write a sequel or create a series. But after writing my fourth and fifth novels, which had nothing to do with Reverend Curtis Black, readers began asking me when I was going to write another story about him. I was shocked to hear that people wanted to read another book centering on a wayward pastor who saw nothing wrong with committing one sin after another on a daily basis. But, sadly, readers everywhere knew him in real life and could relate to the storyline.

So as it turned out—after my literary agent, the late Elaine Koster, encouraged me to give my readers what they were asking for—I wrote the second book in the series, Too Much of a Good Thing, and then the third, The Best-Kept Secret. My plan was to call my series a trilogy and then move on to other characters for good. But as fate would have it, I went on to write a new title in the series almost every single year until December 2017, the month I finished writing Better Late Than Never. This is also the book I believe has the most different storyline of the entire series.

In the past, Curtis has subtly mentioned how terrible his childhood was…how once he'd left for college, he'd never looked back…how he'd pretended that he didn't even have a biological family…how he'd remained estranged from his mom and sister until his mother's passing…and how he hadn't seen his sister ever since. That is, until now, in Better Late Than Never. So, of course, it is Curtis's reconnection with his sister that forces him to relive all the trauma and abuse that he endured as a child, and readers will finally witness very disturbing scenes through Curtis's own painful, vivid memories.

It has always been my desire to tell this aspect of Curtis's story, but the reason I waited to do so until the end of the series was because I first wanted to bring Curtis full circle. I wanted him to grow spiritually, mentally, and emotionally, and become a true man of God. I wanted him to become a loyal and faithful husband to Charlotte and become an even better father than he already was to his children. I wanted to show that anyone, no matter how deceptive, cruel, or sinful they might be, can turn their lives around for the better. My goal was to prove that even the worst person can change if he or she wants to, and Curtis most certainly has. Which is the reason it was finally time to reveal how awful his childhood truly was, and how it definitely helped shape him into the not-so-likable man he became. By no means does Curtis's disturbing childhood justify all of the many sins he committed, but it does explain one very important thing: Whatever happens in your childhood, good or bad, will affect you for the rest of your life. It shows how crucial loving and caring for a child really is and that when that child doesn't receive either, life for him or her as an adult doesn't always turn out so well.

Then, as far as my feelings about the series as a whole, very few plot twists surprised me—maybe because many of the characters had no problem saying or doing the unthinkable. But the one thing that did shock me with Better Late Than Never was the fact that, as I was writing certain scenes about Curtis's childhood and those relating to his sister's illness, tears streamed down my face. Partly because of what my characters were having to suffer through, and partly because Curtis and his family members have become very real to me. They became very real to me a long, long time ago, and I have truly cared about their well-being. I wanted them all to become better people and be happy. I wanted each of them, not just Matthew, to begin treating others the way they wanted to be treated. Most of all, I wanted them to adopt and maintain strong Christian values and high moral standards—to love, honor, and respect God, no matter what. I wanted for them what I want for myself and all of humanity: to simply be the best people we can be.

There is yet another question, though, that I'm sure I'll begin receiving soon and that is, "What will you miss most about the series?" And the answer is this: I will so miss reading email messages and social media comments from all of you, asking when the next Reverend Curtis Black book is going to be released! I will also miss reading your awesome feedback about the characters, the individual storylines, and how you could relate your own lives to the series. But more than anything—and yes, I am in tears as I write this sentence—I will miss the way you have loved and encouraged me as a writer for so many years. Your love for the Reverend Curtis Black series quickly turned my writing career into the kind of success I wasn't expecting, and I am eternally grateful to all of you. Your support has meant everything, and while I will certainly continue doing what I love—writing and speaking around the country—I won't ever forget my Reverend Curtis Black series experience or your kindness.

Just as I mentioned above in terms of the way I feel about my characters, you, too, will remain in my heart forever—the only difference is that you will remain there in a much deeper and profound fashion. I will, of course, never be able to thank you enough, but please know that I sincerely thank God for you and that I love all of you so very much.

With much appreciation and many blessings to you always,

     Kimberla Lawson Roby

Chapter 1

After all these years, Curtis still thought about many of the terrible things he'd done to so many people. But thank God—more than a decade ago, he'd finally changed for the better. It had been hard, walking the straight and narrow, but today, this second Sunday in March, he was still a true man of God, a faithful husband, a loving father, and the best grandfather on this side of heaven.

In addition to that, there was the church he'd founded nearly twenty years ago, Deliverance Outreach. Even now, as he sat inside his massive first-floor study, reviewing the sermon he would deliver in a couple of hours, he smiled with gratitude. They'd finally moved into the newly constructed building, which seated five thousand people, but already the congregation filled it near capacity every Sunday. Originally the membership had consisted of only five thousand parishioners, with four thousand attending regularly. But after Curtis's eldest son Dillon's church had burned to the ground, more than half of that congregation had joined Deliverance Outreach. So, because of this, Curtis had seen no other choice except to begin holding two services again, the same as they'd done at the smaller building. He wasn't complaining, though, not when he was very glad to see so many people wanting to belong to a church, and most important, wanting to hear and learn God's Word.

Curtis read through more of his sermon, which was entitled Keeping God First, No Matter What, and for some reason he thought about Raven, his former daughter-in-law. Like any Christian should, he had forgiven her, but there was no way he would ever forget the trouble she'd recently tried to cause him; not to mention the other time she'd betrayed him. Years before, she'd worked as his chief financial officer and had stolen six figures from the church, and then last year, she'd publicly lied to her online following, as well as to the members of her church, about being sexually assaulted. She'd claimed that a well-known pastor had raped her, purposely leaving many folks nationwide to assume that she was referring to Curtis. She hadn't mentioned his name, but rumors had quickly begun circulating, and had Dillon not gone to great measures to stop his ex-wife, Curtis wasn't sure how things might have turned out. At the very least, his reputation as a pastor would have been tainted and possibly ruined for good, not to mention his family would've had to endure yet another horrific scandal. But Dillon had stepped up and protected his father and made sure Raven was arrested and sent to prison.

Curtis leaned back in his chair, thinking about his own sordid past again. At first he wasn't sure why, but then he realized it was likely because he couldn't help taking at least some responsibility for the way Raven and Dillon had turned out. They were both adults, but Curtis knew he hadn't been the best example for any young minister. He knew he hadn't lived up to the true calling God had placed on his life, and that it was he who both his son and former daughter-in-law had learned their deceptive ways from. He'd indirectly shown them how to become the kind of clergyman—or in Raven's case, clergywoman—who only cared about three things: making lots of money, gaining extreme notoriety, and becoming as powerful as possible. From leading women on and sleeping with as many of them as he wanted, to fooling innocent members of his congregation out of their hard-earned income, to denying his own son Dillon for too many years to count, to having two children with other women while he was married to someone else, to blackmailing folks who wouldn't do what he asked…Curtis had done it all.

He certainly wasn't worthy of his Heavenly Father's forgiveness, not with the way he'd hurt his family, his parishioners at three different churches, and even strangers. But God had delivered him from every ounce of the life he'd once led, and he couldn't be more content. He and Charlotte were truly happy, and he was finally on great terms with all four of his children, all at the same time: Dillon, Alicia, Matthew, and Curtina. Then, if that wasn't enough, the four of them were very close. This hadn't always been the case, particularly when it came to Dillon and the rocky relationship he'd had with all three of his siblings, but God had worked everything out and they loved each other the way brothers and sisters should.

Curtis smiled and picked up the sterling-silver-framed photo of his handsome seven-year-old grandson, MJ. He was nearly the same age that Matthew had been when Curtis had met him for the first time, and MJ was the most important family member to everyone. His dad, stepmom, aunts, uncle, grandmother—and of course, Curtis, too—spoiled him as often as they could, and Curtis loved his little grandson with every part of his being. So yes, life was good, and Curtis couldn't help shedding a few tears of joy.

After a few more minutes passed, his cell phone rang. He didn't recognize the incoming number, but since he rarely received calls from anyone this early on a Sunday morning, he wondered if one of his parishioners was calling with an emergency.


"Curtis?" said the man on the other end.

"Yes. Who's calling?"

"Jason. Your brother-in-law."

"Jason. What a pleasant surprise. How are you?"

"Well, I've been better, but we're hanging in there."

Curtis's heart sank. The last time he'd seen or spoken to his sister was the day their mom had been funeralized, and all he could hope was that Trina was okay. "I'm almost afraid to ask what's wrong."

"I'm sure. And to be honest, there's no easy way to say this except to just tell you. Trina has been diagnosed with stage four cancer. Endometrial adenocarcinoma."

"Oh dear God. No."

Jason sighed. "I know, and I'm sorry to have to call you with such painful news."

Tears filled Curtis's eyes. "I am so sorry. I'm really, really sorry."

"Needless to say, this has been a tough pill for all of us to swallow. For Trina, me, and the children."

"How long has she been dealing with this?"

"About a year."

Curtis's stomach tied in knots. "A whole year?"

"Yes, and I wanted to call you then. But, as you can imagine, Trina insisted that I didn't. And she doesn't know that I'm calling you now, either."

"Well, I'm glad you did, because if nothing else, I can at least begin praying for her. And I can ask my congregation to pray for her, too."


"This is just too much," Curtis said, trying to control his tears. "I mean, have her doctors given her a specific prognosis? Is she taking treatments right now?"

"That's actually part of the reason I wanted to contact you. She's had two surgeries and chemo…but it didn't help."

"What about experimental drugs? New studies at the top medical facilities?"

"She's already tried one experimental drug, but if anything, that made her worse. But even if there was something else, she's already made it very clear that she's done with everything. The side effects were dreadful, and she's decided that she just wants to live out the rest of her life without any added problems."

Curtis was heartbroken. Distraught. Numb. "This is awful."

"Yeah, it is, but I really think it's time you come see her."

"Are you sure? Because even after Mom died, I tried to call her a few times and she never answered. She never called me back, and we haven't spoken in almost twenty years."

"At this point, I don't think any of that matters. I mean, I haven't mentioned your name to her lately, but I still think you should come."

"What about this afternoon? Is that too soon?"

"No, the sooner the better."

"Then I'll just go ahead and preach the early service as planned and ask one of my assistant pastors to do the second. I should be on my way no later than ten thirty and there by noon."

"Sounds good, and Curtis, thank you for agreeing to come. Trina probably doesn't know it, but she needs her big brother right now. More than she ever has."

Curtis felt his eyes welling up again and swallowed more tears. "Thank you for calling to let me know what's going on. I really appreciate it."

"You're welcome, and we'll see you this afternoon."

Curtis set his phone down, swiveled his high-backed chair around, and stared out of the large picture window. Many thoughts circulated in his mind, both good and bad, but what he thought about most was how selfish he'd been. How he'd cut off his mom and sister right after leaving home for college. What in the world was I thinking?

Now Curtis covered his wet face with both hands, sobbing like a child. Just as he hadn't spent any time with his mom before she'd passed, he'd done the same thing with his sister—his only biological sibling. And he couldn't be sorrier. He was filled with deep regret, and if he could turn back time he would. It was true that Trina was still alive, but now she had stage four cancer, and she might only have so much time left to live. Of course, there was one thing that Curtis still knew: God had the final say. So, from this point on, he would be praying and trusting God for his sister's total healing. He would trust Him completely and cherish every single moment he had with her.

Chapter 2

Charlotte slipped on her fuchsia satin robe, tied the belt, and left her bedroom. She'd just finished showering for church, and now she was headed to Curtina's room to make sure she was up and getting ready.

She stopped in front of Curtina's door and knocked three times. But there was no response. So she tried opening it—only to discover it was locked. She knocked again much harder. But there was still no answer, and Charlotte was through being cordial. "Curtina, open up this door! And I mean open it now!"

Finally, Curtina opened it, but the moment their eyes locked, Curtina raised her eyebrows, turned away, and went back over to her bed. She plopped down on it, picked up her phone, and started typing.

Charlotte walked into the room and folded her arms. "Didn't we tell you to stop locking that door?"

Curtina gazed up at her mother but then continued typing.

"And why aren't you getting dressed for church?"

Curtina still kept typing, likely some pointless text message to one of her little girlfriends, but said, "I will in a minute."

"Put your phone away. Now. And get in the shower."

Curtina never missed a beat. Her fingers kept moving, as though Charlotte weren't even in the room.

But Charlotte was done playing with her. "Give me that phone," she yelled, storming closer to the bed and snatching it from her. "And you've got five seconds to get your behind up and into that bathroom."

"Give me my phone back," Curtina yelled, reaching for it.

Charlotte moved away from her and looked at the screen. She read the words twice, each time feeling stunned…and hurt: Any min she'll be bargin in2 my room like sum madwoman tellin me 2 get ready. She n my dad make me sick.

"Mom, please give me my phone."

Charlotte shook her head and squinted her eyes at her daughter. "Wow…just wow. So, this is what you think of your father and me? After all we do for you?"


"Then why are you talking badly about us to Taylor? Why are you being so disrespectful? Maybe what we need to do is take this little phone of yours for good."

Curtina sighed with disgust, rolled her eyes toward the ceiling, stomped into the bathroom, and slammed the door.

Charlotte took a few deep breaths, because what she wanted more than anything was to burst in there behind Curtina and do what her own mom would have done to her, had she mouthed off that way when she was twelve years old. But for as long as Charlotte had officially been Curtina's mother, ever since she was two, Charlotte had never as much as spanked her, let alone slapped her or yanked her back to her senses. But God help her, today she truly wanted to, and it was taking everything in her to govern her temper. Curtina was spiraling further and further out of control, and this smartphone of hers was the sole cause of it. She was on it all the time, either texting her two best friends, Taylor and Lauren, both of whom were too grown for their own good, or browsing, commenting, or uploading photos to Instagram and Snapchat. Charlotte didn't know what she and Curtis were going to do with her, because over the last few months, she'd begun isolating herself more and more. She went to school and church—by force—but when she was home, she spent all but mealtimes in her room. And sometimes she talked back to Curtis and Charlotte as though they were children. Interestingly enough, she did this more to Charlotte than she did to her father, because as much as Curtis loved his baby daughter, he never allowed her to get away with as much as Charlotte sometimes did.

But while Charlotte stood there, debating whether she should summon Curtina back into the bedroom, she just didn't feel like fighting with her like she was a thirty-year-old woman. So instead, Charlotte left and went back to her own room. Once there, she closed the door and sat on the edge of her bed.

For the last month, she hadn't been sure why alcohol had suddenly begun crossing her mind again on a regular basis. Especially since she and Curtis were happy. To be honest, they'd never been happier. But she knew the problems that they were starting to have with Curtina had something to do with it. And none of it made much sense, because as little as one year ago, Curtina had still been the kind of daughter any parent would have been proud to have. She'd done what she was told with very few objections, she'd gotten straight A's in school, and she'd held the highest respect for not only her parents but also other adults. As of late, however, she'd become a difficult girl who Charlotte and Curtis didn't know, and it was making Charlotte want to drink.

Although, Charlotte did have to admit that Curtina wasn't the only problem she was battling, as she was also tired of being first lady of the largest church in Mitchell. The reason: It was all way too much for her to deal with…every…single…day…of…every…single…week.

Charlotte shook her head, wishing she could crawl back under the covers. But as her mind wandered from one thing to the next, she thought about her other children and her sweet little grandson and smiled. They were all doing well, and Matthew and Stacey had just celebrated their second anniversary. Charlotte loved Stacey a lot more than she had Matthew's first wife, Racquel, and what she admired most about Stacey was that she loved and treated MJ as though he were her own. Shockingly, Racquel had seemed fine with the idea of Matthew getting remarried, and she also didn't seem to have a problem with Matthew keeping full custody of their son. She'd been released from the mental institution for a while now and certainly could have petitioned the court for joint custody, but Charlotte could tell she truly wanted what was best for MJ.

Charlotte also had a much better relationship with her stepson, Dillon, someone she once hadn't been able to stand, and of course, Alicia was still more like a younger sister and close friend to Charlotte than she was a stepdaughter. So Charlotte was sure that, to the outside world and even to those close to her, her life seemed perfect.


  • "Full of Roby's trademark drama, surprises, forgiveness, and hope."
  • "Kimberla Lawson Roby weaves truth into fiction."
    -Indianapolis Star
  • "Kimberla Lawson Roby has reached a pinnacle most writers only dream of."
    -Rockford Register Star
  • "Roby is a master of making a delicious mess of otherwise good, merciful, God-fearing people's lives...compellingly readable."
    -Kirkus Reviews

  • "Roby's highly engaging prose offers edgy characters and intense drama."

On Sale
Mar 12, 2019
Page Count
336 pages

Kimberla Lawson Roby

About the Author

Kimberla Lawson Roby is a New York Times Bestselling Author, Speaker, and Podcast Host. She has published 28 books, including The Woman God Created You to Be: Finding Success Through Faith—Spiritually, Personally, and Professionally, as well as her novels, such as Casting the First Stone, The Best-Kept Secret, Better Late Than Never, and A Christmas Prayer. Kimberla is the recipient of the 2013 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Fiction, and in August 2020, she was named by USA Today as one of the 100 black novelists you should read. Kimberla resides in Illinois with her husband, Will.

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