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The infamous Reverend Curtis Black's sordid past is no secret, as his wife, Charlotte, is well aware. But when Curtis' long-time mistress and mother of his illegitimate two-year-old, dies, he and Charlotte have no choice but to raise Curtina together. While the living, breathing reminder of her husband's infidelity infuriates Charlotte, Curtis couldn't be happier to finally have his whole family together. Despite her best efforts to keep her feelings hidden, Charlotte resents Curtina, taking her emotions out on the young girl.
When confronted about her behavior Charlotte starts spending time away from home, all the while getting closer to her ex-boyfriend. Curtis appears to devote himself to his parish and the new church they're building, but is he really focusing his attention on the female parishioners trying to lure him into bed? Suddenly Curtis and Charlotte find themselves slipping into dangerous territory, and not even Curtis' seven-figure salary can prevent what is about to happen.
Love, Honor, and Betray
As always, I thank God for guiding my direction and for protecting my family, friends, and me every day of our lives. Without You and Your countless blessings, nothing would be possible.
To the man I love with all my heart and all my soul: Will Roby, Jr. Thank you for absolutely everything and, of course, for just being you.
To my wonderful and very loving family: my brothers, Willie, Jr., and Michael Stapleton; my mother-in-law, Lillie; my stepson and daughter-in-law, Trenod and LaTasha Vines; my step-grandsons, Lamont, Trenod, Jr., and Troy; my brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, and all my aunts, uncles, and cousins. I love all of you so very much and thank you for always supporting me.
To the women who genuinely love me like a sister and who have encouraged me to do what I do as a writer for over fifteen years: Kelli, Lori, and Janell. I wish everyone on earth knew what it was like to have friends like each of you.
Then, to the best literary agent ever, Elaine Koster (1940–2010). You took me completely under your wing, you took such great care of my career and represented me for twelve fabulous years, and I still can't believe you are gone. You were such an amazing friend and confidante, and Will and I will never forget all the wonderful times we shared with you and Bill whenever we visited New York. We had such great times, and I will love you and miss you always, Elaine.
To Dr. Betty Price at Crenshaw Christian Center—there are no words fitting enough to describe how kind, caring, and encouraging you are, so I'll just say thank you for everything, and that I love you so, so much.
To my brand-new publishing family, Grand Central Publishing! Words cannot express how excited I am and how grateful I am to have joined such a warm and very talented group of people. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you, Karen Thomas (my editor), Jamie Raab (my publisher), Deb Futter (my editor-in-chief), Emi Battaglia (my associate publisher), Linda Duggins (my publicity director), Elizabeth Connor (my art director), Latoya C. Smith (assistant editor and Karen's assistant), Dorothea Halliday (my production editor), the entire sales force and marketing team, and everyone else at Hachette/GCP.
Then, to the most efficient and kindest assistant I know, my assistant, Connie Dettman; the most efficient and kindest freelance publicist I know, Shandra Hill Smith; and the most efficient and kindest website and e-blast designer I know, Luke LeFevre. Thank you for all your amazing talent and for doing all that you can to make things run as smoothly and competently as possible.
To Janet Salter and Jaymee Robinson for working around my sporadic schedule and to Scinetra Martin in Florida for all your encouragement and support!
To all my wonderful writer friends, including Patricia Haley (my cousin), Victoria Christopher Murray, Eric Jerome Dickey, Trisha R. Thomas, Eric Pete, Mary B. Morrison, Curtis Bunn, Trice Hickman, ReShonda Tate-Billingsley, and so many others.
To all the book clubs that choose my work as their monthly selection year after year and to all the wonderful bookstores and libraries that carry it. I will always be indebted.
To all the local, regional, and national media folks and outlets, including newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio, who promote my work to the masses. It certainly means everything.
Last but most important, to the people who make my writing career possible: my fabulous and very dedicated readers. Your loyal support over the years has made all the difference for me as a writer, and I will forever love and appreciate all of you.
Much love and God bless you always,
Kimberla Lawson Roby
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.
- "New York Times best-selling author Kimberla Lawson Roby has a knack for writing suspenseful, page-turning stories, and her latest novel, Secret Obsession, is no different... A must-read for fiction thriller fans."—TheRoot.com on SECRET OBSESSION
- "4 Stars! Roby is the queen of redemption! She has a knack for taking characters that readers love to hate and turning them into ones everyone will cheer for. This one's definitely a page-turner!"—RT Book Reviews on SECRET OBSESSION
- "An intense gem in an authentic voice."—Publishers Weekly on A DEEP DARK SECRET
- "Kimberla Lawson Roby weaves truth into fiction."—Indianapolis Star on Kimberla Lawson Roby
- "Roby [deals] with real issues in her novels."—Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel on Kimberla Lawson Roby
- "Roby's fiction...[addresses] issues that are important to women today."—Memphis Commercial Appeal on Kimberla Lawson Roby
- "Kimberla Lawson Roby has reached a pinnacle most writers only dream of."—Rockford Register Star on Kimberla Lawson Roby
- "Roby, a bestselling author with a devoted audience, knows well the recipe for success: equal parts heartbreak and romance, with liberal dashes of sexual satisfaction."—San Jose Mercury News on Kimberla Lawson Roby
- On Sale
- Aug 10, 2011
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Grand Central Publishing