First and always, I thank my Heavenly Father for entrusting me with the gift of speaking to His children through the written word. I stand in awe at the marvelous things He has done on this six-year journey. It is my sincere desire to continue writing the stories He gives me.
My life would be incomplete and the journey would be lonely without the companionship and friendship of my life partner, Craig Campbell, Sr. After twenty-four years of peaks and valleys, triumphs and failures, heartbreak and celebrations, your love for me hasn't faltered but has intensified to a level that leaves me breathless. I love you, Big Papa!
While writing this novel, I found myself experiencing what Bishop T. D. Jakes calls “a turn.” This happens when life as we know it changes course and ventures into unfamiliar territory and causes an emotional unbalance. Turns aren't necessarily catastrophic events. Some turns are vital in catapulting us to the next level. My turn came in the form of my youngest child, Craig “Papa” Campbell, Jr., graduating high school and entering college, leaving me with an empty nest. Papa, while I will miss your daily presence and your smart mouth, I celebrate your future. Persevere and have fun while fulfilling the purpose God has ordained for your life.
During this same time period, God also performed a miracle by sparing my eldest son, Jonathan's life in a major car accident. Son, answer the line. The Lord is calling, and your purpose is closer than you think.
On Wednesday, April 5, 1989, I became a mother. I remember looking at my daughter and thinking,
What am going to do with her?
Twenty-three years later I still don't have an answer to that question. Chantel, just when I think I have you figured out, you surprise me with your spontaneity and courage. Keep working hard and being a good mother to your son. Remember, only God can give real peace.
Special thanks to fellow author Reverend Lawrence Gray Sr. and coworker Wanda Sanford.
would not have its flavor without your expertise.
To all my faithful supporters and my publicity team at Alameda County Medical CenterâAlaina, Amy, Denise, Mary, and Vincent, just to name a fewâthank you so much for the encouragement.
Family and friends label me a fanatic, which I firmly disagree with. Just because I have at least three copies of every Israel & New Breed CD, DVD, and the book
A Deeper Level
, and have flown on multiple occasions to Israel & New Breed concerts, doesn't make me a fanatic. I'm simply blessed by their music ministry. Israel Houghton, thank you for writing songs that change lives.
Finally, but never least, thank you for spending your resources in purchasing this book and for taking the time to read it. Without you, the reader, there wouldn't be a journey.
Reyna Mills posed in the full-length mirror. She turned to the right, then to the left. She bent over at the waist and shook her shoulders. Unsatisfied with the results, she repositioned the bustier and performed the test again. Now pleased, she turned to view her backside. The snug eighteen-inch black skirt stopped below mid-thigh and just above the knee. She walked over to the closet and stepped into four-inch-heeled black pumps.
“Perfect!” she exclaimed at her reflection. Tyson, her unofficial date for the evening, was probably too anal to appreciate her newly waxed bare legs, but there was no way she'd ruin the black and red ensemble with nylons. Neither would she limit the display of her thirty-four C-size “girls.” It had taken Reyna almost twenty years to appreciate her assets and not feel condemned to hell for showing them off.
For years she'd heard her mother and her former pastor, Rosalie Jennings, preach against everything from a woman cutting her hair to wearing makeup. “Modesty is best,” the pastor had said. Pastor Jennings would probably have a coronary if she saw Reyna now. Not only had Reyna traded in her shoulder-length tresses for a tapered hairstyle with spikes, but she had also traded in clear lip gloss for a complete makeup kit loaded with color.
The new look was more than a metamorphosis. It signified her genesis. A rebirth. A coming-of-age. Why it took her so long to realize that inside her skull rested a brain capable of making sound decisions about her life, she'd never know. She chalked it up to being hoodwinked, bamboozled, or even voodooed. Whatever the verb, she would never allow anyone to control her again. From this day forward, decisions like where to go and what to wear would be based on what she wanted and liked, not the words of a self-serving dictator wearing a robe and toting a Bible.
Up until two short months ago, Reyna had considered disagreeing with Pastor Rosalie Jennings next to blasphemy on the sin scale. She'd grown up in the church, under the teachings of Pastor Jennings. Her mother and her beloved pastor were friends. Whereas Reyna's mother had been too occupied with church business to notice Reyna, Pastor Jennings had always had time for her. Reyna had spent many Sunday afternoons at the pastor's kitchen table. It was at that same table that Reyna had recited the sinner's prayer and had committed her life to Christ at the tender age of seventeen. Reyna couldn't pinpoint the date, but at some point the respect she held for Pastor Jennings had been transformed into idolization. That had left her with a busted lip, a blackened eye, and a night in jail for breaking into and entering a private residence.
Reyna turned to examine the tight layered curls on the back of her head. If she'd known she'd look this good, she would have made her hairstylist cut that mess off a long time ago. If she hadn't been so consumed with pleasing the woman of God, she might have been able to complete graduate school and land a husband. At Pastor Jennings's request, Reyna had put school on hold and had spent nearly five years chasing the pastor's son, Kevin. Her grand prize wasn't the great Dr. Kevin Jennings, but a badge of humiliation she doubted she'd ever live down. Reyna figured Pastor Jennings must have gotten the wires crossed with the prophetic word assuring her Kevin was her husband. Kevin reunited with his estranged wife, and they were now expecting their first child. All Reyna got out of the deal was a new job as property manager for a local real estate office, thanks to Tyson, who just happened to be Kevin's best friend.
Reyna moved to the dresser and sprayed on Halle Berry's new fragrance, hoping the fruity scent would make her more desirable, but not to Tyson. She hoped to meet a prospect at the charity benefit dinner tonight. Not that attorney Tyson Stokes wasn't a good catch. He owned his own home, his own firm, and had no baby mamas. But he was saved, sanctified, and filled to the brim with the Holy Ghost. Something she could do without. She'd been freed from the plantationâthat was what she now called organized religionâand she was never going back. She'd give Tyson a superficial friendship, but never would she give anyone associated with God her heart. Pastor Jennings's manipulation and betrayal had annihilated her trust in God and anyone claiming to know Him. From now on Reyna controlled her destiny.
She'd accepted Tyson's invitation to the event only because despite growing up in the Bay Area, she'd never been inside the plush Claremont Hotel nestled in the Berkeley hills. Since the historic hotel didn't normally hold church functions, her once rigid religious beliefs didn't allow non-Christian social gatherings, and neither did her budget. Being friends with Tyson had its advantages.
She grabbed her clutch purse and sashayed downstairs and toward the front door. Out of habit, she opened the coat closet, then changed her mind. She looked too good to hide behind a lined wool coat.
“What street corner are you going to stand on dressed like that?”
The shrill voice, which always lacked affection, belonged to her mother. Reyna made the three strides to the front door before turning and addressing her mother. With each step she wondered why she hadn't she used the back door.
“You heard me, Jezebel. Where are you going?”
Reyna hated being compared to the evil biblical Queen Jezebel, mainly because up until a few months ago Reyna categorized a woman who went around with bare arms and bare legs and wore makeup as a loose Jezebel. Without knowing the woman's name or history, she passed judgment. Now she was one of them and didn't care what her mother or anyone else thought.
“Mother, I told you earlier, I'm meeting Tyson at the charity banquet for the youth center.”
Jewel Mills, dressed in a floral-print muumuu, stood and stomped her left foot against the hardwood floor. “Have you lost your mind? You're going to a formal event with a prominent lawyer dressed like a two-dollar whore?” Jewel threw her hands up and shook her head. “I know Rosalie and I raised you better than that. You need to read what the Bible says about loose women.”
The sound of her former pastor and mentor's name sent searing heat throughout Reyna's body. Her eyes burned. Her right fist involuntarily clenched. Her nostrils flared. Though her emotions raged, she remained calm as she scrutinized every inch of her mother as she stepped into her space.
The woman who'd birthed her yet failed to nurture her, opting instead to push her off on her best friend, had the audacity to criticize her. Jewel had sat back and plotted with Pastor Jennings and had encouraged Reyna to chase after a married man. Jewel had wanted her to marry Dr. Kevin Jennings and pastor the church. She'd even helped Reyna get dressed the night she attempted to seduce him. Now this holier-than-thou woman had the nerve to judge her?
“Why don't you read the Bible for yourself?” Reyna snarled through clenched teeth. “You might learn that your beloved Pastor Rosalie Jennings is the reason you couldn't keep Daddy around.”
If Reyna's face wasn't so heavily coated with makeup, the slap would have hurt more. Jewel didn't like to be reminded that her husband had divorced her because she spent too much time on her knees at church and not enough time tending to his needs. Since her husband wasn't saved, Jewel had followed Pastor Jennings's advice and had rationed sex. Unfortunately for Jewel, her husband found a neighbor who was always open for business. He left Jewel and moved in with the woman and later fathered her three children.
Jewel's hand shook uncontrollably as she pointed at her daughter. “You better watch how you talk to me. I don't care how old you are. I'm still your mother! And what happened between me and your father is still none of your business!”
Reyna ceased massaging her cheek. “I'm almost thirty-one years old. How much older do I have to be to know you and Rosalie robbed me of my daddy's presence?”
“That's Pastor Jennings to you. And you got to see your daddy from time to time. It's not my fault he raised his other children and not you. And what's that got to do with you dressing like a streetwalker?”
It was useless; her mother would defend Pastor Jennings until her last breath. “Mother, I don't care what you think. This is how I dress now. If you don't like it, too bad.” Reyna rolled her eyes and started for the door again.
“What about Tyson?” Jewel called. “What does he think about this
Reyna whirled around and glared at the woman she'd begun to despise. “Let me make myself perfectly clear. I don't care what you, Tyson, or even God Himself thinks about me. I'm a grown woman, and I'll do whatever I want.” She slammed the wooden door and decided it was time to move out of her mother's plantation.