Restore My Soul excerpts

Book 1: Crowning Glory

Without a test, there can be no testimony,

Karyn Wallace reminded herself five minutes after she agreed to a date with Levi Tolliver. She wasn’t Cinderella, and Karyn doubted the widower would be her Prince Charming.

Yes, she was affected by the most beautiful dark chocolate eyes she had seen in her lifetime. They were hypnotic, even camouflaged behind designer glasses, which were angled perfectly on his chiseled nose. Levi’s skin was a blend of chocolates: dark, milk, and white, which created a creamy undefined tone. His thick, black wavy hair and thin mustache were nice touches, but it was Levi’s dimples that seemed to be on standby, waiting for his lips’ command to smile. Buffed at—she guessed about—five feet, eleven inches, Karyn wasn’t intimidated by Levi’s height as he towered over her petite stature. 

“You might as well surrender to what God has stirred between us,” Levi stated as if he had sealed a business deal after his seventh visit and counting in a month to Bookshelves Unlimited where she worked as a specialist in children’s books.

Suspicion set in. What did he know about God in her life? At twenty-seven, Karyn was too old to play games. Sometimes the devil injected the word of God into conversations as bait to lure Christians in for the kill, thinking they found a kindred spirit. She didn’t have time to test the waters to see if she could survive another relationship gone awry. The memories of one bad relationship had a way of lasting a lifetime. 

When he moved intimately closer, his lashes were mesmerizing, catching her off guard. “Deny the attraction, Karyn.”

She hated dares. Bluffs got people into trouble, hurt, or sometimes killed. Karyn blinked. Now, she was getting carried away. Anchoring her elbows on the table in the store’s café, Karyn nestled her chin in her hands. She took pleasure in delaying her response. After all, he was interrupting her dinner break. 

“I’m attracted to flashy cars, white kittens, black-eyed peas, and—” 

“Me,” he interjected as a fact.

Karyn refused to confirm or deny his assumption, but she silently admitted she was enjoying their banter. There was something intoxicating about a person who oozed confidence. Despite her outward boasting, she struggled at times with low self-esteem. Shrugging, she continued as if she didn’t hear him. “Although I don’t own a flashy car or a white kitten, I can put away some black-eyed peas.”

“Your preferences are noted.” Levi lifted a brow and held it in place to make sure he had her attention. Only after she became impatient did he soften his features and smile, offering his sidekick dimples for her pleasure. 

“My Buick LaCrosse is new, but not flashy. My daughter is allergic to cats, and my mother can throw down on any beans, peas, or greens.” A dimple winked as he stretched his lips into a lazy grin. “For the past four years, my spirit has laid dormant, waiting on a word from God. With no warning, I got a message plain enough that even a caveman could read it.” He snickered.

 “I’ve seen those GEICO commercials, and I’m not impressed.”

“I couldn’t resist saying that.”

“Maybe in the future…” She paused and lifted a finger. “But not any time soon.”  Her refusals were solely based on experience with one man, which she knew wasn’t fair. 

“Hmmm.” He nodded. “At least it’s not no again.” Snickering, Levi’s dimple performed an encore. “After all, with God all things are possible.”

She knew the scripture—Mark 10:27. That was the first thing she uttered every morning after waking up. Levi had been relentless in his pursuit. Why? Her appearance was simplistic: tan pants, a white polo shirt bearing the store’s logo, and tennis shoes. A French braid, dipping inches beyond her shoulders, was her trademark hairdo. To some customers, she resembled a teenager, and the pay seemed to fit the description. 

Whenever Levi strolled through the door, he received more than a passing glance, whether modeling a tailored dark suit or dressed in business-casual clothes: his pants were creased, shirts starched, and shoes polished. When Karyn first noticed him and the wedding ring, she envied the woman who had a wonderful blessing from God: an adorable little girl and a father who doted on his child, calling her sweetheart or darling. He exhibited more patience than the average man.

 After that initial distraction, Karyn had sobered during the subsequent visits. She reminded herself that God was an equal-opportunity blessing giver. She referenced Matthew 5:45, where God provided the sun to rise on the good and evildoers while He allowed the rain to fall on the just and unjust.  

Tonight, Levi had entered the bookstore with a suspicious, determined stride. His presence was too bold to ignore. Even mall security officers went on alert, but backed off when it was apparent that Levi’s intentions were harmless. Strangely, Karyn’s busybody coworker, Patrice Lucas, who saw everything and everyone, didn’t seem to notice him. A poster child for the O’Jays’s old song, “Back Stabber,” Patrice could be a good friend one day and the worst enemy the next. Karyn was still trying to figure out where she placed on Patrice’s list. It really didn’t matter. Patrice would never be one of her confidantes. 

What is he up to?she wondered. He never came to the bookstore alone. From day one, Levi’s precious four-year-old daughter, Dori, enchanted Karyn. The child had a readymade smile, minus the dimples. Her skin was a few shades darker than her father’s. Her hair was thick, long, and sometimes wild. One and two ponytails seemed to be the only doable option for the widower. With the recent chilly temperatures in the last days of October, Dori was always dressed with matching multicolored hats and gloves. 

As Bookshelves Unlimited’s kid specialist, Karyn enjoyed interacting with the little ones, helping them choose games and books that were age appropriate. In Dori’s absence, Levi clutched a large gift bag as he roamed the aisles. Confident she was his target, she waited patiently until they made eye contact, then he kept approaching. 

“Do you have a moment?” He didn’t wait for an answer to his summons as he turned and headed to the elevated platform that claimed to be the café’s territory near the entrance. It was the only spacious area in the cluttered bookstore. 

Already, Karyn’s fist was fishing for a comfortable resting spot on her hip as she formed an attitude. If I do, am I supposed to jump? 

Book 2: Jet(Back Story to Love Led by the Spirit)

Jesetta “Jet” Hutchens was exhausted. Shopping sprees with her only sibling always resulted with a respite at Starbucks, then more bargain hunting.

“I’ve met someone,” her sister casually stated between sips of her latte.

“Hmm.” Something about the glow on Diane’s face hinted this “someone” was special. Four years older at twenty-seven, Jet took her role as big sister seriously.

Ten years earlier, their parents unexpectedly died months apart—their mom from pneumonia, then their dad succumbed to a massive stroke. The Hutchens sisters were convinced he had died from a broken heart. The double blow caused Jet to be more protective and lead by example.

Lifting an eyebrow, Jet lowered her cup and noted the sparkle in Diane’s brown eyes. Wow. Who is this guy?

They were extremely close—best friends and kindred spirits. Most times, if someone saw one, the other was nearby. Despite their contrast in size, weight, and height, there was no mistaking Jet and Diane were sisters.

Only college separated them. First, Jet got a full ride to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and when she returned, Diane took off for Purdue University in Indiana.

The two valued each other’s opinion about career paths, friendships, and men. They traveled together and enjoyed double dating. Shopping at the nearby St. Louis Galleria was their current adventure. The evidence was the cluster of bags at their feet, which showcased fresh pedicures.

“Really?” Tilting her head, Jet smirked. “Name, age, occupation…”

“His name is Levi Tolliver.” Diane beamed and displayed the handiwork of her braces. Jet had also suffered through braces in high school and endured the “metal mouth” taunts from insensitive classmates.

“He’s the same age as you. Single—the first question I asked.”

Jet lifted her hand for a high five, then nodded. “Continue.” When it came to dating, she made sure Diane was prepared to watch out for signs of dishonesty, so she wouldn’t become a side chick.

“As a matter of fact, Levi’s never been married, has no children, and is about to start his construction and real estate development company with his cousin.” Smiling, Diane exhaled and stared into space with a dreamy expression.

Impressed that her sister was impressed, Jet smiled too. On paper, the man passed the clear-to-date inspection. Yet, she didn’t take people at face value. When their mother was alive, Jet’s suspicious streak had exasperated her mother growing up. But for Diane’s sake, Jet toned down her skepticism. “Sounds like you met him a lifetime ago.” She reached for her cup, which was now room temperature, so she passed. “Great qualities. So what does he look like?”

Diane giggled and pointed. “Look behind you.”

“Huh?” A quick glance over her shoulder made Jet blink and caused her jaw to drop. The well-dressed gentleman watching them was handsome. From his perch at a table not far from them, Levi’s lips curled into a smile. He was a shade lighter than Diane’s fair skin; his black hair and goatee defined his attractiveness. His rimmed frames only accented his good looks as he slid them back on his nose. How long had he been sitting there?

Closing her mouth, Jet faced Diane and stuttered, “Whoa. I’m available for a double date. Please tell me he has brothers.” She took another peek as the man stood and walked their way. Each step seemed to ooze confidence. He appeared to be the same height as Jet, five-ten, when she wasn’t wearing heels, but he was tall enough for her sister’s five-seven.

Diane chuckled. “He does—twin brothers—but he’s the oldest.” She pouted, feigning disappointment, then laughed.

“Too bad. You know I like men who were potty trained by the time I was born.” She was not about to entertain a man younger than her. She didn’t care how mature the guy might be. Maybe when she was fifty she would press her luck with a man in his mid-thirties.

“Ladies,” Levi greeted them. “May I join you?”

He waited for Diane’s acknowledgment. Once granted, he grabbed a chair from a nearby table and dragged it to theirs.

It didn’t go unnoticed that he barely made eye contact with Jet as he wrapped his hand around Diane’s.

Clearing her throat, Jet reminded them of her presence and began her interrogation. “How long have you two been seeing each other, and where did you meet?”

Levi and Diane exchanged some type of silent communication before he answered. “Two weeks ago at the cleaners.” He squeezed Diane’s hand and winked.

Her sister closed her eyes and exhaled. When she opened them, Diane smiled. “He was at the counter picking up his suits...”

Book 3: Love Led by the Spirit

Minister Rossi Tolliver didn’t have enough fingers to count the number of women inside and out of the church who would say yes if he proposed. God knew he wasn’t boasting. It was a fact that these sisters wanted a man of God for a husband. In turn, he wanted a woman of God for a wife. He only dated practicing Christian women baptized with water and fire, yet something was always amiss.

He sighed and rubbed his eyes. It was a Saturday morning in early June, and Rossi was supposed to be studying a passage in his Bible, but his mind kept drifting. When he looked out the window from his downtown St. Louis loft, his imagination came alive. He could see himself bike riding alongside a companion on the riverfront or sharing a bag of peanuts at a Cardinals game at the nearby stadium.

At thirty-five, Rossi was the oldest of four sons and the sole minister in a mostly practicing Christian family. If a Tolliver had a crisis, he was the one they turned to. In essence, their problems became his to petition before the Lord. Not that he was keeping tabs, but he had an ever-growing list.

It was well known that Rossi took God’s anointing over his life seriously, so it seemed like everybody had an opinion about what type of woman would make him a perfect wife. He recalled a conversation at a recent family get-together.

“She has to be pretty—I’m thinking about my grandbabies,” his mother, Laura Tolliver, stated, “if any of my sons care to give me any.” “She has to love the Lord, not be prone to anger, have a gentle spirit, be kind to others, and be a faithful churchgoer,” Aunt Sharon, his uncle’s wife, added to round off the ingredients for his ideal wife.

His father, Rossi III, or Ross as the family called him, gave the so called benediction to end the discussion. “The most important factor to consider is your wife’s willingness to work with you in the ministry. That, son, is a true helpmate. Why do you think I fell in love with your mother? Laura is a peacemaker.”

Talk about pressure. They gave him a checklist when all he wanted was a woman who loved God and him—period.

Their unsolicited advice reminded him of the stern talk they gave him about his responsibilities and their expectations before he took his date to his junior prom. He closed his Bible. There was too much distraction in his head to reread Mark, chapter two for a third time. “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Instead of meditating on verse seventeen for the upcoming community outreach program, his heart seemed to scold him: You need a wife.

“I got that,” he said aloud, flustered. He stood and wandered through his spacious bachelor pad. Would his wife want to redecorate? Would she want to live there?

His family meant well, but... “All those are good qualities, but you’ve all forgotten about the most important criteria: She has to have my heart,” he explained to the bird that landed on the window’s ledge.

It pecked on the pane as if it was trying to get his attention. Frowning, he noted it was a sparrow.

The rarity of seeing that type of bird made him reach for his Bible again and flip through Matthew until he stopped at chapter ten. He scanned the verses, then reread twenty-nine through thirty-one: Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows.

After praying for years for “the one” to cross his path, was God sending him a Word? The Lord had heard his every prayer that were as numerous as the hairs on his head. Maybe this was confirmation that only one woman could complement him. “Who has my heart, Lord?”

An alluring face flashed before his eyes: Jesetta “Jet” Hutchens.

Rossi smirked. The beautiful Jesetta couldn’t claim three out of five of those qualities. He gritted his teeth, doubting she would ever possess two of those attributes. Or will she?

To his cousins’ displeasure, Jesetta was due back in town in a couple of days. After almost a year’s absence, Rossi wondered whether he had planted enough spiritual seeds in her life and God had caused them to grow during her time away from home. If so, how would everybody handle the news that Jesetta would be his wife?

Keep praying, the Lord whispered.