Jamieson Legacy Excerpts

Book 1: Guilty of Love

“You change your dates more than a woman changes her lipstick,” Malcolm teased Parke over the phone.

“There is a reason behind my madness, as you call it. Not that I’m an extremely religious person, but I feel God is leading me to somebody.”

“I doubt it, PJ. Your recent choices are causing you to lose your mind. If it’s contagious, then stay away from me.”

“Okay, I agree that Nyla was a mistake on my part. It’s partially your fault, too. I’ll never tell you another one of my dates’ names.”

“I’ll never ask again.” Malcolm laughed.

“I admit I strayed away from my protocol with that one.”

“With that one? Try all of them. You need a woman like Hali. Say the word and I’ll ask her about some of her girlfriends when I surprise my baby for lunch later.”

“I don’t need any help.”

“Oh, you need help, all right.”

“Is Hallison so much a woman that she’s got you in a headlock? I can’t see a woman putting me in that position. I’m not ready to be tangled up like that.”

“Suit yourself. Have a crummy day, big brother,” Malcolm barked, laughing and ended the call. He was happy he didn’t build barriers like Parke. Picking up another file scheduled for an audit, Malcolm hoped he could crunch the numbers on three companies’ records before noon so he could surprise Hallison. They worked about ten blocks apart, and met for lunch when they could get away.

Hours later, Malcolm walked out the automatic doors from his office in the Metropolitan Square Building downtown without a care in the world. All was good, and according to the three sistahs in the elevator he had stepped out from moments ago, he looked delicious. One cooed, another whispered, one boldly complimented him on his intoxicating cologne. Malcolm appreciated the kudos, but ignored their overtures. Like his brother, he enjoyed the attention of beautiful women, but only one set his soul on fire.

At one-minute after one in the afternoon, Malcolm entered the revolving doors to the Bank of America lobby. He scanned the wall for the building directory. With his finger he line-read the names until he found Personnel.

On the same floor to his right, Malcolm smoothed his paisley print tie against his shirt as he walked down a short hall and opened a glass door. Suspenders complimented his smoke-gray pleated pants. His worn, but polished shoes squeaked on the tiled floor.

One side of the office housed a row of computers. A few applicants glanced up. When Malcolm removed his sunglasses, a few women ogled him. Hallison said his glasses made him look sexy, rugged, and dangerously appealing.

He approached a large executive-style desk that seemed to separate the ‘common’ area from the private offices. A dark-skinned woman with fashionable glasses and a head full of twisted curls glanced up. She dropped her pen. Staring, she caught her breath.

To keep from disturbing the job applicants, Malcolm leaned forward and whispered, “Is Hallison Dinkins in?”

The receptionist gave him a milk-white smile. “Your name, please, sir?” She scanned an appointment book.

Stuffing both hands in his pockets, he cocked his head to the left. “Malcolm Jamieson, Miss Dinkins’ personal Certified Public Accountant.”

An odd expression masked her face. She pushed back from her desk, stood and locked her desk. Without a word, she turned and her shoes began a two-tap rhythm across the room. She didn’t instruct Malcolm to wait, so he followed.

Unlike the common area, a maroon thick carpet arrested her noisy heels. The woman stopped at a closed door where Director of Human Resources was centered on a distorted portrait-size glass window.

Malcolm was impressed. At least he knew his baby worked in a nice environment. He hoped she liked surprises. Knocking, the receptionist stuck her head in the office and then waved Malcolm forward, aware that he had trailed her.

Entering Hallison’s domain, Malcolm’s eyes were transfixed on Hallison’s blossoming smile. “Roomy place,” slipped from his mouth, but he would get a better look around later. “I was hoping I’d get this reaction.” Strolling to her desk, Malcolm leaned over and took her lips in a slow kiss before whispering, “Hi.”

She pulled away, gulping for air. “Hi, back. What are you doing here?”

Aware of his seduction, Malcolm pecked soft kisses on her lips. “Oh, convincing my lady to have lunch with me.”

“Hmm,” Hallison moaned, lifting an eyebrow. “I don’t know.”

“Uh-huh, we have to celebrate,” he teased, meeting Hallison’s questioning eyes, “our four incredible months together. The future looks pretty good to me right now.”

Hallison blushed and rubbed her nose against his. “And, I’ve enjoyed every moment. About lunch, I may need more convin—”

Malcolm’s response was an urgent, demanding kiss before helping her to stand. He massaged her fingers. “You never have to tease me to get what you want, woman. My kisses have your name written all over them.” Hallison opened her mouth to reply, but stopped. “Baby, is Calico’s okay, or would you rather eat at the Bread Company?”

Coming around the desk, Hallison snaked her arms around his neck in a hug. “I’ll eat White Castle gas burgers just to share lunch with you, but I like Calico’s.”

“I had a taste for some Hallison Dinkins, and the sight of you satisfies my craving for now. C’mon, let’s eat.”

Surveying Hallison’s red silk suit, he whistled when she walked to a wall mirror to finger-comb her hair and check her makeup.

The long-sleeve double-breasted jacket fell below her hips. The matching skirt stopped inches above her knees with teasing splits on both sides and three-inch pumps had Malcolm’s heart pumping faster than running on a treadmill.

“You need a bodyguard, Miss Dinkins, and I’m here to offer my services.” He reached for her. “I like being with you.”

“And, I like you being with me, too.”

Hand in hand, Malcolm escorted her to the downtown Italian restaurant. It was already packed with the lunchtime crowd. As the waitress led them to a cozy window seat, he teased Hallison’s ear with his breath. “You look breathtaking.”

Looking into his dark brown eyes, she mouthed her thank you.

They ordered sodas and decided to share a house salad and pizza. While waiting, Malcolm reached over and played with Hallison’s fingers. A woman sitting behind Hallison distracted him. She made it obvious she was checking him out.

Hallison glanced over her shoulder and lifted her chin in a silent challenge before turning back to Malcolm. Only her eyes wouldn’t meet his.

“She’s not a treat or a threat,” Malcolm assured her and he stretched across the table, closing the distance between them.

Nodding, Hallison looked away unconvinced. Her beautiful lips were twisted in contemplation. He squeezed her fingers. “This lunch, this moment is about you and me. Anyway, Wabash Park is kicking off its weekly summer concerts tomorrow night. I’d love to have my lady wrapped in my arms while listening to live music under the stars.”

As she struggled to answer, Malcolm wondered if the woman’s boldness had upset her. Maybe now was the perfect time for them to plan a romantic getaway. He brought her hand to his lips and placed soft kisses inside her palm. “I want to be with you. No other woman, but you. You don’t have competition.”

“There’s always competition, always.”

“Not against you, Hali. I want just you.”

“I want to be with you, too.”

He inched his mouth closer to her lips. “They can look, but only you can touch.”

Book 2:Not Guilty of Love

 

“What?" Hallison and Malcolm snapped in harmony as they shot questions at Parke.

"You've got to be kiddin' me. What—" Hallison reached out and gripped Parke's arm.

"I didn't know the woman owned a gun. Why..." Mal­colm paused.

Parke held up his hands to ward off the firing squad. "Grandma BB sent me a text message stating she was about to be handcuffed for something nobody can prove. Then I received a call from Cheney's mother. She was cry­ing and saying that Roland had been shot by some crazy woman. He was rushed to DePaul Hospital's emergency room. I put two and two together. Things are about to get ugly."

Malcolm glanced from Parke and Hallison. "I don't know what math you're using, but this is not adding up for me."

"It's not making sense to me either. How is Cheney holding up? I can't believe her day ended like this. Do you need me to stay with Kami while you two go the hospi­tal?" Hallison asked, wiping tears from her face.

"She's not going to the hospital," Parke answered.

"Oh, okay. That's probably better. I guess I should stay with her," Hallison volunteered, already heading upstairs. "At least we can pray together while we wait for news."

Gritting his teeth, Parke shook his head and restrained her. "Hold on. I'm not about to upset my wife yet. I'll go to the hospital and find out what's going on before I break the news."

"Parke, I know she's pregnant, but that's her father, and he could die," Hallison argued.

"Then we'll have to pray he doesn't. I'll bet Grandma BB's not finished with him. Something tells me it was just a warning. That woman is having some serious issues conforming to holiness, man!" Parke rubbed his neck in frustration.

"You think?" Malcolm muttered sarcastically, folding his arms. "It sounds like you know what's going on, and it wasn't an accident."

Parke nodded. "It was only a matter of time before something like this happened. Listen," he said, lowering his voice as Hallison paced, "you know we consider Grand­ma BB part of this family, but I can't be with both of them at the same time. She is Kami's great-god grandmother, god great-grandmother, or whatever she is. Anyway, she's family. I don't want her there alone. She's probably beside herself, realizing what she's done. I'm guessing the police probably took her to the Ferguson Police Department since the shooting happened near Wabash Park. She doesn't belong behind bars."

Mrs. Beatrice Tilley Beacon, aka Grandma BB, was Cheney's former next door neighbor. On the surface, peo­ple dismissed her as a harmless, childless, and senile old widow. It was a ploy to deceive everyone about her vul­nerability. Mrs. Beacon had wrinkle-free mocha skin and snowy white strands mingled with silver hair. She was a small-framed woman whose height was five feet in heels, four-eleven in the trademark Stacy Adams shoes she wore like house slippers.

She was known for taking catnaps during the day and terrorizing the neighborhood at night. From her living room window, she kept vigil over the normally tranquil street, shaded by mature trees and brick-covered walk­ways that led to each neighbor’s front door. Her loaded shotgun was the incentive that caused intruders to think twice about committing burglaries, assaults, and car thefts on the block.

It wasn't Mrs. Beacon's age that earned her respect. It was her megawatt spotlight, which was bright enough to flag down a plane. More than a few robbers froze when the light was shone on them. Mrs. Beacon made her own deci­sion whether to call the police. Depending on her mood, she often took matters into her own hands, using a so-called marked bullet to threaten anyone who gave her back talk.

Cheney had slipped through her neighbor's intimidat­ing facade. Mrs. Beacon's sweeter, gentler side flourished when Cheney accepted her first foster child, Kami. Mrs. Beacon stockpiled her house like a KB Toys store, and her back yard became a makeshift playground.

"I don't know, Parke. My girl still has a right to know." Hallison paused. "Wait a minute." Squinting, she cleared her throat. "If you don't need me to stay, you don't need me to go with him." She pointed nervously. "Malcolm can go alone."

"I need Malcolm to get her out of there. Pay her bond or bail or whatever. I don't want her spending the night in a cold cell. I think she's at Ferguson's jail. Bro, you know I'm good for it. Hali, you go for backup and quote Grandma BB whatever scriptures come to mind. I can't believe this happened." Parke didn't wait for their answer. He snatched his house keys off a wall hook. He continued fussing under his breath as he raced out the door then turned back. "Re­member to lock up."

Hallison didn't feel confident about her scripture-quoting ability in Malcolm's presence. He reminded her of all that she gave up in the name of salvation. Parke and Cheney tried to stay out of Hallison and Malcolm's busi­ness, hoping they would resolve their religious differences. However, the longer the separation lasted, the more un­comfortable Hallison felt around them and Malcolm's fam­ily. She didn't want the couple to have to choose sides.

When Hallison would've backed off, Cheney always yanked her closer. "We're sisters, Hali. We were friends before, but God made us sisters forever."

Left standing in Parke's living room, Hallison tried to refocus as she quickly finished covering the leftovers. She raced to the kitchen and shoved dishes into the refrigera­tor. Malcolm trailed her without saying a word, or aiding in the clean-up. Just like a man. His expression was un­readable. What is he thinking? she wondered.

 

 

Book 3: Still Guilty 

 

Dr. Rainey Reynolds didn't understand his twin sister, Cheney Reynolds Jamieson. She was sleeping with the enemy—not in bed, but she was guilty by association. He was seconds away from demanding to know where her family allegiance lay as they en­gaged in a fierce stare-down duel.

They were outside their parents' palatial home, which was tucked behind a tree-lined block on Westmoreland Avenue in the Central West End, an affluent area within St. Louis city. The fifteen-room, three-story stone-and-brick mansion was daunting. Once a person entered, the feeling of being swallowed up wasn't an exaggeration.

Hovering four inches over Cheney, Rainey didn't in­timidate her. Not much of anything did. Naturally beautiful, people wouldn't believe she was as tough and stubborn as she was.

"Remember the family pact?" He blinked, losing the battle.

Frowning, Cheney squinted. "Nope." She jutted her chin higher and folded her arms, indicating she had time for an ex­planation.

"The unspoken rule," he stated, hissing. "If somebody talks about your mama, it's fighting words, or if someone jumps your sister or brother, we all fight."

"We're thirty-three years old. I've long ago put away childish things." Cheney turned to terminate their conversation. As she began to step down the brick-covered circular steps, he reached out and stopped her, causing Cheney to teeter on the edge.

Glancing over his shoulder, Rainey double-checked their pri­vacy. He wanted to make sure their bickering hadn't summoned their parents' housekeeper, Miss Mattie, to investigate the disturbance.

"It's the same concept, twin. We should stick together in this crisis." He interlocked his hands. "Traitor," he bit out with venom then added a few profane words, which forced Cheney to blink. Tilting his head, Rainey gave her a look that was meant for a burglar to think twice about breaking and entering. "You don't get it, do you? If my so-called friend hurt one of my family members, it would be over, and my cut would be clean."

Cheney offered a strained smile. "Ever heard of forgiveness?"

"No." Rainey wanted to shake his sister until her dead brain cells came alive or fell out. She saw nothing wrong with befriend­ing a woman who wanted their father dead.

He didn't care that Cheney had moved next door to Mrs. Bea­con, who fabricated a lie that their upstanding father was a hit and run driver who mowed down her husband. Who knew that Mrs. Beacon would take it a step further and try to harm their father? Now, their father had to go on trial for an alleged hit and run fatal accident, which was ridiculous. It was mind boggling that Cheney still maintained a friendship with the lady.

"Not when it comes to my enemies, Cheney. I happen to be selective about extending amnesty." Rainey tried to control his temper and non-existent high blood pressure, a condition that would surely surface once the trial portraying his father as a mur­derer was over.

"God's trying to get someone's attention. No, make that a whole lot of folks' attention." She waved her hand in the air, stepping closer.

"Well, the Lord's got it, because every media outlet in the area is probably enjoying this." When she reached out to touch him, he moved back, disturbing a pillar of flowers.

"Rainey, this is not about you."

He grunted in disgust, jiggling keys to his black metallic BMW. The jiggling was a habit that annoyed others; still, he allowed the nuisance to fester when he was irritated. "That's where you're wrong, twin. This is about the Reynolds family, our reputation, and integrity. I will not believe our father intentionally ran over Mrs. Beacon's husband with his car and then cowardly left a man to die. Not only can he lose his medical license, he can go to prison for something he didn't do. It's a good thing that bul­let grazed his shoulder, or he would've been dead."

Cheney scrutinized her brother from his leather designer shoes to his troublesome thick, wavy curls. His face was smooth except for a thin mustache and a goatee. As toddlers, people had doted on them, calling them cute. Now, standing regal, Rainey's looks could only be described as breathtaking, heart-stopping, and eye-bucking distinguished. His convictions—right or wrong—were tighter than matted hair.

His intellect was exceptional, and his career was soaring as one of the most sought-after new orthodontists in the St. Louis area. Being the son of the assistant director of obstetrics and gy­necology at St. James West Hospital had its privileges. Rainey's style of dress was a war between conservative and contemporary. The result was his signature collection.

"Judgmental doesn't compliment you." Cheney shook her head.

"We're talking about some serious allegations here. You're way beyond rational." He balled his fists, jiggling his keys again. "I have every right to be angry. It's going to be a media circus around the courthouse."

"Don't you think I know it?" Cheney folded her arms and tapped her shoe. "I know you're not blaming me for stirring the pot." This time she backed up, sidestepping the matching pil­lar of flowers. "You don't have to say it. Your eyes reflect your thoughts."

She gracefully planted her hand on her luscious hips, as her husband described them. She lifted a brow and exhaled. She counted to two-and-a-half before she was about to release her fury.

The power of life and death is in the tongue, God intercepted with a portion of Proverbs 18:21.

"I love you," she said so unexpectedly, she surprised herself.

He frowned, clearly caught off guard. Forgoing an endearing reply, Rainey dared one last jiggle, shook his head, and opted to march away. He followed the stone path outlined with red petunias to his sedan parked in the semicircular drive. Before he disengaged his alarm, he looked back. "See you in court."

Book 4: The Acquittal



I never should’ve let her go, Dr. Rainey Reynolds scolded himself for the umpteenth time since Josephine Abena Yaa Amoah’s departure—as if he could’ve stopped her.

Come home to Africa and ride on our crocodiles, play with our monkeys, walk above the trees in our rainforest, dance on our many beaches…Come to Ghana with me, and taste the freshest pineapples and papayas in the world, or delicious domedo…Come with me… Josephine’s enticing whispers faded in his mind.
  Her appeal had been so strong that Rainey had felt compelled to pack and program his GPS to that destination.
Tall and elegant, Josephine didn’t just walk into a room. She moved like a dancer as if the rhythm of Africa’s drums played in her head. The day she beckoned to him, Josephine’s clothes were wrapped around her body like melted wax. Her rich brown sugar complexion glowed. Simply put, Josephine was a majestic woman, created to be noticed, from her husky African accent to her expressive brown eyes—and her hair—not one strand out of place. He remembered every detail, even the scent of her toothpaste.
However, despite Rainey’s attraction, Josephine possessed one irritating attribute. The woman hadn’t seen eye to eye with him on practically anything while she was a graduate exchange student at the University of Missouri at St. Louis.
“So…” Dr. Shane Maxwell said as he tapped his fingers on their table, interrupting Rainey’s musing. “Let me get this straight. Where did this idea of doing missionary work suddenly come from, and of all places Ghana?”  
Both had attended a day-long conference of the St. Louis Chapter of American Association of Orthodontists, the elite and highly competitive professionals of the dental field. With the lectures finished, they had just placed their orders at the Yia Yia Euro Café.
Rainey squinted at his colleague and childhood friend. Growing up, they had been inseparable. Easygoing until provoked, their memories rarely faded. Each possessed striking looks and an athletic body. They had their pick of women, especially when it was made known that “doctor” was part of their title.
Shane grunted when Rainey hesitated. “Wait a minute. Isn’t that where the woman who thought she was too good for you hails from? What was her name? You two didn’t even get along.”
“Josephine Abena Yaa Amoah.” Her name flowed easily as Rainey tried to duplicate the Ghanaian accent. “Granted, our personalities clashed most of the time, but there was a mutual attraction. Plus, she did invite me to her homeland.”
“No, if I recall correctly—and trust me, I do—you told me this Josephine lady was conducting story hour at a library to a bunch of kindergarteners. It wasn’t a personal invitation. You just so happened to be there because you were meeting your twin sister for lunch.”
As Rainey tried to defend himself, Shane held up his hand. “Somehow you felt compelled to accept her indirect offer from how long again? It’s been almost a year! You can’t be serious? Desperation doesn’t suit you. Let it go, man. Let her go, please.”
And that was the problem; no matter how hard Rainey tried he couldn’t erase her memory. “Dr. Maxwell,” Rainey addressed him professionally just to annoy him. “As you know, it’s not unusual for our colleagues to volunteer their services in any manner we chose, especially in underdeveloped countries. As a matter of fact, two groups recently returned from Central America, and did you know some children in Honduras had never seen a toothbrush?”
Rainey shivered at the thought of gum disease lurking in the hidden crevices. “Can you imagine? So I thought to myself…” he shrugged. “Why not give back? I contacted Dentists Without Borders and there just so happened to be a need in Peru and Ghana. I requested Ghana.”
“What a coincidence,” Shane said sarcastically before stroking his beard. “That’s another oversight. We’re not dentists, Rainey. We did not agonize three years in post-grad to specialize in orthodontics to pull teeth.” The joke between them was all anyone needed was sewing thread. “In case you forgot, we’re not licensed to extract teeth.”
This was not the time for Rainey’s friend to play the devil’s advocate. “Just go with my flow. For the fun of it, I mailed my application to the organization, along with a copy of my credentials.”
“What? If you were wearing braces, I would say they were too tight. Rain, listen to me, man.” Shane leaned across the table. “We give back by donating thousands of dollars each year to charities.  You and I serve on several boards, volunteer occasionally at Big Brothers Big Sisters, we sponsor little leagues at Herbert Hoover Boys Clubs…Write a check.” Shane reached inside his suit pocket and pulled out his checkbook. “I’ll even match you dollar for dollar, or donate supplies since you’re feeling charitable.” He poised a nearby pen to write out the amount.
“It’s not all about the money this time.” It was about seeing Josephine, her fantastic smile and experiencing the sparks between them that continued to simmer even in her absence. Neither time nor distance had smothered his attraction.
They paused when their meals were placed in front of them. Each silently said grace before they draped napkins on their laps. Although there was a lull in their discussion as they savored their selections, Rainey’s mind continued to play a matinee of his life. He needed a sabbatical to escape his dysfunctional family.
The honorable Dr. Roland Reynolds had a flawless reputation in the medical profession and community as an OB/GYN practitioner. His father would tell his children stories about near death experiences during deliveries, but how through his skilled hands and expertise, the babies had arrived safely into the world.
The illusion of the great and powerful doctor was shattered when he confessed to an old hit-and-run case that killed a man. For almost a year in his father’s absence, Rainey, the only son, had played big brother to his older sister and head of his mother’s home.
Only in a twist of fate did the victim’s widow unknowingly become close friends with his sister, Cheney. His father was tried, convicted and sentenced to two years in the Algoa Correctional Center in Jefferson City, Missouri. Twenty-four months, seven hundred and thirty days seemed like an eternity to his family.
Rainey refocused on the present as he helped himself to another bite of roasted chicken. A few seconds later, he wiped his mouth. “I know what you’re thinking.”
“Oh, I doubt it.”

Book 5: Guilty by Association

Boston, Massachusetts

 

“He called again,” Sandra Nicholson told her son, Kidd Jamieson, as soon as his commanding figure cleared the doorway of their Hyde Parke condo.

Grunting, he shut the door. Kidd’s nostrils flared as he swaggered across the hardwood floor. The persistent caller claimed to be Cameron Jamieson, a distant cousin who had tracked down him and his younger brother, Aaron “Ace” Jamieson through some genealogy nonsense.

Cameron said he was completing his second engineering degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At first, Kidd wondered if it was a prank. After all, in the black community, everybody claimed to be a cousin.

“I told the man we weren’t interested in whatever he was selling,” Kidd spat before brushing a tender kiss on his mother’s cheek as he headed to the kitchen.

“Kevin Jamieson,” she said, following him then planting her hands on her hips. “He isn’t pedaling goods. He represents your father’s side of the family—maybe the good part. At least feel him out.”

Family, huh? More like… Kidd didn’t finish the thought. “Okay, I’ll put an end to this for once and for all. You have his number?”

Kidd didn’t need this added frustration. He was the older of two sons to a never-been-married mother. Kidd found no fault with her, just his absentee father. His priority was no matter what, to take care of mother, which had become a little harder after he was laid off from the Gillette Corporation—a job he labored at for eleven years—and forced to give up his apartment.

His mother tore off a sheet of paper and handed it to Kidd. Studying the number, he punched in the digits and leaned against the granite counter top.

“Hello?” Music was blasting in the background.

Assuming it was Cameron who answered, Kidd didn’t waste his words on preliminaries. “Let’s meet.”

And Cameron didn’t play dumb. That earned him a point of respect. Kidd heard him muffle the phone. “Hey, it’s my cuz. Turn it down,” then he repeated his order, adding, “lower!”

Kidd grunted. Cuz? The man didn’t know him, yet claimed Kidd anyway, which was odd, considering his worthless father had turned his back on him and his younger brother.

“I’m ready whenever you are.”

“Now,” Kidd demanded. Let the man come to his turf.

Cameron didn’t stutter or skip a beat. “You name the place and I’m there.”

Kidd did and disconnected.

“You could have invited him here, honey. He’s very polite when he calls, not rude like you just treated him. Don’t make me ashamed Kidd.”

Shaking his head, Kidd washed his hands in the sink, then grabbed a plate out the cabinet. “He may have our number, but he doesn’t need to know where we live.” Without a care in the world, Kidd began lifting lids and peering into pots. “Mmm, sweet potatoes and collard greens. Thanks, Ma.”

Sandra sat at the table, folded her hands, then cleared her throat. “How long do you plan to make him wait, Kidd?” She didn’t mask her irritation with him.

“He’s interrupting my dinner plans and I’m hungry. Job hunting isn’t what it was when I finished junior college.” Kidd took a seat at the table after piling enough food on his plate to feed him and his mother.

 

Book 6: The Guilt Trip

Twenty-eight-year-old Aaron “Ace” Jamieson wasn’t married and never had been married. In fact, he wasn’t planning to pick out a tuxedo and meet a woman at the altar any time soon. To maintain that resolve, Ace displayed the highest level of professionalism when it came to playing the dating game.

Early on, his buddies taught them that it’s around the three-month mark when women began fantasizing about permanent residency. Therefore, his benchmark was seventy-two days or less. Ace was upfront with the ladies that he wasn’t looking for anything serious.

As he shaved, he snickered, recalling some of the tactics women used to trap him into marriage: lavish gifts, on-demand intimacy, or claiming to carry his love child.

Shaking his head in disgust, Ace rinsed off his razor. He methodically massaged aftershave on his face and throat. Women’s bluffs didn’t make him blink. He would not be lured into any baby momma drama.

But something had happened to his determination three months ago when his cousin’s friend introduced him to Talise Rogers. She swept him off his feet on the first date. There was something alluring about her independence, confidence and her exotic dark features on brown sugar skin.

Humph! Their connection was more than the explosive physical attraction. If there was a soul mate, Talise was it.

To Ace, she was his Tay. He was convinced she had an invisible grip on him that was about to bring him down, and he wasn’t complaining. It took some back-and-forth battling between his mind and his heart, but Ace thought Talise just might be the one he couldn’t let get away.

Genuine, honest and gorgeous. When she surpassed the one-hundred-day mark, Ace had stopped counting. “I’m actually losing my mind over this woman,” he mumbled and continued dressing to take her for a Friday night out on the town.

Bobbing his head, Ace slipped his feet into his shoes. Yep. A man would be a fool to let her go. He grinned when he thought about their intimacy. Ace wouldn’t comment.

Before the night ended, he was going to have an out-of-body experience and do something he had never before contemplated: profess that his feelings for her were beyond a physical attraction. Whew.

Talise was the sole reason why Ace had repeatedly turned down his brother, Kevin “Kidd’s”, offer to relocate to St. Louis. Of course, he couldn’t tell his brother that his decision was based on a woman, despite his company having two openings in the area. If Kidd had seen Talise, he would have understood his reluctance to be uprooted.

He swiped his car keys off his nightstand and jogged down the steps to the first floor of the condo he shared with his mother in the Hyde Parke neighborhood of Boston.

Sandra Nicholson paused watching her favorite television show. She glanced over her shoulder and lifted a brow. His mother might as well been eighty years old because all she did was work, church, and home.

“Hmm. You look exceptionally handsome tonight. Are you still going out with that Tanya, Tia, Tor—young lady?”

“Tay, Momma.”

“I knew it began with a ‘T’.” Pointing the remote at the flat screen TV, Sandra muted the sound. She smiled, showing off the same left cheek dimple that Ace inherited.

“Five months with the same woman. When am I going to meet her?” His mother’s eyes danced with mischief. “All I can get out of you is her name.”

“Which you can’t remember. I guess that’s why they sent you an AARP card,” he teased. Her mischievous eyes squinted to instill fear. It didn’t work. “And it’s been four months.”

“I would like to meet Tay.”

That’s not happening any time soon. I need to figure how to define our relationship first. He chuckled. “Good night, Momma Nosy.”

Stepping to the sofa, he leaned over and brushed a kiss against her cheek, then sauntered out the door. That was another first with Ace; he never divulged the names of his conquests. It would mean there was some form of attachment.  

Book 7: Free from Guilt

                                    

Cameron Daniel Jamieson wasn’t going down like his brothers and cousins in the romance department. No woman in the world would get him to a prayer altar as a prerequisite for the wedding altar.

Absolutely, he wanted to get married, and he somewhat was on the prowl for a wife. His criterion was she had to be the one his heart refused to let get away. Cameron didn’t believe in mixing religion with politics, at the workplace or in relationships, and definitely not outside of the church walls. That was nonnegotiable.

He did a quick sweep of his relatives gathered in the dressing room in the small St. Louis, Missouri, church. Cameron noted the common thread among the men. Their wives had dug their stilettos into the ground, refusing a diamond ring unless their Jamieson man humbled himself to Christ first. How ridiculous, but that’s exactly what happened to them.

His cousin Aaron “Ace” and Ace’s wife, Talise Jamieson, were moments away from renewing their wedding vows in an elaborate ceremony.  A few months earlier, the couple had married three weeks before their precious daughter was born.

It was a happy ending to their tumultuous courtship. Cameron paused in his thinking. He guessed there were always exceptions to the rules. Maybe, if it wasn’t for Jesus intervening, he wouldn’t be standing there about to witness their wedding vow renewals today.

However, Cameron took the credit for introducing Talise and Ace, but they later split on bad terms. When Cameron learned that a future illegitimate Jamieson child was at stake, he didn’t hesitate about intervening in his cousin’s business. Cameron refused to lose any connections to his ancestral tree.

When Ace got his act together and proposed, Talise had two stipulations to her holdout of saying yes: She did not want to be pregnant in a wedding dress, and her sister who was serving in the Persian Gulf, had to be present. Today, Talise had her wish. Women and their demands could really put a strain on a brother. Oddly, the “groom” was nervously pacing the floor.

“Chill, dude. You’re already married. It’s not like Talise is going to leave you standing at the altar,” Cameron taunted his cousin who was more like a third brother to him.

“Today is all about my baby. You have no idea how important this is to her,” Ace said as he paused, staring down at Talise’s wedding rings and his band, which he cupped in his palm. The set had been on his wife’s finger a day earlier.

At that very moment, Ace’s s cell phone rang and ended the discussion. When he answered, the photographer snapped a picture. Listening to the one-sided conversation, Cameron sensed something wasn’t going as planned.

“She did what?” Ace roared. “You’ve got to be kidding me? It’ll be okay,” he consoled, exhaling. “I’ll see you in a few. I love you, babe.”

“Something is not okay. What’s going on?” Cameron, along with the other groomsmen, was ready to spring into action.

“It’s Talise’s stepmother,” Ace said, glancing around for his father-in-law who had excused himself for the men’s room. “She’s in the bridal chamber giving Tay grief. Basically, she’s complaining about wearing pink instead of white on her wedding day. Plus, the woman’s harping on why we couldn’t renew our vows in Talise’s hometown of Richmond and more. My wife hasn’t lived there in years.”

Cameron knew Ace didn’t hold his tongue if anyone upset his wife. This was supposed to be a joyful occasion.

“The final straw was when her stepmother demanded to be escorted down the aisle as part of the wedding party. Thank God, Grandma BB stepped in and put the woman in her place.”

“Yikes.” Cameron stuffed his hands in his pockets. It was a known fact that Talise did not refer to the woman as her stepmother, but as her father’s new wife after the death of her mother.

“Yikes is right. Grandma BB shoved the stepmother out the door and warned her that unless she wanted to go home with a limp, she’d better not try to even put her big toe in the center aisle.”

Book 8: The Confession

 

“Excuse me.” The richness of a baritone voice interrupted Sandra Nicholson's next sip of java as she stared out the window at the Nook Cafe'. Glancing over her shoulder, Sandra expected to see... Well, she didn't know what she expected, but the good-looking gentleman with defined features wasn't one of them.

The mesmerizing voice matched a captivating man. Wow, she kept thought to herself as he seemed to study her. 

“You are one incredibly beautiful woman,” he stated as he towered over her table she shared with her son, who had minutes earlier excused himself for the men's room.

The stranger’s timing couldn't have been more precise. A snarl from her overbearing son, and the man surely would have thought twice about stopping. Where was Kidd anyway?

Without waiting for her response, the distinguished gentleman swaggered out of Nordstrom's boutique cafe and disappeared into the store, leaving a trail of his designer cologne as his calling card. His stride had been as confident as his declaration.

Sandra did her best not to ogle, but she conducted a quick assessment in less than sixty seconds. She guessed him to be about six-one or two and would tower over her five-seven frame.  Judging from his wavy thick salt and pepper curly hair that complemented brown skin, the man was in his late forties, early fifties.  If good genes ran in his family, he could have been hovering over eighty for all she knew. Yet, his confident stride hinted of a man who was youthful and fit. With jaw-dropping looks, she pegged him as a ladies man in his heyday, or even now. Sandra knew how to call them, because she had been charmed by the top of the line Samuel Jamieson. She dismissed the temptation at the same time Kidd reappeared, talking on his cell phone.

“Eva,” he mouthed.

She nodded as he took his seat, then her mind drifted once again to the striking stranger. It wasn't like she didn't receive compliments here and there, but it was the commanding way he said it that made her want to pass out and never regain consciousness if it meant he would be in her dreams.  Because he said it, Sandra felt beautiful. Maybe it was the highlights in her hair that her daughter-in-law, Talise, insisted she try or maybe it was the ensemble she had meticulously assembled to wear.

“Okay, babe. Don't worry. I'm on my way.” Lines etched Kidd's forehead, which put Sandra on alert. No time for whimsical musing as she leaned forward with concern. “Is everything okay?”

“No.” He gritted his teeth. “The car won't start and Kennedy has a doctor's appointment. Sorry, Mom, we have to cut our breakfast date short.” He stood and pulled a twenty out his wallet then kissed her cheek. “Are you going to be all right?”

Sandra smiled. “No apologies needed, son. Go see about my grandbaby. She's your priority.”

“But you're right up there at the top of my list too.” Snatching his jacket off the back of his chair, he hurried off.

The monthly breakfast treat was her older son's idea for some one-on-one time. Even though he was married, he still felt obligated to look after her as if she was an ailing out of shape granny in her eighties, not a woman who had yet to experience a hot flash.

In her mid-fifties, Sandra had regrets in her life. One, she had yet to marry. Even after she repented of her deeds and accepted salvation outlined in the Book of Acts, God hadn’t blessed her in that way. Second, the man who fathered her two sons out of wedlock wasn’t worth the heartache he called her. But the Lord had given her two beautiful granddaughters to spoil—one from each son. And she did without any guilt trips from their scolding.

As a personal fashion consultant and shopper, Sandra set her own schedule.  She didn't have to meet with her client until this afternoon. She had worked in the insurance industry for most of her adult life to provide for her boys. With her 401K and pension, Sandra had quit her job in Boston and relocated to St. Louis to be closer to family. That move seemed to liberate her and she explored her creative side. She was finally, after thirty years, putting her fashion merchandising degree to work.

Sandra glanced around the cafe. No other male patron seemed to pay her any mind.. She didn't consider herself vain. She strived to live with a humble spirit, but a male compliment, not coming from her sons, did make her smile.  Wait until she told the Jamieson girls about this. She chuckled as finished her crepes and fruit.

Book 9: The Guilty Generation

W here is Kami? Parke K. Jamieson VI wondered for the countless time. His seventeen-year-old daughter was on her first date. Why did little girls have to grow up? Why did they like boys? Why was Kami testinghim? He should have installed the tracking app on Kami‘sphone—a recent birthday gift—like he‘d wanted. But ohno, his wife, Cheney, said he was overreacting and to trust Kami. Parke did, but he was suspicious of any boy or man,whose last name wasn‘t Jamieson, within ten feet of hisdaughter. It was their overactive male hormones he wanted to place on ice. He checked the time on his watch again. Now, thirty-two minutes late was proof he wasn‘toverreacting. He was just a concerned, overprotective, and

loving father.
If he even motioned he was tapping his phone to call or 
text Kami, Cheney gave him the eye that he‘d better not. Wives could be scary, and if a man loved his wife, he‘dbetter let her have the upper hand every now and then.

Flexing his muscles, Parke folded his arms and trained his eyes on the entrance of the banquet room. Despite the ruckus of little people‘s screams of delight around him, Parke kept his position. His cousins and their families chatted and released hearty laughter as his irritation swelled, ready to explode.

This was not the mood he wanted to possess for a get- together to celebrate family, recite oral history that everyone should have memorized by the age of five, and to play Afrocentric and Black American history games.

As the Jamieson‘s clan expanded, their homes could nolonger accommodate the many generations under one roof. That explained why sixty-three Jamiesons locally and across the country were at the Hyatt Hotel in St. Louis on a Friday night to kick off the long Memorial Day weekend. The banquet room could easily hold a hundred-plus guests.

The casual weekly family gathering he had enjoyed as a boy defaulted to monthly to accommodate each family‘s lifestyle. For a while, the gatherings even became a hit-or-miss affair. That‘s when his father, Parke V—called Papa P by his adorning grandchildren—put his foot down. Enough was enough. He issued a written decree that the entire family would come together for an evening of bonding among the generations every spring, summer, fall, and winter. There would be no excusable exceptions unless there was death or illness. His father even went so far as having the head of every household sign it, because family meant everything.

The Jamieson wives loved the idea of letting someone else do the cooking and cleaning while everyone had a good time. The elegant white linen tablecloths and bright overhead chandeliers mocked the occasion of its guests. The night was about fun, games, and food. The Jamieson women opted for designer jeans and high heels. How did his wife and the others glide across the floor with such precision? he wondered. In contrast, the teenagers and smaller children were outfitted for comfort and play time. There were so many little ones.

Parke wouldn‘t be surprised if the Jamiesons surpasseda couple hundred in attendance within the next few years with the diligent efforts of his youngest brother, Dr. Cameron Jamieson, leading the family tree search,uncovering one descendant at a time. As Parke‘s mind wandered, his eyes didn‘t—they were locked on the entrance. Schedules were shuffled and appointments pushed back. Everyone with Jamieson in their DNA was expected to show up and on time, so Kami was flirting withan uproar from her grandfather...and him. He huffed.

His wife blocked his view. ―At ease, Mr. Jamieson. She‘ll be here soon."

He relaxed. Cheney was a distraction without trying. Her features always mesmerized him. Even after fourteen years of marriage, she was stunning and had less gray strands than him. After tonight, he was sure more would have sprouted by morning.

"―I‘m cool." He slipped his hands in his pockets.

"―Liar." Her eyes twinkled, a sign that she was in tune tohim. She brushed her soft lips against his and turned to leave when he grabbed her hand and returned a kiss of his own. She knew how to kiss him and make everything better, easing the stress that had been there momentsearlier. A house could be on fire and he wouldn‘t know it.

When he fell in love with her, Parke meant with everything within him until death only they would part. "Later, you and me, our bedroom, by the candlelight."

She lifted a brow and sashayed away.

How could Cheney be so calm? Kami was their onlydaughter, so shouldn‘t she be a mama bear or something?

 

Book 10: Queen's Surrender (To A Higher Calling)

Queen Jamieson never missed a party. Galas. Banquets. Soirées. Receptions. Pool parties. No matter whatever the occasion, she graced the host with her presence. It was shameful to learn from Giselle “Gigi” Jamieson Jacobs, her older half-sister, Queen’s name was left off the guest list of an epic celebration.

The payback: crash the party. Three hundred and fifty miles was nothing. Distance didn’t deter her as she was en route from Tulsa to St. Louis.

What did she care it was a birthday celebration for her three-year-old twin cousins, Camille and Gabriel Jamieson? A party was a party in her book she thought as she glanced out the window seat of her airplane. 

“Sorry. I thought you knew. Gabrielle has been planning it for months,” Gigi had said during their regular weekly phone chat. As the children’s godmother, Gigi and her husband Jacob, who lived in Connecticut, were expected to be in attendance. 

Seconds after the wheels touched down at Lambert International Airport, Queen unbuckled, stood, and stretched before she reached to unlatch the overhead compartment. A gentleman intercepted and smiled.

“I gotcha, beautiful.” He was tall, handsome, and dressed in a business suit—nice. She was drawn to the professional type. “Which one is yours?”

“The red paisley with the queen luggage tag.” She pointed.

“Yes, you are.” His lopsided grin did nothing to flatter her.

Queen’s name was a conversation starter. Sometimes, she engaged. Other times, like now, she thanked and dismissed the stranger. Queen knew a flirt when she saw one. She was the master of the technique herself. 

Not today.

Making her way down the ramp, Queen followed the signs to exit the terminal. She rounded the corner, and the Jamieson sisters, eighteen-year-old Kami and sixteen-year-old Victoria didn’t contain their excitement to greet her.

Half-siblings, they were young when placed in the foster care system, unaware the other existed until a chance meeting in high school. The experience in the system was horrific for Victoria who suffered abuse and neglect, while idyllic for Kami, who flourished after Parke and Cheney Jamieson adopted her. Once they learned of Victoria, Parke and Cheney adopted her, too.

The Jamiesons. Queen couldn’t be prouder of her bloodline. Certified genealogists, her cousins had tracked their kinfolks back to 1770 in Cote d’Ivoire, Africa. Queen believed her family held the record for the most half-siblings and half-cousins but embodied whole hearts. After losing her sole sibling, Suzette, to complications of lupus, her halves made her complete again. 

She returned the girls’ smiles as she continued toward them. Whenever Queen visited the Gateway City, she spent time with these two. Kami and Victoria’s closeness reminded her of the relationship she had shared with Suzette. Kami flew into Queen’s arms while Victoria watched. 

Rocking Kami from side to side, Queen motioned for Victoria to join them. She did. In a few months, the sisters would graduate from high school. Victoria’s impressive I.Q allowed her to skip to grade levels. 

Queen fingered the silkiness of Kami’s hair and admired Victoria’s straight mane. Their resemblance was remarkable since they had different dads. “Wow. Aren’t my two nieces beautiful?” On paper, they were fifth cousins, but in the Jamieson family, children were taught to address adults as Auntie or Uncle.

“Not like you. These cute guys are staring at you, Auntie,” Kami gushed and giggled. “Don’t look now. One’s coming—”

“Excuse me. I didn’t have time to introduce myself on the plane. I’m Karlton Jennings. I would love to buy you a drink or take you to dinner while you’re in town.” He pulled out his business card. “I noticed you aren’t wearing a ring.”

There was no way she would give this man a call. Queen allowed nothing to get in the way of family time. However, she played along. Lowering her lashes, she flirted back and accepted it to be polite and dismissed him. “Thanks.” 

She brushed a kiss on Victoria’s cheek. “Pretty as your big sister. You’re coming to the twins’ party with us, right?” 

Victoria scrunched her nose and was quick to say, “Nah.” She held up car keys. “Grandma BB taught me how to drive, and I got my license yesterday, so I’m dropping you both off.”

Queen stilled her movements and did her best to mask her concern. She stuttered, “O-okay.”

Kami and Victoria didn’t stifle their laughs.

“Just teasing, Auntie. I’ve had it for a couple of weeks. I’m going back home. Y’all can catch a ride with Grandma BB and Chip and Dale who are already there.”

Patting her chest, Queen gave Victoria a side-eye. “I was about to snatch those keys.” Minutes later, Queen relaxed in the front passenger seat. Destination: Cameron’s house. “You are really a cautious driver. Grandma BB taught you well.”

“She drives like Grandma BB too,” Kami teased. “Slow.”

Victoria stuck out her tongue. “Thank you, Auntie. She told me not to speed, but if I accidentally drove too fast, which I haven’t yet,” she was quick to add, “to tell the officer I belong to Grandma BB, and he will look the other way.” 

Every law enforcement officer within miles of Ferguson knew of Grandma BB. Queen had never seen the woman in action, but believed the rumors were true about the shenanigans of the eighty-something gun-toting woman. She wasn’t scared of anybody.

Soon, they arrived at her cousins’ home in Ladue, near the Washington University campus where Cameron was a professor. Partygoers’ cars lined the private street, including the long driveway to their estate. The celebration was in full swing.

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay for a little while?” Queen tried to coax Victoria who had suffered trauma at the hands of foster fathers and avoided all men, including the nice guys like the Jamiesons. After Parke and Cheney adopted her, Victoria chose to live with Grandma BB, because trusting her new stepbrothers was a slow process. 

“Yeah, I’m sure.” Her facial expression betrayed her. The longing was there.

“Okay, sweetie.” Queen didn’t hide her disappointment. “Be careful. Text Kami when you make it home.”

Victoria rolled her eyes. “You sound just like my sister.”

“Trust me. Sisters are the best gift parents can give a little girl, so hold her close.” 

God had given Queen twenty-five years and three months with Suzette. Not a day longer. 

While waiting for Kami to get out of the car, Queen admired the mansion that stood majestically among the others. The neighborhood screamed money, which was the perfect fit for a department head at a prestigious private university. She was blown away with the five bedrooms, six baths and forty-eight plus hundred square feet of living space.  

All the Jamieson men, including her half-brothers, had large homes for gatherings. None this majestic, but roomy. Her relatives were doing well. Queen was no exception. As a senior mechanical engineer in Tulsa, she lived in luxury. 

Kami looped her arm through Queen’s and synchronized their steps along the path. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“Me too. Is Victoria going to be okay?” Queen’s heart bled for the girl.

“She’s got God, Grandma BB, and me. We’ll make sure of it, Auntie.”

As they approached the stone-and-brick archway to the front door, Queen heard laughter and music. Turning the knob, she grinned and stepped inside. Yeah, this party is so worth crashing.

Heads turned. Cousins, big and small, mobbed her, screaming their delight. 

“Gigi just told me to expect you. You look fabulous. Love the hair.” Rubbing her swollen belly, Talise, Queen’s sister-in-law, and a licensed stylist, nodded her approval at Queen’s mass of natural curls. 

“Why didn’t you tell us you were coming?” Ace, Talise’s husband, engulfed her in a hug. 

“Can’t tell you all my secrets, big brother.”

An impromptu Soul Train line formed as Queen danced her way through the opening like a celebrity, receiving hugs and kisses until she caught sight of the guests of honor—the twins. She received a five-second acknowledgment before they gave chase to their small cousins. 

Queen twirled around when someone tapped her shoulder. She turned into the arms of Gigi. “Hey.” Their bond was stronger than their embrace. Gigi sutured the wound of losing Suzette—almost. After nine years, time had not healed the loss. Both had dark brown skin and long hair, but a person would have to look hard to see a resemblance between these half-sisters. 

Gigi was part of Samuel Jamieson’s first family. To her, he had turned his back on his wife and children with his cheating. To Queen—the third family—Samuel was a kind, caring father who regretted his past indiscretions. Kidd and Ace filled in the gap. They were evidence of Samuel’s sins with Sandra, and to their disgrace, Samuel never married their mother. 

Because of Samuel’s two marriages and one known affair, Queen would always have family. She cherished the regular phone talks they had getting to know one another and making peace on behalf of their father. 

“Break it up, you two, and share.” Eva, the other expecting sister-in-law, married to her brother Kidd, said as the hug with Gigi lingered.

Kidd lifted Queen from the floor. Before her feet could touch down, Ace hefted her higher as if to outdo his older brother. 

“Let me go. You two have bench pressed my weight enough.” Queen giggled as they did as she requested. 

Making her way to the kitchen, Queen found the Duprees—Gabriele’s mother and the twins’ maternal grandparents—Dr. Bernard and Mrs. Veronica Dupree, replenishing food platters.

Two of their handsome sons were in attendance. Queen wasn’t interested in either of their single status. She made sure they knew it. Where was the third, an evangelist turned pastor? 

Philip. He was fascinating, but unaffected by her charm. She enjoyed their harmless banter about Philip, who lived God’s will versus Queen, who preferred her own free-will lifestyle. He didn’t judge her choices—most of the time—and she respected his choices—most of the time. Perfect harmony sometimes.

Before she could ask about his whereabouts, the front door opened. A hush silenced the guests as heads turned. The six foot, three inches of conditioned muscle dressed in casual attire, the epitome of top five most handsome men in the world, entered with a smile that could make a woman say, “Yes, Lord,” except for Queen. 

She was accustomed to men being tongue-tied over her allure and vying for her attention. Queen had dated handsome men before, worked with and mingled with them at events, but Philip—whew—he had something extra.

He oozed confidence while embodying humility. His charisma would make any woman surrender to him, not realizing he was the front man for the Lord. He seemed untouchable.

Philip’s smile, the hugs, the handshakes—they were all there, but something was off. Queen studied his body language. His grin, showcasing incredible white teeth, was in place. His greetings generous, not forced, but there was a hint of weariness that flashed on his face then retreated.

Queen folded her arms and leaned against the counter, biding her turn for a greeting. She shivered when his eyes captured hers. Despite her ankle boots’ three-inch heels, he towered over her. He smiled, but his eyes didn’t twinkle. “Queen, it’s good to see you. Nice hair.”

She’d gone natural months ago, giving her hair a rest from the heat process, then decided she liked the look. “Same here. The silver strands on your chin make you look distinguished.” She lifted her brow. Flirting was second nature to Queen but flirting with him wasn’t advisable. Somehow, he had the upper hand. Philip could lure a woman into a false sense of attraction with his undivided attention, but it was all for the gain of his ministry.

“Yeah.” His eyes didn’t sparkle. “And each one was hard earned.” Gabriel and Camille screamed their uncle’s name, and Philip scooped them up, smothered them with kisses, and excused himself with a farewell nod. Queen felt his absence at once—or maybe it was his energy. His spirit. 

Munching on treats and listening to Gigi, Queen watched him make his way to the buffet table and stack a plate too small for food he was about to consume. “I’ll be back.” She followed Philip’s path, kissing Parke and Malcolm’s children, until she stood next to him. 

Philip blessed his food and had his mouth open for the first sample. Queen took the plate out of his hand. 

“Walk with me,” she demanded.

Why had Philip allowed Queen to interrupt his hot meal? He was mentally exhausted and famished.

He loved family and the souls he encountered as a pastor. But now? He could strangle some congregants at the church where God had directed him after the Lord told him to cease his worldwide evangelism ministry. He was not in a sociable mood, including Queen’s company.

At least she didn’t ask for a nibble of his chicken. Those would have been fighting words. She seemed patient as he cleaned the bone and swiped another drumette off his plate before she looped her arm through his and nudged him out the side door. 

“Good, huh?” Mischief danced in her eyes as he faced her.

“More would have been better.” He could feel a smile rising from his chest, despite his irritation with her. A one-dimpled smile that rivaled her mesmerizing long lashes, Queen was as regal as her name. Her wild mane magnified her personality. Dark skin glistened with good health under the sun’s rays. Besides the beauty that she was, he was drawn to her radiance, vibrancy, and the calmness she possessed. He liked that about her. A woman true to her convictions.

Philip knew well what the Scriptures said about the lust of the eyes, so he made sure not to admire too long the hand-carved figure that God had molded.

Speaking of eyes, she had her brothers’ eyes—same unusual shade of brown—smart, intense, and in her case, seductive. The woman knew how to command attention without trying. 

“What’s going on with you?” 

She squeezed his arms, and his biceps flexed in response. Flawless in her appearance, she lifted her delicate chin and walked ahead—that was another production. 

Each step and movement of her body was in sync and deliberate. She didn’t walk, she glided or strutted to her destination. 

Most women weren’t intimidating, but this lady had a way to dumbfound him. He searched for a Scripture, any verse to reign his mind back in. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, are honest, are just, are pure, are lovely, are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Philippians 4:8. Got it. Philip nodded at the Word recalled to his mind. You need a wife. Now where did that thought come from?

“Philip,” Queen said with a distinct dialect, “I want to know what’s going on with you. Don’t lie me. You’re a pastor, remember?” She was in a demanding stance that dared anyone to cross her.

Did the woman just scold him? He stiffened. Her assumption could be debatable—not the sinning part, but being the angel of one of God’s houses, shepherd of God’s sheep, or overseer was more than a notion. Was he that transparent? “What gave me away?” 

“Your eyes.” She seemed shocked, as if he should have known. After a few seconds, Queen gave him an innocent smile and arched a brow. “Spill it. So, what, I’ve got a rebellious streak when it comes to church, but I’m concerned about you.”

God, will this woman understand the workings of Your ministry for me to spill my guts? He stalled, wondering, then believed her. “One more bite.” Philip devoured more drumettes and wiped his fingers. 

“I’m thinking…” He exhaled. “I’m not cut out to be a pastor.” He admitted his weakness with a shrug.

She stepped back. Her movements were graceful as her hand found its way to her waist. “Philip Dupree, you were born to win souls for Christ.” Her tone defied him to argue with her assessment.

“Says the woman who has yet to be won.” He grunted.

She laughed. “Yeah, well. I’m coming—maybe. I kinda like myself the way I am. Why change now?”

“Because we all were born in sin and shaped in iniquity.” Philip wasn’t a walking Bible, but with Queen, he knew to win her soul, she needed to hear the Scriptures to believe. “Stubborn woman.”

Queen jutted her chin. “Stubbornness has been my wall of strength. Otherwise, I would crumble under sorrow.” 

There were so many Bible lessons he could give on that one, but not now. When Philip smacked his lips, he tasted the sweet and spicy sauce from those wings. “I feel the honeymoon is over.”

“What? You’re married?”

Fear struck Queen’s face. The intensity was enough to make Philip’s belly ache from laughter, so he tempered his amusement.

“How come I wasn’t invited? Nobody told—” She became annoyed with each word. Her eyes flashed like fire, her nostrils flared, and she balled her hands. He had never seen her so fierce. Momma bear. Dangerous.

Philip held his stomach and released an uncontrollable hoot.

“What’s so funny?” 

“You. It was just an expression.”

“Oh.” Queen relaxed as she blushed, then shoved him toward the front gate. “The next time you speak in a code, give me the heads up. I need to vet the chick—I mean first lady of the church. You can’t marry just anybody.” She hmphed as if she were about to go to bat for him.

A Jamieson to the core. They loved hard and were a force to be reckoned with for one of their own. If only Philip could convince Queen to join the Lord’s side.

“That I agree.” He stuffed his hands into his pants pockets. “What I meant was I’m the trial pastor for one year. I’m seven months in, and God’s people are worse than toddlers on a diaper strike, and the board is blaming me for the division.” He shook his head. Good grief.

More than once, Philip questioned God calling him to pastor. He consulted with his confidant, Bishop Henderson, who once was an evangelist then elevated to pastor and recently bishop.

“Growing pains,” Bishop Henderson had assured him. 

And then it was his older brother. Drexel gave him a pep talk, too. “Everything will work out. This is new.”

Philip wasn’t consoled. Had he been wasting his time? Meetings with the deacon board like the one earlier in the day frustrated him. Those men held his future as the leader of their flock in limbo. “This experience makes me wonder if I heard God’s voice… Can I be honest?”

Queen linked her fingers through his as if it was a natural gesture between them. It wasn’t, so he should break away, but her touch comforted him. “That’s the only way I know you.” Her eyes revealed she believed that.

“I feel like bailing.” There. He’d said it aloud. Now how would God and others judge him?

He wasn’t expecting her to laugh, but Queen did. “The pastor’s running scared. Why?”

“It’s not funny.” But he chuckled anyway and shrugged. “I’m second-guessing things.”

She frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I’m seriously thinking about returning to the evangelism field.”

She twisted her pouty lips. “You once told me God doesn’t make mistakes, but if you’re not feeling it, leave.”

The mind of a carefree woman. “It’s not that simple, and yes, God doesn’t make mistakes, so I guess this is all on me.”

“Philip, you’re not making sense. One thing I know about you is you’re deliberate. I’d never describe you as confused.”

He rubbed the waves of his hair. His life made little sense after the three-month honeymoon period with the church folks expired. They had welcomed him with open arms. People seemed like they had a hunger for God’s Word, and souls were saved every time the church doors opened. Why did anyone have complaints? Plus, the congregants had his number on speed dial 24/7. 

“I’m thinking about giving it up. I mean evangelism is no picnic either in God’s harvest, but when the revival ends, members are back in the hands of their pastor.” 

Queen frowned. “In other words, no attachments. Hmmm. Philip Dupree, you’re not a quitter, and you’re going to show them who’s boss.” She jabbed a finger in the air as the wind played with a curl in her thick mane.

“Yes, ma’am.” He gave her a salute and steered her back to the house, not realizing they had walked as far away as they had.

“Queen, you’re one of a kind. Thanks for the pep talk.” He grinned. 

“In another life, I’d be a therapist. Be glad I’m not billing you.” She squeezed his arm again, and he responded by covering her hand with his. As they turned up the long driveway, he. spied their family watching them through the windows with no shame.

When they walked through the door, everyone scrambled to fake positions on the furniture. Some poses seemed rather uncomfortable.

“What are you all up to?” Queen asked.

“We’re lookin’ out the window at you and Uncle Philip,” Camille tattled on her family.

“There’s nothing to see. Now—” Philip slipped off his jacket—“where’s the food?”

“This conversation isn’t over,” Queen whispered close to his ear.

He eyed her. “Trust me, it is. I’m good.”

“If anybody’s going down at your church, it won’t be you. Not on my watch.” Queen strutted away. With her wild curls, skinny leather jeans, short, tailored jacket, and ankle boots, Queen should have thrust her fist in the air in a show of black power.

Before Philip left the party, Drexel took him aside. “I see Queen has her claws in you.” 

His older brother was a judge in Illinois.  Whenever Drexel could, he made the ninety minutes weekend drives to St. Louis to see their sister.

“Queen is an in-law,” Philip reminded the man who’d had a crush on Queen since the first day they’d met.

“That woman should be an out-law to all men on earth, especially you. She’ll take you down, bro.” Stuffing his hands in his pockets, Drexel returned to the party.

Philip was immune to a woman’s clutches. He had nothing to worry about.