If Only You Were Mine
H. H. Fowler
Copyright © 2015 H. H. Fowler
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
All characters, names, descriptions, and traits are products of the author’s imagination. Similarities of actual people – living or dead are purely coincidental.
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Off the coast of the Bahama Islands, there is a fictional place called Devin’s Cay. The series consists of seven books, which could be considered standalones, but are intricately tied to each other. My hope is that you will be entertained, inspired and illuminated.
If Only You Were Mine (Book 1)
Second Chances (Book 2)
Hungry Hearts (Book 3)
If Loving You is Wrong (Book 4)
Love the One You’re With (Book 5)
I’m Still in Love With You (Book 6)
Love Knows No Bounds (Book7)
[[Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast…
1 Corinthians 13:4 (NLT)]]
Ten Months Before…
When Levi walked around to open the passenger door of his maroon Mustang, the first thing Sasha noticed about him were his thighs. Two bulging pieces of flesh covered in a hairy layer of chocolate skin. The soft material of his shorts gripped his buttocks in all the right places, too sensual for a man six-foot-four, two hundred and forty pounds to wear in public. In all the years Sasha had known Levi, she’d never really been this close to his scantily clad body and for a moment she found herself indulging in a chain of inappropriate thoughts.
“Thanks for picking me up on such short notice,” she said. “My car is down and I had no one else to call at this hour.”
“The pleasure is all mine, pretty woman,” Levi teased. A nickname he’d created to align with Sasha’s poised disposition. The short brown hairstyle she wore suited her heart-shaped face and her button nose, which was positioned perfectly above her slightly full lips. “Your man is two thousand miles away in some Jim Jones institution, getting high on religion. Someone has got to take care of you in the interim.”
“Behave yourself, mister. Drake would not appreciate you making fun of his spiritual calling and neither do I. Succeeding Rev. Henderson as the next pastor of El Shaddai Ministries is very important to him.”
Levi cracked a lopsided grin. “I’m ‘bout six inches taller and thirty pounds heavier than that yellow-skinned dude. Unless he has a black belt in karate, I ain’t scared of him. I’ll take him down in under a minute. As for you, well, what can I say? I have no choice but to handle you with care.”
Sasha lifted her lips into a coquettish smile. Her fiancé, Drake Beckford, was an exceptional catch with great potential, but if compared to Levi, he was not as blasé nor as humorous in his expression. Drake was a disciplined man who took his spiritual assignments seriously. It amazed Sasha that the two had been best friends for as long as she could remember. Yet, with such differences in their personalities, they somehow exemplified the true meaning of friendship.
“Excuse my appearance,” Levi said to Sasha’s silence. “I was shooting hoops with some of the boys from Xavier High School. When you called, I had just left the basketball court.”
Levi’s words drew Sasha’s attention back to that forbidden place she’d been trying to ignore since getting into the Mustang. Those muscular hairy thighs would haunt her for weeks if she didn’t keep her subtle gazes away from them. And how ironic that she was on her way to mid-week Bible study where Rev. Henderson was teaching a three-part series on living holy before God. Why then was she allowing her flesh to get the best of her?
“It’s fine with me,” she said. “I’m the one invading your space.”
Levi frowned. “You’re not invading anything. But seriously, it doesn’t bother you that you’re sitting next to a sweaty, well-cut, sexy male? And did I mention that Hersey’s chocolate got its name from my complexion?”
Sasha covered her smile with her hand. “You are so vain. Drake says it all the time about you and I am starting to believe him.”
Levi smirked, as he stole a glance at Sasha’s profile. He was really digging the way her short brown hair was cropped against her face, accentuated by her flawless, pecan-colored skin. Indeed, an extremely tempting package that made Levi question within himself if Drake had been man enough to at least taste Sasha’s sweet lips. But considering how sanctified Drake acted when it came to sex, Levi seriously doubted that Drake had made any such move. The dude was probably still a virgin.
“So,” Levi said, changing the subject a bit, “you are determined to marry that straitlaced man?”
Sasha frowned. “Determined? I wouldn’t use that word. And I certainly wouldn’t call Drake, straitlaced.”
“Why? When you know that he is.”
“One, because you make it seem as if I’m desperate, which I am not. And two, I love Drake, even if he is a little disciplined, which I admire in a man, by the way.”
“Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I would have never imagined you two together…” Levi paused when he heard Sasha gasp at his statement. “I mean, don’t get me wrong. Opposites attract, right? However, I’d always thought that Drake’s personality was too uptight for you; he doesn’t know how to relax, you know what I mean? But what do I know about relationships? You guys seem to be making it work.”
“Yes, we are making it work,” Sasha said firmly. “Why would you even say something like that?”
“Because frankly, Sasha, Drake doesn’t really know what he has in a woman like you.”
Sasha swallowed her response when Levi subconsciously rubbed his thigh, dangerously pushing his jersey shorts back another inch – as if he wasn’t already revealing too much. She’d been with Drake since they were in junior high and she’d never seen him show as much skin as Levi. She breathed a sigh of relief when Levi cut across the intersection and swung into the parking lot of El Shaddai Ministries. She really didn’t know how to respond to Levi’s twisted observation anyway.
“Where’s your car?” Levi asked before Sasha could get away from him. “I didn’t see it parked at your apartment.”
“You said that your car was down. I figured while you’re here at Bible Study, I could go and take a look at it.”
Sasha brushed off Levi’s generosity. “Oh, you don’t have to do that. My mechanic is coming in the morning.”
“And he is going to charge you an arm and a leg,” Levi countered. “I know I’ve said some things that may have made you uncomfortable, but allow me to make up for it.”
“I’ll be fine…” Sasha shrugged. “And what can I say? You simply spoke your mind.”
“Not according to Drake.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, he always tells me that I have a mouth problem. I say the wrong things, at the wrong time, to the wrong –”
“People,” Sasha finished for him. She then relaxed into a smile. “I’ve heard Drake say it dozens of times too. This is so unbelievable.”
“You two are always talking about each other.”
“I admit that dude gets on my last nerve sometimes and makes me wanna knock the heck out of him. But anyone else tries to touch him and they will be history! I love that church-going boy.”
Sasha laughed. “I’d better be going. I’m already late for Bible Study.”
“The car, Sasha,” Levi insisted, “where is it?”
Sasha rolled her eyes. “I’ve told you, I will be fine. Thanks for the offer.”
“Don’t make me follow you on the inside wearing these shorts,” Levi threatened. “I promise you that I will get many inappropriate looks and I’m sure your pastor wouldn’t be too happy about that.”
Sasha shook her head, suppressing a smile. “You are determined, aren’t you?”
“There goes that word again…” Levi spread his hands in an innocent manner. “C’mon, pretty woman. What do you say? Or at least let me pick you up after you’re done with your Bible Study.”
There was something in Levi’s voice that should have made Sasha run in the opposite direction, but Levi’s appeal was so on point that Sasha found it difficult to resist him.
She sighed away that little voice in her head and said, “Okay…I should be out in two hours. If you’re a minute late, I will find another ride.”
Levi grinned. “You must remember, as long as your man is away, I’m responsible to take care of you. I’m actually disappointed that you don’t call on me more often.”
“Somehow, I don’t like how you said that.”
“What was wrong with what I said?”
“Nothing, Levi,” Sasha answered dismissively. “I will see you in two hours. My car is parked at Xavier High School, by the way.”
Levi slapped his forehead. “Now why didn’t I think of that? You’re a teacher there, which would be the only other logical place your car would be.”
Sasha smirked. “Two hours, Levi, or else…”
“Yes, ma’am! I will be here waiting for you.”
Clutching her bag beneath her arm, Sasha pushed open the passenger door and stepped onto the pavement. She had a pronounced sway when she walked in heels, which immediately arrested Levi’s licentious gaze. How shameful it was for him to be eyeing his best friend’s woman in such a manner. But he would be lying if he said he felt completely guilty about it.
With an askew grin, Drake Beckford proudly scanned the crowd that filled the sanctuary on Valentine’s Day, which happened to also be his wedding day. His family and friends were all there, sharing this special moment he seemed to have waited for all of his life. In particular his mother, Suanne and his two older brothers, Armando and Kevin who’d flown in from their homes overseas. They were standing alongside Levi, all sprucely attired in grey tuxes, as Drake had chosen all three to be his best men. Even his bride’s best friend, Hunter Rose looked amazing as the maid of honor in her flowing fuchsia gown.
However, no other person in the room captured Drake’s attention like Sasha McKay, his glamorous bride who was slowly gliding down the aisle in a fitted, off-the-shoulder wedding dress. He’d fallen in love with her when she was just a snotty, twelve-year-old in junior high and now as a mature, gifted woman, his love for her had tipped the scale as borderline obsession. Even through her decorated translucent veil, Drake could see that beaming smile on her heart-shaped face.
As a young promising pastor, Drake needed a woman like Sasha by his side. She was greatly admired for her integrity and her ability to connect with all classes of people. That beaming smile and her even temper were strong traits of a true First Lady. Although his three-year stint at Valor Christian College in Columbus, Ohio had been a challenge for their long distance relationship, Sasha understood how important it was for Drake to be accredited by such a reputable college. He’d assured her that as soon as he graduated, they would tie the knot in grand style.
Someone tapped Drake on his shoulder and handed him an anonymous handwritten note. The only reason Drake didn’t stuff the note in his pocket to read at a more convenient time was because of the familiarity of the paper. It seemed to come from the baby blue writing pad he’d purchased for Sasha during his last summer visit to Devin’s Cay. When he opened the note and saw the custom-made insignia, he smiled. No doubt Sasha had it sent to him – maybe to remind him of her love for him. She usually did little sweet things like that. He skimmed the two sentences, which nearly gave him an aneurysm.
Think twice about marrying Sasha. I have proof that she was sleeping with your best friend while you were overseas. This is from a concerned friend.
Drake looked up, subtly searching the crowd for that face who would send him this disgusting note. Had they no respect for the happiest day of his life? And how dare they accuse his Sasha of being unfaithful to him – and with his best friend, of all people! This sort of thing only came from miserable souls whose hearts were set on making someone else miserable. And it was of a truth: Misery certainly loves company. Drake would not entertain such absurdity. He crumbled the note and shoved it in his pants pocket. He hoped that person would see that they hadn’t the power to stop this ceremony.
His gaze once again found Sasha, who had now paused at a decorative pew in anticipation of his arrival. The glow on her face said it all. She loved him and he loved her. It was implausible to think that she’d been unfaithful to him. This was his angel – the one who God had customized for his life. Together, they would excel in their God-given purposes and create one of the most nourishing environments to raise their five children. Drake could envision their happiness, as he continued down the red carpet to meet his bride.
Kenny Lattimore’s love ballad, For You sealed the moment for the couple. The lyrics themselves were the exact promises made to Sasha by her Prince Charming. From now to forever, he would be there for her, to comfort her and sustain her with a life of stability. Drake’s heart began to beat against his chest when Sasha locked her arm through his and they began to march toward the altar. The crowd agreed with the union and in response, exploded in a standing ovation. Everyone just knew that Drake and Sasha were meant to be together.
They finally arrived at the altar, both with tears of joy in their eyes. And as the presiding Bishop of El Shaddai Ministries prepared to give the opening words, something pulled Drake’s attention away from his beautiful bride. He would have dismissed it had a feeling of uneasiness not yanked at the strings of his heart. His best man, Levi Johnson hadn’t stopped staring at Sasha ever since they arrived at the altar. It was not a stare of innocent admiration, but a deep gaze that pulled Levi’s face into a grim expression.
Why the long face and sulky attitude? Drake thought. I thought we’d gotten over that silly disagreement. About a month leading up to the wedding, he and Levi had had a fiery exchange of words concerning the timing of Drake’s marriage to Sasha. Levi felt both Drake and Sasha were too young for such a level of commitment, especially with Drake just recently finishing Bible School. How was Drake going to support a new wife with no steady means of income? Sure, Drake received a small stipend from the church for serving as one of the associate pastors, but it was not enough to provide for the life Sasha deserved.
But Drake argued that God would be their provider and despite their young age of twenty-four, Drake and Sasha loved each other and were committed to the survival of their marriage. In Drake’s eyes, Levi was too much of a freethinker anyway to give advice on such a sanctified union. Levi simply wouldn’t understand. Drake soon shrugged off the uneasiness and returned his attention to his bride. It was not unusual for Levi to express his distaste for a situation, even if it happened to be on the happiest day of Drake’s life.
The wedding ceremony proceeded without any hiccups. In less than an hour the couple had said their vows and were running down the steps of the church, trying to avoid the showers of rice being thrown at them. But just before they entered into a late-model sedan that had “Just Married” sprayed on the back windshield, Hunter Rose handed Drake two small white boxes. In them were custom-designed jewelry pieces from her collection. The old wedding tradition was then completed with strings of cans trailing behind in the street, certainly a vintage wedding to remember.
Of course, the crowd was excited – too excited for Levi’s taste. He furtively slipped away to the side of the church and found a quiet spot. There, he released his true emotions. First the tears came and then the swearing beneath his breath. How could Sasha do this to him? He was supposed to be the one marching up the aisle with her. Not Drake. Levi suddenly scoffed at his thoughts. Who was he kidding? Sasha would have never married an irreligious bartender like him anyway. Because she would rather marry for convenience than for true love.
Ten Months Ago…
In less than two hours, Levi was already parked out front of El Shaddai Ministries, waiting for Sasha to come through the exit. He hadn’t changed out of his skimpy shorts, for the simple fact that he’d noticed how his exposed thighs had produced a level of interest in Sasha. She’d tried to hide it, but he could tell that she was only putting on a façade. Could it be that she was having the same inappropriate thoughts of him that he was having of her? Why else would she agree that he should pick her up? Sasha was well-loved in her church and she could have gotten any number of persons to take her home.
Levi smiled, deeming himself a lucky man. To have a woman like Sasha in his presence, even if it was only for ten minutes, was enough to take him through the rest of the week. He was not out to destroy the relationship between Drake and Sasha. But he couldn’t deny the burgeoning feelings that he harbored on the inside for Sasha. As a matter of fact, he’d had his eyes on Sasha for a long time, long before Drake ever dreamt of confessing his love to her.
The thing was: As children, growing up on the deeply religious island of Devin’s Cay, boys and girls weren’t allowed to play together alone after they reached a certain age. And with Levi being older than both Drake and Sasha by almost four years, he’d long since passed through the rigors of puberty before them. His height and hair that sprouted everywhere on his developing body, made him look like a grown man at thirteen years old. So Levi could understand why mothers would want to keep their nine-year-old girls from the boys of his intimidating size. After all, the preachers on the island assiduously taught that puberty marked sexual maturity, which was a time when boys’ desire for sex was at its peak.
However, the lack of fellowship with Sasha not only put an unfair distance between them, but it placed Levi at a disadvantage. While Drake and Sasha and the other nine-year-olds continued to play their childhood games together, Levi was forced to pursue other friendships with boys closer to his age, particularly with Drake’s two older brothers. Soon, being the only man in the house, he was thrust into a life of responsibilities and gradually forgot what it was like to tease Sasha about her ponytails and freckled face. It wasn’t until Drake and Sasha joined him in high school and he got to see Sasha on a constant basis that he awakened to her beauty and maturity. But by then, Drake had officially declared Sasha as his girlfriend.
Levi’s walk down memory lane was interrupted by the sound of Sasha’s voice, who’d just opened the passenger side door of his car.
“Wow, this is a surprise,” she joked, “I wasn’t expecting you to be here on time.”
Levi smirked, loving how this girl was messing with him. “Please, come in the car and sit down. I have something I want to show you.”
Sasha’s gaze brushed passed Levi’s hairy thighs. It was less than a second but her brain had already taken a snapshot of the image from the last time. This time, however, she felt the pressure of temptation heating the tips of her ears. Should she get into the car or should she not?
“Just in case you need to be reminded,” Sasha said, as she climbed into the passenger seat and shut the door, “people talk. I don’t want my name all over the place saying I’m riding all around with you while my fiancé is in Ohio, trying to make life better for us.”
“Well, if they knew Drake had assigned me to take care of you while he is not here,” Levi replied, “they would mind their own business, wouldn’t they?”
Sasha shot Levi a look of reproof. “Now we both know that people’s perception doesn’t work that way. Especially these nosey church folks. The Bible says we are to not let our good be evil spoken of.”
“So now you’re calling me evil?”
“Don’t twist my words. You know what I mean.”
“Maybe I do; maybe I don’t.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?”
“Well, let’s see…I practically have to beg you to accept my kind gestures. You don’t call me often enough and I can go on. But please help me understand why you treat me so badly?”
“Oh my word!” Sasha exclaimed. “Please tell me that we are not having this conversation?”
Levi laughed. “I’m right, aren’t I? You do think I’m evil.”
“I don’t think that you’re evil, Levi. I am an engaged woman and I’m simply saying that my spending time with you could be misconstrued.”
Levi held in his response as he slipped into the light traffic. He was on cloud nine, simply because Sasha was sitting in his car. They didn’t even have to say another word. The chemistry between them was loud enough.
“Can I ask you a personal question?” Levi inquired after driving half a mile.
“Does it have to do with Drake?”
“Am I that transparent?”
“No…but you and Drake are always talking about each other, so I simply made the assumption.”
“Well, this question is really about you.”
Sasha gave Levi a side glance. “Oh?”
Levi smiled. “What’s wrong? You don’t like talking about yourself?”
“No, it isn’t that…well, yeah…I do mind a little. It depends on what is being said.”
“Well, let’s give it a try.” Levi proceeded when Sasha appeared to give him the green light with an inquisitive expression. “I know that you love Drake, but are you really in love with him? You two have been exclusively dating from junior high and we both know that desires change as we get older –”
“Don’t go any further,” Sasha said. “I see where you’re heading with this.”
“Yes. But let me set the record straight. Drake is the love of my life and I can’t imagine living without him. My love and admiration for Drake has only grown over the years and I can’t see myself being with anyone else. I hope that answers your question.”
That is such a text-book answer, Levi wanted to say, but instead, he replied with a smile, “Thank you…you can relax now. I promise I won’t ask you any more off-the-wall questions.”
For the rest of the five-minute commute, Levi let silence rule, but not without the sensual lyrics of R Kelly playing softly in the background. Your Body’s Callin’ – a 1994 old school favorite of those men intending to make a play for the object of their desire. Surprisingly, Sasha didn’t object to the song, which made Levi think that maybe his intuition was not leading him astray. Sasha wanted him as much as he wanted her, but she didn’t know how to make the first move. That nonsense about her still being in love with Drake was a cop out. However, Levi assessed, now was not the right time to make any bolder moves. He was certain to scare Sasha away.
He pulled into the parking lot of a mechanic shop, right in front of Sasha’s blue Toyota hatchback. The mechanic had just slammed down the hood and was making his way toward them. Sasha narrowed her eyes at Levi.
“What is my car doing here?” she questioned.
Levi shrugged. “When Drake told me to take care of you, I took that to heart, which includes fixing your car. Though I’m a bit disappointed you won’t be riding along with me anymore, I wanted to make you happy more than anything else.”
“Wow, Levi, you didn’t have to do this. I told you –”
“I know what you told me. Now the only thing I want to hear from you is, ‘thank you’.”
Sasha was indeed grateful, but she was also not one who benefited off of others for free. “How much do I owe you?”
“Seriously? Just say thank you…that’s all I want to hear from you.”
With that devilish smirk on Levi’s face, Sasha was still wary of trusting Levi’s motives. “I mean, for real. What’s the catch? Because no one does anything for free.”
“Aw, girl, you’re hurting my feelings. But since you insist…”
Sasha exclaimed. “You see? I knew you had an ulterior motive! Tell me, what is it that you want?”
If I told you what I really want, you would fall out. “Well,” Levi said, adjusting his perverse thoughts. “I was hoping you would have dinner with me tomorrow night.”
“And that’s it? Just dinner?”
“No pressure, no weird questions. I just want to grab something to eat. Besides, we all used to be friends growing up. What harm is there in two buddies sharing an innocent moment together?”
A lot, Sasha wanted to say. Instead, for the second time that day, Sasha sighed away that uncomfortable feeling in her stomach.
“I will have dinner with you on one condition,” she proposed.
“Okay, let’s hear it.”
“Dinner has to be at a restaurant or some public place, not at your house.”
Levi seemed pensive for a moment before he nodded his head. “Agreed. I know just the right place to take you. I promise that you will enjoy it.”
It was well into the evening when Drake and Sasha finally made it into their honeymoon suite at the Pink Haven Guesthouse – just five miles off the coast of Devin’s Cay. They would have stayed at the famous Smithson hotel not far from the church, but the Pink Haven Guesthouse was owned by Drake’s uncle, who offered the couple three free nights in the form of a wedding gift. It was a huge blessing because Drake and Sasha had nearly drained their bank accounts in the process of planning for their vintage wedding, and securing the first and last month’s rent for a cozy cottage.
While Sasha took to the bathroom, hatching a surprise for her husband with some very sexy items she’d purchased just for this special evening, Drake stood in the mirror, slowly undoing his white tuxedo shirt. He couldn’t believe that he was a married man. After years of promising to make Sasha his wife, he’d finally pulled it off. His father must be turning over in his grave, upset that his malicious words hadn’t come to pass. Even though there remained a few who tossed their negative opinions at his relationship with Sasha, it was Drake’s father who candidly said that Sasha would never marry a preacher, much less be happy with one.
According to his father, there wasn’t any real money in preaching and Drake was only wasting his time pursuing a degree in theology. But Drake was not in it for the money. He had a genuine passion for ministry and had sensed a strong calling upon his life ever since he was a child. But if his father could see him now, Drake thought with a feeling of accomplishment, his father would have no other choice but to accept that he’d been wrong about everything. Drake had successfully obtained a BA in Biblical Studies with honors, installed as an Associate Pastor and now he’d married the woman of his dreams, all of which he’d done before the age of twenty-five.
It hadn’t been easy growing up with a father who found it hard to validate his son. He remembered that first year at Valor Christian College in Columbus, Ohio being a year of constant tears. His father continued to insult him and had refused to pay one cent toward his pursuits. Thankfully, Drake had obtained a full three-year scholarship from Rev. Henderson, and with the monthly financial assistance from his mother, he was able to live abroad without going to bed hungry. God had been good to him.
But Drake would not be telling the truth if he said that he’d cried when his father collapsed from a heart attack two years ago. In fact, he didn’t really feel anything except anger and deep hurt for what his father had done to him over the years. The man never apologized. Maybe it was because his father was expecting him to follow in the paths of his two older brothers who were incredibly successful by the world’s standards.
His father may have even been expecting him to exceed their accomplishments. And even though Drake never got the opportunity to show his father that he had what it took to be a success, which he’d done by choosing a completely different path from his brothers, the only thing left for Drake to do was to ask God to help him forgive his father – just so that he could move past the hurt and live his life without remorse.
Bringing his mind back into the moment, Drake stuck his hands in his pants pockets to clear them out, but he decided to forego the thought when he heard the bathroom door click open. Sasha waltzed out wearing black and white lingerie with white fur running along both the sleeves and neckline. Her feet were firmly snugged into a pair of red heels, which she used to show off her naturally sexy sway.
Drake laughed. “I hadn’t any idea that you were so courageous, considering this is our first time.”
“I thought I would be all panicky and nervous with you, but…” Sasha paused to reveal the custom-designed jewelry pieces Hunter Rose had given them. She then pulled Drake in for a hot kiss. “But then I saw what was written on these beautiful bracelets and thought about how long I’ve been waiting for this moment – for more than twelve years – I realize I haven’t anything to be nervous about. I love you and my whole desire is to make you happy.”
“Well, Mrs. Beckford, you certainly have my attention,” Drake said, taking one of the bracelets to read the engraved words. “Nothing shall separate us. Good God, what a powerful declaration of our commitment to each other. Your friend knows real love when she sees it.”
“I said the same thing when I read it,” Sasha said. “She’s a sweetheart to have designed such special pieces for us. And I was emboldened by it.”
Drake locked his fingers around Sasha’s waist. “Are you sure you are ready to consummate our marriage? I assumed you would be tired from all of today’s activities and would need to rest…”
Sasha quieted Drake with another hot kiss. “Stop talking, baby and let’s get this show on the road.”
Drake didn’t object, but he did ponder for a brief minute the haste with which Sasha wanted to make love. It was in stark contrast to her innocuous, reverent-type personality. And with both of them being virgins, Drake assumed that Sasha would want to take things slowly. However, when she pushed him onto the mattress and straddled his thighs, Drake immediately became aware that the Sasha he knew growing up probably wasn’t the same Sasha who’d said ‘I do’ six hours ago – or maybe he was just getting acquainted with this side of her. Nonetheless, he was beginning to immensely enjoy this fiery switch in his new wife.
About five minutes into the heavy kissing, Sasha slid to her feet, pulling Drake up along with her. She swayed a little ways from him and struck a provocative pose.
“I want to dance for you,” she said. “Stay right where you are. I’m coming to you.”
Drake found himself amused. “Where did you learn all this stuff? Because I must say, you’re blowing every inch of my mind right now.”
Sasha smiled in response, comforted by the look on her husband’s face. She could tell that he approved of her, and it was very important that he had. Because if he hadn’t approved, after waiting to be together all these years, it would crush Sasha’s heart. She wanted to be everything that Drake had envisioned in a wife. His standards were high and Sasha couldn’t stand disappointing him.
She soon noticed Drake’s jaws relaxed from one end to the next and that stiffness in his shoulders had all but disappeared. Maybe her decision to initiate the fireworks had paid off, because she’d somehow gotten Drake to loosen up. He wasted no more time watching her dance moves, which were substandard at best. He rushed toward her and in one swoop, picked her up from the floor and carried her to the bed. Sasha never dreamt in a million years that Drake’s touch would have been as electrifying. She melted in his arms like wax and wished the moment would never end.
The Blue Marlin was one of the three exclusive night clubs on Devin’s Cay where patrons were required to gain entry by a monthly subscription. Of course, being a member came with several perks, one of which included free cocktails on the weekends, along with free passes to voyeurism in a private spot called the Champagne Room. Levi was the head bartender and was considered many of the patrons’ preferred server, who wouldn’t think twice about leaving him substantial amounts in tips. It went a long way in helping Levi to purchase a three-bedroom house on one of the nicer properties of Devin’s Cay.
A well-known cougar who simply went by the name Mama Dee sauntered toward the bar, pulled out a stool and sat on it. She was outfitted in a black leather jumpsuit, which looked as if it had been painted on her. She was a longtime member of the Blue Marlin and was rumored to have had many memorable escapades with the young men who worked at the night club. Her long fake eyelashes, and glistening red lips were her trademarks used to entice. However, there was one young man she couldn’t sway to her bedroom. No matter the amount of money she tossed at his feet.
She took one puff of her Virginia Slims, locking her Jezebel gaze on him. “Levi, darlin’,” she purred. “Why the long face tonight?”
Levi cracked a half-smile, although he preferred to be left alone. “Why do you care?” he spat. “The only thing you want from me is my body.”
“And what silly woman wouldn’t?” Mama Dee countered. “You’re one hell of a catch! Tall, dark and ridiculously handsome. You must work out every day at the gym.”
Levi ignored Mama Dee’s attempt to swell his ego. “Well, you know that I’m off of the market.”
“So you keep telling me. But that doesn’t mean I’m gonna stop trying.” Mama Dee slapped a U.S. fifty-dollar bill on the granite countertop. “Fix me the usual, so that I can get drunk and lure some other unsuspecting young blood.”
The DJ began playing a string of old school love ballads as opposed to the party rhythms that sent the crowd into its usual frenzy. Freddy Jackson’s, You Are My Lady was one of Levi’s favorites because the lyrics described the exact way he felt about Sasha. Soon, the lyrics began to eat away at the hole in Levi’s heart – more so than it ever had in all the years he’d known Sasha. Today was the day he’d lost the love of his life to his best friend. The pain was indescribable.
“You know, darlin’, I can fix whatever is bothering you,” Mama Dee offered. “I’m really good at what I do.”
The only thing you’re good at is passing on your sexually transmitted diseases, Levi thought. No thank you! He slid a mug in front of Mama Dee that was half-filled with an alcoholic concoction known as ‘Red Death.’ Bright red in color, and sweet to the taste, but was by no means considered a girly drink. Levi then turned his back to Mama Dee, refusing to entertain her vile advances any longer.
“Go ahead, Levi. Continue to ignore me,” the middle-aged woman spat. “You will need my services one day. I promise you that much.”
She grudgingly grabbed her drink and slid down off of the stool. She made a beeline to the dance floor and in no time found a dancing partner, who no doubt would leave with her by the end of the evening. Levi was more than relieved to have that brute off of his back. And he was even more relieved that the scene wasn’t as busy as other nights. It gave him time to reflect on the good times with Sasha without being constantly distracted.
While Drake was away at Bible School, he and Sasha had grown very close. Talking late into the night, sharing a lot of laughs and good food. The chemistry was definitely there. Levi was sure that Sasha was beginning to fall in love with him. That was why he was so hurt and confused that Sasha had chosen to marry Drake. How could Sasha be happy with Drake when he knew her heart was not really into it? Levi scoffed at his thoughts. It was so obvious from their conversations that Sasha was deeply attracted to him.
“Drake will be back home for good this summer,” Levi had said to Sasha. “Are you going to tell him about us?”
They’d just come back from seeing a movie on the big screen and now Levi was parked in front of Sasha’s apartment. Sam Cooke was playing softly on the radio, his soulful voice seeming to be in cahoots with the cool February breeze that blew quietly around them. The scene hadn’t been planned by Levi but it certainly created one of the most intimate moments Levi could ever hope for.
Sasha turned away from Levi’s piercing gaze and said with as much conviction as she could muster. “There is no us, Levi. You know that I love Drake…”
“You kissed me and it was not me who initiated it,” Levi said.
Sasha didn’t respond.
Levi sighed, visibly frustrated. “Sasha, please tell me that you’re not still thinking about marrying Drake.” When Levi saw that Sasha was determined not to answer him, he reached over and gently pressed his lips against the back of her neck.
She recoiled and yelled, “Why are you making this so complicated for me?”
“You have to tell Drake the truth,” Levi said. “Because you’re only going to be lying to him and lying to yourself. I know you’re attracted to me…”
“Oh, so now because I kissed you, you are suddenly an expert on how I should live my life? Drake and I have years together – as opposed to the several weeks of conversation between us. I won’t disappoint my fiancé!”
Levi pulled back his retort because he could see it would only make matters worse. “Listen, Sasha, I know this is hard for you and I’m sorry if I came off as being insensitive. But you must know this is hard for me too. Drake is my best friend –”
“Then act like it!” she snapped. “You should know that what we’re doing is wrong and we need to stop before it destroys Drake and my relationship with him.”
“You are afraid of him, aren’t you?”
Sasha scoffed at Levi’s rhetorical question.
“I’m being serious,” Levi said. “I can tell that whatever Drake expects of you is making you feel pressured to please him. That is not real love, Sasha…”
“And I suppose you know what real love is,” Sasha rejoined. “Because right now we are stabbing Drake in his back…”
Mama Dee was back at the bar for another round of that devilish red drink. She rudely pulled Levi out of his reverie with another inappropriate comment about his body. Levi thought it best to ignore her because the way he felt that evening, he may just do something that could cost him his job. He looked for another bartender to take his place so that he could take a much needed fifteen-minute break.
[[Love keeps no record of wrong
1 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV)]]
The three nights at the Pink Haven Guesthouse flew by like a breeze and Drake and Sasha found themselves back in Devin’s Cay a little sooner than they would have liked. But they were equally excited to start their new life together as a family. Since the airport wasn’t that far from the cottage they would be living in, they didn’t see the need to leave Sasha’s car in long-term parking, which was a stiff fifteen dollars a day. So they decided to pay a cab for the commute, which was at best, only four miles away. Drake used the short time to build upon that wonderful rapport he and his wife had long established from their childhood years.
“So, how does it really feel being married to me?” he asked her. “And please, spare no details. I want to hear your full assessment of these three days we’ve been husband and wife.”
Sasha laced her fingers between Drake’s, not certain how she should respond to such a question. It felt as if she was suddenly sitting in an examination room, but she brushed off the feeling with a smile. Always reverent; always obedient to her man.
“Well, I am certainly thrilled to be your wife,” she started. “And thrilled to have had the three most exhilarating days ever. I had no idea after waiting all these years that it would have felt so good.”
“Waiting to be intimate is what you mean, right?”
“That as well as the feeling of simply belonging to someone – the man of my dreams.”
Drake smiled at Sasha’s response, and then quickly added, “You see? It was God’s will for us to remain celibate until marriage. I don’t understand how some Christian couples can enjoy sex before tying the knot. It’s irreverent and a complete disrespect to the laws of God. First Timothy 4:2 puts it appropriately when it speaks of these lawbreakers as having their conscience seared with a hot iron.”
Sasha cringed in Drake’s arms, but she concealed her expression with one of those tight smiles she’d learned to wear whenever she didn’t fully agree with what Drake said. Thankfully, the conversation ended abruptly when the cab driver made a right turn onto the path leading to their small cottage. Though it was not as spacious as the apartment she’d given up, she’d done it to please her husband. Sasha was that sort of woman, who allowed men to take their rightful lead.
As the cab driver neared the cottage, Drake noticed there were two men standing on the porch. One of them he recognized to be the owner of the cottage to whom he and Sasha had paid the rent and the other was a complete stranger. Drake did not like surprises and he certainly didn’t like encountering a problem on the first day back from his honeymoon.
“Stay here, darling,” he instructed Sasha. “I will be right back.”
Sasha stole a glance at the cab driver, who was already looking to receive his fares. It made no sense adding to it, especially if Drake didn’t know how long he would be gone.
“I’ll come with you,” she suggested. “We don’t want to hold up the cab driver any longer than we need to.”
Drake seemed to appreciate the suggestion. “You’re right, but I would still prefer that you wait by the gate while I go and talk to the owner. Is that okay with you?”
Sasha smiled. “Sure, babe…I’m not going anywhere.”
Drake pulled out his last twenty dollars from his wallet and handed it to the cab driver. He didn’t mind so much it being his last because he knew by the end of the week, his monthly stipend from the church would be in his possession. And as he went on to inquire of the problem, Sasha took the opportunity to really think about the decision she’d made to marry Drake. She hadn’t lied when she told Drake that she was thrilled to be his wife, but she couldn’t altogether dismiss her reservations. One of which having to do with Levi.
The look on Levi’s face when she’d said, ‘I do’ was the sight of a man who’d been broken into a million pieces. But what did Levi expect her to do? She’d told Levi on numerous occasions that her life was with Drake and that he needed to get over his little obsession with her. She and Levi would have never worked because she didn’t love Levi the way she loved Drake. But despite this rationalization, Sasha still felt a great measure of concern for Levi. She knew she had hurt him deeply and not knowing how he would fare over the coming days had her emotions in limbo.
“There is a little problem,” Drake said, recapturing Sasha’s attention. “But nothing really for us to be worried over.”
“What is it?” she inquired.
“The owner said that the cottage would have to be fumigated because of the termites in the wood.”
Sasha didn’t really know what that meant and her expression said as much. “How serious is it? Is he planning to give us back our money?”
“Relax, darling,” Drake tried to console. “It’s not as serious as you think. The owner had been meaning to do it, but he didn’t expect us to be back so soon from our honeymoon.”
“Well, where does he expect us to be while all of this fumigation is going on?” Sasha snapped. “Because he should have told us about this up front before we gave him our money for the rent.”
“And I agree with you,” Drake said. “But let’s not take the matter out of context. These things happen. He will need about four days – as the whole cottage will be covered with a tent.”
Sasha gasped, despite Drake trying to keep her calm. “Four days? Where will we go? I gave up my apartment the week before we were married.”
If Sasha’s words rubbed Drake the wrong way, he didn’t show it. He simply suggested, “We can always stay with my mother. It’s temporary –”
Sasha was shaking her head before she even spoke. “I don’t think so, Drake. Your mother doesn’t smile too much around me. I won’t feel comfortable living there.”
“Then I will call Levi,” Drake said, pulling out his cell phone. “I’m sure he wouldn’t mind us crashing in one of his spare bedrooms for a few days.”
Sasha looked as if she’d swallowed cayenne pepper. “No! That wouldn’t be a good idea either!”
“Then what do you suggest we do, darling? I am now responsible for taking care of you and you’re not making my job easy.”
Sasha took a deep breath to regain her composure. She did not like frustrating Drake, especially over something like this. But he’d offered her some distasteful suggestions, none of which she cared anything for. She wished her family hadn’t moved so far away to a different district altogether or that Hunter was away on a business trip. She would have respectfully swayed Drake to go along with her suggestions. Yet, another brilliant idea popped into her head as she pulled Drake closer to her.
“What if I use my credit card to book a few nights at the Smithson hotel?”
“I will not entertain such a suggestion,” Drake said. “If Levi agrees, we will be staying with him. Please, let’s not argue about this.”
The tone in Drake’s voice was not abrasive, but it was powerful enough for Sasha to respect it. She pulled in her attitude and prayed that when Drake called Levi, Levi would say that he couldn’t help them. But to Sasha’s surprise, the look on Drake’s face said that her prayers hadn’t been answered.
“Levi has no problem with us using one of his spare rooms,” Drake said. “In fact, he’s thrilled about the whole idea.”
Sasha was too wounded to respond to Drake’s enthusiasm. If Drake only knew the truth as to why Sasha didn’t want to be anywhere near Levi, he wouldn’t be so chipper.
“Let me take the luggage into the house,” Levi said to Drake and Sasha. “You guys are my guests.”
Drake took back his luggage from Levi and said, “I appreciate the gesture, buddy, but we don’t want to be treated as your guests.”
“Lighten up, man.” Levi chuckled. “I don’t mind dragging one or two of these mammoth-looking things into the house. I can see you need my help.”
“Well, if you insist.” Drake placed his arm around Sasha and pulled her close to him. “My wife and I certainly could use the rest after spending three, long incredible days getting to know each other a little better. We barely slept.”
Sasha could feel Levi’s eyes burning a hole through her, but she dared not look at him for fear of what she might see. Why did Levi ever agree to this silly arrangement? Because when it was all said and done, Levi was going to be the only one who would end up getting hurt.
“Say no more, my friend,” Levi said. “Your room awaits you and your new bride. Please follow me.”
Sasha was very familiar with Levi’s place. In fact, she’d spent time lounging on Levi’s couch, watching reruns of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air while Levi changed out of his work clothes before they went to see a movie. Other times they’d just sit and play board games like Checkers and Monopoly as they discussed a wide range of subjects. However, to avoid getting suspicious looks from Drake, Sasha acted as if it were her first time.
Drake looked over his shoulder at Sasha. “I don’t recall ever bringing you here to Levi’s house since he purchased it three years ago.”
“She never had a reason to,” Levi said, speaking up for Sasha. “And that’s because you were rarely on the island or when you were here, which was never more than a week, by the way, you spent it at the church.”
“The way I see it,” Drake said, intending to remove the spotlight from himself, “nothing happens before its time. We’re here now, so let’s make the best of these four days.”
Levi nodded. “Fine by me…” He opened the door to the spare bedroom, which was surprisingly well-coordinated for a space in a male’s territory. “This is where you guys will be staying…I hope you like it.”
For a brief second, Sasha’s gaze connected with Levi’s and the only thought that came rushing to her mind right then was how she’d French kissed him in his car. A spur of the moment reaction that had been brought on by the weakness of her flesh. But she realized now it’d been a dangerous mistake and wished she could take back that irrational moment. Levi never allowed her to forget it and even now she could see in his eyes that he would do anything to be that close to her again.
“You guys settle in,” Levi said. “I will bring in the rest of your luggage.”
Drake extended his hand to Levi for a handshake. “Seriously speaking, Sasha and I really appreciate you taking us in on such short notice. We understand that you didn’t have to do it.”
Levi gripped Drake’s hand and said, “We may have our differences, but I will never leave you out in the cold, especially now that you have a wife. No worries, mate; it’s a pleasure to have you guys crashing here.”
As Levi turned to leave, Drake parked his inquisitive eyes on Sasha. “You seem pretty quiet. Is everything okay?”
Sasha rubbed her throat. All of a sudden she felt as if she needed a cold drink of water. “I’m fine,” she answered, “considering that I didn’t want to come here in the first place. But I digress. I will follow you as you take the lead as my husband.”
“I only want the best for you,” Drake said. “In time, we will have everything that you could ever dream of, including a six-bedroom house in which to raise our five children. All I ask is that you be patient with me.”
Drake’s idea of a family was not exactly what Sasha had in mind, but she smiled anyway to portray the perfect wife.
“Would you excuse me?” she said, leaning over to kiss Drake on his cheek. “I need to use the bathroom.”
Drake observed the way that Sasha navigated her steps without making one wrong turn. She knew the exact door that led to the bathroom. Was that a coincidence? Drake couldn’t say for sure. However, Sasha’s actions certainly left a question mark in his thoughts. He dug in his pants pocket and pulled out that offensive note some anonymous coward had handed him on his wedding day. This time, Drake read the note with renewed interest. Maybe, somewhere in the back of his subconscious mind, he’d suggested coming to Levi’s place because he needed to find out the truth.
El Shaddai Ministries was no ordinary church. About ninety percent of its membership came from what some would call the wrong side of the tracks. Men and women who were once drug and alcohol addicts, prostitutes, and chronic gamblers could be found sitting in the pews or on the pulpit, fully operating in their God-designed purposes. Even the presiding bishop, Rev. T.G. Henderson was once a flaming philanderer before the hand of God arrested him and molded him into one of the most profound preachers on the island.
But with his precious wife now dead and his vitality rapidly declining, old Rev. Henderson was ready to retire. And though he believed strongly in the power of succession, he had no sons to take over the vision he’d built. He had one daughter, but she lived in Paris and Rev. Henderson knew that her love of the entertainment industry would prevent her from following into his footsteps. However, there was one young up and coming preacher by the name of Drake Beckford who Rev. Henderson had had his eyes upon ever since Drake was a child. In fact, he’d taken him in as his own son.
In Rev. Henderson’s eyes, Drake was the ideal candidate. A sturdy young man, who was as disciplined as he was loyal. That was why Rev. Henderson had had no qualms in sending Drake to Bible School aided with a full scholarship from the church. It was all part of his plan in the making. Hence this afternoon’s meeting with the board gathered around the large mahogany table – to officially select the next bishop of El Shaddai Ministries. But of course, whenever there was talk of promotion, the spirit of jealousy always surfaced in certain people who thought that the candidate in question was not worthy of such elevation.
There were two such individuals sitting at the table, but only one of them had the courage to speak up. Everyone knew him as Elder John, who’d been both Head Deacon and Head Usher at one time in the ministry. Drake was also required at this gathering, but because Rev. Henderson wanted to give Drake a little more time to enjoy his new wife, he decided to meet privately with Drake at another time.
“We all know why we’re here,” Rev. Henderson started. “This church will soon need a new leader. However, my choice has been clear from day one. I also plan to announce my retirement to the church at the end of the month, but I did not want to do so without my senior leadership finding out about it first.”
Elder John uncrossed his legs, obviously not afraid to show his disdain. “May I say something, Rev. Henderson? And I believe I’ll be speaking for most everyone sitting at this table.”
“Please proceed with your concerns,” Rev. Henderson urged. “I already know that you don’t approve of my choice.”
“It’s not that I don’t approve,” Elder John said, allowing his eyes to rove around the table. “We just don’t feel that Drake is ready to take on the… how should I put this? …the unique nature of this church. May I remind you that most of us came from the streets, from violent gangs and from extremely harsh backgrounds that Drake knows nothing about. He’s not even twenty-five years old as yet, which is the minimal age for a qualified minister to ascend to such a post.”
“And what is your point?” Rev. Henderson reprimanded. “I’m the one who established the prerequisites. Do I not have the power to adjust them? The Apostle Paul said to his young protégé: ‘If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach, not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre, but patient, not a brawler, not covetous. One who rules his house well…”
Rev. Henderson paused for effect. “Need I go on? These are the qualifications for a bishop, directly from the word of God. I advise that you read 1 Timothy 3 and reacquaint yourself with it. Now I want all of you to sincerely compare Drake’s life to the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and tell me – after you’ve done a thorough examination – that you aren’t left with the impression that Drake is not only qualified, but prepared to take this church to the next level. And to you, Elder John, this portion of scripture made no distinction over what sort of people a bishop is required to lead. It doesn’t matter. Because frankly, we all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.”
“It did say, however, in that same scripture,” Elder John said, “that one desiring to be a bishop should not be a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he could fall into the condemnation of the devil.”
“I am not dead yet,” Rev. Henderson said sharply. “All that Drake needs to know about taking care of the house of God, he will learn from me. And I am requiring all of you to support him. We might as well admit that in ten years or less, we all may be in our graves or too old to keep up with this thriving young generation.”
Elder John sat back in his chair and mumbled in conceit, “Well, it is your decision to make, Rev. Henderson. I rest my case.”
The meeting adjourned after ten minutes with Rev. Henderson briefing the board about the plans surrounding his retirement. Elder John had long since disregarded anything else Rev. Henderson had to say that day. In Elder John’s mind, however wrong he may be, he believed Rev. Henderson had only waited on Drake to get married to put this silly plan into effect. But if Elder John had anything to do with it, Drake Beckford would never be the next bishop of El Shaddai Ministries – even if he had to use the vices of his own daughter to bring down that young man.
[[Beware of keeping secrets, because surely what’s done in the dark will eventually come to the light. It is better to be honest and confess rather than hide from the truth.
The following morning when Sasha awoke at about a quarter to six, Drake was already out of bed. Curious, she sat up and swung her feet to the floor. It was still dark outside, which made Sasha think that Drake was probably using the bathroom – like she needed to do at the moment. However, the guest room they were staying in didn’t have an en suite, so she would have to leave the room and walk all the way down the hall. This was yet another reason why she was hating every moment of living on Levi’s turf. She had no real privacy. Well, if she ran into Levi, she would simply explain that she was looking for her husband.
She cracked open the guest room door and surveyed the distance of her intended destination. The house seemed quiet enough and with quick steps, she hastened over the white porcelain tiles. However, in her haste, Sasha didn’t notice Drake sitting at the dining room table, reading his bible with a nightlight. He saw when she ran by, but he decided not to disturb her because he too would rather not be disturbed. He was busy filling his heart with fresh revelation from the book of Romans. He hoped Sasha would understand that this early rising was simply a part of his daily walk with God.
Levi’s house was designed in such a way that his bedroom was directly across from the guest bath. And even though there was a bathroom in his bedroom, he would at times use the guest bath to shave. For some reason that particular bathroom seemed to have better lighting. That morning he ventured out of his room, intending to enter into the guest bath. However, he was not going to shave, but was going to put some fresh towels on the shelves for Drake and Sasha. It was only a quarter to six in the morning, so Levi figured he would be able to perform this menial task before they awoke without seeming like he was intruding. As he attempted to twist the doorknob, the door suddenly flew open in his face.
“Sasha!” Even though Levi was startled, he had the presence of mind to whisper because he knew they were not alone. “I’m sorry…I didn’t know you were in there.”
In less than a millisecond, Sasha’s gaze took in the full image of Levi’s body, which was covered only by a pair of gym shorts. She was instantly reminded of those hairy chocolate thighs, but was also introduced to his bulging pectorals, which seemed to be sculpted with the utmost precision. Drake had an attractive form. Not too slim, not too muscular. A great complexion, which was almost the ruddy shade of a ripe mango. But in comparison to Levi, Drake still fell short. With such ungodly thoughts filling her mind, the only thing Sasha wanted to do was escape back to the guest room and lock herself in it and repent.
“It’s fine,” she managed to say. “I’m done using the bathroom.”
She tried to maneuver around Levi but he blocked her by closing in the distance between them. “Stay a little while,” he said to her.
Sasha looked away. “You must be insane…”
“If I’m insane,” Levi said, mindful to keep his voice in hushed tones, “it’s because you’ve made me insane. You married Drake, knowing how crazy I am about you. And I know that you feel the same about me.”
Sasha turned to face Levi, but this time her eyes had a bit of fire in them. “Why did you agree to this?”
“Don’t play stupid. You know it makes no sense having us here.”
“Maybe, but at least I get to see you every day and every night.”
“And what does that do for you except make you miserable?”
Levi felt as if his heart was breaking in two all over again, staring at this beautiful creature who belonged to another man. Sasha was right. He would be miserable over the next three days looking but being unable to touch. But he would rather his lot be that kind of misery than to be alone without knowing for sure if Sasha had moved on. Maybe… just maybe, Sasha was regretting her marriage to Drake and was ashamed to say so.
“Kiss me,” he urged her.
Sasha ignored the plea in Levi’s eyes and spat, “Let me get back to my husband before he comes looking for me.”
“So what if he catches us. He needs to know the truth about us.”
“Now I know that you’ve really lost your mind! Move out of my way, Levi. I am committed to my husband and I will not let you –”
The rest of Sasha’s words were swallowed up in a kiss, which quickly deepened when she felt Levi’s strong arms encasing her against his powerful frame. It was as if an explosion had occurred between them. However, in a matter of seconds, her world came crashing down when she heard Drake’s voice calling out to her. She pulled away from Levi and pushed him back until both of them were in the guest bath. She snapped the door shut and locked it. A second longer and Drake would have seen them.
“Sasha,” Drake called, tapping softly on the door. “Are you okay?”
To buy time so that she could recover, she turned on the water tap. “I will be out in a minute, babe,” she called back. “I’m washing up.”
“Don’t rush. I just thought I heard some unusual noise. If you need me, I’ll be in the dining room. I’m going now because I don’t want our voices to disturb Levi.”
“Okay…I’ll see you soon…” Sasha cringed because she felt despicable lying to her husband. “Love you…”
“Love you too.”
Drake walked away, a sluggish gait which suggested he was a man suffering from a deeply wounded spirit. When he got back to the dining room table, he dropped his chin toward his chest. He had seen with his own eyes, his beautiful Sasha entwined in the arms of his best friend. But whomever had sent that note, he held responsible for the hole he now felt in the center of chest. Had he never read that letter, he would have never suspected Sasha of being unfaithful to him. He probably never would have suggested coming to Levi’s place. Why didn’t she just tell him that she was in love with Levi?
Drake pushed his bible away from him and rested his forehead against the wooden surface. He couldn’t remember the last time he cried, but that morning, his tears collected beneath him into a small pool of water. The door to the guest bath opened and Drake could faintly hear footsteps scurrying down the hall, but he was too broken to face Sasha or Levi at the moment. But what hurt Drake even more was when Sasha hurried by the dining room without checking in on him. It didn’t matter if she assumed that he was praying. The fact remained: Drake did not hold the key to Sasha’s heart, as he’d thought all of these years. They hadn’t even been married a full week yet and Sasha was already in the arms of another man. To Drake, this was the mother of all betrayals.
Sunday – two days after Drake and Sasha’s honeymoon – Rev. Henderson decided on the spot that he would call Drake to the pulpit to give a few minutes of exhortation. Rev. Henderson knew that Drake could handle the assignment, even though he hadn’t had time to prepare. It was Rev. Henderson’s way of showing his senior leaders and those questioning Rev. Henderson’s decision to install Drake as the next bishop, that Drake was a very well-seasoned candidate. The congregation was beginning to applaud, but Drake was so lost in thought that Sasha had to tap him several times to get his attention.
“Rev. Henderson wants you to say a few words on the mic,” she whispered. “I’ll be right here in the front seat cheering you on.”
Cheering me on? Those words pierced Drake to his soul because he knew Sasha didn’t really mean them. If she had she wouldn’t have deceived him by falling for his best friend – a double heartbreak. Maybe he wouldn’t have felt so betrayed if the man had been someone other than Levi. How and when did this thing happen between Sasha and his best friend? All of last night, Drake had butchered his brain trying to make sense of it all. Had he been away too long from Sasha, or had he not shown Sasha enough attention? Maybe he was not what Sasha really wanted from the start. But why agree to marry him? Whatever the reason, he’d trusted Levi to look after her, not take advantage of Sasha’s vulnerability.
Despite his rationalization, Drake was not blind. He could determine by that one kiss that Levi was not an overnight sensation, but someone Sasha truly cared about. Why else would she risk kissing Levi, knowing that there was a possibility she could be caught? Only people crazy in love take stupid chances like that. However, Drake was not going to give Sasha nor Levi the satisfaction of watching him fall apart. He didn’t even want them to know that he knew – not until he figured out his next move. But if Sasha wanted Levi, he was not going to stand in her way. Those two deserved each other anyway. As he stood to his feet and made his way to the pulpit, he held his composure together the best he could, purposely keeping his gaze away from Sasha as he began to speak into the mic.
The first words out of his mouth were an incoherent mess and Drake had to dig deep into his spiritual training to make up for it. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I was not prepared to speak to you today. But I will leave this portion of scripture with you from Jeremiah 17:9 and 10 in the English Standard Version. “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick. Who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds…”
As Drake was speaking, Sasha was sharply pricked in her heart, but she couldn’t help wondering what was wrong with her husband? Instead of encouraging the church, he was rebuking them. Actually, if Sasha would be true to herself, it almost felt as if her husband was intentionally directing those words to her. But why? What had she done? No sooner had Sasha asked herself those questions she realized the error of her ways. Did Drake see Levi kissing me? Impossible! Knowing Drake, he would have said something about it by now. There must be something else bothering him. But what in the world could it be? Because nothing really had the power to knock Drake’s focus out of commission like this.
But Sasha could not shake that passage of scripture from her thoughts. Even if her husband hadn’t meant for those words to be applied to her, they still did in some way, because she had not been entirely truthful with Drake. But Drake must know that she would never intentionally hurt him. She loved him. She always had and she always would. Levi was not the man for her; she realized that months ago when Levi persistently provoked her to give in to her carnal desires, wearing skimpy clothing and charming her with a good rap. Sasha now knew Levi was doing it on purpose – just as he’d done when he’d pulled her into that forbidden kiss. Levi did not care that she was married and that her husband was just feet away from them. Certainly, Levi didn’t expect her to leave Drake for a spark of lust that was sure to diminish with time.
And as Sasha watched her husband descend from the pulpit, she wanted to run to his side and comfort him. But he veered to the right through one of the church’s side exits. Sasha was stumped, as was everyone who had just listened to the less than stellar speech of one of their most-beloved preachers. Sasha could see the questions etched in Rev. Henderson’s face as he walked back to the pulpit. The service continued, straight on through to the end, but there was a heaviness in the atmosphere. This unfolding of events, however, greatly pleased Elder John, who was trying hard not to smile.
He’d warned Rev. Henderson that Drake was not ready to take over El Shaddai Ministries and Drake had proved it by giving such a disappointing performance. Maybe, Elder John thought, he wouldn’t need to use his daughter to distract Drake from his divine assignment, because Drake would be the cause of his own undoing.
Immediately after the benediction, Rev. Henderson made it his mission to search for his beloved protégé. However, Rev. Henderson didn’t need to look for him anywhere. Someone pulled him aside and told him that Drake had gone to his office and was waiting to speak with him there. Rev. Henderson was relieved to know that at least he would have the opportunity to quell this situation before it got out of hand. When he got to his office, he met Drake sitting with his head bent toward his knees.
“They said I would find you here,” Rev. Henderson said. He sat in the empty chair next to Drake, resting a hand on Drake’s shoulder. “What is it, my son?”
The compassion and concern in Rev. Henderson’s voice caused Drake’s eyes to moisten with tears – a stark contrast to Drake’s father who’d never shown him one ounce of affection. But God had been gracious in blessing Drake with a father in Rev. Henderson. A confidant who Drake trusted with his life. There was no secret or concern that Drake wouldn’t share with this old wise soldier.
“I messed up, didn’t I?” Drake said quietly. “I let you down and I’m sorry…”
“Listen to me, my son…don’t distort your beautiful character by that five-minute performance, which I thought was very timely, by the way. You know as well as I do that there are wolves in sheep’s clothing who need to be rebuked. Your performance, though it may not seem like your best, says nothing to me except that you are human. However, I am troubled by the pain I see in your eyes. It was not there when I performed your wedding ceremony last Saturday.”
Drake sat up and allowed his head to connect with the back of the chair. “That’s because a lot has happened in a week,” he said. “And I don’t know who else to talk to about this.”
“I am here for you; you know that.”
“Thank you…I trust that you will give me the best advice for the question I’m about to ask.” Drake kept his gaze staring straight ahead because he knew Rev. Henderson’s saintly expression would deter him from going through with his request. “I want my marriage from Sasha to be annulled. How do I go about doing that?”
Rev. Henderson opened his mouth and then closed it. Finally wrapping his mind around the shock of what Drake was asking, he said, “Son, you can’t get an annulment unless you can show that the marriage was never valid to begin with or defective for some reason…”
“Well, I can prove that my marriage was defective the day I married Sasha,” Drake retorted. “She was unfaithful to me.”
Rev. Henderson was visibly upset about the words coming out of Drake’s mouth. “What now, son, are these hideous accusations?”
“These are not just accusations…” Drake pulled out the anonymous note and handed it to Rev. Henderson. “Someone gave that to me when I was preparing to march down the aisle to Sasha.”
Rev. Henderson took a moment to read the note; it was, of course, hard for him to accept its veracity: Think twice about marrying Sasha. I have proof that she was sleeping with your best friend while you were overseas. This is from a concerned friend.
“At first, I thought it was utter nonsense,” Drake said to Rev. Henderson’s bewildered expression. “Who would send me such an evil note on the happiest day of my life? A jealous coward, or so I thought at the time…”
“But you went ahead and married Sasha anyway without even raising the issue with her.” Rev. Henderson couldn’t get over the way Drake was handling this particular situation. “Should I even ask if you have already consummated the marriage?”
“If I didn’t know you that well, I would say that you must have lost your marbles. It’s definitely impossible for you to get an annulment. Why didn’t you say anything to me that day?”
“Because I knew you would have stopped the ceremony,” Drake said. “I wanted Sasha to be my wife.”
“Even in the face of that obnoxious note? What changed from then to now?”
Drake scoffed at his thoughts. “I stumbled upon Sasha kissing my best friend and she doesn’t know I saw them.”
Rev. Henderson exhaled a long breath. “Well, by your very actions, I assume you haven’t confronted Sasha and this so-called best friend about it.”
Drake didn’t respond.
“Answer me, son,” Rev. Henderson prodded. “Sasha has a right to know how this situation is affecting you. You both need to talk about this –”
“What right does she have?” Drake snapped. “She was seeing my best friend behind my back and she didn’t say one word to me about it. And she still hasn’t. Why should I give her the satisfaction? That is exactly what she wants anyway – a reason to leave me so that she can run off with him.”
Rev. Henderson squeezed his brows in confusion. “Please make me understand. A few minutes ago you were hell bent on annulling your marriage, now you don’t want Sasha to leave you. Or is it that you want her to stay so that you can punish her? And frankly my dear boy, this is not the Drake Beckford I’ve helped raise into the fine young man he is today.”
“Then what do you propose I do? And please don’t tell me to talk it over with Sasha, because that’s out of the question. I can barely look at her now.”
“Sasha is a smart woman. Don’t you think she will figure out that something is not right with her husband?” Rev. Henderson decided to take a different route when Drake didn’t respond. “Do you still love your wife?”
“Why do you insist on calling her my wife?”
“Because she still is… now why don’t you answer my question?”
“I don’t know…”
“What do you mean?”
“Just as I said. I don’t know if I still love Sasha. I need some time to think about it…”
There was a knock on the door, interrupting the men from a very intense moment. Rev. Henderson got up to answer it, only to be told by a messenger that Sasha was waiting in the foyer to see Drake. Rev. Henderson gave instructions to the messenger that Drake would be out in a few minutes. In turning his attention back to Drake, Rev. Henderson did not like the discouraged spirit he saw in his son.
“We’re not done talking about this,” he told Drake. “Obviously your wife is concerned about you. Talk to her…things are not always as they seem.”
Drake pushed to his feet, having one more request to make. “I will also need some time off from active ministry. I can’t function in this state. It would be unfair to you and unfair to the people of El Shaddai Ministries.”
Rev. Henderson held back his fatherly retort and instead, asked a question he knew he would regret. “How much time are we talking?”
“I don’t know…maybe a month or two…”
“Two months? What are you going to be doing in all that time?”
Drake shrugged. “I have no idea. But you will be my first point of contact whatever I do decide.”
Rev. Henderson pulled Drake into a tight hug. “My only prayer is that you will heed my words. The devil is busy creating havoc and he doesn’t care who he destroys. May the grace and the wisdom of God be with you.”
[[Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth
1 Corinthians 13:6]]
Xavier High School – Monday 8:11a.m.
Today was Sasha’s first day back to work since her marriage to Drake, but she was far from being the happiest bride in the world. And it had nothing to do with her choosing to be with Drake, but had everything to do with how he was acting lately. Cold, unresponsive and downright miserable. How would she ever know what was going on with her husband if he refused to communicate with her? He wouldn’t even touch her and would do his best to avoid any attempt at being intimate. All this change in attitude happened within a week. She could still feel the sting from his actions after they got home from church yesterday.
“Drake, please talk to me,” she’d pleaded, running behind him into Levi’s front door. “What have I done that’s causing you to act this way?”
“If you really want to help me,” he growled, “let me deal with this on my own.”
“No, I’m not letting you do that. I am your wife and I deserve to know what’s going on with you.”
“Trust me, it’s better you don’t know.”
Sasha curved her speed in front of Drake, forcing him to slow his movement. “Do you regret marrying me? Did someone say something to you about me? My God, Drake, what is it?”
Drake stared past her without a response.
“You can’t even look at me anymore,” she said. “I can tell that you’re disgusted with me. Maybe I didn’t turn out to be the person you were expecting.”
Finally Drake’s unsympathetic gaze found his wife. “You’ve said it; not me…”
Well, Sasha had had enough of the madness. She would make it her business that as soon as she got off from work, she would pin Drake into a corner and force him to talk to her, even if he continued to insult her feelings. Maybe she was unknowingly responsible for the switch in her husband; however, one thing was clear: Drake’s actions made her suspicious about her own little indiscretion with Levi the other night. And she would have straight out asked Drake about it had she not been too afraid of the outcome. In any event, she needed to come clean to her husband and let him know that she had not been entirely truthful, because Rev. Henderson had always taught that it was not wise to start off a new marriage based on lies and deceit.
Sasha was relieved to know that tomorrow would be her and Drake’s last night staying in Levi’s guest room. It’d been pure hell trying to avoid Levi and his sexual advances and even now as Sasha looked through the window of her tenth grade classroom, she had a perfect view of Levi, who was on the basketball court helping to coach a boys’ team to the national championship. He was always showing his legs and Sasha had had her fill of those hairy things.
“Look at you – the newest bride in town!”
Sasha turned her head to the intrusive voice. It was Mrs. Georgia O’Grady – one of the youngest principals that Xavier High School had ever had. But she was as fierce and as intimidating as an army commander.
Sasha stood to her feet. “Mrs. O’Grady…I didn’t hear you come in…”
“You don’t have to stand. I just wanted to pay you a visit before the students come rushing into their classroom.” She gave Sasha a onceover and decided that Sasha was no match for her in appearance or anything else. Too bad that some of her colleagues thought that Sasha would make an excellent assistant to the principal. That was not in the cards for Sasha anytime soon; she would make sure of that. “How was the honeymoon? All that you ever dreamed, I hope.”
“Yes, it was beautiful,” Sasha replied sheepishly. “I almost didn’t want to return to work.”
“It was that good, huh? Well, we’re in the middle of the school year and we can’t have any of our teachers going MIA.”
“Oh no,” Sasha gushed. “I wouldn’t dare think of it. We are short on staff as it is.”
Mrs. O’Grady loved Sasha’s response. “I couldn’t have said it better myself. Anyway, congratulations again. And I sincerely hope that you and your husband have a wonderful life together. Divorce is the new trend these days. I would hate to see you become another statistic.”
Sasha held back on saying thank you because she was sure Mrs. O’Grady’s words were meant to insult her rather than express genuine happiness. Sasha was no fool. She knew Mrs. O’Grady didn’t care too much for her being at Xavier High School. Ever since Sasha was unanimously voted “Teacher of the Year” two times in a row by the school board, the woman had showed nothing but contempt, hidden behind that pretentious smile. However, Mrs. O’Grady was the least of Sasha’s worries. A person who was that happy about breathing negative words into her new marriage didn’t deserve her attention anyway. Sasha would see to it that she and Drake didn’t succumb to the misery of another failed marriage.
That was why Sasha couldn’t wait for her work hours to end – even though it was her first day back to work. She had to take care of business at home. So, as soon as she dismissed her class, she was walking out behind them through the exit. In her haste to get to her car, she accidentally dropped a binder of student hand-outs. She bent to retrieve it, only to be stopped by Levi’s kind gesture.
“Let me get that for you,” he said. “Why the rush?”
Sasha refused to focus on Levi’s scarcely clad body, a skill she was beginning to master by keeping her thoughts centered on how much she loved Drake.
“Thank you, but I could have gotten it myself,” she replied tersely.
“Don’t be mean to me. I was just trying to help.”
Sasha began to walk off but not before she spat, “Just like you’re trying to help destroy my marriage.”
Levi sighed, clearly frustrated with his methods of trying to woo the love of his life. “Come on, Sasha. We both know that you shouldn’t have married Drake. You guys have only been married for a week and he doesn’t even want to talk – not without giving you attitude.”
“Well, aren’t you full of yourself,” she snapped. “My husband is not talking to me and I believe it’s because he suspects something…you’re always hanging around, doing crazy stuff to get us caught. He’s barely talking to you as well!”
“You don’t believe that I’m that evil, do you? And Drake is not smart enough to figure out what’s going on anyway. He’s too consumed with that church of his.”
“That church, is also my church,” Sasha scoffed. “You’re unbelievable! Stay away from me.”
Levi smirked, but his heart was crushed. “I can’t…you mean too much to me. Besides, you’re staying in one of my guest rooms – just feet away from within my reach…”
Sasha didn’t bother to respond to something she thought was so absurd. She climbed into her car and sped out of the parking lot. She was doing fifty in a thirty-mile-an-hour zone. She suddenly slowed down, just in case she sped by a police car. She couldn’t afford to be hindered from her mission. How strange that she would feel this sense of urgency at this particular time of day. It actually felt as if she was about to lose something of value and she couldn’t really explain what it was. All she knew was that she had to get home to Drake and empty her heart of all the lies and deception she’d been carrying around for months.
When Sasha finally made it back to Levi’s compound, she wasted no time calling out to her husband. But from the moment she entered through the front door, she was met with an abnormally quiet atmosphere. It increased Sasha’s anxiety and as she ran from one end of Levi’s house to the other, unable to find Drake, she began to imagine the worst scenarios. But just before she completely lost it to utter panic, she decided to redouble her efforts to the guest room.
She studied the room more closely. One of Drake’s pieces of luggage was missing and so were his toiletries that had been on the dresser that morning. She’d left Drake asleep in bed, which now showed no signs that he’d actually been in it. The bed was properly made and there, resting on one of the pillows, was a folded note. On the outside it read simply, To Sasha. Next to the note was one of the bracelets Hunter had given to them as a wedding gift.
However, it was not until Sasha opened the note that she almost fell to the floor. And it was not because she’d recognized the custom-made insignia, which was stamped on the pages of a notepad Drake had bought two summers ago. The fact that she’d been looking for that particular notepad for as long as she could remember didn’t arrest her attention like the first two sentences written on the paper, which was preceded by a short message from Drake:
Think twice about marrying Sasha. I have proof that she was sleeping with your best friend while you were overseas. This is from a concerned friend.
I received this note on our wedding day. At first I didn’t believe it, because you never gave me a reason to. But when I saw you kissing Levi the other night, my eyes were opened. You never loved me. You’ve been deceiving me all this time. Why did you do this to me when all I ever did was love you? Don’t bother trying to find me; our marriage was over before it even began. – Drake
Weak from shock, Sasha collapsed onto the bed. Even if she wanted to run out into the street, screaming out Drake’s name, she hadn’t the strength to do anything except pray that her sanity remained intact. Was the note even real? Was Drake pulling some kind of prank? But then Sasha thought, how could it be a prank when Drake said he saw her kissing Levi? That in itself was damning evidence that the note was real. Suddenly, the revelation of why Drake had been acting standoffish with her hit her like a ton of bricks. Her suspicions were right; Drake did know.
But why didn’t Drake confront her about it, instead of bottling up all of that anger? She would have explained to him that it was Levi who’d kissed her and not the other way around, she’d never crossed the line of sleeping with him. Why would Drake even believe that garbage? Couldn’t he tell that she was a virgin when he made love to her on their wedding night? It took Sasha about fifteen minutes to finally push herself to her feet. She managed to find her way to the outside porch, where she tried to normalize her breathing. This time, she stared at the note in anger.
Not only was she furious for the way Drake had handled this situation, but she was beyond livid to think that some sick individual dared to give Drake this note on their wedding day. The nerve of that maniac to want to ruin her and Drake’s happiness. However, it didn’t take Sasha long to focus her suspicions on Levi. After all, he’d made it no secret that he thought she was making a mistake by marrying Drake. But could Levi be that treacherous? That manipulative? There was only one way to find out.
Adopting the actions of a bull when a red flag is waved in front of it, Sasha charged back into Levi’s house and began to ransack the place.
[[Love does not dishonor others; it is not self-seeking
1 Corinthians 13:5(NIV)]]
When Levi got home that night from his job at the Blue Marlin, he met his house turned upside down from top to bottom. His only thought was that some bandits had gotten in, putting Drake and Sasha’s safety in jeopardy. Levi kept two licensed guns. One beneath the driver’s seat of his car and the other beneath his mattress. He swiftly spun around to retrieve the one from beneath the driver’s seat. He returned and began to carefully and quietly make his way through the mess.
Levi’s fear of Sasha being hurt, led him first to the guest room, only to find it empty and in greater disarray. Levi’s heart was slamming against his chest as he backed out into the hall. His inspection of other rooms in the house came up empty. Neither Drake nor Sasha could be found anywhere. And as Levi now turned his attention to his own bedroom, he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket to call the police. But no sooner had he stepped foot into his space, than an object came flying in his direction.
“In all the years I’ve known you,” Sasha growled. “I’ve never known you to be so heartless and so calculating.”
Levi stood up straight from his bended position. Whatever Sasha had thrown at him had nearly knocked his head clean off his body. But seeing that Sasha seemed to be okay, (in a sense) gave him a measure of relief. “When I saw my house in chaos, immediately I thought something terrible happened to you…Are you okay? Who did this?”
Sasha swatted Levi’s concern aside and screamed, “You’re just gonna stand there and pretend as if you don’t know what I’m talking about?”
Levi lowered his gun and stuck it in the waist of his pants. He looked around his room and was again amazed at the extent of clutter. His clothes had been pulled out of the drawers. Papers and books were scattered all over the floor. It literally looked as if a twister had been through his house.
“So,” Levi asked with a newfound respect for Sasha’s temper, which of course, he didn’t even know existed. Nonetheless, it was now quite apparent. “You did all this?”
“Stop asking these dumb questions and tell me why did you give Drake that note on our wedding day? Heck, I know why! You were hoping that note would have stopped the wedding, but it didn’t work.”
Levi shot Sasha a blank stare. “What on earth are you talking about?”
Sasha burst out in laughter, but it was filled with derision. “You must have thought you had this all figured out – this silly plan of yours. With Drake off to school, you took your chances trying to seduce me, constantly exposing your body. And when that didn’t work, you tried to feed my mind with negative thoughts about Drake. And when that didn’t work and you saw that I was still determined to marry Drake, you wrote that despicable note in hopes it would have ruined my relationship with Drake for good…”
“Is that what you really think of me, Sasha? That I would go to such lengths to destroy –”
Sasha tossed a notepad at Levi – the same notepad with the custom-designed insignia. “You can stop lying now. The truth is out! My only question is how and when did you take possession of that notepad?”
The notepad had dropped at Levi’s feet, but he refused to even look at it, much less pick it up.
“I found it under your mattress,” Sasha went on. “You are one sick and twisted person and I thank God that He gave me the strength to resist you! How could you do it, knowing that Drake was your best friend and I was his fiancée? You didn’t care, did you? You made your moves anyway, because you arrogantly thought you could pull it off…”
Levi stood there in silence as the barrage of questions and insinuations punctured his soul. But the only thing he could think about in that moment was how much he was in love with Sasha. A mantra started in his head and soon began to verbalize through his mouth, without him being able to control it.
“I love you, Sasha,” he said repeatedly. “I love you…if only you were mine to begin with, all of this could have been avoided…”
“This is not love, Levi! This is the epitome of betrayal and deceit and your egotistical pursuits! I regret the day I ever laid eyes on you! Losing Drake is the greatest loss I’ve ever experienced in my life and I don’t think I will ever forgive you for that!”
“What about your part in the blame? You kissed me first!”
Sasha picked up her steps and stormed past Levi with him following close behind her. He pleaded with her like a man on the verge of insanity. But Levi’s desperation didn’t faze Sasha one bit. With her belongings already packed in the trunk of her car, she simply continued walking until she got to the front porch. There, she fired her final words at Levi.
“Me kissing you could never justify what you’ve done,” she spat. “You single-handedly took away the opportunity for me to explain to my husband what really happened between me and you. And you know quite well that we did not have sex. How could you write such a bold lie in that note? The more I think about what you’ve done, the more upset I get.”
Levi reached out to touch Sasha, but she brutally swatted him away and marched toward her car. In no time she was en route to Paradise Blvd – some ten miles away where her friend, Hunter Rose lived. Hunter had called Sasha yesterday evening to tell her that she was back from her business trip. God always has a ram in the thicket, because Sasha couldn’t imagine going back to that cottage, even if the fumigation had been completed.
Levi jumped into his car to follow Sasha but at the last minute, he decided to return to the Blue Marlin. However, he did not go back there to work another shift, he went there to find a distraction that would erase Sasha from his memory. He sat on one of the stools as if he was one of the patrons, trying his hardest not to lose what was left of his sanity.
“Yo, Charlie!” he yelled to the bartender on duty. “Send down one of those bad boys…I will tell you when I’ve had enough.”
Bacardi 151 was not widely available, simply because of its high alcohol content. It was considered a drink not for the faint of heart. Charlie knew that if nothing else could make Levi forget his agony, certainly this concoction would. He’d mixed the rum into a cocktail and rested it in front of Levi – a shot glass that Levi scarfed down with one gulp.
Levi grunted, yelling at the top of his voice, “Keep ‘em coming, Charlie, keep ‘em coming!”
“It looks as if some silly woman has broken your heart…”
Levi didn’t need to look at the face to recognize the sultry voice of Mama Dee. She eased down on the stool next to him and draped an arm around his shoulder.
“You are so gorgeous, so sexy,” she purred. “You’re like a black stallion. What a fool – whoever she is who has driven you to this miserable state.”
“She’s not a fool,” Levi mumbled.
Mama Dee chuckled. “So, I’m right. It is a woman. Well, in my book she is a fool…look at these huge biceps…so hard…so strong. If only you were mine; I would handle you as if you were my favorite ice cream.”
Levi felt the tips of his ears getting hot as Mama Dee graze her fingers along his neckline. Soon, the entire room suddenly felt as if it were spinning and Levi didn’t know if it was the alcohol working or if it was his lust getting the best of him. In any event, the feeling was beginning to override the pain. He didn’t even bother to drink the refill Charlie had poured in front of him. Instead, he slipped off the stool, pulling Mama Dee along with him.
Mama Dee sensed it was about to go down between her and Levi. She couldn’t stop herself from grinning at her good fortune. “Where are you taking me, handsome?”
“Shut up!” Levi barked. “Before I change my mind…”
He pulled Mama Dee into the Champagne Room – a room where patrons were allowed to perform sexual favors with employees, while others sat back to watch the perverted scenes. It was one of the privileges that came with being a premier member at the Blue Marlin. It didn’t take long for Levi and Mama Dee to begin the initiation process, each trying to rip off each other’s clothing. However, Levi couldn’t go any further beyond the passionate kissing as vivid images of Sasha’s heart-shaped face began to flash through his mind. One month before Sasha’s wedding, Levi had paid her a visit at her apartment, begging her not to marry Drake.
“What are you doing here?” she’d lashed out at him. “I thought I told you that I don’t desire to pursue any sort of relationship with you.”
“Can we at least be friends?” Levi asked. “I didn’t come here to make trouble; I came here to ask your opinion.”
Sasha shot him a suspicious look. “My opinion? On what?”
“Can I come inside for a minute? This won’t take long.”
“No, you cannot come inside my apartment. Drake is now on the island and he could show up any minute.”
Levi sighed, going directly to what he really wanted to say. “Why are you afraid to admit that you have feelings for me too? Marrying Drake is not going to erase them. In fact, you may even regret marrying Drake…don’t marry him, Sasha. I beg you. Follow your heart and do the right thing.”
Seeing the pain and frustration in Levi’s eyes caused Sasha to pull back some of the bleakness in her tone. “Levi, you are a nice guy and someday I pray that you will find the right woman. But I’m sad to say, it won’t be me. You have to accept that I have chosen Drake to be my husband. I love him and I am doing the right thing by marrying him. Now if there is nothing else you came here to say, I suggest you leave – and I mean that in the nicest way possible.” When Levi didn’t respond, Sasha gave him a long hard stare and said, “Goodbye, Levi. I am so sorry, especially if I’ve led you on in any way. My intention was never to hurt you.”
Sasha shut the door in Levi’s face. He stood there a good two minutes before he turned around to leave. But instead of leaving, he walked over to a chair that was in the corner of the small porch. He was about to sit in it, but seeing a notepad with Sasha’s handwriting, he picked it up and began reading it. There was a custom-designed insignia at the top with the words, ‘ALWAYS & FOREVER’. Levi sensed that it was something special given to Sasha by Drake. Right then, envy seized his heart. He pushed the notepad into his pants pocket and moved hastily toward his car.
Mama Dee’s voice brought Levi’s mind back to the current situation at hand. “Kiss me, you big black stallion,” she urged. “I’ll make the pain go away…” She stuck a hand between his legs and grinned. “Just give me ten minutes…”
“Get away from me, you disgusting whore!” Levi pushed the middle-age woman into the sheetrock. But almost immediately, his roar turned into a mass of pitiable cries. His words were shrouded in memories of his beloved Sasha. “I love her…why can’t she understand that I did what I did because I love her?”
Anything and everything that was within reach of his hands or feet, he vandalized. The racket sent Mama Dee and several others screaming out of the Champagne Room. Several men, including the owner of the club rushed in and detained Levi, who was eventually dragged out of the building and left outside in the cold to regain his composure.
“Come on, man, it’s been almost six months. You have to go back home to Devin’s Cay, if only for a short visit. And besides, you can’t legally stay here beyond six months anyway.”
Drake looked at his brother like he’d swallowed lime juice. Kevin Beckford, who was two years older than Drake had tried all he could to get Drake to listen to reason. What sense did it make for Drake to avoid facing Sasha? That was the real reason why Drake didn’t want to go back home to Devin’s Cay, because that would mean he had to explain why he’d left her hanging the way he did. And since Kevin had always enjoyed being a loner, he was now feeling the pitch of Drake invading his personal space.
“I am not ready to go back to Devin’s Cay,” Drake said in between flipping the channels with the remote. “Too many unhappy memories.”
“And you’re partly the cause of it,” Kevin said. “You should have stayed in Devin’s Cay and handled your problem like a man.”
“What do you know about being married?” Drake spat beneath his breath.
“I heard that.” Kevin reached over and snatched the remote from Drake. “Apparently, you don’t know anything about being married either. You might as well as have left Sasha standing at the altar rather than what you did to her. Come on, man. This is Sasha we’re talking about. You two have been dating each other since junior high. The least you could have done was give her the opportunity to express herself.”
Six months ago, Drake would have responded with a sharp retort, but he’d gotten over most of his anger and in its place was a deep void that was growing deeper by the day. His brother was right. He should have stayed in Devin’s Cay and talked things over with Sasha. They may or may not have remained married, but at least he would have had the peace of knowing that he’d honestly given his marriage a fair shot. But so much time had passed, Drake’s pride would not allow him to submit to what he knew was the right thing to do.
“It’s too late for me and Sasha,” Drake finally said. “I haven’t heard from her in six months, which means she’s probably moved on with Levi.”
Kevin shook his head. “Stop making excuses. You know as well as I do Sasha hasn’t moved on with anyone. She agreed to marry you, didn’t she? That should count for something.”
Drake’s comeback was stifled by the sound of Kevin’s cell phone. After talking for a minute or so, he handed the cell phone to Drake.
“It’s for you,” he said. “It’s our dear mother.”
“Is everything okay with her?” Drake inquired.
“Oh, she’s fine, but she says there’s something important she needs to say to you.”
Drake tried not to let his imagination run wild, but ever since he’d left Devin’s Cay, he always felt an ominous presence surrounding him. It seemed to remind him that there was much he needed to settle in his life before it was too late. That phone call from his mother confirmed it. By the time Drake handed Kevin back his phone, he was in tears.
“Please don’t tell me that something has happened to Sasha,” Kevin said.
“It’s not Sasha…” Drake stood to his feet, unable to control the waves of emotions rushing through his body. “It’s Rev. Henderson…he died last night of a heart attack.”
“The old guy who married you and Sasha?”
Too numb to form any more words, Drake simply nodded his response. He hadn’t planned on going back to Devin’s Cay anytime soon, but he had to go now. He’d told Rev. Henderson that he would be back within two months, but two months had turned into six. How could he not attend Rev. Henderson’s funeral? The man had fathered him and had caused Drake’s dreams to flourish from one manifestation to another. The least he could do was to pay his respects to such a giant of a man. Drake stumbled outside for some fresh air. If this was God’s way of punishing him for the error of his ways, God had certainly gotten his attention.
El Shaddai Ministries
Rev. T.G. Henderson’s casket was white marble with gold handles for his six pallbearers to clutch in their glove-covered hands. Tendrils of white lilies draped the altar – the same altar Rev. T.G. Henderson had preached from for forty-seven years. The choir was arrayed in their robes, belting out Rev. Henderson’s favorite hymns, which spoke about receiving an eternal reward. Indeed, the atmosphere was enriched with a graceful quietness that epitomized the life that Rev. Henderson had lived – a man of great honor who’d remained steadfast, even at the very end.
Even though Rev. Henderson would have preferred his son, Drake to eulogize his funeral service, somehow, Elder John managed to convince the board that Drake was not fit to handle such a distinguished setting. Dignitaries from all over the ecclesiastical arena would be in attendance and Drake would probably embarrass them – just as he’d done six months ago when Rev. Henderson had called him to give a simple five-minute exaltation.
The church hadn’t heard from Drake in all that time. How could they even be sure that Drake was still walking with the Lord? As far as Elder John was concerned, Drake had backslidden and was too ashamed to let anyone know about it. With such conviction set into the hearts of the board, Elder John was now at liberty to infiltrate his way into the bishopric. He even sat in Rev. Henderson’s chair and acted as if he’d already been installed as the new leader of El Shaddai Ministries.
Rev. Henderson’s one daughter lived on the other side of the world in Paris. She had a very successful career in the entertainment industry. Elder John seriously doubted that Rev. Henderson’s daughter would be interested in taking over a church in the rural everglades of Devin’s Cay. So really, he was the better candidate anyway. Who else was worthy to fulfil the shoes of Rev. Henderson? However, that smugness was swiped off Elder John’s face when he saw Drake making his way into the sanctuary, who was being closely followed by Kevin Beckford, one of Drake’s brothers and Rena Henderson – the daughter of Rev. Henderson. The usher led the three to the front and sat them in the family and friends section.
But as Elder John mounted the pulpit to continue on with the service, he shook off whatever feeling of intimidation Drake and Rena had brought in with them. There was no way he would allow anyone to move him from the helm of power. While Elder John was busy boiling over with anger, Drake was busy looking around for Sasha. He didn’t see her anywhere in the building, which was a surprise, considering how much Sasha revered Rev. Henderson. But Drake also knew that it meant Sasha was trying to avoid him too. Soon Drake’s subtle gazes were beginning to fill with tears. Rev. Henderson was now gone and it appeared as if Sasha was gone too. He’d lost two of the most important people in his life and he felt most of the blame.
Kevin nudged him on the shoulder. “You okay, man?”
“No…” Drake told his brother. “I am not okay. I don’t know how much longer I can stand being in this church.”
Kevin reached around and gave Drake’s shoulder a manly squeeze. “It’s gonna be alright, kiddo. It feels hopeless now, but you will survive. Trust me.”
Drake appreciated his brother trying to console him, but it was not going to bring Rev. Henderson back, or Sasha for that matter. He caught his falling tears on the back of his hand, turning his attention back to Elder John. A woman was leaning near Elder John’s ear, saying something to him. And whatever it was, Drake could tell that Elder John didn’t approve. His face contorted like he’d tasted something nasty.
“This is a solemn time for Rev. Henderson’s family and friends,” Elder John said into the mic. “And I realize that many would like to express words of condolence or of solace, but for the sake of time, I encourage you to be considerate. Two minutes I believe is quite adequate for you to say what you need to say, with the exception of Rev. Henderson’s daughter, of course. She is at liberty to do as she feels.”
Elder John paused to scan the section where Drake was sitting. He tried to keep the distaste out of his tone, but it was extremely difficult. He would have ignored Drake for the entire service had the mother of the church not sent him that upsetting message to include Drake on the program. But of course, Elder John didn’t want to turn the congregation against him. Most of them were anticipating Drake would say a few words about the man who’d given Drake a full scholarship to study at Valor Christian College. However, this really wasn’t sitting well with Elder John.
“At this time,” he said, “I will call Minister Drake Beckford to greet the congregation and say a few words about Rev. Henderson. And in this order, Minister Beckford will be followed by Pastor Wendy, Bishop Gordon, Rev. White and then Rena Henderson.”
Drake was half-expecting the announcement, but what he didn’t get was why Elder John was so disgruntled. It was obvious that he was now the new overseer of El Shaddai Ministries – a position that Drake didn’t really want anyway. The old guy should be thankful, showing a little more gratitude. Putting those thoughts aside for the moment, Drake took the mic from Elder John, but not without noticing the grimace on Elder John’s face, which seemed to say, ‘You had better not mess this up.’
“Paul said to his protégé in 2 Timothy 4, beginning at verse 7,” Drake began in a surprisingly even tone, “‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.’ Those words were spoken centuries ago, but what fitting words to be spoken over the life of Rev. Terrance Gerald Henderson…As most of you know, Rev. Henderson was like a father to me. In fact, he was more than a father to me…he was my daddy, my friend, my confidant, my mentor…”
Drake paused to get his bearings, because at that point the strength of his voice failed him. “Rev. Henderson was a man worthy of double honor. If I produced only a fraction of what he’d drilled into me, I would be well on my way to following his godly example. While I have this opportunity, I must use it to apologize to you – the wonderful members of El Shaddai Ministries, for the way I’ve handled my personal issues. It has only resulted in disappointing you and caused a temporal desertion of my vocation. Rev. Henderson had a lot of confidence in me and even now as I stand here, I don’t know if I have what it takes to ever walk in my father’s shoes…”
Drake paused again, as he choked back his tears. It had become increasingly difficult to continue his speech. But the more he cried, the more affection he received from the congregation, so much so that they jumped to their feet and began to cheer. Drake needed not to say another word. The congregation understood. Elder John was on his feet as well, but he did not rise to join in with the cheers for this wayward young minister. He rose to take the mic from Drake and escort him off the pulpit.
When the cheering did not die down, Elder John spoke into the mic and reminded them that they had a long program to execute. The noise gradually simmered down, but Elder John could already see that he would have a serious problem if Drake stayed in Devin’s Cay.
Even after three hours of sitting toward the end of Rev. Henderson’s funeral service, and another forty minutes at the gravesite, many of the parishioners accosted Drake as he tried to exit the grounds. Some simply wished him well, while others were tossing a barrage of questions at him, wanting to know if he would be coming back to El Shaddai Ministries, and if he would succeed Rev. Henderson as the next bishop. It was what Rev. Henderson wanted anyway. They didn’t see any reason why Drake couldn’t lead them. Because they certainly didn’t want Elder John and many of them said as much.
But Drake, being the humble, peaceful man that he was, shied away from the limelight and retreated into the rental car that Kevin had paid for. He allowed his head to connect with the headrest, tired from the emotional roller-coaster, tired from fighting with his regrets.
“You did well in there, kiddo,” Kevin said. “Look at the people; they love you.”
“People are fickle,” Drake said. “In two weeks their emotions will settle and only remember that I abandoned the church for six months.”
Kevin shook his head. “You have a weird way of seeing the world. I hope in two weeks you will see that these people need you –”
“Where do you think Sasha could be?” Drake asked, interrupting his brother. “I was hoping to see her before we head back to Tampa.”
“We? I’m the only one going back home to Tampa, but you, little brother, are staying here in Devin’s Cay to work through your mess.”
“Don’t bet on it,” Drake said. “There’s nothing keeping me here now.”
“So what if you see Sasha and she wants you to stay. Then what?”
Drake didn’t respond, mostly because he didn’t know how to. It’d only been six months, but it felt like ages since he’d talked to Sasha. What would he say? What was he to expect? She probably didn’t want to talk to him anyway.
Drake suddenly lifted his head from the headrest and said, “I have an idea where Sasha might be.”
Kevin took his eyes off the road for a second, glancing at Drake’s profile. “Just give me the directions and we’ll be on our way.”
“Paradise Blvd,” Drake answered. “Hunter Rose lives there – Sasha’s one and only friend.”
About ten miles later, the Beckford brothers turned through the affluent gated community of Paradise Blvd. The homes were large and in charge with Spanish finishes and well-kept lawns, which told Kevin that Sasha’s friend must have a pretty decent job to afford such a lifestyle. He eased the rental car in behind a late model Jaguar and as fate would have it, Hunter and Sasha were exiting the Jaguar at the same time.
“What is it?” Drake asked, clearly annoyed by Kevin’s sudden outburst.
“Sasha’s friend is a hottie,” Kevin said, but because of his strict choice in women, he was quick to suppress his admiration. “But she’s white.”
Drake waved his brother off. “We drove here to see Sasha and I was right…she is staying with Hunter.”
“Good guess, now what are you going to do, Superman?”
Drake shrugged. “I don’t know, but Sasha and I do need to talk.”
Drake exited the rental car and began to tread carefully toward the women. He paused about ten feet from Sasha, who was obviously in shock. She’d allowed her brown hair to grow past her neckline – it was the first time Drake had seen her do so in years. Her heart-shaped face still showed that radiant innocence, and standing in her presence felt just as comforting as the first time he’d laid eyes on her.
However, it was the pain in Sasha’s eyes that kept Drake at bay. It made him realize that maybe he’d been too harsh in his judgment. He saw that he had wounded her deeply. But he was hurting too – not so much from the memory of seeing her kissing Levi, but from the distance he’d put between them. It seemed as if they were staring at each other forever; that is, until Hunter stepped forward to break the silence.
“Sasha, honey, what do you want me to do? I can go inside or I can stay out here with you… your choice. In any event, you and your husband need to talk.”
Sasha blinked back her tears. “Don’t leave, Hunter. This shouldn’t take long.”
Sasha closed in the space between her and Drake, which felt like the hardest thing she’d ever done in her life. Her first inclination was to ask Drake why he’d abandoned her, but instead her hand swiftly moved from her side and landed squarely on the left side of Drake’s jaw. She struck him repeatedly until Drake took a hold of her and forced her into a hug.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, his heart breaking all over again. “I’m so sorry, Sasha for what I put you through…please forgive me…”
Sasha pushed off from Drake’s chest after a minute of Drake’s pleading. “After six months you try and waltz your way back into my life. Certainly you don’t expect it to be that easy.”
“I wasn’t expecting it to be easy,” Drake said. “I was hoping that we could talk.”
Sasha’s tears were pouring by this time. She took one long look at Drake and then spun away from him. Hunter opened the front door and Sasha marched through it like she was on a mission to break something.
“What are you waiting for?” Hunter called out to Drake. “Get your butt in here and give your woman some love. She is only acting like that because she misses you.”
Drake wasted no time arguing with Hunter; he simply complied. Kevin sat in humor, watching the scene the entire time. His smirk suddenly turned into a full blown grin. This Hunter, whomever she was, seemed to be more than just a white woman. She was a peacemaker and that was the kind of woman that Kevin admired. Maybe he should go in and say hello.
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“Sasha, please, slow down!”
Drake barely caught his wife’s lithe frame turning the corridor, determined to get away from him. He’d finally tracked her down and he was not going to let her get away from him. They had to talk about this situation with Levi. But Drake didn’t get why Sasha was so upset when she was the one who’d cheated on him. He almost felt justified leaving her for those six months because it certainly didn’t compare to what she’d done to him. However, this negative chain of thoughts was not what Drake wanted at the start of their conversation. Because it was such thinking that had kept him from seeking reconciliation with his wife in the first place.
“Sasha,” Drake called, right before she’d slammed one of Hunter’s bedroom doors in his face, “are you going to calm down so that we can talk?”
“So now you wanna talk,” she spat back. “You should have thought about that six months ago when I begged you to tell me what was going on with you. You looked at me with disdain and intentionally said things to hurt my feelings. The next thing I knew, you disappeared without a trace.”
“I didn’t disappear; I went to Tampa and stayed with my brother.”
Sasha pulled the room door open and looked at Drake like he’d lost his mind. “I didn’t know where you were. If you wanted me to find you, you would have said so in the note you left me, which by the way, were some of the most heartless and painful words I’ve ever laid eyes upon. And the thing that hurt me the most was that you never gave me the opportunity to explain my side of the story. That was so selfish of you – to treat me with such blatant disrespect, as if I never mattered to you!”
“I realize now that I’d made a very immature decision,” Drake tried to explain, “but Sasha, pause for a minute and put yourself in my shoes…”
“I don’t need to put myself in your shoes,” she snapped, “because I would have never done what you did, no matter how hurt I was.”
Sasha spun away from Drake because his handsome face was making it hard for her to enjoy her anger. Those six months he’d been gone, she’d cried herself to sleep almost every night, wishing she didn’t miss him so much. But she did, so much so that she thought she would literally die from the loneliness. Now he was suddenly back in her life and she did not know how to react.
Drake followed Sasha into the room, closing the door behind him. “Can you imagine what it was like for me, seeing you in Levi’s arms, kissing him, and we hadn’t even been married a week? What was I to think – how was I to react – especially when I had an anonymous note in my pocket that said you’d slept with my best friend?”
Sasha kept her back turned toward Drake. “Do you even know who sent that note to you?”
“Does it matter?”
“Of course it matters… It matters because the note wasn’t true. It matters because Levi was the one who sent it. It matters because you believed it and acted upon it and allowed it to ruin years of trust between us.”
Drake crumpled his forehead in confusion, as his perception of the situation began to disintegrate into a million pieces. “Who told you that Levi sent that note?”
FROM THE DESK OF H H FOWLER
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Imagine on your wedding day â€“ the happiest day of your life â€“ someone hands you an anonymous note that says the person you're about to marry has cheated on you with your best friend. What would be your first reaction? Drake Beckford, an up and coming young minister of El Shaddai Ministries, finds himself in a similar situation when he goes off to Bible School in Columbus, Ohio, entrusting his bride to be, Sasha McKay into the hands of his best friend, Levi Johnson. Sasha has been Drakeâ€™s first and only love since they were twelve years old and from that time to the present Drake has always believed her to be a woman of honor and integrity and she has never given him reason to doubt her love or her loyalty. However, unbeknownst to Drake, while he is away Levi has developed strong feelings for Sasha and it seems as if she, too, is fond of Levi. What will become of their budding attraction when Drake returns to make Sasha his wife? With that upsetting note wedged between his fingers, as he watches Sasha walk up the aisle to meet him, does Drake even dare believe such a wild accusation about her? If You Were Only Mine is the first book in H H Fowler's new novella Christian romance series, Real Love, which attempts to show what love really is, based on 1 Corinthians 13. For many can talk love talk, but not very many can walk the real love walk. Sit back and enjoy a whole new cast of characters that will no doubt leave you with times of reflection and questions about your own interpretation of what it means to express real love. Bestseller of Urban Christian Romance Series