“…an excellent Christian romance and suspense mystery mix, where Love, Faith and the impact of Deception are the offering.”
—Bridal Tribe Magazine
The Church House Series, Book 1 (July 2014)
“A secret worth killing for threatens to destroy two families and an entire congregation.”
As a child, Tangela Houston experienced “sanctified” cruelty at the hands of her doctrine driven mother. Had it not been for her father’s kind, faithful heart and a desire to find her true self, she would have gladly exchanged Christianity for a pair of designer boots. But when she accepts an invitation from Felecia Williams, her mentor and direct supervisor, to visit Greater Tabernacle Christian Center, Tangela rededicates her life to God at the feet of Pastor Keith Mitchell, a man who would do anything to keep secrets from his past hidden. She even bumps into college crush turned professional football player Eric Parker and rekindles the old flame.
Her confidence in her newfound relationship with the Savior and Eric is shattered when she finds herself accused of murdering Felecia and in the arms of David Moss, the newly appointed minister of music, who is tied to her in a way that will change her life forever.
Tangela waited for her mother’s loud, commanding voice to slice through the morning’s thick quietness. Terrified that something would tick off the woman, who was already short fused and looking for a reason to spank the child, Tangela scanned the room and decided to straighten her covers, fluff her pillows, and tuck the stray hairs back under her headscarf. She lay on her pillow, staring up at the pink floral printed canopy delicately tied to the white washed, solid oak four-post bed.
It won’t be long now, Tangela thought as she listened to her mother make her way down the hallway.
As much as she wished her father would make the morning wake up rounds, Tangela knew it was totally out of the question. Her mother, First Lady Ruthie Houston, thought it totally inappropriate for a man to see a young girl in her pajamas, even if the young girl was his daughter. Mama, as Tangela called her with biting contempt, would rather have her teeth knocked out than to allow her daughter to live a normal life. It would take a strong person to knock out those teeth as Ruthie stood at five-foot-eleven and stoutly weighing at least 240 pounds.
Everyone outside the walls of the Houston home pegged Ruthie as a loving wife and doting but strict mother. Unfortunately, Tangela knew the real woman behind the long skirts and loud amens. Ruthie took being the wife of a Church of God in Christ pastor to a whole new level. The woman enjoyed her husband’s position and absolutely refused to have anyone, especially their child, cloud his name. Tangela had to be well-behaved at all times and adhere to all of the rules set forth by the Church and by God’s Word.
Other children could watch television, go swimming, and ride the bus to school. Tangela’s mother subscribed to the belief that everything fun was sinful and didn’t mind letting her seven-year-old daughter know it.
“Amy can do whatever her parents allow,” Tangela’s mother told her after she asked to go to the girl’s birthday party. “No child of mine is going to a pool party. Good girls don’t wear swimsuits and should not be seen in public in soaking wet t-shirts.”
“But,” Tangela said.
Ruthie slapped Tangela across the face and proclaimed, “You will do as I say.”
Tangela ran her hands across the spot her mother slapped the night before. She looked at her closed door and then at the old-fashioned alarm clock on her night table. The short hand pointed to the seven—the long hand, to the four. Since it was Sunday morning, Tangela’s mother wouldn’t come into her room for another twenty minutes. School days were different.
Monday through Friday she left home by 7:30 a.m. dressed to the nines. Tangela road forty-five minutes to attend Holy Lambs Christian Academy. She didn’t know what was so private about the school because she knew everyone there.
“The school is private because unruly children cannot attend school with good kids like you,” Ruthie explained while looking at Tangela through the rearview mirror at the beginning of the school year. “Public schools are for them, the bad kids.”
Saturdays brought about entirely different challenges. While other children slept in or rose early to watch cartoons, Tangela got up at six for breakfast and then accompanied her parents to the roughest parts of town to witness to sinners.
She liked visiting sinners because they usually had children. While the grown-ups talked in the living room or the kitchen, the kids played outside. If it was cold or rainy, they watched television in another room, away from the adults.
A few Saturdays ago her parents went on vacation, so she went witnessing with Leroy and Judy Rice, members of Tangela’s father’s church who happened to teach at Holy Lambs. Tangela liked Mr. Rice more than she liked Mrs. Rice. Judy was almost as mean as Ruthie.
The sinner she visited with the Rices lived in Open Arms Housing Projects. Tangela looked fearfully at the broken windows and graffiti brick as Judy urged her to walk faster. A man wearing a torn, red plaid shirt and white tight underpants limped quickly toward the trio shouting cuss words, angry that Leroy refused to acknowledge him as he begged for money. The sinner woman opened the door and invited them in just as the man started cussing.
Tangela had never seen a home so poorly kept. Papers with crayon scribbles covered the glass coffee table, stuffed animals made a soft mountain on the blue velvet love seat, and the carpet had visible dirt stains. But the woman, who introduced herself as Karen, proudly offered everyone a seat and then called for her children to come into the living room.
Two girls, who appeared to be seven or eight, ran into the living room still in African-American Barbie pajamas. Tangela had never seen Black Barbie dolls. The girls were not dressed properly for company but appeared happier than all the kids who went to church with her.
Tangela looked around and waited for the rest of the family. No one else came. There was just a mommy, no daddy—and the two girls.
Leroy and Judy followed the same routine as Tangela’s parents, adults in the front talking, kids playing somewhere else. The mom with no dad for her children told the kids to play in her bedroom because it was the only one with a television, and the crime was too bad for them to play outside.
The girls decided to play dress up. Tangela stared around the room, amazed at all of the grown up girly stuff. There were red dresses, see through animal print scarves, and perfume bottles. Make up and nail polish littered almost every surface. Karen’s clothes looked like they belonged to a rich woman, nothing like the old-lady clothes her mom wore. A thick, satin red bedspread with matching pillows covered a heart-shaped bed.
The oldest girl, who couldn’t have been more than a year older than Tangela said, “Before we get started, we should introduce ourselves. I’m Mercedes, and this is my sister, Lexus.”
Tangela laughed and said, “Those aren’t your real names. You’re trying to trick me. Mercedes and Lexus are cars.”
“We know they’re cars, but they’re our names, too.”
“My name is Tangela. I’m sorry for making fun.”
“That’s okay, your name sounds like a fruit,” Mercedes said while looking in her mom’s vanity mirror trying to untie the knot in her headscarf. “You are pretty and light skinned like my sister. I’m black ‘cause my daddy is real black. Is that your momma and daddy up there talking to my momma?”
“No. My mom and dad are on vacation.”
Mercedes rolled her eyes. “So, who do you look like?”
“I don’t know,” Tangela said after she thought about it for a few moments.
“Your momma and daddy must be light just like mine,” Lexus said.
“Nope. My mom and dad are the same color as Mercedes.”
Both of the girls looked confused. Mercedes said, “Then your momma don’t know who your daddy is. My momma’s girlfriend doesn’t know who her little boy’s daddy is. It’s okay ‘cause your daddy must be too stupid to know. His feelings won’t be hurt ‘cause he’ll probably leave your momma to raise you by herself just like our daddies.”
Tangela shook her head. “My daddy loves me. And I don’t have to look like anyone. I look like my own self.”
Lexus yoked her neck as she scolded Mercedes. “Momma told you about being in grown folks’ business. You’re gonna get a whuppin’ if you don’t shut your mouth.”
Mercedes sighed, sucked her teeth, and said, “Come on, girl. Let’s put some make-up and high heel shoes on.”
Excited, Tangela mimicked Mercedes’ dress up technique. She had never played dress up. Her mom didn’t have stuff she wanted to play with anyway. All her mom ever wore was long-sleeved black dresses and skirts that nearly touched the floor. She didn’t wear makeup and only wore white on first Sundays.
“Tangela,” Judy called, “let’s go.”
Tangela rushed to put on her shoes and headed up the hallway. The girls waved goodbye to each other.
“Where do you think you’re going looking like a Jezebel?” Judy grabbed her and wiped her face with a Kleenex, and said, “You just like your momma looking like some street walker.” She hit Tangela hard on the back, just above her shoulder blade.
“You can take a child from its momma, but can’t take the momma out the child,” Leroy said.
Mercedes and Lexus’ mom looked embarrassed and asked Judy and her husband to leave. She screamed something about them being hypocrites and that God would get them for mistreating a child like that.
“We didn’t mean you,” Judy tried to clean up her statement.
“You just meant people who wear make-up like me.”
Tangela went home that day, not mentioning any of the things that was said or done while out witnessing. Mercedes’ words did cause Tangela to wonder because she really didn’t look like her mother or father.
“Maybe my daddy really isn’t my dad, and it makes Mama upset,” she said to Lily, her pillow baby. Tangela used a small pillow as a baby doll.
“Dolls are not allowed in my home,” her mother told her grandmother, who had purchased Tangela a Cabbage Patch Kid with real hair. “It encourages girls to become unwed mothers.”
“Tangela,” her mother called from the hallway, “get out of that bed.”
Tangela tucked the pillow baby under the other pillows, and jumped out of bed. One foot landed on the light green, shag rug and the other slid into her slippers just before her mother turned on the light. She stood in place and squinted as her eyes adjusted to the light beaming from the 100-watt bulb overhead.
“Stop looking crazy! You know that since your daddy has been elected regional superintendent of our church we have to get there on time!” Her mother walked over to the closet, pulled out a long sleeved, ankle length, navy blue sailor girl dress, hung it on the back of the door, and said, “Make your bed! Only nasty people leave their beds unmade.”
After straightening out the fitted sheet, Tangela crafted perfect hospital corners with the flat one over the mattress at the foot of the bed then made sure it laid smoothly over the fitted sheet. She placed her perfectly-fluffed pillows in front of the headboard before going into her bathroom to wash up.
She took off her pajama top revealing her white spaghetti strapped tank top, turned on her bath water, and drug her step stool over to the sink. Tangela grabbed her toothbrush from the holder and placed it on the counter. Knowing that it would be difficult to get anything out of the flat tube of Crest, she rolled the tube from the bottom and tried to force at least a dab of the green gel onto her toothbrush. Nothing. Tangela turned off the bathtub’s running faucet and headed up the hall to the main linen closet to retrieve a new tube of toothpaste.
“Get back in your room, walking around half-naked,” her mother yelled.
“Momma, I don’t have any tooth…”
Her mother slapped her in the mouth, causing her to fall to the floor. Tangela wailed as her mother hit her repeatedly. “Shut up when I am speaking to you. And do what I tell you.”
“Ruthie!” Tangela’s father grabbed the woman’s arm. “Stop hitting my child.”
“Do you see what she’s walking around the house in, Kevin?” Ruthie said.
“She’s a seven year old wearing pajamas.” He took Tangela’s hand and started walking toward her bathroom.
Tangela sobbed. “I need toothpaste.”
Her father grabbed a new tube of toothpaste for Tangela’s bathroom, took her into her bedroom, and told her to close her eyes. She obeyed and listened to her father’s footsteps fade into the distance and then return.
“Open your eyes,” her father said.
When Tangela opened her eyes, she saw a three ruffle, yellow taffeta dress with a matching purse. She ran over to the garment and caressed the fabric. “Daddy! “It’s so pretty and my favorite color.”
“I know, baby. You look like a ray of sunshine in yellow. Did I ever tell you that your very first dress was yellow?”
“Yeah, Daddy.” Tangela looked at the floor.
“What’s wrong?” Her father picked her up.
“I know why Mommy doesn’t like me.”
“Who said your mother doesn’t like you?”
“No one, but she is always mean to me. I think she knows that you are not my real daddy because I am light-skinned, and you guys are dark. She’s mad about it because you’re going to leave her to take care of me all alone, with no help.”
He stroked Tangela’s long, curly hair, reassuring her in a loving, fatherly tone, “That’s not true. We are different skin tones because God, our father, made us that way. Your mom has had a lot on her mind lately, but I will have a talk with her.” He kissed Tangela on the forehead and left.
Tangela heard her parents screaming at each other through the adjoining bedroom’s wall.
“Kevin, you have got to stop spoiling that girl.”
“How is being a good, caring father going to spoil Tangela?” he asked his wife.
“You keep buying her all them colorful dresses. You’re turning her into a Jezebel just like her…”
Tangela’s father interrupted so she did not hear the last part of her mother’s statement.
“Don’t you ever say that again,” Kevin warned. “I treat you so kind. Why can’t you treat Tangela that way? If you didn’t want her, we should have never-”
Tangela ran into the room, completely dressed in the new outfit her father laid out for her, and screamed, “Stop it. Just, stop it. I hate having a momma and a daddy. I saw two girls last week and they were happy with only a momma. I wish I only had a daddy!”
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