Sample of By Grace I Fell For You






Copyright © 2016 Nikki Smith

All rights reserved. No part of the work may be reproduced without the expression written permission of the author. This book is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. All characters, events, and incidents in this book are a product of the author's imagination.







Hey China, can I holler at you for a second?”

China looked at Shedrick Thompson, who was a member of her church. She nodded her head and smiled. "Okay, Shedrick. I only have a few minutes. But go ahead and shoot."

China didn't think that Shedrick's Kool-Aid grin could get any bigger, but it did.

"Here's the deal, girl. Let me take you out to dinner this evening. I got a bonus at work last week, so I got some extra money. What do you say? How about we hit up the Applebee's?"

Shedrick had been trying to go out with China ever since she could remember — probably ever since they were both in the eighth grade. China had never felt Shedrick like that. But since he was a nice enough guy, she always tried to let him down gently.

I'm sorry, Shedrick. I'm gonna have to say no to dinner. I put in twelve hours at my shop today, then I had to come down here to Bible Study. I'm too tired to be going out anywhere else this evening. But thank you for thinking about me, though. I’ll see you later. I'm about to drive myself home and crash on the sofa with a salad or something from the Mickey D’s drive-through."

Standing only a few feet away from Shedrick and China, Arianna Bluestone had caught the whole conversation. She couldn't help but give China a stink eye — even though they were right there in the house of the Lord. Arianna had been wanting to get with Shedrick ever since she'd started coming to New Day of Faith Tabernacle a couple of years ago. But no matter how nice she would be to Shedrick, he'd never take her up on her offer to go out or anything.

Arianna shook her head and picked her purse up from off of the chair beside her. Then she made her way out of the fellowship hall and started walking towards her car. Before she could get there, her bestie, Keisha intercepted her.

"Damn, Arianna. Did you just see Shedrick in there drooling all over that bougie trick?"

Both Arianna and Keisha had grown up in the hood in single-family households that had been run by their mothers. China, on the other hand, had grown up in an upper middle class house in the suburbs with both of her parents. She'd never wanted for anything in life. So therefore, in Arianna and Keisha's eyes, that automatically made her bougie — no matter how nice China was to almost everybody she met, even them.

Arianna's frown deepened into a scowl. "Yeah, girl. I saw him in there drooling all over her uppity behind alright. That girl make me sick. Sometimes I just wish she'd disappear off the face of the earth."

Keisha snickered. "All you have to do is say the word. I can get Big Mike and them to have her butt sleeping with the fishes."

Arianna rolled her eyes at her bestie. "Girl, you always bragging about Big Mike. He ain't nothing but a two cent wannabe gangsta. What he should be worrying about is paying his child support so you can afford to take care of his two kids."

Keisha sucked her teeth. "I don't know why you attacking me for. I’m just trying to be your friend. I'm not the one in there smiling up into the face of the man your butt’s interested in. You should save that type of behavior for China. Not me…the chick's who's had your back since day one."

Arianna forced a tiny smile on her face — even though Keisha was getting on her nerves. She do be loaning me money sometimes when I need it. So I better play nice to her buck-tooth behind. "Okay, Keisha. You're right, girl. Sorry about all of that. I'll see you later… Alright? And don’t forget, if you need a babysitter for the kids tomorrow, give me a call. I’m off work till Saturday."

A’ight, Arianna.”

China caught the tail end of Keisha and Arianna's conversation as she made her way out of the church and out to the parking lot. She didn't say a word to them, she only gave them a tiny smile and a wave, hopped into her BMW, and went about her way.

No matter how nice Arianna and Keisha acted to her face, it was no secret to China that neither of the ladies liked her very much. It didn't feel good knowing that people who were her fellow parishioners at New Day of Faith Tabernacle disliked her for no apparent reason, but that was alright with China because she had plenty of friends and family who loved and supported her.

The words that her mother had told her when she'd come home crying about some girls who didn't like her back in second grade immediately popped into China's mind. Her mother had said: Everybody's not gonna be your friend, baby. But you still have to treat people with respect. God will see that and smile down from heaven at you.’

With her mother’s sage advice on her mind, China hit the interstate. Even the Bible tells us to love our enemies, she thought to herself. I'm gonna love them, but I’m not gonna be no fool. Just as long as they don’t cause me any problems, we're alright.

She had to leave all of that thinking alone because her cell phone began ringing. She pressed the button on the computerized panel on her BMW’s dashboard to answer the call.

"Hey, China. It's me, Tamera.”

China chuckled. “I know it’s you, boo. I copped that from my called ID. What’s going on in your world this evening?”

"I was just calling to see whether or not you had those new sundresses in your shop yet. Jermaine is taking me somewhere special this weekend and I wanted to wear something that would wow him. You know, knock his socks off."

China owned her very own fashion and alterations shop. She’d majored in business and administration, as well as fashion design in college. She’d decided to use both degrees for herself, and had consequently opened her own business. She was proud to be able to say that her shop — Divalicious By Design — was doing quite well. It paid all of her bills and then some.

China smiled. “I hear you, boo. And yes...I got ‘em in this morning, and I even sewed up some scarves to go with them.”

Well, I guess I’ll be seeing you tomorrow around noon then. Now on a different note… How was Bible Study?”

It was good, Tamera. We finished up the segment that we started last week dealing with grace. I sure missed you being there this evening though. Arianna and Keisha were being their normal selves — you know, being all nice-nasty towards me.”

Tamera frowned. “Those two better be glad that I’m not the person I used to be. You’re too nice to be throwing punches. But by now, the old Tamera woulda asked them if they needed to take whatever problem they were having out into the parking lot, boo—,” she thinned her lips in dissatisfaction, “—and I wouldn’t have cared that we were at church. I tell you...the weave would’ve been flying this-a-way and that-a-way. Half of Arianna’s tracks woulda been on the ground.”

China was ashamed to admit that she smiled a little from imagining all of that. Lord, please forgive a lowly sinner like myself for thinking that was funny. Being like that is a tad bit petty.

"For real though, China, what do you think Arianna and Keisha's problem is?"

China sighed again. "I don't know, honey. I don't recall doing anything in specific to get on their bad side.”

Tamera shook her head. “I guess some people are just foul-spirited like that — even some of us church folk.”

China turned on her blinker and pulled into the fast food joint’s parking lot. “Well, it’s almost my turn at the drivethrough. Unfortunately for me, I’m only having a salad from Wendy’s for dinner.”

Alright, boo. I’ll let you go ahead and handle your business. See you tomorrow.”




When China finally pulled into her driveway, she couldn't help but notice the newlywed couple who lived right beside her — Nicole and Rahim. They were walking out of their house hand-in-hand and looking so much in love.

China smiled as Rahim pulled the door open for Nicole, then leaned in and gave her a quick kiss.

Why can't I have a soulmate for myself like that?

China couldn't remember the last time she'd been on a date — that's how long ago it had been since she’d had someone who she was halfway serious with in her life. Over the past couple of years, the majority of her attention had been spent on making her small business the success that it was.

She grabbed her salad and her purse off of the seat and made her way out of her car. She threw up her hand and gave the couple a friendly wave. Then she made her way into her lonely, but beautiful two-story home.

The second she hit the foyer, her tabby cat rubbed up against her ankle and purred. She smiled down at her furry baby. “At least I got you, Ms. Pickles. That’s better than nothing.”

China couldn’t help but wonder if she was about to end up like their childhood neighbor, the elderly Mrs. Pennington. Mrs. Pennington had only had a houseful of cats to keep her company in her old age. She’d had seventeen of them.




China got to her shop at seven o'clock on the nose the following morning. She didn't officially open the doors of her store until nine o'clock each day, but she’d gotten there extra early that particular Thursday because she was working on sewing a custom-made wedding dress for a client.

As she applied sequins to the shiny satin fabric, she frowned and began talking out loud to her God. "Is my day ever coming, Lord? Is my Mr. Right ever gonna find me? This makes the eleventh bridal gown that I've sewn in the last two years. Everybody seems to be finding that special someone —,” she sucked her teeth, “—everybody but me."

Her frown deepened as she accidentally knocked the small tray that she had the sequins in on the floor. Maybe I should just leave that whole line of thinking alone and concentrate on the job at hand. Is that what you're trying to tell a sista, Lord?

She decided that that was indeed the case. So she began placing her entire focus on her dressmaking job at hand.

Once nine o’clock arrived, she was happy that she had her assistant, Gabriella, working with her in the store that particular morning. Business was real good that day — in other words, a lot of customers were coming through the door shopping for fashionable clothing and whatnot.

She loved having the foot traffic coming into her shop, because that meant that she was making money. But she was also relieved when the rush started to dwindle down somewhat as noon approached. It was also at that time that her regular delivery driver walked through the front door of Divalicious by Design — all gorgeous milk chocolate-colored six feet of him. Andre Miller was a fine brotha, the type of man that women took notice of the second he walked into a room. And China was definitely taking notice of him right now. Yes, she knew he was a good-looking man, but she figured that if he were interested in her, he would’ve said something already — after all, he’d been coming into her shop for a little over two years now.

Hey there, Andre. What you got for me today?”

Andre pulled the five cardboard boxes into the shop on a handcart. Then he flashed China a smile. I have ten big ones for you, China. Five right here… And my assistant’s out in the truck getting the other five ready to pull in.” He handed her his electronic tablet. “You know the routine...all I need is your signature.”

China took the tablet and scribbled her name on it. Then she handed it right back to Andre.

He caught a whiff of her sweet, floral perfume and grinned again. The signature scent that he’d come to associate with China always made him feel a little happy on the inside and it always made him smile. The fragrance reminded him a lot of her — sweet and pretty.

You want them in the back, China?” he asked.

She nodded her head. “Could you please? I’d hate to try to get them all the way back there by myself. They look kinda heavy.”

Technically, Andre was supposed to just leave the shipments in the front of her store for speed’s sake — that was according to the company he work for’s handbook. But he always made an exception for China. He always placed her shipments wherever she wanted them.

As he nodded his head and said, “Alright’, his assistant came through the front door pulling the other five large boxes. After they’d gotten the boxes into China’s backroom, both Andre and his assistant went along their way.

Gabriella glanced at the front door of Divalicious By Design as soon as it closed behind the two. She licked her lips then glanced over at China. “Lord, boo… That Andre is sure ‘nough fine as he wanna be.”

Um, I thought you only had eyes for Rayquan, Gabriella.”

Gabriella smacked her lips. “Yeah, I do. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t call out a good-looking brotha when I see one.” She laughed and pointed her finger at China. “Don’t worry, can have him. I told your butt last week that you should ask him out or something.” She winked her eye. “I already found out that he’s single for you.”

China hadn’t been able to believe it when her girl had asked Andre last week whether or not he had a girlfriend. Gabriella had emphasized to Andre that she herself was taken — that she had a boyfriend — she had jokingly told him that she had some friends who were single and might be interested. China had felt like crawling under one of her store’s displays that day because Andre’s eyes had somehow fell on her.

Gabriella continued speaking. “I don’t know why the two of you are being so slow about it. He likes you — I can tell. And you like him — yeah, I can tell that, too.”

China didn’t feel like denying it to her friend. “You know me, Gabriella. I’m ol’ school. I’m not asking no man out to nowhere. If Andre’s interested in me, he’s gonna have to be the one doing the persuing — not the other way around.”

It’s not the eighteen hundreds anymore, boo. We’re living in the new millennium… The 2000s."

China shook her head. "The Bible says that he who finds a wife finds a good thing. Not the other way around. I think God put it like that in the Bible because that's how he wants man and woman to conduct themselves."

Gabriella believed in God and everything, but she didn't consider herself to be fired up for Christ like China considered herself to be. Truth be told, sometimes Gabriella was jealous of how tight China appeared to be with God. But since her grandma had told her not to be envious of folks, she normally suppressed that particular emotion.

"Okay, okay, China. Maybe you should start saying a prayer or two that he decides to ask you out one day. You guys seem really compatible to me. Every time he comes in here y'all chitchat about those boring old sci-fi movies that both of y'all like. Y’all like eating the same types of food — he loves sushi bars just like you do. And he likes going to church all the time — just like you.”

China sighed. “I’m sure that if the two of us belong together, the Lord’ll find a way to make our getting together happen. Know what I mean?”

Now it was Gabriella’s turn to sigh. “Alright, chica. I feel you.”

As soon as Gabriella said that, China’s bestie, Tamera, breezed through the doors of her shop.

Hey, hey, hey, ladies. A little birdie told me that y’all got those new sundresses ready.”

Gabriella flashed Tamera a smile. "Maybe you can talk some sense into your girl here's head. Go ahead and tell her that it ain't nothing wrong with her asking that fine as wine delivery driver, Andre, out on the town."

Tamera shook her head. "Now you know goodness well, Gabriella, that China's not gonna do something like that. And I can't rightly say that I blame her. I done seen more than my fair share of women running after some man that God hadn't prepared for them. Now I’m not saying it’s anything wrong with dating, of course. I just don't think that a woman ought to be chasing a man.”

Tamera sucked her teeth. “Shoot, I done had more than my fair share of messed up relationships behind doing mess like that my ownself. That's why I was so glad when God finally put my Boaz in my life." She shook her head. "I didn't have to chase after Jermaine. He did all the chasing after me."

Gabriella laughed. “Alright, alright. Obviously it’s two against one, so I guess you guys win. Now on that note, I’mma go over there and see if that customer who just came in the door needs my professional help.” She flicked an imaginary collar. “A sista don’t look this fabulous by coincidence. I have some serious fashion skills. That’s why my girl China here hired me as her assistant.”

After Gabriella had made it to the front of the shop, Tamera looked at China and smiled. “Do you like Andre, China?”

He’s a’ight. He’s caught my interest enough that if he does mess around and ask me out, I wouldn’t turn him down. I’d definitely wanna get to know him a little better. And not just because of his looks — all of that is superficial. But because he genuinely seems like a good person.”

Is that so? That’s how you feel about him?”

Yeah. But I kinda doubt that all of that is gonna happen — the two of us getting together. If you ask me, we would’ve been together by now if us dating or whatnot was part of God’s plan for the two of us. So I’m pretty much gonna leave all of that type of thinking alone.” She flashed her girl a bright smile. “If you’ll follow me to the back, I’ll show you those sundresses. I haven’t even put them out on the sales floor yet. I was waiting to give you first dibs.”

Tamera chuckled. “That’s why we’re so tight, China. You’re always looking out for your girl.”

China nodded her head. “And you know it, Tamera. I’m glad we’re friends, honey.”




As she drove past Divalicious By Design in her seventeen-year old hoopty and caught a glimpse of China’s BMW in front of her shop, a hateful scowl jumped onto Arianna’s face. “I can’t stand that bougie trick. She ain’t never had to struggle for nothing a day in her whole damn life. Everything’s been handed to her uppity-behind on a silver platter.”

Arianna was so busy with her nose up in China’s business that she almost ran into the delivery truck that had stopped in front of her vehicle. She blew her horn in irritation at the driver and angrily accelerated to get around him.

As Andre caught a glimpse of the pretty sista who’d just flipped him the bird, he couldn’t help but compare her to China Moore — since he still had her on his mind. China would never be caught out in traffic acting a fool like that girl who just passed me up. She’s got way too much class for doing something like that.

Andre’s helper for the day, Hakeem, was sitting in the passenger-side seat beside him. “That girl who just passed you with all that attitude, bruh...I wouldn’t wanna be her man. She mean as hell. I can tell that even from a distance.” Hakeem grinned and a sly look came on his face. “But I’d still hit it though, cause shawty was sho nuff fine.”

Andre shook his head. “See, that’s why you’re always finding yourself in trouble, Hakeem. You’re always running after some loose booty.”

Hakeem cheesed even harder. “E’erbody can’t be a saved, beautiful angel like China back at Divalicious.” He winked his eye. “You know… The girl you crushing on on the sly tip?” He chuckled. “I tell you, need to just ask her out. Why won’t you do that? I been on this route with you for a week — I just met you — but I can tell that you like her.” He glanced over at Andre. “You got a shorty at home or something?”

Andre threw a grin in Hakeem's direction. "Nope, I'm just as single as you are, Hakeem. I just don't think me and China would be too compatible."

"You'll never know if you don't test the waters, man."

Andre brought the delivery truck to a stop and effectively put the brakes on that little conversation by saying, "We have twenty packages to take into the store here. And then we have about seventy more stops today. We'd better get a move on, Hakeem."




When Andre got home that evening, he still had China on his mind. He could even swear that he was still smelling her perfume, but he knew that was only part of his imagination.

He liked China a whole lot. However, he knew that they came from very different worlds. Andre had grown up on the other side of the tracks — the son of an alcoholic mother and a father who was a lifer in prison. He knew that China most likely than not had grown up totally different. He could smell sistas who’d had a stable upbringing from a mile away. To him, many of them had a distinct aura about themselves. He was guessing that China hadn't grown up rich or anything — most likely firmly middle class — but he knew her childhood had been much different from his own.

He'd actually dated a girl from an upper-middle-class upbringing at one time in his life. He'd gotten burned in a major way in that relationship. His ex-girlfriend, Denise, had never been able to accept him for who he was. There had always been condescending comments falling from her lips here and there in the heat of arguments and whatnot. Scathing words about how he had grown up in poverty, the son of an alcoholic and low life murdering drug dealer.

Andre had risen above his childhood. His job as a delivery driver paid well, and he had his very own landscaping business that he worked on the side. His side gig was growing at such a pace that Andre knew it would only be a matter of time before it became his primary gig.

No matter how sweet China seemed to be, Andre refused to put himself into another similar relationship ever again. I’m sticking to round-the-way type of girls.

He began humming LL Cool J’s old song under his breath: I need that around-the-way girl. That’s the one for me.

Despite the tune he was singing, in the back of his mind, he couldn’t help but think: But what if you miss out on a good thing by feeling that way?

He pushed that thought all the way out of his mind.








Do you know how proud I am of you, China? You wouldn’t accept a bit of help from me and your father. You built all of this on your own — all by yourself. And Divalicious By Design is unquestionably a true business success.”

China smiled over at her mother as they stood in the alterations room in the back of her shop where China was taking in the waist of a pair of her mother's slacks. "Thank you, mama. I know you and daddy thought I’d lost all my marbles when I turned down that big job offer in Los Angeles and decided to open my own shop instead."

Eleanor Moore had to let out a little chuckle about all of that. "I ain’t even gonna try to lie about it, baby girl. Your father and myself were more than a tad bit worried. I must’ve sent up a thousand prayers for you on account of all of that." She waved her hand around the room for emphasis. "But you more than proved all of us wrong. Your shop is an overwhelming success. We were worried for nothing."

Eleanor winked her eye. "Now all we have to do is find you a nice, respectable husband and that'll be all she wrote."

Oh Lord… Not this again. That's the thought that immediately popped up in China's mind. She loved her mom to death, but she hated it when the woman who'd given birth to her started talking about finding her a suitable mate. It's not that China didn't want the very same thing for herself — oh yeah, she wanted a husband alright. She just didn’t want people feeling sorry for her because her Mr. Right hadn’t made his way into her world just yet.

"You're almost thirty, after all, China. By the time I was your age, I’d already been married for almost ten years and I’d already pushed out two babies — you and your big brother." Eleanor sighed. "Now I know you modern-day women have a different approach to life than women from back in my day, but material things won't keep you company. You don't wanna grow old and be alone."

China had the utmost of respect for her mother. Therefore, she simply replied with, "Okay, mama. I understand."

Since it was Wednesday again, five hours later, China found herself pulling into the parking lot outside of New Day of Faith to participate in the evening’s Bible Study session. As soon as she parked her car, she frowned. Besides two other vehicles — Deacon Hunter’s Cadillac and Arianna Bluestone’s Honda Accord — there weren’t any other cars out there.

The second she stepped out of her car, China remembered the announcement from last week’s meeting. Oh shoot… Sister Rodgers stood right up and told all of us last week that they’d be starting Bible Study an hour later today. I was too caught up trying to finish sewing that wedding gown today at the shop to remember.

Her first response was to leave and come back later, but at the last second, she changed her mind. I'm here now. I might as well go on inside.

She grabbed her laptop off of the seat beside her. I'll spend the extra time fooling around on my on the web or something.

She made her way into the fellowship hall. Since the church included small conference rooms as part of the complex, China decided to make her way towards one of those areas seeing that the chairs in there were more comfortable. She'd been totally unprepared for the scene that greeted her when she opened the door of conference room #3. Thirty-something Anthony Hunter — who was one of the deacons there at the church — was getting his freak on right there on top of the coffee table in the center of the room. China supposed that would've been fine and dandy — although inappropriate — if the woman he'd been boning had been his wife. Unfortunately, it wasn't. The person he was having an illicit tryst with was none other than Arianna Bluestone.

Caught up in the throes of passion, Arianna slit her eyes at China and dug her fingernails into Deacon Hunter’s back, pulling him even closer to her body. As for Deacon Hunter, he didn’t have any response at all. Seeing that he had his back to the door, he hadn’t even noticed the intrusion on his moment of indiscretion.

Closing the door with a quickness, China shook her head and made her way back into the main part of the fellowship hall. What she'd seen had shocked her. She wasn’t the type of person to gossip, so she decided that she’d be keeping what she’d witnessed to herself — unless God put it on her spirit to say or do something to the contrary.

Ten minutes later, Arianna had gotten her clothes back on and had made her way out into the part of the fellowship hall where the Bible Study session was going to be held. Catching a glimpse of China — who was sitting alone in the large open area — Arianna made her way over to her.

Arianna didn't beat around the bush; she smacked her lips and came right out with what was on her mind. "I hope you know that if you open your big mouth about what you just saw going down back there in that room, all that’s gonna happen is that I'm gonna deny it — Deacon Hunter, too. When everything’s said and done, it’s gonna be your word against ours.” She pointed her finger at China. “And you're gonna be the one looking like a fool, because as far as everybody else is concerned, you're the one spreading the false rumors."

China was saved and sanctified, but she didn't like the way that Arianna was talking to her. "Girl please. Both of y'all should be ashamed of yourselves. The two of you are up in the church every Sunday, so you really should know better. And you don’t have to worry about me saying nothing about what I observed here today with my own two eyes. From what I remember, Luke twelve and two says that nothing that is hidden will stay hidden.” She looked Arianna directly in the eye. “In other words, boo, that act of fornication I just witnessed between you and Deacon Hunter ain’t gonna stay hidden. Little ol’ me ain’t gonna have nothing to do with it coming out into the open. That’s gonna be God’s doing.”

China wasn’t expecting Arianna to reach out with her flattened palm and push her really hard in the face. Expecting it or not, it was on from that point forward.

China hadn’t needed to get in many fights growing up as a child because she’d learned how to handle her problems without violence getting involved. But Arianna putting her hands on her like she’d just done took all the bets off the table. Defending herself and reeling from the blow she’d received, China grabbed Arianna by her hair and yanked...while at the same time kicking the girl behind her knees, collapsing her to the ground.

Neither China nor Arianna saw Shedrick enter the room. Despite himself, Shedrick — who’d been crushing on China for years — couldn’t help but grin at the catfight. He even took out his cellphone and started recording video of it. The fact that China obviously had won the altercation made him smile even harder.

Arianna deserves an old-fashioned beatdown, he thought to himself. Then he grimaced. Especially after putting her hands on China like she just did. And after sleeping around with Deacon Hunter like I just heard about.

With Arianna pinned to the floor, China bent down towards the girl’s ear and hissed, “Don’t you ever put your hands on me again, Arianna. In all honesty I should be pressing charges against you, but I’m not gonna go there. I’m too much of a lady for all that.”

Then, just as suddenly as it had all started, the fight was over. China let up on the grip that she’d had on the girl, and Arianna — with her face flushed in anger — stood up. “I hate your ass, China Moore!” she spat out.

Yeah… Like that makes me feel sad. And you should be ashamed of yourself for sleeping with a married man like you’re doing.” She shook her head as Arianna snatched up her purse and made her way towards the exit doors.

Neither one of the women noticed Shedrick hiding in the shadows. He gave China several seconds in the fellowship hall by herself, then he stepped in and said, “Everything alright in here, China? Arianna just flew past me in a huff as I entered the building.”

China nodded her head. She even managed to give Shedrick a tiny smile. “Yeah. I’m fine. Just waiting on Bible Study to start.”

She didn’t feel like telling Shedrick about what had just gone down in that room because she wasn’t the type of person who liked putting her business on blast like that.

Shedrick grinned right back. “You sure you alright?”

Yep. Just as right as rain.”




China had four girlfriends at New Day of Faith Tabernacle who she considered to be her sisters in Christ. Whenever she had a problem about anything, she generally went to one of them with the situation.

Her girl, Tamera, generally gave the best advice – probably because she was the oldest of the five women, but only by five years. However, China's current problem wasn't one that she felt like she could go to Tamera with. Before becoming saved, Tamera had been known as a fighter. In other words, if you crossed her the wrong way, it was automatically time for a throwdown. I've already been through that with Arianna and I'm not ready to go through it again.

Tamera’s sister, Veronica, was the second girl in their group. Seeing that she was Tamera's blood sister, the two siblings tended to think alike. Can’t go to Veronica.

The third sista warrior for Christ was named Mia, but she was out of town on a business trip. So China finally decided on talking to the last person who’d joined their little girl circle, Latoya Johnson. Latoya is actually the most level-headed anyway. And she knows how to keep things in to keep a secret.

As soon as Bible study was over with, China pulled LaToya to the side and said, “Are you gonna be busy later on this evening? I have something I need to talk to you about.”

LaToya grinned over at her friend as they walked out of the church. She had no idea what had gone down in that holy place only two hours earlier. “Sure, honey. You know I’m single, so the only thing I have planned this evening is a shower and some takeout.”

Alright, Toya. I’ll give you a call in about an hour and a half.”




Ninety Minutes Later:


With her cell phone to her ear, China flopped down on her sofa. “Now before I get started, I need to let you know that I need everything I’m about to tell you to stay between me and you.”

LaToya nodded her head. “Sure thing, boo. You know me. My word’s my bond. If I say I’m keeping your secret, then you can best believe that I’m keeping your secret.”

A minute later, LaToya scrunched up her face in disbelief as China shared her story with her. “Deacon Hunter is stepping out on his wife with Arianna… And she pushed you in the face because you found out? Then you rat-a-tat-tatted on that little behind?”

China sighed. “Yeah, girl. It was crazy. And you know my mama raised me to be a lady, so I don’t believe in fighting like that. But she touched me first…”

You don’t even have to explain. You were defending yourself. And I guess the reason why you’re not trying to broadcast what happened is because you don’t think it’s your place to be airing out Deacon Hunter’s dirty laundry.”

Yeah. You know how I feel about gossiping and whatnot. I’m sure God’s gonna bring Arianna and Deacon Hunter’s affair out into the open… The Lord’s gonna shine a light on it.” China sighed. “I’m just not convinced that I’m the one God wants to use to do the shining.”

I definitely feel you on that, China. And nobody knows that you saw them sinning? Nobody but Arianna?”

China nodded her head. “Me, Arianna, and Deacon Hunter were the only ones at the church. Deacon Hunter’s back was to the door when I opened it, so he didn’t see me. From the way Arianna was acting after the deed was done, I’m sure she didn’t tell him I was there.”

Well, I’m sorry you had to go through all of that, honey...I really am. Too bad for Arianna that she didn’t know about those self defense classes that me, you, and the girls took. She probably just thought she was gonna put her hands on you and walk up out of there. Game recognizes game, so I’m sure she can tell you didn’t grow up a hoodrat like her trifling behind did.” LaToya shook her head. “No disrespect to hoodrats though—,” she smiled, “—I was one myself. But God straightened all of that out.”

LaToya sighed again. “Sometimes I wonder why Arianna even keeps coming to church like she does. I hate to question people’s motives, but it doesn’t seem like she really wants to better herself or get saved.” She shrugged her shoulders. “But I guess church is exactly where she needs to be… You know, based on the foul way she keeps acting. God’s the only one who can deliver her. But she has to be willing to open her heart up to him — like everybody else has to chose to do. The Lord gives us choices. The decision’s up to us in the end.”

Since she really didn’t like spreading gossip, China didn't tell her girl that she'd heard another parishioner saying that Arianna had said the only reason she was in the church was because she was looking for a decent husband. She’d said that she didn't want to marry a man who was street. Obviously, in Arianna’s eyes, the church is the best place to find a man who isn't all thugged out.

The two friends chatted for a few more minutes, then disconnected their call. Right after she’d said her goodbye, China got off of her sofa and got down on her knees. She believed in the power of prayer, so she began praying. She had a long talk with God, asking him to reach out and put his hands in and over her situation.




Across Town at Arianna’s Apartment:


Why didn’t you pick up your phone when I tried to call you the first twenty-five times?” Arianna barked at her friend Keisha, with more than a little irritation in her voice.

Keisha moved her cell phone away from her ear for a few seconds and frowned. Then she placed it back against her face and said, “I was with Big Mike. You know he don’t like me answering no phone calls when he swings by my place. Now what I wanna know is why you acting the fool...raising your voice at me and whatnot? Who done did you wrong?”

That bougie trick China! That’s who!”

Keisha couldn’t imagine anything that China could’ve done to get Arianna this steamed up. In Keisha’s eyes, China was a goody-two-shoes...a church flower...a pansy. Generally, it was some treacherous hood-chick that Arianna had somehow managed to get ticked off who got her this mad. Keisha frowned. Like that time my girl slept with Shaquera Brown’s baby daddy and Shaquera and the whole 45th Street girl-gang rolled up to her house to kick her butt. in China Moore from church?” Keisha asked, her voice full of doubt.


Keisha sighed. “What did China do, Arianna? Did she finally decide to give Shedrick a chance? She dating him now or something, and that’s why you mad? You know...cause you want him for yourself?”

Naw… That ain’t what happened!” Arianna let out an angry breath, then continued speaking. “You know I be letting Deacon Hunter hit it from time-to-time — seeing that he always kicks me down with at least a hundred bones each time for my efforts—”

Yeah. I know about all of that. But what do it got to do with China? And don’t say she taking your place as his mistress, cause I know she don’t roll like that.”

If you shut up and let me finish — meaning stop asking me all these damn crazy questions — I’ll tell you!”

Keisha rolled her eyes. But she was curious, so she zipped her lip and allowed Arianna to finish telling her story. When Arianna had gotten done with her little tale, Keisha couldn't believe it. It had taken the photo that Arianna had texted her depicting one of her weave tracks hanging out of her head to finally convince her of what had happened.

"Damn…that’s messed up," she whispered into her phone. "China is such a mild mannered little thing. She did all of that to you, boo?"

"Yeah," Arianna snapped. "That evil little uppity trick must've been taking some karate classes or something on the sly tip. If I didn’t need that money that Deacon Hunter be giving me every month, I’d go press charges against her ass. Get little miss Prim and Proper locked the hell up...which is what she deserves!"

Keisha knew her bestie so she said, "Okay, so you’re not pressing charges. I understand that. But I know you ain't letting her get away with doing what she did to you, are you? She gave you a ol’ school beatdown."

Arianna narrowed her eyes in anger and pounded her fist on her side table a couple of times. With venom dripping from her voice, she responded with, "Hell naw, Keisha! That bougie trick don't know who she just messed with!"