Wednesday, March 25, 2009

FIRST Presents: "Illusions" by Wanda B. Campbell

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Illusions

Urban Books (February 1, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Wanda B. Campbell is an extraordinary and talented writer who brings creativity, a new sense of hope, and restoration through the healing power of God to the Kingdom, by way of Christian fiction. She uses real life everyday issues to exhort, motivate, and give comfort.


An avid reader since childhood, Wanda recently responded to the voice in her head by penning and self-publishing her debut novel, First Sunday in October, (January 2007). A romantic at heart, Wanda uses relationships to demonstrate how the power of forgiveness and reconciliation can restore us back to God and one another.


Wanda currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband of nineteen years and two sons. She also has the unique position of being the oldest of five siblings and also the youngest of twelve. Her hobbies include writing and reading of course, traveling, and collecting magnets from around the world. Wanda is the self-proclaimed biggest Oakland A’s fan.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.95
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Urban Books (February 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601629435
ISBN-13: 978-1601629432

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Prologue

Bryce, having been married for a little over three years, stared appreciatively at the bare woman before him. By all accounts, she was everything he physically desired in a woman; ample and curvaceous from top to bottom. Her honey colored legs seemed to go on forever. He could look at her perpetually and never get tired of the view she provided. Bryce had an arsenal of beautiful women at his disposal, but she was his favorite. He could drink the sweetness of her lips through eternity and still thirst for more.

Bryce often wondered how he ended up with such a beautiful and voluptuous woman, considering he was just an average looking man, and short at that. Bryce was only 5’9’’ tall. He didn’t house the physique of a body builder, but he did wear his 200 pounds well. Thanks to his love for Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, Bryce didn’t have a six pack, but a slightly budding pot belly. None of that mattered to the woman before him, though. To her, he was perfect. He was strong and secure. He was her king. Bryce was by far the best lover she’d ever had, and each time that they came together was always better than the time before.

Bryce blocked everything from his mind except her. He moaned deeply as his mind focused on the soft kisses she planted all over him and as her hands massaged him in places only known to her. He leaned back, allowing her full access to all parts of him. Bryce was hers and she could do whatever she wanted to do with him. The semi-sweet chocolate brother was all hers and she knew it. Bryce was so engrossed in his woman, he lost track of time. The knock on his office door brought him back to reality.


“Are you ready, Sir?” the voice on the other side of the door asked.

“I’ll be right out,” Bryce responded after steadying his breath.

He quickly closed the magazine and discreetly tucked it away in its hiding place between the wall and the tank of the toilet. After fastening his pants and belt, he washed his hands without looking in the mirror. He could never look himself in the face after an encounter with the woman he nicknamed, Daija.

Back at his desk, Bryce hurriedly put on his suit jacket and tucked his Bible and notebook under his arm then headed for the sanctuary. It was time for Pastor Bryce Hightower to preach the Word of God.





Chapter 1

Out of habit, Pastor Hightower greeted the elders and ministers seated on the platform with his customary handshake and brotherly hug. He continued the ritual by kneeling before his reserved leather chair and praying. The elders and ministers extended opened hands in Pastor Hightower’s direction, symbolic of touching and agreeing for the Lord to anoint their pastor to preach a powerful Sunday sermon. Pastor Hightower was too busy repenting for the defiled behavior he’d just participated in to be concerned about his sermon.

Being certain his cries for forgiveness reached heaven, Pastor Hightower rose to his full height, raised his hands with closed eyes and joined the congregation singing Total Praise along with the Praise & Worship ministry. Once seated, Pastor Hightower’s gaze drifted to the end seat on the front row. The overgrown smile that covered his face gave the appearance of being manufactured, but was genuine. That’s just the way Pastor Hightower smiled. Every facial muscle appeared strained whenever he displayed his perfectly straight white teeth. Pastor Hightower added a wave with the smile he afforded his wife. When Denise smiled back, the pastor mouthed the words, “I love you,” causing Denise to blush and cover her face. Satisfied that he still carried the ability to make his wife excited, Pastor Hightower directed his attention to his sermon. He grunted at scripture text then quickly closed his black leather organizer.

“How can I stand before these people and talk about Samson’s lust and weakness with Delilah?” Bryce’s heart asked the question, but his distorted mind blocked an honest answer from coming forth.

Pastor Hightower squeezed his eyes close in an attempt to shut out his conscience like he always did before mounting the podium and preaching another message he was incapable of living. Today, his evasion tactic worked too well. In no time, Pastor Hightower’s reality merged with fantasy, and in place of Samson, it was Pastor Hightower with the beautiful Delilah in the Valley of Sorek. It was his head lying in Delilah’s lap enjoying the feel of her soft expert fingers as they explored, sending a soft moan from his lips.

“Honey, are you alright?”

Pastor Hightower’s head jerked forward at the sound of his wife’s voice. His imagination had drawn him so deep into the illusion that he hadn’t heard Minister Jackson call him to the podium. He hadn’t noticed the entire congregation standing, waiting to hear the words the Lord had given him. When he didn’t respond after the third call, Denise rushed to his side and was now shaking him.

“Are you alright?” Denise questioned again.

Bryce mentally and frantically searched for an answer. He couldn’t tell his wife that the images he’d just experienced left him feeling better than alright. He also couldn’t lie in the sanctuary.

“Just mediating,” Pastor Hightower finally answered, then moved his head from side to side to demonstrate how “deep” he was.

Denise’s doubts dissipated once her husband rose to his feet and began speaking in tongues then started dancing the length of the platform.

Once he settled down, Pastor Hightower said, “Let’s pray,” and opened his Bible to the story of Daniel and the three Hebrew boys.


“Son, you know you preached today!” Lucinda stepped into Pastor Hightower’s office without knocking or being invited.

Bryce didn’t address the mother’s forwardness. Lucinda had been doing that since the day her daughter married Pastor Hightower. In Lucinda’s eyes, being the pastor’s mother-in-law had its privileges, and having free range of the church was one.

“Thank you, mother. I could feel you out there interceding for me.”

“That’s why you made me president over the Intercessory Prayer Ministry. You know I can get a prayer through. I can dismantle any attack of the devil once I start praying in the Spirit.”

Bryce studied his mother-in-law’s round face, searching her eyes for any indication that she was aware of how the devil not only attacked him, but triumphed over his will.

“Keep praying for me, Mother.” Bryce placed his Bible into his briefcase the same time Denise knocked and waited for permission to enter.

“Hello, First Lady.” Bryce leaned in to kiss Denise, but she didn’t reciprocate.

In the midst of the congregation was one thing, but behind closed doors, perpetrating wasn’t necessary. Before Bryce’s flirtation from the pulpit, he hadn’t spoken three words to her in as many days.

“Hello, Bryce,” Denise responded emotionless, almost cold.

“How dare you speak to your husband like that?” Lucinda scolded. “He’s a man of God. He deserves respect.”

“So do I, Mother!” Denise shot back. She glared at her husband. “And not just from the pulpit.” Denise continued holding his gaze.

Holding on to her anger was useless. Bryce knew with every squeeze Denise’s anger was evaporating. By the time his lips reached her neck, she couldn’t remember why she was mad in the first place.

“Stop.” She playfully hit him then returned his kiss.

“You know you like that.”

Her mother cleared her throat. “It’s time for y’all to go home.” Before exiting, Lucinda addressed her daughter. “Let this be the last time I see or hear you disrespect my pastor. I don’t care if he is your husband.”

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think she endured twenty-six hours of labor with you and not me.” Denise smirked.

Bryce didn’t respond to the statement, but asked Denise what she’d cooked for dinner.

“Me,” she answered flirtatiously and waited for his usual hungry response.

Bryce did respond, but neither fire nor desire radiated from him. His actions more closely resembled that of a convicted man being led off to prison, than that of a man needing to be alone with his wife. Bryce’s shoulders slumped and he inhaled deeply. With his third labored breath, he still hadn’t conjured up a tactful way to tell Denise he wasn’t interested in sex, at least not today and not with her.

Bryce held the office door open for his wife. “Let’s get something to eat first and then see what happens.”

Nothing happened. After dinner Bryce hibernated in his study until bedtime.

˜˜

Denise studied her husband’s stiff torso and wondered what had happened to her once stress-free life. When she married Pastor Bryce Hightower three years ago, everything was perfect. She was both honored and delighted to be the wife of an influential man of God. In the pulpit, Bryce preached powerful life-changing messages. It was one of those “hot” messages that burned Denise’s soul and steered her down the aisle to her heavenly Father that hot Sunday afternoon in August. Having grown up in the church, the daughter of a deacon, Denise was familiar with God, but had resisted making Him her personal Savior. That is, until she heard Pastor Hightower’s preaching. Bryce’s teaching gift afforded him the ability to philosophically preach the Word of God on a scholarly level, but what mesmerized Denise was listening to him break the same Word down to the understanding of a two-year-old.

That second Sunday in August was Denise’s first time in six years attending services at the church in which she’d grown up. She’d left the Bay Area to attend college. After graduating Fresno State, Denise decided to give California’s central valley a chance at residency. Unfortunately for Denise, the valley’s thermostat reached an all-time high at the same time California was forced to rely on rolling blackouts as a way to conserve energy. When Denise’s air conditioner broke down, she packed her belongings into her Honda and headed for cooler climate.

After confessing before God and the congregation of Word of Life that Jesus was the Son of God, died and resurrected to save her from sin, Denise rejoined the church to the delight of her mother and the newly appointed pastor. Denise didn’t have to wait long before discovering Pastor Hightower was interested in more than the well-being of her soul. Along with the standard new member’s welcome letter that she received, Pastor Hightower included a handwritten note with a dinner invitation. A brief consultation with her mother was all the confirmation Denise needed to accept. The lavish wedding eight months later was still a conversation piece three years later.

At home, Bryce couldn’t keep his hands off Denise. As a twenty-six-year-old virgin bride, that made her feel special, because she was apprehensive of her ability to meet her husband’s needs. Bryce had more experience and his choice of available women in his church, but he loved every inch of her voluptuous size sixteen. In the beginning, Denise thought his sexual appetite was a bit excessive, but what did she have for comparison? He certainly gave her unlimited pleasure. The least she could do was to return the favor and give her husband all the loving he wanted, which is what she did. The problem was, lately Bryce didn’t want any loving from her.

Admiring his sleeping body, Denise couldn’t figure out what had changed. As if someone had blown out a candle, the fire in their bedroom was instantly gone. Bryce barely touched her anymore, and when he did, it wasn’t the same. Denise didn’t feel that her husband cherished making love to her anymore, but felt more like he was simply obliging her. Bryce used to be slow and caring with her, making sure she was completely satisfied. Now, he seemed so engrossed in his own world, Bryce hadn’t even noticed Denise counting sheep during their last encounter.

Denise turned over on her side and gave her body a thorough examination. She was the same size she was the day she married Bryce. She kept her hands manicured and her feet always looked like they’d been freshly dipped in hot wax. Denise had a standing appointment with Kadijah at the Hair Haven salon every week, insuring she was always presentable. She also made sure she dressed in clothes that accented her fuller figure and kept her makeup flawless. So why had Bryce lost interest?

Denise’s job as Budget Director at the local medical conglomerate didn’t prevent her from cleaning the house and cooking balanced meals every night. In the bedroom, she used powders and potpourri to scent their bed and candles to freshen the air on a regular basis. Denise never wore flannel pajamas or hair rollers to bed, instead, opting for sexy lingerie and sometimes nothing at all, depending on Bryce’s mood. That’s what she’d done tonight. She climbed into bed wearing nothing but a smile, hoping to get Bryce’s attention. It worked. She held his attention the entire five seconds it took for him to say goodnight, and then turn his back to her.

At church and public appearances, things were the same as they always had been. Not a Sunday went by that Pastor Hightower didn’t acknowledge his beautiful and devoted wife. “She’s the beat of my heart,” is what he’d say, or “the wind in my sail.” Denise was trained by the older mothers in the church so the young wife knew all the “insert smile here,” moments. Denise could put on the manufactured smile and nod in agreement faster than she could write her name. Every time Bryce preached, the devoted supporter provided him with his personal “Amen” corner. Tonight though, Denise was tired of the fa├žade. If she couldn’t sleep, then neither would the perpetrating Pastor Bryce Hightower.

“Bryce, wake up.” She shook him until he groaned. “We need to talk.”

“Can’t it wait until tomorrow?” he grumbled.

“No it can’t,” Denise determined. “I’ve held this in long enough.”

Bryce sighed heavily, more out of irritation than fatigue. He turned over and sleepily looked at his wife. “What is it?”

His tone and demeanor told her this late night pillow talk would be fruitless. She pressed on anyway.

“Honey, what’s happening to us?”

“You’re pushing for a conversation that I don’t want to have. Aside from that, we’re fine.”

Denise’s heart sank because she knew Bryce really didn’t see anything wrong with their life. And why should he? He got every thing, including all the support and love from her that he needed.

“Bryce, we’re not fine. You haven’t touched me in over a month.” Denise pulled the sheet tightly around her. She hadn’t felt the need to conceal her body since their wedding night.

“Is that what’s this is about?” Bryce propped his body, using his elbow as support. “You woke me up because you want sex?”

Denise fought back the urge to cry. The expression on the face of her beloved husband was distorted and filled with distain. “It’s not just the lack of sex, Bryce. You hardly ever touch me at all anymore, and when we do have sex, it’s quick and routine. The only conversations we have are casual. You don’t even comment on how I look anymore.” Denise was able to say all that without losing her voice, but a tear had managed to escape and burned a trail down her cheek. Bryce noticed the tear and softened a little.

“Baby, come here.” He pulled her close to him and held her. She felt good to him and Bryce had to admit he missed her warm body against his. “I’m sorry.”

Denise tried to accept the comfort he offered her, but couldn’t just yet. It didn’t feel genuine. She held her head so she could gaze directly in his eyes. “Bryce, are you having an affair?”

The direct question seemed to have caught him off guard, causing Bryce to hesitate before answering. “No, I’m not having an affair. I’ve just been preoccupied with other things. Being a young pastor is a hard job.”

“Why can’t you share what’s on your mind with me? I’m your wife; I’m designed to help you.”

“I know.” Bryce kissed her forehead. “But some things I have to handle on my own.”

Denise placed her head against his chest. She didn’t say anything, just lay there listening to his heartbeat, wondering when it became out of sync with hers.

Bryce didn’t say anything either. He was fighting a war with his conscience and his spirit. He didn’t actually lie to Denise, or did he? He didn’t view his time with Daija as an affair. How could he have an affair with his imagination? True, the things he did with her, he should have been doing with his wife. The time he spent with his imaginary friend, could have been spent with his real-life wife. But when he finished with Daija, he was fulfilled and too tired to be with Denise. Bryce enjoyed being with Denise, but couldn’t let go of his fantasy. With Daija, Bryce was uninhibited and free, never having to worry about his desires being considered nasty or berated. That’s what it was. Daija allowed him to be free. What was so wrong with that? Everyone is entitled to a little fantasy. As long as he’s not having sex with anyone else, what was the harm?

If it’s right, why can’t you tell her?

As always, Bryce heard the still small voice loud and clear, but instead of responding, he closed his eyes in an attempt to prevent the truth from spilling from his lips. He wasn’t ready to face the truth. He didn’t really know what the truth was anymore. He believed he could stop his extra-curricular activity any time he wanted. Bryce just didn’t want to, but for Denise’s sake, he was going to try.

“I promise I’ll work on giving you more attention.” Then after a prolonged silence Bryce added, “I love you.”

Denise didn’t respond. The words, meant to be enduring, sounded void and hollow, but they were better than nothing. Bryce tightened his hold on her and she relaxed in his arms and fell asleep.

˜˜

Bryce mounted the podium and quickly scanned the audience. Something was not right. He closed his eyes tightly then reopened them just to make sure he was seeing correctly. He was. “Oh God,” he gasped, surveying the congregation. He stepped toward the edge of the platform, hoping to see Denise, but she wasn’t there. His eyes frantically searched for his mother-in-law. She wasn’t there either. The elders and deacons weren’t there to offer him the much needed prayer and support. Bryce slowly walked back to the podium, bowed his head and wept.

“Bryce.”

At the sound of her voice, Bryce’s cries stopped and he jerked around to find Daija occupying his leather chair, beckoning him with her index finger.

“No!” Bryce screamed, but the congregation, filled with the faces of the many women with whom he’d found pleasure, cheered him on.

“Daija, you can’t be here! Not in the church!” Bryce’s attempt to sound authoritative amused Daija and the rest of the congregation.

Daija stood on Bryce’s chair, and after throwing her long black hair over her shoulder, motioned to the congregation. “Why not, Bryce; you brought us here.” Daija smiled and struck one of Bryce’s favorite poses.

“Pastor Hightower, why don’t you save us?” someone in the audience mocked.

Bryce fell to his knees and sobbed uncontrollably, “God help me!”


Bryce bolted from his bed dripping with perspiration and shaking. The dream, like the one two nights ago, frightened Bryce with the implications, however true they were. Bryce was polluting the house of God and his addiction rendered him defenseless to stop the infection from spreading. This morning, Pastor Hightower had a reality check as images captivated his mind and lured him into lust as he sat in the pulpit, the holy place, waiting to present the Word of God. Never before had he been overtaken in the House of God. His prayers were rendered useless. In the past, he’d do his business, ask God to forgive him, then mechanically fulfill his pastoral duties. That didn’t happen today and now his demons haunted his dreams.

After stumbling into the master bath and splashing water unto his face, Bryce studied his mirrored reflection. Except for the extra inch around the middle and short haircut, Bryce looked the same as he did seventeen years ago, at age 17, when he was forced to face life alone following the unexpected and tragic death of his parents. It was while sorting through his father’s belongings that pornography was officially introduced to him.

He’d known about the “business” his father kept in the bottom nightstand drawer most of his teenage life, but assumed the magazines were nothing more than women in string bikinis. He soon found out differently and discovered porn was “therapeutic” in helping him deal with the loss of his parents. In some distorted way, when Bryce carried out his secret acts, he felt close to his father.

It didn’t start out as a daily ritual; maybe once a month to help relax him on days he felt overwhelmed. When that wasn’t enough, he added masturbation. Eventually, the old magazines weren’t enough to satisfy Bryce; he began purchasing his own collection.

At age twenty-one, he gave his virginity to a woman without knowing her real name. For the right price, she was willing to do the things he requested without complaining.

After joining the church at age twenty-five, Bryce felt convicted about his habit. He began to feel dirty after every encounter. For` a while, he stopped masturbating and purchasing magazines, but one session with his pastor changed his mind. Following Bryce’s confession, the late Reverend Daniels brushed off the habit as if it were no more than a piece of lint.

“Son, ain’t nothing wrong with looking at a beautiful woman,” Reverend Daniels had said, “just as long as you don’t touch. When you get a wife to enjoy, the need for those pictures will go away.” Reverend Daniels gave him a look whose meaning could only be interpreted between men.

Bryce soon learned that the church that he attended had its own version of the “good ole boys’ club.” It was a common thing for preachers and elders not only to lust with the eyes, but to also sleep with the sisters in the church. The indiscretions were usually swept under the rug unless the sister in question became pregnant or if her husband discovered the affair. Then the woman would be shunned from the church, but not without being labeled a “loose Jezebel” or a home wrecker. The preacher, however, would continue preaching, and in some cases, be elevated to a higher office in the church.

Bryce didn’t buy into the double standard and tolerated behavior set forth by his spiritual fathers. Eventually, Bryce lost respect and moved his membership after enrolling in Seminary. There, Bryce was too busy focusing on the Word of God and praying constantly for his imagination to run wild. The more he read the Bible and the more he prayed, the less desire he had for self gratification. The day Bryce graduated Seminary, he vowed to parallel his life with the standards set forth in the Bible. Bryce was determined to be a true man of God. “If I can’t live this Gospel, I won’t preach this Gospel,” was his slogan. He recited those eleven words faithfully before every sermon. The more he preached, the purer the pictures in his mind. The more he fasted, the less he fantasized, until eventually, the imagery stopped. That’s when he met Denise.

From the day he saw her standing before him at the altar, giving her life to God, Bryce loved her. Actually, he’d noticed her before mounting the podium. She carried her curves well with her five-foot seven-inch height. Bryce loved the fullness of her body, but even more so, the sweetness of her spirit. He still loved her, but he’d allowed

himself to become comfortable in his walk with God. Now, he was paying the price in his bedroom, in the pulpit, and in his dreams.

“Are you sick?” Bryce was too engrossed in his thoughts to notice Denise standing in the doorway.

He turned and stared at his wife hard and long as she leaned against the door frame. She’d put on a robe and her hair hung wildly at the nape of her neck. Her face, void of make-up, allowed Bryce to see the genuine love she held for him. A love that said, “Whatever it is, I’m here for you.”

When he didn’t answer, Denise asked the question again. Bryce slowly made the three steps that placed them an inch apart. He wanted to tell her that he was, in fact, very sick. That he had broken fellowship with God and that the line between reality and fantasy was so blurred, he couldn’t tell the difference anymore. He wanted to tell her the reason for his inattentiveness and reassure her of his love for her. Bryce didn’t say any of what made his heart ache to have released. He simply kissed her forehead and went back to bed.



Happy Reading!

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