Alicia’s prayers had been answered. She and Phillip were finally going to be married—again. It had been six years since their first wedding, but in two months, she would walk down the aisle of her father’s church and live happily ever after. She was fully committed to Phillip this time around, and unlike before, she wouldn’t betray him. She wouldn’t sleep with another man behind his back. Just thinking about how selfish she’d been and how terribly she’d treated Phillip still upset her, but thankfully, he finally trusted her again. There had been moments when Alicia hadn’t been sure he ever would. Still, she’d gone out of her way doing all she could to show him just how much she loved and adored him and wanted to be his wife. From this point on, they would be together until death do us part, no matter what.
Phillip stood at the bedroom window of Alicia’s condo, looking as handsome as ever, and Alicia smiled at him. He winked at her but continued his phone conversation. He’d driven over last night and was now on the phone with her dad, discussing church business. Phillip had returned to his assistant pastor position at Deliverance Outreach in Mitchell, Illinois, which was the reason he and Alicia had purchased a home there. With all his church responsibilities, it was better for him to reside in the same city as his job so he would have quick access to the church and to any members who needed him. Phillip had moved in a month ago, but it wouldn’t be long before Alicia joined him, as she now had a buyer for her Chicago-area condo and would be closing on the sale in six weeks. She’d even begun moving some of her belongings out to the house in Mitchell. She would certainly miss Covington Park, along with much of the culture and excitement that the Chicago area provided, but she also couldn’t wait for her and Phillip to live as husband and wife again.
Things were going to be good between them. They would have a great life, and she thanked God for second chances. As a matter of fact, God had blessed her in such a tremendous way that she sometimes shed tears uncontrollably. Here she’d committed adultery against Phillip—hurting him to the core—yet he’d found it in his heart to forgive her. And he’d never once stopped loving her.
Then, there was that awful second marriage she’d entered into with the likes of Pastor JT Valentine. The man had slept around with more women than Alicia could count, and the whole experience had been a nightmare. Still, God had delivered her from JT and his madness and allowed her to move on and forget about him.
And if those blessings hadn’t been enough, she was a successful novelist who would be releasing her fourth book in a few months. She had such a wonderfully kind and loyal audience of readers; some of whom read her work because of her father’s worldwide status, but the majority seemed to genuinely love her stories and she was grateful for that.
Phillip ended his call. “I’m gonna get ready so I can head back home. Your dad and I and some of the other officers are meeting for lunch today.”
“I need to get ready myself. I’m meeting Melanie at noon so we can pick out our jewelry for the wedding.” Melanie Richardson was Alicia’s best friend, and she and her husband, Brad, who was Phillip’s best friend, were going to be their attendants. Alicia and Phillip had considered having bridesmaids and groomsmen, too, but then decided they wanted to keep their ceremony as intimate and as meaningful as possible. That way their day would be about them and the love they shared, versus some massive, impersonal affair.
“Oh yeah, that’s right,” he said, strolling over to Alicia and hugging her. “But more important, have I told you how beautiful you are today?”
“As a matter of fact, you have,” she said, kissing him. “You’re so good to me, and you make me so very happy.”
He squeezed her tighter. “Not as happy as you make me.”
“My life is finally complete.”
“I’m glad to hear that. And although it took a while for me to propose to you again, I hope you know that I never stopped loving you. Not once.”
“I know you didn’t, and I never stopped loving you, either. And I’m also sorry for…well, everything. I destroyed our marriage, and I will always be indebted to you for forgiving me the way you did.”
“God forgives us all, and we have to do the same thing with others. Sometimes though, just because you’ve forgiven someone it doesn’t mean you can still be as close with them. You can still love them and be there for them if they need you, but forgiving someone and trusting them again are two different things. So I thank God that in our case, I was able to do both.”
“You’re a good person with a huge heart, and I love you with everything in me,” she said.
“I love you, too,” he said, kissing her.
Alicia’s yearning for Phillip was strong and intense—it was the kind of yearning she couldn’t act on or ask him to satisfy. He talked a lot about how he couldn’t wait to make love to her again, except Alicia wasn’t handling this celibacy thing nearly as well as he was. She knew Phillip was a minister and that he was serious about his faith, but Alicia had certain needs and desires. For her, kissing and cuddling only meant tons of torture, and she longed for their wedding day. It couldn’t come fast enough, and she’d gone without for so many years that it was almost funny. Especially since the sole reason she’d done so was because Phillip had made it clear that he wouldn’t have it any other way. He’d insisted that the only way things could work between them was if her love and respect for God were sincere. This, of course, meant living by the Word and not having sex until they were remarried. Still, she’d be lying if she said she was okay with it, because she wasn’t. She was twenty-eight, and she couldn’t help the way she felt. Phillip was only ten years older, so she couldn’t see how he was able to deal with this either. But he was, and he seemed to do it with ease.
After Phillip left, Alicia finished getting dressed and grabbed her large black leather tote from her bed. She disconnected her phone from its charger and saw that she had new emails. When she opened her mailbox, she scrolled through three department store sale reminders and a couple of other unimportant messages. But she swallowed hard when she saw the next one. The subject line said, “Hey Beautiful,” and the sender’s name was listed as Levi Cunningham.
She covered her mouth with her hand, whispering out loud, “No, this just can’t be.”
She took a deep breath and sat down on the leather chaise in shock. Her heart beat faster with every few seconds, and although she was curious about the contents of the email, she was afraid to open it. What could Levi possibly want? She hadn’t heard from him in five years, not since he’d called her from prison. She’d wondered then how he was able to contact her and talk for as long as he wanted, until she’d learned that he’d gotten in pretty good with one of the correctional officers. He’d called her twice. Once to let her know how much he still loved her, and the second time to tell her that her husband at the time, JT, was sleeping around on her and committing other unimaginable sins.
Although, now that Alicia thought about it, she had spoken to Levi a third time, and that was when she’d told him she was going to do everything she could to get back with Phillip. Levi had been disappointed, but it wasn’t like he could offer her something better, not with him still serving time for drug-related felony charges. Back then, he’d been sure he’d be out within a few months, since his attorney had discovered new evidence to help exonerate him. Levi had also cooperated with the authorities, which likely meant he’d told on the right people. Still, as far as she knew, nothing had ever panned out in terms of his getting a new trial.
Alicia stared at her phone, debating whether she should open the email. Her common sense begged her to delete it, but her heart pleaded for something different. And she knew why: after all these years, she’d never fully gotten over him. She’d buried her feelings and gone on with her life, but she’d never forgotten their genuine chemistry. Their hearts had bonded naturally, and their deep emotional connection had been indescribable. It was the kind that only true soul mates could share—the kind she had never experienced with another man, not even Phillip. Although, what harm could Levi do from a prison cell?
Alicia debated no further. She opened the message and read it.
I’m sure I’m the last person you ever expected to hear from, right? I’m a little surprised myself, but I’m happy to say I finally got my new trial, and I was released yesterday. I’m a free man, and although it hasn’t even been a full 24 hours yet, I’ve never felt better. I wanted to contact you as soon as my mom and my boy Darrell picked me up, but I decided I would spend some quality time with my mom last night first. She has been my rock through all of this, so I owed her that. But this morning, I woke up thinking about you and how much I missed you. So can you please email me back? I really want to see you. Oh, and I’m not sure whether you noticed or not, but after being locked down for all this time, I went back to school and learned a lot about commas and when to include them. ? Even better, I now have a bachelor’s degree in business. Amazing what you can do online these days, and I can’t thank God enough for it. I’m a totally different man. Anyway, I hope you respond. I can’t wait to hear your voice.
Talk to you soon.
P.S. I never stopped loving you, sweetheart. Not for a second.
Alicia didn’t move. She couldn’t have if she’d wanted to. Was it really true? Was Levi out of prison and living back in Mitchell? The same city she was returning to as well—the city where she and Phillip were making their permanent home? This was all too much for Alicia to digest, but as she sat thinking, she realized something. Levi’s email wasn’t going to change anything. She loved Phillip, she was marrying him in two months, and that was that. This was her reality. This was all of their reality.
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