Inside The Wages or the Gift: A Glimpse at Eb and Steph

In light of the royal wedding in England today, someone in one of my favorite Facebook groups mentioned wanting to see more “royal” courtships, especially with interracial couples.  I immediately thought of Ebony and Stephen from The Wages or the Gift.  I mentioned that my novel contained such a courtship, and someone asked me if there had been any backlash for including the couple.  Fortunately, I could happily say there has been none.  In fact the feedback that I have received from others has been positive, and there has been no mention of the ethnicity of any of my characters.  That brings me here.  Today, I am giving blog subscribers and those passing by a sneak peak into their relationship with a few excerpts from the book.

From Chapter 2:  

“Steph, we need to talk.”
“Sure, Eb. What’s on your mind?”
“You know that I’ve given my heart to Jesus.”
“Yeah, and like I said, to each his own. If this helps you deal with your father’s death, I have no problem with it. I just want you to be happy.”
“Well, since then, I’ve been going through a lot of changes. I’m learning more and more what it means to live for God. That’s the definition of being born again. I no longer live my life for the glory of me. I live to glorify God in everything I do.”
“Honey, I can’t say that I understand all this religious stuff. It’s not my thing, but I won’t discourage you if that is what worries you. I love you, and you can’t change enough to change my feelings for you. You are my world, Eb. So if that’s where you’re going with this, just stop. I’m not going to leave you because you are the one person I cannot live without. So go ahead and do whatever you have to do to honor your God.”
As Ebony listened to the heart of her fiancé, her eyes filled with tears. How could she say, “I’m leaving you,” after that? She prayed for strength and wisdom. Heavenly Father, what I am about to tell him is going to break his heart. Please give me the strength to do your will. Please help him to get through this. I do love him, Father, but I love you more. Help me to obey you. In Jesus’s name, amen. 
“Stephen, I can’t live here anymore. I know this is going to hurt you, but I cannot live in sin. According to God’s word, it’s a sin to live with someone outside of marriage. I’m moving out tonight.”
Stephen flinched as if she struck him, but then, he smiled. The smile surprised Ebony, and she stopped to let him speak. He spoke, and she wished she had kept going. “I can fix that, Ebony; we’ll move up the wedding. We can have a private ceremony. We can do it this weekend if you’d like—”
Ebony stopped him mid-sentence because she knew if he continued, she would lose her resolve. “Stephen, stop. There’s something else. I can’t marry you, Honey, not right now.”
“Why? I know you still love me. Don’t you?” Stephen asked.
“I love you more than you could know,” Ebony started only to be interrupted again.
“Then what’s the problem, Ebony? I don’t get it!” he said, his voice becoming louder and more distressed with every word.
“Because the Bible is clear about not marrying outside of—”
Before she could finish her sentence, Stephen jumped to his feet. “What! This God of yours is some kind of bigot. I can’t believe you. We’ve spent our whole relationship learning to deal with people like that! Now you agree with that kind of thinking?”
Ebony cringed, understanding him completely. “No, no, Honey. It’s not a race thing. However, God does have a problem with marriages between believers and non-believers.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Well—”
“Bigotry is bigotry whether it’s racial or religious.”
“Steph—”
“So even though you love me, you will leave me because of your religion?”
“This isn’t about religion, Stephen. I now live my life to please God. I wouldn’t trade my relationship with Jesus for anything or anybody. I’d like us to go back to being friends.”
“Friends! After all we’ve been through, you give me the friends speech? You know what, if you’re going to leave, you need to do it right now. I don’t want to hear anymore about Jesus. You can take your Jesus and stuff him up your—”
“Stephen!”
“Get out, Ebony! And take Jesus with you!”
His words hit her with the sharp and swift intensity of a rubber band pop to the face, and Ebony did not wait for him to ask twice. She ran out of the apartment.

From Chapter 3: This excerpt takes place ten months after the above excerpt. A co-worker has gone missing.

 Stephen took Ebony to her apartment but made it clear that it was just a pit stop. “Ebony, you cannot stay alone tonight,” he said.
“The Lord has given his angels charge over me, Stephen. I’m never alone.”
“He has also given you friends who would love to have you stay for the night. Call Nicole,” Stephen reasoned.
“Fine. I’ll go call her, but we’re not leaving here for a while. We need to talk.” Stephen could not agree more. He made his way to her living room couch. The soft leather sectional welcomed him like a much-needed hug. He sat down and sighed, turning his heart toward heaven. Lord, he began to pray, I need your wisdom. I don’t want to act purely on my emotions, but I really feel like something is wrong at Prestige. I don’t want Ebony to go to Hong Kong. I’m still so new at this. Are you trying to tell me something? Father, speak plainly. I want your will over my own. His prayers were interrupted when Ebony joined him on the couch.
“Steph, do you think that this’s somehow connected with the problems at the Cairo office?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Chloe was so distracted today. I wish I knew what she wanted when she called you. I wish she had said something to me.”
Ebony stared at Stephen with her head tilted and eyebrows raised.
“What’d I say?” he asked. “Why’re you looking at me like that?”
“Because there’s something you are not saying, and I’d like you to divulge.”
“I’m just talking here, sitting.” He cringed, realizing his blunder.
“You’re more upset than you are admitting and not about Chloe. So what’s got you all distracted?” she asked. She looked into his eyes determined to get an answer. He knew she would press until she had one.
“I have major problems with you going to Hong Kong, and I feel like something terrible is going on at Prestige,” he said.
“Uh-huh.”
“You have to admit this is all pretty suspicious.”
“Steph, I love you,” she said. “And I know you love me, but we’re just going to have to trust God. I’m going to Hong Kong. I’ve heard that Sun-Fun Jeans is a great company to work for. Besides, Mitch said it’s either this along with the Antonio Chi show in the fall or the Caramel Cosmetics account. I do not want to get into another five-year cosmetic contract. I will be twenty-one in June, and I only have two or three more years before I retire. I’m not doing this forever you know. I want children one day.”
Stephen had heard much of her speech before, so he pouted until she mentioned children. He grabbed her hands and looked into her eyes. They had made a pledge to each other and to God never to kiss passionately again until they kissed as husband and wife. He was tempted to break that promise.
“You want to have children?” he asked.
“I’ve changed my view on the subject. After I finish my career as a model, I want to start a family. It would be nice to give a child the life I never had. With a mom and a dad that loves them and all.”
Ebony’s eyes grew distant as if allowing herself to dream until she noticed the intensity in Stephen’s gaze and decisively reclaimed her hand. She scooted over a little, putting distance between her and him. He sighed, grateful for her restraint. He had lost most of his. “I’m sorry, Ebony. It’s just that you were so adamant about no children. You don’t understand what you’ve done to my heart just now.” Ebony just smiled and nodded. “I understand,” Stephen continued, changing the subject, “why you want the Hong Kong job. It’s just that I keep having these pit-of-the-stomach feelings. Like there’s something coming, and we better be ready for it. The thought of us being separated for months makes me uneasy.”
“Why don’t we pray now for wisdom for you and protection for Chloe. We don’t know if she’s alive or dead, and if she’s alive, she needs prayer,” Ebony suggested. She bowed her head and took his hand again. Throughout the course   of their prayers, they lifted up Chloe, asking for her protection and salvation. They also prayed for each other asking for wisdom, strength, guidance, and peace. When they were finished, the peace of God filled Stephen’s heart dispelling his anxiety, and the Lord blessed him with a clear understanding of what he should do next.

From Chapter 13:  This bit of sweetness occurs a few weeks after Stephen proposed to Ebony. 

The crisp, cool air brushed them lightly as they moved hand in hand toward Ebony’s car. When they reached it, instead of letting go, Stephen stood still holding her hand and gazing at her beauty.
“I love the way you look in the moonlight, the glint it gives your eyes,” he told her, moving her hair back from her face to see it more clearly. “You are so beautiful,” Stephen whispered so softly and with such conviction that she saw and felt his words more than she heard them.
Ebony waited for him to divert his gaze, but Stephen continued his intent study of her face in the moonlight. “Stephen, you are staring,” she said softly, blushing under his scrutiny.
“Get used to it. Years from now, you are going to wake up only to find me staring at you. Or you may be on a hospital bed, giving birth to our third child, and I am going to be staring at you. You may be helping one of our children with their homework, and I will come and stare at you.”
“What has got into you, Steph?” His sudden change from normal guy to hopeless romantic amused her.
“I am a new man, Sweetheart. I used to stare at you before, but only when you were not looking and usually for vulgar and selfish reasons. It was a stare of lust, but not now. You do know that, don’t you? I don’t know how to explain this to you, but well…” Stephen searched for appropriate words to express himself only to realize there were none. He shrugged and said, “I love you, Ebony Reynold, and I am saying good night. Drive carefully, and text me when you get home.”
“I love you too,” she said. Stephen put his first two fingers to his lips and then pressed them to Ebony’s. The touch was quick, barely a millisecond passed before he withdrew his fingers and turned to get into his car. Ebony stood and watched him pull out of the driveway with a smile on her face. Then she got into her own car and headed for Mitch’s house.

For what’s next for this couple and to find out more about what’s going on with the missing Chloe and with Prestige Modeling Inc. get a copy of The Wages or the Gift. 🙂 I hope you enjoyed this glimpse.

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