From the author of The Personal Librarian, The Ex Files, follows four women who find faith, friendship, and healing under the unlikeliest of circumstances.
Hailed as “an excellent storyteller . . . one of our best” (Eric Jerome Dickey), national bestselling author Victoria Christopher Murray proves it so with this powerful, faith-filled novel of four women and the different ways they handle heartbreak.
Kendall, Asia, Vanessa, and Sheridan each have an “ex” in their lives. Whether from a broken marriage, the shocking loss of a loved one, or a shattered bond of trust, the pain is real and the wounds deep. Will they ever heal? When their pastor asks the foursome to meet weekly for prayer, they can’t imagine they will have anything in common. Then a devastating tragedy strikes and these strangers are forced to reexamine their choices. Will they find true friendship? Or will prayer— and their circle of support—be enough to see them through?
The Ex Files
“I think Daddy has a new lover.”
Sheridan stopped moving; the coffeepot she held frozen in midair.
Only then did Sheridan feel the heat of the coffee spilling over, onto her hand. “Ouch.” She snatched her hand away and grabbed a paper towel. But as she patted the spillage spreading over the counter, her thoughts were on her daughter. “What did you say?”
Tori shrugged. “I think Daddy has a new lover. Don’t worry, Mom,” she admonished. “He hasn’t introduced me to him. It’s just that Dad’s been a bit different. Kinda happy.”
The world had certainly changed. Here she was talking to her thirteen-year-old daughter about her father’s male lovers. It had been more than three years since Quentin had declared his love for a man. Still, Sheridan couldn’t find a way to call that part of her life normal.
Sheridan could feel her daughter’s eyes, waiting for her reaction. The silence was interrupted by a car horn.
“They’re here.” Tori jumped up from the dining table and Sheridan exhaled. This talk had ended—at least for the next forty-eight hours.
“Okay, sweetheart,” Sheridan said, as she handed her daughter the suitcase that waited by the front door. “Call when you get to Palm Springs.”
“And don’t forget to get your reading done since you’re missing school today.”
“Okay,” Tori agreed, although Sheridan doubted that she would look at any textbook.
“Have a good time.” She kissed her daughter’s cheek, then opened the door and waved at the three Nelsons—her daughter’s best friend, Lara, and Lara’s parents.
Leaning against the door frame as Joseph Nelson tossed Tori’s suitcase into the trunk, she already wished the weekend was over. She wasn’t looking forward to these days alone. That thought and the chill of the lionlike March morning made her shiver.
“’Bye, Mom,” Tori yelled before she stepped into the car. “Tell Brock I said hello.” Then she added, “And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” Tori slammed the car’s door on her words, leaving Sheridan standing with her mouth open, long after the Jaguar pulled away.
Tori was growing up—too much, too fast. Quentin’s stepping out had changed them all.
In the kitchen, Sheridan settled at the table with her coffee. Three days alone, too much time to ponder. Too many hours to think about all she’d lost. In the last three years, she’d lost all the men she’d loved: her husband, Quentin, to a man. Her son, Christopher, to college. And then, worst of all, just three months before, her father, Cameron, to God.
Thoughts of her father were the ones that made her heart swell. And then came the ache. And then, the tears. Emotions that were overwhelming, never ending.
The ringing phone paused her tears and she gripped the receiver, grateful for the reprieve from her growing sorrow.
His voice alone made her smile, although it didn’t stop her pain. Why had Brock chosen this weekend to be away too?
She said, “I’m glad to hear from you.”
“What were you doing?”
Sheridan wiped her eyes. “Nothing.”
“I was hoping you were thinking about me.”
“Tori just left, so I was sitting here….” She stopped.
“It’s going to be tough without her, huh?”
She nodded. “Tough without her, tough without you. With Mom in San Francisco…I wish…”
“What do you wish?”
“I wish you were here.” She sighed when the bell rang. “Hold a sec.”
She scurried to the front door, eager to shoo away the intruder so that she could get back to Brock. She swung the door open and for the second time in minutes, she stood standing, unable to speak.
Brock grinned, flipped his cell phone closed, then lifted her into his arms. “I’d forgotten that Tori was going away until you mentioned it last night.”
“But what about D.C.? What about your mom?” she asked.
“I told her I’d be there on Monday.” He leaned back. “I couldn’t leave you alone.”
He was the man who made her heart sing, but now, she cried and he held her close.
“That’s not the reaction I expected. Maybe I should go.” He turned, but she grabbed his hand before he could take a step.
“You’re not going anywhere.” With her foot, she slammed the door shut.
He brushed his lips against hers, but when he tried to pull back, she wouldn’t let go. Minutes later, when they broke apart, his eyes searched hers. “Sheridan…”
“Yes.” She kissed his neck and when he moaned, she pressed into him even more.
“No,” he said.
“Please,” she said.
Pushing him against the wall, she gave herself pleasure with the feel of him. “I want you,” the words slipped through her lips before they again joined together.
He carried her up the stairs and she drowned herself in his shoulder-long locks, sinking into his scent. Within minutes, they were one, their melodic moans filling the room.
Sheridan was an emotional knot—lust and loss—tied together. Brock was the release that freed her from her pain. His arms, his lips, his hands—her comfort. But an hour later when he rolled over, still panting, her pain rushed back. Sheridan turned away, folding her knees into her chest.
She could feel it before she heard it—his sigh.
“Please don’t do this, Sheridan.”
She could hear all that he felt. He asked, “Why do you do this?”
She turned over and rested her head against his chest. “I needed you.”
“And I wanted you.” He wrapped his arms around her. “I hate this. I hate the guilt that wraps itself around you every time.”
“Because we shouldn’t be doing this.”
“I know.” She squirmed inside his embrace. “I just needed…” She felt the tears and wondered for how many more days, weeks, months would she cry?
She sobbed, a blend of grief and guilt. He tightened his arms, and she wept more.
Time passed; her tears stopped. Brock leaned onto his side and, with his lips, wiped away the teary residue on her cheeks. “We don’t have to go through this anymore.”
Now she sighed.
He continued, “It doesn’t make sense that we’re not married.”
“I can’t think about that right now.”
“We wouldn’t have these guilt fests if we were married.”
She bounced up in the bed. “You want to marry me so we can have guilt-free sex?”
He held up his hands. “You know it’s not like that.”
“I don’t want to get married just for sex.” She glared at him.
He matched her stare before he leaped from the bed. Without a word, he snatched his pants. As he dressed, her heart cried for him. But her lips wouldn’t move.
He slipped into his jacket and marched to the door. Only then did he look at her. “All I want is to love you always. But we can’t stay this way, Sheridan.” He stood, waiting for words from her.
But she had nothing to give him.
With a shake of his head, he disappeared into the hall.
The front door had already closed before her first tear came. “What is wrong with me?”
She’d wanted Brock to stay. Wanted to hold him again and tell him every word he needed to hear. But it was as if sorrow didn’t allow her to understand anymore. She felt like a speeding bullet aimed toward a place she didn’t want to go. But if she didn’t stop herself, she was sure that soon, Brock would be added to her list of loss too.
She reached for the telephone, punched in the first three numbers to his cell. But then she returned the phone to the cradle. She lay down. And thought about her father. And cried more. And wished that Brock had kept his promise and not left her alone.
Reading Group Guide
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1. Pastor Ford forms the weekly prayer group by inviting four women who, at first glance, have little in common with one another. What is it about Pastor Ford that makes these women dutifully attend and find their mission without question? Why do you think she asks Sheridan to facilitate? 2. Asia has invested ten years in her relationship with Bobby and becomes desperate when he announces their relationship is over. Why do you think she believed he would leave his wife to marry her? How do you feel about her conniving ways -- meeting Bobby, ensnaring him with a carefully planned pregnancy, confronting his wife, and ultimately making false accusations to Child Services? 3. Do you think Child Services should let Asia keep Angel? Why or why not? What would the members of the prayer group think if they knew what Asia had done? 4. Kendall can't forgive Sabrina for stealing her husband, Anthony. What other options does Kendall have for revenge besides withholding a bone-marrow transplant? How do you feel about Kendall's refusal to communicate with Sabrina even when she finds out her half sister is dying? 5. What factors motivate Kendall to search for a viable bone-marrow donor and form the foundation anonymously? What do you think would happen next if the story were to continue? 6. Sheridan is continuously torn between Brock and Quentin throughout the novel. Do you think it's possible to be close friends with the father of your children and still be able to move on and marry another? Do you think Sheridan is truthful with Brock when she says that Quentin is out of her heart, and do you think he's truly convinced? How do you think the death of her beloved father, Cameron, plays into her choices? 7. Tori is ostracized by her schoolmates; her best friend, Lara; and Lara's mother after Sheridan discovers their exploratory kiss and the rumors about Quentin's infidelity. What do you think about Tori's suspension from school? Do you side with Quentin, who thinks suspension for fighting is unfair? Do you agree with his idea of adopting the Christian response of turning the other cheek, or with the principal's interpretation? Why? 8. Do you think Sheridan agrees with the pastor's belief that homosexuals are not born with their sexuality? ("First of all, you know Quentin wasn't born that way, so neither was Tori" p. 168.) Do you think she blames herself for not anticipating, or perhaps even causing, Quentin's transgression? Or for Tori's kiss with Lara? 9. Vanessa seems warm and solidly rooted, and to have so much promise in many roles in her life, especially as a daughter and a member of the community. Why does her death stun the others in the group so much? Do you think they could have reached out more? And, if so, would it have made a difference? And why do you think she saw no other path for herself? 10. On p. 281 Asia asks, "How can they think about suicide? It's the unforgivable sin -- they're going to hell." Pastor Ford makes it clear that suicide is not the ultimate sin -- "if it was it would be in the Bible" -- but refers her to the passage that does reveal the ultimate sin. "Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven" (Matt. 12:31). What is the point that you think Pastor Ford is trying to make for Asia? And why? 11. Why do you think Victoria Christopher Murray wrote the novel in a format that shifts among each of the four main characters' viewpoints for each chapter? Does it make the novel and each woman's story and motivations easier to follow? Why or why not? 12. At the end of the novel, each woman has dealt with the dissolution of a relationship in her own way -- some with revenge, some with the help of God, some with the help of friends and family, and some with a bit of each -- but all have moved on. Did the prayer group's bond help the women? Could they have done more to help Vanessa?
Enhance Your Book Group 1. Pastor Ford is a great cook and loves to host dinners with Asia and Angel. Serve a feast that would make her proud! 2. If you haven't been attending a club or group that you had once been a regular part of, try to attend a meeting or reconnect with some of your favorite members before your book group gathers and see how it feels to rekindle the closeness one can discover from a group with a mutual interest. For example, it could be a knitting, Bible study, or hiking group, or perhaps meeting with a group of friends you have not seen in a while. 3. Read Grown Folks Business, the novel that introduces Sheridan and the Hart family. Discuss the author's writing style and how each of the characters has grown and changed. 4. Go to www.victoriachristophermurray.com to learn more about the author and her novels.
Victoria Christopher Murray is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of more than thirty novels, including Stand Your Ground, a Library Journal Best Book of the Year and NAACP Image Award Winner. Her novel, The Personal Librarian, which she cowrote with Marie Benedict was a Good Morning America Book Club pick. Visit her website at VictoriaChristopherMurray.com.