Embracing Forever

By: Sheryl Lister


My Heavenly Father, thank You for Your sufficient grace.

To my husband, Lance: your love, support and encouragement is what keeps me going.

Brandi, Maia, Riana, Otis, Sr., Otis Jr. and Jace, Mom (Grandma) loves you!

Thank you to my friends and family for your consistent support.

Leslie (Elle), Sherelle and Angie, I love you ladies!

A huge thank you to David Ruggles at Fuqua Physical Therapy for all those make-your-back-better massages and for making me laugh through the pain.

To all of my readers: thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Latoya Smith, your editorial guidance is priceless. Thank you.

A very special thank you to my agent, Sarah E. Younger and Natanya Wheeler. I appreciate you more than I can say. You ladies are miracle workers!

The Pact

Raven Holloway followed her three best friends across the grounds of the Rosewood Estates and dropped down into one of the four cushioned wicker chairs set up around a table. She toed off her heels and groaned. “I don’t know how women wear these things every day. My feet are killing me.” Though she didn’t mind dressing up occasionally, Raven was far more comfortable in jeans, sweats, a tee and sneakers.

“Look at them. They’re so happy.”

She shook her head. Quinn Jacobs tended to be the hopeless romantic of the group. Raven glanced over her shoulder at the newlyweds. “Yes, they do, and I think Owen will be good for Ava.” Raven, Quinn, Mackenzie Cannon and Ryleigh Fields—best friends since childhood—had all come back to their small hometown of Rosewood Heights, South Carolina to serve as bridesmaids for their friend, Ava Prescott. While each of them had moved away to pursue their careers, Ava had been the only one to stay.

A waiter approached to take their drink order. Dinner wouldn’t be served for another hour, but the bar was free and flowing.

“I’ll have a mojito,” Mackenzie said.

Raven stared. “Isn’t that like your third or fourth one?”

“Sixth, but who’s counting? And this is a celebration.”

She chuckled. “Can’t argue with that. I’ll take one, too,” Raven told the waiter.

“I’ll have a margarita,” Ryleigh chimed in.

Quinn put up a finger. “Make that two.”

They continued to laugh, catch up and talk about how it felt to be back home. They all lived in different states, but made a practice of having a conference call at least once a month. Raven admittedly missed the slower pace and all the greenery, but loved her job as a physical therapist in Los Angeles.

The waiter returned and placed their glasses on the table in front of them. The women thanked him and he departed with a nod.

Quinn picked up her glass and took a sip. “I think we should toast.” Once they all had their glasses, she lifted hers high. “Here’s to us all finding that special one and saying ‘I do’ by this time next year.”

“Oh, hell no.” Ryleigh placed her glass down with a thud.

Mackenzie shook her head. “The only thing I’m saying ‘I do’ to is one night with that tall, mouth-watering best man standing over there.” She gestured in his direction.

Raven just stared. It took a moment for her to finally find her voice. “Are you crazy?”

“No,” Quinn said. “We’re thirty years old. I don’t want to be pushing a stroller when I’m fifty.”

Raven couldn’t see herself pushing a stroller at all.

Quinn scooted forward in her chair. “Think about it. Just about everybody we know has gotten married in the last three years, yet we’re all still single. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a warm, hard body to snuggle up to every night? To not have to worry about those awkward bar or club meetings? I mean how hard could it be?” She lifted her glass again. “Come on,” she pleaded. “We can do this. Let’s make this a best friend challenge.”

Quinn turned that sad look on them and Raven groaned. She slowly reached for her glass. “I can’t believe I’m about to do this,” she mumbled.

Mackenzie and Ryleigh muttered a curse, but followed suit.

Quinn smiled. “To finding that special one and saying ‘I do’ by this time next year.”