Lauren Robinson knows exactly what it takes to be the perfect mistress. She had a front-row seat when she tagged along with her father on all of his extramarital trysts. She loved “keeping Daddy’s special secrets,” but many family members, especially her mother, consider her an accomplice in helping break up their family.
Years later, Lauren’s mother, Joyce, whose health is failing, cannot let go of the bitterness caused by her husband’s philandering. She continues to blame Lauren, as does Lauren’s brother. Joyce can’t see past her anger and betrayal and has withheld her maternal affection from Lauren for most of her life. This emotional distance and Lauren’s early dating experiences lead her to date married men…
That is until Dr. Matthew King enters the scene. Now poised to become a college president, Matthew is a former beau that left Lauren brokenhearted. He tries to show Lauren that he’s a changed man since their college days. The two truly connect and their relationship quickly escalates.
When Matthew proposes marriage, Lauren happily accepts, but as their very public engagement makes the news, someone is intent on sabotaging their relationship. Someone who watched her own marriage destroyed by Lauren, and won’t be happy until she gives Lauren a taste of her own medicine. Can Lauren stop the cycle of destruction in time to salvage the only love she’s ever known?
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The Perfect Mistress
Lauren Robinson struggled to contain her excitement. Her daddy was going to be so surprised when he realized what she’d done.
As the pickup truck rumbled down the street, Lauren lay flat, trying to keep her body still so that she’d stay hidden. She brought her arm up close to her face and glanced once again at the Minnie Mouse digital watch her father had given her a few months before for her seventh birthday.
Just fifteen minutes had passed? It felt like they’d been in the truck for an hour.
Lauren deserved an award. Fifteen minutes of not moving or making a sound had to be some kind of world record.
She wanted to peek from under the tarp in the back of the truck, but if she did that, it would spoil the plan. She had to wait until her daddy came to a complete stop. Then she’d jump up and yell, “Surprise!”
At home, her father always liked when she jumped out of one of the closets. He always pretended to be so frightened, making a silly face. But she knew he put on that act just for her. Her daddy wasn’t afraid of anything.
She couldn’t wait to see his look of surprise this time, and the idea of that made her almost giggle out loud. It wasn’t a closet this time. Plus, after the nasty argument he’d just had with her mom, she really wanted to put a smile on his face.
She felt the truck slow down and come to a stop. Were they really there or was he stopping because of a traffic light?
The breeze that had been tickling her cheeks since she’d snuck into the back of the truck had stopped, too.
This had to be it, where he was headed.
She edged up to peek out of the corner of the tarp just to make sure. That way she could set her timing so that she would get the surprise just right.
She heard the door of the truck creak open, and Lauren began to count in her head.
One-two-three . . .
When she got to ten, she would jump out.
Four-five . . .
“There’s my baby.” Her father’s deep voice made her stop counting.
That voice came from a female and the words made Lauren frown. Daddy? How could anybody else be calling her father daddy? She was his only daughter, not that she didn’t want a baby sister. Or even a baby brother would have been great.
So why was some other girl calling Vernon Robinson daddy?
She lifted the tarp a couple of inches higher so that she could peek out. She had a sinking feeling that her chance to jump out was slipping away.
“You miss me?” her father said.
“I’ve been waiting on you all day.”
All thoughts of her surprise were forgotten. The giggle-filled smile that she’d had since she’d jumped into her father’s truck right before he left the house had vanished. Who was her father talking to this way?
Raising the tarp so her head stuck out all the way, she peeked over the roof of the truck cab and her mouth opened wide.
Her father and a lady were hugging. And it wasn’t any ol’ kind of hug like he gave the ladies in church on Sunday. No, this was the kind of hug that he gave her mother sometimes, the kind that brought on their adult smiles.
She was frozen in shock as her father embraced the woman even tighter. They were so busy with each other, Lauren had time to study the lady who had called her father the same thing that she did.
The woman was thick, a word that she’d heard her mother use when she described someone who was kinda on the chubby side. She had on a royal blue dress that rode up high on her thighs. It looked like it was a size too small, since Lauren could see every bump and curve on her body.
Lauren thought her father was going to step back and away from this lady, done with his hug, but instead he kissed her. One of those long, sloppy kisses Lauren sometimes saw on TV. The kiss went on and on and on, and Lauren wondered how they could even breathe!
The awful show got worse when her father moved his lips from her mouth to her neck. Lauren stared in horrid fascination as he licked that lady’s neck up and down. Up and down. It was so bizarre and disgusting to Lauren, but the lady was smiling like this was the best thing that had ever happened to her.
Slowly, Lauren rose to her feet, her surprise to her father forgotten. Today he was the one with the surprise.
The tarp slipped from her shoulders and hit the bed of the truck with a soft thump. Only it wasn’t quiet enough because the lady opened her eyes, and for a few seconds that were too long for Lauren, they locked eyes.
“Umm, honey,” she said, tapping Vernon on the shoulder.
“Umm, yeah, babe?” her daddy moaned. He sounded like someone was hurting him, and Lauren wondered if maybe the woman’s neck had cut his tongue. Maybe that’s why he was groaning so loud.
“I think you’d better turn around.”
The lady tapped him harder, pointing insistently toward the truck.
Her father eased his head around to follow her motion. His eyes blinked a couple of times as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Then he jumped away, putting a couple of feet between him and the lady.
“Pumpkin!” he yelled. “What are you doing?”
This was the moment when she was supposed to yell, “Surprise!” and her daddy would make a silly face.
But the image of her father and this lady and the slobbering they’d just been doing made her forget what she was supposed to do. Not that it mattered because she couldn’t get her voice to cooperate anyway.
He marched over and pulled back the tarp completely. With the way he looked at her, she felt exposed, like she’d done something wrong. “What are you doing back there?” he exclaimed.
“I-I . . . I wanted to surprise you,” she said to her father, though her eyes were still on the lady.
“Have you been back there the whole time?”
She could tell from his tone that he was mad at her. But usually Lauren knew why her father was upset. This time, though, she had no idea why. Maybe he wasn’t mad at her at all. Maybe he was just mad that he had to break away from the sloppy-tongue lady. Or maybe he was mad because the sloppy-tongue lady had hurt him.
“Answer me,” he said. Then he repeated, “Have you been back there the whole time?”
She nodded, her eyes still on the woman.
Her father fell silent, as if he was trying to figure something out. He looked slyly over at the woman, seeming to reach some decision.
“Ah, umm, this is Candy,” her daddy said. “She’s a friend of mine.”
“Candy?” That name didn’t make any sense to her. “Like M&M’S?”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said, “just like that, honey.”
At least that explained what her father had been doing. If the lady’s name was Candy, maybe he’d been licking that woman’s neck because she tasted good.
“So that’s why you were licking her?” Lauren asked. “Because her name is Candy?”
Her father moaned, although it was a different kind of moan from the one he was making a few minutes ago. This was the moan he made when something went wrong.
He licked his lips, and she knew what that meant. He was trying to think of what he was going to say next. “Look, sweetheart . . . there are some things—”
The lady had come forward by that time. She touched Vernon’s arm, interrupting him. “Hi, precious.” She grinned at Lauren, showing all of her pearlies. “Your daddy was just helping me get something out of my eye.”
If Lauren hadn’t been taught to respect her elders, she would have laughed out loud. Did this lady think that she was stupid? She’d watched enough TV to know what a kiss was. And she’d seen her mother and father kiss enough times, too, even though she hadn’t seen them kissing in a long time.
But since she knew not to sass grown folks, she kept her eyes straight ahead and her mouth closed.
She must have shown some irritation in her face, though, because her daddy turned to the woman. “Candy, be cool. I got this.”
The woman didn’t like being dismissed like that, but she retreated to a distance that Lauren preferred. If she wanted to leave altogether, that would be all right, too.
Turning back to his daughter, Vernon said, much more brightly, “Come on, sweetie. You want to go get ice cream?”
Lauren frowned. He was offering her a treat? “So, you’re not mad at me for hiding?”
“No, it’s a nice surprise,” he replied, smiling for the first time since he found her. “Any time I can spend an afternoon with my favorite girl is a good time.”
Lauren took a deep breath and then let it out. Now she could smile, too. She was still his favorite girl, even though he’d been talking to that Candy lady that way.
“Come here.” Vernon lifted Lauren out of the back of the truck. Her legs dangled in the air for a couple of seconds before he set her on the ground.
“Vernon!” He turned to Candy as if he’d forgotten that she was there. “We have plans,” she whined.
He shook his head. “Sorry, but my princess comes first.”
Those words brought a big smile to Lauren’s face.
Then he added, “I’ll call you later.”
Lauren’s smile dipped a little, but she was still the winner. When it came to her daddy, that woman was no match for her, even if she did taste like candy. How, though, could a person taste sweet anyway?
Her father opened the passenger door and Lauren hopped right in, not bothering to look at the lady as she got settled in the seat. Her father was thinking the same thing because he didn’t look at Candy, either. He didn’t even say good-bye. He started the truck and the two of them took off, leaving the lady standing there.
They drove in silence that lasted so long that Lauren wondered if maybe her dad was really mad at her. Because whenever they were riding together, they always talked and laughed. Sometimes they would even dance in their seats as they listened to one of her daddy’s Marvin Gaye cassette tapes.
She was too afraid to say anything, though. She didn’t even want to ask him to turn on the radio. After five minutes, he finally spoke up. “You know you can’t do that, honey.”
She was relieved when he said “honey.” He was back to not being mad again.
He continued: “You can’t hide in my truck. It could be dangerous. And I’m sure your mom is worried silly. In fact,” he announced as he swung the truck into a gas station, “I’m going to pull up to this pay phone and let her know that you’re with me.”
Lauren felt every muscle in her body get tight. “Maybe you shouldn’t call Mom,” she said, afraid of getting in trouble. Her mother was the one who did the disciplining in the family.
“Don’t worry,” her father said. “I’ll make sure she’s not mad, okay?”
That eased Lauren’s fears a bit. Her father was always looking out for her. He pulled up in front of the pay phone, opened the door, but then paused before he got out. He said, “I’ll take care of your mother, but you have to do something for me.”
“What?” she asked, excited again. She would do anything that her father asked.
He leaned over the seat, looming in her face as he said, “You can’t tell your mom what you saw, okay? You can’t say anything about what happened.”
He added, “This has to be our little secret.” His voice was soft, but stern when he said that last word.
Lauren folded her hands and shifted in her seat. Her mom had always taught her that she should always tell the truth, no matter what anyone else said.
Then he did one of those things that her mom and daddy did to her all the time—he read her mind. “Don’t worry, you won’t be lying. We’re just not telling her because it would make your mom very sad.” He paused to let those words sink in. Then came the words that would settle everything. “You don’t want to make your mom sad, do you?”
Lauren whipped her head from side to side. Of course she wouldn’t want to do that. Her mom was already so sad lately. Her mother wore a lot more frowns than she did smiles.
The door on his side of the truck was still open as he continued: “And if you told your mom this, she might get more than sad, she might get mad.”
When she got mad, her mom yelled. Sometimes Lauren even got a spanking.
Her father said, “Your mom might get mad and leave. She might leave me and take you and your brother far, far away. And then, do you know what would happen?”
Lauren’s eyes were wide and filled with fear as she shook her head, scared of what his next words would be.
“She might never let me see you again.”
Inside, Lauren screamed. Never see her daddy again?
“Do you want that?”
“No, Daddy! No!” she cried, already feeling the loss. She loved her father so much and if she couldn’t see him every day, she’d die for sure.
“So, do you understand, this has to be our little secret?” he asked.
Lauren could hardly breathe, but she nodded. “Yes, Daddy.” There was no way that she would ever say a word about what she saw today. This day would forever be their special secret.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Perfect Mistress includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Lauren Robinson wanted a simple life, and a simple life meant no strings. If love always led to infidelity and heartbreak—like it did with her cheating father, Vernon, and scorned mother, Joyce—then the best thing was to never become someone’s wife. So Lauren took a cue from her dad and never expected anything from the married men she dated, who had oblivious wives and plenty of money to spoil her with. But when ex-boyfriend Matthew King comes back into her life—the first and last man to ever break Lauren’s heart—she begins to question whether she’s really happy.
Joyce Robinson didn’t know what she had done to deserve the life she was getting. Not only had she lost both parents to disease, she lost her husband, Vernon, too—to a vengeful, gun-toting mistress who would not accept him leaving her. Worst of all, her teenaged daughter, Lauren, had enabled him to destroy their family. Now, dying of brain cancer and stuck in a facility, Joyce is trapped—not just by her disease-riddled body, but by an embittered heart, a cold facade, and an unresolved anger toward her now grown-up daughter. Will she be able to make peace with Lauren—and her choices—before it’s too late?
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In The Perfect Mistress, we’re introduced to two parallel narratives of mother and daughter, Joyce and Lauren. What are your initial impressions of their relationship?
2. It’s clear Lauren loves her father deeply, and when he suggests that she might lose him if her mother ever discovered his extramarital relationships, she definitively decides never to tell a soul out of that fear. How does his threat of leaving manifest in her behavior, both as a child and as an adult?
3. When Joyce leaves to stay with her parents after Vernon cheats on her, her father insists that she stay with Vernon, saying the only thing that’s unforgivable is physical violence, and that anything else can be worked through. What do you think of this statement? Can anything be forgiven, or should it?
4. Vernon tells Lauren that humans weren’t created to be monogamous and that she’ll understand when she’s older. When Lauren asks her father if he’d be okay with Joyce having boyfriends the way he has girlfriends, a “look of sheer horror” (p. 87) sweeps across his face. He tells her that it’s different for men and women. Is it? If so, how?
5. What is the pivotal moment when Joyce decides Lauren has committed the ultimate betrayal against her? Why do you think it was so easy for Joyce to blame and hate Lauren for what had happened?
6. Lauren ended her two-year relationship with Matthew in college because she believed he was cheating on her. When he comes back into her life, however, she is surprised by how happy she is to see him. What do you think are the real reasons why their prior relationship ended?
7. When Matthew and Lauren are discussing a high-profile sexual harassment scandal in the news, Matthew comments that it’s a shame such a talented guy is being brought down by his libido. What’s problematic about that statement? Besides the obvious differences between an affair and sexual harassment, what are other reasons why someone would stray apart from a dissatisfied sex life?
8. Time and again, people in Joyce’s life comment on how Vernon was such a great father but a lousy husband. Do you think he was a great father? Why or why not?
9. Vivian tells Lauren that she’s contributing to the “destruction of the black family” (p. 165) by having affairs with married men. Do you agree with her? Why or why not? If there were no women with whom men could have affairs, would their relationships or marriages be perfect otherwise?
10. Joyce says to Lauren, “It was bad enough that you stole his heart from me, but then you turned around and watched him give it to other women” (p. 225). What do you think she means by this? How does this statement reveal Joyce’s true feelings?
11. Lauren reminds Joyce during Julian’s staged therapy session that she was just a child when her ultimate “betrayal” took place and thus is entitled to forgiveness, and that her debt is paid. What is Joyce’s response to that? Why do you think Joyce dismisses the “just a child” excuse?
12. Several people have to remind Joyce that Lauren deceived her mother because she wanted the approval of her father. Why do you think Joyce feels so hurt, even decades later, by Lauren’s secret?
13. Lauren’s mother makes the ultimate sacrifice on Lauren’s wedding day by attempting to apprehend Vivian, who was threatening Lauren’s life. What are the parallels between Joyce’s and Vernon’s last few moments on earth?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Do you believe the adage “once a cheater, always a cheater”? With your book club, discuss what it means to cheat (Is it cheating when it’s physical? Is it cheating when it’s emotional?), whether or not someone can change, and if you’d ever enter into a relationship with someone whom you know has cheated on others in the past.
2. Visit www.reshondatatebillingsley.com and select another Tate Billingsley title for your club’s next book. Have the group individually rank the characters in both books from best to worst (or favorite to least favorite). Take turns arguing your case!
3. A number of films tackle the topic of infidelity and the dissolution of a family. With your book club, select a film that centers the woman—whether she’s the cheater or the scorned—and have a movie night. (Don’t forget the popcorn!) Afterward, discuss its parallels with The Perfect Mistress.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
EXCEPTIONAL The sins of the father. Do not let the title fool you. This book has so many different dimensions, extremely relatable and debatable. If you are in a committed relationship with or without infidelity, or if you are the other woman/mistress, or lived in a household of either then this book is going to interest you. I was sucked in from the first page. It follows the lives of The Robinson's and portrays how the sins of the father effects his family for years. A story of trust, of pain, or moving on and most importantly forgiveness. The story flows at the right pace and not one dull moment is captured. With every book written the writer takes it to another level, her best work yet. Read it now and see it on the screen sometime in the future.