Love’s Prayer

He's a hometown boy.
She's just passing through.
Neither knows where they truly belong.

When a flower delivery gone wrong introduces these two lost souls to one another, they both find themselves questioning what they thought they knew about life, love, and home.

In this charming inspirational romance from a New York Times bestselling author, Ben and Summer must confront their greatest fears to discover what it takes to become the heroes of their own stories. But can they find a way forward... together?

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Ben Davis had once believed in God. He had once believed in miracles, fate, divine intervention, and all the similar lies people tell themselves to get through the day. Perhaps if he still believed, he wouldn’t find himself so tempted to never get out of bed—not even to eat—and to eventually die a slow, private death in the only place that still offered him any comfort at all.

On this day, a Thursday, he spent longer than usual blinking up at the ceiling and wondering if he should just end it all with a swift bullet to the brain. After all, that’s what his older brother, Stephen, had done seven years ago. He’d wandered into the town square and shot himself clean in the face for all of Sweet Grove to see. People still talked about it to this day, and those who didn’t speak of it definitely thought of it.

Like his mother, Susan. She waded through the memories, attempting to silence them with the bottle. But even though the liquor often ran out, her grief remained endless, unquenchable.

Ben wasn’t saddened by the loss of his brother. Even though he sometimes felt as if he should be. No, he was angry—rage was another unquenchable commodity in the Davis household. Stephen had selfishly chosen to end it all. He’d hurled his issues straight at Ben, who, ever since that day, had been tasked with paying the mortgage, tending to their mother who had spiraled down the dark path of addiction, and without an outlet to enjoy any of the things he had spent years working toward and hoping for.

He’d turned down his full-ride scholarship to college, because he needed to take care of things in Sweet Grove—things that only got worse the more his mother was left to grapple with her grief. Recovery remained a summit she just couldn’t reach, no matter how hard she climbed. So he’d turned the university down year after year, and eventually the admissions board had stopped asking.

Which left him here today, staring up at the popcorn ceiling above his twin-size bed, no longer bothering to wonder if life could ever be any different. At 6:12, he placed one foot after another onto the shaggy carpet and went to clean up for work. At 6:25, he was out the door with a piece of half-toasted bread in one hand and a banana in the other. He had five minutes to make the short walk from the quaint—and “quaint” was putting it kindly—home he shared with his mother to the local market where he worked as a bagger and delivery boy. Yes, even his job title suggested a temporary arrangement, a job better suited to a boy than the twenty-four year old man he had become.

“Good morning!” sang his boss, Maisie Bryant, as he tromped through the sliding glass doors. Each morning she arranged a fresh display of local produce and other seasonal specialties right at the front of the shop. As always, she took great pride in her work.

Ben hated that his boss was only a couple of years older than him. Maisie had managed to escape town long enough to earn a degree before returning to run her family’s grocery store. While he didn’t know the exact numbers, he could bet that the youngest Bryant child made at least triple what he did for the same day’s work. But that was life for you—or at least for Ben. Never fair, not in the least.

“Don’t I get a hello?” Maisie teased him as always. Some days he liked her chipper demeanor. This was not one of those days.”

“Hi,” he mumbled. “I’m going to go check the stock. See you in a bit.”

“Wait,” she called before he could manage to make his escape. “I’ll handle the stock. The staff over at Maple’s called, and they need a delivery first thing. Think you can handle that? The purchase order is on the clock desk.”

“Yeah, I got it.”

Ben hurried to put the order together and load up the designated Sweet Grove Market truck. A smiling red apple beamed from the side of the cargo box. He hated that thing, but he did like having the opportunity to drive around a little, let the wind wash over him as he rolled about town. It sure beat walking everywhere, and since it offered his only opportunity to get behind the wheel, he relished every chance he got. Occasionally, Maisie would let him borrow the truck to head into the next town over and lose himself in the sea of unfamiliar faces.

He’d once loved living in the type of place where everyone knew everyone, and everyone looked out for everyone, but he hated how people who had once been his friends had begun to pity him. Ever since Stephen’s death, they couldn’t even look at him without betraying that sadness. Ben had become a reminder of how fragile life could be, of how everything could go to hell in the briefest of moments. And though their words were kind and their smiles were omnipresent, Ben knew better. He knew that he’d become a burden to them all, that his presence brought them sorrow.

At first he’d tried to redirect them, to speak of something—anything—else, but after a while he just grew tired. It was easier to avoid them than to constantly have to apologize for the blight his terrible, selfish brother had brought onto their town. He’d have left if he could. By vehicle or bullet, it didn’t matter.

But his mother needed him. And as small and insignificant as it seemed, so did Maisie.

So he remained, day after day.

And so began another dark morning for Ben Davis.

* * *

Summer Smith arrived in Sweet Grove right around that awkward time of day when the sun was starting to set and ended up in her eyes no matter how hard she tried to look away. She loved sunshine, which is why she’d jumped at the chance to attend college in Southern California, but now those four years had reached their conclusion and had left Summer more confused than ever about her future.

Thank goodness her Aunt Iris needed her to run the Morning Glory flower shop for the season. Aunt Iris was going off on some fancy cruise she’d been saving up for half her adult life. True, that didn’t speak well of the money to be earned being a small-town florist, but, then again, Summer had never been much taken with flowers anyhow.

The problem remained that she’d never really been much taken with anything. And now that she’d reached that pivotal stage of needing to pick a career and finally set down roots, she was hopelessly lost. Two months, one week, and three days—that’s how much time she had to figure it out. At that point, Aunt Iris would return from her sail around the world and be ready to take back her shop and home. So for the next two months and some-odd days, Summer would be living a borrowed life. Luckily, she’d always liked her Aunt Iris.

Her aunt greeted her at the door wearing a brightly colored blouse with leaf fronds printed along the neckline, and with freshly dyed hair that still smelled of chemicals. “Oh, there’s my Sunny Summer!” she cooed.

Summer laughed as her aunt hopped up and down, holding her tight. The hug probably could have lasted for days if a loud screeching hadn’t erupted from deep within the small ranch house. Iris let go of her niece and breezed through the doorway, dragging the smaller of Summer’s suitcases behind her.

“Oh, enough, Sunny Sunshine!” she called in the direction of the screeching, leaving Summer to wonder if her aunt affixed Sunny to the start of everyone’s name these days.

The shrieking continued, growing louder as they made their way back toward the living room. There, in the far corner beside the small stone fireplace, sat a large iron cage with a colorful blur of feathers which screamed its lungs out.

Iris rushed over and unlatched the cage, then drew out the little yellow and orange bird on a delicately poised finger. “Now that’s not how you make a good first impression. Is it, Sunny?”

The bird ruffled its feathers like a marigold flower, then shook itself out.

Iris laughed. “Much better. Now meet Summer.” She puckered her lips and blew a stream of air at the little bird, who made a happy bubble-like noise. Iris then offered the parrot to Summer who took a step back.

“I-I just . . . You didn’t say anything about a bird!”

“Oh, Sunny won’t be any bother. Besides, you’ll be grateful for the company once you’re settled in and looking for a bit of fun.”

“I tend to prefer the company of humans.”

“Sunny is the human-est bird you will ever meet. Aren’t you, my baby?” She placed the little sun conure on her shoulder, and he immediately burrowed below the neckline of her blouse and stuck his head back up through the hole, making Iris look like a strange two-headed monster. Summer had to admit that Sunny was cute. Maybe she and the bird could come to some kind of agreement during their months together.

Iris—bird in tow—showed Summer around the house, pointing out which plants needed to be watered when and taking extra care when it came to describing the needs of her little feathered friend.

“Is that it?” Summer asked when the two had settled onto the loveseat following the grand tour.

“Pretty much. What else do you need to know?”

“How to run the shop, for one. Also, what am I going to do with myself to keep busy during the nights?”

“I’ve written everything down in a big binder and left it for you near the cash register. Everything in the shop is clearly marked as well. You’ll use the key with the daisy head to open up. Hours are eight to three. And as for how you’ll keep busy . . .” Her eyes flashed as she bit back a Cheshire cat-size smile. “Life in a small town is never boring. You’ll see.”

“But, Aunt Iris, aren’t you worried I’ll mess things up?”

Iris waved a hand dismissively. “You’ll figure things out. Besides Julie will be there for the first couple of days to give you on the job training.”

Summer wasn’t sure whether her aunt was talking about running the shop or about life in general. Either way, Summer sure hoped she was right.

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