Love’s Prophet

A widower, a Sunday school teacher, and the seven-year-old determined to bring them together...

When cancer claimed his beloved wife far too soon, Liam James stopped living and started settling. Now, thanks to the still small light left in his world, his life is about to expand in ways he can't fathom.

This tender and emotional romance from a New York Times bestselling author follows a sweet seven-year-old as she works hard to fulfill her mother's dying wish for the family she had to leave behind. Could Liam's young daughter really be the answer to the prayer he hadn’t dared to speak?

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Saying Liam James lived in the tiny town of Sweet Grove, Texas, was quite a stretch. While technically true, he lived so far on the border of the township that it took him more than twenty minutes to drive into town. Tiny in population, sure. But acreage? Definitely not.

His wife, Rebecca, had grown up in the main part of town. Had died there, too. On the other hand, he had grown up in the much larger, much more vibrant city of Dallas. Though he’d happily moved his entire life when his pretty young bride had batted her eyelashes and said it might be nice to raise their as-of-yet unborn child in “the type of place where everybody knows everybody, for better or worse.”

And so they lived in town for about a year while their dream house was being built on the outskirts of town. Somewhere during that busy time, they’d had a daughter, Miss Molly Sue James. Rebecca quit her job as a middle school teacher and decided to stay home full-time, both to raise their child and to help Liam with the business as needed. He’d slaved day and night growing his Internet consulting company from a one-man operation to a thriving corporation with a waiting list near a mile long.

He’d worked hard so she wouldn’t have to. Liam loved Rebecca and wanted her to have everything . . .

And so everything is what she got, for better or for far, far worse. And that included cancer.

While all cancers were dastardly, Rebecca’s was the worst of them all. Her illness took her mind before it took her body, meaning his final moments with her were filled with confusion, frustration, tears—for both of them, and especially their little girl who was six when her mother passed out of this world and through those pearly gates.

She’d started first grade less than a month prior to her parents pulling her out of classes and bringing her home. They didn’t know how much time Rebecca would have left, and they wanted Molly Sue to be able to lap up every available moment, make every possible memory before it was too late.

So they homeschooled. Rebecca did the bulk of the work, despite her illness making everything at least a dozen times more difficult. Molly never complained, even though one wouldn’t expect a child to be so understanding of something an adult could hardly comprehend.

Liam would often find the two of them giggling under a pile of blankets while they took turns reading aloud from an old Berenstain Bears book. Molly took to reading like a duck to water. In no time at all, she and her mother shifted to reading the latest young adult fantasy novels. Rebecca patiently explained the words and concepts Molly Sue was still too young to understand on her own. And while the little girl’s reading excelled, she quickly fell behind in other subjects. Science, especially.

By the time Rebecca’s funeral had come and gone, Liam had already reached an important decision on the matter of his daughter’s education. She’d need a private homeschool tutor for at least a year to help her catch up. The last thing he wanted to do was send her out among the other kids before she was ready. The social challenges of reintegrating his daughter into the school system would be more than enough without heaping academic challenges on top of them.

The one thing he couldn’t bring himself to decide, though, was where he and Molly should build their lives now that they were no longer tied to Sweet Grove. He could run his home business anywhere. Sometimes he’d go so far as to research Montessori schools in Maine or Wi-Fi speeds in Fiji, but he never made any serious moves toward relocating their lives . . . which meant they stayed for better or for worse, both comforted and haunted by the memories of the dearly departed Rebecca.

At first, his parents had gently suggested he move back to Dallas so they could help raise Molly Sue, then they’d nagged, and later pleaded, but still he remained firm. Somehow, he knew Rebecca’s ghost would follow him to the far corners of the earth, so he might as well stay put in the dream house they’d built together, in the place where she’d wanted more than anything to see her daughter grow up.

What would Rebecca think of Molly Sue’s latest artwork, that funny joke their daughter had told over grilled cheese sandwiches, the fact that he might like to repaint the walls to a sad shade of blue to match his constant mood?

He thought about all these things more than he cared to admit.

Sometimes he talked to her late at night when he was sure Molly Sue had gone to sleep, but she never answered back.

She was gone, gone, gone.

And yet here he remained, trying and—more often than not—failing to be a good father to the daughter Rebecca hadn’t wanted to leave behind. He was stuck, and he hated himself for that. But how could he make sure his daughter grew up happy when he’d practically forgotten the meaning of the word . . . let alone how it felt?

* * *

Jennifer Elliot woke up with a smile. She’d always been a morning person and didn’t need an alarm to remind her when the time had come to rise and shine. Besides, today was her favorite day of the whole week: Sunday. Sundays were for God, for the children, and most of all, for really and truly living her best life.

She stretched her arms overhead, grabbed a drink from the half-full water bottle on her nightstand, and sprang out of bed, ready to take on the day.

“This is the day that the Lord has made . . .” she sang and then burst into a spirited humming rendition of one of the songs she most liked to sing with her kids. Okay, so they weren’t her kids, but then again, they kind of were. She loved being a daycare worker, but more than that, she loved being First Street Church’s resident Sunday school teacher. She’d always been great with kids, even though she was nowhere near having any of her own.

She didn’t even have a boyfriend, let alone any marriage prospects!

But with kids, what you saw . . . well, that’s what you got. She admired their honesty, and above all, she loved the pure bliss on their little faces as she told them stories about Jesus and reminded them of the Golden Rule. Yes, her call to be a Sunday school teacher had come in loud and clear, and she’d happily answered. The only real problem was that it was a volunteer position.

Of course, Jennifer didn’t care much about money. How could she when she barely had two nickels to rub together? Sure, it might be nice to have a bit more cash for pretty dresses, art supplies, and other things that made her happy—but, truth be told, she was perfectly happy already. Especially because today was a Sunday.

She pulled her favorite maxi dress over her head and frowned when she noticed a tiny hole had begun to tug at the neckline. Oh well. It’s had a good run. Just to be safe, she pulled the dress back over her head and tossed it onto the bed, then went to make breakfast in nothing but her underwear, a pink polka-dotted bra and cotton briefs with a faded Superman logo across the bottom. No one ever saw what she wore beneath her endless stream of dresses, but knowing she had something pretty and fun beneath always gave her that added boost of confidence she craved.

She padded out to the kitchen and buttered some toast, carefully removing a chunk from the middle so she could make eggies in a basket. A train chugged by outside, shaking the floor beneath her. The track outside Sweet Grove didn’t have too many trains pull through, but enough that she’d gotten used to the rattle and hum and, really, hardly noticed anymore.

Besides, you couldn’t beat the price. Her rent was less than $400 per month, and she knew Kristina Rose paid almost twice that for her nicer place uptown. Nope, Jennifer didn’t mind being poor. She had everything she needed. Besides, it’s not like Jesus was rolling in dough back in His day. She giggled as she pictured Jesus in His long white robe and blue sash swimming in a pool of dollar bills.

If this life was good enough for her Lord and Savior, then it was good enough for her, too. Money wasn’t what made people rich, anyway. Joy remained the only currency that mattered to Jennifer—having it, sharing it, spreading it all around like the generous helping of butter she heaped onto her toast. Yum!

She took her breakfast over to the small, messy desk on the other side of her studio apartment and booted up her computer. It was the one Maisie had used back when they were all in high school, which meant it was old—really old, like big, chunky box monitor old. But it had a working Internet connection and had been free, so even though it took its dear time booting up, Jennifer didn’t mind too much.

She basically only used it for one thing, anyway. After logging into her Facebook account, she scrolled through her feed looking for updates from her family on the East Coast. She wished they hadn’t moved away from Sweet Grove while she’d been away at college earning her education degree. Having to decide between the only home she’d ever known and the family she loved had been a terrible thing, one that had torn her up for months as she went back and forth, back and forth, weighing all the pros and cons.

Ultimately, the visit to Jessica’s new home in Baltimore is what made the decision for her. Even though her sister, nieces, and parents had all relocated, Jennifer just couldn’t picture herself making a life in such a large, impersonal town. Life moved too fast over there. She liked the pace Sweet Grove had set for her years ago and preferred not to live a life of rushing from one appointment to the next if she could avoid it.

So here she was, in her undies, working on her ancient computer, eating eggies in a basket. No news from her sister or mom. They didn’t post too much anyway. Maybe Jennifer would give them a call after church. But first she had a hole to stitch, children to teach, and a song to sing . . .

“This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” she belted out as she finished her morning chores, poor as a church mouse but happy as a clam, which of course was another strange picture that made Jennifer giggle.

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