Love’s Trial

She has nothing left to lose.
But for him it's all on the line...

Small-town librarian Sally Scott’s life is made up of a series of tremendous heartbreaks. Her parents died when she was young, the love of her life just married somebody else, and looking after her agoraphobic aunt means she can’t leave town despite having no true place to call home. Day in and day out, nothing changes for the better... until a town outsider returns to claim his place in Sweet Grove.

In this heartfelt inspirational romance from a New York Times bestselling author, Sally and Tobias's paths unexpectedly converge at an event neither want to attend, leaving both to question everything they once thought they knew about themselves and everything they believed they wanted from life.

Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon

And just like that, one wedding gave way to the next, much like Spring gave way to Summer. The cloying scent of sweet summer flowers hung thick in the air. The sun shone much too brightly, and the mass of people gathered to witness this spectacle stood too close together for any of them to be truly comfortable. That wasn’t the worst of it though. Not by a long shot.

“I do,” Ben said to his bride, his wife.

“I do,” the imposter wearing white repeated.

Sally shifted her weight from foot to foot, trying so hard not to flee—or worse, to make a scene—as her one true love married somebody else. She glanced around the orchard. The whole town had turned out for this wedding, even though a few last-minute disasters had changed its location from some relative’s garden, to the church, and finally to the old wishing well hill within Bryant Orchard.

People, she now knew, would go to any lengths to make Summer happy. Ben, on the other hand, had always been an outsider, lived on the periphery—just like Sally. At least until Summer showed up and staked her claim, stole every hope at true love right out from under Sally’s poor, shaky feet.

But Sally was the hero of this story, and she refused to give up without a fight. A sea of smiling faces on either side of her watched as the Sunday School teacher, Jennifer Elliot James, led Ben and Summer through their vows.

Sally was the only one to wear a stoic expression in that moment.

Nobody else knew that the day before yesterday, Sally had at long last declared her love to Ben, had pressed her lips to his for one glorious moment forever frozen in her mind, for the only place it could maintain life, truth was in her thoughts.

Right after their brief kiss, Ben had torn away from her, declared his love for Summer, and told Sally he didn’t even think they could be friends anymore. He’d ripped her heart clear in two, like it hadn’t been the greatest gift she knew how to give. Like it hadn’t meant anything when, in fact, her love had been everything.

Ben was the one perfect part of Sally’s world. And now?

Now she had to stand in silence and watch as he became somebody else’s. It was time to lay down her torch once and for all. Time to stop fighting and accept the horrible, horrible truth.

“Ladies and gentlemen of Sweet Grove,” the officiant, Jennifer, said with a ridiculously huge smile on her face. It was no small wonder she and Sally had never become friends. “I now present to you, for the first time ever, Mr. and Mrs. Davis!”

Sally looked away as Ben pulled his bride into his arms for the ceremony-ending kiss. Everyone clapped and cheered. This was the soundtrack to Sally’s world ending.

Laughter, joy, torture.

She turned to leave, but before she could, somebody flung her arms around Sally from behind. “It’s been forever,” her old friend, Scarlett, cried. Scarlett and Sally had gone to Sweet Grove High together, and later to college. They’d even done their master’s degrees in Library Science side by side. And they hadn’t seen each other since Scarlett had moved up to Anchorage and accepted a position there, leaving Sally to take over the library in their small Texas town. She’d never much cared for Sweet Grove, but at least she had Ben…

Until suddenly she didn’t anymore.

All of the sudden, Summer Smith had come and changed everything.

Ruined it.

Scarlett frowned, her fair features pinched together in concern. “Sally, did you hear me? I asked how you’ve been. Is everything okay?”

Sally shrugged. Scarlett had known of her crush on Ben growing up, but she’d never understood how deep Sally’s feelings ran. Not even Ben had known until two days ago.

Now Sally wished she would have followed in Scarlett’s footsteps and taken a job in a new town, somewhere she could start over, find someone new to love. But she hadn’t done that, and now she’d be forced to watch as Ben built his life with Summer as they honeymooned, became parents, grew old together.

Meanwhile she, the rather unheroic Sally, would be all alone. Forever and hopelessly alone. Some ending to this particular love story.

“You don’t still…” Scarlett made eyes toward Ben and Summer standing by the wishing well on the hill. “Love him?” she mouthed soundlessly.

“I’m fine. It’ll be fine,” Sally answered coldly. She’d missed her friend, but she just couldn’t bring herself to talk about what she was feeling today. If only there were a pill she could take… or even a surgery that could cut out the piece of her heart that belonged to Ben.

Then everything would be okay. She could heal.

But no, they didn’t live in a fantasy world, although Sally spent much of her free time crafting such a land in the novel she was writing.

Scarlett placed a conciliatory hand on Sally’s back and brought her in for a quick hug. “Do you want to meet Henry? He just flew in yesterday after his exams. He’s studying to be a doctor, you know.”

Sally did know. She and Scarlett exchanged emails often, and Sally made sure to keep up with her friend’s blog even though she had very little interest in the world of dog sledding, which was the main topic of said blog.

“I’d love to meet the fire to your ice,” Sally said, resigned to the fact that she’d have to stand back and watch as everyone around her found love sooner than later, while she remained with only her housebound aunt and her favorite stories to keep her company.

Scarlett giggled and gave Sally a tight squeeze. “There’s the friend I know and love. And, actually, it was the other way around. I’m the fire.”

Although people often called Sally an ice queen when they thought she couldn’t hear, Sally knew that she, too, was made of fire.

Flames of passion, of longing, of love.

Because if she were ice than maybe—just maybe—her heart wouldn’t hurt so bad.

* * *

Tobias Lloyd missed most of the ceremony, but he’d shown up just in time to watch as the groom swept his new bride into his arms and gave her that first enthusiastic kiss of marriage.

“C’mon, don’t dilly-dally!” Mabel grumbled as she and the proprietor of Fred’s Pizza Co. worked to unfold long plastic tables on the grass nearby.

“You’re making me do ninety-nine percent of the lifting!” Fred shot back, squinting into the sun with a pained expression.

Kristina Rose and Jeffrey, the engaged couple that ran the local diner since Mabel had “retired,” rushed across the lawn with heaping armfuls of tablecloths, plates, cutlery, and basically all the fixings for this triple-catered wedding reception picnic.

“Can I help?” Tobias offered, but Mabel just rolled her eyes.

“I doubt Ernie would like that,” Kristina Rose said with a pout. “Anyway, we’ll manage just fine.”

Sure enough, Tobias’s grandfather appeared behind him, pushing a polished metal cart across the bumpy ground. “Get over here, kleiner. We’re setting up our own station on this side.”

So at the end of the day, Tobias had driven more than two hours to help his grandfather further tarnish his relationship with the other restaurants in town? What a perfect reason to miss study group.

Tobias grabbed for the cart, but the old man was too quick and too stubborn to hand over control. Gramps, couldn’t we set up beside the others?”

His grandfather laughed at this suggestion. “We’re the only gourmet setup in town for a reason, you know. And I don’t want their fumes mixing with ours.”

Tobias shrugged and tried to shoot the others an apologetic look, but they were too caught up in their own preparations. He’d never known Kristina Rose and Jeffrey well since they’d been a couple years ahead of him in school growing up, but he liked to think they could have been good friends. Maybe they still could be.

After all, he’d need friends if he decided to return to town after his law school graduation this summer. It wouldn’t be long now.

He ran his hands through his dark hair, which was long only because he hadn’t found the time to cut it between studying hard during the week and helping his grandfather with the restaurant whenever he had even a moment’s time to spare. Perhaps he could go say hello while his grandpa fiddled with their setup.

“Where do you think you’re going? I need you at the carving station,” Gramps said, pushing a heat lamp into Tobias’s chest.

Well, so much for laying the groundwork for a friendship. Gramps would make sure that nobody in the Sweet Grove restaurant business liked either of them, and somehow he doubted things would be different when he finally convinced the old man to hire a full-time staffer to help with the daily goings-on at Ernie’s.

Tobias could wonder and worry about what came next, or he could buckle down and focus on work. Work won out every time, and it did that day as well.

It wasn’t long before he had a beautiful carving station set out before him, complete with German meatloaf, pork roast, and the special red wine sauce that had made his grandpa’s restaurant a local legend. Gramps had even forced him to put on a white chef’s coat and hat as a further way of differentiating Ernie’s fare from that of the lesser area restaurants.

That was his grandpa—passionate, particular, and proud—and Tobias couldn’t help but love him for it.

Grandfather and grandson watched side by side as the receiving line on the hill dwindled. Soon the wedding and all its myriad guests would turn their attention toward the reception and the restaurateurs waiting to serve up all their best dishes.

Tobias liked being able to help his grandfather, but sometimes he wished he could just attend local events as a guest, as himself rather than as a representative of their establishment. Maybe when he was a respected attorney, complete with diploma in hand… Maybe then he could be a part of the festivities instead of a mere stander-by.

The guests continued to mill around the meadow in one giant, pulsing throng. Tobias watched and waited, trying to mentally calculate what time he could be back in Houston if he left now… or now… or maybe now. As he struggled to work out the math, a pale figure broke out from the group, her feet flying quickly over the trampled grass.

He thought he recognized her as Sally Scott, a girl who had also been two years ahead of him in school. And he knew for sure it was her when she opened her mouth to show off the gap in the center of her otherwise perfect smile.

Only she wasn’t smiling. In fact, she looked as if she might burst into tears at any moment.

“Hey!” he called out, his voice hoarse and throat scratchy. When she paused and glanced over at him, he gestured for her to come over with a tilt of his head and his best smile.

“You look like you could use a good hunk of meat.” He grabbed his long silver fork and began to carve a bit from the pork tenderloin laid out before him.

“Is that a pickup line?” she asked with a sniff and a scowl. “Because if it is, it’s disgusting, and I’m offended.”

Of course, Tobias realized only then that his invitation to eat could have easily been construed as an invite to engage in other base desires. Heat rose up his neck and into his cheeks. If she noticed his sudden blush, he could blame it on the hot lamp casting warm light between them.

Sally continued to glower at him, waiting for some kind of response to the question he had hoped was rhetorical.

Tobias fumbled for any words that could make this exchange better. “I just meant you look sad or weak or sick or hungry. I don’t know.” Umm, maybe he chose the wrong ones.

“So now you’re saying I look ill?” She lifted one thin brow at him and crossed her arms. Her mouth closed in a frown, hiding her beautiful imperfection.

“Oops. Look. All I’m saying is…” He picked up his carving fork again and gestured toward the beautiful hunk of meat on the table. “I want to feed you.”

“Because I’m too skinny?” Sally stood in place, unflinching in her silent judgment. It made Tobias nervous. Real nervous.

“No. Ahh, no! Because it’s delicious. Here.” Without thinking twice, he picked up a bite-sized piece of the roast and pushed it past her lips and into her mouth.

Sally’s eyes grew wide, and he watched as she reluctantly chewed the meat. He knew that the moment she was able to swallow, he’d be receiving an earful.

Not good.

Was it too late to tell Gramps he couldn’t help with the reception?

Other Books in "First Street Church Romances"