Heart and Home

By: Cassandra Austin

Chapter One

Kansas, autumn, 1879

Dr. Adam Hart leaned against the unyielding back of the train seat. He had almost reached his destination; his chance to practice medicine in the Wild West was a few short miles away.

Only one thing kept him from feeling completely elated. He reached into the inside pocket of his suit coat and withdrew the letter Doreena Fitzgibbon had given him just before he boarded the train. “Don’t open it until you’re underway,” she had whispered. He had hugged her and kissed her and promised yet again to send for her once he was settled.

He didn’t read the letter now, but tapped a corner of it thoughtfully against his chin. She wasn’t coming west. “I’m confident,” she’d written, “that once you have served the year you must in that backward town, you will come home and we can be married.”

Hadn’t she listened to his descriptions of this land? Didn’t she recognize the wonderful opportunities that were here? Wasn’t she as eager as he to live surrounded by the unspoiled prairie?

Evidently not. Perhaps he had made the whole adventure sound a little too exciting. And the gunfights. He should never have mentioned the gunfights.

At least, he thought with a sigh, she had given him a year. The glowing reports he’d send home were bound to win her over, then she would consent to move here and become his bride.

The train slowed for the Clyde, Kansas, station, and Adam strained to see out the dirty window. A crowd had gathered on the platform under a banner that read Welcome Dr. Heart.

Adam grinned. He could ignore the misspelling with a greeting like this. As the train pulled to a stop, a brass band started playing…something. It was hard to tell what since the musicians were hardly together. Still, Adam was warmed by the sentiment. He gathered the two bags he had with him, stepped into the warm autumn air and received a rousing cheer from the crowd.

A rather stout man who couldn’t have been much more than five feet tall stepped away from the others, motioning them to silence. “George Pinter, at your service,” he said as the band tapered off. “Mayor of this fair city.”

“Mr. Pinter,” Adam said, “this is indeed a warm welcome.”

Pinter beamed. “My buggy is waiting to take you on into town,” he said, directing Adam along. “Your trunks will be delivered straight away.”

Adam climbed in beside the little man and they started toward the main part of town, a few blocks away. The band struck up again and the crowd followed.

“We have a house for you to live in that should serve well as an office besides,” Pinter shouted over the noise. “I’d suggest you eat next door at the Almost Home Boarding House. Miss Sparks sets a fine table.”

Somehow the particulars of living and eating had not occurred to Adam. He had always pictured Doreena keeping house. “Until my fiancee arrives, I might do that,” he shouted back.

The buggy stopped in front of a tidy little twostory frame house with a narrow porch nestled between currant bushes. As Adam stepped out of the buggy, he noticed the house next door, a much larger affair with a porch that wrapped around two sides. A few late flowers bloomed in the flowerbeds beside the steps. That house, he realized, would suit Doreena much better than his tiny one.

He shook off the thought. When Doreena came west, it would be because she loved him. Where they lived was immaterial.

Pinter had opened the front door and was waiting for Adam to join him. The house had obviously been scrubbed clean. Adam walked across the front room, furnished with a desk and a few mismatched chairs, and peeked into what looked like a well-appointed kitchen.

Turning back into the room, he discovered that

several of the townspeople had followed them in. More crowded the porch and street outside. The band began another tune.

“There’s a bedroom here you could use for examinations,” Pinter shouted, indicating a door. “Upstairs is another. Don’t worry about dinner tonight. I’ll be over to get you.”

Adam thanked him, setting the two bags on the desk.

“Well, come along, folks. Let’s let him get settled. Your trunks’ll be along.”

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