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THERE'S not a good heart among those folks," Jack Cornwall muttered as he led his horse across the bridge away from Hope. "Not a one."
With icy claws of pain gripping his wounded shoulder, Jack staggered down the road that would take him to Topeka. A chill wind whistled eastward across the Kansas prairie. He swung around and glared into the night, as if by sheer willpower he could intimidate the coming storm into retreat. Heedless, a frigid gust whipped beneath his lapels and ballooned his battered leather jacket.
Gritting his teeth, Jack stopped and bent over, fighting nausea. The stallion edged forward to nuzzle his master's neck with a velvet nose. A low snuffling conveyed the creature's unease at this midnight journey. Jack ran a hand down the coarse mane as he fought the reality that assailed him.
He had lost everything he'd ever fought for, everything he'd ever loved. His home. The Cornwall family farm. His sister Mary. Five of the men in his battalion-including his closest friend. The Confederacy and its goal of a new and vital nation. And now his little nephew, Chipper.
The darkness surrounding the man swirled through his thoughts. Hunger twisted his stomach. Thirst parched his tongue. If he blacked outnow-here-far from warmth, he might never make it back to his parents' home in Missouri. He tugged on Scratch's reins. The horse needed shelter from the autumn wind. They both craved decent food and a place to rest. But where?
The prairie dwellers who had dug their homes out of the Kansas sod despised Jack, and even now he tasted their hatred in the blood on his tongue. Earlier that evening the residents of Hope had gathered to cheer their neighbor Seth Hunter in the fistfight. The outcome ended any chance Jack had of taking Chipper back to Missouri. With his jaw nearly busted and his shoulder half torn apart, Jack had been forced to surrender. The crowd had parted, watched him pass, and then clamored around Seth with whoops of victory.
"Ah, forget the whole confounded bunch of 'em," Jack snarled. Then he gave a bitter laugh. "Hope. Yeah, sure."
A short distance down the road, a soddy formed a low hump in the endless, bleak stretch of tall prairie grass. Jack knew from hearsay that the homesteaders Jimmy O'Toole and his wife, Sheena, were his enemy Hunter's close friends, and this evening they were away at the dance. He doubted they would permit him to spend a night at their place. Not only were they loyal to their neighbor, but the O'Tooles lived with a passel of kids and relatives in the little soddy. The crowd itself would make a visitor unwelcome.
Jack snorted at the thought of the O'Toole family. Bunch of Irish street rats. Street rats turned prairie dogs. The image amused him, but his grin sent a stabbing pain through his jaw. Had Hunter broken the bone after all? Jack prodded the muscle and sinew beneath his roughly whiskered skin. Nah, it wasn't busted. Bruised, though. He'd be surprised if he didn't lose a tooth or two.
Checking his shoulder, Jack discovered that the bullet wound he'd suffered two months before had torn open during the fistfight. With all the travel he'd been doing, the blasted thing had never had a chance to heal right. Now blood seeped through his shirt and made his fingers sticky.
"Scratch," he said, eyeing the ramshackle barn near the soddy, "like it or not, the O'Tooles are fixing to have company. If you promise to keep quiet, I'll fetch you some fresh water and maybe even a few oats."
It didn't take Jack long to slip into Jimmy O'Toole's barn, tend to the horse, and locate a pile of hay in a back corner. He had half a mind to raid the nearby soddy for food, but he and his Confederate vigilante buddies had already run into trouble with the law. He didn't like the idea of landing himself in a Kansas jail. Bad enough to trespass into somebody's barn-he'd already been doing a good bit of that during the months of tracking his nephew. But busting into their house and taking their food was another matter. Yankee soldiers once had pillaged his home. Jack Cornwall would never sink so low.
He pried off his boots, stretched out on the hay, and shut his eyes. His shoulder burned like fire. If the injury didn't heal right, what would it mean to his dream of starting a blacksmithing business? How would he be able to work ... take care of his parents ... take care of Lucy ... sweet, gray-eyed Lucy ...?
"I never saw such a ballyhooly in all my life," a woman's voice announced suddenly in the darkness-barely fifteen feet from where Jack lay. "Did you, Erinn? Now tell me the truth."
Jack stiffened and reached for his pistol.
"We all expected the fight." The second voice was much younger. A little girl. "All summer that wicked Jack Cornwall has been trying to make off with Chipper. Mama said Mr. Cornwall followed our Seth and Rosie the whole way from Missouri, so he did."
"Bad as Mr. Cornwall may be," the woman said, "we're to follow the good Lord's example of forgiveness. Jesus spent many hours in the company of the wicked, and his compassion helped them see the error of their ways. He never turned his back on a person, no matter how evil-and neither should we."
"If you turn your back on Jack Cornwall, he's likely to shoot you in it!"
"Aye, I can't deny 'tis a good thing he's gone."
So the O'Tooles had returned from the celebration. Jack had been expecting them, of course, but not in the barn. Not tonight. The family lived so close to the Hunter homestead they could have walked the short distance with ease. So what business did these two females have wandering around in the black night with not even a lantern between them?
"Shall I fetch a lamp from the soddy, Auntie Caitrin?" the younger girl asked. "It's so dark in here."
Jack shook his head. No. Say no.
"Yes, indeed," Caitrin said brightly. "I thought the moon would be enough to see by, but that wind has brought in too many clouds. You and I might be out in the barn all night fumbling with the latches on my trunk."
"Aye then, I'll be back in a flash."
"Take care now, Erinn! Don't run!"
Jack heard the child's footsteps on the beaten earth of the barn floor as she dashed toward the soddy. From his position on the hay, he studied the shadowed silhouette moving through the gloom. The woman was tall, straight, and as big around the middle as a freight wagon. It appeared she was expecting twins.
"Too ra loo ra," she sang, her voice meandering between words and humming. She bent over a large square trunk below the barn window, then she straightened again. "Too ra lay ... Now where did I lay that pink bonnet?"
She waddled straight across the floor and stopped in front of the hay pile. Jack held his breath, willing himself to remain motionless. Leaning down, the woman began to grope around in the darkness. Her hand brushed against the toe of his boot, and she jerked backward.
"Oh, my goodness-"
"Don't scream." He caught the hem of her skirt. "I won't hurt you."
"Nobody. Just a traveler. I need a place to sleep."
"Take your hands off my-"
"Auntie Caitrin?" The child's voice sounded at the barn door. "I've brought the lamp."
"Don't let the girl see me," Jack hissed. "Send her away."
The woman wavered. "But I-"
"Let me rest in your barn tonight," he went on, "and I'll be on my way at dawn. I'm wounded."
He could hear her breath heavy in her throat. "Are you ... are you that man? That Cornwall?"
"Auntie Caitrin?" the child called again. "Where are you? Even with the lamp, I can't find you."
"Protect me tonight," Jack whispered. "I'll never trouble you again."
Caitrin squared her shoulders. "I'm here, Erinn my love," she called. "Set the lamp on the shelf there by the barn door, and then you'd better go back to the house. 'Tis so late I've decided to repack the trunk myself. I'll be home in time to hear your papa read the Bible."
"But I wanted to help you."
As the light moved closer, Caitrin suddenly dropped the bulk of her immense girth on top of Jack-a pile of dresses and petticoats! He stared in surprise as a lithe woman danced across the barn and swept the lamp away from the child.
"There now, will you disobey your auntie, Erinn?" Caitrin said. "Scuttle back to the soddy, and tell your mama I'd adore a cup of hot tea before bed. Sure we'll work on my trunk tomorrow."
"Tomorrow I have chores!"
"We'll look through it right after lunch, so we will. I'll show you all my gowns and hats. I promise." Caitrin set her hands on her hips. "Now to bed with you, my sweet colleen."
"Oh, but you said-"
"Indeed I did, and my word is my vow. I wasn't thinking about the hour." She lowered her voice and cast a glance in the direction of the hay pile and the intruder shrouded in darkness. "What if there's a pooka in the barn?"
Erinn threw her arms around her aunt's waist. "Oh, Auntie Caitie! Could it be? I'm terrified of goblins!"
"Now then, I'm only teasing. Of course there's naught to fear. We've the good Lord with us always, and his strength is our shield. But 'tis never wise to wander about in the night. Go set the kettle on the stove to boil-there's a good girl. I'll be home before you can wink twice."
The child detached herself from her aunt and raced out of the barn, pigtails flying behind her. The woman strode to the back of the building and held the lamp aloft, bathing Jack in its soft yellow light.
"Now then, pooka," she said. "What do you mean by trespassing into Jimmy O'Toole's barn?"
Clutching his shoulder, Jack struggled to his feet. "Look, I said I wouldn't cause you any trouble."
"No trouble? You're Cornwall himself, are you not? Sure you're the very devil who caused such a ruction with our Seth tonight. You're the wicked fellow who's been chasing after poor little Chipper and trying to steal him away from his rightful papa."
She held the lamp higher. "Look at you standing there with your rifle and pistol and a knife stuck through your belt. Why then, Mr. Cornwall, you're trouble itself. You're the very man who-" Frowning, she peered at him. "Are you bleeding, sir?"
Jack glanced at his shoulder. "The fistfight tonight. An old wound tore open. A few weeks back your precious Seth Hunter pulled a gun on me. He shot me."
"Of course he did," she retorted. "As I recall the story, you were trying to shoot him first. Oh, this is an abominable situation. How can I go off to my tea and my warm bed if I must leave you out here bleeding? How can I sleep in God's peace tonight if I've abandoned one of his creations to a night of pain? Wicked though you are-and just one glance at your woeful condition confirms it-I can see I'm to play the Good Samaritan. Sit down, Mr. Cornwall."
With a firm shove on his chest, she pushed him down onto a milking stool. Then she hung the lamp on a nail that protruded from one of the barn's rough-hewn beams. Seizing his collar, she ordered, "Take off your jacket, sir. Quickly now, I don't have all evening. If you want Jimmy O'Toole traipsing out here with his shotgun, just dawdle."
Jack had barely begun to struggle out of his jacket when the woman grabbed a lapel and yanked off the garment. She took one look at his tattered shirt and seeping wound, and she clapped her hands against her cheeks. "But this is terrible, sir! Is the ball still in your shoulder?"
"No, it came out the other side."
He bent forward to show her the even greater wound on his back. At the sight, she gasped and sank to the floor, her purple-red silk skirts puffing around her. Covering her face with her hands, she let out a moan.
"Wouldn't you know?" she mumbled. "Papa was a fishmonger, and I nearly swooned every time he gutted one of those poor ... miserable ... And now this. Now you."
Jack studied the mass of auburn curls gathered at the woman's crown. Her hair was crusted with little trinkets-paste diamonds, silver butterflies, bits of ribbon. A delicate gold necklace hung with a heavy pearl draped around her long white neck. The scent of sweet flowers drifted up from her silk gown. Jack swallowed.
A beautiful woman. Jewels. A dark night. Common sense told him to take advantage of the turn of events. At the very least, he should snap the choker from her neck and ride away on his horse. If it was genuine, the pearl alone would feed him from here to Kansas City.
So why did he want to stroke a hand down the woman's back, whisper reassuring words, fetch her a drink of cool water?
"Ma'am?" he began, reaching out to her.
She pushed his hand away. "No, I can do this. Truly I can. And I will not swoon." Getting to her feet, she gathered up the clothing she had dropped earlier. "First I must pack the trunk as I promised Erinn. Then I'll fetch you something. Water. Medicine. Heaven help me," she moaned as she threw her garments into the open trunk, "I am not a nurse. What to do? Sheena would know, but of course I can't-"
"Ma'am," Jack cut into her agonized monologue as he rose to his feet again. "I'm not asking you to do anything for me. Just leave me alone here. Let me rest. I'll be gone at dawn."
She slammed down the lid of her trunk and faced him. "How can I leave you here with such grave injuries? I am Caitrin Murphy. I would never walk away from a person in need."
"Yeah, well I'm Jack Cornwall, and I don't need anything from anybody."
"Don't be ridiculous," she snapped. "Everyone needs something. You more than most, I should think. Even if you didn't have that ... that awful bleeding shoulder ... you're clearly in need of a good hot meal. Clean clothes. A haircut. A razor."
She took a step closer and looked him up and down. "Mr. Cornwall, if the condition of your flesh is any indication of the state of your soul, you are in need of a thorough cleansing both inside and out."
"What?" he said in disbelief. "Who gave you the say-so to judge me?"
"I always speak my mind. Now sit down." She pushed him back onto the stool. "Wait here."
Lifting her skirts, the woman stalked out of the barn. The scent of her fragrance lingered a moment in the air. Jack drank it in as he reflected on how long he'd been without female company. Too long. During the war, he'd spent months at a time on active duty or living in the woods with his vigilante friends and struggling to keep the Confederate cause alive. Then he had returned to find his home burned and the family farm sold to a Yankee out of failure to pay taxes. Mary was dead, Lucy suffering, and Chipper stolen away by a man who claimed to be his father. There had been no time for courting.
The auburn-haired beauty who had penetrated Jack's solitude stirred something inside him. Women had a certain softness about them, he recalled. A musical sound to their voices. A magic to their walk. He remembered now the whisper of silk skirts against petti
Excerpted from Prairie Fire by Catherine Palmer Copyright © 1998 by Catherine Palmer
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted May 16, 2014
Posted March 11, 2012
Posted February 11, 2012
"The Town of Hope" series continues with this 2nd book. This is Jack & Caitrin's story. Caitrin's family is VERY Irish and bring quite some angry issues from the homeland to how they treat Jack & his family when they arrive to start a new life in Hope. I was surprised with how mean the O'Toole family was to the Cornwalls, but it takes a town working together for everyone to come together and finall accept everyone's different cultures. "Prairie Rose" was Book 1 in this series and you must read first.....then this book "Prairie Fire"....and then after this is "Prairie Storm". I'm reading this now and like it so far!
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Posted May 12, 2013
This book was not as good as Prairie Rose but it was readable. I didn't think the two main characters were real believable. I didn't love it but I didn't hate it. However I do like to read Catherine Palmer.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 18, 2013
Posted August 28, 2012
Posted April 18, 2012
This is a new author to me and kept me on the edge of my seat. The value is amazing. I have read all three Prairie books and loved them. "Hope" she is doing more.
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Posted March 26, 2012
Being from Kansas myself I truly enjoyed reading a great book about my home state. The characters were believable and I particularly liked the way the Gospel was presented.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 13, 2012
I wanted to throw myself into Jacks arms and allow him to just wrap his arms around me and stay there where all the safty and secure feeling were made.
Jack went beyond to stand up for his "new" growing faith and love for the Lord and protect his family. I was so frustrated by Jimmy O'Tools narrow & un-forgiving heart (and he called himself a Christian)..
Jack not only forgave Jimmy & the townsfold but risked his own lift to save Jimmy...
Posted December 21, 2011
I really enjoyed this book and this series! I like when faith in God is brought into the story. This author has a great writing style that makes you want to keep reading and reading.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 5, 2011
Posted November 30, 2011
This is a great book. I have read all the series. I was very surprised to read that the characters in the book lived in Hope Kansas because when I lived in Kansas I didnt live to far from there. I would really recommend this book.
Posted November 28, 2011
I began with the first book in the Town Called Hope series and read straight through #4. I found all of them to be very good reads, especially if you enjoy the daily ups and downs of Christian living back in pioneer times.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 24, 2011
What a great series - loved watching the town of Hope grow from nothing but a few families living on a prairie. They have such heart and such faith, they make it through any challenge and come out stronger. A feel good series!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 4, 2011
This is second book. The first was free, it was Prairie Rose.
This book is a little shorter than the free book, both in the range of two hundred pages. I enjoyed this book as well as the first. I believe there is another third book.
Posted October 21, 2011
Posted October 16, 2011
Posted January 20, 2012
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Posted February 25, 2012
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Posted October 31, 2011
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