Enjoy this short story prequel that shares how Chauncy Dodd met the woman who captured his heart!

Love’s Beginning . . .

A smattering of leaves, resplendent with the glorious hues of autumn, swirled around his feet as Chauncy Dodd walked out of the parsonage with a joyful heart.

After growing up in the town of Hardman, Oregon, he was sure he’d one day leave and make a successful life for himself elsewhere. But once he finished his seminary training, the only place he wanted to be was home.

When the previous pastor of the Hardman Christian Church announced his plans to retire at the end of the summer, Chauncy’s best friend, Luke Granger, sent a telegram and told him about the open position.

Chauncy sent up many prayers after he applied for the job, hoping the deacons of the church would decide to hire him as a replacement. A week turned into two with no news, then another telegram arrived from Luke that filled his heart with joy. He got the job and would take over as pastor on the first of September.

Back in Hardman more than a month, Chauncy was still adjusting to being in the small town after spending half a dozen years living in the big city of Portland, Oregon.

The slower pace, the quiet, the fresh air — he enjoyed every bit of it. And he relished the opportunity to be part of the Hardman community once again.

autumn leaves against sunlight

Chauncy stopped at the end of the walk and drew in a deep breath. Wood smoke blended with the aromas of bacon and coffee on the slight breeze. The lingering hint of something spicy that only filled the air this time of year tickled his nose and made him glad, again, that he’d returned home.

He had plenty of time before he’d need to deliver the Sunday morning sermon. In truth, he still hadn’t gotten over being nervous as he stood in front of people who’d watched him grow from a cheeky child into a respectable man.

A grin tugged up the corners of his mouth as he thought of Luke’s mother. Dora Granger had once told him he was gangly oaf with feet the size of snowshoes and he’d have to learn to tread carefully if he didn’t want people refusing to open their doors to him.

Dora, and her tendency to speak her mind, made him grateful she and Luke’s father had moved to New York. The woman was a terrible gossip on a good day and the last thing he needed was to have her spreading stories about him. He could almost hear her critiques of his sermons, the way he dressed, and how he talked.

At least he had Luke to offer encouragement any time he needed it. Just yesterday, Luke had told him he’d heard nothing but good things from the congregation about Chauncy taking over as pastor.

He’d hoped his past shenanigans wouldn’t haunt him. Although they didn’t intend to get into trouble, he and Luke had often found it in their growing up years. The Christmas Eve he and Luke turned mice loose during the service as part of the nativity still made people laugh with each retelling. Chaos erupted as the mice scattered. Women screamed and jumped up on pews. Dora wouldn’t budge until her husband carried her outside.

In spite of his sometimes wayward youth, Chauncy was now a dependable and steady man, ready to take on the responsibilities of pastoring the church.

While he strolled along the boardwalk through town, he tipped his hat to the few people out and about.

“Morning, pastor,” George Bruner said as he hurried down the walk toward the mercantile he owned with his wife.

“Morning, George. I hope to see you, Aleta, and the children at the service this morning.”

George grinned. “Oh, we’ll be there. Although you might need to give Percy a few stern looks. That boy is a handful, I tell you.”

“He’ll do fine,” Chauncy said. He’d already noted that Percy squirmed worse than he and Luke ever did when they were his age, but the boy was smart and full of fun. As long as he wasn’t disruptive, Chauncy couldn’t blame him for having ants in his pants.

Chauncy’s steps slowed as he looked at the lettering on the window of a place of business that just opened the past week. According to sign, and the information he acquired from Luke, the new dress shop was owned by an unmarried woman who’d recently arrived in town.

It seemed odd to Chauncy that a single female would choose to make a home in Hardman, especially without any relatives in the area. However, Luke assured him Miss Abigail Sommers was alone.

Chauncy meant to pay a call and welcome her to the community earlier in the week, but unfortunately time got away from him.

As it was now.

He gave one last look at the stylish displays of women’s fashions in the gleaming windows of the shop then hurried across the street to the church. As he wiped off the pews to make certain not a speck of dust lingered, Chauncy rehearsed his sermon.

He’d just brushed off his hands and straightened his tie when the door opened and Luke strolled in, speaking to Blake Stratton. They’d all gone to school together even if they’d chosen different career paths. While Luke owned and operated the bank in town, Blake raised fine horses and did carpenter work as well as wood-working projects.

As the congregation members filed into the church and took seats, Chauncy sat in the first row, nearest the podium, and closed his eyes for a few moments of peaceful meditation.

When the sound of footsteps quieted and the pews no longer creaked as people scooted onto them, he rose to his feet, made his way behind the podium, and looked out over the congregation.

He nodded to Luke, winked at young Percy Bruner as the boy wiggled restlessly beside his mother, then glanced at a beautiful young woman sitting on the end of a pew next to Mrs. Kellogg, the woman who cleaned and cooked for Luke.

Big brown eyes that reminded Chauncy of a sweet molasses stared up at him. Glossy brown hair was tucked beneath a smart little hat. And the hint of a smile tugged at lips that looked ripe for kissing.

Appalled by the direction of his thoughts, Chauncy yanked them in line and tried to focus on the service.

Each time he looked up from his sermon notes, something about the young woman drew his gaze directly to hers. If he didn’t know better, he’d think there was a magnetic force pulling them together.

He’d lost his place so many times, he finally kept his eyes glued to the paper in front of him until he made it to the end. When he finished, he offered a brief prayer then asked the congregation to join in singing a closing hymn. It wasn’t until the last note faded that he dared to look out at the congregation.

Sure enough, his eyes went right to the young woman. She smiled and said something to Mrs. Kellogg as she gracefully rose to her feet.

Chauncy walked on wooden legs to the back of the church to shake hands with each member of his flock.

He turned from speaking to Junie and James Grove to find Luke standing there with the woman. Jealousy churned in his gut and made him want to slug the smirk right off Luke’s face.

“Pastor Dodd, I’d like you to meet Abigail Sommers. She opened the new dress shop in town.” Luke moved back as the breathtaking woman stepped forward.

Chauncy took her hand in his and felt as though he’d grabbed onto a hot poker. Fire seared up his arm to his head and from the shocked expression on her face, he had to wonder if she felt the same thing.

Smitten.

The only word he could find at that moment was smitten.

He was entirely besotted with a woman he’d just met. Yet, he couldn’t find a single reason he shouldn’t be.

Every love story had to begin somewhere. Perhaps this was where his would start.

~*~

Read more about the town of Hardman and the characters who live there in the Hardman Holidays series!