For “When Calls the Heart” fans, it seems like centuries since the last episode of the drama, “A Vote of Confidence” aired in March. In the meantime, the showrunners, writers, and cast have worked frantically to bring the drama back to its devoted viewers, after a sad situation that could never have been anticipated. This week's Sunday return, May 5, for Season 6, “Heart of a Mountie” made it clear that Hope Valley has the strength of its faith, its people, and the power of unity to keep it stronger than ever. Elizabeth Thornton (Erin Krakow) also summons the courage to welcome the new man in the red serge in warm and proper fashion.

An unexpected stay

In the first few moments following opening credits of this “When Calls the Heart” episode. Elizabeth’s journal narration reveals that Abigail Stanton has departed with her family to care for her mother back east and that the community is holding her and her family in prayer. The image and name of Lori Loughlin are briefly included with the opening credits. The scenes that follow depict life moving forward in Hope Valley, just as it does in real life.

Bill Avery (Jack Wagner) is doing his part at the café, with help from Clara (Ava Bourne) and others.

Unwittingly, Clara becomes the focus of a fracas at the Queen of Hearts saloon, run by the mysterious but ever-charming Lucas Bouchard (Chris McNally). While Lucas is once more fascinating Clara, Faith (Andrea Brooks), and other customers with his sleight of hand, he asks Clara for her hand. When her fiancé, Jesse (Aren Buchholz), sees the gesture, he supposes that Bouchard is offering an uninvited kiss, and quickly delivers a blow to the handsome business owner.

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Another gentleman in plain clothes jumps from his table into the conflict.

Sheriff Bill Avery takes Jesse and the other man to jail so they can cool down and explain themselves. When the sheriff suggests that the unknown gentleman should “leave the law in order to me,” the stranger responds, “I can't do that. I'm the new Mountie, Nathan Grant.”

The debut might not have been the one that “When Calls the Heart” fans were expecting for Kevin McGarry, but the actor does make an impression.

Elizabeth is shaken at seeing another man in his red serge, and Bill Avery cautions that she will have to meet Nathan Grant sooner or later, but she can do it in her own time.

It doesn't take long for Nathan Grant to find a daunting case-- the first robbery for Hope Valley. The stagecoach delivering the payroll for Lee Coulter’s (Kavan Smith) lumber mill is held up. Neither the evidence or the stories are matching up.

Just like with Lucas Bouchard, Bill Avery doesn't think too much of the new lawman, but the two men find shared interest in solving the case. Avery is impressed that Grant tests the shell casings from the scene with those fired from his rifle. The resemblance leads both men to know that only one man, not five masked robbers, as described by one of the female witnesses, were responsible. The discovery soon reveals that only the driver and the woman could be involved, and they are brought to justice.

Giggles, gossip, and glowing love

Elizabeth is overjoyed to witness baby Jack giggle in the morning before she rushes off to class. Her students are practicing the art of debate, and she instills that honest discussion is possible without personal attack or derision. When her first two debaters become completely disrespectful, she uses it as a teaching moment. “If we don't learn to listen to each other, we can never heal this wound.” In the end, they decide that friendship overpowers any disagreement on horses versus cars.

The most joyful and purely pleasurable performance of the night was Pascale Hutton's always on-point portrayal of Rosemary. She tries to pretend that she doesn't hear the ringing phone that she has just had installed in the Coulter home until Lee finds it under a pillow. He protests about having the new technology, but Rosemary, of course, knows the endless possibilities for “community communication.”

Rosemary, in particular, wants to meet the new Mountie, who is described as “quite a dish” by the telephone operator, Fiona (Kayla Wallace). That moment doesn't come for her yet, but when she learns that her husband and Nathan Grant have been on the trail of the dangerous robbers, she wastes no time in telling her husband how she feared for his life.

Rosemary sees for herself that Dr. Shepherd (Paul Greene) and Faith are indeed truly in love. They are not yet ready for the intrusion of sharing their relationship with all of Hope Valley. They ask that she keep their union a secret, and she agrees.

Still being true to her word, she and Lee prepare a romantic dinner for the couple at their home, complete with champagne. The gesture has a beautiful feel of Hope Valley and the many special nights of memorable moments for “When Calls the Heart.”

When Rosemary caps off a day of calls to her husband with a glowing declaration of forever love, he decides that keeping the telephone is a wonderful idea and that he never wants to break the connection with his wife.

Meanwhile, Jesse and Clara continue to squabble over Lucas Bouchard. She wants to keep her job at the saloon, even after Jesse gets a second job at the livery. This debate is much more over trust than employment.

Nathan Grant is a man who only talks “when something needs to be said.” He is finding relationships hard, so far, on his new post. When Elizabeth Thornton walks in to introduce herself, quite appropriately, as her upbringing taught, Nathan Grant responds carefully, noting that he never met her late husband, but knew of his reputation as an “excellent Mountie.” In turn, she stresses that “he was an excellent man,” beyond his profession.

Grant offers something else of great significance to the widow. He gives her an envelope with Jack's pension. Her expression says everything as she opens the very needed funds for a single mother. She walks outside with Nathan Grant, explaining her own difficult start in Hope Valley. She reminds him that she could not imagine being anywhere else now, and how she hopes that he can find the same warmth and support.

Hope Valley is a place of starting fresh and second chances, and most of all, welcome for everyone. Tonight's May 6 episode, “Surprise, then” is sure to live up to its name.

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