Cover Design: Najla Qamber Designs
July 4th, 1886
Honest man seeking unorthodox marriage arrangement.
I am in possession of a ranch of considerable size, totaling nearly 1000 acres spanning Montana and Wyoming territories, and am a man of substantial means and good reputation. Must be resourceful and, above all, independent woman. Young lady does not need to be proficient in cooking or housekeeping. Town is in need of a teacher, not a cook. Only a highly educated woman with the patience and mental fortitude to run a schoolhouse will be considered. Further details particular to marriage arrangement will be disclosed in future correspondence. Eager to hear from adventurous, open-minded women who are interested.
PS: All wages earned from teaching will belong solely to young lady.
Forrest Wickes was powerfully built, standing at 6’2 with skin tanned from hours in the sun, fine muscles, and a pair of broad shoulders visible even under the flannel of his work shirt. The abashed figure standing in front Julie was all man. No trace of boyishness in his face, unlike the suitors who had tried their hand at courting her in New York. He yanked off the brown wide-brimmed hat he wore with a jerk of his hands, revealing hair that looked like spun gold. Julie wondered if it was as soft as it looked and her cheeks flamed at the thought. Swoon-worthy, indeed. An aquiline nose, chiseled jaw, and lips that could lead a woman astray rounded out the picture of Mr. Wickes, but it was the pair of summer sky blue eyes looking at her in apology that had Julie fighting the urge to pull out her smelling salts then and there. Julie was struck dumb at the sight of the man and could only stand silently as he apologized to her.
“I meant to be here when you arrived but there was an incident, ah, just—” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of town. I, we, had to intervene. I apologize for not meeting you.”
Julie bit her lip, instantly thinking of the gunshots she had heard. “W-was it the gunshots?” she asked with wide eyes.
He cleared his throat. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Oh my,” Julie breathed, her hand going to her throat.
“But don’t trouble yourself over it. It’s being seen to by, ah, my partner.” He held out his hands in a placating gesture before looking at the crew member and conductor as if he had just noticed them for the first time. “I thank you for bringing my fianceé safely to her destination.”
“Fianceé?” the crew member squeaked. Julie scowled at the man but said nothing as Forrest nodded.
“Since the New Year,” he said, and Julie warmed at the note of pride she heard in his voice. He turned to her with a tender smile. “After all the letters it’s awfully nice to meet you finally, Miss Baptiste.”