Cover Design: Najla Qamber Designs
Julie frowned. “Are the pair of you trying to get rid of me now? After all this time? All th-those letters?” She wrung her hands together, her mind already leaping to what the society pages would proclaim at her being rejected as a mail-order bride.
Forrest sat up straight when he heard her frustrated tone. “Now, Julie, we weren’t—”
“Because I’ll have you know that I very much have made up my mind to be married, gentlemen.” Julie crossed her arms over her chest in defiance, though it was hard for her to stay sitting upright given the swaying nature of the wagon, and she almost cursed when she fell sideways, prompting a quick hand from Will to catch her before she tumbled headfirst out of the wagon.
Will let out an exasperated grunt. “Life won’t be easy with us.”
“Yes, I know this. Forrest was perfectly clear in the year of letters we exchanged.” She gave Forrest a meaningful look that had the big man blushing.
“So I was.” He glanced over at Will and added, “So we were.”
Julie raised an eyebrow in surprise. “You wrote me?” she asked, looking at Will, who was leaning back in his saddle and looking like he wished to be anywhere but there.
“Sure did,” he answered, but said no more.
“You never…I didn’t know it wasn’t you.” She gave Forrest a look of reproach, but he only shrugged.
“Made sense for you two to talk beforehand if you were serious about having the both of us.”
“Well, I suppose so,” Julie sighed. If polite New York society thought it already had the juiciest drama from her little adventure, it would fly into a tizzy over what Julie had truly decided to do. Though the spy who had told the pages about her plan to go West had ruined her efforts at secrecy, they hadn’t discovered the whole of her plan. If they had, Julie wouldn’t have just made the society pages, she would have sustained them for society pages, she would have sustained them for months, possibly even years. And she might still if her secret ever came to light, which was that Julie Baptiste, heiress of the esteemed Baptiste family, hadn’t simply agreed to be a bride for the sake of a teaching position and the chance of adventure on the frontier to one man.
She’d agreed to do it with two.
God, woman, where are you in all this lace?” he huffed, making sure to get the entirety of her train safely up on the bench next to her.
“It’s the height of fashion,” she informed him primly.
Will snorted, still shoving swaths of silk satin up next to her. “Seems like a waste.”
Julie stiffened at his casual comment and looked down at her hands, even though she knew he couldn’t see the hurt in her eyes, not with the near darkness they were in, relieved only by the bright light of the moon.
Noticing that she’d gone still, Will sighed, “I didn’t mean—Julie, you looked beautiful today.”
“Thank you,” she said, her voice small. She kept her eyes on her lap and, working to keep her voice even, began to ask about Forrest when Will spoke.
“Darlin’,” he tried, one of his hands coming to rest over both of hers, which were tightly clasped in her lap. “I’m sorry. Sometimes I speak before I think. Y-you were the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life today.” He picked up a fistful of her skirt and gave it a gentle shake. “This wasn’t a waste. Not an inch of it.” He was whispering now, voice low and husky. She could hear the sincerity in his voice and she swallowed hard at the raw emotion she heard.