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Marietta eyed the driver who’d refused to give a body two extra minutes to rest anywhere along his route. “It’s been a pleasure to know you, Mr. Henshaw,” she said, looking at him again. What she told him was a lie, of course. He’d been a bother since they’d boarded the coach. His annoying parlance had blown through the conveyance as constantly as the prairie wind. In an apparent attempt to impress her with his intelligence, he unceasingly misquoted the Bible, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Charles Dickens.

Mr. Henshaw took Marietta’s hand. “Again, Miss Randolf, I offer my sympathies over the loss of your esteemed sister. God be with you in your time of sorrow and always. He’ll be with you in your new life with your nephew as well.”

“Thank you, Mr. Henshaw,” Marietta said, forcing a smile in the direction of the annoying man who was finally behaving in a gracious manner.

He released her hand and returned to the stagecoach. He waved from the window as the coach pulled away.

Marietta nodded and watched the violent vehicle shake and roll over the colorless prairie.

A sudden gust of late-November wind chilled her.

“God’s Cathedral,” she mumbled, repeating what Mr. Henshaw had called this barren wilderness. Marietta would never understand how he saw Heaven in the countryside which, to her, surely had to be a reflection of Hell itself.

“I beg your pardon?” A deep voice startled her.

Marietta turned and found a man staring down at her. He was covered in black from hat to boots, except for the red bandana around his neck.

“Did you say something?” he asked, fastening his dark wool coat shut over his black shirt and waistcoat. “I heard you speaking and thought you’d seen or heard me approaching. Were you talking to me?”

“No, of course not. Just thinking aloud I guess,” she replied, slightly unnerved at being met by such an attractive man. She’d been afraid all men who inhabited the prairie were as old and annoying as Mr. Henshaw.

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