river. “I need to board the stage once again, Miss Randolf. The driver has taken downyour bags. He’s ready to leave.”Marietta eyed the driver who’d refused to give a body two extra minutes to restanywhere 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 sincethey’d boarded the coach. His annoying parlance had blown through the conveyance asconstantly 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 sympathiesover 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 theannoying man who was finally behaving in a gracious manner.He released her hand and returned to the stagecoach. He waved from the windowas 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 thecountryside 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 meapproaching. 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 prairiewere as old and annoying as Mr. Henshaw.He nodded toward her. “Nothing wrong with that.” He took off his wide-brimmedfelt hat, revealing a mass of dark molasses hair. “I’m Jason Kent, ma’am. Zack’s beenstaying with me on my ranch,” he said, fingering the brim of his hat.Another chilling breeze washed over her. Marietta shivered and pulled her woolcape tight around her. “Thank you for looking after my nephew, Mr. Kent.”“It’s been my pleasure.”“How is Zack?”“He’s doing quite well, considering what he’s been through. He wanted to comewith me, but I thought it best for him to wait at the fort.”Marietta nodded and shivered again.He reached toward her and tugged her cape tighter around her. “You’re freezing,”he said. “We’d best get you inside.” He looked at Marietta’s luggage and returned his hatto his head. “I’ll have to make a couple of trips to take your things to the Carsons.’”“I’m sorry to be such a bother,” Marietta said as she watched the accommodatingman easily hoist her heavy trunk on one shoulder while he picked up another of her bags.