In 1875, Kansas bachelor Drew Montgomery's sole desire is to serve God, but his congregation's ultimatum that he marry or leave, forces him to advertise for a wife by proxy.
Jules Walker strides into Drew's life wearing breeches and toting a gun and saddle--more cowboy than bride. After years on the trail, she's not exactly wife material, but she longs for home and family, and will do anything to ensure Drew never discovers what she really is.
Matrimony News, February 6, 1875 edition
Minister bachelor aged 27, height 5 feet 10 inches seeks genteel, honest and first-rate homemaker with a desire to serve God. Must be willing to marry by proxy and arrive in Burrton Springs, Kansas by May 1.
Burrton Springs, Kansas, Saturday, May 1, 1875
Dear Lord, please don’t let that creature be my new wife. Drew Montgomery swiped the sweat trickling a path down his neck and shoved the new hat back on his head. He squinted, taking in the lone passenger stepping from the stagecoach. At least, he thought it was a woman. He shielded his eyes from the sun, taking in the britches.
Britches? A gun belt strapped to a slim waist. He gulped. A rifle rested on her shoulder, and she wore a Stetson situated low on her brow. The figure shifted sideways, and Drew groaned, fearing his proxy mail-order bride had arrived by the look of all the curves. He squared his shoulders and crossed the street.
“Are you Montgomery?” Her coffee-brown gaze seared through him.
He snapped his gaping mouth shut and nodded. “Y-yes.”
“Name’s Jules Walker.” She shoved her hand into his and shook it so hard his teeth clattered. “I reckon, Jules Montgomery since we’re hitched.” She waved a slip of paper in his face. “Got the paper here to prove it. So are you my husband or not?”
Drew caught a whiff of dirt. He coughed and cleared his throat.
She peered at him as if he were a chicken with one leg.
“I’m Drew.” He managed to choke the words out. “Isn’t your name Julia?”
She scrunched her face, pushed her Stetson from her head, and allowed it to dangle from the string around her neck. Her brown hair scattered in disarray, slipping from a shoulder-length braid. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve been called Julia. Like I said, name’s Jules.”
“But...” Drew let the word hang between them. No matter. “Where’re your things?”
“Got my knapsack and that there.” She pointed to the top of the stagecoach. He expected to see a trunk, but a saddle rested there instead. What kind of woman brought a saddle into a marriage? What kind of woman showed up dressed like a man? No. No. Something was terribly wrong.
“I reckon you’ll need to sign this here paper to make it all proper like. I already signed my name, and there’s the judge’s signature.” She poked at the words on the page.
“Yes, I’ll inscribe it when we reach our home.” Drew shouldered the knapsack, hefted the saddle, and headed in the direction of the parsonage.
“Home. I like the sound of that.” Jules smiled, a dimple flickered in each cheek, giving him the first hint that she was truly a female. She studied him for a moment then slanted her gaze to their surroundings.
“This is a town, huh? A heap of buildings tossed in one place.” She gawked at each structure they passed.
Nothing seemed to escape her notice. The sun beat down with no mercy as they meandered along the street. He wished she’d hurry before anyone spotted her. What type of character had he agreed to marry? She didn’t appear at all like the woman for whom he’d advertised, but now there was no way to change things. He forced his choppy breathing to slow. No avoiding it. He needed a wife by the next day, and his lone alternative, the one he’d chosen in order to keep his job, hiked along behind him. Drew cast a glance over his shoulder, moaned, and came to a halt. His bride plowed into him, causing him to stumble and fall to his knees.
“Sorry.” She dusted him off with her hat and offered a hand. “What’d you stop for?”
“Did you bring a horse?” He brushed at the dirt on his pants and picked up the saddle. His gaze drifted toward the stagecoach.
“Nah, Josh made me sell him afore I came here. Almost the worst thing I ever done.” She knocked the dirt from her hat before returning it to her head. “Here. There’s no reason to tote everything by yerself. Let me help.”
“No.” He shifted her belongings to a more comfortable position. “I’ve got it.”
“Don’t have to get testy.”
“I’m not testy.” A sigh hissed from his lips. Give me patience, Lord. He’d met his wife all of two minutes ago, and they already were having difficulty communicating. Had he been too hasty? I must not have been thinking straight to order a woman sight unseen. He shook his head. “A gentleman helps a lady.”
She snickered, and then her eyes narrowed. “Not goin’ back on yer word, are you?”
He gulped. Surely she couldn’t read his mind?
“I guess it won’t be bindin’ until you sign this.” She waved the document.
Drew pulled a shallow breath into his lungs, thankful she hadn’t pursued her question. “As I…I said, I’ll pen my name when we get to my place.” He took advantage of his long strides, and hurried along the street, grateful nobody milled around.
“What’s yer hurry?” Jules jogged to keep up with him.
Drew slowed his pace. “I assumed you’d be anxious to rest after the long trip. Where exactly in Texas did you reside? I don’t remember any mention of it.”
Her eyebrow lifted. “Seein’ as we just met, I don’t suspect I told you, but I last came from the Blanco area.”
“I’ve never been to Texas.” His arms perspired beneath the load of gear.
Jules moved the rifle to her opposite shoulder while marching along like a toy soldier. “Is yer place in town?”
“On the outskirts.” Drew nodded in the direction of his home, which was nestled beside the building that served as the schoolhouse during the week and church on Sundays. Beyond it stretched a fallow field that met the horizon. He didn’t want her to explore. He wanted to get to his house, hustle her inside, and close the door against any busybodies.
Jules scrutinized the homes and businesses, stopping every few steps to stare at them. “Guess it will take some gettin’ used to.”
“What will?” He tried to peer into her eyes, but she had shielded them with her hat.
“Livin’ in a town.”
“It’s not much of a town yet, but perhaps we’ll compare to Hutchinson before too long. Here we are.” Drew swung the door open and moved aside, allowing her to enter the kitchen. “It’s kind of small, but I hope you’ll like it."