From This Day Forward - By Deborah Cox

Dear Jason,

I am pleased to inform you that I have located a suitable candidate to fulfill the position of wife and companion. Her name is Caroline Marshall. I am well acquainted with the lady and can say without hesitation that she meets the requirements you set forth in your letter. I am confident you will find her pleasing to the eye and an intelligent companion.

I am most gratified with your decision to marry. I have sensed a growing loneliness in your recent letters. Melanie and I believe you have made a splendid decision.

Therefore, the marriage by proxy has been performed and preparations are underway for your bride's departure for Brazil. I will write again when passage has been arranged.

I wish you both happiness and good fortune.

Your cousin,


"It's done." Caroline Marshall Sinclair placed the quill in the inkstand and stared at the letter on the desk before her. Quelling the doubt that rose in her breast, she reread the missive. "Tell me I've done the right thing."

Melanie Sinclair lifted the letter carefully, studying it for several seconds before replying. "It's amazing. I've seen Derek's handwriting hundreds of times, but I could never have duplicated it so closely."

"Well, I suppose if this doesn't work out I could make my way as a forger."

Melanie laughed and returned the letter to the desk. "I've never known you to be fainthearted, Caroline. You were so sure this morning."

Sunlight from the open window glinted off the ring on the third finger of Caroline's left hand, reminding her of the vows she'd taken today, vows that tied her forever to a stranger.

"Have you ever met Jason?' she asked, though she knew the answer. She'd asked the question more than once and had received a different reaction each time. The words were always the same – "No, but Derek has told me so much about him I feel I know him." The difference lay in the expressions, the physical reaction which ranged from dreamy contemplation to cautious optimism.

"No, silly, I've told you before." Melanie smiled, then her mood turned pensive. "All I know of him is what Derek has said over the years and what I've gleaned from –"

Surprised by the variation in Melanie's response, Caroline stopped studying the wedding band on her finger and glanced up at the other woman who stood gazing out the window at the traffic on Tchoupitoulas Street. "What? Gleaned from what?"

"Oh," Melanie murmured as if she'd been called back from some faraway place. "Oh, the requests he's made over the years. Jason has very definite ideas about what he wants – the exact kind of books, the exact kind of furnishings, the exact type of fixtures and glass and door facings for what must be a giant of a horse."

A tremor of fear rippled through Caroline's body. Yes, Jason Sinclair had been very specific about what he wanted in a wife. But she knew that what he thought he wanted and what he needed were not the same thing at all. He needed a strong, independent, intelligent woman who wouldn't mind the isolation of the jungle or the hardships of such a life. He needed a woman who understood him, who could offer him the loving kindness he had never known as a child.

"Derek says Jason was scarred by life," Melanie said, as if she'd read Caroline's thoughts. "That's why he's hidden himself away in the wilds of Brazil for all these years. They were never close, not really. Jason grew up in a different world, a world of poverty. They lived on opposite sides of town. When his father died, Jason came to work for the company. He was only seventeen when his mother died and he left Brazil. Fifteen years in the jungle."

Fifteen years, Caroline thought with a shudder, trying to imagine it. What would a man be like after fifteen years in the wild? She remembered reading accounts of men who had lived among the Indians of the American West twenty or thirty years ago and had become savages themselves. It seemed as if there was something primitive inside men, and whenever they were separated from civilization for too long, they reverted to a baser nature.

She was generalizing; she knew it. She could almost hear her father scolding her even from the grave. There were plenty of other accounts of men who had gone into the wilderness and tamed it, and that was obviously what Jason Sinclair had done. He had built a house, ordered books and other comforts from