- 3 . The Widow’s Rancher – 02
- 4 . The Widow’s Rancher – 03
- 5 . The Window’s Rancher – 04
- 6 . The Widow’s Rancher – 05
- 7 . The Widow’s Rancher – 06
- 8 . The Widow’s Rancher – 07
- 9 . The Widow’s Rancher – 08
NADIA slipped out of the back door of her cabin, the full moon making it easy to see the way through the trees to her neighbour’s small shack.
She carried a plate of food in one hand and a bar of perfumed soap in the other. She had bought it in town and, even against the scent of the trees and damp earth, the heady aroma of roses wafted strongly in the air.
Careful to avoid the broken holes peppering the porch, she let herself into the shack. She feared that one night she would twist her foot, but she refused to stop visiting her young neighbour. God knew the girl had no-one decent in her life to turn to, with a drunken father and no mother.
“It’s me, Sissy,” Nadia called out and quietly moved through the room that served as both kitchen and parlour.
The sparse furnishings in the room were old or broken, the few pieces of crockery on the shelves near the fireplace mismatched and chipped. The one lone chair in the room missed several of its spindles and the strong smell of whisky hung in the air, even stronger tonight than usual.
She opened the single door off the room and stepped into the small bedroom. In any other home, the space would be fit for nothing but storing food. But Sissy used it as a bedroom, often glad of the thick wooden door that kept her separate from her father and his frequent drunken rages.
Nadia’s gaze immediately went to the wooden bed and the teenage girl tucked in it. She walked over and placed a hand on the girl’s forehead, relieved to see no temperature warmed the skin tonight. As she sat down, the bed ropes creaked in protest.
“How are you feeling today?”
“I’m fine, thank you, Miss Nadia,” the girl Nadia wanted to disagree, but she smiled instead. Sissy’s broken arm and wounded hip drew all the energy out of her pretty face and lean body. Her red hair, though thick and straight, hung in limp strands around her shoulders. It always amazed Nadia how the girl’s delicate features had the stamp of her father and none of her Indian mother.
“I brought you some supper.”
Sissy smiled faintly then turned her head away to stare at the wall on the other side.
“I’m sorry. I’m not hungry tonight.”
Nadia frowned, connecting the unusual strong aroma of whisky with her young friend’s lack of appetite.
“Has your father been home?”
A few seconds passed before Sissy nodded.
“He came by this afternoon.”
Now it all made sense. Not only a drunk, the man possessed a cruel nature, whether sober or not.
“Was he mean to you?”
As a tear slowly ran down Sissy’s cheek, the sight twisted something deep inside Nadia.
“He said I lied about the bull trampling me. Said he should beat me for lying. He doesn’t remember a thing about that horrible night.”
Nadia fought the urge to tear out of the house and hunt down Sissy’s father. If any person deserved the title of unfit parent, he did − leaving his fifteen-year-old daughter alone for days on end with no food or water, while he wasted the small amount of money they had in the town saloon.
Because he disappeared so often, Sissy had the task of caring for a bull more wild than tame. A bull, her father decided in a drunken rage one stormy night, to move from one pen to another.
When Sissy had tried to intervene, not wanting the bull to suffer her father’s temper when it refused to do what the man wanted, the animal had repaid her kindness by trampling her. With a broken arm and her hip slowly healing from where the bull’s horns had caught her, she was barely able to get out of bed due to the pain.
But the sight of Sissy’s trembling lower lip and the hurt in her eyes kept Nadia on the bed. Right now, she needed to feed the girl and repair the damage the man had done to his daughter’s already fragile spirit.
“You stop listening to that man,” she ordered gently, helping Sissy sit upright. “He may be your father, but the man has the intelligence of a puddle of muddy water.”
Sissy’s lip stopped quivering and the briefest of smiles tugged at it.
Nadia placed the plate on the girl’s lap, and continued.
“Now forget about your father and eat up this food. You need to build up your health so you can get better.”
“What if Pa’s right? What if I can’t walk when my hip’s healed?”
Horrified, Nadia asked, “Is that what he said?”
Sissy nodded and glanced away. Further tears ran down her face.
Nadia sighed heavily.
“Your father has never said a right word about anything in the five years I’ve known you. The man can’t even saddle his horse correctly. Half of those bruises he carries around come from where he falls off so often. What knowledge has he about the body and bones?”
“Exactly. None. The man’s a drunken imbecile.” She reached out and stroked Sissy’s hair behind her ear. “You are the sweetest girl and you will get better.
“You leave the worrying to me and concentrate on healing.” Nadia smiled.
“Thank you, Miss Nadia.”
“Eat up and I’ll fetch some water.” Nadia stood and left the room.