- 6. The Widow’s Rancher – 05
- 7. The Widow’s Rancher – 06
- 8. The Widow’s Rancher – 07
- 9. The Widow’s Rancher – 08
- 10. The Widow’s Rancher – 09
- 11. The Widow’s Rancher – 10
- 12. The Widow’s Rancher – 11
MRS BENNETT.” Diggory glanced over his shoulder and saw Tupper had stopped some yards back, shock evident on his wrinkled face. His usual cat and mouse game having taken an unexpected turn.
“I’m in a hurry, Mr Rorke,” Nadia responded.
He smiled at her impatience, not intimidated by her sharp tone.
“I can see you are. I thought you should know Grandma Mary’s visiting her daughter and won’t be returning for several days.”
“Oh,” she said, her shoulders slumped slightly at the news. Finally, she straightened again, and declared, “I’ll wait until she gets back. Thank you for telling me.”
“I was also wondering if you’d like to go to supper one night.”
She stared down at him.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I doubt you will,” he mused, “but I’ll ask again. Nadia, will you come out to supper with me?”
She glanced away and then back at Diggory. Bending forward in the saddle, she whispered, “Why?”
He stroked the side of Joey’s face, his big hand gentle on the old horse.
“I thought you might like to. I’m asking as a friend, Nadia.”
“I have enough friends, thank you.” Not ready to give in, he tried again.
“McCann’s restaurant in town’s a good place to eat, or you can come out to the ranch. I’ll have Alfred cook for us. His food is passable if you don’t mind a generous sprinkling of salt added to it. But it’s far better than my foreman’s wife’s attempts.”
“And set all the tongues a-wagging?” she said, horrified at his suggestion. “No, thank you.”
“My skin’s tough and I’m sure you can take the whispering.”
“I’ve had plenty of experience,” she said, giving him a suspicious glance. “Mr Rorke, if you are hoping to succeed in getting hold of my land . . .”
“I asked you to supper, Nadia. Nothing more. I’ve plenty of my own land not to need to add yours.”
Hesitantly, she asked, “Why me?”
He shrugged, not prepared to answer her question even to himself. There was no reason at all why he wanted to share a meal with this woman. Touchy and irritable, she argued worse than a bad-tempered loser.
Yet he wanted to.
There was something intriguing about Nadia Bennett. She acted tough, yet he suspected there was more beneath all her bluster and pride.
“I require a better reason, Mr Rorke.”
“You are a demanding thing, aren’t you?”
“I merely want you to tell me why you are asking me to share a meal with you. If you can’t answer the question, I can’t make a decision.”
“Perhaps he’s hungry,” one of Tupper’s son’s butted in. Sitting on an old log close by, he’d listened to their exchange.
“I am that,” Diggory said, though didn’t add it wasn’t food he wanted.
The fiery widow made him want to know more about her, but he dare not admit that out loud for fear of frightening her off into the mountains.
Nadia rubbed at her skirt with agitated fingers.
“I’m sure we have nothing in common.”
“I’m a rancher and you’re a homesteader. I bet we can find plenty to talk about.”
“Corn and steers? Or would you prefer to discuss crops and vegetable gardens?”
“Nadia, put your claws in. It’s just supper. You might actually enjoy yourself.”
“I can’t do supper. I don’t like to be out late.”
She always cooked for Sissy and she didn’t like the notion of the girl being alone all day and night. What if the men who’d been coming on to Nadia’s land at night decided to go over to the shack and bother Sissy instead? Yes, night-time was out of the question.
Diggory sensed her weakening.
She glanced away, as though the landscape held the perfect excuse for her to decline, her blue eyes full of uncertainty.
She returned her gaze to him.
“I’ll think about it.”
“I’ll meet you outside McCann’s at noon.”
She shook her head.
“No. Too public.”
He thought for a moment and then nodded.
“I’ll pick you up. I’ve thought of just the place to take you.”
She amazed him by giving in.
“All right. Tomorrow.”
She turned her horse away and this time Diggory let her go, his chest filled with long-forgotten emotions as he watched her ride away.
“You’re a brave soul, Dig.” Tupper strolled over to him. “Taking on the Widow Bennett is the action of a courageous man.”
Diggory continued to watch her until she was out of sight.
“She’s not so bad.”
Tupper snorted and shook his head.
“Or maybe you’re just mad.”