The Widow’s Rancher – 10

DIGGORY hadn’t visited the Bennetts’ farm in years and the sight of the log cabin and yard shocked him. Instead of the small, tired building he half remembered from when the previous owners lived there, he found both cabin and front yard as neat as the proverbial pin his mother used to mention.

On one side stood a small well-kept barn. Not as big as his own, but adequate for a homesteader and her needs.

A large vegetable garden grew close to the house, overflowing with produce, and in the front, by the narrow porch, white, pink and orange flowers tumbled and curled upwards and sideways from the beds.

Tidy and showing a woman’s touch, it reminded him of the home he’d grown up in. His English grandmother constantly tried to recreate the garden of her childhood in a land that had never been cultivated − often with unsatisfactory results.

The other surprise was the place appeared to be deserted. Not a sign of its owner or any paid workers anywhere.

“State your business. I’m not averse to putting a bullet in your heart if I need to.”

Diggory tensed at the warning coming from somewhere near the cabin.

“A howdy or good morning would have sufficed,” he drawled deeply, recognising the female voice.

He heard a heavy sigh and a muffled curse before the woman stormed into sight. Shotgun in one hand and a wooden bucket in the other, Nadia planted herself in front of him and his horse.

“Why are you holding a shotgun at me?” he asked, careful to keep his voice calm and pleasant. He didn’t think she’d shoot, but decided it best not to rile her by getting off his horse and snatching the gun from her grasp.

“Being cautious. I didn’t know it was you.” She placed the overflowing bucket on the ground. “Why are you here? If it’s about the goat . . .”

Diggory eased down from his horse and ran his gaze over her. He took in her crisp white shirt and old faded brown skirt, neither dark brown nor light, just some unbecoming shade. Not attractive in any way to the eyes. The woman should be wearing pretty clothes, not rags.

“We can talk about the goat later. We had an appointment, remember?”

She frowned and flattened her lips into a tight line.

“Oh, yes. We did, didn’t we?”

He raised an eyebrow, not sure whether to laugh or be insulted by the expression on her face.

“Did you forget, Nadia?”

She shrugged and reached down for the bucket.

“I’m busy. I’ve barely stopped all morning. I don’t have a houseful of sons to help me.”

He took a slow step towards her, careful not to scare or spook her as she still held the gun. Only a foolish man would underestimate this woman.

“Never mind. We can still go, can’t we?”

She straightened and shifted awkwardly.

“I’m not sure. Perhaps we should do this some other day when I’m less busy.”

He noticed the shadows under her eyes.

“You’re looking tired, Nadia. Is there a reason for that?”

She bristled at the question and stiffened like a stick.

“That’s my business and I’ll thank you not to ask again.”

“I’d like it to be mine,” he said, careful to hold tight to his patience.

She huffed and turned quickly. Water slopped over the sides of the bucket and left several small pools on the dry soil.

“Well, it’s not and it never will be. So you may as well leave.”

He followed, determined not to let her change the subject. Charming words wouldn’t work with this woman. Directness would reap more results.

“Nadia, what’s wrong?”

She stomped up the porch steps and through the open cabin door. She placed the bucket on to the table with a hard thud then spun around to face him.

“Did I say you can call me by my Christian name?”

“Nadia,” he drawled purposely, ignoring her question and the temper he saw in her blue eyes.

No way was he going to call her Mrs Bennett, so the sooner she got used to it the better. He also suspected her twitchy, uptight reaction to his query was nothing but a barrier to stop him from asking more.

“Tell me, what is wrong?”

Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!