- 9 . The Widow’s Rancher – 08
- 10 . The Widow’s Rancher – 09
- 11 . The Widow’s Rancher – 10
- 12 . The Widow’s Rancher – 11
- 13 . The Widow’s Rancher – 12
- 14 . The Widow’s Rancher – 13
- 15 . The Widow’s Rancher – 14
NADIA placed the shotgun back over the fireplace and skirted the small wooden table to stand next to the stove. She reached for the kettle, shook it to check for water and sat it back down with a hard clink.
Diggory stopped on the other side of the table, happy to keep it between them. He intended to get an answer. What he’d seen in one of her fields on the ride over disturbed him.
She glared at him, her eyes flashed like sunlight off metal.
“Why don’t you pour us some coffee and tell me why you look so tired,” he continued.
Perhaps because of her lack of sleep, or the fact he sat large and capable across from her, the reason left her mouth before she thought to stop herself.
“If you insist on knowing, I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of men riding through my corn.”
He’d seen the destruction to the corn on his way to the cabin. Trampled and destroyed in what he guessed was a deed of senseless devastation.
“What did you do?”
“I dressed and hid in the trees in the back. I feared they might come to the cabin.”
He stiffened and asked, even though he could guess the answer, “What do they want?”
She sighed and dropped her gaze to the floor.
“I think they hope to intimidate me. Frighten me enough so I’ll leave this place.”
He swore harshly, the word violent and loud in the quiet room, matching his rising displeasure.
“I’m shocked you didn’t use your shotgun on them.”
She flushed pink and turned to the stove.
“Sometimes I forget to take it with me when I hide in the woods.”
“Nadia,” he groaned. He pushed back his chair and rose to his feet. “That’s the first rule for any woman living alone. You must always have your gun close.”
She busied herself making their drinks.
“I know, but I forget and I don’t like using it. My daddy blew my brother’s toes off once, right in front of me, when I was a little girl. It still gives me shivers to remember it.”
She turned and handed him a mug of coffee.
Diggory placed his coffee down on the table and shook his head.
“You can’t take risks like that.”
“I’d rather go over to my neighbours until they leave, or sit by the creek.”
He shook his head at her, wanting to shake her hard. So the spiky Nadia Bennett wasn’t as tough as she pretended.
“From the way you’re talking, I guess it’s happened more than once?”
“Why do they want your land? You’ve no water as such. Just that small creek that’s prone to dry up easily.”
“I know, but the soil is fertile. I can grow practically anything in it. As you own most of the land around here, I guess other people see it as one of the few pieces they’d have a chance of affording if they can run me off.”
“I see,” Diggory said, rubbing a palm across his chin. His eyes settled on her face, so proud and beautiful.
“Aren’t you glad you told me? A problem shared makes it a lot less heavy to carry round, don’t you think?”
She lifted her chin.
“Did I have any choice?”
“I suppose not,” he admitted with a half smile. “It’s my way. I believe when a person has a problem that they need to spit it out. Saves the bother of an ulcer. You’ll get used to me.”
“I doubt it,” she retorted.
He took a large mouthful of his coffee, then stood and held out his hand. “Come on.”
Nadia stared down at it suspiciously.
“Where are we going?”
“It’s too nice a day to waste eating inside. I thought we’d share a picnic in the sunshine.”
“A picnic?” She gasped. A flicker of pleasure lit her face, and then disappeared as wariness replaced it. “I’ve never gone on a picnic.”
Shock vibrated through Diggory at her revelation.
She shook her head.
“I went to the town’s one last year, but, well, you know why I didn’t stay long enough to eat.”
“You’ve really never been on a picnic?”
She bristled and crossed her arms in front of her.
“Is there something wrong with that?”
Diggory smiled at the sight of her feathers ruffled again. He held his hand out once more.
“No, Nadia. I’m just glad to be sharing your first time with you. Shall we go?” Still undecided, she hesitated.
“Well, I have taken care of my chores. I can do the jam I planned to make later, I suppose.”
He nodded, sensing her surrender.
“Everyone should make time for a picnic at least once in their life.”
She sharpened her gaze on him.
“Do you promise not to behave inappropriately?” she asked.
“You’re safe with me, Nadia. I swear on the good book.”
“All right, then. I’ll join you. Do you want me to gather some food?”
“Already taken care of it.”
“Well, seeing as you have already gone to the trouble I suppose it would be rude to refuse.”
He strolled closer and wrapped his fingers around her own.
“Stop dawdling and let’s go.”
He led her out of the cabin, waited until she shut the door and then walked her over to his horse.
“I thought we’d both ride on Lucas.”
She glanced over at his sturdy stallion.
“You and me on that horse?”
“Oh, no,” she said. “I’ll saddle Joey.”
“What are you scared of, Nadia?” he teased. “Frightened you’ll like being close to me too much?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said and walked towards the barn. “I simply don’t believe in overworking a horse if there’s no reason to.”
“Fine, go get your horse,” he said, shaking his head.
One thing about Nadia Bennett, she certainly kept a man guessing!