The Widow’s Rancher – 12

NADIA and Diggory rode from Nadia’s cabin, down along the creek, and on through many of the neighbouring lands before finally coming to the edge of Diggory’s.

The Rorke Ranch stretched wide and long throughout the area. Only homesteads like her own interrupted its path. And when they came up for sale, Diggory or his sons bought them up, adding to the family’s vast hold on the land.

He stayed silent as he nudged his horse up the rise of a hill. Except for one large tree, there was little else but grass.

“Why did you bring me here?” she asked once they stopped at the top.

Diggory slid off his horse and ground tied him. His smile was easy and his movements relaxed as he strolled over to her.

“This is one of the best views in the county. I thought you might like to see it.”

She sniffed impolitely as she dismounted.

“Trust you to own it.”

He chuckled as he wandered back to his horse, removed the rolled-up blanket from behind his saddle and untied a burlap bag attached to it. He handed her the blanket.

“Sometimes I sense you don’t like me much.”

Nadia took it and shook it out to settle on the grass. A gentle breeze ruffled over them both, causing several strands of her hair to escape the loose bun at the back of her neck.

“I don’t much.”

He laughed at her honesty, intrigued by her rather than insulted.

“Why’s that?”

His question made her pause. How could she reply that she found him bossy and domineering? Or that he made her shivery and unsettled every time he turned his eyes her way?

A woman of her age and circumstance should be thinking about getting enough food together to see her through the winter, not having inappropriate thoughts about a man she didn’t even like.

Funny, she never liked Henry, either, but he never made her feel tingly. Often nauseous, but never shaky.

“Well, I don’t know really,” she admitted, because there wasn’t one thing, but several.  But she had no idea how to explain.

Diggory bent to turn over a folded corner of the blanket.

“Is it my reputation?”

She brushed the rug of wrinkles and glanced at him.

“A little, I suppose. I’ve never known anyone like you before.”

“I’m just a man, Nadia.”

“Well,” she said, kneeling down on the rug, “there’s another reason not to like you.”

He laughed and sat down next to her, leaving a respectable gap between them.

“You don’t think much of men, do you?”

Uncomfortable with the conversation, she shrugged.

“What are we supposed to do now? Stare at the view or go to sleep? Isn’t that what people do on picnics?”

Diggory stretched out and crossed his feet at the ankles.

“Well, we can try talking. Maybe I can change your mind about men.”

“Don’t waste your time,” she said, drawing her knees up.

She fussed with her skirt until certain no glimpses of her petticoats or legs showed.

He smiled softly.

“I think I will anyway.”

Hands placed primly on her knees, she waited for him to continue.

“Where are you from originally?”

Surprised, she answered, “A town not far from Boston. Few people have heard of it.”

“Do you have family back there?”

She shrugged.

“I guess they’re all still alive. We’re not close. Truth is, my daddy gave me to Henry.”

“Gave you?”

She nodded.

“If I’m honest, I was willing to go. Six of us girls still lived at home and none of us were getting younger − on the shelf and covered in dust, the local boys used to say. My daddy is a man often up to all sorts of no good. Not many families wanted themselves or their sons associated with us.”

“Then they’re fools.”

She glanced at him and couldn’t help smiling. His words were a trickle of warmth after years of Henry’s cold indifference.

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!