- 12 . The Widow’s Rancher – 11
- 13 . The Widow’s Rancher – 12
- 14 . The Widow’s Rancher – 13
- 15 . The Widow’s Rancher – 14
- 16 . The Widow’s Rancher – 15
- 17 . The Widow’s Rancher – 16
- 18 . The Widow’s Rancher – 17
NADIA glanced at him. Although Diggory’s tone was its normal terse sound, she heard something extra in it. Something almost tender.
“It’s no secret my dear husband played around with many a female resident of this town. Some of the children probably carry his blood. But they don’t like to be reminded of it now he’s gone.
“And it’s always easier to forgive a repenting sinner, don’t you know? As long as the preacher’s wife continues to ask for forgiveness and stays back east with her parents, the town will pretend to forget − as long as they don’t have to see me.”
“Not your fault,” he insisted. “And you still haven’t given me a proper answer to our proposal.”
“Ours?” she repeated at his return to the subject of matrimony.
The man reminded her of a wasp flying from one jam pot to another, the way he changed focus.
“We did sort of do it together. You thought of it and I agreed to it.”
“I did not,” she refuted. “I asked why you had no wife to make your perfect life complete.”
“Is that what you think I have, Nadia? A perfect life?”
“Don’t you?” she asked curiously.
“Not yet,” he said. “Not until Sunday.”
“What’s so important about Sunday?”
He smiled up at her.
“I’ve decided it’s the day we’re going to announce our engagement.”
Nadia stared at him for several moments before she finally turned her feet in the direction of her horse.
“It’s been interesting passing the time with you, but I have chores to do. You’re right about the view. It is stunning.”
“Nadia,” Diggory growled, but stayed on the rug. “I’ve decided to have you for my wife. No point in you arguing. Especially after what’s happened to your corn. One truth in my reputation is I’m a man who always gets his way. And I will in this. Someone needs to keep you safe.”
She stopped and turned to him, stunned by his high-handed arrogance. She had spent most of her life being dictated to by men, and now she was free to make her own decisions and choices she wasn’t going to give it up for a bossy rancher who decided on a whim he wanted her.
“Not in this, you won’t. See, my name is Nadia Bennett, not Nadia Rorke.”
He rolled to his feet in one swift movement and closed the space until he stood in front of her, tall and indomitable.
“It will be soon.”
“Are you mad?”
“No, just determined. You need me and I want you.”
She gazed at him, not knowing what to say. This was the reason she always instinctively avoided him if possible.
He lifted his hand and touched her cheek.
“Until Sunday, Nadia.”
“I’m not going to marry you,” she blurted out.
Confused by the opposing reactions rushing through her body, her mind wanted to kick him in the shins, but her skin craved to feel more of his touch.
“Keep your gun near, remember. Any more trouble, you get word to me.”
“I can deal with my problems, Mr Rorke. I have no need of your help.”
“Sunday, Nadia. Don’t make me come to fetch you. Because I promise you I will.”
- * * * *
On Sunday morning, Nadia wasn’t sure she should go to church. She sank down on the edge of her bed, her best dress scrunched between her hands and groaned aloud, angry with herself for letting a man once again meddle with her mind and emotions.
She brushed her unbound hair away from her face. Tiredness filled every part of her body, thanks to another restless night. Only this time the reason for her lack of sleep was due to one handsome rancher instead of vandals intent on instigating trouble and running her off her land.
She shook her head and stared down at the dress in her lap.
With a sigh, she held it up, wrinkling her nose as she gave it a critical look: grey in colour with a black lace trim on the sleeves and collar, and a few patched squares along the bottom near the hem. Practical, plain and as drab as a pot of shoe polish. Appropriate for a widow to wear to church.
One glance at the dreary sight of her in this dress compared to all the other single women attending church, Diggory’s marriage eye would turn hastily towards someone else. Someone young, pretty and willing to listen to his orders and unwanted advice.
She frowned at the flicker of unease in her stomach at the thought of Diggory courting another female, but chased it away. What he did, and with whom, did not concern her. The less time he took up in her thoughts, the better for her peace of mind.
She stripped off her wrap and cotton nightdress, and pulled the plain dress over her head. Hopefully, the creases from her rough handling wouldn’t show too much. She had neither the time nor the disposition to heat a flat iron.
She would go to church the same way she did every Sunday and sit at the back near the door.
Cross with herself, she shook her head reproachfully. All this worrying over nothing. Diggory Rorke meant to tease her the other day, nothing more. She planned to ignore him, and pray he did the same.
Marriage was for the young and the dreamers, and neither she nor Diggory were either of those. She would show the man she hadn’t taken him seriously. Diggory Rorke may like to order her around, but he needed to learn that she’d stopped listening to dictatorial men a long time ago.