- 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
- 19 . The Widow’s Rancher – 18
DIGGORY watched as the horse and rider came closer. The sun shone bright and the lazy breeze in the air warmed a person’s skin. A fine day and the sight of Nadia riding towards the church made his good mood perfect.
He left his sons and slowly but purposely strolled in her direction. He’d taken extra time this morning over his clothes, not wanting to give any reason for his soon-to-be fiancée to feel embarrassed by him.
“Good morning, Nadia,” he boomed to make certain the couples standing nearby heard his greeting. He intended to show the challenging widow he kept his word.
“Please, go away,” she hissed as she slipped off her horse and led the animal over to a nearby tree.
She quickly looped the reins around a low branch, all the time keeping her attention on what she was doing.
“You look tired,” he stated, not put off by her coolness.
If she wanted to pretend their conversation hadn’t happened the other day, then he’d soon show her there was no point.
“Have you had trouble again?”
A short huff of a sigh left her lips before she turned and gave him one of her uncompromising stares.
“My problems are not your concern, Mr Rorke. So please talk to someone else.”
He scrunched up his nose and shook his head.
“I think I’ll stay here. Despite the ice in your manners this morning, I have a feeling I can melt it away.”
Her stare turned into a glare.
“People will talk.”
He shrugged and flashed her a grin.
“By the end of today they will – when they hear we’re engaged.”
She sucked in an uneven breath, her fingers tightening into fists at her sides.
“We are not engaged. Just because I joined you on an excursion the other day, it does not make us a couple.”
“That’s not how I recall it, Nadia. In fact, I distinctively remember we discussed our relationship becoming closer. Very close.”
“If you’re talking about the ridiculous proposition you made . . .” she began.
“It was a proposal, Nadia. Hardly ridiculous. What is absurd is the way you are getting your petticoats all ruched up over it.”
Her mouth dropped open at his remarks and her cheeks coloured like an embarrassed child. She drew in a large breath.
“My undergarments are not suitable conversation at any time, Mr Rorke. Especially with you. And whether they are sensible or not is not your concern or business.”
“As your fiancé, I think God will forgive and understand, when a man has a good-looking woman in front of him wearing the ugliest dress he has ever seen, he can’t help but have improper thoughts. Now, are you going to answer me, or do I have to get up at the end of service and ask if anyone has any idea why you’re looking wearier than an old time pony express horse at the end of his route?”
She hesitated but gave in, more to stop his questioning than any other reason.
“I didn’t sleep well, that’s all.”
“Why not?” he demanded.
She shook her head, hardly able to admit the real cause of her insomnia, certain he’d enjoy the idea of her mind being confused and full of thoughts of him.
“I just didn’t. No reason for it.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll sleep better at my ranch. I see no reason to endure a long engagement. It’s not as if you’re grieving for your dead husband and I’ve been alone a long time.”
She blinked at his words, stunned by both his insensitivity and nerve.
“After today I would prefer you never speak to me again.”
“Should make a quiet marriage,” he drawled with a mocking rise of an eyebrow.
“Mr Rorke,” she said, her impatience growing, “I am not marrying you. You and I are nothing more than distant neighbours and infrequent acquaintances. So please go away and bother one of the young women over there. I’m sure you’ll make some mama’s day if you do.”
“Your day is the only one I’m interested in,” he said firmly and changed the subject. “Any more trouble with your crops? Anyone come to your cabin?”
“No, but if they do, I will deal with it.”
“Must I repeat myself, Mr Rorke?”
He ignored her.
“Have you spoken to the sheriff?”
“A waste of time . . .” She cut off, but not in time to stop his curiosity.
He placed his hands on his hips, his eyes thoughtful as he regarded her, one side of his mouth twitching.
She glanced away and noticed to her horror that people were watching them.
“Will you please go away? People are staring at us.”
“Nadia, answer me,” he growled.