- 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
- 20 . The Widow’s Rancher – 19
THE sound alarmed Nadia. She sensed Diggory was about to raise his voice at any moment. He was never a quiet man, especially when riled.
She shifted her attention back to him.
“I spoke to the sheriff when trouble first started. I found him extremely unhelpful.”
“In what way?”
“He told me to get married or sell up,” she admitted.
Diggory didn’t try to hide his smug expression that the man had echoed his own opinion.
“Did he at least come out to your place?”
“No,” she said and lifted her chin stubbornly. “I doubt he thought he’d be welcome.”
“After he gave me his advice he suggested several men I should consider. Most were drunks or no-goods. Apparently a man-hater like myself shouldn’t expect to wed anyone higher than the town’s lowlifes.”
“He said that?” Diggory asked, his tone cool and hard.
He turned his attention towards the crowd lingering outside the church.
When his eyes narrowed and he took a step forward, Nadia grasped his hand, more worried about what he intended to do than how her actions would look to the people standing around them.
“Where are you going?”
“To put our sheriff straight on how he should do his job,” he snarled. “A woman comes to him with a problem, it’s his duty as a man and lawman to check it out. It’s what the town is paying him to do.”
Her fingers curled around his own, her panic rising.
“Please, Diggory, don’t.”
“You went to him for help; he gave you none,” he argued.
She gripped his hand tighter, desperate to avoid an argument between the two men in front of everyone.
Diggory glanced down at her. All thoughts of the town’s lazy sheriff fled his head for a moment as he took in how small her hand felt linked with his own huge palm.
Goodness, the woman was tiny. Too small to take care of herself. His already robust need to protect her increased.
“Please,” she begged.
“All right, Nadia. I’ll not give the sheriff a lesson in protection or manners, but only if you agree to sit next to me in church.”
He’d wait until later to deal with the man.
Startled by his suggestion, she spluttered, “But we can’t. What about your family?”
“I sit with them every week. Make a nice change to sit next to someone who actually knows the words of the hymns all the way through. And I know you do because I’ve heard you sing.”
She tried to snatch her hand away, but he didn’t let her. Either she sat with him or he’d make a scene when he confronted the sheriff. The choice was hers, but either way he’d be happy with the outcome.
“I guess I have no alternative.”
His smile grew to a full grin and he drew her closer until he linked her arm through his.
“I think I’m going to enjoy being married to you. I particularly like the way you see the wisdom in my way of thinking.”
She sighed deeply.
“If you believe that, then you’re nothing but an old fool, Diggory Rorke.”
“Maybe I am,” he drawled. “But I’ll still be sitting next to the prettiest woman in town.”
Nadia tried to pull her arm free when he pulled her in the direction of the church steps, but he tugged her close to his side and refused to let go.
With cheerful greetings to several people he knew, he guided them through the crowd.
Her breath hitched and her heart thudded at the feel of his breath so close to her skin. How did he do this to her? Fluster her wits so. One minute he vexed her, then the very next his charm churned all her thoughts and left her befuddled.
“Mrs Bennett, won’t you take a seat?” he offered with exaggerated politeness when they reached the Rorke pew. He waited for her to slip in. “If you’re a good girl, I’ll hold the hymn book for you.”
“I can do it myself, thank you,” she snapped at him, only to stop at the sound of movement around them as Diggory’s sons poured in and filled up the empty spaces around them on each side.
“Morning, Mrs Bennett.”
“This is Alfie. My third born,” Diggory introduced the large male who favoured his father in looks and build.
Nadia leaned forward and gave the good-looking man a smile.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Alfie.”
“I see my father talked you into joining us,” another Rorke male said, his voice full of humour.
“That’s Ed, my youngest,” Diggory informed her. “He likes to joke and eat. They’re his favourite pastimes.”
Nadia smiled at the young man who resembled Diggory less than his older brother. He smirked at Diggory.
“Will you be joining us for lunch at the ranch, too, Mrs Bennett?”
“I… I…” she stammered, about to decline. She didn’t want to spend any longer with the Rorke family than necessary.
“Of course she is,” Diggory answered for her, yet again taking the choice from her.
Nadia opened her mouth to disagree when the piano started to play the introduction to the first hymn.
Flashing an irritated glare at the man next to her, she rose with the rest of the congregation and started to sing, all the time trying to think of a way out of this man’s unwanted company.