The Widow’s Rancher – 18

NOW?” Both Nadia and the preacher spoke in unison and the crowd found their voices again.

Diggory chuckled.

“Seems my bride is also keen on the notion. What do you say?”

“Well, if it’s what you want,” Preacher Michael said. He obviously wanted to refuse but didn’t dare.

Diggory’s sons stood and shuffled out of the pew. Nadia stepped out into the aisle, careful to keep her eyes focused on the floorboards, not inclined to see the horror and disbelief on the congregation’s faces.

Diggory led the way down to the front of the church. His clasp on her hand stayed firm. Nadia swore there was even a bounce in his step.

They came to a halt next to the preacher. Nadia glanced at the man to find him frowning more deeply than usual as he stared at her.

“Widow Bennett, do you agree to this marriage taking place today, or perhaps you would prefer to wait for a later date? Summer is normally best for flowers and such. And you might want to sew yourself a dress.”

Suddenly the idea of more sleepless nights hiding from men on her land or dreams of Diggory didn’t thrill her. She had no care for a new dress and no money to pay for it.

Since the destruction to her crop, fear seeped heavy in her heart. She tried to ignore it but it lay there.

Each time the attacks grew worse. How long before the men stopped destroying her property and decided to harm her instead?

She hated to admit it, but maybe Diggory’s insistence that she required the presence of a man in her life was true. It was that or sell up and return to the east. Trouble was, if she left, who would look out for Sissy? Who would help her get well and make sure she ate three meals a day? The child had no-one else to turn to. Without another thought, she squeezed Diggory’s hand.

“Everyone knows my intended is not a man who likes to wait. So, yes, I agree to marry him today.”

Diggory leaned over and muttered in her ear.

“Good girl, Nadia.”

She frowned at his patronising comment, and whispered, “I suggest you keep your talking for the vows.”

He grinned, not caring the congregation still whispered behind them. He nodded for his family to join them at the front.

“Stop smiling,” she hissed as his sons circled around them.

His smile got wider.

“I’m getting married. I have every reason to smile. Isn’t that right, Preacher Michael?”

The preacher sighed and nodded.

“It is a joyous occasion − most of the time.”

Nadia almost laughed at the dour expression on the man’s face. She suspected it resembled the ones behind them.

She imagined all the distraught single women and their mothers watching heartbroken as one of the most sought after men stood ready to get hitched.

“Tell me, Preacher Michael,” Nadia asked, unable to stop the spike of devilment that the man’s attitude provoked, “how is your wife? Is she enjoying living with her parents once again?”

The snorts of laugher came from not only Diggory, but his sons, too. Diggory winked down at her.

“Get on with it, preacher. I have me a feisty wife, I intend to start enjoying.”

“Do you have a ring?” the preacher asked.

Diggory nodded and slipped a plain gold ring from his vest pocket. He handed it to Alfie who stood on his right, before he reached for Nadia’s left hand and firmly slid off the ring she was already wearing. Without a word, he slipped her old wedding ring into his trouser pocket.

“Bennett’s claim in your life ends today,” he said.

Nadia nodded, too surprised to do more.

“Then I’ll start,” the preacher said.

When Diggory slipped his gold band on her finger some time later, Nadia silently acknowledged her life was never going to be her own again.

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!