The Widow’s Rancher – 20

PEOPLE filled the porch outside the front of the vast, rambling ranch house. Some faces she recognised as Diggory’s sons and family members she’d seen around town. The rest she guessed were his hired workers.

“Looks like a full turn out,” Diggory mused wryly as they rode side by side, his tone full of amusement and pleasure.

“I’m sure they’re all in shock,” Nadia replied, her nerves jangling at the sight of so many people awaiting their arrival, people who she suspected already judged their marriage as foolhardy and impetuous.

Not that she blamed them for thinking it. Who married impulsively, after a non-existing engagement?

“Does a man good to cause a few ripples in life. Keeps the young from thinking they’re the only ones who know how to have fun.”

“I’m not sure I like being referred to as a ripple, Mr Rorke,” she said, her heart fluttering at the boyish joy on his face when he looked her way.

“I assure you, Nadia, you are more than a mere ripple. A full grown wave ready to crash into my life and wash all the boredom out of it is a better description.”

She blushed, not sure whether to be pleased he viewed her presence capable of such an effect on his life as a compliment or not.

“How can you be bored with a ranch this big to run?” she asked.

“That’s work, Nadia. I mean recreational. Fun times.”

She made no reply to his remark, her eyes once again taking in the number of people who lingered on the porch. She followed her new husband’s lead as he directed his horse over to a nearby barn and dismounted.

“Nice of you all to welcome us home,” he yelled out when he moved to Nadia’s side and helped her down whether she wanted him to or not.

Nadia gave him a grateful smile and didn’t complain when he linked his hand once more with hers, happy to accept his support as they faced his family.

“Please don’t leave me alone.”

He paused, the hand holding her own squeezed gently, his eyes tender as they met her worried ones.

“Never, Nadia. I’m here to protect you, remember?”

Every single person on the porch continued to watch as they walked up to the house.

Diggory stopped short of the wide steps, his fingers giving hers another squeeze of encouragement.

“This beautiful woman beside me, Nadia Rorke,” he turned to her and smiled as he addressed the gathering, “is the new mistress of the ranch and as welcome as a basket of sun-warmed strawberries after a hard day slogging in the heat and dust.”

“Welcome, ma’am,” Jacob, Diggory’s eldest son, called out, his expression amused as he listened to his father. Not a sign of distress lined his handsome features.

In turn, Diggory pointed out each person.

“Let’s start with Jacob and his wife Bella. They have a daughter, named Clara. Standing next to them is Zachariah, Alfie, Tynan, Cole, Thomas and lastly Ed. They’re all my sons. You might know my niece Alice, her husband and their family.”

Nadia nodded and smiled at the woman. Everyone knew Alice. She spoke to everyone and knew all the comings and goings in town.

“Well, those others hanging around at the back are Sam and Katy, Hester and Toby . . .”

“When are we going to eat?” Ed interrupted. “My stomach’s growling worse than thunder.”

“Good question,” Diggory agreed.

Without another word, he swung Nadia up off her feet into his arms and carried her up the porch steps.

“What are you doing?” she demanded, her cheeks heating at such an unexpected and improper display. “Put me down.”

“No, I like you right where you are,” he said, and nodded to someone to open the door to the house.

Infuriated, she huffed, “Well, I do not.” He grinned down at her.

“Then I’d best work on changing that, hadn’t I?”

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!