The Widow’s Rancher – 23

GOOD morning.”

Nadia sucked in a deep breath and followed Diggory into the vast kitchen. After dressing in her best work dress, she gathered all her courage to face her first day as Diggory’s wife.

Diggory pulled out a chair for her to sit, but she shook her head and walked over to the stove. Best to make a good impression on the people who lived here from day one, or it would be harder to settle in to her new role.

Yesterday Diggory made a great effort to let everyone know she was the new mistress of Rorke Ranch, and she refused to let him down by not living up to the title.

“May I help you with breakfast?” she asked the two women she met yesterday.

Both were busily putting out large plates filled with food on the vast kitchen table.

Katy, the older female, turned to the younger one.

“I think Hester still needs to . . .”

“We’ve everything sorted,” the young woman returned crisply as she scooped gravy from a pan and poured it into a plain white china boat.

Nadia noted the gravy texture was thick enough to spread.

“Some of us were up early.”

Before Nadia had a chance to reply, Diggory rasped, “Well, some of us are on our honeymoon so a little late sleeping is to be expected. Nadia, come sit down and tell me your plans for the day. It has been a long time since I had a wife to converse with over breakfast. Plus you’re prettier to look at than any of these boys at this table.”

Nadia slipped down on to the wooden chair next to her husband.

With a quick smile to the other men, she frowned as Diggory filled her plate with a scoop of eggs and two biscuits. Her appetite wavered at the sight of the overcooked food.

Katy smiled as she took her own seat halfway down the table.

“I hope you are well this morning, Mrs Rorke.”

Nadia smiled at the sound of her new name and glanced at Diggory.

“It’s going to take me a while to get used to being addressed so. Let’s stick to Nadia. I’m more likely to answer to it.”

“Only if you call me Katy.”

“Do you always see to breakfast?” Nadia asked. No way would she be able to stomach the unpalatable offerings for long.

“I don’t usually help with breakfast,” Hester said as she sat down. “I have a delicate constitution at the moment. Old Alfred sees to the food normally.”

Nadia glanced at the food once again and forced herself not to pull a face. It might be acceptable to the cowboys on the ranch but to her it looked atrocious.

The biscuits appeared heavy and the eggs’ rubbery composition turned her stomach. Not keen to fight indigestion for the rest of her days, she refused to let Diggory or his sons suffer any longer.

She glanced at Diggory and made up her mind. He said to do what she wanted around the house, so taking control of the kitchen seemed a good place to start. What kind of wife allowed her husband and stepsons to eat inferior-tasting food like this? A bad one maybe, but not her.

“I’m sure Alfred has plenty to do feeding the hands. Would anyone mind if I take over the cooking?”

“I told you already to do whatever you want,” Diggory said, picking up his coffee mug. “I’ll let Alfred know. I’m sure he’ll be pleased to hear his work’s been cut down.”

She scooped up a forkful of eggs and forced herself to eat it.

“Perhaps it would be best if I talked to him. Make sure there’s no bad feelings.”

Diggory paused and then pushed back his chair.

“Why don’t we speak to him together?”

She stood, not concerned with leaving her meal half-eaten, and followed Diggory through the back door and out into the morning sunshine.

She took his offered arm and they strolled towards the bunkhouse.

“You’ll find most people on the ranch easy to get on with,” Diggory said. “Katy works in town during the week and Hester’s an acquired taste, but you’ll get used to her.”

Nadia smirked at her husband’s attempt at tact.

“That’s a kind description, I imagine.”

“I’m in a good mood and feeling generous.”

“I don’t want to disturb the running of the house. Are you sure Alfred won’t be unhappy with me?”

“This is your home,” Diggory insisted. “As long as you don’t upset me too much, you can do as you please. Understand?”

She nodded. Maybe marriage to this man would be better than she thought. Another thought occurred to her.

“I need to go to my place today. Do you mind?”

“You’re not a prisoner here, Nadia. You are my wife. Go about your day as you wish.”

“Thank you.”

He cupped her face with his hands and gently kissed her.

“I want you to be happy here. With me and my boys.”

She blushed like a dizzy schoolgirl affected by his kindness and touch.

“I want it, too.”

“There’s plenty of food in the larder. Make sure you fix yourself something decent before you set off. Don’t want you fainting while riding that old horse of yours.” She smiled gratefully.

“I will.”

“Good, now we both have promises to keep.”

She took in a deep breath and glanced around her new home, taking in the well-kept buildings and the view of the mountains. It was her home now for the rest of her life.

“Yes, I guess we do.”

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!