- 23. The Widow’s Rancher- 22
- 24. The Widow’s Rancher – 23
- 25. The Widow’s Rancher – 24
- 26. The Widow’s Rancher – 25
- 27. The Widow’s Rancher – 26
- 28. The Widow’s Rancher – 27
- 29. The Widow’s Rancher – 28
NADIA sensed something was wrong the second she stepped inside the shack. Broken china littered the floor and items of furniture lay upturned as if someone had thrown them in a rage.
She rushed through the room, her footsteps loud on the wooden floor and into Sissy’s bedroom. She was relieved to find her in the bed, covers twisted around her feet in an untidy pile.
“Sissy, are you all right?” Nadia crossed the space and knelt beside the bed.
She reached over and touched the girl’s forehead. Warm, but not feverish.
“I feel a little funny today,” Sissy admitted.
“My side hurts some.”
“Let me check the wound,” Nadia said.
Her fingers drew the thin nightdress up until the deep gash from the bull’s horn came into view. She swallowed hard at the ugly sight of the reopened wound, which only days ago appeared to be finally healing, but was now weeping with fresh blood.
“How did this happen?”
Sissy burst into tears and sobs shook her frail body.
“Pa dragged me out of bed. Said he was sick of me doing nothing. When I fell, the wound opened and start to bleed again.”
“How did you manage to get in your bed?”
“I crawled from the other room once he left for town.”
The notion of this fifteen-year-old girl crawling over the rough wooden floors with an injured hip and broken arm turned Nadia’s stomach and inflamed her temper.
She gripped the young girl’s hand and searched her face, not prepared to allow the abuse of this sweet-natured angel to go on any longer.
She stroked red strands of hair away from Sissy’s wet cheeks, not sure if what she planned to do was right, but determined anyway. If she got into trouble, she’d face it. But someone needed to watch out for this child.
“I have some news. It might sound a little strange, but it’s good.”
Sissy wiped at her lashes, her blue eyes full of tears and trust.
“Yesterday, after church, I married Diggory Rorke.”
Sissy’s gasp sounded loud in the quiet room. Her own worries forgotten for a while.
Nadia nodded, still astounded by the fact she wore Diggory’s ring on her finger.
Her young friend frowned with confusion.
“But I thought you didn’t like him. You said so the other day.”
“Well, I don’t, or rather I didn’t, but the man gave me very little choice in the matter after he announced our engagement to the whole congregation, which at the time we were not, but he decided we were and he didn’t want a long engagement.”
“Gosh, Miss Nadia. He really told everyone you were engaged?”
She nodded. The sight of the fresh purple and blue bruise around the girl’s mouth confirming her decision. If she left Sissy here any longer the risk of her father doing some permanent damage to her increased.
“Now we’re married and there’s nothing I can do about it, so I want you to move in to my cabin. Just until you heal. No point in it being left empty.”
Sissy’s eyes widened.
“But I live here.”
Nadia squeezed Sissy’s hand.
“Darling child, this old shack isn’t a fit place for you to get better − not with your father coming home drunk and hurting you. I want you somewhere safe, in a place where your father can’t find you. He doesn’t know about our friendship, so he’d never think to search there for you.
“I’ll come by every day and make sure you’re well. I’ll leave my gun. You can shoot well enough to protect yourself, even with one arm. I’ve found few people hang around to argue when a gun is aimed at their face.”
“What about the men who come round on their horses at night?”
“They won’t be a bother any more. Everyone knows I live at Rorke Ranch now, so there’s no need for them to come here to make trouble. I’m sure they’ll all be too scared to risk my husband’s wrath if they did more damage to the crops or property.
“As soon as we married, my homestead became another piece of Rorke land, you see. Everything I owned became Diggory’s the second the preacher declared us man and wife. It’s the law. People will respect that. You will be safe and warm there. I’ll make certain of it.”
Sissy frowned at the notion of what Nadia offered.
“What about the chores?”
“I’ll move my animals to the ranch tomorrow and I’ll talk to Diggory about having one of his men see to what is left of the corn. I did think about hiring someone before, but, well, I’m sure I have a husband willing to take care of it for me.”
“But . . .”
“Please, Sissy. I will be a whole lot happier at the ranch if I know you’re safe at the cabin. It’s time to think about yourself for once. Your father isn’t a good man. He doesn’t deserve a daughter as sweet as you. You have to start protecting yourself.”
“He won’t like me leaving. If he finds me . . .”
“Trust me, Sissy. I won’t let any more harm come to you.”
Sissy nodded, her hesitant smile a little scared and unsure, but Nadia knew leaving this shack was best for the girl. Somehow, she’d get away from the ranch every day to check on her friend.
“I’m going to run home and fetch my wheelbarrow. When I come back, we’ll get you in it and take you to my place. Save you trying to walk over.”
Sissy squeezed Nadia’s hand, her tears falling harder.
“Thank you, Miss Nadia. You’re the best friend I ever had.”
Nadia own eyes filled with tears.
“And you are mine, dear child. And that’s the truth.”