The Widow’s Rancher – 27

FOR the first time in years, Nadia spent her days smiling. Each morning she opened her eyes to find her husband waiting for her to wake up, with a kiss and a mug of coffee.

When she prepared meals, she had to shoo off the many males who repeatedly wandered into the kitchen eager to taste whatever pie or cake she had made that morning. At night she sat on the porch, nestled in Diggory’s arms while he read one of Nadia’s books to his sons and Sissy, the way a good father did to his family.

“Sissy, have you managed to pull all those carrots and gather the tomatoes yet?” Nadia asked, knowing the young girl spent most of the time looking towards the barn where a certain young man worked most afternoons.

Two weeks had passed since they’d brought her to the ranch and every day she  blossomed a little more under their care. Thankfully, the wound on her hip finally healed and next week the sling for her arm could be removed.

“Nearly, Miss Nadia,” came the reply.

Nadia smiled. Tons of ripe fruit and vegetables still hung on the bushes and sat in the ground, but she didn’t mind. Every day saw Sissy change from the scared child of her past to a happy young girl eager to follow Ed, Dawnie or one of the other boys around the ranch.

She sat next to Diggory at the kitchen table during meals and practised her writing without complaint simply because he had insisted it was important for her to know how to read and write.

“If you don’t hurry and pick them, the frosts will have them for breakfast and supper instead of us.”

Nadia straightened at the unexpected sound of a carriage entering the yard. The vegetable garden sat to the side of the house, so she observed the visitors unnoticed as they drove up and came to a stop outside the house.

Unease wriggled over Nadia’s neck when she spotted Hester and her friend Rebecca Moore in the carriage. Since the day in the kitchen when she and Hester had had words, she’d not seen the younger woman.

When Toby heard what happened he apologised for his wife’s behaviour and continued to come to the house for his meals, but Hester stayed away.

Rebecca and Hester stepped down from the carriage, both dressed in their best clothes and their faces set. Nadia focused her attention on the older woman. As the town’s busybodies, Miss Moore and her mother believed they had a right to dictate their opinions to others.

Nadia’s stomach churned as she guessed the reason for the unannounced visit. She’d heard from Katy the women in town were gossiping about Sissy’s stay at the ranch.

Nadia dusted her hands on her apron and weaved her way out of the vegetable garden. She gave Sissy a concerned look, but the girl was too absorbed with her tomato picking to notice the women’s arrival.

“Ladies,” Nadia called out, “may I help you?”

“Mrs Rorke,” Rebecca greeted her with a tight smile that was more condescending than friendly.

Aged somewhere in her twenties, tall and thin, the woman had always reminded Nadia of someone living in the wrong era. Everything from her hair to her clothes had a look of yesteryear about them.

“Miss Moore, are you visiting with Hester, or is there a reason for you to come to my home unexpectedly?”

She purposely made the point to remind them whose land they stood on.

“Mrs Rorke, I travelled out to your ranch today with the hope of speaking to you about a delicate matter.”

“Really?” So the talking had stopped and the battle was planned.

Miss Moore glanced towards the porch and the many wicker chairs and tables adorning it.

“I wonder if we might take a seat.”

Nadia wanted to refuse, but changed her mind. Better to put them and the rest of the town straight with the minimum of trouble.

“Of course.”

Miss Moore climbed the steps and perched daintily on the edge of one of the chairs. She spent several moments smoothing the material of her dress until it gathered around her lower body neatly.

Nadia ignored Hester who took the seat opposite Miss Moore.

“So what is it you want to talk to me about, Miss Moore?” Nadia asked.

“It’s about the girl,” Miss Moore said, getting straight to the point.

Nadia linked her hands together on her lap and tilted her head.

“The girl?”

“I believe her name is . . .” Miss Moore turned to Hester for the information.

“Sissy Black,” Hester said.

“You’ve come here to discuss someone whose name you don’t even remember?” Nadia asked, then stood. “Miss Moore, I think it is best you ride on home.”

Rebecca continued, ignoring Nadia’s suggestion.

“Mrs Rorke, people are concerned. Very concerned.”

Nadia sat back down.

“Why is that?”

“Well, the presence of the girl on the ranch is not considered fitting.”

“I don’t see how a young girl who spends most of her time in mine and my family’s company has anything to do with anyone else. I really don’t care if it is seen as fitting or not.”

“Well, the matter of her staying here is . . .”

Nadia interrupted again, not interested in hearing the rest of the woman’s words.

“There is nothing to discuss. Sissy is our guest. I suggest you turn your interest to some other matter.”

“I fear your act of kindness was a grave mistake, Mrs Rorke.” Miss Moore sighed.

“I beg your pardon?” Nadia said. “Who are you to come to my home and tell me who I can or cannot ask to stay?”

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!