The Widow’s Rancher – 30

NADIA stood silent, her eyes fixed on her husband’s retreating figure as he galloped away. When he finally disappeared, she closed her eyes and prayed. Please God, bring my girl home.

With a heavy sigh, she turned to the house, but came to a halt when she found Hester standing on the porch with an almost delighted expression upon her face.

“What are you doing here?” Nadia demanded.

“I came to visit Toby. I’m leaving as soon as I’ve fetched the last of my belongings.”

“This is your fault,” Nadia raged. “You and that Moore woman. If you’d kept your nasty comments to yourself, the men wouldn’t be out there looking for Sissy. She would be here, safe and happy.”

Hester scoffed, not a bit ashamed of the events her actions earlier in the day had caused.

“You should never have brought her kind to the ranch. You’re doing nothing but muddying the Rorke name.”

“I suggest you quiet that big mouth of yours, Hester,” Ed said as he walked from around the side of the house. For once, the easy-natured young man appeared furious. “Sissy’s character is cleaner and purer than yours. If anyone has brought shame to this ranch, it’s you.”

“How dare you!” Hester bristled.

Undeterred, he continued.

“Truth is, Hester, ever since Toby placed his gold ring around your finger, you’ve become malicious, when the truth is you’ve no right to be. You have no reason to think you’re better than the rest of the women who live in Wishbone Creek. Rebecca Moore has filled your head with so much self-important babble it’s embarrassing to listen to you.”

“Toby will hear of this,” Hester threatened. “He’ll not tolerate you talking to me in this way.”

Ed ignored the threat.

“I hear he visited the lawyer in town this afternoon when he picked up the supplies for the ranch.”

Hester paled at the news.

“You’re lying.”

“I wonder what your friend Rebecca will think when you become one of those divorced women? I’m certain she’ll be scandalised. Probably decide to drop your company altogether.”

“She my friend. She never would.”

“She has a nasty habit of excluding people she believes are beneath her. I know she believes in the sanctity of marriage. Good or bad.”

“I’ll tell my father.”

“And I’ll tell mine how your brothers went riding through Nadia’s cornfield some weeks back and destroyed half the corn.”

“What?” Nadia asked, stunned by this news.

Ed nodded, though his eyes stayed fixed on Hester.

“Hester’s older brother has a big mouth. He told the Dutch brothers how Hester had promised he could live with her and Toby if he and the others ran you off your land. I figure she hoped to buy it cheap before my father found out what they were up to. The Dutch brothers thought it only right we should know the truth.”

Nadia took a step toward Hester. All the past fear and the worry tonight over Sissy amalgamated together, igniting her temper and anger towards the other woman.

“You nasty little . . .”

Ed caught her by the waist and drew her away before she managed to reach her.

“I’m sure you’re tempted to teach Hester some manners, but it might be best if we leave it to my father.”

“Let go of me, Ed.”

He returned his attention to Hester, though he still kept a tight hold on Nadia.

“Take yourself back to your cabin and finish your packing. You’re finished here.”

Hester twirled away with an air of fury, making Nadia want to laugh and chase after her at the same time. All those weeks at her cabin spent in fear and it came down to the actions of one spoiled, selfish woman who wanted Nadia’s home for herself.

“Do you promise not to run after her?” Ed asked.

Nadia nodded begrudgingly. “Yes.”

“Good.” He let go and took a step back.

Nadia glared in the direction Hester had gone, but stayed where she was.

“I never noticed before how alike you and your father are,” she said, turning to her youngest stepson.

Ed wrinkled his nose and grinned, looking every bit his age.

“Not sure that’s a good thing. I love my father, but do I want to be like him?” She laughed.

“It is, Ed. Believe me, being like your father is a very good thing. I sincerely hope you never change.”

He laughed and shrugged, his eyes going to the darkening horizon.

“Don’t worry, they’ll find Sissy. My father is too stubborn to fail.”

She nodded, comforted by the certainty in his words.

“He likes to keep his promises.”

“Yes. I’ve never known him not to.”

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!