The Widow’s Rancher – 34

WHAT announcement is he about to make?” Ed asked curiously.

Interested in what their father had to say, the other boys strolled after him.

“I guess we’re going to find out,” Nadia replied as Diggory stepped up on to an old tree stump and whistled loudly to get the crowd’s attention.

“Good morning,” he boomed. “I want to speak with you all before you fill up on the food in your picnic baskets and fall asleep for the rest of the day. I’m sure Preacher Michael has plans to talk also, so I’ll not keep you long. But it’s such a fine morning and my wife and I want to let you know some good news.”

A hush slowly settled over the gathering as they waited for him to continue.

“As of yesterday, we became legal guardians to Miss Sissy Black. Though from today she’ll be known as a Rorke, same as the rest of us.”

“Congratulations,” Mac Lonnen called out from a few feet away. Several other people in the crowd added their own.

Diggory raised his hand.

“Thank you. As our daughter, I hope each and every one of you here will show Sissy kindness and respect. She’s a wonderful girl who I am proud to have as my daughter.”

“I will not!” Rebecca Moore weaved her way through the crowd until she reached the front. “I will not stand by and allow you to make a mockery of the people of this town.”

“Miss Moore, you already made your opinions clear to my wife. There’s no need for you to repeat them here.”

“I disagree, Mr Rorke. I refuse to watch while you and your wife continue with your unacceptable behaviour.”

“My wife, miss, is the sweetest person you’ll ever meet. And the only behaviour she is capable of is that of a spirited lady.” Several people laughed in the crowd, Nadia included.

“Your wife took an undesirable person’s offspring into your home, Mr Rorke. I honestly thought you were a respectable man with sound principles, but since you’ve married that woman the change in you is –”

“You might not want to finish that sentence, miss, or I might decide to remind you and every single person here that your own family history has its own scandals and rumours. How is your grandfather? Does he still have a liking for whisky?”

Rebecca’s face flushed pink at the slight to her own family’s reputation.

“My grandfather has an illness.”

“Your grandfather drinks a bottle of whisky every day since he lost your grandmother. I know. I’ve picked him up and helped him to his home many times in the past.”

Her blush deepened.

“What my grandfather does is irrelevant. My family have nothing to do with him.”

“I know. You’re all too ashamed of him when he’s just a man grieving for the woman he loved for over forty years. But I’ll ask you this, Miss Moore. Should the town turn their backs on you and insist you stay out of their homes because of your grandfather’s weakness?”

“I am nothing like my grandfather.”

“I agree. Yet you would condemn an innocent young girl who is exactly like you. Related to a man with a problem he is struggling to control. Where’s your compassion, miss?”

Rebecca stared at him then spun away, quickly threading her way back through the gathered bodies until she disappeared.

Diggory returned his attention to the crowd. His face hard as he addressed them.

“I’m warning everyone here, friend or otherwise. Don’t look down on any member of my family. Not one of you has the right and neither I nor my boys will allow it.”

He stepped off the stump and slowly made his way over to Nadia. His troubled expression caused her heart to ache. When he reached her, he pulled off his hat and threw it on to the nearest quilt.

“I’m sorry, Nadia, if I embarrassed you. I promised never to . . .”

“Fuddle and gooseberries,” she scolded.

She stepped into his space and wrapped her arms around his middle. Squeezing tight, she rested her forehead against his chest, breathing in the essence of the man she loved above any other.

Life might throw trouble their way, but as long as she had Diggory to hold she could face it all.

“What exactly did you do to cause me embarrassment, Diggory Rorke?”

He closed his arms around her, and sighed.

“Arguing in public with Miss Moore was not what I intended to do. Her grandfather is a good man deep down, but the way his family is acting is wrong.”

She leaned back and arched an eyebrow.

“Is Sissy really ours?” He nodded.

“I saw Black in town one day, told him where she was and that I wanted to adopt her.”

“And he agreed?”

“Took some persuading and a little cash, but I got his signature on a document so there’s no changing his mind. A good friend of mine is a judge. It’s all legal. He’s out of her life for good unless Sissy decides differently. She’s our girl, darling. All ours.”

Tears blurred Nadia’s sight, but she didn’t bother to wipe them away.

This man had stormed into her life and channelled his way into her heart, given her his name and the safety of his arms, seven sons, a daughter-in-law, a grandchild and a daughter to love. Her heart filled with emotion.

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!