The Billionaire's Bridal Bargain

By: Lynne Graham

 ‘And if you do that, she’ll weep and she’ll wail and she’ll try to talk you out of it again. What’s the point of that? You tried to sell him and there were no takers,’ he reminded her with biting impatience. ‘You’re a bloody useless farmer, Lizzie!’

 ‘That horse charity across the valley may have a space coming up this week,’ Lizzie told him, barely even flinching from her father’s scorn because his dissatisfaction was so familiar to her. ‘I was hoping for the best.’

 ‘Since when has hoping for the best paid the bills?’ Brian demanded with withering contempt. ‘Chrissie should be home here helping you, not wasting her time studying!’

 Lizzie compressed her lips, wincing at the idea that her kid sister should also sacrifice her education to their daily struggle for survival against an ever-increasing tide of debt. The farm was failing but it had been failing for a long time. Unfortunately her father had never approved of Chrissie’s desire to go to university. His world stopped at the borders of the farm and he had very little interest in anything beyond it. Lizzie understood his reasoning because her world had shrunk to the same boundaries once she had left school at sixteen.

 At the same time, though, she adored the kid sister she had struggled to protect throughout their dysfunctional childhood and was willing to take a lot of grief from her father if it meant that the younger woman could enjoy the youthful freedom and opportunities that she herself had been denied. In fact Lizzie had been as proud as any mother when Chrissie had won a place to study Literature at Oxford. Although she missed Chrissie, she would not have wished her own life of back-breaking toil and isolation on anyone she loved.

 As Lizzie dug her feet back into her muddy boots a small low-slung shaggy dog, whose oddly proportioned body reflected his very mixed ancestry, greeted her at the back door with his feeding bowl in his mouth.

 ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, Archie...I forgot about you,’ Lizzie groaned, climbing out of the boots again to trudge back across the kitchen floor and fill the dog bowl. While she mentally listed all the many, many tasks she had yet to accomplish she heard the reassuring roar of a football game playing on the television in the room next door and some of the tension eased from her slight shoulders. Watching some sport and forgetting his aches and pains for a little while would put her father in a better mood.

 Her father was a difficult man, but then his life had always been challenging. In his case hard work and commitment to the farm had failed to pay off. He had taken on the farm tenancy at a young age and had always had to work alone. Her late mother, Francesca, had only lasted a few years as a farmer’s wife before running off with a man she deemed to have more favourable prospects. Soured by the divorce that followed, Brian Whitaker had not remarried. When Lizzie was twelve, Francesca had died suddenly and her father had been landed with the responsibility of two daughters who were practically strangers to him. The older man had done his best even though he could never resist an opportunity to remind Lizzie that she would never be the strong capable son he had wanted and needed to help him on the farm. He had barely passed fifty when ill health had handicapped him and prevented him from doing physical work.

 Lizzie knew she was a disappointment to the older man but then she was used to falling short of other people’s expectations. Her mother had longed for a more outgoing, fun-loving child than shy, socially awkward Lizzie had proved to be. Her father had wanted a son, not a daughter. Even her fiancé had left her for a woman who seemed to be a far more successful farmer’s wife than Lizzie could ever have hoped to be. Sadly, Lizzie had become accustomed to not measuring up and had learned to simply get on with the job at hand rather than dwell on her own deficiencies.

 She started her day off with the easy task of feeding the hens and gathering the eggs. Then she fed Hero, whose feed she was buying solely from her earnings from working Saturday nights behind the bar of the village pub. She didn’t earn a wage at home for her labour. How could she take a wage out of the kitty every week when the rising overdraft at the bank was a constant worry? Household bills, feed and fuel costs were necessities that had to come out of that overdraft and she was dreading the arrival of yet another warning letter from the bank.

 She loaded the slurry tank to spray the meadow field before her father could complain about how far behind she was with the spring schedule. Archie leapt into the tractor cab with her and sat panting by her side. He still wore the old leather collar punched with his name that he had arrived with. When she had found him wandering the fields, hungry and bedraggled, Lizzie had reckoned he had been dumped at the side of the road and, sadly, nobody had ever come looking for him. She suspected that his formerly expensive collar revealed that he had once been a much-loved pet, possibly abandoned because his elderly owner had passed away.

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