Zacarias flicked her one look, daring her to deny him. There was a promise of retaliation in that look. If she didn't acknowledge what he was to her . . .
We have not stood before a priest.
I do not understand. We are married. I spoke the ritual words to bind us.
"Let me see your ring," Lea said, by way of forgiving her.
Zacarias frowned. Marguarita had done nothing wrong, and Lea's magnanimous tone bothered him. Before he could react, Marguarita laid her hand very gently on his wrist in warning.
It's a human thing. Please let it pass.
He didn't fully understand, but then it didn't matter, not when he could do something so simple for her. He would demand much of her and small things that meant a great deal to her - as this obviously did - was easy enough to give her.
Marguarita slid her hand across the table to show Lea her ring. It was actually braided gold, Renaissance antique, wound in several braids and forged together. Intricate, when one looked closely, there were ancient words in a beautiful scroll wrought into the gold.
Marguarita rubbed her finger over the letters. Sivamet andam . Sielamet andam.
"What does it say?" Julio asked, frowning at the unfamiliar words.
"I give you my heart. I give you my soul," Zacarias translated. "I have done so, and once given, a De La Cruz doesn't ever take them back. Both belong to Marguarita and are forever in her care."
Lea made some kind of noise of approval, beaming at him.
"Congratulations, s e?or. " Julio made an effort to look Zacarias straight in the eyes, but couldn't hold his gaze, looking at the ring instead. "Marguarita is very beloved on the ranch. Do you plan on taking her away from us?" Julio demanded.
Zacarias felt the shock spread through Marguarita. She hadn't considered that. What had she thought? That he would come and go as he always had? It mattered little. Where he went, Marguarita would be with him. She had given herself into his keeping - and keep her he would.
Marguarita pressed her lips together tightly, but he felt her fear shimmering in his mind. This was her home, her world. These people. The horses. The ranch. He wasn't attached to anyone or anyplace nor could he imagine ever feeling that way. His gaze returned again and again to Marguarita. She was home to him and a part of him didn't want to compete with people, animals and places for her. He wanted to take her far from them all so she would always turn to him for her every need. He would be all things to her.
You are everything to me. There was calmness in her. Acceptance. Her spirit moved against his, a soft caressing brush that weakened him. If you wish me to leave this place, I won't lie to you, Zacarias, it would be difficult and wrenching, but I would choose you over this place in a moment and I would not regret my decision.
His heart hammered in his chest for a few beats before settling into a steady rhythm. There was truth in her quiet declaration. He was a man with no trust - and a centuries-old code of honor that had kept him alive but alone. She was changing all that. Her truth was becoming enough for him. Why? Why are you so certain, Marguarita? I can be very rough.
She reached for him, right there in front of the others, her heart in her eyes. You need me, Zacarias. I see the real you, the one I love with all my heart. You can't see him without me.
So she knew. He should have realized he couldn't hide the truth from her any more than he could hide his memories. Her fingers trailed over his face and he caught them, holding her hand to his heart.
Lea ducked her head, glancing at Julio. It wasn't that difficult to read the longing on her face. Zacarias forced a smile, hoping he looked friendly, not wolfish.
"Do you plan on staying in our little corner of the world, Lea? Marguarita enjoys the company and we intend to make this ranch our home base, although we will have to travel at times." He could give that much to Marguarita.
Lea put her teacup into the saucer and nodded. "I hope to. My brother plans to move on soon, but I've been making arrangements to stay. I like it here."
"You can't stay alone," Julio objected. "Your brother wouldn't leave you alone, would he? Who would protect you?"
Lea made a face. "I don't need protection. I'm a big girl." She sent Marguarita a small, apologetic smile. "I'm not married to one of the richest and most elusive men in the world."
"You're a woman," Julio muttered, his face darkening. "What kind of brother would leave you to fend for yourself?"
Lea's chin went up. She stared coolly at Julio over her teacup as she lifted it toward her mouth. Zacarias detected the slight trembling. It was so subtle he doubted if Julio noticed, but Lea Eldridge was a little more nervous of being on her own in a strange place than she let on.
"My brother doesn't enjoy it here, it's too remote for him. But I like it, and who knows, if your helicopter pilot doesn't show up, maybe I can have his job. I've already interviewed for it."
"Where is the helicopter pilot?" Zacarias asked before Julio could make another retort.
Julio sighed. He wiped his hand over his face and glanced anxiously at Marguarita. She pulled the notepad toward her, but once again Zacarias laid his hand over it.
"I am asking you, not Marguarita," he said quietly, once again a command in his voice.
"Charlie Diaz has a drinking problem, se?or. He's good for months and then he falls again, goes off and stays drunk for three or four months before coming back."
Zacarias narrowed his eyes. "Knowing this, Cesaro kept him on? He is a danger to all of you. Ricco Cayo would have died without medical attention. Had Ms. Eldridge not been here to fly him to a hospital, we would have lost him." The censure in his low voice was as alarming as his ice-cold eyes.
arguarita felt the tension rise in the kitchen. Zacarias looked more intimidating than ever. Lea moved a little closer to Julio and looked as if she might cry. The air in the room became very heavy. She threaded her fingers through Zacarias's and smiled at Julio in an attempt to ease the sudden tension.
Zacarias's focused gaze continued to bore into Julio, demanding an answer.
Julio's face darkened. "My father and I have had many talks about Charlie and how best to handle his situation. We thought he would make it this time." He ran a hand through his hair. "No one's seen him for days."
"And neither you nor your father thought this might be something I should know?" Zacarias's voice was very quiet.
Not in front of Lea. Don't do this, Zacarias, Marguarita pleaded. Julio would be more embarrassed than ever to have his boss take him to task over something he knew was wrong in front of both Lea and Marguarita. Julio is a proud man and very loyal to you . . .
He is loyal to his fellow worker. And he endangers both of us.
Zacarias never took his predatory gaze from Julio's face, staring him directly in the eye, locked on, focused and very frightening. Marguarita felt her stomach begin to churn. She hadn't realized just how tense she was getting.
"Yes, se?or , you should have been told. Charlie has a family, children. We hoped drying him out would work this time."
"He is a liability to everyone on this ranch. Cesaro should have known that."
Julio's face flushed nearly crimson. "He's aware of it."
"I want this man found and brought to me."