Let's take another look at Ivan Civanovich!
She smiled, and he was sure he could hear her thinking, arrogant man. She didn’t say the words. He had to admit, at least to himself, they were partly true. There was a certain amount of arrogance inbred in him through the generations of ancestors that preceded him.
Confidence was something he’d always had.
He wanted to trace her smile with a fingertip and at the same time learn something about her past. "It’s true," he told her. "Everything I said."
Her sigh was soft and floated away on the slight breeze. "There have been threats," Moriah began. "I’ve been asked to sell out. I can’t do that, not if there is another way. I’ve promised Pedro someday this ranch would be his."
Somehow, he sensed she would hold back all she could, tell him only what she thought he needed to know. Half-truths were not acceptable, but for the time being, he would live with them. He was good at puzzles, fitting the pieces together.
He waited, his arms crossed over his chest, studying her face, her expressions. To read her like a book was his objective, to know her inside and out a goal worth reaching for. He wanted to think the same way she did, get inside her mind, anticipate the answers even before she asked the question.
"Letters through the mail. Notes tucked into the children’s pockets." She flinched when she said children. "They might hurt the children. I won’t allow that. I’ll run again, leave this all behind." She looked surprised at her words as if she’d revealed a part of her she hadn’t meant for him to see. "Only if there is no other way," she amended softly.
"Do you still have them? The letters?" He meant to go gently with her. Frightening her was not one of his intentions. She was already scared to death.
Her lower lip was pulled beneath her top teeth to stop the trembling. "I burned the first one. Then, afterward I made inquiries about you, and I decided I’d better hang on to the ones that were sent later so you could read them."
Anger unfurled and simmered deep inside. "How many?" Ivan asked fiercely.
"Five more letters," Moriah said. When she looked at him, a soft film of moisture filled her beautiful aqua eyes. "The first two threatened me. The others threatened my children."
"You kept all but the first? I’ll read them." He bent down and picked up a handful of rocks. He skipped each one across the water.
He felt his anger, knew what he felt was apparent in the set of his shoulders and the tension in his legs. Moriah understood male anger. Ivan sensed she would go out of her way to avoid an angry man, so he meant to hide his feelings from her.
He didn’t want his fury to frighten her. He directed his rage at the skipping rocks, not her. Then he relaxed, letting the game change subtly.
She smiled his way and watched as if mesmerized by the child’s play he engaged in. Protective instincts surged and pulsed. He wanted to pull her into his arms and tell her everything would be okay. It might not.
"The letters are in the house. Tonight when we go back I’ll get them for you, and you can take them with you--read them later. I don’t want the children to know about them," Moriah said, lifting her shoulders slightly. Tension radiated from her. The softness and the fear in her voice drew him with a need so strong the pain hit hard and stayed.
"Pedro already knows something is terribly wrong," Ivan said. "He’s a smart young man, and he thinks of himself as your protector. It’s a powerful load for a boy to carry."
She grimaced and gave a half laugh. "He’s going on thirteen. His birthday is next month," Moriah said, and turned to him with a smile that left him weak in the knees.
"And that would have made you--how old? Thirteen?" His voice held a hint of sarcasm. He probed for answers, for the truth; for trust. He wanted her to tell him about the children.
"What?" She looked surprised.
Her brows drew together in what looked to Ivan to be confusion.
He decided not to pursue the question. "Do you know who sent the letters?" Ivan reversed directions. He had a good idea. He’d researched this situation before he left Denver. He wondered if she’d reached the same conclusions he had.