Much to Diego's chagrin, Zafira and Francisca became confidantes almost immediately. For two days it seemed like the two women had spent all their waking moments together, but he knew that wasn't true. The young widow and his father also seemed inseparable. Diego had tried several times to spend a few moments alone with Señora de la Peña but she proved elusive.
On the afternoon of the third day, Diego was about to go out to the courtyard when he heard the voices of his wife and his father's intended conversing outside. He was about to turn and go the other way when he heard Zafira say his name.
"Oh, Diego is like that, too. The de la Vega men are so passionate," said Zafira with a girlish twitter. "They think with their hearts instead of their heads."
Diego crept quietly through the doorway and shamelessly eavesdropped on the women, pressing himself up against the wall. He peered around the corner and saw them sitting at a small table, drinking wine as they chatted.
"Si," agreed Francesca, taking a sip from her glass of wine. "Alejandro insists that we get married as soon as possible."
"Diego was the same way," Zafira said demurely. "We had only known each other a few months before he insisted on getting married."
"You appear to be happily wed," Francesca commented.
"Yes, we do, don't we?" stated Zafira. Only Diego noted the sarcasm in her voice.
And why was she telling Francesca he had been the one to pressure her into marriage? Diego closed his eyes and vividly remembered the night he had proposed to Zafira.
They had gone to the opera with Miguel and his latest lady friend. Afterward, they had a light supper at a busy café near the opera house. The men then escorted the women home. Diego had walked Zafira to the townhouse she shared with her brother that they had inherited from their parents.
Ricardo had not been home that evening. Zafira had invited Diego in for a glass of wine and he had eagerly accepted. She had brought the wine bottle with her, setting it down on a table near the settee where Diego waited for her.
Maybe it had been the wine; of which he had consumed three glasses; or the music from the romantic opera they had seen still that reverberated in his head, or the fact that they were finally alone together, but something made Diego throw caution to the wind that night.
He remembered how he had held Zafira in his arms, kissing her mouth. He had teased opened her lips with his tongue, something he had never done with her before. Tasting the wine on her tongue, he had groaned and probed his deeper, eliciting a moaning response from her.
Emboldened, he ran his hands, which he usually left placidly holding her slim waist, up her body until he came in contact with her small firm breasts. Extending one of his thumbs, he had brushed it against one of her nipples and it hardened under his touch. He had leaned her back against the couch cushions, pressing his body against hers. His manhood had swelled as she squirmed beneath him.
"Diego, por favor," she had murmured, tearing her mouth away from his. "Diego, no." She tried to push him off of her but he was too solid for her to even budge.
As soon as it penetrated his lust-soddened senses that she was resisting him, he released her and sat up. Panting heavily, he glanced at her sheepishly. "Zafira, I'm sorry," he apologized.
"How dare you take such liberties," she had said primly. "We're not even engaged." She looked up demurely through her eyelashes at him. "Such things are not proper between an unmarried couple."
"I know," he said guiltily. She was a respectable young lady, not an outlet for his lust. "I don't know what came over me. I'm sorry."
"I understand," she had replied. "I know you wouldn't hurt me. I. . . I love you, Diego." She bowed her head., seemingly embarrassed by her admission
Diego had been stunned by her declaration of love. They had known each other for such a short time. He put his hand on her chin and lifted it to look into her beautiful blue eyes. She was such a lovely woman. His gaze wandered down to her swollen lips and his loins stirred again with desire.
He loved her too, he had decided. What else could this feeling be, he asked himself. He had never felt this way about a woman before in his life and he knew then he never wanted to lose her. She was so sweet, so kind; in short, everything he could ever want in a wife. She was a bit prudish, but he marked that down to her being a virgin. And besides, that was part of her charm. Taking a deep breath, he made up his mind.
"I love you, too," he said. "Zafira, will you marry me? After I grad. . .
"Get married?" Zafira had interrupted in a shocked voice. She had gazed at him for a few moments then cast her eyes downward again. "Diego, I don't know what to say. This is all so sudden." She reached over and touched his hand. "I need some time to think."
Diego had lifted her hand to his lips. "Take all the time you need, mi preciosa," he suggested gallantly. He kissed her hand again before getting to his feet. "It's late, I'd better go now."
"Si, of course," she had said, standing as well. She kissed on the cheek. "Gracias," she had murmured in his ear. "I do love you, Diego."
Zafira had stood in the open doorway, watching with an unfathomable smile as he walked away from the townhouse. He had kept throwing backward glances at her until he turned a corner and could no longer see. He had whistled a happy tune the rest of the way to the lodgings he shared with Miguel.
Listening to Zafira and Francisca giggling like schoolgirls, suspicions began to boil to the surface. Had Zafira led him on that night, trying to wrangle a proposal from him? It had been so out of character for her; the invitation inside her home, the overindulgence of wine, the allowance of more than just a peck on the lips.
But it didn't make sense. Why would she suddenly want to marry him and why had she wanted to do it so quickly? She had accepted his proposal two days later and had insisted they marry that day instead of waiting until after he had graduated. He had intended to bring her to California first, to introduce her to his father, to get to know her a little better before they married.
Shrugging mentally, Diego decided to make his presence known to the two women. All the questions he had about them and their motives were not going to be answered by listening in on their current conversation, which had turned into a discussion about wedding gowns.
"Buenas tardes, ladies," he greeted them amiably as he walked around the corner.
"Don Diego," said Señora de la Peña with a smile. "Would you join us?
"Who could refuse two such beautiful women?" he replied charmingly as he sat down in an empty chair.
Zafira jumped to her feet. "I have to go check on dinner," she said, making her excuses. "Francisca, I'll show you that dress I was talking about later."
Diego and the young widow watched as she departed. "Wine?" asked the señora as she reached for the bottle.
"No, thank you," he declined, wanting to keep his wits about him. He picked up a pitcher of water and poured himself a glass.
[parts of the following scene taken from "Deceptive Heart" written by Bruce Lansbury]
Francisca toyed with a lock of her hair as she watched him take a sip. "Your concern is all over your face, Don Diego," she stated. "But only natural. Don Alejandro and I have come together under unusual circumstances."
"To say the least," commented Diego wryly.
"As a good son," said Francisca, "you fear for his happiness."
"Letters are one thing, Señora," Diego said as he reached out for his glass. "Marriage quite another."
"He is everything I could desire in a man," declared the young widow fervently. "And a husband."
"Thank you for your candor and your understanding, Señora," said Diego graciously. But inside, his misgivings grew. Of course his father was everything a woman; no matter what her age; was looking for. He was rich. The fact he was still a handsome, vigorous man only sweetened the pot.
A sickening feeling crept over Diego then. Had his father really been without female companionship all these years since his mother had died? He knew better than anyone that one didn't have to be in love with a woman in order to be intimate with her.
His unsettling thoughts were interrupted by Felipe who tore into the courtyard, signaling frantically at Diego. The boy kept pointing towards the pueblo, confirming Diego's suspicions that something was wrong in town.
"Please excuse me," he said to Francisca, getting to his feet. "Felipe tells me our prized bull is loose in the cow pasture." Again, he was amazed by how glibly the lie slid off his tongue.
"Gomez and his vaqueros are up to their
old tricks at the tavern," Diego interpreted Felipe's gestures as they
stepped down into the secret cave. "Well let's see if Zorro can teach
Señor Gomez a lesson in courtesy."
Z Z Z
[parts of the following scene taken from "Deceptive Heart" written by Bruce Lansbury]
The vaqueros' wild antics were nearly out of control by the time Zorro arrived at the tavern. A man was playing the guitar as a girl danced on a raised platform while the vaqueros drank and fought. The man in black watched from the balcony with narrowed eyes as one of Gomez' men fell off the small stage in a drunken stupor, landing heavily onto Sergeant Mendoza's table. The stout soldier quickly moved his plate out of the way then calmly continued eating his roasted chicken.
Zorro's senses were alerted when Victoria emerged from the kitchen. He tensed when she walked over and pulled Gomez from his seat. He moved swiftly to the staircase, ready to leap to his lady's defense.
"Gomez, get your pigs out of my tavern," demanded Victoria, "and as much as it pains me, your drinks will be free."
The leader of the vaqueros just chuckled as he slid his arms around Victoria's waist. He leaned his face in to kiss her lips.
Zorro had seen enough. "One moment!" he called out as he sat with an air of nonchalance on the staircase railing. "Forgotten your manners, Señor?" he asked as Gomez looked up and glared at him.
Victoria shoved Gomez away, smiling up at her masked hero.
"On your knees before a lady," instructed Zorro. He tossed a pitcher, hitting Gomez on the forehead. The other man crumpled to the floor. One of his vaqueros rushed Zorro, who sent him flying with one punch. The vaquero landed on his back on a table.
Zorro glanced over to the stage where the guitar player and the dancing girl stood. "Please, continue," he said with a insolent smile.
The music and the dancing both started up again as another one of the vaqueros rushed Zorro. The man in black knock him unconscious with one well-placed kick to the chin. A fourth vaquero tried to hit Zorro with a stool but he used his sword to deflect the blow. One of the stool's legs was sliced off by the sword and landed in Mendoza's dinner, splashing sauce onto his round face. The stout soldier looked up at Zorro with an irate expression.
Zorro had no time to be concern with the sergeant's anger as a vaquero with a sword charged at him. The masked man easily dispatched his opponent and pushed him into a corner where the man banged both sides of his head on the merging walls.
"Zorro!" Victoria called out in a panicked voice. "Look out for Gomez!"
He glanced quickly over his shoulder and glimpsed Gomez sneaking up behind him. In one motion, Zorro picked up and threw a plate at the head vaquero, clipping him in the forehead.. The plate deflected off Gomez's hard head and flew over to Mendoza's table, knocking the chicken out of the lancer's hand.
Victoria backed into the kitchen to avoid the other vaqueros' hurry to flee the tavern. Zorro slashed a ‘Z' into Gomez's jacket, then punched him in the face, then kicked him in the bottom toward the tavern door.
The sergeant glared up at the man in black with a perturbed countenance. "You might at least let me finish my supper, Zorro," he said in a voice that matched his face. "Now it is my duty to arrest you."
Zorro smiled. So far the soldier had not even risen to his feet. He didn't seem all that happy about taking the masked man into custody. Maybe if he was offered a way out. . .
"But hasn't the Alcalde always said a well-fed soldier is a good soldier?" commented Zorro.
"Very true," Mendoza agreed, even though Zorro doubted if Ramón would have ever made such a statement, especially in the sergeant's hearing.
"Then your duty, Sergeant," Zorro said, "is to your supper." The man in black sheathed his sword as the stout soldier nodded then resumed eating his meal with gusto.
Zorro pulled aside the curtains that separated the kitchen from the rest of the tavern. Victoria had to take a step back to allow him entrance.
"Anger brings a very pretty blush to your cheeks," he commented as he brought his gloved hand up to touch her pink-tinged face. Dios, she was beautiful when she was furious.
"Oh, anger never makes me blush," replied Victoria with a coy smile.
"The Alcalde's men," Zorro said as a noise caught his attention. "I must go before Mendoza finds courage in his meal."
He lifted Victoria's hand to his lips and kissed it reverently. As he made his escape, he noticed that she placed the hand over her heart as she watched him leave. He quickly turned away.
Zorro was climbing across rooftops back to where he had left Toronado when he noticed as a person on horseback came to a halt under a window on the side of the tavern. Using the horse, the person; who appeared to be a youth about Felipe's age; climbed up the wall and into the window.
Intrigued, Zorro made his way back across the rooftops to the window and gave it a small push to open it a bit wider. Inside, the youth removed his hat, revealing that ‘he' was a ‘she' and her name was Francisca. She willingly went into a man's arms and they kissed passionately.
Zorro's stomach churned violently as he watched the couple grow more intimate. He averted his eyes and closed the window but made no move to leave.
Dear God, he thought, this was going to kill his father. Francisca was inside that room, making love with another man. The man in black had to press one of his hands to his stomach in a futile attempt to calm his sickened gut. The same woman who just an hour before had told him that she desired his father and wanted to marry him.
Obviously a lie. He wondered now what kind of plot she was involved in with her lover. Did it included murder? Of just his father or were his days on earth numbered as well?
Not if he had anything to do about it, he
vowed. Zorro grimly walked back across the tiled rooftops to the
waiting Toronado. His heart ached as he rode across the countryside
back to the secret cave. How was he going to tell his father?
He asked himself the question over and over again on the ride home and
still had not come up with a satisfactory answer by the time he reached
the cave's entrance.
Z Z Z
"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER FIFTEEN