Author's Note: I had a lot of trouble with this chapter in getting the characters to behave which is why I now have an X-Rated version of this chapter.  It didn't work with the direction I wanted to take the story so I really had to work to get them act the way I wanted.  I seriously doubt the naughty version of this chapter will ever be posted anywhere but never say never. . .

"CADENAS DE AMOR"

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO - "A SNAKE IN THE GRASS"

     "What are you doing here?" Diego whispered as he quickly closed his bedroom door.  He tried to avert his eyes but it was too late.  He had already glimpsed the long shapely legs revealed by the thigh-high gap of her wrapper and the dark areolas of her breasts showing clearly through the thin pink silk.  His manhood began to swell uncomfortably.

     "Oh, come now, Diego," she replied confidently.  "We both know that little performance you gave tonight was all for the sergeant's benefit."

     "What on earth are you talking about?" queried Diego.  He glanced over to the door that connected his room with Zafira's.  "Your best friend is right next door.  What do you think she would say if she found you here?"

     Amanda shrugged indifferently as she took a step toward him.  "She told me that she no longer sleeps with you," she stated.  "So I doubt she would care."

     "But I would," he replied through gritted teeth.  "I'm not interested, Señorita, in what you have to offer."

     She lowered her eyes pointedly to the front of his trousers which was straining to contain its contents.  "I think that," she drawled, "is a very big lie, Señor.  I'd say you were very interested."

     Diego took a deep breath and tried to will away his erection.  "Nevertheless," he said,  more angry with himself than with her, "I'm married and I intend to remain faithful to my wife."

     Amanda shook her head pityingly.  "She doesn't love you," she stated.  "She told me she never did."

     "She told you that?" Diego asked, a bit stunned that Zafira would air her grievances to someone she hadn't seen for five years.  He took a step toward the scantily clad young woman.  "What else did she say?"

     "Nothing," Amanda responded.  She toyed with the belt of her robe and the edges of the slinky garment fell apart a little more, giving him an excellent view of her bountiful cleavage.  It took every ounce of Diego's willpower not to take the bold señorita into his arms and kiss her until they both couldn't see straight.

    Again he wondered at the feelings his wife's friend stirred up inside him.  Was it because he had been celibate for so long, or was there something deeper?  Something beyond the obvious lust he felt for her.

     Diego shook his head in a vain attempt to clear his thoughts.  Amanda stared at him curiously, still fiddling with her robe's belt.  The diaphanous silk slipped just a bit more, displaying  the puckered nipple of her right breast.

    "Diego, por favor," she murmured huskily, taking a step toward him.  "Don't lie to me or to yourself anymore.  You desire me.  I can see it in your eyes."  The fabric slid again, exposing her left breast.  He groaned in frustration, as the demons in his head battled each other.  He closed his eyes to the lure of her bared bosoms as his mouth ached to suckle them.

     The graze of her hand against his stomach made him inhale sharply.  Oh, Dio mio, he must fight this, he must fight her, he scolded himself.  If he didn't care that he would be committing adultery, he should at least be concerned that he would be betraying the woman he professed to love.  Diego tried to conjure up a picture of Victoria; her beautiful smile, her lovely face, her glittering dark eyes.  Unfortunately, it only made his aching even more excruciating.

     The vision disappeared altogether as Amanda began to undo his trousers.  He attempted to push her nimble fingers away, but she thrust her body against his and his hands landed on the bare flesh of her chest instead.  Somehow she had managed to unbutton his shirt without him noticing it and he felt her skin on his.

     "Don't fight it, Diego," she whispered before kissing him, plunging her tongue into his mouth.  He stilled for only a second before entwining his tongue with hers.  His hands seemed to move of their own accord, fondling her lush breasts.

    This is wrong, he admonished himself as his knees trembled, so very, very wrong.  He should push her away, tell her to stop, send her back to her room.  But instead, he continued to kiss her, to taste the sweetness of her lips while he felt like he was spinning out of control.

     She pulled away from him.  "Come," she whispered, a siren's smile on her lovely face.  Diego saw that she was naked now, her robe a puddle of pink silk on the floor.  She took  his hand and led him over to his bed.  Suddenly the enormity of the wickedness he was about to perpetrate slapped him in the face.

     "No," he rasped, snatching his hand from her grasp.  He bent over and plucked up her silk robe from the floor then handed it to her.  "Cover yourself," he demanded a bit harshly.  "And leave.  Now."

     Amanda slipped the wrap over her shoulders.  "Diego, por favor," she said seductively.  "You want this as much as I do."

     Diego shook his head.  "Go.  Now," he ground out, straining to hold onto the reins of his self control as Amanda took her time closing the robe and tying its belt.

     "You had your chance, Diego de la Vega," she stated icily.  "You'll be sorry you didn't take this one."

     "I'm already sorry," he replied.  "Sorry I didn't toss you out the minute I found you here."  If he had, he wouldn't be feeling this pent-up frustration vibrating throughout his whole body.

     Amanda turned and flounced out of his room, hopefully going back to her own.  Dear Lord, he had nearly had intercourse with her, his wife's best friend, a woman he had no feelings for but lust.  He had been a hair's-breadth away from committing adultery.  It was bad enough that he already loved a woman other than Zafira, but this. . .

     Another thought struck him then.  What if Zafira and Amanda had plotted this little seduction?  What if her friend was supposed to lure him into a compromising position so his wife could catch them together?

     Diego sank down on his bed, suddenly extremely weary.  He had about all he could take of Zafira and her nonsense.  But, unfortunately, there was nothing he could do about it.  He had taken vows he intended to keep. He remembered then the promise that he would be faithful to his shrew of a wife, the one he had made to Felipe (and to himself) just a couple of months earlier.

     Madre de Dios!  He bolted up into a sitting position, remembering what the youth had told him before dinner the previous evening.  That he had seen two bandits rob a man just outside the pueblo.

     Diego had meant to ride out as Zorro, to go out and track down the bold thieves.  A plan that had flown out of his head, along with his common sense, it seemed.

     Sighing wearily, he rose up off of the bed then crept out of his room and through the silent hacienda.
                                                  Z                                                   Z                                                   Z

   Diego was extremely glad a week later when Amanda Herrera left Los Angeles with her father and her new fiancé, a very handsome young man named Antonio, whose father was the biggest sheep rancher in Alta California.  Someone with looks and money.  The very two things that Sergeant Mendoza lacked.

     He still burned with anger over what Amanda had done to the poor sergeant.  Accepting his proposal of marriage after he had rescued her (with a little help from Zorro) from the bandits who tried to rob the de la Vega hacienda.  Then she had cruelly flaunted her new novio in front of the starry eyed soldier, telling him that she had had a moment to think about their engagement and had changed her mind.

     It was about a week later when a letter arrived from Don Patricio, inviting them all to his daughter's wedding in Ensenada in a month's time. .  "Oh, we must go," Zafira exclaimed excitedly as she showed the missive to Don Alejandro that evening at dinner.

     "Of course, hija," her father-in-law replied.  "We should be able to take a week off next month, shouldn't we, Diego?"

     "I'm not going," Diego stated baldly as he placed his napkin on his lap.

     "Why not?" asked his father.  "It would be rude if you don't go."

     "And what she did to Sergeant Mendoza?" inquired Diego crossly.  "That was acceptable behavior?"

     Zafira laughed scornfully.  "You really didn't think she was going to marry that oaf of a sergeant, did you?"

     "Mendoza may have his faults," Diego ground out.  "But he also has a kind heart that your friend trampled  all over without a second thought."

     "Since when did you start caring so much for the Alcalde's lancers?" his wife demanded.

     "They're just men following orders," Don Alejandro answered, echoing Diego's very thoughts.  He looked over at his daughter-in-law.  "You know what your amiga did wasn't very nice, my dear."

     "Fine," said Zafira.  She jumped up from her chair and fled the dining room, taking her letter with her.  His father glanced over at Diego and shrugged.

     Later that night as Diego was unbuttoning his shirt as he prepared to go to bed, the door leading to Zafira's room opened and she stepped through it.

     "What do you want?" he asked ungraciously, doubting she was there for a conjugal visit.

     "I want to know why you really don't want to go to Amanda's wedding," she stated.

     Diego shook his head.  "I already told you. . ."

     "Oh yes, the poor sergeant," she interrupted sarcastically.  "But that's only part of it, isn't it?"

     He stared at his wife, trying to keep his expression indifferent.  "I don't know what you're talking about," he replied.

     "I think you do" she said a bit indignantly.

     "All right," he conceded, deciding to tell her just what a trollop her dear friend was.  "She came to my room uninvited, stripped naked then tried to seduce me.  But luckily for you, I threw her out," he added sardonically.  He gave his wife an assessing look and saw that his announcement didn't shock her at all.   "You were in on it, weren't you?  You wanted me to sleep with her, didn't you?"

     ""How dare you?" she screeched.  She raised her right hand, no doubt intending to slap him.  But Diego caught her wrist before she could.  "Let go of me!" she demanded.

     "Not until you tell me the truth," he said calmly.  He did slacken his grip on her, however, not wanting to unintentionally injure her.

     Zafira wrenched her arm out of his grasp.  "I'm tired of this," she hissed.  "I'm tired of you and your ridiculous accusations.  You want the truth?" she taunted, tossing her head back.  "I'll tell you the truth.  I hate you with every fiber of my being.  I hated it every time you ever touched me.  I hate California.  I hate this hacienda.  I hate that boy you're so unnaturally fond of.  I even hate your father.  He's nothing but a daft old fool."

     Most of her declarations were no surprise to him, but that last one dumbfounded him.  She had always been so affectionate with the elder de la Vega.  And he knew the old don doted on her.  It would devastate Don Alejandro if he knew that his beloved daughter's loving attitude was all just a sham.

     "Then why did you marry me?" he queried, finally asking the question that had plagued him for months.

     Zafira just glared at him.  "I had my reasons," she said through tight lips.  She took a step backward.  "Good night, Diego."

     "What reasons?" he asked, following as she walked over to the door.  "Zafira, what reasons?"

     She ignored him, shutting the door in his face.  He heard the key turn in the lock.  Dammit, he thought.  At that moment, he would have paid an enormous sum of money to learn what her motives had been for marrying him.  Sighing, he turned away from the door, knowing he would not get much rest that night.
                                                  Z                                                   Z                                                   Z

     Over the next few months, Diego found himself in all sorts of entanglements that took his mind off his estrangement from his wife.  They rarely spoke to each other, and indeed, he saw no more than an occasionally glimpse of Zafira.  His father, still blissfully unaware of her true feelings, had escorted her to the wedding, Diego remaining steadfast in his refusal to go.  When she was at home, she went out riding nearly every day for hours on end.  It left him free to continue with his own pursuits, not the least of which was his crusade for justice.

[parts of the following scene taken from "Sanctuary" written by Tim Minear]

     A group of men, interested in claiming the six thousand peso bounty now on his head, had been pestering him for the better part of a month.  Zorro had been able to elude them easily for the most part.  Until this morning, the man in black thought to himself, gritting his teeth as he cut his dagger twice into his right forearm.

     It was his own arrogance that had caused him to be bitten by a rattlesnake that had been hiding in the grass.  If he had been paying attention to where his whip had landed instead of slashing a Z' into the jacket of the last humiliated bounty hunter before sending him on his way.

     He sucked as much of the poison from his arm as he could but he could still feel the effects of the venom starting to course through his body.  Help, he told himself, he needed to get help.  And fast.  He made his way over to where Toronado was waiting nervously, obviously sensing his master's distress.

     But Zorro hadn't stayed on the stallion's back for very long, sliding off onto the ground after they had traveled only a short distance.  His right arm was throbbing painfully.  Pushing himself up off the ground with his good arm, he patted at Toronado with his injured one.

     "Go home, boy," he urged, giving the Andalusian another pat.  "Go on."

     Toronado whinnied loudly then galloped away.  Zorro then crawled over to where his saber had fallen out of its scabbard.  He quickly scanned the area and saw a farm house and a barn about a mile away.  Gritting his teeth, he hoisted himself up to his feet and started walking, using his saber as a make-shift cane.

     What a twist of fate, he laughed bitterly as he stumbled along.  To once again be confronted by a snake in the grass, only literally this time.  Though his encounter with his wife's immoral friend might be better likened to clasping a viper to one's bosom.

    He winced at the bad analogy as an image of Amanda's breasts leapt into his head.  Then his world darkened for a moment and he found himself down on his knees.  He rose back up and trudged onward.
                                                   Z                                                   Z                                                   Z

[parts of the following scene taken from "Sanctuary" written by Tim Minear]

     Zorro woke with a start and for a few minutes his eyes had trouble focusing on his surroundings. Then he noticed little beams of sunlight, filled with dancing dust motes, shining through cracks between rough-hewn boards.

     The barn.  He now vaguely remembered reaching the farm and seeking sanctuary in its barn.  He wasn't entirely sure, but he thought he was on the property of one Alicio Turron.  Who, unfortunately, was the bounty hunter he had embarrassed only a short while ago.

     The man in black then heard voices coming from outside and the sound of feet hitting the ground.  Dios, Señor Turron must be back.  Using the wall at his back, he eased himself up into a standing position, then looked around for a place to hide.  A gasp of pain escaped his lips as he bumped his injured arm against a stall railing.

     A woman stepped into the barn as Zorro covered his wounded forearm with his hat before moving again.  The woman, undoubtedly Señora Turron, spun around and looked straight at him.

     "Zorro!" she exclaimed, her eyes lighting up with excitement.  Then he watched as a dark shadow passed over their brilliant blueness.  She tossed a glance over her shoulder.  "My husband. . ."

     "I know," he replied, feeling his strength starting to drain away.  "We've met.  Don't be frightened."

     "What are you doing here?" she asked in a conspiratorial whisper.  "He's in the house."

     "Call him if you must do so," he said through clenched teeth.  "I could have killed him.  You saw my signature.  But I'm not a man to take a life so recklessly, in spite of what you might have been told."

     "All I know is that the bounty on your head now stands at six thousand pesos."

     Zorro nodded.  "And that is why he hunts me down.  I should go."  He took a step forward but a wave of dizziness swept over him and he stumbled into a post supporting the barn's roof.  The señora rushed over and saw his arm as his hat fell away from it.

     "Oh, you're hurt!"

     "A rattlesnake," he said, breathing heavily.  He realized he was drenched with sweat, yet felt very, very cold. "I tried to purged the wound but the bite went too deep."

     The next thing he knew, the woman had hustled him over to a dark corner of the barn and was unbuttoning his shirt, saying something about him being soaking wet and burning up.  He swallowed and the buzzing in his ears stopped, allowing him to listen to her words.

     "Any stressful activity will rush the venom through your body," she declared, pulling off his damp shirt then draping a blanket about his shoulders.   "I'll prepare something for your wound when I can."

    "Gracias."  He sagged in relief against the hay bales behind his back.  Gracias a Dios, she wasn't going to alert her husband to his presence.  There were good women in the world, he thought drowsily.  They were just hard to find.  His eyes drooped closed as oblivion overtook him.
                                                   Z                                                   Z                                                   Z

"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE