Author's note: This chapter contains a scene of marital sex and it's not quite consensual.  But it's not violent nor very graphic.




     Diego jumped back out of the bed as if he had been burned.  Madre de Dios!  What was she doing here, he thought, more than a bit irritatedly.  Why, tonight of all nights, had she decided to come to his room?

     He looked down at his manhood, still painfully hard from his encounter with Victoria, then over to where Zafira was sleeping.  It had been nearly two years since the last time he had been allowed to touch her.  It would be so easy to crawl between the sheets and take her, slaking his lust.  She only came to his room when she wanted sex.  And by God, he could give it to her tonight.

    But he looked down at his sleeping wife again and brought his hand up to his still tingling lips.  No, he couldn't do it.  She was not the woman he wanted.  She was not the woman he loved.  He would only be using her to satisfy his yearnings for Victoria.

     Quietly, he crept over to the armoire and took out a white linen shirt and a pair of blue trousers.  Donning them hastily, he then snatched up his shoes and tiptoed out of the room.  He stilled in the doorway as Zafira sighed and then rolled over.  But once he was certain she was still asleep, he stepped out of the room and eased the door shut behind him.

     He made his way to the library, intending to deceive his wife once again by pretending to spend the night reading and then falling asleep on the settee just before dawn.  A ruse he had used too many times.

     Don Alejandro found him just as he had seated himself onto the settee, a thick volume of poetry in his hands.

     "Ah, Diego, there you are," he said.  "Have you seen Victoria?"

      Diego shook his head.  "No."  The lie slipped easily from his lips, lips that still tasted of hers.

      "Here I am, Don Alejandro," said the woman in question, breezily walking into the library, a dreamy expression on her flushed face.  "I just went outside for a breath of fresh air."

     "Well, it seems to have agreed with you," commented the old don.

      Diego could only stare at her, not trusting himself to say anything.  His eyes grew big as he noticed that in her left hand she held a crumpled piece of black silk. Obviously she had found Zorro's mask amongst the tangled vines and claimed it for herself.   He pretended to read as he listened to the rest of the conversation between her and his father.

     "Si, it is so beautiful tonight," Victoria agreed.  Diego glanced up at her and saw the secretive smile that crept over her lovely face.  "Well, I better go to bed.  Buenas noches, Don Alejandro.  Diego.  And thank you both again for allowing me to stay here while I recovered."

     "It was the least we could, my dear," said the elder de la Vega.  He stepped toward her and put her hand on her back then glanced over at his son.  "Diego, are you coming?"

     Diego shook himself as he was still reeling from the encounter in the courtyard.  "No, Father," he said, then held up his book of poetry.  "I thought I would read for a bit."

     Don Alejandro shook his head as he led Victoria toward the guest room where she had been convalescing.  "He'll probably be up all night, knowing him," he complained.

     Victoria's reply was a giggle.  Diego sighed as he watched them disappear down the hallway before re-opening his book.  The words seemed to be jumbled on the smooth vellum page, as tumbled as the thoughts in his head and he closed it again.  Obviously he was in for another long, sleepless night.
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      Victoria planned to leave the hacienda the next morning since she had fully recovered.  A bleary-eyed Diego watched her as he and his father joined her for breakfast.  She was talking animatedly with Don Alejandro.

     "I can't wait to get back to work," she said before taking a bite of her toast.  "Pilar and Alicia are hard workers, but. . ."  She shrugged meaningfully.

    "I've kept an eye on the tavern, my dear," said the elder de la Vega.  "Things have been running as smoothly as they could be in your absence."

    "I cannot thank you both enough," Victoria said, glancing first at the old don then at Diego.  Her gaze held Diego's for a moment, then he looked down at his plate as he grew uncomfortable by her outpouring of gratitude.  Lingering feelings of guilt still haunted him.  She had nearly died because of him.  And he could never forget that.

     Zorro might continue to fight for justice but the flirtatious attention he paid to the lovely innkeeper would cease.  He could no longer continue to mislead her.  He was a married man.  There would never be a future for them and it was cruel to pretend otherwise.  He only hoped she would heed Zorro's suggestion that she find someone else, even though it would nearly kill him to see her with another man.


     The irritated voice of his father startled Diego as he was about to take a drink of his coffee and several drops of it dribbled down the front of his shirt.

     "What?  I'm sorry," he said as he dabbed his napkin at the brown spots on his white linen shirt.

     "Victoria asked if you were coming to the tavern later," Don Alejandro said in exasperation.  "There's going to be a little celebration."

     "Of course," Diego replied with what he hoped was a cheery grin.  "I wouldn't miss it."

     "Wouldn't miss what?" queried Zafira as she glided into the dining room, dressed in her royal blue riding habit.

     "A party at the tavern this afternoon," explained her father-in-law.  "We celebrating Victoria's return to health."

    "How lovely."  Her polite words were belied by the unpleasant note in her voice.  "Well, I'm going for my ride."

     Nobody said anything as she picked up a piece of dry toast and carried it out of the room.  Diego wondered if his father had finally noticed that his daughter-in-law's show of affection was a charade.

     And he still was curious to learn what she had been doing in his room the previous evening.  Well, besides being naked in his bed, of course.  Why would she want to sleep with him after keeping him at arm's length for so long?  Did she just miss having sex or was there another reason?

     Diego looked at Victoria and his father and saw that they were calmly eating their meal.  Well, he told himself, he wasn't about to ask his wife what her reasons were.  If she never volunteered the information, he probably would never know why.

    And that was undoubtedly for the best, he decided as he drained his cup of coffee then poured himself another.
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     It was the dream again.  The one he kept having ever since that night Zorro and Victoria had kissed in the hacienda courtyard over a week earlier.  He could feel his lips on his, their warmth, their sweetness.  He could feel her body pressed up against his, the softness of her breasts against the hard muscles of his chest.

     He placed his hands on her hips, then cupped her bottom, pulling her up against his rigid manhood.  Their kiss intensified, their tongues intertwined in a dance of passion.

     "I love you," he murmured into her ear after they had torn their mouths away from each other.  This was where the fantasy would usually fall apart; he either stopped dreaming completely or his mind moved off in different and unrelated directions.

    But tonight, it didn't.  He saw Victoria's smiling face looking down at him as she straddled him.  He felt the curly hair that covered her womanhood as it tickled his groin.  She kissed him again.  Groaning, he slid his hands up the sides of her naked body to her breasts.  He teased her hardening nipples with his thumbs and heard her whimper.

    Through the haze of lust, he realized he was lying on his back, and on something soft.  Shrugging mentally, he resumed kissing the woman he loved, easing his tongue into her mouth.  He wondered only for a second about her sudden lack of response, then realized she was slowly sinking herself down onto his throbbing member.  Moaning, he threw his head back as he was sheathed inside her and he began to thrust.

     She felt painfully dry, hurting him almost as much as it had to be hurting her.  Abruptly, he was reminded of the last time he had made love to his wife.  It had been pretty much the same way, an uncomfortable and humiliating experience he'd rather forget.

     A disturbing thought entered his mind and he stopped pushing into her.  She kept moving though, continuing to ride him, making odd little noises in her throat.

     Diego opened his eyes and looked up at the woman atop him.  It wasn't Victoria.  It had never been Victoria.  It was Zafira.  She had her face scrunched up, obviously in much discomfort, as she persistently carried on.

     And his traitorous body started reacting to her movements.  It has been so long, he groaned to himself, so very long.  Closing his eyes, he recommenced desperately driving into her, shoving from his mind the thought that he was betraying Victoria by what he was doing.  It only took a few frenzied minutes for him to spill his seed deep inside his wife.

     Diego opened his eyes and stared into those of his wife as she pushed herself into a sitting position.  He thought he caught a glimpse of triumph in her blue eyes before she moved off of him and turned away.

     "Why?" he asked as she picked up her robe from the end of his bed and slid it on her nude body.

     His wife shrugged her shoulders.  "I wanted to," she said nonchalantly as she got down off the bed and walked toward her room.

     "Zafira," he said as he sat up.  He felt confused by her cold indifference.  Confused that she had just had intercourse with him.  Confused that she obviously had not enjoyed it.  And sick to his stomach because he felt like he had just participated in something sordid.

     She stopped and turned back to glare at him.  "Don't worry about it, Diego," she said airily.  "It won't happen again.  Oh, and whoever it was you were dreaming about, I hope it wasn't me."  She laughed mirthlessly as she passed through the connecting door, shutting it firmly behind her.  He heard the lock snick a second later.

    Diego flopped onto his back onto the mattress. Madre de Dios!  What was she up to now?  He covered his eyes with his right forearm.  He hated being tied to a woman whom he could not trust.  A woman who was bent on making his life miserable.  A woman who, for all intents and purposes, had just raped him.

     He shot upright as a sickening notion hit him.  Had tonight been the only night she had taken advantage of him?  Had his dreams of making love to Victoria actually been unwitting sexual encounters with Zafira?  His stomach churned violently and he had to scramble out of his bed to find the chamber pot.  Diego retched until he had nothing left inside.

    Dear God.  He pushed away the porcelain vessel and its vile contents then rested his forehead on the cool tile floor for a few moments before crawling back into his bed.

     He didn't sleep a wink the rest of the night.
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     Summer finally slipped into fall.  The fierce Santa Ana winds decided to wreak havoc that year.  Several fires had raged to the west and the south of the pueblo.  And although the flames never neared Los Angeles, the high winds had caused much damage on all the surrounding ranchos, including the de la Vegas's.

     Diego was actually glad, however, that there was hard work to be done restoring things to right.  It took his mind off his troubles.  His body would be so exhausted that he would fall asleep almost instantly.  A deep, dreamless sleep.

     Zorro's visits to the pueblo were becoming increasingly rare.  It had been a month after the fires before the masked man's presence was needed in Los Angeles,  to save the Alcalde from his even more evil(as if that were possible) identical twin brother who had come to Los Angeles to kill Ramón and to take his place as commandante.

     Unfortunately, Vicente Ramón had received all the charm between the two men and had made Diego suspicious.  And the fact that the man had fawned all over Victoria had not exactly endeared him to Diego either.  He recalled with a grimace the image of the other man kissing her hand, dancing with her, spouting bad limericks to her beauty.

     Diego had known that it wouldn't be easy to stand by and watch as Victoria was courted by other men.  But he never counted on the jealous rage that consumed him every time a man so much as looked at her with the tiniest glimmer of interest.  The Alcalde's smarmy sibling had nearly caused his anger to boil over in a volcanic fury.

     An experiment he had been working on dealing with the differences between people's fingertip patterns had been all the proof he had needed to confront Ramón's brother and prove him a fraud.  That and the scar he had given the Alcalde on his right wrist.  And it hadn't come as a surprise either that the commandante had let his sibling go free.

     Diego shook his head the next morning as he made his way out of his room.  To think that Luis Ramón was actually the lesser of two evils.  It made him wonder what the rest of the family was like.

     He was about to walk to the dining room for breakfast when he heard the sound of retching coming from his wife's room.  He paused, his hand on the knob of his door, and wondered if she needed any help.  He may not love her anymore, but she was still his responsibility.  And he had promised to take care of her during both sickness and health.

     Diego took the few steps that placed him in front of Zafira's door then knocked softly.  "Zafira?" he called quietly.  "Are you all right?"

     Scuffling noises could be heard from behind the wooden portal, then light footsteps.  The door was wrenched open and a ashen-faced Zafira glared up at him.  The stench of vomit assailed his nose.

     "Are you all right?" Diego reiterated.  "I . . ."

     "Oh, I'm just fine," she said, her mouth a twisted sneer.  "Never better."  She tried to close the door but he stuck his foot in the way.

     "It's obvious you're not," he pointed out.  She really did look terrible.  Her skin was a pasty white and her eyes were red-rimmed.  "Shall I fetch the doctor?"

     Zafira glanced up at him in astonishment, no doubt surprised by his solicitousness.  "No. . .no," she replied, bowing her head.  "There's nothing he can do."  Then she looked up at Diego.  "Well, at least not for about eight months anyway."

     "Eight months?"  Diego echoed nonplused.  "Why eight. . .?  The question died on his lips as he realized the significance of her words.  Oh Dios mio, she was. . ."Pregnant?  You're pregnant?  How?"

     She smiled up at him teasingly.  "The usual way, Diego," she stated.  "Congratulations, you're going to be a father."

     She met no resistance as she nudged his foot out of the way then closed the door, leaving the stunned Diego standing there, his mouth gaping open like a fool.

     Madre de Dios, he thought as he finally turned and leaned up against the wall outside Zafira's room. His mind drifted back to the night he had woke up with his wife atop him.  Had it happened then?  It must have, he surmised with a shake of his head.

    He was going to be a father.  Even as distasteful as the child's conception had been, Diego couldn't quite hold back the smile that threatened to take over his whole face.
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