[parts of the following scene taken from "One Special Night" written by Gary Stephen Rieck]  

     Just as he predicted, Victoria marched right up to him.  "Diego," she said imperiously, "I'm going with you."

     Diego stared at her, slightly annoyed even though her announcement was hardly unexpected. Traveling in her cart would slow them down.  And he would be unable to contact the lawyer about adopting Felipe without some sort of explanation or excuse as to what he was doing.  And he didn't want to reveal his intentions to anyone just yet, not even to the woman he loved.   "I beg your pardon," he drawled as she seemed to be waiting for some kind of response.

     His attention, however, was drawn away from Victoria by two men riding toward them from the north.  An alertness that had nothing to do with the woman standing before him made him shiver.

      "You will need my help pleading our case to the King's emissary," Victoria stated  crossly as she pulled her rebozo closer together over her shoulders.  He was only listening with half an ear as he watched the approach of the riders as they neared the hacienda.

    "You don't say," he murmured absently even though it still perturbed him that she thought he couldn't be trusted to explain the plight of the people of Los Angeles to the magistrate.

     "Diego?" queried the lovely innkeeper querulously.  "Diego de la Vega!  You haven't heard a word I said!

      Her indignation finally caught his full interest.  Dios, she was beautiful when she was angry, he thought, and not for the first time, with her dark eyes blazing and her bosom heaving.  He chuckled to cover up the jolt of lust that shot through him

    "Of course I have," he said even though he really hadn't as he already had known what she would say. And although a part of him, a very willful and persuasive part wanted nothing more than to be alone with her, his mind knew it wouldn't be a good idea.  "But how would it look?" he asked, hoping to dissuade her.  "The two of us traveling alone together?  Think of the gossip."

     "Gossip?"  Victoria looked up at him a bemused expression.  "About you and me?  Don't be silly."  She shook her head as she dismissed the notion.   "I'm a widow and you're a widower.  There's nothing improper about us traveling together."

     Diego stared down at her, not believing that she had not heard the rumors flying about the pueblo concerning the two of them.  It was a perfect match, he had overheard one matron remark to another.  It would be so romantic for the beautiful young widow to marry the handsome widower and help his raise his poor motherless child.

    Fuel had only been added to the fire as Victoria had started to visit the hacienda quite often, ostentatiously to see Isabella and Don Alejandro.  His daughter had become enchanted by her ‘Tia Toria', the nickname she had bestowed on the innkeeper as ‘Victoria' had been too much of a mouthful for the two year old to say.

     Diego could see the bond between them growing every time Victoria visited.  She was more of a mother to Bella than Zafira had ever been, he had told himself on several occasions.

     Frowning, he observed as the two men slowed their horses as they approached the hacienda gate.  He called out a greeting.  One of the men acknowledged him before asking how far it was to Los Angeles.  Diego told them, pointing southward.  "You've come far?" he asked, taking in their dusty clothing.  "You look as if you had a hard journey."

     "Si," replied the same man who had spoken before.  "The Santa Paula bridge is out."

    Diego glanced meaningfully at Victoria's cart then at the woman herself.  The road wasn't the easiest to travel even under the best of conditions.  The detour was even worse.  "It looks like you won't be joining me after all."

      She stared up at him defiantly.  "I'm sure Don Alejandro would not refuse me the loan of one of his horses," she said with a challenging tone.

    "A strong-willed woman, Señor," the man commented with a sly grin.

      Diego could feel the anger coming off Victoria in waves before she turned and stomped off toward her cart.  He doesn't know the half of it, Diego thought as he smiled sheepishly and shrugged nonchalantly.

    "If she were mine," the man's voice grew hard and mean, "I'd put her in her place.  Adios."  He kicked his horse with his spurred boot heels then he and his companion rode away.

     Obviously not a gentleman who treated women with the respect they deserved, Diego thought broodingly.  There was something about the man that raised his hackles, and not just because of his boorish attitude.

    Diego looked over at Felipe, whom he noticed was trying unsuccessfully to hide a knowing grin.  Then he glanced over at Victoria who was carrying a small case toward the front door of the hacienda, apparently going to change from her blouse and dark blue skirt and into her riding habit.

    He sighed wearily, deciding he might as well take her with him.  He really had no choice now since those two brutes would no doubt be staying at the tavern.  And with their opinion toward women. . .  Well, she definitely would be much safer with him.

     "Felipe, take Victoria's wagon back to the tavern," he instructed.  "I'll saddle her a horse."

     The youth nodded and ran over to the horse and cart.  Diego watched Victoria as she entered the hacienda before turning then making his way toward the stables.
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     "These - ‘peasants'- as you call them, work hard all day, every day, to earn what little they make," Diego stated angrily.  "When the government takes it share in taxes, these people have nothing left to make improvements to their land, to their homes.  Most can hardly afford to feed their children, let alone send them to school."

     He stared crossly at the man who sat behind a table in the Santa Paula's alcalde's office.  This emissary of King Ferdinand, Don Jose Delpavo, was nothing more but an arrogant popinjay who, in Diego's opinion, wasn't happy to be in California and was taking it out on everyone he met.

     "Then they're not working hard enough," sneered Delpavo condescendingly.  "Everyone has to pay their taxes."

     "I understand that," Diego said in an irritated tone.  "A government needs funds to function.  To protect and serve its people," he pointed out ironically.  "But the last several alcaldes of Los Angeles have been lining their pockets with exorbitant levies raised above and beyond the call of duty."

     "Do you have proof of these illicit taxes, de la Vega?" the emissary asked patronizingly.  "This is quite a serious accusation to bandy about without any evidence."

     Diego stepped forward, removing a sheaf of papers from his jacket and placing it before Delpavo.  "This is a record of every unnecessary tax raised in the past five years.  Every bed tax, income tax, horse tax, traveler's tax. . .  They're all listed there."

     The magistrate picked up the documents and swiftly skimmed through them.  "Is this it?" he queried as he tossed the papers aside.

     "What more do you need?" Diego countered impatiently.  He swung his arm back to indicate Victoria.  "Señora Ortiz here can verify its accuracy."  She nodded eagerly.

     "I am supposed to instigate proceedings against your alcalde based on your word and hers?" Don Jose scoffed.  "The man is allowed to make up any deficits in the annual tax roll anyway he sees fit."

     He rose from his chair and took out his pocketwatch from his waistcoat.  "I would dearly love to stay and chat with you all day, Don Diego," he stated sarcastically as he stared at the watch's dial, "but I have another appointment."

     "Sit down," Diego said forcefully.  "I haven't finished with you yet."

      He could feel Victoria's surprise even though she sat behind him.  The emissary, taken aback by the violence in Diego's tone, plopped back down into his chair.  In truth, Diego had even stunned himself.

     "Have you ever ask yourself of the repercussions when all the tax paying citizens are driven out of the territory?" Diego inquired harshly.  "When their land lays barren and unproductive and you can no longer collect money from it?"   He could tell by the emissary's face that the man was clueless, that he had no idea of the dilemmas that the common people faced every day, like deciding whether to play their taxes or feed their children.

    Diego shook his head at the emissary's ignorance and his total disinterest in educating himself beyond the cut of his coat or the polish of his boots.  Honestly, he didn't know why the King even bothered to send such worthless representatives.  Toadying aristocrats who wanted nothing more than to bolster their own importance.  Men like de Soto who barely gave a thought to the people they crushed as they climbed their way to the top of the ladder.  And speaking of which. . .

     "At least protect the people from the excesses of the military," he requested a bit more politely.  "The commandante of Los Angeles is an out-of-control mad man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants."  Diego thought again of the wicked deed his old classmate had perpetrated that had resulted in Mercedes's death.

    "Alcalde de Soto wants to capture that outlaw. . .that Zorro," said Delpavo.  "He has my most sincere blessings and those of His Majesty in bringing this ‘fox' to justice anyway he can."

     Diego shook his head wearily then glanced over at Victoria.  She was staring at him as if she was seeing him for the first time.  But he also saw in her expression the same hopelessness he felt.  The government didn't care about its people.  It just wanted their money.  And to see Zorro, their only defender, swinging at the end of a rope.

     "Well, thank you for your valuable time," Diego said sarcastically through clenched teeth as he bowed to the emissary.  He turned back to Victoria.  "Let's go.  I want to make it back to Los Angeles tonight."

     She didn't say anything as she rose from her chair and took his proffered arm.  It wasn't until they had stepped outside before she stopped and stared up at him.

     "It's pretty late already," Victoria stated, making her point by looking up at the darkening afternoon sky.  "We won't make it home before dark.  Why can't we stay the night here?"

     "I promised Isabella," said Diego simply.

     "Very well."  Victoria let go of his arm and walked over to where their mounts were tied to a rail.  "It looks as though a storm is coming in.  We'd better hurry."

[parts of the following scene taken from "One Special Night" written by Gary Stephen Rieck]

     Victoria's prediction turned out to be correct.  A large bank of thick black clouds moved inland off the ocean, bringing with them thunder, lightening, wind, and rain.  Diego recognized the fact that they weren't going to make it back to Los Angeles before the storm hit, the detour around the washed out bridge having lengthened their journey.

     There was only one place close by that Diego knew they could take shelter for the evening.  He pointed ahead vaguely.  "There's an old abandoned windmill about a mile up that way," he told Victoria.  "I think we can make it there before the storm hits."

     "All right," she agreed readily.  They both urged their horses forward as large drops of rain began to splatter them.

     The old mill soon loomed in front of them.  Diego closed his eyes.  A mistake, as the image of Señora Sinestra appeared in his mind.  A picture of her as she had writhed half naked beneath him as he had almost broken his marriage vows with the beautiful murderess.

     He shot a quick look at the woman next to him as they slowed their mounts as they came up to the mill.  He swallowed nervously as he abruptly realized he was no longer bound by his promise of faithfulness to Zafira.  And he was going to be spending the night in deserted building with the woman he had been in love with for years.

     It was with great trepidation that Diego helped Victoria down from her mare and led her out of the increasingly violent thunderstorm and into the snug, dry windmill.

     Lead me not into temptation, he prayed silently as he looked upward.  The bright flash of lightening and the booming clap of thunder that immediately followed his plea seemed an ominous sign.
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[parts of the following scene taken from "One Special Night" written by Gary Stephen Rieck] 

     About an hour later, Diego had secured their horses, built a roaring fire, and had shared the food from his saddlebags.  Victoria sat on a bench in front of the fireplace, trying to keep warm.
     "I think it's getting worse out there," he commented casually as he tossed a couple of the sticks into the flames. He was uncomfortably conscious of the fact that he was alone with the woman he loved and that she was less than an arm's length away.

     He was confident, however, that any advances on his part would not be welcomed as she considered him nothing more than a friend.  He prayed that knowing that would be enough of a deterrent.

     Again, lightening struck so close he could hear it sizzle and the immediate boom of thunder shook the whole building. Diego cast a suspicious glance at the ceiling, wondering if it was just a coincidence that all his entreaties were being answered by thunder and lightening.  He then turned his eyes to Victoria and noticed that she was shivering even though she sat in front of the fire.

    Taking a deep breath, he stood up, placing his body in front of hers.  Her usual scent of peppers and spices mingled with those of rain and horseflesh had him fighting the urge to take her into his arms and melding his mouth to hers.  Instead, he lightly placed his hands on her arms and lifted her gently to her feet.  The contact made his heart start to beat erratically and the look of curiosity she gave him did nothing to calm him.

     "Excuse me," he murmured before guiding her to his right.  Diego then picked up the bench and set it on its end.  Darting over to the saddles, he quickly extracted one of the blankets he had brought.

     "Glad I brought these," he said as he spread it out onto the ground.

     "You mean we're spending the night here?"  Diego heard the tinge of alarm in her voice and saw that she hugged her arms closer to herself.  "I thought you needed to get back for Isabella?"

     "Well, the storm doesn't give us much choice," he replied as nonchalantly as he could.  Inside, his emotions were churning as wildly as the weather outside.  He turned and picked up another blanket, placing it about a meter to the left of the first one.  "I'll just have to explain it to her."

     He looked up as she smiled.  A huge mistake, as his body reacted exactly in the way he was trying to prevent.  "I didn't know one could reason with a two year old," she said merrily.

     Diego had to grin.  "One usually can't," he conceded.  He went over and picked up the bench before setting it down lengthwise on the bare space between the two blankets.  Although the way he was feeling at that moment, he doubted that a barrier a mile high would be enough to keep him away from her.  He gave the bench a firm pat.  Please be enough for tonight, he entreated. Outside, thunder reverberated overhead.

     "And what is this?" Victoria asked, her tone still amused

     He turned to face her after picking up a bag of milled grain in each hand then dropped the one in his right hand onto the edge of the nearest blanket.  "Your side," he announced before letting the bag in his left hand go.  It plopped onto the other blanket, raising a puff of whitish dust.  "My side."

     Victoria gazed up at him, her dark brown eyes full of mirth.  "How very proper."

     "I wouldn't have it any other way," he lied, clenching his fists as he fought the overpowering compulsion to take her into his arms.  If he didn't, he would be no better than those other men who had tried to take advantage of her widowhood.

     He was, however, unprepared for Victoria's response to his perjury.  "And neither would I," she stated indignantly.  But Diego thought underneath her outrage, he heard a touch of pique.

     Mentally shrugging,  Diego eased himself down onto his blanket then rolled over so that his back was to her.  A minute passed, then another, then three more.  He sensed that she hadn't moved and wondered what was wrong.  He glanced over his shoulder and saw that she was staring down at him, an incredulous expression on her beautiful face.

     What did she expect, that he was going to leap on her, forcing his attentions on her when he wasn't sure if they would be welcomed?  He lifted the corners of his lips in what he hoped was a reassuring manner then said good night.
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