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

     Sleep eluded him, as he knew it would.  It didn't help that Victoria had perched herself on the end of the bench nearest the fire, peeking over her shoulder at him every few minutes.  He wasn't prepared when she suddenly whipped her head around, catching him with his eyes open.  He saw the smug smile on her lips as she turned back to face the fire.

     "You were very impressive today," she finally said.

     "Was I?" he asked after making a big show of waking up even though she had caught him staring at her.

     Their eyes met as she swung around to face him.  "It was like that time a few months ago," she said, "when you threw that man against the wall when he said those things about me at the tavern."

     Swallowing nervously, Diego averted his gaze downward.  "I was defending your honor," he explained self-effacingly.  "I. . .I couldn't. . ."

     "Then there was that time when you first came back from Spain," she interrupted.  "When you defended me against that awful corporal.  Then you challenged the Alcalde when he was threatening those poor farmers."  She paused and Diego noticed a faraway look in her eyes.  "You seemed ready to take on the whole world then," she added quietly.

     Victoria focused her attention back on him.  Diego tried to school his face into what he hoped was an apathetic expression.  Her observations had unsettled him greatly.  Was she finally figuring it out his masquerade, he wondered worriedly.

     "What happened to that man?"

     "Nothing," he lied.  He chuckled with false joviality.  "I'm against injustice just as much as the next fellow," he stated, "I just don't believe that violence is the answer."

     "But. . ."  Now she looked confused.  She stood up, and for a terrifying moment, Diego thought she would come over to his side of the bench.  "It's like what you say about the newspaper," she began, a small smile on her lips, "that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword.'"

     "Exactly."  Diego sighed with relief when she nodded then made her way over to ‘her' side.  He watched as she curled up on her blanket, her dark eyes reflecting the light of the fire.  The storm had quieted to a steady pattering of rain on the old mill's roof.  But the tempest inside of Diego still raged on, his desire for her warring with his code of honor.

     Clenching his fists, he rolled over, turning his back to her.  He began running complicated mathematical equations through his mind, hoping to douse the lust that was running through his veins.

      After nearly half an hour of mental arithmetic; which had done little to cool his ardor; and the sounds of even breathing coming from the other side of the bench, Diego surmised that Victoria had fallen asleep.  He wasn't about to turn over and check, however.  So he nearly jumped out of his skin when she spoke.

     "The fire reminds me when my mother used to read to me poems and adventure stories," Victoria commented wistfully, "of love and courage."

     Diego gulped uneasily.  He definitely did not want to hear stories of love, especially from the lips of the woman lying only a few feet away.

     "‘Love has no rhyme and no reason,'" she quoted from a poem that his own mother had read to him when she had been alive.  "‘It strikes with a passionate fire, engulfing the hearts in flame. . .'"

     Her voice trailed off with a tinge of sadness.  Diego wasn't sure what came over him then, madness no doubt, but he couldn't stop himself from finishing the rest of the sonnet.  "‘And only your cool, sweet lips will quench my burning desire.'"

     He squirmed apprehensively as he could feel her eyes burning into his back.  "Diego," she whispered huskily, causing his already tense body to stiffen even more.  "I. . ."

     A gust of howling wind interrupted whatever she had been about to say.  The door blew open as the old building shook, filling the room with an icy blast of air.  Diego jumped to his feet and hurried over to the flapping door.  He let the freezing wind sweep over his heated skin for a moment before firmly shutting and latching the door.

     He turned and saw Victoria kneeling on her blanket, her arms wrapped around herself and shivering violently.  "Oh, you're chilled," he said, stating the obvious.  "Here."  He walked toward her, taking off his jacket.  Getting down on to his knees, he draped his coat over her quaking shoulders.

     Diego automatically rubbed his hands up and down her slender arms in an effort to warm her.  A mistake as his senses immediately went on the alert as he realized just how close his body was to hers.  And just how close his mouth was to hers.

     He stilled his hands and drew in a ragged breath.  She gazed up at him with her dark brown eyes, glittering with something he dared not name, and he tumbled helplessly into their depths.  He lifted his hands and cupped her cheeks then lightly stroked his thumbs over her trembling lips.

     "Diego," she murmured almost imperceptibly as their lips drew closer together.

     He breathed her name just as their mouths met.  Another spate of thunder and lightening was passing overhead but even its renewed ferocity couldn't match the raging storm swirling inside Diego.  He realized that she wasn't resisting, that she parted her lips, allowing his tongue to slip between them.  Her hands were entwined behind his head, tangling her fingers in his hair.

     Diego encircled his arms around her waist and pressed her suppled body against his.  In the back of his mind, he was hoping she wasn't comparing this kiss to the one that Zorro had given her.  It had been four  years since their encounter in the courtyard, and he prayed she had forgotten it even though it was something he would remember to his dying day.

     Shoving those thoughts aside, he slid his hands upward to cup her breasts which he was delighted to discover filled his hands perfectly.  Tearing his mouth from hers, he began trailing kisses down her throat.  His jacket slipped off her shoulders, falling silently to the floor.

     Soon her own jacket joined his as he tugged down the neck of her blouse and the straps of the chemise she wore underneath it.  Diego gazed for a moment at the bared rosy pink nipples, erect as the throbbing member between his legs.  He dipped his head and took the left one in his mouth.  He felt Victoria tremble as she clung to him, her soft belly rubbing agonizingly against the hard ridge of his manhood as he licked and tasted first one breast then the other.

     He began to lower her down onto her blanket when suddenly the room was illuminated by a bolt of lightening followed a split second later by booming thunder.  Diego instinctively drew Victoria protectively against him as the old building rattled.  It wasn't until it grew quiet again that he noticed his shirt had been unbuttoned and her bare skin was pressed to his.

     Madre de Dios!  Diego recoiled in horror as he realized he had been just moments away from ravishing Victoria.  If the storm hadn't brought him back to his senses. . .

     He shifted away from her, and immediately missed the intimate contact.  Victoria seemed dazed, staring at him with unseeing eyes and making no attempt to cover herself.

     Diego reached out, intending to remedy the situation as his barely leashed control threatened to free itself at the sight of her still bared flesh.  Something inside Victoria must have awaken as her eyes widened.  "Oh," she whispered as she turned away from him and put her clothing back to rights.

     "I'm sorry," he murmured huskily, staring into her deeply troubled eyes when she faced him once again.  "I. . .I don't know what came over me.  I know that's no. . ."

     "Diego, don't. . ." she cut in unsteadily.  "I. . .I. . ."

      She rose to her feet and Diego followed suit.  Her eyes darted downward and he realized that his chest was stilled exposed.  "I think we need to talk," he declared wryly as he hastily re-fastened his buttons.

     Victoria nodded but said nothing.  Diego understood that she wanted him to speak first.  Sighing, he glanced up at the ceiling.  Not finding any guidance there, he lowered his head and made the mistake of looking into her bewitching brown eyes.

      "I love you," he blurted out before he could stop himself.  Maldita se, he groaned inwardly.  Even though he was now free of the matrimonial bonds that had prohibited him from doing so before, he hadn't meant to declare his true feelings for her so bluntly.

     Her response to his announcement, however, was not what he expected.  Surprise, yes; indifference, maybe; anger, a distinct possibility.  Just about anything but the wary shyness that he saw in her eyes.  She averted her face as a blush touched her cheeks.

     "I'm sorry," he reiterated.  "I didn't mean to. . ."

    "No," she interrupted.  "No, you did."  She stared up at him curiously.

     Diego swallowed nervously under her scrutiny.  "Si," he admitted.  "I've loved you for quite some time."

     She bit her lower lip; something she did, Diego had noted, when she was worried or anxious.  "Even before Doña Zafira was killed?" she inquired hesitantly.  "While you were still married?"

     He wanted to lie to her, to let her think that he had fallen in love with her only after he had become a widower.  But he knew he couldn't.  She deserved the truth.

     "Yes," he answered simply, gazing at her longingly.  "Since the day I returned home from Spain."

     Victoria plopped down on the bench in front of the fire.  "I had no idea," she whispered, more to herself than to him, he surmised.  He watched as she mulled over his revelations.

     "When I married Juan," she began, "it was because I wanted a family.  I didn't love him, not the way a wife should love her husband.  I. . .I thought I could grow to love him over time.  But now I see how foolish I truly was."

     "No, not foolish," he interjected.  "I did the same thing.  I thought I loved Zafira."  He sighed.  "But I know now that I was just lonely and thought she could fill the emptiness inside me."  He got down on his knees in front of Victoria, so that their eyes were level with each other's.

     "My marriage was a sham from the start," he confessed, resisting the urge to put his arms around her.  "Zafira married me so that Correna and his band of rebels could assassinate King Ferdinand."

     Victoria gasped at his admission.  Diego outlined the whole plot for her, leaving nothing out except for the one fact that he would never willingly reveal.  Even so, he watched as the dreaded question entered her mind.

     "Isabella. . .?" she asked tentatively.

     "She's mine," he lied brazenly before adding truthfully, "She's the only good that has come out of this whole sordid mess."

     Victoria nodded her agreement.  It dawned on Diego then that she hadn't really responded to his earlier declaration of love.  He got to his feet then stared down at her.

     "Your heart still belongs to someone else," he stated, a bit surprised by the note of jealousy, irrational though it was, in his voice.

     "It did," she replied.  It took Diego a moment to comprehend that she had used the past tense.

     "Do you hate him now?" he had to ask.  Neither of them had to say his name, they both knew who they meant.

    "No," she said with a little shake of her head.  "I realized that he was just a romantic fantasy.  That he would never be able to give me what I truly want, a home and a family."  She turned to stare at the fire's flickering flames.  "I could never hate him though.  He's done so much for the people of Los Angeles."

     "But he was instrumental in your husband's death," Diego pointed out, playing devil's advocate.  "You could have had that home and family if he hadn't interfered with the Alcalde's cannon."

     "He had to disable that cannon," she said as she looked in his direction again..  "If he hadn't, more people would have died."   Her gaze then returned to the fire.  "Juan picked the wrong side," she added.

     Diego thought he detected a trace of bitterness in her words and wondered if it was true that she harbored no resentment against Zorro.  "What if. . ." he heard himself say, not utterly sure what he was going to ask, then being slightly appalled by the words that did spill out of his mouth,  "what if he could give you everything you want?"

      Victoria turned to look up at him, the confusion plain in her eyes.  "What?" she responded sharply.  "What are you saying?  He told me himself that he could never. . ."

     "But what if he changed his mind," Diego insisted.  He had to know.  He had to know if there was a chance that she still loved her mask hero.  It was absurd, he knew, since he and Zorro were one and the same.  "What if he could give you those children and that home you've always dreamed of?" he asked earnestly.   "What would you do?"

     "I. . .I. . .I don't know," she stammered.  She lowered her gaze.  A couple of minutes later, which to Diego felt like hours, she lifted up her head again.  He could see in her eyes the turmoil his questions had raised.

     "I don't think he will ever be free from his fight for justice," she replied at last.  "I would be foolish to even hope that one day he would marry me."  She tipped her head to the side and stared unnervingly at him.  "Why?" she asked.  "Why do you want to know?  Why is it so important to you?"

     Diego got down on one knee and took Victoria's hands in his.  "Because," he replied, "because, Victoria, I want to marry you.  Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?."

     Victoria's mouth dropped open.  Then she closed it as she regained her composure.  "Are you serious?" she queried in a stunned whisper.

     "I've never been more serious in my life," Diego responded.  He gave her chilled hands a reassuring squeeze.  "I love you.  I want you to be my wife.  I want you to be Bella's mother and the mother of the rest of my children."

     "But," she began, once again gnawing on her bottom lip.  "But. . .But you're still in mourning."

     Diego jerked his head.  Dios, he had forgotten that Zafira had been dead only nine months.  That he had to pretend to grieve for her for another three months.  "We don't have to marry right away," he said after thinking it over for a few moments.   "We can wait."


     "It will only be a few months," he stated, "then we. . ."  His words trailed off as he realized what she had said.  "Yes?" he asked, unable to keep the delighted surprise from his voice.

     She nodded then smiled.  "Yes, Diego," she reiterated.  "I love you too.  I want to marry you and be your wife.  I want to be Bella's mother and. . ."  Her cheeks grew pink.  "And I want to have your children."

     Diego put his arms around her and drew her up against his chest.  He saw the love shining in her dark eyes and sighed happily.  He lowered his head and their lips met again.

     As he kissed the woman he had loved for so long, he hoped he would be strong enough to deny the burning desire he felt for her.  That he could resist the urge to make her his own and that he would be able to wait until they were married.

     He was.  And he did.
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