The hostile mood between Diego and Victoria dissipated to a slightly less antagonistic atmosphere in the weeks following the visit to the cemetery. Diego stopped spending unnecessary time at the winery and vineyards, although as the grape harvest neared, it became imperative that he be there more often.
But there were still clashes that would flare up without warning. Diego hadn't realized that the tension between himself and Victoria had been having an effect on their remaining children. After a heated exchange of words one day at lunch which had caused Victoria to storm away from the table, Alfonso had apprehensively approached him.
"Do you and Mama hate each other?" he had asked innocently. "Is that why you fight all the time?"
Diego had been taken aback by his son's question. "No, Alfonso," he answered hesitantly. "Your mother and I. . . We don't hate each other." He crouched down so he could look the youngster in the eye. "I love your mother very much. I've loved her most of my life."
"But why do you yell at each other so much?" inquired the lad.
"It's hard to explain," began Diego as his mind searched for an analogy his six-year old son would understand. "It's like when. . . It's like when you get upset with your brothers if they break one of your toys. You get mad at them but deep down, you still love them."
Alfonso screwed up his face as he mulled over his father's words. "Oh," he finally said, "like when ‘Jandro and ‘Cisco were playing with my telescope without permission and broke it. I still love them because they're my brothers, even though they were being brats."
"Exactly," said Diego with a chuckle. He patted the boy's shoulder. "Don't worry, Alfonso. Everything will be fine."
Satisfied with his father's reassurances, the muchacho skipped off to his bedroom. Diego sat down in the nearest chair and hung his head in his hands.
The bickering had to stop, he thought, and not for the first time. But he knew what was causing the strain between him and his wife. Sex. Or actually, the lack thereof. And he knew that there wasn't anything he could do about it. The risk was too great.
Diego was careful he went to bed only after Victoria had fallen asleep and made sure he was up before she awoke. He kissed her mostly on the cheek and only would lightly brush her lips with his if he had to. He couldn't remember the last time he had held her in his arms. And knowing her frustration must nearly be as bad as his was no comfort.
But he couldn't tell her that they couldn't have anymore children. And that no more children meant no more lovemaking until she wasn't able to have them anymore. Victoria was thirty-three. It could be twenty years yet until she could no longer bear children. She would never agree to it. She would dismiss Doctor Hernandez's warning as nonsense. She would place her life in peril for another child. That was just the way she was.
Diego sighed. He realized that there
other things they could do, other things that would be almost as satisfying.
But it was a slippery slope, he told himself. One he didn't want
to find himself on because it could only lead to disaster.
Z Z Z
EARLY AUGUST 1832
A few weeks later, Diego came home late from another long day in the vineyard. The hacienda was quiet, as it was nearly midnight and everyone was asleep.
Or so Diego had thought until he walked into the bedroom he shared with Victoria and found their bed empty. The sheets were rumpled, indicating that his wife had been there earlier in the evening. But where was she now, he wondered.
He went first to their sons's rooms, worried that one of the boys might be sick. His fears were allayed as he checked first the twins's room, then Alfonso's. All his of three sons were sleeping peacefully in their beds. Diego had kissed their foreheads before continuing on his search for his missing wife.
Not finding her anywhere in the hacienda, Diego, in his panic, was about to go wake his father when he noticed the door leading out to the courtyard was ajar.
"Victoria?" he asked in voice barely above a whisper as he walked outside. His shoulders sagged with relief as he spied her leaning against a pillar, fanning herself.
"There you are," he said, taking a couple steps onto the patio. "What are you doing out here?"
"Oh, it was so hot I couldn't sleep. I came out here to get some fresh air," Victoria replied lightly. She glanced at him and sighed. "It's so beautiful out here in the moonlight."
"As are you," said Diego sincerely. And it was true. She was like a goddess bathed in the glow of the full moon as its light turned her lovely face and bare shoulders to alabaster.
Diego was struck then by an image of Victoria leaning against the exact same pillar she was leaning upon, fanning herself as she was also doing. Only that night, he had snuck up behind her, dressed as Zorro and they had shared their first kiss. And who knows what else they might have shared if it hadn't been for his father's interruption that night.
"I knew that night we would be together forever," said Victoria, seemingly reading his mind.
"I did too," Diego replied huskily. "How did you know. . .?"
"The way you kissed me," she stated before he could finish his question. "It was so full of passion and tenderness. I knew that you loved me."
That had not been what he had been about to ask, but it was a good answer all the same. "I had almost lost you then too," Diego said as he walked up behind her and put his arms around her waist. "Remember?"
"Yes, I remember." Victoria relaxed against him before turning around so she could look at his face. "You tried to give up being Zorro then, didn't you? Just because I had been shot."
Diego closed his eyes. His brain was having a hard time concentrating as she pressed her soft body up against him.
"I did try," he said, his mind finally re-focusing. "But you made me see that Zorro was still needed."
Victoria reached up to stroke his face. "I still need you, Diego. I always will." She brought up her mouth and kissed him hungrily. Winding her arms around his neck, she pull him even closer.
Dios, it had been so long since he had held her and kissed her like this. Their tongues intertwined as the passion between them grew. Diego didn't even notice that Victoria had unbuttoned his shirt until she was tugging it from the waistband of his trousers. He gently grasped her wrists and took a step back.
"Victoria, we can't," he rasped, breathing heavily.
"Everyone's asleep," she replied with a naughty smile before pulling down the ruffle of her nightgown, baring her breasts.
That wasn't what he had meant, but Madre de Dios, a man could only take so much. Especially when his wife moved her hands up his bare chest, pausing to rub his sensitive nipples before leaning in and flicking one with her tongue. Moaning, Diego gathered Victoria into his arms and kissed her with a fire that was burning out of control.
They both sank down to the ground when their legs could no longer hold them. Somehow, Diego ended up on his back with Victoria straddled atop him. Their lips came apart then and they gazed into each other's eyes for a moment.
"We should. . ." ‘Go inside' was what he had wanted to say but Victoria kissed him again before he could finish. Giving in to his desire, he ran his hands up from her waist to her full breasts before caressing his thumbs across her nipples, eliciting whimpers of pleasure from his wife.
Victoria broke off the kiss and wiggled her way down his body until her hands were even with the front of his trousers. The look she gave him while biting her lip made Diego nearly lose control. She torturingly undid the fastenings that held his pants together. Smiling wickedly again, she grasped his hard manhood in her small hand.
"Victoria, please," he whispered gruffly. But again, she misunderstood him. Instead of stopping, she ran her tongue along the length of his erection.
Oh. God. Diego's eyes rolled back into his head as she took him into her mouth. His Victoria had never been shy, not even on their wedding night. And she had grown much bolder during their seven years of marriage. Much, much bolder.
Every thought of resistance was driven from his mind as she moved again and he could feel the hot moistness between her legs against his throbbing member. Diego moaned loudly as Victoria sank down and sheathed him deep inside her. They found their rhythm easily, as if nearly a year of abstinence had never occurred.
When Victoria started climaxing for the second time, Diego could no longer hold back. The thought of pulling out flashed briefly through his mind but it was too late. He thrust powerfully inside her and filled her with his seed. Victoria collapsed on top of him, breathing as hard as he was and they were both slick with sweat.
"I love you so much, Diego," she murmured into his ear before gently nipping it with her teeth.
It was several moments before Diego could speak. "Querida, I love you too," he said. He buried his face into her hair and embraced her tightly.
Then horror tore through him as he realized what he had just done. He tried to withdraw his still pulsating member from her, but Victoria kept him pinned under her. She raised up a little to gaze worriedly at his unusually pale countenance.
"Diego, what's wrong?" she asked, her voice full of concern. "You look like you've just seen a ghost."
He had. Hers. But how could he tell her that? Let her not be pregnant, let her not be pregnant, he kept repeating over and over in his head.
"Oh, it's nothing," he tried to say casually but failed miserably. "It's just that. . ." He searched his mind frantically for a good excuse. A nagging pain in his upper back suddenly gave him one. "It's just that these cobblestones are not the most comfortable things to be lying upon."
"Oh. Sorry." Victoria rolled off of him then grinned sheepishly as she glanced down at their rumpled clothing, which they hadn't bothered to remove completely before engaging in their wild lovemaking. "I guess we got a little carried away."
"Si," Diego agreed, closing his eyes. Madre de Dios, what an understatement. He sat up and took several deep breaths, trying to calm down his violently beating heart before he attempted to re-fasten his trousers. Which proved difficult to do as other parts of him hadn't quieted down yet either.
Victoria noticed his struggles and reached out her hand to help him. He knew it was no accident that her fingers grazed his manhood as she finished doing up his pants. She then put her arms around him and kissed him.
"I've missed you, Diego," she said once they had moved apart again. "I've missed this."
"I know. I'm sorry, querida," he said contritely. "But. . ." He broke off his own words. He couldn't tell her. Ever. But he couldn't let what just happened happen ever again. Diego got to his feet and then assisted Victoria to hers as well. She had pulled the ruffled neckline of her nightgown back up to cover her breasts but Diego could still see their hardened nipples jutting against the thin muslin fabric.
Victoria, aware of where he was gazing, got up on her tiptoes. "Let's go to our bedroom," she suggested temptingly into his ear. "This time, I'll let you be on top."
"Victoria," he started to say, intending to rebuff her. But he was interrupted by a voice in his head asking ‘why not?.' If the damage was already done, one more time wasn't going to make a difference one way or another, the insistent voice pointed out logically.
Then Diego glanced at his wife and the voice
in his head won out. She was so beautiful standing there with a mixture
of seduction and hurt in her lovely brown eyes. He swept her off
her feet and carried her inside the hacienda.
Z Z Z
The next weeks flew by swiftly. The harvest of the first fruits of Diego's vineyard commenced much earlier than he had calculated. The unusually wet winter and spring followed by a hot summer had caused the grapes to be ready to be picked at the end of August. After the vines had been stripped clean, then began the complicated process of turning those grapes into, hopefully, a palatable wine.
Despite the long hours he spent away from the hacienda, Diego kept a close watch on Victoria. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on one's point of view), there had not been a repeat of the evening in the courtyard when Diego's resolve had snapped.
As far as he could tell, Victoria was showing no signs of pregnancy. He hadn't noticed any significant differences in her moods. She didn't seem inordinately tired or pale. Her appetite was healthy. Stopping short of checking her linens for evidence of her monthly cycle, Diego was practically certain that their lovemaking had not resulted in another child.
With that burden lifted from his shoulders, Diego immersed himself into his wine making. It was a delicate process, one that required constant monitoring. By the end of September, the fermentation was complete and the wine was stored in oak barrels to begin aging.
It had been Victoria's idea to hold a party to celebrate the success of the grape harvest. Diego would have preferred to have waited until he knew if the wine it produced would be a success as well. But the look in his wife's eyes told him he didn't dare reject her offer.
"Here's to La Victoria wines," said Don Alejandro, lifting his glass. "May they become the toast of Mexico."
All the guests gathered at the tavern raised their glasses then took a sip from them.. It was unfortunate, Diego thought, that it wasn't his wine they were drinking, but one imported from Spain. Next year, he promised himself, they would be drinking his Chardonnay.
He looked across the room and into the eyes of his wife. Victoria wore an odd smile on her face as she lifted her glass to him but didn't drink from it. Then the woman standing next to her said something and Victoria turned her attention to their guest.
Later on in the evening, most of the guests had left, leaving only a few close friends and family members. Felipe walked up the staircase a few steps before tapping a fork against his wine glass. Ana Maria came up to stand next to him and he put his arm around her.
"We have an announcement to make," said Felipe with a wide grin on his handsome face. "Ana and I are going to have another baby."
The women present all rushed over to hug Ana Maria. The men stayed back, waiting until the ladies were done gushing over booties and such before going over and slapping Felipe on the back.
"She's due in April," Felipe said in response to Don Alejandro's question.
"Another spring baby," commented the old don.
Diego had to turn away from Felipe and his father. His daughter was supposed to have been born in April. She was supposed to have been a spring baby. The loss of little Mercedes suddenly tore him up inside. It had been seven months since her tragic death. The worst of the pain should have been over with, he thought. Then it dawned on him that he had never really mourned his daughter. He had been so worried about Victoria, that he had just pushed it aside to deal with later. And it appeared ‘later' was now.
He was startled to see that Victoria had been standing behind him, that Mona Lisa smile once again on her face. Without a word, she took his hand and led him into the kitchen. Dishes were stacked haphazardly on the table in the middle of the room and Victoria began to tidy them up into neat piles.
"Victoria?" Diego spoke up after watching her for a few moments.
"Sorry," she said, then set down a bowl she was holding. "Old habits die hard, I guess." Wiping her hands on a towel, she turned to look up at him.
"I didn't want to say anything in front of the others," she began enigmatically, "and I thought you should be the first to know."
"Know what?" asked Diego lightly. In his head though, all sorts of dark and ominous possibilities occurred to him. Her answer, however, was something he had dismissed entirely.
Z Z Z
"THE DEATH OF INNOCENCE" - CHAPTER THIRTEEN