Don Alejandro joined the celebration in progress at the tavern a short while later. Diego was glad to see the years melt away from his father's face. He had not been so wrapped up in his own despair that he had not noticed how frail the elder de la Vega had seemed the past week. It made him very aware of the older man's mortality.
And his own as well. Diego felt an urgent need to provide his father with those longed-for grandchildren. Somehow, and soon, he vowed; he needed to convince the woman he desired to be the mother of those children to become his wife.
Mendoza informed them that Don Miguel had offered to marry Marta if it turned out that she was carrying his son's child. He needed an heir now that Alonzo was dead. The young woman had wanted to think it over, but deep down she knew she would accept the offer if she was pregnant. It was what she wanted after all, a rich husband who would take care of her. The fact he was nearly thirty years older than she was a bit unnerving but she could learn to tolerate it.
Diego shot a look at Felipe, who turned away guiltily. He realized his adopted father had somehow discovered what he and Ana Maria had done the previous night. Diego drew him aside and made his son look him in the eye.
"We'll see what develops," was all the older man said. Felipe nodded, vowing, even though it had been beyond their wildest dreams, the intimacy he and Ana Maria shared the evening before would not be repeated until they were wed. Which might be sooner than planned if she was expecting his baby. A smile lit up her beautiful face as Ana Maria noticed his gaze upon her. Felipe could not stop himself from grinning broadly as he made his way toward her.
Diego turned around to find Victoria staring at him oddly. When she noticed his regard, she motioned for him to follow her into the kitchen.
She said his name at the same time he said hers. They both laughed nervously, then he gallantly offered, "Ladies first."
Victoria bit her lip, not sure where to begin. "I guess we no longer need to pretend to be engaged," she stated after a long pause.
"I guess not." He tried to keep the regret from his tone.
"Did anyone ever say anything to you about it?"
"No," he replied. "You?" She shook her head.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Victoria felt an overwhelming sadness that their mock betrothal was at an end. How could she explain to him that she had feelings for him but loved Zorro as well? Then she remembered he also loved another. Someone who did not return his affection, but who had spurned him for another man. Her admission would only hurt him even more.
"Gracias," she finally said. "You have been a true friend."
Diego had the suspicion that was not what she had really wanted to say. And the ‘friend' stung him deeply. He ached to be so much more to her. To be her husband, her lover, the father of her children and yes, her friend too. He sighed.
"De nada," he replied. Their relationship had changed this past week. Despite what she had said, he sensed Victoria was starting to see him in a different light, perhaps even as a suitor. There were still barriers between them though, ones he didn't think would be swept away any time soon.
If only he knew how wrong he was. . .
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