Author's note: An alternate universe based on the New World episode "The Reward" (Episode 4.06) written by Robert L McCullough & Phillip John Taylor.

In one single moment, Victoria's life is changed forever.

WARNING!  This story contains mature subject matter - sex, violence, and strong language

Disclaimer: This story is an amateur, not-for-profit publication produced solely for the enjoyment of other Zorro fans and is not intended to infringe upon any rights by Goodman/Rosen Productions, New World Television, Zorro Productions, the estate of Johnston McCulley or anyone else.



     Victoria smiled with satisfaction as she flitted her eyes around the dining area of her tavern.  The place was nearly filled to the rafters with customers who were eating, drinking, gossiping.  She liked to believe that her parents; God rest their souls; would have been proud of what she had accomplished since the inn was placed into her care.

    She acknowledged that she could have so easily lost everything.  She had been but a young girl, barely fourteen years old, who had been not only devastated with grief over her mother's horrific death, but also by the sense of abandonment she had felt when her father and brothers had run off to join the rebels in some misguided attempt to avenge the murder of their wife and mother.

     Sighing as she pushed the sad memories from her mind, Victoria resumed her surveillance.  The corners of her mouth quirked upward as she watched as Sergeant Mendoza entered the tavern, followed by several of his fellow lancers.  The soldiers quickly commandeered the only empty table, one not far from where Don Alejandro sat with his son, Diego.

     Her eyes lingered on the tall handsome caballero as the thought she usually kept firmly pushed to a far corner of her mind popped to the forefront.  The disturbing notion that if it hadn't been for the appearance of Zorro into her life, if she hadn't fallen head over heels for the mysterious masked man, that. . .that something might have happened between her and Diego.

     But, she told herself firmly, there was no point in dwelling on disquieting thoughts of what might have been, especially since nothing would ever come of it.  Zorro had come into her life.  He had proposed to her, offering her marriage and the children she so desperately wanted.  She wore the ring he had given her; his mother's ring no less; tied to a ribbon which was securely pinned to her chemise next to her heart.

[parts of the following were taken from the "The Reward" written by Robert L McCullough & Phillip John Taylor]

    "Si, si."  Mendoza's loud voice broke into her reveries of that day two months earlier when she and the man in black had pledged their troth.  Victoria smiled again as she realized that the lancers who surrounded the portly sergeant were the newly-arrived recruits.  Mendoza had to be delighted to have such impressionable fresh young minds to regale his ever-increasingly tall tales of his supposed heroic deeds.

     "It was when I first joined the Royal Militia in Mexico City," the stout soldier continued on brashly before taking a long sip from his mug of ale.  "General Campos," he said after wiping his mouth with the back of his left hand, "was looking for the best. . .the bravest. . ."  He lowered his voice an octave as he quoted the general, "‘Only a few good hombres.'"

     Victoria chuckled and shook her head as she wended her way toward the table where the de la Vega men sat.  It was all she could do not to laugh aloud when she saw the pair painfully repressing their own merriment at Mendoza's boastful words.  Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a man, a stranger, sitting alone on the other side of the room.

     He looked like the hundreds of other men who had passed through her tavern doors over the years; dark haired, tanned skin, travel-worn clothing.  Then his eyes met hers, mean and cold, and she shuddered.  Victoria pivoted abruptly, breaking the connection, and faced the de la Vegas's table.

     "You see," Sergeant Mendoza continued on with his bragging, "we were supposed to accompany him on a dangerous march across the Yucatan Peninsula."

     Don Alejandro glanced up at Victoria as she refilled their glasses of lemonade.  "Think he knows where the Yucatan Peninsula is?" he asked flippantly, a twinkle in his eye.

     Unable to stop the giggle that burst forth, she quickly composed herself.  "Now, now," she scolded the old don jokily, "let Mendoza have his little moment of glory."

     The elder de la Vega threw up his hands in mock surrender, shaking his head.  Victoria turned to leave, then looked back at them with a smile.  "Although his imagination does tend to run a little wild, huh?"

     Seeing the amused expressions on Don Alejandro and Diego's faces, she walked away.  Once behind the bar, she set three glasses on a tray before selecting a bottle of wine from the racks on the wall behind her.  With half an ear, she listened to the stout sergeant's story of bravado.

     "Then there were only eight lancers left. . ." Mendoza paused dramatically.  "No food.  Just berries. . .roots. . ."  He stopped again for effect.  Victoria could see the rapt faces of the young soldiers eagerly hanging on the older man's every word.  She shrugged.  They would learn soon enough that the sergeant, even though he meant well and had a big kind heart, was also nothing but a braggart.

     "Weapons were useless.  Snakes and lizards crawling into our boots."  The portly soldier's voice rose excitedly.  "Savages attacking from everywhere!"  He broke off, taking a deep breath, before opening his mouth to continue.

     "You say you were on the Yucatan campaign with General Campos?"

     The strident words interrupted whatever lie that had been about to tumble next from Mendoza's lips.  Victoria turned to see who had spoken and shivered involuntarily when she noted that it was the stranger who had  made her uneasy only a few moments earlier.

     "Si," the stout sergeant replied, his bold blustering replaced by more than a little nervousness.  "The general and I. . ."

     "Then you are a liar!" the other man shouted angrily, punctuating his words by jabbing a dagger into his table.  Victoria winced at the damage the weapon had no doubt caused to the smooth wood.  Out of the corner of her eye she noticed that Diego had risen to his feet, an intense expression on his face.

     What is he thinking? she wondered.  He was no match for the belligerent guest, who was also on his feet now and strolling menacingly toward Mendoza and the other lancers.

     "Campos was no where near the Yucatan," he asserted heatedly.

    "Yes, but. . ." the now agitated sergeant began as he shifted uneasily under the other man's penetrating glare.

     The stranger cut him off once again, pointing an accusing finger at Mendoza.  "And neither were you," he declared.  "I was there.  Everyday.  Risking my neck.  You?"  The man chuckled scornfully.  "You know nothing about the life of a real soldier."  He emphasized his words by looking the portly sergeant up and down with a sneer on his scruffy face.

     Victoria had heard and seen enough.  True, Mendoza liked to boast but so did most of the men who came to her tavern.  This stranger. . .this outsider. . .had no right to insult one of her friends.  She stepped in between the two men.

     "Excuse me," she said fearlessly as she faced the newcomer.  Her valor almost deserted her when the stranger turned his icy eyes to stare at her.  But she took a deep breath and looked straight at him before adding, "but Sergeant Mendoza happens to do a fine job of staffing our garrison."

     She had to suppress a grin as she glanced over at the soldier in question and watched as his already large chest swelled even more at her praise.

     "Ah," the shabby stranger said in a leering voice, "the little innkeeper has fire.  I like that in a woman."

     This time Victoria's courage did flee at the lecherous look on the man's face.  She should throw him out of her tavern, even though he had already paid for a room for the night.  It would be one refund that she would gladly pay out.

    But before she could open her mouth, de Soto strode into the building, shouting at the top of his lungs.  "Mendoza!"

     The alcalde unwittingly came to a halt right behind the stranger, who tossed a defensive glance over his shoulder.  Mendoza snapped to attention.

     "Sergeant, what do you think you're doing?" de Soto demanded irritatedly.  "Do you think you're on a holiday?  We have work to do."  The commandante gestured violently toward the open tavern doors.  "Back to the cuartel immediately!"

     Mendoza and the other soldiers scrambled to their feet and rushed indecorously out of the building.  It was only then that the alcalde noticed the stranger.  Victoria watched as the two men stared at each other, de Soto with curiosity and her now unwelcome guest a defensive expression on his face.  Then the stranger turned away sharply and focused his attention onto her.  The intensity of lust she saw in his eyes frightened her so much she started shaking again.

    That was when she realized that someone stood behind her and Victoria knew instinctively that it was Diego.  She glanced back at him anyway and was surprised to see the barely suppressed rage of his countenance.  A muscle twitched in his jaw as his stormy green eyes never left the stranger.  Victoria tore her gaze from his face and observed as the man strolled back to his seat.  He pulled his dagger out of the table and ran his thumb almost lovingly up its blade.

     Victoria twirled around to confront Diego.  She wanted to ask him just what he thought he could do against the hostile ex-soldier.  She wanted to thank him for standing behind her, literally.  But as she opened her mouth to speak she immediately snapped it closed again as she caught a new expression on his face that so fleeting she almost missed it.

     Diego nodded curtly to her then rejoined his father who was staring oddly at his son.  Victoria gawked at his back as he sat down on the wooden bench.  Then she shook her head. Surely she had imagined that look of possessiveness.  It was similar to the way he looked whenever he defended the elder de la Vega or Felipe.  But there was something different about it this time.  Something she couldn't quite put her finger on.

     Not wanting to contemplate what it could mean, she shrugged then absently picked up some empty glasses on a nearby table before weaving her way back to her kitchen.
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[parts of the following were taken from the "The Reward" written by Robert L McCullough & Phillip John Taylor]

     Darkness covered the countryside, the stillness of the pleasant summer evening marred by the thundering sound of a horse's hooves on the road heading south toward the pueblo de Los Angeles.

     The black stallion's rider paid little attention to where he was going or how he was getting there.  Upmost on Zorro's mind was the way that the antagonistic stranger at the tavern had eyed its lovely innkeeper with such lustful malevolence.  It made him nervous and more than a bit fearful for his Victoria's safety. Her guest was a man who obviously enjoyed intimidating people; witness the scene with Sergeant Mendoza.  He shuddered to think of how the fellow might threaten Victoria.

     Toronado's pace slowed and the man in black glanced up, surprised that they had already reached the pueblo's gate.  He veered around the completely pointless archway to the left before bringing his mount to a halt by the rear of a building.  Using the horse's back as a boost, he climbed up onto the porch's low roof then to the top of the adobe structure.

     Within seconds, Zorro was staring down as two lancers saluted each other in front of the cuartel.  One soldier then lazily strolled away.  Excellent, thought the masked man, now to get rid of the remaining guard.

     He had noticed the loosened tile seconds before when he had walked across the garrison roof.  Crouching down, he pulled it out then stood up.  With a mischievous grin on his face, he calculated the precise moment the lancer would march underneath him and let the hard clay tile go.

     Zorro smiled with satisfaction as the soldier collapsed when the tile hit his head.  But that smile turned into a frown as the man grunted loudly with pain before he fell into unconsciousness onto the ground.  The groan alerted the other lancer who wasn't quite as far away as the man in black had anticipated.

     "Malditas," he murmured as he watched the first guard rush back to his compadre's side, spotted the roof tile then started to look upward.  Zorro dashed away, even though he knew it was too late and that his presence had been detected.

     "Zorro!"  The cry broke the quietness and echoed throughout the plaza.  Exceedingly unhappy that his plan for a discreet visit had been shattered, he sighed before jumping from the cuartel to the roof of the building next door.
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[parts of the following were taken from the "The Reward" written by Robert L McCullough & Phillip John Taylor]

     Victoria drew in a deep breath before she rapped lightly on the door in front of her.  "Señor Lamarca?" she called out, shifting the blanket she held from one arm to the other.

     The door flew open as her guest appeared, looking slightly disheveled.  He took a step toward her and she could smell the liquor on his breath.  Victoria held out the blanket, using it like a shield to block his approach.

     "Here's the extra blanket that you requested," she announced, gritting her teeth in an effort to remain polite.  In truth, this man scared her, more so than anyone had in a long time.

     Lamarca ran his eyes down the length of her body and back up again, causing Victoria to feel as though she needed to take a bath.  The lust that she saw in his expression make her quiver with fear.  "Maybe you should put it on the bed for me," he drawled as he stared at her chest.

     Victoria thrust the blanket at him, trying to keep at arm's length.  "Maybe not," she replied with more bravado than she felt as her skin crawled.  She just wanted to escape his presence as quickly as possible.

     His hand flashed out and tightly gripped her left wrist.  "You should show some respect," he said as he pulled her closer, the blanket fluttering to the floor.

     She struggled to free herself.  "I'll show some respect when you deserve it, Señor." she declared vehemently.  The mingling of his body odor with the alcohol he had drank made her stomach churn as he drew her nearer.  For one fleeting moment, she thought he was going to kiss her, the idea of which made her gag involuntarily.  Lamarca yanked her into the room, spinning her around until she landed with her back up against the wall by the bed, knocking the breath from her body.

    "What are you doing?" she asked dazedly, watching with a growing horror as he closed then locked the door.  He then turned and slammed his body up against hers, grabbing her upper arms roughly.  "Let go of me!" she shouted, panic rising within her like the bile in her throat.

     Her assailant just chuckled before shoving her down onto the bed.  Before Victoria had a chance to move, he was on top of her, driving the air from her lungs once again.

     "Do I deserve some respect now, bitch?" he snarled into her face a second before he lowered his mouth to hers, crudely stuffing his tongue between her lips.

     Victoria tried to wretch her head away but he grabbed her cheeks and held her still.  She began to pound on him with her fists, first on his shoulders then aiming for his face.

    Lamarca seized her wrists and pinned them over her head.  "You know you want this," he said as he roughly squeezed her breast with his free hand.

     "I said to let go of me!" she cried out, squirming in a futile effort to get out from under him.  He just laughed again as he pushed up her skirts, baring her legs and more to his lewd stare.  Still holding her down, he fumbled with the fastenings of his trousers with his other hand.

    "Help!  Somebody help. . ."

     Her call was cut off as he assaulted her mouth once more with his tongue.  Victoria wondered wildly for a moment what would happen if she bit down on the marauding appendage.

     Then pain like nothing she had ever known sliced through her, driving all thoughts from her head.
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