Victoria had never before in her life been so afraid.  Afraid that Diego would turn around and walk out the door.  Afraid, too, that he would stay and. . .  She shivered slightly, hoping it was because of the cool night air on her bare skin, and not because of her growing. . .what?   Anxiety - because she was unsure if she could go through with her plan?  Annoyance - that Diego was just standing there with a shocked expression?  Anticipation - no, surely not that. . .? Although the thought of Diego touching her, kissing her, caused something to stir deep inside her.  Shaking her head, Victoria blamed the half bottle of wine she had consumed throughout the evening to pluck up her courage for the strange direction of her wayward thoughts.

     Then Diego took a step forward, driving away all her swirling emotions, and closed her bedroom door behind him.  "V-Victoria?" he asked in a strangled voice.

     "Lock it," she said before taking a deep breath to quell any lingering doubts about her decision.  She had to do this.  She really had no choice.  "Please," she added when she noticed Diego's hesitation to obey her request.

     He wavered for what seemed like an hour before finally twisting the key in the lock.  All the while, his eyes never strayed from hers, the look of astonishment never leaving his face.

     "Victoria?" he inquired again.  "What. . .?  W-Why. . .?"

     She bit her lip uncertainly, wondering why he was just standing there, staring and stammering and stuttering.  Why wasn't he dragging her over to the bed and having his way with her?  He was obviously attracted to her, evidenced by the bulge growing in the front of his trousers.

     Then it dawned on her that maybe Diego had never been with a woman before, that he was a virgin.  She twisted her mouth bitterly as the irony of the situation struck her.  He had to know what went on between a man and woman, if not in practice, then in theory, which he had undoubtedly read about in some book.

    Sighing heavily, Victoria determinedly closed the distance between them.  "Please, Diego," she said beseechingly, placing her hand on his linen-clad chest.   His surprisingly solid and quite muscular chest.  A frisson of yearning shot through her and as if of their own accord, her fingers slid up then down the hard wall of his torso.

     "Victoria."  Her name came out as a plea for mercy.  Diego groaned softly, not knowing how much more he could take.  He was still reeling from the sight of the woman he loved in her current state of undress.  Part of him was demanding that he act chivalrously; politely decline her blatant invitation then depart as quickly as possible.  Another part of him, the one that was centered in his loins, was insistently urging to give her what she so unmistakably desired.

     The logical portion of his mind was fighting to make itself heard above the clamoring of the others.  Telling him that there had to be an important reason why she was willing to do this, especially after what had happened to her.   Perhaps she needed this so she could obliterate the devastating encounter from her memory, he rationalized.  Perhaps it was something she needed to do in order to heal.

     But why him, Diego de la Vega, someone she had always seen only as a friend (although he was extremely glad she had chosen him and not someone else for this. . .recklessness).   And why now?  It just seemed so random.   Granted, it had been a rather tumultuous day.  Maybe seeing the so-called friend of her attacker had caused the tight control in which she had cocooned herself to shatter.  Still, it did feel unfair to take advantage.  It was impossible to believe that she was even aware of the consequences of what she wanted. . .

     Diego was so caught up in his internal struggle that he did not realize that Victoria had unbuttoned his shirt until she pressed herself against his exposed skin.  Madre de Dios!  Involuntarily he raised his hands, unclenching the fists he hadn't known he had been making, and placed them on her shoulders.  Her very soft and silky shoulders.

     Any notion of resistance disintegrated at that moment.  He had loved her for so long, that anything she needed, whether it be right or wrong, he wanted to give her.  Diego swept her up into his arms and carried her over to the bed, carefully placing her onto it.  He wrenched off his shirt, flinging it to the ground, then reached for the fastenings of his trousers.  His fingers stilled, however, when he saw a fleeting look of trepidation upon Victoria's face.

     Idiot, he scolded himself, recognizing that he was angry at himself for falling so heedlessly into her ruse.  But he had to remember that she was extremely vulnerable and that it was up to him to exorcize her demons.  She was placing her trust in his hands and he knew, deep in his heart, he had to accept it, even though everything he was about to do went against his principles.  He would be the true taker of her innocence, an innocence that she erroneously thought already had been destroyed.

     Diego sat down on the mattress and slowly took off his boots, letting each one drop to the floor as he removed it.  A feeling of awkwardness suddenly hit him and he was reluctant to turn and face Victoria.  That uneasiness swiftly transformed to lust as one of her hands began stroking the length of his spine.

     Victoria wondered at the crisscrossing marks on Diego's back.  They appeared to be newly healed.  Softly, her fingers traced the pinkish white welts.*  Feeling his muscles tense under her touch, she quieted her exploration.

     He then twisted around to face her, an inscrutable expression on his face.  "Vic. . ."  She interrupted him by placing her right index finger against his lips.  She was afraid she would lose her nerve if he uttered even one more syllable.

     Entwining her arms around Diego's neck, Victoria leaned forward, intending to kiss him.  At the last second, Diego moved his head and her mouth landed on his cheek instead..  The stubble there tickled Victoria's lips, reminding her of Zorro's usually unshaven face when he paid her a late night visit.

     Thoughts of the masked man were driven from her mind as Diego kissed a spot behind her ear.  His mouth lingered there for a brief moment before continuing down the length of her neck to her shoulder.  A flame of desire sparked deep inside Victoria as he slowly skimmed his hands up her body, cupping her breasts.  He lowered his head to flick his tongue over one of her nipples then the other before taking the rosy pebble into his mouth, leaving her breathless as another jolt of longing spiraled through her.

     His left hand drifted down her smooth skin, stopping when it reached the dark curls at the apex of her thighs.  Victoria  trembled slightly, with anticipation and also just a tiny bit of fear.  Diego stopped and searched her face.  She smiled up at him in what she hoped was a reassuring manner, even though she was far from feeling certain herself.  It must have been convincing enough as he smiled back at her, his relief obvious.  Renewing his exploration, he slipped a finger into her moistening folds.  He searched for and found the small nub of flesh that caused Victoria to gasp as he caressed it.

    Diego felt her hands clasp at the waist of his trousers and was suddenly aware that he was terribly overdressed.   He unfastened them then shucked them off quickly with one hand while continuing to stroke Victoria with the other, bringing her to the brink of pleasure.

     He gazed down at Victoria's beautiful face.  She was breathing heavily and he could feel her heart beating as erratically as his own.  He was afraid to say anything, afraid to break the spell that had woven itself around them.  Shifting his weight, he moved over her, his swollen erection grazing her thigh. Victoria flinched violently and Diego mentally cursed himself as he saw the panic in her eyes, afraid  that she was recalling the brutal taking of her innocence.

     In one swift movement, he rolled onto his back, bringing her atop him.  The look of terror disappeared from her face, replaced by one of curiosity.  Diego recognized they had reached the point of no return, the place where this madness could be stopped; as painful as it might be; before irreparable harm could be done.  But he needed, for his own peace of mind, to seek her consent before going any further.  He had to know if this was what she truly wanted to do.

     "Victoria," he rasped out.  But she placed her  finger against his lips before he could get the question out.

     "Please, Diego," she beseeched him, her chocolate brown eyes staring pleadingly at him. "Please."
                                                                       Z                                                                       Z                                                                       Z

      Diego  woke with a start.  Disoriented, he glanced around frantically before running his hand over his face and up into his hair.  It took him a second to grasp that he was in Victoria's bedroom and that it was still dark, the nearly full moon shining through the window the only light.  Another moment passed before he realized that Victoria was sleeping next to him, and that they were both naked.

     Madre de Dios!  It hadn't been a dream.  They had made love. . .and more than once if he remembered correctly.  His mouth curled mischievously as he recalled waking up earlier, still inside her with Victoria atop him moving tentatively, and smiling impishly when she realized he was awake. What had followed had been even better than the first time.

     Diego gazed down at the sleeping Victoria, his head still reeling from the gloriousness of what had happened..  It had been everything he thought it would be, a mating of not just their bodies, but also of their hearts and souls.  He was even more in love with her, if that were possible.  He placed a light kiss on her forehead then inhaled deeply, taking in her unique scent of spices and roses.

     He wished he could read her mind, wondering if their lovemaking had stirred similar feelings for her.  The look of surprise and awe on her face when she reached her pinnacle that first time would be a memory he would never forget.  But why had she seduced him?   And why him?  Why hadn't she tried to lure Zorro into her bed?  Although unwittingly she had, Diego thought as he smiled wryly.  His grin grew grim though as he realized that she had come to the conclusion that the masked man could never marry her.  Had that been the reason behind the very public break with Zorro that she had engineered that afternoon?

     But before he could mull over her motives, he heard a plaintive neigh outside in the plaza, one, to his great dismay, that he instantly recognized.  Madre de Dios!  Esperanza was still hitched to the railing in front of the tavern.

     Quickly but quietly, Diego slid out from the bed sheets and began searching for his discarded clothing.  It was probably too much to ask that no one had noticed his mare was in the plaza at such a late hour.  Not that he felt any shame for what had occurred, but Victoria's reputation had always been an extremely fragile thing since the day she had taken over running the tavern.  Only her good character and his father's protection had prevented her from being ruined long ago.

    He hastily donned his shirt and trousers, deliberately leaving off his boots, which he picked up from the floor.  Glancing at the beautiful woman sleeping in the bed, he was tempted to wake her to let her know he was leaving.   Reaching out to touch her shoulder, Diego stopped himself a mere inch away, as it became crystal clear that he should let her sleep.  He needed to be on his way back to the hacienda.  Now was not the time for a lengthy discussion about what had transpired, which would surely happen if he awakened her.

     Diego moved stealthily to the bedroom door, nimbly opening the lock.  Slowly opening the door, he was thankful that the hinges were well-oiled.  He crept down the stairs,  making his way through the kitchen and out the back door where he put on his boots.

     As he prowled through the shadows, Diego wished he was wearing his mask and cape.  His sword would have been a nice addition, too, in case any lancers were out patrolling the pueblo.  With a quick scan of the plaza, he snuck around to the front of the inn and began untying his horse.  "Sorry, old girl," he muttered, running his hand down her nose.  "Let's get you home, eh?"

     It wasn't until he had ridden halfway to the hacienda when a troublesome thought suddenly came to mind.  What if he had gotten Victoria pregnant?  There was only one way he knew to prevent such consequences, and it hadn't even occurred to him to withdraw either time.  He would have to marry her, of course, something he had been longing to do for years.  He would just have to get her to agree, which hopefully wouldn't be too much of a challenge if she was in the family way.

     A second, even more disturbing, possibility made his stomach churn.  What if the reason that she had staged this seduction in the first place was that she was already with child.  Diego brought his mount to a halt, sickened by the thought that the woman he loved meant to do something so despicable as to trick him into thinking he was the father of another man's baby.

     It was the desperate act, he recognized grudgingly, of a desperate woman.  A woman who had been brutally raped and was now facing consequences beyond her control.  It would be the end of the respectability she so precariously held on to if Victoria gave birth to a child out of wedlock.  All of the years of hard work she had put in running the tavern would have been for naught, through no fault of her own.

     With a weary sigh, Diego scolded himself for putting the cart before the horse with his dire speculation.  There was no proof she was pregnant.  She had said nothing to make him even suspect that she was.  Then again, he admitted with a heavy sigh, barely a word had passed between them all evening.

     Yet there had to be an explanation why she had enticed him up to her room and practically begged him to make love to her.  Was it to erase the violent taking of her innocence with an experience with someone she knew would be kind and gentle?  Or was it to give her unborn child a father, a father whom she hoped to deceive, possibly forever?  And how could he ever be sure it wasn't his seed that had taken root tonight?

      Diego reckoned he had a month, two at the most, before he would be able to learn some answers to his questions.  He was not a gambling man, but it seemed as though the odds were stacked against him.  Shaking his head wearily, he urged Esperanza forward again.
                                                                       Z                                                                       Z                                                                       Z

     Sunlight streaming through her bedroom finally roused Victoria from the very pleasant yet confusing dream she had been having.  One where Zorro was kissing her as his hands caressed every inch of her body but just at the moment he would have joined their bodies together, his masked face blurred and then became Diego's.

      Victoria sat up abruptly, spinning around to stare at her otherwise empty bed.  She didn't know whether to be upset or glad that Diego had slipped out sometime during the night without waking her.  Dios mio!  What he must think of her, to so boldly lure him into her bed.  She smiled blissfully as she remembered the time spent in his arms.  It had been so wonderful and so unexpected that she could not bring herself to regret a single moment.

     Not many words passed between them, but Victoria now was certain that Diego was in love with her.  And probably had been for quite some time.  It had been unsettling at first but then she had become aware that she had some feelings for him that were more than just friendship.  That she might be more than a little in love with him herself.

    With a glance at her bedside clock, she swung her feet out onto the floor,  realizing that she was still naked when the cool morning air hit her bare skin.  Self-consciously, she made her way to her closet and  hurriedly picked out a white blouse and red skirt.  After a quick wash, she got dressed then went over to make her bed before heading downstairs.  Victoria stopped in her tracks, however, as she noticed several bright red spots staining the white bed sheet.

     Blood?  Why would there be blood?  From what she had understood, women only bled the first time.  Victoria could testify to that.  She had for nearly a week after. . .after she had been . .  She clamped her hand over her mouth in order to stave off a sudden rush of nausea that hit her.  Don't think, don't feel.  The words that had been repeated so many times, over and over, helped to calm her mind and body.

     She began to fret that maybe something was wrong with her.  Women could and did have various complaints and problems that were unique to their gender.  One did not spend all their life in a tavern without hearing just about everything that went on in the world.  Did she have some terrible disease that would cause her to bleed every time?

     Then a familiar painful cramping in her lower abdomen dissipated all the worrisome thoughts from her head.  Santa Maria!  Her courses!  They had never been late at all.  She had never been pregnant.  There had never been a reason for her vile scheme to seduce Diego and try to pass off her attacker's child as his.  There had never been a reason to spend the most glorious night of her life with him and realize that she was in love with him.

     Victoria gasped as the horror of the situation swept through her.  Oh dear Lord, what had she done?
                                                                       Z                                                                       Z                                                                       Z

* - From the episode 4.2, "Ultimate Justice" where Zorro was beaten with sticks as he went through the "River of Pain."  I imagine that left a few scars.  Ouch!