Diego was afraid to open his eyes. Afraid of where he would find himself; in his own bed, with the book Phytologia resting beside his clock, and his blue suit hanging in his wardrobe. He was terrified of yet again having to relive the day he had already lived through seven times.
So instead of rousing himself, he let his mind drift to the previous day's events. In some ways it had been similar to the first day; Zorro having to dash off to avoid being captured or shot by the Alcalde's men. Having to trust Victoria to the care of Don Jose and Don Esteban.
But after that, everything had been different. He had gone with his father to the physician's office, not the undertaker's. Doctor Hernandez had removed the bullet but was still pessimistic about Victoria's chances of recovery. One of her ribs had been cracked, which would heal slowly and painfully. And there was always the risk of infection.
Don Alejandro had insisted that she be brought to the hacienda so she could received the round-the-clock care that she needed. Diego remembered holding her in his arms in the back of the jostling wagon and thinking how both agonizing and heavenly it had been.
They had settled Victoria in the best guest room and Diego had volunteered to keep the first vigil. But obviously he had fallen asleep, had fallen down on his duty to ensure she was resting comfortably and that her condition hadn't deteriorated.
And now he was too much of a coward to face whatever he would find when he opened his eyes. Malditas, he scolded himself. Just do it. Just wake up. He couldn't sleep away the rest of his life, no matter how much he wanted to, just so he could avoid the trouble of figuring out what he had to do to change things. It was true he was weary of the reoccurring day and the unpleasantness it brought with it. But that just wasn't a good enough excuse, he rebuked himself.
Lethargically, Diego allowed himself to become aware of his surroundings. His first sensation was that he was not lying on a bed but seated in a rather cushiony chair. Then he realized that the sunlight was coming from a different direction than it would be if he was in his bedroom.
Then thirdly, he took a deep breath and an aroma reached his nostrils, an intriguing blend of chile peppers and spices with just a hint of roses. A scent he knew that belonged to one person alone.
Diego's eyes flew open. Madre de Dios, he wasn't in his room. There wasn't a tome on agricultural philosophy on the night table. Looking down, he saw that he was wearing his blue trousers and that they were somewhat the worse for wear.
Then he raised his gaze to the woman lying so still on the bed. He held his breath until he perceived the slight rising and falling of her chest. Gracias a Dios! He had done it! The nightmarish day was finally over.
Diego's elation was quickly doused as he stared over at Victoria. She was still gravely ill. But, a giddy little voice inside his head piped up, she isn't dead. She was alive and it was a new day. His heart could still rejoice even though his mind was still crowded with worry.
He knelt down beside the bed, praying for his good fortune. Then he touched her hand with his, basking in its warmth. Maybe a little too warm, he thought anxiously. He leaned over and placed the inside of his wrist onto her forehead. Dios mio, she was burning with fever.
There was a pitcher of cool water on the bedside table and a folded cloth. Gracias a Dios, Maria, he thought, thanking the de la Vegas's housekeeper for her efficiency. He dipped the white cotton fabric into the water and then squeezed it before wiping Victoria's flushed face with it.
He was wondering if he should examine her wound when Don Alejandro strode into the room. "Arrrgh," growled the elder de la Vega in a very frustrated tone. "Diego, you'll never believe it."
Diego froze. Oh, dear God, no, he pleaded. No. His father couldn't have just repeated the same words he had uttered for the previous seven days; he couldn't be about to announce his cousin's impending fatherhood. The day had changed. It had to have changed, he implored desperately.
Someone must have heard his prayers as the old don continued on. "The Alcalde, he refuses to press charges against that Bishop," he stated angrily as Diego sighed with relief. "He said that it was Victoria's own fault for aiding and abetting a known outlaw."
Don Alejandro snorted. "Then," he added, his voice rising with temper, "then he had the audacity to say that. . .that gambler was doing the pueblo a service by shooting at Zorro. Then. . ." The elder de la Vega declared through clenched teeth. "Then he told me that Bishop and Carlos were meeting tomorrow at dawn. And that Los Angeles would be well rid of my friend," he added in a loud burst.
A soft moan came from the bed and Diego turned his attention to Victoria, who was stirring agitatedly. "Father, please," he chided.
"Perdone." His father was instantly subdued as he gazed down at the woman in the bed. "How is she?"
"Feverish," Diego stated brusquely. He re-dampened the cloth and place it gently on Victoria's forehead.
The old don nodded. "I saw Hernandez in town," he related. "He said he'd come by later this afternoon." Don Alejandro shook his head before adding, "I'm going to try to talk some sense into Carlos. Adios."
As his father left the room, Diego wasn't surprised at all by what he had told him. It had been the Alcalde's fondest desire to see the masked man brought to justice, so anyone who tried to kill Zorro would be a hero in Ramón's eyes. And that the cardsharp and Don Carlos were to duel. . . Well, the caballero had accused Bishop of cheating without any proof, what had he expected?
Sighing, Diego shook his head. That didn't make it right. Dueling was illegal, as it never had been no more than an honorable way to commit murder. His father was justified in being angry with their alcalde. He was, too.
But for now there was nothing he could do about it. His only priority, he told himself, was to ensure that the woman he loved recovered from the wound he had allowed her to receive just so he could selfishly put an end to his repeating nightmare. Nothing else could matter until then.
He sat back down in the chair next to Victoria's bed and took her hand in his. With his other hand, he pushed a lock of her raven hair off of her forehead.
"If you die, Victoria, Zorro will die with
you," he vowed solemnly, bringing her hand to his lips.
Z Z Z
"Well, I for one am sorry this is your last night here, my dear," declared Don Alejandro a week later as he, Diego, Felipe, and Victoria were sitting around the dining room table enjoying their evening meal. Victoria had recovered from her gunshot wound and would be returning to the tavern the next morning.
"I need to get back to my business," the lovely innkeeper replied. "Not that I don't appreciate what you and Diego have done for me while I was ill."
She beamed beatifically first at the elder de la Vega then at Diego, whose reaction was one which shouldn't happen while at the dinner table. He glanced down embarrassedly at his plate and tried to think of something else. Like the fact that the past seven days had not been that much better than the previous ones had been. At least they had all been different, Diego mused as he stabbed a piece of steak with his fork.
Victoria's condition had been touch and go for several days. Her fever had lingered as her wound had grown infected. She had come very close to dying, and he had come very close to losing the woman he loved.
Diego's grip on his fork tightened. The last couple of days since Victoria had risen from her sickbed had become a sweet kind of torture. She seemed to be everywhere in the hacienda, not only physically but mentally as well as her scent of spices and roses filled each room she visited. She belongs here, he thought passionately as he squirmed uncomfortably in his chair.
Again he turned his mind to the events of the last few days. The death of his father's amigo, Don Carlos, in the duel with the Americano. His decision to give up his alter-ego then Victoria and Felipe changing his mind. Preventing his father from dueling with Bishop.
It was one of the few instances where he had actually enjoyed the physical fight that the cardsharp had insisted upon. Diego couldn't quite repress the grin that twitched his lips at the memory of his fist smashing into the gambler's smug face as he vented his frustration out on the other man.
Victoria's voice broke into his gratifying memories. "If you'll excuse me," she said as she put her napkin on her plate. All three men got to their feet as she rose from her chair. "I have a lot to do before tomorrow."
"Of course," Don Alejandro acquiesced with a polite bow. Victoria smiled then exited the room.
Diego placed his napkin on his plate as well. "Excuse me as well," he said. "With all the excitement lately, I've neglected an experiment I was working on." He ignored Felipe's knowing smile and his father's groan of annoyance as he quitted the dining room.
[most of the following taken from "Broken Heart, Broken Mask" written by Eugene Pressman]
Close to a half an hour later, Zorro stood in the shadows of the courtyard, watching as Victoria twirled around the poles that held up the canopy, a rapturous expression on her beautiful face. He wondered for a moment if her happiness was due to the fact she was going home in the morning or just that she was alive.
If there had been anything that he had learned from the past two weeks, it was that he was tired of deferring what a man who was nearly thirty should be doing. Like marrying the woman he loved and providing his father with a hacienda full of grandchildren.
He realized that Victoria's feelings for the masked man were more than just hero worship. She had stepped in front of him twice, sacrificing herself for the good of the pueblo. Zorro had no doubt that if he hadn't altered the other five days, she would have done the same thing on those days as well.
It had to stop. He couldn't allow her to put herself in harm's way for him anymore. Somehow he had to convince her to give up her dreams of riding off into the sunset with Zorro and to start to look elsewhere for a husband. Although he hoped she would look no farther than the de la Vega hacienda.
Victoria sauntered over to the post directly in front of him before turning and leaning against it. She opened her fan, waving it in front of her face. It was still unseasonably warm, the man in black conceded with a smile, which faded as the scent of roses washed over him, sending a jolt of desire clear down to his toes.
As he tried vainly to tamp down his lust, she suddenly spun around, a small gasp escaping her lips.
Her breathless tone did little to settle his powerful yearning for her. His feet moved forward, almost of their own volition. "You look lovelier than ever," he whispered, drinking in her shining eyes and joyous smile. He hadn't bothered with his gloves, as he didn't intend to ride anywhere. So it was with his bare hand he reached up to stroke her soft cheek.
"Thank you," Victoria replied, a pretty blush rising on her face. "I am feeling much better."
He stared down at her, drinking in her beauty as his fingers caressed her face. "I've been thinking," he murmured huskily before taking a deep breath then adding, "You should have a husband."
Her eyes sparkled excitedly as she gazed up at him. She's expecting me to propose, he realized. For a moment, he wavered - forgot about his purpose of steering her away from her masked hero, forgetting everything but the love and desire he felt for her. The words, ‘Marry me' almost tumbled from his lips but he stopped them just in time as he tore his eyes from hers.
"You should have a husband," he reiterated, "Someone like. . ." He inhaled, trying to draw in as much courage as he did air. "Someone like Diego, perhaps."
Zorro watched as her happy expression vanished, to be replaced by a combination of disappointment and confusion. "Like. . .Like Diego?" she stammered uncertainly. He flinched at the note of dejection in her voice. Her eyes, which were beginning to fill with tears, searched his, which he prayed were as masked as his face.
"I thought. . ." she began hesitantly, "I thought we shared certain feelings."
"We do," he replied, unable to lie to her, the tremulous smile on her lips breaking his heart. "More than you'll ever know." His hand traced her jaw down to her neck, then made its way to rest on her shoulder as they stared raptly at each other. The air around them fairly shimmered with longing.
Victoria's lips parted but then she gave her head a tiny shake. She lifted herself up onto her toes and pressed her lips to his. Shock shot through him from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet as well as a healthy dose of lust. The thought that he should resist was rudely shoved to the back of his mind as he hungrily returned her kiss.
He placed his hand onto the small of her back and drew her toward his hardening body until they were pressed closely together. He could feel every curve, every swell of her, which only intensified his yearnings. He slipped his tongue between her lips and she offered no resistance but instead met it with her own.
The sound of his father's voice stilled Zorro's hands, which had been sliding upward. He had to bite off his usual reply of ‘Yes, Father?' as he remember just in time who he was with and who he was pretending to be. They each took a step backward.
"I must go," he stated as he gazed into Victoria's eyes, noting that she had been as stirred by their kiss as he had been. "I must go," he repeated as he touched her face one more time.
It took all the willpower he possessed to leave. He did wonder, a few moments later as he changed his clothing in the secret cave, what would have happened if the elder de la Vega had caught Zorro and Victoria together in the courtyard? The old don would have hardly been surprised as everyone knew that the tavern owner was in love with the masked hero.
And Diego thought it highly unlikely that his father would have raised the alarm because of Zorro's presence. Don Alejandro de la Vega was one of the man in black's staunchest supporters.
No, he had run away because he was afraid, he finally acknowledged. Afraid of the passion that had nearly consumed him as he had kissed Victoria. Afraid now that he had had a taste of her, he would never be satisfied with the fleeting moments they could together.
With a groan he knew that she would never look elsewhere for a husband now. Especially someone like plain boring Diego de la Vega. Not after the intenseness of their encounter in the courtyard.
Diego was sitting in the library reading a book he had hastily grabbed from a shelf when Victoria wandered into the room, a very enigmatic smile on her face. She was practically radiant, he thought as he watched her walk as if she was floating on clouds.
"You look happy," he said, hoping she didn't notice the huskiness of his voice.
"I am," she replied. She twirled around one time then seated herself in a chair across from Diego. "It's been a perfect day," declared Victoria as she snapped open her fan. "I wish that I could live it over and over again for the rest of my life."
Diego nearly fell out of his chair at her words. He glanced over at her sharply and realized that she had no idea what she had said. Had no way of knowing that he had lived a day over and over again. A day he hoped to never repeat but was forced to endure seven times.
Then he noticed her eyeing him speculatively and had a hard time suppressing a grin. Maybe she would consider Zorro's advice after all. He could only pray that she would.
And, as he thought of their kiss in the courtyard,
he had to agree that it indeed had been a day that he wouldn't mind reoccurring
again and again.
Z Z Z
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