"I love you, querida."

     Ana Maria still shivered at the sound of the deep voice saying those words.  It had been about four months ago she had learned Felipe could speak but even so...  Her arms tightened around him.

     "I love you too, querido," she replied.  He leaned down to kiss her inviting lips.

     Noise from the party going on inside the tavern drifted out into the plaza.   Felipe and Ana Maria had slipped outside to get away from it and the crush of people contained within the sturdy adobe walls.

     Victoria had insisted on having a celebration for the year past and for the year to come.  This last year had been one of great upheaval. Both Felipe and Diego had almost been hanged.  Mexico had become an independent nation.  De Soto was no longer Alcalde; Don Alejandro had taken his place.  Diego and Victoria were married and expecting their first child in a little over three months.

     And Zorro's identity had finally been revealed.   The disbelief and shock that Diego de la Vega had been the masked hero was just now beginning to wear off.

     Felipe had thought the alleyway was deserted when he led his sweetheart into it a few minutes earlier.  But right in the middle of their kiss, another couple nearly stumbled upon them.

     "Oh, sorry," the male half of the other pair said.  "Didn't see you there."

     "De nada," replied Felipe.  He looked at Ana Maria as the couple moved on.  "Let's go somewhere else."

     She nodded her head.  "We could go to the shop.  Mama probably won't be home for quite awhile, I imagine."  And with good reason, she thought.  Sergeant Mendoza was going to  propose to Leonora Ortega tonight at midnight.  He had been so excited when he had shown Ana Maria the ring he had bought for the occasion.

     "Do you think she will like it?" he had asked nervously.

     "She'll love it," the young woman assured him and gave the soldier a big hug.  She couldn't think of anyone else she would want as a stepfather than the kind-hearted sergeant.

     Felipe took Ana Maria's hand and they headed across the plaza.   The dressmaking shop where she and her mother plied their skills with a needle was dark.  Lighting a candle, Ana Maria led her sweetheart into the little sitting room at the back of the building.

     Felipe wondered, as they sat on the small settee and started kissing each other, if this was such a good idea.  It had been about seven months ago since that one beautiful night of lovemaking had occurred.  And it had only taken place because they had thought Felipe was going to hang the next morning.  It had been extremely difficult but the couple had managed so far to keep their vow that it wouldn't happen again until they were married

     Part of the danger right now was that Felipe was leaving in two days for Santa Paula.  He would spend the next year there apprenticing with Don Ernesto Calderon, the de la Vegas' lawyer.  He did plan to come home at least once a month to visit and had already been granted two weeks off in April, when the baby was due to arrive.  He wanted to be there when his little brother or sister was born.

     Things always seemed to get out of control whenever he was to go off somewhere, like when he had left for San Diego when he had been drafted over a year ago.  That night, enough had happened between them that Ana Maria had thought she was pregnant until her fears were allayed by Victoria.  Then there was the night they thought he was to be executed.  He groaned as he remembered how sweet it had been.

     He moaned again as he realized he had pressed her back onto the cushions, almost lying atop her.  More images of that night filled his mind and by the expression on her face, he could tell she was thinking about it too.

     "Querida, we can't," he whispered, his voice trembling with want.

     "I know," she murmured.  Tears welled up in her eyes.  "I love you so much, Felipe.  It's just that you're going to be gone a whole year and I'm going to miss you so much."  She kissed him before she continued.  "We can do what we've done before," she suggested shyly.  "We can stop before we. . . you know."  She blushed a little.

     He knew he shouldn't acquiesce, that he should insist they return to the party, that what they were doing was wrong.  But then he made the mistake of gazing into her dark brown eyes and he was hopelessly lost.  He followed willingly as she led him to her bedroom.

     An hour later, they were naked, sated and their pledge of abstinence had been shattered into tiny little pieces and stomped upon.  Felipe took a deep breath then kissed the top of her head as they lay entwined together on her bed.  Dios, he hadn't meant for this to happen.  But she was so beautiful, so tempting, he had not been able to stop.  Nor had she.

     At least he didn't have to worry about her getting pregnant.  Last summer he had overheard some of the vaqueros talking about how to keep from getting a woman with child.  Ana Maria had agreed to try it. When he felt he was going to climax, he pulled out and spilled his seed onto her stomach.  It wasn't as satisfying but at least he could be inside her until the crucial moment, giving her the pleasure she desired.

     How could something so beautiful be so wrong? he wondered philosophically.  They were engaged. Why did a wedding ring make all the difference?  Her eyes were asking the same questions.  "I love you, Ana Maria," he stated huskily.

     "I love you too, Felipe," she replied as she stroked his hair back from his forehead.  "I'm sorry.  We shouldn't have. . ."

    "Shh, querida," he comforted her.  "It's my fault.  I should have. . ."

    She silenced him by kissing him.  One thing led to another and any new vow of celibacy was short-lived.

     "Ana Maria?  Where are you?"  The voice of Leonora Ortega resounded through the small building.  The young lovers were startled from the exhausted slumber they had fallen into an hour earlier.

     "Oh Dios mio," whispered Ana Maria.  "It's Mama."

     Felipe jumped out of the bed and began to search frantically for his clothes.  He tripped over one of his boots and hit his knee on the bureau.  "Ouch!"  He was unable to suppress the cry of pain.

     "Shh. . ." she admonished him.  They both stopped in their tracks as there was a light knock on the bedroom door.

     "Ana Maria, are you in there?" her mother asked.  The door handle began to turn.

    "Si, Mama," she answered as Felipe tried to find a place to hide.  Which would be rather useless, he thought self-depreciatingly, since his clothes were still scattered all over the floor.

     "I've been looking all over for you, hija.  I have the most exciting news."

     "Sorry.  I wasn't feeling well so I came home."  As she spoke, she hastily threw on her nightgown and robe.  Giving Felipe a panicky glance, she went to the door and opened it slightly.  "What's the exciting news?" she asked even though she already knew the answer.

     "Jaime asked me to marry him," replied Leonora.  She was smiling happily.  Ana Maria guessed she had said yes.  This was confirmed as her mother showed her the engagement ring the sergeant had given her.

     Her daughter was genuinely delighted.  "Oh Mama, that's wonderful," she exclaimed as she gave her a hug.  She led her mother out into the hallway.  "Have you set a wedding date?"  She peeked back into her room.  Felipe was putting on his trousers.  They stared at each for a second.

     "Go," she whispered soundlessly.  He nodded as he threw on his shirt.

     Ana Maria and Leonora went out into the sitting room where a very nervous Mendoza stood.  The young woman embraced the sergeant, which embarrassed him even more.  The three of them sat down and starting discussing wedding plans as Felipe climbed out of Ana Maria's bedroom window.

     He made his way across the plaza to the tavern where the party was beginning to break up.  No sooner than he had stepped through the doorway, Felipe was waylaid by his adopted father.

     "Where have you been?" asked Diego.  He continued before the young man had a chance to answer.  "Victoria and I are going to stay here tonight."  He glanced over a his beautiful wife, focusing on the prominent bulge of her stomach.  "She won't admit it but she tired herself out with all this.  I need you to make sure Father gets home in one piece."

     "Ana Maria and I were out walking," Felipe lied.  Well, they had walked a little bit.  He looked over at Don Alejandro, who was having a little trouble holding a glass of wine.  Obviously not his first one, thought Felipe with a smile.  It was a good thing they had brought the carriage tonight.  He didn't think the old don would be able to stay on a horse.

     "Come on, Abuelo," the young man said as he reached out for the elder de la Vega's arm.  "Time to go home."

     "That's right!" Don Alejandro shouted to no one in particular as he slammed his hand on the table.  "I'm going to be a grandfather."  Felipe helped him stand, catching him as the old caballero's legs almost gave out.

     "Gracias," Diego mouthed as he watched his son practically carry his father outside.  Felipe nodded.

     That must have been some walk the young man and his sweetheart went on, mused Diego.  By his calculations, they had disappeared about three hours ago.  He hoped that was all they did.  Then he shook his head.

     It was still difficult not to think of Felipe as a boy who still needed guidance.  Everyone was telling him how well the young man had turned out, that he had been an excellent father to the lad.  And that he would be a good father to his own children.  Again he shook his head.  Felipe had been easy to raise, never causing him or his father much trouble in all the years he spent growing up at the de la Vega hacienda.

     He looked over at Victoria again.  No, he truly doubted any child that was half de la Vega and half Escalante was going to be as well-behaved as their adopted brother had been.

      Victoria raised an eyebrow as she saw the bemused expression on his handsome face.  Mistaking it for something else, she crooked her finger and turned to go to the living quarters she had kept there at the tavern. Glancing over her shoulder, she gave him a seductive smile.

     Dios, he loved this woman.  Thoughts of Felipe, the baby or anything else were driven from his mind as he followed his wife into the bedroom and closed the door.
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     "Letter for you, de la Vega."  Juan Morales, another young man who was also apprenticing with Don Ernesto Calderon, flipped the envelope to Felipe with a grin.  "Third one this week.  Doesn't she ever get writer's cramp or something.  I'm getting tired of being your personal postman."

     Felipe smiled at the other man's teasing.  Juan was a year older than he and the two of them had become good friends in the two months they had been working together.  "Gracias, Juan," he said, not rising to the bait.  He turned over the missive and saw that indeed it was from his Ana Maria.  She wrote to him nearly everyday, mostly letters filled with declarations of love and how much she missed him.   Sometimes she put in little tidbits of news from Los Angeles.

     He longed for her as well.  Initially he was only going to return home once a month but he had already been back to the pueblo four times.  Thinking of the visit he had made just last week, it was well worth the effort it took to make the journey between the two pueblos.

     Felipe set aside the tome he had been perusing before Juan's interruption.  He was supposed to be searching for legal precedents for a land dispute Don Ernesto was handling.  He eagerly slit open the envelope and unfolded the paper inside.

                     Dearest Felipe

                    I know you were home just last week.  But I need you to come home again as soon as you can.
                    I have something to tell you that I cannot do in a letter.  I need to tell you face to face.

                    Please, querido, come as soon as you can.

                    Yours always, Ana Maria

      The young man's mind raced with all the possibilities of what she could not tell him via the mail.  Had she found someone else?  He didn't think so, it had only been a week since he'd seen her.  Plus in the letter she called him dearest and querido, closing it with ‘Yours always' like she normally did.   No, it must be something else.  Was someone sick or hurt or. . . Madre de Dios. . .dead?

     He stood and went to seek out his patron.  He needed to go home.
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     "Did he say what it was about?" inquired Victoria as she absently rubbed her stomach.  The little niño inside was very active this morning.  Only one more month to go and she would get to hold her precious baby in her arms.  She smiled fondly at its father.

     "No," he said in response to her question.  He placed his hand on his wife's bulging abdomen and was rewarded with a vigorous kick.  "Feisty little thing, isn't she?"

     "He," contradicted Victoria.  "He's a feisty little fellow."

     They were smiling at each indulgently when the front door opened.  Felipe and Ana Maria entered the library where the older couple were waiting for them.

     "Sit down, por favor," Felipe instructed.  He solicitously guided Ana Maria to a chair by the fireplace as Diego and Victoria settled down on the settee.  Taking a seat next to his sweetheart, he glanced at her, then at his adopted father and mother.  Then he looked at the floor.

    "Felipe, what is going on?" Diego asked curiously.  He had a feeling that this wasn't going to be good news.

     The young man reached over and grasped Ana Maria's hand.  The words stuck in his throat for a moment as he gazed at Victoria's swollen belly.  Taking a deep breath, he looked at his parents.

     "We're having a baby."
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