"Ah, Felipe," greeted Don Lorenzo when he noticed the newcomers, "may I present my daughter, Sofia. Hija, this is Don Felipe de la Vega."

     Felipe's gaze never left the young woman as she offered him her hand.  He nodded as he placed the obligatory kiss upon it.  Then he realized what the older man had said.

     "Just Felipe, por favor," he corrected.  "I don't use the title."  Being considered a de la Vega was enough in his mind, he refused to pretend he was anymore than that.

     "Very well," Salazar said.  "Sofia has just returned home after spending the last six months in Monterey with her aunt."  He grimace slightly.  Felipe was wondering why he had not met the beautiful temptress before this.  The older man then changed the subject, "How is the cottage working out for you and your lovely wife?"

     Sofia's eyes widened for a moment.  Then she shrugged and licked her lips again.

     It took a great effort for him to reply to her father's question.  "F-Fine, just fine," he managed to say.  He had written to Don Alejandro, asking for the copy of the lease but had not heard back from him yet.  He never took his eyes off Sofia who was also gazing at him.

     Juan nudged Felipe in the ribs, breaching his preoccupation with the sultry beauty.  "This is Juan Morales," Felipe introduced his companion.  "He and I are both apprenticing with Don Ernesto."

     "Charmed, I'm sure," drawled Sofia in a tone that said otherwise.  She proffered her hand to Juan but snatched it back as soon as he had done his duty.  The young woman returned her attention to Felipe.   Her eyes raked him up and down in such a manner it left him trembling.

     Sofia arranged it so she and Felipe were seated next to each other when they sat down to supper.  She flirted with him throughout the meal.  He was extremely flattered this beautiful woman was attracted to him and recklessly encouraged her interest.

     Felipe ignored the disapproving looks Don Ernesto and Juan flashed his way.  Since when had they become his conscience anyway?  After everyone had finished eating, the men went outside into the courtyard to smoke their cigars.  Juan pulled his amigo aside.

     "What do you think you are doing?" he asked in a whisper.  "What about Ana Maria, your wife, in case you have forgotten?"

     Felipe pushed him away.  "She is my problem, not yours," he retorted angrily, thinking of the cold shoulder his spouse had been giving him for the past two months.  He smiled then as he thought of Sofia.  "Just having a little harmless fun."

     "I doubt she would see that way," threatened Juan.  His eyes slid to the doorway to the sala where the ladies had gathered.  "Sofia Salazar is a barracuda from what I hear.  You'd better watch out."

     "Duly noted," said Felipe.  To tell the truth, between a little too much wine and the señorita's attention, his senses were reeling.  The rest of the gentleman had finished their cheroots and were heading back inside.  Juan gave his friend one last glare before joining them.

     Felipe was leaning up against a pillar when he heard the swishing sound of a woman's skirts.  He turned to see Sofia walking out into the garden.  She was smiling radiantly at him.

     "I hoped I would find you out here," she announced, making her way to him.  She placed her small hands on the sleeves of his jacket.  "I am not wrong, am I?"  She gazed up at him coyly.

     "A beautiful woman is rarely wrong," he replied, his tongue glib although his mind was fuzzy.  He knew he should resist her brazen charms but for the life of him, he couldn't remember why.  He took one last drag from his cigar, flicked it into the provided receptacle, then blew a plume of smoke into the air.

     Sofia stroked the hard muscles of his biceps before moving her hands to his chest.  He could feel the heat of them through his fine linen shirt.  Taking a deep breath, her feminine scent filled his nose.  Madre de Dios, she was intoxicating.  And she was his for the taking, he could plainly see that message in her emerald green eyes.

     "I knew the moment I saw you," stated Sofia seductively, "we were meant to be together."

     Felipe responded to her declaration by wrapping his arms around her and drawing her close.  She was several inches shorter than Ana Maria, he noted absently.  Oh Dios mio, he thought suddenly.  He closed his eyes as he recalled he was married, he had a wife whom he loved very much.   He couldn't betray her even if what Sofia was offering was very, very tempting.

     "Sofia, por favor," he pleaded as he retreated from her.  "I-I must be going."

     She pouted up at him beguilingly.  "You know I'm right about us.  I want to see you again."  She caressed his cheek, causing a moan to escape his lips.  It had been so long since he had been touched like this.  His befuddled brain was clamoring for him to agree with whatever she wanted him to do.

     Sofia smiled wickedly, knowing what was going on in the young man's mind.  She lowered her hand again to his chest, then grazed his stomach with her fingertips.  His desire surged as he took another step back.  "I-I'm very b-busy," he managed to gasp out, breathing heavily.  He was using all his self-restraint to keep from ravishing her right there on the courtyard tiles, with his patron and the other guests just on the other side of the curtained doorway.

     "Too busy to eat?" she queried.  "Meet me for lunch tomorrow."

     "Where?"  The question slipped out before Felipe could stop it.

     "There is an old abandoned barn about a mile south of the pueblo," Sofia informed him.  "Be there about noon."  She touched his chest again as she perceived his hesitation.  "I promise to be a good girl," she said in a voice that suggested otherwise.

     "Very well," he agreed, knowing that it was a terribly bad idea.  "T-Tomorrow at noon."

     "Adios, Felipe," she murmured as she reached up and kissed him on the mouth.  Then just as abruptly, she broke it off and walked away.

     Madre de Dios!  Every nerve in Felipe's body was tingling.  He remained rooted to the spot where he stood for several minutes before he could safely re-enter the hacienda.
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      Felipe knew he was going to receive a tongue-lashing from Juan on the ride home and he was correct in that assumption.  His friend was very disappointed by his actions.

     "What the hell is wrong with you?" he asked pointedly.  "Are you willing to throw away your marriage for sex with that woman?"

     "No," declared Felipe.  "I'm. . .  I'm going to use to her to get to her father."  He had just come up with the idea that moment.  He looked over at his amigo, quite pleased with himself.  "Don't worry."

     Juan just shook his head.  "I hope you know what you're getting yourself into, Felipe.  I grew up here.  Sofia is several years younger than I am, but she has a bad reputation where men are concerned.  You need to be careful."

    "I will be," replied Felipe, musing if indeed he was getting in over his head.  He was having trouble getting thoughts of the lovely enchantress out of his mind.

     He arrived home to find Ana Maria in the kitchen, washing the dishes.  The overwhelming guilt he felt upon seeing his beautiful wife nearly crushed him.  How could he even begin to want another woman, he wondered.  Ana Maria was the only woman he would ever love.  True, they were going through a bad time right now.  But things would have to get better, he hoped and prayed ardently, they just had to.

     She had her back to him as he came up behind her and placed his hand on her shoulder.  "Ana Maria," he said softly.

     She jumped before turning her head to look at him.  "Oh, Felipe, you're home," she stated.  "I didn't hear you come in."

     "Ana," he said, optimistic that she hadn't shrank from his touch.  He ran his hand down her arm then back up to her shoulder.  His other hand snaked around her waist and he pulled her to him.  "I love you, querida."  He leaned down and placed a kiss just below her ear.

     She melted into his embrace, moaning as he left a trail of kisses down her neck.  Turning so she was facing him, Ana Maria wound her arms around his neck and their mouths met for the first time in nearly two months.  This was the woman he married, Felipe thought with elation.  It was heaven to have her in his arms again.

     "I've missed you so much," he murmured against her lips.  "Por favor. . ."  He left the question unasked, not wishing to frighten her away.  Felipe realized she had to be the one to initiate any intimacy.  He could not force his desire upon her.

     "Oh, Felipe," she said again then kissed him even more passionately.  She stroked his back as he did the same to hers.

     His hunger grew as their tongues entwined. Oh Dios, he pleaded silently, please.  His hands grew bolder, one moving up her side and cupping the swell of her breast.  Ana Maria moaned at the pleasure his touch caused.  They pressed closer together as she pulled his shirt from his trousers.

     Then her hand accidentally brushed against his hardness.  She immediately pushed herself back.  "No!" she cried, bringing a hand up to her lips.  They both had to catch their breath.  "No," reiterated Ana Maria, then she turned and ran from the room.  He heard the bedroom door being bolted.

     Felipe groaned loudly as he kicked a chair to vent his frustration.  It clattered loudly as it hit the floor.  He couldn't understand the look of terror he had seen in her eyes.  Was she afraid of him?  Or maybe she was scared of getting pregnant again?  Damn it, why wouldn't she tell him what was troubling her?

      He put the chair upright then shoved it under the table.  Felipe stalked out of the house, slamming the door on his way out.

     Felipe spent the night at the tavern after drinking the better part of a bottle of tequila.   And he was paying heavily for his intemperance.  His head was buzzing, his stomach burned and the alcohol had done nothing to quench his yearning for Ana Maria.  It was hard to concentrate on his work the next morning as images of her kept going through his mind.  The upcoming meeting with Sofia didn't help matters either.  As the appointed time drew nearer, pictures of the bold young woman began to flash through his brain as well.

     The young man found the old barn easily.  A beautiful bay mare tethered outside let him know that the señorita had already arrived.  Felipe dismounted Viento, tying him to the hitching post.  Then taking a deep breath, he entered the abandoned structure.

     The smell of musty hay assailed him as his eyes adjusted to the dimly lit interior.  "Señorita Salazar?" he called out when he didn't immediately see her.

     He saw a shadow move in one of the stalls.  "Over here, Felipe," she invited.  He followed the sound of her voice.  She was sitting on a bale of straw but stood as he approached.  Sofia wore an emerald green riding habit, which clung tightly to her curvaceous body.  Felipe's mouth suddenly went dry as she walked up to him.   The dècolletè of her blouse left most of her well-endowed bosom exposed.

     "Hola, Felipe," she purred then placed her hands on his arms.  "I'm glad you made it."

     Felipe noticed a basket sitting atop a blanket spread upon the hay covered floor.  He sighed with relief as she led him over to it and indicated he should sit down.

     "De la Vega," she commented idly as she poured him a glass of wine.  "You wouldn't happen to be the infamous Zorro. . .?"

     "No, that was my father," Felipe answered, a bit peeved.  Why did most people assume he had been the masked man?  It was starting to get on his nerves.

     Sofia shrugged nonchalantly.  "No matter."  She unpacked the rest of the food from the basket.

     Half an hour later, Felipe was full of the delicious treats she had brought.  He drank the last of the liquid from what had been his fourth glass of wine.  Sofia surreptitiously had refilled his glass several times so he had more to drink than he thought he had.

      He was stretched out languidly on the blanket.  "Tell me about your father," he said, beginning to implement his plan.

      Her eyes narrowed.  "What is there to tell?" she asked with annoyance.  "He is my father.  He is rich and powerful and can do whatever he wants."  She got to her feet and he did also.

     Felipe noted the resentment in her voice as she described her paternal parent.  It would be perfect for his ploy if she held a grudge against the old man.

     "I have heard many stories about him," he declared, hoping to draw out more information from her.

     "And probably all true," she replied.  She moved closer to him.  "My father is a very wicked man," stated Sofia, stroking his cheek with a delicate finger.  "But enough about him.  I want to discuss you and I."

     Felipe closed his eyes and moaned softly as she moved her hands to his chest.  Her caresses drove thoughts of anything else from his alcohol addled brain.  When her fingers reached the fastenings of his trousers, however, he regained his senses enough to grab her wrist.

     "I will be honest with you, Sofia," he began, pausing after seeing a flash of venom in her green eyes.  Exhaling, he realized he was going to have to play this very carefully.  "I. . .I need help finding out if your father has done something illegal.  I was hoping you could assist me."

     "My father is always doing something illegal," she declared hotly.  "I can help you."  She pouted up at him seductively.  "But you have to help me with something as well."

     He knew exactly what kind of ‘help' she wanted if the invitation in her eyes was anything to go by.  Taking a deep breath, he hoped he was not making the biggest mistake of his life.

     "Very well, Sofia," he agreed.  "I need to learn when and where your father plans to steal the freeholders' property again by moving their fences."

     "And if I get this information for you?" she inquired, bewitchingly moistening her lips.

      Felipe shut his eyes and swallowed the guilt of his deception.  "Then I-I will help y-you with your problem."

      Sofia smiled triumphantly as she snaked her arms around his neck and brought his face down to hers.  She kissed him, thrusting her tongue between his lips.  Felipe was trembling with desire when she finally let him go.

     "Just a little sample of things to come," she drawled coyly.  "Meet me here again tomorrow.  Same time."  She ran her tongue over her lips once more.  "I will bring evidence against my father."

     Felipe brought out his pocket watch to check the time.  "I-I'm sorry, Sofia," he stated.  "I-I have to get b-back to work."  His stutter, which he had thought was cured, seemed to be back with a vengeance.

     "Until tomorrow then," she murmured as she caressed his cheek again.  "Adios, Felipe."

     "Adios."  He willed himself to exit the barn.  Madre de Dios, this was probably a very bad idea, he thought as he mounted Viento.  He was playing with fire and somehow he had to keep from getting burned by its very alluring flame.
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