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The Mistaken Senorita

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Disclaimer: No copyright infringement meant with story. Characters owned by ZPI, not by me. I only wish to borrow them for a little while.

Summary: Victoria is in Monterey to pay the taxes on the tavern. She is mistaken for a woman who is wanted for a crime that carries the death penalty.

 

It started as any usual day would for Victoria. Or at least a day when she had to travel to another pueblo. Victoria rose earlier than usual, started the bread dough to rise, washed up the remaining dishes she hadn’t gotten to the night before, checked out the supplies she needed to get for the day. When her helpers arrived, she gave them instructions for the day, until she returned. She herself had to make a trip to Monterey to make a loan payment on the tavern but had planned to be back before the evening meal.

Victoria enjoyed the ride to Monterey. With the sun shining, she was able to spend the rare time alone relishing the opportunity to think about different things. Besides such pleasant reminiscing, she also enjoyed the silence only punctuated by the noises of nature. She hardly ever had time to be alone, to contemplate how her life was going.

Traffic was light on the way, without many travelers coming either way. She made good time, entered the bank and paid her loan without incident. At least she thought ‘without incident’. She noted in passing that the bank owner and his family had left several months ago, selling the bank to a new owner, who then had hired new employees. The fact didn’t make much impression on her besides noting the new employees were just as friendly as the former ones.

As she was leaving, she was almost knocked off her feet by someone rushing into the bank. Victoria was lifted back to her feet by two strong arms. As she was about to thank the gentleman, she heard an intake of breath.

“It’s you!”

Victoria pulled herself out of the stranger’s grasp. “Excuse me, Senor?” Looking at the stranger, she was met with dark brown eyes considering her with what felt like disdain. The man had curly brown hair, a thin face, was several inches shorter than Diego, and shoulders not quite as broad. He was dressed as a vaquero, in a red and black flannel shirt and a black vest. He was no one she’d ever met before.

Without another word from the man, Victoria felt something cold on her wrist. She looked down as he enclosed her other wrist in a manacle as well.

“What’s this? What in the world are you doing?”

“Well, Senora Grande, I don’t think I need to tell you. You’ve certainly been in enough manacles to know when you’re being arrested.”

“Arrested? What do you mean ‘arrested’?”

“Why are you acting like you don’t know what this is all about? You have been arrested at least several times, in your lifetime, being such a scandalous criminal. Now, you be quiet, and I’ll bring you to the Commandante.”

Victoria was simply too shocked to protest, allowing herself to be led across the street to the jail. Passers-by moved out of their way and continued to watch their progress, wondering who the young senorita was and what she had done wrong to be treated so.

 

~~Z~~Z~~Z~~Z~~Z~~

 

“You don’t understand. I am not this Senora Grande. I’ve never heard of her.”

Victoria barely contained her anger as she tried to speak with the two men across from her, barely restraining herself from rising from the wooden chair from which she was sitting. The man whom she had run into was introduced to her as Juan Torres, a bounty hunter from the United States. He was currently hunting for this criminal Maria Grande, whom he’d never met. He only had a wanted poster with a description and drawing, which they hadn’t shown Victoria.

The other man, Commandante Julio Vasquez, had recently been transferred from Northern California and had never met Victoria, or been to Los Angeles. He had jet black hair, a trimmed moustache on his round face, and appeared to be in his late forties. Sitting behind his desk, he continued to look at Victoria with a serious, steady look with his coal-black eyes.

“That is what we’d expect you to say, Senora. The American government has been searching for you for several years,”

“But I’ve been living in the Pueblo Los Angeles all my life. My name is Victoria Maria Escalante, not Senora Grande.”

“What proof do you have?”

“Proof? What type of proof? Take me to Los Angeles and any number of people there will testify as to who I am.”

“You have anyone here in Monterey who can testify to that?”

Victoria scoured her memory for any possible acquaintance she had made in this pueblo. Usually, over the years, she had only had time to make the payment and leave, in order to get home to her often-overwhelming responsibilities as a tavern owner. The only people she would converse with were the banker and his family, who had now left. If she had visited with anyone, it would only be in passing, without an exchange of names. Surely no one who would confidently testify as to her real identity.

“Over the years, I’ve only had time to come, make payments on my tavern loan, and leave again. Surely the new banker can contest I made a payment on the account with the name of Victoria Maria Escalante.”

Torres and Vasquez exchanged glances. Victoria’s lip curled in disgust as Torres slowly shook his head. Her temper flared once more, despite the precarious position in which she found herself.

“Really? What would be the purpose of a criminal to enter this pueblo, make a payment on an account which isn’t hers, and leave?”

Vasquez quirked an eyebrow. “That does make sense, Torres. And this picture, it’s not a very good likeness.” To demonstrate his point the Commandante held up the picture.

Victoria leaned over and grabbed the picture from his hand. Looking at it, her temper flared once more. “That is not me. The nose is absolutely too wide, as well as the forehead. It looks like her hair has gray in it, and mine definitely does not. This woman appears at least forty. I am barely half that age.”

Vasquez nodded his head. “I agree with you, Senora.” Fixing his serious gaze onto the other man, he says, “Torres, you’re certainly making a thin argument here for your case.”

Torres raised his voice to drown out Victoria’s protest of the use of ‘Senora’. “In my experience, the drawings aren’t exact, but the basics are still there, I believe. It is a woman, with black eyes, the mouth appears to be the same, and the basic characteristics are still there. The parts you argue about, Senora, are often the parts of the face that are exaggerated in such drawings, unfortunately. It does not negate the fact that this resembles you a great deal.”

“May I ask, Senor,” Victoria’s voice dripped with sarcasm at her exaggerated politeness, “how much experience as a bounty hunter you have, exactly?” Glaring at Vasquez, she said, “I would’ve thought this would be your first question to such a man before taking his word over an innocent citizen.”

“I let you know I have been capturing no-good criminals like yourself for the past three years. I have a pretty good record, tracking and capturing many whom I’ve chased.”

“Three years? Doesn’t seem to be much experience to me,” Victoria answered, her lips curled in distaste.

She jumped as Vasquez stopped Torres from slapping her. “None of that, Torres. I don’t know what they teach you in the Americas, but around here we don’t treat a woman like that.”

Torres angrily pulled his arm out of Vasquez’ grip. “If you’ll simply release this woman into my custody, I’ll be on my way, and out of your hair.”

As Victoria opened her mouth to protest, Vasquez quickly said, “Hold your horses, Senor Torres. Again, I don’t know what you Americans do in such a case, but here in the Californias we don’t simply allow possibly innocent women to leave in the company of unrelated men.”

“Senora.” After Victoria scowled at him, Vasquez began again. “Senorita, I apologize for any inconvenience, but I have to insist you stay in my cell until the judge arrives on his monthly route. He will be here in two days’ time.”

Both Victoria and Torres began to protest loudly, but Vasquez held up his hand. “Again, I apologize to both of you, but it is what must be done. The judge will determine what to do next, and he will be here in two days.”

~~Z~~Z~~Z~~Z~~Z~~

Don Alejandro de la Vega entered the tavern, greeting everyone with a smile on his face. In a good mood, having been successful with getting much work done since early morning, he slowly made his way to an empty table. Meeting one of Victoria’s waitresses, he greeted her with an especially kind smile. “Hello Alicia, how are you this morning?”

“Very good, Don Alejandro. How are you?”

“I’m also very good. And hungry for some of Victoria’s tortillas and huevos.”

“I’m sorry, Don Alejandro, Victoria isn’t here this morning. We don’t know where she is.”

“What do you mean?”

“She left yesterday for Monterey to pay the tavern’s taxes, but she never returned. At least no one has seen her since.”

Diego and Felipe then walked into the tavern.

“Diego, have you seen or heard from Victoria this morning?”

“No, I haven’t. Is something wrong?”

“Alicia says she left yesterday for Monterey to pay the taxes on the tavern and she never returned.”

“Has anyone looked for her, Alicia?” Diego asked Alicia as she hurried by with a tray of food. “She makes it a point to never stay overnight in another pueblo by herself.”

“What? Oh, no, I don’t believe so, Don Diego. I…I didn’t know what to do, so Maria and I just opened the tavern this morning. Since Victoria usually opens the tavern before we get here, we had a lot to do because there were patrons waiting for their breakfast. In the busyness of it all, we…we didn’t really give it much thought.”

Diego hurried to reassure Alicia. “I’m sure she is alright. Felipe, run upstairs and check her bedroom. I’ll go check her back rooms, just in case. Father, why don’t you line up some volunteers to start a search?”

Alejandro nodded, grabbed his gloves and headed out the tavern. After Diego and Felipe had searched the tavern, they met in Victoria’s back parlor. Diego had his characteristic determined look on his face.

“Tell Father I’m headed for Monterey.”

Felipe began signing furiously, protesting the intelligence of leaving suddenly. Diego interrupted him. “I’m sorry. I can make faster time on Toronado. Time is of the essence. This is Victoria we’re talking about!”

The young man was left with his doubts, and the responsibility of coming up an excuse for the missing Diego while facing an angry Alejandro.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: No copyright infringement meant with story. Characters owned by ZPI, not by me. I only wish to borrow them for a little while.

Previously:

“I didn’t know what to do, so Maria and I just opened the tavern this morning. Since Victoria usually opens the tavern before we get here, we had a lot to do because there were patrons waiting for their breakfast. In the busyness of it all, we…we didn’t really give it much thought.”

Diego hurried to reassure Alicia. “I’m sure she is alright. Felipe, run upstairs and check her bedroom. I’ll go check her back rooms, just in case. Father, why don’t you line up some volunteers to start a search?”

Alejandro nodded, grabbed his gloves and headed out the tavern.

~~Z~~

 

After spreading the word and instructing all volunteers to meet back at the tavern, Don Alejandro returned an hour later to find his only son had disappeared.

“Diego is gone, Felipe? Dónde se ha ido este maldito hijo mío? (‘Where did that damn son of mine go?’)”

Felipe began to sign rapidly, but Don Alejandro stopped him. “You know I can’t read your hands when you go so fast!” Shaking his head, Don Alejandro took a moment to calm himself and to ask in a softer tone, “Please, Felipe, can you tell me more slowly where my…where Diego went?”

Felipe nodded and signed that Diego had gone ahead to Monterey, wanting to begin the search for Victoria as soon as possible. The small amount of calm Don Alejandro had gathered disappeared in an instant.

“Dios Mío! Pero que hijo tan idiota tengo! (‘My God! But what a stupid son I have!’) Why can’t he do what I tell him? Felipe, how will he get to Monterey without getting lost? He should’ve known better.”

Without waiting for Felipe’s characteristic shrug of his shoulders, Don Alejandro turned and walked away, muttering to himself. He then stopped, walked back to Felipe and said, “Prepare to ride with me, all right? The volunteers should arrive here soon, and we’ll leave at that time.”

Felipe nodded. He couldn’t understand how Diego was going to get out of this mess when his father realized Diego had made it to Monterey despite his mythical poor tracking skills. Not to mention explaining how he got there so fast and what horse he rode. The boy shook his head as he followed Don Alejandro back to their horses and prayed Diego will be able to come up with a plan to explain it all.

 

~~Z~~Z~~Z~~

Previously:

“Tell Father I’m headed for Monterey.”

Felipe began signing furiously, protesting the intelligence of leaving suddenly. Diego interrupted him. “I’m sorry. I can make faster time on Toronado. Time is of the essence. This is Victoria we’re talking about!”

The young man was left with his doubts, and the responsibility of coming up an excuse for the missing Diego while facing an angry Alejandro.

~~Z~~

Diego made good time in returning to the hacienda. He had decided while riding home he would ride a disguised Toronado to Monterey, because he would make better time than Esperanza. Because of this, he rode directly to the back entrance of the cave. He would leave Esperanza in the stable area of the cave while he was gone. If his father would find his son’s horse sweaty in the stable, he would then wonder where his son was and how he’d gotten there. So, to avoid questions, Esperanza would have a new place to stay for a while. He placed the fake forelock on Toronado then went upstairs to grab a few things in case he had to stay overnight, placing them in a saddlebag.

As he rode, Diego kept his eyes peeled for any signs of Victoria. However, he found no sign at all to indicate a possibility of what had happened to the lost senorita. No deserted wagon, no abandoned horse. However, there also didn’t appear to be any signs of a disturbance or a struggle, so that reassured Diego. A little.

Entering Monterey, he scanned the streets. Not seeing Victoria’s wagon, nor Victoria herself, he decided he would check with the Commandante. After tying Toronado to a post, he asked a passing man for directions. Diego walked down the street and entered the Commandante’s office only to find an empty office. He then heard a familiar voice coming from the back.

“Don Diego! Madre Dios, you’re here!” Victoria exclaimed as she rushed to the bars of the cell. Her small hands gripped the bars so tightly in her tension her knuckles showed white. She’d seen Diego enter the office through the doorway in between the office and the jail.

Diego began to walk towards her. “Victoria! We’ve been looking for you everywhere. What are you doing in that cell?”

A tall, man with heavy black hair and mustache sauntered into the jail. He stopped short when he saw Diego. “I am Commandante Julio Vasquez. And you are?”

“Don Diego de la Vega, son of Alejandro de la Vega of Spain and California at your service,” Diego said as he bowed. “I can vouch for this senorita, Commandante. I’m certain she hasn’t done anything warranting her to be arrested.”

“I beg to differ. This woman, Senora Grande, in league with another criminal, pulled off a bank robbery two years ago and got away with 20,000 pesos.”

“That is impossible. This is Victoria Escalante, the owner of the Tavern Victoria in Los Angeles. Where she has lived all her life. She has never stolen anything in her entire life.”

“How can you explain this then?” The Commandante brought out a wanted poster with a flourish and brandished it in Diego’s face.

Diego took the paper and studied it. At a casual glance, the woman in the drawing could be Victoria. However….

“Commandante, this drawing is far from definitive. Victoria’s nose is smaller, her features are more petite than this woman. In this drawing, it appears the woman is at least ten years older than Victoria.”

“Then perhaps she’s related to this criminal?”

Diego spared a glance at Victoria, who shook her head vehemently. “No, I don’t have any relatives who live around here, or who are criminals. I only have brothers. No cousins, aunts or uncles still living.”

The Commandante considered her words but then shook his head. “I cannot simply release this suspect on your testimony, Senor, or her denial of knowledge of the criminal.” He looked at Diego. “I don’t know you so I have no reason to believe what you say.”

Diego straightened up to his full height. “Have you not heard the name de la Vega? My father is the largest land owner in all of California.”

“I’m new to this land, having transferred from Mexico only a few months ago. I apologize, but I haven’t heard of either you or your father. Do you have any proof you are who you say you are?”

Suddenly the temper he’d inherited from his father ignited. “What do you mean? Do you have any evidence suggesting I’m not who I say I am? I say I am Don Diego Sebastien de la Vega, and this woman is Senorita Victoria Maria Escalante. Neither of us has done anything wrong, and I demand you release her immediately!”

Instead of convincing the Commandante of his sincerity, it only resulted with a pistol in his face. “I must ask you, Senor, to restrain your anger and to insist you rest in my cell while your anger cools down.” He motioned with the pistol for Diego to walk into the cell next to Victoria’s after he’d unlocked it. “Por favor, Senor.”

Diego measured his chances to escape and what that would mean for Victoria. Not liking either answer, he silently walked into the cell and watched as the Commandante closed the door.

“Diego! What are you doing? What are we to do now?” Victoria asked from the cell next to him.

“Like I said, Senora, the magistrate will be here within the next two days. Hopefully we can get this matter settled without further argument.”

Victoria rushed the bars. “Further argument? You’ll have much to pay for when his father hears of this!”

Commandante Vasquez gave Victoria a look expressing his fatigue at dealing with the situation and silently left the room, leaving Diego alone to deal with an angry Victoria.

“You didn’t answer my question, Diego? Why’d you do that? You should’ve tried harder to convince this idiota of his mistake?”

Diego sighed. “Victoria, I offered him all of my arguments. He isn’t listening to reason. Why don’t you explain what has gotten him so upset?”

Victoria explained how she had run into the bounty hunter, who had dragged her unwillingly to the Commandante’s office. “I don’t know why he thought keeping me here was warranted. Just because of that idiota bounty hunter, who must also be blind, because that wanted poster in no way looks like me!”

Diego was staring into space, distracted with considering all their options, when he answered absently, “You’re much more beautiful than the picture, Preciosa.”

Victoria sat up, not believing what she had heard. “What did you say, Diego?”

Diego turned towards her, blinking to bring himself back out of his reverie. “What, Victoria? I said something?” He suddenly realized what he had called her. Only Zorro called her Preciosa. Not bland, ordinary Diego.

“Aren’t you listening to me, Diego? You never listen to me, isn’t that just like you?” In her anger she forgot about the endearment Diego had mistakenly called her, to Diego’s relief.

Before they could continue, the Commandante and another man entered the jail. The Commandante walked over to the cell and thrust a piece of paper at Diego.

“What was that you were saying about being the son of an important man, Senor?” He waited for Diego’s reply as he studied the paper. “I do believe this paper disproves that, Carlos Navarro.”

Victoria looked at the paper as well and gasped. “No, this doesn’t look like Diego in the least.”

“Of course, you would say that, Senora.” The bounty hunter said as he walked over to join the Commandante. “It looks just like him, to the degree these drawings look like the criminals themselves.”

Diego bit back the remark he wanted to express, which would hardly improve their situation. Instead he attempted to control his temper and said, “Commandante, I am in no way this Carlos Navarro, and I don’t resemble him in the least.” Taking another relaxing breath, Diego asked, “And who might this senor be?”

“Juan Torres, the bounty hunter who will be turning you two in for a reward,” the man himself answered.

Before both Diego and Victoria could respond, the Commandante said, “I’m getting very tired of having to constantly repeat myself, Senor and Senora, but we’ll let the magistrate rule on this when he arrives. Until then, please do not try my patience any more than you already have.”

The Comandante left, slamming the connecting door shut, with the bounty hunter on his heels arguing his case.

Diego went over to the cot in his cell and collapsed onto it. He covered his face with his face and shook his head. How were they going to get out of this mess?

“Diego! Is that all you going to do? We need to get out of here,” Victoria said, standing there looking at Diego, hands on her hips.

Diego looked up and stared at Victoria. He allowed himself a moment of distraction, thinking again how beautiful his preciosa was. Then he shook his head to clear it of such distracting thoughts and returned to the present.

“Again, Victoria, there’s nothing I can do right now. One of two things will happen. Either the magistrate will arrive and clear us, or Felipe will have told my father where I went and they’ll be here to clear up the mistake.”

“I don’t know what help they will be. That idiota didn’t recognize your father’s name. Him being here will certainly not make a difference in getting us out.”

Diego sighed in frustration, knowing Victoria had an excellent point, like she often did. When he didn’t answer her, Victoria threw up her hands and sat down on her cot in a huff.

The next hour was spent with Diego making various attempts at conversation, which were met with stony silence, and Victoria and Diego taking turns pacing their cells in frustration. Diego noticed dusk was beginning to fall when the Commandante, followed by a young man in his early twenties, entered with trays.

“I apologize for the grub, but this is all we have to give you for now. We hadn’t expected you tonight,” the Commandante told Diego as he handed him the tray through the opening in the cell. Diego agreed with the Commandante. The food wasn’t noteworthy, but at least it was something. There were two cheese enchiladas with a side of refried beans. In the tin cup balanced on the tray was water.

Diego nodded and watched Victoria accept her tray in silence and return to her cot. She debated whether to balance the tray on her legs, then decided to set it on the cot beside her. This was done without a word, even though Diego knew Victoria knew he was watching her. He stubbornly ate in silence until he couldn’t stand it any longer.

“Victoria, it’s going to be a long night if you insist on not talking to me.”

Silence only met his comment. As expected, the Escalante temper and stubbornness are persistent. However, they were only exceeded by the de la Vega stubbornness. Diego finished his supper and walked over to the bars in between them.

“I don’t understand why you’re mad at me. It isn’t my fault you got locked up and it isn’t my fault I couldn’t persuade the Commandante to let us go.”

Victoria whipped her head towards him. “Not your fault? Where was the silver tongue which usually can persuade Mendoza to hand over his last tortilla?”

Inside him, Diego’s pride lifted with the back-handed compliment, but again he shrugged off the thought. “I don’t know. It’s been known to occasionally fail.”

“It picked a fine time to do that,” Victoria said, biting the words off angrily.

“Again, I’m sorry I couldn’t get us out of this mess. I doubt Zorro could’ve done any better.”

“Zorro? How dare you say that, Diego? He could and you know it.”

If you only knew, Diego thought.

Suddenly, as quickly as it flared, Victoria’s temper cooled. “No, I apologize, Diego. I know you tried, and it was a good try. I…I’m just worried, and I don’t know why.”

“Why? You sensed something earlier to give you concern?” Diego asked, suddenly concerned himself because he always trusted Victoria’s instincts.

Rising from the cot, she walked over to the bars as well. She whispered, “I don’t think so. I just…have a feeling. Maybe it’s only because we’re not home but rather in a strange place. I’ve never stayed overnight in this town before. Nothing happened last night, but…I don’t know. I just have a…a feeling.”

Diego patted Victoria’s hand which grasped the cell bar. “We’re going to be fine. In a day or two we’ll be home again, and you’ll be taking care of your tavern as usual.”

Victoria turned her hand over and grasped Diego’s fingers. “You are a good friend, Diego, and if I have to be trapped in this situation, there’s no one else I’d rather be stuck here with.”

Diego couldn’t resist adding, “Except Zorro.”

A slight blush covered Victoria’s cheeks. She rolled her eyes. “I suppose so.” A yawn suddenly surprised her. “I guess I’m more tired than I thought.”

“Well, I suppose you didn’t get much sleep last night,” Diego said. “Why don’t we lie down and see if we can get some rest. Then when we wake up we’ll be one day closer to going home.”

Victoria agreed and they returned to their respective cots.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: No copyright infringement meant with story. Characters owned by ZPI, not by me. I only wish to borrow them for a little while.

Previously:

A yawn suddenly surprised Victoria. “I guess I’m more tired than I thought.”

“Well, I suppose you didn’t get much sleep last night,” Diego said. “Why don’t we lie down and see if we can get some rest. Then when we wake up we’ll be one day closer to going home.”

Victoria agreed and they returned to their respective cots.

 

~~Z~~Z~~

A silence fell over the jail cells. Diego attempted to rest, but his mind was too active, bouncing from one topic to another. Worry about Victoria, concern about their situation, wondering what his father was thinking about this entire situation, were all fighting for prevalence in his thinking. He was about to fall asleep when he heard loud noises and cheers. Rising, he went to the small window in his cell. Looking out, he realized what he was looking at was what appeared to be a lynch mob.

Diego’s first thought was whether the mob had anything to do with him and Victoria. The second thought was concern that he didn’t hear any movement from the Commandante’s office outside the jail door.

Diego began to bang on the bars with the water cup, which was left from supper, and to call out for the deputy. Victoria sleepily arose and asked what was happening. Diego didn’t want to alarm her but knew it was pointless to lie to her, so he told her there was a crowd gathering outside which made him concerned. His heart lurched at how beautiful she looked, with her hair tousled from sleep, but he pushed such thoughts aside before he’d be distracted.

Finally the deputy opened the door. “What’s going on here?” He appeared to Diego to be half-asleep, tousled hair and wrinkled clothes.

“There’s a noisy mob gathering outside, across the courtyard. I’m quite concerned about what’s happening out there.”

The deputy rubbed his eyes. “Why would you be concerned?”

“Well, has anything like that ever happened here before?”

The deputy ingeniously said, “Only when there’s going to be a lynching.”

“A lynching?” Victoria exclaimed. “Who would they be lynching?”

“I suppose the two of you.”

“And why would they be doing that?” Diego asked, biting back his anger but not surprised by the answer.

“Because in the robbery you two killed two men belonging to this here town.”

Diego barely swallowed his temper. His tone was low and deep, and if he’d been thinking, he’d be concerned it sounded a lot like Zorro’s. “If that were the case, why didn’t the Commandante make provisions to have more men on guard then? He should’ve prepared for that contingency.”

The man slowly shrugged. “I don’t know. You could ask him, but he’s not here.”

“Don’t you think you should go wake him up? He might not only have a lynching but a mob riot on his hands, which could endanger the entire town.”

The man left, taking his time. Diego prayed he was actually going to get the Commandante and not leaving to protect his own skin. He quickly reviewed the area for anything which could possibly be used as a weapon but unfortunately there wasn’t. Considering how lax this office appeared to be run, just his luck there wasn’t anything of use within his reach to help their escape.

If only he could’ve knocked out the guard, taken a set of keys and gotten them both out of the jail. However, since Diego wasn’t sure the deputy had a set of keys on him, that plan might not have worked. The way this trip was going, Diego thought wryly, it would’ve been his luck. They stood a better chance if the Commandante arrived in time to protect them from harm.

Victoria’s voice broke through his thoughts. “Do you think we’re really in danger, Diego?” She was standing next to the bars with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders.

Diego contemplated lying to her but decided again it wouldn’t work. “I hope not, Victoria. Hopefully the Commandante can stop anything before it happens.”

They were interrupted by the sound of the door being broken down and a dozen men rushing into the back room.

Holding their guns on Victoria and Diego, the man in front of them demanded, “Where’s the deputy?”

Diego stood at his full height and again spoke in Zorro’s authoritative tone. “He’s gone to get the Commandante. You should leave before you are all arrested.”

The man looked back at the men behind him. “The bandido thinks we should leave. Men, do you think that’s a good idea?”

A loud roar rose from the crowd. The man turned back towards Diego. “That would be a ‘no’, Senor. We’re looking forward to a good lynching for the lives you and the missus took from us.” The man left the room and returned with a set of keys. “So glad the Commandante keeps a second set of keys in the desk.” He used one of the keys to unlock first Victoria’s then Diego’s cells.

“But we’re innocent! We didn’t do anything, much less murder anyone!” Victoria protested as angry hands grabbed her and Diego and brought them outside.

Diego struggled against the three men holding him, but he was unable to get loose long enough to fight the men before his arms were tied behind his back. He and Victoria found themselves dragged towards the middle of the town, where there were several trees together. They watched in silence as a man brought two stools and placed them below a sturdy branch of one of the trees. Two other men threw ropes over the branch.

“What do you think you’re doing here?” Diego demanded in his commanding tone as the men tied nooses at one end of each rope.

“Why, lynch us some murderers, what else? We don’t need no judge to tell us y’all is guilty,” one of the men cried out.

“But, but what about Senor Torres? I would think he’d have something to say about this,” Victoria shouted in order to be heard. “He’d certainly object to this.”

“He had quite the unpleasant argument with a gun handle,” another man answered him. “He’s sleeping it off in his motel room.”

“Diego! Do something!” Victoria cried out as they were brought towards the hanging nooses.

“I’m trying, Victoria,” Diego muttered, attempting to keep his temper in check. He searched his mind for arguments to change the crowd’s mind. “Have any of you know the de la Vegas of Los Angeles? Any of you? I am the eldest son of Don Alejandro de la Vega, the owner of the largest ranch in all of California. He’ll not be happy if you lynch his only son.”

The man in front of the mob, who had directed the crowd in the jail, sniffed at Diego. “As if we can believe you.” Turning to the crowd he asked, “Do any of you know this de la Vega this crook speaks of?”

“Have any of you been to Los Angeles? I mean, it’s just a half day’s journey from here,” Diego begged the crowd. “Surely, one of you must have visited there? Been to Victoria’s Tavern? Heard of the de la Vegas?”

The men and women gathered around them talked among themselves and shook their heads. The men brought Diego and Victoria over to the stools and commanded they climb upon them. Victoria began to protest, but Diego caught her attention and shook his head slightly. Diego could tell Victoria wanted to continue to protest, but she trusted Diego’s judgement.

“Diego!” Victoria whispered desperately as nooses were placed around their necks. “I don’t want to die!”

Out of desperation, Diego asked the crowd, “don’t you think your Commandante should be here to witness this? You should wake him up!”

“He’d only make us stop, like he did the last time we tried to do this!” the man Diego assumed was the leader said. He and another man stood behind Victoria and Diego, ready to kick the stools out from under them.

However, before they could do that, shots rang out and shouts of “Détente, détente, atención, atención” were heard, along with the pounding of horses’ hooves. The crowd turned to look at what was happening, including the leaders, when suddenly two more shots rang out, and the ropes consisting of the prisoners’ nooses were sheared and fell upon Victoria’s and Diego’s shoulders.

Diego was shocked to see Felipe and his father in front of the crowd of horsemen riding towards them, rifles in their hands. Apparently, they’d been the ones who made the accurate shots.

“Sure glad I had you practice your sharpshooting, Felipe,” Diego said as the younger man jumped off his horse and began to untie first Victoria’s and then Diego’s bound hands.

“Speaking of which, why did you teach Felipe how to shoot, and how did you, since you can’t hit a target to save your own life?” his father asked him.

Quickly thinking of a diversion, Diego simply replied, “Let’s talk about that on the way home, Father.” Rubbing his wrists, he looked at Victoria. “Are you alright, Victoria?”

Victoria also massaged her wrists while Diego pushed down anger seeing her reddened wrists. “Yes, luckily your father and Felipe arrived in time.” Smiling at the two of them as well as the crowd behind them, she said, “Madre dios you got here in time!”

“I’m just sorry we didn’t get here earlier to prevent such a spectacle.” Don Alejandro rubbed his chin. “What was going on here in the first place? Why were you being hanged, Diego?”

Before Diego could answer, two men rushed towards them, one with tousled hair and obviously in his night clothes. The deputy was sauntering behind them at some distance. “What in the blazes is happening here?” the Commandante asked. “Alvarez, I warned you about attempting another lynching. Is that what’s going on here?” The Commandante was about to continue addressing Alvarez when he noticed the crowd of strangers, apparently led by an older man who carried himself with bearing. “Senors, who might you be?”

“I am Don Alejandro de la Vega, father of the man who these men were about to hang, and godfather to this young woman, Senorita Victoria Escalante. And you are…?”

Bowing, the Commandante introduced himself. “I am Commandante Julio Vasquez.” Looking sideways at the man accompanying him, he said, “And this is Juan Torres, a bounty hunter from the Americas. Apparently, these men,” he gestured at the other group including Alvarez, “took it upon themselves to settle the question themselves instead of waiting for the traveling magistrate to get here.”

Diego watched as his father attempted to control his rising temper, but the redness of his facial expression showed how difficult it was for him. “Commandante, may I ask why my son and goddaughter were in the position to be possibly lynched in the first place?”

Victoria was about to march up to the men, her hands on her hips, when Diego grabbed her arm. “Victoria, allow the Commandante to answer.”

Over Victoria’s ‘humph’ the man in question began to answer. “They’ve been identified by Senor Torres as two individuals wanted for robbery and murder.”

“That’s ridiculous. Not only are they the most law-abiding individuals I know, they’ve lived in the city of Los Angeles all their lives. Victoria has hardly ever left Los Angeles, much less live anywhere else. What proof, if any, may I ask, do you have?”

Torres reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the two wanted posters. He handed them to Don Alejandro who hastily unrolled them. Don Alejandro didn’t bother to control the guffaw which escaped from him.

“You actually think this is proof? The woman is clearly ten years older or more than Victoria, and the man? Only if Diego weighed thirty more pounds and was twenty years older.” He thrust the papers back to Torres and took a step into Vasquez’ personal space. “What is the meaning of this? You either need spectacles or are incompetent. Or is there something else more despicable going on here?”

Diego stepped forward between the two men. “Father, please! Control your temper!” In a lower voice, Diego said, “You don’t want to end up in jail as well.”

“Diego, I can talk for myself,” Don Alejandro said, never looking away from Vasquez’ gaze. “I apologize for my rudeness. I’ve been very worried about Victoria, and then we find her and my son about to be killed. And for no reason.” Relaxing his threatening posture, Alejandro took a step back and exhaled slowly, “Again, Commandante, may I ask why you took the wanted posters as proof?”

“An agent of the law brought reasonable doubt, I believed, to what Senora…I mean Senorita Escalante and your son said. Because they were strangers, and because Senor Torres was American, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to wait for the magistrate to decide if they were the murderers.”

Diego watched as his father’s calm was lost again. “You thought it wouldn’t hurt?” Pointing to Victoria, he said in a louder voice, “Senorita Escalante is an independent businesswoman, whose livelihood is dependent upon her being present to run her tavern. My son has a loving family who was worried about him.”

The de la Vegas and the others watched Vasquez struggle for an answer. They waited in silence for Vasquez’ answer.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: No copyright infringement meant with story. Characters owned by ZPI, not by me. I only wish to borrow them for a little while.
Previously:

“An agent of the law brought reasonable doubt, I believed, to what Senora…I mean Senorita Escalante and your son said. Because they were strangers, and because Senor Torres was American, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to wait for the magistrate to decide.”

Diego watched as his father’s calm was lost again. “You thought it wouldn’t hurt?” Pointing to Victoria, he said in a louder voice, “Senorita Escalante is an independent businesswoman, whose livelihood is dependent upon her being present to run her tavern. My son has a loving family who was worried about him.”

The de la Vegas and the others waited for Vasquez to answer.

~~Z~~Z~~

Vasquez, under Don Alejandro’s unbroken stare, began to shuffle his feet. He cleared his throat and said, “You, as well as Senorita Escalante and your son, have my heartfelt apologies for all the inconvenience this terrible situation has caused. I…I seriously considered both sides, and I felt I erred on the side of caution. I realize now how wrong I was.”

Don Alejandro nodded graciously. “May I assume we’re all free to go?”

Commandante Vasquez had the decency to look ashamed. Before answering, he looked at the setting sun. “You have a long ride ahead of you if you leave now. May I suggest you stay overnight at our local tavern? At our expense, of course.” Turning towards the mob, Vasquez held up his hands commanding silence. “Nothing here left to see any more. Please go home, folks.”

The mob, with one last look at the strangers left grumbling about the loss of their entertainment. Don Alejandro watched them leave. Raising his hand towards the men who had graciously rode with him, Don Alejandro asked, “Even the men who assisted me?”

Vasquez’ face turned slightly red. He looked at his deputy, then the de la Vegas. Suddenly an older man with gray at his temples, a white apron tied around his waist, stepped forward.

“Commandante, I’m afraid I don’t have enough room in my tavern to accommodate all these men.”

Vasquez cleared his throat, but before he could speak, Don Alejandro decided to take pity on him. “We were prepared to camp out tonight, considering the distance. Simply provide us a place where we can camp comfortably, and we’ll leave at first light tomorrow.”

Diego spoke up. “However, we do ask for a room at the inn for Senorita Escalante.”

One of the men who had accompanied Don Alejandro spoke up. “Alejandro, I think Diego would prefer to stay at the inn as well. If you’d rather spend time with your son, feel free to join him.”

“Gracias, Francisco.” Looking at the other men, Alejandro said, “As long as you other men don’t mind either.”

A murmur rose from the group insisting Don Alejandro stay with his son. Don Alejandro smiled again. “Gracias, mi amigos. As well as helping me search for Senorita Victoria.” Offering his arm to Victoria, Don Alejandro asked, “May I accompany you to the inn, Victoria?”

Victoria nodded, and they took off for the inn. Diego made sure they left before hurrying over to the innkeeper. Assuming his old persona of aristocratic snob he said, “Senor, if I may, I require my servant to be available at all times. May we have three rooms, one for Senorita Escalante, one for my father, and one for my servant and me?”

Diego could tell the innkeeper tried to hide his frustration at his aristocratic behavior. “Yes, luckily I do have three rooms available.” He then took off in haste to catch up to Don Alejandro and Victoria. Diego turned towards Felipe and caught the small grin the boy was attempting to hide.

Looking around to make sure no one was paying attention to them, Diego said in a low voice, “What do you expect, Amigo? We do have a lot to discuss.”

Instead of appearing fully, the grin disappeared on Felipe’s face as he remembered the number of things for which Diego was going to have to explain. He signed as such as they walked towards the tavern. Diego said softly, “You don’t know the whole story, Felipe. If you think that’s troublesome, there…there are a few other things I may have let slip to Victoria during the time we were at the jail.” Diego kicked a stone in his path. “I might have to explain my secret.”

Felipe rolled his eyes while Diego shrugged helplessly. “I’m sorry, Felipe, but my mind was preoccupied with how I was to get Victoria out of jail. As well as trying to figure out if there was something more sinister behind all of this besides an extremely unfortunate case of mistaken identity.”

They continued in silence until they got the room key and made their way to their room. Victoria and his father had just arrived in their rooms and were about to close their doors. Victoria took several steps outside her room and turned towards Diego.

“I want to apologize, Diego, for the awful way I was acting before. I know you tried your best to get us out of there, before and during the attempted lynching.” She gave him one of the brightest smiles she’d ever given him and Diego found himself mesmerized for a moment.

He brought himself back to reality when Felipe nudged him. “Oh, I understand, Victoria. It’s all….”

“No, it’s not right at all. I need to stop taking you for granted.” Victoria began to play with a loose thread from her blouse, appearing to be unusually self-conscious. “I’m sorry.”

“Shall we talk more about this tomorrow, Victoria? You must be tired. I know I am.” Diego faked a yawn and Victoria smiled faintly.

“Oh yes, you didn’t get to take your usual nap today, I suppose.” Stepping into her room, she began to close the door. “Buenas noches, Diego.”

“Buenas noches, Victoria.”

As he was about to turn to go into his room next to hers, his father called out from the doorway on the other side of Victoria’s room. “Diego, may I speak to you for a moment?”

Thinking quickly, Diego said, “Father, it’s getting late, and I’m very tired. We can talk tomorrow.” He turned back towards his room when his father called out to him again.

“It’ll only take a moment, Diego.”

Knowing his father wouldn’t give up, Diego stifled a sigh and followed his father into his room. His father sat on the bed and he motioned towards the one chair in the room for Diego to take.

“Diego, how did you teach Felipe how to shoot like he did? I barely was able to hit Victoria’s noose, and he hit yours without difficulty. Without even stopping his horse.”

Diego shrugged. “I read up on it, of course. And explained what I could to Felipe, because he had expressed an interest and I knew there was no one else who could teach him. He must have spent every moment he could in practicing. I wasn’t aware of how good he’d gotten.” He cleared his throat. “There was certainly a large amount of talent on Felipe’s part as well. I think there’s a lot more potential than we even suspected in him.”

His father nodded quietly. “Yes I agree. Felipe is certainly a very special and gifted young man.” Don Alejandro appeared to be thinking over something. “Where’s your horse, Diego? I didn’t see her in the pueblo.”

Through years of practice, Diego was able to bring a slight blush to his cheeks while he pretended to get flustered. “Uh, Father, I hate to admit, but….”

“What? Not again, Diego? I thought Esperanza knows you well enough not to throw you off her back any more.”

“Well, there was…there was a rattlesnake, and…”

“Of course.” His father was once again silent. “How did you get here then?”

“It…it was a frightful long way to walk, but luckily I was able to walk here.” Diego rose from his chair then spoke before his father could. “Now, Father, I really need to go to bed.” Stifling a fake yawn, Diego got closer to the door.

“One more thing, Diego.” Diego stopped, his hand on the door knob, and turned around. “How were you able to get to Monterey by yourself without getting lost?”

“Well, I did have some trouble getting here….”

“Usually you wouldn’t have gotten even that far alone.” Fixing a long look upon his only son, Don Alejandro asked, “Isn’t it strange, after all these years, you were finally able to find your way without much difficulty?”

Diego shrugged his shoulders. “You know how much I care about Victoria. I…I guess I was so worried about her welfare and wanted to find her that…the way to get here suddenly made sense.”

“You care for Victoria, do you, like a…brother?”

“Of course, Father. What else are you getting at, with all of these questions?”

Diego watched as his father looked at him with wide eyes, as if he were attempting to look unknowing. “I don’t know, Diego. It all seems so strange.”

“Well, I think it’s strange how a bounty hunter thought Victoria was a criminal. Don’t you?”

This time his father shrugged. “The picture resembles Victoria to some degree. And given how inaccurate those pictures could be, I hear bounty hunters and the law often make allowances. Apprehend first and ask questions later.”

“Since when do you know what the law does or doesn’t do?”

“I have on occasion acted as Alcalde for our pueblo, Diego.”

Diego decided to let the argument rest before his father detained him any longer. “Buenos noches, Father. We’ll talk more in the morning.”

As his father was closing the door behind him, Diego heard him mumble, “Oh, you can count on it, Diego.”

Diego rubbed his face as he walked to his room. At the look on Diego’s face as he entered the room, Felipe signed, “What’s wrong now, Diego?”

“Father might have guessed my secret as well.” Diego recounted the conversation. “I wonder if we even need to make an effort to hide Toronado from them.”

Felipe signed, asking what he meant. “You know I rode Toronado here so I’d get here faster.” Felipe nodded. “I left him with the local blacksmith to board. Of course I thought it would only be a few hours at the most, not three days.” Felipe signed once more. “Yes, how do we get Toronado home? I told Father that Esperanza had thrown me, so I could easily ride home with Victoria.” Felipe signed with a twinkle in his eye that he could ride with Victoria and Diego could ride his horse. Diego gave a light slap to the back of his head. “Very funny. Me riding with her gives us a chance to talk.” At Felipe’s grimace, Diego said, “So if you don’t see me arrive at home, you know Victoria threw me off her wagon.”

Felipe laughed silently but his face quickly lost the grin. He signed, “If I ride Toronado home, how do we explain my absence?”

“And if I say I’ll ride with Victoria, but later I don’t, that’s another lie that could be uncovered.” Diego gave a grimace. “I know I said I thought maybe I’d tell them both the truth.” An idea occurred to him. “Perhaps, perhaps I,” he gulped, “should tell them both before we leave tomorrow. Then I can simply ride Toronado home myself.” Felipe patted himself furiously on his chest. Diego smiled. “Yes, we may ride together in case they’re angry with you as well.”

Felipe smiled, and then he grew serious again. Diego said, “Don’t worry, Felipe. Hopefully they wouldn’t stay mad very long, with me at least. You, they’d probably wouldn’t be angry at all.” Felipe signed something. “Of course you might want to ride with me to avoid questions, yes I understand.”

Felipe couldn’t hide a yawn. “I guess we’ll leave any more discussion until tomorrow. Let’s get to sleep and…and we’ll see how tomorrow goes.”

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: No copyright infringement meant with story. Characters owned by ZPI, not by me. I only wish to borrow them for a little while. Even though I really wish I could go back in time and live within the pueblo with them for a while.

 

Previously:

Felipe couldn’t hide a yawn. “I guess we’ll leave any more discussion until tomorrow. Let’s get to sleep and…and we’ll see how tomorrow goes.”

 

~~Z~~Z~~

 

Diego wondered how he thought he’d fall asleep, between the adrenaline coursing through his body from the near lynching and worry about telling his father and Victoria his secret. He also questioned whether he shouldn’t wait to tell them separately. However, it left the dilemma as to what to do with Toronado. Was it worth sending Felipe back with a wagon the next day to bring Toronado home? But what kind of excuse could he give his father about Felipe being gone more than half a day?

No, it was time to tell both his loved ones. Not only because of the complications regarding Toronado, but also there was no longer a need for Zorro. Given how Ignacio had improved in the performance of his duties as Alcalde since Gilberto died, Zorro hardly needed to reproach him over the past months. Also, Zorro hardly needed to chase bandits, for the soldiers under Ignacio’s tutelage had also improved their skills.

Perhaps Zorro could easily disappear, perhaps with a note left in the pueblo about leaving for parts unknown. Then as Diego, he and Victoria could get married.

An idea forming in his brain made him sit straight up in bed. In alarm he quickly looked over at Felipe, but luckily Diego hadn’t awakened him. Diego let out a relieved sigh and laid back down. With the adventure he and Victoria had, they could easily invent the story they’d realized their feelings for one another coming so close to death. And if he began courting Victoria as himself, ‘Zorro’ could then leave a note in the pueblo explaining that, because of their developing relationship and the need for Zorro’s assistance apparently disappearing, he had decided it was time to move on.

Diego stifled an exclamation of joy. With Ignacio less eager to look for, or even to catch, Zorro, maybe that would be all that was necessary to convince him and anyone else that he wasn’t Zorro. The more he thought about it, the more satisfied Diego was with the plan.

However, his happy mood quickly disappeared as he realized he still had to worry about his family’s reactions to telling them tomorrow. The words he had said to Felipe entered his mind. Logically, Victoria and his father surely wouldn’t stay angry with him very long. Especially his father. A small nugget of doubt regarding Victoria’s reaction, however, persisted. How certain was he that Victoria really loved Diego? He quickly pushed it aside. Victoria did apologize twice for her rudeness towards him. And there was that very first meeting, where he could’ve sworn he had seen a glimmer of attraction for him in her eyes.

Satisfied with his reasoning, Diego punched his pillow and settled down to sleep. Tomorrow would arrive soon enough; he’d better get some rest.

 

~~Z~~Z~~Z~~Z~~Z~~

Luckily Diego’s dreams were undisturbed for once, until he felt a shoulder shaking him awake. Opening his eyes, he saw Felipe next to his bed. He signed that it was time to wake up. Diego reluctantly got out of bed and got ready to eat breakfast with Victoria and his father, who were waiting for them downstairs.

This tavern was like Victoria’s, in both size and floor lay-out. Victoria called out to them as they walked down the stairs. She and his father were sitting at a table in the back of the tavern. Not many customers were present and Diego wondered if it were later than he thought.

“I’m sorry to keep you two waiting. I couldn’t believe how tired I was.”

“No need to worry, Diego. I slept in as well, enjoying a rare morning off,” Victoria explained, smiling shyly at him.

“Yes, I figured you both would be too tired to get started too early. After your harrowing experience yesterday, you both needed sleep,” his father said. “But, how will you get home, Diego, with Esperanza bolting like that and failing to show up here?”

Victoria spoke up. “Well, since I do have my wagon here, he can certainly ride with me.” She surprised Diego with another shy smile.

Diego didn’t know what to think, but he hurried to answer his father. “I think that’s an excellent idea, Victoria. That way I can ensure you get home safely.”

Victoria laughed softly. “I don’t think I’d run into trouble during the day on the way home.” Opening her eyes wide, she said, “Or do you not trust my luck after this incident?”

Diego smiled back at her, feeling mischievous. “Now that you mention it….” He was surprised by a light slap on his upper arm. “Why, Senorita Escalante, what was that for?”

“It wasn’t my fault for what happened. It was an odd twist of fate.”

“Speaking of fate, we wouldn’t want to risk it unnecessarily, would we?” Diego asked, wishing to continue the light teasing.

For a moment, Diego lost himself in her bright brown eyes. His father brought them out of their reverie. “If I may interrupt, I believe Felipe and I will get going. We’ll pack up our belongings and leave. I trust you two will be following us shortly?”

Diego was so tempted by the thought of spending time with Victoria that he almost forgot about poor Toronado. That is, until Felipe nudged him. He cleared his throat. “Before we leave, there’s something I wish to discuss with you and Victoria, Father.”

“Diego, can’t it wait until we get home? I would think you’d be as anxious as me to leave this town and get home.”

“No, Father, I must insist. Let’s go back to your room, Father, where we can have some privacy.”

Diego could tell by his father’s expression that he was surprised at the insistence in his son’s voice. He turned and went into his room and the younger people followed him. His father took a seat on the bed while Felipe sat with Victoria on the sofa. Diego remained standing but he withheld his impulse to begin pacing nervously.

“There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you both for a very long time now. I’m sorry I had to keep this from you, but it was for the safety of us all.” Puzzlement crossed both faces. Felipe sent him an encouraging look and smile. “Now, remember we’re in a public place. We need to keep our voices low.” Now both his loved ones were about to say something, but Diego held up his hand. “I…am…Zorro.”

Victoria stood up, her hands on her hips, while his father sat and appeared to be deep in thought. Diego watched as his beloved’s face reddened.

Before she could say something, Diego asked, “Please don’t yell, Victoria.”

Victoria was rendered speechless as she struggled to figure out what she wanted to say first. Diego didn’t risk looking at his father; his main concern was whether Victoria would outright reject him. He wasn’t sure he would be able to survive the heartbreak.

“I’m so angry with you, Diego,” Victoria finally said, her voice quiet but steady.

“I know, Victoria. I’m so very sorry, but like I said….”

“No, I understand why you kept it a secret. What I don’t understand is why you didn’t court me as yourself. Do you know I wouldn’t have then gotten involved with Zorro in the first place? I’d never would’ve kissed you in your garden that night…”

“Kissed? In our garden? What night?” Don Alejandro asked. Neither young person paid attention to the question. He turned toward Felipe, who only shrugged and returned his attention to the drama in front of them.

“And we’d probably have at least two, if not three, children by now! Your father would have the grandbabies he’s always been harassing you about for years.”

“Victoria, does this mean…?”

“What it means, my stubborn, foolish man, is that I was wishing all these years you’d court me, but I knew you couldn’t. Because of the difference in our backgrounds, the difference in our classes –”

“Victoria Escalante, do you think my son would be the sort of man to allow that to make a difference? Or that I would? If so, my dear, you don’t know either one of us as well as you thought,” Don Alejandro said in a low, controlled voice as well.

Victoria turned sharply to him. “Don Alejandro, we’ll certainly be discussing this in detail, all of us, and you and your son. And me and your son. However, I need to finish this with him first.”

Don Alejandro simply stared at her, words failing him, a rare occurrence. Felipe’s eyes widened as he watched his guardian start to say something several times then stop. Diego never stopped watching Victoria, trying to comprehend everything she was saying. Victoria turned back to Diego.

“Yes, I thought, through no fault of your or your father’s own, that he would wish you to marry a wealthy heiress. Not me. Not a tavern owner. So when Zorro arrived, and he noticed me and he flirted with me, I allowed myself to think about marrying someone like him.” She stood up to face Diego. “A man who I assumed was of the same class as me. Not a wealthy landowner’s son, not a caballero!” She slapped his upper arm. “I know you felt something our first meeting when you returned from Spain. I did too. You must have known how I felt then, how I felt all along.”

“But, Victoria, I…I had to present to the world this man who didn’t want to fight, who always stayed in the background, to protect all of us. And you, you were always making comments as to how disappointed you were….”

“Not disappointed, Diego!” Victoria’s voice expressed her resignation. “Not disappointed, simply encouraging you to be who I had seen when you first returned. I couldn’t understand why that man disappeared. I fell more and more in love with the man who was beside my side daily in the tavern, for he was a caring, compassionate man who cared about the pueblo, his family and friends. Who I watched take an interest in the proceedings of the pueblo and helped when he could.” Her voice had risen with the last sentences, but she stopped, took a breath, and reached out to hold his arm. “Who contributed just as much as Zorro did but never gave himself credit.”

Diego didn’t know what to say. Did he hear right? Victoria said she loved him, Diego. She said she’d love him all these years and she wished he’d have courted her. Diego didn’t know whether to spin her in his arms and embrace her, to get down on one knee and propose, or to have her repeat it all to ensure he’d heard it all correctly.

“Well, Diego, what do you have to say for yourself?” his beautiful love, his own spitfire was waiting for him to say, do, something.

Despite his father being present, he took her in his arms and began to kiss her deeply. She didn’t protest, but she must have been surprised because she didn’t respond right away. Then she threw her arms around him and returned the kiss.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: No copyright infringement meant with story. Characters owned by ZPI, not by me. I only wish to borrow them for a little while. Even though I really wish the show could’ve lasted beyond four seasons.

 

Cross-posted on AO3 and FFN

 

Previously:

“Well, Diego, what do you have to say for yourself?” his beautiful love, his own spitfire was waiting for him to say, do, something.

Despite his father being present, he took her in his arms and began to kiss her deeply. She didn’t protest, but she must have been surprised because she didn’t respond right away. Then she threw her arms around him and returned the kiss.

 

~~Z~~

 

Don Alejandro stood there watching the two young people. He was stunned, stunned with all that had been revealed. Victoria loved his son, his son was Zorro and loved Victoria, and they were kissing in such a scandalous way. He didn’t see Felipe hide a smile as he watched everyone’s reactions to the secrets being revealed. Don Alejandro decided such ungentlemanly behavior had gone long enough and cleared his throat loudly.

When the two didn’t stop their embrace, Don Alejandro said in a louder voice, “Diego, you must stop right now. This is bordering on scandalous, even though Felipe and I are present.”

They broke apart and Victoria had turned a charming shade of red and looked down avoiding Don Alejandro’s gaze. Diego, however, looked defiantly into his father’s eyes. “She loves me, and when we get back to the pueblo I’ll inform the padre to begin reading the bans in church next Sunday.”

“Perhaps you should first ask the senorita, Diego, before you make such plans?”

Diego turned towards Victoria, who looked up at him with a saucy grin. “You know, Diego, I’ve yet to hear a proposal from you. The one I heard from my masked suitor doesn’t count.”

As his father was sputtering about Zorro proposing without removing his mask, Diego knelt on one knee. Taking her hand in his, he asked, “Victoria Maria Escalante, would you do me the greatest honor of becoming my wife. Preferably, the sooner the better?”

A mysterious twinkle appeared in Victoria’s eyes, making Diego suspect she was going to make him suffer. However, she gave a little smile as she shook her head slightly, as if she’d changed her mind. “Yes, Diego, I’ll marry you. Despite you lying to me all these years and frustrating me so.”

Diego rose quickly and took her in his arms once again. However Don Alejandro jumped up and, because he’d caught Diego off-guard, was able to separate them this time.

“No, Diego, the senorita answered you as per acceptable behavior in society between unmarried persons.” As Diego gave his father another defiant grin, Don Alejandro rolled his eyes. Suddenly he himself got a mysterious twinkle in his own eyes. “Now that we know who you’ve been pretending to be, Diego, may I ride Toronado home for you? Allowing you to ride with Victoria in her wagon?”

Diego laughed and shook his head. If his father thought Diego would accept such a bribe, he was going to be disappointed. “Nice try, Father, but Toronado doesn’t allow anyone else to ride her. Even with Felipe, there must be a valid reason, in his mind, to allow someone besides me to ride him.”

“May I ask if you could perhaps, someday soon, persuade Toronado to allow me to take him for a ride? He’s the most magnificent horse I’ve ever seen. Where did you get him?”

“In order for me not to be identified, I needed a horse which no one recognized. One day Felipe and I went looking for a wild stallion who could be Zorro’s horse. We found Toronado galloping through the countryside north of our hacienda. When we chased him, he led us to a ridge where his injured foal was. I helped it to stand and to use the correct muscles to breath. Toronado allowed us to bring them back to the cave. I then introduced the foal into our herd after a few months.”

“Cave? What cave?” Don Alejandro asked testily.

“Zorro has a cave, where Toronado stays, and where Zorro keeps his things,” Victoria told him. “Where he does his scientific experiments and comes up with his marvelous ideas.”

Don Alejandro’s face turned red again as he glared at Victoria. “What do you mean Zorro has a cave? And how do you know this, Victoria? Have you been there? Diego, such disreputable behavior!”

Victoria squirmed under Don Alejandro’s accusing stare. “He only brought me there because I was injured. Bandits were chasing us when the wagon wheel fell off. I got injured when we jumped from the wagon.”

“What? What…when…” Don Alejandro began to sputter.

Diego hid a grin as he placed a hand on his father’s shoulder. “Father, why don’t I tell you the entire story when we get home. Simply know this: I have always behaved like a gentleman around Victoria and nothing untoward happened while she was with me in the cave. She’s only been there once.”

Victoria opened her mouth to add something, but Diego glared at her. She changed her mind and stayed quiet. Diego gave her a slight nod and asked, “Are you alright, Father?”

Don Alejandro rubbed his forehead. “I don’t know, Diego. It’s a lot to take in. Let’s leave for home, and perhaps the fresh air and the ride will help clear my head.”

“Oh, and Father? Yes, eventually Toronado will allow you to ride him.”

Don Alejandro lost some of his fogginess with Diego’s statement. “We should get going. We’ll ride together.” Glaring at the young couple, he added, “You’ll be driving your wagon, Victoria, and we men will ride our horses.” He held up a finger as Diego was about to say something. “No, Diego, you and Victoria are not going to be allowed to return home alone. You will no longer see Victoria unchaperoned.”

“But Father –”

“Don’t ‘but father’ me, Diego. Hopefully no one will ever connect you with Zorro’s scandalous behavior!”

Victoria took Diego’s arm and leaned into him slightly. “It’s a good thing we’re getting married as soon as possible.”

Before Don Alejandro could react, Felipe signed they should get going for home. Diego spoke up. “Excellent point, Felipe. The quicker we leave, the quicker we can discuss everything in more detail.”

Felipe followed Don Alejandro out the door. Diego offered his arm to Victoria and they followed the other two outside.

 

~~Z~~Z~~Z~~

 

“Then what happened, Papa?” Three-year old Francesca asked.

It was a heart-warming scene. The young family surrounding the father sitting in a rocker, his youngest son, as of the present time, on his lap. Four other children sat at his feet with his young wife expecting their sixth child sitting across from them in her rocking chair busily darning another sock.

“You know what happens, Cisca. Papa and Mama have told us this story millions of times!” Five-year old Maria told her sister.

“But I love this story, Maria. Don’t be so bratty to me just because I’m little.”

“Hijas, now behave so Papa can finish the story,” Victoria looked up from her mending as she rocked in her chair, her stomach protruding out with her unborn seven-month baby.

Diego smiled. Taking in his eldest sons, eight-year old Juan Diego and seven-year old Alonso, waiting patiently for the story to continue, Diego knew he couldn’t be happier. “Well, children, your mother had quite a lot to say to me on the way home.”

“Because she was very, very mad at you, right?” Francesca asked.

“Yes, Cisca, she was,” Diego answered, catching Victoria’s eyes over her sewing. Despite her resolve not to, Victoria couldn’t help smiling back at her devilishly handsome, roguish husband with a mysterious twinkle in his eyes.

“Now, Diego, don’t lie to the children.” Victoria attempted to sound stern but a smile on her lips ruined the effect. “Of course I was upset with your papa, because he kept a secret from me.”

“But Mama, it could’ve been very dangerous for everyone if someone had found out, and we wouldn’t have even been born,” Alonso said.

“I wouldn’t like that at all!” Francesca said, with tears in her eyes. “I wouldn’t have wanted Mama and Papa to die before we were born.”

“I’m sorry, Cisca, I didn’t mean to frighten you.” Looking at his father, Alonso asked, “Papa, can you continue por favor?”

“Yes, my son.” Diego cleared his throat. “Uncle Felipe and Grandfather rode their horses, Toronado was tied to the back of the wagon, and your Mama graciously allowed me to drive her wagon. I tried to answer all of their questions as we rode home.”

“I’m glad they eventually forgave you, Papa, for lying,” Maria said.

“I am too, Maria. We were able to get married in a month after the banns were read in church.

“And then Juan Diego was born a year later then,” Cisca said, prodding her father along in the story.

“Children, you know the rest of the story. It’s time for bed. Hurry up and Mama and Papa will be up to tuck you in.” Victoria took two-year old Nicolas from his father’s lap. “I’ll get him ready for bed, Diego. Can you check on the progress of our children in a little bit. I’ll join you soon.”

Diego leaned in for a quick kiss. “Certainly, my Corazon. Your wish is always my command.”

“Yes, Diego’s command. Not Zorro’s.” She winked at her husband and hurried towards their bedroom, where Nicolas continued to sleep until their next bambino was born.

“Remember what your son said. Zorro couldn’t tell you any sooner.”

Victoria turned around and glared at him. “Let’s simply say that is one quarrel we’ve never settled, all these years.”

Diego smiled to himself as he watched her leave the room. Even though he’d never been more scared in his life, gracias a Dios the adventure of the ‘Mistaken Senorita’, as he loved to tease Victoria with, had occurred. He’d never been happier these past nine years, with all his blessings around him. He shook his head to clear it of such thoughts and joined his family upstairs.