The Scene From 'Courtship' That You Never Saw

by Linda Bindner

Drat! His boots were still in Victoria's room. He must have left them there by mistake the night before, after the escapade caused by jumping on the bed. Well, there was nothing to it but to sneak in quietly and get them. He smiled, remembering. It was true, jumping on the bed together had caused delightful giggles from Victoria, a sight always worth seeing according to Diego, and spasms in Alejandro at their wicked behavior, also always worth causing in his opinion, but he needed those boots if he wanted to check on his experiments in the cave. And he really wanted to check on them. He would definitely have to see about buying another pair, but it had seemed unimportant. Until now.

Diego stole down the hallway in his stockinged feet, the sound of his black socks swishing against the carpets covering the floor. The carpets and warmer weather kept his feet from getting too cold, but the cave had no such amenities. The stone floor would make his feet too cold to do much checking, he knew. So he stole. Softly.

He held his breath as he slowly pushed open her door, glad that he hadn't thought to latch it the night before. He didn't want to startle her or wake her at this early hour, or surprise his father, who he knew was already eating his breakfast in the dining room. What he didn't need right now was a sudden lecture from his father about sneaking in to a lady's bed chamber. His father and the servants might not understand this incriminating scene. Victoria might not understand.

There she was, still asleep, wearing a ridiculously prim nightgown with such a high neckline that he could see it even above the blankets pulled up to her chin. The weather might be warmer, but it wasn't so warm outside that a person didn't need a blanket at night or in the morning to keep warm. So she was making good use of the cream coverlet on her bed, having pulled it up from the floor sometime during the night to stay warm. It wasn't something he hadn't done in the privacy of his own room many times before.

He couldn't deny it to himself that she looked beautiful all stretched out, lying there in the cobwebbed shroud of sleep. She looked younger, fresher, without the often draining demands of running a tavern on her mind. Her dark hair lay tumbled about her face, and he could hear her even breathing in the quiet of the room. That benign, lovely face captured him, and he knew he shouldn't look, but couldn't help himself as he stared. A moment later, he forced himself to glance away.

Diego fully intended to snag his boots at the side of her bed and leave immediately, but he paused when he reached her door again. It had been so long since he had just looked at her, either as himself or as Zorro, that he couldn't help stopping on the threshold, just before reopening her door, to stare openly one last time, all the love he had ever felt for her displayed in his eyes. If she was awake at that moment, she couldn't help but see his true feelings. But she was asleep, so Diego felt safe in looking and dreaming.

Eight months. That's how long it had been since the clandestine, nocturnal wedding. Well, actually, seven and a half months since they had gotten married, and at least that long since he had truly been with her, with only a mask separating them. The piece of material had seemed insurmountable back then, but a marriage had proven to be more insurmountable yet. Though they were good friends, the kind that could goof off or jump on her bed together, it stopped there, much to Diego's regret. He hadn't kissed her or even touched her since before the wedding, almost a year ago. Quite abruptly, the amount of time seemed too long.

Diego's heart expanded in his chest, and he couldn't have breathed even if he had wanted to. Love for her washed over him, and he fought the feeling, to remain in control, to not wake her right then and there, to not ravish her as he suddenly found himself wanting to. It wasn't the first time he had denied himself the pleasure of those emotions.

So he wouldn't wake her against his own good sense, Diego turned to go.

Unfortunately, he chose that moment to stub his toe on the door. The door, seeming to have a mind of its own, shut the rest of the way, clicking into place with a loud report, and waking Victoria suddenly from her sound sleep.

She woke quickly, sitting bolt upright in her bed before her eyes landed on Diego at the door, nursing an aching toe and feeling like a fool. Diego?

Sh, he forced himself to whisper. I didn't mean to wake you. I was only retrieving my boots. Luckily, the offending objects of boot fame were in his hands, proving that he wasn't lying. There was no obvious alternate reason for him to be in her bedroom at the crack of dawn. You go back to sleep, he commanded and reached for the doorknob.

But Victoria was wide awake now. No. You don't have to go if you don't want to.

Aware that this scene would certainly implicate him if he was caught, Diego couldn't help turning around towards her, his emotions still naked on his face, though he was doing his best to hide them. Sorry. I just came in to get my boots. He held up the incriminating evidence with what he hoped was a convincing smile. You go back to sleep.

I'm not sleepy, she refuted, noticing as she spoke that Diego suddenly had the oddest expression on his face. If she didn't know better, she would have sworn that she was staring at affection.

No, honestly, you go on back to sleep, he said, though his statement lacked conviction. He played absently with the doorknob under his fingers.

That's all right, she said, halting his desire to flee. I don't mind, and I'm not too tired to talk.

That statement brought an unanticipated smile to his lips. Not too tired even after jumping on the bed last night?

She smiled too, recalling as well, and Diego felt his heart melt at the sight. Even then.

He had to get out of her room. If he didn't, being caught would be the least of his concerns. If he stayed, he might be tempted to reveal everything to her, even his emotions. Especially his emotions. He was afraid he might throw himself at her mercy as it was. I should go, he said instead.

Victoria put up a hand. No, stay. Please.

She'd said 'please.' It was the one word that Diego couldn't ignore. Thinking only that he was aiming for danger, he nevertheless sat down at the very end of her bed, as far from her as was politely possible.

We can talk, she suggested quietly.

Diego drew in a deep, calming breath. What do you need to talk about?

But Victoria was silent, staring at the sunshine barely touching the window. Do you know we've been married for almost a year? she said when she finally looked back at him.

Yes. Amazing, isn't it, how time seems to go by so fast?

Victoria pushed down the coverlet and the blankets, exposing the full length of her white nightgown. She swallowed so loud that even Diego could hear it from his place at the bottom of the bed. She looked nervous, but determined as she said, And do you know that in all that time, you haven't touched me once?

Her observation came as a complete surprise to him. He didn't know how to respond to such bluntness. Well, I promised on our wedding night that I wouldn't...

Victoria interrupted. I know what you promised, but don't you ever want to go back on your promises? She bravely reached over and put one hand on his knee.

He stared at her hand. Diego swallowed, too, and his heart beat crazily in his chest. It was amazing that she didn't hear it. I... I hadn't thought... Diego didn't know what to say to her, and if he didn't have such a strong hold on his boots, he would have dropped them.

Victoria was now slowly inching towards him on the bed. Has anyone ever told you that you think too much?

Diego didn't have time for thought beyond a quick flash to realize that she was seducing him, very sweetly, before her lips, soft as velvet, were suddenly on his in the lightest kiss he had ever received.

Diego dropped his boots. They made a soft thud on the floor as his hand came up to cup her cheek, and in slow motion, he felt her melt into him. Though it went against his instincts, he gave in to her demanding mouth, desire slamming into him the second his lips touched hers.

He shouldn't be doing this. He should gently but firmly push her away, saying that this had all been a mistake. But he couldn't make himself perform the right movements. The only thing his befuddled mind seemed capable of clinging to was the goodness, the rightness, of feeling her in his arms again.

Victoria's fingers moved to the buttons of his shirt even as her incredible mouth worked its magic on his senses. Before either of them knew what was happening, Diego's caballero shirt was hanging open and her hands were on his chest, rubbing in circles over the muscles that didn't seem to surprise her at all. Diego was sure he would fall over at the erotic sensation.

He did lose his balance, but it was towards her, and she paused after she caught him. Diego gazed for a moment into her eyes, and the undisguised passion there surprised him, but not enough to make him stop.

In one fluid movement, Victoria pulled the unbecoming nightgown over her head, exposing her entire body to his abruptly hungry gaze, before her incredibly soft lips were on his once more. One shove and the caballero shirt was gone, allowing her to rub her chest unimpeded against his own.

Diego didn't know how long he could keep up the pretense of his subterfuge under this onslaught of sensation he was feeling. His skin tingled, and everywhere he touched her sent a sudden, pleasant, jolt through him. In seconds, he was a mass of sensation as he instinctively pushed his body into hers, letting his desires build while his lips traveled down her delicious neck to her shoulders, where he kissed her rather roughly, reaching the ragged edge of his control.

Only the sound of their labored breathing broke the silence that had descended over the room. Wanting to feel the whole length of her against him, Diego took a moment from his actions to unceremoniously pull at the buttons holding his trousers to his hips. The pants were gone as quickly as the shirt had gone, and Diego sat on the side of her bed for a second to kick the trousers aside, certain that they would ultimately be in the way. One sock was yanked off to join the trousers, and he was working on the second when he felt her hands softly caressing his back. Her lips soon followed, and her hands moved around to his front, where the fingers just barely grazed across his tight stomach. Still, it was enough to make him suck in his breath and gasp it out at the rush of tingles that suddenly accosted him. His reaction only encouraged her to repeat the same behavior again.

That was it. With one simple action, Diego lost control and gave in to the desire trying to swamp him from every direction. When he turned around after divesting his foot of the sock, the eyes of a man completely, head over heels in love stared back at her. Victoria took a moment to note the difference in his demeanor before she kissed him again, soft as a sprinkling summer rain, leaving little doubt in his mind as to what was on hers. Passion sprang anew as he became aware of the impression of her naked chest on his. He gently laid her back on the bed and joined her a moment later, their lips never leaving the other's.

Time stood still as they explored, the urgency caused by their emotions coursing through their veins, but each wanted to make this first time last as long as possible. Diego kissed her neck slowly, in a lingering aggirmation of his affection. Victoria kissed his back just as slowly. Groaning, Diego buried his face in her breasts. Victoria caught her breath and let it out in a ragged hiss, then kissed his chest in response. His hands were everywhere, cajoling, touching, and she flushed under the light pass of his fingers, doing the same to any part of him she could reach. He found that a passionate, heated Victoria was impossible to deny any longer, and he blazed a trail down her stomach with lips gone sensuous and pliant as he pulsed suddenly in a strong need to feel her hot skin and hear her shredded pleasure at his touch. One caress across her breast encouraged him to take the center into his mouth in a feeling of complete necessity when she groaned a reply and arched her back to better sense every bit of him. She pulled against the back of his head, feeling his slick hair in her hands, making a seperation betweeen the two impossible as she tossed her head on the pillow behind her. In a whisper of another groan of pleasure, she said, I love you, Diego, as she pushed against him in an unheralded intensity and tightened her arms in an embrace that was softer and firmer then any they had experienced before.

Such an explosion of buried emotion made desire roar across Diego. Oh Dios, Victoria, I love you, too, he said when he'd found his voice. So much that I can't stand it, he confessed in a groaning whisper, but still the sound was no more than a breath of heated air, of affirmation to those feelings he'd kept carefully hidden for so long.

Finally Diego truly had no other option but to lay on top of her, his full length glorying in the new sensations as her legs wrapped tightly around his hips in complete abandon of any kind of protocol. Still acting on instincts alone, Diego slipped inside her, and felt her stiffen as his lips descended on hers in the only movement that had been purposefully committed all morning.

When they parted, he gazed down at her in adoration. But... This will hurt, and I would do anything to avoid it.., Diego breathed.

I know, Victoria interrupted him, but pushed her hips into his as a result of the dulling of pain and the reawakening delight in just feeling him move against her. It wasn't long before she was urging him to fully imbed himself inside her in a compelling need of her own to complete this unprecedented, though ultimately sweet, act of lovemaking. Victoria arched her back, and Diego was now riding out his own waves of desire. Thought abandoned both of them as a fog of passion clouded their eyes. Diego tried to clear his head, but found it an impossible task when she suddenly writhed and pulsed beneath him. Instinct still driving him, he pushed against her arched hips when just as suddenly he felt an earth-shattering pleasantness steal across his stomach, making him clench his teeth and groan into her neck. The sensation was almost painful as his already full heart threatened to explode, causing even more emotion to pour into him. He held onto Victoria as tightly as he could without hurting her as the pounding billows soaked his mind again and again with waves of passion. He poured his seed deep inside her as he gasped harshly, having never felt such simultaneously strong and relaxing emotions. The entire event left him trembling and yearning for more.

They lay together, gasping and catching their breath. But the air in the room was too cool for the previously discarded blankets to be on the floor. Suddenly cold in the chilly air of early morning, Diego rose for only a moment to pull the coverlet and blankets around them both, putting a reluctant end to his and her annoying, though admittedly charming, goosebumps. Soon, he'd created a nest of cocooning warmth. But Victoria didn't appear to notice.

Victoria's hand raised, trembling, to her forehead. Oh, God, was the only thing she whispered.

Diego couldn't tell if that was an expletive denoting pleasure, or if she now wished she had chosen the alternative and returned to sleep. However, the smile on her face set his mind at rest.

A moment later, she was able to finish her thought. That was incredible, she whispered, still setting Diego's mind at ease with her acceptance of making love. Before he could react, she had rolled over towards him and was pulling him towards her with one smooth hand in an embrace that had been long in coming.

Yet, Diego felt compelled to softly say, I'm sorry. That wasn't meant to happen. All I came in here for were my boots. Despite his words, his arm snaked out to return her embrace.

Her next words shocked any hope of reaction from him. I'm glad it did happen. I've been waiting ages for you to make some move or another. I finally gave up and made them on my own. I'm so glad I did.

Ages? He could have made love to her before this? His brow furrowed behind his tousled hair. What do you mean 'ages?'

Victoria sighed. Well, not exactly 'ages.' Days, at least, she admitted.

Days?

She nodded. Eyes closed, she quietly confessed, I just couldn't help myself. You see, she said by way of explanation, I know.

He didn't understand. You know what?

She sighed happily again, content, the sound permeating the room. Your secret identity, she said casually.

With a whoosh, Diego's blood froze and his heart, so recently full of the most pleasant of emotions, dropped to his warm toes. She knew he was Zorro? Every muscle in his body grew tight, tense. How do you know that? he choked, his eyes wide, his hand automatically tightening on her.

She lifted her head from the shoulder she had laid it on. Deduction. Reasoning. You're always encouraging me to be more logical.

Still too flabbergasted to react much, Diego said, Yes, but...

She rested her head back down, but, again, interrupted him. I've known for three days. Three days ago, I saw Zorro fighting in the plaza, didn't see you, put two and two together, and presto, before I knew it, I had a match. Victoria chuckled. I was so excited that I had to take the rest of the day off.

Diego gave a half-groan, a sound between a sigh and a bark. So that's why you disappeared into your room at the tavern. We all thought you were sick.

She shook her head. No, just grinning like a complete idiot, and I couldn't hide it for anything. If the Alcalde had seen me, he would have known in an instant that I knew. My room was the only safe place I could think of to go.

At least she didn't appear to want to immediately turn him over to the authorities. That was something. Gradually, Diego felt himself start to relax again. What do you plan to do?

She lifted her head again to searchingly look at him. Is it true?

Unused to expounding on his secret, Diego made a face and reached nervously with his hands to the swirls of the brass bedstead above his head, searching for comfort in the movement. But if anybody had the right to know, it was Victoria. That still didn't make the admittance of the secret any easier. Wordlessly, grimacing, he nodded.

She smiled, then laid her head placidly back down. I thought so.

Feeling compelled now, he repeated, What do you plan to do?

He felt her words stroke his shoulder. Me? Nothing. Except love you for who you really are. Oh, and don't think that loving you is only a reaction to such incredible emotions or because I know that truth, she cautioned.

Diego had to admit that the thought had occurred to him, but she was speaking again, and he redirected his attention to her.

I fell in love with you first, and I realized it after that night I kissed you on the lips instead of your cheek, like I meant to. Then you came back from San Diego and I figured out the rest without help from anybody, and... She was silent for a moment, then went on, And I hope you'll tell your father soon so I won't have to hear such biting remarks as his anymore. You don't deserve them. You never did.

Diego craned his neck to look at her in disbelief. I thought I was the only one who heard those.

This time she shook her head, making her curls bounce and sway. No, I've been aware of them for a long time. Since well before the wedding.

Diego sighed, but hugged her tighter yet. I know it's part of the disguise, but not being the son my father so clearly wants is difficult at the best of times.

I hate those biting remarks of his. I always have.

Surprised, Diego looked again at Victoria. I'm surprised that anybody notices.

She kissed his chest in a light endearment. Of course I notice. I'm not deaf, you know, and neither are the rest of my patrons.

Already, the kiss, as innocent as it had been, was sending tingles shooting out all over his skin. He had to rein in his instincts, or he would have made love to Victoria again, only moments after their first time of making love. Instead, he settled for caressing her soft cheek. I guess I'm surprised that anybody cares.

Of course I care, she said softly. Especially now.

Diego stretched, feeling relaxed in spite of his misgivings, and still found himself loving her, even if she knew his secret. He was glad she knew; it was one more person whom he didn't have to pretend before anymore. It was almost a relief that she knew, if he were honest with himself. She was the hardest to pretend around, not just because of his feelings for her, but because she knew him the best. She saw him the most, and always had seen him the most, both as Zorro and as himself.

Victoria purred like a cat, and smiled. I feel wonderful.

Diego smiled back. So do I, he admitted in a rare, candid moment.

Victoria smiled once more and sighed again. Then she lifted her head up for the third time to look him straight in the eye. But there is one thing I have to make absolutely clear.

Diego brushed her hair back with his fingers. It was something he had always wanted to do. What's that? he asked gently.

That I love you both, not just Zorro, and I love you so much. She was adamant in her disclosure.

Such a confession was extraordinary. Wanting her to know how much what she had said meant to him, he lightly kissed her. What if I say that's the best thing I've heard all day?

She laughed. I'd say the day's not very old yet. She grabbed his hand from her side and kissed the palm in a platonic yet amorous way that sent more tingles up his arm.

I love it when you do that, he said with a contented grin.

She giggled again. I'll make sure I do it often.

I've wanted to do something like that since... He stopped, unsure how far the confession should go.

But her curiosity was ruthless. Since?

Diego sighed, but knew that confession was good for the soul. He already felt lighter than he ever had before. Slowly, he whispered, I've been in love with you since I came home.

From Madrid? she asked incredulously. Why didn't you ever say anything?

Diego wiggled uncomfortably. I was afraid that you wouldn't want me. And I seemed to have some rather... fierce competition.

Victoria stared at him with undisguised love on her face. Suddenly she kissed him, long, seductively, and hard. That's payment for the crime of remaining silent. Try not to keep anything from me again.

She felt bad because he'd never said that he loved her before now? Not because he hadn't told her of his secret identity? Victoria continually surprised him. None of her reactions had been what he had expected at all. He said as much to her when she drew back, whispering to her confidingly as he once again craned his neck to see her face.

Try not to be so surprised, she suggested. That's why you were my best friend. I think I have always loved you, even when I proclaimed my love for Zorro. And as to my reactions, don't think so hard. I would rather have you, a real man, than a legend any day.

This proclamation also amazed Diego, but he thought it would be wise if he didn't say anything to her about it just yet. In the meantime, she played with his mustache, running a finger over it in idle curiosity before she whispered in wonder, How could I be so lucky?

You didn't think you were lucky a year ago, he commented softly.

Victoria chuckled slightly at his statement. Boy, was I stupid, she said, then pulled his head down to hers for a soft kiss, that turned into a long kiss, that turned in to something more.

That was the day that Victoria never made it back to the tavern.


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