I know what we should do... Victoria interrupted
Yes? Diego asked politely.
You have a better
One thing that I do know is what a man wants, what
Diego rolled his eyes, and his irritation seeped out in the
tone of his voice.
And, prey tell, what do these outlaws
Give me some credit, Diego, Victoria stoutly said.
I do run a tavern.
All right, all right, Diego conceded.
you that undeniable fact. But what does that have to do with
Give me a moment.., Victoria commanded, then she
thought, hard, about how small the pantry closet must be where
they were being detained. But then she turned towards the
direction of Diego's voice.
Do you think you can you lay back
There was a pause, then from the floor, Diego whispered,
I can lay down, but I can't stretch out without hitting a wall
or the shelves.
But that was all Victoria needed to hear.
And I know
that you can punch somebody out with your left hand...
That's all well and good, Victoria, but how are we going
to lure the bandits in here? Diego asked, slightly
It won't do us any good if we're in here
and they're out there, and they have all the guns and we have
Oh, ye of little faith, Victoria quoted at him.
can lure them in here, and then after you knock them unconscious,
you can grab their guns, and we'll be free to leave. They'll
never know what hit them. At the sound of his sigh of
Trust me. This will work.
The aggravation left in Diego's second sigh.
trust you, he said,
Victoria took a seat on the dirt ground, directly across
from the door.
Are you sure? she asked facetiously.
Diego's voice held aggravation this time.
I do, with my
life, and you know that. I just didn't trust myself enough to
tell you about this one little thing called my identity because I
That was hardly a little thing, she retorted, being
Diego's sigh once more cut the room's air in two.
you ever going to let me forget that? he inquired, sounding
hopeless even as he asked his question.
Victoria had to smile at the lost little boy quality to his
No! she whispered firmly, knowing that if she ever
indicated that she had already done more than forgive him his
transgression, she would lose the small, mental edge she held
over him, and then she would be nothing but putty in his grasp,
doing whatever he wished... Although, she admitted, being putty
in his hands wouldn't be all that bad... Focus! she
mentally ordered, and seated herself more firmly on the floor
across from the door, the shelves at her back. She positioned
her hands behind her, and asked,
As ready as I'll ever be. I just wish I knew what you
had in mind.
Don't concern yourself about that, Victoria advised.
Just be ready to knock the outlaw who comes in unconscious,
and we'll be set. Ready?
Yes, Diego answered, sounding aggrieved now, but it
was clear that Victoria was in charge of this little operation.
I'm lying down with my head facing towards the door and my
eyes closed. Now what?
Victoria didn't answer, but did pound on the door with her foot. When no one responded immediately, she heard Diego give a rather desperate sigh.
I've handled situations worse than this a hundred times,
Victoria... why don't you let me try? he asked.
He thinks he has everything solved, Victoria thought sourly. Just like a man... She didn't finish her thought, only pounded on the door again with her foot. This time, she got more results as the door was yanked open and Luis stood just inside the square of light that poured through the opening he had created. Victoria squinted up at him.
Yeah, what ya want? Luis asked brusquely.
Victoria smiled, though her eyes were watering at trying to
adjust to the light too quickly. She smiled until her cheeks
hurt with the strain... She smiled until she felt her dimples
pierce her skin... Then she turned her smile to become more
Can you please bring me some water? she
asked, the sweetness dripping from her voice.
Victoria wanted to wretch at the sugary sound of her
request, but it was clear that Luis found her actions and tone
Why? he asked, suspicious anyway,
yet completely missing the fact that she was supposed to have
been gagged. She smiled even more, hoping to confuse him so much
that he would never notice that tiny detail.
Men, Victoria thought as she smiled. They're
always thinking, but not with their brains. Aloud she
I think my companion is unconscious again, but I don't
want him to die, and I'm not sure if he's dead or not as it is.
He threw up once, then... She let her statement hang in the
air, unfinished. But she did add even more music to her voice
until it was positively mellifluous.
Luis glared at her in distrust, but he turned to stare at Diego, who was lying prone as much he could on the floor with his eyes closed. Victoria wasn't sure if he had made a slit out of one eye so that he could see what was going on, or not.
Irritated, Luis wandered over in Diego's direction.
doesn't look too bad to me, lady, he contradicted, then knelt
and felt for a pulse.
Now! thought Victoria, but when Diego didn't react,
I know how you don't want him to die and be charged with
murder as well as kidnapping helpless prisoners...
Luis turned towards her, grinning, and said,
Well, we can
do something about that 'prisoner' part if you're willing,
She is not your lady, Diego said quite clearly from
his position on the floor.
Don't call her that. And then
he struck out, fast, and caught a surprised Luis hard in his
temple with his left fist. Luis instantly fell to the side, his
eyes rolling into the back of his head.
Victoria sprang up and captured the outlaw before he fell to
the floor with a very audible thud.
I thought you were never
going to hit him! she whispered.
Diego stared at her, appreciation all over his dimly lit
Remind me never to allow you to charm me at any
time, he said back.
You're lethal when you want to
Victoria smiled, sensing the power that went along with her
particular brand of deadliness.
I'll remember that, she
Diego dragged Luis into the corner and tied his hands with
the rope bonds that had once incapacitated him. Only he tied the
rope much more securely, using a bind that twisted it in a far
more intricate way than a square knot would have done.
that should hold you, he said to the outlaw on the floor
Hurry! commanded Victoria, still in a whisper.
Someone's coming to investigate the noise!
Quickly, Diego pulled the unconscious outlaw's gun from his
holster and unloaded it, dumping the pistol ball to the dirt
floor, right in front of the door.
Maybe we'll be lucky and
someone will step on it, he explained to a puzzled Victoria.
We don't need someone to step on it and fall, but it
can't hurt. Then, he took his position beside the door,
holding the gun by its sleek barrel.
Alsergio was the next to poke his head through the opening.
Whut's goin' on in here? he asked, right before Diego
brought the pistol handle down onto his temple. He slid to the
floor so quickly that Diego couldn't catch him, but the thud the
bandit made brought a curious Jose to investigate the noise.
Alsergio? he called.
I thought you
Whack went the pistol, and Jose followed his fellow thief to the floor of the pantry closet.
Well done! chimed in Victoria as she stood. Pins and
needles were already beginning to travel up and down her legs,
and she was glad to move around.
Diego took the pistols from the two most recently struck
Let me hold these for you.., he said to them,
not expecting the unconscious men to answer. Then he tied them
both up with their arms behind their backs, and moved the men
into the corner with their friend. The tiny cupboard was almost
overflowing with occupants when he was finished. So he beckoned
for Victoria to join him in the big room, and shut the door
I hope they enjoy the dark as much as we did,
Hurry! Victoria already had the outside door open.
Diego ran across the room to join her, then they slipped out into
Good thing I found the ropes that they had used to tie
our hands together, Diego muttered as they crossed the yard,
if a dirt patch could be called a yard.
Or we would have had
nothing with which to tie their hands together.
I would have ripped off strips from my underwear,
Victoria said to him.
We wouldn't have been helpless, she
Diego grabbed the reins of one of the horses, still tacked
but tied to a tree.
Do you know how hard it is to rip
material with your bare hands? he asked a bit
Do you have a knife with you? she asked in answer to
his question as she reached for the reins belonging to a second
Yes, in my boot, Diego replied.
but what's that
got to do with it?
Victoria sighed dramatically.
To cut my petticoat with,
if it proved to be necessary. But thanks to your quick thinking
and habit of saving everything, we didn't have to.
Diego grabbed the reins of the third horse, and handed them to Victoria to hold after she had mounted and was sitting straight in the saddle.
Hold those? she asked.
Please, he said, then jumped into the saddle in a
very Zorro-like manner.
I guess there's no one not too tied
up to see me, he commented.
I guess it's true what they say about
men and little boys...
Diego took the reins of both horses in his hands and turned
their heads in a southwesterly direction, heading towards Los
And what do they say?
That men are little boys at heart, even you.
Victoria paused to gaze at him.
My little boy, she added
softly, almost to herself.
A little boy who prefers to be treated as an adult, if
you know what I mean, Diego said with a pointed look towards
Victoria. According to her returning expression that lilted
towards flirtatious enchantment, she comprehended him very well.
I see you understand my meaning, he said.
When she reached across the space that separated them to take a closer look at the dried blood on the cut on his temple, she couldn't hide her smile from him. He let her feel his cut, but then hauled her from her horse over to his while she was leaning and off balance.
Diego, what are you doing? Victoria screeched.
Those men will be unconscious or well occupied with their
own ropes for the better part of the night, Diego said.
We'll ride back to town and have Sergeant Mendoza move them to
more comfortable accommodations in the jail when we get there.
In the meantime... He smiled and ran a hand softly down her
I haven't seen you for three days.
Victoria grinned back at him and kissed his hand.
saw me all night in the pantry closet.
It was dark; I didn't see anything, Diego negated
swiftly. His finger made another caressing pass over her
Victoria caught his fingers in her own and brought them all
to her mouth, where she kissed them, one by one.
miss anything, she told him.
Diego's appreciative smile grew larger.
On the contrary,
I think I missed quite a bit, he said, then held her in his
saddle with his arms tightly wrapped around her waist, and leaned
in and kissed her with the light of a full moon to wash over them
in all its dim glory.
Victoria felt his desire to cherish her the second his lips touched hers, and she answered in kind. Diego's hands were cradling her cheeks, rubbing lovingly through her hair, and he kissed her on her forehead in a longing display of affection that wasn't as hurried as it had always been in the past.
I'm so glad they didn't hurt you while I was
unconscious, he whispered, then twisted his arms around her
back in a cuddling embrace.
Victoria hugged him back, hard, clung to him in desperation,
Even unconscious, you would never have let that
Her faith in his abilities to protect her in spite of his mistake in not telling her of the entire truth years before heartened him. He kissed her, hugged her, caressed her, one last time, then returned her to her own mount.
Victoria pouted, looking pretty, but her face was schooled
into an expression that he had never thought to see on her. It
was far too full of feminine wiles. Instead of responding to it,
he shut his eyes on her, swallowed, and said,
He indicated the direction towards Los Angeles.
Yes, but I miss you already, she said, referring to
the fact that he would have to become more like the Diego
everyone in the pueblo, including the Alcalde, expected to see in
just a few moments, and she would miss the real Diego, a person
whom she was getting more and more used to being with.
Diego sighed, but deceiving everyone by playing the part of a fool or someone who thought Diego de la Vega was a fool was the price they both had to pay in order to continue keeping the deception of Zorro alive. Without a word, but fondly grazing her cheek one final time with the tips of his fingers, he wheeled his horse around and kicked her into a trot that would take them both swiftly back to town.
Z Z Z
I tell you, this is as real as the papers on your desk,
and these guns are complete evidence, Diego was saying an
hour later to a thunderstruck Alcalde who was annoyed for being
hauled out of bed in the middle of the night for what he believed
was nothing but a tall tale.
If you don't trust our word, Victoria added,
can take a look at the empty cash box sitting in my
The Alcalde sleepily glared at her.
Not another word out
of you, Seņorita, he said.
Diego instantly bristled at the older man's commanding tone.
I don't care if you believe us or not, he said in a
dangerously low tone of voice,
But, I tell you, you'll find
three outlaws in a pantry closet in a cabin about four miles from
here, and please don't talk to my fianceé like that.
Your fianceé, sneered the Alcalde.
I thought she
was waiting for that fiend, Zorro, and do you know how unusual it
is to have a cabin with a pantry cupboard in it? he asked all
in one breath.
Victoria ignored the first half of the Alcalde's question,
hoping that he would forget he had ever asked about Zorro.
kitchen would have one, she firmly said in order to deter the
It just means that whoever lived in that cabin was
married to a woman who likes to cook.
The Alcalde growled at her, but held his tongue on the
retort he wanted to make.
And you say there are three outlaws
with their hands tied behind their backs, unconscious, lying on
the dirt floor of this... this pantry cupboard?
It's more of a closet, actually, Diego corrected,
disclosing the fact in his higher, lighter tone.
The deception was remarkably useful; the Alcalde never knew
he was talking to his number-one enemy.
And you want me to
wake the sergeant out of a sound slumber to tell him this news
and ask him to retrieve men who probably only exist in your
imaginations in the middle of the night? DeSoto asked, still
a little disbelieving.
Victoria had heard enough.
Is this our
'imagination?' she asked angrily, indicating Diego's cut
temple as well as the dried blood that had oozed down his head
and into his hair right after being struck.
I suppose we
didn't experience that, either.
The Alcalde sneered again.
So he hit his own head while
helping his father in the barn - it doesn't prove
And these, Diego said, pulling the guns from his
These aren't real, either, and we just lifted them
from your own armory, I suppose.
The Alcalde picked up one of the guns that Diego had laid on
Now these are unlike anything I've seen
You'll find that they're much newer than the army issue
pistols that you use, Alcalde, and they're often found as the
firearm of choice for bandits. Diego paused a moment,
letting his sarcastic voice hang heavy in the room. He picked
up one of the pistols and carefully looked at it.
easy to acquire, cheap, and more accurate than your average
firearm. My guess is they're stolen property from somewhere
The Alcalde had to grudgingly admit,
Delgado, Alvarado, and Jimenez have reported stolen
There, you see, stated Victoria.
We're not making
this up... Would we be all covered in dirt if we were?
You could roll around in dirt and claim anything you
wanted, Seņorita, the Alcalde said.
And this stain? Victoria asked, pointing to a spot on
Diego's shirt front.
If you smell it, you'll see that it's
undeniably... um... and that can't be faked!
The Alcalde smelled Diego's shirt, then passed a hand in
front of his face.
What did you do, de la Vega, decide to
wear your lunch?
Um... said Diego uncomfortably.
Whatever! the Alcalde snarled. Then he sighed in
Well, I suppose I should wake that lazy excuse for a
sergeant that I have and get him to gather the men and take a
We would appreciate that, Alcalde, Diego said in a
monotone sounding voice.
Victoria couldn't hold herself back as she continued for
And we would also appreciate the fact that you prove
to us that all those taxes we pay are actually being used for our
Seņorita Escalante, warned the Alcalde,
taking your story seriously; don't push it!
Victoria growled low in her throat, and the Alcalde echoed her sentiment. But Diego pushed her out the office door before anything more could be said by either of them.
What did you do that for? she whispered accusingly.
I was just about to tell him what I truly think of him and
Diego took a deep breath.
That's what I was afraid of.
Come on, why don't we get you home before you end up spending the
rest of the night in jail.
The tavern loomed ever closer across the dark plaza. They climbed wearily up the porch step, and entered the darkened tap room when Victoria unlocked the front door with a key she kept hidden under a flower pot on the porch. Then she lit one candle always left on the bar. Its light only spread dim shadows across the large room.
Will you be all right here by yourself for the rest of
the night? Diego ascertained.
You're not staying? Victoria asked, instantly worried
about being left alone, but trying not to look worried.
Diego seemed a bit uncomfortable.
I would like to stay,
admittedly, but I need to take a bath...
So do I, Victoria reminded,
So I can wash all this
dirt off. She gazed assessingly at him.
Do you want to
help? she mischievously asked.
Diego smiled, both at her show of spirit, and at himself for
considering her offer in the first place. He raised appreciative
eyebrows at her.
I would like that, I admit... he started
She interrupted him.
What's stopping you?
I think my father would keel over if he
ever found out...
It's not like we haven't done worse before now,
Yes, I know that, Diego wryly answered.
doesn't mean that we should... um.... do the same again.
Suddenly Victoria looked serious.
We never did discuss
the new marriage law, either... Then added,
I think I
need to remind you of that... It's rather... important.
That's what I had originally come here to talk to you
about, he told her.
That's a start towards creating something positive out of
this mess, Victoria thought to herself. Aloud, she said,
And what were you going to say? she asked as she absently
grabbed a cloth left on the bar during the day and twirled it in
Diego blew out a breath of air in an explosive exhalation.
Well, it's rather personal.
And we haven't gotten personal so far tonight? she
Diego grew even more uncomfortable.
Diego, Victoria interrupted.
What were you going
to say? She sounded exasperated, irritated, and generally
shoved out of joint. Though she tried to be more understanding
than incensed, it was more in her nature to be slightly outraged
at his reticence.
All right, he admitted finally.
I'll just say it
and get it over with. He shuffled his feet uncomfortably
against the worn tile floor.
Victoria, I admit that you're in
something of a bind right now.
Victoria shrugged and rolled her eyes somewhat
I know I am.
The truth of the matter is that in a little over a week,
you'll have to marry someone, go to jail, or pay 500 Pesos to the
And I don't have 500 Pesos, Victoria reminded
And since you won't borrow the money from us, Diego
you need to marry somebody...
Anybody? Victoria asked.
YYYYYeeess, Diego slowly said. When she didn't
reply, he continued again.
And I have to say that the idea of
you married to someone besides me makes me nauseous and only will
encourage me to turn myself in. Not, he hastily added,
that I want to put pressure on you or your decision in any
way, but it seems that I'm not quite able to stop myself from
forcibly becoming part of your deliberations.
Victoria looked at him, quietly assessing.
she said, encouraging him too go on. Then she interrupted him
before he could start speaking,
I guess that would play
a part in any decision I make about what to do.
Yes, Diego said again and roughly cleared his throat.
The truth is that I've just about come to the end of my rope,
so to speak, and if you marry someone else... I might just...
I might... I might go a little insane,
actually, he finally admitted.
That's such a horrible
thought, he said.
I'm not sure I can stand it if you were
married to someone else...
Probably I would feel the same way if you were to marry
another girl from...
Diego held up his hands.
Not that I want to force you to
decide one way or another..., he said, his eyes closed in
Victoria crossed her arms and put all her weight on one
But that's exactly what you're doing, she said,
Well... yes, Diego finally said.
I'm sorry that
it has to end up that way, and I didn't mean for it to happen,
Do you want to get married? Victoria burst out
To each other? Diego ascertained a little
Victoria's heart pounded so loud in her ears, she could
barely hear him.
Um... yes, that was the idea, she said
with unusually downcast eyes.
That is, if you want to... to
marry me... if you can stand it.
Diego breathed out a great sigh of relief.
is, if you...
Yes! Victoria emphatically replied before he even
finished saying what he was going to say.
I thought you would
never ask, she told him in unequivocal terms.
I... didn't, he said, a bit hesitant again, a bit too
puzzled to go on.
She took one step forward, eating up the distance that
separated them, and took his dirty hand in her own. Even through
all the grunge, his hand felt comforting and completely soft and
thrilled her down to her toes.
I think.., she began to
say, then started again with a growing smile,
I think that
this is a very good idea.
Do you think so? Diego asked, again sounding unsure
I have to admit that I had hoped you would
think so, but...
Diego, Victoria cut him off in a whisper,
up. But she had a smile on her face as she soundly kissed
him, and she didn't care who saw or who gossiped... she only
cared about the way kissing him always made her toes curl in on
themselves... And her toes were definitely curling right now as
he kissed her in a way that made her feel more treasured that
ever before. I can't believe I'm getting married, she
thought to herself. And to him. Then, she added,
Go on to Chapter 14
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