Chapter Twelve

Several weeks had passed since the nasty business with the tax money.   The bandits were sentenced to long jail terms and the money delivered intact to the proper authorities in Monterey.   Diego had improved enough to begin a few morning fencing bouts with ever faithful Bernardo.  Once the stiffness in his body was gone and his muscles strengthened he would return to watching over the people of Los Angeles as Zorro.  For now Diego rested peacefully in the de la Vega garden sipping  wine.   He felt lucky to be alive and have Anna Maria's love.

"My son, it is good to see you looking so well," Don Alejandro said as he approached.

"Gracias father, I feel better each day," he said.  "Soon everything will be perfect."

"Diego, I am sorry I interfered in your life," said Alejandro earnestly. "I did not understand what Anna Maria meant to you when I asked you to leave Monterey.  I thought it was the right thing for everyone concerned for you to be Zorro.  I realize that was selfish and unfair to make you give up your dreams.  You are entitled to a full life.  I am sorry."

"You have nothing to be sorry about," said Diego.  "The decision was mine and I made it."

"You are a good man, a good son," Alejandro said to Diego. "I am very proud of you."

Anna Maria and Don Grigorio spoke softly as they descended the stairs.  Don Grigorio knew Diego to be a fine young man from a good family but was his daughter over her feelings for Zorro?   Would Anna Maria's infatuation for this "bandit" stand in the way of her happiness?  Should he have allowed this 'arranged' marriage to be made?  Don Grigorio knew he must find out the truth before it was too late.

"Anna Maria," said Don Grigorio watching his daughter's reaction. "Do you still have feelings for Zorro?"

"Father, I am about to marry Don Diego," answered Anna Maria. "Why do you ask that question?"

"Daughter, you are about to marry and make a commitment to one man but is your heart entrusted to another?"

"My heart has been given to Diego freely.  Zorro was exciting but only a dream.  Helping the needy consumes his mind not love.  Diego has passion, warmth, intelligence and the love to make a marriage work.  The more I know him, the more I love him and only him."

"Gracias my child," he said embracing Anna Maria.  "I was not sure that this arranged marriage was the right thing to do."         

"Father, I love Diego and I want to marry him," she said truthfully. "Not because I feel forced or compromised in anyway but because I want him to be my husband."

Don Alejandro and Diego stood as Anna Maria and her father approached.  Don Grigorio could see the love shared between Diego and Anna Maria.  This would be a joyous occasion shared by all.

"Diego, I am glad your business was finished early," said Don Grigorio. "There is much to do to get ready for your coming marriage."

The sounds of a horse's hooves at the entrance sent Don Alejandro to open the gate.  Sergeant Garcia dismounted and was warmly greeted by Don Alejandro who showed him into the garden.  After a few pleasanteries Garcia shared the news which brought him to the hacienda.  A new commandante had been assigned to the cuartel and would arrive shortly from Spain.  There was not too much Garcia could add but Diego pressed forward with more questions.  Was it possible that Diego could know this man from Spain?  Perhaps he was a student at the university...in time they would know.           

Bernardo brought more wine as the talk continued on the subject of the coming wedding.  Most of the arrangements had been set, even accomadations for those not from Los Angeles.  Diego and Anna Maria especially looked forward to the arrival their guests Don Ricardo D'Amo and the governor's daughter, Leonar.  Diego had been friends with Ricardo since Spain and Leonar was Anna Maria's childhood friend from Monterey.

After Garcia rode off the dons made their way inside for a game of chess leaving Diego and Anna Maria alone in the garden.  Smiling to Anna Maria, Diego took her in his arms and lowered his head until their lips...when they heard a cough.  There sitting nearby was Amalia.  Once again propriety was to be observed but where was their privacy.  They yearned to spend just a moment alone?  Would they have to wait until they were married?

"Anna Maria,"Diego whispered.  "I must see you,"  May I come to your room when everyone retires for the evening?"

"All right," she responded.

That evening when the household was quiet Diego lit a lantern and stepped quietly through the passage to Anna Maria's room.  As he entered Anna Maria lowered the book she was reading and went to his side.

"It seems everywhere we go our 'companions' follow," his voice quivered. "I just wanted a minute alone with you.  To touch you, hold you, kiss you....."

Diego caressed her face in his hands.  She was so beautiful.   Leaning down his lips met hers and their arms tightened about each other.

"I wish I did not have to leave you," said Diego.  "It might be worth getting injured again just to wake up with you nearby."

"Diego, very soon we shall be married and you need never leave me again," blushed Anna Maria.

The Visit