Chapter Thirteen

Days later a loud knock on Diego's door shattered the silence between the two. Bernardo, who was helping Diego dress, placed his jacket on the bed and went to open the door. There stood Don Alejandro patiently waiting to enter. The don acknowledged the man servant then walked over to his son.

"Diego, if you have a few minutes I need to speak with you alone," said Alejandro looking at Bernardo.  Understanding what was wanted, Bernardo left the two men alone facing one another. "There is something I wish you to have," said Alejandro to his son. "This item has been in my care for many years." Taking a small velvet box from his jacket pocket he continued, "I gave this to your mother on our engagement. It would give me great pleasure to see Anna Maria wear it."

Diego took the box from his father. Opening it he found an elegant emerald and diamond ring.  "Father this is beautiful. I remember mother wearing it proudly. Gracias. I know this will make Anna Maria very happy," he said embracing his father.

Taking his jacket from the bed, Diego joined his father walking downstairs. Don Alejandro spoke of his concern that the new commandante from Spain might have knowledge of Diego's abilities.  Unfortunately without a name, Diego could not be sure.  Until then he was not going to worry or waste this wonderful day now that he was well and unbelievably happy.
The tailor and the seamstress were shown to the sala. The final alterations to the wedding garments needed to be made. The seamstress was brougt to Anna Maria's room while Diego followed the tailor to his room. The light beige suit made for Diego to wear was most suitable to his dark, handsome good looks. There was just enough gold braiding on the jacket and pants to make it festive without being too ornate. The binding and sash along with the tie were brown to accent the suit.  A matching vest and white ruffled shirt were included. Bernardo smiled as he watched Diego try on these garments. He nodded his approval as Diego looked into the mirror. What a handsome bridegroom Diego would make!.

In the next room, Amalia dabbed a handkerchief to her eyes as she looked at Anna Maria. She was a most beautiful bride and her gown was perfect. A carved ivory comb held an exquisite lace mantilla which covered her head and fell about her face. The dress was made of a satin material which was fitted around her bodice and waist with beautiful handmade appliqués of lace. At each shoulder was a satin bow on which sat two ivory roses that matched the color of her gown. Her sheer sleeves were etched with the same handmade lace as the gown. There were scattered pearls which circled the lowered neckline and back of the dress. The dropped v-shaped waist accented her delicate form. The gown fell to the floor in a full skirt with a sweeping train with appliqués of lace and pearls patterned throughout.

Anna Maria asked Amalia to go to the bureau and take out a box. In the drawer, Amalia found a jewelry box which she brought to Anna Maria. It contained several pieces of jewelry, but one was exceptional. It was a pearl choker from which hung a delicate cameo surrounded by small diamonds and a pair of matching earrings. These extraordinary pieces had belonged to the Verdugo women for generations and were the perfect accessory to her dress. Anna Maria spent he next few hours trying on her extensive trousseau.

Later that evening when supper was over, Diego had the carriage brought to the entrance. He hoped it would be an enchanting evening for Anna Maria and himself. Amalia and Bernardo accompanied the young couple to the lake. Diego stepped down from the carriage and put his hands around Anna Maria's waist and lifted her carefully to the ground. Bernardo grabbed Amalia's arm just as she was about to climb down and follow Diego and Anna Maria. He knew it was time to give the engaged couple a few minutes of privacy.

Slipping his hand in hers, Diego and Anna Maria walked in the pale moonlight. A gentle breeze was blowing through their hair. Turning to face her he touched her hair with his fingers.

Cupping her face in his hands he said, "Anna Maria, I have something for you." Taking the ring his father gave him from the box he extended his hand to her. "This belonged to my mother. It was my father's engagement gift to her. I would like you to wear it as a symbol of my most honorable intentions and love."

Touched by his words she said, "I am overwhelmed by your gift. Diego, please put it on my finger." Tears filled her eyes as she watched him.

Taking her hand he placed the ring on her finger and brushed his lips over her soft hand. A feeling of joy filled him as he placed his hands on her arms and pulled her close.  "My father will be honored to know you are wearing mother's ring.  It is getting late but there are still things we must talk about.  When everyone is asleep, please meet me in the garden where we can finish our talk without our chaperones," he said.

Looking at him she blushed and her stomach tightened into knots. She knew her father would not be pleased but how could she refuse him?
"Sí, I will meet you," she said with some reluctance.

Later sitting lazily in a chair in his room, Diego stared at the ceiling thinking of Anna Maria. He desired to be with her, hold her, feel his body next to hers and...shaking all ideas from his head he walked to the fireplace. He was beginning to have second thoughts regarding their meeting this evening. Perhaps their fathers were right in insisting on chaperones. He pushed the negative thoughts from his mind. By now everyone in the hacienda would be asleep, Diego left his room descended the stairs to wait in the garden for Anna Maria.

Before long she came down the stairs. He held his breath as she moved closer to him, so beautiful and desirable. They walked through the garden to the rear of the hacienda. Diego wished to be sure that Anna Maria understood the uncertain future they faced before they married. Would she truly be able to handle any problems which might occur from his dual identity? In the silence of the stable they talked freely.

"Anna Maria, I love you and I know you love me," he said cautiously. "Do you have any doubts regarding our marriage? There may be obstacles we have to face. Are you sure that you want to do this? Can you accept my actions as Diego and that of Zorro without question?"

"Sí," her answer passed without hesitation from her lips. "I love you and we will face any trouble together. You do not always have to be Zorro. Diego has managed to capture my heart as well."

As their lips met, she was stirred by an unfamiliar sensation. Diego continued kissing her warm inviting mouth and neck. Sweeping her into his arms he carried her to an empty stall where he carefully laid her on some hay. Touching her face with his fingers he lowered his lips to hers.

"Are you having second thoughts about being here with me?" Diego asked.

"No Diego, I love you," she said with a deep sigh.

"But there is something bothering you?" he asked.

"I have never been close to anyone and I..." she replied unable to finish her sentence.

"We have our whole life to share," Diego said smiling. "I will not ask you to do anything that you are not ready for. If you wish to stop I will."

She lay silently looking up at him. Her silence was his answer. Lowering his mouth to hers they kissed tenderly. Extending his hand he helped her to her feet. Brushing  the hay from her hair he lowered his hand to her face and once again touched her affectionately. He knew the time was not right, waiting would be best for both. Placing his arm around her waist they walked together back to the garden. As she started up the stairs she turned and kissed Diego's cheek. She ran to her room and closed the door. Instead of returning to his room, Diego walked into the hacienda, poured himself a glass of wine and sat down in a chair by the fire.

The Visit