Chapter One

The hot morning sun beat down on the dusty road as the coach made its way to the Pueblo de Los Angeles.  There had been no rain for more than two weeks and this promised to be another hot day.  As the coach bound over the road the passengers shuffled restlessly in their seats.  Through the windows they could see how fiercely brown the ground had become.  A few more days of this heat could have dangerous results.

Señor Ricardo Esteban a tall, well-dressed gentleman about forty years old was on his way to San Diego on business.  Seated next to Don Ricardo was his wife, Maria.  Across from them sat a lovely, dark haired young woman dressed in a traveling outfit.  She bore the hardship of the journey with ease unlike her traveling companions.  A short time later the coach entered the tiny pueblo and the passengers readied themselves to disembark.

The heat in the pueblo was no better than on the long journey.  As the coach came to a halt Don Ricardo and his wife bolted from their cramped quarters.  Dashing from the coach they rushed toward the tavern nearly knocking over the heavy set man opening the door. 

"Every pardon Sergeant," said the man apologetically.  "The ride in the coach was unbearable for my poor wife and myself.  We desire some good wine and a place out of the hot sun."

"Si, si," said the Sergeant.  "Welcome to the Pueblo de Los Angeles.  I am Demetrio Lopez Garcia, acting commandante.  What may I ask is your business here senor?"

As they brushed the dust from their clothes the gentleman replied, "I am Ricardo Esteban. My wife and I are stopping here just until the coach is ready to continue to our destination of San Diego.  I am a merchant from San Francisco and I have business there.  This is my wife, Maria."

Once the questioning was over Señor and Señora Esteban whisked passed the sergeant as they entered the tavern.  Just then the last passenger alighted from the coach.  Garcia stood admiring the attractive young woman as she swept the dust from her clothes and removed her hat.  Shaking out her hair she lifted her head and smiled.  A wide grin lit up her face as she walked happily toward the Sergeant.

"Sergeant Garcia, how nice to see you again," said the young woman extending her hand as she spoke.

Garcia took her hand and blinked his eyes in disbelief, "Señorita Verdugo, this is an unexpected pleasure.  What are you doing in Los Angeles?"

"I am here to see the de la Vegas," said Anna Maria. "Don Alejandro invited me to the hacienda for a visit.  It is to be a surprise for Don Diego."

A small carriage wound swiftly through the pueblo with Don Alejandro and Bernardo its only occupants.  As they came around the corner the two men saw the coach outside the tavern.  Bernardo reigned in the horses and pulled up behind the coach to allow Don Alejandro to step down.  The elder don went immediately to Anna Maria while Bernardo tied the horses to a post. 

"Anna Maria, my dear, it is good to see you," said Don Alejandro removing his hat. "I hope your journey was a pleasant one.  Sergeant a good day to you."

"It is so good to see you Don Alejandro, but where is Diego?" asked Anna Maria.

"Diego is at home," answered Don Alejandro. "There was a minor fire because of the dry conditions here in Los Angeles and I thought it was best if Diego remained to look after the men putting it out.  Besides it will be better to surprise him at home.  Ah, Bernardo is ready for us.  Shall we be on our way?"

Don Alejandro turned to the Sergeant and spoke, "Sergeant Garcia, I hope your day goes well."

"Gracias Don Alejandro," replied Garcia wiping the sweat from his brow.  "Hopefully it will rain soon. Please send my best to Don Diego."

What a wonderful surprise for Don Diego thought Garcia!  His young friend had been so unhappy to leave Monterey and Anna Maria.  For many months after returning to Los Angeles Diego seemed lost...unlike the man he knew.  Garcia smiled to himself and waved good-bye as Don Alejandro took Anna Maria by the arm and led her to the waiting carriage.

Bernardo lifted the baggage unto the carriage while he waited for his passengers to make their final good-byes. As he stood watching Anna Maria he remembered the happy times in Monterey.  Bernardo understood that even though Diego had been busy as "Zorro" he had not forgotten this woman.  Many times his friend sat alone on the patio with a glazed look upon his handsome face.  Now that she was here for a visit Bernardo hoped things would be different.  Don Alejandro and Anna Maria approached the carriage and climbed aboard.  Bernardo listened to the lively conversation between his two passengers as the carriage proceeded toward the rancho.

Tensions were high in the tiny pueblo and many bandits had drifted to the area.  With their presence came many holdups along the roads to and from Los Angeles.  Bernardo hoped the return to the hacienda would be as uneventful as the drive to the pueblo.  However shortly before entering the de la Vega property a shot rang out and two riders came out of nowhere.  Don Alejandro signed to Bernardo to hasten the horses but the carriage was slow to respond due to the extra weight on board.  Clearly they would be overtaken by the armed men.

When the pistol shots stopped Don Alejandro looked behind them and saw a dark rider chasing off the bandits.  Don Alejandro motioned to Bernardo to stop the carriage.  Once tbe robbers disappeared into the trees the lone rider discontinued following the men and rode toward the carriage.

"Is everyone all right?" Zorro asked as he dismounted and walked toward the carriage. Before he could say another word he saw the young woman.

"Señor Zorro, I hoped I would see you again, but not under these circumstances.  It seems you are always saving my life."

Taking her small hand in his, Zorro leaned down to kiss it.  He was glad that Anna Maria was happy to see him but wondered if she would be this happy to see Diego.

"I must go but I will see you again soon, I promise," said Zorro.

As Zorro rode away Anna Maria continued to watch.  Alejandro and Bernardo glanced at one another and realized that Anna Maria's feelings for Zorro had not changed.  For the first time Don Alejandro understood how much he had asked his son to give up.  He prayed things could be made right but Diego would have much to explain.  Would Anna Maria listen to Diego's explanation and understand? 
The Visit