Chapter Seven

The picnic hamper was hurriedly packed and hung on one of the saddles.  During the return ride the storm gathered more strength as the thunder and lightening grew closer. Each time the thunder roared the horses became more excitable.  Finding it difficult to control her frightened horse and soaked by the severe rain Anna Maria begged Diego to find them temporary shelter.  He agreed and they disappeared into the hills where they soon found a cave to take refuge.  

"We will be safe here until the storm passes," said Diego trying to reassure her. "I am going to tether the horses and see if I can settle them down.  Do not worry."

The cave was a dark, damp place but at least it was away from the rain and lightening.  Everytime there was a flash of light followed by a loud rumble Anna Maria became more unsettled.  Even as a child she was terrified of storms.  She felt grateful that Diego was nearby.  After seeing to the horses Diego approached Anna Maria who was shaking from the cold.

"I am going to gather some dry wood to start a fire," said Diego the rain dripping from his hair.  "Once the fire gets going it will warm you."

Diego collected as much dry wood as he could find and set it down away from the opening of the cave.  He removed his wet jacket and tie laying it on the ground closeby. Anna Maria followed suit.  It took a while but he managed to start a fire.  The warmth of the burning wood felt so good.  While placing additional pieces of wood on the fire Anna Maria could not help but notice the tiny silver piece that dangled from a chain around Diego's neck as he leaned over the flames.  She barely believed what she saw.  It was the same silver cross that she had given Zorro.  How could that be?  There was but one cross like that and she had given it to Zorro.  She turned away so Diego could not see her face.  Suddenly things became clear...the things Zorro said, the similarities between the two men, and her recent confusion.  Diego was Zorro.  She wanted to shout at him "why" did you not tell me but all she could manage was tears.  She pretended to check on the horses so that he could not see the tears falling from her eyes.

Meanwhile Diego realized the cross Anna Maria gave Zorro was hanging outside his open shirt and quickly tucked it back inside.  As he buttoned his shirt he looked up to see if Anna Maria was watching him.  Thank goodness she had not seen he thought breathing a sigh of relief.  As the fire blossomed Diego called to Anna Maria to join him  by the fire.  Even with tears streaking down her face she looked beautiful.  Using the back of his hand Diego wiped away her tears. 

"Anna Maria," he said wanting to hold her in his arms. "Are you all right?"

"Si," she said looking away. "Since I was a child storms have affected me this way.  I will be fine in a bit."

From the moment Anna Maria saw the silver cross around Diego's neck everything became clear.  She knew that Diego was the man behind the mask.  How could she have been so blind?  Why had she not noticed the similarities sooner?  The men were of the same height, build, eyes and a smile that teased...what was she to do?

Diego moved closer to Anna Maria and held her in his strong reassuring arms.   From inside the cave they could hear the raging storm.  She lay her head on his chest.  Before she could tell Diego what she knew she had fallen asleep. 
The Visit