The Promise



Gail Manfre








Fate enters the picture.  ......... 


Diego and Selena rode together in silence as they went down to the little lake just a few miles from the de la Vega hacienda. She sensed the sober change in his mood and several times she tried to initiate some conversation but he pointedly ignored her.  

He must be more nervous and upset than I am. Selena opened her fan and surreptitiously studied Diego’s profile. How handsome Don Diego is ... those enormous shoulders, those muscular legs...those full lips descending on mine ...  

“Would you like to walk down by the water, Señorita de Rojas?” he asked cordially but he held himself stiffly. “We have arrived at the lake.”  

Diego‘s light baritone interrupted her daydream. “S-si, Don Diego. That would be most pleasant!”  Selena flitted her ebony and ivory ribbed fan quickly across her face and then left it dangling from her right hand.  

Diego’s face flushed.  Such a maneuver made by a señorita meant only one thing. She was ready to become engaged - a rather strange thing for her to do unless -- Selena was giving a performance for her dueña Amontildar’s benefit, but why? He had wanted very badly to complement Selena on her brave attempt to save Maria Suarez, but the only person  besides Selena and her vaqueros who knew of her brave deed was El Zorro. Diego quickly discarded that idea.

 As he helped Selena exit the carriage he inhaled her lavender scented hair. It surprised him she used that particular subtle scent. Diego would have guessed Selena favored more rich and mysterious perfumes such as musk or lily of the valley. Indeed Selena was far more exotic than Diego could have ever imagined. He pulled her as gently as he could [and also he hoped without arousing suspicion from the dueña] behind a large scrub oak tree.  

“Señorita, your gesture well, it has ... confused me. I must reiterate that I am simply not prepared to enter the blessed state of matrimony with you,” Diego stated rather sharply. He instantly regretted the brusqueness of  his tone of voice when he again saw the melancholy in her eyes. Despite his true feelings, Diego covered her delicately shaped hands with his strong masculine ones.  “Selena, you deserve someone who is ready to devote himself completely to you.  I am not the man for you.”  

Meanwhile Selena clung to him, lost in a private reverie, intoxicated by the strong maleness of the man holding her.  Oh, Diego if you only knew how long I have wanted and waited for this moment ...  

Then, to his surprise, she gingerly pushed his arms away.  “Do not fear, I will not marry a caballero who does not desire me.” Selena placed the half-opened fan over her face, subtly informing him that ‘they were being carefully watched’ by the dueña. In reality she was desperate to prevent Diego from realizing how upset she was. She could not permit him to learn how much she loved him, for Selena suspected that if she did tell Diego, then he would probably want to marry her out of pity. Señorita de Rojas lowered her head, hoping that he would be unable to see the burning desire in her eyes. The fan, at least for the moment, concealed more than it revealed.  

Diego, ever the careful observer of people’s body language, winced visibly. “I apologize for the poor choice of words, Selena.  But I had to tell you what is in my heart.”  

“Don Diego,” Selena was astonished by the evenness of her voice, “your secret is safe with me,” she said as she smiled up at him, an expression tinged with misery yet full of infinite understanding. “We still have a pair of large problems to contend with.  My father and yours.”  

What do I find so pleasant about this señorita I want to protect her from any and all harm? He was deeply touched by Selena’s response.  Diego began to grasp her right hand when she abruptly turned away from him.  

“Please, Diego. I am fatigued.  I believe we should return to the hacienda.”  She laughed then, breaking the gloomy spell of the moment.  

“Your wish is my command, Señorita de Rojas!” Diego gaily said as he executed a formal bow of the Spanish Court before her.  

“Diego, you have a singular wit!  Not many men possess the ability to make me laugh as much as you do.”  

“Really? I must inform my father.  He thinks that I am slow, lazy, and--”  

“A ne’er do well?” she coquettishly replied.  

Especially that!”  Diego roared with laughter and kissed her hands again. They continued the friendly banter all the back to the de le Vega hacienda.  

“When are you going to give the bad news to your padre?” Selena said as he whisked her down from the carriage.  

He shrugged helplessly.  “Right now, the sooner the better!” Diego then spotted Don Alejandro exiting the hacienda.  Oh no,  my father is positively beaming from excitement.  His smile can only mean  that we are betrothed. Dios, mi.  Diego’s facial muscles tensed.   Refusing to marry Selena is going to be practically impossible for my father to accept.  The young caballero thought anxiously.  

“Diego, Selena, you have returned at the best possible moment!  Ah, I can see from your faces that you enjoyed your ride!” Don Alejandro’s voice boomed throughout the patio. Come into the sala!  

“Señor de Rojas has decided that you may have his ...beauti-- ah, lovely, daughter‘s hand in marriage!“  Don Alejandro announced cheerfully.  

Diego glanced nervously at Señorita de Rojas, hoping that she did not hear the slip of his tongue. But he knew from the sudden tenseness in her upper body that she had.  He saw the rosy tide of embarrassment flow south from the tops of Selena’s ears to where her pink satin frock touched her rather substantial bosom. Madre de Dios!  Here comes an example of that cutting sarcastic wit that he heard the other caballeros ... at least from the ones who were willing to discuss their defeat at verbal sparring with Selena de Rojas...

She ran her thin, femininely shaped finger over the ribs of her silk fan. ‘And I wish to speak with you also,’ was the unspoken message she displayed to the elder de la Vega.  Aloud, she replied:  

“Don Alejandro.  I find that I must apologize to you and Diego.  You see it is quite impossible for me to marry your most handsome and charming son.”  

“SELENA!” Her father’s temper exploded.  “What in the name of Heaven are you saying?”    

She coolly appraised her father. “Simply this. I am too old for Señor de la Vega.  He should marry someone much younger, say Elena Torres, or Moneta Esperon, after all I am twenty-four.”

Then she turned to face both Diego and Don Alejandro. “Do not blame Diego,” Selena told his father.  “You have done an excellent job with him, Don Alejandro.”  

Don Alejandro was sincerely dejected. “S-señorita ... Selena... you are not a spinster ... by any stretch of the imagination!”  he said truly bewildered by this strange turn of events.  

YOU SHALL MARRY DIEGO DE LA VEGA!”  Don Martino de Rojas was livid. “I SHALL .... SUCH A DISOBEDIENT DAUGHTER!”  Then he plunged toward her, with an upraised hand.  

Diego leaped to thrust himself between the raging de Rojas and Selena. Such a gallant effort was wasted, for to everyone’s shock, Don de Rojas gasped in mid-stride and then fell to the patio floor.   

Don Alejandro stared in open-mouthed alarm, but he quickly recovered his senses and knelt down beside Don de Rojas.  Martino de Rojas’s ashen face told Diego’s father that his old friend’s soul was already in the hands of his Maker.  

“FATHER!”  Selena shouted as she bent over the stricken Don Martino.  Her father’s lifeless eyes ignored her tearful pleas for him to speak to her.  Selena threw her arms around her father and refused to leave him. Finally, Don Diego managed to disentangle her embrace.  

“Come, señorita, your father is gone,” Diego whispered gently. He motioned for Bernardo to fetch the de la Vega’s longtime servant, Cresencia.  Don Diego easily scooped up the señorita’s lithe frame and quickly brought her upstairs to one of the guest bedrooms.  

When Cresencia met Don Diego, he instructed her to make Selena comfortable while Don Alejandro sent for Dr. Avila.






“This is a most unfortunate development, Diego.” Don Alejandro muttered to his son over late night glasses of jerez in the library.  

Diego’s face turned scarlet. “’Unfortunate’? Is that not too mild a phrase regarding one of your friends from Seville? What about Selena ?  Her sister back in Spain is the señorita’s only other blood relative.  What is to become of Selena?”

Don Alejandro was taken aback by the forcefulness in Diego’s voice.  “My son,” his father gently said as he placed his hands on Diego’s shoulders, “are you certain that Señorita de Rojas means nothing to you?”   

Diego closed his weary eyes. Madre de Dios ... what a stressful day this has been. “Father, I do not love Selena and she does not love me. Yes, she is very pretty and charming. I reiterate what I have I said many times before.  I shall not marry someone whom I do not love and who does not have same affection for me!”  

Don Alejandro sighed. “I see. Diego I feel sorrier for Señorita Selena than I do for Don Martino de Rojas.”  

Diego narrowed his eyes.  “Father--”

“No, Diego. Give me some credit as your sire.  I shall not order you to marry Señorita Selena de Rojas.”  

Diego sighed audibly.  “Gracias, my father.  I know you mean well. Buenos  noches.”  

Yet when Diego attempted to rest later that night he discovered Señorita Selena’s mournful face haunted his dreams. Well, are you sure you do not feel something besides pity for Selena, man? Even after you discovered that she is sweet, gentle, pretty and has boldly decided to defy Glorioso in her own way? Come, Diego, there is much more to Selena than you ever imagined. Is she not worthy of further interest?  He discovered he had no easy answers to these queries and it was quite a while before Diego could close his eyes and sleep.






Since her arrival home three hours ago Selena could not keep herself from roaming the empty halls of her father’s hacienda.  Don Martino’s death left her practically alone in this life, and she missed him already. Selena did love her father. True, his legendary volcanic temper had more often than not been directed at her decisions to reject his candidates for her wedded bliss, but

Don Martino was the only stable male presence in Selena’s life. Despite his gruff exterior, she believed her father really cared for her. Perhaps she subconsciously rejected her father’s selections of suitors because those young caballeros did not measure up to Don Martino. But now she was alone here in Los Angeles and the prospect of returning to Spain to live with her sister Claudia Maria Tolares and her husband Roberto chilled her soul. What shall I do?  I adore Alta California and to be so far away from my corazon, Diego de la Vega, would be a living hell. Selena hung her head and wept bitterly.  

Amontildar watched her mistress walk downstairs in the sala throughout the night until almost dawn. Finally the Creole servant persuaded Selena to drink some hot milk with Amontildar’s sleeping potion. Only then did the señorita rest.





Chapter Ten

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