Ring of Fire

By

 

Keliana Baker

 

 

 

 

Chapter Ten

 

Diego sat and stared morosely at his untouched glass of wine. He reviewed the argument again in his mind. Truly, he could see no way that he had contributed to the problem. It was as if merely the fact that Anna María had come to Los Ángeles had set Ania off. However, as he thought of his own words in the argument, he had to admit he had made statements that, if they did not actually create the problem, at least did not help matters either. Why had he been so insistent that Ania immediately like Anna María? Surely, that would have come later. Why had he wanted to push it now? She had accused him of still loving Anna María. Was there any basis to her accusation? Carefully, he began thinking of Anna María and the feelings he used to have for her. Were any of those feelings still there?

He tried to picture what he truly would like his life to be in the future. He deliberately tried to see Anna María by his side, but the image that kept coming to his mind's eye was of a young señorita with eyes of darkest green, a woman of fire, determination, and surprising strength. Had he been sitting here like this merely eighteen months before, he had no doubt that the woman in that vision  would have been different, but now his heart no longer led him in that direction. When had the change come? Had it only happened after he met Ania or was the change already taking place? He tried to bring back thoughts and emotions from that time.

He remembered the weeks just prior to that trip to Monterey. That past year had been hard, harder than he had ever dreamed it could be as he had stood on board the ship from Spain and made the decision that had changed his life so much. Then he had merely thought that he would be facing one evil man. He would do what he had to in secret, accomplish his purpose, and then let El Zorro fade into the night that seemed to have given him birth. After Monastario had been led away in chains and good old García left in charge of the garrison, he had thought the Fox dead, as he had phrased it to Bernardo. However, it seemed that Bernardo had seen more clearly than he had.

The whole drawn out affair with the Eagle came then. So much evil being plotted, and so much for Zorro and his faithful servant to do in order to keep all California from coming under the heel of the Eagle. Thankfully, his father had also been making plans of his own so that when even Zorro could not turn the tide alone, his father's fifty-man group was there. It had truly taken all of them together. Tired was hardly the word to fit how he had felt then. The weariness seemed to go clear through to his soul. Along with the exhaustion had gone a feeling of being confined, almost imprisoned by circumstances which had grown beyond what any person should be expected to bear.

Throughout it all, Bernardo alone had been Zorro’s only confidant. Having to deceive his father weighed more heavily upon him as time passed and it continued to create turmoil in their relationship. Had there not been danger to his father if he had known of his son’s secret identity, Diego would have told him a dozen times over.

Before he had gone to Spain, he and his father had been especially close, as is often true of a widower and an only child. Sending him to Spain had been a hard decision for Don Alejandro to make, but it had been a good one. Diego had grown and matured a great deal.  His father had never expected his son to come back changed in the ways he seemed to be.

Diego had looked forward to the day he would see his father again. Even though he had never been one to brag, he had known how much pleasure it would have given his father to see all the awards he had won for his fencing skills, and to hear of how well he had done in all the classes. One of the professors had even commented that it was a shame that he was not going into the military. With the kind of keen ability to plan, which Diego showed, and the boldness to carry out his plans, he would have made an outstanding officer. Diego had thanked him for the compliment, but had been certain in his heart that Alta California was where he wanted and needed to be. He planned to take the medals and awards back with him as a reminder of all he had enjoyed in Spain.  How hard it had been to have Bernardo throw all his awards overboard without his father even seeing them and then to go home and convince him that that the son his father had pinned all his hopes on was not only frivolous, but weak and cowardly as well. The pain and disappointment, which Don Alejandro did not hide from his son, had been harder to deal with than he had ever imagined it could be.

In spite of the heartache he endured, he had done what he did gladly, with a willing spirit. God had given him the will and the abilities that few others seemed to possess, abilities that allowed him to defend his people, to bring justice into their hard lives in a way no one else could. Yet he had been tired, so tired that the usually difficult, nearly weeklong trip to Monterey seemed a very pleasant prospect. He had fully intended to leave his sword, and all the other trappings of his alter ego, behind and have a break from the fighting and secrecy. He had been quite irritated to find that Bernardo had taken it upon himself to bring them anyway. As it turned out, it was a good thing he had, for no sooner had they gotten there than he had to rescue his helper and friend from robbers intent on extorting the pueblo's money from him. From then on, it was hardly different than it had been in Los Ángeles. Zorro was needed, so Zorro rode, even if it was on a white horse, rather than a black one.

When he had met Anna María, he had been struck by her beauty and spirit. She also seemed to embody the normal life for which he longed.  However, it was not long until he found that she was desperately in need of care and guidance. His response to her was intense, the like of which he had never experienced before. For once, he could see himself conforming to his father's wishes and marrying, if he could ever get the young señorita's attention and trust. He did his best to accomplish this. He tried to give good solid advice, which she generally refused to follow, or at best, took under consideration and then let herself be swayed to other courses. How frustrating that had been! He had greater success once Zorro was forced to come on the scene. From that point on, she had become infatuated with his alter ego. He had accepted that, thinking that there was perhaps still hope for the future.

It was hard, watching Anna María go through some of the things she had endured during that time. The stress showed clearly in her actions and in many of the unwise decisions that she made. He longed to care for her, to protect her, but it was not him to whom she turned. He did what he could during this time, taking kisses when he could as Zorro and hoping that someday he would be able to tell her everything and make a life with her. Even after the danger had passed and Ricardo had come on the scene, he continued to hope. He had had his own fun at Ricardo's expense, but in his mind he began to wonder if he could not give up this job as protector of California, to actually have a life of his own. He accepted that it was impossible to have both.  At this time, had anyone discovered his identity, he would more than likely have been arrested and perhaps hung. Anyone else who had known could have been charged with treason as well.

How could he involve the lovely Anna Maria in that? She was like a hothouse flower, one to be nurtured and protected from the unpleasant harshness of life. He had seen how distraught she had become when her father was in danger. How would she have borne the strain of being the wife of someone who was branded an outlaw, however unfairly? Could she have endured the uncertainty that went along with his rides as Zorro? While it was something he did not dwell on, he had known from the first time he acted as Zorro that a time might come when his luck ran out, a time when he might be captured or killed. For himself, he trusted to God and the Saints, while keeping his skills sharp. He was content. But would Anna Maria have been content to trust God and his skills as well? Would she have had the strength necessary to live the kind of life he would have asked of her? Even as he continued to court her, he was unable to answer that question. Instead, he followed his heart.

Then had come the governor's offer of amnesty and the joyous news that Anna María intended to marry Zorro, whoever he was, if he accepted. He remembered sitting in the tavern discussing the issue with his father. He remembered believing that he was phrasing everything so cleverly, that he was still hiding the truth from Don Alejandro. He should have suspected something when Don Alejandro repeatedly stated that Zorro would not accept amnesty.  He insisted that the outlaw could not because of all the people who depended on him. Only later did his son realize just how fervently the father had searched his eyes to see if he had understood. At that moment, Diego was not the boldly logical hero. He was simply a man in love, half blinded by the possibilities that had seemed almost out of reach, now within his grasp. Diego tried to consider his father's words, but his heart was already set on the opposite. If unmasking and never again riding as Zorro was the price he had to pay for having her, well, that was the way it would be.

Later that day, he had sat with his father at dinner, eating little and only half listening to things that were said to him. After a while, he had excused himself, pleading a headache when Don Alejandro, eyes dark with worry, asked him what was wrong. He had gone to his room and paced there. Over and over, he had asked himself if he was doing the right thing. No answer had come. All he could hear in his mind that day was the sound of Anna Maria’s laugher and the song she had been singing as she gathered flowers that morning when he had gone to see her in an effort to make up his mind, once and for all. Any logical reasons not to do as she wished had evaporated from his mind at that moment. Now he merely wished that time would pass a little faster, that he might trade his mask for her lovely hand. A half hour before the time appointed found him standing at the door of the warehouse where Bernardo was already waiting, having prepared Phantom and the black outfit for him. He remembered well his excitement as he had opened the door and the shock he had felt at seeing Bernardo tied up. It took him a surprising length of time to take it all in and respond.  Other, more pleasant things had fogged his mind. A blow to the head had plunged him into darkness, to awaken later with his hands bound behind his back. For several minutes, he had worked to trick the masked assailant into coming closer and had finally done so. During the fight that followed, he had been aware of the tick of a clock in his mind, a clock that was eating away at the hour during which he had to turn himself in.

When he had pulled the mask from the other man's head and recognized his father, Diego's world had turned upside down. His mind was filled with all manner of questions. Why was his father doing this? Did he not wish to see his son happy, to see him wed a lady of his own class and fill the hacienda with grandchildren as Alejandro was so fond of reminding him? His father had tried to explain that he felt that Diego was about to make a mistake, one that Diego would regret for a long time. As he stood, looking at his father in bewilderment, he was suddenly aware of the chiming of the church bells, marking the end of the Hour of the Angeles.  He felt each ring of the bell as if it were plunging a dagger into his heart.

Whatever his father's reason, he had his wish. The offer of amnesty had been withdrawn with the ringing of the bells. As he had held his son's eyes, Alejandro had told him that someday he would understand. At first Diego could only hang his head in pain, but then he realized that he was not the only one who would be hurt . Anna María had been counting on Zorro to come.  Zorro would have to explain to her why he had not accepted amnesty.  When he had gone to talk with her, he had clung to Don Alejandro’s reasoning of how so many people were depending on him. He could not let them down. He had promised Anna Maria that they would see each other again. At that time he had believed every word he had told her.

So when had that changed? It had not changed a great deal on the ride back when the wall of deception that had been between Don Alejandro and him had come down. The two of them had talked for hours as they rode and the pain Diego had carried for so long eased. It had been a balm to his soul to finally look in his father’s eyes and see acceptance and pride. He still felt that Don Alejandro would have been safer without knowing. Even so, the weight on his shoulders lifted as he realized he no longer had to pretend to be something he was not in his father’s presence.

He thought much of Anna María during the following months.  He hoped that perhaps she would come to love him as himself, not merely as the exciting hero who had saved her and her father.  They had written each other several times, though her attitude toward him was always as one toward a brother, beloved perhaps, but still a brother. As far as she was concerned, no man other than Zorro would do. Neither her feelings, nor her perceptions of the world around her seemed to change.

Loud voices suddenly interrupted his far away thoughts. The young caballero looked up, startled, as Corporal Reyes and Sergeant García walked toward him. As so often happened, the two were arguing over something.

"I still say that you do not need one of those animals, baboso," García stated emphatically.

"I did not say I needed one, Sergeant. I said I wanted one. I have always wanted one," Reyes insisted.

García shook his head as he looked around the room and spotted Diego. He grinned and threw up his hand. Diego nodded and waved them over, more out of habit than out of a wish for company. Soon the two soldiers also held glasses and were again discussing whatever it was the corporal had wanted. Diego tried to act at least a little interested in the conversation. "What is it that you want, Corporal?" he asked as he stretched his long legs under the table.

"A pony, Don Diego!" García cried, as if the corporal had wished for a star.

"Well, many people have ponies, Sergeant. What is so strange about that?" the caballero asked.

"Sí, but Don Diego, these ponies are only about so high." Here the sergeant held his hand barely four feet above the floor.

Diego looked at the corporal speculatively. Reyes was not a tall man. Still, it was obvious that on such an animal, his feet would drag on the ground.

Reyes glanced down at his wine, a half smile on his face as he remembered, "When I was twelve, I was promised just such a pony. Ah, I knew that it was perfect for me!"

"Well, why did you not get it then?" García asked.

"My uncle was offered good money for it. He decided that a burro would do for me," was the answer.  Reyes looked as sad as if the disappointment had happened only yesterday, rather than a dozen years ago.

"Corporal, I hate to tell you this, but even if you HAD the pony, you could not ride it. You seem to have grown a bit. Do you not think so?" García said while looking at his friend as if he were loco.

Reyes looked down at his legs for a second, as if only then noticing their length. "Sí," he said in his slow manner, "that is likely true. I suppose I have changed and grown a little, but I guess it is just that you always want whatever it was that you could not have when you wanted it when you would have fitted it!"

García and Diego both looked up at the Corporal, somewhat puzzled. "Corporal, I would ask you to explain what you just said, but I do not think you could even repeat it, much less make sense of it," García grumbled.

Diego hid a smile as Reyes merely shrugged at García's comment.

"Don Diego, mi amigo, you seem quiet today," García said as he changed the subject.

"I suppose I am," Diego admitted. "I have a great deal on my mind right now."

"Your father had a special visitor to take home with him this morning," the sergeant mentioned. "Ahhh...has Señorita Ania met Señorita Verdugo?"

Diego looked up sharply, just a bit taken aback that the sergeant would ask. However, he realized that García was remembering their time in Monterey also and he well knew that Diego had been taken with the young Señorita Verdugo. He sighed. "Sí, Sergeant. She has."

García looked at him for a second. "And that makes you so quiet, I think." He shook his head in sympathy. "Ah, women! Men cannot live without them, or live in peace with them either." 

Diego shrugged. "You may be right, Sergeant García. It does, indeed, seem to be a challenge sometimes."

García stood up. "Well, mi amigo, I will leave you to your thoughts. Gracias for the wine. I must get back to duty. Corporal, I know you are now off duty. Do you plan on going back with me to the cuartel?"

"Uh, no, Sergeant, I think I will just sit here and play a bit on my guitar, that is, if Don Diego does not mind?" Reyes looked inquiringly at the young caballero. Diego shrugged again and waved his hand as if to say that there was no problem with it. Reyes swung a guitar from his back, onto his thigh, and began strumming quietly as the sergeant walked away.

With Reyes playing and not talking, Diego's mind went back to his own problem. Oddly, the corporal's rather confusing comments about the pony suggested something to his own mind. He had realized that the corporal was not the only person who had grown. Even he had grown in numerous ways in the past two years. Oh, not physically, though he was probably a bit broader and stronger than he had been, but he had changed both mentally and emotionally. Not long after he returned to Los Ángeles, he began, like a long distance runner, to get his "second wind" with the responsibilities that had burdened him before his trip to Monterey.

He had still hoped that someday Zorro would not be needed, but he once again began feeling satisfied that he could help others. Sometimes, he could feel the faith of the people themselves and it strengthened him. He did not wish for acclaim or praise by what he did, but it was gratifying to know how the people felt about Zorro. Yet as the people's Dark Angel, he knew he could never just walk away from his alter ego. As long as the people needed him, he had to be there. He had come to accept it without regret. Well, almost without regret. During the early months back from Monterey, he had almost physically fought this idea, for he knew that he could never ask Anna María to join him as long as he rode as Zorro. He had still clung to the idea that farther down the line, they would be together. Yet he had never actually gone back to Monterey to see Anna María. Even now, he could not explain his reluctance to do so, but it had been real. Time had passed and he had allowed both the joys and the burdens of his double life to fill all his time and consciousness.

Finally, not quite eighteen months ago, he had first seen Ania in the tavern. It had not been as if he were deliberately looking for anyone to take Anna María's place. Had someone suggested it, he would have told them that there was no chance of that happening. At first, he had merely admired Ania's drive and determination to do what must be done in order to see that her father's dream became reality. Her independence had amazed all of them. She turned to them only when she had great need. Indeed, there were times when she actively resisted any help from the de la Vegas. When danger became apparent, she never once backed down, seeing it as just one more obstacle to be overcome. As her grief healed, a joy of living shone within her that seemed to energize everyone and everything around her. On her land, she commanded the peons’ respect almost effortlessly, yet won their hearts as well by reaching across class lines to help those who needed it. For all the turmoil in her life, she had not grown bitter, nor had she developed an overblown image of her own importance. She had put her past behind her and met the caballeros and families of the upper class with a quiet dignity that soon won them over as well.

She had been so different in some ways to anyone he had ever known before. Something about her personality seemed to fill a need within him, one that he did not even realize was there until she came into his life. The change within him had happened so slowly that it took him several months to accept the fact that she was becoming very important to him, important enough to consider again if it might be possible for him to share his life with someone who loved him. It seemed to soothe something in him that she cared for him as Diego, accepting his supposed weaknesses without criticism. Was that what had made the difference, that she had accepted him without the flash and bigger-than-life quality that was Zorro? He could not truly explain when it had changed. It had not been wholly connected with Ania's coming and he knew he was not a fickle man. He did still have some feelings for Anna María. Was not a man's first love always remembered with affection? However, he was absolutely sure that Ania was the one woman who could give him the kind of love and support he needed and he loved her as though they were already a part of each other. Now to convince Ania that this was so. Suddenly, the idea came to him of just how that could be done.

When Diego looked again at Reyes, the soldier had stopped playing and was once again nursing his wine. "Corporal, are you going to be using that guitar for the next hour or so?"

"I do not think so, Don Diego," Reyes replied. "Why?"

"Well, Corporal, if you do not mind, I would like to borrow your guitar for a short while. It seems I have a melody running around in my head and I would like to see if I can get it into a pleasant form to listen to," he answered. As Reyes took the strap from around his neck and handed the guitar to him, Diego rose, and paying their bill, he went out to the tavern's patio and sat at one of the tables. There he sat for a couple of hours, composing a serenade. Ania had so enjoyed the times he had sung for her while she was recovering from the attack that had killed her brother and father and injured her. Yet, for some reason, he had not done so in months. It was time that oversight was corrected.

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Ania pleaded illness as an excuse not to join Ramón for dinner.  Nor did she go out to walk among the vines as she usually did. Word had come from the Hacienda de la Vega that they were invited to supper that night in order that they might get to know Señorita Verdugo and her Tía Alicia. Ania was not sure she was up to it, especially to go and be able hide her anger. However, she intended to go. She was sure Anna María had come to try to entice Zorro back to her and Ania would never allow that without a fight. Still, she was not sure just how Diego would treat her tonight. Would he scold her? Would he even speak to her? Well, whichever way it was, it was her bumbling anger, which had caused the problem between them. She now realized that, so knew she should apologize to him.  Hopefully, he would forgive her.  It would be so like Diego, yet the uncertainty remained.

As she once again paced in her room, there was a quiet knock. "Come," she called absently.

Rosita eased her head in the door and smiled. "Ah, you are awake. I thought that you might be sleeping."

"Hardly!" Ania snorted, knowing that she would have had to be far more tired than she was now for sleep to come.

"Well, I think that this will improve how you feel, Señorita Ania." With that, she stepped further into the room. Her arms were almost filled with the delicate blooms of lupines and other flowers, both wild and the more exotic blossoms of domesticated garden flowers.

Ania gasped, her eyes going wide with delighted surprise. "Where…" she began, but stopped as a sound reached her ears from beyond the door leading to her balcony on the exterior of the house.

Rosita smiled brightly as Ania looked from her to the door. "Well, go on, patrona! A certain caballero has come to see you."

Ania did not have to be told twice. She all but flew through the door and onto her balcony. There she leaned her head against the wrought iron post as she let the music fill her heart. Her eyes misted with tears again, for she realized that the words, and perhaps even the music, were original, composed just for her. She listened closely to the words Diego sang and understood the feelings behind them.

"Treasures are sought by many a man --bright jewels, flashing silver and gold, --But my own heart would seek throughout the land --for something more precious to behold. --For the past is of silver bright, --Let others seek its chilled embrace. --I will reach for the future's golden light --and find the emerald's lovely grace --and the fire of opals in my true love's eyes. --Therein true treasure lies!"

As the song ended, Ania stepped back in, and quickly searching through the flowers, found one perfect blossom. Returning to the balcony, she smiled and dropped it to Diego.

"Ah. Does this mean that I am forgiven, Aniasita?" Diego asked quietly as he caught it.

"If it is you who needs the forgiveness, I suppose," Ania replied with an uncertain smile.

"Come down, Ania. I think we need to talk, not argue. Is that not so?" Diego suggested.

"Sí," Ania said. As she came back into her bedchamber, she saw that Rosita had already arranged the flowers in a vase for her. "Thank you, Rosita," she said with a smile. "That is beautiful, but I need you to do something else for me now."

"Of course, Señorita Ania, if it is within my power," the lady's maid assured her.

"Is my cousin home?" Ania asked.

"No, patrona, he has gone back into Los Ángeles," Rosita answered.

"Bueno! Then go downstairs, and if he comes in, stall him. Keep him from intruding on us right now. I need to talk to Diego and ALONE, thank you! I will not be responsible for my actions if Ramón tries to play the chaperone at this particular time," Ania stated emphatically.

"Sí, señorita. I will do my best," she was assured by Rosita.

As Ania came downstairs into the patio where Diego waited, he quickly set aside the guitar and took her in his arms. His kiss and the strength of his embrace told her that he had forgiven her for her rage, even before she could apologize for it. She stood back for a moment searching his eyes and saw not a trace of anger. It was amazing to her that he was so forgiving, when she had been so clearly in the wrong. She did not believe his forgiving nature took away the responsibility she had to say she was sorry. "Diego,” she said humbly.  “I am sorry that I turned on you like that. It was none of your doing and I should have waited to see your response, before I reacted to...her." Ania paused a moment, then went on. "You have truly told, and shown me, in many ways since you called her name in your delirium, that you do love me. I should trust you more. I do not think you realize just how much I took that simple action of yours to heart, when I probably should not have. My only excuse might be that the tension of the situation and the idea of you dreaming of her, when I loved you so, must have branded it into my emotions more strongly than it might otherwise.  And now, for her to just show up here...well...I am sorry."  Ania looked down, reluctant to meet his eyes.

Diego reached and gently lifted her chin until their eyes met. "Aniasita, did you not know that I also dreamed of you, repeatedly? Anna María was not alone in my thoughts. So much of what I dreamed then is foggy to me now.  Even then things were all mixed up. I hardly knew what was dream and what was reality. Usually everything made as much, or as little, sense as anything else. But I do remember reliving in my mind our scene before the mantel in the sala and, Ania, I was desperate to get you to hear me, to stop you somehow from leaving me. There was so much I was holding back from telling you, and at that particular time, I did not think I would live to let you know how I loved you. I called to you, but...."

"Then it WAS my name I heard you say!" Ania gasped as she looked up at him. "I thought afterward, after you called her name and it was so similar to my own, I thought you had said the same name both times."

"I said it aloud?" Diego asked, trying to remember clearly.

"Yes, and then you asked me not to go," Ania said.

"So the rest of that scene probably is as I remember it too, your holding me and crying." His arms tightened around her. "How hard that must have been on you, Aniasita mío! No wonder some things still have an affect on you. " For a moment, the two were silent, content to stand close and know that the anger was gone. "Come sit down, Ania. Let me say all I need to about this."

After they were seated at a table at one side of the patio he continued, "Let me say first that you were right. There ARE some feelings still there for Anna María." He recognized the hurt and fear that Ania turned away to hide. "Wait! Do not look away. Hear me out.”

He tenderly cupped her face in his hands so that he could once again gaze into the emerald depths of her eyes. “The feeling is not what you fear, I promise you. She was my first real love. I will always care enough to pray that she is happy, but I no longer think that we could ever have been happy together. She would never have been content with me as I really am. I could not remain Zorro twenty-four hours a day, nor would I have been happy if she cared for only part of me. Ania, you are the only woman I have ever known who has made me feel whole. I know that now I am loved for what I can show as well as that which must be hidden.”

Ania blinked back tears at the emotion in Diego’s eyes and voice as he spoke.  To hear him say such things, even when she had been at fault in their quarrel, was like a gift from heaven.  “Oh, sweet saints, help me deserve this man’s love!” she prayed as he continued.

“I do not think I even knew until you came into my life how much I missed that,” Diego said gently. “True, perhaps someday there will be no need to hide part of myself. But, you see, even now both the Diego everyone sees and the Zorro the world sees only when he is needed, are me. Even when Zorro is no longer needed, the part of me who is Diego will still be here. Surprisingly, you seemed to fall in love with the weaker, more human part of me first and only showed the love in your eyes for Zorro after you figured out the connection between the two. With you, I am whole. You need not fear Anna María or any other woman, Ania. I love you more than anyone or anything else under heaven and I always will." He smiled. "Even when you give ME the rough side of your tongue! Maybe I needed that anyway. It at least made me stop and analyze what was in my own heart and mind."

Ania sat silently for a moment. She started to speak, but got no further than his name. Her heart was too full for words. Finally, Ania found her voice. "I love you so much, Diego mío! I know that I am the luckiest woman on earth to have found you and Anna Maria is the most unfortunate, even though she is unaware of what she is losing,” she said quietly. “Even so, I think I will have to hold onto your words very hard over the next few days. I shall try to be patient and understanding with her, but I am afraid that Anna María will bring out the worst in me. I will promise you that I will try to watch what I do or say." She smiled wanly, "After all, how much harder can it be than being civil with Rodríguez?"

Diego found himself laughing at the very idea of Ania putting the gentile Anna Maria and the ruthless Rodríguez in the same class together. However, he could not help but wish this all was over. He dreaded what was ahead. He had no doubt that just as Ania suspected, Anna María had come to see Zorro. What he would have to tell her would hurt her. No matter how little he had meant to, he knew there was no way to avoid it. The sooner it was behind them, the better, for all of them.

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Diego escorted Ania back to the Rancho de la Vega that night for supper, the two of them riding beside Ramón as was proper. True to her word, Ania was indeed trying to be good. Outwardly, she seemed cordial and sincere. Only after Anna María admitted that she wished Diego's help in contacting Zorro did he feel Ania's irritation begin to rise again. He had looked up, meeting Ania's eyes, and she had swallowed her anger. He realized that she was using what she called her "cloak of court" a great deal now, but she did keep her promise. In this way, they made it fairly pleasantly through supper.

He had just begun to relax a little when Ania surprised him by asking that she be allowed to have everyone to supper the following night at her hacienda. After all, she had not yet had the pleasure of entertaining guests there. "What better way to begin my role as a hostess than to be able to learn more about an old friend of Diego's?" she had asked.

Diego tried to catch her eye again, but to no avail. "Now what is she up to?" he could not help but wonder. Tomorrow night might not be as much fun as it sounded, at least not for me! Once again, he wished this affair were behind him. It was proving uncomfortable, very uncomfortable indeed.


 

 

Chapter Eleven
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