"Angustia Del Amante" means the "Lover's Heartache"

"Angustia Del Amante" means the "Lover's Heartache".

This story was the first "long" story that I ever did. I aimed for fifty pages, did eighty, and was thrilled that I could do it. However, over time, I improved as a writer (or I'd like to think I've improved). Reading over the old version, I winced at all the mistakes. I had to redo it, and as I edited, parts of the story--especially the ending--begged for me to rewrite. So I did, and found this story approaching one hundred and twenty pages. Hopefully, it is a better story for it.

I must thank Carrie and Kathy. They helped make this story better with all their wonderful help. However, all remaining mistakes are mine and mine alone!

Rating: PG13 for consensual, non-martial relations. They take place off-screen, so to speak. :)

Summary: Victoria announces that she no longer loves Zorro. Diego is heartbroken, but is everything as it seems?

Disclaimer: I do not own them except in my imagination. I make no profit from them except enjoyment and feedback from readers. :)

ZZZ

Victoria's laughter, full of joy, rang out over the de la Vega hacienda.  The sound caused all of the de la Vega guests to smile.  Laughter could be a rare commodity in the territory.  Life was hard in this area of the world, a place that could barely be called civilized.  In Los Angeles, joy was further subjugated by the tyranny of the Alcalde. A spontaneous sound of delight made anyone smile, but it was who was laughing that brought the greatest sense of contentment to Don Alejandro and his guests.  They all loved the beautiful tavern owner, whose passion and kindness were legendary; so her joy was their own.  The mood of everyone at the party, except for three, lightened.

Diego fought the urge to frown darkly in Victoria's direction.  Normally, her beautiful laughter brought a smile of joy to his lips, but tonight it filled him with seething jealousy.  He had been looking forward to spending some time with her this evening, even if only as a friend.  Instead, he had barely had a chance to say hello, and his gut had stayed clenched tight since she arrived. 

The moment she had walked through the door, she began flirting and laughing with Don Rafael, and he hated it.  He tried to reassure himself that it was just harmless flirting, but that was proving to be impossible.  Something was different about her tonight.  Truth be told, she was smiling and flirting with all of the men present tonight, except for his father and himself.  She was acting like a lady looking for a man.  Victoria, who had been courted since she turned fourteen, stopped all flirting the first year after his return home from Spain.  Having found the man she wanted in Zorro, she remained loyal to him, even though they had such little time together.

Why am I being so paranoid all of a sudden? Diego angrily asked himself.  It was a well-known fact throughout the community that Victoria's heart belonged to the masked outlaw.  Which meant her heart belonged to Diego.  He knew it, even if no one else in the entire pueblo, including her, did.  Once, he had worried that she would not be able to love boring Diego, but he chose to believe her reassurances.  On the day she accepted his marriage proposal, she told him that Zorro's heart beat within the man behind the mask, so she would love that man as well.  He believed her.

Now, it looked as if she had decided Zorro was not the one she wanted.  Tonight, she especially seemed to find Don Rafael attractive and interesting.  She was definitely finding his jokes amusing!

"Diego, you look as if your worst enemy, instead of me, is standing in front of you," Maria de Corazon said to the frowning de la Vega.  A lovely lady, she had only recently moved into the area with her father.  They owned Don Emilio's old rancho.  After Don Emilio's attempt at stealing Mendoza's inheritance, the caballero had never been accepted in the community again.  He eventually left the area, leaving an overseer to manage the property.  Maria's father, visiting the area from Santa Barbara, fell in love with the people and the land.  He had paid Don Emilio a high price for his rancho, but he often said he would gladly pay twice the amount again.

Diego forced himself to stop thinking about Victoria.  So, she was flirting.  Harmless flirting and her cool responses to him in the last week did not mean there was a problem in their relationship.  True, she had not even bothered to walk out of the tavern when he took in those three bandits yesterday, but she had been busy.  She had never been too busy before to get a moment with Zorro, Diego thought darkly.  If there were a problem though, Victoria would tell him.  His ladylove was not a shy señorita.  Confronting Zorro, if she was offended or hurt by anything he did, would not be a problem for her.

"I'm sorry, Maria.  I was thinking about a recent article I read about uniformitarianism," Diego lied smoothly.  As a child and young man, he had always been strictly honest.  The existence of Zorro taught him the art of hiding his true feelings and thoughts.  Only with Felipe could he share them. 

Maria smiled, and Diego returned it.  She was a beautiful and kind neighbor, and something of a kindred spirit as well, being the first person in Los Angeles who understood Diego's passion for books and science.  "Yes, it does seem to be becoming the favorite theory among geologists," she agreed, obviously eager to discuss the subject.  Diego spent the rest of the night debating the issue with her.  For a little while, he was able to forget his worries about Victoria.  Almost.

***

Later that night, after all the guests finally left to go home, Diego and his father sat quietly in the library.  Alejandro watched as his son sipped on a glass of wine, obviously lost in deep thought.  "What's wrong, my son?" he asked. 

It was a rare occasion that Diego allowed himself a glass of any alcohol, including wine.  He usually claimed he had no taste for it, but Don Alejandro knew better.  Diego began drinking wine when he was a small child, and it had only been upon his return from Spain that he lost the taste for it.  "Why?" was a question only Diego could answer.  Waiting for his son's response, Alejandro sighed.  It was only another part of himself that Diego kept closed away from him.  My son has too many secrets from me, he thought sadly.  "What's wrong?"

Alejandro watched as Diego finally focused on him, giving himself a mental shake before smiling.  Alejandro noted that the expression was forced.  The curve of his lips did not match the pain in his eyes.  "Why nothing's wrong, Father.  What ever gave you the idea that something was?"  His son's voice held a note a false cheer.

Don Alejandro lay back farther in his chair, resting after the long day, forcing his muscles to relax.  Ever since Gilberto had died, Alejandro felt like he was walking through enemy territory every time he talked to Diego.  Having finally realized how little he knew his son, it saddened him to see that Diego apparently liked it that way.  "The biggest sign is the horrible frown on your face.  The second sign is that you're so deep in thought that you didn't notice Felipe come in to say goodnight."  Don Alejandro saw the small flinch of surprise.  Good, he thought.  He needs to be aware of how lost in thought he has been most of the night.  Poor Maria had been the only one able to engage him in any kind of conversation.

"Finally, you're drinking wine.  It's probably the first glass you've touched in months.  You've lost your taste for it, remember?"  Alejandro gently taunted his son.  Open up to me, Diego.  Tell me what is bothering you so much.  I'm your father.  We should be closer than this, Alejandro thought, desperately hoping for a connection with his son tonight.

Diego looked down at his glass of wine, as if he was seeing it for the first time.  He set it down precisely on the table beside his chair.  Leaning back, his eyes focused on his father for a moment.  "I'm sorry, Father.  I know I haven't been a good host tonight."  He gave another forced smile.  "I'm afraid I've been lost in my studies again.  Señorita Maria and I were discussing--"

"Diego," Alejandro interrupted.  "You can tell me to mind my own business, but please don't lie to me."  He heard the sadness in his own voice.  When had he lost the relationship he once shared with Diego?  They had always been close, even before Elena died.  What had he done to push his son away?

At the moment, Diego was looking at him in shock.  Diego's quick mind struggled to answer the accusation.  Alejandro watched the quick responses--thought and disposed of--rush across his son's face.  He sighed.  "I'd rather be told to mind my own business, Diego," he repeated with a sad smile on his lips.  "Remember that, please."  Standing up, he finished his glass of wine.  "Excuse me, but I find myself growing tired, and I must get up early in the morning."  Turning, he left his son alone in the library.  Diego said nothing to his retreating back.

***

The next morning, Alejandro arose to find his son going to bed.  The haggard look told Alejandro that Diego spent the entire night in the library, contemplating whatever was bothering him.  My poor son looks haunted, Alejandro thought, as he watched the hunched form of Diego walk to his room.  I just wish I knew him well enough-- Alejandro shook his head, forcing his thoughts away from Diego.  There were a hundred tasks to complete today, and he needed to focus on them.  He could think about healing his relationship with Diego later.

***

"You look tired, Don Alejandro," Victoria told him that afternoon, as she set a bowl of gazpacho in front of him.  After a hard morning's work, he had decided to eat lunch at her tavern.  After all, he doubted Diego was awake to share the meal with him, and he needed to be in the pueblo anyway for business. 

Victoria was right.  He was tired, having ridden with his vaqueros, helped patch a broken fence, watched a foal be born, balanced all of his accounts, and met with his lawyer, Don Armando.  They had arranged the meeting last week, since Alejandro's vast estate needed some legal work taken care of by its owner.  That morning, with Don Armando's help, Alejandro busily arranged and rearranged his various investments and handled some problems at his other ranchos

"It's been a long morning, Victoria," Alejandro finally answered her.  It had been a long morning, filled with work.  A stubborn part of him wanted to say it was necessary, but he knew, in his heart, it had all been busy work.  He simply did not want to think about his problems with Diego, the most important person in the world to him.  His son, while often the cause of frustration, was the reason he had kept going after Elena's death.  Diego was his pride and his joy, and he did not know him. 

Alejandro forced himself to focus on Victoria.  It was rude to ignore her so he could brood.  "And we did stay up late," he told her with a gentle smile.  Victoria Escalante was the daughter of one his closest friends.  He had watched over, hugged her when she cried, and beamed with pride as she grew into a beautiful, young lady.  Alejandro only wished his friends could have lived long enough to see what a wonderful woman she had become. 

Victoria looked down at her hands.  "Yes, the party was wonderful, Don Alejandro," she said with enthusiasm.  Alejandro found himself frowning.  Diego was not the only person in the pueblo faking his emotions.  Victoria's voice was too high, and her eyes refused to meet his as she talked about the gathering at his hacienda.  "I had a great time dancing, and I found out what a charming man Don Rafael is," she continued, her words almost tripping over one another in an effort to get out of her mouth. 

"Yes, I noticed how much you enjoyed his company last night.  I kept thinking that Zorro would be jealous," he teased her.  He knew what she would say to his gentle banter:  Zorro would never have reason to be jealous of her affections, because her heart belonged to him.

"Yes, I guess he would," was what Victoria actually answered, her voice sad as she slowly sat down across from him.  Don Alejandro kept waiting for her to say something more, some glib comment, but her face said she was lost in her own thoughts.  Finally looking up at him, she smiled a brave smile, one that reminded Alejandro of Diego's from last night.  However, Don Alejandro was not concerned about her smile, because her eyes frightened him too much.  They were the eyes of a lost person who knew home was never to be found again.

"What Zorro thinks doesn't matter to me anymore, Don Alejandro," she suddenly proclaimed, her voice strong.  The entire tavern silenced as the other customers heard her words.  Victoria was giving up on Zorro?  An unimaginable thought to everyone there!  Their love was the romance of the pueblo.  All the lovely señoritas talked about it with deep sighs and starry eyes.  All of the señoras, when they discussed it, whispered about hopes and dreams they had as young ladies.  Some of the señoras wished their happiness on Victoria, while others hoped her Prince did not have the feet of clay that theirs had.  "I've realized that I've only felt an infatuation all these years.  I'm ready to find a real man to love me, someone whose life isn't consumed with a quest," Victoria declared, leaning over the table.  The crowd gasped in surprised at her words and her confident tone.  Don Alejandro was the only one who knew her well enough to hear the doubt, pain, and fear hidden in her voice.

"Victoria, I'm not sure what happened--" he began, wanting to reassure her that any fight could be solved if the couple was willing work at it.  He and Elena had their fair share of conflict during their wonderful marriage.

She looked him in the eyes, and he saw in their depths a desperation to convince him of the truth in her words, even if there was no truth to be found in them.  "Nothing has happened, Don Alejandro.  We did not fight or anything; I just realized I didn't love him anymore."