Disclaimer – I don't own the rights, Zorro Productions Inc does - I just like to play with the characters. Not written for profit but for fun.

This is my first fanfic and all reviews are welcome, although my story has been completed prior to posting, any comments will help future stories. Any mistakes in grammar/spelling are mine.

Plot – Diego attempts to discover the identity of a thief who has been masquerading as Zorro, while Victoria is upset by the arrival of a beautiful senorita, who seems to have captured the hearts of the men in the pueblo, including Diego de la Vega.

This is the first story in my Forever Zorro Trilogy.

Chapter 1

Victoria's tavern was bustling with customers as Don Alejandro, his son Diego and Diego's ward Felipe came through the open doors. The tavern was crowded and noisy with caballeros, peons, and lancers and by the look of their clothes, several travellers who had come for a meal, all talking and laughing at once. It created a warm, pleasant atmosphere, which made Tavern Victoria such a wonderful respite from the rigours of earning a living in the sometimes harsh land. Everyone knew that Senorita Victoria Escalante offered not only wonderful food at fair prices but she also ran a respectable establishment and she gave everyone equal attention to all citizens, both peon and caballero alike.

As the de la Vega men glanced around the crowded tavern, they noticed Don Ricardo gesturing to them from a far corner table. "Hola Don Alejandro, Diego, Felipe, come, sit with me." he called out.

"Gracias Ricardo. The tavern is very busy today." Don Alejandro commented as they sat down.

"Yes, very busy today..." Don Ricardo continued.

Diego wasn't listening to them. He was too busy looking around the tavern trying to get a glimpse of the lovely tavern owner. Then he saw her as she chatted with one of her customers. He swallowed hard as he continued to watch the woman he loved going about her business. Even though he had seen her that earlier that morning or rather Zorro had, when he bought in some bandits for the Alcalde's jail, he only had time to give a salute in her direction before he galloped away.

He longed to spend more time with her, preferably as himself but since he cannot, he had to don the mask so he could hold her, to kiss her. He wished for the day that he wouldn't have to hide behind the mask, to be able to love her as himself but there seemed to be no end to the injustice of Alcalde de Soto's tyrannical rule. He shook his head and turned his gaze back to Victoria as she emerged from the kitchen with a tray of food.

Felipe had noticed who Diego was looking at and gently kicked his leg under the table. Diego jumped slightly, turned to the younger man and grinned sheepishly. He had been caught openly staring at Victoria, something he had never done before. He hoped that no-one else had noticed his blunder. With an effort, Diego turned his attention back to the conversation between his father and Don Ricardo.

They were discussing cattle prices for the up-coming sale, each hoping that this year's prices would be better than the previous years. Over the last several years, beef prices had slowly risen and everyone was hopeful for an even better return on their investments at the coming sales. The demand for good quality beef was on the rise, especially since the drought of the last two years had taken their toll in other Spanish provinces, the cattle ranches of California were set to gain a much needed boast to their local economy.

Victoria soon arrived at their table, and smiled at the de la Vegas. They were her closest friends and she even considered Don Alejandro like a second father, for he had once been a close friend of her own father. Don Alejandro had also supported her when she took over the tavern after the death of her mother. Many thought that the business should have been sold, that it was not right for a teenage girl to run the tavern where the majority of the patrons were men but Don Alejandro persuaded the citizens to allow Victoria to become the owner and to their surprise, she had turned it into the thriving business that it was.

And as for Diego, well her feelings for the tall caballero puzzled her. He was her best friend, confidante, almost like an older brother but sometimes he could infuriate her by his inactions, by his love of books and at times wished that he was more like Zorro. She never thought about why she would want Diego to be more like the masked man, never realised that deep down she felt more brotherly love for her friend.

"Hola gentlemen, what can I get for you today?" she asked with a warm smile.

Diego couldn't take his eyes off her. She was dressed in a red skirt that swished around her legs as she walked, her cream blouse had a lovely pastel floral pattern to it, which sat low on her smooth shoulders and with more customers to attend to, the extra work had bought an attractive flush to her cheeks. Dios, she has never looked so beautiful, thought Diego.

Again Felipe kicked him under the table, snapping Diego out of his daze, enough for him to cover up the longing that had crept into his gaze and prayed that she didn't noticed.

"You're very busy today, Victoria." Diego said, pleased that his voice sounded normal to his ears.

"Yes, rather unexpectedly. The coach from Santa Paulo had a broken axle and while it's being fixed at the blacksmith, the travellers are having an early lunch."

Behind them came some shouts. "Well we won't keep you from your customers Victoria." Don Alejandro said and proceeded to give Victoria their lunch orders.

Diego sighed as he watched her slip through the curtains and into the kitchen. He fought down the urge to follow her, he wanted nothing more than to take her in his arms and kiss her soundly. He knew that his feelings for Victoria had been slipping more and more lately and he feared what may happen if he made a mistake. He gave himself a mental shake, he must regain control over his emotions, or someone would notice, someone like the Alcalde. Who would then put two and two together and the identity of Zorro would finally be uncovered. This would undoubtable lead to his death, along with anyone connected to him. He glanced once again towards the curtain. If Diego couldn't enter the kitchen, there was nothing to stop Zorro from visiting the beautiful senorita.

"Diego...Diego." His father's voice finally got through his thoughts. "You haven't heard a word I have said, have you Diego?"

Diego looked up at his father, noticed that Don Ricardo was no longer seated at the table. "I'm sorry Father, what were you saying?"

It was Don Alejandro's turn to sigh and he shook his head. He would never understand this strange son of his and was about say so, but Victoria arrived with their meals, therefore saving Diego from receiving yet another lecture from his father.

Felipe was aware of the tension between father and son and it was getting worse as time went on. He wished that Diego would tell his father about his secret life, so that the older man would be proud of his son, instead of being disappointed in him. He heard the cutting remarks that Don Alejandro had made over the years and saw how hurt this had made Diego, he had seen him struggle with the guilt and shame of deceiving his father.

He glanced at the man who took him in when he was orphaned as a child, the man he considered as a father, mentor, and older brother, wished that he would also tell the lovely senorita the real identity of the masked man. They both deserved to be happy after all these years. But he knew the why Diego would never tell them the truth. He didn't want them to suffer the consequences of knowing the real name of Zorro. He knew that the Alcalde would do anything to find out the man behind the mask, up to and including imprisonment or worse, death.

Later that night, Victoria closed the tavern and wearily climbed the stairs to her rooms, rubbing her aching neck and shoulders. The extra customers were not expected and she had given two of her three girls the day off. There had been no way of getting word to them in time to help her, so Maria and Victoria worked the busy tavern themselves. As she opened the door to her room she was overcome by the sweet fragrance of roses. Victoria smiled, her tiredness lifted as she closed the door behind her. She felt her way to her dresser, where she kept the candles and matches. She lit one, turned and gasped as she saw red rose petals scattered over her bed. There was only one person who could have done this.

Behind her came the soft familiar male voice. "The rose petals pale in comparison to your beauty."

Victoria quickly turned around. "Zorro." she whispered as he stepped out of the shadows. She rushed into his open arms and they simply held each other.

"Mi Preciosa. It's been too long." he planted a soft kiss on the top of her head. His closed his eyes and enjoyed the feeling of having Victoria's warm soft body in his arms.

"Two weeks and three days." She whispered against his chest, she loved the feel of his strong arms around her, it made her feel safe and secure. It was as though all her worries disappeared whenever she was in his arms.

He chuckled. "As long as that."

She looked up and winced as her neck muscles protested at the movement.

Zorro noticed instantly. "Mi Preciosa, what's wrong?"

"Nothing." she replied and planted a loving kiss to the exposed skin of his throat. He moaned softly, pulled her closer to him and gently stroked the back of her neck.

"Ouch." Victoria cried out.

He pulled away. "There is something wrong. What it is Victoria?"

Victoria looked up and saw the concern in his blue eyes. She sighed as she moved out of his warm embrace, no longer hiding the pain she was in. "It's my neck and shoulders, it's like I have been hit with a hammer."

"What happened to the girls you normally have working for you? You definitely needed the extra help today."

"I had given them the day off, and besides how did you know we were busy today?" She gazed at him suspiciously, with a small smile on her lips.

Zorro chuckled. "I heard someone talking about it." Then he saw her wincing in pain again. "Come Victoria, sit in the chair." He gently manoeuvred her down onto the chair in front of her dresser. She watched Zorro's reflection as he took off his hat and gloves and placed them on her bed. He stood behind her and met her curious gaze in the mirror.

"Just relax." he whispered. He carefully brushed her hair forward, and when he eased her blouse down to the edge of her shoulders, he felt her stiffen in apprehension. He was after all, a man, who wasn't a family member, in her bedroom late at night, alone in the empty tavern and was about to give her a rather personal massage.

"It's okay Victoria, I'm just going to give you a neck rub." he re-assured her. They gaze met again and he saw her trust in him. He felt humbled that he had her complete trust and he promised himself that he would never do anything to abuse that belief.

Victoria hoped that he didn't hear her pounding heart, for she was a little nervous. It had been a long time since she had received a neck rub and never by a man. She knew it could become an intimate gesture between the two of them but she would do almost anything to ease the pain. She gave a small nod of her head and smiled. "That would be nice Zorro." she whispered.

Zorro gently placed his hands on her warm, bare shoulders and was surprised at just how tense her muscles were. She almost jumped out of the chair as his fingers started massaging a very tight, very sore muscle where her neck met her shoulder.

"Shhh, just relax, close your eyes preciosa." Zorro said softly as he slowly began rubbing that hard knot with his fingers and thumbs. He smiled as he saw her eyes closed.

"Ouch. That hurts." she winced again. She felt a blush creep up over her face, she had been right, Zorro's warm, strong hands on her shoulders was indeed a very intimate touch and she felt a warm tingle rush through her body. The knot slowly became less tight under Zorro's skilled fingers.

"Mmm, that feels good." Victoria whispered as she became more relaxed. He silently agreed with her and tried not to think about those lovely shoulders of hers under his hands, of how he would like to drop soft kisses over her creamy skin. He swallowed hard, pushing away those pleasurable but dangerous thoughts from his mind. The knot was all but gone, so he moved to the other side of her neck and started on the hard knot there. He saw that Victoria still had her eyes closed.

"Where did you learn to do this?" she asked.

"Well, I used to massage my mother's neck when I was younger." he admitted.

Her eyes flew open. "Your mother!"

Zorro nodded. "She used to get stiff muscles whenever she..." He stopped suddenly, his hands stilled as he looked in the mirror and their eyes meet once more. They both realised at the same time that he had almost made a blunder, which would have revealed a rather large clue to his identity.

"Your mother..." Victoria prompted, with a small, knowing smile on her lips.

Zorro grinned back, started his kneading again, the knot almost gone. "Yes, well. She only trusted me to give her massages like this."

"Mmm." Victoria moaned softly as Zorro began giving her deep rubs to her shoulders. "What about your father?" She wanted to keep him talking. He had never talked about his family before and didn't want him to stop.

Zorro chuckled as he remembered the reason why his mother didn't quite trust his father with such an intimate gesture. He decided to tell her, it would in no way help her with guessing his identity. He continued with his massaging as she closed her eyes again. "When I was about ten, I caught my father give mother a massage for her sore neck, but what started out as neck rub, turned into something more...intimate."

Victoria's eyes flew open again. "No! You didn't see..." she left the words hanging.

Zorro, a little embarrassed, nodded. "Yes but once they started kissing, I ran to my room."

She giggled at the thought of a little Zorro running away.

He grinned and kept massaging her shoulders. "My parents rarely showed their devotion to each other so openly in public, not even in front of the servants, so when I saw them... Well... I didn't know what to do."

Zorro met Victoria's eyes again in the mirror, her eyes alight with amusement and with something else. But before he could ponder what, she unconsciously moistened her soft lips with the tip of her tongue and he almost groaned aloud at the sight, he wanted nothing more than to taste them. He stopped his massage but kept his hands resting on her shoulders. "How does that feel?" his voice husky.

"Much better, thank you Zorro." her voice soft and low.

Their eyes meet again in the mirror and Victoria saw the longing in his blue eyes and it matched her own. He finally gave in to temptation of her soft skin, leant down and planted soft, feather light kisses over her silky smooth shoulders. He smiled slightly as he felt her shiver and continued with his kisses to her tender skin. A soft moan escaped from Victoria's lips as a hot thrill shot through her at the feel of his warm lips on her skin, his moustache tickled her and she arched her neck to one side.

Zorro needed no further invitation and kissed her neck tenderly. But he wanted more than to taste her soft skin, so he knelt down beside Victoria, and as he caressed her face with his hand, a stray thought crossed his mind, that this was what he had seen his father do all those years ago. But all thought of his father disappeared as he leant closer and gently pressed his lips against hers. Victoria leant into him as his lips moved slowly, lovingly over hers.

He pulled back, "Mi preciosa." before his kissed her more deeply. His warm tongue gently darted along her lips, waiting. Victoria sighed in pleasure as she parted her lips and wrapped her arms around him, pulling him closer, deepening the kiss.

Zorro gave a low moan as he slipped his tongue between her parted lips and curled around hers in a loving caress. His free hand moved slowly up and down her back, before he pulled his lips from hers and planted hot searing kisses along her neck and throat. She moaned softly at the feel of his moist warm lips on her skin and clutched at his broad shoulders, felt the hard muscles twitch under his silk shirt.

He couldn't get enough of her as he reclaimed her mouth for another passionate kiss. Their tongues entwined together, his hands were in her hair, then moved down her back, up along her side. Victoria slid her hands up to unfastened the top button of his shirt and moved her hands inside to caress his warm skin, felt his muscles of his broad chest ripple, as her fingers roamed where they could

Zorro groaned at the feel of her warm hands caressing him and trembled as a hot surge of desire swept over him. He would like nothing more than to lay her down on her bed and make love to her but their upbringing forbade them from this action outside of marriage. And not to mention the chance of her falling pregnant, that knowledge would then surely fall into the hands of the Alcalde, who would assume correctly that the child was Zorro's. De Soto would then use this knowledge to bring down the masked bandit once and for all.

So reluctantly he pulled back. Their eyes showed their longing, their desire and their love for each other.

"I can't...We...can't do this." Zorro panted as he gently removed her wandering hands from inside his shirt.

"But..." Victoria's own voice was unsteady.

"Shhh." Zorro placed his fingers on her lips to stop her. "I'm sorry querida, I must go." He gave Victoria another quick but passionate kiss, that left them breathless, before he stood up on trembling legs, grabbed his hat and gloves and scrambled out of her window.

Victoria slowly rose from her chair, her legs unsteady, not only from Zorro's passionate kisses but also from learning more about him. Tonight was one of the longest conversations that they have had together. Their meetings were usually hurried, with only enough time for a couple of kisses. Oh but what wonderful kisses they were, and they were becoming more and more passionate, she thought, blushing.

She had always suspected that Zorro was a caballero, with his education, his manners, and by the stylish cut of his black silk shirt and trousers. But tonight when he mentioned servants, he inadvertently confirmed her suspicions. Under the mask Zorro was a wealthy caballero. And that made her somewhat apprehensive. Was she suitable as a wife for a caballero? If they did marry, would others look down at her for marrying above her station? Did she even want to marry a caballero? If that caballero was Zorro, then yes she would, no matter what problems they may face. They would face it together.

She only knew of several caballeros in the area that would fit his description but none of them seemed to be the type. She supposed that Zorro could be from another pueblo and that she didn't know him at all. She had even considered Diego de la Vega, only because he was tall and had blue eyes but nothing like the burning passion that shone from the eyes of the masked man, so she dismissed the idea of her studious, peaceful best friend being anything like the heroic and dashing Zorro.

As Zorro rode Toronado home, he was thinking the unthinkable. He was considering unmasking to her once more. He knew that they could not go on like this for much longer, snatching a few pleasurable moments here and there. He wanted more than that. They both did. Every time he saw the woman he loved, every time they kissed, the tight control he had on his emotions kept dropping and he would eventually make a mistake or give away to much information, like tonight.

Although he could not be sure, but he must have said something and it was important to her. He had seen her reaction, a slight widening of her eyes. He tried to remember everything that he had said but he couldn't. He couldn't shake the image of those lovely, silky shoulders under his hands. He shook his head, all he wanted was normal life, a life married to Victoria and a hacienda full of children. He remembered when he proposed to Victoria, she had told him that she loved him, not the legend. But he could not fully conquer the fear that she would reject him, Diego De la Vaga, the man under the mask. That she wouldn't love him for himself.

As he reached the cave, he knew the time was coming to tell not only Victoria about his secret but his father as well. They both deserved to know the truth. He had only one problem. He had no idea of how he was going to accomplish this.

At the same time as Zorro emerged from Victoria's window that night, another black clad figure scrambled out of a different window, of a different tavern, carrying a small soft bag, then leapt onto a black horse and escaped into the night. This tavern was larger than Victoria's and was in the heart of Santa Barbara. As the rider and horse galloped away, the tavern erupted into shouts of anger. It seemed a number of guests had been robbed that night.

"Thief." yelled a gentleman, staying alone at the tavern for several days.

"We've been robbed." shouted another gentleman. "He stole our money."

"It was that bandit Zorro." said a third man.

"How do you know?" asked the first gentleman.

"I saw him as he leapt down to the ground. He was dressed in black, wearing a mask. And look, he marked the door with a "Z" Who else would it be and I've heard that there have been a number of thefts recently in the area."