Chapter 17

The following week the citizens of Los Angeles were celebrating the arrival of the new Mexican Alcalde, Senor Javier Botello as well as the departure of de Soto the previous day; he had left the dusty pueblo without accomplishing his mission of capturing Zorro.

The whole plaza had been decked out in colourful ribbons and paper lanterns and there was even a piñata for the children. The women of the district had cooked up a huge feast which was to be served both inside the tavern for those who wanted seating, and outside for those who wished to stand. Several musicians had taken their place on the far end of the tavern porch and the joyful sounds of guitars, flutes, drums was heard from every corner of the pueblo and it drew the people to the plaza where many were already dancing in the streets or laughing and talking in groups.

When the carriage carrying the de la Vegas entered the edge of the plaza, a large cheer went out, welcoming them to the party.

"Well this is going to be a wonderful party, eh son." Don Alejandro grinned widely as the carriage stopped and he gazed around. "I don't think I've ever since the people so happy." he added.

Diego grinned too. "Yes, the people need this after so long of being under harsh rule of Ramone and de Soto." he replied as he helped his wife down from the carriage. "If Botello's speech from this morning proves true, then we will finally have peace." He said as he recalled the words that their leader had spoken where he had promised to remove all taxes except one which he would work out at a later date once he had a chance to audit the books. He also announced a pardon to the bandit known as Zorro on the condition that he did not take up arms against the Mexican Government which was received with great applause and loud cheers and whistles from the gathered crowd.

She beamed back. "Peace for everyone." she said as she gazed into his eyes; pleased that he would no longer ride out as Zorro.

He nodded. "Yes, peace for everyone." he confirmed.

Don Alejandro slapped Felipe on the shoulder. "Now, Felipe, since you are now a member of our family, I expect you to act like a gentleman and ask your young senorita for a dance." he teased the young man who was his grandson. The formal adoption of Felipe by Diego and Victoria, had finally come through just the day before after the paperwork had been ratified by their lawyers and the de la Vega family were celebrating an even more important event than the change in government and the dismissal of de Soto.

Felipe grinned cheekily and signed.

Don Alejandro chuckled. "Oh you intend to ask many young senoritas to dance eh." he replied as he watched Felipe walked away towards a group of young people, pleased that he was going to spend time with friends his own age. "Ah to be young again Diego." he said as his son and daughter-in-law walked beside him.

Diego grinned. "You're only as young as you feel father."

Don Alejandro laughed. "And at this moment, I'm feeling quite young. I think I will go and ask Senora Ozuna for a dance. Now you two, make sure you dance too. Just because you are married, doesn't mean that you can't have fun." he said before he strode off with a spring in his step.

Victoria chuckled. "I've never seen him so happy. So Senor de la Vega, will you honour me with a dance." she asked him.

He drew himself up to his full height. "Really Senora, I'm a married man and I'm not sure my wife would approve." he said haughtily but his blue eyes twinkled.

She giggled. "Oh I think she would approve." she replied as she pulled him in the direction of the other dancers.

Many hours later, Diego sat resting at one of the tables on the porch of the tavern watching his wife dancing with his father and he couldn't take his eyes off the little curl of hair at the back of her neck which had escaped from her hair bun; it was creating havoc with his thoughts as well as his body and he shifted uncomfortably on his seat, grateful that he was sitting in the shadows. How could such a small thing like a curl, drive him so crazy, he mused to himself as he forced his attention way from the alluring sight of Victoria and sweep his gaze around the plaza, instinctively searching for trouble but found nothing.

He smiled when his eyes fell upon Felipe with talking with Carla, his young senorita, or least he was making simple signs to her and he saw the young woman frowning in concentration as she tried to understand him and then they both smiled shyly when she worked it out. He watched in amusement as Felipe quickly reach behind her ear before he pulled back and showed her a coin in his fingers; he was performing magic tricks for her and she seemed suitably impressed.

"Ah Don Diego, are you not dancing?" Sergeant Mendoza said as he came up to the younger man.

Diego smiled as turned his attention to his friend. "Not at the moment Sergeant. Please join me."

Mendoza smiled warmly. "Gracias Don Diego." he replied as he sat opposite him. "It's a wonderful party, isn't it."

"It certainly is. I understand that our new Alcalde is letting all our lancers to transfer over to the Mexican Army without any reduction in rank or pay." he said.

Mendoza nodded happily. "Oh si, Don Diego. We were very worried about our jobs, a number of my men have families here and their military pay, such as it is, is the only income they have."

Diego nodded. "Of course. And now that Zorro has been pardoned, it will mean more work for you and your men." he said.

The Sergeant sighed. "That is also true Don Diego but Alcalde Botello is thinking of asking Zorro to help us anyway, perhaps help with tracking bandits. Just between you and me, Don Diego, we are not very good at tracking." he added quietly as he looked around to make sure that no one was listening.

Diego was surprised by what the Sergeant said, that the new Alcalde may enlist Zorro's help; it was an intriguing notion but he dismissed it, he had other priorities now. "Well, perhaps Zorro has left us, now that he has a pardon and can go anywhere he wants to."

Mendoza smiled. "Perhaps he is still riding Toronado too."

Diego hid his grin. "Perhaps he is at that, Sergeant." he replied as he saw Victoria walking in their direction with a beaming smile and her cheeks flushed from dancing and his breath hitched at her beauty.

Victoria smiled warmly at the two men. "Sergeant, are you not dancing?" She asked as she sat down beside Diego.

Mendoza shook his head. "I'm not very good at dancing." he admitted.

"That doesn't matter Sergeant, what matters is that you have fun." She gazed around and saw several ladies standing off to the side. "Why don't you go and ask Senora Molina for a dance. I don't think she has danced at all." she added with a gleam in her brown eyes.

Mendoza turned and looked at the lady in question. "She hasn't danced at all? That is sad, every lady should have a dance."

Diego grinned at his wife, knowing what she was up to. "Perhaps the Senora has been waiting for the right man to ask her."

Mendoza made up his mind. "And I am that right man." he said as he stood up. "Please excuse me Doña Victoria, Don Diego."

Victoria grinned as they watched him walk over to the group of ladies and bowed low to Senora Molina, who smiled warmly and took his offered hand and with his head held high, Mendoza led her out to where the other dancers were enjoying themselves.

Diego chuckled. "How did you know that she would accept him? Our good Sergeant isn't known for his dancing skills." he commented.

She leant towards him and whispered. "I have it on good authority that Senora Molina likes Sergeant Mendoza." she said.

He raised an eyebrow. "Indeed. I think Doña Maria better watch out or we will have a new matchmaker for the pueblo." he teased her as the little curl at the back of her neck caught his eyes once more and this time he couldn't resist reaching out and brushing his fingers along the soft silky strands.

Her breath caught at his light touch. "I don't think Doña Maria will have anything to worry about." she said as she leant into his caress, wanting more.

He shifted on his seat as he trailed his fingers down her arm and clasped her hand in his. "Do you think anyone would notice if we leave?" He asked, his voice husky with longing.

She entwined their fingers. "Others have left, so no one will mind if we go too." she replied softly as a wave of desire swept over her.

"Shall we go, querida?" he whispered hotly in her ear.

She squeezed his hand. "Yes, let's go Diego." she replied.

"I see that your son is anxious to take his wife home." Don Ricardo commented to Don Alejandro with a sly grin on his face.

Don Alejandro turned and grinned when he saw Diego driving the carriage out into the evening light with Victoria clinging to his arm. "To be young and newly married."

Don Ricardo chuckled. "Yes, I remember that feeling well, Alejandro. So I assume there will be a grandchild before long." He teased his old friend, who was well known for his desire to have grandchildren.

Don Alejandro chuckled. "Oh I can say that with almost certainty, Ricardo. We need grandchildren in our old age and I've been waiting a long time for Diego to provide them for me."

Don Ricardo nodded. "That's true." he paused and then grinned. "Shall we bet on when your first grandchild comes into the world."

Don Alejandro shook his head, his friend was known for his strange gambling bets but luckily for him, he mostly won. "I couldn't bet on that, amigo, it wouldn't be right." Or fair, since he knew when the relationship between Diego and Victoria had changed.

"Well what about the sex of the baby then, you will have a fifty, fifty chance." Don Ricardo encouraged.

Don Alejandro sighed and wondered what he was getting into; he wasn't a gambling man by nature but there were times when he just had to and this was one of those times. "Alright, but the loser gives the money to the mission poor."

Don Ricardo laughed as he slapped his friend on the shoulder. "Done."

It was Don Alejandro who had the last laugh when his daughter-in-law presented him with a grandson, whom they named Lorenzo after Victoria's grandfather, some ten months later and it was Don Ricardo who had to pay fifteen pesos to the mission poor box.

But when he held his grandson for the very first time, all thought of the bet disappeared from his mind as he gazed down at the tiny baby with unshed tears blurring his vision and knew that this was what life was about; renewal, the continuation of their family and nothing else mattered.

The End