The first rays of morning swept through the sala windows waking Diego who had fallen asleep while reading. Taking the book from his lap he placed it on the table before making his way to the front door where he encountered Bernardo. The servant was bewildered by the appearance of his young friend so early for Diego usually slept late in keeping with his scholarly disguise. Bernardo placed his hands on his hips and looked at Diego with a raised brow.
"Ah, you are wondering why I am up so early?" asked Diego. "I could not sleep last night...thinking about Anna Maria."
Diego and Anna Maria had been through a great deal but their love and strength kept their relationship alive. Accompanied by Bernardo, Diego went upstairs to his room to freshen up and change. Meanwhile in another room Anna Maria rose from her bed after a restless night thinking of Diego. Was she the right woman for him or would she disappoint him? She hurried to dress for she did not wish to be late. Today the coach from Monterey was to arrive carrying three very important passengers. Among the travelers was Don Ricardo D'Amo, Diego's practical joker friend, and the governor and his daughter, Leonar.
When they were ready Diego accompanied by Anna Maria took a carriage into the pueblo followed by Bernardo in a separate wagon. The group arrived early giving Anna Maria and Diego time to see Sergeant Garcia while Bernardo picked up some supplies.
At the cuartel Diego and Anna Maria found Garcia seating at his desk overwhelmed by mounds of paperwork. The position of acting commandante was difficult but it had been an enjoyable one for Garcia. The soldier had hoped his superiors would see how competent he had been and make his temporary assignment permanent. Sadly he was to be replaced thus returning to his rank of sergeant.
"Sergeant Garcia have you learned any more about your replacement?" hoped Diego.
"Only that he is to arrive shortly. I hope he is a good commandante for the people deserve a fair minded man," he added.
Aware that the coach from Monterey would arrive soon Garcia grabbed his hat and saber. Together with Anna Maria and Diego, Garcia headed toward the plaza. He looked forward to seeing the governor once again and that rascal Don Ricardo. He wondered would Don Ricardo be able to resist any mischief while he was staying at the hacienda? The dons misadventures were well know in Monterey, especially by the commandante and governor. Hopefully Diego and Don Alejandro would keep a close eye on this young man while he was in Los Angeles.
A great deal of dirt and dust rose throughout the pueblo as the coach rounded the corner. Diego took Anna Maria by the hand and smiled. Even though he appeared happy she knew something was disturbing him. Could it be Don Ricardo's arrival, the appointment of a new commandante or was he having second thoughts about her? What new challenge could they be facing?
Since the Governor was among the passengers a military escort accompanied the coach. The soldiers planned to follow his excellency to the de la Vega hacienda and stand guard during his stay. Men of power always received threats and no chance would be taken with his life. The first to leave the coach was Don Ricardo. After disembarking he turned to help Leonar and then her father from the coach. Diego, Anna Maria and Sergeant Garcia greeted the travelers warmly.
Don Ricardo had not seen Anna Maria in quite sometime but she was just as lovely as the day he left Monterey bound for San Francisco. Diego stood by as Ricardo embraced Anna Maria and then shook his hand. Once the more formal greeting was presented by Sergeant Garcia to the governor, Diego and his group drove out to the rancho followed by the military escort.
In the carriage Don Ricardo sat quietly. He was still surprised by Anna Maria's marriage to Diego. In her letters written over the last few months Anna Maria never spoke of changing her feelings for Zorro yet clearly she looked at Diego with great admiration...love. What had made this change?
On their arrival Don Alejandro and Don Grigorio happily exchanged words of welcome to their guests. Diego and Ricardo remained behind on the patio for a short discussion while the others went into the hacienda.
"Well it appears you are the winner in our game of love," said Ricardo. "How in the world did you manage to get the best of Zorro?"
Smiling and tapping Ricardo's arm, Diego said, "Luck."
Bernardo heard the conversation as he brought in the baggage and laughed to himself. Would Ricardo be pacified by this answer? The travelers were soon shown to their rooms to cleanup and rest leaving Anna Maria and Diego with some free time. Realizing they still had much to discuss they took off for a ride around the rancho with Bernardo as chaperone. A short time later they left Bernardo with the horses while they sat and talked.
"Ricardo and Leonar have made several remarks regarding our marriage," Anna Maria said worried. "How are we to answer them? Especially Ricardo who is very aware of my infatuation with Zorro. How can I explain the change in my feelings?"
"We shall answer truthfully," he said to her amazement. "Except we will leave out the parts regarding Zorro's visits."
"You mean tell them about your father's invitation to the hacienda, the storm and the arranged marriage," she said.
"Does it matter what they think?" he grinned.
"No, all that matters is that we love each other and will be together," she said kissing him lightly on the cheek. "I love you very much, Senor de la Vega.
That evening, Don Ricardo and Anna Maria strolled among the fragrant blossoms in the garden.
"Anna Maria, I am so glad to see you," said Ricardo. "You seem filled with joy."
"I am," she said honestly. "I have grown a lot during my visit here."
"Do you really love Diego and wish to be with him?" he said seriously.
"Sí Ricardo. He makes me truly happy. There is no one like him. Zorro was only a girlish dream but Diego is my reality. "
"Then I wish you both the best," he said smiling down at her. "Diego is a very lucky man."
Entering the sala Anna Maria and Ricardo moved quietly so they would not disturb Diego at the piano. Leonar stood smiling at Diego as she listened to the music. He was an intelligent, well read and gifted man. She could certainly see why Anna Maria had fallen under his spell. Earlier that evening she felt a twinge of jealousy when Anna Maria and she spoke of Diego. She hoped one day to meet a man like the one before her.
After spending time with their guests Anna Maria and Diego excused themselves and went out to the patio. Don Alejandro gestured to Bernardo to follow the young couple. Bernardo did so discreetly allowing them a moment of privacy.
"Diego, is everything all right?" she asked afraid of the answer. "Are you worried about Ricardo or Leonar?"
"No, I was just thinking about...," his voice trailed off.
"You are worried about the new commandante," she stopped to look in his face.
"Sí, in a way I am," he said not wanting to hide anything from her. "There is a chance the new commandante and I may be acquainted...but it is too lovely a night to think of this."
However she was worried. Now that they were together she did not want anything to come between them. Whe almost lost him once she would not allow that to happen again. Anna Maria took a small package from her pocket and gave it to Diego saying, "I want you to have this small gift from me.
Unwrapping the package he found a handkerchief that Anna Maria had embroidered for him.
"Gracias, mi amor. I will carry this with me on our wedding day," he said caressing her face. "I love you.
"I love you too," she replied.
Bernardo turned his head. They were so very happy. He hoped that nothing would delay or upset this wedding.