Anna Maria felt honored that Don Alejandro had gone to such lengths to welcome her to his hacienda. Many of the dons she met expressed kind words regarding Don Grigorio's venture in Spain. Everything seemed perfect...the music, the food, the wine even the weather cooperated. The disposition of the people was elevated by the evenings festivities and thoughts of the dry, hot weather were put on hold. Sergeant Garcia and Corporal Reyes were happy to be among the invited guests. When they were not mingling with the other guests they gathered around the table enjoying the sumptuous feast and wine available. Diego watched Anna Maria from a distance as she danced with many young caballeros throughout the evening wishing he could have her all to himself. When the final dance was called Diego rushed to make sure it was with him. Taking her in his arms they swirled around the patio. His handsome good looks and gentle touch made her stomach flutter. Anna Maria always thought of Diego as a close friend, even family, but was there much more to her feelings?
Later that evening Anna Maria stood on her balcony rethinking the days events in her mind. The wonderful party made her feel special and she relished the time spent with the de la Vegas. In her pocket she carried the small cross and chain she purchased earlier that day. It was to be a gift but to which man? To Zorro who stole her heart in Monterey or Diego to whom she had mixed feelings. Holding the cross in her hand she admired the design and fine workmanship. Suddenly there came a noise beneath her balcony. In a moment Zorro had swung his long legs over the rail's edge.
"I hoped to see you again, Senor Zorro," she said her heart beating rapidly. "I did not know it would be this soon."
"Anna Maria I wish to finish our conversation of the other night before we were interrupted."
"Very well but before we speak I have something to give you," she said making her decision.
Anna Maria extended her hand and Zorro reached for the shiny object in her hand saying.
"This cross and chain are one of a kind as you," she told him. "Please wear it always, for it will protect you from danger."
Staring at the cross he lifted his eyes touched by her words. Anna Maria was as thoughtful as she was beautiful.
"Gracias, I promise to wear it always."
Anna Maria took the cross and chain from his hand and put it around his neck. As she leaned close to him he placed his hands about her waist and pulled her even closer. At first he kissed her gently then with more feeling. Why could this woman not love both Zorro and Diego. Things would not be so complicated.
"Zorro," she asked softly. "Will you take off the mask so that I may see your face?"
"More than anything that would be my wish but I...I...I wish I could tell you the truth," sighed Zorro afraid to lift the mask.
"Then do it. I need to know the man behind the mask as well," she said almost desperately.
"What if I told you that you know more about this man than you think," implied Zorro.
"I do not understand," she said confused. "Is this a puzzle I am to figure out?"
Zorro did not answer instead he put his gloved hand under her chin to lift her face to his. The look in her lovely brown eyes drew him closer until he met her soft, warm lips with his. Oh how he loved this woman! He soon realized that he must leave her before his desires overtook him. So without another word said he slipped back into the darkness. Anna Maria remained on the balcony for some time trying to understand the things he said. What was it that she knew about this man? Zorro had said something similar in Monterey. He told her she had only to look about her but she was no longer in Monterey. Confused she walked into her room and closed the balcony doors. Her thoughts swirled about in her mind. She hoped everything would become clearer in time.
Bernardo waited in the secret passage for Zorro to return from the pueblo. The man in black wished to make sure the tax money left with Garcia was still safe. The good sergeant was a fine and honorable man but sometimes...things just happened. When Zorro finally came running up the stone stairs Bernardo greeted him happily. As Diego changed he told Bernardo that Garcia was doing a fine job protecting the tax money and that they no longer needed to be concerned. While changing his shirt Bernardo noticed the small shiny object around Diego's neck and with a raised eye brow looked at his friend. Diego explained stopping to see Anna Maria after riding to the cuartel and that she had given him the cross. With a nod of his head Bernardo acknowledged Diego's words then smiled to himself and left Diego to get ready for bed.
After tossing and turning for an hour Diego grabbed his robe and went down to the patio. However he was not the only one who found it difficult to sleep. Anna Maria soon found herself walking about the garden admiring the beautiful fragrant flowers and trying to figure out just what Zorro had tried to tell her. Suddenly she was surprised by a familiar voice from behind her.
"I thought you had retired hours ago," said Diego.
"No, I could not sleep," she said. "It must have been all the excitement today."
They strolled about the garden and later climbed the stairs to their chambers. Diego desired to take her in his arms and hold her close but instead he kissed her tenderly on the cheek before turning toward his room. Anna Maria paused beforing opening the door. Diego was a handsome man with beautiful hazel eyes and a smile...what was the matter with her? She loved Zorro? Did she not?