There is Valentine’s Day Challenge bringing you the following elements:
- Acceptable genres: Romance; Romance/Adventure; Romance/Humor; Romance/ Suspense.
- Victoria cooks (more than once)
- Don Alejandro bumps his head (it is mentioned, and we see results of it);
- Felipe runs interference (more than once);
- The Alcalde has his plan thwarted (more than once);
- Mendoza rides on Tornado (as Zorro);
- Diego or Zorro is shirtless (more than once);
- Includes an unexpected spin on the already ‘classic’ kiss reveal (classic kiss reveal is when Victoria kiss Diego and recognize Zorro. What if she kisses Diego, recognize Zorro and still doesn’t know his identity?);
- Must be published in full by February 14th, 2021;
- Max. 3 chapters. Word count doesn’t matter.
- Must have a happy ending.
Thanks for Cris and Iga for beta reading and all suggestions. 🙂
Chapter 1 – Felipe rides to the rescue and gets a kiss
Ignacio de Soto sat in his office and thought intensely.
“How to lure Zorro into a trap? I already taxed everything, even the air we breathe, the drinks in the tavern and the water in the fountain. I had sentenced every peon in the area to flogging at least three times. He always saved everyone and forced me to withdraw my taxes.”
The alcalde looked at his mentor, Machiavelli.
“I must be more drastic. Victoria? No, Zorro is very protective of her, and always ends up punching me harder if I use her to lure him out. Hmm … He must be a caballero, otherwise, he couldn’t afford such an expensive horse tack. It means that he has friends among the dons and their sons. Hmm …
I should hit closer to home than by flogging a peon, but not too much, as when I used Victoria. I can’t sentence any don to death, it could cause tumult questions in Monterey. However …. a little flogging would show everyone that I am in charge, and maybe hurting a friend will cause Zorro to make a mistake.
Fine, this is a plan. Now, the question is – who? Who could be a friend of Zorro close enough to upset him?”
Suddenly, an idea struck him, and his face cleared. He lifted one corner of his mouth in a devilish smile.
“The De la Vegas! Of course! They’ve always been two of Zorro’s most faithful supporters. But don Alejandro is too popular. People would not allow that to happen, and Zorro wouldn’t even have to intervene before I’d be faced with rebellion. On the other hand, Diego is young and just as annoying as his father. He’ll recover from a few lashes quickly, but would cause far less trouble.”
He sipped his wine in a triumphant gesture and loudly exclaimed “Mendoza!”
He heard a body falling from a chair on the porch, and the sergeant burst through the door with his hair tangled.
“Sleeping on duty again, Mendoza? Never mind. Go arrest Don Diego.”
The soldier straightened to attention, glad he wouldn’t be punished for a little nap. Without thinking too much about the meaning of his superior’s words, he saluted.
Only when he said it, he understood the order. He asked incredulously “But mi alcalde, Don Diego? On what charge?”
“Oh, there are several – undermining the power of the alcalde, spreading slanderous allegations in The Guardian, fomenting rebellion, being a loser and a coward, being good-looking and attracting the attention of all the señoritas in the pueblo, supporting Zorro, providing free legal advice thus avoiding taxation.”
Mendoza scratched his head. “Under which one should I arrest him?”
Ignacio snapped at him, “Choose whatever you want, but go arrest him! And tell him that he will be flogged tomorrow at noon. Dismissed!”
After the worried sergeant left, clever De Soto already congratulated himself on the good bait and planned to deploy the troops for his trap to work.
xxx Zorro xxx
At the hacienda, Diego opened the door for his friend.
“Hola, Sergeant, how nice of you to visit! Would you like something cool to drink on such a hot day?”
Mendoza shifted from one foot to the other, looking uncertain.
“Hola Don Diego! It is not nice that I came. I’m afraid you won’t be so happy to see me after I tell you why I’m here. The alcalde sent me to arrest you.”
The caballero frowned. “Arrest me? On what charge?”
“Don Diego, you know very well that the alcalde doesn’t need a real reason to throw people in jail. Officially, I have to take you in for helping people with law advice and for what you write in the newspaper. And if I may make a suggestion, wear your worst shirt because tomorrow at noon you will be whipped. ”
Diego breathed a sigh of relief because his secret was apparently safe. If De Soto suspected him of being the masked outlaw, he would have sent the entire garrison to bring him in, not just one man.
“All right Sergeant. I don’t want to cause any trouble for you, so I’ll go with you, but give me five minutes to change into another shirt. Meanwhile, wait in the lounge and have some wine, amigo.”
Mendoza breathed a sigh of relief, and Diego went to his room. Inside, Felipe was reading a book, waiting for his adopted father to start their lesson.
“I’m sorry Felipe, but today and for a few more days you will have to study by yourself. The sergeant came to arrest me and suggested changing clothes.”
The adolescent’s eyes widened, and he drew quickly a “Z” in the air.
“No, nothing like that. Tomorrow at noon I’m going to be whipped, so the good shirt is not the best option.”
An increasingly worried Felipe showed a series of signs. Diego smiled and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t worry. I’ll get a few lashes and go free. If I tried to run, I’d become an outlaw, just like Zorro. If you want to help, don’t do anything. Nothing’s going to happen to me. In a week or two we’ll forget about it! And I promise to scream like a true coward.”
xxx Zorro xxx
Felipe went down to the cave and started walking around. Admittedly, Diego had asked him not to interfere, but he couldn’t just sit idly by and watch how the man who was his friend, mentor and adoptive father at the same time, was being tortured.
“What if I dressed up as Zorro? But I can’t speak! Over the years I have learned all of Zorro’s mannerisms, but I am not able to mock the alcalde directly. So I might be able to empty the pueblo of most soldiers, but not to save Diego. Hmmm … I need a helper, but I can’t reveal any of our secrets.”
He took Zorro’s sword from the stand and began repeating basic fencing exercises. The best ideas come when we focus on something else.
An hour later, the smart lad had a plan ready.
xxx Zorro xxx
Mendoza was tossing and turning, unable to sleep. Don Diego did not cause any trouble during his arrest, he did not protest but humbly accepted his situation. The alcalde did not allow any visits, though Señorita Escalante, the padre, and Doctor Hernandez had tried to talk him out of this stupid idea. Unfortunately, Don Alejandro was away for the cattle auction.
Young De la Vega was a friend of the sergeant. The soldier’s heart sank at the thought of having to whip him tomorrow.
When Mendoza turned to the other side, trying to find a better position and finally get some sleep, he realized that he was not alone in the room anymore. In front of him, in all his glory stood Zorro, who smiled friendly and put a finger on his mouth. He handed a letter to the soldier and lit the candle on the table, but remained hidden in the shadows.
Curious, Mendoza opened the letter and read it quietly in the candlelight.
“For reasons I cannot provide, I need your help to save Don Diego. In the morning before breakfast, you will drink the contents of vial number 1. This will cause food poisoning, so no one would suspect you. The alcalde will send you to the barracks. Then you will drink the contents of the second vial. You’ll get better in half an hour.
I will distract the soldiers from the plaza and go to the outskirts of the pueblo, near the shoemaker’s house. Wait for me there with a black cape, a mask and a black hat. We’ll switch, and you’ll head towards the hills. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure Tornado accepts you as his temporary rider, and the rest of the lancers will never catch up with you.
During this time, I will quietly come back, defeat other soldiers and free don Diego. Burn this letter, so there are no traces.
Do you agree to help me? “
The sergeant opened and closed his mouth several times. The request surprised and flattered him, even though he knew it was against the law. On the other hand, only De Soto considered Zorro a bandit. So he looked at the renegade, who was still holding his finger to his lips, ordering silence.
Mendoza eagerly nodded his head in agreement. Zorro smiled even wider and handed him two vials, a mask, a cape and a hat. The sergeant glanced back at the letter, then looked up to find that he was alone again in the room.
xxx Zorro xxx
Felipe started preparing to ride as Zorro in the early morning. He was slightly shorter than Zorro, but he hoped no one would notice. During the last year, he had gained a lot of muscle mass, so he didn’t worry about that aspect. The moustache from the box of theatrical props was easily glued to his face. He practised all facial expressions and movements in front of the mirror to be sure, although he had been preparing to replace Zorro for months. Diego wasn’t initially thrilled when Felipe suggested it, but, eventually, agreed that it was a good contingency plan.
xxx Zorro xxx
In the square in front of the garrison, a small crowd, headed by Victoria, gathered. They were mainly peons, but a few caballeros were also among them, most of them preferring to stand on the sidelines. Maybe, if Don Alejandro had been in town, they would have protested more boldly, but without his support, they had no intention of endangering themselves.
Only the owner of the tavern had the courage to tell the alcalde what she thought about the entire affair. However, she could do nothing against the armed soldiers. At noon, Diego was led out through the garrison gate and tied up to a post. When a corporal tore his shirt open, Victoria held her breath.
Señorita Escalante truly cared about her best friend, but always underestimated his masculinity. He was polite, trustworthy, intelligent, and helpful, but his interests and clumsiness deprived him of her favourable gaze.
Many times she had felt and eagerly touched the well-defined muscles hidden under the black silk shirt of a certain bandit. But she would have never expected to see such well-built back and shoulders on Diego.
“How does he look so good when he’s spending his days with books and paintings?” She wondered.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the corporal who unfurled his whip and began the flogging. Victoria looked at the rooftops.
“Zorro, where are you? I can’t believe you let Diego get hurt. Come on, Zorro, please, show up!”
She saw a slight movement on the roof of the barracks, where a dark figure was just neutralizing several shooters.
“How stupid was I! I did not anticipate that the alcalde would place additional marksmen. Fortunately, these are the last ones. I’m going back to Tornado and soon I will save you. Hang on, Diego!” Felipe thought as he was taking out the last of the lancers positioned on the roof of the cuartel.
Meanwhile, in the square, next lashes fell on the young caballero’s back. Unlike the man he pretended to be, he didn’t beg for mercy but allowed himself to groan. In the places where the whip had hit more than once, the skin had opened and blood began to flow slowly. Diego tightened his muscles and positioned himself in a way to avoid real damage, so all he got were superficial wounds.
Suddenly, Zorro burst into the plaza and was greeted with cheers by the onlookers. De Soto smirked but, to his surprise, no shots were fired.
“Maldita sea! I can’t rely on anyone anymore!” The alcalde exclaimed at realizing another one of his traps had failed.
Meanwhile, Tornado charged at the soldiers near the pole as Zorro kicked them and repelled their attacks with his sword.
The alcalde joined his men, his blood boiling.
“I’ll wipe that mocking smile off your face. Bandit! You’ll hang!”
As usual, Zorro defeated his opponents gracefully. Then, he saluted and winked at Victoria. Like everyone else, the young lady immediately forgot about her friend, who was hanging by the post, his hands still tied.
The caballero, however, was not focused on them, either.
“Felipe,” he thought, “as soon as I get back to the hacienda, I will put you over my knees and spank you like a five-year-old! Which part of “Don’t intervene” did you not understand?!”
The young man fought and moved exactly like Zorro, so no one had any doubts it was him. Although he quickly dismounted, he didn’t challenge the alcalde to a duel as he normally did.
When nearly all lancers were focused on the fight, three guards untied Diego and were going to throw him back into the cell, but he fell through their arms onto the ground. Furious De Soto yelled at them. “Leave him! He’s already done his part by getting Zorro to show up.”
The renegade mounted his horse and escaped. The soldiers and their commander immediately started chasing him, leaving only three guards in the pueblo.
Distracted by the sight of the man she loved, Victoria only then noticed her friend and decided that Diego should now be in the centre of her attention.
“Haven’t you heard the Alcalde?” She shouted “Leave him alone! Haven’t you hurt him enough already?”
The soldiers were unsure what to do when a black-gloved hand rested on the shoulder of the taverness. Zorro pulled out his sword. The sight of him made the frightened lancers abandon their former prisoner and hide in the panic behind the garrison gate.
“Oh, Zorro, you don’t know how grateful I am to you for saving Don Diego. He’s really innocent, and doesn’t deserve to be treated like that.” Victoria uttered at seeing the pueblo’s hero. “Let’s move him to the tavern! I have a quiet corner in the attic. I’ll be able to treat his wounds.”
Zorro nodded and helped the caballero up. He could see the thunderbolts in his mentor’s eyes perfectly well, but he did not care. Not only did he save him, but he also provided him with a strong alibi for the future.
xxx Zorro xxx
Zorro helped the wounded man to the attic, where he placed him on an improvised bed consisting of an old hay mattress and a blanket. Victoria came with clean water, dressings and tequila. Diego hissed from time to time while she cleaned his wounds, still staring angrily at his amused pupil. Victoria chattered happily and did not pay any attention to the fact that Zorro had not said a word thus far.
Eventually, Victoria finished. Zorro patted the caballero’s shoulder as a goodbye, and went down to the kitchen together with the señorita. The black-clad man smiled at Victoria and bent down to place a kiss on her hand. He knew that the real Zorro would do so, at least according to Diego’s stories.
He did not know what liberties his mentor took with his beloved, so he was truly surprised when she threw her arms around his neck and pulled him into a passionate kiss. His eyes became round like tortillas, a blush burst into his cheeks, and his brain was short-circuited. Instinctively, he hugged her and pulled her closer. He kissed her back, liking her warm, soft lips and bold attitude. His gloved hands started to wander a little on her back. His young and inexperienced body responded immediately to female closeness.
After a few moments, when his brain wasn’t as clouded as at the beginning, he got frightened and thought, “Diego is going to kill me! And if Victoria finds out, she’ll kick me out of the grave and kill me again!”
So he gently finished the kiss and gave her a peck on the forehead. Without a word, he twisted his cape and was gone. Unnoticed by anyone, he sneaked into The Guardian’s office to change.
xxx Zorro xxx
Confused, Victoria stood in the middle of the kitchen.
“His lips were different somehow. Smaller, softer… and he tasted different. What if it wasn’t the real Zorro, and I made a fool of myself? He always compliments me, and today nothing. But …”
She sat down on the stool and began going over the events in her head.
“He came on Tornado, of that I am sure, and this wise horse listens only to him. He moved like Zorro and fought like Zorro. No one can match him. His smile, his wink, his presence, his body, his body’s response to me….”
Victoria giggled, she loved taking him to the brink of self-control.
“It had to be him. I think I’ve been standing in the sun too long. Anyway, I’ll make a nutritious broth for poor Diego.”