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Starlight Dreams

 

 

 

This is the sequel to Memories in the Dust.  As Paul Harvey would say, this is the rest of the story.  It takes place approximately twelve and a half years after Minta left Earth. 

As in the last one, the words of a song seem very appropriate to this story.  This time it is the words to "I Want to Spend My Lifetime Loving You" from The Mask of Zorro soundtrack.  I won't give credit to those who sang, my daughter-in-law does a better job.  The music was composed by James Horner, (same as Bicentennial Man, by the way) and the lyrics are by Will Jennings.

 

Moon so bright, night so fine, 
Keep your heart here with mine 
Life's a dream we are dreaming
Race the moon, catch the wind, 
Ride the night to the end. 
Seize the day, stand up for the light
I want to spend my lifetime loving you 
If that is all to life I ever do
Heroes rise, heroes fall,  
Rise again, win it all. 
In your heart, can't you feel the glory?
Through our joy, through our pain  
We can move worlds again 
Take my hand, dance the dance with me
I want to spend my lifetime loving you  
If that is all in life I ever do
I will want nothing else to see me through 
If I can spend my lifetime loving you
Though we know we will never come again 
Where there is love, life begins 
Over and over again. 
Save the night, save the day 
Save the love, come what may,
Love is worth everything we pay. 

 

My sincerest appreciation:

I have to again thank the following, Keliana Baker, first beta reader, along with Matt, who simply doesn’t appreciate the ‘mushy’ stuff yet.  Also I thank Gail Manfre and Jill Panvini on questions of the Catholic Church and its beliefs.  Gail provided an excellent website that will help me get Diego out of his paternal jam….  Thanks also to Patricia Garrison for her help on guns, history and other items of research, and Karla Gregory for beta reading, and generally keeping me in line.  And thank you, GWwritersforum, for your support and help.  Wow! What a group!

 

Author notes::::

Time frame… 

I approximated the time of Diego’s kidnapping in the first story to be about August or September of 1821 and his return about February of 1822.  Minta’s return to her people came about five or six weeks later.  Most of this story takes place in September of 1834.  By this time, California is right in the middle of the Mexican era, with the fragmentation of the missions and glory days of the haciendas.   With the influx of trade with other countries and arrival of people from other cultures, whom the hospitable Californianos treated most of which with great deference, there was an easing in the suspicion that was given to foreigners during the Spanish colonial era, but there was not total tolerance…

Diego, Tornado, Bernardo, Alejandro and the rest of the WD Zorro universe belongs to people other than myself.  As terribly as I have treated them, I do promise to put them back after I have finished borrowing them.  It has been a great ride, my friends. 

Minta, Jerintas, Mari, Jandro, Little Minta and the others are products of my devious little brain and if you would like to borrow them, please ask.  I'm sure we can work something out..............

 

 

 

Chapter One

Love Lost and Love Gained

Navidad, 1825

 

The sticks raised and fell, over and over.  Each time they rose, they shone with blood, shiny red.  Finally, the blood runneled down the rough bark and over the fingers of those holding the hated weapons.  In horror, Diego saw the blood on Minta’s back dripping, flowing, and covering her body until the black skin was red and shiny.  Her screams echoed in his ears, long, high-pitched and piercing in her pain and anguish.

Diego tried to reach her, but he couldn’t, something was holding him back.  Thrashing about with his fists, he tried again to get loose, yelling for Minta’s tormentors to leave her alone.  Minta turned to him, her mouth forming his name.

“Diego, Diego!” a voice called over and over again.  “Diego!”  A hand grasped his arm, and he shoved it aside, cringing when he heard a soft whimper of pain.  The nightmare cleared like heavy smoke, drifting here and there and finally dissipating altogether.  His eyes snapped open and Diego stared into the dimness.  The only things breaking the stygian blackness were a few half-live coals in the fireplace and a tiny bit of moonlight drifting through the half open curtain of the balcony door. 

Diego felt warmth next to him and suddenly the present caught back up with him.  He turned to his wife.  

“Conchita?”

“Are you all right, Diego?” the woman next to him asked.  “It has been a long time since you had one of your nightmares,” 

Diego sighed.  “Yes.”  He thought about the horrific nightmare and the past, and about the woman his father had forced him to marry a little over a year ago.  His resentment had burned inside him, but bowing to custom, he had said almost nothing, deferring as graciously as possible to his father’s desires.  Now he could appreciate his father’s reasoning. Conchita not only understood his feelings for his former wife, she had helped him to overcome the guilt and pain of that entire period of time.  She had been patient with him, never forcing her affections on him, always listening to him, being gentle, warm and loving.  Her love for him had blossomed quickly, despite his obvious dislike of the situation, while his own love for her had been very slow in developing.  For most of the past year he had felt Conchita to be more friend than wife, companion than lover.

As he gazed at her barely discernable form in the dark room, Diego realized how very much like Minta she was.  Conchita had quickly accepted him as he was – anger, grief, everything.  She had waited patiently for him to return to the real world, to the present.  She only once questioned his nightly excursions, and seemed satisfied when he told her he was in the tavern with friends.  Although at times, disappointment was evident in her face when he slipped into bed during the early morning hours, she never complained to him.  Diego felt her implicit trust in him alongside the affection that he could only barely return.

Now, in the dark room, after the horrible nightmare, the love that he had been afraid to show flowed from his heart and he realized just how fortunate he was to have been given two women such as Minta and Conchita. 

Diego reached over and grasped his wife by the shoulders.  “Conchita, I am sorry,” he whispered. 

“For what?” she asked. 

Instead of answering, he embraced her and drew her close to him.  Her breath caught as he held her tightly and he remembered the whimpering from his dream.  Suddenly Diego realized that the sound was not from the shadows of his past but from Conchita.  “Are you all right, querida?” he asked.

“Just a bruise, Diego,” she answered.  Her hand reached up and softly caressed his cheek.

“Did I hurt you?” he persisted.

“Diego, mi amor, it is nothing.  A bruise only.”

“I am sorry,” he repeated.  “I am sorry for ignoring you for so long, for not seeing how very special you are.”  He crushed her to his chest.  Then he kissed her, softly at first, then with more passion.  His lips traveled down her neck, his hands untied the ribbons of her nightgown and pulled it gently from her body.  Tightly held emotions, suppressed passions erupted and found a home in their lovemaking.  He found her passion to be the equal of his and Diego realized guiltily just how much she had kept inside as well. 

Finally as the sun began to lighten the room, they lay quietly in each other’s arms.  Conchita sighed softly as she drifted in and out of sleep.  Diego just took comfort in the warm softness of his wife’s body.  Occasionally he thought of Minta, but quickly pushed those memories into the back recesses of his mind.  She is gone, he told himself, nothing can bring her back, and to continue to think and dream of her is disloyal to Conchita.

Diego caressed her cheek lightly with one finger.  She was a year older than he was, but although she did not have the exotic beauty that Minta possessed, Conchita was still very pretty.  Her eyes were dark, like deep pools, large and expressive.  Her skin had a tawny creaminess that spoke of the California sun and the hills of this beautiful land.  The glossy black hair reminded him of raven’s wings. 

Sighing in newfound contentment, he watched Conchita’s chest rise and fall.  His mind suddenly returned to a time three years ago, an unforgettable time aboard a ship he never entirely understood.  He pictured Minta as she was then, lying quietly by his side, breathing softly in half sleep, her flaxen hair draped across his shoulder. 

His contentment was shattered, guilt returned and he quietly slid out of the bed, padding lightly over to the fireplace.  The ash-covered coals gave out heat but no comfort.

“Diego,” Conchita’s soft voice called to him.

He turned.  She smiled at him and patted the bed he had just vacated.  With a sigh, Diego returned to the bed and sat down.  Conchita rubbed his back.  “Diego, I will never replace Minta.  I know that, but I hope that eventually you will find a part of your heart where I can reside,” she said, her voice almost a whisper. 

Turning, Diego pulled his wife into his arms again.  “You already have, ma chérie,” he said tenderly.  “You already have.”

 

                                        ===========================

 

Late Spring, 1826

 

Too tired to feel any satisfaction, Zorro rode an equally exhausted Tornado home.  It had been two very long days and a harrowing night following a small gang of so-called Spanish patriots.  Zorro had known there were individuals who were still disgruntled with the change of government, but that there had been an organized group, he had not realized until the Mexican magistrado had been assassinated and another hacendado beaten in the attack. 

Other than his own inattentiveness to events around him, the thing that most irritated him was the fact that the magistrado had been a fair and just man, trying diligently to improve the somewhat tenuous conditions of the poor, while keeping the rich happy.  Zorro had not had to ride for two months. 

He had been able to infiltrate the mountain hideaway to which the assassins had fled, and subdue or scatter all eight of the men.  They had stolen a great deal of tax money at the time of the assassination, and Zorro felt the recovered money banging heavily against his thighs as Tornado trotted down the trail toward the pueblo.  Behind him, a string of four horses followed on a lead line, a prisoner trussed up on each one.  Occasionally, Zorro heard mumbling behind the gags of the killers, but for the most part, the masked man ignored them. 

What was mainly on his mind at the moment was explaining his absence to Conchita.  During his time of grief and healing, she had said very little about his absences, but this one would be a great deal harder to explain.  Several times in the past few months he had almost told her his secret, but for the same reason he had hesitated to tell his father the first months of his tenure as Zorro, he had not said anything. 

Now, he could only hope that Father had come up with a suitable excuse for him.  Of course, it would really be difficult to explain the bruises as well as the injured ankle he now sported after grappling with the leader of the insurgents.  Their fight had taken them close to the edge of a cliff.  Both had fallen off, but his patron saint had been watching over him.  He had been able to twist his body in such a way to grasp roots and scrub junipers, slowing his fall before he landed on a lower ledge.  The assassin lay dead below him and Zorro had a long climb, but he was still alive. Now as he made his way into the outskirts of Los Angeles, the throbbing intensified. 

Thankfully, it was the evening hour and darkness hid the little caravan until they neared the cuartel.  Banging on the gate, Zorro left the prisoners in the hands of a wide-eyed Sergeant Reyes and wheeled away, riding for home. 

Ai!  What a wonderful ring that has to it – home.  Tornado understood as well and increased his pace. Tornado was covered in dried and half dried sweat, and his eyes showed their fatigue, just as Zorro supposed that his eyes did.  While still willing, the masked man could see age catching up with the stallion.  He was glad there were promising black colts in his father’s herd.   Soon they were in the secret cave where Bernardo awaited him.  Even after two days away, the servant had maintained his vigil.  Somehow Zorro was not surprised.  Bernardo insisted that he go upstairs immediately and this time he didn’t argue, leaving the care of the faithful stallion in the capable hands of his friend and servant.  Before he started, what seemed to him now, a very long climb to his bedroom, Zorro jerked off the hat, mask and bandanna and threw them on a stool near the foot of the stone steps.  The cape followed.  Right now, even its relatively light weight was more than he wanted to deal with. 

Limping slowly up the uneven stone steps, trying to favor his sore ankle, Diego finally reached the secret room, where he gratefully took off the dusty and sweat-stained outfit and slipped on a robe.  He sat down on a small stool and tried to pull the boot off his swollen foot.  With a grunt of pain, he tried again but was unable to do so.  It would take a knife cutting away at the leather to get the boot off of his foot.  Sighing, Diego pulled off the other boot and limped over to a small chest in the corner of the tiny room.  He found a knife in the bottom and sitting on the lid, sawed at the boot until the leather finally parted.  As he eased the pieces of leather away from his swollen ankle, he felt the pain surging through his foot and up his leg.

Biting his lip, he limped into the bedroom.  The silence was only broken by the muted popping of embers in the fireplace and by the soft breathing of his wife.  Sliding under the sheets, Diego tried to get comfortable, but was unable to.  His ankle continued to throb in time to the beating of his heart, his shoulders ached and his back was sore.  Sighing, he rolled over for what seemed to be the hundredth time, this time facing the glowing fireplace, feeling every muscle in his body protesting. 

Señor Zorro,” a soft voice whispered. “Tell me where it hurts.”

Diego stiffened in shock. She knew?  “You know?” he asked aloud.  

“Yes, for awhile now.  I have had trouble sleeping lately and have seen much of your comings and goings,” she said, her voice filled with pride.  “I suspected a long time ago, and if I had really thought about it, I would have known since we were married,” she added.

“I did not make it easy for you to get close,” Diego said softly, turning back over to face Conchita.

“All of the speculation over the past six years as to who Zorro could be and I married him,” she said with a soft laugh.  “You have kept your secret well, my love.  I didn’t even know it for almost a year.”

“It is a dangerous secret to know, Conchita,” Diego told her. 

She sighed.  “Oh, Diego.  Papá told me that you were a good man, but even he did not know the whole of it.”

“You give me too much credit, Conchita,” he said.  “Sometimes I resent this role I took on.  I did not really understand what I was taking on until my father was almost killed.”

“But you saved him as you have so many others.”  Conchita leaned close and kissed him. 

“I have done what I can, but I cannot save everyone,” he said, thinking of the past. 

“Of course you cannot, querido,” she whispered.  “Now tell me where you are injured.  Your steps sounded slow and hesitant when you came in.”

“My ankle,” he replied. 

Reaching down, she felt his swollen ankle, heard his quick intake of breath.  “I will be right back,” she said, sliding out of the bed.  Grabbing her robe from the end of the bed, the slipped out of the room like a ghost, her feet making almost no sound.   Despite his pain and stiffness, Diego had dozed off by the time Conchita returned.  She lit several candles and set down a bowl and two bottles.  Diego awoke and watched her with interest.  Pulling back the covers, she worked with quick deftness, rubbing in the pungent ointments and then wrapping the sore ankle with medicine laced bandages. 

As she finished, Diego caressed her arm.  She seemed pale to him. “Are you all right?” he asked. 

“Yes, dear.  I have just been a bit more tired lately,” she answered. 

“Considering that you usually have so much energy, I think you should see the doctor,” he suggested, feeling a touch of fear in the pit of his stomach.

“I already have, mi amor,” she said.

“Oh?  And?”

“I am with child, Diego,” she said softly.

Her announcement was met with a long silence before Diego took her in his arms in a fierce and loving hug. 

 

 

 

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