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It had been an amusing evening. The pretty boy, Calictus, was very adept at serving women. I didn’t ask if he’d served Euphemia but, since he knelt at my feet and offered to serve in any way I need, while blushing, I was fairly certain he had.
I gathered up the staff just before dawn. There was a large salon downstairs, for entertaining multiple parties at once, and they all crowded in; including a gloating Antonius and a skittish look Cloelie. I hoped Decentius decided what he was going to use her for soon; she wouldn’t last much longer.
The girls lounged on the sofas, they kitchen staff looked awkwardly around and tried not to touch anything. “I am Donna Antonia,” I began, “mistress of this household. Despite the method in which I acquired it, I mean you no harm.” There was a barely stifled grunt from Antonius; I ignored him. “Diamantina, you Benedetta will instruct Cloelie on the finer matters of running this household. My hours will start once darkness falls; all who wish to see me should be informed of that. Do not make the mistake that I will not know if things go amiss. I am allowing you to continue on. Do not tempt the consequences.” There were several nods, and few loud gulps, and a smirk or two. I noted the smirkers for dinner tomorrow.
“Antonius will stay the day tomorrow and leave before nightfall. His abilities are the least of those I can make use of.” That provoked a general shuddering, and pallor in all but Cloelie. “Are there any questions?”
Benedetta stepped forward, her floured hands clenching and unclenching. “Does Donna have any requests from the market?”
I smiled. “No. I shall find my own meals.” Benedetta’s eyes went wide and their were several loud gasps, enough that I could not pinpoint the sources. They would take it as insult, and then, when I did not go out for food, it would give them something to fixate on. Something other than how to plot against me.
When the murmurings had quieted down, Diamantina stepped forward. “Donna,” she nodded smoothly in my direction, “is there anyone in particular you are expecting?” Her expression was careful but I could see the glint of ambition in her eyes; did she intend to take my clients for her own, or find some other way to use them?
I smiled, as calmly and coolly as she. “I never expect them,” I replied, “but I will know which ones are mine. And so will they.” Diamantina’s nose curled in annoyance at my vagueness, so I decided to give her something to work with. “Antonius’ master, Dio Decentius, shall be arriving eventually.” I glanced deliberately at Antonius, who smiled and bowed. “You will be given notice when it is needed.”
Diamantia bowed her head in assent, but I saw the flick of her tongue as she tasted the possibilities to come.
“Now, it is nearly morning and I will retire to my room.” Diamantina flicked her eyes between Benedetta and me. “Cloelie, Antonius, Diamantia, follow me.” She would have to start her plotting later, but those few minutes might let me know what shape it would take.
As I walked from the salon, the footsteps of the others clattering behind me, saving Antonius who stalked as always, the slaves began shuffle slowly about; none would leave the room until I had departed. At least this Euphemia had instilled proper behaviour. Too bad she had also inspired misguided loyalty.
I went up the stairs and back to the room beside the awful tapestry. When I plopped down on the bed Cloelie hovered for a moment, then sat at my feet; Antonius and Diamantina just stood and stared.
“Diamantina, tell me how business has been.” I leaned back and looked at her. Antonius decided it was a good time to pace; he moved back and forth just behind Diamantina. She swung her head each time he moved, trying to keep him in view. I bit my cheek to keep from laughing.
“It’s fine,” Diamantina began. “Steady. Regulars coming weekly, and new folk every few days.” She twisted her head so often, I thought it might come off. I wondered what Antonius would do if it did. “Damn you, stop!” Diamantine yelled, swinging round to face Antonius.
“Why?” he smiled his wolfish smile. “Am I bothering you?” Now he had stopped moving and instead stared intently at her. Diamantina took a step backward, then another. Not watching behind her, she tripped over my outstretched leg. Antonius caught her just as she started to fall. “Careful now,” he growled, “we wouldn’t want to damage that pretty face of yours.” As he lifted Diamantina to standing he caught my eye with a smirk. “Perhaps I ought to escort this one to her room, Donna? Make certain she is uninjured?”
I grinned at his suggestion and the trapped expression on Diamantina’s face. I wondered if Antonius could break her spirit in one night. Or if he’d leave her aching for something good to put between her legs.
Antonius swung Diamantina up into his arms and carried her from the room. I heard him ask which room was hers, and her begin to reply feebly. As their voices faded, I patted the bed beside me, and gestured for Cloelie. “Come,” I whispered, “tell me how things go with Decentius.”
Cloelie rose from the floor, moving first to her knees then pushing herself up to stand before sitting, with a bit too much of a bounce, on the bed beside me. “It goes well, I think. He keeps looking at me as though he wants to tell me something. Sometimes I don’t think he really sees me, that he’s pretending I’m someone else. He seemed glad when I said I’d handle Antonius myself, though. Hasn’t offered since.” Cloelie’s nose curled recalling Decentius’ lack of assistance.
“What is going on with you and Antonius?” I asked, and watched her squirm.
“He keeps at me,” Cloelie replied, twisting and flinching at the thought. “Every time her can get at me, he does. He just wants to humiliate me,” she muttered.
I touched Cloelie’s cheek, turning her face to mine. “Let him think he has,” I advised, “he’ll grow bored soon enough. Besides,” I smiled, stroking her cheek, “Decentius will give you what you want soon enough. Then Antonius will be in your power.”
Cloelie grinned and clenched her hands. “I think I’ll like that,” she said.