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Chapter 6: Playtime for Claudia Antonia



Part 1

I wondered if Antonius would follow me once he emerged from his trance. I was curious to see how he interacted with Decentius. It was somewhat disappointing when I didn’t hear the pat-pat of his feet following me, but then, it would be easier to get a sense of Decentius alone. I chuckled. If he was alone, perhaps Cloelie was working on him even now.

I paused outside the wooden door to Decentius’ room, and listened. I heard a soft sigh and a giggle, apparently Cloelie was still keeping him company. “And how do you feel, my dear?” said a measured tenor voice. “Any pain now?”

“No.” Cloelie’s voice was light and airy. The sort of voice designed to make a man think you had not a wit in your pretty little head. It seemed the animalistic Antonius was a better judge of character than I’d guessed. Or perhaps he simply knew when someone was getting in his way.

“Good,” Decentius murmured. “Now, it is time for you to go. Please, return to me tomorrow night, my dear.”

Cloelie tittered. “Yes, Dio. I am here to serve you.” She wasn’t half bad, the pretty young thing. I knew that tone; I could practically see the lowered head, the shy gaze up at him. What was she after?

“No,” Decentius responded, “you are here because I wish you to be.” Oh, he was caught.

Steps sounded on the other side of the door. I melted back into the shadows beside the door as it swung open and a very demure looking Cloelie stepped forth. She walked away down the hall with a slight sway, as though dizzy, and I saw Decentius step forward to watch her. His eyes were slit, and mouth tight but turned up into a grin. He looked hungry. Cloelie had done well.

I studied Decentius as he stared after her. He seemed made of shadows: dark hair, dark eyes whose colour I could not see, black tunic. He had none of the animalistic traits of his servant, Antonius. Despite a build that suggested he had not been raised from a noble, or even an equite, the coldness of his expression spoke of a man who thought more than he felt. A challenge.

Once Cloelie has disappeared, Decentius moved into his room shutting the door solidly behind him. I waited a ten-count then re-emerged from the shadows to knock on Decentius’ door. I wondered what his response would be, but I didn’t have to wonder long.

Although I had been listening for his approach, I did not hear a single step. Instead, the door was opened abruptly in front me and there was Decentius, glaring.

“So, you are back.” I was momentarily confused how he knew I had been there before, and it must have shown on my face, for Decentius wore a satisfied grin.

“I am here,” I temporized, “because Signore Umbrae wishes me to be. Just like you.” I smiled softly, and moved past him into the room, the hem of my tunic brushing against his. When I turned to face Decentius again, his expression had gone stoic. “Tell me, who was that charming child I passed in the hall?”

If it was possible, Decentius’ expression became even more closed. “She is no business of yours, woman, no matter who has brought you into this house.” He made to step toward me, but I moved first. With one step I was in front of him, my hand placed on the dent below his neck. He struck my hand away, and his eyes, which I saw were blue, widened with annoyance. “None of your whore’s tricks.”

I stood and simply continued to smile into his stoic face. “This will never do, Decentius. The Signore wishes us to work together. To bring his line to greatness. Surely he has told you as much.” I watched as Decentius’ expression melted into submission.

“He has,” was all Decentius replied.

I turned and walked slowly to Decentius bed, sitting on carved rail at its foot. “Then perhaps we should determine how to do that?” I looked up at him through my lashes, but he stayed standing where he was. The man had self-control, I would grant him that.

Decentius continued staring at me, piercing through my lashes and looking into my eyes. I blinked, slowly, letting him know my mind would not fall to his search. “So, what is your name, then?” he finally said.

“Claudia Antonia,” I replied, nodding my head towards him. “Surely it was mentioned to you?” Signore Umbrae had told me whatever I had asked about Decentius, beginning with his name. I had assumed Decentius knew as much of me as I did of him.

“No,” he crossed the room gracefully and leaned against the guardaroba, never taking his eyes off me as he did so. “I have no use for women, and less so for ones such as you.” My eyes widened slightly, though it was scarcely the first time I’d heard such a judgment.

“Really?” I feigned surprise. “Yet you seem to have great use for that young woman, Cloelie.” Biting my lip to prevent myself from smiling, I lounged on my side across Decentius’ bed. That way I could still see him without getting a crick in my neck. His lips pressed into a line so tight it was nearly invisible; I could almost hear his teeth grinding. What were the limits of his self-control?

“She is merely a slave sent to serve me. I would not expect you to understand.” Decentius’ chin rose as spoke, daring me to contradict him.

“No,” this time I did smile, “I suspect I should never truly understand the relationship between a man and his slave. And how is Antonius today?”

Though I was watching Decentius’ expression closely, it was unnecessary. He let out a snicker at the mention of Antonius and smiled appreciatively. “I’m sure he is fine. Antonius can take care of himself. I will tell him you enquired as to his fitness, I’m sure he will be gratified. Now, would you state your business so that we may discuss it before you depart?”

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