This is an excerpt from “Owned By Rome”. In this scene Atellus and Rutila are traveling alone through the forest. They have clashed and been separated for many days on the road. Both have been injured physically and emotionally. Rutila has been starving. Atellus feeds her hoping she’ll stay with him and explain her actions but she gets flustered, tongue tied and unexpectedly flees his camp leaving him very disappointed but she returns later to say what she must.
“…After he was certain she was gone, he packed away what was left of the boar for tomorrow and washed his hands and face at the river’s edge. The water was cold and his sleeves became soaked. He walked back to his fire, sat and watched it slowly die down to a dull red glow. He lay on his furs and started to untie the drawstring of his braccae, needing a rough moment of pleasure to ease his thoughts before sleep. His fingers worked to untangle the knot in the woolen drawstring.
“May I stay?” Rutila’s cautious voice floated softly from behind a tree.
He gasped in surprise. “Are you sure?” He bolted upright. His startled hands quickly abandoned the drawstring. He hated that his voice was riddled with alarm.
She stepped from behind the tree. The low-burning fire underlit her face and hair with a glowing halo of scarlet. She sat so closely beside him, her knee brushed against his thigh.
His breath caught from the unexpected but welcome moment of contact. He recognized this moment for what it was, a turning point. She had voluntarily wandered back into his castra and sat beside him. He knew if he pounced on her and devoured her the way his body begged him to, all would be lost. He knew just because he had fed her did not mean he had tamed her ferus nature in any dependable way. Some silent part of him remained on guard.
His fingertips reached out to gently stroke her hair. She had rinsed the dust of the road from her hair but now it was badly tangled. He rose and walked toward the pack that contained the ivory hair combs. He retrieved the ivory combs and sat behind her. “May I?” He didn’t wait for her answer before choosing a knotted lock of hair and carefully picking the comb through it. He worked slowly and diligently, untangling a few coppery strands at a time. “This might take awhile,” he whispered softly, and added more wood to the fire.
She bowed her head forward as Atellus patiently untangled her hair. The fire sparked and crackled as the new wood lit. It was almost too warm to sit near. Her face flushed. He had worked his way through her many snarls and was nearly at the end of his task. She sat calmly, though her mind was in utter turmoil. There was so much she wanted to say to him and there was nothing she dare say to him. Her ancestors would hate her if she spoke her heart to a Roman and she would hate herself if she didn’t.
He finished combing her hair and set the combs down. His palm adoringly smoothed the last strands.
She turned to face him.
His eyes reflected the amber glow of the fire. They seemed to silently plead with her to speak.
She brushed her fingertips across his face and leaned forward to kiss his lips.
His lips softly parted with a sigh.
She gently brushed her lips against his. “Atellus,” she whispered. “You’re a far better man than I gave you credit for. I was wrong about you.” She stroked her fingers through his wavy hair and felt his body tense, as if he didn’t know what to do next. She decided to act before her conflicted emotions stopped her. She tugged her woolen tunic over her head and laid it on the ground beside them. Her hands crossed protectively over her breasts.
His throat tensed. He reached out and moved her hands away from her breasts and looked at her longingly. “You owe me nothing for the food. I was happy to share.”
Her chin dipped. “I know.”
He lifted her chin with a fingertip. “You don’t have to be alone in the world. Let me take care of you. I want to.” He leaned closer. “Choose me as your dominus.”
She recoiled slightly at that word.
“I ask not as a Roman but as the type of man I am. I will never be cruel to you nor will I degrade you, but I need the security of knowing you are mine. I need to be the dominus.”
She shuddered at the shocking but tempting thought. Her next words were spoken so softly they were barely audible. “You used the word dominus instead of the more common term dominor, why?”
“You know why,” he whispered.
Her heart beat faster. A dominus was a husband and lover, a chosen one. It was much more than a brutish owner. A thrill raced through her when she realized she could meet him on these terms. He wasn’t demanding the use of her body or taking her freedom. He was asking for her. She could give herself to him willingly. They could agree on this and hold it secret between them. She longed to surrender to a greater soul. For fear she would change her mind, she lay down on the tunic and stretched her arms over her head, offering herself. Her breasts thrust upward. “For tonight only you are my dominus. Ask anything of me.”
“Anything?” His eyes glinted.
She drew a deep breath, feeling a twinge of regret for her hasty words.
“I want you to keep your eyes open and focused on me as much as you comfortably can. I want you to see the truth. I want you to see who I am. I will not have you mixing me in your mind with other despicable men.”
Her throat ached so tightly she was afraid she might cry. “I understand.” She heard a faint bustle in the underbrush and saw a badger had wandered to the edge of the castra.
The creature poked its striped head out of the brush, bared its jagged teeth and stared at her with riveting black eyes as if awaiting the order to charge.
She silently appealed to the beast. Go away, my friend. I thank you for lending me your spirit. You helped me survive the worse, but we are finished. She silently bargained with the combative animal. I don’t need your protection anymore.
The badger backed quietly into the shadows without incident.
“What’s wrong?” Atellus asked softly. “What are you looking at?”
“Nothing.” She glanced at him. “I’m looking at you.”
XXOO Kat “Owned By Rome” Katalina Leon available now from Ellora’s Cave Legend Line