Widowhood agrees with thirty-eight-year-old Claudia Sabina. Her husband and father left her wealthy, but her most prized possession is their gift of independence. She enjoys a freedom few women in male-dominated Roman society will ever know.***
One of her most valuable assets is Damon, a young Greek slave bequeathed to her by her father. Intelligent, resourceful and educated beyond the norm for even a freeborn Roman citizen, Damon is a man of many talents. It doesn't hurt that he is also a pleasure to look at.
For months, Damon hides the fact he's fallen in love with his new mistress. He convinces himself he can be satisfied with her nearness--until the night he walks in on her bath, and his rigid control deserts him. Consequences fail to matter as he offers her full use of talents that, until now, he's never revealed.
In a moment of weakness, Claudia crosses the line laid down by Roman law and custom, immersing herself in an illegal and dangerous love affair. A choice that threatens both their futures.
What have I done to myself?
The question woke Claudia hours before dawn, robbing her of the deepest, most peaceful sleep she'd experienced in years and giving her no rest since. Her blessed contentment shattered, she could not shove the man from her mind or the memory of his touch from her body.
Still, she'd managed to get most of yesterday's work off her desk. Only one signature remained. The tablet lay in front of her, but the last three paragraphs of Damon's carefully worded contract eluded her. The closer the time came for Damon to appear, the more distracted she became. He would have finished his rounds by now. She awaited his arrival with both anticipation and dread. She'd chewed her lower lip raw.
Blaming him would be so easy, and just what she needed to ease her guilt. He had, after all, tempted her. Her mind kept returning to the fact, seeking justification for its mutinous surrender, but reason insisted she claim responsibility. He was a slave, her slave, and bound to do what she bid.
And bid she would, without a doubt. A shiver coursed through her at the memory of what he'd done to her. She had no problem blaming him for making her want more. The idea of using him shamed her a little, yet she could not convince herself that, if he refused her in the future, she wouldn't insist.
The knock at her door stopped her breath. She considered finding some task for him to do far away from the house--a coward's temporary solution. But six orders sat on the corner of her desk awaiting his attention.
He rapped again.
She forced herself to breathe.
"Enter." Claudia picked up the contract and put her mind to those last few clauses.
"Good morning, Era," he said in a perfectly normal voice that flowed from her ears to her sex, plucking every nerve on the way.
"I'm almost done," she said without looking at him. "I'll be with you in a moment. Look these over while you wait, please." She pushed the stack of orders toward him.
Claudia made three more attempts to understand what she read. If she'd thought anticipating his arrival distracting, his actual presence was ten times so. How could she keep her eyes on her reading when they were constantly drawn to the fall of fabric over his hips and thighs where he stood in front of her?
She watched the movement of his hand as he lifted each tablet a few inches from the table to read. He had beautiful, long-fingered hands, the nails scrubbed and neatly trimmed. Her sex clutched remembering the way those fingers had filled her. A shudder betrayed her.
Damon's hand trembled when he reached for the next tablet. So, he noticed her scrutiny and was not unaffected as he wanted her to believe. Somehow, the fact eased her mind.
Claudia stopped pretending to read and gathered herself. Why was she so nervous? This was her office, her house, her slave. The time had come to take charge. She looked up, aware of every inch her eyes swept over on their way to his face.
Damon waited for her to speak first.
She needed something, anything, from him to tell her what last night had been to him. If the answer was a job well done, so be it, but this pretense of normalcy disturbed her.
When it became obvious she wouldn't break the silence, he said, "The wagons are here for the first shipment to Rome. They've begun loading. Do you want to come with me this morning when I inspect?"
A surge of annoyance stifled her response. She'd get up and leave before letting him act like nothing had happened between them. "Sit."
His eyes widened with alarm. "This isn't a good idea," he muttered, but he crossed the tiny room and dragged the other chair to the front of the desk. By the time he sat, his good-natured calm had melted to concern.
"I've offended you," he said quietly.
"Quite the contrary," Claudia said. She set the tablet she'd been trying to read aside. "I think I must have been the one to offend. You seemed quite upset when we parted."
"No, Era, not upset. Bewildered, perhaps. The end was--unexpected."
Unexpected? Did she commit some breach of etiquette? The idea brought a smile to her face. "I find that hard to believe."
"Era, I promise you, my only intention--"
"Really, Damon, I couldn't have you leave my room in such a state."
Understanding dawned in his face. He smiled. "I assure you, I was very aware of my state,Era. I needed only a moment or two to compose myself."
Claudia was the first to admit she lacked experience in these matters, but a moment?
To read the R-rated excerpt of what happened just before, click here.