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Capua, Italy: 67BC
I stood to one side of my mother, watching the wedding ceremony with a satisfied smile. This was the third wedding I had attended in the past four months, but it was the one that I had looked forward to with the most anticipation.
My long time friend and confidant, Turio, who now stood somewhere behind me among the crowd of well wishers, had been the first to tie the knot earlier in the year. His betrothed, Dido, had finally persuaded him that he should make an honest woman of her. Shortly thereafter, my sister Lucia had married Cassius, a wealthy merchant's son. And now today, my darling widowed mother was marrying Gaius Venicius, an older, but still spry member of the Senate.
Apart from the fact that I was happy to see my mother remarried after close to six years of widowhood, I also felt as though a huge burden had been lifted from my shoulders. Ever since my father died, leaving virtually no money for his family's welfare, I had been the one they had looked to as the provider of food and clothing, and a roof over their heads ... a task I had never considered myself capable of. Yet somehow I had managed, and even though clearing my father's debts had meant giving my body for the pleasure of a corpulent Etruscan merchant, I now deemed it all worthwhile.
Pushing those thoughts to the back of my mind, I concentrated on the marriage ceremony now taking place. The traditional words of commitment were ready to be said. I smiled as my mother, looking lovely in her white dress and veil, chanted the words, "Where and when you are Gaius, then there am I, Gaia." How lucky an omen that the names recited atevery wedding, regardless of the real names of the bride and groom, were actually the names of my mother and stepfather. Surely, the gods were smiling on them this day.
As the offering was made for their happiness, I caught the eye of my other friend, Petronius, who stood a little ways off with his wife, Aurelia, and their tiny daughter. Petronius, I thought with a sigh, so unhappy with his life of domesticity. How often I had listened to him bemoaning the decision he had made to marry Aurelia some years before. How much happier might he have been if he had only let his "natural" tendencies lead him to a more fulfilling life?
Ah well ... sacrifices must be made by all, it seemed.
The gods knew just what my own sacrifices had cost me. The love of a man for whom I would never find an equal, no matter how long I searched and waited. Even now, standing among my friends and family on this joyous occasion, I felt the aching void that the loss of Callistus, my Gallic warrior, had brought me every day for the past three years. A heartache compounded by the fact that I could no longer discuss any part of it with any of my friends. They had thought me mad at the beginning of my infatuation with the captive Gaul--and now, after all this time, would show no patience or understanding for my continued devotion to a man long gone, and of whom I had heard not one word in all that time.
I was abruptly shaken from my melancholy thoughts at the sound of my mother's voice as she cried out for her only son to embrace her and his new father. Happily I complied, then led them to the table where a lavish dinner was to be served, before the other guests and I accompanied them to my mother's new home--a splendid villa on the outskirts of Rome that Gaius had especially built for his new bride.
If I were the jealous sort, I would almost envy my mother her happiness. Even if she would never admit it, I knew her previous marriage to my father had been a cold and lonely existence. My sisters had been too young to understand their mother's pain, but I had seen it time and time again reflected in her eyes, and my heart had gone out to her, even if she would not acknowledge my understanding of her unhappiness. Gaia, my mother, was a true Roman matron, dedicated to her husband and her family. But now, it was as if she had been liberated, and I could not but feel a deep affection and admiration for the man who had brought her this happiness.
The procession to the newlyweds' new home gave Petronius the opportunity to ride close to me. His wife and daughter were seated together in a carriage with Turio and Dido, but Petronius had made the excuse his horse needed the exercise, and now cantered alongside me, eager to talk--and make known his wishes for time alone with me later that night.
"It will be perfect," he enthused. "You will have the house all to yourself ... please let me come see you later."
I sighed inwardly. As much as I loved Petronius, and had all my life, my friend's demands were not always welcome. There had been a time when I had longed for more from Petronius. A time when I had wondered if it were at all possible for the two of us to have a life together. Something that Petronius himself had negated when he had married Aurelia, telling me that to marry and raise a family was expected of every man, regardless of his feelings or longings for another life.
And now, it was to me that Petronius turned when his heart was heavy, and his need for sexual relief was too much to bear--and I found I could not turn my lifelong friend away, even though my very soul cried out for the one who had stolen my heart all those years ago.
"Won't Aurelia be looking for you after the ceremony?" I asked, glancing at my friend, who looked at me with an eagerness that I found faintly sad.
Petronius snorted. "No ... she'll be abed and asleep before I can even get a foot in the door. I've told you, that's how it is every night since Portia was born. She has no wish for me, or any man, to fuck her."
"I'm sorry..." I looked ahead at my mother's new home, now illuminated with a myriad of torches lining the outside walls. "Then of course you may come to the house after..."
"Thank you, Lucius." He reached out and grasped my arm. "You, as always, have given me something to look forward to."
Our conversation was halted as the house servants ran toward us, carrying torches to light our way under the villa's impressive arched entry way and into the courtyard, where we were helped to dismount and the horses led away. Gaius, his chubby face beaming with anticipation of what the night ahead might hold, waved us forward.
"Lucius," he cried. "You must witness my carrying your dear mother over the threshold."
We walked into the midst of the invited guests and joined in the shouts of encouragement as Gaius, his face red with exertion, lifted his new bride into his arms, and wobbling slightly, passed through the portals of the villa. Inside, servants plied the guests with wine and desserts while a small group of musicians struck up a lively tune of celebration. As I looked around, I felt a degree of satisfaction that this fine house would be my mother's and my little sister's home. Little Julia was to be formally adopted by Gaius, who had wanted to include me, but I had politely declined the offer. At the age of twenty-six, I felt it better if I remained unfettered by legal adoption. That way I was free to choose the path in life I wished to pursue. Never mind that I did not know just what that should be as yet...
Turio and his wife, Dido, appeared at my side, smiles at the ready, and I knew what they were about to say before they even opened their mouths to speak. I sighed as I listened to the familiar words.
"Now then Lucius..." This from Turio, whom I felt should know better. "Isn't it about time you thought of tying the knot? Look at all your friends, and now your mother, happily married."
"Well, married anyway," I remarked, dryly.
"Turio and I are very happy, thank you Lucius," Dido said, with a haughty expression. "And I'm sure your mother and sister are too."
"I was thinking more of Petronius, actually." I glanced across the room to where Petronius was chatting amiably enough to some of the guests.
Dido snorted in a rather unladylike way. "Petronius makes his own trouble," she muttered. "He complains to you and Turio that Aurelia has no time for him, but she tells me that when she does let him into her bed, he shows very little interest."
I threw Turio an annoyed look. "You talk of this--about Petronius? The gods only know what you must say about me behind my back!"
"Now don't go getting in a twist, Lucius," Turio said, rolling his eyes. "You know we are only concerned with your welfare, and it's only right that Aurelia has someone she can confide in. Petronius never hesitates to let us know exactly what he's thinking."
"And here all this time, I thought he was telling us these things in confidence," I interrupted. "As, I'm sure, does he." I felt a degree of satisfaction as Turio's face reddened with discomfort.
"I'll just go and get us some more wine," he muttered, grabbing Dido's cup and practically running to the other side of the room.
"You were harsh with him," she said with a reproving look in her eyes. "He thinks the world of you, you know."
"I doubt if our friendship will suffer from my words."
"And if you want to know what we say about you," Dido continued in her haughty fashion, "we merely feel that you are wasting your life by not finding a suitable girl to marry. Isn't it time you put aside those other feelings you have, and settle down with a wife and family?"
The retort I had on the tip of my tongue was stayed as an arm was thrown round my shoulders and Petronius said loudly, "Lucius, settle down with a wife and children. Surely you jest, Dido. Don't you know him at all?"
Dido looked at him through narrowed eyes. "Obviously not as well as you know him, dear Petronius."
"Nor shall you!" Petronius laughed and hugged me to him. It was apparent that he'd had a little too much wine. "Anyway, why this boring talk of settling down? We're at a wedding!"
I chuckled. "And, of course, a wedding is completely the wrong place for such conversation."
Dido smiled wanly. "I'll leave you two men to your little jokes." She accepted the cup of wine Turio had arrived with, then taking his arm, steered him toward where the bride and groom were holding court.
"Good riddance," Petronius muttered. "She's becoming old before her time, that one. She acts like she's Turio's mother instead of his wife."
"Are they happy, d'you think?" I asked, taking a cup of wine from a passing servant's tray.
"Happy enough, I dare say. Well..." He raised his own cup of wine and saluted me. "Here's to your new life as one who now has no restraints. Who is now as free as a bird, able to carouse each and every night if he so wishes, without fear of a mother's reprimand."
"My mother never reprimanded me, as well you know. It will be strange for a while I think, being alone in the house. Part of me has yearned for it, but I think I will miss my mother's fussing, and little Julia's laughter..."
"I won't let you be lonely, Lucius." Petronius' eyes were filled with longing as he gazed at me. "I will always be there when you need me."
"I know, and I thank you for that."
And it was true. In the long lonely years since Callistus and I had last been together, I had treasured Petronius' company and compassion. Occasionally, we would express our love for one another in more than just words. I knew Petronius was sex-starved at home. Aurelia, his wife, was not a sensual being, regarding sex as a necessary act in order to produce children. Petronius had told me that as often as he had tried to bring her delight in their coupling, he had at best left her unmoved, and at worst induced a bitter tirade from her about the perversity of men's needs.
I had at one time been enamored of Petronius, and would have welcomed him into my bed without exception, but now ... The memory of the ecstasy Callistus had brought me made my union with Petronius feel almost a betrayal of the man I loved. Still, I could not find it in my heart to deny Petronius the occasional comfort he craved, and when I was honest with myself, I would admit that his affectionate kisses and caresses were of a great solace to me also.
Seeing the need in Petronius now, I squeezed his arm, then raising my voice to be heard over the clamor of the wedding guests' chatter, I exclaimed, "Friends, as the proud son of my mother, Gaia, now the beautiful bride of Gaius Venicius, I ask you to join with me in wishing them both long life, and happiness, always."
I paused as everyone yelled their approval.
"To Gaius, my congratulations on winning such a wonderful woman as my mother. To my little sister, Julia, I wish you much happiness, my dear, in your new home. And to all of you, thank you for attending and joining us in this happy celebration. Now, perhaps it is time to leave the newlyweds alone. May the gods bless this union, and grant them love and happiness for the rest of their lives together."
A round of applause rang out, then the guests gathered round to wish my mother and her new husband good fortune, and a goodnight. I sought out my little sister, who was going to spend the first night of her life not in her own bed. As I expected, Julia was not at all nervous or put out by these changes in her life.
"You must come and see my room, Lucius," she said, gripping my hand and pulling me away from the throng. We laughed together as we ran down the marbled hall where she proudly displayed her very own special domain. "Is it not beautiful, Lucius?"
And indeed it is, I thought, gazing at the fine furnishings and delicately painted pink walls. Much grander than her little room at home. I felt a momentary twinge of sadness that my little sister might not look forward to spending too many nights with me, once she was used to this luxury.
"It's beautiful," I said, putting my hand on her head and stroking her hair gently. "A room fit for a young lady such as yourself."
"Are you sad?" Julia asked, looking up at me with big eyes.
"A little ... and happy too, for you and for Mother."
"You'll visit often, won't you?"
"Yes, and you will come and see me in our old home."
"Why won't you come and live here, Lucius? Gaius is nice and..."
"Yes," I interrupted. "He is nice, but I must find my own way in life now. I cannot rely on another man's wealth to support me."
"Why not?" Julia's face crinkled with bewilderment at my words.
I sighed. It was obvious my little sister was already becoming used to her stepfather's wealth and generosity.
"Because that is not my way. I am a man, and must make my own way."
"If you say so ... Look at the new dress Gaius gave me yesterday..."
I strolled slowly through the courtyard outside my home, glad that Rufus, my manservant, had already lit the outside lamps. The warmth that the flickering flames spread across the neatly tended garden helped a little to dispel the gloom that had fallen upon me since taking leave of my mother and Julia. For a few minutes I was content to stay outside, filling my nostrils with the scents from the jasmine and gardenia bushes that grew in abundance everywhere. I sat on a bench near the entrance to the house and let my mind be flooded with the bittersweet memories that thoughts of Callistus always brought me.
This evening, perhaps because of the happiness I'd been witness to earlier, these memories seemed even more sharply painful than usual. For the hundredth time, I wondered why I went on hoping that one day Callistus would appear before me, just as he had done on that night almost three years ago. The night when, on the run from Roman legions after the defeat of the servile army commanded by Spartacus, he had come to say farewell to me, to tell me he loved me, and to spend one last night holding me in his arms.
My mind flew back to that moment when thoughts of Callistus had proven too much. I had risen from my bath, and after hastily drying myself, flung on a robe and walked outside into the warm night air. I stood in the garden trying to calm my mind that seethed with unsettling emotions.
Perhaps a cup of wine...
From the stables came the sound of a soft whinny. Belenus ... Frowning, I made my way across the yard to the darkened stables. Pushing open the door, I walked toward his stall. My heart froze in my chest as in the moonlit shadows I made out the shape of a tall figure standing by the horse's side.
"Step away, thief!" I yelled, my hand going instinctively to my belt for my knife, which of course I was not carrying.
"Lucius..." The voice was hoarse and weary, yet unmistakable.
"Callistus!" Delirious joy made me clumsy as I stumbled forward into his arms. "The gods be praised. I thought you dead. In the forum, they said you had died at Mutina. I knew you could not be dead. I willed it so..."
His mouth on mine stilled my babbling. His arms crushed me to him in an embrace that threatened to break every rib in my body. I clung to him, my heart pounding as I reveled in the feel of his strong, hard body pressed against mine. The roughness of his beard, the stale smell of his clothes told me he had been on the road for many days. Despite my exhilaration, I knew he needed caring for.
"Come," I whispered. "Let me take you inside. You need to rest, I think."
Gratefully, he nodded, letting me lead him from the stable back to the house, and my room, where I quietly closed the door, in case my mother or one of the servants overheard us. In the light cast by the lamp near my bed, he looked gaunt and exhausted. His clothes hung about him in tatters, his hair was dull and matted, and his eyes held a melancholy I could not bear to see.
"Oh, Callistus..." I laid my head on his chest and held him close. His hands stroked my hair, and then he raised my face to his and kissed me again, and again. "How I have longed for this moment," I whispered against his lips. "I have prayed every day for the chance to see you again."
His smile was grim. "And I come to you like this," he said, his voice still hoarse. "Hardly the fearless gladiator you once admired."
"Hush," I murmured, pulling at his ragged tunic. "You must bathe, and I will fetch you food and wine." He stood still as I undressed him, my hands straying over his naked chest and muscular back. There were scars on his body I had not seen before, a bad one across his lower back. "You are injured..."
He shrugged. "It is healing, but the coward who dealt the blow was not so lucky."
"I will put some salve on it once you have bathed," I said, leading him to the bath. He let out a long sigh as he settled into the warm water. He closed his eyes for a moment, an expression of bliss flickering on his face. I turned to go, but his hand on mine stayed me.
"You must tell me if this is not convenient for you," he said, softly.
"Not convenient?" I sat on the edge of the bath and kissed his lips. "It is everything I have longed for, my love."
I crept into the kitchen, silently piling some bread, cheese and olives onto a plate, then filled a jug with wine. I rummaged through the small chest of "useful things" my mother kept and found a small jar of salve. When I returned he was washing his hair. He leaned back in the bath and studied me, a half smile on his noble face.
"You look well," he said, "and as handsome as ever."
"Thank you." I poured him a cup of wine, which he drank down in one long swallow, and then he stood, the water coursing from his magnificent body in streaming rivulets. I could not take my eyes from him. The very sight of him, so close to me again, fired my blood with desire. I gave him a towel and watched as he carefully dried himself.
"Do you have something I can wear?" he asked, wrapping the towel about his hips.
"It will be a tight fit," I said, fetching a tunic from my bed chest. "Before you dress, I have brought some salve for your wound." He stood quietly while I applied it to the cut on his lower back. As I finished, I could not resist letting my hands stray over the curve of his muscular buttocks.
He chuckled from the depths of his chest. "Is that part of the treatment, Doctor Lucius?" he asked, turning to me, an expression of mock reproof on his handsome face. He already looked ten times better than when I had first seen him in the stable.
"It could be," I replied cheekily, letting myself be pulled into his arms. I opened my robe to feel his nakedness against my own bare skin, and the sensation was almost overpowering in its intensity. I clung to him, then remembered my well-intentioned resolution to care for him first, before inflicting my carnal desire upon him.
"You must be starving," I whispered, half hoping he would deny it.
"It has been some time since last I ate," he admitted, so I took his hand and led him to where I had left the tray of food.
"Come now, eat and have some more wine."
Smiling, he sat by me and pulled a hunk of bread from the loaf I had brought. This he devoured quickly, along with the cheese and olives. I poured some wine for him and myself and was happy to watch him eat, letting him enjoy what must have been his first meal in several days.
"How did you know where to find me?" I asked him finally.
"Your slave, Rollus, gave me the directions."
"Rollus..." He had left our household to join with Spartacus. "Is he well? Where is he?"
"He is well. He was with me at the end, one of the few not captured by the Romans. He went back to his family. I hope you don't mind that I did not bring him back to you."
"No, no of course not. I'm just happy he survived." I bit my lip as his eyes clouded. "How terrible was it?"
"It was a terrible mistake, Lucius," he replied, his face pained at the memory of it. "Spartacus seemed to have lost direction in the last few months of his life. We should have crossed into Gaul after we defeated Cassius Longinus at Mutina, but so many of the men wanted more plunder, more spoils--and there was so much to take from the rich estates. I tried to reason with some of them, but they would not listen, and Spartacus bowed to the majority.
"I was so tempted to leave, as others had done, but he had lost his closest friend, and I felt it would have been a betrayal to leave him at that moment. I know he was grateful for my decision, and I suppose all would have been well if the men who had offered him passage to Sicily had not reneged on their promise. Instead of ships to save us, the gods sent legions to destroy us. I think we had run out of their favor. I also think that Spartacus had given up the fight. His leadership at that point was uninspired, his battle decisions faulty. I tried to steer him on the right course, but he would not listen. We fought well, Lucius, but this time we were simply overwhelmed."
"I am just grateful that the gods spared your life," I said, taking his hand.
"The gods have the power to pick and choose, I suppose," he said, with some bitterness. "But there are times when I question their unfairness in matters of life and death. It seems as if they smiled on us for a while, and then when they grew bored, decided to end the game, taking away all that we had fought so hard for."
"The gods can be cruel," I agreed. "All this time I thought you were dead. For months now, I have mourned you, but I am ready to exalt them once more, now that they have brought you back to me."
"Lucius..." He raised my hand to his lips, and kissed it gently. "You know I must leave. It would only be a matter of time before word spreads that you are harboring a runaway slave--and more than that, a fugitive from the servile army. You know the punishment for that is death. I cannot endanger you and your family."
In the flickering light of my bedside lamp, his skin and hair had taken on a golden glow, and my heart ached at the sight of his beauty. Of course, I knew that what he said was correct, and in truth I would not willfully endanger my family either. My dilemma was that I could not bear to lose him again.
"Then I must go with you," I said.
"No!" His reply was curt. "There is too much danger involved, Lucius. We would be hunted across all Italia."
"I cannot let you go, Callistus," I cried, throwing myself into his arms. "Don't you know how much I love you? I cannot live without you now, not after finding that you are still alive. Please take me with you!"
He held me pressed tightly against his hard chest. "Lucius," he murmured into my hair. "You must understand..."
"Then why," I sobbed, "why did you come here? To torment me by showing me that you still live, only to leave me again? Why did you do this? Why did you not just keep going, until you reached where you really want to be?"
"Because I love you, Lucius." He held my face between his hands, and gazed into my eyes as he spoke the words I had wanted to hear since the first day we met. "I love you," he said again. "And I could not go without seeing you once more. Without telling you what has been in my heart for so long."
I fell into his arms, holding him until I thought my heart would burst. My mind exulted to the echo of his words--I love you, Lucius. Never had words more beautiful been spoken to me. I kissed his chest, then lifted my head and looked at him with what I prayed was sincerity.
"I know you are right," I said, hoping the gods would forgive my lie. "But know this, Callistus, the one man who has stirred my selfish heart to encompass something that is real and meaningful, I will never forget you, nor stop loving you. Wherever our lives take us, you will remain in my heart, forever."
His lips captured mine in a kiss that made my senses reel. He stood, lifting me into his arms, and I clung to him, encircling his hips with my legs, his neck with my arms. I rejoiced in the feel of his hard, throbbing manhood that wedged itself between my buttocks. Our eyes locked upon one another; he shifted so that the head of his cock pushed past my unresisting sphincter, and I bore down on him, driving that hard living flesh inside me, gasping at the pain, but enraptured by the thrill and ecstasy of our mutual passion. He held me like this, his hands supporting me as I moved to an erotic rhythm, up and down on his pulsing shaft. I covered his face with my kisses, saying his name over and over, telling him how much I loved him, and how the memory of this moment would live with me forever.
Still deep within me, he lowered me onto my bed, his lips searing the flesh on my chest with his kisses, his arms enfolding me, crushing me to his body as if he would never let me go. And oh, how I prayed that he would not. Through my ecstasy at being in his arms once more, I sensed that this would be but a swift and bittersweet reconciliation. Those thoughts were momentarily eradicated as he buried his face in my chest, his lips and tongue worrying at my nipples, causing me to moan aloud at the sensations he aroused in me. Grasping his hair in my hands I forced his face to mine. Our kiss was long and deep. Locked within the strength of his arms, I inhaled his smell, and his taste.
"Lucius, my sweet Lucius," he murmured, his lips never leaving mine.
My hands stroked and caressed the smooth skin that covered his muscular back, then reached to cup his buttocks and pull him ever deeper inside me. I heard him growl with pleasure. His thrusts became longer and faster. He grasped my erection in his hand, propelling me toward my orgasm. My breath quickened as I felt liquid fire spread through my loins. I clung to him, gasping his name as I lost control. His mouth closed over mine as every muscle in his body stiffened with the onslaught of his own orgasm. I could feel his hot seed erupt inside me, filling me with his love. Never had I been more complete.
We lay still and quiet afterward, his lips on my brow, his fingertips gently caressing my chest. I knew that in my lifetime I would never feel as happy, nor as sad, again.
I felt my breath catch in my throat as those memories flooded my mind and conjured up a vision of the handsome Gaul who had captivated me from the very first time I saw him. A slave, caged in the marketplace, but with the noble bearing of a prince. I remembered, too, how Turio had derided my all-too-apparent attraction for the captive Gaul, and how my friends had tried to dissuade me from my obsession with him. They had thought me mad, and even I had begun to think that perhaps I was, until the day when he and I had come face to face, and he had held me in his arms and won my love forever.
Never would I forget that first moment when his lips met mine in a kiss that had set my senses reeling, and my body on fire with a passion that had never abated. The memory of the time we had spent together making love would live with me for all time, and diminish any other moment spent in another's arms. Sometimes I would curse him for having given me a taste of a rapture I could never again experience. But then I would immerse myself in the memories of his smile, of his strength and of his sweetness of nature that had brought me from mere infatuation to a deep, abiding love of the man he truly was. During the two years that passed from the day of our first meeting in the market place until the army he served in under Spartacus was defeated, we were alone together a matter of only three times. And yet those times have lived on in my mind and in my heart as memories of the sweetest moments of my life.
"Can I get you some refreshment, Master Lucius?" Rufus' soft voice at my shoulder brought me back from my reverie.
"Some wine, Rufus, thank you," I said, giving myself a good shake. "Master Petronius will be here shortly."
"At once, Master."
I followed him indoors, allowing him to free me of the heavy ceremonial toga I had worn to the wedding. The light tunic I wore underneath felt like freedom after the weight of the thick and cumbersome material. I stretched, then rubbed my arms where the toga had irritated my skin.
I turned at the sound of my friend's voice. "Come on in, Petronius. Rufus is bringing us some wine." Petronius had shed his toga also, and his smooth, olive hued skin shone in the lamplight. He is so handsome, I thought. Even now, after all these years, he still has the look of the boy about him. Petronius, for his part, was staring at me with a gleam in his eye. He was about to grab me when Rufus entered, carrying our wine.
"Good evening, Master Petronius."
"Ah, Rufus. Efficient as always," Petronius said, winking at me. "I wish my household slaves were half as good as you."
I frowned and gave Rufus a look of apology. I disliked having him referred to as a slave. Ever since my conversations with Callistus, I had begun to respect a man's right to freedom. Even though Rufus was in my service, I considered him more a companion than a servant. My previous manservant, Rollus, had left me to join with the servile army led by Spartacus. He had gone with my blessing, and the wish I could have joined him. Callistus had seen him safely home after the slave armies were defeated, and Spartacus slain in the final battle.
Rufus had come to us after his mistress, a friend of my mother's, had died. He was an older man, and had known no other life than service. We had taken him in, but from the start I wanted him to feel a part of the household, not just a servant. Foolish though it may seem, I felt that Callistus would have been proud of me for that.
As we sat on my bed together, Petronius took my hand and kissed it gently. "I do so love you for this, Lucius. You are the only friend who truly understands me."
I gazed into his light hazel-colored eyes and smiled at the sincerity I saw there. Even if this was not what I really wanted from our friendship, even if my heart and mind belonged to another, what harm was there in giving him some comfort, and the warmth of my arms on occasion?
With one hand, he massaged the nape of my neck while the other stroked my thigh. I could see from the tenting in front of his tunic that he was in great need of my ministrations. I slipped off the bed and knelt in front of him, burrowing my head between his thighs and taking the head of his cock into my mouth. He fell back with a groan of relief, stroking the sides of my face as I sucked on him, pulling his hot flesh into the depths of my throat.
"Lucius," he moaned. I paused for a moment to strip him of his tunic and shuck mine off at the same time. Impatiently he grabbed me, threw me on my back and went down on me like a hungry animal. His feverish need was infectious, and soon we were rolling about on the bed, our mouths on each other's cocks, bringing each other to a noisy climax that left us spent, sweaty and, for myself, faintly exhilarated.
"Oh, Lucius," he said finally.
"Oh, Petronius," I replied. We chuckled together, then I rose to get our cups of wine. He took his with a kiss of thanks, and we lay together quietly for a time, each lost in our separate thoughts.
"Aurelia is with child again," he said after a time.
I raised my head to look at him with surprise. "But you said..."
"She said she wanted another child, so I was allowed in until she was sure."
"How can you stand it?" I asked.
"How can you stand it?" he countered.
"What d'you mean?"
"You know, this pining for the man you know will never return to you."
I felt my face grow hot. "I hope you do not share these thoughts with Turio and Dido. Those two are inveterate gossips."
"Oh, I know what they say about my marriage to Aurelia. Dido and my wife are often in each other's company. Women talk of things we men show more restraint over."
I fixed him with narrowed eyes. "I hope that means you have not discussed my 'pining,' as you put it, with them."
"Turio said something..."
"Oh, for Juno's sake, Petronius. I will not be the object of pity in the eyes of my friends!"
"Who said we pity you?"
"Right, more than like you're all laughing about it. By the gods, and you're supposed to be my friend!"
"I am your friend, and I love you, Lucius. Unlike Dido and Turio, I don't think you should be looking for a wife."
"Well, that's something, I suppose."
"It would mean you would have less time for me," he said, grinning over his wine cup at me.
I resisted the inclination to slap him, but let him see I was not happy with him. Of course, then he sidled over to me and started kissing my neck.
"Forgive my selfishness, Lucius," he mumbled between kisses.
I swatted at him, but laughed at the same time. "I suppose I am being ridiculous," I said, sitting up. "Look at me. Almost in my twenty-seventh year, and still languishing over the love of a man I can never have. What an idiot you must all think I am."
"But a handsome idiot," Petronius murmured, his lips still on my neck. I looked down at his crotch. He was hard again. I suppose I should have been flattered that, after all these years of friendship, I could still keep him horny.