Authors: Lindsay Townsend
Silk and Steel
Decimus buys beautiful, red-headed Corinna from Silvinus Cato, a nominal Christian and her cold Roman master. Corinna, also a Christian, is terrified to be sold to a hired killer but finds Decimus to be an honorable, caring man--and overwhelmingly sexy.
Their lovemaking introduces her to passion she has never known before, and love-spanking that she finds deeply erotic. Happy for the first time in her life, she is horrified when her former master, Silvinus Cato, comes to Decimus' house with devastating information. Decimus, whom she is beginning to care for deeply, has killed Joseph, the holy man who converted her to Christianity. Silvinus Cato says she must be like Judith in the Bible and kill Decimus in his sleep. Corinna is appalled and suspicious. Why does Silvinus Cato want Decimus dead? And what should she do?
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A SIREN PUBLISHING BOOK
IMPRINT: Erotic Romance
SILK AND STEEL
E-book ISBN: 1-60601-556-7
First E-book Publication: August 2009
Cover design by Jinger Heaston
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SILK AND STEEL
Copyright © 2009
Rome, AD 80
'I intend to sell you tomorrow,' remarked her seated master, as he perused a letter.
Standing before him in the library, bathed in the blood-red rays of the setting sun, Corinna trembled from head to foot. Why was he selling her? What had she done wrong?
'Your service has been adequate,' Silvinus Cato continued, without raising his suave, patrician face. 'Indeed, for a female I bought only last month from a public bath-house, you have proved surprisingly adept. Remind me, how long were you in that establishment?'
'I do not know, Master,' Corinna whispered. 'Many years.' For as long as she could remember, she had lived in the bath-house on the Street of Armorers in Rome, slaving first as a cleaner and later as a girl trained to bathe and to please men. Silvinus Cato had bought her, put her to work in his kitchen and never mated with her. It had been a blessed relief. Now that fragile peace was about to be ripped away.
'Master!' Desperate, she dropped to her knees. 'Who is the buyer? Who wants me?'
'The gladiator, Decimus.'
A killer? He is selling me to a killer?
'He spotted you at the baths last month, but I bought you first. He likes red-heads and he wants to make me a substantial offer for you. See that you acquit yourself well.'
Silvinus Cato raised his head. 'Decimus does not know that we are Christians, Mary,' he warned, using Corinna’s secret, baptismal name. 'When he allows you out alone, then and only then will you attend our services. We shall still see each other there. Until that time, I shall tell our priest why you are absent.'
Why? If you care for me at all, why sell me? If you are a true Christian, how can you sell me to a gladiator? How can you speak so casually of my missing holy services? Our priest has given me hope, yet I am to be kept away, denied his teaching and comfort. How can you do this? I thought you bought me for the sake of mercy and charity!
She dare not speak. In the time since she had been in his household, and despite her 'adequate' service, Silvinus Cato had beaten her for walking too quickly, for smiling at a chestnut seller, and for coughing whilst he was reading. Her master was a cold, proud man, outwardly correct and honorable, seemingly charming when it suited him to be so, but filled inside with a freezing anger. To him, Christianity was an interesting concept, but not a way of life, or a true faith.
The priest believes in him, though. Joseph, the holy man, believes Silvinus Cato will be saved through Christ. And he did rescue me from whoring in the public baths.
'Master, please.' She put all the pleading she could into those two simple words. Silvinus Cato regarded her without pity. 'Go,' he said. 'Prepare yourself for tomorrow. You must be as you were in the baths: appealing and available. Go.'
* * * *
Dazed, Corinna stumbled back to the kitchen, too shocked to speak to the other slaves. Later, unable to sleep, she wandered out into the garden and knelt by the old well, dropping pebbles into the water, trying to pray but failing. As the long hours of the night dragged on, she felt abandoned and ill, her stomach burning, her mouth dry. She had felt safe in the house of Silvinus Cato, but he was going to sell her—and to a gladiator!
. The name meant 'Tenth'. Had he killed ten men? Ten women? Ten children? Decimus, the hired killer. Only bath slaves were more reviled than gladiators. And she would have to touch him, submit to him. She wanted to love and be loved. She had always longed for love, but not with a murderer.
, she thought wildly, her head throbbing as she squinted into the darkness, mentally clawing for an impossible escape.
And then she heard a soft snapping of twigs, and then the gentle thud as a strong, toned body dropped into the garden after scaling the surrounding high wall.
. She knew at once and was transfixed, unable to stir as a tall, black shadow detached itself from the wall and prowled towards her. In the bright, cold light of the full moon she saw him emerge clearly: a strapping, powerful figure, towering yet agile, dressed in gray homespun yet carrying himself like a king. Weaponless, he strode forward with absolute confidence, almost a swagger.
His face, as he drew close, surprised her. She had expected scars, battle-weary eyes, and a harsh calculating look. This stranger was young. His face, lit by the moonlight, was as flawless as an angel's and his eyes were as brown and warm as the good earth beneath her clenched bare toes.
He hunkered down before her and looked deeply into her eyes. 'I could not wait to see you again,' he said softly. 'Ever since I spotted you at Piso's bath-house, I have been haunted by you. I came here early, in the hope of catching another glimpse of you. Will you tell me your name?'
Astonished that any man should go to such trouble to seek her out, and to seek her out early, Corinna realized in wonder that he had also
her a question, not demanded. 'I am Corinna,' she said again, 'and you are Decimus. Do the crowds in the arena chant your name?'
'Sometimes.' His full mouth tweaked into a half-smile. 'Mostly they bawl, "Get him, Thracian! Stick him with your sword!"’ He nodded at the garden. ‘What are you doing out here? Are you hot? Shall I draw you water from the well?'
Again, Corinna was amazed that he should offer to serve her. And his hair, now that she could see its color this close-up, was gray! Utterly gray. Old hair, a young face and a muscular, youthful body: the contrast was piquant and it intrigued her, made her aware as she had not been this last month of her own young body.
'Ah, my hair.' His expression turned rueful as he tugged his forelock. 'This thatch turned from straw-yellow to ash in almost a night, soon after I'd killed. And for your knowledge, Corinna, I do not gut women or children.'
'Are you a mind-reader?' she gasped.
'Only a reader of faces.' He brushed her cheek with his fingers, flicking one of her red curls away from her forehead. 'Yours is wonderfully expressive. I marked that when I saw you first, when you helped the lame old man at the baths. Your face then was wrought with pity.' He touched a small bruise on her chin, a final lingering legacy of the baths. 'I would see you racked with bliss, all gold and rose and open for my pleasure.'
Corinna jerked back, hitting the well, her face burning with a rush of heat. She had lain with many men, but none had spoken to her like this, in such a searching, intimate way. 'You can say what you want,' she said, deliberately tearing her eyes away from his.
She heard him chuckle. 'Because you will be mine? There is that. And I think, my Corinna, that you are a natural: tender and loveable, eager to give service.'
'A good toy to find in your bed after a long day's killing,' she replied tartly. Instantly she clapped her hands over her mouth, horrified by what she had just said, but her soon-to-be master only laughed.
'You do not know what you want yet,' he said, smiling. 'But I know.' Suddenly he moved, bringing an arm on either side of her, trapping her against the well as his mouth found hers. He kissed her, very quickly and sweetly, his tongue teasing against her open lips.
—Still kneeling, Corinna stared up at him, marveling afresh at how handsome he was. She could still taste him on her lips; a fresh, astringent scent, both musky and clean, nothing as she'd expected a killer to smell. She found herself leaning forward, to kiss him in return and stopped in time, mortified by her own response. She wanted to run indoors, away from this disturbing man.
'What is it?' he asked gently. 'You need not be afraid. Never with me.'
Corinna shook her head. Her sex ached and she was aware of a wetness between her legs, but she was wary of pleasure. Always after pleasure came pain—the brutal pain of sex, of being torn into and rammed, the slow, bruising pain of being ignored and abandoned.
'You were not treated well in the baths.' He kissed her again, lightly. 'That is past.'