Twist Of Destiny
Maximus almost ran to his room, blood roaring in his ears, desire coursing along his veins. Once he was inside, he went directly to his shrine and dropped to his knees, closing his eyes and breathing in the intense smell of incense. Little by little his heartbeat slowed down and he regained control of his body and emotions, and berated himself for his behaviour. What would Claudia think of his rushing away from the triclinium? And how was he going to justify himself? He could hardly tell her he had escaped because he had been on verge of throwing himself at her feet and begging her to make love with him.
Maximus sighed aloud. He was beginning to think it had not been such a good idea to propose to Claudia. He loved having Iunior and Valeria close by, but their mother’s constant presence was making it more and more difficult for him to control his urges. As it had happened that evening, when, while reclining on her couch, Claudia's stola had slid up and bared her beautiful legs. He had stared at her skin, feeling his arousal grow until he had practically bolted from the room to avoid disgracing himself. But he knew that situation could not continue for much longer. He burned with desire for her and was now so afraid to betray his feelings, he was careful to avoid any accidental contact between them. He no longer took her hand or kissed her temple as he used to do, fearful of the fire that might derive from a little spark. For the same reason, he tried to be away from the house when he knew Claudia was going to nurse Iunior, for the mere thought of her naked, luscious breasts was enough to make him rock-hard.
He groaned as he recalled a night of about ten days before, when he had gone to town, claiming a meeting with some friends, and had visited a lupanare to slake his lust on a prostitute. But when the moment had arrived, he had not been able to bring himself to do it, his vows to Claudia binding as they had been to Selene. So he had returned home, frustrated and defeated and had taken care of himself with his hands, but it had only relieved the pressure, not fulfilled his heart. He did not only want Claudia's body; he needed her love even more. Maximus sighed again, then opened his eyes to look at Selene's figurine, which seemed to stare at him with a gentle smile on its wooden lips. "Do you think I should make my feeling known to her?" he asked it. "But what would happen if she does not want to have anything to do with them?" He picked up the little statue and kissed it with reverence. He felt no guilt asking Selene's advice about such a matter, for his late wife had appeared many times in his dreams, bestowing on him the forgiveness he had badly needed and encouraging him to find happiness again. He caressed the figurine's face with his fingertip before putting it back in its place.
"I miss you Selene... You were always able to understand me better than myself. I am sure you would be able to tell me what I have to do..." Maximus sighed a third time, knowing fully the decision was his alone’) to him. However, even if Selene had not been able to tell him anything, the peace of mind he had found in his prayer had given him the answer he wished for: he needed to take a risk if he wanted to be happy. He had to tell Claudia about his feelings and then hope for the best. It was the only way. So he stood up and crossed the room, reaching the door in two steps, noticing it was wide open while he believed to have left it slightly ajar, but he did not stop to think about it.
Maximus just wanted to find Claudia: he had to speak to her. Now.
And so we arrived at the night I got the last shock in my relationship with my Maximus. But it was a happy one- well, the happiest one I could receive, even if in the beginning it seemed to be a terrible one...
It was late evening and I had just left the children's rooms after checking that they were fine. I was walking to my room, my steps silent, my mind lost in thought. I was confused about Maximus' behaviour; we had been lingering in the triclinium after dinner, quietly talking, when suddenly he had stood up from his divan and almost ran away from the room. He had not said a word of explanation, and his actions had worried me, because they were so strange for him. Thus I slowed down in proximity of his bedroom, debating if there was a cause to enquire about his health. I knew he was there and not in his study, and when I noticed the door was not closed, but ajar, I could not resist the urge to put my head inside, wanting to check if he was all right.
I did not see him at first, because his massive bed covered him, but then I noticed he was kneeling in front of the shrine, his dark head bent in prayer. Seeing he seemed fine and not wanting to disturb him, I stepped back, but not quickly enough to avoid hearing four heart-piercing words: "I miss you Selene..."
The world seemed to stop around me, even if I continued to walk away. "I miss you Selene..." Just a few words, but what heart-breaking pain they had caused! Them, and the loving tone they had been pronounced. Biting my lower lip till it almost bled, I was able to reach my room without breaking down, but as soon as the door closed behind my back, my control snapped and I threw myself on the bed, my pain so strong I could barely breathe.
"I miss you Selene..." Four words had shattered my long coveted dream in a blink of an eye. In the last months I had convinced myself Maximus was getting more affectionate in my regards, that he was almost on the verge of becoming more than a friend. I had given a deeper meaning to his occasional touches and kisses on my hair or temples, and instead... instead he was still bound to his late wife. Tears of desperation rolled down my cheeks and I pressed my face into the pillow, as I sobbed as I had not done since Valerius' death. Suddenly I felt the mattress shift and a warm, broad hand posed on my shoulder, making me stiffen.
"Claudia," Maximus' voice was soft and rumbling but for once it failed to warm me as it usually did. Instead, I felt anger replacing desperation. "Claudia," he insisted, "we need to talk..."
"Leave me alone!" I sobbed, grief and rage choking me in a whirlwind of confused, powerful emotions.
"Leave me alone!" Now I was not sobbing but shouting.
Maximus' voice became serious. "It cannot go on like this..."
I sat up in a renewed surge of anger and turned around to face him, having in the meantime the grim satisfaction of seeing him flinch at the sight of my enraged face. "Now you are finally starting to make sense, Maximus! No, it cannot go on like this!"
He pressed his lips tightly and remained silent for a moment. Then he sighed and said, "I see now our marriage made you miserable but I did not..."
"No, Maximus, you don't have an idea of HOW miserable our marriage makes me! Not the slightest idea! Now, leave me alone!" It is curious how I used the same words he had screamed and sobbed to me in Zucchabar- only that now our roles were reversed. And just as I had not left him that long past night, he refused to go away now.
"No, Claudia. We have to talk..." he insisted with that familiar stubborn streak that drove me crazy when we were children and so much fascinated me when we became adults. For an instant, I felt like the girl I had been facing the boy he once was and felt my heart soften towards him. But it did not last long. The man sitting on my bed was not that intrepid youngster I so much admired but a stranger who had become my husband by accident and who did not want to have anything to do with me. He missed Selene. He was in love with a dead woman. You can fight a rival for a man, no matter if she is younger or more beautiful or wittier. But there's no way you can fight a ghost.
I brushed away my tears angrily. "We have nothing to talk about. Leave me alone," I said in a voice so cold that it chilled my own heart. I don't think I ever spoke to a person I care for in such a way. It was my business voice, come out from that place where my wounded pride and shattered hope resided.
Maximus sighed again. "Do you want a divorce?" he asked quietly. "I don't want it but it's not only my wish that counts..."
Divorce? He was offering me a divorce? Now that his honour was safe for doing his duty towards me; now that my son had grown enough to recognize him as his father and howl in disapproval when he was taken from his arms, now that he had left his imprint in my daughter's life, now he wanted to divorce me? Of course, I see now how wrong I was to charge him with those faults, because he had obtained the children's love long before we came to live under his roof, and he married me to protect my honour along his. But back then I was so furious and devastated, I refused to see the truth.
A wave of bitterness washed over my anger, drying my tears and erasing any doubts I could harbour about the mistake I had made marrying him just because he had fathered my son.
"Are you sure, Maximus?" I asked while looking at him with dry, burning eyes. "Are you sure that your wish isn't the only one that counts? That your wish is not what ALWAYS counts?"
He frowned. "Claudia, you are being unfair," he said sternly.
I laughed a short, bitter laugh that sounded very much like a cry. "Unfair? Unfair? You dare say I am unfair? You of all men?"
Now he blanched. When he spoke, his voice was flat, completely devoid of emotion.
"I honestly don't think I have been unfair with you, Claudia," he said. "I am grateful for your attempt to free me in Zucchabar. Perhaps I have not thanked you properly or enough, and I apologize for it but you know me. You have known me for many years so you must know that I am grateful for what you tried to do..."
"Do I know you, Maximus?" I interrupted, "I admit I thought I knew you but I was deluding myself!"
Maximus chose to ignore my outburst and went on talking. "I am not going to tell you that I am sorry for... what happened afterwards because the result was Iunior and I'm even more grateful to you for giving me a son... even if it was not in your plans..."
The oblique mention of what had happened between us in that suffocating night in Africa fuelled my anger with the same intensity that oil fuels fire. And his description of our son as the "result" of it was more than I could endure. It was even worse than him calling that experience an "unfortunate incident", as he had done when we first met in that inn in Emerita Augusta.
"That's the problem, is not it Maximus? You want my son for yourself but you don't want me around! He is a child, Maximus, and the bad news is children have the unreasonable tendency to bring a mother attached to them!"
Something thunderous flashed in the depths of his eyes. He was getting angry. I had never seen him angry -- really angry -- but I could easily imagine that an angry Maximus would also be a dangerous Maximus. But I was so angry myself that I did not mind. If he wanted to, he could easily divorce me and take Iunior from me. The law gave him that right. I think this gives you an idea of how shattered I was: Maximus would have never taken my children away from me, even in case of a divorce, and I had always known it.
"Claudia, you are going too far. Once I knew you had given birth to my child, I wanted to marry you to protect you and my son and Valeria. To keep you safe as it's a man's duty towards the woman who has given him a child. Perhaps it was wrong not to propose to you earlier, but I did not want to impose on you in any way. I had already abused you and your gentleness, and I did not want you to feel constricted or trapped or forced, especially after you gave me free access to your house and to Iunior. But now I am your husband and you have received from me nothing but respect. I have treated you honourably every single day we have been married. I treat your daughter as if she were mine. I love Valeria and if I have not adopted her it's because you refused- and I understand and respect your reasons for doing so. I am your husband in name only, as we have agreed, and I have treated you accordingly. I have treated honourably and refrained from demanding my marital rights..."
He never finished the sentence. "Damn you, Maximus! What a selfish hypocrite you are!"
He paled beneath his deep tan. His face was a chalk-coloured mask, his eyes burning such a deep hue of their usual greenish blue that they looked black. Even his lips were pale. It was a scary vision and I shuddered.
"Don't call me a hypocrite!" His voice boomed in the silence of the room, his tone cold and lethal. I shuddered again. I could feel fear gnawing at my belly but I refused to acknowledge it. I refused to cower.
"Yes, Maximus, you are a hypocrite. You treat me honourably! You refrain from demanding your marital rights! How convenient, Maximus! How convenient for you!"
Now I was shouting. The servants must be hearing me but I did not mind. Not in the least. I was too angry and too tired and too embittered and too lonely.
"You damn hypocrite!" I went on. "How convenient for you to claim your honour when it comes to justifying to ignore me! What a coward you are!"
"Don't. Dare. Call. Me. A. Coward." His voice was lethally low and lethally cold. He swallowed and I swallowed reflexively.
"Then, if you are not a coward, why don't you face the truth, "husband"?" I hissed and managed to infuse the word "husband" with so much sarcasm that it sounded like a curse. "Why don't you admit that it's not your honour what prevents you from coming to my bed but being in love with a ghost!"
Maximus flinched at my words. I went on lashing him mercilessly, not minding the voice inside me that told me to calm down. "I miss you, Selene. I miss you," I mimicked. "The gods know I respected her in life and I respect her most in death! But she's dead, Maximus! Dead! No matter how much you weep for her or love her or miss her, she will never come back!"
Now I was weeping again but I did not try to hide it. Tears streamed down my face in a burning torrent. "If you had wanted to go to her, you could have done it. You had chances aplenty. But you chose to live, Maximus! And you chose it long before knowing about Iunior! She is dead and you are alive. And if she was half the smart woman I think she was, she must be weeping at seeing you waste your life as you are doing! You cannot live in the middle, Maximus! And you cannot force me to live in the middle either!"
I ignored him. "I am not as mighty and as superior as you! I am but a woman with the needs and hopes and fears as any woman has! I have feelings, Maximus! Feelings you so conveniently ignore in the name of your damn honour! I have feelings... and I love you, foolish woman that I am!" Maximus now was aghast. So aghast that if I had not been so angry I would have found his expression funny. But I was angry. Angry with him and especially with myself for loving him, no matter how much he ignored me.
Carried by a paroxysm of fury, I launched myself at him, slamming my tightened fists on his broad shoulders and muscular chest, hitting him with all my strength and knowing that no matter how much I hit him or how hard I hit him, there was no way I could hurt him. "I love you! I love you!" I sobbed. "But you only love a ghost! If you left me aside and went to whores, if you lusted after my maids or the servants' daughters or the neighbours' wives, that I could endure! But I cannot endure being alone in my bed and knowing that you are in yours with a ghost! And not even knowing this can I stop loving you!"
When I was forced to stop to gulp some air, Maximus tried to take me in his arms. I pushed away from him. "Don't touch me!" I hissed. "Maybe I cannot have you but I don't want your pity!" There was no other sound in the room but that of my uneven breath. Time seemed to have stopped as we faced each other like adversaries at the arena. Then, Maximus did the most unexpected thing.
I slapped him.
Or, I would better say, I tried to slap him. But his warrior's reflexes caught my wrist before I could hit him. He was still laughing with what seemed maniacal merriment.
I'd never felt more humiliated.
I burst into tears.
Still laughing, Maximus tried to take me in his arms.
I struggled against him with all my strength, inwardly cursing my clothes that restrained my movements. But even if I was unable to free myself from his embrace, I was giving him a hard time while he tried to subdue me and I had the grim satisfaction to hear him grunt when my elbow connected with his stomach. Suddenly, Maximus launched himself against me with all his weight and we landed on the bed. Air left me in a rush and I felt dizzy for a moment. I closed my eyes to shut him out, to deny him the satisfaction of knowing he not only could ignore me but also overpower me. I was crushed under the solid weight of his body and his hot breath fanned my face. He was not laughing anymore.
And when I gave up struggling, he pressed his body against mine and my eyes snapped open when I felt the rock hard erection he was pressing against my belly. I blushed at the memory of him so large and thick between my legs in that endless, torrid night in Zucchabar. Suddenly, it was so vivid that I thought I could smell the dusty desert breeze as it moved the hangings around the bed and the spices in the untouched food displayed on the table. Maximus saw all of this and more, much, much more in my eyes. Then, he lowered his head and crushed my mouth with his in a heavy, demanding kiss. He had never kissed me before. You cannot call a kiss that brief brushing of lips when we were still teenagers, and he had not the time or the desire to do it in that night when the drug he had been given overpowered him and turned him into a male animal in the peak of heat.
In Zucchabar there had been only naked need and the urge to satisfy it, but now... now it was different. Completely different. Now it was Maximus fully conscious of what he was doing and doing it on his free will. His lips were hot and hard, moulding with mine, taking, commanding, never pleading, his tongue demanding entrance, then thrusting deeply into my mouth, ravaging, possessive. When he finally broke the kiss both of us were panting heavily. My heart hammered wildly and before I could get my wind back, Maximus' hands opened my robe, exposing the flimsy nightgown I was wearing. He smiled a lopsided grin as he eyed my heaving breasts, my nipples stiff with arousal, then he grabbed the neckline and tore the fabric, baring me to the waist.
I gasped at his rough manhandling and Maximus' smile turned into a cheeky one as he shifted above me to accommodate his big frame better, resting his arousal in the cradle formed by the juncture of my thighs. He was hard as an iron pole and hot as burning coal, just like he had been that night in Africa. And my body reacted to him as it had done before: I moaned as I felt my desire flow, making me damp and as hot as he was. Acting on pure reflex, I arched myself against him.
Maximus brought his warm, calloused right hand to my breasts and touched them gently, delicately eliciting another moan from my already dry mouth. They were full and hard with the milk Iunior had failed to suck when falling asleep earlier than usual. They felt hot and heavy and under Maximus' intense stare I felt the familiar prickling in my nipples that preceded the flow of my motherly essence. He must have seen it in my eyes for he fondled them heavily, possessively.
"Do you know how many times I have dreamed about you nursing our son?" he said and his voice was hoarse. "Do you know how jealous I had been of Iunior for he had free access to what was denied to me? I have been jealous of my own infant son for months! But no more, Claudia, no more!"
He lowered his head and took one of my nipples in his mouth. I gasped as his lips closed on it and his tongue swirled around it. Then, he suckled and I thought I was going to die, the pleasure so intense when the milk started flowing into his greedy mouth. Used as I was to nursing my son, nothing had prepared me for the sharp contrast between his innocent, hungry mouth and the knowing one that now sucked with a hunger of a different kind. Maximus avidly drank from my breast, gulping the milk that hotly flowed into his mouth as if he had been dying of thirst and I had been the only possible source of relief. Soon I was moaning and wriggling beneath him, begging him to stop yet to go on suckling forever, begging him to slow down yet spurring him to hurry up. Nothing of this escaped Maximus and when he freed my nipple and I whimpered at the loss of his wet, hot mouth on it, he laughed briefly but this time there was nothing unpleasant in it. He turned to the other nipple and while he was at it, his hand strayed down my body, raising my nightgown till his hand found his way beneath it and fumbled with my undergarment, unceremoniously tearing it apart. Still suckling, his bearded mouth greedily tugging at my aching nipple, his blunt, calloused fingers found their way between my legs. They remained there for a moment, exploring, testing, teasing, petting with a gentleness that was unthinkable in such a strong man.
Then there was a pause and he plunged his fingers deeply inside me. I screamed and arched against him, inadvertently offering him better access to my breast and allowing his fingers deeper penetration. Working in a perfect, maddening rhythm, his mouth engulfing my nipple and his fingers moving deeply inside me, he soon had me panting, groaning, on the brink of coming. Then Maximus' mouth left my nipple and I sobbed as the wet, stiffened peak started to painfully throb. On and on his fingers worked me thoroughly and I helplessly rocked against his merciless hand. But when I saw him intently looking at me, drinking every gesture, every pant and every lustful moan, I closed my eyes and turned my head away. Suddenly I was shy of my own arousal yet unable to prevent it from driving me into a frenzied whirlwind of need like I had experienced only on that faraway night in Zucchabar.
"Look at me, Claudia! I want you to look at me!" he groaned close, oh, so very close to my face.
"No! No! No!" I moaned weakly yet unable to face him in my shameless need.
He laughed again, huskily and used his thumb against my core while his fingers went on working me from the inside. I screamed, so very close to release yet unable to reach it.
"Look at me, Claudia!" he insisted yet I pressed my eyelids even tighter.
Maximus brusquely dragged his fingers off my body and I thought I would die out of need and frustration. I tried to press my thighs together and roll on my stomach, anything to avoid his gaze and somehow get release but he prevented it using his full weight.
I whimpered. "Look at me, Claudia!" he said for a third time and this time there was such a hint of command in his voice that before I could notice what I was doing, I opened my eyes and looked at him.
He had risen on his knees and now towered above me, broad shouldered, strapping, strong. Silhouetted against the light of the oil lamps, he looked like a statue made of dark gold. Then, he slowly raised his hand and I blushed redder than I can ever remember at the sight of his fingers, glistening wet with my juices. A slow smile curved his beautiful lips then he brought his fingers to his mouth and sucked them. It was such a carnal, erotic gesture that I felt myself get even damper and hotter.
Suddenly, I was painfully aware of the emptiness those same fingers had left behind when he had retracted them from my female sheath. Before I could do or say anything, Maximus lowered his head and captured my mouth with his again and plunged his tongue deeply into mine. I shuddered as I tasted myself on it, the sweet, hot flavour of my milk contrasting so sharply with the pungent taste of my arousal. I returned the kiss with the same savage passion, allowing him to suck my tongue into his mouth and arching beneath him, desperate to increase the contact between our bodies.
Maximus broke the kiss, then rose on his knees again and quickly got rid of his belt, tunic and loincloth, freeing himself from the confinement that must have been utterly uncomfortable for he was so large and rigid that his manhood curved against his belly, nearly touching his navel. At the sight of him naked, hungry and hard - hard for me, not for a ghost - I could not resist it and raised my hand to touch him, to caress then stroke the length of him. He felt firm as sculpted marble yet hot as only excited flesh can feel. Fascinated, I wanted to go on moving my hand on him but he slapped it away as he lowered himself towards me, seemingly unable to endure both my touch and the waiting to plunge into my eager, willing body. I welcomed him, spreading myself wide, raising my hips to accommodate him better and Maximus did not keep me waiting.
With a powerful thrust of his hips, he sheathed himself to the hilt inside me. I dug my nails in his upper arms to anchor myself against the churning waters that threatened to engulf me and to prevent myself from coming this same moment. I vaguely noticed that Maximus was using every ounce of his control to prevent himself from losing his control. For what seemed an eternity we remained there, as if poised at the edge of an abyss that threatened to devour us. Then, slowly, tentatively, we relaxed in each other's arms, heavily panting, shuddering, still fighting our own release for the sweet promise of prolonging the moment contained the even sweeter promise of enhancing our pleasures.
Maximus started moving carefully, with long, slow strokes that had him retreating from my aching body then plunging deeply into it. Blissfully moaning, thrashing and panting, I raised my legs and locked them around his waist, taking him more completely, silently urging him to go deeper and deeper inside even if I knew it was not possible, for with each movement he was kissing the mouth of my womb.
He increased the rhythm of his thrusts and soon he was panting as heavily as me, lost as I was in a pleasure that was as intense as what we had experienced that night over two years ago, yet it was completely different. That night, there had been but desperation and need and the unstoppable force that had blindly driven him towards seeking satiation no matter how and with whom. But tonight it was Maximus and me and the awareness of each other and what was between us. What had been between us even if we had been blind to what the other felt. And when I thought I couldn't be able to take more, that Maximus could not give me more, his body taught me that he could indeed and that I also could. That I had never known how much I could take and how much I could give in return.
"Maximus! Maximus!" I cried and then I had no more breath left and I simply sobbed as release crashed on me and my body tightened around his while the world exploded in front of my eyes in a myriad of lights and a deafening roar drowned all sound.
On and on he went thrusting and when the spasms of my release had barely ebbed, I felt again the tingling sensation at my core that preceded a renewed arousal. He took me higher and higher. Farther and farther into the uncharted territory of our discovered love. Our bodies were slick with perspiration and, weakened by the force of my release, I had no strength to hold on to him but barely enough to caress his flanks urging him to make me his, to put his mark on me.
"Mine! Mine!" panted Maximus as if he had read my thoughts.
"Yes, yours! Yours!" I breathed and then I ceased to exist, for my body convulsed with renewed strength and Maximus cried hoarsely as he reached his limit and his control snapped. He came in an unstoppable rush, like a river breaking a dam and the scalding hot spurts of his release bathed my insides.
"Mine..." panted Maximus once more and he collapsed on top of me, then rolled aside to avoid crushing me.
We remained there for a long moment, gasping for air, covered with sweat, exhausted and exhilarated. Then, I turned my back to him and curled like I used to do when pregnant, unconsciously protecting the life growing in my belly. Maximus moved in instinctive response, spooning himself behind me, cradling me against his body, his chest against my back, hips and legs curved behind mine. He put one of his strong, muscled arms around me and we remained like that for some time, peacefully enjoying the aftermath of our rediscovered passion.
"I am sorry..." he whispered and when he talked, his hot breath fanned my nape.
"I am not..." I answered, sounding sleepy to my own ears. I could feel Maximus smile against my hair.
"You know what I mean..."
"I did not know how you felt..."
"I noticed..."Maximus bit my nape and I yelped. His arm tightened around my body.
"I am sorry, Claudia. I should have talked to you... told you how I felt about you... I thought you...considered me just your friend, nothing more...that even if you loved Iunior and cared for me, you did not want to have anything to do with me as a man..."
"And I thought you were not interested in me as a woman... I even believed you resented me... that you were forced to be unfaithful to Selene because of me... that you resented been given that drug because I had rented you as a stud and Proximo knew you would refuse to serve me..."
Maximus rubbed his face against my hair. "Claudia?"
"Mmmm?" I was feeling more and more drowsy.
"Do you think that we can make it? That we can make our marriage work despite what happened to us and between us?"
"I do, Maximus. I love you. I have loved you for a long time..."
"And I love you, Claudia. I love you too…"
"Then it's all right..."
He kissed the back of my neck and I wanted to turn around and take him in my arms but I was too sleepy. Instead, I pressed my buttocks against his belly and I felt his immediate response. Maximus hand caressed my breasts, then slid down my belly till his fingers found my center and slowly, very slowly teased my most sensitive flesh.
Maximus smiled again. "You like being touched there... You always liked it..." he whispered and softly kissed my shoulder blade.
Did he remember? Did he remember what I had said that night?
I turned my face to ask him but Maximus was already asleep.
I woke up to a knock at the door. Maximus woke up too and gestured to me to remain in bed while he hurriedly put on his tunic and went to see who was calling. It was Iunior's nurse and she was carrying the boy in her arms. If the woman was surprised to find Maximus in my bedroom, she hid it perfectly.
"Excuse me, Domine," I heard her say from my place at the bed. "But he fell asleep earlier than his time and now woke up and he is hungry..."
"Don't worry," said Maximus and I saw his back move as he carefully took the sleepy yet squirming child in his arms. "I will bring him to his mother. You may go to sleep. I will see him to his cradle myself..." The door closed and Maximus turned towards me carrying our son in his arms. I rose on the bed, covering my naked lower body and settling myself against the pillows to nurse him. Maximus was talking to Iunior in a soft, gentle tone and the baby smiled sleepily, then squirmed again.
"He wants his mother," he said handing the boy to me. As I took him in my arms and, as Iunior curved against me and took my nipple in his mouth, Maximus frowned. "Will you? I mean... I should not..." He blushed and I could not help but giggle.
"Don't worry, Maximus. He will not starve. I have more than enough for him... and you. Besides, I should start weaning him..." Iunior seemed to understand this threat to his comfort for he clamped his mouth more firmly around my nipple, as if he was ready to defend his right to keep it for himself. I could not but smile. Stubborn little thing! No doubt his father was Maximus!
"But weaning him means you..."
"Can conceive again? Well, I would like to have one more child, since I am still fertile. Would not you?"
Maximus smiled. "Of course I would!"
I smiled back. "Then, we better start enlarging the family as soon as we can..." I gestured to Maximus to lie beside me and he did, sliding his arm around my shoulders and resting his head on my pillow. I rested mine against him, both watching an increasingly sleepy Iunior suck slower and slower, his eyelids dropping and his warm, little body going slack.
I seldom remember feeling so happy and so complete, as lying there, cradling my little man while my big one cradled me. I loved Maximus and he loved me in return. We loved our children and we hoped for more. What had started as a blind gamble born out of desperation had brought us together and given both of us hope, a family, a future.
Who can ask for more?
And thus my story comes to an end.
Maximus and I had long talks in the days immediately following the discovery of our feelings, and we have been more than able to make our marriage work, much to the delight of our household, whose members, it was later confessed to me, had been praying to the gods to give us the happiness they felt we deserved. The gods evidently listened to their prayers, because my life could not be happier. I have everything a woman can wish or dream of: a loving husband, two wonderful healthy children, a third one in arrival, a beautiful home. I also own and direct a small trading enterprise that imports finely crafted pots and plates from Africa. Perhaps I could not make a living out of it, but I don’t lose money either, and I enjoy dedicating some hours per day to business, now that it is simply a hobby. I also help Maximus to manage his extensive estates in Italia, Hispania and Germania. He is a very rich and powerful man, even if he prefers to live simply and he has retained a very humble spirit despite what he had achieved in life, and I love that trait of him.
But now it is really time to finish my tale; I hear steps coming my way and I know Maximus and the children will soon join me in the triclinium for the midday meal. I smile, hearing my husband’s voice telling the little ones to wash their hands and I go to the door, wanting to be the one to offer him the basin full of scented water he will use to wash himself. Some highborn ladies I know would twist their patrician noses at my actions, but I do them because I wish to and I know Maximus appreciates them.
And so I hope you will forgive me now if I leave you, but all my attention is now diverted to Maximus, who just turned the corner of the corridor. His eyes light up as he sees me and the rest of the world ceases to exist...You included, my patient readers. You included...