“A copper penny for your thoughts, Domina Julia.”
“None of your never mind, Llewelyn,” she tried to sound severe but even to her own ears her voice sounded thin and strained.
“Relax, my lady, I’m not about to jump your bones. It would be a little difficult to explain to the Tribune. Not to mention a pair of hairy praetorians in the atrium.”
“That’s not my worry. I’m more concerned about what might happen if I jumped your bones.”
He looked at her for a moment, his eyes searching her face as if he was unsure whether she was teasing him or not, then laughed deep in his chest.
“If we were somewhere less public, I might just call you on that,” his voice was deep and lazy and Julia felt it reverberate through her body like half-remembered music. She must have blushed, because he put one finger under her chin and gave her the grin she was becoming so familiar with.
“When I first saw you, I thought you were a little boy. How wrong can a man be?” He dropped his hand, but his gaze remained heated and Julia found it difficult to regain her breath.
“Are you flirting with me, Llewelyn?” she heard herself actually purring.
“Oh no. This is far more dangerous than mere flirting.”
“Really? You think it’s not dangerous to flirt with me?”
She turned her face to him in mute invitation, wondering if he had the courage to back up his words with a deed. He did not disappoint. Dai grazed her lips with his own and she sighed. He leaned away from her but kept his eyes on her face. Julia looked away first and he touched her cheek before grunting in a dissatisfied manner.
“Not here. Not now. Not like this. Please talk to me before I get us both arrested. Or more likely just me.”
Julia mentally acknowledged the truth behind his comment. It seemed wrong to her to even consider their respective positions in society, but they needed to be thought about. Even though he was a man with a legitimate family lineage and she was a product of the slums whose mother was a whore, she was still a Roman Citizen and he wasn’t.
“What would you like to talk about?”
He thought for a moment.
“The Tribune and Boudicca. Do you think they are…”
“Almost certainly, but I haven’t actually asked.”
Julia leaned forward and dipped another ladle of water onto the hot stones. When she leaned back, Dai’s face was a picture of pity.
“What?” she asked a tad testily.
“What happened to your back?”
“Oh. That. That’s what happens when a party of Mongol slavers has you and you don’t prove yourself biddable enough.”
He lifted her hand to his cheek.
“So much courage in such a small body.”
“Courage or stupidity. Call it what you will. I’d have been better off capitulating. They might have raped me less brutally.”
He turned her hand and kissed the pink palm.
“And yet you don’t hate men.”
“No. I did for a while, but you can’t stay bitter forever.”
“Many would. And the Tribune was right.”
“What did the old fool say?”
“Only that you have the sort of courage and integrity that shames most men.”
Julia mentally beat her foster brother about the head and face before turning a smiling face to Dai.
“So that means he told you the sorry story, does it?”
“Just the outline. He wanted me to understand how it had been for you. I don’t, of course, but I do at least know you are not a spoilt patrician.”
“Indeed I’m not.”
“May I ask you one thing?”
She lifted a shoulder.
“How did the slavers get you? In Rome?”
“I wasn’t in Rome. A group of orphan children of vigiles parents who had died in service, were sent north to the mountains to avoid the summer heat. Only the charitable patricians who organised the trip actually sold us to the Mongols and put it out that we had been abducted. The had pulled the same scam with other groups of orphans but, fortunately for me, unlike the others the Vigiles were not going to accept nothing could be done or abandon their own without a fight. It should have been a huge scandal, but money changed hands and it was all hushed up.” She paused as she realised something for the first time. “I think that is why justice is so important to me.”
Dai swore for quite some time, and, for reasons she wasn’t prepared to analyse, this gave Julia a warm fuzzy feeling in her stomach. When he calmed down, their talk became general and light-hearted, as if they both realised there were things they needed to say to each other, just not quite yet.
After steam and massage, they were forced to separate as the actual baths were segregated. Julia found herself alone in the female caldarium, and allowed herself to float in the hot water enjoying the looseness it promoted in her limbs. She let her mind drift back to Dai Llewellyn in all his almost edible masculinity and a small smile spread across her gamine features.
She was so lost in her daydream that she didn’t even feel the blow that rendered her unconscious.