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Authors: A.L. Jambor

Pello Island: Cassia (16 page)

BOOK: Pello Island: Cassia
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As Darius approached Amara’s house, he saw a light in the window.  He walked to the door and rang the bell.  A servant answered and told him to wait in the atrium.

Darius sat on a couch facing the pool.  He looked at the water and thought of the Tiber River.  He hadn’t been there lately, not since it had advised him to ruin Cassia.  When he looked up, he saw Amara standing near the couch, and she looked beautiful.

She was a woman of twenty-five and she had truly come into her own.  Her brown hair was braided and twisted into a stylish bun at the back of her head.  She wore strands of gold and pearls.  Her dress was cinched at the waist with a golden cord.  She smiled at Darius and put her arms out to him.

Darius got up and hugged Amara.  She smelled of spices and flowers.  She stepped back and looked into Darius’ eyes.

“Oh, Darius, you look troubled.  Sit down so we can talk.”

Darius lay on one couch and Amara lay on the other.  She ordered servants to bring wine and food.  When they left the room, Amara made sure they weren’t lurking in the hallways listening to the conversation.

“I don’t trust them, Darius.  They talk to the senator.  I’ve never done anything to disgrace him, but they are just waiting for me to stumble,” she said.  “Well, what brings you here?”

She lay back and waited for Darius to speak.  He sat looking at her, remembering how soft her skin was and how kind she had been to him.

“You look wonderful, Amara,” he said.

“You silver-tongued devil,” she laughed.  “You look wonderful, too.  Even better than the last time I saw you.”  She paused.  “Is it true what I heard about you and Lydia?”

Darius looked away from her gaze.

“I think I have my answer.  Well, she is well-preserved, I’ll give her that.  But I don’t think it’s her body you’re interested in, is it?”

Darius rolled onto his back and looked at the ceiling.

“Anthony’s in Germania with our uncle.”

“Oh, that should please Pius.”  Amara sat up and leaned toward him.  “Answer my question, Darius.”

Darius still didn’t answer.

“Oh, by the gods, Darius, your silence is maddening!”

“I’m in love with an inappropriate girl,” he said quietly. “Her name is Cassia.”

“So, why are you living with Lydia?”  Amara asked.

“Because she’s rich and I need money.”  Darius sighed deeply.

“How old is she, the inappropriate girl that is?”

“She’s 15.  Her father’s a merchant with several shops in Rome.  He built a large domus on the Vicus Raciliani Maioris.”

“Good address,” Amara replied.

“Yes, it’s actually a nice shop.  The house is well appointed too.  He was looking for a noble to marry her so he could raise his station in life.  I needed money so he approached me.  I lied and said my father would approve when he never would’ve.  Then Anthony paid my debt, and I told the merchant I didn’t need to marry his daughter anymore.  I thought that was the end of it, but then tonight her father’s hired man came looking for me and said she wants to see me.”

Amara was searching Darius’ face.  She’d seen him in love many times and she could see that look on his face now as he thought of the merchant’s daughter.  Then she remembered something about an aristocratic death and a curse.

“You’re not talking about Cassia the cursed, are you?” she said.

“Maybe she is cursed.  I’ve been in so much pain since I met her.”

In the torch light, Amara could see tears roll down the sides of Darius head.  This was serious.

“Pius is a son-of-a-bitch, Darius.  He would never agree to a marriage.”  Amara lay back and thought.  “What about Anthony?  Can’t he produce an heir and leave you to be with her?”

“Yes, of course he can, but I would be completely disinherited.  How would I live?  Nobles don’t work.”

Amara laughed out loud.  She had entertained many aristocrats who later asked her to wait for her pay.  They had to go home and beg their friends and relatives for money.  And now Darius was living with an old woman for gambling denarii.  If that wasn’t work, what was?  Amara got up off the couch and sat next to Darius, putting her hand on his.

“I have a friend, a patron of the brothel who has a house in town.  He lives on Capri now, but he keeps the house here fully staffed.  He told me if I ever had need of a roof over my head to use his townhouse.  I’ll send Dominic with word that a friend of mine will be staying there for a week.  It’s just what you need, Darius, some time alone.  Send word to Lydia that you’re visiting your parents for a few days.”

Darius nodded.  It sounded like paradise to him, a house to himself for a whole week with no parents looking at him in dismay, and no Lydia.  Amara rose from the couch and summoned Dominic, her freedman.  He came at her beckoning and she instructed him with regard to her friend’s house and Darius.  After he left, she turned to look at Darius.

“What’s the merchant’s name, Darius?  I might want to check his wares.”

“Quintus, on the Vicus Raciliani Maioris, but don’t get any ideas, Amara.  Stay away from Cassia.”

“I like to shop and I’ve never been there.  You have a very suspicious mind, Darius,” she teased.

Amara walked Darius to the door and hugged him. She told him to visit again, but only when the senator was home to avoid a scandal, and he agreed.

Amara’s friend lived a few blocks over and it took Darius only minutes to get there.  It was a townhouse not unlike his familial home.  The lamps were lit and a servant waited at the door.

Darius walked inside and surveyed the atrium.  It was richly appointed with a large pool in the center, much larger than the one at his house.  This “friend” was well off indeed.  The servant, Felix, showed Darius to his room.  When Felix had left him alone, Darius looked out the window onto a courtyard.

The moon was waning and the stars were still out, but the morning birds were beginning to sing.  He began to feel very tired and went to bed.  As he blew out the candle, he suddenly saw Cassia’s sweet face hovering before him like a specter.  He tried to touch it, but it faded just as his hand approached it.

Flavius, who had followed Darius to the townhouse, waited until the lights went out before leaving his hiding place and heading for home.

 

Kingston, New York

When the waitress came to his table, Darius ordered a drink and then turned his attention to the menu.  Janus, as usual, was late, and Darius decided that if he didn’t get there soon, he would go ahead and start eating without him.  As the petite young woman took his order, Janus appeared over her shoulder.

“Make that two, my dear,” he said and winked.  “Darius, you’re looking well-fed.”

“Are you insinuating I’ve gained weight, Janus?”

“I’m just saying you might want to dial back a little on the steak and potatoes.”

“Yeah, well, I haven’t had anything like this in a long time and I’m gonna enjoy it.”

“I thought the doctor told you to cut the fat?”

“Jeez, Janus, you’re worse than Cassia.”

“Speaking of which, how is the lovely Miss Cassia?”

“She’s still at her spa.  She’ll be back in a couple of days.”

The food arrived and both men began to eat as though they hadn’t seen food in a week.  Very little was said between bites, and when his plate was empty, Janus sat back and rubbed his stomach.

“That was good,” he said.  “If we’d had food like this on the island, we would have gotten along much better, don’t you think?”

“It might have helped.”

“Um, Darius, as much as I love your company, I was sent here to have a little chat with you.”

Darius didn’t like the sound of that.  This whole experience had been strange from day one, and now Janus wanted to “chat.”

“Morta, well, I’m sure you heard about Jupiter’s edict.”

“I haven’t been privy to that information, no.”

“Well, the old guy has a bug up his butt, and he told Morta and her sisters that this ‘thing’ has to be wrapped up in two years or we all go to…a place we’d rather not spend eternity in.”

“Yeah,” Darius said, “go on.”

“In order to get everyone where they need to be, you and Cassia, well….,” Janus hesitated.  “You’ll have to get married.”

“Are you saying that they’ve ordered us to get married?”

“Well, I’m sure they’d like you to do it because you want to, but I have a feeling it’s more like an order, yeah.”

“I don’t know what to say to that.  Has this got something to do with Dulcia?  We still don’t know where she is,” Darius said.

“Hell, I don’t even know where she is.  She’s got to be alive somewhere, though.  And Morta says she’s safe.  Listen, buddy, you’ve known me, well, forever, and I’ve never asked you specifically to do anything, have I?  This isn’t something you haven’t done before, multiple times, and she’s looking real good.  Whatta ya say, buddy?  Can I tell them you’re game?”

Darius sat back and took a sip of his wine.

“This wine sucks, Janus.  When are you gonna spring for a good bottle of wine?  For God’s sake, you’re asking me to marry someone at your behest, and you can’t even buy me a GOOD BOTTLE OF WINE?!”

The patrons in the restaurant looked in their direction.  Darius was fuming, and Janus smiled and indicated that everything was fine.

“Darius, it’s been a long haul for all of us.  None of us is happy about this, least of all Morta.  Do you know she’ll lose her powers?  Darius,” he whispered, “they want to put us in Hades and seal us in.”

Darius looked up and into Janus’ eyes.  Janus was always carefree and crazy, but now he looked genuinely scared.

“I want to see my wife and son again, Darius.  That’s the only reason I’ve done this all these years.  I could really use your help.”

Darius looked at the table, thinking about Cassia.  When she walked in the door that first night, it was just like the first time, back in Rome in her father’s house.  All the feelings came back in a rush, almost knocking him off his chair.  Marrying Cassia again wouldn’t hurt him at all, but being ordered to do it was sticking in his craw.

“When would we have to do it?” he asked Janus.

“Oh, buddy, whenever you’re ready.  But sooner than later would be better.  So, I can tell them it’s gonna happen?”

“After I talk to Cassia.”

Janus was grinning from ear to ear.  He threw back his glass of wine and almost let out a yelp.  Darius remembered something and looked at Janus.

“Janus, supposedly this body had a kid.  What’s up with that?  I’m supposed to take care of her, right?”

“I think she’s with relatives, Dar.”  Janus looked sheepishly at Darius.  “Truth is, you were in a little accident.  You had a heart attack while driving and, well, the wife died.  The kid was with relatives and I guess she stayed there.  Maybe they don’t even know you made it out alive.”

“So we just leave it like that?  Seems pretty cold, doesn’t it?  And, it was a cardiac episode.”

“Whatever.” Janus rolled his eyes. “This is an unusual situation for us, Darius.  You guys never have families.  It keeps things neat.  But for some reason they chose this Ian guy, and he had a kid.  You do the math.”

“It’s Dulcia, isn’t it?”

“Honestly, I don’t know, but it would make sense.”

“How will she find me to make the call?”

Janus just shook his head.

“This is so frustrating,” Darius said.

“Yeah, well,” Janus said as he put money in the check holder, “I have to be going.  Jeez, Christmas is only a few weeks away.  I guess I’ll be seeing you soon.”

The two men got up and walked to their cars.  Darius got into the BMW while Janus stood leaning against the driver’s side.

“Darius, you’re doin’ good, buddy.  I heard about Vegas, and I’m real proud of you.”

“I almost went, Janus.  If I’d gotten a plane out that night, I would have gone.”

“You could have taken your plane, Darius.”

Darius had never thought of that.

“I guess you didn’t really want to go.”

 

A Lady's Assistance

After Darius’ visit the night before, Amara awoke the next day with intentions of visiting the shop on the Vicus Raciliani Maioris.  She wanted to see the girl who had so bewitched her old friend and see if she could find some way to help bring them together.  Amara had a good heart, and she really did want to see Darius happy at last.

Amara called Dominic to order a litter.  Dominic left for the stables and Amara ate a small meal.  When the litter arrived, she was waiting for it.  She climbed inside and was taken to Quintus’ shop.

Darius was right — the shop had fine goods.  Amara walked through the shop, feeling the silk and inspecting the pottery while Flavius watched her closely.  Flavius could spot a concubine from 1,000 feet away, and this one was quite beautiful.  He wondered who was keeping her.  After walking around for several minutes, Amara approached Flavius to ask if Cassia was at home.

“Why would you be looking for her?” he asked.

“I have a message for her from a mutual friend,” she said and smiled.

“What’s the friend’s name?” Flavius asked suspiciously.  Who would this prostitute know…of course, Darius.  It must have been her house he visited the night before.

“I’m not at liberty to say to anyone but Cassia.”  Amara looked at Flavius in earnest.  He was still not sure he should involve Cassia, but he told Amara to wait and he went to the main house to find her.

Cassia was daydreaming when he found her.  He told her someone was looking for her, and she followed him to the shop.  When Cassia saw Amara, she wondered what this beautiful woman would want with her.  She greeted Amara and Amara asked if they could speak in private.

“Where’s my father, Flavius?’  Cassia asked.

“He’s off on one of his expeditions, Cassia.”

“Then we can use the atrium.  Come, Amara.”

Cassia led Amara into the atrium.  She indicated the couch next to the wall and called for Frida.  She asked Frida to bring some food and then sat on the couch opposite Amara’s.  There was an awkward pause in the conversation until Amara began to speak.

“A friend came to my house last night.  He was very distressed and of course, I asked him what was wrong.  He said he was in love, but couldn’t be with the girl because….”

BOOK: Pello Island: Cassia
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