He lifted his nose high in the air and sniffed. Carefully,
he pushed through the door and passed room after room of slumbering or quietly speaking humans. Any one of them would make
for a satisfactory meal but the silently skulking beast had one woman in mind. Her scent had assailed the tiger’s senses
ever since a swath of her clothing had been secretly pushed into his and his mate’s cage this afternoon.
Caspian licked his lips and his thick neck craned, the eyelids thinning as her enticing aroma grew heavier in his nostrils.
He walked slowly up the smooth-stone and polished wood stairs and heard a gasp from behind. The beast turned and saw a brief
flash of blue cloth. If he was seen and the human creature warned the rest of her pack then there would be little time to
quench his hunger.
He continued on at a faster pace.
Lady Marga lay on her bed, drifting in and
out of a fitful sleep. She processed the confrontation with Marcus over and over in her dreams. First she would have the upper
hand then it would be Seneca. Yet, it would always emerge the same. Instead of Tribune accepting the refusal of his company
for the evening, he would take her in his arms and kiss her roughly. She would hate it, slapping him, pounding his chest with
her fists until the final few seconds of the nightmarish vision when she would push back away from him and see another man.
The faces always changed, many of the men she could not even recognize, but this last time - when she reluctantly began to
feel something like pleasure - Marga pushed at him and looked up into the face of Roxtonus.
He whispered to her, “Your life is in peril.” None of the others spoke to her and his warning, the deep reverberation
of his voice along with the strong arms that still held her, sent shivers up Marga’s spine. She cursed the dream not
just because of the frightening message it imparted but because Roxtonus, the messenger, was so damn appealing! ‘What
is *wrong* with me?’ she whispered in frustration.
Calming herself, Marga gulped air and, continuing to rest
on her bed, was about to attempt another try at a dreamless sleep when she heard a noise. It reminded Marga of a purr but
was too deep and far too loud. Slowly, she turned over in bed and looked about, her vision slowly adjusting to the dark. She
saw nothing. Then a dark shadow, in the shape of a large cat, crossed in front of her balcony. The moon backlit the slinking
creature as it crept once again into the darkness near the foot of her bed.
Marga lay still, uncertain if she could
really believe what her eyes were telling her.
“Oh.” She breathed, her entire body tensing, not knowing
where the tiger had gone. Lifting her head, she could suddenly see its eyes, shining yellow in the darkness, staring at her.
“Nice kitty.” She whispered feebly and backed up slowly in the big bed, attempting to put as much distance between
she and the tiger as possible. As Marga felt behind her, blindly reaching for her dagger, she kept her eyes locked with her
stalker’s. Marga kept the weapon hidden in a sheath near her bedside, just incase of an emergency.
tiger eased in her direction. Marga heard a faint snarl and watched as he paused by her bed then put his paws up on the lightly
“Go away.” She murmured. Marga’s heart was beating heavily and she wanted to scream.
Yet, if she did her cries would only bring death to those who would come to her rescue. Suddenly, a sharp reflection of light
caught her eye. She looked briefly past the Caspian and saw another figure, that of a man, standing in the shadows, holding
a sword. Marga gasped and nearly called out but was quieted.
“Sh.” The dark figure breathed, creeping stealthily
up behind the tiger. He raised his sword high but did not react quickly enough.
Unanticipated, the beast swirled and
lashed out wildly with his deadly claws. The man fell back, his sword flying in an unknown direction, and he twisted out of
the way. One of the Caspian’s sharp nails was caught in the pale leather of his studded vest. He shouted as he kicked
out, landing a solid blow in the tiger’s mid section, parting them.
Marga jumped from her bed and quickly lit
a wall sconce. She looked down at the struggling soldier and was stunned, “Malones!?”
Verona cried from the doorframe. She was terrified not just for the young man who was flat on his back on the tiled floor
but also for the life of her mistress who was still in great danger. Verona watched, feeling helpless, as Malones pushed away
from the ferocious monster that had nearly drawn blood and was now furious that Lady Marga, his easy meal, had been taken
from him. “Where is your sword?!” she shouted looking about the floor without success.
know!” Malones scrambling to his feet and made a run for the drapes near the balcony, hoping to throw them over the
tiger, smothering his body, keeping him blind and confused, but the soldier did not get far when the animal’s treacherous
claws swiped him on the back of both his legs, drawing blood. Malones stumbled, groaning in pain. To make matters worse, as
he fell his head struck the side of an oak breau and he was unconscious before he hit the floor.
Verona cried, again looking for the sword.
“Damn it!” Marga drew the dagger from its hiding place and,
with a subtle roll, landed on her bare feet on the other side of the bed. “Come here!” Marga called to the tiger
as it licked Malones tasty blood from his left paw. If she didn’t divert the beast’s attention soon she was afraid
Verona’s lover would never make it to his next birthday. “You know you want a piece of this.” Marga lifted
the hem of her cream colored night gown and revealed a pleasant bit of ankle. She shook it at the tiger, knowing who his target
really was. Malones would be a mere pre meal nibble before it got down to the fine business of dining on patrician Lady.
predicted, Malones was forgotten during Marga’s distraction. The tiger moved forward warily, fearful of a trap but intrigued.
The scrumptious morsel in front of him was just too delectable to ignore. He moved closer and closer to Marga.
she called, “Drag that heroic idiot out of here and call for Rox…”
Not sooner had his name touched
the tip of her tongue than the former gladiator was in the room and tackling the tiger, bringing him down on his side, legs
from both man and beast flaying wildly. The attack was so unexpected that it caught both women off guard and they cried out
Nonetheless, Marga reclaimed her wits quickly and - noting that her bodyguard was unarmed - called, “Roxtonus!”
She tossed him the deadly dagger she had been holding. As Roxtonus struggled with the cat, human flesh mixing with orange
and black stripes, Marga and Verona made a beeline for Malones. Both women took a hand a piece and dragged him from the room.
others, including Lord Seneca and Challenger, were alerted and rushed to the bedroom.
“Help him!” Marga
shouted, miming into her room where Roxtonus was madly battling the nearly two hundred pound beast. He managed a scrape with
the dagger, cutting the tiger soundly across its muscular back. However, the wound was a mere glancing blow, causing anger
more than pain from the monster.
Roxtonus knew he needed a better position to keep the powerful Caspian where he could
not only pin and wound him but do it before the animal got away and attacked anyone else.
“My tiger!” Seneca
huffed in anger, somehow appearing more annoyed and shocked by the fact it had escaped than at the potential maiming or death
it might cause.
Challenger moved past Seneca and pulled frantically on the hanging canopy of Lady Marga’s bed.
It wasn’t as dark as the drapes on the windows and probably wouldn’t be as effective but it might at least give
the gladiator a fighting chance.
However, before the first rip could be heard Roxtonus, now pinned underneath the heavy
tiger, feeling its hot breath on his cheek, managed to get the dagger between he and the Caspian. Roxtonus pushed mightily
upward with all the force he could muster. Allowing one last roar of anger and pain, the beast convulsed then wilted on top
of Roxtonus - dead.
Exhausted and a little sickened by what he was forced to do to the beautiful animal, Roxtonus
pushed his worthy opponent off of him and sat up, laying the bloody dagger flat on the tiles beside him.
A few minutes
later, smelling of ale and not too steady on their feet, Lady Marga’s First Lieutenant and Tribune’s Captain Trejan
arrived with two soldiers.
“Gentlemen,” Lord Seneca crossed his arms in front of himself, “You better
have an *excellent* explanation.”
Malones, his head and legs bandaged, was taken to comfortable quarters
to recuperate. A distraught Verona, fearing her reaction, told Lady Marga that she and the soldier saw the tiger walking the
halls of her villa. They also realized where the beast was headed. There was no time to alert security so Malones crept into
her room just behind the Caspian, hoping to get a drop on the tiger.
“Seems it was Malones who did the dropping.”
Trejan commented with a chuckle then immediately quieted when he noticed the unsmiling faces of those listening, “I
have my men searching for the other tiger, milord.” He said, visibly contrite.
“How did they get out?”
Seneca demanded, sharply.
“We are investigating that as well, Tribune. The guard who was on duty is being interrogated.
We suspect he was drinking ale on duty, sir.”
“Flog him. Then, when you’re finished grilling him,
“Tribune,” Challenger, approaching from behind, touched Lord Seneca on his tense
shoulder. “Allow me to conduct an investigation before we do anything impulsive.”
Seneca questioned, agitated. “Lady Marga could have been killed!”
Marga stood quietly by the doorframe
of her bedroom, appearing less than vulnerable despite having her thick, dark hair down and wearing a thin, silky nightgown.
just,” Challenger attempted to be diplomatic, “I know the soldier who was on duty and he did not strike me as
the type who would do something so foolish. He’s young and dedicated … and has a wife and child living in Naples.
I would just like to be certain it was his error before he’s retired.”
Marga cocked her head to the right,
listening to the learned man. She was slightly surprised. Challenger did not strike her as the type who leaned toward sentimentality.
Still, it was nice to know Seneca had someone with scruples on his staff.
“As you say.” Lord Seneca relented.
He looked to his Captain, “But I want guards on this villa all evening. If anyone else comes to harm I will have your
Trejan bowed slightly, comprehending.
“I have my own guards, Marcus.” Marga informed,
perturbed Tribune had taken it upon himself to give orders, “However,” she yielded somewhat, “I thank you
for the offer of your own manpower. I’m sure my lieutenant will appreciate the aid.”
Emitting charm, Seneca
smiled and focused on Marga once again. He took her hand in his, kissing her knuckles. “Of course, dearest.” He
said, “It is only my fear for your safety that causes me to be so abrupt.”
Marga felt like rebelling against Seneca and his over-acted charm but she was just too weary to dwell on it. Tomorrow was
another day. “I will keep my maid, Lydia, close to me this evening and Roxtonus will be only a few doors away as well.”
and his men, as well as Marga’s curious slaves, were ushered out of the house and back into their rooms. Marga returned
to her bedroom. Roxtonus had helped in supervising in the removal of the dead tiger and now he stood, looking around the room,
appearing concerned over its security. She noted he held Malones sword in his hand and asked him about it.
underneath your bed, m’lady.” He said, “I’m amazed the boy didn’t get his throat tore out. He’s
a courageous one; I’ll give him that …”
A quickly indrawn breath alerted Roxtonus to another threat
of possible danger. However, it was merely his lady looking down at his left bicep, at the crimson trail running down his
powerfully built arm.
“You’re hurt.” She stated in guarded unease then quickly glanced over at her
idle maid, “Lydia, bring me bandages and ointment.” she told the young woman then closely examined the gash on
“Hush.” Marga directed Roxtonus over to a chair positioned
beside her large bed.
He expected her to tell Lydia to tend to his wound but was surprised when Marga cleaned then
applied the ointment to the gash herself, unconcerned that his blood might spoil her own delicate nightgown in the process.
Her ordeal left no emotional scars that Roxtonus could see. If it did they were well hidden. She was a strong one. He admired
Roxtonus watched the woman closely, admiring her as she expertly wound the bandages. Marga’s touch was
reassuring. Something warm once again touched his heart.
“Thank you, Lydia. Discard the bloody rags then you
can go to sleep.”
“Yes, mistress.” The girl took the medical supplies and cleaning cloths. She then
curtsied and left the room.
Marga put the finishing touches on her first aid, tying the binding so it held firmly.
Satisfied, she sat back on the bed, looking up at Roxtonus. His curious expression alarmed her, “What?” she asked.
have a very gentle touch.” he commented with a half smile.
“Against your rough skin anything would seem
gentle.” She returned what she assumed was sarcasm from her slave.
Roxtonus gazed at her a moment longer. He
wanted to say something, tell her a few of his personal thoughts, but knew it was improper. Instead, he changed the subject
to the matter at hand, “Do you really think that tiger got out by accident?” he asked her.
What else?” Marga’s eyes betrayed her.
He paused for a count of five seconds. “I heard what Tribune
said to you, m’lady, during dinner. I think that man is capable of almost anything.”
she asked, agitation suddenly registering clearly on the woman’s face, “*What* did you hear?”
much,” he lied, “but I got the impression he is blackmailing you in some way.”
Marga bristled, “What
gives you the right to listen in on my private conversations?”
“I’m your bodyguard ….”
you *dare* use that as an excuse!” Marga sat straight up and took on the appearance of a cat ready to launch itself
onto a pesky mouse, “You had no business spying on me, Roxtonus! Why would you do such a thing?”
you’re missing the point!” Frustrated and forgetting any form of decorum, Roxtonus allowed his tone to rise as
loudly as her own, “Trust my instincts. I’ve seen men like Marcus Seneca before and that tiger was a warning.
I know it and you know it!”
“Don’t be ridiculous!”
“You’re living in denial.”
I’m a woman *living* in a man’s world. I have something he wants, I admit that. But I can’t just beat him
off with a stick. I have to be clever.”
Roxtonus sat back heavily in his chair, “While you’re being
clever he’s going to cross a line and you or someone you love is going to be seriously hurt. Malones can vouch for that.”
Marga threw her hands up into the air. The man was an annoyance but she could not deny that his words held more than a grain
of truth. “What do *you* suggest?”
“Confide in someone who cares, Marga, someone who can help you
and advise you.”
“That someone being *you*?” Her eyebrow arched.
“Or Felix. Or Verona.
*Someone*, Marga. Don’t keep it to yourself.”
Taking in a ragged breath she considered what he said. “I’ve
trusted people before, Roxtonus.” Memory caused Marga to look away from him. “Bad things have happened.”
Gently, unable to resist the urge, Roxtonus bent forward in the chair and gently reached out to touch
her cheek, brushing supple hair away from her face. “I won’t let anything happen to you. I promise.”
not just me that I’m worried about …” Her voice sounded small and feeble, even to herself. She closed her
eyes, feeling wonderful warmth on her cheek where he touched her. “Sometimes, I’m …” Her voice was
a near murmur.
“Tell me.” he whispered in return, scooting up slightly on the chair.
so lonely. There are some things that have happened in my life that I just can’t tell anyone about. Seneca knows a part
of the story but not all of it. Still, it’s enough to cause damage …” Slowly, Marga’s eyes opened
and she was aware of just how close she physically was to her slave. She felt the finger which had been so pleasantly touching
her cheek softly travel down to her chin and she watch him, how Roxtonus expression changed, turning from the role of his
lady’s protector to something she could not clearly define. Unable to resist she lifted a hand, her own fingers tracing
over his. The combined warmth of their skin quickly bubbled into an intense inferno.
Marga fixated on his lips and
longed to feel their softness against hers.
Roxtonus breaths were ragged but he was silent and immobile. The first
move could not be his. Or could it?
Finally, unable to resist a moment longer, their mouths crushed together in pent
up longing. Her fingers combed frantically through his hair and, showing considerable strength, Marga brought Roxtonus –
with his very willing help - on top of her as she fell back on the bed. His mouth left hers briefly to trail madly down the
line of her jaw as she craned her neck to give him better access.
“M’lady …” Roxtonus breathed,
falling into an old pattern but, even as he caressed her, the man knew how true the label was. At this moment he was more
than her willing slave. Marga could ask him to do anything, even commit the evilest of sin, and he would gladly do it for
her. The feel of her body beneath his, the lithe but firm curves underneath the clothing which separated them, was stronger
than the most potent aphrodisiac. And now, knowing she wanted him with a passion that equaled his own, Roxtonus was gratified
to the very depths of his soul.
Pulling back slightly, savoring the moment, he slowly pushed the straps from her shoulders
and allowed the diaphanous material covering her torso to fall downward, revealing her perfect breasts. She was even more
beautiful than he could ever imagine. “Gods …” he exhaled and looked up once again to take in her expression.
He was stunned to see fear. Her bottom lip began to tremble. He cupped her face in his hands. ‘Who hurt you?’
Roxtonus wondered and kissed her again, softly but completely. The feel of her mouth moving against his was magic.
was gratified when he felt her hands reach behind him, underneath the toga, her fingers tracing sensuous patterns against
his firm thighs. Marga’s mere touch was enough to drive him wild.
His own hands traveled down from her silky
shoulders to the woman’s upper arms where he felt the cuffs, this time made of platinum. She always wore these decorations,
a symbol of her wealth and position, even to bed. Gently, he pushed on them, wanting to rid her of anything that might come
between their touch while they made love.
“No!” Marga exhaled, in near panic, and sat up - “Leave
them!” she demanded.
Roxtonus nodded, not understanding but not wanting to shatter the mood either. Passions
inflamed, he kissed her hungrily on the mouth yet again, and felt her respond. Marga pulled at his tunic. Her lips left his
mouth and connected with his shoulder, her tongue licking then her teeth very gently scrapping across the burnished flesh.
A low groan escaped Roxtonus. When was the last time he had experienced such pleasure? “My goddess!” His arms
encircled her. Hands that had very recently aided in the death of a ferocious beast now moved from her slender waist to the
small of her bare back and traveled very slowly upward.
“No!” Without warning, Marga stiffened and felt
her palms push against his chest; as they had in her nightmare. “Let go of me.” she demanded, fear in her tone.
“Roxtonus ….” Appearing distressed and frantic she backed away from him on the bed and pulled up the front
of her nightgown.
“I don’t understand.” Roxton called, alarmed. His hands were lifted and at a loss.
“Marga …” He reached for her but she pushed him away, “What did I …?” he started.
leave.” She implored, breathing heavily, but her voice was calm. “Just go!” She turned away from him, highly
agitated and hiding agony.
“Tell me what I did!” Roxtonus exclaimed, as close as a gladiator could be to
feeling genuine heartbreak.
“I said go away! Don’t force me to call my guards, Roxtonus.”
Marga!” She spat back at him, “Go! NOW!” Her final cry was enough to propel him from the bed.
stood for a moment then, helpless, left his mistress chamber. “A slave!” he barked angrily as he walked down the
long hall to the servant quarters, “That’s *all* I will ever be to her …” How could he ever have thought
otherwise? Desolate, Roxtonus punched the air with his fists, not at all mindful of the injury to his arm, and made his way
down to his own quarters.
Marga, pressing her lips tightly together, looked up at the vaulted ceiling of her bedroom.
“Forgive me.” She whispered then turned onto her right side, her face buried in her pillow, allowing deeply felt
but seldom expressed emotions to escape.
Challenger sniffed the cup which had been used by the guard
on duty. He noted an odd herb smell that should not be there. The food, which had fallen from the man’s plate, also
seemed to have this faint aroma. Carefully, lifting his lamp, Lord Seneca’s advisor rounded the empty tiger’s
cage. He wasn’t entirely certain what it was he was looking for but was sure he’d know it when he saw it.
he investigated, Challenger could hear the lightly provoked roar in the covered cage, containing the white tiger, next to
him. “Relax, old boy.” He told the beast, “It’s a good thing you’re not ordinary or it might
have been you who met an untimely …”
Spotting a trace of color, Challenger pulled his robe up slightly
and crouched. He laid his lamp on the ground. Carefully, he picked up a piece of cloth. He sniffed it and recognized the pleasant
scent of Lady Marga’s perfume.
Challenger never felt the club that came down on the back of his head. All he
saw were stars … then blackness.