Chapter 12

Logan’s desire to simply collapse on his bed of straw and not move for the rest of the night was foiled as soon as he was led into Flavius’s garden. The garden was in a total upheaval as it was prepared for another one of the fat Senator’s gatherings. There had been one every day for the past six days, each one with a different theme than the one before it. Logan had been praying for a night of peace, but it was becoming quite obvious that it wasn’t going to happen.

“It’s about time you returned,” Flavius snarled, crossing his arms over his massive chest. “Now take him over to Karin so that she can bathe him. It seems that Logan has caught the notice of a young widow who requires his attentions this night.”

Had he thought it would serve any purpose, Logan would have started protesting loudly. Logan had learned the hard way that things became worse when he voiced his disapproval of what was going on around him. So, instead, Logan squared his jaw and followed silently over to the far side of the garden where Karin was waiting with a tub of washing water.

Unlike the last time they had met, Logan was completely on edge and didn’t bother making small talk with the woman. What he longed for was the young widow to change her mind at the last minute and leave him alone for the night. That way he could relax and think of nothing but Marie. If everything went well and he beat Vittorio, roughly one day from now he would be on the road with Marie, leaving Rome far behind them as nothing more than a distant memory.

“I saw the widow when she was speaking with Flavius,” Karin volunteered as she soaped his hair. “If it is any consolation, she is a very beautiful woman.”

Logan’s head jerked up. “You saw her? What did she look like?”

“About my height... long auburn hair,” Karin said, massaging her fingers deep into his scalp. “Then there was her eyes. I have never seen such eyes on a person. They were very dark and very round. Beautiful eyes. She was also very insistent that she see you tonight. The master kept trying to talk her out of it, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer. Eventually she offered him enough money that he couldn’t say no. The woman even had a servant decorate your room with silks. You will have a very comfortable bed tonight. It should be a nice change.”

Even though every fibre of his being was telling him it was Marie that Karin was describing, Logan refused to get his hopes up. It would hurt too much if it wasn’t Marie masquerading as the young widow.

Roughly an hour later, once Logan had been cleaned, fed and dressed in freshly washed clothes, he was led into the small building that served as his room. The change that it had rendered since his departure earlier that morning was shocking. Every inch of the interior was covered with silk cloths, hiding the stained walls and floors. Logan’s mattress of hay had been replaced with a multitude of pillows and blankets. In all his life, Logan had never seen anything like it. Even if it was Marie that had set it all up, Logan was amazed that she had put in so much effort for one night.

Not for a moment did Logan believe that he was going to be unchained. Flavius would not be so daring on the eve of Logan’s fight in the Circus Maximus. So it didn’t surprise him in the least when Flavius’s servant lifted a few of the pillows and revealed the place where the chain around his throat was locked down each night.

As soon as the man was gone, Logan carefully lowered himself onto the sea of cushions. If the widow turned out not to be Marie, Logan knew that this would likely be the last chance he would have to rest for most of the night. If she was so insistent that Flavius allow her to have her way with him then Logan knew she wasn’t just going to sit and talk with him.

Logan hadn’t realized he’d dozed off until he heard the rust of fabric as the silk curtain over the door was pulled aside. Alert in an instant, Logan bolted to his feet, every muscle in his body on edge as he waited for the person to reveal themself.

Moments later, a vision in white and gold stepped into the small room. Her sleeveless tunic was made of flowing white silk and reached only about halfway down her thighs. It was cinched at the waist with a golden sash. Leather boots, dyed gold, that reached up to her knees, a pair of wide armbands and a golden helmet that shielded her face completed the ensemble.

Without a word, the woman stepped further into the room, allowing the curtain to fall back into place behind her. Helmet still in place, she glanced about the interior of the room, nodding her head approvingly. Turning back towards the curtain, she pulled it aside and nodded to someone out in the garden. Karin stepped in a moment later bearing a tray laden with a bottle of wine, two goblets and an assortment of exotic fruits which she set down on a flat area of the floor. The widow waited for Karin to leave before raising her delicate hands up to the sides of the helmet.

“Jacinda did a wonderful job transforming this room. I hardly recognized it,” Marie said as she removed her helmet.

Seconds later, Logan had Marie in his arms and was holding her tight against him. As Marie wrapped her arms around his neck, Logan felt all of the tension bleed from his body. Logan bunched the cloth of her tunic up in his fists as he buried his face against her throat, inhaling the intoxicating scent of her skin.

Arching her back slightly, Marie pulled away and grasped his face firmly in her hands. She maneuvered his face towards hers, brushing a quick kiss against his lips. “I take it you approve of my surprise visit?” Marie grinned, sliding a hand up into his hair.

Logan brought his lips crashing down on hers, devouring her lips with his own. “You are like a vision from the gods,” Logan gasped as he pulled back, breathing harshly.

“Come now, surely the great Cernunos has seen many woman in his life,” Marie teased, slipping out of his arms and reclining on the mountain of cushions. Marie held a hand out towards Logan, grinning when he slipped his hand into hers and pulled him down next to her on the cushions.

Logan trailed an index finger along the curve of Marie’s jaw. “If I am Cernunos then who are you, my beautiful goddess?”

Marie smiled brilliantly, turning into Logan’s touch. “Tonight I am Artemis, goddess of the hunt and the moon.”

“And what does Artemis require of her faithful Cernunos?” Logan inquired, leaning forward and nuzzling the side of her face.

Marie pulled away and gently eased Logan onto his back. She deftly straddled his waist and pulled the tray closer with the toe of her right boot. “Artemis requires that her glorious consort relax completely and allow Artemis to pamper him. Does Cernunos approve?”

“I do believe, goddess, that I am at your mercy,” Logan mumbled, resting his hands lightly on her hips.

For a moment, her brazen performance seemed to flicker and Logan was reminded of just how innocent Marie was in such matters. Until less than a week ago, six days, she had never known another human touch. That made even the slightest touch from her all the more precious. There was nothing Logan could do to contain the quiet moan that escaped his lips as Marie began tracing the outline of one of the tattoos on his chest with the tip of her index finger.

“Does this mean anything?” Marie asked softly as she ran her finger along the lines that stained his skin just below his collarbone on the right side of his chest.

“It represents life,” Logan said quietly, taking his left hand from her waist and linking his fingers with hers on her free hand. “Through all its twists and turns, it is made of up a single thread that has no beginning and no end. Just like life. My people, we believe that a person’s life is never over. Their body may die, but their true self lives on forever. It is as unending as that single thread.”

Marie seemed to just be taking it all in, the tip of her pink tongue peeking out between her lips as she pondered the tattoo. “Does every one of your tattoos have a meaning?” she eventually asked, looking up to meet his eyes once again.

Not taking his eyes from Marie’s, Logan used his right hand to point to the tattoo that encircled his left arm just above his elbow. “The design of this one means nothing, but it was given to me after my first real hunt when I was nine. I killed a boar and my father wished to commemorate the event so that I would always remember it. I was mewling like a child the entire time so my father kept giving me ale to drink so that I’d get drunk and wouldn’t feel it anymore. At the time it seemed like a great idea. The next morning....”

Marie laughed quietly and turned her attention to a small circular pattern on his stomach. “And what of this one? Is this from another successful hunt?”

“This one,” Logan said somberly as he placed their joined hands over the compact tattoo, “I received when I was seventeen and lucky to still be alive. I was very ill in the winter. I had terrible pains in my stomach and could barely keep any food down. My family prayed to Don, our mother goddess, and when I eventually recovered my mother insisted that I have this tattoo in honour of Don for saving my life....”

“I am very grateful that she saved your life,” Marie murmured, raising Logan’s hand to her lips and placing a soft kiss on his abused skin. “If you had died at seventeen, I would not have met you when I am seventeen. These two events are very life altering and I believe that our gods have brought us to this very moment for a reason.”

Logan ran his free hand up her arm and eventually into her hair. “And what do you believe they have brought us together for?”

Marie’s eyes fell shut as she allowed Logan to guide her face towards his. “I believe,” she breathed against his lips, “that our gods wanted us to find each other. That our souls are matched and that neither of us would be complete without the other.”

And then, their lips were joined and it was like nothing Logan had ever experienced before. Even their earlier kisses did not prepare Logan for the intense emotions that swirled within him as Marie ran her tongue along his bottom lip. At that moment, the rest of the world ceased to be. The loud noises and music coming from Flavius’s gathering was no more. All that existed was the two of them.

The throbbing of his blood through his veins.

The searing heat her touch created on his skin.

The breathy moans that belonged to neither of them and both of them at the same time.

At that moment, for probably the first time in his entire life, Logan felt well and truly alive. He tasted every inch of Marie’s skin that he could find as they helped peel each other from their garments. As had become his custom, Logan began to protest as Marie reached for his leather armband which held the small scrap of crimson fabric. His moaned protests died almost as soon as they left his lips as he was reminded of the fact that he didn’t need that small reminder of his goddess when he held her in his arms.

Then he was inside of her and, instead of spiraling out of control, Logan felt his entire world come into focus. He stared down at Marie’s flushed face and gently brushed his nose against hers, silently urging her to open her eyes. As soon as he caught sight of her wild, dark eyes, Logan smiled softly and ran a hand through her disheveled hair. Both of them were incapable of speech at that moment, but the message was clear enough.

Marie was the one to move first, arching her hips up sharply. Logan bit back a moan as he began thrusting in and out of her welcoming body. Her hands traced mindless patterns over her skin as their lower bodies moved to a rhythm that they both seemed to know automatically, eventually finding their way to his hips. At the same time, Logan’s hands busied themselves in her hair, the battered limbs craving the softness of her hair.

Together, they drove their bodies to a point that neither had experienced before. To a plateau where the pleasure suffused every inch of their bodies inside and out. Logan captured Marie’s lips with his own then so that when they both screamed seconds later at their climax, the sounds went no further than the other’s mouth.

As they slowly began to come back down, Marie’s hands left Logan’s hips and began smoothing his hair away from his face. She said nothing, but, at the moment, Logan didn’t think he was capable of words either. Instead, Marie smiled softly and pulled his head down. She pressed a kiss against his damp forehead and silently urged him to lay his head on her breasts. Logan could only do as Marie directed. He tried to keep his body in her as long as possible, but eventually felt himself slip out as he positioned himself so that he wasn’t lying completely on top of Marie and squishing her.

Reaching for one of the many blankets that filled the small room, Logan drew it up and around them. Protecting them from the chill of the night air as they lovingly trailed their fingers over each other, silently memorizing every detail of the damp skin they encountered.

Though he did not believe his gods would be so cruel as to snatch away his happiness so soon after finding it, Logan knew that this could very well be the last, and only, time that he was to be with Marie in such a way.

And it’s memory would be enough to keep him alive the following afternoon.