Chapter Four: Hooked

Octavia worried all through the journey about her obnoxious little brother's pompous warnings. What if Brutus really did want to marry her? Octavia knew that her own feelings didn't matter. They never did. If the two families wanted an alliance, she would just have to obey and submit. As always.

But today it seemed the gods were with her. When she arrived at the stately villa of the clan of the Junii, the first people she met were Brutus and his friend Cassius. The two of them were laughing and in good spirits, on their way to the Senate. And they took no notice of her at all.

"Do come in, dear. Please excuse the informality of my appearance. I'm having rather a late breakfast this morning." Even with her hair down, reclining on a couch in her rumpled bed clothes, Servilia of the Junii radiated refined elegance. The mother of Brutus motioned gracefully for the younger woman to join her. Her silent, obedient female slaves swiftly set out fruit and nuts, wild honey and thick fresh cream.

"I'm surprised you're not busy helping Brutus run the city. After all, you did make him master of Rome." Octavia stretched out on a couch with dignity, glaring at the woman who had connived at the murder of poor Uncle Julius.

"Try to eat something," Servilia suggested gently. "You look as though you haven't eaten or slept in days."

"Much you care," Octavia muttered bitterly. But she began eating all the same. Servilia knew just what she liked. She had remembered all Octavia's favorite breakfast dishes. Unwillingly, the sensitive beauty recalled how often the two of them had shared an informal breakfast together in just this fashion after a spectacular night in bed.

"I do care," Servilia said softly, reaching across the low table and squeezing Octavia's slim white hand. Their eyes met, Octavia unwillingly drawn in by the older woman's dark brown gaze. "Don't let your family do your thinking for you, dear. We must work together to preserve what we cherish."

"I don't see how violence can preserve anything," Octavia found her hands were shaking as she poured herself a morning drink of goat's milk mixed with honey.

"You were always fond of goat's milk when you were a girl," Servilia said, smiling. "I remember when you came to visit us in the north. I was thinking of going to the country again."

"Really?" Octavia asked. "With your son Brutus, the murderer?"

"No, dear. I want to go north with you." Servilia raised a queenly hand, stifling Octavia's blushing, squirming protest. "Not because I want to force you into being my lover again. But because I want you to help me deal with the mutinous legions of the north. Marc Antony's legions did not react well to his death, or the death of Antony's master, Caesar."

"I should think not," Octavia stammered. "But how can two women sway the opinions of five Roman legions? And even if we could, why would I help your family maintain power?"

"You are Caesar's flesh and blood," Servilia pointed out. "And I am the mother of Brutus. Working together, we can calm the legions and prevent more senseless bloodshed."

"But who's in command up there? Can't the Senate restore order?" Octavia was growing interested in spite of herself. Her own family would never trust her with such an important mission. At home her job was to remain hidden in the shadows. Servilia was offering her a chance to find the sun.

"Lepidus is in command," Servilia replied, waving her hand. "You know what that means, dearest. He's weak and greedy. He'll allow the legions to plunder the northern towns and then pretend he lost control during the mutiny."

Octavia was frowning. "My brother Octavian was hoping Brutus would offer him a share of power. That's not going to happen, is it?"

"Maybe someday." Servilia shrugged, lying back on her couch with seductive, casual ease. "Imagine how furious Octavian will be when he finds you've been chosen instead. Imagine how your mother Atia will react."

Octavia was hooked. Hooked by the promise of power, of freedom. Hooked by the chance to stop senseless war and prevent needless violence from destroying countless lives. But most of all she was hooked by Servilia, by the memory of her caresses and the thrilling hours they'd spent together.

"All right," the young woman blurted out. "I'll do anything you ask of me. But I want something in return."

Servilia lazily arched one eyebrow. "Name it, my love."

"I want a military escort of my own choosing, commanded by a man I know I can trust. I want Lucius Vorenus."

"Lucius Vorenus?" Servilia sat up in a hurry, with none of her usual languid grace. Her lovely face was alabaster white.

Octavia shrugged, casually. "He's one of Caesar's veterans, is he not? He's a popular hero. You should remember him, dearest. After all, you tricked him into murdering his wife."