The man walking by the café window caught Deborah’s attention, causing her to look up from the article she’d been reading in the newspaper. Their eyes locked in a déjà vu moment. On an eternal loop of time. A hint of recognition lit up his eyes but he walked on. She stared after him, the images coming so quickly she could hardly keep up. He looked back once with a puzzled look on his face, but then kept going. Only a small hint that something had passed between us.
She set down the article about the remains of a Roman soldier that had been uncovered near an old stone wall outside Rome during the excavation phase for a newly planned library. Synchronicity. A tear threaded its way down her cheek as the scenes of ancient Rome materialized in her imagination.
Rome, 31 BCE
Marius took note of the exact moment she caught sight of him as he watched her through the alcove window in the garden wall. He saw the imperceptible tremor ripple across her face when she, too, felt the connection—that same tingling awareness he felt, even though they’d never laid eyes on each other before.
Although she looked like she wanted to break the connection and escape, she blatantly held his gaze, while looking over the shoulder of the man who was deep in conversation with Senator Cassius. He saw her set her jaw in determination not to leave in the middle of the men’s heated discourse, and withstood the onslaught of his stare with a haughty glare of her own—a penetrating question dancing in her eyes.
Later that day, Marius talked with his fellow centurions about the incident and learned the stunning woman was Sabina, the wife of Senator Julianus. He remembered the confident way she held herself and left off conversing with the senators to lock eyes with him. That look—unsettled and intriguing. No woman had ever left him feeling provoked like this before. Her marriage was no doubt the usual marriage of convenience for no senator’s wife would have put up with his brazen stare if there had been love between her and her husband.
She should be mine. She has always been mine.
Where had that thought come from?
That evening at twilight, still aroused by thoughts of her, he went walking, trying to stifle the longings welling up. He ended up before the alcove window again. He glanced into the garden, not expecting to see her, but there she was in a diaphanous dress that inflamed his senses. The soft, violet-colored garment hung gracefully over one shoulder, enhancing the cream color of her skin. His jaw clenched against the sudden desire he felt. She was not aware of him and walked about the garden enjoying the flowers, occasionally stopping to pull one close to smell it.
He exhaled at the effect her sensual movements had on him.
She looked up.
“Good evening,” he said. “Beautiful flowers—beautiful garden.”
A slow smile crossed her face. “You are impertinent. What right have you to intrude in my garden with your comments—and your lusty eyes?” With a soft tone, belying her harsh words, she demanded, “I will not tolerate it. Leave before someone sees you, or I will have to have you dragged away.”
It was dangerous for him to be here like this, it was true, but he only laughed. There was no strength behind her threat. She was trying to appear strong and daunting but he saw through her facade.
How did he know that? Where did that surety come from?
“You don’t really want me to leave,” he said. “Invite me in to chat.” Instinct told him she was not averse to him, to his advances—that they had done this dance before . . . when they had known each in another time and place—when they had been intimate.
She looked down but he caught her smile. She did not speak, but walked toward him. His eyes followed the curve of her body, veiled only lightly by her thin dress. She looked up when she reached the window. “What do you want of me?”
“One kiss.” I want more.
She laughed softly, tilting her head and staring at him for a few moments. She did not answer his proposition, but her eyes focused on his lips.
She is thinking about it.
He watched her mouth twitch.
God this woman is fire to me. I know that body, those lips.
He felt the drive of obsession dragging him under. If he were in a battle anywhere else in the empire, he would simply take her. But this was Rome and his baser instincts and impulses had to be held in check. He repeated, “One kiss?”
‘All right’ to kiss him, or ‘all right to his baser desires which were quickly unraveling his restraint?
She reached up to push aside a strand of leaves hanging in front of the alcove and leaned closer. She paused, her green eyes penetrating to the core of him, their intensity pulling him down into a whirlpool of jumbled sense impressions and leaving him with the drive to have her, to make her his own.
He bent to meet her lips. She kissed him lightly a moment before pressing harder.
Soft and luscious.
He reached up, threading his finger through her soft hair, unleashing its fragrance that stirred something primal, something they had experienced before, long ago. He pulled her head closer, parting his lips to invade her mouth with his tongue.
Time seemed non-existent for the space of their kiss. When she finally drew back, she reached up and touched his lips with her fingers, whispering, “That must be all. This is the first and last of it. I am a married woman. This must never be spoken of.” She searched his eyes.
He wiped away the tear seeking escape down her cheek and reluctantly nodded confirmation that he would comply.
“Now leave before I have you arrested.” She whispered with a smile, and quickly left.
Deborah opened her eyes and wiped away the tear. She touched her lips, remembering the feel of that kiss—that ancient, unfulfilled love, when she was Marius and shared one simple kiss with Sabina in passing. She looked down the street. The man was gone. She was in the marriage of convenience now, but not even a touch had passed between them this time.
What madness that their love would go unfulfilled, once again.