CHAPTER NINETEEN: Forever and Always

Titus came up from a murky red haze, aware only of the painful throbbing of his head. Little by little, however, he became aware of other sensations. The soft cushions of the couch, supporting his battered, aching body. The cool night air, fanning his flushed, burning cheeks. Most welcome of all was the sensation of someone sponging the sweat from his brow with a cool cloth.

"Rhea Sylvia?" The young slave forced the words from dry, cracked lips, but was unable to pry open his heavy eyes.

"Relax, baby, it's me." Rufus Rubio laid a plump, possessive white hand on the younger man's smooth, brown chest. "My two guards caught that black beast Jurmama trying to sneak you off the premises. They stopped him cold! But in the confusion one of the fools knocked you in the skull."

"Where is Jurmama?" Titus tried to sit up, tried to push past the fat little Greek who had enslaved him. He wanted to go to Jurmama. He wanted to rescue the brave African prince who had tried to set him free. But the moment he pulled himself upright everything began to spin. Instead of shoving Rufus Rubio out of the way, the slave fell into his open arms. Humiliating weakness swept over him, accompanied by nausea and pain. Titus discovered he couldn't help anyone. All he could do was cast up the contents of his stomach.

"Easy, baby. It's all right. Jurmama is locked up downstairs. He can't hurt you. It's all right, baby. I've got you now." Rufus Rubio held Titus steady while he heaved up everything into a brass basin, murmuring tender endearments that sounded horribly sincere. Gradually, the fat man helped the slender youth to lie back again on the low, soft-cushioned couch.

"Jurmama is locked up." Titus squeezed his eyes tight shut, fighting a fresh wave of pain. He had to think! The black prince was in grave danger. Rufus Rubio would surely sell him as a slave, or worse. Titus had to rescue him, but how? He was much too weak to fight, and Senator Marcus Alba was days away. He needed to buy some time . . .

"Nobody hurts my baby," Rufus Rubio was saying. He stroked Titus' cheek. "As soon as you're better, the two of us will sail away together. To Rhodes, or Capri. Someplace by the sea. I've got money now, more money than ever before."

"Yes, master." Titus knew that a man's life was at stake. Slowly, he took Rufus Rubio's hand in his. He kissed the fat Greek's chubby little fingers. Then he began to suck them.

"Ah, none of that!" Rufus Rubio pulled his hand free, but his laughter held a husky note of excitement and desire. "The doctor says it'll be a day or two before you're ready for any exertion. My baby needs to rest, so do try to get some sleep. I've sent for my sister – she'll take good care of you."

"But I want you, master." Titus pasted on a weak smile, trying not to gag as he pictured himself giving in to Rufus Rubio once again. "Will you come to me tonight?"

"Perhaps." Without warning the fat little Greek shoved his hand under the slave's tunic, grabbing the twin sacks and twisting in a way that was hard and cruel. "But remember, beautiful, whether I want you or not you're still my slave. Forever and always."

"Always, master!" Titus clutched himself with both hands, humiliated and helpless. The horrible pain lingered on long after his laughing master had left the room.