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When she spoke, her voice was almost steady.
'Your men have thought of everything. They were very courteous to me, though they did not say why you desired my presence.'
'Desired? What a strange choice of word,' he replied softly. 'Most men would never use the word for a woman, what, weeks from giving birth?'
Cornelia looked at him blankly and he emptied his cup, smacking his lips together with pleasure. He rose from his seat without warning, turning his back to her as he refilled his cup from an amphora, letting the stopper fall and roll on the marble floor unheeded.
She watched it spiral and come to rest, as if hypnotised. As it became still, he spoke again, his voice languid and intimate.
'I have heard that a woman is never more beautiful than when she is pregnant, but that is not always true, is it?'
He stepped closer to her, gesturing with the cup as he spoke, slopping drops over the rim.
'I... do not know, sir, it .. .*
'Oh, I have seen them. Rat-haired heifers that amble and bellow, their skin blotched and sweating. Common women, of common stock, whereas the true Roman lady, well . ..'
He pressed even closer to her and it was all she could do not to pull away from him. There was a glitter to his eyes and suddenly she thought of screaming, but who would come? Who would dare come?
'The Roman lady is a ripe fruit, her skin glowing, her hair shining and lustrous.'
His voice was a husky murmur, and as he spoke he reached out and pressed his hand against the swelling of the child.
'Please ...' she whispered, but he seemed not to hear. His hand trailed over her, feeling the heavy roundness.