Diana by

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"My family have lived on this estate for generations," Diana began, her voice barely stronger than a whisper. "You can't...."

"My lady, I can do anything I want to. I have twenty men and weapons at my disposal."

Diana wanted to sit down, for her legs were shaking, but she couldn't get her feet to work. She was unable to tear her gaze away from his face, and it seemed to loom over her -- the dark, eyes and brows on the tanned skin.

"You would turn out everyone here? The women, the children?" she whispered.

"No, you will do that by not cooperating."

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"Our bargain was that you would provide adequate food, which you are failing to do. You are breaking the agreement." Alaric rested both hands on the edge of the table and leaned towards her. "Need I remind you I can simply take this place by force?"

Diana felt her anger chill into a lump of ice sitting in the middle of her chest.

"If I were to take the estate, the rules of conquest would apply. That would make me the rightful owner," he added.

"You're bluffing."

"I'm threatening, woman!" he roared.

Diana almost cringed backwards -- almost. She gripped the edge of the table, her heart skittering.

"It's not simply a matter of picking up the reins," Alaric warned. "We'll have more than enough ground to catch up. The Saxon raid left them with virtually nothing. Diana was reduced to sifting the floor of the seed stores for kernels to plant...and they still couldn't sow all the fields."

Both men swiveled their heads to consider Diana anew in light of Alaric's revelation. "No wonder we've been eating gruel twice a day," Griffin murmured.

He was looking at her in a way that she had never seen before. It was as if all the fire in his eyes had been banked, till only glowing white coals were left -- the fiercely hot coals that could melt iron if it was thrust deep inside them.

The hand that brushed her hair back hovered next to her cheek, so close that she could feel the warmth of his skin. As clear as a shout, the knowledge came to Diana that he wanted to slide his hand back into her hair, and to touch her skin with his fingertips. But he did not move.

"It's time to concentrate on the defense of this place. Firewood does not stave off Saxons."

"Why would Saxons bother with us? We have nothing for them here."

"They will not see that. This is a big villa, and the fields have been tended."

"Your preoccupation with defense is understandable, but misplaced --"

"Damn it! My lady, you know what the Saxons are like from hard experience, so why do you fight me on this?"

Diana found herself smiling a little, too. It occurred to her almost as a surprise that it would be very easy to like this man. "So, despite hating Romans, you build gates and strengthen defenses for a Roman family because facing towards the future means you won't see the past."
He sank down onto stool, watching her place his breakfast bowl in front of him, sit and pick up her own. Small movements, contained, controlled. Inherently graceful. Soft.

She was staring at him. The dark brows were drawn closer together by a puzzled frown, but otherwise her face was smooth, the skin so clear it seemed transparent. He wanted to take her small face in his hands, to feel if it was as soft as her hair.

And that was when he realized that he wanted her.

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