Programmed For Success – Chapter 4

4

Maximus had been gone over a week when Mannie came riding down to the Hotel for a visit. He checked into his usual room at the Hotel. It was always fun to come to the Point for a day or two, catch up on news and meet the newcomers. This time he was the one with some news.

By the time he had settled into their seats with beer, just about everyone had managed to make it to the Tavern. Everyone except Sid, who was off somewhere with Bethany, the women who had gone home for the work week, and Siobhan. Tables were pulled together to form a large one.

Mannie took a long slow drink from his beer and said, “I saw Maximus the other day, thought you’d be interested to know.”

John leaned forward, “You talk to him?”

“Yeah.”

“What did he say?” Steve asked in exasperation.

“He’s plannin’ on farming up there.”

“Up where?” Jeffrey asked.

“South east of me, on a hillside. I was out riding when I saw him. He was clearing the land.”

“Is he coming back here?” This was Alex.

“He said he’d be back for supplies and seed.”

Bud asked, “Nothing about Siobhan?”

“That one of new women?”

Dominic answered, “Yeah, the one programming Sid.”

The Proprietress looked around at the men. “They keep saying he’s fine, but that’s all.”

“We’d know if he wasn’t, but that’s about all we know,” Terry explained. “We’re not the Psychic Hotline.”

“Well, he didn’t mention her,” Mannie said.

Lachlan scratched his head. “He can’t have forgotten ‘er, just like that. Not the General.” Lachlan’s hero worship of the Roman was well-known.

“He’s not perfect, Lachlan,” Cort reminded him. “But you’re right; it’s not our way.” He looked toward Hando who stood apart, leaning against the bar. “Even yours.”

“Maybe we ought to drive out there and talk to him.” Bud was on his feet, pacing.

“Pound him, you mean,” Colin shook his head. “No way. Leave him be. He’ll come back when he’s ready.” He hugged Caroline to him protectively. “Right?” he asked her.

“Right.”

Maximus rode in very late one evening about a week later. He was exhausted and hungry, but happy to be back at the Point. First things first. Argento needed to be settled in, groomed, fed and watered. Scarto was glad to see them both. Maximus promised, “Next trip, you’ll go, I promise,” as he fed the beautiful stallion an apple. Then it was up to the Tavern.

He slipped in the back door and surveyed the group still hanging around the Tavern, hoping to see Siobhan. It must be later than he thought; Andy and Dominic were washing glasses behind the bar. John Biebe, Bud White and Jeffrey Wigand were sitting at the bar, laughing and watching a baseball game.

“Maximus!” Jeffrey turned and caught sight of the former Gladiator. “When did you get back? Come have a drink.”

“By the smell of you, you just got in,” Bud eyed him solemnly, holding out a cold beer. “Welcome home.”

“Thanks,” he swallowed the beer. The cold refreshing liquid tasted better than he remembered. “Where is everyone?”

“Sid left early with Bethany, Tina and a couple of the other girls went home for the week, and most of the others called it an early night.” John laughed. “You’re looking for Siobhan, I am assuming.”

Maximus smiled, drained his beer and turned to go. “I’ll go clean up and run over to see her.”

“She’s not here,” Jeff blurted out.

“Whadya mean she’s not here?”

Bud told him, “She went to Old Tucson to see some friends.”

“Cali’s in her stall.”

“I drove her over, Maximus,” Bud admitted proudly. “We all figured she needed some time away from here. You got a problem with that?”

“Drive me over there.”

“What?”

“Please. Drive me over there.”

“Yeah, ok, tomorrow morning. I’m picking her up in the morning anyway.”

“No, now. I mean, I need to clean up first.”

“I’m not taking you anywhere tonight, General,” Bud was starting to get angry with the commanding tone Maximus used. “Look, asshole, we spent two weeks dealing with the mess you left behind and…” John stepped in.

“I’ll take you. Go get cleaned up. Meet me by Siobhan’s Blazer in half an hour, ok?” He turned toward Bud. “I hate being the God-damned peacemaker around here.”

* * *

“Dance with me, Siobhan. You need to try out that new dress on a dance floor.” Siobhan smoothed her new skirts around her, twirling to admire the way the petticoats fell before she sat down in the chair.

“You’re drunk, Wyatt.”

“Come on, I’m not that drunk.” The handsome marshal pulled Siobhan up from her chair into his arms and swept her around the floor as the piano player played a lively tune. “I think I finally got a smile out of you. It’s taken me all evening.”

“I smile.”

“Not much. Took me two hours to get you to quit calling me Marshal Earp too, didn’t it?” He laughed. “You were a lot friendlier your first visit here, that’s for sure. What happened? I heard you were settled in at the Point.”

“I am. I’m going back in the morning.”

“Folks also say you’re spoken for. The General.”

“I am, I was. I don’t know. He’s been gone, said he had some things…to work out.”

Earp pulled the chair out for her and they sat again. He poured himself a shot of whiskey and ordered her another cold beer. “How long has he been gone?”

“Little over two weeks.”

“No word?” She shook her head. “That’s why you came up here?”

“They all look like him, ya know?” She pushed the whiskey bottle around on the table. “Anyway, I have a job there so I will be staying for at least five more months and I don’t know if I can stand it without him.”

“He a man of his word?”

“Yes.”

“He’ll be back to face you with the truth then.”

“The truth may not be a whole lot of consolation, Wyatt.” He had taken her hand in his while they talked; he leaned closer. A car door closed outside the saloon.

* * *
Maximus was silent for most of the ride to Old Tucson. John tried to keep some conversation going, but it was almost impossible.

“Terry was supposed to be keeping an eye on her.”

“You were gone two weeks, man. She’s been miserable. Terry agreed with the rest of us that she needed a night out.” He slowed down to turn into the old Western town. “ You had some things to work out, fine. But it cost her and that was real hard for the rest of us to watch.” Biebe pulled up in front of the Bird Cage and Maximus got out, slamming the door behind him. “Do I need to wait while you screw with her head? Or will you be staying?”

Maximus leaned in through the car window. “I didn’t mean to hurt her. She knows that, if you don’t.”

“Just be lucky it was me drove you. Bud hates your guts right now.”

The Spaniard started up the steps into the saloon, aware that Biebe was sitting in the SUV watching him. It was very late; the piano was playing a honky tonk tune, not totally audible above the voices. Lots more people were still out here in comparison to the Point. He pushed open the swinging doors to see a man lean in to kiss Siobhan. She turned her head so all he got was her cheek.

“Siobhan?” The voice made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She turned towards it, her face open and eager. When she saw that it really was him, her eyes lit up and she flew across the floor to his arms, stopping just short of his arms. Maximus closed the gap quickly, pulling her into his embrace and kissing her. But his face clouded as Earp strode towards them, hand outstretched. “Wyatt Earp. Pleased t’meet you, General. Siobhan here has been talking about nothing but you since she got here.”

The Spaniard stared at the hand extended to him, then accepted it with a firm grip. “At your service, Marshall,” he replied with extreme restraint. “Will you excuse us please?” He turned away, taking both Siobhan’s hands in his; John Biebe was standing in the doorway. “Come home with me?” he asked before bending to kiss her again. She nodded mutely.

“I have to run upstairs to get my things,” Siobhan replied, blushing.

“Go on, “ Earp encouraged her. “We’ll send your things over tomorrow.”

“No, it’ll only take a minute,” she answered, heading up the stairs.

John tried to fill the silence that had fallen over the patrons. People had begun to slip quietly out the swinging doors, as if they expected a gunfight between the Marshal and the unarmed Gladiator.

“So, Marshal Earp, this is my first trip to Old Tucson. Nice place. I’m Sheriff John Biebe, Mystery, Alaska.” The frontier lawman shook hands with his modern counterpart, then followed as Biebe skillfully steered him away from Maximus.

He needn’t have bothered. Maximus watched Siobhan go up the stairs and disappear from view, then took the stairs two at a time. He caught up with her at the door to her room, scooping her into a hug. “I missed you,” he murmured into her hair before setting her down. Standing behind her, he kept her wrapped in his arms as she unlocked her door.

It was a sparsely furnished room, filled with an antique bed and quilted coverlet. The only light came from two oil hurricanes, one beside the bed and one on the dresser. Siobhan’s basket lay on the quilt, along with her jeans and t-shirt. She stuffed the clothes into the basket and grabbed her sandals up from the floor.

“Ready!” she hoped her voice sounded carefree. Some things remained unsaid between them and she wasn’t completely sure they were going to be what she wanted to hear. The look on Maximus’ face wasn’t reassuring.

“We need to talk,” he said.

“Not here, not now.”

“Agreed.”

They came down the stairs within minutes, and Siobhan said her good-byes briefly.

“Safe trip home, Siobhan. Glad to meet you gentlemen. Come on back sometime with your ladies,” Earp smiled. He was eager to see the last of Maximus.

The ride back was even quieter than the ride out.  Maximus had gotten into the back seat beside Siobhan, leaving John in the role of chauffeur.  He kept his eyes on the road ahead, trying very hard to ignore the noises coming from the back seat.  Discussions be damned, they’d been apart for three weeks.

The loneliness of the past weeks began to slip away when Maximus slid into the seat beside her.  Just the smell of his soap and feeling of  his beard against her cheek would have been enough, but then his mouth found hers.  His lips were as soft as she had conjured them in her dreams.   Despite her still very real concerns about their talk, she was content to lose herself in his arms for a brief while. 

John cleared his throat, “We’re back.  Do I need a bucket of cold water?”

“We’re fine.  Thanks, John,” Siobhan said, getting out of the car. 

Maximus clasped his brother’s hand briefly.  “Thank you.”

“You’re both welcome.”  He grinned.  “I am assuming you won’t join me for a beer?”

“Tomorrow,” Maximus told him.  “Rest well.”

The couple managed to make their way into Siobhan’s room without being seen.  Maximus stopped in the doorway to look around; nothing had changed since he’d left.  Her personality sparkled from every corner, in every fresh flower and pile of books.  She handed him a beer from her small fridge and settled into her window seat, hugging a pillow to her bent knees. 

He took the spot in the chair across from her.  It reminded him of his first visit to her room, less than a month earlier.  In a way, he felt like they were going to have to start over again.  He leaned forward, resting his hands on his thighs and began to talk.

“I don’t know where to start, so I will start by saying that I am sorry that I stayed away so long.  I am sorry that I hurt you by leaving.  But you know why I left.”

“Yes.”

He smiled at her.  “I had a lot more to think about than I realized.  This place isn’t always a comfortable fit for me.  The technology is extraordinary, but it’s not my way.  I need a purpose.  I rode out all day.  When I finally stopped to rest, the nightmares came for the first time in a long time.”

“Nightmares?”

He got up and began to pace.

“For a long time, I dreamt about the ride from Germania to Trujillo, always waking just before I got to my home.  But since I came to the Point, the dreams had slowly faded until I left here that day.  I couldn’t sleep because of the nightmares so I just sat there, watching the dawn.  And that’s when I realized that Selene would want me to find happiness.  I am a man who loved well and was loved in return.”  He sat down beside her in the window seat.  “I want that again with you, if you still want me.”  He took her face into his hands and  kissed her gently, wiping her tears away with his thumbs.  “Don’t answer yet.  You may want to say no.”

“Why would I say no?” she was confused.

“Because you may not like what I’ve decided to do.”

Siobhan pulled a face.  “What do you mean?”  Maximus took a deep breath.  “Say it, I don’t bite….well not hard anyway.”

He smiled at that, “We’ll discuss that later.”  East’s voice drifted up from the stables; Maximus listened to the horses nickering in reply.

“Maximus?”  Siobhan’s hand touched his cheek, bringing him back to the present.

“I found some land that’s perfect for a small vineyard.  It’s about a day’s ride from here.  I’d be living rough up there.”  He watched some of the truth of what he was saying dawn on her.  “No electricity.”

She tried to make light of it.  “No hot water?  No electric lights?  I don’t know, hot water might be a deal breaker,” she shook her head at him.  “I’m kidding.”  She moved closer to kiss him.  “I can’t put conditions on being with you.  Though hot water would be a big point in your favor.” 

“There’s more, Caritas.”

She laughed, “There always is.  Maximus, our life is a soap opera.”  He looked puzzled.  “I’ll explain later.  Go on.”

“I won’t be down here a lot at first.  There’s a lot to do and you have a job here.”

“What do you mean?” 

“I’m saying I will have too much to do to come down here for more than a day and it’s too far to ride down for a day.   I don’t want you to ride up there alone, it’s too dangerous.  So we’ll be apart a lot at first.”  Siobhan was annoyed by the smug look of finality on his face:  the General expected her to accept his decision.

“What if I drive up?  I have four-wheel drive.”  She smiled serenely.  “I’m not staying behind like a good Army wife.  I’ve never been obedient and I am not planning on starting now.”

“Obviously not or you wouldn’t have wandered off to Old Tucson.”

“I didn’t wander off.  I knew exactly where I was going.”

“Don’t get upset.”

“I am not upset.  You don’t know me well enough to know that I am not upset.”

“I’m trying to protect you; I’m not trying to control you.”

“We’ve been together exactly 3 days.  Why don’t you wait to see if I need protection first.”

“Wait for you to get hurt first?  Excellent idea.”

Siobhan sighed.  This clearly wasn’t what either of them had in mind when they came upstairs.  If the conversation continued along this path, she’d be spending the night alone again.  Sometimes sacrifices needed to be made; the Goddess would have to forgive her.  “Can we negotiate a little further?  In the morning?”  She stood up, pulling on the bow holding her bodice laced and placed his hand on the ends of the ribbon.  “Take me to bed please.” 

Maximus had never expected Siobhan to docilely accept his decision.  He wondered briefly if he had missed something as his fingers fumbled with the laces on her old-fashioned Western bodice, occasionally catching them on the hooks.   As the blood supply left his brain, his doubts fled as well.   He finally freed her breasts while she undid his trousers.   

“I missed you too much to argue with you,” she explained, placing his hands on her waist, showing him where to undo the skirt and its’ petticoats.  Within seconds, the enormous skirts fell to her feet, leaving her in lacy pantalets. 

His hands slipped into the waistband, grabbing her ass.  One hand slipped between her thighs roughly while the other pushed the pantalets off her hips.  “You didn’t miss me,” he told her only half in jest as he pulled her down onto her bed.

“I missed you every minute you were gone.  I missed your hands and your mouth.”  She moaned as he touched her body.   “I missed you inside me.”   His kiss stirred her desire as his hand caressed her breast and slipped two fingers into her depths and began to stroke her. He pushed her onto her back, pulling one nipple between his teeth while he continued to play with her.  The pain was like a little shock throughout her body, making her writhe.  She came swiftly, first a small orgasm that shuddered through her, followed by wave upon wave of excitement, until she finally drew him into her slippery velvet center.  

Three weeks of deprivation made it difficult for him to hold back, but she was as eager as he was.  They met each other thrust for thrust in a silent frantic coupling that ended with them spent in each other’s arms.

The emotions of the last few weeks bubbled to the surface as Siobhan lay safely in Maximus’ arms.  Her tears were involuntary; she had tried so hard to put a brave face on his absence.  Currently she saw no good reason to pretend any more.

“What’s wrong?”  His voice was deep and gentle in her ear.  “Are you crying?”  She nodded, incapable of coherent speech for the moment.

“I was afraid for you,” she finally managed.  “I’m so relieved you’re back safe.”  Her perfume filled his nostrils as she spooned her body against his.  Leaving her behind was rapidly becoming impossible.

Maximus was exhausted; it had been a long ride back, followed by the trip to find Siobhan.  He lay with her in his arms, curled tightly against him.   Still, even as he started to doze, he wanted her again.  His lips felt soft on the back of her neck, stirring her from sleep as they made their way to the base of her spine.  Dreamily she rolled over and smiled as she came awake.  He pulled her to her knees and turned her, pulling her back to him in a practiced motion, and entered her from behind without saying a word.  His left hand grasped her breast, causing pleasure to sear through her, while his other hand found her clitoris and stroked.  His cock impaled her, thrusting into her almost painfully.   She braced herself against the headboard, moans of pleasure becoming words of encouragement, as she punctuated each thrust with a drawn-out, “yes!”

This time they slept until the amber light of dawn filtered in through the trees.  Groggily Siobhan rubbed her eyes and snuggled closer to Maximus, her head cradled on his chest.  “That tickles,” he muttered, eyes still closed tightly.

“What tickles?”

“Your hair.”  He stretched with a groan.  “I didn’t think I’d be this sore.  Ouch!  Can you get away today?”

“I can always get away,” she replied.  “What’s up?”

“I thought you might like to see the land; I’ve started clearing it.”  She snuggled in closer, a look of sleepy delight on her face.

“Coffee first?” she mumbled.

“You can bring it along.”

“Mmmmmffff…” she pulled a pillow over her head and burrowed deeper under the covers.  Without the promise of coffee, Maximus had only one other bribe at his disposal, one guaranteed to roust his lazy lover from their bed. 

“I need a shower.  Want to join me?”

An eye appeared from beneath the pillow.  She nodded with a big grin and hopped up out of bed, following his naked form into the bathroom.  Luckily the showers at the Hotel were roomy, made for two. 

As the water heated up and turned to steam, Maximus caught her in his arms for a kiss, lifting her off the floor.   They stepped into the shower, turning their faces to the steamy spray.

In the end, they had to go back to bed to rest.

Maximus had hoped for an early start, but it didn’t seem like they were going to make it.   Even though they’d gotten up at dawn, the shower and then breakfast had held them up.  He had to acknowledge that breakfast had been necessary after the night they’d had.  And it had been good to see everyone again, but it was already 8 o’clock when they rode out of the paddock together.

It was Scarto’s turn to carry his handsome master.  The stallion longed to gallop, but Maximus held him back for Siobhan’s sake.    East had assured him that she was doing better.  She’d come for lessons after work each day while he’d been gone; her progress was impressive, but she’d never be a natural horsewoman. 

Siobhan had never felt quite this contented in her life.  The sunshine was tempered by a soft cool breeze, wildflowers bloomed everywhere she looked, and Maximus was beside her.  Spring fever hit with a vengeance.   She didn’t quite care if he thought she was insane, grinning the way she was.

Sometime around lunchtime, they stopped to eat a picnic lunch by a stream.  Siobhan fell back on the grass in the sunshine and tried to nap, but Maximus had her back in the saddle before she could doze off.   Reminding her that they had quite a way to go if she wanted to see the land before sunset, he convinced her that she was ready to let Cali trot for a while. 

Even so, the sun was very low in the Western sky ahead of them by the time they reached the place Maximus had chosen.  The spot was idyllic, set on the slope of a green hillside.  A rudimentary corral had been fashioned from saplings and leather ties.  The beginnings of a stone foundation were visible behind it.  A spring bubbled away merrily nearby.

Maximus dismounted, then came to catch Siobhan as she slid off Cali.  “What do you think?” he asked, taking her hand.  “I wanted to wait until I had a house to show you, but you changed my mind.”  They walked past the corral, towards the foundation.

“It’s beautiful.  Did you do everything yourself?”

“Mannie built the corral.”  He smiled.  “I made him promise not to tell you anything.” 

Siobhan laughed.  “When he first got to the Point, Mannie acted like he’d never even heard of me.”

“I think he was sick of hearing about you actually.  Look, this will be the main entrance…”

The house he planned would have an Eastern exposure, looking out over the valley they had ridden through.  The kitchen opened to the left of the “door” and the living area to the right.  A courtyard with ramada was planned for the center with the entrance to the bedroom behind it.   Every out building had been planned as well. 

Siobhan enjoyed the tour as much for the happiness on the Spaniard’s face as anything else.   The undertaking was enormous.

“If I agree to let you drive out here, how do I know you’ll be safe?” he said from behind her.   He wrapped his arms around her as they watched the sun sliding behind the hillside.

“Agree to let me drive out here?”

“Wrong words?”

“Definitely.”

“If I don’t argue with you about driving out here, how do I know you’ll be safe?”

“Better,” she told him.  “You’ll have to trust my driving ability.”

“Bud says women shouldn’t be allowed to drive.”

“Oh Jeez, General, you never listen to Bud.  Why start now?”  She turned in his arms to kiss him.  “What’s for dinner?  I’m hungry.”

“That’s woman’s work.  I was about to ask you the same thing.”  He grinned. “John said that would make you crazy.”

Siobhan laughed.  “I’m a reluctant cook at my very best.  You wait for me to cook and you’ll starve.” 

“Then,” he said, kissing the top of her head.  “It’s fortunate that I had the kitchen pack something for us to eat.  And even more fortunate for you, I can cook.”

“You can?”  She looked back over her shoulder at him, smiling happily. 

“Don’t get excited.  I learned to cook for myself on campaign.  You may not like what I can cook.  Which reminds me.  We better get the fire built”

Mannie had split and stacked a large wood pile so Maximus was able to build the fire before complete darkness settled.  Attempts to show Siobhan how to build a fire ended in laughter so she unpacked the dinner, opened the wine and zipped the sleeping bags together.

Despite the lack of sleep and the long ride in the sunshine, they were wide awake.  Seating propped up against the saddles, they devoured the picnic dinner and enjoyed both bottles of wine.  There was so much to talk about, so many questions to ask, and so much to learn about each other.  Up till now they had spent all their time and energy in coming together.

“There’s something I don’t understand,” he told her.  “Why do you insist on taking risks with Sid?  Trust my judgment, let me take care of you.”

“I’m used to taking care of myself.  I don’t need to be protected.”

“Sometimes protection just means that someone cares about you.”

“You can be as protective as you like, but I’m too damn independent to be told what to do.”

Maximus kissed her.  “I don’t expect obedience.”

“You did last night.” 

“Forgive me, it’s hard for me to accept your ways sometimes.  I would not lose you as I lost my wife.”  He looked down at their hands, clasped together.  “You take chances with Sid.  He’s more dangerous than you think.”

“Not any more I don’t,” she promised and proceeded to tell him the story of Sid’s Jack Dawson adventure with every intention of skipping their confrontation in the lab.  Unfortunately she was a bad liar; in the end, she told Maximus everything.

“I’ll kill him,” was all Maximus said in a voice quiet and deadly.  “I’ll pull his heart out.”

“He doesn’t have a heart,” she smiled.  “It is past, Maximus.  Let it go.  I promise you that I will never be alone with him again.  I know that you’re right and,” she paused to consider what she wanted to say, “I will honor your wishes.  How’s that?”  She shivered.  “It’s getting cold.  I’m going to crawl in.  Want to join me?”  She slipped her jeans off and slid between the flannel-lined down-filled folds of the sleeping bag.  “Maximus?”  He was staring at the fire; when he looked toward her, his eyes were unfocused and far away.

“Hmmm?”

“Come to bed.  I’m cold.”

He shook his head to clear the visions of Sid skewered on his gladius.  Bed was welcome.  He slid in beside her, his legs icy against hers.   She didn’t protest, instead spooning herself closer.  His intentions were purely lustful until the warmth of her body and the exhaustion of the day overcame him.  They were both asleep in seconds.

Golden fingers of light filtered in through the trees as the sun rose.  Siobhan smiled in her sleep as spots of warmth grew around them.  Cali and Scarto knickered softly in their nearby corral.  Maximus stirred beside her, his left arm curved over her side and his hand rested on her breast.  She sighed sleepily as he teased her nipple into a hard nub.  He began to kiss her neck.

“Mmmm, “ she mumbled, turning over to face him.  “I could grow to be a morning person with this sort of wakeup.”   She kissed him gently, nibbling at his lower lip, while she slid her right leg over him and took him into her.  Maximus moaned as she sheathed him in her, her velvety wetness and eagerness still a surprise to him.  Arching her back, she pushed herself up and began to ride him slowly.  The sleeping bag slid down to reveal her nakedness in the sunlight.  Each movement was exquisite, slow and sweet, bringing him to the edge.  His hands gripped her hips as she ground herself on his shaft.   Yet if he thrust in return, she stopped.  “It’s your turn to do what I say,” she told him with a laugh.  “And I say you don’t come yet.”

“What about you?” he countered.  “Can I make you come?”  She gasped as her control slipped and her orgasm overwhelmed her.  She threw her head back and cried out his name as she rode him to his own climax.  When she lay exhausted in his arms, no longer the golden nymph gleaming in the sun, he teased her, “You surprise me.”

“I mean to.” She kissed his chest. “We have so much to learn about each other.”

“We can start on the ride back.”  He pushed back the sleeping bag and grabbed his jeans.  As he pulled them on, Siobhan lay motionless.  “Get up, woman.  Come on.”

She groaned.  “I think every muscle in my thighs is wide awake from yesterday.”

“Ride more and you’ll get used to it.”  He tossed a sweatshirt at her.  “You’re too soft.”

“Agreed.  My idea of roughing it has always been a Holiday Inn with insufficient towels.”  She struggled to her feet, whimpering and giggling.  Her clothes were cold; she shook them in case of bugs.

“Holiday Inn?”

“Cultural icon 1 – the American motel/hotel.  Think multi-storied inns, all over the country.  Swimming pools, coffee shops.  Sterile, clean, similar, “ she shrugged.  “A road trip may be in order.”

Maximus pulled her into his arms.  “I’m home, Caritas.  No road trips for me.  Can you be content with that?”  He kissed her gently. 

“Yes.  I can be content.”  She couldn’t think of anywhere else she’d rather be.  This was adventure enough,  beyond her wildest dreams.

That afternoon they rode back to the Hotel, arriving very late and very tired.  Maximus was up before dawn to return to the farm with Cort, East and Mannie.  In the days that followed, Siobhan kept herself occupied with work.  She managed to keep Sid out of the Lab, citing a master plan that she was working on.  Her ideas were flowing fairly fast and she wanted to get them down while they were fresh.    Without the distractions provided by Sid, she was thinking clearer.  Hopefully these changes would satisfy everyone at the Point.

About a week later, she was sitting in an overstuffed chair in the dark, drinking a diet Coke and watching “Gladiator” for what had to be the fiftieth time that week.  She always turned the DvD off before the end.  If the others were in the lounge with her, she got up and left.  She couldn’t bear to see him die.

“Siobhan?”

It was hard to tell who the man was in the door.  One of the younger ones by the slim silhouette.  She squinted.  “Yeah, Dominic, come on in.”  She paused the DvD and snapped on the light.  “What’s up?”

“Thought you might like to come with me to the Tavern for a drink?”

“Maybe later.”  She smiled.  “I’m ok, really.”  She had a soft spot for Dominic who reminded her of the guys she’d grown up with.

“Actually, now might be a really good time.”  He grinned at her.  “Maximus just rode in.  He’s down at the stables with Argento.”  He laughed as she leaped from her chair.  “Nothing for the messenger?” he teased.  She skidded to a stop on the highly-polished hardwood floor and turned to hug him.  She tried to say something, anything, but nothing was coming out.  “Go on!” he told her.

She  was gone like a shot, running barefoot across the wet grass and down the hill.  A sudden slip on the rain-slick lawn took her to her knees, slidding until she flopped onto her elbows to stop.  She scrambled back to her feet, and crawled over the fence into the corral where she immediately realized her idiocy.  Splat, she slipped in very fresh manure and landed on her ass.

“Ow!” she squealed, covering her mouth.  ‘Oh God, don’t let him find me like this after a week apart,’ she prayed, sitting in the muck.  She saw the boots and jeans, and hoped they were East’s.

“I can’t leave you alone without you landing in manure, now can I?”  The voice was unmistakable.  She took the hand held out to her and was pulled rapidly to her feet by Maximus who was very entertained by the mess before him.  His eyes fairly danced with joy at the sight of her, grass-stained and ankle-deep in manure.  Any lingering concerns he had about his welcome home were dispelled when he leaned down to kiss her.  “I missed you,” he told her simply.  Wrinkling his nose, he laughed, “I remember you as smelling a bit sweeter, Siobhan.”

An evil look passed over her face as she scraped a handfull of manure off her bottom and smeared it down the front of his shirt.  “Now we smell alike,” she giggled and turned to run.  His arm encircled her waist, lifting her off her feet.

“Not so fast, woman,” he laughed, dropping her onto a particularly muddy spot.   She lay there, the wind knocked out of her, but as he reached his hand down to help her to her feet, she began to giggle helplessly.  The slippery mud made it hard for him to keep his feet as she pulled him into the mud and manure beside her.

For long minutes they lay there, laughing at the sight of one another, covered in gunk, crawling over each other and trying to clean each other up enough to exchange at least a kiss.  Maximus struggled to his feet and helped Siobhan to hers.  They waved to Mannie, East and Cort who stood in the light of the barn door, laughing.

“Welcome home,” she managed between fits of giggles.  “I…um, let me go shower, ok?” 

He grinned.  “Ordinarily I’d ask to join you, but I had something else in mind for tonight.  Will you come to my rooms when you are cleaned up?”

“I’ve never seen your rooms.”

“I know.  I thought this might be a good time.”  He slapped her butt playfully.  “Go clean up.”

Her knock was almost inaudible, but he must have been listening for her because he called, “Come.”

The room was darkened, lit only by candles and the beginnings of a roaring fire.  The walls were covered in tent canvas, draped to simulate the campaign tent he was used to.  A cross-legged campaign table and matching chest stood against one wall,  the table covered with modern books and maps, along with ancient scrolls. A magnificent bust of Marcus Aurelius adorned a matching marble pedestal by the door and his sword, shield and breastplate were propped up beside the fireplace. 

Through an alcove she could see a large bed piled high with pillows and furs.   A tigerskin rug adorned the floor in front of the fireplace.  Maximus rose from a battered wooden camp chair beside it as Siobhan closed the door behind her.  He was dressed in his own familiar clothing, the red Roman tunica, her Roman general. 

He poured two glasses of wine from a bottle waiting on the table.  He carried them as he walked slowly towards her, bending to kiss her.  “Everything all right?” he referred to Sid as he wandered back towards the fire.  He threw a log onto the grate and stirred the embers before stretching out on the tiger skin.

“Fine,” she returned.  “I told him I would be late tomorrow.”

“Plans?”  He pulled her down beside him on the rug.  For once he found the answer to that question didn’t matter as she snuggled against him.  But he also knew the answer.

“Sleeping late,” she purred as he kissed the back of her neck.  “Is this who I think it is?”  She petted the tiger.

“It is.”

“I held my breath the first time I saw him pounce on you.”

“I did as well.”  He ran his right hand along her arm, sending shivers down her.  “I keep wondering what problem will pull us apart tonight.”

“None, I promise.”  She slipped from her side onto her back, grabbing the front of his tunic to draw him to her.  Her lips caught his playfully, then again in seriousness.  “I love you, Maximus.”

His heart tightened with a joy that was almost painful when he heard her say it at last, knowing she meant it unequivically.  There were no words to offer that were adequate to his happiness.  He returned her kisses with his own, impassioned and increasingly impatient; she could feel his arousal against her.  He pulled away suddenly, leaving her breathless in anticipation, and stripped off his tunic.  His body was lean and hard, gleaming in the firelight. 

He leaned down to take her hand and pulled her to her feet, then lifted her dress over her head.  It fell to the floor with his tunic, leaving her clad in a lacy black bra and panties.  Nothing in her life prepared Siobhan for the look on Maximus’ face as he gazed at her.  She had never felt beautiful until that moment, but now she knew she always would.  He hadn’t told her that he loved her, but she saw it in his eyes this night.  She reached behind her and unhooked the bra, bringing her hands forward to cup her breasts.  Slowly she lowered one strap, then the other and discarded the garment.  Then she reached for the loincloth secured at his waist and tossed it away.  One last piece of clothing remained.  Maximus helped her step out of her panties and gathered her into his arms.   They found their way to the large bed to make love as if it were their first time, yet it seemed as if they’d always been together.

The firelight cast amazing shadows across the room.   The last remaining log split, sending a shower of sparks into the air.   Maximus slipped out of bed to put more wood on the fire.  When he straightened up, he found Siobhan, propped up among the pillows, watching him.  He blushed, a gesture she found endearing, as he hurried back to bed. 

“Fires need to be fed,” he alibied.

“You know I wanted to watch you walk across the room naked and you obliged, I understand fully,” she joked. 

He kissed the back of her neck in reply, then said, “When you’ve finished your work with Sid, what will you do?”  

“I don’t know.”  Her voice began to tremble; her plans all depended on him, but she didn’t want to say that.  “Go home, I guess.”

“Or you could stay with me.”  His words were simple.  “I love you.”  He turned her to face him, surprised to see her tears.  She couldn’t answer, she simply had no words.  “Cara?  I thought you’d say yes.”

“Yes, of course yes!”

“I will never understand women.  Why are you crying?”

“Because I was afraid you wouldn’t ask.”

“Why did you think I was building a house?”  He shook his head in mock dismay.  “Cara, stop crying, this is supposed to be a happy moment.”

Siobhan took a deep breath and tried to stop crying.  “I can’t help it, I keep thinkin’  something has to go wrong.”

Maximus kissed her gently.  “Nothing is going to go wrong.”   But as they lay there in each other’s arms, he felt a cold sweep of dread.  “Nothing.  I won’t let anything happen,” he muttered into her hair.

Sometimes time seemed to slow down at the Point.  Nights passed like lush tropical dreams born in pleasure palaces, where doors opened onto verandas and breezes caressed the skin as the residents made love all night.  Other times were frantic, wild and funny.  Days were almost always sunny except up by the frozen pond where it seemed to snow at John’s command.

It was almost 10 a.m. the following sunny morning when Maximus opened the lab door and switched on the light.  Siobhan began to fuss with her coffee pot while he lounged in her chair, feet propped up on another.

“You don’t need to stay.”

“I am staying until Alex gets here.”  The Spaniard stared idly at the ceiling.  “You can’t be left alone with Sid, Cara.”

“I know.  I’ve stuck by our agreement.”  She flipped the switch and slipped onto his lap, nuzzling his neck.  “When are you going back to the farm?”

“Very early tomorrow morning.  East and Mannie are going to help me get a barn started.”

“Can I come up?”

“Not yet.  I want to get a few things done before you come up so it can be a surprise.”

“Ah-hem…excuse me?”

They turned to see Alex in the doorway; Maximus rather unceremoniously dumped Siobhan onto her feet as he stood.

“Good-morning!  And welcome home, Maximus.  You two seem to be doing pretty well this morning.”

Siobhan blushed as Maximus extended his hand to shake Alex’s.  “Thanks,” he smiled.  “I am going to get out of your way.  I’ll be at the stables, if I’m needed.  Siobhan, remember your promise.”

She stuck her tongue out at him.  “I promise.  Go!”  She swivelled in her chair, laughing.

“What was that all about?”  Alex asked.

“Not being alone with Sid.  Maximus made me promise.”  She pulled the keyboard closer.  “Alex, come look at this while we wait for Sid.”

This was the first time Siobhan had worked closely with Alex.  Like most of the brothers, he was easy to talk to.  They compared notes on Mexico  while Alex reviewed the ideas she’d drawn up.  Each man brought something different to the programming ideas. 

“Your plans seem a little more subtle than before.  What’s this?”

“Each one of you has something special, something the others may have but not as obviously.  If I can isolate those personality traits, I can give them to Sid – give him the best of each of you.  Your tenacity, Dominic’s optimism, John’s sense of commitment,  Hando’s loyalty, et cetera.  In small doses so we don’t change the essential character of Sid himself.  And so he can’t use the traits to pick up women.”

Alex laughed.  “I heard he’s pretty mad at you for removing the Dawson module.”

“Hopefully he’ll get over it.  Obviously he’s not coming in today.”

“Alex?  Alex Ross?”  A strange voice came from the doorway.  Alex and Siobhan turned. 

“I’m Alex.”

The young woman in the doorway smiled.  “Caroline asked me to ask you to come up to the office when you have a chance.”

“She say what it’s about?”

“No, just asked you to come right now if you could.”

“OK, thanks.  Siobhan, you mind?”

“No, go ahead.  If Sid comes, I promise to step outside.”

Left alone, she concentrated on the screen, occasionally letting her mind drift to the previous night.  Why was she feeling a sense of anxiety when she was so completely happy?  Once Sid was programmed, she would be moving to the farm to live with Maximus.  Getting to know each other, growing to love each other more if that was possible.  She didn’t heard the door closing until the latch clicked and the bolt slid home.  She turned to see who had come in, but the hand covered her nose and mouth.

When the darkness cleared and she woke, she rubbed her eyes hard, trying to clear her vision.  Her head ached, probably because she’d been drugged.  The muggy hot air wasn’t helping.  She was sitting on the floor,  propped up against sacks of grain or flour; she could smell them.  “Where the hell am I?” she asked out loud. 

 

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