Charis had to stop at one more store, then they got into the car and headed back home. But there were two things that piqued Kieran’s curiosity.
“Domina?” he asked.
“Mister Darren called you ‘my Lady.’ I thought that was only for nobility.”
Kieran hesitated, searching for the words. “You are nobility, Domina?”
“My father was,” she corrected. “And I was, for a short time. Some people still prefer using the title.”
“But you’re not now?”
“No, not since marrying Ilya.”
“Why does marrying Dominus make a difference?”
“Because the goal of all Spartans is to have Spartan children, and further the race,” she explained. “A trophimi is given Spartan status, but whether or not their children are given that same status depends on who the other parent is.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“My blood is half Spartan. If I were to have children with a perioeci or a helot, my children would only be a quarter Spartan. That’s not enough. The only way my children can be considered Spartans is if I marry a Spartan.”
“But couldn’t you still keep your title?”
She shook her head. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Because if I have the title, but my children do not, it just causes too many issues. So I had to sacrifice it to marry Ilya.”
“But you don’t have any children.”
“True. And I don’t plan to.”
“But… But didn’t you say the goal was to have more Spartan children?”
“But you don’t want children?”
“May I ask why?”
She sighed. “That,” she murmured. “Is a very long story. I’ll tell it to you one day. But not today.”
There were silent for a moment, but there was something else on Kieran’s mind. “May I ask another question, Domina?”
“Lady Tsaldari mentioned Dominus’ name. That he picked her up from agoge when she was young?”
“Ah, yes,” Charis said. “When Ilya was a slave, he was owned by Lord Anson Tsaldaris. Meta’s father.”
Charis nodded. “He didn’t like me very much. A Spartan purist. He believed that half-blooded Spartans degraded the integrity of the entire race. But even with that, Meta had me at their house a lot, and I spent a lot of time with Ilya. We were really close.”
“Did her father sell him to you?”
“No. When Ilya turned thirty-five, Anson planned to sell him to the State. Meta found out and called me, and I offered to buy him. But the asshole wouldn’t sell him to me.”
“He wouldn’t? Why not?”
“To spite me. Because of all the time I’d spent at his house, imposing on his hospitality. No matter how much I offered, he refused. It was completely hopeless.”
“What happened? What changed his mind?”
Charis grinned. “Meta did.”
“She threatened to divorce her husband, free Cavan, and marry him.”
“Divorce her husband?”
“Anson tried to call her bluff, and that made her even more determined. She even went as far as to file for divorce.”
“Was her husband upset?”
From his seat in the back, Rowyn chuckled. “A little.”
Charis grinned back at him. “He knew she wouldn’t actually go through with it, of course, because she wouldn’t need to. As soon as her father agreed to sell me Ilya, she’d undo everything. But he was annoyed that she was going through so much trouble for a slave. He didn’t understand it.”
“But what if her father hadn’t agreed?” Kieran asked. “Would she have gone through with it?”
“Maybe,” Charis answered. “She loves Cavan, you know. And by that time, she already had two Spartan children. Divorcing Nikolai would’ve complicated things, but not enough to stop her from doing it. Once her father realized that, he finally agreed to sell me Ilya.”
She laughed softly. “But by then, Meta was annoyed with him. Selling him to me wasn’t good enough. She made him give Ilya to me.”
“And you freed him?”
She shook her head. “Not right away. That wasn’t my intention, and it’s not why I took him.”
Kieran was confused. “Then why did you free him?”
As soon as he asked, he felt Rowyn tense up in the back seat.
Charis sighed. “That’s another very long story,” she said. “For another time.”
“Do you feel up to coming to the symposium with us tonight?”
Immediately, Kieran’s heart rate tripled. “The symposium?”
“I… I will do whatever you desire of me, Domina.”
“I know you will. That’s not what I asked you.”
She glanced over to him. “I’m giving you a choice, Kieran. You can come with us, or you can stay home. It’s up to you.”
“I’m not sure what will be expected of me,” he murmured.
“Nothing,” she answered. “I know you’re still getting used to us. I know you’ve never been to a symposium before. I know you’re very nervous about it. My thinking is that the only way to ease your nervousness is for you to experience it. But you are a better judge of whether you’re ready for that than I am. So I’m giving you a choice.”
Kieran didn’t know what to think. He tried to remind himself that Charis was kind to him, that she’d never hurt him, and that she would take good care of him, as she had done since she’d purchased him.
But years of being told how terrible symposia are were difficult to ignore.
Still, he’d heard them mention Elan more than once. From what he understood, Elan was a helot, a slave at the symposium. But he had the authority to make business decisions? Why would a symposiarch trust the business to a helot, and not an employee?
He couldn’t help but wonder what Elan was like. And to be honest, he was curious to see what Charis’ symposium was like, too.
“I-I’ll go,” he said quietly.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, Domina. I’m sure.”
It was all he could think about, from that moment until the moment the entire household piled into Charis’ SUV.
“Ugh, Domina?” Cullen said as the four helots squeezed into the backseat. “You’re going to need a bigger car.”
He seemed to be back to himself, the tension of the morning forgotten. Whatever Charis and Ilya had done seemed to have worked.
Charis laughed. “I’ll switch to the van,” she said.
“Thank the gods,” he grumbled, playfully elbowing Rowyn as he struggled to get comfortable between him and Taber. “I’m all for family togetherness, but generally when I’m this close, I prefer there to be no clothes.”
“I’m not opposed to that,” Rowyn replied, playfully elbowing him back. “There’s nothing stopping you from just leaning over and-”
“There will be no cock-sucking in the moving vehicle,” Charis told them.
“Domina, you’re no fun,” Cullen pouted.
“That’s fine. When we hit a bump and you don’t accidentally bite Rowyn’s dick off, I’ll call it a win for the day.”
Rowyn cringed, his hands going protectively between his legs. “You know, all of a sudden, ‘no cock-sucking in the moving vehicle’ seems like a very sensible rule.”
Cullen scoffed. “Where’s your sense of adventure? You’ve got to live life dangerously!”
“Let’s put your cock on the line instead, then,” Rowyn returned.
“No cock-sucking in the moving vehicle,” Charis repeated.
“What about cock riding?” Cullen asked. “I don’t see much of a risk of accidental dismemberment there. And I haven’t fucked Rowyn in forever. It’s been what? Gods, like 4 hours?”
From his place in the front passenger seat, Ilya laughed. But Charis was unmoved. “No cock riding, either.”
Cullen was undeterred. “Domina, if I’m remembering correctly, his ass doesn’t have teeth.”
He suddenly stopped, his expression serious, and looked to Rowyn. “Does it?” he asked, with a completely straight face. Someone who didn’t know Cullen might actually think he was being serious.
“What, nervous?” Rowyn replied. “What happened to living life dangerously?”
“Yeah, but that was when it was your cock.”
“No cocks are going into any holes in the moving vehicle.”
“Well, damn it, Domina!” Cullen cried suddenly. “You just ruined my plan to fuck the gas filler pipe. Now I don’t have anything fun to do.”
“Don’t you dare cum in my gas tank,” Charis warned.
“Yeah,” Ilya agreed. “I don’t want to have to write, ‘asshat jerked off into gas tank’ on an insurance claim.”
“Wait. You mean it would break the car?”
“I don’t know,” Ilya answered. “I know sugar in the gas tank fucks it up pretty badly.”
“Water, too,” Charis added. “Pretty much anything that isn’t gas.”
“You actually mean my semen is strong enough to break a car?”
“Cullen, do not jerk off into my gas tank,” Charis demanded.
“But we have to find out for sure! For science!”
“Cullen, do not jerk off into my gas tank.”
“Ugh, you’re no fun at all, Domina,” Cullen said, sitting back against the seat and pouting. “You suck the fun out of all my ideas. You fun-sucker.”
“Hey, I’m being nice,” she returned. “I’m at least allowing some sucking in the moving vehicle.”
All of them burst out laughing, and even Kieran couldn’t help but chuckle, despite his nervousness.
A few minutes later, they pulled into the empty parking lot behind a large, two-story building. As they all piled out of the car, Kieran’s fear jumped to the forefront of his mind. Dryas’ words rang in his ears, and he looked up at the big, imposing stone structure, his hands shaking.
He didn’t notice Charis look pointedly at Taber. Taber met her gaze, understanding her unspoken command, and moved to stand by Kieran’s side.
“You should see it from the front,” he said quietly. “It’s actually really nice. This is the employees’ entrance. Want to walk around with me and see the front?”
Kieran finally pulled his gaze from the building, to Taber. “We can do that?”
“Sure. Domina is going to want you to be familiar with the entire place, anyway. You’ll need a complete tour.”
“The front door will still be locked,” Charis said, pulling a key off her key ring and handing it to Taber. “Don’t forget to lock it up again.”
“Yes, Domina,” Taber replied. He gestured for Kieran to follow him as he walked down the length of the building, while Charis, Ilya, Cullen, and Rowyn went inside.
“The service entrance is over here,” he said as they approached a wide dock door. “All of the deliveries and things come in here. Around the corner here is the courtyard.”
They turned the corner and saw a large wrought-iron fence surrounding a basketball court, two tennis courts, and a volleyball court. Beyond that was a large grassy meadow, with a few big trees for shade. “When the symposium is closed during the day, the helots have free reign to come out here,” Taber explained, walking up to the gate and unlocking it. He held it open to allow Kieran through, then closed and locked it once again.
“The fence is relatively new, actually,” Taber went on. “Domina never saw a need for it. But citizens started causing problems. Some of the Spartans she refused membership to, and even a couple perioikoi, would come and harass the helots, trying to use them for free. It finally got to the point where she would either have to fence it all in, or just not allow the helots outside.”
“None of them tried to escape?” Kieran asked as they neared the opposite gate.
“No,” Taber answered. “Why would they? They know they’re treated well here. Better than they would be at any other symposium. Why give that up? Domina has never worried about any of the helots trying to run away.”
He unlocked the gate, they walked through, and then he locked it again. They turned the corner and came to the front of the building. Stately columns rose along the front, holding up a large overhang. In the center was a big archway, leading to the entryway of the symposium.
Kieran realized that the building was actually shaped like a horseshoe, with a big open area in the middle. A wide stone path led from the parking lot to the front door. On either side was grass, with tables, chairs, benches, and outdoor couches and sofas scattered around.
“Through there is the day lounge,” Taber gestured, pointing to a door at the end of the left building. “The main symposium is closed during the day, but the day lounge is always open whenever the symposium isn’t.”
Kieran nodded mutely, still too nervous about the tall stone structure looming above him to ask what a day lounge was.
The front entrance was lavish and beautiful. There were fountains on either side, filled with water lilies and large fish. Stone angels had been carved into the walls, holding large pots where the water poured out into the pools below. The way they had been carved, it looked as if they were pouring the water into the pools.
More angels were carved along the door.
“Those are Domina’s tribute to her father,” Taber explained, gesturing to the angels. “His name was Lord Gregor Athanasiadis. The name ‘Gregor’ means ‘Watchful Angel.’ I think she likes to think that he’s watching over her. Come on, let’s go in.”
He unlocked the front door, and the two of them went inside.
Kieran found himself standing in a large, open lobby with black and white marble floors, a magnificent chandelier hanging from the ceiling, and brilliant paintings hanging from the walls.
“The pools are through there,” Taber said, gesturing to a hall on the left. “The member locker rooms are through there, too, as well as a wrestling ring and boxing ring.”
He gestured to the other side, the corridor on the right. “Those are the private rooms. There are also a couple of meeting rooms, and an archery range, but helots aren’t allowed in there. It’s the only place we can’t go. Alcohol and weapons don’t often mix, but Spartans are hopelessly competitive. All Domina can do is keep potential dangers to a minimum. There’s a game room through there, too. Pool, darts, card tables, that sort of thing.”
He led Kieran through the lobby, to the large double doors at the opposite side. “In here is the main hall. On the left, through there, is the banquet hall and kitchen.”
Kieran looked around at the massive room he now found himself in.
Against the front wall, to both his right and left, were large bars that seemed to have every kind of alcohol known to man.
Opposite that, on the other side of the room, was a large stage. A number of small stages, big enough for only two or three people to stand on, were scattered through the room, with thin poles extending from the center of each stage, all the way up to the ceiling.
Along every wall were large, plush cushions for people to lounge on. Scattered throughout the room were chairs, sofas, chaises, and more large cushions. At first glance, it looked like a random placement, but as Kieran studied it, he realized that, no matter which chair, couch, chaise, or cushion a member sat on, there was an unobstructed view of the large stage in the center.
“On the other side is the dance hall,” Taber said. “It’s pretty loud in there, once things get going.”
“Taber!” a woman’s voice called.
Taber and Kieran turned to see a perioeci woman walking toward them from the lobby. Taber smiled warmly at her. “Hello, Miss Corinne,” he greeted.
“Is Charis here?”
“Yes, she’s upstairs.”
Corinne started to walk past them, then stopped when she saw Kieran. “Is this the new one?”
Taber nodded. “Miss Corinne, this is Kieran. Kieran, this is Miss Corinne. She’s the general manager.”
“In training,” Corinne corrected. “I never realized there was so much to do! I’ve got to find Charis. I need to go over some numbers with her. I’ll talk to you soon.”
With that, she hurried through a door in the far right corner of the room. “Through there is the slaves’ green room,” Taber said. “There’s a staircase that leads upstairs, where all the slaves live. Come on, I’ll show you.”
Kieran followed Taber through the same door Corinne had just walked through.
“This is the green room,” Taber explained. “This is where all the helots get ready.”
“What is all this?” Kieran asked. He’d thought there was a lot of equipment in Charis’ training room. That was nothing compared to what he saw here.
“Part of the entertainment,” Taber said dismissively. “You’ll see what each one is when the symposium opens. Come on, let’s go upstairs.”
Kieran followed Taber as he bounded up the staircase. At the top, there was a small landing and a long hallway. They could hear voices coming from the right.
“This is the TV room,” Taber said, opening the first door. Kieran poked his head in and found a massive screen at the front of the room, with a lot of the same plush cushions scattered along the floor that he had seen downstairs. A movie was playing, and seven or eight helots lounged in the rooms. “The slaves’ kitchen is on the other side, here. There’s a game room through there. Here’s the multipurpose room, where everyone who’s working tonight is gathering now. We’ll save that for last. Come on.”
Down the hallway, Kieran discovered that the bulk of the space upstairs was taken up with two massive bedrooms. Each room had twin beds lined up against the length of each wall. Between each bed was a nightstand, and at the end of each bed was a dresser and a chest, with what Kieran assumed were the slaves’ personal things.
A few people lounged here, too, or chatted with one another. They glanced up to Kieran with mild, passing curiosity, but didn’t pay him or Taber much mind.
“There are a hundred and twenty slaves here?” Kieran asked after counting the beds.
“Not quite,” Taber answered. “A hundred and ten, I think.”
He was stunned. So many!
The bathroom at the end of the hall was indeed crowded. Toilet stalls lined one wall, and a number of shower heads lined the other. Every shower was in use, and many slaves stood at the sink, brushing their teeth or their hair, or shaving.
Many of them waved to Taber when they noticed him, but it was obvious they were busy.
Finally, Taber led Kieran to the multipurpose room.
Kieran was stunned by the crowd there. Like the TV room, cushions were scattered all throughout the room, and scantily-clad slaves lounged comfortably on them, chatting with each other.
Charis stood near the center of the room with Ilya, Corinne, and a brown-haired man with an intense expression on his face.
“Oh, this probably isn’t good,” Taber murmured as they approached. Charis certainly didn’t seem to be happy with whatever Corinne was telling her.
“Shit,” she growled. “That puts us down six for today. We’ll have to use the helots to fill in.”
She turned to the dark-haired man. “How many are working today?”
“It’s a Thursday, Domina,” he said. “Only 50 are scheduled, and two of them have asked for the night off.”
“Corey and Shane.”
“Shane? Why did he ask for the night off?”
“He didn’t say.”
Charis groaned and rubbed her temples. “Alright, I’ll talk to him in a minute. Give Corey the night off, too.”
She reached down a pushed a button on her cell phone, then put it back in her pocket. “So what are we short?” she asked. “Two runners, a guard, two doormen, and a bartender?”
“Yes,” Corinne replied.
“Rowyn can bartend, he’ll handle that.”
“Does he have the speed?” Corinne asked, unconvinced.
“It’s not great, but is there anyone better you can think of? He’ll be faster than anyone else. Do we have a confirmed list of members coming tonight?”
“Thirty-four,” Corinne supplied. “Not counting the unconfirmed, of course.”
“Ugh, so the actual number is closer to 65. We can guess that ten will bring their own slaves, and ten won’t want companions. That’s still cutting it really close.”
“Too close,” Ilya agreed.
“Who can we use to replace the guard?”
“I’d suggest moving Elliot to the front and letting Lex work the lobby.”
“That works. But that puts us down another helot that we can’t really afford to lose.”
“We need volunteers, Domina,” the brown-haired man said.
She nodded her agreement. “See if you can find five volunteers. Let them know they’ll get an extra night off once Hyacinthia is over.”
Just as he left the room, Rowyn and Cullen appeared. “You called us, Domina?”
“We’re short-staffed,” Charis told them. “Rowyn, I’ll need you to bartend tonight.”
“Of course, Domina.”
“Taber could go in one of the chests,” Ilya suggested.
“I’d be happy to help in any way I can,” Taber agreed.
“Thank you, Taber,” Charis told him. “That helps me a lot.”
“What can I do?” Cullen asked. “Want me in one of the chests, too?”
But Charis shook her head, gesturing to Kieran. “I need you to keep an eye on him,” she said. “And switch out the dancers.”
“What will Elan be doing?”
“He’s going to be a companion tonight.”
Cullen arched a brow. “He is?”
“If it’s needed, yes. We’ve had six of the staff call out, and we’re already working a skeleton crew to prepare for the festival.”
“Why not just get more helots to work?”
“Elan’s already asking for volunteers.”
“I’ll volunteer, Domina,” a feminine voice called out.
Charis turned to see a strikingly beautiful, petite blonde walking up to them cheerfully. She looked young, maybe only a couple years older than Kieran. Charis smiled.
“Renny, isn’t this your first night off in a week?”
The blonde shrugged. “Maybe. I lost count.”
“You need a break. And you’re not going to be able to take one next week. I won’t be able to spare you.”
“It’s Thursday, isn’t it?”
Renny shrugged. “Lady Carra will be here. Nights don’t get much easier than that.”
Charis still seemed unconvinced. “You’ve worked every night for the last week,” she pointed out. “You’ve got to work tomorrow and the weekend. I might be able to spare you on Sunday, but on Monday, I’ll need you every night until next Friday. That’s a long time without a break.”
Renny grinned. “Lady Carra will be here tonight, and Sir Vanas will be here over the weekend. Domina, being with either of them is the same as having a break.”
“Domina,” the girl said, using the same tone Charis used. “Come on, I’m the prettiest one here. Show me off.”
“The depths of her modesty never fail to astound me,” Ilya muttered. But Charis chuckled.
“Alright, fine. As long as you’re sure.”
The girl gave a triumphant, self-assured smile. “I’m sure.”
The next hour went by in a blur. Soon, Kieran found himself standing next to Cullen in the green room. Four tables on wheels sat near the door, with cuffs attached in a way that would keep a slave on all fours on top of it. Cullen had called them fucking tables. Behind them were four large chests with a hole in the front and back, also on wheels, and then four more fucking tables.
Charis stood in the middle of the room, a clipboard in hand, with the fifty slaves surrounding her.
“Do I have volunteers to be beaten?” she asked. Immediately, two men raised their hands. She noted them and wrote their names on the clipboard. “Next, I need dancers.”
A woman and two men raised their hands. Charis wrote their names down. “I still need another woman,” she declared.
“How many women are here?” Kieran whispered to Cullen.
“Um, thirty, I think? Somewhere around there.”
Kieran was stunned. As expensive as female helots were, especially females as young and beautiful as the ones he saw there, he couldn’t even fathom the cost.
“Next I need eight for the fucking tables,” Charis was saying. Almost a dozen hands went up. She selected eight, then wrote their names down. “And lastly, four for the chests. Good. Everyone get into position.”
There was a great deal of movement as the helots obeyed her command. Cullen sprang into action, as well, helping one of the helots up onto the fucking table, then locking his wrists, ankles, and neck into the shackles that held him in place, on all fours.
Ilya and Charis were busy, too, along with the slave she’d called Elan. Kieran watched as Taber climbed into one of the chests, was strapped in, and then the lid was closed.
“What do you think?” a voice said beside him, startling him. He looked over to see the same young blonde that had approached Charis upstairs.
She gestured to all the activity around them. “It’s your first time seeing all this, right?”
“So what do you think?”
“It’s… It’s a lot,” he replied.
She shrugged nonchalantly. “You get used to it.”
“What are they putting Taber in?”
“The chests? Oh, those are fun. Some of the guests like anonymous sex, and you can’t really get more anonymous than that. There’s a hole on either end, and when you’re strapped in, you can’t move, so whatever is put in the hole, is put into you.”
Kieran cringed. That didn’t sound like fun. “You like it?” he asked.
“Yeah, it’s kind of a rush. The members have no idea who they’re fucking, and when you’re inside, you have no idea who’s using you. You can’t see anything, every sound is muffled, you can’t move, all you really become aware of is the cock in either end of you.”
“You’ve been in the chests?”
She nodded. “Yeah, lots of times. The fucking tables, too. They’re basically the same thing, except obviously, no chest. You still can’t move, but you can see and hear everything going on around you. If you’re having a bad day and don’t want to talk to anyone, those are the best options. You don’t really have to do anything.”
“Except get fucked.”
“Well, yeah, that,” she conceded. “That’s the easy part.”
She didn’t notice his reaction. “But like, you don’t have to really interact with anyone.”
“Do you not like interacting with the members?” Kieran asked, remembering the stories Dryas had told him about the way slaves were treated in symposia.
“Sure I do,” she answered. “Usually. But you know how it is, right? Some days, you’re just not feeling it. And you can’t ask for a day off every time you’re not feeling it, so the fucking tables and chests are a good alternative. Or you can just work in the day lounge, but then schedules get complicated.”
“You can get a day off if you don’t feel like serving?” Kieran asked, dumbfounded. The very concept was completely lost on him.
“Um, yeah,” she answered. “You do belong to Domina, right? The symposiarch?”
“He’s very new,” Cullen said, approaching them. “And this is his first time here.”
“Domina lets slaves take a night off?” Kieran asked Cullen, still trying to wrap his head around the idea. He hoped Cullen would be able to explain it better than Renny could.
Cullen nodded. “Usually, yeah. I mean, as long as they don’t try to abuse the privilege or anything.”
He laughed. “Look around you,” he said, gesturing to the slaves in the room. “Do you see any plain or mediocre helots here? When Taber showed you around, was there anything that looked plain or mediocre to you?”
“Exactly. Domina is the best. Everything about this place is the best. Including the helots.”
He gestured to Renny, who seemed thrilled with the attention he paid her body. “Look at her,” he said. “She’s beautiful. But if she had zero personality, if she was just a zombie who didn’t say anything or do anything, would she be as good a companion?”
“That’s why Domina gives them days off. Because who they are is just as important as what they look like. They need to be happy, cheerful, enthusiastic, and eager to please. And to enable them to do that, they have to be given breaks. And they have to be given some sort of voice in how they spend the night when they work.”
“Like me,” Renny said. “I usually like serving women instead of men. There are a couple of exceptions, but I just like women more. So Domina puts me with women. Because there are enough other girls here, almost as pretty as me – roll your eyes if you want, Cullen, but I don’t hear you denying it – who can serve the men.”
Cullen chuckled. “Your ego is too big for your own good.”
She scoffed. “No such thing.”
“Renny!” Ilya called from the front of the room. “We’re ready. Let’s go.”
Renny flashed Kieran a charming smile, then hurried to where Ilya stood.
“You two,” Charis said, approaching them. “Have free reign of the public areas. You need these.”
She held two thick, black leather collars in her hands. First, she buckled one around Cullen’s neck, then locked it in place. Kieran’s heart raced as she gently buckled the second one around his neck. The sound of the lock clicking closed seemed to echo through his entire body.
“Relax,” she said soothingly. “These label you as unavailable for service, that’s all.”
“If a member approaches you in conversation, I want you to be courteous and friendly. It’s extremely unlikely, but should they attempt to touch you or ask you for service, you are to thank them very much for the interest and inform them that I have forbidden you from serving anyone.”
“Yes, Domina,” Kieran murmured, his anxiousness rising.
“Again, it’s unlikely,” Charis assured him. “All of the members know what the black collar means. Sometimes a member will bring a guest, but the guests are usually on their best behavior, anyway.”
She smiled. “Besides, Cullen will be with you the entire time. You’ll be fine. I know it’s intimidating, but try to relax and enjoy yourself. Just remember that everything you say and do is a reflection of me.” She grinned playfully at him. “No pressure.”
“So no breakdancing on the roof?” Cullen asked.
Charis laughed. “No breakdancing on the roof, Cullen.”
Charis patted his cheek affectionately, then turned her attention to the rest of the slaves. Once she had walked away, Cullen nudged Kieran. “Let’s go,” he said. “It’s crowded in here, and we’re just getting in everyone’s way.”
Silently, Kieran followed Cullen out of the green room, and into the main hall. A number of staff members in black pants, white shirts, and black ties hurried around, doing all the last-minute preparations.
But Cullen didn’t pay them any attention. He walked straight to the bar, where Rowyn stood, polishing glasses with the other bartender.
If the perioeci bartender took issue with sharing his workspace with a helot, he didn’t show it. He seemed completely at ease regarding Rowyn as his equal. As they neared the bar, Kieran noticed that Rowyn had changed into the same outfit the rest of the helots wore, although his was dark blue, Charis’ color, where the others wore white. He had the same black collar around his neck that Kieran and Cullen wore.
Cullen approached the bar and leaned against it. “Got anything with alcohol?” he asked.
Rowyn gave him a droll look, but couldn’t keep the smile from his face. “I’m a little busy.”
“Not too busy for me.”
“Some of us have work to do.”
“I’m totally working!” Cullen protested, gesturing to Kieran. “Look at this poor, frightened boy. I must protect him. I must remain vigilant against all threats! It’s such an exhausting role, and my strength is fading. I need sustenance!”
Rowyn opened his mouth to speak, then stopped when the other bartender could no longer hold in his laughter. “Gods, don’t encourage him, Mister Alick,” Rowyn said. “He’ll be hounding us all night.”
“You mean you’d deny poor Kieran here?” Cullen asked. “Look how nervous he is. His poor nerves are just shot. He needs something strong to help him calm down. Look into those little puppy-dog eyes. Can you really say no to that face?”
“We’re opening in about eight seconds,” Rowyn pointed out.
“Well isn’t it convenient that opening a beer bottle only takes three?”
Alick laughed again, and Rowyn rolled his eyes, shaking his head. “Fine,” he said, reaching into the beer well and pulling out a bottle. He quickly uncapped it and handed it to Cullen, then grabbed another for Kieran.
“There, you’ve got your drinks. Now go away.”
“You mean you don’t like my company? You didn’t seem to complain about it last night.”
Finally, he seemed to break through Rowyn’s stern façade. The older man laughed. “You’re less annoying when you’re wrapped around my cock,” he chided good-naturedly.
Kieran was confused by that. He’d spent last night with Charis. She’d let him fall asleep in her bed. Did that mean Cullen and Rowyn had sex on their own, without Charis there? Were they allowed to play with each other like that?
Did they actually do it simply because they wanted to?
Cullen and Rowyn were still bickering and teasing each other, much to the delight of Alick, who found it all highly amusing, when the first members began walking in.
Immediately, Cullen straightened up.
“That’s right,” Rowyn said quietly. “You actually have to behave yourself now.”
Cullen scoffed, picking up his beer. “I always behave.”