Book 3, unedited and subject to change. Gaius’s POV.
After Marcia’s servants poured two silver cups of nicely-aged, sweet Alban wine and placed trays of savory nibbles on the low marble table, Avia ordered the slaves to leave the hall and settled into her spot on the couch perpendicular to his. Propped up on his elbow with a cushion shoved under his armpit, Gaius glanced around, admiring the paintings and mosaic work decorating the vaulted room he rarely visited. December sunshine streaming in through the wall of windows warmed the air while a generous swallow of local grape fortified his gut. The impending lustration rites were his responsibility to preside over. He couldn’t cock up the most important ritual of his fucking life.
“Are all the preparations for the ceremony completed, Avia?”
“Yes, of course. The instruments, the garlands, offerings and gifts—everything’s been ready since yesterday, Gaius.”
“Gods, it’s already nine days since the birth,” Gaius mused. “Nine—one of my lucky numbers according to that crackpot Alexandrian astrologer you’d hired years ago.”
“Much of what the Greek predicted has come true.”
“But most hasn’t.” Gaius ate a bite of a minced lamb pastry. “What is this business we need to discuss, Avia?”
She lifted her bright eyes. “The truth, Rufus.”
“Oh gods, not that again,” Gaius replied playfully despite the knot of concern growing in his stomach.